The Three Hostages, by John Buchan

Chapter XIX

The Night of the First of June — Later

A little after eleven that night a late walker in Palmyra Square would have seen a phenomenon rare in the dingy neighbourhood. A large motor-car drew up at the gate of No. 7, where dwelt the teacher of music who had long retired to rest. A woman descended, wearing a dark cloak and carrying a parcel, and stood for a second looking across the road to where the lean elms in the centre of the square made a patch of shade. She seemed to find there what she expected, for she hastened to the gate of No. 4. She did not approach the front door, but ran down the path to the back where the tradesmen called, and as soon as she was out of sight several figures emerged from the shadow and moved towards the gate.

Miss Outhwaite opened to her tap. “My, but you’re late, miss,” she whispered, as the woman brushed past her into the dim kitchen. Then she gasped, for some transformation had taken place in the district-visitor. It was no longer a faded spinster that she saw, but a dazzling lady, gorgeously dressed as it seemed to her, and of a remarkable beauty.

“I’ve brought your hat, Elsie,” she said. “It’s rather a nice one, and I think you’ll like it. Now go at once and open the front door.”

“But Madame . . . ” the girl gasped.

“Never mind Madame. You are done with Madame. To-morrow you will come and see me at this address,” and she gave her a slip of paper. “I will see that you do not suffer. Now hurry, my dear.”

The girl seemed to be mesmerised, and turned to obey. The district-visitor followed her, but did not wait in the hall. Instead, she ran lightly up the stairs, guiding herself by a small electric torch, and when the front door was open and four silent figures had entered she was nowhere to be seen.

For the next quarter of an hour an inquisitive passer-by would have noted lights spring out and then die away in more than one room of No. 4. He might have also heard the sound of low excited speech. At the end of that space of time he would have seen the district-visitor descend the steps and enter the big car which had moved up to the gate. She was carrying something in her arms.

Within, in a back room, a furious woman was struggling with a telephone, from which she got no answer, since the line had been cut. And an old woman sat in a chair by the hearth, raving and muttering, with a face like death.

When I got to Hill Street, I waited till the taxi had driven off before I entered. There was a man standing in the porch of the house opposite, and as I waited another passed me, who nodded. “Good evening, Sir Richard,” he said, and though I did not recognise him I knew where he came from. My spirits were at their lowest ebb, and not even the sight of these arrangements could revive them. For I knew that, though we had succeeded with Miss Victor and Mercot, we had failed with the case which mattered most. I was going to try to scare Medina or to buy him, and I felt that both purposes were futile, for the awe of him was still like a black fog on my soul.

I let myself in with Odell’s latch-key and left the heavy door ajar. Then I switched on the staircase lights and mounted to the library. I left the lights burning behind me, for they would be needed by those who followed.

Medina was standing by the fireplace, in which logs had been laid ready for a match. As usual, he had only the one lamp lit, that on his writing-table. He had a slip of paper in his hand, one of the two which had lain in the top drawer, as I saw by the dates and the ruled lines. I fancy he had been attempting in vain to ring up Palmyra Square. Some acute suspicion had been aroused in him, and he had been trying to take action. His air of leisure was the kind which is hastily assumed; a minute before I was convinced he had been furiously busy.

There was surprise in his face when he saw me.

“Hullo!” he said, “how did you get in? I didn’t hear you ring. I told Odell to go to bed.”

I was feeling so weak and listless that I wanted to sit down, so I dropped into a chair out of the circle of the lamp.

“Yes,” I said. “Odell’s in bed all right. I let myself in with his key. I’ve just seen that Bowery tough put to sleep with a crack on the chin from Turpin. You know — the Marquis de la Tour du Pin.”

I had a good strategic position, for I could see his face clearly and he could only see the outline of mine.

“What on earth are you talking about?” he said.

“Odell has been knocked out. You see, Turpin has taken Miss Victor back to her father.” I looked at my watch. “And by this time Lord Mercot should be in London — unless the Scotch express is late.”

A great tide of disillusion must have swept over his mind, but his face gave no sign of it. It had grown stern, but as composed as a judge’s.

“You’re behaving as if you were mad. What has come over you? I know nothing of Lord Mercot — you mean the Alcester boy? Or Miss Victor.”

“Oh yes, you do,” I said wearily. I did not know where to begin, for I wanted to get him at once to the real business. “It’s a long story. Do you want me to tell it when you know it all already?” I believe I yawned and I felt so tired I could hardly put the sentences together.

“I insist that you explain this nonsense,” was his reply. One thing he must have realised by now, that he had no power over me, for his jaw was set and his eyes stern, as if he were regarding not a satellite, but an enemy and an equal.

“Well, you and your friends for your own purposes took three hostages, and I have made it my business to free them. I let you believe that your tomfoolery had mastered me — your performance in this room and Newhover and Madame Breda and the old blind lady and all the rest of it. When you thought I was drugged and demented I was specially wide awake. I had to abuse your hospitality — rather a dirty game, you may say, but then I was dealing with a scoundrel. I went to Norway when you thought I was in bed at Fosse, and I found Mercot, and I expect at this moment Newhover is feeling rather cheap. . . . Miss Victor, too. She wasn’t very difficult, once we hit on the Fields of Eden. You’re a very clever man, Mr. Medina, but you oughtn’t to circulate doggerel verses. Take my advice and stick to good poetry.”

By this time the situation must have been clear to him, but there was not a quiver in that set hard face. I take off my hat to the best actor I have ever met — the best but one, the German count who lies buried at the farm of Gavrelle. “You’ve gone off your head,” he said, and his quiet considerate voice belied his eyes.

“Oh no! I rather wish I had. I hate to think that there can be so base a thing in the world as you. A man with the brains of a god and living only to glut his rotten vanity! You should be scotched like a snake.”

For a moment I had a blessed thought that he was about to go for me, for I would have welcomed a scrap like nothing else on earth. There may have been a flicker of passion, but it was quickly suppressed. His eyes had become grave and reproachful.

“I have been kind to you,” he said, “and have treated you as a friend. This is my reward. The most charitable explanation is that your wits are unhinged. But you had better leave this house.”

“Not before you hear me out. I have something to propose, Mr. Medina. You have still a third hostage in your hands. We are perfectly aware of the syndicate you have been working with — the Barcelona nut business, and the Jacobite count, and your friend the Shropshire master-of-hounds. Scotland Yard has had its hand over the lot for months, and to-night the hand will be closed. That shop is shut for good. Now listen to me, for I have a proposal to make. You have the ambition of the devil, and have already made for yourself a great name. I will do nothing to smirch that name. I will swear a solemn oath to hold my tongue. I will go away from England, if you like. I will bury the memory of the past months, and my knowledge will never be used to put a spoke in your wheel. Also, since your syndicate is burst up, you will want money. Well, I will give you one hundred thousand pounds. And in return for my silence and my cash I ask you to restore to me David Warcliff, safe and sane. Sane, I say, for whatever you have made of the poor little chap you have got to unmake it.”

I had made up my mind about this offer as I came along in the taxi. It was a big sum, but I had more money than I needed, and Blenkiron, who had millions, would lend a hand.

His face showed no response, no interest, only the same stern melancholy regard.

“Poor devil!” he said. “You’re madder than I thought.”

My lassitude was disappearing, and I began to get angry.

“If you do not agree,” I said, “I will blacken your reputation throughout the civilised world. What use will England have for a kidnapper and a blackmailer and — a — a bogus magician?”

But as I spoke I knew that my threats were foolish. He smiled, a wise, pitying smile, which made me shiver with wrath.

“No, it is you who will appear as the blackmailer,” he said softly. “Consider. You are making the most outrageous charges. I don’t quite follow your meaning, but clearly they are outrageous — and what evidence have you to support them? Your own dreams. Who will believe you? I have had the good fortune to make many friends, and they are loyal friends.” There was a gentle regret in his voice. “Your story will be laughed to scorn. Of course people will be sorry for you, for you are popular in a way. They will say that a meritorious soldier, more notable perhaps for courage than for brains, has gone crazy, and they will comment on the long-drawn-out effects of the War. I must of course protect myself. If you blackguard me I will prosecute you for slander and get your mental condition examined.”

It was only too true. I had no evidence except my own word. I knew that it would be impossible to link up Medina with the doings of the syndicate — he was too clever for that. His blind mother would die on the rack before she spoke, and his tools could not give him away, because they were tools and knew nothing. The world would laugh at me if I opened my mouth. At that moment I think I had my first full realisation of Medina’s quality. Here was a man who had just learned that his pet schemes were shattered, who had had his vanity wounded to the quick by the revelation of how I had fooled him, and yet he could play what was left of the game with coolness and precision. I had struck the largest size of opponent.

“What about the hundred thousand pounds, then?” I asked. “That is my offer for David Warcliff.”

“You are very good,” he said mockingly. “I might feel insulted, if I did not know you were a lunatic.”

I sat there staring at the figure in the glow of the one lamp, which seemed to wax more formidable as I looked, and a thousandfold more sinister. I saw the hideous roundness of his head, the mercilessness of his eyes, so that I wondered how I had ever thought him handsome. But now that most of his game was spoiled he only seemed the greater, the more assured. Were there no gaps in his defences? He had kinks in him — witness the silly rhyme which had given me the first clue. . . . Was there no weakness in that panoply which I could use? Physical fear — physical pain — could anything be done with that?

I got to my feet with a blind notion of closing with him. He divined my intention, for he showed something in his hand which gleamed dully. “Take care,” he said. “I can defend myself against any maniac.”

“Put it away,” I said hopelessly. “You’re safe enough from me. My God, I hope that somewhere there is a hell.” I felt as feeble as a babe, and all the while the thought of the little boy was driving me mad.

Suddenly I saw Medina’s eyes look over my shoulder. Someone had come into the room, and I turned and found Kharáma.

He was in evening dress, wearing a turban, and in the dusk his dark malign face seemed an embodied sneer at my helplessness. I did not see how Medina took his arrival, for all at once something seemed to give in my head. For the Indian I felt now none of the awe which I had for the other, only a flaming, overpowering hate. That this foul thing out of the East should pursue his devilries unchecked seemed to me beyond bearing. I forgot Medina’s pistol and everything else, and went for him like a wild beast.

He dodged me, and, before I knew, had pulled off his turban, and tossed it in my face.

“Don’t be an old ass, Dick,” he said.

Panting with fury, I stopped short and stared. The voice was Sandy’s, and so was the figure. . . . And the face, too, when I came to look into it. He had done something with the corners of his eyebrows and tinted the lids with kohl, but the eyes, which I had never before seen properly opened, were those of my friend.

“What an artist the world has lost in me!” he laughed, and tried to tidy his disordered hair.

Then he nodded to Medina. “We meet again sooner than we expected. I missed my train, and came to look for Dick. . . . Lay down that pistol, please. I happen to be armed too, you see. It’s no case for shooting anyhow. Do you mind if I smoke?”

He flung himself into an arm-chair and lit a cigarette. Once more I was conscious of my surroundings, for hitherto for all I knew I might have been arguing in a desert. My eyes had cleared and my brain was beginning to work again. I saw the great room with its tiers of books, some glimmering, some dusky; Sandy taking his ease in his chair and gazing placidly up into Medina’s face; Medina with his jaw set but his eyes troubled — yes, for the first time I saw flickers of perplexity in those eyes.

“Dick, I suppose, has been reasoning with you,” Sandy said mildly. “And you have told him that he was a madman? Quite right. He is. You have pointed out to him that his story rests on his unsupported evidence, which no one will believe, for I admit it is an incredible tale. You have warned him that if he opens his mouth you will have him shut up as a lunatic. Is that correct, Dick?

“Well,” he continued, looking blandly at Medina, “that was a natural view for you to take. Only, of course, you made one small error. His evidence will not be unsupported.”

Medina laughed, but there was no ease in his laugh. “Who are the other lunatics?”

“Myself for one. You have interested me for quite a long time, Mr. Medina. I will confess that one of my reasons for coming home in March was to have the privilege of your acquaintance. I have taken a good deal of pains about it. I have followed your own line of studies — indeed, if the present situation weren’t so hectic, I should like to exchange notes with you as a fellow-inquirer. I have traced your career in Central Asia and elsewhere with some precision. I think I know more about you than anybody else in the world.”

Medina made no answer. The tables were turning, and his eyes were chained to the slight figure in the arm-chair.

“All that is very interesting,” Sandy went on, “but it is not quite germane to the subject before us. Kharáma, whom we both remember in his pride, unfortunately died last year. It was kept very secret for obvious reasons — the goodwill of his business was very valuable and depended upon his being alive — and I only heard of it by a lucky accident. So I took the liberty of borrowing his name, Mr. Medina. As Kharáma I was honoured with your confidence. Rather a cad’s trick, you will say, and I agree, but in an affair like this one has no choice of weapons. . . . You did more than confide in me. You trusted me with Miss Victor and the Marquis de la Tour du Pin, when it was important that they should be in safe keeping.. .. I have a good deal of evidence to support Dick.”

“Moonshine!” said Medina. “Two lunacies do not make sense. I deny every detail of your rubbish.”

“Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses,” said Sandy pleasantly. “There is still a third . . . Lavater,” he cried, “come in, we’re ready for you.”

There entered the grey melancholy man, whom I had seen on my first visit here, and in the house behind Little Fardell Street. I noticed that he walked straight to Sandy’s chair, and did not look at Medina.

“Lavater you know already, I think. He used to be a friend of mine, and lately we have resumed the friendship. He was your disciple for some time, but has now relinquished that honour. Lavater will be able to tell the world a good deal about you.”

Medina’s face had become like a mask, and the colour had gone out of it. He may have been a volcano within, but outside he was cold ice. His voice, acid and sneering, came out like drops of chilly water.

“Three lunatics,” he said. “I deny every word you say. No one will believe you. It is a conspiracy of madmen.”

“Let’s talk business anyhow,” said Sandy. “The case against you is proven to the hilt, but let us see how the world will regard it. The strong point on your side is that people don’t like to confess they have been fools. You have been a very popular man, Mr. Medina, and your many friends will be loath to believe that you are a scoundrel. You’ve the hedge of your reputation to protect you. Again, our story is so monstrous that the ordinary Englishman may call it unbelievable, for we are not an imaginative nation. Again we can get no help from the principal sufferers. Miss Victor and Lord Mercot can tell an ugly story of kidnapping, which may get a life-sentence for Odell, and for Newhover if he is caught, but which does not implicate you. That will be a stumbling-block to most juries, who are not as familiar with occult science as you and I . . . . These are your strong points. But consider what we can bring on the other side. You are a propagandist of genius, as I once told Dick, and I can explain just how you have fooled the world — your exploits with Denikin and such-like. Then the three of us can tell a damning story, and tell it from close quarters. It may sound wild, but Dick has some reputation for good sense, and a good many people think that I am not altogether a fool. Finally we have on our side Scotland Yard, which is now gathering in your associates, and we have behind us Julius Victor, who is not without influence. . . . I do not say we can send you to prison, though I think it likely, but we can throw such suspicion on you that for the rest of your days you will be a marked man. You will recognise that for you that means utter failure, for to succeed you must swim in the glory of popular confidence.”

I could see that Medina was shaken at last. “You may damage me with your lies,” he said slowly, “but I will be even with you. You will find me hard to beat.”

“I don’t doubt it,” was Sandy’s answer. “I and my friends do not want victory, we want success. We want David Warcliff.”

There was no answer, and Sandy went on.

“We make you a proposal. The three of us will keep what we know to ourselves. We will pledge ourselves never to breathe a word of it — if you like we will sign a document to say that we acknowledge our mistake. So far as we are concerned you may go on and become Prime Minister of Britain or Archbishop of Canterbury, or anything you jolly well like. We don’t exactly love you, but we will not interfere with the adoration of others. I’ll take myself off again to the East with Lavater, and Dick will bury himself in Oxfordshire mud. And in return we ask that you hand over to us David Warcliff in his right mind.”

There was no answer.

Then Sandy made a mistake in tactics. “I believe you are attached to your mother,” he said. “If you accept our offer she will be safe from annoyance. Otherwise — well, she is an important witness.”

The man’s pride was stung to the quick. His mother must have been for him an inner sanctuary, a thing apart from and holier than his fiercest ambitions, the very core and shrine of his monstrous vanity. That she should be used as a bargaining counter stirred something deep and primeval in him, something — let me say it — higher and better than I had imagined. A new and a human fury burned the mask off him like tissue paper.

“You fools!” he cried, and his voice was harsh with rage. “You perfect fools! You will sweat blood for that insult.”

“It’s a fair offer,” said Sandy, never moving a muscle. “Do I understand that you refuse?”

Medina stood on the hearthrug like an animal at bay, and upon my soul I couldn’t but admire him. The flame in his face would have scorched most people into abject fear.

“Go to hell, the pack of you! Out of this house! You will never hear a word from me till you are bleating for mercy. Get out . . . ”

His eyes must have been dimmed by his rage, for he did not see Mary enter. She had advanced right up to Sandy’s chair before even I noticed her. She was carrying something in her arms, something which she held close as a mother holds a child.

It was the queer little girl from the house in Palmyra Square. Her hair had grown longer and fell in wisps over her brow and her pale tear-stained cheeks. A most piteous little object she was, with dull blind eyes which seemed to struggle with perpetual terror. She still wore the absurd linen smock, her skinny little legs and arms were bare, and her thin fingers clutched at Mary’s gown.

Then Medina saw her, and Sandy ceased to exist for him. He stared for a second uncomprehendingly, till the passion in his face turned to alarm. “What have you done with her?” he barked, and flung himself forward.

I thought he was going to attack Mary, so I tripped him up. He sprawled on the floor, and since he seemed to have lost all command of himself I reckoned that I had better keep him there. I looked towards Mary, who nodded. “Please tie him up,” she said, and passed me the turban cloth of the late Kharáma.

He fought like a tiger, but Lavater and I with a little help from Sandy managed to truss him fairly tight, supplementing the turban with one of the curtain cords. We laid him in an arm-chair.

“What have you done with her?” he kept on, screwing his head round to look at Mary.

I could not understand his maniacal concern for the little girl, till Mary answered, and I saw what he meant by “her.”

“No one has touched your mother. She is in the house in Palmyra Square.”

Then Mary laid the child down very gently in the chair where Sandy had been sitting and stood erect before Medina.

“I want you to bring back this little boy’s mind,” she said.

I suppose I should have been astonished, but I wasn’t — at least not at her words, though I had not had an inkling beforehand of the truth. All the astonishment I was capable of was reserved for Mary. She stood there looking down on the bound man, her face very pale, her eyes quite gentle, her lips parted as if in expectation. And yet there was something about her so formidable, so implacable, that the other three of us fell into the background. Her presence dominated everything, and the very grace of her body and the mild sadness of her eyes seemed to make her the more terrifying. I know now how Joan of Arc must have looked when she led her troops into battle.

“Do you hear me?” she repeated. “You took away his soul and you can give it back again. That is all I ask of you.”

He choked before he replied. “What boy? I tell you I know nothing. You are all mad.”

“I mean David Warcliff. The others are free now, and he must be free to-night. Free, and in his right mind, as when you carried him off. Surely you understand.”

There was no answer.

“That is all I ask. It is such a little thing. Then we will go away.”

I broke in. “Our offer holds. Do as she asks, and we will never open our mouths about to-night’s work.”

He was not listening to me, nor was she. It was a duel between the two of them, and as she looked at him, his face seemed to grow more dogged and stone-like. If ever he had felt hatred it was for this woman, for it was a conflict between two opposite poles of life, two worlds eternally at war.

“I tell you I know nothing of the brat . . . ”

She stopped him with lifted hand. “Oh, do not let us waste time, please. It is far too late for arguing. If you do what I ask we will go away, and you will never be troubled with us again. I promise — we all promise. If you do not, of course we must ruin you.”

I think it was the confidence in her tone which stung him.

“I refuse,” he almost screamed. “I do not know what you mean . . . I defy you. . . . You can proclaim your lies to the world. . . . You will not crush me. I am too strong for you.”

There was no mistaking the finality of that defiance. I thought it put the lid on everything. We could blast the fellow’s reputation no doubt, and win victory; but we had failed, for we were left with that poor little mindless waif. Mary’s face did not change.

“If you refuse, I must try another way”; her voice was as gentle as a mother’s. “I must give David Warcliff back to his father. . . . Dick,” she turned to me, “will you light the fire.”

I obeyed, not knowing what she meant, and in a minute the dry faggots were roaring up the chimney, lighting up our five faces and the mazed child in the chair.

“You have destroyed a soul,” she said, “and you refuse to repair the wrong. I am going to destroy your body, and nothing will ever repair it.”

Then I saw her meaning, and both Sandy and I cried out. Neither of us had led the kind of life which makes a man squeamish, but this was too much for us. But our protests died half-born, after one glance at Mary’s face. She was my own wedded wife, but in that moment I could no more have opposed her than could the poor bemused child. Her spirit seemed to transcend us all and radiate an inexorable command. She stood easily and gracefully, a figure of motherhood and pity rather than of awe. But all the same I did not recognise her; it was a stranger that stood there, a stern goddess that wielded the lightnings. Beyond doubt she meant every word she said, and her quiet voice seemed to deliver judgment as aloof and impersonal as Fate. I could see creeping over Medina’s sullenness the shadow of terror.

“You are a desperate man,” she was saying. “But I am far more desperate. There is nothing on earth that can stand between me and the saving of this child. You know that, don’t you? A body for a soul — a soul for a body — which shall it be?”

The light was reflected from the steel fire-irons, and Medina saw it and shivered.

“You may live a long time, but you will have to live in seclusion. No woman will ever cast eyes on you except to shudder. People will point at you and say ‘There goes the man who was maimed by a woman — because of the soul of a child.’ You will carry your story written on your face for the world to read and laugh and revile.”

She had got at the central nerve of his vanity, for I think that he was ambitious less of achievement than of the personal glory that attends it. I dared not look at her, but I could look at him, and I saw all the passions of hell chase each other over his face. He tried to speak, but only choked. He seemed to bend his whole soul to look at her, and to shiver at what he saw.

She turned her head to glance at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“You must decide before the quarter strikes,” she said. “After that there will be no place for repentance. A body for a soul — a soul for a body.”

Then from her black silk reticule she took a little oddly-shaped green bottle. She held it in her hand as if it had been a jewel, and I gulped in horror.

“This is the elixir of death — of death in life, Mr. Medina. It makes comeliness a mockery. It will burn flesh and bone into shapes of hideousness, but it does not kill. Oh no — it does not kill. A body for a soul — a soul for a body.”

It was that, I think, which finished him. The threefold chime which announced the quarter had begun when out of his dry throat came a sound like a clucking hen’s. “I agree,” a voice croaked, seeming to come from without, so queer and far away it was.

“Thank you,” she said, as if someone had opened a door for her. “Dick, will you please make Mr. Medina more comfortable. . . . ”

The fire was not replenished, so the quick-burning faggots soon died down. Again the room was shadowy, except for the single lamp that glowed behind Medina’s head.

I cannot describe that last scene, for I do not think my sight was clear, and I know that my head was spinning. The child sat on Mary’s lap, with its eyes held by the glow of light. “You are Gerda . . . you are sleepy . . . now you sleep”— I did not heed the patter, for I was trying to think of homely things which would keep my wits anchored. I thought chiefly of Peter John.

Sandy was crouched on a stool by the hearth. I noticed that he had his hands on his knees, and that from one of them protruded something round and dark, like the point of a pistol barrel. He was taking no chances, but the thing was folly, for we were in the presence of far more potent weapons. Never since the world began was there a scene of such utter humiliation. I shivered at the indecency of it. Medina performed his sinister ritual, but on us spectators it had no more effect than a charade. Mary especially sat watching it with the detachment with which one watches a kindergarten play. The man had suddenly become a mountebank under those fearless eyes.

The voices droned on, the man asking questions, the child answering in a weak unnatural voice. “You are David Warcliff. .. you lost your way coming from school . . . you have been ill and have forgotten. . . . You are better now . . . you remember Haverham and the redshanks down by the river. . . . You are sleepy . . . I think you would like to sleep again.”

Medina spoke. “You can wake him now. Do it carefully.”

I got up and switched on the rest of the lights. The child was peacefully asleep in Mary’s arms, and she bent and kissed him. “Speak to him, Dick,” she said.

“Davie,” I said loudly. “Davie, it’s about time for us to get home.”

He opened his eyes and sat up. When he found himself on Mary’s knee, he began to clamber down. He was not accustomed to a woman’s lap, and felt a little ashamed.

“Davie,” I repeated. “Your father will be getting tired waiting for us. Don’t you think we should go home?”

“Yes, sir,” he said, and put his hand in mine.

To my dying day I shall not forget my last sight of that library — the blazing lights which made the books, which I had never seen before except in shadow, gleam like a silk tapestry, the wood-fire dying on the hearth, and the man sunk in the chair. It may sound odd after all that had happened, but my chief feeling was pity. Yes, pity! He seemed the loneliest thing on God’s earth. You see he had never had any friends except himself, and his ambitions had made a barrier between him and all humanity. Now that they were gone he was stripped naked, and left cold and shivering in the arctic wilderness of his broken dreams.

Mary leaned back in the car.

“I hope I’m not going to faint,” she said. “Give me the green bottle, please.”

“For Heaven’s sake!” I cried.

“Silly!” she said. “It’s only eau-decologne.”

She laughed, and the laugh seemed to restore her a little though she still looked deadly pale. She fumbled in her reticule, and drew out a robust pair of scissors.

“I’m going to cut Davie’s hair. I can’t change his clothes, but at any rate I can make his head like a boy’s again, so that his father won’t be shocked.”

“Does he know we are coming?”

“Yes. I telephoned to him after dinner, but of course I said nothing about Davie.”

She clipped assiduously, and by the time we came to the Pimlico square where Sir Arthur Warcliff lived she had got rid of the long locks, and the head was now that of a pallid and thin but wonderfully composed little boy. “Am I going back to Dad?” he had asked, and seemed content.

I refused to go in-I was not fit for any more shocks — so I sat in the car while Mary and David entered the little house. In about three minutes Mary returned. She was crying, and yet smiling too.

“I made Davie wait in the hall, and went into Sir Arthur’s study alone. He looked ill — and oh, so old and worn. I said: ‘I have brought Davie. Never mind his clothes. He’s all right!’ Then I fetched him in. Oh, Dick, it was a miracle. That old darling seemed to come back to life. . . . The two didn’t run into each other’s arms . . . they shook hands . . . and the little boy bowed his head and Sir Arthur kissed the top of it, and said ‘Dear Mouse-head, you’ve come back to me.’ . . . And then I slipped away.”

There was another scene that night in which I played a part, for we finished at Carlton House Terrace. Of what happened there I have only a confused recollection. I remember Julius Victor kissing Mary’s hand, and the Duke shaking mine as if he would never stop. I remember Mercot, who looked uncommonly fit and handsome, toasting me in champagne, and Adela Victor sitting at a piano and singing to us divinely. But my chief memory is of a French nobleman whirling a distinguished German engineer into an extemporised dance of joy.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50