And while Bee sat and stared at the Ashby tablets in the church at Clare, Brat Farrar was standing in the back room in Pimlico in a brand-new suit and a state of panic.
How had he got himself into this? What could he have been thinking of? He, Brat Farrar. How did he ever think that he could go through with it? How had he ever in the first place consented to lend himself to such a plan?
It was the suit that had shocked him into realisation. The suit was wrong-doing made concrete and manifest. It was a wonderful suit. The kind of suit that he had dreamed of possessing; so unremarkable, so unmistakable once you had remarked it: English tailoring at its unobtrusive best. But he stood looking at himself in the mirror in a kind of horror.
He couldn’t do it, that was all. He just couldn’t do it.
He would duck, before it was too late.
He would send back the goddamned suit to the tailor, and send a letter to that woman who had been so nice, and just duck out of sight.
“What!” said the voice. “And pass up the greatest adventure of your life? The greatest adventure that has happened to any man within living memory?”
“Adventure my foot. It’s plain false pretences.”
They wouldn’t bother to look for him. They would be too relieved to have him out of their hair. He could duck without leaving a ripple.
“And leave a fortune behind?” said the voice.
“Yes, and leave a fortune behind. Who wants a fortune, anyhow?”
They would have his letter to insure them against any further nuisance from his side, and they would just let him go. He would write to that woman who, because she was kind, had kissed him before she was sure, and confess, and say he was sorry, and that would be that.
“And pass up the chance of owning a stud?”
“Who wants a stud? The world’s lousy with horses.”
“And you are going to own some, perhaps?”
“I may, some day. I may.”
“Pigs may fly.”
He would write to Loding and tell him that he would be no party to his criminal schemes.
“And waste all that knowledge? All that training?”
“I should never have started it.”
“But you did start it. You finished it. You are primed to the gills with knowledge worth a fortune. You can’t waste it, surely!”
Loding would have to whistle for that fifty per cent. How could he ever have thought of letting himself be an instrument in the hands of a crook like Loding!
“A very amusing and intelligent crook. On the highest level of crookery. Nothing to be ashamed of, believe me.”
He would go to a travel agency to-morrow morning and get a berth out of the country. Anywhere out of the country.
“I thought you wanted to stay in England?”
He would put the sea between him and temptation.
“Did you say temptation? Don’t tell me that you’re still wavering!”
He hadn’t enough left for a fare to America, but he had enough to take him quite a distance. The travel agency would offer him a choice of places. The world was wide and there was a lot of fun left in it. By Tuesday morning he would be out of England, and this time he would stay out.
“And never see Latchetts at all?”
He would find some —— “What did you say?”
“I said: And never see Latchetts at all?”
He tried to think of an answer.
“Stumped you, haven’t I!”
There must be an answer.
“Money, and horses, and fun, and adventure are common change. You can have them anywhere in the world. But if you pass up Latchetts now you pass it up for good. There won’t be any going back.”
“But what has Latchetts to do with me?”
“You ask that? You, with your Ashby face, and your Ashby bones, and your Ashby tastes, and your Ashby colouring, and your Ashby blood.”
“I haven’t any evidence at all that ——”
“And your Ashby blood, I said. Why, you poor little brute of a foundling, Latchetts is your belonging-place, and you have the immortal gall to pretend that you don’t care a rap about it!”
“I didn’t say I didn’t care. Of course I care.”
“But you’ll walk out of this country to-morrow, and leave Latchetts behind? For always? Because that is what it amounts to, my boy. That is the choice before you. Take the road of high adventure and on Tuesday morning you will see Latchetts. Duck, and you will never see it at all.”
“But I’m not a crook! I can’t do something that is criminal.”
“Can’t you? You’ve been giving a pretty good imitation of it these last few weeks. And enjoying it too. Remember how you enjoyed that tight-rope business on that first visit to old Sandal? How you enjoyed all the others? Even with a K.C. sitting across the table and doing a sort of mental X-ray on you. You loved it. All that is wrong with you just now is cold feet. Nerves. You want to see Latchetts as you have never wanted anything before. You want to live at Latchetts as an Ashby. You want horses. You want adventure. You want a life in England. Go to Latchetts on Tuesday and they are all yours.”
“You came half across the world to that meeting with Loding. Was that just chance? Of course not. It was all meant. Your destiny is at Latchetts. Your destiny. What you were born for. Your destiny. At Latchetts. You’re an Ashby. Half across a world to a place you never heard of. Destiny. You can’t pass up destiny. . . . ”
Brat got slowly out of the brand-new suit, and hung it up with orphanage neatness on its fine new hanger. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and buried his face in his hands.
He was still sitting there when the darkness came.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01