Eleanor came into the sitting-room as Bee was opening the midday post, and said: “She bumped!”
Bee looked up hazily, her mind still on the contents of her mail.
“She bumped, I tell you. For a whole fifty yards she bumped like a good ’un.”
“The Parslow girl? Oh, congratulations, Nell, dear.”
“I never thought I’d live to see this day. Is no one having sherry?”
“Brat and I have drunk sufficient strange liquids this morning to last us for the rest of the week.”
“How did it go, Brat?” Eleanor asked, pouring herself some sherry.
“Not as badly as I’d been prepared for,” Brat said, watching her thin capable hand manipulating the glasses. That hand wouldn’t lie soft and confidential and insinuating in one’s own.
“Did Docket tell you how he got his wound?”
“Docket was at market,” Bee said. “But we had hot buttered scones from Mrs. Docket.”
“Dear Mrs. Docket. What did Miss Hassell give you?”
“Shortbread. She wasn’t going to give us that, but she succumbed to Brat’s charms.” So Bee had noticed that.
“I’m not surprised,” Eleanor said, looking at Brat over her glass. “And Wigsell?”
“Do you remember that brown horse of Dick Pope’s? The one he swept the board with at Bath last year?”
“Gates has bought it for Peggy.”
Eleanor stopped sipping sherry and thought about this in silence for a moment or two.
“For Peggy to show.”
“Well, well!” said Eleanor slowly: and she looked amused and thoughtful. She looked at Bee, met Bee’s glance, and looked away again. “Well, well!” she said again, and went on sipping sherry. After an interval broken only by the rip of paper as Bee opened envelopes, she said: “I don’t know that that was such a very good move.”
“No,” said Bee, not looking up.
“I’m going to wash. What is for lunch?”
“As made by our Mrs. Betts, that is just stew.”
The twins came in from lessons at the Rectory, and Simon from the stables, and they went in to lunch.
Simon had come down so late to breakfast that Brat’s only intercourse with him to-day had been to wish him good morning. He seemed amiable and relaxed, and inquired with what appeared to be genuine interest about the success of the morning. Bee provided an account, with periodic confirmation from Brat. When she came to Wigsell, Eleanor interrupted her to say:
“Did you know that Gates has bought Peggy a new horse?”
“No,” Simon said, looking up with mild interest.
“He has bought her that brown horse of Dick Pope’s.”
“Yes. Riding Light. She is going to show it this year.”
For the first time since he had met him Brat saw Simon Ashby flush. He paused for a moment, and then went on with his lunch. The flush slowly died, and the cool pale profile resumed its normal calm. Both Eleanor and Bee had avoided looking at him while he absorbed the news, but Ruth studied him with interest.
And Brat, eating Mrs. Betts’s goulash, studied him with his mind. Simon Ashby was reputedly crazy about the Gates girl. But was he glad that the girl had been given a good horse? No. He was furious. And what was more, his womenfolk had known that he would be furious. They had known beforehand that he would find Peggy’s entry as a rival unforgivable. They had, understandably, not wanted the Gates affair to last or to become serious; and they had recognised instantly, both of them, that Peggy’s possession of Riding Light had saved them. What kind of creature was this Simon Ashby, who could not bear to be beaten by the girl he was in love with?
He remembered Bee’s inordinate pleasure in the brown horse. He saw again Eleanor’s slow amusement at the news. They had known at once that that was the end of the Peggy affair. Gates had bought that horse to be “upsides” with Latchetts; to give his daughter a mount as good as any owned by the man he hoped she would marry. And all he had done was to destroy any chance that Peggy ever had of being mistress of Latchetts.
Well, Simon was no longer master of Latchetts, so it would not matter to the Gates family that Simon resented Peggy’s possession of the horse. But what kind of heel was Simon that he could not love a rival?
“What is Brat going to ride at the Bures Show,” he heard Eleanor say, and brought his attention back to the lunch table.
“All of them,” Simon said. And as Eleanor looked her question: “They are his horses.”
This was the kind of thing that the English did not say. Simon must be very angry to desert the habit of a lifetime.
“I’m not going to ‘show’ any horses, if that is what you mean,” Brat said. “That requires technique, and I haven’t got it.”
“But you used to be very good,” Bee said.
“Did I? Oh, well, that is a long time ago. I certainly don’t want to show any horses in the ring at Bures.”
“The show isn’t for nearly three weeks yet,” Eleanor said. “Bee could coach you for a day or two, and you’d be as good as ever.”
But Brat was not to be moved. It would have been fun to see what he could do against English horsemen; fun especially to jump the Latchetts horses and perhaps win with them; but he was not going to make any public appearance as Patrick Ashby of Latchetts if he could help it.
“Brat could ride in the races,” Ruth said. “The races they end up with. He could beat everyone on Timber, couldn’t he?”
“Timber is not going to be knocked about in any country bumpkins’ race if I still have any say in the matter,” Simon said, speaking into his plate. “He is going to Olympia, which is his proper place.”
“I agree,” Brat said. And the atmosphere ceased to be tense. Jane wanted to know why fractions were vulgar, and Ruth wanted a new bicycle tire, and the conversation became the normal family conversation of any meal-time in any home.
Before lunch was over the first of the visitors arrived; and the steady stream went on, from after-luncheon coffee, through tea, to six o’clock drinks. They had all come to inspect Brat, but he noticed that those who had known Patrick Ashby came with a genuine pleasure in welcoming him back. Each of them had some small memory of him to recount, and all of them had kept the memory green because they had liked Pat Ashby and grieved for him. And Brat caught himself being gratified in an absurd and proprietorial way, as if some protégé of his own was being praised. The light that had been shed on Simon this morning made him more than ever Patrick’s champion. It was all wrong that Latchetts should have been Simon’s all those years. It was Patrick’s inheritance and it was all wrong that Patrick should not be here to inherit it. Patrick was all right. Patrick would not have gone sick with rage because his best girl had a better horse than he had. Patrick was all right.
So he accepted the small verbal gifts on Patrick’s behalf and was pleased and gratified.
About the time when tea-cups were being mixed up with cocktail glasses the local doctor appeared, and Brat ceased to be gratified, and became interested in Eleanor’s reactions to the doctor. Eleanor seemed to like the doctor very much, and Brat, knowing nothing whatever about him, was straightway convinced that he was not good enough for her. The only guests left now were Colonel Smollett, the Chief Constable for the county; the two Misses Byrne, who occupied the Jacobean house at the far end of the village and, according to Bee, had their walls hung with “plates and warming-pans, and other kitchen utensils”; and Dr. Spence. Dr. Spence was young and red-haired and bony, and he had freckles and a friendly manner. He was the successor of the old country doctor who had brought the whole Ashby family up, and he was, so Bee confided in an interval of tea-pouring, “much too brilliant to stay in a country practice.” Brat wondered if he stayed for Eleanor’s sake; he seemed to like Eleanor very much.
“You caused us a lot of trouble, young man,” Colonel Smollett had said, greeting him; and Brat, after the polite evasions he had experienced so far, was glad of his frankness. Just as his notions of English middle-class had been derived from American films, so his idea of a colonel had been derived from the English Press, and was equally erroneous. Colonel Smollett was a small, thin man with a beaked nose and a self-effacing manner. What one noticed about him was his extraordinary neatness and his gay blue eyes.
The Colonel gave the Misses Byrne a lift in his car, but the doctor lingered, and it was only when Bee asked him to stay for dinner that he pulled himself together and went.
“Poor Dr. Spence,” Bee said at dinner. “I’m sorry he wouldn’t stay. I’m sure that landlady of his starves him.”
“Nonsense,” said Simon, who had recovered his good temper and had been very bright all the afternoon; “that lean, red-haired type always look underfed. Besides, he wouldn’t have eaten, anyhow. All he wants is to sit and look at Eleanor.”
Which confirmed Brat’s worst fears.
But all Eleanor said was: “Don’t be absurd”; and she said it without heat and without interest.
They were all tired by dinner-time, and it was a quiet meal. The excitement of having Brat there had died into acceptance, and they no longer treated him as a newcomer. Even the unforthcoming Jane had stopped accusing him with her eyes. He was part of the landscape. It was wonderfully restful to be part of the landscape again. For the first time since he came to Latchetts he was hungry.
But as he got ready for bed he puzzled over the problem of Simon. Simon, who was quite sure that he was not Patrick, but had no intention of saying so. (Why? Because he would not be believed, and his protest would be put down to resentment at his brother’s return? Because he had plans for a dramatic unveiling? Because he had some better way of dealing with an impostor who would not be unveiled?) Simon, who was so good a dissembler that he could fool his own family about his inmost feelings. Simon, who was so self-centred, so vain, that to come between him and the sun was to insult him. Simon, who had charm enough for ten men, and an appealing air of vulnerability. Simon, who was like Timber.
He stood again at the open window in the dark, looking at the curve of the down against the sky. Perhaps because he was less tired to-night he was no longer so afraid; but the incalculable factor in this life that he was due to lead was still Simon.
If Simon so resented Peggy Gates’s owning a better horse than his, what, wondered Brat, could have been his reaction to Patrick’s sudden succession to Latchetts?
He considered this a long time, staring into the dark.
And as he turned at last to put the light on, a voice in his mind said: I wonder where Simon was when Patrick went over the cliff.
But he noticed the heinousness of this at once, of course. What was he suggesting? Murder? In Latchetts? In Clare? By a boy of thirteen? He was letting his antipathy to Simon run away with his common sense.
The suicide of Patrick Ashby had been a police affair. An affair of inquest and evidence. The thing had been investigated, and the police had been satisfied that it was in truth suicide.
Satisfied? Or just without a case?
Where would that coroner’s report be now? In the police records he supposed. And it was not easy for a civilian to persuade the police to satisfy an idle curiosity; they were busy people.
But the thing must have been reported in the local Press. It must have been a local sensation. Somewhere in the files there would be an account of that inquest, and he, Brat Farrar, would unearth it at the first opportunity.
Antipathy or no antipathy, common sense or no common sense, he wanted to know where Simon Ashby was when his twin went over the Westover cliffs.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14