Nor was Lord Arglay any nearer to an apprehension of that mystical Peace when he discovered on the next morning, that everybody had taken advantage of the week-end to vanish from London. Mr. Bruce Cumberland was expected back on Monday; so was Mr. Reginald Montague; so was Mr. Angus M. Sheldrake. As for Sir Giles he might be back any moment, but so far as he was expected at all it was on Monday. The Persian Ambassador even (not that he was wanted) had gone to Sandringham, so The Times said, where presumably he and Lord Birlesmere were being diplomatic. London — to the Chief Justice’s irritation — consisted of himself, the Hajji, and Chloe, neither of whom seemed at the moment to be much good to him. He thought of confronting Sir Giles, wherever he might be, but he was unwilling to give his brother-in-law that advantage of circumstances which he would then undeniably possess, and at last he resigned himself to spending a day of enmity deferred which, if it did not make his heart sick, made it at least extremely and unusually sullen.
He would not have been any happier if he had known what was happening, on that same Saturday morning, at a country house some fifty miles out of London, the property of Mr. Sheldrake and his occasional retreat from high finance and the complications of industry when he was in England. The Chief Justice had done him some wrong in limiting him to gallipots; actually there were few branches of production and distribution in which he had not, somehow or other, a share. These had mostly come to him from his father, as Rivington Court had come to him from his mother, and Sheldrake’s own addition, had consisted of several large motor factories and the establishment of an Atlantic Airways Company to the first, and an entirely unnecessary though quite beautiful wing to the second. Neither it nor the Atlantic Airways would probably have come into existence but for Cecilia Sheldrake, who, having been forestalled in her desire to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, had determined that at least most of the others who did so should do it by her permission. Her husband had founded the company, as he had built the wing, in order that she might have everything she wanted to play with, and when he had bought the Stone from Reginald Montague he had done it with a similar intention in his mind.
In actual fact it had taken a longer time to persuade Sheldrake to buy than Reginald had admitted to his uncle. But the surprising chances of that Friday — the coming of Sir Giles with the Stone, the meeting with Sheldrake at an unexpected conference on the same morning, the discovery that the richest man of Idaho, of the States, of the world (report varied) was a young fellow not quite so old as he himself was — all these had convinced Reginald that what, at a pinch, he would have been driven to call Providence was on his side,.and had given him an increased audacity. He had caught Sheldrake by mentioning, almost in one breath, transport, the Lord Chief Justice, and a rare stone, thus attacking at once through the American’s sense of business, security, and romance. Certainly there had been a few minutes’ danger when the Stone was discovered to be no jewel, as jewels are ordinarily known,; indeed, Reginald had been driven to a rather hasty demonstration, which, in its turn, startled Sheldrake so greatly as seriously to endanger the negotiations. Two ideas, however, occurred to the financier, though he spoke of neither to Reginald; one was motor-cars and airways, the other was his wife. To protect the one and delight the other made it the aim of his morning to procure the Stone, and the eventual seventy-three thousand guineas at which it changed hands was a lesser matter. Neither of them were ever quite clear how that particular sum was reached; though Reginald flattered himself that the guineas made it a far more reputable transaction than if it had been merely pounds. He had pressed on Sheldrake the advisability of secrecy, but he had been compelled to admit that a few other Stones of the kind were in existence — not more than half a dozen. The American had displayed some curiosity as to their owners, but here the mere facts enabled Montague to be firm. He admitted that Sir Giles Tumulty had one; he thought the Chief Justice had; and he himself — well, of course, he had kept one, that was reasonable. But he said nothing of his intention to spend the afternoon creating a few more Stones nor of the names of buyers which were already floating in his mind. On his side Sheldrake said nothing of his intention to communicate the mystery at least to his wife, nor of his anxiety to procure, if he anyhow could, the other existing examples of it. Equally satisfied, equally unsatisfied, they parted, and while Reginald went first to his office and then to Brighton, Sheldrake went straight by car to Rivington Court.
He waited however till the next day, and till he had, rather nervously, at a very early hour the next morning, tried a few more minor experiments, before he spoke of the new treasure. The experiments were tried cautiously, in a small wood near the house, and were limited to the crossing of a brook, the passage of a field, and so on, concluding with the grand finale of a return to his own room, where he contentedly locked the Stone away and went to breakfast. It was some time later, not very long before lunch, while Lord Arglay raged in London, that he took his wife across the terraces and lawns to a hidden summer-house and revealed the secret to her.
Cecilia took it with surprising calm — took, indeed, both the secret and the Stone with a similar calm. She was delighted, she was thrilled, but with an obscure and egoistical acceptance of things she was not wildly surprised. If such treasures existed, they did so, both she and her husband felt, chiefly for Cecilia Sheldrake. Her life had refused her only one thing — to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic, and Cecilia, like everyone else, felt that life owed her every sort of gratification in return for that disappointment. Not that anything could really make up for it, but other tributes might help her to forget. Even miracles were reasonable since they happened for her, and Angus, in the depths of his nature, though his brain moved more slowly, felt that a world whose chief miracles were the existence of Cecilia and her existence as his wife might easily throw in a few more to make things pleasant for her. She did indeed open her eyes a little at the price, but that also seemed reasonable since it was for her, and she was more ready to risk extended experiments than her husband had been. Indeed it was she who made what must up to then have been the longest journey yet taken by those high means — at least for some centuries — in going direct to her bedroom in London and returning with a dress she had left behind and had changed her mind about on the way down the day before. When she had safely returned —
“Darling, how sweet of you!” she cried to Angus. “I never had anything like it before.”
“I don’t suppose many people have, or will have,” Angus said, with justice. “Not many will have the chance.”
“But will anybody?” Cecilia said, a little shocked. “Are there more of them?”
“Oh, about half a dozen, I gathered,” Angus told her. “And I don’t know who’s going to buy them.”
Cecilia looked depressed. “Where did they come from?” she asked in a moment.
“Sir Giles Tumulty brought them from the East, Montague said,” Angus answered. “He’s a traveller and explorer.”
His wife looked at him meditatively. “You don’t think he’d sell them all?” she asked, “O Angus, if somebody else got hold of them.”
“Well, Sir Giles has,” Sheldrake pointed out.
“O him!” Cecilia said. “I mean somebody else like us.“She sat up suddenly. “Angus! What about Airways?”
“I know,” Angus said, “I thought the same thing. It might be awkward. Of course, it’s not so bad because you’d want to be pretty sure of anyone before you lent them the Stone.”
Cecilia shook her head. “We mayn’t know everything,” she said. “They may have cheated you. This Mr. Montague didn’t say it was the only one?”
“Sweetheart, he said it wasn’t,” Angus pointed out.
“Then he has cheated you,” Cecilia said impatiently. “O Angus, we must put it right. After all, the Airways ought to have control, oughtn’t they?”
“It may be a little awkward,” Angus answered. “I think one of them is with the Lord Chief Justice.”
Cecilia opened her eyes. “But I thought judges weren’t supposed to have financial interests,” she exclaimed. “Isn’t it corruption? . . . Angus, they can’t make them, can they?”
“What!” said her husband, startled. “Make them? O no — at least I suppose not. They came from the East.”
“Yes, but do they make them in the East, or dig them up, or magnetize them, or something?” Cecilia persisted. “Angus dear, you must see what I mean. If there was a mine now, how dreadful it would be.”
“Darling, I think you’re getting unnecessarily alarmed,” Sheldrake protested. “There can’t be a mine — not possibly — not of stones that do this.”
“Why not?” Cecilia asked.
“Well, could there? It isn’t reasonable,” her husband urged. “Stones like this must be rare.” But he looked uneasily at it as he spoke.
“Anyhow — it’s near lunchtime — anyhow I think you ought to do something. Get it forbidden by law or something.”
“But then what about us?” Sheldrake asked.
Cecilia took his arm. “Darling,” she said, “you’re awfully slow. There could always be a special licence to the Airways.”
“It’d be very difficult to explain to the Home Secretary without telling him everything, and I don’t know that I want to tell him everything,” Angus murmured. “Besides, if one licence is granted others could be, and suppose you got a Labour Government in again?”
Cecilia almost stamped. “I suppose you could buy a monopoly or a charter or something of that sort for twenty-one years or so?” she asked plaintively. “Darling Angus, we do want to stop it going further, don’t we?”
“O rather, yes,” Angus agreed. “It’s the explaining that will be difficult.”
“It won’t be any more difficult for you than for me to explain to Elsie how this frock came down here,” his wife said. “Dearest, it’s a lovely present and I do thank you enormously. But if you could just prevent anyone else having one, it would be too perfectly sweet! You will try, won’t you?”
“O I’ll try,” Angus answered, kissing her. “But it’ll take some doing. There’d have to be an Act, I’m afraid — and if the Lord Chief Justice was nasty —”
“He wouldn’t have anything to do with politics though, would he?” Cecilia asked. “And as a matter of fact he might, if you put it to him nicely, be willing to sell.”
They returned to the house to lunch.
About the same time a less elaborate lunch was being served in the inn of the village close by to Chloe Burnett and Frank Lindsay. Chloe had been half-unwilling to leave London, for fear the Chief Justice should want her, but a sense of duty, a necessity to recompense Frank for the unsatisfactory result of the Friday evening, had compelled her to accept his suggestion; though, for some undefined reason, she had caused him to take Lancaster Gate on the way. Lord Arglay’s house had offered no more information than she expected, but the sight of it enabled her more freely to devote all her energies to making the day’s amusement a success. She had received with interest and encouragement Frank’s serious efforts towards culture, although a part of her mind remotely insisted on comparing his careful answers with Lord Arglay’s casual completeness. Sir Giles’s epigram on encyclopedias —“the slums of the mind” — recurred to her, and she went so far to meet it as to admit that Frank’s information was rather like a block of model dwellings compared with the tumultuous carelessness of a country house. The contrast had been suddenly provoked by Frank’s short lecture in answer to her question —“O by the way, what is a Sufi?”
“It is a Muhammedan sect,” he had answered. “Muhammed, you know, who was a fanatical monotheist, wrote the Koran, or rather claimed that the Koran had been delivered to him by Gabriel.” He had gone on, with what seemed a good many references to Muhammed. Chloe’s intelligence reminded her that by the phrase “Muhammed was a fanatical monotheist”— he meant what Lord Arglay — or was it the Hajji? — had meant by saying “Our lord the Prophet arose to proclaim the Unity,” but she found the one phrase unusually trying after the other. As penance and compensation she allowed her hand, which lay lightly in Frank’s, to give it a small squeeze of thanks, and diverted his attention by saying, “O what a jolly house!”
The lecture had taken place soon after lunch while they were wandering in the lanes round the village. There was in fact very little of the house to be seen — it was too far off and hidden by trees, but perhaps sufficient to justify Chloe in saying, “Let’s go through that gate and get a bit nearer.”
“You’ll be trespassing,” Frank said, looking at the obviously private road on the other side.
Chloe laid her hand on the latch and gazed along the empty road. “Frank, in two minutes,” she said, “there will rush round that corner a herd of maddened cows — look, there they are. I shall take refuge behind this gate, and I pull you in too.” She did, and shut it after them. “Being here, don’t you think we might just go as far as that bend and see if we can see the house better?”
“Certainly,” Frank said obligingly. “As a matter of fact, according to English law, trespassers —”
“O don’t talk about the law,” Chloe said very hastily. “I don’t want anyone but Lord — the Chief Justice to talk to me about that.”
“Poor dear, you must get enough of it. I forgot you live with it perpetually,” Lindsay answered. “You must be jolly glad to get away from it a bit.”
Chloe, with a certain throb of conscience, attended to the house, of which a great deal more became visible as they reached the bend. The private road ran on towards it, but both the trespassers lingered.
“It is rather jolly, isn’t it?” Frank said, and stopped dead. Chloe gave a cry of fear. For before the words had been well spoken or heard the air in front of them seemed suddenly to quiver, a quick brightness shone within it, and they found standing in front of them, where no one had been, whither no one had come, a well-dressed young lady. She seemed to be equally startled, and her gurgling cry caught up Chloe’s shriek. There was a minute’s silence while they all gazed, then
“The Stone,” Chloe cried out. “You’ve got the Stone.” Rather shaken still, the stranger looked at her, but hostilely. “What do you mean? what stone?” she asked.
“You must have it,” Chloe said breathlessly. “I know — I’ve seen. It was exactly that; the wind, the light, the — you. You have got the Stone.”
Her words sounded almost accusingly. Mrs. Sheldrake unconsciously clenched her hand a little more tightly round what was, surely, her property, and said: “I suppose you know you’re trespassing?”
Frank reacted to the commonplace remark, feeling that he must have been day-dreaming a few moments. The new arrival had, of course, walked up the road.
“We’re so sorry,” he said. “As a matter of fact we came in to shelter —” He paused in a confused realization that he had been on the point of repeating Chloe’s preposterous tale about the cows.
“To shelter!” the lady said.
“Well, no, not to shelter,” Frank stammered, feeling suddenly angry with Chloe, who was still staring, almost combatively. “I’m so sorry — I mean — we just came a step or two in to look at the house. From here, I mean. We weren’t going nearer. I do apologize, I— I—”
Cecilia looked at Chloe. “What did you mean by the Stone?” she asked again.
“I mean the Stone,” Chloe said with a clear vigour. “Is there another then, or have you bought one?”
Cecilia came a step nearer. “What do you mean about the Stone?” she asked, and made a mistake which in a less startled moment she would not have made. “You had better tell me,” she added.
Chloe flushed a little. “I shall certainly not —” she began, and stopped as a confused dream of Lord Arglay, Charlemagne, Gabriel, the Tetragrammaton, and the End of Desire swept across her. “I beg your pardon,” she went on. “It was only that I was so surprised.”
“Is this Mr. Montague?” Cecilia asked, abruptly shifting her attack to Frank, who was too taken aback to do more than begin a hasty denial before Chloe interrupted him.
“No,” she said, “he has nothing to do with it. Are you Mrs. Sheldrake?”
“I am Mrs. Sheldrake,” the other said, “but what do you know?”
Chloe hesitated. “I know that you have one of the Stones,” she said, “but it ought not to have been bought or sold. It wasn’t Mr. Montague’s and it can’t be yours.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Cecilia said sharply. “How many of these Stones are there then?”
“I don’t know,” Chloe answered truthfully. “There was only one at first, but that can’t be yours for that was in the Crown.”
“The Crown? what Crown?” Cecilia asked again, feeling that this was intolerable. There were, it seemed, goodness knows how many of those Stones — and now there was more talk of a Crown — as if seventy-three thousand guineas oughtn’t to have bought the whole thing. She was half-inclined to throw the Stone in the girl’s face — only that would be silly; as a mere precaution she ought to keep it.
Chloe said anxiously, “You ought to see Lord Arglay; the Chief Justice, I mean. He could tell you better than I can. He’s Mr. Montague’s uncle and he warned him not to sell it.”
“Is it Lord Arglay’s property then?” Cecilia answered.
“I don’t know whose property it is,” Chloe admitted rather helplessly. “But you ought to be very careful what you do with it.”
“I should like very much to see Lord Arglay,” Mrs. Sheldrake said, “if he could make things any clearer.” She lifted the hand that held the Stone. “Can we reach him by this”’
“Certainly not,” Chloe said, with a return of firmness. “We can’t use the Stone of Suleiman for that.”
“My good girl,” Cecilia said contemptuously, “that’s what it’s for.”
“It isn’t,” Chloe cried out, “and if you use it for that you’ve got no business with it. Any more than Mr. Montague. It’s for getting somewhere.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Sheldrake, “I want to get to Lord Arglay. Will you tell me how and where I can find him? Or must I do it myself?”
“O don’t,” Chloe said. “He’s in London, I think.” She gave the address. “But he won’t be pleased if you use the Stone.”
“I shall go,” Mrs. Sheldrake announced, “by car. And now, don’t you think you’d better get out of these grounds?”
Mr. Lindsay, who had been anxious to do so for the last five minutes, flung her a vicious glance and started. Chloe, who wanted to say a good deal without saying anything, gave her intelligence the victory and accompanied him. But over at the gate she seized his hand and forced him to run with her. “Quick,” she said, “quick. We must get back to London.”
“London?” Frank protested. “Why on earth —? Why, it is not three yet. Surely —”
“O we must,” Chloe exclaimed. “I must see Lord Arglay. I must find out if I’ve done right. I must see what he says to her.”
“But surely he can manage her without you,” Frank said. “it can’t be so absolutely vital to you to be there. If she’s got something that doesn’t belong to her, I shouldn’t think she really does want to see him I should think it was all bluff. If,” he added, “you’d tell me what it’s all about I should know better what we ought to do.”
What they ought to do was not Chloe’s concern; what she was going to do she knew perfectly well. She was going straight back to Lancaster Gate; so straight that the idea of telephoning occurred to her only to be dismissed. Nor had she any intention of explaining to Frank; she had been agreeable to him all day, it was now his turn to start being agreeable. She kept up a steady speed towards the inn.
“I can’t explain now,” she said after a moment or two. “If I possibly can I’ll tell you some other time. The Foreign Office comes into it,” she added, as an exciting suggestion. “But don’t talk now — run.”
It appeared to Frank the most curious day in the country with a girl friend that he had ever spent. Short of Bolsheviksim whom he was reluctant to believe, being a typical Liberal in Politics, though he professed a cynical independence — he couldn’t imagine why the Foreign Office should come in. But he was genuinely anxious to please Chloe, and though he offered one or two more disjointed protests he headed the car for London as soon as possible, once they had reached the inn; warning Chloe, however, that this little two-seater was unlikely to be able to arrive before whatever kind of magnificent car the Sheldrakes owned.
“O but we must,” she said. “Try, Frank, try. I must be there when she gets there. I must know what’s happening.”
“But what is this blessed Stone?” Frank asked.
“Darling, don’t worry now,” Chloe urged him. “Just see to getting on. Lancaster Gate, you know. As quick as ever.”
“I might be a taximan,” Frank let out. “All right.”
They fled through various lanes and emerged on a more important side road which would take them on to the main road for London. As soon as they did so however Frank began to slow down. A short distance in front of them, halfway up the steep bank, was another car, and out of it Mrs. Sheldrake was scrambling.
“O don’t stop,” Chloe cried, but Cecilia had recognized them and run into the middle of the road.
“Stop,” she said, and Frank was compelled to obey. She came up and addressed Chloe.
“A most annoying thing has happened,” she said, “and perhaps you’ll help us. The Stone’s somewhere over there.” She pointed to the bank and the hedge. “I was looking at it in the car and Angus — Mr. Sheldrake — had to swerve suddenly and it flew out of my hand, and now he can’t find it.”
“What!” Chloe exclaimed.
“It must be there,” Cecilia went on sharply. “I was just holding it up to the sun, to get the colour in the light, and the car jerked, and it had gone. But it’s only just over there, it must be, and I thought you wouldn’t mind helping us look.”
Chloe was out of the car in a moment. “You’ve lost it,” she said. “O Mrs. Sheldrake!”
“It can’t possibly be lost,” Cecilia assured, rather annoyed. “And please — I’m afraid I don’t know your name — remember that it’s my property.”
“We can settle that after,” Chloe said, beginning to mount the bank. “We can’t possibly leave it lying about for someone to pick up. We can ask Lord Arglay whom it ought to belong to.”
“This,” Frank put in before Mrs. Sheldrake could speak, “is Miss Burnett. She is the Chief Justice’s secretary,” he added as impressively as possible, as Chloe caught the hedge at the top of the bank, pulled herself up, and wriggled and pushed through. “My name is Lindsay.”
Cecilia eyed the bank. “Well, Angus?” she called.
A rather strained voice answered her from above —“No, no luck. O— er — are you helping? Somewhere about here, we thought.”
“Will you help me too, Mr. Lindsay?” Cecilia asked. “So tiresome, all this business. But one can’t afford to throw away seventy thousand guineas.” Some reason, after all, had to be given to this young man who was obviously in a state of mere bewilderment, and perhaps the price —
So far she was right. He gaped at her. “A stone,” he said. “But what kind of a stone then?”
“O about so large,” Cecilia told him. “A kind of cream colour, with gold flakings, and funny black marks. Will you? It would be so good of you. Miss Burnet’s too kind. All four of us ought to find it, oughtn’t we? Thank you.”
He began to help her to climb. Why Chloe, who had been so intent on rushing to London — but of course if the stone was really worth seventy thousand — seventy thousand, it would be rather fascinating even to see a stone worth that.
But half an hour’s search, though they all tramped round, parted the thick grass, bent and grovelled and peered, brought them no nearer success. Cecilia, Angus felt, could hardly have chosen a worse place to look at the Stone; nor could Angus, his wife felt in turn, have chosen a worse place to swerve. For besides the bank and hedge by the road, at this particular point two fields were divided by another thorny hedge, at the base of which the grass on each side grew long. There were nettles and thistles and much larger stones on which the men seemed to be continually kneeling, and they all had a feeling that any one of the others might be trampling it into the ground at any moment. And Cecilia distrusted Chloe and Frank, and Chloe distrusted Cecilia and Angus, and Frank was wondering what the whole business meant, and Angus was wondering who the strangers were, and as they searched this wonder, suspicion, and irritation grew every moment more violent. But the End of Desire remained hidden.
At last, as they met in their circumambulations, Frank murmured to Chloe, “Is this really our business? Is it your Stone or theirs?”
“It isn’t mine,” Chloe said, trying not to sound irritable but conscious she was looking hot and dirty and anxious, “but it isn’t really theirs. They bought it all right, but they oughtn’t to have it.”
“Are you tired out, Mr. Lindsay?” Cecilia called impatiently. “It must be somewhere here.”
“Yes, Mrs. Sheldrake,” Frank rebelled suddenly, “but Miss Burnett wanted to get to London, and really we seem to be going over the same ground again and again.”
“Please don’t stop then,” Cecilia said. “I’m sorry to have kept you.”
“O nonsense,” Chloe broke in. “Of course we must stop. We must find it. We can’t let a thing like that be about loose. If someone’s got it at least we shall know where it is, if not whose.”
“There’s no question of that,” Cecilia threw at her, “since we paid for it. As it is, I think your friend Mr. Montague has cheated us.”
“He is not —” Chloe began and then remembered she was looking for the End of Desire. With a muddled prayer to the Stone — since, being a modern normally emotional girl she was, quite naturally, an idolater — she stopped and, to her own astonishment, experienced a sudden flicker of amused peace, accompanied by a clearer intellectual survey.
“But we are getting confused, I think,” she said.
At this moment Angus, having stung himself again, swore violently and got up, kneeling on something sharp as he did so. Moved by this exactly as by unexpected opposition at a board meeting he began to decide things at once. “We can’t go on like this,” he said. “After all, so long as things are left undisturbed here we’re damn well certain to find it if I have every blade of grass pulled up separately. The point is — do you want to go to London now, Cecilia, or back to the Court?”
His wife looked at Chloe, who knew the Chief Justice. Let her talk to him while she sat ignorant? Never. If they couldn’t find this stone they could anyhow get on the track of the others.
“London,” she said. “But you had better stop here, Angus, and perhaps Mr. Lindsay will go back to the Court and send someone to you.”
Chloe felt clear that this would do what she wanted with Frank without her interfering. She went on moving the grass with her foot and looking at the ground, as did everyone else except Frank who glanced back towards the road and said coldly, “I’m afraid that’s impossible. Miss Burnett wants to go to London too.”
There was a short silence. Then Angus, still murmuring curses, said abruptly to his wife, “Then you’d better take the car and get on to London with Miss Burnett. And I’ll stop here, and then perhaps Mr. Lindsay won’t mind going back to the Court.”
“I shall very much mind,” Lindsay answered. “I am going to take Miss Burnett to London at once — myself. I daresay someone will pass pretty soon who’ll take a message for you.”
Chloe’s hand on his arm distracted him. “Frank dear,” she said, “would you go? I know it sounds beastly, but if you would . . . ”
Frank stared at her. “Do you want me to?” he asked stupidly.
“I don’t — I don’t — want you to,” Chloe in confusion murmured. “But I think it would be — O sporting — of you. It’s not a bit nice, but I think we ought.”
“I think it’s perfectly insane,” Frank answered in a low voice. “Do you want them to have their own way altogether?”
“Not altogether,” Chloe protested, also speaking softly, “but it seems as if we ought,” she ended again lamely.
Frank, in a very bad temper, gave way. “O anything you like, of course,” he said coldly. “I go back to this Court then, and after that I can come to London by myself, I suppose?”
“I know it’s beastly, Frank,” Chloe answered appealingly. “I’d go myself or I’d come with you — I’d love to come with you — but I must get to Lord Arglay as soon as Mrs. Sheldrake.” She was not quite clear why, since she realized even then that two sentences of Cecilia’s conversation would let the Chief Justice know everything. But she could not yet face that abolition of her own secret desires which the abandonment of any attempt to witness their meeting would involve. Besides, Frank would be bound to want to know — still, it was hard on him and it was quite natural he should turn away and say to Sheldrake very politely, “Miss Burnett thinks your suggestion a very good one, and so do I. Will Mrs. Sheldrake take her on to London then?”
Cecilia with a cold grudge assented. But Chloe said suddenly to Angus — “O but, Mr. Sheldrake, if you do find it, you’ll tell us, won’t you? That would be only fair.” Angus agreed. “If I find it I’ll let you know at once,” he said. “At Lord Arglay’s?”
“Please,” Chloe said gratefully, and tried to catch Frank’s eye. She failed, and went sadly to the bank. She was always doing the selfish thing, she felt. But after all Lord Arglay might — might very easily — want several things done at once when he knew the situation. She wished she wanted to be with Frank a little more strongly. Duty with a strong inclination looked so dreadfully selfish beside duty with a mild inclination. She sat down gloomily in the Sheldrakes’ car and it moved off.
The two men looked at each other. “I don’t understand what all this is about,” Frank said, “or whose this precious stone is. But I have your word that if you find it while I’m gone, or at all for that matter, you’ll let us know.”
“I don’t mind telling you what I know,” Angus answered. “I bought, from a fellow named Montague, who seems to be a nephew of this Lord Arglay your friend’s so keen on, a rather valuable stone for my wife. She understood that it was — well, practically, unique — and now there seems to be some question on our side of misrepresentation, and on yours — theirs, I mean, — of other rights in the property. I daresay it can all be settled by a few minutes chat between me and Lord Arglay or whoever knows, but till then, since I’ve parted with my money, I consider I’ve a right to hold the stone. But I’m anxious to be quite fair and I’ll certainly let you or Miss Burnett know if it’s found. I shall have a very careful search made, and if it’s necessary I shall buy both these fields.”
“I see,” Frank said, a little impressed by this method of dealing with difficulties. “And you want me to go and let your people know where you are.”
“If you will,” Angus assented. “It’s very good of you, but you’ll agree that Miss Burnett seemed almost as keen as my wife.”
“O yes,” Frank answered gloomily. “What’s the best way to your place from here?”
Sheldrake told him and he departed, car and all. Angus, allowing about an hour before he was relieved, lit a cigarette and sat down under the hedge to wait. He was too tired to do any more searching; indeed, when the cigarette was finished, he found himself disinclined to move in order to reach another, but, stretching himself out, lay half-asleep and half brooding.
He was only partly conscious of feet that sounded on the other side of the hedge, though a certain subconscious knowledge told him that someone was coming along a footpath that ran alongside the hedge, a couple of feet away. As they came nearer however he moved so as to be just in time to see a tall figure take a short stride up to the hedge, reach up and pick something from the top of the intertwining twigs. A sudden fear assailed him. The stranger was back on the footpath before Angus could scramble to his feet, and was beginning to move away by the time he reached the hedge.
“Hi!” Angus cried out, seriously alarmed. “Hi, you!” The stranger paused and looked back. He was a tall, rather dark young man, of about thirty, carrying sketching materials, and he looked at Angus with a certain hard surprise.
“Hi!” said Angus again. “Is that mine?”
The young man looked at him, took a step or two farther on, and said over his shoulder, “Is what yours?”
Angus ran a few feet along his side of the hedge and said, “What you’ve just picked up. If it’s a funny looking stone, it’s mine.”
“Is it really?” the stranger said. “And why did you put it there?”
“Never mind about all that,” Sheldrake said impatiently. “Just hand it over, will you?”
The young man began to walk slowly on, and Angus, tripping over roots and stones every other second, kept pace with him, cursing aloud.
“I ask you,” the stranger said to the sky, “what would you think? I pick a — something — from a hedge and am vociferously told that it belongs to him”— he threw a disagreeable glance at Sheldrake. “And you, I suppose,” he said bitterly, “were looking for it?”
“I had been,” Angus said, almost falling once more. “I had only just sat down.”
“Well, if you will take a rest in the middle of pitch and toss —” the young man flung over. “If it’s yours how did it get to the top of the hedge?”
“My wife threw it there from a car,” Sheldrake answered incoherently as they reached the bank of the high road. “And then went away, car and all,” the stranger said looking at the empty road. “Family happiness. Is marriage a success?”
“Don’t be a damned idiot,” Angus snapped. “Give me that stone at once.”
The stranger pondered. “I half-believe you,” he said, “but only half. And anyhow I may tell you I dislike nothing so much as to be called Hi. I don’t mind calling myself I, though of course — yes, I know what you’re going to say — there’s no proof of it. It’s a convenience elevated into a philosophy — yes, I agree. But even so I don’t like strangers using what is, so to speak, my own pet name for myself And still more do I dislike their aspirating it. An aspirate so generously bestowed is almost snobbish. I don’t say —”
“Will you give me that stone?” Sheldrake shouted.
“If you had asked me politely,” the young man went on gravely, “I probably should — more out of surprise than conviction. Holy awe and so on. But as it is — no. However, if it’s yours, you shall have it. My name is Oliver Doncaster, and I am staying for a few weeks at Mrs. Pentridge’s in the village over there. I am now going there to tea. After tea”— he looked at his watch —“a quarter to five say, about six, if you will call and convince me you shall have your stone. What is your name — besides Hi, which is, I suppose, generic?”
Angus tried to pull himself together; he felt such a fool wrangling through a hedge. Besides he was not finally certain that this fellow had the stone. “I beg your pardon if I was rude,” he said, “but it was all so sudden . . .
“So sudden?” Doncaster asked.
. . . and I was so anxious to stop you, that I just called out . . . If you would let me see what it was you took out of the hedge . . . ”
“It was,” the other allowed, “a stone. It just happened to catch my eye. After six I shall be delighted to let it catch yours. Never mind about your name if you’d rather keep it dark. In about an hour or so then? So pleased to have — well, this is hardly a meeting, is it? — heard from you. Good-bye, goodbye.” He waved his hand gracefully and went off along the footpath which here turned to the left and took him to a gate half-way along the field. By the time Angus had got to the bottom of the bank he had come into the road, passed across it, and disappeared down a side lane.
At tea he examined his find. It seemed dull enough indoors, though the colour was pure and the markings curious, but it lacked something of the golden light with which it had seemed to shine in the afternoon sun. A little disappointed he went up to his bedroom and paused on the way at another door.
“Hallo,” he said, “may I come in?”
In the bed in this room lay Mrs. Pentridge’s mother, Mrs. Ferguson, who had been paralyzed from the waist downward for the last year. Opinion in the house was silently divided whether it would have been better for her to be taken altogether or not. Mr. Pentridge thought it would be a merciful release for her. Mrs. Pentridge thought it was a merciful blessing that she had been so far spared. Mrs. Ferguson disguised her own opinion, if she had one, and concentrated her energies on making the most of what visitors and what talk she could still have. Doncaster had fallen into what he felt to be a ridiculous habit of showing her his day’s work after tea, and was even, half-seriously, trying to teach her his own prejudices about art; not that he allowed himself to call them that. Mrs. Pentridge, who was also in the room, examining pillow-cases, welcomed him as warmly as her mother.
“Did you get a nice view, Mr. Doncaster?” she asked.
He sat down smiling. “A very pretty bit of work,” he said. “No, Mrs. Ferguson, I don’t mean mine — I mean the thing I was trying to do. But I had to alter one branch. I couldn’t somehow find out exactly what spot nature meant me to stand at. Now look there —” He held out the sketch and Mrs. Ferguson stared at it while he expatiated. Mrs. Pentridge went on with her pillow-cases. When at last he rose —“O by the Way,” he said, “I’m expecting a man in a few minutes, to talk about something I found. Look, did you ever see a stone like that?” He passed it over to Mrs. Ferguson. “Look at the colour, isn’t it exquisite?”
“What is it?” the old lady asked.
“Lord knows,” said Oliver. “I should like it to be chrysoprase, but I don’t suppose it is. The Urim and Thummim perhaps.”
“That was what the high priest had on his breastplate,” Mrs. Ferguson said, looking at the Bible that lay by her bedside. “I remember that well enough.”
“I’m sure you do,” Oliver said smiling.
“I was little enough when I heard about them,” Mrs. Ferguson went on. “At the Sunday school it was. I remember it because I learned them the Sunday before I went to the treat for the first time. Urim and Thummim, that was it. I remember Susie Bright pretending to look for them all the way home in the ditch. O I do wish I could run now as well as I could then.”
Mr. Sheldrake’s knock at the door below passed unnoticed. For Mrs. Pentridge had dropped her pillow-cases, and with staring eyes was watching her mother struggling up in bed. She sat up, she gasped and gazed, her hands drooped and waved in front of her. She began to shift round; oblivious of Oliver’s presence she felt for the side of the bed and began to slip her feet over it. “Mother,” shrieked Mrs. Pentridge and flew to one side as Oliver leapt to the other. Mrs. Ferguson, panting with surprise and exertion, came slowly to her feet, and holding on to her two supporters, took a step or two forward.
“I’m all right,” she gasped, released Oliver, took another step, “quite all right,” and let go of her daughter. “I think,” she added, “I must be feeling a bit better today.”
There was a stupendous silence. Mr. Sheldrake knocked again at the front door.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15