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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Toby
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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Toby Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3051

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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Toby


It was contrary to Captain Larpent's habit to show surprise at any time, whatever the caprices of his patron, but he did look at Saltash somewhat harder than usual when the latter informed him in his breezy fashion of the unexpected addition to the yacht's company. He also frowned a little and smoothed his beard as though momentarily puzzled.

"You won't want to be bothered with him," he said after brief reflection. "Better let him sleep in the forecastle."

"Not for the present," said Saltash. "I am going to train him, and I'll keep him under my own eye. The little beggar has had a pretty rough time of it to judge by appearances. I've a fancy for looking after him myself."

"What are you going to make of him?" asked Larpent.

Saltash laughed carelessly, flicking the ash from his cigarette. "I'll tell you that when I can show you the finished article. I'm keeping him below for the present. He's got a prize-fighter's eye which is not exactly an ornament. Like to have a look at him? You're ship's doctor."

Larpent shrugged his shoulders. "P'raps I'd better. I'm not over-keen on sudden importations. You never know what they may bring aboard with them."

Saltash's eyes gleamed mischievously. "Better inoculate the whole crew at once! He's more like a stray spaniel than anything else."

"A King Charles!" suggested Larpent, with the flicker of an eyelid. "Well, my lord, let's have a look at your latest find!"

They went below, Saltash whistling a careless air. He was usually in high spirits when not suffering from boredom.

Someone else was whistling in the vicinity of his cabin, but it was not from the valet's cabin that the cheery sounds proceeded. They found him in the bathroom with an oily rag, rubbing up the taps.

He desisted immediately at their entrance and stood smartly at attention. His eye was badly swollen and discoloured, he looked wretchedly ill, but he managed to smile at Saltash, who took him by the shoulder and made him face the light.

"What are you doing in here, you--scaramouch? Didn't I tell you to lie still? Here he is, Larpent! What do you think of him? A poor sort of specimen, eh?"

"What's his name?" said Larpent.

"Toby Barnes, sir," supplied the boy promptly.

"And there's nothing under the sun he can't do except drive cars," put in Saltash, "and obey orders."

Toby winced a little. "I'm sorry, sir. Only wanted to be useful, sir. I'll go back to bed if you say so."

"What do you say, Captain?" said Saltash.

Larpent bent and looked closely at the injured eye. "The sooner the better," he said after a brief examination. "Stay in bed for a week, and then I'll look at you again!"

"Oh, not a week!" exclaimed Toby, aghast, and then clapped a hand to his mouth and was silent.

But his look implored Saltash who laughed and pinched the shoulder under his hand. "All right. We'll see how you get on. If we meet any weather you'll probably be only too thankful to stay there."

Toby smiled somewhat woefully, and said nothing.

Larpent stood up. "I'll fetch some stuff to dress it with. Better have it bandaged. Pretty painful, isn't it?"

"No, sir," lied Toby valiantly. "Don't feel it at all."

But he shrank with a quick gasp of pain when Larpent unexpectedly touched the injury.

"Don't hurt the child!" said Saltash sharply.

Larpent smiled his faint, sardonic smile, and turned away.

Toby laid his cheek with a winning, boyish gesture against the hand that held him. "Don't make me go to bed, sir!" he pleaded. "I'll be miserable in bed."

Saltash looked down at him with eyebrows comically working. "It is rather a hole--that cabin of yours," he conceded. "You can lie on the couch in my stateroom if you like. Don't get up to mischief, that's all! I'm responsible for you, remember."

Toby thanked him humbly, swearing obedience and good behaviour. The couch in Saltash's cabin was immediately under a porthole, and the fresh sea-air blew straight in. He stretched his meagre person upon it with a sigh of contentment, and Saltash smiled down upon him. "That's right. You'll do there. Let's see! What did you say your name was?"

"Toby, sir."

"Toby Barnes or Toby Wright?" said Saltash.

The boy started, turned very red, then very white, opened his mouth to speak, shut it tightly, and said nothing.

Saltash took out his cigarette-case and opened it with great leisureliness. The smile still played about his ugly features as he chose a cigarette. Finally he snapped the lid and looked down again at his _protege_.

"Or Toby nothing?" he said.

Toby's eyes came up to his, though the effort to raise them drew his face painfully.

"Whatever you like, my lord," he said faintly. "I'll answer to anything."

Saltash's own face was curiously softened. He looked down at Toby for some seconds in silence, idly tapping the cigarette he held against the case. Then: "How old are you?" he asked suddenly.

"Sixteen, sir." Toby's eyes with their dumb pleading were still anxiously raised to his.

Saltash bent abruptly and put his hand very lightly over them. "All right. Don't hurt yourself!" he said kindly. "You're young enough to chuck the past and start again."

Toby's claw-like hands came up and closed upon his wrist. "Wish I could, sir," he whispered with lips that quivered. "Haven't had much of a chance--so far, sir."

"All right," Saltash said again. "It's up to you. I shan't interfere. Don't expect too much of me; that's all I ask! I'm not considered exactly a suitable companion for young things like you."

He drew his hand away and lighted his cigarette. Toby turned his face into the cushion and lay very still.

Larpent, returning, wondered what his patron had been saying to make the boy's eyes wet with tears, but betrayed no curiosity on the subject.

"Are you going to let him stay in here?" he asked, as he bound a lotion-soaked pad over the damaged eye.

"For the present," said Saltash. "Any objection?"

"Not the smallest." Larpent's tone was absolutely noncommittal. "Make him lie quiet, that's all!"

"He'll do that," said Saltash with confidence.

"Good!" said Larpent. "We're in for a blow before we reach Gib or I'm much mistaken."

"Do us all good," said Saltash with satisfaction.

Larpent looked grim and said no more.

"Frightened?" asked Saltash of Toby when he was gone.

Toby chuckled at the thought. "Not a bit, sir."

"Good sailor by any chance?" questioned Saltash.

"No, sir; rotten, sir." Quite undaunted came the reply.

"Well, shut your eyes and go to sleep!" commanded Saltash, and spread a rug over the small, curled-up figure.

Toby murmured his thanks and relaxed with a big sigh of content.

Some hours later, when the blow that Larpent had prophesied had arrived in earnest and the yacht was pitching on a wild sea in the light of a lurid sunset, Saltash came below to change.

He was met by Toby, ghastly of face but still desperately smiling, who sprang from his couch to wait upon him, and collapsed at his feet.

"Little ass!" said Saltash, barely preventing himself from tumbling over him headlong.

He lifted the light, trembling figure and put it down again upon the couch. Then he poured out a dose of brandy and water and, holding the boy's head on his arm while the yacht lifted and tossed, compelled him to drink it.

"Now you lie quiet!" he commanded. "Don't stir an eyelid till I give you leave!"

The porthole was shut, and the atmosphere close and stuffy. Toby put forth an appealing hand and clung to his protector's sleeve.

"Mayn't I come on deck, sir?" he murmured anxiously. "Please, sir!"

"No," said Saltash.

Toby said no more, but his fingers fastened like a bird's claw on the man's arm, and he shivered.

"You're frightened!" said Saltash.

"No, sir! No, sir!" he protested.

"Yes, you are. You needn't bother to lie to me. I always know." Saltash's voice held an odd note of comradeship. "Beastly sensation, isn't it? Have some more brandy!"

Then, as Toby refused, he sat down abruptly on the edge of the couch and thrust an arm out to him. Toby crept to him then like a nervous dog and trembled against his side.

"Little ass!" said Saltash again. "Been lying here sweating with terror, have you? There's nothing whatever to sweat about. She's as safe as houses."

"Yes, sir. I know, sir," whispered Toby apologetically.

Saltash's arm surrounded him with a comforting closeness. "You miserable little shrimp!" he said. "How's the head?"

"Better, sir. Thank you, sir," muttered Toby.

"Why not tell the truth for once and say it hurts like hell?" suggested Saltash.

Toby was silent.

"Do you know what I'm going to do with you?" said Saltash.

"No, sir." Toby stirred uneasily.

The vessel pitched to a sudden slant and Saltash braced himself, protecting the fair head from a blow against the woodwork behind him. "I'm going to put you to bed in my bunk here," he said. "You've got to have a decent night's rest. Did Murray look you out any spare slops? I told him to."

"Oh, yes, sir. Thank you, sir. But I couldn't sleep in your bunk, sir,--please, sir--indeed, sir!" Toby, still held by the sheltering arm, waxed incoherent, almost tearful.

Saltash pulled him up short. "You'll do as I tell you--now and always," he said, with royal finality. "You've put yourself in my hands, and you'll have to put up with the consequences. Got that?"

"Yes, sir," said Toby meekly.

"Then don't forget it!" said Saltash.

Toby subsided without further protest. Perhaps the brandy helped to make him quiescent, or perhaps it was only the realization of his utter weakness and dependence; but from that moment he was as submissive as if he had been indeed the small captive animal to which his new owner had likened him. At Saltash's behest and with his help, he presently crept back to his own cabin to divest himself of his hotel-livery and don the very roomy suit of pajamas that Murray the steward had served out to him.

Then, barefooted, stumbling, and shivering, he returned to where Saltash leaned smoking in the narrow dressing-room, awaiting him.

Saltash's dark face wore a certain look of grimness. He bent without words and lifted the shrinking figure in his arms.

Ten seconds later Toby sank down in a berth as luxurious as any ever carried by private yacht.

He was still shivering though a grateful warmth came about him as Saltash tucked him in. He tried to murmur thanks, but ended with a quivering chin and silence.

"Go to sleep, you little ass!" commanded Saltash.

And so at last Toby slept, the deep, unstirring sleep of exhaustion, utterly unconscious of his surroundings, unaware of the man who came in and out watching that unchanging repose, sublimely oblivious of all observation, sunk in a slumber so remote that it might have been the last long rest of all.

Saltash spent the night on the velvet couch under the closed porthole, dozing occasionally and always awakening with a jerk as the roll of the vessel threatened to pitch him on to the floor of the cabin. It was not a comfortable means of resting but he endured it in commendable silence with now and then a grimace which said more than words.

And the little waif that the gods had flung to him slept in his bunk all through the long hours as peacefully as an effigy upon a tomb.

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