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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Discipline
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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Discipline Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2348

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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Discipline


The storm spent itself before they reached Gibraltar, and Toby emerged smiling from his captivity below. He still wore the brown and gold hotel-livery as there was nothing else on board to fit him, but from Gibraltar a small packet of notes was dispatched to Antonio by Saltash in settlement of the loan.

"Now I've bought you--body and soul," he said to Toby, whose shining look showed naught but satisfaction at the announcement.

The vivid colours of his injured eye had faded to a uniform dull yellow, and he no longer wore a bandage. When they put to sea again he was no longer an invalid. He followed Saltash wherever he went, attended scrupulously to his comfort, and when not needed was content to sit curled up like a dog close to him, dumb in his devotion but always ready to serve him.

Saltash treated him with a careless generosity that veiled a good deal of consideration. He never questioned him with regard to his past, taking him for granted in a fashion that set Toby completely at ease. No one else had much to do with him. Larpent ignored him, and Murray the steward regarded him with a deep suspicion that did not make for intimacy.

And Toby was happy. Day after day his cheery whistle arose over his work while he polished Saltash's boots and brushed his clothes, or swept and dusted the state-cabin in which he slept. He himself had returned to his own small den that led out of Saltash's dressing-room, but the intervening doors were kept open by Saltash's command. They were always within hail of each other.

They went into perfect summer weather, and for a blissful week they voyaged through blue seas with a cloudless sky overhead. Toby's white skin began to tan. The sharp lines went out of his face. His laugh was frequent and wholly care-free. He even developed a certain impudence in his attitude towards his master to which Saltash extended the same tolerance that he might have shown for the frolics of a favourite dog. He accepted Toby's services, but he never treated him wholly as a servant.

It was an odd companionship which only the isolated life they led during those few days could have developed along those particular lines. When Saltash was bored he amused himself with his protege, teaching him picquet and chess, and finding in him an apt and eager pupil. There was a good deal of the gambler's spirit in Toby, and Saltash idly fostered it because it gave him sport. He laughed at his opponent's keenness, supplied stakes for the game, even good-naturedly let himself be beaten.

And then one day he detected Toby cheating. It was an end that he might have foreseen. He had encouraged the fever, he had practically sown the seeds; but, strangely, he was amazed, more disconcerted than he had been for years by the consequences. For it was not his way to disturb himself over anything. His principles were easy to laxness. But that Toby--the urchin he had sheltered and nursed like a sick puppy--should have done this thing somehow cut clean through his complacence.

"I'm going to give you a licking for that," he said, black brows drawn to a stern line. "You can go below and wait for it."

Toby went like an arrow, and Saltash spent the next half-hour pacing the deck, cursing himself, the youngster, and the insane and ridiculous Fate that had linked them together.

Then he went below to administer judicial corporal punishment to a human being for the first time in his life. As he himself whimsically expressed it, he had received ample correction during his own chequered career; but he had never been in a position to correct anyone else.

He found Toby waiting for him in his shirt-sleeves, rather white but quite composed, his riding-switch all ready to his hand.

"Ever been flogged before?" he asked him curtly as he picked it up.

"No, sir," said Toby, with downcast eyes.

"Why not?" There was a gibing note in Saltash's voice. "Never qualified before?"

Toby shot him a swift and nervous glance that was like a flash of blue flame. "No, sir. Never been caught before," he said.

Saltash's eyes flickered humour, but he steeled himself. "Well, you're caught this time--fairly caught. I may not be a specially fit person to punish you for it, but you won't be let off on that account."

"Go ahead, sir!" said Toby, with his hands twisted into a bony knot in front of him.

And Saltash went ahead. His heart was not in the business, and as he smote the narrow bent back it cried shame on him. Toby made no sound, but at the third stroke he winced, and Saltash with a terrific oath in French hurled his switch violently at the opposite wall.

"There! Don't do it again!" he said, and swung him round to face him. "Sorry? What?"

Then he saw that Toby was crying, and abruptly let him go, striding out through the dining-saloon and up the companion-way, swearing strange oaths in varied languages as he went.

He was openly rude to Larpent when the latter sauntered up for a word with him a little later, but Larpent, knowing him, merely hunched his shoulders as his custom was and sauntered away again.

When Saltash went down to dress for dinner, he found his clothes laid out as usual, but no Toby in attendance. His first impulse was to look for him, but he checked it and dressed in solitude. This thing must be conducted in the approved judicial manner at all costs.

Larpent was stolidly awaiting him in the saloon, and they sat down together. Usually Toby stood behind his master's chair, and the vacant place oppressed Saltash. He talked jerkily, with uneasy intervals of silence.

Larpent talked not at all beyond the demands of ordinary courtesy. He ate well, drank sparingly, and when not listening to Saltash's somewhat spasmodic conversation appeared immersed in thought. When the meal was over, he refused coffee, and rose to go on deck.

Then, abruptly, Saltash stayed him. "Larpent, wait a minute--unless you're in a hurry! Have a cigar with me!"

Larpent paused, looking across at the dark, restless face with the air of a man making a minute calculation. "Shall we smoke on deck, my lord?" he said at length.

Saltash sprang up as though he moved on wires. "Yes, all right. Get the cigars, Murray!" he commanded the steward; and to Larpent as the man went to obey, "That's decent of you. Thought you were going to refuse. I was damned offensive a while back. Accept my apologies! Fact is--I'm fed up with this show. Sorry if I disappoint you, but I'm going home."

"You never disappoint me, my lord," said Larpent, with his enigmatical smile.

Saltash gave him a keen look and uttered a laugh that was also not without its edge. "I like you, Larpent," he said. "You always tell the truth. Well, let's go! We shan't make Jamaica this trip, but it doesn't matter. In any case, it's a shame to miss the spring in England."

"Or the Spring Meetings?" suggested Larpent, as he chose his cigar.

"Quite so," said Saltash, almost with relief. "My old trainer--the man who bought my racing-stud--always looks for me about now. You ought to meet him by the way. He is another speaker of cruel truths."

He thrust a hand through his captain's arm as they left the saloon, and they went on deck together. Though Larpent never made any sign of resentment, yet was Saltash never wholly at his ease when he knew that he had taxed his forbearance until he had made amends. He took the trouble to make himself unusually agreeable as they settled down to their smoke.

It was a night of glorious stars, the sea one vast stretch of silver ripples, through which the yacht ran smoothly, leaving a wide white trail behind her. Saltash lay in a deck-chair with his face to the sky, but his attitude was utterly lacking in the solid repose that characterized his companion. He smoked his cigar badly, with impatient pulls. When it was half gone, he suddenly swore and flung it overboard.

"Larpent," he said, breaking a silence, "if you were a damned rotter--like me--what should you do with yourself?"

Larpent turned his head and quietly surveyed him. "I shouldn't run a home for waifs and strays," he said deliberately.

Saltash made a sharp movement. "Then I suppose you'd leave 'em in the gutter to starve," he said, with suppressed vehemence.

"No, I shouldn't. I'd pay someone else--someone who wasn't what you called yourself just now--to look after 'em." Larpent's voice was eminently practical if somewhat devoid of sympathy. "Gutter-snipes are damned quick to pick up--things they ought not," he observed dryly.

Saltash stirred uncomfortably in his chair as though something pricked him. "Think I'm a contaminating influence?" he said.

Larpent shrugged his shoulders. "It's not for me to say. All diseases are not catching--any more than they are incurable."

"Ho!" Saltash laughed suddenly and rather bitterly. "Are you suggesting--a cure?"

Larpent turned his head back again and puffed a cloud of smoke upwards. "There's a cure for most things," he observed.

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" gibed Saltash.

Larpent was silent for a space. Then: "A painful process no doubt!" he said. "But more wonderful things have happened."

"Pshaw!" said Saltash.

Nevertheless when Larpent rose a little later and bade him good-night, he reached up a couple of fingers in careless comradeship.

"Good-night, old fellow! Thanks for putting up with me! Sure you don't want to kick me?"

"Not when you're kicking yourself," said Larpent with a grim hint of humour.

He took the extended fingers and received a wiry handclasp that caused him faint surprise. But then, he reflected as he went away, he had always known Saltash to be a queer devil, oddly balanced, curiously impulsive, strangely irresponsible, possessing through all a charm which seldom failed to hold its own. He realized by instinct that Saltash was wrestling with himself that night, but, though he knew him better than did many, he would not have staked anything on the result. There were two selves in Saltash and, in Larpent's opinion, one was as strong as the other.

It was nearly an hour later that Saltash, prowling to and fro in the starlight, became suddenly aware of a figure, small and slight, with gleaming brass buttons, standing behind his vacant chair. He turned sharply to look at it, some inexplicable emotion twitching his dark face. Then abruptly he moved towards it, stood for a second as one in doubt, then turned and sat down in silence.

But as he settled himself he stretched forth an arm with a snap of the fingers, and in a flash Toby was kneeling by his side. The arm closed around him like a spring, and Toby uttered a low, tense sob and hid his face.

Thereafter for a while there was no sound beside the throb of engines and wash of water. Saltash sat absolutely motionless with eyes half-closed. Save for the vitality of his hold, he might have been on the verge of slumber. And Toby, crouched with his head in his hands, was as a carven image, neither stirring nor seeming to breathe.

The man moved at length, flicking his eyes open as though some unseen force had prodded him into action. He spoke with a brevity that might have denoted some sternness but for the close grip of his arm.

"Have you been sulking all this time?"

Toby started at his voice and burrowed a little deeper. "No, sir."

"Well, why didn't you come before?" said Saltash.

"I was--afraid," whispered Toby piteously.

"Afraid! Why on earth?" Saltash's hand suddenly found and fondled the fair head. His speech was no longer curt, but gentle, with a half-quizzical tenderness. "Aren't you rather an ass, boy? What was there to be afraid of?"

Toby could not tell him. He only, after a moment, slipped down in a sitting position by Saltash's side and rested with more assurance against the encircling arm.

"Come! I didn't hurt you much," said Saltash.

"No, sir. You didn't hurt me--at all." Toby stammered a little. "You--you--you meant--not to hurt me, didn't you?"

"I must hit harder next time evidently," observed Saltash, with a squeeze of the narrow shoulders.

"No, sir--no, sir! There shan't be--a next time!" Toby assured him with nervous vehemence. "I only did it just to see--just to see--I'll never do it again, sir."

"Just to see what?" asked Saltash curiously.

But again Toby could not explain himself, and he did not press him.

"Well, you didn't do it at all well," he remarked. "I shouldn't certainly make a profession of it if I were you. It's plainly not your _metier_."

He paused, but with the air of having something more to say. Toby waited silently.

It came with a jerk and a grimace, as if some inner force compelled. "I can't talk pi-jaw--on this subject or any other. You see--I'm a rotter myself."

"You, sir!" Toby lifted his head suddenly and stared at him with eyes that blazed passionately blue in the starlight. "Don't believe it!" he said. "It isn't true."

Saltash grinned a little. His face had the dreary look of something lost that a monkey's sometimes wears. "You needn't believe it, son, if you don't want to," he said. "But it's true all the same. That's why I gave you that licking, see? Just to emphasize the difference between us."

"It isn't true!" Toby asserted again almost fiercely. "I'd kill anyone else that said so."

"Oh, you needn't do that!" said Saltash, with kindly derision. "Thanks all the same, my turkey-cock! If I ever need your protection I'll be sure to ask for it." He flicked the young face with his finger. "But you're not to follow my example, mind. You've got to run straight. You're young enough to make it worth while, and--I'll see you have a chance."

"But you'll keep me with you, sir," said Toby swiftly. "You'll keep me--always--with you!"

"Ah!" Saltash's brows twisted oddly for a second. He seemed to ponder the matter. "I can't say off-hand what I'm going to do with you," he said. "You're--a bit of a problem, you know, Toby."

"Yes, sir. I know. I know." Toby's voice was quick with agitation. "But you won't send me away from you! Promise you won't send me away!"

"Can't promise anything," said Saltash. "Look here! I think there's been enough of this. You'd better go to bed."

But Toby was clinging fast to his hand. He spoke between quivering lips. "Please, sir, you said you'd bought me body and soul. You can't mean to chuck me away--after that! Please, sir, I'll do anything--anything under the sun--for you. And you--you can kick me--do anything to me--and I'll never say a word. I'm just yours--for as long as I live. Please, sir--please, sir--don't send me away! I--I'd rather die than that."

He laid his head suddenly down upon the hand he held so tenaciously and began to sob, fighting desperately to stifle all sound.

Saltash sat for a few moments in utter silence and immobility. Then, abruptly, in a tense whisper, he spoke:

"Toby, you little fool, stop it--stop it, do you hear?--and go below!"

The words held a queer urgency. He raised himself as he uttered them, seeking to free his hand though with all gentleness from the clinging clasp.

"Get up, boy!" he said. "Get up and go to bed! What? Oh, don't cry! Pull yourself together! Toby, do you hear?"

Toby lifted a white, strained face. His eyes looked enormous in the dim light. "Yes, sir. All right, sir," he jerked out, and stumbled trembling to his feet. "I know I'm a fool, sir. I'm sorry. I can't help it. No one was ever decent to me--till you came. I--shall just go under now, sir."

"Oh, stop it!" Saltash spoke almost violently. "Can't you see--that's just what I want to prevent? You don't want to go to the devil, I suppose?"

Toby made a passionate gesture that was curiously unboylike. "I'd go to hell and stay there for ever--if you were there!" he said.

"Good God!" said Saltash.

He got up in his sudden fashion and moved away, went to the rail and stood there for a space with his face to the rippling sheen of water. Finally he turned and looked at the silent figure waiting beside his chair, and a very strange smile came over his dark features. He came back, not without a certain arrogance, and tapped Toby on the shoulder.

"All right," he said. "Stay with me and be damned if you want to! I daresay it would come to the same thing in the end."

Toby drew himself together with a swift movement. "That means you'll keep me, sir?"

His eyes, alight and eager, looked up to Saltash with something that was not far removed from adoration in their shining earnestness.

The strange smile still hovered about Saltash's face; a smile in which cynicism and some vagrant, half-stifled emotion were oddly mingled.

"Yes, I'll keep you," he said, and paused, looking at him oddly.

Toby's eyes, very wide open, intensely bright, looked straight back. "For good, sir?" he said anxiously.

And Saltash laughed, a brief, mocking laugh. "For better, for worse, my Toby!" he said. "Now--go!"

He smote him a light friendly blow on the shoulder and flung round on his heel.

Toby went, very swiftly, without looking back.

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