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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 10. The Mystery
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Charles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 10. The Mystery Post by :neiltown Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1984

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Charles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 10. The Mystery

PART III CHAPTER X. THE MYSTERY

It was late that evening that Bunny strolled forth alone to smoke a reminiscent pipe along his favourite glade of larches in Burchester Park. He went slowly through the summer dusk, his hands behind him, his eyes fixed ahead. He had had his way with Toby. She had promised to marry him as soon as old Bishop's retirement left the house in the hollow at his disposal. But somehow, though he had gained his end, he was not conscious of elation. Sheila Melrose's words had disturbed him no less than Toby's own peculiar interpretation of them. There was a very strong instinct of fair play in Bunny Brian, and, now that he had won his point, he was assailed by a grave doubt as to whether he were acting fairly towards the girl. She was young, but then many girls marry young. It was not really her youth that mattered; neither, when he came to sift the matter, was it the fact that she had had so little opportunity of seeing the world. But it was something in Toby's eyes, something in Sheila's manner, that gave him pause. He asked himself, scarcely knowing why, if it would not be fairer after all to wait.

He wished that he could have consulted Jake, but yet it would have been difficult to put his misgivings into definite words. Jake was a brick and understood most things, but he was away for another week at least.

The thought of the girl's father crossed his mind, only to be instantly dismissed. Even if he had been within reach, Captain Larpent's sternly unapproachable exterior would have held him back. He was inclined to like the man, but he could not feel that Toby's welfare was, or ever had been, of paramount importance to him. He had thoughts only for his yacht.

Bunny began to reflect moodily that life was a more complicated affair than he had ever before imagined, and, reaching this point, he also reached the gate by the copse and became aware of cigar-smoke dominating the atmosphere above the scent of his own now burnt-out pipe.

He removed the pipe from his mouth and looked around him.

"Hullo!" said a voice he knew. "Do I intrude?"

Saltash stepped suddenly out of the shadow of the larches and met him with outstretched hand.

"Hullo!" said Bunny, with a start.

A quick smile of welcome lighted his face, and Saltash's eyes flashed in answer. He gripped the boy's hand with fingers that closed like springs.

"What are you doing here?" he said.

"Just what I was going to ask you," said Bunny. "I often come here in the evening. It's my favourite look-out. But you--"

"I do the same for the same reason," said Saltash.

"I thought you were far away on the high seas," said Bunny.

Saltash laughed. "Well, I was. But I don't stay there, my good Bunny. _The Blue Moon developed engine trouble--nothing very serious, but we brought her back to recuperate. You can never tell what you may be in for on a first voyage. Also, I was curious to see how affairs here were progressing. How goes it, _mon ami_? Is all well?"

"Well enough," said Bunny.

Saltash linked a friendly hand in his arm. "Have you and Nonette settled when to get married yet?"

Bunny stiffened momentarily, as if his instinct were to resent the kindly enquiry. But the next instant he relaxed again with impulsive confidence. "Well, it is more or less settled," he said. "But I'm wondering--you know, Charlie, she's rather young to be married, isn't she? She hasn't seen much of the world so far. You don't think it's shabby, do you, to marry her before she's had the same sort of chances as other girls?"

"Good heavens, no!" said Saltash. He gave Bunny an odd look from under brows that were slightly twisted. "What made you think of that?" he asked.

Bunny's face was red. He leaned his arms on the gate and looked out across the valley. "Sheila Melrose put it to me this afternoon," he said, "though I must admit it had crossed my mind before. She hasn't met many people, you know, Charlie. And--as I said--she's young. I don't want to take an unfair advantage."

"Life is too short to think of these things," said Saltash abruptly. "Marry her while you can get her and don't be an ass about it! If I had done the same thing in my youth, I should have been better off than I am at present."

Bunny smiled a little. "You would probably have been wishing you'd done the other thing by this time."

"Much you know about it!" returned Saltash with a whimsical frown. "Now look here! What I've really come back for is to see you married. All this preliminary messing about is nothing but a weariness to the flesh. Get it over, man! There's nothing on earth to wait for. Larpent's willing enough. In fact, he agrees with me--the sooner the better."

"He would!" said Bunny with a touch of bitterness.

"Well, you can't ask for anything better," maintained Saltash. "He's got his job, and he's not what you could call a family man. He's not a waster either, so you needn't put on any damned airs, _mon vieux_."

"I didn't!" said Bunny hotly.

Saltash laughed, and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Look here! I'm talking for the good of your soul. Don't take any more advice--certainly not Sheila Melrose's! You go straight ahead and marry her! You've got money, I know, but I hope you won't chuck your job on that account. Stick to it, and you shall have the Dower House to live in while I yet cumber the ground, and Burchester Castle as soon as I'm under it!"

"What?" said Bunny. He turned almost fiercely. "Charlie! Stop it! You're talking rot. You always do. I don't want your beastly castle. You've got to marry and get an heir of your own. I'm damned if I'm going to be adopted by you!"

Saltash was laughing carelessly, mockingly, yet there was about him at the moment a certain royal self-assurance that made itself felt. "You'll do as you're told, _mon ami_. And you'll take what the gods send without any cavilling. As for me, I go my own way. I shall never marry. I shall never have an heir of my own blood. Burchester means more to you than it does to me. Therefore Burchester will pass to you at my death. Think you and Toby will be happy here?"

"Damn it!" said Bunny, still fiercely disconcerted. "You talk as if you were going to die to-morrow."

"Oh, probably not," said Saltash airily. "But I doubt if I live to a rakish old age. I'm a man that likes taking chances, and those who dice with the high gods are bound to throw a blank some day." For a moment the mockery died down in his eyes, and he looked more nearly serious than Bunny had ever seen him. He patted the shoulder under his hand. "Life is rather a rotten old show when you've tried everything and come to the end," he said. "And you know for a damn' certainty that you'll never taste any good fruit again. But you will never know what that feels like, _mon ami_. You've had the sense to play a straight game, and you'll find it pays in the long run. Jake taught you that, eh? You may thank your own particular lucky star that you had him for a brother-in-law instead of me."

"Don't talk rot!" said Bunny gruffly.

Saltash stretched up his arms with a laugh. "No, we'll talk sense--good square sense. I take it you'll continue to manage the estate for the present? If you get bored, we'll find an agent, but I'm satisfied with things as they are. We'll go round and have a look at the old Dower House to-morrow. It has a fairly decent position, you know,--overlooks Graydown. That ought to please you both."

Bunny turned upon him. "Oh, confound it, Charlie!" he said. "I can't talk about this. I couldn't possibly take it. You're too damned generous. I've never done anything to deserve it."

"Oh yes, you have!" said Saltash unexpectedly, "you've done a good many things for me. You have always been the _bon ami whatever I did--from your childhood upwards." His dark face laughed with friendly warmth into the boy's troubled eyes. "Always stuck up for me, haven't you, Bunny?" he said.

"Oh, but that's rot," objected Bunny. "A man is bound to stick up for his pals."

"Even though he knows they're not worth it?" laughed Saltash. "Yes, that's just what I like about you. It's the one point on which we touch. But I'm not sure that even you would stick up for me if you knew precisely what sort of rotter you were sticking up for."

"Oh, shut up!" said Bunny.

"_Bien, mon cher! We return to your affairs. Have you put up the banns yet? I presume you will allow me to be best man? Get it over soon, I beseech you! I can't stay here indefinitely. As a matter of fact, I'm due in Scotland at the present moment. Can't you fix it up immediately? And you can have the little car and leave of absence till you've got over it. Old Bishop can run this show till the winter. Maud can fit up the Dower House for you. And I shall feel at liberty to roam the desert once more--unencumbered."

"You're jolly decent to me!" said Bunny.

"Think so?" Saltash's brows twitched humorously. "I seem to be developing a taste for worthy deeds. But there's no reason on earth why you two shouldn't get married and done for as soon as possible. I'll see Larpent to-night and tell him, and you can go and see the parson about it to-morrow. You'll find Nonette won't put any obstacles in the way. She's a good child and does as she's told."

"No, Toby won't mind," Bunny said, with a sudden memory of her quick surrender flooding his soul. "By Jove, Charlie! You are a good sort to help me like this. There's no one else that can get things moving as you can."

"Oh, you can count on me for that," laughed Saltash. "I never was a drifter. Life is too short. We'll meet again to-morrow then. Come and dine if you like, and tell me what you've arranged! Good night!" He turned in his sudden fashion. "Good luck to you!"

He was gone upon the words, vanishing into the larches almost noiselessly as he had come, and Bunny was left alone.

He stood motionless at the gate for some time longer gazing out over the quiet, night-wrapt down. There was no elation in his attitude, only a deep thoughtfulness. He had never understood Charlie though oddly enough he had always believed in him. But to-night for the first time a curious doubt pierced his mind--a doubt that recurred again and again, banishing all sense of exultation. Why had Charlie returned like this? Why was he so eager to meddle in this affair? Why so recklessly generous? He had a strong feeling that there was something behind it all, some motive unrealized, some spur goading him, of which he, Bunny, might not approve if he came to know of it. He wished he could fathom the matter. It was unlike Saltash to take so much trouble over anything. He felt as if in some inexplicable fashion he were being tricked.

He put the thought from him, but he could not drive it away. Just as he had felt himself baffled a little earlier by Toby, so now he felt the same inability to comprehend Saltash. He seemed to be groping at a locked door, feeling and feeling for a key, that always eluded him. And again he wished that Jake was within reach.

He turned homewards at length, dissatisfied and ill at ease, yet calling himself a fool for scenting a mystery that did not exist.

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