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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 7
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The Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 7 Post by :ursfehr32 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3095

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The Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 7

BOOK I CHAPTER VII

"Arnold!"

I waved my left hand.

"Don't disturb me for a few minutes, Allan, there's a good chap," I begged. "I'm hard at it."

"Found your plot, then, eh?"

"I've got a start, anyhow! Give me half an hour. I only want to set the thing going."

Mabane grunted, and took up his brush. For once I was thankful that we were alone. At last I saw my way. After weeks of ineffective scribbling a glimpse of the real thing had come to me.

The stiffness had gone from my brain and fingers. My pen flew over the paper. The joy of creation sang once more in my heart, tingled in all my pulses. We worked together and in silence for an hour or more. Then, with a little sigh of satisfaction, I leaned back in my chair.

"The story goes, then?" Mabane remarked.

"Yes, it goes," I assented, my eyes fixed absently upon the loose sheets of manuscript strewn all over my desk. Already I was finding it hard to tear my thoughts away from it.

There was a short silence. Then Mabane, who had been filling his pipe, came over to my side.

"You heard from the convent this morning, Arnold?"

"Yes! The letter is here. Read it!"

Mabane shook his head.

"I can't read French," he said.

"They want her back again," I told him, thoughtfully. "The woman appears to be honest enough. She admits that they have no absolute claim--they do not even know her parentage. They have been paid, she says, regularly and well for the child's education, and if she is now without a home they would like her to go back to them. She thinks it possible that Major Delahaye's relatives, or the people for whom he acted, might continue the payments, but they are willing to take their risk of that. The long and short of it is, that they want her back again."

"As a pupil still?" Mabane asked.

"They would train her for a teacher. In that case she would have to serve a sort of novitiate. She would practically become a nun."

Mabane withdrew his pipe from his mouth, and looked thoughtfully into the bowl of it.

"I never had a sister," he said, "and I really know nothing whatever about children. But does it occur to you, Arnold, that this--young lady seems particularly adapted for a convent?"

"I believe," I said firmly, "that it would be misery for her."

Mabane walked over to his canvas and came back again.

"What about Delahaye?" he asked.

"He is still unconscious at the hospital," I answered.

Mabane hesitated.

"I do not wish to seem intrusive, Arnold," he said, "but I can't help remembering that a certain lady with whom you were very friendly once married a Delahaye!"

I nodded.

"I should have told you, in any case," I said. "This is the man--Major Sir William Delahaye, whom Eileen Marigold married."

"Then surely you recognized him in the restaurant?"

"I never met him," I answered. "This marriage was arranged very quickly, as you know, and I was abroad when it took place. I called on Lady Delahaye twice, but I did not meet her husband on either occasion."

Mabane fingered the loose sheets of my manuscript idly.

"Your story, Arnold," he said, "is having a tragic birth. Will Delahaye really die, do you think?"

"The doctors are not very hopeful," I told him. "The wound itself is not mortal, but the shock seems to have affected him seriously. He is not a young man, and he has lived hard all his days."

"If he dies," Mabane said thoughtfully, "your friend Grooten, I think you said he called himself, will have to disappear altogether. In that case I suppose we--shall be compelled to send the child back to the convent?"

"Unless----"

"Unless what?"

"Unless we provide for her ourselves," I answered boldly.

Mabane smoked furiously for a few moments. His hands were thrust deep down in his trousers pockets. He looked fixedly out of the window.

"Arnold," he said abruptly, "do you believe in presentiments?"

"It depends whether they affect me favourably or the reverse," I answered carelessly. "You Scotchmen are all so superstitious."

"You may call it superstition," Mabane continued. "Everything of the sort which an ignorant man cannot understand he calls superstition. But if you like, I will tell you something which is surely going to happen. I will tell you what I have seen."

I leaned forward in my chair, and looked curiously into Allan's face. His hard, somewhat commonplace features seemed touched for the moment by some transfiguring fire. His keen, blue-grey eyes were as soft and luminous as a girl's. He had actually the appearance of a man who sees a little way beyond the border. Even then I could not take him seriously.

"Speak, Sir Prophet!" I exclaimed, with a little laugh. "Let my eyes also be touched with fire. Let me see what you see."

Mabane showed no sign of annoyance. He looked at me composedly.

"Do not be a fool, Arnold," he said. "You may believe or disbelieve, but some day you will know that the things which I have in my mind are true."

I think that I was a little bewildered. I realized now what at first I had been inclined to doubt--that Mabane was wholly in earnest. Unconsciously my attitude towards him changed. It is hard to mock a man who believes in himself.

"Go ahead, then, Allan," I said quietly. "Remember that you have told me nothing yet."

Mabane turned towards me. He spoke slowly. His face was serious--almost solemn.

"The man Delahaye will never claim the child," he said. "I think that he will die. The man who shot him has gone--we shall not hear of him again, not for many years, if at all. He has gone like a stone dropped into a bottomless tarn. We shall not send the child back to the convent. She will remain here."

He paused, as though expecting me to speak. I shrugged my shoulders.

"Come," I said, "I shall not quarrel with your prophecy so far, Allan. The introduction of a feminine element here seems a little incongruous, but after all she is very young."

Mabane unclasped his arms, and looked thoughtfully around the room. Already there was a change since a few days ago. The ornaments and furniture were free from dust. There were two great bowls of flowers upon the table, some studies which had hung upon the wall were replaced with others of a more sedate character. The atmosphere of the place was different. Wild untidiness had given place to some semblance of order. There was an attempt everywhere at repression. Mabane knocked the ashes from his pipe.

"For five years," he said abstractedly, "you and I and Arthur have lived here together. Are you satisfied with those five years? Think!"

I looked from my desk out of the window, over the housetops up into the sunshine, and I too was grave. Satisfied! Is anyone short of a fool ever satisfied?

"No! I am not," I admitted, a little bitterly.

"Tell me what you think of these five years, Arnold. Tell me the truth," Mabane persisted. "Let me know if your thoughts are the same as mine."

"Drift," I answered. "We have worked a little, and thought a little--but our feet have been on the earth a great deal oftener than our heads have touched the clouds."

"Drift," Mabane repeated. "It is a true word. We have gained a little experience of the wrong sort: we have learnt how to adapt our poor little gifts to the whim of the moment. Such as our talent has been, we have made a servant of it to minister to our physical necessities. We have lived little lives, Arnold--very little lives."

"Go on," I murmured. "This at least is truth!"

Mabane paused. He looked at his pipe, but he did not relight it.

"There is a change coming," he said, slowly. "We are going to drift no longer. We are going to be drawn into the maelstrom of life. What it may mean for you and for me and for the boy, I do not know. It will change us--it must change our work. I shall paint no more guesses at realism--after someone else; and you will write no more of princesses, or pull the strings of tinsel-decked puppets, so that they may dance their way through the pages of your gaily-dressed novels. And an end has come to these things, Arnold. No, I am not raving, nor is this a jest. Wait!"

"You speak," I told him, "like a seer. Since when was it given to you to read the future so glibly, my friend?"

Mabane looked at me with grave eyes. There was no shadow of levity in his manner.

"I am not a superstitious man, Arnold," he said, "but I come, after all, of hill-folk, and I believe that there are times when one can feel and see the shadow of coming things. My grandfather knew the day of his death, and spoke of it; my father made his will before he set foot on the steamer which went to the bottom on a calm day between Dover and Ostend. Nothing of this sort has ever come to me before. You yourself have called me too hard-headed, too material for an artist. So I have always thought myself--until to-day. To-day I feel differently."

"Is it this child, then, who is to open the gates of the world to us?" I asked.

"Remember," Mabane answered, "that before many months have passed she will be a woman."

I moved in my chair a little uneasily.

"I wonder," I said, half to myself, "whether I did well to bring her here!"

Mabane laughed shortly.

"It was not you who brought her," he declared. "She was sent."

"Sent?"

"Aye, these things are not of our choosing, Arnold. There is something behind which drives the great wheels. You can call it Fate or God, according to your philosophy. It is there all the time, the one eternal force."

I looked at Mabane steadfastly. He did not flinch.

"Psychologically, my dear Allan," I said, "you appear to be in a very interesting state just now."

Mabane shrugged his shoulders. He crossed the room for some tobacco, and began to refill his pipe.

"Well," he said, "I have finished. To-morrow, I suppose, I shall want to kick myself for having said as much as I have. Listen! Here they come."

Isobel came into the room, followed by Arthur in a leather jacket and breeches. Her cheeks were pink, her eyes danced with excitement. She threw off her tam-o'-shanter, and stood deftly re-arranging for a moment her wind-tossed hair.

"Glorious!" she exclaimed. "Oh, it has been glorious! Mr. Arthur, how can I thank you? I have never enjoyed myself so much in my life. If the Sister Superior could only have seen me--and the girls!"

"Motoring, I presume," Mabane remarked, "is amongst the pleasures denied to the young ladies of the convent?"

She laughed gaily.

"Pleasures! Why, there are no pleasures for those poor girls. One may not even smile, and as for games, even they are not permitted. I think that it is shameful to make such a purgatory of a place. One may not, one could not, be happy there. It is not allowed."

She caught the look which flashed from Mabane to me, and turned instantly around.

"Oh, Monsieur Arnold," she cried breathlessly, "you do not think--I shall not have to return there?"

"Not likely!" Arthur interposed with vigour. "By Jove! if anyone shut you up there again I'd come and fetch you out."

She threw a quick glance of gratitude towards him, but her eyes returned almost immediately to mine. She waited anxiously for me to speak.

"If we can possibly prevent it," I said slowly, "you shall never return there. I do not think that it is at all the proper place for you. But you must remember that we are, after all, people of no authority. Someone might come forward to-morrow with a legal right to claim you, and we should be helpless."

(Illustration: "If we can possibly prevent it," I said slowly, "you shall never return there.")

Slowly the colour died away from her cheeks. Her eyes became preternaturally bright and anxious.

"There is no one," she faltered, "except that man. He called himself my guardian."

"Had you seen him before he came to the convent and fetched you away?" I asked.

"Only once," she answered. "He came to St. Argueil about a year ago. I hated him then. I have hated him ever since. I think that if all men were like that I would be content to stay in the convent all my life."

"You don't remember the circumstances under which he took you there, I suppose?" Mabane asked thoughtfully.

She shook her head.

"I do not remember being taken there at all," she answered. "I think that I was not more than four or five years old."

"And all the time no one else has been to see you or written to you?" I asked.

"No one!"

She smothered a little sob as she answered me. It was as though my questions and Mabane's, although I had asked them gently enough, had suddenly brought home to her a fuller sense of her complete loneliness. Her eyes were full of tears. She held herself proudly, and she fought hard for her self-control. Arthur glanced indignantly at both of us. He had the wit, however, to remain silent.

"There are just one or two more questions, Isobel," I said, "which I must ask you some time or other."

"Now, please, then," she begged.

"Did Major Delahaye ever mention his wife to you?"

"Never."

"You did not even know, then, when you arrived in London where he was taking you?"

"I knew nothing," she admitted. "He behaved very strangely, and I was miserable every moment of the time I was with him. I understood that I was to have a companion and live in London."

I felt my blood run cold for a moment. I did not dare to look at Mabane.

"I do not think," I said, "that you need fear anything more from Major Delahaye, even if he should recover."

"You mean--?" she cried breathlessly.

"We should never give you up to him," I declared firmly.

"Thank God!" she murmured. "Mr. Arnold," she added, looking at me eagerly, "I can paint and sing and play the piano. Can't people earn money sometimes by doing these things? I would work--oh, I am not afraid to work. Couldn't I stay here for a little while?"

"Of course you can," I assured her. "And there is no need at all for you to think about earning money yet. It is not that which troubles us at all. It is the fact that we have no legal claim upon you, and people may come forward at any moment who have."

Arthur glanced towards her triumphantly.

"What did I tell you?" he exclaimed.

She looked timidly across at Mabane.

"The other gentleman won't mind?" she asked timidly.

Mabane smiled at her, and his smile was a revelation even to us who knew him so well.

"My dear young lady," he said, "you will be more than welcome. I have just been telling Arnold that your coming will make the world a different place for us."

The girl's smile was illumining. It seemed to include us all. She held out both her hands. Mabane seized one and bent over it with the air of a courtier. The other was offered to me. Arthur was content to beam upon us all from the background. At that precise moment came a tap at the door. Mrs. Burdett brought in a telegram.

I tore it open, and hastily reading it, passed it on to Mabane. He hesitated for a moment, and then turned gravely to Isobel.

"Major Delahaye will not trouble you any more," he said. "He died in the hospital an hour ago."

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BOOK I CHAPTER VII certainly could not complain of any lack of interest on the part of my auditors. They listened to every word of my story with rapt attention. When I had finished they were both silent for several moments. Mabane eyed me curiously. I think that at first he scarcely knew whether to believe me altogether serious. "The man who was with the girl," Arthur asked at last--"this Major Delahaye, or whatever his name was--is he dead?" "He was alive two hours ago," I answered. "Will he recover?" "I believe that there is just a bare chance--no more," I
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