THE BATTLE OF THE TUNNEL
WHAT Joan Brett really felt, as she went back from the second tete-a-tete she had experienced in the turret, it is doubtful if anyone will ever know. But she was full of the pungent feminine instinct to “drive at practice,” and what she did clearly realise was the pencil writing Dalroy had left on the back of Lord Ivywood’s menu. Heaven alone knew what it was, and (as it pleased her profane temper to tell herself) she was not satisfied with Heaven alone knowing. She went swiftly back, with swishing skirts, to the table where it had been left. But her skirts fell more softly and her feet trailed slower and more in her usual manner as she came near the table. For standing at it was Lord Ivywood, reading the card with tranquil lowered eyelids, that set off perfectly the long and perfect oval of his face. He put down the card with a quite natural action; and, seeing Joan, smiled at her in his most sympathetic way.
“So you’ve come out too,” he said. “So have I; it’s really too hot for anything. Dr. Gluck is making an uncommonly good speech, but I couldn’t stop even for that. Don’t you think my eastern decorations are rather a success after all? A sort of Vegetarianism in design, isn’t it?”
He led her up and down the corridors, pointing out lemon-coloured crescents or crimson pomegranates in the scheme of ornament, with such utter detachment that they twice passed the open mouth of the hall of debate, and Joan could distinctly hear the voice of the diplomatic Gluck saying:
“Indeed, we owe our knowledge of the pollution of the pork primarily to the Jewth and not the Mothlemth. I do not thare that prejudithe against the Jewth, which ith too common in my family and all the arithtocratic and military Prutthian familieth. I think we Prutthian arithtocrats owe everything to the Jewth. The Jewth have given to our old Teutonic rugged virtueth, jutht that touch of refinement, jutht that intellectual thuperiority which–.”
And then the voice would die away behind, as Lord Ivywood lectured luxuriantly, and very well, on the peacock tail in decoration, or some more extravagant eastern version of the Greek Key. But the third time they turned, they heard the noise of subdued applause and the breaking up the meeting; and people came pouring forth.
With stillness and swiftness, Ivywood pitched on the people he wanted and held them. He button-holed Leveson and was evidently asking him to do something which neither of the two liked doing.
“If your lordship insists,” she heard Leveson whispering, “of course I will go myself; but there is a great deal to be done here with your lordship’s immediate matters. And if there were anyone else–.”
If Philip, Lord Ivywood, had ever looked at a human being in his life, he would have seen that J. Leveson, Secretary, was suffering from a very ancient human malady, excusable in all men and rather more excusable in one who has had his top-hat smashed over his eyes and has run for his life. As it was, he saw nothing, but merely said, “Oh, well, get someone else. What about your friend Hibbs?”
Leveson ran across to Hibbs, who was drinking another glass of champagne at one of the innumerable buffets.
“Hibbs,” said Leveson, rather nervously, “will you do Lord Ivywood a favour? He says you have so much tact. It seems possible that a man may be hanging about the grounds just below that turret there. He is a man it would certainly be Lord Ivywood’s public duty to put into the hands of the police, if he is there. But then, again, he is quite capable of not being there at all–I mean of having sent his message from somewhere else and in some other way. Naturally, Lord Ivywood doesn’t want to alarm the ladies and perhaps turn the laugh against himself, by getting up a sort of police raid about nothing. He wants some sensible, tactful friend of his to go down and look round the place–it’s a sort of disused garden–and report if there’s anyone about. I’d go myself, but I’m wanted here.”
Hibbs nodded, and filled another glass.
“But there’s a further difficulty,” went on Leveson. “He’s a clever brute, it seems, a ‘remarkable and a dangerous man,’ were his lordship’s words; and it looks as if he’d spotted a very good hiding-place, a disused tunnel leading to the sands, just beyond the disused garden and chapel. It’s a smart choice, you see, for he can bolt into the woods if anyone comes from the shore, or on to the shore if anyone comes from the woods. But it would take a good time even to get the police here, and it would take ten times longer to get ’em round to the sea end of the tunnel, especially as the sea comes up to the cliffs once or twice between here and Pebblewick. So we mustn’t frighten him away, or he’ll get a start. If you meet anyone down there talk to him quite naturally, and come back with the news. We won’t send for the police till you come. Talk as if you were just wandering like himself. His lordship wishes your presence to appear quite accidental.”
“Wishes my presence to appear quite accidental,” repeated Hibbs, gravely.
When the feverish Leveson had flashed off satisfied, Hibbs took a glass or two more of wine; feeling that he was going on a great diplomatic mission to please a lord. Then he went through the opening, picked his way down the stair, and somehow found his way out into the neglected garden and shrubbery.
It was already evening, and an early moon was brightening over the sunken chapel with its dragon-coloured scales of fungus. The night breeze was very fresh and had a marked effect on Mr. Hibbs. He found himself taking a meaningless pleasure in the scene; especially in one fungus that was white with brown spots. He laughed shortly, to think that it should be white with brown spots. Then he said, with carefully accurate articulation, “His lordship wishes my presence to appear quite accidental.” Then he tried to remember something else that Leveson had said.
He began to wade through the waves of weed and thorn past the Chapel, but he found the soil much more uneven and obstructive than he had supposed.
He slipped, and sought to save himself by throwing one arm round a broken stone angel at a corner of the heap of Gothic fragments; but it was loose and rocked in its socket.
Mr. Hibbs presented for a moment the appearance of waltzing with the Angel in the moonlight, in a very amorous and irreverent manner. Then the statue rolled over one way and he rolled over the other, and lay on his face in the grass, making inaudible remarks. He might have lain there for some time, or at least found some difficulty in rising, but for another circumstance. The dog Quoodle, with characteristic officiousness, had followed him down the dark stairs and out of the doorway, and, finding him in this unusual posture, began to bark as if the house were on fire.
This brought a heavy human footstep from the more hidden parts of the copse; and in a minute or two the large man with the red hair was looking down at him in undisguised wonder. Hibbs said, in a muffled voice which came obscurely from under his hidden face, “Wish my presence to appear quite accidental.”
“It does,” said the Captain, “can I help you up? Are you hurt?”
He gently set the prostrate gentleman on his feet, and looked genuinely concerned. The fall had somewhat sobered Lord Ivywood’s representative; and he really had a red graze on the left cheek that looked more ugly than it was.
“I am so sorry,” said Patrick Dalroy, cordially, “come and sit down in our camp. My friend Pump will be back presently, and he’s a capital doctor.”
His friend Pump may or may not have been a capital doctor, but the Captain himself was certainly a most inefficient one. So small was his talent for diagnosing the nature of a disease at sight, that having given Mr. Hibbs a seat on a fallen tree by the tunnel, he proceeded to give him (in mere automatic hospitality) a glass of rum.
Mr. Hibbs’s eyes awoke again, when he had sipped it, but they awoke to a new world.
“Wharever may be our invidual pinions,” he said, and looked into space with an expression of humorous sagacity.
He then put his hand hazily in his pocket, as if to find some letter he had to deliver. He found nothing but his old journalistic note book, which he often carried when there was a chance of interviewing anybody. The feel of it under his fingers changed the whole attitude of his mind. He took it out and said:
“And wha’ would you say of Vegetarianism, Colonel Pump?”
“I think it palls,” replied the recipient of this complex title, staring.
“Sha’ we say,” asked Hibbs brightly, turning a leaf in his note book, “sha’ we say long been strong vegetarian by conviction?”
“No; I have only once been convicted,” answered Dalroy, with restraint, “and I hope to lead a better life when I come out.”
“Hopes lead better life,” murmured Hibbs, writing eagerly, with the wrong end of his pencil. “And wha’ would you shay was best vegable food for really strong vegetarian by conviction?”
“Thistles,” said the Captain, wearily. “But I don’t know much about it, you know.”
“Lord Ivywoo’ strong veg’tarian by conviction,” said Mr. Hibbs, shaking his head with unction. “Lord Ivywoo’ says tact. Talk to him naturally. And so I do. That’s what I do. Talk to him naturally.”
Humphrey Pump came through the clearer part of the wood, leading the donkey, who had just partaken of the diet recommended to a vegetarian by conviction; the dog sprang up and ran to them. Pump was, perhaps, the most naturally polite man in the world, and said nothing. But his eyes had accepted, with one snap of surprise, the other fact, also not unconnected with diet, which had escaped Dalroy’s notice when he administered rum as a restorative.
“Lord Ivywoo’ says,” murmured the journalistic diplomatist. “Lord Ivywoo’ says, ‘talk as if you were just wandering.’ That’s it. That’s tact. That’s what I’ve got to do–talk as if I was just wandering. Long way round to other end tunnel; sea and cliffs. Don’ sphose they can swim.” He seized his note book again and looked in vain for his pencil. “Good subjec’ correspondence. Can policem’n swim?”
“Policemen?” said Dalroy, in a dead silence. The dog looked up, and the innkeeper did not.
“Get to Ivywoo’ one thing,” reasoned the diplomatist. “Get policemen beach other end other thing. No good do one thing no’ do other thing, ’no goo’ do other thing no’ do other thing. Wish my presence appear quite accidental. Haw!”
“I’ll harness the donkey,” said Pump.
“Will he go through that door?” asked Dalroy, with a gesture toward the entrance of the rough boarding with which they had faced the tunnel, “or shall I smash it all at once?”
“He’ll go through all right,” answered Pump. “I saw to that when I made it. And I think I’ll get him to the safe end of the tunnel before I load him up. The best thing you can do is to pull up one of those saplings to bar the door with. That’ll delay them a minute or two; though I think we’ve got warning in pretty easy time.”
He led his donkey to the cart, and carefully harnessed the donkey; like all men cunning in the old healthy sense he knew that the last chance of leisure ought to be leisurely, in order that it may be lucid. Then he led the whole equipment through the temporary wooden door of the tunnel, the inquisitive Quoodle, of course, following at his heels.
“Excuse me if I take a tree,” said Dalroy, politely, to his guest, like a man reaching across another man for a match. And with that he rent up a young tree by its roots, as he had done in the Island of the Olives, and carried it on his shoulder, like the club of Hercules.
Up in Ivywood House Lord Ivywood had telephoned twice to Pebblewick. It was a delay he seldom suffered; and, though he never expressed impatience in unnecessary words he expressed it in unnecessary walking. He would not yet send for the police without news from his Ambassador, but he thought a preliminary conversation with some police authorities he knew well, might advance matters. Seeing Leveson rather shrunk in a corner, he wheeled round in his walk and said abruptly:
“You must go and see what has happened to Hibbs. If you have any other duties here, I authorize you to neglect them. Otherwise, I can only say–”
At this moment the telephone rang, and the impatient nobleman rushed for his delayed call with a rapidity he seldom showed. There was simply nothing for Leveson to do except to do as he was told, or be sacked. He walked swiftly toward the staircase, and only stopped once at the table where Hibbs had stood and gulped down two goblets of the same wine. But let no man attribute to Mr. Leveson the loose and luxurious social motives of Mr. Hibbs. Mr. Leveson did not drink for pleasure; in fact, he hardly knew what he was drinking. His motive was something far more simple and sincere; a sentiment forcibly described in legal phraseology as going in bodily fear.
He was partly nerved, but by no means reconciled to his adventure, when he crept carefully down the stairs and peered about the thicket for any signs of his diplomatic friend. He could find neither sight nor sound to guide him, except a sort of distant singing, which greatly increased in volume of sound as he pursued it. The first words he heard seemed to run something like–
“No more the milk of cows
Shall pollute my private house,
Than the milk of the wild mares of the Barbarian;
I will stick to port and sherry,
For they are so very, very,
So very, very, very Vegetarian.”
Leveson did not know the huge and horrible voice in which these words were shouted, but he had a most strange and even sickening suspicion that he did know the voice, however altered, the quavering and rather refined voice that joined in the chorus and sang,
“Because they are so vegy,
So vegy, vegy, vegy Vegetarian.”
Terror lit up his wits, and he made a wild guess at what had happened. With a gasp of relief he realised that he had now good excuse for returning to the house with the warning. He ran there like a hare, still hearing the great voice from the woods like the roaring of a lion in his ear.
He found Lord Ivywood in consultation with Dr. Gluck, and also with Mr. Bullrose the Agent, whose froglike eyes hardly seemed to have recovered yet from the fairy-tale of the flying sign-board in the English lane; but who, to do him justice, was more plucky and practical than most of Lord Ivywood’s present advisers.
“I’m afraid Mr. Hibbs has inadvertently,” stammered Leveson. “I’m afraid he has–I’m afraid the man is making his escape, my lord. You had better send for the police.”
Ivywood turned to the agent. “You go and see what’s happening,” he said simply. “I will come myself when I’ve rung them up. And get some of the servants up with sticks and things. Fortunately the ladies have gone to bed. Hullo! Is that the Police Station?”
Bullrose went down into the shrubbery and had, for many reasons, less difficulty in crossing it than the hilarious Hibbs. The moon had increased to an almost unnatural brilliancy, so that the whole scene was like a rather silver daylight; and in this clear medium he beheld a very tall man with erect, red hair and a colossal cylinder of cheese carried under one arm, while he employed the other to wag a big forefinger at a dog with whom he was conversing.
It was the Agent’s duty and desire to hold the man, whom he recognised from the sign-board mystery, in play and conversation, and prevent his final escape. But there are some people who really cannot be courteous, even when they want to be, and Mr. Bullrose was one of them.
“Lord Ivywood,” he said abruptly, “wants to know what you want.”
“Do not, however, fall into the common error, Quoodle,” Dalroy was saying to the dog, whose unfathomable eyes were fixed on his face, “of supposing that the phrase ‘good dog’ is used in its absolute sense. A dog is good or bad negatively to a limited scheme of duties created by human civilization–”
“What are you doing here?” asked Mr. Bullrose.
“A dog, my dear Quoodle,” continued the Captain, “cannot be either so good or bad as a man. Nay, I should go farther. I would almost say a dog cannot be so stupid as a man. He cannot be utterly wanting as a dog–as some men are as men.”
“Answer me, you there!” roared the Agent.
“It is all the more pathetic,” continued the Captain, to whose monologue Quoodle seemed to listen with magnetized attention. “It is all the more pathetic because this mental insufficiency is sometimes found in the good; though there are, I should imagine, at least an equal number of opposite examples. The person standing a few feet off us, for example, is both stupid and wicked. But be very careful, Quoodle, to remember that any disadvantage under which we place him should be based on the moral and not his mental defects. Should I say to you at any time, ‘Go for him, Quoodle,’ or ‘Hold him, Quoodle,’ be certain in your own mind, please, that it is solely because he is wicked and not because he is stupid, that I am entitled to do so. The fact that he is stupid would not justify me in saying ‘hold him, Quoodle,’ with the realistic intonation I now employ–”
“Curse you, call him off!” cried Mr. Bullrose, retreating, for Quoodle was coming toward him with the bulldog part of his pedigree very prominently displayed, like a pennon. “Should Mr. Bullrose find it expedient to climb a tree, or even a sign-post,” proceeded Dalroy, for indeed the Agent had already clasped the pole of “The Old Ship,” which was stouter than the slender trees standing just around it, “you will keep an eye on him, Quoodle, and, I doubt not, constantly remind him that it is his wickedness, and not, as he might hastily be inclined to suppose, stupidity that has placed him on so conspicuous an elevation–”
“Some of you’ll wish yourself dead for this,” said the Agent; who was by this time clinging to the wooden sign like a monkey on a stick, while Quoodle watched him from below with an unsated interest. “Some of you’ll see something. Here comes his lordship and the police, I reckon.”
“Good morning, my lord,” said Dalroy, as Ivywood, paler than ever in the strong moonshine, came through the thicket toward them. It seemed to be his fate that his faultless and hueless face should always be contrasted with richer colours; and even now it was thrown up by the gorgeous diplomatic uniform of Dr. Gluck, who walked just behind him.
“I am glad to see you, my lord,” said Dalroy, in a stately manner, “it is always so awkward doing business with an Agent. Especially for the Agent.”
“Captain Dalroy,” said Lord Ivywood, with a more serious dignity, “I am sorry we meet again like this, and such things are not of my seeking. It is only right to tell you that the police will be here in a moment.”
“Quite time, too!” said Dalroy, shaking his head. “I never saw anything so disgraceful in my life. Of course, I am sorry it’s a friend of yours; and I hope the police will keep Ivywood House out of the papers. But I won’t be a party to one law for the rich and another for the poor, and it would be a great shame if a man in that state got off altogether merely because he had got the stuff at your house.”
“I do not understand you,” said Ivywood. “What are you talking of?”
“Why of him,” replied the Captain, with a genial gesture toward a fallen tree trunk that lay a yard or two from the tunnel wall, “the poor chap the police are coming for.”
Lord Ivywood looked at the forest log by the tunnel which he had not glanced at before, and in his pale eyes, perhaps for the first time, stood a simple astonishment.
Above the log appeared two duplicate objects, which, after a prolonged stare, he identified as the soles of a pair of patent leather shoes, offered to his gaze, as if demanding his opinion in the matter of resoling. They were all that was visible of Mr. Hibbs who had fallen backward off his woodland seat and seemed contented with his new situation.
His lordship put up the pince-nez that made him look ten years older, and said with a sharp, steely accent, “What is all this?”
The only effect of his voice upon the faithful Hibbs was to cause him to feebly wave his legs in the air in recognition of a feudal superior. He clearly considered it hopeless to attempt to get up, so Dalroy, striding across to him, lugged him up by his shirt collar and exhibited him, limp and wild-eyed to the company.
“You won’t want many policemen to take him to the station,” said the Captain. “I’m sorry, Lord Ivywood, I’m afraid it’s no use your asking me to overlook it again. We can’t afford it,” and he shook his head implacably. “We’ve always kept a respectable house, Mr. Pump and I. ‘The Old Ship’ has a reputation all over the country–in quite a lot of different parts, in fact. People in the oddest places have found it a quiet, family house. Nothing gadabout in ‘The Old Ship.’ And if you think you can send all your staggering revellers–”
“Captain Dalroy,” said Ivywood, simply, “you seem to be under a misapprehension, which I think it would be hardly honourable to leave undisturbed. Whatever these extraordinary events may mean and whatever be fitting in the case of this gentleman, when I spoke of the police coming, I meant they were coming for you and your confederate.”
“For me!” cried the Captain, with a stupendous air of surprise. “Why, I have never done anything naughty in my life.”
“You have been selling alcohol contrary to Clause V. of the Act of–”
“But I’ve got a sign,” cried Dalroy, excitedly, “you told me yourself it was all right if I’d got a sign. Oh, do look at our new sign! The ‘Sign of the Agile Agent.’”
Mr. Bullrose had remained silent, feeling his position none of the most dignified, and hoping his employer would go away. But Lord Ivywood looked up at him, and thought he had wandered into a planet of monsters.
As he slowly recovered himself Patrick Dalroy said briskly, “All quite correct and conventional, you see. You can’t run us in for not having a sign; we’ve rather an extra life-like one. And you can’t run us in as rogues and vagabonds either. Visible means of subsistence,” and he slapped the huge cheese under his arm with his great flat hand, so that it reverberated like a drum. “Quite visible. Perceptible,” he added, holding it out suddenly almost under Lord Ivywood’s nose. “Perceptible to the naked eye through your lordship’s eyeglasses.”
He turned abruptly, burst open the pantomime door behind him and bowled the big cheese down the tunnel with a noise like thunder, which ended in a cry of acceptation in the distant voice of Mr. Humphrey Pump. It was the last of their belongings left at this end of the tunnel, and Dalroy turned again, a man totally transfigured.
“And now, Ivywood,” he said, “what can I be charged with? Well, I have a suggestion to make. I will surrender to the police quite quietly when they come, if you will do me one favour. Let me choose my crime.”
“I don’t understand you,” answered the other coolly, “what crime? What favour?”
Captain Dalroy unsheathed the straight sword that still hung on his now shabby uniform. The slender blade sparkled splendidly in the moonlight as he pointed it straight at Dr. Gluck.
“Take away his sword from the little pawnbroker,” he said. “It’s about the length of mine; or we’ll change if you like. Give me ten minutes on that strip of turf. And then it may be, Ivywood, that I shall be removed from your public path in a way a little worthier of enemies who have once been friends, than if you tripped me up with Bow Street runners, of whose help every ancestor you have would have been ashamed. Or, on the other hand, it may be–that when the police come there will be something to arrest me for.”
There was a long silence, and the elf of irresponsibility peeped out again for an instant in Dalroy’s mind.
“Mr. Bullrose will see fair play for you, from a throne above the lists,” he said. “I have already put my honour in the hands of Mr. Hibbs.”
“I must decline Captain Dalroy’s invitation,” said Ivywood at last, in a curious tone. “Not so much because–”
Before he could proceed, Leveson came racing across the copse, hallooing, “The police are here!”
Dalroy, who loved leaving everything to the last instant, tore up the sign, with Bullrose literally hanging to it, shook him off like a ripe fruit, and then plunged into the tunnel, the clamorous Quoodle at his heels. Before even Ivywood (the promptest of his party) could reach the spot, he had clashed to the wood door and bolted it across with his wooden staple. He had not had time even to sheath his sword.
“Break down this door,” said Lord Ivywood, calmly. “I noticed they haven’t finished loading their cart.”
Under his directions, and vastly against their will, Bullrose and Leveson lifted the tree-trunk vacated by Hibbs, and swinging it thrice as a battering-ram, burst in the door. Lord Ivywood instantly sprang into the entrance.
A voice called out to him quietly from the other end of the tunnel. There was something touching and yet terrible about a voice so human coming out of that inhuman darkness. If Philip Ivywood had been really a poet, and not rather its opposite, an aesthete, he would have known that all the past and people of England were uttering their oracle out of the cavern. As it was, he only heard a publican wanted by the police.–Yet even he paused, and indeed seemed spellbound.
“My lord, I would like a word. I learned my catechism and never was with the Radicals. I want you to look at what you’ve done to me. You’ve stolen a house that was mine as that one’s yours. You’ve made me a dirty tramp, that was a man respected in church and market. Now you send me where I might have cells or the Cat. If I might make so bold, what do you suppose I think of you? Do you think because you go up to London and settle it with lords in Parliament and bring back a lot of papers and long words, that makes any difference to the man you do it to? By what I can see, you’re just a bad and cruel master, like those God punished in the old days; like Squire Varney the weasels killed in Holy Wood. Well, parson always said one might shoot at robbers, and I want to tell your lordship,” he ended respectfully, “that I have a gun.”
Ivywood instantly stepped into the darkness, and spoke in a voice shaken with some emotion, the nature of which was never certainly known.
“The police are here,” he said, “but I’ll arrest you myself.”
A shot shrieked and rattled through the thousand echoes of the tunnel. Lord Ivywood’s legs doubled and twisted under him, and he collapsed on the earth with a bullet above his knee.
Almost at the same instant a shout and a bark announced that the cart had started as a complete equipage. It was even more than complete, for the instant before it moved Mr. Quoodle had sprung into it, and, as it was driven off, sat erect in it, looking solemn.