My friend Attley, who would give away his own head if you told him you had lost yours, was giving away a six-months-old litter of Bettina's pups, and half-a-dozen women were in raptures at the show on Mittleham lawn.
We picked by lot. Mrs. Godfrey drew first choice; her married daughter, second. I was third, but waived my right because I was already owned by Malachi, Bettina's full brother, whom I had brought over in the car to visit his nephews and nieces, and he would have slain them all if I had taken home one. Milly, Mrs. Godfrey's younger daughter, pounced on my rejection with squeals of delight, and Attley turned to a dark, sallow-skinned, slack-mouthed girl, who had come over for tennis, and invited her to pick. She put on a pince-nez that made her look like a camel, knelt clumsily, for she was long from the hip to the knee, breathed hard, and considered the last couple.
'I think I'd like that sandy-pied one,' she said.
'Oh, not him, Miss Sichliffe!' Attley cried. 'He was overlaid or had sunstroke or something. They call him The Looney in the kennels. Besides, he squints.'
'I think that's rather fetching,' she answered. Neither Malachi nor I had ever seen a squinting dog before.
'That's chorea--St. Vitus's dance,' Mrs. Godfrey put in. 'He ought to have been drowned.'
'But I like his cast of countenance,' the girl persisted.
'He doesn't look a good life,' I said, 'but perhaps he can be patched up.' Miss Sichliffe turned crimson; I saw Mrs. Godfrey exchange a glance with her married daughter, and knew I had said something which would have to be lived down.
'Yes,' Miss Sichliffe went on, her voice shaking, 'he isn't a good life, but perhaps I can--patch him up. Come here, sir.' The misshapen beast lurched toward her, squinting down his own nose till he fell over his own toes. Then, luckily, Bettina ran across the lawn and reminded Malachi of their puppyhood. All that family are as queer as Dick's hatband, and fight like man and wife. I had to separate them, and Mrs. Godfrey helped me till they retired under the rhododendrons and had it out in silence.
'D'you know what that girl's father was?' Mrs. Godfrey asked.
'No,' I replied. 'I loathe her for her own sake. She breathes through her mouth.'
'He was a retired doctor,' she explained. 'He used to pick up stormy young men in the repentant stage, take them home, and patch them up till they were sound enough to be insured. Then he insured them heavily, and let them out into the world again--with an appetite. Of course, no one knew him while he was alive, but he left pots of money to his daughter.'
'Strictly legitimate--highly respectable,' I said. 'But what a life for the daughter!'
'Mustn't it have been! _Now_ d'you realise what you said just now?'
'Perfectly; and now you've made me quite happy, shall we go back to the house?'
When we reached it they were all inside, sitting in committee on names.
'What shall you call yours?' I heard Milly ask Miss Sichliffe.
'Harvey,' she replied--'Harvey's Sauce, you know. He's going to be quite saucy when I've'--she saw Mrs. Godfrey and me coming through the French window--'when he's stronger.'
Attley, the well-meaning man, to make me feel at ease, asked what I thought of the name.
'Oh, splendid,' I said at random. 'H with an A, A with an R, R with a--'
'But that's Little Bingo,' some one said, and they all laughed.
Miss Sichliffe, her hands joined across her long knees, drawled, 'You ought always to verify your quotations.'
It was not a kindly thrust, but something in the word 'quotation' set the automatic side of my brain at work on some shadow of a word or phrase that kept itself out of memory's reach as a cat sits just beyond a dog's jump. When I was going home, Miss Sichliffe came up to me in the twilight, the pup on a leash, swinging her big shoes at the end of her tennis-racket.
''Sorry,' she said in her thick schoolboy-like voice. 'I'm sorry for what I said to you about verifying quotations. I didn't know you well enough and--anyhow, I oughtn't to have.'
'But you were quite right about Little Bingo,' I answered. 'The spelling ought to have reminded me.'
'Yes, of course. It's the spelling,' she said, and slouched off with the pup sliding after her. Once again my brain began to worry after something that would have meant something if it had been properly spelled. I confided my trouble to Malachi on the way home, but Bettina had bitten him in four places, and he was busy.
Weeks later, Attley came over to see me, and before his car stopped Malachi let me know that Bettina was sitting beside the chauffeur. He greeted her by the scruff of the neck as she hopped down; and I greeted Mrs. Godfrey, Attley, and a big basket.
'You've got to help me,' said Attley tiredly. We took the basket into the garden, and there staggered out the angular shadow of a sandy-pied, broken-haired terrier, with one imbecile and one delirious ear, and two most hideous squints. Bettina and Malachi, already at grips on the lawn, saw him, let go, and fled in opposite directions.
'Why have you brought that fetid hound here?' I demanded.
'Harvey? For you to take care of,' said Attley. 'He's had distemper, but _I_'m going abroad.'
'Take him with you. I won't have him. He's mentally afflicted.'
'Look here,' Attley almost shouted, 'do I strike you as a fool?'
'Always,' said I.
'Well, then, if you say so, and Ella says so, that proves I ought to go abroad.'
'Will's wrong, quite wrong,' Mrs. Godfrey interrupted; 'but you must take the pup.'
'My dear boy, my dear boy, don't you ever give anything to a woman,' Attley snorted.
Bit by bit I got the story out of them in the quiet garden (never a sign from Bettina and Malachi), while Harvey stared me out of countenance, first with one cuttlefish eye and then with the other.
It appeared that, a month after Miss Sichliffe took him, the dog Harvey developed distemper. Miss Sichliffe had nursed him herself for some time; then she carried him in her arms the two miles to Mittleham, and wept--actually wept--at Attley's feet, saying that Harvey was all she had or expected to have in this world, and Attley must cure him. Attley, being by wealth, position, and temperament guardian to all lame dogs, had put everything aside for this unsavoury job, and, he asserted, Miss Sichliffe had virtually lived with him ever since.
'She went home at night, of course,' he exploded, 'but the rest of the time she simply infested the premises. Goodness knows, I'm not particular, but it was a scandal. Even the servants!... Three and four times a day, and notes in between, to know how the beast was. Hang it all, don't laugh! And wanting to send me flowers and goldfish. Do I look as if I wanted goldfish? Can't you two stop for a minute?' (Mrs. Godfrey and I were clinging to each other for support.) 'And it isn't as if I was--was so alluring a personality, is it?'
Attley commands more trust, goodwill, and affection than most men, for he is that rare angel, an absolutely unselfish bachelor, content to be run by contending syndicates of zealous friends. His situation seemed desperate, and I told him so.
'Instant flight is your only remedy,' was my verdict. I'll take care of both your cars while you're away, and you can send me over all the greenhouse fruit.'
'But why should I be chased out of my house by a she-dromedary?' he wailed.
'Oh, stop! Stop!' Mrs. Godfrey sobbed. 'You're both wrong. I admit you're right, but I _know_ you're wrong.'
'Three _and_ four times a day,' said Attley, with an awful countenance. 'I'm not a vain man, but--look here, Ella, I'm not sensitive, I hope, but if you persist in making a joke of it--'
'Oh, be quiet!' she almost shrieked. 'D'you imagine for one instant that your friends would ever let Mittleham pass out of their hands? I quite agree it is unseemly for a grown girl to come to Mittleham at all hours of the day and night--'
'I told you she went home o' nights,' Attley growled.
'Specially if she goes home o' nights. Oh, but think of the life she must have led, Will!'
'I'm not interfering with it; only she must leave me alone.'
'She may want to patch you up and insure you,' I suggested.
'D'you know what _you_ are?' Mrs. Godfrey turned on me with the smile I have feared for the last quarter of a century. 'You're the nice, kind, wise, doggy friend. You don't know how wise and nice you are supposed to be. Will has sent Harvey to you to complete the poor angel's convalescence. You know all about dogs, or Will wouldn't have done it. He's written her that. You're too far off for her to make daily calls on you. P'r'aps she'll drop in two or three times a week, and write on other days. But it doesn't matter what she does, because you don't own Mittleham, don't you see?'
I told her I saw most clearly.
'Oh, you'll get over that in a few days,' Mrs. Godfrey countered. 'You're the sporting, responsible, doggy friend who--'
'He used to look at me like that at first,' said Attley, with a visible shudder, 'but he gave it up after a bit. It's only because you're new to him.'
'But, confound you! he's a ghoul--' I began.
'And when he gets quite well, you'll send him back to her direct with your love, and she'll give you some pretty four-tailed goldfish,' said Mrs. Godfrey, rising. 'That's all settled. Car, please. We're going to Brighton to lunch together.'
They ran before I could get into my stride, so I told the dog Harvey what I thought of them and his mistress. He never shifted his position, but stared at me, an intense, lopsided stare, eye after eye. Malachi came along when he had seen his sister off, and from a distance counselled me to drown the brute and consort with gentlemen again. But the dog Harvey never even cocked his cockable ear.
And so it continued as long as he was with me. Where I sat, he sat and stared; where I walked, he walked beside, head stiffly slewed over one shoulder in single-barrelled contemplation of me. He never gave tongue, never closed in for a caress, seldom let me stir a step alone. And, to my amazement, Malachi, who suffered no stranger to live within our gates, saw this gaunt, growing, green-eyed devil wipe him out of my service and company without a whimper. Indeed, one would have said the situation interested him, for he would meet us returning from grim walks together, and look alternately at Harvey and at me with the same quivering interest that he showed at the mouth of a rat-hole. Outside these inspections, Malachi withdrew himself as only a dog or a woman can.
Miss Sichliffe came over after a few days (luckily I was out) with some elaborate story of paying calls in the neighbourhood. She sent me a note of thanks next day. I was reading it when Harvey and Malachi entered and disposed themselves as usual, Harvey close up to stare at me, Malachi half under the sofa, watching us both. Out of curiosity I returned Harvey's stare, then pulled his lopsided head on to my knee, and took his eye for several minutes. Now, in Malachi's eye I can see at any hour all that there is of the normal decent dog, flecked here and there with that strained half-soul which man's love and association have added to his nature. But with Harvey the eye was perplexed, as a tortured man's. Only by looking far into its deeps could one make out the spirit of the proper animal, beclouded and cowering beneath some unfair burden.
Leggatt, my chauffeur, came in for orders.
'How d'you think Harvey's coming on?' I said, as I rubbed the brute's gulping neck. The vet had warned me of the possibilities of spinal trouble following distemper.
'He ain't _my_ fancy,' was the reply. 'But _I_ don't question his comings and goings so long as I 'aven't to sit alone in a room with him.'
'Why? He's as meek as Moses,' I said.
'He fair gives me the creeps. P'r'aps he'll go out in fits.'
But Harvey, as I wrote his mistress from time to time, throve, and when he grew better, would play by himself grisly games of spying, walking up, hailing, and chasing another dog. From these he would break off of a sudden and return to his normal stiff gait, with the air of one who had forgotten some matter of life and death, which could be reached only by staring at me. I left him one evening posturing with the unseen on the lawn, and went inside to finish some letters for the post. I must have been at work nearly an hour, for I was going to turn on the lights, when I felt there was somebody in the room whom, the short hairs at the back of my neck warned me, I was not in the least anxious to face. There was a mirror on the wall. As I lifted my eyes to it I saw the dog Harvey reflected near the shadow by the closed door. He had reared himself full-length on his hind legs, his head a little one side to clear a sofa between us, and he was looking at me. The face, with its knitted brows and drawn lips, was the face of a dog, but the look, for the fraction of time that I caught it, was human--wholly and horribly human. When the blood in my body went forward again he had dropped to the floor, and was merely studying me in his usual one-eyed fashion. Next day I returned him to Miss Sichliffe. I would not have kept him another day for the wealth of Asia, or even Ella Godfrey's approval.
Miss Sichliffe's house I discovered to be a mid-Victorian mansion of peculiar villainy even for its period, surrounded by gardens of conflicting colours, all dazzling with glass and fresh paint on ironwork. Striped blinds, for it was a blazing autumn morning, covered most of the windows, and a voice sang to the piano an almost forgotten song of Jean Ingelow's--
Methought that the stars were blinking bright,
And the old brig's sails unfurled--
Down came the loud pedal, and the unrestrained cry swelled out across a bed of tritomas consuming in their own fires--
When I said I will sail to my love this night
On the other side of the world.
I have no music, but the voice drew. I waited till the end:
Oh, maid most dear, I am not here
I have no place apart--
No dwelling more on sea or shore,
But only in thy heart.
It seemed to me a poor life that had no more than that to do at eleven o'clock of a Tuesday forenoon. Then Miss Sichliffe suddenly lumbered through a French window in clumsy haste, her brows contracted against the light.
'Well?' she said, delivering the word like a spear-thrust, with the full weight of a body behind it.
'I've brought Harvey back at last,' I replied. 'Here he is.'
But it was at me she looked, not at the dog who had cast himself at her feet--looked as though she would have fished my soul out of my breast on the instant.
'Wha--what did you think of him? What did _you_ make of him?' she panted. I was too taken aback for the moment to reply. Her voice broke as she stooped to the dog at her knees. 'O Harvey, Harvey! You utterly worthless old devil!' she cried, and the dog cringed and abased himself in servility that one could scarcely bear to look upon. I made to go.
'Oh, but please, you mustn't!' She tugged at the car's side. 'Wouldn't you like some flowers or some orchids? We've really splendid orchids, and'--she clasped her hands--'there are Japanese goldfish--real Japanese goldfish, with four tails. If you don't care for 'em, perhaps your friends or somebody--oh, please!'
Harvey had recovered himself, and I realised that this woman beyond the decencies was fawning on me as the dog had fawned on her.
'Certainly,' I said, ashamed to meet her eye. 'I'm lunching at Mittleham, but--'
'There's plenty of time,' she entreated. 'What do _you_ think of Harvey?'
'He's a queer beast,' I said, getting out. 'He does nothing but stare at me.'
'Does he stare at you all the time he's with you?'
'Always. He's doing it now. Look!'
We had halted. Harvey had sat down, and was staring from one to the other with a weaving motion of the head.
'He'll do that all day,' I said. 'What is it, Harvey?'
'Yes, what _is_ it, Harvey?' she echoed. The dog's throat twitched, his body stiffened and shook as though he were going to have a fit. Then he came back with a visible wrench to his unwinking watch.
'Always so?' she whispered.
'Always,' I replied, and told her something of his life with me. She nodded once or twice, and in the end led me into the house.
There were unaging pitch-pine doors of Gothic design in it; there were inlaid marble mantel-pieces and cut-steel fenders; there were stupendous wall-papers, and octagonal, medallioned Wedgwood what-nots, and black-and-gilt Austrian images holding candelabra, with every other refinement that Art had achieved or wealth had bought between 1851 and 1878. And everything reeked of varnish.
'Now!' she opened a baize door, and pointed down a long corridor flanked with more Gothic doors. 'This was where we used to--to patch 'em up. You've heard of us. Mrs. Godfrey told you in the garden the day I got Harvey given me. I'--she drew in her breath--'I live here by myself, and I have a very large income. Come back, Harvey.'
He had tiptoed down the corridor, as rigid as ever, and was sitting outside one of the shut doors. 'Look here!' she said, and planted herself squarely in front of me. 'I tell you this because you--you've patched up Harvey, too. Now, I want you to remember that my name is Moira. Mother calls me Marjorie because it's more refined; but my real name is Moira, and I am in my thirty-fourth year.'
'Very good,' I said. 'I'll remember all that.'
'Thank you.' Then with a sudden swoop into the humility of an abashed boy--''Sorry if I haven't said the proper things. You see--there's Harvey looking at us again. Oh, I want to say--if ever you want anything in the way of orchids or goldfish or--or anything else that would be useful to you, you've only to come to me for it. Under the will I'm perfectly independent, and we're a long-lived family, worse luck!' She looked at me, and her face worked like glass behind driven flame. 'I may reasonably expect to live another fifty years,' she said.
'Thank you, Miss Sichliffe,' I replied. 'If I want anything, you may be sure I'll come to you for it.' She nodded. 'Now I must get over to Mittleham,' I said.
'Mr. Attley will ask you all about this.' For the first time she laughed aloud. 'I'm afraid I frightened him nearly out of the county. I didn't think, of course. But I dare say he knows by this time he was wrong. Say good-bye to Harvey.'
'Good-bye, old man,' I said. 'Give me a farewell stare, so we shall know each other when we meet again.'
The dog looked up, then moved slowly toward me, and stood, head bowed to the floor, shaking in every muscle as I patted him; and when I turned, I saw him crawl back to her feet.
That was not a good preparation for the rampant boy-and-girl-dominated lunch at Mittleham, which, as usual, I found in possession of everybody except the owner.
'But what did the dromedary say when you brought her beast back?' Attley demanded.
'The usual polite things,' I replied. 'I'm posing as the nice doggy friend nowadays.'
'I don't envy you. She's never darkened my doors, thank goodness, since I left Harvey at your place. I suppose she'll run about the county now swearing you cured him. That's a woman's idea of gratitude.' Attley seemed rather hurt, and Mrs. Godfrey laughed.
'That proves you were right about Miss Sichliffe, Ella,' I said. 'She had no designs on anybody.'
'I'm always right in these matters. But didn't she even offer you a goldfish?'
'Not a thing,' said I. 'You know what an old maid's like where her precious dog's concerned.' And though I have tried vainly to lie to Ella Godfrey for many years, I believe that in this case I succeeded.
When I turned into our drive that evening, Leggatt observed half aloud:
'I'm glad Zvengali's back where he belongs. It's time our Mike had a look in.'
Sure enough, there was Malachi back again in spirit as well as flesh, but still with that odd air of expectation he had picked up from Harvey.
* * * * *
It was in January that Attley wrote me that Mrs. Godfrey, wintering in Madeira with Milly, her unmarried daughter, had been attacked with something like enteric; that the hotel, anxious for its good name, had thrust them both out into a cottage annexe; that he was off with a nurse, and that I was not to leave England till I heard from him again. In a week he wired that Milly was down as well, and that I must bring out two more nurses, with suitable delicacies.
Within seventeen hours I had got them all aboard the Cape boat, and had seen the women safely collapsed into sea-sickness. The next few weeks were for me, as for the invalids, a low delirium, clouded with fantastic memories of Portuguese officials trying to tax calves'-foot jelly; voluble doctors insisting that true typhoid was unknown in the island; nurses who had to be exercised, taken out of themselves, and returned on the tick of change of guard; night slides down glassy, cobbled streets, smelling of sewage and flowers, between walls whose every stone and patch Attley and I knew; vigils in stucco verandahs, watching the curve and descent of great stars or drawing auguries from the break of dawn; insane interludes of gambling at the local Casino, where we won heaps of unconsoling silver; blasts of steamers arriving and departing in the roads; help offered by total strangers, grabbed at or thrust aside; the long nightmare crumbling back into sanity one forenoon under a vine-covered trellis, where Attley sat hugging a nurse, while the others danced a noiseless, neat-footed breakdown never learned at the Middlesex Hospital. At last, as the tension came out all over us in aches and tingles that we put down to the country wine, a vision of Mrs. Godfrey, her grey hair turned to spun-glass, but her eyes triumphant over the shadow of retreating death beneath them, with Milly, enormously grown, and clutching life back to her young breast, both stretched out on cane chairs, clamouring for food.
In this ungirt hour there imported himself into our life a youngish-looking middle-aged man of the name of Shend, with a blurred face and deprecating eyes. He said he had gambled with me at the Casino, which was no recommendation, and I remember that he twice gave me a basket of champagne and liqueur brandy for the invalids, which a sailor in a red-tasselled cap carried up to the cottage for me at 3 A.M. He turned out to be the son of some merchant prince in the oil and colour line, and the owner of a four-hundred-ton steam yacht, into which, at his gentle insistence, we later shifted our camp, staff, and equipage, Milly weeping with delight to escape from the horrible cottage. There we lay off Funchal for weeks, while Shend did miracles of luxury and attendance through deputies, and never once asked how his guests were enjoying themselves. Indeed, for several days at a time we would see nothing of him. He was, he said, subject to malaria. Giving as they do with both hands, I knew that Attley and Mrs. Godfrey could take nobly; but I never met a man who so nobly gave and so nobly received thanks as Shend did.
'Tell us why you have been so unbelievably kind to us gipsies,' Mrs. Godfrey said to him one day on deck.
He looked up from a diagram of some Thames-mouth shoals which he was explaining to me, and answered with his gentle smile:
'I will. It's because it makes me happy--it makes me more than happy--to be with you. It makes me comfortable. You know how selfish men are? If a man feels comfortable all over with certain people, he'll bore them to death, just like a dog. You always make me feel as if pleasant things were going to happen to me.'
'Haven't any ever happened before?' Milly asked.
'This is the most pleasant thing that has happened to me in ever so many years,' he replied. 'I feel like the man in the Bible, "It's good for me to be here." Generally, I don't feel that it's good for me to be anywhere in particular.' Then, as one begging a favour. 'You'll let me come home with you--in the same boat, I mean? I'd take you back in this thing of mine, and that would save you packing your trunks, but she's too lively for spring work across the Bay.'
We booked our berths, and when the time came, he wafted us and ours aboard the Southampton mail-boat with the pomp of plenipotentiaries and the precision of the Navy. Then he dismissed his yacht, and became an inconspicuous passenger in a cabin opposite to mine, on the port side.
We ran at once into early British spring weather, followed by sou'west gales. Mrs. Godfrey, Milly, and the nurses disappeared. Attley stood it out, visibly yellowing, till the next meal, and followed suit, and Shend and I had the little table all to ourselves. I found him even more attractive when the women were away. The natural sweetness of the man, his voice, and bearing all fascinated me, and his knowledge of practical seamanship (he held an extra master's certificate) was a real joy. We sat long in the empty saloon and longer in the smoking-room, making dashes downstairs over slippery decks at the eleventh hour.
It was on Friday night, just as I was going to bed, that he came into my cabin, after cleaning his teeth, which he did half a dozen times a day.
'I say,' he began hurriedly, 'do you mind if I come in here for a little? I'm a bit edgy.' I must have shown surprise. 'I'm ever so much better about liquor than I used to be, but--it's the whisky in the suitcase that throws me. For God's sake, old man, don't go back on me to-night! Look at my hands!'
They were fairly jumping at the wrists. He sat down on a trunk that had slid out with the roll. We had reduced speed, and were surging in confused seas that pounded on the black port-glasses. The night promised to be a pleasant one!
'You understand, of course, don't you?' he chattered.
'Oh yes,' I said cheerily; 'but how about--'
'No, no; on no account the doctor. 'Tell a doctor, tell the whole ship. Besides, I've only got a touch of 'em. You'd never have guessed it, would you? The tooth-wash does the trick. I'll give you the prescription.'
I'll send a note to the doctor for a prescription, shall I?' I suggested.
'Right! I put myself unreservedly in your hands. 'Fact is, I always did. I said to myself--'sure I don't bore you?--the minute I saw you, I said, "Thou art the man."' He repeated the phrase as he picked at his knees. 'All the same, you can take it from me that the ewe-lamb business is a rotten bad one. I don't care how unfaithful the shepherd may be. Drunk or sober, 'tisn't cricket.'
A surge of the trunk threw him across the cabin as the steward answered my bell. I wrote my requisition to the doctor while Shend was struggling to his feet.
'What's wrong?' he began. 'Oh, I know. We're slowing for soundings off Ushant. It's about time, too. You'd better ship the dead-lights when you come back, Matchem. It'll save you waking us later. This sea's going to get up when the tide turns. That'll show you,' he said as the man left, 'that I am to be trusted. You--you'll stop me if I say anything I shouldn't, won't you?'
'Talk away,' I replied, 'if it makes you feel better.'
'That's it; you've hit it exactly. You always make me feel better. I can rely on you. It's awkward soundings but you'll see me through it. We'll defeat him yet.... I may be an utterly worthless devil, but I'm not a brawler.... I told him so at breakfast. I said, "Doctor, I detest brawling, but if ever you allow that girl to be insulted again as Clements insulted her, I will break your neck with my own hands." You think I was right?'
'Absolutely,' I agreed.
'Then we needn't discuss the matter any further. That man was a murderer in intention--outside the law, you understand, as it was then. They've changed it since--but he never deceived _me_. I told him so. I said to him at the time, "I don't know what price you're going to put on my head, but if ever you allow Clements to insult her again, you'll never live to claim it."'
'And what did he do?' I asked, to carry on the conversation, for Matchem entered with the bromide.
'Oh, crumpled up at once. 'Lead still going, Matchem?'
'I 'aven't 'eard,' said that faithful servant of the Union-Castle Company.
'Quite right. Never alarm the passengers. Ship the dead-light, will you?' Matchem shipped it, for we were rolling very heavily. There were tramplings and gull-like cries from on deck. Shend looked at me with a mariner's eye.
'That's nothing,' he said protectingly.
'Oh, it's all right for you,' I said, jumping at the idea. '_I_ haven't an extra master's certificate. I'm only a passenger. I confess it funks me.'
Instantly his whole bearing changed to answer the appeal.
'My dear fellow, it's as simple as houses. We're hunting for sixty-five fathom water. Anything short of sixty, with a sou'west wind means--but I'll get my Channel Pilot out of my cabin and give you the general idea. I'm only too grateful to do anything to put your mind at ease.'
And so, perhaps, for another hour--he declined the drink--Channel Pilot in hand, he navigated us round Ushant, and at my request up-channel to Southampton, light by light, with explanations and reminiscences. I professed myself soothed at last, and suggested bed.
'In a second,' said he. 'Now, you wouldn't think, would you'--he glanced off the book toward my wildly swaying dressing-gown on the door--'that I've been seeing things for the last half-hour? 'Fact is, I'm just on the edge of 'em, skating on thin ice round the corner--nor'east as near as nothing--where that dog's looking at me.'
'What's the dog like?' I asked.
'Ah, that _is_ comforting of you! Most men walk through 'em to show me they aren't real. As if I didn't know! But _you're_ different. Anybody could see that with half an eye.' He stiffened and pointed. 'Damn it all! The dog sees it too with half an--Why, he knows you! Knows you perfectly. D'you know _him_?'
'How can I tell if he isn't real?' I insisted.
'But you can! _You're_ all right. I saw that from the first. Don't go back on me now or I shall go to pieces like the _Drummond Castle_. I beg your pardon, old man; but, you see, you _do_ know the dog. I'll prove it. What's that dog doing? Come on! _You_ know.' A tremor shook him, and he put his hand on my knee, and whispered with great meaning: 'I'll letter or halve it with you. There! You begin.'
'S,' said I to humour him, for a dog would most likely be standing or sitting, or may be scratching or sniffling or staring.
'Q,' he went on, and I could feel the heat of his shaking hand.
'U,' said I. There was no other letter possible; but I was shaking too.
'T-i-n-g,' he ran out. 'There! That proves it. I knew you knew him. You don't know what a relief that is. Between ourselves, old man, he--he's been turning up lately a--a damn sight more often than I cared for. And a squinting dog--a dog that squints! I mean that's a bit _too_ much. Eh? What?' He gulped and half rose, and I thought that the full tide of delirium would be on him in another sentence.
'Not a bit of it,' I said as a last chance, with my hand over the bellpush. 'Why, you've just proved that I know him; so there are two of us in the game, anyhow.'
'By Jove! that _is_ an idea! Of course there are. I knew you'd see me through. We'll defeat them yet. Hi, pup!... He's gone. Absolutely disappeared!' He sighed with relief, and I caught the lucky moment.
'Good business! I expect he only came to have a look at me,' I said. 'Now, get this drink down and turn in to the lower bunk.'
He obeyed, protesting that he could not inconvenience me, and in the midst of apologies sank into a dead sleep. I expected a wakeful night, having a certain amount to think over; but no sooner had I scrambled into the top bunk than sleep came on me like a wave from the other side of the world.
In the morning there were apologies, which we got over at breakfast before our party were about.
'I suppose--after this--well, I don't blame you. I'm rather a lonely chap, though.' His eyes lifted dog-like across the table.
'Shend,' I replied, 'I'm not running a Sunday school. You're coming home with me in my car as soon as we land.'
'That is kind of you--kinder than you think.'
'That's because you're a little jumpy still. Now, I don't want to mix up in your private affairs--'
'But I'd like you to,' he interrupted.
'Then, would you mind telling me the Christian name of a girl who was insulted by a man called Clements?'
'Moira,' he whispered; and just then Mrs. Godfrey and Milly came to table with their shore-going hats on.
We did not tie up till noon, but the faithful Leggatt had intrigued his way down to the dock-edge, and beside him sat Malachi, wearing his collar of gold, or Leggatt makes it look so, as eloquent as Demosthenes. Shend flinched a little when he saw him. We packed Mrs. Godfrey and Milly into Attley's car--they were going with him to Mittleham, of course--and drew clear across the railway lines to find England all lit and perfumed for spring. Shend sighed with happiness.
'D'you know,' he said, 'if--if you'd chucked me--I should have gone down to my cabin after breakfast and cut my throat. And now--it's like a dream--a good dream, you know.'
We lunched with the other three at Romsey. Then I sat in front for a little while to talk to my Malachi. When I looked back, Shend was solidly asleep, and stayed so for the next two hours, while Leggatt chased Attley's fat Daimler along the green-speckled hedges. He woke up when we said good-bye at Mittleham, with promises to meet again very soon.
'And I hope,' said Mrs. Godfrey, 'that everything pleasant will happen to you.'
'Heaps and heaps--all at once,' cried long, weak Milly, waving her wet handkerchief.
'I've just got to look in at a house near here for a minute to inquire about a dog,' I said, 'and then we will go home.'
'I used to know this part of the world,' he replied, and said no more till Leggatt shot past the lodge at the Sichliffes's gate. Then I heard him gasp.
Miss Sichliffe, in a green waterproof, an orange jersey, and a pinkish leather hat, was working on a bulb-border. She straightened herself as the car stopped, and breathed hard. Shend got out and walked towards her. They shook hands, turned round together, and went into the house. Then the dog Harvey pranced out corkily from under the lee of a bench. Malachi, with one joyous swoop, fell on him as an enemy and an equal. Harvey, for his part, freed from all burden whatsoever except the obvious duty of a man-dog on his own ground, met Malachi without reserve or remorse, and with six months' additional growth to come and go on.
'Don't check 'em!' cried Leggatt, dancing round the flurry. 'They've both been saving up for each other all this time. It'll do 'em worlds of good.'
'Leggatt,' I said, 'will you take Mr. Shend's bag and suitcase up to the house and put them down just inside the door? Then we will go on.'
So I enjoyed the finish alone. It was a dead heat, and they licked each other's jaws in amity till Harvey, one imploring eye on me, leaped into the front seat, and Malachi backed his appeal. It was theft, but I took him, and we talked all the way home of r-rats and r-rabbits and bones and baths and the other basic facts of life. That evening after dinner they slept before the fire, with their warm chins across the hollows of my ankles--to each chin an ankle--till I kicked them upstairs to bed.
* * * * *
I was not at Mittleham when she came over to announce her engagement, but I heard of it when Mrs. Godfrey and Attley came, forty miles an hour, over to me, and Mrs. Godfrey called me names of the worst for suppression of information.
'As long as it wasn't me, I don't care,' said Attley.
'I believe you knew it all along,' Mrs. Godfrey repeated. 'Else what made you drive that man literally into her arms?'
'To ask after the dog Harvey,' I replied.
'Then, what's the beast doing here?' Attley demanded, for Malachi and the dog Harvey were deep in a council of the family with Bettina, who was being out-argued.
'Oh, Harvey seemed to think himself _de trop_ where he was,' I said. 'And she hasn't sent after him. You'd better save Bettina before they kill her.'
'There's been enough lying about that dog,' said Mrs. Godfrey to me. 'If he wasn't born in lies, he was baptized in 'em. D'you know why she called him Harvey? It only occurred to me in those dreadful days when I was ill, and one can't keep from thinking, and thinks everything. D'you know your Boswell? What did Johnson say about Hervey--with an e?'
'Oh, _that's_ it, is it?' I cried incautiously. 'That was why I ought to have verified my quotations. The spelling defeated me. Wait a moment, and it will come back. Johnson said: "He was a vicious man,"' I began.
'"But very kind to me,"' Mrs. Godfrey prompted. Then, both together, '"If you call a dog Hervey, I shall love him."'
'So you _were_ mixed up in it. At any rate, you had your suspicions from the first? Tell me,' she said.
'Ella,' I said, 'I don't know anything rational or reasonable about any of it. It was all--all woman-work, and it scared me horribly.'
'Why?' she asked.
That was six years ago. I have written this tale to let her know--wherever she may be.