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Authors: Elizabeth Daly

Unexpected Night

BOOK: Unexpected Night
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Elizabeth Daly

& M

…eventful unexpected night,
Which finishes a row of plotting days,
Fulfilling their designs.

Death's Jest-Book; or The Fool's Tragedy

Thomas Lovell Beddoes


A Pale Young Man

a double row started out of the mist as the headlights caught them, opened to receive the car, passed like an endless screen, and vanished. The girl on the back seat withdrew her head from the open window.

“We'll never get there at this rate,” she said. “We're crawling.”

The older woman sat far back in her corner, a figure of exhausted elegance. She said, keeping her voice low: “In this fog, I don't think it would be safe to hurry.”

“I should think it would be safer than keeping him up all night.”

“We'll see what Hugh thinks.”

But the speaker did not move immediately. She looked too tired to move. Her face, under the short veil and the close black hat, showed white in the dimness, of the same whiteness as the small pearls in her ears. Presently she leaned forward, her high-collared woollen coat falling softly away and showing the dark silk dress beneath. She put a hand in a white glove on the back of the driver's seat.

“Can we go a little faster, Hugh?” she asked. “It's so late.”

“It's this fog.”

“I think it's only what they call a sea turn, up here; it will blow over before morning.”

“Scares me to death. I don't know the road, and we don't want any bumps.”

“Is he all right?” She peered anxiously at what looked like a heap of rugs beside the driver—a heap surmounted by a Panama hat. It stirred, and she asked: “Are you all right, Amby?”

A voice replied, drowsily: “All right. Been having a nap.” It added, rather crossly: “Don't be feeble, Hugh. Step on it.”

The car picked up speed.

“I'm sorry if I waked you, dear.” The woman's voice was calm and cheerful, but her gloved hand gripped the edge of the seat in front. “Would you like another little drink of brandy?”

“No, thanks, Aunt El. Don't worry about me.” The words were polite, but the tone was dry. “I'll make it.”

She sat back, resting her head, trimly encased in the small hat, against the back of her seat. The young man called Hugh kept his eyes on the road, but he nudged the other with an elbow, and slightly shook his head. A face, which had until now been almost entirely hidden between the turned-down hat brim and the turned-up collar of a heavy topcoat, looked upwards and caught the light. It had fine dark eyes, but in all other respects it resembled a death mask that had been tinted blue, even to the lips. It spoke, with amiable irony:

“Calm yourself; I'll be good.”

“You'd better be, old boy.”

“I get so sick of all the fussing.”

“You ought to be grateful for it.”

“This ‘bring 'em back alive' business gets on my nerves.”

“It gets on my nerves when you talk that rot. Insulting people that care for you!”

“Invalids always get that way. Didn't you know?”

“You've been spoiled. If you were well, I'd take it out of you. You think you can say anything.”

“That's because I can't do anything. It gets on my nerves.”

“You and your nerves. If you had any nerves, you wouldn't be planning this crazy trip, to-morrow.”

“I'm going, if it's the last thing I do.”

“I ought to tell your aunt about it.”

“She couldn't stop me. I'll be of age—don't forget that.”

“I'm not likely to forget it; you don't talk about anything else.” The young man paused, and then said, slowly: “You know I don't run people down, as a rule; but if Atwood had any decency, he wouldn't let you try it.”

“He's all right. He doesn't keep on lecturing me, anyway.”

“What's a tutor for?”

“You won't be a tutor much longer.”

“Don't remind me of it. I'm trying to get in a few last licks, to-night.”

The boy hesitated, and then said persuasively: “You know I've asked you again and again to come up there with me.”

“Go barnstorming with you in that summer theatre? Certainly not. I haven't taken leave of my senses.”

“There's nothing crazy about a summer theatre.”

“There is for you. Look here, Amby; why not let me drive on straight to the hotel? It's getting on to midnight. You must be pretty well done up after that bad turn you had to-day, and your aunt and sister are half dead.”

“I'm always having bad turns; one, more or less, makes no difference to me. Fred's expecting us.”

“I can telephone down from the hotel, and say you didn't feel up to it.”

“No. I want to see him.”

“And the doctor says you mustn't be thwarted. How you trade on that, young fellow!”

The pale young man, hunched to the ears in his topcoat, chuckled. His sister spoke from the back seat, after drawing her head in at the car window: “That Ford hasn't passed us yet.”

“What Ford?” The driver glanced back.

“It's been following us for miles.”

The pale young man turned to look at her face, which showed, a white blur, in the car's dark interior. Then he, also, craned out of his window. When he drew his head in, he said cheerfully: “You're crazy. Here she comes, now.”

A horn sounded, and the small car passed them. Its driver, a small man in a sou'wester much too big for him, flashed by and vanished in the mist ahead. The boy laughed, teasingly. “No holdups to-night,” he said. “Poor old Alma. No excitement.”

“We're almost there.” His aunt leaned forward to look out of the car. “Yes, just a minute or two more. Turn right, Hugh, and then straight along the shore road. The Barclay cottage is the second on the left.”

The screen of trees had rolled up at last. They were in the open, rumbling across a wooden bridge; a salt smell came from the marshes on either hand, but the fog closed in now like a barrage. The car slowed down.

“This is bad,” said the driver.

“Only a minute more, Hugh. The second cottage on the left.”

The Barclay cottage, a gabled relic of the eighties, was situated rather bleakly on the outskirts of a small summer resort called Ford's Beach. Its only small, dry front yard, a sandy road, and a low rampart of rock were all that separated it from the ocean. It was also rather bleak within. Its combination lobby, living and dining-room—walled, ceiled and floored with native pine—was made cheerful by a log fire, and a faded Navajo blanket on a couch in one corner; there was no other brightness or colour, no pictures, no knick-knacks, and no flowers.

Four persons sat around a bridge table, in the glare of a droplight: Colonel and Mrs. Barclay, their son, Lieutenant Frederic Barclay, and a guest from the hotel, a Mr. Henry Gamadge. The time was twenty minutes to twelve o'clock, and the date was Sunday night, June 25, 1939.

The three men were adding up scores; Mrs. Barclay was digging small change out of the cavernous recesses of a large knitting bag. She looked, and was, an old campaigner. As an Army wife she had learned to travel light, and had forever lost the habit of collecting bric-a-brac, or of regarding her home as anything more permanent than officer's quarters in a camp or barracks. Mrs. Barclay liked to think that she was a cosmopolitan, and had somehow acquired the notion that this involved wearing a curled fringe or bang, and piling the rest of her light hair high on the top of her head. She also felt obliged to dress formally in the evening, no matter what the circumstances; grudging exception being made in the case of picnics and dining-cars. On this occasion she wore a limp, flowered costume, cut very low; a fluttering chiffon scarf; and several strings of Venetian glass beads.

She was tall, thin, and very strong. Her game of golf was formidable, but she ruined her score on the approaches and the greens. She drove the family car much as she had once ridden a horse—sitting very straight, and bumping very much.

Colonel Barclay was a short, round man with a sunburned face and a clipped grey moustache. He was immaculate, if a little shabby, in yellowing white flannel trousers and a tight, blue serge coat. His son, Lieutenant Frederic Barclay, was also immaculate, and also shabby; but the resemblance between them went no farther. Lieutenant Barclay, Field Artillery, stationed in the South, and now spending his leave (for economy's sake) with his parents, was a tall, broad-shouldered and extremely handsome young man. He had long, dark, sleepy-looking eyes, smooth, dark hair, and a clear skin, slightly tanned. He moved slowly and deliberately, without effort; and he looked presentable in anything.

Mr. Henry Gamadge, on the other hand, wore clothes of excellent material and cut; but he contrived, by sitting and walking in a careless and lopsided manner, to look presentable in nothing. He screwed his grey tweeds out of shape before he had worn them a week, he screwed his mouth to one side when he smiled, and he screwed his eyes up when he pondered. His eyes were greyish green, his features blunt, and his hair mouse-coloured. People as a rule considered him a well-mannered, restful kind of young man; but if somebody happened to say something unusually outrageous or inane, he was wont to gaze upon the speaker in a wondering and somewhat disconcerting manner.

He said now, writing something on his score pad, and drawing a circle around it, “It's getting a little late. Shall we go on, or shall we have the return rubber another night? Perhaps you'll play with me to-morrow, at the Ocean House.”

“Going on midnight.” The colonel looked up at his watch. “We'll have to wait up,” he grumbled, “but we'll let you off, if you like.”

“I have an early golf match to-morrow, or I wouldn't suggest stopping. I'm afraid I'm the big winner.”

Mrs. Barclay fished a heap of small change out of her knitting bag. “I don't feel like any more bridge to-night,” she said. “Let me see, Mr. Gamadge. At a twentieth of a cent, I must owe you a dollar.”

“That's right, Mrs. Barclay; but it can stand over.”

“No, indeed. My father always said, ‘Never get up from the bridge table owing money.' I should be the winner, really.”

“Yes. Hard luck.”

“I suppose it was mad to redouble the spades, but I was counting on Freddy. He is such a good holder, usually. I was counting on him.”

“Lots of psychology in family bridge.” Her son subdued a yawn. “How far am I down, Gamadge?”

“You're up thirty cents. Thirty cents to your offspring, Colonel.”

“Come across, Dad.”

Colonel Barclay heaved himself sidewise in his chair, got two dimes and two nickels out of his trouser pocket, and shoved them over the khaki bridge-table cover towards his son. “You'll be wanting to get to bed, Gamadge,” he said, “if you have a nine o'clock golf match.”

BOOK: Unexpected Night
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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