It was almost as if a tree in the garden had spoken. And indeed the excitement of events had worked upon that vegetating brain till it unfolded rapidly, as do some vegetables at the touch of chemistry. Nor was this all, for the next moment the vegetable had taken on a highly animal energy and hurled itself across the garden. They saw a whirl of lanky limbs against the sky as Tom Traill cleared the garden wall and went plunging away through the sand towards the targets.
Hume," said Hayter in a cooler tone, "everybody regards you as a very sensible man. Do you mean to tell me seriously that you put a bullet in the Governor's leg for no reason at all, not even murder? In fact, I am a Moderate Murderer. I was saying only the other day that what most people want is to be rather murdered, especially persons in responsible political situations.
As it is, the punishments on both sides are far too severe.
The little more and how much it is; the little less and the Governor of Polybia gets clean away, as Browning said. Had it been the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should perhaps have selected a portion of the left ear. In the case of the Prime Minister the tip of the nose would be indicated. But the point is the general principle that something should happen to these people, to arouse their dormant faculties by a little personal problem. Now if ever there was a man," he went on with delicate emphasis, as if it were a scientific demonstration, "if ever there was a man meant and marked out by nature to be rather murdered, it is Lord Tallboys.
Other eminent men, very often, are just murdered, and everyone feels that the situation has been adequately met, that the incident is terminated. One just murders them and thinks no more about it. But Tallboys is a remarkable case; he is my employer and I know him pretty well. He is a good fellow, really. He is a gentleman, he is a patriot; what is more, he is really a liberal and reasonable man. But by being perpetually in office he has let that pompous manner get worse and worse, till it seems to grow on him, like his confounded top-hat. What is needed in such a case?
A few days in bed, I decided.
A few healthful weeks standing on one leg and meditating on that fine shade of distinction between oneself and God Almighty, which is so easily overlooked. He ought to know. At this moment there was another leap and scurry by the sycamore and the boy Tom hurled himself back into the garden, panting aloud:. For the rest of the interview, and until that strange group had broken up on the lawn, the boy continued to stare at Hume as only a boy can stare at somebody who has done something rather remarkable in a game.
But as he and Barbara went back to the Governorate together, the latter indescribably dazed and bewildered, she found her companion curiously convinced of some view of his own, which he was hardly competent to describe. It was not exactly as if he disbelieved Hume or his story. It was rather as if he believed what Hume had not said, rather than what he had. He says silly things just to make you think. That's what we've got to do.
He doesn't like you to give it up. There was some truth perhaps in the suggestion that Mr.
John Hume was fond of riddles, for he fired off one more of them at the Chief of Police, even as that official took him into custody. I suppose you have hanged people sometimes? It is not true that Lord Tallboys wore his top-hat in bed, during his brief indisposition. Nor is it true, as was more moderately alleged, that he sent for it as soon as he could stand upright and wore it as a finishing touch to a costume consisting of a green dressing-gown and red slippers.
But it was quite true that he resumed his hat and his high official duties at the earliest possible opportunity; rather to the annoyance, it was said, of his subordinate the Deputy-Governor, who found himself for the second time checked in some of those vigorous military measures which are always more easily effected after the shock of a political outrage.
In plain words, the Deputy-Governor was rather sulky. He had relapsed into a red-faced and irritable silence, and when he broke it his friends rather wished he would relapse into it again. At the mention of the eccentric tutor, whom his department had taken into custody, he exploded with a special impatience and disgust.
Tallboys was leaning on a crutch; in marked contrast to the sullenness of Sir Harry Smythe, he carried his disablement in a very plucky and pleasant fashion. The necessity of attending to the interrupted rhythm of his legs had apparently arrested the oratorical rotation of his hands. His family felt that they had never liked him so much before.
It seemed almost as if there were some truth in the theory of the Moderate Murderer. On the other hand, Sir Harry Smythe, usually so much more good-humoured with his family, seemed to be in an increasingly bad humour. The dark red of his complexion deepened, until by contrast there was something almost alarming about the light of his pale eyes.
At this point, for some reason or other, it was Olive who intervened swiftly and quietly; she looked a little wan and worried.
Hume and see if I can find out what it means. She had become for some reason violently excited and her own voice sounded strangely in her ears.
She had a dizzy impression of Harry Smythe's eyes standing out of his head in apoplectic anger and of Olive's face in the background growing more and more unnaturally pale and staring, and hovering over all, with something approaching to an elvish mockery, the benevolent amusement of her uncle. She felt as if he had let out too much, or that he had gained a new subtlety of perception. Meanwhile John Hume was sitting in his place of detention, staring at a blank wall with an equally blank face. Accustomed as he was to solitude, he soon found something of a strain in two or three days and nights of the dehumanized solitude of imprisonment.
Perhaps the fact most vivid to his immediate senses was being deprived of tobacco. But he had other and what some could call graver grounds of depression. He did not know what sort of sentence he would be likely to get for confessing to an attempt to wound the Governor. But he knew enough of political conditions and legal expedients to know that it would be easy to inflict heavy punishment immediately after the public scandal of the crime. He had lived in that outpost of civilization for the last ten years, till Tallboys had picked him up in Cairo; he remembered the violent reaction after the murder of the previous Governor, the way in which the Deputy-Governor had been able to turn himself into a despot and sweep the country with coercion acts and punitive expeditions, until his impulsive militarism had been a little moderated by the arrival of Tallboys with a compromise from the home Government.
Tallboys was still alive and even, in a modified manner, kicking. But he was probably still under doctor's orders and could hardly be judge in his own cause; so that the autocratic Smythe would probably have another chance of riding the whirlwind and directing the storm. But the truth is that there was at the back of the prisoner's mind something that he feared much more than prison. The tiny point of panic, which had begun to worry and eat away even his rocky stolidity of mind and body, was the fear that his fantastic explanation had given his enemies another sort of opportunity.
What he really feared was their saying he was mad and putting him under more humane and hygienic treatment. And indeed, anyone watching his demeanour for the next hour or so might be excused for entertaining doubts and fancies on the point. He was still staring before him in a rather strange fashion. But he was no longer staring as if he saw nothing, but rather as if he saw something.
It seemed to himself that, like a hermit in his cell, he was seeing visions. Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
I have seen that heavenly one coming in at the door like that several times, and rather hoped it was real. But real people can't come through prison doors like that. Once it came so that the room might have been full of trumpets and once with a cry like the wind and there was a fight and I found out that I could hate and that I could love.
Two miracles on one night. Don't you think that must have been a dream—that is supposing you weren't a dream and could think anything? But I did rather hope you were real then. I mean about the whole of this trouble. After what you have said.
You see, there is your family, and you might be brought into it, and one might have to hold one's tongue for the sake of someone you would care about. She paused a moment and went on: They would have let me go raving mad in a respectable flat, and so long as I was finished at a fashionable school, they wouldn't have cared if I'd finished myself with laudanum. I never really talked to anybody before. I don't want to talk to anybody else now.