11. HUE AND CRY
Adrian lay looking at the oak-beamed ceiling, flooded with early morning sunlight, in some satisfaction. It was a week since he had arrived at the Unicorn and Harp and it was the first morning on which he had woken feeling really fit. The evening of his arrival Samantha had returned with Dr. Hunchmould, a short stocky little man who walked like a clockwork toy and whose breath whistled through his nostrils like bagpipes. With Samantha, coolly efficient, helping him and Mr. Filigree dancing about ineffectually, Dr. Hunchmould had stripped Adrian down, put three stitches in a long gash in his thigh, bound up his cracked ribs and encased his broken arm in plaster from wrist to elbow. The pain Adrian suffered was considerable, and by the time the doctor had finished he was exhausted. Mr. Filigree, delighted at being able to perform a useful function, bad carried Adrian up the narrow stairs to a small bedroom—cuddled under the thick thatch of the roof—and put him to bed. For the next two days Adrian hardly remembered anything except that Samantha always seemed to be there, smoothing his pillow, holding his head as he vomited into a large china chamber pot covered with rosebuds, and giving him soothing, cooling drinks when his fever got high. He wondered hazily how she managed to get any sleep, for whenever he opened his eye; either during the day or the night, she always seemed to be there, sitting patiently on a chair by his bed, concentrating on some tapestry she was making. Now that he felt better, he was overwhelmed with embarrassment at the trouble he must have caused her. He wiggled his toes into a cool part of the bed, stretched experimentally, and then wished he had not, for his body still ached and twinged.
The door opened suddenly and Samantha came in bearing a tray with his breakfast.
“Good morning,” she said, smiling. “Flow are you feeling?”
“Much better,” said Adrian, blushing as he always did when she fixed her large green eyes on him. “I think, in fact, I could get up. I’m afraid I’ve caused you far too much trouble as it is.”
“Nonsense,” said Samantha briskly, placing the tray on his lap. “You get these eggs down you. They’re fresh this morning. Father went into the village for them.”
“How’s Rosy?” asked Adrian anxiously.
“Fine,” said Samantha raising her eyebrows. “Why? Shouldn’t she be?”
“She doesn’t normally take to women,” explained Adrian.
“Well, she’s taken to me,” said Samantha, “and she adores father. I think she thinks he’s a kind of elephant.”
She sat quietly watching him while he ate the eggs and drank the tea; then she deftly removed the tray and straightened his pillows.
“The doctor’s coming to-day to take out your stitches,” she said. “So you’ll just stay where you are until he tells us whether you can get up.”
“Look,” said Adrian, “there’s something I must tell you. Can you spare five minutes?”
“You’re looking a bit flushed,” said Samantha surveying him critically. “You sure you haven’t got a temperature?”
“No, no,” said Adrian, “I’m just worried.”
Samantha sat down in the chair and folded her hands in her lap.
“Well?” she said interrogatively.
Stumblingly at first, and then with greater fluency, since Samantha listened with rapt attention and did not interrupt, Adrian told her how he had inherited Rosy and of the terrible trail of carnage that they had left across the countryside. Instead of the look of horror which Adrian had expected, and which indeed would have been the accepted reaction of most young ladies to such an improper tale, by the time he had finished Samantha’s face was flushed with suppressed laughter, her eyes were sparkling and her lips twitching.
“So you see,” concluded Adrian, “I’m probably wanted by the police. God knows what they’ll do to me if they catch me, and I can’t deny it. Rosy is the sort of clue that not even a policeman would overlook. So I must get down to the coast and get rid of her. While I’m in your house, Fm a danger to you. I think they call it ‘aiding and abetting’ or something.”
Samantha gave a little crow of laughter.
“Wonderful,” she said ecstatically. “Not only a wounded warrior, but a hunted criminal as well.”
“It’s not funny,” said Adrian aggrievedly.
“No, I don’t suppose it is to you,” said Samantha, endeavouring to compose her features into an expression of commiseration. “But I wouldn’t worry too much. Nobody knows you’re here and Rosy’s safely hidden in the barn. It just means that father and I will exercise her in the evening down in the meadow where nobody can see. As it is, father spends most of his time in the barn wth her. At the moment he’s gilding her toe-nails. No, you just lie there and don’t worry. Wait and see what the doctor says.”
When he arrived Dr. Hunchmould whistled and wheezed his way round Adrian’s bed, prodding and poking. He removed the stitches in Adrian’s thigh and then stood surveying him and rubbing his hands crisply together.
“Well, you can get up if you want to,” he said. “But take it easy. A light, nourishing diet and not too much exercise.”
“When will I be able to take this plaster off?” said Adrian. “It weighs about two and a half tons.”
“Not for at least four weeks,” said Dr. Hunchmould.
After the doctor had gone Adrian dressed himself laboriously. His legs were wobbly and his whole body was stiff, but at length he made his way cautiously down the creaking stairs into the big kitchen where Samantha, with a brightly coloured apron on, was supervising several large copper pots from which came the most mouth-watering smells.
Adrian stood at the foot of the stairs and watched her for a moment. He had not imagined it, she really did float. She had all the grace and nimbleness of her father. The firelight glinted on her hair, making it glow to match the Copper pans.
“Hello,” said Adrian. She turned and smiled at him and he felt his stomach contract into a tight knot, and the blood creeping into his face.
“Hello,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“A bit shaky,” admitted Adrian. “Can I help you do anything?”
“No,” the said. “I remember what the doctor said. If you want to, you can go out in the barn and talk to father and Rosy.”
Reluctantly, because he did not want to leave her, Adrian made his way out through the back door of the pub and across the cobbled yard to the barn. From inside came the shrill sounds of Mr. Filigree conducting a one-sided conversation with Rosy.
“And then, my dear,” he fluted, “we came to this simply enormous cane brake, and there in the middle of it was the tiger. Now, the elephant I was riding was very beautiful and very brave. Not nearly, of course, as beautiful or as brave as you, but something approaching that. As the tiger sprang, she lifted her trunk and hit him in mid air, felling him to the ground.”
Fascinated, Adrian made his way into the barn. Rosy was shackled in one corner and near her was a great bed of sweet-smelling hay. In front of her was an enormous wooden trough filled with carrots, apples, chopped mangolds and other delicacies, from which the was daintily feeding herself. Mr. Filigree was crouched at her feet, a pot of gold paint in one hand and brush in the other.
Rosy’s toe-nails gleamed golden in the dim light. She greeted Adrian’s appearance in the barn with such a shrill and excited trumpet of joy that Mr. Filigree, who was not expecting it, fell backwards, upsetting the tin of gold paint.
“Hello, Mr. Filigree, hello, Rosy,” said Adrian.
“Dear boy,” shrilled Mr. Filigree, wallowing helplessly on his back in the pile of hay. “How nice to see you up. Would you care to lend me a hand? There are certain postures in which I fall that make it difficult for me to rise without assistance.”
Adrian stretched out a hand, clasped Mr. Filigree’s chubby fingers, and hauled. With much wheezing and panting Mr. Filigree got to his feet.
“How do you think she’s looking?” he asked Adrian. “Don’t you think those toe-nails give her a certain glamour?”
“Definitely,” said Adrian, “I haven’t seen her look so elegant since we left Fenneltree Hall.”
“I do wish she had tusks,” said Mr. Filigree plaintively. “The ones I had all had tusks and we used to bore holes in them (quite painless, you know) and insert diamonds and rubies and things like that. It made all the difference.”
“She does quite enough damage without having tusks,” said Adrian, patting Rosy’s trunk which she had curled affectionately round his neck. “You two appear to be getting on like a house on fire.”
“Yes,” fluted Mr. Filigree excitedly, “we have a rapport. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if she was not a reincarnation of my favourite elephant, Poo-Ting. I could tell in an instant if we only had a tiger.”
“I think,” said Adrian, “that life is quite complicated enough without having a tiger.”
“I suppose you are right,” said Mr. Filigree. “But one does like to get these loose ends tied up. It would have made a splendid chapter.”
Samantha had explained to Adrian that Mr. Filigree was a devout believer in reincarnation and could, in fact, remember most of his incarnations in detail. He had been writing a book about his past lives for the last twenty years, and this already filled some forty-eight fat volumes. The chances of finishing it were slight, since practically every day he remembered some new facts which necessitated the addition of a fresh chapter.
“It would be absolutely fascinating,” said Mr. Filigree wistfully, “if one could have an attested document from Rosy to say that she was in fact a reincarnation of Poo-Ting.”
“I don’t think that would be possible,” said Adrian.
“No, no, I suppose not,” said Mr. Filigree. “But dear boy, how selfish of me to keep you talking here when you should be sitting down. Come, let’s go inside and have a brandy.”
He led the way back into the pub, leaving a trail of gold footprints wherever he moved.
“Samantha,” he thrilled, bursting into the kitchen, “I’m convinced that Rosy is Poo-Ting.” He paused with his hands held up dramatically to see the effect this news would have on his daughter.
“That’s nice,” said Samantha smiling at him. “Now all you need is a tiger to prove it.”
“Exactly what I said to Adrian,” said Mr. Filigree delightedly. “Didn’t I say that to you, Adrian? I said ‘All we need is a tiger’.”
“And I said,” said Adrian sinking gratefully into a chair, “I said I thought it was bad enough to have Rosy, without having a tiger as well.”
Samantha came up to the chair and looked at him, her green eyes watchful and penetrating.
“Are you all right?” she said.
“Yes,” said Adrian. “I’m not quite as strong as I thought I was.”
She laid a cool hand on his forehead and Adrian closed his eyes and wished fervently that she would never remove it.
“Father,” she said crisply, “you’ve been getting hin, over-excited. Fetch him a brandy.”
“Exactly what I was going to do,” said Mr. Filigree with dignity. “Isn’t that so, Adrian? Didn’t I say to you only just now ‘Let’s go in and have a brandy’?”
“Well, stop talking and get one,” said Samantha. “Lunch will be ready in a minute.”
Mr. Filigree poured out two large glasses of brandy, gave one to Adrian and then wedged himself into his favourite chair and beamed round with an air of innocent goodwill.
“Do you know,” he said to Adrian, “I think I will write a chapter on Rosy, or rather Rosy as Poo-Ting. Of course, it can’t be proved; but then, how many scientific facts can be? It is up to them really to prove it wrong, isn’t it? As it says in Genesis somewhere: ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth and some of them an proved and some of them are not’.”
“Yes,” said Adrian politely, “I expect you’re right.”
“But I know it,” said Mr. Filigree earnestly. “Now, you may not believe it to look at me, but I was at one time a candle maker, in the time of Richard III, and I had a cat called Tabitha. A great big, joyful creature like a snowball. Then one day, quite inadvertently, I spilt some hot candle-grease on her tail. Poor, sweet creature, she was mortified, quite naturally. When the hair grew again, it was completely black. So, there she was, a white cat with a black tail. Now, would you believe it, not long ago I was down in the village when a large cat came and started making a tremendous fuss of me and it was perfectly obvious that it was a reincarnation of Tabitha.”
“Really?” said Adrian, his attention caught for the first time.
“Yes,” said Mr. Filigree. “It was a beautiful big grey cat and its name, as I ascertained upon enquiry, was Henry.”
“But, it it was grey and its name was Henry . . . ?” began Adrian, puzzled.
“Oh, the colour was probably due to age,” said Mr. Filligree, waving his hands about and diminishing such a minor discrepancy. And you know what silly names people call things. But it was quite unmistakably my Tabitha. It was one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that I have been vouchsafed. It was her instant recognition of me that clinched the matter.”
“The fact that he was carrying a salmon and a half-barrel of oysters at the time had absolutely nothing to do with it!” said Samantha dryly, dishing the steaming stew out on to three plates, and placing them on the long trestle table. “Now, come and eat, for heaven’s sake, before it gets cold.”
Adrian, as he sat down, suddenly mused that he was extremely hungry. The stew smelled mouth-watering and in the heap of multi-coloured vegetables on his plate he could see small, fat dumpling; gleaming out of the gravy at him like pearl. Mr. Filigree squeaked on, explaining to Adrian how one can tell beyond a shadow of doubt when one meets a reincarnation, and Adrian nodded and said “Umm” at regular intervals, while stuffing the delicious stew into his mouth wolfishly.
When the last remnants of gravy had been eased from the plates with the aid of crusts of bread, and they were all sitting back replete and happy, there came a knock at the door.
Samantha rose from the table and went to the window where she peered round the curtain.
“Adrian,” she said, “upstaim quickly. It’s the police. Adrian stumbled to his feet and looked at her aghast. “Quickly,” she cried, her eyes flashing, “and take your plate with you.”
Blindly he grabbed his plate and scurried up the stairs, where he stood on the landing listening with bated breath while his heart pounded. The knocker fell on the door again and it sounded to Adrian like somebody hammering nails into his coffin.
“Just coming,” he heard Samantha call in a gay, unworried tone of voice, and then he saw her opening the front door and he shrank back into the shadows and listened.