12. THE DEPARTURE
“Good morning, Miss Filigree!” said a deep, soulful voice as Samantha opened the door.
“Yes,” she said.
“Sergeant Hitchbrisket,” said the voice, “Moleshire Constabulary. I wonder if I might have in for a word with you?”
“Certainly,” said Samantha brightly. “We have just finished lunch, but can I offer you a cup of tea?”
“That’s very kind of you, miss,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket, following her into the kitchen.
He had a bony face like a ferret, and thick black hair which he had meticulously parted down the centre of his head. He nodded to Mr. Filigree who was still sitting at the table, open-mouthed, endeavouring to catch up with such rapidly moving events.
“Morning, sir,” he said. “Lovely day for the time of year, isn’t it?”
“Beautiful,” beamed Mr. Filigree.
“Do sit down, Sergeant,” said Samantha, placing a cup of tea on the table, “and tell us how we can help you?’
The Sergeant unbuttoned his uniform pocket and extracted a large and somewhat battered notebook, and then a pencil. He licked the end of the pencil and then licked his thumb and flipped over the leaves of his notebook, refreshing his memory, his lips moving as he read to himself.
“Well, it’s like this, miss,” he said at last. “We’ve been told to keep a sharp lookout for a criminal and it seemed to me that you might be able to help us with our investigations.”
“I doubt it,” said Samantha sweetly. “We don’t know very many criminals.”
“That is to say,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket, reddening, “that you might be able to give us some information leading to his apprehension.”
“But, of course,” said Samantha, smiling affectionately at the Sergeant. “We are always ready to help the police. Father, would you mind taking the dirty plates out into the scullery, while I talk to the Sergeant?”
“Of course, my dear,” fluted Mr. Filigree, and he lumbered out of the room carrying the plates.
“My father,” said Samantha in a hushed voice, “is an extremely sensitive man, and I don’t want him upset.”
“Ah yes. Quite, miss,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket. “As a matter of fact, it was due to your father that I came along.”
“Oh,” said Samantha, faintly, “why! What has he been doing?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” said the Sergeant hastily. “It’s not what he’s been doing, it’s what he’s been talking about.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you,” said Samantha, narrowing her green eyes at him speculatively.
“Well, miss,” said the Sergeant, “it’s like this. This criminal, whom I shall call Mr. X for the moment, has been going around the countryside with an elephant.”
“An elephant?” said Samantha, round-eyed.
“Yes,” said the Sergeant, “an elephant.” He glanced again at his notebook to make sure of his facts. “He is wanted for assault and battery to the Monkspepper Hunt and wilful damage and assault at Lord Fenneltree’s place.”
“Good heavens “ said Samantha. “But why should he want to do that?”
“Why indeed?” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket lugubriously. “The ways of the criminal mind are very obscure, very obscure indeed. Any road, he was last seen heading in this direction, see, and then this morning your father was down in the village and was talking to Bill Plungemusket, him what keeps the poultry farm, and he happened to mention as how he got an elephant. Now it seems unlikely, miss, that there can be more than one elephant running around these parts, so I thought I’d just come up and enquire.”
Although Samantha’s heart sank, she managed to arrange her face in an expression of astonishment.
“My father,” she said in astonishment, “said he had an elephant?”
“Yes,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket stolidly. “Leastways, that’s what he told Plungemusket.”
Samantha frowned. “I cannot think what he can have been talking about,” she said. And then, suddenly, her brow cleared.
“Ah yes,” she said, “I know.”
She gave what she hoped was a gay laugh, jumped to her feet and went to the scullery door.
“Father,” she called, “will you come here a minute.” Adrian, listening from the top of the stairs, almost had a heart attack. He had been so pleased when Samantha had got Mr. Filigree out of the way that to reintroduce him into the room while the minion of the law was still there struck him as being the very height of foolhardiness. Mr. Filigree, wreathed in smiles, came into the room like a chubby, benevolent cherub.
“Father,” said Samantha, “Sergeant Hitchbrisket here is very interested in elephants.”
“Are you, by Jove?” shrilled Mr. Filigree excitedly. “My dear chap, how nice to meet a kindred spirit. I have a positive passion for them myself. What are yours called?”
“Well, I don’t actually have any,” said Sergeant Hitch-brisket. “You see, it’s like this, sir . . .”
“Oh, you poor man,” interrupted Mr. Filigree. “Fancy having a passion for elephants, and not owning one. Now, I had a hundred and one.”
“A hundred and one?” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket faintly.
“I do assure you,” said Mr. Filigree waggling his fat fingers earnestly, “I do assure you, it was a hundred and one, and the best of the lot was Poo-Ting. My dear fellow, if you could only have seen her kill a tiger. It was a treat, I assure you, a real treat.”
“Yes, sir, I’m sure it was,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket clearing his throat. “Tell me, when was it you had these elephants?”
“Let’s see,” said Mr. Filigree, screwing up his face in a determined effort at concentration. “I think it was 1470.”
“1470?” croaked Sergeant Hitchbrisket, his pencil poised over his notebook.
“Or, it may have been 1471,” said Mr. Filigree. “I cannot be sure.”
“It was one of my father’s previous incarnations,” said Samantha sweetly.
“Oh, ah,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket, “incarnation, eh?”
“Yes. I was at Nagarapore,” said Mr. Filigree earnestly. “It was, I assure you, a most interesting life. Quite apart from the elephants and the tiger hunts, there was the way they used to weigh me every year with gold and precious stones. Absolutely thrilling.”
Sergeant Hitchbrisket folded up his notebook and stowed it away in his pocket together with his pencil.
“Most interesting, sir,” he said, getting to his feet. “Most interesting. Well, I don’t think I’ll be troubling you any farther.”
“I do assure you,” said Samantha, “that should we have any news of any sort, we will get in touch with you immediately.”
“Thank you, miss,” said the Sergeant eyeing her.
“Not at all,” she said curtly. “One should always help the police.”
“Well, good day, sir. Good day, miss,” said Sergeant Hitchbrisket, and he clumped his way out into the road. Samantha closed the front door and leant against it, letting her breath out in a great sigh of relief.
“It was 1471,” said Mr. Filigree. “I’ve just remembered. Call him back.”
“No, I’m sure he has got all the information he wants,” said Samantha. “But really, father, you must not go down to the village and start spreading these stories about.”
“They are not stories,” said Mr. Filigree aggrievedly.
“No, I know they’re not,” said Samantha, “but it’s just that people in the village don’t believe in reincarnation the way you do, and so they all think the whole thing a bit queer. Now, promise me you won’t go down there again and start talking about elephants and things.”
“All right, my dear,” sighed Mr. Filigree, “I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” said Samantha. “You’ll get yourself into trouble that way.”
She went to the bottom of the stairs and looked up. “You can come down now, Adrian,” she said. “He’s gone.”
Adrian came down, mopping his forehead with his hand. kerchief.
“You were wonderful,” he said. “It took a year off my life, just to listen to you.”
“I think you really have to thank father,” said Samantha dryly. “It’s most fortunate that India came into his reincarnation.”
“But, you see, I was right,” said Adrian. “What I said to you this morning. I am a danger to you here, and now you’ve gone and made it worse by telling lies to him.”
“Rubbish,” said Samantha. “Nobody’s going to know you’re here.”
“But they’re bound to find out sooner or later,” said Adrian. “And when they do, you will be in it as deeply as I am, and I should hate that.”
“Now, look,” said Samantha, “stop being silly. You are not well enough to travel yet, and it will be another four weeks before you can take your plaster off. All you have to do is lie low here until you feel better.”
“Will you promise me that I can move on as soon as I do feel better?” said Adrian. Samantha looked at him with a curious expression in her green eyes.
“When you feel better,” she said, “if you want to move on, I can’t stop you.”
“It’s, it’s not a question of wanting to move on,” stammered Adrian. “It’s just that I don’t want to get you into trouble or your father, if it comes to that.”
“Well, we shall see,” said Samantha. “And since you’re so anxious to be helpful, you can come and help me with the washing-up.”
The next fortnight was a nightmare for poor Adrian. Every time Mr. Filigree went down to the village to get something, he expected him to return accompanied by a group of kindly constables whom he had offered to show Rosy to. He lay awake at night visualising Samantha being arrested for aiding and abetting, and being cast into some enormous, gloomy prison to languish in a damp cell until her copper-coloured hair turned white and she died in misery and loneliness. The fact that, of all of them, it was he who was the most likely to receive a really stiff sentence did not worry him. It was the thought of Samantha in prison that would wake him up in a cold sweat. For he bad fallen deeply and irretrievably in love with her. This, of course, presented another problem to his tortured mind. Even supposing he bad the courage to confess his love, how could a criminal (on the run with a dangerous elephant) possibly propose to a girl like Samantha?
At length he could stand it no longer. He came downstairs early one morning and found Samantha cooking breakfast in the kitchen, her hair gleaming like a newly minted penny.
“Good morning,” she smiled. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”
“Samantha, I must talk to you,” said Adrian firmly. She turned and surveyed him quizzically. The sunlight caught her face and the little gold flecks in her green eyes glinted and winked. Adrian swallowed and began to feel his good resolutions draining away. How could he possibly leave anybody so beautiful and so desirable?
“Look here,” he insisted, “I’ve got to talk to you.”
“My, my,” said Samantha mockingly, “why are we so stern this morning?”
“I’ve decided,” said Adrian in what he hoped was a firm, masculine voice, “I have decided that I am leaving to-night”
Samantha’s eyes widened. “To-night?” she said. “Well, I suppose you know best.”
She turned her attention to the frying-pan where the eggs lay spluttering in rows like miniature suns.
“It’s not that I want to go,” said Adrian desperately, “but the longer I stay the greater the danger of my being discovered. You must see that.”
“My dear man,” said Samantha coldly, her back still turned towards him as she busied herself about the fire, “it is nothing to do with me.”
“You see,” said Adrian miserably, “I’ve got to get rid of Rosy. If I can get rid of her then they can’t connect me with the Hunt and the Hall and all that, and the only chance I have of getting rid of her is to get down to the coast.”
“Have you ever heard of a familiar?” enquired Samantha.
“A familiar?” said Adrian. “No. What’s that?”
“Witches used to have them in the old days,” said Samantha. “They were creatures that followed them about and sometimes did their dirty work for them. Cats, and things like that. Well, I think Rosy is your familiar. Witches used to be able to attach a familiar to people they disliked so that everywhere they went they saw a black dog, or small monkey, or something.”
“Oh!” said Adrian. “How interesting.”
“It eventually drove the person mad,” said Samantha gaily. “That’s why I think Rosy is your familiar. Your uncle was probably a wizard in his spare time.”
“Well, this is one familiar that I’m going to get rid of,” said Adrian firmly.
Samantha flung down a spoon and whirled round to face him. Her eyes were enormous and a more vivid green than he had ever seen them before, and the little gold flecks shone and glittered.
“You,” she said, anger flushing her face, “you are despicable.”
“But . . . but . . . what have I done?” said Adrian, aghast at this sudden display of rage on the part of the normally calm Samantha.
“Wasn’t Rosy left you by your uncle?” enquired Samantha.
“Didn’t he leave you money to look after her?”
“Wasn’t your uncle your last living relative?”
“Well then, strictly speaking, Rosy is your relative, and you have absolutely no right to talk about selling her as though she were an old clock or something. You’re despicable.”
Adrian stood with his mouth open, staring at Samantha hazily.
“All right,” she continued, taking off her apron and flinging it into a chair, “you do whatever you think is right. If you consider selling one of your relatives into servitude is right, then the sooner you are out of here the better, as far as I’m concerned.”
She turned and ran across the great kitchen and clattered up the stairs. Adrian heard her bedroom door shut. He was still standing there in a daze when a strong odour of burnt eggs woke him with a start and he pulled the pan off the fire, burning his fingers in the process.
Mr. Filigree waddled into the house, sniffing the rank smell of burning appreciatively.
“Ah,” he said, smacking his lips, “breakfast.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to get your own,” said Adrian curtly. “Samantha’s gone and locked herself in her bedroom.”
“Ah well,” said Mr. Filigree philosophically, “it happens, you know, dear boy. It happens.”
“What happens?” snarled Adrian.
“Oh, things,” said Mr. Filigree, vaguely waving his fingers. “Piques; tantrums; arguments; furores. Upsidownsy, upsidownsy.”
“Yes. Well, I’m damned if I’m going to be upsidownsied,” said Adrian. “I’m leaving.”
“Do you know,” said Mr. Filigree, peering into the pan, “I do believe these eggs are burnt.”
“Yes, and you can blame your daughter for that,” said Adrian.
“No doubt,” said Mr. Filigree. “However, there appears to be one lurking here,” he said, pointing a fat finger, “that has escaped the holocaust. Would you like to share it with me?”
“No,” said Adrian. “I’m going to pack.”
Packing with one arm was more difficult that he had anticipated, but eventually he jumbled his clothes in somehow. He was still simmering with rage at Samantha’s outburst, which he considered to be quite beyond the bounds of propriety. After all, he wanted to get rid of Rosy for her sake, didn’t he? It was her he was thinking of and there she was, carrying on as though he were some sort of sadistic criminal. Well, he’d show her.
To his immense chagrin, he discovered that it was impossible for him to harness Rosy to the trap with his arm encased in plaster, and so he was forced to ask Mr Filigree to help him.
“Do you know,” said Mr. Filigree, tightening the straps that lashed the trap to Rosy’s rotund form, “I wonder if you’re being altogether wise, dear boy?”
“Now, don’t you start,” said Adrian. “I’ve had quite enough from Samantha.”
“I was just thinking,” said Mr. Filigree penitently, “I’m not trying to interfere in any way, but it seems to me you are going to have difficulty in hitching and unhitching Rosy.”
“I’ll find somebody to help,” said Adrian. When everything was ready, Adrian stood for a moment irresolute. Mr. Filigree watched him with round, anxious blue eyes.
“Well,” said Adrian, with an attempt at jocularity, “here I go.”
“Aren’t you, um, aren’t you going to say good-bye to Samantha?” squeaked Mr. Filigree.
At that moment the last thing that Adrian wanted was to see Samantha, but Mr. Filigree looked at him so plaintively, like a gigantic baby pleading for its bottle, that he had not got the heart to say no. He stamped back into the Unicorn and Harp and clumped his way up the stairs, he stopped outside Samantha’s door and cleared his throat.
“Samantha,” he called in a firm, commanding voice. “Samantha, it’s me, Adrian.”
“Well, I didn’t think it was Rosy,” came Samantha’s voice from behind the door.
“I’m just off,” said Adrian, making a wild gesture with his hand to indicate the extreme distance that he hoped to cover during the day. “I wanted to say good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” said Samantha sweetly.
“And thank you for all your trouble,” said Adrian.
“Don’t mention it,” said Samantha. “Any time you’re run over by a train arid you happen to be nearby, don’t hesitate to drop in.”
“Yes. Well then, I’ll be off,” said Adrian.
There was silence from behind the door.
“The reason I’m leaving so early,” he shouted, “is because we’ve get a long way to go.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t bellow through the door like that,” said Samantha.
“Well, I’ll be off,” said Adrian
“Yes,” said Samantha in honeyed tones, “you’d better hurry, or you’ll miss the slave market.”
Seething with rage at the unfairness of this remark, Adrian clattered down the stairs and strode out to the barn.
“Well, good-bye, Mr. Filigree,” he said. “I really am deeply grateful for all you have done for me. I hope that we will meet again some time.”
“Bound to,” said Mr. Filigree earnestly. “Simply cannot be avoided, dear boy. The thing is to have some sort of sign of recognition, because I mean suppose for example I was a beetle and you were the Prime Minister. Unless one had some sign of recognition, one wouldn’t know, would one? A careless gesture at me as I crawled across some state papers, and you might damage me irretrievably. So, should we meet in an after life I will say ‘Do you remember the Unicorn and Harp?’ and you will say ‘Yes I do’.”
Adrian was about to remark that Mr. Filigree would have difficulty in saying “Do you remember the Unicorn and Harp?” in the unlikely event of his being a beetle crawling across state papers, but he felt that this might prolong his departure, so he nodded, took Rosy’s warm leathery ear in his hand and urged her forward.
A hundred yards down the road he stopped and looked back. The Unicorn and Harp crouched under its thatch like a black and white tortoise under a golden shell. He thought he saw something move in the window of Samantha’s room, but he could not be sure. With a sigh he took hold of Rosy’s ear again, and they continued down the road.