The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 8


In a way, their meeting the next morning was fortuitous enough, yet it had also its significance for both of them. Geraldine's greeting was almost studiously formal.

"You are not going to scold me for my memory, are you?" Captain Granet asked, looking down at her with a faintly humorous uplifting of the eyebrows. "I must have exercise, you know."

"I don't even remember telling you that I came into the Park in the mornings," Geraldine replied.

"You didn't--that is to say you didn't mention the Park particularly," he admitted. "You told me you always took these five dogs out for a walk directly after breakfast, and for the rest I used my intelligence."

"I might have gone into Regent's Park or St. James' Park," she reminded him.

"In which case," he observed, "I should have walked up and down until I had had enough of it, and then gone away in a bad temper."

"Don't be foolish," she laughed. "I decline absolutely to believe that you had a single thought of me when you turned in here. Do you mind if I say that I prefer not to believe it?"

He accepted the reproof gracefully.

"Well, since we do happen to have met," he suggested, "might I walk with you a little way? You see," he went on, "it's rather dull hobbling along here all alone."

"Of course you may, if you like," she assented, glancing sympathetically at his stick. "How is your leg getting on?"

"It's better--getting on finely. So far as my leg is concerned, I believe I shall be fit to go out again within ten days. It's my arm that bothers me a little. One of the nerves, the doctor said, must be wrong. I can only just lift it. You've no idea," he went on, "how a game leg and a trussed-up arm interfere with the little round of one's daily life. I can't ride, can't play golf or billiards, and for an unintelligent chap like me," he wound up with a sigh, "there aren't a great many other ways of passing the time."

"Why do you call yourself unintelligent?" she protested. "You couldn't have got through your soldiering so well if you had been."

"Oh! I know all the soldier stuff," he admitted, "know my job, that is to say, all right, and of course I am moderately good at languages, but that finishes me. I haven't any brains like your friend Thomson, for instance."

"Major Thomson is very clever, I believe," she said a little coldly.

"And a little censorious, I am afraid," Granet added with a slight grimace. "I suppose he thinks I am a garrulous sort of ass but I really can't see why he needed to go for your brother last night just because he was gratifying a very reasonable curiosity on my part. It isn't as though I wasn't in the Service. The Army and the Navy are the same thing, any way, and we are always glad to give a Navy man a hint as to how we are getting on."

"I really couldn't quite understand Major Thomson myself," she agreed.

"May I ask--do you mind?" he began,--"have you been engaged to him long?"

She looked away for a moment. Her tone, when she replied, was meant to convey some slight annoyance at the question.

"About three months."

Captain Granet kicked a pebble away from the path in front of him with his sound foot.

"I should think he must be a very good surgeon," he remarked in a measured tone. "Looks as though he had lots of nerve, and that sort of thing. To tell you the truth, though, he rather frightens me. I don't think that he has much sympathy with my type."

She became a little more indulgent and smiled faintly as she looked at him.

"I wonder what your type is?" she asked reflectively.

"Fairly obvious, I am afraid," he confessed, with a sigh. "I love my soldiering, of course, and I am ashamed to think how keen I have been on games, and should be still if I had the chance. Outside that I don't read much, I am not musical, and I am very much predisposed to let the future look after itself. There are thousands just like me," he continued thoughtfully. "We don't do any particular harm in the world but I don't suppose we do much good."

"Don't be silly," she protested. "For one thing, it is splendid to be a capable soldier. You are just what the country wants to-day. But apart from that I am quite sure that you have brains."

"Have I?" he murmured. "Perhaps it's the incentive I lack."

They were silent for a few moments. Then they began to talk more lightly. They discussed dogs and horses, their mutual friends, and their engagements for the next few days. They did not once refer to Thomson. Presently Geraldine paused to speak to some friends. Granet leaned upon his stick in the background and watched her. She was wearing a plain tailor made suit and a becoming little hat, from underneath which little wisps of golden hair had somehow detached themselves in a fascinating disorder. There was a delicate pink colour in her cheeks, the movements and lines of her body were all splendidly free and graceful. As she talked to her friends her eyes for the moment seemed to have lost their seriousness. Her youth had reasserted itself--her youth and splendid physical health. He watched her eagerly, and some shadow seemed to pass from his own face--the shadow of his suffering or his pain. He, too, seemed to grow younger. The simplest and yet the most wonderful joy in life was thrilling him. At last she bade farewell to her friends and came smiling towards him.

"I am so sorry to have kept you all this time!" she exclaimed. "Lady Anne has just told me the time and I am horrified. I meant to walk here for an hour and we have been here for two. Stop that taxi for me, please. I cannot spare the time even to walk home."

He handed her into the cab and whistled for the dogs, who all scrambled in after her.

"Thanks to much for looking after a helpless cripple," he said pleasantly, as they shook hands. "You mustn't grudge the time. Doing your duty to the country, you know."

He tactfully avoided any mention of a future meeting and was rewarded with a little wave of her hand from the window of the cab. He himself left the Park at the same time, strolled along Piccadilly as far as Sackville Street and let himself into his rooms. His servant came forward to meet him from the inner room, and took his cap and stick.

"Any telephone messages, Jarvis?"

"Nothing, sir."

Granet moved towards the easy-chair. On the way he stopped. The door of one of the cupboards in the sideboard was half open. He frowned.

"Haven't I told you, Jarvis, that I wish those cupboards kept locked?" he asked a little curtly.

The man was staring towards the sideboard in some surprise.

"I am very sorry, sir," he said. "I certainly believed that I locked it last night."

Granet opened it wide and looked inside. His first glance was careless enough, then his expression changed. He stared incredulously at the small array of bottles and turned swiftly around.

"Have you moved anything from here?"

"Certainly not, sir," was the prompt reply.

Granet closed the cupboard slowly. Then he walked to the window for a moment, his hands behind his back.

"Any one been here this morning at all, Jarvis?" he inquired.

"A man for the laundry, sir, and a person to test the electric light."

"Left alone in the room at all?"

"The electric light man was here for a few minutes, sir."

The master and servant exchanged quick glances. The latter was looking pale and nervous.

"Is anything missing, sir?" he asked.

"Yes!" Granet replied. "Did you notice the gentleman who called last evening--Surgeon-Major Thomson?"

"Yes, sir!"

"You haven't seen him since? He hasn't been here?"

"No, sir!"

Granet stood, for a moment, thinking. The servant remained motionless. The silence in the room was ominous; so, also, was the strange look of disquietude in the two men's faces.

"Jarvis," his master said at last, "remember this. I am not finding fault. I know you are always careful. But from tonight be more vigilant than ever. There is a new hand in the game. He may not suspect us yet but he will. You understand, Jarvis?"

"Perfectly, sir."

The man withdrew noiselessly. Once more Granet walked to the window. He looked down for a few minutes at the passers-by but he saw nothing. Grave thoughts were gathering together in his mind. He was travelling along the road of horrors and at the further end of it a man stood waiting. He saw himself draw nearer and nearer to the meeting his name almost frame itself upon his lips, the name of the man whom he had grown to hate.