James hilton collected n.., p.73
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       James Hilton: Collected Novels, p.73

           James Hilton
 

  Feeling rather pleased with this excellent strategy, he smoked contentedly while Leni settled into the cushions and went to sleep again. He was still thinking how cleverly he had escaped being recognized by the station staff when he recollected the chocolate in the slot machines; and he was just wondering whether he could risk a last-minute dash across the platform when, at the same last minute, the door of the compartment opened and a man, paunchy, middle-aged, and breathless, jumped in and flung himself down in the corner seat opposite David. “Why,” he began, “if it isn’t Dr. Newcome—well—well?…Remember the last time we traveled on this line, doc? Too warm for gloves this weather, eh?” He began to laugh and chuckle, and David smiled ruefully and couldn’t help saying, as he might have done in the surgery: “You shouldn’t run for trains, Barney, at your age. It’s the worst heart strain you can think of, because it’s excitement as well as physical effort?”

  Later, some time later, months later in fact, Barney Tinsley confessed that he had not at first realized that the girl in the other corner was traveling with the doctor. She had been asleep, and he was surprised when she suddenly woke up and said something in a foreign language. Well, more than surprised—regular flabbergasted.

  The gloves allusion was explained to a different audience as follows. “Did I ever tell you, gents, about that time I was in the train with him going to Sandmouth? Y’know, it’s funny, the way you remember things…Well, thanks, sir, that’s very kind of you. Well, I was sort of dozing off, y’know, the same as you do in trains, when suddenly the doc stumbled over my feet, waking me up sudden, and I see him deliberately throw one of his gloves out of the window. ‘Goodness, is the fellow crazy?’ I sez to myself, for it was a good glove, by the look of it, real kid. Course I asked him what the idea was, and I’ll take a bet none of you fellers can’t guess the answer…I thought it would stump you—stumped me at the time. I’ll tell you what he sez to me—‘Barney,’ he sez,—he always called me Barney,—I just dropped a glove accidental on the line as I was opening the window, and I thought I might as well throw the other one after it, so as maybe the same person would find ’em both. After all, an odd glove’s not much use to anybody, is it?’ Must ’ave had a queer mind to think of things as quick as that…”

  “Queer is the word,” somebody responded.

  They arrived at Charlham at nine-thirty and had breakfast in the Railway Arms. The morning papers had just come, and everyone in the coffee room was talking and prophesying—the waiter, a few commercial travelers, and a man in a green baize apron who was cleaning the fireplace. The bacon was cold and the toast burnt. David had looked up the timetable and found an express to London at eleven; the station was just across the road, so there was plenty of time. He left Leni in the hotel lounge while he found a barber’s shop and had a shave.

  Most of the way to London she slept again, but this time the train was crowded and she leaned her head against his shoulder while he talked with the other people in the compartment. That always happened wherever he went; people always began talking to him, telling him all their lives if there were time enough, because he had a way of listening gently. But this time, as he talked and listened, he sometimes stole a glance at the head so limp against his arm; it had been a long way to the Junction for her—poor child, let her sleep. But once she half-awakened, roused by the crash of the train into a tunnel, and in the sudden soft glow of the electric light her eyes melted to his glance. “Du kleine doctor…” she murmured, dreamily. “Where are we going to? Where are you taking me?” Then she remembered something he had told her—that she must not speak during the journey in case anyone should hear her foreign accent.

  They reached London in the middle of the afternoon and as they walked with the crowd on the platform by the side of the train two men sprang forward and gripped each of them by the arm.

  CHAPTER SIX

  THE LITTLE DOCTOR WATCHED the autumn sunlight move over the floor, and when the last yellow bar disappeared he knew it was late afternoon and that another day was nearly over. Presently he heard the Cathedral chiming five, and a warder entered with tea and bread and butter for himself and for the other two warders who had to stay all the time. According to prison rules he was never left alone, day or night; but the warders were kindly fellows and tried to efface themselves as much as possible. They played cards or read newspapers or yarned together for hours, not worrying the doctor by their presence, though they were affable enough if he chose to join them for a game or a chat. Of course he already knew and called them by their first names. “It’s a queer thing, George,” he said (and this was the thing George quoted oftenest afterwards), “I can’t seem to get used to wearing boots without bootlaces. You’d think it would be more comfortable, really, but somehow it isn’t.” They would not let him wear bootlaces, or braces, or anything he might possibly hang himself with; because, of course, they intended to hang him themselves.

  But in other ways he was treated with consideration; indeed, as he told the Governor whenever the latter visited him, “I’m quite comfortable, thank you.” He could smoke, read books and newspapers, and have any kind of food he fancied. And as Calderbury Prison was mostly disused, the part he occupied was not in the original cell block at all, but consisted of a couple of ordinary rooms with nothing unusual about them except steel locks on the doors and bars to the windows. Only a little less comfortable than the rooms he occupied in his own house in Shawgate, for he had never had luxurious tastes. In some ways he was almost freer than he had been at home; for he could get up and go to bed when he liked and he had ample leisure to read. Everyone in Calderbury Prison was sorry for the little doctor and rather embarrassed because in three weeks’ time he was to die. After the dismissal of the appeal the Governor was almost apologetic when he brought the news. “’Fraid I’ve nothing good to tell you, Newcome—still, I know you hadn’t been counting on it…And remember, anything I can do now…you mustn’t mind telling me.”

  “There’s only one thing—you remember I asked you before.”

  “Oh, that? Well…I can only say again I wish I could, but it’s dead against all the regulations. Just the one thing I can’t do for you. I’m sorry.”

  The request that David had made, more than once, was to see Leni. She was lodged in the jail at Midchester, twenty miles away, where there was more up-to-date provision for women prisoners. He had not seen her since the trial a month before, and when he tried to remember that last glance he had he could only see the courtroom, dark at the close of an autumn afternoon, grey figures moving restlessly and meaninglessly as reeds in a stream, and somewhere, lost amongst them, her strange eager face seeking his in a bewildered stare. What had it all been about? And he didn’t know—the whole proceedings of arrest, police questioning, grand jury, prison, trial…all were shadows of a shapeless fate. They let him read newspaper reports of the trial, and to these he now gave a half-incredulous scrutiny. He could not really understand. Then he turned to the current papers and read news that was dark with huger fantasy—Mons, the Marne, the Aisne…

  He found it tolerable at first to watch the days crawl by. He was not afraid of death; he knew that death could be prophesied for all men; he had often prophesied it himself. Even to look ahead and know that a month hence he would lie in a prison grave was no worse than to diagnose, as many a doctor must, the first budding in his own flesh that will bring death as its flower. And the routine of prison helped to a certain tranquility; in the mornings when he took exercise in the graveled yard he smiled at the sky and let the wind blow lovingly through his hair. It had gone grey during recent months, but they had not made him clip it short.

  In the afternoons he read or rested or played a game of cards with the two men on guard over him, and soon after tea, because there was nothing else to do, he went to bed. It was nighttime that was the worst. He could not sleep well between midnight and dawn; and then, in those guardless hours (for the warders, against rules, usually dozed off themselves), he thought
of Leni. Love is a strange thing; we may not notice the moment it comes, yet there is a moment when we know it is there—sudden wakefulness, as to pleasure or pain after sleep, a sudden color, as of a painting after an etching. So it had been for the little doctor; he remembered a moment in the courtroom, during the judge’s summing up; he had been tired after a long day in that stuffy atmosphere, and the judge’s words had droned on more and more slowly, as if they were being pushed into sound by means of an ever greater effort. A little way off in the prisoner’s dock Leni was sitting, and she too looked tired, had lapsed into a remoteness that seemed, by its very detachment from environment, an almost physical absence. The judge was going over the points of the case, one by one; and presently he said:—

  “…With evidence of motive, gentlemen, we are not primarily concerned when there is so much suggestive evidence as to fact…but…you will probably conjecture the purpose for which he brought her from Sandmouth to Calderbury, and you will form your own opinion as to the validity of the pretext of engaging her as his young son’s governess. It may well be that you will feel that no more unsuitable person could have been chosen to look after a nine-year-old child—and a very nervous and highly strung child, we have been told—than a young woman whose temperament was such that she had only recently attempted suicide, who had had no kind of previous experience as a child’s governess, and who, in addition, could barely make herself understood in the child’s language…You will have to ask yourselves, plainly and straightforwardly, what lay behind this extraordinary incident—doubtless it can be made to look attractive if you think of it in terms of rescue and benevolence, but if you will bear in mind the culmination to which it led, and which is the sole cause of our being here to-day to pass judgment, then you will form your own opinion why the prisoner chose to install this young woman in the very centre of his house-hold, where he could see her every day and as often and for as long periods as he liked, and where, under the same roof as his wife and son…Gentlemen, it is, of course, for you to decide and interpret these matters so far as you feel justified in doing so—I only desire to caution you against the pseudo or false romanticism of which plays and novels are such frequent exponents—the kind, I mean, that deal with what I believe is called the ‘eternal triangle.’ Such fair words are, in a measure, hypocritical; they may lull us for an evening’s entertainment, but in a court of law it is our duty to remember—and it is my duty to point out—the plainer and less agreeable facts…lust .. . infatuation…the lowest and basest physicality, uncontrolled, dominating…all of which, gentlemen, is apt, in our modern world, as you know, to be loosely summed up under the word ‘love.’ You may call it ‘love’ if you like, provided you realize…”

  And at that the whole mumbling greyness seemed to be lit by a stabbing trumpeting light; and the little doctor said in his heart, almost as if he were taking advantage of permission just given him: “Yes, I call it love.” …It was so wrong, absurd, preposterous, all that the judge had said; and yet, just round the corner from the nonsense, there was this imperishable pearl of truth. “I call it love. Oh God, yes. I call it love.”

  Looking back as he tried to sleep during those last nights in Calderbury Jail, the little doctor sighed only because that moment had happened so late. And thence, inevitably, he turned to thinking of love that had always been in his heart, and in the hearts of so many: love of mankind that had sheltered long in the monk’s cell and the artist’s studio and the doctor’s laboratory; love that had made men quietly build and sacrifice and die; love that might have conquered the world had not its moment arrived too late.

  Chimes of the Cathedral marked the quarters, marked the slow tragedy of that lateness, while the little doctor dreamed, remembering the millions crouched in their trenches…hate, murder, agony…the lowest and basest, uncontrolled, dominating…all of which, gentlemen, is apt, in our modern world, to be loosely summed up under the word “love.” You may call it love if you like, provided you realize …and then he fell asleep for a few troubled moments; waking again, and half-sleeping again, until the dawn outlined the bars across the window. They call it love, I call it love, but we do not mean the same thing.

  To his dying day (which was, in fact, the day after) the little doctor never knew why it was that the prison authorities allowed him to see Leni. The reason is disclosed in a book published only a few years ago by Major Sir George Millman under the somewhat catchpenny title My Forty Years in Jail. There is a paragraph of interesting reminiscence about the Calderbury case:—

  Newcome was under my charge both before and after sentence; he was a quiet fellow on the whole, and gave very little trouble. The only request he persistently made was to see his co-prisoner, Fraulein Leni Krafft, who had shared his conviction and sentence and was imprisoned a few miles away. Of course, as I told him, this was altogether contrary to regulations, but I happened to mention his request to Sir William Clintock, who was in charge of the wartime secret service, and he took it up from another angle. It seemed that very little was known about the German girl, apart from the Calderbury case; but a forged passport was discovered amongst her possessions after her arrest, and the espionage department suspected that she was a German spy who had earlier been working in Russia. Of course all this was kept out of the court evidence, and it did not affect the question of her guilt in the Calderbury charge. Sir William, however, believed that a last-minute interview with Newcome might reveal some hint as to her real identity and perhaps afford clues that would assist the Department in countering the machinations of enemy espionage; so after consultation with the Home Office permission was duly given and the two condemned prisoners talked for half an hour in a room in Calderbury Jail which they had been encouraged to think was private. Actually several persons, including one who knew German perfectly, were listening and taking notes all the time, through holes that had been made secretly in the paneling of the room. The idea was undoubtedly worth trying out, but in point of fact the two prisoners exchanged no remarks that were of any help to the Department.

  When David heard on Thursday morning that his one request had been granted and that Leni was to be brought to see him that same afternoon, his heart overflowed with anticipation and he pressed the Governor’s hand with more emotion than he had yet shown since his arrival at the jail. The Governor was a little embarrassed. “Not at all…not at all, Newcome…don’t thank me—thank the authorities. Still, I’m jolly glad for your sake. Anything else I can do, y’know…”

  “How long can we talk for?”

  “Oh well…no exact time limit, y’know…pretty well as long as you like within reason. Say half an hour. Plenty of time for anything you want to say to each other. We shan’t bother you.”

  “You mean there’ll be nobody listening?”

  “Maybe we’ll stretch a point and call the warders off…I daresay you’d like it better in private. Oh, and by the way…”

  “Yes?”

  “You remember at the trial—right at the end—you told the judge that the girl was really only nineteen—”

  “Yes. But he wouldn’t listen to me.”

  “I know. I’m interested, all the same, in what you said. Did you only just say it to try to get her off?”

  “No, it was true.”

  “But how did you know it was true? What reason had you for thinking her so young?”

  “She told me.”

  “Oh, I see…You hadn’t any evidence except just that?’?

  “I believed her.”

  “Yes, of course…Ah well, you’ll see her this afternoon.”

  And a few minutes later, recovering from his embarrassment, Millman telephoned to the Governor of Midchester Prison. “Yes, I told him it would be private. Did you tell her the same? Good…rather an awkward business, really…Oh Lord, no, he was so damn pleased about it—thought I’d fixed it as a special favor, y’know. Rather pathetic, in a way…made me feel a bit of a…oh yes, I asked him about the girl’s age, but he knew nothing def
inite—only that she’d told him she was only nineteen. Seems to have believed everything she told him, poor devil…Yes, all right—three o’clock. We’ve fixed the room and the men will be ready…”

  At five to three the little doctor was taken along corridors to a room he had never seen before, a small match-boarded room in which were a table and two chairs. He sat down on one of the chairs and a warder took the other. Then at a few minutes after the hour another warder made some signal from the door, at which the first warder got up and left the room. For a few seconds David was alone; then the door opened, and Leni, also alone, entered.

  They had let her come in ordinary clothes, the same that she had worn whilst balancing on the back of David’s bicycle along the Marsland Road. But her face was different from then; she had the little crushed smile that he had seen first of all when he had bandaged her wrist after the accident at the Theatre Royal. She came forward, stumbling a little, leaning at last into his arms as he stood. “Du kleine doktor…Oh, du kleine doktor…” She began to cry, and all at once it seemed to him that the whole world was crying, crying for lost, impossible love.

  Her first words were: “David, whatever you did, I love you, David. I told you that once before, but you took no notice.”

  “When did you tell me?”

  “That day I danced for you.”

  “Yes, I remember that. I try to remember everything—I try and I try—but I can’t think what really happened. Perhaps nobody knows what happened.” And then suddenly he said: “Leni—did you—you didn’t—you didn’t—do anything—did you?”

 
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