Read CHAPTER IX - HOMEWOOD GETS BUSY of Captain Jim , free online book, by Mary Grant Bruce, on

“Good morning, Captain Hardress.”

Hardress turned. He was standing in the porch, looking out over the park towards the yellowing woods.

“Good morning, Miss Linton. I hope you’ll forgive me for being so lazy as to stay in bed for breakfast. You’ll have to blame your butler: he simply didn’t call me. The first thing I knew was an enormous tray with enough breakfast for six men and Allenby grinning behind it.”

“You stay in bed to breakfast here, or get up, just as you feel inclined,” Norah said. “There aren’t any rules except two.”

“Isn’t that a bit Irish?”

“Not exactly, because Jim says even those two may be broken. But I don’t agree to that at least, not for Rule 2.”

“Do tell me them,” he begged.

“Rule 1 is, ‘Bed at ten o’clock.’ That’s the one that may be broken when necessary. Rule 2 is, ‘Please do just what you feel like doing.’ That’s the one I won’t have broken unless any one wants to do things that aren’t good for them. Then I shall remember that they are patients, and become severe.”

“But I’m not a patient.”

“No but you’re tired. You’ve got to get quite fit. What would you like to do? Would you care to come for a ride?”

Hardress flushed darkly.

“Afraid I can’t ride.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” said Norah, looking at him in astonishment. This lean, active-looking fellow with the nervous hands certainly looked as though he should be able to ride. Indeed, there were no men in Norah’s world who could not. But, perhaps

“What about a walk, then?” she inquired. “Do you feel up to it?”

Again Hardress flushed.

“I thought your brother would have explained,” he said heavily. “I can’t do anything much, Miss Linton. You see, I’ve only one leg.”

Norah’s grey eyes were wide with distress.

“I didn’t know,” she faltered. “The telephone was out of order Jim couldn’t explain. I’m so terribly sorry you must have thought me stupid.”

“Not a bit after all, it’s rather a compliment to the shop-made article. I was afraid it was evident enough.”

“Indeed it isn’t,” Norah assured him. “I knew you limped a little but it wasn’t very noticeable.”

“It’s supposed to be a special one,” Hardress said. “I’m hardly used to it yet, though, and it feels awkward enough. They’ve been experimenting with it for some time, and now I’m a sort of trial case for that brand of leg. The maker swears I’ll be able to dance with it: he’s a hopeful soul. I’m not.”

“You ought to try to be,” Norah said. “And it really must be a very good one.” She felt a kind of horror at talking of it in this cold-blooded fashion.

“I think most of the hopefulness was knocked out of me,” Hardress answered. “You see, I wanted to save the old leg, and they tried to: and then it was a case of one operation after another, until at last they took it off near the hip.”

Norah went white.

“Near the hip!” Her voice shook. “Oh, it couldn’t be you’re so big and strong!”

Hardress laughed grimly.

“I used to think it couldn’t be, myself,” he said. “Well, I suppose one will get accustomed to it in time. I’m sorry I distressed you, Miss Linton only I thought I had better make a clean breast of it.”

“I’m glad you did.” Norah had found control of her voice and her wits: she remembered that this maimed lad with the set face was there to be helped, and that it was part of her job to do it. Her very soul was wrung with pity, but she forced a smile.

“Now you have just got to let us help,” she said. “We can’t try to make forget it, I know, but we can help to make the best of it. You can practise using it in all sorts of ways, and seeing just what you can do with it. And, Captain Hardress, I know they do wonders now with artificial legs: Dad knew of a man who played tennis with his as bad a case as yours.”

“That certainly seems too good to be true,” said Hardress.

“I don’t know about that,” said Norah eagerly. “Your leg must be very good none of us guessed the truth about it. When you get used to it, you’ll be able to manage all sorts of things. Golf, for instance there’s a jolly little nine-hole course in the park, and I know you could play.”

“I had thought golf might be a possibility,” he said. “Not that I ever cared much for it. My two games were polo and Rugby football.”

“I don’t know about Rugby,” said Norah thoughtfully. “But of course you’ll play polo again. Some one was writing in one of the papers lately, saying that so many men had lost a leg in the war that the makers would have to invent special riding-legs, for hunting and polo. I know very well that if Jim came home without a leg he’d still go mustering cattle, or know the reason why! And there was the case of an Irishman, a while ago, who had no legs at all and he used to hunt.”

“By Jove!” said Hardress. “Well, you cheer a fellow up, Miss Linton.”

“You see, I have Jim and Wally,” said Norah. “Do you know Wally, by the way?”

“Is that Meadows? oh yes, I met him with your brother.”

“Well, he’s just like my brother he nearly lives with us. And from the time that they joined up we had to think of the chance of their losing a limb. Jim never says anything about it, but I know Wally dreads it. Dad and I found out all we could about artificial limbs, and what can be done with them, so that we could help the boys if they had bad luck. They are all right, so far, but of course there is always the chance.”

Hardress nodded.

“We planned that if bad luck came we would try to get them to do as much as possible. Of course an arm is worse: to lose a leg is bad enough, goodness knows but it’s better than an arm.”

“That’s one of the problems I’ve been studying,” Hardress said grimly.

“Oh, but it is. And with you why, in a few years no one will ever guess that you have anything wrong. It’s luck in one way, because a leg doesn’t make you conspicuous, and an arm does.”

“That’s true,” he said energetically. “I have hoped desperately that I’d be able to hide it; I just couldn’t stick the idea of people looking at me.”

“Well, they won’t,” said Norah. “And the more you can carry on as usual, the less bad it will seem. Now, let’s plan what you can tackle first. Can you walk much?”

“Not much. I get tired after about fifty yards.”

“Well, we’ll do fifty yards whenever you feel like it, and then we’ll sit down and talk until you can go on again.” She hesitated. “You it doesn’t trouble you to sit down?”

“Oh, no!” said Hardress, laughing for the first time. “It’s an awfully docile leg!”

“Then, can you drive? There’s the motor, and a roomy tub-cart, and the carriage.”

“Yes I can drive.”

“Oh, I say!” cried Norah inelegantly, struck by a brilliant idea. “Can you drive a motor?”

“No, I can’t! I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. Con will teach you it will give you quite a new interest. Would you like to learn?”

“By Jove, I would,” he said eagerly. “You’re sure your father won’t mind my risking his car?”

“Dad would laugh at such a foolish question,” said Norah. “We’ll go and see Con now shall we? it’s not far to the stables. You might have a lesson at once.”

“Rather!” he said boyishly. “I say, Miss Linton, you are a brick!”

“Now about golf,” Norah said, as they moved slowly away, Hardress leaning heavily on his stick. “Will you try to play a little with me? We could begin at the practice-holes beyond the terrace.”

“Yes, I’d like to,” he said.

“And billiards? We’ll wait for a wet day, because I want you to live in the open air as much as possible. I can’t play decently, but Captain Garrett is staying here, and Jim and Wally come over pretty often.”

“You might let me teach you to play,” he suggested. “Would you care to?”

“Oh, I’d love it,” said Norah, beaming. The beam, had he known it, was one of delight at the new ring in her patient’s voice. Life had come back to it: he held his head erect, and his eyes were no longer hopeless.

“And riding?” she hesitated.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t believe I could even get on.”

“There’s a steady old pony,” Norah said. “Why not practise on him? He stands like a rock. I won’t stay and look at you, but Con could you see he’s lost a leg himself, so you wouldn’t mind him. I’m sure you’ll find you can manage and when you get confidence we’ll go out together.”

“Well, you would put hope into into a dead codfish!” he said. “Great Scott, if I thought I could get on a horse again!”

Norah laughed.

“We’re all horse-mad,” she said. “If I were like you, I know that to ride would be the thing that would help me most. So you have just got to.” They had arrived at the stables, where Con had the car out and was lovingly polishing its bonnet.

“Con, can you teach Captain Hardress to drive?”

“Is it the car?” asked Con. “And why not, miss?”

“Can I manage it, do you think?” asked Hardress. “I’ve only one leg.”

“’Tis as many as I have meself,” returned Con cheerfully. “And I’m not that bad a driver, am I, Miss Norah?”

“You’re not,” Norah answered. “Now I’ll leave you to Con, Captain Hardress: I suppose you’ll learn all about the car before you begin to drive her. Con can run you round to the house afterwards, if you’re tired. The horses are in the stables, too, if you’d care to look at them.”

“Jones have the brown pair out, miss,” said Con. “But the others are all here.”

“Well, you can show them to Captain Hardress, Con. I want him to begin riding Brecon.”

She smiled at Hardress, and ran off, looking back just before the shrubberies hid the stable-yard. Hardress was peering into the bonnet of the car, with Con evidently explaining its inner mysteries; just as she looked, he straightened up, and threw off his coat with a quick gesture.

“He’s all right,” said Norah happily. She hurried on.

The Tired People were off her hands for the morning. Colonel and Mrs. West had gone for a drive; Captain Garrett was playing golf with Major Hunt, who was developing rapidly in playing a one-armed game, and was extremely interested in his own progress. It was the day for posting to Australia, and there was a long letter to Brownie to be finished, and one to Jean Yorke, her chum in Melbourne. Already it was late; in the study, her father had been deep in his letters for over an hour.

But as she came up to the porch she saw him in the hall.

“Oh Norah,” he said with relief. “I’ve been looking for you. Here’s a letter from Harry Trevor, of all people!”

“Harry!” said Norah delightedly. “Oh, I’m so glad! Where is he, Dad?”

“He’s in London this letter has been wandering round after us. We ought to have had it days ago. Harry has a commission now got it on the field, in Gallipoli, more power to him: and he’s been wounded and sent to England. But he says he’s all right.”

“Oh, won’t Jim and Wally be glad!” Harry Trevor was an old school-fellow whom Fate had taken to Western Australia; it was years since they had met.

“He has two other fellows with him, he says; and he doesn’t know any one in London, nor do they. His one idea seems to be to see us. What are we to do, Norah? Can we have them here?”

“Why we must have them,” Norah said. She made a swift mental calculation. “Yes we can manage it.”

“You’re sure,” asked her father, evidently relieved. “I was afraid it might be too much for the house; and I would be very sorry to put them off.”

“Put off Australians, even if one of them wasn’t Harry!” ejaculated Norah. “We couldn’t do it! How will you get them, Dad?”

“I’ll telephone to their hotel at once,” said her father. “Shall I tell them to come to-day?”

“Oh, yes. You can arrange the train, Dad. Now I’ll go and see Mrs. Atkins.”

“’Tis yourself has great courage entirely,” said her father, looking at her respectfully. “I’d rather tackle a wild buffalo!”

“I’m not sure that I wouldn’t,” returned Norah. “However, she’s all the buffalo I’ve got, so I may as well get it over.” She turned as she reached the door. “Tell old Harry how glad we are, Dad. And don’t you think you ought to let Jim know?”

“Yes I’ll ring him up too.” And off went Norah, singing. Three Australians in “dear little Surrey!” It was almost too good to be true.

But Mrs. Atkins did not think so. She was sorting linen, with a sour face, when Norah entered her sanctum and made known her news. The housekeeper remained silent for a moment.

“Well, I don’t see how we’re to manage, miss,” she said at length. “The house is pretty full as it is.”

“There is the big room with two single beds,” Norah said. “We can put a third bed in. They won’t mind being together.”

Mrs. Atkins sniffed.

“It isn’t usual to crowd people like that, miss.”

“It won’t matter in this case,” said Norah.

“Did you say Australians, miss?” asked the housekeeper. “Officers?”

“One is an officer.”

“And the others, miss?”

“I don’t know privates, very possibly,” said Norah. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Not matter! Well, upon my word!” ejaculated Mrs. Atkins. “Well, all I can say, miss, is that it’s very funny. And how do you think the maids are going to do all that extra work?”

Norah began to experience a curious feeling of tingling.

“I am quite sure the maids can manage it,” she said, commanding her voice with an effort. “For one thing, I can easily help more than I do now.”

“We’re not accustomed in this country to young ladies doing that sort of thing,” said Mrs. Atkins. Her evil temper mastered her. “And your pet cook, the fine lady who’s too grand to sit with me ”

Norah found her voice suddenly calm.

“You mustn’t speak to me like that, Mrs. Atkins,” she said, marvelling at her own courage. “You will have to go away if you can’t behave properly.”

Mrs. Atkins choked.

“Go away!” she said thickly. “Yes, I’ll go away. I’m not going to stay in a house like this, that’s no more and no less than a boarding-house! You and your friend the cook can ”

“Be quiet, woman!” said a voice of thunder. Norah, who had shrunk back before the angry housekeeper, felt a throb of relief as Allenby strode into the room. At the moment there was nothing of the butler about him he was Sergeant Allenby, and Mrs. Atkins was simply a refractory private.

“I won’t be quiet!” screamed the housekeeper. “I ”

“You will do as you’re told,” said Allenby, dropping a heavy hand on her shoulder. “That’s enough, now: not another word. Now go to your room. Out of ’ere, or I’ll send for the police.”

Something in the hard, quiet voice filled Mrs. Atkins with terror. She cast a bitter look at Norah, and then slunk out of the room. Allenby closed the door behind her.

“I’m very sorry, miss,” he said butler once more. “I hope she didn’t frighten you.”

“Oh, no only she was rather horrible,” said Norah. “Whatever is the matter with her, Allenby? I hadn’t said anything to make her so idiotic.”

“I’ve been suspecting what was the matter these last three days,” said Allenby darkly. “Look ’ere, miss.” He opened a cupboard, disclosing rows of empty bottles. “I found these ’ere this morning when she was in the kitchen: I’d been missing bottles from the cellar. She must have another key to the cellar-door, ’owever she managed it.”

There came a tap at the door, and Mr. Linton came in to have the situation briefly explained to him.

“I wouldn’t have had it happen for something,” he said angrily. “My poor little girl, I didn’t think we were letting you in for this sort of thing.”

“Why, you couldn’t help it,” Norah said. “And she didn’t hurt me she was only unpleasant. But I think we had better keep her out of Miss de Lisle’s way, or she might be hard to handle.”

“That’s so, miss,” said Allenby. “I’ll go and see. ’Ard to ’andle! I should think so!”

“See that she packs her box, Allenby,” said Mr. Linton. “I’ll write her cheque at once, and Con can take her to the station as soon as she is ready. She’s not too bad to travel, I suppose?”

“She’s not bad at all, sir. Only enough to make her nasty.”

“Well, she can go and be nasty somewhere else,” said Mr. Linton. “Very well, Allenby.” He turned to Norah, looking unhappy. “Whatever will you do, my girl? and this houseful of people! I’d better telephone Harry and put his party off.”

“Indeed you won’t,” said Norah, very cheerfully. “I’ll manage, Dad. Don’t you worry. I’m going to talk to Miss de Lisle.”

The cook-lady was not in the kitchen. Katty, washing vegetables diligently, referred Norah to her sitting-room, and there she was found, knitting a long khaki muffler. She heard the story in silence.

“So I must do just the best I can, Miss de Lisle,” Norah ended. “And I’m wondering if you think I must really advertise for another housekeeper. It didn’t seem to me that Mrs. Atkins did much except give orders, and surely I can do that, after a little practice.” Norah flushed, and looked anxious. “Of course I don’t want to make a mess of the whole thing. I know the house must be well run.”

“Well,” said Miss de Lisle, knitting with feverish energy, “I couldn’t have said it if you hadn’t asked me, but as you have, I would like to propose something. Perhaps it may sound as if I thought too much of myself, but with a cook like me you don’t need a housekeeper. I have a conscience: and I know how things ought to be run. So my proposal is this, and you and your father must just do as you like about it. Why not make me cook-housekeeper?”

“Oh, but could you?” Norah cried delightedly. “Wouldn’t it be too much work?”

“I don’t think so of course I’m expecting that you’re going to help in supervising things. I can teach you anything. You see, Katty is a treasure. I back down in all I ever thought about Irish maids,” said the cook-lady, parenthetically. “And she makes me laugh all day, and I wouldn’t be without her for anything. Give me a smart boy in the kitchen for the rough work; then Katty can do more of the plain cooking, which she’ll love, and I shall have more time out of the kitchen. Now what do you say?”

“Me?” said Norah. “I’d like to hug you!”

“I wish you would,” said Miss de Lisle, knitting more frantically than ever. “You see, this is the first place I’ve been in where I’ve really been treated like a human being. You didn’t patronize me, and you didn’t snub me any of you. But you laughed with me; and it was a mighty long time since laughing had come into my job. Dear me!” finished Miss de Lisle “you’ve no idea how at home with you all I’ve felt since Allenby fell over me in the passage!”

“We loved you from that minute,” said Norah, laughing. “Then you think we can really manage? You’ll have to let me consult with you over everything ordering, and all that: because I do want to learn my job. And you won’t mind how many people we bring in?”

“Fill the house to explosion-point, if you like,” said Miss de Lisle. “If you don’t have a housekeeper you’ll have two extra rooms to put your Tired People in. What’s the good of a scheme like this if you don’t run it thoroughly?”

She found herself suddenly hugged, to the no small disadvantage of the knitting.

“Oh, I’m so happy!” Norah cried. “Now I’m going to enjoy the Home for Tired People: and up till now Mrs. Atkins has lain on my soul like a ton of bricks. Bless you, Miss de Lisle! I’m going to tell Dad.” Her racing footsteps flew down the corridor.

But Miss de Lisle sat still, with a half smile on her rugged face. Once she put her hand up to the place where Norah’s lips had brushed her cheek.

“Dear me!” she murmured. “Well, it’s fifteen years since any one did that.” Still smiling, she picked up the knitting.