It was Nutty Boyd's habit to retire immediately after dinner to his bedroom. What he did there Elizabeth did not know. Sometimes she pictured him reading, sometimes thinking. Neither supposition was correct. Nutty never read. Newspapers bored him and books made his head ache. And as for thinking, he had the wrong shape of forehead. The nearest he ever got to meditation was a sort of trance-like state, a kind of suspended animation in which his mind drifted sluggishly like a log in a backwater. Nutty, it is regrettable to say, went to his room after dinner for the purpose of imbibing two or three surreptitious whiskies-and-sodas.
He behaved in this way, he told himself, purely in order to spare Elizabeth anxiety. There had been in the past a fool of a doctor who had prescribed total abstinence for Nutty, and Elizabeth knew this. Therefore, Nutty held, to take the mildest of drinks with her knowledge would have been to fill her with fears for his safety. So he went to considerable inconvenience to keep the matter from her notice, and thought rather highly of himself for doing so.
It certainly was inconvenient--there was no doubt of that. It made him feel like a cross between a hunted fawn and a burglar. But he had to some extent diminished the possibility of surprise by leaving his door open; and to-night he approached the cupboard where he kept the materials for refreshment with a certain confidence. He had left Elizabeth on the porch in a hammock, apparently anchored for some time. Lord Dawlish was out in the grounds somewhere. Presently he would come in and join Elizabeth on the porch. The risk of interruption was negligible.
Nutty mixed himself a drink and settled down to brood bitterly, as he often did, on the doctor who had made that disastrous statement. Doctors were always saying things like that--sweeping things which nervous people took too literally. It was true that he had been in pretty bad shape at the moment when the words had been spoken. It was just at the end of his Broadway career, when, as he handsomely admitted, there was a certain amount of truth in the opinion that his interior needed a vacation. But since then he had been living in the country, breathing good air, taking things easy. In these altered conditions and after this lapse of time it was absurd to imagine that a moderate amount of alcohol could do him any harm.
It hadn't done him any harm, that was the point. He had tested the doctor's statement and found it incorrect. He had spent three hectic days and nights in New York, and--after a reasonable interval--had felt much the same as usual. And since then he had imbibed each night, and nothing had happened. What it came to was that the doctor was a chump and a blighter. Simply that and nothing more.
Having come to this decision, Nutty mixed another drink. He went to the head of the stairs and listened. He heard nothing. He returned to his room.
Yes, that was it, the doctor was a chump. So far from doing him any harm, these nightly potations brightened Nutty up, gave him heart, and enabled him to endure life in this hole of a place. He felt a certain scornful amusement. Doctors, he supposed, had to get off that sort of talk to earn their money.
He reached out for the bottle, and as he grasped it his eye was caught by something on the floor. A brown monkey with a long, grey tail was sitting there staring at him.
There was one of those painful pauses. Nutty looked at the monkey rather like an elongated Macbeth inspecting the ghost of Banquo. The monkey looked at Nutty. The pause continued. Nutty shut his eyes, counted ten slowly, and opened them.
The monkey was still there.
'Boo!' said Nutty, in an apprehensive undertone.
The monkey looked at him.
Nutty shut his eyes again. He would count sixty this time. A cold fear had laid its clammy fingers on his heart. This was what that doctor--not such a chump after all--must have meant!
Nutty began to count. There seemed to be a heavy lump inside him, and his mouth was dry; but otherwise he felt all right. That was the gruesome part of it--this dreadful thing had come upon him at a moment when he could have sworn that he was sound as a bell. If this had happened in the days when he ranged the Great White Way, sucking up deleterious moisture like a cloud, it would have been intelligible. But it had sneaked upon him like a thief in the night; it had stolen unheralded into his life when he had practically reformed. What was the good of practically reforming if this sort of thing was going to happen to one?
'... Fifty-nine ... sixty.'
He opened his eyes. The monkey was still there, in precisely the same attitude, as if it was sitting for its portrait. Panic surged upon Nutty. He lost his head completely. He uttered a wild yell and threw the bottle at the apparition.
Life had not been treating Eustace well that evening. He seemed to have happened upon one of those days when everything goes wrong. The cat had scratched him, the odd-job man had swathed him in an apron, and now this stranger, in whom he had found at first a pleasant restfulness, soothing after the recent scenes of violence in which he had participated, did this to him. He dodged the missile and clambered on to the top of the wardrobe. It was his instinct in times of stress to seek the high spots. And then Elizabeth hurried into the room.
Elizabeth had been lying in the hammock on the porch when her brother's yell had broken forth. It was a lovely, calm, moonlight night, and she had been revelling in the peace of it, when suddenly this outcry from above had shot her out of her hammock like an explosion. She ran upstairs, fearing she knew not what. She found Nutty sitting on the bed, looking like an overwrought giraffe.
'Whatever is the--?' she began; and then things began to impress themselves on her senses.
The bottle which Nutty had thrown at Eustace had missed the latter, but it had hit the wall, and was now lying in many pieces on the floor, and the air was heavy with the scent of it. The remains seemed to leer at her with a kind of furtive swagger, after the manner of broken bottles. A quick thrill of anger ran through Elizabeth. She had always felt more like a mother to Nutty than a sister, and now she would have liked to exercise the maternal privilege of slapping him.
'I saw a monkey!' said her brother, hollowly. 'I was standing over there and I saw a monkey! Of course, it wasn't there really. I flung the bottle at it, and it seemed to climb on to that wardrobe.'
Elizabeth struck it a resounding blow with the palm of her hand, and Eustace's face popped over the edge, peering down anxiously.
'I can see it now,' said Nutty. A sudden, faint hope came to him.
'Can you see it?' he asked.
Elizabeth did not speak for a moment. This was an unusual situation, and she was wondering how to treat it. She was sorry for Nutty, but Providence had sent this thing and it would be foolish to reject it. She must look on herself in the light of a doctor. It would be kinder to Nutty in the end. She had the feminine aversion from the lie deliberate. Her ethics on the
suggestio falsi were weak. She looked at Nutty questioningly.
'See it?' she said.
'Don't you see a monkey on the top of the wardrobe?' said Nutty, becoming more definite.
'There's a sort of bit of wood sticking out--'
'No, not that. You didn't see it. I don't think you would.'
He spoke so dejectedly that for a moment Elizabeth weakened, but only for an instant.
'Tell me all about this, Nutty,' she said.
Nutty was beyond the desire for evasion and concealment. His one wish was to tell. He told all.
'But, Nutty, how silly of you!'
'After what the doctor said.'
'You remember his telling you--'
'I know. Never again!'
'What do you mean?'
'I quit. I'm going to give it up.'
Elizabeth embraced him maternally.
'That's a good child!' she said. 'You really promise?'
'I don't have to promise, I'm just going to do it.'
Elizabeth compromised with her conscience by becoming soothing.
'You know, this isn't so very serious, Nutty, darling. I mean, it's just a warning.'
'It's warned me all right.'
'You will be perfectly all right if--'
Nutty interrupted her.
'You're sure you can't see anything?'
Nutty's voice became almost apologetic.
'I know it's just imagination, but the monkey seems to me to be climbing down from the wardrobe.'
'I can't see anything climbing down the wardrobe,' said Elizabeth, as Eustace touched the floor.
'It's come down now. It's crossing the carpet.'
'It's gone now. It went out of the door.'
'I say, Elizabeth, what do you think I ought to do?'
'I should go to bed and have a nice long sleep, and you'll feel--'
'Somehow I don't feel much like going to bed. This sort of thing upsets a chap, you know.'
'I think I'll go for a long walk.'
'That's a splendid idea.'
'I think I'd better do a good lot of walking from now on. Didn't Chalmers bring down some Indian clubs with him? I think I'll borrow them. I ought to keep out in the open a lot, I think. I wonder if there's any special diet I ought to have. Well, anyway, I'll be going for that walk.'
At the foot of the stairs Nutty stopped. He looked quickly into the porch, then looked away again.
'What's the matter?' asked Elizabeth.
'I thought for a moment I saw the monkey sitting on the hammock.'
He went out of the house and disappeared from view down the drive, walking with long, rapid strides.
Elizabeth's first act, when he had gone, was to fetch a banana from the ice-box. Her knowledge of monkeys was slight, but she fancied they looked with favour on bananas. It was her intention to conciliate Eustace.
She had placed Eustace by now. Unlike Nutty, she read the papers, and she knew all about Lady Wetherby and her pets. The fact that Lady Wetherby, as she had been informed by the grocer in friendly talk, had rented a summer house in the neighbourhood made Eustace's identity positive.
She had no very clear plans as to what she intended to do with Eustace, beyond being quite resolved that she was going to board and lodge him for a few days. Nutty had had the jolt he needed, but it might be that the first freshness of it would wear away, in which event it would be convenient to have Eustace on the premises. She regarded Eustace as a sort of medicine. A second dose might not be necessary, but it was as well to have the mixture handy. She took another banana, in case the first might not be sufficient. She then returned to the porch.
Eustace was sitting on the hammock, brooding. The complexities of life were weighing him down a good deal. He was not aware of Elizabeth's presence until he found her standing by him. He had just braced himself for flight, when he perceived that she bore rich gifts.
Eustace was always ready for a light snack--readier now than usual, for air and exercise had sharpened his appetite. He took the banana in a detached manner, as it to convey the idea that it did not commit him to any particular course of conduct. It was a good banana, and he stretched out a hand for the other. Elizabeth sat down beside him, but he did not move. He was convinced now of her good intentions. It was thus that Lord Dawlish found them when he came in from the garden.
'Where has your brother gone to?' he asked. 'He passed me just now at eight miles an hour. Great Scot! What's that?'
'It's a monkey. Don't frighten him; he's rather nervous.'
She tickled Eustace under the ear, for their relations were now friendly.
'Nutty went for a walk because he thought he saw it.'
'Thought he saw it?'
'Thought he saw it,' repeated Elizabeth, firmly. 'Will you remember, Mr Chalmers, that, as far as he is concerned, this monkey has no existence?'
'I don't understand.'
'You see now?'
'I see. But how long are you going to keep the animal?'
'Just a day or two--in case.'
'Where are you going to keep it?'
'In the outhouse. Nutty never goes there, it's too near the bee-hives.'
'I suppose you don't know who the owner is?'
'Yes, I do; it must be Lady Wetherby.'
'She's a woman who dances at one of the restaurants. I read in a Sunday paper about her monkey. She has just taken a house near here. I don't see who else the animal could belong to. Monkeys are rarities on Long Island.'
Bill was silent. 'Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose, flushing his brow.' For days he had been trying to find an excuse for calling on Lady Wetherby as a first step toward meeting Claire again. Here it was. There would be no need to interfere with Elizabeth's plans. He would be vague. He would say he had just seen the runaway, but would not add where. He would create an atmosphere of helpful sympathy. Perhaps, later on, Elizabeth would let him take the monkey back.
'What are you thinking about?' asked Elizabeth.
'Oh, nothing,' said Bill.
'Perhaps we had better stow away our visitor for the night.'
Elizabeth got up.
'Poor, dear Nutty may be coming back at any moment now,' she said.
But poor, dear Nutty did not return for a full two hours. When he did he was dusty and tired, but almost cheerful.
'I didn't see the brute once all the time I was out,' he told Elizabeth. 'Not once!'
Elizabeth kissed him fondly and offered to heat water for a bath; but Nutty said he would take it cold. From now on, he vowed, nothing but cold baths. He conveyed the impression of being a blend of repentant sinner and hardy Norseman. Before he went to bed he approached Bill on the subject of Indian clubs.
'I want to get myself into shape, old top,' he said.
'I've got to cut it out--to-night I thought I saw a monkey.'
'As plain as I see you now.' Nutty gave the clubs a tentative swing. 'What do you do with these darned things? Swing them about and all that? All right, I see the idea. Good night.'
But Bill did not pass a good night. He lay awake long, thinking over his plans for the morrow.