He weighed that remark as if it might cover a snare, before he scored a triumph of allusiveness by replying, “Fellow called Carter. He’s got a blue nose.”
Despite my exasperation I tried once more on a note of forced geniality, “What sort of man is this chauffeur of the Jervaises? Do you know him at all?”
“Wears brown leather gaiters,” Hughes answered after another solemn deliberation.
I could have kicked him with all the pleasure in life. His awful guardedness made me feel as if I were an inquisitive little journalist trying to ferret out some unsavoury scandal. And he had been the first person to point the general suspicion a few minutes earlier, by his inquiry about the motor. I decided to turn the tables on him, if I could manage it.
“I asked because you seemed to suggest just now that he had gone off with the Jervaises’ motor,” I remarked.
Hughes stroked his long thin nose with his thumb and forefinger. It seemed to take him about a minute from bridge to nostril. Then he inhaled a long draught of smoke from his cigarette, closed one eye as if it hurt him, and threw back his head to blow out the smoke again with a slow gasp of relief.
“One never knows,” was all the explanation he vouchsafed after this tedious performance.
“Whether a chauffeur will steal his master’s motor?” I asked.
“Incidentally,” he said.
“But, good heavens, if he’s that sort of man...” I suggested.
“I’m not saying that he is,” Hughes replied.
I realised then that his idea of our conversation was nothing more nor less than that of a game to be played as expertly as possible. He had all the makings of a cabinet minister, but as a companion he was, on this occasion, merely annoying. I felt that I could stand no more of him, and I was trying to frame a sentence that would convey my opinion of him without actual insult, when Frank Jervaise looked in at the door.
He stared at us suspiciously, but his expression commonly conveyed some aspect of threat or suspicion. “Been looking all over the place for you,” he said.
“For me?” Hughes asked.
Jervaise shook his head. “No, I want Melhuish,” he said, and stood scowling.
“Well, here I am,” I prompted him.
“If I’m in the way...” Hughes put in, but did not attempt to get himself out of it.
Jervaise ignored him. “Look here, Melhuish,” he said. “I wonder if you’d mind coming up with me to the Home Farm?”
“Oh! no; rather not,” I agreed gladly.
I felt that Hughes had been scored off; but I instantly forgot such small triumphs in the delight of being able to get out into the night. Out there was romance and the smell of night-stock, all kinds of wonderment and adventure. I was so eager to be in the midst of it that I never paused to consider the queerness of the expedition.
As we left the Hall, the theatrical stable-clock was just striking one.