Chapter 1. EXAMINATION
Fifty-five. Tallish-but stoutish. Dressed like the country gentleman which he was not and never would be. Not by taking any amount of thought can you become a country gentleman. From the lower part of his large and somewhat neglected gardens he looked down Moze slope and over Mozewater. Six miles off Eelpie Sand gleamed dangerously in the March afternoon sun. The tide was rising, creeping with stealth into all the inlets that bordered the Spanish Main of Mozewater. The explosives factory in the middle distance stood now on a tongue of land; in two hours it would be a solitary chimney sticking up forlorn out of the Spanish Main. The tide was never still. Four times a day it punctually changed the face of sixty square miles of earth, omnipotently heedless of air-raids, gun-fire, rumours of invasion. You might go to bed with the moon pouring silver on to an ocean, and get up to see the sun enlighten a sinister marsh intersected by creeks and. rivulets. Every aspect of Mozewater enchanted Mr. Raingo, drew him out of his own melancholy and futility into a melancholy and futility greater, grander, and far more beautiful. There was a speechless poet hidden somewhere in Mr. Raingo, that died often and came back to life, and was authentic.
He opened the wicket and strolled slowly down Moze slope, and in half an hour was level with the vast, semicircular dyke.
Two Thames barges, each manned by two men and a dog, were manoeuvring gingerly up the shallow channels towards the ancient quays and wharves of Flittering-last outpost of solidity against the North Sea. He walked through the village, nodding benevolently here and there to humble persons who saluted him with deference as the richest man in the peninsula and perhaps in the county. As he reached Miss Osyth Drine's cottage-last outpost of the last outpost-and the road dwindled into a green track, a man rather like himself in age and build emerged from the cottage, jumped with enviable agility on to a bicycle and, having perceived Mr. Raingo, at once jumped off again.
"Mr. Raingo?" said the cyclist. "I thought I couldn't be mistaken. I wonder if you'd be so very kind as to give a message to Mrs. Raingo from my wife, and say how sorry she was not to be in when Mrs. Raingo called."
"I certainly will," answered Raingo, urgently asking his memory to identify this slightly too deferential khaki gentleman with the stars of a captain on his tunic.
"I'm Heddle," said the cyclist.
"Of course you are," Raingo agreed with quick urbanity, offering his hand. It was the doctor who had come newly to Hoe village two years earlier and had almost immediately afterwards joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and vanished into distant fields of war. "You've been in Palestine, I think?"
"Yes. Invalided home. I may get charge of a hospital, and in the meantime I'm doing a bit to my own practice." A short, dry laugh.
They walked along together, the bicycle between them.
"Too eager to know me," thought Raingo, with all the suspiciousness natural to his wealth. "Too much kowtow. Too pleased to be talking to me. Not a snob. Only simple. Roughing it and God knows what in Palestine. It wou1d have killed
And Raingo, in his secret humiliation, admired the fellow, and had a wild, absurd desire to justify his own inactivity to the simpleton. And Mrs. Raingo had neglected to pay her formal call for two years or more, and even now had probably only called because the husband was at home again. Disgusting. Intolerable. He considered that if a woman believed in the propriety of the astounding country ritual of calls, she ought at least to perform it conscientiously and not insult her neighbours by negligence. Two years! And more!
Raingo mentioned the war news.
"Yes. Serious!" said Captain Heddle. It was his sole and sufficient comment on the great German push.
"I think we shall hold them," said Raingo.
"Well, I'm immensely relieved to hear you say so," said Captain Heddle, with obvious sincerity. He was immensely relieved, because Mr. Raingo, being a millionaire, must have information, and must possess judgment, denied to simple soldiers.
"I know nothing-nothing," said Raingo.
But Captain Heddle refused to credit that; he put it down to the modesty of the great, and remained firmly in a state of immense relief.
"I should like to consult you," Raingo burst out surprisingly.
Captain Heddle was raised into bliss.
"One of these days," said Raingo.
"Any time. Now. I'm at your service. An honour, I assure you." (Why did people always go on in this style?) "I could call round to-morrow, if that would suit you."
"I won't trouble you to call. I'll come to you. Later this afternoon, say."
Raingo was very urbane, winning, determined if possible to cure the simpleton of his subservience. They walked side by side slowly up the acclivity to Hoe, the inland metropolis of the peninsula, noting camouflaged block-houses, barbed wire, and other preparations to resist invasion. Captain Heddle said that in any case he should not have ridden up the hill. "I have to keep an eye on my heart," he said.
"Heart!" said Raingo. "That's my trouble, that's just what I wanted to see you about."
They were immediately brothers.
The front door and the garden door of the doctor's house behind Hoe church were both open, and the wind blew through the sunlight-flecked house. The doctor led his august patient into the drawing-room. A poor little room, yet it had the same essentials as the drawing-room at Moze Hall: piano, flowers, photographs. What more could you want?
"My wife isn't in apparently," said Captain Heddle, disappointed; he had clearly taken Mr. Raingo to the drawing-room in order to display the captive to Mrs. Heddle. They passed through a corner of the unkempt garden into the "surgery," which was very small and very shabby, and Raingo began to feel a thrill of expectation. But the doctor was talking about gardens, the Jordan valley, troopships, the popular press, universities.
"That's it," thought Raingo. "He can't concentrate. That's why he's where he is, at his age. Every chance-education, connections, strong, cheerful, and he's a village doctor! When the deuce does he intend to start?"
Then, still chatting, the doctor found a stethoscope, and said:
"Now shall we examine the unruly member?"
Raingo lay down on a high and singularly lumpy sofa, and unbuttoned everything over his chest, and yielded himself like a child to his brother in age bending above him. And for Raingo the grey-haired simpleton was instantly transformed into a medicineman, a magician, an arch-priest endowed with recondite knowledge and unquestionable judgment. Raingo had consulted nearly all the greatest specialists in London and had got no help, no encouragement. His wife had accused him of a mania for doctors; and it was her attitude that had made him see this doctor in his surgery instead of asking him up to the Hall. Fifty times he had lost faith in doctors, but at every fresh doctor he mysteriously found faith again. Heddle was a simpleton, but simpletons had a knack on occasion of being deeply wise, of being seers. He could not concentrate-but he was concentrating now. And might not the state of his own heart have given him a special interest in hearts and therefore a special perception? Did not genius sometimes hide unappreciated in villages?
"The hour of my salvation may be at hand. This simpleton may be my deliverer," thought Raingo. And if it was to be so, the Germans might take Bailleul and drive the Allies into the Channel-he would have such a basis of happiness as no misfortune exterior to himself could shake. He knew then, and admitted, what really mattered to him and what didn't.
The doctor sounded him with an almost exasperating thoroughness. Then the patient had to sit up, and his back also was listened to and overheard.
"Well, this is a long-standing affair," said the doctor at last, gently.
"Yes, yes." Raingo grew garrulous, and related all that all sorts of doctors had told him. The doctor said nothing.
"How long do you give me?" Raingo demanded wistfully, like a defenceless victim. For twelve months past no doctor had given him more than five years-he wanted ten; he longed for ten; he would be content with ten.
"Pooh!" exclaimed the doctor breezily. "You might live any time. Five, ten, twenty years. I knew a case, not exactly the same as yours, but very similar-it was a dozen years ago, and I do believe the cove is still alive."
"Of course you must take care, as I do myself. You don't want to go and catch pneumonia, you know. That might be-er-serious."
Raingo's eyes were moist with gratitude. He was a boy, he was nearly a girl. The war was a skirmish without importance.
"What's this? I can't take this, my dear Mr. Raingo. I really can't!" said the doctor, staring at a five pound note and two half-crowns which Raingo had laid on the surgery desk.
Picking up his hat, Raingo heartily shook the doctor's hand.
"Try!" said he, with a glance suddenly impish. "Try to take it. Do your best. And if you fail, let me know."