The Pigeon House - Valentine Williams - ebook

The Pigeon House ebook

Valentine Williams

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The novel begins in Paris on the wedding night of Sally and Rex Garrett. A former member of the French Foreign Legion Rex mysteriously disappears on the night of his wedding. At The Pigeon House, a lonely inn, a band of conspirators await the arrival of a deserter from the Foreign Legion, who is their „key man” in their plan to start an uprising in French Morocco. The conspirators have also driven the bridegroom’s closest friend into exile and a shameful death, which means he must hunt them down and destroy them. Williams’ spy story, „The Pigeon Man” (1927), presents us with a character whose motivations are as obscure as any in modernist literature. Why is the hero doing what he is doing? Why, for that matter, are the other characters? George Valentine Williams never says explicitly, leaving readers to puzzle this out for themselves.

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Liczba stron: 396

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Contents

I. THE WEDDING NIGHT

II. THE CONFESSION

III. THE DISCOVERY

IV. THE MESSENGER IN BLACK

V. EL KEF

VI. THE PICTURE ON THE WALL

VII. JOURNEY’S END

VIII. AN EARLY CALL ON MARCIA

IX. A MEETING AND WHAT CAME OF IT

X. TEA WITH DOÑA INOCENCIA

XI. DON LEANDRO MAKES HIS BOW

XII. THE PIGEON HOUSE

XIII. THE MYSTERY OF THE FRONTON

XIV. THE WOMAN WITH THE CROONING LAUGH

XV. DUSK AT USOTEGIA

XVI. IN WHICH SALLY HEARS A STORY AND STRIKES A BARGAIN

XVII. THE KISS

XVIII. AT THE MOUSE HOLE

XIX. THE HOT SHADOW DEEPENS

XX. REX PLAYS HIS TRUMP

XXI. THE MASTER OF THE HOUR

XXII. RUPERT FORSDYKE INTERVENES

XXIII. THE TRAP

XXIV. THE HAND AT THE DOOR

XXV. IN WHICH REX GARRETT ASKS A QUESTION

XXVI. THE INDICTMENT

XXVII. THE FALL OF USOTEGIA

XXVIII. “LOVE IS UNDERSTANDING”

I. THE WEDDING NIGHT

WHILE dinner lasted, and for as long as Baptiste was present, they were correct and formal. Their talk was of indifferent things, of the run from Paris in the new car, of the lawn tennis court they were going to lay down at the cottage, of Marcia Greer’s delightful house. The candles in their silver candelabra burned sleekly in the warm night air, and beyond the screen of high elms bordering the distant road an immense white moon, hung above the unseen river, seemed to smile benignly upon the girl and the man as they sat at table under the stars.

But when the butler, having served the coffee and liqueurs, had disappeared through the open French windows into the silent villa, Sally leaned across the table and laid her small, cool hand on Rex Garrett’s wrist. He put aside the cigar he had been about to light and dropped his free hand over hers. Thus, for a little while, they remained without speaking, hands clasped, while about them the May night sent forth its muted sounds.

They had dined very late. Content to be at last alone, they had lingered long over dinner, revelling in the cool, dew-soaked hush of the great garden after the noise and heat of Paris, the excitement of their wedding day. The squat belfry of the village church across the Seine had long since chimed out eleven o’clock; yet they sat on, looking into one another’s eyes, heedless of the coffee’s furious bubbling in its glass cylinder, while the winged companions of the summer night fluttered their dance of death about the trembling candle-flames and, in the marshy flats beside the river, the frogs rasped out their rhythmic chorus. From time to time the faint barking of dogs, the distant whistle of a train, came to their ears; or, from the Paris road beyond the Seine, the swelling note of a belated car cut across the stillness.

It was Sally who broke the silence between them with a soft sigh.

“Rex,” she said; “it’s funny, but I feel to-night as though you were almost a stranger...”

Affectionately his eyes smiled back into hers.

“We’ve known each other only two months,” he rejoined. “But I feel as though I’d known you all my life...”

In a little gasping ejaculation she breathed out her delight.

“O-oh, truly?”

“For every lonely, barren second of the thirty-one years I’ve been waiting for you...”

She gave his hand a little squeeze.

“That’s dear of you. I wanted to hear you say something like that. The first time I ever saw you, that night on the Esterel...”

He sighed happily.

“That wonderful night! When I came upon you weeping over your car...”

“I wasn’t weeping...”

“Your face was wet...”

“That was the rain...”

“You looked so absolutely forlorn I wanted to take you in my arms and comfort you. When we parted that night I felt as though we were old friends...”

She smiled at him across the table.

“So did I. But that’s not what I meant. When I told Marcia that you’d asked me to marry you, she warned me that marriage is a great experiment...”

He laughed.

“It seems to be nowadays. Your friend, Mrs. Pangbourne, is having her third try, isn’t she?”

“Now you’re being frivolous,” she reproved him. “But Marcia was quite serious. People who marry, she told me, have to realise that each is going to make the acquaintance of an entirely new person. I guess that’s about right, Rex, and ... well, it scares me a little. I wonder if I’m going to go on loving you ... and you me.”

Her avowal had deepened the rose-leaf pinkness of her cheeks, so that it was as though the clear-cut oval of her face was bathed in a faintly rosy light. Under the cold rays of the moon, with her short hair, yellow as mountain honey but shining like freshly minted gold, brushed in a deep wave across her smooth forehead, her frank eyes of Mediterranean blue, her exquisite tint, she was like a flower plucked from the midsummer glory of an English garden.

Everything about her was fine, fine as the strands of her gleaming hair, the texture of her skin, the slender grace of her hands, the slimness of her ankles and feet. So brilliant was her colouring that, but for the character her face revealed, she might have been one of those mannequins of wax whose imperishable radiance brightens the windows of the great department stores. But high mettle, with a touch of self-will, was disclosed in the curve of the nostrils, the chin’s firm moulding; and the azure eyes, long-fringed, were wide open and intelligent. And she was young, with a lissom body beautifully formed, radiating, as the sun sheds light, health and happiness and eagerness.

She was eager now, with the rather terrible eagerness of a woman in love, as she sat and faced her husband across the purring coffee-machine. He leaned forward, his head bent back a little, with his heart gazing at her out of his eyes.

“I loved you that first night I saw you,” he answered. “And I shall always love you. And if I ever stop loving you, I shall tell you, as I know you’d tell me. We must always be honest with one another, Sally. I always think that half the unhappiness in marriage comes from deceit. The very first thing I liked about you was your truthful eyes...”

Her colour heightened suddenly, and she looked away.

“I don’t worry really about us,” she said. “I believe I’m going to be tremendously happy with you, dear. But Marcia meant it for the best. She’s been so good to me, Rex...”

He nodded. “I know. She’s a wonderful friend.”

“She wanted us to start things right. She loathes Paris, yet she insisted on going up and staying there for the fortnight so that we could have the villa to ourselves, because, she said, Les Ormes would be more homey for our honeymoon than a hotel. She’s determined we shall be happy. Do you know”–she hesitated, glancing rather anxiously at his face–“do you know, she even sent me a last word of advice in a telegram?”

“What? Here?”

Sally nodded. “Baptiste brought it up when I was having my bath before dinner.”

“Aren’t you going to let me in on this?”

She laughed rather nervously.

“Later on, perhaps. You must have your coffee now.” She withdrew her hand. “And Marcia said particularly that you were to try the Napoleon brandy. We’re very proud of it at Les Ormes.” She passed over the coffee-cup, then filled one of the liqueur glasses from the bottle with its seal of green wax flaunting the proud “N” of the Emperor.

Rex took the cup, his eyes on her face.

“Even now,” he suggested, gently mocking, “you haven’t told me the whole reason for your being scared...”

She flashed him a look of interrogation.

“You’re asking yourself: ‘Have I done right in marrying this man of whom I know nothing?...’”

“Oh, it’s not true,” she broke in indignantly. “I won’t have you say such things. All I care to know about you I know. I know what you did in the war;–I made Rupert Forsdyke tell me about your serving all through it as a Tommy; and I know you’re a very good artist, for the Luxembourg doesn’t buy dud pictures...”

“You know nothing about my people...”

She made a grimace. “The in-laws! Oh, Rex, I’m so glad that you and I haven’t any...”

“And you’ve omitted from your summary of my life the fact, which all your friends will pick on, that I once served with the Foreign Legion...”

“That’s no disgrace...”

“Some people think it is. I don’t speak of it now. I’m tired of explaining that I joined up after the war of my own free will because I had no money, and wanted to go back East to paint...”

“You’ve got your desert pictures to silence them,” she said indignantly. Her voice softened. “But what I meant was that I know all I want to know about the man I’ve married. You played your part in the war, you’ve got genius...”

He threw up his eyes. “Genius, ye gods! A trick of paint ... and not always that...!”

„... And you love me.” She was suddenly wistful. “What else matters? I’ve no doubt you’ve been in love dozens of times before, if that’s what you mean.” She made a face at him. “But you needn’t think I want to hear about your old conquests.”

He laughed and shook his head. He was as dark as she was fair with a proud, rather lean face, and crisp black hair, close-cropped, which was brushed back in two waves from his forehead.

“There weren’t any, Sally darling. I never had what they call a feminine influence in my life before I met you...”

She gave him a mischievous look.

“They say that’s what all men tell their wives...”

“I don’t want you to believe I’m better than the rest of men,” he replied seriously. “But I can assure you quite honestly that I’ve had a roughish life, my dear, always among men. The greatest friend I ever had was a man...”

“It sounds very lonely,” she put in.

“No,” he corrected gravely, “I had my painting. It’s only since I met you that I’ve begun to realise how much I’ve missed...”

“You said that very nicely,” she said approvingly, “for a man who has never had the chance of finding out for himself that women adore adroit compliments.” She patted his hand. “Never mind, darling, I like you very much as you are...”

Thoughtfully he sliced the ash from the end of his cigar. “You trust me, I know,” he replied. “But I wasn’t thinking of you, Sally. I was thinking of your friends.”

He drained his coffee-cup and put it down. She laughed. “Except Marcia, all my friends are in America. I haven’t got any friends–real friends, I mean–over here...”

“Acquaintances, then. They’re going to be rather hipped at your going off to church and having a wedding all on your own. People like your Mrs. Pangbourne and–what’s that ghastly woman called?–Mrs. Litzbold regard the weddings of their friends, with orange blossom, bridesmaids, and ‘The voice that breathed,’ as part of their legitimate social perks...”

Sally’s silvery laugh rang out. “It’s perfectly true! Rex, they’ll be mad...”

“You bet they’ll be mad. Can’t you hear them, Sally? ‘Of course, Sara’s a charming girl, but this Barrett person! My dear, a man she doesn’t know from Adam! They say he was in the Foreign Legion! Of course, he’s an adventurer after her money!...’”

“What nonsense you talk!” Sally put in rather hastily. “What does it matter what they say?”

Rex sipped his brandy.

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