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HOME > Classical Novels > The Admirable Tinker > CHAPTER ONE SIR TANCRED'S QUEST
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 "It is," said Lord Crosland, "deucedly odd."  
"What?" said Sir Tancred Beauleigh.
"That after seeing nothing of one another for nearly three years, we should arrive at this caravanserai from different stations at the same time, to find that our letters engaging this set of rooms came by the same post."
"It comes of having been born on the same day," said Sir Tancred. "Besides, I always told you that the only possible place to live in in town was the top left-hand corner of the Hotel Cecil, with this view up the river, and a nice open breezy space in front of you."
Lord Crosland, who was walking up and down the room as he talked, stopped to gaze out of the window at Westminster, and Sir Tancred lighted another cigarette.
"What I like about it is, it's retired—out of the world," said Lord Crosland.
"It was just that recommended it to me."
A waiter came in, and cleared away the breakfast. Lord Crosland admired the view; Sir Tancred lay back in his easy chair, gazing with vacant, sombre eyes into the clear blue vault1 of the summer sky.
"I can't see why we shouldn't share these rooms for the season," said Lord Crosland, when the waiter had gone with his tray. "We shall get on all right; we always did at Vane's."
"Well," said Sir Tancred slowly, "I have a child, a boy, somewhere—I don't know where. I've got to find him. I'm going to find him before I do anything else."
"The deuce you have! Well, I'll be shot! To think that you're married!"
"I was married when I said good-bye to you nearly three years ago," said Sir Tancred. "I was married to Pamela Vane."
"You were married to Miss Vane!" cried Lord Crosland. "But how—how on earth did you manage it? It was impossible!"
"I committed that legal misdemeanour known as false entry," said Sir Tancred coolly. "I added the necessary years to our ages."
"Oh, yes, that, of course," said Lord Crosland. "You wouldn't let an informality of that kind stand in your way. But Miss Vane? How did you persuade her? I should have thought it impossible—absolutely impossible."
"It ran as near impossibility as anything I can think of," said Sir Tancred slowly and half dreamily. "But when you are in love with one another, impossibilities fade—and I was masterful."
"You were that," said Lord Crosland with conviction.
"Poor Pamela! She was wretched at having to keep it from her father; and I was sorry enough. But it had to be done; when you are eighteen, and in love with one another, twenty-one seems ages away, don't you know?"
"Of course."
"And once done, I don't believe—honestly, I don't believe that she regretted it," said Sir Tancred; and his sombre eyes were shining. "Heavens, how happy we were!—for four months. But as you'll learn, if ever you have it, happiness is a deucedly expensive thing. I paid a price for it—I did pay a price." And he shivered. "At the end of four months it came out, and it was all up."
"Then that was why Vane gave up coaching, sold Stanley House, and went abroad," said Lord Crosland quickly. "We could none of us make it out."
"That was why. When it came out, my stepmother came on the scene. She's about as remarkable2 a creature as you'll chance on between now and the blue moon. She has one idea in her head, the glory of the Beauleighs. I believe she's as mad as a hatter about it. She was one of the Stryke & Wigrams, the bankers, a Miss Wigram; and I think, don't you know, that rising out of that wealthy and respectable firm, she felt bound to be the bluest-blooded possible. That's what I fancy. At any rate she's more of a Beauleigh than any Beauleigh since the flood."
"I know," said Lord Crosland, and he nodded gravely with the immeasurable sapience3 of a boy of twenty-one.
"I must say, too," Sir Tancred went on thoughtfully, "that she's been the most important Beauleigh for generations. She brought thirty thousand a year to the restoration of our dilapidated fortunes; and she did restore them. You know what a County is: well, little by little she got a grip on the County, and now she just runs it. I tell you, the County has taken to spending every bit of the year it can in town or abroad; when it gets within thirty miles of her, it daren't call its life its own."
"By Jove!" said Lord Crosland earnestly. "She must be a holy terror."
"They call it force of character when she's within thirty miles of them," said Sir Tancred drily; and then he went on with more emphasis: "But the banker streak4 comes out in her; she thinks too much of money. She doesn't understand that money's a thing you spend on things that amuse you; she's always making shows with it—dull shows. So it was part of her scheme for the glory of Beauleigh, that if billions couldn't be got, I was to marry millions. You can imagine her fury when she learned that I was married to Pamela."
"I can that," said Lord Crosland.
"She got me back to Beauleigh, on some rotten pretence5 of legal business about mortgages; and made a descent on Mr. Vane. You know that he was as decent a soul as ever lived, and as sensitive. I'm afraid that there was a lot of Stryke & Wigram in that interview—you know, talk about having entrapped6 me into marriage with his daughter—the last man in the world to dream of it. Fortunately, as I gathered from her talk later, she made him angry enough to turn her out of the house without seeing Pamela. She had to content herself with writing to her—it must have been a letter."
"Why on earth didn't you interfere7? I wouldn't have stood it!" said Lord Crosland.
"I was at Beauleigh. I was pretty soon suspicious that our secret had been discovered. When three days passed without my getting a letter from Pamela, I was sure of it. And then Fortune played into my stepmother's hands: I had a bad fall with a young horse, and injured my spine8. For two months it was touch and go whether I was a cripple for life; and I was another four months on my back."
"By Jove!" said Lord Crosland with profound sympathy.
"Ah, but it was when I began to mend that my troubles began. There were no letters for me—not a letter. Just think of it! I knew that Pamela must be wanting me; and there I lay a helpless log. I was sure that she had written; and, knowing my stepmother, I was sure that I should never see the letters. I sent for her, and asked for them. She coolly told me that she and her brother, my other guardian9, Sir Everard Wigram, Bumpkin Wigram he's generally called, had decided10 that I was to be saved, if possible, from the results of my folly11 at any cost. They would have taken steps to have the marriage nullified, if it hadn't been for the risk of my being prosecuted12 for false entry. Then she talked of my ingratitude13 after all her efforts to raise the Beauleighs to their former glory. I couldn't stand any more that day; and the nurse came in and fetched her out. That interview didn't do me any good."
"It hardly sounds the thing for an injured spine," said Lord Crosland.
"A few days later we had another; and she had the cheek to tell me that one day I should be grateful to her for having saved me from the clutches of a designing girl—rank idiocy14, you see, for she was only keeping us apart for the time being. But it set me talking about the firm of Stryke & Wigram; and for once I got her really angry. It did me good. Yet, you know, she really believed it; she believed that she was acting15 for the best."
"Of course," said Lord Crosland thoughtfully, "she didn't know Miss Vane, I mean Lady Beauleigh, your wife. It would have made all the difference."
"I've made that excuse for her often enough," said Sir Tancred. "But it doesn't carry very far. Just look at the cold-bloodedness of it: there was I, a helpless cripple, in a good deal of pain most of the time, mad for a word of my wife; and that damned woman kept back her letters. Talk about the cruelty of the Chinese—an ordinary woman can give them points, and do it cheerfully!"
"They are terrors," said Lord Crosland with conviction.
"Well, there I lay; and I had to grin and bear it. But, well, I don't want to talk about it. The only relief was that once a week my stepmother seemed to feel bound to come and tell me that it was all for my good; and I could talk to her about the manners and customs of the banking16 classes. Then, after five and a half months of it, when I was looking forward to getting free and to my wife, she came and told me that Pamela was dead. I refused to believe it; and she gave me a letter from Vane's solicitor17 informing her of the fact."
"Poor beggar!" said Lord Crosland.
Sir Tancred was silent; he was staring at nothing with sombre eyes.
Lord Crosland looked at him compassionately18; presently he said, "It explains your face—the change in it. I was wondering at it. I couldn't understand it."
"What change? What's the matter with my face?" said Sir Tancred indifferently.
"Well, you used to be a cheerful-looking beggar, don't you know. Now you look like what do you call him—who fell from Heaven—Lucifer, son of the Morning. I read about him at Vane's, mugging up poetry for that exam."
"You'll hardly believe it," said Sir Tancred very seriously, "but I took to reading books myself at Beauleigh, when I got all right—reading books and mooning about. I had no energy. I went and saw Vane's solicitor of course; but he could tell me nothing, or wouldn't tell me. Said his client had called on him, and told him to inform my stepmother of Pamela's death, and had not told him where she died, or where he was now living. I fancied he was keeping something back; but I had no energy, and I didn't drag it out of him. I went to Stanley House; it was to be let. No one could tell me where the Vanes had gone. I stayed at Beauleigh—mooning about. I wouldn't go to Oxford19; and I wouldn't travel. I mooned about. Six months ago I came across Vicary at a meet—you remember Vicary at Vane's?—he told me that Vane had died in Jersey20. I went to Jersey, and found Vane's grave. Next to it was my wife's."
Again Sir Tancred fell silent in a gloomy musing21.
"Well?" said Lord Crosland gently.
"The oddest thing happened. It doesn't sound exactly credible22; and you won't understand it. I don't. But as I stood by the grave, I suddenly felt that there was something for me to do, something very important that had to be done. It was odd, very odd. I went back to my hotel quite harassed23, puzzling and racking my brains. Then an idea struck me; and I had a hunt through the registers. I found that two days before she died a boy was born, Hildebrand Anne Beauleigh—the old Beauleigh names. She knew that I should like him to be called by them. From the registers I learnt where they had been living. I rushed off to the house, and found it empty and to let—always these shut-up houses. I made inquiries24 and inquiries, from the house agents and the tradespeople. I could learn nothing. They had lived very quietly. But there was a child; people had seen him wheeled about in a perambulator. He had disappeared. I suspected my stepmother at once; and I hurried back to Beauleigh. It had bucked25 me up, don't you know, to think that I had a child. I had it out with my stepmother; and what do you think she told me?"
"Can't guess; but I'm laying odds26 that it doesn't surprise me," said Lord Crosland.
"She said that the fact of my having a son and heir would stand in the way of my making the marriage she hoped. That the boy was in the hands of a respectable couple, where I need never hope to find him; that he would be brought up in the station of life suitable to his mother's having been the daughter of a Tutor. My word, I did talk about the firm of Stryke & Wigram!"
"I should think you must have," said Lord Crosland.
"I lost no time, but put the matter in the hands of a crack Private Inquiry27 Agency. When they learned what I was doing, I'm hanged if my stepmother and uncle Bumpkin didn't stop my allowance." He laughed ruefully. "However, I kept the inquiries going by selling my two horses, my jewellery, my guns, and my clothes. That's why I'm in these rags. But no good came of it; the private detective discovered nothing, and charged me nearly three hundred for discovering it. But the crowning point of my stepmother's madness came yesterday. We had the proper business interview on my coming of age; and she and uncle Bumpkin handed me over six hundred a year, and six thousand ready money. Then she made me an offer. She would give me ten thousand a year to enable me to keep up the glory of the Beauleighs, and marry the millions to increase it, if I would give up searching for the boy, and consent to his being brought up in his respectable position. I didn't talk about swindling him out of his rights; for I've come to the conclusion that it's no good talking of Justice to a woman. They don't understand what you're driving at—those of the banking classes anyhow. I told her she could stick to Beauleigh Court, since it would only be a white elephant to me with my six hundred a year, and go on ruling the County. But I was going to clear out, and I couldn't help saying that I hoped her path and mine would never cross again."
"It was deuced little to say," said Lord Crosland.
"Oh, what was the good? She couldn't have understood. She's mad, mad as a hatter about the glory of the Beauleighs. But it did one good thing; it made her cast me off for good and all. She'd toiled28 for the family: and this was her reward. I might go to the Workhouse my own way. Now you see, she won't interfere to stop my finding the boy. And I'm going to find him if I have to spend ten years on it, and every penny I have. And when I have found him, I'm going to look after him myself, and keep him with me. I don't suppose I shall find it much in my line. I'm not fond of children; and I'm not an affectionate person. That sort of thing is rather dried up in me. But it was little enough I could do for my wife while she was alive, and now I should like to do the only thing I can."
"I see," said Lord Crosland.
"Well, you can understand that, though I've agreed to share these rooms with you for the next few days, I can't make it a permanent arrangement. I may have to be off anywhere at a moment's notice. On the other hand, by offering a thumping29 big reward, as I can do at last, I shall probably find him at once; and you wouldn't care for rooms with a small child about."
"Oh, I don't know. I rather like kids," said Lord Crosland. "They're amusing little beggars often enough."
"Ah, but this one is so small; only two and a half," said Sir Tancred. "And now I'll write the advertisement."

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