Authors: Dornford Yates
Tags: #Berry & Co
Berry & Co
First published in 1921
© Estate of Dornford Yates; House of Stratus 1921-2011
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of Dornford Yates to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2011 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
| ||EAN|| ||ISBN|| ||Edition|| |
| ||1842329650|| ||9781842329658|| ||Print|| |
| ||0755127064|| ||9780755127061|| ||Epub|| |
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
Born ‘Cecil William Mercer’ into a middle class Victorian family with many Victorian skeletons in the closet, including the conviction for embezzlement from a law firm and subsequent suicide of his great-uncle, Yates’ parents somehow scraped together enough money to send him to Harrow.
The son of a solicitor, he at first could not seek a call to the Bar as he gained only a third class degree at Oxford. However, after a spell in a Solicitor’s office he managed to qualify and then practised as a Barrister, including an involvement in the Dr. Crippen Case, but whilst still finding time to contribute stories to the
After the First World War, Yates gave up legal work in favour of writing, which had become his great passion, and completed some thirty books. These ranged from light-hearted farce to adventure thrillers. For the former, he created the
books which established Yates’ reputation as a writer of witty, upper-crust romances. For the latter, he created the character
, who recounts the adventures of
, a classic gentleman sleuth. As a consequence of his education and experience, Yates’ books feature the genteel life, a nostalgic glimpse at Edwardian decadence and a number of swindling solicitors.
In his hey day, and as testament to his fine writing, Dornford Yates’ work often featured in the bestseller list. Indeed,
is one of the great comic creations of twentieth century fiction; the
titles also being successfully adapted for television. Along with Sapper and John Buchan, Yates dominated the adventure book market of the inter war years.
Finding the English climate utterly unbearable, Yates chose to live in the French Pyrenées for eighteen years, before moving on to Rhodesia (as was), where he died in 1960.
‘Mr Yates can be recommended to anyone who thinks the British take themselves too seriously.’ - Punch
‘We appreciate fine writing when we come across it, and a wit that is ageless united to a courtesy that is extinct’ - Cyril Connolly
There are some old-fashioned tradesmen who send their customers cards, well printed in copperplate, on which they ‘beg to thank’ them for their ‘continued patronage’ – a highly respectable practice, now falling into disuse.
I have no such elegant cards: and, if I had, I should not know where to send them, because I cannot tell who my customers are. But I beg that they will believe that I ‘esteem’ their patronage very high and that I mean what I say when I offer them, one and all, my ‘respectful compliments and thanks.’
How Will Noggin was Fooled,
and Berry Rode Forth Against His Will
“Who’s going to church?” said Daphne, consulting her wristwatch.
There was a profound silence.
My sister turned to Jill.
“Are you coming?” she said. “Berry and I are.”
“I beg your pardon,” said her husband.
“Of course you’re coming,” said Daphne.
“Not in these trousers. This is the first time I’ve worn them, and I’m not going to kneel in them for anyone.”
“Then you’ll change,” said his wife. “You’ve plenty of time.”
“This is sheer Bolshevism,” he said. “Is not my soul my own?”
“We shall start,” said Daphne, “in twenty minutes.”
It was nearly half-past ten in the morning of a beautiful summer day, and we were all taking our ease in the sunshine upon the terrace. It was the first Sunday which we had spent all together at White Ladies for nearly five years.
So far as the eye could see, nothing had changed.
At the foot of the steps the great smooth lawn stretched like a fine green carpet, its shadowed patches yet bright with dew. There were the tall elms and the copper beech and all the proud company of spreading giants – what were five years to them? There was the clump of rhododendrons, a ragged blotch of crimson, seemingly spilled upon the green turf, and there the close box hedge that walled away the rose-garden. Beyond the sunk fence a gap showed an acre or so of Bull’s Mead – a great deep meadow, and in it two horses beneath a chestnut tree, their long tails a-swish, sleepily nosing each other to rout the flies; while in the distance the haze of heat hung like a film over the rolling hills. Close at hand echoed the soft impertinence of a cuckoo, and two fat wood-pigeons waddled about the lawn, picking and stealing as they went. The sky was cloudless, and there was not a breath of wind.
The stable clock chimed the half-hour.
My sister returned to the attack.
“Are you coming, Boy?”
“Yes,” said I. “I am.”
Berry sat up and stared at me.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “There’s a service this morning. Besides, they’ve changed the lock of the poor-box.”
“I want to watch the Vicar’s face when he sees you,” said I.
“It will be a bit of a shock,” said Jonah, looking up from the paper. “Is his heart all right?”
“Rotten,” said Daphne. “But that doesn’t matter. I sent him a note to warn him yesterday.”
“What did you say?” demanded her husband.
“I said, ‘
We’re back at last, and – don’t faint – we’re all coming to Church tomorrow, and you’ve got to come back to lunch
.’ And now, for goodness’ sake, go and change.”
“But we shall perspire,” said Berry. “Profusely. To walk half a mile in this sun is simply asking for it. Besides—”
“What’s the car done?” said Jonah. “I’m going, and I can’t hurry with this.” He tapped his short leg affectionately. “We needn’t take Fitch. Boy or I can drive.”
“Right oh,” said my sister, rising. “ Is ten-minutes-to early enough?
“This,” said Berry, “is a conspiracy for which you will all pay. Literally. I shall take the plate round, and from you four I shall accept nothing but paper. Possibly I shall—”
Here the girls fell upon him and bore him protesting into the house and out of earshot.
“Who’s going to look after the car while we’re in church?” said I.
“There’s sure to be somebody ready to earn a couple of bob,” said Jonah. “Besides, we can always disconnect the north-east trunnion, or jack her up and put the wheels in the vestry or something.”
“All right. Only we don’t want her pinched.” With a yawn I rose to my feet. “And now I suppose I’d better go and turn her out.”
“Right oh,” said Jonah, picking up his paper again.
I strolled into the house.
We were proud of the car. She was a 1914 Rolls, and we had bought her at a long price less than a week ago. Fresh from the coach-builder’s, her touring body was painted silver-grey, while her bonnet was of polished aluminium. Fitted with every conceivable accessory, she was very good-looking, charming alike to ride or drive, and she went like the wind. In a word, she did as handsome as she was.
It was eight minutes to eleven as we slid past the lodge and on to the Bilberry road.
Before we had covered two furlongs, we swung round a corner to see a smart two-seater at rest by the dusty hedgerow, and a slight dark girl in fresh blue and white standing with one foot on the step, wiping her dainty fingers on a handful of cotton-waste.
“Agatha!” cried Daphne and Jill. “Stop, Boy, stop!”
Obediently I slowed to a standstill, as my lady came running after us.
“You might have told me,” she panted. “I never knew you were back. And I am so glad.”
“We only arrived on Friday, dear,” said Daphne, and introduced Berry and me. Jonah, it appeared, had met Miss Deriot at tennis in 1914.
“But you had your hair down then,” he said gravely.
“It’s a wonder I haven’t got it down now,” said Miss Deriot. “Why didn’t you come along ten minutes earlier? Then you could have changed my tyre.”
“And why are you driving away from church?” said Jill.
“One of the colts has sprained his shoulder, and we’re out of embrocation; so I’m going to get some from Brooch.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Berry eagerly, preparing to leave the car. “I don’t like to think of you—”
“Nonsense,” said Daphne, detaining him.
“But supposing she has another puncture?”
“Yes, I can see you mending it on a day like this.”
“It’s very kind of you,” said Miss Deriot, with a puzzled smile.
“Don’t thank the fool,” said my sister. “If I thought he’d be the slightest use to you, I’d send him; but he only wants an excuse to get out of going to church.”
“Poor jade,” said her husband. “I am a knight, a simple starlit knight, a Quixote of today. Your brutish instincts—”
“Carry on, Boy,” said Daphne. I let in the clutch. “And come over this afternoon, Agatha, and we’ll tell you all about everything.”
“Yes, do,” cried Jill.
“All right,” said Miss Deriot. “So long.”
Three minutes later I was berthing the car close to the lich-gate in the shade of sweet-smelling limes, that made a trembling screen of foliage within the churchyard wall.
As luck would have it, Will Noggin, once a groom in our service and now a trooper of the Dragoon Guards, was leaning lazily against the grey wall, taking his ease. As we drew abreast of him, he stood to attention and saluted, a pleased grin of recognition lighting his healthy face. We greeted him gladly.
“Glad to see you’re all right, Will,” said Jill.
“Thank you, miss.”
“Aren’t you going to church?” said Daphne.
“Not today, m’m. I’m on leave, and I’ve ’ad my share o’ church parades i’ the last four years, m’m.”
We all laughed.
“Well, if you’re not going,” said I, “we want some one to keep an eye on the car.”
“I’ll do it gladly, sir.”
“Right oh! She’s a pretty piece of goods, isn’t she?”
“She is that, sir,” said Will, visibly impressed.
As I followed the others into the porch, I glanced back to see our sentinel walking about his charge, bending an appreciative gaze upon her points.
They were singing the
On the ledge of our old pew lay a note addressed to “Major Pleydell” in the Vicar’s handwriting. When Berry had read it he passed it to Daphne, and I was able to read it over her shoulder.
Sometimes in the old days you used to read the Lessons. I think we should all like it if you would do so today; but don’t, if you don’t want to.
Yours very sincerely,
In a postscript the writer named the appointed passages of Holy Writ.
So soon as the first Psalm had started Berry stepped to the lectern, found his places and cast his eye over the text. Before the second Psalm was finished, he was once more in his place.
Doors and windows were open as wide as they could be set, and the little church was flooded with light and fresh warm air, that coaxed the edge from the chill of thick stone walls and pillars, and made the frozen pavements cool and refreshing. Mustiness was clean gone, swept from her frequent haunts by the sweet breath of Nature. The “dim, religious light” of Milton’s ordering was this day displaced by Summer’s honest smile, simpler maybe, but no less reverent. And, when the singing was stilled, you overheard the ceaseless sleepy murmur of that country choir of birds and beasts and insects that keeps its rare contented symphony for summer days in which you can find no fault.
My impious eye wandered affectionately over familiar friends – the old oak pews, almost chin-high, the Spanish organ, the reluctant gift of a proud galleon wrecked on the snarling coast ten miles away, the old “three-decker” with its dull crimson cushions and the fringed cloths that hung so stiffly. A shaft of sunlight beat full on an old black hatchment, making known the faded quarterings, while, underneath, a slender panel of brass, but two years old, showed that the teaching of its grim forbear had not been vain.
For so fair a morning, Bilberry village had done well. The church was two-thirds full, and, though there were many strange faces, it was pleasant here and there to recognize one we had known in the old days, and to learn from an involuntary smile that we had not been forgotten.
It was just after the beginning of the Second Lesson that we heard the engine start. There was no mistaking the purr of our Rolls-Royce. For a second the girls and Jonah and I stared at one another, panic-stricken. Then with one impulse we all started instinctively to our feet. As I left the pew I heard Daphne whisper, “Hsh! We can’t all–” and she and Jonah and Jill sank back twittering. Berry’s eyes met mine for an instant as I stepped into the aisle. They spoke volumes, but to his eternal credit his voice never faltered.
I almost ran to the porch, and I reached the lich-gate to see our beautiful car, piloted by a man in a grey hat, scudding up the straight white road, while in her wake tore a gesticulating trooper, shouting impotently, ridiculously out-distanced. Even as I watched, the car flashed round a bend and disappeared.
For a moment I stood still in the middle of the road, stupefied. Then I heard a horn sounded behind me, and I mechanically stepped to one side. Fifty yards away was the two-seater we had encountered on our way to church.
Frantically I signalled to the girl at the wheel. As I did so, a burst of music signified that the Second Lesson had come to an end.
“Whatever’s the matter?” cried Miss Deriot, as she pulled up.
“Somebody’s pinched the Rolls. Will you—”
“Of course. Get in. Which way did they go?”
“Straight ahead,” said I, opening the door.
We were well under way before I had taken my seat. As we came to the bend I threw a glance over my shoulder, to see four figures that I knew standing without the lich-gate. They appeared to be arguing. As we turned the corner a stentorian voice yelled—
“The Bloodstock road, sir! I can see their blinkin’ dust.”
Perched on one of the lower branches of a wayside oak, Will Noggin was pointing a shaking finger in the direction he named.
We were less than three miles from Bloodstock when the off hind tyre burst. Miss Deriot brought the car to the side of the road and stopped in the shadow of an old barn.
“That,” she said, “has just done it.”
I opened the door and stepped down into the road.
“It means a delay when we least want it,” said I ruefully.
“Worse. I’ve had one burst already, and I only brought one spare wheel.”
“Then we are indeed done,” said I. “I’m awfully sorry. Heaven knows how far you are from your home. This comes of helping a comparative stranger. Let it be a lesson to you.”
My companion smiled.
“I don’t mind for myself,” she said, “but what about your car?”
I spread out my hands.
“Reason dictates that I should foot-slog it to Bloodstock and try and get the police moving; but I can’t leave you here.”
“You can easily, but you’re not going to. I don’t want to sit here for the rest of the day.” She pointed to the barn. “Help me to get her in here, and then we’ll push off to Bloodstock together.”
A hurried reconnaissance led to the discovery of a little farmhouse, and two minutes later I was making urgent representations to the owner of the barn. To our relief the latter proved sympathetic and obliging, and before we again took to the road the two-seater was safely under lock and key.
“And now,” said Miss Deriot, “how did it happen?”
“The theft? I can’t imagine. We left that fool who yelled at us in charge. I suppose he left her to get a drink or something. This is only the fourth time we’ve had her out,” I added gloomily.
“Oh, I say! Never mind. You’re bound to get her again. Look at that meadow-sweet. Isn’t it lovely? I wish I could paint. Can you?”
“I painted a key-cupboard once. It was hung, too. Outside the stillroom.”
“Pity you didn’t keep it up,” said Miss Deriot. “It’s a shame to waste talent like that. Isn’t it just broiling? I should love a bathe now.”
“I hope you don’t wear stockings in the water,” said I.
Miss Deriot glanced at her white ankles.
“Is that a reflection?” she demanded.
I shook my head.
“By no manner of means. But there’s a place for everything, isn’t there? I mean—”
We both laughed.
“That’s better,” said my companion. “I couldn’t bear to see you so worried this beautiful morning.”
“My dear,” said I, “you’ve a nice kind heart, and I thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Miss Deriot.
From the crown of her broad-brimmed hat to the soles of her buckskin shoes she was the pink of daintiness. Health was springing in her fresh cheeks, eagerness danced in her eyes, energy leapt from her carriage. Had she been haughty, you would have labelled her “Diana,” and have done with it; but her eyes were gentle, and there was a tenderness about her small mouth that must have pardoned Actaeon. A plain gold wrist-watch on a black silk strap was all her jewellery.