The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason. This book is a reproduction of the original book published in 1903 and may have some imperfections such as marks or hand-written notes.
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Alfred Edward Wooley Mason was born in 1865. He was educated at Dulwich College before going up to Oxford University. Once his formal education was completed, Mason went on to become an actor, which had been an ambition since schooldays. He began his writing career with historical fiction, but then moved into the arena of politics, becoming a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry in 1906. However, his love of writing stayed with him and Mason further developed his repertoire and style to incorporate detective fiction, introducing one of the earliest fictional detectives, Inspector Hanaud, the Gallic counterpart to Sherlock Holmes. His detective fiction contains material clues and spontaneity. Throughout the course of his life Mason produced over thirty titles. The most enduring work is ‘The Four Feathers’ which is the most filmed work of any writer in the 20th century, with seven versions in all. There have also been many other films and plays based on his novels, including the Hanaud series. A.E.W. Mason died in 1948.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Four Feathers
CHAPTER IA Crimean NightLIEUTENANT SUTCH WAS THE FIRST OF GENERAL FEVERSHAM'S guests to reach Broad Place. He arrived about five o'clock on an afternoon of sunshine in mid June, and the old red-brick house, lodged on a southern slope of the Surrey hills, was glowing from a dark forest depth of pines with the warmth of a rare jewel. Lieutenant Sutch limped across the hall, where the portraits of the Fevershams rose one above the other to the ceiling, and went out on to the stone-flagged terrace at the back. There he found his host sitting erect like a boy, and gazing southwards towards the Sussex Downs."How's the leg?" asked General Feversham, as he rose briskly from his chair. He was a small wiry man, and, in spite of his white hairs, alert. But the alertness was of the body. A bony face, with a high narrow forehead and steel-blue inexpressive eyes, suggested a barrenness of mind."It gave me trouble during the winter," replied Sutch. "But that was to be expected." General Feversham nodded, and for a little while both men were silent. From the terrace the ground fell steeply to a wide level plain of brown earth and emerald fields and dark clumps of trees. From this plainvoices rose through the sunshine, small but very clear. Far away towards Horsham a coil of white smoke from a train snaked rapidly in and out amongst the trees; and on the horizon rose the Downs, patched with white chalk."I thought that I should find you here," said Sutch."It was my wife's favourite corner," answered Feversham, in a quite emotionless voice. "She would sit here by the hour. She had a queer liking for wide and empty spaces.""Yes," said Sutch. "She had imagination. Her thoughts could people them."General Feversham glanced at his companion as though he hardly understood. But he asked no questions. What he did not understand he habitually let slip from his mind as not worth comprehension. He spoke at once upon a different topic."There will be a leaf out of our table to-night.""Yes. Collins, Barberton, and Vaughan went this winter. Well, we are all permanently shelved upon the world's half-pay list as it is. The obituary column is just the last formality which gazettes us out of the Service altogether," and Sutch stretched out and eased his crippled leg, which fourteen years ago that day had been crushed and twisted in the fall of a scaling-ladder."I am glad that you came before the others," continued Feversham. "I would like to take your opinion. This day is more to me than the anniversary of our attack upon the Redan. At the very moment when we were standing under arms in the dark--""To the west of the quarries, I remember," interrupted Sutch, with a deep breath. "How should one forget?""At that very moment Harry was born in this house. I thought, therefore, that if you did not object he might join us to-night. He happens to be at home. He will, of course, enter the service, and he might learn something, perhaps, which afterwards will be of use--one never knows.""By all means," said Sutch, with alacrity. For since his visits to General Feversham were limited to the occasion of these anniversary dinners, he had never yet seen Harry Feversham.Sutch had for many years been puzzled as to the qualities in General Feversham which had attracted Muriel Graham, a woman as remarkable for the refinement of her intellect as for the beauty of her person; and he could never find an explanation. He had to be content with his knowledge that for some mysterious reason she had married this man so much older than herself, and so unlike to her in character. Personal courage and an indomitable self-confidence were the chief, indeed the only qualities which sprang to light in General Feversham. Lieutenant Sutch went back in thought over twenty years as he sat on his garden-chair to a time before he had taken part, as an officer of the Naval Brigade, in that unsuccessful onslaught on the Redan. He remembered a season in London to which he had come fresh from the China Station; and he was curious to see Harry Feversham. He did not admit that it was more than the natural curiosity of a man who, disabled in comparative youth, had made a hobby out of the study of human nature. He was interested to see whether the lad took after his mother or his father--that was all.So that night Harry Feversham took a place at the dinner-table and listened to the stories which his elders told, while Lieutenant Sutch watched him. The stories were all of that dark winter in the Crimea, and a fresh story was always in the telling before its predecessor was ended. They were stories of death, of hazardous exploits; of the pinch of famine and the chill of snow. But they were told in clipped words and with a matter-of-fact tone, as though the men who related them were only conscious of them as far-off things; and there was seldom a comment more pronounced than a mere "that's curious," or an exclamation more significant than a laugh.But Harry Feversham sat listening as though the incidents thus carelessly narrated were happening actually at that moment and within the walls of that room. His dark eyes--the eyes of his mother--turned with each story from speaker to speaker, and waited wide-open and fixed until the last word was spoken. He listened fascinated and enthralled. And so vividly did the changes of expression shoot and quiver across his face, that it seemed to Sutch the ladmust actually hear the drone of bullets in the air, actually resist the stunning shock of a charge, actually ride down in the thick of a squadron to where guns screeched out a tongue of flame from a fog. Once a major of artillery spoke of the suspense of the hours between the parading of the troops before a battle and the first command to advance; and Harry's shoulders worked under the intolerable strain of those lagging minutes.But he did more than work his shoulders. He threw a single furtive, wavering glance backwards; and Lieutenant Sutch was startled, and indeed more than startled, he was pained. For this, after all, was Muriel Graham's boy.The look was too familiar a one to Sutch. He had seen it on the faces of recruits during their first experience of a battle too often for him to misunderstand it. And one picture in particular rose before his mind. An advancing square at Inkermann, and a tall big soldier rushing forward from the line in the eagerness of his attack, and then stopping suddenly as though he suddenly understood that he was alone, and had to meet alone the charge of a mounted Cossack. Sutch remembered very clearly the fatal wavering glance which the big soldier had thrown backwards towards his companions--a glance accompanied by a queer sickly smile. He remembered, too, with equal vividness, its consequence. For though the soldier carried a loaded musket and a bayonet locked to the muzzle, he had without an effort of self-defence received the Cossack's lance-thrust in his throat.Sutch glanced hurriedly about the table, afraid that General Feversham, or that some one of his guests, should have remarked the same look and the same smile upon Harry's face. But no one had eyes for the lad; each visitor was waiting too eagerly for an opportunity to tell a story of his own. Sutch drew a breath of relief and turned to Harry. But the boy was sitting with his elbows on the cloth and his head propped between his hands, lost to the glare of the room, and its glitter of silver, constructing again out of the swift succession of anecdotes a world of cries and wounds, and maddened riderless chargers and men writhing in a fog of cannon-smoke. The curtest, least graphic description ofthe biting days and nights in the trenches set the lad shivering. Even his face grew pinched, as though the iron frost of that winter was actually eating into his bones. Sutch touched him lightly on the elbow."You renew those days for me," said he. "Though the heat is dripping down the windows, I feel the chill of the Crimea."Harry roused himself from his absorption."The stories renew them," said he."No. It is you listening to the stories."And before Harry could reply, General Feversham's voice broke sharply in from the head of the table--"Harry, look at the clock!"At once all eyes were turned upon the lad. The hands of the clock made the acutest of angles. It was close upon midnight, and from eight, without so much as a word or a question, he had sat at the dinner-table listening. Yet even now he rose with reluctance."Must I go, father?" he asked, and the General's guests intervened in a chorus. The conversation was clear gain to the lad, a first taste of powder which might stand him in good stead afterwards."Besides, it's the boy's birthday," added the major of artillery. "He wants to stay, that's plain. You wouldn't find a youngster of fourteen sit all these hours without a kick of the foot against the table-leg unless the conversation entertained him. Let him stay, Feversham!"For once General Feversham relaxed the iron discipline under which the boy lived."Very well," said he. "Harry shall have an hour's furlough from his bed. A single hour won't make much difference."Harry's eyes turned towards his father, and just for a moment rested upon his face with a curious steady gaze. It seemed to Sutch that they uttered a question, and, rightly or wrongly, he interpreted the question into words--"Are you blind?"But General Feversham was already talking to his neighbours, and Harry quietly sat down, and again propping his chin upon his hands, listened with all his soul. Yet he wasnot entertained; rather he was enthralled, he sat quiet under the compulsion of a spell. His face became unnaturally white, his eyes unnaturally large, while the flames of the candles shone ever redder and more blurred through a blue haze of tobacco-smoke, and the level of the wine grew steadily lower in the decanters.Thus half of that one hour's furlough was passed; and then General Feversham, himself jogged by the unlucky mention of a name, suddenly blurted out in his jerky fashion--"Lord Wilmington. One of the best names in England, if you please. Did you ever see his house in Warwickshire? Every inch of the ground you would think would have a voice to bid him play the man, if only in remembrance of his fathers ... . It seemed incredible and mere camp rumour, but the rumour grew. If it was whispered at the Alma, it was spoken aloud at Inkermann, it was shouted at Balaclava. Before Sebastopol the hideous thing was proved. Wilmington was acting as galloper to his General. I believe upon my soul the General chose him for the duty, so that the fellow might set himself right. There were three hundred yards of bullet-swept flat ground, and a message to be carried across them. Had Wilmington toppled off his horse on the way, why, there were the whispers silenced for ever. Had he ridden through alive he earned distinction besides. But he didn't dare, he refused! Imagine it if you can! He sat shaking on his horse, and declined. You should have seen the General. His face turned the colour of that Burgundy. 'No doubt you have a previous engagement,' he said, in the politest voice you ever heard--just that, not a word of abuse. A previous engagement on the battle-field! For the life of me I could hardly help laughing. But it was a tragic business for Wilmington. He was broken, of course, and slunk back to London. Every house was closed to him, he dropped out of his circle like a lead bullet you let slip out of your hand into the sea. The very women in Piccadilly spat if he spoke to them; and he blew his brains out in a back bedroom off the Haymarket. Curious that, eh? He hadn't the pluck to face the bullets when his name was at stake, yet he could blow his own brains out afterwards."Lieutenant Sutch chanced to look at the clock as the story came to an end. It was now a quarter to one. Harry Fev ersham had still a quarter of an hour's furlough, and that quarter of an hour was occupied by a retired surgeon-general with a great wagging beard, who sat nearly opposite to the boy."I can tell you an incident still more curious," he said."The man in this case had never been under fire before, but he was of my own profession. Life and death were part of his business. Nor was he really in any particular danger. The affair happened during a hill campaign in India. We were encamped in a valley, and a few Pathans used to lie out on the hillside at night and take long shots into the camp. A bullet ripped through the canvas of the hospital tent--that was all. The surgeon crept out to his own quarters, and his orderly discovered him half an hour afterwards lying in his blood stone dead.""Hit?" exclaimed the Major."Not a bit of it," said the surgeon. "He had quietly opened his instrument-case in the dark, taken out a lancet, and severed his femoral artery. Sheer panic, do you see, at the whistle of a bullet."Even upon these men, case-hardened to horrors, the incident related in its bald simplicity wrought its effect. From some there broke a half-uttered exclamation of disbelief; others moved restlessly in their chairs with a sort of physical discomfort, because a man had sunk so far below humanity. Here an officer gulped his wine, there a second shook his shoulders as though to shake the knowledge off as a dog shakes water. There was only one in all that company who sat perfectly still in the silence which followed upon the story. That one was the boy Harry Feversham.He sat with his hands now clenched upon his knees and leaning forward a little across the table towards the surgeon; his cheeks white as paper, his eyes burning and burning with ferocity. He had the look of a dangerous animal in the trap. His body was gathered, his muscles taut. Sutch had a fear that the lad meant to leap across the table and strike with all his strength in the savagery of despair. He had indeed reached out a restraining hand when GeneralFeversham's matter-of-fact voice intervened, and the boy's attitude suddenly relaxed."Queer incomprehensible things happen. Here are two of them. You can only say they are the truth and pray God you may forget 'em. But you can't explain. For you can't understand."Sutch was moved to lay his hand upon Harry's shoulder."Can you?" he asked, and regretted the question almost before it was spoken. But it was spoken, and Harry's eyes turned swiftly towards Sutch, and rested upon his face, not, however, with any betrayal of guilt, but quietly, inscrutably. Nor did he answer the question, although it was answered in a fashion by General Feversham."Harry understand!" exclaimed the General with a snort of indignation. "How should he? He's a Feversham."The question, which Harry's glance had mutely put before, Sutch in the same mute way repeated. "Are you blind?" his eyes asked of General Feversham. Never had he heard an untruth so demonstrably untrue. A mere look at the father and the son proved it so. Harry Feversham wore his father's name, but he had his mother's dark and haunted eyes, his mother's breadth of forehead, his mother's delicacy of profile, his mother's imagination. It needed perhaps a stranger to recognise the truth. The father had been so long familiar with his son's aspect that it had no significance to his mind."Look at the clock, Harry."The hour's furlough had run out. Harry rose from his chair, and drew a breath."Good night, sir," he said, and wa...
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