The Summons by A. E. W. Mason

The Summons

subjects: Fiction

Description

Captain Harry Luttrell is a soldier who is not happy where he’s currently stationed – in England, where he’s grown fat with boredom and fears that he will do nothing with his life – and so he’s requested a transfer to Cairo, Egypt. The Olympic Games are currently being held in Cairo and if he transferred, he would have much to do. When the summons for him to transfer arrives, however, he isn’t quite sure he wants to leave. For there is a woman that he is very much attached to that lives in England. And he must decide whether to stay for her, or go to Cairo because if he leaves, he may very well leave the only woman he’s every truly cared for.

Excerpt

“Luttrell! Luttrell!”

Sir Charles Hardiman stood in the corridor of his steam yacht and bawled the name through a closed door. But no answer was returned from the other side of the door. He turned the handle and went in. The night was falling, but the cabin windows looked towards the north and the room was full of light and of a low and pleasant music. For the tide tinkled and chattered against the ship’s planks and, in the gardens of the town across the harbour, bands were playing. The town was Stockholm in the year nineteen hundred and twelve, and on this afternoon, the Olympic games, that unfortunate effort to promote goodwill amongst the nations, which did little but increase rancours and disclose hatreds, had ended, never, it is to be hoped, to be resumed.

“Luttrell,” cried Hardiman again, but this time with perplexity in his voice. For Luttrell was there in the cabin in front of him, but sunk in so deep a contemplation of memories and prospects that the cabin might just as well have been empty. Sir Charles Hardiman touched him on the shoulder.

“Wake up, old man!”

“That’s what I am doing–waking up,” said Luttrell, turning without any start. He was seated in front of the writing-desk, a young man, as the world went before the war, a few months short of twenty-eight.

“The launch is waiting and everybody’s on deck,” continued Hardiman. “We shall lose our table at Hasselbacken if we don’t get off.”

Then he caught sight of a telegram lying upon the writing-table.

“Oh!” and the impatience died out of his voice. “Is anything the matter?”

Luttrell pushed the telegram towards his host.

“Read it! I have got to make up my mind–and now–before we start.”

Hardiman read the telegram. It was addressed to Captain Harry Luttrell, Yacht The Dragonfly, Stockholm, and it was sent from Cairo by the Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army.

 "_I can make room for you, but you must apply immediately to be transferred._"

Hardiman sat down in a chair by the side of the table against the wall, with his eyes on Luttrell’s face. He was a big, softish, overfed man of forty-five, and the moment he began to relax from the upright position, his body went with a run; he collapsed rather than sat. The little veins were beginning to show like tiny scarlet threads across his nose and on the fullness of his cheeks; his face was the colour of wine; and the pupils of his pale eyes were ringed with so pronounced an arcus senilis that they commanded the attention like a disfigurement. But the eyes were shrewd and kindly enough as they dwelt upon the troubled face of his guest.

“You have not answered this?” he asked.

“No. But I must send an answer to-night.”

“You are in doubt?”

“Yes. I was quite sure when I cabled to Cairo on the second day of the games. I was quite sure, whilst I waited for the reply. Now that the reply has come–I don’t know.”

“Let me hear,” said the older man. “The launch must wait, the table at the Hasselbacken restaurant must be assigned, if need be, to other customers.” Hardiman had not swamped all his kindliness in good living. Luttrell was face to face with one of the few grave decisions which each man has in the course of his life to make; and Hardiman understood his need better than he understood it himself. His need was to formulate aloud the case for and against, to another person, not so much that he might receive advice as, that he might see for himself with truer eyes.

“The one side is clear enough,” said Luttrell with a trace of bitterness. “There was a Major I once heard of at Dover. He trained his company in night-marches by daylight. The men held a rope to guide them and were ordered to shut their eyes. The Major, you see, hated stirring out at night. He liked his bridge and his bottle of port. Well, give me another year and that’s the kind of soldier I shall become–the worst kind–the slovenly soldier. I mean slovenly in mind, in intention. Even now I come, already bored, to the barrack square and watch the time to see if I can’t catch an earlier train from Gravesend to London.”

“And when you do?” asked Hardiman.

Luttrell nodded.

“When I do,” he agreed, “I get no thrill out of my escape, I assure you. I hate myself a little more–that’s all.”

“Yes,” said Hardiman. He was too wise a man to ask questions. He just sat and waited, inviting Luttrell to spread out his troubles by his very quietude.