I love The Blue Castle. I love it more than my life. I hope you do too.
At length Valancy and Barney were persuaded to visit the Doc at what he called his "country seat" for a shooting and country-festivities party. It was an enormous, modern house he had built which was, if possible, even more tacky than his city home, but it did have a lot of very nice woods and fields around it. When they arrived, they were astonished to find, instead of a small collection of close friends, that the Doc had invited two score of people to stay and hunt.
In answer to Barney's exasperation, the Doc merely twinkled, "Now now now, if I'd told you I'd never have gotten you in the door. After all, I've never had the chance to show off my nice new daughter-in-law! You must let me have this one party, to make up for lost years."
The Doc counted among his acquaintance several old money businessmen and lawyers from Toronto, one of whom had a son who was quite familiar with Muskoka. William Ardmore, better known as Billy, had but recently graduated law school. Like many of his ilk he was charming and funny and quite good-looking, if you liked ad-collar men. He was highly complimentary of Muskoka and reminisced at length on his days there, which endeared him to Valancy and Barney immediately.
"I must say that the women of that shadowed country are most particularly beautiful," he said flatteringly, and he and Barney raised their glasses to Valancy who sat between them with an ironical smile teasing the corners of her lips. "I remember feeling just like Paris when I stayed there for any length of time. I recall several ladies at my hotel would be quite sporting about getting up a tennis match or two. And there was one very pretty girl who worked at the Cypress, absolutely the kindest and sweetest girl I think I've ever met. No siree, I doubt you'll find women nicer or prettier than up in Muskoka...say, old Bern, that's a good catch!" For Barney had nearly dropped his glass of cider.
"What was her name?" Valancy asked casually, because she knew Barney could not.
"Whose?" Billy said unconcernedly as he helped himself to another champagne from a hovering servant.
"The girl who worked at the Cypress." Valancy smiled as winningly as she could, but a chill had come over her heart. Perhaps Billy sensed it, or perhaps his conscience awoke within him, because he suddenly flushed and a wary look stole across his handsome face.
"Oh," he said stiffly, "I don't remember. It was C-something-or-other. Caroline, I think."
"It was Cecilia," Barney spat, and this time he didn't catch his drink as it fell. He stood abruptly and towered over Billy, whose handsome face suddenly looked jelly-like and indecisive in Barney's shadow. The clink of shattering glass went unnoticed; champagne had flowed freely for several hours now and the chatter of the guests more closely resembled a roar.
"Oh...yes, I suppose it was. Did you...did you know her?" Billy looked positively frightened now, and he glanced at Valancy appealingly for help. She just stood and said coldly to him,
"Yes, I knew her. If you gentlemen will excuse me," and stalked away, leaving Billy to Barney's tender mercies.
A few minutes later Barney found her standing at the banister of a back stairway that led upstairs. He held her and tried to calm her shaking.
"What did you say to that...that person?" she asked tensely.
"Well," Barney said quietly, "I told him that his son had died, and its mother had followed, and that he was right about one thing: she was the kindest and sweetest girl. Then I mentioned that some time ago I had made myself a promise concerning the unworthy ruiner of that poor girl, and that if he didn't want to find out what it was he'd better clear out and never show his face to me again. I don't expect we'll have to see him again."
Valancy sighed, half with relief and half with disappointment. "I wish there were something I could do...but Cissy forgave him, you know. She told me just before she died. It doesn't seem right for me to hate him when she didn't."
"I know," said Barney gravely. "I feel the same way." And they retreated upstairs to comfort one another in solitude.
The next morning Barney and Valancy awoke early. Valancy couldn't bring herself to join the shooting party; even if she had ever held a gun in her life she would have broken her heart every time she injured a bird or a rabbit. But Barney had high hopes that the morning's sport would help relieve his agitation. Neither of them expected to see Billy Ardmore queuing up with the other shooters in the party, but at half past eight there he was, looking rather pale and nervous despite his obvious attempts at jocularity. Valancy noticed he kept close to Ardmore Sr., who kept slapping his son on the back and booming, "I don't see what you wanted to miss all this for, why the fun's only about to start! My son," he continued to whoever would listen, "Wanted to join a shooting party and hightail it the night before the shooting starts! Didja ever hear such a thing?" There were guffaws. Barney set his jaw grimly and Valancy watched him a trifle anxiously. After a moment she kissed him on the cheek and retreated indoors with a shadow on her heart. The hunting party strode away.
They hadn't been gone more than half an hour before Valancy heard the commotion of their return. She hurried to the window and stared anxiously, willing her eyes to make out the figures striding across the lawn. Several of them were carrying someone. Oh God, let it not be Barney! she thought, too frightened even to mouth the words aloud. But she soon saw that Barney was among the walking, that he seemed to be talking very fast, and his face, when at last she could make out its details, seemed most sincerely concerned.
Into the drawing room came the horde, and they deposited their load on a couch that was immediately surrounded by the fussing wives and daughters of the hunters. Barney sought Valancy's eye and gave her a wink, never once dropping his solicitous expression. Several men seemed to be comforting Barney, which seemed odd since it was Billy on the couch yowling as loudly as Banjo after he caught his own tail. Billy's right knee was bleeding profusely; it had already soaked through several towels. Valancy gradually made out the words "Redfern" and "deliberate!" through his garbled yells.
"Be quiet, please!" Valancy said firmly, and the babble died down. "Jenny, will you call for a doctor. Mr. Ardmore, what on earth have you done to your leg?"
"I done? What have I done? What has he done! I was just standing behind a tree and your rotten husband took a pot-shot at me! He did it on purpose, I know he did!"
"Come now," said a colonel soothingly. "That's nonsense, Mr. Redfern here wouldn'a shot anyone on purpose. We're hunting rabbits, not house-guests!" The crowd chuckled appreciatively, which Billy did not take well.
"He did it on purpose! I know he did, he's taken a dislike to me!" Barney looked convincingly shocked. The crowd muttered.
"Mr. Ardmore," said Valancy calmly, "How can Barney have taken a dislike to you? Why, you two have never met before last night! I thought you were getting on famously! What can you have done in so short a time?" The crowd nodded its agreement.
"What have I done? I've done nothing, I...I...he's a madman, he ought to be put away!" The crowd looked glared mutinously and Barney looked positively saintlike.
"Now, now," said the Colonel, "No need for name-calling. Why, don't you know this whole get-up is in honor of his marriage?" Valancy bowed her head modestly and several women sighed. "Why, what man wants to shoot a fella on his honeymoon?" The crowd tittered.
"Mr. Ardmore," Valancy said distinctly, "If you think Barney shot at you on purpose you must have some good reason for thinking so. After all, that's a very serious accusation. But you strike me as a very honorable man, and I wouldn't dream of taking your words lightly. I feel sure we can reach the bottom of this affair. What is it that makes you believe Barney would have some reason to dislike you?"
Billy flushed purple and his cheeks puffed out; he looked quite terrible in his rage, but at length his color faded and left him white. His whole body sagged and he muttered, "I guess it must have been an accident."
"What was that, Mr. Ardmore?" Valancy prodded ingenuously. "I'm sorry, I didn't really hear you." The crowd laughed.
"Oh all right!" Billy spat. "I guess it must have been an accident." He folded his arms petulantly. "Where's that doctor?"
The Colonel cleared his throat. The crowd looked at him expectantly. "Well," he said, "that seems to clear it up. But-" he raised his eyebrows significantly at Billy "-don't you think it was a little unfair to jump to such a hasty conclusion?" Billy's face sagged still further; he looked likely to melt into the cushions soon. Barney, who had been suppressing laughter for at least five minutes, made an effort to compose himself as the eyes of the crowd lit upon him as one.
"Mrrghl." said Billy.
"Pardon?" said Barney blandly.
"Sorry, old chap," Billy blurted. "All a misunderstanding." He was breathing heavily but trying hard to look nonchalant, as if any part of it really had been a misunderstanding.
"Quite all right," Barney said. "Ahh, and here's the doc. Well, we'll leave you to your convalescence." The crowd dispersed, talked excitedly and very clearly well pleased with the morning's excitement. Barney and Valancy stole away to a shaded path in the gardens.
"Barney, did you really shoot him on purpose?"
"Yeah," said Barney.
"Good," said Valancy vehemently.
"I feel kind of bad about it, actually," Barney admitted.
"Well, I suppose I should too; after all, he's still a human being..."
"No, it's not that," said Barney. "It's just, I was aiming a good deal higher and a little to the left."