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Title: Table d'Hôte
Author: Ridge, W. Pett (William Pett)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Table d'Hôte" ***

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                          [Picture: Book cover]



                               TABLE D’HÔTE


                                * * * * *

                                    BY
                              W. PETT RIDGE

                                * * * * *

                           HODDER AND STOUGHTON
                    LONDON      NEW YORK      TORONTO

                                * * * * *

                            _Printed in_ 1911



TABLE D’HÔTE

                                               PAGE
HORS D’ŒUVRES      The Target                    17
                   Surroundings                  65
                   The Usurper                   95
                   The Leading Lady             121
                   Scotter’s Luck               149
                   Young Nuisances              193
JOINTS             Change of Government           1
                   Moving Pictures               25
                   Country Confederates          49
                   Retiring Inspector            75
                   Time’s Methods               131
                   Means of Transport           159
                   My Brother Edward            203
                   Savoir Faire                 223
SWEETS             Jules Zwinger           105
                   Irene Mercer            179
SAVOURY            Magnificent Remedies    241

CONTENTS

                                      PAGE
       I  CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT           1
      II  THE TARGET                    17
     III  MOVING PICTURES               25
      IV  COUNTRY CONFEDERATES          49
       V  SURROUNDINGS                  65
      VI  RETIRING INSPECTOR            75
     VII  THE USURPER                   95
    VIII  JULES ZWINGER                105
      IX  THE LEADING LADY             121
       X  TIME’S METHOD                131
      XI  SCOTTER’S LUCK               149
     XII  MEANS OF TRANSPORT           159
    XIII  IRENE MERCER                 179
     XIV  YOUNG NUISANCES              193
      XV  MY BROTHER EDWARD            203
     XVI  SAVOIR FAIRE                 223
    XVII  MAGNIFICENT REMEDIES         241



I—CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT


“BOOTS!” he roared, for the second time.  His wife, opening the kitchen
door, looked in, and surveyed him.

“If I have to order you,” said Mr. Baynes, speaking with great
distinctness, “to come and take off my boots again, I shall dock half a
crown off your weekly allowance to-morrow.”

She did not answer.

“My best plan,” he went on, “will be to draw it all up in black and
white, so that we can have a clear and proper understandin’ one with the
other.  We must have a proper system of fines, same as they do in every
well-regulated business.  Fetch the pen and ink and paper.”

“How would it be to fetch it for yourself?”

He stared at her amazedly.  Searching his pockets, he found there a small
memorandum-book and a short piece of pencil.

“I’m going to keep calm with you,” he said deliberately, “because, so far
as I can see, you’ve taken leave, for the present, of your senses.
You’ll be sorry for it when you come back to ’em.  Now then, let’s make
out a list.  ‘For not answering when called, one shilling.’”

He wrote this carefully on a page, regarding it with satisfaction at the
finish.  “See what that means?  That means, for every time you pretend to
be deaf when I shout at you, you’ll be docked a bob at the end of the
week.”

“I see.”

“Just as well you do,” remarked Baynes threateningly.  “We will now
proceed to the next item: ‘Food not cooked to W. B.’s satisfaction,
one-and-six.’  How many t’s in ‘satisfaction’?”

“Many as you like.”

“Impudence,” he continued, writing as he spoke, “one-and-three.  Wait a
bit; I haven’t finished yet.  ‘Clean collar not ready when required,
sixpence.’”

“There won’t be anything left,” mentioned his wife, “if you put many more
down.”

“Rests with you,” giving a careless gesture.  “All you’ve got to do is to
see that none of these rules are broken.  I shall take the trouble
presently of copying out the list, and you’ll do well to stick it up on
the wall in some prominent position, so that you can be reminded of it
several times in the course of the day.”

“And when any of my relatives look in they can see it too?”

“Reminds me,” he said, taking his pencil again.  “‘Relations, two a
month.  All in excess of this number, fourpence per relation.’  Take the
list and read it out to me, and then kneel down and take off my boots as
I ordered you to do some considerable time ago.”

Mrs. Baynes accepted the list, inspected it; then tore the page into
several pieces and threw these into the fireplace.  In the pocket of an
underskirt she found a purse, and from this brought four new banknotes.

“Have a good look at them, William,” she said.  “You won’t get a chance
of seeing them again.  I’m just going along to the Post Office to put
them away before it closes.”

“How—how did you come by them?”

“I’m not bound to answer you,” remarked Mrs. Baynes, “but perhaps I may
as well.  The money has come to me from poor Uncle Ernest, who popped off
last month.  He’s left a sim’lar amount to my two sisters.”

“You was his favourite,” said Baynes, “and if he’d got money to leave—and
this is the first I’ve heard of it—he ought to have left it all to you.
I must have a glance at his will and see whether we can’t dispute it.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind.”

“In any case,” he went on, “there is, I’m bound to admit, a very decent
little nest-egg for us.”

“Not for us.  For me,” corrected Mrs. Baynes.  “It belongs to me and only
to me.  You haven’t anything to do with it.”

“I’ve heard,” he remarked, “of sudden riches affecting the brain, but
this is the first time I’ve actually come across such an instance.”  He
bent and started to unlace his boots.  “We’ll talk the matter over again
later on.  By the by,” relacing his boots, “there’s no reason why you
should go out on a wet night like this and catch your death of cold.
I’ll trot along to the Post Office for you.  I’m more used to handling
money than what you are.”

“That’s been the case hitherto,” she admitted, “but I must learn how to
do it now.  You stay here and enjoy your pipe, and when I come back I’ll
tell you how you’ve got to behave to me in the future.”

“I suppose,” he inquired with some bitterness, “I’ve got your precious
sisters to thank for all this?”

“No,” she answered, “poor Uncle Ernest.”

Baynes, on the following morning, before proceeding to work, denied
himself the luxury of issuing commands to his wife from the front gate in
a tone of voice that could be heard by neighbours; instead he blew a kiss
in her direction and walked off, whistling in a thoughtful way.  Later in
the day he brought home the proportion of his weekly wage and placed it
on the mantelpiece, announcing no deductions and giving no warning to
make it last out.  He tried to assist his wife in the performance of
domestic duties, persisting in this until she begged him to go out into
the park and give her a chance of finishing the work.  On the next day he
accompanied her to chapel in the evening, and borrowed threepence from
her to put into the plate.  Meeting two or three friends on the way back,
he declined their invitations and went home with his wife, discussing the
sermon and the singing.  In response to her appeal he agreed to abstain
on future occasions from joining in the hymns.  The Sunday paper was
still on the hat-stand, and on entering the house he asked whether she
would mind if he had a look at it during supper, his general habit being
to secure the journal and keep it for his own use throughout the day.

“This is very nice and comfortable,” he said, after the meal.  “Somehow,
that little legacy of yours, if you’ll pardon the expression, my dear,
seems to me likely to prove a blessing in disguise.”

“No disguise about it.”

“You don’t quite follow me,” he remarked patiently.  “What I mean is that
it’s going to have bigger results than I at first anticipated.  Of
course, it’s a pity there isn’t more of it.”

“Seeing that I never expected nothing—”

“Quite so, quite so.  Only that the Post Office pays such a trifling rate
of interest.”

“The money’s safe there,” she interrupted, “that’s the great thing.”

“I should be the last to recommend anything that wasn’t perfectly and
absolutely sound,” declared Baynes.  “We’re on good terms with each other
now, and your interests are my interests.  We two are one, so to speak.
Only that, getting about as I do, I keep my ears open—”

“Listeners never hear any good of themselves.”

“But sometimes they hear good about other matters.  Two chaps were
talking on the tramcar last week, and I was sitting just at the back.
Jockeys from the look of ’em.  They didn’t know I was taking in all they
were saying, and they talked quite freely to each other, just as I might
to you in this room.  Vinolia was what they were chatting about.”

“Old Brown Windsor is as good as anything.”

“Vinolia, it appears,” he continued, “is being kept very dark, but the
owner’s made an arrangement, so far as I could gather, for it to win the
race it’s running in next week, and no one except those that are in the
stable—  Why, bless my soul, if this isn’t the rummiest coincidence I
ever come across in all my born days.  I’m talking to you about Vinolia,
and here my eye lights on the very name.  Thirty-three to one.  Let’s see
what it says about it.  ‘Vinolia appears to stand no earthly chance, and
we are at a loss to comprehend why the owner should take the trouble to
run him.’”

“What does thirty-three to one mean, William?”

“Thirty-three to one means,” he explained, “that if you handed me your
money and I placed it for you, and Vinolia came in first, you’d get
thirty-three times the amount, together with your original money, back.
But the risk is a jolly sight too great, and I recommend you, speaking as
a friend, to have nothing whatever to do with it.  Besides, with me, it’s
a matter of principle.  I object to gambling _in toto_.  I look on
gambling as one of the curses of the country.  People win money at it,
and it thor’ly demoralises ’em.  They bring off something successful that
means they’ve cleared as much as they could earn by honest labour in six
or seven weeks, perhaps more; consequence is that they get altogether
unhinged.  Upsets ’em.  Knocks ’em off the main line.  So my advice to
you, old girl, is to put what I’ve been saying clean out of your head,
and not trouble any further about it.  After all, supposing you had
thirty-three times as much as you’ve got at present, it doesn’t by any
means follow you’d be thirty-three times as happy.  That’s the way you’ve
got to look at it!”

“But supposing—”

“My dear,” he said, putting down the newspaper, “we’ve been getting on
particular well together this last forty-eight hours or so; don’t let us
begin arguing and spoil it.  I’ve been into the law of the matter, and I
find I’ve got no right to touch your money in any way whatsoever, but
it’s my positive duty to see that you don’t do anything silly and stupid
with it.”

“It’s mine to do what I like with.”

“Let’s change the subject,” urged Baynes, “and have a nice talk over old
times.  When do you reckon it was you first felt drawn towards me?”

Mrs. Baynes brought downstairs an hour later her Post Office book, and
announced that she had been giving five minutes of serious thought to the
matter.  Seemed to her that here was a chance of a lifetime, and to
neglect it would only mean perpetual remorse.  He pointed out once more
the serious risks run by those who backed horses, and submitted a large
number of objections.  These she brushed aside.  On asking how she
proposed to set about backing Vinolia, it was admitted that here his help
would be required.  Baynes declared he intended to take no share or part
in the undertaking.

“Very well, then,” she said, “I shall have to make inquiries and see
about doing it myself.”

“Rather than you should be taken in by a set of rogues,” he conceded,
“I’ll do as you wish.  But, mind you, I’m acting in entire opposition to
my better judgment!”

                                * * * * *

Baynes, back from work on the day of the race, found his wife waiting at
the front gate, tapping at it impatiently; as he came within six houses
of his home, he shook his head.  She took up the hem of her apron, and
with this to her eyes ran indoors.  From the kitchen he roared a command
to her to come down and leave off snivelling and make herself useful.
Obtaining no reply, he took the trouble to go to the foot of the stairs
and make the formal announcement that, unless she descended at once, he
would break every bone in her body.  She came, red-eyed, and, kneeling,
unlaced his boots.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” he remarked sternly.  “Every word I
uttered has proved to be true.  All your money gone, and your poor Uncle
Ernest, if he’s looking down, or up, as the case may be, must feel
sorry—”

“Don’t, William, don’t!”

“Oh, but I’m going to tell you the truth,” he said with determination.
“I’m not the man to mince my words.  You get no sympathy out of me.
There’s only yourself to blame, and you’ve got to recognise the fact.
I’m not going to have you going about saying that you was recommended to
back the horse by other people.  What you did, you did with your eyes
open.”

“Where did it come in?”

“Don’t interrupt me,” shouted Baynes, “when I’m talking!  Been and lost
the thread of my argument now.  Besides, what does it matter where it
came in?  You asked me to back the horse to win; there was nothing said
about backing it for a place.  As I told you, I couldn’t get thirty-three
to one; but I did, after a lot of trouble, manage to put your money on at
twenty-five.  I’ve behaved straightforward throughout the entire
business, and, now it’s over, all I ask is that nothing more shall be
said about it.  I’m sick and tired of the whole affair.  Perhaps another
time you’ll listen to me when I give you good advice.”

“I shall never back a horse again,” she declared tearfully.

“You’ll never get the chance.  Take the jug, and hurry off, and mind
you’re back here sharp.  I shall give you five minutes; if you’re a
second later, there’ll be a fine of sixpence.  That’s an item to be added
to the list.  ‘Loitering and gossiping when sent on errands, six d.’
Go!” he ordered, placing his watch on the table.

He was pinning the sheet of notepaper to the wall at the side of the
looking-glass when his wife returned.  Glancing at the watch, he waited
grimly for her explanation.

“Had to wait,” she said, “and find a boy selling evening newspapers.”

“And what might you want, pray, with evening newspapers?  Furthermore,
where’s the jug?”

“If you want beer, fetch it!” she replied.  “That was a good joke of
yours about the horse, but you’d better not let me catch you being quite
so funny again.  It upset me, and I don’t like being upset.”

He snatched the journal from her.  She compelled him to give it back and
to take it properly.  In the stop-press space he read out: “Vinolia, one;
Gay Lothario, two; Messenger Boy, three.”

Baynes stood gazing at the fire, making the clicking noises with his
tongue which folk adopt when, in disconcerting circumstances, speech
fails.

“I’ve been figuring it out in my head,” she went on, “but I can’t make it
come twice alike.  Tear down that bit of paper and sit yourself there and
reckon it up for me.  Twenty-five times—”

“I can’t do it.  I can’t do it.”

“Don’t you start being stupid,” commanded Mrs. Baynes.  “Do as I tell
you.”

Baynes had written the figures, and was about to enter on the task of
multiplication, with one hand gripping the top of his head, when he
suddenly threw away the pencil.

“My dear,” he said, “I want you to be so kind as to listen to me, and I
must ask you not to be madder than you can possibly help.  I admit the
case is somewhat trying; but you have to remember that we all have our
cross to bear.  I never backed that horse!”

A pause of some moments in length.

“You mean,” said his wife slowly, “to look me in the face and to tell me
that, after what you overheard on the tramcar—”

“I never overheard nothing of the kind on the tramcar.”

“Perhaps, William, you’ll kindly tell me what horse you did put the money
on?”

“I never,” he answered, “put no money on any horse whatsoever.”

“Then where is the money?”

“In the inside pocket of the jacket I’m wearing at the present moment,”
he said sulkily.

“But what did you intend to do with it?”

“Hadn’t quite made up my mind about that.  Idea was to prevent you from
lording it over me.  You see, my dear, I’d got accustomed to being
master, and the sudden change was a bit trying.  And in picking out what
I thought was the unlikeliest gee-gee, I acted from the purest of
motives, and for what I reckoned the best for all parties concerned.  If
I made a mistake, I’m sorry for it.”

“Do you realise, William, that if you’d obeyed my orders we should have
been in a position to buy a nice little house of our own here in Old
Ford, and never had to pay a week’s rent again?  Do you understand how
much you owe me?  Do you comprehend—”

“My dear,” he appealed, putting his hands together, “let me off as light
as you can.  I won’t go lording it about the place any more.  In future,
I’ll only lord it over myself.”



II—THE TARGET


THE woman stepped on so many toes in making her way to the far end that
the passengers were only willing to give partial forgiveness when, as the
motor-omnibus started, she gave a violent jerk.

“First time I’ve ever been in one of these new-fangled contrivances.”

“It’ll be the last, if you ain’t careful,” said the conductor, punching a
penny ticket.

“But I made up my mind to do it,” addressing the others.  “Down in the
country where I live, they’ve been throwing it up agenst me for some time
past.  And so I determined, next time I come up to see my sister, I’d
take a trip by one of them, jest in order to see what happened, and—here
I are.”

A youth next to her, with a girl companion, mentioned that it was a pity
they so often exploded, and blew up in the air; the girl jerked with her
elbow and begged him not to make her laugh in public.

“You think there’s any likelihood?” asked the country lady tremulously.
“I don’t want to get mixed up in no fatal accident, and see my name in
the London papers.  Shan’t never hear the end of it if that happens.  Do
they make any warning before they go off pop?”

The passengers gave up all attempt to read, and offered her their
complete attention.  “So painful for friends,” said a woman opposite,
winking at the rest.  “Understand what I mean.  Having to come and sort
out the bits, and say, ‘That looks like Uncle James’s ear; if I could
only find the other one, I should be able to start piecing him together.’
You see, they don’t allow compensation unless you can produce the
complete individual.”

“That don’t seem exactly fair.”

“It isn’t fair,” agreed the humorous woman.  “But there’s lots of things
like that here in London.  For instance, if the inspector came in now,
and found you sitting up in the first-class part of the car, he’d want to
charge you excess.”

“In that case,” she said affrightedly, taking a grip of her parcel, “I’d
better move down nearer towards the door.”

They made room for her in the newly selected position; the folk there not
disguising their satisfaction with the change.  The string of the parcel
came undone, and they assisted her in recovering the contents.  “Giving
everybody a lot of trouble,” she remarked penitently; “and that ain’t my
usual plan, not by no manner of means.  Can I temp’ you with a apple,
sir?  I don’t know you, and I hope you’ll excuse what looks like a
liberty, but if you’re a judge of a Ribston pippin, you’ll enjoy that
one.”

“I recollect,” said the man, “what ’appened in the Garden of Eden.”

“That were before my time,” she said, putting it back into her pocket.
“But I always like to reward kindness wherever I come across it.  And I
must say you London folk are partic’lar nice to strangers.  Nothing you
won’t do for them.  When I get back home, I shall tell my neighbours how
pleasant you’ve been to me.  What’s that building supposed to be, may I
ask?”  Pointing through the window at Bayswater Road.

“That,” answered the man, “is a monument put up to Julius Cæsar.  The
chap, you know, who was in the Battle of Trafalgar.”

“I remember.  At least, I say I remember; but that’s a lie.  I recollect
reading about it when I was at school.  And isn’t this a nice open part
here, too!  Trees, and goodness knows what all!”

“Richmon’ Park,” explained her informant readily.  “That’s the proper
name of it.”

“Thought that was situated a long way out.”

“It’s been moved.”

“Ah, well,” she said resignedly, “I find the best plan in London is to
take everything as it comes.  What I’ve always been hoping—  But there,
it’s no use talking about what isn’t likely to happen.”  They pressed for
details.  “It would be too much like luck for it to occur to me.  But
what I’ve always wished for was that I might catch sight, just for once
in my life, of the new King and Queen—”

Two passengers called her attention eagerly to a couple walking along by
the railings, arm-in-arm; gave a fervid assurance.

“Well, well, well!” fanning herself with an ungloved hand.  “To think of
him strolling along with a pipe in his mouth, for all the world like an
ordinary individual!  And not over-dressed neither.  That’s something
more for me to tell ’em when I get home.  Wouldn’t have missed the sight
for anything.  But I were always under the impression that he was a
gentleman with a beard.”

“Shaves it off, just about this time, every year.”

“I see,” she remarked contentedly.  “More for the sake of change, I
suppose, than anything.  Talking of that, I suppose there’s nobody here
could oblige me with silver for a sovereign?”

Out of sheer gratitude to an admirable target, they found the coins she
required, and in giving her thanks she mentioned that the sooner now that
she reached Notting Hill the better she would be pleased.  They seemed to
have a desire to conceal the truth, but the conductor happened to
overhear the statement; he rang the bell sharply and informed her she was
going in the wrong direction.  She asked him to explain, pointing out
that his conveyance certainly bore the words Notting Hill, and suggesting
that he was possibly making a mistake; the delay to the motor-omnibus
induced her fellow-travellers to declare that the conductor was telling
the truth, and she bade them separately and collectively goodbye,
expressing a hope that she might be so fortunate as to meet them again on
some future visit to town.

“And which way do I go now, young man?”

“You get off the step,” replied the irritated conductor.  “You cross the
roadway.  You take a ’bus going West.”

“Which do you call West?”

The motor-omnibus restarted.  Passengers gazed amusedly at her, craning
necks in the hope of witnessing one more diverting incident; as she
vanished they became quite friendly, wondering whether she would ever
reach her destination, and speaking of the simplicity and foolishness of
country folk.

“What do you make of this sovereign, conductor?”

The conductor, testing it with the aid of his teeth, announced he was
able to make nothing of it; he doubted whether the owner would succeed.
Alarmed, the rest of the passengers searched muffs and pockets; three
purses were missing, and some articles of less value.  Frantic inquiries
for the nearest police-station.  A man who had lost nothing said he
suspected the country lady all along.

“What we ought to be uncommon thankful for,” said the conductor, stopping
near Edgware Road, “is that she didn’t pinch the blooming ’bus!”



III—MOVING PICTURES


“I SHOULD never have come to you,” he said, making a furious dash under
his signature, “only that I’ve been rather annoyed and upset.”

“She was clearly in the wrong, I suppose?”

“Absolutely!” he declared, with emphasis.  “It’s made me feel that I want
to get away for a time from everything and everybody.  And yours is the
only establishment of its kind.  Cheque’s all right, I hope?”

“I hope so, too,” said the voice.  And called out, “Pass one!”  A curtain
pulled aside and the young man, his chin out determinedly, moved.  “Take
the four slips, please.  You’ll have to fill them in.”

A reading candlestick with a reflector stood in the corner of the dark
room, which had a faint scent of burnt hay, and he went across to it
carefully, but not so carefully as to escape collision, in which a
hassock appeared to be the less injured party.  An extended easy-chair
permitted itself to be seen within reach of the shaded light, and he sat
upon this and read the instructions printed at the head of slip Number
One.  “Please Write Distinctly” prefaced the three or four precise and
dogmatically worded rules.  He took a pencil, wrote out his desire, and
settled back in the long chair.  A hand presented to him a pipe that
looked a ruler, and he took two short whiffs.

                                * * * * *

His feeling of accumulated annoyance vanished on realising the instant
result.  Here he was, in the very centre of the old-fashioned winter he
had ordered, stamping up and down in the snow that powdered the
courtyard; through the archway he identified the main thoroughfare as
Holborn.  A cheerful cloud and an agreeable scent of coffee came from the
doorway, and through the doorway came also at intervals apprehensive
travellers, who gave a look of relief on discovering that the stage coach
had not set off without them.  Ostlers brought sturdy horses from the
stables, horses that seemed anxious to do right, but somehow failed at
every point to conciliate the men, who on their side did not attempt to
hide opinions.  The youth advanced across the cobble-stones and inquired
at what hour the stage coach was supposed to start; the ostler gave an
answer almost identical in terms with the fierce denunciation used to the
animals.  The coarseness staggered him until he remembered the year, and
the absence of education in the lives of the class to which the ostler
belonged.  He turned to speak to the driver.

“Not what I call cold,” answered the driver, snatching a piece of straw
from a truss and starting to chew it.  “Remember January in ’27?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“That was a teaser,” said the coachman.  He gave four slaps to each
shoulder.  “Snowed up jest afore we got to Reading.  No chance of escape.
Not a bit of food after the third day.  Fortunately, the guard was a
plumpish man; Tom Bates his name was; the chap who’s with us to-day is
thin, I’m sorry to say.  Bates’s widow took it very well, considerin’ how
onreasonable some women are.  Course, the passengers made a collection
for her.  Tottled up poor Tom, they did, and paid for him at the rate of
eightpence a pound.  As she very properly remarked, it isn’t every widow
that can say of her late husband that he was worth his weight in copper.”

The young man offered his cigar-case, and the driver, with a dexterous
scoop, took the whole of the contents and dropped them into one of his
enormous pockets.

“It’s the outside passengers that suffer most,” the driver went on.  “You
recollect that case of a gen’leman on the box-seat a year ago this very
day?  Don’t say you never ’eerd tell of him!  He belonged to a banking
firm in Lombard Street, and he started, just as you might, from this very
spot, cheerful and warm and as pleased with himself as anybody could wish
to be.  Talked a bit at first, but before we were ten miles out he had
left off, and when we got twenty miles out I gave him a jerk with the
butt end of my whip like this, and—  What do you think?”

“I should imagine that he resented the impertinence.”

“He might have done all that you say,” remarked the driver, slapping one
of the horses, “only he was froze.  Froze stiff.”

“Bless my soul!” cried the young man.  “What a shocking end!”

“That wasn’t the end, bless you.  Tried all we knew to bring back his
circulation, but nothing seemed any use, and it wasn’t until we got to a
oast-house and got the hop-driers to put him in the oven—”

“Hops in December?”

“It was a late year,” said the driver calmly.  “Everything were
behindhand.  But what I was going to say was this.  You’ve got a
box-seat.  There’s a gen’leman in there drinking his second cup, with
something in it, and he’s a good-natured chap, and he’s willing to change
his inside seat for yours.  Say the word, and it’s done!”

The youth congratulated himself upon his acuteness in seeing through the
device, but later, when he ducked his head on the stage coach going
through the archway and adjusting his muffler, made a polite reference to
the weather and its possibilities, the driver, who was smoking one of the
cigars, responded only with a grunt.  He tried again as they took a
corner rather narrowly, and this time the driver made no response of any
kind.  Later, when a hackney coach called out something derisive, he
ventured to suggest a retort, and then the driver hinted plainly that he
was not in the mood for conversation, that if he should change his views
he would make intimation of the circumstance; in the meantime the young
man had better talk quietly to himself, or address his remarks to one of
the other passengers.  The youth, giving up with regret the impression
that all stagecoach drivers were communicative, cheery, and dispensers of
merry anecdotes, turned to a fellow-traveller seated behind.

“Seasonable weather.”

“What you say?”

“I said,” mentioned the young man deferentially, “it was seasonable
weather.”

“When?” asked the passenger behind.

“Now.  At the present time.  I mean that, whether you agree with me or
not, the weather to-day is weather that—”

“Do you know what you do mean?”

“I know what I’m driving at,” he asserted, becoming somewhat nettled;
“but apparently I don’t make sufficient allowance for lack of
intelligence on your part.”

“If it didn’t mean taking my hands out of my pocket,” said the passenger
behind, “I’d knock your head clean off your shoulders.  That’s what I’d
do to you.  Clean off your shoulders!”

They pulled up at a roadside inn, and the young man, thoughtful and
slightly moody after these rebuffs, brightened as he swung himself down
with assistance from the axle and, stamping to and fro, endeavoured to
restore circulation.  Two ladies, one old and one young, stepped from the
interior of the coach and looked around distractedly.  He went forward
and asked whether he could be of any service.

“Lunch?” he echoed.  “Why, of course!  I declare I had nearly forgotten
lunch.  Pray follow me.  The others have preceded us, but doubtless—”

“We are greatly indebted to you, sir,” declared the elder lady.  “My
niece is unused to any but the most delicate refinements of life, and it
is on her account rather than my own that I ventured to appeal to you.”

“I could wish for no greater honour,” he said, bowing, “than to render
assistance to beauty.”  The girl blushed, and looked very properly at the
ground.

“We had a most objectionable travelling companion, so different from the
class my niece and myself mix with.  Her grandfather, you will be
interested, perhaps, to hear, was no less a person than—”

“Aunt, dear?”

“Yes, my love.”

“Food!”

In the largest room (which seemed too small for its sudden rush of
custom) male passengers were feeding themselves noisily and screaming,
with mouths full, to the dazed serving-maids and to the apoplectic
landlady; they gave a casual glance at the two ladies and their escort,
and made no effort to give space at the one table.  The young man
appealed; they jerked him off impatiently.  One continued an anecdote
after the interruption.

“If there are any gentlemen present,” said the youth, in a loud voice,
“will they be so good as to note that here are two ladies, desirous of
obtaining some refreshment before proceeding on the journey.”

There was a pause, and the sulky passenger who had travelled in the
second seat looked up from his tankard, which he had nearly finished.

“Did you say ‘if’?”

“That was the first word of my remark, sir.”

“Then here’s my answer to you!”

The ladies shrieked and fainted.  The youth, wiping from his face the
contents of the sulky man’s tankard, demanded whether any one possessed a
brace of pistols.  Willing hands pressed forward, showing an eagerness to
assist that had hitherto been absent.  As the serving-maids brought burnt
feathers to the two lady passengers, he strode out to a snow-covered
field at the back, the conductor in attendance, the rest tossing coins on
the way to decide who should have the honour of supporting the sulky man.
The coachman, restored to cheerfulness, paced the ground with laborious
exactitude.

“Are you ready, gentlemen?  Then at the word ‘Three.’  One, two—”

                                * * * * *

He filled in the second form, with a determination to get as far away as
possible from the winter of years ago.  The ruler-like pipe was again
handed to him; he took this time but a single whiff, for it occurred to
him that in his first experiment he had perhaps erred on the side of
extravagance.  There was no need to give himself a series of shocks.

                                * * * * *

The youth went down Great Portland Street in such good humour with
himself that he greatly desired to confer a benefit on somebody, to
assist some one less fortunate.  He looked about for an old woman selling
matches, or for a boy shivering in the attempt to dispose of newspapers,
and unable to find either, searched for a narrow side-street, where he
might hope to have better success.  Here again he received a check, for
Devonshire Street and Weymouth Street and New Cavendish Street had
disappeared, and in their place he found one broad, straight
thoroughfare; he made inquiries and found it was called J & C.  This he
did not mind, and, indeed, it seemed an excellent arrangement when,
anticipating that the next street would be J & D, he found this to be the
case.  But he still wanted to play the part of Lord Bountiful, and to
satisfy his appetite for benevolence, and it pained him—although on broad
grounds this should have furnished gratification—that up to the present
he had discovered none who varied in apparent prosperity; not a
high-level by any means, but, so far as he could perceive, an
unmistakable level.  Little variation existed in costume.

“I hope you will excuse me—” he began.

“What’s that?”

“You must pardon me, please, for speaking, but—”

“Whom do you want?”

“I can scarcely give the name, but if you will permit me to explain, I
think I could make it clear to you, sir.”

“Don’t chatter,” interrupted the man curtly.  “And don’t call me sir.
You’re as good as I am.”

“I don’t know,” retorted the youth, with spirit, “why you should think it
necessary to mention the fact!”

“Because you had apparently forgotten it.”

“Don’t go for a moment.  I only wish to ask one question.  Where are the
poor?”

“Spell it!”

The young man complied; the other shook his head.  They took to the edge
of the broad pavement; the centre appeared to be rigidly reserved for
those who were youthful and walked with a certain briskness, whilst
either side was used by elderly folk, and by those whose movements were
deliberate.  The young man gave further details.

“I see what you mean now,” said the other.  “There was a story about a
man like yourself in one of the journals the other day.  He, too, had
been away in a distant colony for his health.”

“One of the humorous journals?”

“All of our journals are humorous.  Any paragraph or column in which a
pleasing strain of the ludicrous does not appear is blacked out by the
censor.  It isn’t always very clever, but it has to be as clever as can
be reasonably expected for thirty-two and six a week.”

“One pound twelve and sixpence?”

“The rate fixed by the central governing body,” said the other.  “Every
man on leaving school receives a wage of thirty-two and six a week, and
in this way all the old class distinctions have vanished, the yawning
spaces between the clever and the foolish, the industrious and the
indolent have been bridged.  The sum was fixed—this may interest
you—because it was found that a narrow majority existed of those earning
less than that amount, and the injustice of the change was therefore
lessened.”

“Not sure that I quite follow you,” he said politely, “but it’s
exceedingly good of you to take so much trouble.  I’m not delaying you
from your work?”

“So long as I do thirty hours a week, it doesn’t matter when I do them.”

“An ideal existence!”

“Exactly!” cried the man, with triumph.  “That’s what we have been aiming
at!  Just what we have achieved.  Nothing short of perfection is good
enough for us.  If there’s any sensible criticism you can pass upon our
present conditions, we shall be ready to consider it.”

“That reminds me!” he exclaimed.  “I miss the poor, especially at this
time of the year, when I feel generous.  But of course it’s all to the
good to have altered that.  Only where are the children?  I should like
to see some children.”

“You’ll have to manage without them, unless you can get a special permit
from the Minister of Education in Whitehall.  In the old days parents
were, I believe, allowed to bring up children in almost any manner they
thought fit, and some of the results were exceedingly unsatisfactory.
Let me see!”  He considered for a few moments, detaining the other with
one hand; his brow wrinkled with the effort of thought.  “Pinner!” he
exclaimed; “I rather think Pinner is the nearest.  You’ll find about five
thousand youngsters in the Infant Barracks there.”

“I can do with less,” he remarked.  “What I want is about three or four,
nephews and nieces if possible; just enough to play at charades, and
musical chairs, and games of some one going out of the room—”  The other
smiled pityingly.  “Going out of the room whilst the rest think of a man
alive, and then the person who has been outside comes in and puts
questions, and gradually guesses who it is.  Surely they still play at
it.”

“My dear sir, under the old scheme, a child wasted valuable years.  Now
we arrange that not a single opportunity shall be missed.  Go to any of
the barracks and you will find that every child, providing it has begun
to speak, can give quite a pretty little lecture on, say, milk, with all
the latest scientific facts relating to the subject.  Each youngster is
made to realise the value of moments.  ‘Time is Flying’ are the words
that form the only decoration on the walls of the dormitories.”

“I have it!” he cried.  Folk going by stopped and raised eyebrows at this
outbreak of irritation; a small crowd gathered.  “Now I see why you make
your journals amusing.  You learn nearly everything in your early days,
but you omit to learn how to laugh.  When you are grown up, you have to
adopt the most determined means in order to—”  He went on with excitement
as he addressed the increasing circle around him.  The frowns and the
murmurs did not prevent him from speaking his mind, and he commenced to
whirl his arms.  “I tell you what it is.  I came here expecting to find
happiness.  The present didn’t suit me and I thought I’d try the past and
the future.  I declare you’re worse than anything.”

The crowd closed in.  The man to whom he had been speaking tugged at his
sleeve; he gave a sharp jerk and disengaged himself.

“And the conceit of you is the most unsatisfactory feature of the whole
situation.  What have you to be proud about?  Here you are in the New
Year, and not one of you is showing any special signs of amiability
towards his fellow-man; you can’t look back to a cosy family gathering;
you have bought no presents, and you have received none.  If you knew how
much you had lost, you would never rest until you had—  But I suppose you
are too sensible.  Ah, you don’t like to be accused of that!”

They took him at a run through the straight street that in his time had
been curved and called Regent, crying as they went, “To the fountain, to
the fountain!”  Almost dazed by the swiftness, and nearly choked by the
grip at the back of his collar, he nevertheless recognised that their
intentions were not friendly, and he endeavoured to struggle and make
escape.  He heard the sound of ice being smashed.

“Now then, boys.  Altogether!”

A dozen pair of hands competed for the honour of ducking him; they seized
his wrists, elbows, head, ankles.

                                * * * * *

“Can’t read this,” said the voice.  “You’ve written it so badly.”

“Not my best penmanship,” he admitted tremblingly.  “What it’s intended
for is—”  He wrote it afresh.  “If I’m’ giving too much trouble, you can
tear it up and let me go.  I can easily find what I want, once I’m
outside.  How’s the time going?”

                                * * * * *

The smallest boy, overcoated and muffled to the eyes, had been dispatched
to meet visitors at the station, and a good deal of anxiety existed in
the household when one of his sisters mentioned a grisly fear that he
would talk too much on the way, betraying facts which should be hidden
and guarded as secrets.  His mother declared Franky had too much common
sense to make a blunder of the kind, and, giving a final look-round in
the dining-room, expressed a hope that there would be room for everybody.
She had no doubts concerning food supplies, and, indeed, any one who
peeped into the kitchen, and saw the two noble birds there, would have
been reassured on this point; the cold pies formed an excellent reserve
in case the birds should be reduced, by the invaders, to ruins.  The
young man, looking on, without being seen, noticed the eldest girl (whom
he loved) standing perilously on a high chair to give a touch with duster
to a frame, and nearly screamed an urgent appeal for care; it was a
relief to see her step down to the safety of the carpet.  He was
wondering whether he would come into the pleasant household, and found
some encouragement in the circumstance that she took a particular
interest in her reflection in the mirror; left alone for a moment, she
selected his card from the rest which crowded the mantelpiece and kissed
it.  She also peeped behind the screen, and counted the crackers there;
when her mother called, requesting to be done up at the back, she went
immediately.  A dear girl; he could scarce remember why or how he had
found an excuse for quarrelling.

Voices of youngsters outside the front door, and the small brother
rattling at the letter-box in his impatience.  One of the two maids,
answering, found herself as nearly as possible bowled over in the narrow
hall, saving herself by clutching at a peg of the hat-stand and allowing
the inrush to sweep by and through to the drawing-room.  All the children
loaded with parcels, which they dropped on the way, and all shouting:
“Many happy returns, many happy returns!” and demanding the immediate
production of an aunt, and several cousins, paying no regard whatever to
the reminders from elders that they had formally promised to behave like
little ladies and gentlemen.

The hostess came down in a stately way, pretending to be unaware of the
fact that she was wearing a new dress.  The visitors had experienced some
amazing adventures on the journey, and they told them in chorus, with
many interruptions, given in solo form and made up of urgent amendments
concerning unimportant details.  Such funny people they had met in the
train, to be sure; somehow at this time of the year one always
encountered the most extraordinary folk.  And just as they started, who
should come rushing along the platform, just too late to catch the train,
but Mr.—

“Oh, here you are!” turning to the eldest girl, who had entered the room,
to be instantly surrounded and tugged in every direction by the
youngsters.  “We were just telling your mother that your friend—  Oh,
look at her blushing!”

“We’ll put dinner back twenty minutes,” said the mother, interposing on
her daughter’s behalf.  “That will give him time if he catches the next.”

“Perhaps he never meant to come by that train,” said Uncle Henry.  “Very
likely he’s gone off somewhere else.  One can never depend on these
bachelors.”

“Tease away,” said the girl courageously.  “To tell you the truth, I
rather like it.”

“In that case,” remarked the uncle, “I decline to proceed.  If I can’t
give annoyance, I shall simply shut up.  Supposing I have a kiss
instead.”

Tragic moments for the children who were being released from the control
of neck-wraps and safety-pins and rubber shoes, for, apart from the
tantalising scent of cooking, they had to endure the trial of saying
nothing about the parcels brought.  They clustered around the eldest
girl, knowing this to be the surest quarter for entertainment, and she
would have found a dozen arms few enough for the embraces they required;
some of their questions she answered as though her mind were absent, and
she glanced now and again, when everybody was talking, at the clock on
the mantelpiece.  A sharp knock at the front door made smiles come again
to her features; the mother gave a warning word to the kitchen and met
the young man in the hall, where the boys were helping him in the task of
disengaging himself from his overcoat by pulling at it in all directions.
He could not express his regrets at the missing of the train, but every
one knew what motor-omnibuses were, and as he shook hands formally with
the eldest girl (who appeared rather surprised, remarking to him, “Oh, is
that you?”) an aunt began a moving anecdote concerning one of these
conveyances which she had boarded on a recent afternoon opposite St.
Martin’s Church.  She asked the conductor as distinctly as she could
speak whether it went to the Adelaide, and she felt certain that he
replied, “Yes, lady,” but, happening to glance out later, found herself
whirling along Marylebone Road, whereupon she, with great presence of
mind, took her umbrella, prodded the conductor in the small of his back—

“If you please, ’m, dinner is served!”

There were chairs at the long table that had the shy appearance of having
been borrowed from the bedroom, but only one of the children made a
remark concerning this, and she found herself told that another word from
her would result in a lonely return to home forthwith.  They all declared
they had plenty of room, and Uncle Henry accepted with modesty a position
near to the birds with the comment that he could always manage to eat a
couple; perhaps the others would not mind looking on whilst he enjoyed
the pleasures of the table; the children, now accustomed to Uncle Henry’s
humour, declined to be appalled by this threat, and, indeed, challenged
him, offering the prize of one penny if he should consume the contents of
the dishes, bones and all.  They stopped their ears whilst he sharpened
the big knife, and when he said, “Now, has any one got any preference?”
the grown-ups gave a fine lesson in behaviour by declaring that they
would be content with whatever portions were sent down to them.  The
maid, waiting at table, exhibited evidence of mental aberration over the
task of handing plates in the right order of precedence, but wireless
telegraphy from her mistress, and from the eldest daughter, gave
instructions and averted disaster.

“Do look after yourself, Uncle Henry!”

Uncle Henry asserted that, but for this reminder, he would have neglected
to fill his own plate, and one of the children, unable to reconcile the
extreme selfishness hinted at in an earlier stage with the astonishing
effacement now proclaimed, stared at him open-mouthed.  The same child
later on, after expressing loudly his determination not to be frightened
when the plum-pudding—over a month old and the last of its race—was
brought, surrounded by a purple blaze, found performance a harder task
than that of hypothetical daring, and, burying his little head in the lap
of the eldest daughter, gave way to tears, declining to resume the
appearance of serenity until the flames had been blown out; he regained
complete self-possession on finding in the portion served out to him a
bright silver sixpence, and announced his intention of purchasing with
that sum Drury Lane Theatre, together with the pantomime for the current
year.  The elder children listened with tolerance and gave a nod to the
grown-ups, showing that they knew the sum would be altogether
insufficient.

“Well,” said Uncle Henry, after he had resolutely turned his head away
from the offer of a second meringue, “if I never have a worse dinner, I
shan’t complain.”

“Beautifully cooked,” agreed the young man.

“Credit to whom credit is due,” asserted the hostess generously.  “If
Mary there hadn’t superintended—”

“Mother, dear!” protested the eldest girl.

Great jokes in trying to induce the ladies to smoke, but the men were
left alone together with the eldest son of the family, who had not yet
taken to cigarettes and was strongly recommended by the others never to
begin.  The eldest son found his views on tobacco, on the work of borough
councils, on parliamentary procedure, and other topics, listened to with
great deference by the young man visitor, who declared there was a great
deal in the opinions held by the son of the family with which he felt
able to agree.  Nevertheless, it was he who first suggested that they
should rejoin the company of the ladies.

He came out wonderfully so soon as games were started, but it appeared he
could do little without the assistance of the eldest daughter.  Together,
they gave an exhibition of thought-reading, and, after whispered
consultation, he, being out of the room whilst the children selected four
figures, came in when called, and standing at the doorway whilst she
appealed for order, gave the exact figures.  Even Uncle Henry had to
admit himself flabbergasted.

“Do tell us how it’s done?”

“Please!”

“Don’t believe you know yourselves!”

They declared it a secret which could not be lightly shared, but in
giving way to the general appeal, explained that if the first figure was
(say) one, then she had used a sentence beginning with the first letter
of the alphabet, such as:

“All quiet, please!”

If the next was two, she said:

“Be quiet, please!”

If the next was three:

“Can’t you be quiet!”

And so on.  Parcels came in now and strings were cut, and presents given
to the owner of the day.  She thanked him very prettily for the brooch
and pinned it at once near to her neck; he followed her out of the room
to help in carrying the brown paper and to tell her that, when his
birthday came, she could reciprocate by offering him the precious gift of
herself.  The quarrel had been all his fault.  He was bending down to
touch her lips when—

                                * * * * *

“No, thank you,” he said, tearing up the fourth slip.  “The present time
is good enough for me.  Is this the way out?”

“Interesting to observe,” remarked the voice, as the curtain went back
and showed the exit, “that our clients, however dissatisfied they may be
in entering, are always perfectly content when they depart!”



IV—COUNTRY CONFEDERATES


“LET me get this yer all down on paper,” said George Hunt, searching his
pockets.  “I find if I trust to my memory everything goes clean out of my
’ead.  Been like that since I was a boy.”

The man from London with the empty kit bag remarked that George was
scarcely an octogenarian.

“I believe in eating roast meat if I can get it,” admitted the lad.
“Never been what you London people call a crank.  Spite of which, somehow
or other, I don’t seem to make what you may call progress, and that’s the
truth, Mr. Polsworthy.”

“How do you know that is my name?”

“I don’t,” he admitted.  “All I know is that that’s the name you’ve give
up at the ‘Unicorn’ where you be staying.  Here’s something I can write
on.  ‘Advice to Intending Emigrants.’  I’ve got no special use for that.
Now then, sir, let’s have it all over again.”

“I want you,” said the London man, drawing him away to a sheeted truck,
and speaking with great distinctness, “to take a message for me up to the
Vicarage.”

“Here’s a question I’ve very often considered to myself,” said George,
stopping with the paper flat against the truck.  “Is there a ‘k’ in it,
or isn’t there a ‘k’ in it, or doesn’t it matter whether you put one or
not?”

“And see Miss Thirkell, and tell her—”

“She’s the one with the reddish hair, isn’t she?”

“She’s the one with black hair.”

“Not fur out,” remarked George, complacently.  “Go on, sir.”  He
continued to write laboriously.

“Tell her that some one from town wishes to see her on important
business, and will she be at the station here at half-past eight this
evening.”

“But they’ve got their party on.  ’Sides which—”

“Nothing could be better.”

“’Sides which there’s no train about that time.”

“I don’t want her to go by train,” shouted the other in an irritable way.
“I only want to have a talk.”

“Excuse me asking, sir, but is it love?”

“You’ve guessed it!”

“A wonderful thing, once it catches you.  I never been mixed up in it to
any considerable extent, but I keep my eyes open, and I noticed that once
parties get affected by it, why there’s no telling.”

“That,” said the other, “is the case with me.  It’s all on her account
that I have come down here for a week, and I find it impossible for me to
go back until I have seen her.  Just a few whispered words of affection
with her and October to me will seem like June.”

“Can’t promise to repeat all you say word for word,” mentioned George,
“but I’ll give her the general bearing of your remarks.  I shall say that
you’re over head and ears.”

“I believe,” said Mr. Polsworthy, with something like enthusiasm, “I
shall have to give you a present.  You’re an honest, worthy fellow, and
the most intelligent young man in the whole village.”

“I’ve said that to myself,” declared George, “frequent.”  He folded the
document.  “About what time, sir, did you think of getting me to do this
little job for you?”

When the Londoner had finished an address on the slothfulness of country
life, he permitted himself to announce, more calmly, that he expected it
to be performed now and at once.  The young railway porter went across
the station-yard, spoke a word to the signalman on duty, and started off
up the hill at a pace that seemed too good to last.  He did, indeed,
return to say that if later Mr. Polsworthy observed he was wearing a
white flower in his jacket, this might be taken as a hint that Miss
Thirkell was willing to keep the appointment; if the flower was red, it
would indicate she was unable to come.  Mr. Polsworthy went to his hotel,
where, with the aid of scented soap, he put good sharp points to his
moustache, and ordered, seemingly to give opportunity for range and
ability in criticism, certain refreshment; the landlady said that his
complaint was the first she had received since the year ’92, and strongly
recommended him to take his bag to the “King’s Head,” which possessed but
a limited licence.  Mr. Polsworthy, in apologising, remarked that he was
one accustomed to the very best of everything, and the lady expressed an
opinion that his looks and general appearance failed to bear out this
assertion.

George Hunt, sweeping the platform, was wearing a red flower, and Mr.
Polsworthy turned away regretfully, to consider some new mode of
approaching the vicarage lady.  A whistle recalled him, and George
managed to make it clear that everything was right; he had placed the
wrong flower in his jacket—a mistake, he said, that might have happened
to anybody.  George seemed highly interested now in the scheme, and
produced a beard with wires to go over each ear; challenged, he confessed
that he was not prepared to say to what use it should be put, or to
declare that it was of any use, but it had been in his possession for
some time, and he felt that either he or Mr. Polsworthy ought to wear it.

“By that means,” he urged, “recognition, if you understand what I mean,
will be avoided.”

“But who is there to recognise us, and what does it matter if we are
recognised?”

“There is that,” conceded George.

“You’re a fool,” declared Mr. Polsworthy.

“Not the first to pass that remark to me, not by a long chalk, you ain’t.
Mother says it ’bout once a day.”

Miss Thirkell came up the slope of the platform, and George went back
discreetly to his work with the broom, touching his cap to the young
woman as she went by.  She acknowledged the salutation distantly, saying,
“Good evening, my man!” and gave a start of amazement on Mr. Polsworthy
lifting his hat and throwing away his cigar.  She said that he had the
advantage over her and he expressed regret that her memory should
constitute the one defect in an otherwise perfect and beautiful nature.
Was it, asked Miss Thirkell, was it in Dover Street, the tenth of July of
the current year, on the occasion of coming out of a dressmaker’s with
her mistress?  That, answered Mr. Polsworthy, was the very moment, and
the precise occasion.  Miss Thirkell considered this curious and
interesting, since she was not in town on the date mentioned, and had
never been in Dover Street.

Mr. Polsworthy, slightly taken aback, begged of her to refresh a brain
that could never be relied upon implicitly; she admitted that they had
met once.  Miss Thirkell remembered the day well, because her master took
the opportunity to make some extensive purchases at a sale in King
Street, St. James’s, and the articles had crowded the compartment on the
way down.

“A race special came in,” said Mr. Polsworthy, corroborating, “just
before your train went out from Victoria, and whilst your people were
having a few words with the guard I strolled across to see what was the
matter.”

“Now,” cried Miss Thirkell, delightedly, “now I know you’re telling the
truth!”

Her mistress, it appeared, was one who did not mind the expenditure of
money in useful things, such as dress and hats, but entertained a strong
objection to lumbering the house with a lot of old silver and other
articles, neither, in her opinion, useful or decorative.  Mr. Polsworthy
expressed the view that in married life certain concessions had to be
made; he had not hitherto considered the possibility of entering the
state, but he was prepared to be generous in the direction referred to.
George Hunt, each time they went by, looked up and nodded and made some
reference to the weather; there was more rain about, in his opinion; what
we wanted was sunshine, so that cricket bats might be once more used.
The two, interested in their own conversation, scarcely gave notice to
his meteorological comments.

“When can I come up and see you?” asked Mr. Polsworthy.  “I’m only down
here for a little while.”

“What seems so wonderful,” sighed Miss Thirkell, dreamily, “is that you
should have come specially to meet me.”

“To do that I would travel to the furthermost ends of the earth.”  He
took her hand.

“Axcuse me interrupting,” said George, suddenly, “but in which direction
do you reckon Canada is?  You’re better acquainted with geography than
what I am.  S’posin’ now, you was going to walk there; which turning
would you take?”

Miss Thirkell cried alarmingly that she had to be getting home; she had
no idea the hour was so late.  On Mr. Polsworthy offering to accompany
her, she gave a short sharp scream and declared this impossible; he, a
Londoner, little knew the appetite for scandal that existed in country
villages.  George, corroborating, said that if, for instance, he himself
were observed escorting Miss Thirkell across the line, there were
busybodies about who would assert they were as good as engaged.  The
visitor seemed inclined to snap fingers at public opinion, and dare it to
do its worst; the young woman said this was all very well for him, but
not nearly good enough for her; she had no wish to lose an excellent
situation.

“Character’s everything in these parts,” confirmed George.  “Up in London
it probably don’t matter, but here it’s important.  When I leave the
line—”

“Will to-night at ten be a suitable time for me to call at the house to
see you?”

“My dear, good man,” cried Miss Thirkell, “you must be off your head to
think of carrying on like that!  Why, the dog would make short work of
any one who wasn’t in uniform.  Besides, the butler has to go down to the
gate and let in everybody that comes to the party.  Now I must run.  You
send a message through George Hunt.  He’s reliable.  We were boy and girl
together.”

With a wave of the hand she went.  Mr. Polsworthy looked steadily at
George for some moments.

“You’re a dull dog,” he said, slowly, “and that’s the only thing which
makes me inclined to trust you.  If you were a sharp lad, the idea would
never come into my head.”

“I’m all for straightforwardness myself.”

“There is no use,” said the other, with a burst of recklessness, “no
sense whatever in disguising the fact that I’m madly in love with that
girl.  And when a man’s in love, there’s nothing he’s not prepared to do.
In some way I must manage to gain admission to that house this evening.”

“And in some way, you’ll have to manage to get out of it.”

“An easy matter.”

George looked in at the booking-hall to make sure that no passengers were
about.

“You’re not the first, mister, that’s tried it on,” he remarked in an
undertone.

“What’s that?  I’m the last man in the world to do anything dishonest!”

“If you are,” said George, evenly, “that means Wormwood Scrubs will have
to be took over by the White City.  In any case, your best plan is to
treat me fairly, and treat me generously, and I’ll do what I can, so long
as my name’s not brought into it.  My name must be kept out, on account
of mother.”

Mr. Polsworthy declared his satisfaction, and hinted at surprise, on
finding that George possessed so much acuteness.  He did, in a general
way, prefer to work alone, but sometimes cases were encountered—here was
one—where assistance was indispensable.  The great thing was to have a
quiet half-hour inside the vicarage, and to catch the 10.23 p.m. for
town.  George nodded, and made one or two suggestions.  Recommended a
sailor’s bag; there were two in the cloakroom at the present time left by
men home on furlough; one could be emptied.  Mr. Polsworthy, having
inspected these, made his selection and, arranging concerning the loan of
an old uniform, shook hands.  The kit-bag was presented to George, who
said he might be able to make use of it.

“All I can say is,” remarked the man from London, “that I’m very much
obliged to you.  You shan’t be the loser.”

“Question is,” said George, “how much be I going to gain?  I ain’t what
you’d call mercenary, but I like to make a bit of money as well as
anybody.”

Mr. Polsworthy seemed hurt by this view of the matter, and taking half a
sovereign from his pocket, placed it in the other’s hand; George said he
could go on.  Polsworthy went on to the extent of four pounds and then
stopped, declaring irascibly that rather than go beyond this amount he
would take the entire sum back; George pointed out difficulties, one of
which included a reference to Police-Constable Saxby.  The amount reached
five pounds, and the two again shook hands; the heartiness was this time
on the side of George.

“If you have a chance of seeing her,” said Polsworthy, “keep up the idea
that it’s simply and solely a love affair.  It’ll make a good excuse in
case I happen to be interrupted at my work.  Mention that I seem to be
able to talk of nothing else but her!”

“And that you worship the very ground she walks on.”

“Don’t overdo it.  You can say it’s all because of love that I’m going to
dress up and come and see her.  Say that from what you know of me I’m as
true as gold.”

“As true as five pound.”

“For Heaven’s sake,” urged Polsworthy, with some temper, “do try to avoid
making a muddle.  If the business goes wrong, I’ll dog your footsteps to
the very last day of your life.  If I get into trouble I shan’t be alone.
Make no mistake about that.  Where’s that slip of paper that you wrote
down the particulars on?”  It was produced, and the man from London, with
a snatch, secured it.  “Now,” he remarked, “now, I’ve got documentary
evidence that you’re concerned in this game.”

“My mother won’t like me none the better for this,” said George,
dismally.  “But I’ll go up to the vicarage again, and give the young
party your message.”

Polsworthy, in a uniform that had seen trouble, staggered into the
station-yard at ten o’clock that night and was stopped at the gates by
P.C. Saxby.  The constable apologised for the act on seeing brass
buttons, accepted the explanation that the other was an extra hand, and
offered to give help with the sailor’s bag, but Polsworthy said that
having managed so far alone, he would complete the job.  In the dimly
lighted booking-hall he set his load down with relief, and went to the
porters’ room, where he changed into his own clothes.  Ordered George to
label the sack for London Bridge and, treating him as a stranger, gave
him twopence for his service.  The window of the office opened and he
took his ticket from the stationmaster and strolled across the line in
order to be out of the way should disaster arrive prematurely.

Nothing amiss happened, and when the train arrived, he climbed into an
empty compartment on the off side, and ventured to glance out of the
window to see George hurling a well-loaded sack into the front break van.
They exchanged a congratulatory wave of the hand as the train went out,
and George wished him, with great heartiness, good luck, and a pleasant
journey.

Half an hour later George was ringing at the door of the vicarage, and
playing with the watch-dog, who had followed him up the avenue, showing
some inquisitiveness in regard to the load which George was carrying.
Lights appeared; a head looked out of a window; in five minutes he was
being received in the hall by the entire strength of the company in
varied stages of _deshabille_.  The restored articles of silver were
taken out of the bag.

“A good deed,” announced the elderly vicar, addressing the audience,
“deserves an appropriate and immediate reward.  My dear, run upstairs for
my pocket-book.”

“Thirkell,” said his wife, “run upstairs for your master’s pocket-book.”

“That’s right,” remarked the vicar, on the return of the lady’s-maid.
“Two five-pound notes; here we are.  George Hunt, I have much pleasure in
presenting you with this acknowledgment of worthy services.  My dear,
give him some bread and cheese and beer, and say good-night and thank
him.”

“Thirkell,” ordered his wife, “give him some bread and cheese and beer,
and say good-night, and thank him.”

Miss Thirkell, in dressing-gown later at the side door, promised to be at
the station in the morning in time for the first up train, and declared
George had managed nicely from the start.  She thought it a pity there
was no chance of sending a letter to her married sister in Canada to let
her know they were coming, but George said he could afford to despatch a
telegram.

“And that reminds me,” he added.  “I s’pose I shall have to leave ha’f a
sovereign to pay for the other sailor’s bag what’s gone off with that
London gentleman.  I don’t want mother later on to get the idea that I
haven’t behaved fair and perfectly above-board!”



V—SURROUNDINGS


“COME on in!” he cried sportively at the window of the compartment.
“Plenty of room.  Reserved for gentlemen.  The more the merrier!”

They pushed him aside in a way that showed the determined excursionist,
and the youth placed his bag on the rack and arranged more neatly his rug
and selection of cheap weekly journals.  The others, choosing seats, said
he could now put his head out again, and in this way frighten off other
passengers.  Twice, before the train started, he found himself afflicted
by a short, sharp cough when girls went by in couples, and as they looked
around he lifted his cap, glancing over his shoulder to see whether the
humour was recognised and appreciated by fellow-travellers.

He asked numerous questions of the harried porters, shouted “Move
yourself!” to folk who ran up at the last moment, gave a loud whistle to
the guard and waved his arm.  The staff on the platform showed
indications of relief as the train took him away; he begged them to cheer
up, promising to be back in London in ten days’ time.

“When I go off for my holiday in the country,” he remarked, going back
into his corner and placing one heel on the cushion opposite, “I always
reckon to begin enjoying myself from the very start.  Lose no time, is my
motto.  Anybody object to smoking?”

A middle-aged man answered that he did not exactly object, but he thought
people who wanted to smoke might as well travel in a smoking-carriage.
Had no desire to make any unpleasantness, but that was his view.

“My dear old University chum,” cried the youth, striking a match, “I can
see what’s the matter with you.  You’ve had a row with the missus.  She’s
been giving you a bit of her mind this morning.  She’s been offering a
few ’ome truths, and some of ’em still rankle.  Now what you’ve got to do
is to imitate me.”

“Heaven forbid!”

“You’ve got to throw off dull care and be merry and bright.  Give us a
yarn.”

“You give us,” retorted the middle-aged man, testily, “a little peace and
quietness.”

“Then let’s have a riddle.”

“I’ll riddle you,” threatened the man, “if you can’t leave off badgering.
Talk to one of the others.  I’m tired of you.”

“He loves me, he loves me not.”  Counting the ends of the window strap
and throwing them away when the last gave a negative reply.  “All my old
friends seem to be deserting me since I come into a bit of money.  Does
any one want to borrow a five-pound note?  Don’t all speak at once!”

The compartment seemed disinclined to talk; willing, indeed, to allow him
to monopolise the conversation.  He increased his efforts, and presently
an anecdote told concerning a lady of his acquaintance goaded one into
making the statement that the joke had appeared in print over and over
again.

“Very well,” said the young blade, “then let somebody else have a go.”
Somebody else did now accept the invitation, and ere the train was free
of the last streets of town conversation became general, and he had to
raise his voice in order to preserve for himself the lead.

“You can’t tell me nothing I don’t know about London,” he shouted.  “I’ve
lived there for the last three years, and I reckon I’m more of a Londoner
than any one who was born there.  Look ’ere; we can soon put it to the
test.  How many comic songs of the present day have any of you got in
your repertoire?  What about you, uncle?”

“My young friend,” protested the middle-aged man, “I have met, in my
time, a good many bounders of all shapes and sorts and sizes, but you are
the limit.  Why don’t you behave yourself quietly when you’re in the
presence of your betters?”

“I always do,” he replied.  “Now then, if any one can give an imitation
of George Robey, let him do it; if not, I’ll have a try to do the best I
can.  It’ll shorten the journey for you.”

They admitted his effort was not so bad, and two or three of his own age
began to regard him enviously.  Having regained command, he took care not
to lose it again, and by the time the train stopped at its first junction
he had secured an attentive audience; even the middle-aged man, on the
train re-starting, asked how far he was going.  The lad, with a glance
out of the window, said he was not yet near his destination, but promised
to give full warning when the time came near for them to endure the
wrench of saying good-bye.

He conquered the middle-aged man, but appeared not satisfied with his
victory, and, exercising the power of a tyrant, gave him a nick-name and
invented a description of the domestic environments, insisting, in spite
of the man’s assertion that he was a bachelor, on offering a lively
account of the masterful behaviour of the man’s wife, her authority over
him, his servile and penitent behaviour.

“A confounded young cad!” declared the other, heatedly, “that’s what you
are.  Most offensive specimen I ever encountered.  Perfect curse to
society.”

“Isn’t he a daisy?” asked the youth of the others.  “Isn’t he a arum
lily?  Isn’t he a china ornament?”

“Leave him alone!” urged one of the others.

“Right you are,” he said, amiably.  “I’ll give you a turn now.”

The compartment was becoming restive under his sniping, when some one
caught the name of a station as the train flew past, and the lad, saying,
“I didn’t know we were so near,” rose and took his bag from the rack.
Letting the window down and resting his chin there, he inhaled the
country air, and announced, with a change of tone, identification of
certain houses and meadows.  That was the place where he once knocked up
thirty-eight, after making a duck’s-egg in the first innings; here was
the very finest wood for nutting in the whole neighbourhood; over there,
if you only went late enough and not too late, you could pick more
blackberries than you cared to carry away.  He begged them all to rise to
catch sight of the spire of a church; they had to jump up again to see
the thatched roof of a farm where lived, he declared, three of the best
cousins in the whole world.  He packed his cap in the bag, put on a
bowler, and threw away the end of his cigarette.

“Hope I haven’t been talking too much,” he said, apologetically, “and I
trust no offence has been taken where none was intended.  Just look at
that clump of trees over there, and notice the colours they’ve got;
aren’t they simply wonderful?  What were you going to say, sir?”

The middle-aged man hazarded the opinion that Nature knew something.

“Makes you realise,” admitted the youth soberly, “when you get down into
the country, that some one else besides man has had to do with the making
of the world.  If you gentlemen don’t mind coming over here, you’ll be
able to catch a glimpse of where my mother and my sister live.  There!”
he cried exultantly.  “You just saw it, didn’t you, between the trees.
Smoke coming out of the chimney.  That means—”  He pressed his hand
against his under-lip.  “That means they’re preparing.  You’ve no idea
what a lot they think of me.  If they’re at the station, you’ll have a
chance of seeing them.  Goodbye all.  Hope you’ll enjoy yourselves as
much as I’m going to.”

He stepped out before the train ceased to move, and looked up and down
the platform with eagerness and some anxiety.  An elderly woman in black
and a short girl waved excitedly to him from the inside of the doorway of
the booking-office; he ran across, and, dropping the bag, kissed them
affectionately.

“You dear, dear blessing!” cried the mother.



VI—RETIRING INSPECTOR


INSPECTOR RICHARDS mentioned to several of the staff that, whilst he had
often taken part in the presentation of testimonials, he specially wished
that no tribute of a valuable nature should be paid to him on his
retirement, and the men, after private consideration, took him at his
word.  The night of his departure was the occasion, nevertheless, for
many touching incidents.  Inspector Richards made a point of shaking
hands with all those inferior to him in position; a compliment they
accepted shyly, after rubbing the palm down the side of trousers.

“Always been my desire,” he said benevolently, “to treat every one alike,
and I trust I’ve succeeded.”

“You’ve done it, sir.  No mistake about that.”

“I hope I have never shown anything in the shape of favouritism.”

“There again, sir, you’re right.”

“I am anxious to express the desire that nothing but what I may call
kindly thoughts will be entertained concerning me when I leave the duties
I have so long carried out,” said Inspector Richards elaborately, “and
there’s no objection to you mentioning it, as freely as you like, that I
shall be glad to see old friends at any hour, and any time, from
half-past eight in the morning till eleven o’clock o’ night at
three-two-seven, Hampstead Road.”

A few of the junior members were under the impression that the words
suggested liberal and cheerful hospitality; those who knew Mr. Richards
better warned them not to expect too much from old T. R.  T. R., they
said, had never yet given away a ha’porth of anything, and acquaintance
with human nature induced them to believe that he, at his age, was not
likely to begin.  The one person who had known T. R. the longest found
herself swiftly disillusioned.  Harriet was to live with her father over
the shop in Hampstead Road, and to keep house for him; her wedding was to
take place when Mr. Richards found it possible to make other
arrangements, and not until then.

“I shall look after the shop,” he said commandingly.  “That’s my part of
the work.  All you’ve got to do is to see to the cooking, and the
cleaning up, the washing on Mondays, the ironing later on, the boots, the
garden at the back, and so on and so forth.  You sweep out the shop first
thing in the morning, but apart from that, you’re not to show your face
there.  Understand?”

“Yes, father.”

“Don’t give me the trouble of speaking twice,” he went on in his official
manner.  “I’ve been used to managing much bigger affairs, without any
trouble, and this will be mere child’s play.  I look on it more as a
hobby than anything else.  Worst thing that can happen to a man of my
industrious nature is to have nothing to occupy his mind.  Go in now, and
don’t you ever dare come out ’less I call you.”

The shop opened promptly on the first morning, Mr. Richards wearing a
silk hat as he took down the shutters, to indicate that shirt-sleeves did
not mean inferiority.  He nodded distantly to his neighbours, and when
they asked him a question concerning the weather of the day shook his
head reservedly to convey the idea that he had not yet decided the point.
Inside, he arranged the cash-drawer neatly and prepared change, blew a
speck of dust from the counter, and, replacing the silk hat with a grey
tweed cap, lighted a pipe and waited for the rush of custom.  A drawback
of official life had consisted in the fact that one could not be seen
smoking within a certain distance of the terminus; it had been his duty
on many occasions to reprove the staff for indulging in a pipe at the
wrong moment, or at the inappropriate place; the match which he struck on
the sole of his slippers made a bright flaming signal of the inauguration
of liberty.  During the morning Mr. Richards struck many matches and
smoked several pipes, so that at one o’clock when his daughter called out
respectfully, “Dinner’s ready, father!” his appetite was not so good as,
at this hour, it should have been.

“What sort of a morning has it been, father?” asked Harriet, with
deference.

“Mind your own business,” he retorted.  “And pull the muslin curtain
aside so that I can see when any one comes in.  I’ve told you before the
shop’s nothing to do with you.”

“There’s a lad rapping at the counter,” she remarked, disregarding his
orders.

Mr. Richards upset his chair in the anxiety to attend to his first
customer, and hurried in, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“How do?” said the lad familiarly.  “How you getting on at your new job?
Settling down all right?”

“What can I do for you, Jenkinson?” Richards rested the tips of his
fingers on the counter and beamed across.  “Tobacco or cigarettes?”

“Last time me and you held conversation together,” remarked the lad—“I’m
speaking now of a matter of six weeks ago, or it might be a couple of
months—you distinctly told me, as far as I remember, that smoking at my
time of life was playing the deuce with my health.”

“Everything’s good if taken in moderation.”

“And, furthermore, you said that if you caught me with a fag again, you’d
report me to headquarters.”

“My humour is what they call dry,” urged Richards.  “You have to go below
the surface to see what I’m really driving at.  How are they managing at
the old place?  What’s the new inspector like?  Some of you will find a
difference, if I’m not greatly mistaken.”

“We have!”

“Ah!”

“General opinion,” said the lad, with marked emphasis, “seems to be that
this one is a gentleman.”

Mr. Richards eyed him across the counter; the other, almost quailing,
asked whether the establishment included matches amongst its stores.  A
box being produced, he inquired how many it contained.  Mr. Richards said
he did not know.  The lad, opening the box, remarked that it appeared to
have been tampered with, and expressed a desire not to be swindled.  The
proprietor imperatively ordered him to go out of the shop, and went back
to his meal.  This had become cold; the circumstance that he himself was
considerably heated did not compensate.

“There’s another!” mentioned Harriet.

A lamp-boy, bearing on his features evidence of occupation, wished to
make an inquiry, and, accepting the reply, stayed to argue that tin-tacks
were a necessity to many people at many times and should therefore be
kept by those who desired to serve the public; he went on to give a brief
lecture on the laws of supply and demand, and, this finished, seemed
unwilling to leave without confessing something in the way of patronage,
and Mr. Richards found himself called upon to give two halfpennies in
exchange for a penny and to say “Thank you” to an individual whom he had
not, in official days, condescended to notice.

“You must put some brains into it,” counselled the boy, before going out
of the doorway.  “That’s your only chance.  Competition’s very keen at
the present time.  And don’t forget civility.  Civility goes a long way
with a lot of people.”

“Take your hand away from that new paint!  I don’t want to identify
customers by finger-marks.”

“You won’t have any if you don’t treat ’em properly.”

“Go back to the station,” roared Mr. Richards, “and give them features of
yours a good wash!”

“Used soap and water just before I came away.”

“Then get them to turn the hose on you.”

The boy tried to think of a retort, but none came.  He made a face and
went.

That evening, at half-past six, saw the real start of business.  In less
than five minutes the shop filled with customers, all talking loudly, all
demanding to be served at once, but, in spite of this, making no attempt
to leave quickly.  More than once in the flurry and bustle of taking
money—it was the night of pay-day, and much change therefore required—he
called upstairs to inquire whether Harriet’s young man had arrived; the
last answer received was to the effect that the youth in question had
been told not to come round that evening.

“Who told you to say that?”

“I thought it best, father.”

He made an appeal to the customers for sympathy on the grounds that he
had a fool for a daughter.  They asked what else he had a right to
expect.

It was satisfactory to see the shop crowded, but he wished the deportment
had been of a more careful nature.  Some called him Richards, quite
shortly; a porter, for whom it had been his painful duty to obtain three
days’ suspension, referred to him more familiarly; and the retired
inspector found, as many have discovered, that few of us in London,
however important, escape a nickname.  A few in sportive mood endeavoured
to confuse him over the coins tendered, and when he had to beg one to go
out and obtain some small silver for a sovereign, the messenger prolonged
absence to such an extent that Mr. Richards became seriously alarmed,
refusing to consider the bets offered concerning the possibility of the
man never being heard of again.  Temper was exhibited when the messenger
returned with eighty threepenny-pieces, obtained from a friend connected
with a chapel; and when it was pointed out that folk had a prejudice
against accepting these, prompt answer came to the effect that in future
Richards had better run errands for himself.  A mouth-organ started a
tune in a corner, and a porter solicited the favour of a labeller’s hand
for a dance.

“I’m not going to have that noise.”  They explained that it was not
noise, but music.  “Whatever it is, I’m not going to have it.  Put a stop
to it at once!”

“Look here, old man, you’re out of uniform now.  None of your gold-braid
behaviour, if you please.  That’s gone and done with.  All change is the
motto.”

“But,” he pleaded, “I don’t want to be a nuisance to my neighbours.”

“You always have been.”

They gave up, with reluctance, the idea of frivolous entertainment, and
went on to the discussion of political matters.  Richards had prided
himself on the definite nature of his opinions concerning affairs of the
nation, and even intimate colleagues rarely ventured to disagree; he
reminded himself now that a shopkeeper had to be extremely careful to
show impartiality, and to be cautious not to give offence.  Consequently
he found that many cherished views had to go; appealed to when the debate
became warm, he said there was a good deal to be said on both sides; you
found good and bad in everybody; seemed to him you might say in general
of politicians that they were six of one and half-dozen of the other.  In
preparing to go, the customers declared they would not give a brass
button for a man who was unable to make up his mind.

“Look in again soon,” he said, with a determined effort at cordiality.
“Come to-morrow evening, if you’re doing nothing else.  Always glad to
see you.  No friends like the old ones.”

He relaxed the usual attitude towards his daughter, and said that if she
felt certain hers was a case of genuine affection, and not a mere idle
fancy, he had no objection to the young man looking in any evening, every
evening in fact, at about half-past six.  Harriet promised to convey the
permission, although she could not be sure that Arthur would take
advantage of it.

“Tell him he can stay on to supper,” recommended her father.

“That might influence him,” admitted Harriet.  “Would you like me to give
a hand with the shop when you’re so busy as you were to-night?”

“How many more times am I to tell you that I can manage the business
myself?  Besides, I don’t want a set of young men coming in just for the
sake of chatting and talking with you.  What do you think your poor
mother would have said to such an idea?”

The young man on arriving the next night found a hearty hand-shake
awaiting him, and an American cigarette.  He was ordered to sit inside
the counter and to have a good look around.  Mr. Richards gave something
like a lesson in geography, pointing out that Log Cabin was bordered on
the east by Navy Cut, on the west by Honey Dew; that twopenny cigars were
situated on a peninsula, and wax matches formed a range of mountains.
Proceeding to the cash drawers, Arthur was instructed to observe that
four separate lakes existed, each with its own duty, and one was not on
any account to be confused with the rest.  When he exhibited a desire to
go in and see Harriet, Mr. Richards upbraided him for want of attention,
and mentioned that all knowledge was worth acquiring, in that you never
knew when it might prove useful; to retain him until the rush of business
came many reminiscent anecdotes were told of railway life, incidents of
difficulty faced by Inspector Richards at various periods, and always
triumphantly overcome.  Coming to more recent occurrences, a complaint
was made that Harriet that morning going out to shop in High Street had
been absent for no less than three-quarters of an hour.

“Don’t go in there!” said a voice at the doorway.  “That’s old T. R.’s
show.  Let’s go on higher up.  He’ll only try to boss it over us.”

When Harriet sang out an announcement concerning the meal, the proprietor
of the tobacconist’s shop remarked brusquely that there was probably
enough for two, but not sufficient for three, and in these circumstances
he would not trouble Arthur to stay.

Mr. Richards was still watching the roadway, and wondering how it was
possible for so many folk to pass by an attractive shop-window without
stopping to give it the compliment of a glance, when he caught sight of
one of his fellow-inspectors on the opposite side.  Anxious for congenial
company, he gave an invitation with a wave of the hand, and the other,
after a moment of thought, crossed over.  Harriet made another
deferential announcement.

“Just in time!” he cried genially.  “Come along inside, Wilkinson, and
share pot-luck.”

“What do you call pot-luck?” inquired Wilkinson, with caution.  Mr.
Richards recited the brief menu, and the inspector decided to enter.

“Brought a friend,” said Richards to his daughter in the back parlour.

“Then we shall want a fourth chair, father.”

“No, we shan’t.  Wilkinson, sit you down and make yourself thoroughly at
home.  How are you muddling on without me?”

“Do you want the truth?”

“Let’s hear the worst.”

“We’re getting on first class,” announced Wilkinson, his eyes on Harriet,
but his words addressed to her father.  “Some of them were saying only
this evening that it just proved how much could be done by kindness.
There hasn’t been a cross word since you left, and not a single member of
the staff has had to be reported.”

“You’ll all have a nice job later on,” he prophesied.  “Let them get
slack and out of control, and it’ll take you months to get ’em well in
hand again.”

“How do you like the change, Miss?” asked Wilkinson, accepting the offer
of lettuce.  “How does business life suit you, may I ask?”

“Nothing to do with her!” interrupted her father sharply.  “All she’s
responsible for is household duties.  I believe in women keeping to their
proper sphere.  Once they come out of it—”

“The change hasn’t improved your temper, old man.”

He stopped in the act of helping himself to mustard, and stared at his
late colleague.  “Me?” he said, in a dazed way.  “Me, got a temper?
Well, upon my word, we live and learn.  This is news!”

“Pretty stale to other people.”

“I venture to challenge that statement,” said Richards hotly.  “I should
like to have a decision on the point by some independent authority.”

“Ask her!”

Harriet, appealed to and ordered to speak without fear or favour, said
she wanted to know why Arthur was sent away.  The answer was to the
effect if she had finished gorging herself with food, she could go
upstairs and leave her father and his friend to discuss matters which her
youth and sex prevented her from understanding.  Harriet had not
completed her share of the meal, but she obeyed at once.

“That’s the way to bring up a child,” said Richards, with a jerk of the
head.  “I’ve only got to give her a hint.  Wonderful control I exercise.
I give my orders; she carries ’em out.”

“You don’t seem overwhelmed with customers,” remarked the visitor,
looking through the glass portion of the door.

“They either come with a run,” he explained, “or not at all.”

“I only go,” went on Wilkinson, “by what I’ve heard at the station.  They
came here once for the lark of the thing, but the notion seems to be that
once is plenty.”

“And that,” ejaculated the ex-inspector bitterly, “that, I suppose, is
what they call _esprit de corps_.”

“That’s what they call getting their own back.  And I don’t want to
discourage you, and I should like you to believe that I’m saying it only
for your own good, but it’s pretty clear to my mind that, in regard to
this tobacconist’s business, you’re going to lose your little all.  The
savings of a lifetime are going to vanish like smoke, or rather not like
smoke, but into thin air.  Unless,” added Wilkinson impressively—“unless
you act wisely.”

“Don’t I always act wisely?”

Wilkinson shook his head.  “The best of us are liable to make mistakes,”
he said diplomatically, “and consequently you’re more liable than most.”

Mr. Richards failed in the attempt to make a knife balance on a fork, and
sighed deeply.

“I’ve been here now for—how long?—and there hasn’t been a single,
solitary ring of the bell,” went on Wilkinson.  “You’ve got to look the
facts squarely in the face.”

“If the worst comes to the worst,” announced the other grimly, “I shall
sell the business and the goodwill and stock and everything, and embark
on something entirely fresh—something where I shan’t be dependent on the
kindness of old friends.”

“You’ll get a big price for the goodwill,” mentioned the visitor, with
sarcasm.  “And I suppose you’ve taken the premises on a lease?”

“Let me fetch you a cigar,” suggested Mr. Richards desperately, “and then
you give me the best advice that lays in your power.”

“Pick out one that I can smoke.”

Wilkinson’s counsel, given after he had submitted the cigar to a
sufficient test, was this.  Competition, brisk and determined, existed in
the trade on the part of large firms who opened shops all over the place.
Small establishments could only exist by the possession of something in
the shape of what Wilkinson called a magnet—a magnet to draw the people
in.

“You mean a gramophone?”

Wilkinson meant nothing of the kind.  What you had to bear in mind was,
first, that all your possible customers belonged to what was known as the
male persuasion; second, that by an old-established arrangement, which
you might argue against but you had to accept, the male was always
attracted by the female.  Wilkinson added that in his opinion the
daughter upstairs was a dashed good-looking girl, and, the cigar being
near to its end, suggested that another might be presented to bear him
company on the way home.  And went.

“Harriet, my girl,” said Mr. Richards, “I’ve thought of an idea that I
may as well mention at once before I forget it.  No doubt you’ve heard
the remark about Satan and idle hands.  And as there’s no good reason why
I should work my fingers to the bone, I shall want you to come into the
shop of an afternoon and evening, and serve customers, and smile at ’em,
and make yourself generally useful.”

“Afraid you’re too late, father,” she said.  “If you had let Arthur stay
to supper, we were not going to tell you anything about it.  As it is,
you’ve got to be told that we were married this morning at the
registrar’s, and that I’m going to leave you now.”

                                * * * * *

The shop is doing very well, and when you happen to pass that way, you
might step in and buy something.  You will find Harriet at the counter
serving goods of excellent quality at current prices; in the evening her
husband is also there.  Glancing through the windowed door of the shop
parlour, you may catch sight of ex-Inspector Richards, looking after the
baby.



VII—THE USURPER


HE told some friends whom he caught up on the way that his was a position
of pretty middling tidy responsibility, and when he spoke more freely on
the topic they gave a whistle which conveyed an amount of astonishment
that proved gratifying.  The lad explained to each in turn that his
mother was an uncommonly good manager, able to make a penny go as far as
some could use a shilling; each made the identical reply before selecting
a turning on the right of Kingsland Road, that it must nevertheless be a
close fit, and added, “Stick to it, old man; wish you better luck,” with
all the solemnity and earnestness of boys who have but recently started
work.  One or two acquaintances shouted to him from the tops of electric
trams, flying Stamford Hill way, indicating by signs the existence of a
vacant seat; he shook his head and marched on.  Three girls, making their
way home by a series of spasmodic rushes, with at intervals hysterical
appeals to each other not to act the silly (being, in fact, so delighted
at release from work that they scarcely knew how to make proclamation of
their happiness)—these snatched at his cap and, a few yards off, threw it
back to him, taking at once to their heels, and later becoming extremely
indignant because he had not respected the rules of the game by chasing
them and administering punishment in the shape of a blow on the shoulder.
Their annoyance at his reticent manner was so great that they presently
waited, demanding of him when he arrived whether he thought himself
everybody.  Failing to obtain an answer, they furnished estimates on
their own account, asserting (by happy choice of words) that he was deaf,
dumb, or dotty; he did not trouble to contradict, and they gave him up.
Nearing home, he increased his frown of importance.

“’Ullo, Tommy!”

“‘Thomas,’ if you please,” he said, bending to kiss the child; “and don’t
let me catch you again swinging on this gate.  You’ll have the whole row
of palings down, that’s what you’ll be doing.  Big, clumsy girl like
you.”

The youngster, gratified by this compliment, took his hand, and led him
to the front door, where she cried “Mother!” with a strong accent on the
second syllable; on gaining a reply of “Now begin your nonsense again,”
she announced the arrival.  The boy hung his cap behind the door, and
threw himself into an easy chair.

“No,” he answered, with an exhausted air, “I can’t play games with you
this evening.  Yes, yes, I know I used to; but them times are all past
and gone.  You’re too young to understand, my girl, and it’s as well you
are, but life’s a serious matter.  Tell me, how’ve you been getting on at
school to-day?”

“Teacher give me a rap over the knuckles.”

“I don’t like that.”

“I didn’t like it, neither.”

“What I mean is,” he went on, “that a little girl like you ought to do
her best to learn all she can whilst she’s got the opportunities.  If you
don’t, why, later on, when it’s too late, you’ll be sorry.  In the
meantime, you want to do all you can to pick up everything at school, and
not give your teachers opportunity for being cross with you in any shape
or form whatsoever.  You hear what I’m telling you.  What’s mother
singing for?”

“Put this top somewhere,” suggested the child, “whilst I turn my face to
the wall—I won’t look, truth and honour—and then you tell me when I’m
getting warm and when I’m getting cold.”

“Let’s hear you spell it!”

The little person, found guilty of spelling top with two p’s, not only
had to accept a severe reprimand, but was called upon to spell pot, and
pop, and one or two other words; when she had gone through the
examination the boy agreed to conceal the article, and she set about with
great enthusiasm on the task of finding it, but the game was so
frequently interfered with by his admonitions concerning present
behaviour, by warnings regarding future conduct, that she did not hide
her satisfaction when the mother brought in his tea.  The child was
allowed to stand by and receive the top of the egg.

“Yes,” admitted the mother, in answer to his challenge, “I am in rather
good spirits.  Would you like a second cup, Tommy, or another slice of
bread and butter?  You’ve only to say the word.”

“These are not times,” he decided, “for a man to make a hog of himself.
You must arrange for the money to last as long as it possibly can,
mother.  Watch every penny.  Don’t let there be nothing in the shape of
waste.”

“I managed, my dear,” she retorted, with spirit, “when your father was in
work, and earning 35s. a week, and I’ve somehow managed during the last
six weeks on your money alone.  It’s took a bit of doing,” she sighed,
“but I’ve done it.”

“Set down and rest for a moment,” recommended the boy.  “Expect you’re
like me—you’ve had a hard day of it.”

The little girl was expelled from the room for the reason that her
mother, in sitting, found the concealed wooden top.  The two were left to
converse together; the boy found a crumpled cigarette in his pocket, and
his mother, hunting for matches, sang the first lines of a song that
belonged to her early youth.

“I’ve got no objection,” he said, speaking with deliberation, between the
puffs, “to you being light-’earted, but I hope you realise, mother, that
I’m having to stint myself pretty considerably in order that you should
make both ends meet.”

“You’re a good lad,” she agreed, “as lads go nowadays!”

“I deny myself several luxuries, such as the first ’ouse at the local
Empire, something extra for lunch, a new necktie for Sundays.  This fag
that I’m smoking at the present moment was given to me.  I bring ’ome
every penny I earn, and if I ’appen by any chance to make a bit extra,
why, I bring that ’ome as well.  I don’t begrudge it in the least;
shouldn’t like you to think that of me, mother; all I want you to do is
to recognise it.  And if you care to mention the fact to neighbours, or
friends, or even to relatives, why, there’s no objection on my part.”

“I’ve never made no secret of it, my dear,” she declared, reassuringly.
“Your Aunt Mary was in only this afternoon, and you know what an
inquisitive one she is.  She brings a small pot of jam, and always
expects about a ton of information in exchange.  Wanted to know how I
managed, and whether we was running into debt, and how long it was likely
to last, and I don’t know what all.  I didn’t tell her everything, but I
did mention that if it hadn’t been for you I don’t know where we should
have found ourselves.”

“And what did she say?”

“Said I ought to be proud of you.  Said she wished she had a son like
you.”  He nodded approvingly, and continued to listen.  “Said that,
considering you only left school seven months ago—”

“Eight months.”

“—you might reckon yourself a credit to the family.”

“Anything else?”

“That’s all she said about you.”

He stretched himself, enjoying luxuriously the end of his cigarette.

“But,” going on with relish, “I was able to take her down a peg before
she went.  Never said nothing about it until just as she was going, and
then I told her, what I’m now going to tell you, my dear, and that is
this: your father’s been taken back by his old firm, and he started
earning good money this very day.  Wherever are you off to in such a
hurry?”

The boy snatched his cap from the wooden peg.  He strode out by the front
door, and walked away towards Dalston Junction, frowning.



VIII—JULES ZWINGER


THE probability is that, if you arrive by train and see first the
Restaurant of the Station, you will stay at Zwinger’s; if you come into
the town by road, crossing the bridge that spans the harbour, and see
first the Restaurant of Zwinger, you will put up at the Restaurant of the
Station.

Assuming that you stay at Zwinger’s, this is what happens.  The carrier
of your bag (who looks like a fisherman, and walks as a fisherman, but is
not a fisherman) throws it down outside the restaurant, and, sinking on
one of the green iron chairs, groans aloud a protest against the scheme
by which one has to work ere one can gain five pence; he rolls a
cigarette of black tobacco, and strikes a match which makes other
customers choke and cough.  Then comes, leisurely, one of the Misses
Zwinger, accepting salutations with the austere air of a lady bored by
deference.  Miss Zwinger, without asking the desires or wishes of the new
arrival, engages in swift and shrill altercation with a dog, hitherto
inoffensive, and occupied with the duties of explorer at the kerb; the
dog goes, but, at a safe distance, expresses an opinion by four sharp
barks, that bring from every corner of the triangular market-place, and
especially from the Town Hall at the base, several dogs, to whom he
explains the grievance.

“You require?”

Miss Zwinger calls her sister from the sanded floor interior to help with
the task of fending off an insurgent boarder.  The restaurant is full;
you may be able to engage a furnished room opposite; why not go to the
hotel out in the forest?  It is preferred, at this season, to take only
those who wish to stay for a month; would a double-bedded room suit?
Finally, having finished the duet, they leave, with a twirl of skirts,
giving the centre of the stage, so to speak, to a short, grim,
black-capped man who, hands deep in trousers pockets, talks as one giving
an imitation of distant thunder.  Outside clients rise from their chairs,
inside customers put down ribald journals with pictures intended to be
amusing, and stroll out to enjoy themselves.  Here comes the final test
of the novice.

I have seen young couples, husbands and wives, or brothers and sisters,
come from the narrow lane and, recognising Zwinger’s, say instantly:

“Oh, my goodness!  This will never do!”

Others (and these especially when ladies have been of the party) retire
after the contest with the Misses Zwinger.  Some, enduring this
encounter, turn and run, trembling and affrighted, on being faced by the
uncompromising host himself.  A few (mostly artists) survive all of the
dangers, and are grudgingly permitted to carry their bags up a narrow
wooden staircase, and find a room, the number of which has been screamed
at them: in the room they discover a milk jug nearly half-full of water,
and a small damp piece of linen riding on the clothes-horse.  Apart from
these defects, I will say that Zwinger’s, once conquered, gives in, so
far as bedroom and meals are concerned, with a fairly good grace.

Dinner in the large room at the back (entrance gained by way of the
kitchen) is a good, sufficient meal, to which it is only necessary to
bring the appetite to be gained by wandering in the woods, or a brisk
ride in tramcars from the sea.  Framed paintings on the wall, and
paintings on the wall with no frames, some a trifle obscured by age, and
possessing the signatures of men no longer youthful.  Four tables up and
down the room; the table on the right reserved for a set of young women
who, at the beginning of the evening meal, talk so persistently of the
contributions they have made during the day to the art of England and
America, that one’s French neighbour, with serviette tucked in at throat,
can, I fear, scarcely hear himself eat his soup.

“Most awfully pleased with what I’ve done to-day.  If the light hadn’t
begun to go off—”

“I’m like that, too.  Sometimes I simply can’t do anything, and then,
another time—”

“My dear, the model was too comic for words.  Talking all the time.  If
I’d only understood what he was saying, I could write a book about him,
and that’s a fact!”

“Absolutely in love with the place.  Could stay here for a whole week,
only I must be getting along.”

The serving of the meal has a touch of over-emphasis that sometimes
startles those who possess nerves; after a while, one becomes accustomed
to the method of banging each dish on the table with a clatter.  It is no
exaggeration, but the mere truth to say that, a request being made for
more bread, a chunk is cut from the yard-long loaves and thrown at the
diner; with practice, a certain dexterity can be gained, especially by
those expert in the cricket-field.  Five courses to the meal, and now and
again between two, a considerable interval, whilst the Zwinger family and
its dependents have a row in the kitchen, the guests sitting back
patiently until the last word is uttered.  The nice question of allotting
this last word is not easy to decide, for when the rumbling bass of
Zwinger has fired what appears to be a parting shot, and the girls return
to the dining-room with plates, and guests pull chairs forward, one of
the young women may think of another argument, and the two go back to the
kitchen, where the dispute recommences.  The quarrel finally at an end,
the Zwinger ladies come in, scarlet as a result of animated discussion,
and they serve the next course with more than usual truculence.  Boarders
go outside to take their coffee and to smoke, eyed narrowly, as they pass
through, by Zwinger, to be joined at tables on the pavement by wonderful
youths in corduroy suits, which suggest that they are either artists with
a definite aim in life, or porters belonging to the railway of the North.

You can always tell at Zwinger’s a new arrival by the circumstance that,
after taking some thought in regard to the arrangement and wording of the
phrase, he advances to the counter, where Zwinger scowls in a manner that
excuses the acidity of contents of some of the bottles ranged there.

“It makes good weather,” remarks the new arrival, cheerily.

Zwinger replies with an ejaculated grunt.

“Many of the world here?”

Zwinger—a most difficult speaker to report with accuracy—says something
like “S-s-t!”

“If you will have the kindness to give me a good cigar.”

Zwinger pushes a box forward, and the perplexed new arrival, tempted, I
am sure, to fall back on Ollendorf, and to ask for the new inkstand of
his great-uncle, refrains from further speech, and tempts the fates by
making selection from the compartment marked 15 c.  Outside he, on
explaining his grievance, ascertains that there is no need to feel
specially dishonoured by the gruffness accorded to him.  Zwinger must not
be considered with the eye that one gives to, say, the manager of the
Carlton away in London.  Zwinger (declare the hopeful) may be right
enough once you get to know him.  Zwinger (admit the candid) is certainly
trying, but you have to put up with something in coming to a quiet place
of this kind.  The tramcars clang, and hoot, and screw across the
market-place, and provide a more pleasing subject for conversation.

Disappearance of the curfew bell might have been coincident with the
entry of Zwinger into public life.  At a quarter past ten, he shows signs
of restlessness, jerking commands to the long man-servant, keeping at the
doorway a keen eye on the round tables.  As each becomes free, Zwinger
orders it, with its chairs, to be taken inside, and, although he permits
himself to exhibit no signs of gratification, I am certain he feels
secretly pleased when small parties of young men come across, and,
finding no place, give up their original intention.  If they endeavour to
pass through the doorway, Zwinger, taking no notice of them, remains
there so stolidly that they are compelled to take notice of him.  I have
seen him snatch newspapers from the hands of those who appeared
disinclined to observe the face of the clock: I have observed him give a
hint to an occupied chair by kicking it.  He turns down the lights, one
by one.  In desperate cases, where a couple of young Englishmen, with the
conventional ideas of the licence enjoyed at restaurants abroad, fill a
fresh pipe, I have seen him take a broom, and, with a few resolute
strokes, send them choking and half-blinded from the restaurant.  When a
late-stayer, with an idea of making a good and amiable exit, says, in
departing, “Good-night to the company!” Zwinger responds with one of
those grunts not to be found in any French or English dictionary.  Every
one gone, he takes a black cigar from the case, orders the girls to go to
bed, and, at the doorway, stands a good half-hour in order to enjoy the
satisfaction of saying, when any one arrives, “Closed!”

Bad luck for any resident who returns so late that Zwinger has retired to
rest.  For him, the restaurant presents no light, and, if he cares to be
well-advised, he will give up the attempt at once and spend the hours on
the bridge, smelling the tide, and watching the flashlight that sweeps
round from a point on the coast.  Should he prove obstinate, and persist
in knocking, he is engaged on a lengthy sport; the worst thing that can
happen is that Zwinger himself, and not the long man-servant, should come
down presently to give admission.  Cheerful blades have, ere this, on the
door being opened, tried to meet Zwinger with a pleasantry, affecting to
have brought the milk, or giving an imitation of the crowing of a cock,
but a look from Zwinger arrests.  Others, less daring and more
diplomatic, rush past, snatch their candlestick from the counter, and
vanish with the celerity easy to those possessed by sudden fear; the next
morning they go out by the side door, take a roundabout route to gain the
other side of the market-place, cross the bridge, and hide in the forest.
There is a report (which some credit, but I do not) of one young man,
leaving after a stay of six weeks, during which time the proprietor
exchanged no word with him; in going, he suddenly dropped his kit bag,
seized Zwinger by the hand, wrung the hand with enthusiasm for the space
of nearly a minute, thanking the astonished Zwinger the while for great
amiability and kindness, and genial behaviour; expressing a fervent hope
that Zwinger, when visiting Chelsea, would not fail to call at the Art
Club in Church Street.  The statement is that this was done for a bet.
Those who assume it to be true are forced to admit that France, with all
its stirring history, has rarely seen a braver act.

Yet I, who write these words, have seen the proprietor for one whole day
change his outlook, reverse his manner, alter his deportment.  The day
came rather late in the season, and nearly every one had left, but
corroborative evidence can be called if necessary.  The night before, a
hint, broad without being deep, was given by the Misses Zwinger to the
effect that no guarantee existed that meals would be provided on the day:
they pointed out the example which would be adopted by some other
boarders, of catching the 10.23 in the morning to a neighbouring town,
returning in the evening by the 9.48.  Throughout the night, from
half-past ten until an hour I am unable to fix, the noise of sawing, the
thud of hammer and nails, went on in the restaurant, with all the usual
arguments that arise when carpentry has to be done.  Clatter and
contention, bustle and loud voices; Zwinger, himself, growling now and
again to express dissatisfaction with everything.  I remember that, by
the device of making sympathetic inquiries after rheumatism, it was
possible in the morning to get from cook a roll and a cup of coffee, and
to escape from the din, which had recommenced, through the convenient
side door, and jump on the last carriage of a tram-train that went out to
the sea.  At one o’clock, the return.

A crowd outside Zwinger’s.  A crowd made up of frock-coated men, with red
ribbon in buttonhole; men in full evening dress, silk hats (some of which
appeared, from their shapes, to be the results of investments in the
’eighties), a few bowler hats coming well down to the ears; boots, in
certain instances, shining and pointed, in others more substantial, with
dust collected from high-roads.  Much lifting of these silk hats and
these bowlers, with extraordinary deference on the part of many, beaming
condescension on the part of the rest; an evident desire with the
prosperous to set the remainder at their ease.  Inside the restaurant,
long tables set on trestles, that accounted for the turbulent proceedings
which had broken the night, flowers in every spare mug, vase, or glass:
flags dependent from the ceiling; the Misses Zwinger, costumed as though
about to run on in musical comedy.  Through the kitchen came, pulling his
white tie, and pushing in one side of a shirt-front that immediately
bulged out on the other side, Zwinger himself.  A new Zwinger, a Zwinger
I had never seen before, a smile in every crease of his features,
saluting me with a light, friendly touch on the shoulder.

“What magnificent weather!  Ah, how fortunate we are!  Monsieur will do
us the honour to sit down with us?  But yes.  I count upon you!  Marie,
Jeannette!”

He gave sprightly orders to his girls, and passed out to be received with
something that resembled long-continued cheers.  All came in ten minutes
later, Zwinger leading the way, and escorting a prosperous man with the
figure of an American desk, who, in acknowledging my bow, gave to himself
a third chin.  Zwinger, having placed him at the top of one of the long
tables, bustled around, urging the rest to take their seats, giving a
shout of welcome to late comers, and presently taking a chair at the
lower end of the second long table with myself on his right, a Mr. Honoré
on his left.

“Much flattered!” said Mr. Honoré, accepting the introduction.

“Seated,” declared Zwinger of himself, jovially, “seated between two good
friends.”

Red wine stood on the white-clothed tables, and this gave me a moment of
depression, until Zwinger, on soup being cleared, whispered to me a
reassuring word, and I found that, despite similarity of labels, the
contents of the bottles had no resemblance or likeness to the beverage
usually supplied.  Talk up and down the tables was mainly of births,
marriages, and deaths, with, now and again, a description of recent
illness.  Also, the state of trade and the condition of agriculture, and
a few references to politics, so guarded that I knew it could not be a
lunch given in the interests of any political party.  I asked a question.

“Wait!” said Zwinger, mysteriously.

I give you my word of honour that he winked.

At the end of the meal—a good meal, well-cooked, and served in a way that
had nothing of the slap-dash-bang to which one was accustomed in the
dining-room—Zwinger went around with cigars, pressing the best and
longest upon the acceptance of the company, detained frequently in the
course of his tour by affectionate greetings, by honest congratulations
on the meal.  He spoke in the ear of the Chairman—a Sub-Prefect, so Mr.
Honoré assured me, nothing less—and scuttled back to his seat just in
time to assume an attitude of listening as the Chairman rose.

We were assembled, said the Chairman, to honour and acclaim once more the
day of September, that was ever in our hearts.  (Very good.)  We were
assembled to do honour to those who fought with us on that great day, and
fell beside us for the honour and glory of France.  (Very good, very
good.)  We were here—  The Chairman called gesture to the aid of
eloquence, swinging his left arm with a backward movement; guests leaned
forward to miss nothing, their faces becoming flushed as he proceeded,
eyes filling as he recited the names of those who had gone from this
world since the last meeting.  His rapidity of utterance increased: the
guests panted as they followed eagerly: one man rose in his excitement,
and neighbours pulled him down.  At the door of the kitchen, the two
girls, bearing trays of coffee, waited, trembling with excitement so that
the cups rattled.  A perfect cascade of phrases; glory, country, honour,
comrades, revenge, every word rushing past the others, and then Zwinger
sprang to his feet, echoed the toast wildly, and, holding his glass,
clinked it with mine, clinked it with Mr. Honoré’s, saluted the company,
drank, and sat down.

                                * * * * *

The carpenters were early at work the following morning, joining thus to
their duties the functions of an alarum clock.  As I went out for a
stroll at eight, intending to go so far as the fringe of the woods and
back, I saw Zwinger walking up and down outside the restaurant, his hands
deep in jacket pockets.

“My felicitations,” I said, cheerily, “on the enormous success of—”

Zwinger gave one of his monosyllables that express disinclination for
speech, disinclination to listen to speech from other people.  Turning,
he slippered away.



IX—THE LEADING LADY


TO tell the truth, I was not feeling in my best form.  Just before
entering the tramcar I had a brief dispute with my mother in regard to
the contents of a fruit-shop at the beginning of Gray’s Inn Road.  There
are many subjects on which the two of us fail to see eye to eye, and
frequently a somewhat acrimonious debate ends in triumph on her side.  At
times, we get along admirably together; at others a recommendation from
her that I should not exhibit temper goads me into something like fury.
The storm over, I am sorry that it happened.  My mother has often
remarked that I can be a perfect lady when I like.

“Not a one to nurse a grievance,” she adds.  “A couple of minutes and
it’s all past and forgotten.”

Our entry into the car was scarcely auspicious, partly because the
question of cherries had not vanished from my thoughts, partly because I
wanted to go up the steps and my mother was resolved to go inside; the
conductor spoke sharply, and my mother resented his tones.  He expressed
satisfaction in the knowledge that all passengers did not closely
resemble us, and my mother retorted that if there were many conductors of
his style people would prefer to walk.  He said he supposed that she,
being a woman, would insist on having the final word, and my mother
suggested it must give him a nasty shock to find himself correct for the
first time in his life; she added something about his features which
struck me as being not in quite the best taste.  I tugged at her arm.

“You be quiet!” she said to me sharply.  “Perfect worry, that’s what you
are.  Catch me ever letting you come out again to look at the shops!”

The car started from Holborn on its twopenny journey to Stamford Hill in
these circumstances.  The conductor, in collecting fares, scowled at me,
and I frowned back at him; before going up the steps he looked in again
to say ironically that we were a pretty pair.  A young man with his
sweetheart seated next to us thought the remark was addressed to him, and
there ensued a fresh wrangle, at the end of which the youth took the
conductor’s number, and half the passengers said the conductor had not
gone outside the bounds of common civility; the other half referred to
him as a Jack-in-office.  The young woman spoke to me and made some
complimentary allusion to my looks and general appearance.

“Keep still!” ordered my mother.  “I won’t have you talking to Tom, Dick,
and Harry.”

I knew that argument was useless; it would have been a waste of time to
point out that these names could not be rightly applied to my new friend.
She, an amiable person, showed me the Holborn Town Hall, and remarked
that she sometimes went to concerts there; the reference must have
suggested something to me, for, despite my mother’s efforts to restrain,
I lifted up my voice and sang.  It was but a simple melody, but the
earnestness I put into it seemed to touch the hearts of other passengers,
and when I finished they had ceased the dispute regarding the conductor
and were nodding to me pleasantly.

“Less noise inside there!” commanded the conductor, returned from
upstairs.

“Let her sing if she wants to,” said a matronly woman near the door.

“I’m not a-going to have this tramcar turned into a Queen’s Hall,” he
declared, “and you ought to know yourself better than encourage her.”

“I was young myself once.”

“That wasn’t yesterday,” he suggested.

The song had received so much favour that I considered the wisdom of
giving them either another or diversifying the entertainment by offering
some of my celebrated imitations.  These have always been highly
successful at home and at the houses of relatives; an uncle of mine
remarked on one occasion that they were far and away superior to the
originals.  I had not, however, previously attempted them before an
audience of strangers, and this, for the moment, made me shy and nervous.
The moment of hesitation over, I started.

“Now, that’s what I call clever,” said the young man near to us.  “Milly,
if you could only do something like that I might get reelly fond of you!”

My first idea was to make eyes at him; reflection told me that the love
of a man who was so easily influenced could never be worth having, and I
reassured the girl with a smile.  Glancing up and down the car, I could
see that I had now secured complete attention.  Men had folded up evening
newspapers, and were waiting to see what I would do next; women beamed in
my direction and one opposite offered me chocolates.  I took the box, but
my mother, whose knowledge of the rules of etiquette forms the subject of
one of her proudest boasts, said it would be more genteel to select only
one of the sweets.  I accepted the hint, and my mother—now in good
temper, and making no attempt to conceal the fact—remarked to the others
that I had always been noted for excellence of behaviour.

I gave next a recitation—one of my own composition—a short but telling
piece, with somewhat humorous references to the incident of a cat who
found its saucer of milk empty.  This went only fairly well; I think I
must give more care to voice-production.  The matronly lady near the door
asked what it was supposed to be all about, and my mother readily
furnished a sort of synopsis.  Some one begged I would sing again, but,
discouraged by the cool acceptance of the recital, I declined, until my
mother begged and entreated me not to sing.  At the conclusion there was
that genuine and hearty applause which every public performer recognises
and welcomes.

“Bless my soul!” cried some of the passengers, “Shoreditch Church,
already!”  They said goodbye to me, and I endeavoured to thank them for
their kindness in listening to my poor efforts.  One offered me a coin,
which I flung upon the floor.  I am an amateur, not a professional.

It was as the car went up Stoke Newington Road that I introduced my most
diverting item.  It has always pleased, but I was not certain that here
it would be appreciated.  The idea is to begin with a smile, to allow the
smile to broaden and become more pronounced; this is followed by a
chuckle, and then comes a peal of laughter.  My mother identified the
early stages, and, trembling with pride, warned the rest to pay special
and particular notice.  I am not exaggerating when I say that in less
than a minute I had the whole car with me—every one amused, some roaring.
The conductor put his hand over his face, but was compelled to give way,
and he went so far as to admit, very handsomely, that it was the funniest
thing he had witnessed outside the Dalston Hippodrome.

“Don’t tire yourself, darling,” begged my mother solicitously, and
speaking in aristocratic tones.  “Be careful not to overdo it.  You know
what you’re like when you’ve been excited.”

I pushed her advice aside, and when the car slowed up near the station I
do believe all who were going on to the terminus felt honestly sorry to
see me preparing to leave.  As we stood on the pavement—the conductor had
given us a hand, and he apologised for brusqueness of behaviour at the
start, explaining that there had been an awkward passenger on the
previous journey, and they had come to words—as we stood, I say, on the
pavement, every one in the car waved hands, and the young man, I was
gratified to notice, blew a kiss.

“Hullo, Ernest!” said my mother.  “Here we are at last.  Been waiting
long?”

“Months and months and months,” replied my father.  “What sort of a girl
has she been?  Baby,” he went on, addressing me, and taking me in his
arms, “you may be as clever as your mother tries to make out, but I take
me oath you don’t get none the lighter as time goes on!”



X—TIME’S METHOD


“TRAIN rather late, surely,” remarked Mr. Chelsfield deferentially to the
Inspector.

“What do you expect?” demanded the official, turning upon him suddenly.
“What do you look for at a time like this?”

“My son!” replied the other, with pride.  “Me and his mother have give
him six months at a boarding-school in Kent, and he’s coming home this
afternoon.”

“I don’t mean what you mean.”  The Inspector became more calm as he
essayed the task known to railway men as knocking sense into the heads of
the public.  “What I intended to say was that at this time of the year,
and with all these specials about, it’s only reasonable to assume that
the ordinary trains—  See what I’m driving at, don’t you?  Steam’s a
wonderful invention, but we can’t do impossibilities.  Think of the old
coaching-days; what must it have been like then?”

“His mother’s waiting at home, else I shouldn’t be so eager.”

“Ah!” said the Inspector, with a touch of either sentiment or
condescension.  “We all know what women are.”

Mr. Chelsfield, walking along the platform with the Inspector for the
sake of company and the encouragement of warmth, had to admit that he
felt equally anxious, and offered the present of a cigar which he
described as harmless; the official accepted it graciously, and promised
to make it the subject of an experiment on the following Sunday
afternoon.  In return he gave the latest news from Chislehurst, and
guaranteed to eat his silk hat if the Emperor recovered.  He felt sorry
for Napoleon, and expressed the view that it was a pity there was only
one son in the family.  Nice enough young fellow, it was true; he had
shaken hands with the Inspector once, but if anything happened to the
Prince Imperial, where would they be?  The Inspector’s estimate of the
right number in a family coincided with the number in his own.

“This,” said Mr. Chelsfield, with a nod in the direction of the down
line—“this is the only one we’ve got.  Only one we ever had.”

“Take care not to spoil him.  That’s always the risk when there’s only
one.  Now my six—  Here’s the train signalled.  Get to the other end of
the platform, and then you can’t miss him.”

The platform was long under its wooden roof, and Mr. Chelsfield could not
move with the celerity he had shown in the early ’sixties; some of his
colleagues at the warehouse said it was rheumatism, but he declared it to
be only a slight stiffness of the joints.  Passengers were going through
the barrier, and, flushed by anxiety, he looked about; presently made a
dash through the crowd, seized a lad who wore a mortar-board, and pinched
his ear affectionately.  On the lad turning and demanding an explanation,
Mr. Chelsfield apologised for his error, and hurried off to continue his
search.

“Three hours and a half,” said the friendly Inspector later.  “That’s
what it is before the next.  It isn’t worth while waiting if you only
live up in Holborn.  Hop into a ’bus outside the station.”

“I must,” Mr. Chelsfield admitted concernedly.  “I’m bound to go back and
tell his mother.  She’ll be out of her mind else.”

“Just my argument,” claimed the Inspector.  “Now, if you’d got six, like
I have—”

Mr. Chelsfield stepped out of the omnibus at Chancery Lane, and, paying
the conductor, went along to Bedford Row with some wisps of the straw
belonging to the conveyance attached to his boots.  He felt himself to be
on the edge of a painful scene, and wondered where he should find the sal
volatile if it happened to be wanted.  The front door of the offices,
with its elaborate knocker, was open, and he went slowly downstairs to
the living-rooms.

“Well?” said his wife.  He shook his head.  “Speak up!” she commanded; “I
can’t hear when you turn your face to the wall and mumble like that.”

He gave the explanation and waited for signs of collapse.

“You’re a pretty one to send to a railway-station, and no mistake!” she
remarked, taking off the tea-cosy.  “Another time I must go myself.”

“None for me, mother,” he said desolately.  “I couldn’t drink it even if
you poured it out.  Wonder what’s happened to the boy?”

“How should I know?”

He walked up and down the room, looked through the window at the iron
grating, and rubbed his head furiously with a red pocket-handkerchief,
the wife watching him with an amused expression.  As she took the knife
in order to cut the home-made cake, still warm from the oven, he raised
his hand as a feeble protest against asking him to taste food.

“Can we have the winder open?” he asked submissively.  “This room seems
stuffy to me, or else it is that I’m upset.  I feel—I feel as though I
can’t sit down at this table.”

“Suppose,” said his wife, with a wink—“suppose you have a look underneath
it.”

The boy crawled out, smoothed his hair, and submitted a forehead to his
parent; the mother came near to choking with delight at the success of
her elaborate scheme, and presently leaned head exhaustedly against the
antimacassar which protected the back of the horsehair easy-chair.  How
on earth had they missed each other?—that was what the delighted father
wanted to know.  Henry must have jumped out of the train and cut away
uncommonly sharp.  Henry, permitted under the special circumstances to
discard convention and begin with cake, working back through the toast to
the bread and butter, confessed that he had lost no time.

“But, my lad,” urged his father more seriously, “you knowed that I was
coming to meet you.”

“Had another fellow with me,” replied the boy.

“Oh!”—arresting a doubled piece of bread and butter on its way from the
plate—“and didn’t you want him to see me?”

“Don’t be silly, father!” interposed the mother.  “Henry, my child, ask
if you want a second piece.”

“It wasn’t exactly that,” said the boy.

“Then, perhaps, you’ll kindly tell me what was the reason.  Come on, now;
out with it!  I want an answer.”

“Thought perhaps you might kiss me, father.  And Watherston standing by.”

“Very natural on the boy’s part,” declared the mother.  “You forget that
Henry’s growing up.  He doesn’t mind it in private, but there comes a
time when a boy doesn’t want all this fuss in public.”

“If that was the only reason—” said the father.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” ordered his wife.  “You never see
Henry do it.  And one arm off the table, if you please.”  Her husband
obeyed, taking up an attitude of greater precision and obvious
discomfort.  “That sounds like Gleeson & Co. going out; I shall have to
see about my pail and flannel, and get up there and do their floor.”

“I thought—” began the boy sharply.

“We decided otherwise, my dear,” she said.  “We didn’t settle it in a
hurry by any means; your father and me talked it over night after night,
and eventually we came to a definite conclusion.”

“You see, my lad”—the father took up the explanation—“there was money
going out for your schooling, and provisions don’t get no cheaper, and we
was both anxious not to touch the little nest-egg we’ve put by.
Besides”—with spirit, on noting the crimson look of annoyance on his
son’s face—“besides, it’s purely a matter for us to settle.  If your
mother doesn’t mind going on with the housekeeper work, and if I don’t
object to her doing it, why, there’s nothing more to be said.”

The tea-table endured a silence of nearly a minute.  The two parents
examined the pattern of the oilcloth that covered it.

“Pardon me,” said the boy, with the new manner acquired at the
boarding-school, “but am I to understand that my feelings are not to be
considered in the matter?”

The mother put out her hand quickly and patted her husband’s arm,
upraised to give a gesture that would emphasise his reply.  He dropped
it, and took a long, loud drink from a saucer that trembled.

“We can talk about this,” she said hurriedly, “another time.  We shall
have a clear fortnight, Henry, before you start work.  Say grace!”  They
bowed their heads, and joined in the Amen.  “Did you make some nice new
friends at the boarding-school, my dear?  We’ve arranged all about your
party for the fifteenth, and I think, by a little scrounging and a
hand-round supper, we ought to be able to manage twelve.  Including us
three, that is.  If we go over that, there’s always the risk of having
the unlucky number, and that spoils everybody’s pleasure.  Come along
with me, and we can have a good talk over the arrangements whilst I’m
tying on my apern.  What I was wondering was whether we should have all
boys, old friends of yours about the neighbourhood, or whether to invite
a few girls.  There’s your friend Jessie,” she bustled on waggishly.  “We
mustn’t let her feel neglected.  Always asks after you, Jessie does.”
She lowered her voice.  “Your father’s got the idea into his head that
the boarding-school may have induced you to be high and mighty, and make
you look down on them and us.  But of course, my dear, I know better.”

The boy was leaning against the stout oak door later, as his mother
cleaned and hearthstoned the steps; two minutes, she remarked, and her
work would be over.  In reply to his urgent appeal, she gave a promise
that so soon as he began to earn money the work should be finished for
good.  A lad in a mortar-board came through from the direction of
Holborn, and strolled up on the other side, examining the numbers.
Attracted by the sound of voices, he crossed over and spoke.

“I say, my good woman,” he said, with cheerful condescension, to the
kneeling figure, “Number thirty-five, I want.  These figures are so
confoundedly indistinct.  Name, Chelsfield—Henry Chelsfield.  Can you
tell me where I shall find him?”

“You haven’t fur to go,” she remarked, and beckoned with her handful of
flannel.  “I must apologise for being caught in my disables,” she went
on, levering herself up with the aid of the pail.  “Shan’t hear the last
of this for a long time.  Still, as I say, we’ve all got to live.”

Her son came forward, and, waiting for the introduction, she smoothed her
grey hair with the back of a wet hand.  The boy’s father came out, too,
wearing a tasselled smoking-cap rakishly; to honour the occasion he had
lighted the fellow to the cigar given away to the friendly Inspector.

“Hullo, Chelsfield!”

The boy glanced at his mother, looked over a shoulder at his father.  He
hesitated for a moment, then cleared the damp steps at a single jump, and
taking his friend’s arm, led him across the roadway.

“Called round, Chelsfield,” the mortar-board lad said, “called round at
once to tell you that I find I’m engaged two deep for the evening you’ve
fixed for Drury Lane.  Now, what I want to suggest is this.  How about
you changing your date?”

The father and mother stood just outside the doorway, speaking no word,
but listening and waiting.  The visitor made a movement to re-cross, but
Henry detained him.  The mother coughed in order to give a reminder of
her presence.  The visitor, breaking off in the discussion, recommended
that Henry should fetch a cap and stroll with him as far as Gray’s Inn
Road and see him into a Favorite omnibus for the return to Islington.
Henry ran in, with a mumbled explanation to his parents.

“Quite an old-fashioned bit of London here,” remarked the polite boy.

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Chelsfield, coming forward eagerly.  “Oh, yes, sir.
People often notice that.  Years ago, I b’lieve, quite aristocrats used
to live here.  London’s changing.”

“Improving,” suggested the lad.

“I reckon the next thirty years will show a lot of difference.  Me and
the wife,” he continued, with a jerk of the head towards her, “me and
her, we recollect ’Olborn, of course, long before the Viaduct was opened.
Previous to that—”

Their boy came out between them with a rush.

“Ready, Chelsfield?”

“Quite ready, Watherston,” he replied, nervously and briskly.

“Sorry to have missed seeing your people,” remarked the polite lad, as
they went off arm-in-arm.  “Perhaps some other time I may have the
pleasure.”

“Perhaps!” he said.

                                * * * * *

The space of time mentioned by old Chelsfield elapsed, but he prevented
himself from enjoying the content of a successful prophet by commencing
rather absurdly to break up in health almost immediately after venturing
upon the tolerably safe anticipation.  Amongst the changes of thirty
years was the fact that Chelsfield, as a name, had become better known;
even the folk who flew through the main streets of London on motor
omnibuses, and had to give nearly all their attention to the holding on
of hats, could not evade recognition of the hoardings; the Chelsfield
posters declined to be ignored.  If you closed your eyes to these, you
were nearly sure to encounter the name in your daily paper.  If you
missed it in your daily paper, it came into the letter-box, marked “Very
Important.”  If you dodged it there, it confronted you on your theatre
programme at night.  Leaving the theatre and endeavouring to forget the
name, you saw it at a popular corner, being written with great
deliberation in illuminated letters, as though some invisible giant had
made up his mind to grasp the rudiments of education.

Henry Chelsfield himself was not insensible to the determined appeals,
and, going home in his electric brougham, he counted them.  Thus one
evening he found a dreary gap between the Cobden statue and the
Britannia, and immediately made memorandum of the circumstance in his
note-book, in order that the deplorable omission might be attended to on
the following day.  All very well for the advertising agents to send him
a box for the theatre, but these people had to be kept up to the mark.

“I can be amiable enough,” he said to the clock inside the brougham, “in
private affairs, but I’m very different where money matters are
concerned.”

Chelsfield might be flattering himself, or he might be telling the truth;
anyhow he was a Londoner, with a Londoner’s weakness for orders for the
play.  That was why he had left his offices early; that was why he
proposed to eat at an unusual hour; that was why, on arriving at
Hampstead, he ordered the man to bring the brougham round again at
half-past seven.  He dined alone, with a portrait of a good-looking
woman, painted by Herkomer, facing him; at her side a lad, with small
eyes rather close to each other.  Chelsfield lifted his glass when the
two maids had left the room and said:

“Jessie!”

He did not drink a toast to the boy.

Watherston, from a house nearer the Heath, came in as Chelsfield
pretended to smoke a cigarette—he had been thinking that one man in a
private box would present a lonely figure to the audience; the gallery
would say that he had no friends—and Watherston asked to be excused for
once from joining in a game of billiards.

“Nothing could have happened better!” cried Chelsfield, arousing himself.
“You have only to run home and jump into evening dress, and—”

“My boy wants me to take him to see the conjuring people at St. George’s
Hall.”

“You’re not spoiling that lad of yours, I hope, Watherston?”

“I’m not spoiling my lad,” retorted Watherston, speaking with emphasis.
The two men gazed at each other with the sudden acerbity of manner that
comes at times to the closest friends.  Chelsfield’s eyes went presently
to the fruit on the table.  “Ever hear anything of yours?” demanded
Watherston, following up his advantage.

“There’s no doubt whatever,” replied Chelsfield testily, “that he
disappeared in South Africa.  I don’t want to discuss the matter again.
He was older than your boy.  And you know as well as I do that after his
mother died he went to the bad.”

“You told him to stay there?”

“I can give you and your lad a lift as far as Kingsway,” said Chelsfield,
“if that’s of any use.”

“It won’t be much help to us,” replied his friend candidly; “but we shall
be company for you.”

The Watherston boy was enthusiastic about the swift ride, enthusiastic
about the performance he was about to see, enthusiastic at being with his
father, enthusiastic over everything.  Chelsfield, watching him on the
way, thought that no man desired any better company than that of a
cheerful son.  Arrived at Holborn, he suddenly announced that he had
decided to take the complimentary step of giving up the theatre-box and
of joining them in their visit to St. George’s Hall.  As he lowered the
window and put his head out to speak to his man, the boy and father
conferred in a whisper.

“Chelsfield!” said the friend, touching his sleeve.

“What now?”

“Let us get out.  I want to speak to you privately.  Fact is”—on the
pavement—“fact is—you know what boys are, and I’m sure you won’t mind—but
he tells me that he would rather go with me alone; and, to tell you the
truth, I don’t want to share him this evening.  You see, he goes back to
Rugby to-morrow.”

Chelsfield dismissed his brougham and decided to walk the remainder of
the way.  He went with head down, and so deep in thought that it startled
him when, in a turning from the new highway, he was accosted by one of a
long file of men, waiting to march into the shelter for the night.  There
were about a hundred of them—old, young, middle-aged, all imperfectly
shod, hands in pockets.  He glanced along the line before replying.  The
light from a lamp showed the face of one, the youngest of all.

“Right you are,” said the man who had spoken to him, in an amiable tone
of voice, “if you ’aven’t got any tobacker, you can’t give us none.”

“I’ll—I’ll go and get some,” he remarked with agitation.

“Good iron!” said the man approvingly.

Chelsfield returned from the Strand breathless, a parcel under his arm,
and, removing the string with trembling fingers, began the work of
distribution.  Some of the men received the ounce gratefully, some
mentioned that it was all done for the sake of advertisement, some
demanded why he had not also brought pipes, some accepted with a snatch.
Chelsfield had not regained full control of his breathing powers when he
reached the lamp.

“No, thanks!”

“You—you are not a smoker?”

“I am a smoker; but I don’t accept anything from you.”

Chelsfield took his son’s hand and tried to pull him from his place.  “I
want to speak to you, dear boy.  I’ve something important to say.”

“You said something important to me once,” retorted the other doggedly,
“and you don’t have a chance of saying anything important to me again.
Be off, before I set the others on to you.”  His attitude expressed
determination.

Chelsfield’s housekeeper, at breakfast the next morning, asked in her
respectful manner what he thought of the comedy he had seen the previous
night.  Chelsfield told her that he considered it extremely far-fetched.



XI—SCOTTER’S LUCK


HIS opponent, after a good look at the table, adjusted his cue, and,
disregarding the murmur of “Whitechapel!” sent spot white into a pocket.
Many of the spectators volunteered advice, the while Scotter stood back
and glanced self-commiseratingly at the scoring-board.

“That all I am, marker?” he inquired.

“That’s your total figure, my lad.”

Scatter’s opponent took time in aiming at the red, and the suggestion
that he had gone to sleep did not induce him to hurry.  Striking his own
ball gently and rather high up, the two travelled slowly into baulk.
Scotter remarked dismally that this was just his luck, and found spot
white; he was about to make a wild shot up and down the table when he
changed his mind, and, considering angles, drew back his cue and prepared
to send his ball at a particular point of the cushion.

“This ought to do it,” he said, “but whether it will or not is more than
I can—”

A bell rang.  On the instant the men were out of the billiard-room;
Scotter the last, because his first neat and orderly idea was to replace
his cue in the stand, the second, a time-saving notion, was to leave it
resting against the table, and in this confusion of thought a few moments
were wasted.  As the two horses plunged and reared in the yard, and made
a dash through the short avenue of people outside the gates, one or two
of his helmeted colleagues expressed the opinion that when the last trump
sounded Scotter would be the last to respond, bringing with him an
assortment of about ten good and sufficient excuses.  Above the clanging
and the noise, he was asked whether he had ever been really in time for
anything but his meals; he blushed when they declared that girls were
probably waiting for him at altars in various churches of London, growing
old and cross and tired.

“Where are we bound for?” he asked, to change the subject.

“We’re going to a fire, Scotty, my lad,” it was explained.  “Didn’t you
know?  You thought we were off to an evening party, to have a game of
postman’s knock.  But no; we’re going to a fire, and we’ve got to put it
out soon as we possibly can.  Remember that, won’t you?  Not to make it
burn brighter, but to put it out.  It’s done with the aid of a syphon of
soda.  You take the syphon like this, and you remark to the fire, ‘Say
when!’ and then—”

Southampton Row, at the narrow part, blocked with confused traffic; the
wild horses had to pretend to be tamed whilst a passage was made.
Fire-engines were also coming along Hart Street and from Kingsway;
tramcars bobbing up from the tunnel waited politely.  The engine managed
to reach the street, and a stout superintendent, glancing at his watch,
told the men they stood an excellent chance of winning the booby prize.

“For that pretty compliment,” they said, dropping from the engine, “we
have to thank you, Mister Sleepy Scotter, Esquire.”

Police keeping the people back; the street already a river, streams of
water being sent high up at two houses, neighbours’ faces out with the
nearest wearing an expression of anxiety, whilst those a few doors off
and opposite showed nothing more than interest.  Furniture hurled out of
windows, with now and again a smash.  The firemen went about their work
alertly and swiftly; when an order was given half a dozen hurried to
obey.  More engines arriving and two ladders.  On the second floor of one
of the houses a burst of flame that cracked the windows.

“Is everybody out?” demanded an official.

“All out, sir.”

“Sure?”

Mrs. Mather was called.  Mrs. Mather, found in tears on the kerb, with
children around her, was asked sharply whether these represented her
entire family; replied that if they did but stand still she would count
them.  One, two, three, four, five; yes, sir; we’re all here.  Mather
himself away on a job at Silvertown.  All the dear, blessed youngsters
safe, thanks be; might have been a good deal worse.  Mrs. Mather had
never been in a fire before, but an aunt of hers living up at Sadler’s
Wells way once had the misfortune to overturn a lamp—What was that?  Six?
No, no; the neighbour must be confusing her with another lady.  Bless
Mrs. Mather’s soul; a parent ought surely to be allowed to know how many
children she possessed.  There was Tommy, the eldest, next Ethel, next
Walter, next Gracie, and then Hubert, then Mrs. Mather, with a gesture of
self-reproof, begged to apologise.  The neighbour was correct.  Mrs.
Mather admitted she had overlooked the baby, and, whilst she thought of
it, there was the little girl from Forty-eight who came in to mind the
kid.

“You’re a light weight, Scotter,” said the Superintendent.  “Up you go,
and do your very best.”

Scotter went up the escape, bending his head to dodge flames that were
darting out from the second floor; up again, and disappeared.  There was
a crash there of something falling in; the helmeted men below gave a low
whistle.  That settled poor Scotter’s game of billiards.  That relieved
him of any difficulty of knowing what to do with plain white and the red
left in baulk.  That meant a rare old scene later on, with Scotty’s
sweetheart coming round to the station.

“Another man up!” ordered the Superintendent.

The second was half-way up, and had been drenched by error, when Scotter
reappeared at the top window.  He had the baby in a shawl that was tied
at his neck; in the left arm he carried a limp little girl; the crowd in
the street roared “Hip-pip—hooray!” and Mrs. Mather cried warningly,
“Don’t stay up there; come down!”

“That makes your little lot complete, then,” remarked the Superintendent.

“They’re all here now,” conceded the lady.  “How I come to overlook the
fact that there was one short is more than I can tell you.  I’m sure it’s
very kind of this gentleman.  When baby’s old enough he must thank him.”

“You all right, Scotter?”

“Yes, thank you, sir.  Bit singed, but nothing to brag about.”

The crowd lost all its good spirits so soon as the first engine was sent
home, and folk told each other regretfully that there were no fires now
as in the old days.  The waiting horses had recovered breath and began to
caper about to impress the crowd with a sense of their importance.
People to whom news had come tardily ran up from Clerkenwell Road
demanding to know the whereabouts of the fire, and, being told it was
out, censured the County Council, their informants, and themselves.  Two
firemen were selected to remain in charge; the others, dusting knees and
rubbing knuckles into eyes, waited for orders.

“Get off back, you lot.  Scotter, you did uncommonly well.  Just given
your name to some newspaper men.  Married man?  Not yet?  I was going to
say, if you were, your missus would be proud of you.”

The pace was good on the return journey, but not frantic, and Scotter was
told by a dozen experts what to do to the burn on his left wrist.  At the
station they assisted him in the task of washing, and made a neat
bandage; over cups of tea they went through the details of the fire, and
extinguished it again.  A move was made to the billiard-room.

“Spot white’s turn,” announced one, taking up position at the
marking-board.  “Plain white and the red both in baulk.”  Glancing at the
pegs, “Twenty-three plays forty-eight.”

“You’ve got to buck up, Scotter.”

He took careful aim.  Sent his ball against the right-hand cushion; it
went from this to the top of the table, across to the left, travelled
down, and dropped gently into the right-hand lower pocket.  Three
deducted from his score.

“Don’t know what’s the matter with me,” said Scotter despairingly.
“Somehow or other, I can’t do anything right to-day.”



XII—MEANS OF TRANSPORT


THE indignation meeting occurred without any of the printed entreaties
usually found needful in order to induce the public to arouse.  It seems
less strange that only ladies attended, for the sex is notoriously
beginning to take an interest in public questions.

Mr. Woods, driving one of his own wagonettes, was talking to the two
passengers secured at the railway station four miles off and giving them
a short autobiography—“Begun to work, I did, afore I were twelve, I
did!”—when he caught sight of the gathering and broke off to express
amazement; he gave at once an emphatic but scarcely original declaration
that if women secured the vote they would not know what to do with it.
The passengers differed from this view, and Mr. Woods, anxious to secure
their patronage for the return journey, hastened to admit that he had not
had the time to study the question thoroughly.  A lady detached herself
from the group and, holding her tweed cap on her head, ran across.

“Whatever’s amiss, Jane?”

“It’s a missis,” she added, robbed of breath by indignation and hurry.
“That Mrs. Jarrett, as she calls herself.  She’s been and opened some Tea
Gardens.”

“News to me,” he remarked alarmedly.

“News to all of us.  She ain’t been here more than three months, and this
morning there’s playcards all over her place.”

“Thought she seemed a nicely spoken person.”

“You wait,” said Jane threateningly, “until we begin to talk to her.
She’ll get what I call some home truths if she don’t look out.”

The passengers suggested mildly that their time was limited, and Woods,
rendered silent by the extraordinary nature of the information, drove on
to the edge of the forest, contenting himself by indicating on the way
the cottage where his sister-in-law Jane resided.  In the clouded diamond
panes it exhibited shyly, as did most of the other cottages, a small card
that whispered the word “Teas”; a few bottles of ginger-beer rested on
the sill to suggest that the establishment had further resources.  After
the passengers alighted he drove around by the road that skirted the
wood, checking the horse slightly on approaching the house and lawn
occupied by the new-comer.  Tables had been placed, with striped cloths
held by shining clips; a small marquee was being fixed in the corner.
The neatly-painted board at the gate gave the title, “Forest Tea
Gardens,” adding sentences to the effect that refreshments of the best
quality could be obtained at any hour—“Large Parties and Small Parties
catered for; proprietress, Clara Jarrett.”  As Mr. Woods, unwilling to
display curiosity, allowed his horse to go on, an automatic pianoforte
started, with great vivacity, a waltz.

“Great thing is,” announced Mr. Woods, speaking from his conveyance to
the meeting as though he were a candidate for Parliament—“is not to lose
your heads.  Keep perfectly calm and cool, and everything’ll come right
in the long run.”

“Question is, how long a run is it going to be?” demanded one.

“Provided,” he went on, “provided that we all stick together, she can’t
last half-way through the summer.”

“And meanwhile—”

“Meanwhile,” interrupted Woods irritably, “you’ve got to make the best of
it.  Competition’s bound to exist in this world.”

“How would you like it, Mr. Woods, if somebody—”

“One matter at a time.  Let’s keep to the question.  What I want you to
recognise is that you’ve got a true friend in me.  I’ve no partic’lar
objection to her; as I said just now to my sister-in-law, she always
seemed a nicely spoken person, and I don’t wish to do her any harm
whatsoever.  But there’s no doubt at all in my mind that so far as we are
concerned she’s a interloper.”

The women appeared to find the description too lenient.  One announced
vehemently that, before Mr. Woods came along, they had almost decided to
go in a body and pull down the signboard, demolish the marquee, and in
other ways convey the fact that they looked upon the new Tea Gardens with
disapproval.  Goodness knew, there had never been much profit made out of
sixpenny teas; it seemed likely that in the future it would be scarcely
worth while to make cakes and keep the kettle boiling.  Woods, again
begging for moderation, urged they should cease talking for the space of
two seconds and listen to him.  He, with his cabs and wagonettes, had
full control over all the traffic from the station, excepting that small
part which took the (as he thought) mistaken course of deciding to walk.
Nearly all of these passengers put one inquiry to him or to his men.

“Now do keep quiet until I’ve finished,” prayed Woods.  “Only got half a
dozen more words to say, and I’m done.”

He, on his side, was prepared to guarantee that the new Tea Gardens
should never, by speech or hint, be recommended.  If any passenger,
having heard of them, mentioned the name, then Mr. Woods or his men could
be relied upon to cast discredit ingeniously without bringing themselves
within the domain of the laws of libel.  On their side, they must be
prepared for some special efforts; must make a greater show; endeavour to
engage the passing visitor by welcome smiles; take care to keep windows
open.  He feared they did not always realise the Londoner’s partiality
for fresh air.

“And,” asked his sister-in-law defiantly, “are we supposed to keep on
friendly terms with her whilst all this is going on?”

“Please yourselves,” replied Mr. Woods generously.  “So far as I’m
concerned, I shall continue to pass the time of day.”

“And go on bringing her illustrated newspapers, I suppose, from the
station?”

“You’ll allow me, Jane, to be the best judge of my own affairs.”

“But you’re setting out to be the best judge of ours as well!”

“I’ve given you good advice,” said Mr. Woods, gathering the reins, “but
it’s beyond human power to compel you to take it.”

Confidence in himself was shaken by information conveyed by the two
passengers on the return journey.  Having forgotten the exact whereabouts
of his sister-in-law’s house they had gone into the new Tea Gardens, and
their content and satisfaction with the treatment received made subject
of conversation throughout the journey.  The excellence of the
watercress, the surprising freshness of the eggs, the admirable quality
of the home-made jam—all these impressed them favourably, and they talked
of arranging with friends a picnic on a large scale and without the
inconvenience of heavy baskets.  Mr. Woods, not being asked for an
opinion, gave several; one was in favour of splitting the party up
amongst the cottages.  He declared this plan would encourage sociability
and give an insight into country life.  For almost the first time in his
professional career Woods found himself told to mind his own business.
He invented some compensation by speaking sharply to one of his men whom
he charged with the offence of keeping hands in pockets.

The members of the home syndicate received such a quick succession of
blows from the new Tea Gardens that they began to experience a kind of
dazed resignation, and it became the duty of Mr. Woods to order them to
awake.  The automatic pianoforte was followed by engagement from town of
two young nieces, who were not content with demure costume and long blue
pinafore, but must needs, if you please, wear a rather attractive lace
cap.  After this came a large rocking-horse for the pleasure of children,
or, failing children, the content of grown-ups who fancied equestrian
exercise and wished to promote digestion.  After this, a giant’s stride.
After this, a skittle-alley which drew away of an evening many of the
best and most regular customers from “The Running Stag.”  After this, a
lawn-tennis court, with rackets and balls provided without charge to
those who had taken the shilling tea.  It was in regard to the shilling
tea that Woods’s sister-in-law, ignoring him, went direct to the vicar,
from whom she received the disappointing information that the words “ad
lib.” were not, in themselves, offensive, or calculated to undermine the
morality of the village; he added some trenchant remarks concerning the
duties of parents, which Jane assumed to refer to other ladies.  Jane
assured the vicar that she did all that was possible in the distribution
of good counsel, and he remarked that it would make a useful change for
her to vary the method by accepting it.  So far as Mrs. Jarrett and
Sundays were concerned, she and her nieces came to church in the
mornings; they worked hard in the afternoon, and they rested in the
evening.  The vicar, admitting that he might be considered either very
old-fashioned or very new-fashioned, declared this a good manner of
spending the day, and gave a short account of Sundays in the early part
of the seventeenth century.  Woods, to whom this was reported, said,
guardedly, that the events referred to occurred before he came to town.

The fly-master had, at this period, troubles of his own which decreased
his interest in regard to the rivalry in the tea trade.  The first news
came from one of the nieces back from a visit to town on an occasion when
Woods, at the foot of the hill, stepped down to walk and encourage his
horse.  The detached position which he had assumed since the beginning of
the dispute had been modified because Jane’s daughter told one of his
young men (and the young man told Mr. Woods) that Jane had announced an
opinion to the effect that her brother-in-law found the money to finance
the Tea Gardens, a suggestion so unfair and so preposterous that he
declared his intention of allowing them to fight their battles without
further assistance from him; henceforth, he proposed to take up a
strictly impartial attitude.  Consequently, he had recommenced the
bringing of illustrated newspapers, and more than once he and Mrs.
Jarrett discussed impending marriages in high life, conduct of the German
Emperor, accidents caused by motor-cars, and other topical subjects.  The
niece, taking charge of the roll of journals, had distributed amongst the
passengers some of Mrs. Jarrett’s neatly printed cards, had pointed out
to them a notable church and conspicuous dwellings.  Leaning over the
side of the conveyance, she gave the information already referred to.

“You Londoners will have your lark,” he commented.  “Your aunt’s just the
same.”

“But I’m serious.”

“You don’t take me in.  When you say you’re serious is jest when you’re
trying to chaff.”

“They told me so up at Paddington, at any, rate,” she declared.  “Friend
of mine is in one of the head offices, and he assured me it was a
positive fact.”

The two held further conversation as the horse, arrived on the level,
jogged on again; she held the reins whilst he noted in his pocket-book
some names and addresses which remained in her memory.  Woods, greatly
disturbed, had to be reminded by her, when the destination was reached,
of the formality of collecting fares.

Within the space of a fortnight confirmation came.  Down at the railway
station small posters were exhibited, and quite a crowd assembled to read
them and to chaff Woods on the disaster awaiting him, it being a
notorious fact that nothing so much cheers A, B, C, and D as to discover
that E is on the edge of calamity.  On blank walls along the route the
bills appeared.  At Mrs. Jarrett’s Tea Gardens—this proved the most
stinging smack—a new board was erected bearing the words:

                       “TERMINUS FOR MOTOR OMNIBUSES.”

Woods, with a set face, ordered the full strength of his stables to
assemble at the station on the first morning to meet the train due just
before eleven.  The flies and wagonettes took up position; the large new
omnibus, on rushing up with uniformed driver and boy conductor, found
itself obliged to be satisfied with a place near the cloakroom entrance.
As passengers came out Woods and his men attacked them much in the way
that highwaymen would have behaved a hundred years before.

“Sixpence all the way!” they shouted.  “Here you are, lady!  Cheaper than
the motor!  Here you are, lady, sixpence all the way!”

Perhaps the fierce onslaught was an error in tactics.  Perhaps it would
have been wiser not to draw attention to the presence of a swifter mode
of conveyance.  Perhaps the natural independence of Londoners induced
them to consider before coming to a decision.  A messenger sent to the
new omnibus returned with the news that the fare was eightpence—fourpence
cheaper than the old fare, but obviously twopence dearer than Mr. Woods’s
new tariff.

“Oh, it’s worth it!” cried young ladies.  “Do let’s go by motor.  We
shall get there ever so much quicker.”

Woods likened them, rather bitterly, to sheep.  On the two first
passengers clambering up to the outside seats the others made a quick
rush to secure the remaining places; the inside was filled by those who
did not wish to separate from friends, and the new omnibus, after half a
minute of irresolution that almost induced Woods to believe in the
efficacy of prayer, flew away through the station gates and up the main
street of the village, and away out of sight.  His men gathered around
Mr. Woods and prophesied a breakdown; made recommendations.  He ordered
them to do nothing but obey orders, and went off to sulk in the
smoke-room of the Railway Hotel.

From which tent he was summoned an hour and a half later by a constable
of the town, who said definitely:

“Mr. Woods, sir, this won’t do.”

“Go away!” commanded the fly proprietor irritably; “I don’t want your
sympathy.”

“It isn’t sympathy I’m giving, it’s a warning.  If you don’t call your
men off, we shall end in a riot.”

Woods delivered an address after the second motor-omnibus had been
allowed to leave the yard with its passengers.  The early part of the
speech was of an intimate nature and described the treatment to be served
out in the case of the staff again disregarding instructions; the
punishments ranged from skinning alive to instant dismissal.  In the
second part, he ordered one to run up to the signwriter in the village.
Later, the procession of flies and wagonettes left the station bearing
notices, “Ruined by Unfair Competition,” and Woods had the satisfaction
of noting that shopkeepers on the line of route came out to inspect; this
would have proved more comforting if they had given any additional signs
of interest.  The procession went at a gallop on noting that away in the
distance the second omnibus had stopped, with driver and conductor busy
at the front, passengers looking over anxiously.  Mr. Woods counted it as
part of his luck that as the first wagonette arrived the new conveyance
re-started.  When, farther on, a man walking shouted an inquiry regarding
cats’ meat, he found it difficult not to make use of the whip.

The Tea Gardens had flags waving at the entrance and along by the hedge
in honour of the occasion; a photographer was giving considerable
attention to the task of securing a good picture of the motor-omnibus
with Mrs. Jarrett and her nieces at the side.  The artist said, “Now,
please!” and at that moment the horse driven by Mr. Woods became
unmanageable, causing the ladies to cry, “O—ah!”

When the animal regained self-control, Woods mentioned that it was no
doubt wise to obtain the photograph ere anything amiss happened to the
new conveyances.  The motor-man demanded to know what was meant by this.
Woods replied that he always meant what he said.  Motor-man, temper
already acutely tried, declared it would be a keen pleasure to punch Mr.
Woods’s nose.  Woods retorted that this job required the complete
abilities of a man, and was not therefore within the power of the
omnibus-driver.  The other took off his reefer jacket, ordering the
conductor, to take charge of the garment; Woods, forgetting his recent
disapproval of militant tactics, laid his hat on the grass at the side of
the road.  At the first blow, Mrs. Jarrett ran forward crying:

“Oh, you mustn’t hurt him!  You please mustn’t hurt him!”

“I’m not going to hurt him, ma’am,” said the flushed and excited Mr.
Woods; “I’m only going to kill him.”

“It isn’t him I’m nervous about,” she wailed; “it’s you!”

Woods put on his hat, looked around in a dazed, sheepish way, and, with a
jerk of his head, ordered his men to follow him back to the stables.

“No,” she said appealingly; “I don’t want you to do that.”

“Well, but,” he argued, “what else is there to do?  I’m prepared to
listen to anything reasonable.  Especially,” he added, “coming from you.”

They consulted apart, the nieces and the men and a few villagers looking
on eagerly, and evidently wishing that their powers of hearing were
finer.  Woods, pinching his under-lip, said he doubted whether there was
anything in the idea, but he felt willing to give it a trial.  And did
she—lowering his voice—did she really mean what she said just now?  Mrs.
Jarrett, pleating her apron, urged it was unfair to make any one
responsible for a remark made on the spur of the moment, and re-stated
her suggestion.  One of the nieces fetched an inkstand, and, the cards
being reversed, with a sharpened piece of wood she wrote upon them:

                       “AN HOUR’S EXCURSION THROUGH THE

                                   FOREST.

                                ONE SHILLING.”

“Put the nosebags on!” he commanded.

It was on the evening of that day that the earthquake, faintly hinted at
near the railway station, broke out in another place.  The wagonettes had
been fairly well patronised.  A few couples, down with the announced
intention of enjoying a good long walk through the forest, changed their
minds and accepted carriage exercise as a substitute.  Woods, before
going home, shook hands with the ladies, and pointed out that everything
in this world dried straight if you only gave it time and fair weather.
The motor-driver on his last journey brought, as a peace offering, two
cigars presented by a grateful passenger.  One of these Mr. Woods was
smoking near the stables as he waited for his housekeeper’s summons to
the evening meal: she was a good woman, honest and religious, but
apparently had never learned to tell the time by the clock.  He was, I
say, smoking; he was also thinking—a frequent conjunction.

When a tremendous clatter and hubbub came, arousing him, and causing him
to say distractedly:

“Whatever fresh is a ’appening of now?”

Out in the roadway a set of a dozen women, including the most notable
female inhabitants of the village, marched, his sister-in-law at the
head, banging as they went on dustpans, old teatrays, saucepans, and
other instruments of music rarely to be discovered in a first-class
orchestra.  The aim seemed to be discord, and that end was certainly
being achieved.  Some children followed, making a cloud of dust as they
slouched along.  The marchers disappeared.  Woods, regarding them as they
went, knew the incident to represent a violent outbreak of moral
indignation, and reckoned it a good answer to the complaint made by an
American that day to the effect that English country life appeared dull.
His housekeeper came, announcing, with a severe air of promptitude, the
readiness of a meal that was three-quarters of an hour late, and appeared
willing for conversation; but he told her he had enjoyed enough of talk.
What he desired now was peace and quietness.

Consequently, news only came to him at six in the morning when his men
arrived at the stables.  Having gathered the fact that Jane had locked
her daughter out the previous evening, he left them at once and ran
across to his sister-in-law’s cottage: there the dogged, sulky,
half-dressed woman refused to share responsibility for her actions with
any one, and he expressed, not for the first time, an earnest wish that
his brother had been spared.  He hurried agitatedly down to the Tea
Gardens, where Mrs. Jarrett was whitening, at this early hour, the steps.

“It’s all right,” she said, rising.  “Fancy you catching me like this,
with my hair in curlers!  The girl came here last night, and we hadn’t
gone to bed because of the noise.”

“The noise going by?”

She swallowed something.  “No, stopping here.”

Woods expressed a desire to engage in the wholesale trade of breaking
necks.

“And I let her come in, and if her mother doesn’t want her back, why, she
can stay here.”

He glanced up at the signboard.

“Clara Jarrett, proprietress,” he said deliberately, “you’re the best
little woman I’ve ever come across as yet, and if you think I shall make
a pretty fair sort of a husband I wish you’d just say the word.”

“It’s a pity, dear, about the motor-omnibuses,” she remarked later.

“Wrote off last night,” said Mr. Woods, with the wink of a business man,
“to buy some shares in the concern!”



XIII—IRENE MERCER


THE general feeling was that Jane would be more convenient, that Mary
made less demand on the brain, that Ellen had the advantage of having
been the title of her immediate predecessor, but she proved stern and
adamant in regard to the detail, and the graceful thing to do was to give
in for the moment with a secret promise to make an alteration later on.
When the time came for revision, it was found that no other title but
that of Irene could possibly be given.  The name fitted as though she had
been measured for it.  An impression that it could only belong to stately
and slightly offended young women on the pages of sixpenny fashion
journals, vanished.

“Previous to me coming here,” Irene sometimes explained in the minute and
a half given to conversation whilst clearing breakfast, “I was in a
business establishment.  Two year I put in there, I did, and then my
’ealth give way.  Otherwise I should never have dreamt of going into
domestic service.  I’ve been used to ’aving my evenings to myself!”

By chance, it was ascertained that the time which elapsed after leaving
school had been devoted to a mineral water manufactory: this discovery
reflected no credit upon any of the boarders, being indeed the result of
a chance remark made by her on seeing a two-horse cart belonging to the
firm go through the square.  A closer reticence was shown in regard to
her family; Irene did, however, convey, at times, a hint that the members
had seen better and more prosperous days, and that distinguished
ancestors would betray signs of restlessness did they become aware that
she occupied a position that brought in but £12 a year, giving freedom
only on Thursday evening and alternate Sunday afternoons.  “But we never
know what’s in store for us,” she remarked, with a touch of fatalism.
“It’s all ordained, I suppose.  What I mean to say is, everything’s
planned out, only that we don’t know it.  Just as well, perhaps.”

Her appearance in the earlier days gave no signal of noble birth.  She
wore the corkscrew curls fashionable in her neighbourhood, and her
efforts in hairdressing ceased at about half-way to the back of her head;
the rest being a casual knot insecurely tied.  Many things go awry in
this world, but few were so unlucky as Irene’s apron, which appeared to
be the sport and play of chance, going to various points of the compass,
sometimes becoming fixed due west.  She seemed to have a prejudice
against safety pins.  With her, hooks and eyes lived indiscriminately,
and never as precise, well-ordered couples.  On first assuming the white
cap (against the use of which she made desperate opposition), she wore it
rakishly over one eye, and being reproved, answered lightly that this was
one of those matters which would be forgotten a hundred years hence.  A
girl more completely furnished with the easy platitudes that turn away
wrath surely never existed.  In generous mood, she gave them away by the
dozen.

“One ’alf of the world doesn’t know how the other ’alf lives; it’s a poor
’eart that never rejoices; there’s none so blind as them that won’t see;
a bird in the ’and’s worth two in the bush; and that’s all about it!”

You must not assume that Irene gave up a large amount of her time to
conversation.  She started work at twenty to seven in the morning, and if
half-past four in the afternoon found her ready (in her own phrase) to
pop upstairs and change, she counted she had scored a victory.  After tea
came duties of a more leisurely nature such as ironing, and later
still—if luck favoured—a brief opportunity for the study of literature,
from which she came in such a dazed, confused state of mind, that for the
subsequent twenty minutes she could only give answers that possessed a
conspicuous amount of incoherence.  Those who have seen her with a number
of “The Belgravia Novelette” report that her lips moved silently as she
read the lines, that her features indicated, unconsciously, the emotions
affecting each character: when a lady had to reject the advances of some
unwelcome suitor (a frequent occurrence in the world of fiction where Mr.
A., liking Miss B., finds this converted into ardent love when she
announces she hates him with a hate that can never die), then Irene’s
face showed stern and uncompromising decision: when a landscape artist
proclaimed an affection he had hitherto concealed, her eyes half closed,
and her head went gently to and fro.

It is likely the pictures which accompanied these agreeable stories had
some influence, although the fact that the people always wore evening
dress prevented Irene from imitating every detail.  The corkscrew curls,
brought forward at each side of the face from a definite and decided
parting, were brushed back.  Irene was observed one night at about eight,
on her return from commissariat duties in connection with next morning’s
breakfast, staring earnestly at the head which, in a window, revolved
slowly, vanishing and re-appearing with a fixed, haughty smile.  A youth
came up and made some remarks.

“Don’t you address conversation to any one what you haven’t been
introduced to,” she ordered, warmly.

“Carry your parcel for you?”

“Thanks,” replied Irene, “but I don’t want to lose it.”

The youth, declining to take this as a repulse, followed, and Irene’s
mistress reproved her for entering the house at the front door when the
area gate was open.  The very next day a fresh and daring experiment was
made by fixing a white collar around the neck, and this was succeeded in
the evening by a pair of cuffs.  She seemed pleased with the general
effect, and hastened to answer some knocks and rings at the front door
instead of compelling every caller to repeat the summons.  One of these
she received with great curtness.

“No, the name don’t live here.”

“Beg pardon!” said a youth’s deep voice.  “Perhaps I’ve got it wrong.”

“Quite likely.  Judging from your appearance.”

“Doing any shopping to-night, miss?”

Her mistress appealed to her by name, and she closed the door, explaining
a few minutes later that she could not help feeling sorry for the poor
fellows who had to sell combs and hair-brushes; at the same time, they
had no right to annoy people who had work to do beside answering knocks.
Later, her mistress asked her to refrain from singing.  Irene’s voice
would never have taken her to the concert platform, but her theory of
music was so excellent that it may be worth while to give some
particulars here.  When affairs of the world went crooked, with her
mistress temporarily short in temper, streets becoming muddy directly
that the front step had been whitened, disaster on the stairs with a
breakfast tray, then Irene selected airs of the cheeriest description,
bursting into:

    “When Jones, my friend, came round to me,
    He said, ‘Will you go on the spree?’
    I answered ‘Yes, of course I will,
    That is, if you will pay the bill.’”

and other songs of a rollicking nature.  On the other hand, when the
world went smoothly and nothing happened of a contrary nature and her
mistress had given her an egg with her tea, then Irene’s voice came
lugubriously up from the basement:

    “Oh I ne’er shall see my loved one any mower,
    For I’m leaving her and Britain’s gallant shower,
    Though my tears are gently falling, yet I hear her voice a-calling,
    But I ne’er shall see my loved one any mower.”

Changes had, as mentioned, been coming over the girl, but they proved
more obvious at the period when the young man referred to adopted the
procedure of waiting outside the house of an evening, sometimes offering
three stamps with the foot, sometimes giving a whistle, sometimes playing
on the railings a mandoline solo, sometimes, after a wait of
three-quarters of an hour, affecting in an ostentatious way to leave—when
all other plans had failed—and bringing Irene up the steps of the area at
a run, and with a call of “Hi!”

The interesting detail about the acquaintance was the perfect and
complete decision arrived at without delay, by Irene.  Other girls, in
like case, would probably have assumed an attitude of indifference in
speaking of their young man; might have suggested that they would require
much persuasion before consenting to give their hand; would certainly
have conveyed the impression that the capture of their heart was a task
not easily effected.  Irene, from a fortnight after the meeting outside
the hairdresser’s shop, made no attempt to hide the fact that she fully
intended to marry Mr. Easter.  I have often wondered whether he made a
formal proposal, or whether it was assumed on both sides that this could
be taken for granted: there are some matters on which one cannot
interrogate a lady, and, if she does not give the information
spontaneously, the particulars have to be guessed.  In other respects,
there seemed no reason to complain of want of candour.  Irene chaffed
herself quite openly.  If she forgot to furnish a cup and saucer with a
spoon:

“That’s the worst of being in love!”

If she omitted to place the toast-rack on the breakfast table:

“Sooner I get married and settled down the better for all parties!”

Irene, on the Sunday afternoon when he proposed to take her for the first
time to see his people, started out looking like a composite photograph,
for every lady in the boarding-house, from her mistress in the basement
upward, had made some loan or gift, and many of the adornments had a
familiar appearance.  No one could blame her for opening the striped
parasol, although the sun was absent; a muff carried by the other hand
and wrist showed that no weather would find her unprepared.  Young Easter
stood at the corner of the first turning, and, in his case, a necktie
showed a vivacious spirit of adventure.  A row of white caps watched from
area railings as they met, noted that a bowler hat was lifted, polite
offer to carry the muff, consultation regarding the method of conveyance.
They went off arm-in-arm, Irene tripping in the effort to keep step, and
any one, starting out five minutes later, could have followed the scent,
and tracked both to the destination by the combined odour of
lavender-water and eau de cologne.

“Oh yes,” reported Irene, the next day, “I can always make myself at ’ome
with strangers.  The old lady—his mother—seemed inclined to be a bit
stand-offish at the start, but I said something pleasant about the jam
and after that—well, you can generally get over ’em with a little
artfulness.  Tact is everything in this world.  Besides, civility costs
nothing.  At any, rate, he seemed satisfied.”

A new independence of manner appeared, but only on Friday mornings, and
this was probably due to the increased conceit effected by young Easter’s
compliments of the night before.  Her curtness towards messengers from
shops on these occasions was painful to regard: postmen offering remarks
as she knelt at the steps in the early hours went on with the abashed air
of those who have incurred severe reproof.

A dramatic shock came when the month’s notice had nearly expired, that
must have reinforced the girl’s confidence in “The Belgravia Novelette,”
and its amazing habit of altering the situation by the wave of a fairy
wand.  She made a slight blunder by reading the letter without any
exhibition of an agonised mind, but a moment’s consideration remedied
this, and, if all I heard was true, she eventually overdid the tragic
intensity required.

“Oh heavens!” she murmured brokenly.  “Oh my!  Oh dear!  Has it come to
this?  What is there to live for now?  Oh! I think I shall go out of my
mind!”

“Be quiet, child!” ordered her mistress, sharply.  “You’ll make yourself
ill if you go on like this.”

“Oh, go away and leave me to die.  Oh, only leave me alone!  Frank,
Frank!”

“If you carry on in this fashion,” declared her mistress, “I shall simply
take you by the shoulders and give you a thorough good shaking.  That’s
what I shall give to you, miss!”

“Read it, ma’am, read it, read it!”

Her mistress, having complied with this request, assured her that, so far
as she could understand, the letter contained important news, but nothing
to justify the hysterical outburst.  Irene, recovering partial serenity
of manner, explained, and the other, reading the letter again, admitted
there was something in the girl’s view, and that the fact of young Easter
being taken into partnership by an uncle whose health was failing, might
well result in the breaking off of the engagement; the two found common
ground in condemning the variability of man, and the pernicious influence
of success upon some minds.  The girl gave a brief rehearsal of her share
in the interview that was to take place that evening, from which it
appeared that young Easter would have little to do but listen, to mumble
ineffective excuses, to retire finally carrying the knowledge that Irene
would not now consent to marry him, though he should come to her on hands
and knees.

“Let him ’ave it straight, I will!” cried Irene.  “They can’t play about
and make a fool of me.  May think they can, but I’ll jolly soon let ’em
know they’ve made a mistake.  Shan’t talk much, mind you, but what I do
say will go right ’ome.  Least said, soonest mended!”

It was expected she would return within twenty minutes after leaving the
house; instead, ten o’clock struck as her knock came, and this was not
her usual single knock, but represented the music of a triumphant dance.
The fault for imagining disaster she imputed to her mistress, who seemed
to lack the gift of comprehending a well and clearly expressed letter.
Mr. Easter had no idea of backing out of the engagement; on the contrary,
he wished her, in the new circumstances, to make some more elaborate
investments at certain of the best shops in the neighbourhood, and this
represented his uncle’s desire as well as his own.

Irene’s mistress tells me she had given up all thoughts and hopes of
seeing her again when, being away in the north of London, and desiring to
return with all despatch, she managed by standing in front of a
conveyance to stop it.  Passengers on the left reluctantly made room: the
young woman next to whom she sat begged pardon coldly, and carefully
shielded skirts.  Recognition came.

“What a very small world it is!” said Irene, in a high voice.  “How most
extraordinary you and I should run across each other again!  And tell
me,” condescendingly, “you are getting on pretty well?  So glad!  What a
great convenience these motor omnibuses must be to poor people; I suppose
you often travel in them.  Do you know, I couldn’t get a taxi when I
wanted one just now, couldn’t get one for love or money.  My husband will
be so annoyed when I tell him about it.  I get out here.  Three At Homes
to go to.  Goodbye!”



XIV—YOUNG NUISANCES


THE three had done nearly everything forbidden by the company’s notices,
and as the train slowed in order to stop at a junction, they expressed a
fierce determination to reserve the compartment for the rest of the
journey.  If any one touched the handle they would fetch him (or her)
such a rap across the knuckles as wouldn’t make him (or her) half scream.
They were still discussing plans of defence when the train came to a
crowded platform; the three rushed to the door and side windows, shouting
an assurance that there was no room, that the door was locked, that the
compartment had been specially reserved.  A short struggle, and
determined travellers made their way in.

“Young hussies!” exclaimed a brown-faced woman wrathfully.  “Never saw
such impudence in all my life before.”

“They come down,” said another, “these yer London schoolchildren, and
they kick up such a deuce and all of a shindy that everybody in the
village begs and prays they’ll never be allowed to come again.”

“And the manners they learn our youngsters!” remarked a third.  “The
expressions!  The sayings!  The tunes!”

“The country’s no fit place for ’em,” declared the brown-faced woman
emphatically.  “I’m strongly in favour of every one keeping themselves to
themselves.  I’ve never so much as thought of going up to London myself.
Sooner see myself dead and in my grave and buried, I would.”

One admitted she went up twice a year, but pleaded, in extenuation, that
she had a sister in service at Highbury, and invariably brought home
enough small suits and dresses to enable her eight children to attract a
fair amount of attention at the Congregational Chapel.  Conversation went
on to safer grounds.

“All finished?” asked the shortest of the three London children
presently.  The ladies sniffed and declined to answer.  “’Cos if so,
perhaps you won’t mind if we say a word.  We don’t come here for a week’s
’oliday to please ourselves; we don’t come down here for the benefit of
our ’ealth; we come down so as to brighten you up a bit, and give you a
chance of—”

“Mixing with intelligent people.”

“Be quiet!” she ordered to her companions.  “Leave it to me.”  She
addressed the women again.  “To give you a chance of seeing what a lot of
pudden-headed fools you are.”

The passengers, trembling with annoyance, whispered a recommendation that
no notice should be taken of these remarks; the brown-faced woman could
not, however, refrain from hinting at a course of procedure which would
be adopted were the child one of hers.

“The idea is this,” went on the short girl, with the patient air of
endeavouring to make a complicated matter clear to defective intellects.
“You dawdle about every day of your lives, seeing nothing, ’earing
nothing, doing nothing.  You very seldom speak, and when you do you talk
in such a peculiar style that you can’t possibly understand one another.
So the County Council comes to us and it says, ‘Miss Parkes,’ or whatever
our name happens to be, ‘sorry to trouble, but you’ll shortly be taking
your ’olidays, and will you be so kind and so obliging as to go down to
such-and-such a place, and do all you can to liven it up.  It’s asking
you a great deal,’ says the County Council, ‘but the Fund is very keen
about it, and if you can spare the time, and if you’ve got the
willingness, why,’ says the County Council, ‘we shall look on it as a
great favour!’”

“‘And make it worth your while,’” suggested her companions.

“I’ll biff you two,” she threatened, “if you can’t keep quiet when I’m
talking!”

“The daringness of the child!” exclaimed the rest of the compartment,
amazedly and heatedly.  “Don’t believe there’s a single word of truth in
what she says!  The trollops!”

“Facts are facts,” she said, smoothing her brief skirt, “and it’s very
little use pretending you can get away from them.  It’s no pleasure to me
to have to tell you all this, but it’s only right you should know.  As
for us finding any satisfaction coming to these ’eaven-forsaken places—”

She laughed scornfully, and because her two companions did not join in
this ordered them to wake up and sing something.

“If you do,” threatened the brown-faced woman solemnly, “I shall most
certainly report you to the guard at the next station.  It’s agenst the
by-laws, and you can be punished for doing it.  Punished well.  My eldest
boy is going on the line when he leaves school, and it stands to reason I
know what I’m talking about.  So you just dare, that’s all!”

They allowed one station to go before beginning, and during the
half-minute of rest there chaffed an official until he became scarlet
with confusion.  On the train re-starting, the three lifted their voices
to shrill music, singing a satirical melody with, for last line of the
refrain, “Oh, what a jolly place is Engeland.”  This was followed by a
song that caused the other passengers to gaze steadily at the roof of the
compartment; the girls did not conceal their diversion at the sensitive
nature of the country mind.

“What shall we give ’em next?” asked the eldest girl.

“Wait a bit and let me think,” answered the youngest.

The women said that by rights Parliament ought to step in.  If Parliament
once decided that these common, vulgar children were not to be allowed,
even once a year, to come down into the country and make themselves a
nuisance, then it would be stopped.  It only needed that Parliament
should say the word.  Parliament would have to be spoken to about it.
Parliament busied its head concerning a lot of things which did not
matter; but here was a subject Parliament might well tackle, and thus
earn the grateful thanks of a nation.

“Let’s give ’em,” said the youngest, “one of them songs we’ve been
learnin’ at school lately.  There isn’t room, or else we’d do one of the
Morris dances.  That’d make ’em open their eyes!”

At the first verse the brown-faced woman put down her basket and gave all
her attention.  As the refrain began she unconsciously nodded her bonnet
to the rhythm.

    “‘Where are you going to, my pretty maid?
       Where are you going, my honey?’
    ‘Going over the hills, kind sir,’ she said,
       ‘To my father a-mowing the barley!’”

“Why, do you know,” she cried, “I ’ent heard that not since—”

“Order, there!” commanded the girl imperatively.  “Some of you’ll get
chucked out if you don’t keep quiet.”

The last verse came to the deeply interested compartment:

    “And now she is the lawyer’s wife,
       And dearly the lawyer loves her;
    They live in a happy content of life
       And well in the station above her.”

The women clapped hands.  One remembered her grandmother singing it years
and years and years ago; another had heard it once and only once, at a
Foresters’ fête; a third had always recollected the air, but the words
she could not have recalled though you offered her a pension.  The London
children, touched by the genuine enthusiasm, sang “Blow Away the Morning
Dew” and “The Two Magicians.”  The audience pressed apples upon them.

“You’re never getting out here, my dears?” protested the brown-faced
woman.  They assured her this was their destination.  “Well, then,”
taking up her heavy basket, “dang it all—it only means a extra fowermile
walk for me—if I don’t get out with you, just for the pleasure of your
company!”



XV—MY BROTHER EDWARD


THE case of my brother Edward is typical of many, and I set the facts
down here, partly as reminder to myself, mainly for the information of
the public.  I said once, when in the company of some other bright
spirits, that the pupils of yesterday are the teachers of to-morrow, by
which remark I meant to convey that we learn in our youth, and in our
middle age become, in turn, the instructors.  Poor Edward had the same
advantages that came to me in school days, the very same advantages.  Our
mother consulted us in turn; I, the elder, decided, without hesitation,
to go into the City; Edward, a year later, suggested that he should go
into an engineering place at Wandsworth, on the other side of the river.

“No, no,” I said when I reached home that night.  “This won’t do at all.
Choose a refined occupation.  We don’t want all Fulham to think that the
sweeps are continually coming in and going out of the house.  We may have
our faults, but no one can say that we haven’t always worn a clean
collar.”

“I’ll keep mine for Sundays,” remarked Edward.

“Mother,” I went on, “please let it be understood that this is a matter
which concerns me to some extent.  Supposing I wished to bring home a
friend from Bucklersbury, and supposing that just as I opened the front
gate Edward came along.  How should I be able to explain—”

“Say,” suggested Edward, “that I was going in for Christy Minstrel
business in my spare time.  Say I was just off to St. James’s Hall.”

“I place my veto on the scheme.”

“You can place whatever you like,” he retorted, “and it won’t make any
difference.”

“Very well,” I said, “very well.  In that case I consider myself relieved
of all responsibility.  I’ve done with it.  Only, mind this, don’t come
to me in after years—”

“I promise that.”

“And complain that I omitted to give you advice.  Mother, you’re a
witness.”

I put my silk hat on and went out of the house.  I have always been
willing to give people the benefit of my counsel, but the moment I find
they cease to be receptive I—to use a vulgarism—dry up.

I discovered a certain amount of satisfaction in observing that events
shaped somewhat in accordance with my prophecy.  So soon as my voice
settled down I was asked to join a Choral Union in Walham Green; and on
the second evening, as I escorted two ladies in the direction of their
home, I met Edward—Edward on the way from work, and presenting the
appearance of a half-caste nigger.  He raised his cap, and I had to
explain to my companions that he was a lad to whom my people had been
able to show some kindness, taking him in hand when he was quite young.
Unfortunately, one of the ladies knew him, and knew his name, and I found
it advisable not to go to any more rehearsals of “The Wreck of the
_Hesperus_.”  Months afterwards, when I had left home and was living in
lodgings owing to a dispute with mother about coming home late at night,
he and some of his fellow-workmen arrived at the offices in Bucklersbury
to fit up the electric light, which had then just come in, and I had to
take an early opportunity of mentioning to him, privately, that if he
claimed relationship with me he would be doing the very worst turn that a
man could do to another.

“See you hanged first!” said Edward, taking his coat off to begin work.
I turned cold at the sight of his shirt-sleeves of flannel.

“That makes it necessary that I should appeal to your better instincts.
I implore you, Edward, to remember that the ties of relationship can
exist, but need not—”

“I mean,” he explained, “that I’ll see you hanged first before I confess
to any one here that you are a brother of mine.  Providing, of
course”—here he threw back his head and laughed in a loud, common
way—“providing the Governor of Newgate allows me to be present at the
ceremony.”

I felt greatly relieved at this, but now and again, while the work was
going on in the office, Edward gave me a start by talking in an audible
voice to the other workmen about his relatives, and I knew he did this
purposely.  What I feared was that his companions might speak to him by
his surname; it proved reassuring to find that they called him Teddy.  On
the night they finished the work, I happened to be staying overtime, and,
taking him aside, I tried to talk pleasantly to him, asking how he
progressed in the new business to which he had transferred himself, and
pointing out that a rolling stone gathered no moss, but he seemed quite
off-hand in his manner.  I offered him sixpence that he might go out and
get a drink.  He said that I had better keep it and buy something to put
in my face; he added that I appeared to be spending all my money on
clothes, and expressed doubts whether I had enough to eat.

“Pardon me, Edward,” I said, “you are now trespassing on grounds that do
not belong to you.”

“A family weakness,” he remarked.  “Good-night, old man!  Good luck to
you!”

“Edward,” I said, “it is not luck which counts in this world, but rather
a steady, dogged determination to do one’s duty; a persistent effort to
keep one’s position in society; to mingle, so far as possible, with those
of a superior station in life.”

“Do you know what I think of you?” he interrupted sharply.  “You’re
nothing more nor less than—  Perhaps I’d better not say what I was going
to say.  After all, we’re brothers.”

“That, Edward,” I said, in my quiet way, turning to go, so that it might
finish the discussion—“that is a fact which I sometimes find it difficult
to realise.”

“You needn’t try,” he retorted.

On reflection, I perceived that, disturbing as this argument had been,
there was no reason to allow it to cause regret, for it meant a final
breaking up of friendship, and enabled me to find good plea for not
acknowledging his existence should we ever meet again.  Moreover,
increases had been stopped in the office, and it appeared likely that I
might remain at £110 a year for a time.  Unless I could find some one of
a fairly attractive appearance, with a little money of her own, it would
inconvenience me greatly to contribute anything towards the support of my
mother.  This difference of opinion with Edward provided me with a good
answer if ever the application should be made.  “After what Edward
remarked to me some time ago,” I should say, “I must decline to have
anything to do with domestic expenses.  He is living in the house: let
him provide the sums necessary for the upkeep of the establishment.”  As
it proved, no necessity existed for this statement, because they very
wisely refrained from making any appeal.

I heard of Edward occasionally by the medium of Miss Charlesworth; she
also brought me news of my mother.  I was living then in Jubilee Place,
and Miss Charlesworth’s people kept a large dairy in King’s Road,
Chelsea.  I called in sometimes on my way home for a couple of fresh
eggs.  Eggs can be carried in the pocket without observation, and, if
folk are careful not to crowd, without damage, whilst other eatables have
to be conveyed in a parcel.  I had strong objections to be seen carrying
a package of any kind.

Miss Charlesworth took music-lessons from my mother in the old days when
there was not much money about, and I always spoke pleasantly when I
called at the dairy, answering her when she asked whether there was
anything special in the evening papers; I talked to her across the
milk-pans, if I could spare the time, about Gilbert and Sullivan’s new
play at the “Savoy.”  Her mother beamed through the glass half of the
door at the back, and on one occasion asked me to step in and have a bite
of supper.  I declined the first invitation, and this caused Miss
Charlesworth’s mother to become exceedingly anxious that I should honour
them with my company.

“Fix your own evening,” urged the old lady: “we’re plain people, but we
always keep a good table.”

I found that, in the interests of economy, the plan, once started,
answered very well.  At first, when Miss Charlesworth’s mother found that
I walked into the shop-parlour nearly every night at supper-time, she
exhibited signs of impatience, putting an extra plate down with a bang,
and throwing a thick tumbler towards me with the word:

“Catch!”

But the attentions I paid to her plump daughter mollified her, and she
always cried when I sang “The Anchor’s Weighed.”  From Lily—one could but
smile at the ludicrous inappropriateness of the name—I heard that my
brother Edward had been foolhardy enough to start an electric light
business on his own account; and, in spite of the differences that had
taken place between us, I could not help feeling annoyed that he had
omitted to ask my advice before taking such a step.  It would be of no
advantage to me for people to find the name of my brother in the list of
bankruptcies.

I can never understand how it was that I allowed myself to be imposed
upon by the Charlesworths.  In the City at that time I had the reputation
of being as keen as any one in the office, where my own interests were
concerned; there were complaints that I shirked some of my duties, and
that I often shifted responsibility from my own shoulders, but no one
ever accused me of being a fool.  These two women at the dairy-shop in
King’s Road, as nearly as possible, took me in.  It hurt me very much
afterwards to think of the time I had wasted.  If I took Lily
Charlesworth to one place of interest, I took her to a dozen; the
National Gallery on a free day, the Tower, the outside of the Lyceum
Theatre, the South Kensington Museum—any man, young at the time, and in
receipt of a stationary income can fill in the list.  Now and again she
wanted to talk about my brother Edward; I changed the subject adroitly,
for I could not trust my temper where he was concerned.  It was near the
Albert Memorial one evening (she had seen it before, but, as I said, it
could do her no harm to see it again) that I directed conversation to the
subject of profits made on milk and cream; the discussion began at a
quarter past seven, and the information I obtained was satisfactory
enough to induce me, at twenty minutes to eight, to make a definitely
worded offer.

“Very kind of you to ask me,” she said nervously, “but I think my answer
must be ‘No.’”

“Come, come,” I said pleasantly, “there’s no occasion for all this
coyness.  We’re friends.”

“Yes,” she said rapidly, “friends.  That’s just it.  And there’s no
reason why we shouldn’t go on being friends.  But nothing more, please.”

“That,” I remarked, “if you will allow me to say so, Lily, verges on
stupidity.  I dare say you feel that you are not worthy of me.”

“It isn’t that.”

“May, I ask what other reason can possibly exist?”

“There are several.”

“Give me one,” I insisted.

“I think,” she said deliberately—“I rather think I am going to marry your
brother Edward.”

I threw up my hands with a gesture of sympathy.

“You poor, silly girl!” I said.  “What ever has induced you to think
that?”

“Your brother Edward.”

I turned away from her.

“It was because he asked us to be kind to you,” she went on, “that me and
mother took the trouble to look after you of an evening.  It’s kept you
out of mischief.”

“I suppose you’re aware that he’s marrying you for the sake of your
money.”

“Don’t think he is,” she replied.  “I haven’t got any.”

“But you will have?”

“No!”

I must say this for myself: that I kept wonderfully calm, considering the
trying nature of the circumstances.  It appeared that, although her
mother’s name showed over the dairy, she was only the manager, working at
a salary.  I pointed out that this should have been mentioned to me
before.  She answered that Edward was acquainted with the fact, and there
existed no reason why the information should be communicated to me.

I saw the uselessness of arguing the point, and left her to make her way
home alone, congratulating myself on a narrow escape.

That night I wrote a rather clever letter to my brother Edward, the
wording of which gave me trouble, but brought satisfaction; my only fear
was that he might not have the intelligence to read between the lines.  I
said that I felt sure Lily Charlesworth would grow up to be the woman her
mother was; he would no doubt be as happy as he deserved to be; I trusted
it would be many weeks ere he discovered the mistake he had made.  For
myself, I had long since decided to remain a bachelor; I hinted that the
courage of the family appeared to have centred itself in him.  Begged him
to convey my best regards to my mother, and to express my regret that, on
his marriage, I could not see my way to offering her a home.

Edward sent no answer to this, and he forwarded no invitation to the
wedding.  I should not have accepted it; indeed, I had drafted out a
satirical reply, but I do think he might have sent me a card.  I
transferred my custom to a dairy in Brompton Road; and, at about that
period, I spoke to a young lady in Hyde Park, mentioning that it was a
fine evening, and that the days were drawing in.

I may say at once this lady became my wife.  It is unnecessary also that
I should delay the information that her account of relatives, of her
position in society, and of herself, given to me during the days of
courtship, differed to a considerable extent from the details proffered
during our honeymoon at Littlehampton, and this made it easy for me to
explain that one or two exaggerations had somehow crept into the
particulars which I had furnished concerning myself.  For one day, after
this, we exchanged no word with each other; and I have since been
inclined to wish that she, at any rate, had continued this policy of
silence, for, later on, she made remarks which (as I believe I pointed
out at the time) proved her to be wanting in that fine and glorious
attribute of women—the ability to forgive and forget.

“Suppose we must make the best of it,” she said, “but I can foresee that
the best won’t be very good.  And if ever I allow a day to go by without
reminding you of what a bounder you are, then you can assume that I am
going off my head.”

She must have begun at once, for I remember that when I had struck some
items off the bill, and settled with the Littlehampton boarding-house,
the landlady told me that she had never found herself making such a
mistake in the whole course of her existence: when we first arrived in
the cab, she could have sworn we had not been married long; on
retrospection she perceived that we had been man and wife for at least
ten years.  I told her we should never by any chance patronise her
boarding-house again, and she said this assurance robbed the future of
half its terrors.  No doubt she thought she had had the last word, but
she little knew the kind of man she was dealing with; I got the better of
her later by recommending some of my economical friends to go there.

I mention all this because the incident is typical of others which
happened at about this time.  At office I detected a disposition on the
part of the firm to promote younger men over my head, and, when I
insisted on knowing the reason, they fenced with me for some time.

“Fact is,” said one of the partners at last, “you show no interest in
your work.”

“Make it worth my while, sir.”

“We’re paying you your full value.  You wouldn’t get more for your
services anywhere else.”

“I doubt that, sir.”

“Quite easy for you to test the truth of the statement,” snapped the
partner.

“I suppose,” I retorted, “that means you can do without me!”

“It means we are ready to try.”

I told the wife when I reached home, and, after she had expressed some
opinions concerning my conduct, she said that my best plan would be to
write to my brother Edward, and ask him to use his influence in obtaining
for me a new berth.  I told her plainly that I would rather cease work
for ever than feel myself under any obligation to him.  When, after
replying to several advertisements, it became clear that some exceptional
step would have to be taken, I submitted an alternative for her
consideration.  To show what a difficult woman she was to deal with (and
to throw a light on much that happened afterwards), I wish to record that
she went into one of her fits of temper, calling me everything but my
proper name.  Using diplomacy, I went away for a day or two, and on my
return she told me she had decided to act upon my suggestion.

“Very well,” I said; “but why not have agreed to it at first?  However,
it’s satisfactory to see that you have come to your senses.  Perhaps
another time that we have a difference of opinion—”

“It won’t happen again.”

“I can’t trust you,” I said severely.  “These promises of yours mean
nothing.”

“I assure you it won’t happen again.”

“We will leave it at that,” I said.  “What it all amounts to is this:
that you are willing to go back to your former occupation as lady’s-maid
in a family.”

“That’s it!”

“In which capacity you will be able to earn enough to keep the home
going.”

“What home?”

“This home.”

“Oh, no!” said my wife.  “Oh, dear me, no!  I shall earn enough to keep
myself going, but I shan’t bother about you.  Understand that, once for
all.”

“Do you mean to look me in the face—”

“Sha’n’t allow you a penny,” she declared.  “And if you find out where
I’m engaged, and call round and begin kicking up a row—”

“What then?”

“I shall simply come back again,” she announced deliberately, “and make
you keep me.”

It must have been in consequence of this blow, administered by one who
had sworn to love, honour, and obey me, that I began to lose heart.  I
went into a single room, on the other side of the water, and for a time
became interested in political life, devoting myself more particularly to
the Sugar Bounty Question.  To my astonishment, I found that my brother
Edward was paying some attention to a constituency in South London; as I
remarked, rather cleverly, he appeared to have succeeded in the world as
much as I deserved to do.  It became my duty at one of his meetings to
put a few searching questions to him.  Some of his supporters objected,
and cried out to me: “Who are you; who are you?”  I shouted back that the
candidate could give the information if he cared to do so.

“Oh, yes,” said Edward; “he is my brother.”

I spoke to him after the meeting, and he introduced me to a slim,
good-looking woman—his wife.  I remarked, in her presence, that he
appeared to have found out Miss Charlesworth, as I had done; he replied
that he had not only found her out, but that he had married her.  My
amazed look caused Mrs. Edward to declare she had rarely received such a
genuine compliment, and that it more than repaid her for the course of
persistent exercise on which she had engaged.  She added they had made
efforts to discover me—I knew how much to believe of that—and exhibited
surprise on hearing that I was married.

“We particularly wanted to find you,” remarked my brother Edward, “about
six months ago.”

“Let me see,” I said.  “Where was I six months ago?  Busy, I expect.
What did you want me for?”

“Mother died.”

“Wish I’d known,” I said.  “I would have sent a wreath.  Got a
cigarette?”

He turned away rather sharply, and then turned to me again.  “She wanted
to see you,” he remarked.  And they both gave their attention to some one
else.

It occurred to me afterwards that they perhaps expected me to show more
signs of distress; if I had thought this at the time I could have obliged
them.  But that trifling detail makes no excuse whatever for Edward’s
subsequent conduct towards me, conduct which has compelled me to write
this account of his behaviour.  I put it briefly, and I wish to add that
I put it truthfully; there may have been times in my career when it has
been necessary to step with care beyond the confines of exactitude, but,
in regard to this matter, I am telling you nothing that can be
contradicted.

I wrote to him, you must know, immediately after the meeting, and offered
to stop my opposition to his candidature, and to help him, heart, body,
and soul, if he would allow me—say, two pounds a week.  He replied
curtly.  I did not apply to him again for quite ten days, and then I
wrote saying that, although he could not see his way to accepting my
first proposition, perhaps he could let me have a loan.  I said I was
temporarily out of a situation, and that several excellent offers were
being made to me.

To keep myself to the truth, I am bound to say that I obtained from him,
at various times, amounts which, totted up, would come to a respectable
figure.

Mark what follows.

This morning—this very morning—I receive a letter.  Headed “House of
Commons.”

“I find,” he writes, “that for some years past you have done no work of a
creditable nature.  I am always willing to help those who are making some
effort to earn a living, but I do nothing for the indolent.  I can give
you no further assistance until you obtain work and show some clear
intention of sticking to it.”

Apart from the wording of the letter—inexcusable in one who had equal
educational advantages with myself—I desire to point out the callousness
of its tone; the disregard of family ties.  I leave the matter for the
world to judge.  In the meanwhile, if you know of any one who can be
persuaded to assist by spontaneous gifts, I shall not only be saved the
necessity of looking for employment, but I shall be enabled to write a
sharp, stinging note to my brother Edward.



XVI—SAVOIR FAIRE


“AUNT kept on saying I ought to bring her up to London with me.”  The
perturbed lad examined closely the peak of his cap.  “What the others
seeggested was that I should get you to go down to Railway Terrace and
argy it all out with my late landlady.  One of the ticket collectors said
there wasn’t nobody on the station who could make himself so unpleasant
as you, Mr. Swan, when you felt so inclined.”

“I do my best,” admitted Porter Swan.

“’Nother one recommended you should go down there and knock at the door
and pretend to have had a drop or two too much.”

“Why pretend?”

The new porter had endured a hard week; all the tricks of an inventive
staff had been played upon him, and Porter Swan took a lively interest in
these, prompting colleagues to further efforts.  Now that young Mannering
arrived with his troubles and appealed for help, games were set aside.

“She’s evidently a terror,” admitted Porter Swan presently.  “If you’d
only come and asked me at the outset I might have told you where to go.
’Pon me word, I don’t know quite now what to be up to!”

“If you don’t,” said young Mannering hopelessly, “then no one does.”

“Why not go back and make the best of it for a while?”

“Mr. Swan,” declared the youth tearfully, “I do assure you her chops are
worse than her vegetables, and her vegetables worse than her chops.  I
was bound to leave.”

“And you want your property, then, without paying too much?”

“I’d rayther get it without paying nothing at all.”

Porter Swan went off duty at seven, having first washed with unusual
vigour and changed his official headgear for the bowler hat of private
life.  Near the suburban station he bought a cigar, and, lighting it,
strode towards Railway Terrace, rehearsing the coming debate on the way.
At the door of No. 17 he gave a sharp, definite knock and frowned at some
children who ran up to watch the course of events.  He had to knock
again, and this time also rattled the flap of the letter-box to express
impatience.

“Well?” asked the trim, determined woman at the open doorway.  “What are
you kicking up all this row for?”

“I don’t want to make any unpleasantness, or any un-anything else,” he
began truculently, “but you’ve got a tin box belonging to one of our
young men, and I have to request, ma’am, that you hand it over to me at
your early convenience.”

“Pay me his week’s board and lodging, and you can take not only the tin
box, but all that’s in it.”

“Goes against the grain,” he said loudly, “to argue with a lady, but I
ask you one simple question.  Have you, since you’ve taken to letting,
ever had a lodger that stayed so long as a month?”

“The last two,” she replied calmly, “stayed until they got married.”

“They must have had iron constitutions,” he argued.

“Martha!” she called, turning her head.

“Yes, mother.”

“Did you hear what this gentleman said?”

“Yes, mother.”

“It’s as well,” she remarked to him, “to have a witness.  Makes all the
difference in a court of law.”  She found her handkerchief.  “I’ve always
made it a special boast that I never had to tell a lodger to go, and I do
think it’s hard—”

“Look here, ma’am,” said Porter Swan, still in aggressive tones, “we
don’t want to quarrel.  We want to arrange this trifling affair in a
nice, sensible, amicable way.”

“If you’re going to settle it,” she said, “I’ll go and make out the
bill.”

“Let me understand first of all,” repressing annoyance.  “What does your
claim actually amount to?”

She mentioned the sum.

“And you’ve got the assurance to stand there and demand all that for
keeping this young country lad for three days!  Why, it’s my opinion
you’re nothing more nor less than a female swindler.”

“Martha!” she called.  “Are you still listening, dear?”

Porter Swan went on to the house of his own landlady, where he complained
with bitterness of the absence of a mat and the condition of the
wallpaper; she soothed him with a cup of tea so excellent that it stood
outside the pale of criticism.  In his room he used the hair-brush with
considerable fierceness, a process that seemed to arouse ideas, for after
a few moments’ consideration he changed his collar and fixed a necktie
hitherto reserved for Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day.  Then he
set out, whistling as he went, announcing cheerfully to his landlady that
he would return in less than half an hour.  If her husband came in, she
was to beg him to stay up: Porter Swan would have something to relate to
him.  In Douglas Street he purchased a threepenny bunch of
chrysanthemums—all white.

At the door of the house in Railway Terrace he gave this time a
deferential knock.  The child answered it, crying to her mother that the
man with the red face had called again.  Swan asked the little girl
whether she cared for flowers, and made a genial presentation.

“Sorry to trouble you once more, ma’am,” he said, taking off his hat and
throwing away the end of the cigar, “but I’ve come round to apologise.
In the heat of argument I used one or two remarks I’d no business to use
to any lady, and if you’ll kindly dismiss them from your mind I shall
esteem it a favour.”

“Look what he’s give me, mother,” said the child.

“A sweet-faced little thing,” mentioned Swan, gazing down at the
youngster sentimentally.  “I’ve often thought that if ever I did get
married—  Only”—with a regretful shrug of the right shoulder—“I’ve never
been lucky enough to find any one that cared for me.  That accounts for
my want of good manners.”

“It is a bit noticeable,” she agreed.

“It’s partly, too,” he contended, “the result of good nature.  This young
chap, he appealed to me to help him, and I, foolish like, consented to do
my best.  Never occurred to me that I should be no use at all when I set
myself against the sharpness of a woman.  When a woman’s got a clear head
and a certain amount of good looks, no man has the leastest chance.”  He
looked around the passage for a new subject.  “Is this the late lamented,
may I ask, ma’am?”

“That’s Lord Kitchener,” she answered, not displeased.  “Would you care
to come in and sit down for a bit?  I expect you’re tired, running about
all over the place.  Martha dear, you come in, too, and let us see how
nicely you can arrange the flowers.  That,” entering the front room and
pointing to a large, tinted photograph, “that was Mr. Rickards.”

“Sensible sort of forehead,” said Porter Swan guardedly.

“More than could be said of what was inside it.  He was always talking
about what he’d put by in the Railway Savings Bank, and every pay day he
used to come home and say, ‘It’s adding up rapidly,’ and ‘You won’t want
for nothing, my love, if I should be took away.’  And,” with acerbity,
“when he did go off, I found that instead of having about forty pounds
there—enough to give me the chance of opening a little business—he hadn’t
put by as many shillings.  Not as many pence.”

“Some men are like that.”

“All men are like that,” she insisted.

“No, no, no!” protested Swan.  “We’ve got our faults, but we haven’t got
the same kind of faults.  Most of us are straightforward.  How do you
manage to rub along, ma’am, if it isn’t a rude question?”

“It is a rude question; but I do dressmaking, and I take lodgers.”

“You take in lodgers?”

She smiled, and Swan could not help thinking that only trouble interfered
with her good looks.  She sent the child to the scullery for a jug of
water.

“Not for me,” he insisted.  “I shall have something with my supper, later
on.”

“It’s for the flowers,” as the child obeyed.  “And I didn’t want her to
hear what I was about to tell you,” she went on confidentially.  “The
fact is—  As you say, it has been an extraordinary autumn.  The sun
to-day was enough to make people’s eyes ache.”

“Ain’t spilt a drop,” announced the child, who had returned swiftly.

Swan moved his chair nearer.

“You’ve got eyes,” he said, lowering his voice, “eyes like the
head-lights on an engine.”

She tried to frown, and gave a meaning glance in the direction of the
occupied little girl.

“I shall be dreamin’ of ’em for weeks,” he whispered earnestly.  “I’m not
one to take much notice of females in a general way—a woman hater; that’s
what they call me in the porters’ room—but as I was going to say, I can
quite well imagine a chap like myself, going on for years just racketing
about and then coming across a pair of eyes like yours and saying to
himself, ‘Swan, old man, it’s time you began to take matters seriously!’”

“Martha, my dear, go on with your work.  Me and Mr. Swan are only talking
business!”

“You must have been a decent-looking girl in your day,” Swan went on.
“Of course, time doesn’t stand still with any of us, and very few can
weather the storm, as you may say, without showing some signs of wear and
tear.”

“I’ve had more of a struggle than most,” she said, glancing at the
mirror.

“You want somebody to take you out for walks, and now and again an
evening at the theatre.  Sometimes I get pit orders for two, and I tear
’em up, because,” said Swan, with a touch of melancholy, “simply because
I can’t get no one to go with.”

“That is a shame!” she cried.  “Surely your landlady—”

“You know what landladies are,” he interposed.  “Always on the make.  So
long as they can over-charge you, that’s all they want.  I don’t mean
anything personal,” he added quickly, and rose from the easy chair.
“It’s a fine moonlight night,” he went on; “I shall just take a turn
round and get a mouthful of fresh air.”

“I haven’t been outside the front door to-day.”

“I’ll wait for you,” he whispered, “a few houses off.”

“Martha,” she cried severely, “do you see what the time is?  Pack off to
bed this minute, and I’ll come up and hear you say your prayers.  Bid
‘Good-night’ to Mr. Swan, and thank him prettily for what he gave you.”

“Bring a bigger bunch next time,” said the child shrilly.

Swan, walking up and down on the pavement, was hailed by one or two
colleagues on their way home, who asked to be informed whether he had
succeeded in recovering young Mannering’s box: he contented himself by
replying to the effect that negotiations were in progress, and that a
full report would be made in the morning.  They predicted that he had for
once bitten off more than he could chew.

“This takes me back,” she remarked brightly, as she came up, “I shouldn’t
like to say how long.  Wonder whether I can get your step?”

“You’ll get accustomed to it,” he replied.  “Any objection to me
smoking?”

“I love a pipe!  Oh, but,” with sudden agitation, “I didn’t say you could
take my arm!  Whatever will the neighbours think?”

“They’ll think what a lucky one I am.”

“Mr. Swan, you seem to have an answer ready for everything!”

She announced half an hour later that she did not feel in the least
tired, adding a belief that she could go on walking for ever; but Swan,
who needed his supper, was firm, and at her door mentioned that he was
early duty all the current week.  She offered her hand and thanked him
for his kindness; he held it and asked determinedly where and when could
he see her again.  Surely, she retorted, surely once was enough!  Once,
Swan announced, was by no means enough—twenty thousand times would not,
in his opinion, be reckoned sufficient.

“You must think I’m simple to believe that!” she said.

“What about to-morrow?” he asked, ignoring the assertion.

“Would you care to come in the evening and have something to eat before
the child goes to bed?”

Porter Swan, in a moment of inspiration, kissed her hand, thus striking
the exactly right note, and she declared she seemed to have known him for
years.  Would Mr. Swan do her one favour?

“Command me!” he begged.

Would he mind taking that lad’s box away with him, and leaving it at the
station or somewhere?  The sight of it on the morrow would recall bitter
words that she wished to drive from her memory.

“I don’t mind obliging you,” said Swan, feigning reluctance, “to that
extent.”

It had cost a deal of thought and of trouble, but good repayment came the
next morning.  He conducted Mannering to the Up Parcels Office, and there
formally presented him with the tin box, sent free from the suburban
station as “Luggage Left Behind.”  The staff of the Up Parcels Office
cheered Swan, and, clustering around, begged to be informed how the feat
had been accomplished, and had to interpret a wink given as reply.
Porter Swan waved aside the lad’s thanks, declined the grateful offer of
refreshments, and walked out with the air of a successful diplomatist
leaving the Guildhall after receiving in a gold casket the freedom of the
City.  During the day he found a new regard paid to him; colleagues came
for private conference on knotty points of law, ranging from difficulties
with a neighbour concerning cats to the regaining of engagement rings
held by lady bailees.  It was all very pleasant and gratifying, and, in
order to enjoy it to the full, he gave less than his usual energy to the
collection of tips, actually leaving one leisurely passenger without
allowing her time to find her purse.

Not until a client, searching for sound legal advice, and finding it
impossible to state his case amidst the puffing and whistling of engines,
inquired: “What are you doing with yourself this evening, old man?”—not
until then did he recall the circumstance that he had promised to eat a
meal on the occasion of his ensuing visit.  He wanted to see her
again—just once more, at any rate—and he knew domestic authorities were
not too well pleased when disappointed in regard to a guest.  To arrive
after the supper hour would mar the warmth and geniality of his
reception.

“Mannering!”

“Yes, Mr. Swan.  Anything I can do for you?”

“Want a little more information out of you, my lad.  You gave me a vague
sort of description of the food that was given you at that last place;
just let me have a few more details—the exact truth about, say, the last
meal you had there.”

As the lad complied Swan’s forehead took an extra crease; young Mannering
spoke with the fluency of one dealing with a subject on which he felt
deeply.

“Steady on!” protested Swan.  “It couldn’t possibly have been so awful as
all that.”

“It was worse!” declared the other.  “A jolly sight worse!  At first it
seemed all right; but the third day—  You ought to have been there!  If
you ’appen to have a taste for tough meat—they say there’s nothing like
leather; but that’s a mistake—overdone and all black at the edges, why,
you would have enjoyed yourself!”

“She doesn’t look like a woman who can’t cook.”

“She’s a very nice person,” agreed the lad judicially, “and I’ve got no
other fault to find whatsoever.  Horrible particular, though, about late
hours.  Old-fashioned and out of date, I call her.”

“What do you mean,” roared Swan impetuously, “by talking in that way
about a lady?  Keep a civil tongue in your head, will you?  Who are you,
I should like to know, to find fault?”

The lad begged for pardon.

“What do you know about food?” he raved on.  “Accustomed to nothing but
raw turnips hitherto, how can you possibly tell whether cooking is good
or not?  Be off and see about your work, or else I’ll get you shifted
back to that toad-in-the-hole station in the country.  Coming up here,”
continued Swan aggrievedly, “and dictating to Londoners about food—I
never heard of such impudence!”

He strode to the porters’ room’, and, flinging off his jacket, sat at the
desk and took a penholder, assuming the attitude of mental stress common
to those who start upon literary efforts.  Like many others in similar
position, he found himself baulked at the very start.  Should he, in
writing to excuse himself from paying his call until after the hour of
supper, begin, “My dear Madam” or “Dear Friend,” or, his memory going
back to the days of youth, dare to write “Sweetest”?  He tried all of
these, and others, and could not persuade himself to feel satisfied with
any.  The old remedy of shining boots gave him an idea that brought back
contentment to his features, and he went about his tasks for the
remainder of the day humming cheerfully.  At six o’clock he ran around to
the eating-house near to the station and ordered a special eightpenny
steak, with chipped potatoes.

“That’ll save me!” remarked Porter Swan.

In marching down towards Railway Terrace he could not help thinking of
his soldier days when there was never a dearth of housemaids, and never a
one who did not, sooner or later, betray some defect which led to
cessation of amiabilities.  Here, again, was a case of a trim little
woman who, if she but knew how to cook, might well be either highly
commended or, perhaps, awarded the prize of second marriage.  He had
enjoyed his meal at the eating-house, and felt willing to look on the
world with an indulgent air; nevertheless, he could not help seeing the
drawback was serious.

“Hullo, my dear!” as the child opened the door.  “How are we this time?”

“Brought me anythink?”

“What do you say to a few chocolates?”

“Mr. Swan,” called a pleasant voice from the kitchen, “don’t you go
spoiling her.  She’s not been behaving nicely.”

“Hand ’em over!” ordered the youngster.

The mother came through the passage, slightly flushed by the fire or from
confusion, reproved her daughter for want of manners, gave a welcome to
Mr. Swan, and expressed a hope that he had a good appetite.

“Don’t know what’s the matter with me,” he replied anxiously.  “If I
don’t get better I shall have to see a chemist.  I could no more touch
food at the present moment than I could swim the Channel.  I’m very
sorry, but you must excuse me, reelly.”

“It’s a pity,” she said with distress.  “You don’t mind sitting down and
watching us eat, I hope.”

“That’ll suit me,” declared Swan, entering the room.

The table was neatly set out for three, with glasses, shining knives and
forks, an attractive roll of bread at each plate.  She went to the
kitchen.

“We’ve got a fowel,” whispered the child importantly.  “Roast fowel!”

“You’re welcome to my share,” he answered.

This, repeated with some extravagance, caused the child’s mother to stop
as she came in with the dish.  She said “Oh!” in such a pained way that
he hastened to assure her no reflection upon her culinary skill was
intended; the internal complaint from which he was suffering had to take
the responsibility.  The child said grace.

“You’re a first-rate carver,” he said interestedly.

“It’s a tender bird,” she remarked.

“Looks to me as though it’s beautifully done,” declared the astonished
Swan, his mouth watering.

“I was cook in a good family before I married my first,” she explained.
“If you’ve once learnt, you never forget.  When I get a lodger who keeps
good hours I take a pride in preparing his meals.  When he doesn’t, I
know enough about cooking to cook so that he doesn’t want to stop.”

                                * * * * *

The staff subscribed threepences, and bought a fish knife and fork.
Porter Swan sent in an application for leave, and for passes—passes for
two: self and wife.



XVII—MAGNIFICENT REMEDIES


“DON’T want to bother you,” remarked the toddling baby, catching the hem
of the other’s overcoat; “but if you could spare a minute!”

“Now, let me see,” said the Deep Thinker, looking down sideways at the
small child and giving the pull-up of the cuffs preparatory to the making
of an arch with two hands.  “Let me see, now.  Where are we?”

“In Notting Dale.”

“I mean, how far have we advanced?  At what stage have we arrived?”

“Haven’t arrived at all,” answered the baby shortly.  “I’m just starting,
and it seems to me I’m starting in rather unfortunate circumstances.  I’m
not going to say anything against my father and mother; but, really,
unless some one else steps in and—”

“Not so fast!” interrupted the Deep Thinker, taking off pince-nez and
shaking it reprovingly at the child.  “Let us consider this case of yours
fully, in all its various aspects.  We must hasten slowly.  I’m fully
prepared to help you in every possible manner, and you can safely leave
the case in my hands.”

“Fire away, then!” said the infant.

The Deep Thinker, turning up the collar of his overcoat, found a
sheltered space near the Sirdar Road schools, and opened the discussion,
picking phrases so carefully that sometimes when the right word came
first he rejected it, substituting one which represented second thoughts.
The question to be decided—this he offered truculently as his humble
opinion—was that nothing could be done for the Notting Dale baby until a
large, momentous, important point received satisfactory settlement.

“Now, the Act of 1870, you will remember—”

The child protested that it knew nothing of events happening so long ago;
the Deep Thinker lifted a warning forefinger as insistent demand for
silence.  Warming to the arguments, he began to wave arms, to adopt
emphatic forms of gesture; the boy stood clear, watching, and
endeavouring to follow the involved and tortuous reasoning.  “Shall we,”
said the Deep Thinker, “or shall we not reimpose tests?”  The youngster
gave the sigh of one struggling to understand and unable to see light.
“Ought we or ought we not to oppose with all the force and strength we
possess undenominational religion; and, if so, why?”  The other muttered,
“Because it’s ajar!” and, turning, found a little pack of grubby cards in
his pocket.

“We proceed now to consider the point of full popular control, and here
is a subject on which I shall take the liberty of speaking at some
length.  It is a difficult point, and I beg you to give me your complete
and absolute attention.”

“That I jolly well sha’n’t!” replied the other definitely.

It appeared an audience was not indispensable so long as the Deep Thinker
could be permitted to talk without interruption; he found so much
pleasure in the task that he gave a high giggle of satisfaction when,
having set up a limp argument made of straw with the preface “But then my
opponents will say—,” he knocked it down and jumped exultantly upon it
with “I rather think that answers the other side!”  As time went on, he
became slightly hoarse, and the other standing near (whose manners really
seemed to be getting worse and worse) warned him that his throat would
presently resemble a nutmeg-grater; the Deep Thinker took a voice
lozenge, gaining from this enough refreshment to enable him to proceed.
Public speakers can be divided into two sets—one not knowing where to
begin, and the other not knowing where to leave off; it was evident to
which party the Deep Thinker belonged, for whenever it seemed he was
approaching finality and nothing remained but to take definite action, he
always managed to discover a new and another branch on which he could
perch himself and twitter.

“For each individual, after due consideration of the convictions of
others, the final authority as to the right or wrong of any opinion or
action should be his own conscientious and well-reasoned judgment.”

Policemen came up and interfered between the lad and the girl who was
suffering from his blows; the Deep Thinker, his attention distracted by
the incident, begged the constables not to arrest the youth until the
arguments that were being delivered should come to an end; and the two
members of the F Division, touching helmets, went off reluctantly, taking
good note of the features of the combative parties.  The young man now
made no pretence of listening.  As quiet folk went by he made a snatch at
their watches or at their purses, or at both, and when success attended
his efforts he was absent for a time, returning with a slight hiccough
and a flushed countenance.

He had developed during the discussion from a round-eyed, attractive
infant to a bulgy, sullen youth with a shifting expression that never
escaped aggressiveness.  As the Deep Thinker announced that only a few
brief words remained to be said, the youth temporarily gave up the task
of incommoding his fellows, and offered a look of hopefulness.

“I am warned,” said the Deep Thinker, blinking around, “that time does
not stand still, and I propose therefore to put my remaining arguments
into the briefest possible space.  I flatter myself I am a man of action,
rather than a man of words.  The time has come to be up and doing.  We
must gird on our sword for the fray.  The trumpet call is sounding, and
it is the hour for coming to close quarters.  First of all, however, I
should like to run over the various heads of the arguments I have used,
and freshen them, if I may say so—freshen them in your memory.”

What the Deep Thinker meant by this proved to be that he should give
himself an encore and accept it, for he went through the whole of his
exhaustive address again, adding to it considerably here and there, and
whenever he became involved in a thick undergrowth of words, laboriously
retraced his footsteps and recommenced the journey.  The lad, become a
man, short and defiant, with a stubbly beard, made a very satisfactory
haul from two well-dressed people, returning later with a revolver, that
gave him a great amount of interest; the Deep Thinker broke off to urge
him to be careful.

“The crux of the whole question,” said the Deep Thinker, resuming, “put
shortly is simply this.  The moral life involves neither acceptance nor
rejection of belief in any deity, personal or impersonal, or in a life
after death!”

Possibly the bearded man did not fully comprehend the intention of this
remark; probable, too, that, having been talked to for a considerable
length of time, his sense of appreciation had become dulled.  At any
rate, a City gentleman, hurrying home, found himself at his last
destination sooner than he expected.  The police wanted the Deep Thinker
to come along to the station; his evidence as witness would be required,
but the Deep Thinker assured them earnestly that, absorbed by a
particular topic, he had seen nothing of the affair.

“Thus we see,” went on the Deep Thinker, when they had disappeared,
“that, whilst on the one side it may be fairly argued that—”

He had not finished when there occurred a shock that genuinely pained and
annoyed him.  The rate-collector presented a demand for payment of the
Deep Thinker’s share of the cost of keeping the Sirdar Road criminal in
prison for the remainder of what was termed his natural life.

“Almost enough,” cried the Deep Thinker aggrievedly, “to make a man
threaten to give up completely his interest in public questions!”

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

               UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, WOKING AND LONDON.





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