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Paul Kelver

Part 3 out of 8

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My mother laughed bitterly; why, at the time, I could not understand;
and my father flung out of the house. During the many hours that he
was away my mother remained locked in her room, and, stealing
sometimes to the door, I was sure I heard her crying; and that she
should grieve so at old Teidelmann's death puzzled me.

She came oftener to our house after that. Her mourning added, I
think, to her beauty, softening--or seeming to soften--the hardness of
her eyes. Always she was very sweet to my mother, who by contrast
beside her appeared witless and ungracious; and to me, whatever her
motive, she was kindness itself; hardly ever arriving without some
trifling gift or plan for affording me some childish treat. By
instinct she understood exactly what I desired and liked, the books
that would appeal to me as those my mother gave me never did, the
pleasures that did please me as opposed to the pleasures that should
have pleased me. Often my mother, talking to me, would chill me with
the vista of the life that lay before me: a narrow, viewless way
between twin endless walls of "Must" and "Must not." This soft-voiced
lady set me dreaming of life as of sunny fields through which one
wandered laughing, along the winding path of Will; so that, although
as I have said, there lurked at the bottom of my thoughts a fear of
her; yet something within me I seemed unable to control went out to
her, drawn by her subtle sympathy and understanding of it.

"Has he ever seen a pantomime?" she asked of my father one morning,
looking at me the while with a whimsical screwing of her mouth.

My heart leaped within me. My father raised his eyebrows: "What
would your mother say, do you think?" he asked. My heart sank.

"She thinks," I replied, "that theatres are very wicked places." It
was the first time that any doubt as to the correctness of my mother's
judgments had ever crossed my mind.

Mrs. Teidelmann's smile strengthened my doubt. "Dear me," she said,
"I am afraid I must be very wicked. I have always regarded a
pantomime as quite a moral entertainment. All the bad people go down
so very straight to--well, to the fit and proper place for them. And
we could promise to leave before the Clown stole the sausages,
couldn't we, Paul?"

My mother was called and came; and I could not help thinking how
insignificant she looked with her pale face and plain dark frock,
standing stiffly beside this shining lady in her rustling clothes.

"You will let him come, Mrs. Kelver," she pleaded in her soft
caressing tones; "it's Dick Whittington, you know--such an excellent
moral."

My mother had stood silent, clasping and unclasping her hands, a
childish trick she had when troubled; and her lips were trembling.
Important as the matter loomed before my own eyes, I wondered at her
agitation.

"I am very sorry," said my mother, "it is very kind of you. But I
would rather he did not go."

"Just this once," persisted Mrs. Teidelmann. "It is holiday time."

A ray of sunlight fell into the room, lighting upon her coaxing face,
making where my mother stood seem shadow.

"I would rather he did not go," repeated my mother, and her voice
sounded harsh and grating. "When he is older others must judge for
him, but for the present he must be guided by me--alone."

"I really don't think there could be any harm, Maggie," urged my
father. "Things have changed since we were young."

"That may be," answered my mother, still in the same harsh voice; "it
is long ago since then."

"I didn't intend it that way," said my father with a short laugh.

"I merely meant that I may be wrong," answered my mother. "I seem so
old among you all--so out of place. I have tried to change, but I
cannot."

"We will say no more about it," said Mrs. Teidelmann, sweetly. "I
merely thought it would give him pleasure; and he has worked so hard
this last term, his father tells me."

She laid her hand caressingly on my shoulder, drawing me a little
closer to her; and it remained there.

"It was very kind of you," said my mother, "I would do anything to
give him pleasure, anything-I could. He knows that. He understands."

My mother's hand, I knew, was seeking mine, but I was angry and would
not see; and without another word she left the room.

My mother did not allude again to the subject; but the very next
afternoon she took me herself to a hall in the neighbourhood, where we
saw a magic-lantern, followed by a conjurer. She had dressed herself
in a prettier frock than she had worn for many a long day, and was
brighter and gayer in herself than had lately been her wont, laughing
and talking merrily. But I, nursing my wrongs, remained moody and
sulky. At any other time such rare amusement would have overjoyed me;
but the wonders of the great theatre that from other boys I had heard
so much of, that from gaudy-coloured posters I had built up for
myself, were floating vague and undefined before me in the air; and
neither the open-mouthed sleeper, swallowing his endless chain of
rats; nor even the live rabbit found in the stout old gentleman's
hat--the last sort of person in whose hat one would have expected to
find such a thing--could draw away my mind from the joy I had caught a
glimpse of only to lose.

So we walked home through the muddy, darkening streets, speaking but
little; and that night, waking--or rather half waking, as children
do--I thought I saw a figure in white crouching at the foot of my bed.
I must have gone to sleep again; and later, though I cannot say
whether the intervening time was short or long, I opened my eyes to
see it still there; and frightened, I cried out; and my mother rose
from her knees.

She laughed, a curious broken laugh, in answer to my questions. "It
was a silly dream I had," she explained "I must have been thinking of
the conjurer we saw. I dreamt that a wicked Magician had spirited you
away from me. I could not find you and was all alone in the world."

She put her arms around me, so tight as almost to hurt me. And thus
we remained until again I must have fallen asleep.

It was towards the close of these same holidays that my mother and I
called upon Mrs. Teidelmann in her great stone-built house at Clapton.
She had sent a note round that morning, saying she was suffering from
terrible headaches that quite took her senses away, so that she was
unable to come out. She would be leaving England in a few days to
travel. Would my mother come and see her, she would like to say
good-bye to her before she went. My mother handed the letter across
the table to my father.

"Of course you will go," said my father. "Poor girl, I wonder what
the cause can be. She used to be so free from everything of the
kind."

"Do you think it well for me to go?" said my mother. "What can she
have to say to me?"

"Oh, just to say good-bye," answered my father. "It would look so
pointed not to go."

It was a dull, sombre house without, but one entered through its
commonplace door as through the weed-grown rock into Aladdin's cave.
Old Teidelmann had been a great collector all his life, and his
treasures, now scattered through a dozen galleries, were then heaped
there in curious confusion. Pictures filled every inch of wall, stood
propped against the wonderful old furniture, were even stretched
unframed across the ceilings. Statues gleamed from every corner (a
few of the statues were, I remember, the only things out of the entire
collection that Mrs. Teidelmann kept for herself), carvings,
embroideries, priceless china, miniatures framed in gems, illuminated
missals and gorgeously bound books crowded the room. The ugly little
thick-lipped man had surrounded himself with the beauty of every age,
brought from every land. He himself must have been the only thing
cheap and uninteresting to be found within his own walls; and now he
lay shrivelled up in his coffin, under a monument by means of which an
unknown cemetery became quite famous.

Instructions had been given that my mother was to be shown up into
Mrs. Teidelmann's boudoir. She was lying on a sofa near the fire when
we entered, asleep, dressed in a loose lace robe that fell away,
showing her thin but snow-white arms, her rich dark hair falling loose
about her. In sleep she looked less beautiful: harder and with a
suggestion of coarseness about the face, of which at other times it
showed no trace. My mother said she would wait, perhaps Mrs.
Teidelmann would awake; and the servant, closing the door softly, left
us alone with her.

An old French clock standing on the mantelpiece, a heart supported by
Cupids, ticked with a muffled, soothing sound. My mother, choosing a
chair by the window, sat with her eyes fixed on the sleeping woman's
face, and it seemed to me--though this may have been but my fancy born
of after-thought--that a faint smile relaxed for a moment the sleeping
woman's pained, pressed lips. Neither I nor my mother spoke, the only
sound in the room being the hushed ticking of the great gilt clock.
Until the other woman after a few slight movements of unrest began to
talk in her sleep.

Only confused murmurs escaped her at first, and then I heard her
whisper my father's name. Very low--hardly more than breathed--were
the words, but upon the silence each syllable struck clear and
distinct: "Ah no, we must not. Luke, my darling."

My mother rose swiftly from her chair, but she spoke in quite
matter-of-fact tones.

"Go, Paul," she said, "wait for me downstairs;" and noiselessly
opening the door, she pushed me gently out, and closed it again behind
me.

It was half an hour or more before she came down, and at once we left
the house, letting ourselves out. All the way home my mother never
once spoke, but walked as one in a dream with eyes that saw not. With
her hand upon the lock of our gate she came back to life.

"You must say nothing, Paul, do you understand?" she said. "When
people are delirious they use strange words that have no meaning. Do
you understand, Paul; you must never breathe a word--never."

I promised, and we entered the house; and from that day my mother's
whole manner changed. Not another angry word ever again escaped her
lips, never an angry flash lighted up again her eyes. Mrs. Teidelmann
remained away three months. My father, of course, wrote to her often,
for he was managing all her affairs. But my mother wrote to her
also--though this my father, I do not think, knew--long letters that
she would go away by herself to pen, writing them always in the
twilight, close to the window.

"Why do you choose this time, just when it's getting dark, to write
your letters," my father would expostulate, when by chance he happened
to look into the room. "Let me ring for the lamp, you will strain
your eyes." But my mother would always excuse herself, saying she had
only a few lines to finish.

"I can think better in this light," she would explain.

And when Mrs. Teidelmann returned, it was my mother who was the first
to call upon her; before even my father knew that she was back. And
from thence onward one might have thought them the closest of friends,
my mother visiting her often, speaking of her to all in terms of
praise and liking.

In this way peace returned unto the house, and my father was tender
again in all his words and actions towards my mother, and my mother
thoughtful as before of all his wants and whims, her voice soft and
low, the sweet smile ever lurking around her lips as in the old days
before this evil thing had come to dwell among us; and I might have
forgotten it had ever cast its blight upon our life but that every day
my mother grew feebler, the little ways that had seemed a part of her
gone from her.

The summer came and went--that time in towns of panting days and
stifling nights, when through the open window crawls to one's face the
hot foul air, heavy with reeking odours drawn from a thousand streets;
when lying awake one seems to hear the fitful breathing of the myriad
mass around, as of some over-laboured beast too tired to even rest;
and my mother moved about the house ever more listlessly.

"There's nothing really the matter with her," said Dr. Hal, "only
weakness. It is the place. Cannot you get her away from it?"

"I cannot leave myself," said my father, "just yet; but there is no
reason why you and the boy should not take a holiday. This year I can
afford it, and later I might possibly join you."

My mother consented, as she did to all things now, and so it came
about that again of afternoons we climbed--though more slowly and with
many pauses--the steep path to the ruined tower old Jacob in his happy
foolishness had built upon the headland, rested once again upon its
topmost platform, sheltered from the wind that ever blew about its
crumbling walls, saw once more the distant mountains, faint like
spectres, and the silent ships that came and vanished, and about our
feet the pleasant farm lands, and the grave, sweet river.

We had taken lodgings in the village: smaller now it seemed than
previously; but wonderful its sunny calm, after the turmoil of the
fierce dark streets. Mrs. Fursey was there still, but quite another
than the Mrs. Fursey of my remembrance, a still angular but cheery
dame, bent no longer on suppressing me, but rather on drawing me out
before admiring neighbours, as one saying: "The material was
unpromising, as you know. There were times when I almost despaired.
But with patience, and--may I say, a natural gift that way--you see
what can be accomplished!" And Anna, now a buxom wife and mother,
with an uncontrollable desire to fall upon and kiss me at most
unexpected moments, necessitating a never sleeping watchfulness on my
part, and a choosing of positions affording means of ready retreat.
And old Chumbley, still cobbling shoes in his tiny cave. On the bench
before him in a row they sat and watched him while he tapped and
tapped and hammered: pert little shoes piping "Be quick, be quick, we
want to be toddling. You seem to have no idea, my good man, how much
toddling there is to be done." Dapper boots, sighing: "Oh, please
make haste, we are waiting to dance and to strut. Jack walks in the
lane, Jill waits by the gate. Oh, deary, how slowly he taps." Stout
sober boots, saying: "As soon as you can, old friend. Remember we've
work to do." Flat-footed old boots, rusty and limp, mumbling: "We
haven't much time, Mr. Chumbley. Just a patch, that is all, we
haven't much further to go." And old Joe, still peddling his pack,
with the help of the same old jokes. And Tom Pinfold, still puzzled
and scratching his head, the rejected fish still hanging by its tail
from his expostulating hand; one might almost have imagined it the
same fish. Grown-up folks had changed but little. Only the foolish
children had been playing tricks; parties I had left mere sucking
babes now swaggering in pinafore or knickerbocker; children I had
known now mincing it as men and women; such affectation annoyed me.

One afternoon--it was towards the close of the last week of our
stay--my mother and I had climbed, as was so often our wont, to the
upper platform of old Jacob's tower. My mother leant upon the
parapet, her eyes fixed dreamingly upon the distant mountains, and a
smile crept to her lips.

"What are you thinking of?" I asked.

"Oh, only of things that happened over there"--she nodded her head
towards the distant hills as to some old crony with whom she shares
secrets--"when I was a girl."

"You lived there, long ago, didn't you, when you were young?" I asked.
Boys do not always stop to consider whether their questions might or
might not be better expressed.

"You're very rude," said my mother--it was long since a tone of her
old self had rung from her in answer to any touch; "it was a very
little while ago."

Suddenly she raised her head and listened. Perhaps some twenty
seconds she remained so with her lips parted, and then from the woods
came a faint, long-drawn "Coo-ee." We ran to the side of the tower
commanding the pathway from the village, and waited until from among
the dark pines my father emerged into the sunlight.

Seeing us, he shouted again and waved his stick, and from the light of
his eves and his gallant bearing, and the spring of his step across
the heathery turf, we knew instinctively that trouble had come upon
him. He always rose to meet it with that look and air. It was the
old Norse blood in his veins, I suppose. So, one imagines, must those
godless old Pirates have sprung to their feet when the North wind,
loosed as a hawk from the leash, struck at the beaked prow.

We heard his quick step on the rickety stair, and the next moment he
was between us, breathing a little hard, but laughing.

He stood for awhile beside my mother without speaking, both of them
gazing at the distant hills among which, as my mother had explained,
things had happened long ago. And maybe, "over there," their memories
met and looked upon each other with kind eyes.

"Do you remember," said my father, "we climbed up here--it was the
first walk we took together after coming here. We discussed our plans
for the future, how we would retrieve our fortunes."

"And the future," answered my mother, "has a way of making plans for
us instead."

"It would seem so," replied my father, with a laugh. "I am an unlucky
beggar, Maggie. I dropped all your money as well as my own down that
wretched mine."

"It was the will--it was Fate, or whatever you call it," said my
mother. "You could not help that, Luke."

"If only that damned pump hadn't jambed," said my father.

"Do you remember that Mrs. Tharand?" asked my mother.

"Yes, what of her?"

"A worldly woman, I always thought her. She called on me the morning
we were leaving; I don't think you saw her. 'I've been through more
worries than you would think, to look at me,' she said to me,
laughing. I've always remembered her words: 'and of all the troubles
that come to us in this world, believe me, Mrs. Kelver, money troubles
are the easiest to bear.'"

"I wish I could think so," said my father.

"She rather irritated me at the time," continued my mother. "I
thought it one of those commonplaces with which we console ourselves
for other people's misfortunes. But now I know she spoke the truth."

There was silence between them for awhile. Then said my father in a
cheery tone:

"I've broken with old Hasluck."

"I thought you would be compelled to sooner or later," answered my
mother.

"Hasluck," exclaimed my father, with sudden vehemence, "is little
better than a thief; I told him so."

"What did he say?" asked my mother.

"Laughed, and said that was better than some people."

My father laughed himself.

I wish to do the memory of Noel Hasluck no injustice. Ever was he a
kind friend to me; not only then, but in later years, when, having
come to learn that kindness is rarer in the world than I had dreamt, I
was glad of it. Added to which, if only for Barbara's sake, I would
prefer to write of him throughout in terms of praise. Yet even were
his good-tempered, thick-skinned ghost (and unless it were
good-tempered and thick-skinned it would be no true ghost of old Noel
Hasluck) to be reading over my shoulder the words as I write them
down, I think it would agree with me--I do not think it would be
offended with me (for ever in his life he was an admirer and a lover
of the Truth, being one of those good fighters capable of respecting
even his foe, his enemy, against whom from ten to four, occasionally a
little later, he fought right valiantly) for saying that of all the
men who go down into the City each day in a cab or 'bus or train, he
was perhaps one of the most unprincipled: and whether that be saying
much or little I leave to those with more knowledge to decide.

To do others, as it was his conviction, right or wrong, that they
would do him if ever he gave them half a chance, was his notion of
"business;" and in most of his transactions he was successful. "I
play a game," he would argue, "where cheating is the rule. Nine out
of every ten men round the table are sharpers like myself, and the
tenth man is a fool who has no business to be there. We prey upon
each other, and the cutest of us is the winner."

"But the innocent people, lured by your fine promises," I ventured
once to suggest to him, "the widows and the orphans?"

"My dear lad," he said, with a laugh, laying his fat hand upon my
shoulder, "I remember one of your widows writing me a pathetic letter
about some shares she had taken in a Silver Company of mine. Lord
knows where the mine is now--somewhere in Spain, I think. It looked
as though all her savings were gone. She had an only son, and it was
nearly all they possessed in the world, etc., etc.--you know the sort
of thing. Well, I did what I've often been numskull enough to do in
similar cases, wrote and offered to buy her out at par. A week later
she answered, thanking me, but saying it did not matter. There had
occurred a momentary rise, and she had sold out at a profit--to her
own brother-in-law, as I discovered, happening to come across the
transfers. You can find widows and orphans round the Monte Carlo card
tables, if you like to look for them; they are no more deserving of
consideration than the rest of the crowd. Besides, if it comes to
that, I'm an orphan myself;" and he laughed again, one of his deep,
hearty, honest laughs. No one ever possessed a laugh more suggestive
in its every cadence of simple, transparent honesty. He used to say
himself it was worth thousands to him.

Better from the Moralists' point of view had such a man been an
out-and-out rogue. Then might one have pointed, crying: "Behold:
Dishonesty, as you will observe in the person of our awful example, to
be hated, needs but to be seen." But the duty of the Chronicler is to
bear witness to what he knows, leaving Truth with the whole case
before her to sum up and direct the verdict. In the City, old Hasluck
had a bad reputation and deserved it; in Stoke-Newington--then a green
suburb, containing many fine old houses, standing in great wooded
gardens--he was loved and respected. In his business, he was a man
void of all moral sense, without bowels of compassion for any living
thing; in retirement, a man with a strong sense of duty and a fine
regard for the rights and feelings of others, never happier than when
planning to help or give pleasure. In his office, he would have
robbed his own mother. At home, he would have spent his last penny to
add to her happiness or comfort. I make no attempt to explain. I
only know that such men do exist, and that Hasluck was one of them.
One avoids difficulties by dismissing them as a product of our
curiously complex civilisation--a convenient phrase; let us hope the
recording angel may be equally impressed by it.

Casting about for some reason of excuse to myself for my liking of
him, I hit upon the expedient of regarding him as a modern Robin Hood,
whom we are taught to admire without shame, a Robin Hood up to date,
adapted to the changed conditions of modern environment; making his
living relieving the rich; taking pleasure relieving the poor.

"What will you do?" asked my mother.

"I shall have to give up the office," answered my father. "Without
him there's not enough to keep it going. He was quite good-tempered
about the matter--offered to divide the work, letting me retain the
straightforward portion for whatever that might be worth. But I
declined. Now I know, I feel I would rather have nothing more to do
with him."

"I think you were quite right," agreed my mother.

"What I blame myself for," said my father, "is that I didn't see
through him before. Of course he has been making a mere tool of me
from the beginning. I ought to have seen through him. Why didn't I?"

They discussed the future, or, rather, my father discussed, my mother
listening in silence, stealing a puzzled look at him from time to
time, as though there were something she could not understand.

He would take a situation in the City. One had been offered him. It
might sound poor, but it would be a steady income on which we must
contrive to live. The little money he had saved must be kept for
investments--nothing speculative--judicious "dealings," by means of
which a cool, clear-headed man could soon accumulate capital. Here
the training acquired by working for old Hasluck would serve him well.
One man my father knew--quite a dull, commonplace man--starting a few
years ago with only a few hundreds, was now worth tens of thousands.
Foresight was the necessary qualification. You watched the "tendency"
of things. So often had my father said to himself: "This is going to
be a big thing. That other, it is no good," and in every instance his
prognostications had been verified. He had "felt it;" some men had
that gift. Now was the time to use it for practical purposes.

"Here," said my father, breaking off, and casting an approving eye
upon the surrounding scenery, "would be a pleasant place to end one's
days. The house you had was very pretty and you liked it. We might
enlarge it, the drawing-room might be thrown out--perhaps another
wing." I felt that our good fortune as from this day was at last
established.

But my mother had been listening with growing impatience, her puzzled
glances giving place gradually to flashes of anger; and now she turned
her face full upon him, her question written plainly thereon,
demanding answer.

Some idea of it I had even then, watching her; and since I have come
to read it word for word: "But that woman--that woman that loves you,
that you love. Ah, I know--why do you play with me? She is rich.
With her your life will be smooth. And the boy--it will be better far
for him. Cannot you three wait a little longer? What more can I do?
Cannot you see that I am surely dying--dying as quickly as I
can--dying as that poor creature your friend once told us of; knowing
it was the only thing she could do for those she loved. Be honest
with me: I am no longer jealous. All that is past: a man is ever
younger than a woman, and a man changes. I do not blame you. It is
for the best. She and I have talked; it is far better so. Only be
honest with me, or at least silent. Will you not honour me enough for
even that?"

My father did not answer, having that to speak of that put my mother's
question out of her mind for all time; so that until the end no word
concerning that other woman passed again between them. Twenty years
later, nearly, I myself happened to meet her, and then long physical
suffering had chased the wantonness away for ever from the pain-worn
mouth; but in that hour of waning voices, as some trouble of the
fretful day when evening falls, so she faded from their life; and if
even the remembrance of her returned at times to either of them, I
think it must have been in those moments when, for no seeming reason,
shyly their hands sought one another.

So the truth of the sad ado--how far my mother's suspicions wronged my
father; for the eye of jealousy (and what loving woman ever lived that
was not jealous?) has its optic nerve terminating not in the brain but
in the heart, which was not constructed for the reception of true
vision--I never knew. Later, long after the curtain of green earth
had been rolled down upon the players, I spoke once on the matter with
Doctor Hal, who must have seen something of the play and with more
understanding eyes than mine, and who thereupon delivered to me a
short lecture on life in general, a performance at which he excelled.

"Flee from temptation and pray that you may be delivered from evil,"
shouted the Doctor--(his was not the Socratic method)--"but remember
this: that as sure as the sparks fly upward there will come a time
when, however fast you run, you will be overtaken--cornered--no one to
deliver you but yourself--the gods sitting round interested. It is a
grim fight, for the Thing, you may be sure, has chosen its right
moment. And every woman in the world will sympathise with you and be
just to you, not even despising you should you be overcome; for
however they may talk, every woman in the world knows that male and
female cannot be judged by the same standard. To woman, Nature and
the Law speak with one voice: 'Sin not, lest you be cursed of your
sex!' It is no law of man: it is the law of creation. When the
woman sins, she sins not only against her conscience, but against her
every instinct. But to the man Nature whispers: 'Yield.' It is the
Law alone that holds him back. Therefore every woman in the world,
knowing this, will be just to you--every woman in the world but
one--the woman that loves you. From her, hope for no sympathy, hope
for no justice."

"Then you think--" I began.

"I think," said the Doctor, "that your father loved your mother
devotedly; but he was one of those fighters that for the first
half-dozen rounds or so cause their backers much anxiety. It is a
dangerous method."

"Then you think my mother--"

"I think your mother was a good woman, Paul; and the good woman will
never be satisfied with man till the Lord lets her take him to pieces
and put him together herself."

My father had been pacing to and fro the tiny platform. Now he came
to a halt opposite my mother, placing his hands upon her shoulders.

"I want you to help me, Maggie--help me to be brave. I have only a
year or two longer to live, and there's a lot to be done in that
time."

Slowly the anger died out of my mother's face.

"You remember that fall I had when the cage broke," my father went on.
"Andrews, as you know, feared from the first it might lead to that.
But I always laughed at him."

"How long have you known?" my mother asked.

"Oh, about six months. I felt it at the beginning of the year, but I
didn't say anything to Washburn till a month later. I thought it
might be only fancy."

"And he is sure?"

My father nodded.

"But why have you never told me?"

"Because," replied my father, with a laugh, "I didn't want you to
know. If I could have done without you, I should not have told you
now."

And at this there came a light into my mother's face that never
altogether left it until the end.

She drew him down beside her on the seat. I had come nearer; and my
father, stretching out his hand, would have had me with them. But my
mother, putting her arms about him, held him close to her, as though
in that moment she would have had him to herself alone.

CHAPTER VIII.

HOW THE MAN IN GREY MADE READY FOR HIS GOING.

The eighteen months that followed--for the end came sooner than we had
expected--were, I think, the happiest days my father and mother had
ever known; or if happy be not altogether the right word, let me say
the most beautiful, and most nearly perfect. To them it was as though
God in His sweet thoughtfulness had sent death to knock lightly at the
door, saying: "Not yet. You have still a little longer to be
together. In a little while." In those last days all things false
and meaningless they laid aside. Nothing was of real importance to
them but that they should love each other, comforting each other,
learning to understand each other. Again we lived poorly; but there
was now no pitiful straining to keep up appearances, no haunting
terror of what the neighbours might think. The petty cares and
worries concerning matters not worth a moment's thought, the mean
desires and fears with which we disfigure ourselves, fell from them.
There came to them broader thought, a wider charity, a deeper pity.
Their love grew greater even than their needs, overflowing towards at
things. Sometimes, recalling these months, it has seemed to me that
we make a mistake seeking to keep Death, God's go-between, ever from
our thoughts. Is it not closing the door to a friend who would help
us would we let him (for who knows life so well), whispering to us:
"In a little while. Only a little longer that you have to be
together. Is it worth taking so much thought for self? Is it worth
while being unkind?"

From them a graciousness emanated pervading all around. Even my aunt
Fan decided for the second time in her career to give amiability a
trial. This intention she announced publicly to my mother and myself
one afternoon soon after our return from Devonshire.

"I'm a beast of an old woman," said my aunt, suddenly.

"Don't say that, Fan," urged my mother.

"What's the good of saying 'Don't say it' when I've just said it,"
snapped back my aunt.

"It's your manner," explained my mother; "people sometimes think you
disagreeable."

"They'd be daft if they didn't," interrupted my aunt. "Of course you
don't really mean it," continued my mother.

"Stuff and nonsense," snorted my aunt; "does she think I'm a fool. I
like being disagreeable. I like to see 'em squirming."

My mother laughed.

"I can be agreeable," continued my aunt, "if I choose. Nobody more
so."

"Then why not choose?" suggested my mother. "I tried it once," said
my aunt, "and it fell flat. Nothing could have fallen flatter."

"It may not have attracted much attention," replied my mother, with a
smile, "but one should not be agreeable merely to attract attention."

"It wasn't only that," returned my aunt, "it was that it gave no
satisfaction to anybody. It didn't suit me. A disagreeable person is
at their best when they are disagreeable."

"I can hardly agree with you there," answered my mother.

"I could do it again," communed my aunt to herself. There was a
suggestion of vindictiveness in her tones. "It's easy enough. Look
at the sort of fools that are agreeable."

"I'm sure you could be if you tried," urged my mother.

"Let 'em have it," continued my aunt, still to herself; "that's the
way to teach 'em sense. Let 'em have it."

And strange though it may seem, my aunt was right and my mother
altogether wrong. My father was the first to notice the change.

"Nothing the matter with poor old Fan, is there?" he asked. It was
one evening a day or two after my aunt had carried her threat into
effect. "Nothing happened, has there?"

"No," answered my mother, "nothing that I know of."

"Her manner is so strange," explained my father, "so--so weird."

My mother smiled. "Don't say anything to her. She's trying to be
agreeable."

My father laughed and then looked wistful. "I almost wish she
wouldn't," he remarked; "we were used to it, and she was rather
amusing."

But my aunt, being a woman of will, kept her way; and about the same
time that occurred tending to confirm her in her new departure. This
was the introduction into our small circle of James Wellington Gadley.
Properly speaking, it should have been Wellington James, that being
the order in which he had been christened in the year 1815. But in
course of time, and particularly during his school career, it had been
borne in upon him that Wellington is a burdensome name for a
commonplace mortal to bear, and very wisely he had reversed the
arrangement. He was a slightly pompous but simpleminded little old
gentleman, very proud of his position as head clerk to Mr. Stillwood,
the solicitor to whom my father was now assistant. Stillwood,
Waterhead and Royal dated back to the Georges, and was a firm bound up
with the history--occasionally shady--of aristocratic England. True,
in these later years its glory was dwindling. Old Mr. Stillwood, its
sole surviving representative, declined to be troubled with new
partners, explaining frankly, in answer to all applications, that the
business was a dying one, and that attempting to work it up again
would be but putting new wine into worn-out skins. But though its
clientele was a yearly diminishing quantity, much business yet
remained to it, and that of a good class, its name being still a
synonym for solid respectability; and my father had deemed himself
fortunate indeed in securing such an appointment. James Gadley had
entered the firm as office boy in the days of its pride, and had never
awakened to the fact that it was not still the most important legal
firm within the half mile radius from Lombard Street. Nothing
delighted him more than to discuss over and over again the many
strange affairs in which Stillwood, Waterhead and Royal had been
concerned, all of which he had at his tongue's tip. Could he find a
hearer, these he would reargue interminably, but with professional
reticence, personages becoming Mr. Y. and Lady X.; and places, "the
capital of, let us say, a foreign country," or "a certain town not a
thousand miles from where we are now sitting." The majority of his
friends, his methods being somewhat forensic, would seek to discourage
him, but my aunt was a never wearied listener, especially if the case
were one involving suspicion of mystery and crime. When, during their
very first conversation, he exclaimed: "Now why--why, after keeping
away from his wife for nearly eighteen years, never even letting her
know whether he was alive or dead, why this sudden resolve to return
to her? That is what I want explained to me!" he paused, as was his
wont, for sympathetic comment, my aunt, instead of answering as
others, with a yawn: "Oh, I'm sure I don't know. Felt he wanted to
see her, I suppose," replied with prompt intelligence:

"To murder her--by slow poison."

"To murder her! But why?"

"In order to marry the other woman."

"What other woman?"

"The woman he had just met and fallen in love with. Before that it
was immaterial to him what had become of his wife. This woman had
said to him: 'Come back to me a free man or never see my face
again.'"

"Dear me! Now that's very curious."

"Nothing of the sort. Plain common sense."

"I mean, it's curious because, as a matter of fact, his wife did die a
little later, and he did marry again."

"Told you so," remarked my aunt.

In this way every case in the Stillwood annals was reviewed, and light
thrown upon it by my aunt's insight into the hidden springs of human
action. Fortunate that the actors remained mere Mr. X. and Lady Y.,
for into the most innocent seeming behaviour my aunt read ever dark
criminal intent.

"I think you are a little too severe," Mr. Gadley would now and then
plead.

"We're all of us miserable sinners," my aunt would cheerfully affirm;
"only we don't all get the same chances."

An elderly maiden lady, a Miss Z., residing in "a western town once
famous as the resort of fashion, but which we will not name," my aunt
was convinced had burnt down a house containing a will, and forged
another under which her children--should she ever marry and be blessed
with such--would inherit among them on coming of age a fortune of
seven hundred pounds.

The freshness of her views on this, his favourite topic, always
fascinated Mr. Gadley.

"I have to thank you, ma'am," he would remark on rising, "for a most
delightful conversation. I may not be able to agree with your
conclusions, but they afford food for reflection."

To which my aunt would reply, "I hate talking to any one who agrees
with me. It's like taking a walk to see one's own looking-glass. I'd
rather talk to somebody who didn't, even if he were a fool," which for
her was gracious.

He was a stout little gentleman with a stomach that protruded about a
foot in front of him, and of this he appeared to be quite unaware.
Nor would it have mattered had it not been for his desire when talking
to approach as close to his listener as possible. Gradually in the
course of conversation, his stomach acting as a gentle battering ram,
he would in this way drive you backwards round the room, sometimes,
unless you were artful, pinning you hopelessly into a corner, when it
would surprise him that in spite of all his efforts he never succeeded
in getting any nearer to you. His first evening at our house he was
talking to my aunt from the corner of his chair. As he grew more
interested so he drew his chair nearer and nearer, till at length,
having withdrawn inch by inch to avoid his encroachments, my aunt was
sitting on the extreme edge of her own. His next move sent her on to
the floor. She said nothing, which surprised me; but on the occasion
of his next visit she was busy darning stockings, an unusual
occupation for her. He approached nearer and nearer as before; but
this time she sat her ground, and it was he who in course of time
sprang back with an exclamation foreign to the subject under
discussion.

Ever afterwards my aunt met him with stockings in her hand, and they
talked with a space between their chairs.

Nothing further came of it, though his being a widower added to their
intercourse that spice of possibility no woman is ever too old to
relish; but that he admired her intellectually was evident. Once he
even went so far as to exclaim: "Miss Davies, you should have been a
solicitor's wife!" to his thinking the crown of feminine ambition. To
which my aunt had replied: "Chances are I should have been if one had
ever asked me." And warmed by appreciation, my aunt's amiability took
root and flourished, though assuming, as all growth developed late is
apt to, fantastic shape.

There came to her the idea, by no means ill-founded, that by flattery
one can most readily render oneself agreeable; so conscientiously she
set to work to flatter in season and out. I am sure she meant to give
pleasure, but the effect produced was that of thinly veiled sarcasm.

My father would relate to us some trifling story, some incident
noticed during the day that had seemed to him amusing. At once she
would break out into enthusiasm, holding up her hands in astonishment.

"What a funny man he is! And to think that it comes to him naturally
without an effort. What a gift it is!"

On my mother appearing in a new bonnet, or an old one retrimmed, an
event not unfrequent; for in these days my mother took more thought
than ever formerly for her appearance (you will understand, you women
who have loved), she would step back in simulated amazement.

"Don't tell me it's a married woman with a boy getting on for
fourteen. It's a girl. A saucy, tripping girl. That's what it is."

Persons have been known, I believe, whose vanity, not checked in time,
has grown into a hopeless disease. But I am inclined to think that a
dose of my aunt, about this period, would have cured the most
obstinate case.

So also, and solely for our benefit, she assumed a vivacity and
spriteliness that ill suited her, that having regard to her age and
tendency towards rheumatism must have cost her no small effort. From
these experiences there remains to me the perhaps immoral opinion that
Virtue, in common with all other things, is at her best when
unassuming.

Occasionally the old Adam--or should one say Eve--would assert itself
in my aunt, and then, still thoughtful for others, she would descend
into the kitchen and be disagreeable to Amy, our new servitor, who
never minded it. Amy was a philosopher who reconciled herself to all
things by the reflection that there were only twenty-four hours in a
day. It sounds a dismal theory, but from it Amy succeeded in
extracting perpetual cheerfulness. My mother would apologise to her
for my aunt's interference.

"Lord bless you, mum, it don't matter. If I wasn't listening to her
something else worse might be happening. Everything's all the same
when it's over."

Amy had come to us merely as a stop gap, explaining to my mother that
she was about to be married and desired only a temporary engagement to
bridge over the few weeks between then and the ceremony.

"It's rather unsatisfactory," had said my mother. "I dislike
changes."

"I can quite understand it, mum," had replied Amy; "I dislike 'em
myself. Only I heard you were in a hurry, and I thought maybe that
while you were on the lookout for somebody permanent--"

So on that understanding she came. A month later my mother asked her
when she thought the marriage would actually take place.

"Don't think I'm wishing you to go," explained my mother, "indeed I'd
like you to stop. I only want to know in time to make my
arrangements."

"Oh, some time in the spring, I expect," was Amy's answer.

"Oh!" said my mother, "I understood it was coming off almost
immediately."

Amy appeared shocked.

"I must know a little bit more about him before I go as far as that,"
she said.

"But I don't understand," said my mother; "you told me when you came
to me that you were going to be married in a few weeks."

"Oh, that one!" Her tone suggested that an unfair strain was being
put upon her memory. "I didn't feel I wanted him as much as I thought
I did when it came to the point."

"You had meantime met the other one?" suggested my mother, with a
smile.

"Well, we can't help our feelings, can we, mum?" admitted Amy,
frankly, "and what I always say is"--she spoke as one with experience
even then--"better change your mind before it's too late afterwards."

Amiable, sweet-faced, broad-hearted Amy! most faithful of friends, but
oh! most faithless of lovers. Age has not withered nor custom staled
her liking for infinite variety. Butchers, bakers, soldiers, sailors,
Jacks of all trades! Does the sighing procession never pass before
you, Amy, pointing ghostly fingers of reproach! Still Amy is engaged.
To whom at the particular moment I cannot say, but I fancy to an early
one who has lately become a widower. After more exact knowledge I do
not care to enquire; for to confess ignorance on the subject, implying
that one has treated as a triviality and has forgotten the most
important detail of a matter that to her is of vital importance, is to
hurt her feelings; while to angle for information is but to entangle
oneself. To speak of Him as "Tom," when Tom has belonged for weeks to
the dead and buried past, to hastily correct oneself to "Dick" when
there hasn't been a Dick for years, clearly not to know that he is now
Harry, annoys her even more. In my mother's time we always referred
to him as "Dearest." It was the title with which she herself
distinguished them all, and it avoided confusion.

"Well, and how's Dearest?" my mother would enquire, opening the door
to Amy on the Sunday evening.

"Oh, very well indeed, mum, thank you, and he sends you his respects,"
or, "Well, not so nicely as I could wish. I'm a little anxious about
him, poor dear!"

"When you are married you will be able to take good care of him."

"That's really what he wants--some one to take care of him. It's what
they all want, the poor dears."

"And when is it coming off?"

"In the spring, mum." She always chose the spring when possible.

Amy was nice to all men, and to Amy all men were nice. Could she have
married a dozen, she might have settled down, with only occasional
regrets concerning those left without in the cold. But to ask her to
select only one out of so many "poor dears" was to suggest shameful
waste of affection.

We had meant to keep our grim secret to ourselves; but to hide one's
troubles long from Amy was like keeping cold hands from the fire.
Very soon she knew everything that was to be known, drawing it all
from my mother as from some overburdened child. Then she put my
mother down into a chair and stood over her.

"Now you leave the house and everything connected with it to me, mum,"
commanded Amy; "you've got something else to do."

And from that day we were in the hands of Amy, and had nothing else to
do but praise the Lord for His goodness.

Barbara also found out (from Washburn, I expect), though she said
nothing, but came often. Old Hasluck would have come himself, I am
sure, had he thought he would be welcome. As it was, he always sent
kind messages and presents of fruit and flowers by Barbara, and always
welcomed me most heartily whenever she allowed me to see her home.

She brought, as ever, sunshine with her, making all trouble seem far
off and shadowy. My mother tended to the fire of love, but Barbara
lit the cheerful lamp of laughter.

And with the lessening days my father seemed to grow younger, life
lying lighter on him.

One summer's night he and I were walking with Barbara to Poplar
station, for sometimes, when he was not looking tired, she would order
him to fetch his hat and stick, explaining to him with a caress, "I
like them tall and slight and full grown. The young ones, they don't
know how to flirt! We will take the boy with us as gooseberry;" and
he, pretending to be anxious that my mother did not see, would kiss
her hand, and slip out quietly with her arm linked under his. It was
admirable the way he would enter into the spirit of the thing.

The last cloud faded from before the moon as we turned the corner, and
even the East India Dock Road lay restful in front of us.

"I have always regarded myself," said my father, "as a failure in
life, and it has troubled me." I felt him pulled the slightest little
bit away from me, as though Barbara, who held his other arm, had drawn
him towards her with a swift pressure. "But do you know the idea that
has come to me within the last few months? That on the whole I have
been successful. I am like a man," continued my father, "who in some
deep wood has been frightened, thinking he has lost his way, and
suddenly coming to the end of it, finds that by some lucky chance he
has been guided to the right point after all. I cannot tell you what
a comfort it is to me.

"What is the right point?" asked Barbara.

"Ah, that I cannot tell you," answered my father, with a laugh. "I
only know that for me it is here where I am. All the time I thought I
was wandering away from it I was drawing nearer to it. It is very
wonderful. I am just where I ought to be. If I had only known I
never need have worried."

Whether it would have troubled either him or my mother very much even
had it been otherwise I cannot say, for Life, so small a thing when
looked at beside Death, seemed to have lost all terror for them; but
be that as it may, I like to remember that Fortune at the last was
kind to my father, prospering his adventures, not to the extent his
sanguine nature had dreamt, but sufficiently: so that no fear for our
future marred the peaceful passing of his tender spirit.

Or should I award thanks not to Fate, but rather to sweet Barbara, and
behind her do I not detect shameless old Hasluck, grinning
good-naturedly in the background?

"Now, Uncle Luke, I want your advice. Dad's given me this cheque as a
birthday present. I don't want to spend it. How shall I invest it?"

"My dear, why not consult your father?"

"Now, Uncle Luke, dad's a dear, especially after dinner, but you and I
know him. Giving me a present is one thing, doing business for me is
another. He'd unload on me. He'd never be able to resist the
temptation."

My father would suggest, and Barbara would thank him. But a minute
later would murmur: "You don't know anything about Argentinos."

My father did not, but Barbara did; to quite a remarkable extent for a
young girl.

"That child has insisted on leaving this cheque with me and I have
advised her to buy Argentinos," my father would observe after she was
gone. "I am going to put a few hundreds into them myself. I hope
they will turn out all right, if only for her sake. I have a
presentiment somehow that they will."

A month later Barbara would greet him with: "Isn't it lucky we bought
Argentinos!"

"Yes; they haven't turned out badly, have they? I had a feeling, you
know, for Argentinos."

"You're a genius, Uncle Luke. And now we will sell out and buy
Calcuttas, won't we?"

"Sell out? But why?"

"You said so. You said, 'We will sell out in about a month and be
quite safe.'"

"My dear, I've no recollection of it."

But Barbara had, and before she had done with him, so had he. And the
next day Argentinos would be sold--not any too soon--and Calcuttas
bought.

Could money so gained bring a blessing with it? The question would
plague my father.

"It's very much like gambling," he would mutter uneasily to himself at
each success, "uncommonly like gambling."

"It is for your mother," he would impress upon me. "When she is gone,
Paul, put it aside, Keep it for doing good; that may make it clean.
Start your own life without any help from it."

He need not have troubled. It went the road that all luck derived
however indirectly from old Hasluck ever went. Yet it served good
purpose on its way.

But the most marvellous feat, to my thinking, ever accomplished by
Barbara was the bearing off of my father and mother to witness "A
Voice from the Grave, or the Power of Love, New and Original Drama in
five acts and thirteen tableaux."

They had been bred in a narrow creed, both my father and my mother.
That Puritan blood flowed in their veins that throughout our land has
drowned much harmless joyousness; yet those who know of it only from
hearsay do foolishly to speak but ill of it. If ever earnest times
should come again, not how to enjoy but how to live being the
question, Fate demanding of us to show not what we have but what we
are, we may regret that they are fewer among us than formerly, those
who trained themselves to despise all pleasure, because in pleasure
they saw the subtlest foe to principle and duty. No graceful growth,
this Puritanism, for its roots are in the hard, stern facts of life;
but it is strong, and from it has sprung all that is worth preserving
in the Anglo-Saxon character. Its men feared and its women loved God,
and if their words were harsh their hearts were tender. If they shut
out the sunshine from their lives it was that their eyes might see
better the glory lying beyond; and if their view be correct, that
earth's threescore years and ten are but as preparation for eternity,
then who shall call them even foolish for turning away their thoughts
from its allurements.

"Still, I think I should like to have a look at one, just to see what
it is like," argued my father; "one cannot judge of a thing that one
knows nothing about."

I imagine it was his first argument rather than his second that
convinced my mother.

"That is true," she answered. "I remember how shocked my poor father
was when he found me one night at the bedroom window reading Sir
Walter Scott by the light of the moon."

"What about the boy?" said my father, for I had been included in the
invitation.

"We will all be wicked together," said my mother.

So an evening or two later the four of us stood at the corner of
Pigott Street waiting for the 'bus.

"It is a close evening," said my father; "let's go the whole hog and
ride outside."

In those days for a lady to ride outside a 'bus was as in these days
for a lady to smoke in public. Surely my mother's guardian angel must
have betaken himself off in a huff.

"Will you keep close behind and see to my skirt?" answered my mother,
commencing preparations. If you will remember that these were the
days of crinolines, that the "knife-boards" of omnibuses were then
approached by a perpendicular ladder, the rungs two feet apart, you
will understand the necessity for such precaution.

Which of us was the most excited throughout that long ride it would be
difficult to say. Barbara, feeling keenly her responsibility as
prompter and leader of the dread enterprise, sat anxious, as she
explained to us afterwards, hoping there would be nothing shocking in
the play, nothing to belie its innocent title; pleased with her
success so far, yet still fearful of failure, doubtful till the last
moment lest we should suddenly repent, and stopping the 'bus, flee
from the wrath to come. My father was the youngest of us all.
Compared with him I was sober and contained. He fidgeted: people
remarked upon it. He hummed. But for the stern eye of a thin young
man sitting next to him trying to read a paper, I believe he would
have broken out into song. Every minute he would lean across to
enquire of my mother: "How are you feeling--all right?" To which my
mother would reply with a nod and a smile, She sat very silent
herself, clasping and unclasping her hands. As for myself, I remember
feeling so sorry for the crowds that passed us on their way home. It
was sad to think of the long dull evening that lay before them. I
wondered how they could face it.

Our seats were in the front row of the upper circle. The lights were
low and the house only half full when we reached them.

"It seems very orderly and--and respectable," whispered my mother.
There seemed a touch of disappointment in her tone.

"We are rather early," replied Barbara; "it will be livelier when the
band comes in and they turn up the gas."

But even when this happened my mother was not content. "There is so
little room for the actors," she complained.

It was explained to her that the green curtain would go up, that the
stage lay behind.

So we waited, my mother sitting stiffly on the extreme edge of her
seat, holding me tightly by the hand; I believe with some vague idea
of flight, should out of that vault-scented gloom the devil suddenly
appear to claim us for his own. But before the curtain was quite up
she had forgotten him.

You poor folk that go to the theatre a dozen times a year, perhaps
oftener, what do you know of plays? You see no drama, you see but
middle-aged Mr. Brown, churchwarden, payer of taxes, foolishly
pretending to be a brigand; Miss Jones, daughter of old Jones the
Chemist, making believe to be a haughty Princess. How can you, a
grown man, waste money on a seat to witness such tomfoolery! What we
saw was something very different. A young and beautiful girl--true,
not a lady by birth, being merely the daughter of an honest yeoman,
but one equal in all the essentials of womanhood to the noblest in the
land--suffered before our very eyes an amount of misfortune that, had
one not seen it for oneself, one would never have believed Fate could
have accumulated upon the head of any single individual. Beside her
woes our own poor troubles sank into insignificance. We had used to
grieve, as my mother in a whisper reminded my father, if now and again
we had not been able to afford meat for dinner. This poor creature,
driven even from her wretched attic, compelled to wander through the
snow without so much as an umbrella to protect her, had not even a
crust to eat; and yet never lost her faith in Providence. It was a
lesson, as my mother remarked afterwards, that she should never
forget. And virtue had been triumphant, let shallow cynics say what
they will. Had we not proved it with our own senses? The villain--I
think his Christian name, if one can apply the word "Christian" in
connection with such a fiend, was Jasper--had never really loved the
heroine. He was incapable of love. My mother had felt this before he
had been on the stage five minutes, and my father--in spite of
protests from callous people behind who appeared to be utterly
indifferent to what was going on under their very noses--had agreed
with her. What he was in love with was her fortune--the fortune that
had been left to her by her uncle in Australia, but about which nobody
but the villain knew anything. Had she swerved a hair's breadth from
the course of almost supernatural rectitude, had her love for the hero
ever weakened, her belief in him--in spite of damning evidence to the
contrary--for a moment wavered, then wickedness might have triumphed.
How at times, knowing all the facts but helpless to interfere, we
trembled, lest deceived by the cruel lies the villain told her; she
should yield to importunity. How we thrilled when, in language
eloquent though rude, she flung his false love back into his teeth.
Yet still we feared. We knew well that it was not the hero who had
done the murder. "Poor dear," as Amy would have called him, he was
quite incapable of doing anything requiring one-half as much
smartness. We knew that it was not he, poor innocent lamb! who had
betrayed the lady with the French accent; we had heard her on the
subject and had formed a very shrewd conjecture. But appearances, we
could not help admitting, were terribly to his disfavour. The
circumstantial evidence against him would have hanged an Archbishop.
Could she in face of it still retain her faith? There were moments
when my mother restrained with difficulty her desire to rise and
explain.

Between the acts Barbara would whisper to her that she was not to
mind, because it was only a play, and that everything would be sure to
come right in the end.

"I know, my dear," my mother would answer, laughing, "it is very
foolish of me; I forget. Paul, when you see me getting excited, you
must remind me."

But of what use was I in such case! I, who only by holding on to the
arms of my seat could keep myself from swarming down on to the stage
to fling myself between this noble damsel and her persecutor--this
fair-haired, creamy angel in whose presence for the time being I had
forgotten even Barbara.

The end came at last. The uncle from Australia was not dead. The
villain--bungler as well as knave--had killed the wrong man, somebody
of no importance whatever. As a matter of fact, the comic man himself
was the uncle from Australia--had been so all along. My mother had
had a suspicion of this from the very first. She told us so three
times, to make up, I suppose, for not having mentioned it before. How
we cheered and laughed, in spite of the tears in our eyes.

By pure accident it happened to be the first night of the piece, and
the author, in response to much shouting and whistling, came before
the curtain. He was fat and looked commonplace; but I deemed him a
genius, and my mother said he had a good face, and waved her
handkerchief wildly; while my father shouted "Bravo!" long after
everybody else had finished; and people round about muttered "packed
house," which I didn't understand at the time, but came to later.

And stranger still, it happened to be before that very same curtain
that many years later I myself stepped forth to make my first bow as a
playwright. I saw the house but dimly, for on such occasion one's
vision is apt to be clouded. All that I saw clearly was in the front
row of the second circle--a sweet face laughing though the tears were
in her eyes; and she waved to me a handkerchief. And on one side of
her stood a gallant gentleman with merry eyes who shouted "Bravo!" and
on the other a dreamy-looking lad; but he appeared disappointed,
having expected better work from me. And the fourth face I could not
see, for it was turned away from me.

Barbara, determined on completeness, insisted upon supper. In those
days respectability fed at home; but one resort possible there was, an
eating-house with some pretence to gaiety behind St. Clement Danes,
and to that she led us. It was a long, narrow room, divided into
wooden compartments, after the old coffee-house plan, a gangway down
the centre. Now we should call it a dismal hole, and closing the door
hasten away. But to Adam, Eve in her Sunday fig-leaves was a
stylishly dressed woman; and to my eyes, with its gilded mirrors and
its flaring gas, the place seemed a palace.

Barbara ordered oysters, a fish that familiarity with its empty shell
had made me curious concerning. Truly no spot on the globe is so rich
in oyster shells as the East End of London. A stranger might be led
to the impression (erroneous) that the customary lunch of the East End
labourer consists of oysters. How they collect there in such
quantities is a mystery, though Washburn, to whom I once presented the
problem, found no difficulty in solving it to his own satisfaction:
"To the rich man the oyster; to the poor man the shell; thus are the
Creator's gifts divided among all His creatures; none being sent empty
away." For drink the others had stout and I had ginger beer. The
waiter, who called me "Sir," advised against this mixture; but among
us all the dominating sentiment by this time was that nothing really
mattered very much. Afterwards my father called for a cigar and
boldly lighted it, though my mother looked anxious; and fortunately
perhaps it would not draw. And then it came out that he himself had
once written a play.

"You never told me of that," complained my mother.

"It was a long while ago," replied my father; "nothing came of it."

"It might have been a success," said my mother; "you always had a gift
for writing."

"I must look it over again," said my father; "I had quite forgotten
it. I have an impression it wasn't at all bad."

"It can be of much help," said my mother, "a good play. It makes one
think."

We put Barbara into a cab and rode home ourselves inside a 'bus. My
mother was tired, so my father slipped his arm round her, telling her
to lean against him, and soon she fell asleep with her head upon his
shoulder. A coarse-looking wench sat opposite, her man's arm round
her likewise, and she also fell asleep, her powdered face against his
coat.

"They can do with a bit of nursing, can't they?" said the man with a
grin to the conductor.

"Ah, they're just kids," agreed the conductor, sympathetically,
"that's what they are, all of 'em, just kids."

So the day ended. But oh, the emptiness of the morrow! Life without
a crime, without a single noble sentiment to brighten it!--no comic
uncles, no creamy angels! Oh, the barrenness and dreariness of life!
Even my mother at moments was quite irritable.

We were much together again, my father and I, about this time. Often,
making my way from school into the City, I would walk home with him,
he leaning on each occasion a little heavier upon my arm. To this day
I can always meet and walk with him down the Commercial Road. And on
Saturday afternoons, crossing the river to Greenwich, we would climb
the hill and sit there talking, or sometimes merely thinking together,
watching the dim vast city so strangely still and silent at our feet.

At first I did not grasp the fact that he was dying. The "year to
two" of life that Washburn had allowed to him had somehow become
converted in my mind to vague years, a fate with no immediate meaning;
the meanwhile he himself appeared to grow from day to day in buoyancy.
How could I know it was his great heart rising to his need.

The comprehension came to me suddenly. It was one afternoon in early
spring. I was on my way to the City to meet him. The Holborn Viaduct
was then in building, and the traffic round about was in consequence
always much disorganised. The 'bus on which I was riding became
entangled in a block at the corner of Snow Hill, and for ten minutes
we had been merely crawling, one joint of a long, sinuous serpent
moving by short, painful jerks. It came to me while I was sitting
there with a sharp spasm of physical pain. I jumped from the 'bus and
began to run, and the terror and the hurt of it grew with every step.
I ran as if I feared he might be dead before I could reach the office.
He was waiting for me with a smile as usual, and I flung myself
sobbing into his arms.

I think he understood, though I could explain nothing, but that I had
had a fear something had happened to him, for from that time forward
he dropped all reserve with me, and talked openly of our approaching
parting.

"It might have come to us earlier, my dear boy," he would say with his
arm round me, "or it might have been a little later. A year or so one
way or the other, what does it matter? And it is only for a little
while, Paul. We shall meet again."

But I could not answer him, for clutch them to me as I would, all my
beliefs--the beliefs in which I had been bred, the beliefs that until
then I had never doubted, in that hour of their first trial, were
falling from me. I could not even pray. If I could have prayed for
anything, it would have been for my father's life. But if prayer were
all powerful, as they said, would our loved ones ever die? Man has
not faith enough, they would explain; if he had there would be no
parting. So the Lord jests with His creatures, offering with the one
hand to snatch back with the other. I flung the mockery from me.
There was no firm foothold anywhere. What were all the religions of
the word but narcotics with which Humanity seeks to dull its pain,
drugs in which it drowns its terrors, faith but a bubble that death
pricks.

I do not mean my thoughts took this form. I was little more than a
lad, and to the young all thought is dumb, speaking only with a cry.
But they were there, vague, inarticulate. Thoughts do not come to us
as we grow older. They are with us all our lives. We learn their
language, that is all.

One fair still evening it burst from me. We had lingered in the Park
longer than usual, slowly pacing the broad avenue leading from the
Observatory to the Heath. I poured forth all my doubts and
fears--that he was leaving me for ever, that I should never see him
again, I could not believe. What could I do to believe?

"I am glad you have spoken, Paul," he said, "it would have been sad
had we parted not understanding each other. It has been my fault. I
did not know you had these doubts. They come to all of us sooner or
later. But we hide them from one another. It is foolish."

"But tell me," I cried, "what can I do? How can I make myself
believe?"

"My dear lad," answered my father, "how can it matter what we believe
or disbelieve? It will not alter God's facts. Would you liken Him to
some irritable schoolmaster, angry because you cannot understand him?"

"What do you believe," I asked, "father, really I mean."

The night had fallen. My father put his arm round me and drew me to
him.

"That we are God's children, little brother," he answered, "that what
He wills for us is best. It may be life, it may be sleep; it will be
best. I cannot think that He will let us die: that were to think of
Him as without purpose. But His uses may not be our desires. We must
trust Him. 'Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.'"

We walked awhile in silence before my father spoke again.

"'Now abideth these three, Faith, Hope and Charity'--you remember the
verse--Faith in God's goodness to us, Hope that our dreams may be
fulfiled. But these concern but ourselves--the greatest of all is
Charity."

Out of the night-shrouded human hive beneath our feet shone here and
there a point of light.

"Be kind, that is all it means," continued my father. "Often we do
what we think right, and evil comes of it, and out of evil comes good.
We cannot understand--maybe the old laws we have misread. But the new
Law, that we love one another--all creatures He has made; that is so
clear. And if it be that we are here together only for a little
while, Paul, the future dark, how much the greater need have we of one
another."

I looked up into my father's face, and the peace that shone from it
slid into my soul and gave me strength.

CHAPTER IX.

OF THE FASHIONING OF PAUL.

Loves of my youth, whither are ye vanished? Tubby of the golden
locks; Langley of the dented nose; Shamus stout of heart but faint of
limb, easy enough to "down," but utterly impossible to make to cry:
"I give you best;" Neal the thin; and Dicky, "dicky Dick" the fat;
Ballett of the weeping eye; Beau Bunnie lord of many ties, who always
fought in black kid gloves; all ye others, ye whose names I cannot
recollect, though I well remember ye were very dear to me, whither are
ye vanished, where haunt your creeping ghosts? Had one told me then
there would come a day I should never see again your merry faces,
never hear your wild, shrill whoop of greeting, never feel again the
warm clasp of your inky fingers, never fight again nor quarrel with
you, never hate you, never love you, could I then have borne the
thought, I wonder?

Once, methinks, not long ago, I saw you, Tubby, you with whom so often
I discovered the North Pole, probed the problem of the sources of the
Nile, (Have you forgotten, Tubby, our secret camping ground beside the
lonely waters of the Regent's Park canal, where discussing our frugal
meal of toasted elephant's tongue--by the uninitiated mistakable for
jumbles--there would break upon our trained hunters' ear the hungry
lion or tiger's distant roar, mingled with the melancholy, long-drawn
growling of the Polar Bear, growing ever in volume and impatience
until half-past four precisely; and we would snatch our rifles, and
with stealthy tread and every sense alert make our way through the
jungle--until stopped by the spiked fencing round the Zoological
Gardens?) I feel sure it was you, in spite of your side whiskers and
the greyness and the thinness of your once clustering golden locks.
You were hurrying down Throgmorton Street chained to a small black
bag. I should have stopped you, but that I had no time to spare,
having to catch a train at Liverpool Street and to get shaved on the
way. I wonder if you recognised me: you looked at me a little hard,
I thought. Gallant, kindly hearted Shamus, you who fought once for
half an hour to save a frog from being skinned; they tell me you are
now an Income Tax assessor; a man, it is reported, with power of
disbelief unusual among even Inland Revenue circles; of little faith,
lacking in the charity that thinketh no evil. May Providence direct
you to other districts than to mine.

So Time, Nature's handy-man, bustles to and fro about the many rooms,
making all things tidy, covers with sweet earth the burnt volcanoes,
turns to use the debris of the ages, smoothes again the ground above
the dead, heals again the beech bark marred by lovers.

In the beginning I was far from being a favourite with my schoolmates,
and this was the first time trouble came to dwell with me. Later, we
men and women generally succeed in convincing ourselves that whatever
else we may have missed in life, popularity in a greater or less
degree we have at all events secured, for without it altogether few of
us, I think, would care to face existence. But where the child
suffers keener than the man is in finding himself exposed to the cold
truth without the protecting clothes of self-deception. My ostracism
was painfully plain to me, and, as was my nature, I brooded upon it in
silence.

"Can you run?" asked of me one day a most important personage whose
name I have forgotten. He was head of the Lower Fourth, a tall youth
with a nose like a beak, and the manner of one born to authority. He
was the son of a draper in the Edgware Road, and his father failing,
he had to be content for a niche in life with a lower clerkship in the
Civil Service. But to us youngsters he always appeared a Duke of
Wellington in embryo, and under other circumstances might, perhaps,
have become one.

"Yes," I answered. As a matter of fact it was my one accomplishment,
and rumour of it maybe had reached him.

"Run round the playground twice at your fastest," he commanded; "let
me see you."

I clinched my fists and charged off. How grateful I was to him for
having spoken to me, the outcast of the class, thus publicly, I could
only show by my exertions to please him. When I drew up before him I
was panting hard, but I could see that he was satisfied.

"Why don't the fellows like you?" he asked bluntly.

If only I could have stepped out of my shyness, spoken my real
thoughts! "0 Lord of the Lower Fourth! You upon whom success--the
only success in life worth having--has fallen as from the laps of the
gods! You to whom all Lower Fourth hearts turn! tell me the secret of
this popularity. How may I acquire it? No price can be too great for
me to pay for it. Vain little egoist that I am, it is the sum of my
desires, and will be till the long years have taught me wisdom. The
want of it embitters all my days. Why does silence fall upon their
chattering groups when I draw near? Why do they drive me from their
games? What is it shuts me out from them, repels them from me? I
creep into the corners and shed scalding tears of shame. I watch with
envious eyes and ears all you to whom the wondrous gift is given.
What is your secret? Is it Tommy's swagger? Then I will swagger,
too, with anxious heart, with mingled fear and hope. But why--why,
seeing that in Tommy they admire it, do they wait for me with
imitations of cock-a-doodle-do, strut beside me mimicking a pouter
pigeon? Is it Dicky's playfulness?--Dicky, who runs away with their
balls, snatches their caps from off their heads, springs upon their
backs when they are least expecting it?

Why should Dicky's reward be laughter, and mine a bloody nose and a
widened, deepened circle of dislike? I am no heavier than Dicky; if
anything a pound or two lighter. Is it Billy's friendliness? I too
would fling my arms about their necks; but from me they angrily wrench
themselves free. Is indifference the best plan? I walk apart with
step I try so hard to render careless; but none follows, no little
friendly arm is slipped through mine. Should one seek to win one's
way by kind offices? Ah, if one could! How I would fag for them. I
could do their sums for them--I am good at sums--write their
impositions for them, gladly take upon myself their punishments, would
they but return my service with a little love and--more important
still--a little admiration."

But all I could find to say was, sulkily: "They do like me, some of
them." I dared not, aloud, acknowledge the truth.

"Don't tell lies," he answered; "you know they don't--none of them."
And I hung my head.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he continued in his lordly way; "I'll
give you a chance. We're starting hare and hounds next Saturday; you
can be a hare. You needn't tell anybody. Just turn up on Saturday
and I'll see to it. Mind, you'll have to run like the devil."

He walked away without waiting for my answer, leaving me to meet Joy
running towards me with outstretched hands. The great moment comes to
all of us; to the politician, when the Party whip slips from
confabulation with the Front Bench to congratulate him, smiling, on
his really admirable little speech; to the youthful dramatist, reading
in his bed-sitting-room the managerial note asking him to call that
morning at eleven; to the subaltern, beckoned to the stirrup of his
chief--the moment when the sun breaks through the morning mists, and
the world lies stretched before us, our way clear.

Obeying orders, I gave no hint in school of the great fortune that had
come to me; but hurrying home, I exploded in the passage before the
front door could be closed behind me.

"I am to be a hare because I run so fast. Anybody can be a hound, but
there's only two hares, and they all want me. And can I have a
jersey? We begin next Saturday. He saw me run. I ran twice round
the playground. He said I was splendid! Of course, it's a great
honour to be a hare. We start from Hampstead Heath. And may I have a
pair of shoes?"

The jersey and the shoes my mother and I purchased that very day, for
the fear was upon me that unless we hastened, the last blue and white
striped jersey in London might be sold, and the market be empty of
running shoes. That evening, before getting into bed, I dressed
myself in full costume to admire myself before the glass; and from
then till the end of the week, to the terror of my mother, I practised
leaping over chairs, and my method of descending stairs was perilous
and roundabout. But, as I explained to them, the credit of the Lower
Fourth was at stake, and banisters and legs equally of small account
as compared with fame and honour; and my father, nodding his head,
supported me with manly argument; but my mother added to her prayers
another line.

Saturday came. The members of the hunt were mostly boys who lived in
the neighbourhood; so the arrangement was that at half-past two we
should meet at the turnpike gate outside the Spaniards. I brought my
lunch with me and ate it in Regent's Park, and then took the 'bus to
the Heath. One by one the others came up. Beyond mere glances, none
of them took any notice of me. I was wearing my ordinary clothes over
my jersey. I knew they thought I had come merely to see them start,
and I hugged to myself the dream of the surprise that was in store for
them, and of which I should be the hero. He came, one of the last,
our leader and chief, and I sidled up behind him and waited, while he
busied himself organising and constructing.

"But we've only got one hare," cried one of them. "We ought to have
two, you know, in case one gets blown."

"We've got two," answered the Duke. "Think I don't know what I'm
about? Young Kelver's going to be the other one."

Silence fell upon the meet.

"Oh, I say, we don't want him," at last broke in a voice. "He's a
muff."

"He can run," explained the Duke.

"Let him run home," came another voice, which was greeted with
laughter.

"You'll run home in a minute yourself," threatened the Duke, "if I
have any of your cheek. Who's captain here--you or me? Now, young
'un, are you ready?"

I had commenced unbuttoning my jacket, but my hands fell to my side.
"I don't want to come," I answered, "if they don't want me."

"He'll get his feet wet," suggested the boy who had spoken first.
"Don't spoil him, he's his mother's pet."

"Are you coming or are you not?" shouted the Duke, seeing me still
motionless. But the tears were coming into my eyes and would not go
back. I turned my face away without speaking.

"All right, stop then," cried the Duke, who, like all authoritative
people, was impatient above all things of hesitation. "Here, Keefe,
you take the bag and be off. It'll be dark before we start."

My substitute snatched eagerly at the chance, and away went the hares,
while I, still keeping my face hid, moved slowly off.

"Cry-baby!" shouted a sharp-eyed youngster.

"Let him alone," growled the Duke; and I went on to where the cedars
grew.

I heard them start off a few minutes later with a whoop. How could I
go home, confess my disappointment, my shame? My father would be
expecting me with many questions, my mother waiting for me with hot
water and blankets. What explanation could I give that would not
betray my miserable secret?

It was a chill, dismal afternoon, the Heath deserted, a thin rain
commencing. I slipped off my shirt and jacket, and rolling them under
my arm, trotted off alone, hare and hounds combined in one small
carcass, to chase myself sadly by myself.

I see it still, that pathetically ridiculous little figure, jogging
doggedly over the dank fields. Mile after mile it runs, the little
idiot; jumping--sometimes falling into the muddy ditches: it seems
anxious rather than otherwise to get itself into a mess; scrambling
through the dripping hedges; swarming over tarry fence and slimy
paling. On, on it pants--through Bishop's Wood, by tangled Churchyard
Bottom, where now the railway shrieks; down sloppy lanes, bordering
Muswell Hill, where now stand rows of jerry-built, prim villas. At
intervals it stops an instant to dab its eyes with its dingy little
rag of a handkerchief, to rearrange the bundle under its arm, its
chief anxiety to keep well out of sight of chance wanderers, to dodge
farmhouses, to dart across highroads when nobody is looking. And so
tear-smeared and mud-bespattered up the long rise of darkening Crouch
End Lane, where to-night the electric light blazes from a hundred
shops, and dead beat into the Seven Sisters Road station, there to
tear off its soaked jersey; and then home to Poplar, with shameless
account of the jolly afternoon that it has spent, of the admiration
and the praise that it has won.

You poor, pitiful little brat! Popularity? it is a shadow. Turn your
eyes towards it, and it shall ever run before you, escaping you. Turn
your back upon it, walk joyously towards the living sun, and it shall
follow you. Am I not right? Why, then, do you look at me, your
little face twisted into that quizzical grin?

When one takes service with Deceit, one signs a contract that one may
not break but under penalty. Maybe it was good for my health, those
lonely runs; but oh, they were dreary! By a process of argument not
uncommon I persuaded myself that truth was a matter of mere words,
that so long as I had actually gone over the ground I described I was
not lying. To further satisfy my conscience, I bought a big satchel
and scattered from it torn-up paper as I ran.

"And they never catch you?" asked my mother.

"Oh, no, never; they never even get within sight of me."

"Be careful, dear," would advise my mother; "don't overstrain
yourself." But I could see that she was proud of me.

And after awhile imagination came to my help, so that often I could
hear behind me the sound of pursuing feet, catch through gaps in the
trees a sight of a merry, host upon my trail, and would redouble my
speed.

Thus, but for Dan, my loneliness would have been unbearable. His
friendship was always there for me to creep to, the shadow of a great
rock in a weary land. To this day one may always know Dan's politics:
they are those of the Party out of power. Always without question one
may know the cause that he will champion, the unpopular cause; the man
he will defend, the man who is down.

"You are such an un-understandable chap," complained a fellow Clubman
to him once in my hearing. "I sometimes ask myself if you have any
opinions at all."

"I hate a crowd," was Dan's only confession of faith.

He never claimed anything from me in return for his affection; he was
there for me to hold to when I wanted him. When, baffled in all my
attempts to win the affections of others, I returned to him for
comfort, he gave it me, without even relieving himself of friendly
advice. When at length childish success came to me and I needed him
less, he was neither hurt nor surprised. Other people--their
thoughts, their actions, even when these concerned himself--never
troubled him. He loved to bestow, but as to response was strangely
indifferent; indeed, if anything, it bored him. His nature appeared
to be that of the fountain, which fulfils itself by giving, but is
unable to receive.

My popularity came to me unexpectedly after I had given up hoping for
it; surprising me, annoying me. Gradually it dawned upon me that my
company was being sought.

"Come along, Kelver," would say the spokesman of one group; "we're
going part of your way home. You can walk with us."

Maybe I would go with them, but more often, before we reached the
gate, the delight of my society would be claimed by a rival troop.

"He's coming with us this afternoon. He promised."

"No, he didn't."

"Yes, he did."

"Well, he ain't, anyhow. See?"

"Oh, isn't he? Who says he isn't?"

"I do."

"Punch his head, Dick!"

"Yes, you do, Jimmy Blake, and I'll punch yours. Come, Kelver."

I might have been some Queen of Beauty offered as prize for knightly
contest. Indeed, more than once the argument concluded thus
primitively, I being carried off in triumph by the victorious party.

For a period it remained a mystery to me, until I asked explanation of
Norval--we called him "Norval," he being one George Grampian: it was
our wit. From taking joy in teasing me, Norval had suddenly become
one of my greatest admirers. This by itself was difficult enough to
understand. He was in the second eleven, and after Dan the best
fighter in the lower school. If I could understand Norval's change of
attitude all would be plain to me; so when next time, bounding upon me
in the cloakroom and slipping his arm into mine, he clamoured for my
company to Camden Town, I put the question to him bluntly.

"Why should I walk home with you? Why do you want me?"

"Because we like you."

"But why do you like me?"

"Why! Why, because you're such a funny chap. You say such funny
things."

It struck me like a slap in the face. I had thought to reach
popularity upon the ladder of heroic qualities. In all the school
books I had read, Leonard or Marmaduke (we had a Marmaduke in the
Lower Fifth--they called him Marmalade: in the school books these
disasters are not contemplated), won love and admiration by reason of
integrity of character, nobility of sentiment, goodness of heart,
brilliance of intellect; combined maybe with a certain amount of
agility, instinct in the direction of bowling, or aptitude for
jumping; but such only by the way. Not one of them had ever said a
funny thing, either consciously or unconsciously.

"Don't be disagreeable, Kelver. Come with us and we will let you into
the team as an extra. I'll teach you batting."

So I was to be their Fool--I, dreamer of knightly dreams, aspirant to
hero's fame! I craved their wonder; I had won their laughter. I had
prayed for popularity; it had been granted to me--in this guise. Were
the gods still the heartless practical jokers poor Midas had found
them?

Had my vanity been less I should have flung their gift back in their
faces. But my thirst for approbation was too intense. I had to
choose: Cut capers and be followed, or walk in dignity, ignored. I
chose to cut the capers. As time wore on I found myself striving to
cut them quicker, quainter, thinking out funny stories, preparing
ingenuous impromptus, twisting all ideas into odd expression.

I had my reward. Before long my company was desired by all the
school. But I was never content. I would rather have been the
Captain of their football club, even his deputy Vice; would have given
all my meed of laughter for stuttering Jerry's one round of applause
when in our match against Highbury he knocked up his century, and so
won the victory for us by just three.

Till the end I never quite abandoned hope of exchanging my vine leaves
for the laurels. I would rise an hour earlier in the morning to
practise throwing at broomsticks set up in waste places. At another
time, the sport coming into temporary fashion, I wearied body and mind
for weeks in vain attempts to acquire skill on stilts. That even fat
Tubby could out-distance me upon them saddened my life for months.

A lad there was, a Sixth Form boy, one Wakeham by name, if I remember
rightly, who greatly envied me my gift of being able to amuse. He was
of the age when the other sex begins to be of importance to a fellow,
and the desire had come to him to be regarded as a star of wit among
the social circles of Gospel Oak. Need I say that by nature he was a
ponderously dull boy.

One afternoon I happened to be the centre of a small group in the
playground. I had been holding forth and they had been laughing.
Whether I had delivered myself of anything really entertaining or not
I cannot say. It made no difference; they had got into the habit of
laughing when I talked. Sometimes I would say quite serious things on
purpose; they would laugh just the same. Wakeham was among them, his
eyes fixed on me, watching me as boys watch a conjurer in the hope of
finding out "how he does it." Later in the afternoon he slipped his
arm through mine, and drew me away into an empty corner of the ground.

"I say, Kelver," he broke out, the moment we were beyond hearing, "you
really are funny!"

It gave me no pleasure. If he had told me that he admired my bowling
I might not have believed him, but should have loved him for it.

"So are you," I answered savagely, "only you don't know it."

"No, I'm not," he replied. "Wish I was. I say, Kelver"--he glanced
round to see that no one was within earshot--"do you think you could
teach me to be funny?"

I was about to reply with conviction in the negative when an idea
occurred to me. Wakeham was famous among us for one thing; he could,
inserting two fingers in his mouth, produce a whistle capable of
confusing dogs a quarter of a mile off, and of causing people near at
hand to jump from six to eighteen inches into the air.

This accomplishment of his I envied him as keenly as he envied me
mine. I did not admire it; I could not see the use of it. Generally
speaking, it called forth irritation rather than affection. A
purple-faced old gentleman, close to whose ear he once performed,
promptly cuffed his head for it; and for so doing was commended by the
whole street as a public benefactor. Drivers of vehicles would
respond by flicking at him, occasionally with success. Even youth,
from whom sympathy might have been expected, appeared impelled, if
anything happened to be at all handy, to take it up and throw it at
him. My own social circle would, I knew, regard it as a vulgar
accomplishment, and even Wakeham himself dared not perform it in the
hearing of his own classmates. That any human being should have
desired to acquire it seems incomprehensible. Yet for weeks in secret
I had wrestled to produce the hideous sound. Why? For three reasons,
so far as I can analyse this youngster of whom I am writing:

Firstly, here was a means of attracting attention; secondly, it was
something that somebody else could do and that he couldn't; thirdly,
it was a thing for which he evidently had no natural aptitude
whatever, and therefore a thing to acquire which his soul yearned the
more. Had a boy come across his path, clever at walking on his hands
with his heels in the air, Master Paul Kelver would in all probability
have broken his neck in attempts to copy and excel. I make no
apologies for the brat: I merely present him as a study for the
amusement of a world of wiser boys--and men.

I struck a bargain with young Wakeham; I undertook to teach him to be
funny in return for his teaching me this costermonger's whistle.

Each of us strove conscientiously to impart knowledge. Neither of us
succeeded. Wakeham tried hard to be funny; I tried hard to whistle.
He did all I told him; I followed his instructions implicitly. The
result was the feeblest of wit and the feeblest of whistles.

"Do you think anybody would laugh at that?" Wakeham would pathetically
enquire at the termination of his supremest effort. And honestly I
would have to confess I did not think any living being would.

"How far off do you think any one could hear that?" I would demand
anxiously, on recovering sufficient breath to speak at all.

"Well, it would depend upon whether you knew it was coming," Wakeham
would reply kindly, not wishing to discourage me.

We abandoned the scheme by mutual consent at about the end of a
fortnight.

"I suppose it's something that you've got to have inside you," I
suggested to Wakeham in consolation.

"I don't think the roof of your mouth can be quite the right shape for
it," concluded Wakeham.

My success as story-teller, commentator, critic, jester, revived my
childish ambition towards authorship. My first stirrings in this
direction I cannot rightly place. I remember when very small falling
into a sunk dust-bin--a deep hole, rather, into which the gardener
shot his rubbish. The fall twisted my ankle so that I could not move;
and the time being evening and my prison some distance from the house,
my predicament loomed large before me. Yet one consolation remained
with me: the incident would be of value to me in the autobiography
upon which I was then engaged. I can distinctly recollect lying on my
back among decaying leaves and broken glass, framing my account. "On
this day a strange adventure befell me. Walking in the garden, all
unheeding, I suddenly"--I did not want to add the truth--"tumbled into
a dust-hole, six feet square, that any one but a moon calf might have
seen." I puzzled to evolve a more dignified situation. The dust-bin
became a cavern, the entrance to which had been artfully concealed;
the six or seven feet I had really fallen, "an endless descent,
terminating in a vast and gloomy chamber." I was divided between
opposing desires: One, for rescue followed by sympathy and supper;
the other, for the alarming experience of a night of terror where I
lay. Nature conquering Art, I yelled; and the episode terminated
prosaically with a warm bath and arnica. But from it I judge that
desire for the woes and perils of authorship was with me somewhat
early.

Of my many other dreams I would speak freely, discussing them at
length with sympathetic souls, but concerning this one ambition I was
curiously reticent. Only to two--my mother and a grey-bearded
Stranger--did I ever breathe a word of it. Even from my father I kept
it a secret, close comrades in all else though we were. He would have
talked of it much and freely, dragged it into the light of day; and
from this I shrank.

My talk with the Stranger came about in this wise. One evening I had
taken a walk to Victoria Park--a favourite haunt of mine at summer
time. It was a fair and peaceful evening, and I fell a-wandering
there in pleasant reverie, until the waning light hinted to me the
question of time. I looked about me. Only one human being was in
sight, a man with his back towards me, seated upon a bench overlooking
the ornamental water.

I drew nearer. He took no notice of me, and interested--though why, I
could not say--I seated myself beside him at the other end of the
bench. He was a handsome, distinguished-looking man, with wonderfully
bright, clear eyes and iron-grey hair and beard. I might have thought
him a sea captain, of whom many were always to be met with in that
neighbourhood, but for his hands, which were crossed upon his stick,
and which were white and delicate as a woman's. He turned his face
and glanced at me. I fancied that his lips beneath the grey moustache
smiled; and instinctively I edged a little nearer to him.

"Please, sir," I said, after awhile, "could you tell me the right
time?"

"Twenty minutes to eight," he answered, looking at his watch. And his
voice drew me towards him even more than had his beautiful strong
face. I thanked him, and we fell back into silence.

"Where do you live?" he turned and suddenly asked me.

"Oh, only over there," I answered, with a wave of my arm towards the
chimney-fringed horizon behind us. "I needn't be in till half-past
eight. I like this Park so much," I added, "I often come and sit here
of an evening.'

"Why do you like to come and sit here?" he asked. "Tell me."

"Oh, I don't know," I answered. "I think."

I marvelled at myself. With strangers generally I was shy and silent;
but the magic of his bright eyes seemed to have loosened my tongue.

I told him my name; that we lived in a street always full of ugly
sounds, so that a gentleman could not think, not even in the evening
time, when Thought goes a-visiting.

"Mamma does not like the twilight time," I confided to him. "It
always makes her cry. But then mamma is--not very young, you know,
and has had a deal of trouble; and that makes a difference, I
suppose."

He laid his hand upon mine. We were sitting nearer to each other now.
"God made women weak to teach us men to be tender," he said. "But
you, Paul, like this 'twilight time'?"

"Yes," I answered, "very much. Don't you?"

"And why do you like it?" he asked.

"Oh," I answered, "things come to you."

"What things?"

"Oh, fancies," I explained to him. "I am going to be an author when I
grow up, and write books."

He took my hand in his and shook it gravely, and then returned it to
me. "I, too, am a writer of books," he said.

And then I knew what had drawn me to him.

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