Part 5 out of 5
dexterously whirled the eel round in a destructive circle. The pink
sunshade was torn from the hand that gripped it and whirled athwart
the complete, but unadorned, tea things on the green table.
"Collar him! Someone get hold of his collar!" cried the
gold-spectacled gentleman, coming out of the scrimmage, retreating up
the steps to the inn door as if to rally his forces.
"Stand clear, you blessed mantel ornaments!" cried Uncle Jim, "stand
clear!" and retired backing, staving off attack by means of the
Mr. Polly, undeterred by a sense of grave damage done to his nose,
pressed the attack in front, the two young men in violet and blue
skirmished on Uncle Jim's flanks, the man in white and black checks
sought still further outflanking possibilities, and two of the
apprentice boys ran for oars. The gold-spectacled gentleman, as if
inspired, came down the wooden steps again, seized the tablecloth of
the jam and egg party, lugged it from under the crockery with
inadequate precautions against breakage, and advanced with compressed
lips, curious lateral crouching movements, swift flashings of his
glasses, and a general suggestion of bull-fighting in his pose and
gestures. Uncle Jim was kept busy, and unable to plan his retreat with
any strategic soundness. He was moreover manifestly a little nervous
about the river in his rear. He gave ground in a curve, and so came
right across the rapidly abandoned camp of the family in mourning,
crunching a teacup under his heel, oversetting the teapot, and finally
tripping backwards over the hamper. The eel flew out at a tangent from
his hand and became a mere looping relic on the sward.
"Hold him!" cried the gentleman in spectacles. "Collar him!" and
moving forward with extraordinary promptitude wrapped the best
tablecloth about Uncle Jim's arms and head. Mr. Polly grasped his
purpose instantly, the man in checks was scarcely slower, and in
another moment Uncle Jim was no more than a bundle of smothered
blasphemy and a pair of wildly active legs.
"Duck him!" panted Mr. Polly, holding on to the earthquake. "Bes'
The bundle was convulsed by paroxysms of anger and protest. One boot
got the hamper and sent it ten yards.
"Go in the house for a clothes line someone!" said the gentleman in
gold spectacles. "He'll get out of this in a moment."
One of the apprentices ran.
"Bird nets in the garden," shouted Mr. Polly. "In the garden!"
The apprentice was divided in his purpose. And then suddenly Uncle Jim
collapsed and became a limp, dead seeming thing under their hands. His
arms were drawn inward, his legs bent up under his person, and so he
"Fainted!" said the man in checks, relaxing his grip.
"A fit, perhaps," said the man in spectacles.
"Keep hold!" said Mr. Polly, too late.
For suddenly Uncle Jim's arms and legs flew out like springs released.
Mr. Polly was tumbled backwards and fell over the broken teapot and
into the arms of the father in mourning. Something struck his
head--dazzingly. In another second Uncle Jim was on his feet and the
tablecloth enshrouded the head of the man in checks. Uncle Jim
manifestly considered he had done all that honour required of him, and
against overwhelming numbers and the possibility of reiterated
duckings, flight is no disgrace.
Uncle Jim fled.
Mr. Polly sat up after an interval of an indeterminate length among
the ruins of an idyllic afternoon. Quite a lot of things seemed
scattered and broken, but it was difficult to grasp it all at once. He
stared between the legs of people. He became aware of a voice,
speaking slowly and complainingly.
"Someone ought to pay for those tea things," said the father in
mourning. "We didn't bring them 'ere to be danced on, not by no manner
There followed an anxious peace for three days, and then a rough man
in a blue jersey, in the intervals of trying to choke himself with
bread and cheese and pickled onions, broke out abruptly into
"Jim's lagged again, Missus," he said.
"What!" said the landlady. "Our Jim?"
"Your Jim," said the man, and after an absolutely necessary pause for
swallowing, added: "Stealin' a 'atchet."
He did not speak for some moments, and then he replied to Mr. Polly's
enquiries: "Yes, a 'atchet. Down Lammam way--night before last."
"What'd 'e steal a 'atchet for?" asked the plump woman.
"'E said 'e wanted a 'atchet."
"I wonder what he wanted a hatchet for?" said Mr. Polly, thoughtfully.
"I dessay 'e 'ad a use for it," said the gentleman in the blue jersey,
and he took a mouthful that amounted to conversational suicide. There
was a prolonged pause in the little bar, and Mr. Polly did some rapid
He went to the window and whistled. "I shall stick it," he whispered
at last. "'Atchets or no 'atchets."
He turned to the man with the blue jersey when he thought him clear
for speech again. "How much did you say they'd given him?" he asked.
"Three munce," said the man in the blue jersey, and refilled
anxiously, as if alarmed at the momentary clearness of his voice.
Those three months passed all too quickly; months of sunshine and
warmth, of varied novel exertion in the open air, of congenial
experiences, of interest and wholesome food and successful digestion,
months that browned Mr. Polly and hardened him and saw the beginnings
of his beard, months marred only by one anxiety, an anxiety Mr. Polly
did his utmost to suppress. The day of reckoning was never mentioned,
it is true, by either the plump woman or himself, but the name of
Uncle Jim was written in letters of glaring silence across their
intercourse. As the term of that respite drew to an end his anxiety
increased, until at last it even trenched upon his well-earned sleep.
He had some idea of buying a revolver. At last he compromised upon a
small and very foul and dirty rook rifle which he purchased in Lammam
under a pretext of bird scaring, and loaded carefully and concealed
under his bed from the plump woman's eye.
September passed away, October came.
And at last came that night in October whose happenings it is so
difficult for a sympathetic historian to drag out of their proper
nocturnal indistinctness into the clear, hard light of positive
statement. A novelist should present characters, not vivisect them
The best, the kindliest, if not the justest course is surely to leave
untold such things as Mr. Polly would manifestly have preferred
Mr. Polly had declared that when the cyclist discovered him he was
seeking a weapon that should make a conclusive end to Uncle Jim. That
declaration is placed before the reader without comment.
The gun was certainly in possession of Uncle Jim at that time and no
human being but Mr. Polly knows how he got hold of it.
The cyclist was a literary man named Warspite, who suffered from
insomnia; he had risen and come out of his house near Lammam just
before the dawn, and he discovered Mr. Polly partially concealed in
the ditch by the Potwell churchyard wall. It is an ordinary dry ditch,
full of nettles and overgrown with elder and dogrose, and in no way
suggestive of an arsenal. It is the last place in which you would look
for a gun. And he says that when he dismounted to see why Mr. Polly
was allowing only the latter part of his person to show (and that it
would seem by inadvertency), Mr. Polly merely raised his head and
advised him to "Look out!" and added: "He's let fly at me twice
already." He came out under persuasion and with gestures of extreme
caution. He was wearing a white cotton nightgown of the type that has
now been so extensively superseded by pyjama sleeping suits, and his
legs and feet were bare and much scratched and torn and very muddy.
Mr. Warspite takes that exceptionally lively interest in his
fellow-creatures which constitutes so much of the distinctive and
complex charm of your novelist all the world over, and he at once
involved himself generously in the case. The two men returned at Mr.
Polly's initiative across the churchyard to the Potwell Inn, and came
upon the burst and damaged rook rifle near the new monument to Sir
Samuel _Harpon_ at the corner by the yew.
"That must have been his third go," said Mr. Polly. "It sounded a bit
The sight inspirited him greatly, and he explained further that he had
fled to the churchyard on account of the cover afforded by tombstones
from the flight of small shot. He expressed anxiety for the fate of
the landlady of the Potwell Inn and her grandchild, and led the way
with enhanced alacrity along the lane to that establishment.
They found the doors of the house standing open, the bar in some
disorder--several bottles of whisky were afterwards found to be
missing--and Blake, the village policeman, rapping patiently at the
open door. He entered with them. The glass in the bar had suffered
severely, and one of the mirrors was starred from a blow from a pewter
pot. The till had been forced and ransacked, and so had the bureau in
the minute room behind the bar. An upper window was opened and the
voice of the landlady became audible making enquiries. They went out
and parleyed with her. She had locked herself upstairs with the little
girl, she said, and refused to descend until she was assured that
neither Uncle Jim nor Mr. Polly's gun were anywhere on the premises.
Mr. Blake and Mr. Warspite proceeded to satisfy themselves with regard
to the former condition, and Mr. Polly went to his room in search of
garments more suited to the brightening dawn. He returned immediately
with a request that Mr. Blake and Mr. Warspite would "just come and
look." They found the apartment in a state of extraordinary confusion,
the bedclothes in a ball in the corner, the drawers all open and
ransacked, the chair broken, the lock of the door forced and broken,
one door panel slightly scorched and perforated by shot, and the
window wide open. None of Mr. Polly's clothes were to be seen, but
some garments which had apparently once formed part of a stoker's
workaday outfit, two brownish yellow halves of a shirt, and an unsound
pair of boots were scattered on the floor. A faint smell of gunpowder
still hung in the air, and two or three books Mr. Polly had recently
acquired had been shied with some violence under the bed. Mr. Warspite
looked at Mr. Blake, and then both men looked at Mr. Polly. "That's
_his_ boots," said Mr. Polly.
Blake turned his eye to the window. "Some of these tiles '_ave_ just
got broken," he observed.
"I got out of the window and slid down the scullery tiles," Mr. Polly
answered, omitting much, they both felt, from his explanation....
"Well, we better find 'im and '_ave_ a word with 'im," said Blake.
"That's about my business now."
But Uncle Jim had gone altogether....
He did not return for some days. That perhaps was not very wonderful.
But the days lengthened to weeks and the weeks to months and still
Uncle Jim did not recur. A year passed, and the anxiety of him became
less acute; a second healing year followed the first. One afternoon
about thirty months after the Night Surprise the plump woman spoke of
"I wonder what's become of Jim," she said.
"_I_ wonder sometimes," said Mr. Polly.
Chapter the Tenth
One summer afternoon about five years after his first coming to the
Potwell Inn Mr. Polly found himself sitting under the pollard willow
fishing for dace. It was a plumper, browner and healthier Mr. Polly
altogether than the miserable bankrupt with whose dyspeptic portrait
our novel opened. He was fat, but with a fatness more generally
diffused, and the lower part of his face was touched to gravity by a
small square beard. Also he was balder.
It was the first time he had found leisure to fish, though from the
very outset of his Potwell career he had promised himself abundant
indulgence in the pleasures of fishing. Fishing, as the golden page of
English literature testifies, is a meditative and retrospective
pursuit, and the varied page of memory, disregarded so long for sake
of the teeming duties I have already enumerated, began to unfold
itself to Mr. Polly's consideration. A speculation about Uncle Jim
died for want of material, and gave place to a reckoning of the years
and months that had passed since his coming to Potwell, and that to a
philosophical review of his life. He began to think about Miriam,
remotely and impersonally. He remembered many things that had been
neglected by his conscience during the busier times, as, for example,
that he had committed arson and deserted a wife. For the first time he
looked these long neglected facts in the face.
It is disagreeable to think one has committed Arson, because it is an
action that leads to jail. Otherwise I do not think there was a grain
of regret for that in Mr. Polly's composition. But deserting Miriam
was in a different category. Deserting Miriam was mean.
This is a history and not a glorification of Mr. Polly, and I tell of
things as they were with him. Apart from the disagreeable twinge
arising from the thought of what might happen if he was found out, he
had not the slightest remorse about that fire. Arson, after all, is an
artificial crime. Some crimes are crimes in themselves, would be
crimes without any law, the cruelties, mockery, the breaches of faith
that astonish and wound, but the burning of things is in itself
neither good nor bad. A large number of houses deserve to be burnt,
most modern furniture, an overwhelming majority of pictures and
books--one might go on for some time with the list. If our community
was collectively anything more than a feeble idiot, it would burn most
of London and Chicago, for example, and build sane and beautiful
cities in the place of these pestilential heaps of rotten private
property. I have failed in presenting Mr. Polly altogether if I have
not made you see that he was in many respects an artless child of
Nature, far more untrained, undisciplined and spontaneous than an
ordinary savage. And he was really glad, for all that little drawback
of fear, that he had the courage to set fire to his house and fly and
come to the Potwell Inn.
But he was not glad he had left Miriam. He had seen Miriam cry once or
twice in his life, and it had always reduced him to abject
commiseration. He now imagined her crying. He perceived in a perplexed
way that he had made himself responsible for her life. He forgot how
she had spoilt his own. He had hitherto rested in the faith that she
had over a hundred pounds of insurance money, but now, with his eye
meditatively upon his float, he realised a hundred pounds does not
last for ever. His conviction of her incompetence was unflinching; she
was bound to have fooled it away somehow by this time. And then!
He saw her humping her shoulders and sniffing in a manner he had
always regarded as detestable at close quarters, but which now became
"Damn!" said Mr. Polly, and down went his float and he flicked up a
victim to destruction and took it off the hook.
He compared his own comfort and health with Miriam's imagined
"Ought to have done something for herself," said Mr. Polly, rebaiting
his hook. "She was always talking of doing things. Why couldn't she?"
He watched the float oscillating gently towards quiescence.
"Silly to begin thinking about her," he said. "Damn silly!"
But once he had begun thinking about her he had to go on.
"Oh blow!" cried Mr. Polly presently, and pulled up his hook to find
another fish had just snatched at it in the last instant. His handling
must have made the poor thing feel itself unwelcome.
He gathered his things together and turned towards the house.
All the Potwell Inn betrayed his influence now, for here indeed he had
found his place in the world. It looked brighter, so bright indeed as
to be almost skittish, with the white and green paint he had lavished
upon it. Even the garden palings were striped white and green, and so
were the boats, for Mr. Polly was one of those who find a positive
sensuous pleasure in the laying on of paint. Left and right were two
large boards which had done much to enhance the inn's popularity with
the lighter-minded variety of pleasure-seekers. Both marked
innovations. One bore in large letters the single word "Museum," the
other was as plain and laconic with "Omlets!" The spelling of the
latter word was Mr. Polly's own, but when he had seen a whole boatload
of men, intent on Lammam for lunch, stop open-mouthed, and stare and
grin and come in and ask in a marked sarcastic manner for "omlets," he
perceived that his inaccuracy had done more for the place than his
utmost cunning could have contrived. In a year or so the inn was known
both up and down the river by its new name of "Omlets," and Mr. Polly,
after some secret irritation, smiled and was content. And the fat
woman's _omelettes_ were things to remember.
(You will note I have changed her epithet. Time works upon us all.)
She stood upon the steps as he came towards the house, and smiled at
"Caught many?" she asked.
"Got an idea," said Mr. Polly. "Would it put you out very much if I
went off for a day or two for a bit of a holiday? There won't be much
doing now until Thursday."
Feeling recklessly secure behind his beard Mr. Polly surveyed the
Fishbourne High Street once again. The north side was much as he had
known it except that Rusper had vanished. A row of new shops replaced
the destruction of the great fire. Mantell and Throbson's had risen
again upon a more flamboyant pattern, and the new fire station was in
the Swiss-Teutonic style and with much red paint. Next door in the
place of Rumbold's was a branch of the Colonial Tea Company, and then
a Salmon and Gluckstein Tobacco Shop, and then a little shop that
displayed sweets and professed a "Tea Room Upstairs." He considered
this as a possible place in which to prosecute enquiries about his
lost wife, wavering a little between it and the God's Providence Inn
down the street. Then his eye caught a name over the window, "Polly,"
he read, "& Larkins! Well, I'm--astonished!"
A momentary faintness came upon him. He walked past and down the
street, returned and surveyed the shop again.
He saw a middle-aged, rather untidy woman standing behind the counter,
who for an instant he thought might be Miriam terribly changed, and
then recognised as his sister-in-law Annie, filled out and no longer
hilarious. She stared at him without a sign of recognition as he
entered the shop.
"Can I have tea?" said Mr. Polly.
"Well," said Annie, "you _can_. But our Tea Room's upstairs.... My
sister's been cleaning it out--and it's a bit upset."
"It _would_ be," said Mr. Polly softly.
"I beg your pardon?" said Annie.
"I said _I_ didn't mind. Up here?"
"I daresay there'll be a table," said Annie, and followed him up to a
room whose conscientious disorder was intensely reminiscent of Miriam.
"Nothing like turning everything upside down when you're cleaning,"
said Mr. Polly cheerfully.
"It's my sister's way," said Annie impartially. "She's gone out for a
bit of air, but I daresay she'll be back soon to finish. It's a nice
light room when it's tidy. Can I put you a table over there?"
"Let _me_," said Mr. Polly, and assisted. He sat down by the open
window and drummed on the table and meditated on his next step while
Annie vanished to get his tea. After all, things didn't seem so bad
with Miriam. He tried over several gambits in imagination.
"Unusual name," he said as Annie laid a cloth before him. Annie looked
"Polly. Polly & Larkins. Real, I suppose?"
"Polly's my sister's name. She married a Mr. Polly."
"Widow I presume?" said Mr. Polly.
"Yes. This five years--come October."
"Lord!" said Mr. Polly in unfeigned surprise.
"Found drowned he was. There was a lot of talk in the place."
"Never heard of it," said Mr. Polly. "I'm a stranger--rather."
"In the Medway near Maidstone. He must have been in the water for
days. Wouldn't have known him, my sister wouldn't, if it hadn't been
for the name sewn in his clothes. All whitey and eat away he was."
"Bless my heart! Must have been rather a shock for her!"
"It _was_ a shock," said Annie, and added darkly: "But sometimes a
shock's better than a long agony."
"No doubt," said Mr. Polly.
He gazed with a rapt expression at the preparations before him. "So
I'm drowned," something was saying inside him. "Life insured?" he
"We started the tea rooms with it," said Annie.
Why, if things were like this, had remorse and anxiety for Miriam been
implanted in his soul? No shadow of an answer appeared.
"Marriage is a lottery," said Mr. Polly.
"_She_ found it so," said Annie. "Would you like some jam?"
"I'd like an egg," said Mr. Polly. "I'll have two. I've got a sort of
feeling--. As though I wanted keeping up.... Wasn't particularly good
sort, this Mr. Polly?"
"He was a _wearing_ husband," said Annie. "I've often pitied my
sister. He was one of that sort--"
"Dissolute?" suggested Mr. Polly faintly.
"No," said Annie judiciously; "not exactly dissolute. Feeble's more
the word. Weak, 'E was. Weak as water. 'Ow long do you like your eggs
"Four minutes exactly," said Mr. Polly.
"One gets talking," said Annie.
"One does," said Mr.-Polly, and she left him to his thoughts.
What perplexed him was his recent remorse and tenderness for Miriam.
Now he was back in her atmosphere all that had vanished, and the old
feeling of helpless antagonism returned. He surveyed the piled
furniture, the economically managed carpet, the unpleasing pictures on
the wall. Why had he felt remorse? Why had he entertained this
illusion of a helpless woman crying aloud in the pitiless darkness for
him? He peered into the unfathomable mysteries of the heart, and
ducked back to a smaller issue. _Was_ he feeble?
The eggs came up. Nothing in Annie's manner invited a resumption of
"Business brisk?" he ventured to ask.
Annie reflected. "It is," she said, "and it isn't. It's like that."
"Ah!" said Mr. Polly, and squared himself to his egg. "Was there an
inquest on that chap?"
"What was his name?--Polly!"
"You're sure it was him?"
"What you mean?"
Annie looked at him hard, and suddenly his soul was black with terror.
"Who else could it have been--in the very cloes 'e wore?"
"Of course," said Mr. Polly, and began his egg. He was so agitated
that he only realised its condition when he was half way through it
and Annie safely downstairs.
"Lord!" he said, reaching out hastily for the pepper. "One of
Miriam's! Management! I haven't tasted such an egg for five years....
Wonder where she gets them! Picks them out, I suppose!"
He abandoned it for its fellow.
Except for a slight mustiness the second egg was very palatable
indeed. He was getting on to the bottom of it as Miriam came in. He
looked up. "Nice afternoon," he said at her stare, and perceived she
knew him at once by the gesture and the voice. She went white and shut
the door behind her. She looked as though she was going to faint. Mr.
Polly sprang up quickly and handed her a chair. "My God!" she
whispered, and crumpled up rather than sat down.
"It's _you_" she said.
"No," said Mr. Polly very earnestly. "It isn't. It just looks like me.
"I _knew_ that man wasn't you--all along. I tried to think it was. I
tried to think perhaps the water had altered your wrists and feet and
the colour of your hair."
"I'd always feared you'd come back."
Mr. Polly sat down by his egg. "I haven't come back," he said very
earnestly. "Don't you think it."
"'Ow we'll pay back the insurance now I _don't_ know." She was
weeping. She produced a handkerchief and covered her face.
"Look here, Miriam," said Mr. Polly. "I haven't come back and I'm not
coming back. I'm--I'm a Visitant from Another World. You shut up about
me and I'll shut up about myself. I came back because I thought you
might be hard up or in trouble or some silly thing like that. Now I
see you again--I'm satisfied. I'm satisfied completely. See? I'm going
to absquatulate, see? Hey Presto right away."
He turned to his tea for a moment, finished his cup noisily, stood up.
"Don't you think you're going to see me again," he said, "for you
He moved to the door.
"That _was_ a tasty egg," he said, hovered for a second and vanished.
Annie was in the shop.
"The missus has had a bit of a shock," he remarked. "Got some sort of
fancy about a ghost. Can't make it out quite. So Long!"
And he had gone.
Mr. Polly sat beside the fat woman at one of the little green tables
at the back of the Potwell Inn, and struggled with the mystery of
life. It was one of those evenings, serenely luminous, amply and
atmospherically still, when the river bend was at its best. A swan
floated against the dark green masses of the further bank, the stream
flowed broad and shining to its destiny, with scarce a ripple--except
where the reeds came out from the headland--the three poplars rose
clear and harmonious against a sky of green and yellow. And it was as
if it was all securely within a great warm friendly globe of crystal
sky. It was as safe and enclosed and fearless as a child that has
still to be born. It was an evening full of the quality of tranquil,
unqualified assurance. Mr. Polly's mind was filled with the persuasion
that indeed all things whatsoever must needs be satisfying and
complete. It was incredible that life has ever done more than seemed
to jar, that there could be any shadow in life save such velvet
softnesses as made the setting for that silent swan, or any murmur but
the ripple of the water as it swirled round the chained and gently
swaying punt. And the mind of Mr. Polly, exalted and made tender by
this atmosphere, sought gently, but sought, to draw together the
varied memories that came drifting, half submerged, across the circle
of his mind.
He spoke in words that seemed like a bent and broken stick thrust
suddenly into water, destroying the mirror of the shapes they sought.
"Jim's not coming back again ever," he said. "He got drowned five
"Where?" asked the fat woman, surprised.
"Miles from here. In the Medway. Away in Kent."
"Lor!" said the fat woman.
"It's right enough," said Mr. Polly.
"How d'you know?"
"I went to my home."
"Don't matter. I went and found out. He'd been in the water some days.
He'd got my clothes and they'd said it was me."
"It don't matter. I'm not going back to them."
The fat woman regarded him silently for some time. Her expression of
scrutiny gave way to a quiet satisfaction. Then her brown eyes went to
"Poor Jim," she said. "'E 'adn't much Tact--ever."
She added mildly: "I can't 'ardly say I'm sorry."
"Nor me," said Mr. Polly, and got a step nearer the thought in him.
"But it don't seem much good his having been alive, does it?"
"'E wasn't much good," the fat woman admitted. "Ever."
"I suppose there were things that were good to him," Mr. Polly
speculated. "They weren't _our_ things."
His hold slipped again. "I often wonder about life," he said weakly.
He tried again. "One seems to start in life," he said, "expecting
something. And it doesn't happen. And it doesn't matter. One starts
with ideas that things are good and things are bad--and it hasn't much
relation to what _is_ good and what is bad. I've always been the
skeptaceous sort, and it's always seemed rot to me to pretend we know
good from evil. It's just what I've _never_ done. No Adam's apple
stuck in _my_ throat, ma'am. I don't own to it."
"I set fire to a house--once."
The fat woman started.
"I don't feel sorry for it. I don't believe it was a bad thing to
do--any more than burning a toy like I did once when I was a baby. I
nearly killed myself with a razor. Who hasn't?--anyhow gone as far as
thinking of it? Most of my time I've been half dreaming. I married
like a dream almost. I've never really planned my life or set out to
live. I happened; things happened to me. It's so with everyone. Jim
couldn't help himself. I shot at him and tried to kill him. I dropped
the gun and he got it. He very nearly had me. I wasn't a second too
soon--ducking.... Awkward--that night was.... M'mm.... But I don't
blame him--come to that. Only I don't see what it's all up to....
"Like children playing about in a nursery. Hurt themselves at
"There's something that doesn't mind us," he resumed presently. "It
isn't what we try to get that we get, it isn't the good we think we do
is good. What makes us happy isn't our trying, what makes others happy
isn't our trying. There's a sort of character people like and stand up
for and a sort they won't. You got to work it out and take the
consequences.... Miriam was always trying."
"Who was Miriam?" asked the fat woman.
"No one you know. But she used to go about with her brows knit trying
not to do whatever she wanted to do--if ever she did want to do
He lost himself.
"You can't help being fat," said the fat woman after a pause, trying
to get up to his thoughts.
"_You_ can't," said Mr. Polly.
"It helps and it hinders."
"Like my upside down way of talking."
"The magistrates wouldn't '_ave_ kept on the license to me if I 'adn't
"Then what have we done," said Mr. Polly, "to get an evening like
this? Lord! look at it!" He sent his arm round the great curve of the
"If I was a nigger or an Italian I should come out here and sing. I
whistle sometimes, but bless you, it's singing I've got in my mind.
Sometimes I think I live for sunsets."
"I don't see that it does you any good always looking at sunsets like
you do," said the fat woman.
"Nor me. But I do. Sunsets and things I was made to like."
"They don't 'elp you," said the fat woman thoughtfully.
"Who cares?" said Mr. Polly.
A deeper strain had come to the fat woman. "You got to die some day,"
"Some things I can't believe," said Mr. Polly suddenly, "and one is
your being a skeleton...." He pointed his hand towards the neighbour's
hedge. "Look at 'em--against the yellow--and they're just stingin'
nettles. Nasty weeds--if you count things by their uses. And no help
in the life hereafter. But just look at the look of them!"
"It isn't only looks," said the fat woman.
"Whenever there's signs of a good sunset and I'm not too busy," said
Mr. Polly, "I'll come and sit out here."
The fat woman looked at him with eyes in which contentment struggled
with some obscure reluctant protest, and at last turned them slowly to
the black nettle pagodas against the golden sky.
"I wish we could," she said.
The fat woman's voice sank nearly to the inaudible.
"Not always," she said.
Mr. Polly was some time before he replied. "Come here always when I'm
a ghost," he replied.
"Spoil the place for others," said the fat woman, abandoning her moral
solicitudes for a more congenial point of view.
"Not my sort of ghost wouldn't," said Mr. Polly, emerging from another
long pause. "I'd be a sort of diaphalous feeling--just mellowish and
They said no more, but sat on in the warm twilight until at last they
could scarcely distinguish each other's faces. They were not so much
thinking as lost in a smooth, still quiet of the mind. A bat flitted
"Time we was going in, O' Party," said Mr. Polly, standing up. "Supper
to get. It's as you say, we can't sit here for ever."