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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 26841

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

PAUL leaned back in his leather writing chair, smoking a cigarette and focussing the electioneering situation. Beside a sheet of foolscap on which he had been jotting down notes lay in neat piles the typewritten Report of the Forlorn Widows' Fund, the account book and the banker's pass book. He had sat up till three o'clock in the morning preparing for his Princess. Nothing now remained but the formal "examined and found correct" report of the auditors. For the moment the Forlorn Widows stood leagues away from Paul's thoughts. He had passed a strenuous day at Hickney Heath, lunching in the committee room on sandwiches and whisky and soda obtained from the nearest tavern, talking, inventing, dictating, writing, playing upon dull minds the flashes of his organizing genius. His committee was held up for the while by a dark rift in the Radical camp. They had not yet chosen their man. Nothing was known, save that a certain John Questerhayes, K. C., an eminent Chancery barrister, who had of late made himself conspicuous in the constituency, had been turned down on the ground that he was not sufficiently progressive. Now for comfort to the Radical the term "Progressive" licks the blessed word Mesopotamia into a cocked hat. Under the Progressive's sad-coloured cloak he need not wear the red tie of the socialist. Apparently Mr. Questerhayes objected to the sad-coloured cloak, the mantle of Elijah, M. P., the late member for Hickney Heath. "Wanted: an Elisha," seemed to be the cry of the Radical Committee.

Paul leaned back, his elbows on the arms of his chair, his finger tips together, a cigarette between his lips, lost in thought. The early November twilight deepened in the room. He was to address a meeting that night. In order to get ready for his speech he had not allowed himself to be detained, and had come home early. His speech had been prepared; but the Radical delay was a new factor of which he might take triumphant advantage. Hence the pencil notes on the sheet of foolscap, before him.

A man-servant came in, turned on the electric light, pulled the curtains together and saw to the fire.

"Tea's in the drawing-room, sir."

"Bring me some here in a breakfast cup-nothing to eat," said Paul.

Even his dearest lady could not help him in his meditated attack on the enemy whom the Lord was delivering into his hands.

The man-servant went away. Presently Paul heard him reenter the room; the door was at his back. He threw out an impatient hand behind him. "Put it down anywhere, Wilton, I'll have it when I want it."

"I beg pardon, sir," said the man, coming forward, "but it's not the tea. There's a gentleman and a lady and another person would like to see you. I said that you were busy, sir, but-"

He put the silver salver, with its card, in front of Paul. Printed on the card was, "Mr. Silas Finn." In pencil was written: "Miss Seddon, Mr. William Simmons."

Paul looked at the card in some bewilderment. What in the name of politics or friendship were they doing in Portland Place? Not to receive them, however, was unthinkable.

"Show them in," said he.

Silas Finn, Jane and Barney Bill! It was odd. He laughed and took out his watch. Yes, he could easily give them half an hour or so. But why had they come? He had found time to call once at the house in Hickney Heath since his return to town, and then he had seen Jane and Silas Finn together and they had talked, as far as he could remember, of the Disestablishment of the Anglican Church and the elevating influence of landscape painting on the human soul. Why had they come? It could not be to offer their services during the election, for Silas Finn in politics was a fanatical enemy. The visit stirred a lively curiosity.

They entered: Mr. Finn in his usual black with many-coloured tie and diamond ring, looking more mournfully grave than ever; Jane wearing an expression half of anxiety and half of defiance; Barney Bill, very uncomfortable in his well-preserved best suit, very restless and nervous. They gave the impression of a deputation coming to announce the death of a near relative. Paul received them cordially. But why in the world, thought he, were they all so solemn? He pushed forward chairs.

"I got your postcard, Bill. Thanks so much for it."

Bill grunted and embraced his hard felt hat.

"I ought to have written to you," said Jane-"but--"

"She felt restrained by her duty towards me," said Mr. Finn. "I hope you did not think it was discourteous on her part."

"My dear sir," Paul laughed, seating himself in his writing chair, which he twisted away from the table, "Jane and I are too old friends for that. In her heart I know she wishes me luck. And I hope you do too, Mr. Finn," he added pleasantly-"although I know you're on the other side."

"I'm afraid my principles will not allow me to wish you luck in this election, Mr. Savelli."

"Well, well," said Paul. "It doesn't matter. If you vote against me I'll not bear malice."

"I am not going to vote against you, Mr. Savelli," said Mr. Finn, looking at him with melancholy eyes. "I am going to stand against you."

Paul sprang forward in his chair. Here was fantastic news indeed! "Stand against me? You? You're the Radical candidate?"


Paul laughed boyishly. "Why, it's capital! I'm awfully glad."

"I was asked this morning," said Mr. Finn gravely. "I prayed God for guidance. He answered, and I felt it my duty to come to you at once, with our two friends."

Barney Bill cocked his head on one side. "I did my best to persuade him not to, sonny."

"But why shouldn't he?" cried Paul courteously-though why he should puzzled him exceedingly. "It's very good of you, Mr. Finn. I'm sure your side," he went on, "could not have chosen a better man. You're well known in the constituency-I am jolly lucky to have a man like you as an opponent."

"Mr. Savelli," said Mr. Finn, "it was precisely so that we should not be opponents that I have taken this unusual step."

"I don't quite understand," said Paul.

"Mr. Finn wants you to retire in favour of some other Conservative candidate," said Jane calmly.

"Retire? I retire?"

Paul looked at her, then at Barney Bill, who nodded his white head, then at Mr. Finn, whose deep eyes met his with a curious tragical mournfulness. The proposal took his breath away. It was crazily preposterous. But for their long faces he would have burst into laughter. "Why on earth do you want me to retire?" he asked good-humouredly.

"I will tell you," said Mr. Finn. "Because you will have God against you."

Paul saw a gleam of light in the dark mystery of the visit. "You may believe it, Mr. Finn, but I don't. I believe that my war cry, 'God for England, Savelli and Saint George,' is quite as acceptable to, the Almighty as yours."

Mr. Finn stretched out two hands in earnest deprecation. "Forgive me if I say it; but you don't know what you're talking about. God has not revealed Himself to you. He has to me. When my fellow-citizens asked me to stand as the Liberal candidate, I thought it was because they knew me to be an upright man, who had worked hard on their council, an active apostle in the cause of religion, temperance and the suppression of vice. I thought I had merely deserved well in their opinion. When I fell on my knees and prayed the glory of the Lord spread about me and I knew that they had been divinely inspired. It was revealed to me that this was a Divine Call to represent the Truth in the Parliament of the nation."

"I remember your saying, when I first had the pleasure of meeting you," Paul remarked, with unwonted dryness, "that the Kingdom of Heaven was not adequately represented in the House of Commons."

"I have not changed my opinion, Mr Savelli. The hand of God has guided my business. The hand of God is placing me in the House of Commons to work His will. You cannot oppose God's purpose, Paul Savelli-and that is why I beg you not to stand against me."

"You see, he likes yer," interjected Barney Bill, with anxiety in his glittering eyes. "That's why he's a-doing of it. He says to hisself, says he, 'ere's a young chap what I likes with his first great chance in front of him, with the eyes of the country sot on him-now if I comes in and smashes him, as I can't help myself from doing, it'll be all u-p with that young chap's glorious career. But if I warns him in time, then he can retire-find an honourable retreat-that's what he wants yer to have-an honourable retreat. Isn't that it, Silas?"

"Those are the feelings by which I am actuated," said Mr. Finn.

Paul stretched himself out in his chair, his ankles crossed, and surveyed his guests. "What do you think of it, Jane?" said he, not without a touch of irony.

She had been looking into the fire, her face in profile. Addressed, she turned. "Mr. Finn has your interests very deep at heart," she answered tonelessly.

Paul jumped to his feet and laughed his fresh laugh. It was all so comic, so incredible, so mad. Yet none of them appeared to see any humour in the situation. There sat Jane and Barney Bill cowering under the influence of their crazy fishmongering apostle; and there, regarding him with a world of appeal in his sorrowful eyes, sat the apostle himself, bolt upright in his chair, an odd figure with his streaked black and white hair, ascetic face and Methodistico-Tattersall raiment. And they all seemed to expect him to obey this quaint person's fanatical whimsy.

"It's very kind indeed of you, Mr. Finn, to consult my interests in this manner," said he. "And I'm most indebted to you for your consideration. But, as I said before, I've as much reason for believing God to be on my side as you have. And I honestly believe I'm going to win this election. So I certainly won't withdraw."

"I implore you to do so. I will go on my knees and beseech you," said Mr. Finn, with hands clasped in front of him.

Paul looked round. "I'm afraid, Bill," said he, "that this is getting rather painful."

"It is painful. It's more than painful. It's horrible! It's ghastly!" cried Mr. Finn, in sudden shrill crescendo, leaping to his feet. In an instant the man's demeanour had changed. The mournful apostle had become a wild, vibrating creature with flashing eyes and fingers.

"Easy, now, Silas. Whoa! Steady!" said Barney Bill.

Silas Finn advanced on Paul and clapped his hands on his shoulders and shouted hoarsely: "For the love of God-don't thwart me in this. You can't thwart me. You daren't thwart me. You daren't thwart God."

Paul disengaged himself impatiently. The humour had passed from the situation. The man was a lunatic, a religious maniac. Again he addressed Barney Bill. "As I can't convince Mr. Finn of the absurdity of his request, I must ask you to do so for me."

"Young man," cried Silas, quivering with passion, "do not speak to God's appointed in your vanity and your arrogance. You-you-of all human beings-"

Both Jane and Barney Bill closed round him. Jane clutched his arm. "Come away. Do come away."

"Steady now, Silas," implored Barney Bill. "You see it's no use. I told you so. Come along."

"Leave me alone," shouted Finn, casting them off. "What have I to do with you? It is that young man there who defies God and me."

"Mr. Finn," said Paul, very erect, "if I have hurt your feelings I am sorry. But I fight this election. That's final. The choice no longer rests with me. I'm the instrument of my party. I desire to be courteous in every way, but you must see that it would be useless to prolong this discussion." And he moved to the door.

"Come away now, for Heaven's sake. Can't you realize it's no good?" said Jane, white to the lips.

Silas Finn again cast her off and railed and raved at her. "I will not go away," he cried in wild passion. "I will not allow my own son to raise an impious hand against the Almighty."

"Lor' lumme!" gasped Barney Bill, dropping his hat. "He's done it."

There was a silence. Silas Finn stood shaking in the middle of the room, the sweat streaming down his forehead.

Paul turned at the door and walked slowly up to him. "Your son? What do you mean?"

Jane, with wringing hands and tense, uplifted face, said in a queer cracked voice: "He promised us not to speak. He has broken his promise."

"You broke your sacred word," said Barney Bill.

The man's face grew haggard. His passion left him as suddenly as it had seized him. He collapsed, a piteous wreck, looked wide of the three, and threw out his hands helplessly. "I broke my promise. May God forgive me!"

"That's neither here nor there," said Paul, standing over him. "You must answer my question. What do you mean?"

Barney Bill limped a step or two toward him and cleared his throat. "He's quite correct, sonny. Silas Kegworthy's your father right enough."


"Yes. Changed his name for business-and other reasons."

"He?" said Paul, half dazed for the moment and pointing at Silas Finn. "His name is Kegworthy and he is my father?"

"Yes, sonny. 'Tain't my fault, or Jane's. He took his Bible oath he wouldn't tell yer. We was afraid, so we come with him."

"Then?" queried Paul, jerking a thumb toward Lancashire.

"Polly Kegworthy? Yes. She was yer mother."

Paul set his teeth and drew a deep breath-not of air, but of a million sword points, Jane watched him out of frightened eyes.

She alone, with her all but life-long knowledge of him, and with her woman's intuition, realized the death-blow that he had received. And when she saw him take it unflinching and stand proud and stern, her heart leaped toward him, though she knew that the woman in the great chased silver photograph frame on the mantelpiece, the great and radiant lady, the high and mighty and beautiful and unapproachable Princess, was the woman he loved. Paul touched his father on the wrist, and motioned to a chair.

"Please sit down. You too, please,"-he waved a hand, and himself resumed his seat in his writing chair. He turned it so that he could rest his elbow on his table and his forehead in his palm. "You claim to be my father," said he. "Barney Bill, in whom I have implicit confidence, confirms it. He says that Mrs. Button is my mother-"

"She has been dead these six years," said Barney Bill.

"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Paul.

"I didn't think it would interest yer, sonny," replied Barney Bill, in great distress. "Yer see, we conspirated together for yer never to know nothing at all about all this. Anyway, she's dead and won't worry yer any more."

"She was a bad mother to me. She is a memory of terror. I don't pretend to be grieved," said Paul; "any more than I pretend to be overcome by filial emotion at the present moment. But, if you are my father, I should be glad to know-in fact, I think I'm entitled to know-why you've taken thirty years to reveal yourself, and why"-a sudden fury swept him-"why you've come now to play hell with my life."

"It is the will of God," said Silas Finn, in deep dejection.

Paul snapped three or four fingers. "Bah!" he cried. "Talk sense. Talk facts. Leave God out of the question for a while. It's blasphemy to connect Him with a sordid business like this. Tell me about myself-my parentage-let me know where I am."

"You're with three people as loves yer, sonny," said Barney Bill. "What passes in this room will never be known to another soul on earth."

"That I swear," said Silas Finn.

"You can publish it broadcast in every newspaper in England," said Paul. "I'm making no bargains. Good God! I'm asking for nothing but the truth. What use I make of it is my affair. You can do-the three of you-what you like. Let the world know. It doesn't matter. It's I that matter-my life and my conscience and my soul that matter."

"Don't be too hard upon me," Silas besought him very humbly.

"Tell me about myself," said Paul.

Silas Finn wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and covered his eyes with his hand. "That can only mean telling you about myself," he said. "It's raking up a past which I had hoped, with God's help, to bury. But I have sinned to-night, and it is my punishment to tell you. And you have a right to know. My father was a porter in Covent Garden Market. My mother-I've already mentioned-"

"Yes-the Sicilian and the barrel organ-I remember," said Paul, with a shiver.

"I had a hard boyhood. But I rose a little above my class. I educated myself more or less. At last I became assistant in a fishmonger's shop. Our friend Simmons here and I were boys together. We fell in love with the same girl. I married her. Not long afterward she gave way to drink. I found that in all kinds of ways I had mistaken her character. I can't describe your own mother to you. She had a violent temper. So had I. My life was a hell upon earth. One day she goaded me beyond my endurance and I struck at her with a knife. I meant at the bloodred instant to kill her. But I didn't. I nearly killed her. I went to prison for three years. When I came out she had vanished, taking you with her. In prison I found the Grace of God and I vowed it should be my guide through life. As soon as I was free from police supervision I changed my name-I believe it's a good old Devonshire name; my father came from there-the prison taint hung about it. Then, when I found I could extend a miserable little business I had got together, I changed it again to suit my trade. That's about all."

There was a spell of dead silence. The shrunken man, stricken with a sense of his sin of oath-breaking, had Spoken without change of attitude, his hand over his eyes. Paul, too, sat motionless, and neither Jane nor Barney Bill spoke. Presently Silas Finn continued:

"For many years I tried to find my wife and son-but it was not God's will. I have lived with the stain of murder on my soul"-his voice sank-"and it has never been washed away. Perhaps it will be in God's good time.... And I had condemned my son to a horrible existence-for I knew my wife was not capable of bringing you up in the way of clean living. I was right. Simmons has since told me-and I was crushed beneath the burden of my sins."

After a pause he raised a drawn face and went on to tell of his meeting, the year before, with Barney Bill, of whom he had lost track when the prison doors had closed behind him. It had been in one of his Fish Palaces where Bill was eating. They recognized each other. Barney Bill told his tale: how he had run across Polly Kegworthy after a dozen years' wandering; how, for love of his old friend, he had taken Paul, child of astonishing promise, away from Bludston-

"Do you remember, sonny, when I left you alone that night and went to the other side of the brickfield? It was to think it out," said Bill. "To think out my duty as a man."

Paul nodded. He was listening, with death in his heart. The whole fantastic substructure of his life had been suddenly kicked away, and his life was an inchoate ruin. Gone was the glamour of romance in which since the day of the cornelian heart he had had his essential being. Up to an hour ago he had never doubted his mysterious birth. No real mother could have pursued an innocent child with Polly Kegworthy's implacable hatred. His passionate repudiation of her had been a cardinal article of his faith. On the other hand, the prince and princess theory he had long ago consigned to the limbo of childish things; but the romance of his birth, the romance of his high destiny, remained a vital part of his spiritual equipment. His looks, his talents, his temperament, his instincts, his dreams had been irrefutable confirmations. His mere honesty, his mere integrity, had been based on this fervent and unshakable creed. And now it had gone. No more romance. No more glamour. No more Vision Splendid now faded into the light of common and sordid day. Outwardly listening, his gay, mobile face turned to iron, he lived in a molten intensity of thought, his acute brain swiftly coordinating the ironical scraps of history. He was the son of Polly Kegworthy. So far he was unclean; but hitherto her blood had not manifested itself in him. He was the son of this violent and pathetic fanatic, this ex-convict; he had his eyes, his refined face; perhaps he inherited from him the artistic temperament-he recalled grimly the daubs on the man's walls, and his purblind gropings toward artistic self-expression; and all this-the Southern handsomeness, and Southern love of colour, had come from his Sicilian grandmother, the nameless drab, with bright yellow handkerchief over swarthy brows, turning the handle of a barrel organ in the London streets. Instinct had been right in its promptings to assume an Italian name; but the irony of it was of the quality that makes for humour in hell. And his very Christian name-Paul-the exotic name which Polly Kegworthy would not have given to a brat of hers-was but a natural one for a Silas to give his son, a Silas born of generations of evangelical peasants. His eyes rested on the photograph of his Princess. She, first of all, was gone with the Vision. An adventurer he had possibly been; but an adventurer of romance, carried high by his splendid faith, and regarding his marriage with the Princess but as a crowning of his romantic destiny. But now he beheld himself only as a base-born impostor. His Princess was gone from his life. Death was in his heart.

He saw his familiar, luxurious room as in a dream, and Jane, anxious-eyed, looking into the fire, and Barney Bill a little way off, clutching his hard felt hat against his body; but his eyes were fixed on the strange, many-passioned, unbalanced man who claimed to be-nay, who was-his father.

"When I first met you that night my heart went out to you," he was saying. "It overflowed in thankfulness to God that He had delivered you out of the power of the Dog, and in His inscrutable mercy had condoned that part of my sin as a father and had set you in high places."

With the fringe of his brain Paul recognized, for the first time, how he brought into ordinary talk the habits of speech acquired in addressing a Free Zionist congregation.

"It was only the self-restraint," Silas continued, "taught me by bitter years of agony and a message from God that it was part of my punishment not to acknowledge you as my son-"

"And what I told you, and what Jane told you about him," said Barney Bill. "Remember that, Silas."

"I remember it-it was these influences that kept me silent. But we were drawn together, Paul." He bent forward in his chair. "You liked me. In spite of all our differences of caste and creed-you liked me."

"Yes, I was drawn to you," said Paul, and a strange, unknown note in his voice caused Jane to glance at him swiftly. "You seemed to be a man of many sorrows and deep enthusiasms-and I admit I was in close sympathy with you." He paused, not moving from his rigid attitude, and then went on: "What you have told me of your sufferings-and I know, with awful knowledge, the woman who was my mother-has made me sympathize with you all the more. But to express that sympathy in any way you must give me time. I said you had played hell with my life. It's true. One of these days I may be able to explain. Not now. There's no time. We're caught up in the wheels of an inexorable political machine. I address my party in the constituency to-night." It was a cold intelligence that spoke, and once more Jane flashed a half-frightened glance at him. "What I shall say to them, in view of all this, I don't quite know. I must have half an hour to think."

"I know I oughtn't to interfere, Paul," said Jane, "but you mustn't blame Mr. Finn too much. Although he differs from you in politics and so on, he loves you and is proud of you-as we all are-and looks forward to your great career-I know it only too well. And now he has this deep conviction that he has a call from on High to ruin your career at the very beginning. Do understand, Paul, that he feels himself in a very terrible position."

"I do," said Mr. Finn. "God knows that if it weren't for His command, I should myself withdraw."

"I appreciate your position, perfectly," replied Paul, "but that doesn't relieve me of my responsibilities."

Silas Finn rose and locked the fingers of both hands together and stood before Paul, with appealing eyes. "My son, after what I have said, you are not going to stand against me?"

Paul rose too. A sudden craze of passion swept him. "My country has been my country for thirty years. You have been my father for five minutes. I stand by my country."

Silas Finn turned away and waved a haphazard hand. "And I must stand by my God."

"Very well. That brings us to our original argument. 'Political foes. Private friends.'"

Silas turned again and looked into the young man's eyes. "But father and son, Paul."

"All the more honourable. There'll be no mud-throwing. The cleanest election of the century."

The elder man again covered his face with both hands, and his black and white streaked hair fell over his fingers and the great diamond in his ring flashed oddly, and he rocked his head for a while to and fro.

"I had a call," he wailed. "I had a call. I had a call from God. It was clear. It was absolute. But you don't understand these things. His will must prevail. It was terrible to think of crushing your career-my only son's career. I brought these two friends to help me persuade you not to oppose me. I did my best, Paul. I promised them not to resort to the last argument. But flesh is weak. For the first time since-you know-the knife-your mother-I lost self-control. I shall have to answer for it to my God-" He stretched out his arms and looked haggardly at Paul. "But it is God's will. It is God's will that I should voice His message to the Empire. Paul, Paul, my beloved son-you cannot flout Almighty God."

"Your God doesn't happen to be my God," said Paul, once more suspicious-and now hideously so-of religious mania. "And possibly the real God is somebody else's God altogether. Anyway, England's the only God I've got left, and I'm going to fight for her."

The door opened and Wilton, the man-servant, appeared. He looked round. "I beg your pardon, sir."

Paul crossed the room. "What is it?"

"Her Highness, sir," he said in his well-trained, low voice, "and the Colonel and Miss Winwood. I told them you were engaged. But they've been waiting for over half-an-hour, sir."

Paul drew himself up. "Why did you not tell me before? Her Highness is not to be kept waiting. Present my respectful compliments to Her Highness, and ask her and Colonel and Miss Winwood to have the kindness to come upstairs."

"We had better go," cried Jane in sudden fear.

"No," said he. "I want you all to stay."

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