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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 26135

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"HE had the stroke in the night," said Barney Bill suddenly.

Paul turned sharply on him. "Why wasn't I told?"

"Could you have cured him?"

"Of course not."

"Could you have done him any good?"

"I ought to have been told."

"You had enough of worries before you for one day, sonny."

"That was my business," said Paul.

"Jane and I, being as it were responsible parties, took the liberty, so to speak, of thinking it our business too."

Paul drummed impatiently on his knees.

"Yer ain't angry, are you, sonny?" the old man asked plaintively.

"No-not angry-with you and Jane-certainly not. I know you acted for the best, out of love for me. But you shouldn't have deceived me. I thought it was a mere nervous breakdown-the strain and shock. You never said a word about it, and Jane, when I talked to her this morning, never gave me to dream there was anything serious amiss. So I say you two have deceived me."

"But I'm a telling of yer, sonny-"

"Yes, yes, I know. I don't reproach you. But don't you see? I'm sick of lies. Dead sick. I've been up to my neck in a bog of falsehood ever since I was a child and I'm making a hell of a struggle to get on to solid ground. The Truth for me now. By God! nothing but the Truth!"

Barney Bill, sitting forward, hunched up, on the seat of the car, just as he used to sit on the footboard of his van, twisted his head round. "I'm not an eddicated person," said he, "although if I hadn't done a bit of reading in my time I'd have gone dotty all by my lones in the old 'bus, but I've come to one or two conclusions in my, so to speak, variegated career, and one is that if you go on in that 'ere mad way for Truth in Parliament, you'll be a bull in a china shop, and they'll get sticks and dawgs to hustle you out. Sir Robert Peel, old Gladstone, Dizzy, the whole lot of the old Yuns was up against it. They had to compromise. It's compromise"-the old man dwelt lovingly, as usual, on the literary word-"it's compromise you must have in Parliament."

"I'll see Parliament damned first!" cried Paul, his nerves on edge.

"You'll have to wait a long time, sonny," said Barney Bill, wagging a sage head. "Parliament takes a lot of damning."

"Anyhow," said Paul, not eager to continue the argument, but unconsciously caught in the drift of Barney Bill's philosophy, "my private life isn't politics, and there's not going to be another lie in my private life as long as I live."

The old man broke a short silence with a dry chuckle. "How it takes one back!" he said reflectively. "Lor lumme! I can hear yer speaking now-just in the same tone-the night what yer run away with me. Yer hadn't a seat to yer breeches then, and now you've a seat in Parliament." He chuckled again at his joke. "But"-he gripped the young man's knee in his bony clasp-"you're just the same Paul, sonny, God bless yer-and you'll come out straight all right. Here we are."

The car drew up before Silas Finn's house. They entered. Jane, summoned, came down at once and met them in the dreadful dining-room, where a simple meal was spread.

"I haven't heard-" she said.

"I'm in."

"I'm glad."

"My father-?" he asked curtly.

She looked at him wide-eyed for a second or two as he stood, his fur-lined coat with astrachan collar thrown open, his hand holding a soft felt hat on his hip, his absurdly beautiful head thrown back, to casual glance the Fortunate Youth of a month or two ago. But to Jane's jealous eye he was not even the man she had seen that afternoon. He looked many years older. She confessed afterwards to surprise at not finding his hair grey at the temples, thus manifesting her ordered sense of the harmonious. She confessed, too, that she was frightened-Jane who, for any other reason than the mere saving of her own skin, would have stolidly faced Hyrcanean tigers-at the stern eyes beneath the contracted brows. He was a different Paul altogether. And here we have the divergence between the masculine and the feminine point of view. Jane saw a new avatar; Barney Bill the ragged urchin of the Bludston brick-fields. She shifted her glance to the old man. He, standing crookedly, cocked his head and nodded.

"He knows all about it."

"Yes, yes," said Paul. "How is my father?"

Jane threw out her hands in the Englishwoman's insignificant gesture. "He's unconscious-has been for hours-the nurse is up with him-the end may come any moment. I hid it from you till the last for your own sake. Would you care to go upstairs?"

She moved to the door. Paul threw off his overcoat and, followed by Barney Bill, accompanied her. On the landing they were met by the nurse.

"It is all over," she said.

"I will go in for a moment," said Paul. "I should like to be alone."

In a room hung like the rest of the house with gaudy pictures he stood for a short while looking at the marble face of the strange-souled, passionate being that had been his father. The lids had closed for ever over the burning, sorrowful eyes; the mobile lips were for ever mute. In his close sympathy with the man Paul knew what had struck him down. It was not the blow of the nameless enemy, but the stunning realization that he was not, after all, the irresistible nominee of the Almighty. His great faith had not suffered; for the rigid face was serene, as though he had accepted this final chastisement and purification before entrance into the Eternal Kingdom; but his high pride, the mainspring of his fanatical life, had been broken and the workings of the physical organism had been arrested. In those few moments of intense feeling, in the presence of death, it was given to Paul to tread across the threshold of the mystery of his birth. Here lay stiff and cold no base clay such as that of which Polly Kegworthy had been formed. It had been the tenement of a spirit beautiful and swift. No matter to what things he himself had been born-he had put that foolishness behind him-at all events his dream had come partly true. His father had been one of the great ones, one of the conquerors, one of the high princes of men. Multitudes of kings had not been so parented. Outwardly a successful business man and a fanatical Dissenter-there were thousands like Silas Finn. But Paul knew his inner greatness, the terrific struggle of his soul, the warrings between fierce blood and iron will, the fervent purpose, the lofty aspirations and the unwavering conduct of his life of charity and sorrow. He stretched out his hand and with his finger tips lightly touched the dead man's forehead. "I'm proud to be your son," he murmured.

Then the nurse came in and Paul went downstairs. Barney Bill waylaid him in the hall, and led him into the dining-room. "Have a little food and drink, sonny. You look as if yer need it-especially drink. 'Ere." He seized a decanter of whisky-since Paul's first visit, Silas had always kept it in the house for his son's comforting-and would have filled the tumbler had not Paul restrained him. He squirted in the soda. "Drink it down and you'll feel better."

Paul swallowed a great gulp. "Yes," he agreed. "There are times when it does help a man."

"Liquor is like a dawg," said Bill. "Keep it in subjection, so to speak, and it's yer faithful friend."

"Where's Jane?" Paul asked.

"She's busy. Half the borough seem to be calling, or telephoning"-and even at that moment Paul could hear the maid tripping across the hall and opening the front door-"I've told her what occurred. She seemed half skeered. She's had a dreadful day, pore gal."

"She has indeed," said Paul.

He threw himself into a chair, dead beat, at the end of emotional strain, and remained talking with the old man of he scarce knew what. But these two-Jane and the old man-were linked to him by imperishable ties, and he could not leave them yet awhile in the house of death. Barney Bill stirred the fire, which blazed up, making the perky animals on the hearth cast faint and fantastic shadows.

"It's funny how he loved those darned little beasts, isn't it now? I remember of him telling me as how they transported him into magic something-or the other-medi-he had a word for it-I dunno-"

"Mediaeval?"

"That's it, sonny. Mediaeval forests. It means back of old times, don't it? King Arthur and his Round Table-I done a bit of reading, yer know." The old man took out pouch and pipe. "That's what drew us together, sonny, our taste for literature. Remember?"

"Can I ever forget?" said Paul.

"Well, he was like that too. He had lots of po'try in him-not the stuff that rhymes, yer know, like 'The Psalm of Life' and so forth, but real po'try. I wish I could tell yer what I mean-" His face was puckered into a thousand wrinkles with the intellectual effort, and his little diamond eyes gleamed. "He could take a trumpery common thing like that there mug-faced, lop-eared hare and make it stand for the medi-what-you-call-it-forest. I've said to him, 'Come out with me on the old 'bus if you want green and loneliness and nature.' And he has said-I recollect one talk in particular-he said, 'I'd love to hear' something about a pipe-I'm getting old, sonny-"

"The Pipes of Pan?" Paul suggested.

"The very words. Lor lumme! how did you guess it?" He paused, his fingers holding the lighted match, which went out before he could apply it to his tobacco. "Yus. 'The Pipes of Pan.' I don't know what it means. Anyway, he said he'd love to hear them in the real forest, but duty kept him to bricks and mortar and so he had to hear them in imagination. He said that all them footling little beasts were a-listening to 'em, and they told him all about it. I remember he told me more about the woods than I know myself-and I reckon I could teach his business to any gamekeeper or poacher in England. I don't say as how he knew the difference between a stoat and a weasel-he didn't. A cock-pheasant and a hen-partridge would have been the same to him. But the spirit of it-the meaning of it-he fair raised my hair off-he knew it a darned sight better nor I. And that's what I set out for to say, sonny. He had po'try in him. And all this"-he swept an all-inclusive hand-"all this meant to him something that you and I can't tumble to, sonny. It meant something different to what it looked like-ah!" and impatient at his impotence to express philosophic thought, he cast another lighted match angrily into the fire.

Paul, high product of modern culture, sat in wonder at the common old fellow's clarity of vision. Tears rolled down his cheek. "I know, dear old Bill, what you're trying to say. Only one man has ever been able to say it. A mad poet called Blake.

'To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower;

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour'."

Barney Bill started forward in his chair and clapped his hand on the young man's knee. "By gum! you've got it. That's what I was a-driving at. That's Silas. I call to mind when he was a boy-pretty dirty and ragged he was too-as he used to lean over the parapet of Blackfriars Bridge and watch the current sort of swirling round the piers, and he used to say as how he could hear what the river was saying. I used to think him loony. But it was po'try, sonny, all the time."

The old man, thus started on reminiscence, continued, somewhat garrulous, and Paul, sunk in the armchair by the fire, listened indulgently, waiting for Jane. She, meanwhile, was occupied upstairs and in the library answering telephone messages and sending word out to callers by the maid. For, on the heels of Paul, as Barney Bill had said, many had come on errand of inquiry and condolence and all the news agencies and newspapers of London seemed to be on the telephone. Some of the latter tried for speech with the newly elected candidate whom they understood to be in the house, but Jane denied them firmly. She had had some training as a politician's private secretary. At last the clanging bell ceased ringing, and the maid ceased running to and from the street door, and the doctor had come and given his certificate and gone, and Jane joined the pair in the dining-room. She brought in from the hall a tray of visiting cards and set it on the table. "I suppose it was kind of them all to come," she said.

She sat down listlessly in a straight-backed chair, and then, at a momentary end of her fine strength suddenly broke into tears and sobs and buried her head on her arms. Paul rose, bent over her and clasped her shoulders comfortingly. Presently she turned and blindly sought his embrace. He raised her to her feet, and they stood as they had done years ago, when, boy and girl, they had come to the parting of their ways. She cried silently for a while, and then she said miserably: "I've only you left, dear."

In this hour of spent effort and lassitude it was a queer physical comfort, very pure and sweet, to feel the close contact of her young, strong body. She, too, out of the wreck, was all that he had left. His clasp tightened, and he murmured soothing wo

rds.

"Oh, my dear, I am so tired," she said, giving herself up, for her part also, to the foolish solace of his arms. "I wish I could stay here always, Paul."

He whispered: "Why not?"

Indeed, why not? Instinct spoke. His people were her people and her people his. And she had proved herself a brave, true woman. Before him no longer gleamed the will-o'-the-wisp leading him a fantastic dance through life. Before him lay only darkness. Jane and he, hand in hand, could walk through it fearless and undismayed. And her own great love, shown unashamed in the abandonment of this moment of intense emotion' made his pulses throb. He whispered again: "Why not?"

For answer she nestled closer. "If only you could love me a little, little bit?"

"But I do," said Paul hoarsely.

She shook her head and sobbed afresh, and they stood in close embrace at the end of the room by the door, regardless of the presence of the old man who sat, his back to them, smoking his pipe and looking, with his birdlike crook of the neck, meditatively into the fire. "No, no," said Jane, at last. "It's silly of me. Forgive me. We mustn't talk of such things. Neither of us is fit to-and to-night it's not becoming. I have lost my father and you are only my brother, Paul dear."

Barney Bill broke in suddenly; and at the sound of his voice they moved apart. "Think over it, sonny. Don't go and do anything rash."

"Don't you think it would be wise for Jane to marry me?"

"Ay-for Jane."

"Not for me?"

"It's only wise for a man to marry a woman what he loves," said Barney Bill.

"Well?"

"You said, when we was a-driving here, as you are going to live for the Truth and nothing but the Truth. I only mention it," added the old man drily.

Jane recovered herself, with a gulp in the throat, and before Paul could answer said: "We too had a talk to-day, Paul. Remember," her voice quavered a little-"about carrots."

"You were right in essence," said Paul, looking at her gravely. "But I should have my incentive. I know my own mind. My affection for you is of the deepest. That is Truth-I needn't tell you. We could lead a happy and noble life together."

"We belong to two different social classes, Paul," she said gently, again sitting in the straight-backed chair by the table.

"We don't," he replied. "I repudiated my claims to the other class this evening. I was admitted into what is called high society, partly because people took it for granted that I was a man of good birth. Now that I've publicly proclaimed that I'm not-and the newspapers will pretty soon find out all about me now-I'll drop out of that same high society. I shan't seek readmittance."

"People will seek you."

"You don't know the world," said he.

"It must be mean and horrid."

"Oh, no. It's very just and honourable. I shan't blame it a bit for not wanting me. Why should I? I don't belong to it."

"But you do, dear Paul," she cried earnestly. "Even if you could get rid of your training and mode of thought, you can't get rid of your essential self. You've always been an aristocrat, and I've always been a small shop-keeper's daughter and shall continue to be one."

"And I say," Paul retorted, "that we've both sprung from the people, and are of the people. You've raised yourself above the small shop-keeping class just as much as I have. Don't let us have any sham humility about it. Whatever happens you'll always associate with folk of good-breeding and education. You couldn't go back to Barn Street. It would be idiotic for me to contemplate such a thing for my part. But between Barn Street and Mayfair there's a refined and intellectual land where you and I can meet on equal ground and make our social position. What do you say?"

She did not look at him, but fingered idly the cards on the tray. "To-morrow you will think differently. To-night you're all on the strain."

"And, axing yer pardon, sonny, for chipping in," said the old man, holding up his pipe in his gnarled fingers, "you haven't told her as how you loves her-not as how a young woman axed in marriage ought to be told."

"I've spoken the Truth, dear old friend," said Paul. "I've got down to bed-rock to-night. I have a deep and loyal affection for Jane. I shan't waver in it all my life long. I'll soon find my carrot, as she calls it-it will be England's greatness. She is the woman that will help me on my path. I've finished with illusions for ever and ever. Jane is the bravest and grandest of realities. To-night's work has taught me that. For me, Jane stands for the Truth. Jane-"

He turned to her, but she had risen from her chair, staring at a card which she held in her hand. Her clear eyes met his for an instant as she threw the card on the table before him. "No, dear. For you, that's the Truth."

He took it up and looked at it stupidly. It bore a crown and the inscription: "The Princess Sophie Zobraska," and a pencilled line, in her handwriting: "With anxious inquiries." He reeled, as if someone had dealt him a heavy blow on the head. He recovered to see Jane regarding him with her serene gravity. "Did you know about this?" he asked dully.

"No. I've just seen the card. I found it at the bottom of the pile."

"How did it come?"

Jane rang the bell. "I don't know. If Annie's still up, we can find out. As it was at the bottom, it must have been one of the first."

"How could the news have travelled so fast?" said Paul.

The maid came in. Questioned, she said that just after Paul had gone upstairs, and while Jane was at the telephone, a chauffeur had presented the card. He belonged to a great lighted limousine in which sat a lady in hat and dark veil. According to her orders, she had said that Mr. Finn was dead, and the chauffeur had gone away and she had shut the door.

The maid was dismissed. Paul stood on the hearthrug with bent brows, his hands in his jacket pockets. "I can't understand it," he said.

"She must ha' come straight from the Town Hall," said Barney Bill.

"But she wasn't there," cried Paul.

"Sonny," said the old fellow, "if you're always dead sure of where a woman is and where a woman isn't, you're a wiser man than Solomon with all his wives and other domestic afflictions."

Paul threw the card into the fire. "It doesn't matter where she was," said he. "It was a very polite-even a gracious act to send in her card on her way home. But it makes no difference to what I was talking about. What have I got to do with princesses? They're out of my sphere. So are Naiads and Dryads and Houris and Valkyrie and other fabulous ladies. The Princess Zobraska has nothing to do with the question."

He made a step towards Jane and, his hand on her shoulder, looked at her in his new, masterful way. "I come in the most solemn hour and in the crisis of my life to ask you to marry me. My father, whom I've only learned to love and revere to-night, is lying dead upstairs. To-night I have cut away all bridges behind me. I go into the unknown. We'll have to fight, but we'll fight together. You have courage, and I at least have that. There's a seat in Parliament which I'll have to fight for afterwards like a dog for a bone, and an official position which brings in enough bread and-butter-"

"And there's a fortune remarked Barney Bill.

"What do you mean?" Paul swung round sharply.

"Yer father's fortune, sonny. Who do yer suppose he was a-going to leave it to? 'Omes for lost 'orses or Free Zionists? I don't know as 'ow I oughter talk of it, him not buried yet-but I seed his will when he made it a month or two ago, and barring certain legacies to Free Zionists and such-like lunatic folk, not to speak of Jane ere being left comfortably off, you're the residuary legatee, sonny-with something like a hundred thousand pounds. There's no talk of earning bread-and-butter, sonny."

"It never entered my head," said Paul, rather dazed. "I suppose a father would leave his money to his son. I didn't realize it." He passed his hand over his eyes. "So many things have happened to-night. Anyhow," he said, smiling queerly, in his effort to still a whirling brain, "if there are no anxieties as to ways and means, so much the better for Jane and me. I am all the more justified in asking you to marry me. Will you?"

"Before I answer you, Paul dear," she replied steadily, "you must answer me. I've known about the will, just like Bill, all the time-"

"She has that," confirmed the old man.

"So this isn't news to me, dear, and can't alter anything from me to you."

"Why should it?" asked Paul. "But it makes my claim a little stronger."

"Oh, no," she replied, shaking her head. "It only-only confuses issues. Money has nothing to do with what I'm going to ask you. You said to-night you were going to live for the Truth-the real naked Truth. Now, Paul dear, I want the real, naked Truth. Do you love that woman?"

At her question she seemed to have grown from the common sense, clear-eyed Jane into a great and commanding presence. She had drawn herself to her full height. Her chin was in the air, her generous bust thrown forward, her figure imperious, her eyes intense. And Paul too drew himself up and looked at her in his new manhood. And they stood thus for a while, beloved enemies.

"If you want the Truth-yes, I do love her," said he.

"Then how dare you ask me to be your wife?"

"Because the one is nonsensical and illusory and the other is real and practical."

She flashed out angrily: "Do you suppose I can live my woman's life on the real and practical? What kind of woman do you take me for? An Amelia, a Patient Griselda, a tabby cat?"

Paul said: "You know very well; I take you for one of the greatest-hearted of women. I've already said it to-night."

"Do you think I'm a greater-hearted woman than she? Wait, I've not finished," she cried in a loud voice. "Your Princess-you cut her heart into bits the other day, when you proclaimed yourself a low-born impostor. She thought you a high-born gentleman, and you told her of the gutter up north and the fried-fish shop and the Sicilian organ-grinding woman. She, royalty-you of the scum! She left you. This morning she learned worse. She learned that you were the son of a convict. What does she do? She comes somehow-I don't know how-to Hickney Heath and hears you publicly give yourself away-and she drives straight here with a message for you. It's for you, the message. Who else?" She stood before Paul, a flashing Jane unknown. "Would a woman who didn't love you come to this house to-night? She wouldn't, Paul. You know it! Dear old Bill here, who hasn't moved in royal circles, knows it. No, my dear man," she said regally, "I've given you all my love-everything that is in me-since I was a child of thirteen. You will always have it. It's my great joy that you'll always have it. But, by God, Paul, I'm not going to exchange it for anything less. Can you give me the same?"

"You know I can't," said Paul. "But I can give you that which would make our marriage a happy one. I believe the experience of the world has shown it to be the securest basis."

She was on the point of breaking out, but turned away, with clenched hands, and, controlling herself, faced him again. "You're an honourable and loyal man, Paul, and you're saying this to save your face. I know that you would marry me. I know that you would be faithful to me in thought and word and act. I know that you would be good and kind and never give me a moment's cause for complaint. But your heart would be with the other woman. Whether she's out of your sphere or not-what does it matter to me? You love her and she loves you. I know it. I should always know it. You'd be living in hell and so should I. I should prefer to remain in purgatory, which, after all, is quite bearable-I'm used to it-and I love you enough to wish to see you in paradise."

She turned away with a wide gesture and an upward inflexion of her voice. Barney Bill refilled his pipe and fixed Paul with his twinkling diamond eyes. "It's a pity, sonny-a dodgasted pity!"

"We're up against the Truth, old man, the unashamed and naked truth," said Paul, with a sigh.

Jane caught Paul's fur-lined coat and hat from the chair on which he had thrown it and came to him. "It's time for you to go and rest, dear. We're all of us exhausted."

She helped him on with the heavy coat, and for farewell put both her hands on his shoulders. "You must forget a lot of things I've said to-night."

"I can't help remembering them."

"No, dear. Forget them." She drew his face down and kissed him on the lips. Then she led him out to the front door and accompanied him down the steps to the kerb where the car with its weary chauffeur was waiting. The night had cleared and the stars shone bright in the sky. She pointed to one, haphazard. "Your star, Paul. Believe in it still."

He drove off. She entered the house, and, flinging herself on the floor by Barney Bill, buried her head on the old man's knees and sobbed her brave heart out.

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