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   Chapter 27 No.27

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 34572

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The thing goes now at a most frightful pace for Rosalie. One hates the slow, laborious written word that tries to show it. There needs a pen with wings or that by leaping violence of script, by characters blotched, huge and run together, would symbolise the pace at which the thing now goes. There's no procession of the days. Immersed in work or lost in pleasure, there never is procession of the days, so hurtling fast goes life. They crowd. They're driven past like snow across a window pane. The calendar astounds. It is the first of the month, and lo, it is the tenth. It's the sixteenth-half gone!-while yet it scarcely had begun; a day after the twentieth is the date; it's next the twenty-fifth; it's next-the month has gone.... The month! It is a season that has flown. Here's Summer where only yesterday the buds of Spring; here's Winter, coming-gone!-while yet the leaves seem falling.

It was like that the thing now went with Rosalie.

They call it a race. It isn't a race, living like that. It's a pursuit. Engaged in it, you're not in rivalry, you are in flight. You're fleeing all the time the reckoning; and he's a sulky savage, forced to halt to gather up what you have shed, ordered to pause to note the things that you have missed, and at each duty cutting notches in a stick.

That is his tally which, come up, he will present to you.

Well, best perhaps to take that tally stick to try by it to show the pace at which the thing now went. Rosalie, when all was done, could run the tally over (you have to) in thought, that lightning vehicle that makes to crawl the swiftest agency of man's invention: runs through a lifetime while the electric telegraph is stammering a line; reads memory in twenty volumes between the whiff and passing of some remembered scent that's opened them; travels a life again, cradle to grave, between the vision's lighting on and lifting from some token of the past.

All's done; some years rush on; she sits in retrospection, that tally stick in hand; and thought, first hovering, would always start for her from when, returned to her career, the thing at frightful pace began to go; and then, from there, away! from scene to scene (the notches cut by reckoning in his stick) rending the womb of memory in dread delivery, as it were flash on flash of lightning bursting the vault of night from east to west across the world.

Her thoughts first hovering: There's Huggo and there's Doda and there's Benji! Her children! Her darling ones! Her lovely ones! Love's crown; and, what was more, worn in the persons of those darling joys of hers in signal, almost arrogant in her disdain of precedent to the contrary, that woman might be mother and yet live freely and unfettered by her home, precisely as man is father but follows a career. Ah....

Away! The womb of memory is rent, and rent, delivers.

Look, there they are! She's down with one or other at some gala at their schools. It's Founders' Day at Tidborough, or it's at Doda's school on Prize Day. Aren't they just proud to be with her and show her off, their lovely, brilliant mother so different from the other rather fussy mothers that come crowding down! All the masters and all the mistresses know the uncommon woman that she is. The children, growing older, know it. "You must be very proud of your mother." It has been said (the self-same words) to each of them by their respective principals. Nice! Nice to have your children proud of you!

Look, there's Huggo telling her how the headmaster had said the thing to him (she's just walking with her Huggo across the cricket ground on Founders' Day). "And a sloppy young ass that heard him," says Huggo, "oh, an awful ass, asked me why the Head had said I must be proud of you, and I told him, and I said, 'I bet you're not proud of your mother.' And he said, 'Of my father, I am. He got the V. C. in South Africa.' So I said, 'Yes, but proud of your mother?' So this frightful ass said-what do you think he said? 'No, I'm not proud of my mother. I don't think I'd want to be. I only love her.'"

Huggo mimicked the voice in which the frightful ass had said this; and Rosalie, at the words and at his tone, had across her body a sudden chill, as it were physical. She wanted to say something. But it was the kind of thing you couldn't, somehow, say to Huggo, at fifteen. But she said it. "Huggo, you do love me, don't you?"

He turned to her a face curiously thin-lipped. "Oh, I say, mother, do look out, some one might hear you!"

Her Huggo! (She wants to stop the passing scenes and to stretch out to him across the years her arms.) Her Huggo! The one that first along her arm had laid; the scrap that first within her eyes adoring tears had brimmed; her baby boy, her tiny manling, her tiny hugging one, her first born! It is in retrospection that she sits and there's expelled for ever from her face that aspect mutinous, intolerant, defiant, that used to visit there. That, when she housed it, was the aspect of the young man Ishmael whose hand was against every man. She is like Hagar now to be imagined, sitting over against these things a good way off, as it were a bowshot.

Strike on!

Her Huggo! Look, that's the day they got that bad report of him from school. She had questioned Harry about a letter in his post and, naming the headmaster of Tidborough, "Yes, it's from Hammond," he had answered her.

"About Huggo?"

"Yes, it's about Huggo."

Nothing more. They were beginning to have exchanges terse as that.

She said presently, "I suppose it would interest me, wouldn't it?"

His face was very hard. "Do you want to know the answer I feel like giving to that?"

"I've asked for it, haven't I, Harry?"

"You shall have it. The answer is that I think what the letter says implicates you."

She preserved her composure. She by now had had practice in preserving her composure. "What's the matter, Harry?"

"Hammond says-as good as says-that Huggo will have to be withdrawn from Tidborough."

She knew perfectly well that this was only leading up to something. "May I hear?"

"You may." He took up the letter and read from it. "'Apart from that, and it would of course be the reason given-the other, I am confident, is susceptible of change-apart from that, the boy has now twice failed to keep his place in the school. If he does not get his remove in the coming term I shall be compelled to ask you to remove him.'" He put down the letter and looked at her. "That'll be nice, won't it?"

She made an appeal. "Harry, don't. I mean, don't talk like that. It won't happen."

He softened in no degree. He said sternly: "It will happen."

She persevered. "I'm quite sure it won't. You've only got to talk seriously to Huggo. This coming holidays you can get him some coaching. He's got brains."

There was a steely note in Harry's voice: "Oh, he's got brains. He can have coaching. It's what he hasn't got and what he can't get that's going to get Huggo withdrawn."

"What is it you mean?"

"A home."

She slightly raised the fingers of her hands and dropped them. This subject!

Harry said: "Hammond says more than I've told you."

"I supposed he did. 'Apart from that.' Apart from what?"

"It's Huggo's character he's writing to me about. This is what he says. 'The boy, though young, has not a good influence in his house. If I may suggest it, he does not, during the holidays, see enough of his home.'"

He folded the letter and returned it to its envelope. "Does it strike you that is going to be easy for me to answer?"

"It might be easier, Harry, if your tone made it possible for us to discuss it."

He gave a sound that was glint, as it were, of the blade in his voice: "Our discussions! I am a little tired of that blind alley, Rosalie."

She said sombrely, "And I."

"Will you suggest how the letter is to be answered?"

She said: "It's plain. If you agree with Mr. Hammond, it's plain. You can say you will stop Huggo's invitations. Harry, we're not by any means the only family that doesn't spend the whole of its holidays together. It's rather the practice nowadays, young people visiting their friends. If you think Huggo shouldn't-you can say so."

"Yes, I can say that. Tell me this. Is it going to give him a home?"

Her voice sprung from a sudden higher note. "Oh, you insist, you insist!" she cried. "You speak of blind alleys, but you insist."

He touched the letter. "This gives me ground for my insistence. This is an outsider, a stranger, appreciating how we live. This is my son, at my old school, condemned by how we live."

She interjected, "A schoolmaster's primeval animosity-blame the parent."

"Rosalie, a parent's primeval duty. We are responsible for the children. We have a duty towards them."

She softly struck her hands together. "Ah, how often, how often, and always worse! You said just now that I am implicated. It's always I. You say we have a responsibility towards the children. But you don't mean us, you mean me. Why I more than you? Why am I the accused?"

He began, "Because you-"

"Ah, don't, don't!"

But he concluded. "Because you are a woman."

Her voice that had gone high went numb. She made a gesture, as to the same reason and with the same words she'd made before, of weariness with this thing, "Ah, my God, that reason!"

Strike on!

Look, there's Huggo, failing again to get his remove, superannuated, withdrawn. There's Harry having a scene with the boy. There ought to be tears. There are tears. But they're in Harry's voice and twice he wipes his eyes. They're not in Huggo's.

Harry says to Huggo: "I say, I'm not going to be harsh; but, I say, can't you understand the disgrace; can't you understand the shame, old man? You've been at the finest school in England and you've had to leave. You're sixteen. Old man, when I was sixteen I got my footer colours. I was the youngest chap in the team. You're sixteen and you've never even got a house cap and you've had to leave. Huggo, I've never missed going down to a Founders' Day since I went to Oxford. It's always been the day of the year for me. I don't say I've ever done much in life, but every time I've been down to Founders' Day I've thought over, in the train, any little thing I may have pulled out in the year and I've felt, I've felt awfully proud to be taking it down to the old school, so to speak. Old chap, the proudest, far the proudest of all, was the year I went down when first you were there. I was proud. I'd given a son to the place. I'd got a boy there. Another Occleve was going to write the name up on the shields and rolls and things. It was the year Garnett first came down as a Cabinet Minister. Huggo, I looked old Garnett in the face with a grin. Whatever he'd done I'd got this much up on him-he hadn't given a son to the place. He hadn't got a boy there. That's how I always felt. Well, old man, it's all over. I can't go down to Founders' Day ever again. I've never missed. Now-I've had to withdraw my boy. I can't go again. I couldn't face it."

He wiped his eyes. No tears in Huggo's eyes. On Huggo's face only a look sullen and aggrieved; and sullen and aggrieved his mutter, "Well, perhaps it was different for you. I couldn't stick the place."

She gasped out, "Huggo!" but Harry had heard, and Harry, perhaps in offset to the emotion he had displayed, smashed his hand down on the table before him and cried out, "Well, keep your mouth shut about it then! Couldn't stick it! What can you be? What can be the matter with you? Couldn't stick it! Tidborough! The finest school in the world! Couldn't stick it!"

She interposed, "Harry, dear! Huggo; Huggo, tell your father you didn't mean that."

Huggo's mumble: "I'm sorry, father."

Harry's deep, kind voice: "I'm sorry too, old man. It rather jarred. Look here, this is all over. It's just been a side-slip. I've forgotten it. So has your mother. You just think over sometimes what I've said, my boy. We're fixing up this tutor's for you. You start in fresh and go like steam. Finest thing in the world a fresh start. Makes a side-slip worth while. I'm going to be-I am-prouder of you than anything on earth. My eldest boy! Like steam from now, old chap, eh?"

Strike on!

After that interview and when the boy had left the room-shambled out of the room in that sullen, aggrieved air he would always assume under correction-after that she and Harry had talked, most fondly. It was all, the talk, that poignantly affecting "fresh start" business that he'd begun with Huggo. Poignantly affecting because Harry, piling upon his love for Huggo and his pride in Huggo, which she shared, his love for his old school and his pride in it, which she could understand but could not share, had been so bravely, cheerfully earnest and assured about the future. "One who never turned his back but marched breast forward." The boy would be all right. Mice and Mumps, old lady, he'd be all right! It was just a mistake, just a side-slip. He'd got the right stuff in him, Huggo had, eh, old lady? They must just pull together to help the boy, eh?

He paused the tiniest space at that and pressed her hand and looked at her. She knew his meaning. If only....

He went on: This was a good place, this tutor's down in Norfolk they were sending him to, Harry was sure it was. It was a pity, of course, he couldn't go to another public school; but of course he couldn't; they wouldn't take him; no use worrying about that. This tutor, this man they were sending him to, was a first-class chap. Only took six pupils. Was a clergyman. Understood boys and youths who hadn't quite held their own and wanted special coaching and attention. Huggo was keen on the idea. After all, why shouldn't he have disliked Tidborough? There were such boys who didn't like public-school life. There, there! Perhaps it was the best thing that could have happened. Bet your life this was going to be the making of old Huggo, this change. This tutor and the quiet, self-reliant life there, each chap with his own jolly little bed-sitting room, would prop him up and get him into Oxford when the time came and make him no end happy and splendid.

"There, there, old lady," said Harry, and patted her and kissed her (she'd been affected). "There, there, it's going to be fine. The rest is just up to us, eh? We know the boy's weaknesses. We know what Hammond's told us about him-home life and home influences and all that stuff, and that's easy; we'll see the boy gets that, won't we?"

She used to wring her hands at that, and crying "If only!" cry again in desperation of excuse: "If only the war hadn't come! If only the war hadn't come!"

The war was on then. It was 1915. "You see," she used to appeal to the arbitrament before which, watching these pictures, she found herself, "you see, the war made everything so difficult, so impossible, so frightful, so confused, so blinding. Sturgiss had left the Bank to do war service in the Treasury. More than half the clerks had gone. We were understaffed and badly staffed at every turn. How could I give it up then? I don't say I would have. I'm on my knees. I've thrown in my hand. I'm not pretending anything or anyway trying to delude myself. I don't say I would have given it up and come home to make home life for the boy and for them all. I don't say I would. I'm only saying how infinitely harder, how impossibly harder, the war conditions made it. There was the understaffing-that alone. There was the cry about releasing a man for the front-that alone. I was releasing half a dozen men. Field said I was. I knew I was. How could I go back and be one of the women sitting at home? That alone! How could I? And there was more than that. It wasn't only the understaffing. It was Sturgiss going. I'd been absorbing the banking business for years. It was meat and drink to me. I'd had a bent for it ever since the Bagehot 'Lombard Street' days. I'd nourished my bent. I'd been encouraged to nourish my bent. The work was just a passion with me. Sturgiss went. I went practically into his place. I'd a position in banking that no woman had ever held, nor no banker ever imagined a woman ever holding, before. It was Sturgiss, a partner, I'd released for war service. It was Sturgiss's, a partner's, place I'd got. How could I give that up? How could I? How could I? If only the war hadn't come. If only...." Strike on!

It isn't all going as it should with the boy at the tutor's. But wasn't it impossible to observe, at the time, that it wasn't all going as it should? Of course (her thoughts would go) it was her fault; but was not the world, spiritual and material, in conspiracy against her, and against Huggo, and against her other darlings, to make easy her fault? Ah, that war, that war! Didn't it unsettle everybody and everything? Naturally it unsettled the boy down at the tutor's. Naturally one did not notice or foresee the trend of his unsettlement. Naturally it made plausible the excuses that he made.

There he is, down there at the tutor's. He wanted to do war work, not sitting there grinding lessons. All the tutor's pupils did. Naturally they did. The boy couldn't go in the army. He was too young. He was in a rural district. He got doing land-work

. They all did. It was supposed to be done in leisure hours. Naturally it encroached on, and unfitted for, work hours. "After all," as the tutor wrote, "how can you blame the boys? After all, it's very hard to seem to try to check this patriotic spirit." After all! Oh, why do people say "after all" when they mean quite the contrary? This was before all, this seductive escape from uncongenial duties, precedent of all, influencing to all that happened-after all. Naturally it interfered with scholastic work. That was condoned. As naturally it interfered with discipline. That was not mentioned by the tutor. If he was cognisant of it was not domestic discipline everywhere relaxed "on account of the war"?

There Huggo is. These are his holidays. After the setback at Tidborough he was to have spent all his holidays at home. He was not, for the future, to go away on invitations. That war! He never spent any of his holidays at home. How could the boy be tied down in London with this war on? He made his land-work his excuse, most plausible. He spent all his holidays with friends whose homes were in rural districts.

Then it turned out that he had not, as he had given out, been always at the house of friends. He was found in cottage lodgings living with a friend, a fellow-pupil at the tutor's; on land-work truly, but in gross deception, and in worse.

It came out quite by chance and in a way very horrible. Harry discovered it. Harry, early in 1915, had been absorbed into the Home Office. His work was very largely in connection with a special secret service body dealing with spies. He examined in private arrested suspects. He advised and he directed on criminal matters therewith connected. He was working, under immense pressure, terrible hours. He was hardly ever in to dinner. He often was away all night. He frequently was away travelling for days together. When he was seen he showed signs of strain to Rosalie.

He came in one evening about nine o'clock. It was early in 1916. Huggo was then seventeen. Rosalie heard him in the hall and heard that some one was with him. She heard him, by the dining-room door, say, "You'd better go in there and get something to eat. I'll attend to you presently."

His voice was iron hard. Who was with him? What was the matter?

He came in to her. His face was iron hard. He shut the door. "Do you know who I've got here with me? Do you know where I've been? Do you know what's happened?"

His manner was extraordinary. His voice was like heavy axes, thudding. His face was dark and passionate, menacing. Happened? Things were always happening in these appalling days. She said, "Oh, what is it, Harry?"

"It's Huggo."



Like axes! It seemed that, of his passion (and she never before had seen passion in his face), he scarcely could speak. He fought for words. When they came out they thudded out.

"Do you know where Huggo's been this past month?"

"With the Thorntons, his friends."

"He's not. He's lied. He's been living with some blackguard friend in rooms in Turnhampton, in Buckinghamshire."

"Harry! Doing what? Land-work?"

"Land-work! Loafing! Drinking!"

"Drinking? Huggo?"

"Listen to me. This is what I've come to. This is what that boy's come to. I had to go down to this place Turnhampton about a spy they'd arrested. He was to come up in the police court there this morning. They took the other cases first. Court going to be cleared for my man. I sat there, waiting. The second case-this is what I've come to-was my son, my boy, Huggo, brought up from the cells where he'd spent the night. My son! Drunk and disorderly. He didn't see me. The police gave him a character. I sat there and listened to it. My son! A visitor, the police described him. Supposed to be working on some farm. Not a desirable character in the village. My son! Always loafing about. Always in the inn. Last night drunk. Assaulted the landlady. My son! Arrested. My son!"

He turned away.

She cried, "Harry! What happened?"

He turned on her in a violence renewed. "I declare to you that if he had gone to prison I would not have raised a hand to stop him. He'd had the grace-or he'd all the time had the guile-to give an assumed name. Would I have confessed, to save him, that he was my son? I believe I couldn't. He got off with a fine. I got hold of him. I've brought him back. He's here."

She went to the bell. "I must get you some food."

He stayed her. "Food! I'll tell you what to get me. I'll tell you what to get that boy. Get me a home. Get him a home. That's what's caused this. Do you know what he said to me coming up in the train? I said to him, 'Why are you always away like this? Why, in the holidays, are you never at home?' He said, 'What home is there for me to come to? Who's ever there?' He's right. Who is? Are you?"

She said quietly, "Harry, not now. Dear, you are not yourself."

He was not and continued not to be. "Well, answer my question. Are you ever in the home?"

She implored, "Oh, my dear!"

He was not to be placated. "Where is the home?"


"Where's Doda?"

She began in her spirit to move. "Staying with friends."

"Where's Benji?"

"You perfectly well know. Staying with friends."

"Where are you?"

She put her hand to her bosom. "Oh, beware me, Harry. Here."

"For the night. Are you ever in the children's home?"

"Are you?"

"That sophistry! I have my work!"

"I've mine."

He smote his hand upon the mantelshelf by which he stood and turned and left the room.

Strike on!

Of course it healed and was obliterated and all passed over. Of course Harry forgave the boy. Of course he was handsome to the boy's excuses. Drunk! Of course it was just a slightly tipsy ebullition. Had been in the hot sun in the fields all day and was affected by a too long slake of beer. Assaulted the landlady! She'd been rough mannered and objected to his noise and got in the way and he had pushed her. "The boy's all right," Harry said to Rosalie after, the boy forgiven, he sat and talked with her. "He's got no vice. How could he have? It was wrong, it was deceitful, going off like that to that place without telling us. But he meant no harm. He's explained. He's genuinely sorry. He's just got out of hand a bit. They all have, the young people, in this war time. The boy's all right. He's eighteen in a few months. I'll see if I can speed it up a bit getting him into the army. He's magnificently keen. He'll do fine, God bless him. Think no more about it, old lady. In the whole business I'm only sick with myself that I lost my temper with him as I did-and with you, my dear, and with you." And he put out his hand to her.

"One who never turned his back but marched breast forward."

"And with you." Of course he was distressed he had been violent with her. Of course that painful outbreak was healed, obliterated, put away. He had expressed his utter regret. He'd been badly rattled with this infernal war all that week; this business on the top of it had been a most frightful shock to him. What had he said? Forgive, Rosalie, forgive! Of course she had nothing to forgive. Forgiveness also was for her to ask. As to the point thus violently raised, he saw, didn't he, the clear impossibility of her giving up her work, war work as much as his own, at such a time? Not to say the unnecessity of it-the children were growing up... it clearly could be done now. The position she held...

He said, "I know, old lady." He said, "I know, I know," and sighed.

Ah, from that vision of him saying, "I know," and sighing, and from the mute appeal that then was in his eyes, from that-strike on!

Most retentive to her, as it had passed, of Huggo's share in all that episode had been that she from her expostulation with Huggo had not come away with the same satisfaction as seemingly had Harry. She put before the boy how terribly his father had felt the shame of it, how almost broken-hearted he had been. "He idolises you, Huggo. You're always his eldest son. He thinks the world of you."

Huggo took it all with that familiar air of his of being the party that was aggrieved. He listened with impatience that was not concealed and he had no contrition to display. "Well, mother, it's all over. What is the good of going on and on about it? I've had it by the hour from father. He's understood. What is the good?"

She very lovingly talked to him. He all the time had an argument. He kept up his own case. He presently said, "And I do wish, mother, especially now I'm going into the army soon, I do wish you'd drop that 'Huggo.' You can't tell how I hate it. You might just as well call me Baby. It's a baby's name."

"Oh, Huggo, it was the name we loved you by."

"Well, I can't stick it. My name's Hugh."

Strike on!

There he is. He's in the army. He's utterly splendid in his uniform. How proud of him she is! They no longer gave commissions direct from civil life; but he'd been in the cadet corps at Tidborough and Harry was able to get him direct into an officer cadet battalion. He's off to France in what seems next to no time. He's home on leave and there's nothing that's too good for him and her purse at his disposal when he's run through Harry's generous allowance. He seems to get through an immense amount of money on leave. He's never at home. He's often out all night. Well, he's on leave. He's fighting for his country. You can't be anything but utterly lenient with a boy that's fighting for his country. He went back. Three days after he was supposed to have gone back Rosalie came face to face with him in Piccadilly. He was with some flapper type of girl, in the detestable phrase (as she thought it) by which the detestable products of the war (as she thought them) were called. He was just getting into a cab. She called out to him, astounded. She heard him swear and he jumped into the cab and was driven away. She didn't tell Harry. Harry found out. It came out that the boy for overstaying his leave was to be court-martialled. She did not know what Harry did. She noticed in those days what a beaten look Harry's face was getting. It was, of course, the war strain; but it only was first evident to her in that time of the court-martial. He scarcely spoke to her. She did not know what he did, but she knew he had much influence and exerted it at no sparing of himself. The boy got off with a severe reprimand and was returned to France. And to be in France, out there, in that ever-present shadow of death, was to be excused everything and to be forgiven everything.

Miraculously the war ended. The boy had had rather more than two years of it. He applied for immediate demobilisation as being a student, and he was one of the batch that got away immediately on that ground. He was nearly twenty then. Now what was he going to do? Oxford, of course, Harry said, and then the Bar, as always intended. Huggo, larking about in uniform long after he ought to have been out of it, was in immense feather with himself. He didn't say No and he didn't say Yes to the Oxford idea. All he said was that he voted all that wasn't discussed the very day he got back (it was more than six weeks since he had got back). He surely, he said, was entitled to a bit of a holiday first, after all he had been through. London seemed to be swarming with thousands of young men who claimed they were entitled to a bit of a holiday first after all they had been through. Huggo was never in the house. He had picked up with a man, Telfer, whom he had met in France, a big business man, Huggo described him as, and he seemed to spend all his time with this man. Telfer was a much older man than Huggo. Huggo brought him to dinner one night. It was rather a shock to Rosalie, meeting the man of whom she had heard so much. Huggo had never said anything about his age. He must have been quite forty. He had dull, cloudy eyes and a bad mouth. He called Huggo "Kid," using the word in every sentence, and it was easy to see from Harry's manner that Telfer was repellent to him. Easy, also, and not nice, to see Telfer's dominion over Huggo. Not nice to hear Huggo's loud, delighted laughter at everything addressed to him by Telfer. Harry spoke less and less as the meal advanced. The two left early; they were going to a music hall. When they had gone Rosalie and Harry looked at one another across the table and by their look exchanged a great deal.

"That's a detestable companion for Huggo," Harry said. "Rosalie, there's been enough of this. The boy must get to work."

It appeared, in interviews following that evening, that Huggo was not a bit keen on the Oxford idea. He wanted to go into business. He was not clear as to precisely what kind of business, but he wanted the freedom and the excitement of earning his own living, not to be cooped up at the "Varsity" like back at school again. Harry took a firm line. The boy resented the firm line. Well, anyway, he argued, he couldn't go till October, it was only June now; all right, he'd go in October-if he had to. Harry made arrangements for some reading through the summer preparatory to Oxford. It upset plans made by Huggo. He thought it "uncommonly hard" that he should have to spend the whole summer "swotting." Oh, well, if he had to, he had to. He had an invitation for a month for that immediate time to Scotland. The reading was arranged to start a month ahead. He didn't in the least want to be out of London just when there was so much going on and all his pals here; but anything was better than sticking this kind of life at home, father always at him; so he'd go to Scotland; he supposed he was entitled to a bit of country holiday before they cooped him up? He went to Scotland.

Twice during that month Rosalie thought she saw Huggo in the West End. But London was full of young men of the Huggo type. It wasn't likely.

It turned out to have been very likely. It turned out that Huggo had never been in Scotland at all but in London all the time. And much worse than that. One evening, towards the end of the so-called Scotland month, Huggo unexpectedly walked into the house. Rosalie was sitting with Harry in the dining-room over the end of dinner. Doda was upstairs putting last touches to herself before going out to a dance. Doda was eighteen then (it was 1919), had left school, and, with a large circle of friends, was going out a great deal. Benji was still at school, at Milchester. Harry had never resumed relations with beloved Tidborough.

The door opened and Huggo walked in. His face was very flushed and his articulation a little odd. When, after greetings, he sat down, he sat down with a curiously unsteady thud and gave a little laugh and said, "Whoa, mare, steady!"

It appeared, after explanations, that he had come to talk about "this Oxford business." "I really can't very well go to Oxford now, father. I really ought to start in some money-making business now, and I've got a jolly good opening promised me. I really ought to take it."

The decanters were on the table. He had already taken a glass of port. He filled another and drank it.

"The fact is, I'm-married."

There were some hard and bitter things said between his father and the boy. The boy fumbled-he obviously had been drinking-between would not or could not say very much as to who it was that he had married.

Harry said, "Who are her people? That's a plain question, isn't it?"

Huggo, very red, increasingly difficult to understand, said, "It's a plain enough question. It's a plain enough question. I've come here to be perfectly frank and plain and plain enough question. The fact is I don't know very much about her plain enough people."

Rosalie broke out of the frozen stupefaction that had numbed her. "Huggo, you must know. You must know who her people are."

Huggo turned a very slow gaze around from his father to his mother. He looked at her. He said with astonishing violence, "Well, I tell you I don't. People! What have her people got to do with it? I haven't married her people. She's my little girl and I've married her, not her people. Isn't that enough for you?"

Harry got up and went over to him. "Look here, you'd better run along. You're not in a fit state to talk to your mother. I'm not sure you're in a fit state to talk to any-body or to know what you're saying. You'd better go, my boy. We'll go into this in the morning. Come round early in the morning. We'll settle it then."

He was passing with Huggo through the door when Doda, equipped for her dance, came running down the stairs. "Hull-o, Huggo! Why, I haven't seen you for weeks. Where have you been?"

Huggo, standing unsteadily, unsteadily regarded her. "Point is, where are you going? All dressed up and somewhere to go! I'll bet you have! I've seen you jazzing about the place when you haven't seen me, Dods. And heard about you! There was a chap with me watching you at the Riddle Club the other night told me some pretty fierce-"

"Oh, dash, I've left my fan," cried Doda, and turned and ran back up the stairs.

Huggo called, "I say, Dods. I'm in a row. So'll you be one day, if you don't look out for yourself."

Doda's voice: "Oh, dry up-you fool!"

Strike on!

* * *

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