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   Chapter 5 No.5

Everyman's Land By A. M. Williamson Characters: 11927

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Why Brian's coming should make all the difference may puzzle you, Padre, but I'll explain.

Ours is an amateurish hotel, especially since the war. Any one who happens to have the time or inclination runs it: or if no one has time it runs itself. Consequently mistakes are made. But what can you expect for eight francs a day, with pension?

I said that a very young youth brought up the news of the Becketts' arrival. He'd merely announced that "un monsieur et une dame" had called. Apparently they had given no names, no cards. But in truth there were cards, which had been mislaid, or in other words left upon the desk in the bureau, with the numbers of both our rooms scrawled on them in pencil. Nobody was there at the time, but when the concierge came back (he is a sort of unofficial understudy for the mobilized manager) he saw the cards and sent them upstairs. They were taken to Brian and the names read aloud to him. He supposed, from vague information supplied by the gar?on (it was a gar?on this time) that I wished him to come and join me in the salon with my guests. He hated the thought of meeting strangers (the name "Beckett" meant nothing to him), but if he were wanted by his sister, he never yet left her in the lurch.

He and I both knew the house with our eyes shut, before the war; and now that Brian is blind, he practises in the most reckless way going about by himself. He refused to be led to the salon: he came unaided and unerring: and I thought when he appeared at the door, I'd never seen him look so beautiful. He is beautiful you know! Now that his physical eyesight is gone, and he's developing that mysterious "inner sight" of which he talks, there's no other adjective which truly expresses him. He stood there for a minute with his hand on the door-knob, with all the light in the room (there wasn't much) shining straight into his face. It couldn't help doing that, as the one window is nearly opposite the door; but really it does seem sometimes that light seeks Brian's face, as the "spot light" in theatres follows the hero or heroine of a play.

There was an asking smile on his lips, and-by accident, of course-his dear blind eyes looked straight at Mrs. Beckett. We are enough alike, we twins, for any one to know at a glance that we're brother and sister, so the Becketts would have known, of course, even if I hadn't cried out in surprise, "Brian!"

They took it for granted that Brian would have heard all about their son Jim; so, touched by the pathos of his blindness-the lonely pathos (for a blind man is as lonely as a daylight moon!) Mrs. Beckett almost ran to him and took his hand.

"We're the Becketts, with your sister," she said. "Jimmy's father and mother. I expect you didn't meet him when they were getting engaged to each other at St. Raphael. But he loved your picture that he bought just before the war. He used to say, if only you'd signed it, his whole life might have been different. That was when he'd lost Mary, you see-and he'd got hold of her name quite wrong. He thought it was Ommalee, and we never knew a word about the engagement, or her real name or anything, till the letter came to us at our hotel to-day. Then we hurried around here, as quick as we could; and she promised to be our adopted daughter. That means you will have to be our adopted son!"

I think Mrs. Beckett is too shy to like talking much at ordinary times. She would rather let her big husband talk, and listen admiringly to him. But this wasn't an ordinary time. To see Brian stand at the door, wistful and alone, gave her a pain in her heart, so she rushed to him, and poured out all these kind words, which left him dazed.

"You are very good to me," he answered, too thoughtful of others' feelings, as always, to blurt out-as most people would-"I don't understand. Who are you, please?" Instead, his sightless but beautiful eyes seemed to search the room, and he said, "Molly, you're here, aren't you?"

Now perhaps you begin to understand why his coming, and Mrs. Beckett's greeting of him, stopped me from telling the truth-if I would have told it. I'm not sure if I would, in any case, Padre; but as it was I could not. The question seemed settled. To have told the Becketts that I was an adventuress-a repentant adventuress-and let them go out of my life without Brian ever knowing they'd come into it was one thing. To explain, to accuse myself before Brian, to make him despise the only person he had to depend on, and so to spoil the world for him, was another thing.

I accepted the fate I'd summoned like the genie of a lamp. "Yes, Brian, I'm here," I answered. And I went to him, and took possession of the hand Mrs. Beckett had left free. "I never told you about my romance. It was so short. And-and one doesn't put the most sacred things in letters. I loved a man, and he loved me. We met in France before the war, and lost each other.

"Afterward he came back to fight. A few days ago he fell-just at the time when his parents had hurried over from America to see him. I-I couldn't resist writing them a letter, though they were strangers to me. I--"

"That's not a word I like to hear on your lips-'strangers'," Mr. Beckett broke in, "even though you're speaking of the past. We're all one family now. You don't mind my saying that, Brian, or taking it for granted you'll consent-or calling you Brian, do you?"

"Mind!" echoed Brian, with his sweet, young smile. "How could I mind? It's like something in a story. It's a sad story-because the hero's gone out of it-no, he hasn't gone, really! It only seems so, before you stop to think. I've learned enough about death to learn that. And I can tell by both your voices you'll be friends worth having."

"Oh, you are a dear boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Beckett. "God is good to give you and your sister to us in our dark hour. I feel as if Jimmy were here with us. I do believe he is! I know he'd like me to tell you what he did with

your picture, and what we've done with it since, his father and I."

Brian must have felt that it would be good for us all to talk of the pictures, just then, not of this "Jimmy" who was still a mystery to him. He caught up the subject and said that he didn't understand. What picture was it of which they spoke? He generally signed his initials, but they'd mentioned that this was unsigned--

"Don't you remember," I explained, "the sketch I sold for you to Mr. Wyndham when we were tramping through France? You told me when you came back from Paris that it wasn't quite finished. You'd meant to put on a few more touches-and your signature. Well, 'Wyndham' was only the middle name. I never told you much about that day. I was half ashamed, because it was the day when my romance began and-broke. I hoped it might begin again sometime, but-but-you shall hear the whole story soon. Only-not now."

Even as I promised him, I promised myself to tell him nothing. I might have to lie in deeds to Brian. I wouldn't lie in words. Mrs. Beckett might give him her version of her son's romance-some day. Just at the moment she was relating, almost happily, the story of the picture: and it was for me, too.

Jim had had a beautiful frame made for Brian's cathedral sketch, and it had been hung in the best place-over his desk-in the special sanctum where the things he loved most were put. In starting for Europe his father and mother had planned to stop only a short time in a Paris hotel. They had meant to take a house, where Jim could join them whenever he got a few days' leave: and as a surprise for him they had brought over his favourite treasures from the "den." Among these was the unsigned picture painted by the brother of The Girl. They had even chosen the house, a small but charming old chateau to which Jim had taken a fancy. It was rather close to the war zone in these days, but that had not struck them as an obstacle. They were not afraid. They had wired, before sailing, to a Paris agent, telling him to engage the chateau if it was still to let furnished. On arriving the answer awaited them: the place was theirs.

"We thought it would be such a joy to Jim," Mrs. Beckett said. "He fell in love with that chateau before he came down with typhoid. I'll show you a snapshot he took of it. He used to say he'd give anything to live there. And crossing on the ship we talked every day of how we'd make a 'den' for him, full of his own things, and never breathe a word till he opened the door of the room. We're in honour bound to take the house now, whether or not we use it-without Jim. I don't know what we shall do, I'm sure! All I know is, I feel as if it would kill me to turn round and go home with our broken hearts."

"We've got new obligations right here, Jenny. You mustn't forget that," said Mr. Beckett. "Remember we've just adopted a daughter-and a son, too. We must consult them about our movements."

"Oh, I hadn't forgotten!" the old lady cried. "They-they'll help us to decide, of course. But just now I can't make myself feel as if one thing was any better than another. If only we could think of something Jim would have liked us to do! Something-patriotic-for France."

"Mary has seen Jim since we saw him, dear. Perhaps from talk they had she'll have a suggestion to make."

"Oh no!" I cried. "I've no suggestion."

"And you, Brian?" the old man persisted.

Quickly I answered for my brother. "They never met! Brian couldn't know what-Jim would have liked you to do."

"It's true, I can't know," said Brian. "But a thought has come into my head. Shall I tell it to you?"

"Yes!" the Becketts answered in a breath. They gazed at him as if they fancied him inspired by their son's spirit. No wonder, perhaps! Brian has an inspired look.

"Are you very rich?" he asked bluntly, as a child puts questions which grown-ups veil.

"We're rich in money," answered the old man. "But I guess I never quite realized till now, when we lost Jimmy, how poor you can be, when you're only rich in what the world can give."

"I suppose you'll want to put up the finest monument for your son that money can buy," Brian went on, as though he had wandered from his subject. But I-knowing him, and his slow, dreamy way of getting to his goal-knew that he was not astray. He was following some star which we hadn't yet seen.

"We've had no time to think of a monument," said Mr. Beckett, with a choke in his voice. "Of course we would wish it, if it could be done. But Jim lies on German soil. We can't mark the place--"

"It doesn't much matter-to him-where his body lies," Brian went on. "He is not in German soil, or in No Man's Land. Wouldn't he like to have a monument in Everyman's Land?"

"What do you mean?" breathed the little old lady. She realized now that blind Brian wasn't speaking idly.

"Well, you see, France and Belgium together will be Everyman's Land after the war, won't they?" Brian said.

"Every man who wants the world's true peace has fought in France and Belgium, if he could fight. Every man who has fought, and every man who wished to fight but couldn't, will want to see those lands that have been martyred and burned, when they have risen like the Ph?nix out of their own ashes. That's why I call France and Belgium Everyman's Land. You say your Jim spent some of his happiest days there, and now he's given his life for the land he loved. Wouldn't you feel as if he went with you, if you made a pilgrimage from town to town he knew in their days of beauty-if you travelled and studied some scheme for helping to make each one beautiful again after the war? If you did this in his name and his honour, could he have a better memorial?"

"I guess God has let Jim speak through your lips, and tell us his wish," said Mr. Beckett. "What do you think, Jenny?"

"I think what you think," she echoed. "It's right the word should come to us from the brother of Jim's love."

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