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   Chapter 4 AN OLD FRIEND UNEXPECTEDLY PRESENTS HIMSELF.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 8373

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


During the interview my attention had been attracted several times to a peculiar incident. At the extreme end of Mr. Gascoigne's office, close against the wall, was a high desk, with an old-fashioned railing around it, the back of the desk being toward me. When we entered the office no person was visible behind the desk, and no sounds of it being occupied reached my ears; but, happening once to look undesignedly in that direction, I saw a gray head raised above the railings, the owner of which was regarding me, I thought, with a certain eagerness and curiosity. The moment I looked at the head, which I inferred was attached to the body of a clerk in the service of Mr. Gascoigne, it disappeared, and I paid no attention to it. But presently, turning again, I saw it bob up and as quickly bob down; and as this was repeated five or six times during the interview, it made me, in turn, curious to learn the reason of the proceedings. Finally, upon my leaving the office, the head bobbed up and remained above the desk, seemingly following my departure with increasing eagerness.

"My dear," said my wife, as we walked along the street--very slowly, because of the weary day we had had--"at last we have found what we have been searching for so long."

It did not strike me so, but I did not express my opinion. All I said was, "I am tired out, and I am sure you must be."

"I do feel tired, but I'm repaid for it. Yes, this is the very house we have been hunting for; just the number of rooms we want, just the kind of garden we want, and so many things we thought we couldn't afford. Then the stable and coach-house--not that we have much use for them, but it looks well to have them, and to speak of them to our friends in an off-hand way. Then the fruit trees--what money it will save us, gathering the fruit quite fresh as we want it! I have in my eye the paper for the drawing and dining rooms; and your study, my dear, shall be as cozy as money can make it. I have something to tell you--a secret. I have put away--never mind where--a long stocking, and in it there is a nice little sum saved up out of housekeeping pennies. That money shall be spent in decorating No. 79 Lamb's Terrace."

Thus rattled on this wonderful wife of mine, working herself into such a state of rapture at the prospect of obtaining the Ideal Residence I had drawn out for her, and which she believed she had obtained, that I could not help admiring more and more her sanguine temperament and her indomitable resolution. Her pluck, her endurance, her persistence, were beyond praise; such women are cut out for pioneers in difficult undertakings; they never give in, they never know when they are beaten. In the midst of her glowing utterances I heard the sound of rapid steps behind us, and, turning, saw the elderly man, whose head, bobbing up and down in Mr. Gascoigne's office, had so engaged my attention. He had been running after us very quickly, and his breath was almost gone.

"I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon," he said, speaking with difficulty, "but--excuse me, I must get my breath."

We waited till he had recovered, my wife with the expectation that he was charged with a message from Mr. Gascoigne, I with no such expectation. I felt that he had come after us on a purely personal matter, and as I gazed at him I had an odd impression that, at some period of my life, I had been familiar with a face like his. I could not, however, bring to my mind any person resembling him.

"The agent has given us the keys of the wrong house," whispered my wife. "I hope it is no worse than that; I hope he hasn't made a mistake in the rent."

She was in great fear lest the splendid chance was gone and the house in Lamb's Terrace was lost to us.

"I am all right now," said the stranger, "and I must beg you to excuse me if I am mistaken. I think not, for I seem to recognize your features; and yet it is so long ago--so long ago!"

The impression that I had known him in earlier years grew stronger.

"I heard your name," he continued, "while I was working at my desk. When you handed your card to Mr. Gascoigne he spoke it aloud, and I recognized it as that of an o

ld school friend. It so stirred me that I fear you must have thought me rude for staring at you as I did. My name is Millet, Bob Millet--don't you remember?"

Good Heavens! My old schoolmate, Bob Millet, dear old Bob, almost my brother, whom I had not seen for nearly forty years, stood before me. What reminiscences did the sight of him inspire! He and I were chums in those early days, stood up for each other, defended each other, played truant together, took long walks, went into the country together during holiday time--did everything, in short, that could bind schoolboys in firm links of comradeship. Once, when my parents took me to the seaside, they invited Bob at my urgent request to spend a week with us, and he spent two, three--all the time, indeed, that we were away from home. There at the seaside he taught me to swim, and we had days of enjoyment so vivid that the memory of them came back to me fresh and bright even after this lapse of years. How changed he was! He was a plump, rosy-cheeked boy, and he had grown into a thin, spare, elderly man, with all the plumpness and all the rosiness squeezed clean out of him. It was a bit of a shock. He was younger than I, and he looked twenty years older; his clothes were shabby, his face worn and lined with care, as though life's battle had been too much for him; while here was I, a fairly prosperous man, full of vigor and capacity for enjoyment, and blessed with means for the indulgence of pleasures which it was evident he could not afford. There was on my part more of sadness than of joy in this meeting. I held out my hand to him, and we greeted each other cordially.

"My dear," I said to my wife, "this is my old school chum, Mr. Millet."

"Bob Millet, please," he said reproachfully; "don't drop me because I am shabby."

"I am not the sort of man to do that, Bob," I rejoined. "You have had a tussle with fortune, old friend, and got the worst of it?"

"Considerably," he replied, with a little laugh in which there was no bitterness; it reminded me that when he was at school he always took a cheerful view of any misfortune that happened to him; "but a meeting like this makes up for a lot. What does the old song say? 'Bad luck can't be prevented.' Well, I am glad to see you! I ran after you with a double purpose--first to shake hands with you, then to talk to you about that house you are looking after."

"All in good time. Have you done work for the day?"

"Yes."

"Come home with us and have a tea-dinner, unless," I added, "there is someone else expecting you."

"No one is expecting me," he said rather mournfully. "I am all alone."

"Not married?"

"I was, but I lost her."

I pressed his hand sympathetically.

"You can come along with us, then," said my good wife; "it will be better than passing the evening with yourself for company; and I am burning to hear what you have to tell us about the house in Lamb's Terrace. I am fairly enchanted with it, even before I see it. There is our 'bus; I hope there is room for us."

There was room, and we got in, and alighted within thirty yards of our house--our dear old house, which my wife was bent upon giving up.

I took Bob to my dressing room, and we had a wash and a brush up.

"Any children?" he asked.

"No," I replied; "it caused us sorrow at first, but we get resigned to things."

"Yes, indeed."

Downstairs my wife was waiting for us, and there was our tea-dinner already prepared, with one or two additional small luxuries in honor of our visitor.

"Sit down, Bob," I said, "and make yourself at home. To you this is Liberty Hall; we haven't a bit of pride in us, although my dear wife here has an ambition for a larger house; that is why we are going to move."

"We can afford to move, Mr. Millet," said my wife with dignity.

"I am very glad to hear it," said Bob; "it is always pleasant to hear of a friend's good fortune."

My wife smiled kindly, and we all made a good meal; and then she bustled away to see to some domestic matters, while the maid cleared the table. Before she left the room she said to Bob:

"Mr. Millet, not a word about that delightful house until I join you."

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