• 08 May - 14 May, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

It again bought five other of the best men in London under the table; broken his neck steeple-chasing; shot a burglar in the legs; been nearly drowned, for a bet; killed snipe in Chelsea; been to Court for his sins; stared a ghost out of countenance; and travelled with a lady of Spain.

If this young pup had done the last, it would be all he had; and yet, no doubt, he would call himself a "spark." The conductor touched his arm.

"Here you are, sir."

"Thank you."

He lowered himself to the ground, and moved in the bluish darkness towards the gate of his daughter's house. Bob Pillin walked beside him, thinking: 'Poor old josser, he is getting' a back number!'

And he said: "I should have thought you ought to drive, sir. My old guv'nor would knock up at once if he went about at night like this."

The answer rumbled out into the misty air: "Your father's got no chest; never had."

Bob Pillin gave vent to one of those fat cackles which come so readily from a certain type of man; and old Heythorp thought: 'Laughing at his father! Parrot!'

They had reached the porch. A woman with dark hair and a thin, straight face and figure was arranging some flowers in the hall. She turned and said: "You really ought not to be so late, Father! It's wicked at this time of year. Who is it – oh! Mr Pillin, how do you do? Have you had tea? Won't you come to the drawing-room; or do you want to see my father?"

"Thanks! I believe your father…"

And he thought: 'By Jove! The old chap is a caution!'

For old Heythorp was crossing the hall without having paid the faintest attention to his daughter. Murmuring again: "Thanks, he wants to give me something," he followed.

Miss Heythorp was not his style at all; he had a kind of dread of that thin woman who looked as if she could never be unbuttoned. They said she was a great churchgoer and all that sort of thing. In his sanctum old Heythorp had moved to his writing-table, and was evidently anxious to sit down.

"Shall I give you a hand, sir?" Receiving a shake of the head, Bob Pillin stood by the fire and watched.

The old "sport" liked to paddle his canoe. Fancy having to lower yourself into a chair like that! When an old Johnny got to such a state it was really a mercy when he snuffed out, and made way for younger men. How his Companies could go on putting up with such a fossil for chairman was a marvel!

The fossil rumbled and said in that almost inaudible voice: "I suppose you're beginning to look forward to your father's shoes?"

Bob Pillin's mouth opened. The voice went on: "Dibs and no responsibility. Tell him from me to drink port – add five years to his life."

To this unwarranted attack Bob Pillin made no answer save a laugh; he perceived that a manservant had entered the room.

"A Mrs Larne, sir. Will you see her?"

At this announcement the old man seemed to try and start; then he nodded, and held out the note he had written. Bob Pillin received it together with the impression of a murmur which sounded like: "Scratch a poll, Poll!" and passing the fine figure of a woman in a fur coat, who seemed to warm the air as she went by, he was in the hall again before he perceived that he had left his hat. A young and pretty girl was standing on the bearskin before the fire, looking at him with round-eyed innocence.

He thought: 'This is better; I mustn't disturb them for my hat'; and approaching the fire, said: "Jolly cold, isn't it?"

The girl smiled: "Yes-jolly." He noticed that she had a large bunch of violets at her breast, a lot of fair hair, a short straight nose, and round blue-grey eyes very frank and open.

"Er" he said, "I've left my hat in there."

"What larks!" And at her little clear laugh something moved within Bob Pillin.

"You know this house well?" She shook her head.

"But it's rather scrummy, isn't it?" Bob Pillin, who had never yet thought so answered: "Quite O.K."

The girl threw up her head to laugh again. "O.K.? What's that?"

Bob Pillin saw her white round throat, and thought: 'She is a ripper!' And he said with certain desperation: "My name's Pillin. Yours is Larne, isn't it? Are you a relation here?"

"He's our Guardy. Isn't he a chook?"

That rumbling whisper like "Scratch a Poll, Poll!" recurring to Bob Pillin, he said with reservation: "You know him better than I do."

"Oh! Aren't you his grandson, or something?" Bob Pillin did not cross himself.

"Lord! No! My dad's an old friend of his; that's all."

"Is your dad like him?"

"Not much."

"What a pity! It would have been lovely if they'd been Tweedles."

Bob Pillin thought: 'This bit is something new. I wonder what her Christian name is.'

And he said: "What did your godfather and godmothers in your baptism?"

The girl laughed; she seemed to laugh at everything. "Phyllis."

Could he say: "Is my only joy"?

Better keep it! But, for what? He wouldn't see her again if he didn't look out! And he said: "I live at the last house in the park-the red one. Do you know it? Where do you?"

"Oh! a long way – 23, Millicent Villas. It's a little house. I hate it. We have awful larks, though."

"Who are we?"

"Mother, and myself, and Jock – he's an awful boy. You can't conceive what an awful boy he is. He's got nearly red hair; I think he'll be just like Guardy when he gets old. He's awful!"

Bob Pillin murmured: "I should like to see him."

"Would you? I'll ask mother if you can. You won't want to again; he goes off all the time like a squib."

She threw back her head, and again Bob Pillin felt a little giddy. He collected himself, and drawled: "Are you going in to see your Guardy?"

"No. Mother's got something special to say. We've never been here before, you see. Isn't he fun, though?"


"I think he's the greatest lark; but he's awfully nice to me. Jock calls him the last of the Stoic'uns."

A voice called from old Heythorp's den: "Phyllis!"

It had a particular ring, that voice, as if coming from beautifully formed red lips, of which the lower one must curve the least bit over; it had, too, a caressing vitality, and a kind of warm falsity. The girl threw a laughing look back over her shoulder, and vanished through the door into the room. Bob Pillin remained with his back to the fire and his puppy round eyes fixed on the air that her figure had last occupied. He was experiencing a sensation never felt before. Those travels with a lady of Spain, charitably conceded him by old Heythorp, had so far satisfied the emotional side of this young man; they had stopped short at Brighton and Scarborough, and been preserved from even the slightest intrusion of love. A calculated and hygienic career had caused no anxiety either to himself or his father; and this sudden swoop of something more than admiration gave him an uncomfortable choky feeling just above his high round collar, and in the temples a sort of buzzing – those first symptoms of chivalry. A man of the world does not, however, succumb without a struggle; and if his hat had not been out of reach, who knows whether he would not have left the house hurriedly, saying to himself: "No, no, my boy; Millicent Villas is hardly your form, when your intentions are honourable"?

For somehow that round and laughing face, bob of glistening hair, those wide-opened grey eyes refused to awaken the beginnings of other intentions – such is the effect of youth and innocence on even the steadiest young men. With a kind of moral stammer, he was thinking: 'Can I – dare I offer to see them to their tram? Couldn't I even nip out and get the car round and send them home in it? No, I might miss them--better stick it out here! What a jolly laugh! What a tipping face – strawberries and cream, hay, and all that! Millicent Villas!'

And he wrote it on his cuff. The door was opening; he heard that warm vibrating voice: "Come along, Phyllis!"

The girl's laugh so high and fresh: "Right-o! Coming!"

And with, perhaps, the first real tremor he had ever known, he crossed to the front door. All the more chivalrous to escort them to the tram without a hat! And suddenly he heard: "I've got your hat, young man!"

And her mother's voice, warm, and simulating shock: "Phyllis, you awful girl! Did you ever see such an awful girl; Mr….."

"Pillin, Mother." And then – he did not quite know how – insulated from the January air by laughter and the scent of fur and violets, he was between them walking to their tram. It was like an experience out of the "Arabian Nights," or something of that sort, an intoxication which made one say one was going their way, though one would have to come all the way back in the same beastly tram. Nothing so warming had ever happened to him as sitting between them on that drive, so that he forgot the note in his pocket, and his desire to relieve the anxiety of the "old man," his father.

At the tram's terminus they all got out. There issued a purr of invitation to come and see them some time; a clear: "Jock'll love to see you!"

A low laugh: "You awful girl!" And a flash of cunning zigzagged across his brain. Taking off his hat, he said: "Thanks awfully; rather!" and put his foot back on the step of the tram. Thus did he delicately expose the depths of his chivalry!

"Oh! You said you were going our way! What one-ers you do tell! Oh!"

The words were as music; the sight of those eyes growing rounder, the most perfect he had ever seen; and Mrs Larne's low laugh, so warm yet so preoccupied, and the tips of the girl's fingers waving back above her head. He heaved a sigh, and knew no more till he was seated at his club before a bottle of champagne. Home! Not he! He wished to drink and dream.

"The old man" would get his news all right to-morrow! 3 The words: "A Mrs Larne to see you, sir," had been of a nature to astonish weaker nerves. What had brought her here? She knew she mustn't come! Old Heythorp had watched her entrance with cynical amusement. The way she whiffed herself at that young pup in passing, the way her eyes slid round! He had a very just appreciation of his son's widow; and a smile settled deep between his chin tuft and his moustache.

She lifted his hand, kissed it, pressed it to her splendid bust, and said: "So here I am at last, you see. Aren't you surprised?"

Old Heythorp, shook his head. "I really had to come and see you, Guardy; we haven't had a sight of you for such an age. And in this awful weather! How are you, dear old Guardy?"

"Never better."

And, watching her green-grey eyes, he added: "Haven't a penny for you!" Her face did not fall; she gave her feather-laugh.

"How dreadful of you to think I came for that! But I am in an awful fix, Guardy."

"Never knew you not to be."

"Just let me tell you, dear; it'll be some relief. I'm having the most terrible time."

She sank into a low chair, disengaging an overpowering scent of violets, while melancholy struggled to subdue her face and body.

"The most awful fix. I expect to be sold up any moment. We may be on the streets to-morrow. I daren't tell the children; they're so happy, poor darlings. I shall be obliged to take Jock away from school. And Phyllis will have to stop her piano and dancing; it's an absolute crisis. And all due to those Midland Syndicate people. I've been counting on at least two hundred for my new story, and the wretches have refused it."

With a tiny handkerchief she removed one tear from the corner of one eye.

to be continued...