The Stoic

  • 12 Jun - 18 Jun, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

See how she's had the electric light put in, instead of that horrid gas; but try and turn either of them on – you can't; last quarter isn't paid, of course; and she uses an oil lamp, you can tell that by the ceiling.

The dog over there, who will not answer to the name of 'Carmen,' a Pekinese spaniel like a little Djin, all prominent eyes rolling their blacks, and no nose between – yes, Carmen looks as if she didn't know what was coming next; she's right – it's a pet-and-slap-again life! Consider, too, the fittings of the tea-tray, rather soiled, though not quite tin, but I say unto you that no millionaire's in all its glory ever had a drink bottle on it.'

When old Heythorp entered this room, which extended from back to front of the little house, preceded by the announcement "Mr Aesop," it was resonant with a very clatter-bodandigo of noises, from Phyllis playing the Machiche; from the boy Jock on the hearthrug, emitting at short intervals the most piercing notes from an ocarina; from Mrs Larne on the sofa, talking with her trailing volubility to Bob Pillin; from Bob Pillin muttering: "Ye-es! Qui-ite! Ye-es!" and gazing at Phyllis over his collar.

And, on the window-sill, as far as she could get from all this noise, the little dog Carmen was rolling her eyes. At sight of their visitor Jock blew one rending screech, and bolting behind the sofa, placed his chin on its top, so that nothing but his round pink unmoving face was visible; and the dog Carmen tried to climb the blind cord.

Encircled from behind by the arms of Phyllis, and preceded by the gracious perfumed bulk of Mrs Larne, old Heythorp was escorted to the sofa. It was low, and when he had plumped down into it, the boy Jock emitted a hollow groan. Bob Pillin was the first to break the silence.

"How are you, sir? I hope it's gone through."

Old Heythorp nodded. His eyes were fixed on the bottle, and Mrs Larne murmured,

"Guardy, you must try our new bottle. Jock, you awful boy, get up and bring Guardy a glass."

The boy Jock approached the tea-table, took up a glass, put it to his eye and filled it rapidly.

"You horrible boy, you could see that glass has been used."

In a high round voice rather like an angel's, Jock answered,

"All right, Mother; I'll get rid of it," and rapidly swallowing the yellow drink, took up another glass. Mrs Larne laughed.

"What am I to do with him?"

A loud shriek prevented a response. Phyllis, who had taken her brother by the ear to lead him to the door, let him go to clasp her injured self. Bob Pillin went hastening towards her; and following the young man with her chin, Mrs Larne

said, smiling,

"Aren't those children awful? He's such a nice fellow. We like him so much, Guardy."

The old man grinned. So she was making up to that young pup! Rosamund Larne, watching him, murmured,

"Oh! Guardy, you're as bad as Jock. He takes after you terribly. Look at the shape of his head. Jock, come here!"

The innocent boy approached; with his girlish complexion, his flowery blue eyes, his perfect mouth, he stood before his mother like a large cherub. And suddenly he blew his ocarina in a dreadful manner. Mrs Larne launched a box at his ears, and receiving the wind of it he fell prone.

"That's the way he behaves. Be off with you, you awful boy.

I want to talk to Guardy."

The boy withdrew on his stomach, and sat against the wall cross-legged, fixing his innocent round eyes on old Heythorp. Mrs Larne sighed.

"Things are worse and worse, Guardy. I'm at my wits' end to tide over this quarter. You wouldn't advance me a hundred on my new story? I'm sure to get two for it in the end."

The old man shook his head.

"I've done something for you and the children," he said.

"You'll get notice of it in a day or two; ask no questions."

"Oh! Guardy! Oh! you dear!"

And her gaze rested on Bob Pillin, leaning over the piano, where Phyllis again sat. Old Heythorp snorted.

"What are you cultivating that young gaby for? She mustn't be grabbed up by any fool who comes along."

Mrs Larne murmured at once.

"Of course, the dear girl is much too young. Phyllis, come and talk to Guardy!"

When the girl was installed beside him on the sofa, and he had felt that little thrill of warmth the proximity of youth can bring, he said,

"Been a good girl?" She shook her head.

"Can't, when Jock's not at school. Mother can't pay for him this term."

Hearing his name, the boy Jock blew his ocarina till Mrs Larne drove him from the room, and Phyllis went on,

"He's more awful than anything you can think of. Was my dad at all like him, Guardy? Mother's always so mysterious about him. I suppose you knew him well."

Old Heythorp, incapable of confusion, answered stolidly,

"Not very."

"Who was his father? I don't believe even mother knows."

"Man about town in my day."

"Oh! Your day must have been jolly. Did you wear peg-top trousers, and dundreary's?"

Old Heythorp nodded.

"What larks! And I suppose you had lots of adventures with opera dancers and gambling. The young men are all so good now."

Her eyes rested on Bob Pillin.

"That young man's a perfect stick of goodness."

Old Heythorp grunted.

"You wouldn't know how good he was," Phyllis went on musingly, "unless you'd sat next him in a tunnel.

The other day he had his waist squeezed and he simply sat still and did nothing. And then when the tunnel ended, it was Jock after all, not me. She threw back her head, displaying all her white, round throat. Then edging near, she whispered,

"He likes to pretend, of course, that he's fearfully lively. He's promised to take mother and me to the theatre and supper afterwards. Won't it be scrummy! Only, I haven't anything to go in."

Old Heythorp said,

"What do you want? Irish poplin?"

Her mouth opened wide, "Oh! Guardy! Soft white satin!"

"How many yards'll go round you?"

"I should think about twelve. We could make it ourselves. You are a chook!"

A scent of hair, like hay, enveloped him and there came a feeling in his heart as when he rolled the first sip of a special drink against his palate. This little house was a rumty-too affair, her mother was a humbug, the boy a cheeky young rascal, but there was a warmth here he never felt in that big house which had been his wife's and was now his holy daughter's. And once more he rejoiced at his day's work, and the success of his breach of trust, which put some little ground beneath these young feet, in a hard and unscrupulous world.

Phyllis whispered in his ear, "Guardy, do look; he will stare at me like that. Isn't it awful like a boiled rabbit?"

Bob Pillin, attentive to Mrs Larne, was gazing with all his might over her shoulder at the girl. The young man was moonstruck, that was clear! There was something almost touching in the stare of those puppy dog's eyes. And he thought 'Young beggar – wish I were his age!'

The utter injustice of having an old and helpless body, when your desire for enjoyment was as great as ever! They said a man was as old as he felt! Fools! A man was as old as his legs and arms, and not a day younger. He heard the girl beside him utter a discomfortable sound, and saw her face cloud as if tears were not far off; she jumped up, and going to the window, lifted the little dog and buried her face in its brown and white fur.

Old Heythorp thought, 'She sees that her humbugging mother is using her as a decoy.'

But she had come back, and the little dog, rolling its eyes horribly at the strange figure on the sofa, in a desperate effort to escape succeeded in reaching her shoulder, where it stayed perched like a cat, held by one paw and trying to back away into space.

Old Heythorp said abruptly, "Are you very fond of your mother?"

"Of course I am, Guardy. I adore her."

"H'm! Listen to me. When you come of age or marry, you'll have a hundred and twenty a year of your own that you can't get rid of. Don't ever be persuaded into doing what you don't want. And remember: Your mother's a sieve, no good giving her money; keep what you'll get for yourself – it's only a pittance, and you'll want it all – every penny."

Phyllis's eyes had opened very wide; so that he wondered if she had taken in his words.

"Oh! Isn't money horrible, Guardy?"

"The want of it."

"No, its beastly altogether. If only we were like birds. Or if one could put out a plate overnight, and have just enough in the morning to use during the day."

Old Heythorp sighed. "There's only one thing in life that matters – independence. Lose that, and you lose everything. That's the value of money. Help me up."

Phyllis stretched out her hands, and the little dog, running down her back, resumed its perch on the window-sill, close to the blind cord.

Once on his feet, old Heythorp said, "Come here, you'll have your satin tomorrow."

Then looking at Bob Pillin, he remarked,

"Going my way?

I'll give you a lift."

The young man, giving Phyllis one appealing look,

answered dully,

"Thaanks!" and they went out together to the taxi.

In that draughtless vehicle they sat, full of who knows what contempt of age for youth; and youth for age; the old man resenting this young pup's aspiration to his granddaughter; the young man annoyed that this old image had dragged him away before he wished to go.

Old Heythorp said at last, "Well?"

Thus expected to say something, Bob Pillin muttered, "Glad your meetin' went off well, sir. You scored a triumph I should think."


"Oh! I don't know. I thought you had a good bit of opposition to contend with."

Old Heythorp looked at him. "Your grandmother!" he said; then, with his habitual instinct of attack, added,

"You make the most of your opportunities, I see."

At this rude assault Bob Pillin's red-cheeked face assumed a certain dignity.

"I don't know what you mean, sir. Mrs Larne is very kind to me."

"No doubt. But don't try to pick the flowers."

Thoroughly upset, Bob Pillin preserved a dogged silence. This fortnight, since he had first met Phyllis in old Heythorp's hall, had been the most singular of his existence up to now. He would never have believed that a fellow could be so quickly and completely bowled, could succumb without a kick, without even wanting to kick. To one with his philosophy of having a good time and never committing himself too far, it was in the nature of "a fair knock-out," and yet so pleasurable, except for the wear and tear about one's chances. If only he knew how far the old boy really counted in the matter!

To say, "My intentions are strictly honourable" would be oldfashioned; besides – the old fellow might have no right to hear it. They called him Guardy, but without knowing more he did not want to admit the old curmudgeon's right to interfere.

"Are you a relation of theirs, sir?" Old Heythorp nodded. Bob Pillin went on with desperation,

"I should like to know what your objection to me is."

The old man turned his head so far as he was able; a grim smile bristled the hairs about his lips, and twinkled in his eyes. What did he object to? Why – everything! Object to! That sleek head, those puppy-dog eyes, fattish red cheeks, high collars, pearl pin, spats, and drawl-pah! the imbecility, the smugness of his mug; no go, no devil in any of his sort, in any of these fish-veined, coddled-up young bloods, nothing but playing for safety! And he wheezed out,

"Milk and water masquerading as port drink."

Bob Pillin frowned. It was almost too much for the composure even of a man of the world.

to be continued...