The Stoic

  • 10 Jul - 16 Jul, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Then the thought of Ventnor again ousted all others. What on earth-how on earth! He searched his mind for what he could possibly have said the other night. Surely he had not asked him to do anything; certainly not given him their address. There was something very odd about it that had jolly well got to be cleared up!

And he said, "Are you sure the name of that Johnny who came here yesterday was Ventnor?"

Phyllis nodded.

"And he was short, and had whiskers?"

"Yes; red, and red eyes."

He murmured reluctantly, "It must be him. Jolly good cheek; I simply can't understand. I shall go and see him. How on earth did he know your address?"

"I expect you gave it him."

"I did not. I won't have you thinking me a squirt."

Phyllis jumped up. "Oh! Lawks! Here's mother!"

Mrs Larne was coming up the garden. Bob Pillin made for

the door.

"Good-bye," he said;

"I'm going."

But Mrs Larne was already in the hall. Enveloping him in fur and her rich personality, she drew him with her into the drawing-room, where the back window was open and Phyllis gone.

"I hope," she said, "those naughty children have been making you comfortable. That nice lawyer of yours came yesterday. He seemed quite satisfied."

Very red above his collar, Bob Pillin stammered, "I never told him to; he isn't my lawyer. I don't know what it means."

Mrs Larne smiled.

"My dear boy, it's all right. You needn't be so squeamish.

I want it to be quite on a business footing."

Restraining a fearful inclination to blurt out, "It's not going to be on any footing!"

Bob Pillin mumbled, "I must go; I'm late."

"And when will you be able…?"

"Oh! I'll – I'll send – I'll write.


And suddenly he found that Mrs Larne had him by the lapel of his coat. The scent of violets and fur was overpowering, and the thought flashed through him, 'I believe she only wanted to take money off old Joseph in the book. I can't leave my coat in her hands!

What shall I do?'

Mrs Larne was murmuring,

"It would be so sweet of you if you could manage it today"; and her hand slid over his chest.

"Oh! You have brought your cheque-book – what a

nice boy!"

Bob Pillin took it out in desperation, and, sitting down at the bureau, wrote a cheque similar to that which he had torn and burned. A warm touch lighted on his eyebrow, his head was pressed for a moment to a furry bosom; a hand took the cheque; a voice said, "How delightful!" and a sigh immersed him in a bath of perfume.

Backing to the door, he gasped, "Don't mention it; and – and don't tell Phyllis, please. Good-bye!"

Once through the garden gate, he thought, 'By gum! I've done it now. That Phyllis should know about it at all! That beast Ventnor!'

His face grew almost grim. He would go and see what that meant anyway! Mr Ventnor had not left his office when his young friend's card was brought to him. Tempted for a moment to deny his own presence, he thought, 'No! What's the good? Bound to see him some time!'

If he had not exactly courage, he had that peculiar blend of self-confidence and insensibility which must needs distinguish those who follow the law; nor did he ever forget that he was in the right.

"Show him in!" he said.

He would be quite bland, but young Pillin might whistle for an explanation; he was still tormented, too, by the memory of rich curves and moving lips, and the possibilities of better acquaintanceship. While shaking the young man's hand his quick and fulvous eye detected at once the discomposure behind that mask of cheek and collar, and relapsing into one of those swivel chairs which give one an advantage over men more statically seated, he said, "You look pretty bobbish. Anything I can do for you?"

Bob Pillin, in the fixed chair of the consultor, nursed his bowler on his knee.

"Well, yes, there is. I've just been to see Mrs Larne."

Mr Ventnor did not flinch.

"Ah! Nice woman; have a pretty daughter, too!"

And into those words he put a certain meaning. He never waited to be bullied. Bob Pillin felt the pressure of his blood increasing.

"Look here, Ventnor," he said,

"I want an explanation."

"What of?"

"Why, of your going there, and using my name, and God knows what."

Mr Ventnor gave his chair two little twiddles before he said, "Well, you won't get it."

Bob Pillin remained for a moment taken aback; then he muttered resolutely,

"It's not the conduct of a gentleman."

Every man has his illusions, and no man likes them disturbed. The gingery tint underlying Mr Ventnor's colouring overlaid it; even the whites of his eyes

grew red.

"Oh!" he said; "indeed! You mind your own business,

will you?"

"It is my business – very much so. You made use of my name, and I don't choose…"

"The devil you don't! Now, I tell you what…"

Mr Ventnor leaned forward, "you'd better hold your tongue, and not exasperate me. I'm a good-tempered man, but I won't stand your impudence."

Clenching his bowler hat, and only kept in his seat by that sense of something behind, Bob Pillin said, "Impudence! That's good – after what you did! Look here, why did you? It's so extraordinary!"

Mr Ventnor answered, "Oh! Is it? You wait a bit, my friend!"

Still more moved by the mystery of this affair, Bob Pillin could only mutter, "I never gave you their address; we were only talking about old Heythorp."

And at the smile which spread between Mr Ventnor's whiskers, he jumped up, crying, "It's not the thing, and you're not going to put me off. I insist on an explanation."

Mr Ventnor leaned back, crossing his stout legs, joining the tips of his thick fingers. In this attitude he was always self-possessed.

"You do – do you?"

"Yes. You must have had some reason."

Mr Ventnor gazed up at him.

"I'll give you a piece of advice, young son and charge you nothing for it, too: Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies. And here's another: Go away before you forget

yourself again."

The natural stolidity of Bob Pilings face was only just proof against this speech.

He said thickly, "If you go there again and use my name, I'll Well, it's lucky for you you're not my age. Anyway I'll relieve you of my acquaintanceship in future. Good-evening!" and he went to the door. Mr Ventnor had risen.

"Very well," he said loudly.

"Good riddance! You wait and see which boot the leg is on!"

But Bob Pillin was gone, leaving the lawyer with a very red face, a very angry heart, and a vague sense of disorder in his speech. Not only Bob Pillin, but his tender aspirations had all left him; he no longer dallied with the memory of Mrs Larne, but like a man and a Briton thought only of how to get his own back, and punish evildoers. The atrocious words of his young friend, "It's not the conduct of a gentleman," festered in the heart of one who was made gentle not merely by nature but by Act of Parliament, and he registered a solemn vow to wipe the insult out, if not with blood,

with verjuice.

It was his duty, and they should d….d well, see him do it!

Sylvanus Heythorp seldom went to bed before one or rose before eleven. The latter habit alone kept his valet from handing in the resignation which the former habit prompted almost every night. Propped on his pillows in a crimson dressing-gown, and freshly shaved, he looked more Roman than he ever did, except in his bath. Having disposed of coffee, he was wont to read his letters, and The Morning Post, for he had always been a Tory, and could not stomach paying a halfpenny for his news. Not that there were many letters when a man has reached the age of eighty, who should write to him, except to ask for money? It was Valentine's Day.

Through his bedroom window he could see the trees of the park, where the birds were in song, though he could not hear them. He had never been interested in Nature – full-blooded men with short necks seldom are. This morning indeed there were two letters, and he opened that which smelt of something.

Inside was a thing like a Christmas card, save that the babe had in his hands a bow and arrow, and words coming out of his mouth, "To be your Valentine."

There was also a little pink note with one blue forget-me-not printed at the top. It ran, "DEAREST GUARDY, I'm sorry this is such a mangy little valentine; I couldn't go out to get it because I've got a beastly cold, so I asked Jock, and the pig bought this. The satin is simply scrumptious. If you don't come and see me in it sometime soon, I shall come and show it to you. I wish I had a moustache, because my top lip feels just like a matchbox, but it's rather ripping having breakfast in my bed.

Mr Pillin's taking us to the theatre the day after to-morrow evening. Isn't it nummy! I'm going to have my drink and honey for my cold.

"Good-bye, "Your PHYLLIS."

So this that quivered in his thick fingers, too insensitive to feel it, was a valentine for him! Forty years ago that young thing's grandmother had given him his last. It made him out a very old chap! Forty years ago! Had that been himself living then? And himself, who, as a youth came on the town in 'forty-five?

Not a thought, not a feeling the same! They said you changed your body every seven years. The mind with it, too, perhaps! Well, he had come to the last of his bodies, now! And that holy woman had been urging him to take it to next level, with her face as long as a tea-tray, and some gammon from that doctor of his.

Too full a habit – no drink – might go off in a coma any night! Knock off not him! Rather die any day than turn tee-totaller! When a man had nothing left in life except his dinner, his bottle, his cigar, and the dreams they gave him – these doctors forsooth must want to cut them off!

No, no! Carpe diem! While you lived, get something out of it. And now that he had made all the provision he could for those youngsters, his life was no good to anyone but himself; and the sooner he went off the better, if he ceased to enjoy what there was left, or lost the power to say, "I'll do this and that, and you be jiggered!"

Keep a stiff lip until you crashed, and then go clean! He sounded the bell beside him twice-for Molly, not his man. And when the girl came in, and stood, pretty in her print frock, her fluffy over-fine dark hair escaping from under her cap, he gazed at her in silence.

"Yes, sirr?"

"Want to look at you, that's all."

"Oh, I am' I'm not tidy, sirr."

"Never mind. Had your valentine?"

"No, sirr; who would send me one, then?"

"Haven't you a young man?"

"Well, I might. But he's over in my country.

"What do you think of this?"

He held out the little boy. The girl took the card and scrutinised it reverently; she said in a detached voice, "Indeed and it’s pretty, too."

"Would you like it?"

"Oh, I if 'tis not taking up from you."

Old Heythorp shook his head, and pointed to the


"Over there – you'll find a sovereign. Little present for a good girl."

She uttered a deep sigh.

"Oh! sirr, 'tis too much; 'tis kingly."

"Take it."

She took it, and came back, her hands clasping the sovereign and the valentine, in an attitude as of prayer. The old man's gaze rested on her with happiness.

"I like pretty faces – just can't bear sour ones. Go tell Meller to get my clothes ready."

to be continued...