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XVI An Assignation

ONE of the first things I had done on entering the University was to procure from Farmer's a suit of evening dress clothes. They were the first I had ever seen except in the pages of illustrated magazines; but as yet I had had no opportunity to wear them. Quite early on Sunday afternoon I donned them, in anticipation of the dinner to which I was bidden, and in order to render myself accustomed to their use. I thought they suited me amazingly well, but the queer, cut-away tails of the coat were an abiding nuisance. It was Edward Shaw who taught me how to fix my tie. He waited for me at his garden gate, and took me at once to his bedroom. I had furnished


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myself with a common ready-made bow. This he tore off, and forced upon me one of his own, which, after much trouble, he made appear presentable. “It is in little touches like this,” he assured me, “that one can at once distinguish between cads and gentlemen!”

I owe a great deal to Edward Shaw; more than I can ever repay, except in gratitude, or rather now, alas! in grateful tributes to his memory! He was a most unselfish fellow, very kind and tender-hearted, but of rather a secretive nature. He loved little children, and necessitous folk, who appealed to his imagination. I do not mean that he was charitable to the poor, but that he had a natural inclination to help people of his own class whenever they were in a difficulty, provided that he liked them. He hated, however, to see the feelings of anyone hurt or derided, and always took the part of anyone who was laughed at. He once said to me, “I would much rather be ridiculed myself, than see another person made little of.” He was full of sympathy, and yet he appeared cold, sometimes even morose. He possessed a fine sense of humour, but such a sensitive heart that he seldom exercised it at the expense of another. His greatest fault was indolence. He was incurably lazy, and, rather than work in anything approaching a set fashion, would go to such trouble in avoiding it, that really had he applied the energy so wasted to his proper tasks he must have achieved a brilliant success, for he was clever, and marvellously quick of apprehension. I had conceived a fancy for him before I knew him. It is, therefore, hardly to be wondered at that I grew to simply love him as time proceeded, especially as, in spite of his indolence, he took unwearied pains over me, and seemed to always want to have me at his side. He had a great number of acquaintances, who liked him heartily, and whom he also liked in a fashion, but I was his chum, and he made no secret that he cared for me incomparably better than the others. It is a great sadness for me to think that I did so little to deserve his affection. After he had fixed my tie, he showed me a poem he had written. I considered it as charitably as I could; but it was doggerel.

He watched my face intently. “I want you to tell me


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exactly what you think of it,” he said, with great earnestness. “It is my ambition, Lucas!”

“What, to write?”

“To become a poet!”

I felt he was hopelessly incapable of realising his desires, but I had not the heart to tell him so. You see, already I failed in friendship.

“I think it is splendid!” I said, after awhile.

His face lighted up. “I'm so glad!” he muttered, and showed me a drawer in his desk chocked with manuscript. “One day I'll let you read it,” he said, in the manner of a child promising another a great treat.

I felt as sorry as possible for him. “Thanks!” I said, as heartily as I could. “When did you commence to write?”

“Years ago; but no one knows except you. I couldn't tell anyone before. It's just my life, the best part of me; I love it.”

“Have you ever published any?”

He shook his head. “I could never bring myself to try. The thought of an editor coldly criticising what means so much to me, hurts too much. Never breathe a word of this to a soul, Lucas, will you?”

“No. I'd have my tongue cut out sooner!”

He wrung my hand. I could have cried for him. “I believe you could write if you tried,” he muttered; “you are sympathetic.”

“No,” said I; “it does not depend on sympathy. It is a gift. Nascitur non fit, Edward.”

His eyes gleamed. “I'll astonish people one day!” he said.

I sighed, for I pitied him profoundly. He appeared to me an extraordinarily pathetic figure; astute in all else, but in this subject devotedly blind.

“Who is your favourite poet?” he asked presently.

“Longfellow.”

He gave a cry of delight. “Is it possible? I just adore him, too.”

Now I did not adore Longfellow; but in very pity, I descended to the lowest depths of hypocrisy. “Do you know, Edward, those verses you just showed me somehow


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remind me of Longfellow.” Oh, how glad he seemed! I felt the lowest brute imaginable.

“I borrowed the metre from ‘Coplas de Manriqué,’ ” he cried, and then added, a little jealous of his own pride of authorship, perhaps, “but the thought is my own. You do not think me a plagiarist?”

“No, Edward, far from it; it was the melody that made me reminiscent, that was all.”

From that hour Edward Shaw accorded me his deep and whole-hearted affection. It is my shame and not his that I won it so easily; but I cannot all regret the contemptible part I played, at least thereby I gave him some happiness, a happiness which elsewise he could never have enjoyed, for any other man would have laughed at his pretensions. I fear very much that a great deal of human satisfaction is founded, at bottom, upon insincerity; it is a sad thing to reflect upon, for it induces one to institute enquiries much best left undetermined.

The dinner passed as such functions do. I have long ago grown used to them, though I shall never forget the purgatory I suffered at the commencement of my social invasion. I carefully avoided solecisms, and talked as little as I could; you see, my chief curse is an itching tongue, and I recognised the desirability of curbing it. In spite of that, however, I was the centre figure of the conversation, for politics was the theme, and I had views. How paltry they all seem now!

The Attorney General was present, and he engaged me in an argument. At first he listened with amusement. No doubt he thought me an impertinent boy, to venture to discuss with him a point of economics. Later, however, he seemed to change his mind. I quoted established authorities in support of my contention with a glibness that confounded him, and foolishly refused to yield a jot of my opinions. It is true that I fought a losing battle, but I managed to leave the table in doubt as to whom the palm was due. I quickly realised the foolishness of my conduct, for I perceived that my opinionatedness had won the unfavourable consideration of a powerful man. It is a mistake for an unknown person to assail an established potentate, and I resolved not to


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commit the error again. When the ladies left the room, the Attorney General poured on my head a flood of ridicule, to which I submitted as a token of repentance. This restored his equanimity, and induced him to regard me with less hostile eyes, but by no means repaired my former error, for he afterwards described me to Mrs. Shaw as a bumptious young idiot, although she, dear lady, warmly defended me.

I was subsequently, in the drawing-room, much amused to observe the manner in which everyone who possessed an accomplishment was “trotted out,” and induced to perform for the benefit of the crowd. I can't avoid taking this opportunity to record my opinion how ridiculous men who sing appear, regarded by critical eyes. Their songs never suit them. Sentiment becomes bathos; passion ludicrous; grandeur, simply absurd; while comedy, even in the performance of a master, descends swiftly into farce. Several men, after much pressing “obliged” their hostess, and, although a few had good voices, they all made me feel pretty sick. Now with women it is different. Music suits them; they seem created for the purpose of melodious expression, and seldom appear to better advantage than when either singing or acting a congenial part. I may be wrong; but I think that women are set more utterly apart from men than most men believe. Things which have no practical worth or meaning save in sense constitute their peculiar province, and when a man invades their territory he appears to me just as poor a creature as a woman rigged out in masculine apparel.

I was asked by turns to sing, to play, and to recite. Mrs. Shaw was sure I could do something. I assured her I could listen.

“And laugh!” she added.

“Madam,” I whispered, “it is no laughing matter to watch a man play the fool.”

Which speech was unhappily overheard by Rupert Percival, who had just recited “Clarence's Dream!” with the utmost fervour and tragic earnestness. He turned to Amber Eyes, and said impressively, “I have often noticed that people who can do nothing themselves are the readiest to decry the performances of others.”




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My wretched tongue tripped me up again. “Sir,” I said, addressing him directly, “the men who abstain from folly for the sake of principle are rare enough to deserve even greater privilege.”

“I spoke of artistic achievements,” he answered, coldly.

“Pardon me,” I replied; “I am not clever enough to perceive what does not exist!”

He turned a queer green colour, and his back on me. Edward Shaw, who sat upon my other side, whispered in my ear, “Bad, Lucas, very bad! You have been rude to a fellow guest; it is an insult to your hostess. Luckily, no one else seems to have heard you!”

“I am awfully sorry!” I muttered. I was covered with shame. “Shall I apologise to him?”

“Only make matters worse.”

Miss Denton stood up. “Let us go out on the terrace,” she said. Everyone agreed; she took Percival's arm, and looked at me. I met her eyes, and realised my punishment in their condemnatory glance. But a little later she came up to me alone, as I stood leaning on one of the low battlemented walls.

“What has Mr. Percival done to you?” she demanded.

I slowly turned to her. The light was dim, but we could see each other distinctly.

“He is one of my six enemies!” I said.

“No!” she cried, “you are wrong!”

“Never mind!” I muttered; “he wants to be the seventh. I can feel it.”

She laughed, and presently observed, “You are staying at the Kentish Hotel, are you not?”

“Yes.”

“To-morrow evening I shall be out your way. I am dining with some friends at Forest Lodge.”

“Indeed. Now, I wish——”

“What?”

“That I were too.”

“Oh!” she cried. “I shall be leaving early.”

“But attended?”

“I don't think so.”

“Do you mean to say you ever go about after dark alone?”




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“I often do.”

“Without a chaperone?”

“I detest chaperones, don't you?”

“I don't know. Where shall I meet you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Excuse me, Miss Denton, you want me to meet you, don't you?”

“Certainly not!”

“Then why did you tell me?”

She laughed contemptuously. “Just for something to talk about!” and flitted away, leaving me with an intimate conviction of the folly I had been guilty of in attempting to drive her into an admission.

When I bade her good-night that evening, her right hand contained a tiny note, which I managed to receive without an exclamation of surprise, although one was on the tip of my tongue.

It contained four words; “University Bridge. Ten o'clock!”

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