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The Belfry   By: (1863-1946)

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Author of the Three Sisters , etc.





Of course this story can't be published as it stands just yet. Not if I'm to be decent for another generation, because, thank Heaven, they're still alive. (They've had me there, as they've always had me everywhere.) How they managed it I can't think. I don't mean merely at the end, though that was stupendous, but how they ever managed it. It seems to me they must have taken all the risks, always.

I suppose if you asked him he'd say, "That's how." It was certainly the way they managed the business of living. Perhaps it's why they managed it on the whole so well. I remember how when I was shilly shallying about that last job of mine he said, "Take it. Take it. If you can risk living at all, my dear fellow, you can risk that."

And he added, "If I'd only your luck!"

Well, that's exactly what he did have. He had my luck, I mean the luck I ought to have had, all the time, from the beginning to the very end. But there is one thing he can't take from me, and that is the telling of this story. He can hold it up as long as he lives as long as she lives as he has held up pretty nearly everything where I was concerned. But he can't take it from me. He doesn't "want" it. Even he with his infernal talent couldn't do anything with it. Unscrupulous as he was, and I assure you he'd stick at nothing (he'd "take" his mother's last agony if he "wanted" it badly enough), indecent as he was, he'd stick at that.

I don't mean he couldn't take his wife, part of her, anyhow, at a pinch. And I don't mean he couldn't take himself, his own emotions, his own eccentricities, if he happened to want them, and his own meannesses, if nobody else's, so to speak, would do. But he couldn't and wouldn't take his own big things, particularly not that last thing.

When I say that I can't publish this story yet as it stands, I'm not forgetting that I have published the end of it already. But only in the way of business; to publish that sort of thing was what I went out for; it was all part of my Special Correspondent's job.

And when you think that it was just touch and go Why, if I hadn't bucked up and taken that job when he told me to I might have missed him. No amount of hearing about him would have been the same thing. I had to see him.

What I wrote then doesn't count. I had to tell what I saw just after I had seen it. I had to take it as I saw it, a fragment snapped off from the rest of him, and dated October 11th, 1914, as if it didn't belong to him; as if he were only another splendid instance. And of course I had to leave her out.

Told like that, it didn't amount to much.

This is the real telling.

I must get away from the end, right back to the beginning.

I suppose, to be accurate, the very beginning was the day I first met him in nineteen six no, nineteen five it must have been. It was at Blackheath Football Ground, the last match of the season, when Woolwich Arsenal played East Kent and beat them by two goals and a try. He was there as a representative of the Press, "doing" the match for some sporting paper.

He held me up at the barrier (yes, he held me up in the first moment of our acquaintance) while he fumbled for his pass. He had given the word "Press" with an exaggerated aplomb that showed he was young to his job, and the gate keeper challenged him. It was, in fact, the exquisite self consciousness of the little man that made me look at him. And he caught me looking at him; he blushed, caught himself blushing and smiled to himself with the most delicious appreciation of his own absurdity. And as he stood there fumbling, and holding me up while he argued with the gate keeper, who didn't know him, I got his engaging twinkle. It was as if he looked at me and said, "See me swank just then? Funny, wasn't it?"

He hung about on the edge of the crowd for a while with his hands in his pockets, sucking his little blond moustache and looking dreamy and rather incompetent... Continue reading book >>

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