AN IDEAL FAMILY.
That evening for the first time in his life, as he pressed through
swing door and descended the three broad steps to the pavement,
Neave felt he was too old for the spring. Spring--warm, eager, restless--
was there, waiting for him in the golden light, ready in front of
to run up, to blow in his white beard, to drag sweetly on his arm.
couldn't meet her, no; he couldn't square up once more and stride
jaunty as a young man. He was tired and, although the late sun was
shining, curiously cold, with a numbed feeling all over. Quite suddenly
hadn't the energy, he hadn't the heart to stand this gaiety and
movement any longer; it confused him. He wanted to stand still,
to wave it
away with his stick, to say, "Be off with you!" Suddenly
it was a terrible
effort to greet as usual--tipping his wide-awake with his stick--all
people whom he knew, the friends, acquaintances, shopkeepers, postmen,
drivers. But the gay glance that went with the gesture, the kindly
that seemed to say, "I'm a match and more for any of you"--that
Neave could not manage at all. He stumped along, lifting his knees
if he were walking through air that had somehow grown heavy and
water. And the homeward-looking crowd hurried by, the trams clanked,
light carts clattered, the big swinging cabs bowled along with that
reckless, defiant indifference that one knows only in dreams...
It had been a day like other days at the office. Nothing special
happened. Harold hadn't come back from lunch until close on four.
had he been? What had he been up to? He wasn't going to let his
know. Old Mr. Neave had happened to be in the vestibule, saying
to a caller, when Harold sauntered in, perfectly turned out as usual,
suave, smiling that peculiar little half-smile that women found
Ah, Harold was too handsome, too handsome by far; that had been
all along. No man had a right to such eyes, such lashes, and such
was uncanny. As for his mother, his sisters, and the servants, it
too much to say they made a young god of him; they worshipped Harold,
forgave him everything; and he had needed some forgiving ever since
time when he was thirteen and he had stolen his mother's purse,
money, and hidden the purse in the cook's bedroom. Old Mr. Neave
sharply with his stick upon the pavement edge. But it wasn't only
family who spoiled Harold, he reflected, it was everybody; he had
look and to smile, and down they went before him. So perhaps it
be wondered at that he expected the office to carry on the tradition.
h'm! But it couldn't be done. No business--not even a successful,
established, big paying concern--could be played with. A man had
put his whole heart and soul into it, or it went all to pieces before
And then Charlotte and the girls were always at him to make the
over to Harold, to retire, and to spend his time enjoying himself.
Enjoying himself! Old Mr. Neave stopped dead under a group of ancient
cabbage palms outside the Government buildings! Enjoying himself!
wind of evening shook the dark leaves to a thin airy cackle. Sitting
home, twiddling his thumbs, conscious all the while that his life's
was slipping away, dissolving, disappearing through Harold's fine
while Harold smiled...
"Why will you be so unreasonable, father? There's absolutely
no need for
you to go to the office. It only makes it very awkward for us when
persist in saying how tired you're looking. Here's this huge house
garden. Surely you could be happy in--in--appreciating it for a
Or you could take up some hobby."
And Lola the baby had chimed in loftily, "All men ought to
It makes life impossible if they haven't."
Well, well! He couldn't help a grim smile as painfully he began
the hill that led into Harcourt Avenue. Where would Lola and her
and Charlotte be if he'd gone in for hobbies, he'd like to know?
couldn't pay for the town house and the seaside bungalow, and their
and their golf, and the sixty-guinea gramophone in the music-room
to dance to. Not that he grudged them these things. No, they were
good-looking girls, and Charlotte was a remarkable woman; it was
for them to be in the swim. As a matter of fact, no other house
town was as popular as theirs; no other family entertained so much.
how many times old Mr. Neave, pushing the cigar box across the smoking-room
table, had listened to praises of his wife, his girls, of himself
"You're an ideal family, sir, an ideal family. It's like something
reads about or sees on the stage."
"That's all right, my boy," old Mr. Neave would reply.
"Try one of those;
I think you'll like them. And if you care to smoke in the garden,
find the girls on the lawn, I dare say."
That was why the girls had never married, so people said. They
married anybody. But they had too good a time at home. They were
happy together, the girls and Charlotte. H'm, h'm! Well, well. Perhaps
By this time he had walked the length of fashionable Harcourt Avenue;
had reached the corner house, their house. The carriage gates were
back; there were fresh marks of wheels on the drive. And then he
big white-painted house, with its wide-open windows, its tulle curtains
floating outwards, its blue jars of hyacinths on the broad sills.
either side of the carriage porch their hydrangeas--famous in the
were coming into flower; the pinkish, bluish masses of flower lay
light among the spreading leaves. And somehow, it seemed to old
that the house and the flowers, and even the fresh marks on the
saying, "There is young life here. There are girls--"
The hall, as always, was dusky with wraps, parasols, gloves, piled
oak chests. From the music-room sounded the piano, quick, loud and
impatient. Through the drawing-room door that was ajar voices floated.
"And were there ices?" came from Charlotte. Then the
creak, creak of her
"Ices!" cried Ethel. "My dear mother, you never
saw such ices. Only two
kinds. And one a common little strawberry shop ice, in a sopping
"The food altogether was too appalling," came from Marion.
"Still, it's rather early for ices," said Charlotte easily.
"But why, if one has them at all ..." began Ethel.
"Oh, quite so, darling," crooned Charlotte.
Suddenly the music-room door opened and Lola dashed out. She started,
nearly screamed, at the sight of old Mr. Neave.
"Gracious, father! What a fright you gave me! Have you just
Why isn't Charles here to help you off with your coat?"
Her cheeks were crimson from playing, her eyes glittered, the hair
over her forehead. And she breathed as though she had come running
the dark and was frightened. Old Mr. Neave stared at his youngest
daughter; he felt he had never seen her before. So that was Lola,
But she seemed to have forgotten her father; it was not for him
was waiting there. Now she put the tip of her crumpled handkerchief
between her teeth and tugged at it angrily. The telephone rang.
Lola gave a cry like a sob and dashed past him. The door of the
room slammed, and at the same moment Charlotte called, "Is
"You're tired again," said Charlotte reproachfully, and
she stopped the
rocker and offered her warm plum-like cheek. Bright-haired Ethel
his beard, Marion's lips brushed his ear.
"Did you walk back, father?" asked Charlotte.
"Yes, I walked home," said old Mr. Neave, and he sank
into one of the
immense drawing-room chairs.
"But why didn't you take a cab?" said Ethel. "There
are hundred of cabs
about at that time."
"My dear Ethel," cried Marion, "if father prefers
to tire himself out, I
really don't see what business of ours it is to interfere."
"Children, children?" coaxed Charlotte.
But Marion wouldn't be stopped. "No, mother, you spoil father,
not right. You ought to be stricter with him. He's very naughty."
laughed her hard, bright laugh and patted her hair in a mirror.
When she was a little girl she had such a soft, hesitating voice;
even stuttered, and now, whatever she said--even if it was only
please, father"--it rang out as though she were on the stage.
"Did Harold leave the office before you, dear?" asked
to rock again.
"I'm not sure," said Old Mr. Neave. "I'm not sure.
I didn't see him after
"He said--" began Charlotte.
But at that moment Ethel, who was twitching over the leaves of
or other, ran to her mother and sank down beside her chair.
"There, you see," she cried. "That's what I mean,
mummy. Yellow, with
touches of silver. Don't you agree?"
"Give it to me, love," said Charlotte. She fumbled for
spectacles and put them on, gave the page a little dab with her
fingers, and pursed up her lips. "Very sweet!" she crooned
looked at Ethel over her spectacles. "But I shouldn't have
"Not the train!" wailed Ethel tragically. "But the
train's the whole
"Here, mother, let me decide." Marion snatched the paper
Charlotte. "I agree with mother," she cried triumphantly.
Old Mr. Neave, forgotten, sank into the broad lap of his chair,
dozing, heard them as though he dreamed. There was no doubt about
was tired out; he had lost his hold. Even Charlotte and the girls
much for him to-night. They were too...too...But all his drowsing
could think of was--too rich for him. And somewhere at the back
everything he was watching a little withered ancient man climbing
endless flights of stairs. Who was he?
"I shan't dress to-night," he muttered.
"What do you say, father?"
"Eh, what, what?" Old Mr. Neave woke with a start and
stared across at
them. "I shan't dress to-night," he repeated.
"But, father, we've got Lucile coming, and Henry Davenport,
and Mrs. Teddie
"It will look so very out of the picture."
"Don't you feel well, dear?"
"You needn't make any effort. What is Charles for?"
"But if you're really not up to it," Charlotte wavered.
"Very well! Very well!" Old Mr. Neave got up and went
to join that little
old climbing fellow just as far as his dressing-room...
There young Charles was waiting for him. Carefully, as though everything
depended on it, he was tucking a towel round the hot-water can.
Charles had been a favourite of his ever since as a little red-faced
had come into the house to look after the fires. Old Mr. Neave lowered
himself into the cane lounge by the window, stretched out his legs,
made his little evening joke, "Dress him up, Charles!"
breathing intensely and frowning, bent forward to take the pin out
H'm, h'm! Well, well! It was pleasant by the open window, very
a fine mild evening. They were cutting the grass on the tennis court
below; he heard the soft churr of the mower. Soon the girls would
their tennis parties again. And at the thought he seemed to hear
voice ring out, "Good for you, partner...Oh, played, partner...Oh,
nice indeed." Then Charlotte calling from the veranda, "Where
And Ethel, "He's certainly not here, mother." And Charlotte's
Old Mr. Neave sighed, got up, and putting one hand under his beard,
the comb from young Charles, and carefully combed the white beard
Charles gave him a folded handkerchief, his watch and seals, and
"That will do, my lad." The door shut, he sank back,
he was alone...
And now that little ancient fellow was climbing down endless flights
led to a glittering, gay dining-room. What legs he had! They were
"You're an ideal family, sir, an ideal family."
But if that were true, why didn't Charlotte or the girls stop him?
he all alone, climbing up and down? Where was Harold? Ah, it was
expecting anything from Harold. Down, down went the little old spider,
then, to his horror, old Mr. Neave saw him slip past the dining-room
make for the porch, the dark drive, the carriage gates, the office.
him, stop him, somebody!
Old Mr. Neave started up. It was dark in his dressing-room; the
shone pale. How long had he been asleep? He listened, and through
big, airy, darkened house there floated far-away voices, far-away
Perhaps, he thought vaguely, he had been asleep for a long time.
forgotten. What had all this to do with him--this house and Charlotte,
girls and Harold--what did he know about them? They were strangers
Life had passed him by. Charlotte was not his wife. His wife!
...A dark porch, half hidden by a passion-vine, that drooped sorrowful,
mournful, as though it understood. Small, warm arms were round his
A face, little and pale, lifted to his, and a voice breathed, "Good-bye,
My treasure! "Good-bye, my treasure!" Which of them had
spoken? Why had
they said good-bye? There had been some terrible mistake. She was
wife, that little pale girl, and all the rest of his life had been
Then the door opened, and young Charles, standing in the light,
hands by his side and shouted like a young soldier, "Dinner
is on the
"I'm coming, I'm coming," said old Mr. Neave.