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- A Prisoner in Fairyland - 2/79 -


'And you _do_ deserve success, dear,' she added; 'you've been as faithful as a horse.' She came closer, and stroked his thick, light hair a moment.

He turned quickly. Had he betrayed himself already? Had she read it from his eyes or manner?

'That's nothing,' he answered lightly. 'Duty is duty.'

'Of course, dear,' and she brought him his slippers. He would not let her put them on for him. It was not gallant to permit menial services to a woman.

'Success,' he murmured, 'that poisons many a baser mind---' and then stopped short. 'I've got a new sonnet,' he told her quickly, determined to prolong his pleasure, 'got it in the train coming home. Wait a moment, and I'll give you the rest. It's a beauty, with real passion in it, only I want to keep it cold and splendid if I can. Don't interrupt a moment.' He put the slippers on the wrong feet and stared hard into the fire.

Then Mrs. Minks knew for a certainty that something had happened. He had not even asked after the children.

'Herbert,' she said, with a growing excitement, 'why are you so full of poetry to-night? And what's this about success and poison all of a sudden?' She knew he never drank. 'I believe Mr. Rogers has raised your salary, or done one of those fine things you always say he's going to do. Tell me, dear, please tell me.' There were new, unpaid bills in her pocket, and she almost felt tempted to show them. She poked the fire fussily.

'Albinia,' he answered importantly, with an expression that brought the chin up closer to the lips, and made the eyebrows almost stern, 'Mr. Rogers will do the right thing always--when the right time comes. As a matter of fact'--here he reverted to the former train of thought --'both he and I are misfits in a practical, sordid age. We should have been born in Greece---'

'I simply love your poems, Herbert,' she interrupted gently, wondering how she managed to conceal her growing impatience so well, 'but there's not the money in them that there ought to be, and they don't pay for coals or for Ronald's flannels---'

'Albinia,' he put in softly, 'they relieve the heart, and so make me a happier and a better man. But--I should say he would,' he added, answering her distant question about the salary.

The secret was almost out. It hung on the edge of his lips. A moment longer he hugged it deliciously. He loved these little conversations with his wife. Never a shade of asperity entered into them. And this one in particular afforded him a peculiar delight.

'Both of us are made for higher things than mere money-making,' he went on, lighting his calabash pipe and puffing the smoke carefully above her head from one corner of his mouth, 'and that's what first attracted us to each other, as I have often mentioned to you. But now'--his bursting heart breaking through all control--'that he has sold his interests to a company and retired into private life--er--my own existence should be easier and less exacting. I shall have less routine, be more my own master, and also, I trust, find time perhaps for---'

'Then something _has_ happened!' cried Mrs. Minks, springing to her feet.

'It has, my dear,' he answered with forced calmness, though his voice was near the trembling point.

She stood in front of him, waiting. But he himself did not rise, nor show more feeling than he could help. His poems were full of scenes like this in which the men--strong, silent fellows--were fine and quiet. Yet his instinct was to act quite otherwise. One eye certainly betrayed it.

'It has,' he repeated, full of delicious emotion.

'Oh, but Herbert---!'

'And I am no longer that impersonal factor in City life, mere secretary to the Board of a company---'

'Oh, Bertie, dear!'

'But private secretary to Mr. Henry Rogers--private and confidential secretary at---'

'Bert, darling---!'

'At 300 pounds a year, paid quarterly, with expenses extra, and long, regular holidays,' he concluded with admirable dignity and self-possession.

There was a moment's silence.

'You splendour!' She gave a little gasp of admiration that went straight to his heart, and set big fires alight there. 'Your reward has come at last! My hero!'

This was as it should be. The beginning of an epic poem flashed with tumult through his blood. Yet outwardly he kept his admirable calm.

'My dear, we must take success, like disaster, quietly.' He said it gently, as when he played with the children. It was mostly put on, of course, this false grandiloquence of the prig. His eyes already twinkled more than he could quite disguise.

'Then we can manage the other school, perhaps, for Frank?' she cried, and was about to open various flood-gates when he stopped her with a look of proud happiness that broke down all barriers of further pretended secrecy.

'Mr. Rogers,' was the low reply, 'has offered to do that for us--as a start.' The words were leisurely spoken between great puffs of smoke. 'That's what I meant just now by saying that he lived poetry in his life, you see. Another time you will allow judgment to wait on knowledge---'

'You dear old humbug,' she cried, cutting short the sentence that neither of them quite understood, 'I believe you've known this for weeks---'

'Two hours ago exactly,' he corrected her, and would willingly have prolonged the scene indefinitely had not his practical better half prevented him. For she came over, dropped upon her knees beside his chair, and, putting both arms about his neck, she kissed his foolish sentences away with all the pride and tenderness that filled her to the brim. And it pleased Minks hugely. It made him feel, for the moment at any rate, that he was the hero, not Mr. Henry Rogers.

But he did not show his emotion much. He did not even take his pipe out. It slipped down sideways into another corner of his wandering lips. And, while he returned the kiss with equal tenderness and pleasure, one mild blue eye looked down upon her soft brown hair, and the other glanced sideways, without a trace of meaning in it, at the oleograph of Napoleon on Elba that hung upon the wall. ...

Soon afterwards the little Sydenham villa was barred and shuttered, the four children were sound asleep, Herbert and Albinia Minks both lost in the world of happy dreams that sometimes visit honest, simple folk whose consciences are clean and whose aims in life are commonplace but worthy.

CHAPTER II

When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first splendour, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang 'Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!'

But one cried of a sudden--'It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light and one of the stars has been lost.'

The golden string of their harp snapped, their song stopped, and they cried in dismay--'Yes, that lost star was the best, she was the glory of all heavens!'

From that day the search is unceasing for her, and the cry goes on from one to the other that in her the world has lost its one joy!

Only in the deepest silence of night the stars smile and whisper among themselves--'Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is over all!'

RABINDRANATH TAGORE. (Prose translation by Author from his original Bengali.)

It was April 30th and Henry Rogers sat in his rooms after breakfast, listening to the rumble of the traffic down St. James's Street, and found the morning dull. A pile of letters lay unopened upon the table, waiting the arrival of the discriminating Mr. Minks with his shorthand note-book and his mild blue eyes. It was half-past nine, and the secretary was due at ten o'clock.

He smiled as he thought of this excellent fellow's first morning in the promoted capacity of private secretary. He would come in very softly, one eye looking more intelligent than the other; the air of the City clerk discarded, and in its place the bearing that belonged to new robes of office worn for the first time. He would bow, say 'Good morning, Mr. Rogers,' glance round with one eye on his employer and another on a possible chair, seat himself with a sigh that meant 'I have written a new poem in the night, and would love to read it to you if I dared,' then flatten out his oblong note-book and look up, expectant and receptive. Rogers would say 'Good morning, Mr. Minks. We've got a busy day before us. Now, let me see---' and would meet his glance with welcome. He would look quickly from one eye to the other- to this day he did not know which one was right to meet-and would wonder for the thousandth time how such an insignificant face could go with such an honest, capable mind. Then he smiled again as he remembered Frank, the little boy whose schooling he was paying for, and realised that Minks would bring a message of gratitude from Mrs. Minks, perhaps would hand him, with a gesture combining dignity and humbleness, a little note of thanks in a long narrow envelope of pale mauve, bearing a flourishing monogram on its back.

And Rogers scowled a little as he thought of the air of gruffness he would assume while accepting it, saying as pleasantly as he could manage, 'Oh, Mr. Minks, that's nothing at all; I'm only too delighted


A Prisoner in Fairyland - 2/79

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