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- You Never Know Your Luck, Volume 2. - 1/11 -


YOU NEVER KNOW YOUR LUCK

[BEING THE STORY OF A MATRIMONIAL DESERTER]

By Gilbert Parker

Volume 2.

VI. "HERE ENDETH THE FIRST LESSON" VII. A WOMAN'S WAY TO KNOWLEDGE VIII. ALL ABOUT AN UNOPENED LETTER IX. NIGHT SHADE AND MORNING GLORY X. "S. O. S." XI. IN THE CAMP OF THE DESERTER

CHAPTER VI

"HERE ENDETH THE FIRST LESSON"

The stillness of a summer's day in Prairie Land has all the characteristics of music. That is not so paradoxical as it seems. The effect of some music is to produce a divine quiescence of the senses, a suspension of motion and aggressive life; to reduce existence to mere pulsation. It was this kind of feeling which pervaded that region of sentient being when Shiel Crozier told his story. The sounds that sprinkled the general stillness were in themselves sleepy notes of the pervasive music of somnolent nature--the sough of the pine at the door, the murmur of insect life, the low, thudding beat of the steam-thresher out of sight hard by, the purring of the cat in the arms of Kitty Tynan as, with fascinated eyes, she listened to a man tell the tale of a life as distant from that which she lived as she was from Eve.

She felt more awed than curious as the tale went on; it even seemed to her she was listening to a theme beyond her sphere, like some shameless eavesdropper at the curtains of a secret ceremonial. Once or twice she looked at her mother and at the Young Doctor, as though to reassure herself that she was not a vulgar intruder. It was far more impressive to her, and to the Young Doctor too, than the scene at the Logan Trial when a man was sentenced to death. It was strangely magnetic, this tale of a man's existence; and the clock which sounded so loud on the mantelpiece, as it mechanically ticked off the time, seemed only part of some mysterious machinery of life. Once a dove swept down upon the window-sill, and, peering in, filled one of the pauses in the recital with its deep contralto note, and then fled like a small blue cloud into the wide and--as it seemed--everlasting peace beyond the doorway.

There was nothing at all between themselves and the far sky-line save little clumps of trees here and there, little clusters of buildings and houses--no visible animal life. Everything conspired to give a dignity in keeping with the drama of failure being unfolded in the commonplace home of the widow Tynan. Yet the home too had its dignity. The engineer father had had tastes, and he had insisted on plain, unfigured curtains and wallpaper and carpets, when carpets were used; and though his wife had at first protested against the unfigured carpets as more difficult to keep clean and as showing the dirt too easily, she had come to like the one-colour scheme, and in that respect her home had an individuality rare in her surroundings.

That was why Kitty Tynan had always a good background; for what her bright colouring would have been in the midst of gaudy, cheap chintzes and "Axminsters," such as abounded in Askatoon, is better left to the imagination. It was not, therefore, in sordid, mean, or incongruous surroundings that Crozier told his tale; as would no doubt have been arranged by a dramatist, if he had had the making and the setting of the story; and if it were not a true tale told just as it happened.

Perhaps the tale was the more impressive because of Crozier's deep baritone voice, capable, as it was, of much modulation, yet, except when. he was excited, having a slight monotone like the note of a violin with the mute upon the strings.

This was his tale:

"Well, to begin with, I was born at Castlegarry, in Kerry--you know the main facts from what I said in court. As a boy I wasn't so bad a sort. I had one peculiarity. I always wanted 'to have something on,' as John Sibley would say. No matter what it was, I must have something on it. And I was very lucky--worse luck!"

They all laughed at the bull. "I feel at home at once," murmured the Young Doctor, for he had come from near Enniskillen years agone, and there is not so much difference between Enniskillen and Kerry when it comes to Irish bulls.

"Worse luck, it was," continued Crozier, "because it made me confident of always winning. It's hard to say how early I began to believe I could see things that were going to happen. By the hour I used to shake the dice on the billiard-table at Castlegarry, trying to see with my eyes shut the numbers about to come up. Of course now and then I saw the right numbers; and it deepened the conviction that if I cultivated the gift I'd be able to be right nearly every time. When I went to a horse- race I used to fasten my mind on the signal, and tried to see beforehand the number of the winner. Again sometimes I was very right indeed, and that deepened my confidence in myself. I was always at it. I'd try and guess--try and see--the number of the hymn which was on the paper in the vicar's hand before he gave it out, and I would bet with myself on it. I would bet with myself or with anybody available on any conceivable thing--the minutes late a train would be; the pints of milk a cow would give; the people who would be at a hunt breakfast; the babies that would be christened on a Sunday; the number of eyes in a peck of raw potatoes. I was out against the universe. But it wasn't serious at all--just a boy's mania--till one day my father met me in London when I came down from Oxford, and took me to Thwaite's Club in St. James's Street. There was the thing that finished me. I was twenty-one, and restless-minded, and with eyes wide open.

"Well, he took me to Thwaite's where I was to become a member, and after a little while he left me to go and have a long pow-wow with the committee--he was a member of it. He told me to make myself at home, and I did so as soon as his back was turned. Almost the first thing with which I became sociable was a book which, at my first sight of it, had a fascination for me. The binding was very old, and the leather was worn, as you will see the leather of a pocketbook, till it looks and feels like a nice soap. That book brought me here."

He paused, and in the silence the Young Doctor pushed a glass of milk and brandy towards him. He sipped the contents. The others were in a state of tension. Kitty Tynan's eyes were fixed on him as though hypnotised, and the Young Doctor was scarcely less interested; while the widow knitted harder and faster than she had ever done, and she could knit very fast indeed.

"It was the betting-book of Thwaite's, and it dated back almost to the time of the conquest of Quebec. Great men dead and gone long ago--near a hundred and fifty years ago-had put down their bets in the book, for Thwaite's was then what it is now, the highest and best sporting club in the world."

Kitty Tynan's face had a curious look, for there was a club in Askatoon, and it was said that all the "sports" assembled there. She had no idea what Thwaite's Club in St. James's Street would look like; but that did not matter. She supposed it must be as big as the Askatoon Court House at least.

"Bets--bets--bets by men whose names were in every history, and the names of their sons and grandsons and great-grandsons; and all betting on the oddest things as well as the most natural things in the world. Some of the bets made were as mad as the bets I made myself. Oh! ridiculous, some of them were; and then again bets on things that stirred the world to the centre, from the loss of America to the beheading of Louis XVI.

"It was strange enough to see the half-dozen lines of a bet by a marquis whose great-grandson bet on the Franco-German War; that the Government which imposed the tea-tax in America would be out of power within six months; or that the French Canadians would join the colonists in what is now the United States if they revolted. This would be cheek-by-jowl with a bet that an heir would be born to one new-married pair before another pair. The very last bet made on the day I opened the book was that Queen Victoria would make Lord Salisbury a duke, that a certain gentleman known as S. S. could find his own door in St. James's Square, blindfold, from the club, and that Corsair would win the Derby.

"For two long hours I sat forgetful of everything around me, while I read that record--to me the most interesting the world could show. Every line was part of the history of the country, a part of the history of many lives, and it was all part of the ritual of the temple of the great god Chance. I was fascinated, lost in a land of wonders. Men came and went, but silently. At last there entered a gentleman whose picture I had so often seen in the papers--a man as well known in the sporting world as was Chamberlain in the political world. He was dressed spectacularly, but his face oozed good-nature, though his eyes were like bright bits of coal. He bred horses, he raced this, he backed that, he laid against the other; he was one of the greatest plungers, one of the biggest figures on the turf. He had been a kind of god to me--a god in a grey frock-coat, with a grey top-hat and field-glasses slung over his shoulder; or in a hunting-suit of the most picturesque kind--great pockets in a well- fitting coat, splendid striped waistcoat. Well, there, I only mention this because it played so big a part in bringing me to Askatoon.

"He came up to the table where I sat in the room with the beautiful Adam's fireplace and the ceiling like an architrave of Valhalla, and said, 'Do you mind--for one minute?' and he reached out a hand for the book.

"I made way for him, and I suppose admiration showed in my eyes, because as he hastily wrote--what a generous scrawl it was!--he said to me, 'Haven't we met somewhere before? I seem to remember your face.

"Great gentleman, I thought, because it was certain he knew he had never seen me before, and I was overcome by the reflection that he wished to be civil in that way to me. 'It's my father's face you remember, I should think,' I answered. 'He is a member here. I am only a visitor. I haven't been elected yet.' 'Ah, we must see to that!' he said with a smile, and laid a hand on my shoulder as though he'd known me many a year--and I only twenty-one. 'Who is your father?' he asked. When I told him he nodded. 'Yes, yes, I know him--Crozier of Castlegarry; but I knew his father far better, though he was so much older than me, and indeed your grandfather also. Look--in this book is the first bet I ever made here after my election to the club, and it was made with your grandfather. There's no age in the kingdom of sport, dear lad,' he added, laughing--'neither age nor sex nor position nor place. It's the one democratic thing in the modern world. It's a republic inside this


You Never Know Your Luck, Volume 2. - 1/11

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