Duqsiga, waxaa la qoray 1922kii, waxaana qortay Katherine Mansfield oo u dhaladtay New Zealand. Katherine baa tiri: «Dhabtii, waxaa jira sadex mawduuc: jacaylka, geerida, iyo duqsiyada.» Sheekadan oo ku saabsan u baroorashada horfiiqa wiilkiisa ku dhintay dagaalka kawaad, oo la xiriira imberadooriyad oo ay ingiriiska iyo dalal kale ka mid ahaayayn dagaalkaasi, waxaana loo qaadan karaa sida horfiiqu ugu hanwaynaa wiilkiisa oo ka doonayay inuu ka qaadtaa ganacsigiisa, inay wiilkiisa iyo ganacsigiisa imberadoorayaddiisa u ahaayayn, siday iyaguba uga mid ahaayayn imberadooriyadda ingiriiska. Labadan imberadooriyad, mid qofeed iyo mid imberadooriyad dhaba, waxay kala leeyahiin saamays kala duwan. Waa inay tan qofeed ka naxariis badan tahay, halka tan imberadooriyadda dhabta ah ay ka naxariis yar tahay, kalka laga soo fiiriyaa toogada imberadooriyadda inayan wax qofeed lehaynin, kalka laga soo reebaa guusha ama guuldarada ee ay imberadooriyadda si qofeeda u soo tabisaa. Duqsiga sheekada wuxuu dhan kala xiriiraa sida bambooyinka ugu soo duldhacayayn askarta dagaalka, dhan kalena sida horfiiqu dareemayay kalkaasi.
- Aadaad ugu raaxoqabtaa inta - ayuu la jiriq dhahay odayga Woodifield, wuxuuna kaga soo madaxtaagayay fadhigacmeed maqaar cagaarana, ee xigay miiska saaxiibkiisa horfiiqa, sidii cunug ka soo madaxtaagaya gaarigacmeedka yar lagu kaxeeyo. Hadalkiisii wuu dhamaaday; waxay ahayd goortuu dhaqaaqi lehaa. Ha ahaadtee muusan doonaynin inuu tago. Tan iyo intuu hawlgabay, tan iyo… dhiigbaxahiisii maskaxeed, xaaska iyo gabrahaa ku hayay guriga maalin walba ee todabaadka goorta laga reebo talaadada. Talaadada waa loo labbisi jiray, waa loo buraashi jiray timaha, oo loo soo fasaxi jiray soo booqashada Magaalada Dhaxe maalintaas. Walaw wuxuu ka soo qaban jiray halkaas ayanan xaaska iyo gabraha malayn kari jirin. Inuu soo rabshayn lehaa saaxiibadiisay la ahayd... hagaag, waa laga yaabaa. Say ahaadtaaba, waxaynu ugu dhagnaa raaxadayna ugu danbaysa sida geedku ugu dhago caleemahiisa ugu danbeeya. Waa kaasoo fadhiyay halkaas odaygii Woodifield oo cabaya buuri oo si u dhawa hunguriwayn ugu fiirinaya horfiiqiiyoo ku dhacadiidsan kursigiisii xafiiseed, isagoo jumbur iyo casaana, shan sano ka wayn, walina sii xoog leh, wali shukaanta sii haya. Way wanaagsanayd saas in lagu arko. Si hilaw iyo la dhac leh, codkii odaygaa kula raaciyay:
- War heedha! Waa lagu raaxoqabaa inta.
- Haa, way iska raaxo leedahay, - ayuu ku raacay horfiiqii, wuxuuna kula rogrogayay Financial Timeska mindida bakhshadaha. Dhab-ahaantii wuu ku hanwaynaa xafiiskiisa; wuu jaclaa inay qolka la dhacaan, siiba hadduu ahaa odayga Woodifield. Wuxuu ka heli jiray dareen xoog leh oo wayn ee mabsuuda isagoo ku dhaxjira halkaas oo ka soo horjeeda aragtida odaygaas booska ah ee ku duuban isgaafka.
- Waxaan dibuhabaystay dhawaan, - ayuu u sheegay, siduu ugu soo sheegayay intii, waa intee dee?, ee todabaadyo la soo dhaafay. - Kaddiifo cusub, - wuxuuna u tilmaamay kaddiifada guduudka noolan ee goobaabinada waawayn cadcadka leh. - Saabaan cusub, - wuxuuna madaxa ku tilmaamay iskafaaleha jurmiga leh iyo miiska lugahiisa sida sokorta macmacaanka isugu laablaaban. - Kulaale koronto ah! - Wuxuu isagoo la ruxruxaya gacmaha si u dhawa raynrayn ku tilmaamay shan sujuq khansiira, xaliiban, sadafa, ee si khafiifa uga soo dhaldhalaalaya saxan janjeersan, naxaasa.
Hase ahaadtee, muusan u weecinin dhugta odayga Woodifield xagga masawirka miiska saarnaa, ee ahaa wiil dhabnimo ka muuqadta, dhar askari xiran, oo dhaxtaagan jardiino istuudiyo ah ee sawirqaadidda, salkayda danbena guulaamo leh. Muusan naqonin cusayb. Wuxuu yill halkaas in ka badan lix sano.
- Waxaan rabay wax inaan kuu sheego, - ayuu dhahay odaygii Woodifield, indhahiisaana way soo madawbaadayn intuu soo garwaaqsanayay. - Talaw, muxuu ahaa? Maskaxduu iigu jiray goortaan soo dhaqaaqayay saaka. - Gacmahiisa waxay bilaabayn gargariirid, dhibco cascasaanaa ka soo muuqday garkiisa ka kor.
Odayga miskiinka, tiisii ugu danbaysuu ku jiraa, ayuu ku fikiray horfiiqii. Isagoona u naxayuu u iljabiyay, oo kaftan ku dhahay:
- Ka waran, waxaan ku haystaa halkan wax in dhibco ah ee aad ku roonaan doontid intaadan qabawga u baxin kal kale. Waa balaayo qurxoona. Waxba ma u dhinto xataa cunug.
Wuxuu ka soo saaray fure silsilada saacaddiisa. Wuxuu furay armaajo ku hoostiil miiskiisa, wuxuuna ka soo baxiyay dhalo gudcursan ee kuusan.
- Taas waa dawadii, - ayuu dhahay. - Ninkaan ka soo qaadtayaa sir lagu dhaarto iigu sheegay inay ka timid makhaasiinka Qasriga Windsor.
Odaygii Woodifield afkiiyaa wah u kala dhahay goortuu arkay. Fajac ka wayn wajigiisa muusan ku ooli karin xataa haddii horfiiqu soo saari lehaa bakayle.
- Whisky waaye, saw ma aho?- ayuu kula jiriq dhahay daciifnimo.
Horfiiqii wuxuu u jeediyay dhaladdii oo si xanaano ah u tusay jeexqorka. Whisky wuu ahaa.
- Ma ogtahay, - ayuu dhahay, isagoo u dayaya horfiiqa si yaaban, - Guriga ma ii daayaan inaan taabto. - Wuxuuna u ekaa inuu u dhawaa boohin.
- Aah! Taas waa halkaynu waxxoogaa kaga badino dumarka, - ayuu la soo booday, isagoo miiska ka soo dulxaabinaya labo bakeeri agyiil quraaradda biyaha, uguna shubaya si deeqsinimo far babacan kiiba. - Qab ka sii. Waa kuu roon yahay. Ha ku darin wax biyo ah. Waa danbi in wax lagu tarxiyo midkanoo kale. Aah! - Wuu ka tuurtay kiisa, fasaleetigiisuu soo baxsaday, shaarbahiisuu dagdag ku tirtirsaday, wuxuuna u iljababiyay odaygii Woodifield oo tartiib tartiib u dhadhansanayay kiisa.
Odaygii damuu ka siiyay, wuu aamusnaaday xoogaa, danbeetuuna si daciifa u dhahay:
- Waa balo!
Ha ahaadtee, way diirisay; waxay ugu saabtay maskaxdiisa duqawday ee dhaxamaysan. Wuu soo garwaaqsaday:
- Taasay ahayd, - ayuu dhahay, isagoo istiil ugaga kacaya kursiga. - Waxaan moodaa waad jaclaysan doontaa inaad ogaadtid. Gabrahaa Beljam joogay todabaadkii la soo dhaafay oo soo booqanayay qabriga miskiinkii Reggie, waxaa dhacday inay ka horyimadayn kii wiilkaaga. Aaday iskugu dhaw yahiin, siday u egtahay.
Odaygii Woodifield wuu hakaday, laakiin horfiiqii wax jawaaba ma ka soo baxin. Nuuxnuux qura ee daboolka ishaa muujiyay inuu maqlay.
- Gabraha way ku riqaaqayn siday meesha u xanaaneeyaan, - ayuu dhahay codkii odayga. - Si qurux badanay u hagaajiyaan. Ma ka fiicnaan lehaynin hadday ku duugnaan lehaayayn halkan. Maadan booqanin, maynan ahaynin?
- Maya, maya! - Muusan soo booqanin horfiiqa sababo badan dartawdii.
- Waxaa jira kiilomitiryo oo wada qabriya, - ayuu ku dhahay cod gargariira odaygii Woodifield, - dhamaan waxay u wada hagaagan yahiin sidii jardiino. Ubaxyaa ka wada baxa qabriyadoo dhan. Dhabeyaal balbalaaran. - Way ka cadayd codkiisa intuu jaclaa dhabeyaasha balbalaaran.
Aamusnaantiiyaa soo naqodtay jeer kale. Danbeeto odaygii wuxuu u bulxamay si wanaagan.
- Ma taqaan wuxuu hoteelka ku kallifay gabraha inay ka baxiyaan biraw malmalaado ah? - ayuu dhahay. - Toban franko! Dhacaan ugu wacaa. Wuxuu ahaa biraw yar, Gertrude waxay dhahdaa, mid aanan ka waynaynin lacag nus-crown ah. Mayan qaadanin in ka badan qaado goortay ku dallacayn toban franko. Gertrude waxay u soo qaadadtay si ay cashar ugu siiso gabraha. Waxay samaysay si fiican; waa dareenkayna ka ganacsasho. Waxay u haystaan, waayo waxaynu u joognaa halkaas soo indho-idhayn, inaynu u diyaar nahay inaynu baxinayno waxwalba. Waa taas waxay tahay. - Wuxuuna u jeestay inuu isku aadiyo xagga iridda.
- Saxaad ku tahay, saxaad ku tahay! - ayuu dhahay, inkastoo wuxuu ku saxsan yahay uusan fikradba ka haysanin. Wuxuu ka soo tagay miiskiisii, isagoo raacaya lugaha isdabojiidayuu la gaaray iridda, oo nabadgaliyay odaygii. Woodifield wuu tagay.
Waxxoogaa horfiiqii wuxuu ku joogay, isagoo jeedaalinaya waxna, intuu taarashka xafiiska ee timaha cirada leh, oo isaga daawanaya, galayay oo ka soo baxayay qoldhobtiisii sidii ay sugaya in loo kaxeeyo orad.
Danbeeto si kadisa:
- Ma arkayo qofna nus saac, Macey - ayuu dhahay horfiiqii. - Ma fahantay? Qofnaba.
- Waa yahay, mudane.
Waa la xiray iriddii, talaabooyinka adadag ee culculus waxay dulmarayn kaddiifada midabka noolan, jirkiisii buurnaa wuxuu ku dhaxdhacay kursiga gariiradda leh, isagoo isku dhigaya hore, horfiiqii wuxuu ku daboolay wajigiisii gacmahasii. Wuxuu rabay, wuxuu u dan lehaa, wuxuu isku soo diyaariyay boohin...
Wuxuu ku ahaa maroorodilaac daran goortuu odaygii Woodifield kula soo booday faaladiisaas ee qabriga wiilka. Waxay ahayd gaw-ahaanba sidii dhulkoo kala furmay oo arkay wiilkiiyoo yiil halkaas oo gabraha Woodifield hoos u fiirinaya. Ee waxay ahayd wax silan. Inkastoo lix sano laga soo gudbay, horfiiqu waligiisa ma uga fikirin wiilka maahee inuu ku yiil halkaas isagoo isbaddalin, aanan ku halaysnaynin dharkiisa askarta, oo hurda waligiisa. «Wiilkaygii!», ayuu la jibaaday horfiiqii. Laakiin wax ilina ma ka imanin wali. Tagtadii, bilahii ugu horeeyay iyo xataa sanooyin kadib ee dhimashada wiilka, waxay ku ahayd oo qura inuu dhaho erayadaas si ay uga dultimaado urugo aanan wax ka yaraynin dhacdo hor leh ee boohin ay kartay inay ka dabciso. Waqti, wuxuu cadaystay goortaasi, wuxuu u sheegay qof walba, inuusan sarwacnaanba lehaynin. Niman kale mindhaa waxaa dhacda inay soo raystaan, waxaa dhacda inay aqbalaan guuldaradawda, isaguse maya. Siday u suurtagashaa? Wiilkiisaa ahaa wiilkiisa kaliya. Ilaa iyo intuu dhashay, horfiiqu wuxuu ku hawlanaa inuu u soo dhiso ganacsigan; maysan lehaanin macne kale hadduusan ahaynin wiilku. Nolashii laftigaydii waxay u naqodtay midaanan macne kale lehaynin. Sdee baas ayuu u karay inuu ku soo shaqeeyo adoonnimo, inuu isku soo diido naftiisa, inuu hore ugu sii sacdo intaasoo sano la’aanta ee balanka waligiisa ka horeeyay ee uu wiilkiisii ku arko isagoo ka qaadta kursigiisa oo ka sii wada halkuu uga tagay?
Balankaasna wuxuu aad ugu dhawaa in la fuliyo. Wiilku wuxuu u shaqaynayay inuu xirfadda barto sanad kahor dagaalka. Subax walba way isla wada bilaabi jirayn; waxay ku soo wada naqon jirayn isla tareenkii. Muxuuna hanbalyayn ka heli jiray ahaan wiilka aabehiisa! La yaab muusan lehaanin; wuxuu uga soo baxay si cajiiba. Xagga magacdheeridiisa ee shaqaaleha, qofwalba oo dhan ilaa odayga macey, ma ka daali jirin inay amaanaan. Muusan ahaynin haba yaraadtee mid mayacan. Maya, waxay ahayd dabiicaddiisa fiirada leh, asalka ah, iyo erayga ku haboon qof walba, dhalinyaronimadiisa iyo caadadiisa ee dhahidda: «sahal-ahaanba bilic!».
Laakiin waxaasoo dhan way dhamaadayn sidii iyagoonan waligawda jirinba. Maalintiiyaa timid goortuu Macey u dhiibay taarka oo adduunkiisa dhan hoos ugu soo dhacay. «Si xunaan uga shalaayaa inaan kaa warsiiyo...». Wuxuuna uga tagay xafiiska isagoo burbursan, nolashiisiiyoo ba’an.
Lix sano kahor, lix sanood... Sida fududuu waqtigu ku dhaafo! Waxaa dhaci kartay inuu shalayto ahaa. Horfiiqii wuxuu ka qaaday gacmahiisa wajigiisa; wuxuu naqoday dayaw. Wax ayaa u ekaa inuu ka qaldan yahay. Muusan dareemaynin siduu rabay inuu dareemo. Wuxuu go’aansaday inuu joogsado oo fiiriyo masawirka wiilka. Muusanse ahaynin masawirkiisa fadliga u lehaa; araggiisu wuxuu ahaa dabiicad la’aan. Wuxuu lehaa qabaw, xataa aragti shadiidnimo leh. Wiilku ma u ekaynin waligiisa sidaas oo kale.
Goortaasuu horfiiqii arkay inuu duqsi ku dhaxdhacay dawaadda balaaran, oo iskugu dayayay si noogan laakiin si rajobeelan inuu dibdanbe uga soo baxo. Gargaar! Gargaar!, ayay dhahayayn lugahaas rafaadsan. Laakiin dhinacyada dawaadda waxay ahaayayn qoyaan iyo sisib; wuxuu ugu dhaxdhacay dib oo bilaabay dabaalasho. Horfiiqii wuxuu soo qaadtay qalin, wuxuu ka soo baxiyay duqsiga dawaadda, oo ku ruxay gabal ee xaashi qalalisa. Xoogaa ee daqiiqo yar wuxuu iska dhaxyiil dhibicda madaw ku soo dhashuumayay hareerahiisa. Danbeeto lugaha horaa gargariiray, wuu soo xoogawday, ee isagoo soo jiidaya jirkiisa yar, qoyan ayuu bilaabay hawsha wayn ee ka nadiifinta anqaasta baalalkiisa. Kor iyo hoos, kor iyo hoos, wuxuu kaga kormarinayay lug baal, sida dhagaxa afayntuu kor iyo hoos ugaga kormaro shaftada. Danbeeto waxaa jiray hakad, intuu duqsigu u ekaa inuu ku taagan yahay cirifka suulalkiisa, ayuu isku dayay inuu balaariyo jeerka hore hal baal kadibna kan kale. Wuu ku guulaystay kamadanbayskii, ee isagoo fadhiya, wuxuu bilaabay, sidii mukulaal yar, inuu nadiifiyo wajigiisa. Hadda waxaa la malayn karaa inay lugaha hore isrugrugayn xoogaa yar, farax ahaan. Halistii daranayd way dhamaadtay; wuu ka baxsaday; wuxuu ugu diyaar ahaa nolasha dibdanbe.
Laakiin isla goortaasi horfiiqii waxaa ku soo dhacday fikrad. Wuxuu galiyay qalinkiisii dawaaddii, wuxuu cuskiyay curcurkiisa xajmiga leh xaashida qalalisa, duqsigiiyoo isku dayayay baalashiisii waxaa ka dultimid dhibic culus. Sidee ayuu uga soo kaban lehaa? Bal sidee! Miskiinka yar wuxuu u ekaa isagoo isugu soo duubmay cabsi dartayda, isagoo asaddahay, ee wuxuu ka cabsanayay waxa ku dhaci lehaa goorta xigtay. Danbeetose, sidii isagoo xanuunsan, wuxuu isku soo jiiday horay. Lugaha horaa gargariiray, wuu soo xoogawsaday, si aad u tartiiba goortan, hawsha waxay ka soo bilaabadtay bilawgii.
Waa shaydaan yaroo geesiya, ayuu ku fikiray horfiiqii, oo wuxuu u dareemay bogaad dhaba geesinimada duqsiga. Sidaasay ahayd sida wax loo qabto; taasay ahayd dabiicadda saxan. Waligaaga ha isku dhahin dhimo; waxay ahayd arin kaliya ee... Laakiin duqsigii wuxuu jeer kale dhamaystay hawshiisii adkaa, horfiiqiina wuxuu haystay waqtiyuu ku soo buuxiyo qalinkiisa, oo ku soo dultuuro jirka jeer kale la nadiifayay dhibic kaloo madaw. Ka waran goortan? Waxaa soo raacday daqiiqo xanuun leh ee hubaal maran. Bal digtoonaan! Lugahii horaa jeer kale gargariirayay; horfiiqii wuxuu dareemay karkabo ee dajisnaan. Wuxuu isku agcuskiyay duqsigii oo kula dhahay si nugayla: «Shataaryahaw yar ee w…». Wuxuuna dhabtii lehaa fikradda ee inuu ku dulneefsado si uu uga caawiyo qalalintiisa. Si walbaba, wuxuu hadda ahaa sidii isagoo istiilkiisa lehaa yaxyax iyo daciif, horfiiqiina wuxuu go’aansaday inay goortan naqodto tan ugu danbaysa, isagoo hoos u galinayay qalinka dawaaddii.
Wayba ahayd. Dhibicdii ugu danbaysaa ku soo duldhacday xaashidii qalalisa ee qoyan, duqsigiina oo anqaas ku qoyan wuu dhaxyiil oo muusan nuuxnuuxsanaynin. Lugaha danbe waxay ku dhaganaayayn jirka; lugaha hore ma la arkin.
- Bal isdhaqaaji, - ayuu dhahay horfiiqii. - Isu ekaysii wax noola! - Oo ku ruxay qalinkiisa - si hungo ah. Muusan dhacin waxna ama muusan u ekaynin inuu dhaci lehaa. Duqsigii wuu dhintay.
Horfiiqii wuxuu kor ugu qaaday jirka qarka mindida bakhshadaha oo ku tuuray danbiisha waraaqaha lagu rido. Laakiin dareen daqiijiya ee dareenxumo ah ayaa qabsaday oo runtii dareemay cabsi. Wuxuu u dhaqaaqay horay oo u riixay bottoonka Macey.
- Ii keen xaashi qalalisa ee cusub, - ayuu kula dhahay jimicdaro, - ee isa soo dagdagsii. Intuu aygii gabawga ahaa uga sii fogaanayay talaabooyin shiba, wuxuu bilaabay inuu iswaydiiyo muxuu ahaa wuxuu ka fikirayay kalkii hore. Muxuu ahaa? Wuxuu ahaa... wuxuu soo baxsaday fasaleetigiisa oo ku tirtirtay qoorta. Xataa hadday nolasha ugu xirnayd muusan xusuusan karin.
"Y'ARE very snug in here," piped old Mr. Woodifield, and he peered out of the great, green leather armchair by his friend the boss's desk as a baby peers out of its pram. His talk was over; it was time for him to be off. But he did not want to go. Since he had retired, since his... stroke, the wife and the girls kept him boxed up in the house every day of the week except Tuesday. On Tuesday he was dressed and brushed and allowed to cut back to the City for the day. Though what he did there the wife and girls couldn't imagine. Made a nuisance of himself to his friends, they supposed... Well, perhaps so. All the same, we cling to our last pleasures as the tree clings to its last leaves. So there sat old Woodifield, smoking a cigar and staring almost greedily at the boss, who rolled in his office chair, stout, rosy, five years older than he, and still going strong, still at the helm. It did one good to see him. Wistfully, admiringly, the old voice added, "It's snug in here, upon my word!"
"Yes, it's comfortable enough," agreed the boss, and he flipped the Financial Times with a paper-knife. As a matter of fact he was proud of his room; he liked to have it admired, especially by old Woodifield. It gave him a feeling of deep, solid satisfaction to be planted there in the midst of it in full view of that frail old figure in the muffler.
"I've had it done up lately," he explained, as he had explained for the past — how many? — weeks. "New carpet," and he pointed to the bright red carpet with a pattern of large white rings. "New furniture," and he nodded towards the massive bookcase and the table with legs like twisted treacle. "Electric heating!" He waved almost exultantly towards the five transparent, pearly sausages glowing so softly in the tilted copper pan.
But he did not draw old Woodifield's attention to the photograph over the table of a grave-looking boy in uniform standing in one of those spectral photographers' parks with photographers' storm-clouds behind him. It was not new. It had been there for over six years.
"There was something I wanted to tell you," said old Woodifield, and his eyes grew dim remembering. "Now what was it? I had it in my mind when I started out this morning." His hands began to tremble, and patches of red showed above his beard.
Poor old chap, he's on his last pins, thought the boss. And, feeling kindly, he winked at the old man, and said jokingly, "I tell you what. I've got a little drop of something here that'll do you good before you go out into the cold again. It's beautiful stuff. It wouldn't hurt a child." He took a key off his watch-chain, unlocked a cupboard below his desk, and drew forth a dark, squat bottle. "That's the medicine," said he. "And the man from whom I got it told me on the strict Q.T. it came from the cellars at Windsor Cassel."
Old Woodifield's mouth fell open at the sight. He couldn't have looked more surprised if the boss had produced a rabbit.
"It's whisky, ain't it? " he piped, feebly.
The boss turned the bottle and lovingly showed him the label. Whisky it was.
"D'you know," said he, peering up at the boss wonderingly, "they won't let me touch it at home." And he looked as though he was going to cry.
"Ah, that's where we know a bit more than the ladies," cried the boss, swooping across for two tumblers that stood on the table with the water-bottle, and pouring a generous finger into each. "Drink it down. It'll do you good. And don't put any water with it. It's sacrilege to tamper with stuff like this. Ah!" He tossed off his, pulled out his handkerchief, hastily wiped his moustaches, and cocked an eye at old Woodifield, who was rolling his in his chaps.
The old man swallowed, was silent a moment, and then said faintly, "It's nutty!"
But it warmed him; it crept into his chill old brain — he remembered.
"That was it," he said, heaving himself out of his chair. "I thought you'd like to know. The girls were in Belgium last week having a look at poor Reggie's grave, and they happened to come across your boy's. They're quite near each other, it seems."
Old Woodifield paused, but the boss made no reply. Only a quiver in his eyelids showed that he heard.
"The girls were delighted with the way the place is kept," piped the old voice. "Beautifully looked after. Couldn't be better if they were at home. You've not been across, have yer?"
"No, no!" For various reasons the boss had not been across.
"There's miles of it," quavered old Woodifield, "and it's all as neat as a garden. Flowers growing on all the graves. Nice broad paths." It was plain from his voice how much he liked a nice broad path.
The pause came again. Then the old man brightened wonderfully.
"D'you know what the hotel made the girls pay for a pot of jam?" he piped. "Ten - francs! Robbery, I call it. It was a little pot, so Gertrude says, no bigger than a half-crown. And she hadn't taken more than a spoonful when they charged her ten francs. Gertrude brought the pot away with her to teach 'em a lesson. Quite right, too ; it's trading on our feelings. They think because we're over there having a look round we're ready to pay anything. That's what it is." And he turned towards the door.
"Quite right, quite right!" cried the boss, though what was quite right he hadn't the least idea. He came round by his desk, followed the shuffling footsteps to the door, and saw the old fellow out. Woodifield was gone.
For a long moment the boss stayed, staring at nothing, while the grey-haired office messenger, watching him, dodged in and out of his cubby hole like a dog that expects to be taken for a run. Then: "I'll see nobody for half an hour, Macey," said the boss. "Understand? Nobody at all."
"Very good, sir."
The door shut, the firm heavy steps recrossed the bright carpet, the fat body plumped down in the spring chair, and leaning forward, the boss covered his face with his hands. He wanted, he intended, he had arranged to weep...
It had been a terrible shock to him when old Woodifield sprang that remark upon him about the boy's grave. It was exactly as though the earth had opened and he had seen the boy lying there with Woodifield's girls staring down at him. For it was strange. Although over six years had passed away, the boss never thought of the boy except as lying unchanged, unblemished in his uniform, asleep for ever. "My son!" groaned the boss. But no tears came yet. In the past, in the first months and even years after the boy's death, he had only to say those words to be overcome by such grief that nothing short of a violent fit of weeping could relieve him. Time, he had declared then, he had told everybody, could make no difference. Other men perhaps might recover, might live their loss down, but not he. How was it possible? His boy was an only son. Ever since his birth the boss had worked at building up this business for him; it had no other meaning if it was not for the boy. Life itself had come to have no other meaning. How on earth could he have slaved, denied himself, kept going all those years without the promise for ever before him of the boy's stepping into his shoes and carrying on where he left off?
And that promise had been so near being fulfilled. The boy had been in the office learning the ropes for a year before the war. Every morning they had started off together; they had come back by the same train. And what congratulations he had received as the boy's father! No wonder; he had taken to it marvellously. As to his popularity with the staff, every man jack of them down to old Macey couldn't make enough of the boy. And he wasn't in the least spoilt. No, he was just his bright, natural self, with the right word for everybody, with that boyish look and his habit of saying, "Simply splendid!"
But all that was over and done with as though it never had been. The day had come when Macey had handed him the telegram that brought the whole place crashing about his head. "Deeply regret to inform you..." And he had left the office a broken man, with his life in ruins.
Six years ago, six years... How quickly time passed ! It might have happened yesterday. The boss took his hands from his face ; he was puzzled. Something seemed to be wrong with him. He wasn't feeling as he wanted to feel. He decided to get up and have a look at the boy's photograph. But it wasn't a favourite photograph of his; the expression was unnatural. It was cold, even stern-looking. The boy had never looked like that.
At that moment the boss noticed that a fly had fallen into his broad inkpot, and was trying feebly but desperately to clamber out again. Help! help! said those struggling legs. But the sides of the inkpot were wet and slippery; it fell back again and began to swim. The boss took up a pen, picked the fly out of the ink, and shook it on to a piece of blotting-paper. For a fraction of a second it lay still on the dark patch that oozed round it. Then the front legs waved, took hold, and, pulling its small, sodden body up it began the immense task of cleaning the ink from its wings. Over and under, over and under, went a leg along a wing, as the stone goes over and under the scythe. Then there was a pause, while the fly, seeming to stand on the tips of its toes, tried to expand first one wing and then the other. It succeeded at last, and, sitting down, it began, like a minute cat, to clean its face. Now one could imagine that the little front legs rubbed against each other lightly, joyfully. The horrible danger was over; it had escaped; it was ready for life again.
But just then the boss had an idea. He plunged his pen back into the ink, leaned his thick wrist on the blotting paper, and as the fly tried its wings down came a great heavy blot. What would it make of that? What indeed! The little beggar seemed absolutely cowed, stunned, and afraid to move because of what would happen next. But then, as if painfully, it dragged itself forward. The front legs waved, caught hold, and, more slowly this time, the task began from the beginning.
He's a plucky little devil, thought the boss, and he felt a real admiration for the fly's courage. That was the way to tackle things; that was the right spirit. Never say die ; it was only a question of... But the fly had again finished its laborious task, and the boss had just time to refill his pen, to shake fair and square on the new-cleaned body yet another dark drop. What about it this time ? A painful moment of suspense followed. But behold, the front legs were again waving; the boss felt a rush of relief. He leaned over the fly and said to it tenderly, " You artful little b. . ." And he actually had the brilliant notion of breathing on it to help the drying process. All the same, there was something timid and weak about its efforts now, and the boss decided that this time should be the last, as he dipped the pen deep into the inkpot.
It was. The last blot fell on the soaked blotting-paper, and the draggled fly lay in it and did not stir. The back legs were stuck to the body; the front legs were not to be seen.
"Come on," said the boss. "Look sharp!" And he stirred it with his pen — in vain. Nothing happened or was likely to happen. The fly was dead.
The boss lifted the corpse on the end of the paper-knife and flung it into the waste-paper basket. But such a grinding feeling of wretchedness seized him that he felt positively frightened. He started forward and pressed the bell for Macey.
"Bring me some fresh blotting-paper," he said, sternly, " and look sharp about it." And while the old dog padded away he fell to wondering what it was he had been thinking about before. What was it ? It was... He took out his handkerchief and passed it inside his collar. For the life of him he could not remember.