Another shock was waiting for
me farther down the story.
For we had
resumed our adventures, though
we seldom saw Bailey now.
At long intervals we met him
on our way to or from the Gardens,
and, if there was none from Pilkington's
to mark him, methought he looked
at us somewhat longingly, as
if beneath his real knickerbockers
a morsel of the egg-shell still
adhered. Otherwise he gave David
a not unfriendly kick in passing,
and called him "youngster." That
was about all.
When Oliver disappeared from
the life of the Gardens we had
lofted him out of the story,
and did very well without him,
extending our operations to the
mainland, where they were on
so vast a scale that we were
rapidly depopulating the earth.
And then said David one day,
"Shall we let
We had occasionally considered
the giving of Bailey's place
to some other child of the Gardens,
divers of David's year having
sought election, even with bribes;
but Barbara was new to me.
"Who is she?" I
"She's my sister."
You may imagine how I gaped.
"She hasn't come yet," David
said lightly, "but she's coming."
I was shocked, not perhaps
so much shocked as disillusioned,
for though I had always suspicioned
Mary A---- as one who harboured
the craziest ambitions when she
looked most humble, of such presumption
as this I had never thought her
I wandered across the Broad
Walk to have a look at Irene,
and she was wearing an unmistakable
air. It set me reflecting about
Mary's husband and his manner
the last time we met, for though
I have had no opportunity to
say so, we still meet now and
again, and he has even dined
with me at the club. On these
occasions the subject of Timothy
is barred, and if by any unfortunate
accident Mary's name is mentioned,
we immediately look opposite
ways and a silence follows, in
which I feel sure he is smiling,
and wonder what the deuce he
is smiling at. I remembered now
that I had last seen him when
I was dining with him at his
club (for he is become member
of a club of painter fellows,
and Mary is so proud of this
that she has had it printed on
his card), when undoubtedly he
had looked preoccupied. It had
been the look, I saw now, of
one who shared a guilty secret.
As all was thus suddenly revealed
to me I laughed unpleasantly
at myself, for, on my soul, I
had been thinking well of Mary
of late. Always foolishly inflated
about David, she had been grudging
him even to me during these last
weeks, and I had forgiven her,
putting it down to a mother's
love. I knew from the poor boy
of unwonted treats she had been
giving him; I had seen her embrace
him furtively in a public place,
her every act, in so far as they
were known to me, had been a
challenge to whoever dare assert
that she wanted anyone but David.
How could I, not being a woman,
have guessed that she was really
saying good-bye to him?
Reader, picture to yourself
that simple little boy playing
about the house at this time,
on the understanding that everything
was going on as usual. Have not
his toys acquired a new pathos,
especially the engine she bought
Did you look him in the face,
Mary, as you gave him that engine?
I envy you not your feelings,
ma'am, when with loving arms
he wrapped you round for it.
That childish confidence of his
to me, in which unwittingly he
betrayed you, indicates that
at last you have been preparing
him for the great change, and
I suppose you are capable of
replying to me that David is
still happy, and even interested.
But does he know from you what
it really means to him? Rather,
I do believe, you are one who
would not scruple to give him
to understand that B (which you
may yet find stands for Benjamin)
is primarily a gift for him.
In your heart, ma'am, what do
you think of this tricking of
a little boy?
Suppose David had known what
was to happen before he came
to you, are you sure he would
have come? Undoubtedly there
is an unwritten compact in such
matters between a mother and
her first- born, and I desire
to point out to you that he never
breaks it. Again, what will the
other boys say when they know?
You are outside the criticism
of the Gardens, but David is
not. Faith, madam, I believe
you would have been kinder to
wait and let him run the gauntlet
You think your husband is a
great man now because they are
beginning to talk of his foregrounds
and middle distances in the newspaper
columns that nobody reads. I
know you have bought him a velvet
coat, and that he has taken a
large, airy and commodious studio
in Mews Lane, where you are to
be found in a soft material on
first and third Wednesdays. Times
are changing, but shall I tell
you a story here, just to let
you see that I am acquainted
Three years ago a certain gallery
accepted from a certain artist
a picture which he and his wife
knew to be monstrous fine. But
no one spoke of the picture,
no one wrote of it, and no one
made an offer for it. Crushed
was the artist, sorry for the
denseness of connoisseurs was
his wife, till the work was bought
by a dealer for an anonymous
client, and then elated were
they both, and relieved also
to discover that I was not the
buyer. He came to me at once
to make sure of this, and remained
to walk the floor gloriously
as he told me what recognition
means to gentlemen of the artistic
callings. O, the happy boy!
But months afterward, rummaging
at his home in a closet that
is usually kept locked, he discovered
the picture, there hidden away.
His wife backed into a corner
and made trembling confession.
How could she submit to see her
dear's masterpiece ignored by
the idiot public, and her dear
himself plunged into gloom thereby?
She knew as well as he (for had
they not been married for years?)
how the artistic instinct hungers
for recognition, and so with
her savings she bought the great
work anonymously and stored it
away in a closet. At first, I
believe, the man raved furiously,
but by-and-by he was on his knees
at the feet of this little darling.
You know who she was, Mary, but,
bless me, I seem to be praising
you, and that was not the enterprise
on which I set out. What I intended
to convey was that though you
can now venture on small extravagances,
you seem to be going too fast.
Look at it how one may, this
Barbara idea is undoubtedly a
How to be even with her? I
cast about for a means, and on
my lucky day I did conceive my
final triumph over Mary, at which
I have scarcely as yet dared
to hint, lest by discovering
it I should spoil my plot. For
there has been a plot all the
For long I had known that Mary
contemplated the writing of a
book, my informant being David,
who, because I have published
a little volume on Military tactics,
and am preparing a larger one
on the same subject (which I
shall never finish), likes to
watch my methods of composition,
how I dip, and so on, his desire
being to help her. He may have
done this on his own initiative,
but it is also quite possible
that in her desperation she urged
him to it; he certainly implied
that she had taken to book-writing
because it must be easy if I
could do it. She also informed
him (very inconsiderately), that
I did not print my books myself,
and this lowered me in the eyes
of David, for it was for the
printing he had admired me and
boasted of me in the Gardens.
"I suppose you didn't make
the boxes neither, nor yet the
labels," he said to me in the
voice of one shorn of belief
I should say
here that my literary labours
are abstruse, the token
whereof is many rows of boxes
nailed against my walls, each
labelled with a letter of the
alphabet. When I take a note
in A, I drop its into the A box,
and so on, much to the satisfaction
of David, who likes to drop them
in for me. I had now to admit
that Wheeler & Gibb made the
"But I made
the labels myself, David."
"They are not so well made
as the boxes," he replied.
Thus I have
reason to wish ill to Mary's
work of imagination,
as I presumed it to be, and I
said to him with easy brutality, "Tell
her about the boxes, David, and
that no one can begin a book
until they are all full. That
will frighten her."
Soon thereafter he announced
to me that she had got a box.
"One box!" I
said with a sneer.
"She made it herself," retorted
I got little
real information from him about
the work, partly
because David loses his footing
when he descends to the practical,
and perhaps still more because
he found me unsympathetic. But
when he blurted out the title, "The
Little White Bird," I was like
one who had read the book to
its last page. I knew at once
that the white bird was the little
daughter Mary would fain have
had. Somehow I had always known
that she would like to have a
little daughter, she was that
kind of woman, and so long as
she had the modesty to see that
she could not have one, I sympathised
with her deeply, whatever I may
have said about her book to David.
In those days Mary had the
loveliest ideas for her sad little
book, and they came to her mostly
in the morning when she was only
three-parts awake, but as she
stepped out of bed they all flew
away like startled birds. I gathered
from David that this depressed
Oh, Mary, your thoughts are
much too pretty and holy to show
themselves to anyone but yourself.
The shy things are hiding within
you. If they could come into
the open they would not be a
book, they would be little Barbara.
But that was
not the message I sent her. "She will never be
able to write it," I explained
to David. "She has not the ability.
Tell her I said that."
now that for many months I
had heard nothing of
her ambitious project, so I questioned
David and discovered that it
was abandoned. He could not say
why, nor was it necessary that
he should, the trivial little
reason was at once so plain to
me. From that moment all my sympathy
with Mary was spilled, and I
searched for some means of exulting
over her until I found it. It
was this. I decided, unknown
even to David, to write the book "The
Little White Bird," of which
she had proved herself incapable,
and then when, in the fulness
of time, she held her baby on
high, implying that she had done
a big thing, I was to hold up
the book. I venture to think
that such a devilish revenge
was never before planned and
Yes, carried out, for this
is the book, rapidly approaching
completion. She and I are running
a neck-and-neck race.
I have also
once more brought the story
of David's adventures
to an abrupt end. "And it really
is the end this time, David," I
said severely. (I always say
It ended on the coast of Patagonia,
whither we had gone to shoot
the great Sloth, known to be
the largest of animals, though
we found his size to have been
under-estimated. David, his father
and I had flung our limbs upon
the beach and were having a last
pipe before turning in, while
Mary, attired in barbaric splendour,
sang and danced before us. It
was a lovely evening, and we
lolled manlike, gazing, well-content,
at the pretty creature.
The night was absolutely still
save for the roaring of the Sloths
in the distance.
By-and-by Irene came to the
entrance of our cave, where by
the light of her torch we could
see her exploring a shark that
had been harpooned by David earlier
in the day.
Everything conduced to repose,
and a feeling of gentle peace
crept over us, from which we
were roused by a shrill cry.
It was uttered by Irene, who
came speeding to us, bearing
certain articles, a watch, a
pair of boots, a newspaper, which
she had discovered in the interior
of the shark. What was our surprise
to find in the newspaper intelligence
of the utmost importance to all
of us. It was nothing less than
this, the birth of a new baby
in London to Mary.
How strange a method had Solomon
chosen of sending us the news.
The bald announcement at once
plunged us into a fever of excitement,
and next morning we set sail
for England. Soon we came within
sight of the white cliffs of
Albion. Mary could not sit down
for a moment, so hot was she
to see her child. She paced the
deck in uncontrollable agitation.
"So did I!" cried
David, when I had reached this
point in the
On arriving at the docks we
immediately hailed a cab.
"Never, David," I said, "shall
I forget your mother's excitement.
She kept putting her head out
of the window and calling to
the cabby to go quicker, quicker.
How he lashed his horse! At last
he drew up at your house, and
then your mother, springing out,
flew up the steps and beat with
her hands upon the door."
David was quite
carried away by the reality
of it. "Father
has the key!" he screamed.
"He opened the door," I said
grandly, "and your mother rushed
in, and next moment her Benjamin
was in her arms."
There was a pause.
"Is that a
"No, it's a
"But mother wants a girl," he
said, very much shaken.
"Just like her presumption," I
replied testily. "It is to be
a boy, David, and you can tell
her I said so."
He was in a deplorable but
most unselfish state of mind.
A boy would have suited him quite
well, but he put self aside altogether
and was pertinaciously solicitous
that Mary should be given her
repeatedly implored me.
For long I was obdurate, but
the time was summer, and at last
I agreed to play him for it,
a two-innings match. If he won
it was to be a girl, and if I
won it was to be a boy.