It was only yesterday afternoon,
dear reader, exactly three weeks
after the birth of Barbara, that
I finished the book, and even
then it was not quite finished,
for there remained the dedication,
at which I set to elatedly. I
think I have never enjoyed myself
more; indeed, it is my opinion
that I wrote the book as an excuse
for writing the dedication.
"Madam" (I wrote wittily), "I
have no desire to exult over
you, yet I should show a lamentable
obtuseness to the irony of things
were I not to dedicate this little
work to you. For its inception
was yours, and in your more ambitious
days you thought to write the
tale of the little white bird
yourself. Why you so early deserted
the nest is not for me to inquire.
It now appears that you were
otherwise occupied. In fine,
madam, you chose the lower road,
and contented yourself with obtaining
the Bird. May I point out, by
presenting you with this dedication,
that in the meantime I am become
the parent of the Book? To you
the shadow, to me the substance.
Trusting that you will accept
my little offering in a Christian
spirit, I am, dear madam," etc.
It was heady work, for the
saucy words showed their design
plainly through the varnish,
and I was re-reading in an ecstasy,
when, without warning, the door
burst open and a little boy entered,
dragging in a faltering lady.
"Father," said David, "this
Having thus briefly introduced
us, he turned his attention to
the electric light, and switched
it on and off so rapidly that,
as was very fitting, Mary and
I may be said to have met for
the first time to the accompaniment
of flashes of lightning. I think
she was arrayed in little blue
feathers, but if such a costume
is not seemly, I swear there
were, at least, little blue feathers
in her too coquettish cap, and
that she was carrying a muff
to match. No part of a woman
is more dangerous than her muff,
and as muffs are not worn in
early autumn, even by invalids,
I saw in a twink, that she had
put on all her pretty things
to wheedle me. I am also of opinion
that she remembered she had worn
blue in the days when I watched
her from the club-window. Undoubtedly
Mary is an engaging little creature,
though not my style. She was
paler than is her wont, and had
the touching look of one whom
it would be easy to break. I
daresay this was a trick. Her
skirts made music in my room,
but perhaps this was only because
no lady had ever rustled in it
before. It was disquieting to
me to reflect that despite her
obvious uneasiness, she was a
very artful woman.
With the quickness
of David at the switch, I slipped
pad over the dedication, and
then, "Pray be seated," I said
coldly, but she remained standing,
all in a twitter and very much
afraid of me, and I know that
her hands were pressed together
within the muff. Had there been
any dignified means of escape,
I think we would both have taken
"I should not have come," she
said nervously, and then seemed
to wait for some response, so
"I was terrified to come, indeed
I was," she assured me with obvious
"But I have come," she
finished rather baldly.
"It is an epitome, ma'am," said
I, seeing my chance, "of your
whole life," and with that I
put her into my elbow-chair.
She began to
talk of my adventures with
David in the Gardens, and
of some little things I have
not mentioned here, that I may
have done for her when I was
in a wayward mood, and her voice
was as soft as her muff. She
had also an affecting way of
pronouncing all her r's as w's,
just as the fairies do. "And
so," she said, "as you would
not come to me to be thanked,
I have come to you to thank you." Whereupon
she thanked me most abominably.
She also slid one of her hands
out of the muff, and though she
was smiling her eyes were wet.
"Pooh, ma'am," said
I in desperation, but I did
not take her hand.
"I am not very strong yet," she
said with low cunning. She said
this to make me take her hand,
so I took it, and perhaps I patted
it a little. Then I walked brusquely
to the window. The truth is,
I begun to think uncomfortably
of the dedication.
I went to the window because,
undoubtedly, it would be easier
to address her severely from
behind, and I wanted to say something
that would sting her.
"When you have quite done,
ma'am," I said, after a long
pause, "perhaps you will allow
me to say a word."
I could see the back of her
head only, but I knew, from David's
face, that she had given him
a quick look which did not imply
that she was stung. Indeed I
felt now, as I had felt before,
that though she was agitated
and in some fear of me, she was
also enjoying herself considerably.
In such circumstances
I might as well have tried
to sting a
sand- bank, so I said, rather
off my watch, "If I have done
all this for you, why did I do
She made no
answer in words, but seemed
to grow taller in
the chair, so that I could see
her shoulders, and I knew from
this that she was now holding
herself conceitedly and trying
to look modest. "Not a bit of
it, ma'am," said I sharply, "that
was not the reason at all."
I was pleased to see her whisk
round, rather indignant at last.
"I never said it was," she
retorted with spirit, "I never
thought for a moment that it
was." She added, a trifle too
late in the story, "Besides,
I don't know what you are talking
I think I must have smiled
here, for she turned from me
quickly, and became quite little
in the chair again.
"David," said I mercilessly, "did
you ever see your mother blush?"
"What is blush?"
"She goes a
beautiful pink colour."
David, who had by this time
broken my connection with the
head office, crossed to his mother
"I don't, David," she
"I think," said I, "she will
do it now," and with the instinct
of a gentleman I looked away.
Thus I cannot tell what happened,
but presently David exclaimed
admiringly, "Oh, mother, do it
As she would
not, he stood on the fender
to see in the mantel-
glass whether he could do it
himself, and then Mary turned
a most candid face on me, in
which was maternity rather than
reproach. Perhaps no look given
by woman to man affects him quite
so much. "You see," she said
radiantly and with a gesture
that disclosed herself to me, "I
can forgive even that. You long
ago earned the right to hurt
me if you want to."
It weaned me of all further
desire to rail at Mary, and I
felt an uncommon drawing to her.
"And if I did think that for
a little while--," she went on,
with an unsteady smile.
"Think what?" I
asked, but without the necessary
"What we were talking of," she
replied wincing, but forgiving
me again. "If I once thought
that, it was pretty to me while
it lasted and it lasted but a
little time. I have long been
sure that your kindness to me
was due to some other reason."
"Ma'am," said I very honestly, "I
know not what was the reason.
My concern for you was in the
beginning a very fragile and
even a selfish thing, yet not
altogether selfish, for I think
that what first stirred it was
the joyous sway of the little
nursery governess as she walked
down Pall Mall to meet her lover.
It seemed such a mighty fine
thing to you to be loved that
I thought you had better continue
to be loved for a little longer.
And perhaps having helped you
once by dropping a letter I was
charmed by the ease with which
you could be helped, for you
must know that I am one who has
chosen the easy way for more
than twenty years."
She shook her
head and smiled. "On
my soul," I assured her, "I can
think of no other reason."
"A kind heart," said
"More likely a whim," said
"Or another woman," said
I was very much taken aback.
"More than twenty years ago," she
said with a soft huskiness in
her voice, and a tremor and a
sweetness, as if she did not
know that in twenty years all
love stories are grown mouldy.
On my honour
as a soldier this explanation
of my early solicitude
for Mary was one that had never
struck me, but the more I pondered
it now--. I raised her hand and
touched it with my lips, as we
whimsical old fellows do when
some gracious girl makes us to
hear the key in the lock of long
ago. "Why, ma'am," I said, "it
is a pretty notion, and there
may be something in it. Let us
leave it at that."
But there was still that accursed
dedication, lying, you remember,
beneath the blotting-pad. I had
no longer any desire to crush
her with it. I wished that she
had succeeded in writing the
book on which her longings had
been so set.
"If only you had been less
ambitious," I said, much troubled
that she should be disappointed
in her heart's desire.
"I wanted all the dear delicious
things," she admitted contritely.
"It was unreasonable," I said
eagerly, appealing to her intellect. "Especially
this last thing."
"Yes," she agreed frankly, "I
know." And then to my amazement
she added triumphantly, "But
I got it."
I suppose my
look admonished her, for she
but still as if she really thought
hers had been a romantic career, "I
know I have not deserved it,
but I got it."
"Oh, ma'am," I cried reproachfully, "reflect.
You have not got the great thing." I
saw her counting the great things
in her mind, her wondrous husband
and his obscure success, David,
Barbara, and the other trifling
contents of her jewel-box.
"I think I have," said
"Come, madam," I cried a little
nettled, "you know that there
is lacking the one thing you
craved for most of all."
Will you believe
me that I had to tell her what
And when I had told her she exclaimed
with extraordinary callousness, "The
book? I had forgotten all about
the book!" And then after reflection
she added, "Pooh!" Had she not
added Pooh I might have spared
her, but as it was I raised the
blotting-pad rather haughtily
and presented her with the sheet
"What is this?" she
"Ma'am," said I, swelling, "it
is a Dedication," and I walked
majestically to the window.
There is no doubt that presently
I heard an unexpected sound.
Yet if indeed it had been a laugh
she clipped it short, for in
almost the same moment she was
looking large-eyed at me and
tapping my sleeve impulsively
with her fingers, just as David
does when he suddenly likes you.
"How characteristic of you," she
said at the window.
"Characteristic," I echoed
"And how kind."
"Did you say
"But it is I who have the substance
and you who have the shadow,
as you know very well," said
Yes, I had always known that
this was the one flaw in my dedication,
but how could I have expected
her to have the wit to see it?
I was very depressed.
"And there is another mistake," said
ma'am, but that is the only
"It was never of my little
white bird I wanted to write," she
I looked politely
incredulous, and then indeed
me. "It was of your little white
bird," she said, "it was of a
little boy whose name was Timothy."
She had a very
pretty way of saying Timothy,
so David and
I went into another room to leave
her alone with the manuscript
of this poor little book, and
when we returned she had the
greatest surprise of the day
for me. She was both laughing
and crying, which was no surprise,
for all of us would laugh and
cry over a book about such an
interesting subject as ourselves,
but said she, "How wrong you
are in thinking this book is
about me and mine, it is really
all about Timothy."
At first I deemed this to be
uncommon nonsense, but as I considered
I saw that she was probably right
again, and I gazed crestfallen
at this very clever woman.
"And so," said she, clapping
her hands after the manner of
David when he makes a great discovery, "it
proves to be my book after all."
"With all your pretty thoughts
left out," I answered, properly
She spoke in
a lower voice as if David must
not hear. "I
had only one pretty thought for
the book," she said, "I was to
give it a happy ending." She
said this so timidly that I was
about to melt to her when she
added with extraordinary boldness, "The
little white bird was to bear
an olive-leaf in its mouth."
For a long time she talked
to me earnestly of a grand scheme
on which she had set her heart,
and ever and anon she tapped
on me as if to get admittance
for her ideas. I listened respectfully,
smiling at this young thing for
carrying it so motherly to me,
and in the end I had to remind
her that I was forty-seven years
"It is quite young for a man," she
"My father," said I, "was
not forty-seven when he died,
I remember thinking him an old
"But you don't think so now,
do you?" she persisted, "you
feel young occasionally, don't
you? Sometimes when you are playing
with David in the Gardens your
youth comes swinging back, does
"Mary A----," I cried, grown
afraid of the woman, "I forbid
you to make any more discoveries
But still she
hugged her scheme, which I
doubt not was what had
brought her to my rooms. "They
are very dear women," said she
"I am sure," I said, "they
must be dear women if they are
friends of yours."
"They are not exactly young," she
faltered, "and perhaps they are
not very pretty--"
But she had been reading so
recently about the darling of
my youth that she halted abashed
at last, feeling, I apprehend,
a stop in her mind against proposing
this thing to me, who, in those
presumptuous days, had thought
to be content with nothing less
than the loveliest lady in all
My thoughts had reverted also,
and for the last time my eyes
saw the little hut through the
pine wood haze. I met Mary there,
and we came back to the present
I have already told you, reader,
that this conversation took place
no longer ago than yesterday.
"Very well, ma'am," I said,
trying to put a brave face on
it, "I will come to your tea-parties,
and we shall see what we shall
It was really all she had asked
for, but now that she had got
what she wanted of me the foolish
soul's eyes became wet, she knew
so well that the youthful romances
are the best.
It was now
my turn to comfort her. "In twenty years," I said,
smiling at her tears, "a man
grows humble, Mary. I have stored
within me a great fund of affection,
with nobody to give it to, and
I swear to you, on the word of
a soldier, that if there is one
of those ladies who can be got
to care for me I shall be very
proud." Despite her semblance
of delight I knew that she was
wondering at me, and I wondered
at myself, but it was true.