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Chapter 24

Barbara

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 Barbara in?"

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 asked.

"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 capable.

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 him yesterday?

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 at Pilkington's.

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
with it?

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 bad business.

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 time.

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 in
everything.

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 boxes.

"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 David hotly.

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 her exceedingly.

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."

I remembered 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 carried out.

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 that.)

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
story.

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.

"Barbara," corrected David.

"Benjamin," said I doggedly.

"Is that a girl's name?"

"No, it's a boy's name."

"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 fancy.

"Barbara," he repeatedly implored me.

"Benjamin," I replied firmly.

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.

James M. Barrie

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