Five Tales

Five Tales

FIVE TALES JOHN GALSWORTHY "Life calls the tune we dance." CONTENTS: THE FIRST AND LAST A STOIC THE APPLE TREE THE JURYMAN INDIAN SUMMER OF A FORSYTE THE FIRST AND LAST "So the last shall be first and the first last."--HOLY WRIT. It was a dark room at that hour of six in the evening when just the single oil reading-lamp under its green shade let fall a dapple of light over the Turkey carpet; over the covers of books taken out of the bookshelves and the open pages of the one selected; over the deep blue and gold of the coffee service on the little old stool with its Oriental embroidery. Very dark in the winter with drawn curtains many rows of leather-bound volumes oak-panelled walls and ceiling. So large too that the lighted spot before the fire where he sat was just an oasis. But that was what Keith Darrant liked after his day's work--the hard early morning study of his "cases" the fret and strain of the day in court; it was his rest these two hours before dinner with books coffee a pipe and sometimes a nap. In red Turkish slippers and his old brown velvet coat he was well suited to that framing of glow and darkness. A painter would have seized avidly on his clear-cut yellowish face with its black eyebrows twisting up over eyes--grey or brown one could hardly tell and its dark grizzling hair still plentiful in spite of those daily hours of wig. He seldom thought of his work while he sat there throwing off with practised ease the strain of that long attention to the multiple threads of argument and evidence to be disentangled-- work profoundly interesting as a rule to his clear intellect trained to almost instinctive rejection of all but the essential to selection of what was legally vital out of the mass of confused tactical and human detail presented to his scrutiny; yet sometimes tedious and wearing. As for instance to-day when he had suspected his client of perjury and was almost convinced that he must throw up his brief. He had disliked the weak-looking white-faced fellow from the first and his nervous shifty answers his prominent startled eyes--a type too common in these days of canting tolerations and weak humanitarianism; no good no good! Of the three books he had taken down a Volume of Voltaire--curious fascination that Frenchman had for all his destructive irony!--a volume of Burton's travels and Stevenson's "New Arabian Nights" he had pitched upon the last. He felt that evening the want of something sedative a desire to rest from thought of any kind. The court had been crowded stuffy; the air as he walked home soft sou'-westerly charged with coming moisture no quality of vigour in it; he felt relaxed tired even nervy and for once the loneliness of his house seemed strange and comfortless. Lowering the lamp he turned his face towards the fire. Perhaps he would get a sleep before that boring dinner at the Tellasson's. He wished it were vacation and Maisie back from school. A widower for many years he had lost the habit of a woman about him; yet to-night he had a positive yearning for the society of his young daughter with her quick ways and bright dark eyes. Curious what perpetual need of a woman some men had! His brother Laurence--wasted--all through women--atrophy of willpower! A man on the edge of things; living from hand to mouth; his gifts all down at heel! One would have thought the Scottish strain might have saved him; and yet when a Scotsman did begin to go downhill who could go faster? Curious that their mother's blood should have worked so differently in her two sons. He himself had always felt he owed all his success to it. His thoughts went off at a tangent to a certain issue troubling his legal conscience. He had not wavered in the usual assumption of omniscience but he was by no means sure that he had given right advice. Well! Without that power to decide and hold to decision in spite of misgiving one would never have been fit for one's position at the Bar never have been fit for anything. The longer he lived the more certain he became of the prime necessity of virile and decisive action in all the affairs of life. A word and a blow--and the blow first! Doubts hesitations sentiment the muling and puking of this twilight age--! And there welled up on his handsome face a smile that was almost devilish--the tricks of firelight are so many! It faded again in sheer drowsiness; he slept.... He woke with a start having a feeling of something out beyond the light and without turning his head said: "What's that?" There came a sound as if somebody had caught his breath. He turned up the lamp. "Who's there?" A voice over by the door answered: "Only I--Larry." Something in the tone or perhaps just being startled out of sleep like this made him shiver. He said: "I was asleep. Come in!" It was noticeable that he did not get up or even turn his head now that he knew who it was but waited his half-closed eyes fixed on the fire for his brother to come forward. A visit from Laurence was not an unmixed blessing. He could hear him breathing and became conscious of a scent of whisky. Why could not the fellow at least abstain when he was coming here! It was so childish so lacking in any sense of proportion or of decency! And he said sharply: "Well Larry what is it?" It was always something. He often wondered at the strength of that sense of trusteeship which kept him still tolerant of the troubles amenable to the petitions of this brother of his; or was it just "blood" feeling a Highland sense of loyalty to kith and kin; an old- time quality which judgment and half his instincts told him was weakness but which in spite of all bound him to the distressful fellow? Was he drunk now that he kept lurking out there by the door? And he said less sharply: "Why don't you come and sit down?" He was coming now avoiding the light skirting along the walls just beyond the radiance of the lamp his feet and legs to the waist brightly lighted but his face disintegrated in shadow like the face of a dark ghost. "Are you ill man?" Still no answer save a shake of that head and the passing up of a hand out of the light to the ghostly forehead under the dishevelled hair. The scent of whisky was stronger now; and Keith thought: 'He really is drunk. Nice thing for the new butler to see! If he can't behave--' The figure against the wall heaved a sigh--so truly from an overburdened heart that Keith was conscious with a certain dismay of not having yet fathomed the cause of this uncanny silence. He got up and back to the fire said with a brutality born of nerves rather than design: 'What is it man? Have you committed a murder that you stand there dumb as a fish?" For a second no answer at all not even of breathing; then just the whisper: "Yes." The sense of unreality which so helps one at moments of disaster enabled Keith to say vigorously: "By Jove! You have been drinking!" ...