little boy who calls me father
brings me an
invitation from his mother: "I
shall be so pleased if you will
come and see me," and I always
reply in some such words as these: "Dear
madam, I decline." And if David
asks why I decline, I explain
that it is because I have no
desire to meet the woman.
"Come this time, father," he
urged lately, "for it is her
birthday, and she is twenty-six," which
is so great an age to David,
that I think he fears she cannot
last much longer.
"Twenty-six, is she, David?" I
replied. "Tell her I said she
I had my delicious dream that
night. I dreamt that I too was
twenty-six, which was a long
time ago, and that I took train
to a place called my home, whose
whereabouts I see not in my waking
hours, and when I alighted at
the station a dear lost love
was waiting for me, and we went
away together. She met me in
no ecstasy of emotion, nor was
I surprised to find her there;
it was as if we had been married
for years and parted for a day.
I like to think that I gave her
some of the things to carry.
Were I to tell my delightful
dream to David's mother, to whom
I have never in my life addressed
one word, she would droop her
head and raise it bravely, to
imply that I make her very sad
but very proud, and she would
be wishful to lend me her absurd
little pocket handkerchief. And
then, had I the heart, I might
make a disclosure that would
startle her, for it is not the
face of David's mother that I
see in my dreams.
Has it ever been your lot,
reader, to be persecuted by a
pretty woman who thinks, without
a tittle of reason, that you
are bowed down under a hopeless
partiality for her? It is thus
that I have been pursued for
several years now by the unwelcome
sympathy of the tender-hearted
and virtuous Mary A----. When
we pass in the street the poor
deluded soul subdues her buoyancy,
as if it were shame to walk happy
before one she has lamed, and
at such times the rustle of her
gown is whispered words of comfort
to me, and her arms are kindly
wings that wish I was a little
boy like David. I also detect
in her a fearful elation, which
I am unaware of until she has
passed, when it comes back to
me like a faint note of challenge.
Eyes that say you never must,
nose that says why don't you?
and a mouth that says I rather
wish you could: such is the portrait
of Mary A---- as she and I pass
Once she dared to address me,
so that she could boast to David
that I had spoken to her. I was
in the Kensington Gardens, and
she asked would I tell her the
time please, just as children
ask, and forget as they run back
with it to their nurse. But I
was prepared even for this, and
raising my hat I pointed with
my staff to a clock in the distance.
She should have been overwhelmed,
but as I walked on listening
intently, I thought with displeasure
that I heard her laughing.
Her laugh is very like David's,
whom I could punch all day in
order to hear him laugh. I dare
say she put this laugh into him.
She has been putting qualities
into David, altering him, turning
him forever on a lathe since
the day she first knew him, and
indeed long before, and all so
deftly that he is still called
a child of nature. When you release
David's hand he is immediately
lost like an arrow from the bow.
No sooner do you cast eyes on
him than you are thinking of
birds. It is difficult to believe
that he walks to the Kensington
Gardens; he always seems to have
alighted there: and were I to
scatter crumbs I opine he would
come and peck. This is not what
he set out to be; it is all the
doing of that timid-looking lady
who affects to be greatly surprised
by it. He strikes a hundred gallant
poses in a day; when he tumbles,
which is often, he comes to the
ground like a Greek god; so Mary
A---- has willed it. But how
she suffers that he may achieve!
I have seen him climbing a tree
while she stood beneath in unutterable
anguish; she had to let him climb,
for boys must be brave, but I
am sure that, as she watched
him, she fell from every branch.
David admires her prodigiously;
he thinks her so good that she
will be able to get him into
heaven, however naughty he is.
Otherwise he would trespass less
light-heartedly. Perhaps she
has discovered this; for, as
I learn from him, she warned
him lately that she is not such
a dear as he thinks her.
"I am very sure of it," I
"Is she such a dear as you
think her?" he asked me.
"Heaven help her," I said, "if
she be not dearer than that."
all mothers if they be not
really dears, for
their boy will certainly know
it in that strange short hour
of the day when every mother
stands revealed before her little
son. That dread hour ticks between
six and seven; when children
go to bed later the revelation
has ceased to come. He is lapt
in for the night now and lies
quietly there, madam, with great,
mysterious eyes fixed upon his
mother. He is summing up your
day. Nothing in the revelations
that kept you together and yet
apart in play time can save you
now; you two are of no age, no
experience of life separates
you; it is the boy's hour, and
you have come up for judgment. "Have
I done well to-day, my son?" You
have got to say it, and nothing
may you hide from him; he knows
all. How like your voice has
grown to his, but more tremulous,
and both so solemn, so unlike
the voice of either of you by
"You were a
little unjust to me to-day
about the apple; were
you not, mother?"
Stand there, woman, by the
foot of the bed and cross your
hands and answer him.
"Yes, my son,
I was. I thought--"
But what you thought will not
affect the verdict.
"Was it fair,
mother, to say that I could
stay out till six,
and then pretend it was six before
it was quite six?"
"No, it was
very unfair. I thought--"
"Would it have
been a lie if I had said it
was quite six?"
"Oh, my son,
my son! I shall never tell
you a lie again."
"My boy, have
I done well to-day on the whole?"
Suppose he were unable to say
These are the merest peccadilloes,
you may say. Is it then a little
thing to be false to the agreement
you signed when you got the boy?
There are mothers who avoid their
children in that hour, but this
will not save them. Why is it
that so many women are afraid
to be left alone with their thoughts
between six and seven? I am not
asking this of you, Mary. I believe
that when you close David's door
softly there is a gladness in
your eyes, and the awe of one
who knows that the God to whom
little boys say their prayers
has a face very like their mother's.
I may mention here that David
is a stout believer in prayer,
and has had his first fight with
another young Christian who challenged
him to the jump and prayed for
victory, which David thought
was taking an unfair advantage.
"So Mary is
twenty-six! I say, David, she
is getting on. Tell
her that I am coming in to kiss
her when she is fifty-two."
He told her, and I understand
that she pretended to be indignant.
When I pass her in the street
now she pouts. Clearly preparing
for our meeting. She has also
said, I learn, that I shall not
think so much of her when she
is fifty-two, meaning that she
will not be so pretty then. So
little does the sex know of beauty.
Surely a spirited old lady may
be the prettiest sight in the
world. For my part, I confess
that it is they, and not the
young ones, who have ever been
my undoing. Just as I was about
to fall in love I suddenly found
that I preferred the mother.
Indeed, I cannot see a likely
young creature without impatiently
considering her chances for,
say, fifty-two. Oh, you mysterious
girls, when you are fifty-two
we shall find you out; you must
come into the open then. If the
mouth has fallen sourly yours
the blame: all the meannesses
your youth concealed have been
gathering in your face. But the
pretty thoughts and sweet ways
and dear, forgotten kindnesses
linger there also, to bloom in
your twilight like evening primroses.
Is it not strange
that, though I talk thus plainly
about his mother, he still seems
to think me fond of her? How
now, I reflect, what sort of
bumpkin is this, and perhaps
I say to him cruelly: "Boy, you
are uncommonly like your mother."
To which David: "Is
that why you are so kind to
I suppose I
am kind to him, but if so it
is not for love
of his mother, but because he
sometimes calls me father. On
my honour as a soldier, there
is nothing more in it than that.
I must not let him know this,
for it would make him conscious,
and so break the spell that binds
him and me together. Oftenest
I am but Captain W---- to him,
and for the best of reasons.
He addresses me as father when
he is in a hurry only, and never
have I dared ask him to use the
name. He says, "Come, father," with
an accursed beautiful carelessness.
So let it be, David, for a little
I like to hear
him say it before others, as
in shops. When in
shops he asks the salesman how
much money he makes in a day,
and which drawer he keeps it
in, and why his hair is red,
and does he like Achilles, of
whom David has lately heard,
and is so enamoured that he wants
to die to meet him. At such times
the shopkeepers accept me as
his father, and I cannot explain
the peculiar pleasure this gives
me. I am always in two minds
then, to linger that we may have
more of it, and to snatch him
away before he volunteers the
information, "He is not really
When David meets Achilles I
know what will happen. The little
boy will take the hero by the
hand, call him father, and drag
him away to some Round Pond.
One day, when
David was about five, I sent
him the following
letter: "Dear David: If you really
want to know how it began, will
you come and have a chop with
me to-day at the club?"
Mary, who, I have found out,
opens all his letters, gave her
consent, and, I doubt not, instructed
him to pay heed to what happened
so that he might repeat it to
her, for despite her curiosity
she knows not how it began herself.
I chuckled, guessing that she
expected something romantic.
He came to
me arrayed as for a mighty
journey, and looking
unusually solemn, as little boys
always do look when they are
wearing a great coat. There was
a shawl round his neck. "You
can take some of them off," I
said, "when we come to summer."
"Shall we come to summer?" he
asked, properly awed.
"To many summers," I replied, "for
we are going away back, David,
to see your mother as she was
in the days before there was
We hailed a
back six years," I said to the
cabby, "and stop at the Junior
Old Fogies' Club."
He was a stupid fellow, and
I had to guide him with my umbrella.
The streets were not quite
as they had been in the morning.
For instance, the bookshop at
the corner was now selling fish.
I dropped David a hint of what
was going on.
"It doesn't make me littler,
does it?" he asked anxiously;
and then, with a terrible misgiving: "It
won't make me too little, will
it, father?" by which he meant
that he hoped it would not do
for him altogether. He slipped
his hand nervously into mine,
and I put it in my pocket.
You can't think how little
David looked as we entered the
portals of the club.