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II. These-An'-That's Wife.
III. "Doubles" and Quits.
IV. The Boy by the Beach.
Stories of Bleakirk--
I. The Affair of Bleakirk-on-Sands.
II. The Constant Post-Boy.
A Dark Mirror.
The Small People.
The Mayor of Gantick.
The Doctor's Foundling.
The Gifts of Feodor Himkoff.
The Paradise of Choice.
Beside the Bee Hives.
The Magic Shadow.
NOUGHTS AND CROSSES.
It was not so much a day as a burning, fiery furnace. The roar of
London's traffic reverberated under a sky of coppery blue; the
pavements threw out waves of heat, thickened with the reek of
restaurants and perfumery shops; and dust became cinders, and the
wearing of flesh a weariness. Streams of sweat ran from the bellies
of 'bus-horses when they halted. Men went up and down with
unbuttoned waistcoats, turned into drinking-bars, and were no sooner
inside than they longed to be out again, and baking in an ampler
oven. Other men, who had given up drinking because of the expense,
hung about the fountains in Trafalgar Square and listened to the
splash of running water. It was the time when London is supposed to
be empty; and when those who remain in town feel there is not room
for a soul more.
We were eleven inside the omnibus when it pulled up at Charing Cross,
so that legally there was room for just one more. I had travelled
enough in omnibuses to know my fellow-passengers by heart--
a governess with some sheets of music in her satchel; a minor actress
going to rehearsal; a woman carrying her incurable complaint for the
hundredth time to the hospital; three middle-aged city clerks; a
couple of reporters with weak eyes and low collars; an old
loose-cheeked woman exhaling patchouli; a bald-headed man with hairy
hands, a violent breast-pin, and the indescribable air of a
matrimonial agent. Not a word passed. We were all failures in life,
and could not trouble to dissemble it, in that heat. Moreover, we
were used to each other, as types if not as persons, and had lost
curiosity. So we sat listless, dispirited, drawing difficult breath
and staring vacuously. The hope we shared in common--that nobody
would claim the vacant seat--was too obvious to be discussed.
But at Charing Cross the twelfth passenger got in--a boy with a
stick, and a bundle in a blue handkerchief. He was about thirteen;
bound for the docks, we could tell at a glance, to sail on his first
voyage; and, by the way he looked about, we could tell as easily that
in stepping outside Charing Cross Station he had set foot on London
stones for the first time. When we pulled up, he was standing on the
opposite pavement with dazed eyes like a hare's, wondering at the new
world--the hansoms, the yelling news-boys, the flower-women, the
crowd pushing him this way and that, the ugly shop-fronts, the hurry
and stink and din of it all. Then, hailing our 'bus, he started to
run across--faltered--almost dropped his bundle--was snatched by our
conductor out of the path of a running hansom, and hauled on board.
His eyelids were pink and swollen; but he was not crying, though he
wanted to. Instead, he took a great gulp, as he pushed between our
knees to his seat, and tried to look brave as a lion.
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