A Barren Title_ A Novel
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(The Library of Congress)
HARPER'S HANDY SERIES
Copyright by Harper & Brothers November 27, 1885
Subscription Price per Year, 52 Numbers, $15
Entered the Post-Office at New York, as Second-class MailMatter
A BARREN TITLE
BY T. W. SPEIGHT
AUTHOR OF "THE MYSTERIES OF HERON DYKE" ETC.
Books you may hold readily in your hand are the most useful, after all
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS
|II.||AT THE BROWN BEAR.|
|XII.||CECILIA AND THE COUNTESS.|
|XIV.||"TWELVE IT IS."|
|XVIII.||UP A LADDER.|
|XIX.||P. P. C.|
A BARREN TITLE.
It was a sunny February afternoon when Mr.John Fildew put his nose--aquiline and slightly purple as to itsridge--outside the door of his lodgings for the first time that day,and remarked to himself, with a shiver, that the weather was "beastlycold." After gazing up the street and down the street, and seeingnothing worth looking at, he shut the door behind him and strolledleisurely away.
Hayfield Street, in which Mr. Fildew's lodgings were situate, was,despite its name, as far removed, both in appearance and associations,from anything suggestive of country or rural life as it well could be.It was of the town towny. Every house in it--and they weresubstantial, well-built domiciles, dating back some seventy or moreyears ago--was let out to three or four families, while in many casesthe ground-floors had been converted into shops, in one or other ofwhich anything might be bought, from a second-hand silk dress orsealskin jacket to a pennyworth of fried fish or a succulent cow-heel.
In whatever part of the street you took your stand a couple of tavernswere well within view, and, as a matter of course, there was apawnbroker's emporium "just round the corner." It is needless to saythat the street swarmed with children of all ages and all sizes, andthat you might make sure of having the dulcet tones of a barrel-organwithin earshot every ten minutes throughout the day. It was situatesomewhat to the west of Tottenham-court Road, and ran at right angleswith one of the main arteries that intersect that well-knownthoroughfare.
In this populous locality Mr. Fildew and his wife rented adrawing-room floor, consisting of three rooms, and including the useof a kitchen below stairs; and here they had lived for between six andseven years at the time we make Mr. Fildew's acquaintance. As we shallsee a great deal of that gentleman before the word Finis is written tothis history, it may perhaps be as well to introduce him with someparticularity to the reader before setting out with him on hisafternoon stroll.
John Fildew at this time was about fifty-two years of age, but lookedsomewhat older. Thirty years previously he had been accounted a veryhandsome man, and there were still sufficient traces of bygone goodlooks to make credible such a tradition. But the once clear-cutaquiline nose was now growing more coarse and bibulous-looking withevery year, and the once shapely waist was putting on a degree ofconvexity that troubled its possessor far more than any other changethat time had seen fit to afflict him with. As yet he was by no meansbald, and his iron-gray hair, however thin it might be at the crown,was still plentiful at the sides and back, and being seldom operatedupon by the tonsorial scissors, its long, straggling ends mingled withthe tangled growth of his whiskers and lay on the collar of his coatbehind. Grizzled, too, were whiskers, beard, and mustache, but allunkempt and apparently uncared for, growing as they listed, and onlyimpatiently snipped at now and again by Mr. Fildew himself, when hismustache had grown so long as to be inconvenient at meal-times. Hiseyes were his best feature. They were dark, piercing, and deep-set,and were overhung by thick, bushy brows, which showed as yet nosigns of age. Their ordinary expression was one of cold, quietwatchfulness, but they were occasionally lighted up by gleams of agrim, sardonic humor, accompanied by a half-contemptuous smile and atsuch times it was possible to understand how it happened that many notover-observant people came to regard him as a genial, good-hearted,easy-tempered fellow, when, in truth, there was scarcely one touch ofreal geniality in his composition.
Unshorn and unkempt as Mr. Fildew might appear as regards his hair andwhiskers, shabby-genteel as he might be in point of attire, he stillcarried himself as one who holds himself superior in some measure tothe ordinary run of his fellows. His boots might bear unmistakabletraces of having been patched, but they were carefully polished andwell-set up at the heels. His trousers might be old, and it ispossible that they too might be patched on certain parts not visibleto the public eye, but they were well ironed at the knees, and werestrapped over his boots ŗ la militaire. His frock-coat--always worntightly buttoned--might be threadbare, inked here and there at theseams, and not after the latest fashion, but it had the merit of beingan excellent fit. His hat, too, might be of ancient date, andsuspiciously shiny in places, but it was always carefully brushed, andwas worn with an air of assurance and aplomb that made its defectsseem superior to the virtues of many newer head-coverings. Mr.Fildew's linen might be old, possibly darned, but such portion of itas was visible to the world at large was at least spotlessly white:there was some one at home who took care of that. His attire wascompleted by a deep, military-looking stock, a pair of faded buckskingloves, and a substantial Malacca cane with a silk tassel. Beingnaturally a little short-sighted, he always carried an eyeglass, butrarely made use of it in the streets.
And yet Mr. Fildew's shabby attire was not altogether a matter ofnecessity with him. One day his son Clement ventured to say, "Father,I wish you would go to my tailor, and let him set you up with some newtoggery."
Clem was brushing the collar of his father's coat at the time, and theremark was made laughingly, but Mr. Fildew turned with a scowl andconfronted his son. "Confound your tailor, sir!" he cried. "And you,too," he added next moment. "Do you think I'm a pauper, that you offerto pay for my clothes? If you are ashamed to be seen out with me,remember, sir, that there are always two sides to a street." And withthat Mr. Fildew turned on his heel in high dudgeon.
Clement and his mother exchanged glances of dismay. "You know howpeculiar your father is, dear," said Mrs. Fildew afterwards, "and whatlittle things sometimes touch his dignity. It was injudicious of youto say what you did."
Clement shrugged his shoulders. "I have lived with my father all mylife, and yet I confess that I only half understand him," said theyoung man. "At times he is a complete enigma to me."
"I have lived with him more years than you have, and I think that Ialmost understand him: almost, but not quite," responded Mrs. Fildew,with a smile. "But then a woman always does understand a man betterthan another man can hope to do."
Clement Fildew might well say that his father was an enigma to him.Although the latter refused so indignantly to allow his son to be atthe expense of refurnishing his wardrobe, he was not too proud toaccept from him his weekly supply of pocket-money. But then the moneyin question found its way from Clement's pocket to that of his fatherafter such a delicate and diplomatic fashion that the susceptibilitiesof Mr. Fildew had never hitherto been wounded in the transaction.Every Friday Clement placed in his mother's hands the sum of oneguinea. The sovereign and shilling in question were wrapped up by Mrs.Fildew in a piece of tissue-paper, and quietly deposited by her in acertain drawer in her husband's dressing-table. By Saturday morningthe tiny packet would have disappeared. No questions were asked;neither Mrs. Fildew nor her husband ever spoke to each other on thematter but silence has often a meaning of its own, and it had in thiscase.
Mr. Fildew having shut the door of his lodgings behind him, walkedslowly down the street with the preoccupied air of a man who is busilycommuning with himself. "I must ask Clem to lend me half a sovereign,"he muttered. "The necessity is an unpleasant one, but there's no helpfor it. I feel certain I could have given that fellow last night adrubbing at a carom game, but he was too many for me at the spotstroke. Experientia docet."
Unfastening a couple of buttons of his frock-coat, Mr. Fildew inserteda thumb and finger into his waistcoat pocket, and drew therefrom asixpence. "My last coin," he murmured. "I really must not touch a cueagain for another month."
Mr. Fildew was methodical in many of his habits. There was one tavernat which he made a point of calling within ten minutes of leaving homeevery afternoon. It had a little dark, private bar with cane-bottomedstools, where the gas was kept half turned on all day long. Here Punchand other comic papers were always to be found. Somehow, Mr. Fildewliked the place, but although he had called at it daily for years, noone behind the bar knew either his name or anything about him. He nowpushed open the swing-doors and went in. In answer to his nod--therewas no need for him to speak--the barman brought him fourpennyworth ofbrown brandy and cold water, together with a minute portion of cheeseon the point of a knife. Mr. Fildew munched his cheese, glanced at thecartoon in Punch, sipped up his brandy-and-water, nodded a second timeto the barman, and went.
Mr. Fildew walked jauntily along, whistling under his breath. Thebrandy had imparted a glow to his feelings and a glow to hisimagination: the flame would soon drop down again, he knew, but he wasphilosopher enough to enjoy it while it lasted.
Elderly, shabby-genteel individuals are by no means scarce about theWest End of London on sunny afternoons--inveterate fl‚neurs whose"better days" are over forever. But Mr. Fildew was something more thanmerely shabby-genteel there was about him a style, a carriage, an airundefinable, but not to be mistaken, of broken-down distinction, whichinduced many passers-by to turn and glance at him a second time as he"took" the pavement with his slow military stride, his eyes fixedstraight before him, and his nose held high in air.
In a few minutes he found himself in Oxford Street. Crossing this assoon as there was a break in the string of vehicles, he took his waytowards the mazes of Soho. Stopping at a certain door, he gave oneloud rap with the knocker followed by two quick ones, and next momentthe door opened, apparently of its own accord, and Mr. Fildew walkedin, after which the door shut itself behind him. He had evidently beenthere before, for without a moment's hesitation he ascended the firstflight of stairs, turned to the left down a short passage, and,opening a door at the end of it, found himself in a roomy andwell-lighted studio.
Its only occupant was a very little bandy-legged man with a luxuriantcrop of curly hair, who was sitting on a low stool in front of a bigcanvas, palette and brush in hand and a brier-root pipe between histeeth. John Fildew looked round with an air of disappointment.
"Clem not at home?" he asked of the little man.
"Oh, Mr. Fildew, is that you?" said the latter, turning quickly. "Ithought it was Clem come back. He's gone to see Pudgin, the dealer.Won't be long, I dare say."
"This is the third time I've called and not found him at home."
"All, just your luck, ain't it?" said the other, coolly. It wouldalmost have seemed from the way he spoke as if he held Mr. Fildew inno particular regard.
The latter made no reply, but strode across the room and came to ahalt immediately behind the little painter.
"I'm putting the finishing touches to the pedes of my saint, Mr.Fildew. I wonder whether the holy