by Hugh Walpole
(From The Chicago Tribune)
I am quite aware that in giving you this story just as I was
told it I shall incur the charge of downright and deliberate lying.
Especially I shall be told this by any one who knew Wilbraham
personally. Wilbraham was not, of course, his real name, but I think that there
are certain people who will recognize him from this description of him. I do not
know that it matters very much if they do. Wilbraham himself would certainly not
mind did he know. (Does he know?) It was the thing above all that he wanted
those last hours before he died—that I should pass on my conviction of the truth
of what he told me to others. What he did not know was that I was not convinced.
How could I be? But when the whole comfort of his last hours hung on the simple
fact that I was, of course I pretended to the best of my poor ability. I would
have done more than that to make him happy.
It is precisely the people who knew him well who will declare
at once that my little story is impossible. But did they know him well? Does any
one know any one else well? Aren't we all as lonely and removed from one another
as mariners on separate desert islands? In any case I did not know him well and
perhaps for that very reason was not so greatly surprised at his amazing
revelations—surprised at the revelations themselves, of course, but not at his
telling them. There was always in him—and I have known him here and there,
loosely, in club and London fashion, for nearly twenty years—something romantic
and something sentimental. I knew that because it was precisely those two
attributes that he drew out of me.
Most men are conscious at some time in their lives of having
felt for a member of their own sex an emotion that is something more than simple
companionship. It is a queer feeling quite unlike any other in life, distinctly
romantic and the more that perhaps for having no sex feeling in it.
Like the love of women, it is felt generally at sight, but,
unlike that love, it is, I think, a supremely unselfish emotion. It is not
acquisitive, nor possessive, nor jealous, and exists best perhaps when it is not
urged too severely, but is allowed to linger in the background of life, giving
real happiness and security and trust, standing out, indeed, as something
curiously reliable just because it is so little passionate. This emotion has an
odd place in our English life because the men who feel it, if they have been to
public school and university, have served a long training in repressing every
sign or expression of sentiment towards any other man; nevertheless it persists,
romantically and deeply persists, and the war of 1914 offered many curious
examples of it.
Wilbraham roused just that feeling in me. I remember with the
utmost distinctness my first meeting with him. It was just after the Boer war
and old Johnny Beaminster gave a dinner party to some men pals of his at the
Phoenix. Johnny was not so old then—none of us were; it was a short time after
the death of that old harpy, the Duchess of Wrexe, and some wag said that the
dinner was in celebration of that happy occasion. Johnny was not so ungracious
as that, but he gave us a very merry evening and he did undoubtedly feel a kind
of lightness in the general air.
There were about fifteen of us and Wilbraham was the only man
present I'd never seen before. He was only a captain then and neither so red
faced nor so stout as he afterwards became. He was pretty bulky, though, even
then, and with his sandy hair cropped close, his staring blue eyes, his
toothbrush moustache and sharp, alert movements, looked the typical traditional
There was nothing at all to distinguish him from a thousand
other officers of his kind, and yet from the moment I saw him I had some
especial and personal feeling about him. He was not in type at all the man to
whom at that time I should have felt drawn. My first book had just been
published and, although as I now perceive, its publication had not caused the
slightest ripple upon any water, the congratulations of my friends and
relations, who felt compelled, poor things, to say something, because “they had
received copies from the author,” had made me feel that the literary world was
all buzzing at my ears. I could see at a glance that Kipling was probably the
only “decent” author about whom Wilbraham knew anything, and the fragments of
his conversation that I caught did not promise anything intellectually exciting
from his acquaintanceship.
The fact remains that I wanted to know him more than any
other man in the room, and although I only exchanged a few words with him that
night, I thought of him for quite a long time afterwards.
It did not follow from this as it ought to have done that we
became great friends. That we never were, although it was myself whom he sent
for three days before his death to tell me his queer little story. It was then
at the very last that he confided to me that he, too, had felt something at our
first meeting “different” to what one generally feels, that he had always wanted
to turn our acquaintance into friendship and had been too shy. I also was
shy—and so we missed one another, as I suppose in this funny, constrained,
traditional country of ours thousands of people miss one another every day.
But although I did not see him very often and was in no way
intimate with him, I kept my ears open for any account of his doings. From one
point of view, the Club Window outlook, he was a very usual figure, one of those
stout, rubicund, jolly men, a good polo player, a good man in a house party,
genial-natured, and none too brilliantly brained, whom every one liked and no
one thought about. All this he was on one side of the report, but, on the other,
there were certain stories that were something more than the ordinary.
Wilbraham was obviously a sentimentalist and an enthusiast;
there was the extraordinary case shortly after I first met him of his
championship of X, a man who had been caught in an especially bestial kind of
crime and received a year's imprisonment for it. On X leaving prison Wilbraham
championed and defended him, put him up for months in his rooms in Duke Street,
walked as often as possible in his company down Piccadilly, and took him over to
Paris. It says a great deal for Wilbraham's accepted normality and his general
popularity that this championship of X did him no harm. It was so obvious that
he himself was the last man in the world to be afflicted with X's peculiar
habits. Some men, it is true, did murmur something about “birds of a feather”;
one or two kind friends warned Wilbraham in the way kind friends have, and to
them he simply said: “If a feller's a pal he's a pal.”
All this might in the end have done Wilbraham harm had not X
most happily committed suicide in Paris in 1905. There followed a year or two
later the much more celebrated business of Lady C. I need not go into all that
now, but here again Wilbraham constituted himself her defender, although she
robbed, cheated, and maligned him as she robbed, cheated, and maligned every one
who was good to her. It was quite obvious that he was not in love with her; the
obviousness of it was one of the things in him that annoyed her.
He simply felt apparently that she had been badly treated
(the very last thing that she had been), gave her any money he had, put his
rooms at the disposal of herself and her friends, and, as I have said,
championed her everywhere. This affair did very nearly finish him socially, and
in his regiment. It was not so much that they minded his caring for Lady
C—(after all, any man can be fooled by any woman)—but it was Lady C's friends
who made the whole thing so impossible. Such a crew! Such a horrible crew! And
it was a queer thing to see Wilbraham with his straight blue eyes and innocent
mouth and general air of amiable simplicity in the company of men like Colonel B
and young Kenneth Parr. (There is no harm, considering the later publicity of
his case, in mentioning his name.) Well, that affair luckily came to an end just
in time. Lady C disappeared to Berlin and was no more seen.
There were other cases into which I need not go when
Wilbraham was seen in strange company, always championing somebody who was not
worth the championing. He had no “social tact,” and for them at any rate no
moral sense. In himself he was the ordinary normal man about town, no prude, but
straight as a man can be in his debts, his love affairs, his friendships, and
his sport. Then came the war. He did brilliantly at Mons, was wounded twice,
went out to Gallipoli, had a touch of Palestine, and returned to France again to
share in Foch's final triumph.
No man can possibly have had more of the war than he had, and
it is my own belief that he had just a little too much of it.
He had been always perhaps a little “queer,” as we are most
of us “queer” somewhere, and the horrors of that horrible war undoubtedly
affected him. Finally he lost, just a week before the armistice, one of his best
friends, Ross McLean, a loss from which he certainly never recovered.
I have now, I think, brought together all the incidents that
can throw any kind of light upon the final scene. In the middle of 1919 he
retired from the army, and it was from this time to his death that I saw
something of him. He went back to his old home at Horton's in Duke street, and
as I was living at that time in Marlborough Chambers in Jermyn street we were in
easy reach of one another. The early part of 1920 was a “queer time.” People had
become, I imagine, pretty well accustomed to realizing that those two wonderful
hours of Armistice day had not ushered in the millennium any more than those
first marvellous moments of the Russian revolution produced it.
Every one has always hoped for the millennium, but the
trouble since the days of Adam and Eve has always been that people have such
different ideas as to what exactly that millennium shall be. The plain facts of
the matter simply were that during 1919 and 1920 the world changed from a war of
nations to a war of classes, that inevitable change that history has always
shown follows on great wars.
As no one ever reads history, it was natural enough that
there should be a great deal of disappointment and a great deal of astonishment.
Men at the head of affairs who ought to have known better cried aloud, “How
ungrateful these people are, after all we've done for them!” and the people
underneath shouted that everything had been muddled and spoiled and that they
would have done much better had they been at the head of affairs, an assertion
for which there was no sort of justification.
Wilbraham, being a sentimentalist and an idealist, suffered
more from this general disappointment than most people. He had had wonderful
relations with the men under him throughout the war. He had never tired of
recounting how marvelously they had behaved, what heroes they were, and that it
was they who would pull the country together.
At the same time he had a naive horror of bolshevism and
anything unconstitutional, and he watched the transformation of his “brave lads"
into discontented and idle workmen with dismay and deep distress. He used
sometimes to come around to my rooms and talk to me; he had the bewildered air
of a man walking in his sleep.
He made the fatal mistake of reading all the papers, and he
took in the Daily Herald in order that he might see “what it was these fellows
had to say for themselves.”
The Herald upset him terribly. Its bland assumption that
Russians and Sein Feiners could do no wrong, but that the slightest sign of
assertion of authority on the part of any government was “wicked tyranny,”
shocked his very soul. I remember that he wrote a long, most earnest letter to
Lansbury, pointing out to him that if he subverted all authority and
constitutional government his own party would in its turn be subverted when it
came to govern. Of course, he received no answer.
During these months I came to love the man. The attraction
that I had felt for him from the very first deeply underlay all my relation to
him, but as I saw more of him I found many very positive reasons for my liking.
He was the simplest, bravest, purest, most loyal, and most unselfish soul alive.
He seemed to me to have no faults at all unless it were a certain softness
towards the wishes of those whom he loved. He could not bear to hurt anybody,
but he never hesitated if some principle in which he believed was called in
He had not, of course, a subtle mind—he was no analyst of
character—but that did not make him uninteresting. I never heard any one call
him dull company, although men laughed at him for his good nature and
unselfishness and traded on him all the time. He was the best human being I have
ever known or am ever likely to know.
Well, the crisis arrived with astonishing suddenness. About
the second or third of August I went down to stay with some friends at the
little fishing village of Rafiel in Glebeshire.
I saw him just before I left London, and he told me that he
was going to stay in London for the first half of August, that he liked London
in August, even though his club would be closed and Horton's delivered over to
I heard nothing about him for a fortnight, and then I
received a most extraordinary letter from Box Hamilton, a fellow clubman of mine
and Wilbraham's. Had I heard, he said, that poor old Wilbraham had gone right
off his “knocker”? Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but suddenly one day
at lunch time Wilbraham had turned up at Grey's (the club to which our own club
was a visitor during its cleaning), had harangued every one about religion in
the most extraordinary way, had burst out from there and started shouting in
Piccadilly, had, after collecting a crowd, disappeared and not been seen until
the next morning, when he had been found, nearly killed, after a hand-to-hand
fight with the market men in Covent Garden.
It may be imagined how deeply this disturbed me, especially
as I felt that I was myself to blame. I had noticed that Wilbraham was ill when
I had seen him in London, and I should either have persuaded him to come with me
to Glebeshire or stayed with him in London. I was just about to pack up and go
to town when I received a letter from a doctor in a nursing home in South Audley
street saying that a certain Major Wilbraham was in the home dying and asking
persistently for myself. I took a motor to Drymouth and was in London by five
I found the South Audley Street nursing home and was at once
surrounded with the hush, the shaded rooms, the scents of medicine and flowers,
and some undefinable cleanliness that belongs to those places.
I waited in a little room, the walls decorated with sporting
prints, the green baize table gloomily laden with volumes of Punch and the
Tatler. Wilbraham's doctor came in to see me, a dapper, smart little man,
efficient and impersonal. He told me that Wilbraham had at most only twenty-four
hours to live, that his brain was quite clear, and that he was suffering very
little pain, that he had been brutally kicked in the stomach by some man in the
Covent Garden crowd and had there received the internal injuries from which he
was now dying.
“His brain is quite clear,” the doctor said. “Let him talk.
It can do him no harm. Nothing can save him. His head is full of queer fancies;
he wants every one to listen to him. He's worrying because there's some message
he wants to send... he wants to give it to you.”
When I saw Wilbraham he was so little changed that I felt no
shock. Indeed, the most striking change in him was the almost exultant happiness
in his voice and eyes.
It is true that after talking to him a little I knew that he
was dying. He had that strange peace and tranquillity of mind that one saw so
often with dying men in the war.
I will try to give an exact account of Wilbraham's narrative;
nothing else is of importance in this little story but that narrative; I can
make no comment. I have no wish to do so. I only want to pass it on as he begged
me to do.
“If you don't believe me,” he said, “give other people the
chance of doing so. I know that I am dying. I want as many men and women to have
a chance of judging this as is humanly possible. I swear to you that I am
telling the truth and the exact truth in every detail.”
I began my account by saying that I was not convinced. How
could I be convinced?
At the same time I have none of those explanations with which
people are so generously forthcoming on these occasions. I can only say that I
do not think Wilbraham was insane, nor drunk, nor asleep. Nor do I believe that
some one played a practical joke....
Whether Wilbraham was insane between the hours when his
visitor left him and his entrance into the nursing home I must leave to my
readers. I myself think he was not.
After all, everything depends upon the relative importance
that we place upon ambitions, possessions, emotions,—ideas.
Something suddenly became of so desperate an importance to
Wilbraham that nothing else at all mattered. He wanted every one else to see the
importance of it as he did. That is all....
It had been a hot and oppressive day; London had seemed
torrid and uncomfortable. The mere fact that Oxford street was “up” annoyed him.
After a slight meal in his flat he went to the Promenade Concert at Queen's
Hall. It was the second night of the season—Monday night, Wagner night.
He bought himself a five shilling ticket and sat in the
middle of the balcony overlooking the floor. He was annoyed again when he
discovered that he had been given a ticket for the “non-smoking" section of the
He had heard no Wagner since August, 1914, and was anxious to
discover the effect that hearing it again would have upon him. The effect was
disappointing. The music neither caught nor held him.
“The Meistersinger” had always been a great opera for him.
The third act music that Sir Henry Wood gave to him didn't touch him anywhere.
He also discovered that six years' abstinence had not enraptured him any more
deeply with the rushing fiddles in the “Tannhaeuser” Overture nor with the
spinning music in the “Flying Dutchman.” Then came suddenly the prelude to the
third act of “Tristan.” That caught him; the peace and tranquillity that he
needed lapped him round; he was fully satisfied and could have listened for
He walked home down Regent Street, the quiet melancholy of
the shepherd's pipe accompanying him, pleasing him and tranquillizing him. As he
reached his flat ten o'clock struck from St. James' Church. He asked the porter
whether any one had wanted him during his absence—whether any one was waiting
for him now—(some friend had told him that he might come up and use his spare
room one night that week). No, no one had been. There was no one there waiting.
Great was his surprise, therefore, when opening the door of
his flat he found some one standing there, one hand resting on the table, his
face turned towards the open door. Stronger, however, than Wilbraham's surprise
was his immediate conviction that he knew his visitor well, and this was curious
because the face was, undoubtedly strange to him.
“I beg your pardon,” Wilbraham said to him, hesitating.
“I wanted to see you,” the Stranger said, smiling.
When Wilbraham was telling me this part of his story he
seemed to be enveloped—“enveloped” is the word that best conveys my own
experience of him—by some quite radiant happiness. He smiled at me
confidentially as though he were telling me something that I had experienced
with him and that must give me the same happiness that it gave to him.
“Ought I to have expected? Ought I to have known—” he
“No, you couldn't have known,” the Stranger answered. “You're
not late. I knew when you would come.”
Wilbraham told me that during these moments he was
surrendering himself to an emotion and intimacy and companionship that was the
most wonderful thing that he had ever known. It was that intimacy and
companionship, he told me, for which all his days he had been searching. It was
the one thing that life never seemed to give; even in the greatest love, the
deepest friendship, there was that seed of loneliness hidden. He had never found
it in man or woman.
Now it was so wonderful that the first thing he said was:
“And now you're going to stay, aren't you? You won't go away at once...?”
“Of course, I'll stay,” he answered. “If you want me.”
His Visitor was dressed in some dark suit; there was nothing
about Him in any way odd or unusual. His Face was thin and pale, His smile
His English was without accent. His voice was soft and very
But Wilbraham could notice nothing but His Eyes; they were
the most beautiful, tender, gentle Eyes that he had ever seen in any human
They sat down. Wilbraham's overwhelming fear was lest his
Guest should leave him. They began to talk and Wilbraham took it at once as
accepted that his Friend knew all about him—everything.
He found himself eagerly plunging into details of scenes,
episodes that he had long put behind him—put behind him for shame perhaps or for
regret or for sorrow. He knew at once that there was nothing that he need veil
nor hide—nothing. He had no sense that he must consider susceptibilities nor
avoid self-confession that was humiliating.
But he did find, as he talked on, a sense of shame from
another side creep towards him and begin to enclose him. Shame at the smallness,
meanness, emptiness of the things that he declared.
He had had always behind his mistakes and sins a sense that
he was a rather unusually interesting person; if only his friends knew
everything about him they would be surprised at the remarkable man that he
really was. Now it was exactly the opposite sense that came over him. In the
gold-rimmed mirror that was over his mantlepiece he saw himself diminishing,
diminishing, diminishing ... First himself, large, red-faced, smiling, rotund,
lying back in his chair; then the face shrivelling, the limbs shortening, then
the face small and peaked, the hands and legs little and mean, then the chair
enormous about and around the little trembling animal cowering against the
He sprang up.
“No, no ... I can't tell you any more—and you've known it all
so long. I am mean, small, nothing—I have not even great ambition ... nothing.”
His Guest stood up and put His Hand on his shoulder.
They talked, standing side by side, and He said some things
that belonged to Wilbraham alone, that he would not tell me.
Wilbraham asked Him why He had come—and to him.
“I will come now to a few of My friends,” He said. “First one
and then another. Many people have forgotten Me behind My words. They have built
up such a mountain over Me with the doctrines they have attributed to Me, the
things that they say that I did. I am not really,” He said laughing, His Hand on
Wilbraham's shoulder, “so dull and gloomy and melancholy as they have made Me. I
loved Life—I loved men; I loved laughter and games and the open air—I liked
jokes and good food and exercise. All things that they have forgotten. So from
now I shall come back to one or two.... I am lonely when they see Me so
Another thing He said. “They are making life complicated now.
To lead a good life, to be happy, to manage the world only the simplest things
are needed—Love, Unselfishness, Tolerance.”
“Can I go with You and be with You always?” Wilbraham asked.
“Do you really want that?” He said.
“Yes,” said Wilbraham, bowing his head.
“Then you shall come and never leave Me again. In three days
Then he kissed Wilbraham on the forehead and went away.
I think that Wilbraham himself became conscious as he told me
this part of his story of the difference between the seen and remembered Figure
and the foolish, inadequate reported words. Even now as I repeat a little of
what Wilbraham said I feel the virtue and power slipping away.
And so it goes on! As the Figure recedes the words become
colder and colder and the air that surrounds them has in it less and less of
power. But on that day when I sat beside Wilbraham's bed the conviction in his
voice and eyes held me so that although my reason kept me back my heart told me
that he had been in contact with some power that was a stronger force than
anything that I myself had ever known.
But I have determined to make no personal comment on this
story. I am here simply as a narrator of fact....
Wilbraham told me that after his Visitor left him he sat
there for some time in a dream. Then he sat up, startled, as though some voice,
calling, had wakened him, with an impulse that was like a fire suddenly blazing
up and lighting the dark places of his brain. I imagine that all Wilbraham's
impulses in the past, chivalric, idealistic, foolish, had been of that
kind—sudden, of an almost ferocious energy and determination, blind to all
consequences. He must go out at once and tell every one of what had happened to
I once read a story somewhere about some town that was
expecting a great visitor. Everything was ready, the banners hanging, the music
prepared, the crowds waiting in the street.
A man who had once been for some years at the court of the
expected visitor saw him enter the city, sombrely clad, on foot. Meanwhile his
Chamberlain entered the town in full panoply with the trumpets blowing and many
riders in attendance. The man who knew the real thing ran to every one telling
the truth, but they laughed at him and refused to listen. And the real king
departed quietly as he had come.
It was, I suppose, an influence of this kind that drove
Wilbraham now. Suddenly something was of so great an importance to him that
nothing else, mockery, hostility, scorn, counted. After all, simply a supreme
example of the other impulses that had swayed him throughout his life.
What followed might I think have been to some extent averted
had his appearance been different. London is a home of madmen and casually
permits any lunacy so that public peace is not endangered; had poor Wilbraham
looked a fanatic with pale face, long hair, ragged clothes, much would have been
forgiven him, but for a stout, middle-aged gentleman, well dressed, well
groomed.... What could be supposed but insanity and insanity of a very ludicrous
He put on his coat and went out. From this moment his account
was confused. His mind, as he spoke to me, kept returning to that Visitor...
What happened after his Friend's departure was vague and uncertain to him,
largely because it was unimportant. He does not know what time it was when he
went out, but I gather that it must have been about midnight. There were still
people in Piccadilly.
Somewhere near the Berkeley Hotel he stopped a gentleman and
a lady. He spoke, I am sure, so politely that the man he addressed must have
supposed that he was asking for a match, or an address, or something of the
kind. Wilbraham told me that very quietly he asked the gentleman whether he
might speak to him for a moment, that he had something very important to say.
That he would not, as a rule, dream of interfering in any
man's private affairs, but that the importance of his communication outweighed
all ordinary conventions; that he expected that the gentleman had hitherto, as
had been his own case, felt much doubt about religious questions, but that now
all doubt was, once and forever, over, that...
I expect that at that fatal word “Religion” the gentleman
started as though he had been stung by a snake, felt that this mild-looking man
was a dangerous lunatic and tried to move away. It was the lady with him, so far
as I can discover, who cried out:
“Oh, poor man, he's ill,” and wanted at once to do something
for him. By this time a crowd was beginning to collect and as the crowd closed
around the central figures more people gathered upon the outskirts and, peering
through, wondered what had happened, whether there was an accident, whether it
were a “drunk,” whether there had been a quarrel, and so on.
Wilbraham, I fancy, began to address them all, telling them
his great news, begging them with desperate urgency to believe him. Some
laughed, some stared in wide-eyed wonder, the crowd was increasing and then, of
course, the inevitable policeman with his “move on, please,” appeared.
How deeply I regret that Wilbraham was not, there and then,
arrested. He would be alive and with us now if that had been done. But the
policeman hesitated, I suppose, to arrest any one as obviously a gentleman as
Wilbraham, a man, too, as he soon perceived, who was perfectly sober, even
though he was not in his right mind.
Wilbraham was surprised at the policeman's interference. He
said that the last thing that he wished to do was to create any disturbance, but
that he could not bear to let all these people go to their beds without giving
them a chance of realizing first that everything was now altered, that he had
the most wonderful news..
The crowd was dispersed and Wilbraham found himself walking
alone with the policeman beside the Green Park.
He must have been a very nice policeman because before
Wilbraham's death he called at the Nursing Home and was very anxious to know how
the poor gentleman was getting on.
He allowed Wilbraham to talk to him and then did all he could
to persuade him to walk home and go to bed. He offered to get him a taxi.
Wilbraham thanked him, said he would do so, and bade him good night, and the
policeman, seeing that Wilbraham was perfectly composed and sober, left him.
After that the narrative is more confused. Wilbraham
apparently walked down Knightsbridge and arrived at last somewhere near the
Albert Hall. He must have spoken to a number of different people. One man, a
politician apparently, was with him for a considerable time, but only because he
was so anxious to emphasise his own views about the Coalition Government and the
wickedness of Lloyd George. Another was a journalist, who continued with him for
a while because he scented a story for his newspaper. Some people may remember
that there was a garbled paragraph about a “Religious Army Officer” in the
Daily Record. One lady thought that Wilbraham wanted to go home with her and
was both angry and relieved when she found that it was not so.
He stayed at a cabman's shelter for a time and drank a cup of
coffee and told the little gathering there his news. They took it very calmly.
They had met so many queer things in their time that nothing seemed odd to them.
His account becomes clearer again when he found himself a
little before dawn in the park and in the company of a woman and a broken down
pugilist. I saw both these persons afterwards and had some talk with them. The
pugilist had only the vaguest sense of what had happened. Wilbraham was a
“proper old bird” and had given him half a crown to get his breakfast with. They
had all slept together under a tree and he had made some rather voluble protests
because the other two would talk so continuously and prevented his sleeping. It
was a warm night and the sun had come up behind the trees “surprisin' quick.” He
had liked the old boy, especially as he had given him half a crown.
The woman was another story. She was quiet and reserved,
dressed in black, with a neat little black hat with a green feather in it. She
had yellow fluffy hair and bright childish blue eyes and a simple, innocent
expression. She spoke very softly and almost in a whisper. So far as I could
discover she could see nothing odd in Wilbraham nor in anything that he had
said. She was the one person in all the world who had understood him completely
and found nothing out of the way in his talk.
She had liked him at once, she said. “I could see that he was
kind,” she added earnestly, as though to her that was the most important thing
in all the world. No, his talk had not seemed odd to her. She had believed every
word that he had said. Why not? You could not look at him and not believe what
Of course it was true. And why not? What was there against
it? It had been a great help for her what the gentleman had told her... Yes, and
he had gone to sleep with his head in her lap... and she had stayed awake all
night thinking... and he had waked up just in time to see the sun rise. Some
sunrise that was, too.
That was a curious little fact that all three of them, even
the battered pugilist, should have been so deeply struck by that sunrise.
Wilbraham on the last day of his life, when he hovered between consciousness and
unconsciousness, kept recalling it as though it had been a vision.
“The sun—and the trees suddenly green and bright like
glittering swords. All shapes—swords, plowshares, elephants, and camels—and the
sky pale like ivory. See, now the sun is rushing up, faster than ever, to take
us with him, up, up, leaving the trees like green clouds beneath us—far, far
The woman said that it was the finest sunrise she had ever
seen. He talked to her all the time about his plans. He was looking disheveled
now and unshaven and dirty. She suggested that he should go back to his flat.
No, he wished to waste no time. Who knew how long he had got? It might be only a
day or two ... He would go to Covent Garden and talk to the men there.
She was confused as to what happened after that. When they
got to the market the carts were coming in and men were very busy.
She saw the gentleman speak to one of them very earnestly,
but he was busy and pushed him aside. He spoke to another, who told him to clear
Then he jumped on to a box, and almost the last sight she had
of him was his standing there in his soiled clothes, a streak of mud on his
face, his arms outstretched and crying: “It's true! Stop just a moment—you
must hear me!”
Some one pushed him off the box. The pugilist rushed in then,
cursing them and saying that the man was a gentleman and had given him half a
crown, and then some hulking great fellow fought the pugilist and there was a
regular melee. Wilbraham was in the middle of them, was knocked down and
trampled upon. No one meant to hurt him, I think. They all seemed very sorry
He died two days after being brought into the Nursing Home.
He was very happy just before he died, pressed my hand and asked me to look
after the girl....
“Isn't it wonderful,” were his last words to me, “that it
should be true after all?”
As to Truth, who knows? Truth is a large order. This is
true as far as Wilbraham goes, every word of it. Beyond that? Well, it must be
jolly to be so happy as Wilbraham was.
This will seem a lying story to some, a silly and pointless
story to others.