Because They Seeing, See Not
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BY A. BURFIELD
MR. JOSIAH BRINDLESCOMBE had for twenty years or so conducted his business in South Audley Street with fair success. He had made enough to give his sons a first-rate education, and this seemed to him to atone for some slight deficiencies in his own upbringing of which he was conscious.
It was a matter for self-congratulation that his eldest son was now serving as a lieutenant at the Front. An army career had been made possible for Eric by his liberal help. Thank God, he ruminated, Eric was able to volunteer for active service. He had not been girded at by verse of a sort in the public press, nor had he had to respond to the exhortation to enlist shrieking at him from the screen of every taxi. It was just like them, these journalist versifiers and disreputable taxi-drivers, inducing other men to do what they wouldn't do themselves !
Which shows, in the first case, that Mr. Brindlescombe was either unfamiliar with Tennyson's lines :
" The song that nerves a nation's heart Is in itself a deed,"
or that he didn't agree with their sentiment, or that present-day war-songs did not reach that category !
In the second case, it was Mr. Brindlescombe's opinion that taxi-drivers were scarcely worth a thought. They and their cabs were an unmitigated nuisance, he would say on occasion, forgetful of the fact that a goodly pro-portion of his custom reached him through their agency. But . . . give a dog a bad name. . . .
It was his invariable habit at the end of the day's work to walk down to Stanhope Gate, and thus cut through the Park to St. George's Hospital. No variation of weather deterred him. Winter and summer alike it was his wont.
From there he boarded a bus to Sheen. He reached his home with undeviating regularity. Nothing had happened through all those years in his journeyings to and fro to disturb the serenity, the eventless monotony of them. The providence which looks after sailors and drunken men, children and fools, had also found time to keep a guardian eye on automata like the Mr. Brindlescombes of the world.
But at last something did happen. Mr. Brindlescombe arrived home fifteen minutes late one November evening, in a state of considerable perturbation. He thrust his silk hat and attaché case, both smothered with mud, into the hands of the astonished maid, who was staggered at the spectacle presented by her usually decorous master. He had left his umbrella in the porch, as it was too dissipated looking to deserve its customary position in the hall stand.
The maid thought, though she was too well trained and discreet to give utterance to her thought, that he looked in a pickle. She imagined that a recrudescence of the Boer war mafficking had manifested itself in the present campaign.
Mr. Brindlescombe brushed past her brusquely and entered the room in which his wife was waiting. She did not raise her eyes from the heel of a sock upon which she was engaged with her capable hands. He broke forthwith into an incoherent explanation of the reason of his lateness. So agitated was he that her apparent inattention passed unnoticed.
My dear," he exclaimed, " I've had a most narrow shave of being killed. It's a d--disgrace that taxis are allowed to drive in the reckless way they do. The authorities ought to make more drastic regulations as to the s—speed of these inf—fernal things. One's not safe anywhere nowadays." He gasped, then proceeded excitedly. " I was running to catch my b—bus, when I fell in avoiding a taxi which appeared from God knows where. It's—it's a s—scandal that they should be allowed to make a race track of the public streets
" But do they make a race track of the streets ? " she enquired, pertinently.
He looked at her in amazement. The frigid tone of her voice, the look of estrangement in her eyes, and her expressed doubt of him, astounded him.
She paused, as if the effort she was about to make was extremely repugnant to her. Then she continued. " I saw all that happened to you, Josiah. I was in the taxi. My ride up to South Audley Street was punctuated by a succession of similar incidents, of which yours was the culmination. I had only too strong reason for noticing these elements of tragedy. You did not come out of the incident very creditably at the time. You are only making matters worse by your misrepresentation of the facts."
"My misrep- " he interjected.
"Your lies, then," she broke in, sternly. " Let me give my version of the incident. You darted from the pavement to the refuge without so much as a glance for approaching traffic. Despite the fact that half a dozen other people were waiting for a lull before continuing the crossing, you dashed across in your insane preoccupation to catch your 'bus. Realisation came when the taxi swerved and missed you, and you fell by your own momentum. The taxi had stopped. It was only the weight of opinion to the contrary of the onlookers that checked you from giving the driver in charge for furious driving. It never occurred to you to have the decency to thank him for saving your life, or at least saving you from serious injury.
" Furious driving," she repeated, with an access of scorn. " Can you realise that we had been held up by the police controls three times, and had taken five minutes coming only from Hamilton Place to the spot where you couldn't wait a fifth of a second ? "
There was supreme contempt in her tone as she continued. " I've just dismissed the driver. He referred to the affair, not knowing who you were. He said your sprawling attitude had something of the brute in it, some-thing Calibanesque. You had stripped yourself of all semblance of human dignity. You had not developed the reasoning faculty which two thousand years of civilisation ought to have inculcated in you ; nor had you retained the primal instinct of the savage for self-preservation. You were neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red her-ring.
" It's not very flattering to have one's husband classified thus by a taxi-driver, however perspicacious he may be."
" But what business had you in a taxi ? " blustered Mr. Brindlescombe, in a voice which strove but failed lamentably to assume a masterfulness he far from felt at that juncture.
"I—I was in the taxi," she replied, in a passionless voice, "because I was bringing you news that Eric had been awarded the Victoria Cross
"Good lad, Eric ! " broke in Mr. Brindlescombe ecstatically. " It's only what I expected of him. You don't seem gratified," he added, wonderingly.
"Gratified? Ah ! Y—es. But " She recovered herself, but a sob escaped her as she continued. "He succeeded in blowing up a bridge when the last of , our men were over, just in time to foil the enemy's attempt to cross. It saved the position. He didn't come out of it unscathed ; but—but—he sacrificed his sight to some purpose.
"His sight? My God ! Eric blind? You can't mean "
" Eric could not get out of range in time. A fragment of shell struck him," she continued, in a lifeless tone. She proceeded towards the door. " He has sacrificed the most precious gift that God has endowed us with ; but you—you prostituted yours. Think it over, Josiah."
Josiah is thinking it over.