“What on earth is the matter?” I demanded.
She pulled me by the sleeve. I looked up and saw a white-haired man, of military carriage, walking towards His Royal Highness. He came to a halt, a pace off, and stood as if anxious to speak. I saw also that Mrs. Seely-Hardwicke would not allow him a chance, but talked desperately. I saw groups of people, up and down the room, regarding her even as we. And then the door was flung open.
Seely-Hardwicke came running in with Billy in his arms—or rather, with Billy’s body. The child had died at four that afternoon, of diphtheria.
I got Violet out of the room as soon as I could. The man’s language was frightful—filthy. And his wife straightened herself up and answered him back. It was a babel of obscene Frisco curses: but I remember one clear sentence of hers from the din—
“You—, you! And d’ye think my heart won’t go to pieces when my stays are cut?”
* * * * *
All the way home Violet kept sobbing and crying out that she was never driven so slowly. She was convinced that some harm had happened to her own Jack. She ran up to the night-nursery at once and woke your god-child out of a healthy sleep. And he arose in his full strength and yelled.
II.—THE GREAT FIRE ON FREETHY’S QUAY.
New Year’s Eve, 1892.
MY DEAR PRINCE,—The New Year is upon us, a season which the devout Briton sets aside for taking stock of his short-comings. I know not if Prester John introduced this custom among the Abyssinians: but we find it very convenient here.
In particular I have been vexing myself to-day over the gradual desuetude of our correspondence. Doubtless the fault is mine: and doubtless I compare very poorly with Dexter, whose letters are bound to be bright and frequent. But Dexter clings to London; and from London, as from your own Africa, semper aliquid novi. But of Troy during these twelve months there has been little or nothing to delate. The small port has been enjoying a period of quiet which even the General Election, last summer, did not seriously disturb. As you know, the election turned on the size of mesh proper to be used in the drift-net fishery. We wore favours of red, white and blue, symbolising our hatred of the mesh favoured by Mr. Gladstone; and carried our man. Had other constituencies as sternly declined to fritter away their voting strength upon side issues, Lord Salisbury would now be in power with a solid majority at his back.
My purpose, however, is not to talk of politics, but to give you a short description of an event which has greatly excited us, and redeemed from monotony (though at the eleventh hour) the year Eighteen ninety-two. I refer to the great fire on Freethy’s Quay, where Mr. Wm. Freethy has of late been improving his timber-store with a number of the newest mechanical inventions; among others, with a steam engine which operates on a circular saw, and impels it to cut up oak poles (our winter fuel) with incredible rapidity. It was here that the outbreak occurred, on Christmas Eve—of all days in the year—between five and six o’clock in the afternoon.