“It’s those sermons agen,” Naomi decided. “They do your head no good, an’ I wish you’d give up preachin’.”
“Now that’s just what I’m goin’ to do,” he answered, pushing the Bible far into the shelf till its edges knocked on the wood of the skivet-drawer.
From Algernon Dexter, writer of Vers de Societe, London, to Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.
My dear prince,—Our correspondence has dwindled of late. Indeed, I do not remember to have heard from you since I wrote to acknowledge your kindness in standing godfather to my boy Jack (now rising two), and the receipt of the beautiful scimitar which, as a christening present, accompanied your consent. Still I do not forget the promise you exacted from “Q.” and myself after lunch at the Mitre, on the day when we took our bachelors’ degrees together—that if in our paths through life we happened upon any circumstance that seemed to throw fresh light on the dark, complex workings of the human heart, or at least likely to prove of interest to a student of his fellow men, we would write it down and despatch it to you, under cover of The Negus. During the months of my engagement to Violet these communications of mine (you will allow) were frequent enough: since our marriage they have grown shamefully fewer. Possibly I lose alertness while I put on flesh: it is the natural hebetudus of happiness. “Q.”—who is never seen now upon London stones—no doubt sends you a plenty of what passes for news in that parish which it is his humour to prefer to the Imperial City. But, believe me, the very finest romance is still to be had in London: and to prove this I am going to tell you a story that, upon my soul, Prince, will make you sit up.
Until last night the Seely-Hardwickes were a force in this capital. They were three,—Seely-Hardwicke himself, who owned a million or more, and to my knowledge drank Hollands and smoked threepenny Returns in his Louis Quinze library; Mrs. Seely-Hardwicke, as beautiful as the moon and clever to sinfulness; and Billy, their child, aged seven-and-a-half. To-day their whereabouts would be as difficult to find as that of the boy in Mrs. Hemans’s ballad. You jump to the guess that they have lost their money. You are wrong.
It was amassed in the canned-fruit trade, which, I understand, does not fluctuate severely, though doubtless in the last instance dependent on the crops. Seely-Hardwicke and his wife were ready to lose any amount of it at cards, which accounts for a measure of their success. It had been found (with Mrs. Seely-Hardwicke) somewhere on the Pacific Slope, by a destitute Yorkshireman who had tired of driving rivets on the Clyde and betaken himself across the Atlantic, for a change, in front of a furnace some thirty-odd feet below decks. Of his adventures in the Great Republic nothing is known but this, that he drove into the silence of its central plain at the tail of a traction engine and emerged on its western shore, three years later, with a wife, a child and a growing pile. With this pile there grew a desire to spend it in his own country; and the family landed at Liverpool on Billy’s sixth birthday. I think their double-barrelled name must have been invented by Mrs. Seely-Hardwicke on the voyage.