Sabre always spoke of them as “Young Rod, Pole or Perch” and “Old Mrs. Rod, Pole or Perth.” This was out of what Mabel called his childish and incomprehensible habit of giving nicknames,—High Jinks and Low Jinks the outstanding and never-forgiven example of it. “Whatever’s the joke of it?” she demanded, when one day she found Sabre speaking of Major Millet, another neighbour and a great friend of hers, as “Old Hopscotch Millet.”
“Whatever’s the joke of it? He doesn’t play hopscotch.”
“No, but he bounds about,” Sabre explained. “You know the way he bounds about, Mabel. He’s about ninety—”
“I’m sure he isn’t, nor fifty.”
“Well, anyway, he’s past his first youth, but he’s always bounding about to show how agile he is. He’s always calling out ‘Ri—te O!’ and jumping to do a thing when there’s no need to jump. Hopscotch. What can you call him but Hopscotch?”
“But why call him anything?” Mabel said. “His name’s Millet.”
Her annoyance caused her voice to squeak. “Why call him anything?”
Sabre laughed. “Well, you know how a ridiculous thing like that comes into your head and you can’t get rid of it. You know the way.”
Mabel declared she was sure she did not know the way. “They don’t come into my head. Look at the Perches—not that I care what name you call them. Rod, Pole or Perch! What’s the sense of it? What does it mean?”
Sabre said it didn’t mean anything. “You just get some one called Perch and then you can’t help thinking of that absurd thing rod, pole or perch. It just comes.”
“I call it childish and rude,” Mabel said.
Mrs. Perch was a fragile little body whose life should have been and could have been divided between her bed and a bath chair. She was, however, as she said, “always on her legs.” And she was always on her legs and always doing what she had not the strength to do, because, as she said, she “had always done it.” She conducted her existence in the narrow space between the adamant wall of the things she had always done, always eaten, and always worn, and the adamant wall of the things she had never done, never eaten, and never worn. There was not much room between the two.
She was intensely weak-sighted, but she never could find her glasses; and she kept locked everything that would lock, but she never could find her keys. She held off all acquaintances by the rigid handle of “that” before their names, but she was very fond of “that Mr. Sabre”, and Sabre returned a great affection for her. With his trick of seeing things with his mental vision he always saw old Mrs. Perch toddling with moving lips and fumbling fingers between the iron walls of her prejudices, and this was a pathetic picture to him, for ease or pleasure were not discernible between the walls. Nevertheless Mrs. Perch found pleasures therein, and the way in which her face then lit up added, to Sabre, an indescribable poignancy to the pathos of the picture. She never could pass a baby without stopping to adore it, and an astounding tide of rejuvenation would then flood up from mysterious mains, welling upon her silvered cheeks and through her dim eyes, stilling the movement of her lips and the fumbling motions of her fingers.