“Mrs. Scarlett—a woman of great social ambition,” was their definition of her.
“Mrs. Scarlett—the mother of John,” was her own.
On a certain night, early in the month of September, young John dreamt again—but for the first time for many months—the dream that had, in the old days, come to him so often. In those days, perhaps, he had not called it a dream. He had not given it a name, and in the quiet early days he had simply greeted, first a protector, then a friend. But that was all very long ago, when one was a baby and allowed oneself to imagine anything. He had, of course, grown ashamed of such confiding fancies, and as he had become more confident had shoved away, with stout, determined fingers, those dim memories, poignancies, regrets. How childish one had been at four, and five, and six! How independent and strong now, on the very edge of the world of school! It perturbed him, therefore, that at this moment of crisis this old dream should recur, and it perturbed him the more, as he lay in bed next morning and thought it over, that it should have seemed to him at the time no dream at all, but simply a natural and actual occurrence.
He had been asleep, and then he had been awake. He had seen, sitting on his bed and looking at him with mild, kind eyes his old Friend. His Friend was always the same, conveying so absolutely kindness and protection, and his beard, his hands, the appealing humour of his gaze, recalled to John the early years, with a swift, imperative urgency. John, so independent and assured, felt, nevertheless, again that old alarm of a strange, unreal world, and the necessity of an appeal for protection from the only one of them all who understood.
“Hallo!” said John.
“Well?” said his Friend. “It’s many months since I’ve been to see you, isn’t it?”
“That’s not my fault,” said John.
“In a way, it is. You haven’t wanted me, have you? Haven’t given me a thought.”
“There’s been so much to do. I’m going to school, you know.”
“Of course. That’s why I have come now.”
Beside the window a dark curtain blew forward a little, bulged as though some one were behind it, thinned again in the pale dim shadows of a moon that, beyond the window, fought with driving clouds. That curtain would—how many ages ago!—have tightened young John’s heart with terror, and the contrast made by his present slim indifference drew him, in some warm, confiding fashion, closer to his visitor.
“Anyway, I’m jolly glad you’ve come now. I haven’t really forgotten you, ever. Only in the day-time——”
“Oh, yes, you have,” his Friend said, smiling. “It’s natural enough and right that you should. But if only you will believe always that I once was here, if only you’ll not be persuaded into thinking me impossible, silly, absurd, sentimental—with ever so many other things—that’s all I’ve come now to ask you.”