“Oh, Aubrey, act on this! It is true.
“Your cousin, who still hopes better things of you, and who will not fail in thought and prayer,
RONNIE ARRIVES IN A FOG
Ronnie reached Liverpool Street Station at 8 o’clock on a foggy November morning.
After the quiet night on the steamer, the landing in darkness at Harwich, and the steady run up to town, alone in a first-class compartment, he felt momentarily confused by the noise and movement within the great city terminus.
The brilliant lights of the station, combined with the yellow fog rolling in from the various entrances; the onward rush of many feet, as hundreds of busy men and eager young women poured out of suburban trains, hurrying to the scenes which called for their energy during the whole of the coming day; the gliding in and out of trains, the passing to and fro of porters, wheeling heavy luggage; the clang of milk-cans, the hoot of taxi-cabs, and, beyond it all, the distant roar of London, awaking, and finding its way about heavily, like an angry old giant in the fog—all seemed to Ronnie to be but another of the queer nightmares which came to him now with exhausting frequency.
As a rule, he found it best to wait until they passed off. So, holding the Infant of Prague in its canvas case in one hand, and the bag containing his manuscript in the other, he stood quite still upon the platform, waiting for the roar to cease, the rush to pass by, the nightmare to be over.
Presently an Inspector who knew Ronnie walked down the platform. He paused at once, with the ready and attentive courtesy of the London railway official.
“Any luggage, Mr. West?” he asked, lifting his cap.
“No, thank you,” replied Ronnie, “not to-day.”
He knew he had luggage somewhere—heaps of it. But what was the good of hunting up luggage in a nightmare? Dream luggage was not worth retrieving. Besides, the more passive you are, the sooner the delusion leaves off tormenting you.
“Have you come from the Hook, sir?” inquired the inspector.
“Yes,” said Ronnie. “Did you think I had come from the Eye?”
He knew it was a vile pun, but it seemed exactly the sort of thing one says in a nightmare.
The inspector laughed, and passed on; then returned, looking rather searchingly at Ronnie.
Ronnie thought it well to explain further. “As a matter of fact, my friend,” he said, “I have come from Central Africa, where I have been sitting round camp-fires, in company with asps and cockatrices, and other interesting creatures. I am writing a book about it—the best thing I have done yet.”
The inspector had read and enjoyed all Ronnie’s books. He smiled uneasily. Asps and cockatrices sounded queer company.
“Won’t you have a cup of coffee, sir, before going out into the fog?” he suggested.