He walked slowly along, absorbed in his thoughts, unconscious even of the direction in which his footsteps were taking him. When at last he paused, he was outside a theatre. The name of Ibsen occupied a prominent place upon the boards. From somewhere among the hidden cells of his memory came a glimmering recollection—a word or two read at random, an impression, only half understood, yet the germ of which had survived. Ibsen! A prophet of truth, surely! He looked eagerly down the placard for the announcements and the prices of admission. And then a sudden cold douche of memory descended upon his new enthusiasms. There was Ellen!
MR. ALFRED BURTON’S FAMILY
There certainly was Ellen! Like a man on his way to prison, Alfred Burton took his place in a third-class carriage in his customary train to Garden Green. Ned Miles, who travelled in the oil trade, came up and smote him upon the shoulder.
“Say, cocky, what have you been doing to yourself?” he demanded in amazement. “Have you robbed a bank and going about in disguise, eh? Why, the missis won’t know you!”
Burton shrank a little back in his place. His eyes seemed filled with some nameless distaste as he returned the other’s gaze.
“I have taken a dislike to my former style of dress,” he replied simply, “also to my moustache.”
“Taken a dislike—Lord love a duck!” his quondam friend exclaimed. “Strike me blind if I should have known you! Taken a dislike to the—here, Alf, is this a game?”
“Not at all,” Burton answered quietly. “It is the truth. It is one of those matters, I suppose,” he continued, “which principally concern oneself.”
“No need to get jumpy about it,” Mr. Miles remarked, still a little dazed. “Come in and have some farthing nap with the boys. They won’t recognize you in that get-up. We’ll have a lark with them.”
Burton shook his head. Again he was unable to keep the distaste from his eyes or tone.
“Not to-night, thank you.”
The train was just moving, so Miles was obliged to hurry off, but at Garden Green, Burton was compelled to run the gauntlet of their cheers and mockery as he passed down the platform. Good sports and excellent fellows he had thought them yesterday. To-day he had no words for them. He simply knew that they grated upon every nerve in his body and that he loathed them. For the first time he began to be frightened. What was this thing that had happened to him? How was it possible for him to continue his daily life?