They went their way, and before the listener’s eyes there rose Antonia’s face, with its unruffled brow; Halidome’s, all health and dignity; the forehead of the goggle-eyed man, with its line of hair parted in the centre, and brushed across. A light seemed to illumine the plane of their existence, as the electric lamp with the green shade had illumined the pages of the Matthew Arnold; serene before Shelton’s vision lay that Elysium, untouched by passion or extremes of any kind, autocratic; complacent, possessive, and well-kept as any Midland landscape. Healthy, wealthy, wise! No room but for perfection, self-preservation, the survival of the fittest! “The part of the good citizen,” he thought: “no, if we were all alike, this would n’t be a world!”
“My dear Richard” (wrote Shelton’s uncle the next day), “I shall be glad to see you at three o’clock to-morrow afternoon upon the question of your marriage settlement....” At that hour accordingly Shelton made his way to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where in fat black letters the names “Paramor and Herring (Commissioners for Oaths)” were written on the wall of a stone entrance. He ascended the solid steps with nervousness, and by a small red-haired boy was introduced to a back room on the first floor. Here, seated at a table in the very centre, as if he thereby better controlled his universe, a pug-featured gentleman, without a beard, was writing. He paused. “Ow, Mr. Richard!” he said; “glad to see you, sir. Take a chair. Your uncle will be disengaged in ’arf a minute”; and in the tone of his allusion to his employer was the satirical approval that comes with long and faithful service. “He will do everything himself,” he went on, screwing up his sly, greenish, honest eyes, “and he ’s not a young man.”
Shelton never saw his uncle’s clerk without marvelling at the prosperity deepening upon his face. In place of the look of harassment which on most faces begins to grow after the age of fifty, his old friend’s countenance, as though in sympathy with the nation, had expanded—a little greasily, a little genially, a little coarsely—every time he met it. A contemptuous tolerance for people who were not getting on was spreading beneath its surface; it left each time a deeper feeling that its owner could never be in the wrong.
“I hope you’re well, sir,” he resumed: “most important for you to have your health now you’re going-to”—and, feeling for the delicate way to put it, he involuntarily winked—“to become a family man. We saw it in the paper. My wife said to me the other morning at breakfast: ’Bob, here’s a Mr. Richard Paramor Shelton goin’ to be married. Is that any relative of your Mr. Shelton?’ ‘My dear,’ I said to her, ’it’s the very man!’”
It disquieted Shelton to perceive that his old friend did not pass the whole of his life at that table writing in the centre of the room, but that somewhere (vistas of little grey houses rose before his eyes) he actually lived another life where someone called him “Bob.” Bob! And this, too, was a revelation. Bob! Why, of course, it was the only name for him! A bell rang.