English Literature

Some Persons Unknown by E. W. Hornung

Some Persons Unknown by E. W. Hornung



Kenyon had been more unmanageable than usual. Unsettled and excitable from the moment he awoke and remembered who was coming in the evening, he had remained in an unsafe state all day. That evening found him with unbroken bones was a miracle to Ethel his sister, and to his great friend John, the under-gardener. Poor Ethel was in charge; and sole charge of Kenyon, who was eleven, was no light matter for a girl with her hair still down. Her brother was a handful at most times; to-day he would have filled some pairs of stronger hands than Ethel’s. They had begun the morning together, with snob-cricket, as the small boy called it; but Kenyon had been rather rude over it, and Ethel had retired. She soon regretted this step; it had made him reckless; he had spent the most dangerous day. Kenyon delighted in danger. He had a mania for walking round the entire premises on the garden wall, which was high enough to kill him if he fell, and for clambering over the greenhouses, which offered a still more fascinating risk. Not only had he done both this morning, he had gone so far as to straddle a gable of the house itself, shrieking good-tempered insults at Ethel, who appealed to him with tears and entreaties from the lawn below. Ethel had been quite disabled from sitting at meat with him; and in the afternoon he had bothered the gardeners, in the potting-shed, to such an extent that his friend John had subsequently refused to bowl to him. In John’s words Master Kenyon had been a public nuisance all day—though a lovable one—at his very worst he was that. He had lovable looks, for one thing. It was not the only thing. The boy had run wild since his young mother’s death. There were reasons why he should not go to school at present. There were reasons why he should spend the long summer days in the sunshine, and open only the books he cared about, despite the oddity of his taste in books. He had dark, laughing eyes, and a face of astonishing brightness and health: astonishing because (as he said) his legs and arms were as thin as pipe-stems, and certainly looked as brittle. Kenyon was indeed a delicate boy. He was small and delicate and weak in everything but spirit. “He has the spirit,” said John, his friend, “of the deuce and all!”

Ethel forgave easily, perhaps too easily, but then she was Kenyon’s devoted slave, who cried about him half the night, and lived for him, and longedto die for him. Kenyon had toned himself down by tea-time, and when he sought her then as though nothing had happened, she was only too thankful to catch his spirit. Had she reminded him of his behaviour on the roof and elsewhere, he would have been very sorry and affectionate; but it was not her way to make him sorry, it was her way to show an interest in all he had to say, and at tea-time Kenyon was still full of the thing that had excited and unsettled him in the morning. Only now he was beginning to feel in awe, and the schoolroom tea had never been a seemlier ceremony.

These children seldom sat at table with their father, and very, very seldom listened for the wheels of his brougham as they were listening to-night. In the boy’s mind the sound was associated with guilty apprehensions and a cessation of all festivities. But to-night Mr. Harwood was to bring back with him one of Kenyon’s own heroes, one of the heroes of his favourite book, which was not a storybook. It has been said that Kenyon’s literary taste was peculiar; his favourite book was Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Guide; the name of the great young man who was coming this evening had figured prominently in recent volumes of Lillywhite, and Kenyon knew every score he had ever made.

“Do you think he’ll talk to us?” was one of the thousand questions which Ethel had to answer. “I’d give my nut to talk to him! Fancy having C. J.Forrester to stay here! I’ve a sort of idea the governor asked him partly to please me, though he says he’s a sort of relation. I only wish we’d known it before. Anyhow, it’s the jolliest thing the governor ever did in his life, and a wonder he did it, seeing he only laughs at cricket. I wish he’d been a cricketer himself, then he’d kick up less row about the glass; thank goodness I haven’t broken any to-day! I say, I wish C. J. Forrester’d made more runs yesterday; he’s certain to have the hump.”

Kenyon had not picked up all his pretty expressions in the potting-shed; he was intimate with a boy who went to a public school.

“How many did he make?” Ethel asked.

“Duck and seven. He must be sick!”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if he thinks far less about it than you do, Ken. It’s only a game; I don’t suppose he’ll mind so very much.”

“Oh, no, not at all; it’s only about the swaggerest county match of the season,” scathed Kenyon, “and they only went and let Notts lick! Besides, theSportsman says he was out to a miserable stroke second innings. Where did I see the Sportsman? Oh, John and I are getting it from the town every day; we’re going halves; it comes to John, though, so you needn’t say anything. What are you grinning at, Ethel? Ah, you’re not up in real cricket. You only understand snob.”

Kenyon was more experienced. The public school boy hard by had given him an innings or two at his net, where Kenyon had picked up more than the rudiments of the game and a passion for Lillywhite. He had learnt there his pretty expressions, which were anything but popular at home. Mr. Harwood was a man of limited patience, with a still more limited knowledge of boys. He frightened Kenyon, and the boy was at his worst with him. A very sensitive man, of uncertain temper, he could not get on with his children, though Ethel was his right hand already. It was a secret trouble, an unacknowledged grief, to hard lonely Mr. Harwood. But it was his own fault; he knew that; he knew all about it. He knew too much of himself, and not enough of his children.

You could not blame Kenyon—Mr. Harwood would have been the last to do so—yet it was dreadful to see him so impatient for his father’s return, for perhaps the first time in his life, and now only for the sake of the stranger he was bringing with him; to see him peering through the blind at this stranger, without so much as glancing at his father or realising that he was there; to hear him talking volubly in the drawing-room after dinner (when the children came down) to a very young man whom he had never seen before; and to remember how little he ever had to say to his own father. Ethel felt it—all—and was particularly attentive to her father this evening. That peculiar man may also have felt it, and the root of Ethel’s attentions into the bargain; for he was very snubbing to her. He never showed much feeling. Yet it was to please Kenyon that Mr. Harwood had pressed Forrester to look him up, and not by any means (though this had been his way of putting it to his young kinsman, whom he scarcely knew) to cheer his own loneliness.

The cricketer was a sunburnt giant, disappointingly free from personal lustre, and chiefly remarkable for his hands. He had an enormous hand, and when it closed like jaws over Kenyon’s little one, this suffering student could well understand his Lillywhite characterising C. J. Forrester as “a grand field, especially in the country.” They talked cricket together from the first moment, and until Kenyon said good-night. Upstairs he told Ethel that so far they had got no further than the late match against Notts; that Forrester had described it “as if he’d only seen the thing;” and that she was quite right, and C. J. was far less cut up at the result than he was. It was Kenyon’s county which had been trounced by Nottinghamshire, and he went so far as to affirm that C. J. Forrester’s disappointing form had directly contributed to the disaster, and that he deserved to lose his place in the team. This, however, was but a drop of bravado in the first flood of enthusiasm for C. J.

Mr. Harwood watched and heard the frank, free, immediate intercourse between Kenyon and the visitor. He had never known Kenyon so bright and animated—so nearly handsome. The boy was at his best, and his best was a revelation to Mr. Harwood, who had never in his life had a real conversation with Kenyon such as Forrester was having now. He had talked to Kenyon, that was all. As he sat grimly listening, with Ethel snubbed to silence, he may have felt a jealous longing to be his small son’s friend, not merely his father; to interest him, as this complete stranger was doing, and he himself honestly interested; to love openly, and be openly loved. The man was self-conscious enough to feel all this, and to smile as he rose to look at the clock, and saw in the mirror behind it no trace of such feeling in his own thin-lipped, whiskered face. At nine the children said good-night, of their own accord, knowing better than to stay a minute over their time. Mr. Harwood kissed them as coldly and lightly as usual; but surprised them with a pleasantry before they reached the door.

“Wait, Kenyon. Forrester, ask him your average. He’ll tell you to a decimal. He knows what he calls his Lillywhite by heart.”

Kenyon looked extremely eager, though Mr. Harwood’s tone struck Forrester as a little sarcastic.

“You’ve been getting it up!” the cricketer said knowingly to Kenyon.

“I haven’t,” declared Kenyon, bubbling over with excitement.

“You needn’t ask him your own,” Ethel added, quite entering into it. “He knows them all.”

“Oh, we’ll have mine,” said Forrester, who felt slightly ridiculous but much amused. “What was it for the ‘Varsity—my first year?”

Kenyon had to think. That was three years ago, before he had known much about cricket; but he had read up that year’s Lillywhite—he read as many old Lillywhites as he could borrow—and he answered in a few moments:

“Nineteen point seven.”

“You have been getting it up!” cried Forrester.

Kenyon was beaming. “No, I haven’t—honestly I haven’t! Ask Ethel!”

“Oh, it’s genuine enough,” said Mr. Harwood; “it’s his accomplishment—one to be proud of, isn’t it? That’ll do, Kenyon; good-night, both of you.”

The door closed.

He’s one to be proud of,” said Forrester pointedly, a vague indignation rising within him. “A delightful little chap, I call him! And he was right to a decimal. I never heard of such a fellow!”

“He’s cricket mad,” said Mr. Harwood. “I’m glad you like him.”

“I like him immensely. I like his enthusiasm. I never saw so small a boy so keen. Does he play?”

“Not properly; he’s not fit to; he’s rather delicate. No, it’s mostly theory with Kenyon; and I’m very much afraid he’ll bore you. You mustn’t let him.Indeed I fear you’ll have a slow time all round; but, as I told you, there’s a horse to ride whenever you want him.”

“Does the boy ride?”

“He’s not allowed to. Then we have a very respectable club in the town, where I can tuck you up and make you comfortable any time you like to come down. Only don’t, for your own sake, encourage Kenyon to be a nuisance; he doesn’t require very much encouragement.”

“My dear sir, we’re too keen cricketers to bore each other; we’re going to be tremendous friends. You don’t mean to say he bores you? Ah, with the scores, perhaps; but you must be awfully proud of having such a jolly little beggar; I know I should be! I’d make a cricketer of him. If he’s as keen as this now, in a few years’ time——”

“You smoke, Forrester? We’ll go into the other room.”

Mr. Harwood had turned away and was putting out the lights.


Categories: English Literature

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