The Autocrat

The Autocrat  (1918) 
by Charles Beadle
Extracted from "Everybody's" magazine, vol. 38, June 1918, pp. 40-45. Accompanying illustrations by George Wright may be omitted.

A story of tangled lives


The AUTOCRAT

By Charles Beadle

A MAN knifed in a drunken brawl in a vodka shop was an ordinary, if very regrettable incident—not that a dead fireman mattered, but the red-tape formalities interfered with the vice-consul’s duck-shooting, and the necessity of finding a substitute aggravated the chief engineer’s dyspepsia. Alf Pursey was only indirectly concerned; inasmuch that a certain red-headed stoker who had just left the hospital after an obstinate bout of delirium tremens, filled the vacant berth. Contrary to the custom of sea-vagrants, Alf had remained in the Matilda Farncroft for a number of years and, as a reward of virtue, had risen to donkeyman, onerous post, although the increase of pay was nearly swallowed, literally, by young Alf.

By the time that the Matilda Farncroft had passed Cape Matapan Jim Randall and Alf had chummed up over a mutual taste in tobacco and unprintable opinions. As good-natured as he was broad-chested, Alf took the edge off the heated slavery of the stokehold for Jim—as much as a donkeyman could do. So the watches passed to the rhythmic beat of the engines and the regular clang of the ship’s bell; thrudding through the violet Mediterranean, bucketting across the Bay. One morning after they had picked up the Lizard Light, Jim and Alf were below in the “toy hell,” plying rakes and heaving coal into the insatiable red jaw’s of the roaring furnaces. From up the gloom of the fiddley came the moan of the wind; the hot metal plates of the floor swayed as the ship lurched drunkenly; the clang and rattle of the tortured hull and the angry tumult of the engines merged into a clamor of torment.

Just as a shuddering pause came at the end of a dive, a steampife burst. Scalding clouds drove the men helter-skelter for the fiddley ladders. When Jim mounted the iron rungs the man above him slipped. As he slid past, Jim grabbed his clothes. The check broke the fall, but jerked Jim from his hold. Together they disappeared. Choking with heat, somehow Jim contrived to hoist the inert body over his shoulders and slowly, painfully, remounted to the ’tween-deck level, where he recognized Alf.

When Alf expressed his gratitude in crude terms Jim magnanimously sought to cover any exhibition of emotion by an invitation to join him in a ‘bust’ on shore. Compelled to refuse on the ground that he was a teetotaler—to Jim’s speechless bewilderment—Alf sought to make honorable amends by insisting that Jim should stay with him and meet his wife, knowing, simple soul, no greater honor in all the world. Most men in his station of life treat their wives as a blend of the houri of the harem and a beast of burden; not so Alf. Over a couple of pints of four-ale and one lemonade Alf unbosomed himself of the conviction that his wife and son were the adjective finest on the adjective earth; and after a third pint, Jim heartily agreed with him.

In shore-going togs—Jim sporting a green kerchief in place of his usual shirt-band—the two men made their way to the cobbled street of small gray houses, one of which Alf considered to be the center of the universe. Proudly he ushered Jim into the tiny passage and shouting: “Hey, Missus!” disappeared into the back regions. While Jim stood waiting awkwardly, cap in hand, a young woman came down the narrow stairs, wiping her hands on an apron. She was a plump brunette with the first traces of household drudgery graven on her comely features. For a moment she stared in bewilderment at the look of astonishment on Jim’s face.

“Mary!”

“Jim!”

Apprehensively she moved backward as he stepped forward eagerly.

“No, no!” she whispered.

“Hey Missus! Hey, Mary, where are yer?” came Alf’s voice from the kitchen. Jim made a clumsy motion to retreat. The woman regained her presence of mind. With one finger to her lips she moved past him, calling out sharply:

“Alf! ’Ere, Alf, ’oo’s this ’ere?”

“A’Ullo,” said Alf jovially, emerging. “There y’are! Thort yer’d run orf, I did! That’s my mate, Missus. Saved me bloomin’ life, ’e did! ’Ere, where’s yer bloomin’ kiss?”

“Don’t,” she snapped, dodging his attempted caress.

“She’s shy,” laughed Alf, winking at Jim, whose face was against the light of the door. “’Ere, come on in! Wot yer standing there for? Arsk ’im in, proper like, Missus! Jim’s goin’ ter stay wiv us fer a bit, ain’t yer, mate?”

“’Im stay wiv us!” she echoed shrilly.

“Yus, why not? Ain’t ’e orl right? Don’t like lodgers, she don’t!” he added playfully. “But that’s orl right; she’ll soon chum up to my mate, I know.”

Mary shot a quick look at Jim and disappeared into the kitchen. Jim paused irresolutely, twiddling his cap.

“Look ’ere, Alf,” said he diffidently, “I don’t fink I’d better stay. Sorter upset the missus, don’t it? ’Sides,” he added lamely, “I wanter look up a bloke o’ me sister’s wot lives in Bolton.”

“Come on!” exploded Alf boisterously, dragging him by the arm. “Wot yer playin’ at? She’ll come round orl right. Women is like that. Come, you don’t know ’em as I do, you bein’ a single bloke,” winking prodigiously. “Why, I wouldn’t be ’ere if it wasn’t fer you. Wait till she know’s orl about it and she won’t be able ter do enuff fer yer!”

“I’ll come on to yer arter I been ter Bolton.”

“Get aout, wor d’yer tyke me fer?” demanded Alf truculently forcing the reluctant Jim on to a rickety sofa. “Sit down! Wot’s the matter wiv yer? Want ter insult a feller?”

“No.”

“Well, then shut up and don’t be a bloomin’ fool! Ah,” grinning triumphantly, “you wait till yer see young Alf! He’ll Alf yer proper! Hey, Mary!” he bawled, “gettin’ supper? Get a ’ustle on. Missus! We’re ’ungry, we are, ain’t we, mate? ’Ere, I’ll fetch ’im down!” And shouting: “Alf! Hey, young Alf!” he thundered up the stairs, leaving Jim gazing at an oleograph of the king and queen.

As the footsteps sounded overhead, shaking the jerry-built ceiling, Jim rose. He stood in the passage, peering toward the kitchen. A clatter on the landing and uncouth noises heralded the arrival of the two Alfs. Jim moved toward the street, hesitated, and returned hurriedly to the parlor.

“’Ere y’are, mate!” exclaimed Alf senior as he put down a curly-headed, bright-eyed boy. “Wot d’yer fink of ’im? Ain’t ’e a corf-drop?”

Jim seemed to have an intense aversion to “cough-drops;” he glanced at the boy with a look of terror. For several moments the boy regarded him with the quietly inquisitive stare of the child. Then solemnly pointing a finger, remarked: “Oh, wot a funny face you got!”

“Ain’t ’e a corf-drop?” bawled big Alf, slapping his thigh. “Wot did I tell yer! A corf-drop, ’e is!”

“An’ wot funny ’air!” continued Alf. “Jes’ like a norange!”

Jim moved uneasily and gave a sickly grin in response to big Alf’s paroxysms.

“A norange! A norange! Wot a one! A norange!”

“I like you,” announced the boy after a further solemn scrutiny. “You my nunky!”

He walked toward his adopted relative. Jim rose hastily and sat down. As the child placed a hand on his knee, Jim squirmed.

“Up!” commanded young Alf.

Jim looked around helplessly.

“Gotter tyke ’im up,” advised big Alf. “Captin’s orders. ’E’s captin ’ere.”

“Up!” repeated young Alf impatiently and seized Jim’s hand. At the contact Jim looked at him; his face softened; he sighed; and gingerly, as if he feared to break the child, he lifted him onto his knee.

“You’re orl right,” approved Alf senior. “’E don’t tyke to ev’rybody, I can tell yer! ’E knows wot’s wot, ’e does. Like ’is farver ’e knows a man w’en ’e sees ’im. Anybody as ’e takes to I’d trust—I’d trust—Gawd, I’d trust wiv me missus, swelp me if I wouldn’t!”

Jim dropped his eyes to the boy, who, quite content, cuddled closer to him and appeared ready to sleep. As Alf senior turned away, the mixture of awe and regard swiftly turned to intense hatred as Jim glanced at the other’s broad back. When Mary came in she started at the sight of the child in Jim’s arms and bit her lips.

“Alf! Alf!” she called sharply. “Wot yer doin’ there? Come ’ere!”

The boy looked up in sleepy wonder. Jim put him down.

“W’y, Mummy——

“Come ’ere!” she repeated.

Young Alf obeyed.

“Wot’s the matter, Missus?” expostulated big Alf. “’E’s orl right. ’E’s took to Jim like a clinker to a gratin’. Wot’s upset yer, old gal?”

“Nuffin,” she retort, avoiding Jim’s eyes. “Yer supper’s ready.”

During the meal the two Alfs contributed the bulk of the small talk; the senior roaring with laughter at the prodigy’s precocious remarks, while Jim ate heartily, with the tail of his eye on Mary who divided her troubled gaze between her son and her supper. At the first opportunity she cleared the table and retired to the scullery.

The two men proceeded to fill their pipes from big Alf’s tobacco-jar; Jim silently, Alf engrossed in the boy. When they had thrown their burnt matches into the fire young Alf demanded attention. Abandoning his pipe immediately and producing a toy whip with much affected mystery, Alf presented it to the delighted youngster and flopping on his knees began to play horse. Presently young Alf dismounted from his bucking steed and, flourishing the whip in Jim’s face, clamored that he should play, too.

“Me!” exclaimed Jim in horror. “O Gawd!”

But with beads of perspiration on his forehead he obeyed. Silent and grim-faced he crawled about the kitchen floor with the boy astride, shouting and cracking his whip in great glee, while big Alf sat on a wooden chair chuckling and laughing encouragement. In the middle of the performance Mary entered the room unheard. She watched the scene, a peculiar expression of pain in her eyes. Then, tight-lipped, she advanced and marched the boy right off to bed.

When she had gone Jim sat staring at the fire, biting at a dead pipe, while the host, garrulous and happy, blew clouds of smoke. At length Alf grew aware of his wife’s continued absence. After a short panegyric on her many virtues he thought he’d go and “see wot’s up.” While he stumped up-stairs Jim sat listening. Once he sighed hard and clenched his fists.

“She’s sorter feelin’ porely,” Alf explained on his return. “Sorter upset like. Women is like that sometimes. Queer sort women is—” He rambled on for a few minutes, fidgeting. “Fac’ is—better turn in, hey? Sorter want me ter comfort ’er. Women is like that sometimes. Funny fings, women. Don’t mind, do yer?”

After turning out the lamp and locking the front door Alf escorted Jim to the guest-chamber, a tiny room at the back.

“Goo’ night, mate! ’Ope yer’ll sleep orl right, hey? Ain’t no turnin’ out ’ere! Goo’ night!”

“Goo’ night!” growled Jim at the closing door.

For fully ten minutes he sat hunched on the little bed with his head between his hands, grim-faced, bright-eyed, listening. Suddenly he swore and sprang to his feet, his face contorted, fists clenched; then tearing off his boots he clutched his bundle and crept downstairs.


AS THE murky light filtered through the curtains Alf tiptoed down the stairs in his stocking-feet. He lighted the fire and his pipe, made tea and stumped up-stairs again, bearing two cups and the grin of a triumphant schoolboy. He deposited one cup on the landing, delivered the other to his wife, who sleepily feigned delight, and returned for the first cup.

“Aye, but he’d sooner ’ave beer!” he muttered as he pushed open the door of the spare room. “Gaw!” he exclaimed, and peered round as if he expected to find Jim under the bed or in the wash-stand, scratching his head perplexedly. “Ain’t been ter bed! w’ere is ’e!” The bewilderment grew into a grin of comprehension. “Pore old Jim!” addressing the empty bed. “Kinder hearly for bed and thort ’e’d like a wet an’ ain’t come ’ome! Might ’a’ knowed! Same as I’d ’a’ done once. Wot d’yer fink, ole gal?” he shouted to Mary, carrying the cup back with him. “My mate’s bin an’ gawn!”

“Gawn!” echoed Mary in startled relief.

“Yus. Ain’t bin ter bed!” and he related his surmise with many guffaws. “But ’e’ll turn up fer ’is tommy—wiv a thick ’ead!”

Mary made no comment.


LATER, as the guest did not return, Alf grew anxious and departed in search of him. However, he could not discover Jim in the purlieus of the district. “Bin an' gawn on the booze!” was the verdict. A sincere regret that he had not been permitted to exercise hospitality evoked the remark: “Orter ’ave got ’im some beer—same as I’d ’a’ liked afore I took up wiv you, hey, Missus? Wunnerful ’ooman you are, ole gal, straight!” Caressing his unresponsive wife with one horny hand he kissed her. “Feelin’ sorter porely, ain’t yer, ole dear?”

Mary continued to feel “porely” apparently; so that when Alf translated his disappointment that his short spell at home was likely to be marred, into terms of solicitous concern for Jim, and was peevishly told to “cheese it!” his wide understanding of women was slightly strained.

He pondered long and a little sulkily upon her unusual manner and failed to find any consolation in his own stereotyped formula for feminine ways.

However, on the following evening Alf returned from work with the news that Jim had, that morning, received seven days’ hard labor for having been “drunk and disorderly.” “Good-’earted bloke, ’im!” concluded Alf, wagging his head compassionately; “but a rough un, same as I might ’a’ bin.”

Mary sighed and turned away as Alf thundered up-stairs to see young Alf, who had been put to bed.

“W’ere nunky?” demanded the child.

“Nunky gawn away fer a ’oliday,” said Alf, grinning at his own waggishness.

The boy considered. “Ain’t ’e never comin’ back?”

“Oh, yus, ’e’ll come back orl right.”

“W’en?”

“Inner week or two.”

“W’ere’s ’e gawn?”

“Gawn? Oh ’e’s gawn up ter Lunnon.”

“Waffor?”

“Waffor? wy—I dunno,” confessed Alf, unable to rise to the occasion.

“Ain’t ’e gotter ’ome?”

“W’y, yus, of course, ’e ’as!”

“An’, Pa, ain’t ’e got any li’l boys like me to play wiv?”

“Yus, corse ’e ’as! Jus’ like you!” And as Mary entered the room he turned to her waggishly: “Ain’t that right, old dear?”

“Ain’t wot right?” demanded Mary.

“Ain’t Jim gotter little boy jus’ like our Alf?”

Mary gave a quick look from the boy to Alf. “Wot’s the matter wiv you!” she demanded furiously. “Telling ’im lies like that! Ain’t yer nuffin better ter do than’ ter keep ’im awake all night? Ain’t I gotter-nuff trouble wivout you upsettin’ things?”

Gaw! said Alf eloquently, staring at her. “Wot’s the matter wiv you, Missus?”

“Oh, go away, do!” shrilled Mary.

Big Alf rose silently, looked at the boy sitting up in bed watching them curiously and at his wife.

“Wot’re you waitin’ for?” she demanded acidly. “I gotter get ’im ter sleep arter you gone and woke ’im. Go on!”

“She’s balmy,” muttered the perplexed Alf as he slouched out of the room. “I never done nuffin.”

“Wot’s the matter wiv Pa?” demanded young Alf.

“Ain’t nuffin the matter wiv Pa,” asserted Mary more quietly. “Now you go ter sleep, d’yer ’ear?”

“But, Ma,” persisted young Alf as he snuggled down, “ain’t Nunky Jim gotter li’l’ boy like——

“Oh, be quiet, an’ go ter sleep, will yer!” snapped Mary and a sharp smack terrorized the boy into obedience.


A FIREMAN’S life is much like a sailor’s—both are fortunate if they have as many days at home as they have weeks at sea. On the fol lowing day the Matilda Farncroft was due to sail in ballast for Cardiff to load coal for the Black Sea. Big Alf hoped that Mary would soften toward him. But she did not. Unconsciously he bestowed the inhibited caresses upon young Alf, observed by Mary with a strained, patient look in her eyes, as if she were compelling herself to endure the extravagant, even fatuous, sentimentalities of a sentimental male. But she made no remark. Indeed, she scarcely spoke at all.

When at last he had made ready and stood, bundle in hand, gazing at her with the questioning expression of a hurt dog, she seemed to relent. She placed her arm round his neck and kissed him with something of the warmth of other days. But when he sought to return it, she repulsed him. The gladness was turned to anger. He muttered an oath and went hurriedly, pained and smoldering with anger at the feeling that he had really done something to offend her; bewildered and frightened of he knew not what.

No sooner had the door closed behind him than Mary sought young Alf and in the middle of extravagant caresses burst into tears. Young Alf, too, was bewildered at these most extraordinary happenings. But when he, as ever solicitous, inquired what the matter was, he received such a sharp admonition not to ask silly questions, that he in sympathy began to weep. Mother and child together sobbed.

Then young Alf put his arm around Mary’s neck and said with the air of one solving a terrible problem: “Alf tho thorry Mummy thorry Daddy gone!” and ceased to cry. Yet his small mind was still bewildered by the glance which his mother gave him as she dried her eyes upon her apron.

However, Mary had, as usual, little time to waste upon marital or any other problems. She went about her house work all day with an unusually absent-minded look, and at every step or knock of itinerant hawker, started apprehensively.

Toward five o’clock young Alf, to his delight, was dressed in his Sunday best and led off to have supper with an aunt who lived some blocks away.

That there was something unusual about to happen he was convinced; for upon cake and ginger-beer he was allowed to gorge unreproved, and although his bedtime was eight, Mary did not even suggest leaving until after nine.

Exceedingly happy and slightly dyspeptic, young Alf said his prayers with a special plea for those at sea and was tucked up in bed, contented in the promise of a wonderful cake which Aunt Lizzie was to make for him on the morrow.

But as Mary moved about the little kitchen, clearing up for the night, there came a single knock at the door. Mary stood still, holding a dish in her hand. Her eyes were like a startled fawn’s. She hesitated; moved from one foot to the other; her mobile lips muttered: “It’ll only be Mrs. Barker!”

She put down the dish very carefully; placed her hand upon her breast. Again came the knock; louder, imperious. Mary hesitated; glanced at the fire. Mary went out.

Silhouetted against the blue of the night was the form of a man.

“Mar—y!”

“You! Oh!” In a panic she tried to close the door, whispering, “Go away! Oh, Gawd, go away!”

“Mary!” Jim insisted, pressing his bulk against the door.

“Don’t! Don’t!” she whispered, struggling futilely. “They’ll see yer! They will! Oh, go away!”

He removed her hands from the door, leaving it ajar behind him, and took her in his arms. She writhed and twisted furiously as a woman does in her lover’s arms. He forced her head back and bruised her lips with his mouth.

“Gawd! I’m mad fer yer. Gowmitey, I am! Mary——

She fought, anger growing with the delicious delight in his strength. She lay still, as if exhausted.

“If yer love us, Jim, lemme go! Please!” she pleaded.

He released her; whereupon she turned upon him because he had obeyed.

“’Ow dare you come ’ere? You! Carn’t you lemme alone? Wot ’ave I done? Ain’t it enuff ter frighten me outer me life? You——

“Mary, I want yer!”

“Are yer balmy?” she demanded shrilly. “Wanter ruin me? W’y can’t yer leave me alone! Oh, go away!”

Jim stared at her hungrily but perplexedly. “Oh, ’ell, Mary, won’t yer come wiv me? Oh, Gawd, I want yer. I ain’t done nuffin since yer leff me. straight I ain’t! Nuffin but booze! Oh, I know, but I can’t ’elp it. Why did yer leave me?”

He checked a movement toward her and grimaced impotently, the light from the kitchen lighting one ear and his bullet-skull. The gurgle of a kettle on the hob sounded softly; a cart rattled noisily over the cobbles without and died away jangling. The two stood in the tiny passage, the woman flattening herself against the wall.

“Oh, Gawd!” she commenced again, “go away, do!”

“Come wiv us then?”

“I won’t!”

“I love yer, Mary. I allus ’ave. Yer knows it, don’t yer? Yer carn’t go on like this. Yer don’t love ’im—do yer?”

“I can’t leave ’im,” she muttered, near weeping, “I can’t. “’E’s bin a good man ter me, ’e ’as, reely. Oh, Gawd, go——

He seized her arm. She cried out inarticulately and wriggling away from him, fled into the kitchen. He followed, ponderously eager. She turned by the table, at bay.

“Oh!” she cried, a new note of wailing in her voice, “go awa-ay, do! I can’t—I daren’t!!’

“’Ere, Mary,” he said, finding eloquence, “yer can’t live like this, it ain’t right. I loved you first, didn’t I? We allus loved each uvver. W’en I leff yer, I couldn’t ’elp it, straight. Yus. I know I went on the booze—and I bin ever since. I don’t care nuffin if you ain’t wiv me—Gawd—Mary, wot did yer leave me fer? W’y ever did yer? I bin in ’ell, I ’ave.”

“’Cos yer didn’t marry me, that’s w’y I leff yer. Cos I wanted ter be a respec’able ’ooman and ’e made me that—wot you’d never ’ave done.”

“I would—if yer’d only waited, ’s truth I would, and yer knows it!”

“No yer wouldn’t! You’d never ’ave given up the booze. ’E did—fer me.”

“’Ow' could I?” he demanded angrily, “w’en yer was allus a-gaddin’ about? Made me balmy, yer did, an’ yer loved it. I ’ated yer sometimes. An’ then yer went an’ married ’im! Gawd! But I’ll give up the booze, I swear I will. Mary! yer don’t love ’im, yer said yer didn’t.”

“I didn’t!”

“Yus, yer did.” He moved toward her. She shrank away. “An’ yer loves me, don’t yer, Mary—on’t yer?”

“No!” she said defiantly.

But he sprang and caught her to him.

“Lemme go! Lemme——

“Yer do! Yer do, don’t yer?” he demanded, glaring down at her. Her eyes shifted.

“Lemme go!” she whispered.

“I won’t!” he growled hoarsely, crushing her until she cried out. “Yer love me, don’t yer?”

“No,” she murmured feebly; but her lids drooped, flickered and opened on burning eyes as she strained to his lips.

“Oh, Gawd, don’t!” she panted. “I can’t stand it. I mustn’t!”

“But yer comin’, Mary!”

“I ain’t, ’ow can I? I can’t leave ’im.”

“’Oo? ’Im?”

He jerked her chin upward.

“Yes.”

“Oh, Gawd.”

She remained in his arms inert. He stared at her. She flashed a wild frightened look at him and struggled seriously to free herself; she rained blows upon him, savagely, crying inarticulately. He released her.

“Gawd!” he muttered suspiciously.

“It ain’t true,” she panted. “It ain’t! I swear it ain’t.”

“Sorter scared me like. But ’e give me a turn wen I see ’im. ’Ere, Mary—Come on! You an’ ’im.”

“I can’t! I won’t!”

“Yus, y’are! ’im wiv us! Come on!”

He caught her arm and drew her to him. Again the sharp battle and her surrender to the hypnotism of contact. Then as she lay in his arms she started violently. Her protesting words were smothered by his caresses. She struggled desperately. His grip tightened, his great frame trembled.

“Oh-!” was squeezed from her bruised lips. The agonized expression of her eyes made him glance up. In the doorway stood Alf; his eyes glared, his thick lips were contorted into the expression of a homicidal maniac, and his shoulders were hunched round his lowering head. Mary clung to Jim in paralyzed fear. He repulsed her and took up a strategic position behind the kitchen-table.

“’Ere, Alf, ’alf a mo’! Lemme tell yer——

“No, no fer Gawd’s sake, no!” came Mary’s shrill voice.

A stream of obscene profanity fled through Alf’s teeth, the purport of which anathematized false friends, wives and collisions. Then he caught up a knife from the table.

With an oath Jim flung the table aside, rushed in and caught the upraised wrist. They wrestled for possession of the weapon. One hand pressed upon her bosom, the other clutching her gaping mouth, Mary’s feverish eyes watched the straining men. Came a sharp cry as the knife twinkled on the stone hearth. For a moment they swayed to and fro, toppled over the table and crashed to the floor, Jim uppermost.

With a stifled shriek forced from her by the shock of the fall, Mary had started forward; but hypnotized by pristine fascination, she remained to stare at the writhing, twisting male animals upon the floor.

Jim succeeded in loosening the bite of the horny fingers and in implanting his own in his rival’s throat. With maddened eyes almost starting from their sockets the men fought desperately in throttled breaths, each growing fainter and more labored.

Then in this room supercharged with the atmosphere of primordial strife appeared a tiny figure in pink flannel.

For a moment the curly head was bent sideways like a puzzled bird.

At the sight of her son Mary had started forward with a strangled expression of horror. She fell to tugging at the combatants, sobbing dry-eyed as she whispered fiercely: “Stop it! Alf’s ’ere! Oh, Gawd! Chuck it! Alf’s ’ere!”

As the sleepy little brain solved the riddle young Alf demanded imperiously, “Lemme play too!”

The frantic objurgation of the woman had failed to reach the understanding of either man, but that clear treble of the boy’s acted as the command of an officer to disciplined troops. Both hands were released from their deadly grips. Jim’s head followed Alf’s horrified gaze to the child standing over them, impatiently demanding to join the game.

Alf’s eyes were bloodshot, his tongue protruded slightly; yet he tried to smile a ghastly contorted grin. Mary stood back, staring, her quivering lips straining at a smile. Slowly, fighting hard to subdue the agonized sob of the lungs, both men disentangled themselves.

“Gee-gees!” demanded young Alf, his eyes gleaming with excitement. He rushed to the cupboard, produced the whip and cracked it furiously.

Ponderously, with tears of pain welling in his averted eyes, Jim crawled around the kitchen with young Alf upon his back, to and fro, backward and forward, around and about. Alf leaned upon the floor, one hand at his wealed throat, eyes following the performance, striving to control his troubled breathing.

“Now you, Daddy!” The boy dismounted from his horse and cracked the whip before the fresh victim.

Unsteadily Jim rose and moved toward the door.

“Nunky not goin’?” demanded little Alf from astride big Alf’s back.

Jim tried to master his swollen tongue, gazing round like a stricken animal.

“Yes, Nunky got to go ’ome,” Mary whispered.

The boy looked at her. “Mummy dot cold?” he inquired.

Mary nodded and murmured.

“Alf tho thorry. Goo’ night, Nunky!”

“Good’ night!” answered Jim hoarsely as he opened the door.

“Gee up!” shouted young Alf, cracking his whip. “Daddy best ’orse! CLK! CLK! Gee-up!”'

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.