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A Poor Gentleman
by [?]

It was in the drawing-room, after dinner. Mrs. Charman, the large and kindly hostess, sank into a chair beside her little friend Mrs. Loring, and sighed a question.

‘How do you like Mr. Tymperley?’

‘Very nice. Just a little peculiar.’

‘Oh, he is peculiar! Quite original. I wanted to tell you about him before we went down, but there wasn’t time. Such a very old friend of ours. My dear husband and he were at school together–Harrovians. The sweetest, the most affectionate character! Too good for this world, I’m afraid; he takes everything so seriously. I shall never forget his grief at my poor husband’s death.–I’m telling Mrs. Loring about Mr. Tymperley, Ada.’

She addressed her married daughter, a quiet young woman who reproduced Mrs. Charman’s good-natured countenance, with something more of intelligence, the reflective serenity of a higher type.

‘I’m sorry to see him looking so far from well,’ remarked Mrs. Weare, in reply.

‘He never had any colour, you know, and his life… But I must tell you,’ she resumed to Mrs. Loring. ‘He’s a bachelor, in comfortable circumstances, and–would you believe it?–he lives quite alone in one of the distressing parts of London. Where is it, Ada?’

‘A poor street in Islington.’

‘Yes. There he lives, I’m afraid in shocking lodgings–it must be, so unhealthy–just to become acquainted with the life of poor people, and be helpful to them. Isn’t it heroic? He seems to have given up his whole life to it. One never meets him anywhere; I think ours is the only house where he’s seen. A noble life! He never talks about it. I’m sure you would never have suspected such a thing from his conversation at dinner?’

‘Not for a moment,’ answered Mrs. Loring, astonished. ‘He wasn’t very gossipy–I gathered that his chief interests were fretwork and foreign politics.’

Mrs. Weare laughed. ‘The very man! When I was a little girl he used to make all sorts of pretty things for me with his fret-saw; and when I grew old enough, he instructed me in the balance of Power. It’s possible, mamma, that he writes leading articles. We should never hear of it.’

‘My dear, anything is possible with Mr. Tymperley. And such a change, this, after his country life. He had a beautiful little house near ours, in Berkshire. I really can’t help thinking that my husband’s death caused him to leave it. He was so attached to Mr. Charman! When my husband died, and we left Berkshire, we altogether lost sight of him–oh, for a couple of years. Then I met him by chance in London. Ada thinks there must have been some sentimental trouble.’

‘Dear mamma,’ interposed the daughter, ‘it was you, not I, who suggested that.’

‘Was it? Well, perhaps it was. One can’t help seeing that he has gone through something. Of course it may be only pity for the poor souls he gives his life to. A wonderful man!’

When masculine voices sounded at the drawing-room door, Mrs. Loring looked curiously for the eccentric gentleman. He entered last of all. A man of more than middle height, but much bowed in the shoulders; thin, ungraceful, with an irresolute step and a shy demeanour; his pale-grey eyes, very soft in expression, looked timidly this way and that from beneath brows nervously bent, and a self-obliterating smile wavered upon his lips. His hair had begun to thin and to turn grey, but he had a heavy moustache, which would better have sorted with sterner lineaments. As he walked–or sidled–into the room, his hands kept shutting and opening, with rather ludicrous effect. Something which was not exactly shabbiness, but a lack of lustre, of finish, singled him among the group of men; looking closer, one saw that his black suit belonged to a fashion some years old. His linen was irreproachable, but he wore no sort of jewellery, one little black stud showing on his front, and, at the cuffs, solitaires of the same simple description.