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The Civil Servant
by [?]

It was three o’clock, and the afternoon sun reddened the western windows of one of the busiest of Government offices. In an airy room on the third floor Richard Dale was batting. Standing in front of the coal-box with the fire-shovel in his hands, he was a model of the strenuous young Englishman; and as for the third time he turned the Government india-rubber neatly in the direction of square-leg, and so completed his fifty, the bowler could hardly repress a sigh of envious admiration. Even the reserved Matthews, who was too old for cricket, looked up a moment from his putting, and said, “Well played, Dick!”

The fourth occupant of the room was busy at his desk, as if to give the lie to the thoughtless accusation that the Civil Service cultivates the body at the expense of the mind. The eager shouts of the players seemed to annoy him, for he frowned and bit his pen, or else passed his fingers restlessly through his hair.

“How the dickens you expect any one to think in this confounded noise,” he cried suddenly.

“What’s the matter, Ashby?”

“You’re the matter. How am I going to get these verses done for The Evening Surprise if you make such a row? Why don’t you go out to tea?”

“Good idea. Come on, Dale. You coming, Matthews?” They went out, leaving the room to Ashby.

In his youth Harold Ashby had often been told by his relations that he had a literary bent. His letters home from school were generally pronounced to be good enough for Punch, and some of them, together with a certificate of character from his Vicar, were actually sent to that paper. But as he grew up he realized that his genius was better fitted for work of a more solid character. His post in the Civil Service gave him full leisure for his Adam: A Fragment, his History of the Microscope, and his Studies in Rural Campanology, and yet left him ample time in which to contribute to the journalism of the day.

The poem he was now finishing for The Evening Surprise was his first contribution to that paper, but he had little doubt that it would be accepted. It was called quite simply, “Love and Death,” and it began like this:

“Love! O love! (All other things above).–Why, O why, Am I afraid to die?”

There were six more lines which I have forgotten, but I suppose they gave the reason for this absurd diffidence.

Having written the poem out neatly, Harold put it in an envelope and took it round to The Evening Surprise. The strain of composition had left him rather weak, and he decided to give his brain a rest for the next few days. So it happened that he was at the wickets on the following Wednesday afternoon when the commissionaire brought him in the historic letter. He opened it hastily, the shovel under his arm.

“DEAR SIR,” wrote the editor of The Surprise, “will you come round and see me as soon as convenient?”

Harold lost no time. Explaining that he would finish his innings later, he put his coat on, took his hat and stick, and dashed out.

“How do you do?” said the editor. “I wanted to talk to you about your work. We all liked your little poem very much. It will be coming out to-morrow.”

“Thursday,” said Harold helpfully.

“I was wondering whether we couldn’t get you to join our staff. Does the idea of doing ‘Aunt Miriam’s Cosy Corner’ in our afternoon edition appeal to you at all?”

“No,” said Harold, “not a bit.”

“Ah, that’s a pity.” He tapped his desk thoughtfully. “Well then, how would you like to be a war correspondent?”

“Very much,” said Harold. “I was considered to write rather good letters home from school.”

“Splendid! There’s this little war in Mexico. When can you start? All expenses and fifty pounds a week. You’re not very busy at the office, I suppose, just now?”