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PAGE 2

The Great Good Place
by [?]

Yet he could at last only turn back from the window; the world was everywhere, without and within, and the great staring egotism of its health and strength wasn’t to be trusted for tact or delicacy. He faced about precisely to meet his servant and the absurd solemnity of two telegrams on a tray. Brown ought to have kicked them into the room–then he himself might have kicked them out.

“And you told me to remind you, sir–“

George Dane was at last angry.”Remind me of nothing!”

“But you insisted, sir, that I was to insist!”

He turned away in despair, using a pathetic quaver at absurd variance with his words: “If you insist, Brown, I’ll kill you!” He found himself anew at the window, whence, looking down from his fourth floor, he could see the vast neighbourhood, under the trumpet-blare of the sky, beginning to rush about. There was a silence, but he knew Brown hadn’t left him–knew exactly how straight and serious and stupid and faithful he stood there. After a minute he heard him again.

“It’s only because, sir, you know, sir, you can’t remember–“

At this Dane did flash round; it was more than at such a moment he could bear.”Can’t remember, Brown? I can’t forget. That’s what’s the matter with me.”

Brown looked at him with the advantage of eighteen years of consistency.”I’m afraid you’re not well, sir.”

Brown’s master thought.”It’s a shocking thing to say, but I wish to heaven I weren’t! It would be perhaps an excuse.”

Brown’s blankness spread like the desert.”To put them off?”

“Ah!” The sound was a groan; the plural pronoun, any pronoun, so mistimed.”Who is it?”

“Those ladies you spoke of–to luncheon.”

“Oh!” The poor man dropped into the nearest chair and stared a while at the carpet. It was very complicated.

“How many will there be, sir?” Brown asked.

“Fifty!”

“Fifty, sir?”

Our friend, from his chair, looked vaguely about; under his hand were the telegrams, still unopened, one of which he now tore asunder.” ‘Do hope you sweetly won’t mind, to-day, 1. 30, my bringing poor dear Lady Mullet, who’s so awfully bent,’ ” he read to his companion.

His companion weighed it.”How many does she make, sir?”

“Poor dear Lady Mullet? I haven’t the least idea.”

“Is she–a–deformed, sir?” Brown enquired, as if in this case she might make more.

His master wondered, then saw he figured some personal curvature.”No; she’s only bent on coming!” Dane opened the other telegram and again read out: ” ‘So sorry it’s at eleventh hour impossible, and count on you here, as very greatest favour, at two sharp instead.’ “

“How many does that make?” Brown imperturbably continued.

Dane crumpled up the two missives and walked with them to the waste-paper basket, into which he thoughtfully dropped them.”I can’t say. You must do it all yourself. I shan’t be there.”

It was only on this that Brown showed an expression.”You’ll go instead–“

“I’ll go instead!” Dane raved.

Brown, however, had had occasion to show before that he would never desert their post.”Isn’t that rather sacrificing the three?” Between respect and reproach he paused.

are there three?”

“I lay for four in all.”

His master had at any rate caught his thought.”Sacrificing the three to the one, you mean? Oh I’m not going to her!

Brown’s famous “thoroughness”–his great virtue–had never been so dreadful.”Then where are you going?”

Dane sat down to his table and stared at his ragged phrase.” ‘There is a happy land–far far away!’ ” He chanted it like a sick child and knew that for a minute Brown never moved. During this minute he felt between his shoulders the gimlet of criticism.

“Are you quite sure you’re all right?”

“It’s my certainty that overwhelms me, Brown. Look about you and judge. Could anything be more ‘right,’ in the view of the envious world, than everything that surrounds us here: that immense array of letters, notes, circulars; that pile of printers’ proofs, magazines and books; these perpetual telegrams, these impending guests, this retarded, unfinished and interminable work? What could a man want more?”