A young man came out of the Victoria station, looking undecidedly at the taxi-cabs, dark-red and black, pressing against the kerb under the glass-roof. Several men in greatcoats and brass buttons jerked themselves erect to catch his attention, at the same time keeping an eye on the other people as they filtered through the open doorways of the station. Berry, however, was occupied by one of the men, a big, burly fellow whose blue eyes glared back and whose red-brown moustache bristled in defiance.
‘Do you want a cab, sir?’ the man asked, in a half-mocking, challenging voice.
Berry hesitated still.
‘Are you Daniel Sutton?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ replied the other defiantly, with uneasy conscience.
‘Then you are my uncle,’ said Berry.
They were alike in colouring, and somewhat in features, but the taxi driver was a powerful, well-fleshed man who glared at the world aggressively, being really on the defensive against his own heart. His nephew, of the same height, was thin, well-dressed, quiet and indifferent in his manner. And yet they were obviously kin.
‘And who the devil are you?’ asked the taxi driver.
‘I’m Daniel Berry,’ replied the nephew.
‘Well, I’m damned–never saw you since you were a kid.’
Rather awkwardly at this late hour the two shook hands.
‘How are you, lad?’
‘All right. I thought you were in Australia.’
‘Been back three months–bought a couple of these damned things’–he kicked the tyre of his taxi-cab in affectionate disgust. There was a moment’s silence.
‘Oh, but I’m going back out there. I can’t stand this cankering, rotten-hearted hell of a country any more; you want to come out to Sydney with me, lad. That’s the place for you–beautiful place, oh, you could wish for nothing better. And money in it, too.–How’s your mother?’
‘She died at Christmas,’ said the young man.
‘Dead! What!–our Anna!’ The big man’s eyes stared, and he recoiled in fear. ‘God, lad,’ he said, ‘that’s three of ’em gone!’
The two men looked away at the people passing along the pale grey pavements, under the wall of Trinity Church.
‘Well, strike me lucky!’ said the taxi driver at last, out of breath. ‘She wor th’ best o’ th’ bunch of ’em. I see nowt nor hear nowt from any of ’em–they’re not worth it, I’ll be damned if they are–our sermon-lapping Adela and Maud,’ he looked scornfully at his nephew. ‘But she was the best of ’em, our Anna was, that’s a fact.’
He was talking because he was afraid.
‘An’ after a hard life like she’d had. How old was she, lad?’
‘Fifty-five …’ He hesitated. Then, in a rather hushed voice, he asked the question that frightened him:
‘And what was it, then?’
‘Cancer again, like Julia! I never knew there was cancer in our family. Oh, my good God, our poor Anna, after the life she’d had!–What, lad, do you see any God at the back of that?–I’m damned if I do.’
He was glaring, very blue-eyed and fierce, at his nephew. Berry lifted his shoulders slightly.
‘God?’ went on the taxi driver, in a curious intense tone, ‘You’ve only to look at the folk in the street to know there’s nothing keeps it going but gravitation. Look at ’em. Look at him!’–A mongrel-looking man was nosing past. ‘Wouldn’t he murder you for your watch-chain, but that he’s afraid of society. He’s got it in him…. Look at ’em.’
Berry watched the towns-people go by, and, sensitively feeling his uncle’s antipathy, it seemed he was watching a sort of danse macabre of ugly criminals.
‘Did you ever see such a God-forsaken crew creeping about! It gives you the very horrors to look at ’em. I sit in this damned car and watch ’em till, I can tell you, I feel like running the cab amuck among ’em, and running myself to kingdom come–‘
Berry wondered at this outburst. He knew his uncle was the black-sheep, the youngest, the darling of his mother’s family. He knew him to be at outs with respectability, mixing with the looser, sporting type, all betting and drinking and showing dogs and birds, and racing. As a critic of life, however, he did not know him. But the young man felt curiously understanding. ‘He uses words like I do, he talks nearly as I talk, except that I shouldn’t say those things. But I might feel like that, in myself, if I went a certain road.’