MY SISTER MABEL EDITH REYNOLDS
In a car of the Naples express a mining expert was diving into a bag for papers. The strong sunlight showed the fine wrinkles on his brown face and the shabbiness of his short, rough beard. A newspaper cutting slipped from his fingers; he picked it up, thinking: ‘How the dickens did that get in here?’ It was from a colonial print of three years back; and he sat staring, as if in that forlorn slip of yellow paper he had encountered some ghost from his past.
These were the words he read: “We hope that the setback to civilisation, the check to commerce and development, in this promising centre of our colony may be but temporary; and that capital may again come to the rescue. Where one man was successful, others should surely not fail? We are convinced that it only needs….” And the last words: “For what can be sadder than to see the forest spreading its lengthening shadows, like symbols of defeat, over the untenanted dwellings of men; and where was once the merry chatter of human voices, to pass by in the silence….”
On an afternoon, thirteen years before, he had been in the city of London, at one of those emporiums where mining experts perch, before fresh flights, like sea-gulls on some favourite rock. A clerk said to him: “Mr. Scorrier, they are asking for you downstairs–Mr. Hemmings of the New Colliery Company.”
Scorrier took up the speaking tube. “Is that you, Mr. Scorrier? I hope you are very well, sir, I am–Hemmings–I am–coming up.”
In two minutes he appeared, Christopher Hemmings, secretary of the New Colliery Company, known in the City-behind his back–as “Down-by-the-starn” Hemmings. He grasped Scorrier’s hand–the gesture was deferential, yet distinguished. Too handsome, too capable, too important, his figure, the cut of his iron-grey beard, and his intrusively fine eyes, conveyed a continual courteous invitation to inspect their infallibilities. He stood, like a City “Atlas,” with his legs apart, his coat-tails gathered in his hands, a whole globe of financial matters deftly balanced on his nose. “Look at me!” he seemed to say. “It’s heavy, but how easily I carry it. Not the man to let it down, Sir!”
“I hope I see you well, Mr. Scorrier,” he began. “I have come round about our mine. There is a question of a fresh field being opened up–between ourselves, not before it’s wanted. I find it difficult to get my Board to take a comprehensive view. In short, the question is: Are you prepared to go out for us, and report on it? The fees will be all right.” His left eye closed. “Things have been very–er–dicky; we are going to change our superintendent. I have got little Pippin–you know little Pippin?”
Scorrier murmured, with a feeling of vague resentment: “Oh yes. He’s not a mining man!”
Hemmings replied: “We think that he will do.” ‘Do you?’ thought Scorrier; ‘that’s good of you!’
He had not altogether shaken off a worship he had felt for Pippin–”King” Pippin he was always called, when they had been boys at the Camborne Grammar-school. “King” Pippin! the boy with the bright colour, very bright hair, bright, subtle, elusive eyes, broad shoulders, little stoop in the neck, and a way of moving it quickly like a bird; the boy who was always at the top of everything, and held his head as if looking for something further to be the top of. He remembered how one day “King” Pippin had said to him in his soft way, “Young Scorrie, I’ll do your sums for you”; and in answer to his dubious, “Is that all right?” had replied, “Of course–I don’t want you to get behind that beast Blake, he’s not a Cornishman” (the beast Blake was an Irishman not yet twelve). He remembered, too, an occasion when “King” Pippin with two other boys fought six louts and got a licking, and how Pippin sat for half an hour afterwards, all bloody, his head in his hands, rocking to and fro, and weeping tears of mortification; and how the next day he had sneaked off by himself, and, attacking the same gang, got frightfully mauled a second time.