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My Distant Relative
by [?]

“Mark my words! So long as we’re on these lines, we shall do nothing. It’s going against evolution. They say Darwin’s getting old-fashioned; all I know is, he’s good enough for me. Competition is the only thing.”

“But competition,” I said, “is bitter cruel, and some people can’t stand against it!” And I looked at him rather hard: “Do you object to putting any sort of floor under the feet of people like that?”

He let his voice drop a little, as if in deference to my scruples.

“Ah!” he said; “but if you once begin this sort of thing, there’s no end to it. It’s so insidious. The more they have, the more they want; and all the time they’re losing fighting power. I’ve thought pretty deeply about this. It’s shortsighted; it really doesn’t do!”

“But,” I said, “surely you’re not against saving people from being knocked out of time by old age, and accidents like illness, and the fluctuations of trade?”

“Oh!” he said, “I’m not a bit against charity. Aunt Emma’s splendid about that. And Claud’s awfully good. I do what I can, myself.” He looked at me, so queerly deprecating, that I quite liked him at that moment. At heart–I felt he was a good fellow. “All I think is,” he went on, “that to give them something that they can rely on as a matter of course, apart from their own exertions, is the wrong principle altogether,” and suddenly his voice began to rise again, and his eyes to stare. “I’m convinced that all this doing things for other people, and bolstering up the weak, is rotten. It stands to reason that it must be.”

He had risen to his feet, so preoccupied with the wrongness of that principle that he seemed to have forgotten my presence. And as he stood there in the window the light was too strong for him. All the thin incapacity of that shadowy figure was pitilessly displayed; the desperate narrowness in that long, pale face; the wambling look of those pale, well-kept hands–all that made him such a ghost of a man. But his nasal, dogmatic voice rose and rose.

“There’s nothing for it but bracing up! We must cut away all this State support; we must teach them to rely on themselves. It’s all sheer pauperisation.”

And suddenly there shot through me the fear that he might burst one of those little blue veins in his pale forehead, so vehement had he become; and hastily I changed the subject.

“Do you like living up there with your aunt?” I asked: “Isn’t it a bit quiet?”

He turned, as if I had awakened him from a dream.

“Oh, well!” he said, “it’s only till I get this job.”

“Let me see–how long is it since you—-?”

“Four years. She’s very glad to have me, of course.”

“And how’s your brother Claud?”

“Oh! All right, thanks; a bit worried with the estate. The poor old gov’nor left it in rather a mess, you know.”

“Ah! Yes. Does he do other work?”

“Oh! Always busy in the parish.”

“And your brother Richard?”

“He’s all right. Came home this year. Got just enough to live on, with his pension–hasn’t saved a rap, of course.”

“And Willie? Is he still delicate?”


“I’m sorry.”

“Easy job, his, you know. And even if his health does give out, his college pals will always find him some sort of sinecure. So jolly popular, old Willie!”

“And Alan? I haven’t heard anything of him since his Peruvian thing came to grief. He married, didn’t he?”

“Rather! One of the Burleys. Nice girl–heiress; lot of property in Hampshire. He looks after it for her now.”

“Doesn’t do anything else, I suppose?”

“Keeps up his antiquarianism.”

I had exhausted the members of his family.

Then, as though by eliciting the good fortunes of his brothers I had cast some slur upon himself, he said suddenly: “If the railway had come, as it ought to have, while I was out there, I should have done quite well with my fruit farm.”