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CHAPTER II UNCLE SIMON
Or fate, if you like it better, for it was fated that Bobby should find that day the thing he was in search of.

He dined at a little club he patronised in a street off St. James's Street, met a friend named Foulkes, and adjourned to the Alhambra, Foulkes insisting on doing all the paying.

They left the Alhambra at half-past ten.

"I must be getting back to the Albany," said Bobby. "I'm sharing rooms with a chap, and he's an early bird."

"Oh, let him wait," said Foulkes. "Come along for ten minutes to the Stage Club."

They went to the Stage Club. Then, the place being empty and little amusement to be found there, they departed, Foulkes declaring his determination to see Bobby part of the way home.

Passing a large entrance hall blazing with light and filled with the noise of a distant band, Foulkes stopped.

"Come in here for a moment," said he. In they went.

The place was gay—very gay. Little marble-topped tables stood about; French waiters running from table to table and serving guests—ladies and gentlemen.

At a long glittering bar many men were standing, and a Red Hungarian Band was discoursing scarlet music.

Foulkes took a table and ordered refreshment. The place was horrid. One could not tell exactly what there was about it that went counter to all the finer feelings and the sense of home, simplicity, and happiness.

Bobby, rather depressed, felt this, but Foulkes, a man of tougher fibre, seemed quite happy.

"What ails you, Ravenshaw?" asked Foulkes.

"Nothing," said Bobby. "No, I won't have any more to drink. I've work to do——"

Then he stopped and stared before him with eyes wide.

"What is it now?" asked Foulkes.

"Good Lord!" said Bobby. "Look at that chap at the bar!"

"Which one?"

"The one with the straw hat on the back of[Pg 107] his head. It can't be—but it is—it's the Relative."

"The one you told me of that fired you out and cut you off with a shilling?"

"Yes. Uncle Simon. No, it's not, it can't be. It is, though, in a straw hat."

"And squiffy," said Foulkes.

Bobby got up and, leaving the other, strolled to the bar casually. The man at the bar was toying with a glass of soda-water supplied to him on sufferance. Bobby got close to him. Yes, that was the right hand with the white scar—got when a young man "hunting"—and the seal ring.

The last time Bobby had met Uncle Simon was in the office in Old Serjeants' Inn. Uncle Simon, seated at his desk-table with his back to the big John Tann safe, had been in bitter mood; not angry, but stern. Bobby seated before him, hat in hand, had offered no apologies or exculpations for his conduct with girls, for his stupid engagement, for his idleness. He had many bad faults, but he never denied them, nor did he seek to minimise them by explanations and lies.

"I tried to float you," had said Uncle Simon, as though Bobby were a company. "I have failed. Well, I have done my duty, and I[Pg 108] clearly see that I will not be doing my duty by continuing as I have done; the allowance I have made you is ended. You will now have to swim for yourself. I should never have put money in your hands; I quite see that."

"I can make my own living," said Bobby. "I am not without gratitude for what you have done——"

"And a nice way you have shown your gratitude," said the other, "tangling yourself like that—gaming, frequenting bars."

So the interview had ended. Frequenting bars!

"Uncle Simon!" said Bobby half-nervously, touching the other on the arm.

Uncle Simon swung slowly round. Bobby might have been King Canute for all Uncle Simon knew. He had got beyond the stage where the word "uncle" from a stranger would have aroused ire or surprise.

"H'are you?" said Simon. "Have a drink?"

Yes, it was Uncle Simon right enough, and Bobby, in all his life, had never received such a shock as that which came to him now with the full recognition of the fact. St. Paul's Cathedral turned into a gambling-shop, the Bishop of London dressed as a clown, would have been[Pg 109] nothing to this. He was horrified. He came to the swift conclusion that Uncle Simon had come to smash somehow, and gone mad. A vague idea flew through his mind that his respected relative was dressed like this as a disguise to avoid creditors, but he had sense enough not to ask questions.

"I don't mind," said he; "I'll have a small soda."

"Small grandmother," said the other; then, nodding to the bar-tender, "'Nother same as mine."

"What have you been doing?" asked Bobby vaguely, as he took the glass.

"Roun' the town—roun' the town," replied the other. "Gl'd to meet you. What've you been doin'?"

"Oh, I've just been going round the town."

"Roun' the town, that's the way—roun' the town," replied the other. "Roun' an' roun' and roun' the town."

Foulkes broke into this intellectual discussion.

"I'm off," said Foulkes.

"Stay a minit," said Uncle Simon. "What'll you have?"

"Nothing, thanks," said Foulkes.

"Come on," said Bobby, taking the arm of his relative.

"W'ere to?" asked the other, hanging back slightly.

"Oh, we'll go round the town—round and round. Come on." Then to Foulkes, "Get a taxi, quick!"

Foulkes vanished towards the door.

Then Simon, falling in with the round-the-town idea, arm-in-arm, the pair threaded their way between the tables, the cynosure of all eyes, Simon exhibiting dispositions to stop and chat with seated and absolute strangers, Bobby perspiring and blushing. All the lectures on fast living he had ever endured were nothing to this; the shame of folly, for the first time in his life, appeared definitely before him, and the relief of the street and the waiting taxi beyond words.

They bundled Simon in.

"No. 12, King Charles Street, Westminster," said Bobby to the driver.

Uncle Simon's head and bust appeared at the door of the vehicle, the address given by Bobby seeming to have paralysed the round-the-town idea in his mind.

"Ch'ing Cross Hotel," said he. "Wach you mean givin' wrong address? I'm staying Ch'ing Cross Hotel."

"Well, let's go to Charles Street first," agreed Bobby.

"No—Ch'ing Cross Hotel—luggage waitin' there."

Bobby paused.

Could it be possible that this was the truth? It couldn't be stranger than the truth before him.

"All right," said he. "Charing Cross Hotel, driver."

He said good-bye to Foulkes, got in, and shut the door.

Uncle Simon seemed asleep.

The Charing Cross Hotel was only a very short distance away, and when they got there Bobby, leaving the sleeping one undisturbed, hopped out to make enquiries as to whether a Mr. Pettigrew was staying there; if not, he could go on to Charles Street.

In the hall he found the night porter and Mudd.

"Good heavens! Mr. Robert, what are you doing here?" said Mudd.

Bobby took Mudd aside.

"What's the matter with my uncle, Mudd?" asked Bobby in a tragic half-whisper.

"Matter!" said Mudd, wildly alarmed. "What's he been a-doing of?"

"I've got him in a cab outside," said Bobby.

"Oh, thank God!" said Mudd. "He's not hurt, is he?"

"No; only three sheets in the wind."

Mudd broke away for the door, followed by the other.

Simon was still asleep.

They got him out, and between them they brought him in, Bobby paying the fare with the last of his sovereign.

Arrived at the room, Mudd turned on the electric light, and then, between them, they got the reveller to bed. Folding his coat, Mudd, searching in the pockets, found a brass door-knocker. "Good Lord!" murmured Mudd. "He's been a-takin' of knockers."

He hid the knocker in a drawer and proceeded. Two pounds ten was all the money to be found in the clothes, but Simon had retained his watch and chain by a miracle.

Bobby was astonished at Simon's pyjamas, taken out of a drawer by Mudd; blue and yellow striped silk, no less.

"He'll be all right now, and I'll have another look at him," said Mudd. "Come down, Mr. Robert."

"Mudd," said Bobby, when they were in the hall again, "what is it?"

"He's gone," said Mudd; "gone in the head."

"Mad?"

"No, not mad; it's a temporary abrogation. Some of them new diseases, the doctor says. It's his youth come back on him............
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