A Splendid Surprise
An Old Clydeside Village Couple Visit Their Professional Son
J. J. BELL
Author of “Wee MacGregor,” etc.
The old woman, ere she responded to her husband’s rather lengthy speech, bent down and, with a quick, deft touch, lifted a half-dead cinder from the spotless hearth to the glowing grate.
“But it wudna be nice,” she said slowly and thoughtfully.
“It wud be jist the vera thing!” said the old man, smiling at her. ‘“I’m shair it ’s the twintieth time that Donald askit us to gang an’ see him in London— ”
“Maybe it’s jist the twintieth time, Alick. But I’m thinkin’ it’s the twintyseeventh time, if ma mem’ry serves me
“Oh, yer mem’ry serves ye rale weel, sae faur as Donald is concairned,” he said, still smiling. “It’ll be the twintyseeventh time ,richt enough. An’ I dinna think we sud wait for the twintyeichtht time, Jess. What’s the guid o’ a’ the siller wur son has sent us, if we’re no’ to spend it—some o’ it, onywey—on payin’ him a veesit? Eh? Tell me that !”
Editor’s Note.—Another short story by a noted author. Those who have read “Wee Maegregor’’ will need no introduction to him. This story is laid in Scotland and as such will be highly interesting to the thousands of people who love the hills of heather either because of their wonderful associations or because of early personal recollections. The theme is not so new as is his treatment of it.
“Are ye shair he wants us?”
Mr. Fergus laughed loudly.
“Has he no’ tell’t ye that, every time he’s been hame? Has he no’ hintit it every Friday for near ten year—wrote it every Friday, so as ye wud get it on the Seturday, an’ think ower it on the
Sawbath, an’ mak’ up yer mind to tak’ the boat an’ train to London on the Monday mornin’? I’m askin’ ye that, Jess?”
“’Deed, it’s true. He’s hintit at it mony a time,” she admitted. “But are ye quite shair he really wants us?”
The old man laughed yet more loudly.
“Donald’s got on fine as a ceevil engineer,” he said, “but he’s no’ that ceevil that he’s forgot his fayther an’ mither. No’ likely! When Donald asks you an’ me to gang an’ veesit him at London—he means it!—I’ll tak’ ma oath, auld wife!”
“Whisht, Allan! Dinna sweer! It’s no necessary. But wur son never intendit us for to gang an’ veesit him wi’oot lettin ’ him ken we was comin.’ ”
“Donald wud enjoy a pleesant surprise jist as weel as onybody i’ the warld. Pleesant surprises is kin’ o’ rare nooadays. I’m thinkin’ it wud be a fair treat to Donald if you an ’ me was drappin’ in on him some nicht, an’ cryin’: ‘What ha’e ye in for supper, Don?’ I
bet ye a million he wud be unco pleased,
Mrs. Fergus shook her grey head.
“Ye forget that Donald bides in a flet,” she said, gazing at the fire.
“I mind it fine,” he returned. “I ken it’s no’ easy to get a cottage like this yin in London. But he’ll ha’e room in his flet for us.”
“It’s no’ likely. London’s a crampit place, an’ the rents is—terrible. Donald hasna said muckle aboot the flet he gaed into last month, but I doot he hasna room to turn in.”
“Hoots, toots! we can risk it. The man that can send us a hunner pound apiece at the New Year can afford to gi’e us a bed some place.”
“Ye dinna ken what it maybe cost Donald to send us the siller.”
It cost him a wheen stracht lines and a wheen feegures, I suppose. Tits! Jess! ye forget wur son is a famous engineer ! "
“But he’s young, Allan, he’s young.” “He’s no’ that young. He’s sax-anthirty. An’ he wud never ha’e been an engineer if he hadna gone to the College, an’ he wud never ha’e got to the College if it hadna been for the siller ye saved. Jess, wife.” The old man’s voice had softened.
“Donald wud ha’e been a clever man, savin ’ or nae savin ’, ’ ’ she replied soberly. “An’ he’s been a guid, true son to us,” she went on, fumbling with some knitting, “An’—an’ I wudna affront Donald for onything in the warld. Never!—A son may affront his mither when he’s vera young, but a mither sud never affront her son.”
“What d’ye mean, Jess? Hoo could we affront Donald?”
“Wi’ arrivin’ when he didna expect us,” she replied, getting her needles into the right position.
Mr. Fergus stiffened in his arm-chair. “D’ye no trust Donald?” he demanded.
“Ay, I trust him,” she softly answered. “But I wudna surprise him. If Donald was cornin’ into the kitchen the noo, sudden-like, you wudna like him to catch ye in year stockin’ soles an’ ma— ’ ’
She smiled gently. “There’s nae holes in yer stockins, Allan,” she said quietly, “ or I wud hae been the yin to let ye ken; but 1 mind fine ye aye used to preach to Donald, afore he gaed to London. aboot keepin’ up a guid appearance an’ never bein’ slovenly. D’ye no’ mind?”
Mr. Fergus said nothing for several seconds. Then, “It’s different for an auld man,” he observed.
“Ye’re no’ that auld, Allan. An’ ye’ve been sittin’ in yer stockin’ soles ever since Donald gaed to London — though ye’ve aye pit on yer carpet slippers ony time he came’ to see us.”
“Och, ye’re jist an’ auld blether, Jess!” he said, with a feeble laugh. “But Im’ no’ heedin ’what ye say. This is Tuesday—an, on Friday mornin’ I’m awa’ to veesit Donald. Wull ye come?” “Gh, Allan ,dinna be foolish!” “Wha’s foolish?”
“Yersel’, Allan. It’s no’ the time to veesit wur son.
“What wey that?”
The old woman began to knit very rapidly.
“What wey that?” he repeated. “Because—because—oh, because Donald’s courtin’ a lass the noo.” “What?”
“Don’s courtin’ a lass, Allan.”
“I never heard onything aboot it. When did ye hear?” Allan’s tone was that of an offended man.
She made no reply. Her knitting fell in a heap on her lap. A tear ran down her cheek.
Mr. Fergus took his pipe from the mantelpiece.
“What’s this yer sayin’, auld wife?” he enquired, striking a match—which went out. “I’ve seen the nae mention o’ a lass in Donald’s letters. Has he been writin’ ye secret-like?” .
“Oh, na, na!” she cried. “Donald wudna dae that.”
“Weel, hoo dae ye ken he’s courtin?” “I—I jist ken. Donald’s in love. I’ve seen it in his letters a while back, though he hasna wrote it in words.”
Mr. Fergus applied the match to the fire, and presently managed to set his pipe going.
“I didna ken ye was a soothsayer,” he remarked, with a forced laugh. “Ye sud start chargin’ a shillin’ for readin’ folks’ “I’m no’ a soothsayer, Allan,” she said seriously. “I’m jist a mither. Oh, I kent frae his letters he was in love. An’ it’s no’ the time for you an’ me to—to surprise him.”
“I’m thinkin’ it is the vera time. An’, as I said to ye afore, I’m for London on Friday. I was there yinst, langsyne, wi’ a trip, an’ I’ve aye wantit to gang again. We’ll gang thegither an’ gi’e Donald wur blessin’. It’ll encourage him. He’ll like that. I got nae encouragement frae man nor beast when I was courtin’—except the time when yer fayther’s dug bit me, an’ I seen ye really cared if I gaed mad.” He laughed heartily at the recollection.
“If ye had been a tramp, I wud ha’e cared,” she returned solemnly. “I wudna like to see ony human bein’ gae mad. Oh, na, na! But ye’ll no’ think o’ gaun to London for a whiley yet, Allan.” She smiled persuasively.
“No’ till Friday mornin’.”
“I’ll no’ gang wi’ ye!” she exclaimed. “It wudna be fair to Donald, an’ I’m no’ ready, forbye.”
“Ye can get ready.”
“Wull ye write to Donald the morn?” “There’s to be nae writin’ to Donald, Jess. An’ nae telegraphin’. It’s to be a surprise veesit. I’ve made up ma mind. D’ye see?”
Now and then, in the past, Allan had “made up his mind,” and had announced the fact, and Jess knew very well from experience that the made-up mind was not to be altered.
Yet she pled with him to give up, or at least postpone, the proposed visit.
“We’ll gang on Friday mornin’ — early boat, he replied. “It’ll be a splendit surprise.”
“But ye’ll let Donald ken we’re cornin’?”
“Donald’ll ken—when he sees us—
aboot eicht o’clock on Fr'^ay nicht.”
“Oh, Allan, Allan, dearie'!''
“Tits! wumman! Is he no’ ma son as weel as yours?” he cried, half angrily, half humourously. “I can trust him.”
“He’s—Oh, I’ll say nae mair,” she whispered, and bowed her head.
The old people had never realized— perhaps it was impossible for them to have realized in the little Clydeside village where they had always lived—how well their son had got on in the world. They knew that he was making satisfactory progress as a civil engineer, but they also felt he must be having a great struggle. In all his life the old man had never made a hundred pounds in one year; the old woman had been highly excited when he had brought home a week’s earning of over thirty shillings.
Since Donald first found his success, he had sent his parents many gifts in money, but they had put the gifts in the bank, and had been tearfully pround, without feeling sure that their son could well afford all he gave. Donald had understood ,and had not sought to impress them by stating his income of recent years.
Five years ago he had casually mentioned to his mother that the preceding twelve months had enriched him to the extent of over a thousand pounds.
“Oh, but ye maun be carefu’ wi’ yer silver, laddie,” she had cried.
And he had felt that she would have said the same words had he called his income two hundred and fifty. A thousand pounds was beyond her simple understanding.
This last year he had made over four thousand. He had sent the old people a hundred pounds eaoû, and had put aside two thousand against the day when his father should find it necessary to give up the little nursery garden, which the old man had lived in and loved nearly all his life.
And then Donald Fergus, having learned to desire some luxury for himself in London, had taken and furnished a rather expensive flat in Bloomsbury. Not all for his own comfort, though he was sick of living in lonely “rooms,” and in other people’s homes, but he wanted a dwelling wherein he could entertain his friends — especially Sir Arthur Windus and Sir Arthur’s sister, Mildred.
Sir Arthur liked being entertained, but he had aspirations on behalf of his sister. He wanted her to marry money that had been made—one way or another. To marry money still in process of being made was not good enough for Sir Arthur, who eked out a fairly luxurious existence by directing—if the word “director” has any meaning whatever—sundry companies, the majority of which seemed to have a way of succeeding in spite of their “boards” of
“My dear Mildred,” said Sir Arthur, settling himself in the corner of the brougham. “I have it in my mind that our friend Fergus is going to make you an offer to-night.”
“Have you?” said Mildred calmly. “You think Mr. Fergus would ask us to dine, go to the theatre, and propose to me—all in the same evening?” she laughed softly.
“I have it in my mind so.”
“Then you must try and improve your mind, my dear Arthur!”
He laughed also. In any case, whether he makes his offer now or later, you will refuse him?” he said presently.
“Why not? Who is he?”
“Who am I?—who are we? You are only the second baronet, after all,” she returned quickly.
“But you know nothing about his people,” retorted Sir Arthur, sitting up. “They are quite common people, I believe.”
“People, as a rule, are quite common.”
The second baronet made an impatient movement. “What do you intend to say to him?” he demanded.
“I don’t know—yet. You see, Arthur, you are very clever, but you have missed the point. Mr. Fergus asked me to marrv him last Saturday.”
“He—he did, did he?”
“Yes. And I said I would give him an answer to-morrow. But I haven’t made up my mind—yet.”
Sir Arthur grunted. “You will refuse him, of course,” he said coldly. “Fergus is all right so far as business is concerned, but—”
“He has helped you a lot?”
Not at all! I tell you, Mildred, the match is impossible.”
“I don’t know,” said Mildred gently. . “But I’ll know to-morrow. I must make up my mind to-night, you know.” “You’re trying to chaff me,” her brother cried crossly.
She made no reply, and the remainder of the journey was passed in silence.
“Oh, Allan,” whispered the old woman, “we sudna ha’e come wi’oot lettin’ Donald ken. I’m sayin’ we sudna ha’e come wi’oot lettin’ Donald ken.”
The twain were standing at the door of their son’s flat. It was just eight o ’clock.
“Whist, wife!” said the old man, hoarsely. “Leave it to me. We’ve come a’ the road frae Scotland to gi’e Donald a splendit surprise, an’ he’s gaun to get it! Here’s somebody cornin’ to open the door. Noo, dinna be excitet. Dinna get in a stew.”
As a matter of fact Mr. Fergus was himself trembling violently. The long journey from Clydeside bad tired him, and his courage came and went.
The door was opened by an elderly but smart-looking maid, Donald’s housekeeper. She eyed the couple wonderingly. Mr. Fergus’ carefully prepared speech failed him, but he contrived to say— ■
“Is—is Donald in the nicht?
“I beg your pardon,” said Am i ouse keeper, taken aback.
“We’ve come to see our son, men,” put in the old woman. “Fergus is vur name, if ye please.”
“Whist, wife,” muttered AT : 'Is
this the hoose o’ Maister Donald Fergus?” he asked the housekeeper.
“Aweel, we’re his parents, mem, come to gi’e him a surprise,” said Allan, recovering his courage. He had a bag in one hand, and with the other he grasped his companion’s arm. “Come in Jess,” he said, and drew her with him into the hall. “Come in, an’ ye’ll shin be enjeyin’ yer supper.”
The housekeeper opened her mouth to speak, possibly to protest. “Mr. Fergus,” she began.
“Sh!” whispered Mr. Fergus, Holding up a warning forefinger, and at the same time giving the housekeeper a friendly and confidential wink. “Never let bug, mem! Dinna tell we’re here till we surprise him. Whaur is he? Has he had his tea yet?”
“Mr. Fergus is at dinner just now, sir,” said the housekeeper, realizing that the queer old couple must really be her employer’s parents, and wondering what she ought to do with them. “Mr. Fergus,” she went on, “has friends to din-
ner—Sir Arthur \\ indus and Ins sister. They are nearly finished. 1 took in dessert some time agoA'
“Dinner!” gasped Mr. Fergus, senior. “Weel, I’m Itlesi 1 What did ye say was the name o’ the di ' e that A wi’ ma son. mem?”
Mrs. Fergus nudged “If Don-
ald’s got comp’ny, we i M “Whist, wife! If the cv ’ny’s guitl enough for Donald, it’s guio nough for us. Oh! I hear him laughiri D’ye hear him, Jess? They’re in tl ,n room wi’ the eurtain at the door, Come on, we’ll surprise hyn. Jist you listen at the door, mem, an ’ ye ’ll get a fine laugh !
The worried housekeeper put out a protesting hand. Then she opened a door to the right, and switched on a light.
“Would you please step into the smoke room, sir, and I’ll tell Mr. Fergus you have arrived. Would you come with me to the bedroom, madam?” “Ay, Allan,” said Mrs. Fergus, “we’ll jist dae that. Thank ye, mem.” And she curtseyed to the housekeeper. “And let me help you off with your
things, Mrs. Fergus,” returned the woman, touched by Jess’s obvious alarm and shyness.
But Allan’s blood was up. For nearly a week he had been thinking of the splendid surprise for his son, and he was not going to give up the idea now, when circumstances were so favorable.
“Come on, Jess!” he muttered, catching her arm again. “If ye dinna come quick, he’ll hear us, an’ that wud spile the surprise.”
“Oh, Allan, dinna affront me.”
“Havers! Come on.”
He almost dragged her to the curtained door, the housekeeper following, helpless.
“One moment, sir, and I’ll announce you,” she managed to say, as she endeavored to reach the door first.
But she was too late. Mr. Fergus drew aside the curtain, softly opened the door, and, keeping a firm hold on his trembling partner, stepped into the room.
It had been his original intention to cry heartily “Weel, Donald, an’ hoo’s a’ wi’ ye the nicht?” But somehow the instant he entered the room his speech and courage failed him. Never before had he seen such a room, such a table, such glass, such fruits, such lights. And the lights were so shaded that the old couple stood, as it were, in outer darkness, though they did not at first realize the fact. Their entrance had been to their son, only as that of a servant.
They stood there, just inside the door, and the trio at the table went on with their dessert and light conversation. Presently Allan’s fingers relaxed on his wife’s arm, and slipped down till they felt her hand in its new black cotton glove. They clutched it—as a child’s fingers clutch its mother’s hand.
The agony did not last a minute, though it seemed long, long to the old folks.
Then Donald suddenly turned from talking to his guests and peered into the gloom.
“Why!” he cried, amazed, springing to his feet, and sending his wine glass to the floor. “Why! Mother! Father! How did you—Well, this is a sui’prise!”
He kissed his mother and shook hands with his father. Their tongues were tied.
Donald’s finger went to an electriclight switch on the wall just behind the old people. But he did not immediately move the switch. Perhaps it would make matters easier for everybody if he asked his guests to excuse him until he had conducted his parents to the spare bedroom. It would save the old folks much embarrassment, no doubt.
And it might also save himself—what? He could not help wondering quickly what his guests were thinking.
A faint whiff of lavender came to his nostrils. He heard his mother draw a soft, sobbing breath, and caught the gleam of her handkerchief, as she drew it from the little old-fashioned bag which she carried. He heard his father’s feet shuffling uneasily.
His mother! His father! Was he ashamed of them?
There was a click, and a flood of light
was poured upon the old couple and their son. Allan’s countenance was ashamed and angry; Jess’s was bowed till it was almost hidden; Donald’s was scarlet, as his hand fell from the switch.
But the younger man’s eyes were steadfast, and he smiled first at his parents and then at his guests. If he had not gained an altogether honourable victory, he had escaped a dishonourable defeat.
“Let me introduce my father and mother, who have at last paid me their long-promised visit,” he said in a clear voice. “My Father and my Mother— Miss Mildred Windus—Sir Arthur Windus.
Mr. Fergus straightened himself, and touched an invisible hat, Mrs. Fergus curtseyed, and Sir Arthur returned their quaintly respectful salutes with rather elaborate politeness.
Mildred got up, came round the table smiling, and shook hands with the old people.
“You have had a long journey, Mrs. Fergus,” she said gently. “Can I help your mother in any way, do you think?” she asked, turning to her host.
Mrs. Fergus smiled tremulously, and suddenly her husband recovered his old self-confidence. The fine young lady had met the “auld wife” in the friendliest fashion!
“Man, Donald,” he cried, with a loud laugh, “we gi’ed ye a splendit surprise, did we no’? Eh?”
But Donald was looking at Mildred, who had slipped her beautiful bare arm through his mother’s black-covered one, and was opening the door of the dining-room.
“I’m sayin’ it was a splendit surprise!” Mr. Fergus pursued. “Yer mither wasna in favour o’ it, but Ikent it wud turn oot a’ richt. ’’Deed, ay! A splendit surprise!”
The door closed, and Donald turned to his father. Suddenly he laughed merrilv.
“Yes ;it was just a splendid surprise, father!” he said. “And now what shall
1 order for you and mother?”
“Well, Mildred,” remarked Sir Arthur, with a yawn, as the brougham took them homewards at a comparatively early hour, the theatre having been given up at Mildred’s suggestion. “Our friend Fergus came through that awkward experience fairly well, I must admit.”
“Yes,” said Mildred, absently.
“And it was really quite providential that the quaint old curios turned up when they did,” the baronet continued with a laugh. “It must have helped you to make up your mind. Wfcat?”
“Yes,” said Mildred, still more absently.
“And so to-morrow your answer to our good but badly-connected friend will be—”
“Yes,” said Mildred, once more,with
a contented little sigh.
The Newspapers of the Future
Robert Donald, Managing Editor of The Daily Chronicle, has been forecasting the future and prophesying what newspapers of twenty or more years hence are likely to be. His remarks, which were presented in his address to the British Institute of Journalists, of which he is President, have attracted a good deal of comment in Europe because of the standing and position he occupies.
His paper, The Daily Chronicle, is the leading Liberal paper of Great Britain and has in the last few years introduced more progressive and successful policies than probably any other paper in the United Kingdom. One of its latest developments is the delivery of papers 200 miles beyond London by motor car. His remarks, of course, on circulation, apply to the British home field only where they have perhaps 45,000,000. In Canada, a circulation of 50,000 would about equal the half million Mr. Donald speaks of. There are now several papers in Canada which are about or exceed that. Even MacLean’s Magazine is steadily approaching that figure.
In his prophesy on the localized and specialized newspapers he confirms a paper read before the Canadian Press Association some seventeen years ago.
Mr. Donald said:—“I would say with some confidence that daily newspapers will be fewer, the tendencies towards combinations will increase, and colossal circulations will continue to grow. A paper which has not at least a half million readers will not be considered seriously as an organ of the people. The weak newspapers which cannot spend huge sums on news, on features, and on circulation, will, of course, be squeezed out, and the paper run as a luxury or for a mission, and not as a business enterprise, will become too expensive except for millionaire idealists. There will, therefore, be fewer newspapers, but the total circulation will be greater. The power of the national journalistic dreadnoughts in moulding and influencing public opinion will not be less, in whatever direction their influence is exercised. Besides the national newspapers, giving an epitome of life, and presenting a human and picturesque side of news collected from all parts of the Kingdom and all ends of the earth, there will be localized newspapers which will follow the method of the national Press in presenting news. There will, I hope, be a revival of the purely local country newspapers, much improved in form and style, otherwise public life will suffer a serious loss. The more national newspapers become the less space will they give to sectional interests, and we shall have specialized daily newspapers, to take the place of the specialized weeklies which now exist.
The national newspapers will not contain less reading matter, but the pages will be smaller. They will be printed better and neatly stitched, and will, of course, include pictures in color. The future methods of distribution will be quicker, and circulations will cover
(Continued on page 112.)
(Continued from page 34.)
greater areas. Ai.” ships and aeroplanes will be used for the more distant centres; electric trains and motor ita.ns, running in special tracks, will be used. In all the chief centres of population papéis will be distributed by electric or pneumatic tubes. The morning and evening newspapers will be merged, and editions will come out almost every hour, day and night. News will be collected by wireless telephones, and the reporter will always have a portable telephone with him, with which be can communicate with his paper without the trouble of going to a telephone office, or writing out a message. At the other end the wireless telephone message will be delivered to the sub-editor printed in column form.
The chief competition to the national newspapers of the future will not be from other newspapers, but from other methods of disseminating news. At the people’s recreation halls, with the cinematograph and the gramaphone, or some more agreeable instrument of mechanical speech, all the news of the day will be given hot from its source. People may become too lazy to read, and news will he laid on to the house or office just as gas and water is now. The occupiers will listen to an account of the news of the day read to them by much improved phonographs while sitting in their garden, or a householder will have his daily newspaper printed in column form by a printing machine in his hall, just as we have tape machines in offices now. Judging from the trend of events, the next generation will see the activities of municipal and other public authorities very much extended. Their meetings, including committee meetings, must, of course, be public. Newspapers will not be able to report their proceedings. Municipalities will have to issue official gazettes, daily or weekly as the case may be. Government departments have already set an example within the next few years and Parliament now reports itself and issues daily Parliamentary journals which will be published at a half-penny and placed on the book stalls.
“Newspapers are taking piuch less notice of speeches in Parliament, and no one can know what the London County Council is doing from the reports in the Press. The one-sided way in which some papers already treat public authorities is another reason for the coming official gazettes. Clearly, every public body must have its own organ. The newspapers will act as watch dogs and critics of their proceedings and as a check to bureaucracy. One might think that I am overdrawing the possibility of invention and progress. No bounds can be put to progress. And the future is full of great possibilities. Everyone hopes the next generation will see the millions now wasted on wars and armaments let loose, and part of these colossal sums devoted to the promotion of science, the endowment of research, the spread of education, and the increase of social amenities.”