The Harmonious Child
In this story the “world’s greatest reporter” writes humorously and humanly of two pampered, but trammeled, youngsters, who wanted to be like other boys and girls.
SIR PHILIP GIBBS
BY ELEVEN o’clock in the morning a policeman took up his position outside Smith’s Hotel, Mayfair, and lined up the crowd—mostly women and press photographers—who were gazing with eager expectation at the first floor windows.
The policeman-—a young man with a goodhumored face above his chin-strap—addressed the women nearest to him with that mingling of authority and geniality which endears the London police to all citizens whose honesty is, for the moment, above suspicion.
“Now look here, ladies! It’s no use pushing. Notabit of good. Keep the pavement clear for passers-by. Now, Missy, stand back there!”
One of the ladies, a newcomer attracted by the crowd, asked a timid question.
“What are they all waiting for? Royalty?”
The policeman answered with a touch of humorous sarcasm.
“Royalty? I don’t think! It’s some music-hall brat. The Harmonious Child they call him in the papers. Gets a^hundred pounds a night for playing ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ or something. Silly, I call it.”
The timid lady received fuller information from a young woman standing next to her.
“It’s little Val Sheridan. Just back from America after his triumphal tour. Surely you’ve heard? He’s world famous! The child violinist. Better than Kreisler. And such a little dear! Devoted to his Teddy bear, like any simple child.”
Shrill cries rose suddenly from the crowd of women.
“There he is! . . .
Oh, isn’t he a darling!
. . . And there’s his Teddy bear! . . .
The press photographers surged forward.
There was the clicking of many shutters.
In the centre window on the first floor of Smith’s Hotel a small boy in a sailor suit with a shock of curly brown hair above a pale face stood staring down on the crowd. He was hugging a big Teddy bear.
From behind the curtains a man’s voice, unheard by the cheering crowd below, whispered to the boy—
“Smile! Smile! . . .
Wave your Teddy bear!”
THE small boy waved his Teddy bear by one leg and smiled, showing his teeth to the satisfaction of the press photographers who caught the flash of them. “The sunny smile of the Harmonious Child” was the caption of the
full page portrait in “The Daily Peepshow” which appeared on a million breakfast tables the following morning.
“Kiss your hand!” whispered the voice behind the curtain.
The Harmonious Child said “Damn!” It was unheard, fortunately, by the ladies who were still cheering in shrill voices and waving handkerchiefs.
Failing to kiss his hand, the small boy stepped back into the room, holding his Teddy bear by the right leg until he flung it away from him with a sudden gesture of rage and disgust. It lay in the corner, on the polished boards, crumpled up dejectedly with one leg over its head.
Inside the room the table was laid with breakfast things for four people. Empty egg shells and a crumb-strewn cloth showed that the meal had been finished, although the man who had whispered behind the curtains sat down again and drank a sip of cold coffee. He had a sharp featured, clean-shaven face and well oiled hair, and there
was a line of irritable amusement about hi* thin lips as he glanced at the boy who had done violence to the Teddy bear.
“Got out of bed the wrong way?” he asked. The boy’s face flushed, and he scowled moodily as he sat down on a deep sofa with his hands in his pockets and a thick lock of brown hair falling over his right eye.
“Why can’t people leave me alone for a bit?” he asked, in a low sullen voice.
The young man at the breakfast table laughed as he lit a cigaret and turned over a sheaf of press cuttings most of which bore the title of “The Harmonious Child,” and all of which contained portraits of “Little Val Sheridan with his Teddy bear.”
“It’s the penalty of genius,” he said, cheerfully. “The price of fame, laddie, which I, as your press agent do my best to encourage.”
“What’s the good of it?” asked the boy. “I hate being famous.”
The press agent shrugged his shoulders with a sign of impatience. There were times when he wanted to box the ears of the Harmonious Child whom he had boosted into fame by very careful and strenuous work in England and the United States. Of course the boy had real genius, brought out and educated by old Stefani, his music master —but it was due to Geoffrey Jennings, journalist and press agent, that little Val Sheridan was known throughout the world as the Harmonious Child, that his portrait
appeared in all the picture papers, that his Teddy bear was shown with him in the movies, that a thousand anecdotes about the simplicity, the unselfishness, the pluck, the childish charm of this wonder child were printed in the world’s press.
Lately the boy had been sulky and had failed to play the game as well as he ought to have done after so much coaching. He had let the cat out of the bag regarding his age to the lady correspondent of the “Woman’s World,” and had told her that he was fourteen last birthday, instead of the official ten which appeared on all the programs. Fortunately Geoffrey Jennings had been able to square the girl with genial winks and nods and an appeal to her sense of humor. Fourteen was an impossible age for “Little Val Sheridan.” He would have to remain ten, or at the most twelve, as long as he could appear on a platform in velveteen knickers and a silk shirt with a soft collar, to the great joy of all the women who immediately saw his likeness to Little Lord Fauntleroy
“I’m afraid you’re getting spoiled, dear child,” said Geoffrey Jennings, with a touch of sarcasm. “What more do you want, old boy?”
THERE was an underlying irritation in his voice, but he tried to conceal it by that “old boy.” After all. Val was earning ten thousand pounds a year, of which Geoffrey Jennings, his press agent, was getting ten per cent.
Some allowance must be made for his little tempers.
“I want to be—natural,” the boy said gloomily. “I don’t want lies told about me.”
“Not lies, dear child,” said the press agent. “Publicity,
He laughed with excellent good humor.
“I don’t want to get photographed every minute of the day. . . . I’m sick of it all . . . Dressed up like a silly baby!”
There were tears of rage in the boy’s eyes.
He dashed them away with the back of his hand.
Geoffrey Jennings glanced at him anxiously. He hoped the boy wasn’t unwell. It was necessary to keep him well until his London contract was fulfilled. Perhaps they had driven the boy a bit too hard. That American tour had been a triumph but tiring.
“You want a rest, laddie,” he said, cheerily. “After we’ve finished with London I’ll tell old Stefani to give you a rest. He works you hard because he’s proud of your genius.”
“Drat my genius!” cried the boy savagely. “One day I’ll kick my violin to bits. I wish I’d been born deaf!” These words were overheard by an old man who came into the room in a silk dressing-gown and bedroom slippers. He was a hook-nosed old man with a pointed white beard and a very pallid skin wrinkled deeply about his eyes which were bright and searching under shaggy brows.
“Vot is dat I hear?” he asked. “You vish you had been born deaf? Deaf to all dat glorious Gott-given harmony which I haf taught you to draw out wiv de sweep of your bow from de eternal melody of divine sound? Dat is de most terrible t’ing for a young lad to say! It is blasphemy!” “It’s true,” said the boy sullenly.
The old music master raised those thin bony hands which had taught the Harmonious Child to finger his strings, to hold his bow, to play deep notes with a rich full sound, to fiddle up and down the scale like a fairy dancing on gossamer. As a small boy Val had been terrified of those hands when he had first been taught by old Stefani, who called himself a German then, though afterwards he became a Pole. Now he was only frightened of them in his dreams. He was no longer frightened of old Stefani himself. That was a comfort!
Stefani was afraid of him, since one morning a month ago when he had threatened to break his violin across the old man’s head for daring to call him a little “Schweinhund.” That was when he had forgotten some bars of a Tchaikovsky symphony, though he had not really forgotten them but was only wondering why he should practise six hours a day to keep a press agent and a musical director and a drunken uncle who had adopted him after his mother and father had been drowned in the Lusitania.
“It is time we began our morning’s work,” said old Stefani. “Our audience to-night vill vish itself deaf if you do not blay better than yesterday. It vas a disgrace, my son! Ven I listened to you off de stage I blushed myself red. De Harmonious Child!" Ach, no! It vas some naughty little devil making mockery of all my teaching. Schrecklich 1”
'T'HAT was perfectly true. Val Sheridan knew that he had played badly—abominably, even. He was thinking that he would never play again in those idiotic baby clothes. He was fourteen years old. Almost a man. It was time he took a stand against all the nonsense that was written about him. The Harmonious Child ... ! What muck! . . .
“I vait for you, my son,” said the old man, impatiently. Val Sheridan felt the color rise to his face and his heart thump to a quicker beat. But he spoke the words which he meant to speak—very calmly.
“I’m not practising this morning. I’m going to get my hair cut . . . Short.”
The old man stared at him incredulously, and then with a sudden anger in his eyes.
“You are not bractising dis morning? You are going to get your hair cut—short? But I say you will bractise! It is necessary dat you bractise six, seven, eight hours.”
Val Sheridan shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m old enough to do what I like,” hesaid aggressiv« 'y.
Geoffrey Jennings, the press agent, intervened with a startled expression.
“What’s that about getting your hair cut? Good Heavens! It would spoil the whole game. People wouldn’t listen to you with short hair. You might just as well cut your throat as that mop of hair, laddie. Think of the press photographers! Think of the ladies! No, I’m damned if you do!”
“It gets into my eyes,” said the boy. “It’s ridiculous. Everyone grins at me when I walk down the street . . . I intend to get my hair cut.”
He spoke with a nervous gulp in his throat.
“De boy has gone daft,” said the old music master. “America has turned his brains. Ever since ve vent to de United States I can do noding vid him. He mock at me. He insult me. He menace to break my poor old head. Der is only von t’ing possible. A great big stick. Spare de rod and spoil de child, dis damn little Harmonious Child whose genius I make.”
The old man’s eyes blazed with anger. He raised one of his hands, a long, bony hand, as though it held a stick, and made imaginary slashes with it, as though flogging the boy in front of him.
“Yes,” said the press agent. “Boys who won’t play the game must be taught to play the game ... A jolly good thrashing, laddie, if you dare to let a pair of scissors touch that hair of yours!”
“If you don’t let me get my hair cut, I won’t play tonight,” said Val Sheridan. “The audience won’t see their Harmonious Child, I can tell you that! He’ll be jumping on his fiddle behind the stage.”
Those words, spoken rather breathlessly, with the grim determination of a boy fighting for some passionate purpose, seemed to frighten old Stefani and the press agent. They were silent for a moment and looked at each other with amazement and alarm. Old Stefani’s hand trembled as he plucked at his thin white beard.
“Look here,” said Jennings, weakly, “if you’ll be a good 'little chap and do as we want you to do, I’ll give you anything you’ve taken a fancy to. How about a new wrist watch, or—or a knife with six blades—or a gold pencil case?”
“I want to get my hair cut,” said the boy.
Mr. Jennings breathed hard, and a dark flush spread over his clean-shaven face.
“Then you jolly well won’t!” he said, harshly.
HE STRODE over to the boy and seized him by the white collar of his sailor suit. His nerves were all on edge. He was getting a little tired of this boy prodigy whom he had “boosted” into fame.
“Come and do your practising with Mr. Stefani, or I’ll box your ears, you spoilt little imp!”
Val Sheridan breathed hard, struggled in Mr. Jennings, grip.
“Let me go! If you dare to touch me I’ll smash the place down.”
Mr. Jennings cuffed the boy soundly on both sides of his head and tried to drag him across the room. There were no photographers present to record that incident in the life of the Harmonious Child.
The boy struggled like an eel, fought desperately, clung to the nearest object, which was the tablecloth cn the breakfast table. Plates, tea-cups, saucers, coffee-pot, and the paraphernalia of an elegant breakfast in Smith’s Hotel, crashed to the polished boards in cne sweep of destruction.
It sobered Mr. Jennings,^and left him pale.
“Very well,” he said icily. “We’ll leave you to your tantrums. Perhaps when you feel better—”
He was afraid he had gone too far with the boy. Foolish to lose his temper like that!
He beckoned to old Stefani who had raised his hands to Heaven at the awful smash. They went out of the room gloomily—scared looking.
The Harmonious Child stood amid the wreckage he had made in the best suite of the most respectable hotel in London. His hair was in wild disorder and his face was flushed. He panted after that struggle, and gave a quick sob of rage. Then he listened to footsteps coming down the corridor outside the room. There was a fumbling at the lock of the door, followed by a click. Someone had locked him in. The footsteps went away again and he recognized the quick step of Geoffrey Jennings. The boy waited for a moment, and then went to the door and turned the handle. Yes, he was locked in! A prisoner!
The color ebbed from his face, and his lips trembled as though he might cry. Then he went to the window and drew the curtain a little on one side as he looked out for a way of escape. Down the street the crowd of women had mostly disappeared, and there was only one group of five or six women gazing up at the window. They caught sight of him and one lady waved her handkerchief. He drew back sharply but heard words spoken in a shrill voice.
“Isn’t he a little darling? . . . Devoted to his Teddy bear, they say!”
That reminder of the Teddy bear seemed to enrage the boy in the locked room. He went over to the object which he had hurled into the corner of the room after his first appearance at the window, and kicked it savagely. It seemed to be the symbol of all the lie and sham of his boy’s life which press agents and photographers and newspaper reporters had thrust upon him.
Other boys played games, slouched around in old clothes, and wore their hair short. Why should he practise six hours a day and dress like Little Lord Fauntleroy, and have cameras clicked in his face every time he went for a walk, or stood on a balcony, or appeared in public? He wouldn’t do it any more. He’d rather die than go on like that.
TTE WENT to the window again and peeped out and waited until the last of the women had passed down the street, tired of waiting to catch a glimpse of him. He saw his uncle come up the steps of the hotel with a tall hat at a rakish angle over his right eye, and swinging a silver-knobbed stick with a jaunty air. He had been to have his first cocktail after breakfast as the boy knew from long experience of his uncle’s habits. By dinner time he would be fuddled, as usual, and in the hotel dining-room would begin to talk loudly of the enormous fees earned by his dear little boy, so that everybody would stare over at their table.
Then he would quarrel with Geoffrey Jennings, or insult old Stefani with boisterous good humor, until later on he would become maudlin and indulge in self-pity because his own genius as an artist went unrecognized and he had to travel round with a child who was the plague of his life and most ungrateful for all his sacrifice . . . A few minutes later the boy heard his uncle’s voice in the next room, and Geoffrey Jennings talking excitedly, and old Stefani shouting. They were holding a council of war. They were angry and alarmed.
The boy opened the window very softly and stepped out on to the balcony while the wind blew his shock of hair wildly. No one seemed to be watching him from the street below where there was a swirl of taxi cabs. The balcony stretched the whole length of Smith’s Hotel, divided by stone parapets, and he climbed over two of
these partitions until he stood opposite the windows of another suite of rooms. They were inhabited, he knew, by the girl with red hair who had exchanged smiles with him in the lounge downstairs.*
He had rather liked the look of her because of her boisterous ways and her comical sulkiness with a thinlipped governess who tried to prevent her from eating too many cakes and sitting with her legs curled up in one of the big armchairs and rushing about with the hotel kitten. Once she had made a grimace at the governess behind her back and Val had caught her eyes and they had laughrd together in an understanding way. He had wanted to talk to her but had not had a chance. But he had watched her coming out on the balcony sometimes and floating bits of paper twisted into the shape of airplanes so that they were wafted on the breeze until they fluttered down on to the heads of the passers-by. This game, watched enviously by a boy practising his violin, was generally interrupted by the shrill and angry voice of the thin-lipped governess.
“Come in this minute, Beatrice! Can’t you learn to behave like a little lady? Come back to your French lesson. I insist!”
The boy hoped the governess would be out of the way this morning. If he could get in at the window of the redhaired girl he could slip downstairs and get out of the hotel without being noticed by his own people. There would be a fine surprise for them when they came to unlock his door . . .
He peered through the closed window and saw Beatrice, as the governess called her, sitting at a table with a number of books in front of her. But she did not seem to be reading them. She was cutting up some paper with a big pair of scissors. Probably she was making some of her airplanes for another game on the balcony.
The boy tapped at the window and called out quietly. After the second tap the red-haired girl looked up, startled. Then she jumped up from the table and came to the window and looked out with her face so close to the glass that the end of her nose was flattened.
“What do you want?” she called out.
“I’ll tell you when you let me in. Hurry up!”
“My governess would be very annoyed if I let in a strange boy, even though you are the Harmonious Child. She would think it Most Improper!”
The boy was abashed by this reference to his newspaper name and blushed angrily.
“I’m not the Harmonious Child. If you call me that I’ll smash the window and come in anyhow.”
The red-haired girl withdrew the tip of her nose from the window-pane, and smiled.
“I’d like to see you smash the window! It would make a jolly old row. It would be like a picture in the movies.
Only you’d cut your hand and make the balcony rather messy with your blood.
Perhaps I’ll let you in after all.”
She undid the catch of the window and opened it Prom the bottom so that there was no glass between her and the boy and they could talk without shouting so much.
“Where’s your governess?” asked the boy, anxiously.
“Gone shopping, thank goodness,” said the girl.
“I’m left in peace for a little while. I’m supposed to be learning French.”
She gave a comical laugh as though that were an excellent joke.
* I "'HE boy put his leg over *■ the window sill and climbed inside the room, after an anxious glance at the street below. No one seemed to have noticed that scene on the balcony . . .
He drew a deep breath of relief, followed by a nervous laugh. It was rather a joke.
His uncle and old Stefani, and Geoffrey Jennings had lost their Harmonious Child.
“What’s the joke, little boy?” asked the red-haired girl, with a smile.
“I’m not a little boy,” said Val Sheridan. “I was fourteen last birthday. I’m almost a man.”
The girl looked at him critically.
“You’re very small for your age. And why do you wear your hair like that and dress in a sailor suit with short socks?”
It was evident that she did not believe that statement abou his age.
“Because I’ve been made to,” answered the boy bitterly.
“The papers say you’re ten years old,” said the girl. “I read it in a picture paper this morning underneath your portrait.”
“The papers are full of lies. I know because of all the lies they’ve told about me. I’m not a bit like they make me out to be. None of those things happened which they tell about me, unless I let them arrange it all.”
Then he announced the most important fact in his life.
“I’m going to have my hair cut.”
“It is a bit long,” said the red-haired girl.
“And I’m going to buy a decent suit of clothes, with trousers.”
The girl regarded him gravely.
“You won’t look so pretty,” she remarked, “but of course if you’re really fourteen it’s about time you gave up dressing like a baby. Your name’s Val, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said the boy. “Val Sheridan. You’re Beatrice, aren’t you?”
“Quite correct,” said the girl. “Lady Beatrice Tilford, if you want it all. My father and mother are in India. My father’s a General, you know. And I’m twelve and very troublesome. That’s why I was sent home with Miss Jenner to learn how to behave like a little lady before going to a boarding school in Surrey where I’m going to be very miserable and cry my eyes out. So now you know all about me.”
“Is Miss Jenner unkind to you?” asked Val with a sudden feeling of sympathy for this girl of twelve, who looked older than himself and was two inches taller. Like himself, perhaps, she was under the tyranny of grown-up people.
“Severe!” said Beatrice, judicially. “Of course I’m very annoying to her sometimes. I do everything I oughtn’t to do and leave undone the things I ought to do.
It’s my nature. I was born like that. I have a spirit of adventure, you know.”
Val Sheridan regarded her with admiration.
“It’s fine to be like that,” he said. “I’ve been too tame.. If something hadn’t burst inside me I should have been spoiled for life.”
“How spoiled?” asked Lady Beatrice Tilford.
“Become a goody-goody, all nerves and self-conceit, and all that. A musical prodigy, you know.”
Lady Beatrice nodded her head as though she understood perfectly.
“The sort of creature Miss Jenner adores.”
“Well, I’ll have to be going,” said the boy nervously. “Thanks for letting me through the window.”
“Going where?” asked Beatrice.
Val smiled and blushed a little.
“I’m not sure exactly. I’m cutting off. Do ng a bunk, if you know what that means.”
Lady Beatrice seemed to know what it meant.
“Doing a bunk? That sounds very exciting. Who from? Where to?”
“I’m bunking off from the people who call me the Harmonious Child. I’ll take the train somewhere and then tramp into the country. I’ve got a bit of money. When that’s gone I’ll find some work to do. On a farm or something.”
Lady Beatrice Tilford opened her eyes wide and gazed at the boy with renewed interest and an awakening of admiration.
“That sounds a jolly kind of adventure. Perfectly topping!”
She glanced towards the window through which the sun was shining and then at the pile of books on the table and then at the boy again, as though a tremendous idea were at work under her red hair.
“Why shouldn’t I come with you?” she asked, rather breathlessly.
“Good Lord, no,” said the boy, in a startled way.
“Why shouldn’t I do a bunk from Miss Jenner and avoid that silly old High School for Young Gentlewomen?”
The boy was taken aback. Certainly it would be very pleasant to have a companion on his new adventure, but somehow he didn’t quite see what he should do with this red-haired girl while on his travels.
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t work,” he said. “You haven’t been used to tramping. I expect you’ve lived in hotels mostly.”
“So have you!” said Beatrice, not to be put off by trivial arguments like that. “That’s why the idea appeals to me. I’ve always wanted to live like a gipsy. The open road and all that. I love books about life like that. Besides”—she gave a squeal of laughter — “it would be such a shock to Miss Jenner! To come back and find me gone, with a little note in my French exercise book.” She thought out the note there and then.
“Dear Miss Jenner — Grateful as I am for your tuition, I have decided to give up the hopeless task of trying to behave like a little lady. I am going to be a gipsy. With kind regards believe me, yours sincerely -—Beatrice Tilford.”
THIS idea having taken possession of her, she rushed to the table and wrote the letter in one of her exercise books and tucked it into her book of French grammar.
“Come on,” she said, to the boy, “hadn’t we better start on this adventure?”
“I don’t think you’d better,” said the boy. “I shall have to rough it, you know. I expect I’ll have to starve.” There was a slight quiver in his voice.
“Oh, if you’re getting frightened!” said Lady Beatrice, scornfully.
That was a nasty jab at his pride. He protested that he was not getting frightened in the least, but he Continued on page 57
Continued from page 13
didh’t want her to come with the idea that it was going to be a life of luxury.
“It’s going to be very amusing,” said Beatrice. “Perhaps I’d better take a few things for future use.”
“What kind of things?” asked Val, somewhat surprised by this idea. It had never occurred to him that he ought to carry any luggage.
“Well,” said Lady Beatrice, in her practical way, “one can’t go into the wide world without possessions. Besides I don’t want Miss Jenner to prig all my treasures. Just you wait a minute, little boy, while I grab what I want. There’s my manicure set, and my gold bracelet, and the wrist watch father gave me last birthday . . . and I think I’ll take ‘The Three Musketeers,’ in case we have time to do a bit of reading—and I think a tooth brush and a comb would come in handy— and I don’t think I could really leave the kitten behind, now I come to think of it. I’m so frightfully fond of it, poor little beast.”
SHE rushed into the next room. In a few minutes she reappeared with the kitten in her arms and a very elegant traveling bag.
“I’ll carry the kitten,” she said, “and you’ll carry the bag.”
The bag was quite heavy. She had evidently stuffed it full of “treasures”— more than she had enumerated in her first suggestion.
The boy tried its weight, and was rather dismayed.
“We shan’t be able to walk far with this,” he said.
Lady Beatrice Tilford thought it was quite all right. When they got tired they could take a cab or hire a motorcar. Or some friendly soul would give them a lift in a farm cart. And anyhow, she said, if Val were fourteen he was old enough to carry a bag for a lady friend.
Val was scared when they went downstairs lest he should encounter Geoffrey Jennings or old Stefani or his dissolute uncle. But they managed to reach a taxi without being observed.
“Tell him to drive to a good railway station,” Beatrice said. “I think Waterloo would do very nicely.”
Through the taxi window the Harmonious Child saw Smith’s Hotel disappeaiing from view, and he had one lightning glimpse of his uncle coming down the steps on his way to his second cocktail with Geoffrey Jennings, the press agent.
He drew a deep breath and spoke to Beatrice.
“I want to get my hair cut and buy a pair of trousers.”
“Personally,” answered Lady Beatrice Tilford, “I could do with a little lunch. It’s two hours since I had breakfast and I think a Bath bun would be very pleasant.” This proposal worked out very well for the boy. While Beatrice was diinking chocolate and eating a Bath bun in the restaurant at Waterloo, wheie she attracted the friendly attention of all the waitresses by feeding the kitten out of a 'saucer of milk, the boy darted into the hair-dressing saloon and was directed to an empty chair by a young man in a white coat.
“I want my hair cut,” said the boy, trying to restrain his emotion.
“Well, there’s a lot of it!” said the barber, putting his fingers through the tangled shock. He glanced at the boy’s pale face reflected in the looking-glass. It seemed to awaken some memory, and he stared harder, and looked surprised.
“Isn’t your photo in all the papers?” he asked. “The musical wonder? What do they call him? The Harmonious Child!” He laughed and peered sideways at Val, and noticed his sailor suit.
“You’ve made a mistake,” said the boy, blushing deeply. “It’s not me . . . I want it short, please.”
“Well, that’s queer!” said the young hair-dresser. “I was looking at your photo this morning, sailor suit and all, and thinking I’d like to hear that youngster. I play the piano a bit myself—”
“I’m in rather a hurry,’’ said the boy, nervously. “If you don’t mind cutting my hair—short.”
THE man cut it short. As his brown curls fell off in a rich harvest, the boy felt a sense of immense liberation. It was as though all the fraud and sham of that
Harmonious Child had fallen from him too. Every snip of the scissors made him more like a real boy. He was no longer the Harmonious Child adored by silly women, snapped by all the cameras, stared at in restaurants and public places.
“My mistake, of course,” said the young hair-dresser after this operation, “but all the same, with those sailor clothes, you know—”
Val paid the hair-dresser his price, tipped him a shilling, and hurried out. He felt very cold about the head, almost bald, but the feel of the cool air was wonderfully good. He felt grown up.
He hurried out of the station which was crowded with holiday folk, and searched around for a shop where he might get a ready-made. suit. One stood waiting for him, next to a ham and beef shop, and a young Jew who saw him staring at some clothes hanging in the window came outside and spoke to him.
“Nice jacket this morning? Very cheap! Ready-mades or second-hands. Fit any size. Thirty bob, and a bargain. Young gentlemen’s school outfits. Knickers twelve-and-six.”
“I want a pair of trousers,” said Val. The Jew soon produced a suit that pleased Val and he stepped inside and tried it on. He was astounded at his own appearance as the young Jew turned him round before the pier glass. He looked just like crowds of boys whom he had seen and envied along the streets.
“How much, please?” askec^Val. “I want to leave my other clothes.”
He felt extremely self-conscious in • those long trousers for_ which he had yearned as a young squire might have craved for the armor of knighthood.
“Well, make it thirty and call it a bargain,” said the Jew. “Throwing it away, but the stock bad to be cleared.” Val paid over the thirty shillings. It left him with nine pounds ten for future life, including the expenses of Lady Beatrice Tilford who was waiting for him in the station restaurant. At the thought of her and the time he had kept her waiting, he ran back into the station at such a pace that he nearly knocked over an old lady, so that he had to stop and apologize.
For a moment Beatrice did not recognize him. She stared at him, looking him up and down from his bullet head to his upturned trouser ends. Then the light of recognition dawned in her eyes.
“Good gracious! You do look comical. Like a country boy. Miss Jenner would be shocked if she saw us together. You’re not a bit like the Harmonious Child.”
“Thank goodness for that,” said Val. “You’ve kept me a most frightful time,” complained Béatrice. “We’d better be going, hadn’t we? And by the bye, where are we going?”
VAL hadn’t the faintest idea. He knew of no place on the Waterloo line. He suggested they should choose a place with a pleasant kind of name, and Beatrice thought that was a very good idea. After studying a signboard which gave the times of departure for the day’s trains, Beatrice decided that Guildford sounded rather attractive. She consulted a porter on the subject. “A nice old town, Missy/’ said the porter, grinning at her. “Countrified round about. And no wild animals that I’ve heard tell of.”
“That sounds very nice,” said Lady Beatrice Tilford.
The journey to Guildford was uneventful. They sat alone in a first class compartment and Beatrice divided her time between looking out of the window and playing with the kitten. She seemed to have put her past life behind her very easily, with Miss Jenner and the French leçsons and all the rest of it, and to have no fears for the future. Val was conscious of excitement and anxiety. He was also troubled by the prick of conscience.
THERE would be terrible scenes in Smith’s Hotel when they discovered his flight. Geoffrey Jennings would rave. Old Stefani would tear his beard and raise his bony old hand to Heaven. Uncle Dick would get drunk and shed tears. They would have to cancel his appearance at the Coliseum. Val supposed the people would get their money back. He wondered what he should do when he had spent all his money. He might get a job on a farm, or something like that, but it would be rather awkward if he couldn't get a job. In any case he was certain that Beatrice wouldn’t like roughing it.
“I say,” he said, presently, "don t you
think we had better discuss plans, and all that? What’s going to happen when we get to Guildford for instance?”
“The future will shape itself,” said Beatrice, as though quoting from a book. “Personally I propose to go in search of adventure. We may meet it on the King’s highway, or we may encounter it in a leafy bye-path. In any case it will be extremely amusing. It’s a far, far better way than pandering to the morbid respectability of Miss Jenner.”
For a girl of twelve Lady Beatrice Tilford used very long words and had certainly read many romantic novels.
At Guildford when they left the station, the effect of a cup of chocolate and a Bath bun had worn off, and Beatrice decided that she was hungry again. Val admitted that he was also in need of food. They went into the Lion, which seemed a very respectable place, and consumed a large meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with two vegetables, followed by jam roll. The head waiter attended to them himself. He was a benevolent-looking old gentleman who, according to Beatrice, bore a remarkable likeness to Mr. Lloyd George.
She inquired of this distinguished old gentleman whether there was much doing in the way of adventure round about Guildford.
The old man’s eyes twinkled, but he answered gravely.
“Quite a lot, Miss. Especially on early closing days. Are you looking for any particular kind of adventure?”
“I thought perhaps there might be a few gipsies about,” said Beatrice in a casual way.
“There certainly are, Miss,” said the old gentleman. “But if I were you I’d steer clear of the likes of them. Nasty dirty, thieving people, most of them!”
“Oh, no!” said Beatrice. “You’re prejudiced, you know. I’ve read all about gipsies, and you’d be surprised to know what nice people they are. Of course they’re not respectable, but that's nothing. Personally I hate respectability.”
The head waiter said, “I’m surprised, Miss. You alarm me!”
But he seemed more amused than alarmed, and after brushing some crumbs off the table, went over to one of the other waiters and whispered behind his hand with laughter in his eyes.
“What’s your idea about gipsies?” asked Val anxiously.
Beatrice asserted that it was a pretty good idea. She was even inclined to call it an inspiration.
“If we can find some gipsies, we can offer to join their tribe. You can play the violin and I can dance, so that we shall be worth their while to adopt. Then they’ll provide us with food and we can sleep in the caravans at night, and have a perfectly wonderful time. No more French lessons! No more arithmetic! No need to behave like a little lady, and after a bit I’ll marry the Gipsy Leader and become the Gipsy Queen.”
VAL considered the idea, and didn’t like it. Especially that bit about marrying the Gipsy Leader.
“They’re a low lot,” he said. “Don’t wash much. And I’m blowed if I’d let you marry one of them.”
“Not let me?” she exclaimed. “Who are you, little boy, to prevent me doing anything I like?”
Val colored up to the tips of his ears. To be called “little boy” by a girl two years younger than himself was very damaging to bis pride, now that he had short hair and long trousers. , „ ,
“I thought we were pals, he said. “We’ve got to be, you know, now we’re together like this.”
She thought the matter over, and decided that there was something in what he said, but not so much as he imagined.
“Pals, of course,” she admitted. “Fellow adventurers on the broad highway and all that. But you mustn’t say you won’t let me do this or you won’t let me do that. That’s like Miss Jenner. And I’m very self-willed, you know.”
“That’s all right,” said Val humbly.
He hoped she wouldn’t get cross. That would spoil everything.
He paid for the lunch and tipped the old waiter half a crown, which he hoped was enough. Geoffrey Jennings had done all the paying in hotels, so that Val had not learned the way of money.
They set out on their walk to adventure, Beatrice holding the kitten, Val carrying the elegant hand bag. Beatrice was charmed with the old High Street of
Guildford, and stared in at the book shops and bought a picture postcard which she decided to send anonymously to Miss Jenner. “From an unknown friend . . . Beware!” Now that she had left Misa Jenner for ever she was inclined to be forgiving.
Presently they took to the open country up a long straight road which seemed to stretch away for ever. On each side of it the countryside could be seen for miles, lying below, with little villages nestling in bowery trees, and church spires pointing heavenwards, and haystacks beside dark old bams, all bathed in the sunshine
of a June day. _ _ . . „
“Much better than Smith s Hotel, said Beatrice. “It’s almost as good as a picture postcard!” . .
“Grand,” agreed Val. “This is where people lead a real life. I’d like to be a farmer’s boy in one of those villages.
He panted a little and set down the bag to rest a minute and gaze over the scene, while Beatrice put the kitten down and made it run after a long straw which she trailed before it. ., _T , ,
“It’s like music, said Val, when she
came back to him. .
“What’s like music?” asked Beatrice. “I hear nothing except the humming of bees, and an old cock crowing ”
“If I had my violin,” said Val, I could make it play some of all this. A summer’s day—and the song of the fields.”
For a moment he was stricken with remorse that he had left his violin behind. Although he had hated practising he could never get music out of his mind. All pictures suggested songs to him. All kinds of beauty and happiness made him think in melody. Perhaps one day he would buy a cheap violin somewhere, and start playing
again, just to amuse himself. ;
“Let’s find an adventure,” said Beatrice “In one of those little villages down there. I’m getting tired of this old road.”
VAL was getting tired of her hand bag.
But he said nothing about it and plodded on. Beatrice did not plod. She ran and skipped and danced, and sang little songs to herself, and picked wild flowers and let them fall again.
Presently she saw that Val was lagging, and became sarcastic.
“You’re not much of a walker, are
^°“it’s this blooming bag,” said Val, rather breathlessly. “It weighs a ton. What on earth have you got inside it?
“It’s probably the books,” said Beatrice. “I couldn’t bear to leave them behind.” , , _T ,
“What books?” asked Val.
“Hans Andersen’s ‘Fairy Tales,’ ‘Puck of Pooks Hill,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘The Broad Highway,’ and the last volume of the ‘Boy’s Own
“Good Heavens!” cried Val. “No wonder it’s a weight!”
“I’m afraid you’re a weakling, said Beatrice. “You’ll never make a hero, Val. Not unless you develop your muscles.” Those words annoyed the boy. He felt angry with her. She treated him as though he were a porter or a page boy. He was so silent for the next mile that she noticed it and began to tease him
about it. . . . .
“Strong silent man! A penny for your thoughts.” , ,. , .
Val refused to reveal his thoughts. They were chiefly directed to abusing the bag. Presently he stumbled and said “Damn!”
“Grumpy!” she cried. "And it’s to bad to let you do all the hard work though you are a boy of fourteen and I a frail thing of twelve. Let me give you a hand, comrade!”
She took hold of the handle and they held it together and trudged on again. But very soon afterwards Beatrice wcâkcnëd*
“There’s only one thing to do,” she
8ai“What’s that?” asked Val.
“Throw our babies to the wolves.”
Val did not quite follow her meaning until she undid the bag and took out her books.
“We’ll scatter literature to the four winds,” she said. “Perhaps some passing soul—some simple peasant boy—will find inspiration to noble deeds or glorious dreams. Good-by, dear ‘Puck of Pools Hill.’ You’ve got to go!”
She pitched the book into a hawthorn hedge. The last volume of the “Boy’s Own Paper” fell heavily into the wayside
ditch. Hans Andersen’s “Fairy Tales” was placed more carefully on a big stone by the side of a stile which led down to a little farm. She bid “Peter Pan” under some bushes. After a prolonged mental struggle she decided to keep “The Three Musketeers” as she had reached an exciting part about Milady and wanted to finish it.
_Yal breathed a sigh of relief when he picked up the hand bag again. The weight of those books had nearly broken his spirit.
They walked on again through several villages where the folk gazed after them with smiling eyes, and at one of them they stopped to have tea in a cottage garden where a party of motorists sat at little tables beyond a pergola thickly twined with rambler roses.
After tea Val again took up the hand bag and followed by Beatrice and the kitten trudged along the highway.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he said after they had gone a little distance. “We’ll make a camp for the night in that field down there. I’ll light a fire and we’ll buy some food in a village shop and have a picnic meal before it gets dark. Perhaps we can find a haystack and sleep under the shelter of it.”
BY THIS time Beatrice was limping a little and very cross but all her ill temper vanished at Val’s suggestion.
“That’s a ripping idea!” she said. “We’ll make a roaring fire, and I’ll tell you fairy tales before we go to sleep. I’ll lend you the kitten and pretend you’re Dick Whittington. And I’ll be a Gipsy Queen telling your fortune and prophesying your mysterious future . . .
‘Turn again, Whittington,
. Thou worthy citizen,
Lord Mayor of London!’ ”
In a village shop they bought a tin of sardines, a loaf of bread, some chocolate creams, half a pound of plum cake, and a box of matches for lighting the fire. Beatrice added to the magnificence of this banquet by buying a basket of strawberries with her iast shilling.
All would have gone well but for a change in the weather. They found a haystack in a meadow which sloped down to a stream and there were plenty of twigs lying about for making an excellent fire. But no sooner had they begun their preparations than a heavy drizzle of rain made the twigs wet so that not all their blowing and coaxing could get them to burn. Worse still, the drizzle increased to a steady downpour, and although they took refuge under a leafy tree which kept them dry for a time, the leaves presently began to drip on them and Val was aware that his new coat and trousers were not waterproof. He could feel the rain soaking through, while Beatrice’s white frock became all soppy.
Batrice sneezed loudly three times, and Val saw that she was shivering.
“I’m certain to catch my death of cold!” she cried. “Miss Jenner would have a fit if she saw me now.”
She was on the verge of tears, but gave a gulp of laughter at the thought of Miss Jenner discovering her in this appalling state writh a strange boy under a dripping tree by a wet haystack and a fire that wouldn’t burn.
“There’s no fun in this,” said Val, miserably. “We’d better go and search for shelter. Look! There’s a cottage over there with a light in the window.”
“So there is!” cried Beatrice, joyfully. But for a moment a shadow of fear touched her and she clasped Val’s arm.
“I say! Suppose there’s an old witch there, or wicked people?”
“Pooh!” said Val. “Now it’s you that are getting afraid.” But he shivered a little and felt cowardice creeping upon him.
“Afraid?” cried Beatrice indignantly. “A General’s daughter and afraid? Certainly not! I was only trying to make your flesh creep, little boy.” But her hand was cold when he took it.
Together they went towards the cottage, and after reconnoitering a moment, walked through a crazy old gate and knocked at the door.
A dog said “Woof!”
A moment later they heard footsteps crossing a stone floor and a man’s voice say “Down, boy!” to the dog. Then the door was opened by a young man with untidy hair, a pipe in his mouth, and a friendly smile.
“Hullo!” he said, as though surprised to see them.
“Good evening!” said Val in a shaky voice. “The fact is we’re rather wet and we’re looking for shelter somewhere.” “Wet, certainly,” said the young man with the untidy hair. “Come in. Share my supper with me.”
He called to some invisible person behind the door.
“Mrs. Brown, lay supper for three.” The invisible Mrs. Brown did not seem astonished by this sudden command. Perhaps the young man made a habit of inviting strangers to supper.
“Very good, sir,” she replied amiably. “Before we come in,” said Beatrice politely, “I should be much obliged if you would warn your dog that I’ve got a kitten with me.”
The young man raised his eyebrows a little and spoke to his dog.
“Pete, you old ruffian! There’s a kitten coming to supper. Behave yourself.”
“Thank you,” said Beatrice. “Now we’ll come in.”
SHE stepped into a little low room with black beams across the ceiling, and some funny old mugs on the mantel-shelf, and a bookcase with a lot of old books, and some old-fashioned chairs arranged round an oak table. It all looked very cosy after the wet field underneath the wet trees.
“Perhaps we ought to introduce ourselves,” said Beatrice. “It’s a little awkward because we’ve run away and are traveling incognito. In fact we wish to remain anonymous.”
The young man with the untidy hair and the pleasant smil? looked from Val to Beatrice and made a comical noise in his throat. But he answered gravely.
“Any old names will do. Mine is Guy Prichard, at your service.”
“For the time being,” said Beatrice, “I am calling myself Virginia Delamere. It’s the heroine of a short story I made up once.”
“Glad to meet you, Miss Delamere,” said Mr. Guy Prichard, “and your
“Oh, it’s not my brother,” said Beatrice quickly. “It’s only my traveling companion, Dick Whittington.”
“Good evening, Dick,” said the young man cheerily. “I hope you’ve got an appetite for toad-in-the-hole. Mrs. Brown makes it to perfection, and it’s an economical way of using up an old joint. I have to be economical brcause since the Great War, of which you may have heard, I have failed to make much money. It may interest you to know that I’m an unsuccessful author. I write books but nobody ever reads them.”
Beatrice was thrilled.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever met a real author,” she said. “Do you write novels or dull books?”
“Novels,” said the young man. “But rather dull, I’m afraid.”
Beatrice’s desire for further conversation of a literary kind was interrupted by Mrs. Brown, a large sized lady with a white apron over her dress, who came in from a room which smelled like the kitchen, a warm and appetizing smell.
“Good gracious!” she cried, “those poor mites are wet to the skin. They’ll catch their deaths of cold if they don’t change their clothes this very minute.” The young man regarded Beatrice’s bedraggled frock with troubled eyes, and put his hand on Val’s wet jacket.
“True enough!” he said. “But what’s to be done about it? I could fix up Mr. Dick Whittington in one of my old suits, but I haven’t a spare frock for Miss Virginia Delamere. Very thoughtless of a literary man not to keep a decent wardrobe for cases like this.”
Mrs. Brown rose to the occasion, good will solving all difficulties.
“I’ll put the little lady into one of my skirts,” she said. “ ’Ealth before fashion is my motto . . . Come into the kitchen, lovey. I’ll soon make you warm and dry.”
MR. GUY PRICHARD’S two guests would have surprised anybody but an unsuccessful author when they sat down to share his toad-in-the-hole. Val Sheridan was less like the Harmonious Child than ever before. In one of Guy Prichard’s second-best suits he had the appearance of a scareerow which had been out in the fields for some time. The trousers tucked up at the ends fell in concertina shape about his legs. The sleeves of an old brown jacket came far below his hands so that he had to tuck
them up like the ends of the trousers.
Beatrice was richly enveloped in Mrs. Brown’s black skirt. The waist was tied under her arms but that was hardly noticeable because she wore one of Mrs. Brown’s silk blouses, very ample in chest measurement. Beatrice’s screams of mirth in the kitchen while that change of dress was taking place had been a comfort to Val’s sensitive and selfconscious nature, and Guy Prichard’s roars of laughter when she made a dramatic appearance at the door of his sitting room and curtsied like a lady of the early Victorian age, relieved Val’s hideous embarrassment at the absurdity of his own appearance.
But Mr. Guy Prichard helped'to put him at his ease by friendly conversation. Never before had Val met anyone who talked to him like this on terms of equality as man to man. Never once did this writer of books treat him as though he were a baby, or a Harmonious Child. Beatrice was excited and happy. “This is a most romantic adventure,” she remarked over her plateful of toadin-the-hole. “I think I should like to stay here all my life. It’s such a sweet little cottage, and Mrs. Brown is so much nicer than Miss Jenner.”
“May I ask who Miss Jenner may be?” asked Guy Prichard politely.
Beatrice flushed slightly, and then laughed.
“I nearly let the cat out of the bag! Miss Jenner is my dark secret. She belongs to my mysterious past.”
A cuckoo clock on the mantel-shelf struck the hour of eight, and Val Sheridan felt himself get red in the face. He had a queer sense of fear at the pit of his stomach. At that hour he ought to have been standing on the platform of the London Coliseum in a suit of velveteen with a white silk shirt, bowing and smiling to the audience while he brushed back a shock of long hair before drawing his bow across the strings. He could almost hear the rustle of programs, and the laughs and sneezes in the auditorium, and old Stefani’s whispers in the wings, and the tuning up of the orchestra below.
“You’re very quiet, Vál—Dick, I mean,” said Beatrice.
Val muttered something inaudible, and blushed again more deeply when he saw that Mr. Prichard’s eyes were fixed on his face with a smile of understanding.
“Have you two adventurers any definite plans?” Mr. Prichard asked. “Where are you going to sleep to-night, for instance? It’s still raining cats and dogs. Listen!”
They listened, and heard the ram driving against the window panes, and pattering on the garden path.
“Surely,” said Beatrice calmly, “you’re not going to turn us out on a night like this? What’s the matter with this cottage? Val and I—Dick, I mean—can sleep very comfortably in this room. The hearth rug for me. Val—Dick, I mean—can have that big armchair.” Mr. Guy Prichard permitted himself a short laugh.
“I dare say we can do better than that. If you don’t mind sharing Mrs. Brown’s bed I’m sure she’ll be delighted to make room for you. Dick can have my bed. As an ex-officer of the Great War I’m more used to sleeping on the ground.” “It’s frightfully kind of you,” said Beatrice. “But of course you really couldn’t turn us out on a night like this. Could you?” -
“I certainly couldn’t,” said Mr. Guy Prichard. “But how about to-morrow night, and the night after, and this time next year? I mean, hadn’t you better finish up with running away and go back to-morrow to that place from which you came?”
“Certainly not!” cried Beatrice. “Why on earth should we?”
“I dare say your people will be worrying about you,” suggested the writer of books. “Forgive me for this word of advice.”
“My people,” said Beatrice, “are not worrying. My father happens to be a General in India. He’s too far away to worry. As Miss Jenner frequently remarks, ‘What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve for.’ ”
“But Miss Jenner will be worrying,” urged the writer of books. “Think of poor dear Miss Jenner!”
“Miss Jenner is always worrying,” said Beatrice. “I decline to think of her.” “Well, that’s that,” said Guy Prichard amiably. “Now, how shall we spend a
merry evening before fixing up the sleeping arrangements?”
“Tell us a story,” said Beatrice. “Something thrilling.”
WHILE Mrs. Brown was clearing away, the writer of books told them a ghost story which was so thrilling that Val Sheridan felt his hair rising on his scalp, and even Beatrice made big eyes and screamed when the wind shook the door with a sudden rattle.
“That story wasn’t a success,” said the writer of books. “None of my stories seem to please the public. Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do! I’ll play you a little music. You and Dick can dance together if you like. See this old fiddle? I haven’t touched it for years, but I dare say I could scrape out a tune or two."
He did scrape out a tune or two. Val Sheridan, dragged into a dance by Beatrice on the polished oak boards in that low ceilinged room, thought they were the worst things that had ever been heard by mortal ears. The author of books produced the most excruciating sounds. He jangled every nerve in Val’s body and brain. Old Stefani would have had an apoplectic fit or torn his beard out in handfuls.
Val gave a cry of agony.
“Oh Lord! ... Oh crickey! ... I say . . . For Heaven’s sake!”
“What’s the matter?” asked Guy Prichard, blandly. “Don’t you like that tune? It’s the Harmonious Blacksmith with variations. I used to play it when I was a kid.”
“It’s all wrong!” cried Val. “It’s frightful. I can’t bear it—really.”
Guy Prichard was mildly surprised.
“I thought I was doing rather well.” “Show him how it goes,” said Beatrice, laughing. “Play something yourself, Val —Dick, I mean.”
“Do you play?” asked Guy Prichard, holding out the violin.
“Just a bit,” said Val. He hesitated and turned a little pale. At the sight of that old fiddle he felt his fingers tingle and something stir in his heart.
He tuned the strings which were all slack, and smiled at Beatrice who was gazing at him with eager expectation, and put the violin under his chin, and raised the bow.
“A Hungarian dance,” he said. “It’s rather amusing.”
He drew the bow across the strings with a crash, and then filled the room with quick pattering dancing, swirling notes, as though a crowd of gypsies were flinging themselves into a revel, winding in and out with a quick beat of dancing feet., the rattling of bangles, the snapping of fingers. A little old melody ran underneath the rhythm, sometimes breaking throirgh with deep rich chords which thrilled to the old beams across the low ceiling and jingled the Toby jars on the mantel-shelf.
Guy Prichard took his pipe out of his mouth, and sat up and stared at the boy, with a look of wonderment.
“Good Heavens!” he said, when the tune was finished. “You play like a master. I’ve never heard such music. It’s wonderful beyond all words. For goodness’ sake play something else. It’s magic! It beats everything!”
“It’s nothing,” said Val. “Anybody can do it, with a bit of practice.”
HE PLAYED again—the piece he ought to have been playing that night at the London Coliseum. But he had never played like this before, anywhere. He knew that as he played. Perhaps it was because he had had his hair cut and was no longer the Harmonious Child, but a boy dressed like a scarecrow in a little old cottage, with Beatrice and that friendly man.
Mrs. Brown came to the door to listen while Beatrice sat curled up, in Mrs. Brown’s black silk dress, with the kitten on her lap.
“Great!” said Guy Prichard. “Great and glorious!”
He rose from his chair and put his hand on Val’s shoulder.
“Who are you?” he asked gravely. “How do you come to play like that? Why have you run away from your people?”
Val dropped the bow and laid down the violin.
“I’m sorry I played,” he said, and then suddenly burst into tears. Something had told him that he would never be able to escape from music. He had been born with it. He could cut his hair short, but
he could not cut out his genius. He could run away from Smith's Hotel, but he could no more run away from music than he could get away from himself. Even this stranger had found him out.
“That’s all right,” said Prichard. “I won’t give you away. We’ll have a talk about things in the morning. Not tonight. Look! the little lady is fast asleep.” That was true. Lady Beatrice Tilford was sleeping as soundly as though she were tucked up in bed in Smith’s Hotel with Miss Jenner in the next room.
THAT night Val Sheridan slept in Guy Prichard’s room while Beatrice cuddled up by Mrs. Brown. They were still asleep in the morning when the writer of books stepped outside the cottage door to bring in the milk and the morning paper.
He glanced at the headings in the paper before lighting bis first pipe.
Another Strike ... Presidential Election in the United States . . . German Reparations and the Dawes Agreement.
Then his glance was caught by the portrait of a boy in velveteen knickers and a white silk shirt, playing a violin with a look of ecstasy. He seemed to know that boy’s face. Where had he seen it before?
STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE HARMONIOUS CHILD. GENERAL’S DAUGHTER ALSO LOST.
ROMANTIC MYSTERY OF BOY VIOLINIST AND TITLED CHILD.
Mr. Guy Prichard, unsuccessful author, read several paragraphs with a queer smile about his lips. Then he folded up the paper and put it under some books in his sitting-room before calling Mrs. Brown, who was a heavy sleeper.
At breakfast that morning the boy and girl appeared in their own clothes which had been dried at the kitchen fire overnight. Beatrice was chatty as usual. Val was silent and moody. The kitten had made friends with Peter the dog.
The writer of books made no allusion to -a certain sensational mystery in the morning papers. But after breakfast, while Beatrice explored the garden with . her boy friend and fell in love with some lop-eared rabbits, he went into the kitchen with Mrs. Brown and produced a copy of the morning paper which he spread out on the kitchen table.
“Lawks!” she cried in an awed whisper. “Did you ever now! A real lady too, Lady Beatrice Tilford. Good gracious, now!. To think I ’ad an Earl’s daughter snuggling up to me yi my own bed!”
“What are we going to do about it?” asked Mr. Prichard, rubbing his nose thoughtfully with the bowl of his pipe. “Send a telegram to Smith’s Hotel? I suppose it’s the right thing to do, but I hate to do it. Seems like betraying the Babes in the Wood. Sending them back to their WickedUncle, you know.”
“Poor little lambs!” cried Mrs. Brown. “They must have been ill-treated to run away like that. The ’Armonious Child! Why I was only reading about him in 'Lloyds News’ last Sunday. But I must say it don’t seem a bit like him.”
“He’s had his hair cut,” said the writer of books. “It’s what I ought to do, only I can’t afford it just yet.”
He returned to the problem. “I’m baffled, Mrs. Brown. Baffled!”
HE PACED up and down the kitchen like Sherlock Holmes in search of a clue. He hated the idea of giving these children away. They had trusted him. This cottage was their sanctuary.
Later in the morning the problem was taken out of his hands by Fate, as Beatrice would have said.
Guy Prichard was describing the wonders of a bee-hive to his two guests when a powerful motorcar pulled up outside the garden gate.
It was Beatrice who first saw it. She gave a little scream of mirthful dismay. “Heavens! There’s Miss Jenner!”
Val turned pale as he looked towards the car and saw the familiar faces of old Stefani and Geoffrey Jennings, his press agent.
Beatrice seized Val’s hand and cried. Run!”
They hid behind some bushes while the unsuccessful author walked to the garden gate and said “Good morning!” to an elegantly dressed young man who was Geoffrey Jennings.
“We’re looking for a boy and girl,” said the press agent who was first out of the car, with his hand on the gate. “Little runaways.”
“Is that so?” asked the writer of books. “In this neighborhood?”
“Quite close, I imagine,” said Geoffrey Jennings. “We traced them as far as Guildford and then to the next village, where they bought some food. We also found the little girl’s books not far from here.”
Miss Jenner had descended from the car. She spoke to Guy Prichard emotionally.
“If only I could find them! It’s Lady Beatrice Tilford. The dearest little girl in the world. A General’s daughter,, you know, and so high-spirited! If her poor dear father gets to know--”
She burst into tears at the dreadful thought of having lost a General’s daughter. Never in her thirty years’ experience as a governess had she suffered such agony of mind.
Perhaps the sight of her tears, her poor thin face with its look of anguish, softened the heart of a little girl hiding in the bushes. Beatrice came out, still hand in hand with Val.
“That’s all right, Miss Jenner,” she said very calmly. “No need for tears, I assure you. We’ve decided to give ourselves up after a very pleasant little jaunt.”
“My precious pet!” cried Miss Jenner, flinging her arms about Beatrice.
As Val stood there alone, looking glum and downcast, a loud cry came from old Stefani, who came rushing from the car.
“Braise be to Gott! ’E is found! ’E is found!”
Geoffrey Jennings uttered a sharp exclamation of dismay.
“Damn! . . . The little devil’s had his hair cut!”
“Yes,” said Val. “And I won’t be made a fool of any more! ... I won’t be called the Harmonious Child . . . And ... I won’t be photographed all day long . . . And I won’t have a press agent. I’d rather be dead!”
He spoke passionately in a shrill voice, with his head raised and his fists clenched.
“That’s all right,” said Geoffrey Jennings. “I’m fed up with infant prodigies. I’d rather be nursemaid to a royal baby. But don’t forget I made you famous, young fellow. It was my publicity that did the trick.”
OLD Stefani put his arms about the boy’s shoulders and drew him close. “Bublicity! Bah! It vos I who made dis young man famous. De Harmonious Child is dead! He have his hair cut. Very goot! But his genius will grow— inside his head. Ve vill go back to music. Our beautiful music! It is greater than all your tam fool Bublicity!”
The writer of books stooped down and whispered to the boy.
“Do you want to go back? You can stay with me if you like. And as long as you like.”
For a moment the boy’s face was illumined by a look of joy. To stay in that cottage, away from press photographers, reporters, press agents, adoring women, with a writer of books which nobody read!
Then the light died out of his eyes and he shook his head.
“I’ve got to go ... I can’t run away from my music. It would call me all the time.”
“Right!” said the unsuccessful author. “As a fellow artist I understand . . . One can’t escape.”
That afternoon when Val Sheridan returned to Smith’s Hotel in the same car as Beatrice Tilford—she held his hand under the rug as a sign of sympathy —there was a crowd of camera men in front of the steps. But they were baffled when the boy walked past them to the front door, and there was not the click of a camera. They were looking for the Harmonious Child with his shock of hair and his sailor suit.
They didn’t find him. The Harmonious Child had disappeared and was never seen again with his Teddy bear. There were no more photographs in the picture papers, and, failing that publicity, no more crowds of eager-eyed women waiting for a glimpse of the little wonder. Geoffrey Jennings had resigned his job, and the public turned to a new idol.
But Val Sheridan had saved his selfrespect in the world of human boys.