Baxter Dawes

SOON after Paul had been to the theatre with Clara, he was drinking in the Punch Bowl with some friends of his when Dawes came in. Clara's husband was growing stout; his eyelids were getting slack over his brown eyes; he was losing his healthy firmness of flesh. He was very evidently on the downward track. Having quarrelled with his sister, he had gone into cheap lodgings. His mistress had left him for a man who would marry her. He had been in prison one night for fighting when he was drunk, and there was a shady betting episode in which he was concerned.

Paul and he were confirmed enemies, and yet there was between them that peculiar feeling of intimacy, as if they were secretly near to each other, which sometimes exists between two people, although they never speak to one another. Paul often thought of Baxter Dawes, often wanted to get at him and be friends with him. He knew that Dawes often thought about him, and that the man was drawn to him by some bond or other. And yet the two never looked at each other save in hostility.

Since he was a superior employee at Jordan's, it was the thing for Paul to offer Dawes a drink.

`What'll you have?' he asked of him.

`Nowt wi' a bleeder like you!' replied the man.

Paul turned away with a slight disdainful movement of the shoulders, very irritating.

`The aristocracy,' he continued, `is really a military institution. Take Germany, now. She's got thousands of aristocrats whose only means of existence is the army. They're deadly poor, and life's deadly slow. So they hope for a war. They look for war as a chance of getting on. Till there's a war they are idle good-for-nothings. When there's a war, they are leaders and commanders. There you are, then -- they want war!'

He was not a favourite debater in the public-house, being too quick and overbearing. He irritated the older men by his assertive manner, and his cocksureness. They listened in silence, and were not sorry when he finished.

Dawes interrupted the young man's flow of eloquence by asking, in a loud sneer:

`Did you learn all that at th' theatre th' other night?'

Paul looked at him; their eyes met. Then he knew Dawes had seen him coming out of the theatre with Clara.

`Why, what about th' theatre?' asked one of Paul's associates, glad to get a dig at the young fellow, and sniffing something tasty.

`Oh, him in a bob-tailed evening suit, on the lardy-da!' sneered Dawes, jerking his head contemptuously at Paul.

`That's comin' it strong,' said the mutual friend. `Tart an' all?'

`Tart, begod!' said Dawes.

`Go on; let's have it!' cried the mutual friend.

`You've got it,' said Dawes, `an' I reckon Morelly had it an' all.'

`Well, I'll be jiggered!' said the mutual friend. `An' was it a proper tart?'

`Tart, God blimey -- yes!'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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