The Dreamer

It was the season of sales. The august establishment of Walpurgis and Nettlepink had lowered its prices for an entire week as a concession to trade observances, much as an Archduchess might protestingly contract an attack of influenza for the unsatisfactory reason that influenza was locally prevalent. Adela Chemping, who considered herself in some measure superior to the allurements of an ordinary bargain sale, made a point of attending the reduction week at Walpurgis and Nettlepink’s.

‘I’m not a bargain hunter,’ she said, ‘but I like to go where bargains are.’

Which showed that beneath her surface strength of character there flowed a gracious undercurrent of human weakness.

With a view to providing herself with a male escort Mrs Chemping had invited her youngest nephew to accompany her on the first day of the shopping expedition, throwing in the additional allurement of a cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light refreshment. As Cyprian was not yet eighteen, she hoped he might not have reached that stage in masculine development when parcel carrying is looked on as a thing abhorrent.

‘Meet me just outside the floral department,’ she wrote to him, ‘and don’t be a moment later than eleven.’

Cyprian was a boy who carried with him through early life the wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and invests the commonplace things of this world with qualities unsuspected by plainer folk—the eyes of a poet or a house agent. He was quietly dressed—that sartorial quietude which frequently accompanies early adolescence, and is usually attributed by novel-writers to the influence of a widowed mother. His hair was brushed back in a smoothness as of ribbon seaweed and seamed with a narrow furrow that scarcely aimed at being a parting. His aunt particularly noted this item of his toilet when they met at the appointed rendezvous, because he was standing waiting for her bareheaded.

‘Where is your hat?’ she asked.

‘I didn’t bring one with me,’ he replied.

Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.

‘You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are you?’ she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the idea that a Nut would be an extravagance which her sister’s small household would scarcely be justified in incurring, partly, perhaps, with the instinctive apprehension that a Nut, even in its embryo stage, would refuse to carry parcels.

Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy eyes.

‘I didn’t bring a hat,’ he said, ‘because it is such a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward if one meets any one one knows and has to take one’s hat off when one’s hands are full of parcels. If one hasn’t got a hat on one can’t take it off.’

Mrs Chemping sighed with great relief; her worst fear had been laid at rest.

‘It is more orthodox to wear a hat,’ she observed, and then turned her attention briskly to the business in hand.

‘We will go first to the table-linen counter,’ she said, leading the way in that direction; ‘I should like to look at some napkins.’

The wondering look deepened in Cyprian’s eyes as he followed his aunt; he belonged to a generation that is supposed to be overfond of the rôle of mere spectator, but looking at napkins that one did not mean to buy was a pleasure beyond his comprehension. Mrs Chemping held one or two napkins up

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