house and thither they followed, Mrs. Leslie giggling and
Jamie saying to himself that if she didn't stop he would
hit her in the back of the neck. She was a very little
40 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
woman, with high shoulders and a short waist, so that
her crinoline seemed immense, rather like a huge cushion
in which she was immersed. However after his day spent
among men Jamie was grateful to her for being a woman
and was not disposed to be critical. Homesickness with
him had taken the form of a longing for his sister Mary.
The room in which he found himself was full of little
Leslies all crowded round their father to watch him re-
move his boots. There were two boys and three girls,
who at once became very shy and stole glances at each
other as the lodger was presented to them. He shook
hands with them all; cold, bony hands they had; and at
once they became busy, preparing the supper. The eld-
est girl disappeared with her father's boots and returned
in a moment with a toasting-fork and two rounds of
bread which Mr. Leslie proceeded to toast. As he toasted
he looked round the room. Presently he gave a cry of
fury, threw down his toasting-fork and disappeared under
the table. In a moment or two he emerged with a few
crumbs in the palm of his hand.
"Who," he asked, "who is supposed to have brushed
"Se-Selina," said Mrs. Leslie in a quavering voice.
"I have at least the right," cried Mr. Leslie in an in-
jured tone, "I have at least the right to expect that, while
I am at work, slaving to keep life in your bodies, my house
will be kept decent."
"Oh! Peter," cried his wife. "Before Mr. Lawrie too.
Whatever will he think of us ?"
"Selina," said Peter, "go to bed!"
Selina put out her tongue at her eldest brother and
went out of the room.
Then Mr. Leslie picked up his toasting-fork.
"Ruined a piece of bread too."
THE PETER LESLIES 41
"We didn't do that, papa," protested the eldest boy.
"Oh, George," giggled his mother, "don't torment your
father. What must you think of us, Mr. Lawrie?"
"I don't think anything," replied Jamie nervously,
wondering if Selina, who was a rather pretty child, was
really to go supperless.
The eldest boy looked mischievous and said : "Does
your father ?"
"Mr. Lawrie's father," said Peter solemnly, "Mr. Law-
rie's father is dead."
That produced an oppressive silence which lasted
through the meal and until the children had kissed their
father and mother good-night. Jamie kissed the girls
and shook hands with the boys, who grinned at him, and
on his host's invitation drew up to the fire.
"He-he! Mr. Lawrie," said Mrs. Leslie. "What do
you think of Thrigsby?"
"He's seen nothing of it yet," said her husband.
"He-he! Mr. Lawrie, I hope you like the office."
"How can he tell yet whether he likes it or not ?"
"He-he ! Mr. Lawrie, I should have known you were
your uncle's nephew anywhere."
"I don't see the least likeness."
"He-he ! Mr. Lawrie, you mustn't mind my husband."
"Why should he mind me, except at the office when he
must do as I tell him?"
So the conversation went on until it was time for bed
and then Mr. Leslie sent his wife upstairs, raked out the
fire, shut the doors, lighted Jamie up to his room, brought
him a nightgown and said he hoped he would sleep well
and be up in time for breakfast at eight. Jamie said he
would, but was half resolved to get up and go out into the
night and sleep in the streets, anywhere where he could
feel free of his memory of the supperless Selina, the gig-
42 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
vgling Mrs. Leslie and the cutting, precise tones of her
husband. "I will go," he thought, "and awaken my
uncle. I will bring him to the window and speak to him
from the garden out of the darkness and tell him that as
his nephew I am entitled to more consideration than he
has shown me. I will tell him that if I am to lodge in the
house of one of his clerks I would prefer it to be with Mr.
Wilcox." The thought of his uncle, however, subdued
his rebellion. He was already afraid of Andrew, and be-
cause of his fear he decided that he hated Peter Leslie,
and would never stay but would go in search of his chest,
disappear, make his fortune, return, provide Mary with
a library and his mother with a coach and six. Was this
the fortune he had come to seek, all the way from Scot-
land ? He was canny enough and did not expect success
immediately to crown his efforts, but he did and he had
the right to look for more inspiring company than a man
who crawled after crumbs under the table, though to be
sure illustrious men had picked up their first sixpence in
the streets. Oh! but Andrew Keith had done no such
thing, and Andrew Keith should have known better than
to condemn his nephew to lodge with the Peter Les-
lies. "And," added Jamie in his excited thoughts, "and
that nephew a Lawrie." He got impatient with these
thoughts of his but his bed was hard and knobbly and
would not let him rest. "I'd make him eat his crumbs,"
he cried. "And I'm danged if I sit copying letters 4n the
room with him. Ay, I'll talk with Mr. Wilcox, and Bell
can answer the folks at the window. Ech ! I'm an in-
grate, and my thoughts are wicked." They were begin-
ning to be haunted with visions of maidens, so out he got
and dropped down on his knees and prayed a good, long
Scots prayer of self-denunciation at the end of which he
slipped in a plea for Mrs. Leslie "O Lord, put it into
THE PETER LESLIES 43
her heart not to giggle when she speaks to me" and a
blessing upon his mother. That done, he got into bed
again and went to sleep almost in tears at the emotion
he had contrived to put into the word Mesopotamia.
Selina woke him up in the morning. "Hullo!" he
"Oh no! Why?"
"Didn't you have no supper?"
"Of course not," she said. "I had my supper in the
kitchen. I always do, you know. Papa is in a very good
temper this morning. He is talking in his whistling voice
to the cat."
Echoing through the house Jamie heard a shrill fal-
setto screaming: "Oh! she was the filthy foumart, the
foul and filthy, and the foetid."
However, when he came downstairs, there was no sign
of humour upon Mr. Leslie's countenance. Breakfast
was hurried through and Mrs. Leslie said she would meet
Jamie in the dinner hour to buy his clothes. He tried to
protest that he was quite capable of getting them for him-
self but Mr. Leslie was firm and said that he must obey
orders, and that Jamie must learn to obey them too.
"Whose orders?" asked Jamie. "Your uncle's, Mr. Law-
rie," replied Mrs. Leslie. "Oh! my prophetic soul!"
cried Jamie. "I would have saved a bit of the seven
pound ten." "That," interjected Mr. Leslie, "is still
possible. Your wages are to be paid to me and I am to
allow you eight shillings a week, until the seven pounds
ten are paid off, when I am to raise the sum to ten shil-
lings a week." Jamie went as red as a turkey and gob-
bled like one in his rage and shame. He felt that his
uncle was mischievous and malevolent and all-powerful
and his high spirit could not bow to his bidding. Resent-
ment had been obscure in him until tyranny touched his
44 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
pocket "I'll go in rags!" he said. "Oh! Mr. Lawrie!"
giggled Mrs. Leslie. "You can't do that. What would
your mamma think if we let you go about in rags? for I
regard myself as more responsible to your mamma than
to your uncle, Mr. Lawrie."
Have his mother, have Tom know that he had lost his
chest ? Never ! Jamie capitulated.
The morning had produced three more little Leslies,
two girls and a baby boy who was tied to the leg of the
dining-table and allowed to sprawl as he pleased over the
"You see," said Mrs. Leslie, "I can't help feeling for
you as a mother and thinking how my own boys will be
when they leave me."
"My mother," said Jamie, "brought us up on ninety
pounds a year, and is proud of it."
"You must be very fond of her, Mr. Lawrie. I shall
write to her "
"What on earth can you say to her?" grumbled her
"Oh ! just a little friendly something."
Jamie liked her for that. She had found the phrase to
describe herself, and it fortified him in his dislike of her
unbending husband. "I think I shall be very happy
here," he said. "Until I find my way about. And I
am sure my mother will be glad to hear from you."
Mr. Leslie drew his purse from his pocket, placed some
silver coins on the mantelpiece, and announced that it was
time to go. He gave orders that the parlour was to be
swept and dusted by Friday night when Mr. Wilcox and
perhaps one or two others would be coming in for a
friendly evening. "Will they require refreshments?"
asked Mrs. Leslie. '"Of course there will be refresh-
ments. Cakes and gingerbread and I will buy a bottle
THE PETER LESLIES 45
of sherry wine. You didn't think I would invite my
friends here to starve." Mr. Leslie had a most exas-
perating trick of emphasis. He seemed to be always vi-
brant with irritation. In his most empty remarks, even
his most insignificant gesture, he was Leslie contra mun-
dum, and he inspired Jamie, as he did his children and
the clerks at the office, with awe.
There was absolutely no deception about the Leslie
household. It existed by, with or from Peter, the most
uxorious of men, and therefore, in his own eyes, the best
of husbands and fathers. He had no other conviction.
In order to be the best of husbands and fathers he did
his duty by his employer and fulfilled his duty to God as
a churchwarden at the newly built church of S. James
the Less in Kennedy Street. (Half the streets in that
district of Thrigsby bore Scots names.) No denying
Peter's authority in his own home. If his children asked
Why, he replied : "Because I say so" ; and if they made
the least show of protest he would say: "Don't argue
with me !"
He took charge of Jamie's religious education and per-
suaded him to sing in the choir. This meant that two at
least of the young man's evenings in the week were safely
T F there was no subtlety about Peter Leslie, so that you
-*- had the whole man in his conceit, there were continual
astonishments in his wife. Her thoughts were like flies
on a wall, bewildering to herself and to those with whom
she conversed until they learned to ignore her prattle, and
to accept the friendly happiness that bubbled out of her.
Jamie learned to do this almost insensibly from her chil-
dren, who never paid any attention to anything she said
and treated her always with affectionate indulgence. She
had stories of fables and old songs which were an even
greater delight to her than they were to her family. In-
deed it always seemed an effort to her to remember that
she was older than her children and she would make that
effort only when her husband was in the house. Jamie
used to marvel at her indifference to Selina's or Layton's
misdeeds. She would never be angry, but would say, as
if to remind herself: "You know your father will be
quite upset!" and then she would take steps to repair or
conceal the damage, even sometimes going as far as to
pawn her clothes or her jewels to obtain money. But
against Peter she would never defend Selina or Layton,
though she would argue for the little ones who could not
present a case against injustice.
She admitted Jamie to her family and treated him as
a child, that is to say, as her equal. He responded and
was devoted to her, though his happiness with her aggra-
vated his sensibility and made the adult affairs in which
he had to take part outside her house repellent to him.
Peter became a bugbear for he was so obsequious in the
office, so self-assertive (not to say self- worshipful) at
home. And Jamie suffered, continually and obscurely,
suffered so acutely at moments that he was astonished
at his own general cheerfulness. How to make a career
in a world that took absolutely no notice of him, snarled
at him when he did ill and ignored what he did well,
and was not in the least interested to find out what he
could or could not do? The indifference of the world
outside Mrs. Leslie aggravated his tendency to feel that
he was at least as great as Napoleon, and when he
bungled a job at the office he would tell himself that it
was because the work was beneath his powers.
Heavens! How slowly the days would go, how the
weeks would drag, how the life at home slipped away
from him, leaving him flaccid, cut off from his original
source of energy! The letters that came from home
were a mockery: his brothers regarded him with envy,
his mother with pride and hope. He was out in the
world making a career! Making a ? Making a
fool of himself, falling in love with Mrs. Leslie and
Selina (aged 13) in turn. And that was a new source
of misery. Selina would tease him and Mrs. Leslie was
entirely impervious to his passion and would kiss and
fondle him innocently and maternally, until he would be
sick with hatred of Peter as the insuperable bar to the
satisfaction of his desires. He gave up singing in the
choir on that account. His conscience would not allow
him to sing the Magnificat or the Nunc dimittis while
his heart was full of loathing of Peter Leslie sitting there
so smug in the churchwarden's pew with his wife and
48 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
five children behind him. Jamie gave up singing in the
choir and when Peter inquired into the matter said that
the church was too High for him and took himself off
to a Low one, where he became enamoured of a maiden,
the daughter of a saddler, forgot both Mrs. Leslie and
Selina and was for a few months extremely and
His intentions were honourable. He was invited to
tea by the saddler in the best parlour above the shop,
and, being entirely at a loss for conversation, avowed
himself and was accepted as a suitor. He was horrified
but unable to extricate himself. The duties were ardu-
ous, the maiden exacting and devout. On Sundays the
unhappy youth was kept praying and singing from early
morn to late night. When he was left alone with the
object of his affections for an hour in the afternoon
she made him read aloud from the sermons of the late
Vicar of Thrigsby.
It was a great relief to him when his uncle was in-
formed of the affair and crushed it with a word. The
saddler was given to understand that young Lawrie was
not and had no chance of being his uncle's heir and
when Jamie next visited the parlour above the shop it
was to find a spotty-faced rival nursing the volume of
sermons. Now rivalry was odious to his temper. He
hated a contest and avoided this as he had avoided all
others in his life. Having no wish to beat or be beaten,
he renounced his affections and aspirations, and at-
tended yet another church, emphatically Broad, vowing
that he would not again have his religion disturbed by
his affections, which he had begun to distrust. They
had so often led him into terrible thoughts, an alarm-
ing perception, for instance 1 , of the shape of Mrs Leslie
beneath her crinoline. Another appalling discrepancy!
Why should a woman's form be so unlike that of her
clothes? And why for questions breed like maggots
in the brain why should the emotions roused by woman
in her clothes he so shocked and confused by the idea
of their removal? 'Such thoughts, such questions as
these had writhed even through the Vicar's sermons.
Even religion, therefore, was an inadequate protection.
However, such as it was, Jamie clung to it. He wanted
to show himself worthy as the son of his mother and
the nephew of his uncle, to prosper in his career, to
have his little corner of the world at his feet. But how
to do it ? Ah ! there was the rub. He insisted on know-
ing how it was to be done, and could not accept it as a
thing that would happen, just as at a very early age he
had rummaged among Doctor M'Phail's books to satisfy
himself as to the manner of his birth and thereafter had
taken the keenest interest in the serving of a sow on his
uncle's farm and had contrived to be present at her de-
livery of twelve little pigs. Hearsay was no good to
him and yet he clung to religion because he was almost
as much afraid of his thoughts as he was of his affec-
tions. Poor wretch! And this is to be his story, the
tale of his joy and suffering who could never accept
either except upon his own terms, and yet, through life,
never lost his faith in his fellow-men, nor abandoned
hope of satisfaction in living among them!
Uncle Andrew commanded his presence at dinner one
"Well, well, and how are we getting on? And how
do we like our work ?"
"I don't find it very difficult, thank you, Uncle."
"Ah! we don't find it difficult. No, no. Only the
brain, the controlling brain, is sensible of the difficulty
of making a profit. You never thought of that? Hah !"
50 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
"Yes. I did think of that." This was not true but
Jamie's mind rushed at the idea, and, as usual, pushed
beyond it, and made him say:
"Yes. I suppose that is why the brain takes the
"Eh!" Andrew regarded his nephew with dislike
and uneasiness, half suspecting him of impertinence be-
hind the innocence of his boyish face. "Eh? Eh, hem!
The labourer is worthy of his hire."
But Jamie was no longer interested. He had failed
to grasp the idea which had heated his brain. He was
much more interested in wondering how long he would
be expected to stay after dinner.
"I have good accounts of you in the office and I am
please^ to hear that you are regular in attending church.
I like regularity. Keep your Sundays regular and it
steadies you from Monday to Saturday. Nothing bet-
ter for a young man. But m-m-m saddler's daughter
marriage No !"
"No!" repeated Jamie emphatically. "No!"
"What the devil do you mean? I hadn't said what I
was going to say."
"No. I mean, if you knew Mrs. Leslie and how hard
put to it she is to make both ends meet, you'd think
twice about marrying."
"Silence, sir! I did not put you to lodge with Leslie
that you might spy upon their affairs."
"Good Lord," thought Jamie. "I've done it now."
Then suddenly Andrew became kind in his tone and
said: "You must learn to keep your tongue in your
head you've an old head for your years or I don't
know what will become of you."
Then Jamie felt very sorry for himself and answered
"You'll be sent to the mill soon and after that a taste
of the travelling will do you no harm. Do you know
"Better rub up your French. We may be wanting
presentable young men to go to France. If you like I'll
pay for you to have French lessons. That will help to
keep you out of mischief in the evenings,"
"Thank you, Uncle. (fF*// he pay?)"
That ended the meal, but not the discomfort of uncle
and nephew. Jamie, gazing at the big white face, was
awed by it and expected some wisdom, some oracular
guidance to come out of it. No such thing happened,
however, and he had to reconcile himself to being sent
empty away. Mischief in the evenings! What mis-
chief? He felt insulted. He was getting tired of the
assumption that he was a danger to himself, which he
was beginning to find on all sides in Peter Leslie, in
Mrs. Leslie, in his mother's letters and now in his uncle,
the master of his destiny. At least they might let him
know in what the danger consisted, instead of hinting at
it. They had all recommended religion as a safeguard
and he had no objection to religion. It had its merits
though in the English Church they were rather watered
down; there were no good hair-raising prayers from the
pulpit, neither were sermons so withering and scornful;
on the other hand there was something good-tempered
and satisfactory about English hymns, though the
rhymes in them were rather far-fetched. Also going to
church provided something to do and people to see on
Sunday, and, besides, it made him feel sly and mischiev-
ous as though he were lying in wait to cry Peep-bo to
that from which he was hiding. What was it? Ah!
52 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
that danger, that mischief ! He felt very sure his uncle
knew what it was. Almost he was convinced that it was
in his uncle's power to chain it up or to loose it upon him.
And all that came out of his uncle was a recommenda-
tion to learn French, which was absurd.
It was maddening that all his visits to his uncle
should end thus fantastically. Old Andrew was the
only human being in Thrigsby to whom he owed any
natural affection, and his mother was constantly assur-
ing him that he owed a great deal. But no sooner did he
enter the door of the house than his natural affection
was laid down with his hat and overcoat and he knew
that he would spend the time gazing fascinated at the
white face like a rabbit at a snake. The white face
haunted him. It swung in the spaces of his universe like
a moon. His fear of it oozed over into the emotions
reserved for his religion and became one with it. But
as yet he had no other thought. The moon-face was
the only light upon his life and by it he walked, warily
because of the shadows, but, as yet, light-heartedly
"Oh ! yes, Uncle, I would be gey and pleased to go to
France. It is a great, rich country."
"I was never there but once, but I am told it will be
a good market."
Market! Jamie swallowed that word though it was
like a prickly burr upon the romantic notions that had
began to stir in his head. Old Andrew squashed them
further by saying:
"Now that you have taken your place in the office, I
think it would be well if you made the acquaintance of
your cousins the Greigs. They will be a very powerful
family and useful to your in your career."
When Andrew talked like that Jamie simply did not
understand him. In his idea, his career was to grow
naturally out of his extraordinary or ordinary merits.
(For he had begun to see that they remained to be
proved.) Careers were begotten not made, and so far
he had no occasion to doubt that his would be conceived,
shaped and born complete in all its parts. The possi-
bility of its being mis-shapen was not worth a thought
and never got one. It was to grow like a leaf out of
Andrew's perfection, though not so did Jamie think of
it, but rather of Andrew producing it, pressing it into
his hand with his extended two fingers as he did once
with Tommy years ago when he tipped him. And herein
lay one source of our hero's discomfort. Time after
time did he go to his uncle's house and not even a por-
tion of the career was forthcoming: talk of being moved
to the mills, of travelling, and now of being sent to
France, and then these awful suggestions that he had
better make himself pleasant to people who would later
on be useful to him : never any hint from the white face
of acknowledging that his nephew qua nephew was re-
markable. That was implied, though Jamie never saw
it, in the mere fact of his presence at the table. The
implication forced him to sink his individuality, to be
nephew but not James; and so he suffered, he suffered
absurdly in all his dealings : he suffered from contact
with his uncle, from the dutiful correspondence he kept
up with his mother, before his God, and in the presence
of every women he ever encountered, regardless of age.
The ridiculous adventure with the saddler's daughter
was the only relief he ever had. Reading the Vicar's
sermons to her he could pour floods of emotion into the
sluggish periods, and though the maiden never suspected
them, they were as great a relief to him as the word
54 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
Mesopotamia was to Mr. Wilcox. But there again he
suffered because he was left ashamed of himself. Shame
aggravated his excitement and he was every moment
conscious of himself, hot and molten and overrunning
a world which was far too small to hold him. Even
God was rather diminished since it was some reflection
upon His powers that he had failed to design a world
large enough for a man.
In vain did he practise that self-abasement for which,
as a Scotsman, he had a native talent and an enormous
appetite. It turned his suffering into torment and gave
him the horrid pleasure of martyrdom. Not daring
yet to tell himself that he was suffering for the sins
of the world, he was soon persuaded that he was bear-
ing so much for his mother and his brothers. In this
he was aided by his mother, from whom he had been
unable to conceal his distress. She took it for a sign
that he was coming to heel and was being licked by the
world into appreciation of his duty towards herself.