By HUGH WALPOLE
(From The Chicago Tribune)
I am quite aware that in giving you this story just as I was told it I
shall incur the charge of downright and deliberate lying.
Especially I shall be told this by any one who knew Wilbraham
personally. Wilbraham was not, of course, his real name, but I think
that there are certain people who will recognize him from this
description of him. I do not know that it matters very much if they do.
Wilbraham himself would certainly not mind did he know. (Does he know?)
It was the thing above all that he wanted those last hours before he
died—that I should pass on my conviction of the truth of what he told
me to others. What he did not know was that I was not convinced. How
could I be? But when the whole comfort of his last hours hung on the
simple fact that I was, of course I pretended to the best of my poor
ability. I would have done more than that to make him happy.
It is precisely the people who knew him well who will declare at once
that my little story is impossible. But did they know him well? Does
any one know any one else well? Aren't we all as lonely and removed
from one another as mariners on separate desert islands? In any case I
did not know him well and perhaps for that very reason was not so
greatly surprised at his amazing revelations—surprised at the
revelations themselves, of course, but not at his telling them. There
was always in him—and I have known him here and there, loosely, in
club and London fashion, for nearly twenty years—something romantic
and something sentimental. I knew that because it was precisely those
two attributes that he drew out of me.
Most men are conscious at some time in their lives of having felt for a
member of their own sex an emotion that is something more than simple
companionship. It is a queer feeling quite unlike any other in life,
distinctly romantic and the more that perhaps for having no sex feeling
Like the love of women, it is felt generally at sight, but, unlike that
love, it is, I think, a supremely unselfish emotion. It is not
acquisitive, nor possessive, nor jealous, and exists best perhaps when
it is not urged too severely, but is allowed to linger in the
background of life, giving real happiness and security and trust,
standing out, indeed, as something curiously reliable just because it
is so little passionate. This emotion has an odd place in our English
life because the men who feel it, if they have been to public school
and university, have served a long training in repressing every sign or
expression of sentiment towards any other man; nevertheless it
persists, romantically and deeply persists, and the war of 1914 offered
many curious examples of it.
Wilbraham roused just that feeling in me. I remember with the utmost
distinctness my first meeting with him. It was just after the Boer war
and old Johnny Beaminster gave a dinner party to some men pals of his
at the Phoenix. Johnny was not so old then—none of us were; it was a
short time after the death of that old harpy, the Duchess of Wrexe, and
some wag said that the dinner was in celebration of that happy
occasion. Johnny was not so ungracious as that, but he gave us a very
merry evening and he did undoubtedly feel a kind of lightness in the
There were about fifteen of us and Wilbraham was the only man present
I'd never seen before. He was only a captain then and neither so red
faced nor so stout as he afterwards became. He was pretty bulky,
though, even then, and with his sandy hair cropped close, his staring
blue eyes, his toothbrush moustache and sharp, alert movements, looked
the typical traditional British officer.
There was nothing at all to distinguish him from a thousand other
officers of his kind, and yet from the moment I saw him I had some
especial and personal feeling about him. He was not in type at all the
man to whom at that time I should have felt drawn. My first book had
just been published and, although as I now perceive, its publication
had not caused the slightest ripple upon any water, the congratulations
of my friends and relations, who felt compelled, poor things, to say
something, because "they had received copies from the author," had made
me feel that the literary world was all buzzing at my ears. I could see
at a glance that Kipling was probably the only "decent" author about
whom Wilbraham knew anything, and the fragments of his conversation
that I caught did not promise anything intellectually exciting from his
The fact remains that I wanted to know him more than any other man in
the room, and although I only exchanged a few words with him that
night, I thought of him for quite a long time afterwards.
It did not follow from this as it ought to have done that we became
great friends. That we never were, although it was myself whom he sent
for three days before his death to tell me his queer little story. It
was then at the very last that he confided to me that he, too, had felt
something at our first meeting "different" to what one generally feels,
that he had always wanted to turn our acquaintance into friendship and
had been too shy. I also was shy—and so we missed one another, as I
suppose in this funny, constrained, traditional country of ours
thousands of people miss one another every day.
But although I did not see him very often and was in no way intimate
with him, I kept my ears open for any account of his doings. From one
point of view, the Club Window outlook, he was a very usual figure, one
of those stout, rubicund, jolly men, a good polo player, a good man in
a house party, genial-natured, and none too brilliantly brained, whom
every one liked and no one thought about. All this he was on one side
of the report, but, on the other, there were certain stories that were
something more than the ordinary.
Wilbraham was obviously a sentimentalist and an enthusiast; there was
the extraordinary case shortly after I first met him of his
championship of X, a man who had been caught in an especially bestial
kind of crime and received a year's imprisonment for it. On X leaving
prison Wilbraham championed and defended him, put him up for months in
his rooms in Duke Street, walked as often as possible in his company
down Piccadilly, and took him over to Paris. It says a great deal for
Wilbraham's accepted normality and his general popularity that this
championship of X did him no harm. It was so obvious that he himself
was the last man in the world to be afflicted with X's peculiar habits.
Some men, it is true, did murmur something about "birds of a feather";
one or two kind friends warned Wilbraham in the way kind friends have,
and to them he simply said: "If a feller's a pal he's a pal."
All this might in the end have done Wilbraham harm had not X most
happily committed suicide in Paris in 1905. There followed a year or
two later the much more celebrated business of Lady C. I need not go
into all that now, but here again Wilbraham constituted himself her
defender, although she robbed, cheated, and maligned him as she robbed,
cheated, and maligned every one who was good to her. It was quite
obvious that he was not in love with her; the obviousness of it was one
of the things in him that annoyed her.
He simply felt apparently that she had been badly treated (the very
last thing that she had been), gave her any money he had, put his rooms
at the disposal of herself and her friends, and, as I have said,
championed her everywhere. This affair did very nearly finish him
socially, and in his regiment. It was not so much that they minded his
caring for Lady C—(after all, any man can be fooled by any woman)—but
it was Lady C's friends who made the whole thing so impossible. Such a
crew! Such a horrible crew! And it was a queer thing to see Wilbraham
with his straight blue eyes and innocent mouth and general air of
amiable simplicity in the company of men like Colonel B and young
Kenneth Parr. (There is no harm, considering the later publicity of his
case, in mentioning his name.) Well, that affair luckily came to an end
just in time. Lady C disappeared to Berlin and was no more seen.
There were other cases into which I need not go when Wilbraham was seen
in strange company, always championing somebody who was not worth the
championing. He had no "social tact," and for them at any rate no moral
sense. In himself he was the ordinary normal man about town, no prude,
but straight as a man can be in his debts, his love affairs, his
friendships, and his sport. Then came the war. He did brilliantly at
Mons, was wounded twice, went out to Gallipoli, had a touch of
Palestine, and returned to France again to share in Foch's final
No man can possibly have had more of the war than he had, and it is my
own belief that he had just a little too much of it.
He had been always perhaps a little "queer," as we are most of us
"queer" somewhere, and the horrors of that horrible war undoubtedly
affected him. Finally he lost, just a week before the armistice, one of
his best friends, Ross McLean, a loss from which he certainly never
I have now, I think, brought together all the incidents that can throw
any kind of light upon the final scene. In the middle of 1919 he
retired from the army, and it was from this time to his death that I
saw something of him. He went back to his old home at Horton's in Duke
street, and as I was living at that time in Marlborough Chambers in
Jermyn street we were in easy reach of one another. The early part of
1920 was a "queer time." People had become, I imagine, pretty well
accustomed to realizing that those two wonderful hours of Armistice day
had not ushered in the millennium any more than those first marvellous
moments of the Russian revolution produced it.
Every one has always hoped for the millennium, but the trouble since
the days of Adam and Eve has always been that people have such
different ideas as to what exactly that millennium shall be. The plain
facts of the matter simply were that during 1919 and 1920 the world
changed from a war of nations to a war of classes, that inevitable
change that history has always shown follows on great wars.
As no one ever reads history, it was natural enough that there should
be a great deal of disappointment and a great deal of astonishment. Men
at the head of affairs who ought to have known better cried aloud, "How
ungrateful these people are, after all we've done for them!" and the
people underneath shouted that everything had been muddled and spoiled
and that they would have done much better had they been at the head of
affairs, an assertion for which there was no sort of justification.
Wilbraham, being a sentimentalist and an idealist, suffered more from
this general disappointment than most people. He had had wonderful
relations with the men under him throughout the war. He had never tired
of recounting how marvelously they had behaved, what heroes they were,
and that it was they who would pull the country together.
At the same time he had a naive horror of bolshevism and anything
unconstitutional, and he watched the transformation of his "brave lads"
into discontented and idle workmen with dismay and deep distress. He
used sometimes to come around to my rooms and talk to me; he had the
bewildered air of a man walking in his sleep.
He made the fatal mistake of reading all the papers, and he took in the
Daily Herald in order that he might see "what it was these fellows had
to say for themselves."
The Herald upset him terribly. Its bland assumption that Russians and
Sein Feiners could do no wrong, but that the slightest sign of
assertion of authority on the part of any government was "wicked
tyranny," shocked his very soul. I remember that he wrote a long, most
earnest letter to Lansbury, pointing out to him that if he subverted
all authority and constitutional government his own party would in its
turn be subverted when it came to govern. Of course, he received no
During these months I came to love the man. The attraction that I had
felt for him from the very first deeply underlay all my relation to
him, but as I saw more of him I found many very positive reasons for my
liking. He was the simplest, bravest, purest, most loyal, and most
unselfish soul alive. He seemed to me to have no faults at all unless
it were a certain softness towards the wishes of those whom he loved.
He could not bear to hurt anybody, but he never hesitated if some
principle in which he believed was called in question.
He had not, of course, a subtle mind—he was no analyst of
character—but that did not make him uninteresting. I never heard any
one call him dull company, although men laughed at him for his good
nature and unselfishness and traded on him all the time. He was the
best human being I have ever known or am ever likely to know.
Well, the crisis arrived with astonishing suddenness. About the second
or third of August I went down to stay with some friends at the little
fishing village of Rafiel in Glebeshire.
I saw him just before I left London, and he told me that he was going
to stay in London for the first half of August, that he liked London in
August, even though his club would be closed and Horton's delivered
over to the painters.
I heard nothing about him for a fortnight, and then I received a most
extraordinary letter from Box Hamilton, a fellow clubman of mine and
Wilbraham's. Had I heard, he said, that poor old Wilbraham had gone
right off his "knocker"? Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but
suddenly one day at lunch time Wilbraham had turned up at Grey's (the
club to which our own club was a visitor during its cleaning), had
harangued every one about religion in the most extraordinary way, had
burst out from there and started shouting in Piccadilly, had, after
collecting a crowd, disappeared and not been seen until the next
morning, when he had been found, nearly killed, after a hand-to-hand
fight with the market men in Covent Garden.
It may be imagined how deeply this disturbed me, especially as I felt
that I was myself to blame. I had noticed that Wilbraham was ill when I
had seen him in London, and I should either have persuaded him to come
with me to Glebeshire or stayed with him in London. I was just about to
pack up and go to town when I received a letter from a doctor in a
nursing home in South Audley street saying that a certain Major
Wilbraham was in the home dying and asking persistently for myself. I
took a motor to Drymouth and was in London by five o'clock.
I found the South Audley Street nursing home and was at once surrounded
with the hush, the shaded rooms, the scents of medicine and flowers,
and some undefinable cleanliness that belongs to those places.
I waited in a little room, the walls decorated with sporting prints,
the green baize table gloomily laden with volumes of Punch and the
Tatler. Wilbraham's doctor came in to see me, a dapper, smart little
man, efficient and impersonal. He told me that Wilbraham had at most
only twenty-four hours to live, that his brain was quite clear, and
that he was suffering very little pain, that he had been brutally
kicked in the stomach by some man in the Covent Garden crowd and had
there received the internal injuries from which he was now dying.
"His brain is quite clear," the doctor said. "Let him talk. It can do
him no harm. Nothing can save him. His head is full of queer fancies;
he wants every one to listen to him. He's worrying because there's some
message he wants to send… he wants to give it to you."
When I saw Wilbraham he was so little changed that I felt no shock.
Indeed, the most striking change in him was the almost exultant
happiness in his voice and eyes.
It is true that after talking to him a little I knew that he was dying.
He had that strange peace and tranquillity of mind that one saw so
often with dying men in the war.
I will try to give an exact account of Wilbraham's narrative; nothing
else is of importance in this little story but that narrative; I can
make no comment. I have no wish to do so. I only want to pass it on as
he begged me to do.
"If you don't believe me," he said, "give other people the chance of
doing so. I know that I am dying. I want as many men and women to have
a chance of judging this as is humanly possible. I swear to you that I
am telling the truth and the exact truth in every detail."
I began my account by saying that I was not convinced. How could I be
At the same time I have none of those explanations with which people
are so generously forthcoming on these occasions. I can only say that I
do not think Wilbraham was insane, nor drunk, nor asleep. Nor do I
believe that some one played a practical joke….
Whether Wilbraham was insane between the hours when his visitor left
him and his entrance into the nursing home I must leave to my readers.
I myself think he was not.
After all, everything depends upon the relative importance that we
place upon ambitions, possessions, emotions,—ideas.
Something suddenly became of so desperate an importance to Wilbraham
that nothing else at all mattered. He wanted every one else to see the
importance of it as he did. That is all….
It had been a hot and oppressive day; London had seemed torrid and
uncomfortable. The mere fact that Oxford street was "up" annoyed him.
After a slight meal in his flat he went to the Promenade Concert at
Queen's Hall. It was the second night of the season—Monday night,
He bought himself a five shilling ticket and sat in the middle of the
balcony overlooking the floor. He was annoyed again when he discovered
that he had been given a ticket for the "non-smoking" section of the
He had heard no Wagner since August, 1914, and was anxious to discover
the effect that hearing it again would have upon him. The effect was
disappointing. The music neither caught nor held him.
"The Meistersinger" had always been a great opera for him. The third
act music that Sir Henry Wood gave to him didn't touch him anywhere. He
also discovered that six years' abstinence had not enraptured him any
more deeply with the rushing fiddles in the "Tannhäuser" Overture nor
with the spinning music in the "Flying Dutchman." Then came suddenly
the prelude to the third act of "Tristan." That caught him; the peace
and tranquillity that he needed lapped him round; he was fully
satisfied and could have listened for another hour.
He walked home down Regent Street, the quiet melancholy of the
shepherd's pipe accompanying him, pleasing him and tranquillizing him.
As he reached his flat ten o'clock struck from St. James' Church. He
asked the porter whether any one had wanted him during his
absence—whether any one was waiting for him now—(some friend had told
him that he might come up and use his spare room one night that week).
No, no one had been. There was no one there waiting.
Great was his surprise, therefore, when opening the door of his flat he
found some one standing there, one hand resting on the table, his face
turned towards the open door. Stronger, however, than Wilbraham's
surprise was his immediate conviction that he knew his visitor well,
and this was curious because the face was, undoubtedly strange to him.
"I beg your pardon," Wilbraham said to him, hesitating.
"I wanted to see you," the Stranger said, smiling.
When Wilbraham was telling me this part of his story he seemed to be
enveloped—"enveloped" is the word that best conveys my own experience
of him—by some quite radiant happiness. He smiled at me confidentially
as though he were telling me something that I had experienced with him
and that must give me the same happiness that it gave to him.
"Ought I to have expected? Ought I to have known—" he stammered.
"No, you couldn't have known," the Stranger answered. "You're not late.
I knew when you would come."
Wilbraham told me that during these moments he was surrendering himself
to an emotion and intimacy and companionship that was the most
wonderful thing that he had ever known. It was that intimacy and
companionship, he told me, for which all his days he had been
searching. It was the one thing that life never seemed to give; even in
the greatest love, the deepest friendship, there was that seed of
loneliness hidden. He had never found it in man or woman.
Now it was so wonderful that the first thing he said was: "And now
you're going to stay, aren't you? You won't go away at once…?"
"Of course, I'll stay," he answered. "If you want me."
His Visitor was dressed in some dark suit; there was nothing about Him
in any way odd or unusual. His Face was thin and pale, His smile
His English was without accent. His voice was soft and very melodious.
But Wilbraham could notice nothing but His Eyes; they were the most
beautiful, tender, gentle Eyes that he had ever seen in any human
They sat down. Wilbraham's overwhelming fear was lest his Guest should
leave him. They began to talk and Wilbraham took it at once as accepted
that his Friend knew all about him—everything.
He found himself eagerly plunging into details of scenes, episodes that
he had long put behind him—put behind him for shame perhaps or for
regret or for sorrow. He knew at once that there was nothing that he
need veil nor hide—nothing. He had no sense that he must consider
susceptibilities nor avoid self-confession that was humiliating.
But he did find, as he talked on, a sense of shame from another side
creep towards him and begin to enclose him. Shame at the smallness,
meanness, emptiness of the things that he declared.
He had had always behind his mistakes and sins a sense that he was a
rather unusually interesting person; if only his friends knew
everything about him they would be surprised at the remarkable man that
he really was. Now it was exactly the opposite sense that came over
him. In the gold-rimmed mirror that was over his mantlepiece he saw
himself diminishing, diminishing, diminishing … First himself, large,
red-faced, smiling, rotund, lying back in his chair; then the face
shrivelling, the limbs shortening, then the face small and peaked, the
hands and legs little and mean, then the chair enormous about and
around the little trembling animal cowering against the cushion.
He sprang up.
"No, no … I can't tell you any more—and you've known it all so long.
I am mean, small, nothing—I have not even great ambition … nothing."
His Guest stood up and put His Hand on his shoulder.
They talked, standing side by side, and He said some things that
belonged to Wilbraham alone, that he would not tell me.
Wilbraham asked Him why He had come—and to him.
"I will come now to a few of My friends," He said. "First one and then
another. Many people have forgotten Me behind My words. They have built
up such a mountain over Me with the doctrines they have attributed to
Me, the things that they say that I did. I am not really," He said
laughing, His Hand on Wilbraham's shoulder, "so dull and gloomy and
melancholy as they have made Me. I loved Life—I loved men; I loved
laughter and games and the open air—I liked jokes and good food and
exercise. All things that they have forgotten. So from now I shall come
back to one or two…. I am lonely when they see Me so solemnly."
Another thing He said. "They are making life complicated now. To lead a
good life, to be happy, to manage the world only the simplest things
are needed—Love, Unselfishness, Tolerance."
"Can I go with You and be with You always?" Wilbraham asked.
"Do you really want that?" He said.
"Yes," said Wilbraham, bowing his head.
"Then you shall come and never leave Me again. In three days from now."
Then he kissed Wilbraham on the forehead and went away.
I think that Wilbraham himself became conscious as he told me this part
of his story of the difference between the seen and remembered Figure
and the foolish, inadequate reported words. Even now as I repeat a
little of what Wilbraham said I feel the virtue and power slipping
And so it goes on! As the Figure recedes the words become colder and
colder and the air that surrounds them has in it less and less of
power. But on that day when I sat beside Wilbraham's bed the conviction
in his voice and eyes held me so that although my reason kept me back
my heart told me that he had been in contact with some power that was a
stronger force than anything that I myself had ever known.
But I have determined to make no personal comment on this story. I am
here simply as a narrator of fact….
Wilbraham told me that after his Visitor left him he sat there for some
time in a dream. Then he sat up, startled, as though some voice,
calling, had wakened him, with an impulse that was like a fire suddenly
blazing up and lighting the dark places of his brain. I imagine that
all Wilbraham's impulses in the past, chivalric, idealistic, foolish,
had been of that kind—sudden, of an almost ferocious energy and
determination, blind to all consequences. He must go out at once and
tell every one of what had happened to him.
I once read a story somewhere about some town that was expecting a
great visitor. Everything was ready, the banners hanging, the music
prepared, the crowds waiting in the street.
A man who had once been for some years at the court of the expected
visitor saw him enter the city, sombrely clad, on foot. Meanwhile his
Chamberlain entered the town in full panoply with the trumpets blowing
and many riders in attendance. The man who knew the real thing ran to
every one telling the truth, but they laughed at him and refused to
listen. And the real king departed quietly as he had come.
It was, I suppose, an influence of this kind that drove Wilbraham now.
Suddenly something was of so great an importance to him that nothing
else, mockery, hostility, scorn, counted. After all, simply a supreme
example of the other impulses that had swayed him throughout his life.
What followed might I think have been to some extent averted had his
appearance been different. London is a home of madmen and casually
permits any lunacy so that public peace is not endangered; had poor
Wilbraham looked a fanatic with pale face, long hair, ragged clothes,
much would have been forgiven him, but for a stout, middle-aged
gentleman, well dressed, well groomed…. What could be supposed but
insanity and insanity of a very ludicrous kind?
He put on his coat and went out. From this moment his account was
confused. His mind, as he spoke to me, kept returning to that
Visitor… What happened after his Friend's departure was vague and
uncertain to him, largely because it was unimportant. He does not know
what time it was when he went out, but I gather that it must have been
about midnight. There were still people in Piccadilly.
Somewhere near the Berkeley Hotel he stopped a gentleman and a lady. He
spoke, I am sure, so politely that the man he addressed must have
supposed that he was asking for a match, or an address, or something of
the kind. Wilbraham told me that very quietly he asked the gentleman
whether he might speak to him for a moment, that he had something very
important to say.
That he would not, as a rule, dream of interfering in any man's private
affairs, but that the importance of his communication outweighed all
ordinary conventions; that he expected that the gentleman had hitherto,
as had been his own case, felt much doubt about religious questions,
but that now all doubt was, once and forever, over, that…
I expect that at that fatal word "Religion" the gentleman started as
though he had been stung by a snake, felt that this mild-looking man
was a dangerous lunatic and tried to move away. It was the lady with
him, so far as I can discover, who cried out:
"Oh, poor man, he's ill," and wanted at once to do something for him.
By this time a crowd was beginning to collect and as the crowd closed
around the central figures more people gathered upon the outskirts and,
peering through, wondered what had happened, whether there was an
accident, whether it were a "drunk," whether there had been a quarrel,
and so on.
Wilbraham, I fancy, began to address them all, telling them his great
news, begging them with desperate urgency to believe him. Some laughed,
some stared in wide-eyed wonder, the crowd was increasing and then, of
course, the inevitable policeman with his "move on, please," appeared.
How deeply I regret that Wilbraham was not, there and then, arrested.
He would be alive and with us now if that had been done. But the
policeman hesitated, I suppose, to arrest any one as obviously a
gentleman as Wilbraham, a man, too, as he soon perceived, who was
perfectly sober, even though he was not in his right mind.
Wilbraham was surprised at the policeman's interference. He said that
the last thing that he wished to do was to create any disturbance, but
that he could not bear to let all these people go to their beds without
giving them a chance of realizing first that everything was now
altered, that he had the most wonderful news..
The crowd was dispersed and Wilbraham found himself walking alone with
the policeman beside the Green Park.
He must have been a very nice policeman because before Wilbraham's
death he called at the Nursing Home and was very anxious to know how
the poor gentleman was getting on.
He allowed Wilbraham to talk to him and then did all he could to
persuade him to walk home and go to bed. He offered to get him a taxi.
Wilbraham thanked him, said he would do so, and bade him good night,
and the policeman, seeing that Wilbraham was perfectly composed and
sober, left him.
After that the narrative is more confused. Wilbraham apparently walked
down Knightsbridge and arrived at last somewhere near the Albert Hall.
He must have spoken to a number of different people. One man, a
politician apparently, was with him for a considerable time, but only
because he was so anxious to emphasise his own views about the
Coalition Government and the wickedness of Lloyd George. Another was a
journalist, who continued with him for a while because he scented a
story for his newspaper. Some people may remember that there was a
garbled paragraph about a "Religious Army Officer" in the Daily
Record. One lady thought that Wilbraham wanted to go home with her and
was both angry and relieved when she found that it was not so.
He stayed at a cabman's shelter for a time and drank a cup of coffee
and told the little gathering there his news. They took it very calmly.
They had met so many queer things in their time that nothing seemed odd
His account becomes clearer again when he found himself a little before
dawn in the park and in the company of a woman and a broken down
pugilist. I saw both these persons afterwards and had some talk with
them. The pugilist had only the vaguest sense of what had happened.
Wilbraham was a "proper old bird" and had given him half a crown to get
his breakfast with. They had all slept together under a tree and he had
made some rather voluble protests because the other two would talk so
continuously and prevented his sleeping. It was a warm night and the
sun had come up behind the trees "surprisin' quick." He had liked the
old boy, especially as he had given him half a crown.
The woman was another story. She was quiet and reserved, dressed in
black, with a neat little black hat with a green feather in it. She had
yellow fluffy hair and bright childish blue eyes and a simple, innocent
expression. She spoke very softly and almost in a whisper. So far as I
could discover she could see nothing odd in Wilbraham nor in anything
that he had said. She was the one person in all the world who had
understood him completely and found nothing out of the way in his talk.
She had liked him at once, she said. "I could see that he was kind,"
she added earnestly, as though to her that was the most important thing
in all the world. No, his talk had not seemed odd to her. She had
believed every word that he had said. Why not? You could not look at
him and not believe what he said.
Of course it was true. And why not? What was there against it? It had
been a great help for her what the gentleman had told her… Yes, and
he had gone to sleep with his head in her lap… and she had stayed
awake all night thinking… and he had waked up just in time to see the
sun rise. Some sunrise that was, too.
That was a curious little fact that all three of them, even the
battered pugilist, should have been so deeply struck by that sunrise.
Wilbraham on the last day of his life, when he hovered between
consciousness and unconsciousness, kept recalling it as though it had
been a vision.
"The sun—and the trees suddenly green and bright like glittering
swords. All shapes—swords, plowshares, elephants, and camels—and the
sky pale like ivory. See, now the sun is rushing up, faster than ever,
to take us with him, up, up, leaving the trees like green clouds
beneath us—far, far beneath us—"
The woman said that it was the finest sunrise she had ever seen. He
talked to her all the time about his plans. He was looking disheveled
now and unshaven and dirty. She suggested that he should go back to his
flat. No, he wished to waste no time. Who knew how long he had got? It
might be only a day or two … He would go to Covent Garden and talk to
the men there.
She was confused as to what happened after that. When they got to the
market the carts were coming in and men were very busy.
She saw the gentleman speak to one of them very earnestly, but he was
busy and pushed him aside. He spoke to another, who told him to clear
Then he jumped on to a box, and almost the last sight she had of him
was his standing there in his soiled clothes, a streak of mud on his
face, his arms outstretched and crying: "It's true! Stop just a
moment—you must hear me!"
Some one pushed him off the box. The pugilist rushed in then, cursing
them and saying that the man was a gentleman and had given him half a
crown, and then some hulking great fellow fought the pugilist and there
was a regular mêlée. Wilbraham was in the middle of them, was knocked
down and trampled upon. No one meant to hurt him, I think. They all
seemed very sorry afterwards….
He died two days after being brought into the Nursing Home. He was very
happy just before he died, pressed my hand and asked me to look after
"Isn't it wonderful," were his last words to me, "that it should be
true after all?"
As to Truth, who knows? Truth is a large order. This is true as far
as Wilbraham goes, every word of it. Beyond that? Well, it must be
jolly to be so happy as Wilbraham was.
This will seem a lying story to some, a silly and pointless story to