His Better Half
HIS BETTER HALF.
By Guy Boothby.
Illustrated by James Greig.
"If I were loved as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear if I were loved by thee?
THOMAS WTNDHAM GUILFOY had only one fault—he was just the tiniest bit in the world too weak. I don't mean weakness in either a moral or a physical sense, but in the little insignificant trifles which go such a long way towards building up a man's character. The very shape of his boots and fashion of his waistcoats, not to mention the undecided manner of his services in the tennis court, said this as plainly as any words could speak.
In his school-days his reports were always fair, and he gained a decent average of prizes. In his college career he manipulated his little "go" in safety and his degree in proper course. He was admitted to the Inner Temple, and he ate his dinners Nevertheless it was all eminently unsatisfactory. With his splendid abilities he should have done better. His father said as much when he handed him a cheque of four figures to settle with his creditors. The fact was he was dreadfully wanting in ambition, and this is as much a deformity as a short leg or curvature of the spine.
At twenty one he fell in love—as men of his kidney always do—with a girl as ambitiously strong as he was weak. She was a splendid creature in every way—better fitted, his friends said, to adorn an Embassy than to rule the middle-class home of young Tom Guilfoy. But Guilfoy père was in ecstasies.
"That's the proper sort of girl for my boy Tom," he would say. "You mark my words, she'll make a man of him yet!"
His allowance to the young couple was on a par with his enthusiasm.
During the engagement and for three golden months after the wedding-day Tom Guilfoy bragged of what he was going to do in the future. He was going to show his friends, he said, that he was made of the right sort of stuff, and who knew but that he might be Lord Chancellor before he was fifty, etc. Then cub-hunting came round, and in the excitement of schooling a young horse over difficult country he postponed for a time consideration of everything legal. After that, one would have imagined, he was going to sit down for half an hour and rearrange the fiscal policy of Great Britain, and a few more little outstanding matters connected with European politics. His wife said nothing; she looked after his buttons, sung his praises, and formed her own plans for his reformation.
Before Christmas he had quarrelled hopelessly with his father over the trivial Question of summering hunters. The squire had his own pet theories on the subject, and his son should have had the sense to humour them; but he failed in this as in everything else, consequently terrible trouble ensued. Eight weeks later Mr. and Mrs. Guilfoy junior landed in Melbourne with £5000 to their credit in the Bank of Australasia, and a letter warning them to expect no further help from the authorities at home.
The change suited Tom Guilfoy admirably. He rented a charming residence in the most fashionable part of Toorak (against the wishes of his wife), gave bewitching little dinners to the best people, joined two clubs—one an all-night affair—punted freely at every big race meeting, and when the half-yearly bank balance came round found his capital reduced by just £8000. I can tell you he was more than a little surprised.
Then Mrs. Guilfoy rose up and took matters into her own hands. (The sequel is funny enough to make a Dingo laugh.) She didn't rant, she didn't rave, she simply talked quietly but firmly to her husband, showing him his folly in unmistakable colours. Then she left him in the conservatory, very flushed and miserable, to think it all over. Though he didn't know it, his reign in that house was over.
But you mustn't imagine that Mrs. Guilfoy was the sort of woman to cry, "I told you so!" She was far too sensible for that; nor did she allow her Tom to fancy himself playing second fiddle in the house. On the contrary she still deferred to him in everything, as if she considered him the cleverest being in existence. She saw that his self-esteem had received a shock, but she knew her man too well to imagine that he would remain very long depressed.
Acting on her flattering advice he applied for admittance to the Victorian Bar. His English credentials helped him, and in due course he secured elegantly furnished chambers and commenced the practice of his profession. He had no clients, but his wife had scored one point.
Now to my certain knowledge there are no less than three cleverest women in Australia, but neither of the other two are fit even to button the boots of Mrs. Thomas Wyndham Guilfoy. She made herself popular everywhere for her husband's sake, and a certain witty governor once said in my hearing that of all women he'd ever met she the most resem—— but there, it was all very pretty, and classical, and suited her exactly.
A fortnight later Mr. T. Wyndham Guilfoy, barrister-at-law (I quote from the brass plate on his staircase), was briefed by Kelton, Castle & Quiddle, of Chancery Chambers, for Philpot, in the action of "Bell v. Philpot, Mathews intervening." It was a nasty, choppy, mixed up case, just the sort of thing that would either make or break a rising man. Guilfoy lit a cigar and looked the brief over with the air of a man capable of mastering its difficulties at once. Reading it a second time he confessed that it certainly was involved, so he finished that cigar, lit another, and read it again. This time the point grew still more obscure, and he began to have a hazy idea that he was not quite so clever as he thought himself.
Putting the papers in his bag he took them home, but after dinner made some lame excuse and went to the club. His wife saw through it, but held her peace. She wanted to get hold of the brief.
When he returned about eleven she had, with her quick womanly perception, found a way out of the difficulty, and she had also invited Mr. and Mrs. Kelton to dinner on the following evening. (Mr. Kelton was the managing partner of the eminent firm.)
While brushing her hair that night she drew her husband on to speak of the case, and he confessed his inability to grasp the all-important point.
Then for five minutes she spoke.
When she had finished he said effusively, "By Jove, Emily, that's the very point which has been puzzling us all. I believe you are the cleverest woman in the world!"
It was quite a little dinner, but an enormous success. Mrs. Kelton told her husband afterwards that Mrs. Guilfoy's cook must be an angel. (Mrs. Guilfoy had cooked the greater part of it herself.) When the ladies had retired Mr. Kelton drew his chair up to the table, and over some undoubted port broached the subject of the case, as Mrs. Guilfoy knew he would. Then, one by one, as a man drives tacks into a board, Tom Guilfoy drove his wife's ideas into the senior Partner's head. The partner was delighted, e rose and shook hands with his barrister, and they finished the bottle in great good fellowship. Then they went up to the drawing-room.
When the carriage was announced, and after Mrs. Kelton had kissed Mrs. Guilfoy, Mr. Kelton said warmly to his hostess—
"Madam, I congratulate you on your husband's ability. He's a clever fellow, madam; he's a dev—— I mean he's solved a great difficulty for us. Gad, an enormous difficulty! I see a future before him, madam. I'm proud of his acquaintance! Good-night."
When the carriage had turned the corner and the inevitable policeman had passed the gate, Tom Guilfoy condescendingly kissed his wife.
A week later the case was heard, and Guilfoy made his first public appearance. He was nervous, but confident, for his wife had drilled the line well into him. He was no fool, nor was he wanting in oratorial powers, and, backed up by the peculiar nature of his defence, he was soon at his ease. His argument was a great success, and his Honour, in giving judgment for the defendant, referred in highly complimentary terms to the ability of his learned brother. Thomas Wyndham Guilfoy's fortune had commenced.
Soon afterwards his wife presented him with a son and heir, and the senior partner stood godfather. The doctor, shaking his head solemnly, said "Mrs. Guilfoy must not be worried," consequently her husband lost a big will case in a most unaccountable manner: he took the wrong line his solicitors affirmed. Then the medical man ordered a sea voyage, and Mrs. Guilfoy and the baby went home in the Valetta. She looked terribly careworn and pale, and her husband naturally felt anxious.
He put up at the club during her absence, and for the first two months wrote regularly by every mail. Then she began to figure in his eyes as a tall, thin, dark-eyed woman, who cried on the promenade deck, and told him to be a good boy, to work hard, and above all, to write often. After this he only wrote once a fortnight.
Somehow or other things began to go very wrong with Tom Guilfoy. He neglected his work, and lost three important cases through pure carelessness. His solicitors remonstrated, but he took no notice. He lost another. They sent their work to J. W. Beeton, of Bank Place, and Guilfoy did not like it.
Then he began to "nip." All men and a good many women know what that means. He scarcely went near his office, but played pool at the club until his hand grew too shaky and he could hardly see the balls. After that for three weeks he disappeared into the black valley altogether.
His wife had been gone six months, and he only wrote when he felt inclined which was not often. His handwriting must have been a revelation to her, for she suddenly wrote announcing her return. Taking the letter out of the club rack he put it in his pocket, intending to read it when alone. About a month afterwards he chanced to find it. The Oratava was expected that day, and he went down to Williamstown to meet her, taking just a nip or two to prepare himself for the interview. He could not trust himself to shave.
Arriving on board, he hunted about for his wife. She was in the saloon, and two stewards, counting spoons at a side table, looked out of the comers of their eyes at him and winked at each other.
I have said before that Mrs. Guilfoy was a clever woman. I withdraw that statement and say that she was the cleverest woman that breathed. Another wife would have shrieked and fainted on being welcomed by such a scallywag of a husband as Tom Guilfoy looked at that moment, but she did neither; she was far too wise. Conceive it if you can! But I tell you that that radiant, majestic creature, beautiful as Aurora, floated up the saloon towards him with her hands outstretched, and before he knew where he was she had kissed him on either cheek, crying—
"Tom, Tom, my dear, dear boy! Oh, how glad I am to be with you again!"
Then she took him home, and he felt like a bad little boy who, anticipating a whipping, had been unexpectedly forgiven.
Now how that woman worked no one will ever understand; but she slaved, she toiled, she fought, she struggled night and day to lift her husband back to his lost position. She was popular before she left, she was a thousand times more popular when she returned. Nobody could deny her anything; and even old Kelton began to think that after all perhaps he'd been just a little too hard on Tom.
A small brief followed. She brushed her husband up, gave him his cue, and he won. Two more cases, and his nerve returned. By this time he could run downstairs without using the banisters.
His cure was complete, and everyone said that Tom Guilfoy was a better man than they had thought him. Of course he got all the credit—that's what is called the justice of life!
Since then he has left the club severely alone, and his wife takes precious good care that he "nips" no longer. He trusts to her judgment in everything.
To-day there is not a more popular barrister in Melbourne than Thomas Wyndham Guilfoy, and as for his wife—well, I'm not going to say what I think of her. The English language does not allow a man sufficient words to do her justice.
Locked up in an old-fashioned writing-desk (Mrs. Guilfoy's private property) is a small bundle consisting of twelve letters tied up with black silk. They represent six months of her married life. To Tom Guilfoy they are a sealed book; he never likes to think of when he wrote them.