Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale: Vol. 2, Ch. 5

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Chapter V: Another Crime


One night—it was late in the afternoon of the same year, about six months after the tragedy of the florin—Samuel Povey was wakened up by a hand on his shoulder and a voice that whispered: "Father!"

The thief and the liar was standing in his night-shirt by the bed.
Samuel's sleepy eyes could just descry him in the thick gloom.

"What—what?" questioned the father, gradually coming to consciousness. "What are you doing there?"

"I didn't want to wake mother up," the boy whispered. "There's someone been throwing dirt or something at our windows, and has been for a long time."

"Eh, what?"

Samuel stared at the dim form of the thief and liar. The boy was tall, not in the least like a little boy; and yet, then, he seemed to his father as quite a little boy, a little 'thing' in a night- shirt, with childish gestures and childish inflections, and a childish, delicious, quaint anxiety not to disturb his mother, who had lately been deprived of sleep owing to an illness of Amy's which had demanded nursing. His father had not so perceived him for years. In that instant the conviction that Cyril was permanently unfit for human society finally expired in the father's mind. Time had already weakened it very considerably. The decision that, be Cyril what he might, the summer holiday must be taken as usual, had dealt it a fearful blow. And yet, though Samuel and Constance had grown so accustomed to the companionship of a criminal that they frequently lost memory of his guilt for long periods, nevertheless the convention of his leprosy had more or less persisted with Samuel until that moment: when it vanished with strange suddenness, to Samuel's conscious relief.

There was a rain of pellets on the window.

"Hear that?" demanded Cyril, whispering dramatically. "And it's been like that on my window too."

Samuel arose. "Go back to your room!" he ordered in the same dramatic whisper; but not as father to son—rather as conspirator to conspirator.

Constance slept. They could hear her regular breathing.

Barefooted, the elderly gowned figure followed the younger, and one after the other they creaked down the two steps which separated Cyril's room from his parents'.

"Shut the door quietly!" said Samuel.

Cyril obeyed.

And then, having lighted Cyril's gas, Samuel drew the blind, unfastened the catch of the window, and began to open it with many precautions of silence. All the sashes in that house were difficult to manage. Cyril stood close to his father, shivering without knowing that he shivered, astonished only that his father had not told him to get back into bed at once. It was, beyond doubt, the proudest hour of Cyril's career. In addition to the mysterious circumstances of the night, there was in the situation that thrill which always communicates itself to a father and son when they are afoot together upon an enterprise unsuspected by the woman from whom their lives have no secrets.

Samuel put his head out of the window.

A man was standing there.

"That you, Samuel?" The voice came low.