My Brother Henry
Strictly speaking I never had a brother Henry, and yet I cannot say that
Henry was an impostor. He came into existence in a curious way, and I
can think of him now without malice as a child of smoke. The first I
heard of Henry was at Pettigrew's house, which is in a London suburb,
so conveniently situated that I can go there and back in one day. I was
testing some new Cabanas, I remember, when Pettigrew remarked that he
had been lunching with a man who knew my brother Henry. Not having any
brother but Alexander, I felt that Pettigrew had mistaken the name.
Oh, no, Pettigrew said; he spoke of Alexander too. Even this did not
convince me, and I asked my host for his friend's name. Scudamour was
the name of the man, and he had met my brothers Alexander and Henry
years before in Paris. Then I remembered Scudamour, and I probably
frowned, for I myself was my own brother Henry. I distinctly recalled
Scudamour meeting Alexander and me in Paris, and calling me Henry,
though my name begins with a J. I explained the mistake to Pettigrew,
and here, for the time being, the matter rested. However, I had by no
means heard the last of Henry.
Several times afterward I heard from various persons that Scudamour
wanted to meet me because he knew my brother Henry. At last we did meet,
in Jimmy's chambers; and, almost as soon as he saw me, Scudamour asked
where Henry was now. This was precisely what I feared. I am a man who
always looks like a boy. There are few persons of my age in London who
retain their boyish appearance as long as I have done; indeed, this is
the curse of my life. Though I am approaching the age of thirty, I pass
for twenty; and I have observed old gentlemen frown at my precocity when
I said a good thing or helped myself to a second glass of wine. There
was, therefore, nothing surprising in Scudamour's remark, that, when he
had the pleasure of meeting Henry, Henry must have been about the age
that I had now reached. All would have been well had I explained the
real state of affairs to this annoying man; but, unfortunately for
myself, I loathe entering upon explanations to anybody about anything.
This it is to smoke the Arcadia. When I ring for a time-table and
William John brings coals instead, I accept the coals as a substitute.
Much, then, did I dread a discussion with Scudamour, his surprise when
he heard that I was Henry, and his comments on my youthful appearance.
Besides, I was smoking the best of all mixtures. There was no likelihood
of my meeting Scudamour again, so the easiest way to get rid of him
seemed to be to humor him. I therefore told him that Henry was in India,
married, and doing well. Remember me to Henry when you write to him,
was Scudamour's last remark to me that evening.
A few weeks later some one tapped me on the shoulder in Oxford Street.
It was Scudamour. Heard from Henry? he asked. I said I had heard by
the last mail. Anything particular in the letter? I felt it would not
do to say that there was nothing particular in a letter which had come
all the way from India, so I hinted that Henry was having trouble with
his wife. By this I meant that her health was bad; but he took it up in
another way, and I did not set him right. Ah, ah! he said, shaking his
head sagaciously; I'm sorry to hear that. Poor Henry! Poor old boy!
was all I could think of replying. How about the children? Scudamour
asked. Oh, the children, I said, with what I thought presence of mind,
are coming to England. To stay with Alexander? he asked. My answer
was that Alexander was expecting them by the middle of next month; and
eventually Scudamour went away muttering, Poor Henry! In a month or so
we met again. No word of Henry's getting leave of absence? asked
Scudamour. I replied shortly that Henry had gone to live in Bombay, and
would not be home for years. He saw that I was brusque, so what does he
do but draw me aside for a quiet explanation. I suppose, he said,
you are annoyed because I told Pettigrew that Henry's wife had run away
from him. The fact is, I did it for your good. You see, I happened to
make a remark to Pettigrew about your brother Henry, and he said that
there was no such person. Of course I laughed at that, and pointed out
not only that I had the pleasure of Henry's acquaintance, but that
you and I had talked about the old fellow every time we met. 'Well,'
Pettigrew said, 'this is a most remarkable thing; for he,' meaning
you, 'said to me in this very room, sitting in that very chair, that
Alexander was his only brother.' I saw that Pettigrew resented your
concealing the existence of your brother Henry from him, so I thought
the most friendly thing I could do was to tell him that your reticence
was doubtless due to the unhappy state of poor Henry's private affairs.
Naturally in the circumstances you did not want to talk about Henry. I
shook Scudamour by the hand, telling him that he had acted judiciously;
but if I could have stabbed him in the back at that moment I dare say
I would have done it.
I did not see Scudamour again for a long time, for I took care to keep
out of his way; but I heard first from him and then of him. One day he
wrote to me saying that his nephew was going to Bombay, and would I be
so good as to give the youth an introduction to my brother Henry? He
also asked me to dine with him and his nephew. I declined the dinner,
but I sent the nephew the required note of introduction to Henry.
The next I heard of Scudamour was from Pettigrew. By the way, said
Pettigrew, Scudamour is in Edinburgh at present. I trembled, for
Edinburgh is where Alexander lives. What has taken him there? I
asked, with assumed carelessness. Pettigrew believed it was business;
but, he added, Scudamour asked me to tell you that he meant to call
on Alexander, as he was anxious to see Henry's children. A few days
afterward I had a telegram from Alexander, who generally uses this means
of communication when he corresponds with me.
Do you know a man, Scudamour? Reply, was what Alexander said. I
thought of answering that we had met a man of that name when we were
in Paris; but after consideration, I replied boldly: Know no one of
name of Scudamour.
About two months ago I passed Scudamour in Regent Street, and he scowled
at me. This I could have borne if there had been no more of Henry; but I
knew that Scudamour was now telling everybody about Henry's wife.
By and by I got a letter from an old friend of Alexander's asking me
if there was any truth in a report that Alexander was going to Bombay.
Soon afterward Alexander wrote to me saying he had been told by several
persons that I was going to Bombay. In short, I saw that the time had
come for killing Henry. So I told Pettigrew that Henry had died of
fever, deeply regretted; and asked him to be sure to tell Scudamour,
who had always been interested in the deceased's welfare. Pettigrew
afterward told me that he had communicated the sad intelligence to
Scudamour. How did he take it? I asked. Well, Pettigrew said,
reluctantly, he told me that when he was up in Edinburgh he did not get
on well with Alexander. But he expressed great curiosity as to Henry's
children. Ah, I said, the children were both drowned in the Forth; a
sad affair--we can't bear to talk of it. I am not likely to see much of
Scudamour again, nor is Alexander. Scudamour now goes about saying that
Henry was the only one of us he really liked.