GANTRY BILL

“Oh, why are eyes of hazel? noses Grecian!
I’ve lost my rest at night, my peace by day,
For want of some brown holland or Venetian,
Over the way.”
TOM HOOD

Old Holywell in Oxford town is an interesting street. Not only does
every house there differ from its neighbour, but the inhabitants are
just as varied.

Opposite Mr. Wycherly’s was a tall, straight, grey house, which had been
let as rooms to generations of undergraduates when the time came for
them to “live out.” Some two years before, Jane-Anne had watched these
young gentlemen, as she then still called them, with the greatest
interest; in fact, undergraduates as a class held for her one supreme
possibility—one of them might fulfil in the flesh all she had dreamed in
the spirit of Lord Byron.

She had never met one that in the least resembled her dream. They were,
for the most part, broad-shouldered, brown-faced, exceedingly untidy
young men, who slouched about Oxford in ancient Norfolk jackets, baggy
grey flannel trousers, and slippers down at the heel. Most of them
looked in the best of health and spirits. The few who might, perhaps,
be suspected of soulfulness were so plain-looking, that she dismissed
them at once; they were out of the running altogether.

Montagu was good-looking in a straight-featured, quiet sort of way.
Edmund was radiantly and riotously handsome. Mr. Wycherly, in
Jane-Anne’s opinion and that of several other people, was the most
beautiful person in Oxford. Therefore she was hard to please.

After she came under the influence of Miss Willows, young men interested
her no more. True to her theory that every eventuality should be met
fearlessly, Miss Willows never omitted the possibility of marriage from
talks with her girls. With her, they regarded it as a rather
commonplace fate, that might perhaps fall to the lot of some of them.
But there were many more interesting things in life than that.

Miss Willows never, by word or look, hinted to her girls that young men
were dangerous, and therefore to be avoided. They were there in Oxford
in large numbers, let the girls meet them in society if possible, let
them judge of them dispassionately. Let there be no glamour of the
forbidden about them. They might talk to them; listen to them; weigh
their conversation in the balance of reason, and—she always added
inwardly—”find it wanting.” But she never said this; she implied it,
and the girls, with youthful earnestness and scorn, finished the
sentence for themselves.

Jane-Anne met no young men. Every undergraduate at New College knew Mr.
Wycherly by sight, but not one knew any more of him. At the time when
Jane-Anne took an interest in them they took no sort of interest in her.
Now that she was tall and straight, with frocks down to her ankles, and
bright eyes that rained influence, a good many undergraduates wished
they knew Mr. Wycherly. As for Jane-Anne, she desired no notice from
foolish young men. The notice she craved was larger and more impersonal,
and although she was an impatient young person, she was content to wait
for it. She knew that she was not wasting her time. She studied Greek
dramatists with Mr. Wycherly, and read eagerly every word of his
translation of Aristotle’s “Poetics,” laying to heart many of its
maxims. She walked to and from school by herself, she went on
occasional errands for Mrs. Dew, but beyond that she was rarely seen in
Oxford except accompanied by Mr. Wycherly. With him she wandered in
college gardens, and by the banks of the Cherwell. When the boys came
back, she spent long days on the river with them, and every new dance
she learned at school she danced again for “the master,” and in summer
always danced barefooted on the lawn.

Mr. Wycherly allowed her to do her evening work in the parlour, which
was quieter than the housekeeper’s room in such close proximity to Mrs.
Dew. The May nights were hot, and Jane-Anne opened the window and drew
back the short white curtains to let in as much air as possible. People
might look in if they liked. It mattered nothing to Jane-Anne, loftily
absorbed in work for Miss Willows.

There she sat at the round, rosewood table in the middle of the room,
the electric light shaded and drawn low over her papers (Mr. Wycherly
never allowed her to work in a bad light), her delicate Greek profile
presented to every chance observer, severe, detached, an example of
studious girlhood most edifying to behold.

So evidently thought the undergraduate who lived opposite. For no
sooner had she turned on her light than he extinguished his and took a
seat in the window, which, a little above the level of hers, commanded
an excellent view of Mr. Wycherly’s parlour. His watch was shared by a
white bull terrier, who spent long hours sitting on the sill.

That undergraduate was a rowing man, the Eights came on in another
fortnight, and in the evenings he “did a slack.”

He was musical, this undergraduate, possessed a piano and a pleasing
tenor voice, and sometimes after dinner, although Jane-Anne would not
have dreamed of interrupting her work for one instant to listen, she was
vaguely conscious that the music was agreeable, and was sorry when it
ceased.

One evening, however, she did listen, for there came from the house
opposite strains that were, to her, curiously familiar; a queer,
old-fashioned song, and then with a little leap of the heart she
recognised a poem she knew and loved. The young man opposite had
evidently been well taught, it was quite possible to hear his words. She
stopped short in the middle of a complicated sentence to the effect that
the aim of discipline is to produce a self-governing unit, laid down her
pen, and, forgetful that the light was behind her, went to the window
and leaned out.

The young man seated at the piano in the darkness of the room opposite
smiled gleefully, and sang more loudly and with increased fervour:

“By those tresses unconfined
Woo’d by each Ægean wind;
By those lids whose jetty fringe
Kiss thy soft cheek’s blooming tinge;
By those soft eyes like the roe …”

Then followed the passionate Greek invocation with which each line of
Byron’s “Maid of Athens” concludes.

Miss Willows would doubtless have dismissed words and music as hackneyed
and obvious. But her pupil had read the verses till she knew them by
heart, feeling, as in the case of “She walks in beauty like the night,”
that Lord Byron had written them for her and about her; she had not
heard them sung since her mother sang them to her when she was a very
little child. Now in the soft spring night the once familiar strains
came floating across the quiet street charged full of innocent and
tender memories.

In the semi-darkness, Jane-Anne beheld a ghostly white dog, seated
solemn and sedate on the window-ledge. The dog also noticed Jane-Anne,
and while his master still passionately proclaimed the fact that his
heart had passed into the possession of “The Maid of Athens,” the dog
pricked forward his long ears, after the fashion of a bull-terrier when
interested, and wagged his tail. At that instant the music ceased with
a crash of chords.

“Oh, you dear!” exclaimed Jane-Anne, and went back to her work.

The singer came and sat in the window again.

“Gantry Bill,” he said softly, “which of us did she call a dear?”

Gantry Bill wagged his tail again.

_He_ hadn’t the smallest doubt.

“That seemed to fetch her rather,” the singer continued.

Gantry Bill evidently thought this a foolish remark, for he made no
response.

“It’s a shame to make such a pretty girl work so hard, ain’t it, Bill?”

Here Gantry Bill was more sympathetic, and tried to lick his master’s
face.

“We’ll try another,” said that gentleman, “we’ll fetch her again, won’t
us, Bill?”

But he sang the most passionate love songs in his repertoire, apparently
to deaf ears. The little head, with its cameo-like profile and dark
wealth of hair, remained studiously bent under the shaded light. The
self-governing unit had triumphed.

Her opposite neighbour might shout himself hoarse for all she cared.
She wanted full marks and a “plus” for her essay.

Night after night that week from the house opposite a tenor voice
apostrophised some peerless she. But never again did Jane-Anne go to
the window, and Gantry Bill laid his head sideways on his paws, his ears
flopped forwards, and snored gently, while his master, at the top of his
voice, proclaimed “the thousand beauties that he knew so well.”

He was a patient dog, Gantry Bill. More patient than his master who,
by-and-bye, gave it up as a bad job—and went out. He occasionally
attended lectures, too, whither the dog could not accompany him. Then
would Bill sit on the window-ledge watching the passers-by with a wise
reflective air, or sleep in that pathetic abandonment of attitude
habitual to the bull-terrier.

Jane-Anne sometimes crossed the street, spoke to him, caressed him, and
peeped into the empty room behind—a most untidy room.

“Poor doggie,” she said, one Saturday afternoon, “alone so much; would
you like to come and play in our garden, Gantry Bill? It’s much cooler
than over here. The master’s out, and you’ll not bother anybody.”

Gantry Bill looked at her, and evidently was tempted. In fact, a pretty
girl in a white frock on a hot July afternoon is always a pleasing
apparition.

Very slowly, like a stiff old gentleman, Gantry Bill arose and stood on
the window-ledge. He smiled at Jane-Anne, and playfully took her hand
into his mouth and mumbled it, in token of his approval.

“He’s gone to the boats, he’ll be hours and hours,” she said. “I saw
him rushing up the street in those awful little short knickerbockers,
and you left all alone to mope, poor dear! Why shouldn’t you have a
little amusement, too?”

This appeared a sound argument. Gantry Bill dropped from the
window-ledge into the street, and followed Jane-Anne across the road.
Into the garden she took him by devious ways that did not challenge the
observation of Mrs. Dew. She fetched him water in a pie-dish and
presented him with a chocolate biscuit, then she sat down under the
apple-tree to mend her stockings. But Gantry Bill hadn’t come out for
the afternoon to watch people mend stockings.

He spied a hockey ball lying on the path, seized it in his mouth, and
galumphed heavily towards Jane-Anne, laid it at her feet, barked and
made a series of short rushes at her in token that he desired to play.

“Hush,” said Jane-Anne, holding up a needle in her finger and thumb,
“you mustn’t bark, else aunt’ll hear you and come out. What do you
want?”

Another short rush, another “wouf,” and an eager head, ears cocked
forward, eyes beseeching Jane-Anne.

“You want me to throw it, do you?”

This was exactly what Gantry Bill did want, and for twenty minutes he
kept Jane-Anne very busy indeed. Then, hot and exhausted, they both sat
down under the apple-tree, and she was permitted to mend her stocking.
This was the first of many meetings.

Gantry Bill’s master had no idea his dog made assignations with the
young lady of the Greek profile and the long, thick pig-tail. Otherwise
he would have insisted upon an introduction. She showed no signs of
playing Eurydice to his Orpheus, sang he never so. None of his pals knew
Mr. Wycherly, and Mr. Wycherly’s friends in Oxford he did not know; and
just because the thing seemed so impossible he ardently desired to meet
Jane-Anne, and he had never wanted much to know any girl before. He was
not a ladies’ man.

After all, it was Gantry Bill who brought the thing about.

Mrs. Dew was very particular about eggs. Shop eggs she declined to use
even for the “egg and bread crumb” of fish, and all eggs in Holywell
came from an old woman who lived on the Iffley Road, kept large numbers
of fowls, and sold her eggs to a chosen few who would fetch them.

It was one of Jane-Anne’s duties to fetch eggs twice a week. It
happened, however, that Mrs. Dew “ran short” one day when she
particularly wanted to make an omelette for Mr. Wycherly’s dinner. So
after tea she sent Jane-Anne, with a shilling tucked into her glove, to
bring the required eggs. Jane-Anne walked quickly and procured the eggs
without adventure of any kind, carrying them in a little round basket
shaped like the hilt of a single-stick.

It was hot, and on her return she walked more slowly, dreaming as she
went. She held the basket rather loosely in one hand, and was quite
unprepared when a heavy body bounced at her from behind and knocked her
over. The basket flew from her hand, the eggs were scattered and
smashed; and much startled and confused she felt two strong hands under
her armpits that raised her to her feet, while a penitent voice
exclaimed:

“I say, I am most awfully sorry; it’s that brute of a dog. I can’t
think what possessed him to bounce at you like that. He’s never done it
before to anybody. I do _hope_ you’re not hurt or very frightened.
Down, sir! Down, you brute! You shall have a good thrashing for this.”

Jane-Anne recovered her senses to perceive that a tall young man, in a
blazer and white flannel trousers, had picked her up, that two other
young men stood by, looking rather amused, and that Gantry Bill was
cringing at her feet in evident expectation of the beating his master
had promised him, while round about them the broken eggs were drawing
maps upon the dusty road.

“Please don’t beat him,” she said, hastily settling her hat, which had
been knocked over her nose. “He didn’t mean to knock me down; he was
only saying how-do-you-do. He’s a great friend of mine, really.”

“Lucky beggar,” said the young man; “but I don’t see why he should show
his friendship in such an inconvenient fashion. He must be a tremendous
weight to knock you down like that.”

The two other young men had discreetly strolled on. Jane-Anne, Gantry
Bill and his master stood in the road encircled by broken eggs, and
looked at one another. Jane-Anne saw a tall, broad-shouldered young man
with a brown face, a very clean brown face that had once been fair. He
was not handsome—his nose was too broad and his mouth too big; but he
had splendid strong white teeth and merry blue eyes, which, at that
moment, looked into her own full of contrition and commiseration.

“I think,” he added hastily, “that we are neighbours; don’t you live
opposite?”

“That’s how I knew your dog,” Jane-Anne explained. “You leave him alone
a great deal.”

“I can’t take him to lectures.”

“I’m sure he’d behave very well. But, as I was saying, you leave him
alone and I was sorry for him, and so he sometimes comes and visits me,
and we’re great friends, aren’t we, Gantry Bill?”

“You know his name?” the young man exclaimed.

“Of course. I’m not deaf, and the street is not wide. Oh, dear!
whatever shall I do about the eggs?”

“Where did you get them, and we’ll go and get some more?”

“But I haven’t any more money, and we always pay for them.”

“Of course, you must allow me to pay for them. My dog broke them.”

“If you wouldn’t mind—just for to-day. You see, if I don’t take them
back aunt couldn’t make an omelette for Mr. Wycherly’s dinner.”

“Let’s go and get them at once. We can get them at the nearest
grocer’s.”

“Oh, you needn’t trouble to come with me. I must go back, for aunt
won’t get eggs anywhere else. If you could lend me the shilling——”

“I’m going to carry those eggs, and see you safe home. You might feel
faint or something after such a shock.”

Jane-Anne laughed, but she did not forbid him to accompany her. Gantry
Bill gambolled on ahead, and together they bought another shilling’s
worth of eggs from Mrs. Dew’s old woman.

As they walked down the Iffley Road together, he said rather
diffidently: “Gantry Bill is more fortunate than his master, since he
seems to know you, Miss Wycherly.”

“My name’s not Wycherly,” Jane-Anne answered. “It’s Stavrides. I’m no
relation to Mr. Wycherly; my aunt is his housekeeper, and he lets me
live there. I love him dearly.”

“My name’s George Gordon.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Are you any relation to Lord Byron?”

“Certainly not, I’m glad to say,” he remarked decidedly. “We’re quite
another lot of Gordons. It’s a big clan, you know. We’re the
Dumfrieshire Gordons. The poet was a gloomy sort of chap, wasn’t he?”

Jane-Anne stood still, and gazed at the Gordon at her side with great
indignation.

“Gloomy,” she repeated; “sad, if you like, sometimes, but very witty and
amusing; have you read his letters?”

George Gordon hung his head; the brown eyes looking up into his were so
grave and accusing.

“I’m afraid I know very little about him,” he said humbly; “perhaps he
was an ancestor of yours—I’m awfully sorry——”

Again Jane-Anne laughed, and he thought she had the prettiest laugh.
“Do you only defend people when they are your relations?” she asked. “I
admire Lord Byron’s poetry, and I am grateful to him because he gave his
life for my country—but he’s not the least little bit of an ancestor. I
don’t think I’ve got any.”

“That must be rather jolly, because then you can play off your own bat,
and people aren’t always expecting things of you because your
great-great-uncle did something or other last century.”

“Oh, I’d like them if I’d got them,” she said; “but as I haven’t—it’s no
use fretting. Have you a great many?”

“Nothing to speak of,” he said, blushing. “I can’t think how we’ve got
on to such a footling subject. You like Gantry Bill, don’t you?”

“He’s a perfect dear, but why is he called Gantry Bill? What’s gantry
mean—I looked it up in the dictionary, and it says——”

“Oh, it’s nothing to do with that—it’s some soldiers’ lingo—he belonged
to my elder brother; he’s a gunner and he had to go to Nigeria and
couldn’t take him, so he gave him to me. He’s a faithful beast, and
understands every word you say to him.”

By this time they had reached Long Wall, and as they strolled along in
intimate converse they met Miss Willows, who looked hard at Jane-Anne
and her escort carrying the basket of eggs.

When they reached the archway leading into the builder’s yard, Jane-Anne
stopped and bade him farewell.

“I can’t pay you the shilling now,” she said, “for I haven’t got one,
but the minute I have one I’ll bring it over. I’ve spent my allowance
for this month already.”

“Oh, please,” he said, looking most unhappy; “please don’t speak of it.
I broke the eggs, at least Bill did—so, of course——”

“Good-bye,” said Jane-Anne, and vanished in at the side-door.

George Gordon crossed the road very slowly, with Gantry Bill following
sedately at his heels; when they reached his sitting-room he sank
heavily into the chair by the window, and the bull-terrier leapt up on
to his seat on the window-sill.

“I say, Bill,” his master asked, “how have you contrived to see so much
of her?”

The shilling weighed heavily on Jane-Anne’s mind. She could not repay
it herself, for she had spent four-and-elevenpence-halfpenny on the
first of May, the day she got her allowance, on a pair of black silk
stockings declared to be “half-price,” which she had greatly coveted to
dance in.

Mrs. Dew would undoubtedly repay the shilling, but she would, at the
same time, ask so many questions and comment so severely on Jane-Anne’s
carelessness, and (this was what Jane-Anne particularly dreaded) express
such horror at her “forwardness” in walking home with George Gordon,
that Jane-Anne simply could not summon up enough moral courage to
confess herself to her aunt.

Therefore, as had happened hundreds of times in the past, there was
nothing for it but to go to “the master” who would, she knew, get her
out of the difficulty, and ask no questions. Yet—she felt shy even of
the master.

Suppose he forbade her ever to speak to George Gordon or Gantry Bill
again?

Still, the shilling must be got back to George Gordon that night, and it
was already seven o’clock, time for her to lay dinner. She ran up to
Mr. Wycherly’s study, and found him sitting in his arm-chair by the
window reading Horace.

She went and stood before his chair, clasped her hands behind her, and
announced:

“I broke a whole basketful of eggs, sir, this afternoon. They cost a
shilling.”

“Do you think,” said Mr. Wycherly, smiling, “that the domestic exchequer
will stand such a heavy drain upon it?”

“But that’s not all,” she continued breathlessly. “He picked me up, and
as I hadn’t another shilling he paid for the eggs, and I’ve spent all my
money, and can’t pay him back till June. Will you lend me the money to
pay him?”

Mr. Wycherly no longer lounged in his chair. He sat up very straight,
but he spoke gently as usual, saying:

“Do you mind explaining to me who ’he’ is, and why you should need to be
picked up?”

“Gantry Bill, that’s his dog, bounced at me from behind; we’re great
friends and he was glad to see me, and I was thinking deeply, and he
knocked me over and the eggs flew all about and made a great mess, so he
helped me up and we went together to buy more eggs, and he carried them
home for me.”

“Gantry Bill, as you call him,” Mr. Wycherly said, his eyes twinkling,
“seems a very remarkable dog. First, he knocks you down, then he picks
you up and gives you a shilling to buy eggs, which he politely carries
home for you. Is it this intelligent animal that you propose to repay?”

“No,” said Jane-Anne, blushing hotly; “it’s the intelligent animal’s
master. He lives just opposite. He’s at New College.”

“And is it he who is such a great friend of yours?” Mr. Wycherly asked,
as though it were the most natural conclusion possible.

“No,” said Jane-Anne, rosier than ever; “I never spoke to him before,
though I knew him by sight. He’s rather nice,” she added; “his name is
George Gordon, but he’s no relation to dear Lord Byron—and he doesn’t
seem a bit sorry. May I take the shilling over?”

“I think,” said Mr. Wycherly, “that perhaps it would be better if I took
him the shilling myself. After all, you know, the eggs were for the
house, and therefore my affair.”

“Oh, would you?” cried Jane-Anne. “That is perfectly lovely of you, and
then you’ll see him, and see if you like him.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Wycherly, “that’s why I want to go.”

“You will give it back to-night, won’t you?” she begged.

“Directly after dinner; I hope he will be at home.”

“Oh, he’s sure to be at home,” she said simply. “He generally sings
then; I hear him while I’m working. He sings ’Maid of Athens’ most
beautifully.”

“Does he indeed?” said Mr. Wycherly.