Mansfield's Short Stories
An Ideal Family
That evening for the first time in his life, as he pressed through the swing door and
descended the three broad steps to the pavement, old Mr. Neave felt he was too old for
the spring. Spring--warm, eager, restless-- was there, waiting for him in the golden light,
ready in front of everybody to run up, to blow in his white beard, to drag sweetly on his
arm. And he couldn't meet her, no; he couldn't square up once more and stride off, jaunty
as a young man. He was tired and, although the late sun was still shining, curiously cold,
with a numbed feeling all over. Quite suddenly he hadn't the energy, he hadn't the heart to
stand this gaiety and bright movement any longer; it confused him. He wanted to stand
still, to wave it away with his stick, to say, "Be off with you!" Suddenly it was a terrible
effort to greet as usual--tipping his wide-awake with his stick--all the people whom he
knew, the friends, acquaintances, shopkeepers, postmen, drivers. But the gay glance that
went with the gesture, the kindly twinkle that seemed to say, "I'm a match and more for
any of you"--that old Mr. Neave could not manage at all. He stumped along, lifting his
knees high as if he were walking through air that had somehow grown heavy and solid
like water. And the homeward-looking crowd hurried by, the trams clanked, the light
carts clattered, the big swinging cabs bowled along with that reckless, defiant
indifference that one knows only in dreams...
It had been a day like other days at the office. Nothing special had happened. Harold
hadn't come back from lunch until close on four. Where had he been? What had he been
up to? He wasn't going to let his father know. Old Mr. Neave had happened to be in the
vestibule, saying good-bye to a caller, when Harold sauntered in, perfectly turned out as
usual, cool, suave, smiling that peculiar little half-smile that women found so fascinating.
Ah, Harold was too handsome, too handsome by far; that had been the trouble all along.
No man had a right to such eyes, such lashes, and such lips; it was uncanny. As for his
mother, his sisters, and the servants, it was not too much to say they made a young god of
him; they worshipped Harold, they forgave him everything; and he had needed some
forgiving ever since the time when he was thirteen and he had stolen his mother's purse,
taken the money, and hidden the purse in the cook's bedroom. Old Mr. Neave struck
sharply with his stick upon the pavement edge. But it wasn't only his family who spoiled
Harold, he reflected, it was everybody; he had only to look and to smile, and down they
went before him. So perhaps it wasn't to be wondered at that he expected the office to
carry on the tradition. H'm, h'm! But it couldn't be done. No business--not even a
successful, established, big paying concern--could be played with. A man had either to
put his whole heart and soul into it, or it went all to pieces before his eyes...
And then Charlotte and the girls were always at him to make the whole thing over to
Harold, to retire, and to spend his time enjoying himself. Enjoying himself! Old Mr.
Neave stopped dead under a group of ancient cabbage palms outside the Government
buildings! Enjoying himself! The wind of evening shook the dark leaves to a thin airy
cackle. Sitting at home, twiddling his thumbs, conscious all the while that his life's work