Twelve Stories and a Dream
9. Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation
My friend, Mr. Ledbetter, is a round-faced little man, whose natural mildness of eye is
gigantically exaggerated when you catch the beam through his glasses, and whose deep,
deliberate voice irritates irritable people. A certain elaborate clearness of enunciation has
come with him to his present vicarage from his scholastic days, an elaborate clearness of
enunciation and a certain nervous determination to be firm and correct upon all issues,
important and unimportant alike. He is a sacerdotalist and a chess player, and suspected
by many of the secret practice of the higher mathematics--creditable rather than
interesting things. His conversation is copious and given much to needless detail. By
many, indeed, his intercourse is condemned, to put it plainly, as "boring," and such have
even done me the compliment to wonder why I countenance him. But, on the other hand,
there is a large faction who marvel at his countenancing such a dishevelled, discreditable
acquaintance as myself. Few appear to regard our friendship with equanimity. But that is
because they do not know of the link that binds us, of my amiable connection via Jamaica
with Mr. Ledbetter's past.
About that past he displays an anxious modesty. "I do not KNOW what I should do if it
became known," he says; and repeats, impressively, "I do not know WHAT I should do."
As a matter of fact, I doubt if he would do anything except get very red about the ears.
But that will appear later; nor will I tell here of our first encounter, since, as a general
rule--though I am prone to break it--the end of a story should come after, rather than
before, the beginning. And the beginning of the story goes a long way back; indeed, it is
now nearly twenty years since Fate, by a series of complicated and startling manoeuvres,
brought Mr. Ledbetter, so to speak, into my hands.
In those days I was living in Jamaica, and Mr. Ledbetter was a schoolmaster in England.
He was in orders, and already recognisably the same man that he is to-day: the same
rotundity of visage, the same or similar glasses, and the same faint shadow of surprise in
his resting expression. He was, of course, dishevelled when I saw him, and his collar less
of a collar than a wet bandage, and that may have helped to bridge the natural gulf
between us--but of that, as I say, later.
The business began at Hithergate-on-Sea, and simultaneously with Mr. Ledbetter's
summer vacation. Thither he came for a greatly needed rest, with a bright brown
portmanteau marked "F. W. L.", a new white-and-black straw hat, and two pairs of white
flannel trousers. He was naturally exhilarated at his release from school-- for he was not
very fond of the boys he taught. After dinner he fell into a discussion with a talkative
person established in the boarding-house to which, acting on the advice of his aunt, he
had resorted. This talkative person was the only other man in the house. Their discussion
concerned the melancholy disappearance of wonder and adventure in these latter days,
the prevalence of globe-trotting, the abolition of distance by steam and electricity, the
vulgarity of advertisement, the degradation of men by civilisation, and many such things.
Particularly was the talkative person eloquent on the decay of human courage through
security, a security Mr. Ledbetter rather thoughtlessly joined him in deploring. Mr.