Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version

John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office. He lived
a lonely life, and had done so ever since he had been a boy. At school he had
mixed little with his fellow school-boys, and he took no interest in the things that
interested them, that is to say, games. On the other hand, although he was what
is called "good at work," and did his lessons with facility and ease, he was not a
literary boy, and did not care for books. He was drawn towards machinery of all
kinds, and spent his spare time in dabbling in scientific experiments or in
watching trains go by on the Great Western line. Once he blew off his eyebrows
while making some experiment with explosive chemicals; his hands were always
smudged with dark, mysterious stains, and his room was like that of a mediaeval
alchemist, littered with retorts, bottles, and test-glasses. Before leaving school he
invented a flying machine (heavier than air), and an unsuccessful attempt to start
it on the high road caused him to be the victim of much chaff and ridicule.
When he left school he went to Oxford. His life there was as lonely as it had been
at school. The dirty, untidy, ink-stained, and chemical- stained little boy grew up
into a tall, lank, slovenly-dressed man, who kept entirely to himself, not because
he cherished any dislike or disdain for his fellow-creatures, but because he
seemed to be entirely absorbed in his own thoughts and isolated from the world
by a barrier of dreams.
He did well at Oxford, and when he went down he passed high into the Civil
Service and became a clerk in a Government office. There he kept as much to
himself as ever. He did his work rapidly and well, for this man, who seemed so
slovenly in his person, had an accurate mind, and was what was called a good
clerk, although his incurable absent- mindedness once or twice caused him to
forget certain matters of importance.
His fellow clerks treated him as a crank and as a joke, but none of them, try as
they would, could get to know him or win his confidence. They used to wonder
what Fletcher did with his spare time, what were his pursuits, what were his
hobbies, if he had any. They suspected that Fletcher had some hobby of an
engrossing kind, since in everyday life he conveyed the impression of a man who
is walking in his sleep, who acts mechanically and automatically. Somewhere
else, they thought, in some other circumstances, he must surely wake up and
take a living interest in somebody or in something.
Yet had they followed him home to his small room in Canterbury- mansions they
would have been astonished. For when he returned from the office after a hard
day's work he would do nothing more engrossing than slowly to turn over the
leaves of a book in which there were elaborate drawings and diagrams of
locomotives and other kinds of engines. And on Sunday he would take a train to
one of the large junctions and spend the whole day in watching express trains go
past, and in the evening would return again to London.
One day after he had returned from the office somewhat earlier than usual, he
was telephoned for. He had no telephone in his own room, but he could use a
public telephone which was attached to the building. He went into the small box,