The Best British Short Stories of 1922
By HUGH WALPOLE
(From The Chicago Tribune)
I am quite aware that in giving you this story just as I was told it I shall incur the charge
of downright and deliberate lying.
Especially I shall be told this by any one who knew Wilbraham personally. Wilbraham
was not, of course, his real name, but I think that there are certain people who will
recognize him from this description of him. I do not know that it matters very much if
they do. Wilbraham himself would certainly not mind did he know. (Does he know?) It
was the thing above all that he wanted those last hours before he died--that I should pass
on my conviction of the truth of what he told me to others. What he did not know was
that I was not convinced. How could I be? But when the whole comfort of his last hours
hung on the simple fact that I was, of course I pretended to the best of my poor ability. I
would have done more than that to make him happy.
It is precisely the people who knew him well who will declare at once that my little story
is impossible. But did they know him well? Does any one know any one else well? Aren't
we all as lonely and removed from one another as mariners on separate desert islands? In
any case I did not know him well and perhaps for that very reason was not so greatly
surprised at his amazing revelations--surprised at the revelations themselves, of course,
but not at his telling them. There was always in him--and I have known him here and
there, loosely, in club and London fashion, for nearly twenty years--something romantic
and something sentimental. I knew that because it was precisely those two attributes that
he drew out of me.
Most men are conscious at some time in their lives of having felt for a member of their
own sex an emotion that is something more than simple companionship. It is a queer
feeling quite unlike any other in life, distinctly romantic and the more that perhaps for
having no sex feeling in it.
Like the love of women, it is felt generally at sight, but, unlike that love, it is, I think, a
supremely unselfish emotion. It is not acquisitive, nor possessive, nor jealous, and exists
best perhaps when it is not urged too severely, but is allowed to linger in the background
of life, giving real happiness and security and trust, standing out, indeed, as something
curiously reliable just because it is so little passionate. This emotion has an odd place in
our English life because the men who feel it, if they have been to public school and
university, have served a long training in repressing every sign or expression of sentiment
towards any other man; nevertheless it persists, romantically and deeply persists, and the
war of 1914 offered many curious examples of it.