The Pagrams by Barry Pain

Story type: Literature

Properly speaking, we had quarrelled with the Pagrams.

We both lived in the same street, and Pagram is in the same office as myself. For some time we were on terms. Then one night they looked in to borrow–well, I forget now precisely what it was, but they looked in to borrow something. A month afterward, as they had not returned it, we sent round to ask. Mrs. Pagram replied that it had already been returned, and Pagram–this was the damning thing–told me at the office in so many words that they had never borrowed it. Now, I hate anything like deception. So does Eliza. For two years or more Eliza and Mrs. Pagram have met in the street without taking the least notice of each other. I speak to Pagram in the office–being, as you might say, more or less paid to speak to him. But outside we have nothing to do with each other.

* * * * *

It was on Wednesday morning, I think, at breakfast, that Eliza said:

“I’ve just heard from Jane, who had it from the milkman–Mrs. Pagram had a baby born last night.”

“Well, that,” I observed, “is of no earthly interest to us.”

“Of course it isn’t. I only just mentioned it.”

“Is it a boy or girl?”

“A girl. I only hope she will bring it up to speak the truth.”

I replied that she might hope what we did not expect. So far Eliza had taken just exactly the tone that I wanted. But as I watched her, I saw her expression change and her underlip pulled down on one side, as it were.

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“Well,” I said rather sharply, “what is it? These people are nothing to us.”

“No. But–it reminded me–our little girl–my baby–that died. And I—-“

Here she put down her knife and fork, got up, and walked to the window. There she stood, with her back to me.

I had a mind to speak to her about the foolishness of recalling what must be very upsetting to her. But I said nothing, and began to brush my silk hat briskly. It was about time that I was starting for the city.

I went out.

Then I came back, kissed Eliza, and went out again.

* * * * *

I was a little surprised to find Pagram at the office.

“I should have thought you’d have taken a day off,” I said.

“Can’t afford that just now,” he replied, in rather a surly way.

“All well at home?”


“By my watch,” I said, “that office clock’s five minutes slow. What do you make it?”

“Don’t know. Left my watch at home.”

I had noticed that he was not wearing his watch. Later in the day I had some more conversation with him. He is quite my subordinate at the office, and I really don’t know why I should have taken so much notice of him.

* * * * *

When I came back that night I was in two minds whether to tell Eliza or not. She hates anything like extravagance, and if I told her I felt sure she would be displeased. At the same time, if I did not tell her, and she found it out afterward, she would be still more displeased. However, I decided to say nothing about it. I was a little nervous on the point, and I own that my conscience reproached me.

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As I came into the hall, Eliza came down the staircase. She was dressed for going out, and had a basket in her hand. She said: “I want you to let me go over to the Pagrams to see if I can do anything. She and the baby are both very ill,–the nurse has had no sleep,–they’ve no one else to help them. And–and I’m going!”

“Now, do you think this is necessary, Eliza?” I began. “When you come to consider the position we’ve taken up with regard to the Pagrams for two years, and the scandalous way in which they—-“

Here I stopped. The hall door was shut, and Eliza had gone, and it was not worth while to continue.

“Now,” I thought to myself, “it’s ten to one that Eliza finds me out, and if she does, she’ll probably make herself unpleasant.” However, I determined not to trouble myself about it. If it came to that, I flattered myself that I could make myself as unpleasant as most people when any occasion arose.

* * * * *

It was hours before Eliza returned. She burst into the room and said, “They’re both better, and the baby’s a beauty, and I’m to go back to-morrow afternoon.”

“Indeed!” I said. “I don’t know that you’re not going a little too far with these people.”

“Do you think so? I’ve found you out. You didn’t tell me, but Pagram did. You lent him three pounds this morning. We can’t afford that.”

“Well, well,” I said; “I’ve managed to get some overtime work, to begin next week. That–that’ll come out all right. You ought to leave these business matters to me. Anyhow, it’s no good finding fault, and—-“

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“Does Pagram generally return what’s lent?”

I lost my temper and said that I didn’t care a damn! And then–just then–I saw that she was not really displeased about it.

“Why,” she said, “you silly! I’m glad you did it. The poor things were at their wits’ end, and had got–they’d got nothing! You’ve saved them, and I never have liked anything you’ve done half as much as this.”

Here Eliza burst into tears–which is really very unusual with her.

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