Part 2 out of 8
I had no notion what I was not to tell, but our compact demanded that
I should agree.
"Say 'I swear.'"
The heroes of my favourite fiction bound themselves by such like
secret oaths. Here evidently was a comrade after my own heart.
But he turned again, and taking from his pocket an old knife, thrust
it into my hand. Then with that extraordinary hopping movement of his
ran off across the mud.
I stood watching him, wondering where he could be going. He stumbled
a little further, where the mud began to get softer and deeper, but
struggling up again, went hopping on towards the river.
I shouted to him, but he never looked back. At every few yards he
would sink down almost to his knees in the black mud, but wrenching
himself free would flounder forward. Then, still some distance from
the river, he fell upon his face, and did not rise again. I saw his
arms beating feebler and feebler as he sank till at last the oily
slime closed over him, and I could detect nothing but a faint heaving
underneath the mud. And after a time even that ceased.
It was late before I reached home, and fortunately my father and
mother were still out. I did not tell any one what I had seen, having
sworn not to; and as time went on the incident haunted me less and
less until it became subservient to my will. But of my fancy for
those silent, lifeless streets it cured me for the time. From behind
their still walls I would hear that long cry; down their narrow vistas
see that writhing figure, like some animated ginger-bread, hopping,
Yet in the more crowded streets another trouble awaited me, one more
Have you ever noticed a pack of sparrows round some crumbs perchance
that you have thrown out from your window? Suddenly the rest of the
flock will set upon one. There is a tremendous Lilliputian hubbub, a
tossing of tiny wings and heads, a babel of shrill chirps. It is
"Spiteful little imps they are," you say to yourself, much amused.
So I have heard good-tempered men and women calling out to one another
with a laugh.
"There go those young devils chivvying that poor little beggar again;
ought to be ashamed of theirselves."
But, oh! the anguish of the poor little beggar! Can any one who has
not been through it imagine it! Reduced to its actualities, what was
it? Gibes and jeers that, after all, break no bones. A few pinches,
kicks and slaps; at worst a few hard knocks. But the dreading of it
beforehand! Terror lived in every street, hid, waiting for me, round
each corner. The half-dozen wrangling over their marbles--had they
seen me? The boy whistling as he stood staring into the print shop,
would I get past him without his noticing me; or would he, swinging
round upon his heel, raise the shrill whoop that brought them from
every doorway to hunt me?
The shame, when caught at last and cornered: the grinning face that
would stop to watch; the careless jokes of passers-by, regarding the
whole thing but as a sparrows' squabble: worst of all, perhaps, the
rare pity! The after humiliation when, finally released, I would dart
away, followed by shouted taunts and laughter; every eye turned to
watch me, shrinking by; my whole small carcass shaking with dry sobs
of bitterness and rage!
If only I could have turned and faced them! So far as the mere
bearing of pain was concerned, I knew myself brave. The physical
suffering resulting from any number of stand-up fights would have been
trivial compared with the mental agony I endured. That I, the comrade
of a hundred heroes--I, who nightly rode with Richard Coeur de Lion,
who against Sir Lancelot himself had couched a lance, and that not
altogether unsuccessful, I to whom all damsels in distress were wont
to look for succour--that I should run from varlets such as these!
My friend, my bosom friend, good Robin Hood! how would he have behaved
under similar circumstances? how Ivanhoe, my chosen companion in all
quests of knightly enterprise? how--to come to modern times--Jack
Harkaway, mere schoolboy though he might be? Would not one and all
have welcomed such incident with a joyous shout, and in a trice have
scattered to the winds the worthless herd?
But, alas! upon my pale lips the joyous shout sank into an unheard
whisper, and the thing that became scattered to the wind was myself,
the first opening that occurred.
Sometimes, the blood boiling in my veins, I would turn, thinking to go
back and at all risk defying my tormentors, prove to myself I was no
coward. But before I had retraced my steps a dozen paces, I would see
in imagination the whole scene again before me: the laughing crowd,
the halting passers-by, the spiteful, mocking little faces every way I
turned; and so instead would creep on home, and climbing stealthily up
into my own room, cry my heart out in the dark upon my bed.
Until one blessed day, when a blessed Fairy, in the form of a small
kitten, lifted the spell that bound me, and set free my limbs.
I have always had a passionate affection for the dumb world, if it be
dumb. My first playmate, I remember, was a water rat. A stream ran
at the bottom of our garden; and sometimes, escaping the vigilant eye
of Mrs. Fursey, I would steal out with my supper and join him on the
banks. There, hidden behind the osiers, we would play at banquets,
he, it is true, doing most of the banqueting, and I the make-believe.
But it was a good game; added to which it was the only game I could
ever get him to play, though I tried. He was a one-ideaed rat.
Later I came into the possession of a white specimen all my own. He
lived chiefly in the outside breast pocket of my jacket, in company
with my handkerchief, so that glancing down I could generally see his
little pink eyes gleaming up at me, except on very cold days, when it
would be only his tail that I could see; and when I felt miserable,
somehow he would know it, and, swarming up, push his little cold snout
against my ear. He died just so, clinging round my neck; and from
many of my fellow-men and women have I parted with less pain. It
sounds callous to say so; but, after all, our feelings are not under
our own control; and I have never been able to understand the use of
pretending to emotions one has not. All this, however, comes later.
Let me return now to my fairy kitten.
I heard its cry of pain from afar, and instinctively hastened my
steps. Three or four times I heard it again, and at each call I ran
faster, till, breathless, I arrived upon the scene, the opening of a
narrow court, leading out of a by-street. At first I saw nothing but
the backs of a small mob of urchins. Then from the centre of them
came another wailing appeal for help, and without waiting for any
invitation, I pushed my way into the group.
What I saw was Hecuba to me--gave me the motive and the cue for
passion, transformed me from the dull and muddy-mettled little
John-a-dreams I had been into a small, blind Fury. Pale Thought, that
mental emetic, banished from my system, I became the healthy,
unreasoning animal, and acted as such.
From my methods, I frankly admit, science was absent. In simple,
primitive fashion that would have charmed a Darwinian disciple to
observe, I "went for" the whole crowd. To employ the expressive idiom
of the neighbourhood, I was "all over it and inside." Something clung
about my feet. By kicking myself free and then standing on it I
gained the advantage of quite an extra foot in height; I don't know
what it was and didn't care. I fought with my arms and I fought with
my legs; where I could get in with my head I did. I fought whatever
came to hand in a spirit of simple thankfulness, grateful for what I
could reach and indifferent to what was beyond me.
That the "show"--if again I may be permitted the local idiom--was not
entirely mine I was well aware. That not alone my person but my
property also was being damaged in the rear became dimly conveyed to
me through the sensation of draught. Already the world to the left of
me was mere picturesque perspective, while the growing importance of
my nose was threatening the absorption of all my other features.
These things did not trouble me. I merely noted them as phenomena and
continued to punch steadily.
Until I found that I was punching something soft and yet unyielding.
I looked up to see what this foreign matter that thus mysteriously had
entered into the mixture might be, and discovered it to be a
policeman. Still I did not care. The felon's dock! the prison cell!
a fig for such mere bogies. An impudent word, an insulting look, and
I would have gone for the Law itself. Pale Thought--it must have been
a livid green by this time--still trembled at respectful distance from
Fortunately for all of us, he was not impertinent, and though he spoke
the language of his order, his tone disarmed offence.
"Now, then. Now, then. What is all this about?"
There was no need for me to answer. A dozen voluble tongues were
ready to explain to him; and to explain wholly in my favour. This
time the crowd was with me. Let a man school himself to bear
dispraise, for thereby alone shall he call his soul his own. But let
no man lie, saying he is indifferent to popular opinion. That was my
first taste of public applause. The public was not select, and the
applause might, by the sticklers for English pure and undefiled, have
been deemed ill-worded, but to me it was the sweetest music I had ever
heard, or have heard since. I was called a "plucky little devil," a
"fair 'ot 'un," not only a "good 'un," but a "good 'un" preceded by
the adjective that in the East bestows upon its principal every
admirable quality that can possibly apply. Under the circumstances it
likewise fitted me literally; but I knew it was intended rather in its
Kind, if dirty, hands wiped my face. A neighbouring butcher presented
me with a choice morsel of steak, not to eat but to wear; and I found
it, if I may so express myself without infringing copyright, "grateful
and comforting." My enemies had long since scooted, some of them, I
had rejoiced to notice, with lame and halting steps. The mutilated
kitten had been restored to its owner, a lady of ample bosom, who,
carried beyond judgment by emotion, publicly offered to adopt me on
the spot. The Law suggested, not for the first time, that everybody
should now move on; and slowly, followed by feminine commendation
mingled with masculine advice as to improved methods for the future, I
was allowed to drift away.
My bones ached, my flesh stung me, yet I walked as upon air.
Gradually I became conscious that I was not alone. A light, pattering
step was trying to keep pace with me. Graciously I slacked my speed,
and the pattering step settled down beside me. Every now and again
she would run ahead and then turn round to look up into my face, much
as your small dog does when he happens not to be misbehaving himself
and desires you to note the fact. Evidently she approved of me. I
was not at my best, as far as appearance was concerned, but women are
kittle cattle, and I think she preferred me so. Thus we walked for
quite a long distance without speaking, I drinking in the tribute of
her worship and enjoying it. Then gaining confidence, she shyly put
her hand into mine, and finding I did not repel her, promptly assumed
possession of me, according to woman's way.
For her age and station she must have been a person of means, for
having tried in vain various methods to make me more acceptable to
followers and such as having passed would turn their heads, she said:
"I know, gelatines;" and disappearing into a sweetstuff shop, returned
with quite a quantity. With these, first sucked till glutinous, we
joined my many tatters. I still attracted attention, but felt warmer.
She informed me that her name was Cissy, and that her father's shop
was in Three Colt Street. I informed her that my name was Paul, and
that my father was a lawyer. I also pointed out to her that a lawyer
is much superior in social position to a shopkeeper, which she
acknowledged cheerfully. We parted at the corner of the Stainsby
Road, and I let her kiss me once. It was understood that in the
Stainsby Road we might meet again.
I left Eliza gaping after me, the front door in her hand, and ran
straight up into my own room. Robinson Crusoe, King Arthur, The Last
of the Barons, Rob Roy! I looked them all in the face and was not
ashamed. I also was a gentleman.
My mother was much troubled when she saw me, but my father, hearing
the story, approved.
"But he looks so awful," said my mother. "In this world," said my
father, "one must occasionally be aggressive--if necessary, brutal."
My father would at times be quite savage in his sentiments.
PAUL, FALLING IN WITH A GOODLY COMPANY OF PILGRIMS, LEARNS OF THEM THE
ROAD THAT HE MUST TRAVEL. AND MEETS THE PRINCESS OF THE GOLDEN LOCKS.
The East India Dock Road is nowadays a busy, crowded thoroughfare.
The jingle of the tram-bell and the rattle of the omnibus and cart
mingle continuously with the rain of many feet, beating ceaselessly
upon its pavements. But at the time of which I write it was an empty,
voiceless way, bounded on the one side by the long, echoing wall of
the docks and on the other by occasional small houses isolated amid
market gardens, drying grounds and rubbish heaps. Only one thing
remains--or did remain last time I passed along it, connecting it with
its former self--and that is the one-storeyed brick cottage at the
commencement of the bridge, and which was formerly the toll-house. I
remember this toll-house so well because it was there that my
childhood fell from me, and sad and frightened I saw the world beyond.
I cannot explain it better. I had been that afternoon to Plaistow on
a visit to the family dentist. It was an out-of-the-way place in which
to keep him, but there existed advantages of a counterbalancing
"Have the half-crown in your hand," my mother would direct me, while
making herself sure that the purse containing it was safe at the
bottom of my knickerbocker pocket; "but of course if he won't take it,
why, you must bring it home again."
I am not sure, but I think he was some distant connection of ours; at
all events, I know he was a kind friend. I, seated in the velvet
chair of state, he would unroll his case of instruments before me, and
ask me to choose, recommending with affectionate eulogisms the most
But on my opening my mouth to discuss the fearful topic, lo! a pair
would shoot from under his coat-sleeve, and almost before I knew what
had happened, the trouble would be over. After that we would have tea
together. He was an old bachelor, and his house stood in a great
garden--for Plaistow in those days was a picturesque village--and out
of the plentiful fruit thereof his housekeeper made the most wonderful
of jams and jellies. Oh, they were good, those teas! Generally our
conversation was of my mother who, it appeared, was once a little
girl: not at all the sort of little girl I should have imagined her;
on the contrary, a prankish, wilful little girl, though good company,
I should say, if all the tales he told of her were true. And I am
inclined to think they were, in spite of the fact that my mother, when
I repeated them to her, would laugh, saying she was sure she had no
recollection of anything of the kind, adding severely that it was a
pity he and I could not find something better to gossip about. Yet
her next question would be:
"And what else did he say, if you please?" explaining impatiently when
my answer was not of the kind expected: "No, no, I mean about me."
The tea things cleared away, he would bring out his great microscope.
To me it was a peep-hole into a fairy world where dwelt strange
dragons, mighty monsters, so that I came to regard him as a sort of
harmless magician. It was his pet study, and looking back, I cannot
help associating his enthusiasm for all things microscopical with the
fact that he was an exceptionally little man himself, but one of the
biggest hearted that ever breathed.
On leaving I would formally hand him my half-crown, "with mamma's
compliments," and he would formally accept it. But on putting my hand
into my jacket pocket when outside the gate I would invariably find it
there. The first time I took it back to him, but unblushingly he
repudiated all knowledge.
"Must be another half-crown," he suggested; "such things do happen.
One puts change into a pocket and overlooks it. Slippery things,
Returning home on this particular day of days, I paused upon the
bridge, and watched for awhile the lazy barges manoeuvring their way
between the piers. It was one of those hushed summer evenings when
the air even of grim cities is full of whispering voices; and as,
turning away from the river, I passed through the white toll-gate, I
had a sense of leaving myself behind me on the bridge. So vivid was
the impression, that I looked back, half expecting to see myself still
leaning over the iron parapet, looking down into the sunlit water.
It sounds foolish, but I leave it standing, wondering if to others a
like experience has ever come. The little chap never came back to me.
He passed away from me as a man's body may possibly pass away from
him, leaving him only remembrance and regret. For a time I tried to
play his games, to dream his dreams, but the substance was wanting. I
was only a thin ghost, making believe.
It troubled me for quite a spell of time, even to the point of tears,
this feeling that my childhood lay behind me, this sudden realisation
that I was travelling swiftly the strange road called growing up. I
did not want to grow up; could nothing be done to stop it? Rather
would I be always as I had been, playing, dreaming. The dark way
frightened me. Must I go forward?
Then gradually, but very slowly, with the long months and years, came
to me the consciousness of a new being, new pulsations, sensories,
throbbings, rooted in but differing widely from the old; and little
Paul, the Paul of whom I have hitherto spoken, faded from my life.
So likewise must I let him fade with sorrow from this book. But
before I part with him entirely, let me recall what else I can
remember of him. Thus we shall be quit of him, and he will interfere
with us no more.
Chief among the pictures that I see is that of my aunt Fan, crouching
over the kitchen fire; her skirt and crinoline rolled up round her
waist, leaving as sacrifice to custom only her petticoat. Up and down
her body sways in rhythmic motion, her hands stroking affectionately
her own knees; the while I, with paper knife for sword, or horse of
broomstick, stand opposite her, flourishing and declaiming. Sometimes
I am a knight and she a wicked ogre. She is slain, growling and
swearing, and at once becomes the beautiful princess that I secure and
bear away with me upon the prancing broomstick. So long as the
princess is merely holding sweet converse with me from her high-barred
window, the scene is realistic, at least, to sufficiency; but the
bearing away has to be make-believe; for my aunt cannot be persuaded
to leave her chair before the fire, and the everlasting rubbing of her
At other times, with the assistance of the meat chopper, I am an
Indian brave, and then she is Laughing Water or Singing Sunshine, and
we go out scalping together; or in less bloodthirsty moods I am the
Fairy Prince and she the Sleeping Beauty. But in such parts she is
not at her best. Better, when seated in the centre of the up-turned
table, I am Captain Cook, and she the Cannibal Chief.
"I shall skin him and hang him in the larder till Sunday week," says
my aunt, smacking her lips, "then he'll be just in right condition;
not too tough and not too high." She was always strong in detail, was
my aunt Fan.
I do not wish to deprive my aunt of any credit due to her, but the
more I exercise my memory for evidence, the more I am convinced that
her compliance on these occasions was not conceived entirely in the
spirit of self-sacrifice. Often would she suggest the game and even
the theme; in such case, casting herself invariably for what, in old
theatrical parlance, would have been termed the heavy lead, the
dragons and the wicked uncles, the fussy necromancers and the
uninvited fairies. As authoress of a new cookery book for use in
giant-land, my aunt, I am sure, would have been successful. Most
recipes that one reads are so monotonously meagre: "Boil him," "Put
her on the spit and roast her for supper," "Cook 'em in a pie--with
plenty of gravy;" but my aunt into the domestic economy of Ogredom
introduced variety and daintiness.
"I think, my dear," my aunt would direct, "we'll have him stuffed with
chestnuts and served on toast. And don't forget the giblets. They
make such excellent sauce."
With regard to the diet of imprisoned maidens she would advise:
"Not too much fish--it spoils the flesh for roasting."
The things that she would turn people into--king's sons, rightful
princesses, such sort of people--people who after a time, one would
think, must have quite forgotten what they started as. To let her
have her way was a lesson to me in natural history both present and
pre-historic. The most beautiful damsel that ever lived she would
without a moment's hesitation turn into a Glyptodon or a Hippocrepian.
Afterwards, when I could guess at the spelling, I would look these
creatures up in the illustrated dictionary, and feel that under no
circumstances could I have loved the lady ever again. Warriors and
kings she would delight in transforming into plaice or prawns, and
haughty queens into Brussels sprouts.
With gusto would she plan a complicated slaughter, paying heed to
every detail: the sharpening of the knives, the having ready of mops
and pails of water for purposes of after cleaning up. As a writer she
would have followed the realistic school.
Her death, with which we invariably wound up the afternoon, was
another conscientious effort. Indeed, her groans and writhings would
sometimes frighten me. I always welcomed the last gurgle. That
finished, but not a moment before, my aunt would let down her
skirt--in this way suggesting the fall of the curtain upon our
play--and set to work to get the tea.
Another frequently recurring picture that I see is of myself in
glazed-peaked cap explaining many things the while we walk through
dingy streets to yet a smaller figure curly haired and open eyed.
Still every now and then she runs ahead to turn and look admiringly
into my face as on the day she first became captive to the praise and
fame of me.
I was glad of her company for more reasons than she knew of. For one,
she protected me against my baser self. With her beside me I should
not have dared to flee from sudden foes. Indeed, together we courted
adventure; for once you get used to it this standing hazard of attack
adds a charm to outdoor exercise that older folk in districts better
policed enjoy not. So possibly my dog feels when together we take the
air. To me it is a simple walk, maybe a little tiresome, suggested
rather by contemplation of my waistband than by desire for walking for
mere walking's sake; to him an expedition full of danger and
surprises: "The gentleman asleep with one eye open on The Chequer's
doorstep! will he greet me with a friendly sniff or try to bite my
head off? This cross-eyed, lop-eared loafer, lurching against the
lamp-post! shall we pass with a careless wag and a 'how-do,' or become
locked in a life and death struggle? Impossible to say. This coming
corner, now, 'Ware! Is anybody waiting round there to kill me, or
But the trusting face beside me nerved me. As reward in lonely places
I would let her hold my hand.
A second advantage I derived from her company was that of being less
trampled on, less walked over, less swept aside into doorway or gutter
than when alone. A pretty, winsome face had this little maid, if
Memory plays me not kindly false; but also she had a vocabulary; and
when the blind idiot, male or female, instead of passing us by walking
round us, would, after the custom of the blind idiot, seek to gain the
other side of us by walking through us, she would use it.
"Now, then, where yer coming to, old glass-eye? We ain't sperrits.
Can't yer see us?"
And if they attempted reply, her child's treble, so strangely at
variance with her dainty appearance, would only rise more shrill.
"Garn! They'd run out of 'eads when they was making you. That's only
a turnip wot you've got stuck on top of yer!" I offer but specimens.
Nor was it of the slightest use attempting personal chastisement, as
sometimes an irate lady or gentleman would be foolish enough to do.
As well might an hippopotamus attempt to reprove a terrier. The only
result was to provide comedy for the entire street.
On these occasions our positions were reversed, I being the admiring
spectator of her prowess. Yet to me she was ever meek, almost
irritatingly submissive. She found out where I lived and would often
come and wait for me for hours, her little face pressed tight against
the iron railings, until either I came out or shook my head at her
from my bedroom window, when she would run off, the dying away into
silence of her pattering feet leaving me a little sad.
I think I cared for her in a way, yet she never entered into my
day-dreams, which means that she existed for me only in the outer
world of shadows that lay round about me and was not of my real life.
Also, I think she was unwise, introducing me to the shop, for children
and dogs--one seems unconsciously to bracket them in one's
thoughts--are snobbish little wretches. If only her father had been a
dealer in firewood I could have soothed myself by imagining mistakes.
It was a common occurrence, as I well knew, for children of quite the
best families to be brought up by wood choppers. Fairies, the best
intentioned in the world, but born muddlers, were generally
responsible for these mishaps, which, however, always became righted
in time for the wedding. Or even had he been a pork butcher, and
there were many in the neighbourhood, I could have thought of him as a
swineherd, and so found precedent for hope.
But a fishmonger--from six in the evening a fried fishmonger! I
searched history in vain. Fried fishmongers were without the pale.
So gradually our meetings became less frequent, though I knew that
every afternoon she waited in the quiet Stainsby Road, where dwelt in
semi-detached, six-roomed villas the aristocracy of Poplar, and that
after awhile, for arriving late at times I have been witness to the
sad fact, tears would trace pathetic patterns upon her
dust-besprinkled cheeks; and with the advent of the world-illuminating
Barbara, to which event I am drawing near, they ceased altogether.
So began and ended my first romance. One of these days--some quiet
summer's afternoon, when even the air of Pigott Street vibrates with
tenderness beneath the whispered sighs of Memory, I shall walk into
the little grocer's shop and boldly ask to see her. So far have I
already gone as to trace her, and often have I tried to catch sight of
her through the glass door, but hitherto in vain. I know she is the
more or less troubled mother of a numerous progeny. I am told she has
grown stout, and probable enough it is that her tongue has gained
rather than lost in sharpness. Yet under all the unrealities the
clumsy-handed world has built about her, I shall see, I know, the
lithesome little maid with fond, admiring eyes. What help they were
to me I never knew till I had lost them. How hard to gain such eyes I
have learned since. Were we to write the truth in our confession
books, should we not admit the quality we most admire in others is
admiration of ourselves? And is it not a wise selection? If you
would have me admirable, my friend, admire me, and speak your
commendation without stint that in the sunshine of your praises I may
wax. For indifference maketh an indifferent man, and contempt a
contemptible man. Come, is it not true? Does not all that is worthy
in us grow best by honour?
Chief among the remaining figures on my childhood's stage were the
many servants of our house, the "generals," as they were termed. So
rapid, as a rule, was their transit through our kitchen that only one
or two, conspicuous by reason of their lingering, remain upon my view.
It was a neighbourhood in which domestic servants were not much
required. Those intending to take up the calling seriously went
westward. The local ranks were recruited mainly from the discontented
or the disappointed, from those who, unappreciated at home, hoped from
the stranger more discernment; or from the love-lorn, the jilted and
the jealous, who took the cap and apron as in an earlier age their
like would have taken the veil. Maybe, to the comparative seclusion
of our basement, as contrasted with the alternative frivolity of shop
or factory, they felt in such mood more attuned. With the advent of
the new or the recovery of the old young man they would plunge again
into the vain world, leaving my poor mother to search afresh amid the
legions of the cursed.
With these I made such comradeship as I could, for I had no child
friends. Kind creatures were most of them, at least so I found them.
They were poor at "making believe," but would always squeeze ten
minutes from their work to romp with me, and that, perhaps, was
healthier for me. What, perhaps, was not so good for me was that,
staggered at the amount of "book-learning" implied by my conversation
(for the journalistic instinct, I am inclined to think, was early
displayed in me), they would listen open-mouthed to all my
information, regarding me as a precocious oracle. Sometimes they
would obtain permission to take me home with them to tea, generously
eager that their friends should also profit by me. Then, encouraged
by admiring, grinning faces, I would "hold forth," keenly enjoying the
sound of my own proud piping.
"As good as a book, ain't he?" was the tribute most often paid to me.
"As good as a play," one enthusiastic listener, an old greengrocer,
went so far as to say.
Already I regarded myself as among the Immortals.
One girl, a dear, wholesome creature named Janet, stayed with us for
months and might have stayed years, but for her addiction to strong
language. The only and well-beloved child of the captain of the barge
"Nancy Jane," trading between Purfleet and Ponder's End, her
conversation was at once my terror and delight.
"Janet," my mother would exclaim in agony, her hands going up
instinctively to guard her ears, "how can you use such words?"
"What words, mum?"
"The things you have just called the gas man."
"Him! Well, did you see what he did, mum? Walked straight into my
clean kitchen, without even wiping his boots, the--" And before my
mother could stop her, Janet had relieved her feelings by calling him
it--or rather them--again, without any idea that she had done aught
else than express in fitting phraseology a natural human emotion.
We were good friends, Janet and I, and therefore it was that I
personally undertook her reformation. It was not an occasion for
mincing one's words. The stake at issue was, I felt, too important.
I told her bluntly that if she persisted in using such language she
would inevitably go to hell.
"Then where's my father going?" demanded Janet.
"Does he use language?"
I gathered from Janet that no one who had enjoyed the privilege of
hearing her father could ever again take interest in the feeble
efforts of herself.
"I am afraid, Janet," I explained, "that if he doesn't give it up--"
"But it's the only way he can talk," interrupted Janet. "He don't
mean anything by it."
I sighed, yet set my face against weakness. "You see, Janet, people
who swear do go there."
But Janet would not believe.
"God send my dear, kind father to hell just because he can't talk like
the gentlefolks! Don't you believe it of Him, Master Paul. He's got
I hope I pain no one by quoting Janet's common sense. For that I
should be sorry. I remember her words because so often, when sinking
in sloughs of childish despond, they afforded me firm foothold. More
often than I can tell, when compelled to listen to the sententious
voice of immeasurable Folly glibly explaining the eternal mysteries,
has it comforted me to whisper to myself: "I don't believe it of Him.
He's got more sense."
And about that period I had need of all the comfort I could get. As
we descend the road of life, the journey, demanding so much of our
attention, becomes of more importance than the journey's end; but to
the child, standing at the valley's gate, the terminating hills are
clearly visible. What lies beyond them is his constant wonder. I
never questioned my parents directly on the subject, shrinking as so
strangely we all do, both young and old, from discussion of the very
matters of most moment to us; and they, on their part, not guessing my
need, contented themselves with the vague generalities with which we
seek to hide even from ourselves the poverty of our beliefs. But
there were foolish voices about me less reticent; while the
literature, illustrated and otherwise, provided in those days for
serious-minded youth, answered all questionings with blunt brutality.
If you did wrong you burnt in a fiery furnace for ever and ever. Were
your imagination weak you could turn to the accompanying illustration,
and see at a glance how you yourself would writhe and shrink and
scream, while cheerful devils, well organised, were busy stoking. I
had been burnt once, rather badly, in consequence of live coals, in
course of transit on a shovel, being let fall upon me. I imagined
these burning coals, not confined to a mere part of my body, but
pressing upon me everywhere, not snatched swiftly off by loving hands,
the pain assuaged by applications of soft soap and the blue bag, but
left there, eating into my flesh and veins. And this continued for
eternity. You suffered for an hour, a day, a thousand years, and were
no nearer to the end; ten thousand, a million years, and yet, as at
the very first, it was for ever, and for ever still it would always be
for ever! I suffered also from insomnia about this period.
"Then be good," replied the foolish voices round me; "never do wrong,
and so avoid this endless agony."
But it was so easy to do wrong. There were so many wrong things to
do, and the doing of them was so natural.
"Then repent," said the voices, always ready.
But how did one repent? What was repentance? Did I "hate my sin," as
I was instructed I must, or merely hate the idea of going to hell for
it? Because the latter, even my child's sense told me, was no true
repentance. Yet how could one know the difference?
Above all else there haunted me the fear of the "Unforgivable Sin."
What this was I was never able to discover. I dreaded to enquire too
closely, lest I should find I had committed it. Day and night the
terror of it clung to me.
"Believe," said the voices; "so only shall you be saved." How
believe? How know you did believe? Hours would I kneel in the dark,
repeating in a whispered scream:
"I believe, I believe. Oh, I do believe!" and then rise with white
knuckles, wondering if I really did believe.
Another question rose to trouble me. In the course of my meanderings
I had made the acquaintance of an old sailor, one of the most
disreputable specimens possible to find; and had learned to love him.
Our first meeting had been outside a confectioner's window, in the
Commercial Road, where he had discovered me standing, my nose against
the glass, a mere palpitating Appetite on legs. He had seized me by
the collar, and hauled me into the shop. There, dropping me upon a
stool, he bade me eat. Pride of race prompted me politely to decline,
but his language became so awful that in fear and trembling I obeyed.
So soon as I was finished--it cost him two and fourpence, I
remember--we walked down to the docks together, and he told me stories
of the sea and land that made my blood run cold. Altogether, in the
course of three weeks or a month, we met about half a dozen times,
when much the same programme was gone through. I think I was a fairly
frank child, but I said nothing about him at home, feeling
instinctively that if I did there would be an end of our comradeship,
which was dear to me: not merely by reason of the pastry, though I
admit that was a consideration, but also for his wondrous tales. I
believed them all implicitly, and so came to regard him as one of the
most interesting criminals as yet unhanged: and what was sad about
the case, as I felt myself, was that his recital of his many
iniquities, instead of repelling, attracted me to him. If ever there
existed a sinner, here was one. He chewed tobacco--one of the hundred
or so deadly sins, according to my theological library--and was
generally more or less drunk. Not that a stranger would have noticed
this; the only difference being that when sober he appeared
constrained--was less his natural, genial self. In a burst of
confidence he once admitted to me that he was the biggest blackguard
in the merchant service. Unacquainted with the merchant service, as
at the time I was, I saw no reason to doubt him.
One night in a state of intoxication he walked over a gangway and was
drowned. Our mutual friend, the confectioner, seeing me pass the
window, came out to tell me so; and having heard, I walked on, heavy
of heart, and pondering.
About his eternal destination there could be no question. The known
facts precluded the least ray of hope. How could I be happy in
heaven, supposing I eventually did succeed in slipping in, knowing
that he, the lovable old scamp, was burning for ever in hell?
How could Janet, taking it that she reformed and thus escaped
damnation, be contented, knowing the father she loved doomed to
torment? The heavenly hosts, so I argued, could be composed only of
the callous and indifferent.
I wondered how people could go about their business, eat, drink and be
merry, with tremendous fate hanging thus ever suspended over their
heads. When for a little space I myself forgot it, always it fell
back upon me with increased weight.
Nor was the contemplation of heaven itself particularly attractive to
me, for it was a foolish paradise these foolish voices had fashioned
out of their folly. You stood about and sang hymns--for ever! I was
assured that my fear of finding the programme monotonous was due only
to my state of original sin, that when I got there I should discover I
liked it. But I would have given much for the hope of avoiding both
their heaven and their hell.
Fortunately for my sanity I was not left long to brood unoccupied upon
such themes. Our worldly affairs, under the sunshine of old Hasluck's
round red face, prospered--for awhile; and one afternoon my father,
who had been away from home since breakfast time, calling me into his
office where also sat my mother, informed me that the long-talked-of
school was become at last a concrete thing.
"The term commences next week," explained my father. "It is not
exactly what I had intended, but it will do--for the present. Later,
of course, you will go to one of the big public schools; your mother
and I have not yet quite decided which."
"You will meet other boys there, good and bad," said my mother, who
sat clasping and unclasping her hands. "Be very careful, dear, how
you choose your companions."
"You will learn to take your own part," said my father. "School is an
epitome of the world. One must assert oneself, or one is sat upon."
I knew not what to reply, the vista thus opened out to me was so
unexpected. My blood rejoiced, but my heart sank.
"Take one of your long walks," said my father, smiling, "and think it
"And if you are in any doubt, you know where to go for guidance, don't
you?" whispered my mother, who was very grave.
Yet I went to bed, dreaming of quite other things that night: of
Queens of Beauty bending down to crown my brows with laurel: of
wronged Princesses for whose cause I rode to death or victory. For on
my return home, being called into the drawing-room by my father, I
stood transfixed, my cap in hand, staring with all my eyes at the
vision that I saw.
No such wonder had I ever seen before, at all events, not to my
remembrance. The maidens that one meets in Poplar streets may be fair
enough in their way, but their millinery displays them not to
advantage; and the few lady visitors that came to us were of a staid
and matronly appearance. Only out of pictures hitherto had such
witchery looked upon me; and from these the spell faded as one gazed.
I heard old Hasluck's smoky voice saying, "My little gell, Barbara,"
and I went nearer to her, moving unconsciously.
"You can kiss 'er," said the smoky voice again; "she won't bite." But
I did not kiss her. Nor ever felt I wanted to, upon the mouth.
I suppose she must have been about fourteen, and I a little over ten,
though tall for my age. Later I came to know she had that rare gold
hair that holds the light, so that upon her face, which seemed of
dainty porcelain, there ever fell a softened radiance as from some
shining aureole; those blue eyes where dwell mysteries, shadow veiled.
At the time I knew nothing, but that it seemed to me as though the
fairy-tales had all come true.
She smiled, understanding and well pleased with my confusion. Child
though I was--little more than child though she was, it flattered her
Fair and sweet, you had but that one fault. Would it had been
another, less cruel to you yourself.
IN WHICH THERE COMES BY ONE BENT UPON PURSUING HIS OWN WAY.
"Correct" is, I think, the adjective by which I can best describe
Doctor Florret and all his attributes. He was a large man, but not
too large--just the size one would select for the head-master of an
important middle-class school; stout, not fat, suggesting comfort, not
grossness. His hands were white and well shaped. On the left he wore
a fine diamond ring, but it shone rather than sparkled. He spoke of
commonplace things in a voice that lent dignity even to the weather.
His face, which was clean-shaven, radiated benignity tempered by
So likewise all about him: his wife, the feminine counterpart of
himself. Seeing them side by side one felt tempted to believe that
for his special benefit original methods had been reverted to, and she
fashioned, as his particular helpmeet, out of one of his own ribs.
His furniture was solid, meant for use, not decoration. His pictures,
following the rule laid down for dress, graced without drawing
attention to his walls. He ever said the correct thing at the correct
time in the correct manner. Doubtful of the correct thing to do, one
could always learn it by waiting till he did it; when one at once felt
that nothing else could possibly have been correct. He held on all
matters the correct views. To differ from him was to discover oneself
In practice, as I learned at the cost of four more or less wasted
years, he of course followed the methods considered correct by English
schoolmen from the days of Edward VI. onwards.
Heaven knows I worked hard. I wanted to learn. Ambition--the all
containing ambition of a boy that "has its centre everywhere nor cares
to fix itself to form" stirred within me. Did I pass a speaker at
some corner, hatless, perspiring, pointing Utopias in the air to
restless hungry eyes, at once I saw myself, a Demosthenes swaying
multitudes, a statesman holding the House of Commons spellbound, the
Prime Minister of England, worshipped by the entire country. Even the
Opposition papers, had I known of them, I should have imagined forced
to reluctant admiration. Did the echo of a distant drum fall upon my
ear, then before me rose picturesque fields of carnage, one figure
ever conspicuous: Myself, well to the front, isolated. Promotion in
the British army of my dream being a matter purely of merit, I
returned Commander-in-Chief. Vast crowds thronged every flag-decked
street. I saw white waving hands from every roof and window. I heard
the dull, deep roar of welcome, as with superb seat upon my snow-white
charger--or should it be coal-black? The point cost me much
consideration, so anxious was I that the day should be without a
flaw--I slowly paced at the head of my victorious troops, between wild
waves of upturned faces: walked into a lamp-post or on to the toes of
some irascible old gentleman, and awoke. A drunken sailor stormed
from between swing doors and tacked tumultuously down the street: the
factory chimney belching smoke became a swaying mast. The costers
round about me shouted "Ay, ay, sir. 'Ready, ay, ready." I was
Christopher Columbus, Drake, Nelson, rolled into one. Spurning the
presumption of modern geographers, I discovered new continents. I
defeated the French--those useful French! I died in the moment of
victory. A nation mourned me and I was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Also I lived and was created a Duke. Either alternative had its
charm: personally I was indifferent. Boys who on November the ninth,
as explained by letters from their mothers, read by Doctor Florret
with a snort, were suffering from a severe toothache, told me on
November the tenth of the glories of Lord Mayor's Shows. I heard
their chatter fainter and fainter as from an ever-increasing distance.
The bells of Bow were ringing in my ears. I saw myself a merchant
prince, though still young. Nobles crowded my counting house. I lent
them millions and married their daughters. I listened, unobserved in
a corner, to discussion on some new book. Immediately I was a famous
author. All men praised me: for of reviewers and their density I, in
those days, knew nothing. Poetry, fiction, history, I wrote them all;
and all men read, and wondered. Only here was a crumpled rose leaf in
the pillow on which I laid my swelling head: penmanship was vexation
to me, and spelling puzzled me, so that I wrote with sorrow and many
blots and scratchings out. Almost I put aside the idea of becoming an
But along whichever road I might fight my way to the Elysian Fields of
fame, education, I dimly but most certainly comprehended, was a
necessary weapon to my hand. And so, with aching heart and aching
head, I pored over my many books. I see myself now in my small
bedroom, my elbows planted on the shaky, one-legged table, startled
every now and again by the frizzling of my hair coming in contact with
the solitary candle. On cold nights I wear my overcoat, turned up
about the neck, a blanket round my legs, and often I must sit with my
fingers in my ears, the better to shut out the sounds of life, rising
importunately from below. "A song, Of a song, To a song, A song, 0!
song!" "I love, Thou lovest, He she or it loves. I should or would
love" over and over again, till my own voice seems some strange
buzzing thing about me, while my head grows smaller and smaller till I
put my hands up frightened, wondering if it still be entire upon my
Was I more stupid than the average, or is a boy's brain physically
incapable of the work our educational system demands of it?
"Latin and Greek" I hear repeating the suave tones of Doctor Florret,
echoing as ever the solemn croak of Correctness, "are useful as mental
gymnastics." My dear Doctor Florret and Co., cannot you, out of the
vast storehouse of really necessary knowledge, select apparatus better
fitted to strengthen and not overstrain the mental muscles of
ten-to-fourteen? You, gentle reader, with brain fully grown, trained
by years of practice to its subtlest uses, take me from your
bookshelf, say, your Browning or even your Shakespeare. Come, you
know this language well. You have not merely learned: it is your
mother tongue. Construe for me this short passage, these few verses:
parse, analyse, resolve into component parts! And now, will you
maintain that it is good for Tommy, tear-stained, ink-bespattered
little brat, to be given AEsop's Fables, Ovid's Metamorphoses to treat
in like manner? Would it not be just as sensible to insist upon his
practising his skinny little arms with hundred pounds dumb-bells?
We were the sons of City men, of not well-to-do professional men, of
minor officials, clerks, shopkeepers, our roads leading through the
workaday world. Yet quite half our time was taken up in studies
utterly useless to us. How I hated them, these youth-tormenting
Shades. Homer! how I wished the fishermen had asked him that absurd
riddle earlier. Horace! why could not that shipwreck have succeeded:
it would have in the case of any one but a classic.
Until one blessed day there fell into my hands a wondrous talisman.
Hearken unto me, ye heavy burdened little brethren of mine. Waste not
your substance upon tops and marbles, nor yet upon tuck (Do ye still
call it "tuck"?), but scrape and save. For in the neighbourhood of
Paternoster Row there dwells a good magician who for silver will
provide you with a "Key" that shall open wide for you the gates of
By its aid, the Frogs of Aristophanes became my merry friends. With
Ulysses I wandered eagerly through Wonderland. Doctor Florret was
charmed with my progress, which was real, for now, at last, I was
studying according to the laws of common sense, understanding first,
explaining afterwards. Let Youth, that the folly of Age would
imprison in ignorance, provide itself with "Keys."
But let me not seem to claim credit due to another. Dan it was--Dan
of the strong arm and the soft smile, Dan the wise hater of all
useless labour, sharp-witted, easy-going Dan, who made this grand
Dan followed me a term later into the Lower Fourth, but before he had
been there a week was handling Latin verse with an ease and dexterity
suggestive of unholy dealings with the Devil. In a lonely corner of
Regent's Park, first making sure no one was within earshot, he
revealed to me his magic.
"Don't tell the others," he commanded; "or it will get out, and then
nobody will be any the better."
"But is it right?" I asked.
"Look here, young 'un," said Dan; "what are you here for--what's your
father paying school fees for (it was the appeal to our
conscientiousness most often employed by Dr. Florret himself), for you
to play a silly game, or to learn something?
"Because if it's only a game--we boys against the masters," continued
Dan, "then let's play according to rule. If we're here to
learn--well, you've been in the class four months and I've just come,
and I bet I know more Ovid than you do already." Which was true.
So I thanked Dan and shared with him his key; and all the Latin I
remember, for whatever good it may be to me, I take it I owe to him.
And knowledge of yet greater value do I owe to the good fortune that
his sound mother wit was ever at my disposal to correct my dreamy
unfeasibility; for from first to last he was my friend; and to have
been the chosen friend of Dan, shrewd judge of man and boy, I deem no
unimportant feather in my cap. He "took to" me, he said, because I
was so jolly green"--"such a rummy little mug." No other reason would
he ever give me, save only a sweet smile and a tumbling of my hair
with his great hand; but I think I understood. And I loved him
because he was big and strong and handsome and kind; no one but a
little boy knows how brutal or how kind a big boy can be. I was still
somewhat of an effeminate little chap, nervous and shy, with a pink
and white face, and hair that no amount of wetting would make
straight. I was growing too fast, which took what strength I had, and
my journey every day, added to school work and home work, maybe was
too much for my years. Every morning I had to be up at six, leaving
the house before seven to catch the seven fifteen from Poplar station;
and from Chalk Farm I had to walk yet another couple of miles. But
that I did not mind, for at Chalk Farm station Dan was always waiting
for me. In the afternoon we walked back together also; and when I was
tired and my back ached--just as if some one had cut a piece out of
it, I felt--he would put his arm round me, for he always knew, and oh,
how strong and restful it was to lean against, so that one walked as
in an easy-chair.
It seems to me, remembering how I would walk thus by his side, looking
up shyly into his face, thinking how strong and good he was, feeling
so glad he liked me, I can understand a little how a woman loves. He
was so solid. With his arm round me, it was good to feel weak.
At first we were in the same class, the Lower Third. He had no
business there. He was head and shoulders taller than any of us and
years older. It was a disgrace to him that he was not in the Upper
Fourth. The Doctor would tell him so before us all twenty times a
week. Old Waterhouse (I call him "Old Waterhouse" because "Mister
Waterhouse, M.A.," would convey no meaning to me, and I should not
know about whom I was speaking) who cordially liked him, was honestly
grieved. We, his friends, though it was pleasant to have him among
us, suffered in our pride of him. The only person quite contented was
Dan himself. It was his way in all things. Others had their opinion
of what was good for him. He had his own, and his own was the only
opinion that ever influenced him. The Lower Third suited him. For
him personally the Upper Fourth had no attraction.
And even in the Lower Third he was always at the bottom. He preferred
it. He selected the seat and kept it, in spite of all allurements, in
spite of all reproaches. It was nearest to the door. It enabled him
to be first out and last in. Also it afforded a certain sense of
retirement. Its occupant, to an extent screened from observation,
became in the course of time almost forgotten. To Dan's philosophical
temperament its practical advantages outweighed all sentimental
Only on one occasion do I remember his losing it. As a rule, tiresome
questions, concerning past participles, square roots, or meridians
never reached him, being snapped up in transit by arm-waving lovers of
such trifles. The few that by chance trickled so far he took no
notice of. They possessed no interest for him, and he never pretended
that they did. But one day, taken off his guard, he gave voice quite
unconsciously to a correct reply, with the immediate result of finding
himself in an exposed position on the front bench. I had never seen
Dan out of temper before, but that moment had any of us ventured upon
a whispered congratulation we would have had our head punched, I feel
Old Waterhouse thought that here at last was reformation. "Come,
Brian," he cried, rubbing his long thin hands together with delight,
"after all, you're not such a fool as you pretend."
"Never said I was," muttered Dan to himself, with a backward glance of
regret towards his lost seclusion; and before the day was out he had
worked his way back to it again.
As we were going out together, old Waterhouse passed us on the stairs:
"Haven't you any sense of shame, my boy?" he asked sorrowfully, laying
his hand kindly on Dan's shoulder.
"Yes, sir," answered Dan, with his frank smile; "plenty. It isn't
yours, that's all."
He was an excellent fighter. In the whole school of over two hundred
boys, not half a dozen, and those only Upper Sixth boys--fellows who
came in top hats with umbrellas, and who wouldn't out of regard to
their own dignity--could have challenged him with any chance of
success. Yet he fought very seldom, and then always in a bored, lazy
fashion, as though he were doing it purely to oblige the other fellow.
One afternoon, just as we were about to enter Regent's Park by the
wicket opposite Hanover Gate, a biggish boy, an errand boy carrying an
empty basket, and supported by two smaller boys, barred our way.
"Can't come in here," said the boy with the basket.
"Why not?" inquired Dan.
"'Cos if you do I shall kick you," was the simple explanation.
Without a word Dan turned away, prepared to walk on to the next
opening. The boy with the basket, evidently encouraged, followed us:
"Now, I'm going to give you your coward's blow," he said, stepping in
front of us; "will you take it quietly?" It is a lonely way, the
Outer Circle, on a winter's afternoon.
"I'll tell you afterwards," said Dan, stopping short.
The boy gave him a slight slap on the cheek. It could not have hurt,
but the indignity, of course, was great. No boy of honour, according
to our code, could have accepted it without retaliating.
"Is that all?" asked Dan.
"That's all--for the present," replied the boy with the basket.
"Good-bye," said Dan, and walked on.
"Glad he didn't insist on fighting," remarked Dan, cheerfully, as we
proceeded; "I'm going to a party tonight."
Yet on another occasion, in a street off Lisson Grove, he insisted on
fighting a young rough half again his own weight, who, brushing up
against him, had knocked his hat off into the mud.
"I wouldn't have said anything about his knocking it off," explained
Dan afterwards, tenderly brushing the poor bruised thing with his coat
sleeve, "if he hadn't kicked it."
On another occasion I remember, three or four of us, Dan among the
number, were on our way one broiling summer's afternoon to Hadley
Woods. As we turned off from the highroad just beyond Barnet and
struck into the fields, Dan drew from his pocket an enormous
"Where did you get that from?" inquired one, Dudley.
"From that big greengrocer's opposite Barnet Church," answered Dan.
"Have a bit?"
"You told me you hadn't any more money," retorted Dudley, in
"No more I had," replied Dan, holding out a tempting slice at the end
of his pocket-knife.
"You must have had some, or you couldn't have bought that pear,"
argued Dudley, accepting.
"Didn't buy it."
"Do you mean to say you stole it?"
"You're a thief," denounced Dudley, wiping his mouth and throwing away
"I know it. So are you."
"No, I'm not."
"What's the good of talking nonsense. You robbed an orchard only last
Wednesday at Mill Hill, and gave yourself the stomach-ache."
"That isn't stealing."
"What is it?"
"It isn't the same thing."
"What's the difference?"
And nothing could make Dan comprehend the difference. "Stealing is
stealing," he would have it, "whether you take it off a tree or out of
a basket. You're a thief, Dudley; so am I. Anybody else say a
The thermometer was at that point where morals become slack. We all
had a piece; but we were all of us shocked at Dan, and told him so.
It did not agitate him in the least.
To Dan I could speak my inmost thoughts, knowing he would understand
me, and sometimes from him I received assistance and sometimes
confusion. The yearly examination was approaching. My father and
mother said nothing, but I knew how anxiously each of them awaited the
result; my father, to see how much I had accomplished; my mother, how
much I had endeavoured. I had worked hard, but was doubtful, knowing
that prizes depend less upon what you know than upon what you can make
others believe you know; which applies to prizes beyond those of
"Are you going in for anything, Dan?" I asked him. We were discussing
the subject, crossing Primrose Hill, one bright June morning.
I knew the question absurd. I asked it of him because I wanted him to
ask it of me.
"They're not giving away anything I particularly want," murmured Dan,
in his lazy drawl: looked at from that point of view, school prizes
are, it must be confessed, not worth their cost.
"You're sweating yourself, young 'un, of course?" he asked next, as I
"I mean to have a shot at the History," I admitted. "Wish I was
better at dates."
"It's always two-thirds dates," Dan assured me, to my discouragement.
"Old Florret thinks you can't eat a potato until you know the date
that chap Raleigh was born."
"I've prayed so hard that I may win the History prize," I explained to
him. I never felt shy with Dan. He never laughed at me.
"You oughtn't to have done that," he said. I stared. "It isn't fair
to the other fellows. That won't be your winning the prize; that will
be your getting it through favouritism."
"But they can pray, too," I reminded him.
"If you all pray for it," answered Dan, "then it will go, not to the
fellow that knows most history, but to the fellow that's prayed the
hardest. That isn't old Florret's idea, I'm sure."
"But we are told to pray for things we want," I insisted.
"Beastly mean way of getting 'em," retorted Dan. And no argument that
came to me, neither then nor at any future time, brought him to right
thinking on this point.
He would judge all matters for himself. In his opinion Achilles was a
coward, not a hero.
"He ought to have told the Trojans that they couldn't hurt any part of
him except his heel, and let them have a shot at that," he argued;
"King Arthur and all the rest of them with their magic swords, it
wasn't playing the game. There's no pluck in fighting if you know
you're bound to win. Beastly cads, I call them all."
I won no prize that year. Oddly enough, Dan did, for arithmetic; the
only subject studied in the Lower Fourth that interested him. He
liked to see things coming right, he explained.
My father shut himself up with me for half an hour and examined me
"It's very curious, Paul," he said, "you seem to know a good deal."
"They asked me all the things I didn't know. They seemed to do it on
purpose," I blurted out, and laid my head upon my arm. My father
crossed the room and sat down beside me.
"Spud!" he said--it was a long time since he had called me by that
childish nickname--"perhaps you are going to be with me, one of the
"Are you unlucky?" I asked.
"Invariably," answered my father, rumpling his hair. "I don't know
why. I try hard--I do the right thing, but it turns out wrong. It
"But I thought Mr. Hasluck was bringing us such good fortune," I said,
looking up in surprise. "We're getting on, aren't we?"
"I have thought so before, so often," said my father, "and it has
always ended in a--in a collapse."
I put my arms round his neck, for I always felt to my father as to
another boy; bigger than myself and older, but not so very much.
"You see, when I married your mother," he went on, "I was a rich man.
She had everything she wanted."
"But you will get it all back," I cried.
"I try to think so," he answered. "I do think so--generally speaking.
But there are times--you would not understand--they come to you."
"But she is happy," I persisted; "we are all happy."
He shook his head.
"I watch her," he said. "Women suffer more than we do. They live
more in the present. I see my hopes, but she--she sees only me, and I
have always been a failure. She has lost faith in me.
I could say nothing. I understood but dimly.
"That is why I want you to be an educated man, Paul," he continued
after a silence. "You can't think what a help education is to a man.
I don't mean it helps you to get on in the world; I think for that it
rather hampers you. But it helps you to bear adversity. To a man
with a well-stored mind, life is interesting on a piece of bread and a
cup of tea. I know. If it were not for you and your mother I should
And yet at that time our fortunes were at their brightest, so far as I
remember them; and when they were dark again he was full of fresh
hope, planning, scheming, dreaming again. It was never acting. A
worse actor never trod this stage on which we fret. His occasional
attempts at a cheerfulness he did not feel inevitably resulted in our
all three crying in one another's arms. No; it was only when things
were going well that experience came to his injury. Child of
misfortune, he ever rose, Antaeus-like, renewed in strength from
contact with his mother.
Nor must it be understood that his despondent moods, even in time of
prosperity, were oft recurring. Generally speaking, as he himself
said, he was full of confidence. Already had he fixed upon our new
house in Guilford Street, then still a good residential quarter; while
at the same time, as he would explain to my mother, sufficiently
central for office purposes, close as it was to Lincoln and Grey's Inn
and Bedford Row, pavements long worn with the weary footsteps of the
Law's sad courtiers.
"Poplar," said my father, "has disappointed me. It seemed a good
idea--a rapidly rising district, singularly destitute of solicitors.
It ought to have turned out well, and yet somehow it hasn't."
"There have been a few come," my mother reminded him.
"Of a sort," admitted my father; "a criminal lawyer might gather
something of a practice here, I have no doubt. But for general work,
of course, you must he in a central position. Now, in Guilford Street
people will come to me."
"It should certainly be a pleasanter neighbourhood to live in," agreed
"Later on," said my father, "in case I want the whole house for
offices, we could live ourselves in Regent's Park. It is quite near
to the Park."
"Of course you have consulted Mr. Hasluck?" asked my mother, who of
the two was by far the more practical.
"For Hasluck," replied my father, "it will be much more convenient.
He grumbles every time at the distance."
"I have never been quite able to understand," said my mother, "why Mr.
Hasluck should have come so far out of his way. There must surely be
plenty of solicitors in the City."
"He had heard of me," explained my father. "A curiou[s] old
fellow--likes his own way of doing things. It's not everyone who
would care for him as a client. But I seem able to manage him."
Often we would go together, my father and I, to Guilford Street. It
was a large corner house that had taken his fancy, half creeper
covered, with a balcony, and pleasantly situated, overlooking the
gardens of the Foundling Hospital. The wizened old caretaker knew us
well, and having opened the door, would leave us to wander through the
empty, echoing rooms at our own will. We furnished them handsomely in
later Queen Anne style, of which my father was a connoisseur, sparing
no necessary expense; for, as my father observed, good furniture is
always worth its price, while to buy cheap is pure waste of money.
"This," said my father, on the second floor, stepping from the bedroom
into the smaller room adjoining, "I shall make your mother's boudoir.
We will have the walls in lavender and maple green--she is fond of
soft tones--and the window looks out upon the gardens. There we will
put her writing-table."
My own bedroom was on the third floor, a sunny little room.
"You will be quiet here," said my father, "and we can shut out the bed
and the washstand with a screen."
Later, I came to occupy it; though its rent--eight and sixpence a
week, including attendance--was somewhat more than at the time I ought
to have afforded. Nevertheless, I adventured it, taking the
opportunity of being an inmate of the house to refurnish it, unknown
to my stout landlady, in later Queen Anne style, putting a neat brass
plate with my father's name upon the door. "Luke Kelver, Solicitor.
Office hours, 10 till 4." A medical student thought he occupied my
mother's boudoir. He was a dull dog, full of tiresome talk. But I
made acquaintanceship with him; and often of an evening would smoke my
pipe there in silence while pretending to be listening to his
The poor thing! he had no idea that he was only a foolish ghost; that
his walls, seemingly covered with coarse-coloured prints of
wooden-looking horses, simpering ballet girls and petrified
prize-fighters, were in reality a delicate tone of lavender and maple
green; that at her writing-table in the sunlit window sat my mother,
her soft curls curtaining her quiet face.
OF THE SHADOW THAT CAME BETWEEN THE MAN IN GREY AND THE LADY OF THE
"There's nothing missing," said my mother, "so far as I can find out.
Depend upon it, that's the explanation: she has got frightened and
has run away.
"But what was there to frighten her?" said my father, pausing with a
decanter in one hand and the bottle in the other.
"It was the idea of the thing," replied my mother. "She has never
been used to waiting at table. She was actually crying about it only
"But what's to be done?" said my father. "They will be here in less
than an hour."
"There will be no dinner for them," said my mother, "unless I put on
an apron and bring it up myself."
"Where does she live?" asked my father.
"At Ilford," answered my mother.
"We must make a joke of it," said my father.
My mother, sitting down, began to cry. It had been a trying week for
my mother. A party to dinner--to a real dinner, beginning with
anchovies and ending with ices from the confectioner's; if only they
would remain ices and not, giving way to unaccustomed influences,
present themselves as cold custard--was an extraordinary departure
from the even tenor of our narrow domestic way; indeed, I recollect
none previous. First there had been the house to clean and rearrange
almost from top to bottom; endless small purchases to be made of
articles that Need never misses, but which Ostentation, if ever you
let her sneering nose inside the door, at once demands. Then the
kitchen range--it goes without saying: one might imagine them all
members of a stove union, controlled by some agitating old boiler out
of work--had taken the opportunity to strike, refusing to bake another
dish except under permanently improved conditions, necessitating weary
days with plumbers. Fat cookery books, long neglected on their shelf,
had been consulted, argued with and abused; experiments made, failures
sighed over, successes noted; cost calculated anxiously; means and
ways adjusted, hope finally achieved, shadowed by fear.
And now with victory practically won, to have the reward thus dashed
from her hand at the last moment! Downstairs in the kitchen would be
the dinner, waiting for the guests; upstairs round the glittering
table would be the assembled guests, waiting for their dinner. But
between the two yawned an impassable gulf. The bridge, without a word
of warning, had bolted--was probably by this time well on its way to
Ilford. There was excuse for my mother's tears.
"Isn't it possible to get somebody else?" asked my father.
"Impossible, in the time," said my mother. "I had been training her
for the whole week. We had rehearsed it perfectly."
"Have it in the kitchen," suggested my aunt, who was folding napkins
to look like ships, which they didn't in the least, "and call it a
picnic." Really it seemed the only practical solution.
There came a light knock at the front door.
"It can't be anybody yet, surely," exclaimed my father in alarm,
making for his coat.
"It's Barbara, I expect," explained my mother. "She promised to come
round and help me dress. But now, of course, I shan't want her." My
mother's nature was pessimistic.
But with the words Barbara ran into the room, for I had taken it upon
myself to admit her, knowing that shadows slipped out through the
window when Barbara came in at the door--in those days, I mean.
She kissed them all three, though it seemed but one movement, she was
so quick. And at once they saw the humour of the thing.
"There's going to be no dinner," laughed my father. "We are going to
look surprised and pretend that it was yesterday. It will be fun to
see their faces."
"There will be a very nice dinner," smiled my mother, "but it will be
in the kitchen, and there's no way of getting it upstairs." And they
explained to her the situation.
She stood for an instant, her sweet face the gravest in the group.
Then a light broke upon it.
"I'll get you someone," she said.
"My dear, you don't even know the neighbourhood," began my mother.
But Barbara had snatched the latchkey from its nail and was gone.
With her disappearance, shadow fell again upon us. "If there were
only an hotel in this beastly neighbourhood," said my father.
"You must entertain them by yourself, Luke," said my mother; "and I
must wait--that's all."
"Don't be absurd, Maggie," cried my father, getting angry. "Can't
cook bring it in?"
"No one can cook a dinner and serve it, too," answered my mother,
impatiently. "Besides, she's not presentable."
"What about Fan?" whispered my father.
My mother merely looked. It was sufficient.
"Paul?" suggested my father.
"Thank you," retorted my mother. "I don't choose to have my son
turned into a footman, if you do."
"Well, hadn't you better go and dress?" was my father's next remark.
"It won't take me long to put on an apron," was my mother's reply.
"I was looking forward to seeing you in that new frock," said my
father. In the case of another, one might have attributed such a
speech to tact; in the case of my father, one felt it was a happy
My mother confessed--speaking with a certain indulgence, as one does
of one's own follies when past--that she herself also had looked
forward to seeing herself therein. Threatening discord melted into
"I so wanted everything to be all right, for your sake, Luke," said my
mother; "I know you were hoping it would help on the business."
"I was only thinking of you, Maggie, dear," answered my father. "You
are my business."
"I know, dear," said my mother. "It is hard."
The key turned in the lock, and we all stood quiet to listen.
"She's come back alone," said my mother. "I knew it was hopeless."
The door opened.
"Please, ma'am," said the new parlour-maid, "will I do?"
She stood there, framed by the lintel, in the daintiest of aprons, the
daintiest of caps upon her golden hair; and every objection she swept
aside with the wind of her merry wilfulness. No one ever had their
way with her, nor wanted it.
"You shall be footman," she ordered, turning to me--but this time my
mother only laughed. "Wait here till I come down again." Then to my
mother: "Now, ma'am, are you ready?"
It was the first time I had seen my mother, or, indeed, any other
flesh and blood woman, in evening dress, and to tell the truth I was a
little shocked. Nay, more than a little, and showed it, I suppose;
for my mother flushed and drew her shawl over the gleaming whiteness
of her shoulders, pleading coldness. But Barbara cried out against
this, saying it was a sin such beauty should be hid; and my father,
filching a shawl with a quick hand, so dextrously indeed as to suggest
some previous practice in the feat, dropped on one knee--as though the
world were some sweet picture book--and raised my mother's hand with
grave reverence to his lips; and Barbara, standing behind my mother's
chair, insisted on my following suit, saying the Queen was receiving.
So I knelt also, glancing up shyly as towards the gracious face of
some fair lady hitherto unknown, thus Catching my first glimpse of the
philosophy of clothes.
My memory lingers upon this scene by contrast with the sad, changed
days that swiftly followed, when my mother's eyes would flash towards
my father angry gleams, and her voice ring cruel and hard; though the
moment he was gone her lips would tremble and her eyes grow soft again
and fill with tears; when my father would sit with averted face and
sullen lips tight pressed, or worse, would open them only to pour
forth a rapid flood of savage speech; and fling out of the room,
slamming the door behind him, and I would find him hours afterwards,
sitting alone in the dark, with bowed head between his hands.
Wretched, I would lie awake, hearing through the flimsy walls their
passionate tones, now rising high, now fiercely forced into cold
whispers; and then their words to each other sounded even crueller.
In their estrangement from each other, so new to them, both clung
closer to me, though they would tell me nothing, nor should I have
understood if they had. When my mother was sobbing softly, her arms
clasping me tighter and tighter with each quivering throb, then I
hated my father, who I felt had inflicted this sorrow upon her. Yet
when my father drew me down upon his knee, and I looked into his kind
eyes so full of pain, then I felt angry with my mother, remembering
her bitter tongue.
It seemed to me as though some cruel, unseen thing had crept into the
house to stand ever between them, so that they might never look into
each other's loving eyes but only into the eyes of this evil shadow.
The idea grew upon me until at times I could almost detect its outline
in the air, feel a chillness as it passed me. It trod silently
through the pokey rooms, always alert to thrust its grinning face
before them. Now beside my mother it would whisper in her ear; and
the next moment, stealing across to my father, answer for him with his
voice, but strangely different. I used to think I could hear it
laughing to itself as it stepped back into enfolding space.
To this day I seem to see it, ever following with noiseless footsteps
man and woman, waiting patiently its opportunity to thrust its face
between them. So that I can read no love tale, but, glancing round, I
see its mocking eyes behind my shoulder, reading also, with a silent
laugh. So that never can I meet with boy and girl, whispering in the
twilight, but I see it lurking amid the half lights, just behind them,
creeping after them with stealthy tread, as hand in hand they pass me
in quiet ways.
Shall any of us escape, or lies the road of all through this dark
valley of the shadow of dead love? Is it Love's ordeal? testing the
feeble-hearted from the strong in faith, who shall find each other yet
again, the darkness passed?
Of the dinner itself, until time of dessert, I can give no consecutive
account, for as footman, under the orders of this enthusiastic
parlour-maid, my place was no sinecure, and but few opportunities of
observation through the crack of the door were afforded me. All that
was clear to me was that the chief guest was a Mr. Teidelmann--or
Tiedelmann, I cannot now remember which--a snuffy, mumbling old frump,
with whose name then, however, I was familiar by reason of seeing it
so often in huge letters, though with a Co. added, on dreary long
blank walls, bordering the Limehouse reach. He sat at my mother's
right hand; and I wondered, noticing him so ugly and so foolish
seeming, how she could be so interested in him, shouting much and
often to him; for added to his other disattractions he was very deaf,
which necessitated his putting his hand up to his ear at every other
observation made to him, crying querulously: "Eh, what? What are you
talking about? Say it again,"--smiling upon him and paying close
attention to his every want. Even old Hasluck, opposite to him, and
who, though pleasant enough in his careless way, was far from being a
slave to politeness, roared himself purple, praising some new
disinfectant of which this same Teidelmann appeared to be the
"My wife swears by it," bellowed Hasluck, leaning across the table.
"Our drains!" chimed in Mrs. Hasluck, who was a homely soul; "well,
you'd hardly know there was any in the house since I've took to using
"What are they talking about?" asked Teidelmann, appealing to my
mother. "What's he say his wife does?"
"Your disinfectant," explained my mother; "Mrs. Hasluck swears by it."
"Does she? Delighted to hear it," grunted the old gentleman,
"Nothing like it for a sick-room," persisted Hasluck; "might almost
call it a scent."
"Makes one quite anxious to be ill," remarked my aunt, addressing no
one in particular.
"Reminds me of cocoanuts," continued Hasluck.
Its proprietor appeared not to hear, but Hasluck was determined his
flattery should not be lost.
"I say it reminds me of cocoanuts." He screamed it this time.
"Oh, does it?" was the reply.
"Doesn't it you?"
"Can't say it does," answered Teidelmann. "As a matter of fact, don't
know much about it myself. Never use it."
Old Teidelmann went on with his dinner, but Hasluck was still full of
"Take my advice," he shouted, "and buy a bottle."
"Buy a what?"
"A bottle," roared the other, with an effort palpably beyond his
"What's he say? What's he talking about now?" asked Teidelmann, again
appealing to my mother.
"He says you ought to buy a bottle," again explained my mother.
"Of your own disinfectant."
Whether he intended the remark to be heard and thus to close the topic
(which it did), or whether, as deaf people are apt to, merely
misjudged the audibility of an intended sotto vocalism, I cannot say.
I only know that outside in the passage I heard the words distinctly,
and therefore assume they reached round the table also.
A lull in the conversation followed, but Hasluck was not thin-skinned,
and the next thing I distinguished was his cheery laugh.
"He's quite right," was Hasluck's comment; "that's what I am
undoubtedly. Because I can't talk about anything but shop myself, I
think everybody else is the same sort of fool."
But he was doing himself an injustice, for on my next arrival in the
passage he was again shouting across the table, and this time
Teidelmann was evidently interested.
"Well, if you could spare the time, I'd be more obliged than I can
tell you," Hasluck was saying. "I know absolutely nothing about
pictures myself, and Pearsall says you are one of the best judges in
"He ought to know," chuckled old Teidelmann. "He's tried often enough
to palm off rubbish onto me."
"That last purchase of yours must have been a good thing for young--"
Hasluck mentioned the name of a painter since world famous; "been the
making of him, I should say."
"I gave him two thousand for the six," replied Teidelmann, "and
they'll sell for twenty thousand."
"But you'll never sell them?" exclaimed my father.
"No," grunted old Teidelmann, "but my widow will." There came a soft,
low laugh from a corner of the table I could not see.
"It's Anderson's great disappointment," followed a languid, caressing
voice (the musical laugh translated into prose, it seemed), "that he
has never been able to educate me to a proper appreciation of art.
He'll pay thousands of pounds for a child in rags or a badly dressed
Madonna. Such a waste of money, it appears to me."
"But you would pay thousands for a diamond to hang upon your neck,"
argued my father's voice.
"It would enhance the beauty of my neck," replied the musical voice.
"An even more absolute waste of money," was my father's answer, spoken
low. And I heard again the musical, soft laugh.
"Who is she?" I asked Barbara.
"The second Mrs. Teidelmann," whispered Barbara. "She is quite a
swell. Married him for his money--I don't like her myself, but she's
"As beautiful as you?" I asked incredulously. We were sitting on the
stairs, sharing a jelly.
"Oh, me!" answered Barbara. "I'm only a child. Nobody takes any
notice of me--except other kids, like you." For some reason she
appeared out of conceit with herself, which was not her usual state of
"But everybody thinks you beautiful," I maintained.
"Who?" she asked quickly.
"Dr. Hal," I answered.
We were with our backs to the light, so that I could not see her face.
"What did he say?" she asked, and her voice had more of contentment in
I could not remember his exact words, but about the sense of them I
"Ask him what he thinks of me, as if you wanted to know yourself,"
Barbara instructed me, "and don't forget what he says this time. I'm
curious." And though it seemed to me a foolish command--for what
could he say of her more than I myself could tell her--I never
questioned Barbara's wishes.
Yet if I am right in thinking that jealousy of Mrs. Teidelmann may
have clouded for a moment Barbara's sunny nature, surely there was no
reason for this, seeing that no one attracted greater attention
throughout the dinner than the parlour-maid.
"Where ever did you get her from?" asked Mrs. Florret, Barbara having
just descended the kitchen stairs.
"A neat-handed Phillis," commented Dr. Florret with approval.
"I'll take good care she never waits at my table," laughed the wife of
our minister, the Rev. Cottle, a broad-built, breezy-voiced woman,
mother of eleven, eight of them boys.
"To tell the truth," said my mother, "she's only here temporarily."
"As a matter of fact," said my father, "we have to thank Mrs. Hasluck
"Don't leave me out of it," laughed Hasluck; "can't let the old girl
take all the credit."
Later my father absent-mindedly addressed her as "My dear," at which
Mrs. Cottle shot a swift glance towards my mother; and before that
incident could have been forgotten, Hasluck, when no one was looking,
pinched her elbow, which would not have mattered had not the
unexpectedness of it drawn from her an involuntary "augh," upon which,
for the reputation of the house, and the dinner being then towards its
end; my mother deemed it better to take the whole company into her
confidence. Naturally the story gained for Barbara still greater
admiration, so that when with the dessert, discarding the apron but
still wearing the dainty cap, which showed wisdom, she and the footman
took their places among the guests, she was even more than before the
centre of attention and remark.
"It was very nice of you," said Mrs. Cottle, thus completing the
circle of compliments, "and, as I always tell my girls, that is better
than being beautiful."
"Kind hearts," added Dr. Florret, summing up the case, "are more than
coronets." Dr. Florret had ever ready for the occasion the correct
quotation, but from him, somehow, it never irritated; rather it fell
upon the ear as a necessary rounding and completing of the theme; like
the Amen in church.
Only to my aunt would further observations have occurred.
"When I was a girl," said my aunt, breaking suddenly upon the passing
silence, "I used to look into the glass and say to myself: 'Fanny,
you've got to be amiable,' and I was amiable," added my aunt,
challenging contradiction with a look; "nobody can say that I wasn't,
"It didn't pay?" suggested Hasluck.
"It attracted," replied my aunt, "no attention whatever."
Hasluck had changed places with my mother, and having after many
experiments learned the correct pitch for conversation with old
Teidelmann, talked with him as much aside as the circumstances of the
case would permit. Hasluck never wasted time on anything else than
business. It was in his opera box on the first night of Verdi's Aida
(I am speaking of course of days then to come) that he arranged the
details of his celebrated deal in guano; and even his very religion,
so I have been told and can believe, he varied to suit the enterprise
of the moment, once during the protracted preliminaries of a cocoa
scheme becoming converted to Quakerism.
But for the most of us interest lay in a discussion between Washburn
and Florret concerning the superior advantages attaching to residence
in the East End.
As a rule, incorrect opinion found itself unable to exist in Dr.
Florret's presence. As no bird, it is said, can continue its song
once looked at by an owl, so all originality grew silent under the
cold stare of his disapproving eye. But Dr. "Fighting Hal" was no
gentle warbler of thought. Vehement, direct, indifferent, he swept
through all polite argument as a strong wind through a murmuring wood,
carrying his partisans with him further than they meant to go, and
quite unable to turn back; leaving his opponents clinging
desperately--upside down, anyhow--to their perches, angry, their
feathers much ruffled.
"Life!" flung out Washburn--Dr. Florret had just laid down
unimpeachable rules for the conduct of all mankind on all
occasions--"what do you respectable folk know of life? You are not
men and women, you are marionettes. You don't move to your natural
emotions implanted by God; you dance according to the latest book of
etiquette. You live and love, laugh and weep and sin by rule. Only
one moment do you come face to face with life; that is in the moment
when you die, leaving the other puppets to be dressed in black and
make believe to cry."
It was a favourite subject of denunciation with him, the artificiality
of us all.
"Little doll," he had once called me, and I had resented the term.
"That's all you are, little Paul," he had persisted, "a good little
hard-working doll, that does what it's made to do, and thinks what
it's made to think. We are all dolls. Your father is a
gallant-hearted, soft-headed little doll; your mother the sweetest and
primmest of dolls. And I'm a silly, dissatisfied doll that longs to
be a man, but hasn't the pluck. We are only dolls, little Paul."
"He's a trifle--a trifle whimsical on some subjects," explained my
father, on my repeating this conversation.
"There are a certain class of men," explained my mother--"you will
meet with them more as you grow up--who talk for talking's sake. They
don't know what they mean. And nobody else does either."
"But what would you have?" argued Dr. Florret, "that every man should
do that which is right in his own eyes?"
"Far better than, like the old man in the fable, he should do what
every other fool thinks right," retorted Washburn. "The other day I
called to see whether a patient of mine was still alive or not. His
wife was washing clothes in the front room. 'How's your husband?' I
asked. 'I think he's dead,' replied the woman. Then, without leaving
off her work, 'Jim,' she shouted, 'are you there?' No answer came
from the inner room. 'He's a goner,' she said, wringing out a
"But surely," said Dr. Florret, "you don't admire a woman for being
indifferent to the death of her husband?"
"I don't admire her for that," replied Washburn, "and I don't blame
her. I didn't make the world and I'm not responsible for it. What I
do admire her for is not pretending a grief she didn't feel. In
Berkeley Square she'd have met me at the door with an agonised face
and a handkerchief to her eyes.
"Assume a virtue, if you have it not," murmured Dr. Florret.
"Go on," said Washburn. "How does it run? 'That monster, custom, who
all sense doth eat, of devil's habit, is angel yet in this, that to
the use of actions fair and good he gives a frock that aptly is put
on.' So was the lion's skin by the ass, but it showed him only the
more an ass. Here asses go about as asses, but there are lions also.
I had a woman under my hands only a little while ago. I could have
cured her easily. Why she got worse every day instead of better I
could not understand. Then by accident learned the truth: instead of
helping me she was doing all she could to kill herself. 'I must,
Doctor,' she cried. 'I must. I have promised. If I get well he will
only leave me, and if I die now he has sworn to be good to the
children.' Here, I tell you, they live--think their thoughts, work
their will, kill those they hate, die for those they love; savages if
you like, but savage men and women, not bloodless dolls."
"I prefer the dolls," concluded Dr. Florret.
"I admit they are pretty," answered Washburn.
"I remember," said my father, "the first masked ball I ever went to
when I was a student in Paris. It struck me just as you say, Hal;
everybody was so exactly alike. I was glad to get out into the street
and see faces."
"But I thought they always unmasked at midnight," said the second Mrs.
Teidelmann in her soft, languid tones.
"I did not wait," explained my father.
"That was a pity," she replied. "I should have been interested to see
what they were like, underneath."
"I might have been disappointed," answered my father. "I agree with
Dr. Florret that sometimes the mask is an improvement."
Barbara was right. She was a beautiful woman, with a face that would
have been singularly winning if one could have avoided the hard cold
eyes ever restless behind the half-closed lids.
Always she was very kind to me. Moreover, since the disappearance of
Cissy she was the first to bestow again upon me a good opinion of my
small self. My mother praised me when I was good, which to her was
the one thing needful; but few of us, I fear, child or grown-up, take
much pride in our solid virtues, finding them generally hindrances to
our desires: like the oyster's pearl, of more comfort to the world
than to ourselves. If others there were who admired me, very
guardedly must they have kept the secret I would so gladly have shared
with them. But this new friend of ours--or had I not better at once
say enemy--made me feel when in her presence a person of importance.
How it was accomplished I cannot explain. No word of flattery nor
even of mere approval ever passed her lips. Her charm to me was not
that she admired me, but that she led me by some mysterious process to
And yet in spite of this and many lesser kindnesses she showed to me,
I never really liked her; but rather feared her, dreading always the
sudden raising of those ever half-closed eyelids.
She sat next to my father at the corner of the table, her chin resting
on her long white hands, her sweet lips parted, and as often as his
eyes were turned away from her, her soft low voice would draw them
back again. Once she laid her hand on his, laughing the while at some
light jest of his, and I saw that he flushed; and following his quick
glance, saw that my mother's eyes were watching also.
I have spoken of my father only as he then appeared to me, a child--an
older chum with many lines about his mobile mouth, the tumbled hair
edged round with grey; but looking back with older eyes, I see him a
slightly stooping, yet still tall and graceful man, with the face of a
poet--the face I mean a poet ought to possess but rarely does, nature
apparently abhorring the obvious--with the shy eyes of a boy, and a
voice tender as a woman's. Never the dingiest little drab that
entered the kitchen but adored him, speaking always of "the master" in
tones of fond proprietorship, for to the most slatternly his "orders"
had ever the air of requests for favours. Women, I so often read, can
care for only masterful men. But may there not be variety in women as
in other species? Or perhaps--if the suggestion be not
over-daring--the many writers, deeming themselves authorities upon
this subject of woman, may in this one particular have erred? I only
know my father spoke to few women whose eyes did not brighten. Yet
hardly should I call him a masterful man.
"I think it's all right," whispered Hasluck to my father in the
passage--they were the last to go. "What does she think of it, eh?"
"I think she'll be with us," answered my father.
"Nothing like food for bringing people together," said Hasluck.
The door closed, but Something had crept into the house. It stood
between my father and mother. It followed them silently up the narrow
OF THE PASSING OF THE SHADOW.
Better is little, than treasure and trouble therewith. Better a
dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
None but a great man would have dared to utter such a glaring
commonplace as that. Not only on Sundays now, but all the week, came
the hot joint to table, and on every day there was pudding, till a
body grew indifferent to pudding; thus a joy-giving luxury of life
being lost and but another item added to the long list of
uninteresting needs. Now we could eat and drink without stint. No
need now to organise for the morrow's hash. No need now to cut one's
bread instead of breaking it, thinking of Saturday's bread pudding.
But there the saying fails, for never now were we merry. A silent
unseen guest sat with us at the board, so that no longer we laughed
and teased as over the half pound of sausages or the two sweet-scented
herrings; but talked constrainedly of empty things that lay outside
Easy enough would it have been for us to move to Guilford Street.
Occasionally in the spiritless tones in which they now spoke on all
subjects save the one, my mother and father would discuss the project;
but always into the conversation would fall, sooner or later, some
loosened thought to stir it to anger, and so the aching months went
by, and the cloud grew.
Then one day the news came that old Teidelmann had died suddenly in
his counting house.
"You are going to her?" said my mother.
"I have been sent for," said my father; "I must--it may mean
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