Part 6 out of 8
guided by voices, came to a large room furnished barely with many
chairs and worn settees, and here I found some twenty to thirty ladies
and gentlemen already seated. They were of varying ages, sizes and
appearance, but all of them alike in having about them that
impossible-to-define but impossible-to-mistake suggestion of
theatricality. The men were chiefly remarkable for having no hair on
their faces, but a good deal upon their heads; the ladies, one and
all, were blessed with remarkably pink and white complexions and
exceptionally bright eyes. The conversation, carried on in subdued
but penetrating voices, was chiefly of "him" and "her." Everybody
appeared to be on an affectionate footing with everybody else, the
terms of address being "My dear," "My love," "Old girl," "Old
chappie," Christian names--when name of any sort was needful--alone
being employed. I hesitated for a minute with the door in my hand,
fearing I had stumbled upon a family gathering. As, however, nobody
seemed disconcerted at my entry, I ventured to take a vacant seat next
to an extremely small and boyish-looking gentleman and to ask him if
this was the room in which I, an applicant for a place in the chorus
of the forthcoming comic opera, ought to be waiting.
He had large, fishy eyes, with which he looked me up and down. For
such a length of time he remained thus regarding me in silence that a
massive gentleman sitting near, who had overheard, took it upon
himself to reply in the affirmative, adding that from what he knew of
Butterworth we would all of us be waiting here a damned sight longer
than any gentleman should keep other ladies and gentlemen waiting for
no reason at all.
"I think it exceedingly bad form," observed the fishy-eyed gentleman,
in deep contralto tones, "for any gentleman to take it upon himself to
reply to a remark addressed to quite another gentleman."
"I beg your pardon," retorted the large gentleman. "I thought you
"I think it very ill manners," remarked the small gentlemen in the
same slow and impressive tones, "for any gentleman to tell another
gentleman, who happens to be wide awake, that he thought he was
"Sir," returned the massive gentleman, assuming with the help of a
large umbrella a quite Johnsonian attitude, "I decline to alter my
manners to suit your taste."
"If you are satisfied with them," replied the small gentleman, "I
cannot help it. But I think you are making a mistake."
"Does anybody know what the opera is about?" asked a bright little
woman at the other end of the room.
"Does anybody ever know what a comic opera is about?" asked another
lady, whose appearance suggested experience.
"I once asked the author," observed a weary-looking gentleman,
speaking from a corner. "His reply was: 'Well, if you had asked me
at the beginning of the rehearsals I might have been able to tell you,
but damned if I could now![']"
"It wouldn't surprise me," observed a good-looking gentleman in a
velvet coat, "if there occurred somewhere in the proceedings a
drinking chorus for male voices."
"Possibly, if we are good," added a thin lady with golden hair, "the
heroine will confide to us her love troubles, which will interest us
and excite us."
The door at the further end of the room opened and a name was
cal[l]ed. An elderly lady rose and went out.
"Poor old Gertie!" remarked sympathetically the thin lady with the
golden hair. "I'm told that she really had a voice once."
"When poor young Bond first came to London," said the massive
gentleman who was sitting on my left, "I remember his telling me he
applied to Lord Barrymore's 'tiger,' Alexander Lee, I mean, of course,
who was then running the Strand Theatre, for a place in the chorus.
Lee heard him sing two lines, and then jumped up. 'Thanks, that'll
do; good morning,' says Lee. Bond knew he had got a good voice, so he
asked Lee what was wrong. 'What's wrong?' shouts Lee. 'Do you think
I hire a chorus to show up my principals?'"
"Having regard to the company present," commented the fishy-eyed
gentleman, "I consider that anecdote as distinctly lacking in tact."
The feeling of the company appeared to be with the fish-eyed young
For the next half hour the door at the further end of the room
continued to open and close, devouring, ogre-fashion, each time some
dainty human morsel, now chorus gentleman, now chorus lady.
Conversation among our thinning ranks became more fitful, a growing
anxiety making for silence.
At length, "Mr. Horace Moncrieff" called the voice of the unseen
Charon. In common with the rest, I glanced round languidly to see
what sort of man "Mr. Horace Moncrieff" might be. The door was pushed
open further. Charon, now revealed as a pale-faced young man with a
drooping moustache, put his head into the room and repeated
impatiently his invitation to the apparently coy Moncrieff. It
suddenly occurred to me that I was Mr. Horace Moncrieff.
"So glad you've found yourself," said the pale-faced young man, as I
joined him at the door. "Please don't lose yourself again; we're
rather pressed for time."
I crossed with him through a deserted refreshment bar--one of the
saddest of sights--into a room beyond. A melancholy-looking gentleman
was seated at the piano. Beside him stood a tall, handsome man, who
was opening and reading rapidly from a bundle of letters he held in
his hand. A big, burly, bored-looking gentleman was making desperate
efforts to be amused at the staccato conversation of a sharp-faced,
restless-eyed gentleman, whose peculiarity was that he never by any
chance looked at the person to whom he was talking, but always at
something or somebody else.
"Moncrieff?" enquired the tall, handsome man--whom I later discovered
to be Mr. Hodgson, the manager--without raising his eyes from his
The pale-faced gentleman responded for me.
"Fire away," said Mr. Hodgson.
"What is it?" asked of me wearily the melancholy gentleman at the
"'Sally in Our Alley,'" I replied.
"What are you?" interrupted Mr. Hodgson. He had never once looked at
me, and did not now.
"A tenor," I replied. "Not a full tenor," I added, remembering the
"Utterly impossible to fill a tenor," remarked the restless-eyed
gentleman, looking at me and speaking to the worried-looking
gentleman. "Ever tried?"
Everybody laughed, with the exception of the melancholy gentleman at
the piano, Mr. Hodgson throwing in his contribution without raising
his eyes from his letters. Throughout the proceedings the
restless-eyed gentleman continued to make humorous observations of
this nature, at which everybody laughed, excepting always the
melancholy pianist--a short, sharp, mechanical laugh, devoid of the
least suggestion of amusement. The restless-eyed gentleman, it
appeared, was the leading low comedian of the theatre.
"Go on," said the melancholy gentleman, and commenced the
"Tell me when he's going to begin," remarked Mr. Hodgson at the
conclusion of the first verse.
"He has a fair voice," said my accompanist. "He's evidently nervous."
"There is a prejudice throughout theatrical audiences," observed Mr.
Hodgson, "in favour of a voice they can hear. That is all I am trying
to impress upon him."
The second verse, so I imagined, I sang in the voice of a trumpet.
The burly gentleman--the translator of the French libretto, as he
turned out to be; the author of the English version, as he preferred
to be called--acknowledged to having distinctly detected a sound. The
restless-eyed comedian suggested an announcement from the stage
requesting strict silence during my part of the performance.
The sickness of fear was stealing over me. My voice, so it seemed to
me, disappointed at the effect it had produced, had retired, sulky,
into my boots, whence it refused to emerge.
"Your voice is all right--very good," whispered the musical conductor.
"They want to hear the best you can do, that's all."
At this my voice ran up my legs and out of my mouth. "Thirty
shillings a week, half salary for rehearsals. If that's all right,
Mr. Catchpole will give you your agreement. If not, very much
obliged. Good morning," said Mr. Hodgson, still absorbed in his
With the pale-faced young man I retired to a desk in the corner, where
a few seconds sufficed for the completion of the business. Leaving, I
sought to catch the eye of my melancholy friend, but he appeared too
sunk in dejection to notice anything. The restless-eyed comedian,
looking at the author of the English version and addressing me as
Boanerges, wished me good morning, at which the everybody laughed;
and, informed as to the way out by the pale-faced Mr. Catchpole, I
The first "call" was for the following Monday at two o'clock. I found
the theatre full of life and bustle. The principals, who had just
finished their own rehearsal, were talking together in a group. We
ladies and gentlemen of the chorus filled the centre of the stage. I
noticed the lady I had heard referred to as Gertie; as also the thin
lady with the golden hair. The massive gentleman and the fishy-eyed
young man were again in close proximity; so long as I knew them they
always were together, possessed, apparently, of a sympathetic
antipathy for each other. The fishy-eyed young gentleman was
explaining the age at which he thought decayed chorus singers ought,
in justice to themselves and the public, to retire from the
profession; the massive gentleman, the age and size at which he
thought parcels of boys ought to be learning manners across their
Mr. Hodgson, still reading letters exactly as I had left him four days
ago, stood close to the footlights. My friend, the musical director,
armed with a violin and supported by about a dozen other musicians,
occupied the orchestra. The adapter and the stage manager--a
Frenchman whom I found it good policy to mistake for a born
Englishman--sat deep in confabulation at a small table underneath a
temporary gas jet. Quarter of an hour or so passed by, and then the
stage manager, becoming suddenly in a hurry, rang a small bell
"Clear, please; all clear," shouted a small boy, with important air
suggestive of a fox terrier; and, following the others, I retreated to
The comedian and the leading lady--whom I knew well from the front,
but whom I should never have recognised--severed themselves from their
companions and joined Mr. Hodgson by the footlights. As a preliminary
we were sorted out, according to our sizes, into loving couples.
"Ah," said the stage manager, casting an admiring gaze upon the
fishy-eyed young man, whose height might have been a little over five
feet two, "I have the very girl for you--a beauty!" Darting into the
group of ladies, he returned with quite the biggest specimen, a lady
of magnificent proportions, whom, with the air of the virtuous uncle
of melodrama, he bestowed upon the fishy-eyed young man. To the
massive gentleman was given a sharp-faced little lady, who at a
distance appeared quite girlish. Myself I found mated to the thin
lady with the golden hair.
At last complete, we took our places in the then approved semi-circle,
and the attenuated orchestra struck up the opening chorus. My music,
which had been sent me by post, I had gone over with the O'Kelly, and
about that I felt confident; but for the rest, ill at ease.
"I am afraid," said the thin lady, "I must ask you to put your arm
round my waist. It's very shocking, I know, but, you see, our salary
depends upon it. Do you think you could manage it?"
I glanced into her face. A whimsical expression of fun replied to me
and drove away my shyness. I carried out her instructions to the best
of my ability.
The indefatigable stage manager ran in and out among us while we sang,
driving this couple back a foot or so, this other forward, herding
this group closer together, throughout another making space,
suggesting the idea of a sheep-dog at work.
"Very good, very good indeed," commented Mr. Hodgson at the
conclusion. "We will go over it once more, and this time in tune."
"And we will make love," added the stage manager; "not like
marionettes, but like ladies and gentlemen all alive." Seizing the
lady nearest to him, he explained to us by object lesson how the real
peasant invariably behaves when under influence of the grand passion,
standing gracefully with hands clasped upon heart, head inclined at an
angle of forty-five, his whole countenance eloquent with tender
"If he expects" remarked the massive gentleman _sotto voce_ to an
experienced-looking young lady, "a performance of Romeo thrown in, I,
for one, shall want an extra ten shillings a week."
Casting the lady aside and seizing upon a gentleman, our stage manager
then proceeded to show the ladies how a village maiden should receive
affectionate advances: one shoulder a trifle higher than the other,
body from the waist upward gently waggling, roguish expression in left
"Ah, he's a bit new to it," replied the experienced young lady.
"He'll get over all that."
Again we started. Whether others attempted to follow the stage
manager's directions I cannot say, my whole attention being centred
upon the fishy-eyed young man, who did, implicitly. Soon it became
apparent that the whole of us were watching the fishy-eyed young man
to the utter neglect of our own business. Mr. Hodgson even looked up
from his letters; the orchestra was playing out of time; the author of
the English version and the leading lady exchanged glances. Three
people only appeared not to be enjoying themselves: the chief
comedian, the stage manager and the fishy-eyed young gentleman
himself, who pursued his labours methodically and conscientiously.
There was a whispered confabulation between the leading low comedian,
Mr. Hodgson and the stage manager. As a result, the music ceased and
the fishy-eyed young gentleman was requested to explain what he was
"Only making love," replied the fishy-eyed young gentleman.
"You were playing the fool, sir," retorted the leading low comedian,
"That is a very unkind remark," replied the fishy-eyed young
gentleman, evidently hurt, "to make to a gentleman who is doing his
Mr. Hodgson behind his letters was laughing. "Poor fellow," he
murmured; "I suppose he can't help it. Go on."
"We are not producing a pantomime, you know," urged our comedian.
"I want to give him a chance, poor devil," explained Mr. Hodgson in a
lower voice. "Only support of a widowed mother."
Our comedian appeared inclined to argue; but at this point Mr.
Hodgson's correspondence became absorbing.
For the chorus the second act was a busy one. We opened as soldiers
and vivandieres, every warrior in this way possessing his own private
travelling bar. Our stage manager again explained to us by example
how a soldier behaves, first under stress of patriotic emotion, and
secondly under stress of cheap cognac, the difference being somewhat
subtle: patriotism displaying itself by slaps upon the chest, and
cheap cognac by slaps upon the forehead. A little later we were
conspirators; our stage manager, with the help of a tablecloth, showed
us how to conspire. Next we were a mob, led by the sentimental
baritone; our stage manager, ruffling his hair, expounded to us how a
mob led by a sentimental baritone would naturally behave itself. The
act wound up with a fight. Our stage manager, minus his coat,
demonstrated to us how to fight and die, the dying being a painful and
dusty performance, necessitating, as it did, much rolling about on the
stage. The fishy-eyed young gentleman throughout the whole of it was
again the centre of attraction. Whether he were solemnly slapping his
chest and singing about glory, or solemnly patting his head and
singing about grapes, was immaterial: he was the soldier for us.
What the plot was about did not matter, so long as he was in it. Who
led the mob one did not care; one's desire was to see him lead. How
others fought and died was matter of no moment; to see him slaughtered
was sufficient. Whether his unconsciousness was assumed or natural I
cannot say; in either case it was admirable. An earnest young man,
over-anxious, if anything, to do his duty by his employers, was the
extent of the charge that could be brought against him. Our chief
comedian frowned and fumed; our stage manager was in despair. Mr.
Hodgson and the author of the English version, on the contrary,
appeared kindly disposed towards the gentleman. In addition to the
widowed mother, Mr. Hodgson had invented for him five younger brothers
and sisters utterly destitute but for his earnings. To deprive so
exemplary a son and brother of the means of earning a livelihood for
dear ones dependent upon him was not in Mr. Hodgson's heart. Our
chief comedian dissociated himself from all uncharitable
feelings--would subscribe towards the subsistence of the young man out
of his own pocket, his only concern being the success of the opera.
The author of the English version was convinced the young man would
not accept a charity; had known him for years--was a most sensitive
The rehearsal proceeded. In the last act it became necessary for me
to kiss the thin lady.
"I am very sorry," said the thin lady, "but duty is duty. It has to
Again I followed directions. The thin lady was good enough to
congratulate me on my performance.
The last three or four rehearsals we performed in company with the
principals. Divided counsels rendered them decidedly harassing. Our
chief comedian had his views, and they were decided; the leading lady
had hers, and was generous with them. The author of the English
version possessed his also, but of these nobody took much notice.
Once every twenty minutes the stage manager washed his hands of the
whole affair and left the theatre in despair, and anybody's hat that
happened to be handy, to return a few minutes later full of renewed
hope. The sentimental baritone was sarcastic, the tenor distinctly
rude to everybody. Mr. Hodgson's method was to agree with all and
listen to none. The smaller fry of the company, together with the
more pushing of the chorus, supported each in turn, when the others
were not looking. Up to the dress rehearsal it was anybody's opera.
About one thing, and about one thing, only, had the principals fallen
into perfect agreement, and that was that the fishy-eyed young
gentleman was out of place in a romantic opera. The tenor would be
making impassioned love to the leading lady. Perception would come to
both of them that, though they might be occupying geographically the
centre of the stage, dramatically they were not. Without a shred of
evidence, yet with perfect justice, they would unhesitatingly blame
for this the fishy-eyed young man.
"I wasn't doing anything," he would explain meekly. "I was only
looking." It was perfectly true; that was all he was doing.
"Then don't look," would comment the tenor.
The fishy-eyed young gentleman obediently would turn his face away
from them; and in some mysterious manner the situation would thereupon
become even yet more hopelessly ridiculous.
"My scene, I think, sir!" would thunder our chief comedian, a little
"I am only doing what I was told to do," answered the fishy-eyed young
gentleman; and nobody could say that he was not.
"Take a circus, and run him as a side-show," counselled our comedian.
"I am afraid he would never be any good as a side-show," replied Mr.
Hodgson, who was reading letters.
On the first night, passing the gallery entrance on my way to the
stage door, the sight of the huge crowd assembled there waiting gave
me my first taste of artistic joy. I was a part of what they had come
to see, to praise or to condemn, to listen to, to watch. Within the
theatre there was an atmosphere of suppressed excitement, amounting
almost to hysteria. The bird-like gentleman in his glass cage was
fluttering, agitated. The hands of the stage carpenters putting the
finishing touches to the scenery were trembling, their voices
passionate with anxiety; the fox-terrier-like call-boy was pale with
sense of responsibility.
I made my way to the dressing-room--a long, low, wooden corridor,
furnished from end to end with a wide shelf that served as common
dressing-table, lighted by a dozen flaring gas-jets, wire-shielded.
Here awaited us gentlemen of the chorus the wigmaker's assistant,
whose duty it was to make us up. From one to another he ran, armed
with his hare's foot, his box of paints and his bundle of crepe hair.
My turn arriving, he seized me by the head, jabbed a wig upon me, and
in less than a couple of minutes I left his hands the orthodox peasant
of the stage, white of forehead and pink of cheek, with curly
moustache and lips of coral. Glancing into the glass, I could not
help feeling pleased with myself; a moustache, without doubt, suited
The chorus ladies, when I met them on the stage, were a revelation to
me. Paint and powder though I knew their appearance to consist of
chiefly, yet in that hot atmosphere of the theatre, under that
artificial glare, it seemed fit and fascinating. The close
approximation to so much bare flesh, its curious, subtle odour was
almost intoxicating. Dr. Johnson's excuse to Garrick for the rarity
of his visits to the theatre recurred to me with understanding.
"How do you like my costume?" asked the thin lady with the golden
"I think you--" We were standing apart behind a piece of projecting
scenery. She laid her hand upon my mouth, laughing.
"How old are you?" she asked me.
"Isn't that a rude question?" I answered. "I don't ask your age.
"Mine," she replied, "entitles me to talk to you as I should to a boy
of my own--I had one once. Get out of this life if you can. It's bad
for a woman; it's worse still for a man. To you especially it will be
"Why to me in particular?"
"Because you are an exceedingly foolish little boy," she answered,
with another laugh, "and are rather nice."
She slipped away and joined the others. The chorus was now entirely
assembled on the stage. The sound of the rapidly-filling house
reached us, softened through the thick baize curtain, a dull,
continuous droning, as of water pouring into some huge cistern.
Suddenly there fell upon our ears a startling crash; the overture had
commenced. The stage manager--more suggestive of a sheep-dog than
ever, but lacking the calm dignity, the self-possession born of
conscious capability distinctive of his prototype; a fussy,
argumentative sheep-dog--rushed into the midst of us and worried us
into our positions, where the more experienced continued to converse
in whispers, the rest of us waiting nervously, trying to remember our
words. The chorus master, taking his stand with his back to the
proscenium, held his white-gloved hand in readiness. The curtain
rushed up, the house, a nightmare of white faces, appearing to run
towards us. The chorus-master's white-gloved hand flung upward. A
roar of voices struck upon my ear, but whether my own were of them I
could not say; if I were singing at all it was unconsciously,
mechanically. Later, I found myself standing in the wings beside the
thin lady; the stage was in the occupation of the principals. On my
next entrance my senses were more with me; I was able to look about
me. Here and there a strongly-marked face among the audience stood
out, but the majority were as indistinguishable as so many blades of
grass. Looked at from the stage, the house seemed no more real than
from the front do the painted faces upon a black cloth.
The curtain fell amid the usual applause, sounding to us behind it
like the rattle of tiny stones against a window-pane. Three times it
rose and fell, like the opening and shutting of a door; and then
followed a scamper for the dressing-rooms, the long corridors being
filled with the rustling of skirts and the scurrying of feet.
It was in the second act that the fishy-eyed young gentleman came into
his own. The chorus had lingered till it was quite apparent that the
tenor and the leading lady were in love with each other; then, with
the exquisite delicacy so characteristic of a chorus, foreseeing that
its further presence might be embarrassing, it turned to go, half to
the east, the other half to the west. The fishy-eyed young man,
starting from the centre, was the last to leave the stage. In another
moment he would have disappeared from view. There came a voice from
the gallery, clear, distinct, pathetic with entreaty:
"Don't go. Get behind a tree."
The request was instantly seconded by a roar of applause from every
part of the house, followed by laughter. From that point onward the
house was chiefly concerned with the fortunes of the fishy-eyed young
gentleman. At his next entrance, disguised as a conspirator, he was
welcomed with enthusiasm, his passing away regretted loudly. At the
fall of the curtain, the tenor, furious, rushed up to him, and,
shaking a fist in his face, demanded what he meant by it.
"I wasn't doing anything," explained the fishy-eyed young man.
"You went off sideways!" roared the tenor.
"Well, you told me not to look at you," explained meekly the
fishy-eyed young gentleman. "I must go off somehow. I regard you as
a very difficult man to please."
At the final fall of the curtain the house appeared divided as
regarded the merits of the opera; but for "Goggles" there was a
unanimous and enthusiastic call, and the while we were dressing a
message came for "Goggles" that Mr. Hodgson wished to see him in his
"He can make a funny face, no doubt about it," commented one
gentleman, as "Goggles" left the room.
"I defy him to make a funnier one than God Almighty's made for him,"
responded the massive gentleman.
"There's a deal in luck," observed, with a sigh, another, a tall,
handsome young gentleman possessed of a rich bass voice.
Leaving the stage door, I encountered a group of gentlemen waiting
upon the pavement outside. Not interested in them myself, I was
hurrying past, when one laid a hand upon my shoulder. I turned. He
was a big, broad-shouldered fellow, with a dark Vandyke beard and
soft, dreamy eyes.
"Dan!" I cried.
"I thought it was you, young 'un, in the first act," he answered. "In
the second, when you came on without a moustache, I knew it. Are you
in a hurry?"
"Not at all," I answered. "Are you?"
"No," he replied; "we don't go to press till Thursday, so I can write
my notice to-morrow. Come and have supper with me at the Albion and
we will talk. You look tired, young 'un."
"No," I assured him, "only excited--partly at meeting you."
He laughed, and drew my arm through his.
HOW ON A SWEET GREY MORNING THE FUTURE CAME TO PAUL.
Over our supper Dan and I exchanged histories. They revealed points
of similarity. Leaving school some considerable time earlier than
myself, Dan had gone to Cambridge; but two years later, in consequence
of the death of his father, of a wound contracted in the Indian Mutiny
and never cured, had been compelled to bring his college career to an
"You might not have expected that to grieve me," said Dan, with a
smile, "but, as a matter of fact, it was a severe blow to me. At
Cambridge I discovered that I was by temperament a scholar. The
reason why at school I took no interest in learning was because
learning was, of set purpose, made as uninteresting as possible. Like
a Cook's tourist party through a picture gallery, we were rushed
through education; the object being not that we should see and
understand, but that we should be able to say that we had done it. At
college I chose my own subjects, studied them in my own way. I fed on
knowledge, was not stuffed with it like a Strassburg goose."
Returning to London, he had taken a situation in a bank, the chairman
of which had been an old friend of his father. The advantage was that
while earning a small income he had time to continue his studies; but
the deadly monotony of the work had appalled him, and upon the death
of his mother he had shaken the cloying dust of the City from his
brain and joined a small "fit-up" theatrical company. On the stage he
had remained for another eighteen months; had played all roles, from
"Romeo" to "Paul Pry," had helped to paint the scenery, had assisted
in the bill-posting. The latter, so he told me, he had found one of
the most difficult of accomplishments, the paste-laden poster having
an innate tendency to recoil upon the amateur's own head, and to stick
there. Wearying of the stage proper, he had joined a circus company,
had been "Signor Ricardo, the daring bare-back rider," also one of the
"Brothers Roscius in their marvellous trapeze act;" inclining again
towards respectability, had been a waiter for three months at Ostend;
from that, a footman.
"One never knows," remarked Dan. "I may come to be a society
novelist; if so, inside knowledge of the aristocracy will give me
decided advantage over the majority of my competitors."
Other callings he had sampled: had tramped through Ireland with a
fiddle; through Scotland with a lecture on Palestine, assisted by
dissolving views; had been a billiard-marker; next a schoolmaster.
For the last three months he had been a journalist, dramatic and
musical critic to a Sunday newspaper. Often had I dreamt of such a
position for myself.
"How did you obtain it?" I asked.
"The idea occurred to me," replied Dan, "late one afternoon,
sauntering down the Strand, wondering what I should do next. I was on
my beam ends, with only a few shillings in my pocket; but luck has
always been with me. I entered the first newspaper office I came to,
walked upstairs to the first floor, and opening the first door without
knocking, passed through a small, empty room into a larger one,
littered with books and papers. It was growing dark. A gentleman of
extremely youthful figure was running round and round, cursing to
himself because of three things: he had upset the ink, could not find
the matches, and had broken the bell-pull. In the gloom, assuming him
to be the office boy, I thought it would be fun to mistake him for the
editor. As a matter of fact, he turned out to be the editor. I lit
the gas for him, and found him another ink-pot. He was a slim young
man with the voice and manner of a schoolboy. I don't suppose he is
any more than five or six-and-twenty. He owes his position to the
fact of his aunt's being the proprietress. He asked me if he knew me.
Before I could tell him that he didn't, he went on talking. He
appeared to be labouring under a general sense of injury.
"'People come into this office,' he said; 'they seem to look upon it
as a shelter from the rain--people I don't know from Adam. And that
damned fool downstairs lets them march straight up--anybody, men with
articles on safety valves, people who have merely come to kick up a
row about something or another. Half my work I have to do on the
"I recommended to him that he should insist upon strangers writing
their business upon a slip of paper. He thought it a good idea.
"'For the last three-quarters of an hour,' he said, 'have I been
trying to finish this one column, and four times have I been
"At that precise moment there came another knock at the door.
"'I won't see him!' he cried. 'I don't care who he is; I won't see
him. Send him away! Send everybody away!'
"I went to the door. He was an elderly gentleman. He made to sweep
by me; but I barred his way, and closed the editorial door behind me.
He seemed surprised; but I told him it was impossible for him to see
the editor that afternoon, and suggested his writing his business on a
sheet of paper, which I handed to him for the purpose. I remained in
that ante-room for half an hour, and during that time I suppose I must
have sent away about ten or a dozen people. I don't think their
business could have been important, or I should have heard about it
afterwards. The last to come was a tired-looking gentleman, smoking a
cigarette. I asked him his name.
"He looked at me in surprise, and then answered, 'Idiot!'
"I remained firm, however, and refused to let him pass.
"'It's a bit awkward,' he retorted. 'Don't you think you could make
an exception in favour of the sub-editor on press night?'
"I replied that such would be contrary to my instructions.
"'Oh, all right,' he answered. 'I'd like to know who's going to the
Royalty to-night, that's all. It's seven o'clock already.'
"An idea occurred to me. If the sub-editor of a paper doesn't know
whom to send to a theatre, it must mean that the post of dramatic
critic on that paper is for some reason or another vacant.
"'Oh, that's all right,' I told him. 'I shall be in time enough.'
"He appeared neither pleased nor displeased. 'Have you arranged with
the Guv'nor?' he asked me.
"'I'm just waiting to see him again for a few minutes,' I returned.
'It'll be all right. Have you got the ticket?'
"'Haven't seen it,' he replied.
"'About a column?' I suggested.
"'Three-quarters,' he preferred, and went.
"The moment he was gone, I slipped downstairs and met a printer's boy
"'What's the name of your sub?' I asked him. 'Tall man with a black
moustache, looks tired.'
"'Oh, you mean Penton,' explained the boy.
"'That's the name,' I answered; 'couldn't think of it.'
"I walked straight into the editor; he was still irritable. 'What is
it? What is it now?' he snapped out.
"'I only want the ticket for the Royalty Theatre,' I answered.
'Penton says you've got it.'
"'I don't know where it is,' he growled.
"I found it after some little search upon his desk.
"'Who's going?' he asked.
"'I am,' I said. And I went.
"They have never discovered to this day that I appointed myself.
Penton thinks I am some relation of the proprietress, and in
consequence everybody treats me with marked respect. Mrs. Wallace
herself, the proprietress, thinks I am the discovery of Penton, in
whose judgment she has great faith; and with her I get on admirably.
The paper I don't think is doing too well, and the salary is small,
but sufficient. Journalism suits my temperament, and I dare say I
shall keep to it."
"You've been somewhat of a rolling stone hitherto," I commented.
He laughed. "From the stone's point of view," he answered, "I never
could see the advantage of being smothered in moss. I should always
prefer remaining the stone, unhidden, able to move and see about me.
But now, to speak of other matters, what are your plans for the
immediate future? Your opera, thanks to the gentlemen, the gods have
dubbed 'Goggles,' will, I fancy, run through the winter. Are you
getting any salary?"
"Thirty shillings a week," I explained to him, "with full salary for
"Say two pounds," he replied. "With my three we could set up an
establishment of our own. I have an idea that is original. Shall we
work it out together?"
I assured him with fervour that nothing would please me better.
"There are four delightful rooms in Queen's Square," he continued.
"They are charmingly furnished: a fine sitting-room in the front,
with two bedrooms and a kitchen behind. Their last tenant was a
Polish Revolutionary, who, three months ago, poor fellow, was foolish
enough to venture back to Russia, and who is now living rent free.
The landlord of the house is an original old fellow, Deleglise the
engraver. He occupies the rest of the house himself. He has told me
I can have the rooms for anything I like to offer, and I should
suggest thirty shillings a week, though under ordinary circumstances
they would be worth three or four pounds. But he will only let us
have them on the understanding that we 'do for' ourselves. He is
quite an oddity. He hates petticoats, especially elderly petticoats.
He has one servant, an old Frenchwoman, who, I believe, was
housekeeper to his mother, and he and she do the housework together,
most of their time quarrelling over it. Nothing else of the genus
domestic female will he allow inside the door; not even an occasional
charwoman would be permitted to us. On the other hand, it is a
beautiful old Georgian house, with Adams mantelpieces, a stone
staircase, and oak-panelled rooms; and our portion would be the entire
second floor: no pianos and no landlady. He is a widower with one
child, a girl of about fourteen or maybe a little older. Now, what do
you say? I am a very fair cook; will you be house-and-parlour-maid?"
I needed no pressing. A week later we were installed there, and for
nearly two years we lived there. At the risk of offending an adorable
but somewhat touchy sex, convinced that man, left to himself, is
capable of little more than putting himself to bed, and that only in a
rough-and-ready fashion, truth compels me to record the fact that
without female assistance or supervision of any kind we passed through
those two years, and yet exist to tell the tale. Dan had not idly
boasted. Better plain cooking I never want to taste; so good a cup of
coffee, omelette, or devilled kidney I rarely have tasted. Had he
always confined his efforts within the boundaries of his abilities,
there would be little to record beyond continuous and monotonous
success. But stirred into dangerous ambition at the call of an
occasional tea or supper party, lured out of his depths by the example
of old Deleglise, our landlord--a man who for twenty years had made
cooking his hobby--Dan would at intervals venture upon experiment.
Pastry, it became evident, was a thing he should never have touched:
his hand was heavy and his temperament too serious. There was a thing
called lemon sponge, necessitating much beating of eggs. In the
cookery-book--a remarkably fat volume, luscious with illustrations of
highly-coloured food--it appeared an airy and graceful structure of
dazzling whiteness. Served as Dan sent it to table, it suggested
rather in form and colour a miniature earthquake. Spongy it
undoubtedly was. One forced it apart with the assistance of one's
spoon and fork; it yielded with a gentle tearing sound. Another
favourite dainty of his was manna-cake. Concerning it I would merely
remark that if it in any way resembled anything the Children of Israel
were compelled to eat, then there is explanation for that fretfulness
and discontent for which they have been, perhaps, unjustly
blamed--some excuse even for their backward-flung desires in the
direction of the Egyptian fleshpots. Moses himself may have been
blessed with exceptional digestion. It was substantial, one must say
that for it. One slice of it--solid, firm, crusty on the outside,
towards the centre marshy--satisfied most people to a sense of
repletion. For supper parties Dan would essay trifles--by no means
open to the criticism of being light as air--souffle's that guests, in
spite of my admonishing kicks, would persist in alluding to as
pudding; and in winter-time, pancakes. Later, as regards these
latter, he acquired some skill; but at first the difficulty was the
tossing. I think myself a safer plan would have been to turn them by
the aid of a knife and fork; it is less showy, but more sure. At
least, you avoid all danger of catching the half-baked thing upon your
head instead of in the pan, of dropping it into the fire, or among the
cinders. But "Thorough" was always Dan's motto; and after all, small
particles of coal or a few hairs can always be detected by the careful
feeder, and removed.
A more even-tempered man than Dan for twenty-three hours out of every
twenty-four surely never breathed. It was a revelation to me to
discover that for the other he could be uncertain, irritable, even
ungrateful. At first, in a spirit of pure good nature, I would offer
him counsel and advice; explain to him why, as it seemed to me, the
custard was pimply, the mayonnaise sauce suggestive of hair oil. What
was my return? Sneers, insult and abuse, followed, if I did not clear
out quickly, by spoilt tomatoes, cold coffee grounds--anything that
happened to be handy. Pained, saddened, I would withdraw, he would
kick the door to after me. His greatest enemy appeared to be the
oven. The oven it was that set itself to thwart his best wrought
schemes. Always it was the oven's fault that the snowy bun appeared
to have been made of red sandstone, the macaroni cheese of Cambrian
clay. One might have sympathised with him more had his language been
more restrained. As it was, the virulence of his reproaches almost
inclined one to take the part of the oven.
Concerning our house-maid, I can speak in terms of unqualified praise.
There are, alas, fussy house-maids--who has not known and suffered
them?--who overdo the thing, have no repose, no instinct telling them
when to ease up and let the place alone. I have always held the
perpetual stirring up of dust a scientific error; left to itself, it
is harmless, may even be regarded as a delicate domestic bloom,
bestowing a touch of homeliness upon objects that without it gleam
cold and unsympathetic. Let sleeping dogs lie. Why be continually
waking up the stuff, filling the air with all manner of unhealthy
germs? Nature in her infinite wisdom has ordained that upon table,
floor, or picture frame it shall sink and settle. There it remains,
quiet and inoffensive; there it will continue to remain so long as
nobody interferes with it: why worry it? So also with crumbs, odd
bits of string, particles of egg-shell, stumps of matches, ends of
cigarettes: what fitter place for such than under the nearest mat?
To sweep them up is tiresome work. They cling to the carpet, you get
cross with them, curse them for their obstinacy, and feel ashamed of
yourself for your childishness. For every one you do persuade into
the dust-pan, two jump out again. You lose your temper, feel bitter
towards the man that dropped them. Your whole character becomes
deteriorated. Under the mat they are always willing to go.
Compromise is true statesmanship. There will come a day when you will
be glad of an excuse for not doing something else that you ought to be
doing. Then you can take up the mats and feel quite industrious,
contemplating the amount of work that really must be done--some time
To differentiate between the essential and the non-essential, that is
where woman fails. In the name of common sense, what is the use of
washing a cup that half an hour later is going to be made dirty again?
If the cat be willing and able to so clean a plate that not one speck
of grease remain upon it, why deprive her of pleasure to inflict toil
upon yourself? If a bed looks made and feels made, then for all
practical purposes it is made; why upset it merely to put it straight
again? It would surprise most women the amount of labour that can be
avoided in a house.
For needlework, I confess, I never acquired skill. Dan had learnt to
handle a thimble, but my own second finger was ever reluctant to come
forward when wanted. It had to be found, all other fingers removed
out of its way. Then, feebly, nervously, it would push, slip, get
itself pricked badly with the head of the needle, and, thoroughly
frightened, remain incapable of further action. More practical I
found it to push the needle through by help of the door or table.
The opera, as Dan had predicted, ran far into the following year.
When it was done with, another--in which "Goggles" appeared as one of
the principals--took its place, and was even more successful. After
the experience of Nelson Square, my present salary of thirty-five
shillings, occasionally forty shillings, a week seemed to me princely.
There floated before my eyes the possibility of my becoming a great
opera singer. On six hundred pounds a week, I felt I could be
content. But the O'Kelly set himself to dispel this dream.
"Ye'd be making a mistake, me boy," explained the O'Kelly. "Ye'd be
just wasting ye're time. I wouldn't tell ye so if I weren't convinced
"I know it is not powerful," I admitted.
"Ye might almost call it thin," added the O'Kelly.
"It might be good enough for comic opera," I argued. "People appear
to succeed in comic opera without much voice.
"Sure, there ye're right," agreed the O'Kelly, with a sigh. "An' of
course if ye had an exceptionally fine presence and were strikingly
"One can do a good deal with make-up," I suggested.
The O'Kelly shook his head. "It's never quite the same thing. It
would depend upon your acting."
I dreamt of becoming a second Kean, of taking Macready's place. It
need not interfere with my literary ambition. I could combine the
two: fill Drury Lane in the evening, turn out epoch-making novels in
the morning, write my own plays.
Every day I studied in the reading-room of the British Museum.
Wearying of success in Art, I might eventually go into Parliament: a
Prime Minister with a thorough knowledge of history: why not? With
Ollendorf for guide, I continued French and German. It might be the
diplomatic service that would appeal to me in my old age. An
ambassadorship! It would be a pleasant termination to a brilliant
There was excuse for my optimistic mood about this period. All things
were going well with me. A story of mine had been accepted. I forget
for the moment the name of the journal: it is dead now. Most of the
papers in which my early efforts appeared are dead. My contributions
might be likened to their swan songs. Proofs had been sent me, which
I had corrected and returned. But proofs are not facts. This had
happened to me once before, and I had been lifted to the skies only to
fall the more heavily. The paper had collapsed before my story had
appeared. (Ah, why had they delayed? It might have saved them!)
This time I remembered the proverb, and kept my own counsel, slipping
out early each morning on the day of publication to buy the paper, to
scan eagerly its columns. For weeks I suffered hope deferred. But at
last, one bright winter's day in January, walking down the Harrow
Road, I found myself standing still, suddenly stunned, before a bill
outside a small news-vendor's shop. It was the first time I had seen
my real name in print: "The Witch of Moel Sarbod: a legend of Mona,
by Paul Kelver." (For this I had even risked discovery by the Lady
'Ortensia.) My legs trembling under me, I entered the shop. A
ruffianly-looking man in dirty shirt-sleeves, who appeared astonished
that any one should want a copy, found one at length on the floor
underneath the counter. With it in my pocket, I retraced my footsteps
as in a dream. On a seat in Paddington Green I sat down and read it.
The hundred best books! I have waded through them all; they have
never charmed me as charmed me that one short story in that now
forgotten journal. Need I add it was a sad and sentimental
composition. Once upon a time there lived a mighty King; one--but
with the names I will not bore you; they are somewhat unpronounceable.
Their selection had cost me many hours of study in the British Museum
reading-rooms, surrounded by lexicons of the Welsh language,
gazetteers, translations from the early Celtic poets--with footnotes.
He loved and was beloved by a beautiful Princess, whose name, being
translated, was Purity. One day the King, hunting, lost his way, and
being weary, lay down and fell asleep. And by chance the spot whereon
he lay was near to a place which by infinite pains, with the aid of a
magnifying glass, I had discovered upon the map, and which means in
English the Cave of the Waters, where dwelt a wicked Sorceress, who,
while he slept, cast her spells upon him, so that he awoke to forget
his kingly honour and the good of all his people, his only desire
being towards the Witch of Moel Sarbod.
Now, there lived in this Kingdom by the sea a great Magician; and
Purity, who loved the King far better than herself, bethought her of
him, and of all she had heard concerning his power and wisdom; and
went to him and besought his aid that she might save the King. There
was but one way to accomplish this: with bare feet Purity must climb
the rocky path leading to the Witch's dwelling, go boldly up to her,
not fearing her sharp claws nor her strong teeth, and kiss her upon
the mouth. In this way the spirit of Purity would pass into the
Witch's soul, and she would become a woman. But the form and spirit
of the Witch would pass into Purity, transforming her, and in the Cave
of the Waters she must forever abide. Thus Purity gave herself that
the King might live. With bleeding feet she climbed the rocky path,
clasped the Witch's form within her arms, kissed her on the mouth.
And the Witch became a woman and reigned with the King over his
people, wisely and helpfully. But Purity became a hideous witch, and
to this day abides on Moel Sarbod, where is the Cave of the Waters.
And they who climb the mountain's side still hear above the roaring of
the cataract the sobbing of Purity, the King's betrothed. But many
liken it rather to a joyous song of love triumphant.
No writer worth his salt was ever satisfied with anything he ever
wrote, so I have been told, and so I try to believe. Evidently I am
not worth my salt. Candid friends, and others, to whom in my salad
days I used to show my work, asking for a frank opinion, meaning, of
course, though never would they understand me, their unadulterated
praise, would assure me for my good, that this, my first to whom the
gods gave life, was but a feeble, ill-shaped child: its attempted
early English a cross between "The Pilgrim's Progress" and "Old
Moore's Almanac;" its scenery--which had cost me weeks of research--an
apparent attempt to sum up in the language of a local guide book the
leading characteristics of the Garden of Eden combined with Dante's
Inferno; its pathos of the penny-plain and two-penny-coloured order.
Maybe they were right. Much have I written since that at the time
appeared to me good, that I have read later with regret, with burning
cheek, with frowning brow. But of this, my first-born, the harbinger
of all my hopes, I am no judge. Touching the yellowing, badly-printed
pages, I feel again the deep thrill of joy with which I first unfolded
them and read. Again I am a youngster, and life opens out before
me--inmeasurable, no goal too high. This child of my brain, my work:
it shall spread my name throughout the world. It shall be a household
world in lands that I shall never see. Friends whose voices I shall
never hear will speak of me. I shall die, but it shall live, yield
fresh seed, bear fruit I know not of. Generations yet unborn shall
read it and remember me. My thoughts, my words, my spirit: in it I
shall live again; it shall keep my memory green.
The long, long thoughts of boyhood! We elders smile at them. The
little world spins round; the little voices of an hour sink hushed.
The crawling generations come and go. The solar system drops from
space. The eternal mechanism reforms and shapes itself anew. Time,
turning, ploughs another furrow. So, growing sleepy, we murmur with a
yawn. Is it that we see clearer, or that our eyes are growing dim?
Let the young men see their visions, dream their dreams, hug to
themselves their hopes of enduring fame; so shall they serve the world
I brushed the tears from my eyes and looked up. Half-a-dozen urchins,
male and female, were gaping at me open-mouthed. They scattered
shouting, whether compliment or insult I know not: probably the
latter. I flung them a handful of coppers, which for the moment
silenced them; and went upon my way. How bright, how fair the
bustling streets, golden in the winter sunshine, thronged with life,
with effort! Laughter rang around me. Sweet music rolled from
barrel-organs. The strenuous voices of the costermongers called
invitation to the fruitful earth. Errand boys passed me whistling
shrilly joyous melodies. Perspiring tradesmen shouted generous offers
to the needy. Men and women hurried by with smiling faces. Sleek
cats purred in sheltered nooks, till merry dogs invited them to sport.
The sparrows, feasting in the roadway, chirped their hymn of praise.
At the Marble Arch I jumped upon a 'bus. I mentioned to the conductor
in mounting that it was a fine day. He replied that he had noticed it
himself. The retort struck me as a brilliant repartee. Our coachman,
all but run into by a hansom cab driven by a surly old fellow of
patriarchal appearance, remarked upon the danger of allowing horses
out in charge of bits of boys. How full the world of wit and humour!
Almost without knowing it, I found myself in earnest conversation with
a young man sitting next to me. We conversed of life, of love. Not
until afterwards, reflecting upon the matter, did it surprise me that
to a mere chance acquaintance of the moment he had spoken of the one
thing dearest to his heart: a sweet but clearly wayward maiden, the
Hebe of a small, old-fashioned coffee-shop the 'bus was at that moment
passing. Hitherto I had not been the recipient of confidences. It
occurred to me that as a rule not even my friends spoke much to me
concerning their own affairs; generally it was I who spoke to them of
mine. I sympathised with him, advised him--how, I do not recollect.
He said, however, he thought that I was right; and at Regent Street he
left me, expressing his determination to follow my counsel, whatever
it may have been.
Between Berners Street and the Circus I lent a shilling to a couple of
young ladies who had just discovered with amusement, quickly swallowed
by despair, that they neither of them had any money with them. (They
returned it next day in postage stamps, with a charming note.) The
assurance with which I tendered the slight service astonished me
myself. At any other time I should have hesitated, argued with my
fears, offered it with an appearance of sulky constraint, and been
declined. For a moment they were doubtful, then, looking at me,
accepted with a delightful smile. They consulted me as to the way to
Paternoster Row. I instructed them, adding a literary anecdote, which
seemed to interest them. I even ventured on a compliment, neatly
phrased, I am inclined to think. Evidently it pleased--a result
hitherto unusual in the case of my compliments. At the corner of
Southampton Row I parted from them with regret. Why had I never
noticed before how full of pleasant people this sweet and smiling
At the corner of Queen's Square a decent-looking woman stopped me to
ask the way to the Children's Hospital at Chelsea, explaining she had
made a mistake, thinking it was the one in Great Ormond Street where
her child lay. I directed her, then glancing into her face, noticed
how tired she looked, and a vista of the weary pavements she would
have to tramp flashed before me. I slipped some money into her hand
and told her to take a 'bus. She flushed, then thanked me. I turned
a few yards further on; she was starting after me, amazement on her
face. I laughed and waved my hand to her. She smiled back in return,
and went her way.
A rain began to fall. I paused upon the doorstep for a minute,
enjoying the cool drops upon by upturned face, the tonic sharpness of
the keen east wind; then slipped my key into the lock and entered.
The door of old Deleglise's studio on the first floor happened to he
open. Hitherto, beyond the usual formal salutations, when by chance
we met upon the stairs, I had exchanged but few words with my
eccentric landlord; but remembering his kindly face, the desire came
upon me to tell him my good fortune. I felt sure his eyes would
lighten with delight. By instinct I knew him for a young man's man.
I tapped lightly; no answer came. Someone was talking; it sounded
like a girl's voice. I pushed the door further open and walked in;
such was the custom of the house. It was a large room, built over the
yard, lighted by one high window, before which was the engraving desk,
shaded under a screen of tissue paper. At the further end of the room
stood a large cheval-glass, and in front of this, its back towards me,
was a figure that excited my curiosity; so that remaining where I was,
partly hidden behind a large easel, I watched it for awhile in
silence. Above a heavily flounced blue skirt, which fell in creases
on the floor and trailed a couple of yards or so behind, it wore a
black low-cut sleeveless bodice--much too big for it--of the fashion
early Victorian. A good deal of dark-brown hair, fastened up by
hair-pins that stuck out in all directions like quills upon a
porcupine, suggesting collapse with every movement, was ornamented by
three enormous green feathers, one of which hung limply over the
lady's left ear. Three times, while I watched, unnoticed, the lady
propped it into a more befitting attitude, and three times, limp and
intoxicated-looking, it fell back into its former foolish position.
Her long, thin arms, displaying a pair of brilliantly red elbows,
pointed to quite a dangerous degree, terminated in hands so very
sunburnt as to convey the impression of a pair of remarkably
well-fitting gloves. Her right hand grasped and waved with
determination a large lace fan, her left clutched fiercely the front
of her skirt. With a sweeping curtsey to herself in the glass, which
would have been more effective could she have avoided tying her legs
together with her skirt--a _contretemps_ necessitating the use of both
hands and a succession of jumps before she could disentangle
herself--she remarked so soon as she had recovered her balance:
"So sorry I am late. My carriage was unfortunately delayed."
The excuse, I gathered, was accepted, for with a gracious smile and a
vigorous bow, by help of which every hairpin made distinct further
advance towards freedom, she turned, and with much dignity and head
over the right shoulder took a short walk to the left. At the end of
six short steps she stopped and began kicking. For what reason, I, at
first, could not comprehend. It dawned upon me after awhile that her
object was the adjustment of her train. Finding the manoeuvre too
difficult of accomplishment by feet alone, she stooped, and, taking
the stuff up in her hands, threw it behind her. Then, facing north,
she retraced her steps to the glass, talking to herself, as she
walked, in the high-pitched drawl, distinctive, as my stage knowledge
told me, of aristocratic society.
"Oh, do you think so--really? Ah, yes; you say that. Certainly not!
I shouldn't think of it." There followed what I am inclined to
believe was intended for a laugh, musical but tantalising. If so,
want of practice marred the effort. The performance failed to satisfy
even herself. She tried again; it was still only a giggle.
Before the glass she paused, and with a haughty inclination of her
head succeeded for the third time in displacing the intoxicated
"Oh, bother the silly thing!" she said in a voice so natural as to be,
by contrast with her previous tone, quite startling.
She fixed it again with difficulty, muttering something inarticulate.
Then, her left hand resting on an imaginary coat-sleeve, her right
holding her skirt sufficiently high to enable her to move, she
commenced to majestically gyrate.
Whether, hampered as she was by excess of skirt, handicapped by the
natural clumsiness of her age, catastrophe in any case would not
sooner or later have overtaken her, I have my doubts. I have since
learnt her own view to be that but for catching sight, in turning, of
my face, staring at her through the bars of the easel, all would have
gone well and gracefully. Avoiding controversy on this point, the
facts to be recorded are, that, seeing me, she uttered a sudden
exclamation of surprise, dropped her skirt, trod on her train, felt
her hair coming down, tried to do two things at once, and sat upon the
floor. I ran to her assistance. With flaming face and flashing eyes
she sprang to her feet. There was a sound as of the rushing down of
avalanches. The blue flounced skirt lay round her on the floor. She
stood above its billowy folds, reminiscent of Venus rising from the
waves--a gawky, angular Venus in a short serge frock, reaching a
little below her knees, black stockings and a pair of prunella boots
of a size suggesting she had yet some inches to grow before reaching
her full height.
"I hope you haven't hurt yourself," I said.
The next moment I didn't care whether she had or whether she hadn't.
She did not reply to my kindly meant enquiry. Instead, her hand swept
through the air in the form of an ample semi-circle. It terminated on
my ear. It was not a small hand; it was not a soft hand; it was not
that sort of hand. The sound of the contact rang through the room
like a pistol shot; I beard it with my other ear. I sprang at her,
and catching her before she had recovered her equilibrium, kissed her.
I did not kiss her because I wanted to. I kissed her because I could
not box her ears back in return, which I should have preferred doing.
I kissed her, hoping it would make her mad. It did. If a look could
have killed me, such would have been the tragic ending of this story.
It did not kill me; it did me good.
"You horrid boy!" she cried. "You horrid, horrid boy!"
There, I admit, she scored. I did not in the least object to her
thinking me horrid, but at nineteen one does object to being mistaken
for a boy.
"I am not a boy," I explained.
"Yes, you are," she retorted; "a beast of a boy!"
"If you do it again," I warned her--a sudden movement on her part
hinting to me the possibility--"I'll kiss you again! I mean it."
"Leave the room!" she commanded, pointing with her angular arm towards
I did not wish to remain. I was about to retire with as much dignity
as circumstances permitted.
"Boy!" she added.
At that I turned. "Now I won't go!" I replied. "See if I do."
We stood glaring at each other.
"What right have you in here?" she demanded.
"I came to see Mr. Deleglise," I answered. "I suppose you are Miss
Deleglise. It doesn't seem to me that you know how to treat a
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Mr. Horace Moncrieff," I replied. I was using at the period both my
names indiscriminately, but for this occasion Horace Moncrieff I
judged the more awe-inspiring.
She snorted. "I know. You're the house-maid. You sweep all the
crumbs under the mats."
Now this was a subject about which at the time I was feeling somewhat
sore. "Needs must when the Devil drives;" but as matters were, Dan
and I could well have afforded domestic assistance. It rankled in my
mind that to fit in with the foolish fad of old Deleglise, I the
future Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Kean, Macready and Phelps
rolled into one, should be compelled to the performance of menial
duties. On this morning of all others, my brilliant literary career
just commenced, the anomaly of the thing appeared naturally more
Besides, how came she to know I swept the crumbs under the mat--that
it was my method? Had she and Dan been discussing me, ridiculing me
behind my back? What right had Dan to reveal the secrets of our
menage to this chit of a school-girl? Had he done so? or had she been
prying, poking her tilted nose into matters that did not concern her?
Pity it was she had no mother to occasionally spank her, teach her
"Where I sweep our crumbs is nothing to do with you," I replied with
some spirit. "That I have to sweep them at all is the fault of your
father. A sensible girl--"
"How dare you speak against my father!" she interrupted me with
"We will not discuss the question further," I answered, with sense and
"I think you had better not!" she retorted.
Turning her back on me, she commenced to gather up her hairpins--there
must have been about a hundred of them. I assisted her to the extent
of picking up about twenty, which I handed to her with a bow: it may
have been a little stiff, but that was only to be expected. I wished
to show her that her bad example had not affected my own manners.
"I am sorry my presence should have annoyed you," I said. "It was
quite an accident. I entered the room thinking your father was here."
"When you saw he wasn't, you might have gone out again," she replied,
"instead of hiding yourself behind a picture."
"I didn't hide myself," I explained. "The easel happened to be in the
"And you stopped there and watched me."
"I couldn't help it."
She looked round and our eyes met. They were frank, grey eyes. An
expression of merriment shot into them. I laughed.
Then she laughed: it was a delightful laugh, the laugh one would have
expected from her.
"You might at least have coughed," she suggested.
"It was so amusing," I pleaded.
"I suppose it was," she agreed, and held out her hand. "Did I hurt
you?" she asked.
"Yes, you did," I answered, taking it.
"Well, it was enough to annoy me, wasn't it?" she suggested.
"Evidently," I agreed.
"I am going to a ball next week," she explained, "a grown-up ball, and
I've got to wear a skirt. I wanted to see if I could manage a train."
"Well, to be candid, you can't," I assured her.
"It does seem difficult."
"Shall I show you?" I asked.
"What do you know about it?"
"Well, I see it done every night."
"Oh, yes; of course, you're on the stage. Yes, do."
We readjusted the torn skirt, accommodating it better to her figure by
the help of hairpins. I showed her how to hold the train, and, I
humming a tune, we commenced to waltz.
"I shouldn't count my steps," I suggested to her. "It takes your mind
away from the music."
"I don't waltz well," she admitted meekly. "I know I don't do
anything well--except play hockey."
"And try not to tread on your partner's feet. That's a very bad
"I do try not to," she explained.
"It comes with practice," I assured her.
"I'll get Tom to give me half an hour every evening," she said. "He
"Why do you call your father Tom? It doesn't sound respectful."
"Oh, he likes it; and it suits him so much better than father.
Besides, he isn't like a real father. He does everything I want him
"Is that good for you?"
"No; it's very bad for me--everybody says so. When you come to think
of it, of course it isn't the way to bring up a girl. I tell him, but
he merely laughs--says it's the only way he knows. I do hope I turn
out all right. Am I doing it better now?"
"A little. Don't be too anxious about it. Don't look at your feet."
"But if I don't they go all wrong. It was you who trod on mine that
"I know. I'm sorry. It's a little difficult not to."
"Am I holding my train all right?"
"Well, there's no need to grip it as if you were afraid it would run
away. It will follow all right. Hold it gracefully."
"I wish I wasn't a girl."
"Oh, you'll get used to it." We concluded our dance.
"What do I do--say 'Thank you'?"
"What does he do?"
"Oh, he takes you back to your chaperon, or suggests refreshment, or
you sit and talk."
"I hate talking. I never know what to say."
"Oh, that's his duty. He'll try and amuse you, then you must laugh.
You have a nice laugh."
"But I never know when to laugh. If I laugh when I want to it always
offends people. What do you do if somebody asks you to dance and you
don't want to dance with them?"
"Oh, you say your programme is full."
"But if it isn't?"
"Well, you tell a lie."
"Couldn't I say I don't dance well, and that I'm sure they'd get on
better with somebody else?"
"It would be the truth, but they might not believe it."
"I hope nobody asks me that I don't want."
"Well, he won't a second time, anyhow."
"You are rude."
"You are only a school-girl."
"I look a woman in my new frock, I really do."
"I should doubt it."
"You shall see me, then you'll be polite. It is because you are a boy
you are rude. Men are much nicer."
"Oh, are they?"
"Yes. You will be, when you are a man."
The sound of voices rose suddenly in the hall.
"Tom!" cried Miss Deleglise; and collecting her skirt in both hands,
bolted down the corkscrew staircase leading to the kitchen, leaving me
standing in the centre of the studio.
The door opened and old Deleglise entered, accompanied by a small,
slight man with red hair and beard and somewhat watery eyes.
Deleglise himself was a handsome old fellow, then a man of about
fifty-five. His massive, mobile face, illuminated by bright, restless
eyes, was crowned with a lion-like mane of iron-grey hair. Till a few
years ago he had been a painter of considerable note. But in
questions of art his temper was short. Pre-Raphaelism had gone out of
fashion for the time being; the tendency of the new age was towards
impressionism, and in disgust old Deleglise had broken his palette
across his knee, and swore never to paint again. Artistic work of
some sort being necessary to his temperament, he contented himself now
with engraving. At the moment he was engaged upon the reproduction of
Memlinc's Shrine of St. Ursula, with photographs of which he had just
returned from Bruges.
At sight of me his face lighted with a smile, and he advanced with
"Ah; my lad, so you have got over your shyness and come to visit the
old bear in his den. Good boy. I like young faces."
He had a clear, musical voice, ever with the suggestion of a laugh
behind it. He laid his hand upon my shoulder.
"Why, you are looking as if you had come into a fortune," he added,
"and didn't know what a piece of bad luck that can be to a young
fellow like yourself."
"How could it be bad luck?" I asked, laughing.
"Takes all the sauce out of life, young man," answered Deleglise.
"What interest is there in running a race with the prize already in
your possession, tell me that?"
"It is not that kind of fortune," I answered, "it is another. I have
had my first story accepted. It is in print. Look."
I handed him the paper. He spread it out upon the engraving board
"Ah, that's better," he said, "that's better. Charlie," he turned to
the red-headed man, who had seated himself listlessly in the one
easy-chair the room contained, "come here."
The red-headed man rose and wandered towards us. "Let me introduce
you to Mr. Paul Kelver, our new fellow servant. Our lady has accepted
him. He has just been elected; his first story is in print."
The red-haired man stretched out his long thin hand. "I have thirty
years of fame," said the red-haired man--"could I say world-wide?"
He turned for confirmation to old Deleglise, who laughed. "I think
"If I could give it you would you exchange with me--at this moment?"
"You would be a fool if you did," he went on. "One's first success,
one's first victory! It is the lover's first kiss. Fortune grows old
and wrinkled, frowns more often than she smiles. We become
indifferent to her, quarrel with her, make it up again. But the joy
of her first kiss after the long wooing! Burn it into your memory, my
young friend, that it may live with you always!"
He strolled away. Old Deleglise took up the parable.
"Ah, yes; one's first success, Paul! Laugh, my boy, cry! Shut
yourself up in your room, shout, dance! Throw your hat into the air
and cry hurrah! Make the most of it, Paul. Hug it to your heart,
think of it, dream of it. This is the finest hour of your life, my
boy. There will never come another like it--never!"
He crossed the studio, and taking from its nail a small oil painting,
brought it over and laid it on the board beside my paper. It was a
fascinating little picture, painted with that exquisite minutiae and
development of detail that a newer school was then ridiculing: as
though Art had but one note to her voice. The dead figure of an old
man lay upon a bed. A child had crept into the darkened room, and
supporting itself by clutching tightly at the sheet, was gazing with
solemn curiosity upon the white, still face.
"That was mine," said old Deleglise. "It was hung in the Academy
thirty-six years ago, and bought for ten guineas by a dentist at Bury
St. Edmunds. He went mad a few years later and died in a lunatic
asylum. I had never lost sight of it, and the executors were quite
agreeable to my having it back again for the same ten guineas. I used
to go every morning to the Academy to look at it. I thought it the
cleverest bit of work in the whole gallery, and I'm not at all sure
that it wasn't. I saw myself a second Teniers, another Millet. Look
how that light coming through the open door is treated; isn't it good?
Somebody will pay a thousand guineas for it before I have been dead a
dozen years, and it is worth it. But I wouldn't sell it myself now
for five thousand. One's first success; it is worth all the rest of
"All?" queried the red-haired man from his easy-chair. We looked
round. The lady of the skirt had entered, now her own proper self: a
young girl of about fifteen, angular, awkward-looking, but bringing
into the room with her that atmosphere of life, of hope, that is the
eternal message of youth. She was not beautiful, not then--plain one
might almost have called her but for her frank, grey eyes, her mass of
dark-brown hair now gathered into a long thick plait. A light came
into old Deleglise's eyes.
"You are right, not all," he murmured to the red-haired man.
She came forward shyly. I found it difficult to recognise in her the
flaming Fury that a few minutes before had sprung at me from the
billows of her torn blue skirt. She shook hands with the red-haired
man and kissed her father.
"My daughter," said old Deleglise, introducing me to her. "Mr. Paul
Kelver, a literary gent."
"Mr. Kelver and I have met already," she explained. "He has been
waiting for you here in the studio."
"And have you been entertaining him?" asked Deleglise. "Oh, yes, I
entertained him," she replied. Her voice was singularly like her
father's, with just the same suggestion of ever a laugh behind it.
"We entertained each other," I said.
"That's all right," said old Deleglise. "Stop and lunch with us. We
will make ourselves a curry."
OF THE GLORY AND GOODNESS AND THE EVIL THAT GO TO THE MAKING OF LOVE.
During my time of struggle I had avoided all communication with old
Hasluck. He was not a man to sympathise with feelings he did not
understand. With boisterous good humour he would have insisted upon
helping me. Why I preferred half starving with Lott and Co. to
selling my labour for a fair wage to good-natured old Hasluck, merely
because I knew him, I cannot explain. Though the profits may not have
been so large, Lott and Co.'s dealings were not one whit more honest:
I do not believe it was that which decided me. Nor do I think it was
because he was Barbara's father. I never connected him, nor that good
old soul, his vulgar, homely wife, in any way with Barbara. To me she
was a being apart from all the world. Her true Parents! I should
have sought them rather amid the sacred groves of vanished lands,
within the sky-domed shrines of banished gods. There are instincts in
us not easily analysed, not to be explained by reason. I have always
preferred the finding--sometimes the losing--of my way according to
the map, to the surer and simpler method of vocal enquiry; working out
a complicated journey, and running the risk of never arriving at my
destination, by aid of a Continental Bradshaw, to putting myself into
the hands of courteous officials maintained and paid to assist the
perplexed traveller. Possibly a far-off progenitor of mine may have
been some morose "rogue" savage with untribal inclinations, living in
his cave apart, fashioning his own stone hammer, shaping his own flint
arrow-heads, shunning the merry war-dance, preferring to caper by
But now, having gained my own foothold, I could stretch out my hand
without fear of the movement being mistaken for appeal. I wrote to
old Hasluck; and almost by the next post received from him the
friendliest of notes. He told me Barbara had just returned from
abroad, took it upon himself to add that she also would be delighted
to see me, and, as I knew he would, threw his doors open to me.
Of my boyish passion for Barbara never had I spoken to a living soul,
nor do I think, excepting Barbara herself, had any ever guessed it.
To my mother, though she was very fond of her, Barbara was only a
girl, with charms but also with faults, concerning which my mother
would speak freely; hurting me, as one unwittingly might hurt a
neophyte by philosophical discussion of his newly embraced religion.
Often, choosing by preference late evening or the night, I would
wander round and round the huge red-brick house standing in its
ancient garden on the top of Stamford Hill; descending again into the
noisome streets as one returning to the world from praying at a
shrine, purified, filled with peace, all noble endeavour, all
unselfish aims seeming within my grasp.
During Barbara's four years' absence my adoration had grown and
strengthened. Out of my memory of her my desire had evolved its
ideal; a being of my imagination, but by reason of that, to me the
more real, the more present. I looked forward to seeing her again,
but with no impatience, revelling rather in the anticipation than
eager for the realisation. As a creature of flesh and blood, the
child I had played with, talked with, touched, she had faded further
and further into the distance; as the vision of my dreams she stood
out clearer day by day. I knew that when next I saw her there would
be a gulf between us I had no wish to bridge. To worship her from
afar was a sweeter thought to me than would have been the hope of a
passionate embrace. To live with her, sit opposite to her while she
ate and drank, see her, perhaps, with her hair in curl-papers, know
possibly that she had a corn upon her foot, hear her speak maybe of a
decayed tooth, or of a chilblain, would have been torture to me. Into
such abyss of the commonplace there was no fear of my dragging her,
and for this I was glad. In the future she would be yet more removed
from me. She was older than I was; she must be now a woman.
Instinctively I felt that in spite of years I was not yet a man. She
would marry. The thought gave me no pain, my feeling for her was
utterly devoid of appetite. No one but myself could close the temple
I had built about her, none deny to me the right of entry there. No
jealous priest could hide her from my eyes, her altar I had reared too
high. Since I have come to know myself better, I perceive that she
stood to me not as a living woman, but as a symbol; not a fellow human
being to be walked with through life, helping and to be helped, but
that impalpable religion of sex to which we raise up idols of poor
human clay, alas, not always to our satisfaction, so that foolishly we
fall into anger against them, forgetting they were but the work of our
own hands; not the body, but the spirit of love.
I allowed a week to elapse after receiving old Hasluck's letter before
presenting myself at Stamford Hill. It was late one afternoon in
early summer. Hasluck had not returned from the City, Mrs. Hasluck
was out visiting, Miss Hasluck was in the garden. I told the
supercilious footman not to trouble, I would seek her there myself. I
guessed where she would be; her favourite spot had always been a sunny
corner, bright with flowers, surrounded by a thick yew hedge, cut,
after the Dutch fashion, into quaint shapes of animals and birds. She
was walking there, as I had expected, reading a book. And again, as I
saw her, came back to me the feeling that had swept across me as a
boy, when first outlined against the dusty books and papers of my
father's office she had flashed upon my eyes: that all the fairy
tales had suddenly come true, only now, instead of the Princess, she
was the Queen. Taller she was, with a dignity that formerly had been
the only charm she lacked. She did not hear my coming, my way being
across the soft, short grass, and for a little while I stood there in
the shadow of the yews, drinking in the beauty of her clear-cut
profile, bent down towards her book, the curving lines of her long
neck, the wonder of the exquisite white hand against the lilac of her
I did not speak; rather would I have remained so watching; but turning
at the end of the path, she saw me, and as she came towards me held
out her hand. I knelt upon the path, and raised it to my lips. The
action was spontaneous, till afterwards I was not aware of having done
it. Her lips were smiling as I raised my eyes to them, the faintest
suggestion of contempt mingling with amusement. Yet she seemed
pleased, and her contempt, even if I were not mistaken, would not have
"So you are still in love with me? I wondered if you would be."
"Did you know that I was in love with you?"
"I should have been blind if I had not."
"But I was only a boy."
"You were not the usual type of boy. You are not going to be the
usual type of man."
"You do not mind my loving you?"
"I cannot help it, can I? Nor can you."
She seated herself on a stone bench facing a sun-dial, and leaning
hack, her hands clasped behind her head, looked at me and laughed.
"I shall always love you," I answered, "but it is with a curious sort
of love. I do not understand it myself."
"Tell me," she commanded, still with a smile about her lips, "describe
it to me."
I was standing over against her, my arm resting upon the dial's stone
column. The sun was sinking, casting long shadows on the velvety
grass, illuminating with a golden light her upturned face.
"I would you were some great queen of olden days, and that I might be
always near you, serving you, doing your bidding. Your love in return
would spoil all; I shall never ask it, never desire it. That I might
look upon you, touch now and then at rare intervals with my lips your
hand, kiss in secret the glove you had let fall, the shoe you had
flung off, know that you knew of my love, that I was yours to do with
as you would, to live or die according to your wish. Or that you were
priestess in some temple of forgotten gods, where I might steal at
daybreak and at dusk to gaze upon your beauty; kneel with clasped
hands, watching your sandalled feet coming and going about the altar
steps; lie with pressed lips upon the stones your trailing robes had
She laughed a light mocking laugh. "I should prefer to be the queen.
The role of priestess would not suit me. Temples are so cold." A
slight shiver passed through her. She made a movement with her hand,
beckoning me to her feet. "That is how you shall love me, Paul," she
said, "adoring me, worshipping me--blindly. I will be your queen and
treat you--as it chooses me. All I think, all I do, I will tell you,
and you shall tell me it is right. The queen can do no wrong."
She took my face between her hands, and bending over me, looked long
and steadfastly into my eyes. "You understand, Paul, the queen can do
no wrong--never, never." There had crept into her voice a note of
vehemence, in her face was a look almost of appeal.
"My queen can do no wrong," I repeated. And she laughed and let her
hands fall back upon her lap.
"Now you may sit beside me. So much honour, Paul, shall you have
to-day, but it will have to last you long. And you may tell me all
you have been doing, maybe it will amuse me; and afterwards you shall
hear what I have done, and shall say that it was right and good of
I obeyed, sketching my story briefly, yet leaving nothing untold, not
even the transit of the Lady 'Ortensia, ashamed of the episode though
I was. At that she looked a little grave.
"You must do nothing again, Paul," she commanded, "to make me feel
ashamed of you, or I shall dismiss you from my presence for ever. I
must be proud of you, or you shall not serve me. In dishonouring
yourself you are dishonouring me. I am angry with you, Paul. Do not
let me be angry with you again.
And so that passed; and although my love for her--as I know well she
wished and sought it should--failed to save me at all times from the
apish voices whispering ever to the beast within us, I know the desire
to be worthy of her, to honour her with all my being, helped my life
as only love can. The glory of the morning fades, the magic veil is
rent; we see all things with cold, clear eyes. My love was a woman.
She lies dead. They have mocked her white sweet limbs with rags and
tatters, but they cannot cheat love's eyes. God knows I loved her in
all purity! Only with false love we love the false. Beneath the
unclean clinging garments she sleeps fair.
My tale finished, "Now I will tell you mine," she said. "I am going
to be married soon. I shall be a Countess, Paul, the Countess
Huescar--I will teach you how to pronounce it--and I shall have a real
castle in Spain. You need not look so frightened, Paul; we shall not
live there. It is a half-ruined, gloomy place, among the mountains,
and he loves it even less than I do. Paris and London will be my
courts, so you will see me often. You shall know the great world,
Paul, the world I mean to conquer, where I mean to rule."
"Is he very rich?" I asked.
"As poor," she laughed, "as poor as a Spanish nobleman. The money I
shall have to provide, or, rather, poor dear Dad will. He gives me
title, position. Of course I do not love him, handsome though he is.
Don't look so solemn, Paul. We shall get on together well enough.
Queens, Paul, do not make love matches, they contract alliances. I
have done well, Paul; congratulate me. Do you hear, Paul? Say that I
have acted rightly."
"Does he love you?" I asked.
"He tells me so," she answered, with a laugh. "How uncourtier-like
you are, Paul! Do you suggest that any man could see me and not love
She sprang to her feet. "I do not want his love," she cried; "it
would bore me. Women hate love they cannot return. I don't mean love
like yours, devout little Paul," she added, with a laugh. "That is
sweet incense wafted round us that we like to scent with our noses in
the air. Give me that, Paul; I want it, I ask for it. But the love
of a hand, the love of a husband that one does not care for--it would
I felt myself growing older. For the moment my goddess became a child
"But have you thought--" I commenced.
"Yes, yes," she interrupted me quickly, "I have thought and thought
till I can think no more. There must be some sacrifice; it must be as
little as need be, that is all. He does not love me; he is marrying
me for my money--I know that, and I am glad of it. You do not know
me, Paul. I must have rank, position. What am I? The daughter of
rich old Hasluck, who began life as a butcher in the Mile End Road.
As the Princess Huescar, society will forget, as Mrs."--it seemed to
me she checked herself abruptly--"Jones or Brown it would remember,
however rich I might be. I am vain, Paul, caring for power--ambition.
I have my father's blood in me. All his nights and days he has spent
in gaining wealth; he can do no more. We upstarts have our pride of
race. He has done his share, I must do mine."
"But you need not be mere Mrs. anybody commonplace," I argued. "Why
not wait? You will meet someone who can give you position and whom at
the same time you can love. Would that not be better?"
"He will never come, the man I could love," she answered. "Because,
my little Paul, he has come already. Hush, Paul, the queen can do no
"Who is he?" I asked. "May I not know?"
"Yes, Paul," she answered, "you shall know; I want you to know, then
you shall tell me that I have acted rightly. Do you hear me,
Paul?--quite rightly--that you still respect me and honour me. He
could not help me. As his wife, I should be less even than I am, a
mere rich nobody, giving long dinner-parties to other rich nobodies,
living amongst City men, retired trades-people; envied only by their
fat, vulgarly dressed wives, courted by seedy Bohemians for the sake
of my cook; with perhaps an opera singer or an impecunious nobleman or
two out of Dad's City list for my show-guests. Is that the court,
Paul, where you would have your queen reign?"
"Is he so commonplace a man," I answered, "the man you love? I cannot
"He is not commonplace," she answered. "It is I who am commonplace.
The things I desire, they are beneath him; he will never trouble
himself to secure them."
"Not even for love of you?"
"I would not have him do so even were he willing. He is great, with a
greatness I cannot even understand. He is not the man for these
times. In old days, I should have married him, knowing he would climb
to greatness by sheer strength of manhood. But now men do not climb;
they crawl to greatness. He could not do that. I have done right,
"What does be say?" I asked.
"Shall I tell you?" She laughed a little bitterly. "I can give you
his exact words, 'You are half a woman and half a fool, so woman-like
you will follow your folly. But let your folly see to it that your
woman makes no fool of herself.'"
The words were what I could imagine his saying. I heard the strong
ring of his voice through her mocking mimicry.
"Hal!" I cried. "It is he."
"So you never guessed even that, Paul. I thought at times it would be
sweet to cry it out aloud, that it could have made no difference, that
everyone who knew me must have read it in my eyes."
"But he never seemed to take much notice of you," I said.
She laughed. "You needn't be so unkind, Paul. What did I ever do for
you much more than snub you? We boys and girls; there is not so much
difference between us: we love our masters. Yet you must not think
so poorly of me. I was only a child to him then, but we were locked
up in Paris together during the entire siege. Have not you heard? He
did take a little notice of me there, Paul, I assure you."
Would it have been better, I wonder, had she followed the woman and
not the fool? It sounds an easy question to answer; but I am thinking
of years later, one winter's night at Tiefenkasten in the Julier Pass.
I was on my way from San Moritz to Chur. The sole passenger, I had
just climbed, half frozen, from the sledge, and was thawing myself
before the stove in the common room of the hotel when the waiter put a
pencilled note into my hand:
"Come up and see me. I am a prisoner in this damned hole till the
weather breaks. Hal."
I hardly recognised him at first. Only the poor ghost he seemed of the
Hal I had known as a boy. His long privations endured during the
Paris siege, added to the superhuman work he had there put upon
himself, had commenced the ruin of even his magnificent physique--a
ruin the wild, loose life he was now leading was soon to complete. It
was a gloomy, vaulted room that once had been a chapel, lighted dimly
by a cheap, evil-smelling lamp, heated to suffocation by one of those
great green-tiled German ovens now only to be met with in rare
out-of-the-way world corners. He was sitting propped up by pillows on
the bed, placed close to one of the high windows, his deep eyes
flaring like two gleaming caverns out of his drawn, haggard face.
"I saw you from the window," he explained. "It is the only excitement
I get, twice a day when the sledges come in. I broke down coming
across the Pass a fortnight ago, on my way from Davos. We were stuck
in a drift for eighteen hours; it nearly finished my last lung. And I
haven't even a book to read. By God! lad, I was glad to see your
frosted face ten minutes ago in the light of the lantern."
He grasped me with his long bony hand. "Sit down, and let me hear my
voice using again its mother tongue--you were always a good
listener--for the last eight years I have hardly spoken it. Can you
stand the room? The windows ought to be open, but what does it
matter? I may as well get accustomed to the heat before I die."
I drew my chair close to the bed, and for awhile, between his fits of
coughing, we talked of things that were outside our thoughts, or,
rather, Hal talked, continuously, boisterously, meeting my
remonstrances with shouts of laughter, ending in wild struggles for
breath, so that I deemed it better to let him work his mad mood out.
Then suddenly: "What is she doing?" he asked. "Do you ever see her?"
"She is playing in--" I mentioned the name of a comic opera then
running in Paris. "No; I have not seen her for some time."
He laid his white, wasted hand on mine. "What a pity you and I could
not have rolled ourselves into one, Paul--you, the saint, and I, the
satyr. Together we should have made her perfect lover."
There came back to me the memory of those long nights when I had lain
awake listening to the angry voices of my father and mother soaking
through the flimsy wall. It seemed my fate to stand thus helpless
between those I loved, watching them hurting one another against their
"Tell me," I asked--"I loved her, knowing her: I was not blind.
Whose fault was it? Yours or hers?"
He laughed. "Whose fault, Paul? God made us."
Thinking of her fair, sweet face, I hated him for his mocking laugh.
But the next moment, looking into his deep eyes, seeing the pain that
dwelt there, my pity was for him. A smile came to his ugly mouth.
"You have been on the stage, Paul; you must have heard the saying
often: 'Ah, well, the curtain must come down, however badly things
are going.' It is only a play, Paul. We do not choose our parts. I
did not even know I was the villain, till I heard the booing of the
gallery. I even thought I was the hero, full of noble sentiment,
sacrificing myself for the happiness of the heroine. She would have
married me in the beginning had I plagued her sufficiently."
I made to speak, but he interrupted me, continuing: "Ah, yes, it
might have been better. That is easy to say, not knowing. So, too,
it might have been worse--in all probability much the same. All roads
lead to the end. You know I was always a fatalist, Paul. We tried
both ways. She loved me well enough, but she loved the world also. I
thought she loved it better, so I kissed her on her brow, mumbled a
prayer for her happiness and made my exit to a choking sob. So ended
the first act. Wasn't I the hero throughout that, Paul? I thought
so; slapped myself upon the back, told myself what a fine fellow I had
been. Then--you know what followed. She was finer clay than she had
fancied. Love is woman's kingdom, not the world. Even then I thought
more of her than of myself. I could have borne my share of the burden
had I not seen her fainting under hers, shamed, degraded. So we dared
to think for ourselves, injuring nobody but ourselves, played the man
and woman, lost the world for love. Wasn't it brave, Paul? Were we
not hero and heroine? They had printed the playbill wrong, Paul, that
was all. I was really the hero, but the printing devil had made a
slip, so instead of applauding you booed. How could you know, any of
you? It was not your fault."
"But that was not the end," I reminded him. "If the curtain had
fallen then, I could have forgiven you."
He grinned. "That fatal last act. Even yours don't always come
right, so the critics tell me."
The grin faded from his face. "We may never see each other again,
Paul," he went on; "don't think too badly of me. I found I had made a
second mistake--or thought I had. She was no happier with me after a
time than she had been with him. If all our longings were one, life
would be easy; but they are not. What is to be done but toss for it?
And if it come down head we wish it had been tail, and if tail we
think of what we have lost through its not coming down head. Love is
no more the whole of a woman's life than it is of a man's. He did not
apply for a divorce: that was smart of him. We were shunned,
ignored. To some women it might not have mattered; but she had been
used to being sought, courted, feted. She made no complaint--did
worse: made desperate effort to appear cheerful, to pretend that our
humdrum life was not boring her to death. I watched her growing more
listless, more depressed; grew angry with her, angrier with myself.
There was no bond between us except our passion; that was real
enough--'grand,' I believe, is the approved literary adjective. It is
good enough for what nature intended it, a summer season in a cave.
It makes but a poor marriage settlement in these more complicated
days. We fell to mutual recriminations, vulgar scenes. Ah, most of
us look better at a little distance from one another. The sordid,
contemptible side of life became important to us. I was never rich;
by contrast with all that she had known, miserably poor. The mere
sight of the food our twelve-pound-a-year cook put upon the table
would take away her appetite. Love does not change the palate, give
you a taste for cheap claret when you have been accustomed to dry
champagne. We have bodies to think of as well as souls; we are apt to
forget that in moments of excitement.
"She fell ill, and it seemed to me that I had dragged her from the
soil where she had grown only to watch her die. And then he came,
precisely at the right moment. I cannot help admiring him. Most men
take their revenge clumsily, hurting themselves; he was so neat, had
been so patient. I am not even ashamed of having fallen into his
trap; it was admirably baited. Maybe I had despised him for having
seemed to submit meekly to the blow. What cared he for me and my
opinion? It was she was all he cared for. He knew her better than I,
knew that sooner or later she would tire, not of love but of the
cottage; look back with longing eyes towards all that she had lost.
Fool! Cuckold! What was it to him that the world would laugh at him,
despise him? Love such as his made fools of men. Would I not give
her back to him?
"By God! It was fine acting; half into the night we talked, I leaving
him every now and again to creep to the top of the stairs and listen
to her breathing. He asked me my advice, I being the hard-headed
partner of cool judgment. What would be the best way of approaching
her after I was gone? Where should he take her? How should they live
till the nine days' talk had died away? And I sat opposite to
him--how he must have longed to laugh in my silly face--advising him!
We could not quite agree as to details of a possible yachting cruise,
and I remember hunting up an atlas, and we pored over it, our heads
close together. By God! I envy him that night!"
He sank back on his pillows and laughed and coughed, and laughed and
coughed again, till I feared that wild, long, broken laugh would be
his last. But it ceased at length, and for awhile, exhausted, he lay
silent before continuing.
"Then came the question: how was I to go? She loved me still. He
was sure of it, and, for the matter of that, so was I. So long as she
thought that I loved her, she would never leave me. Only from her
despair could fresh hope arise for her. Would I not make some
sacrifice for her sake, persuade her that I had tired of her? Only by
one means could she be convinced. My going off alone would not
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