Part 7 out of 8
suffice; my reason for that she might suspect--she might follow. It
would be for her sake. Again it was the hero that I played, the dear
old chuckle-headed hero, Paul, that you ought to have cheered, not
hooted. I loved her as much as I ever loved her in my life, that
night I left her. I took my boots off in the passage and crept up in
my stockinged feet. I told him I was merely going to change my coat
and put a few things into a bag. He gripped my hand, and tears were
standing in his eyes. It is odd that suppressed laughter and
expressed grief should both display the same token, is it not? I
stole into her room. I dared not kiss her for fear of waking her; but
a stray lock of her hair--you remember how long it was--fell over the
pillow, nearly reaching to the floor. I pressed my lips against it,
where it trailed over the bedstead, till they bled. I have it still
upon my lips, the mingling of the cold iron and the warm, soft silken
hair. He told me, when I came down again, that I had been gone
three-quarters of an hour. And we went out of the house together, he
and I. That is the last time I ever saw her."
I leant across and put my arms around him; I suppose it was
un-English; there are times when one forgets these points. "I did not
know! I did not know," I cried.
He pressed me to him with his feeble arms. "What a cad you must have
thought me, Paul," he said. "But you might have given me credit for
better taste. I was always rather a gourmet than a gourmand where
women were concerned."
"You have never seen him either again?" I asked.
"No," he answered; "I swore to kill him when I learnt the trick he had
played me. He commenced the divorce proceedings against her the very
morning after I had left her. Possibly, had I succeeded in finding
him within the next six months, I should have done so. A few
newspaper proprietors would have been the only people really
benefited. Time is the cheapest Bravo; a little patience is all he
charges. All roads lead to the end, Paul."
But I tell my tale badly, marring effects of sunlight with the memory
of shadows. At the time all promised fair. He was a handsome,
distinguished-looking man. Not every aristocrat, if without
disrespect to one's betters a humble observer may say so, suggests his
title; this man would have suggested his title, had he not possessed
it. I suppose he must have been about fifty at the time; but most men
of thirty would have been glad to exchange with him both figure and
complexion. His behaviour to his _fiancee_ was the essence of good
taste, affectionate devotion, carried to the exact point beyond which,
having regard to the disparity of their years, it would have appeared
ridiculous. That he sincerely admired her, was fully content with
her, there could be no doubt. I am even inclined to think he was
fonder of her than, divining her feelings towards himself, he cared to
show. Knowledge of the world must have told him that men of fifty
find it easier to be the lovers of women young enough to be their
daughters, than girls find it to desire the affection of men old
enough to be their fathers; and he was not the man to allow impulse to
lead him into absurdity.
From my own peculiar point of view he appeared the ideal prince
consort. It was difficult for me to imagine my queen in love with any
mere man. This was one beside whom she could live, losing in my eyes
nothing of her dignity. My feelings for her he guessed at our first
interview. Most men in his position would have been amused, and many
would have shown it. For what reason I cannot say, but with a tact
and courtesy that left me only complimented, he drew from me, before I
had met him half-a-dozen times, more frank confession than a month
previously I should have dreamt of my yielding to anything than my own
pillow. He laid his hand upon my shoulder.
"I wonder if you know, my friend, how wise you are," he said. "We all
of us at your age love an image of our own carving. Ah, if only we
could be content to worship the white, changeless statute! But we are
fools. We pray the gods to give her life, and under our hot kisses
she becomes a woman. I also loved when I was your age, Paul. Your
countrymen, they are so practical, they know only one kind of love.
It is business-like, rich--how puts it your poet? 'rich in saving
common sense.' But there are many kinds, you understand that, my
friend. You are wise, do not confuse them. She was a child of the
mountains. I used to walk three leagues to Mass each day to worship
her. Had I been wise--had I so left it, the memory of her would have
coloured all my life with glory. But I was a fool, my friend; I
turned her into a woman. Ah!"--he made a gesture of disgust--"such a
fat, ugly woman, Paul, I turned her into. I had much difficulty in
getting rid of her. We should never touch things in life that are
beautiful; we have such clumsy hands, we spoil whatever we touch."
Hal did not return to England till the end of the year, by which time
the Count and Countess Huescar--though I had her permission still to
call her Barbara, I never availed myself of it; the "Countess" fitted
my mood better--had taken up residence in the grand Paris house old
Hasluck had bought for them.
It was the high-water mark of old Hasluck's career, and, if anything,
he was a little disappointed that with the dowry he had promised her
Barbara had not done even better for herself.
"Foreign Counts," he grumbled to me laughingly, one day, "well, I hope
they're worth more in Society than they are in the City. A hundred
guineas is their price there, and they're not worth that. Who was
that American girl that married a Russian Prince only last week? A
million dollars was all she gave for him, and she a wholesale boot-
maker's daughter into the bargain! Our girls are not half as smart."
But that was before he had seen his future son-in-law. After, he was
content enough, and up to the day of the wedding, childishly elated.
Under the Count's tuition he studied with reverential awe the Huescar
history. Princes, statesmen, warriors, glittered, golden apples, from
the spreading branches of its genealogical tree. Why not again! its
attenuated blue sap strengthened with the rich, red blood, brewed by
toil and effort in the grim laboratories of the under world. In
imagination, old Hasluck saw himself the grandfather of Chancellors,
the great-grandfather of Kings.
"I have laid the foundation, you shall raise the edifice," so he told
her one evening I was spending with them, caressing her golden hair
with his blunt, fat fingers. "I am glad you were not a boy. A boy,
in all probability, would have squandered the money, let the name sink
back again into the gutter. And even had he been the other sort, he
could only have been another business man, keeping where I had left
him. You will call your first boy Hasluck, won't you? It must always
be the first-born's name. It shall be famous in the world yet, and
for something else than mere money.
I began to understand the influences that had gone towards the
making--or marring--of Barbara's character. I had never guessed he
had cared for anything beyond money and the making of money.
It was, of course, a wedding as ostentatious as possible. Old Hasluck
knew how to advertise, and spared neither expense nor labour, with the
result that it was the event of the season, at least according to the
Society papers. Mrs. Hasluck was the type of woman to have escaped
observation, even had the wedding been her own; that she was present
at her daughter's, "becomingly dressed in grey veiling spotted white,
with an encrustation of mousseline de soie," I learnt the next day
from the _Morning Post_. Old Hasluck himself had to be fetched every
time he was wanted. At the conclusion of the ceremony, seeking him, I
found him sitting on the stairs leading to the crypt.
"Is it over?" he asked. He was mopping his face on a huge
handkerchief, and had a small looking-glass in his hand.
"All over," I answered, "they are waiting for you to start."
"I always perspire so when I'm excited," he explained. "Keep me out
of it as much as possible."
But the next time I saw him, which was two or three days later, the
reaction had set in. He was sitting in his great library, surrounded
by books he would no more have thought of disturbing than he would of
strumming on the gorgeous grand piano inlaid with silver that
ornamented his drawing-room. A change had passed over him. His
swelling rotundity, suggestive generally of a bladder inflated to its
extremest limits by excess of self-importance, appeared to be
shrinking. I put the idea aside as mere fancy at the time, but it was
fact; he became a mere bag of bones before he died. He was wearing an
old pair of carpet slippers and smoking a short clay pipe.
"Well," I said, "everything went off all right."
"Everybody's gone off all right, so far," he grunted. He was
crouching over the fire, though the weather was still warm, one hand
spread out towards the blaze. "Now I've got to go off, that's the
only thing they're waiting for. Then everything will be in order."
"I don't think they are wanting you to go off," I answered, with a
"You mean," he answered, "I'm the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Ah, but you see, so many of the eggs break, and so many of them are
"Some of them hatch all right," I replied. The simile was becoming
somewhat confused: in conversation similes are apt to.
"If I were to die this week," he said--he paused, completing mental
calculations, "I should be worth, roughly speaking, a couple of
million. This time next year I may be owing a million."
I sat down opposite to him. "Why run risks?" I suggested. "Surely
you have enough. Why not give it up--retire?"
He laughed. "Do you think I haven't said that to myself, lad--sworn I
would a dozen times a year? I can't do it; I'm a gambler. It's the
earliest thing I can recollect doing, gambling with brace buttons.
There are men, Paul, now dying in the workhouse--men I once knew well;
I think of them sometimes, and wish I didn't--who any time during half
their life might have retired on twenty thousand a year. If I were to
go to any one of them, and settle an annuity of a hundred a year upon
him, the moment my back was turned he'd sell it out and totter up to
Threadneedle Street with the proceeds. It's in our blood. I shall
gamble on my death-bed, die with the tape in my hand."
He kicked the fire into a blaze. A roaring flame made the room light
"But that won't be just yet awhile," he laughed, "and before it does,
I'll be the richest man in Europe. I keep my head cool--that's the
great secret." Leaning over towards me, he sunk his voice to a
whisper, "Drink, Paul--so many of them drink. They get worried; fifty
things dancing round and round at the same time in their heads. Fifty
questions to be answered in five minutes. Tick, tick, tick, taps the
little devil at their elbow. This going down, that going up. Rumor
of this, report of that. A fortune to be lost here, a fortune to be
snatched there. Everything in a whirl! Tick, tick, tick, like nails
into a coffin. God! for five minutes' peace to think. Shut the door,
turn the key. Out comes the bottle. That's the end. All right so
long as you keep away from that. Cool, quick brain, clear
judgment--that's the secret."
"But is it worth it all?" I suggested. "Surely you have enough?"
"It means power, Paul." He slapped his trousers pocket, making the
handful of gold and silver he always carried there jingle musically.
"It is this that rules the world. My children shall be big pots,
hobnob with kings and princes, slap them on the back and call them by
their Christian names, be kings themselves--why not? It's happened
before. My children, the children of old Noel Hasluck, son of a
Whitechapel butcher! Here's my pedigree!" Again be slapped his
tuneful pocket. "It's an older one than theirs! It's coming into its
own at last! It's money--we men of money--that are the true kings
now. It's our family that rules the world--the great money family; I
mean to be its head."
The blaze died out, leaving the room almost in darkness, and for
awhile we sat in silence.
"Quiet, isn't it?" said old Hasluck, raising his head.
The settling of the falling embers was the only sound about us.
"Guess we'll always be like this, now," continued old Hasluck. "Old
woman goes to bed, you see, immediately after dinner. It used to be
different when _she_ was about. Somehow, the house and the lackeys
and all the rest of it seemed to be a more natural sort of thing when
_she_ was the centre of it. It frightens the old woman now she's
gone. She likes to get away from it. Poor old Susan! A little
country inn with herself as landlady and me fussing about behind the
bar; that was always her ambition, poor old girl!"
"You will he visiting them," I suggested, "and they will be coming to
stop with you."
He shook his head. "They won't want me, and it isn't my game to
hamper them. I never mix out of my class. I've always had sense
enough for that."
I laughed, wishing to cheer him, though I knew he was right. "Surely
your daughter belongs to your own class," I replied.
"Do you think so?" he asked, with a grin. "That's not a pretty
compliment to her. She was my child when she used to cling round my
neck, while I made the sausages, calling me her dear old pig. It
didn't trouble her then that I dropped my aitches and had a greasy
skin. I was a Whitechapel butcher, and she was a Whitechapel brat. I
could have kept her if I'd liked, but I was set upon making a lady of
her, and I did it. But I lost my child. Every time she came back
from school I could see she despised me a little more. I'm not
blaming her; how could she help it? I was making a lady of her,
teaching her to do it; though there were moments when I almost hated
her, felt tempted to snatch her back to me, drag her down again to my
level, make her my child again, before it was too late. Oh, it wasn't
all unselfishness; I could have done it. She would have remained my
class then, would have married my class, and her children would have
been my class. I didn't want that. Everything's got to be paid for.
I got what I asked for; I'm not grumbling at the price. But it ain't
He rose and knocked the ashes from his pipe. "Ring the bell, Paul,
will you?" be said. "Let's have some light and something to drink.
Don't take any notice of me. I've got the hump to-night."
It was a minute or two before the lamp came. He put his arm upon my
shoulder, leaning upon me somewhat heavily.
"I used to fancy sometimes, Paul," he said, "that you and she might
have made a match of it. I should have been disappointed for some
things. But you'd have been a bit nearer to me, you two. It never
occurred to you, that, I suppose?"
HOW PAUL SET FORTH UPON A QUEST.
Of old Deleglise's Sunday suppers, which, costumed from head to foot
in spotless linen, he cooked himself in his great kitchen, moving with
flushed, earnest face about the gleaming stove, while behind him his
guests waited, ranged round the massive oaken table glittering with
cut glass and silver, among which fluttered the deft hands of
Madeline, his ancient whitecapped Bonne, much has been already
recorded, and by those possessed of greater knowledge. They who sat
there talking in whispers until such time as old Deleglise turned
towards them again, radiant with consciousness of success, the savoury
triumph steaming between his hands, when, like the sudden swell of the
Moonlight Sonata, the talk would rush once more into a roar, were men
whose names were then--and some are still--more or less household
words throughout the English-speaking world. Artists, musicians,
actors, writers, scholars, droles, their wit and wisdom, their sayings
and their doings must be tolerably familiar to readers of memoir and
biography; and if to such their epigrams appear less brilliant, their
jests less laughable than to us who heard them spoken, that is merely
because fashion in humour and in understanding changes as in all else.
You, gentle reader of my book, I shall not trouble with second-hand
record of that which you can read elsewhere. For me it will be but to
write briefly of my own brief glimpse into that charmed circle.
Concerning this story more are the afternoon At Homes held by Dan and
myself upon the second floor of the old Georgian house in pleasant,
quiet Queen Square. For cook and house-maid on these days it would be
a busy morning. Failing other supervision, Dan and I agreed that to
secure success on these important occasions each of us should
criticise the work of the other. I passed judgment on Dan's cooking,
he upon my house-work.
"Too much soda," I would declare, sampling the cake.
"You silly Juggins! It's meant to taste of soda--it's a soda cake."
"I know that. It isn't meant to taste of nothing but soda. There
wants to be some cake about it also. This thing, so far as flavour is
concerned, is nothing but a Seidlitz powder. You can't give people
solidified Seidlitz powders for tea!"
Dan would fume, but I would remain firm. The soda cake would be laid
aside, and something else attempted. His cookery was the one thing
Dan was obstinate about. He would never admit that anything could
possibly be wrong with it. His most ghastly failures he would devour
himself later on with pretended enjoyment. I have known him finish a
sponge cake, the centre of which had to be eaten with a teaspoon,
declaring it was delicious; that eating a dry sponge cake was like
eating dust; that a sponge cake ought to be a trifle syrupy towards
the centre. Afterwards he would be strangely silent and drink brandy
out of a wine-glass.
"Call these knives clean?" It would be Dan's turn.
"Yes, I do."
Dan would draw his finger across one, producing chiaro-oscuro.
"Not if you go fingering them. Why don't you leave them alone and go
on with your own work?"
"You've just wiped them, that's all."
"Well, there isn't any knife-powder."
"Yes, there is."
"Besides, it ruins knives, over-cleaning them--takes all the edge off.
We shall want them pretty sharp to cut those lemon buns of yours."
"Over-cleaning them! You don't take any pride in the place."
"Good Lord! Don't I work from morning to night?"
"You lazy young devil!"
"Makes one lazy, your cooking. How can a man work when he is
suffering all day long from indigestion?"
But Dan would not be content until I had found the board and cleaned
the knives to his complete satisfaction. Perhaps it was as well that
in this way all things once a week were set in order. After lunch
house-maid and cook would vanish, two carefully dressed gentlemen
being left alone to receive their guests.
These would be gathered generally from among Dan's journalistic
acquaintances and my companions of the theatre. Occasionally, Minikin
and Jarman would be of the number, Mrs. Peedles even once or twice
arriving breathless on our landing. Left to myself, I perhaps should
not have invited them, deeming them hardly fitting company to mingle
with our other visitors; but Dan, having once been introduced to them,
overrode such objection.
"My dear Lord Chamberlain," Dan would reply, "an ounce of originality
is worth a ton of convention. Little tin ladies and gentlemen all
made to pattern! One can find them everywhere. Your friends would be
an acquisition to any society."
"But are they quite good form?" I hinted.
"I'll tell you what we will do," replied Dan. "We'll forget that Mrs.
Peedles keeps a lodging-house in Blackfriars. We will speak of her as
our friend, 'that dear, quaint old creature, Lady P.' A title that is
an oddity, whose costume always suggests the wardrobe of a provincial
actress! My dear Paul, your society novelist would make a fortune out
of such a character. The personages of her amusing anecdotes, instead
of being third-rate theatrical folk, shall be Earl Blank and the
Baroness de Dash. The editors of society journals shall pay me a
shilling a line for them. Jarman--yes, Jarman shall be the son of a
South American millionaire. Vulgar? Nonsense! you mean racy.
Minikin--he looks much more like forty than twenty--he shall be an
eminent scientist. His head will then appear the natural size; his
glass eye, the result of a chemical experiment, a touch of
distinction; his uncompromising rudeness, a lovable characteristic.
We will make him buy a yard of red ribbon and wear it across his
shirt-front, and address him as Herr Professor. It will explain
slight errors of English grammar and all peculiarities of accent.
They shall be our lions. You leave it to me. We will invite
commonplace, middle-class folk to meet them."
And this, to my terror and alarm, Dan persisted in doing. Jarman
entered into the spirit of the joke with gusto. So far as he was
concerned, our guests, from the beginning to the end, were one and
all, I am confident, deceived. The more he swaggered, the more he
boasted, the more he talked about himself--and it was a failing he was
prone to--the greater was his success. At the persistent endeavours
of Dan's journalistic acquaintances to excite his cupidity by visions
of new journals, to be started with a mere couple of thousand pounds
and by the inherent merit of their ideas to command at once a
circulation of hundreds of thousands, I could afford to laugh. But
watching the tremendous efforts of my actress friends to fascinate
him--luring him into corners, gazing at him with languishing eyes,
trotting out all their little tricks for his exclusive benefit,
quarrelling about him among themselves--my conscience would prick me,
lest our jest should end in a contretemps. Fortunately, Jarman
himself, was a gentleman of uncommon sense, or my fears might have
been realised. I should have been sorry myself to have been asked to
remain stone under the blandishments of girls young and old, of women
handsome and once, no doubt, good looking, showered upon him during
that winter. But Jarman, as I think I have explained, was no slave to
female charms. He enjoyed his good time while it lasted, and
eventually married the eldest daughter of a small blacking factory.
She was a plain girl, but pleasant, and later brought to Jarman
possession of the factory. When I meet him--he is now stout and
rubicund--he gives me the idea of a man who has attained to his
With Minikin we had more trouble. People turned up possessed of
scientific smattering. We had to explain that the Professor never
talked shop. Others were owners of unexpected knowledge of German,
which they insisted upon airing. We had to explain that the Herr
Professor was in London to learn English, and had taken a vow during
his residence neither to speak nor listen to his native tongue. It
was remarked that his acquaintance with colloquial English slang, for
a foreigner, was quite unusual. Occasionally he was too rude, even
for a scientist, informing ladies, clamouring to know how he liked
English women, that he didn't like them silly; telling one gentleman,
a friend of Dan, a rather important man who once asked him, referring
to his yard of ribbon, what he got it for, that he got it for
fourpence. We had to explain him as a gentleman who had been soured
by a love disappointment. The ladies forgave him; the gentlemen said
it was a damned lucky thing for the girl. Altogether, Minikin took a
good deal of explaining.
Lady Peedles, our guests decided among themselves, must be the widow
of some one in the City who had been knighted in a crowd. They made
fun of her behind her back, but to her face were most effusive. "My
dear Lady Peedles" was the phrase most often heard in our rooms
whenever she was present. At the theatre "my friend Lady Peedles"
became a person much spoken of--generally in loud tones. My own
social position I found decidedly improved by reason of her ladyship's
evident liking for myself. It went abroad that I was her presumptive
heir. I was courted as a gentleman of expectations.
The fishy-eyed young man became one of our regular guests. Dan won
his heart by never laughing at him.
"I like talking to you," said the fishy-eyed young man one afternoon
to Dan. "You don't go into fits of laughter when I remark that it has
been a fine day; most people do. Of course, on the stage I don't
mind. I know I am a funny little devil. I get my living by being a
funny little devil. There is a photograph of me hanging in the
theatre lobby. I saw a workman stop and look at it the other day as
he passed; I was just behind him. He burst into a roar of laughter.
'Little--! He makes me laugh to look at him!' he cluttered to
himself. Well, that's all right; I want the man in the gallery to
think me funny, but it annoys me when people laugh at me off the
stage. If I am out to dinner anywhere and ask somebody to pass the
mustard, I never get it; instead, they burst out laughing. I don't
want people to laugh at me when I am having my dinner. I want my
dinner. It makes me very angry sometimes."
"I know," agreed Dan, sympathetically. "The world never grasps the
fact that man is a collection, not a single exhibit. I remember being
at a house once where the chief guest happened to be a great Hebrew
scholar. One tea time, a Miss Henman, passing the butter to some one
in a hurry, let it slip out of her hand. 'Why is Miss Henman like a
caterpillar?' asked our learned guest in a sepulchral voice. Nobody
appeared to know. 'Because she makes the butter fly.' It never
occurred to any one of us that the Doctor could possibly joke. There
was dead silence for about a minute. Then our hostess, looking grave,
remarked: 'Oh, do you really think so?'"
"If I were to enter a room full of people," said the fishy-eyed young
man, "and tell them that my mother had been run over by an omnibus,
they would think it the funniest story they had heard in years."
He was playing a principal part now in the opera, and it was he
undoubtedly who was drawing the house. But he was not happy.
"I am not a comic actor, really," he explained. "I could play Romeo,
so far as feeling is concerned, and play it damned well. There is a
fine vein of poetry in me. But of course it's no good to me with this
face of mine."
"But are you not sinning your mercies, you fellows?" Dan replied.
"There is young Kelver here. At school it was always his trouble that
he could give us a good time and make us laugh, which nobody else in
the whole school could do. His ambition was to kick a ball as well as
a hundred other fellows could kick it. He could tell us a good story
now if he would only write what the Almighty intended him to write,
instead of gloomy rigmaroles about suffering Princesses in Welsh
caves. I don't say it's bad, but a hundred others could write the
same sort of thing better."
"Can't you understand," answered the little man; "the poorest
tragedian that ever lived never wished himself the best of low
comedians. The court fool had an excellent salary, no doubt; and,
likely enough, had got two-thirds of all the brain there was in the
palace. But not a wooden-headed man-at-arms but looked down upon him.
Every gallery boy who pays a shilling to laugh at me regards himself
as my intellectual superior; while to a fourth-rate spouter of blank
verse he looks up in admiration."
"Does it so very much matter," suggested Dan, "how the wooden-headed
man-at-arms or the shilling gallery boy happens to regard you?"
"Yes, it does," retorted Goggles, "because we happen to agree with
them. If I could earn five pounds a week as juvenile lead, I would
never play a comic part again."
"There I cannot follow you," returned Dan. "I can understand the
artist who would rather be the man of action, the poet who would
rather be the statesman or the warrior; though personally my
sympathies are precisely the other way--with Wolfe who thought it a
more glorious work, the writing of a great poem, than the burning of
so many cities and the killing of so many men. We all serve the
community. It is difficult, looking at the matter from the inside, to
say who serves it best. Some feed it, some clothe it. The churchman
and the policeman between them look after its morals, keep it in
order. The doctor mends it when it injures itself; the lawyer helps
it to quarrel, the soldier teaches it to fight. We Bohemians amuse
it, instruct it. We can argue that we are the most important. The
others cater for its body, we for its mind. But their work is more
showy than ours and attracts more attention; and to attract attention
is the aim and object of most of us. But for Bohemians to worry among
themselves which is the greatest, is utterly without reason. The
story-teller, the musician, the artist, the clown, we are members of a
sharing troupe; one, with the ambition of the fat boy in Pickwick,
makes the people's flesh creep; another makes them hold their sides
with laughter. The tragedian, soliloquising on his crimes, shows us
how wicked we are; you, looking at a pair of lovers from under a
scratch wig, show us how ridiculous we are. Both lessons are
necessary: who shall say which is the superior teacher?"
"Ah, I am not a philosopher," replied the little man, with a sigh.
"Ah," returned Dan, with another, "and I am not a comic actor on my
way to a salary of a hundred a week. We all of us want the other
The O'Kelly was another frequent visitor of ours. The attic in
Belsize Square had been closed. In vain had the O'Kelly wafted
incense, burned pastilles and sprinkled eau-de-Cologne. In vain had
he talked of rats, hinted at drains.
"A wonderful woman," groaned the O'Kelly in tones of sorrowful
admiration. "There's no deceiving her."
"But why submit?" was our natural argument. "Why not say you are
going to smoke, and do it?"
"It's her theory, me boy," explained the O'Kelly, "that the home
should be kept pure--a sort of a temple, ye know. She's convinced
that in time it is bound to exercise an influence upon me. It's a
beautiful idea, when ye come to think of it."
Meanwhile, in the rooms of half-a-dozen sinful men the O'Kelly kept
his own particular pipe, together with his own particular smoking
mixture; and one such pipe and one such tobacco jar stood always on
In the spring the forces of temptation raged round that feeble but
most excellently intentioned citadel, the O'Kelly's conscience. The
Signora had returned to England, was performing then at Ashley's
Theatre. The O'Kelly would remain under long spells of silence,
puffing vigorously at his pipe. Or would fortify himself with paeans
in praise of Mrs. O'Kelly.
"If anything could ever make a model man of me"--he spoke in the tones
of one whose doubts are stronger than his hopes--"it would he the
example of that woman."
It was one Saturday afternoon. I had just returned from the matinee.
"I don't believe," continued the O'Kelly, "I don't really believe she
has ever done one single thing she oughtn't to, or left undone one
single thing she ought, in the whole course of her life."
"Maybe she has, and you don't know of it," I suggested, perceiving the
idea might comfort him.
"I wish I could think so," returned the O'Kelly. "I don't mean
anything really wrong," he corrected himself quickly, "but something
just a little wrong. I feel--I really feel I should like her better
if she had."
"Not that I mean I don't like her as it is, ye understand," corrected
himself the O'Kelly a second time. "I respect that woman--I cannot
tell ye, me boy, how much I respect her. Ye don't know her. There
was one morning, about a month ago. That woman—she's down at six
every morning, summer and winter; we have prayers at half-past. I was
a trifle late meself: it was never me strong point, as ye know, early
rising. Seven o'clock struck; she didn't appear, and I thought she
had overslept herself. I won't say I didn't feel pleased for the
moment; it was an unworthy sentiment, but I almost wished she had. I
ran up to her room. The door was open, the bedclothes folded down as
she always leaves them. She came in five minutes later. She had got
up at four that morning to welcome a troupe of native missionaries
from East Africa on their arrival at Waterloo Station. She's a saint,
that woman; I am not worthy of her."
"I shouldn't dwell too much on that phase of the subject," I
"I can't help it, me boy," replied the O'Kelly. "I feel I am not."
"I don't for a moment say you are," I returned; "but I shouldn't harp
upon the idea. I don't think it good for you."
"I never will be," he persisted gloomily, "never!"
Evidently he was started on a dangerous train of reflection. With the
idea of luring him away from it, I led the conversation to the subject
"Most people like it dry," admitted the O'Kelly. "Meself, I have
always preferred it with just a suggestion of fruitiness."
"There was a champagne," I said, "you used to be rather fond of when
"I think I know the one ye mean," said the O'Kelly. "It wasn't at all
bad, considering the price."
"You don't happen to remember where you got it?" I asked.
"It was in Bridge Street," remembered the O'Kelly, "not so very far
from the Circus."
"It is a pleasant evening," I remarked; "let us take a walk."
We found the place, half wine-shop, half office.
"Just the same," commented the O'Kelly as we pushed open the door and
entered. "Not altered a bit."
As in all probability barely twelve months had elapsed since his last
visit, the fact in itself was not surprising. Clearly the O'Kelly had
been calculating time rather by sensation. I ordered a bottle; and we
sat down. Myself, being prejudiced against the brand, I called for a
glass of claret. The O'Kelly finished the bottle. I was glad to
notice my ruse had been successful. The virtue of that wine had not
departed from it. With every glass the O'Kelly became morally more
elevated. He left the place, determined that he would be worthy of
Mrs. O'Kelly. Walking down the Embankment, he asserted his
determination of buying an alarm-clock that very evening. At the
corner of Westminster Bridge he became suddenly absorbed in his own
thoughts. Looking to discover the cause of his silence, I saw that
his eyes were resting on a poster representing a charming lady
standing on one leg upon a wire; below her--at some distance--appeared
the peaks of mountains; the artist had even caught the likeness. I
cursed the luck that had directed our footsteps, but the next moment,
lacking experience, was inclined to be reassured.
"Me dear Paul," said the O'Kelly--he laid a fatherly hand upon my
shoulder--"there are fair-faced, laughing women--sweet creatures, that
ye want to put yer arm around and dance with." He shook his head
disapprovingly. "There are the sainted women, who lead us up,
Paul--up, always up."
A look, such as the young man with the banner might have borne with
him to the fields of snow and ice, suffused the O'Kelly's handsome
face. Without another word he crossed the road and entered an
American store, where for six-and-elevenpence he purchased an alarm-
clock the man assured us would awake an Egyptian mummy. With this in
his hand he waved me a good-bye, and jumped upon a Hampstead 'bus, and
alone I strolled on to the theatre.
Hal returned a little after Christmas and started himself in chambers
in the City. It was the nearest he dared venture, so he said, to
"I'd be no good in the West End," he explained. "For a season I might
attract as an eccentricity, but your swells would never stand me for
longer--no more would any respectable folk, anywhere: we don't get on
together. I commenced at Richmond. It was a fashionable suburb then,
and I thought I was going to do wonders. I had everything in my
favour, except myself. I do know my work, nobody can deny that of me.
My father spent every penny he had, poor gentleman, in buying me an
old-established practice: fine house, carriage and pair, white-haired
butler--everything correct, except myself. It was of no use. I can
hold myself in for a month or two; then I break out, the old original
savage that I am under my frock coat. I feel I must run amuck,
stabbing, hacking at the prim, smiling Lies mincing round about me. I
can fool a silly woman for half-a-dozen visits; bow and rub my hands,
purr round her sympathetically. All the while I am longing to tell
her the truth:
"'Go home. Wash your face; don't block up the pores of your skin with
paint. Let out your corsets. You are thirty-three round the abdomen
if you are an inch: how can you expect your digestion to do its work
when you're squeezing it into twenty-one? Give up gadding about half
your day and most of your night; you are old enough to have done with
that sort of thing. Let the children come, and suckle them yourself.
You'll be all the better for them. Don't loll in bed all the morning.
Get up like a decent animal and do something for your living. Use
your brain, what there is of it, and your body. At that price you can
have health to-morrow, and at no other. I can do nothing for you.'
"And sooner or later I blurt it out." He laughed his great roar.
"Lord! you should see the real face coming out of the simpering mask.
"Pompous old fools, strutting into me like turkey-cocks! By Jove, it
was worth it! They would dribble out, looking half their proper size
after I had done telling them what was the matter with them.
"'Do you want to know what you are really suffering from?' I would
shout at them, when I could contain myself no longer. 'Gluttony, my
dear sir; gluttony and drunkenness, and over-indulgence in other vices
that shall be nameless. Live like a man; get a little self-respect
from somewhere; give up being an ape. Treat your body properly and it
will treat you properly. That's the only prescription that will do
you any good.'"
He laughed again. "'Tell the truth, you shame the Devil.' But the
Devil replies by starving you. It's a fairly effective retort. I am
not the stuff successful family physicians are made of. In the City I
may manage to rub along. One doesn't see so much of one's patients;
they come and go. Clerks and warehousemen my practice will be among
chiefly. The poor man does not so much mind being told the truth
about himself; it is a blessing to which he is accustomed."
We spoke but once of Barbara. A photograph of her in her bride's
dress stood upon my desk. Occasionally, first fitting the room for
the ceremony, sweeping away all impurity even from under the mats, and
dressing myself with care, I would centre it amid flowers, and
kneeling, kiss her hand where it rested on the back of the top-heavy
looking chair without which no photographic studio is complete.
One day he took it up, and looked at it long and hard.
"The forehead denotes intellectuality; the eyes tenderness and
courage. The lower part of the face, on the other hand, suggests a
good deal of animalism: the finely cut nostrils show egotism--another
word for selfishness; the nose itself, vanity; the lips, sensuousness
and love of luxury. I wonder what sort of woman she really is." He
laid the photograph back upon the desk.
"I did not know you were so firm a believer in Lavater," I said.
"Only when he agrees with what I know," he answered. "Have I not
described her rightly?"
"I do not care to discuss her in that vein," I replied, feeling the
blood mounting to my cheeks.
"Too sacred a subject?" he laughed. "It is the one ingredient of
manhood I lack, ideality--an unfortunate deficiency for me. I must
probe, analyse, dissect, see the thing as it really is, know it for
what it is."
"Well, she is the Countess Huescar now," I said. "For God's sake,
leave her alone."
He turned to me with the snarl of a beast. "How do you know she is the
Countess Huescar? Is it a special breed of woman made on purpose?
How do you know she isn't my wife--brain and heart, flesh and blood,
mine? If she was, do you think I should give her up because some fool
has stuck his label on her?"
I felt the anger burning in my eyes. "Yours, his! She is no man's
property. She is herself," I cried.
The wrinkles round his nose and mouth smoothed themselves out. "You
need not be afraid," he sneered. "As you say, she is the Countess
Huescar. Can you imagine her as Mrs. Doctor Washburn? I can't." He
took her photograph in his hand again. "The lower part of the face is
the true index to the character. It shows the animal, and it is the
animal that rules. The soul, the intellect, it comes and goes; the
animal remains always. Sensuousness, love of luxury, vanity, those
are the strings to which she dances. To be a Countess is of more
importance to her than to be a woman. She is his, not mine. Let him
"You do not know her," I answered; "you never have. You listen to
what she says. She does not know herself."
He looked at me queerly. "What do you think her to be?" he asked me.
"A true woman, not the shallow thing she seems?"
"A true woman," I persisted stoutly, "that you have not eyes enough to
"You little fool!" he muttered, with the same queer look--"you little
fool. But let us hope you are wrong, Paul. Let us hope, for her
sake, you are wrong."
It was at one of Deleglise's Sunday suppers that I first met Urban
Vane. The position, nor even the character, I fear it must be
confessed, of his guests was never enquired into by old Deleglise. A
simple-minded, kindly old fellow himself, it was his fate to be
occasionally surprised and grieved at the discovery that even the most
entertaining of supper companions could fall short of the highest
standard of conventional morality.
"Dear, dear me!" he would complain, pacing up and down his studio with
puzzled visage. "The last man in the world of whom I should have
expected to hear it. So original in all his ideas. Are you quite
"I am afraid there can he no doubt about it."
"I can't believe it! I really can't believe it! One of the most
amusing men I ever met!"
I remember a well-known artist one evening telling us with much sense
of humour how he had just completed the sale of an old Spanish cabinet
to two distinct and separate purchasers.
"I sold it first," recounted the little gentleman with glee, "to old
Jong, the dealer. He has been worrying me about it for the last three
months, and on Saturday afternoon, hearing that I was clearing out and
going abroad, he came round again. 'Well, I am not sure I am in a
position to sell it,' I told him. 'Who'll know?' he asked. 'They are
not in, are they?' 'Not yet,' I answered, 'but I expect they will be
some time on Monday.' 'Tell your man to open the door to me at eight
o'clock on Monday morning,' he replied, 'we'll have it away without
any fuss. There needn't he any receipt. I'm lending you a hundred
pounds, in cash.' I worked him up to a hundred and twenty, and he
paid me. Upon my word, I should never have thought of it, if he
hadn't put the idea into my head. But turning round at the door:
'You won't go and sell it to some one else,' he suggested, 'between
now and Monday?' It serves him right for his damned impertinence.
'Send and take it away to-day if you are at all nervous,' I told him.
He looked at the thing, it is about twelve feet high altogether. 'I
would if I could get a cart,' he muttered. Then an idea struck him.
'Does the top come off?' 'See for yourself,' I answered; 'it's your
cabinet, not mine.' I was feeling rather annoyed with him. He
examined it. 'That's all right,' he said; 'merely a couple of screws.
I'll take the top with me now on my cab.' He got a man in, and they
took the upper cupboard away, leaving me the bottom. Two hours later
old Sir George called to see me about his wife's portrait. The first
thing he set eyes on was the remains of the cabinet: he had always
admired it. 'Hallo,' he asked, 'are you breaking up the studio
literally? What have you done with the other half?' 'I've sent it
round to Jong's--' He didn't give me time to finish. 'Save Jong's
commission and sell it to me direct,' he said. 'We won't argue about
the price and I'll pay you in cash.'
"Well, if Providence comes forward and insists on taking charge of a
man, it is hardly good manners to flout her. Besides, his wife's
portrait is worth twice as much as he is paying for it. He handed me
over the money in notes. 'Things not going quite smoothly with you
just at the moment?' he asked me. 'Oh, about the same as usual,' I
told him. 'You won't be offended at my taking it away with me this
evening?' he asked. 'Not in the least,' I answered; 'you'll get it on
the top of a four-wheeled cab.' We called in a couple of men, and I
helped them down with it, and confoundedly heavy it was. 'I shall
send round to Jong's for the other half on Monday morning,' he said,
speaking with his head through the cab window, 'and explain it to
him.' 'Do,' I answered; 'he'll understand.'
"I'm sorry I'm going away so early in the morning," concluded the
little gentleman. "I'd give back Jong ten per cent. of his money to
see his face when he enters the studio."
Everybody laughed; but after the little gentleman was gone, the
subject cropped up again.
"If I wake sufficiently early," remarked one, "I shall find an excuse
to look in myself at eight o'clock. Jong's face will certainly be
"Rather rough both on him and Sir George," observed another.
"Oh, he hasn't really done anything of the kind," chimed in old
Deleglise in his rich, sweet voice. "He made that all up. It's just
his fun; he's full of humour."
"I am inclined to think that would be his idea of a joke," asserted
the first speaker.
Old Deleglise would not hear of it; but a week or two later I noticed
an addition to old Deleglise's studio furniture in the shape of a
handsome old carved cabinet twelve feet high.
"He really had done it," explained old Deleglise, speaking in a
whisper, though only he and I were present. "Of course, it was only
his fun; but it might have been misunderstood. I thought it better to
put the thing straight. I shall get the money back from him when he
returns. A most amusing little man!"
Old Deleglise possessed a house in Gower Street which fell vacant.
One of his guests, a writer of poetical drama, was a man who three
months after he had earned a thousand pounds never had a penny with
which to bless himself. They are dying out, these careless,
good-natured, conscienceless Bohemians; but quarter of a century ago
they still lingered in Alsatian London. Turned out of his lodgings by
a Philistine landlord, his sole possession in the wide world, two acts
of a drama, for which he had already been paid, the problem of his
future, though it troubled him but little, became acute to his
friends. Old Deleglise, treating the matter as a joke, pretending not
to know who was the landlord, suggested he should apply to the agents
for position as caretaker. Some furniture was found for him, and the
empty house in Gower Street became his shelter. The immediate present
thus provided for, kindly old Deleglise worried himself a good deal
concerning what would become of his friend when the house was let.
There appeared to be no need for worry. Weeks, months went by.
Applications were received by the agents in fair number, view cards
signed by the dozen; but prospective tenants were never seen again.
One Sunday evening our poet, warmed by old Deleglise's Burgundy,
forgetful whose recommendation had secured him the lowly but timely
appointment, himself revealed the secret.
"Most convenient place I've got," so he told old Deleglise. "Whole
house to myself. I wander about; it just suits me."
"I'm glad to hear that," murmured old Deleglise.
"Come and see me, and I'll cook you a chop," continued the other.
"I've had the kitchen range brought up into the back drawing-room;
saves going up and down stairs."
"The devil you have!" growled old Deleglise. "What do you think the
owner of the house will say?"
"Haven't the least idea who the poor old duffer is myself. They've
put me in as caretaker--an excellent arrangement: avoids all argument
"Afraid it will soon come to an end, that excellent arrangement;"
remarked old Deleglise, drily.
"Why? Why should it?"
"A house in Gower Street oughtn't to remain vacant long."
"This one will."
"You might tell me," asked old Deleglise, with a grim smile; "how do
you manage it? What happens when people come to look over the
house--don't you let them in?"
"I tried that at first," explained the poet, "but they would go on
knocking, and boys and policemen passing would stop and help them. It
got to be a nuisance; so now I have them in, and get the thing over.
I show them the room where the murder was committed. If it's a
nervous-looking party, I let them off with a brief summary. If that
doesn't do, I go into details and show them the blood-spots on the
floor. It's an interesting story of the gruesome order. Come round
one morning and I'll tell it to you. I'm rather proud of it. With
the blinds down and a clock in the next room that ticks loudly, it
Yet this was a man who, were the merest acquaintance to call upon him
and ask for his assistance, would at once take him by the arm and lead
him upstairs. All notes and cheques that came into his hands he
changed at once into gold. Into some attic half filled with lumber he
would fling it by the handful; then, locking the door, leave it there.
On their hands and knees he and his friends, when they wanted any,
would grovel for it, poking into corners, hunting under boxes, groping
among broken furniture, feeling between cracks and crevices. Nothing
gave him greater delight than an expedition of this nature to what he
termed his gold-field; it had for him, as he would explain, all the
excitements of mining without the inconvenience and the distance. He
never knew how much was there. For a certain period a pocketful could
be picked up in five minutes. Then he would entertain a dozen men at
one of the best restaurants in London, tip cabmen and waiters with
half-sovereigns, shower half-crowns as he walked through the streets,
lend or give to anybody for the asking. Later, half-an-hour's dusty
search would be rewarded with a single coin. It made no difference to
him; he would dine in Soho for eighteenpence, smoke shag, and run into
The red-haired man, to whom Deleglise had introduced me on the day of
my first meeting with the Lady of the train, was another of his most
constant visitors. It flattered my vanity that the red-haired man,
whose name was famous throughout Europe and America, should condescend
to confide to me--as he did and at some length--the deepest secrets of
his bosom. Awed--at all events at first--I would sit and listen while
by the hour he would talk to me in corners, telling me of the women he
had loved. They formed a somewhat large collection. Julias, Marias,
Janets, even Janes--he had madly worshipped, deliriously adored so
many it grew bewildering. With a far-away look in his eyes, pain
trembling through each note of his musical, soft voice, he would with
bitter jest, with passionate outburst, recount how he had sobbed
beneath the stars for love of Isabel, bitten his own flesh in frenzied
yearning for Lenore. He appeared from his own account--if in
connection with a theme so poetical I may be allowed a commonplace
expression--to have had no luck with any of them. Of the remainder,
an appreciable percentage had been mere passing visions, seen at a
distance in the dawn, at twilight--generally speaking, when the light
must have been uncertain. Never again, though he had wandered in the
neighbourhood for months, had he succeeded in meeting them. It would
occur to me that enquiries among the neighbours, applications to the
local police, might possibly have been efficacious; but to have broken
in upon his exalted mood with such suggestions would have demanded
more nerve than at the time I possessed. In consequence, my thoughts
I kept to myself.
"My God, boy!" he would conclude, "may you never love as I loved that
woman Miriam"--or Henrietta, or Irene, as the case might be.
For my sympathetic attitude towards the red-haired man I received one
evening commendation from old Deleglise.
"Good boy," said old Deleglise, laying his hand on my shoulder. We
were standing in the passage. We had just shaken hands with the
red-haired man, who, as usual, had been the last to leave. "None of
the others will listen to him. He used to stop and confide it all to
me after everybody else had gone. Sometimes I have dropped asleep, to
wake an hour later and find him still talking. He gets it over early
now. Good boy!"
Soon I learnt it was characteristic of the artist to be willing--nay,
anxious, to confide his private affairs to any one and every one who
would only listen. Another characteristic appeared to be
determination not to listen to anybody else's. As attentive recipient
of other people's troubles and emotions I was subjected to practically
no competition whatever. One gentleman, a leading actor of that day,
I remember, immediately took me aside on my being introduced to him,
and consulted me as to his best course of procedure under the
extremely painful conditions that had lately arisen between himself
and his wife. We discussed the unfortunate position at some length,
and I did my best to counsel fairly and impartially.
"I wish you would lunch with me at White's to-morrow," he said. "We
can talk it over quietly. Say half-past one. By the bye, I didn't
catch your name."
I spelt it to him: he wrote the appointment down on his shirt-cuff.
I went to White's the next day and waited an hour, but he did not turn
up. I met him three weeks later at a garden-party with his wife. But
he appeared to have forgotten me.
Observing old Deleglise's guests, comparing them with their names, it
surprised me the disconnection between the worker and the work.
Writers of noble sentiment, of elevated ideality, I found contained in
men of commonplace appearance, of gross appetites, of conventional
ideas. It seemed doubtful whether they fully comprehended their own
work; certainly it had no effect upon their own lives. On the other
hand, an innocent, boyish young man, who lived the most correct of
lives with a girlish-looking wife in an ivy-covered cottage near
Barnes Common, I discovered to be the writer of decadent stories at
which the Empress Theodora might have blushed. The men whose names
were widest known were not the men who shone the brightest in
Deleglise's kitchen; more often they appeared the dull dogs, listening
enviously, or failing pathetically when they tried to compete with
others who to the public were comparatively unknown. After a time I
ceased to confound the artist with the man, thought no more of judging
the one by the other than of evolving a tenant from the house to which
circumstances or carelessness might have directed him. Clearly they
were two creations originally independent of each other, settling down
into a working partnership for purposes merely of mutual
accommodation; the spirit evidently indifferent as to the particular
body into which he crept, anxious only for a place to work in, easily
Varied were these guests that gathered round old Deleglise's oak.
Cabinet Ministers reported to be in Homburg; Russian Nihilists escaped
from Siberia; Italian revolutionaries; high church dignitaries
disguised in grey suitings; ex-errand boys, who had discovered that
with six strokes of the pen they could set half London laughing at
whom they would; raw laddies with the burr yet clinging to their
tongues, but who we knew would one day have the people dancing to the
music of their words. Neither wealth, nor birth, nor age, nor
position counted. Was a man interesting, amusing; had he ideas and
thoughts of his own? Then he was welcome. Men who had come, men who
were coming, met there on equal footing. Among them, as years ago
among my schoolmates, I found my place--somewhat to my
dissatisfaction. I amused. Much rather would I have shocked them by
the originality of my views, impressed them with the depth of my
judgments. They declined to be startled, refused to be impressed;
instead, they laughed. Nor from these men could I obtain sympathy in
"What do you mean, you villain!" roared Deleglise's caretaker at me
one evening on entering the kitchen. "How dare you waste your time
writing this sort of stuff?"
He had a copy of the paper containing my "Witch of Moel Sarbod" in his
hand--then some months old. He screwed it up into a ball and flung it
in my face. "I've only just read it. What did you get for it?"
"Nothing," I answered.
"Nothing!" he screamed. "You got off for nothing? You ought to have
been whipped at the cart's tail!"
"Oh, come, it's not as bad as that," suggested old Deleglise.
"Not bad! There isn't a laugh in it from beginning to end."
"There wasn't intended to be," I interrupted.
"Why not, you swindler? What were you sent into the world to do? To
make it laugh."
"I want to make it think," I told him.
"Make it think! Hasn't it got enough to think about? Aren't there
ten thousand penny-a-liners, poets, tragedians, tub-thumpers,
long-eared philosophers, boring it to death? Who are you to turn up
your nose at your work and tell the Almighty His own business? You
are here to make us laugh. Get on with your work, you confounded
Urban Vane was the only one among them who understood me, who agreed
with me that I was fitted for higher things than merely to minister to
the world's need of laughter. He alone it was who would listen with
approval to my dreams of becoming a famous tragedian, a writer of
soul-searching books, of passion-analysing plays. I never saw him
laugh himself, certainly not at anything funny. "Humour!" he would
explain in his languid drawl, "personally it doesn't amuse me." One
felt its introduction into the scheme of life had been an error. He
was a large, fleshy man, with a dreamy, caressing voice and strangely
impassive face. Where he came from, who he was, nobody knew. Without
ever passing a remark himself that was worth listening to, he,
nevertheless, by some mysterious trick of manner I am unable to
explain, soon established himself, even throughout that company, where
as a rule men found their proper level, as a silent authority in all
contests of wit or argument. Stories at which he listened, bored,
fell flat. The _bon mot_ at which some faint suggestion of a smile
quivered round his clean-shaven lips was felt to be the crown of the
discussion. I can only conclude his secret to have been his
magnificent assumption of superiority, added to a sphinx-like
impenetrability behind which he could always retire from any danger of
exposure. Subjects about which he knew nothing--and I have come to
the conclusion they were more numerous than was suspected--became in
his presence topics outside the radius of cultivated consideration:
one felt ashamed of having introduced them. His own subjects--they
were few but exclusive--he had the knack of elevating into
intellectual tests: one felt ashamed, reflecting how little one knew
about them. Whether he really did possess a charm of manner, or
whether the sense of his superiority with which he had imbued me it
was that made any condescension he paid me a thing to grasp at, I am
unable to say. Certain it is that when he suggested I should throw up
chorus singing and accompany him into the provinces as manager of a
theatrical company he was then engaging to run a wonderful drama that
was going to revolutionise the English stage and educate the English
public, I allowed myself not a moment for consideration, but accepted
his proposal with grateful delight.
"Who is he?" asked Dan. Somehow he had never impressed Dan; but then
Dan was a fellow to impress whom was slow work. As he himself
confessed, he had no instinct for character. "I judge," he would
explain, "purely by observation."
"What does that matter?" was my reply.
"What does he know about the business?"
"That's why he wants me."
"What do you know about it?"
"There's not much to know. I can find out."
"Take care you don't find out that there's more to know than you
think. What is this wonderful play of his?"
"I haven't seen it yet; I don't think it's finished. It's something
from the Spanish or the Russian, I'm not sure. I'm to put it into
shape when he's done the translation. He wants me to put my name to
it as the adaptor."
"Wonder he hasn't asked you to wear his clothes. Has he got any
"Of course he has money. How can you run a theatrical company without
"Have you seen the money?"
"He doesn't carry it about with him in a bag."
"I should have thought your ambition to be to act, not to manage.
Managers are to be had cheap enough. Why should he want some one who
knows nothing about it?"
"I'm going to act. I'm going to play a leading part."
"He'll do the management really himself; I shall simply advise him.
But he doesn't want his own name to appear.
"His people might object."
"Who are his people?"
"How do I know? What a suspicious chap you are."
Dan shrugged his shoulders. "You are not an actor, you never will be;
you are not a business man. You've made a start at writing, that's
your proper work. Why not go on with it?"
"I can't get on with it. That one thing was accepted, and never paid
for; everything else comes back regularly, just as before. Besides, I
can go on writing wherever I am."
"You've got friends here to help you."
"They don't believe I can do anything but write nonsense."
"Well, clever nonsense is worth writing. It's better than stodgy
sense: literature is blocked up with that. Why not follow their
"Because I don't believe they are right. I'm not a clown; I don't
mean to be. Because a man has a sense of humour it doesn't follow he
has nothing else. That is only one of my gifts, and by no means the
highest. I have knowledge of human nature, poetry, dramatic instinct.
I mean to prove it to you all. Vane's the only man that understands
Dan lit his pipe. "Have you made up your mind to go?"
"Of course I have. It's an opportunity that doesn't occur twice.
'There's a tide in the affairs—"
"Thanks," interrupted Dan; "I've heard it before. Well, if you've
made up your mind, there's an end of the matter. Good luck to you!
You are young, and it's easier to learn things then than later."
"You talk," I answered, "as if you were old enough to be my
He smiled and laid both hands upon my shoulders. "So I am," he said,
"quite old enough, little boy Paul. Don't be angry; you'll always be
little Paul to me." He put his hands in his pockets and strolled to
"What'll you do?" I enquired. "Will you keep on these rooms?"
"No," he replied. "I shall accept an offer that has been made to me
to take the sub-editorship of a big Yorkshire paper. It is an
important position and will give me experience."
"You'll never be happy mewed up in a provincial town," I told him. "I
shall want a London address, and I can easily afford it. Let's keep
them on together."
He shook his head. "It wouldn't be the same thing," he said.
So there came a morning when we said good-bye. Before Dan returned
from the office I should be gone. They had been pleasant months that
we had spent together in these pretty rooms. Though my life was
calling to me full of hope, I felt the pain of leaving them. Two
years is a long period in a young man's life, when the sap is running
swiftly. My affections had already taken root there. The green
leaves in summer, in winter the bare branches of the square, the
sparrows that chirped about the window-sills, the quiet peace of the
great house, Dan, kindly old Deleglise: around them my fibres clung,
closer than I had known. The Lady of the train: she managed it now
less clumsily. Her hands and feet had grown smaller, her elbows
rounder. I found myself smiling as I thought of her--one always did
smile when one thought of Norah, everybody did;--of her tomboy ways,
her ringing laugh--there were those who termed it noisy; her
irrepressible frankness--there were times when it was inconvenient.
Would she ever become lady-like, sedate, proper? One doubted it. I
tried to picture her a wife, the mistress of a house. I found the
smile deepening round my mouth. What a jolly wife she would make! I
could see her bustling, full of importance; flying into tempers,
lasting possibly for thirty seconds; then calling herself names,
saving all argument by undertaking her own scolding, and doing it
well. I followed her to motherhood. What a joke it would be! What
would she do with them? She would just let them do what they liked
with her. She and they would be a parcel of children together, she
the most excited of them all. No; on second thoughts I could detect
in her a strong vein of common sense. They would have to mind their
p's and q's. I could see her romping with them, helping them to tear
their clothes; but likewise I could see her flying after them,
bringing back an armful struggling, bathing it, physicking it.
Perhaps she would grow stout, grow grey; but she would still laugh
more often than sigh, speak her mind, be quick, good-tempered Norah to
the end. Her character precluded all hope of surprise. That, as I
told myself, was its defect. About her were none of those glorious
possibilities that make of some girls charming mysteries. A woman,
said I to myself, should be a wondrous jewel, hiding unknown lights
and shadows. You, my dear Norah--I spoke my thoughts aloud, as had
become a habit with me: those who live much alone fall into this
way--you are merely a crystal, not shallow--no, I should not call you
shallow by any mans, but transparent.
What would he be, her lover? Some plain, matter-of-fact,
business-like young fellow, a good player of cricket and football,
fond of his dinner. What a very uninteresting affair the love-making
would be! If she liked him--well, she would probably tell him so; if
she didn't, he would know it in five minutes.
As for inducing her to change her mind, wooing her, cajoling her--I
heard myself laughing at the idea.
There came a quick rap at the door. "Come in," I cried; and she
"I came to say good-bye to you," she explained. "I'm just going out.
What were you laughing at?"
"Oh, at an idea that occurred to me."
"A funny one?"
"Tell it me."
"Well, it was something in connection with yourself. It might offend
"It wouldn't trouble you much if it did, would it?"
"No, I don't suppose it would,"
"Then why not tell me?"
"I was thinking of your lover."
It did offend her; I thought it would. But she looked really
interesting when she was cross. Her grey eyes would flash, and her
whole body quiver. There was a charming spice of danger always about
making her cross.
"I suppose you think I shall never have one."
"On the contrary, I think you will have a good many." I had not
thought so before then. I formed the idea for the first time in that
moment, while looking straight into her angry face. It was still a
The anger died out of it as it always did within the minute, and she
laughed. "It would be fun, wouldn't it. I wonder what I should do
with him? It makes you feel very serious being in love, doesn't it?"
"Have you ever been in love?"
I hesitated for a moment. Then the delight of talking about it
overcame my fear of being chaffed. Besides, when she felt it, nobody
could be more delightfully sympathetic. I determined to adventure it.
"Yes," I answered, "ever since I was a boy. If you are going to be
foolish," I added, for I saw the laugh before it came, "I shan't talk
to you about it."
"I'm not--I won't, really," she pleaded, making her face serious
again. "What is she like?"
I took from my breast pocket Barbara's photograph, and handed it to
her in silence.
"Is she really as beautiful as that?" she asked, gazing at it
"More so," I assured her. "Her expression is the most beautiful part
of her. Those are only her features."
She sighed. "I wish I was beautiful."
"You are at an awkward age," I told her. "It is impossible to say
what you are going to be like."
"Mamma was a lovely woman, everybody says so; and Tom I call awfully
handsome. Perhaps I'll be better when I'm filled out a bit more." A
small Venetian mirror hung between the two windows; she glanced up
into it. "It's my nose that irritates me," she said. She rubbed it
viciously, as if she would rub it out.
"Some people admire snub noses," I explained to her.
"Tennyson speaks of them as 'tip-tilted like the petals of a rose.'"
"How nice of him! Do you think he meant my sort?" She rubbed it
again, but in a kinder fashion; then looked again at Barbara's
photograph. "Who is she?"
"She was Miss Hasluck," I answered; "she is the Countess Huescar now.
She was married last summer."
"Oh, yes, I remember; you told us about her. You were children
together. But what's the good of your being in love with her if she's
"It makes my whole life beautiful."
"Wanting somebody you can't have?"
"I don't want her."
"You said you were in love with her."
"So I am."
She handed me back the photograph, and I replaced it in my pocket.
"I don't understand that sort of love," she said. "If I loved anybody
I should want to have them with me always.
"She is with me always," I answered, "in my thoughts." She looked at
me with her clear grey eyes. I found myself blinking. Something
seemed to be slipping from me, something I did not want to lose. I
remember a similar sensation once at the moment of waking from a
strange, delicious dream to find the sunlight pouring in upon me
through an open window.
"That isn't being in love," she said. "That's being in love with the
idea of being in love. That's the way I used to go to balls"--she
laughed--"in front of the glass. You caught me once, do you
"And was it not sweeter," I argued, "the imagination? You were the
belle of the evening; you danced divinely every dance, were taken in
to supper by the Lion. In reality you trod upon your partner's toes,
bumped and were bumped, were left a wallflower more than half the
time, had a headache the next day. Were not the dream balls the more
"No, they weren't," she answered without the slightest hesitation.
"One real dance, when at last it came, was worth the whole of them.
Oh, I know, I've heard you talking, all of you--of the faces that you
see in dreams and that are ever so much more beautiful than the faces
that you see when you're awake; of the wonderful songs that nobody
ever sings, the wonderful pictures that nobody ever paints, and all
the rest of it. I don't believe a word of it. It's tommyrot!"
"I wish you wouldn't use slang."
"Well, you know what I mean. What is the proper word? Give it me."
"I suppose you mean cant," I suggested.
"No, I don't. Cant is something that you don't believe in yourself.
It's tommyrot: there isn't any other word. When I'm in love it will
be with something that is real."
I was feeling angry with her. "I know just what he will be like. He
will be a good-natured, commonplace--"
"Whatever he is," she interrupted, "he'll be alive, and he'll want me
and I shall want him. Dreams are silly. I prefer being up." She
clapped her hands. "That's it." Then, silent, she looked at me with
an expression of new interest. "I've been wondering and wondering what
it was: you are not really awake yet. You've never got up."
I laughed at her whimsical way of putting it; but at the back of my
brain was a troubled idea that perhaps she was revealing to me the
truth. And if so, what would "waking up," as she termed it, be like?
A flash of memory recalled to me that summer evening upon Barking
Bridge, when, as it had seemed to me, the little childish Paul had
slipped away from me, leaving me lonely and bewildered to find another
Self. Was my boyhood in like manner now falling from me? I found
myself clinging to it with vague terror. Its thoughts, its
feelings--dreams: they had grown sweet to me; must I lose them? This
cold, unknown, new Self, waiting to receive me: I shrank away from it
"Do you know, I think you will be rather nice when you wake up."
Her words recalled me to myself. "Perhaps I never shall wake up," I
said. "I don't want to wake up."
"Oh, but one can't go on dreaming all one's life," she laughed.
"You'll wake up, and fall in love with somebody real." She came
across to me, and taking the lapels of my coat in both her hands, gave
me a vigorous shake. "I hope she'll be somebody nice. I am rather
"You seem to think me a fool!" I was still angry with her, without
quite knowing why.
She shook me again. "You know I don't. But it isn't the nice people
that take best care of themselves. Tom can't. I have to take care of
"I do, really. You should hear me scold him. I like taking care of
She held out her hand. It was white now and shapely, but one could
not have called it small. Strong it felt and firm as it gripped mine.
AND HOW CAME BACK AGAIN.
I left London, the drums beating in my heart, the flags waving in my
brain. Somewhat more than a year later, one foggy wet December
evening, I sneaked back to it defeated--ah, that is a small thing,
capable of redress--disgraced. I returned to it as to a hiding-place
where, lost in the crowd, I might waste my days unnoticed until such
time as I could summon up sufficient resolution to put an end to my
dead life. I had been ambitious--dwelling again amid the bitterness
of the months that followed my return, I write in the past tense. I
had been eager to make a name, a position for myself. But were I to
claim no higher aim, I should be doing injustice to my blood--to the
great-souled gentleman whose whole life had been an ode to honour, to
her of simple faith who had known no other prayer to teach me than the
childish cry, "God help me to be good!" I had wished to be a great
man, but it was to have been a great good man. The world was to have
admired me, but to have respected me also. I was to have been the
knight without fear, but, rarer yet, without reproach--Galahad, not
Launcelot. I had learnt myself to be a feeble, backboneless fighter,
conquered by the first serious assault of evil, a creature of mean
fears, slave to every crack of the devil's whip, a feeder with swine.
Urban Vane I had discovered to be a common swindler. His play he had
stolen from the desk of a well-known dramatist whose acquaintance he
had made in Deleglise's kitchen. The man had fallen ill, and Vane had
been constant in his visits. Partly recovering, the man had gone
abroad to Italy. Had he died there, as at the time was expected, the
robbery might never have come to light. News reached us in a small
northern town that he had taken a fresh lease of life and was on his
way back to England. Then it was that Vane with calm indifference,
smoking his cigar over a bottle of wine to which he had invited me,
told me the bald truth, adorning it with some touches of wit. Had the
recital come upon me sooner, I might have acted differently; but six
months' companionship with Urban Vane, if it had not, by grace of the
Lord, destroyed the roots of whatever flower of manhood might have
been implanted in me, had most certainly withered its leaves.
The man was clever. That he was not clever enough to perceive from
the beginning what he has learnt since: that honesty is the best
policy--at least, for men with brains--remains somewhat of a mystery
to me. Where once he made his hundreds among shady ways, he now, I
suppose, makes his thousands in the broad daylight of legitimate
enterprise. Chicanery in the blood, one might imagine, has to be
worked out. Urban Vanes are to be found in all callings. They
commence as scamps; years later, to one's astonishment, one finds them
ornaments to their profession. Wild oats are of various quality,
according to the soil from which they are preserved. We sow them in
our various ways.
At first I stormed. Vane sat with an amused smile upon his lips and
"Your language, my dear Kelver," he replied, my vocabulary exhausted,
"might wound me were I able to accept you as an authority upon this
vexed question of morals. With the rest of the world you preach one
thing and practise another. I have noticed it so often. It is
perhaps sad, but the preaching has ceased to interest me. You profess
to be very indignant with me for making use of another man's ideas.
It is done every day. You yourself were quite ready to take credit
not due to you. For months we have been travelling with this play:
'Drama, in five acts, by Mr. Horace Moncrieff.' Not more than two
hundred lines of it are your own--excellent lines, I admit, but they
do not constitute the play."
This aspect of the affair had not occurred to me. "But you asked me
to put my name to it," I stammered. "You said you did not want your
own to appear--for private reasons. You made a point of it."
He waved away the smoke from his cigar. "The man you are posing as
would never have put his name to work not his own. You never
hesitated; on the contrary, you jumped at the chance of so easy an
opening to your career as playwright. My need, as you imagined it,
was your opportunity."
"But you said it was from the French," I argued; "you had merely
translated it, I adapted it. I don't defend the custom, but it is the
custom: the man who adapts a play calls himself the author. They all
"I know," he answered. "It has always amused me. Our sick friend
himself, whom I am sure we are both delighted to welcome back to life,
has done it more than once, and made a very fair profit on the
transaction. Indeed, from internal evidence, I am strongly of opinion
that this present play is a case in point. Well, chickens come home
to roost: I adapt from him. What is the difference?"
"Simply this," he continued, pouring himself out another glass of
wine, "that whereas, owing to the anomalous state of the copyright
laws, stealing from the foreign author is legal and commendable,
against stealing from the living English author there is a certain
"And the consequences, I am afraid, you will find somewhat
unpleasant," I suggested.
He laughed: it was not a frivolity to which he was prone. "You mean,
my dear Kelver that you will."
"Don't look so dumbfounded " he went on. "You cannot be so stupid as
you are pretending to be. The original manuscript at the Lord
Chamberlain's office is in your handwriting. You knew our friend as
well as I did, and visited him. Why, the whole tour has been under
your management. You have arranged everything--most excellently; I
have been quite surprised."
My anger came later. For the moment, the sudden light blinded me to
everything but fear.
"But you told me," I cried, "it was only a matter of form, that you
wanted to keep your name out of it because--"
He was looking at me with an expression of genuine astonishment. My
words began to appear humorous even to myself. I found it difficult
to believe I had been the fool I was now seeing myself to have been.
"I am sorry," he said, "I am really sorry. I took you for a man of
the world. I thought you merely did not wish to know anything."
Still, to my shame, fear was the thing uppermost in my heart. "You
are not going to put it all on to me?" I pleaded.
He had risen. He laid his hand upon my shoulder. Instead of flinging
it off, I was glad of its kindly pressure. He was the only man to
whom I could look for help.
"Don't take it so seriously," he said. "He will merely think the
manuscript has been lost. As likely as not, he will be unable to
remember whether he wrote it or merely thought of writing it. No one
in the company will say anything: it isn't their business. We must
set to work. I had altered it a good deal before you saw it, and
changed all the names of the characters. We will retain the third
act: it is the only thing of real value in the play. The situation
is not original; you have as much right to dish it up as he had. In a
fortnight we will have the whole thing so different that if he saw it
himself he would only imagine we had got hold of the idea and had
There were moments during the next few weeks when I listened to the
voice of my good angel, when I saw clearly that even from the lowest
point of view he was giving me sound advice. I would go to the man,
tell him frankly the whole truth.
But Vane never left my elbow. Suspecting, I suppose, he gave me
clearly to understand that if I did so, I must expect no mercy from
him. My story, denounced by him as an outrageous lie, would be
regarded as the funk-inspired subterfuge of a young rogue. At the
best I should handicap myself with suspicion that would last me
throughout my career. On the other hand, what harm had we done?
Presented in some twenty or so small towns, where it would soon be
forgotten, a play something like. Most plays were something like.
Our friend would produce his version and reap a rich harvest; ours
would disappear. If by any unlikely chance discussion should arise,
the advertisement would he to his advantage. So soon as possible we
would replace it by a new piece altogether. A young man of my genius
could surely write something better than hotch-potch such as this;
experience was all that I had lacked. As regarded one's own
conscience, was not the world's honesty a mere question of convention?
Had he been a young man, and had we diddled him out of his play for a
ten-pound note, we should have been applauded as sharp men of
business. The one commandment of the world was: Don't get found out.
The whole trouble, left alone, would sink and fade. Later, we should
tell it as a good joke--and be laughed with.
So I fell from mine own esteem. Vane helping me--and he had brains--I
set feverishly to work. I am glad to remember that every line I wrote
was born in misery. I tried to persuade Vane to let me make a new
play altogether, which I offered to give him for nothing. He
expressed himself as grateful, but his frequently declared belief in
my dramatic talent failed to induce his acceptance.
"Later on, my dear Kelver," was his reply. "For the present this is
doing very well. Going on as we are, we shall soon improve it out of
all recognition, while at the same time losing nothing that is
essential. All your ideas are excellent."
By the end of about three weeks we had got together a concoction that,
so far as dialogue and characters were concerned, might be said to be
our own. There was good work in it, here and there. Under other
conditions I might have been proud of much that I had written. As it
was, I experienced only the terror of the thief dodging the constable:
my cleverness might save me; it afforded me no further satisfaction.
My humour, when I heard the people laughing at it, I remembered I had
forged listening in vague fear to every creak upon the stairs,
wondering in what form discovery might come upon me. There was one
speech, addressed by the hero to the villain: "Yes, I admit it; I do
love her. But there is that which I love better--my self-respect!"
Stepping down to the footlights and slapping his chest (which
according to stage convention would appear to be a sort of moral
jewel-box bursting with assorted virtues), our juvenile lead—-a
gentleman who led a somewhat rabbit-like existence, perpetually diving
down openings to avoid service of writs, at the instance of his wife,
for alimony--would invariably bring down the house upon this
sentiment. Every night, listening to the applause, I would shudder,
recalling how I had written it with burning cheeks.
There was a character in the piece, a vicious old man, that from the
beginning Vane had wanted me to play. I had disliked the part and had
refused, choosing instead to act a high-souled countryman, in the
portrayal of whose irreproachable emotions I had taken pleasure. Vane
now renewed his arguments, and my power of resistance seeming to have
departed from me, I accepted the exchange. Certainly the old
gentleman's scenes went with more snap, but at a cost of further
degradation to myself. Upon an older actor the effect might have been
harmless, but the growing tree springs back less surely; I found
myself taking pleasure in the coarse laughter that rewarded my
suggestive leers, calling up all the evil in my nature to help me in
the development of fresh "business." Vane was enthusiastic in his
praises, generous with his assistance. Under his tuition I succeeded
in making the part as unpleasant as we dared. I had genius, so Vane
told me; I understood so much of human nature. One proof of the moral
deterioration creeping over me was that I was beginning to like Vane.
Looking back at the man as I see him plainly now, a very ordinary
scamp, his pretension not even amusing, I find it difficult to present
him as he appeared to my boyish eyes. He was well educated and well
read. He gave himself the airs of a superior being by freak of fate
compelled to abide in a world of inferior creatures. To live among
them in comfort it was necessary for him to outwardly conform to their
conventions but to respect their reasoning would have been beneath
him. To accept their laws as binding on one's own conscience was,
using the common expression, to give oneself away, to confess oneself
commonplace. Every decent instinct a man might own to was proof in
Vane's eyes of his being "suburban," "bourgeois"--everything that was
unintellectual. It was the first time I had heard this sort of talk.
Vane was one of the pioneers of the movement, which has since become
somewhat tiresome. To laugh at it is easy to a man of the world; boys
are impressed by it. From him I first heard the now familiar advocacy
of pure Hedonism. Pan, enticed from his dark groves, was to sit upon
My lower nature rose within me to proclaim the foolish chatterer as a
prophet. So life was not as I had been taught--a painful struggle
between good and evil. There was no such thing as evil; the senseless
epithet was a libel upon Nature. Not through wearisome repression,
but rather through joyous expression of the animal lay advancement.
Villains--workers in wrong for aesthetic pleasure of the art--are
useful characters in fiction; in real life they do not exist. I am
convinced the man believed most of the rubbish he talked. Since the
time of which I write he has done some service to the world. I
understand he is an excellent husband and father, a considerate
master, a delightful host. He intended, I have no doubt, to improve
me, to enlarge my understanding, to free me from soul-stifling bondage
of convention. Not to credit him with this well-meaning intention
would be to assume him something quite inhuman, to bestow upon him a
dignity beyond his deserts. I find it easier to regard him merely as
Our leading lady was a handsome but coarse woman, somewhat
over-developed. Starting life as a music-hall singer, she had married
a small tradesman in the south of London. Some three or four years
previous, her Juno-like charms had turned the head of a youthful
novelist--a refined, sensitive man, of whom great things in literature
had been expected, and, judging from his earlier work, not
unreasonably. He had run away with her, and eventually married her;
the scandal was still fresh. Already she had repented of her bargain.
These women regard their infatuated lovers merely as steps in the
social ladder, and he had failed to appreciably advance her. Under
her demoralising spell his ambition had died in him. He no longer
wrote, no longer took interest in anything beyond his own debasement.
He was with us in the company, playing small parts, and playing them
badly; he would have remained with us as bill-poster rather than have
been sent away.
Vane planned to bring this woman and myself together. To her he
pictured me a young gentleman of means, a coming author, who would
soon be earning an income sufficient to keep her in every luxury. To
me he hinted that she had fallen in love with me. I was never
attracted to her by any feeling stronger than the admiration with
which one views a handsome animal. It was my vanity upon which he
worked. He envied me; any man would envy me; experience of life was
what I needed to complete my genius. The great intellects of this
earth must learn all lessons, even at the cost of suffering to
themselves and others.
As years before I had laboured to acquire a liking for cigars and
whiskey, deeming it an accomplishment necessary to a literary career,
so painstakingly I now applied myself to the cultivation of a pretty
taste in passion. According to the literature, fictional and
historical, Vane was kind enough to supply me with, men of note were
invariably sad dogs. That my temperament was not that of the sad dog,
that I lacked instinct and inclination for the part, appeared to this
young idiot of whom I am writing in the light of a defect. That her
languishing glances irritated rather than maddened me, that the
occasional covert pressure of her hot, thick hand left me cold, I felt
a reproach to my manhood. I would fall in love with her. Surely my
blood was red like other men's. Besides, was I not an artist, and was
not profligacy the hall-mark of the artist?
But one grows tired of the confessional. Fate saved me from playing
the part Vane had assigned me in this vulgar comedy, dragged me from
my entanglement, flung me on my feet again. She was a little brusque
in the process; but I do not feel inclined to blame the kind lady for
that. The mud was creeping upward fast, and a quick hand must needs
Our dramatic friend produced his play sooner than we had expected. It
crept out that something very like it had been seen in the Provinces.
Argument followed, enquiries were set on foot. "It will blow over,"
said Vane. But it seemed to be blowing our way.
The salaries, as a rule, were paid by me on Friday night. Vane, in
the course of the evening, would bring me the money for me to
distribute after the performance. We were playing in the north of
Ireland. I had not seen Vane all that day. So soon as I had changed
my clothes I left my dressing-room to seek him. The box-office
keeper, meeting me, put a note into my hand. It was short and to the
point. Vane had pocketed the evening's takings, and had left by the
seven-fifty train! He regretted causing inconvenience, but life was
replete with small comedies; the wise man attached no seriousness to
them. We should probably meet again and enjoy a laugh over our
Some rumour had got about. I looked up from the letter to find myself
surrounded by suspicious faces. With dry lips I told them the truth.
Only they happened not to regard it as the truth. Vane throughout had
contrived cleverly to them I was the manager, the sole person
responsible. My wearily spoken explanations were to them
incomprehensible lies. The quarter of an hour might have been worse
for me had I been sufficiently alive to understand or care what they
were saying. A dull, listless apathy had come over me. I felt the
scene only stupid, ridiculous, tiresome. There was some talk of
giving me "a damned good hiding." I doubt whether I should have known
till the next morning whether the suggestion had been carried out or
not. I gathered that the true history of the play, the reason for the
sudden alterations, had been known to them all along. They appeared
to have reserved their virtuous indignation till this evening. As
explanation of my apparent sleepiness, somebody, whether in kindness
to me or not I cannot say, suggested I was drunk. Fortunately, it
carried conviction. No further trains left the town that night; I was
allowed to depart. A deputation promised to be round at my lodgings
early in the morning.
Our leading lady had left the theatre immediately on the fall of the
curtain; it was not necessary for her to wait, her husband acting as
her business man. On reaching my rooms, I found her sitting by the
fire. It reminded me that our agent in advance having fallen ill, her
husband had, at her suggestion, been appointed in his place, and had
left us on the Wednesday to make the necessary preparations in the
next town on our list. I thought that perhaps she had come round for
her money, and the idea amused me.
"Well?" she said, with her one smile. I had been doing my best for
some months to regard it as soul-consuming, but without any real
"Well," I answered. It bored me, her being there. I wanted to be
"You don't seem overjoyed to see me. What's the matter with you?
I laughed. "Vane's bolted and taken the week's money with him."
"The beast!" she said. "I knew he was that sort. What ever made you
take up with him? Will it make much difference to you?"
"It makes a difference all round," I replied. "There's no money to
pay any of you. There's nothing to pay your fares back to London."
She had risen. "Here, let me understand this," she said. "Are you
the rich mug Vane's been representing you to be, or only his
"The mug and the accomplice both," I answered, "without the rich.
It's his tour. He put my name to it because he didn't want his own to
appear--for family reasons. It's his play; he stole it--"
She interrupted me with a whistle. "I thought it looked a bit fishy,
all those alterations. But such funny things do happen in this
profession! Stole it, did he?"
"The whole thing in manuscript. I put my name to it for the same
reason--he didn't want his own to appear."
She dropped into her chair and laughed--a good-tempered laugh, loud
and long. "Well, I'm damned!" she said. "The first man who has ever
taken me in. I should never have signed if I had thought it was his
show. I could see the sort he was with half an eye." She jumped up
from the chair. "Here, let me get out of this," she said. "I just
looked in to know what time to-morrow; I'd forgotten. You needn't say
Her hand upon the door, laughter seized her again, so that for support
she had to lean against the wall.
"Do you know why I really did come?" she said. "You'll guess when you
come to think it over, so I may as well tell you. It's a bit of a
joke. I came to say 'yes' to what you asked me last night. Have you
I stared at her. Last night! It seemed a long while ago--so very
unimportant what I might have said.
She laughed again. "So help me! if you haven't. Well, you asked me
to run away with you--that's all, to let our two souls unite. Damned
lucky I took a day to think it over! Good-night."
"Good-night," I answered, without moving. I was gripping a chair to
prevent myself from rushing at her, pushing her out of the room, and
locking the door. I wanted to be alone.
I heard her turn the handle. "Got a pound or two to carry you over?"
It was a woman's voice.
I put my hand into my pocket. "One pound seventeen," I answered,
counting it. "It will pay my fare to London--or buy me a dinner and a
second-hand revolver. I haven't quite decided yet."
"Oh, you get back and pull yourself together," she said. "You're only
a kid. Good-night."
I put a few things into a small bag and walked thirty miles that night
into Belfast. Arrived in London, I took a lodging in Deptford, where
I was least likely to come in contact with any face I had ever seen
before. I maintained myself by giving singing lessons at sixpence the
half-hour, evening lessons in French and German (the Lord forgive me!)
to ambitious shop-boys at eighteen pence a week, making up tradesmen's
books. A few articles of jewellery I had retained enabled me to tide
over bad periods. For some four months I existed there, never going
outside the neighbourhood. Occasionally, wandering listlessly about
the streets, some object, some vista, would strike me by reason of its
familiarity. Then I would turn and hasten back into my grave of dim,
Of thoughts, emotions, during these dead days I was unconscious.
Somewhere in my brain they may have been stirring, contending; but
myself I lived as in a long, dull dream. I ate, and drank, and woke,
and slept, and walked and walked, and lounged by corners; staring by
the hour together, seeing nothing.
It has suprised me since to find the scenes I must then have witnessed
photographed so clearly on my mind. Tragedies, dramas, farces, played
before me in that teeming underworld--the scenes present themselves to
me distinct, complete; yet I have no recollection of ever having seen
I fell ill. It must have been some time in April, but I kept no count
of days. Nobody came near me, nobody knew of me. I occupied a room
at the top of a huge block of workmen's dwellings. A woman who kept a
second-hand store had lent me for a shilling a week a few articles of
furniture. Lying upon my chair-bedstead, I listened to the shrill
sounds around me, that through the light and darkness never ceased. A
pint of milk, left each morning on the stone landing, kept me alive.
I would wait for the man's descending footsteps, then crawl to the
door. I hoped I was going to die, regretting my returning strength,
the desire for food that drove me out into the streets again.
One night, a week or two after my partial recovery, I had wandered on
and on for hour after hour. The breaking dawn recalled me to myself.
I was outside the palings of a park. In the faint shadowy light it
looked strange and unfamiliar. I was too tired to walk further. I
scrambled over the low wooden fencing, and reaching a seat, dropped
down and fell asleep.
I was sitting in a sunny avenue; birds were singing joyously, bright
flowers were all around me. Norah was beside me, her frank, sweet
eyes were looking into mine; they were full of tenderness, mingled
with wonder. It was a delightful dream: I felt myself smiling.
Suddenly I started to my feet. Norah's strong hand drew me down
I was in the broad walk, Regent's Park, where, I remembered, Norah
often walked before breakfast. A park-keeper, the only other human
creature within sight, was eyeing me suspiciously. I saw
myself--without a looking-glass--unkempt, ragged. My intention was to
run, but Norah was holding me by the arm. Savagely I tried to shake
her off. I was weak from my recent illness, and, I suppose, half
starved; it angered me to learn she was the stronger of the two. In
spite of my efforts, she dragged me back.
Ashamed of my weakness, ashamed of everything about me, I burst into
tears; and that of course made me still more ashamed. To add to my
discomfort, I had no handkerchief. Holding me with one hand--it was
quite sufficient--Norah produced her own, and wiped my eyes. The
park-keeper, satisfied, I suppose, that at all events I was not
dangerous, with a grin passed on.
"Where have you been, and what have you been doing?" asked Norah. She
still retained her grip upon me, and in her grey eyes was quiet
So, with my face turned away from her, I told her the whole miserable
story, taking strange satisfaction in exaggerating, if anything, my
own share of the disgrace. My recital ended, I sat staring down the
long, shadow-freckled way, and for awhile there was no sound but the
chirping of the sparrows.
Then behind me I beard a smothered laugh. It was impossible to
imagine it could come from Norah. I turned quickly to see who had
stolen upon us. It was Norah who was laughing; though to do her
justice she was trying to suppress it, holding her handkerchief to her
face. It was of no use, it would out; she abandoned the struggle, and
gave way to it. It astonished the sparrows into silence; they stood
in a row upon the low iron border and looked at one another.
"I am glad you think it funny," I said.
"But it is funny," she persisted. "Don't say you have lost your sense
of humour, Paul; it was the one real thing you possessed. You were so
cocky--you don't know how cocky you were! Everybody was a fool but
Vane; nobody else but he appreciated you at your true worth. You and
he between you were going to reform the stage, to educate the public,
to put everything and everybody to rights. I am awfully sorry for all
you've gone through; but now that it is over, can't you see yourself
Back to Full Books