Buried Alive: A Tale of These Days
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by John Hagerson, Kevin Handy and the Online Distributed
A Tale of These Days
JOHN FREDERICK FARRAR
IN THIS AND MANY OTHER BOOKS
A GRATEFUL EXPRESSION
OF OLD-ESTABLISHED REGARD
I. THE PUCE DRESSING-GOWN
II. A PAIL
III. THE PHOTOGRAPH
IV. A SCOOP
V. ALICE ON HOTELS
VI. A PUTNEY MORNING
VII. THE CONFESSION
VIII. AN INVASION
IX. A GLOSSY MALE
X. THE SECRET
XI. AN ESCAPE
XII. ALICE'S PERFORMANCES
_The Puce Dressing-gown_
The peculiar angle of the earth's axis to the plane of the ecliptic--
that angle which is chiefly responsible for our geography and therefore
for our history--had caused the phenomenon known in London as summer.
The whizzing globe happened to have turned its most civilized face away
from the sun, thus producing night in Selwood Terrace, South Kensington.
In No. 91 Selwood Terrace two lights, on the ground-floor and on the
first-floor, were silently proving that man's ingenuity can outwit
nature's. No. 91 was one of about ten thousand similar houses between
South Kensington Station and North End Road. With its grimy stucco
front, its cellar kitchen, its hundred stairs and steps, its perfect
inconvenience, and its conscience heavy with the doing to death of
sundry general servants, it uplifted tin chimney-cowls to heaven and
gloomily awaited the day of judgment for London houses, sublimely
ignoring the axial and orbital velocities of the earth and even the
reckless flight of the whole solar system through space. You felt that
No. 91 was unhappy, and that it could only be rendered happy by a 'To
let' standard in its front patch and a 'No bottles' card in its
cellar-windows. It possessed neither of these specifics. Though of late
generally empty, it was never untenanted. In the entire course of its
genteel and commodious career it had never once been to let.
Go inside, and breathe its atmosphere of a bored house that is generally
empty yet never untenanted. All its twelve rooms dark and forlorn, save
two; its cellar kitchen dark and forlorn; just these two rooms, one on
the top of the other like boxes, pitifully struggling against the
inveterate gloom of the remaining ten! Stand in the dark hall and get
this atmosphere into your lungs.
The principal, the startling thing in the illuminated room on the
ground-floor was a dressing-gown, of the colour, between heliotrope and
purple, known to a previous generation as puce; a quilted garment
stuffed with swansdown, light as hydrogen--nearly, and warm as the smile
of a kind heart; old, perhaps, possibly worn in its outlying regions and
allowing fluffs of feathery white to escape through its satin pores; but
a dressing-gown to dream of. It dominated the unkempt, naked apartment,
its voluptuous folds glittering crudely under the sun-replacing oil lamp
which was set on a cigar-box on the stained deal table. The oil lamp had
a glass reservoir, a chipped chimney, and a cardboard shade, and had
probably cost less than a florin; five florins would have purchased the
table; and all the rest of the furniture, including the arm-chair in
which the dressing-gown reclined, a stool, an easel, three packets of
cigarettes and a trouser-stretcher, might have been replaced for another
ten florins. Up in the corners of the ceiling, obscure in the eclipse of
the cardboard shade, was a complicated system of cobwebs to match the
dust on the bare floor.
Within the dressing-gown there was a man. This man had reached the
interesting age. I mean the age when you think you have shed all the
illusions of infancy, when you think you understand life, and when you
are often occupied in speculating upon the delicious surprises which
existence may hold for you; the age, in sum, that is the most romantic
and tender of all ages--for a male. I mean the age of fifty. An age
absurdly misunderstood by all those who have not reached it! A thrilling
age! Appearances are tragically deceptive.
The inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown had a short greying beard and
moustache; his plenteous hair was passing from pepper into salt; there
were many minute wrinkles in the hollows between his eyes and the fresh
crimson of his cheeks; and the eyes were sad; they were very sad. Had he
stood erect and looked perpendicularly down, he would have perceived,
not his slippers, but a protuberant button of the dressing-gown.
Understand me: I conceal nothing; I admit the figures written in the
measurement-book of his tailor. He was fifty. Yet, like most men of
fifty, he was still very young, and, like most bachelors of fifty, he
was rather helpless. He was quite sure that he had not had the best of
luck. If he had excavated his soul he would have discovered somewhere in
its deeps a wistful, appealing desire to be taken care of, to be
sheltered from the inconveniences and harshness of the world. But he
would not have admitted the discovery. A bachelor of fifty cannot be
expected to admit that he resembles a girl of nineteen. Nevertheless it
is a strange fact that the resemblance between the heart of an
experienced, adventurous bachelor of fifty and the simple heart of a
girl of nineteen is stronger than girls of nineteen imagine; especially
when the bachelor of fifty is sitting solitary and unfriended at two
o'clock in the night, in the forlorn atmosphere of a house that has
outlived its hopes. Bachelors of fifty alone will comprehend me.
It has never been decided what young girls do meditate upon when they
meditate; young girls themselves cannot decide. As a rule the lonely
fancies of middle-aged bachelors are scarcely less amenable to
definition. But the case of the inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown was
an exception to the rule. He knew, and he could have said, precisely
what he was thinking about. In that sad hour and place, his melancholy
thoughts were centred upon the resplendent, unique success in life of a
gifted and glorious being known to nations and newspapers as Priam
_Riches and Renown_
In the days when the New Gallery was new, a picture, signed by the
unknown name of Priam Farll, was exhibited there, and aroused such
terrific interest that for several months no conversation among cultured
persons was regarded as complete without some reference to it. That the
artist was a very great painter indeed was admitted by every one; the
only question which cultured persons felt it their duty to settle was
whether he was the greatest painter that ever lived or merely the
greatest painter since Velasquez. Cultured persons might have continued
to discuss that nice point to the present hour, had it not leaked out
that the picture had been refused by the Royal Academy. The culture of
London then at once healed up its strife and combined to fall on the
Royal Academy as an institution which had no right to exist. The affair
even got into Parliament and occupied three minutes of the imperial
legislature. Useless for the Royal Academy to argue that it had
overlooked the canvas, for its dimensions were seven feet by five; it
represented a policeman, a simple policeman, life-size, and it was not
merely the most striking portrait imaginable, but the first appearance
of the policeman in great art; criminals, one heard, instinctively fled
before it. No! The Royal Academy really could not argue that the work
had been overlooked. And in truth the Royal Academy did not argue
accidental negligence. It did not argue about its own right to exist. It
did not argue at all. It blandly went on existing, and taking about a
hundred and fifty pounds a day in shillings at its polished turnstiles.
No details were obtainable concerning Priam Farll, whose address was
Poste Restante, St. Martin's-le-Grand. Various collectors, animated by
deep faith in their own judgment and a sincere desire to encourage
British art, were anxious to purchase the picture for a few pounds, and
these enthusiasts were astonished and pained to learn that Priam Farll
had marked a figure of L1,000--the price of a rare postage stamp.
In consequence the picture was not sold; and after an enterprising
journal had unsuccessfully offered a reward for the identification of
the portrayed policeman, the matter went gently to sleep while the
public employed its annual holiday as usual in discussing the big
gooseberry of matrimonial relations.
Every one naturally expected that in the following year the mysterious
Priam Farll would, in accordance with the universal rule for a
successful career in British art, contribute another portrait of another
policeman to the New Gallery--and so on for about twenty years, at the
end of which period England would have learnt to recognize him as its
favourite painter of policemen. But Priam Farll contributed nothing to
the New Gallery. He had apparently forgotten the New Gallery: which was
considered to be ungracious, if not ungrateful, on his part. Instead, he
adorned the Paris salon with a large seascape showing penguins in the
foreground. Now these penguins became the penguins of the continental
year; they made penguins the fashionable bird in Paris, and also (twelve
months later) in London. The French Government offered to buy the
picture on behalf of the Republic at its customary price of five hundred
francs, but Priam Farll sold it to the American connoisseur Whitney C.
Whitt for five thousand dollars. Shortly afterwards he sold the
policeman, whom he had kept by him, to the same connoisseur for ten
thousand dollars. Whitney C. Whitt was the expert who had paid two
hundred thousand dollars for a Madonna and St. Joseph, with donor, of
Raphael. The enterprising journal before mentioned calculated that,
counting the space actually occupied on the canvas by the policeman, the
daring connoisseur had expended two guineas per square inch on the
At which stage the vast newspaper public suddenly woke up and demanded
with one voice:
"Who is this Priam Farll?"
Though the query remained unanswered, Priam Farll's reputation was
henceforward absolutely assured, and this in spite of the fact that he
omitted to comply with the regulations ordained by English society for
the conduct of successful painters. He ought, first, to have taken the
elementary precaution of being born in the United States. He ought,
after having refused all interviews for months, to have ultimately
granted a special one to a newspaper with the largest circulation. He
ought to have returned to England, grown a mane and a tufted tail, and
become the king of beasts; or at least to have made a speech at a
banquet about the noble and purifying mission of art. Assuredly he ought
to have painted the portrait of his father or grandfather as an artisan,
to prove that he was not a snob. But no! Not content with making each of
his pictures utterly different from all the others, he neglected all the
above formalities--and yet managed to pile triumph on triumph. There are
some men of whom it may be said that, like a punter on a good day, they
can't do wrong. Priam Farll was one such. In a few years he had become a
legend, a standing side-dish of a riddle. No one knew him; no one saw
him; no one married him. Constantly abroad, he was ever the subject of
conflicting rumours. Parfitts themselves, his London agents, knew naught
of him but his handwriting--on the backs of cheques in four figures.
They sold an average of five large and five small pictures for him every
year. These pictures arrived out of the unknown and the cheques went
into the unknown.
Young artists, mute in admiration before the masterpieces from his brush
which enriched all the national galleries of Europe (save, of course,
that in Trafalgar Square), dreamt of him, worshipped him, and quarrelled
fiercely about him, as the very symbol of glory, luxury and flawless
accomplishment, never conceiving him as a man like themselves, with
boots to lace up, a palette to clean, a beating heart, and an
instinctive fear of solitude.
Finally there came to him the paramount distinction, the last proof that
he was appreciated. The press actually fell into the habit of mentioning
his name without explanatory comment. Exactly as it does not write "Mr.
A.J. Balfour, the eminent statesman," or "Sarah Bernhardt, the renowned
actress," or "Charles Peace, the historic murderer," but simply "Mr.
A.J. Balfour," "Sarah Bernhardt" or "Charles Peace"; so it wrote simply
"Mr. Priam Farll." And no occupant of a smoker in a morning train ever
took his pipe out of his mouth to ask, "What is the johnny?" Greater
honour in England hath no man. Priam Farll was the first English painter
to enjoy this supreme social reward.
And now he was inhabiting the puce dressing-gown.
_The Dreadful Secret_
A bell startled the forlorn house; its loud old-fashioned jangle came
echoingly up the basement stairs and struck the ear of Priam Farll, who
half rose and then sat down again. He knew that it was an urgent summons
to the front door, and that none but he could answer it; and yet he
Leaving Priam Farll, the great and wealthy artist, we return to that far
more interesting person, Priam Farll the private human creature; and
come at once to the dreadful secret of his character, the trait in him
which explained the peculiar circumstances of his life.
As a private human creature, he happened to be shy.
He was quite different from you or me. We never feel secret qualms at
the prospect of meeting strangers, or of taking quarters at a grand
hotel, or of entering a large house for the first time, or of walking
across a room full of seated people, or of dismissing a servant, or of
arguing with a haughty female aristocrat behind a post-office counter,
or of passing a shop where we owe money. As for blushing or hanging
back, or even looking awkward, when faced with any such simple, everyday
acts, the idea of conduct so childish would not occur to us. We behave
naturally under all circumstances--for why should a sane man behave
otherwise? Priam Farll was different. To call the world's attention
visually to the fact of his own existence was anguish to him. But in a
letter he could be absolutely brazen. Give him a pen and he was
Now he knew that he would have to go and open the front door. Both
humanity and self-interest urged him to go instantly. For the visitant
was assuredly the doctor, come at last to see the sick man lying
upstairs. The sick man was Henry Leek, and Henry Leek was Priam Farll's
bad habit. While somewhat of a rascal (as his master guessed), Leek was
a very perfect valet. Like you and me, he was never shy. He always did
the natural thing naturally. He had become, little by little,
indispensable to Priam Farll, the sole means of living communication
between Priam Farll and the universe of men. The master's shyness,
resembling a deer's, kept the pair almost entirely out of England, and,
on their continuous travels, the servant invariably stood between that
sensitive diffidence and the world. Leek saw every one who had to be
seen, and did everything that involved personal contacts. And, being a
bad habit, he had, of course, grown on Priam Farll, and thus, year after
year, for a quarter of a century, Farll's shyness, with his riches and
his glory, had increased. Happily Leek was never ill. That is to say, he
never had been ill, until this day of their sudden incognito arrival in
London for a brief sojourn. He could hardly have chosen a more
inconvenient moment; for in London of all places, in that inherited
house in Selwood Terrace which he so seldom used, Priam Farll could not
carry on daily life without him. It really was unpleasant and disturbing
in the highest degree, this illness of Leek's. The fellow had apparently
caught cold on the night-boat. He had fought the approaches of insidious
disease for several hours, going forth to make purchases and
incidentally consulting a doctor; and then, without warning, in the very
act of making up Farll's couch, he had abandoned the struggle, and,
since his own bed was not ready, he had taken to his master's. He always
did the natural thing naturally. And Farll had been forced to help him
From this point onwards Priam Farll, opulent though he was and
illustrious, had sunk to a tragic impotence. He could do nothing for
himself; and he could do nothing for Leek, because Leek refused both
brandy and sandwiches, and the larder consisted solely of brandy and
sandwiches. The man lay upstairs there, comatose, still, silent, waiting
for the doctor who had promised to pay an evening visit. And the summer
day had darkened into the summer night.
The notion of issuing out into the world and personally obtaining food
for himself or aid for Leek, did genuinely seem to Priam Farll an
impossible notion; he had never done such things. For him a shop was an
impregnable fort garrisoned by ogres. Besides, it would have been
necessary to 'ask,' and 'asking' was the torture of tortures. So he had
wandered, solicitous and helpless, up and down the stairs, until at
length Leek, ceasing to be a valet and deteriorating into a mere human
organism, had feebly yet curtly requested to be just let alone,
asserting that he was right enough. Whereupon the envied of all
painters, the symbol of artistic glory and triumph, had assumed the
valet's notorious puce dressing-gown and established himself in a hard
chair for a night of discomfort.
The bell rang once more, and there was a sharp impressive knock that
reverberated through the forlorn house in a most portentous and
terrifying manner. It might have been death knocking. It engendered the
horrible suspicion, "Suppose he's _seriously_ ill?" Priam Farll sprang
up nervously, braced to meet ringers and knockers.
_Cure for Shyness_
On the other side of the door, dressed in frock coat and silk hat, there
stood hesitating a tall, thin, weary man who had been afoot for exactly
twenty hours, in pursuit of his usual business of curing imaginary
ailments by means of medicine and suggestion, and leaving real ailments
to nature aided by coloured water. His attitude towards the medical
profession was somewhat sardonic, partly because he was convinced that
only the gluttony of South Kensington provided him with a livelihood,
but more because his wife and two fully-developed daughters spent too
much on their frocks. For years, losing sight of the fact that he was an
immortal soul, they had been treating him as a breakfast-in-the-slot
machine: they put a breakfast in the slot, pushed a button of his
waistcoat, and drew out banknotes. For this, he had neither partner, nor
assistant, nor carriage, nor holiday: his wife and daughters could not
afford him these luxuries. He was able, conscientious, chronically
tired, bald and fifty. He was also, strange as it may seem, shy; though
indeed he had grown used to it, as a man gets used to a hollow tooth or
an eel to skinning. No qualities of the young girl's heart about the
heart of Dr. Cashmore! He really did know human nature, and he never
dreamt of anything more paradisaical than a Sunday Pullman escapade to
Priam Farll opened the door which divided these two hesitating men, and
they saw each other by the light of the gas lamp (for the hall was in
"This Mr. Farll's?" asked Dr. Cashmore, with the unintentional asperity
As for Priam, the revelation of his name by Leek shocked him almost into
a sweat. Surely the number of the house should have sufficed.
"Yes," he admitted, half shy and half vexed. "Are you the doctor?"
Dr. Cashmore stepped into the obscurity of the hall.
"How's the invalid going on?"
"I can scarcely tell you," said Priam. "He's in bed, very quiet."
"That's right," said the doctor. "When he came to my surgery this
morning I advised him to go to bed."
Then followed a brief awkward pause, during which Priam Farll coughed
and the doctor rubbed his hands and hummed a fragment of melody.
"By Jove!" the thought flashed through the mind of Farll. "This chap's
shy, I do believe!"
And through the mind of the doctor, "Here's another of 'em, all nerves!"
They both instantly, from sheer good-natured condescension the one to
the other, became at ease. It was as if a spring had been loosed. Priam
shut the door and shut out the ray of the street lamp.
"I'm afraid there's no light here," said he.
"I'll strike a match," said the doctor.
"Thanks very much," said Priam.
The flare of a wax vesta illumined the splendours of the puce
dressing-gown. But Dr. Cashmore did not blench. He could flatter himself
that in the matter of dressing-gowns he had nothing to learn.
"By the way, what's wrong with him, do you think?" Priam Farll inquired
in his most boyish voice.
"Don't know. Chill! He had a loud cardiac murmur. Might be anything.
That's why I said I'd call anyhow to-night. Couldn't come any sooner.
Been on my feet since six o'clock this morning. You know what it
He smiled grimly in his fatigue.
"It's very good of you to come," said Priam Farll with warm, vivacious
sympathy. He had an astonishing gift for imaginatively putting himself
in the place of other people.
"Not at all!" the doctor muttered. He was quite touched. To hide the
fact that he was touched he struck a second match. "Shall we go
In the bedroom a candle was burning on a dusty and empty dressing-table.
Dr. Cashmore moved it to the vicinity of the bed, which was like an
oasis of decent arrangement in the desert of comfortless chamber; then
he stooped to examine the sick valet.
"He's shivering!" exclaimed the doctor softly.
Henry Leek's skin was indeed bluish, though, besides blankets, there was
a considerable apparatus of rugs on the bed, and the night was warm. His
ageing face (for he was the third man of fifty in that room) had an
anxious look. But he made no movement, uttered no word, at sight of the
doctor; just stared, dully. His own difficult breathing alone seemed to
"Any women up?"
The doctor turned suddenly and fiercely on Priam Farll, who started.
"There's only ourselves in the house," he replied.
A person less experienced than Dr. Cashmore in the secret strangenesses
of genteel life in London might have been astonished by this
information. But Dr. Cashmore no more blenched now than he had blenched
at the puce garment.
"Well, hurry up and get some hot water," said he, in a tone dictatorial
and savage. "Quick, now! And brandy! And more blankets! Now don't stand
there, please! Here! I'll go with you to the kitchen. Show me!" He
snatched up the candle, and the expression of his features said, "I can
see you're no good in a crisis."
"It's all up with me, doctor," came a faint whisper from the bed.
"So it is, my boy!" said the doctor under his breath as he tumbled
downstairs in the wake of Priam Farll. "Unless I get something hot into
_Master and Servant_
"Will there have to be an inquest?" Priam Farll asked at 6 a.m.
He had collapsed in the hard chair on the ground-floor. The
indispensable Henry Leek was lost to him for ever. He could not imagine
what would happen to his existence in the future. He could not conceive
himself without Leek. And, still worse, the immediate prospect of
unknown horrors of publicity in connection with the death of Leek
"No!" said the doctor, cheerfully. "Oh no! I was present. Acute double
pneumonia! Sometimes happens like that! I can give a certificate. But of
course you will have to go to the registrar's and register the death."
Even without an inquest, he saw that the affair would be unthinkably
distressing. He felt that it would kill him, and he put his hand to his
"Where are Mr. Farll's relatives to be found?" the doctor asked.
"Mr. Farll's relatives?" Priam Farll repeated without comprehending.
Then he understood. Dr. Cashmore thought that Henry Leek's name was
Farll! And all the sensitive timidity in Priam Farll's character seized
swiftly at the mad chance of escape from any kind of public appearance
as Priam Farll. Why should he not let it be supposed that he, and not
Henry Leek, had expired suddenly in Selwood Terrace at 5 a.m. He would
be free, utterly free!
"Yes," said the doctor. "They must be informed, naturally."
Priam's mind ran rapidly over the catalogue of his family. He could
think of no one nearer than a certain Duncan Farll, a second cousin.
"I don't think he had any," he replied in a voice that trembled with
excitement at the capricious rashness of what he was doing. "Perhaps
there were distant cousins. But Mr. Farll never talked of them."
Which was true.
He could scarcely articulate the words 'Mr Farll.' But when they were
out of his mouth he felt that the deed was somehow definitely done.
The doctor gazed at Priam's hands, the rough, coarsened hands of a
painter who is always messing in oils and dust.
"Pardon me," said the doctor. "I presume you are his valet--or--"
"Yes," said Priam Farll.
That set the seal.
"What was your master's full name?" the doctor demanded.
And Priam Farll shivered.
"Priam Farll," said he weakly.
"Not _the_--?" loudly exclaimed the doctor, whom the hazards of life in
London had at last staggered.
"Well, well!" The doctor gave vent to his feelings. The truth was that
this particular hazard of life in London pleased him, flattered him,
made him feel important in the world, and caused him to forget his
fatigue and his wrongs.
He saw that the puce dressing-gown contained a man who was at the end of
his tether, and with that good nature of his which no hardships had been
able to destroy, he offered to attend to the preliminary formalities.
Then he went.
_A Month's Wages_
Priam Farll had no intention of falling asleep; his desire was to
consider the position which he had so rashly created for himself; but he
did fall asleep--and in the hard chair! He was awakened by a tremendous
clatter, as if the house was being bombarded and there were bricks
falling about his ears. When he regained all his senses this bombardment
resolved itself into nothing but a loud and continued assault on the
front door. He rose, and saw a frowsy, dishevelled, puce-coloured figure
in the dirty mirror over the fireplace. And then, with stiff limbs, he
directed his sleepy feet towards the door.
Dr. Cashmore was at the door, and still another man of fifty, a
stern-set, blue-chinned, stoutish person in deep and perfect mourning,
including black gloves.
This person gazed coldly at Priam Farll.
"Ah!" ejaculated the mourner.
And stepped in, followed by Dr. Cashmore.
In achieving the inner mat the mourner perceived a white square on the
floor. He picked it up and carefully examined it, and then handed it to
"I suppose this is for you," said he.
Priam, accepting the envelope, saw that it was addressed to "Henry Leek,
Esq., 91 Selwood Terrace, S.W.," in a woman's hand.
"It _is_ for you, isn't it?" pursued the mourner in an inflexible voice.
"Yes," said Priam.
"I am Mr. Duncan Farll, a solicitor, a cousin of your late employer,"
the metallic voice continued, coming through a set of large, fine, white
teeth. "What arrangements have you made during the day?"
Priam stammered: "None. I've been asleep."
"You aren't very respectful," said Duncan Farll.
So this was his second cousin, whom he had met, once only, as a boy!
Never would he have recognized Duncan. Evidently it did not occur to
Duncan to recognize him. People are apt to grow unrecognizable in the
course of forty years.
Duncan Farll strode about the ground-floor of the house, and on the
threshold of each room ejaculated "Ah!" or "Ha!" Then he and the doctor
went upstairs. Priam remained inert, and excessively disturbed, in the
At length Duncan Farll descended.
"Come in here, Leek," said Duncan.
And Priam meekly stepped after him into the room where the hard chair
was. Duncan Farll took the hard chair.
"What are your wages?"
Priam sought to remember how much he had paid Henry Leek.
"A hundred a year," said he.
"Ah! A good wage. When were you last paid?"
Priam remembered that he had paid Leek two days ago.
"The day before yesterday," said he.
"I must say again you are not very respectful," Duncan observed, drawing
forth his pocket-book. "However, here is L8 7_s_., a month's wages in
lieu of notice. Put your things together, and go. I shall have no
further use for you. I will make no observations of any kind. But be
good enough to _dress_--it is three o'clock--and leave the house at
once. Let me see your box or boxes before you go."
When, an hour later, in the gloaming, Priam Farll stood on the wrong
side of his own door, with Henry Leek's heavy kit-bag and Henry Leek's
tin trunk flanking him on either hand, he saw that events in his career
were moving with immense rapidity. He had wanted to be free, and free he
was. Quite free! But it appeared to him very remarkable that so much
could happen, in so short a time, as the result of a mere momentary
* * * * *
Sticking out of the pocket of Leek's light overcoat was a folded copy of
the _Daily Telegraph_. Priam Farll was something of a dandy, and like
all right-thinking dandies and all tailors, he objected to the suave
line of a garment being spoilt by a free utilization of pockets. The
overcoat itself, and the suit beneath, were quite good; for, though they
were the property of the late Henry Leek, they perfectly fitted Priam
Farll and had recently belonged to him, Leek having been accustomed to
clothe himself entirely from his master's wardrobe. The dandy absently
drew forth the _Telegraph_, and the first thing that caught his eye was
this: "A beautiful private hotel of the highest class. Luxuriously
furnished. Visitor's comfort studied. Finest position in London. Cuisine
a speciality. Quiet. Suitable for persons of superior rank. Bathroom.
Electric light. Separate tables. No irritating extras. Single rooms from
2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly. 250 Queen's Gate." And
below this he saw another piece of news: "Not a boarding-house. A
magnificent mansion. Forty bedrooms by Waring. Superb public saloons by
Maple. Parisian chef. Separate tables. Four bathrooms. Card-room,
billiard-room, vast lounge. Young, cheerful, musical society. Bridge
(small). Special sanitation. Finest position in London. No irritating
extras. Single rooms from 2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly.
Phone 10,073 Western. Trefusis Mansion, W."
At that moment a hansom cab came ambling down Selwood Terrace.
Impulsively he hailed it.
"'Ere, guv'nor," said the cabman, seeing with an expert eye that Priam
Farll was unaccustomed to the manipulation of luggage. "Give this 'ere
Hackenschmidt a copper to lend ye a hand. You're only a light weight."
A small and emaciated boy, with the historic remains of a cigarette in
his mouth, sprang like a monkey up the steps, and, not waiting to be
asked, snatched the trunk from Priam's hands. Priam gave him one of
Leek's sixpences for his feats of strength, and the boy spat generously
on the coin, at the same time, by a strange skill, clinging to the
cigarette with his lower lip. Then the driver lifted the reins with a
noble gesture, and Priam had to be decisive and get into the cab.
"250 Queen's Gate," said he.
As, keeping his head to one side to avoid the reins, he gave the
direction across the roof of the cab to the attentive cocked ear of the
cabman, he felt suddenly that he had regained his nationality, that he
was utterly English, in an atmosphere utterly English. The hansom was
like home after the wilderness.
He had chosen 250 Queen's Gate because it appeared the abode of
tranquillity and discretion. He felt that he might sink into 250 Queen's
Gate as into a feather bed. The other palace intimidated him. It
recalled the terrors of a continental hotel. In his wanderings he had
suffered much from the young, cheerful and musical society of bright
hotels, and bridge (small) had no attraction for him.
As the cab tinkled through canyons of familiar stucco, he looked further
at the _Telegraph_. He was rather surprised to find more than a column
of enticing palaces, each in the finest position in London; London, in
fact, seemed to be one unique, glorious position. And it was so welcome,
so receptive, so wishful to make a speciality of your comfort, your
food, your bath, your sanitation! He remembered the old boarding-houses
of the eighties. Now all was changed, for the better. The _Telegraph_
was full of the better, crammed and packed with tight columns of it. The
better burst aspiringly from the tops of columns on the first page and
outsoared the very title of the paper. He saw there, for instance, to
the left of the title, a new, refined tea-house in Piccadilly Circus,
owned and managed by gentlewomen, where you had real tea and real
bread-and butter and real cakes in a real drawing-room. It was
The cab stopped.
"Is this it?" he asked the driver.
"This is 250, sir."
And it was. But it did not resemble even a private hotel. It exactly
resembled a private house, narrow and tall and squeezed in between its
sister and its brother. Priam Farll was puzzled, till the solution
occurred to him. "Of course," he said to himself. "This is the quietude,
the discretion. I shall like this." He jumped down.
"I'll keep you," he threw to the cabman, in the proper phrase (which he
was proud to recall from his youth), as though the cabman had been
something which he had ordered on approval.
There were two bell-knobs. He pulled one, and waited for the portals to
open on discreet vistas of luxurious furniture. No response! Just as he
was consulting the _Telegraph_ to make sure of the number, the door
silently swung back, and disclosed the figure of a middle-aged woman in
black silk, who regarded him with a stern astonishment.
"Is this----?" he began, nervous and abashed by her formidable stare.
"Were you wanting rooms?" she asked.
"Yes," said he. "I was. If I could just see----"
"Will you come in?" she said. And her morose face, under stringent
commands from her brain, began an imitation of a smile which, as an
imitation, was wonderful. It made you wonder how she had ever taught her
face to do it.
Priam Farll found himself blushing on a Turkey carpet, and a sort of
cathedral gloom around him. He was disconcerted, but the Turkey carpet
assured him somewhat. As his eyes grew habituated to the light he saw
that the cathedral was very narrow, and that instead of the choir was a
staircase, also clothed in Turkey carpet. On the lowest step reposed an
object whose nature he could not at first determine.
"Would it be for long?" the lips opposite him muttered cautiously.
His reply--the reply of an impulsive, shy nature--was to rush out of the
palace. He had identified the object on the stairs. It was a slop-pail
with a wrung cloth on its head.
He felt profoundly discouraged and pessimistic. All his energy had left
him. London had become hard, hostile, cruel, impossible. He longed for
Leek with a great longing.
An hour later, having at the kind suggestion of the cabman deposited
Leek's goods at the cloak-room of South Kensington Station, he was
wandering on foot out of old London into the central ring of new London,
where people never do anything except take the air in parks, lounge in
club-windows, roll to and fro in peculiar vehicles that have ventured
out without horses and are making the best of it, buy flowers and
Egyptian cigarettes, look at pictures, and eat and drink. Nearly all the
buildings were higher than they used to be, and the street wider; and at
intervals of a hundred yards or so cranes that rent the clouds and
defied the law of gravity were continually swinging bricks and marble
into the upper layers of the air. Violets were on sale at every corner,
and the atmosphere was impregnated with an intoxicating perfume of
methylated spirits. Presently he arrived at an immense arched facade
bearing principally the legend 'Tea,' and he saw within hundreds of
persons sipping tea; and next to that was another arched facade bearing
principally the word 'Tea,' and he saw within more hundreds sipping tea;
and then another; and then another; and then suddenly he came to an open
circular place that seemed vaguely familiar.
"By Jove!" he said. "This is Piccadilly Circus!"
And just at that moment, over a narrow doorway, he perceived the image
of a green tree, and the words, 'The Elm Tree.' It was the entrance to
the Elm Tree Tea Rooms, so well spoken of in the _Telegraph_. In certain
ways he was a man of advanced and humane ideas, and the thought of
delicately nurtured needy gentlewomen bravely battling with the world
instead of starving as they used to starve in the past, appealed to his
chivalry. He determined to assist them by taking tea in the advertised
drawing-room. Gathering together his courage, he penetrated into a
corridor lighted by pink electricity, and then up pink stairs. A pink
door stopped him at last. It might have hid mysterious and questionable
things, but it said laconically 'Push,' and he courageously pushed... He
was in a kind of boudoir thickly populated with tables and chairs. The
swift transmigration from the blatant street to a drawing-room had a
startling effect on him: it caused him to whip off his hat as though his
hat had been red hot. Except for two tall elegant creatures who stood
together at the other end of the boudoir, the chairs and tables had the
place to themselves. He was about to stammer an excuse and fly, when one
of the gentlewomen turned her eye on him for a moment, and so he sat
down. The gentlewomen then resumed their conversation. He glanced
cautiously about him. Elm-trees, firmly rooted in a border of Indian
matting, grew round all the walls in exotic profusion, and their topmost
branches splashed over on to the ceiling. A card on the trunk of a tree,
announcing curtly, "Dogs not allowed," seemed to enhearten him. After a
pause one of the gentlewomen swam haughtily towards him and looked him
between the eyes. She spoke no word, but her firm, austere glance said:
"Now, out with it, and see you behave yourself!"
He had been ready to smile chivalrously. But the smile was put to sudden
"Some tea, please," he said faintly, and his intimidated tone said, "If
it isn't troubling you too much."
"What do you want with it?" asked the gentlewoman abruptly, and as he
was plainly at a loss she added, "Crumpets or tea-cake?"
"Tea-cake," he replied, though he hated tea-cake. But he was afraid.
"You've escaped this time," said the drapery of her muslins as she swam
from his sight. "But no nonsense while I'm away!"
When she sternly and mutely thrust the refection before him, he found
that everything on the table except the tea-cakes and the spoon was
After one cup and one slice, when the tea had become stewed and
undrinkable, and the tea-cake a material suitable for the manufacture of
shooting boots, he resumed, at any rate partially, his presence of mind,
and remembered that he had done nothing positively criminal in entering
the boudoir or drawing-room and requesting food in return for money.
Besides, the gentlewomen were now pretending to each other that he did
not exist, and no other rash persons had been driven by hunger into the
virgin forest of elm-trees. He began to meditate, and his meditations
taking--for him--an unusual turn, caused him surreptitiously to examine
Henry Leek's pocket-book (previously only known to him by sight). He had
not for many years troubled himself concerning money, but the discovery
that, when he had paid for the deposit of luggage at the cloak-room, a
solitary sovereign rested in the pocket of Leek's trousers, had
suggested to him that it would be advisable sooner or later to consider
the financial aspect of existence.
There were two banknotes for ten pounds each in Leek's pocket-book; also
five French banknotes of a thousand francs each, and a number of Italian
banknotes of small denominations: the equivalent of two hundred and
thirty pounds altogether, not counting a folded inch-rule, some postage
stamps, and a photograph of a pleasant-faced woman of forty or so. This
sum seemed neither vast nor insignificant to Priam Farll. It seemed to
him merely a tangible something which would enable him to banish the
fiscal question from his mind for an indefinite period. He scarcely even
troubled to wonder what Leek was doing with over two years of Leek's
income in his pocket-book. He knew, or at least he with certainty
guessed, that Leek had been a rascal. Still, he had had a sort of grim,
cynical affection for Leek. And the thought that Leek would never again
shave him, nor tell him in accents that brooked no delay that his hair
must be cut, nor register his luggage and secure his seat on
long-distance expresses, filled him with very real melancholy. He did
not feel sorry for Leek, nor say to himself "Poor Leek!" Nobody who had
had the advantage of Leek's acquaintance would have said "Poor Leek!"
For Leek's greatest speciality had always been the speciality of looking
after Leek, and wherever Leek might be it was a surety that Leek's
interests would not suffer. Therefore Priam Farll's pity was mainly
And though his dignity had been considerably damaged during the final
moments at Selwood Terrace, there was matter for congratulation. The
doctor, for instance, had shaken hands with him at parting; had shaken
hands openly, in the presence of Duncan Farll: a flattering tribute to
his personality. But the chief of Priam Farll's satisfactions in that
desolate hour was that he had suppressed himself, that for the world he
existed no more. I shall admit frankly that this satisfaction nearly
outweighed his grief. He sighed--and it was a sigh of tremendous relief.
For now, by a miracle, he would be free from the menace of Lady Sophia
Entwistle. Looking back in calmness at the still recent Entwistle
episode in Paris--the real originating cause of his sudden flight to
London--he was staggered by his latent capacity for downright, impulsive
foolishness. Like all shy people he had fits of amazing audacity--and
his recklessness usually took the form of making himself agreeable to
women whom he encountered in travel (he was much less shy with women
than with men). But to propose marriage to a weather-beaten haunter of
hotels like Lady Sophia Entwistle, and to reveal his identity to her,
and to allow her to accept his proposal--the thing had been unimaginably
And now he was free, for he was dead.
He was conscious of a chill in the spine as he dwelt on the awful fate
which he had escaped. He, a man of fifty, a man of set habits, a man
habituated to the liberty of the wild stag, to bow his proud neck under
the solid footwear of Lady Sophia Entwistle!
Yes, there was most decidedly a silver lining to the dark cloud of
Leek's translation to another sphere of activity.
In replacing the pocket-book his hand encountered the letter which had
arrived for Leek in the morning. Arguing with himself whether he ought
to open it, he opened it. It ran: "Dear Mr. Leek, I am so glad to have
your letter, and I think the photograph is most gentlemanly. But I do
wish you would not write with a typewriter. You don't know how this
affects a woman, or you wouldn't do it. However, I shall be so glad to
meet you now, as you suggest. Suppose we go to Maskelyne and Cook's
together to-morrow afternoon (Saturday). You know it isn't the Egyptian
Hall any more. It is in St. George's Hall, I think. But you will see it
in the _Telegraph_; also the time. I will be there when the doors open.
You will recognize me from my photograph; but I shall wear red roses in
my hat. So _au revoir_ for the present. Yours sincerely, Alice Challice.
P.S.--There are always a lot of dark parts at Maskelyne and Cook's. I
must ask you to behave as a gentleman should. Excuse me. I merely
mention it in case.--A. C."
Infamous Leek! Here was at any rate one explanation of a mysterious
little typewriter which the valet had always carried, but which Priam
had left at Selwood Terrace.
Priam glanced at the photograph in the pocket-book; and also, strange to
say, at the _Telegraph_.
A lady with three children burst into the drawing-room, and instantly
occupied the whole of it; the children cried "Mathaw!" "Mathah!"
"Mathaw!" in shrill tones of varied joy. As one of the gentlewomen
passed near him, he asked modestly--
"How much, please?"
She dropped a flake of paper on to his table without arresting her
course, and said warningly:
"You pay at the desk."
When he hit on the desk, which was hidden behind a screen of elm-trees,
he had to face a true aristocrat--and not in muslins, either. If the
others were the daughters of earls, this was the authentic countess in a
He put down Leek's sovereign.
"Haven't you anything smaller?" snapped the countess.
"I'm sorry I haven't," he replied.
She picked up the sovereign scornfully, and turned it over.
"It's very awkward," she muttered.
Then she unlocked two drawers, and unwillingly gave him eighteen and
sixpence in silver and copper, without another word and without looking
"Thank you," said he, pocketing it nervously.
And, amid reiterated cries of "Mathah!" "Mathaw!" "Mathah!" he hurried
away, unregarded, unregretted, splendidly repudiated by these delicate
refined creatures who were struggling for a livelihood in a great city.
"I suppose you are Mr. Leek, aren't you?" a woman greeted him as he
stood vaguely hesitant outside St. George's Hall, watching the afternoon
audience emerge. He started back, as though the woman with her trace of
Cockney accent had presented a revolver at his head. He was very much
afraid. It may reasonably be asked what he was doing up at St. George's
Hall. The answer to this most natural question touches the deepest
springs of human conduct. There were two men in Priam Farll. One was the
shy man, who had long ago persuaded himself that he actually preferred
not to mix with his kind, and had made a virtue of his cowardice. The
other was a doggish, devil-may-care fellow who loved dashing adventures
and had a perfect passion for free intercourse with the entire human
race. No. 2 would often lead No. 1 unsuspectingly forward to a difficult
situation from which No. 1, though angry and uncomfortable, could not
Thus it was No. 2 who with the most casual air had wandered up Regent
Street, drawn by the slender chance of meeting a woman with red roses in
her hat; and it was No. 1 who had to pay the penalty. Nobody could have
been more astonished than No. 2 at the fulfillment of No. 2's secret
yearning for novelty. But the innocent sincerity of No. 2's astonishment
gave no aid to No. 1.
Farll raised his hat, and at the same moment perceived the roses. He
might have denied the name of Leek and fled, but he did not. Though his
left leg was ready to run, his right leg would not stir.
Then he was shaking hands with her. But how had she identified him?
"I didn't really expect you," said the lady, always with a slight
Cockney accent. "But I thought how silly it would be for me to miss the
vanishing trick just because you couldn't come. So in I went, by
"Why didn't you expect me?" he asked diffidently.
"Well," she said, "Mr. Farll being dead, I knew you'd have a lot to do,
besides being upset like."
"Oh yes," he said quickly, feeling that he must be more careful; for he
had quite forgotten that Mr. Farll was dead. "How did you know?"
"How did I know!" she cried. "Well, I like that! Look anywhere! It's all
over London, has been these six hours." She pointed to a ragged man who
was wearing an orange-coloured placard by way of apron. On the placard
was printed in large black letters: "Sudden death of Priam Farll in
London. Special Memoir." Other ragged men, also wearing aprons, but of
different colours, similarly proclaimed by their attire that Priam Farll
was dead. And people crowding out of St. George's Hall were continually
buying newspapers from these middlemen of tidings.
He blushed. It was singular that he could have walked even half-an-hour
in Central London without noticing that his own name flew in the summer
breeze of every street. But so it had been. He was that sort of man. Now
he understood how Duncan Farll had descended upon Selwood Terrace.
"You don't mean to say you didn't _see_ those posters?" she demanded.
"I didn't," he said simply.
"That shows how you must have been thinking!" said she. "Was he a good
"Yes, very good," said Priam Farll with conviction.
"I see you're not in mourning."
"No. That is----"
"I don't hold with mourning myself," she proceeded. "They say it's to
show respect. But it seems to me that if you can't show your respect
without a pair of black gloves that the dye's always coming off... I
don't know what you think, but I never did hold with mourning. It's
grumbling against Providence, too! Not but what I think there's a good
deal too much talk about Providence. I don't know what you think,
"I quite agree with you," he said, with a warm generous smile which
sometimes rushed up and transformed his face before he was aware of the
And she smiled also, gazing at him half confidentially. She was a little
woman, stoutish--indeed, stout; puffy red cheeks; a too remarkable white
cotton blouse; and a crimson skirt that hung unevenly; grey cotton
gloves; a green sunshade; on the top of all this the black hat with red
roses. The photograph in Leek's pocket-book must have been taken in the
past. She looked quite forty-five, whereas the photograph indicated
thirty-nine and a fraction. He gazed down at her protectively, with a
good-natured appreciative condescension.
"I suppose you'll have to be going back again soon, to arrange things
like," she said. It was always she who kept the conversation afloat.
"No," he said. "I've finished there. They've dismissed me."
He shook his head.
"I hope you made them pay you your month," said she firmly.
He was glad to be able to give a satisfactory answer.
After a pause she resumed bravely:
"So Mr. Farll was one of these artists? At least so I see according to
"It's a very funny business," she said. "But I suppose there's some of
them make quite a nice income out of it. _You_ ought to know about that,
being in it, as it were."
Never in his life had he conversed on such terms with such a person as
Mrs. Alice Challice. She was in every way a novelty for him--in clothes,
manners, accent, deportment, outlook on the world and on paint. He had
heard and read of such beings as Mrs. Alice Challice, and now he was in
direct contact with one of them. The whole affair struck him as
excessively odd, as a mad escapade on his part. Wisdom in him deemed it
ridiculous to prolong the encounter, but shy folly could not break
loose. Moreover she possessed the charm of her novelty; and there was
that in her which challenged the male in him.
"Well," she said, "I suppose we can't stand here for ever!"
The crowd had frittered itself away, and an attendant was closing and
locking the doors of St. George's Hall. He coughed.
"It's a pity it's Saturday and all the shops closed. But anyhow suppose
we walk along Oxford Street all the same? Shall we?" This from her.
"By all means."
"Now there's one thing I should like to say," she murmured with a calm
smile as they moved off. "You've no occasion to be shy with me. There's
no call for it. I'm just as you see me."
"Shy!" he exclaimed, genuinely surprised. "Do I seem shy to you?" He
thought he had been magnificently doggish.
"Oh, well," she said. "That's all right, then, if you _aren't._ I should
take it as a poor compliment, being shy with me. Where do you think we
can have a good talk? I'm free for the evening. I don't know about you."
Her eyes questioned his.
At a late hour, they were entering, side by side, a glittering
establishment whose interior seemed to be walled chiefly in bevelled
glass, so that everywhere the curious observer saw himself and twisted
fractions of himself. The glass was relieved at frequent intervals by
elaborate enamelled signs which repeated, 'No gratuities.' It seemed
that the directors of the establishment wished to make perfectly clear
to visitors that, whatever else they might find, they must on no account
"I've always wanted to come here," said Mrs. Alice Challice vivaciously,
glancing up at Priam Farll's modest, middle-aged face.
Then, after they had successfully passed through a preliminary pair of
bevelled portals, a huge man dressed like a policeman, and achieving a
very successful imitation of a policeman, stretched out his hand, and
"In line, please," he said.
"I thought it was a restaurant, not a theatre," Priam whispered to Mrs.
"So it is a restaurant," said his companion. "But I hear they're obliged
to do like this because there's always such a crowd. It's very 'andsome,
He agreed that it was. He felt that London had got a long way in front
of him and that he would have to hurry a great deal before he could
catch it up.
At length another imitation of a policeman opened more doors and, with
other sinners, they were released from purgatory into a clattering
paradise, which again offered everything save gratuities. They were
conducted to a small table full of dirty plates and empty glasses in a
corner of the vast and lofty saloon. A man in evening dress whose eye
said, "Now mind, no insulting gratuities!" rushed past the table and in
one deft amazing gesture swept off the whole of its contents and was
gone with them. It was an astounding feat, and when Priam recovered from
his amazement he fell into another amazement on discovering that by some
magic means the man in evening dress had insinuated a gold-charactered
menu into his hands. This menu was exceedingly long--it comprised
everything except gratuities--and, evidently knowing from experience
that it was not a document to be perused and exhausted in five minutes,
the man in evening dress took care not to interrupt the studies of Priam
Farll and Alice Challice during a full quarter of an hour. Then he
returned like a bolt, put them through an examination in the menu, and
fled, and when he was gone they saw that the table was set with a clean
cloth and instruments and empty glasses. A band thereupon burst into gay
strains, like the band at a music-hall after something very difficult on
the horizontal bar. And it played louder and louder; and as it played
louder, so the people talked louder. And the crash of cymbals mingled
with the crash of plates, and the altercations of knives and forks with
the shrill accents of chatterers determined to be heard. And men in
evening dress (a costume which seemed to be forbidden to sitters at
tables) flitted to and fro with inconceivable rapidity, austere,
preoccupied conjurers. And from every marble wall, bevelled mirror, and
Doric column, there spoke silently but insistently the haunting legend,
Thus Priam Farll began his first public meal in modern London. He knew
the hotels; he knew the restaurants, of half-a-dozen countries, but he
had never been so overwhelmed as he was here. Remembering London as a
city of wooden chop-houses, he could scarcely eat for the thoughts that
surged through his brain.
"Isn't it amusing?" said Mrs. Challice benignantly, over a glass of
lager. "I'm so glad you brought me here. I've always wanted to come."
And then, a few minutes afterwards, she was saying, against the immense
"You know, I've been thinking for years of getting married again. And if
you really _are_ thinking of getting married, what are you to do? You
may sit in a chair and wait till eggs are sixpence a dozen, and you'll
be no nearer. You must do something. And what is there except a
matrimonial agency? I say--what's the matter with a matrimonial agency,
anyhow? If you want to get married, you want to get married, and it's no
use pretending you don't. I do hate pretending, I do. No shame in
wanting to get married, is there? I think a matrimonial agency is a very
good, useful thing. They say you're swindled. Well, those that are
deserve to be. You can be swindled without a matrimonial agency, seems
to me. Not that I've ever been. Plain common-sense people never are. No,
if you ask me, matrimonial agencies are the most sensible things--after
dress-shields--that's ever been invented. And I'm sure if anything comes
of this, I shall pay the fees with the greatest pleasure. Now don't you
agree with me?"
The whole mystery stood explained.
"Absolutely!" he said.
And felt the skin creeping in the small of his back.
* * * * *
From the moment of Mrs. Challice's remarks in favour of matrimonial
agencies Priam Farll's existence became a torture to him. She was what
he had always been accustomed to think of as "a very decent woman"; but
really...! The sentence is not finished because Priam never finished it
in his own mind. Fifty times he conducted the sentence as far as
'really,' and there it dissolved into an uncomfortable cloud.
"I suppose we shall have to be going," said she, when her ice had been
eaten and his had melted.
"Yes," said he, and added to himself, "But where?"
However, it would be a relief to get out of the restaurant, and he
called for the bill.
While they were waiting for the bill the situation grew more strained.
Priam was aware of a desire to fling down sovereigns on the table and
rush wildly away. Even Mrs. Challice, vaguely feeling this, had a
difficulty in conversing.
"You _are_ like your photograph!" she remarked, glancing at his face
which--it should be said--had very much changed within half-an-hour. He
had a face capable of a hundred expressions per day. His present
expression was one of his anxious expressions, medium in degree. It can
be figured in the mask of a person who is locked up in an iron
strongroom, and, feeling ill at ease, notices that the walls are getting
red-hot at the corners.
"Like my photograph?" he exclaimed, astonished that he should resemble
"Yes," she asseverated stoutly. "I knew you at once. Especially by the
"Have you got it here?" he asked, interested to see what portrait of
Leek had a nose like his own.
And she pulled out of her handbag a photograph, not of Leek, but of
Priam Farll. It was an unmounted print of a negative which he and Leek
had taken together for the purposes of a pose in a picture, and it had
decidedly a distinguished appearance. But why should Leek dispatch
photographs of his master to strange ladies introduced through a
matrimonial agency? Priam Farll could not imagine--unless it was from
sheer unscrupulous, careless bounce.
She gazed at the portrait with obvious joy.
"Now, candidly, don't _you_ think it's very, very good?" she demanded.
"I suppose it is," he agreed. He would probably have given two hundred
pounds for the courage to explain to her in a few well-chosen words that
there had been a vast mistake, a huge impulsive indiscretion. But two
hundred thousand pounds would not have bought that courage.
"I love it," she ejaculated fervently--with heat, and yet so nicely! And
she returned the photograph to her little bag.
She lowered her voice.
"You haven't told me whether you were ever married. I've been waiting
He blushed. She was disconcertingly personal.
"No," he said.
"And you've always lived like that, alone like; no home; travelling
about; no one to look after you, properly?" There was distress in her
He nodded. "One gets accustomed to it."
"Oh yes," she said. "I can understand that."
"No responsibilities," he added.
"No. I can understand all that." Then she hesitated. "But I do feel so
sorry for you... all these years!"
And her eyes were moist, and her tone was so sincere that Priam Farll
found it quite remarkably affecting. Of course she was talking about
Henry Leek, the humble valet, and not about Leek's illustrious master.
But Priam saw no difference between his lot and that of Leek. He felt
that there was no essential difference, and that, despite Leek's
multiple perfections as a valet, he never had been looked
after--properly. Her voice made him feel just as sorry for himself as
she was sorry for him; it made him feel that she had a kind heart, and
that a kind heart was the only thing on earth that really mattered. Ah!
If Lady Sophia Entwistle had spoken to him in such accents...!
The bill came. It was so small that he was ashamed to pay it. The
suppression of gratuities enabled the monarch of this bevelled palace to
offer a complete dinner for about the same price as a thimbleful of tea
and ten drachms of cake a few yards away. Happily the monarch,
foreseeing his shame, had arranged a peculiar method of payment through
a little hole, where the receiver could see nothing but his blushing
hands. As for the conjurers in evening dress, they apparently never
soiled themselves by contact with specie.
Outside on the pavement, he was at a loss what to do. You see, he was
entirely unfamiliar with Mrs. Challice's code of etiquette.
"Would you care to go to the Alhambra or somewhere?" he suggested,
having a notion that this was the correct thing to say to a lady whose
presence near you was directly due to her desire for marriage.
"It's very good of you," said she. "But I'm sure you only say it out of
kindness--because you're a gentleman. It wouldn't be quite nice for you
to go to a music-hall to-night. I know I said I was free for the
evening, but I wasn't thinking. It wasn't a hint--no, truly! I think I
shall go home--and perhaps some other----"
"I shall see you home," said he quickly. Impulsive, again!
"Would you really like to? Can you?" In the bluish glare of an
electricity that made the street whiter than day, she blushed. Yes, she
blushed like a girl.
She led him up a side-street where was a kind of railway station
unfamiliar to Priam Farll's experience, tiled like a butcher's shop and
as clean as Holland. Under her direction he took tickets for a station
whose name he had never heard of, and then they passed through steel
railings which clacked behind them into a sort of safe deposit, from
which the only emergence was a long dim tunnel. Painted hands, pointing
to the mysterious word 'lifts,' waved you onwards down this tunnel.
"Hurry up, please," came a voice out of the spectral gloom. Mrs.
Challice thereupon ran. Now up the tunnel, opposing all human progress
there blew a steady trade-wind of tremendous force. Immediately Priam
began to run the trade-wind removed his hat, which sailed buoyantly back
towards the street. He was after it like a youth of twenty, and he
recaptured it. But when he reached the extremity of the tunnel his
amazed eyes saw nothing but a great cage of human animals pressed
tightly together behind bars. There Was a click, and the whole cage sank
from his sight into the earth.
He felt that there was more than he had dreamt of in the city of
miracles. In a couple of minutes another cage rose into the tunnel at a
different point, vomited its captives and descended swiftly again with
Priam and many others, and threw him and the rest out into a white mine
consisting of numberless galleries. He ran about these interminable
galleries underneath London, at the bidding of painted hands, for a
considerable time, and occasionally magic trains without engines swept
across his vision. But he could not find even the spirit of Mrs. Alice
Challice in this nether world.
On letter-paper headed "Grand Babylon Hotel, London," he was writing in
a disguised backward hand a note to the following effect: "Duncan Farll,
Esq. Sir,--If any letters or telegrams arrive for me at Selwood Terrace,
be good enough to have them forwarded to me at once to the above
address.--Yours truly, H. Leek." It cost him something to sign the name
of the dead man; but he instinctively guessed that Duncan Farll might be
a sieve which (owing to its legal-mindedness) would easily get clogged
up even by a slight suspicion. Hence, in order to be sure of receiving a
possible letter or telegram from Mrs. Challice, he must openly label
himself as Henry Leek. He had lost Mrs. Challice; there was no address
on her letter; he only knew that she lived at or near Putney, and the
sole hope of finding her again lay in the fact that she had the Selwood
Terrace address. He wanted to find her again; he desired that ardently,
if merely to explain to her that their separation was due to a sudden
caprice of his hat, and that he had searched for her everywhere in the
mine, anxiously, desperately. She would surely not imagine that he had
slipped away from her on purpose? No! And yet, if incapable of such an
enormity, why had she not waited for him on one of the platforms?
However, he hoped for the best. The best was a telegram; the second-best
a letter. On receipt of which he would fly to her to explain.... And
besides, he wanted to see her--simply. Her answer to his suggestion of a
music-hall, and the tone of it, had impressed him. And her remark, "I do
feel so sorry for you all these years," had--well, somewhat changed his
whole outlook on life. Yes, he wanted to see her in order to satisfy
himself that he had her respect. A woman impossible socially, a woman
with strange habits and tricks of manner (no doubt there were millions
such); but a woman whose respect one would not forfeit without a
He had been pushed to an extremity, forced to act with swiftness, upon
losing her. And he had done the thing that comes most naturally to a
life-long traveller. He had driven to the best hotel in the town. (He
had seen in a flash that the idea of inhabiting any private hotel
whatever was a silly idea.) And now he was in a large bedroom
over-looking the Thames--a chamber with a writing-desk, a sofa, five
electric lights, two easy-chairs, a telephone, electric bells, and a
massive oak door with a lock and a key in the lock; in short, his
castle! An enterprise of some daring to storm the castle: but he had
stormed it. He had registered under the name of Leek, a name
sufficiently common not to excite remark, and the floor-valet had proved
to be an admirable young man. He trusted to the floor-valet and to the
telephone for avoiding any rough contact with the world. He felt
comparatively safe now; the entire enormous hotel was a nest for his
shyness, a conspiracy to keep him in cotton-wool. He was an autocratic
number, absolute ruler over Room 331, and with the right to command the
almost limitless resources of the Grand Babylon for his own private
As he sealed the envelope he touched a bell.
The valet entered.
"You've got the evening papers?" asked Priam Farll.
"Yes, sir." The valet put a pile of papers respectfully on the desk.
"All of them?"
"Thanks. Well, it's not too late to have a messenger, is it?"
"Oh _no_, sir." ("'Too late' in the Grand Babylon, oh Czar!" said the
valet's shocked tone.)
"Then please get a messenger to take this letter, at once."
"In a cab, sir?"
"Yes, in a cab. I don't know whether there will be an answer. He will
see. Then let him call at the cloak-room at South Kensington Station and
get my luggage. Here's the ticket."
"Thank you, sir."
"I can rely on you to see that he goes at once?"
"You can, sir," said the valet, in such accents as carry absolute
"Thank you. That will do, I think."
The man retired, and the door was closed by an expert in closing doors,
one who had devoted his life to the perfection of detail in valetry.
He lay on the sofa at the foot of the bed, with all illumination
extinguished save one crimson-shaded light immediately above him. The
evening papers--white, green, rose, cream, and yellow--shared his couch.
He was about to glance at the obituaries; to glance at them in a
careless, condescending way, just to see the _sort_ of thing that
journalists had written of him. He knew the value of obituaries; he had
often smiled at them. He knew also the exceeding fatuity of art
criticism, which did not cause him even to smile, being simply a bore.
He recollected, further, that he was not the first man to read his own
obituary; the adventure had happened to others; and he could recall how,
on his having heard that owing to an error it had happened to the great
so-and-so, he, in his quality of philosopher, had instantly decided what
frame of mind the great so-and-so ought to have assumed for the perusal
of his biography. He carefully and deliberately adopted that frame of
mind now. He thought of Marcus Aurelius on the futility of fame; he
remembered his life-long attitude of gentle, tired scorn for the press;
he reflected with wise modesty that in art nothing counts but the work
itself, and that no quantity of inept chatter could possibly affect, for
good or evil, his value, such as it might be, to the world.
Then he began to open the papers.
The first glimpse of their contents made him jump. In fact, the physical
result of it was quite extraordinary. His temperature increased. His
heart became audible. His pulse quickened. And there was a tingling as
far off as his toes. He had felt, in a dim, unacknowledged way, that he
must be a pretty great painter. Of course his prices were notorious. And
he had guessed, though vaguely, that he was the object of widespread
curiosity. But he had never compared himself with Titanic figures on the
planet. It had always seemed to him that _his_ renown was different from
other renowns, less--somehow unreal and make-believe. He had never
imaginatively grasped, despite prices and public inquisitiveness, that
he too was one of the Titanic figures. He grasped it now. The aspect of
the papers brought it home to him with tremendous force.
Special large type! Titles stretching across two columns! Black borders
round the pages I "Death of England's greatest painter." "Sudden death
of Priam Farll." "Sad death of a great genius." "Puzzling career
prematurely closed." "Europe in mourning." "Irreparable loss to the
world's art." "It is with the most profound regret." "Our readers will
be shocked." "The news will come as a personal blow to every lover of
great painting." So the papers went on, outvying each other in
He ceased to be careless and condescending to them. The skin crept along
his spine. There he lay, solitary, under the crimson glow, locked in his
castle, human, with the outward semblance of a man like other men, and
yet the cities of Europe were weeping for him. He heard them weeping.
Every lover of great painting was under a sense of personal bereavement.
The very voice of the world was hushed. After all, it was something to
have done your best; after all, good stuff _was_ appreciated by the mass
of the race. The phenomena presented by the evening papers was certainly
prodigious, and prodigiously affecting. Mankind was unpleasantly stunned
by the report of his decease. He forgot that Mrs. Challice, for
instance, had perfectly succeeded in hiding her grief for the
irreparable loss, and that her questions about Priam Farll had been
almost perfunctory. He forgot that he had witnessed absolutely no sign
of overwhelming sorrow, or of any degree of sorrow, in the thoroughfares
of the teeming capital, and that the hotels did not resound to sobbing.
He knew only that all Europe was in mourning!
"I suppose I was rather wonderful--_am_, I mean"--he said to himself,
dazed and happy. Yes, happy. "The fact is, I've got so used to my own
work that perhaps I don't think enough of it." He said this as modestly
as he could.
There was no question now of casually glancing at the obituaries. He
could not miss a single line, a single word. He even regretted that the
details of his life were so few and unimportant. It seemed to him that
it was the business of the journalists to have known more, to have
displayed more enterprise in acquiring information. Still, the tone was
right. The fellows meant well, at any rate. His eyes encountered nothing
but praise. Indeed the press of London had yielded itself up to an
encomiastic orgy. His modesty tried to say that this was slightly
overdone; but his impartiality asked, "Really, what _could_ they say
against me?" As a rule unmitigated praise was nauseous but here they
were undoubtedly genuine, the fellows; their sentences rang true!
Never in his life had he been so satisfied with the scheme of the
universe! He was nearly consoled for the dissolution of Leek.
When, after continued reading, he came across a phrase which discreetly
insinuated, apropos of the policeman and the penguins, that
capriciousness in the choice of subject was perhaps a pose with him, the
"Pose!" he inwardly exclaimed. "What a lie! The man's an ass!"
And he resented the following remark which concluded a 'special memoir'
extremely laudatory in matter and manner, by an expert whose books he
had always respected: "However, contemporary judgments are in the large
majority of cases notoriously wrong, and it behooves us to remember this
in choosing a niche for our idol. Time alone can settle the ultimate
position of Priam Farll."
Useless for his modesty to whisper to him that contemporary judgments
_were_ notoriously wrong. He did not like it. It disturbed him. There
were exceptions to every rule. And if the connoisseur meant anything at
all, he was simply stultifying the rest of the article. Time be d----d!
He had come nearly to the last line of the last obituary before he was
finally ruffled. Most of the sheets, in excusing the paucity of
biographical detail, had remarked that Priam Farll was utterly unknown
to London society, of a retiring disposition, hating publicity, a
recluse, etc. The word "recluse" grated on his sensitiveness a little;
but when the least important of the evening papers roundly asserted it
to be notorious that he was of extremely eccentric habits, he grew
secretly furious. Neither his modesty nor his philosophy was influential
enough to restore him to complete calm.
Eccentric! He! What next? Eccentric, indeed!
Now, what conceivable justification------?
_The Ruling Classes_
Between a quarter-past and half-past eleven he was seated alone at a
small table in the restaurant of the Grand Babylon. He had had no news
of Mrs. Challice; she had not instantly telegraphed to Selwood Terrace,
as he had wildly hoped. But in the boxes of Henry Leek, safely retrieved
by the messenger from South Kensington Station, he had discovered one of
his old dress-suits, not too old, and this dress-suit he had donned. The
desire to move about unknown in the well-clad world, the world of the
frequenters of costly hotels, the world to which he was accustomed, had
overtaken him. Moreover, he felt hungry. Hence he had descended to the
famous restaurant, whose wide windows were flung open to the illuminated
majesty of the Thames Embankment. The pale cream room was nearly full of
expensive women, and expending men, and silver-chained waiters whose
skilled, noiseless, inhuman attentions were remunerated at the rate of
about four-pence a minute. Music, the midnight food of love, floated
scarce heard through the tinted atmosphere. It was the best imitation of
Roman luxury that London could offer, and after Selwood Terrace and the
rackety palace of no gratuities, Priam Farll enjoyed it as one enjoys
home after strange climes.
Next to his table was an empty table, set for two, to which were
presently conducted, with due state, a young man, and a magnificent
woman whose youth was slipping off her polished shoulders like a cloak.
Priam Farll then overheard the following conversation:--
_Man_: Well, what are you going to have?
_Woman_: But look here, little Charlie, you can't possibly afford to pay
_Man_: Never said I could. It's the paper that pays. So go ahead.
_Woman_: Is Lord Nasing so keen as all that?
_Man_: It isn't Lord Nasing. It's our brand new editor specially
imported from Chicago.
_Woman_: Will he last?
_Man_: He'll last a hundred nights, say as long as the run of your
piece. Then he'll get six months' screw and the boot.
_Woman_: How much is six months' screw?
_Man_: Three thousand.
_Woman_: Well, I can hardly earn that myself.
_Man_: Neither can I. But then you see we weren't born in Chicago.
_Woman_: I've been offered a thousand dollars a week to go there,
_Man_: Why didn't you tell me that for the interview? I've spent two
entire entr'actes in trying to get something interesting out of you, and
there you go and keep a thing like that up your sleeve. It's not fair to
an old and faithful admirer. I shall stick it in. Poulet chasseur?
_Woman_: Oh no! Couldn't dream of it. Didn't you know I was dieting?
Nothing saucy. No sugar. No bread. No tea. Thanks to that I've lost
nearly a stone in six months. You know I _was_ getting enormous.
_Man_: Let me put _that_ in, eh?
_Woman_: Just try, and see what happens to you!
_Man_: Well, shall we say a lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? I'm
_Waiter_: Lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? Yes, sir.
_Woman_: You aren't very gay.
_Man_: Gay! You don't know all the yearnings of my soul. Don't imagine
that because I'm a special of the _Record_ I haven't got a soul.
_Woman_: I suppose you've been reading that book, Omar Khayyam, that
every one's talking about. Isn't that what it's called?
_Man_: Has Omar Khayyam reached the theatrical world? Well, there's no
doubt the earth does move, after all.
_Woman_: A little more soda, please. And just a trifle less impudence.
What book ought one to be reading, then?
_Man_: Socialism's the thing just now. Read Wells on Socialism. It'll be
all over the theatrical world in a few years' time.
_Woman_: No fear! I can't bear Wells. He's always stirring up the dregs.
I don't mind froth, but I do draw the line at dregs. What's the band
playing? What have you been doing to-day? _Is_ this lettuce? No, no! No
bread. Didn't you hear me tell you?
_Man_: I've been busy with the Priam Farll affair.
_Woman_: Priam Farll?
_Man_: Yes. Painter. _You_ know.
_Woman_: Oh yes. _Him_! I saw it on the posters. He's dead, it seems.
_Man_: You bet! Very odd! Frightfully rich, you know! Yet he died in a
wretched hovel of a place down off the Fulham Road. And his valet's
disappeared. We had the first news of the death, through our arrangement
with all the registrars' clerks in London. By the bye, don't give that
away--it's our speciality. Nasing sent me off at once to write up the
_Man_: The particulars. We always call it a story in Fleet Street.
_Woman_: What a good name! Well, did you find out anything interesting?
_Man_: Not very much. I saw his cousin, Duncan Farll, a money-lending
lawyer in Clement's Lane--he only heard of it because we telephoned to
him. But the fellow would scarcely tell me anything at all.
_Woman_: Really! I do hope there's something terrible.
_Woman_: So that I can go to the inquest or the police court or whatever
it is. That's why I always keep friendly with magistrates. It's so
frightfully thrilling, sitting on the bench with them.
_Man_: There won't be any inquest. But there's something queer in it.
You see, Priam Farll was never in England. Always abroad; at those
foreign hotels, wandering up and down.
_Woman (after a pause)_: I know.
_Man_: What do you know?
_Woman_: Will you promise not to chatter?
_Woman_: I met him once at an hotel at Ostend. He--well, he wanted most
tremendously to paint my portrait. But I wouldn't let him.
_Man_: Why not?
_Woman_: If you knew what sort of man he was you wouldn't ask.
_Man_: Oh! But look here, I say! You must let me use that in my story.
Tell me all about it.
_Woman_: Not for worlds.
_Man_: He--he made up to you?
_Priam Farll (to himself)_: What a barefaced lie! Never was at Ostend in
_Man_: Can't I use it if I don't print your name--just say a
_Woman_: Oh yes, you can do _that_. You might say, of the musical comedy
_Man_: I will. I'll run something together. Trust me. Thanks awfully.
At this point a young and emaciated priest passed up the room.
_Woman_: Oh! Father Luke, is that you? Do come and sit here and be nice.
This is Father Luke Widgery--Mr. Docksey, of the _Record_.
_Woman_: Now, Father Luke, I've just _got_ to come to your sermon
to-morrow. What's it about?
_Priest_: Modern vice.
_Woman_: How charming! I read the last one--it was lovely.
_Priest_: Unless you have a ticket you'll never be able to get in.
_Woman_: But I must get in. I'll come to the vestry door, if there is a
vestry door at St. Bede's.
_Priest_: It's impossible. You've no idea of the crush. And I've no
_Woman_: Oh yes, you have! You have me.
_Priest_: In my church, fashionable women must take their chance with
_Woman_: How horrid you are.
_Priest_: Perhaps. I may tell you, Miss Cohenson, that I've seen two
duchesses standing at the back of the aisle of St. Bede's, and glad to
_Woman_: But _I_ shan't flatter you by standing at the back of your
aisle, and you needn't think it. Haven't I given you a box before now?
_Priest_: I only accepted the box as a matter of duty; it is part of my
duty to go everywhere.
_Man_: Come with me, Miss Cohenson. I've got two tickets for the
_Woman_: Oh, so you do send seats to the press?
_Priest_: The press is different. Waiter, bring me half a bottle of
_Waiter_: Half a bottle of Heidsieck? Yes, sir.
_Woman_: Heidsieck. Well, I like that. _We're_ dieting.
_Priest: I_ don't like Heidsieck. But I'm dieting too. It's my doctor's
orders. Every night before retiring. It appears that my system needs it.
Maria Lady Rowndell insists on giving me a hundred a year to pay for it.
It is her own beautiful way of helping the good cause. Ice, please,
waiter. I've just been seeing her to-night. She's staying here for the
season. Saves her a lot of trouble. She's very much cut up about the
death of Priam Farll, poor thing! So artistic, you know! The late Lord
Rowndell had what is supposed to be the finest lot of Farlls in England.
_Man_: Did you ever meet Priam Farll, Father Luke?
_Priest_: Never. I understand he was most eccentric. I hate
eccentricity. I once wrote to him to ask him if he would paint a Holy
Family for St. Bede's.
_Man_: And what did he reply?
_Priest_: He didn't reply. Considering that he wasn't even an R.A., I
don't think that it was quite nice of him. However, Maria Lady Rowndell
insists that he must be buried in Westminster Abbey. She asked me what I
_Woman_: Buried in Westminster Abbey! I'd no idea he was so big as all
_Priest_: I have the greatest confidence in Maria Lady Rowndell's taste,
and certainly I bear no grudge. I may be able to arrange something. My
uncle the Dean----
_Man_: Pardon me. I always understood that since you left the Church----
_Priest_: Since I joined the Church, you mean. There is but one.
_Man_: Church of England, I meant.
_Man_: Since you left the Church of England, there had been a breach
between the Dean and yourself.
_Priest_: Merely religious. Besides my sister is the Dean's favourite
niece. And I am her favourite brother. My sister takes much interest in
art. She has just painted a really exquisite tea-cosy for me. Of course
the Dean ultimately settles these questions of national funerals,
At this point the invisible orchestra began to play "God save the King."
_Woman_: Oh! What a bore!
Then nearly all the lights were extinguished.
_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen! Gentlemen, please!
_Priest_: You quite understand, Mr. Docksey, that I merely gave these
family details in order to substantiate my statement that I may be able
to arrange something. By the way, if you would care to have a typescript
of my sermon to-morrow for the _Record_, you can have one by applying at
_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen!
_Man_: So good of you. As regards the burial in Westminster Abbey, I
think that the _Record_ will support the project. I say I _think_.
_Priest_: Maria Lady Rowndell will be grateful.
Five-sixths of the remaining lights went out, and the entire company
followed them. In the foyer there was a prodigious crush of opera
cloaks, silk hats, and cigars, all jostling together. News arrived from
the Strand that the weather had turned to rain, and all the intellect of
the Grand Babylon was centred upon the British climate, exactly as if
the British climate had been the latest discovery of science. As the
doors swung to and fro, the stridency of whistles, the throbbing of
motor-cars, and the hoarse cries of inhabitants of box seats mingled
strangely with the delicate babble of the interior. Then, lo! as by
magic, the foyer was empty save for the denizens of the hotel who could
produce evidence of identity. It had been proved to demonstration, for
the sixth time that week, that in the metropolis of the greatest of
Empires there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Deeply affected by what he had overheard, Priam Farll rose in a lift and
sought his bed. He perceived clearly that he had been among the
governing classes of the realm.
* * * * *
Within less than twelve hours after that conversation between members of
the governing classes at the Grand Babylon Hotel, Priam Farll heard the
first deep-throated echoes of the voice of England on the question of
his funeral. The voice of England issued on this occasion through the
mouth of the _Sunday News_, a newspaper which belonged to Lord Nasing,
the proprietor of the _Daily Record_. There was a column in the _Sunday
News_, partly concerning the meeting of Priam Farll and a celebrated
star of the musical comedy stage at Ostend. There was also a leading
article, in which it was made perfectly clear that England would stand
ashamed among the nations, if she did not inter her greatest painter in
Westminster Abbey. Only the article, instead of saying Westminster
Abbey, said National Valhalla. It seemed to make a point of not
mentioning Westminster Abbey by name, as though Westminster Abbey had
been something not quite mentionable, such as a pair of trousers. The
article ended with the word 'basilica,' and by the time you had reached
this majestic substantive, you felt indeed, with the _Sunday News_, that
a National Valhalla without the remains of a Priam Farll inside it,
would be shocking, if not inconceivable.
Priam Farll was extremely disturbed.
On Monday morning the _Daily Record_ came nobly to the support of the
_Sunday News_. It had evidently spent its Sunday in collecting the
opinions of a number of famous men--including three M.P.'s, a banker, a
Colonial premier, a K.C., a cricketer, and the President of the Royal
Academy--as to whether the National Valhalla was or was not a suitable
place for the repose of the remains of Priam Farll; and the unanimous
reply was in the affirmative. Other newspapers expressed the same view.
But there were opponents of the scheme. Some organs coldly inquired what
Priam Farll had _done_ for England, and particularly for the higher life
of England. He had not been a moral painter like Hogarth or Sir Noel
Paton, nor a worshipper of classic legend and beauty like the unique
Leighton. He had openly scorned England. He had never lived in England.
He had avoided the Royal Academy, honouring every country save his own.
And was he such a great painter, after all? Was he anything but a clever
dauber whose work had been forced into general admiration by the efforts
of a small clique of eccentric admirers? Far be it from them, the
organs, to decry a dead man, but the National Valhalla was the National
Valhalla.... And so on.
The penny evening papers were pro-Farll, one of them furiously so. You
gathered that if Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey the
penny evening papers would, from mere disgust, wipe their boots on Dover
cliffs and quit England eternally for some land where art was
understood. You gathered, by nightfall, that Fleet Street must be a
scene of carnage, full of enthusiasts cutting each other's throats for
the sake of the honour of art. However, no abnormal phenomenon was
superficially observable in Fleet Street; nor was martial law proclaimed
at the Arts Club in Dover Street. London was impassioned by the question
of Farll's funeral; a few hours would decide if England was to be shamed
among the nations: and yet the town seemed to pursue its jog-trot way
exactly as usual. The Gaiety Theatre performed its celebrated nightly
musical comedy, "House Full"; and at Queen's Hall quite a large audience
was collected to listen to a violinist aged twelve, who played like a
man, though a little one, and whose services had been bought for seven
years by a limited company.
The next morning the controversy was settled by one of the _Daily
Record's_ characteristic 'scoops.' In the nature of the case, such
controversies, if they are not settled quickly, settle themselves
quickly; they cannot be prolonged. But it was the _Daily Record_ that
settled this one. The _Daily Record_ came out with a copy of the will of
Priam Farll, in which, after leaving a pound a week for life to his
valet, Henry Leek, Priam Farll bequeathed the remainder of his fortune
to the nation for the building and up-keep of a Gallery of Great
Masters. Priam Farll's own collection of great masters, gradually made
by him in that inexpensive manner which is possible only to the finest
connoisseurs, was to form the nucleus of the Gallery. It comprised, said
the _Record_, several Rembrandts, a Velasquez, six Vermeers, a
Giorgione, a Turner, a Charles, two Cromes, a Holbein. (After Charles
the _Record_ put a note of interrogation, itself being uncertain of the
name.) The pictures were in Paris--had been for many years. The leading
idea of the Gallery was that nothing not absolutely first-class should
be admitted to it. The testator attached two conditions to the bequest.
One was that his own name should be inscribed nowhere in the building,
and the other was that none of his own pictures should be admitted to
the gallery. Was not this sublime? Was not this true British pride? Was
not this magnificently unlike the ordinary benefactor of his country?
The _Record_ was in a position to assert that Priam Farll's estate would
amount to about a hundred and forty thousand pounds, in addition to the
value of the pictures. After that, was anybody going to argue that he
ought not to be buried in the National Valhalla, a philanthropist so
royal and so proudly meek?
The opposition gave up.
Priam Farll grew more and more disturbed in his fortress at the Grand
Babylon Hotel. He perfectly remembered making the will. He had made it
about seventeen years before, after some champagne in Venice, in an hour
of anger against some English criticisms of his work. Yes, English
criticisms! It was his vanity that had prompted him to reply in that
manner. Moreover, he was quite young then. He remembered the youthful
glee with which he had appointed his next-of-kin, whoever they might be,
executors and trustees of the will. He remembered his cruel joy in
Back to Full Books