Buried Alive: A Tale of These Days
Part 3 out of 4
him to go to Mr. Aylmer's when, on the first morning of his residence in
Putney, he had demanded, "Any decent tobacconists in this happy region?"
He suspected that, had it not been for Aylmer's beridden and incurable
wife, Alice's name might have been Aylmer. He suspected Aylmer of a
hopeless passion for Alice. He was glad that Alice had not been thrown
away on Aylmer. He could not imagine himself now without Alice. In spite
of her ideas on the graphic arts, Alice was his air, his atmosphere, his
oxygen; and also his umbrella to shield him from the hail of untoward
circumstances. Curious--the process of love! It was the power of love
that had put that picture in the tobacconist's window.
Whatever power had put it there, no power seemed strong enough to get it
out again. It lay exposed in the window for weeks and never drew a
crowd, nor caused a sensation of any kind! Not a word in the newspapers!
London, the acknowledged art-centre of the world, calmly went its ways.
The sole immediate result was that Priam changed his tobacconist, and
the direction of his promenades.
At last another singular event happened.
Alice beamingly put five sovereigns into Priam's hand one evening.
"It's been sold for five guineas," she said, joyous. "Mr. Aylmer didn't
want to keep anything for himself, but I insisted on his having the odd
shillings. I think it's splendid, simply splendid! Of course I always
_did_ think it was a beautiful picture," she added.
The fact was that this astounding sale for so large a sum as five
pounds, of a picture done in the attic by her Henry, had enlarged her
ideas of Henry's skill. She could no longer regard his painting as the
caprice of a gentle lunatic. There was something _in_ it. And now she
wanted to persuade herself that she had known from the first there was
something in it.
The picture had been bought by the eccentric and notorious landlord of
the Elk Hotel, down by the river, on a Sunday afternoon when he was--not
drunk, but more optimistic than the state of English society warrants.
He liked the picture because his public-house was so unmistakably plain
in it. He ordered a massive gold frame for it, and hung it in his
saloon-bar. His career as a patron of the arts was unfortunately cut
short by an order signed by his doctors for his incarceration in a
lunatic asylum. All Putney had been saying for years that he would end
in the asylum, and all Putney was right.
* * * * *
One afternoon, in December, Priam and Alice were in the sitting-room
together, and Alice was about to prepare tea. The drawn-thread cloth was
laid diagonally on the table (because Alice had seen cloths so laid on
model tea-tables in model rooms at Waring's), the strawberry jam
occupied the northern point of the compass, and the marmalade was
antarctic, while brittle cakes and spongy cakes represented the occident
and the orient respectively. Bread-and-butter stood, rightly, for the
centre of the universe. Silver ornamented the spread, and Alice's two
tea-pots (for she would never allow even Chinese tea to remain on the
leaves for more than five minutes) and Alice's water-jug with the patent
balanced lid, occupied a tray off the cloth. At some distance, but still
on the table, a kettle moaned over a spirit-lamp. Alice was cutting
bread for toast. The fire was of the right redness for toast, and a
toasting-fork lay handy. As winter advanced, Alice's teas had a tendency
to become cosier and cosier, and also more luxurious, more of a
ritualistic ceremony. And to avoid the trouble and danger of going
through a cold passage to the kitchen, she arranged matters so that the
entire operation could be performed with comfort and decency in the
Priam was rolling cigarettes, many of them, and placing them, as he
rolled them, in order on the mantelpiece. A happy, mild couple! And a
couple, one would judge from the richness of the tea, with no immediate
need of money. Over two years, however, had passed since the catastrophe
to Cohoon's, and Cohoon's had in no way recovered therefrom. Yet money
had been regularly found for the household. The manner of its finding
was soon to assume importance in the careers of Priam and Alice. But,
ere that moment, an astonishing and vivid experience happened to them.
One might have supposed that, in the life of Priam Farll at least,
enough of the astonishing and the vivid had already happened.
Nevertheless, what had already happened was as customary and unexciting
as addressing envelopes, compared to the next event.
The next event began at the instant when Alice was sticking the long
fork into a round of bread. There was a knock at the front door, a knock
formidable and reverberating, the knock of fate, perhaps, but fate
disguised as a coalheaver.
Alice answered it. She always answered knocks; Priam never. She shielded
him from every rough or unexpected contact, just as his valet used to
do. The gas in the hall was not lighted, and so she stopped to light it,
darkness having fallen. Then she opened the door, and saw, in the gloom,
a short, thin woman standing on the step, a woman of advanced
middle-age, dressed with a kind of shabby neatness. It seemed impossible
that so frail and unimportant a creature could have made such a noise on
"Is this Mr. Henry Leek's?" asked the visitor, in a dissatisfied, rather
"Yes," said Alice. Which was not quite true. 'This' was assuredly hers,
rather than her husband's.
"Oh!" said the woman, glancing behind her; and entered nervously,
At the same moment three male figures sprang, or rushed, out of the
strip of front garden, and followed the woman into the hall, lunging up
against Alice, and breathing loudly. One of the trio was a strong,
heavy-faced heavy-handed, louring man of some thirty years (it seemed
probable that he was the knocker), and the others were curates, with the
proper physical attributes of curates; that is to say, they were of
ascetic habit and clean-shaven and had ingenuous eyes.
The hall now appeared like the antechamber of a May-meeting, and as
Alice had never seen it so peopled before, she vented a natural
exclamation of surprise.
"Yes," said one of the curates, fiercely. "You may say 'Lord,' but we
were determined to get in, and in we have got. John, shut the door.
Mother, don't put yourself about."
John, being the heavy-faced and heavy-handed man, shut the door.
"Where is Mr. Henry Leek?" demanded the other curate.
Now Priam, whose curiosity had been excusably excited by the unusual
sounds in the hall, was peeping through a chink of the sitting-room
door, and the elderly woman caught the glint of his eyes. She pushed
open the door, and, after a few seconds' inspection of him, said:
"There you are, Henry! After thirty years! To think of it!"
Priam was utterly at a loss.
"I'm his wife, ma'am," the visitor continued sadly to Alice. "I'm sorry
to have to tell you. I'm his wife. I'm the rightful Mrs. Henry Leek, and
these are my sons, come with me to see that I get justice."
Alice recovered very quickly from the shock of amazement. She was a
woman not easily to be startled by the vagaries of human nature. She had
often heard of bigamy, and that her husband should prove to be a
bigamist did not throw her into a swoon. She at once, in her own mind,
began to make excuses for him. She said to herself, as she inspected the
real Mrs. Henry Leek, that the real Mrs. Henry Leek had certainly the
temperament which manufactures bigamists. She understood how a person
may slide into bigamy. And after thirty years!... She never thought of
bigamy as a crime, nor did it occur to her to run out and drown herself
for shame because she was not properly married to Priam!
No, it has to be said in favour of Alice that she invariably took things
as they were.
"I think you'd better all come in and sit down quietly," she said.
"Eh! It's very kind of you," said the mother of the curates, limply.
The last thing that the curates wanted to do was to sit down quietly.
But they had to sit down. Alice made them sit side by side on the sofa.
The heavy, elder brother, who had not spoken a word, sat on a chair
between the sideboard and the door. Their mother sat on a chair near the
table. Priam fell into his easy-chair between the fireplace and the
sideboard. As for Alice, she remained standing; she showed no
nervousness except in her handling of the toasting-fork.
It was a great situation. But unfortunately ordinary people are so
unaccustomed to the great situation, that, when it chances to come, they
feel themselves incapable of living up to it. A person gazing in at the
window, and unacquainted with the facts, might have guessed that the
affair was simply a tea party at which the guests had arrived a little
too soon and where no one was startlingly proficient in the art of
Still, the curates were apparently bent on doing their best.
"Now, mother!" one of them urged her.
The mother, as if a spring had been touched in her, began: "He married
me just thirty years ago, ma'am; and four months after my eldest was
born--that's John there"--(pointing to the corner near the door)--"he
just walked out of the house and left me. I'm sorry to have to say it.
Yes, sorry I am! But there it is. And never a word had I ever given him!
And eight months after that my twins were born. That's Harry and
Matthew"--(pointing to the sofa)--"Harry I called after his father
because I thought he was like him, and just to show I bore no
ill-feeling, and hoping he'd come back! And there I was with these
little children! And not a word of explanation did I ever have. I heard
of Harry five years later--when Johnnie was nearly five--but he was on
the Continent and I couldn't go traipsing about with three babies.
Besides, if I _had_ gone!... Sorry I am to say it, ma'am; but many's the
time he's beaten me, yes, with his hands and his fists! He's knocked me
about above a bit. And I never gave him a word back. He was my husband,
for better for worse, and I forgave him and I still do. Forgive and
forget, that's what I say. We only heard of him through Matthew being
second curate at St. Paul's, and in charge of the mission hall. It was
your milkman that happened to tell Matthew that he had a customer same
name as himself. And you know how one thing leads to another. So we're
"I never saw this lady in my life," said Priam excitedly, "and I'm
absolutely certain I never married her. I never married any one; except,
of course, you, Alice!"
"Then how do you explain this, sir?" exclaimed Matthew, the younger
twin, jumping up and taking a blue paper from his pocket. "Be so good as
to pass this to father," he said, handing the paper to Alice.
Alice inspected the document. It was a certificate of the marriage of
Henry Leek, valet, and Sarah Featherstone, spinster, at a registry
office in Paddington. Priam also inspected it. This was one of Leek's
escapades! No revelations as to the past of Henry Leek would have
surprised him. There was nothing to be done except to give a truthful
denial of identity and to persist in that denial. Useless to say
soothingly to the lady visitor that she was the widow of a gentleman who
had been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey!
"I know nothing about it," said Priam doggedly.
"I suppose you'll not deny, sir, that your name is Henry Leek," said
Henry, jumping up to stand by Matthew.
"I deny everything," said Priam doggedly. How could he explain? If he
had not been able to convince Alice that he was not Henry Leek, could he
hope to convince these visitors?
"I suppose, madam," Henry continued, addressing Alice in impressive
tones as if she were a crowded congregation, "that at any rate you and
my father are--er--living here together under the name of Mr. and Mrs.
Alice merely lifted her eyebrows.
"It's all a mistake," said Priam impatiently. Then he had a brilliant
inspiration. "As if there was only one Henry Leek in the world!"
"Do you really recognize my husband?" Alice asked.
"Your husband, madam!" Matthew protested, shocked.
"I wouldn't say that I recognized him as he _was_," said the real Mrs.
Henry Leek. "No more than he recognizes me. After thirty years!....Last
time I saw him he was only twenty-two or twenty-three. But he's the same
sort of man, and he has the same eyes. And look at Henry's eyes.
Besides, I heard twenty-five years ago that he'd gone into service with
a Mr. Priam Farll, a painter or something, him that was buried in
Westminster Abbey. And everybody in Putney knows that this gentleman----
"Gentleman!" murmured Matthew, discontented.
"Was valet to Mr. Priam Farll. We've heard that everywhere."
"I suppose you'll not deny," said Henry the younger, "that Priam Farll
wouldn't be likely to have _two_ valets named Henry Leek?"
Crushed by this Socratic reasoning, Priam kept silence, nursing his
knees and staring into the fire.
Alice went to the sideboard where she kept her best china, and took out
three extra cups and saucers.
"I think we'd all better have some tea," she said tranquilly. And then
she got the tea-caddy and put seven teaspoonfuls of tea into one of the
"It's very kind of you, I'm sure," whimpered the authentic Mrs. Henry
"Now, mother, don't give way!" the curates admonished her.
"Don't you remember, Henry," she went on whimpering to Priam, "how you
said you wouldn't be married in a church, not for anybody? And how I
gave way to you, like I always did? And don't you remember how you
wouldn't let poor little Johnnie be baptized? Well, I do hope your
opinions have altered. Eh, but it's strange, it's strange, how two of
your sons, and just them two that you'd never set eyes on until this
day, should have made up their minds to go into the church! And thanks
to Johnnie there, they've been able to. If I was to tell you all the
struggles we've had, you wouldn't believe me. They were clerks, and they
might have been clerks to this day, if it hadn't been for Johnnie. But
Johnnie could always earn money. It's that engineering! And now
Matthew's second curate at St. Paul's and getting fifty pounds a year,
and Henry'll have a curacy next month at Bermondsey--it's been promised,
and all thanks to Johnnie!" She wept.
Johnnie, in the corner, who had so far done nought but knock at the
door, maintained stiffly his policy of non-interference.
Priam Farll, angry, resentful, and quite untouched by the recital,
shrugged his shoulders. He was animated by the sole desire to fly from
the widow and progeny of his late valet. But he could not fly. The
Herculean John was too close to the door. So he shrugged his shoulders a
"Yes, sir," said Matthew, "you may shrug your shoulders, but you can't
shrug us out of existence. Here we are, and you can't get over us. You
are our father, and I presume that a kind of respect is due to you. Yet
how can you hope for our respect? Have you earned it? Did you earn it
when you ill-treated our poor mother? Did you earn it when you left her,
with the most inhuman cruelty, to fend for herself in the world? Did you
earn it when you abandoned your children born and unborn? You are a
bigamist, sir; a deceiver of women! Heaven knows--"
"Would you mind just toasting this bread?" Alice interrupted his
impassioned discourse by putting the loaded toasting-fork into his
hands, "while I make the tea?"
It was a novel way of stopping a mustang in full career, but it
While somewhat perfunctorily holding the fork to the fire, Matthew
glared about him, to signify his righteous horror, and other sentiments.
"Please don't burn it," said Alice gently. "Suppose you were to sit down
on this foot-stool." And then she poured boiling water on the tea, put
the lid on the pot, and looked at the clock to note the exact second at
which the process of infusion had begun.
"Of course," burst out Henry, the twin of Matthew, "I need not say,
madam, that you have all our sympathies. You are in a----"
"Do you mean me?" Alice asked.
In an undertone Priam could be heard obstinately repeating, "Never set
eyes upon her before! Never set eyes on the woman before!"
"I do, madam," said Henry, not to be cowed nor deflected from his
course. "I speak for all of us. You have our sympathies. You could not
know the character of the man you married, or rather with whom you went
through the ceremony of marriage. However, we have heard, by inquiry,
that you made his acquaintance through the medium of a matrimonial
agency; and indirectly, when one does that sort of thing, one takes
one's chance. Your position is an extremely delicate one; but it is not
too much to say that you brought it on yourself. In my work, I have
encountered many sad instances of the result of lax moral principles;
but I little thought to encounter the saddest of all in my own family.
The discovery is just as great a blow to us as it is to you. We have
suffered; my mother has suffered. And now, I fear, it is your turn to
suffer. You are not this man's wife. Nothing can make you his wife. You
are living in the same house with him--under circumstances--er--without
a chaperon. I hesitate to characterize your situation in plain words. It
would scarcely become me, or mine, to do so. But really no lady could
possibly find herself in a situation more false than--I am afraid there
is only one word, open immorality, and--er--to put yourself right with
society there is one thing, and only one, left for you to--er--do. I--I
speak for the family, and I--"
"Sugar?" Alice questioned the mother of curates.
"One lump, or two?"
"Speaking for the family--" Henry resumed.
"Will you kindly pass this cup to your mother?" Alice suggested.
Henry was obliged to take the cup. Excited by the fever of eloquence, he
unfortunately upset it before it had reached his mother's hands.
"Oh, Henry!" murmured the lady, mournfully aghast. "You always were so
clumsy! And a clean cloth, too!"
"Don't mention it, please," said Alice, and then to _her_ Henry: "My
dear, just run into the kitchen, and bring me something to wipe this up.
Hanging behind the door--you'll see."
Priam sprang forward with astonishing celerity. And the occasion
brooking no delay, the guardian of the portal could not but let him
pass. In another moment the front door banged. Priam did not return. And
Alice staunched the flow of tea with a clean, stiff serviette taken from
the sideboard drawer.
The family of the late Henry Leek, each with a cup in hand, experienced
a certain difficulty in maintaining the interview at the pitch set by
Matthew and Henry. Mrs. Leek, their mother, frankly gave way to soft
tears, while eating bread-and-butter, jam and zebra-like toast. John
took everything that Alice offered to him in gloomy and awkward silence.
"Does he mean to come back?" Matthew demanded at length. He had risen
from the foot-stool.
"Who?" asked Alice.
Matthew paused, and then said, savagely and deliberately: "Father."
Alice smiled. "I'm afraid not. I'm afraid he's gone out. You see, he's a
rather peculiar man. It's not the slightest use me trying to drive him.
He can only be led. He has his good points--I can speak candidly as he
isn't here, and I _will_--he has his good points. When Mrs. Leek, as I
suppose she calls herself, spoke about his cruelty to her--well, I
understood that. Far be it from me to say a word against him; he's often
very good to me, but--another cup, Mr. John?"
John advanced to the table without a word, holding his cup.
"You don't mean to say, ma'am," said Mrs. Leek "that he--?"
Alice nodded grievously.
Mrs. Leek burst into tears. "When Johnnie was barely five weeks old,"
she said, "he would twist my arm. And he kept me without money. And once
he locked me up in the cellar. And one morning when I was ironing he
snatched the hot iron out of my hand and--"
"Don't! Don't!" Alice soothed her. "I know. I know all you can tell me.
I know because I've been through--"
"You don't mean to say he threatened _you_ with the flat-iron?"
"If threatening was only all!" said Alice, like a martyr.
"Then he's not changed, in all these years!" wept the mother of curates.
"If he has, it's for the worse," said Alice. "How was I to tell?" she
faced the curates. "How could I know? And yet nobody, nobody, could be
nicer than he is at times!"
"That's true, that's true," responded the authentic Mrs. Henry Leek. "He
was always so changeable. So queer."
"Queer!" Alice took up the word. "That's it Queer! I don't think he's
_quite_ right in his head, not quite right. He has the very strangest
fancies. I never take any notice of them, but they're there. I seldom
get up in the morning without thinking, 'Well, perhaps to-day he'll have
to be taken off.'"
"Yes, to Hanwell, or wherever it is. And you must remember," she said
gazing firmly at the curates, "you've got his blood in your veins. Don't
forget that. I suppose you want to make him go back to you, Mrs. Leek,
as he certainly ought."
"Ye-es," murmured Mrs. Leek feebly.
"Well, if you can persuade him to go," said Alice, "if you can make him
see his duty, you're welcome. But I'm sorry for you. I think I ought to
tell you that this is my house, and my furniture. He's got nothing at
all. I expect he never could save. Many's the blow he's laid on me in
anger, but all the same I pity him. I pity him. And I wouldn't like to
leave him in the lurch. Perhaps these three strong young men'll be able
to do something with him. But I'm not sure. He's very strong. And he has
a way of leaping out so sudden like."
Mrs. Leek shook her head as memories of the past rose up in her mind.
"The fact is," said Matthew sternly, "he ought to be prosecuted for
bigamy. That's what ought to be done."
"Most decidedly," Henry concurred.
"You're quite right! You're quite right!" said Alice. "That's only
justice. Of course he'd deny that he was the same Henry Leek. He'd deny
it like anything. But in the end I dare say you'd be able to prove it.
The worst of these law cases is they're so expensive. It means private
detectives and all sorts of things, I believe. Of course there'd be the
scandal. But don't mind me! I'm innocent. Everybody knows me in Putney,
and has done this twenty years. I don't know how it would suit you, Mr.
Henry and Mr. Matthew, as clergymen, to have your own father in prison.
That's as may be. But justice is justice, and there's too many men going
about deceiving simple, trusting women. I've often heard such tales. Now
I know they're all true. It's a mercy my own poor mother hasn't lived to
see where I am to-day. As for my father, old as he was, if he'd been
alive, there'd have been horsewhipping that I do know."
After some rather pointless and disjointed remarks from the curates, a
sound came from the corner near the door. It was John's cough.
"Better clear out of this!" John ejaculated. Such was his first and last
oral contribution to the scene.
_In the Bath_
Priam Farll was wandering about the uncharted groves of Wimbledon
Common, and uttering soliloquies in language that lacked delicacy. He
had rushed forth, in his haste, without an overcoat, and the weather was
blusterously inclement. But he did not feel the cold; he only felt the
keen wind of circumstance.
Soon after the purchase of his picture by the lunatic landlord of a
fully licensed house, he had discovered that the frame-maker in High
Street knew a man who would not be indisposed to buy such pictures as he
could paint, and transactions between him and the frame-maker had
developed into a regular trade. The usual price paid for canvases was
ten pounds, in cash. By this means he had earned about two hundred a
year. No questions were put on either side. The paintings were delivered
at intervals, and the money received; and Priam knew no more. For many
weeks he had lived in daily expectation of an uproar, a scandal in the
art-world, visits of police, and other inconveniences, for it was
difficult to believe that the pictures would never come beneath the eye
of a first-class expert. But nothing had occurred, and he had gradually
subsided into a sense of security. He was happy; happy in the
untrammelled exercise of his gift, happy in having all the money that
his needs and Alice's demanded; happier than he had been in the errant
days of his glory and his wealth. Alice had been amazed at his power of
earning; and also, she had seemed little by little to lose her
suspicions as to his perfect sanity and truthfulness. In a word, the dog
of fate had slept; and he had taken particular care to let it lie. He
was in that species of sheltered groove which is absolutely essential to
the bliss of a shy and nervous artist, however great he may be.
And now this disastrous irruption, this resurrection of the early sins
of the real Leek! He was hurt; he was startled; he was furious. But he
was not surprised. The wonder was that the early sins of Henry Leek had
not troubled him long ago. What could he do? He could do nothing. That
was the tragedy: he could do nothing. He could but rely upon Alice.
Alice was amazing. The more he thought of it, the more masterly her
handling of these preposterous curates seemed to him. And was he to be
robbed of this incomparable woman by ridiculous proceedings connected
with a charge of bigamy? He knew that bigamy meant prison, in England.
The injustice was monstrous. He saw those curates, and their mute
brother, and the aggrieved mother of the three dogging him either to
prison or to his deathbed! And how could he explain to Alice? Impossible
to explain to Alice!... Still, it was conceivable that Alice would not
desire explanation. Alice somehow never did desire an explanation. She
always said, "I can quite understand," and set about preparing a meal.
She was the comfortablest cushion of a creature that the evolution of
the universe had ever produced.
Then the gusty breeze dropped and it began to rain. He ignored the rain.
But December rain has a strange, horrid quality of chilly persistence.
It is capable of conquering the most obstinate and serious mental
preoccupation, and it conquered Priam's. It forced him to admit that his
tortured soul had a fleshly garment and that the fleshly garment was
soaked to the marrow. And his soul gradually yielded before the attack
of the rain, and he went home.
He put his latchkey into the door with minute precautions against noise,
and crept into his house like a thief, and very gently shut the door.
Then, in the hall, he intently listened. Not a sound! That is to say,
not a sound except the drippings of his hat on the linoleum. The
sitting-room door was ajar. He timidly pushed it, and entered. Alice was
"Henry!" she exclaimed. "Why, you're wet through!" She rose.
"Have they cleared off?" he demanded.
"And you've been out without an overcoat! Henry, how could you? Well, I
must get you into bed at once--instantly, or I shall have you down with
pneumonia or something to-morrow!"
"Have they cleared off?" he repeated.
"Yes, of course," she said.
"When are they coming back?" he asked.
"I don't think they'll come back," she replied. "I think they've had
enough. I think I've made them see that it's best to leave well alone.
Did you ever see such toast as that curate made?"
"Alice, I assure you," he said, later--he was in a boiling bath--"I
assure you it's all a mistake, I've never seen the woman before."
"Of course you haven't," she said calmingly. "Of course you haven't.
Besides, even if you had, it serves her right. Every one could see she's
a nagging woman. And they seemed quite prosperous. They're hysterical--
that's what's the matter with them, all of them--except the eldest, the
one that never spoke. I rather liked him."
"But I _haven't!_" he reiterated, splashing his positive statement into
"My dear, I know you haven't."
But he guessed that she was humouring him. He guessed that she was
determined to keep him at all costs. And he had a disconcerting glimpse
of the depths of utter unscrupulousness that sometimes disclose
themselves in the mind of a good and loving woman.
"Only I hope there won't be any more of them!" she added dryly.
Ah! That was the point! He conceived the possibility of the rascal Leek
having committed scores and scores of sins, all of which might come up
against him. His affrighted vision saw whole regions populated by
disconsolate widows of Henry Leek and their offspring, ecclesiastical
and otherwise. He knew what Leek had been. Westminster Abbey was a
strange goal for Leek to have achieved.
* * * * *
_A Glossy Male_
The machine was one of those electric contrivances that do their work
noiselessly and efficiently, like a garrotter or the guillotine. No
odour, no teeth-disturbing grind of rack-and-pinion, no trumpeting, with
that machine! It arrived before the gate with such absence of sound that
Alice, though she was dusting in the front-room, did not hear it. She
heard nothing till the bell discreetly tinkled. Justifiably assuming
that the tinkler was the butcher's boy, she went to the door with her
apron on, and even with the duster in her hand. A handsome, smooth man
stood on the step, and the electric carriage made a background for him.
He was a dark man, with curly black hair, and a moustache to match, and
black eyes. His silk hat, of an incredible smooth newness, glittered
over his glittering hair and eyes. His overcoat was lined with astrakan,
and this important fact was casually betrayed at the lapels and at the
sleeves. He wore a black silk necktie, with a small pearl pin in the
mathematical centre of the perfect rhomboid of the upper part of a
sailor's knot. His gloves were of slate colour. The chief characteristic
of his faintly striped trousers was the crease, which seemed more than
mortal. His boots were of _glace_ kid and as smooth as his cheeks. The
cheeks had a fresh boyish colour, and between them, over admirable snowy
teeth, projected the hooked key to this temperament. It _is_ possible
that Alice, from sheer thoughtlessness, shared the vulgar prejudice
against Jews; but certainly she did not now feel it. The man's personal
charm, his exceeding niceness, had always conquered that prejudice,
whenever encountered. Moreover, he was only about thirty-five in years,
and no such costly and beautiful male had ever yet stood on Alice's
She at once, in her mind, contrasted him with the curates of the
previous week, to the disadvantage of the Established Church. She did
not know that this man was more dangerous than a thousand curates.
"Is this Mr. Leek's?" he inquired smilingly, and raised his hat.
"Yes," said Alice with a responsive smile.
"Is he in?"
"Well," said Alice, "he's busy at his work. You see in this weather he
can't go out much--not to work--and so he--"
"Could I see him in his studio?" asked the glossy man, with the air of
saying, "Can you grant me this supreme favour?"
It was the first time that Alice had heard the attic called a studio.
"It's about pictures," explained the visitor.
"Oh!" said Alice. "Will you come in?"
"I've run down specially to see Mr. Leek," said the visitor with
Alice's opinion as to the seriousness of her husband's gift for painting
had of course changed in two years. A man who can make two or three
hundred a year by sticking colours anyhow, at any hazard, on canvases--
by producing alleged pictures that in Alice's secret view bore only a
comic resemblance to anything at all--that man had to be taken seriously
in his attic as an artisan. It is true that Alice thought the payment he
received miraculously high for the quality of work done; but, with this
agreeable Jew in the hall, and the _coupe_ at the kerb, she suddenly
perceived the probability of even greater miracles in the matter of
price. She saw the average price of ten pounds rising to fifteen, or
even twenty, pounds--provided her husband was given no opportunity to
ruin the affair by his absurd, retiring shyness.
"Will you come this way?" she suggested briskly.
And all that elegance followed her up to the attic door: which door she
threw open, remarking simply--
"Henry, here is a gentleman come to see you about pictures."
Priam recovered more quickly than might have been expected. His first
thought was naturally that women are uncalculated, if not incalculable,
creatures, and that the best of them will do impossible things--things
inconceivable till actually done! Fancy her introducing a stranger,
without a word of warning, direct into his attic! However, when he rose
he saw the visitor's nose (whose nostrils were delicately expanding and
contracting in the fumes of the oil-stove), and he was at once
reassured. He knew that he would have to face neither rudeness, nor
bluntness, nor lack of imagination, nor lack of quick sympathy. Besides,
the visitor, with practical assurance, set the tone of the interview
"Good-morning, _maitre_," he began, right off. "I must apologize for
breaking in upon you. But I've come to see if you have any work to sell.
My name is Oxford, and I'm acting for a collector."
He said this with a very agreeable mingling of sincerity, deference, and
mercantile directness, also with a bright, admiring smile. He showed no
astonishment at the interior of the attic.
Well, of course, it would be idle to pretend that the greatest artists
do not enjoy being addressed as _maitre_. 'Master' is the same word, but
entirely different. It was a long time since Priam Farll had been called
_maitre_. Indeed, owing to his retiring habits, he had very seldom been
called _maitre_ at all. A just-finished picture stood on an easel near
the window; it represented one of the most wonderful scenes in London:
Putney High Street at night; two omnibus horses stepped strongly and
willingly out of a dark side street, and under the cold glare of the
main road they somehow took on the quality of equestrian sculpture. The
altercation of lights was in the highest degree complex. Priam
understood immediately, from the man's calm glance at the picture, and
the position which he instinctively took up to see it, that he was
accustomed to looking at pictures. The visitor did not start back, nor
rush forward, nor dissolve into hysterics, nor behave as though
confronted by the ghost of a murdered victim. He just gazed at the
picture, keeping his nerve and holding his tongue. And yet it was not an
easy picture to look at. It was a picture of an advanced
experimentalism, and would have appealed to nothing but the sense of
humour in a person not a connoisseur.
"Sell!" exclaimed Priam. Like all shy men he could hide his shyness in
an exaggerated familiarity. "What price this?" And he pointed to the
There were no other preliminaries.
"It is excessively distinguished," murmured Mr. Oxford, in the accents
of expert appreciation. "Excessively distinguished. May I ask how much?"
"That's what I'm asking you," said Priam, fiddling with a paint rag.
"Hum!" observed Mr. Oxford, and gazed in silence. Then: "Two hundred and
Priam had virtually promised to deliver that picture to the
picture-framer on the next day, and he had not expected to receive a
penny more than twelve pounds for it. But artists are strange organisms.
He shook his head. Although two hundred and fifty pounds was as much as
he had earned in the previous twelve months, he shook his grey head.
"No?" said Mr. Oxford kindly and respectfully, putting his hands behind
his back. "By the way," he turned with eagerness to Priam, "I presume
you have seen the portrait of Ariosto by Titian that they've bought for
the National Gallery? What is your opinion of it, _maitre_?" He stood
expectant, glowing with interest.
"Except that it isn't Ariosto, and it certainly isn't by Titian, it's a
pretty high-class sort of thing," said Priam.
Mr. Oxford smiled with appreciative content, nodding his head. "I hoped
you would say so," he remarked. And swiftly he passed on to Segantini,
then to J.W. Morrice, and then to Bonnard, demanding the _maitre's_
views. In a few moments they were really discussing pictures. And it was
years since Priam had listened to the voice of informed common sense on
the subject of painting. It was years since he had heard anything but
exceeding puerility concerning pictures. He had, in fact, accustomed
himself not to listen; he had excavated a passage direct from one ear to
the other for such remarks. And now he drank up the conversation of Mr.
Oxford, and perceived that he had long been thirsty. And he spoke his
mind. He grew warmer, more enthusiastic, more impassioned. And Mr.
Oxford listened with ecstasy. Mr. Oxford had apparently a natural
discretion. He simply accepted Priam, as he stood, for a great painter.
No reference to the enigma why a great painter should be painting in an
attic in Werter Road, Putney! No inconvenient queries about the great
painter's previous history and productions. Just the frank, full
acceptance of his genius! It was odd, but it was comfortable.
"So you won't take two hundred and fifty?" asked Mr. Oxford, hopping
back to business.
"No," said Priam sturdily. "The truth is," he added, "I should rather
like to keep that picture for myself."
"Will you take five hundred, _maitre_?"
"Yes, I suppose I will," and Priam sighed. A genuine sigh! For he would
really have liked to keep the picture. He knew he had never painted a
"And may I carry it away with me?" asked Mr. Oxford.
"I expect so," said Priam.
"I wonder if I might venture to ask you to come back to town with me?"
Mr. Oxford went on, in gentle deference. "I have one or two pictures I
should very much like you to see, and I fancy they might give you
pleasure. And we could talk over future business. If possibly you could
spare an hour or so. If I might request----"
A desire rose in Priam's breast and fought against his timidity. The
tone in which Mr. Oxford had said "I fancy they might give you pleasure"
appeared to indicate something very much out of the common. And Priam
could scarcely recollect when last his eyes had rested on a picture that
was at once unfamiliar and great.
I have already indicated that the machine was somewhat out of the
ordinary. It was, as a fact, exceedingly out of the ordinary. It was
much larger than electric carriages usually are. It had what the writers
of 'motoring notes' in papers written by the wealthy for the wealthy
love to call a 'limousine body.' And outside and in, it was miraculously
new and spotless. On the ivory handles of its doors, on its soft yellow
leather upholstery, on its cedar woodwork, on its patent blind
apparatus, on its silver fittings, on its lamps, on its footstools, on
its silken arm-slings--not the minutest trace of usage! Mr. Oxford's car
seemed to show that Mr. Oxford never used a car twice, purchasing a new
car every morning, like stockbrokers their silk hats, or the Duke of
Selsea his trousers. There was a table in the 'body' for writing, and
pockets up and down devised to hold documents, also two arm-chairs, and
a suspended contrivance which showed the hour, the temperature, and the
fluctuations of the barometer; there was also a speaking-tube. One felt
that if the machine had been connected by wireless telegraphy with the
Stock Exchange, the leading studios and the Houses of Parliament, and if
a little restaurant had been constructed in the rear, Mr. Oxford might
never have been under the necessity of leaving the car; that he might
have passed all his days in it from morn to latest eve.
The perfection of the machine and of Mr. Oxford's attire and complexion
caused Priam to look rather shabby. Indeed, he was rather shabby.
Shabbiness had slightly overtaken him in Putney. Once he had been a
dandy; but that was in the lamented Leek's time. And as the car glided,
without smell and without noise, through the encumbered avenues of
London towards the centre, now shooting forward like a star, now
stopping with gentle suddenness, now swerving in a swift curve round a
vehicle earthy and leaden-wheeled, Priam grew more and more
uncomfortable. He had sunk into a groove at Putney. He never left
Putney, save occasionally to refresh himself at the National Gallery,
and thither he invariably went by train and tube, because the tube
always filled him with wonder and romance, and always threw him up out
of the earth at the corner of Trafalgar Square with such a strange
exhilaration in his soul. So that he had not seen the main avenues of
London for a long time. He had been forgetting riches and luxury, and
the oriental cigarette-shops whose proprietors' names end in 'opoulos,'
and the haughtiness of the ruling classes, and the still sterner
haughtiness of their footmen. He had now abandoned Alice in Putney. And
a mysterious demon seized him and gripped him, and sought to pull him
back in the direction of the simplicity of Putney, and struggled with
him fiercely, and made him writhe and shrink before the brilliant
phenomena of London's centre, and indeed almost pitched him out of the
car and set him running as hard as legs would carry to Putney. It was
the demon which we call habit. He would have given a picture to be in
Putney, instead of swimming past Hyde Park Corner to the accompaniment
of Mr. Oxford's amiable and deferential and tactful conversation.
However, his other demon, shyness, kept him from imperiously stopping
The car stopped itself in Bond Street, in front of a building with a
wide archway, and the symbol of empire floating largely over its roof.
Placards said that admission through the archway was a shilling; but Mr.
Oxford, bearing Priam's latest picture as though it had cost fifty
thousand instead of five hundred pounds, went straight into the place
without paying, and Priam accepted his impressive invitation to follow.
Aged military veterans whose breasts carried a row of medals saluted Mr.
Oxford as he entered, and, within the penetralia, beings in silk hats as
faultless as Mr. Oxford's raised those hats to Mr. Oxford, who did not
raise his in reply. Merely nodded, Napoleonically! His demeanour had
greatly changed. You saw here the man of unbending will, accustomed to
use men as pawns in the chess of a complicated career. Presently they
reached a private office where Mr. Oxford, with the assistance of a
page, removed his gloves, furs, and hat, and sent sharply for a man who
at once brought a frame which fitted Priam's picture.
"Do have a cigar," Mr. Oxford urged Priam, with a quick return to his
earlier manner, offering a box in which each cigar was separately
encased in gold-leaf. The cigar was such as costs a crown in a
restaurant, half-a-crown in a shop, and twopence in Amsterdam. It was a
princely cigar, with the odour of paradise and an ash as white as snow.
But Priam could not appreciate it. No! He had seen on a beaten copper
plate under the archway these words: 'Parfitts' Galleries.' He was in
the celebrated galleries of his former dealers, whom by the way he had
never seen. And he was afraid. He was mortally apprehensive, and had a
sickly sensation in the stomach.
After they had scrupulously inspected the picture, through the clouds of
incense, Mr. Oxford wrote out a cheque for five hundred pounds, and,
cigar in mouth, handed it to Priam, who tried to take it with a casual
air and did not succeed. It was signed 'Parfitts'.'
"I dare say you have heard that I'm now the sole proprietor of this
place," said Mr. Oxford through his cigar.
"Really!" said Priam, feeling just as nervous as an inexperienced youth.
Then Mr. Oxford led Priam over thick carpets to a saloon where electric
light was thrown by means of reflectors on to a small but incomparable
band of pictures. Mr. Oxford had not exaggerated. They did give pleasure
to Priam. They were not the pictures one sees every day, nor once a
year. There was the finest Delacroix of its size that Priam had ever met
with; also a Vermeer that made it unnecessary to visit the Ryks Museum.
And on the more distant wall, to which Mr. Oxford came last, in a place
of marked honour, was an evening landscape of Volterra, a hill-town in
Italy. The bolts of Priam's very soul started when he caught sight of
that picture. On the lower edge of the rich frame were two words in
black lettering: 'Priam Farll.' How well he remembered painting it! And
how masterfully beautiful it was!
"Now that," said Mr. Oxford, "is in my humble opinion one of the finest
Farlls in existence. What do you think, Mr. Leek?"
Priam paused. "I agree with you," said he.
"Farll," said Mr. Oxford, "is about the only modern painter that can
stand the company that that picture has in this room, eh?"
Priam blushed. "Yes," he said.
There is a considerable difference, in various matters, between Putney
and Volterra; but the picture of Volterra and the picture of Putney High
Street were obviously, strikingly, incontestably, by the same hand; one
could not but perceive the same brush-work, the same masses, the same
manner of seeing and of grasping, in a word the same dazzling and
austere translation of nature. The resemblance jumped at one and shook
one by the shoulders. It could not have escaped even an auctioneer. Yet
Mr. Oxford did not refer to it. He seemed quite blind to it. All he said
was, as they left the room, and Priam finished his rather monosyllabic
"Yes, that's the little collection I've just got together, and I am very
proud to have shown it to you. Now I want you to come and lunch with me
at my club. Please do. I should be desolated if you refused."
Priam did not care a halfpenny about the desolation of Mr. Oxford; and
he most sincerely objected to lunch at Mr. Oxford's club. But he said
"Yes" because it was the easiest thing for his shyness to do, Mr. Oxford
being a determined man. Priam was afraid to go. He was disturbed,
alarmed, affrighted, by the mystery of Mr. Oxford's silence.
They arrived at the club in the car.
Priam had never been in a club before. The statement may astonish, may
even meet with incredulity, but it is true. He had left the land of
clubs early in life. As for the English clubs in European towns, he was
familiar with their exteriors, and with the amiable babble of their
supporters at _tables d'hote,_ and his desire for further knowledge had
not been so hot as to inconvenience him. Hence he knew nothing of clubs.
Mr. Oxford's club alarmed and intimidated him; it was so big and so
black. Externally it resembled a town-hall of some great industrial
town. As you stood on the pavement at the bottom of the flight of giant
steps that led to the first pair of swinging doors, your head was
certainly lower than the feet of a being who examined you sternly from
the other side of the glass. Your head was also far below the sills of
the mighty windows of the ground-floor. There were two storeys above the
ground-floor, and above them a projecting eave of carven stone that
threatened the uplifted eye like a menace. The tenth part of a slate,
the merest chip of a corner, falling from the lofty summit of that pile,
would have slain elephants. And all the facade was black, black with
ages of carbonic deposit. The notion that the building was a town-hall
that had got itself misplaced and perverted gradually left you as you
gazed. You perceived its falseness. You perceived that Mr. Oxford's club
was a monument, a relic of the days when there were giants on earth,
that it had come down unimpaired to a race of pigmies, who were making
the best of it. The sole descendant of the giants was the scout behind
the door. As Mr. Oxford and Priam climbed towards it, this unique giant,
with a giant's force, pulled open the gigantic door, and Mr. Oxford and
Priam walked imperceptibly in, and the door swung to with a large
displacement of air. Priam found himself in an immense interior, under a
distant carved ceiling, far, far upwards, like heaven. He watched Mr.
Oxford write his name in a gigantic folio, under a gigantic clock. This
accomplished, Mr. Oxford led him past enormous vistas to right and left,
into a very long chamber, both of whose long walls were studded with
thousands upon thousands of massive hooks--and here and there upon a
hook a silk hat or an overcoat. Mr. Oxford chose a couple of hooks in
the expanse, and when they had divested themselves sufficiently he led
Priam forwards into another great chamber evidently meant to recall the
baths of Carcalla. In gigantic basins chiselled out of solid granite,
Priam scrubbed his finger-nails with a nail-brush larger than he had
previously encountered, even in nightmares, and an attendant brushed his
coat with a utensil that resembled a weapon of offence lately the
property of Anak.
"Shall we go straight to the dining-room now," asked Mr. Oxford, "or
will you have a gin and angostura first?"
Priam declined the gin and angostura, and they went up an overwhelming
staircase of sombre marble, and through other apartments to the
dining-room, which would have made an excellent riding-school. Here one
had six of the gigantic windows in a row, each with curtains that fell
in huge folds from the unseen into the seen. The ceiling probably
existed. On every wall were gigantic paintings in thick ornate frames,
and between the windows stood heroic busts of marble set upon columns of
basalt. The chairs would have been immovable had they not run on castors
of weight-resisting rock, yet against the tables they had the air of
negligible toys. At one end of the room was a sideboard that would not
have groaned under an ox whole, and at the other a fire, over which an
ox might have been roasted in its entirety, leaped under a mantelpiece
upon which Goliath could not have put his elbows.
All was silent and grave; the floors were everywhere covered with heavy
carpets which hushed all echoes. There was not the faintest sound.
Sound, indeed, seemed to be deprecated. Priam had already passed the
wide entrance to one illimitable room whose walls were clothed with
warnings in gigantic letters: 'Silence.' And he had noticed that all
chairs and couches were thickly padded and upholstered in soft leather,
and that it was impossible to produce in them the slightest creak. At a
casual glance the place seemed unoccupied, but on more careful
inspection you saw midgets creeping about, or seated in easy-chairs that
had obviously been made to hold two of them; these midgets were the
members of the club, dwarfed into dolls by its tremendous dimensions. A
strange and sinister race! They looked as though in the final stages of
decay, and wherever their heads might rest was stretched a white cloth,
so that their heads might not touch the spots sanctified by the heads of
the mighty departed. They rarely spoke to one another, but exchanged
regards of mutual distrust and scorn; and if by chance they did converse
it was in tones of weary, brusque disillusion. They could at best descry
each other but indistinctly in the universal pervading gloom--a gloom
upon which electric lamps, shining dimly yellow in their vast lustres,
produced almost no impression. The whole establishment was buried in the
past, dreaming of its Titantic yore, when there were doubtless giants
who could fill those fauteuils and stick their feet on those
It was in such an environment that Mr. Oxford gave Priam to eat and to
drink off little ordinary plates and out of tiny tumblers. No hint of
the club's immemorial history in that excessively modern and excellent
repast--save in the Stilton cheese, which seemed to have descended from
the fine fruity days of some Homeric age, a cheese that Ulysses might
have inaugurated. I need hardly say that the total effect on Priam's
temperament was disastrous. (Yet how could the diplomatic Mr. Oxford
have guessed that Priam had never been in a club before?) It induced in
him a speechless anguish, and he would have paid a sum as gigantic as
the club--he would have paid the very cheque in his pocket--never to
have met Mr. Oxford. He was a far too sensitive man for a club, and his
moods were incalculable. Assuredly Mr. Oxford had miscalculated the
result of his club on Priam's humour; he soon saw his error.
"Suppose we take coffee in the smoking-room?" he said.
The populous smoking-room was the one part of the club where talking
with a natural loudness was not a crime. Mr. Oxford found a corner
fairly free from midgets, and they established themselves in it, and
liqueurs and cigars accompanied the coffee. You could actually see
midgets laughing outright in the mist of smoke; the chatter narrowly
escaped being a din; and at intervals a diminutive boy entered and
bawled the name of a midget at the top of his voice, Priam was suddenly
electrified, and Mr. Oxford, very alert, noticed the electrification.
Mr. Oxford drank his coffee somewhat quickly, and then he leaned forward
a little over the table, and put his moon-like face nearer to Priam's,
and arranged his legs in a truly comfortable position beneath the table,
and expelled a large quantity of smoke from his cigar. It was clearly
the preliminary to a scene of confidence, the approach to the crisis to
which he had for several hours been leading up.
Priam's heart trembled.
"What is your opinion, _maitre_," he asked, "of the ultimate value of
Priam was in misery. Mr. Oxford's manner was deferential, amiable and
expectant. But Priam did not know what to say. He only knew what he
would do if he could have found the courage to do it: run away,
recklessly, unceremoniously, out of that club.
"I--I don't know," said Priam, visibly whitening.
"Because I've bought a goodish few Farlls in my time," Mr. Oxford
continued, "and I must say I've sold them well. I've only got that one
left that I showed you this morning, and I've been wondering whether I
should stick to it and wait for a possible further rise, or sell it at
"How much can you sell it for?" Priam mumbled.
"I don't mind telling you," said Mr. Oxford, "that I fancy I could sell
it for a couple of thousand. It's rather small, but it's one of the
finest in existence."
"I should sell it," said Priam, scarcely audible.
"You would? Well, perhaps you're right. It's a question, in my mind,
whether some other painter may not turn up one of these days who would
do that sort of thing even better than Farll did it. I could imagine the
possibility of a really clever man coming along and imitating Farll so
well that only people like yourself, _maitre_, and perhaps me, could
tell the difference. It's just the kind of work that might be
brilliantly imitated, if the imitator was clever enough, don't you
"But what do you mean?" asked Priam, perspiring in his back.
"Well," said Mr. Oxford vaguely, "one never knows. The style might be
imitated, and the market flooded with canvases practically as good as
Farll's. Nobody might find it out for quite a long time, and then there
might be confusion in the public mind, followed by a sharp fall in
prices. And the beauty of it is that the public wouldn't really be any
the worse. Because an imitation that no one can distinguish from the
original is naturally as good as the original. You take me? There's
certainly a tremendous chance for a man who could seize it, and that's
why I'm inclined to accept your advice and sell my one remaining Farll."
He smiled more and more confidentially. His gaze was charged with a
secret meaning. He seemed to be suggesting unspeakable matters to Priam.
That bright face wore an expression which such faces wear on such
occasions--an expression cheerfully insinuating that after all there is
no right and no wrong--or at least that many things which the ordinary
slave of convention would consider to be wrong are really right. So
Priam read the expression.
"The dirty rascal wants me to manufacture imitations of myself for him!"
Priam thought, full of sudden, hidden anger. "He's known all along that
there's no difference between what I sold him and the picture he's
already had. He wants to suggest that we should come to terms. He's
simply been playing a game with me up to now." And he said aloud, "I
don't know that I _advise_ you to do anything. I'm not a dealer, Mr.
He said it in a hostile tone that ought to have silenced Mr. Oxford for
ever, but it did not. Mr. Oxford curved away, like a skater into a new
figure, and began to expatiate minutely upon the merits of the Volterra
picture. He analyzed it in so much detail, and lauded it with as much
justice, as though the picture was there before them. Priam was
astonished at the man's exactitude. "Scoundrel! He knows a thing or
two!" reflected Priam grimly.
"You don't think I overpraise it, do you, _cher maitre?_ Mr. Oxford
finished, still smiling.
"A little," said Priam.
If only Priam could have run away! But he couldn't! Mr. Oxford had him
well in a corner. No chance of freedom! Besides, he was over fifty and
"Ah! Now I was expecting you to say that! Do you mind telling me at what
period you painted it?" Mr. Oxford inquired, very blandly, though his
hands were clasped in a violent tension that forced the blood from the
region of the knuckle-joints.
This was the crisis which Mr. Oxford had been leading up to! All the
time Mr. Oxford's teethy smile had concealed a knowledge of Priam's
* * * * *
"What do you mean?" asked Priam Farll. But he put the question weakly,
and he might just as well have said, "I know what you mean, and I would
pay a million pounds or so in order to sink through the floor." A few
minutes ago he would only have paid five hundred pounds or so in order
to run simply away. Now he wanted Maskelyne miracles to happen to him.
The universe seemed to be caving in about the ears of Priam Farll.
Mr. Oxford was still smiling; smiling, however, as a man holds his
breath for a wager. You felt that he could not keep it up much longer.
"You _are_ Priam Farll, aren't you?" said Mr. Oxford in a very low
"What makes you think I'm Priam Farll?"
"I think you are Priam Farll because you painted that picture I bought
from you this morning, and I am sure that no one but Priam Farll could
have painted it."
"Then you've been playing a game with me all morning!"
"Please don't put it like that, _cher maitre_," Mr. Oxford whisperingly
pleaded. "I only wished to feel my ground. I know that Priam Farll is
supposed to have been buried in Westminster Abbey. But for me the
existence of that picture of Putney High Street, obviously just painted,
is an absolute proof that he is not buried in Westminster Abbey, and
that he still lives. It is an amazing thing that there should have been
a mistake at the funeral, an utterly amazing thing, which involves all
sorts of consequences! But that's not my business. Of course there must
be clear reasons for what occurred. I am not interested in them--I mean
not professionally. I merely argue, when I see a certain picture, with
the paint still wet on it: 'That picture was painted by a certain
painter. I am an expert, and I stake my reputation on it' It's no use
telling me that the painter in question died several years ago and was
buried with national honours in Westminster Abbey. I say it couldn't
have been so. I'm a connoisseur. And if the facts of his death and
burial don't agree with the result of my connoisseurship, I say they
aren't facts. I say there's been a--a misunderstanding about--er--
corpses. Now, _cher maitre_, what do you think of my position?"
Mr. Oxford drummed lightly on the table.
"I don't know," said Priam. Which was another lie.
"You _are_ Priam Farll, aren't you?" Mr. Oxford persisted.
"Well, if you will have it," said Priam savagely, "I am. And now you
Mr. Oxford let his smile go. He had held it for an incredible time. He
let it go, and sighed a gentle and profound relief. He had been skating
over the thinnest ice, and had reached the bank amid terrific crackings,
and he began to appreciate the extent of the peril braved. He had been
perfectly sure of his connoisseurship. But when one says one is
perfectly sure, especially if one says it with immense emphasis, one
always means 'imperfectly sure.' So it was with Mr. Oxford. And really,
to argue, from the mere existence of a picture, that a tremendous deceit
had been successfully practised upon the most formidable of nations,
implies rather more than rashness on the part of the arguer.
"But I don't want it to get about," said Priam, still in a savage
whisper. "And I don't want to talk about it." He looked at the nearest
midgets resentfully, suspecting them of eavesdropping.
"Precisely," said Mr. Oxford, but in a tone that lacked conviction.
"It's a matter that only concerns me," said Priam.
"Precisely," Mr. Oxford repeated. "At least it _ought_ to concern only
you. And I can't assure you too positively that I'm the last person in
the world to want to pry; but--"
"You must kindly remember," said Priam, interrupting, "that you bought
that picture this morning simply _as_ a picture, on its merits. You have
no authority to attach my name to it, and I must ask you not to do so."
"Certainly," agreed Mr. Oxford. "I bought it as a masterpiece, and I'm
quite content with my bargain. I want no signature."
"I haven't signed my pictures for twenty years," said Priam.
"Pardon me," said Mr. Oxford. "Every square inch of every one is
unmistakably signed. You could not put a brush on a canvas without
signing it. It is the privilege of only the greatest painters not to put
letters on the corners of their pictures in order to keep other painters
from taking the credit for them afterwards. For me, all your pictures
are signed. But there are some people who want more proof than
connoisseurship can give, and that's where the trouble is going to be."
"Trouble?" said Priam, with an intensification of his misery.
"Yes," said Mr. Oxford. "I must tell you, so that you can understand the
situation." He became very solemn, showing that he had at last reached
the real point. "Some time ago a man, a little dealer, came to me and
offered me a picture that I instantly recognized as one of yours. I
"How much did you pay for it?" Priam growled.
After a pause Mr. Oxford said, "I don't mind giving you the figure. I
paid fifty pounds for it."
"Did you!" exclaimed Priam, perceiving that some person or persons had
made four hundred per cent. on his work by the time it had arrived at a
big dealer. "Who was the fellow?"
"Oh, a little dealer. Nobody. Jew, of course." Mr. Oxford's way of
saying 'Jew' was ineffably ironic. Priam knew that, being a Jew, the
dealer could not be his frame-maker, who was a pure-bred Yorkshireman
from Ravensthorpe. Mr. Oxford continued, "I sold that picture and
guaranteed it to be a Priam Farll."
"The devil you did!"
"Yes. I had sufficient confidence in my judgment."
"Who bought it?"
"Whitney C. Witt, of New York. He's an old man now, of course. I expect
you remember him, _cher maitre_." Mr. Oxford's eyes twinkled. "I sold it
to him, and of course he accepted my guarantee. Soon afterwards I had
the offer of other pictures obviously by you, from the same dealer. And
I bought them. I kept on buying them. I dare say I've bought forty
"Did your little dealer guess whose work they were?" Priam demanded
"Not he! If he had done, do you suppose he'd have parted with them for
fifty pounds apiece? Mind, at first I thought I was buying pictures
painted before your supposed death. I thought, like the rest of the
world, that you were--in the Abbey. Then I began to have doubts. And one
day when a bit of paint came off on my thumb, I can tell you I was
startled. However, I stuck to my opinion, and I kept on guaranteeing the
pictures as Farlls."
"It never occurred to you to make any inquiries?"
"Yes, it did," said Mr. Oxford. "I did my best to find out from the
dealer where he got the pictures from, but he wouldn't tell me. Well, I
sort of scented a mystery. Now I've got no professional use for
mysteries, and I came to the conclusion that I'd better just let this
one alone. So I did."
"Well, why didn't you keep on leaving it alone?" Priam asked.
"Because circumstances won't let me. I sold practically all those
pictures to Whitney C. Witt. It was all right. Anyhow I thought it was
all right. I put Parfitts' name and reputation on their being yours. And
then one day I heard from Mr. Witt that on the back of the canvas of one
of the pictures the name of the canvas-makers, and a date, had been
stamped, with a rubber stamp, and that the date was after your supposed
burial, and that his London solicitors had made inquiries from the
artist's-material people here, and these people were prepared to prove
that the canvas was made after Priam Farll's funeral. You see the fix?"
"My reputation--Parfitts'--is at stake. If those pictures aren't by you,
I'm a swindler. Parfitts' name is gone for ever, and there'll be the
greatest scandal that ever was. Witt is threatening proceedings. I
offered to take the whole lot back at the price he paid me, without any
commission. But he won't. He's an old man; a bit of a maniac I expect,
and he won't. He's angry. He thinks he's been swindled, and what he says
is that he's going to see the thing through. I've got to prove to him
that the pictures are yours. I've got to show him what grounds I had for
giving my guarantee. Well, to cut a long story short, I've found you,
I'm glad to say!"
He sighed again.
"Look here," said Priam. "How much has Witt paid you altogether for my
After a pause, Mr. Oxford said, "I don't mind giving you the figure.
He's paid me seventy-two thousand pounds odd." He smiled, as if to
When Priam Farll reflected that he had received about four hundred
pounds for those pictures--vastly less than one per cent, of what the
shiny and prosperous dealer had ultimately disposed of them for, the
traditional fury of the artist against the dealer--of the producer
against the parasitic middleman--sprang into flame in his heart. Up till
then he had never had any serious cause of complaint against his
dealers. (Extremely successful artists seldom have.) Now he saw dealers,
as the ordinary painters see them, to be the authors of all evil! Now he
understood by what methods Mr. Oxford had achieved his splendid car,
clothes, club, and minions. These things were earned, not by Mr. Oxford,
but _for_ Mr. Oxford in dingy studios, even in attics, by shabby
industrious painters! Mr. Oxford was nothing but an opulent thief, a
grinder of the face of genius. Mr. Oxford was, in a word, the spawn of
the devil, and Priam silently but sincerely consigned him to his proper
It was excessively unjust of Priam. Nobody had asked Priam to die.
Nobody had asked him to give up his identity. If he had latterly been
receiving tens instead of thousands for his pictures, the fault was his
alone. Mr. Oxford had only bought and only sold; which was his true
function. But Mr. Oxford's sin, in Priam's eyes, was the sin of having
It would have needed less insight than Mr. Oxford had at his disposal to
see that Priam Farll was taking the news very badly.
"For both our sakes, _cher maitre_," said Mr. Oxford persuasively, "I
think it will be advisable for you to put me in a position to prove that
my guarantee to Witt was justified."
"Why for both our sakes?"
"Because, well, I shall be delighted to pay you, say thirty-six thousand
pounds in acknowledgment of--er--" He stopped.
Probably he had instantly perceived that he was committing a disastrous
error of tact. Either he should have offered nothing, or he should have
offered the whole sum he had received less a small commission. To
suggest dividing equally with Priam was the instinctive impulse, the
fatal folly, of a born dealer. And Mr. Oxford was a born dealer.
"I won't accept a penny," said Priam. "And I can't help you in any way.
I'm afraid I must go now. I'm late as it is."
His cold resistless fury drove him forward, and, without the slightest
regard for the amenities of clubs, he left the table, Mr. Oxford,
becoming more and more the dealer, rose and followed him, even directed
him to the gigantic cloak-room, murmuring the while soft persuasions and
pacifications in Priam's ear.
"There may be an action in the courts," said Mr. Oxford in the grand
entrance hall, "and your testimony would be indispensable to me."
"I can have nothing to do with it. Good-day!"
The giant at the door could scarce open the gigantic portal quickly
enough for him. He fled--fled, surrounded by nightmare visions of
horrible publicity in a law-court. Unthinkable tortures! He damned Mr.
Oxford to the nethermost places, and swore that he would not lift a
finger to save Mr. Oxford from penal servitude for life.
He stood on the kerb of the monument, talking to himself savagely. At
any rate he was safely outside the monument, with its pullulating
population of midgets creeping over its carpets and lounging
insignificant on its couches. He could not remember clearly what had
occurred since the moment of his getting up from the table; he could not
remember seeing anything or anyone on his way out; but he could remember
the persuasive, deferential voice of Mr. Oxford following him
persistently as far as the giant's door. In recollection that club was
like an abode of black magic to him; it seemed so hideously alive in its
deadness, and its doings were so absurd and mysterious. "Silence,
silence!" commanded the white papers in one vast chamber, and, in
another, babel existed! And then that terrible mute dining-room, with
the high, unscalable mantelpieces that no midget could ever reach! He
kept uttering the most dreadful judgments on the club and on Mr. Oxford,
in quite audible tones, oblivious of the street. He was aroused by a
rather scared man saluting him. It was Mr. Oxford's chauffeur, waiting
patiently till his master should be ready to re-enter the wheeled salon.
The chauffeur apparently thought him either demented or inebriated, but
his sole duty was to salute, and he did nothing else.
Quite forgetting that this chauffeur was a fellow-creature, Priam
immediately turned upon his heel, and hurried down the street. At the
corner of the street was a large bank, and Priam, acquiring the reckless
courage of the soldier in battle, entered the bank. He had never been in
a London bank before. At first it reminded him of the club, with the
addition of an enormous placard giving the day of the month as a
mystical number--14--and other placards displaying solitary letters of
the alphabet. Then he saw that it was a huge menagerie in which highly
trained young men of assorted sizes and years were confined in stout
cages of wire and mahogany. He stamped straight to a cage with a hole in
it, and threw down the cheque for five hundred pounds--defiantly.
"Next desk, please," said a mouth over a high collar and a green tie,
behind the grating, and a disdainful hand pushed the cheque back towards
"Next desk!" repeated Priam, dashed but furious.
"This is the A to M desk," said the mouth.
Then Priam understood the solitary letters, and he rushed, with a new
accession of fury, to the adjoining cage, where another disdainful hand
picked up the cheque and turned it over, with an air of saying, "Fishy,
And, "It isn't endorsed!" said another mouth over another high collar
and green tie. The second disdainful hand pushed the cheque back again
to Priam, as though it had been a begging circular.
"Oh, if that's all!" said Priam, almost speechless from anger. "Have you
got such a thing as a pen?"
He was behaving in an extremely unreasonable manner. He had no right to
visit his spleen on a perfectly innocent bank that paid twenty-five per
cent to its shareholders and a thousand a year each to its directors,
and what trifle was left over to its men in rages. But Priam was not
like you or me. He did not invariably act according to reason. He could
not be angry with one man at once, nor even with one building at once.
When he was angry he was inclusively and miscellaneously angry; and the
sun, moon, and stars did not escape.
After he had endorsed the cheque the disdainful hand clawed it up once
more, and directed upon its obverse and upon its reverse a battery of
suspicions; then a pair of eyes glanced with critical distrust at so
much of Priam's person as was visible. Then the eyes moved back, the
mouth opened, in a brief word, and lo! there were four eyes and two
mouths over the cheque, and four for an instant on Priam. Priam expected
some one to call for a policeman; in spite of himself he felt guilty--or
anyhow dubious. It was the grossest insult to him to throw doubt on the
cheque and to examine him in that frigid, shamelessly disillusioned
"You _are_ Mr. Leek?" a mouth moved.
"Yes" (very slowly).
"How would you like this?"
"I'll thank you to give it me in notes," answered Priam haughtily.
When the disdainful hand had counted twice every corner of a pile of
notes, and had dropped the notes one by one, with a peculiar snapping
sound of paper, in front of Priam, Priam crushed them together and
crammed them without any ceremony and without gratitude to the giver,
into the right pocket of his trousers. And he stamped out of the
building with curses on his lips.
Still, he felt better, he felt assuaged. To cultivate and nourish a
grievance when you have five hundred pounds in your pocket, in cash, is
the most difficult thing in the world.
_A Visit to the Tailors'_
He gradually grew calmer by dint of walking--aimless, fast walking, with
a rapt expression of the eyes that on crowded pavements cleared the way
for him more effectually than a shouting footman. And then he debouched
unexpectedly on to the Embankment. Dusk was already falling on the noble
curve of the Thames, and the mighty panorama stretched before him in a
manner mysteriously impressive which has made poets of less poetic men
than Priam Farll. Grand hotels, offices of millionaires and of
governments, grand hotels, swards and mullioned windows of the law,
grand hotels, the terrific arches of termini, cathedral domes, houses of
parliament, and grand hotels, rose darkly around him on the arc of the
river, against the dark violet murk of the sky. Huge trams swam past him
like glass houses, and hansoms shot past the trams and automobiles past
the hansoms; and phantom barges swirled down on the full ebb, threading
holes in bridges as cotton threads a needle. It was London, and the roar
of London, majestic, imperial, super-Roman. And lo! earlier than the
earliest municipal light, an unseen hand, the hand of destiny, printed a
writing on the wall of vague gloom that was beginning to hide the
opposite bank. And the writing said that Shipton's tea was the best. And
then the hand wiped largely out that message and wrote in another spot
that Macdonnell's whisky was the best; and so these two doctrines, in
their intermittent pyrotechnics, continued to give the lie to each other
under the deepening night. Quite five minutes passed before Priam
perceived, between the altercating doctrines, the high scaffold-clad
summit of a building which was unfamiliar to him. It looked serenely and
immaterially beautiful in the evening twilight, and as he was close to
Waterloo Bridge, his curiosity concerning beauty took him over to the
south bank of the Thames.
After losing himself in the purlieus of Waterloo Station, he at last
discovered the rear of the building. Yes, it was a beautiful thing; its
tower climbed in several coloured storeys, diminishing till it expired
in a winged figure on the sky. And below, the building was broad and
massive, with a frontage of pillars over great arched windows. Two
cranes stuck their arms out from the general mass, and the whole
enterprise was guarded in a hedge of hoardings. Through the narrow
doorway in the hoarding came the flare and the hissing of a Wells's
light. Priam Farll glanced timidly within. The interior was immense. In
a sort of court of honour a group of muscular, hairy males, silhouetted
against an illuminated latticework of scaffolding, were chipping and
paring at huge blocks of stone. It was a subject for a Rembrandt.
A fat untidy man meditatively approached the doorway. He had a roll of
tracing papers in his hand, and the end of a long, thick pencil in his
mouth. He was the man who interpreted the dreams of the architect to the
dreamy British artisan. Experience of life had made him somewhat
"Look here," he said to Priam; "what the devil do you want?"
"What the devil do I want?" repeated Priam, who had not yet altogether
fallen away from his mood of universal defiance. "I only want to know
what the h-ll this building is."
The fat man was a little startled. He took his pencil from his mouth,
"It's the new Picture Gallery, built under the will of that there Priam
Farll. I should ha' thought you'd ha' known that." Priam's lips trembled
on the verge of an exclamation. "See that?" the fat man pursued,
pointing to a small board on the hoarding. The board said, "No hands
The fat man coldly scrutinized Priam's appearance, from his greenish hat
to his baggy creased boots.
Priam walked away.
He was dumbfounded. Then he was furious again. He perfectly saw the
humour of the situation, but it was not the kind of humour that induced
rollicking laughter. He was furious, and employed the language of fury,
when it is not overheard. Absorbed by his craft of painting, as in the
old Continental days, he had long since ceased to read the newspapers,
and though he had not forgotten his bequest to the nation, he had never
thought of it as taking architectural shape. He was not aware of his
cousin Duncan's activities for the perpetuation of the family name. The
thing staggered him. The probabilities of the strange consequences of
dead actions swept against him and overwhelmed him. Once, years ago and
years ago, in a resentful mood, he had written a few lines on a piece of
paper, and signed them in the presence of witnesses. Then
nothing--nothing whatever--for two decades! The paper slept... and now
this--this tremendous concrete result in the heart of London! It was
incredible. It passed the bounds even of lawful magic.
His palace, his museum! The fruit of a captious hour!
Ah! But he was furious. Like every ageing artist of genuine
accomplishment, he knew--none better--that there is no satisfaction save
the satisfaction of fatigue after honest endeavour. He knew--none
better--that wealth and glory and fine clothes are nought, and that
striving is all. He had never been happier than during the last two
years. Yet the finest souls have their reactions, their rebellions
against wise reason. And Priam's soul was in insurrection then. He
wanted wealth and glory and fine clothes once more. It seemed to him
that he was out of the world and that he must return to it. The covert
insults of Mr. Oxford rankled and stung. And the fat foreman had
mistaken him for a workman cadging for a job.
He walked rapidly to the bridge and took a cab to Conduit Street, where
dwelt a firm of tailors with whose Paris branch he had had dealings in
his dandiacal past.
An odd impulse perhaps, but natural.
A lighted clock-tower--far to his left as the cab rolled across the
bridge--showed that a legislative providence was watching over Israel.
_Alice on the Situation_
"I bet the building alone won't cost less than seventy thousand pounds,"
He was back again with Alice in the intimacy of Werter Road, and
relating to her, in part, the adventures of the latter portion of the
day. He had reached home long after tea-time; she, with her natural
sagacity, had not waited tea for him. Now she had prepared a rather
special tea for the adventurer, and she was sitting opposite to him at
the little table, with nothing to do but listen and refill his cup.
"Well," she said mildly, and without the least surprise at his figures,
"I don't know what he could have been thinking of--your Priam Farll! I
call it just silly. It isn't as if there wasn't enough picture-galleries
already. When what there are are so full that you can't get in--then it
will be time enough to think about fresh ones. I've been to the National
Gallery twice, and upon my word I was almost the only person there! And
it's free too! People don't _want_ picture-galleries. If they did they'd
go. Who ever saw a public-house empty, or Peter Robinson's? And you have
to pay there! Silly, I call it! Why couldn't he have left his money to
you, or at any rate to the hospitals or something of that? No, it isn't
silly. It's scandalous! It ought to be stopped!"
Now Priam had resolved that evening to make a serious, gallant attempt
to convince his wife of his own identity. He was approaching the
critical point. This speech of hers intimidated him, rather complicated
his difficulties, but he determined to proceed bravely.
"Have you put sugar in this?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "But you've forgotten to stir it. I'll stir it for
A charming wifely attention! It enheartened him.
"I say, Alice," he said, as she stirred, "you remember when first I told
you I could paint?"
"Yes," she said.
"Well, at first you thought I was daft. You thought my mind was
wandering, didn't you?"
"No," she said, "I only thought you'd got a bee in your bonnet." She
"Well, I hadn't, had I?"
"Seeing the money you've made, I should just say you hadn't," she
handsomely admitted. "Where we should be without it I don't know."
"You were wrong, weren't you? And I was right?"
"Of course," she beamed.
"And do you remember that time I told you I was really Priam Farll?"
She nodded, reluctantly.
"You thought I was absolutely mad. Oh, you needn't deny it! I could see
well enough what your thoughts were."
"I thought you weren't quite well," she said frankly.
"But I was, my child. Now I've got to tell you again that I am Priam
Farll. Honestly I wish I wasn't, but I am. The deuce of it is that that
fellow that came here this morning has found it out, and there's going
to be trouble. At least there has been trouble, and there may be more."
She was impressed. She knew not what to say.
"He's paid me five hundred to-day for that picture I've just finished."
Priam snatched the notes from his pocket, and with a gesture pardonably
dramatic he bade her count them.
"Count them," he repeated, when she hesitated.
"Is it right?" he asked when she had finished.
"Oh, it's right enough," she agreed. "But, Priam, I don't like having
all this money in the house. You ought to have called and put it in the
"Dash the bank!" he exclaimed. "Just keep on listening to me, and try to
persuade yourself I'm not mad. I admit I'm a bit shy, and it was all on
account of that that I let that d--d valet of mine be buried as me."
"You needn't tell me you're shy," she smiled. "All Putney knows you're
"I'm not so sure about that!" He tossed his head.
Then he began at the beginning and recounted to her in detail the
historic night and morning at Selwood Terrace, with a psychological
description of his feelings. He convinced her, in less than ten minutes,
with the powerful aid of five hundred pounds in banknotes, that he in
truth was Priam Farll.
And he waited for her to express an exceeding astonishment and
"Well, of course if you are, you are," she observed simply, regarding
him with benevolent, possessive glances across the table. The fact was
that she did not deal in names, she dealt in realities. He was her
reality, and so long as he did not change visibly or actually--so long
as he remained he--she did not much mind who he was. She added, "But I
really don't know what you were _dreaming_ of, Henry, to do such a
"Neither do I," he muttered.
Then he disclosed to her the whole chicanery of Mr. Oxford.
"It's a good thing you've ordered those new clothes," she said.
"Because of the trial."
"The trial between Oxford and Witt. What's that got to do with me?"
"They'll make you give evidence."
"But I shan't give evidence. I've told Oxford I'll have nothing to do
with it at all."
"Suppose they make you? They can, you know, with a sub--sub something, I
forget its name. Then you'll _have_ to go in the witness-box."
"Me in the witness-box!" he murmured, undone.
"Yes," she said. "I expect it'll be very provoking indeed. But you'd
want a new suit for it. So I'm glad you ordered one. When are you going
to try on?"
* * * * *
One night, in the following June, Priam and Alice refrained from going
to bed. Alice dozed for an hour or so on the sofa, and Priam read by her
side in an easy-chair, and about two o'clock, just before the first
beginnings of dawn, they stimulated themselves into a feverish activity
beneath the parlour gas. Alice prepared tea, bread-and-butter, and eggs,
passing briskly from room to room. Alice also ran upstairs, cast a few
more things into a valise and a bag already partially packed, and,
locking both receptacles, carried them downstairs. Meantime the whole of
Priam's energy was employed in having a bath and in shaving. Blood was
shed, as was but natural at that ineffable hour. While Priam consumed
the food she had prepared, Alice was continually darting to and fro in
the house. At one moment, after an absence, she would come into the
parlour with a mouthful of hatpins; at another she would rush out to
assure herself that the indispensable keys of the valise and bag with
her purse were on the umbrella-stand, where they could not be forgotten.
Between her excursions she would drink thirty drops of tea.
"Now, Priam," she said at length, "the water's hot. Haven't you
finished? It'll be getting light soon."
"Water hot?" he queried, at a loss.
"Yes," she said. "To wash up these things, of course. You don't suppose
I'm going to leave a lot of dirty things in the house, do you? While I'm
doing that you might stick labels on the luggage."
"They won't need to be labelled," he argued. "We shall take them with us
in the carriage."
"Oh, Priam," she protested, "how tiresome you are!"
"I've travelled more than you have." He tried to laugh.
"Yes, and fine travelling it must have been, too! However, if you don't
mind the luggage being lost, I don't."
During this she was collecting the crockery on a tray, with which tray
she whizzed out of the room.
In ten minutes, hatted, heavily veiled, and gloved, she cautiously
opened the front door and peeped forth into the lamplit street She
peered to right and to left. Then she went as far as the gate and peered
"Is it all right?" whispered Priam, who was behind her.
"Yes, I think so," she whispered.
Priam came out of the house with the bag in one hand and the valise in
the other, a pipe in his mouth, a stick under his arm, and an overcoat
on his shoulder. Alice ran up the steps, gazed within the house, pulled
the door to silently, and locked it. Then beneath the summer stars she
and Priam hastened furtively, as though the luggage had contained swag,
up Werter Road towards Oxford Road. When they had turned the corner they
felt very much relieved.
They had escaped.
It was their second attempt. The first, made in daylight, had completely
failed. Their cab had been followed to Paddington Station by three other
cabs containing the representatives and the cameras of three Sunday
newspapers. A journalist had deliberately accompanied Priam to the
booking office, had heard him ask for two seconds to Weymouth, and had
bought a second to Weymouth himself. They had gone to Weymouth, but as
within two hours of their arrival Weymouth had become even more
impossible than Werter Road, they had ignominiously but wisely come
Werter Road had developed into the most celebrated thoroughfare in
London. Its photograph had appeared in scores of newspapers, with a
cross marking the abode of Priam and Alice. It was beset and infested by
journalists of several nationalities from morn till night. Cameras were
as common in it as lamp-posts. And a famous descriptive reporter of the
_Sunday News_ had got lodgings, at a high figure, exactly opposite No.
29. Priam and Alice could do nothing without publicity. And if it would
be an exaggeration to assert, that evening papers appeared with
Stop-press News: "5.40. Mrs. Leek went out shopping," the exaggeration
would not be very extravagant. For a fortnight Priam had not been beyond
the door during daylight. It was Alice who, alarmed by Priam's pallid
cheeks and tightened nerves, had devised the plan of flight before the
early summer dawn.
They reached East Putney Station, of which the gates were closed, the
first workman's train being not yet due. And there they stood. Not
another human being was abroad. Only the clock of St. Bude's was
faithfully awakening every soul within a radius of two hundred yards
each quarter of an hour. Then a porter came and opened the gate--it was
still exceedingly early--and Priam booked for Waterloo in triumph.
"Oh," cried Alice, as they mounted the stairs, "I quite forgot to draw
up the blinds at the front of the house." And she stopped on the stairs.
"What did you want to draw up the blinds for?"
"If they're down everybody will know instantly that we've gone. Whereas
She began to descend the stairs.
"Alice!" he said sharply, in a strange voice. The muscles of his white
face were drawn.
"D--n the blinds. Come along, or upon my soul I'll kill you."
She realized that his nerves were in active insurrection, and that a
mere nothing might bring about the fall of the government.
"Oh, very well!" She soothed him by her amiable obedience.
In a quarter of an hour they were safely lost in the wilderness of
Waterloo, and the newspaper train bore them off to Bournemouth for a few
_The Nation's Curiosity_
The interest of the United Kingdom in the unique case of Witt _v_.
Parfitts had already reached apparently the highest possible degree of
intensity. And there was reason for the kingdom's passionate curiosity.
Whitney Witt, the plaintiff, had come over to England, with his
eccentricities, his retinue, his extreme wealth and his failing
eyesight, specially to fight Parfitts. A half-pathetic figure, this
white-haired man, once a connoisseur, who, from mere habit, continued to
buy expensive pictures when he could no longer see them! Whitney Witt
was implacably set against Parfitts, because he was convinced that Mr.
Oxford had sought to take advantage of his blindness. There he was,
conducting his action regardless of his blindness. There he was,
conducting his action regardless of expense. His apartments and his
regal daily existence at the Grand Babylon alone cost a fabulous sum
which may be precisely ascertained by reference to illustrated articles
in the papers. Then Mr. Oxford, the youngish Jew who had acquired
Parfitts, who was Parfitts, also cut a picturesque figure on the face of
London. He, too, was spending money with both hands; for Parfitts itself
was at stake. Last and most disturbing, was the individual looming
mysteriously in the background, the inexplicable man who lived in Werter
Road, and whose identity would be decided by the judgment in the case of
Witt _v_. Parfitts. If Witt won his action, then Parfitts might retire
from business. Mr. Oxford would probably go to prison for having sold
goods on false pretences, and the name of Henry Leek, valet, would be
added to the list of adventurous scoundrels who have pretended to be
their masters. But if Witt should lose--then what a complication, and
what further enigmas to be solved! If Witt should lose, the national
funeral of Priam Farll had been a fraudulent farce. A common valet lay
under the hallowed stones of the Abbey, and Europe had mourned in vain!
If Witt should lose, a gigantic and unprecedented swindle had been
practised upon the nation. Then the question would arise, Why?
Hence it was not surprising that popular interest, nourished by an
indefatigable and excessively enterprising press, should have mounted
till no one would have believed that it could mount any more. But the
evasion from Werter Road on that June morning intensified the interest
enormously. Of course, owing to the drawn blinds, it soon became known,
and the bloodhounds of the Sunday papers were sniffing along the
platforms of all the termini in London. Priam's departure greatly
prejudiced the cause of Mr. Oxford, especially when the bloodhounds
failed and Priam persisted in his invisibility. If a man was an honest
man, why should he flee the public gaze, and in the night? There was but
a step from the posing of this question to the inevitable inference that
Mr. Oxford's line of defence was really too fantastic for credence.
Certainly organs of vast circulation, while repeating that, as the
action was _sub judice_, they could say nothing about it, had already
tried the action several times in their impartial columns, and they now
tried it again, with the entire public as jury. And in three days Priam
had definitely become a criminal in the public eye, a criminal flying
from justice. Useless to assert that he was simply a witness subpoenaed
to give evidence at the trial! He had transgressed the unwritten law of
the English constitution that a person prominent in a _cause celebre_
belongs for the time being, not to himself, but to the nation at large.
He had no claim to privacy. In surreptitiously obtaining seclusion he
was merely robbing the public and the public's press of their
Who could deny now the reiterated statement that _he_ was a bigamist?
It came to be said that he must be on his way to South America. Then the
public read avidly articles by specially retained barristers on the
extradition treaties with Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chili, Paraguay
The curates Matthew and Henry preached to crowded congregations at
Putney and Bermondsey, and were reported verbatim in the _Christian
Voice Sermon Supplement_, and other messengers of light.
And gradually the nose of England bent closer and closer to its
newspaper of a morning. And coffee went cold, and bacon fat congealed,
from the Isle of Wight to Hexham, while the latest rumours were being
swallowed. It promised to be stupendous, did the case of Witt _v_.
Parfitts. It promised to be one of those cases that alone make life
worth living, that alone compensate for the horrors of climate, in
England. And then the day of hearing arrived, and the afternoon papers
which appear at nine o'clock in the morning announced that Henry Leek
(or Priam Farll, according to your wish) and his wife (or his female
companion and willing victim) had returned to Werter Road. And England
held its breath; and even Scotland paused, expectant; and Ireland
stirred in its Celtic dream.
_Mention of Two Moles_
The theatre in which the emotional drama of Witt Parfitts was to be
played, lacked the usual characteristics of a modern place of
entertainment. It was far too high for its width and breadth; it was
badly illuminated; it was draughty in winter and stuffy in summer, being
completely deprived of ventilation. Had it been under the control of the
County Council it would have been instantly condemned as dangerous in
case of fire, for its gangways were always encumbered and its exits of a
mediaeval complexity. It had no stage, no footlights, and all its seats
were of naked wood except one.
This unique seat was occupied by the principal player, who wore a
humorous wig and a brilliant and expensive scarlet costume. He was a
fairly able judge, but he had mistaken his vocation; his rare talent for
making third-rate jokes would have brought him a fortune in the world of
musical comedy. His salary was a hundred a week; better comedians have
earned less. On the present occasion he was in the midst of a double row
of fashionable hats, and beneath the hats were the faces of fourteen
feminine relatives and acquaintances. These hats performed the function
of 'dressing' the house. The principal player endeavoured to behave as
though under the illusion that he was alone in his glory, but he failed.
There were four other leading actors: Mr. Pennington, K.C., and Mr.
Vodrey, K.C., engaged by the plaintiff, and Mr. Cass, K.C., and Mr.
Crepitude, K.C., engaged by the defendant. These artistes were the stars
of their profession, nominally less glittering, but really far more
glittering than the player in scarlet. Their wigs were of inferior
quality to his, and their costumes shabby, but they did not mind, for
whereas he got a hundred a week, they each got a hundred a day. Three
junior performers received ten guineas a day apiece: one of them held a
watching brief for the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, who, being members
of a Christian fraternity, were pained and horrified by the defendants'
implication that they had given interment to a valet, and who were
determined to resist exhumation at all hazards. The supers in the drama,
whose business it was to whisper to each other and to the players,
consisted of solicitors, solicitors' clerks, and experts; their combined
emoluments worked out at the rate of a hundred and fifty pounds a day.
Twelve excellent men in the jury-box received between them about as much
as would have kept a K.C. alive for five minutes. The total expenses of
production thus amounted to something like six or seven hundred pounds a
day. The preliminary expenses had run into several thousands. The
enterprise could have been made remunerative by hiring for it Convent
Garden Theatre and selling stalls as for Tettrazzini and Caruso, but in
the absurd auditorium chosen, crammed though it was to the perilous
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