Buried Alive: A Tale of These Days
Part 4 out of 4
doors, the loss was necessarily terrific. Fortunately the affair was
subsidized; not merely by the State, but also by those two wealthy
capitalists, Whitney C. Witt and Mr. Oxford; and therefore the
management were in a position to ignore paltry financial considerations
and to practise art for art's sake.
In opening the case Mr. Pennington, K.C., gave instant proof of his
astounding histrionic powers. He began calmly, colloquially, treating
the jury as friends of his boyhood, and the judge as a gifted uncle, and
stated in simple language that Whitney C. Witt was claiming seventy-two
thousand pounds from the defendants, money paid for worthless pictures
palmed off upon the myopic and venerable plaintiff as masterpieces. He
recounted the life and death of the great painter Priam Farll, and his
solemn burial and the tears of the whole world. He dwelt upon the genius
of Priam Farll, and then upon the confiding nature of the plaintiff.
Then he inquired who could blame the plaintiff for his confidence in the
uprightness of a firm with such a name as Parfitts. And then he
explained by what accident of a dating-stamp on a canvas it had been
discovered that the pictures guaranteed to be by Priam Farll were
painted after Priam Farll's death.
He proceeded with no variation of tone: "The explanation is simplicity
itself. Priam Farll was not really dead. It was his valet who died.
Quite naturally, quite comprehensibly, the great genius Priam Farll
wished to pass the remainder of his career as a humble valet. He
deceived everybody; the doctor, his cousin, Mr. Duncan Farll, the public
authorities, the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, the nation--in fact, the
entire world! As Henry Leek he married, and as Henry Leek he recommenced
the art of painting--in Putney; he carried on the vocation several years
without arousing the suspicions of a single person; and then--by a
curious coincidence immediately after my client threatened an action
against the defendant--he displayed himself in his true identity as
Priam Farll. Such is the simple explanation," said Pennington, K.C., and
added, "which you will hear presently from the defendant. Doubtless it
will commend itself to you as experienced men of the world. You cannot
but have perceived that such things are constantly happening in real
life, that they are of daily occurrence. I am almost ashamed to stand up
before you and endeavour to rebut a story so plausible and so
essentially convincing. I feel that my task is well-nigh hopeless.
Nevertheless, I must do my best."
And so on.
It was one of his greatest feats in the kind of irony that appeals to a
jury. And the audience deemed that the case was already virtually
After Whitney C. Witt and his secretary had been called and had filled
the court with the echoing twang of New York (the controlled fury of the
aged Witt was highly effective), Mrs. Henry Leek was invited to the
witness-box. She was supported thither by her two curates, who, however,
could not prevent her from weeping at the stern voice of the usher. She
related her marriage.
"Is that your husband?" demanded Vodrey, K.C. (who had now assumed the
principal _role_, Pennington, K.C., being engaged in another play in
another theatre), pointing with one of his well-conceived dramatic
gestures to Priam Farll.
"It is," sobbed Mrs. Henry Leek.
The unhappy creature believed what she said, and the curates, though
silent, made a deep impression on the jury. In cross-examination, when
Crepitude, K.C., forced her to admit that on first meeting Priam in his
house in Werter Road she had not been quite sure of his identity, she
"It's all come over me since. Shouldn't a woman recognize the father of
her own children?"
"She should," interpolated the judge. There was a difference of opinion
as to whether his word was jocular or not.
Mrs. Henry Leek was a touching figure, but not amusing. It was Mr.
Duncan Farll who, quite unintentionally, supplied the first relief.
Duncan pooh-poohed the possibility of Priam being Priam. He detailed all
the circumstances that followed the death in Selwood Terrace, and showed
in fifty ways that Priam could not have been Priam. The man now
masquerading as Priam was not even a gentleman, whereas Priam was
Duncan's cousin! Duncan was an excellent witness, dry, precise,
imperturbable. Under cross-examination by Crepitude he had to describe
particularly his boyish meeting with Priam. Mr. Crepitude was not
"Tell us what occurred," said Crepitude.
"Well, we fought."
"Oh! You fought! What did you two naughty boys fight about?" (Great
"About a plum-cake, I think."
"Oh! Not a seed-cake, a plum-cake?" (Great laughter.)
"I think a plum-cake."
"And what was the result of this sanguinary encounter?" (Great
"My cousin loosened one of my teeth." (Great laughter, in which the
"And what did you do to him?"
"I'm afraid I didn't do much. I remember tearing half his clothes off."
(Roars of laughter, in which every one joined except Priam and Duncan
"Oh! You are sure you remember that? You are sure that it wasn't he who
tore _your_ clothes off?" (Lots of hysteric laughter.)
"Yes," said Duncan, coldly dreaming in the past. His eyes had the 'far
away' look, as he added, "I remember now that my cousin had two little
moles on his neck below the collar. I seem to remember seeing them. I've
just thought of it."
There is, of course, when it is mentioned in a theatre, something
exorbitantly funny about even one mole. Two moles together brought the
Mr. Crepitude leaned over to a solicitor in front of him; the solicitor
leaned aside to a solicitor's clerk, and the solicitor's clerk whispered
to Priam Farll, who nodded.
"Er----" Mr. Crepitude was beginning again, but he stopped and said to
Duncan Farll, "Thank you. You can step down."
Then a witness named Justini, a cashier at the Hotel de Paris, Monte
Carlo, swore that Priam Farll, the renowned painter, had spent four days
in the Hotel de Paris one hot May, seven years ago, and that the person
in the court whom the defendant stated to be Priam Farll was not that
man. No cross-examination could shake Mr. Justini. Following him came
the manager of the Hotel Belvedere at Mont Pelerin, near Vevey,
Switzerland, who related a similar tale and was equally unshaken.
And after that the pictures themselves were brought in, and the experts
came after them and technical evidence was begun. Scarcely had it begun
when a clock struck and the performance ended for the day. The principal
actors doffed their costumes, and snatched up the evening papers to make
sure that the descriptive reporters had been as eulogistic of them as
usual. The judge, who subscribed to a press-cutting agency, was glad to
find, the next morning, that none of his jokes had been omitted by any
of the nineteen chief London dailies. And the Strand and Piccadilly were
quick with Witt _v_. Parfitts--on evening posters and in the strident
mouths of newsboys. The telegraph wires vibrated to Witt _v_. Parfitts.
In the great betting industrial towns of the provinces wagers were laid
at scientific prices. England, in a word, was content, and the principal
actors had the right to be content also. Very astute people in clubs and
saloon bars talked darkly about those two moles, and Priam's nod in
response to the whispers of the solicitor's clerk: such details do not
escape the modern sketch writer at a thousand a year. To very astute
people the two moles appeared to promise pretty things.
"Leek in the box."
This legend got itself on to the telegraph wires and the placards within
a few minutes of Priam's taking the oath. It sent a shiver of
anticipation throughout the country. Three days had passed since the
opening of the case (for actors engaged at a hundred a day for the run
of the piece do not crack whips behind experts engaged at ten or twenty
a day; the pace had therefore been dignified), and England wanted a
Nobody except Alice knew what to expect from Priam. Alice knew. She knew
that Priam was in an extremely peculiar state which might lead to
extremely peculiar results; and she knew also that there was nothing to
be done with him! She herself had made one little effort to bathe him in
the light of reason; the effort had not succeeded. She saw the danger of
renewing it. Pennington, K.C., by the way, insisted that she should
leave the court during Priam's evidence.
Priam's attitude towards the whole case was one of bitter resentment, a
resentment now hot, now cold. He had the strongest possible objection to
the entire affair. He hated Witt as keenly as he hated Oxford. All that
he demanded from the world was peace and quietness, and the world would
not grant him these inexpensive commodities. He had not asked to be
buried in Westminster Abbey; his interment had been forced upon him. And
if he chose to call himself by another name, why should he not do so? If
he chose to marry a simple woman, and live in a suburb and paint
pictures at ten pounds each, why should he not do so? Why should he be
dragged out of his tranquillity because two persons in whom he felt no
interest whatever, had quarrelled over his pictures? Why should his life
have been made unbearable in Putney by the extravagant curiosity of a
mob of journalists? And then, why should he be compelled, by means of a
piece of blue paper, to go through the frightful ordeal and flame of
publicity in a witness-box? That was the crowning unmerited torture, the
unthinkable horror which had broken his sleep for many nights.
In the box he certainly had all the appearance of a trapped criminal,
with his nervous movements, his restless lowered eyes, and his faint,
hard voice that he could scarcely fetch up from his throat. Nervousness
lined with resentment forms excellent material for the plastic art of a
cross-examining counsel, and Pennington, K.C., itched to be at work.
Crepitude, K.C., Oxford's counsel, was in less joyous mood. Priam was
Crepitude's own witness, and yet a horrible witness, a witness who had
consistently and ferociously declined to open his mouth until he was in
the box. Assuredly he had nodded, in response to the whispered question
of the solicitor's clerk, but he had not confirmed the nod, nor breathed
a word of assistance during the three days of the trial. He had merely
sat there, blazing in silence.
"Your name is Priam Farll?" began Crepitude.
"It is," said Priam sullenly, and with all the external characteristics
of a liar. At intervals he glanced surreptitiously at the judge, as
though the judge had been a bomb with a lighted fuse.
The examination started badly, and it went from worse to worse. The idea
that this craven, prevaricating figure in the box could be the
illustrious, the world-renowned Priam Farll, seemed absurd. Crepitude
had to exercise all his self-control in order not to bully Priam.
"That is all," said Crepitude, after Priam had given his preposterous
and halting explanations of the strange phenomena of his life after the
death of Leek. None of these carried conviction. He merely said that the
woman Leek was mistaken in identifying him as her husband; he inferred
that she was hysterical; this inference alienated him from the audience
completely. His statement that he had no definite reason for pretending
to be Leek--that it was an impulse of the moment--was received with mute
derision. His explanation, when questioned as to the evidence of the
hotel officials, that more than once his valet Leek had gone about
impersonating his master, seemed grotesquely inadequate.
People wondered why Crepitude had made no reference to the moles. The
fact was, Crepitude was afraid to refer to the moles. In mentioning the
moles to Priam he might be staking all to lose all.
However, Pennington, K.C., alluded to the moles. But not until he had
conclusively proved to the judge, in a cross-questioning of two hours'
duration, that Priam knew nothing of Priam's own youth, nor of painting,
nor of the world of painters. He made a sad mess of Priam. And Priam's
voice grew fainter and fainter, and his gestures more and more
Pennington, K.C., achieved one or two brilliant little effects.
"Now you say you went with the defendant to his club, and that he told
you of the difficulty he was in!"
"Did he make you any offer of money?"
"Ah! What did he offer you?"
"Thirty-six thousand pounds." (Sensation in court.)
"So! And what was this thirty-six thousand pounds to be for?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? Come now."
"I don't know."
"You accepted the offer?"
"No, I refused it." (Sensation in court.)
"Why did you refuse it?"
"Because I didn't care to accept it."
"Then no money passed between you that day?"
"Yes. Five hundred pounds."
"The same kind of picture that you had been selling at ten pounds?"
"So that on the very day that the defendant wanted you to swear that you
were Priam Farll, the price of your pictures rose from ten pounds to
"Doesn't that strike you as odd?"
"You still say--mind, Leek, you are on your oath!--you still say that
you refused thirty-six thousand pounds in order to accept five hundred."
"I sold a picture for five hundred."
(On the placards in the Strand: "Severe cross-examination of Leek.")
"Now about the encounter with Mr. Duncan Farll. Of course, if you are
really Priam Farll, you remember all about that?"
"What age were you?"
"I don't know. About nine."
"Oh! You were about nine. A suitable age for cake." (Great laughter.)
"Now, Mr. Duncan Farll says you loosened one of his teeth."
"And that he tore your clothes."
"I dare say."
"He says he remembers the fact because you had two moles."
"Have you two moles?"
"Yes." (Immense sensation.)
"Where are they?"
"On my neck just below my collar."
"Kindly place your hand at the spot."
Priam did so. The excitement was terrific.
Pennington again paused. But, convinced that Priam was an impostor, he
"Perhaps, if I am not asking too much, you will take your collar off and
show the two moles to the court?"
"No," said Priam stoutly. And for the first time he looked Pennington in
"You would prefer to do it, perhaps, in his lordship's room, if his
"I won't do it anywhere," said Priam.
"But surely--" the judge began.
"I won't do it anywhere, my lord," Priam repeated loudly. All his
resentment surged up once more; and particularly his resentment against
the little army of experts who had pronounced his pictures to be clever
but worthless imitations of himself. If his pictures, admittedly painted
after his supposed death, could not prove his identity; if his word was
to be flouted by insulting and bewigged beasts of prey; then his moles
should not prove his identity. He resolved upon obstinacy.
"The witness, gentlemen," said Pennington, K.C., in triumph to the jury,
"has two moles on his neck, exactly as described by Mr. Duncan Farll,
but he will not display them!"
Eleven legal minds bent nobly to the problem whether the law and justice
of England could compel a free man to take his collar off if he refused
to take his collar off. In the meantime, of course, the case had to
proceed. The six or seven hundred pounds a day must be earned, and there
were various other witnesses. The next witness was Alice.
* * * * *
When Alice was called, and when she stood up in the box, and, smiling
indulgently at the doddering usher, kissed the book as if it had been a
chubby nephew, a change came over the emotional atmosphere of the court,
which felt a natural need to smile. Alice was in all her best clothes,
but it cannot be said that she looked the wife of a super-eminent
painter. In answer to a question she stated that before marrying Priam
she was the widow of a builder in a small way of business, well known in
Putney and also in Wandsworth. This was obviously true. She could have
been nothing but the widow of a builder in a small way of business well
known in Putney and also in Wandsworth. She was every inch that.
"How did you first meet your present husband, Mrs. Leek?" asked Mr.
"Mrs. Farll, if you please," she cheerfully corrected him.
"Well, Mrs. Farll, then."
"I must say," she remarked conversationally, "it seems queer you should
be calling me Mrs. Leek, when they're paying you to prove that I'm Mrs.
Farll, Mr.----, excuse me, I forget your name."
This nettled Crepitude, K.C. It nettled him, too, merely to see a
witness standing in the box just as if she were standing in her kitchen
talking to a tradesman at the door. He was not accustomed to such a
spectacle. And though Alice was his own witness he was angry with her
because he was angry with her husband. He blushed. Juniors behind him
could watch the blush creeping like a tide round the back of his neck
over his exceedingly white collar.
"If you'll be good enough to reply----" said he.
"I met my husband outside St. George's Hall, by appointment," said she.
"But before that. How did you make his acquaintance?"
"Through a matrimonial agency," said she.
"Oh!" observed Crepitude, and decided that he would not pursue that
avenue. The fact was Alice had put him into the wrong humour for making
the best of her. She was, moreover, in a very difficult position, for
Priam had positively forbidden her to have any speech with solicitors'
clerks or with solicitors, and thus Crepitude knew not what pitfalls for
him her evidence might contain. He drew from her an expression of
opinion that her husband was the real Priam Farll, but she could give no
reasons in support--did not seem to conceive that reasons in support
"Has your husband any moles?" asked Crepitude suddenly.
"Any what?" demanded Alice, leaning forward.
Vodrey, K.C., sprang up.
"I submit to your lordship that my learned friend is putting a leading
question," said Vodrey, K.C.
"Mr. Crepitude," said the judge, "can you not phrase your questions
"Has your husband any birthmarks--er--on his body?" Crepitude tried
"Oh! _Moles_, you said? You needn't be afraid. Yes, he's got two moles,
close together on his neck, here." And she pointed amid silence to the
exact spot. Then, noticing the silence, she added, "That's all that I
Crepitude resolved to end his examination upon this impressive note, and
he sat down. And Alice had Vodrey, K.C., to face.
"You met your husband through a matrimonial agency?" he asked.
"Who first had recourse to the agency?"
"And what was your object?"
"I wanted to find a husband, of course," she smiled. "What _do_ people
go to matrimonial agencies for?"
"You aren't here to put questions to me," said Vodrey severely.
"Well," she said, "I should have thought you would have known what
people went to matrimonial agencies for. Still, you live and learn." She
"Do you think a matrimonial agency is quite the nicest way of----"
"It depends what you mean by 'nice,'" said Alice.
"Yes," said Alice shortly, "I do. If you're going to stand there and
tell me I'm unwomanly, all I have to say is that you're unmanly."
"You say you first met your husband outside St George's Hall?"
"Never seen him before?"
"How did you recognize him?"
"By his photograph."
"Oh, he'd sent you his photograph?"
"With a letter?"
"In what name was the letter signed?"
"Was that before or after the death of the man who was buried in
"A day or two before." (Sensation in court.)
"So that your present husband was calling himself Henry Leek before the
"No, he wasn't. That letter was written by the man that died. My husband
found my reply to it, and my photograph, in the man's bag afterwards;
and happening to be strolling past St. George's Hall just at the moment
"Well, happening to be strolling past St. George's Hall just at the
moment like--" (Titters.)
"I caught sight of him and spoke to him. You see, I thought then that he
was the man who wrote the letter."
"What made you think so?"
"I had the photograph."
"So that the man who wrote the letter and died didn't send his own
photograph. He sent another photograph--the photograph of your husband?"
"Yes, didn't you know that? I should have thought you'd have known
"Do you really expect the jury to believe that tale?"
Alice turned smiling to the jury. "No," she said, "I'm not sure as I do.
I didn't believe it myself for a long time. But it's true."
"Then at first you didn't believe your husband was the real Priam
"No. You see, he didn't exactly tell me like. He only sort of hinted."
"But you didn't believe?"
"You thought he was lying?"
"No, I thought it was just a kind of an idea he had. You know my husband
isn't like other gentlemen."
"I imagine not," said Vodrey. "Now, when did you come to be perfectly
sure that, your husband was the real Priam Farll?"
"It was the night of that day when Mr. Oxford came down to see him. He
told me all about it then."
"Oh! That day when Mr. Oxford paid him five hundred pounds?"
"Immediately Mr. Oxford paid him five hundred pounds you were ready to
believe that your husband was the real Priam Farll. Doesn't that strike
you as excessively curious?"
"It's just how it happened," said Alice blandly.
"Now about these moles. You pointed to the right side of your neck. Are
you sure they aren't on the left side?"
"Let me think now," said Alice, frowning. "When he's shaving in a
morning--he get up earlier now than he used to--I can see his face in
the looking-glass, and in the looking-glass the moles are on the left
side. So on _him_ they must be on the right side. Yes, the right side.
"Have you never seen them except in a mirror, my good woman?"
interpolated the judge.
For some reason Alice flushed. "I suppose you think that's funny," she
snapped, slightly tossing her head.
The audience expected the roof to fall. But the roof withstood the
strain, thanks to a sagacious deafness on the part of the judge. If,
indeed, he had not been visited by a sudden deafness, it is difficult to
see how he would have handled the situation.
"Have you any idea," Vodrey inquired, "why your husband refuses to
submit his neck to the inspection of the court?"
"I didn't know he had refused."
"But he has."
"Well," said Alice, "if you hadn't turned me out of the court while he
was being examined, perhaps I could have told you. But I can't as it is.
So it serves you right."
Thus ended Alice's performances.
_The Public Captious_
The court rose, and another six or seven hundred pounds was gone into
the pockets of the celebrated artistes engaged. It became at once
obvious, from the tone of the evening placards and the contents of
evening papers, and the remarks in crowded suburban trains, that for the
public the trial had resolved itself into an affair of moles. Nothing
else now interested the great and intelligent public. If Priam had those
moles on his neck, then he was the real Priam. If he had not, then he
was a common cheat. The public had taken the matter into its own hands.
The sturdy common sense of the public was being applied to the affair.
On the whole it may be said that the sturdy common sense of the public
was against Priam. For the majority, the entire story was fishily
preposterous. It must surely be clear to the feeblest brain that if
Priam possessed moles he would expose them. The minority, who talked of
psychology and the artistic temperament, were regarded as the cousins of
Little Englanders and the direct descendants of pro-Boers.
Still, the thing ought to be proved or disproved.
Why didn't the judge commit him for contempt of court? He would then be
sent to Holloway and be compelled to strip--and there you were!
Or why didn't Oxford hire some one to pick a quarrel with him in the
street and carry the quarrel to blows, with a view to raiment-tearing?
A nice thing, English justice--if it had no machinery to force a man to
show his neck to a jury! But then English justice _was_ notoriously
And whole trainfuls of people sneered at their country's institution in
a manner which, had it been adopted by a foreigner, would have plunged
Europe into war and finally tested the blue-water theory. Undoubtedly
the immemorial traditions of English justice came in for very severe
handling, simply because Priam would not take his collar off.
And he would not.
The next morning there were consultations in counsel's rooms, and the
common law of the realm was ransacked to find a legal method of
inspecting Priam's moles, without success. Priam arrived safely at the
courts with his usual high collar, and was photographed thirty times
between the kerb and the entrance hall.
"He's slept in it!" cried wags.
"Bet yer two ter one it's a clean 'un!" cried other wags. "His missus
gets his linen up."
It was subject to such indignities that the man who had defied the
Supreme Court of Judicature reached his seat in the theatre. When
solicitors and counsel attempted to reason with him, he answered with
silence. The rumour ran that in his hip pocket he was carrying a
revolver wherewith to protect the modesty of his neck.
The celebrated artistes, having perceived the folly of losing six or
seven hundred pounds a day because Priam happened to be an obstinate
idiot, continued with the case. For Mr. Oxford and another army of
experts of European reputation were waiting to prove that the pictures
admittedly painted after the burial in the National Valhalla, were
painted by Priam Farll, and could have been painted by no other. They
demonstrated this by internal evidence. In other words, they proved by
deductions from squares of canvas that Priam had moles on his neck. It
was a phenomenon eminently legal. And Priam, in his stiff collar, sat
and listened. The experts, however, achieved two feats, both
unintentionally. They sent the judge soundly to sleep, and they wearied
the public, which considered that the trial was falling short of its
early promise. This _expertise_ went on to the extent of two whole days
and appreciably more than another thousand pounds. And on the third day
Priam, somewhat hardened to renown, reappeared with his mysterious neck,
and more determined than ever. He had seen in a paper, which was
otherwise chiefly occupied with moles and experts, a cautious statement
that the police had collected the necessary _prima facie_ evidence of
bigamy, and that his arrest was imminent. However, something stranger
than arrest for bigamy happened to him.
The principal King's Bench corridor in the Law Courts, like the other
main corridors, is a place of strange meetings and interviews. A man may
receive there a bit of news that will change the whole of the rest of
his life, or he may receive only an invitation to a mediocre lunch in
the restaurant underneath; he never knows beforehand. Priam assuredly
did not receive an invitation to lunch. He was traversing the crowded
thoroughfares--for with the exception of match and toothpick sellers the
corridor has the characteristics of a Strand pavement in the forenoon--
when he caught sight of Mr. Oxford talking to a woman. Now, he had
exchanged no word with Mr. Oxford since the historic scene in the club,
and he was determined to exchange no word; however, they had not gone
through the formality of an open breach. The most prudent thing to do,
therefore, was to turn and take another corridor. And Priam would have
fled, being capable of astonishing prudence when prudence meant the
avoidance of unpleasant encounters; but, just as he was turning, the
woman in conversation with Mr. Oxford saw him, and stepped towards him
with the rapidity of thought, holding forth her hand. She was tall,
thin, and stiffly distinguished in the brusque, Dutch-doll motions of
her limbs. Her coat and skirt were quite presentable; but her feet were
large (not her fault, of course, though one is apt to treat large feet
as a crime), and her feathered hat was even larger. She hid her age
behind a veil.
"How do you do, Mr. Farll?" she addressed him firmly, in a voice which
It was Lady Sophia Entwistle.
"How do you do?" he said, taking her offered hand.
There was nothing else to do, and nothing else to say.
Then Mr. Oxford put out his hand.
"How do you do, Mr. Farll?"
And, taking Mr. Oxford's hated hand, Priam said again, "How do you do?"
It was all just as if there had been no past; the past seemed to have
been swallowed up in the ordinariness of the crowded corridor. By all
the rules for the guidance of human conduct, Lady Sophia ought to have
denounced Priam with outstretched dramatic finger to the contempt of the
world as a philanderer with the hearts of trusting women; and he ought
to have kicked Mr. Oxford along the corridor for a scheming Hebrew. But
they merely shook hands and asked each other how they did, not even
expecting an answer. This shows to what extent the ancient qualities of
the race have deteriorated.
Then a silence.
"I suppose you know, Mr. Farll," said Lady Sophia, rather suddenly,
"that I have got to give evidence in this case."
"No," he said, "I didn't."
"Yes, it seems they have scoured all over the Continent in vain to find
people who knew you under your proper name, and who could identify you
with certainty, and they couldn't find one--doubtless owing to your
peculiar habits of travel."
"Really," said Priam.
He had made love to this woman. He had kissed her. They had promised to
marry each other. It was a piece of wild folly on his part; but, in the
eyes of an impartial person, folly could not excuse his desertion of
her, his flight from her intellectual charms. His gaze pierced her veil.
No, she was not quite so old as Alice. She was not more plain than
Alice. She certainly knew more than Alice. She could talk about pictures
without sticking a knife into his soul and turning it in the wound. She
was better dressed than Alice. And her behaviour on the present
occasion, candid, kind, correct, could not have been surpassed by Alice.
And yet... Her demeanour was without question prodigiously splendid in
its ignoring of all that she had gone through. And yet... Even in that
moment of complicated misery he had enough strength to hate her because
he had been fool enough to make love to her. No excuse whatever for him,
"I was in India when I first heard of this case," Lady Sophia continued.
"At first I thought it must be a sort of Tichborne business over again.
Then, knowing you as I did, I thought perhaps it wasn't."
"And as Lady Sophia happens to be in London now," put in Mr. Oxford,
"she is good enough to give her invaluable evidence on my behalf."
"That is scarcely the way to describe it," said Lady Sophia coldly. "I
am only here because you compel me to be here by subpoena. It is all due
to your acquaintanceship with my aunt."
"Quite so, quite so!" Mr. Oxford agreed. "It naturally can't be very
agreeable to you to have to go into the witness-box and submit to
cross-examination. Certainly not. And I am the more obliged to you for
your kindness, Lady Sophia."
Priam comprehended the situation. Lady Sophia, after his supposed death,
had imparted to relatives the fact of his engagement, and the
unscrupulous scoundrel, Mr. Oxford, had got hold of her and was forcing
her to give evidence for him. And after the evidence, the joke of every
man in the street would be to the effect that Priam Farll, rather than
marry the skinny spinster, had pretended to be dead.
"You see," Mr. Oxford added to him, "the important point about Lady
Sophia's evidence is that in Paris she saw both you and your valet--the
valet obviously a servant, and you obviously his master. There can,
therefore, be no question of her having been deceived by the valet
posing as the master. It is a most fortunate thing that by a mere
accident I got on the tracks of Lady Sophia in time. In the nick of
time. Only yesterday afternoon!"
No reference by Mr. Oxford to Priam's obstinacy in the matter of
collars. He appeared to regard Priam's collar as a phenomenon of nature,
such as the weather, or a rock in the sea, as something to be accepted
with resignation! No sign of annoyance with Priam! He was the prince of
diplomatists, was Mr. Oxford.
"Can I speak to you a minute?" said Lady Sophia to Priam.
Mr. Oxford stepped away with a bow.
And Lady Sophia looked steadily at Priam. He had to admit again that she
was stupendous. She was his capital mistake; but she was stupendous.
At their last interview he had embraced her. She had attended his
funeral in Westminster Abbey. And she could suppress all that from her
eyes! She could stand there calm and urbane in her acceptance of the
terrific past. Apparently she forgave.
Said Lady Sophia simply, "Now, Mr. Farll, shall I have to give evidence
or not? You know it depends on you?"
The casualness of her tone was sublime; it was heroic; it made her feet
He had sworn to himself that he would be cut in pieces before he would
aid the unscrupulous Mr. Oxford by removing his collar in presence of
those dramatic artistes. He had been grossly insulted, disturbed,
maltreated, and exploited. The entire world had meddled with his private
business, and he would be cut in pieces before he would display those
moles which would decide the issue in an instant.
Well, she had cut him in pieces.
"Please don't worry," said he in reply. "I will attend to things."
At that moment Alice, who had followed him by a later train, appeared.
"Good-morning, Lady Sophia," he said, raising his hat, and left her.
_Thoughts on Justice_
"Farll takes his collar off." "Witt _v_. Parfitts. Result." These and
similar placards flew in the Strand breezes. Never in the history of
empires had the removal of a starched linen collar (size 16-1/2) created
one-thousandth part of the sensation caused by the removal of this
collar. It was an epoch-making act. It finished the drama of Witt _v_.
Parfitts. The renowned artistes engaged did not, of course, permit the
case to collapse at once. No, it had to be concluded slowly and
majestically, with due forms and expenses. New witnesses (such as
doctors) had to be called, and old ones recalled. Duncan Farll, for
instance, had to be recalled, and if the situation was ignominious for
Priam it was also ignominious for Duncan. Duncan's sole advantage in his
defeat was that the judge did not skin him alive in the summing up, nor
the jury in their verdict. England breathed more freely when the affair
was finally over and the renowned artistes engaged had withdrawn
enveloped in glory. The truth was that England, so proud of her systems,
had had a fright. Her judicial methods had very nearly failed to make a
man take his collar off in public. They had really failed, but it had
all come right in the end, and so England pretended that they had only
just missed failing. A grave injustice would have been perpetrated had
Priam chosen not to take off his collar. People said, naturally, that
imprisonment for bigamy would have included the taking-off of collars;
but then it was rumoured that prosecution for bigamy had not by any
means been a certainty, as since leaving the box Mrs. Henry Leek had
wavered in her identification. However, the justice of England had
emerged safely. And it was all very astounding and shocking and
improper. And everybody was exceedingly wise after the event. And with
one voice the press cried that something painful ought to occur at once
to Priam Farll, no matter how great an artist he was.
The question was: How could Priam be trapped in the net of the law? He
had not committed bigamy. He had done nothing. He had only behaved in a
negative manner. He had not even given false information to the
registrar. And Dr. Cashmore could throw no light on the episode, for he
was dead. His wife and daughters had at last succeeded in killing him.
The judge had intimated that the ecclesiastical wrath of the Dean and
Chapter might speedily and terribly overtake Priam Farll; but that
sounded vague and unsatisfactory to the lay ear.
In short, the matter was the most curious that ever was. And for the
sake of the national peace of mind, the national dignity, and the
national conceit, it was allowed to drop into forgetfulness after a few
days. And when the papers announced that, by Priam's wish, the Farll
museum was to be carried to completion and formally conveyed to the
nation, despite all, the nation decided to accept that honourable amend,
and went off to the seaside for its annual holiday.
_The Will to Live_
Alice insisted on it, and so, immediately before their final departure
from England, they went. Priam pretended that the visit was undertaken
solely to please her; but the fact is that his own morbid curiosity
moved in the same direction. They travelled by an omnibus past the
Putney Empire and the Walham Green Empire as far as Walham Green, and
there changed into another one which carried them past the Chelsea
Empire, the Army and Navy Stores, and the Hotel Windsor to the doors of
Westminster Abbey. And they vanished out of the October sunshine into
the beam-shot gloom of Valhalla. It was Alice's first view of Valhalla,
though of course she had heard of it. In old times she had visited
Madame Tussaud's and the Tower, but she had not had leisure to get round
as far as Valhalla. It impressed her deeply. A verger pointed them to
the nave; but they dared not demand more minute instructions. They had
not the courage to ask for _It_. Priam could not speak. There were
moments with him when he could not speak lest his soul should come out
of his mouth and flit irrecoverably away. And he could not find the
tomb. Save for the outrageous tomb of mighty Newton, the nave seemed to
be as naked as when it came into the world. Yet he was sure he was
buried in the nave--and only three years ago, too! Astounding, was it
not, what could happen in three years? He knew that the tomb had not
been removed, for there had been an article in the _Daily Record_ on the
previous day asking in the name of a scandalized public whether the Dean
and Chapter did not consider that three months was more than long enough
for the correction of a fundamental error in the burial department. He
was gloomy; he had in truth been somewhat gloomy ever since the trial.
Perhaps it was the shadow of the wrath of the Dean and Chapter on him.
He had ceased to procure joy in the daily manifestations of life in the
streets of the town. And this failure to discover the tomb intensified
the calm, amiable sadness which distinguished him.
Alice, gazing around, chiefly with her mouth, inquired suddenly--
"What's that printing there?"
She had detected a legend incised on one of the small stone flags which
form the vast floor of the nave. They stooped over it. "PRIAM FARLL," it
said simply, in fine Roman letters and then his dates. That was all.
Near by, on other flags, they deciphered other names of honour. This
austere method of marking the repose of the dead commended itself to
him, caused him to feel proud of himself and of the ridiculous England
that somehow keeps our great love. His gloom faded. And do you know what
idea rushed from his heart to his brain? "By Jove! I will paint finer
pictures than any I've done yet!" And the impulse to recommence the work
of creation surged over him. The tears started to his eyes.
"I like that!" murmured Alice, gazing at the stone. "I do think that's
And _he_ said, because he truly felt it, because the will to live raged
through him again, tingling and smarting:
"I'm glad I'm not there."
They smiled at each other, and their instinctive hands fumblingly met.
A few days later, the Dean and Chapter, stung into action by the
majestic rebuke of the _Daily Record_, amended the floor of Valhalla and
caused the mortal residuum of the immortal organism known as Henry Leek
to be nocturnally transported to a different bed.
A few days later, also, a North German Lloyd steamer quitted Southampton
for Algiers, bearing among its passengers Priam and Alice. It was a
rough starlit night, and from the stern of the vessel the tumbled white
water made a pathway straight to receding England. Priam had come to
love the slopes of Putney with the broad river at the foot; but he
showed what I think was a nice feeling in leaving England. His sojourn
in our land had not crowned him with brilliance. He was not a being
created for society, nor for cutting a figure, nor for exhibiting tact
and prudence in the crises of existence. He could neither talk well nor
read well, nor express himself in exactly suitable actions. He could
only express himself at the end of a brush. He could only paint
extremely beautiful pictures. That was the major part of his vitality.
In minor ways he may have been, upon occasions, a fool. But he was never
a fool on canvas. He said everything there, and said it to perfection,
for those who could read, for those who can read, and for those who will
be able to read five hundred years hence. Why expect more from him? Why
be disappointed in him? One does not expect a wire-walker to play fine
billiards. You yourself, mirror of prudence that you are, would have
certainly avoided all Priam's manifold errors in the conduct of his
social career; but, you see, he was divine in another way.
As the steamer sped along the lengthening pathway from England, one
question kept hopping in and out of his mind:
"_I wonder what they'll do with me next time_?"
Do not imagine that he and Alice were staring over the stern at the
singular isle. No! There were imperative reasons, which affected both of
them, against that. It was only in the moments of the comparative calm
which always follows insurrections, that Priam had leisure to wonder,
and to see his own limitations, and joyfully to meditate upon the
prospect of age devoted to the sole doing of that which he could so
supremely, in a sweet exile with the enchantress, Alice.
Back to Full Books