E. Arnold Bennett
Part 5 out of 8
had seen the house in Manchester Square. He was leading a double
life,--consequence of riches! Was she?
As soon as she had softly closed the door he composed himself, for he
was in fact considerably exhausted. Remembering a conversation at the
club with a celebrated psycho-analyst about the possibilities of
auto-suggestion, he strove to empty his mind and then to repeat to
himself very rapidly in a low murmur: "You will sleep, you will sleep,
you will sleep, you will sleep," innumerable times. But the incantation
would not work, probably because he could not keep his mind empty. The
mysterious receptacle filled faster than he could empty it. It filled
till it flowed over with the flooding realisation of the awful
complexity of existence. He longed to maintain its simplicity, well
aware that his happiness would result from simplicity alone. But
existence flatly refused to be simple. He desired love in a cottage with
Eve. He could have bought a hundred cottages, all in ideal surroundings.
The mere fact, however, that he was in a position to buy a hundred
cottages somehow made it impossible for him to devote himself
exclusively to loving Eve in one cottage....
His imagination leaped over intervening events and he pictured the
wedding of Sissie as a nightmare of complications--no matter whom she
married. He loathed weddings. Of course a girl of Sissie's sense and
modernity ought to insist on being married in a registry office. But
would she? She would not. For a month previous to marriage all girls
cast off modernity and became Victorian. Yes, she would demand real
orange-blossom and everything that went with it.... He got as far as
wishing that Sissie might grow into an old maid, solely that he might be
spared the wearing complications incident to the ceremony of marriage as
practised by intelligent persons in the twentieth century. His character
was deteriorating, and he could not stop it from deteriorating....
Then Sissie herself came very silently into the room.
"Sit down, my dear. I want to talk to you," he said in his most
ingratiating and sympathetic tones. And in quite another tone he
addressed her silently: "It's time I taught you a thing or two, my
"Yes, father," she responded charmingly to his wily ingratiatingness,
and sat down.
"If you were the ordinary girl," he began, "I shouldn't say a word. It
would be no use. But you aren't. And I flatter myself I'm not the
ordinary father. You are in love. Or you think you are. Which is the
same thing--for the present. It's a fine thing to be in love. I'm quite
serious. I like you tremendously just for being in love. Yes, I do. Now
I know something about being in love. You've got enough imagination to
realise that, and I want you to realise it. I want you to realise that I
know a bit more about love than you do. Stands to reason, doesn't it?"
"Yes, father," said Sissie, placidly respectful.
"Love has got one drawback. It very gravely impairs the critical
faculty. You think you can judge our friend Oswald with perfect
impartiality. You think you see him as he is. But if you will exercise
your imagination you will admit that you can't. You perceive that, don't
"Quite, dad," the adorable child concurred.
"Well, do you know anything about him, really?"
"Not much, father."
"Neither do I. I've nothing whatever against him. But I shouldn't be
playing straight with you if I didn't tell you that at the club he's not
greatly admired. And a club is a very good judge of a man, the best
judge of a man. And then as regards his business. Supposing you were not
in love with him, should you like his business? You wouldn't. Naturally.
There are other things, but I won't discuss them now. All I suggest to
you is that you should go a bit slow. Exercise caution. Control
yourself. Test him a little. If you and I weren't the greatest pals I
shouldn't be such an ass as to talk in this strain to you. But I know
you won't misunderstand me. I know you know there's absolutely no
conventional nonsense about me, just as I know there's absolutely no
conventional nonsense about you. I'm perfectly aware that the old can't
teach the young, and that oftener than not the young are right and the
old wrong. But it's not a question of old and young between you and me.
It's a question of two friends--that's all."
"Dad," said she, "you're the most wonderful dad that ever was. Oh! If
everybody would talk like that!"
"Not at all! Not at all!" he deprecated, delighted with himself and her.
"I'm simply telling you what you know already. I needn't say any more.
You'll do exactly as you think best, and whatever you do will please me.
I don't want you to be happy in my way--I want you to be happy in your
own way. Possibly you'll decide to tell Mr. Morfey to wait for three
"I most decidedly shall, dad," Sissie interrupted him, "and I'm most
frightfully obliged to you."
He had always held that she was a marvellous girl, and here was the
proof. He had spoken with the perfection of tact and sympathy and
wisdom, but his success astonished him. At this point he perceived that
Sissie was not really sitting in the chair at all and that the chair was
empty. So that the exhibition of sagacity had been entirely wasted.
"Anyhow I've had a sleep," said the philosopher in him.
The door opened. Machin appeared, defying her mistress's orders.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but a Mr. Morfey is on the telephone and
asks whether it would be convenient for you to see him to-night. He says
it's urgent." Mr. Prohack braced himself, but where his stomach had been
there was a void.
"Had an accident to your eye-glass?" asked Mr. Prohack, shaking hands
with Oswald Morfey, when the latter entered, by appointment, Mr.
Prohack's breakfast-room after dinner. Miss Warburton having gone home,
Mr. Prohack had determined to employ her official room for formal
interviews. With her woman's touch she had given it an air of business
which pleasantly reminded him of the Treasury.
Ozzie was not wearing an eye-glass, and the absence of the broad black
ribbon that usually ran like a cable-connection between his eye and his
supra-umbilical region produced the disturbing illusion that he had
forgotten an essential article of attire.
"Yes," Ozzie replied, opening his eyes with that mien of surprise that
was his response to all questions, even the simplest. "Miss Sissie has
"I'm very sorry my daughter should be so clumsy."
"It was not exactly clumsiness. I offered her the eye-glass to do what
she pleased with, and she pleased to break it."
"Surely an impertinence?"
"No. A favour. Miss Sissie did not care for my eye-glass."
"You must be considerably incommoded."
"No. The purpose of my eye-glass was decorative, not optical." Ozzie
smiled agreeably, though nervously.
Mr. Prohack was conscious of a certain surprising sympathy for this
chubby simpering young man with the peculiar vocation, whom but lately
he had scorned and whom on one occasion he had described as a perfect
"Well, shall we sit down?" suggested the elder, whom the younger's
nervousness had put into an excellent state of easy confidence.
"The fact is," said Ozzie, obeying, "the fact is that I've come to see
you about Sissie. I'm very anxious to marry her, Mr. Prohack."
"Indeed! Then you must excuse this old velvet coat. If I'd had notice of
the solemnity of your visit, my dear Morfey, I'd have met you in a
dinner jacket. May I just put one question? Have you kissed Sissie
"By force or by mutual agreement?"
"She made no protest?"
"The reverse rather?"
"Then why do you come here to me?"
"To get your consent."
"I suppose you arranged with Sissie that you should come here?"
"Yes, I did. We thought it would be best if I came alone."
"Well, all I can say is that you're a very old-fashioned pair. I'm
afraid that you must have forgotten to alter your date calendar when the
twentieth century started. Let me assure you that this is not by any
means the nineteenth. I admit that I only altered my own date calendar
this afternoon, and even then only as the result of an unusual dream."
"Yes?" said Ozzie politely, and he said nothing else, but it seemed to
Mr. Prohack that Ozzie was thinking: "This queer old stick is taking
advantage of his position to make a fool of himself in his queer old
"Let us examine the circumstances," Mr. Prohack proceeded. "You want to
marry Sissie. Therefore you respect her. Therefore you would not have
invited her to marry unless you had been reasonably sure that you
possessed the brains and the material means to provide for her physical
and moral comfort not merely during the next year but till the end of
her life. It would be useless, not to say impolite, for me to question
you as to your situation and your abilities, because you are convinced
about both, and if you failed to convince me about both you would leave
here perfectly sure that the fault was mine and not yours, and you would
pursue your plans just the same. Moreover, you are a man of the
world--far more a man of the world than I am myself--and you are
unquestionably the best judge of your powers to do your duty towards a
wife. Of course some might argue that I, being appreciably older than
you, am appreciably wiser than you and that my opinion on vital matters
is worth more than yours. But you know, and perhaps I know too, that in
growing old a man does not really become wiser; he simply acquires a
different sort of wisdom--whether it is a better or a worse sort nobody
can decide. All we know is that the extremely young and the extremely
old are in practice generally foolish. Which leads you nowhere at all.
But looking at history we perceive that the ideas of the moderately
young have always triumphed against the ideas of the moderately old. And
happily so, for otherwise there could be no progress. Hence the balance
of probability is that, assuming you and I were to differ, you would be
more right than I should be."
"But I hope that we do not differ, sir," said Ozzie. And Mr. Prohack
found satisfaction in the naturalness, the freedom from pose, of Ozzie's
diffident and disconcerted demeanour. His sympathy for the young man was
increased by the young man's increasing consternation.
"Again," resumed Mr. Prohack, ignoring Ozzie's hope. "Take the case of
Sissie herself. Sissie's education was designed and superintended by
myself. The supreme aim of education should be to give sound judgment in
the great affairs of life, and moral stamina to meet the crises which
arrive when sound judgment is falsified by events. If I were to tell you
that in my opinion Sissie's judgment of you as a future husband was
unsound, it would be equivalent to admitting that my education of Sissie
had been unsound. And I could not possibly admit such a thing. Moreover,
just as you are a man of the world, so Sissie is a woman of the world.
By heredity and by natural character she is sagacious, and she has
acquainted herself with all manner of things as to which I am entirely
ignorant. Nor can I remember any instance of her yielding, from genuine
conviction, to my judgment when it was opposed to hers. From all which
it follows, my dear Morfey, that your mission to me here this evening is
a somewhat illogical, futile, and unnecessary mission, and that the
missioner must be either singularly old-fashioned and conventional--or
laughing in his sleeve at me. No!" Mr. Prohack with a nineteenth century
wave of the hand deprecated Ozzie's interrupting protest. "No! There is
a third alternative, and I accept it. You desired to show me a courtesy.
I thank you."
"But have you no questions to ask me?" demanded Ozzie.
"Yes," said Mr. Prohack. "How did you first make the acquaintance of my
"Do you mean to say you don't know? Hasn't Sissie ever told you?"
"Never. What is more, she has never mentioned your name in any
conversation until somebody else had mentioned it. Such is the result of
my educational system, and the influence of the time-spirit."
"Well, I'm dashed!" exclaimed Ozzie sincerely.
"I hope not, Morfey. I hope not, if by dashed you mean 'damned.'"
"But it was the most wonderful meeting, Mr. Prohack," Ozzie burst out,
and he was in such an enthusiasm that he almost forgot to lisp. "You
knew I was in M.I. in the war, after my trench fever."
"M.I., that is to say, Secret Service."
"Yes. Secret Service if you like. Well, sir, I was doing some work in
the East End, in a certain foreign community, and I had to get away
quickly, and so I jumped into a motor-van that happened to be passing.
That van was driven by Sissie!"
"An example of fact imitating fiction!" remarked Mr. Prohack, seeking,
not with complete success, to keep out of his voice the emotion
engendered in him by Ozzie's too brief recital. "Now that's one
question, and you have answered it brilliantly. My second and last
question is this: Are you in love with Sissie--"
"Please, Mr. Prohack!" Ozzie half rose out of his chair.
"Or do you love her? The two things are very different."
"I beg your pardon, sir. I hadn't quite grasped," said Ozzie
apologetically, subsiding. "I quite see what you mean. I'm both."
"You are a wonder!" Mr. Prohack murmured.
"Anyway, sir, I'm glad you don't object to our engagement."
"My dear Oswald," said Mr. Prohack in a new tone. "Do you imagine that
after my daughter had expressed her view of you by kissing you I could
fail to share that view. You have a great opinion of Sissie, but I doubt
whether your opinion of her is greater than mine. We will now have a
little whiskey together."
Ozzie's chubby face shone as in his agreeable agitation he searched for
the eye-glass ribbon that was not there.
"Well, sir," said he, beaming. "This interview has not been at all like
what I expected."
"Nor like what I expected either," said Mr. Prohack. "But who can
foresee the future?" And he added to himself: "Could I foresee when I
called this youth a perfect ass that in a very short time I should be
receiving him, not unpleasantly, as a prospective son-in-law? Life is
At the same moment Mrs. Prohack entered the room.
"Oh!" cried she, affecting to be surprised at the presence of Ozzie.
"Wife!" said Mr. Prohack, "Mr. Oswald Morfey has done you the honour to
solicit the hand of your daughter in marriage. You are staggered!
"How ridiculous you are, Arthur!" said Mrs. Prohack, and impulsively
The wedding festivities really began the next evening with a family
dinner to celebrate Sissie's betrothal. The girl arrived magnificent
from the Grand Babylon, escorted by her lover, and found Mrs. Prohack
equally magnificent--indeed more magnificent by reason of the pearl
necklace. It seemed to Mr. Prohack that Eve had soon become quite used
to that marvellous necklace; he had already had to chide her for leaving
it about. Ozzie also was magnificent; even lacking his eye-glass and
ribbon he was magnificent. Mr. Prohack, esteeming that a quiet domestic
meal at home demanded no ceremony, had put on his old velvet, but Eve
had sharply corrected his sense of values--so shrewishly indeed that
nobody would have taken her for the recent recipient of a marvellous
necklace at his hands--and he had yielded to the extent of a
dinner-jacket. Charlie had not yet come. Since the previous afternoon he
had been out of town on mighty enterprises, but Sissie had seen him
return to the hotel before she left it, and he was momently expected.
Mr. Prohack perceived that Eve was treating Ozzie in advance as her son,
and Ozzie was responding heartily: a phenomenon which Mr. Prohack in
spite of himself found agreeable. Sissie showed more reserve than her
mother towards Ozzie; but then Sissie was a proud thing, which Eve never
was. Mr. Prohack admitted privately that he was happy--yes, he was happy
in the betrothal, and he had most solemnly announced and declared that
he would have naught to do with the wedding beyond giving a marriage
gift to his daughter and giving his daughter to Ozzie. And when Sissie
said that as neither she nor Ozzie had much use for the state of being
merely engaged the wedding would occur very soon, Mr. Prohack rejoiced
at the prospect of the upset being so quickly over. After the emotions
and complications of the wedding he would settle down to
simplicity,--luxurious possibly, but still simplicity: the plain but
perfect. And let his fortune persist in accumulating, well it must
accumulate and be hanged to it!
"But what about getting a house?" he asked his daughter.
"Oh, we shall live in Ozzie's flat," said Sissie.
"Won't it be rather small?"
"The smaller the better," said Sissie. "It will match our income."
"Oh, my dear girl," Eve protested, with a glance at Mr. Prohack to
indicate that for the asking Sissie could have all the income she
wanted. "And I'll give you an idea," Eve brightly added. "You can have
_this_ house rent free."
Sissie shook her head.
"Don't make so sure that they can have this house," said Mr. Prohack.
"But, Arthur! You've agreed to go and look at Manchester Square! And
it's all ready excepting the servants. I'm told that if you don't want
less than seven servants, including one or two menservants, there's no
difficulty about servants at all. I shall be very disappointed if we
don't have the wedding from Manchester Square."
Mr. Prohack writhed, though he knew himself safe. Seven servants; two
menservants? No! And again no! No complications!
"I shall only agree to Manchester Square," said he with firmness and
solemnity, "subject to the drains being all right. Somebody in the place
must show a little elementary sagacity and restraint."
"But the drains are bound to be all right!"
"I hope so," said the deceitful father. "And I believe they will be. But
until we're sure--nothing can be done." And he laughed satanically to
"Haven't you had the report yet?" Sissie complained. "Miss Warburton was
to try to get hold of it to-night."
A moment later Machin, in a condition of high excitement due to the
betrothal, brought in a large envelope, saying that Miss Warburton had
just left it. The envelope contained the report of Messrs. Doy and Doy
on the drains of the noble mansion. Mr. Prohack read it, frowned, and
pursed his judicial lips.
"Read it, my dear," he said to Eve.
Eve read that Messrs. Doy and Doy found themselves unable, after a
preliminary inspection, which owing to their instructions to be speedy
had not been absolutely exhaustive, to certify the drains of the noble
mansion. They feared the worst, but there was of course always a slight
hope of the best, or rather the second best. (They phrased it
differently but they meant that.) In the meantime they would await
further instructions. Mr. Prohack reflected calmly: "My new secretary is
an adept of the first conspiratorial order." Eve was shocked into
silence. (Doy and Doy used very thick and convincing note-paper.) The
entrance of Charlie loosed her tongue.
"Charlie!" she cried. "The drains are all wrong. Look at this. And
didn't you say the option expired to-morrow?"
Charlie read the report.
"Infernal rascals!" he muttered. "Whose doing is this? Who's been
worrying about drains?" He looked round accusingly.
"I have," said Mr. Prohack bravely, but he could not squarely meet the
boy's stern glance.
"Well, dad, what did you take me for? Did you suppose I should buy an
option on a house without being sure of the drains? My first act was to
have the drains surveyed by Flockers, the first firm in London, and I've
got their certificate. As for Doy and Doy, they're notorious. They want
to stop everybody else but themselves getting a commission on that
house, and this--" he slapped the report--"this is how they're setting
Eve adored her son.
"You see," she said victoriously to Mr. Prohack, who secretly trembled.
"I shall bring an action against Doy and Doy," Charlie continued. "I'll
show the whole rascally thing up."
"I hope you'll do no such thing, my boy," said Mr. Prohack, foolishly
attempting the grandiose.
"I most positively shall, dad."
Mr. Prohack realised desperately that all was lost except honour, and he
was by no means sure about even honour.
TRANSFER OF MIMI
Mr. Prohack passed a very bad night--the worst for months, one of the
outstanding bad nights of his whole existence.
"Why didn't I have it out with Charlie before he left?" he asked himself
some scores of times while listening to the tranquil regular breathing
of Eve, who of course was now sure of her house and probably had quite
forgotten the meaning of care. "I'm bound to have it out with him sooner
or later, and if I'd done it at once I should at any rate have slept.
They're all sleeping but me."
He simply could not comprehend life; the confounded thing called life
baffled him by its mysterious illogicalness. He was adored by his
spouse, beloved by his children, respected by the world. He had heaps of
money, together with the full control of it. His word, if he chose, was
law. He had only to say: "I will not take the house in Manchester
Square," and nobody could thwart him. He powerfully desired not to take
it. There was no sensible reason why he should take it. And yet he would
take it, under the inexplicable compulsion of circumstances. In those
sombre hours he had a fellow-feeling for Oriental tyrants, who were
absolute autocrats but also slaves of exactly the same sinister force
that had gripped himself. He perceived that in practice there is no such
thing as an autocrat....
Not that his defeat in regard to the house really disturbed him. He
could reconcile himself to the house, despite the hateful complications
which it would engender. What disturbed him horribly was the drains
business, the Doy and Doy business, the Mimi business; he could see no
way out of that except through the valley of humiliation. He remembered,
with terrible forebodings, the remark of his daughter after she heard of
the heritage: "You'll never be as happy again."
When the household day began and the familiar comfortable distant noises
of domestic activity announced that the solar system was behaving much
as usual in infinite and inconceivable space, he decided that he was
too tired to be scientifically idle that day--even though he had a
trying-on appointment with Mr. Melchizidek. He decided, too, that he
would not get up, would in fact take everything lying down, would refuse
to descend a single step of the stairs to meet trouble. And he had a
great wish to be irritated and angry. But, the place seemed to be full
of angels who turned the other cheek--and the other cheek was
marvellously soft and bewitching.
Eve, Sissie (who had called), and Machin--they were all in a state of
felicity, for the double reason that Sissie was engaged to be married,
and that the household was to move into a noble mansion. Machin saw
herself at the head of a troup of sub-parlourmaids and housemaids and
tweenies, and foretold that she would stand no nonsense from butlers.
They all treated Mr. Prohack as a formidable and worshipped tyrant,
whose smile was the sun and whose frown death, and who was the fount of
wisdom and authority. They knew that he wanted to be irritated, and they
gave him no chance to be irritated. Their insight into his psychology
was uncanny. They knew that he was beaten on the main point, and with
their detestable feminine realism they exquisitely yielded on all the
minor points. Eve, fresh as a rose, bent over him and bedewed him, and
said that she was going out and that Sissie had gone again.
When he was alone he rang the bell for Machin as though the bell had
done him an injury.
"What time is it?"
"Eleven o'clock, sir."
"Eleven o'clock! Good God! Why hasn't Miss Warburton come?"
As if Machin was responsible for Miss Warburton!... No! Mr. Prohack was
not behaving nicely, and it cannot be hidden that he lacked the grandeur
of mind which distinguishes most of us.
"Miss Warburton was here before ten o'clock, sir."
"Then why hasn't she come up?"
"She was waiting for orders, sir."
"Send her up immediately."
Miss Warburton was the fourth angel--an angel with another
spick-and-span blouse, and the light of devotion in her eyes and the
sound of it in her purling voice.
"Good morning," the gruff brute started. "Did I hear the telephone-bell
"Yes, sir. Doy and Doy have telephoned to say that Mr. Charles Prohack
has just been in to see them, and they've referred him to you,
"And what? And what? And what?" (A machine-gun.)
"They said he was extremely unpleasant."
Instinctively Mr. Prohack threw away shame. Mimi was his minion. He
treated her as an Oriental tyrant might treat the mute guardian of the
seraglio, and told her everything,--that Charlie had forestalled them in
the matter of the drains of the noble mansion, that Charlie had
determined to destroy Doy and Doy, that he, Mr. Prohack, was caught in a
trap, that there was the devil to pay, and that the finest lies that
ingenuity could invent would have to be uttered. He abandoned all
pretence of honesty and uprightness. Mimi showed no surprise whatever,
nor was she apparently in the least shocked. She seemed to regard the
affair as a quite ordinary part of the day's routine. Her insensitive
calm frightened Mr. Prohack.
"Now we must think of something," said the iniquitous monster.
"I don't see that there need be any real difficulty," Mimi replied.
"_You_ didn't know anything about my plot with Doy and Doy. I got the
notion--quite wrongly--that you preferred not to have the house, and I
acted as I did through an excess of zeal. I must confess the plot. I
alone am to blame, and I admit that what I did was quite inexcusable."
"What a girl! What a girl!" thought Mr. Prohack. But there were limits
to his iniquity, and he said aloud, benevolently, grandiosely: "But I
did know about it. You as good as told me exactly what you meant to do,
and I let you do it. I approved, and I am responsible. Nothing will
induce me to let you take the responsibility. Let that be clearly
He looked squarely at the girl, and watched with apprehension her
aspiring nose rise still further, her delicate ruthless mouth become
still more ruthless.
"Excuse me," she said. "My plan is the best. It's the obvious plan. Mr.
Carrel Quire often adopted it. I'm afraid you're hesitating to trust me
as I expect to be trusted. Please don't forget that you sacrificed an
empire for me--I shall always remember that. And what's more, you said
you expected from me absolute loyalty to your interests. I can stand
anything but not being trusted--_fully_!"
Mr. Prohack sank deeper into the bed, and laughed loudly, immoderately,
titanically. His ill-humour vanished as a fog will vanish. Nevertheless
he was appalled by the revelation of the possibilities of the girl's
The strange scene was interrupted by the arrival of Charlie, who, thanks
to his hypnotic influence over Machin, came masterfully straight
upstairs, entered the bedroom without asking permission to do so, and,
in perfect indifference to the alleged frailty of his father's health,
proceeded to business.
"Dad," said he, after Mimi had gone through her self-ordained martyrdom
and left the room. "I wonder whether you quite realise what a top-hole
creature that Warburton girl is. She's perfectly astounding."
"She is," Mr. Prohack admitted.
"She's got ideas."
"And she isn't afraid of carrying them out."
"She is not."
"She's much too good for you, dad."
"I mean, you can't really make full use of her, can you? She's got no
"She makes her own scope," said Mr. Prohack.
"Now I honestly do need a good secretary," Charlie at last unmasked his
attack. "I've got a temporary idiot, and I want a first-rater,
preferably a woman. I wish you'd be decent and turn Miss Warburton over
to me. She'd be invaluable to me, and with me she really _would_ have
scope for her talents." Charlie laughed.
"What are you laughing at?"
"I was only thinking of her having the notion of queering the drains
like that because she wanted to please you. It was simply great. It's
the best thing I ever heard." He laughed again. "Now, dad, will you turn
her over to me?"
"You appear to think she's a slave to be bought and sold and this room
the slave-market," said Mr. Prohack. "It hasn't occurred to you that
_she_ might object to the transfer."
"Oh! I can soon persuade _her_." said Charlie, lightly.
"But you couldn't easily persuade me. And I may as well inform you at
once, my poor ingenuous boy, that I won't agree. I will never agree.
Miss Warburton is necessary to my existence."
"All in two or three days, is she?" Charlie observed sarcastically.
"Well, father, as we're talking straight, let's talk straight. I'm going
to take her from you. It's a very little help I'm asking you for, and
that you should refuse is a bit thick. I shall speak to the mater."
"And what shall you say?"
"I shall tell her all about the plot against the new house. It was
really a plot against her, because she wants the house--the house is
nothing to me. I may believe that you knew nothing about the plot
yourself, but I'll lay you any odds the mater won't."
"Speaking as man to man, my boy, I lay you any odds you can't put your
mother against me."
"Oh!" cried Charlie, "she won't _say_ she believes you're guilty, but
she'll believe it all the same. And it's what people think that matters,
not what they say they think."
"That's wisdom," Mr. Prohack agreed. "I see that I brought you up not so
badly after all. But doesn't it strike you that you're trying to
blackmail your father? I hope I taught you sagacity, but I never
encouraged you in blackmail--unless my memory fails me."
"You can call it by any name you please," said Charlie.
"Very well, then, I will. I'll call it blackmail. Give me a cigarette."
He lit the offered cigarette. "Anything else this morning?"
Father and son smiled warily at one another. Both were amused and even
affectionate, but serious in the battle.
"Come along, dad. Be a sport. Anyhow, let's ask the girl."
"Do you know what my answer to blackmail is?" Mr. Prohack blandly
"My answer is the door. Drop the subject entirely. Or sling your
Mr. Prohack was somewhat startled to see Charlie walk straight out of
the bedroom. A disturbing suspicion that there might be something
incalculable in his son was rudely confirmed.
He said to himself: "But this is absurd."
That morning the Prohack bedroom seemed to be transformed into a sort of
public square. No sooner had Charlie so startlingly left than Machin
"Dr. Veiga, sir."
And Dr. Veiga came in. The friendship between Mr. Prohack and his
picturesque quack had progressed--so much so that Eve herself had begun
to twit her husband with having lost his head about the doctor.
Nevertheless Eve was privately very pleased with the situation, because
it proved that she had been right and Mr. Prohack wrong concerning the
qualities of the fat, untidy, ironic Portuguese. Mr. Prohack was
delighted to see him, for an interview with Dr. Veiga always meant an
unusual indulgence in the sweets of candour and realism.
"This is my wife's doing, no doubt," said Mr. Prohack, limply shaking
"She called to see me, ostensibly about herself, but of course in fact
about you. However, I thought she needed a tonic, and I'll write out the
prescription while I'm here. Now what's the matter with you?"
"No!" Mr. Prohack burst out, "I'm hanged if I'll tell you. I'm not going
to do your work for you. Find out."
Dr. Veiga examined, physically and orally, and then said: "There's
nothing at all the matter with you, my friend."
"That's just where you're mistaken," Mr. Prohack retorted. "There's
something rather serious the matter with me. I'm suffering from grave
complications. Only you can't help me. My trouble is spiritual. Neither
pills nor tonics can touch it. But that doesn't make it any better."
"Try me," said Dr. Veiga. "I'm admirable on the common physical
ailments, and by this time I should have been universally recognised as
a great man if common ailments were uncommon; because you know in my
profession you never get any honour unless you make a study of diseases
so rare that nobody has them. Discover a new disease, and save the life
of some solitary nigger who brought it to Liverpool, and you'll be a
baronet in a fortnight and a member of all the European academies in a
month. But study colds, indigestion and insomnia, and change a thousand
lives a year from despair to felicity, and no authority will take the
slightest notice of you ... As with physical, so with mental
diseases--or spiritual, if you like to call them so. You don't suspect
that in the common mental diseases I'm a regular benefactor of mankind;
but I am. I don't blame you for not knowing it, because you're about the
last person I should have thought susceptible to any mental disease, and
so you've had no chance of finding out. Now, what is it?"
"Don't I tell you I'm suffering from horrible complications?" cried Mr.
"What kind of complications?"
"Every kind. My aim has always been to keep my life simple, and I
succeeded very well--perhaps too well--until I inherited money. I don't
mind money, but I do mind complications. I don't want a large
house--because it means complications. I desire Sissie's happiness, but
I hate weddings. I desire to be looked after, but I hate strange
servants. I can find pleasure in a motor-car, but I hate even the risk
of accidents. I have no objection to an income, but I hate investments.
And so on. All I ask is to live simply and sensibly, but instead of that
my existence is transformed into a quadratic equation. And I can't stop
it. My happiness is not increasing--it's decreasing. I spend more and
more time in wondering whither I am going, what I am after, and where
precisely is the point of being alive at all. That's a fact, and now you
Dr. Veiga rose from his chair and deliberately sat down on the side of
his patient's bed. The gesture in itself was sufficiently
unprofessional, but he capped it with another of which probably no
doctor had ever been guilty in a British sick-room before; he pulled out
a pocket-knife and became his own manicure, surveying his somewhat
neglected hands with a benevolently critical gaze, smiling at them as if
to say: "What funny hands you are!"
And Mr. Prohack felt that the doctor was saying: "What a funny Prohack
"My friend," said Dr. Veiga at length (with his voice), "my friend, I
will not conceal from you that your alarm was justified. You are
suffering from one of the commonest and one of the gravest mental
derangements. I'm surprised, but there it is. You haven't yet discovered
that it's the earth you're living on. You fancy it may be Sirius,
Uranus, Aldebaran or Jupiter--let us say Jupiter. Perhaps in one of
these worlds matters are ordered differently, and their truth is not our
truth; but let me assure you that the name of your planet is the Earth
and that on the earth one great unalterable truth prevails. Namely:--You
can't do this"--here Dr. Veiga held up a pared and finished finger and
wagged it to and fro with solemnity--"you can't do this without moving
your finger ... You were aware of this great truth? Then why are you
upset because you can't wag your finger without moving it?... Perhaps
I'm being too subtle for you. Let me put the affair in another way.
You've lost sight of the supreme earthly fact that everything has not
merely a consequence, but innumerable consequences. You knew when you
married that you were creating endless consequences, and now you want to
limit the consequences. You knew when you accepted a fortune that you
were creating endless consequences, and now you want to limit them too.
You want to alter the rules after the game has started. You set in
motion circumstances which were bound to influence the development of
the members of your family, and when the inevitable new developments
begin, you object, simply because you hadn't foreseen them. You knew
that money doesn't effectively exist until it's spent and that you can't
spend money without causing consequences, and when your family causes
consequences by bringing the money to life you complain that you're a
martyr to the consequences and that you hadn't bargained for
complications. My poor friend, you have made one crucial mistake in your
career,--the mistake of being born. Happily the mistake is curable. I
can give you several prescriptions. The first is prussic acid. If you
don't care for that you can donate the whole of your fortune to the
Sinking Fund for extinguishing the National Debt and you can return to
the Treasury. If you don't care for that you can leave your family
mysteriously and go and live in Timbuctoo by yourself. If you don't care
for that you can buy a whip and forbid your wife and daughter to grow
older or change in any way on pain of a hundred lashes. And if you don't
like that you can acquaint yourself with the axioms that neither you nor
anybody else are the centre of the universe and that what you call
complications are simply another name for life itself. Worry is life,
and life is worry. And the absence of worry is death. I won't say to you
that you're rich and beloved and therefore you've nothing to worry
about. I'll say to you, you've got a lot to worry about because you're
rich and beloved.... I'll leave the other hand for to-morrow." Dr. Veiga
snapped down the blade of the pocket-knife.
"Platitudes!" ejaculated Mr. Prohack.
"Certainly," agreed the quack. "But I've told you before that it's by
telling everybody what everybody knows that I earn my living."
"I'll get up," said Mr. Prohack.
"And not too soon," said the quack. "Get up by all means and deal with
your worries. All worries can be dealt with."
"It doesn't make life any better," said Mr. Prohack.
"Nothing makes life any better, except death--and there's a disgusting
rumour that there is no death. Where shall I find a pencil, my dear
fellow? I've forgotten mine, and I want to prescribe Mrs. Prohack's
"In the boudoir there," said Mr. Prohack. "What the deuce are you
"I'm smiling because I'm so glad to find you aren't so wise as you
look." And Dr. Veiga disappeared blithely into the boudoir.
Almost at the same moment Mimi knocked and entered. She entered, stared
harshly at Mr. Prohack, and then the corners of her ruthless mouth
twitched and loosened and she began to cry.
"Doctor," called Mr. Prohack, "come here at once." The doctor came. "You
say all worries can be dealt with? How should you deal with this one?"
The doctor dropped a slip of paper on to the bed and walked silently out
of the room, precisely as Charlie had done.
In regard to the effect of the sermon of Dr. Veiga on Mr. Prohack, it
was as if Mr. Prohack had been a desk with many drawers and one drawer
open, and the sermon had been dropped into the drawer and the drawer
slammed to and nonchalantly locked. The drawer being locked, Mr. Prohack
turned to the weeping figure in front of him, which suddenly ceased to
weep and became quite collected and normal.
"Now, my child," said Mr. Prohack, "I have just been informed that
everything has a consequence. I've seen the consequence. What is the
He was rather annoyed by Mimi's tears, but in his dangerous
characteristic desire to please, he could not keep kindness out of his
tone, and Mimi, reassured and comforted, began feebly to smile, and also
Mr. Prohack remarked that her mouth was acquiring firmness again.
"I ought to tell you in explanation of anything of a personal nature
that I may have said to him in your presence, that the gentleman just
gone is my medical adviser, and I have no secrets from him; in that
respect he stands equal with you and above everybody else in the world
without exception. So you must excuse my freedom in directing his
attention to you."
"It's I who ought to apologise," said Miss Warburton, positively. "But
the fact is I hadn't the slightest idea that you weren't alone. I was
just a little bit upset because I understand that you want to get rid of
"Ah!" murmured Mr. Prohaek, "who put that notion into your absurd
He knew he was exercising his charm, but he could not help it.
"Mr. Charles. He's just been down to my room and told me."
"I hope you remembered what I said to you about your duty so far as he
"Of course, Mr. Prohack." She smiled anew; and her smile, so clever, so
self-reliant, so enigmatic, a little disturbed Mr. Prohack.
"What did my son say to you?"
"He said that he was urgently in need of a thoroughly competent
secretary at once--confidential--and that he was sure I was the very
woman to suit him, and that he would give me double the salary I was
"Did you tell him how much you're getting?"
"Well, neither did I! And then?"
"Then he told me all about his business, how big it was, and growing
quickly, too, and how he was after a young woman who had tact and
resource and could talk to any one from a bank director to a mechanic or
a clergyman, and that tens of thousands of pounds might often depend on
my tact, and that you wouldn't mind my being transferred from you to
"And I suppose he asked you to go off with him immediately?"
"No, at the beginning of next week."
"And what did you say?" demanded Mr. Prohack, amazed and frightened at
the manoeuvres of his unscrupulous son.
"Naturally I said that I couldn't possibly leave you--unless you told me
to go, and that I owed everything to you. Then he asked me what I did
for you, and I said I was particularly busy at present making a schedule
of all your new purchases and checking the outfitters' accounts, and so
on. That reminds me, I haven't been able to get the neckties right yet."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack. "Not been able to get the
neckties right! But this is very serious. The neckties are most
important. Most important!"
"Oh!" said Mimi. "If necessary I shall run round to Bond Street in my
At this point the drawer in the desk started to unlock itself and open
of its own accord, and Mr. Prohack's eye caught a glimpse of a page of
"We mustn't forget there'll be hundreds of things to see to about the
"Well, Mrs. Prohack told Machin, and Machin has just told me, that it's
all settled about taking the house. And I know what taking a house is.
Mr. Carrel Quire was always taking new houses."
"But perhaps you could keep an eye on the house even if you went over to
"Then it's true," said Mimi. "You do want me to go." But she showed no
sign of weeping afresh.
"You must understand," Mr. Prohack said with much benevolence, "that my
son is my son. Of course my clothes are also my clothes. But Charles is
in a difficult position. He's at the beginning of his career, whereas
I'm at the end of mine. He needs all the help he can get, and he can
afford to pay more than I can. And even at the cost of having to check
my own neckties I shouldn't like to stand in his way. That's how I look
at it. Mind you, I have certainly not told Charlie that I'll set you
"I quite see," said Mimi. "And naturally if you put it like that--"
"You'll still be in the family."
"I shall be very sorry to leave you, Mr. Prohack."
"Doubtless. But you'll be even gladder to go over to Charles, though
with him you'll be more like a kettle tied to the tail of a mad dog than
a confidential secretary."
Mimi raised the tip of her nose.
"Excuse me, Mr. Prohack, I shall _not_ be gladder to go over to Mr.
Charles. Any girl will tell you that she prefers to work for a man of
your age than for a boy. Boys are not interesting."
"Yes," murmured Mr. Prohack. "A comfortable enough theory. And I've
already heard it more than once from girls. But I've never seen any
confirmation of it in practice. And I don't believe it. I'll tell you
something about yourself you don't know. You're delighted to go over to
my son. And if I'd refused to let you go I should have had a martyr
instead of a secretary. You want adventure. You want a field for your
remarkable talent for conspiracy and chicane. You know by experience
there's little scope for it here. But under my son your days will be
breathless.... No, no! I don't wish to hear anything. Run away and get
on with your work. And you can telephone my decision to Charles. I'm now
going to get up and wear all my new neckties at once."
Miss Warburton departed in a state of emotion.
As, with all leisureliness, Mr. Prohack made himself beautiful to
behold, he reflected: "I'm very impulsive. I've simply thrown that girl
into the arms of that boy. Eve will have something to say about it.
Still, there's one complication off my chest."
Eve returned home as he was descending the stairs, and she blew him
upstairs again and shut the door of the bedroom and pushed him into the
privacy of the boudoir.
"It's all settled," said she. "I've signed the tenancy agreement for a
year. Charlie said I could, and it would save you trouble. It doesn't
matter the cheque for the first half-year's rent being signed by you,
only of course the house will be in my name. How handsome you are,
darling!" And she kissed him and re-tied one of the new cravats. "But
that's not what I wanted to tell you, darling." Her face grew grave. "Do
you know I'm rather troubled about Charlie--and your friend Lady
Massulam. They're off again this morning."
"Well, you know she adores you. It would be perfectly awful
if--if--well, you understand what I mean. I hear she really is a widow,
so that--well, you understand what I mean! I'm convinced she's at least
thirty years older than Charlie. But you see she's French, and French
women are so clever.... You can never be sure with them."
"Fluttering heart," said Mr. Prohack, suddenly inspired. "Don't get
excited. I've thought of all that already, and I've taken measures to
guard against it. I'm going to give Charlie my secretary. She'll see
that Lady Massulam doesn't make any more headway, trust her!"
"Arthur, how clever you are! Nobody but you would have thought of that.
But isn't it a bit dangerous, too? You see--don't you?"
Mr. Prohack shook his head.
"I gather you've been reading the love-story in _The Daily Picture_,"
said he. "In _The Daily Picture_ the typist always marries the
millionaire. But outside _The Daily Picture_ I doubt whether these
romantic things really happen. There are sixty-five thousand girls
typists in the City alone, besides about a million in Whitehall. The
opportunities for espousing millionaires and ministers of state are
countless. But no girl-typist has been married at St. George's, Hanover
Square, since typewriters were invented."
The very next day Mr. Prohack had a plutocratic mood of overbearingness,
which led to a sudden change in his location--the same being transferred
to Frinton-on-Sea. The mood was brought about by a visit to the City, at
the summons of Paul Spinner; and the visit included conversations not
only with Paul, but with Smathe and Smathe, the solicitors, and with a
firm of stockbrokers. Paul handed over to his crony saleable securities,
chiefly in the shape of scrip of the greatest oil-combine and its
subsidiaries, for a vast amount, and advised Mr. Prohack to hold on to
them, as, owing to the present depression due to the imminence of a
great strike, they were likely to be "marked higher" before Mr. Prohack
was much older. Mr. Prohack declined the advice, and he also declined
the advice of solicitors and stockbrokers, who were both full of wisdom
and of devices for increasing capital values. What these firms knew
about the future, and about the consequences of causes and about "the
psychology of the markets" astounded the simple Terror of the
departments; and it was probably unanswerable. But, being full of
riches, Mr. Prohack did not trouble to answer it; he merely swept it
away with a tyrannical and impatient gesture, which gesture somehow
mysteriously established him at once as a great authority on the art of
"Now listen to me," said he imperiously, and the manipulators of shares
listened, recalling to themselves that Mr. Prohack had been a Treasury
official for over twenty years and must therefore be worth
hearing--although the manipulators commonly spent many hours a week in
asserting, in the press and elsewhere, that Treasury officials
comprehended naught of finance. "Now listen to me. I don't care a hang
about my capital. It may decrease or increase, and I shan't care. All I
care for is my interest. I want to be absolutely sure that my interest
will tumble automatically into my bank on fixed dates. No other
consideration touches me. I'm not a gambler. I'm not a usurer.
Industrial development leaves me cold, and if I should ever feel any
desire to knit the Empire closer together I'll try to do it without
making a profit out of it. At the moment all I'm after is certain, sure,
fixed interest. Hence--Government securities, British Government or
Colonial! Britain is of course rotten to the core, always was, always
will be. Still, I'll take my chances. I'm infernally insular where
investment is concerned. There's one thing to be said about the British
Empire--you do know where you are in it. And I don't mind some municipal
stocks. I even want some. I can conceive the smash-up of the British
Empire, but I cannot conceive Manchester defaulting in its interest
payments. Can you?" And he looked round and paused for a reply, and no
reply came. Nobody dared to boast himself capable of conceiving
Towards the end of the arduous day Mr. Prohack departed from the City,
leaving behind him an immense reputation for financial sagacity, and a
scheme of investment under which he could utterly count upon a modest
regular income of L17,000 per annum. He was sacrificing over L5,000 per
annum in order to be free from an investor's anxieties, and he reckoned
that his peace of mind was cheap at a hundred pounds a week. This detail
alone shows to what an extent the man's taste for costly luxuries had
Naturally he arrived home swollen. Now it happened that Eve also, by
reason of her triumph in regard to the house in Manchester Square, had
swelled head. A conflict of individualities occurred. A trifle, even a
quite pleasant trifle! Nothing that the servants might not hear with
advantage. But before you could say 'knife' Mr. Prohack had said that he
would go away for a holiday and abandon Eve to manage the removal to
Manchester Square how she chose, and Ere had leapt on to the challenge
and it was settled that Mr. Prohack should go to Frinton-on-Sea.
Eve selected Frinton-on-Sea for him because Dr. Veiga had recommended it
for herself. She had a broad notion of marriage as a commonwealth. She
loved to take Mr. Prohack's medicines, and she was now insisting on his
taking her watering-places. Mr. Prohack said that the threatened great
strike might prevent his journey. Pooh! She laughed at such fears. She
drove him herself to Liverpool Street.
"You may see your friend Lady Massulam," said she, as the car entered
the precincts of the station. (Once again he was struck by the words
'your friend' prefixed to Lady Massulam; but he offered no comment on
"Why Lady Massulam?" he asked.
"Didn't you know she's got a house at Frinton?" replied Mrs. Prohack.
"Everybody has in these days. It's the thing."
She didn't see him into the train, because she was in a hurry about
butlers. Mr. Prohack was cast loose in the booking-hall and had a fine
novel sensation of freedom.
Never since marriage had he taken a holiday alone--never desired to do
so. He felt himself to be on the edge of romance. Frinton, for example,
presented itself as a city of romance. He knew it not, knew scarcely any
English seaside, having always managed to spend his holidays abroad; but
Frinton must, he was convinced, be strangely romantic. The train thither
had an aspect which strengthened this conviction. It consisted largely
of first-class coaches, and in the window of nearly every first-class
compartment and saloon was exhibited a notice: "This compartment (or
saloon) is reserved for members of the North Essex Season-Ticket-Holders
Association." Mr. Prohack, being still somewhat swollen, decided that he
was a member of the North Essex Season-Ticket-Holders Association and
acted accordingly. Otherwise he might never have reached Frinton.
He found himself in a sort of club, about sixty feet by six, where
everybody knew everybody except Mr. Prohack, and where cards and other
games, tea and other drinks, tobacco and other weeds, were being played
and consumed in an atmosphere of the utmost conviviality. Mr. Prohack
was ignored, but he was not objected to. His fellow-travellers regarded
him cautiously, as a new chum. The head attendant and dispenser was very
affable, as to a promising neophyte. Only the ticket-inspector singled
him out from all the rest by stopping in front of him.
"My last hour has come," thought Mr. Prohack as he produced his
miserable white return-ticket.
All stared; the inspector stared; but nothing happened. Mr. Prohack had
a sense of reprieve, and also of having been baptised or inducted into a
secret society. He listened heartily to forty conversations about
physical diversions and luxuries and about the malignant and fatuous
wrong-headedness of men who went on strike, and about the approaching
catastrophic end of all things.
Meanwhile, at any rate in the coach, the fabric of society seemed to be
holding together fairly well. Before the train was half-way to Frinton
Mr. Prohack judged--and rightly--that he was already there. The fact was
that he had been there ever since entering the saloon. After two hours
the train, greatly diminished in length, came to rest in the midst of a
dark flatness, and the entire population of the coach vanished out of it
in the twinkling of an eye, and Mr. Prohack saw the name 'Frinton' on a
flickering oil-lamp, and realised that he was at the gates of the most
fashionable resort in England, a spot where even the ozone was
exclusive. The station staff marvelled at him because he didn't know
where the Majestic Hotel was and because he asked without notice for a
taxi, fly, omnibus or anything on wheels. All the other passengers had
disappeared. The exclusive ozone was heavy with exciting romance for Mr.
Prohack as the station staff considered his unique and incomprehensible
case. Then a tiny omnibus materialised out of the night.
"Is this the Majestic bus?" Mr. Prohack enquired of the driver.
"Well, it is if you like, sir," the driver answered.
Mr. Prohack did like....
The Majestic was large and prim, resembling a Swiss hotel in its
furniture, the language and composition of the menu, the dialect of the
waiters; but it was about fifteen degrees colder than the highest hotel
in Switzerland. The dining-room was shaded with rose-shaded lamps and it
susurrated with the polite whisperings of elegant couples and trios, and
the entremet was cabinet pudding: a fine display considering the depth
of winter and of the off-season.
Mr. Prohack went off after dinner for a sharp walk in the east wind.
Solitude! Blackness! Night! East wind in the bushes of gardens that
shielded the facades of large houses! Not a soul! Not a policeman! He
descended precariously to the vast, smooth beach. The sound of the sea!
Romance! Mr. Prohack seemed to walk for miles, like Ozymandias, on the
lone and level sands. Then he fancied he descried a moving object. He
was not mistaken. It approached him. It became a man and a woman. It
became a man and a young woman arm-in-arm and soul-in-soul. And there
was nothing but the locked couple, and the sound of the invisible,
immeasurable sea, and the east wind, and Mr. Prohack. Romance thrilled
through Mr. Prohack's spine.
"So I said to him," the man was saying to the young woman as the pair
passed Mr. Prohack, "I said to him 'I could do with a pint o' that,' I
The next morning Mr. Prohack rose with alacrity from a hard bed, and was
greeted in the hall by the manager of the hotel, an enormous,
middle-aged, sun-burnt, jolly person in flannels and an incandescent
blazer, who asked him about his interests in golf and hard-court tennis.
Mr. Prohack, steeped as he felt himself to be in strange romance, was
prepared to be interested in these games, but the self-protective
instinct warned him that since these games could not be played alone
they would, if he indulged in them, bring him into contact with people
who might prove tedious. He therefore changed the conversation and asked
whether he could have strawberry jam to his breakfast. The manager's
face instantly changed, hardening to severity. Was Mr. Prohack
eccentric? Did he desire to disturb the serene habits of the hotel? The
manager promised to see. He did see, and announced that he was 'afraid'
that Mr. Prohack could not have strawberry jam to his breakfast. And Mr.
Prohack said to himself: "What would my son Charles have done?" During a
solitary breakfast (with blackberry jam) in the huge dining-room, Mr.
Prohack decided that Charles would have approached the manager
After breakfast he saw the manager again, and he did not enquire from
the manager whether there was any chance of hiring a motor-car. He said
"I want to hire a car, please. It must be round here in half an hour,
"I will attend to the matter myself," said the manager humbly.
The car kept the rendezvous, and Mr. Prohack inspected Frinton from the
car. He admired the magnificent reserve of Frinton, which was the most
English place he had ever seen. The houses gave nothing away; the
shivering shopping ladies in the streets gave nothing away; and
certainly the shops gave nothing away. The newspaper placards announced
what seemed to be equivalent to the end of the existing social order;
but Frinton apparently did not blench nor tremble; it went calmly and
powerfully forward into the day (which was Saturday), relying upon the
great British axiom: "To ignore is to destroy." It ignored the end of
the existing social order, and lo! there was no end. Up and down various
long and infinitely correct avenues of sheltered homes drove Mr.
Prohack, and was everywhere baffled in his human desire to meet Frinton
half-way. He stopped the car at the Post Office and telegraphed to his
wife: "No strawberry jam in this city. Love. Arthur." The girl behind
the counter said: "One and a penny, please," and looked hard at him.
Five minutes later he returned to the Post Office and telegraphed to his
wife: "Omitted to say in previous telegram that Frinton is the greatest
expression of Anglo-Saxon character I have ever encountered. Love.
Arthur." The girl behind the counter said: "Two and three, please,"
stared harder at him, and blushed. Perceiving the blush, Mr. Prohack at
once despatched a third telegram to his wife: "But it has charming
weaknesses. Love. Arthur." Extraordinarily happy and gay, he drove out
of Frinton to see the remainder of North East Essex in the enheartening
In the evening he fell asleep in the lounge while waiting for dinner,
having dressed a great deal too soon and being a great deal too full of
east wind. When he woke up he noticed a different atmosphere in the
hotel. Youth and brightness had entered it. The lounge had vivacity and
expectation; and Mr. Prohack learned that Saturday night was gala, with
a dance and special bridge. Not even the news that the star-guest of the
hotel, Lord Partick, was suddenly indisposed and confined to his room
could dash the new optimism of the place.
At dinner the manager walked around the little tables and gorgeously
babbled with diners about the sportive feats of the day. And Mr.
Prohack, seeing that his own turn was coming, began to feel as if he was
on board a ship. He feared the worst and the worst came.
"Perhaps you'd like to make a fourth at bridge. If so--" said the
manager jollily. "Or perhaps you dance. If so--"
Mr. Prohack shut his eyes and gave forth vague affirmatives.
And as soon as the manager had left him he gazed around the room at the
too-blonde women young and old and wondered fearfully which would be his
portion for bridge or dance. In the lounge after dinner he ignited a
cigar and watched the lighting up of the ball-room (ordinarily the
drawing-room) and the entry of the musicians therein. Then he observed
the manager chatting with two haughty beldames and an aged gentleman,
and they all three cast assaying glances upon Mr. Prohack, and Mr.
Prohack knew that he had been destined for bridge, not dancing, and the
manager moved towards him, and Mr. Prohack breathed his last sigh but
But the revolving doors at the entrance revolved, and out of the
Frintonian night appeared Lady Massulam, magnificently enveloped. Seldom
had Mr. Prohack's breast received a deeper draught of mingled
astonishment and solace. Hitherto he had not greatly cared for Lady
Massulam, and could not see what Charlie saw in her. Now he saw what
Charlie saw and perhaps more also. She had more than dignity,--she had
style. And she femininely challenged. She was like a breeze oil the
French shore to a British barque cruising dully in the Channel. She
welcomed the sight of Mr. Prohack, and her greeting of him made a
considerable change in the managerial attitude towards the unassuming
Terror of the departments. The manager respectfully informed Lady
Massulam that Lord Partick was indisposed, and respectfully took himself
off. Lady Massulam and Mr. Prohack then proceeded to treat each other
like new toys. Mr. Prohack had to explain why he was at Frinton, and
Lady Massulam explained that whenever she was in Frinton at the week-end
she always came to the Majestic to play bridge with old Lord Partick. It
flattered him; she liked him, though he had bought his peerage; he was a
fine player--so was she; and lastly they had had business relations, and
financially Lord Partick watched over her as over a young girl.
Mr. Prohack was relieved thus to learn that Lady Massulam had not
strolled into the Majestic Hotel, Frinton, to play bridge with nobody in
particular. Still, she was evidently well known to the habitues, several
of whom approached to greet her. She temporised with them in her calm
Latin manner, neither encouraging nor discouraging their advances, and
turning back to Mr. Prohack by her side at every surcease.
"We shall be compelled to play bridge if we do not take care," she
murmured in his ear, as a dowager larger than herself loomed up.
"Yes," murmured Mr. Prohack, "I've been feeling the danger ever since
dinner. Will you dance with me,--not of course as a pleasure--I won't
flatter myself--but as a means of salvation?"
The dowager bore down with a most definite suggestion for bridge in the
card-room. Lady Massulam definitely stated that she was engaged to
Well, of course Lady Massulam was something of a galleon herself; but
she was a beautiful dancer; that is to say, she responded perfectly to
the male volition; she needed no pushing and no pulling; she moved under
his will as lightly as a young girl. Her elaborately dressed hair had an
agreeable scent; her complexion was a highly successful achievement;
everything about her had a quiet and yet a dazzling elegance which had
been obtained regard-less of expense. As for her figure, it was on a
considerable scale, but its important contours had a soft and delicate
charm. And all that was nothing in the estimation of Mr. Prohack
compared with her glance. At intervals in the fox-trot he caught the
glance. It was arch, flirtatious, eternally youthful, challenging; and
it expressed pleasure in the fox-trot. Mr. Prohack was dancing better
than ever before in his career as a dancer. She made him dance better.
She was not the same woman whom he had first met at lunch at the Grand
Babylon Hotel. She was a new revelation, packed with possibilities. Mr.
Prohack recalled his wife's phrase: "You know she adores you." He hadn't
known. Honestly such an idea had not occurred to him. But did she adore
him? Not "adore"--naturally--but had she a bit of a fancy for him?
Mr. Prohack became the youngest man in the room,--an extraordinary case
of rejuvenescence. He surveyed the room with triumph. He sniffed up the
brassy and clicking music into his vibrating nostrils. He felt no envy
of any man in the room. When the band paused he clapped like a child for
another dose of fox-trot. At the end of the third dose they were both a
little breathless and they had ices. After a waltz they both realised
that excess would be imprudent, and returned to the lounge.
"I wish you'd tell me something about my son," said Mr. Prohack. "I
think you must be the greatest living authority on him."
"Here?" exclaimed Lady Massulam.
"Anywhere. Any time."
"It would be safer at my house," said Lady Massulam. "But before I go I
must just write a little note to Lord Partick. He will expect it."
That was how she invited him to The Lone Cedar, the same being her
famous bungalow on the Front.
"Your son," said Lady Massulam, in a familiar tone, but most
reassuringly like an aunt of Charlie's, after she had explained how they
had met in Glasgow through being distantly connected by the same
business deal, and how she had been impressed by Charlie's youthful
capacity, "your son has very great talent for big affairs, but he is now
playing a dangerous game--far more dangerous than he imagines, and he
will not be warned. He is selling something he hasn't got before he
knows what price he will have to pay for it."
"Ah!" breathed Mr. Prohack.
They were sitting together in the richly ornamented bungalow
drawing-room, by the fire. Lady Massulam sat up straight Sn her sober
and yet daring evening frock. Mr. Prohack lounged with formless grace in
a vast easy-chair neighbouring a whiskey-and-soda. She had not asked him
to smoke; he did not smoke, and he had no wish to smoke. She was a
gorgeously mature specimen of a woman. He imagined her young, and he
decided that he preferred the autumn to the spring. She went on talking
"She is moving in regions that Eve can never know," he thought. "But how
did Eve perceive that she had taken a fancy to me?"
The alleged danger to Charlie scarcely disturbed him. Her appreciation
or depreciation of Charlie interested him only in so far as it was a
vehicle for the expression of her personality. He had never met such a
woman. He responded to her with a vivacity that surprised himself. He
looked surreptitiously round the room, brilliantly lighted here, and
there obscure, and he comprehended how every detail of its varied
sumptuosity aptly illustrated her mind and heart. His own heart was full
of quite new sensations.
"Of course," she was saying, "if Charles is to become the really great
figure that he might be, he will have to cure his greatest fault, and
perhaps it is incurable."
"I know what that is," said Mr. Prohack, softly but positively.
"What is it?" Her glance met his.
"His confounded reserve, lack of elasticity, lack of adaptability. The
old British illusion that everything will come to him who won't budge.
Why, it's a ten-horse-power effort for him even to smile!"
Lady Massulam seemed to leap from her chair, and she broke swiftly into
"Oh! You comprehend then, you? If you knew what I have suffered in your
terrible England! But you do not suspect what I have suffered! I advance
myself. They retire before me. I advance myself again. They retire
again. I open. They close. Do they begin? Never! It is always I who must
begin! Do I make a natural gesture--they say to themselves, 'What a
strange woman! How indiscreet! But she is foreign.' They lift their
shoulders. Am I frank--they pity me. They give themselves never! They
are shut like their lips over their long teeth. Ah, but they have taught
me. In twenty years have I not learnt the lesson? There is nobody among
you who can be more shut-tight than me. I flatter myself that I can be
more terrible than any English woman or man. You do not catch me now!
But what a martyrdom!... I might return to France? No! I am become too
English. In Paris I should resemble an _emigree_. And people would say:
'What is that? It is like nothing at all. It has no name.' Besides, I
like you English. You are terrible, but one can count on you.... _Vous y
"_J'y suis_," replied Mr. Prohack, ravished.
Lady Massulam in her agitation picked up the tumbler and sipped.
"Pardon!" she cried, aghast. "It is yours," and planked the tumbler down
again on the lacquered table.
Mr. Prohack had the wit to drink also. They went on talking.... A silver
tongue vibrated from the hall with solemn British deliberation--One!
Two! The air throbbed to the sound for many seconds.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack, rising in alarm. "And this is
Frinton!" She let him out herself, with all soft precautions against
shocking the Frintonian world. His manner of regaining the Majestic
Hotel can only be described by saying that he 'effected an entrance'
into it. He went to bed but not to sleep.
"What the deuce has happened to me?" he asked himself amazed. "Is it
anything serious? Or am I merely English after all?"
Late the next morning, when he was dreaming, a servant awoke him with
the information that a chauffeur was demanding him. But he was sleepy
and slept again. Between noon and one o'clock he encountered the
chauffeur. It was Carthew, who stated that his mistress had sent him
with the car. She felt that he would need the car to go about in. As for
her, she would manage without it.
Mr. Prohack remained silent for a few moments and then said:
"Be ready to start in a quarter of an hour."
"Before lunch, sir?"
Mr. Prohack paid his bill and packed.
"Which way, sir?" Carthew asked, as the Eagle moved from under the
portico of the hotel.
"There is only one road out of Frinton," said Mr. Prohack. "It's the
road you came in by. Take it. I want to get off as quickly as possible.
The climate of this place is the most dangerous and deceptive I was ever
"Really, sir!" responded Carthew, polite but indifferent. "The east wind
I suppose, sir?"
"Not at all. The south wind."
A HOMELESS NIGHT
How exhilarating (Mr. Prohack found it) to be on the road without a
destination! It was Sunday morning, and the morning was marvellous for
the time of year. Mr. Prohack had had a very fine night, and he now felt
a curious desire to defy something or somebody, to defend himself, and
to point out, if any one accused him of cowardice, that he had not
retreated from danger until after he had fairly affronted it. More
curious still was the double, self-contradictory sensation of feeling
both righteous and sinful. He would have spurned a charge of wickedness,
and yet the feeling of being wicked was really very jolly. He seemed to
have begun a new page of life, and then to have ripped the page
away--and possibly spoilt the whole book. Deference to Eve, of course!
Respect for Eve! Or was it merely that he must always be able to look
Eve in the face? In sending the car for his idle use, Eve had performed
a master-stroke which laid him low by its kindliness, its wifeliness,
its touches of perverse self-sacrifice and of vague, delicate malice.
Lady Massulam hung in the vast hollow of his mind, a brilliant and
intensely seductive figure; but Eve hung there too, and Mr. Prohack was
obliged to admit that the simple Eve was holding her own.
"My sagacity is famous," said Mr. Prohack to himself. "And I never
showed more of it than in leaving Frinton instantly. Few men would have
had the sense and the resolution to do it." And he went on praising
himself to himself. Such was the mood of this singular man.
Hunger--Mr. Prohack's hunger--drew them up at Frating, a village a few
miles short of Colchester. The inn at Frating had been constructed ages
earlier entirely without reference to the fact that it is improper for
certain different types of humanity to eat or drink in each other's
presence. In brief, there was obviously only one dining-room, and not a
series of dining-rooms classified according to castes. Mr. Prohack,
free, devil-may-care and original, said to his chauffeur:
"You'd better eat with me, Carthew."
"You're very kind, sir," said Carthew, and at once sat down and ceased
to be a chauffeur.
"Well, I haven't been seeing much of you lately," Mr. Prohack edged
forward into the fringes of intimacy when three glasses of beer and
three slices of Derby Round had been unequally divided between them,
Mr. Prohack had in truth been seeing Carthew almost daily; but on this
occasion he used the word "see" in a special sense.
"That boy of yours getting on all right?"
"Pretty fair, considering he's got no mother, if you understand what I
mean, sir," replied Carthew, pushing back his chair, stretching out his
legs, and picking his teeth with a fork.
"Ah! yes!" said Mr. Prohack commiseratingly. "Very awkward situation for
you, that is."
"It isn't awkward for me, sir. It's my boy it's awkward for. I'm as
right as rain."
"No chance of the lady coming back, I suppose?"
"Well, she'd better not try," said Carthew grimly.
"But does this mean you've done with the sex, at your age?" cried Mr.
"I don't say as I've _done_ with the sex, sir. Male and female created
He them, as the good old Book says; and I'm not going behind that. No,
not me! All I say is, I'm as right as rain--_for_ the present--and she'd
better not try."
"I bet you anything you won't keep it up," said Mr. Prohack, impetuously
exceeding the limits of inter-caste decorum.
"Keep what up?"
"This attitude of yours."
"I won't bet, sir," said Carthew. "Because nobody can see round a
corner. But I promise you I'll never take a woman _seriously_ again.
That's the mistake we make, taking 'em seriously. You see, sir, being a
chauffeur in the early days of motor-cars, I've had a tidy bit of
experience, if you understand what I mean. Because in them days a
chauffeur was like what an air-pilot is to-day. He didn't have to ask,
he didn't. And what I say is this--I say we're mugs to take 'em
"You think we are!" bubbled Mr. Prohack emptily, perceiving that he had
to do with an individual whom misfortune had rendered impervious to
"I do, sir. And what's more, I say you never know where you are with any
"That I agree with," said Mr. Prohack, with a polite show of eagerness.
"But you're cutting yourself off from a great deal you know, Carthew,"
he added, thinking magnificently upon his adventure with Lady Massulam.
"There's a rare lot as would like to be in my place," murmured Carthew
with bland superiority. "If it's all the same to you, sir, I'll just go
and give her a look over before we start again." He scraped his chair
cruelly over the wood floor, rose, and ceased to be an authority on
It was while exercising his privilege of demanding, awaiting, and paying
the bill, that Mr. Prohack happened to see, at the other end of the
long, empty dining-room table, a copy of _The Sunday Picture_, which was
the Sabbath edition of _The Daily Picture_. He got up and seized it,
expecting it to be at least a week old. It proved, however, to be as new
and fresh as it could be. Mr. Prohack glanced with inimical tolerance at
its pages, until his eye encountered the portraits of two ladies, both
known to him, side by side. One was Miss Eliza Fiddle, the rage of the
West End, and the other was Mrs. Arthur Prohack, wife of the well-known
Treasury official. The portraits were juxtaposed, it seemed, because
Miss Eliza Fiddle had just let her lovely home in Manchester Square to
Mrs. Arthur Prohack.
The shock of meeting Eve in _The Sunday Picture_ was terrible, but
equally terrible to Mr. Prohack was the discovery of his ignorance in
regard to the ownership of the noble mansion. He had understood--or more
correctly he had been given to understand--that the house and its
contents belonged to a certain peer, whose taste in the arts was as
celebrated as that of his lordly forefathers had been. Assuredly neither
Eliza Fiddle nor anybody like her could have been responsible for the
exquisite decorations and furnishings of that house. On the other hand,
it would have been very characteristic of Eliza Fiddle to leave the
house as carelessly as it had been left, with valuable or invaluable
bibelots lying about all over the place. Almost certainly Eliza Fiddle
must have had some sort of effective ownership of the place. He knew
that dazzling public favourites did sometimes enjoy astounding and
mysterious luck in the matter of luxurious homes, and that some of them
progressed through a series of such homes, each more inexplicable than
the last. He would not pursue the enquiry, even in his own mind. He had
of course no grudge against the efficient and strenuous Eliza, for he
was perfectly at liberty not to pay money in order to see her. She must
be an exceedingly clever woman; and it was not in him to cast stones.
Yet, Pharisaical snob, he did most violently resent that she should be
opposite his wife in _The Sunday Picture...._ Eve! Eve! A few short
weeks ago, and you made a mock of women who let themselves get into _The
Daily Picture_. And now you are there yourself! (But so, and often, was
the siren Lady Massulam! A ticklish thing, criticism of life!)
And there was another point, as sharp as any. Ozzie Morfey must have
known, Charlie must have known, Sissie must have known, Eve herself must
have known, that the _de facto_ owner of the noble mansion was Eliza
Fiddle. And none had vouchsafed the truth to him.
"We'll struggle back to town I think," said Mr. Prohack to Carthew, with
a pitiable affectation of brightness. And instead of sitting by
Carthew's side, as previously, he sat behind, and reflected upon the
wisdom of Carthew. He had held that Carthew's views were warped by a
peculiar experience. He now saw that they were not warped at all, but
shapely, sane and incontrovertible.
That evening, soon after dark, the Eagle, dusty and unkempt from a
journey which had not been free from mishaps, rolled up to the
front-door of Mr. Prohack's original modest residence behind Hyde Park;
and Mr. Prohack jumped out; and Carthew came after him with two bags.
The house was as dark as the owner's soul; not a gleam of light in any
window. Mr. Prohack produced his familiar latch-key, scraped round the
edge of the key-hole, savagely pushed in the key, and opened the door.
There was still no light nor sign of life. Mr. Prohack paused on the
threshold, and then his hand instinctively sought the electric switch
and pulled it down. No responsive gleam!
"Machin!" called Mr. Prohack, as it were plaintively.
"I am a fool," thought Mr. Prohack.
He struck a match and walked forward delicately, peering. He descried an
empty portmanteau lying on the stairs. He shoved against the dining-room
door, which was ajar, and lit another match, and started back. The
dining-room was full of ghosts, furniture sheeted in dust-sheets; and a
newspaper had been made into a cap over his favourite Chippendale clock.
"Put those bags into the car again," he said to Carthew, who stood
hesitant on the vague whiteness of the front-step.
How much did Carthew know? Mr. Prohack was too proud to ask. Carthew
was no longer an authority on women lunching with an equal; he was a
servitor engaged and paid on the clear understanding that he should not
speak until spoken to.
"Drive to Claridge's Hotel," said Mr. Prohack.
At the entrance to the hotel the party was received by gigantic
uniformed guards with all the respect due to an Eagle. Ignoring the
guards, Mr. Prohack passed imperially within to the reception office.
"I want a bedroom, a sitting-room and a bath-room, please."
"A private suite, sir?"
"A private suite."
"What--er--kind, sir? We have--"
"The best," said Mr. Prohack, with finality. He signed his name and
received a ticket.
"Please have my luggage taken out of the car, and tell my chauffeur I
shall want him at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and that he should take
the car to the hotel-garage, wherever it is, and sleep here. I will have
some tea at once in my sitting-room."
The hotel-staff, like all hotel-staffs, loved a customer who knew his
mind with precision and could speak it. Mr. Prohack was admirably
After tea he took a bath because he could think of nothing else to do.
The bath, as baths will, inspired him with an idea. He set out on foot
to Manchester Square, and having reached the Square cautiously followed
the side opposite to the noble mansion. The noble mansion blazed with
lights through the wintry trees. It resembled the set-piece of a
pyrotechnic display. Mr. Prohack shivered in the dank evening. Then he
observed that blinds and curtains were being drawn in the noble mansion,
shutting out from its superb nobility the miserable, crude,
poverty-stricken world. With the exception of the glow in the fan light
over the majestic portals, the noble mansion was now as dark as Mr.
Prohack's other house.
He shut his lips, steeled himself, and walked round the Square to the
noble mansion and audaciously rang the bell. He had to wait. He shook
guiltily, as though he, and no member of his family, had sinned. A
little more, and his tongue would have cleaved to the gold of his upper
denture. The double portals swung backwards. Mr. Prohack beheld the
portly form of an intensely traditional butler, and behind the butler a
vista of outer and inner halls and glimpses of the soaring staircase. He
heard, somewhere in the distance of the interior, the ringing laugh of
his daughter Sissie.
The butler looked carelessly down upon him, and, as Mr. Prohack uttered
no word, challenged him.
"Is Mrs. Prohack at home?"
"No, sir." (Positively.)
"Is Miss Prohack at home?"
"No, sir." (More positively.)
"Will you leave your name, sir?"
Abruptly Mr. Prohack turned away. He had had black moments in his life.
This was the blackest.
Of course he might have walked right in, and said to the butler: "Here's
a month's wages. Hook it." But he was a peculiar fellow, verging
sometimes on silliness. He merely turned away. The vertiginous rapidity
of his wife's developments, manoeuvres and transformations had dazed him
into a sort of numbed idiocy. In two days, in a day, with no warning to
him of her extraordinary precipitancy, she had 'flitted'!
At Claridge's, through giving Monsieur Charles, the _maitre d' hotel_,
carte blanche in the ordering of his dinner and then only half-eating
his dinner, Mr. Prohack failed somewhat to maintain his prestige, though
he regained ground towards the end by means of champagne and liqueurs.
The black-and-gold restaurant was full of expensive persons who were
apparently in ignorance of the fact that the foundations of the social
fabric had been riven. They were all gay; the music was gay; everything
was gay except Mr. Prohack--the sole living being in the place who
conformed in face and heart to the historical conception of the British
But Mr. Prohack was not now a man,--he was a grievance; he was the most
deadly kind of grievance, the irrational kind. A superlatively fine
cigar did a little--not much--to solace him. He smoked it with
scientific slowness, and watched the restaurant empty itself.... He was
the last survivor in the restaurant; and fifteen waiters and two hundred
and fifty electric lamps were keeping him in countenance. Then his
wandering, enfeebled attention heard music afar off, and he remembered
some remark of Sissie's to the effect that Claridge's was the best place
for dancing in London on Sunday nights. He would gaze Byronically upon
the dance. He signed his bill and mooned towards the ball-room, which
was full of radiant couples: a dazzling scene, fit to mark the end of an
epoch and of a society.
The next thing was that he had an absurd delusion of seeing Sissie and
Charlie locked together amid the couples. He might have conquered this
delusion, but it was succeeded by another,--the illusion of seeing Ozzie
Morfey and Eve locked together amid the couples.... Yes, they were
there, all four of them. At first Mr. Prohack was amazed, as at an
unprecedented coincidence. But he perceived that the coincidence was not
after all so amazing. They had done what they had to do in the way of
settling Eve into the noble mansion, and then they had betaken
themselves to the nearest and the best dancing resort for the rest of
the evening. Nothing could be more natural.
Mr. Prohack might have done all manner of feats. What he actually did do
was to fly like a criminal to the lift and seek his couch.
The next morning at ten o'clock a strange thing happened. The hotel
clocks showed the hour and Mr. Prohack's watch showed the hour, and
Carthew was not there with the car. Mr. Prohack could not understand
this unnatural failure to appear on the part of Carthew, for Carthew had
never been known to be late (save when interfered with by Mimi), and
therefore never could be late. Mr. Prohack fretted for a quarter of an
hour, and then caused the hotel-garage to be telephoned to. The car had
left the garage at nine-fifty. Mr. Prohack went out for a walk, not
ostensibly, but really, to look for the car in the streets of London!
(Such was his diseased mentality.) He returned at half past eleven, and
at eleven thirty-two the car arrived. Immediately Mr. Prohack became
calm; his exterior was apt to be very deceptive; and he said gently to
Carthew, just as if nothing in the least unusual had occurred:
"A little late, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir," Carthew replied, with a calmness to match his employer's.
"As I was coming here from the garage I met the mistress. She was
looking for a taxi and she took me."
"But did you tell her that I asked you to be here at 10 o'clock?"
"Did you tell her that I was in London?"
Mr. Prohack hesitated a moment and then said:
"Drive into Hyde Park, please, and keep to the north side."
When the car had reached a quiet spot in the park, Mr. Prohack stopped
it, and, tapping on the front window, summoned Carthew.
"Carthew," said he, through the side-window, which he let down without
opening the door, "we're by ourselves. Will you kindly explain to me why
you concealed from Mrs. Prohack that I was in London?"
"Well, sir," Carthew answered, very erect and slightly frowning, "I
didn't know you were in London, if you understand what I mean."
"Didn't you bring me to London? Of course you knew I was in London."
"No, sir. Not if you understand what I mean."
"I emphatically do not understand what you mean," said Mr. Prohack, who,
however, was not speaking the truth.
"May I put a question, sir?" Carthew suggested. "Having regard to all
the circumstances--I say having regard as it were to all the
circumstances, in a manner of speaking, what should you have done in my
"How do I know?" cried Mr. Prohack. "I'm not a chauffeur. What _did_ you
say to Mrs. Prohack?"
"I said that you had instructed me to return to London, as you didn't
need the car, and that I was just going to the house for orders. And by
the way, sir," Carthew added, glancing at the car-clock, "Madam told me
to be back at twelve fifteen--I told her I ought to go to the garage to
get something done to the carbureter--so that there is not much time."
Mr. Prohack jumped out of the car and said: "Go."
Wandering alone in the chilly Park he reflected upon the potentialities
of human nature as exhibited in chauffeurs. The fellow Carthew had
evidently come to the conclusion that there was something wrong in the
more intimate relationships of the Prohack family, and, faced with a
sudden contretemps, he had acted according to the best of his wisdom and
according to his loyalty to his employer, but he had acted wrongly. But
of course the original sinner was Mr. Prohack himself. Respectable State
officials, even when on sick leave, do not call at empty houses and stay
at hotels within a stone's throw of their own residences unknown to
their families. No! Mr. Prohack saw that he had been steering a crooked
course. Error existed and must be corrected. He decided to walk direct
to Manchester Square. If Eve wanted the car at twelve fifteen she would
be out of the house at twelve thirty, and probably out for lunch. So
much the better. She should find him duly established on her return.
Reconnoitring later at Manchester Square he saw no car, and rang the
bell of the noble mansion. On account of the interview of the previous
evening he felt considerably nervous and foolish, and the butler
suffered through no fault of the butler's.
"I'm Mr. Prohack," said he, with self-conscious fierceness. "What's your
name? Brool, eh? Take my overcoat and send Machin to me at once." He lit
a cigarette to cover himself. The situation, though transient, had been
Machin came leaping and bounding down the stairs as if by magic. She had
heard his voice, and her joy at his entry into his abode caused her to
forget her parlour-maidenhood and to exhibit a humanity which pained Mr.
Brool, who had been brought up in the strictest traditions of
flunkeyism. Her joy pleased Mr. Prohack and he felt better.
"Good morning, Machin," said he, quite blithely. "I just want to see how
things have been fixed up in my rooms." He had not the least notion
where or what his rooms were in the vast pile.
"Yes, sir," Machin responded eagerly, delighted that Mr. Prohack was
making to herself, as an old friend, an appeal which he ought to have
made to the butler. Mr. Prohack, guided by the prancing Machin,
discovered that, in addition to a study, he had a bedroom and a
dressing-room and a share in Eve's bath-room. The dressing-room had a
most agreeable aspect. Machin opened a huge and magnificent wardrobe,
and in drawer after drawer displayed his new hosiery marvellously
arranged, and in other portions of the wardrobe his new suits and hats
and boots. The whole made a wondrous spectacle.
"And who did all this?" he demanded.
"Madam, sir. But Miss Warburton came to help her at nine this morning,
and I helped too. Miss Warburton has put the lists in your study, sir."
"Thank you, Machin. It's all very nice." He was touched. The thought of
all these women toiling in secret to please him was exceedingly sweet.
It was not as though he had issued any requests. No! They did what they
did from enthusiasm, unknown to him.
"Wait a second," he stopped Machin, who was leaving him. "Which floor
did you say my study is on?"
She led him to his study. An enormous desk, and in the middle of it a
little pile of papers crushed by a block of crystal! The papers were
all bills. The amounts of them alarmed him momentarily, but that was
only because he could not continuously and effectively remember that he
had over three hundred pounds a week coming in. Still, the bills did
somewhat dash him, and he left them without getting to the bottom of the
pile. He thought he would voyage through the house, but he got no
further than his wife's boudoir. The boudoir also had an enormous desk,
and on it also was a pile of papers. He offended the marital code by
picking up the first one, which read as follows:--"Madam. We beg to
enclose as requested estimate for buffet refreshments for one hundred
and fifty persons, and hire of one hundred gilt cane chairs and bringing
and taking away same. Trusting to be honoured with your commands--" This
document did more than alarm him; it shook him. Clearly Eve was planning
a great reception. Even to attend a reception was torture to him, always
had been; but to be the host at a reception...! No, his mind refused to
contemplate a prospect so appalling. Surely Eve ought to have consulted
him before beginning to plan a reception. Why a reception? He glimpsed
matters that might be even worse than a reception. And this was the same
woman who had so touchingly arranged his clothes.
He was idly regarding himself in an immense mirror that topped the
fireplace, and thinking that despite the stylishness of his accoutrement
he presented the appearance of a rather tousled and hairy person of
unromantic middle-age, when, in the glass, he saw the gilded door open
and a woman enter the room. He did not move,--only stared at the image.
He knew the woman intimately, profoundly, exhaustively, almost totally.
He knew her as one knows the countryside in which one has grown up,
where every feature of the scene has become a habit of the perceptions.
And yet he had also a strange sensation of seeing her newly, of seeing
her for the first time in his life and estimating her afresh. In a flash
he had compared her, in this boudoir, with Lady Massulam in Lady
Massulam's bungalow. In a flash all the queer, frightening romance of 2
a.m. in Frinton had swept through his mind. Well, she had not the
imposingness nor the mystery of Lady Massulam, nor perhaps the challenge
of Lady Massulam; she was very much more prosaic to him. But still he
admitted that she had an effect on him, that he reacted to her presence,
that she was at any rate at least as incalculable as Lady Massulam, and
that there might be bits of poetry gleaming in her prose, and that
after a quarter of a century he had not arrived at a final judgment
about her. Withal Lady Massulam had a quality which she lacked,--he did
not know what the quality was, but he knew that it excited him in an
unprecedented manner and that he wanted it and would renounce it with
regret. "Is it conceivable," he thought, shocked at himself, "that all
three of us are on the road to fifty years?"
Then he turned, and blushed, feeling exactly like an undergraduate.
"I knew you'd be bored up there in that hole." Eve greeted him.
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