E. Arnold Bennett
Part 6 out of 8
"I wasn't bored for a single moment," said he.
"Don't tell me," said she.
She was very smart in her plumpness. The brim of her spreading hat
bumped against his forehead as he bent to kiss her. The edge of the
brown veil came half-way down her face, leaving her mouth unprotected
from him, but obscuring her disturbing eyes. As he kissed her all his
despondency and worry fell away from him, and he saw with extraordinary
clearness that since the previous evening he had been an irrational ass.
The creature had done nothing unusual, nothing that he had not
explicitly left her free to do; and everything was all right.
"Did you see your friend Lady Massulam?" was her first question.
Marvellous the intuition--or the happy flukes--of women! Yet their
duplicity was still more marvellous. The creature's expressed anxiety
about the danger of Lady Massulam's society to Charlie must have been
pure, wanton, gratuitous pretence.
He told her of his meeting with Lady Massulam.
"I left her at 2 a.m.," said he, with well-feigned levity.
"I knew she wouldn't leave you alone for long. But I've no doubt you
enjoyed it. I hope you did. You need adventure, my poor boy. You were
getting into a regular rut."
"Oh, was I!" he opposed. "And what are you doing here? Machin told me
you were out for lunch."
"Oh! You've been having a chat with your friend Machin, have you? It
seems she's shown you your beautiful dressing-room. Well, I was going
out for lunch. But when I heard you'd returned I gave it up and came
back. I knew so well you'd want looking after."
"And who told you I'd returned?"
"Carthew, of course! You're a very peculiar pair, you two. When I first
saw him Carthew gave me to understand he'd left you at Frinton. But when
I see him again I learn that you're in town and that you spent last
night at Claridge's. You did quite right, my poor boy. Quite right. I
want you to feel free. It must have been great fun stopping at
Claridge's, with your own home close by. I'll tell you something. We
were dancing at Claridge's last night, but I suppose you'd gone to bed."
"The dickens you were!" said he. "By the way, you might instruct one of
your butlers to telephone to the hotel for my things and have the bill
"So you'll sleep here to-night?" said she, archly.
"If there's room," said he. "Anyway you've arranged all my clothes with
the most entrancing harmony and precision."
"Oh!" Eve exclaimed, in a tone suddenly changed. "That was Miss
Warburton more than me. She took an hour off from Charlie this morning
in order to do it."
Then Mr. Prohack observed his wife's face crumble to pieces, and she
moved aside from him, sat down and began to cry.
"Now what next? What next?" he demanded with impatient amiability, for
he was completely at a loss to keep pace with the twistings of her mind.
"Arthur, why did you deceive me about that girl? How could you do it? I
hadn't the slightest idea it was M--miss W--instock. I can't make you
out sometimes, Arthur--really I can't!"
The fellow had honestly forgotten that he had in fact grossly deceived
his wife to the point of planting Mimi Winstock upon her as somebody
else. He had been nourishing imaginary and absurd grievances against Eve
for many hours, but her grievance against himself was genuine enough and
large enough. No wonder she could not make him out. He could not make
himself out. His conscience awoke within him and became exceedingly
unpleasant. But being a bad man he laughed somewhat coarsely.
"Oh!" he said. "That was only a bit of a joke. But how did you find out,
you silly child?"
"Ozzie saw her yesterday. He knew her. You can't imagine how awkward it
was. Naturally I had to laugh it off. But I cried half the night."
"But why? What did it matter? Ozzie's one of the family. The girl's not
at all a bad sort, and I did it for her sake."
Eve dried her eyes and looked up at him reproachfully with wet cheeks.
"When I think," said she, "that that girl might so easily have killed me
in that accident! And it would have been all her fault. And then where
would you have been without me? Where _would_ you have been? You'd never
have got over it. Never, never! You simply don't know what you'd be if
you hadn't got me to look after you! And you bring her into the house
under a false name, and you call it a joke! No, Arthur. Frankly I
couldn't have believed it of you."
Mr. Prohack was affected. He was not merely dazzled by the new light
which she was shedding on things,--he was emotionally moved.... Would
Lady Massulam be capable of such an attitude as Eve's in such a
situation? The woman was astounding. She was more romantic than any
creature in any bungalow of romantic Frinton. She beat him. She rent his
heart. So he said:
"Well, my beloved infant, if it's any use to you I'm prepared to admit
once for all that I was an ass. We'll never have the wretched Mimi in
the house again. I'll give the word to Charlie."
"Oh, not at all!" she murmured, smiling sadly. "I've got over it. And
you must think of my dignity. How ridiculous it would be of me to make a
fuss about her being here! Now, wouldn't it? But I'm glad I've told you.
I didn't mean to, really. I meant never to say a word. But the fact is I
can't keep anything from you."
She began to cry again, but differently. He soothed her, as none but he
could, thinking exultantly: "What a power I have over this chit!" They
were perfectly happy. They lunched alone together, talking exclusively
for the benefit of Eve's majestic butler. And Mr. Prohack, with that
many-sidedness that marked his strange regrettable mind, said to himself
at intervals: "Nevertheless she's still hiding from me her disgusting
scheme for a big reception. And she knows jolly well I shall hate it."
The reception pleased Mr. Prohack as a spectacle, and it cost him almost
no trouble. He announced his decision that it must cost him no trouble,
and everybody in the house, and a few people outside it, took him at his
word--which did not wholly gratify him. Indeed the family and its
connections seemed to be conspiring to give him a life of ease.
Responsibilities were lifted from him. He did not even miss his
secretary. Sissie, who returned home--by a curious coincidence--on the
very day that Mimi Winstock was transferred to Charlie's service in the
Grand Babylon, performed what she called 'secretarial stunts' for her
father as and when required. On the afternoon of the reception, which
was timed to begin at 9 p.m., he had an attack of fright, but, by a
process well known to public executants, it passed off long before it
could develop into stage-fright; and he was quite at ease at 9 p.m.
The first arrivals came at nine thirty. He stood by Eve and greeted
them; and he had greeted about twenty individuals when he yawned (for a
good reason) and Eve said to him:
"You needn't stay here, you know. Go and amuse yourself." (This
suggestion followed the advent of Lady Massulam.)
He didn't stay. Ozzie Morfey and Sissie supplanted him. At a quarter to
eleven he was in the glazed conservatory built over the monumental
portico, with Sir Paul Spinner. He could see down into the Square, which
was filled with the splendid and numerous automobiles incident to his
wife's reception. Guests--and not the least important among them--were
still arriving. Cars rolled up to the portico, gorgeous women and plain
men jumped out on to the red cloth, of which he could just see the
extremity near the kerb, and vanished under him, and the cars hid
themselves away in the depths of the Square. Looking within his home he
admired the vista of brilliantly illuminated rooms, full of gilt chairs,
priceless furniture, and extremely courageous toilettes. For, as the
reception was 'to meet the Committee of the League of all the Arts.'
(Ozzie had placed many copies of the explanatory pamphlet on various
tables), artists of all kinds and degrees abounded, and the bourgeois
world (which chiefly owned the automobiles) thought proper to be
sartorially as improper as fashion would allow; and fashion allowed
quite a lot. The affair might have been described as a study in
shoulder-blades. It was a very great show, and Mr. Prohack appreciated
all of it, the women, the men, the lionesses, the lions, the
kaleidoscope of them, the lights, the reflections in the mirrors and in
the waxed floors, the discreetly hidden music, the grandiose buffet, the
efficient valetry. He soon got used to not recognising, and not being
recognised by, the visitors to his own house. True, he could not
conceive that the affair would serve any purpose but one,--namely the
purpose of affording innocent and expensive pleasure to his wife.
"You've hit on a pretty good sort of a place here," grunted Sir Paul
Spinner, whose waistcoat buttons were surpassed in splendour only by his
"Well," said Mr. Prohack, "to me, living here is rather like being on
the stage all the time. It's not real."
"What the deuce do you mean, it's not real? There aren't twenty houses
in London with a finer collection of genuine bibelots than you have
"Yes, but they aren't mine, and I didn't choose them or arrange them."
"What does that matter? You can look at them and enjoy the sight of
them. Nobody can do more."
"Paul, you're talking neo-conventional nonsense again. Have you ever in
your career as a city man stood outside a money-changer's and looked at
the fine collection of genuine banknotes in the window? Supposing I told
you that you could look at them and enjoy the sight of them, and nobody
could do more?... No, my boy, to enjoy a thing properly you've got to
own it. And anybody who says the contrary is probably a member of the
League of all the Arts." He gave another enormous yawn. "Excuse my
yawning, Paul, but this house is a perfect Inferno for me. The church of
St. Nicodemus is hard by, and the church of St. Nicodemus has a striking
clock, and the clock strikes all the hours and all the quarters on a
half cracked bell or two bells. If I am asleep every hour wakes me up,
and most of the quarters. The clock strikes not only the hours and the
quarters but me. I regulate my life by that clock. If I'm beginning to
repose at ten minutes to the hour, I say to myself that I must wait till
the hour before really beginning, and I do wait. It is killing me, and
nobody can see that it is killing me. The clock annoys some individuals
a little occasionally; they curse, and then go to sleep and stay
asleep. For them the clock is a nuisance; but for me it's an
assassination. However, I can't make too much fuss. Several thousands of
people must live within sound of the St. Nicodemus clock; yet the rector
has not been murdered nor the church razed to the ground. Hence the
clock doesn't really upset many people. And there are hundreds of such
infernal clocks in London, and they all survive. It follows therefore
that I am peculiar. Nobody has a right to be peculiar. Hence I do not
complain. I suffer. I've tried stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, and
stuffing the windows of my bedroom with eiderdowns. No use. I've tried
veronal. No use either. The only remedy would be for me to give the
house up. Which would he absurd. My wife soothes me and says that of
course I shall get used to the clock. I shall never get used to it.
Lately she has ceased even to mention the clock. My daughter thinks I am
becoming a grumbler in my latter years. My son smiles indifferently. I
admit that my son's secretary is more sympathetic. Like most people who
are both idle and short of sleep, I usually look very well, spry and
wideawake. My friends remark on my healthy appearance. You did. The
popular mind cannot conceive that I am merely helplessly waiting for
death to put me out of my misery; but so it is. There must be quite a
few others in the same fix as me in London, dying because rectors and
other clergymen and officials insist on telling them the time all
through the night. But they suffer in silence as I do. As I do, they see
the uselessness of a fuss."
"You _will_ get used to it, Arthur," said Sir Paul indulgently but not
unironically, at the end of Mr. Prohack's disquisition. "You're in a
nervous state and your judgment's warped. Now, I never even heard your
famous clock strike ten."
"No, you wouldn't, Paul! And my judgment's warped, is it?" There was
irritation in Mr. Prohack's voice. He took out his watch. "In sixty or
seventy seconds you shall hear that clock strike eleven, and you shall
give me your honest views about it. And you shall apologise to me."
Sir Paul obediently and sympathetically listened, while the murmur of
the glowing reception and the low beat of music continued within.
"You tell me when it starts to strike," said he.
"You won't want any telling," said Mr. Prohack, who knew too well the
riving, rending, smashing sound of the terrible bells.
"It's a pretty long seventy seconds," observed Sir Paul.
"My watch must be fast," said Mr. Prohack, perturbed.
But at eighteen minutes past eleven the clock had audibly struck neither
the hour nor the quarter. Sir Paul was a man of tact. He said simply:
"I should like a drink, dear old boy."
"_The clock's not striking_," said Mr. Prohack, with solemn joy, as the
wonderful truth presented itself to him. "Either it's stopped, or
they've cut off the striking attachment." And to one of the maids on the
landing he said as they passed towards the buffet: "Run out and see what
time it is by the church clock, and come back and tell me, will you?" A
few minutes later he was informed that the church clock showed half-past
eleven. The clock therefore was still going but had ceased to strike.
Mr. Prohack at once drank two glasses of champagne at the buffet, while
Sir Paul had the customary whiskey.
"I say, old thing, I say!" Sir Paul protested.
"_I shall sleep!_" said Mr. Prohack in a loud, gay, triumphant voice. He
was a new man.
* * * * *
The reception now seemed to him far more superb than ever. It was almost
at its apogee. All the gilt chairs were occupied; all the couches and
fauteuils of the room were occupied, and certain delicious toilettes
were even spread on rugs or on the bare, reflecting floors. On every
hand could be heard artistic discussions, serious and informed and yet
lightsome in tone. If it was not the real originality of jazz music that
was being discussed, it was the sureness of the natural untaught taste
of the denizens of the East End and South London, and if not that then
the greatness of male revue artistes, and if not that then the need of a
national theatre and of a minister of fine arts, and if not that then
the sculptural quality of the best novels and the fictional quality of
the best sculpture, and if not that then the influence on British life
of the fox-trot, and if not that then the prospects of bringing modern
poets home to the largest public by means of the board schools, and if
not that then the evil effects of the twin great London institutions for
teaching music upon the individualities of the young geniuses entrusted
to them, and if not that the part played by the most earnest amateurs in
the destruction of opera, and if not that the total eclipse of
Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner since the efflorescence of the Russian
Ballet. And always there ran like a flame through the conversations the
hot breath of a passionate intention to make Britain artistic in the
eyes of the civilised world.
What especially pleased Mr. Prohack about the whole affair, as he moved
to and fro seeking society now instead of avoiding it, was the perfect
futility of the affair, save as it affected Eve's reputation. He
perceived the beauty of costly futility, and he was struck again, when
from afar he observed his wife's conquering mien, by the fact that the
reception did not exist for the League, but the League for the
reception. The reception was a real and a resplendent thing; nobody
could deny it. The League was a fog of gush. The League would be dear at
twopence half-penny. The reception was cheap if it stood him in five
hundred pounds. Eve was an infant; Eve was pleased with gewgaws; but Eve
had found herself and he was well content to pay five hundred pounds for
the look on her ingenuous face.
"And nothing of this would have happened," he thought, impressed by the
wonders of life, "if in a foolish impulse of generosity I hadn't once
lent a hundred quid to that chap Angmering."
He descried Lady Massulam in converse with a tall, stout and
magnificently dressed gentleman, who bowed deeply and departed as Mr.
"Who is your fat friend?" said Mr. Prohack.
"He's from _The Daily Picture_.... But isn't this rather a strange way
of greeting a guest after so long a separation? Do you know that I'm in
your house and you haven't shaken hands with me?"
There was a note of intimacy and of challenge in Lady Massulam's
demeanour that pleased Mr. Prohack immensely, and caused him to see that
the romance of Frinton was neither factitious nor at an end. He felt
pleasantly, and even thrillingly, that they had something between them.
"Ah!" he returned, consciously exerting his charm. "I thought you
detested our English formality and horrible restraint. Further, this
isn't my house; it's my wife's."
"Your wife is wonderful!" said Lady Massulam, as though teaching him to
appreciate his wife and indicating that she alone had the right thus to
teach him,--the subtlest thing. "I've never seen an evening better
"She is rather wonderful," Mr. Prohack admitted, his tone implying that
while putting Lady Massulam in a class apart, he had wit enough to put
his wife too in a class apart,--the subtlest thing.
"I quite expected to meet you again in Frinton," said Lady Massulam
simply. "How abrupt you are in your methods!"
"Only when it's a case of self-preservation," Mr. Prohack responded,
gazing at her with daring significance.
"I'm going to talk to Mrs. Prohack," said Lady Massulam, rising. But
before she left him she murmured confidentially in his ear: "Where's
"Don't know. Why?'
"I don't think he's come yet. I'm afraid the poor hoy's affairs are not
"I shall look after him," said Mr. Prohack, grandly. A qualm did pierce
him at the sound of her words, but he would not be depressed. He smiled
serenely, self-confidently, and said to himself: "I could look after
He watched his wife and his friend chatting together as equals in _The
Daily Picture_. Yes, Eve was wonderful, and but for sheer hazard he
would never have known how wonderful she was capable of being.
"You've got a great show here to-night, old man," said a low, mysterious
voice at his side. Mr. Softly Bishop was smiling down his nose and
holding out his hand while looking at nothing but his nose.
"Hello, Bishop!" said Mr. Prohack, controlling a desire to add: "I'd no
idea _you'd_ been invited!"
"Samples of every world--except the next," said Mr. Softly Bishop. "And
now the theatrical contingent is arriving after its night's work."
"Do you know who that fellow is?" Mr. Prohack demanded, indicating a
little man with the aspect of a prize-fighter who was imperially
conveying to Mrs. Prohack that Mrs. Prohack was lucky to get him to her
"Why!" replied Mr. Bishop. "That's the Napoleon of the stage."
"Not Asprey Chown!"
"Great Scott!" And Mr. Prohack laughed.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Mere glee. This is the crown of my career as a man of the world." He
saw Mr. Asprey Chown give a careless brusque nod to Ozzie Morfey, and he
"It's rather comic, isn't it?" Mr. Softly Bishop acquiesced. "I wonder
why Oswald Morfey has abandoned his famous stock for an ordinary
"Probably because he's going to be my son-in-law," said Mr. Prohack.
"Ah!" ejaculated Mr. Softly Bishop. "I congratulate him."
Mr. Prohack looked grim in order to conceal his joy in the assurance
that he would sleep that night, and in the sensations produced by the
clear fact that Lady Massulam was still interested in him. Somehow he
wanted to dance, not with any woman, but by himself, a reel.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Softly Bishop. "You _are_ shining to-night.
Here's Eliza Fiddle, and that's her half-sister Miss Fancy behind her."
And it was Eliza Fiddle, and the ageing artiste with her ravaged
complexion and her defiant extra-vivacious mien created instantly an
impression such as none but herself could have created. The entire
assemblage stared, murmuring its excitement, at the renowned creature.
Eliza loved the stare and the murmur. She was like a fish dropped into
water after a gasping spell in mere air.
"I admit I was in too much of a hurry when I spoke of having reached the
zenith," said Mr. Prohack. "I'm only just getting there now. And who's
"She's not precisely unknown on the American stage," answered Mr. Softly
Bishop. "But before we go any further I'd perhaps better tell you a
secret." His voice and his gaze dropped still lower. "She's a
particularly fine girl, and it won't be my fault if I don't marry her.
Not a word of course! Mum!" He turned away, while Mr. Prohack was
devising a suitable response.
"Welcome to your old home. And do come with me to the buffet. You must
be tired after your work," Mr. Prohack burst out in a bold, loud voice
to Eliza, taking her away from his wife, whose nearly exhausted tact
almost failed to hide her relief.
"I do hope you like the taste of my old home," Eliza answered. "My new
house up the river is furnished throughout in real oriental red lacquer.
You must come and see it."
"I should love to," said Mr. Prohack bravely.
"This is my little sister, Miss Fancy. Fan, Mr. Prohack."
Mr. Prohack expressed his enchantment.
At the buffet Eliza did not refuse champagne, but Miss Fancy refused.
"Now don't put on airs, Fan," Eliza reproved her sister heartily and
drank off her glass while Mr. Prohack sipped his somewhat cautiously. He
liked Eliza's reproof. He was beginning even to like Eliza. To say that
her style was coarse was to speak in moderation; but she was natural,
and her individuality seemed to be sending out waves in all directions,
by which all persons in the vicinity were affected whether they desired
it or not. Mr. Prohack met Eliza's glance with satisfaction. She at any
rate had nothing to learn about life that she was capable of learning.
She knew everything--and was probably the only creature in the room who
did. She had succeeded. She was adored--strangely enough. And she did
not put on airs. Her original coarseness was apparently quite
unobscured, whereas that of Miss Fancy had been not very skilfully
painted over. Miss Fancy was a blonde, much younger than Eliza; also
slimmer and more finickingly and luxuriously dressed and jewelled. But
Mr. Prohack cared not for her. She was always keeping her restless
inarticulate lips in order, buttoning them or sewing them up or
caressing one with the other. Further, she looked down her nose;
probably this trait was the secret lien between her and Mr. Softly
Bishop. Mr. Prohack, despite a cloistral lifetime at the Treasury,
recognised her type immediately. She was of the type that wheedles, but
never permits itself to be wheedled. And she was so pretty, and so
simpering, and her blue eyes were so steely. And Mr. Prohack, in his
original sinfulness, was pleased that she was thus. He felt that "it
would serve Softly Bishop out." Not that Mr. Softly Bishop had done him
any harm! Indeed the contrary. But he had an antipathy to Mr. Softly
Bishop, and the spectacle of Mr. Softly Bishop biting off more than he
could chew, of Mr. Softly Bishop being drawn to his doom, afforded Mr.
Prohack the most genuine pleasure. Unfortunately Mr. Prohack was one of
the rare monsters who can contemplate with satisfaction the misfortunes
of a fellow being.
Mr. Softly Bishop unostentatiously joined the sisters and Mr. Prohack.
"Better have just a sip," he said to Miss Fancy, when told by Eliza that
the girl would not be sociable. His eyes glimmered at her through his
artful spectacles. She listened obediently to his low-voiced wisdom and
sipped. She was shooting a million fascinations at him. Mr. Prohack
decided that the ultimate duel between the two might be a pretty even
thing after all; but he would put his money on the lady. And he had
thought Mr. Softly Bishop so wily!
A fearful thought suddenly entered his mind: supposing the failure of
the church-clock's striking powers should be only temporary; supposing
it should recover under some verger's treatment, and strike twelve!
"Let's go into the conservatory and look at the Square," said he. "I
always look at the Square at midnight, and it's nearly twelve now."
"You're the most peculiar man I ever met," said Eliza Fiddle, eyeing him
"Very true," Mr. Prohack agreed.
"I'm half afraid of you."
"Very wise," said Mr. Prohack absently.
They crossed the rooms together, arousing keen interest in all beholders.
And as they crossed Charlie entered the assemblage. He certainly had an
extremely perturbed--or was it merely self-conscious--face. And just in
front of him was Mimi Winstock, who looked as if she was escaping from
the scene of a crime. Was Lady Massulam's warning about Charlie about to
be justified? Mr. Prohack's qualm was renewed. The very ground trembled
for a second under his feet and then was solid and moveless again. No
sooner had the quartette reached the conservatory than Eliza left it to
go and discuss important affairs with Mr. Asprey Chown, who had summoned
Ozzie to his elbow. They might not have seen one another for many years,
and they might have been settling the fate of continents.
Mr. Prohack took out his watch, which showed a minute to twelve. He
experienced a minute's agony. The clock did not strike.
"Well," said Mr. Softly Bishop, who during the minute had been
whispering information about the historic Square to Miss Fancy, who hung
with all her weight on his words, "Well, it's very interesting and even
amusing, we three being alone here together isn't it?... The three heirs
of the late Silas Angmering! How funny life is!" And he examined his
nose with new curiosity.
All Mr. Prohack's skin tingled, and his face flushed, as he realised
that Miss Fancy was the mysterious third beneficiary under Angmering's
will. Yes, she was in fact jewelled like a woman who had recently been
handling a hundred thousand pounds or so. And Mr. Softly Bishop might be
less fascinated by the steely blue eyes than Mr. Prohack had imagined.
Mr. Softly Bishop might in fact win the duel. The question, however, had
no interest for Mr. Prohack, who was absorbed in a sense of gloomy
humiliation. He rushed away from his co-heirs. He simply had to rush
away right to bad.
THE SILENT TOWER
The fount of riches and the Terror of the departments, clothed in the
latest pattern of sumptuous pyjamas, lay in the midst of his magnificent
and spacious bed, and, with the shaded electric globe over his brow,
gazed at the splendours of the vast bedroom which Eve had allotted to
him. It was full, but not too full, of the finest Directoire furniture,
and the walls were covered with all manner of engravings and
watercolours. Evidently this apartment had been the lair of the real
owner and creator of the great home. Mr. Prohack could appreciate the
catholicity and sureness of taste which it displayed. He liked the
cornice as well as the form of the dressing-table, and the Cumberland
landscape by C.J. Holmes as well as the large Piranesi etching of an
imaginary prison, which latter particularly interested him because it
happened to be an impression between two "states"--a detail which none
but a true amateur could savour. The prison depicted was a terrible
place of torment, but it was beautiful, and the view of it made Mr.
Prohack fancy, very absurdly, that he too was in prison, just as
securely as if he had been bolted and locked therein. His eye ranged
about the room and saw nothing that was not lovely and that he did not
admire. Yet he derived little or no authentic pleasure from what he
beheld, partly because it was the furnishing of a prison and partly
because he did not own it. He had often preached against the mania for
owning things, but now--and even more clearly than when he had
sermonised Paul Spinner--he perceived, and hated to perceive, that
ownership was probably an essential ingredient of most enjoyments. The
man, foolishly priding himself on being a philosopher, was indeed a
fleshly mass of strange inconsistencies.
More important, he was losing the assurance that he would sleep soundly
that night. He could not drag his mind off his co-heiress and his
co-heir. The sense of humiliation at being intimately connected and
classed with them would not leave him. He felt himself--absurdly once
again--to be mysteriously associated with them in a piece of sharp
practice or even of knavery. They constituted another complication of
his existence. He wanted to disown them and never to speak to them
again, but he knew that he could not disown them. He was living in
gorgeousness for the sole reason that he and they were in the same boat.
Eve came in, opening the door cautiously at first and then rushing
forward as soon as she saw that the room was not in darkness. He feared
for an instant that she might upbraid him for deserting her. But no!
Triumphant happiness sat on her forehead, and affectionate concern for
him was in her eyes. She plumped down, in her expensive radiance, on the
bed by his side.
"Well?" said he.
"I'm so glad you decided to go to bed," said she. "You must be tired,
and late nights don't suit you. I just slipped away for a minute to see
if you were all right. Are you?" She puckered her shining brow exactly
as of old, and bent and kissed him as of old. One of her best kisses.
But the queer fellow, though touched by her attention, did not like her
being so glad that he had gone to bed. The alleged philosopher would
have preferred her to express some dependence upon his manly support in
what was for her a tremendous event.
"I feel I shall sleep," he lied.
"I'm sure you will, darling," she agreed. "Don't you think it's all been
a terrific success?" she asked naively.
He answered, smiling:
"I'm dying to see _The Daily Picture_ to-morrow. I think I shall tell
the newsagent in future only to deliver it on the days when you're in
"Don't be silly," she said, too pleased with herself, however, to resent
his irony. She was clothed in mail that night against all his shafts.
He admitted, what he had always secretly known, that she was an
elementary creature; she would have been just as at home in the Stone
Age as in the twentieth century--and perhaps more at home. (Was Lady
Massulam equally elementary? No? Yes?) Still, Eve was necessary to him.
Only, up to a short while ago, she had been his complement; whereas now
he appeared to be her complement. He, the philosopher and the source of
domestic wisdom, was fully aware, in a superior and lofty manner, that
she was the eternal child deceived by toys, gewgaws, and illusions;
nevertheless he was only her complement, the indispensable husband and
payer-out. She was succeeding without any brain-work from him. He
noticed that she was not wearing the pearls he had given her. No doubt
she had merely forgotten at the last moment to put them on. She was
continually forgetting them and leaving them about. But this negligent
woman was the organiser in chief of the great soiree! Well, if it had
succeeded, she was lucky.
"I must run off," said she, starting up, busy, proud, falsely calm, the
general of a victorious army as the battle draws to a close. She
embraced him again, and he actually felt comforted.... She was gone.
"As I grow older," he reflected, "I'm hanged if I don't understand life
less and less."
* * * * *
He was listening to the distant rhythm of the music when he mistily
comprehended that there was no music and that the sounds in his ear were
not musical. He could not believe that he had been asleep and had
awakened, but the facts were soon too much for his delusion and he said
with the air of a discoverer: "I've been asleep," and turned on the
There were voices and footsteps in the corridors or on the
landing,--whispers, loud and yet indistinct talking, tones indicating
that the speakers were excited, if not frightened, and that their
thoughts had been violently wrenched away from the pursuit of pleasure.
His watch showed two o'clock. The party was over, the last automobile
had departed, and probably even the tireless Eliza Fiddle was asleep in
her new home. Next Mr. Prohack noticed that the door of his room was
He had no anxiety. Rather he felt quite gay and careless,--the more so
as he had wakened up with the false sensation of complete refreshment
produced by short, heavy slumber. He thought:
"Whatever has happened, I have had and shall have nothing to do with it,
and they must deal with the consequences themselves as best they can."
And as a measure of precaution against being compromised, he switched
off the light. He heard Eve's voice, surprisingly near his door:
"I simply daren't tell him! No, I daren't!"
The voice was considerably agitated, but he smiled maliciously to
"It can't be anything very awful, because she only talks in that strain
when it's nothing at all. She loves to pretend she's afraid of me. And
moreover I don't believe there's anything on earth she daren't tell me."
He heard another voice, reasoning in reply, that resembled Mimi's.
Hadn't that girl gone home yet? And he heard Sissie's voice and
Charlie's. But for him all these were inarticulate.
Then his room was filled with swift blinding light. Somebody had put a
hand through the doorway and turned the light on. It must be Eve.... It
was Eve, scared and distressed, but still in complete war-paint.
"I'm so relieved you're awake, Arthur," she said, approaching the bed as
though she anticipated the bed would bite her.
"I'm not awake. I'm asleep, officially. My poor girl, you've ruined the
finest night I was ever going to have in all my life."
She ignored his complaint, absolutely.
"Arthur," she said, her face twitching in every direction, and all her
triumph fallen from her, "Arthur, I've lost my pearls. They're gone!
Some one must have taken them!"
Mr. Prohack's reaction to this piece of more-than-midnight news was to
break into hearty and healthy laughter; he appeared to be genuinely
diverted; and when Eve protested against such an attitude he said:
"My child, anything that strikes you as funny after being wakened up at
two o'clock in the morning is very funny, very funny indeed. How can I
help laughing?" Eve thereupon began to cry, weakly.
"Come here, please," said he.
And she came and sat on the bed, but how differently from the previous
visit! She was now beaten by circumstances, and she turned for aid to
his alleged more powerful mind and deeper wisdom. In addition to being
amused, the man was positively happy, because he was no longer a mere
complement! So he comforted her, and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Don't worry," said he, gently. "And after all I'm not surprised the
necklace has been pinched."
"Not surprised? Arthur!"
"No. You collect here half the notorious smart people in London. Fifty
per cent of them go through one or other of the Courts; five per cent
end by being detected criminals, and goodness knows what per cent end by
being undetected criminals. Possibly two per cent treat marriage
seriously, and possibly one per cent is not in debt. That's the
atmosphere you created, and it's an atmosphere in which pearls are apt
to melt away. Hence I am not surprised, and you mustn't be. Still, it
would be interesting to know _how_ the things melted away. Were you
"Of course I was wearing them. There was nothing finer here
to-night--that _I_ saw."
"You hadn't got them on when you came in here before."
"Hadn't I?" said Eve, thoughtful.
"No, you hadn't."
"Then why didn't you tell me?" Eve demanded suddenly, almost fiercely,
through her tears, withdrawing her shoulders from his hands.
"Well," said Mr. Prohack. "I thought you'd know what you'd got on, or
what you hadn't got on."
"I think you might have told me. If you had perhaps the--"
Mr. Prohack put his hand over her mouth.
"Stop," said he. "My sweet child, I can save you a lot of trouble. It's
all my fault. If I hadn't been a miracle of stupidity the necklace would
never have disappeared. This point being agreed to, let us go on to the
next. When did you find out your sad loss?"
"It was Miss Winstock who asked me what I'd done with my necklace. I put
my hand to my throat, and it was gone. It must have come undone."
"Didn't you say to me a fortnight or so ago that the little safety-chain
had gone wrong?"
"Did I?" said Eve, innocently.
"Did you have the safety-chain repaired?"
"I was going to have it done to-morrow. You see, if I'd sent it to be
done to-day, then I couldn't have worn the necklace to-night, could I?"
"Very true," Mr. Prohack concurred.
"But who could have taken it?"
"Ah! Are you sure that it isn't lying on the floor somewhere?"
"Every place where I've been has been searched--thoroughly. It's quite
certain that it must have been picked up and pocketed."
"Then by a man, seeing that women have no pockets--except their
husbands'. I'm beginning to feel quite like a detective already. By the
way, lady, the notion of giving a reception in a house like this without
a detective disguised as a guest was rather grotesque."
"But of course I had detectives!" Eve burst out. "I had two private
ones. I thought one ought to be enough, but as soon as the agents saw
the inventory of knicknacks and things, they advised me to have two men.
One of them's here still. In fact he's waiting to see you. The Scotland
Yard people are very annoying. They've refused to do anything until
That Eve should have engaged detectives was something of a blow to the
masculine superiority of Mr. Prohack. However, he kept himself in
countenance by convincing himself in secret that she had not thought of
the idea; the idea must have been given to her by another
person--probably Mimi, who nevertheless was also a woman.
"And do you seriously expect me to interview a detective in the middle
of the night?" demanded Mr. Prohack.
"He said he should like to see you. But of course if you don't feel
equal to it, my poor boy, I'll tell him so."
"What does he want to see _me_ for? I've nothing to do with it, and I
"He says that as you bought the necklace he must see you--and the sooner
This new aspect of the matter seemed to make Mr. Prohack rather
* * * * *
Eve brought in to her husband, who had improved his moral stamina and
his physical charm by means of the finest of his dressing-gowns, a dark,
thin young man, clothed to marvellous perfection, with a much-loved
moustache, and looking as fresh as if he was just going to a party. Mr.
Prohack of course recognised him as one of the guests.
"Good morning," said Mr. Prohack. "So _you_ are the detective."
"Yes, sir," answered the detective, formally.
"Do you know, all the evening I was under the impression that you were
First Secretary to the Czecho-Slovakian Legation."
"No, sir," answered the detective, formally.
"Well! Well! I think there is a proverb to the effect that appearances
"Is there indeed, sir?" said the detective, with unshaken gravity. "In
our business we think that appearances ought to be deceptive."
"Now talking of your business," Mr. Prohack remarked with one of his
efforts to be very persuasive. "What about this unfortunate affair?"
"Yes, sir, what about it?" The detective looked askance at Eve.
"I suppose there's no doubt the thing's been stolen--By the way, sit on
the end of the bed, will you? Then you'll be near me."
"Yes, sir," said the detective, sitting down. "There is no doubt the
necklace has been removed by some one, either for a nefarious purpose or
for a joke."
"Ah! A joke?" meditated Mr. Prohack, aloud.
"It certainly hasn't been taken for a joke," said Eve warmly. "Nobody
that I know well enough for them to play such a trick would dream of
"Then," said Mr. Prohack, "we are left all alone with the nefarious
purpose. I had a sort of a notion that I should meet the nefarious
purpose, and here it is! I suppose there's little hope?"
"Well, sir. You know what happens to a stolen pearl necklace. The pearls
are separated. They can be sold at once, one at a time, or they can be
kept for years and then sold. Pearls, except the very finest, leave no
trace when they get a fair start."
"What I can't understand," Eve exclaimed, "is how it could have dropped
off without me noticing it."
"Oh! I can easily understand that," said Mr. Prohack, with a peculiar
"I've known ladies lose even their hair without noticing anything," said
the detective firmly. "Not to mention other items."
"But without anybody else noticing it either?" Eve pursued her own train
"Somebody did notice it," said the detective, writing on a small piece
"The person who took the necklace."
"Well, of course I know that," Eve spoke impatiently. "But who can it
be? I feel sure it's one of the new servants or one of the hired
"In our business, madam, we usually suspect servants and waiters last."
Then turning round very suddenly he demanded: "Who's that at the door?"
Eve, startled, moved towards the door, and in the same instant the
detective put a small piece of paper into Mr. Prohack's lap, and Mi.
Prohack read on the paper:
"_Should like see you alone_." The detective picked up the paper again.
Mr. Prohack laughed joyously within himself.
"There's nobody at the door," said Eve. "How you frightened me!"
"Marian," said Mr. Prohack, fully inspired. "Take my keys off there,
will you, and go to my study and unlock the top right-hand drawer of the
big desk. You'll find a blue paper at the top at the back. Bring it to
me. I don't know which is the right key, but you'll soon see."
And when Eve, eager with her important mission, had departed, Mr.
Prohack continued to the detective:
"Pretty good that, eh, for an improvisation? The key of that drawer
isn't on that ring at all. And even if she does manage to open the
drawer there's no blue paper in there at all. She'll be quite some
The detective stared at Mr. Prohack in a way to reduce his facile
"What I wish to know from you, sir, personally, is whether you want this
affair to be hushed up, or not."
"Hushed up?" repeated Mr. Prohack, to whom the singular suggestion
opened out new and sinister avenues of speculation. "Why hushed up?"
"Most of the cases we deal with have to be hushed up sooner or later,"
answered the detective. "I only wanted to know where I was."
"How interesting your work must be," observed Mr. Prohack, with quick
sympathetic enthusiasm. "I expect you love it. How did you get into it?
Did you serve an apprenticeship? I've often wondered about you private
detectives. It's a marvellous life."
"I got into it through meeting a man in the Piccadilly Tube. As for
liking it, I shouldn't like any work."
"But some people love their work."
"So I've heard," said the detective sceptically. "Then I take it you do
want the matter smothered?"
"But you've telephoned to Scotland Yard about it," said Mr. Prohack. "We
can't hush it up after that."
"I told _them_," replied the detective grimly, indicating with his head
the whole world of the house. "I told _them_ I was telephoning to
Scotland Yard; but I wasn't. I was telephoning to our head-office. Then
am I to take it you want to find out all you can, but you want it
"Not at all. I have no reason for hushing anything up."
The detective gazed at him in a harsh, lower-middle-class way, and Mr.
Prohack quailed a little before that glance.
"Will you please tell me where you bought the necklace?"
"I really forget. Somewhere in Bond Street."
"Oh! I see," said the detective. "A necklace of forty-nine pearls, over
half of them stated to be as big as peas, and it's slipped your memory
where you bought it." The detective yawned.
"And I'm afraid I haven't kept the receipt either," said Mr. Prohack. "I
have an idea the firm went out of business soon after I bought the
necklace. At least I seem to remember noticing the shop shut up and then
opening again as something else."
"No jeweller ever goes out of business in Bond Street," said the
detective, and yawned once more. "Well, Mr. Prohack, I don't think I
need trouble you any more to-night. If you or Mrs. Prohack will call at
our head-office during the course of to-morrow you shall have our
official report, and if anything really fresh should turn up I'll
telephone you immediately. Good night, Mr. Prohack." The man bowed
rather awkwardly as he rose from the bed, and departed.
"That chap thinks there's something fishy between Eve and me," reflected
Mr. Prohack. "I wonder whether there is!" But he was still in high
spirits when Eve came back into the room.
"The sleuth-hound has fled," said he. "I must have given him something
to think about."
"I've tried all the keys and none of them will fit," Eve complained.
"And yet you're always grumbling at me for not keeping my keys in order.
If you wanted to show him the blue paper why have you let him go?"
"My dear," said Mr. Prohack, "I didn't let him go. He did not consult
me, but merely and totally went."
"And what is the blue paper?" Eve demanded.
"Well, supposing it was the receipt for what I paid for the pearls?"
"Oh! I see. But how would that help?"
"It wouldn't help," Mr. Prohack replied. "My broken butterfly, you may
as well know the worst. The sleuth-hound doesn't hold out much hope."
"Yes," said Eve. "And you seem delighted that I've lost my pearls! I
know what it is. You think it will be a lesson for me, and you love
people to have lessons. Why! Anybody might lose a necklace."
"True. Ships are wrecked, and necklaces are lost, and Nelson even lost
"And I'm sure it _was_ one of the servants."
"My child, you can be just as happy without a pearl necklace as with
one. You really aren't a woman who cares for vulgar display. Moreover,
in times like these, when society seems to be toppling over, what is a
valuable necklace, except a source of worry? Felicity is not to be
attained by the--"
"Arthur! If you go on like that I shall run straight out of the house
and take cold in the Square."
"I will give you another necklace," Mr. Prohack answered this threat,
and as her face did not immediately clear, he added: "And a better one."
"I don't want another one," said Eve. "I'd sooner be without one. I
know it was all my own fault. But you're horrid, and I can't make you
out, and I never could make you out. I never did know where I am with
you. And I believe you're hiding something from me. I believe you picked
up the necklace, and that's why you sent the detective away."
Mr. Prohack had to assume his serious voice which always carried
conviction to Eve, and which he had never misused. "I haven't picked
your necklace up. I haven't seen it. And I know nothing about it." Then
he changed again. "And if you'll kindly step forward and kiss me good
morning I'll try to snatch a few moments' unconsciousness."
Mr. Prohack's life at this wonderful period of his career as a
practising philosopher at grips with the great world seemed to be a
series of violent awakenings. He was awakened, with even increased
violence, at about eight o'clock the next--or rather the same--morning,
and he would have been awakened earlier if the servants had got up
earlier. The characteristic desire of the servants to rise early had,
however, been enfeebled by the jolly vigils of the previous night. It
was, of course, Eve who rushed in to him--nobody else would have dared.
She had hastily cast about her plumpness the transformed Chinese gown,
which had the curious appearance of a survival from some former
"Arthur!" she called, and positively shook the victim. "Arthur!"
Mr. Prohack looked at her, dazed by the electric light which she had
ruthlessly turned on over his head.
"There's a woman been caught in the area. She's a fat woman, and she
must have been there all night. The cook locked the area gate and the
woman was too fat to climb over. Brool's put her in the servants' hall
and fastened the door, and what do you think we ought to do first? Send
for the police or telephone to Mr. Crewd--he's the detective you saw
"If she's been in the area all night you'd better put her to bed, and
give her some hot brandy and water," said Mr. Prohack.
"Arthur, please, please, be serious!" Eve supplicated.
"I'm being as serious as a man can who has been disturbed in this
pleasant fashion by a pretty woman," said Mr. Prohack attentively
examining the ceiling. "You go and look after the fat lady. Supposing
she died from exposure. There'd have to be an inquest. Do you wish to
be mixed up in an inquest? What does she want? Whatever it is, give it
her, and let her go, and wake me up next week. I feel I can sleep a
"Arthur! You'll drive me mad. Can't you see that she must be connected
with the necklace business. She _must_ be. It's as clear as day-light!"
"Ah!" breathed Mr. Prohack, thoughtfully interested. "I'd forgotten the
"Yes, well, I hadn't!" said Eve, rather shrewishly. "I had not."
"Quite possibly she may be mixed up in the necklace business," Mr.
Prohack admitted. "She may be a clue. Look here, don't let's tell
anybody outside--not even Mr. Crewd. Let's detect for ourselves. It will
be the greatest fun. What does she say for herself?"
"She said she was waiting outside the house to catch a young lady with a
snub-nose going away from my reception--Mimi Winstock, of course."
"Why Mimi Winstock?"
"Well, hasn't she got a turned-up nose? And she didn't go away from my
reception. She's sleeping here," Eve rejoined triumphantly.
"And what else does the fat woman say?"
"She says she won't say anything else--except to Mimi Winstock."
"Well, then, wake up Mimi as you wakened me, and send her to the
servants' hall--wherever that is--I've never seen it myself!"
Eve shook her somewhat tousled head vigorously.
"Certainly not. I don't trust Miss Mimi Winstock--not one bit--and I'm
not going to let those two meet until you've had a talk with the
"Me!" Mr. Prohack protested.
"Yes, you. Seeing that you don't want me to send for the police.
Something has to be done, and somebody has to do it. And I never did
trust that Mimi Winstock, and I'm very sorry she's gone to Charlie. That
was a great mistake. However, it's got nothing to do with me." She
shrugged her agreeable shoulders. "But my necklace has got something to
do with me."
Mr. Prohack thought "What would Lady Massulam do in such a crisis? And
how would Lady Massulam look in a dressing-gown and her hair down? I
shall never know." Meanwhile he liked Eve's demeanour--its vivacity and
simplicity. "I'm afraid I'm still in love with her," the strange fellow
reflected, and said aloud: "You'd better kiss me. I shall have an awful
headache if you don't." And Eve reluctantly kissed him, with the look of
a martyr on her face.
Within a few minutes Mr. Prohack had dismissed his wife, and was
descending the stairs in a dressing-gown which rivalled hers. The sight
of him in the unknown world of the basement floor, as he searched
unaided for the servants' hall, created an immense sensation,--far
greater than he had anticipated. A nice young girl, whom he had never
seen before and as to whom he knew nothing except that she was probably
one of his menials, was so moved that she nearly had an accident with a
tea-tray which she was carrying.
"What is your name?" Mr. Prohack benignly asked.
"Where are you going with that tea-tray and newspaper?"
"I was just taking it upstairs to Machin, sir. She's not feeling well
enough to get up yet, sir."
Mr. Prohack comprehended the greatness of the height to which Machin had
ascended. Machin, a parlourmaid, drinking tea in bed, and being served
by a lesser creature, who evidently regarded Machin as a person of high
power and importance on earth! Mr. Prohack saw that he was unacquainted
with the fundamental realities of life in Manchester Square.
"Well," said he. "You can get some more tea for Machin. Give me that."
And he took the tray. "No, you can keep the newspaper."
The paper was _The Daily Picture_. As he held the tray with one hand and
gave the paper back to Selina with the other, his eye caught the
headlines: "West End Sensation. Mrs. Prohack's Pearls Pinched." He
paled; but he was too proud a man to withdraw the paper again. No doubt
_The Daily Picture_ would reach him through the customary channels after
Machin had done with it, accompanied by the usual justifications about
the newsboy being late; he could wait.
"Which is the servants' hall," said he. Selina's manner changed to
positive alarm as she indicated, in the dark subterranean corridor, the
door that was locked on the prisoner. Not merely the presence of Mr.
Prohack had thrilled the basement floor; there was a thrill greater even
than that, and Mr. Prohack, by demanding the door of the servants' hall
was intensifying the thrill to the last degree. The key was on the
outside of the door, which he unlocked. Within the electric light was
still burning in the obscure dawn.
The prisoner, who sprang up from a chair and curtsied fearsomely at the
astonishing spectacle of Mr. Prohack, was fat in a superlative degree,
and her obesity gave her a middle-aged air to which she probably had no
right by the almanac. She looked quite forty, and might well have been
not more than thirty. She made a typical London figure of the
nondescript industrial class. It is inadequate to say that her shabby
black-trimmed bonnet, her shabby sham-fur coat half hiding a large
dubious apron, her shabby frayed black skirt, and her shabby, immense,
amorphous boots,--it is inadequate to say that these things seemed to
have come immediately out of a tenth-rate pawnshop; the woman herself
seemed to have come, all of a piece with her garments, out of a
tenth-rate pawnshop; the entity of her was at any rate homogeneous; it
sounded no discord.
She did nothing so active as to weep, but tears, obeying the law of
gravity, oozed out of her small eyes, and ran in zigzags, unsummoned and
unchecked, down her dark-red cheeks.
"Oh, sir!" she mumbled in a wee, scarcely articulate voice. "I'm a
respectable woman, so help me God!"
"You shall be respected," said Mr. Prohack. "Sit down and drink some of
this tea and eat the bread-and-butter.... No! I don't want you to say
anything just yet. No, nothing at all."
When she had got the tea into the cup, she poured it into the saucer and
blew on it and began to drink loudly. After two sips she plucked at a
piece of bread-and-butter, conveyed it into her mouth, and before doing
anything further to it, sirruped up some more tea. And in this way she
went on. Her table manners convinced Mr. Prohack that her claim to
respectability was authentic.
"And now," said Mr. Prohack, gazing through the curtained window at the
blank wall that ended above him at the edge of the pavement, so as not
to embarrass her, "will you tell me why you spent the night in my area?"
"Because some one locked the gate on me, sir, while I was hiding under
the shed where the dustbins are."
"I quite see," said Mr. Prohack, "I quite see. But why did you go down
into the area? Were you begging, or what?"
"Me begging, sir!" she exclaimed, and ceased to cry, fortified by the
tonic of aroused pride.
"No, of course you weren't begging," said Mr. Prohack. "You may have
given to beggars--"
"That I have, sir." She cried again.
"But you don't beg. I quite see. Then what?"
"It's no use me a-trying to tell you, sir. You won't believe me." Her
voice was extraordinarily thin and weak, and seldom achieved anything
that could fairly be called pronunciation.
"I shall," said Mr. Prohack. "I'm a great believer. You try me. You'll
"It's like this. I was converted last night, and that's where the
trouble began, if it's the last word I ever speak."
"Theology?" murmured Mr. Prohack, turning to look at her and marvelling
at the romantic quality of basements.
"There was a mission on at the Methodists' in Paddington Street, and in
I went. Seems strange to me to be going into a Methodists', seeing as
I'm so friendly with Mr. Milcher."
"Who is Mr. Milcher?"
"Milcher's the sexton at St. Nicodemus, sir. Or I should say sacristan.
They call him sacristan instead of sexton because St. Nicodemus is High,
as I daresay _you_ know, sir, living so close."
Mr. Prohack was conscious of a slight internal shiver, which he could
not explain, unless it might be due to a subconscious premonition of
unpleasantness to come.
"I know that I live close to St. Nicodemus," he replied. "Very close.
Too close. But I did not know how High St. Nicodemus was. However, I'm
interrupting you." He perceived with satisfaction that his gift of
inspiring people with confidence was not failing him on this occasion.
"Well, sir, as I was saying, it might, as you might say, seem strange me
popping like that into the Methodists', seeing what Milcher's views are;
but my mother was a Methodist in Canonbury,--a great place for
dissenters, sir, North London, you know, sir, and they do say blood's
thicker than water. So there I was, and the Mission a-going on, and as
soon as ever I got inside that chapel I knew I was done in. I never felt
so all-overish in all my days, and before I knew where I was I had found
salvation. And I was so happy, you wouldn't believe. I come out of that
Methodists' as free like as if I was coming out of a hospital, and God
knows I've been in a hospital often enough for my varicose veins, in the
legs, sir. You might almost have guessed I had 'em, sir, from the kind
way you told me to sit down, sir. And I was just wondering how I should
break it to Milcher, sir, because me passing St. Nicodemus made me think
of him--not as I'm not always thinking of him--and I looked up at the
clock--you know it's the only 'luminated church clock in the district,
sir, and the clock was just on eleven, sir, and I waited for it to
strike, sir, and it didn't strike. My feet was rooted to the spot, sir,
but no, that clock didn't strike, and then all of a sudden it rushed
over me about that young woman asking me all about the tower and the
clock and telling me as her young man was so interested in church-towers
and he wanted to go up, and would I lend her the keys of the tower-door
because Milcher always gives me the bunch of church-keys to keep for him
while he goes into the Horse and Groom public-house, sir, him not caring
to take church keys into a public-house. He's rather particular, sir.
They are, especially when they're sacristans. It rushed over me, and I
says to myself, 'Bolsheviks,' and I thought I should have swounded, but
Mr. Prohack had to make an effort in order to maintain his self-control,
for the mumblings of the fat lady were producing in him the most
singular and the most disturbing sensations.
"If there's any tea left in the pot," said he, "I think I'll have it."
"_And_ welcome, sir," replied the fat lady. "But there's only one cup.
But I have but hardly drunk out of it, sir."
Mr. Prohack first of all went to the door, transferred the key from the
outside to the inside, and locked the door. Then he drank the dregs of
the tea out of the sole cup; and seeing a packet of Mr. Brool's Gold
Flake cigarettes on the mahogany sideboard, he ventured to help himself
"Yes, sir," resumed the fat lady. "I nearly swounded, and I couldn't
feel happy no more until I'd made a clean breast of it all to Milcher.
And I was setting off for Milcher when it struck me all of a heap as I'd
promised the young lady with the turned-up nose as I wouldn't say
nothing about the keys to nobody. It was very awkward for me, sir, me
being converted and anxious to do right, and not knowing which was right
and which was wrong. But a promise is a promise whether you're converted
or not--that I do hold. Anyhow I says to myself I must see Milcher and
tell him the clock hadn't struck eleven, and I prayed as hard as I could
for heavenly guidance, and I was just coming down the Square on my way
to Milcher's when who should I see get out of a taxi and run into this
house but that young lady and her young man. I said in my haste that was
an answer to prayer, sir, but I'm not so sure now as I wasn't presuming
too much. I could see there was something swanky a-going on here and I
said to myself, 'That young lady's gone in. She'll come out again; she's
one of the gues's, she is,' I said, 'and him too, and I'll wait till she
does come out and then I'll catch her and have it out with her even if
it means policemen.' And the area-gate being unfastened, I slipped down
the area-steps, sir, with my eye on the front-door. And that was what
did me. I had to sit down on the stone steps, sir, because of my
varicose veins and then one of the servants comes in _from_ the street,
sir, and I more like dropped down the area-steps, sir, than walked, sir,
and hid between two dustbins, and when the coast was clear I went up
again and found gate locked and nothing doing. And it's as true as I'm
standing here--sitting, I should say."
Mr. Prohack paused, collecting himself, determined to keep his nerve
through everything. Then he said:
"When did the mysterious young lady borrow the keys from you?"
"Last night, sir, I mean the night before last."
"And where are the keys now?"
"Milcher's got 'em, sir. I lay he's up in the tower by this time,
a-worrying over that clock. It'll be in the papers--you see if it isn't,
"And he's got no idea that you ever lent the keys?"
"That he has not, sir. And the question is: must I tell him?"
"What exactly are the relations between you and Mr. Milcher?"
"Well, sir, he's a bit dotty about me, as you might say. And he's going
to marry me. So he says, and I believe him."
And Mr. Prohack reflected, impressed by the wonder of existence:
"This woman too has charm for somebody, who looks on her as the most
appetising morsel on earth."
"Now," he said aloud, "you are good enough to ask my opinion whether you
ought to tell Mr. Milcher. My advice to you is: Don't. I applaud your
conversion. But as you say, a promise is a promise--even if it's a
naughty promise. You did wrong to promise. You will suffer for that, and
don't think your conversion will save you from suffering, because it
won't. Don't run away with the idea that conversion is a
patent-medicine. It isn't. It's rather a queer thing, very handy in some
ways and very awkward in others, and you must use it with commonsense or
you'll get both yourself and other people into trouble. As for the
clock, it's stopping striking is only a coincidence, obviously. Abandon
the word 'Bolshevik.' It's a very overworked word, and wants a long
repose. If the clock had been stopped from striking by your young
friends it would have stopped the evening before last, when they went up
the tower. And don't imagine there's any snub-nosed young lady living
here. There isn't. She must have left while you were down among the
dustbins, Mrs. Milcher--that is to be. She paid you something for your
trouble, quite possibly. If so, give the money to the poor. That will
be the best way to be converted."
"So I will, sir."
"Yes. And now you must go." He unlocked the door and opened it. "Quick.
Quietly. Into the area, and up the area-steps. And stop a moment. Don't
you be seen in the Square for at least a year. A big robbery was
committed in this very house last night. You'll see it in to-day's
papers. My butler connected your presence in the area--and quite
justifiably connected it--with the robbery. Without knowing it you've
been in the most dreadful danger. I'm saving you. If you don't use your
conversion with discretion it may land you in prison. Take my advice,
and be silent first and converted afterwards. Good morning. Tut-tut!" He
stopped the outflow of her alarmed gratitude. "Didn't I advise you to be
silent? Creep, Mrs. Milcher. Creep!"
"Well, what have you said to her? What does she say? What have you done
with her?" questioned Eve excitedly, who had almost finished dressing
when Mr. Prohack, gorgeously, but by no means without misgivings,
entered her bedroom.
"I've talked to her very seriously and let her go," answered Mr.
Eve sat down as if stabbed on the chair in front of her dressing-table,
and stared at Mr. Prohack.
"You've let her go!" cried she, with an outraged gasp, implying that she
had always suspected that she was married to a nincompoop, but not to
such a nincompoop. "Where's she gone to?"
"I don't know."
"What's her name? Who is she?"
"I don't know that either. I only know that she's engaged to be married,
and that a certain sacristan is madly but I hope honourably in love with
her, and that she's had nothing whatever to do with the disappearance of
"I suppose she told you so herself!" said Eve, with an irony that might
have shrivelled up a husband less philosophic.
"She did not. She didn't say a word about the necklace. But she did make
a full confession. She's mixed up in the clock-striking business."
"The what business?"
"The striking of the church-clock. You know it's stopped striking since
last night, under the wise dispensation of heaven."
As he made this perfectly simple announcement, Mr. Prohack observed a
sudden change in his wife's countenance. Her brow puckered: a sad,
protesting, worried look came into her eyes.
"Please don't begin on the clock again, my poor Arthur! You ought to
forget it. You know how bad it is for you to dwell on it. It gets on
your nerves and you start imagining all sorts of things, until, of
course, there's no chance of you sleeping. If you keep on like this
you'll make me feel a perfect criminal for taking the house. You don't
suspect it, but I've several times wished we never had taken it--I've
been so upset about your nervous condition."
"I was merely saying," Mr. Prohack insisted, "that our fat visitor, who
apparently has enormous seductive power over sacristans, had noticed
about the clock just as I had, and she thought--"
Eve interrupted him by approaching swiftly and putting her hands on his
shoulders, as he had put his hands on her shoulders a little while
earlier, and gazing with supplication at him.
"Please, please!" she besought him. "To oblige me. Do drop the
church-clock. I know what it means for you."
Mr. Prohack turned away, broke into uproarious and somewhat hysterical
laughter, and left the bedroom, having perceived to his amazement that
she thought the church-clock was undermining his sanity.
Going to his study, he rang the bell there, and Brool, with features
pale and drawn, obeyed the summons. The fact that his sanity was
suspect, however absurdly, somehow caused Mr. Prohack to assume a
pontifical manner of unusual dignity.
"Is Miss Warburton up yet?"
"No, sir. One of the servants knocked at her door some little time ago,
but received no answer."
"She must be wakened, and I'll write a note that must be given to her
Mr. Prohack wrote: "Please dress at once and come to my study. I want to
see you about the church-clock. A.P." Then he waited, alternately
feeling the radiator and warming his legs at the newly-lit wood fire. He
was staggered by the incredible turn of events, and he had a sensation
that nothing was or ever would be secure in the structure of his
"Well, I'm hanged! Well, I'm hanged!" he kept saying to himself, and
indeed several times asserted that an even more serious fate had
"Here I am!" Mimi exclaimed brazenly, entering the room.
The statement was not exaggerated. She emphatically was there, aspiring
nose and all--in full evening dress, the costume of the night before.
"Have you slept in your clothes?" Mr. Prohack demanded.
Her manner altered at his formidable tone.
"No, sir," she replied meekly. "But I've nothing else here. I shall put
a cloak on and drive off in a taxi to change for the day. May I sit
Mr. Prohack nodded. Indubitably she made a wonderful sight in her daring
"So you've found out all about it already!" said she, still meekly,
while Mr. Prohack was seeking the right gambit. "Please do tell me how,"
she added, disposing the folds of her short skirt about the chair.
"I'm not here to answer questions," said Mr. Prohack. "I'm here to ask
them. How did you do it? And was it you or Charlie or both of you? Whose
idea was it?"
"It was my idea," Mimi purred. "But Mr. Charles seemed to like it. It
was really very simple. We first of all found out about the sexton."
"And how did you do that?"
"Private enquiry agents, of course. Same people who were in charge here
last night. I knew of them when I was with Mr. Carrel Quire, and it was
I who introduced them to Mrs. Prohack."
"It would be!" Mr. Prohack commented. "And then?"
"And then when we'd discovered Mrs. Slipstone--or Miss Slipstone--"
"She's a rather stout charwoman who has a fascination for the sexton of
St. Nicodemus. When I'd got her it was all plain sailing. She lent me
the church keys and Mr. Charles and I went up the tower to reconnoitre."
"But that was more than twenty-four hours before the clock ceased to
strike, and you returned the keys to her."
"Oh! So you know that too, do you?" said Mimi blandly. "Mr. Prohack, I
hope you'll forgive me for saying that you're most frightfully clever. I
_did_ give the keys back to Mrs. Slipstone a long time before the clock
stopped striking, but you see, Mr. Charles had taken an impression of
the tower key in clay, so that last night we were able to go up with an
electric torch and our own key. The clock is a very old one, and Mr.
Charles removed a swivel or something--I forget what he called it, but
he seems to understand everything about every kind of machinery. He
says it would take a tremendous long time to get another swivel, or
whatever it is, cast, even if it ever could be cast without a pattern,
and that you'll be safe for at least six months, even if we don't rely
on the natural slowness of the Established Church to do anything really
active. You see it isn't as if the clock wasn't going. It's showing the
time all right, and that will be sufficient to keep the rector and the
church-wardens quiet. It keeps up appearances. Of course if the clock
had stopped entirely they would have had to do something.... You don't
seem very pleased, dear Mr. Prohack. We thought you'd be delighted. We
did it all for you."
"Did you indeed!" said Mr. Prohack ruthlessly. "And did you think of the
riskiness of what you were doing? There'll be a most appalling scandal,
certainly police-court proceedings, and I shall be involved, if it comes
"But it can't come to light!" Mimi exploded.
"And yet it came to my light."
"Yes, I expect Mr. Charles was so proud that he couldn't help telling
you some bits about it. But nobody else can know. Even if Mrs. Slipstone
lets on to the sexton, the sexton will never let on because if he did
he'd lose his place. The sexton will always have to deny that he parted
with the keys even for a moment. It will be the loveliest mystery that
ever was, and all the police in the world won't solve it. Of course, if
you aren't pleased, I'm very sorry."
"It isn't a question of not being pleased. The breath is simply knocked
out of me--that's what it is! Whatever possessed you to do it?"
"But something had to be done, Mr. Prohack. Everybody in the house was
terribly upset about you. You couldn't sleep because of the clock, and
you said you never would sleep. Mrs. Prohack was at her wit's end."
"Everybody in the house was terribly upset about me! This is the first
I've heard of anybody being terribly upset about me. I thought that
everybody except me had forgotten all about the infernal clock."
"Naturally!" said Mimi, with soothing calmness. "Mrs. Prohack quite
rightly forbade any mention of the clock in your presence. She said the
best thing to do was to help you to forget it by never referring to it,
and we all agreed with her. But it weighed on us dreadfully. And
something really had to be done."
Mr. Prohack was not unimpressed by this revelation of the existence of
a social atmosphere which he had never suspected. But he was in no mood
"Now just listen to me," said he. "You are without exception the most
dangerous woman that I have ever met. All women are dangerous, but you
are an acute peril."
"Yes," Mimi admitted, "Mr. Carrel Quire used to talk like that. I got
quite used to it."
"Did he really? Well, I think all the better of him, then. The mischief
with you is that your motives are good. But a good motive is no excuse
for a criminal act, and still less excuse for an idiotic act. I don't
suppose I shall do any good by warning you, yet I do hereby most
solemnly warn you to mend your ways. And I wish you to understand
clearly that I am not a bit grateful to you. In fact the reverse."
Mimi stiffened herself.
"Perhaps you would prefer us to restore the missing part and start the
clock striking again. It would be perfectly easy. We still have our own
key to the tower and we could do it to-night. I am sure it will be at
least a week before the church-wardens send an expert clock-maker up the
In that moment Mr. Prohack had a distressing glimpse into the illogical
peculiarities of the human conscience, especially his own. He knew that
he ought to accept Mimi's offer, since it would definitely obviate the
possible consequences of a criminal act and close a discreditable
incident. But he thought of his bad nights instead of thinking of Mimi's
morals and the higher welfare of society.
"No," he said. "Let sleeping clocks lie." And he saw that Mimi read the
meanness of his soul and was silently greeting him as a fellow-sinner.
She surprised him by saying:
"I assure you, Mr. Prohack, that my sole idea--that our sole idea--was
to make the house more possible for you." And as she uttered these words
she gazed at him with a sort of delicious pouting, challenging reproach.
What a singular remark, he thought! It implied a comprehension of the
fact, which he had considerately never disclosed, that he objected to
the house _in toto_ and would have been happier in his former abode.
And, curiously, it implied further that she comprehended and sympathised
with his objections. She knew she had not done everything necessary to
reconcile him to the noble mansion, but she had done what she could--and
it was not negligible.
"Nothing of the kind," said he. "You simply had no 'sole idea.' When I
admitted just now that your motives were good I was exaggerating. Your
motives were only half good, and if you think otherwise you are
deceiving yourself; you are not being realistic. In that respect you are
no better than anybody else."
"What was my other motive, then?" she enquired submissively, as if
appealing for information to the greatest living authority on the
enigmas of her own heart.
"Your other motive was to satisfy your damnable instinct for dubious and
picturesque adventure," said Mr. Prohack. "You were pandering to the
evil in you. If you could have stopped the clock from striking by
walking down Bond Street in Mrs. Slipstone's clothes and especially her
boots, would you have done it? Certainly not. Of course you wouldn't.
Don't try to come the self-sacrificing saint over me, because you can't
These words, even if amounting to a just estimate of the situation, were
ruthless and terrible. They might have accomplished some genuine and
lasting good if Mr. Prohack had spoken them in a tone corresponding to
their import. But he did not. His damnable instinct for pleasing people
once more got the better of him, and he spoke them in a benevolent and
paternal tone, his voice vibrating with compassion and with appreciation
of her damnable instinct for dubious and picturesque adventure. The tone
destroyed the significance of the words.
Moreover, not content with the falsifying tone, he rose up from his
chair as he spoke, approached the charming and naughty girl, and patted
her on the shoulder. The rebuke, indeed, ended by being more agreeable
to the sinner than praise might have been from a man less corroded with
duplicity than Mr. Prohack.
Mimi surprised him a second time.
"You're perfectly right," she said. "You always are." And she seized his
limp hand in hers and kissed it,--and ran away, leaving him looking at
the kissed hand.
Well, he was flattered, and he was pleased; or at any rate something in
him, some fragmentary part of him, was flattered and pleased. Mimi's
gesture was a triumph for a man nearing fifty; but it was an alarming
triumph.... Odd that in that moment he should think of Lady Massulam!
His fatal charm was as a razor. Had he been playing with it as a baby
might play with a razor?... Popinjay? Coxcomb? Perhaps, Nevertheless,
the wench had artistically kissed his hand, and his hand felt
self-complacent, even if he didn't.
Brool, towards whom Mr. Prohack felt no impulse of good-will, came
largely in with a salver on which were the morning letters and the
morning papers, including the paper perused by Machin with her early
bedside tea and doubtless carefully folded again in its original creases
to look virginal.
The reappearance of that sheet had somewhat the quality of a sinister
miracle to Mr. Prohack. He asked no questions about it so that he might
be told no lies, but he searched it in vain for a trace of the suffering
Machin. It was, however, full of typographical traces of himself and his
family. The description of the reception was disturbingly journalistic,
which adjective, for Mr. Prohack, unfortunately connoted the adjective
vulgar. All the wrong people were in the list of guests, and all the
decent quiet people were omitted. A value of twenty thousand pounds was
put upon the necklace, contradicting another part of the report which
stated the pearls to be "priceless." Mr. Prohack's fortune was referred
to; also his Treasury past; the implication being that the fortune had
caused him to leave the Treasury. His daughter's engagement to Mr.
Morfey was glanced at; and it was remarked that Mr. Morfey--"known to
all his friends and half London as 'Ozzie' Morfey"--was intimately
connected with the greatest stage Napoleon in history, Mr. Asprey Chown.
Finally a few words were given to Charlie; who was dubbed "a budding
financier already responsible for one highly successful _coup_ and
likely to be responsible for several others before much more water has
run under the bridges of the Thames."
Mr. Prohack knew, then, in his limbs the meaning of the word "writhe,"
and he was glad that he had not had his bath, because even if he had had
his bath he would have needed another one. His attitude towards his
fellow men had a touch of embittered and cynical scorn unworthy of a
philosopher. He turned, in another paper, to the financial column, for,
though all his money was safe in fixed-interest-bearing securities, the
fluctuations of whose capital value could not affect his safety, yet he
somehow could not remain quite indifferent to the fluctuations of their
capital value; and in the financial column he saw a reference to a
"young operator," who, he was convinced, could be no other than Charlie;
in the reference there was a note of sarcasm which hurt Mr. Prohack and
aroused anew his apprehensions.
And among his correspondence was a letter which had been delivered by
hand. He thought he knew the handwriting on the envelope, and he did: it
was from Mr. Softly Bishop. Mr. Softly Bishop begged, in a very familiar
style, that Mr. Prohack and wife would join himself and Miss Fancy on an
early day at a little luncheon party, and he announced that the 'highly
desirable event to the possibility of which he had alluded' on the
previous evening, had duly occurred. Strange, the fellow's eagerness to
publish his engagement to a person of more notoriety than distinction!
The fellow must have "popped the question" while escorting Miss Fancy
home in the middle of the night, and he must have written the note
before breakfast and despatched it by special messenger. What a
Mr. Prohack desired now a whole series of baths. And he was very
harassed indeed. If he, by a fluke, had discovered the escapade of the
church-tower and the church-clock, why should not others discover it by
other flukes? Was it conceivable that such a matter should forever
remain a secret? The thing, to Mr. Prohack's sick imagination, was like
a bomb with a fuse attached and the fuse lighted. When the bomb did go
off, what trouble for an entirely innocent Mr. Prohack! And he loathed
the notion of his proud, strong daughter being affianced to a man who,
however excellent intrinsically, was the myrmidon of that sublime
showman, Mr. Asprey Chown. And he hated his connection with Mr. Softly
Bishop and with Miss Fancy. Could he refuse the invitation to the little
luncheon party? He knew that he could not refuse it. His connection with
these persons was indisputable and the social consequences of it could
not be fairly avoided. As for the matter of the necklace, he held that
he could deal with that,--but could he? He lacked confidence in himself.
Even his fixed interest-bearing securities might, by some inconceivable
world-catastrophe, cease to bear interest, and then where would he be?
Philosophy! Philosophy was absurdly unpractical. Philosophy could not
cope with real situations. Where had he sinned? Nowhere. He had taken
Dr. Veiga's advice and given up trying to fit his environment to himself
instead of vice versa. He had let things rip and shown no egotistic
concern in the business of others. But was he any better off in his
secret soul? Not a whit. He ought to have been happy; he was miserable.
On every hand the horizon was dark, and the glitter of seventeen
thousand pounds per annum did not lighten it by the illuminative power
of a single candle.... But his feverish hand gratefully remembered
Nevertheless, as the day waxed and began to wane, it was obvious even to
Mr. Prohack that the domestic climate grew sunnier and more bracing. A
weight seemed to have been lifted from the hearts of all Mr. Prohack's
entourage. The theft of the twenty thousand pound necklace was a grave
event, but it could not impair the beauty of the great fact that the
church-clock had ceased to strike, and that therefore the master would
be able to sleep. The shadow of a menacing calamity had passed, and
everybody's spirits, except Mr. Prohack's, reacted to the news; Machin,
restored to duty, was gaiety itself; but Mr. Prohack, unresponsive, kept
on absurdly questioning his soul and the universe: "What am I getting
out of life? Can it be true that I am incapable of arranging my
existence in such a manner that the worm shall not feed so gluttonously
on my damask cheek?"
Eve's attitude to him altered. In view of the persistent silence of the
clock she had to admit to herself that her husband was still a long way
off insanity, and she was ashamed of her suspicion and did all that she
could to make compensation to him, while imitating his discreet example
and not referring even distantly to the clock. When she mentioned the
necklace, suggesting a direct appeal to Scotland Yard, and he
discountenanced the scheme, she at once in the most charming way
accepted his verdict and praised his superior wisdom. When he placed
before her the invitation from Mr. Softly Bishop, she beautifully
offered to disentangle him from it if he should so desire. When she told
him that she had been asked to preside over the Social Amenities
Committee of the League of all the Arts, and he advised her not to bind
herself by taking any official position, and especially one which would
force her into contact with a pack of self-seeking snobbish women, she
beamed acquiescence and heartily concurred with him about the pack of
women. In fact the afternoon became one of those afternoons on which
every caprice was permitted to Mr. Prohack and he could do no wrong. But
the worm still fed on his cheek.
Before tea he enjoyed a sleep, without having to time his repose so as
to avoid being wakened by the clock. And then tea for one was served
with full pomp in his study. This meant either that his tireless women
were out, or that Eve had judged it prudent to indulge him in a solitary
tea; and, after the hurried thick-cupped teas at the Treasury, he
certainly did not dislike a leisurely tea replete with every luxury
proper to the repast. He ate, drank, and read odd things in odd corners
of _The Times_, and at last he smoked.
He was on the edge of felicity in his miserableness when his
indefatigable women entered, all smiles. They had indeed been out, and
they were still arrayed for the street. On by one they removed or cast
aside such things as gloves, hats, coats, bags, until the study began to
bear some resemblance to a boudoir. Mr. Prohack, though cheerfully
grumbling at this, really liked it, for he was of those who think that
nothing furnishes a room so well as a woman's hat, provided it be not
Sissie even took off one shoe, on the plea that it hurt her, and there
the trifling article lay, fragile, gleaming and absurd. Mr. Prohack
appreciated it even more than the hats. He understood, perhaps better
than ever before, that though he had a vast passion for his wife, there
was enough emotion left in him to nourish an affection almost equally
vast for his daughter. She was a proud piece, was that girl, and he was
intensely proud of her. Nor did a realistic estimate of her faults of
character seem in the least to diminish his pride in her. She had
distinction; she had race. Mimi might possibly be able to make rings
round her in the pursuit of any practical enterprise, but her mere
manner of existing from moment to moment was superior to Mimi's. The
simple-minded parent was indeed convinced at heart that the world held
no finer young woman than Sissie Prohack. He reflected with
satisfaction: "She knows I'm old, but there's something young in me that
forces her to treat me as young; and moreover she adores me." He also
reflected: "Of course they're after something, these two. I can see a
put-up job in their eyes." Ah! He was ready for them, and the sensation
of being ready for them was like a tonic to him, raising him momentarily
"You look much better, Arthur," said Eve, artfully preparing.
"I am," said he. "I've had a bath."
"Had you given up baths, dad?" asked Sissie, with a curl of the lips.
"No! But I mean I've had two baths. One in water and the other in
"I've been thinking about the arrangements for the wedding," Eve started
in a new, falsely careless tone, ignoring the badinage between her
husband and daughter, which she always privately regarded as tedious.
There it was! They had come to worry him about the wedding. He had not
recovered from one social martyrdom before they were plotting to push
him into another. They were implacable, insatiable, were his women. He
got up and walked about.
"Now, dad," Sissie addressed him. "Don't pretend you aren't interested."
And then she burst into the most extraordinary laughter--laughter that
bordered on the hysterical--and twirled herself round on the shod foot.
Her behaviour offended Eve.
"Of course if you're going on like that, Sissie, I warn you I shall give
it all up. After all, it won't be my wedding."
Sissie clasped her mother's neck.
"Don't be foolish, you silly old mater. It's a wedding, not a funeral."
"Well, what about it?" asked Mr. Prohack, sniffing with pleasure the new
atmosphere created in his magnificent study by these feminine contacts.
"Do you think we'd better have the wedding at St. George's, Hanover
Square, or at St. Nicodemus's?"
At the name of Nicodemus, Mr. Prohack started, as it were guiltily.
"Because," Eve continued, "we can have it at either place. You see Ozzie
lives in one parish and Sissie in the other. St. Nicodemus has been
getting rather fashionable lately, I'm told."
"What saith the bride?"
"Oh, don't ask me!" answered Sissie lightly. "I'm prepared for anything.
It's mother's affair, not mine, in spite of what she says. And nobody
shall be able to say after I'm married that I wasn't a dutiful daughter.
I should love St. George's and I should love St. Nicodemus's too." And
then she exploded again into disconcerting laughter, and the fit lasted
longer than the first one.
Eve protested again and Sissie made peace again.
"St. Nicodemus would be more original," said Eve.
"Not so original as you," said Mr. Prohack.
Sissie choked on a lace handkerchief. St. Nicodemus was selected for the
august rite. Similar phenomena occurred when Eve introduced the point
whether the reception should be at Manchester Square or at Claridge's
Hotel. And when Eve suggested that it might be well to enliven the
mournfulness of a wedding with an orchestra and dancing, Sissie leaped
up and seizing her father's hand whizzed him dangerously round the room
to a tuna of her own singing. The girl's mere physical force amazed him
The dance was brought to a conclusion by the overturning of an
occasional table and a Tanagra figure. Whereupon Sissie laughed more
loudly and hysterically than ever.
Mr. Prohack deemed that masculine tact should be applied. He soothed the
outraged mother and tranquillised the ecstatic daughter, and then in a
matter-of-fact voice asked: "And what about the date? Do let's get it
"We must consult Ozzie," said the pacified mamma.
Off went Sissie again into shrieks.
"You needn't," she spluttered. "It's not Ozzie's wedding. It's mine. You
fix your own date, dearest, and leave Ozzie to me, Ozzie's only function
at my wedding is to be indispensable." And still laughing in the most
crude and shocking way she ran on her uneven feet out of the room,
leaving the shoe behind on the hearth-rug to prove that she really
existed and was not a hallucination.
"I can't make out what's the matter with that girl," said Eve.
"The sooner she's married the better," said Mr. Prohack, thoroughly
reconciled now to the tedium of the ceremonies.
"I daresay you're right. But upon my word I don't know what girls are
coming to," said Eve.
"Nobody ever did know that," said Mr. Prohack easily, though he also was
far from easy in his mind about the bridal symptoms.
"Can Charlie speak to you for a minute?" The voice was Eve's,
diplomatic, apologetic. Her smiling and yet serious face, peeping in
through the bedroom door, seemed to say: "I know we're asking a great
favour and that your life is hard."
"All right," said Mr. Prohack, as a gracious, long-suffering autocrat,
without moving his eyes from the book he was reading.
He had gone to bed. He had of late got into the habit of going to bed.
He would go to bed on the slightest excuse, and would justify himself by
pointing out that Voltaire used to do the same. He was capable of going
to bed several times a day. It was early evening. The bed, though hired
for a year only, was of extreme comfortableness. The light over his head
was in exactly the right place. The room was warm. The book, by a Roman
Emperor popularly known as Marcus Aurelius, counted among the world's
masterpieces. It was designed to suit the case of Mr. Prohack, for its
message was to the effect that happiness and content are commodities
which can be manufactured only in the mind, from the mind's own
ingredients, and that if the mind works properly no external phenomena
can prevent the manufacture of the said commodities. In short,
everything was calculated to secure Mr. Prohack's felicity in that
moment. But he would not have it. He said to himself: "This book is all
very fine, immortal, supreme, and so on. Only it simply isn't true.
Human nature won't work the way this book says it ought to work; and
what's more the author was obviously afraid of life, he was never
really alive and he was never happy. Finally the tendency of the book is
mischievously anti-social." Thus did Mr. Prohack seek to destroy a
reputation of many centuries and to deny opinions which he himself had
been expressing for many years.
"I don't want to live wholly in myself," said Mr. Prohack. "I want to
live a great deal in other people. If you do that you may be infernally
miserable but at least you aren't dull. Marcus Aurelius was more like a
potato than I should care to be."
And he shoved the book under the pillow, turned half-over from his side
to the flat of his back, and prepared with gusto for the evil which
Charlie would surely bring. And indeed one glance at Charlie's
preoccupied features confirmed his prevision.
"You're in trouble, my lad," said he.
"I am," said Charlie.
"And the hour has struck when you want your effete father's help," Mr.
Prohack smiled benevolently.
"Put it like that," said Charlie amiably, taking a chair and smoothing
out his trousers.
"I suppose you've seen the references to yourself in the papers?"
"Rather sarcastic, aren't they?"
"Yes. But that rather flatters me, you know, dad. Shows I'm being taken
"Still, you _have_ been playing a dangerous game, haven't you?"
"Admitted," said Charlie, brightly and modestly. "But I was reading in
one of my new books that it is not a bad scheme to live dangerously, and
I quite agree. Anyhow it suits me. And it's quite on the cards that I
may pull through."
"You mean if I help you. Now listen to me, Charlie. I'm your father, and
if you're on earth it's my fault, and everything that happens to you is
my fault. Hence I'm ready to help you as far as I can, which is a long
way, but I'm not ready to throw my money into a pit unless you can prove
to my hard Treasury mind that the pit is not too deep and has a firm
unbreakable bottom. Rather than have anything to do with a pit that has
all attractive qualities except a bottom, I would prefer to see you in
the Bankruptcy Court and make you an allowance for life."
"That's absolutely sound," Charlie concurred with beautiful
acquiescence. "And it's awfully decent of you to talk like this. I
expect I could soon prove to you that my pit is the sort of pit you
wouldn't mind throwing things into, and possibly one day I might ask
you to do some throwing. But I'm getting along pretty well so far as
money is concerned. I've come to ask you for something else."
"Oh!" Mr. Prohack was a little dashed. But Charlie's demeanour was so
ingratiating that he did not feel in the least hurt.
"Yes. There's been some trouble between Mimi and me this afternoon, and
Back to Full Books