E. Arnold Bennett
Part 7 out of 8
I'm hoping that you'll straighten it out for me."
"Ah!" Mr. Prohack's interest became suddenly intense and pleasurable.
"The silly girl's given me notice. She's fearfully hurt because you told
her that I told you about the church-clock affair, after it had been
agreed between her and me that we wouldn't let on to anybody at all. She
says that she can't possibly stay with anybody who isn't loyal, and that
I'm not the man she thought I was, and she's given notice!... And I
can't do without that girl! I knew she'd be perfectly invaluable to me,
and she is."
Mr. Prohack was staggered at this revelation concerning Mimi. It seemed
to make her heroic and even more incalculable.
"But _I_ never told her you'd told me anything about the clock-striking
business!" he exclaimed.
"I felt sure you hadn't," said Charlie, blandly. "I wonder how she got
the idea into her head."
"Now I come to think of it," said Mr. Prohack, "she did assume this
morning that you must have told me about the clock, and I didn't
contradict her. Why should I!"
"Just so," Charlie smiled faintly. "But I'd be awfully obliged if you'd
contradict her now. One word from you will put it all right."
"I'll ask her to come and see me first thing in the morning," said Mr.
Prohack. "But would you believe it, my lad, that she never gave me the
slightest sign this morning that your telling me anything about the
clock would upset her. Not the slightest sign!"
"Oh! She wouldn't!" said Charlie. "She's like that. She's the strangest
mixture of reserve and rashness you ever saw."
"No, she isn't. Because they're all the strangest mixture--except of
course your esteemed mother, who we all agree is perfect. Anything else
I can do for you to-night?"
"You might tell me how you _did_ find out about the church-clock."
"With pleasure. The explanation will surprise you. I found out because
in my old-world way I'm jolly clever. And that's all there is to it."
"Good night, dad. Thanks very much."
After Charlie had gone, Mr. Prohack said to himself: "That boy's getting
on. I can remember the time when he would have come snorting in here
full of his grievance, and been very sarcastic when I offered him money
he didn't want. What a change! Oh, yes, he's getting on all right. He'll
And Mr. Prohack was suddenly much fonder of the boy and more inclined to
see in him the possibility of genius. But he was aware of apprehension
as to the relations forming between his son and Mimi. That girl appeared
to be establishing an empire over the great youthful prodigy of finance.
Was this desirable?... No, that was not the question. The question was:
Would Eve regard it as desirable? He could never explain to his wife how
deeply he had been touched by Mimi's mad solicitude for the slumber of
Charlie's father. And even if he could have explained Eve would never
have consented to understand.
After a magnificent night's sleep, so magnificent indeed that he felt as
if he had never until that moment really grasped the full significance
of the word "sleep," Mr. Prohack rang the bell for his morning tea. Of
late he had given orders that he must not under any circumstances be
called, for it had been vouchsafed to him that in spite of a multitude
of trained servants there were still things that he could do for himself
better than anybody else could do for him, and among them was the act of
waking up Mr. Prohack. He knew that he was in a very good humour,
capable of miracles, and he therefore determined that he would seize the
opportunity to find the human side of Mr. Brool and make a friend of
him. But the tea-tray was brought in by Mrs. Prohack, who was completely
and severely dressed. She put down the tray and kissed her husband not
as usual, but rather in the manner of a Roman matron, and Mr. Prohack
divined that something had happened.
"I hope Brool hasn't dropped down dead," said he, realising the
foolishness of his facetiousness as he spoke.
Eve seemed to be pained.
"Have you slept better?" she asked, solicitous.
"I have slept so well that there's probably something wrong with me,"
said he. "Heavy sleep is a symptom of several dangerous diseases."
"I'm glad you've had a good night," she began, again ignoring his
maladroit flippancy, "because I want to talk to you."
"Darling," he responded. "Pour out my tea for me, will you? Then I shall
be equal to any strain. I trust that you also passed a fair night,
madam. You look tremendously fit."
Visions of Lady Massulam flitted through his mind, but he decided that
Eve, seriously pouring out tea for him under the lamp in the morning
twilight of the pale bedroom, could not be matched by either Lady
Massulam or anybody else. No, he could not conceive a Lady Massulam
pouring out early tea; the Lady Massulams could only pour out afternoon
tea--a job easier to do with grace and satisfaction.
"I have not slept a wink all night," said Eve primly. "But I was
determined that nothing should induce me to disturb you."
"Yes?" Mr. Prohack encouraged her, sipping the first glorious sip.
"Well, will you believe me that Sissie slipped out last night after
dinner without saying a word to me or any one, and that she didn't come
back and hasn't come back? I sat up for her till three o'clock--I
telephoned to Charlie, but no! he'd seen nothing of her."
"Did you telephone to Ozzie?"
"Telephone to Ozzie, my poor boy! Of course I didn't. I wouldn't have
Ozzie know for anything. Besides, he isn't on the telephone at his
"That's a good reason for not telephoning, anyway," said Mr. Prohack.
"But did you ever hear of such a thing? The truth is, you've spoilt that
"I may have spoilt the child," Mr. Prohack admitted. "But I have heard
of such a thing. I seem to remember that in the dear dead days of
dancing studios, something similar occurred to your daughter."
"Yes, but we did know where she was."
"You didn't. I did," Mr. Prohack corrected her.
"Do you want me to cry?" Eve demanded suddenly.
"Yes," said Mr. Prohack. "I love to see you cry."
Eve pursed her lips and wrinkled her brows and gazed at the window,
performing great feats of self-control under extreme provocation to lose
"What do you propose to do?" she asked with formality.
"Wait till the girl comes back," said Mr. Prohack.
"Arthur! I really cannot understand how you can take a thing like this
so casually! No, I really can't!"
"Neither can I!" Mr. Prohack admitted, quite truthfully.
He saw that he ought to have been gravely upset by Sissie'a prank and he
was merely amused. "Effect of too much sleep, no doubt," he added.
Eve walked about the room.
"I pretended to Machin this morning that Sissie had told me that she was
sleeping out, and that I had forgotten to tell Machin. It's a good thing
we haven't engaged lady's maids yet. I can trust Machin. I know she
didn't believe me this morning, but I can trust her. You see, after
Sissie's strange behaviour these last few days.... One doesn't know what
to think. And there's something else. Every morning for the last three
or four weeks Sissie's gone out somewhere, for an hour or two, quite
regularly. And where she went I've never been able to find out. Of
course with a girl like her it doesn't do to ask too direct
questions.... Ah! I should like to have seen my mother in my place. I
know what she'd have done!"
"What would your mother have done? She always seemed to me to be a
fairly harmless creature."
"Yes, to you!... Do you think we ought to inform the police!"
"I'm so glad. The necklace and Sissie coming on top of each other! No,
it would be too much!"
"It never rains but it pours, does it?" observed Mr. Prohack.
"But what _are_ we to do?"
"Just what your mother would have done. Your mother would have argued
like this: Either Sissie is staying away against her will or she is
staying away of her own accord. If the former, it means an accident, and
we are bound to hear shortly from one of the hospitals. If the latter,
we can only sit tight. Your mother had a vigorous mind and that is how
she would have looked at things."
"I never know how to take you, Arthur," said Mrs. Prohack, and went on:
"And what makes it all the more incomprehensible IA that yesterday
afternoon Sissie went with me to Jay's to see about the wedding-dress."
"But why should that make it all the more incomprehensible?"
"Don't you think it does, somehow? I do."
"Did she giggle at Jay's?"
"Oh, no! Except once. Yes, I think she giggled once. That was when the
fitter said she hoped we should give them plenty of time, because most
customers rushed them so. I remember thinking how queer it was that
Sissie should laugh so much at a perfectly simple remark like that. Oh!
"Now, my child," said Mr. Prohack firmly. "Don't get into your head that
Sissie has gone off hers. Yesterday you thought for quite half an hour
that I was suffering from incipient lunacy. Let that suffice you for the
present. Be philosophical. The source of tranquillity is within.
Remember that, and remind me of it too, because I'm apt to forget it....
We can do nothing at the moment. I will now get up, and I warn you that
I shall want a large breakfast and you to pour out my coffee and read
the interesting bits out of _The Daily Picture_ to me."
At eleven o'clock of the morning the _status quo_ was still maintaining
itself within the noble mansion at Manchester Square. Mr. Prohack,
washed, dressed, and amply fed, was pretending to be very busy with
correspondence in his study, but he was in fact much more busy with Eve
than with the correspondence. She came in to him every few minutes, and
each time needed more delicate handling. After one visit Mr. Prohack had
an idea. He transferred the key from the inside to the outside of the
door. At the next visit Eve presented an ultimatum. She said that Mr.
Prohack must positively do something about his daughter. Mr. Prohack
replied that he would telephone to his solicitors: a project which
happily commended itself to Eve, though what his solicitors could do
except charge a fee Mr. Prohack could not imagine.
"You wait here," said he persuasively.
He then left the room and silently locked the door on Eve. It was a
monstrous act, but Mr. Prohack had slept too well and was too fully
inspired by the instinct of initiative. He hurried downstairs, ignoring
Brool, who was contemplating the grandeur of the entrance hall, snatched
his overcoat, hat, and umbrella from the seventeenth-century panelled
cupboard in which these articles were kept, and slipped away into the
Square, before Brool could even open the door for him. As he fled he
glanced up at the windows of his study, fearful lest Eve might have
divined his purpose to abandon her and, catching sight of him in flight,
might begin making noises on the locked door. But Eve had not divined
Mr. Prohack walked straight to Bruton Street, where Oswald Morfey's
Japanese flat was situated. Mr. Prohack had never seen this flat, though
his wife and daughter had been invited to it for tea--and had returned
therefrom with excited accounts of its exquisite uniqueness. He had
decided that his duty was to inform Ozzie of the mysterious
disappearance of Sissie as quickly as possible; and, as Ozzie's
theatrical day was not supposed to begin until noon, he hoped to catch
him before his departure to the beck and call of the mighty Asprey
The number in Bruton Street indicated a tall, thin house with four
bell-pushes and four narrow brass-plates on its door-jamb. The deceitful
edifice looked at a distance just like its neighbours, but, as the array
on the door-jamb showed, it had ceased to be what it seemed, the home of
a respectable Victorian family in easy circumstances, and had become a
Georgian warren for people who could reconcile themselves to a common
staircase provided only they might engrave a sound West End address on
their notepaper. The front-door was open, disclosing the reassuring fact
that the hall and staircase were at any rate carpeted. Mr. Prohack rang
the bell attached to Ozzie's name, waited, rang again, waited, and then
marched upstairs. Perhaps Ozzie was shaving. Not being accustomed to the
organisation of tenements in fashionable quarters, Mr. Prohack was
unaware that during certain hours of the day he was entitled to ring the
housekeeper's bell, on the opposite door-jamb, and to summon help from
As he mounted it the staircase grew stuffier and stuffier, but the
condition of the staircarpet improved. Mr. Prohack hated the place, and
at once determined to fight powerfully against Sissie's declared
intention of starting married life in her husband's bachelor-flat, for
the sake of economy. He would force the pair, if necessary, to accept
from him a flat rent-free, or he would even purchase for them one of
those bijou residences of which he had heard tell. He little dreamed
that this very house had once been described as a bijou residence. The
third floor landing was terribly small and dark, and Mr. Prohack could
scarcely decipher the name of his future son-in-law on the shabby
"This den would be dear at elevenpence three farthings a year," said he
to himself, and was annoyed because for months he had been picturing the
elegant Oswald as the inhabitant of something orientally and impeccably
luxurious, and he wondered that his women, as a rule so critical, had
breathed no word of the flat's deplorable approaches.
He rang the bell, and the bell made a violent and horrid sound, which
could scarcely fail to be heard throughout the remainder of the house.
No answer! Ozzie had gone. He descended the stairs, and on the
second-floor landing saw an old lady putting down a mat in front of an
open door. The old lady's hair was in curl-papers.
"I suppose," he ventured, raising his hat. "I suppose you don't happen
to know whether Mr. Morfey has gone out?"
The old lady scanned him before replying.
"He can't be gone out," she answered. "He's just been sweeping his floor
enough to wake the dead."
"Sweeping his floor!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack, shocked, thunderstruck. "I
understood these were service flats."
"So they are--in a way, but the housekeeper never gets up to this floor
before half past twelve; so it can't be the housekeeper. Besides, she's
gone out for me."
"Thank you," said Mr. Prohack, and remounted the staircase. His blood
was up. He would know the worst about the elegant Oswald, even if he had
to beat the door down. He was, however, saved from this extreme measure,
for when he aimlessly pushed against Oswald's door it opened.
He beheld a narrow passage, which in the matter of its decoration
certainly did present a Japanese aspect to Mr. Prohack, who, however,
had never been to Japan. Two doors gave off the obscure corridor. One of
these doors was open, and in the doorway could be seen the latter half
of a woman and the forward half of a carpet-brush. She was evidently
brushing the carpet of a room and gradually coming out of the room and
into the passage. She wore a large blue pinafore apron, and she was so
absorbed in her business that the advent of Mr. Prohack passed quite
unnoticed by her. Mr. Prohack waited. More of the woman appeared, and at
last the whole of her. She felt, rather than saw, the presence of a man
at the entrance, and she looked up, transfixed. A deep blush travelled
over all her features.
"How clever of you!" she said, with a fairly successful effort to be
"Good morning, my child," said Mr. Prohack, with a similar and equally
successful effort. "So you're cleaning Mr. Morfey's flat for him."
"Yes. And not before it needed it. Do come in and shut the door." Mr.
Prohack obeyed, and Sissie shed her pinafore apron. "Now we're quite
private. I think you'd better kiss me. I may as well tell you that I'm
fearfully happy--much more so than I expected to be at first."
Mr. Prohack again obeyed, and when he kissed his daughter he had an
almost entirely new sensation. The girl was far more interesting to him
than she had ever been. Her blush thrilled him.
"You might care to glance at that," said Sissie, with an affectation of
carelessness, indicating a longish, narrowish piece of paper covered
with characters in red and black, which had been affixed to the wall of
the passage with two pins. "We put it there--at least I did--to save
Mr. Prohack scanned the document. It began: "This is to certify--" and
it was signed by a "Registrar of births, deaths, and marriages."
"Yesterday, eh?" he ejaculated.
"Yes. Yesterday, at two o'clock. _Not_ at St George's and _not_ at St
Nicodemus's.... Well, you can say what you like, dad--"
"I'm not aware of having said anything yet," Mr. Prohack put in.
"You can say what you like, but what _did_ you expect me to do? It was
necessary to bring home to some people that this is the twentieth
century, not the nineteenth, and I think I've done it. And anyway what
are you going to do about it? Did you seriously suppose that I--_I_--was
going through all the orange-blossom rigmarole, voice that breathed o'er
Eden, fully choral, red carpet on the pavement, flowers, photographers,
vicar, vestry, _Daily Picture_, reception, congratulations, rice, old
shoes, going-away dress, 'Be kind to her, Ozzie.' Not much! And I don't
think. They say that girls love it and insist on it. Well, I don't, and
I know some others who don't, too. I think it's simply barbaric, worse
than a public funeral. Why, to my mind it's Central African; and that's
all there is to it. So there!" She laughed.
"Well," said Mr. Prohaek, holding his hat in his hand. "I'm a tolerably
two-faced person myself, but for sheer heartless duplicity I give you
the palm. You can beat me. Has it occurred to you that this dodge of
yours will cost you about fifty per cent of the wedding presents you
might otherwise have had?"
"It has," said Sissie. "That was one reason why we tried the dodge.
Nothing is more horrible than about fifty per cent of the wedding
presents that brides get in these days. And we've had the two finest
presents anybody could wish for."
"Yes, Ozzie gave me Ozzie, and I gave him me."
"I suppose the idea was yours?"
"Of course. Didn't I tell you yesterday that Ozzie's only function at my
wedding was to be indispensable. He was very much afraid at first when I
started on the scheme, but he soon warmed up to it. I'll give him credit
for seeing that secrecy was the only thing. If we'd announced it
beforehand, we should have been bound to be beaten. You see that
yourself, don't you, dearest? And after all, it's our affair and nobody
"That's just where you're wrong," said Mr. Prohack grandly. "A marriage,
even yours, is an affair of the State's. It concerns society. It is full
of reactions on society. And society has been very wise to invest it
with solemnity--and a certain grotesque quality. All solemnities are a
bit grotesque, and so they ought to be. All solemnities ought to produce
self-consciousness in the performers. As things are, you'll be ten years
in convincing yourself that you're really a married woman, and till the
day of your death, and afterwards, society will have an instinctive
feeling that there's something fishy about you, or about Ozzie. And it's
your own fault."
"Oh, dad! What a fraud you are!" And the girl smiled. "You know
perfectly well that if you'd been in my place, and had had the
pluck--which you wouldn't have had--you'd have done the same."
"I should," Mr. Prohack immediately admitted. "Because I always want to
be smarter than other people. It's a cheap ambition. But I should have
been wrong. And I'm exceedingly angry with you and I'm suffering from a
sense of outrage, and I should not be at all surprised if all is over
between us. The thing amounts to a scandal, and the worst of it is that
no satisfactory explanation of it can ever be given to the world. If
your Ozzie is up, produce him, and I'll talk to him as he's never been
talked to before. He's the elder, he's a man, and he's the most to
"Take your overcoat off," said Sissie laughing and kissing him again.
"And don't you dare to say a word to Ozzie. Besides, he isn't in. He's
gone off to business. He always goes at eleven-thirty punctually."
There was a pause.
"Well," said Mr. Prohack. "All I wish to state is that if you had a
feather handy, you could knock me down with it."
"I can see all over your face," Sissie retorted, "that you're so pleased
and relieved you don't know what to do with yourself."
Mr. Prohack perfunctorily denied this, but it was true. His relief that
the wedding lay behind instead of in front of him was immense, and his
spirits rose even higher than they had been when he first woke up. He
loathed all ceremonies, and the prospect of having to escort an
orange-blossom-laden young woman in an automobile to a fashionable
church, and up the aisle thereof, and raise his voice therein, and make
a present of her to some one else, and breathe sugary nothings to a
thousand gapers at a starchy reception,--this prospect had increasingly
become a nightmare to him. Often had he dwelt on it in a condition
resembling panic. And now he felt genuinely grateful to his inexcusable
daughter for her shameless effrontery. He desired greatly to do
something very handsome indeed for her and her excellent tame husband.
"Step in and see my home," she said.
The home consisted of two rooms, one of them a bedroom and the other a
sitting-room, together with a small bathroom that was as dark and dank
as a cell of the Spanish Inquisition, and another apartment which he
took for a cupboard, but which Sissie authoritatively informed him was a
kitchen. The two principal rooms were beyond question beautifully
Japanese in the matter of pictures, prints and cabinets--not otherwise.
They showed much taste; they were unusual and stimulating and jolly and
refined; but Mr. Prohack did not fancy that he personally could have
lived in them with any striking success. The lack of space, of light,
and of air outweighed all considerations of charm and originality; the
upper staircase alone would have ruined any flat for Mr. Prohack.
"Isn't it lovely!" Sissie encouraged him.
"Yes, it is," he said feebly. "Got any servants yet?"
"Oh! We can't have servants. No room for them to sleep, and I couldn't
stand charwomen. You see, it's a service flat, so there's really nothing
"So I noticed when I came in," said Mr. Prohack. "And I suppose you
intend to eat at restaurants. Or do they send up meals from the cellar?"
"We shan't go to restaurants," Sissie replied. "You may be sure of that.
Too expensive for us. And I don't count much on the cookery downstairs.
No! I shall do the cooking in a chaffing-dish--here it is, you see. I've
been taking lessons in chafing-dish cookery every day for weeks, and
it's awfully amusing, it is really. And it's much better than ordinary
cooking, and cheaper too. Ozzie loves it."
Mr. Prohack was touched, and more than ever determined to "be generous
in the grand manner and start the simple-minded couple in married life
on a scale befitting the general situation.
"You'll soon be clearing out of this place, I expect," he began
"Clearing out!" Sissie repeated. "Why should we? We've got all we need.
We haven't the slightest intention of trying to live as you live.
Ozzie's very prudent, I'm glad to say, and so am I. We're going to save
hard for a few years, and then we shall see how things are."
"But you can't possibly stay on living in a place like this!" Mr.
Prohack protested, smiling diplomatically to soften the effect of his
"But when you say me, do you mean your daughter or Ozzie's wife?
Ozzie's lived here for years, and he's given lots of parties
here--tea-parties, of course."
Mr. Prohack paused, perceiving that he had put himself in the wrong.
"This place is perfectly respectable," Sissie continued, "and supposing
you hadn't got all that money from America or somewhere," she persisted,
"would you have said that I couldn't 'possibly go on living in a place
like this?'" She actually imitated his superior fatherly tone. "You'd
have been only too pleased to see me living in a place like this."
Mr. Prohack raised both arms on high.
"All right," said the young spouse, absurdly proud of her position.
"I'll let you off with your life this time, and you can drop your arms
again. But if anybody had told me that you would come here and make a
noise like a plutocrat I wouldn't have believed it. Still, I'm
frightfully fond of you and I know you'd do anything for me, and you're
nearly as much of a darling as Ozzie, but you mustn't be a rich man when
you call on me here. I couldn't bear it twice."
"I retire in disorder, closely pursued by the victorious enemy," said
Mr. Prohack. And in so saying he accurately described the situation. He
had been more than defeated--he had been exquisitely snubbed. And yet
the singular creature was quite pleased. He looked at the young girl, no
longer his and no longer a girl either, set in the midst of a japanned
and lacquered room that so resembled Ozzie in its daintiness; he saw the
decision on her brow, the charm in her eyes, and the elegance in her
figure and dress, and he came near to bursting with pride. "She's got
character enough to beat even me," he reflected contentedly, thus
exhibiting an ingenuousness happily rare among fathers of brilliant
daughters. And even the glimpse of the cupboard kitchen, where the
washing-up after a chafing-dish breakfast for two had obviously not yet
been accomplished--even this touch seemed only to intensify the moral
and physical splendour of his child in her bridal setting.
"At the same time," he added to the admission of defeat, "I seem to have
a sort of idea that lately you've been carrying on rather like a
"That was only my last fling," she replied, quite unperturbed.
"I see," said Mr. Prohack musingly. "Now as regards my wedding present
to you. Am I permitted to offer any gift, or is it forbidden? Of course
with all my millions I couldn't hope to rival the gift which Ozzie gave
you, but I might come in a pretty fair second, mightn't I?"
"Dad," said she. "I must leave all that to your good taste. I'm sure
that it won't let you make any attack on our independence."
"Supposing that I were to find some capital for Ozzie to start in
business for himself as a theatrical manager? He must know a good deal
about the job by this time."
Sissie shook her delicious head.
"No, that would be plutocratic. And you see I've only just married
Ozzie. I don't know anything about him yet. When I do, I shall come and
talk to you. While you're waiting I wish you'd give me some crockery.
One breakfast cup isn't quite enough for two people, after the first
day. I saw a set of things in a shop in Oxford Street for L1. 19. 6
which I should love to have.... What's happened to the mater? Is she in
a great state about me? Hadn't you better run off and put her out of her
He went, thoughtful.
He was considerably dashed on his return home, to find the door of his
study still locked on the outside. The gesture which on his leaving the
room seemed so natural, brilliant and excusable, now presented itself to
him as the act of a coarse-minded idiot. He hesitated to unlock the
door, but of course he had to unlock it. Eve eat as if at the stake,
"Arthur, why do you play these tricks on me--and especially when we are
in such trouble?"
Why did he, indeed?
"I merely didn't want you to run after me," said he. "I made sure of
course that you'd ring the bell at once and have the door opened."
"Did you imagine for a moment that I would let any of the servants know
that you'd locked me in a room? No! You couldn't have imagined that.
I've too much respect for your reputation in this house to do such a
thing, and you ought to know it."
"My child," said Mr. Prohack, once again amazed at Eve's extraordinary
gift for putting him in the wrong, and for making him still more wrong
when he was wrong. "This is the second time this morning that I've had
to surrender to overwhelming force. Name your own terms of peace. But
let me tell you in extenuation that I've discovered your offspring. The
fact is, I got her in one."
"Where is she?" Eve asked, not eagerly, rather negligently, for she was
now more distressed about her husband's behaviour than about Sissie.
"At Ozzie's." As soon as he had uttered the words Mr. Prohack saw his
wife's interest fly back from himself to their daughter.
"What's she doing at Ozzie's?"
"Well, she's living with him. They were married yesterday. They thought
they'd save you and me and themselves a lot of trouble.... But, look
here, my child, it's not a tragedy. What's the matter with you?"
Eve's face was a mask of catastrophe. She did not cry. The affair went
too deep for tears.
"I suppose I shall have to forgive Sissie--some day; but I've never been
so insulted in my life. Never! And never shall I forget it! And I've no
doubt that you and Sissie treated it all as a great piece of fun. You
The poor lady had gone as pale as ivory. Mr. Prohack was astonished--he
even felt hurt--that he had not seen the thing from Eve's point of view
earlier. Emphatically it did amount to an insult for Eve, to say naught
of the immense desolating disappointment to her. And yet Sissie,
princess among daughters, had not shown by a single inflection of her
voice that she had any sympathy with her mother, or any genuine
appreciation of what the secret marriage would mean to her. Youth was
incredibly cruel; and age too, in the shape of Mr. Prohack himself, had
not been much less cruel.
"Something's happened about that necklace since you left," said Eve, in
a dull, even voice.
"I don't know. But I saw Mr. Crewd the detective drive up to the house
at a great pace. Then Brool came and knocked here, and as I didn't care
to have to tell him that the door was locked, I kept quiet and he went
away again. Mr. Crewd went away too. I saw him drive away."
Mr. Prohack said nothing audible, but to himself he said: "She actually
choked off her curiosity about the necklace so as not to give me away!
There could never have been another woman like her in the whole history
of human self-control! She's prodigious!"
And then he wondered what could have happened in regard to the necklace.
He foresaw more trouble there. And the splendour of the morning had
faded. An appalling silence descended upon the whole house. To escape
from its sinister spell Mr. Prohack departed and sought the seclusion of
his secondary club, which he had not entered for a very long time. (He
dared not face the lively amenities of his principal club.) He
pretended, at the secondary club, that he had never ceased to frequent
the place regularly, and to that end he put on a nonchalant air; but he
was somewhat disconcerted to find, from the demeanour of his
acquaintances there, that he positively had not been missed to any
appreciable extent. He decided that the club was a dreary haunt, and
could not understand why he had never before perceived its dreariness.
The members seemed to be scarcely alive; and in particular they seemed
to have conspired together to behave and talk as though humanity
consisted of only one sex,--their own. Mr. Prohack, worried though he
was by a too acute realisation of the fact that humanity did indeed
consist of two sexes, despised the lot of them. And yet simultaneously
the weaker part of him envied them, and he fully admitted, in the
abstract, that something might convincingly be said in favour of
monasteries. It was a most strange experience.
After a desolating lunch of excellent dishes, perfect coffee which left
a taste in his mouth, and a fine cigar which he threw away before it was
half finished, he abandoned the club and strolled in the direction of
Manchester Square. But he lacked the courage to go into the noble
mansion, and feebly and aimlessly proceeded northward until he arrived
at Marylebone Road and saw the great historic crimson building of Madame
Tussaud's Waxworks. His mood was such that he actually, in a wild and
melancholy caprice, paid money to enter this building and enquired at
once for the room known as the Chamber of Horrors.... When he emerged
his gloom had reached the fantastic, hysteric, or giggling stage, and
his conception of the all-embracingness of London was immensely
"Miss Sissie and Mr. Morfey are with Mrs. Prohack, sir," said Brool, in
a quite ordinary tone, taking the hat and coat of his returned master in
the hall of the noble mansion.
Mr. Prohack started.
"Give me back my hat and coat," said he. "Tell your mistress that I may
not be in for dinner." And he fled.
He could not have assisted at the terrible interview between Eve and the
erring daughter who had inveigled her own betrothed into a premature
marriage. Sissie at any rate had pluck, and she must also have had an
enormous moral domination over Ozzie to have succeeded in forcing him
to join her in a tragic scene. What a honeymoon! To what a pass had
society come! Mr. Prohack drove straight to the Monument, and paid more
money for the privilege of climbing it. He next visited the Tower. The
day seemed to consist of twenty-four thousand hours. He dined at the
Trocadero Restaurant, solitary at a table under the shadow of the bass
fiddle of the orchestra; and finally he patronised Maskelyne and Cook's
entertainment, and witnessed the dissipation of solid young women into
air. He reached home, as it was humorously called, at ten thirty.
"Mrs. Prohack has retired for the night, sir," said Brool, who never
permitted his employers merely to go to bed, "and wishes not to be
"Thank God!" breathed Mr. Prohack.
"Yes, sir," said Brool, dutifully acquiescent.
The next morning Eve behaved to her husband exactly as if nothing
untoward had happened. She kissed and was kissed. She exhibited
sweetness without gaiety, and a general curiosity without interest. She
said not a word concerning the visit of Sissie and Ozzie. She expressed
the hope that Mr. Prohack had had a pleasant evening and slept well. Her
anxiety to be agreeable to Mr. Prohack was touching,--it was angelic. To
the physical eye all was as usual, but Mr. Prohack was aware that in a
single night she had built a high and unscalable wall between him and
her; a wall which he could see through and which he could kiss through,
but which debarred him utterly from her. And yet what sin had he
committed against her, save the peccadillo of locking her for an hour or
two in a comfortable room? It was Sissie, not he, who had committed the
sin. He wanted to point this out to Eve, but he appreciated the entire
futility of doing so and therefore refrained. About eleven o'clock Eve
knocked at and opened his study door.
"May I come in--or am I disturbing you?" she asked brightly.
"Don't be a silly goose," said Mr. Prohack, whose rising temper--he
hated angels--was drowning his tact. Smiling as though he had thrown her
a compliment, Eve came in, and shut the door.
"I've just received this," she said. "It came by messenger." And she
handed him a letter signed with the name of Crewd, the private
detective. The letter ran: "Madam, I beg to inform you that I have just
ascertained that the driver of taxi No. 5437 has left at New Scotland
Yard a pearl necklace which he found in his vehicle. He states that he
drove a lady and gentleman from your house to Waterloo Station on the
evening of your reception, but can give no description of them. I
mention the matter _pro forma_, but do not anticipate that it can
interest you as the police authorities at New Scotland Yard declare the
pearls to be false. Yours obediently.... P.S. I called upon you in order
to communicate the above facts yesterday, but you were not at home."
Mr. Prohack turned a little pale, and his voice trembled as he said,
looking up from the letter:
"I wonder who the thief was. Anyhow, women are staggering. Here some
woman--I'm sure it was the woman and not the man--picks up a necklace
from the floor of one of your drawing-rooms, well knowing it not to be
her own, hides it, makes off with it, and then is careless enough to
leave it in a taxi! Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"But that wasn't my necklace, Arthur!" said Eve.
"Of course it was your necklace," said Mr. Prohack.
"Do you mean to tell me--" Eve began, and it was a new Eve.
"Of course I do!" said Mr. Prohack, who had now thoroughly subdued his
temper in the determination to bring to a head that trouble about the
necklace and end it for ever. He was continuing his remarks when the
wall suddenly fell down with an unimaginable crash. Eve said nothing,
but the soundless crash deafened Mr. Prohack. Nevertheless the mere fact
that Sissie's wedding lay behind and not before him, helped him somewhat
to keep his spirits and his nerve.
"I will never forgive you, Arthur!" said Eve with the most solemn and
terrible candour. She no longer played a part; she was her formidable
self, utterly unmasked and savagely expressive without any regard to
consequences. Mr. Prohack saw that he was engaged in a mortal duel, with
the buttons off the deadly foils.
"Of course you won't," said he, gathering himself heroically together,
and superbly assuming a calm which he did not in the least feel. "Of
course you won't, because there is nothing to forgive. On the contrary,
you owe me your thanks. I never deceived you. I never told you the
pearls were genuine. Indeed I beg to remind you that I once told you
positively that I would never buy you a _pearl_ necklace,--don't you
remember? You thought they were genuine, and you have had just as much
pleasure out of them as if they had been genuine. You were always
careless with your jewellery. Think how I should have suffered if I had
watched you every day being careless with a rope of genuine pearls! I
should have had no peace of mind. I should have been obliged to reproach
you, and as you can't bear to be reproached you would have picked
quarrels with me. Further, you have lost nothing in prestige, for the
reason that all our friends and acquaintances have naturally assumed
that the pearls were genuine because they were your pearls and you were
the wife of a rich man. A woman whose husband's financial position is
not high and secure is bound to wear real pearls because people will
_assume_ that her pearls are false. But a woman like yourself can wear
any pinchbeak pearls with impunity because people _assume_ that her
pearls are genuine. In your case there could be no advantage whatever in
genuine pearls. To buy them would be equivalent to throwing money in the
street. Now, as it is, I have saved money over the pearls, and therefore
interest on money, though I did buy you the very finest procurable
imitations! And think, my child, how relieved you are now,--oh, yes! you
are, so don't pretend the contrary: I can deceive you, but you can't
deceive me. You have no grievance whatever. You have had many hours of
innocent satisfaction in your false jewels, and nobody is any the worse.
Indeed my surpassing wisdom in the choice of a necklace has saved you
from all further worry about the loss of the necklace, because it simply
doesn't matter either one way or the other, and I say I defy you to
stand there and tell me to my face that you have any grievance at all."
Mr. Prohack paused for a reply, and he got it.
"I will never forgive you as long as I live," said Eve. "Let us say no
more about it. What time is that awful lunch that you've arranged with
that dreadful Bishop man? And what would you like me to wear, please?"
In an instant she had rebuilt the wall, higher than ever.
Mr. Prohack, always through the wall, took her in his arms and kissed
her. But he might as well have kissed a woman in a trance. All that
could be said was that Eve submitted to his embrace, and her attitude
was another brilliant illustration of the fact that the most powerful
oriental tyrants can be defied by their weakest slaves, provided that
the weakest slaves know how to do it.
"You are splendid!" said Mr. Prohack, admiringly, conscious anew of his
passion for her and full of trust in the virtue of his passion to knock
down the wall sooner or later. "But you are a very naughty and
ungrateful creature, and you must be punished. I will now proceed to
punish you. We have much to do before the lunch. Go and get ready, and
simply put on all the clothes that have cost the most money. They are
the clothes fittest for your punishment."
Three-quarters of an hour later, when Mr. Prohack had telephoned and
sent a confirmatory note by hand to his bank, Carthew drove them away
southwards, and the car stopped in front of the establishment of a very
celebrated firm of jewellers near Piccadilly.
"Come along," said Mr. Prohack, descending to the pavement, and drew
after him a moving marble statue, richly attired. They entered the
glittering shop, and were immediately encountered by an expectant
salesman who had the gifts of wearing a frock-coat as though he had been
born in it, and of reading the hearts of men. That salesman saw in a
flash that big business was afoot.
"First of all," said Mr. Prohack. "Here is my card, so that we may know
where we stand."
The salesman read the card and was suitably impressed, but his
conviction that big business was afoot seemed now to be a little shaken.
"May I venture to hope that the missing necklace has been found, sir?"
said the salesman smoothly. "We've all been greatly interested in the
"That is beside the point," said Mr. Prohack. "I've come simply to buy a
"I beg pardon, sir. Certainly. Will you have the goodness to step this
They were next in a private room off the shop; and the sole items of
furniture were three elegant chairs, a table with a glass top, and a
colossal safe. Another salesman entered the room with bows, and keys
were produced, and the two salesmen between them swung back the majestic
dark green doors of the safe. In another minute various pearl necklaces
were lying on the table. The spectacle would have dazzled a connoisseur
in pearls; but Mr. Prohack was not a connoisseur; he was not even
interested in pearls, and saw on the table naught but a monotonous array
of pleasing gewgaws, to his eye differing one from another only in size.
He was, however, actuated by a high moral purpose, which uplifted him
and enabled him to listen with dignity to the technical eulogies given
by the experts. Eve of course behaved with impeccable correctness,
hiding the existence of the wall from everybody except Mr. Prohack, but
forcing Mr. Prohack to behold the wall all the time.
When he had reached a state of complete bewilderment regarding the
respective merits of the necklaces, Mr. Prohack judged the moment ripe
for proceeding to business. With his own hands he clasped a necklace
round his wife's neck, and demanded:
"What is the price of this one?"
"Eight hundred and fifty pounds," answered the principal expert, who
seemed to recognise every necklace at sight as a shepherd recognises
every sheep in his flock.
"Do you think this would suit you, my dear?" asked Mr. Prohack.
"I think so," replied Eve politely.
"Well, I'm not so sure," said Mr. Prohack, reflectively. "What about
this one?" And he picked up and tried upon Eve another and a larger
"That," said the original expert, "is two thousand four hundred
"It seems cheap," said Mr. Prohack carelessly. "But there's something
about the gradation that I don't quite like. What about this one?"
Eve opened her mouth, as if about to speak, but she did not speak. The
wall, which had trembled for a few seconds, regained its monumental
"Five thousand guineas," said the expert of the third necklace.
"Hm!" commented Mr. Prohack, removing the gewgaw. "Yes. Not so bad. And
"That necklace," the expert announced with a mien from which all
deference had vanished, "is one of the most perfect we have. The pearls
have, if I may so express it, a homogeneity not often arrived at in any
necklace. They are not very large of course--"
"Quite so," Mr. Prohack stopped him, selecting a fourth necklace.
"Yes," the expert admitted, his deference returning. "That one is
undoubtedly superior. Let me see, we have not yet exactly valued it, but
I think we could put it in at ten thousand guineas--perhaps pounds. I
should have to consult one of the partners."
"It is scarcely," said Mr. Prohack, surveying the trinket judicially on
his wife's neck, "scarcely the necklace of my dreams,--not that I would
say a word against it.... Ah!" And he pounced suddenly, with an air of
delighted surprise, upon a fifth necklace, the queen of necklaces.
"My dear, try this one. Try this one. I didn't notice it before. Somehow
it takes my fancy, and as I shall obviously see much more of your
necklace than you will, I should like my taste to be consulted."
As he fastened the catch of the thing upon Eve's delicious nape, he
could feel that she was trembling. He surveyed the dazzling string. She
also surveyed it, fascinated, spellbound. Even Mr. Prohack began to
perceive that the reputation and value of fine pearls might perhaps be
not entirely unmerited in the world.
"Sixteen thousand five hundred," said the expert.
"Pounds or guineas?" Mr. Prohack blandly enquired.
"Well, sir, shall we say pounds?"
"I think I will take it," said Mr. Prohack with undiminished blandness.
"No, my dear, don't take it off. Don't take it off."
"Arthur!" Eve breathed, seeming to expire in a kind of agonised protest.
"May I have a few minutes' private conversation with my wife?" Mr.
Prohack suggested. "Could you leave us?" One expert glanced at the other
"Pardon my lack of savoir vivre," said Mr. Prohack. "Of course you
cannot possibly leave us alone with all these valuables. Never mind! We
will call again."
The principal expert rose sublimely to the great height of the occasion.
He had a courageous mind and was moreover well acquainted with the
fantastic folly of allowing customers to call again. Within his
experience of some thirty years he had not met half a dozen exceptions
to the rule that customers who called again, if ever they did call,
called in a mood of hard and miserly sanity which for the purposes of
the jewellery business was sickeningly inferior to their original mood.
"Please, please, Mr. Prohack!" said he, with grand deprecation, and
departed out of the room with his fellow.
No sooner had they gone than the wall sank. It did not tumble with a
crash; it most gently subsided.
"Arthur!" Eve exclaimed, with a curious uncertainty of voice. "Are you
"Yes," said Mr. Prohack.
"Well," said she. "If you think I shall walk about London with sixteen
thousand five hundred pounds round my neck you're mistaken."
"But I insist! You were a martyr and our marriage was ruined because I
didn't give you real pearls. I intend you shall have real pearls."
"But not these," said Eve. "It's too much. It's a fortune."
"I am aware of that," Mr. Prohack agreed. "But what is sixteen thousand
five hundred pounds to me?"
"Truly I couldn't, darling," Eve wheedled.
"I am not your darling," said Mr. Prohack. "How can I be your darling
when you're never going to forgive me? Look here. I'll let you choose
another necklace, but only on the condition that you forgive all my
alleged transgressions, past, present and to come."
She kissed him.
"You can have the one at five thousand guineas," said Mr. Prohack.
"Nothing less. That is my ultimatum. Put it on. Put it on, quick! Or I
may change my mind."
He recalled the experts who, when they heard the grave news, smiled
bravely, and looked upon Eve as upon a woman whose like they might never
"My wife will wear the necklace at once," said Mr. Prohack. "Pen and
ink, please." He wrote a cheque. "My car is outside. Perhaps you will
send some one up to my bank immediately and cash this. We will wait. I
have warned the bank. There will be no delay. The case can be delivered
at my house. You can make out the receipt and usual guarantee while
we're waiting." And so it occurred as he had ordained.
"Would you care for us to arrange for the insurance? We undertake to do
it as cheaply as anybody," the expert suggested, later.
Mr. Prohack was startled, for in his inexperience he had not thought of
"I was just going to suggest it," he answered placidly.
"I feel quite queer," said Eve, as she fingered the necklace, in the
car, when all formalities were accomplished and they had left the cave
"And well you may, my child," said Mr. Prohack. "The interest on the
price of that necklace would about pay the salary of a member of
Parliament or even of a professional cricketer. And remember that
whenever you wear the thing you are in danger of being waylaid, brutally
attacked, and robbed."
"I wish you wouldn't be silly," Eve murmured. "I do hope I shan't seem
self-conscious at the lunch."
"We haven't reached the lunch yet," Mr. Prohack replied. "We must go and
buy a safe first. There's no safe worth twopence in the house, and a
really safe safe is essential. And I want it to be clearly understood
that I shall keep the key of that safe. We aren't playing at necklaces
now. Life is earnest."
And when they had bought a safe and were once more in the car, he said,
examining her impartially: "After all, at a distance of four feet it
doesn't look nearly so grand as the one that's lying at Scotland Yard--I
gave thirty pounds for that one."
MR. PROHACK'S TRIUMPH
"And where is your charming daughter?" asked Mr. Softly Bishop so gently
of Eve, when he had greeted her, and quite incidentally Mr. Prohack, in
the entrance hall of the Grand Babylon Hotel. He was alone--no sign of
"Sissie?" said Eve calmly. "I haven't the slightest idea."
"But I included her in my invitations--and Mr. Morfey too."
Mr. Prohack was taken aback, foreseeing the most troublesome
complications; and he glanced at Eve as if for guidance and support. He
was nearly ready to wish that after all Sissie had not gone and got
married secretly and prematurely. Eve, however, seemed quite
undisturbed, though she offered him neither guidance nor support.
"Surely," said Mr. Prohack hesitatingly, "surely you didn't mention
Sissie in your letter to me!"
"Naturally I didn't, my dear fellow," answered Mr. Bishop. "I wrote to
her separately, knowing the position taken up by the modern young lady.
And she telephoned me yesterday afternoon that she and Morfey would be
delighted to come."
"Then if you know so much about the modern young lady," said Eve, with
bright and perfect self-possession, "you wouldn't expect my daughter to
arrive with her parents, would you?"
Mr. Softly Bishop laughed.
"You're only putting off the evil moment," said Mr. Prohack in the
silence of his mind to Eve, and similarly he said to Mr. Softly Bishop:
"I do wish you wouldn't call me 'my dear fellow.' True, I come to your
lunch, but I'm not your dear fellow and I never will be."
"I invited your son also, Prohack," continued Mr. Bishop. "Together with
Miss Winstock or Warburton--she appears to have two names--to make a
pair, to make a pair you understand. But unfortunately he's been
suddenly called out of town on the most urgent business." As he uttered
these last words Mr. Bishop glanced in a peculiar manner partly at his
nose and partly at Mr. Prohack; it was a singular feat of glancing, and
Mr. Prohack uncomfortably wondered what it meant, for Charles lay
continually on Mr. Prohack's chest, and at the slightest provocation
Charles would lie more heavily than usual.
"Am I right in assuming that the necklace affair is satisfactorily
settled?" Mr. Softly Bishop enquired, his spectacles gleaming and
blinking at the adornment of Eve's neck.
"You are," said Eve. "But it wouldn't be advisable for you to be too
curious about details."
Her aplomb, her sangfroid, astounded Mr. Prohack--and relieved him. With
an admirable ease she went on to congratulate their host upon his
engagement, covering him with petals of flattery and good wishes. Mr.
Prohack could scarcely recognise his wife, and he was not sure that he
liked her new worldiness quite as much as her old ingenuous and
sometimes inarticulate simplicity. At any rate she was a changed woman.
He steadied himself, however, by a pertinent reflection: she was always
a changed woman.
Then Sissie and Ozzie appeared, looking as though they had been married
for years. Mr. Prohack's heart began to beat. Ignoring Mr. Softly
Bishop, Sissie embraced her mother with prim affectionateness, and Eve
surveyed her daughter with affectionate solicitude. Mr. Prohack felt
that he would never know what had passed between these two on the
previous day, for they were a pair of sphinxes when they chose, and he
was too proud to encourage confidences from Ozzie. Whatever it might
have been it was now evidently buried deep, and the common life, after a
terrible pause, had resumed.
"How do you do, Miss Prohack," said Mr. Softly Bishop, greeting. "So
glad you could come."
Mr. Prohack suspected that his cheeks were turning pale, and was ashamed
of himself. Even Sissie, for all her young, hard confidence, wavered.
But Eve stepped in.
"Don't you know, Mr. Bishop?--No, of course you don't. We ought to have
told you. My daughter is now Mrs. Morfey. You see in our family we all
have such a horror of the conventional wedding and reception and formal
honeymoon and so on, that we decided the marriage should be strictly
private, with no announcements of any kind. I really think you are the
first to know. One thing I've always liked about actresses is that in
the afternoon you can read of them getting married that day and then go
and see them play the same evening. It seems to me so sensible. And as
we were all of the same opinion at our house, especially Sissie and her
father, there was no difficulty."
"Upon my word," said Mr. Softly Bishop shaking hands with Ozzie. "I
believe I shall follow your example."
Mr. Prohack sank into a chair.
"I feel rather faint," he said. "Bishop, do you think we might have a
cocktail or so?"
"My dear fellow, how thoughtless of me! Of course! Waiter! Waiter!" As
Mr. Bishop swung round in the direction of waiters Eve turned in alarm
to Mr. Prohack. Mr. Prohack with much deliberation winked at her, and
she drew back. "Yes," he murmured. "You'll be the death of me one day,
and then you'll be sorry."
"I don't think a cocktail is at all a good thing for you, dad," Sissie
The arrival of Miss Fancy provided a distraction more agreeable than Mr.
Prohack thought possible; he positively welcomed the slim, angular
blonde, for she put an end to a situation which, prolonged another
moment, would have resulted in a severe general constraint.
"You're late, my dear," said Mr. Softly Bishop, firmly.
The girl's steely blue-eyed glance shot out at the greeting, but seemed
to drop off flatly from Mr. Bishop's adamantine spectacles like a bullet
from Bessemer armour.
"Am I?" she replied uncertainly, in her semi-American accent. "Where's
the ladies' cloakroom of this place?"
"I'll show you," said Mr. Bishop, with no compromise.
The encounter was of the smallest, but it made Mr. Prohack suspect that
perhaps Mr. Bishop was not after all going into the great warfare of
matrimony blindly or without munitions.
"I've taken the opportunity to tell Miss Fancy that she will be the only
unmarried woman, at my lunch," said Mr. Bishop amusingly, when he
returned from piloting his beloved. A neat fellow, beyond question!
Miss Fancy had apparently to re-dress herself, judging from the length
of her absence. The cocktails, however, beguiled the suspense.
"Is this for me?" she asked, picking up a full glass when she came back.
"No, my dear," said Mr. Bishop. "It isn't. We will go in to lunch." And
they went in to lunch, leaving unconsumed the cocktail which the
abstemious and spartan Sissie had declined to drink.
"I suppose you've been to see the Twelve and Thirteen," said Eve, in her
new grand, gracious manner to Miss Fancy, when the party was seated at a
round, richly-flowered table specially reserved by Mr. Softly Bishop on
the Embankment front of the restaurant, and the hors d'oeuvre had begun
to circulate on the white cloth, which was as crowded as the gold room.
"I'm afraid I haven't," muttered Miss Fancy weakly but with due
refinement. The expression of fear was the right expression. Eve had put
the generally brazen woman in a fright at the first effort. And the
worst was that Miss Fancy did not even know what the Twelve and Thirteen
was--or were. At the opening of her debut at what she imagined to be the
great, yet exclusive, fashionable world, Miss Fancy was failing. Of what
use to be perfectly dressed and jewelled, to speak with a sometimes
carefully-corrected accent, to sit at the best table in the London
restaurant most famous in the United States, to be affianced to the
cleverest fellow she had ever struck, if the wonderful and famous
hostess, Mrs. Prohack, whose desirable presence was due only to Softly's
powerful influence in high circles, could floor her at the very outset
of the conversation? It is a fact that Miss Fancy would have given the
emerald ring off her left first-finger to be able to answer back. All
Miss Fancy could do was to smite Mr. Softly Bishop with a homicidal
glance for that he had not in advance put her wise about something
called the Twelve and Thirteen. It is also a fact that Miss Fancy would
have perished sooner than say to Mrs. Prohack the simple words: "I
haven't the slightest idea what the Twelve and Thirteen are." Eve did
not disguise her impression that Miss Fancy's lapse was very strange and
"I suppose you've seen the new version of the 'Sacre du Prin-temps,'
Miss Fancy," said Mrs. Oswald Morfey, that exceedingly modern and
self-possessed young married lady.
"Not yet," said Miss Fancy, and foolishly added: "We were thinking of
"There won't be any more performances this season," said Ozzie, that
prince of authorities on the universe of entertainment.
And in this way the affair continued between the four, while Mr. Softly
Bishop, abandoning his beloved to her fate, chatted murmuringly with Mr.
Prohack about the Oil Market, as to which of course Mr. Prohack was the
prince of authorities. Mrs. Prohack and her daughter and son-in-law
ranged at ease over all the arts without exception, save the one
art--that of musical comedy--in which Miss Fancy was versed. Mr. Prohack
was amazed at the skilled cruelty of his women. He wanted to say to Miss
Fancy: "Don't you believe it! My wife is only a rather nice ordinary
housekeeping sort of little woman, and as for my daughter, she cooks her
husband's meals--and jolly badly, I bet." He ought to have been pleased
at the discomfiture of Miss Fancy, whom he detested and despised; but he
was not; he yearned to succour her; he even began to like her.
And not Eve and Sissie alone amazed him. Oswald amazed him. Oswald had
changed. His black silk stock had gone the way of his ribboned
eye-glass; his hair was arranged differently; he closely resembled an
average plain man,--he, the unique Ozzie! With all his faults, he had
previously been both good-natured and negligent, but his expression was
now one of sternness and of resolute endeavour. Sissie had already
metamorphosed him. Even now he was obediently following her lead and her
mood. Mr. Prohack's women had evidently determined to revenge themselves
for being asked to meet Miss Fancy at lunch, and Ozzie had been set on
to assist them. Further, Mr. Prohack noticed that Sissie was eyeing her
mother's necklace with a reprehending stare. The next instant he found
himself the target of the same stare. The girl was accusing him of
folly, while questioning Ozzie's definition of the difference between
Georgian and neo-Georgian verse. The girl had apparently become the
censor of society at large.
Mysterious cross-currents ran over the table in all directions. Mr.
Prohack looked around the noisy restaurant packed with tables, and
wondered whether cross-currents were running invisibly over all the
tables, and what was the secret force of fashionable fleeting convention
which enabled women with brains far inferior to his own to use it
effectively for the fighting of sanguinary battles.
At last, when Miss Fancy had been beaten into silence and the other
three were carrying on a brilliant high-browed conversation over the
corpse of her up-to-dateness, Mr. Prohack's nerves reached the point at
which he could tolerate the tragic spectacle no more, and he burst out
vulgarly, in a man-in-the-street vein, chopping off the brilliant
conversation as with a chopper:
"Now, Miss Fancy, tell us something about yourself."
The common-sounding phrase seemed to be a magic formula endowed with the
power to break an awful spell. Miss Fancy gathered herself together,
forgot that she had been defeated, and inaugurated a new battle. She
began to tell the table not something, but almost everything, about
herself, and it soon became apparent that she was no ordinary woman.
She had never had a set-back; in innumerable conversational duels she
had always given the neat and deadly retort, and she had never been
worsted, save by base combinations deliberately engineered against
her--generally by women, whom as a sex she despised even more than men.
Her sincere belief that no biographical detail concerning Miss Fancy was
too small to be uninteresting to the public amounted to a religious
creed; and her memory for details was miraculous. She recalled the exact
total of the takings at any given performance in which she was prominent
in any city of the United States, and she could also give long extracts
from the favourable criticisms of countless important American
newspapers,--by a singular coincidence only unimportant newspapers had
ever mingled blame with their praise of her achievements. She regarded
herself with detachment as a remarkable phenomenon, and therefore she
could impersonally describe her career without any of the ordinary
restraints--just as a shopman might clothe or unclothe a model in his
window. Thus she could display her heart and its history quite
unreservedly,--did they not belong to the public?
The astounded table learnt that Miss Fancy was illustrious in the press
of the United States as having been engaged to be married more often
than any other actress. Yet she had never got as far as the altar,
though once she had reached the church-door--only to be swept away from
it by a cyclone which unhappily finished off the bridegroom. (What grey
and tedious existences Eve and Sissie had led!) Her penultimate
engagement had been to the late Silas Angmering.
"Something told me I should never be his wife," she said vivaciously.
"You know the feeling we women have. And I wasn't much surprised to hear
of his death. I'd refused Silas eight times; then in the end I promised
to marry him by a certain date. He _wouldn't_ take No, poor dear! Well,
_he_ was a gentleman anyway. Of course it was no more than right that he
should put me down in his will, but not every man would have done. In
fact it never happened to me before. Wasn't it strange I should have
that feeling about never being his wife?"
She glanced eagerly at Mr. Prohack and Mr. Prohack's women, and there
was a pause, in which Mr. Softly Bishop said, affectionately regarding
"Well, my dear, you'll be _my_ wife, you'll find," and he uttered this
observation in a sharp tone of conviction that made a quite disturbing
impression on the whole company, and not least on Mr. Prohack, who kept
asking himself more and more insistently:
"Why is Softly Bishop marrying Miss Fancy, and why is Miss Fancy
marrying Softly Bishop?"
Mr. Prohack was interrupted in his private enquiry into this enigma by a
very unconventional nudge from Sissie, who silently directed his
attention to Eve, who seemingly wanted it.
"Your friend seems anxious to speak to you," murmured Eve, in a low,
rather roguish voice.
'His friend' was Lady Massulam, who was just concluding a solitary lunch
at a near table; he had not noticed her, being still sadly remiss in the
business of existing fully in a fashionable restaurant. Lady Massulam's
eyes confirmed Eve's statement.
"I'm sure Miss Fancy will excuse you for a moment," said Eve.
"Oh! Please!" implored Miss Fancy, grandly.
Mr. Prohack self-consciously carried his lankness and his big head
across to Lady Massulam's table. She looked up at him with a composed
but romantic smile. That is to say that Mr. Prohack deemed it romantic;
and he leaned over the table and over Lady Massulam in a manner romantic
"I'm just going off," said she.
Simple words, from a portly and mature lady--yet for Mr. Prohack they
were charged with all sorts of delicious secondary significances.
"What _is_ the difference between her and Eve?" he asked himself, and
then replied to the question in a flash of inspiration: "I am romantic
to her, and I am not romantic to Eve." He liked this ingenious
"I wanted to tell you," said she gravely, with beautiful melancholy,
"Charles is _flambe_. He is done in. I cannot help him. He will not let
me; but if I see him to-night when he returns to town I shall send him
to you. He is very young, very difficult, but I shall insist that he
goes to you."
"How kind you are!" said Mr. Prohack, touched.
Lady Massulam rose, shook hands, seemed to blush, and departed. An
interview as brief as it had been strange! Mr. Prohack was thrilled, not
at all by the announcement of Charlie's danger, perhaps humiliation, but
by the attitude of Lady Massulam. He had his plans for Charlie. He had
no plans affecting Lady Massulam.
Mr. Softly Bishop's luncheon had developed during the short absence of
Mr. Prohack. It's splendour, great from the first, had increased; if
tables ever do groan, which is perhaps doubtful, the table was certainly
groaning; Mr. Softly Bishop was just dismissing, with bland and
negligent approval, the major domo of the restaurant, with whom, like
all truly important personages, he appeared to be on intimate terms. But
the chief development of the luncheon disclosed itself in the
conversation. Mr. Softly Bishop had now taken charge of the talk and was
expatiating to a hushed and crushed audience his plans for a starring
world-tour for his future wife, who listened to them with genuine
admiration on her violet-tinted face.
"Eliza won't be in it with me when I come back," she exclaimed suddenly,
with deep conviction, with anticipatory bliss, with a kind of rancorous
Mr. Prohack understood. Miss Fancy was uncompromisingly jealous of her
half-sister's renown. To outdo that renown was the main object of her
life, and Mr. Softly Bishop's claim on her lay in the fact that he had
shown her how to accomplish her end and was taking charge of the
arrangements. Mr. Softly Bishop was her trainer and her manager; he had
dazzled her by the variety and ingenuity of his resourceful schemes; and
his power over her was based on a continual implied menace that if she
did not strictly obey all his behests she would fail to realise her
And when Mr. Softly Bishop gradually drew Ozzie into a technical
tete-a-tete, Mr. Prohack understood further why Ozzie had been invited
to the feast. Upon certain branches of Mr. Bishop's theatrical schemes
Ozzie was an acknowledged expert, and Mr. Bishop was obtaining, for the
price of a luncheon, the fruity knowledge and wisdom acquired by Ozzie
during long years of close attention to business.
For Mr. Prohack it was an enthralling scene. The luncheon closed
gorgeously upon the finest cigars and cigarettes, the finest coffee, and
the finest liqueurs that the unique establishment could provide. Sissie
refused every allurement except coffee, and Miss Fancy was permitted
nothing but coffee.
"Do not forget your throat, my dear," Mr. Softly Bishop authoritatively
interjected into Miss Fancy's circumstantial recital of the
expensiveness of the bouquets which had been hurled at her in the New
National Theatre at Washington.
"And by the way," (looking at his watch), "do not forget the appointment
with the elocutionist."
"But aren't you coming with me?" demanded Miss Fancy alarmed. Already
she was learning the habit of helplessness--so attractive to men and so
useful to them.
These remarks broke up the luncheon party, which all the guests assured
the deprecating host had been perfectly delightful, with the implied
addition that it had also constituted the crown and summit of their
careers. Eve and Sissie were prodigious in superlatives to such an
extent that Mr. Prohack began to fear for Mr. Softly Bishop's capacity
to assimilate the cruder forms of flattery. His fear, however, was
unnecessary. When the host and his beloved departed Miss Fancy was still
recounting tit-bits of her biography.
"But I'll tell you the rest another time," she cried from the moving
She had emphatically won the second battle. From the first blow she had
never even looked like losing. And she had shown no mercy, quite
properly following the maxim that war is war. Eve and Sissie seemed to
rise with difficulty to their knees, after the ruthless adversary, tired
of standing on their prostrate form, had scornfully walked away.
"Well!" sighed Mrs. Prohack, with the maximum of expressiveness,
glancing at her daughter as one woman of the world at another. They were
lingering, as it were convalescent after the severe attack and defeat,
in the foyer of the hotel.
"Well!" sighed Sissie, flattered by the glance, and firmly taking her
place in the fabric of society. "Well, father, we always knew you had
some queer friends, but really these were the limit! And the
extravagance of the thing! That luncheon must have cost at least twenty
pounds,--and I do believe he had special flowers, too. When I think of
the waste of money and time that goes on daily in places like these, I
wonder there's any England left. It ought to be stopped by law."
"My child," said Mr. Prohack. "I observe with approbation that you are
beginning to sit up and take notice. Centuries already divide you from
the innocent creature who used to devote her days and nights to the
teaching of dancing to persons who had no conception of the seriousness
of life. I agree with your general criticism, but let us remember that
all this wickedness does not date from the day before yesterday. It's
been flourishing for some thousands of years, and all prophecies about
it being over-taken by Nemesis have proved false. Still, I'm glad you've
turned over a new leaf."
Sissie discreetly but unmistakably tossed her young head.
"Oswald, dearest," said she. "It's time you were off."
"It is," Ozzie agreed, and off he went, to resume the serious struggle
for existence,--he who until quite recently had followed the great
theatrical convention that though space may be a reality, time is not.
"I don't mind the extravagance, because after all it's good for trade,"
said Eve. "What I--"
"Mother darling!" Sissie protested. "Where do you get these
extraordinary ideas from about luxury being good for trade? Surely you
ought to know--"
"I daresay I ought to know all sorts of things I don't know," said Eve
with dignity. "But there's one thing I do know, and that is that the
style of those two dreadful people was absolutely the worst I've ever
met. The way that woman gabbled--and all about herself; and what an
accent, and the way she held her fork!"
"Lady," said Mr. Prohack. "Don't be angry because she beat you."
"Yes. Beat you. Both of you. You talked her to a standstill at first;
but you couldn't keep it up. Then she began and she talked you to a
standstill, and she could keep it up. She left you for all practical
purposes dead on the field, my tigresses. And I'm very sorry for her,"
"Dad," said Sissie sternly. "Why do you always try to be so clever with
us? You know as well as we do that she's a _creature_, and that there's
nothing to be said for her at all."
"Nothing to be said for her!" Mr. Prohack smiled tolerantly. "Why she
was the star of the universe for Silas Angmering, the founder of our
fortunes. She was the finest woman he'd ever met. And Angmering was a
clever fellow, let me tell you. You call her a creature. Yes, the
creature of destiny, like all of us, except of course you. I beg to
inform you that Miss Fancy went out of this hotel a victim, an
unconscious victim, but a victim. She is going to be exploited. Mr.
Softly Bishop, my co-heir, will run her for all she is worth. He will
make a lot of money out of her. He will make her work as she has never
worked before. He will put a value on all her talents, for his own ends.
And he will deprive her of most of her accustomed pleasures. In fifteen
years there'll be nothing left of Miss Fancy except an exhausted wreck
with a spurious reputation, but Mr. Softly Bishop will still be in his
prime and in the full enjoyment of life, and he will spend on himself
the riches that she has made for him and allow her about sixpence a
week; and the most tragic and terrible thing of all is that she will
think she owes everything to him! No! If I was capable of weeping, I
should have wept at the pathos of the spectacle of Miss Fancy as she
left us just now unconscious of her fate and revelling in the most
absurd illusions. That poor defenceless woman, who has had the
misfortune not to please you, is heading straight for a life-long
martyrdom." Mr. Prohack ceased impressively.
"And serve her right!" said Eve. "I've met cats in my time, but--" And
Eve also ceased.
"And I am not sure," added Mr. Prohack, still impressively. "And I am
not sure that the ingenuous and excellent Oswald Morfey is not heading
straight in the same direction." And he gazed at his adored daughter,
who exhibited a faint flush, and then laughed lightly. "Yes," said Mr.
Prohack, "you are very smart, my girl. If you had shown violence you
would have made a sad mistake. That you should laugh with such a
brilliant imitation of naturalness gives me hopes of you. Let us seek
Carthew and the car. Mr. Bishop's luncheon, though I admit it was
exceedingly painful, has, I trust, not been without its useful lessons
to us, and I do not regret it. For myself I admit it has taught me that
even the finest and most agreeable women, such as those with whom I have
been careful to sourround myself in my domestic existence, are monsters
of cruelty. Not that I care."
"I've arranged with mamma that you shall come to dinner to-night," said
Sissie. "No formality, please."
"Mayn't your mother wear her pearls?" asked Mr. Prohack.
"I hope you noticed, Arthur," said Eve with triumphant satisfaction,
"how your Miss Fancy was careful to keep off the subject of jewels."
"Mother's pearls," said Sissie primly, "are mother's affair."
Mr. Prohack did not feel at all happy.
"And yet," he asked himself. "What have I done? I am perfectly
"I never in all my life," said Sissie, "saw you eat so much, dad. And I
think it's a great compliment to my cooking. In fact I'm bursting with
"Well," replied Mr. Prohack, who had undoubtedly eaten rather too much,
"take it how you like. I do believe I could do with a bit more of this
stuff that imitates an omelette but obviously isn't one."
"Oh! But there isn't any more!" said Sissie, somewhat dashed.
"No more! Good heavens! Then have you got some cheese, or anything of
"No. I don't keep cheese in the place. You see, the smell of it in these
"Any bread? Anything at all?"
"I'm afraid we've finished up pretty nearly all there was, except
Ozzie's egg for breakfast to-morrow morning."
"This is serious," observed Mr. Prohack, tapping enquiringly the
superficies of his digestive apparatus.
"Arthur!" cried Eve. "Why are you such a tease to-night? You're only
trying to make the child feel awkward. You know you've had quite enough.
And I'm sure it was all very cleverly cooked--considering. You'll be ill
in the middle of the night if you keep on, and then I shall have to get
up and look after you, as usual." Eve had the air of defending her
daughter, but something, some reserve in her voice, showed that she was
defending, not her daughter, but merely and generally the whole race of
house-wives against the whole race of consuming and hypercritical males;
she was even defending the Eve who had provided much-criticised meals in
the distant past. Such was her skill that she could do this while
implying, so subtly yet so effectively, that Sissie, the wicked,
shameless, mamma-scorning bride, was by no means forgiven in the secret
heart of the mother.
"You are doubtless right, lady," Mr. Prohack agreed. "You always could
judge better than I could myself when I had had enough, and what would
be the ultimate consequences of my eating. And as for your lessons in
manners, what an ill-bred lout I was before I met you, and what an
impossible person I should have been had you not taken me in hand night
and day for all these years! It isn't that I'm worse than the average
husband; it is merely that wives are the sole repositories of the
civilising influence. Were it not for them we should still be tearing
steaks to pieces with our fingers. I daresay I have eaten enough--anyhow
I've had far more than anybody else--and even if I hadn't, it would not
be at all nice of me not to pretend that I hadn't. And after all, if the
worst comes to the worst, I can always have a slice of cold beef and a
glass of beer when I get home, can't I?"
Sissie, though blushing ever so little, maintained an excellent front.
She certainly looked dainty and charming,--more specifically so than she
had ever looked; indeed, utterly the young bride. She was in morning
dress, to comply with her own edict against formality, and also to mark
her new, enthusiastic disapproval of the modern craze for luxurious
display; but it was a delightful, if inexpensive, dress. She had taken
considerable trouble over the family dinner, devising, concocting,
cooking, and presiding over it from beginning to end, and being
consistently bright, wise, able, and resourceful throughout--an apostle
of chafing-dish cookery determined to prove that chafing-dish cookery
combined efficiency, toothsomeness and economy to a degree never before
known. And she had neatly pointed out more than once that waste was
impossible under her system and that, servants being dispensed with, the
great originating cause of waste had indeed been radically removed. She
had not informed her guests of the precise cost in money of the
unprecedentedly cheap and nourishing meal, but she had come near to
doing so; and she would surely have indicated that there had been
neither too much nor too little, but just amply sufficient, had not her
absurd and contrarious father displayed a not uncharacteristic lack of
tact at the closing stage of the ingenious collation.
Moreover, she seemed, despite her generous build, to have somehow fitted
herself to the small size of the flat. She did not dwarf it, as clumsier
women are apt to dwarf their tiny homes in the centre of London. On the
contrary she gave to it the illusion of spaciousness; and beyond
question she had in a surprisingly short time transformed it from a
bachelor's flat into a conjugal nest, cushiony, flowery, knicknacky, and
perilously seductive to the eye without being too reassuring to the
Mr. Prohack was accepting a cigarette, having been told that Ozzie never
smoked cigars, when there was a great ring which filled the entire flat
as the last trump may be expected to fill the entire earth, and Mr.
Prohack dropped the cigarette, muttering:
"I think I'll smoke that afterwards."
"Good gracious!" the flat mistress exclaimed. "I wonder who that can be.
Just go and see, Ozzie, darling." And she looked at Ozzie as if to say:
"I hope it isn't one of your indiscreet bachelor friends."
Ozzie hastened obediently out.
"It may be Charlie," ventured Eve. "Wouldn't it be nice if he called?"
"Yes, wouldn't it?" Sissie agreed. "I did 'phone him up to try to get
him to dinner, but naturally he was away for the day. He's always as
invisible as a millionaire nowadays. Besides I feel somehow this place
would be too much, too humble, for the mighty Charles. Buckingham Palace
would be more in his line. But we can't all be speculators and
"Sissie!" protested their mother mildly.
After mysterious and intriguing noises at the front-door had finished,
and the front-door had made the whole flat vibrate to its bang, Ozzie
puffed into the room with three packages, the two smaller being piled
upon the third.
"They're addressed to you," said Ozzie to his father-in-law.
"Did you give the man anything?" Sissie asked quickly.
"No, it was Carthew and the parlourmaid--Machin, is her name?"
"Oh!" said Sissie, apparently relieved.
"Now let us see," said Mr. Prohack, starting at once upon the packages.
"Don't waste that string, dad," Sissie enjoined him anxiously.
"Eh? What do you say?" murmured Mr. Prohack, carefully cutting string on
all sides of all packages, and tearing first-rate brown paper into
useless strips. He produced from the packages four bottles of champagne
of four different brands, a quantity of pate de foie gras, a jar of
caviare, and several bunches of grapes that must have been grown under
the most unnatural and costly conditions.
"What ever's this?" Sissie demanded, uneasily.
"Arthur!" said Eve. "Whatever's the meaning of this?"
"It has a deep significance," replied Mr. Prohack. "The only fault I
have to find with it is that it has arrived rather late--and yet
perhaps, like Bluecher, not too late. You can call it a wedding present
if you choose, daughter. Or if you choose you can call it simply
caviare, pate de foie gras, grapes and champagne. I really have not had
the courage to give you a wedding present," he continued, "knowing how
particular you are about ostentation. But I thought if I sent something
along that we could all join in consuming instantly, I couldn't possibly
do any harm."
"We haven't any champagne glasses," said Sissie coldly.
"Champagne glasses, child! You ought never to drink champagne out of
champagne glasses. Tumblers are the only thing for champagne. Some
tumblers, Ozzie. And a tin-opener. You must have a tin-opener. I feel
convinced you have a tin-opener. Upon my soul, Eve, I was right after
all. I _am_ hungry, but my hunger is nothing to my thirst. I'm beginning
to suspect that I must be the average sensual man."
"Arthur!" Eve warned him. "If you eat any of that caviare you're bound
to be ill."
"Not if I mix it with pate de foi gras, my pet. It is notorious that
they are mutual antidotes, especially when followed by the grape cure.
Now, ladies and Ozzie, don't exasperate me by being coy. Fall to!
Ingurgitate. Ozzie, be a man for a change." Mr. Prohack seemed to
intimidate everybody to such an extent that Sissie herself went off to
"But why are you opening another bottle, father?" she asked in alarm on
her return. "This one isn't half empty."
"We shall try all four brands," said Mr. Prohack.
"But what a waste!"
"Know, my child," said Mr. Prohack, with marked and solemn
sententiousness. "Know that in an elaborately organised society, waste
has its moral uses. Know further that nothing is more contrary to the
truth than the proverb that enough is as good as a feast. Know still
further that though the habit of wastefulness may have its dangers, it
is not nearly so dangerous as the habit of self-righteousness, or as the
habit of nearness, both of which contract the soul until it's more like
a prune than a plum. Be a plum, my child, and let who will be a prune."
It was at this moment that Eve showed her true greatness.
"Come along, Sissie," said she, after an assaying glance at her husband
and another at her daughter. "Let's humour him. It isn't often he's in
such good spirits, is it?"
Sissie's face cleared, and with a wisdom really beyond her years she
accepted the situation, the insult, the reproof, the lesson. As for Mr.
Prohack, he felt happier, more gay, than he had felt all day,--not as
the effect of champagne and caviare, but as the effect of the
realisation of his prodigious sagacity in having foreseen that Sissie's
hospitality would be what it had been. He was glad also that his
daughter had displayed commonsense, and he began to admire her again,
and in proportion as she perceived that he was admiring her, so she
consciously increased her charm; for the fact was, she was very young,
very impressionable, very anxious to do the right thing.
"Have another glass, Ozzie," urged Mr. Prohack.
Ozzie looked at his powerful bride for guidance.
"Do have another glass, you darling old silly," said the bride.
"There will be no need to open the other two bottles," said Mr. Prohack.
"Indeed, I need only have opened one.... I shall probably call here
At this point there was another ring at the front-door.
"So you've condescended!" Sissie greeted Charles when Ozzie brought him
into the room, and then, catching her father's eye and being anxious to
rest secure in the paternal admiration, she added: "Anyway it was very
decent of you to come. I know how busy you are."
Charles raised his eyebrows at this astonishing piece of sisterliness.
His mother kissed him fondly, having received from Mr. Prohack during
the day the delicatest, filmiest hint that perhaps Charlie was not at
the moment fabulously prospering.
"Your father is very gay to-night," said she, gazing at Charlie as
though she read into the recesses of his soul and could see a martyrdom
there, though in fact she could not penetrate any further than the boy's
"I beg you to note," Mr. Prohack remarked. "That as the glasses have
only been filled once, and three of them are at least a quarter full,
only the equivalent of two and a half champagne glasses has actually
been drunk by four people, which will not explain much gaiety. If the
old gentleman is gay, and he does not assert that he is not, the true
reason lies in either the caviare or the pate de foie gras, or in his
crystal conscience. Have a drink, Charles?"
"Finish mine, my pet," said Eve, holding forth her tumbler, and Charlie
"A touching sight," observed Mr. Prohack. "Now as Charlie has managed to
spare us a few minutes out of his thrilling existence, I want to have a
few words with him in private about an affair of state. There's nothing
that you oughtn't to hear," he addressed the company, "but a great deal
that you probably wouldn't understand--and the last thing we desire is
to humiliate you. That's so, isn't it, Carlos?"
"It is," Charles quickly agreed, without a sign of self-consciousness.
"Now then, hostess, can you lend us another room,--boudoir,
morning-room, smoking-room, card-room, even ball-room; anything will do
for us. Possibly Ozzie's study...."
"Father! Father!" Sissie warned him against an excess of facetiousness.
"You can either go into our bedroom or you can sit on the stairs, and
As father and son disappeared together into the bedroom, which
constituted a full half of the entire flat, Mr. Prohack noticed on his
wife's features an expression of anxiety tempered by an assured
confidence in his own wisdom and force. He knew indeed that he had made
quite a favourable sensation by his handling of Sissie's tendency to a
Nevertheless, when Charles shut the door of the chamber and they were
enclosed together, Mr. Prohack could feel his mighty heart beating in a
manner worthy of a schoolgirl entering an examination room. The chamber
had apparently been taken bodily out of a doll's house and furnished
with furniture manufactured for pigmies. It was very full, presenting
the aspect of a room in a warehouse. Everything in it was 'bijou,' in
the trade sense, and everything harmonised in a charming Japanese manner
with everything else, except an extra truckle-bed, showing crude iron
feet under a blazing counterpane borrowed from a Russian ballet, which
second bed had evidently just been added for the purposes of conjugal
existence. The dressing-table alone was unmistakably symptomatic of a
woman. Some of Ozzie's wondrous trousers hung from stretchers behind the
door, and the inference was that these had been displaced from the
wardrobe in favour of Sissie's frocks. It was all highly curious and
somewhat pathetic; and Mr. Prohack, contemplating, became anew a
philosopher as he realised that the tiny apartment was the true
expression of his daughter's individuality and volition. She had imposed
this crowded inconvenience upon her willing spouse,--and there was the
grandiose Charles, for whom the best was never good enough, sitting down
nonchalantly on the truckle-bed; and it appeared to Mr. Prohack only a
few weeks ago that the two children had been playing side by side in the
same nursery and giving never a sign that their desires and destinies
would be so curious. Mr. Prohack felt absurdly helpless. True, he was
the father, but he knew that he had nothing whatever to do, beyond
trifling gifts of money and innumerable fairly witty sermons--divided
about equally between the pair, with the evolution of those mysterious
and fundamentally uncontrollable beings, his son and his daughter. The
enigma of life pressed disturbingly upon him, as he took the other bed,
facing Charles, and he wondered whether Sissie in her feminine passion
for self-sacrifice insisted on sleeping in the truckle-contraption
herself, or whether she permitted Ozzie to be uncomfortable.
"I just came along," Charlie opened simply, "because Lady M. was so
positive that I ought to see you--she said that you very much wanted me
to come. It isn't as if I wanted to bother you, or you could do any
He spoke in an extremely low tone, almost in a whisper, and Mr. Prohack
comprehended that the youth was trying to achieve privacy in a domicile
where all conversation and movements were necessarily more or less
public to the whole flat. Charles's restraint, however, showed little or
no depression, disappointment, or disgust, and no despair.
"But what's it all about? If I'm not being too curious," Mr. Prohack
"It's all about my being up the spout, dad. I've had a flutter, and it
hasn't come off, and that's all there is to it. I needn't trouble you
with the details. But you may believe me when I tell you that I shall
bob up again. What's happened to me might have happened to anybody, and
has happened to a pretty fair number of City swells."
"You mean bankruptcy?"
"Well, yes, bankruptcy's the word. I'd much better go right through with
it. The chit thinks so, and I agree."
"Oh! So you call her that, do you?"
"No, I never call her that. But that's how I think of her. I call her
Miss Winstock. I'm glad you let me have her. She's been very useful, and
she's going to stick by me--not that there's any blooming sentimental
nonsense about her! Oh, no! By the way, I know the mater and Sis think
she's a bit harum-scarum, and you do, too. Nevertheless she was just as
strong as Lady M. that I should stroll up and confess myself. She said
it was _due_ to you. Lady M. didn't put it quite like that."
The truckle-bed creaked as Charlie shifted uneasily. They caught a faint
murmur of talk from the other room, and Sissie's laugh.
"Lady Massulam happened to tell me once that you'd been selling
something before you knew how much it would cost you to buy it. Of
course I don't pretend to understand finance myself--I'm only a civil
servant on the shelf--but to my limited intelligence such a process of
putting the cart before the horse seemed likely to lead to trouble,"
said Mr. Prohack, as it were ruminating.
"Oh! She told you that, did she?" Charlie smiled. "Well, the good lady
was talking through her hat. _That_ affair's all right. At least it
would be if I could carry it through, but of course I can't now. It'll
go into the general mess. If I was free, I wouldn't sell it at all; I'd
keep it; there'd be no end of money in it, and I was selling it too
cheap. It's a combine, or rather it would have been a combine, of two of
the best paper mills in the country, and if I'd got it, and could find
time to manage it,--my word, you'd see! No! What's done me in is a pure
and simple Stock Exchange gamble, my dear father. Nothing but that! R.R.
"R.R. What's that?"
"Dad! Where have you been living these years? Royal Rubber Corporation,
of course. They dropped to eighteen shillings, and they oughtn't to have
done. I bought a whole big packet on the understanding that I should
have a fortnight to fork out. They were bound to go up again. Hadn't
been so low for eleven years. How could I have foreseen that old Sampler
would go and commit suicide and make a panic?"
"I never read the financial news, except the quotations of my own little
savings, and I've never heard of old Sampler," said Mr. Prohack.
"Considering he was a front-page item for four days!" Charlie exclaimed,
raising his voice, and then dropping it again. And he related in a few
biting phrases the recent history of the R.R. "I wouldn't have minded so
much," he went on. "If your particular friend, Mr. Softly Bishop, wasn't
at the bottom of my purchase. His name only appears for some of the
shares, but I've got a pretty good idea that it's he who's selling all
of them to yours truly. He must have known something, and a rare fine
thing he'd have made of the deal if I wasn't going bust, because I'm
sure now he was selling to me what he hadn't got."
Mr. Prohack's whole demeanour changed at the mention of Mr. Bishop's
name. His ridiculous snobbish pride reared itself up within him. He
simply could not bear the idea of Softly Bishop having anything
'against' a member of his family. Sooner would the inconsistent fellow
have allowed innocent widows and orphans to be ruined through Charlie's
plunging than that Softly Bishop should fail to realise a monstrous
profit through the same agency.
"I'll see you through, my lad," said he, briefly, in an ordinary casual
"No thanks. You won't," Charlie replied. "I wouldn't let you, even if
you could. But you can't. It's too big."
"Ah! How big is it?" Mr. Prohack challengingly raised his chin.
"Well, if you want to know the truth, it's between a hundred and forty
and a hundred and fifty thousand pounds. I mean, that's what I should
need to save the situation."
"You?" cried the Terror of the departments in amaze, accustomed though
he was to dealing in millions. He had gravely miscalculated his son. Ten
thousand he could have understood; even twenty thousand. But a hundred
and fifty...! "You must have been mad!"
"Only because I've failed," said Charles. "Yes. It'll be a great affair.
It'll really make my name. Everybody will expect me to bob up again, and
I shan't disappoint them. Of course some people will say I oughtn't to
have been extravagant. Grand Babylon Hotel and so on. What rot! A
flea-bite! Why, my expenses haven't been seven hundred a month."
Mr. Prohack sat aghast; but admiration was not absent from his
sentiments. The lad was incredible in the scale of his operations; he
was unreal, wagging his elegant leg so calmly there in the midst of all
that fragile Japanese lacquer--and the family, grotesquely unconscious
of the vastness of the issues, chatting domestically only a few feet
away. But Mr. Prohack was not going to be outdone by his son, however
Napoleonic his son might be. He would maintain his prestige as a father.
"I'll see you through," he repeated, with studied quietness.
"But look here, dad. You only came into a hundred thousand. I can't have
you ruining yourself. And even if you did ruin yourself--"
"I have no intention of ruining myself," said Mr. Prohack. "Nor shall I
change in the slightest degree my mode of life. You don't know
everything, my child. You aren't the only person on earth who can make
money. Where do you imagine you get your gifts from? Your mother?"
"Be silent. To-morrow morning gilt-edged, immediately saleable
securities will be placed at your disposal for a hundred and fifty
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