Not George Washington
P. G. Wodehouse
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne L. Shell, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
NOT GEORGE WASHINGTON
An Autobiographical Novel
by P. G. Wodehouse
and Herbert Westbrook
_Miss Margaret Goodwin's Narrative_
1. James Arrives
2. James Sets Out
3. A Harmless Deception
_James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative_
1. The Invasion of Bohemia
2. I Evacuate Bohemia
3. The _Orb_
4. Julian Eversleigh
5. The Column
6. New Year's Eve
7. I Meet Mr. Thomas Blake
8. I Meet the Rev. John Hatton
9. Julian Learns My Secret
10. Tom Blake Again
11. Julian's Idea
12. The First Ghost
13. The Second Ghost
14. The Third Ghost
15. Eva Eversleigh
16. I Tell Julian
_Sidney Price's Narrative_
17. A Ghostly Gathering
18. One in the Eye
19. In the Soup
20. Norah Wins Home
_Julian Eversleigh's Narrative_
21. The Transposition of Sentiment
22. A Chat with James
23. In a Hansom
_Narrative Resumed by James Orlebar Cloyster_
24. A Rift in the Clouds
25. Briggs to the Rescue
26. My Triumph
_Miss Margaret Goodwin's Narrative_
I am Margaret Goodwin. A week from today I shall be Mrs. James Orlebar
It is just three years since I first met James. We made each other's
acquaintance at half-past seven on the morning of the 28th of July in
the middle of Fermain Bay, about fifty yards from the shore.
Fermain Bay is in Guernsey. My home had been with my mother for many
years at St. Martin's in that island. There we two lived our uneventful
lives until fate brought one whom, when first I set my eyes on him, I
knew I loved.
Perhaps it is indiscreet of me to write that down. But what does it
matter? It is for no one's reading but my own. James, my _fiance_,
is _not_ peeping slyly over my shoulder as I write. On the
contrary, my door is locked, and James is, I believe, in the
smoking-room of his hotel at St. Peter's Port.
At that time it had become my habit to begin my day by rising before
breakfast and taking a swim in Fermain Bay, which lies across the road
in front of our cottage. The practice--I have since abandoned it--was
good for the complexion, and generally healthy. I had kept it up,
moreover, because I had somehow cherished an unreasonable but
persistent presentiment that some day Somebody (James, as it turned
out) would cross the pathway of my maiden existence. I told myself that
I must be ready for him. It would never do for him to arrive, and find
no one to meet him.
On the 28th of July I started off as usual. I wore a short tweed skirt,
brown stockings--my ankles were, and are, good--a calico blouse, and a
red tam-o'-shanter. Ponto barked at my heels. In one hand I carried my
blue twill bathing-gown. In the other a miniature alpenstock. The sun
had risen sufficiently to scatter the slight mist of the summer
morning, and a few flecked clouds were edged with a slender frame of
Leisurely, and with my presentiment strong upon me, I descended the
steep cliffside to the cave on the left of the bay, where, guarded by
the faithful Ponto, I was accustomed to disrobe; and soon afterwards I
came out, my dark hair over my shoulders and blue twill over a portion
of the rest of me, to climb out to the point of the projecting rocks,
so that I might dive gracefully and safely into the still blue water.
I was a good swimmer. I reached the ridge on the opposite side of the
bay without fatigue, not changing from a powerful breast-stroke. I then
sat for a while at the water's edge to rest and to drink in the
thrilling glory of what my heart persisted in telling me was the
morning of my life.
And then I saw Him.
Not distinctly, for he was rowing a dinghy in my direction, and
consequently had his back to me.
In the stress of my emotions and an aggravation of modesty, I dived
again. With an intensity like that of a captured conger I yearned to be
hidden by the water. I could watch him as I swam, for, strictly
speaking, he was in my way, though a little farther out to sea than
I intended to go. As I drew near, I noticed that he wore an odd garment
like a dressing-gown. He had stopped rowing.
I turned upon my back for a moment's rest, and, as I did so, heard a
cry. I resumed my former attitude, and brushed the salt water from my
The dinghy was wobbling unsteadily. The dressing-gown was in the bows;
and he, my sea-god, was in the water. Only for a second I saw him. Then
How I blessed the muscular development of my arms.
I reached him as he came to the surface.
"That's twice," he remarked contemplatively, as I seized him by the
"Be brave," I said excitedly; "I can save you."
"I should be most awfully obliged," he said.
"Do exactly as I tell you."
"I say," he remonstrated, "you're not going to drag me along by the
roots of my hair, are you?"
The natural timidity of man is, I find, attractive.
I helped him to the boat, and he climbed in. I trod water, clinging
with one hand to the stern.
"Allow me," he said, bending down.
"No, thank you," I replied.
"Thank you very much, but I think I will stay where I am."
"But you may get cramp. By the way--I'm really frightfully obliged to
you for saving my life--I mean, a perfect stranger--I'm afraid it's
quite spoiled your dip."
"Not at all," I said politely. "Did you get cramp?"
"A twinge. It was awfully kind of you."
"Not at all."
Then there was a rather awkward silence.
"Is this your first visit to Guernsey?" I asked.
"Yes; I arrived yesterday. It's a delightful place. Do you live here?"
"Yes; that white cottage you can just see through the trees."
"I suppose I couldn't give you a tow anywhere?"
"No; thank you very much. I will swim back."
Another constrained silence.
"Are you ever in London, Miss----?"
"Goodwin. Oh, yes; we generally go over in the winter, Mr.----"
"Cloyster. Really? How jolly. Do you go to the theatre much?"
"Oh, yes. We saw nearly everything last time we were over."
There was a third silence. I saw a remark about the weather trembling
on his lip, and, as I was beginning to feel the chill of the water a
little, I determined to put a temporary end to the conversation.
"I think I will be swimming back now," I said.
"You're quite sure I can't give you a tow?"
"Quite, thanks. Perhaps you would care to come to breakfast with us,
Mr. Cloyster? I know my mother would be glad to see you."
"It is very kind of you. I should be delighted. Shall we meet on the
I swam off to my cave to dress.
Breakfast was a success, for my mother was a philosopher. She said very
little, but what she did say was magnificent. In her youth she had
moved in literary circles, and now found her daily pleasure in the
works of Schopenhauer, Kant, and other Germans. Her lightest reading
was _Sartor Resartus_, and occasionally she would drop into Ibsen
and Maeterlinck, the asparagus of her philosophic banquet. Her chosen
mode of thought, far from leaving her inhuman or intolerant, gave her a
social distinction which I had inherited from her. I could, if I had
wished it, have attended with success the tea-drinkings, the
tennis-playings, and the eclair-and-lemonade dances to which I was
frequently invited. But I always refused. Nature was my hostess.
Nature, which provided me with balmy zephyrs that were more comforting
than buttered toast; which set the race of the waves to the ridges of
Fermain, where arose no shrill, heated voice crying, "Love--forty";
which decked foliage in more splendid sheen than anything the local
costumier could achieve, and whose poplars swayed more rhythmically
than the dancers of the Assembly Rooms.
The constraint which had been upon us during our former conversation
vanished at breakfast. We were both hungry, and we had a common topic.
We related our story of the sea in alternate sentences. We ate and we
talked, turn and turn about. My mother listened. To her the affair,
compared with the tremendous subjects to which she was accustomed to
direct her mind, was broad farce. James took it with an air of
restrained amusement. I, seriously.
Tentatively, I diverged from this subject towards other and wider
fields. Impressions of Guernsey, which drew from him his address, at
the St. Peter's Port Hotel. The horrors of the sea passage from
Weymouth, which extorted a comment on the limitations of England.
England. London. Kensington. South Kensington. The Gunton-Cresswells?
Yes, yes! Extraordinary. Curious coincidence. Excursus on smallness of
world. Queer old gentleman, Mr. Gunton-Cresswell. He is, indeed. Quite
one of the old school. Oh, quite. Still wears that beaver hat? Does he
really? Yes. Ha, ha! Yes.
Here the humanising influence of the Teutonic school of philosophic
analysis was demonstrated by my mother's action. Mr. Cloyster, she
said, must reconcile himself to exchanging his comfortable rooms at the
St. Peter's Port--("I particularly dislike half-filled hotel life, Mrs.
Goodwin")--for the shelter of our cottage. He accepted. He was then
"warned" that I was chef at the cottage. Mother gave him "a chance to
change his mind." Something was said about my saving life and
destroying digestion. He went to collect his things in an ecstasy of
At this point I committed an indiscretion which can only be excused by
the magnitude of the occasion.
My mother had retired to her favourite bow-window where, by a _tour
de force_ on the part of the carpenter, a system of low, adjustable
bookcases had been craftily constructed in such a way that when she sat
in her window-seat they jutted in a semicircle towards her hand.
James, whom I had escorted down the garden path, had left me at the
little wooden gate and had gone swinging down the road. I, shielded
from outside observation (if any) by a line of lilacs, gazed
rapturously at his retreating form. The sun was high in the sky now. It
was a perfect summer's day. Birds were singing. Their notes blended
with the gentle murmur of the sea on the beach below. Every fibre of my
body was thrilling with the magic of the morning.
Through the kindly branches of the lilac I watched him, and then, as
though in obedience to the primaeval call of that July sunshine, I
stood on tiptoe, and blew him a kiss.
I realised in an instant what I had done. Fool that I had been. The
I was rigid with discomfiture. My mother's eyes were on the book she
held. And yet a faint smile seemed to hover round her lips. I walked in
silence to where she sat at the open window.
She looked up. Her smile was more pronounced.
"Margie," she said.
"The hedonism of Voltaire is the indictment of an honest bore."
She then resumed her book.
JAMES SETS OUT
_(Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative continued)_
Those August days! Have there been any like them before? I realise with
difficulty that the future holds in store for me others as golden.
The island was crammed with trippers. They streamed in by every boat.
But James and I were infinitely alone. I loved him from the first, from
the moment when he had rowed out of the unknown into my life, clad in a
dressing-gown. I like to think that he loved me from that moment, too.
But, if he did, the knowledge that he did came to him only after a
certain delay. It was my privilege to watch this knowledge steal
gradually but surely upon him.
We were always together; and as the days passed by he spoke freely of
himself and his affairs, obeying unconsciously the rudder of my tactful
inquisitiveness. By the end of the first week I knew as much about him
as he did himself.
It seemed that a guardian--an impersonal sort of business man with a
small but impossible family--was the most commanding figure in his
private life. As for his finances, five-and-forty sovereigns, the
remnant of a larger sum which had paid for his education at Cambridge,
stood between him and the necessity of offering for hire a sketchy
acquaintance with general literature and a third class in the classical
He had come to Guernsey to learn by personal observation what chances
tomato growing held out to a young man in a hurry to get rich.
"Tomato growing?" I echoed dubiously. And then, to hide a sense of
bathos, "People _have_ made it pay. Of course, they work very
"M'yes," said James without much enthusiasm.
"But I fancy," I added, "the life is not at all unpleasant."
At this point embarrassment seemed to engulf James. He blushed,
swallowed once or twice in a somewhat convulsive manner, and stammered.
Then he made his confession guiltily.
I was not to suppose that his aims ceased with the attainment of a
tomato-farm. The nurture of a wholesome vegetable occupied neither the
whole of his ambitions nor even the greater part of them. To write--the
agony with which he throatily confessed it!--to be swept into the
maelstrom of literary journalism, to be _en rapport_ with the
unslumbering forces of Fleet Street--those were the real objectives of
James Orlebar Cloyster.
"Of course, I mean," he said, "I suppose it would be a bit of a
struggle at first, if you see what I mean. What I mean to say is,
rejected manuscripts, and so on. But still, after a bit, once get a
footing, you know--I should like to have a dash at it. I mean, I think
I could do something, you know."
"Of course you could," I said.
"I mean, lots of men have, don't you know."
"There's plenty of room at the top," I said.
He seemed struck with this remark. It encouraged him.
He had had his opportunity of talking thus of himself during our long
rambles out of doors. They were a series of excursions which he was
accustomed to describe as hunting expeditions for the stocking of our
Thus James would announce at breakfast that prawns were the day's
quarry, and the foreshore round Cobo Bay the hunting-ground. And to
Cobo, accordingly, we would set out. This prawn-yielding area extends
along the coast on the other side of St. Peter's Port, where two halts
had to be made, one at Madame Garnier's, the confectioners, the other
at the library, to get fiction, which I never read. Then came a journey
on the top of the antediluvian horse-tram, a sort of _diligence_
on rails; and then a whole summer's afternoon among the prawns. Cobo is
an expanse of shingle, dotted with seaweed and rocks; and Guernsey is a
place where one can take off one's shoes and stockings on the slightest
pretext. We waded hither and thither with the warm brine lapping
unchecked over our bare legs. We did not use our nets very
industriously, it is true; but our tongues were seldom still. The slow
walk home was a thing to be looked forward to. Ah! those memorable
homecomings in the quiet solemnity of that hour, when a weary sun
stoops, one can fancy with a sigh of pleasure, to sink into the bosom
of the sea!
Prawn-hunting was agreeably varied by fish-snaring, mussel-stalking,
and mushroom-trapping--sports which James, in his capacity of Head
Forester, included in his venery.
For mushroom-trapping an early start had to be made--usually between
six and seven. The chase took us inland, until, after walking through
the fragrant, earthy lanes, we turned aside into dewy meadows, where
each blade of grass sparkled with a gem of purest water. Again the
necessity of going barefoot. Breakfast was late on these mornings, my
mother whiling away the hours of waiting with a volume of Diogenes
Laertius in the bow-window. She would generally open the meal with the
remark that Anaximander held the primary cause of all things to be the
Infinite, or that it was a favourite expression of Theophrastus that
time was the most valuable thing a man could spend. When breakfast was
announced, one of the covers concealed the mushrooms, which, under my
superintendence, James had done his best to devil. A quiet day
followed, devoted to sedentary recreation after the labours of the run.
The period which I have tried to sketch above may be called the period
of good-fellowship. Whatever else love does for a woman, it makes her
an actress. So we were merely excellent friends till James's eyes were
opened. When that happened, he abruptly discarded good-fellowship. I,
on the other hand, played it the more vigorously. The situation was
Our day's run became the merest shadow of a formality. The office of
Head Forester lapsed into an absolute sinecure. Love was with
us--triumphant, and no longer to be skirted round by me; fresh,
electric, glorious in James.
We talked--we must have talked. We moved. Our limbs performed their
ordinary, daily movements. But a golden haze hangs over that second
period. When, by the strongest effort of will, I can let my mind stand
by those perfect moments, I seem to hear our voices, low and measured.
And there are silences, fond in themselves and yet more fondly
interrupted by unspoken messages from our eyes. What we really said,
what we actually did, where precisely we two went, I do not know. We
were together, and the blur of love was about us. Always the blur. It
is not that memory cannot conjure up the scene again. It is not that
the scene is clouded by the ill-proportion of a dream. No. It is
because the dream is brought to me by will and not by sleep. The blur
recurs because the blur was there. A love vast as ours is penalised, as
it were, by this blur, which is the hall-mark of infinity.
In mighty distances, whether from earth to heaven, whether from 5245
Gerrard to 137 Glasgow, there is always that awful, that disintegrating
A third period succeeded. I may call it the affectionately practical
period. Instantly the blur vanishes. We were at our proper distance
from the essence of things, and though infinity is something one yearns
for passionately, one's normal condition has its meed of comfort. I
remember once hearing a man in a Government office say that the
pleasantest moment of his annual holiday was when his train rolled back
into Paddington Station. And he was a man, too, of a naturally lazy
It was about the middle of this third period, during a
mushroom-trapping ramble, that the idea occurred to us, first to me,
then--after reflection--to James, that mother ought to be informed how
matters stood between us.
We went into the house, hand-in-hand, and interviewed her.
She was in the bow-window, reading a translation of _The
Deipnosophists_ of Athenaeus.
"Good morning," she said, looking at her watch. "It is a little past
our usual breakfast time, Margie, I think?"
"We have been looking for mushrooms, mother."
"Every investigation, says Athenaeus, which is guided by principles of
Nature fixes its ultimate aim entirely on gratifying the stomach. Have
you found any mushrooms?"
"Heaps, Mrs. Goodwin," said James.
"Mother," I said, "we want to tell you something."
"The fact is, Mrs. Goodwin----"
"We are engaged."
My mother liked James.
"Margie," she once said to me, "there is good in Mr. Cloyster. He is
not for ever offering to pass me things." Time had not caused her to
modify this opinion. She received our news calmly, and inquired into
James's means and prospects. James had forty pounds and some odd
silver. I had nothing.
The key-note of my mother's contribution to our conference was, "Wait."
"You are both young," she said.
She then kissed me, smiled contemplatively at James, and resumed her
When we were alone, "My darling," said James, "we must wait. Tomorrow I
catch the boat for Weymouth. I shall go straight to London. My first
manuscript shall be in an editor's hands on Wednesday morning. I will
go, but I will come back."
I put my arms round his neck.
"My love," I said, "I trust you. Go. Always remember that I know you
I kissed him.
"And when you have succeeded, come back."
A HARMLESS DECEPTION
_(Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative continued)_
They say that everyone is capable of one novel. And, in my opinion,
most people could write one play.
Whether I wrote mine in an inspiration of despair, I cannot say. I
Three years had passed, and James was still haggling with those who buy
men's brains. His earnings were enough just to keep his head above
water, but not enough to make us two one.
Perhaps, because everything is clear and easy for us now, I am
gradually losing a proper appreciation of his struggle. That should
never be. He did not win. But he did not lose; which means nearly as
much. For it is almost less difficult to win than not to lose, so my
mother has told me, in modern journalistic London. And I know that he
would have won. The fact that he continued the fight as he did was in
itself a pledge of ultimate victory. What he went through while trying
with his pen to make a living for himself and me I learned from his
"London," he wrote, "is not paved with gold; but in literary fields
there are nuggets to be had by the lightest scratching. And those
nuggets are plays. A successful play gives you money and a name
automatically. What the ordinary writer makes in a year the successful
dramatist receives, without labour, in a fortnight." He went on to
deplore his total lack of dramatic intuition. "Some men," he said,
"have some of the qualifications while falling short of the others.
They have a sense of situation without the necessary tricks of
technique. Or they sacrifice plot to atmosphere, or atmosphere to plot.
I, worse luck, have not one single qualification. The nursing of a
climax, the tremendous omissions in the dialogue, the knack of stage
characterisation--all these things are, in some inexplicable way,
It was this letter that set me thinking. Ever since James had left the
island, I had been chafing at the helplessness of my position. While he
toiled in London, what was I doing? Nothing. I suppose I helped him in
a way. The thought of me would be with him always, spurring him on to
work, that the time of our separation might be less. But it was not
enough. I wanted to be _doing_ something.... And it was during
these restless weeks that I wrote my play.
I think nothing will ever erase from my mind the moment when the
central idea of _The Girl who Waited_ came to me. It was a
boisterous October evening. The wind had been rising all day. Now the
branches of the lilac were dancing in the rush of the storm, and far
out in the bay one could see the white crests of the waves gleaming
through the growing darkness. We had just finished tea. The lamp was
lit in our little drawing-room, and on the sofa, so placed that the
light fell over her left shoulder in the manner recommended by
oculists, sat my mother with Schopenhauer's _Art of Literature_.
Ponto slept on the rug.
Something in the unruffled peace of the scene tore at my nerves. I have
seldom felt so restless. It may have been the storm that made me so. I
think myself that it was James's letter. The boat had been late that
morning, owing to the weather, and I had not received the letter till
after lunch. I listened to the howl of the wind, and longed to be out
My mother looked at me over her book.
"You are restless, Margie," she said. "There is a volume of Marcus
Aurelius on the table beside you, if you care to read."
"No, thank you, mother," I said. "I think I shall go for a walk."
"Wrap up well, my dear," she replied.
She then resumed her book.
I went out of our little garden, and stood on the cliff. The wind flew
at me like some wild thing. Spray stung my face. I was filled with a
And then the idea came to me. The simplest, most dramatic idea. Quaint,
whimsical, with just that suggestion of pathos blended with it which
makes the fortunes of a play. The central idea, to be brief, of _The
Girl who Waited_.
Of my Maenad tramp along the cliff-top with my brain afire, and my
return, draggled and dripping, an hour late for dinner; of my writing
and re-writing, of my tears and black depression, of the pens I wore
out and the quires of paper I spoiled, and finally of the ecstasy of
the day when the piece began to move and the characters to live, I need
not speak. Anyone who has ever written will know the sensations. James
must have gone through a hundred times what I went through once. At
last, at long last, the play was finished.
For two days I gloated alone over the great pile of manuscript.
Then I went to my mother.
My diffidence was exquisite. It was all I could do to tell her the
nature of my request, when I spoke to her after lunch. At last she
understood that I had written a play, and wished to read it to her. She
took me to the bow-window with gentle solicitude, and waited for me to
At first she encouraged me, for I faltered over my opening words. But
as I warmed to my work, and as my embarrassment left me, she no longer
spoke. Her eyes were fixed intently upon the blue space beyond the
I read on and on, till at length my voice trailed over the last line,
rose gallantly at the last fence, the single word _Curtain_, and
abruptly broke. The strain had been too much for me.
Tenderly my mother drew me to the sofa; and quietly, with closed
eyelids, I lay there until, in the soft cool of the evening, I asked
for her verdict.
Seeing, as she did instantly, that it would be more dangerous to deny
my request than to accede to it, she spoke.
"That there is an absence, my dear Margie, of any relationship with
life, that not a single character is in any degree human, that passion
and virtue and vice and real feeling are wanting--this surprises me
more than I can tell you. I had expected to listen to a natural,
ordinary, unactable episode arranged more or less in steichomuthics.
There is no work so scholarly and engaging as the amateur's. But in
your play I am amazed to find the touch of the professional and
experienced playwright. Yes, my dear, you have proved that you happen
to possess the quality--one that is most difficult to acquire--of
surrounding a situation which is improbable enough to be convincing
with that absurdly mechanical conversation which the theatre-going
public demands. As your mother, I am disappointed. I had hoped for
originality. As your literary well-wisher, I stifle my maternal
feelings and congratulate you unreservedly."
I thanked my mother effusively. I think I cried a little.
She said affectionately that the hour had been one of great interest to
her, and she added that she would be glad to be consulted with regard
to the steps I contemplated taking in my literary future.
She then resumed her book.
I went to my room and re-read the last letter I had had from James.
_The Barrel Club,
MY DARLING MARGIE,--I am writing this line simply and solely for
the selfish pleasure I gain from the act of writing to you. I know
everything will come right some time or other, but at present I am
suffering from a bad attack of the blues. I am like a general who
has planned out a brilliant attack, and realises that he must fail
for want of sufficient troops to carry a position, on the taking of
which the whole success of the assault depends. Briefly, my position
is like this. My name is pretty well known in a small sort of way
among editors and the like as that of a man who can turn out fairly
good stuff. Besides this, I have many influential friends. You see
where this brings me? I am in the middle of my attacking movement,
and I have not been beaten back; but the key to the enemy's position
is still uncaptured. You know what this key is from my other letters.
It's the stage. Ah, Margie, one acting play! Only one! It would mean
everything. Apart from the actual triumph and the direct profits, it
would bring so much with it. The enemy's flank would be turned, and
the rest of the battle would become a mere rout. I should have an
accepted position in the literary world which would convert all the
other avenues to wealth on which I have my eye instantly into royal
roads. Obstacles would vanish. The fact that I was a successful
playwright would make the acceptance of the sort of work I am doing
now inevitable, and I should get paid ten times as well for it. And
it would mean--well, you know what it would mean, don't you? Darling
Margie, tell me again that I have your love, that the waiting is not
too hard, that you believe in me. Dearest, it will come right in the
end. Nothing can prevent that. Love and the will of a man have always
beaten Time and Fate. Write to me, dear.
_Ever your devoted
How utterly free from thought of self! His magnificent loyalty forgot
the dreadful tension of his own great battle, and pictured only the
tedium of waiting which it was my part to endure.
I finished my letter to James very late that night. It was a very long
and explanatory letter, and it enclosed my play.
The main point I aimed at was not to damp his spirits. He would, I knew
well, see that the play was suitable for staging. He would, in short,
see that I, an inexperienced girl, had done what he, a trained
professional writer, had failed to do. Lest, therefore, his pique
should kill admiration and pleasure when he received my work, I wrote
as one begging a favour. "Here," I said, "we have the means to achieve
all we want. Do not--oh, do not--criticise. I have written down the
words. But the conception is yours. The play was inspired by you. But
for you I should never have begun it. Take my play, James; take it as
your own. For yours it is. Put your name to it, and produce it, if you
love me, under your own signature. If this hurts your pride, I will
word my request differently. You alone are able to manage the business
side of the production. You know the right men to go to. To approach
them on behalf of a stranger's work is far less likely to lead to
success. I have assumed, you will see, that the play is certain to be
produced. But that will only be so if you adopt it as your own. Claim
the authorship, and all will be well."
Much more I wrote to James in the same strain; and my reward came next
day in the shape of a telegram: "Accept thankfully.--Cloyster."
Of the play and its reception by the public there is no need to speak.
The criticisms were all favourable.
Neither the praise of the critics nor the applause of the public
aroused any trace of jealousy in James. Their unanimous note of praise
has been a source of pride to him. He is proud--ah, joy!--that I am to
be his wife.
I have blotted the last page of this commonplace love-story of mine.
The moon has come out from behind a cloud, and the whole bay is one
vast sheet of silver. I could sit here at my bedroom window and look at
it all night. But then I should be sure to oversleep myself and be late
for breakfast. I shall read what I have written once more, and then I
shall go to bed.
I think I shall wear my white muslin tomorrow.
_(End of Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative.)_
James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative
THE INVASION OF BOHEMIA
It is curious to reflect that my marriage (which takes place today
week) destroys once and for all my life's ambition. I have never won
through to the goal I longed for, and now I never shall.
Ever since I can remember I have yearned to be known as a Bohemian.
That was my ambition. I have ceased to struggle now. Married Bohemians
live in Oakley Street, King's Road, Chelsea. We are to rent a house in
Three years have passed since the excellent, but unsteady, steamship
_Ibex_ brought me from Guernsey to Southampton. It was a sleepy,
hot, and sticky wreck that answered to the name of James Orlebar
Cloyster that morning; but I had my first youth and forty pounds, so
that soap and water, followed by coffee and an omelette, soon restored
The journey to Waterloo gave me opportunity for tobacco and reflection.
What chiefly exercised me, I remember, was the problem whether it was
possible to be a Bohemian, and at the same time to be in love. Bohemia
I looked on as a region where one became inevitably entangled with
women of unquestionable charm, but doubtful morality. There were supper
parties.... Festive gatherings in the old studio.... Babette....
Lucille.... The artists' ball.... Were these things possible for a
man with an honest, earnest, whole-hearted affection?
The problem engaged me tensely till my ticket was collected at
Vauxhall. Just there the solution came. I would be a Bohemian, but a
misogynist. People would say, "Dear old Jimmy Cloyster. How he hates
women!" It would add to my character a pleasant touch of dignity and
reserve which would rather accentuate my otherwise irresponsible way of
Little did the good Bohemians of the metropolis know how keen a recruit
the boat train was bringing to them.
* * * * *
As a _pied-a-terre_ I selected a cheap and dingy hotel in York
Street, and from this base I determined to locate my proper sphere.
Chelsea was the first place that occurred to me. There was St. John's
Wood, of course, but that was such a long way off. Chelsea was
comparatively near to the heart of things, and I had heard that one
might find there artistic people whose hand-to-mouth, Saturnalian
existence was redolent of that exquisite gaiety which so attracted my
own casual temperament.
Sallying out next morning into the brilliant sunshine and the dusty
rattle of York Street, I felt a sense of elation at the thought that
the time for action had come. I was in London. London! The home of the
fragrant motor-omnibus and the night-blooming Hooligan. London, the
battlefield of the literary aspirant since Caxton invented the printing
press. It seemed to me, as I walked firmly across Westminster Bridge,
that Margie gazed at me with the lovelight in her eyes, and that a
species of amorous telepathy from Guernsey was girding me for the
Manresa Road I had once heard mentioned as being the heart of Bohemian
Chelsea. To Manresa Road, accordingly, I went, by way of St. James's
Park, Buckingham Palace Road, and Lower Sloane Street. Thence to Sloane
Square. Here I paused, for I knew that I had reached the last outpost
of respectable, inartistic London.
"How sudden," I soliloquised, "is the change. Here I am in Sloane
Square, regular, business-like, and unimaginative; while, a few hundred
yards away, King's Road leads me into the very midst of genius,
starvation, and possibly Free Love."
Sloane Square, indeed, gave me the impression, not so much of a suburb
as of the suburban portion of a great London railway terminus. It was
positively pretty. People were shopping with comparative leisure,
omnibus horses were being rubbed down and watered on the west side of
the Square, out of the way of the main stream of traffic. A postman,
clearing the letter-box at the office, stopped his work momentarily to
read the contents of a postcard. For the moment I understood Caesar's
feelings on the brink of the Rubicon, and the emotions of Cortes "when
with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific." I was on the threshold of
great events. Behind me was orthodox London; before me the unknown.
It was distinctly a Caesarian glance, full of deliberate revolt, that I
bestowed upon the street called Sloane; that clean, orderly
thoroughfare which leads to Knightsbridge, and thence either to the
respectabilities of Kensington or the plush of Piccadilly.
Setting my hat at a wild angle, I stepped with a touch of
_abandon_ along the King's Road to meet the charming, impoverished
artists whom our country refuses to recognise.
My first glimpse of the Manresa Road was, I confess, a complete
disappointment. Never was Bohemianism more handicapped by its setting
than that of Chelsea, if the Manresa Road was to be taken as a
criterion. Along the uninviting uniformity of this street no trace of
unorthodoxy was to be seen. There came no merry, roystering laughter
from attic windows. No talented figures of idle geniuses fetched pints
of beer from the public-house at the corner. No one dressed in an
ancient ulster and a battered straw hat and puffing enormous clouds of
blue smoke from a treasured clay pipe gazed philosophically into space
from a doorway. In point of fact, save for a most conventional
butcher-boy, I was alone in the street.
Then the explanation flashed upon me. I had been seen approaching. The
word had been passed round. A stranger! The clique resents intrusion.
It lies hid. These gay fellows see me all the time, and are secretly
amused. But they do not know with whom they have to deal. I have come
to join them, and join them I will. I am not easily beaten. I will
outlast them. The joke shall be eventually against them, at some
eccentric supper. I shall chaff them about how they tried to elude me,
The hours passed. Still no Bohemians. I began to grow hungry. I sprang
on to a passing 'bus. It took me to Victoria. I lunched at the
Shakespeare Hotel, smoked a pipe, and went out into the sunlight again.
It had occurred to me that night was perhaps the best time for trapping
my shy quarry. Possibly the revels did not begin in Manresa Road till
darkness had fallen. I spent the afternoon and evening in the Park,
dined at Lyons' Popular Cafe (it must be remembered that I was not yet
a Bohemian, and consequently owed no deference to the traditions of the
order); and returned at nine o'clock to the Manresa Road. Once more I
drew blank. A barrel-organ played cake-walk airs in the middle of the
road, but it played to an invisible audience. No bearded men danced
can-cans around it, shouting merry jests to one another. Solitude
I wait. The duel continues. What grim determination, what perseverance
can these Bohemians put into a mad jest! I find myself thinking how
much better it would be were they to apply to their Art the same
earnestness and fixity of purpose which they squander on a practical
Evening fell. Blinds began to be drawn down. Lamps were lit behind
them, one by one. Despair was gnawing at my heart, but still I waited.
Then, just as I was about to retire defeated, I was arrested by the
appearance of a house numbered 93A.
At the first-floor window sat a man. He was writing. I could see his
profile, his long untidy hair. I understood in a moment. This was no
ordinary writer. He was one of those Bohemians whose wit had been
exercised upon me so successfully. He was a literary man, and though he
enjoyed the sport as much as any of the others he was under the
absolute necessity of writing his copy up to time. Unobserved by his
gay comrades, he had slipped away to his work. They were still watching
me; but he, probably owing to a contract with some journal, was obliged
to give up his share in their merriment and toil with his pen.
His pen fascinated me. I leaned against the railings of the house
opposite, enthralled. Ever and anon he seemed to be consulting one or
other of the books of reference piled up on each side of him. Doubtless
he was preparing a scholarly column for a daily paper. Presently a
printer's devil would arrive, clamouring for his "copy." I knew exactly
the sort of thing that happened. I had read about it in novels.
How unerring is instinct, if properly cultivated. Hardly had the clocks
struck twelve when the emissaries--there were two of them, which showed
the importance of their errand--walked briskly to No. 93A, and knocked
at the door.
The writer heard the knock. He rose hurriedly, and began to collect his
papers. Meanwhile, the knocking had been answered from within by the
shooting of bolts, noises that were followed by the apparition of a
A few brief questions and the emissaries entered. A pause.
The litterateur is warning the menials that their charge is sacred;
that the sheets he has produced are impossible to replace. High words.
Abrupt re-opening of the front door. Struggling humanity projected on
to the pavement. Three persons--my scribe in the middle, an emissary on
either side--stagger strangely past me. The scribe enters the purple
night only under the stony compulsion of the emissaries.
What does this mean?
I have it. The emissaries have become over-anxious. They dare not face
the responsibility of conveying the priceless copy to Fleet Street.
They have completely lost their nerve. They insist upon the author
accompanying them to see with his own eyes that all is well. They do
not wish Posterity to hand their names down to eternal infamy as "the
men who lost Blank's manuscript."
So, greatly against his will, he is dragged off.
My vigil is rewarded. No. 93A harbours a Bohemian. Let it be inhabited
also by me.
I stepped across, and rang the bell.
The answer was a piercing scream.
"Ah, ha!" I said to myself complacently, "there are more Bohemians than
one, then, in this house."
The female head again appeared.
"Not another? Oh, sir, say there ain't another wanted," said the head
in a passionate Cockney accent.
"That is precisely what there is," I replied. "I want----"
"For something moderate."
"Well, that's a comfort in a wiy. Which of 'em is it you want? The
"I have no doubt the first-floor back would do quite well."
My words had a curious effect. She scrutinised me suspiciously.
"Ho!" she said, with a sniff; "you don't seem to care much which it is
"I don't," I said, "not particularly."
"Look 'ere," she exclaimed, "you jest 'op it. See? I don't want none of
your 'arf-larks here, and, what's more, I won't 'ave 'em. I don't
believe you're a copper at all."
"I'm not. Far from it."
"Then what d'yer mean coming 'ere saying you want my first-floor back?"
"But I do. Or any other room, if that is occupied."
"'Ow! _Room_? Why didn't yer siy so? You'll pawdon me, sir, if
I've said anything 'asty-like. I thought--but my mistake."
"Not at all. Can you let me have a room? I notice that the gentleman
whom I have just seen----"
She cut me short. I was about to explain that I was a Bohemian, too.
"'E's gorn for a stroll, sir. I expec' him back every moment. 'E's
forgot 'is latchkey. Thet's why I'm sitting up for 'im. Mrs. Driver my
name is, sir. That's my name, and well known in the neighbour'ood."
Mrs. Driver spoke earnestly, but breathlessly.
"I do not contemplate asking you, Mrs. Driver, to give me the
apartments already engaged by the literary gentleman----"
"Yes, sir," she interpolated, "that's wot 'e wos, I mean is. A literary
"But have you not another room vacant?"
"The second-floor back, sir. Very comfortable, nice room, sir. Shady in
the morning, and gets the setting sun."
Had the meteorological conditions been adverse to the point of
malignancy, I should have closed with her terms. Simple agreements were
ratified then and there by the light of a candle in the passage, and I
left the house, promising to "come in" in the course of the following
I EVACUATE BOHEMIA
_(James Orlebar Cloister's narrative continued)_
The three weeks which I spent at No. 93A mark an epoch in my life. It
was during that period that I came nearest to realising my ambition to
be a Bohemian; and at the end of the third week, for reasons which I
shall state, I deserted Bohemia, firmly and with no longing, lingering
glance behind, and settled down to the prosaic task of grubbing
earnestly for money.
The second-floor back had a cupboard of a bedroom leading out of it.
Even I, desirous as I was of seeing romance in everything, could not
call my lodgings anything but dingy, dark, and commonplace. They were
just like a million other of London's mean lodgings. The window looked
out over a sea of backyards, bounded by tall, depressing houses, and
intersected by clothes-lines. A cats' club (social, musical, and
pugilistic) used to meet on the wall to the right of my window. One or
two dissipated trees gave the finishing touch of gloom to the scene.
Nor was the interior of the room more cheerful. The furniture had been
put in during the reign of George III, and last dusted in that of
William and Mary. A black horse-hair sofa ran along one wall. There was
a deal table, a chair, and a rickety bookcase. It was a room for a
realist to write in; and my style, such as it was, was bright and
Once in, I set about the task of ornamenting my abode with much vigour.
I had my own ideas of mural decoration. I papered the walls with
editorial rejection forms, of which I was beginning to have a
representative collection. Properly arranged, these look very striking.
There is a good deal of variety about them. The ones I liked best were
those which I received, at the rate of three a week, bearing a very
pleasing picture, in green, of the publishing offices at the top of the
sheet of note-paper. Scattered about in sufficient quantities, these
lend an air of distinction to a room. _Pearson's Magazine_ also
supplies a taking line in rejection forms. _Punch_'s I never cared
for very much. Neat, I grant you; but, to my mind, too cold. I like a
touch of colour in a rejection form.
In addition to these, I purchased from the grocer at the corner a
collection of pictorial advertisements. What I had really wanted was
the theatrical poster, printed and signed by well-known artists. But
the grocer didn't keep them, and I was impatient to create my proper
atmosphere. My next step was to buy a corncob pipe and a quantity of
rank, jet-black tobacco. I hated both, and kept them more as ornaments
than for use.
Then, having hacked my table about with a knife and battered it with a
poker till it might have been the table of a shaggy and unrecognised
genius, I settled down to work.
I was not a brilliant success. I had that "little knowledge" which is
held to be such a dangerous thing. I had not plunged into the literary
profession without learning a few facts about it. I had read nearly
every journalistic novel and "Hints on Writing for the Papers" book
that had ever been published. In theory I knew all that there was to be
known about writing. Now, all my authorities were very strong on one
point. "Write," they said, very loud and clear, "not what _you_
like, but what editors like." I smiled to myself when I started. I felt
that I had stolen a march on my rivals. "All round me," I said to
myself, "are young authors bombarding editors with essays on Lucretius,
translations of Martial, and disquisitions on Ionic comedy. I know too
much for that. I work on a different plan." "Study the papers, and see
what they want," said my authorities. I studied the papers. Some wanted
one thing, apparently, others another. There was one group of three
papers whose needs seemed to coincide, and I could see an article
rejected by one paper being taken by another. This offered me a number
of chances instead of one. I could back my MSS. to win or for a place.
I began a serious siege of these three papers.
By the end of the second week I had had "Curious Freaks of Eccentric
Testators," "Singular Scenes in Court," "Actors Who Have Died on the
Stage," "Curious Scenes in Church," and seven others rejected by all
three. Somehow this sort of writing is not so easy as it looks. A man
who was on the staff of a weekly once told me that he had had two
thousand of these articles printed since he started--poor devil. He had
the knack. I could never get it. I sent up fifty-three in all in the
first year of my literary life, and only two stuck. I got fifteen
shillings from one periodical for "Men Who Have Missed Their Own
Weddings," and, later, a guinea from the same for "Single Day
Marriages." That paper has a penchant for the love-interest. Yet when I
sent it my "Duchesses Who Have Married Dustmen," it came back by the
early post next day. That was to me the worst part of those grey days.
I had my victories, but they were always followed by a series of
defeats. I would have a manuscript accepted by an editor. "Hullo," I
would say, "here's the man at last, the Editor-Who-Believes-In-Me. Let
the thing go on." I would send him off another manuscript. He would
take it. Victory, by Jove! Then--_wonk_! Back would come my third
effort with the curtest of refusals. I always imagined editors in those
days to be pettish, whimsical men who amused themselves by taking up a
beginner, and then, wearying of the sport, dropped him back into the
slime from which they had picked him.
In the intervals of articles I wrote short stories, again for the same
three papers. As before, I studied these papers carefully to see what
they wanted; then worked out a mechanical plot, invariably with a
quarrel in the first part, an accident, and a rescue in the middle, and
a reconciliation at the end--told it in a style that makes me hot all
over when I think of it, and sent it up, enclosing a stamped addressed
envelope in case of rejection. A very useful precaution, as it always
It was the little knowledge to which I have referred above which kept
my walls so thickly covered with rejection forms. I was in precisely
the same condition as a man who has been taught the rudiments of
boxing. I knew just enough to hamper me, and not enough to do me any
good. If I had simply blundered straight at my work and written just
what occurred to me in my own style, I should have done much better. I
have a sense of humour. I deliberately stifled it. For it I substituted
a grisly kind of playfulness. My hero called my heroine "little woman,"
and the concluding passage where he kissed her was written in a sly,
roguish vein, for which I suppose I shall have to atone in the next
world. Only the editor of the _Colney Hatch Argus_ could have
accepted work like mine. Yet I toiled on.
It was about the middle of my third week at No. 93A that I definitely
decided to throw over my authorities, and work by the light of my own
Nearly all my authorities had been very severe on the practice of
verse-writing. It was, they asserted, what all young beginners tried to
do, and it was the one thing editors would never look at. In the first
ardour of my revolt I determined to do a set of verses.
It happened that the weather had been very bad for the last few days.
After a month and a half of sunshine the rain had suddenly begun to
fall. I took this as my topic. It was raining at the time. I wrote a
satirical poem, full of quaint rhymes.
I had always had rather a turn for serious verse. It struck me that the
rain might be treated poetically as well as satirically. That night I
sent off two sets of verses to a daily and an evening paper. Next day
both were in print, with my initials to them.
I began to see light.
"Verse is the thing," I said. "I will reorganise my campaign. First the
skirmishers, then the real attack. I will peg along with verses till
somebody begins to take my stories and articles."
I felt easier in my mind than I had felt for some time. A story came
back by the nine o'clock post from a monthly magazine (to which I had
sent it from mere bravado), but the thing did not depress me. I got out
my glue-pot and began to fasten the rejection form to the wall,
whistling a lively air as I did so.
While I was engaged in this occupation there was a testy rap at the
door, and Mrs. Driver appeared. She eyed my manoeuvres with the
rejection form with a severe frown. After a preliminary sniff she
embarked upon a rapid lecture on what she called my irregular and
untidy habits. I had turned her second-floor back, she declared, into a
"Sech a litter," she said.
"But," I protested, "this is a Bohemian house, is it not?"
She appeared so shocked--indeed, so infuriated, that I dared not give
her time to answer.
"The gentleman below, he's not very tidy," I added diplomatically.
"Wot gent below?" said Mrs. Driver.
I reminded her of the night of my arrival.
"Oh, '_im_," she said, shaken. "Well, 'e's not come back."
"Mrs. Driver," I said sternly, "you said he'd gone out for a stroll. I
refuse to believe that any man would stroll for three weeks."
"So I did say it," was the defiant reply. "I said it so as you
shouldn't be put off coming. You looked a steady young feller, and I
wanted a let. Wish I'd told you the truth, if it 'ad a-stopped you."
"What is the truth?"
"'E was a wrong 'un, 'e wos. Writing begging letters to parties as was
a bit soft, that wos '_is_ little gime. But 'e wos a bit too
clever one day, and the coppers got 'im. Now you know!"
Mrs. Driver paused after this outburst, and allowed her eye to wander
slowly and ominously round my walls.
I was deeply moved. My one link with Bohemia had turned out a fraud.
Mrs. Driver's voice roused me from my meditations.
"I must arst you to be good enough, if _you_ please, kindly to
remove those there bits of paper."
She pointed to the rejection forms.
I hesitated. I felt that it was a thing that ought to be broken gently.
"The fact is, Mrs. Driver," I said, "and no one can regret it more
deeply than I do--the fact is, they're stuck on with glue."
Two minutes later I had received my marching orders, and the room was
still echoing with the slam of the door as it closed behind the
indignant form of my landlady.
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
The problem of lodgings in London is an easy one to a man with an
adequate supply of money in his pocket. The only difficulty is to
select the most suitable, to single out from the eager crowd the ideal
Evicted from No. 93A, it seemed to me that I had better abandon
Bohemia; postpone my connection with that land of lotus-eaters for the
moment, while I provided myself with the means of paying rent and
buying dinners. Farther down the King's Road there were comfortable
rooms to be had for a moderate sum per week. They were prosaic, but
inexpensive. I chose Walpole Street. A fairly large bed-sitting room
was vacant at No. 23. I took it, and settled down seriously to make my
There were advantages in Walpole Street which Manresa Road had lacked.
For one thing, there was more air, and it smelt less than the Manresa
Road air. Walpole Street is bounded by Burton Court, where the
Household Brigade plays cricket, and the breezes from the river come to
it without much interruption. There was also more quiet. No. 23 is the
last house in the street, and, even when I sat with my window open, the
noise of traffic from the King's Road was faint and rather pleasant. It
was an excellent spot for a man who meant to work. Except for a certain
difficulty in getting my landlady and her daughters out of the room
when they came to clear away my meals and talk about the better days
they had seen, and a few imbroglios with the eight cats which infested
the house, it was the best spot, I think, that I could have chosen.
Living a life ruled by the strictest economy, I gradually forged ahead.
Verse, light and serious, continued my long suit. I generally managed
to place two of each brand a week; and that meant two guineas,
sometimes more. One particularly pleasing thing about this
verse-writing was that there was no delay, as there was with my prose.
I would write a set of verses for a daily paper after tea, walk to
Fleet Street with them at half-past six, thus getting a little
exercise; leave them at the office; and I would see them in print in
the next morning's issue. Payment was equally prompt. The rule was,
Send in your bill before five on Wednesday, and call for payment on
Friday at seven. Thus I had always enough money to keep me going during
In addition to verses, I kept turning out a great quantity of prose,
fiction, and otherwise, but without much success. The visits of the
postmen were the big events of the day at that time. Before I had been
in Walpole Street a week I could tell by ear the difference between a
rejected manuscript and an ordinary letter. There is a certain solid
_plop_ about the fall of the former which not even a long envelope
full of proofs can imitate successfully.
I worked extraordinarily hard at that time. All day, sometimes. The
thought of Margie waiting in Guernsey kept me writing when I should
have done better to have taken a rest. My earnings were small in
proportion to my labour. The guineas I made, except from verse, were
like the ounce of gold to the ton of ore. I no longer papered the walls
with rejection forms; but this was from choice, not from necessity. I
had plenty of material, had I cared to use it.
I made a little money, of course. My takings for the first month
amounted to L9 10s. I notched double figures in the next with Lll 1s.
6d. Then I dropped to L7 0s. 6d. It was not starvation, but it was
still more unlike matrimony.
But at the end of the sixth month there happened to me what, looking
back, I consider to be the greatest piece of good fortune of my life. I
received a literary introduction. Some authorities scoff at literary
introductions. They say that editors read everything, whether they know
the author or not. So they do; and, if the work is not good, a letter
to the editor from a man who once met his cousin at a garden-party is
not likely to induce him to print it. There is no journalistic "ring"
in the sense in which the word is generally used; but there are
undoubtedly a certain number of men who know the ropes, and can act as
pilots in a strange sea; and an introduction brings one into touch with
them. There is a world of difference between contributing blindly work
which seems suitable to the style of a paper and sending in matter
designed to attract the editor personally.
Mr. Macrae, whose pupil I had been at Cambridge, was the author of my
letter of introduction. At St. Gabriel's, Mr. Macrae had been a man for
whom I entertained awe and respect. Likes and dislikes in connection
with one's tutor seemed outside the question. Only a chance episode had
shown me that my tutor was a mortal with a mortal's limitations. We
were bicycling together one day along the Trumpington Road, when a form
appeared, coming to meet us. My tutor's speech grew more and more
halting as the form came nearer. At last he stopped talking altogether,
and wobbled in his saddle. The man bowed to him, and, as if he had won
through some fiery ordeal, he shot ahead like a gay professional rider.
When I drew level with him, he said, "That, Mr. Cloyster, is my
Mr. Macrae was typical of the University don who is Scotch. He had
married the senior historian of Newnham. He lived (and still lives) by
proxy. His publishers order his existence. His honeymoon had been
placed at the disposal of these gentlemen, and they had allotted to
that period an edition of Aristotle's Ethics. Aristotle, accordingly,
received the most scholarly attention from the recently united couple
somewhere on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. All the reviews were
In my third year at St. Gabriel's it was popularly supposed that Master
Pericles Aeschylus, Mr. Macrae's infant son, was turned to correct my
Latin prose, though my Iambics were withheld from him at the request of
the family doctor.
The letter which Pericles Aeschylus's father had addressed to me was
one of the pleasantest surprises I have ever had. It ran as follows:
_St. Gabriel's College,
MY DEAR CLOYSTER,--The divergence of our duties and pleasures
during your residence here caused us to see but little of each
other. Would it had been otherwise! And too often our intercourse
had--on my side--a distinctly professional flavour. Your attitude
towards your religious obligations was, I fear, something to seek.
Indeed, the line, "_Pastor deorum cultor et infrequens_,"
might have been directly inspired by your views on the keeping
of Chapels. On the other hand, your contributions to our musical
festivities had the true Aristophanes _panache_.
I hear you are devoting yourself to literature, and I beg that
you will avail yourself of the enclosed note, which is addressed
to a personal friend of mine.
David Ossian Macrae._
The enclosure bore this inscription:
CHARLES FERMIN, ESQ.,
Offices of the _Orb_,
I had received the letter at breakfast. I took a cab, and drove
straight to the _Orb_.
A painted hand, marked "Editorial," indicated a flight of stairs. At
the top of these I was confronted by a glass door, beyond which,
entrenched behind a desk, sat a cynical-looking youth. A smaller boy in
the background talked into a telephone. Both were giggling. On seeing
me the slightly larger of the two advanced with a half-hearted attempt
at solemnity, though unable to resist a Parthian shaft at his
companion, who was seized on the instant with a paroxysm of suppressed
My letter was taken down a mysterious stone passage. After some waiting
the messenger returned with the request that I would come back at
eleven, as Mr. Fermin would be very busy till then.
I went out into the Strand, and sought a neighbouring hostelry. It was
essential that I should be brilliant at the coming interview, if only
spirituously brilliant; and I wished to remove a sensation of stomachic
emptiness, such as I had been wont to feel at school when approaching
the headmaster's study.
At eleven I returned, and asked again for Mr. Fermin; and presently he
appeared--a tall, thin man, who gave one the impression of being in a
hurry. I knew him by reputation as a famous quarter-miler. He had been
president of the O.U.A.C. some years back. He looked as if at any
moment he might dash off in any direction at quarter-mile pace.
We shook hands, and I tried to look intelligent.
"Sorry to have to keep you waiting," he said, as we walked to his club;
"but we are always rather busy between ten and eleven, putting the
column through. Gresham and I do 'On Your Way,' you know. The last copy
has to be down by half-past ten."
We arrived at the Club, and sat in a corner of the lower smoking-room.
"Macrae says that you are going in for writing. Of course, I'll do
anything I can, but it isn't easy to help a man. As it happens, though,
I can put you in the way of something, if it's your style of work. Do
you ever do verse?"
I felt like a batsman who sees a slow full-toss sailing through the
"It's the only thing I can get taken," I said. "I've had quite a lot in
the _Chronicle_ and occasional bits in other papers."
He seemed relieved.
"Oh, that's all right, then," he said. "You know 'On Your Way.' Perhaps
you'd care to come in and do that for a bit? It's only holiday work,
but it'll last five weeks. And if you do it all right I can get you the
whole of the holiday work on the column. That comes to a good lot in
the year. We're always taking odd days off. Can you come up at a
"Easily," I said.
"Then, you see, if you did that you would drop into the next vacancy on
the column. There's no saying when one may occur. It's like the General
Election. It may happen tomorrow, or not for years. Still, you'd be on
the spot in case."
"It's awfully good of you."
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, I was rather in difficulties about
getting a holiday man. I'm off to Scotland the day after tomorrow, and
I had to find a sub. Well, then, will you come in on Monday?"
"You've had no experience of newspaper work, have you?"
"Well, all the work at the _Orb's_ done between nine and eleven.
You must be there at nine sharp. Literally sharp, I mean. Not
half-past. And you'd better do some stuff overnight for the first week
or so. You'll find working in the office difficult till you get used to
it. Of course, though, you'll always have Gresham there, so there's no
need to get worried. He can fill the column himself, if he's pushed.
Four or five really good paragraphs a day and an occasional set of
verses are all he'll want from you."
"On Monday, then. Nine sharp. Good-bye."
I walked home along Piccadilly with almost a cake-walk stride. At last
I was in the inner circle.
An _Orb_ cart passed me. I nodded cheerfully to the driver. He was
one of _Us_.
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
I determined to celebrate the occasion by dining out, going to a
theatre, and having supper afterwards, none of which things were
ordinarily within my means. I had not been to a theatre since I had
arrived in town; and, except on Saturday nights, I always cooked my own
dinner, a process which was cheap, and which appealed to the passion
for Bohemianism which I had not wholly cast out of me.
The morning paper informed me that there were eleven musical comedies,
three Shakespeare plays, a blank verse drama, and two comedies ("last
weeks") for me to choose from. I bought a stall at the Briggs Theatre.
Stanley Briggs, who afterwards came to bulk large in my small world,
was playing there in a musical comedy which had had even more than the
customary musical-comedy success.
London by night had always had an immense fascination for me. Coming
out of the restaurant after supper, I felt no inclination to return to
my lodgings, and end the greatest night of my life tamely with a book
and a pipe. Here was I, a young man, fortified by an excellent supper,
in the heart of Stevenson's London. Why should I have no New Arabian
Night adventure? I would stroll about for half an hour, and give London
a chance of living up to its reputation.
I walked slowly along Piccadilly, and turned up Rupert Street. A magic
name. Prince Florizel of Bohemia had ended his days there in his
tobacconist's divan. Mr. Gilbert's Policeman Forth had been discovered
there by the men of London at the end of his long wanderings through
Soho. Probably, if the truth were known, Rudolf Rassendyl had spent
part of his time there. It could not be that Rupert Street would send
me empty away.
My confidence was not abused. Turning into Rupert Court, a dark and
suggestive passage some short distance up the street on the right, I
found a curious little comedy being played.
A door gave on to the deserted passageway, and on each side of it stood
a man--the lurcher type of man that is bred of London streets. The door
opened inwards. Another man stepped out. The hands of one of the
lurchers flew to the newcomer's mouth. The hands of the other lurcher
flew to the newcomer's pockets.
At that moment I advanced.
The lurchers vanished noiselessly and instantaneously.
Their victim held out his hand.
"Come in, won't you?" he said, smiling sleepily at me.
I followed him in, murmuring something about "caught in the act."
He repeated the phrase as we went upstairs.
"'Caught in the act.' Yes, they are ingenious creatures. Let me
introduce myself. My name is Julian Eversleigh. Sit down, won't you?
Excuse me for a moment."
He crossed to a writing-table.
Julian Eversleigh inhabited a single room of irregular shape. It was
small, and situated immediately under the roof. One side had a window
which overlooked Rupert Court. The view from it was, however,
restricted, because the window was inset, so that the walls projecting
on either side prevented one seeing more than a yard or two of the
The room contained a hammock, a large tin bath, propped up against the
wall, a big wardrobe, a couple of bookcases, a deal writing-table--at
which the proprietor was now sitting with a pen in his mouth, gazing at
the ceiling--and a divan-like formation of rugs and cube sugar boxes.
The owner of this mixed lot of furniture wore a very faded blue serge
suit, the trousers baggy at the knees and the coat threadbare at the
elbows. He had the odd expression which green eyes combined with red
hair give a man.
"Caught in the act," he was murmuring. "Caught in the act."
The phrase seemed to fascinate him.
I had established myself on the divan, and was puffing at a cigar,
which I had bought by way of setting the coping-stone on my night's
extravagance, before he got up from his writing.
"Those fellows," he said, producing a bottle of whisky and a syphon
from one of the lower drawers of the wardrobe, "did me a double
service. They introduced me to you--say when--and they gave me----"
"But how did it happen?" I asked.
"Quite simple," he answered. "You see, my friends, when they call on me
late at night, can't get in by knocking at the front door. It is a
shop-door, and is locked early. Vancott, my landlord, is a baker, and,
as he has to be up making muffins somewhere about five in the
morning--we all have our troubles--he does not stop up late. So people
who want me go into the court, and see whether my lamp is burning by
the window. If it is, they stand below and shout, 'Julian,' till I open
the door into the court. That's what happened tonight. I heard my name
called, went down, and walked into the arms of the enterprising
gentlemen whom you chanced to notice. They must have been very hungry,
for even if they had carried the job through they could not have
expected to make their fortunes. In point of fact, they would have
cleared one-and-threepence. But when you're hungry you can see no
further than the pit of your stomach. Do you know, I almost sympathise
with the poor brutes. People sometimes say to me, 'What are you?' I
have often half a mind to reply, 'I have been hungry.' My stars, be
hungry once, and you're educated, if you don't die of it, for a
This sort of talk from a stranger might have been the prelude to an
appeal for financial assistance.
He dissipated that half-born thought.
"Don't be uneasy," he said; "you have not been lured up here by the
ruse of a clever borrower. I can do a bit of touching when in the mood,
mind you, but you're safe. You are here because I see that you are a
"Thank you," I said.
"Besides," he continued, "I am not hungry at present. In fact, I shall
never be hungry again."
"You're lucky," I remarked.
"I am. I am the fortunate possessor of the knack of writing
"Indeed," I said, feeling awkward, for I saw that I ought to be
"Ah!" he said, laughing outright. "You're not impressed in the least,
really. But I'll ask you to consider what advertisements mean. First,
they are the life-essence of every newspaper, every periodical, and
"Practically, yes. Most books contain some latent support of a fashion
in clothes or food or drink, or of some pleasant spot or phase of
benevolence or vice, all of which form the interest of one or other of
the sections of society, which sections require publicity at all costs
for their respective interests."
I was about to probe searchingly into so optimistic a view of modern
authorship, but he stalled me off by proceeding rapidly with his
"Apart, however, from the less obvious modes of advertising, you'll
agree that this is the age of all ages for the man who can write puffs.
'Good wine needs no bush' has become a trade paradox, 'Judge by
appearances,' a commercial platitude. The man who is ambitious and
industrious turns his trick of writing into purely literary channels,
and becomes a novelist. The man who is not ambitious and not
industrious, and who does not relish the prospect of becoming a loafer
in Strand wine-shops, writes advertisements. The gold-bearing area is
always growing. It's a Tom Tiddler's ground. It is simply a question of
picking up the gold and silver. The industrious man picks up as much as
he wants. Personally, I am easily content. An occasional nugget
satisfies me. Here's tonight's nugget, for instance."
I took the paper he handed to me. It bore the words:
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
CAUGHT IN THE ACT of drinking Skeffington's Sloe Gin, a man will
always present a happy and smiling appearance. Skeffington's Sloe
Gin adds a crowning pleasure to prosperity, and is a consolation
in adversity. Of all Grocers.
"Skeffington's," he said, "pay me well. I'm worth money to them, and
they know it. At present they are giving me a retainer to keep my work
exclusively for them. The stuff they have put on the market is neither
better nor worse than the average sloe gin. But my advertisements have
given it a tremendous vogue. It is the only brand that grocers stock.
Since I made the firm issue a weekly paper called _Skeffington's
Poultry Farmer_, free to all country customers, the consumption of
sloe gin has been enormous among agriculturists. My idea, too, of
supplying suburban buyers gratis with a small drawing-book, skeleton
illustrations, and four coloured chalks, has made the drink popular
with children. You must have seen the poster I designed. There's a
reduced copy behind you. The father of a family is unwrapping a bottle
of Skeffington's Sloe Gin. His little ones crowd round him, laughing
and clapping their hands. The man's wife is seen peeping roguishly in
through the door. Beneath is the popular catch-phrase, "Ain't mother
going to 'ave none?"
"You're a genius," I cried.
"Hardly that," he said. "At least, I have no infinite capacity for
taking pains. I am one of Nature's slackers. Despite my talent for
drawing up advertisements, I am often in great straits owing to my
natural inertia and a passionate love of sleep. I sleep on the
slightest provocation or excuse. I will back myself to sleep against
anyone in the world, no age, weight, or colour barred. You, I should
say, are of a different temperament. More energetic. The Get On or Get
Out sort of thing. The Young Hustler."
"Rather," I replied briskly, "I am in love."
"So am I," said Julian Eversleigh. "Hopelessly, however. Give us a
After that we confirmed our friendship by smoking a number of pipes
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
After the first week "On Your Way," on the _Orb_, offered hardly
any difficulty. The source of material was the morning papers, which
were placed in a pile on our table at nine o'clock. The halfpenny
papers were our principal support. Gresham and I each took one, and
picked it clean. We attended first to the Subject of the Day. This was
generally good for two or three paragraphs of verbal fooling. There was
a sort of tradition that the first half-dozen paragraphs should be
topical. The rest might be topical or not, as occasion served.
The column usually opened with a one-line pun--Gresham's invention.
Gresham was a man of unparalleled energy and ingenuity. He had created
several of the typical characters who appeared from time to time in "On
Your Way," as, for instance, Mrs. Jenkinson, our Mrs. Malaprop, and
Jones junior, our "howler" manufacturing schoolboy. He was also a stout
apostle of a mode of expression which he called "funny language." Thus,
instead of writing boldly: "There is a rumour that----," I was taught to
say, "It has got about that----." This sounds funnier in print, so
Gresham said. I could never see it myself.
Gresham had a way of seizing on any bizarre incident reported in the
morning papers, enfolding it in "funny language," adding a pun, and
thus making it his own. He had a cunning mastery of periphrasis, and a
telling command of adverbs.
Here is an illustration. An account was given one morning by the
Central news of the breaking into of a house at Johnsonville (Mich.) by
a negro, who had stolen a quantity of greenbacks. The thief, escaping
across some fields, was attacked by a cow, which, after severely
injuring the negro, ate the greenbacks.
Gresham's unacknowledged version of the episode ran as follows:
"The sleepy god had got the stranglehold on John Denville when Caesar
Bones, a coloured gentleman, entered John's house at Johnsonville
(Mich.) about midnight. Did the nocturnal caller disturb his slumbering
host? No. Caesar Bones has the finer feelings. But as he was
noiselessly retiring, what did he see? Why, a pile of greenbacks which
John had thoughtlessly put away in a fire-proof safe."
To prevent the story being cut out by the editor, who revised all the
proofs of the column, with the words "too long" scribbled against it,
Gresham continued his tale in another paragraph.
"'Dis am berry insecure,' murmured the visitor to himself,
transplanting the notes in a neighbourly way into his pocket. Mark the
sequel. The noble Caesar met, on his homeward path, an irritable
cudster. The encounter was brief. Caesar went weak in the second round,
and took the count in the third. Elated by her triumph, and hungry from
her exertions, the horned quadruped nosed the wad of paper money and
daringly devoured it. Caesar has told the court that if he is convicted
of felony, he will arraign the owner of the ostrich-like bovine on a
charge of receiving stolen goods. The owner merely ejaculates 'Black
On his day Gresham could write the column and have a hundred lines over
by ten o'clock. I, too, found plenty of copy as a rule, though I
continued my practice of doing a few paragraphs overnight. But every
now and then fearful days would come, when the papers were empty of
material for our purposes, and when two out of every half-dozen
paragraphs which we did succeed in hammering out were returned deleted
on the editor's proof.
The tension at these times used to be acute. The head printer would
send up a relay of small and grubby boys to remind us that "On Your
Way" was fifty lines short. At ten o'clock he would come in person, and
Gresham, the old hand, applied to such occasions desperate remedies. He
would manufacture out of even the most pointless item of news two
paragraphs by adding to his first the words, "This reminds us of
Mr. Punch's famous story." He would then go through the bound volumes
of _Punch_--we had about a dozen in the room--with lightning speed
until he chanced upon a more or less appropriate tag.
Those were mornings when verses would be padded out from three stanzas
to five, Gresham turning them out under fifteen minutes. He had a
wonderful facility for verse.
As a last expedient one fell back upon a standing column, a moth-eaten
collection of alleged jests which had been set up years ago to meet the
worst emergencies. It was, however, considered a confession of weakness
and a degradation to use this column.
We had also in our drawer a book of American witticisms, published in
New York. To cut one out, preface it with "A good American story comes
to hand," and pin it on a slip was a pleasing variation of the usual
mode of constructing a paragraph. Gresham and I each had our favourite
method. Personally, I had always a partiality for dealing with
"buffers." "The brakes refused to act, and the train struck the buffers
at the end of the platform" invariably suggested that if elderly
gentlemen would abstain from loitering on railway platforms, they would
not get hurt in this way.
Gresham had a similar liking for "turns." "The performance at the
Frivoli Music Hall was in full swing when the scenery was noticed to be
on fire. The audience got a turn. An extra turn."
Julian Eversleigh, to whom I told my experiences on the _Orb_,
said he admired the spirit with which I entered into my duties. He
said, moreover, that I had a future before me, not only as a
journalist, but as a writer.
Nor, indeed, could I help seeing for myself that I was getting on. I
was making a fair income now, and had every prospect of making a much
better one. My market was not restricted. Verses, articles, and fiction
from my pen were being accepted with moderate regularity by many of the
minor periodicals. My scope was growing distinctly wider. I found, too,
that my work seemed to meet with a good deal more success when I sent
it in from the _Orb_, with a letter to the editor on _Orb_ notepaper.
Altogether, my five weeks on the _Orb_ were invaluable to me. I
ought to have paid rather than have taken payment for working on the
column. By the time Fermin came back from Scotland to turn me out, I
was a professional. I had learned the art of writing against time. I
had learned to ignore noise, which, for a writer in London, is the most
valuable quality of all. Every day at the _Orb_ I had had to turn
out my stuff with the hum of the Strand traffic in my ears, varied by
an occasional barrel-organ, the whistling of popular songs by the
printers, whose window faced ours, and the clatter of a typewriter in
the next room. Often I had to turn out a paragraph or a verse while
listening and making appropriate replies to some other member of the
staff, who had wandered into our room to pass the time of day or read
out a bit of his own stuff which had happened to please him
particularly. All this gave me a power of concentration, without which
writing is difficult in this city of noises.
The friendship I formed with Gresham too, besides being pleasant, was
of infinite service to me. He knew all about the game. I followed his
advice, and prospered. His encouragement was as valuable as his advice.
He was my pilot, and saw me, at great trouble to himself, through the
I foresaw that the future held out positive hope that my marriage with
Margaret would become possible. And yet----
Pausing in the midst of my castle-building, I suffered a sense of
revulsion. I had been brought up to believe that the only adjective
that could be coupled with the noun "journalism" was "precarious." Was
I not, as Gresham would have said, solving an addition sum in infantile
poultry before their mother, the feathered denizen of the farmyard, had
lured them from their shell? Was I not mistaking a flash in the pan for
a genuine success?
These thoughts numbed my fingers in the act of writing to Margaret.
Instead, therefore, of the jubilant letter I had intended to send her,
I wrote one of quite a different tone. I mentioned the arduous nature
of my work. I referred to the struggle in which I was engaged. I
indicated cleverly that I was a man of extraordinary courage battling
with fate. I implied that I made just enough to live on.
It would have been cruel to arouse expectations which might never be
fulfilled. In this letter, accordingly, and in subsequent letters, I
rather went to the opposite extreme. Out of pure regard for Margaret, I
painted my case unnecessarily black. Considerations of a similar nature
prompted me to keep on my lodging in Walpole Street. I had two rooms
instead of one, but they were furnished severely and with nothing but
the barest necessaries.
I told myself through it all that I loved Margaret as dearly as ever.
Yet there were moments, and they seemed to come more frequently as the
days went on, when I found myself wondering. Did I really want to give
up all this? The untidiness, the scratch meals, the nights with Julian?
And, when I was honest, I answered, No.
Somehow Margaret seemed out of place in this new world of mine.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
The morning of New Year's Eve was a memorable one for me. My first
novel was accepted. Not an ambitious volume. It was rather short, and
the plot was not obtrusive. The sporting gentlemen who accepted it,
however--Messrs. Prodder and Way--seemed pleased with it; though, when
I suggested a sum in cash in advance of royalties, they displayed a
most embarrassing coyness--and also, as events turned out, good sense.
I carried the good news to Julian, whom I found, as usual, asleep in
his hammock. I had fallen into the habit of calling on him after my
_Orb_ work. He was generally sleepy when I arrived, at half-past
eleven, and while we talked I used to make his breakfast act as a
sort of early lunch for myself. He said that the people of the house
had begun by trying to make the arrival of his breakfast coincide with
the completion of his toilet; that this had proved so irksome that they
had struck; and that finally it had been agreed on both sides that the
meal should be put in his room at eleven o'clock, whether he was
dressed or not. He said that he often saw his breakfast come in, and
would drowsily determine to consume it hot. But he had never had the
energy to do so. Once, indeed, he had mistaken the time, and had
confidently expected that the morning of a hot breakfast had come at
last. He was dressed by nine, and had sat for two hours gloating over
the prospect of steaming coffee and frizzling bacon. On that particular
morning, however, there had been some domestic tragedy--the firing of a
chimney or the illness of a cook--and at eleven o'clock, not breakfast,
but an apology for its absence had been brought to him. This embittered
Julian. He gave up the unequal contest, and he has frequently confessed
to me that cold breakfast is an acquired, yet not unpleasant, taste.
He woke up when I came in, and, after hearing my news and
congratulating me, began to open the letters that lay on the table at
One of the envelopes had Skeffington's trade mark stamped upon it, and
contained a bank-note and a sheet closely type-written on both sides.
"Half a second, Jimmy," said he, and began to read.
I poured myself out a cup of cold coffee, and, avoiding the bacon and
eggs, which lay embalmed in frozen grease, began to lunch off bread and
"I'll do it," he burst out when he had finished. "It's a sweat--a
fearful sweat, but----
"Skeffington's have written urging me to undertake a rather original
advertising scheme. They're very pressing, and they've enclosed a
tenner in advance. They want me to do them a tragedy in four acts. I
sent them the scenario last week. I sketched out a skeleton plot in
which the hero is addicted to a strictly moderate use of Skeffington's
Sloe Gin. His wife adopts every conceivable measure to wean him from
this harmless, even praiseworthy indulgence. At the end of the second
act she thinks she has cured him. He has promised to gratify what he
regards as merely a capricious whim on her part. 'I will give--yes, I
will give it up, darling!' 'George! George!' She falls on his neck.
Over her shoulder he winks at the audience, who realise that there is
more to come. Curtain. In Act 3 the husband is seen sitting alone in
his study. His wife has gone to a party. The man searches in a cupboard
for something to read. Instead of a novel, however, he lights on a
bottle of Skeffington's Sloe Gin. Instantly the old overwhelming
craving returns. He hesitates. What does it matter? She will never
know. He gulps down glass after glass. He sinks into an intoxicated
stupor. His wife enters. Curtain again. Act 4. The draught of nectar
tasted in the former act after a period of enforced abstinence has
produced a deadly reaction. The husband, who previously improved his
health, his temper, and his intellect by a strictly moderate use of
Skeffington's Sloe Gin, has now become a ghastly dipsomaniac. His wife,
realising too late the awful effect of her idiotic antagonism to
Skeffington's, experiences the keenest pangs of despair. She drinks
laudanum, and the tragedy is complete."
"Fine," I said, finishing the coffee.
"In a deferential postscript," said Julian, "Skeffington's suggest an
alternative ending, that the wife should drink, not laudanum, but Sloe
Gin, and grow, under its benign influence, resigned to the fate she has
brought on her husband and herself. Resignation gives way to hope. She
devotes her life to the care of the inebriate man, and, by way of
pathetic retribution, she lives precisely long enough to nurse him back
to sanity. Which finale do you prefer?"
"Yours!" I said.
"Thank you," said Julian, considerably gratified. "So do I. It's
terser, more dramatic, and altogether a better advertisement.
Skeffington's make jolly good sloe gin, but they can't arouse pity and
terror. Yes, I'll do it; but first let me spend the tenner."
"I'm taking a holiday, too, today," I said. "How can we amuse
Julian had opened the last of his letters. He held up two cards.
"Tickets for Covent Garden Ball tonight," he said. "Why not come? It's
sure to be a good one."
"I should like to," I said. "Thanks."
Julian dropped from his hammock, and began to get his bath ready.
We arranged to dine early at the Maison Suisse in Rupert Street--
_table d'hote_ one franc, plus twopence for mad'moiselle--and
go on to the gallery of a first night. I was to dress for Covent Garden
at Julian's after the theatre, because white waistcoats and the franc
_table d'hote_ didn't go well together.
When I dined out, I usually went to the Maison Suisse. I shall never
have the chance of going again, even if, as a married man, I were
allowed to do so, for it has been pulled down to make room for the
Hicks Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. When I did not dine there, I
attended a quaint survival of last century's coffee-houses in
Glasshouse Street: Tall, pew-like boxes, wooden tables without
table-cloths, panelled walls; an excellent menu of chops, steaks, fried
eggs, sausages, and other British products. Once the resort of bucks
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