Not George Washington
P. G. Wodehouse
Part 2 out of 4
and Macaronis, Ford's coffee-house I found frequented by a strange
assortment of individuals, some of whom resembled bookmakers' touts,
others clerks of an inexplicably rustic type. Who these people really
were I never discovered.
"I generally have supper at Pepolo's," said Julian, as we left the
theatre, "before a Covent Garden Ball. Shall we go on there?"
There are two entrances to Pepolo's restaurant, one leading to the
ground floor, the other to the brasserie in the basement. I liked to
spend an hour or so there occasionally, smoking and watching the
crowd. Every sixth visit on an average I would happen upon somebody
interesting among the ordinary throng of medical students and
third-rate clerks--watery-eyed old fellows who remembered Cremorne, a
mahogany derelict who had spent his youth on the sea when liners were
sailing-ships, and the apprentices, terrorised by bullying mates and
the rollers of the Bay, lay howling in the scuppers and prayed to be
thrown overboard. He told me of one voyage on which the Malay cook went
mad, and, escaping into the ratlines, shot down a dozen of the crew
before he himself was sniped.
The supper tables are separated from the brasserie by a line of stucco
arches, and as it was now a quarter to twelve the place was full. At a
first glance it seemed that there were no empty supper tables.
Presently, however, we saw one, laid for four, at which only one man
"Hullo!" said Julian, "there's Malim. Let's go and see if we can push
into his table. Well, Malim, how are you? Do you know Cloyster?"
Mr. Malim had a lofty expression. I should have put him down as a
scholarly recluse. His first words upset this view somewhat.
"Coming to Covent Garden?" he said, genially. "I am. So is Kit. She'll
be down soon."
"Good," said Julian; "may Jimmy and I have supper at your table?"
"Do," said Malim. "Plenty of room. We'd better order our food and not
wait for her."
We took our places, and looked round us. The hum of conversation was
persistent. It rose above the clatter of the supper tables and the
sudden bursts of laughter.
It was now five minutes to twelve. All at once those nearest the door
sprang to their feet. A girl in scarlet and black had come in.
"Ah, there's Kit at last," said Malim.
"They're cheering her," said Julian.
As he spoke, the tentative murmur of a cheer was caught up by everyone.
Men leaped upon chairs and tables.
"Hullo, hullo, hullo!" said Kit, reaching us. "Kiddie, when they do
that it makes me feel shy."
She was laughing like a child. She leaned across the table, put her
arms round Malim's neck, and kissed him. She glanced at us.
Malim smiled quietly, but said nothing.
She kissed Julian, and she kissed me.
"Now we're all friends," she said, sitting down.
"Better know each other's names," said Malim. "Kit, this is Mr.
Cloyster. Mr. Cloyster, may I introduce you to my wife?"
I MEET MR. THOMAS BLAKE
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
Someone had told me that, the glory of Covent Garden Ball had departed.
It may be so. Yet the floor, with its strange conglomeration of
music-hall artists, callow university men, shady horse-dealers, and
raucous military infants, had an atmosphere of more than meretricious
gaiety. The close of an old year and the birth of a new one touch the
The band was working away with a strident brassiness which filled the
room with noise. The women's dresses were a shriek of colour. The
vulgarity of the scene was so immense as to be almost admirable. It was
Watching his opportunity, Julian presently drew me aside into the
"Malim," he said, "has paid you a great compliment."
"Really," I said, rather surprised, for Julian's acquaintance had done
nothing more, to my knowledge, than give me a cigar and a
"He's introduced you to his wife."
"Very good of him, I'm sure."
"You don't understand. You see Kit for what she is: a pretty,
good-natured creature bred in the gutter. But Malim--well, he's in the
Foreign Office and is secretary to Sir George Grant."
"Then what in Heaven's name," I cried, "induced him to marry----"
"My dear Jimmy," said Julian, adroitly avoiding the arm of an exuberant
lady impersonating Winter, and making fair practice with her detachable
icicles, "it was Kit or no one. Just consider Malim's position, which
was that of thousands of other men of his type. They are the cleverest
men of their schools; they are the intellectual stars of their
Varsities. I was at Oxford with Malim. He was a sort of tin god.
Double-first and all that. Just like all the rest of them. They get
what is looked upon as a splendid appointment under Government. They
come to London, hire comfortable chambers or a flat, go off to their
office in the morning, leave it in the evening, and are given a salary
which increases by regular gradations from an initial two hundred a
year. Say that a man begins this kind of work at twenty-four. What are
his matrimonial prospects? His office work occupies his entire
attention (the idea that Government clerks don't work is a fiction
preserved merely for the writers of burlesque) from the moment he wakes
in the morning until dinner. His leisure extends, roughly speaking,
from eight-thirty until twelve. The man whom I am discussing, and of
whom Malim is a type, is, as I have already proved, intellectual. He
has, therefore, ambitions. The more intellectual he is the more he
loathes the stupid routine of his daily task. Thus his leisure is his
most valuable possession. There are books he wants to read--those
which he liked in the days previous to his slavery--and new ones which
he sees published every day. There are plays he wants to see performed.
And there are subjects on which he would like to write--would give his
left hand to write, if the loss of that limb wouldn't disqualify him
for his post. Where is his social chance? It surely exists only in the
utter abandonment of his personal projects. And to go out when one is
tied to the clock is a poor sort of game. But suppose he _does_
seek the society of what friends he can muster in London. Is he made
much of, fussed over? Not a bit of it. Brainless subalterns, ridiculous
midshipmen, have, in the eyes of the girl whom he has come to see, a
reputation that he can never win. They're in the Service; they're so
dashing; they're so charmingly extravagant; they're so tremendous in
face of an emergency that their conversational limitations of "Yes" and
"No" are hailed as brilliant flights of genius. Their inane anecdotes,
their pointless observations are positively courted. It is they who
retire to the conservatory with the divine Violet, whose face is like
the Venus of Milo's, whose hair (one hears) reaches to her knees, whose
eyes are like blue saucers, and whose complexion is a pink poem. It is
Jane, the stumpy, the flat-footed--Jane, who wears glasses and has all
the virtues which are supposed to go with indigestion: big hands and an
enormous waist--Jane, I repeat, who is told off to talk to a man like
Malim. If, on the other hand, he and his fellows refuse to put on
evening clothes and be bored to death of an evening, who can blame
them? If they deliberately find enough satisfaction for their needs in
the company of a circle of men friends and the casual pleasures of the
town, selfishness is the last epithet with which their behaviour can be
charged. Unselfishness has been their curse. No sane person would, of
his own accord, become the automaton that a Government office requires.
Pressure on the part of relations, of parents, has been brought to bear
on them. The steady employment, the graduated income, the pension--that
fatal pension--has been danced by their fathers and their mothers and
their Uncle Johns before their eyes. Appeals have been made to them on
filial, not to say religious, grounds. Threats would have availed
nothing; but appeals--downright tearful appeals from mamma, husky,
hand-gripping appeals from papa--that is what has made escape
impossible. A huge act of unselfishness has been compelled; a lifetime
of reactionary egotism is inevitable and legitimate. I was wrong when I
said Malim was typical. He has to the good an ingenuity which assists
naturally in the solution of the problem of self and circumstance. A
year or two ago chance brought him in contact with Kit. They struck up
a friendship. He became an habitue at the Fried Fish Shop in Tottenham
Court Road. Whenever we questioned his taste he said that a physician
recommended fish as a tonic for the brain. But it was not his brain
that took Malim to the fried fish shop. It was his heart. He loved Kit,
and presently he married her. One would have said this was an
impossible step. Misery for Malim's people, his friends, himself, and
afterwards for Kit. But Nature has endowed both Malim and Kit with
extraordinary commonsense. He kept to his flat; she kept to her job in
the fried fish shop. Only, instead of living in, she was able to retire
after her day's work to a little house which he hired for her in the
Hampstead Road. Her work, for which she is eminently fitted, keeps her
out of mischief. His flat gives the impression to his family and the
head of his department that he is still a bachelor. Thus, all goes
"I've often read in the police reports," I said, "of persons who lead
double lives, and I'm much interested in----"
Malim and Kit bore down upon us. We rose.
"It's the march past," observed the former. "Come upstairs."
"Kiddie," said Kit, "give me your arm."
At half-past four we were in Wellington Street. It was a fine, mild
morning, and in the queer light of the false dawn we betook ourselves
to the Old Hummums for breakfast. Other couples had done the same. The
steps of the Hummums facing the market harboured already a waiting
crowd. The doors were to be opened at five. We also found places on the
stone steps. The market was alive with porters, who hailed our
appearance with every profession of delight. Early hours would seem to
lend a certain acidity to their badinage. By-and-by a more personal
note crept into their facetious comments. Two guardsmen on the top step
suddenly displayed, in return, a very creditable gift of repartee.
Covent Garden market was delighted. It felt the stern joy which
warriors feel with foemen worthy of their steel. It suspended its
juggling feats with vegetable baskets, and devoted itself exclusively
to the task of silencing our guns. Porters, costers, and the riff-raff
of the streets crowded in a semicircle around us. Just then it was
borne in on us how small our number was. A solid phalanx of the
toughest customers in London faced us. Behind this semicircle a line of
carts had been drawn up. Unseen enemies from behind this laager now
began to amuse themselves by bombarding us with the product of the
market garden. Tomatoes, cauliflowers, and potatoes came hurtling into
our midst. I saw Julian consulting his watch. "Five minutes more," he
said. I had noticed some minutes back that the ardour of the attack
seemed to centre round one man in particular--a short, very burly man
in a costume that seemed somehow vaguely nautical. His face wore the
expression of one cheerfully conscious of being well on the road to
intoxication. He was the ringleader. It was he who threw the largest
cabbage, the most _passe_ tomato. I don't suppose he had ever
enjoyed himself so much in his life. He was standing now on a cart full
of potatoes, and firing them in with tremendous force.
Kit saw him too.
"Why, there's that blackguard Tom!" she cried.
She had been told to sit down behind Malim for safety. Before anyone
could stop her, or had guessed her intention, she had pushed her way
through us and stepped out into the road.
It was so unexpected that there was an involuntary lull in the
She pointed an accusing finger at the man, who gaped beerily.
"Tom, who pinched farver's best trousers, and popped them?"
There was a roar of laughter. A moment before, and Tom had been the pet
of the market, the energetic leader, the champion potato-slinger. Now
he was a thing of derision. His friends took up the question. Keen
anxiety was expressed on all sides as to the fate of father's trousers.
He was requested to be a man and speak up.
The uproar died away as it was seen that Kit had not yet finished.
"Cheese it, some of yer," shouted a voice. "The lady wants to orsk him
"Tom," said Kit, "who was sent with tuppence to buy postage-stamps and
spent it on beer?"
The question was well received by the audience. Tom was beaten. A
potato, vast and nobbly, fell from his palsied hand. He was speechless.
Then he began to stammer.
"Just you stop it, Tom," shouted Kit triumphantly. "Just you stop it,
d'you 'ear, you stop it."
She turned towards us on the steps, and, taking us all into her
confidence, added: "'E's a nice thing to 'ave for a bruvver, anyway."
Then she rejoined Malim, amid peals of laughter from both armies. It
was a Homeric incident.
Only a half-hearted attempt was made to renew the attack. And when the
door of the Hummums at last opened, Malim observed to Julian and me, as
we squashed our way in, that if a man's wife's relations were always as
opportune as Kit's, the greatest objection to them would be removed.
I MEET THE REV. JOHN HATTON
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
I saw a great deal of Malim after that. He and Julian became my two
chief mainstays when I felt in need of society. Malim was a man of
delicate literary skill, a genuine lover of books, a severe critic of
modern fiction. Our tastes were in the main identical, though it was
always a blow to me that he could see nothing humorous in Mr. George
Ade, whose Fables I knew nearly by heart. The more robust type of
humour left him cold.
In all other respects we agreed.
There is a never-failing fascination in a man with a secret. It gave
me a pleasant feeling of being behind the scenes, to watch Malim,
sitting in his armchair, the essence of everything that was
conventional and respectable, with Eton and Oxford written all over
him, and to think that he was married all the while to an employee in a
Tottenham Court Road fried-fish shop.
Kit never appeared in the flat: but Malim went nearly every evening to
the little villa. Sometimes he took Julian and myself, more often
myself alone, Julian being ever disinclined to move far from his
hammock. The more I saw of Kit the more thoroughly I realized how
eminently fitted she was to be Malim's wife. It was a union of
opposites. Except for the type of fiction provided by "penny libraries
of powerful stories." Kit had probably not read more than half a dozen
books in her life. Grimm's fairy stories she recollected dimly, and she
betrayed a surprising acquaintance with at least three of Ouida's
novels. I fancy that Malim appeared to her as a sort of combination of
fairy prince and Ouida guardsman. He exhibited the Oxford manner at
times rather noticeably. Kit loved it.
Till I saw them together I had thought Kit's accent and her incessant
mangling of the King's English would have jarred upon Malim. But I soon
found that I was wrong. He did not appear to notice.
I learned from Kit, in the course of my first visit to the villa, some
further particulars respecting her brother Tom, the potato-thrower of
Covent Garden Market. Mr. Thomas Blake, it seemed, was the proprietor
and skipper of a barge. A pleasant enough fellow when sober, but too
much given to what Kit described as "his drop." He had apparently left
home under something of a cloud, though whether this had anything to do
with "father's trousers" I never knew. Kit said she had not seen him
for some years, though each had known the other's address. It seemed
that the Blake family were not great correspondents.
"Have you ever met John Hatton?" asked Malim one night after dinner at
"John Hatton?" I answered. "No. Who is he?"
"A parson. A very good fellow. You ought to know him. He's a man with a
number of widely different interests. We were at Trinity together. He
jumps from one thing to another, but he's frightfully keen about
whatever he does. Someone was saying that he was running a boys' club
in the thickest part of Lambeth."
"There might be copy in it," I said.
"Or ideas for advertisements for Julian," said Malim. "Anyway, I'll
introduce you to him. Have you ever been in the Barrel?"
"What's the Barrel?"
"The Barrel is a club. It gets the name from the fact that it's the
only club in England that allows, and indeed urges, its members to sit
on a barrel. John Hatton is sometimes to be found there. Come round to
it tomorrow night."
"All right," I replied. "Where is it?"
"A hundred and fifty-three, York Street, Covent Garden. First floor."
"Very well," I said. "I'll meet you there at twelve o'clock. I can't
come sooner because I've got a story to write."
Twelve had just struck when I walked up York Street looking for No.
The house was brilliantly lighted on the first floor. The street door
opened on to a staircase, and as I mounted it the sound of a piano and
a singing voice reached me. At the top of the stairs I caught sight of
a waiter loaded with glasses. I called to him.
"Mr. Cloyster, sir? Yessir. I'll find out whether Mr. Malim can see
Malim came out to me. "Hatton's not here," he said, "but come in.
There's a smoking concert going on."
He took me into the room, the windows of which I had seen from the
There was a burst of cheering as we entered the room. The song was
finished, and there was a movement among the audience. "It's the
interval," said Malim.
Men surged out of the packed front room into the passage, and then into
a sort of bar parlour. Malim and I also made our way there. "That's the
fetish of the club," said Malim, pointing to a barrel standing on end;
"and I'll introduce you to the man who is sitting on it. He's little
Michael, the musical critic. They once put on an operetta of his at the
Court. It ran about two nights, but he reckons all the events of the
world from the date of its production."
"Mr. Cloyster--Mr. Michael."
The musician hopped down from the barrel and shook hands. He was a
dapper little person, and had a trick of punctuating every sentence
with a snigger.
"Cheer-o," he said genially. "Is this your first visit?"
I said it was.
"Then sit on the barrel. We are the only club in London who can offer
you the privilege." Accordingly I sat on the barrel, and through a
murmur of applause I could hear Michael telling someone that he'd first
seen that barrel five years before his operetta came out at the Court.
At that moment a venerable figure strode with dignity into the bar.
"Maundrell," said Malim to me. "The last of the old Bohemians. An old
actor. Always wears the steeple hat and a long coat with skirts."
The survivor of the days of Kean uttered a bellow for whisky-and-water.
"That barrel," he said, "reminds me of Buckstone's days at the
Haymarket. After the performance we used to meet at the Cafe de
l'Europe, a few yards from the theatre. Our secret society sat there."
"What was the society called, Mr. Maundrell?" asked a new member with
"Its name," replied the white-headed actor simply, "I shall not
divulge. It was not, however, altogether unconnected with the Pink Men
of the Blue Mountains. We used to sit, we who were initiated, in a
circle. We met to discuss the business of the society. Oh, we were the
observed of all observers, I can assure you. Our society was extensive.
It had its offshoots in foreign lands. Well, we at these meetings used
to sit round a barrel--a great big barrel, which had a hole in the top.
The barrel was not merely an ornament, for through the hole in the top
we threw any scraps and odds and ends we did not want. Bits of tobacco,
bread, marrow bones, the dregs of our glasses--anything and everything
went into the barrel. And so it happened, as the barrel became fuller
and fuller, strange animals made their appearance--animals of peculiar
shape and form crawled out of the barrel and would attempt to escape
across the floor. But we were on their tracks. We saw them. We headed
them off with our sticks, and we chased them back again to the place
where they had been born and bred. We poked them in, sir, with our
Mr. Maundrell emitted a placid chuckle at this reminiscence.
"A good many members of this club," whispered Malim to me, "would have
gone back into that barrel."
A bell sounded. "That's for the second part to begin," said Malim.
We herded back along the passage. A voice cried, "Be seated, please,
At the far end of the room was a table for the chairman and the
committee, and to the left stood a piano. Everyone had now sat down
except the chairman, who was apparently not in the room. There was a
pause. Then a man from the audience whooped sharply and clambered over
the table and into the place of the chairman. He tapped twice with the
mallet. "Get out of that chair," yelled various voices.
"Gentlemen," said the man in the chair. A howl of execration went up,
and simultaneously the door was flung open. A double file of
white-robed Druids came, chanting, into the room.
The Druids carried in with them a small portable tree which they
proceeded to set upright. The chant now became extremely topical. Each
Druid sang a verse in turn, while his fellow Druids danced a stately
measure round the tree. As the verse was being sung, an imitation
granite altar was hastily erected.
The man in the chair, who had so far smoked a cigarette in silence, now
tapped again with his mallet. "Gentlemen," he observed.
The Druids ended their song abruptly, and made a dash at the occupant
of the chair. The audience stood up. "A victim for our ancient rites!"
screamed the Druids, falling upon the man and dragging him towards the
The victim showed every sign of objection to early English rites; but
he was dislodged, and after being dragged, struggling, across the
table, subsided quickly on the floor. The mob surged about and around
him. He was hidden from view. His position, however, could be located
by a series of piercing shrieks.
The door again opened. Mr. Maundrell, the real chairman of the evening,
stood on the threshold. "Chair!" was now the word that arose on every
side, and at this signal the Druids disappeared at a trot past the
long-bearded, impassive Mr. Maundrell. Their victim followed them, but
before he did so he picked up his trousers which were lying on the
All the time this scene had been going on, I fancied I recognised the
man in the chair. In a flash I remembered. It was Dawkins who had
coached First Trinity, and whom I, as a visitor once at the crew's
training dinner, had last seen going through the ancient and honourable
process of de-bagging at the hands of his light-hearted boat.
"Come on," said Malim. "Godfrey Lane's going to sing a patriotic song.
They _will_ let him do it. We'll go down to the Temple and find
We left the Barrel at about one o'clock. It was a typical London late
autumn night. Quiet with the peace of a humming top; warm with the heat
generated from mellow asphalt and resinous wood-paving.
We turned from Bedford Street eastwards along the Strand.
Between one and two the Strand is as empty as it ever is. It is given
over to lurchers and policemen. Fleet Street reproduces for this one
hour the Sahara.
"When I knock at the Temple gate late at night," said Malim, "and am
admitted by the night porter, I always feel a pleasantly archaic
I agreed with him. The process seemed a quaint admixture of an Oxford
or Cambridge college, Gottingen, and a feudal keep. And after the gate
had been closed behind one, it was difficult to realise that within a
few yards of an academic system of lawns and buildings full of living
traditions and associations which wainscoting and winding stairs
engender, lay the modern world, its American invaders, its new humour,
its women's clubs, its long firms, its musical comedies, its Park Lane,
and its Strand with the hub of the universe projecting from the roadway
at Charing Cross, plain for Englishmen to gloat over and for foreigners
Sixty-two Harcourt Buildings is emblazoned with many names, including
that of the Rev. John Hatton. The oak was not sported, and our rap at
the inner door was immediately answered by a shout of "Come in!" As we
opened it we heard a peculiar whirring sound. "Road skates," said
Hatton, gracefully circling the table and then coming to a standstill.
I was introduced. "I'm very glad to see you both," he said. "The two
other men I share these rooms with have gone away, so I'm killing time
by training for my road-skate tour abroad. It's trying for one's
"Could you go downstairs on them?" said Malim.
"Certainly," he replied, "I'll do so now. And when we're down, I'll
have a little practice in the open."
Whereupon he skated to the landing, scrambled down the stairs, sped up
Middle Temple Lane, and called the porter to let us out into Fleet
Street. He struck me as a man who differed in some respects from the
popular conception of a curate.
"I'll race you to Ludgate Circus and back," said the clergyman.
"You're too fast," said Malim; "it must be a handicap."
"We might do it level in a cab," said I, for I saw a hansom crawling
"Done," said the Rev. John Hatton. "Done, for half-a-crown!"
I climbed into the hansom, and Malim, about to follow me, found that a
constable, to whom the soil of the City had given spontaneous birth,
was standing at his shoulder. "Wot's the game?" inquired the officer,
with tender solicitude.
"A fine night, Perkins," remarked Hatton.
"A fine morning, beggin' your pardon, sir," said the policeman
facetiously. He seemed to be an acquaintance of the skater.
"Reliability trials," continued Hatton. "Be good enough to start us,
"Very good, sir," said Perkins.
"Drive to Ludgate Circus and back, and beat the gentleman on the
skates," said Malim to our driver, who was taking the race as though he
assisted at such events in the course of his daily duty.
"Hi shall say, 'Are you ready? Horf!'"
"We shall have Perkins applying to the Jockey Club for Ernest
Willoughby's job," whispered Malim.
"Are you ready? Horf!"
Hatton was first off the mark. He raced down the incline to the Circus
at a tremendous speed. He was just in sight as he swung laboriously
round and headed for home. But meeting him on our outward journey, we
noticed that the upward slope was distressing him. "Shall we do it?" we
"Yessir," said our driver. And now we, too, were on the up grade. We
went up the hill at a gallop: were equal with Hatton at Fetter Lane,
and reached the Temple Gate yards to the good.
The ancient driver of a four-wheeler had been the witness of the
He gazed with displeasure upon us.
"This 'ere's a nice use ter put Fleet Street to, I don't think," he
This sarcastic rebuke rather damped us, and after Hatton had paid Malim
his half-crown, and had invited me to visit him, we departed.
"Queer chap, Hatton," said Malim as we walked up the Strand.
I was to discover at no distant date that he was distinctly a
many-sided man. I have met a good many clergymen in my time, but I have
never come across one quite like the Rev. John Hatton.
JULIAN LEARNS MY SECRET
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
A difficulty in the life of a literary man in London is the question of
getting systematic exercise. At school and college I had been
accustomed to play games every day, and now I felt the change acutely.
It was through this that I first became really intimate with John
Hatton, and incidentally with Sidney Price, of the Moon Assurance
Company. I happened to mention my trouble one night in Hatton's rooms.
I had been there frequently since my first visit.
"None of my waistcoats fit," I remarked.
"My dear fellow," said Hatton, "I'll give you exercise and to spare;
that is to say, if you can box."
"I'm not a champion," I said; "but I'm fond of it. I shouldn't mind
taking up boxing again. There's nothing like it for exercise."
"Quite right, James," he replied; "and exercise, as I often tell my
boys, is essential."
"What boys?" I asked.
"My club boys," said Hatton. "They belong to the most dingy quarter of
the whole of London--South Lambeth. They are not hooligans. They are
not so interesting as that. They represent the class of youth that is a
stratum or two above hooliganism. Frightful weeds. They lack the robust
animalism of the class below them, and they lack the intelligence of
the class above them. The fellows at my club are mostly hard-working
mechanics and under-paid office boys. They have nothing approaching a
sense of humour or the instinct of sport."
"Not very encouraging," I said.
"Nor picturesque," said Hatton; "and that is why they've been so
neglected. There is romance in an out-and-out hooligan. It interests
people to reform him. But to the outsider my boys are dull. I don't
find them so. But then I know them. Boxing lessons are just what they
want. In fact, I was telling Sidney Price, an insurance clerk who lives
in Lambeth and helps me at the club, only yesterday how much I wished
we could teach them to use the gloves."
"I'll take it on, then, Hatton, if you like," I said. "It ought to keep
me in form."
I found that it did. I ceased to be aware of my liver. That winter I
was able to work to good purpose, and the result was that I arrived. It
dawned upon me at last that the "precarious" idea was played out. One
could see too plainly the white sheet and phosphorus.
And I was happy. Happier, perhaps, than I had ever hoped to be.
Happier, in a sense, than I can hope to be again. I had congenial work,
and, what is more, I had congenial friends.
What friends they were!
Julian--I seem to see him now sprawling in his hammock, sucking his
pipe, planning an advertisement, or propounding some whimsical theory
of life; and in his eyes he bears the pain of one whose love and life
are spoilt. Julian--no longer my friend.
Kit and Malim--what evenings are suggested by those names.
Evenings alone with Malim at his flat in Vernon Place. An unimpeachable
dinner, a hand at picquet, midnight talk with the blue smoke wreathing
round our heads.
Well, Malim and I are unlikely to meet again in Vernon Place. Nor shall
we foregather at the little house in the Hampstead Road, the house
which Kit enveloped in an inimitable air of domesticity. Her past had
not been unconnected with the minor stage. She could play on the piano
from ear, and sing the songs of the street with a charming cockney
twang. But there was nothing of the stage about her now. She was born
for domesticity and, as the wife of Malim, she wished to forget all
that had gone before. She even hesitated to give us her wonderful
imitations of the customers at the fried fish shop, because in her
heart she did not think such impersonations altogether suitable for a
respectable married woman.
It was Malim who got me elected to the Barrel Club. I take it that I
shall pay few more visits there.
I have mentioned at this point the love of my old friends who made my
first years in London a period of happiness, since it was in this month
of April that I had a momentous conversation with Julian about
He had come to Walpole Street to use my typewriter, and seemed amazed
to find that I was still living in much the same style as I had always
"Let me see," he said. "How long is it since I was here last?"
"You came some time before Christmas."
"Ah, yes," he said reminiscently. "I was doing a lot of travelling just
then." And he added, thoughtfully, "What a curious fellow you are,
Jimmy. Here are you making----" He glanced at me.
"Oh, say a thousand a year."
"--Fifteen hundred a year, and you live in precisely the same shoddy
surroundings as you did when your manuscripts were responsible for an
extra size in waste-paper baskets. I was surprised to hear that you
were still in Walpole Street. I supposed that, at any rate, you had
taken the whole house."
His eyes raked the little sitting-room from the sham marble mantelpiece
to the bamboo cabinet. I surveyed it, too, and suddenly it did seem
unnecessarily wretched and depressing.
Julian looked at me curiously.
"There's some mystery here," he said.
"Don't be an ass, Julian," I replied weakly.
"It's no good denying it," he retorted; "there's some mystery. You're a
materialist. You don't live like this from choice. If you were to
follow your own inclinations, you'd do things in the best style you
could run to. You'd be in Jermyn Street; you'd have your man, a cottage
in Surrey; you'd entertain, go out a good deal. You'd certainly give up
these dingy quarters. My friendship for you deplores a mammoth skeleton
in your cupboard, James. My study of advertising tells me that this
paltry existence of yours does not adequately push your name before the
public. You're losing money, you're----"
"Stop, Julian," I exclaimed.
"_Cherchez_," he continued, "_cherchez_----"
"Stop! Confound you, stop! I tell you----"
"Come," he said laughing. "I mustn't force your confidence; but I can't
help feeling it's odd----"
"When I came to London," I said, firmly, "I was most desperately in
love. I was to make a fortune, incidentally my name, marry, and live
happily ever after. There seemed last year nothing complex about that
programme. It seemed almost too simple. I even, like a fool, thought to
add an extra touch of piquancy to it by endeavouring to be a Bohemian.
I then discovered that what I was attempting was not so simple as I had
imagined. To begin with, Bohemians diffuse their brains in every
direction except that where bread-and-butter comes from. I found, too,
that unless one earns bread-and-butter, one has to sprint very fast to
the workhouse door to prevent oneself starving before one gets there;
so I dropped Bohemia and I dropped many other pleasant fictions as
well. I took to examining pavements, saw how hard they were, had a look
at the gutters, and saw how broad they were. I noticed the accumulation
of dirt on the house fronts, the actual proportions of industrial
buildings. I observed closely the price of food, clothes, and roofs."
"You became a realist."
"Yes; I read a good deal of Gissing about then, and it scared me. I
pitied myself. And after that came pity for the girl I loved. I swore
that I would never let her come to my side in the ring where the
monster Poverty and I were fighting. If you've been there you've been
in hell. And if you come out with your soul alive you can't tell other
people what it felt like. They couldn't understand."
Julian nodded. "I understand, you know," he said gravely.
"Yes, you've been there," I said. "Well, you've seen that my little
turn-up with the monster was short and sharp. It wasn't one of the
old-fashioned, forty-round, most-of-a-lifetime, feint-for-an-opening,
in-and-out affairs. Our pace was too fast for that. We went at it both
hands, fighting all the time. I was going for the knock-out in the
first round. Not your method, Julian."
"No," said Julian; "it's not my method. I treat the monster rather as a
wild animal than as a hooligan; and hearing that wild animals won't do
more than sniff at you if you lie perfectly still, I adopted that ruse
towards him to save myself the trouble of a conflict. But the effect of
lying perfectly still was that I used to fall asleep; and that works
"Julian," I said, "I detect a touch of envy in your voice. You try to
keep it out, but you can't. Wait a bit, though. I haven't finished.
"As you know, I had the monster down in less than no time. I said to
myself, 'I've won. I'll write to Margaret, and tell her so!' Do you
know I had actually begun to write the letter when another thought
struck me. One that started me sweating and shaking. 'The monster,' I
said again to myself, 'the monster is devilish cunning. Perhaps he's
only shamming! It looks as if he were beaten. Suppose it's only a feint
to get me off my guard. Suppose he just wants me to take my eyes off
him so that he may get at me again as soon as I've begun to look for a
comfortable chair and a mantelpiece to rest my feet on!' I told myself
that I wouldn't risk bringing Margaret over. I didn't dare chance her
being with me if ever I had to go back into the ring. So I kept jumping
and stamping on the monster. The referee had given me the fight and had
gone away; and, with no one to stop me, I kicked the life out of him."
"No, you didn't," interrupted Julian. "Excuse me, I'm sure you didn't.
I often wake up and hear him prowling about."
"Yes; but there's a separate monster set apart for each of us. It's
Fate who arranges the programme, and, by stress of business, Fate
postpones many contests so late that before they can take place the man
has died. Those who die before their fight comes on are called rich
men. To return, however, to my own monster: I was at last convinced
that he was dead a thousand times----"
"How long have you had this conviction?" asked Julian.
"The absolute certainty that my monster has ceased to exist came to me
this morning whilst I brushed my hair."
"Ah," said Julian; "and now, I suppose, you really will write to Miss
Margaret----" He paused.
"To Miss Margaret Goodwin," he repeated.
"Look here, Julian," I said irritably; "it's no use your repeating
every observation I make as though you were Massa Johnson on Margate
"What's the matter?"
I was silent for a moment. Then I confessed.
"Julian," I said, "I can't write to her. You need neither say that I'm
a blackguard nor that you're sorry for us both. At this present moment
I've no more affection for Margaret than I have for this chair. When
precisely I left off caring for her I don't know. Why I ever thought I
loved her I don't know, either. But ever since I came to London all the
love I did have for her has been ebbing away every day."
"Had you met many people before you met her?" asked Julian slowly.
"No one that counted. Not a woman that counted, that's to say. I am shy
with women. I can talk to them in a sort of way, but I never seem able
to get intimate. Margaret was different. She saved my life, and we
spent the summer in Guernsey together."
"And you seriously expected not to fall in love?" Julian laughed "My
dear Jimmy, you ought to write a psychological novel."
"Possibly. But, in the meantime, what am I to do?"
Julian stood up.
"She's in love with you, I suppose?"
He stood looking at me.
"Well, can't you speak?" I said.
He turned away, shrugging his shoulders. "One's got one's own right and
one's own wrong," he grumbled, lighting his pipe.
"I know what you're thinking," I said.
He would not look at me.
"You're thinking," I went on, "what a cad I am not to have written that
letter." I sat down resting my head on my hands. After all--love and
liberty--they're both very sweet.
"I'm thinking," said Julian, watching the smoke from his pipe
abstractedly, "that you will probably write tonight; and I think I know
how you're feeling."
"Julian," I said, "must it be tonight? Why? The letter shall go. But
must it be tonight?"
"No," he said; "but you've made up your mind, so why put off the
"I can't," I exclaimed; "oh, I really can't. I must have my freedom a
"You must give it up some day. It'll be all the harder when you've got
to face it."
"I don't mind that. A little more freedom, just a little; and then I'll
tell her to come to me."
He smoked in silence.
"Surely," I said, "this little more freedom that I ask is a small thing
compared with the sacrifice I have promised to make?"
"You won't let her know it's a sacrifice?"
"Of course not. She shall think that I love her as I used to."
"Yes, you ought to do that," he said softly. "Poor devil," he added.
"Am I too selfish?" I asked.
He got up to go. "No," he said. "To my mind, you're entitled to a
breathing space before you give up all that you love best. But there's
"Of her finding out by some other means than yourself and before your
letter comes, that the letter should have been written earlier. Do you
sign all your stuff with your own name?"
"Well, then, she's bound to see how you're getting on. She'll see your
name in the magazines, in newspapers and in books. She'll know you
don't write for nothing, and she'll make calculations."
I was staggered.
"You mean--?" I said.
"Why, it will occur to her before long that your statement of your
income doesn't square with the rest of the evidence; and she'll wonder
why you pose as a pauper when you're really raking in the money with
both hands. She'll think it over, and then she'll see it all."
"I see," I said, dully. "Well, you've taken my last holiday from me.
I'll write to her tonight, telling her the truth."
"I shouldn't, necessarily. Wait a week or two. You may quite possibly
hit on some way out of the difficulty. I'm bound to say, though, I
can't see one myself at the moment."
"Nor can I," I said.
TOM BLAKE AGAIN
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
Hatton's Club boys took kindly to my course of instruction. For a
couple of months, indeed, it seemed that another golden age of the
noble art was approaching, and that the rejuvenation of boxing would
occur, beginning at Carnation Hall, Lambeth.
Then the thing collapsed like a punctured tyre.
At first, of course, they fought a little shy. But when I had them up
in line, and had shown them what a large proportion of an eight-ounce
glove is padding, they grew more at ease. To be asked suddenly to fight
three rounds with one of your friends before an audience, also of your
friends, is embarrassing. One feels hot and uncomfortable. Hatton's
boys jibbed nervously. As a preliminary measure, therefore, I drilled
them in a class at foot-work and the left lead. They found the exercise
exhilarating. If this was the idea, they seemed to say, let the thing
go on. Then I showed them how to be highly scientific with a punch
ball. Finally, I sparred lightly with them myself.
In the rough they were impossible boxers. After their initial distrust
had evaporated under my gentle handling of them, they forgot all I had
taught them about position and guards. They bored in, heads down and
arms going like semicircular pistons. Once or twice I had to stop them.
They were easily steadied. They hastened to adopt a certain snakiness
of attack instead of the frontal method which had left them so exposed.
They began to cultivate a kind of negative style. They were
tremendously impressed by the superiority of science over strength.
I am not sure that I did not harp rather too much on the scientific
note. Perhaps if I had referred to it less, the ultimate disaster would
not have been quite so appalling. On the other hand, I had not the
slightest suspicion that they would so exaggerate my meaning when I was
remarking on the worth of science, how it "tells," and how it causes
the meagre stripling to play fast and loose with huge, brawny
ruffians--no cowards, mark you--and hairy as to their chests.
But the weeds at Hatton's Club were fascinated by my homilies on
science. The simplicity of the thing appealed to them irresistibly.
They caught at the expression, "Science," and regarded it as the "Hey
Presto!" of a friendly conjurer who could so arrange matters for them
that powerful opponents would fall flat, involuntarily, at the sight of
their technically correct attitude.
I did not like to destroy their illusions. Had I said to them, "Look
here, science is no practical use to you unless you've got low-bridged,
snub noses, protruding temples, nostrils like the tubes of a
vacuum-cleaner, stomach muscles like motor-car wheels, hands like legs
of mutton, and biceps like transatlantic cables"--had I said that, they
would have voted boxing a fraud, and gone away to quarrel over a game
of backgammon, which was precisely what I wished to avoid.
So I let them go on with their tapping and feinting and side-slipping.
To make it worse they overheard Sidney Price trying to pay me a
compliment. Price was the insurance clerk who had attached himself to
Hatton and had proved himself to be of real service in many ways. He
was an honest man, but he could not box. He came down to the hall one
night after I had given four or five lessons, to watch the boys spar.
Of course, to the uninitiated eye it did seem as though they were neat
in their work. The sight was very different from the absurd exhibition
which Price had seen on the night I started with them. He might easily
have said, if he was determined to compliment me, that they had
"improved," "progressed," or something equally adequate and innocuous.
But no. The man must needs be effusive, positively gushing. He came to
me in transports. "Wonderful!" he said. "Wonderful!"
"What's wonderful?" I said, a shade irritably.
"Their style," he said loudly, so that they could all hear, "their
style. It's their style that astonishes me."
I hustled him away as soon as I could, but the mischief was done.
Style ran through Hatton's Club boys like an epidemic. Carnation Hall
fairly buzzed with style. An apology for a blow which landed on your
chest with the delicacy of an Agag among butterflies was extolled to
the skies because it was a stylish blow. When Alf Joblin, a recruit,
sent Walter Greenway sprawling with a random swing on the mark, there
was a pained shudder. Not only Walter Greenway, but the whole club
explained to Alf that the swing was a bad swing, an awful violation of
style, practically a crime. By the time they had finished explaining,
Alf was dazed; and when invited by Walter to repeat the hit with a view
to his being further impressed with its want of style, did so in such
half-hearted fashion that Walter had time to step stylishly aside and
show Alf how futile it is to be unscientific.
To the club this episode was decently buried in an unremembered past.
To me, however, it was significant, though I did not imagine it would
ever have the tremendous sequel which was brought about by the coming
of Thomas Blake.
Fate never planned a coup so successfully. The psychology of Blake's
arrival was perfect. The boxers of Carnation Hall had worked themselves
into a mental condition which I knew was as ridiculous as it was
dangerous. Their conceit and their imagination transformed the hall
into a kind of improved National Sporting Club. They went about with an
air of subdued but tremendous athleticism. They affected a sort of
self-conscious nonchalance. They adopted an odiously patronising
attitude towards the once popular game of backgammon. I daresay that
picture is not yet forgotten where a British general, a man of blood
and iron, is portrayed as playing with a baby, to the utter neglect of
a table full of important military dispatches. Well, the club boys, to
a boy, posed as generals of blood and iron when they condescended to
play backgammon. They did it, but they let you see that they did not
regard it as one of the serious things of life.
Also, knowing that each other's hitting was so scientific as to be
harmless, they would sometimes deliberately put their eye in front of
their opponent's stylish left, in the hope that the blow would raise a
bruise. It hardly ever did. But occasionally----! Oh, then you should
have seen the hero-with-the-quiet-smile look on their faces as they
lounged ostentatiously about the place. In a word, they were above
themselves. They sighed for fresh worlds to conquer. And Thomas Blake
supplied the long-felt want.
Personally, I did not see his actual arrival. I only saw his handiwork
after he had been a visitor awhile within the hall. But, to avoid
unnecessary verbiage and to avail myself of the privilege of an author,
I will set down, from the evidence of witnesses, the main points of the
episode as though I myself had been present at his entrance.
He did not strike them, I am informed, as a particularly big man. He
was a shade under average height. His shoulders seemed to them not so
much broad as "humpy." He rolled straight in from the street on a wet
Saturday night at ten minutes to nine, asking for "free tea."
I should mention that on certain Fridays Hatton gave a free meal to his
parishioners on the understanding that it was rigidly connected with a
Short Address. The preceding Friday had been such an occasion. The
placards announcing the tea were still clinging to the outer railings
of the hall.
When I said that Blake asked for free tea, I should have said, shouted
for free tea. He cast one decisive glance at Hatton's placards, and
rolled up. He shot into the gate, up the steps, down the passage, and
through the door leading into the big corrugated-iron hall which I used
for my lessons. And all the time he kept shouting for free tea.
In the hall the members of my class were collected. Some were changing
their clothes; others, already changed, were tapping the punch-ball.
They knew that I always came punctually at nine o'clock, and they liked
to be ready for me. Amongst those present was Sidney Price.
Thomas Blake brought up short, hiccuping, in the midst of them. "Gimme
that free tea!" he said.
Sidney Price, whose moral fortitude has never been impeached, was the
first to handle the situation.
"My good man," he said, "I am sorry to say you have made a mistake."
"A mistake!" said Thomas, quickly taking him up. "A mistake! Oh! What
oh! My errer?"
"Quite so," said Price, diplomatically; "an error."
Thomas Blake sat down on the floor, fumbled for a short pipe, and said,
"Seems ter me I'm sick of errers. Sick of 'em! Made a bloomer this
mornin'--this way." Here he took into his confidence the group which
had gathered uncertainly round him. "My wife's brother, 'im wot's a
postman, owes me arf a bloomin' thick 'un. 'E's a hard-working bloke,
and ter save 'im trouble I came down 'ere from Brentford, where my boat
lies, to catch 'im on 'is rounds. Lot of catchin' 'e wanted, too--I
_don't_ think. Tracked 'im by the knocks at last. And then, wot
d'yer think 'e said? Didn't know nothing about no ruddy 'arf thick 'un,
and would I kindly cease to impede a public servant in the discharge of
'is dooty. Otherwise--the perlice. That, mind you, was my own
brother-in-law. Oh, he's a nice man, I _don't_ think!"
Thomas Blake nodded his head as one who, though pained by the
hollowness of life, is resigned to it, and proceeded to doze.
The crowd gazed at him and murmured.
Sidney Price, however, stepped forward with authority.
"You'd better be going," he said; and he gently jogged the recumbent
"Leave me be! I want my tea," was the muttered and lyrical reply.
"Hook it!" said Price.
"Without my tea?" asked Blake, opening his eyes wide.
"It was yesterday," explained Price, brusquely. "There isn't any free
The effect was magical. A very sinister expression came over the face
of the prostrate one, and he slowly clambered to his feet.
"Ho!" he said, disengaging himself from his coat. "Ho. There ain't no
free tea ternight, ain't there? Bills stuck on them railings in errer,
I suppose. Another bloomin' errer. Seems to me I'm sick of errers. Wot
I says is, 'Come on, all of yer.' I'm Tom Blake, I am. You can arst
them down at Brentford. Kind old Tom Blake, wot wouldn't hurt a fly;
and I says, 'Come on, all of yer,' and I'll knock yer insides through
Sidney Price spoke again. His words were honeyed, but ineffectual.
"I'm honest old Tom, I am," boomed Thomas Blake, "and I'm ready for the
lot of yer: you and yer free tea and yer errers."
At this point Alf Joblin detached himself from the hovering crowd and
said to Price: "He must be cowed. I'll knock sense into the drunken
"Well," said Price, "he's got to go; but you won't hurt him, Alf, will
"No," said Alf, "I won't hurt him. I'll just make him look a fool. This
is where science comes in."
"I'm honest old Tom," droned the boatman.
"If you _will_ have it," said Alf, with fine aposiopesis.
He squared up to him.
Now Alf Joblin, like the other pugilists of my class, habitually
refrained from delivering any sort of attack until he was well assured
that he had seen an orthodox opening. A large part of every round
between Hatton's boys was devoted to stealthy circular movements,
signifying nothing. But Thomas Blake had not had the advantage of
scientific tuition. He came banging in with a sweeping right. Alf
stopped him with his left. Again Blake swung his right, and again he
took Alf's stopping blow without a blink. Then he went straight in,
right and left in quick succession. The force of the right was broken
by Alf's guard, but the left got home on the mark; and Alf Joblin's
wind left him suddenly. He sat down on the floor.
To say that this tragedy in less than five seconds produced dismay
among the onlookers would be incorrect. They were not dismayed. They
were amused. They thought that Alf had laid himself open to chaff.
Whether he had slipped or lost his head they did not know. But as for
thinking that Alf with all his scientific knowledge was not more than a
match for this ignorant, intoxicated boatman, such a reflection never
entered their heads. What is more, each separate member of the audience
was convinced that he individually was the proper person to illustrate
the efficacy of style versus untutored savagery.
As soon, therefore, as Alf Joblin went writhing to the floor, and
Thomas Blake's voice was raised afresh in a universal challenge, Walter
Greenway stepped briskly forward.
And as soon as Walter's guard had been smashed down by a most
unconventional attack, and Walter himself had been knocked senseless by
a swing on the side of the jaw, Bill Shale leaped gaily forth to take
And so it happened that, when I entered the building at nine, it was as
though a devastating tornado had swept down every club boy, sparing
only Sidney Price, who was preparing miserably to meet his fate.
To me, standing in the doorway, the situation was plain at the first
glance. Only by a big effort could I prevent myself laughing outright.
It was impossible to check a grin. Thomas Blake saw me.
"Hullo!" I said; "what's all this?"
He stared at me.
"'Ullo!" he said, "another of 'em, is it? I'm honest old Tom Blake,
_I_ am, and wot I say is----"
"Why honest, Mr. Blake?" I interrupted.
"Call me a liar, then!" said he. "Go on. You do it. Call it me, then,
and let's see."
He began to shuffle towards me.
"Who pinched his father's trousers, and popped them?" I inquired
He stopped and blinked.
"Eh?" he said weakly.
"And who," I continued, "when sent with twopence to buy postage-stamps,
squandered it on beer?"
His jaw dropped, as it had dropped in Covent Garden. It must be very
unpleasant to have one's past continually rising up to confront one.
"Look 'ere!" he said, a conciliatory note in his voice, "you and me's
pals, mister, ain't we? Say we're pals. Of course we are. You and me
don't want no fuss. Of course we don't. Then look here: this is 'ow it
is. You come along with me and 'ave a drop."
It did not seem likely that my class would require any instruction in
boxing that evening in addition to that which Mr. Blake had given them,
so I went with him.
Over the moisture, as he facetiously described it, he grew friendliness
itself. He did not ask after Kit, but gave his opinion of her
gratuitously. According to him, she was unkind to her relations. "Crool
'arsh," he said. A girl, in fact, who made no allowances for a man, and
was over-prone to Sauce and the Nasty Snack.
We parted the best of friends.
"Any time you're on the Cut," he said, gripping my hand with painful
fervour, "you look out for Tom Blake, mister. Tom Blake of the
_Ashlade_ and _Lechton_. No ceremony. Jest drop in on me and
the missis. Goo' night."
At the moment of writing Tom Blake is rapidly acquiring an assured
position in the heart of the British poetry-loving public. This
incident in his career should interest his numerous admirers. The world
knows little of its greatest men.
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
I had been relating, on the morning after the Blake affair, the
stirring episode of the previous night to Julian. He agreed with me
that it was curious that our potato-thrower of Covent Garden market
should have crossed my path again. But I noticed that, though he
listened intently enough, he lay flat on his back in his hammock, not
looking at me, but blinking at the ceiling; and when I had finished he
turned his face towards the wall--which was unusual, since I generally
lunched on his breakfast, as I was doing then, to the accompaniment of
quite a flow of languid abuse.
I was in particularly high spirits that morning, for I fancied that I
had found a way out of my difficulty about Margaret. That subject being
uppermost in my mind, I guessed at once what Julian's trouble was.
"I think you'd like to know, Julian," I said, "whether I'd written to
"It's all right," I said.
"You've told her to come?"
"No; but I'm able to take my respite without wounding her. That's as
good as writing, isn't it? We agreed on that."
"Yes; that was the idea. If you could find a way of keeping her from
knowing how well you were getting on with your writing, you were to
take it. What's your idea?"
"I've hit on a very simple way out of the difficulty," I said. "It came
to me only this morning. All I need do is to sign my stuff with a
"You only thought of that this morning?"
"My dear chap, I thought of it as soon as you told me of the fix you
"You might have suggested it."
Julian slid to the floor, drained the almost empty teapot, rescued the
last kidney, and began his breakfast.
"I would have suggested it," he said, "if the idea had been worth
"What! What's wrong with it?"
"My dear man, it's too risky. It's not as though you kept to one form
of literary work. You're so confoundedly versatile. Let's suppose you
did sign your work with a _nom de plume_."
"Say, George Chandos."
"All right. George Chandos. Well, how long would it be, do you think,
before paragraphs appeared, announcing to the public, not only of
England but of the Channel Islands, that George Chandos was really
"What rot!" I said. "Why the deuce should they want to write paragraphs
about me? I'm not a celebrity. You're talking through your hat,
Julian lit his pipe.
"Not at all," he said. "Count the number of people who must necessarily
be in the secret from the beginning. There are your publishers, Prodder
and Way. Then there are the editors of the magazine which publishes
your Society dialogue bilge, and of all the newspapers, other than the
_Orb_, in which your serious verse appears. My dear Jimmy, the
news that you and George Chandos were the same man would go up and down
Fleet Street and into the Barrel like wildfire. And after that the
I saw the truth of his reasoning before he had finished speaking. Once
more my spirits fell to the point where they had been before I hit upon
what I thought was such a bright scheme.
Julian's pipe had gone out while he was talking. He lit it again, and
spoke through the smoke:
"The weak point of your idea, of course, is that you and George Chandos
are a single individual."
"But why should the editors know that? Why shouldn't I simply send in
my stuff, typed, by post, and never appear myself at all?"
"My dear Jimmy, you know as well as I do that that wouldn't work. It
would do all right for a bit. Then one morning: 'Dear Mr. Chandos,--I
should be glad if you could make it convenient to call here some time
between Tuesday and Thursday.--Yours faithfully. Editor of
Something-or-other.' Sooner or later a man who writes at all regularly
for the papers is bound to meet the editors of them. A successful
author can't conduct all his business through the post. Of course, if
you chucked London and went to live in the country----"
"I couldn't," I said. "I simply couldn't do it. London's got into my
"It does," said Julian.
"I like the country, but I couldn't live there. Besides, I don't
believe I could write there--not for long. All my ideas would go."
"Just so," he said. "Then exit George Chandos."
"My scheme is worthless, you think, then?"
"As you state it, yes."
"You mean----?" I prompted quickly, clutching at something in his tone
which seemed to suggest that he did not consider the matter entirely
"I mean this. The weak spot in your idea, as I told you, is that you
and George Chandos have the same body. Now, if you could manage to
provide George with separate flesh and blood of his own, there's no
"By Jove! you've hit it. Go on."
"Listen. Here is my rough draft of what I think might be a sound,
working system. How many divisions does your work fall into, not
counting the _Orb_?"
"Well, of course, I do a certain amount of odd work, but lately I've
rather narrowed it down, and concentrated my output. It seemed to me a
better plan than sowing stuff indiscriminately through all the papers
"Well, how many stunts have you got? There's your serious verse--one.
And your Society stuff--two. Any more?"
"Novels and short stories."
"Class them together--three. Any more?
"No; that's all."
"Very well, then. What you must do is to look about you, and pick
carefully three men on whom you can rely. Divide your signed stuff
between these three men. They will receive your copy, sign it with
their own names, and see that it gets to wherever you want to send it.
As far as the editorial world is concerned, and as far as the public is
concerned, they will become actually the authors of the manuscripts
which you have prepared for them to sign. They will forward you the
cheques when they arrive, and keep accounts to which you will have
access. I suppose you will have to pay them a commission on a scale to
be fixed by mutual arrangement. As regards your unsigned work, there is
nothing to prevent your doing that yourself--'On Your Way,' I mean,
whenever there's any holiday work going: general articles, and light
verse. I say, though, half a moment."
"I've thought of a difficulty. The editors who have been taking your
stuff hitherto may have a respect for the name of James Orlebar
Cloyster which they may not extend to the name of John Smith or George
Chandos, or whoever it is. I mean, it's quite likely the withdrawal of
the name will lead to the rejection of the manuscript."
"Oh no; that's all right," I said. "It's the stuff they want, not the
name. I don't say that names don't matter. They do. But only if they're
big names. Kipling might get a story rejected if he sent it in under a
false name, which they'd have taken otherwise just because he was
Kipling. What they want from me is the goods. I can shove any label on
them I like. The editor will read my ghosts' stuff, see it's what he
wants, and put it in. He may say, 'It's rather like Cloyster's style,'
but he'll certainly add, 'Anyhow, it's what I want.' You can scratch
that difficulty, Julian. Any more?"
"I think not. Of course, there's the objection that you'll lose any
celebrity you might have got. No one'll say, 'Oh, Mr. Cloyster, I
enjoyed your last book so much!'"
"And no one'll say, 'Oh, do you _write_, Mr. Cloyster? How
interesting! What have you written? You must send me a copy.'"
"That's true. In any case, it's celebrity against the respite,
obscurity against Miss Goodwin. While the system is in operation you
will be free but inglorious. You choose freedom? All right, then. Pass
THE FIRST GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
Such was the suggestion Julian made; and I praised its ingenuity,
little thinking how bitterly I should come to curse it in the future.
I was immediately all anxiety to set the scheme working.
"Will you be one of my three middlemen, Julian?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"Thanks!" he said; "it's very good of you, but I daren't encroach
further on my hours of leisure. Skeffington's Sloe Gin has already
become an incubus."
I could not move him from this decision.
It is not everybody who, in a moment of emergency, can put his hand on
three men of his acquaintance capable of carrying through a more or
less delicate business for him. Certainly I found a difficulty in
making my selection. I ran over the list of my friends in my mind. Then
I was compelled to take pencil and paper, and settle down seriously to
what I now saw would be a task of some difficulty. After half an hour I
read through my list, and could not help smiling. I had indeed a mixed
lot of acquaintances. First came Julian and Malim, the two pillars of
my world. I scratched them out. Julian had been asked and had refused;
and, as for Malim, I shrank from exposing my absurd compositions to his
critical eye. A man who could deal so trenchantly over a pipe and a
whisky-and-soda with Established Reputations would hardly take kindly
to seeing my work in print under his name. I wished it had been
possible to secure him, but I did not disguise it from myself that it
The rest of the list was made up of members of the Barrel Club
(impossible because of their inherent tendency to break out into
personal paragraphs); writers like Fermin and Gresham, above me on the
literary ladder, and consequently unapproachable in a matter of this
kind; certain college friends, who had vanished into space, as men do
on coming down from the 'Varsity, leaving no address; John Hatton,
Sidney Price, and Tom Blake.
There were only three men in that list to whom I felt I could take my
suggestion. Hatton was one, Price was another, and Blake was the third.
Hatton should have my fiction, Price my Society stuff, Blake my serious
That evening I went off to the Temple to sound Hatton on the subject of
signing my third book. The wretched sale of my first two had acted as
something of a check to my enthusiasm for novel-writing. I had paused
to take stock of my position. My first two novels had, I found on
re-reading them, too much of the 'Varsity tone in them to be popular.
That is the mistake a man falls into through being at Cambridge or
Oxford. He fancies unconsciously that the world is peopled with
undergraduates. He forgets that what appeals to an undergraduate public
may be Greek to the outside reader and, unfortunately, not compulsory
Greek. The reviewers had dealt kindly with my two books ("this pleasant
little squib," "full of quiet humour," "should amuse all who remember
their undergraduate days"); but the great heart of the public had
remained untouched, as had the great purse of the public. I had
determined to adopt a different style. And now my third book was ready.
It was called, _When It Was Lurid_, with the sub-title, _A Tale
of God and Allah_. There was a piquant admixture of love, religion,
and Eastern scenery which seemed to point to a record number of
I took the type-script of this book with me to the Temple.
Hatton was in. I flung _When It Was Lurid_ on the table, and sat
"What's this?" inquired Hatton, fingering the brown-paper parcel. "If
it's the corpse of a murdered editor, I think it's only fair to let you
know that I have a prejudice against having my rooms used as a
cemetery. Go and throw him into the river."
"It's anything but a corpse. It's the most lively bit of writing ever
done. There's enough fire in that book to singe your tablecloth."
"You aren't going to read it to me out loud?" he said anxiously.
"Have I got to read it when you're gone?"
"Not unless you wish to."
"Then why, if I may ask, do you carry about a parcel which, I should
say, weighs anything between one and two tons, simply to use it as a
temporary table ornament? Is it the Sandow System?"
"No," I said; "it's like this."
And suddenly it dawned on me that it was not going to be particularly
easy to explain to Hatton just what it was that I wanted him to do.
I made the thing clear at last, suppressing, of course, my reasons for
the move. When he had grasped my meaning, he looked at me rather
"Doesn't it strike you," he said, "that what you propose is slightly
"You mean that I have come deliberately to insult you, Hatton?"
"Our conversation seems to be getting difficult, unless you grant that
honour is not one immovable, intangible landmark, fixed for humanity,
but that it is a commodity we all carry with us in varying forms."
"Personally, I believe that, as a help to identification,
honour-impressions would be as useful as fingerprints."
"Good! You agree with me. Now, you may have a different view; but, in
my opinion, if I were to pose as the writer of your books, and gained
credit for a literary skill----"
"You won't get credit for literary skill out of the sort of books I
want you to put your name to. They're potboilers. You needn't worry
about Fame. You'll be a martyr, not a hero."
"You may be right. You wrote the book. But, in any case, I should be
more of a charlatan than I care about."
"You won't do it?" I said. "I'm sorry. It would have been a great
convenience to me."
"On the other hand," continued Hatton, ignoring my remark, "there are
arguments in favour of such a scheme as you suggest."
"Stout fellow!" I said encouragingly.
"To examine the matter in its--er--financial--to suppose for a
moment--briefly, what do I get out of it?"
"Ten per cent."
He looked thoughtful.
"The end shall justify the means," he said. "The money you pay me can
do something to help the awful, the continual poverty of Lambeth. Yes,
James Cloyster, I will sign whatever you send me."
"Good for you," I said.
"And I shall come better out of the transaction than you."
No one would credit the way that man--a clergyman, too--haggled over
terms. He ended by squeezing fifteen per cent out of me.
THE SECOND GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
The reasons which had led me to select Sidney Price as the sponsor of
my Society dialogues will be immediately apparent to those who have
read them. They were just the sort of things you would expect an
insurance clerk to write. The humour was thin, the satire as cheap as
the papers in which they appeared, and the vulgarity in exactly the
right quantity for a public that ate it by the pound and asked for
more. Every thing pointed to Sidney Price as the man.
It was my intention to allow each of my three ghosts to imagine that he
was alone in the business; so I did not get Price's address from
Hatton, who might have wondered why I wanted it, and had suspicions. I
applied to the doorkeeper at Carnation Hall; and on the following
evening I rang the front-door bell of The Hollyhocks, Belmont Park
Whilst I was waiting on the step, I was able to get a view through the
slats of the Venetian blind of the front ground-floor sitting-room. I
could scarcely restrain a cry of pure aesthetic delight at what I saw
within. Price was sitting on a horse-hair sofa with an arm round the
waist of a rather good-looking girl. Her eyes were fixed on his. It was
Edwin and Angelina in real life.
Up till then I had suffered much discomfort from the illustrated record
of their adventures in the comic papers. "Is there really," I had often
asked myself, "a body of men so gifted that they can construct the
impossible details of the lives of nonexistent types purely from
imagination? If such creative genius as theirs is unrecognized and
ignored, what hope of recognition is there for one's own work?" The
thought had frequently saddened me; but here at last they were--Edwin
and Angelina in the flesh!
I took the gallant Sidney for a fifteen-minute stroll up and down the
length of the Belmont Park Road. Poor Angelina! He came, as he
expressed it, "like a bird." Give him a sec. to slip on a pair of
boots, he said, and he would be with me in two ticks.
He was so busy getting his hat and stick from the stand in the passage
that he quite forgot to tell the lady that he was going out, and, as we
left, I saw her with the tail of my eye sitting stolidly on the sofa,
still wearing patiently the expression of her comic-paper portraits.
The task of explaining was easier than it had been with Hatton.
"Sorry to drag you out, Price," I said, as we went down the steps.
"Don't mention it, Mr. Cloyster," he said. "Norah won't mind a bit of a
sit by herself. Looked in to have a chat, or is there anything I can
"It's like this," I said. "You know I write a good deal?"
"Well, it has occurred to me that, if I go on turning out quantities of
stuff under my own name, there's a danger of the public getting tired
"Now, I'm with you there, mind you," he said. "'Can't have too much of
a good thing,' some chaps say. I say, 'Yes, you can.' Stands to reason
a chap can't go on writing and writing without making a bloomer every
now and then. What he wants is to take his time over it. Look at all
the real swells--'Erbert Spencer, Marie Corelli, and what not--you
don't find them pushing it out every day of the year. They wait a bit
and have a look round, and then they start again when they're ready.
Stands to reason that's the only way."
"Quite right," I said; "but the difficulty, if you live by writing, is
that you must turn out a good deal, or you don't make enough to live
on. I've got to go on getting stuff published, but I don't want people
to be always seeing my name about."
"You mean, adopt a _nom de ploom_?"
"That's the sort of idea; but I'm going to vary it a little."
And I explained my plan.
"But why me?" he asked, when he had understood the scheme. "What made
you think of me?"
"The fact is, my dear fellow," I said, "this writing is a game where
personality counts to an enormous extent. The man who signs my Society
dialogues will probably come into personal contact with the editors of
the papers in which they appear. He will be asked to call at their
offices. So you see I must have a man who looks as if he had written
"I see," he said complacently. "Dressy sort of chap. Chap who looks as
if he knew a thing or two."
"Yes. I couldn't get Alf Joblin, for instance."
We laughed together at the notion.
"Poor old Alf!" said Sidney Price.
"Now you probably know a good deal about Society?"
"Rath_er_" said Sidney. "They're a hot lot. My _word_! Saw
_The Walls of Jericho_ three times. Gives it 'em pretty straight,
that does. _Visits of Elizabeth_, too. Chase me! Used to think
some of us chaps in the 'Moon' were a bit O.T., but we aren't in
it--not in the same street. Chaps, I mean, who'd call a girl behind the
bar by her Christian name as soon as look at you. One chap I knew used
to give the girl at the cash-desk of the 'Mecca' he went to bottles of
scent. Bottles of it--regular! 'Here you are, Tottie,' he used to say,
'here's another little donation from yours truly.' Kissed her once.
Slap in front of everybody. Saw him do it. But, bless you, they'd think
nothing of that in the Smart Set. Ever read 'God's Good Man'? There's a
book! My stars! Lets you see what goes on. Scorchers they are."
"That's just what my dialogues point out. I can count on you, then?"
He said I could. He was an intelligent young man, and he gave me to
understand that all would be well. He would carry the job through on
the strict Q.T. He closely willingly with my offer of ten per cent,
thus affording a striking contrast to the grasping Hatton. He assured
me he had found literary chaps not half bad. Had occasionally had an
idea of writing a bit himself.
We parted on good terms, and I was pleased to think that I was placing
my "Dialogues of Mayfair" and my "London and Country House Tales" in
really competent and appreciative hands.
THE THIRD GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
There only remained now my serious verse, of which I turned out an
enormous quantity. It won a ready acceptance in many quarters, notably
the _St. Stephen's Gazette_. Already I was beginning to oust from
their positions on that excellent journal the old crusted poetesses who
had supplied it from its foundation with verse. The prices they paid on
the _St. Stephen's_ were in excellent taste. In the musical world,
too, I was making way rapidly. Lyrics of the tea-and-muffin type
streamed from my pen. "Sleep whilst I Sing, Love," had brought me in an
astonishing amount of money, in spite of the music-pirates. It was on
the barrel-organs. Adults hummed it. Infants crooned it in their cots.
Comic men at music-halls opened their turns by remarking soothingly to
the conductor of the orchestra, "I'm going to sing now, so you go to
sleep, love." In a word, while the boom lasted, it was a little
gold-mine to me.
Thomas Blake was as obviously the man for me here as Sidney Price had
been in the case of my Society dialogues. The public would find
something infinitely piquant in the thought that its most sentimental
ditties were given to it by the horny-handed steerer of a canal barge.
He would be greeted as the modern Burns. People would ask him how he
thought of his poems, and he would say, "Oo-er!" and they would hail
him as delightfully original. In the case of Thomas Blake I saw my
earnings going up with a bound. His personality would be a noble
He was aboard the _Ashlade_ or _Lechton_ on the Cut, so I was
informed by Kit. Which information was not luminous to me. Further
inquiries, however, led me to the bridge at Brentford, whence starts
that almost unknown system of inland navigation which extends to
Manchester and Birmingham.
Here I accosted at a venture a ruminative bargee. "Tom Blake?" he
repeated, reflectively. "Oh! 'e's been off this three hours on a trip
to Braunston. He'll tie up tonight at the Shovel."
"Where's the Shovel?"
"Past Cowley, the Shovel is." This was spoken in a tired drawl which
was evidently meant to preclude further chit-chat. To clinch things, he
slouched away, waving me in an abstracted manner to the towpath.
I took the hint. It was now three o'clock in the afternoon. Judging by
the pace of the barges I had seen, I should catch Blake easily before
nightfall. I set out briskly. An hour's walking brought me to Hanwell,
and I was glad to see a regular chain of locks which must have
considerably delayed the _Ashlade_ and _Lechton_.
The afternoon wore on. I went steadily forward, making inquiries as to
Thomas's whereabouts from the boats which met me, and always hearing
that he was still ahead.
Footsore and hungry, I overtook him at Cowley. The two boats were in
the lock. Thomas and a lady, presumably his wife, were ashore. On the
_Ashlade_'s raised cabin cover was a baby. Two patriarchal-looking
boys were respectively at the _Ashlade_'s and _Lechton_'s tillers.
The lady was attending to the horse.
The water in the lock rose gradually to a higher level.
"Hold them tillers straight!" yelled Thomas. At which point I saluted
him. He was a little blank at first, but when I reminded him of our
last meeting his face lit up at once. "Why, you're the mister wot----"
"Nuppie!" came in a shrill scream from the lady with the horse.
"Yes, Ada!" answered the boy on the _Ashlade_.
"Liz ain't tied to the can. D'you want 'er to be drownded? Didn't I
tell you to be sure and tie her up tight?"
"So I did, Ada. She's untied herself again. Yes, she 'as. 'Asn't she,
This appeal for corroboration was directed to the other small boy on
the _Lechton_. It failed signally.
"No, you did not tie Liz to the chimney. You know you never, Nuppie."
"Wait till we get out of this lock!" said Nuppie, earnestly.
The water pouring in from the northern sluice was forcing the tillers
violently against the southern sluice gates.
"If them boys," said Tom Blake in an overwrought voice, "lets them
tillers go round, it's all up with my pair o' boats. Lemme do it,
you----" The rest of the sentence was mercifully lost in the thump with
which Thomas's feet bounded on the _Ashlade_'s cabin-top. He made
Liz fast to the circular foot of iron chimney projecting from the
boards; then, jumping back to the land, he said, more in sorrow than in
anger: "Lazy little brats! an' they've '_ad_ their tea, too."
Clear of the locks, I walked with Thomas and his ancient horse, trying
to explain what I wanted done. But it was not until we had tied up for
the night, had had beer at the Shovel, and (Nuppie and Albert being
safely asleep in the second cabin) had met at supper that my
instructions had been fully grasped. Thomas himself was inclined to be
diffident, and had it not been for Ada would, I think, have let my
offer slide. She was enthusiastic. It was she who told me of the
cottage they had at Fenny Stratford, which they used as headquarters
whilst waiting for a cargo.
"That can be used as a permanent address," I said. "All you have to do
is to write your name at the end of each typewritten sheet, enclose it
in the stamped envelope which I will send you, and send it by post.
When the cheques come, sign them on the back and forward them to me.
For every ten pounds you forward me, I'll give you one for yourself. In
any difficulty, simply write to me--here's my own address--and I'll see
you through it."
"We can't go to prison for it, can we, mister?" asked Ada suddenly,
after a pause.
"No," I said; "there's nothing dishonest in what I propose."
"Oh, she didn't so much mean that," said Thomas, thoughtfully.
They gave me a shakedown for the night in the cargo.
Just before turning in, I said casually, "If anyone except me cashed
the cheques by mistake, he'd go to prison quick."
"Yes, mister," came back Thomas's voice, again a shade thoughtfully
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
With my system thus in full swing I experienced the intoxication of
assured freedom. To say I was elated does not describe it. I walked on
air. This was my state of mind when I determined to pay a visit to the
Gunton-Cresswells. I had known them in my college days, but since I had
been engaged in literature I had sedulously avoided them because I
remembered that Margaret had once told me they were her friends.
But now there was no need for me to fear them on that account, and
thinking that the solid comfort of their house in Kensington would be
far from disagreeable, thither, one afternoon in spring, I made my way.
It is wonderful how friendly Convention is to Art when Art does not
appear to want to borrow money.
No. 5, Kensington Lane, W., is the stronghold of British
respectability. It is more respectable than the most respectable
suburb. Its attitude to Mayfair is that of a mother to a daughter who
has gone on the stage and made a success. Kensington Lane is almost
tolerant of Mayfair. But not quite. It admits the success, but shakes
Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell took an early opportunity of drawing me aside,
and began gently to pump me. After I had responded with sufficient
docility to her leads, she reiterated her delight at seeing me again. I
had concluded my replies with the words, "I am a struggling journalist,
Mrs. Cresswell." I accompanied the phrase with a half-smile which she
took to mean--as I intended she should--that I was amusing myself by
dabbling in literature, backed by a small, but adequate, private
"Oh, come, James," she said, smiling approvingly, "you know you will
make a quite too dreadfully clever success. How dare you try to deceive
me like that? A struggling journalist, indeed."
But I knew she liked that "struggling journalist" immensely. She would
couple me and my own epithet together before her friends. She would
enjoy unconsciously an imperceptible, but exquisite, sensation of
patronage by having me at her house. Even if she discussed me with
Margaret I was safe. For Margaret would give an altogether different
interpretation of the smile with which I described myself as
struggling. My smile would be mentally catalogued by her as "brave";
for it must not be forgotten that as suddenly as my name had achieved a
little publicity, just so suddenly had it utterly disappeared.
* * * * *
Towards the end of May, it happened that Julian dropped into my rooms
about three o'clock, and found me gazing critically at a top-hat.
"I've seen you," he remarked, "rather often in that get-up lately."
"It _is_, perhaps, losing its first gloss," I answered, inspecting
my hat closely. I cared not a bit for Julian's sneers; for the smell of
the flesh-pots of Kensington had laid hold of my soul, and I was
resolved to make the most of the respite which my system gave me.
"What salon is to have the honour today?" he asked, spreading himself
on my sofa.
"I'm going to the Gunton-Cresswells," I replied.
Julian slowly sat up.
"Ah?" he said conversationally.
"I've been asked to meet their niece, a Miss Eversleigh, whom they've
invited to stop with them. Funny, by the way, that her name should be
the same as yours."
"Not particularly," said Julian shortly; "she's my cousin. My cousin
This was startling. There was a pause. Presently Julian said, "Do you
know, Jimmy, that if I were not the philosopher I am, I'd curse this
awful indolence of mine."
I saw it in a flash, and went up to him holding out my hand in
sympathy. "Thanks," he said, gripping it; "but don't speak of it. I
couldn't endure that, even from you, James. It's too hard for talking.
If it was only myself whose life I'd spoilt--if it was only myself----"
He broke off. And then, "Hers too. She's true as steel."
I had heard no more bitter cry than that.
I began to busy myself amongst some manuscripts to give Julian time to
compose himself. And so an hour passed. At a quarter past four I got up
to go out. Julian lay recumbent. It seemed terrible to leave him
brooding alone over his misery.
A closer inspection, however, showed me he was asleep.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, Eva Eversleigh and I became firm friends. Of her person
I need simply say that it was the most beautiful that Nature ever
created. Pressed as to details, I should add that she was _petite_,
dark, had brown hair, very big blue eyes, a _retrousse_ nose,
and a rather wide mouth.
Julian had said she was "true as steel." Therefore, I felt no
diffidence in manoeuvring myself into her society on every conceivable
occasion. Sometimes she spoke to me of Julian, whom I admitted I knew,
and, with feminine courage, she hid her hopeless, all-devouring
affection for her cousin under the cloak of ingenuous levity. She
laughed nearly every time his name was mentioned.
About this time the Gunton-Cresswells gave a dance.
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