Not George Washington
P. G. Wodehouse
Part 3 out of 4
I looked forward to it with almost painful pleasure. I had not been to
a dance since my last May-week at Cambridge. Also No. 5, Kensington
Lane had completely usurped the position I had previously assigned to
Paradise. To waltz with Julian's cousin--that was the ambition which
now dwarfed my former hankering for the fame of authorship or a
habitation in Bohemia.
Mrs. Goodwin once said that happiness consists in anticipating an
impossible future. Be that as it may, I certainly thought my sensations
were pleasant enough when at length my hansom pulled up jerkily beside
the red-carpeted steps of No. 5, Kensington Lane. As I paid the fare, I
could hear the murmur from within of a waltz tune--and I kept repeating
to myself that Eva had promised me the privilege of taking her in to
supper, and had given me the last two waltzes and the first two extras.
I went to pay my _devoirs_ to my hostess. She was supinely
gamesome. "Ah," she said, showing her excellent teeth, "Genius
attendant at the revels of Terpsichore."
"Where Beauty, Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell," I responded, cutting it, as
though mutton, thick, "teaches e'en the humblest visitor the reigning
"You may have this one, if you like," said Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell
Supper came at last, and, with supper, Eva.
I must now write it down that she was not a type of English beauty. She
was not, I mean, queenly, impassive, never-anything-but-her-cool-calm-
self. Tonight, for instance, her eyes were as I had never seen them.
There danced in them the merriest glitter, which was more than a mere
glorification of the ordinary merry glitter--which scores of girls
possess at every ball. To begin with, there was a diabolical abandon
in Eva's glitter, which raised it instantly above the common herd's.
And behind it all was that very misty mist. I don't know whether all
men have seen that mist; but I am sure that no man has seen it more
than once; and, from what I've seen of the average man, I doubt if
most of them have ever seen it at all. Well, there it was for me to
see in Eva Eversleigh's eyes that night at supper. It made me think
of things unspeakable. I felt a rush of classic aestheticism: Arcadia,
Helen of Troy, the happy valleys of the early Greeks. Supper: I believe
I gave her oyster _pates_. But I was far away. Deep, deep, deep
in Eva's eyes I saw a craft sighting, 'neath a cloudless azure sky,
the dark blue Symplegades; heard in my ears the jargon, loud and near
me, of the sailors; and faintly o'er the distance of the dead-calm sea
rose intermittently the sound of brine-foam at the clashing rocks....
As we sat there _tete-a-tete_, she smiled across the table at me
with such perfect friendliness, it seemed as though a magic barrier
separated our two selves from all the chattering, rustling crowd around
us. When she spoke, a little quiver of feeling blended adorably with
the low, sweet tones of her voice. We talked, indeed, of trifles, but
with just that charming hint of intimacy which men friends have who may
have known one another from birth, and may know one another for a
lifetime, but never become bores, never change. Only when it comes
between a woman and a man, it is incomparably finer. It is the talk, of
course, of lovers who have not realised they are in love.
"The two last waltzes," I murmured, when parting with her. She nodded.
I roamed the Gunton-Cresswells's rooms awaiting them.
She danced those two last waltzes with strangers.
The thing was utterly beyond me at the time. Looking back, I am still
amazed to what lengths deliberate coquetry can go.
She actually took pains to elude me, and gave those waltzes to
From being comfortably rocked in the dark blue waters of a Grecian sea,
I was suddenly transported to the realities of the ballroom. My
theoretical love for Eva was now a substantial truth. I was in an agony
of desire, in a frenzy of jealousy. I wanted to hurl the two strangers
to opposite corners of the ballroom, but civilisation forbade it.
I was now in an altogether indescribable state of nerves and suspense.
Had she definitely and for some unfathomable reason decided to cut me?
The first extra drew languorously to a close, couples swept from the
room to the grounds, the gallery or the conservatory. I tried to steady
my whirling head with a cigarette and a whisky-and-soda in the
The orchestra, like a train starting tentatively on a long run,
launched itself mildly into the preliminary bars of _Tout Passe_.
I sought the ballroom blinded by my feelings. Pulling myself together
with an effort, I saw her standing alone. It struck me for the first
time that she was clothed in cream. Her skin gleamed shining white. She
stood erect, her arms by her sides. Behind her was a huge, black velvet
_portiere_ of many folds, supported by two dull brazen columns.
As I advanced towards her, two or three men bowed and spoke to her. She
smiled and dismissed them, and, still smiling pleasantly, her glance
traversed the crowd and rested upon me. I was drawing now quite near.
Her eyes met mine; nor did she avert them, and stooping a little to
address her, I heard her sigh.
"You're tired," I said, forgetting my two last dances, forgetting
everything but that I loved her.
"Perhaps I am," she said, taking my arm. We turned in silence to the
_portiere_ and found ourselves in the hall. The doors were opened.
Some servants were there. At the bottom of the steps I chanced to see a
"Find out if that cab's engaged," I said to a footman.
"The cool air----" I said to Eva.
"The cab is not engaged, sir," said the footman, returning.
"Yes," said Eva, in answer to my glance.
"Drive to the corner of Sloane Street, by way of the Park," I told the
I have said that I had forgotten everything except that I loved her.
Could it help remembrance now that we two sped alone through empty
streets, her warm, palpitating body touching mine?
Julian, his friendship for me, his love for Eva; Margaret and her love
for me; my own honour--these things were blotted from my brain.
"Eva!" I murmured; and I took her hand.
Her wonderful eyes met mine. The mist in them seemed to turn to dew.
"My darling," she whispered, very low. And, the road being deserted, I
drew her face to mine and kissed her.
I TELL JULIAN
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
Is any man really honourable? I wonder. Hundreds, thousands go
triumphantly through life with that reputation. But how far is this due
to absence of temptation? Life, which is like cricket in so many ways,
resembles the game in this also. A batsman makes a century, and, having
made it, is bowled by a ball which he is utterly unable to play. What
if that ball had come at the beginning of his innings instead of at the
end of it? Men go through life without a stain on their honour. I
wonder if it simply means that they had the luck not to have the good
ball bowled to them early in their innings. To take my own case. I had
always considered myself a man of honour. I had a code that was rigid
compared with that of a large number of men. In theory I should never
have swerved from it. I was fully prepared to carry out my promise and
marry Margaret, at the expense of my happiness--until I met Eva. I
would have done anything to avoid injuring Julian, my friend, until I
met Eva. Eva was my temptation, and I fell. Nothing in the world
mattered, so that she was mine. I ought to have had a revulsion of
feeling as I walked back to my rooms in Walpole Street. The dance was
over. The music had ceased. The dawn was chill. And at a point midway
between Kensington Lane and the Brompton Oratory I had proposed to
Eversleigh's cousin, his Eva, "true as steel," and had been accepted.
Yet I had no remorse. I did not even try to justify my behaviour to
Julian or to Margaret, or--for she must suffer, too--to Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell, who, I knew well, was socially ambitious for her
To all these things I was indifferent. I repeated softly to myself, "We
love each other."
From this state of coma, however, I was aroused by the appearance of my
window-blind. I saw, in fact, that my room was illuminated. Remembering
that I had been careful to put out my lamp before I left, I feared, as
I opened the hall door, a troublesome encounter with a mad
housebreaker. Mad, for no room such as mine could attract a burglar who
has even the slightest pretensions to sanity.
It was not a burglar. It was Julian Eversleigh, and he was lying asleep
on my sofa.
There was nothing peculiar in this. I roused him.
"Julian," I said.
"I'm glad you're back," he said, sitting up; "I've some news for you."
"So have I," said I. For I had resolved to tell him what I had done.
"Hear mine first. It's urgent. Miss Margaret Goodwin has been here."
My heart seemed to leap.
"Today?" I cried.
"Yes. I had called to see you, and was waiting a little while on the
chance of your coming in when I happened to look out of the window. A
girl was coming down the street, looking at the numbers of the houses.
She stopped here. Intuition told me she was Miss Goodwin. While she was
ringing the bell I did all I could to increase the shabby squalor of
your room. She was shown in here, and I introduced myself as your
friend. We chatted. I drew an agonising picture of your struggle for
existence. You were brave, talented, and unsuccessful. Though you went
often hungry, you had a plucky smile upon your lips. It was a
meritorious bit of work. Miss Goodwin cried a good deal. She is
charming. I was so sorry for her that I laid it on all the thicker."
"Where is she now?"
"Nearing Guernsey. She's gone."
"Gone!" I said. "Without seeing me! I don't understand."
"You don't understand how she loves you, James."
"But she's gone. Gone without a word."
"She has gone because she loved you so. She had intended to stay with
the Gunton-Cresswells. She knows them, it seems. They didn't know she
was coming. She didn't know herself until this morning. She happened to
be walking on the quay at St. Peter's Port. The outward-bound boat was
on the point of starting for England. A wave of affection swept over
Miss Goodwin. She felt she must see you. Scribbling a note, which she
despatched to her mother, she went aboard. She came straight here.
Then, when I had finished with her, when I had lied consistently about
you for an hour, she told me she must return. 'I must not see James,'
she said. 'You have torn my heart. I should break down.' And she said,
speaking, I think, half to herself, 'Your courage is so noble, so
different from mine. And I must not impose a needless strain upon it.
You shall not see me weep for you.' And then she went away."
Julian's voice broke. He was genuinely affected by his own recital.
For my part, I saw that I had bludgeon work to do. It is childish to
grumble at the part Fate forces one to play. Sympathetic or otherwise,
one can only enact one's _role_ to the utmost of one's ability.
Mine was now essentially unsympathetic, but I was determined that it
should be adequately played.
I went to the fireplace and poked the fire into a blaze. Then, throwing
my hat on the table and lighting a cigarette, I regarded Julian
"You're a nice sort of person, aren't you?" I said.
"What do you mean?" asked Julian, startled, as I had meant that he
should be, by the question.
"Aren't you just a little transparent, my dear Julian?"
He stared blankly.
I took up a position in front of the fire.
"Disloyalty," I said tolerantly, "where a woman is concerned, is in the
eyes of some people almost a negative virtue."
"I don't know what on earth you're talking about."
I was sorry for him all the time. In a curiously impersonal way I could
realise the depths to which I was sinking in putting this insult upon
him. But my better feelings were gagged and bound that night. The one
thought uppermost in my mind was that I must tell Julian of Eva, and
that by his story of Margaret he had given me an opening for making my
confession with the minimum of discomfort to myself.
It was pitiful to see the first shaft of my insinuation slowly sink
into him. I could see by the look in his eyes that he had grasped my
"Jimmy," he gasped, "you can't think--are you joking?"
"I am not surprised at your asking that question," I replied
pleasantly. "You know how tolerant I am. But I'm not joking. Not that I
blame you, my dear fellow. Margaret is, or used to be, very
"You seem to be in earnest," he said, in a dazed way.
"My dear fellow," I said; "I have a certain amount of intuition. You
spend an hour here alone with Margaret. She is young, and very pretty.
You are placed immediately on terms of intimacy by the fact that you
have, in myself, a subject of mutual interest. That breaks the ice. You
are at cross-purposes, but your main sympathies are identical. Also,
you have a strong objective sympathy for Margaret. I think we may
presuppose that this second sympathy is stronger than the first. It
pivots on a woman, not on a man. And on a woman who is present, not on
a man who is absent. You see my meaning? At any rate, the solid fact
remains that she stayed an hour with you, whom she had met for the
first time today, and did not feel equal to meeting me, whom she has
loved for two years. If you want me to explain myself further, I have
no objection to doing so. I mean that you made love to her."
I watched him narrowly to see how he would take it. The dazed
expression deepened on his face.
"You are apparently sane," he said, very wearily. "You seem to be
"I am both," I said.
There was a pause.
"It's no use for me," he began, evidently collecting his thoughts with
a strong effort, "to say your charge is preposterous. I don't suppose
mere denial would convince you. I can only say, instead, that the
charge is too wild to be replied to except in one way, which is this.
Employ for a moment your own standard of right and wrong. I know your
love story, and you know mine. Miss Eversleigh, my cousin, is to me
what Miss Goodwin is to you--true as steel. My loyalty and my
friendship for you are the same as your loyalty and your friendship for
"Well, if I have spent an hour with Miss Goodwin, you have spent more
than an hour with my cousin. What right have you to suspect me more
than I have to suspect you? Judge me by your own standard."
"I do," I said, "and I find myself still suspecting you."
"I don't understand you."
"Perhaps you will when you have heard the piece of news which I
mentioned earlier in our conversation that I had for you."
"I proposed to your cousin at the Gunton-Cresswells's dance tonight,
and she accepted me."
The news had a surprising effect on Julian. First he blinked. Then he
craned his head forward in the manner of a deaf man listening with
Then he left the room without a word.
He had not been gone two minutes when there were three short, sharp
taps at my window.
Julian returned? Impossible. Yet who else could
have called on me at that hour?
I went to the front door, and opened it.
On the steps stood the Rev. John Hatton. Beside him Sidney Price. And,
lurking in the background, Tom Blake of the _Ashlade_ and
_(End of James Orlebar Cloister's narrative.)_
Sidney Price's Narrative
A GHOSTLY GATHERING
Norah Perkins is a peach, and I don't care who knows it; but, all the
same, there's no need to tell her every little detail of a man's past
life. Not that I've been a Don What's-his-name. Far from it. Costs a
bit too much, that game. You simply can't do it on sixty quid a year,
paid monthly, and that's all there is about it. Not but what I don't
often think of going it a bit when things are slack at the office and
my pal in the New Business Department is out for lunch. It's the
loneliness makes you think of going a regular plunger. More than once,
when Tommy Milner hasn't been there to talk to, I tell you I've half a
mind to take out some girl or other to tea at the "Cabin." I have,
Yet somehow when the assist. cash. comes round with the wicker tray on
the 1st, and gives you the envelope ("Mr. Price") and you take out the
five sovereigns--well, somehow, there's such a lot of other things
which you don't want to buy but have just got to. Tommy Milner said the
other day, and I quite agree with him, "When I took my clean
handkerchief out last fortnight," he said, "I couldn't help totting up
what a lot I spend on trifles." That's it. There you've got it in a
nutshell. Washing, bootlaces, bus-tickets--trifles, in fact: that's
where the coin goes. Only the other morning I bust my braces. I was
late already, and pinning them together all but lost me the 9:16, only
it was a bit behind time. It struck me then as I ran to the station
that the average person would never count braces an expense.
Trifles--that's what it is.
No; I may have smoked a cig. too much and been so chippy next day that
I had to go out and get a cup of tea at the A.B.C.; or I may now and
again have gone up West of an evening for a bit of a look round; but
beyond that I've never been really what you'd call vicious. Very likely
it's been my friendship for Mr. Hatton that's curbed me breaking out as
I've sometimes imagined myself doing when I've been alone in the New
Business Room. Though I must say, in common honesty to myself, that
there's always been the fear of getting the sack from the "Moon." The
"Moon" isn't like some other insurance companies I could mention
which'll take anyone. Your refs. must be A1, or you don't stand an
earthly. Simply not an earthly. Besides, the "Moon" isn't an Insurance
Company at all: it's an _As_surance Company. Of course, now I've
chucked the "Moon" ("shot the moon," as Tommy Milner, who's the office
comic, put it) and taken to Literature I could do pretty well what I
liked, if it weren't for Norah.
Which brings me back to what I was saying just now--that I'm not sure
whether I shall tell her the Past. I may and I may not. I'll have to
think it over. Anyway, I'm going to write it down first and see how it
looks. If it's all right it can go into my autobiography. If it isn't,
then I shall lie low about it. That's the posish.
It all started from my friendship with Mr. Hatton--the Rev. Mr. Hatton.
If it hadn't have been for that man I should still be working out rates
of percentage for the "Moon" and listening to Tommy Milner's so-called
witticisms. Of course, I've cut him now. A literary man, a man who
supplies the _Strawberry Leaf_ with two columns of Social
Interludes at a salary I'm not going to mention in case Norah gets to
hear of it and wants to lash out, a man whose Society novels are
competed for by every publisher in London and New York--well, can a man
in that position be expected to keep up with an impudent little
ledger-lugger like Tommy Milner? It can't be done.
I first met the Reverend on the top of Box Hill one Saturday
afternoon. Bike had punctured, and the Reverend gave me the
loan of his cyclists' repairing outfit. We had our tea together.
Watercress, bread-and-butter, and two sorts of jam--one bob per
head. He issued an invite to his diggings in the Temple. Cocoa and
cigs. of an evening. Regular pally, him and me was. Then he got into
the way of taking me down to a Boys' Club that he had started.
Terrors they were, so to put it. Fair out-and-out terrors. But they
all thought a lot of the Reverend, and so did I. Consequently it was
all right. The next link in the chain was a chap called Cloyster.
James Orlebar Cloyster. The Reverend brought him down to teach
boxing. For my own part, I don't fancy anything in the way of
brutality. The club, so I thought, had got on very nicely with
more intellectual pursuits: draughts, chess, bagatelle, and what-not.
But the Rev. wanted boxing, and boxing it had to be. Not that it
would have done for him or me to have mixed ourselves up in it. He
had his congregation to consider, and I am often on duty at the
downstairs counter before the very heart of the public. A black eye
or a missing tooth wouldn't have done at all for either of us, being,
as we were, in a sense, officials. But Cloyster never seemed to
realise this. Not to put too fine a point upon it, Cloyster was not
my idea of a gentleman. He had no tact.
The next link was a confirmed dipsomaniac. A terrible phrase.
Unavoidable, though. A very evil man is Tom Blake. Yet out of evil
cometh good, and it was Tom Blake, who, indirectly, stopped the boxing
lessons. The club boys never wore the gloves after drunken Blake's
I shall never--no, positively never forget that night in June when
matters came to a head in Shaftesbury Avenue. Oh, I say, it was a bit
Each successive phase is limned indelibly--that's the sort of literary
style I've got, if wanted--on the tablets of my memory.
I'd been up West, and who should I run across in Oxford Street but my
old friend, Charlie Cookson. Very good company is Charlie Cookson. See
him at a shilling hop at the Holborn: he's pretty much all there all
the time. Well-known follower--of course, purely as an amateur--of the
late Dan Leno, king of comedians; good penetrating voice; writes his
own in-between bits--you know what I mean: the funny observations on
mothers-in-law, motors, and marriage, marked "Spoken" in the
song-books. Fellows often tell him he'd make a mint of money in the
halls, and there's a rumour flying round among us who knew him in the
"Moon" that he was seen coming out of a Bedford Street Variety Agency
the other day.
Well, I met Charlie at something after ten. Directly he spotted me he
was at his antics, standing stock still on the pavement in a crouching
attitude, and grasping his umbrella like a tomahawk. His humour's
always high-class, but he's the sort of fellow who doesn't care a blow
what he does. Chronic in that respect, absolutely. The passers-by
couldn't think what he was up to. "Whoop-whoop-whoop!" that's what he
said. He did, straight. Only _yelled_ it. I thought it was going a
bit too far in a public place. So, to show him, I just said "Good
evening, Cookson; how are you this evening?" With all his entertaining
ways he's sometimes slow at taking a hint. No tact, if you see what I
In this case, for instance, he answered at the top of his voice: "Bolly
Golly, yah!" and pretended to scalp me with his umbrella. I immediately
ducked, and somehow knocked my bowler against his elbow. He caught it
as it was falling off my head. Then he said, "Indian brave give little
pale face chief his hat." This was really too much, and I felt relieved
when a policeman told us to move on. Charlie said: "Come and have two
penn'orth of something."
Well, we stayed chatting over our drinks (in fact, I was well into my
second lemon and dash) at the Stockwood Hotel until nearly eleven. At
five to, Charlie said good-bye, because he was living in, and I walked
out into the Charing Cross Road, meaning to turn down Shaftesbury
Avenue so as to get a breath of fresh air. Outside the Oxford there was
a bit of a crowd. I asked a man standing outside a tobacconist's what
the trouble was. "Says he won't go away without kissing the girl that
sang 'Empire Boys,'" was the reply. "Bin shiftin' it, 'e 'as, not
'arf!" Sure enough, from the midst of the crowd came:
Yew are ther boys of the Empire,
Steady an' brave an' trew.
Yew are the wuns
She calls 'er sons
An' I luv yew.
I had gone, out of curiosity, to the outskirts of the crowd, and before
I knew what had happened I found myself close to the centre of it. A
large man in dirty corduroys stood with his back to me. His shape
seemed strangely familiar. Still singing, and swaying to horrible
angles all over the shop, he slowly pivoted round. In a moment I
recognised the bleary features of Tom Blake. At the same time he
recognised me. He stretched out a long arm and seized me by the
shoulder. "Oh," he sobbed, "I thought I 'ad no friend in the wide world
except 'er; but now I've got yew it's orlright. Yus, yus, it's
orlright." A murmur, almost a cheer it was, circulated among the crowd.
But a policeman stepped up to me.
"Now then," said the policeman, "wot's all this about?"
Yew are the wuns
She calls 'er sons----
"Ho, that's yer little game, is it?" said the policeman. "Move on,
d'yer hear? Pop off."
"I will," said Blake. "I'll never do it again. I promise faithful never
to do it again. I've found a fren'."
"Do you know this covey?" asked the policeman.
"Deny it, if yer dare," said Blake. "Jus' you deny it, that's orl, an'
I'll tell the parson."
"Slightly, constable," I said. "I mean, I've seen him before."
"Then you'd better take 'im off if you don't want 'im locked up."
"'Im want me locked up? We're bosum fren's, ain't we, old dear?" said
Blake, linking his arm in mine and dragging me away with him. Behind
us, the policeman was shunting the spectators. Oh, it was excessively
displeasing to any man of culture, I can assure you.
How we got along Shaftesbury I don't know. It's a subject I do not care
to think about.
By leaning heavily on my shoulder and using me, so to speak, as
ballast, drunken Blake just managed to make progress, I cannot say
unostentatiously, but at any rate not so noticeably as to be taken into
I didn't know, mind you, where we were going to, and I didn't know when
we were going to stop.
In this frightful manner of progression we had actually gained sight of
Piccadilly Circus when all of a sudden a voice hissed in my ear:
"Sidney Price, I am disappointed in you." Hissed, mind you. I tell you,
I jumped. Thought I'd bitten my tongue off at first.
If drunken Blake hadn't been clutching me so tight you could have
knocked me down with a feather: bowled me over clean. It startled Blake
a goodish bit, too. All along the Avenue he'd been making just a quiet
sort of snivelling noise. Crikey, if he didn't speak up quite perky.
"O, my fren'," he says. "So drunk and yet so young." Meaning me, if you
It was too thick.
"You blighter," I says. "You _blooming_ blighter. You talk to me
like that. Let go of my arm and see me knock you down."
I must have been a bit excited, you see, to say that. Then I looked
round to see who the other individual was. You'll hardly credit me when
I tell you it was the Reverend. But it was. Honest truth, it was the
Rev. John Hatton and no error. His face fairly frightened me. Simply
blazing: red: fair scarlet. He kept by the side of us and let me have
it all he could. "I thought you knew better, Price," that's what he
said. "I thought you knew better. Here are you, a friend of mine, a
member of the Club, a man I've trusted, going about the streets of
London in a bestial state of disgusting intoxication. That's enough in
itself. But you've done worse than that. You've lured poor Blake into
intemperance. Yes, with all your advantages of education and
up-bringing, you deliberately set to work to put temptation in the way
of poor, weak, hard-working Blake. Drunkenness is Blake's besetting
sin, and you----"
Blake had been silently wagging his head, as pleased as Punch at being
called hardworking. But here he shoved in his oar.
"'Ow dare yer!" he burst out. "I ain't never tasted a drop o' beer in
my natural. Born an' bred teetotal, that's wot I was, and don't yew
forget it, neither."
"Blake," said the Reverend, "that's not the truth."
"Call me a drunkard, do yer?" replied Blake. "Go on. Say it again. Say
I'm a blarsted liar, won't yer? Orlright, then I shall run away."
And with that he wrenched himself away from me and set off towards the
Circus. He was trying to run, but his advance took the form of
semi-circular sweeps all over the pavement. He had circled off so
unexpectedly that he had gained some fifty yards before we realised
what was happening. "We must stop him," said the Reverend.
"As I'm intoxicated," I said, coldly (being a bit fed up with things),
"I should recommend you stopping him, Mr. Hatton."
"I've done you an injustice," said the Reverend.
"You have," said I.
Blake was now nearing a policeman. "Stop him!" we both shouted,
starting to run forward.
The policeman brought Blake to a standstill.
"Friend of yours?" said the constable when we got up to him.
"Yes," said the Reverend.
"You ought to look after him better," said the constable.
"Well, really, I like that!" said the Reverend; but he caught my eye
and began laughing. "Our best plan," he said, "is to get a four-wheeler
and go down to the Temple. There's some supper there. What do you say?"
"I'm on," I said, and to the Temple we accordingly journeyed.
Tom Blake was sleepy and immobile. We spread him without hindrance on a
sofa, where he snored peacefully whilst the Reverend brought eggs and a
slab of bacon out of a cupboard in the kitchen. He also brought a
frying-pan, and a bowl of fat.
"Is your cooking anything extra good?" he asked.
"No, Mr. Hatton," I answered, rather stiff; "I've never cooked anything
in my life." I may not be in a very high position in the "Moon," but
I've never descended to menial's work yet.
For about five minutes after that the Reverend was too busy to speak.
Then he said, without turning his head away from the hissing pan, "I
wish you'd do me a favour, Price."
"Certainly," I said.
"Look in the cupboard and see whether there are any knives, forks,
plates, and a loaf and a bit of butter, will you?"
I looked, and, sure enough, they were there.
"Yes, they're all here," I called to him.
"And is there a tray?"
"Yes, there's a tray."
"Now, it's a funny thing that my laundress," he shouted back, "can't
bring in breakfast things for more than one on that particular tray.
She's always complaining it's too small, and says I ought to buy a
"Nonsense," I exclaimed, "she's quite wrong about that. You watch what
I can carry in one load." And I packed the tray with everything he had
"What price that?" I said, putting the whole boiling on the
The Reverend began to roar with laughter. "It's ridiculous," he
chuckled. "I shall tell her it's ridiculous. She ought to be ashamed of
Shortly after we had supper, previously having aroused Blake.
The drunken fellow seemed completely restored by his repose. He ate
more than his share of the eggs and bacon, and drank five cups of tea.
Then he stretched himself, lit a clay pipe, and offered us his tobacco
box, from which the Reverend filled his briar. I remained true to my
packet of "Queen of the Harem." I shall think twice before chucking up
cig. smoking as long as "Queen of the Harem" don't go above
tuppence-half-penny per ten.
We were sitting there smoking in front of the fire--it was a shade
parky for the time of year--and not talking a great deal, when the
Reverend said to Blake, "Things are looking up on the canal, aren't
"No," said Blake; "things ain't lookin' up on the canal."
"Got a little house property," said the Reverend, "to spend when you
feel like it?"
"No," said the other; "I ain't got no 'ouse property to spend."
"Ah." said the Reverend, cheesing it, and sucking his pipe.
"Dessay yer think I'm free with the rhino?" said Blake after a while.
"I was only wondering," said the Reverend.
Blake stared first at the Reverend and then at me.
"Ever remember a party of the name of Cloyster, Mr. James Orlebar
Cloyster?" he inquired.
"Yes," we both said.
"'E's a good man," said Blake.
"Been giving you money?" asked the Reverend.
"'E's put me into the way of earning it. It's the sorfest job ever I
struck. 'E told me not to say nothin', and I said as 'ow I wouldn't.
But it ain't fair to Mr. Cloyster, not keeping of it dark ain't. Yew
don't know what a noble 'eart that man's got, an' if you weren't fren'
of 'is I couldn't have told you. But as you are fren's of 'is, as we're
all fren's of 'is, I'll take it on myself to tell you wot that
noble-natured man is giving me money for. Blowed if 'e shall 'ide his
bloomin' light under a blanky bushel any longer." And then he explained
that for putting his name to a sheet or two of paper, and addressing a
few envelopes, he was getting more money than he knew what to do with.
"Mind you," he said, "I play it fair. I only take wot he says I'm to
take. The rest goes to 'im. My old missus sees to all that part of it
'cos she's quicker at figures nor wot I am."
While he was speaking, I could hardly contain myself. The Reverend was
listening so carefully to every word that I kept myself from
interrupting; but when he'd got it off his chest, I clutched the
Reverend's arm, and said, "What's it mean?"
"Can't say," said he, knitting his brows.
"Is he straight?" I said, all on the jump.
"I hope so."
"'Hope so.' You don't think there's a doubt of it?"
"I suppose not. But surely it's very unselfish of you to be so
concerned over Blake's business."
"Blake's business be jiggered," I said. "It's my business, too. I'm
doing for Mister James Orlebar Cloyster exactly what Blake's doing. And
I'm making money. You don't understand."
"On the contrary, I'm just beginning to understand. You see, I'm doing
for Mr. James Orlebar Cloyster exactly the same service as you and
Blake. And I'm getting money from him, too."
ONE IN THE EYE
_(Sidney Price's narrative continued)_
"Serpose I oughtn't ter 'ave let on, that's it, ain't it?" from Tom
"Seemed to me that if one of the three gave the show away to the other
two, the compact made by each of the other two came to an end
automatically," from myself.
"The reason I have broken my promise of secrecy is this: that I'm
determined we three shall make a united demand for a higher rate of
payment. You, of course, have your own uses for the money, I need mine
for those humanitarian objects for which my whole life is lived," from
"Wot 'o," said Blake. "More coin. Wot 'o. Might 'ave thought o' that
"I'm with you, sir," said I. "We're entitled to a higher rate, I'll
make a memo to that effect."
"No, no," said the Reverend. "We can do better than that. We three
should have a personal interview with Cloyster and tell him our
"When?" I asked.
"Now. At once. We are here together, and I see no reason to prevent our
arranging the matter within the hour."
"But he'll be asleep," I objected.
"He won't be asleep much longer."
"Yus, roust 'im outer bed. That's wot I say. Wot 'o for more coin."
It was now half-past two in the morning. I'd missed the 12:15 back to
Brixton slap bang pop hours ago, so I thought I might just as well make
a night of it. We jumped into our overcoats and hats, and hurried to
Fleet Street. We walked towards the Strand until we found a
four-wheeler. We then drove to No. 23, Walpole Street.
The clocks struck three as the Reverend paid the cab.
"Hullo!" said he. "Why, there's a light in Cloyster's sitting-room. He
can't have gone to bed yet. His late hours save us a great deal of
trouble." And he went up the two or three steps which led to the front
A glance at Tom Blake showed me that the barge-driver was alarmed. He
looked solemn and did not speak. I felt funny, too. Like when I first
handed round the collection-plate in our parish church. Sort of empty
But the Reverend was all there, spry and business-like.
He leaned over the area railing and gave three short, sharp taps on the
ground floor window with his walking-stick.
Behind the lighted blind appeared the shadow of a man's figure.
"It's he!" "It's him!" came respectively and simultaneously from the
Reverend and myself.
After a bit of waiting the latch clicked and the door opened. The door
was opened by Mr. Cloyster himself. He was in evening dress and
hysterics. I thought I had heard a rummy sound from the other side of
the door. Couldn't account for it at the time. Must have been him
At the sight of us he tried to pull himself together. He half succeeded
after a bit, and asked us to come in.
To say his room was plainly furnished doesn't express it. The apartment
was like a prison cell. I've never been in gaol, of course. But I read
"Convict 99" when it ran in a serial. The fire was out, the chairs were
hard, and the whole thing was uncomfortable. Never struck such a shoddy
place in my natural, ever since I called on a man I know slightly who
was in "The Hand of Blood" travelling company No. 3 B.
"Delighted to see you, I'm sure," said Mr. Cloyster. "In fact, I was
just going to sit down and write to you."
"Really," said the Reverend. "Well, we've come of our own accord, and
we've come to talk business." Then turning to Blake and me he added,
"May I state our case?"
"Most certainly, sir," I answered. And Blake gave a nod.
"Briefly, then," said the Reverend, "our mission is this: that we three
want our contracts revised."
"What contracts?" said Mr. Cloyster.
"Our contracts connected with your manuscripts."
"Since when have the several matters of business which I arranged
privately with each of you become public?"
"Tonight. It was quite unavoidable. We met by chance. We are not to
blame. Tom Blake was----"
"Yes, he looks as if he had been."
"Our amended offer is half profits."
"More coin," murmured Blake huskily. "Wot 'o!"
"I regret that you've had your journey for nothing."
"My dear Cloyster, I had expected you to take this attitude; but surely
it's childish of you. You are bound to accede. Why not do so at once?"
"Bound to accede? I don't follow you."
"Yes, bound. The present system which you are working is one you cannot
afford to destroy. That is clear, because, had it not been so, you
would never have initiated it. I do not know for what reason you were
forced to employ this system, but I do know that powerful circumstances
must have compelled you to do so. You are entirely in our hands."
"I said just now I was delighted to see you, and that I had intended to
ask you to come to me. One by one, of course; for I had no idea that
the promise of secrecy which you gave me had been broken."
The Reverend shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you know why I wanted to see you?"
"To tell you that I had decided to abandon my system. To notify you
that you would, in future, receive no more of my work."
There was a dead silence.
"I think I'll go home to bed," said the Reverend.
Blake and myself followed him out.
Mr. Cloyster thanked us all warmly for the excellent way in which we
had helped him. He said that he was now engaged to be married, and had
to save every penny. "Otherwise, I should have tried to meet you in
this affair of the half-profits." He added that we had omitted to
congratulate him on his engagement.
His words came faintly to our ears as we tramped down Walpole Street;
nor did we, as far as I can remember, give back any direct reply.
Tell you what it was just like. Reminded me of it even at the time:
that picture of Napoleon coming back from Moscow. The Reverend was
Napoleon, and we were the generals; and if there were three humpier men
walking the streets of London at that moment I should have liked to
have seen them.
IN THE SOUP
_(Sidney Price's narrative continued)_
They give you a small bonus at the "Moon" if you get through a quarter
without being late, which just shows the sort of scale on which the
"Moon" does things. Cookson, down at the Oxford Street Emporium, gets
fined regular when he's late. Shilling the first hour and twopence
every five minutes after. I've known gentlemen in banks, railway
companies, dry goods, and woollen offices, the Indian trade, jute,
tea--every manner of shop--but they all say the same thing, "We are
ruled by fear." It's fear that drags them out of bed in the morning;
it's fear that makes them bolt, or even miss, their sausages; it's fear
that makes them run to catch their train. But the "Moon's" method is of
a different standard. The "Moon" does not intimidate; no, it entwines
itself round, it insinuates itself into, the hearts of its employees.
It suggests, in fact, that we should not be late by offering us this
small bonus. No insurance office and, up to the time of writing, no
other assurance office has been able to boast as much. The same cause
is at the bottom of the "Moon's" high reputation, both inside and
outside. It does things in a big way. It's spacious.
The "Moon's" timing system is great, too. Great in its simplicity. The
regulation says you've got to be in the office by ten o'clock. Suppose
you arrive with ten minutes to spare. You go into the outer office
(there's only one entrance--the big one in Threadneedle Street) and
find on the right-hand side of the circular counter a ledger. The
ledger is open: there is blotting-paper and a quill pen beside it.
Everyone's name is written in alphabetical order on the one side of the
ledger and on the other side there is a blank page ruled down the
middle with a red line. Having made your appearance at ten to ten, you
put your initials in a line with your name on the page opposite and to
the left of the division. If, on the other hand, you've missed your
train, and don't turn up till ten minutes _past_ ten, you've got
to initial your name on the other side of the red line. In the space on
the right of the line, a thick black dash has been drawn by Leach, the
cashier. He does this on the last stroke of ten. It makes the page look
neat, he says. Which is quite right and proper. I see his point of view
entirely. The ledger must look decent in an office like the "Moon."
Tommy Milner agrees with me. He says that not only does it look better,
but it prevents unfortunate mistakes on the part of those who come in
late. They might forget and initial the wrong side.
After ten the book goes into Mr. Leach's private partition, and you've
got to go in there to sign.
It was there when I came into the office on the morning after we'd been
to talk business with Mr. Cloyster. It had been there about an hour and
"Lost your bonus, Price, my boy," said genial Mr. Leach. And the
General Manager, Mr. Fennell, who had stepped out of his own room close
by, heard him say it.
"I do not imagine that Mr. Price is greatly perturbed on that account.
He will, no doubt, shortly be forsaking us for literature. What
Commerce loses, Art gains," said the G.M.
He may have meant to be funny, or he may not. Some of those standing
near took him one way, others the other. Some gravely bowed their
heads, others burst into guffaws. The G.M. often puzzled his staff in
that way. All were anxious to do the right thing by him, but he made it
so difficult to tell what the right thing was.
But, as I went down the basement stairs to change my coat in the
clerks' locker-room, I understood from the G.M.'s words how humiliating
my position was.
I had always been a booky sort of person. At home it had been a
standing joke that, when a boy, I would sooner spend a penny on
_Tit-Bits_ than liquorice. And it was true. Not that I disliked
liquorice. I liked _Tit-Bits_ better, though. So the thing had
gone on. I advanced from _Deadwood Dick_ to Hall Caine and Guy
Boothby; and since I had joined the "Moon" I had actually gone a buster
and bought _Omar Khayyam_ in the Golden Treasury series. Added to
which, I had recently composed a little lyric for a singer at the
"Moon's" annual smoking concert. The lines were topical and were
descriptive of our Complete Compensation Policy. Tommy Milner was the
vocalist. He sang my composition to a hymn tune. The refrain went:
Come and buy a C.C.Pee-ee!
If you want immunitee-ee
From the accidents which come
Please plank down your premium.
Life is diff'rent, you'll agree
_Repeat_ When you've got a C.C.P.
The Throne Room of the Holborn fairly rocked with applause.
Well, it was shortly afterwards that I had received a visit from Mr.
Cloyster--the visit which ended in my agreeing to sign whatever
manuscripts he sent me, and forward him all cheques for a consideration
of ten per cent. Softest job ever a man had. Easy money. Kudos--I had
almost too much of it. Which takes me back to the G.M.'s remark about
my leaving the office. Since he's bought that big house at Regent's
Park he's done a lot of entertaining at the restaurants. His name's
always cropping up in the "Here and There" column, and naturally he's a
subscriber to the _Strawberry Leaf_. The G.M. has everything of
the best and plenty of it. (You don't see the G.M. with memo. forms
tucked round his cuffs: he wears a clean shirt every morning of his
life. All tip-top people have their little eccentricities.) And the
_Strawberry Leaf_, the smartest, goeyest, personalest weekly, is
never missing from his drawing-room what-not. Every week it's there,
regular as clockwork. That's what started my literary reputation among
the fellows at the "Moon." Mr. Cloyster was contributing a series of
short dialogues to the _Strawberry Leaf_--called, "In Town."
These, on publication, bore my own signature. As a matter of fact, I
happened to see the G.M. showing the first of the series to Mr. Leach
in his private room. I've kept it by me, and I don't wonder the news
created a bit of a furore. This was it:----
BY SIDNEY PRICE
No. I.--THE SECRECY OF THE BALLET
(You are standing under the shelter of the Criterion's awning.
It is 12.30 of a summer's morning. It is pouring in torrents.
A quick and sudden rain storm. It won't last long, and it
doesn't mean any harm. But what's sport to it is death to you.
You were touring the Circus in a new hat. Brand new. Couldn't
spot your tame cabby. Hadn't a token. Spied the Cri's awning.
Dashed at it. But it leaks. Not so much as the sky though. Just
enough, however, to do your hat no good. You mention this to
Friendly Creature with umbrella, and hint that you would like
to share that weapon.)
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Can't give you all, boysie. Mine's new, too.
YOU. _(in your charming way)_. Well, of course. You wouldn't
be a woman if you hadn't a new hat.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Do women always have new hats?
YOU. _(edging under the umbrella)_. Women have new hats.
New women have hats.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Don't call me a woman, ducky; I'm a lady.
YOU. I must be careful. If I don't flatter you, you'll take your
FRIENDLY CREATURE _(changing subject)_. There's Matilda.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Coming towards us in that landaulette.
YOU. Looks fit, doesn't she?
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Her! She's a blooming rotter.
YOU. Not so loud. She'll hear you.
FRIENDLY CREATURE _(raising her voice)_. Good job. I want her
YOU. S-s-s-sh! What _are_ you saying? Matilda's a duchess now.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. I know.
YOU. But you mustn't say "Stumer" to a duchess unless----
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Well?
YOU. Unless you're a duchess yourself?
FRIENDLY CREATURE. I am. At least I was. Only I chucked it.
YOU. But you said you were a lady.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. So I am. An extra lady--front row, second O.P.
YOU. How rude of me. Of course you were a duchess. I know you
perfectly. Gorell Barnes said----
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Drop it. What's the good of the secrecy of
the ballet if people are going to remember every single thing
(At this point the rain stops. By an adroit flanking movement
you get away without having to buy her a lunch.)
Everyone congratulated me. "Always knew he had it in him," "Found his
vocation," "A distinctly clever head," "Reaping in the shekels"--that
was the worst part. The "Moon," to a man, was bent on finding out "how
much Sidney Price makes out of his bits in the papers." Some dropped
hints--the G.M., Leach, and the men at the counter. Others, like Tommy
Milner, asked slap out. You may be sure I didn't tell them a fixed sum.
But it was hopeless to say I was getting the small sum which my ten per
cent. commission worked out at. On the other hand, I dared not pretend
I was being paid at the usual rates. I should have gone broke in
twenty-four hours. You have no idea how constantly I was given the
opportunity of lending five shillings to important members of the
"Moon" staff. It struck me then--and I have found out for certain
since--that there is a popular anxiety to borrow from a man who earns
money by writing. The earnings of a successful writer are, to the
common intelligence, something he ought not really to have. And anyone,
in default of abstracting his income, may fall back upon taking up his
It did, no doubt, appear that I was coining the ready. Besides the
_Strawberry Leaf_, _Features_, and _The Key of the Street_ were
printing my signed contributions in weekly series. _The Mayfair_, too,
had announced on its placards, "A Story in Dialogue, by Sidney Price."
This, then, was my position on the morning when I was late at the
"Moon" and lost my bonus.
Whilst I went up in the lift to the New Business Room, and whilst I was
entering the names and addresses of inquirers in the Proposal Book, I
was trying to gather courage to meet what was in store.
For the future held this: that my name would disappear from the papers
as suddenly as it had arrived there. People would want to know why I
had given up writing. "Written himself out," "No staying power," "As
short-lived as a Barnum monstrosity": these would be the remarks which
would herald ridicule and possibly pity.
And I should be in just the same beastly fix at the "Hollyhocks" as I
was at the "Moon." What would my people say? What would Norah say?
There was another reason, too, why a stoppage of the ten per cent.
cheques would be a whack in the eye. You see, I had been doing myself
well on them--uncommonly well. I had ordered, as a present to my
parents, new furniture for the drawing-room. I had pressed my father to
have a small greenhouse put up at my expense. He had always wanted one,
but had never been able to run to it. And I had taken Norah about a
good deal. Our weekly visit to a matinee (upper circle and ices),
followed by tea at the Cabin or Lyons' Popular, had become an
institution. We had gone occasionally to a ball at the Town Hall.
What would Norah say when all this ended abruptly without any
There was no getting away from it. Sidney Price was in the soup.
NORAH WINS HOME
_(Sidney Price's narrative continued)_
My signed work had run out. For two weeks nothing
had been printed over my signature. So far no comment had been raised.
But it was only a question of days. But then one afternoon it all came
right. It was like this.
I was sitting eating my lunch at Eliza's in Birchin Lane. Twenty
minutes was the official allowance for the meal, and I took my twenty
minutes at two o'clock. The _St. Stephen's Gazette_ was lying near
me. I picked it up. Anything to distract my thoughts from the trouble
to come. That was how I felt. Reading mechanically the front page, I
saw a poem, and started violently. This was the poem:--
Hands at the tiller to steer:
A star in the murky sky:
Water and waste of mere:
Whither and why?
Sting of absorbent night:
Journey of weal or woe:
And overhead the light:
We go--we go?
Darkness a mortal's part,
Mortals of whom we are:
Come to a mortal's heart,
"Rummy, very rummy," I exclaimed. The poem was dated yesterday. Had
Mr. Cloyster, then, continued to work his system with Thomas Blake to
the exclusion of the Reverend and myself?
Still worrying over the thing, I turned over the pages of the paper
until I chanced to see the following paragraph:
Few will be surprised to learn that the Rev. John Hatton intends
to publish another novel in the immediate future. Mr. Hatton's
first book, _When It Was Lurid_, created little less than
a furore. The work on which he is now engaged, which will bear
the title of _The Browns of Brixton_, is a tender sketch of
English domesticity. This new vein of Mr. Hatton's will, doubtless,
be distinguished by the naturalness of dialogue and sanity of
characterisation of his first novel. Messrs. Prodder and Way are
to publish it in the autumn.
"He's running the Reverend again, is he?" said I to myself. "And I'm
the only one left out. It's a bit thick."
That night I wrote to Blake and to the Reverend asking whether they had
been taken on afresh, and if so, couldn't I get a look in, as things
were pretty serious.
The Reverend's reply arrived first:
As you have seen, I am hard at work at my new novel. The leisure
of a novelist is so scanty that I know you'll forgive my writing
only a line. I am in no way associated with James Orlebar Cloyster,
nor do I wish to be. Rather I would forget his very existence.
You are aware of the interests which I have at heart: social
reform, the education of the submerged, the physical needs of
the young--there is no necessity for me to enumerate my ideals
further. To get quick returns from philanthropy, to put remedial
organisation into speedy working order wants capital. Cloyster's
system was one way of obtaining some of it, but when that failed
I had to look out for another. I'm glad I helped in the system,
for it made me realise how large an income a novelist can obtain.
I'm glad it failed because its failure suggested that I should try
to get for myself those vast sums which I had been getting for the
selfish purse of an already wealthy man. Unconsciously, he has
played into my hands. I read his books before I signed them, and I
find that I have thoroughly absorbed those tricks of his, of style
and construction, which opened the public's coffers to him. _The
Browns of Brixton_ will eclipse anything that Cloyster has
previously done, for this reason, that it will out-Cloyster
Cloyster. It is Cloyster with improvements.
In thus abducting his novel-reading public I shall feel no
compunction. His serious verse and his society dialogues bring him
in so much that he cannot be in danger of financial embarrassment.
_Yours sincerely, John Hatton_.
Now this letter set my brain buzzing like the engine of a stationary
Vanguard. I, too, had been in the habit of reading Mr. Cloyster's
dialogues before I signed and sent them off. I had often thought to
myself, also, that they couldn't take much writing, that it was all a
knack; and the more I read of them the more transparent the knack
appeared to me to be. Just for a lark, I sat down that very evening and
had a go at one. Taking the Park for my scene, I made two or three
theatrical celebrities whose names I had seen in the newspapers talk
about a horse race. At least, one talked about a horse race, and the
others thought she was gassing about a new musical comedy, the name of
the play being the same as the name of the horse, "The Oriental Belle."
A very amusing muddle, with lots of _doubles entendres_, and heaps
of adverbial explanation in small print. Such as:
Miss Adeline Genee
(with the faint, incipient blush which
Mrs. Adair uses to test her Rouge Imperial).
That sort of thing.
I had it typed, and I said, "Price, my boy, there's more Mr. Cloyster
in this than ever Mr. Cloyster could have put into it." And the editor
of the _Strawberry Leaf_ printed it next issue as a matter of
course. I say, "as a matter of course" with intention, because the
fellows at the "Moon" took it as a matter of course, too. You see, when
it first appeared, I left the copy about the desk in the New Business
Room, hoping Tommy Milner or some of them would rush up and
congratulate me. But they didn't. They simply said, "Don't litter the
place up, old man. Keep your papers, if you _must_ bring 'em here,
in your locker downstairs." One of them _did_ say, I fancy,
something about its "not being quite up to my usual." They didn't know
it was my maiden effort at original composition, and I couldn't tell
them. It was galling, you'll admit.
However, I quickly forgot my own troubles in wondering what Mr.
Cloyster was doing. No editor, I foresaw, would accept his society
stuff as long as mine was in the market. They wouldn't pay for Cloyster
whilst they were offered the refusal of super-Cloyster. Wasn't likely.
You must understand I wasn't over-easy in my conscience about the
affair. I had, in a manner of speaking, pinched Mr. Cloyster's job. But
then, I argued to myself, he was earning quite as much as was good for
any one man by his serious verse.
And at that very minute our slavey, little Ethelbertina, knocked at my
bedroom door and gave me a postcard. It was addressed to me in thick,
straggly writing, and was so covered with thumb-marks that a Bertillon
expert would have gone straight off his nut at the sight of it. "My
usbend," began the postcard, "as received yourn. E as no truk wif the
other man E is a pots imself an e can do a job of potry as orfen as e
'as a mine to your obegent servent Ada Blake. P.S. me an is ole ant do
is writin up for im."
So then I saw how that "Cry" thing in the _St. Stephen's_ had come
* * * * *
You heard me give my opinion about telling Norah my past life. Well,
you'll agree with me now that there's practically nothing to tell her.
There _is_, of course, little Miss Richards, the waitress in the
smoking-room of the Piccadilly Cabin. Her, I mean, with the fuzzy
golden hair done low. You've often exchanged "Good evening" with her,
I'm sure. Her hair's done low: she used to make rather a point of
telling me that. Why, I don't know, especially as it was always tidy
and well off her shoulders.
And then there was the haughty lady who sold programmes in the
Haymarket Amphitheatre--but she's got the sack, so Cookson informs me.
Therefore, as I shall tell Norah plainly that I disapprove of the
Cabin, the past can hatch no egg of discord in the shape of the
The only thing that I can think of as needing suppression is the part I
played in Mr. Cloyster's system.
There's no doubt that the Reverend, Blake and I have, between us, put a
fairly considerable spoke in Mr. Cloyster's literary wheel. But what am
I to do? To begin with, it's no use my telling Norah about the affair,
because it would do her no good, and might tend possibly to lessen her
valuation of my capabilities. At present, my dialogues dazzle her; and
once your _fiancee_ is dazzled the basis of matrimonial happiness
is assured. Again, looking at it from Mr. Cloyster's point of view,
what good would it be to him if I were to stop writing? Both the editor
and the public have realised by now that his work is only second-rate.
He can never hope to get a tenth of his original prices, even if his
work is accepted, which it won't be; for directly I leave his market
clear, someone else will collar it slap off.
Besides, I've no right to stop my dialogues. My duty to Norah is
greater than my duty to Mr. Cloyster. Unless I continue to be paid by
literature I shall not be able to marry Norah until three years next
quarter. The "Moon" has passed a rule about it, and an official who
marries on an income not larger than eighty pounds per annum is liable
to dismissal without notice.
Norah's mother wouldn't let her wait three years, and though fellows
have been known to have had a couple of kids at the time of their
official marriage, I personally couldn't stand the wear and tear of
that hole-and-corner business. It couldn't be done.
_(End of Sidney Price's narrative_.)
Julian Eversleigh's Narrative
THE TRANSPOSITION OF SENTIMENT
It is all very, very queer. I do not understand it at all. It makes me
sleepy to think about it.
A month ago I hated Eva. Tomorrow I marry her by special licence.
Now, what _about_ this?
My brain is not working properly. I am becoming jerky.
I tried to work the thing out algebraically. I wrote it down as an
HATRED, denoted by x + Eva.
REVERSE OF HATRED, " " y + Eva
ONE MONTH " " z.
From which we get:--
x + Eva = (y + Eva)z.
And if anybody can tell me what that means (if it means anything--which
I doubt) I shall be grateful. As I said before, my brain is not working
There is no doubt that my temperament has changed, and in a very short
space of time. A month ago I was soured, cynical, I didn't brush my
hair, and I slept too much. I talked a good deal about Life. Now I am
blithe and optimistic. I use pomade, part in the middle, and sleep
eight hours and no more. I have not made an epigram for days. It is all
I took a new attitude towards life at about a quarter to three on the
morning after the Gunton-Cresswells's dance. I had waited for James in
his rooms. He had been to the dance.
Examine me for a moment as I wait there.
I had been James' friend for more than two years and a half. I had
watched his career from the start. I knew him before he had located
exactly the short cut to Fortune. Our friendship embraced the whole
period of his sudden, extraordinary success.
Had not envy by that time been dead in me, it might have been pain to
me to watch him accomplish unswervingly with his effortless genius the
things I had once dreamt I, too, would laboriously achieve.
But I grudged him nothing. Rather, I had pleasure in those triumphs of
There was no confidence we had withheld from one another.
When he told me of his relations with Margaret Goodwin he had counted
on my sympathy as naturally as he had requested and received my advice.
To no living soul, save James, would I have confessed my own
tragedy--my hopeless love for Eva.
It is inconceivable that I should have misjudged a man so utterly as I
That is the latent factor at the root of my problem. The innate
rottenness, the cardiac villainy of James Orlebar Cloyster.
In a measure it was my own hand that laid the train which eventually
blew James' hidden smoulder of fire into the blazing beacon of
wickedness, in which my friend's Satanic soul is visible in all its
I remember well that evening, mild with the prelude of spring, when I
evolved for James' benefit the System. It was a device which was to
preserve my friend's liberty and, at the same time, to preserve my
friend's honour. How perfect in its irony!
Margaret Goodwin, mark you, was not to know he could afford to marry
her, and my system was an instrument to hide from her the truth.
He employed that system. It gave him the holiday he asked for. He went
Among his acquaintances were the Gunton-Cresswells, and at their house
he met Eva. Whether his determination to treat Eva as he had treated
Margaret came to him instantly, or by degrees I do not know. Inwardly
he may have had his scheme matured in embryo, but outwardly he was
still the accomplished hypocrite. He was the soul of honour--outwardly.
He was the essence of sympathetic tact as far as his specious exterior
went. Then came the 27th of May. On that date the first of James
Orlebar Cloyster's masks was removed.
I had breakfasted earlier than usual, so that by the time I had walked
from Rupert Court to Walpole Street it was not yet four o'clock.
James was out. I thought I would wait for him. I stood at his window.
Then I saw Margaret Goodwin. What features! What a complexion! "And
James," I murmured, "is actually giving this the miss in baulk!" I
discovered, at that instant, that I did not know James. He was a fool.
In a few hours I was to discover he was a villain, too.
She came in and I introduced myself to her. I almost forget what
pretext I manufactured, but I remember I persuaded her to go back to
Guernsey that very day. I think I said that James was spending Friday
till Monday in the country, and had left no address. I was determined
that they should not meet. She was far too good for a man who obviously
did not appreciate her in the least.
We had a very pleasant chat. She was charming. At first she was apt to
touch on James a shade too frequently, but before long I succeeded in
diverting our conversation into less uninteresting topics.
She talked of Guernsey, I of London. I said I felt I had known her all
my life. She said that one had, undeniably, one's affinities.
I said, "Might I think of her as 'Margaret'?"
She said it was rather unconventional, but that she could not control
I said, "There you are wrong--Margaret."
She said, "Oh, what are you saying, Mr. Eversleigh?"
I said I was thinking out loud.
On the doorstep she said, "Well, yes--Julian--you may write to
me--sometimes. But I won't promise to answer."
The next thing that awakened me was the coming of James.
After I had given him a suitable version of Margaret's visit, he told
me he was engaged to Eva. That was an astounding thing; but what was
more astounding was that James had somehow got wind of the real spirit
of my interview with Margaret.
I have called James Orlebar Cloyster a fool; I have called him a
villain. I will never cease to call him a genius. For by some
marvellous capacity for introspection, by some incredible projection of
his own mind into other people's matters, he was able to tax me to my
face with an attempt to win his former _fiancee's_ affections. I
tried to choke him off. I used every ounce of bluff I possessed. In
vain. I left Walpole Street in a state approaching mental revolution.
My exact feelings towards James were too intricate to be defined in a
single word. Not so my feelings towards Eva. "Hate" supplied the lacuna
in her case.
Thus the month began.
The next point of importance is my interview with Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell. She had known all along how matters stood in regard
to Eva and myself. She had not been hostile to me on that account. She
had only pointed out that as I could do nothing towards supporting Eva
I had better keep away when my cousin was in London. That was many
years ago. Since then we had seldom met. Latterly, not at all.
Invitations still arrived from her, but her afternoon parties clashed
with my after-breakfast pipe, and as for her evening receptions--well,
by the time I had pieced together the various component parts of my
dress clothes, I found myself ready for bed. That is to say, more ready
for bed than I usually am.
I went to Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell in a very bitter mood. I was bent on
"I've come to congratulate Eva," I said.
Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell sighed.
"I was afraid of this," she said.
"The announcement was the more pleasant," I went on, "because James has
been a bosom friend of mine."
"I'm afraid you are going to be extremely disagreeable about your
cousin's engagement," she said.
"I am," I answered her. "Very disagreeable. I intend to shadow the
young couple, to be constantly meeting them, calling attention to them.
James will most likely have to try to assault me. That may mean a black
eye for dear James. It will certainly mean the police court. Their
engagement will be, in short, a succession of hideous _contretemps_,
a series of laughable scenes."
"Julian," said Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell, "hitherto you have acted manfully
toward Eva. You have been brave. Have you no regard for Eva?"
"None," I said.
"Nor for Mr. Cloyster?"
"Not a scrap."
"But why are you behaving in this appallingly selfish way?"
This was a facer. I couldn't quite explain to her how things really
were, so I said:
"Never you mind. Selfish or not, Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell, I'm out for
That night I had a letter from her. She said that in order to avoid all
unpleasantness, Eva's engagement would be of the briefest nature
possible. That the marriage was fixed for the twelfth of next month;
that the wedding would be a very quiet one; and that until the day of
the wedding Eva would not be in London.
It amused me to find how thoroughly I had terrified Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell. How excellently I must have acted, for, of course, I
had not meant a word I had said to that good lady.
In the days preceding the twelfth of June I confess I rather softened
to James. The _entente cordiale_ was established between us. He
told me how irresistible Eva had been that night; mentioned how
completely she had carried him away. Had she not carried me away in
precisely the same manner once upon a time?
He swore he loved her as dearly as--(I can't call to mind the simile he
employed, though it was masterly and impressive.) I even hinted that
the threats I had used in the presence of Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell were
not serious. He thanked me, but said I had frightened her to such good
purpose that the date would now have to stand. "You will not he
surprised to hear," he added, "that I have called in all my work. I
shall want every penny I make. The expenses of an engaged man are
hair-raising. I send her a lot of flowers every morning--you've no
conception how much a few orchids cost. Then, whenever I go to see her
I take her some little present--a gold-mounted umbrella, a bicycle
lamp, or a patent scent-bottle. I'm indebted to you, Julian, positively
indebted to you for cutting short our engagement."
I now go on to point two: the morning of the twelfth of June.
Hurried footsteps on my staircase. A loud tapping at my door. The
church clock chiming twelve. The agitated, weeping figure of Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell approaching my hammock. A telegram thrust into my
hand. Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell's hysterical exclamation, "You infamous
monster--you--you are at the bottom of this."
All very disconcerting. All, fortunately, very unusual.
My eyes were leaden with slumber, but I forced myself to decipher the
following message, which had been telegraphed to West Kensington Lane:
Wedding must be postponed.--CLOYSTER.
"I've had no hand in this," I cried; "but," I added enthusiastically,
"it serves Eva jolly well right."
A CHAT WITH JAMES
_(Julian Eversleigh's narrative continued)_
Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell seemed somehow to drift away after that.
Apparently I went to sleep again, and she didn't wait.
When I woke, it was getting on for two o'clock. I breakfasted, with
that magnificent telegram propped up against the teapot; had a bath,
dressed, and shortly before five was well on my way to Walpole Street.
The more I thought over the thing, the more it puzzled me. Why had
James done this? Why should he wish to treat Eva in this manner? I was
delighted that he had done so, but why had he? A very unexpected
James was lying back in his shabby old armchair, smoking a pipe. There
was tea on the table. The room seemed more dishevelled than ever. It
would have been difficult to say which presented the sorrier spectacle,
the room or its owner.
He looked up as I came in, and nodded listlessly. I poured myself out a
cup of tea, and took a muffin. Both were cold and clammy. I went to the
"What are you doing?" asked James.
"Only going to ring for some more tea," I said.
"No, don't do that. I'll go down and ask for it. You don't mind using
my cup, do you?"
He went out of the room, and reappeared with a jug of hot water.
"You see," he explained, "if Mrs. Blankley brings in another cup she'll
charge for two teas instead of one."
"It didn't occur to me," I said. "Sorry."
"It sounds mean," mumbled James.
"Not at all," I said. "You're quite right not to plunge into reckless
James blushed slightly--a feat of which I was surprised to see that he
"The fact is----" he began.
I interrupted him.
"Never mind about that," I said. "What I want to know is--what's the
meaning of this?" And I shoved the bilious-hued telegraph form under
his nose, just as Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell had shoved it under mine.
"It means that I'm done," he said.
"I don't understand."
"I'll explain. I have postponed my marriage for the same reason that I
refused you a clean cup--because I cannot afford luxuries."
"It may be my dulness; but, still, I don't follow you. What exactly are
you driving at?"
"I'm done for. I'm on the rocks. I'm a pauper."
I laughed. The man was splendid. There was no other word for it.
"And shall I tell you something else that you are?" I said. "You are a
low, sneaking liar. You are playing it low down on Eva."
He laughed this time. It irritated me unspeakably.
"Don't try to work off the hollow, mirthless laugh dodge on me," I
said, "because it won't do. You're a blackguard, and you know it."
"I tell you I'm done for. I've barely a penny in the world."
"Rot!" I said. "Don't try that on me. You've let Eva down plop, and I'm
jolly glad; but all the same you're a skunk. Nothing can alter that.
Why don't you marry the girl?"
"I can't," he said. "It would be too dishonourable."
"Yes. I haven't got enough money. I couldn't ask her to share my
poverty with me. I love her too dearly."
I was nearly sick. The beast spoke in a sort of hushed, soft-music
voice as if he were the self-sacrificing hero in a melodrama. The
stained-glass expression on his face made me feel homicidal.
"Oh, drop it," I said. "Poverty! Good Lord! Isn't two thousand a year
enough to start on?"
"But I haven't got two thousand a year."
"Oh, I don't pretend to give the figures to a shilling."
"You don't understand. All I have to live on is my holiday work at the
"Oh, yes; and I'm doing some lyrics for Briggs for the second edition
of _The Belle of Wells_. That'll keep me going for a bit, but it's
absolutely out of the question to think of marrying anyone. If I can
keep my own head above water till the next vacancy occurs at the
_Orb_ I shall be lucky."
"I'm not, though I dare say I shall be soon, if this sort of thing goes
"I tell you you are mad. Otherwise you'd have called in your work, and
saved yourself having to pay those commissions to Hatton and the
others. As it is, I believe they've somehow done you out of your
cheques, and the shock of it has affected your brain."
"My dear Julian, it's a good suggestion, that about calling in my work.
But it comes a little late. I called it in weeks ago."
My irritation increased.
"What is the use of lying like that?" I said angrily. "You don't seem
to credit me with any sense at all. Do you think I never read the
papers and magazines? You can't have called in your work. The stuff's
still being printed over the signatures of Sidney Price, Tom Blake, and
the Rev. John Hatton."
I caught sight of a _Strawberry Leaf_ lying on the floor beside
his chair. I picked it up.
"Here you are," I said. "Page 324. Short story. 'Lady Mary's Mistake,'
by Sidney Price. How about that?"
"That's it, Julian," he said dismally; "that's just it. Those three
devils have pinched my job. They've learned the trick of the thing
through reading my stuff, and now they're turning it out for
themselves. They've cut me out. My market's gone. The editors and
publishers won't look at me. I have had eleven printed rejection forms
this week. One editor wrote and said that he did not want
John-Hatton-and-water. That's why I sent the wire."
"Let's see those rejection forms."
"You can't. They're burnt. They got on my nerves, and I burnt them."
"Oh," I said, "they're burnt, are they?"
He got up, and began to pace the room.
"But I shan't give up, Julian," he cried, with a sickening return of
the melodrama hero manner; "I shan't give up. I shall still persevere.
The fight will be terrible. Often I shall feel on the point of despair.
Yet I shall win through. I feel it, Julian. I have the grit in me to do
it. And meanwhile"--he lowered his voice, and seemed surprised that the
orchestra did not strike up the slow music--"meanwhile, I shall ask Eva
To wait! The colossal, the Napoleonic impudence of the man! I have
known men who seemed literally to exude gall, but never one so
overflowing with it as James Orlebar Cloyster. As I looked at him
standing there and uttering that great speech, I admired him. I ceased
to wonder at his success in life.
I shook my head.
"I can't do it," I said regretfully. "I simply cannot begin to say what
I think of you. The English language isn't equal to it. I cannot,
off-hand, coin a new phraseology to meet the situation. All I can say
is that you are unique."
"What do you mean?"
"Absolutely unique. Though I had hoped you would have known me better
than to believe that I would swallow the ludicrous yarn you've
prepared. Don't you ever stop and ask yourself on these occasions if
it's good enough?"
"You don't believe me!"
"My dear James!" I protested. "Believe you!"
"I swear it's all true. Every word of it."
"You seem to forget that I've been behind the scenes. I'm not simply an
ordinary member of the audience. I know how the illusion is produced.
I've seen the strings pulled. Why, dash it, _I_ showed you how to
pull them. I never came across a finer example of seething the kid in
its mother's milk. I put you up to the system, and you turn round and
try to take me in with it. Yes, you're a wonder, James."
"You don't mean to say you think----!"
"Don't be an ass, James. Of course I do. You've had the brazen audacity
to attempt to work off on Eva the game you played on Margaret. But
you've made a mistake. You've forgotten to count me."
I paused, and ate a muffin. James watched me with fascinated eyes.
"You," I resumed, "ethically, I despise. Eva, personally, I detest. It
seems, therefore, that I may expect to extract a certain amount of
amusement from the situation. The fun will be inaugurated by your
telling Eva that she may have to wait five years. You will state, also,
the amount of your present income."
"Suppose I decline?"
"You think not?"
"I am sure."
"What would you do if I declined?"
"I should call upon Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell and give her a quarter of an
hour's entertainment by telling her of the System, and explaining to
her, in detail, the exact method of its working and the reason why you
set it going. Having amused Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell in this manner, I
should make similar revelations to Eva. It would not be pleasant for
you subsequently, I suppose, but we all have our troubles. That would
"As if they'd believe it," he said, weakly.
"I think they would."
"They'd laugh at you. They'd think you were mad."
"Not when I produced John Hatton, Sidney Price, and Tom Blake in a
solid phalanx, and asked them to corroborate me."
"They wouldn't do it," he said, snatching at a straw. "They wouldn't
give themselves away."
"Hatton might hesitate to, but Tom Blake would do it like a shot."
As I did not know Tom Blake, a moment's reflection might have told
James that this was bluff. But I had gathered a certain knowledge of
the bargee's character from James's conversation, and I knew that he
was a drunken, indiscreet sort of person who might be expected to
reveal everything in circumstances such as I had described; so I risked
the shot, and it went home. James's opposition collapsed.
"I shall then," administering the _coup de grace_, "arrange a
meeting between the Gunton-Cresswells and old Mrs. Goodwin."
"Thank you," said James, "but don't bother. On second thoughts I will
tell Eva about my income and the five years' wait."
"Thanks," I said; "it's very good of you. Good-bye."
And I retired, chuckling, to Rupert Street.
IN A HANSOM
_(Julian Eversleigh's narrative continued)_
I spent a pleasant week in my hammock awaiting developments.
At the end of the week came a letter from Eva. She wrote:--
_My Dear Julian_,--You haven't been to see us for
ages. Is Kensington Lane beyond the pale?
_Your affectionate cousin_,
"You vixen," I thought. "Yes; I'll come and see you fast enough. It
will give me the greatest pleasure to see you crushed and humiliated."
I collected my evening clothes from a man of the name of Attenborough,
whom I employ to take care of them when they are not likely to be
wanted; found a white shirt, which looked presentable after a little
pruning of the cuffs with a razor; and drove to the Gunton-Cresswells's
in time for dinner.
There was a certain atmosphere of unrest about the house. I attributed
this at first to the effects of the James Orlebar Cloyster bomb-shell,
but discovered that it was in reality due to the fact that Eva was
going out to a fancy-dress ball that night.
She was having dinner sent up to her room, they told me, and would
be down presently. There was a good deal of flitting about going on.
Maids on mysterious errands shot up and down stairs. Old Mr.
Gunton-Cresswell, looking rather wry, was taking cover in his study
when I arrived. Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell was in the drawing-room.
Before Eva came down I got a word alone with her. "I've had a nice,
straight-forward letter from James," she said, "and he has done all he
can to put things straight with us."
"Ah!" said I.
"That telegram, he tells me, was the outcome of a sudden panic."
"Dear me!" I said.
"It seems that he made some most ghastly mistake about his finances.
What exactly happened I can't quite understand, but the gist of it is,
he thought he was quite well off, whereas, really, his income is
"How odd!" I remarked.
"It sounds odd; in fact, I could scarcely believe it until I got his
letter of explanation. I'll show it to you. Here it is."
I read James Orlebar Cloyster's letter with care. It was not
particularly long, but I wish I had a copy of it; for it is the finest
work in an imaginative vein that has ever been penned.
"Masterly!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"Yes, isn't it?" she echoed. "Enables one to grasp thoroughly how the
mistake managed to occur."
"Has Eva seen it?"
"I notice he mentions five years as being about the period----"
"Yes; it's rather a long engagement, but, of course, she'll wait, she
loves him so."
Eva now entered the room. When I caught sight of her I remembered I had
pictured her crushed and humiliated. I had expected to gloat over a
certain dewiness of her eyes, a patient drooping of her lips. I will
say plainly there was nothing of that kind about Eva tonight.
She had decided to go to the ball as Peter Pan.
The costume had rather scandalised old Mr. Gunton-Cresswell, a venerable
Tory who rarely spoke except to grumble. Even Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell,
who had lately been elected to the newly-formed _Les Serfs
d'Avenir_, was inclined to deprecate it.
But I was sure Eva had chosen the better part. The dress suited her to
perfection. Her legs are the legs of a boy.
As I looked at her with
concentrated hatred, I realised I had never seen a human soul so
radiant, so brimming with _espieglerie_, so altogether to be
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