Part 5 out of 8
'Oh, yes, yes, I know all about that, of course,' said Lady Hilda,
quickly and carelessly. 'I know her brother was very clever and
all that sort of thing; but then there are so many men who are very
clever, aren't there? The really original thing about it all, you
know, was that he actually married a grocer's daughter. That was
really quite too delightfully original. I was charmed when I heard
about it: I thought it was so exactly like dear Mr. Le Breton.
He's so deliciously unconventional in every way. He was Lynmouth's
tutor for a while, as you've heard, of course; and then he went
away from us, at a moment's notice, so nicely, because he wouldn't
stand papa's abominable behaviour, and quite right, too, when it
was a matter of conscience--I dare say he's told you all about it,
that horrid pigeon-shooting business. Well, and so you know Mrs.
Le Breton--do tell me, what sort of person is she?'
'She's very nice, and very good, and very pretty, and very clever,'
Arthur answered, a little constrainedly. 'I don't know that I can
tell you anything more about her than that.'
'Then you really like her?' said Lady Hilda, warmly. 'You think
her a fit wife for Mr. Le Breton, do you?'
'I think him a very lucky fellow indeed to have married such a
charming and beautiful woman,' Arthur answered, quietly.
Lady Hilda noticed his manner, and read through it at once with a
woman's quickness. 'Aha!' she said to herself: 'the wind blows that
way, does it? What a very remarkable girl she must be, really,
to have attracted two such men as Mr. Berkeley and Mr. Le Breton.
I've lost one of them to her; I can't very well lose the other,
too: for after Ernest Le Breton, I've never seen any man I should
care to marry so much as Mr. Arthur Berkeley.'
'Lady Hilda,' said the hostess, coming up to her at that moment,
'you'll play us something, won't you? You know you promised to
bring your music.'
Hilda rose at once with stately alacrity. Nothing could have pleased
her better. She went to the piano, and, to the awe and astonishment
of Mrs. Campbell Moncrieff, took out an arrangement of the Fijian
war-dance from 'The Primate of Fiji.' It suited her brilliant
slap-dash style of execution admirably; and she felt she had never
played so well in her life before. The presence of the composer,
which would have frightened and unnerved most girls of her age, only
made Hilda Tregellis the bolder and the more ambitious. Here was
somebody at least who knew something about it; none of your ordinary
fashionable amateurs and mere soulless professional performers,
but the very man who had made the music--the man in whose brain the
notes had first gathered themselves together into speaking melody,
and who could really judge the comparative merits of her rapid
execution. She played with wonderful verve and spirit, so that
Lady Exmoor, seated on the side sofa opposite, though shocked at
first at Hilda's choice of a piece, glanced more than once at the
wealthiest young commoner present (she had long since mentally
resigned herself to the prospect of a commoner for that poor dear
foolish Hilda), and closely watched his face to see what effect
this unwonted outburst of musical talent might succeed in producing
upon his latent susceptibilities. But Lady Hilda herself wasn't
thinking of the wealthy commoner; she was playing straight at Arthur
Berkeley: and when she saw that Arthur Berkeley's mouth had melted
slowly into an approving smile, she played even more brilliantly
and better than ever, after her bold, smart, vehement fashion. As
she left the piano, Arthur said, 'Thank you; I have never heard
the piece better rendered.' And Lady Hilda felt that that was a
triumph which far outweighed any number of inane compliments from
a whole regiment of simpering Algies, Monties, and Berties.
'You can't say any evening, then, Mr. Berkeley?' she said once
more, as she held out her hand to him to say 'Good-night' a little
later: 'not any evening at all, or part of an evening? You might
really reconsider your engagements.'
Arthur hesitated visibly. 'Well, possibly I might manage it,' he
said, wavering, 'though, I assure you, my evenings are very much
more than full already.'
'Then don't make it an evening,' said Lady Hilda, pressingly.
'Make it lunch. After all, Mr. Berkeley, it's we ourselves who want
to see you; not to show you off as a curiosity to all the rest of
London. We have silly people enough in the evenings; but if you'll
come to lunch with us alone one day, we shall have an opportunity
of talking to you on our own account.'
Lady Hilda was tall and beautiful, and Lady Hilda spoke. as she
always used to speak, with manifest sincerity. Now, it is not in
human nature not to feel flattered when a beautiful woman pays
one genuine homage; and Arthur Berkeley was quite as human, after
all, as most other people. 'You're very kind,' he said, smiling.
'I must make it lunch, then, though I really ought to be working
in the mornings instead of running about merely to amuse myself.
What day will suit you best?'
'Oh, not to amuse yourself, Mr. Berkeley,' Hilda answered pointedly,
'but to gratify us. That, you know, is a work of benevolence. Say
Monday next, then, at two o'clock. Will that do for you?'
'Perfectly,' Berkeley answered, taking her proffered hand extended
to him with just that indefinable air of frankness which Lady
Hilda knew so well how to throw into all her actions. 'Good evening.
Wilton Place, isn't it!--Gracious heavens!' he thought to himself,
as he glanced after her satin train sweeping slowly down the grand
staircase, 'what on earth would the dear old Progenitor say if only
he saw me in the midst of these meaningless aristocratic orgies. I
am positively half-wheedled, it seems, into making love to an earl's
daughter! If this sort of thing continues, I shall find myself,
before I know it, connected by marriage with two-thirds of the
British peerage. A beautiful woman, really, and quite queen-like
in her manner when she doesn't choose rather to be unaffectedly
gracious. How she sat upon that tall young man with the brown
moustaches over by the mantelpiece! I didn't hear what she said
to him, but I could see he was utterly crushed by the way he slank
away with his tail between his legs, like a whipped spaniel. A
splendid woman--and no doubt about it; looks as if she'd stepped
straight out of the canvas of Titian, with the pearls in her hair
and everything else exactly as he painted them. The handsomest
girl I ever saw in my life--but not like Edie Le Breton. They say
a man can only fall in love once in a lifetime. I wonder whether
there's any truth in it! Well, well, you won't often see a finer
woman in her own style than Lady Hilda Tregellis. Monday next, at
two precisely; I needn't make a note of it--no fear of my forgetting.'
'I really do think,' Lady Hilda said to herself as she unrolled
the pearls from her thick hair in her own room that winter evening,
'I almost like him better than I did Ernest Le Breton. The very
first night I saw him at Lady Mary's I fell quite in love with his
appearance, before I knew even who he was; and now that I've found
out all about him, I never did hear anything so absolutely and
delightfully original. His father a common shoemaker! That, to
begin with, throws Ernest Le Breton quite into the shade! HIS father
was a general in the Indian army--nothing could be more BANAL.
Then Mr. Berkeley began life as a clergyman; but now he's taken off
his white choker, and wears a suit of grey tweed like any ordinary
English gentleman. So delightfully unconventional, isn't it? At
last, to crown it all, he not only composes delicious music, but
goes and writes a comic opera--such a comic opera! And the best
of it is, success hasn't turned his head one atom. He doesn't run
with vulgar eagerness after the great people, like your ordinary
everyday successful nobody. He took no more notice of me, myself,
at first, because I was Lady Hilda Tregellis, than if I'd been a
common milkmaid; and he wouldn't come to our garden party because
he wanted to go down to Pilbury Regis to visit the Le Bretons at
their charity school or something! It was only after I played the
war-dance arrangement so well--I never played so brilliantly in my
life before--that he began to alter and soften a little. Certainly,
these pearls do thoroughly become me. I think he looked after me
when I was leaving the room just a tiny bit, as if he was really
pleased with me for my own sake, and not merely because I happen
to be called Lady Hilda Tregellis.'
OFF WITH THE OLD LOVE.
'It's really very annoying, this letter from Selah,' Herbert Le
Breton murmured to himself, as he carefully burnt the compromising
document, envelope and all, with a fusee from his oriental silver
pocket match-case. 'I had hoped the thing had all been forgotten
by this time, after her long silence, and my last two judiciously
chilly letters--a sort of slow refrigerating process for poor
shivering naked little Cupid. But here, just at the very moment
when I fancied the affair had quite blown over, comes this most
objectionable letter, telling me that Selah has actually betaken
herself to London to meet me; and what makes it more annoying
still, I wanted to go up myself this week to dine at home with
Ethel Faucit. Mother's plan about Ethel Faucit is exceedingly
commendable; a girl with eight hundred a year, cultivated tastes,
and no father or other encumbrances dragging after her. I always
said I should like to marry a poor orphan. A very desirable young
woman to annex in every way! And now, here's Selah Briggs--ugh!
how could I ever have gone and entangled myself in my foolish days
with a young woman burdened by such a cognomen!--here's Selah
Briggs must needs run away from Hastings, and try to hunt me up on
her own account in London. If I dared, I wouldn't go up to see her
at all, and would let the thing die a natural death of inanition--sine
Cerere et Baccho, and so forth--(I'm afraid, poor girl, she'll be
more likely to find Bacchus than Ceres if she sticks in London);
but the plain fact is, I don't dare--that's the long and the short
of it. If I did, Selah'd be tracking me to earth here in Oxford,
and a nice mess that'd make of it! She doesn't know my name, to
be sure; but as soon as she called at college and found nobody of
the name of Walters was known there, she'd lie in wait for me about
the gates, as sure as my name's Herbert Le Breton, and sooner or
later she'd take it out of me, one way or the other. Selah has as
many devils in her as the Gergesene who dwelt among the tombs, I'll
be sworn to it; and if she's provoked, she'll let them all loose in
a legion to crush me. I'd better see her and have it out quietly,
once for all, than try to shirk it here in Oxford and let myself
in at the end for the worse condemnation.'
Under this impression, Herbert Le Breton, leaning back in his
well-padded oak armchair, ordered his scout to pack his portmanteau,
and set off by the very first fast train for Paddington station.
He would get over his interview with Selah Briggs in the afternoon,
and return to Epsilon Terrace in good time for Lady Le Breton's
dinner. Say what you like of it, Ethel Faucit and eight hundred a
year, certe redditum, was a thing in no wise to be sneezed at by
a judicious and discriminating person.
Herbert left his portmanteau in the cloakroom at Paddington, and
drove off in a hansom to the queer address which Selah had given
him. It was a fishy lodging of the commoner sort in a back street
at Notting Hill, not far from the Portobello Road. At the top of the
stairs, Selah stood waiting to meet him, and seemed much astonished
when, instead of kissing her, as was his wont, he only shook her
hand somewhat coolly. But she thought to herself that probably
he didn't wish to be too demonstrative before the eyes of the
lodging-house people, and so took no further notice of it.
'Well, Selah,' Herbert said, as soon as he entered the room, and
seated himself quietly on one of the straight-backed wooden chairs,
'why on earth have you come to London?'
'Goodness gracious, Herbert,' Selah answered, letting loose the
floodgates of her rapid speech after a week's silence, 'don't you
go and ask me why I've done it. Ask me rather why I didn't go and
do it long ago. Father, he's got more and more aggravating every
day for the last twelve-month, till at last I couldn't atand him any
longer. Prayer meetings, missionary meetings, convention meetings,
all that sort of thing I could put up with somehow; but when it
came to private exhortations and prayer over me with three or four
of the godliest neighbours, I made up my mind not to put up with
it one day longer. So last week I packed up two or three little
things hurriedly, and left a note behind to say I felt I was too
unregenerate to live in such spiritual company any longer; and
came straight up here to London, and took these lodgings. Emily
Lucas, she wrote to me from Hastings--she's the daughter of the
hairdresser in our street, you know, and I told her to write to me
to the Post-office. Emily Lucas wrote to me that there was weeping
and gnashing of teeth, and swearing almost, when they found out
I'd really left them. And well there might be, indeed, for I did
more work for them (mostly just to get away for a while from the
privileges) than they'll ever get a hired servant to do for them in
this world, Herbert.' Herbert moved uneasily on his chair, as he
noticed how glibly she called him now by his Christian name instead
of saying 'Mr. Walters.' 'And Emily says,' Selah went on, without
stopping to take breath for a second, 'that father put an advertisement
at once into the "Christian Mirror"--pah, as if it was likely
I should go buying or reading the "Christian Mirror," indeed--to
say that if "S. B." would return at once to her affectionate and
injured parents, the whole past would be forgotten and forgiven.
Forgotten and forgiven! I should think it would, indeed! But he
didn't ask me whether their eternal bothering and plaguing of me
about my precious soul for twenty years past would also be forgotten
and forgiven! He didn't ask me whether all their meetings, and
conventions, and prayers, and all the rest of it, would be forgotten
and forgiven! My precious soul! In Turkey they say the women have
no souls! I often wished it had been my happy lot to be born in
Turkey, and then, perhaps, they wouldn't have worried me so much
about it. I'm sure I often said to them, "Oh don't bother on account
of my poor unfortunate misguided little soul any longer. It's lost
altogether, I don't doubt, and it doesn't in the least trouble me.
If it was somebody else's, I could understand your being in such
a fearful state of mind about it; but as it's only mine, you know,
I'm sure it really doesn't matter." And then they'd only go off
worse than ever,--mother doing hysterics, and so forth--and say I
was a wicked, bad, abominable scoffer, and that it made them horribly
frightened even to listen to me. As if I wasn't more likely to
know the real value of my own soul than anybody else was!'
Herbert looked at her curiously and anxiously as she delivered
this long harangue in a voluble stream, without a single pause
or break; and then he said, in his quiet voice, 'How old are you,
'Twenty-two,' Selah answered, carelessly. 'Why, Herbert?'
'Oh, nothing,' Herbert replied, turning away his eyes from her keen,
searching gaze uncomfortably. He congratulated himself inwardly
on the lucky fact that she was fully of age, for then at least he
could only get into a row with her, and not with her parents. 'And
now, Selah, do you know what I strongly advise you?'
'To get married at once,' Selah put in promptly.
Herbert drew himself up stiffly, and looked at her cautiously
out of the corner of his eyes. 'No,' he said slowly, 'not to get
married, but to go back again for the present to your people at
Hastings. Consider, Selah, you've done a very foolish thing indeed
by coming here alone in this way. You've compromised yourself,
and you've compromised me. Indeed, if it weren't for the lasting
affection I bear you'--he put this in awkwardly, but he felt it
necessary to do so, for the flash of Selah's eyes fairly cowed him
for the moment--'I wouldn't have come here at all this afternoon
to see you. It might get us both into very serious trouble,
and--and--and delay the prospect of our marriage. You see, everything
depends upon my keeping my fellowship until I can get an appointment
to marry on. Anything that risks loss of the fellowship is really
a measurable danger for both of us.'
Selah looked at him very steadily with her big eyes, and Herbert
felt that he was quailing a little under their piercing, withering
inquisition. By Jove, what a splendid woman she was, though, when
she was angry! 'Herbert,' she said, rising from her chair and
standing her full height imperiously before him, 'Herbert, you're
deceiving me. I almost believe you're shilly-shallying with me.
I almost believe you don't ever really mean to marry me.'
Herbert moved uneasily upon his wooden seat. What was he to do?
Should he make a clean breast of it forthwith, and answer boldly,
'Well, Selah, you have exactly diagnosed my mental attitude'?
Or should he try to put her off a little with some meaningless
explanatory platitudes? Or should he--by Jove, she was a very
splendid woman!--should he take her in his arms that moment, kiss
her doubts and fears away like a donkey, and boldly and sincerely
promise to marry her? Pooh! not such a fool as all that comes to!
not even with Selah before him now; for he was no boy any longer,
and not to be caught by the mere vulgar charms of a flashy,
self-asserting greengrocer's daughter.
'Selah,' he said at last, after a long pause, 'I strongly advise
you once more to return to Hastings for the present. You'll find
it better for you in the end. If your people are quite unendurable--as
I don't doubt they are from what you tell me--you could look about
meanwhile for a temporary appointment, say as'--he checked himself
from uttering the word 'shop girl,' and substituted for it, 'draper's
Selah looked at him angrily. 'What fools you men are about such
things!' she said in a voice of utter scorn. 'When do you suppose
I ever learnt the drapery? Or who do you suppose would ever give me
a place in a shop of that sort without having learnt the drapery?
I dare say you think it takes ten years to make one of you fine
gentlemen at college, with your Greek and your Latin, but that the
drapery, or the millinery, or the confectionery, comes by nature!
However, that's not the question now. The question's simply
this--Herbert Walters, do you or don't you mean to marry me?'
'I must temporise,' Herbert thought to himself, placidly. 'This
girl's quite too unreservedly categorical! She eliminates modality
with a vengeance!' 'Well, Selah,' he said in his calmest and most
deliberate manner, 'we must take a great many points into consideration
before deciding on that matter.' And then he went on to tell her
what seemed to him the pros and cons of an immediate marriage.
Couldn't she get a place meanwhile of some sort? Couldn't she let
him have time to look about him? Couldn't she go back just for
a few days to Hastings, until he could hear of something feasible
for either of them? Selah interrupted him more than once with
forcible interjectional observations such as 'bosh!' and 'rubbish!'
and when he had finished she burst out once more into a long and
For more than an hour Herbert Le Breton and Selah Briggs fenced
with one another, each after their own fashion, in the little fishy
lodgings; and at every fresh thrust, Herbert parried so much the
worse that at last Selah lost patience utterly, and rose in the
end to the dignity of the situation. 'Herbert Walters,' she said,
looking at him with unspeakable contempt, 'I see through your
flimsy excuses now, and I feel certain you don't mean to marry me!
You never did mean to marry me! You wanted to amuse yourself by
making love to a poor girl in a country town, and now you'd like
to throw her overboard and leave her alone to her own devices.
I knew you meant that when you didn't write to me; but I wouldn't
condemn you unheard; I gave you a chance to clear yourself. I see
now you were trying to drop the acquaintance quietly, and make it
seem as if I had backed out of it as well as you.'
Herbert felt the moment for breaking through all reserve had finally
arrived. 'You admirably interpret my motives in the matter, Selah,'
he said coldly. 'I don't think it would be just of me to interfere
with your prospects in life any longer. I can't say how long it
may be before I am able to afford marriage; and, meanwhile, I'm
preventing you from forming a natural alliance with some respectable
and estimable young man in your own station. I should be sorry to
stand in your way any further; but if I could offer you any small
pecuniary assistance at any time, either now or hereafter, you know
I'd be very happy indeed to do so, Selah.'
The angry girl turned upon him fiercely. 'Selah!' she cried in a
tone of crushing contempt. 'What do you mean by calling me Selah,
sir? How dare you speak to me by my Christian name in the same
breath you tell me you don't mean to marry me? How dare you have
the insolence and impertinence to offer me money! Never say another
word to me as long as you live, Herbert Walters; and leave me now,
for I don't want to have anything more to say to you or your money
Herbert took up his hat doubtfully. 'Selah!--Selah!--Miss Briggs,
I mean,' he said, falteringly, for at that moment Selah's face was
terrible to look at. 'I'm very sorry, I can assure you, that this
interview--and our pleasant acquaintance--should unfortunately
have had such a disagreeable termination. For my own part'--Herbert
was always politic--'I should have wished to part with you in no
unfriendly spirit. I should have wished to learn your plans for
the future, and to aid you in forming a suitable settlement in life
hereafter. May I venture to ask, before I go, whether you mean
to remain in London or to return to Hastings? As one who has been
your sincere friend, I should at least like to know what are your
movements for the immediate present. How long do you mean to stop
here, and when you leave these rooms where do you think you will
next go to?'--'Confoundedly awkward,' he thought to himself, 'to
have her prowling about and dogging one's footsteps here in London.'
Selah read through his miserable transparent little pretences at
once with a woman's quick instinctive insight. 'Ugh!' she cried,
pushing him away from her, figuratively, with a gesture of disgust,
'do you think, you poor suspicious creature, I want to go spying
you or following you all over London? Are you afraid, in your sordid
little respectable way, that I'll come up to Oxford to pry and peep
into that snug comfortable fellowship of yours? Do you suppose I'm
so much in love with you, Herbert Walters, that I can't let you go
without wanting to fawn upon you and run after you ever afterwards!
Pah! you miserable, pitiable, contemptible cur and coward, are you
afraid even of a woman! Go away, and don't be frightened. I never
want to see you or speak to you again as long as I live, you
wretched, lying, shuffling hypocrite. I'd rather go back to my own
people at Hastings a thousand times over than have anything more to
do with you. They may be narrow-minded, and bigoted, and ignorant,
and stupid, but at least they're honest--they're not liars and
hypocrites. Go this minute, Herbert Walters, go away this minute,
and don't stand there fiddling and quivering with your hat like
a whipped schoolboy, but go at once, and take my eternal loathing
and contempt for a parting present with you!'
Herbert held the door gingerly ajar for half a second, trying to
think of a neat and appropriate epigram, but at that particular
moment, for the life of him, he couldn't hit on one. So he closed
the door after him quietly, and walking out alone into the street,
immediately nailed a passing hansom. 'I didn't come out of that
dilemma very creditably to myself, I must admit,' he thought with
a burning face, as he rolled along quickly in the hansom; 'but
anyhow, now I'm well out of it. The coast's all clear at last for
Ethel Faucit. It's well to be off with the old love before you're
on with the new, as that horrid vulgar practical proverb justly
though somewhat coarsely puts it. Still, she's a perfectly magnificent
creature, is Selah; and by Jove, when she got into that towering
rage (and no wonder, for I won't be unjust to her in that respect),
her tone and attitude would have done credit to any theatre. I should
think Mrs. Siddons must have looked like that, say as Constance.
Poor girl, I'm really sorry for her; from the very bottom of my
heart, I'm really sorry for her. If it rested with me alone, hang
me if I don't think I would positively have married her. But after
all, the environment, you know, the environment is always too strong
Meanwhile, in the shabby lodgings near the Portobello Road, poor
Selah, the excitement once over, was lying with her proud face
buried in the pillows, and crying her very life out in great sobs
of utter misery. The daydream of her whole existence was gone for
ever: the bubble was burst; and nothing stood before her but a
future of utter drudgery. 'The brute, the cur, the mean wretch,'
she said aloud between her sobs; 'and yet I loved him. How beautifully
he talked, and how he made me love him. If it had only been a common
everyday Methodist sweetheart, now! but Herbert Walters! Oh, God,
how I hate him, and how I did love him!'
When Herbert reached his mother's house in Epsilon Terrace, Lady Le
Breton met him anxiously at the door. 'Herbert,' she said, almost
weeping, 'my dear boy, what on earth should I do if it were not
for you! You're the one comfort I have in all my children. Would
you believe it--no, you won't believe it--as I was walking back
here this afternoon with Mrs. Faucit (Ethel's aunt, of all people
in the world), what do you think I saw, in our own main street,
too, but a young man, decently dressed, in his shirt sleeves. No
coat, I assure you, but only his shirt sleeves. Imagine my horror
when he came up to us--Mrs. Faucit, too, you know--and said to me
out loud, in the most unconcerned voice, "Well, mother!" I couldn't
believe my eyes. Herbert, but I solemnly declare to you it was
positively Ronald! You really could have knocked me down with a
feather. Disgraceful, wasn't it, perfectly disgraceful!'
'How on earth did he come so?' asked Herbert, almost smiling in
spite of himself.
'Why, do you know, Herbert,' Lady Le Breton answered somewhat
obliquely, 'a few days since, I met him wheeling along a barrow full
of coals for a dirty, grimy, ragged little girl from some alley or
gutter somewhere. I believe they call the place the Mews--at the
back of the terrace, you remember. He pretended the child wasn't
big enough to wheel the coals, which was absurd, of course, or else
her parents wouldn't have sent her; but I'm sure he really did it
on purpose to annoy me. He never does these things when I'm not by
to see; or if he does, I never see him. Now, that was bad enough in
all conscience, wasn't it? but to-day what he did was still more
outrageous. He met a poor man, as he calls him, in Westbourne
Grove, who was one of his Christian brethren (is that the right
expression?) and who declared he was next door to starving. So
what must Ronald do, but run into a pawnbroker's--I shouldn't have
thought he could ever have heard of such a place--and sell his
coat, or something of the sort, and give the man (who was doubtless
an impostor) all the money. Then he positively walked home in his
shirt sleeves. I call it a most unchristian thing to do--and to
walk straight into my very arms, too, as I was coming along with
Herbert offered at once such condolences as were in his power. 'And
are the Faucits coming to night?' he asked eagerly.
Lady Le Breton kissed him again gently on the forehead. 'Oh,
Herbert,' she said warmly, 'I can't tell you what a comfort you
always are to me. Oh yes, the Faucits are coming; and do you know,
Herbert, my dear boy, I'm quite sure that old Mr. Faucit, the uncle,
wouldn't at all object to the match, and that Ethel's really very
much disposed indeed to like you immensely. You've only to follow
up the advantage, my dear boy, and I don't for a moment think she'd
ever refuse you. And I've been talking to Sir Sydney Weatherhead
about your future, too, and he tells me (quite privately, of course)
that, with your position and honours at Oxford, he fully believes
he can easily push you into the first good vacant post at the
Education Office; only you must be careful to say nothing about it
beforehand, or the others will say it's a job, as they call it.
Oh, Herbert, I really and truly can't tell you what a joy and a
comfort you always are to me!'
THE PHILISTINES TRIUMPH.
'My dear,' said Dr. Greatrex, looking up in alarm from the lunch
table one morning, in the third term of Ernest Le Breton's stay
at Pilbury, 'what an awful apparition! Do you know, I positively
see Mr. Blenkinsopp, father of that odious boy Blenkinsopp major,
distinctly visible to the naked eye, walking across the front lawn--on
the grass too--to our doorway. The pupil's parent is really the
very greatest bane of all the banes that beset a poor harassed
overdriven schoolmaster's unfortunate existence!'
'Blenkinsopp?' Mrs. Greatrex said reflectively. 'Blenkinsopp? Who
is he? Oh, I remember, a tobacco-pipe manufacturer somewhere in the
midland counties, isn't he? Mr. Blenkinsopp, of Staffordshire, I
always say to other parents--not Brosely--Brosely sounds decidedly
commercial and unpresentable. No nice people would naturally
like their sons to mix with miscellaneous boys from a place called
Brosely. Now, what on earth can he be coming here for, I wonder,
'Oh, _I_ know,' the doctor answered with a deep-drawn sigh. 'I
know, Maria, only too well. It's the way of all parents. He's come
to inquire after Blenkinsopp major's health and progress. They
all do it. They seem to think the sole object of a head-master's
existence is to look after the comfort and morals of their own
particular Tommy, or Bobby, or Dicky, or Harry. For heaven's sake,
what form is Blenkinsopp major in? For heaven's sake, what's his
Christian name, and age last birthday, and place in French and
mathematics, and general state of health for past quarter? Where's
the prompt-book, with house-master's and form-master's report,
Maria? Oh, here it is, thank goodness! Let me see; let me see--he's
ringing at the door this very instant. "Blenkinsopp... major...
Charles Warrington... fifteen... fifth form... average, twelfth boy
of twelve... idle, inattentive, naturally stupid; bad disposition...
health invariably excellent... second eleven... bats well." That'll
do. Run my eye down once again, and I shall remember all about him.
How about the other? "Blenkinsopp... minor... Cyril Anastasius
Guy Waterbury Macfarlane"--heavens, what a name!... "thirteen...
fourth form... average, seventh boy of eighteen... industrious and
well-meaning, but heavy and ineffective... health good... fourth
eleven... fields badly." Ah, that's the most important one. Now I'm
primed. Blenkinsopp major I remember something about, for he's one
of the worst and most hopelessly stupid boys in the whole school--I've
caned him frequently this term, and that keeps a boy green in one's
memory; but Blenkinsopp minor, Cyril Anastasius Guy Thingumbob
Whatyoumaycallit,--I don't remember HIM a bit. I suppose he's one
of those inoffensive, mildly mediocre sort of boys who fail to
impress their individuality upon one in any way. My experience is
that you can always bear in mind the three cleverest boys at the
top of each form, and the three stupidest or most mischievous boys
at the bottom; but the nine or a dozen meritorious nobodies in the
middle of the class are all so like one another in every way that
you might as well try to discriminate between every individual
sheep of a flock in a pasture. And yet, such is the natural
contradictiousness and vexatious disposition of the British parent,
that you'll always find him coming to inquire after just one of
those very particular Tommies or Bobbies. Charles Warrington:--Cyril
Anastasius Guy Whatyoumay--call it: that'll do: I shall remember now
all about them.' And the doctor arranged his hair before the looking
glass into the most professional stiffness, as a preparatory step
to facing Mr. Blenkinsopp's parental inquiries in the head-master's
'What! Mr. Blenkinsopp! Yes, it is really. My dear sir, how DO you
do? This is a most unexpected pleasure. We hadn't the least idea
you were in Pilbury. When did you come here?'
'I came last night, Dr. Greatrex,' answered the dreaded parent
respectfully: 'we've come down from Staffordshire for a week at
the seaside, and we thought we might as well be within hail of Guy
'Quite right, quite right, my dear sir,' said the doctor, mentally
noting that Blenkinsopp minor was familiarly known as Guy, not
Cyril; 'we're delighted to see you. And now you want to know all
about our two young friends, don't you?'
'Well, yes, Dr. Greatrex; I SHOULD like to know how they are getting
'Ah, of course, of course. Very right. It's such a pleasure to us
when parents give us their active and hearty co-operation! You'd
hardly believe, Mr. Blenkinsopp, how little interest some parents
seem to feel in their boys' progress. To us, you know, who devote
our whole time and energy assiduously to their ultimate welfare,
it's sometimes quite discouraging to see how very little the
parents themselves seem to care about it. But your boys are both
doing capitally. The eldest--Blenkinsopp major, we call him; Charles
Warrington, isn't it? (His home name's Charlie, if I recollect
right. Ah, quite so.) Well, Charlie's the very picture of perfect
health, as usual.' ('Health is his only strong point, it seems to
me,' the doctor thought to himself instinctively. 'We must put that
first and foremost.') 'In excellent health and very good spirits.
He's in the second eleven now, and a capital batter: I've no doubt
he'll go into the first eleven next term, if we lose Biddlecomb
Tertius to the university. In work, as you know, he's not very
great; doesn't do his abilities full justice, Mr. Blenkinsopp,
through his dreadful inattention. He's generally near the bottom of
the form, I'm sorry to say; generally near the bottom of the form.'
'Well, I dare say there's no harm in that, sir,' said Mr. Blenkinsopp,
senior, warmly. 'I was always at the bottom of the form at school
myself, Doctor, but I've picked it up in after life; I've picked
it up, sir, as you see, and I'm fully equal with most other people
nowadays, as you'll find if you inquire of any town councilman or
man of position down our way, at Brosely.'
'Ah, I dare say you were, Mr. Blenkinsopp,' the doctor answered
blandly, with just the faintest tinge of unconscious satire, peering
at his square unintelligent features as a fancier peers at the
face of a bull-dog; 'I dare say you were now. After all, however
clever a set of boys may be, one of them MUST be at the bottom of
the form, in the nature of things, mustn't he? And your Charlie,
I think, is only fifteen. Ah, yes; well, well; he'll do better, no
doubt, if we keep him here a year or two longer. So then there's
the second: Guy, you call him, if I remember right--Cyril Anastasius
Guy--our Blenkinsopp minor. Guy's a good boy; an excellent boy: to
tell you the plain truth, Mr. Blenkinsopp, I don't know much of him
personally myself, which is a fact that tells greatly in his favour.
Charlie I must admit I have to call up some times for reproof: Guy,
never. Charlie's in the fifth form: Guy's seventh in the fourth.
A capital place for a boy of his age! He's very industrious, you
know--what we call a plodder. They call it a plodder, you see,
at thirteen, Mr. Blenkinsopp, but a man of ability at forty.' Dr.
Greatrex delivered that last effective shot point-blank at the eyes
of the inquiring parent, and felt in a moment that its delicate
generalised flattery had gone home straight to the parent's
'But there's one thing, Doctor,' Mr. Blenkinsopp began, after a
few minutes' further conversation on the merits and failings of Guy
and Charlie, 'there's one other thing I feel I should like to speak
to you about, and that's the teaching of your fifth form master,
Mr. Le Breton. From what Charlie tells me, I don't quite like that
young man's political ideas and opinions. It's said things to his
form sometimes that are quite horrifying, I assure you; things
about Property, and about our duty to the poor, and so on, that are
positively enough to appal you. Now, for example, he told them--I
don't quite like to repeat it, for it's sheer blasphemy I call
it--but he told them in a Greek Testament lesson that the Apostles
themselves were a sort of Republicans--Socialists, I think Charlie
said, or else Chartists, or dynamiters. I'm not sure he didn't say
St. Peter himself was a regular communist!'
Dr. Greatrex drew a long breath. 'I should think, Mr. Blenkinsopp,'
he suggested blandly, 'Charlie must really have misunderstood Mr.
Le Breton. You see, they've been reading the Acts of the Apostles
in their Greek Testament this term. Now, of course, you remember that,
during the first days of the infant Church, while its necessities
were yet so great, as many as were possessors of lands or houses
sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
and laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was
made unto every man according as he had need. You see, here's the
passage, Mr. Blenkinsopp, in the authorised version. I won't trouble
you with the original. You've forgotten most of your Greek, I dare
say: ah, I thought go. It doesn't stick to us like the Latin, does
it? Now, perhaps, in expounding that passage, Mr. Le Breton may have
referred in passing--as an illustration merely--to the unhappily
prevalent modern doctrines of socialism and communism. He may
have warned his boys, for example, against confounding a Christian
communism like this, if I may so style it, with the rapacious,
aggressive, immoral forms of communism now proposed to us, which are
based upon the forcible disregard of all Property and all vested
interests of every sort. I don't say he did, you know, for I
haven't conferred with him upon the subject: but he may have done
so; and he may even have used, as I have used, the phrase "Christian
communism," to define the temporary attitude of the apostles and
the early Church in this matter. That, perhaps, my dear sir, may
be the origin of the misapprehension.'
Mr. Blenkinsopp looked hard at the three verses in the big Bible
the doctor had handed him, with a somewhat suspicious glare. He
was a self-made man, with land and houses of his own in plenty,
and he didn't quite like this suggestive talk about selling them
and laying the prices at the apostles' feet. It savoured to him both
of communism and priestcraft. 'That's an awkward text, you know,'
he said, looking up curiously from the Bible in his hand into the
doctor's face, 'a very awkward text; and I should say it was rather
a dangerous one to set too fully before young people. It seems
to me to make too little altogether of Property. You know, Dr.
Greatrex, at first sight it DOES look just a little like communism.'
'Precisely what Mr. Le Breton probably said,' the doctor answered,
following up his advantage quickly. 'At first sight, no doubt, but
at first sight only, I assure you, Mr. Blenkinsopp. If you look
on to the fourth verse of the next chapter, you'll see that St.
Peter, at least, was no communist,--which is perhaps what Mr. Le
Breton really said. St. Peter there argues in favour of purely
voluntary beneficence, you observe; as when you, Mr. Blenkinsopp,
contribute a guinea to our chapel window:--you see, we're grateful
to our kind benefactors: we don't forget them. And if you'll look
at the Thirty-eighth Article of the Church of England, my dear sir,
you'll find that the riches and goods of Christians are not common,
as touching the right, title, and possession of the same as certain
Anabaptists--(Gracious heavens, is he a Baptist, I wonder?--if
so, I've put my foot in it)--certain Anabaptists do falsely
boast--referring, of course, to sundry German fanatics of the
time--followers of one Kniperdoling, a crazy enthusiast, not to
the respectable English Baptist denomination; but that nevertheless
every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to
give alms to the poor. That, you see, is the doctrine of the Church
of England, and that, I've no doubt, is the doctrine that Mr. Le
Breton pointed out to your boys as the true Christian communism of
St. Peter and the apostles.'
'Well, I hope so, Dr. Greatrex,' Mr. Blenkinsopp answered resignedly.
'I'm sure I hope so, for his own sake, as well as for his pupils'.
Still, in these days, you know, when infidelity and Radicalism
are so rife, one ought to be on one's guard against atheism and
revolution, and attacks on Property in every form; oughtn't one,
Doctor? These opinions are getting so rampant all around us, Property
itself isn't safe. One really hardly knows what people are coming
to nowadays. Why, last night I came down here and stopped at the
Royal Marine, on the Parade, and having nothing else to do, while
my wife was looking after the little ones, I turned into a hall
down in Combe Street, where I saw a lot of placards up about a
Grand National Social Democratic meeting. Well, I turned in, Dr.
Greatrex, and there I heard a German refugee fellow from London--a
white-haired man of the name of Schurts, or something of the
sort'--Mr. Blenkinsopp pronounced it to rhyme with 'hurts'--'who
was declaiming away in a fashion to make your hair stand on end, and
frighten you half out of your wits with his dreadful communistic
notions. I assure you, he positively took my breath away. I ran out
of the hall at last, while he was still speaking, for fear the roof
should fall in upon our heads and crush us to pieces. I declare to
you, sir, I quite expected a visible judgment!'
'Did you really now?' said Dr. Greatrex, languidly. 'Well, I dare
say, for I know there's a sad prevalence of revolutionary feeling
among our workmen here, Mr, Blenkinsopp. Now, what was this man
Schurz talking about?'
'Why, sheer communism, sir,' said Mr. Blenkinsopp, severely: 'sheer
communism, I can tell you. Co-operation of workmen to rob their
employers of profits; gross denunciation of capital and capitalists;
and regular inciting of them against the Property of the landlords,
by quoting Scripture, too, Doctor, by quoting the very words
of Scripture. They say the devil can quote Scripture to his own
destruction, don't they, Doctor? Well, he quoted something out of
the Bible about woe unto them that join field to field, or words
to that effect, to make themselves a solitude in the midst of the
earth. Do you know, it strikes me that it's a very dangerous book,
the Bible--in the hands of these socialistic demagogues, I mean.
Look now, at that passage, and at what Mr. Le Breton said about
'But, my dear Mr. Blenkinsopp,' the doctor cried, in a tone of
gentle deprecation, 'I hope you don't confound a person like this
man Schurz, a German refugee of the worst type, with our Mr. Le
Breton, an Oxford graduate and an English gentleman of excellent
family. I know Schurz by name through the papers: he's the author
of a dreadful book called "Gold and the Proletariate," or something
of that sort--a revolutionary work like Tom Paine's "Age of Reason,"
I believe--and he goes about the country now and then, lecturing
and agitating, to make money, no doubt, out of the poor, misguided,
credulous workmen. You quite pain me when you mention him in the
same breath with a hard-working, conscientious, able teacher like
our Mr. Le Breton.'
'Oh,' Mr. Blenkinsopp went on, a little mollified, 'then Mr. Le
Breton's of a good family, is he? That's a great safeguard, at any
rate, for you don't find people of good family running recklessly
after these bloodthirsty doctrines, and disregarding the claims of
'My dear sir,' the doctor continued, 'we know his mother, Lady
Le Breton, personally. His father, Sir Owen, was a distinguished
officer-general in the Indian army in fact; and all his people are
extremely well connected with some of our best county families.
Nothing wrong about him in any way, I can answer for it. He came
here direct from Lord Exmoor's, where he'd been acting as tutor
to Viscount Lynmouth, the eldest son of the Tregellis family: and
you may be sure THEY wouldn't have anybody about them in any capacity
who wasn't thoroughly and perfectly responsible, and free from
any prejudice against the just rights of property.'
At each successive step of this collective guarantee to Ernest
Le Breton's perfect respectability, Mr. Blenkinsopp's square face
beamed brighter and brighter, till at last when the name of Lord
Exmour was finally reached, his mouth relaxed slowly into a broad
smile, and he felt that he might implicitly trust the education
of his boys to a person so intimately bound up with the best and
highest interests of religion and Property in this kingdom. 'Of
course,' he said placidly, 'that puts quite a different complexion
upon the matter, Dr. Greatrex. I'm very glad to hear young Mr. Le
Breton's such an excellent and trustworthy person. But the fact
is, that Schurts man gave me quite a turn for the moment, with
his sanguinary notions. I wish you could see the man, sir; a long
white-haired, savage-bearded, fierce-eyed old revolutionist if ever
there was one. It made me shudder to look at him, not raving and
ranting like a madman--I shouldn't have minded so much if he'd a
done that; but talking as cool and calm and collected, Doctor, about
"eliminating the capitalist"--cutting off my head, in fact--as we
two are talking here together at this moment. His very words were,
sir, "we must eliminate the capitalist." Why, bless my soul,'--and
here Mr. Blenkinsopp rushed to the window excitedly--'who on earth's
this coming across your lawn, here, arm in arm with Mr. Le Breton,
into the school-house? Man alive, Dr. Greatrex, whatever you choose
to say, hanged if it isn't realty that German cut-throat fellow
himself, and no mistake at all about it!'
Dr. Greatrex rose from his magisterial chair and glanced with
dignified composure out of the window. Yes, there was positively no
denying it! Ernest Le Breton, in cap and gown, with Edie by his side,
was walking arm in arm up to the school-house with a long-bearded,
large-headed German-looking man, whose placid powerful face the Doctor
immediately recognised as the one he had seen in the illustrated
papers above the name of Max Schurz, the defendant in the coming state
trial for unlawfully uttering a seditious libel! He could hardly
believe his eyes. Though he knew Ernest's opinions were dreadfully
advanced, he could not have suspected him of thus consorting with
positive murderous political criminals. In spite of his natural and
kindly desire to screen his own junior master, he felt that this
public exhibition of irreconcilable views was quite unpardonable
and irretrievable. 'Mr. Blenkinsopp,' he said gravely, turning to
the awe-struck tobacco-pipe manufacturer with an expression of
sympathetic dismay upon his practised face, 'I must retract all
I have just been saying to you about our junior master. I was not
aware of this. Mr. Le Breton must no longer retain his post as an
assistant at Pilbury Regis Grammar School.'
Mr. Blenkinsopp sank amazed into an easy-chair, and sat in dumb
astonishment to see the end of this extraordinary and unprecedented
adventure. The Doctor walked out severely to the school porch, and
stood there in solemn state to await the approach of the unsuspecting
'It's so delightful, dear Herr Max,' Ernest was saying at that exact
moment, 'to have you down here with us even for a single night.
You can't imagine what an oasis your coming has been to us both.
I'm sure Edie has enjoyed it just as much as I have, and is just
as anxious you should stop a little time here with us as I myself
could possibly be.
'Oh, yes, Herr Schurz,' Edie put in persuasively with her sweet
little pleading manner; 'do stay a little longer. I don't know
when dear Ernest has enjoyed anything in the world so much as he
has enjoyed seeing you. You've no idea how dull it is down here for
him, and for me too, for that matter; everybody here is so borné,
and narrow-minded and self-centred; nothing expansive or sympathetic
about them, as there used to be about Ernest's set in dear, quiet,
peaceable old Oxford. It's been such a pleasure to us to hear some
conversation again that wasn't about the school, and the rector, and
the Haigh Park people, and the flower show, and old Mrs. Jenkins's
quarrel with the vicar of St. Barnabas. Except when Mr. Berkeley
runs down sometimes for a Saturday to Monday trip to see us, and
takes Ernest out for a good blow with him on the top of the breezy
downs over yonder, we really never hear anything at all except the
gossip and the small-talk of Pilbury Regis.'
'And what makes it worse, Herr Max,' said Ernest, looking up in
the old man's calm strong face with the same reverent almost filial
love and respect as ever, 'is the fact that I can't feel any real
interest and enthusiasm in the work that's set before me. I try
to do it as well as I can, and I believe Dr. Greatrex, who's a
kind-hearted good sort of man in his way, is perfectly satisfied
with it; but my heart isn't in it, you see, and can't be in it.
What sort of good is one doing the world by dinning the same foolish
round of Horace and Livy and Latin elegiacs into the heads of all
these useless, eat-all, do-nothing young fellows, who'll only be
fit to fight or preach or idle as soon as we've finished cramming
them with our indigestible unserviceable nostrums!'
'Ah, Ernest, Ernest,' said Herr Max, nodding his heavy head gravely,
'you always WILL look too seriously altogether at your social
duties. I can't get other people to do it enough; and I can't get
you not to do it too much entirely. Remember, my dear boy, my pet
old saying about a little leaven. You're doing more good by just
unobtrusively holding your own opinions here at Pilbury, and getting
in the thin end of the wedge by slowly influencing the minds of
a few middle-class boys in your form, than you could possibly be
doing by making shoes or weaving clothes for the fractional benefit
of general humanity. Don't be so abstract, Ernest; concrete yourself a
little; isn't it enough that you're earning a livelihood for your
dear little wife here, whom I'm glad to know at last and to receive
as a worthy daughter? I may call you, Edie, mayn't I, my daughter?
So this is your school, is it? A pleasant building! And that
stern-looking old gentleman yonder, I suppose, is your head master?'
'Dr. Greatrex,' said Edie innocently, stepping up to him in her bright
elastic fashion, 'let me introduce you to our friend Herr Schurz,
whose name I dare say you know--the German political economist.
He's come down to Pilbury to deliver a lecture here, and we've been
fortunate enough to put him up at our little lodging.'
The doctor bowed very stiffly. 'I have heard of Herr Schurz's
reputation already,' he said with as much diplomatic politeness
as he could command, fortunately bethinking himself at the right
moment of the exact phrase that would cover the situation without
committing him to any further courtesy towards the terrible stranger.
'Will you excuse my saying, Mrs. Le Breton, that we're very busy
this afternoon, and I want to have a few words with your husband
in private immediately? Perhaps you'd better take Herr Schurz on
to the downs' ('safer there than on the Parade, at any rate,' he
thought to himself quickly), 'and Le Breton will join you in the
combe a little later in the afternoon. I'll take the fifth form
myself, and let him have a holiday with his friend here if he'd
like one. Le Breton, will you step this way please?' And lifting
his square cap with stern solemnity to Edie, the doctor disappeared
under the porch into the corridor, closely followed by poor frightened
and wondering Ernest.
Edie looked at Herr Max in dismay, for she saw clearly there was
something serious the matter with the doctor. The old man shook
his head sadly. 'It was very wrong of me,' he said bitterly: 'very
wrong and very thoughtless. I ought to have remembered it and
stopped away. I'm a caput lupinum, it seems, in Pilbury Regis, a
sort of moral scarecrow or political leper, to be carefully avoided
like some horrid contagion by a respectable, prosperous head-master.
I might have known it, I might have known it, Edie; and now I'm
afraid by my stupidity I've got dear Ernest unintentionally into
a pack of troubles. Come on, my child, my poor dear child, come on
to the downs, as he told us; I won't compromise you any longer by
being seen with you in the streets, in the decent decorous whited
sepulchres of Pilbury Regis.' And the grey old apostle, with two
tears trickling unreproved down his wrinkled cheek, took Edie's arm
tenderly in his, and led her like a father up to the green grassy
slope that overlooks the little seaward combe by the nestling
village of Nether Pilbury.
Meanwhile, Dr. Greatrex had taken Ernest into the breakfast-room--the
study was already monopolised by Mr. Blenkinsopp--and had seated himself
nervously, with his hands folded before him, on a straight-backed
chair There was a long and awkward pause, for the doctor didn't
care to begin the interview; but at last he sighed deeply and said
in a tone of genuine disappointment and difficulty, 'My dear Le
Breton, this is really very unpleasant.'
Ernest looked at him, and said nothing.
'Do you know,' the doctor went on kindly after a minute, 'I really
do like you and sympathise with you. But what am I to do after
this? I can't keep you at the school any longer, can I now? I put
it to your own common-sense. I'm afraid, Le Breton--it gives me
sincere pain to say so--but I'm afraid we must part at the end of
Ernest only muttered that he was very sorry.
'But what are we to do about it, Le Breton?' the doctor continued
more kindly than ever. 'What are we ever to do about it? For my own
sake, and for the boys' sake, and for respectability's pake, it's
quite impossible to let you remain here any longer. The first thing
you must do is to send away this Schurz creature'--Ernest started
a little--'and then we must try to let it blow over as best we can.
Everybody'll be talking about it; you know the man's become quite
notorious lately; and it'll be quite necessary to say distinctly,
Le Breton, before the whole of Pilbury, that we've been obliged to
dismiss you summarily. So much we positively MUST do for our own
protection. But what on earth are we to do for you, my poor fellow?
I'm afraid you've cut your own throat, and I don't see any way on
earth out of it.'
'How so?' asked Ernest, half stunned by the suddenness of this
'Why, just look the thing in the face yourself, Le Breton. I can't
very well give you a recommendation to any other head master without
mentioning to him why I had to ask you for your resignation. And
I'm afraid if I told them, nobody else would ever take you.'
'Indeed?' said Ernest, very softly. 'Is it such a heinous offence
to know so good a man as Herr Schurz--the best follower of the
apostles I ever knew?'
'My dear fellow,' said the doctor, confidentially, with an unusual
burst of outspoken frankness, 'so far as my own private feelings
are concerned, I don't in the least object to your knowing Herr
Schurz or any other socialist whatsoever. To tell you the truth,
I dare say he really is an excellent and most well-meaning person
at bottom. Between ourselves, I've always thought that there was
nothing very heterodox in socialism; in fact, I often think, Le
Breton, the Bible's the most thoroughly democratic book that ever
was written. But we haven't got to deal in practice with first
principles; we have to deal with Society--with men and women as we
find them. Now, Society doesn't like your Herr Schurz, objects to
him, anathematises him, wants to imprison him. If you walk about
with him in public, Society won't send its sons to your school.
Therefore, you should disguise your affection, and if you want to
visit him, you should visit him, like Nicodemus, by night only.'
'I'm afraid,' said Ernest very fixedly, 'I shall never be able so
far to accommodate myself to the wishes of Society.'
'I'm afraid not, myself, Le Breton,' the doctor went on with
imperturbable good temper. 'I'm afraid not, and I'm sorry for
it. The fact is, you've chosen the wrong profession. You haven't
pliability enough for a schoolmaster; you're too isolated, too much
out of the common run; your ideas are too peculiar. Now, you've got
me to-day into a dreadful pickle, and I might very easily be angry
with you about it, and part with you in bad blood; but I really
like you, Le Breton, and I don't want to do that; so I only tell
you plainly, you've mistaken your natural calling. What it can be
I don't know; but we must put our two heads together, and see what
we can do for you before the end of the quarter. Now, go up to the
combe to your wife, and try to get that terrible bugbear of a German
out of Pilbury as quickly and as quietly as possible. Good-bye for
to-day, Le Breton; no coolness between us, for this, I hope, my
Ernest grasped his hand warmly. 'You're very kind, Dr. Greatrex,'
he said with genuine feeling. 'I see you mean well by me, and I'm
very, very sorry if I've unintentionally caused you any embarrassment.'
'Not at all, not at all, my dear fellow. Don't mention it. We'll
tide it over somehow, and I'll see whether I can get you anything
else to do that you're better fitted for.'
As the door closed on Ernest, the doctor just gently wiped a certain
unusual dew off his gold spectacles with a corner of his spotless
handkerchief. 'He's a good fellow,' he murmured to himself,
'an excellent fellow; but he doesn't manage to combine with the
innocence of the dove the wisdom of the serpent. Poor boy, poor
boy, I'm afraid he'll sink, but we must do what we can to keep his
chin floating above the water. And now I must go back to the study
to have out my explanation with that detestable thick-headed old
pig of a Blenkinsopp! "Your views about young Le Breton," I must
say to him, "are unfortunately only too well founded; and I have
been compelled to dismiss him this very hour from Pilbury Grammar
School." Ugh--how humiliating! the profession's really enough to
give one a perfect sickening of life altogether!'
THE STREETS OF ASKELON.
Before the end of the quarter, two things occurred which made
almost as serious a difference to Ernest's and Edie's lives as the
dismissal from Pilbury Regis Grammar School. It was about a week
or ten days after Herr Max's unfortunate visit that Ernest awoke
one morning with a very curious and unpleasant taste in his mouth,
accompanied by a violent fit of coughing. He knew what the taste
was well enough; and he mentioned the matter casually to Edie a
little later in the morning. Edie was naturally frightened at the
symptoms, and made him go to see the school doctor. The doctor felt
his pulse attentively, listened with his stethoscope at the chest,
punched and pummelled the patient all over in the most orthodox
fashion, and asked the usual inquisitorial personal questions about
all the other members of his family. When he heard about Ronald's
predisposition, he shook his head seriously, and feared there was
really something in it. Increased vocal resonance at the top of
the left lung, he must admit. Some tendency to tubercular deposit
there, and perhaps even a slight deep-seated cavity. Ernest must
take care of himself for the present, and keep himself as free as
possible from all kind of worry or anxiety.
'Is it consumption, do you think, Dr. Sanders?' Edie asked
'Well, consumption, Mrs. Le Breton, is a very vague and indefinite
expression,' said the doctor, tapping his white shirtcuff with
his nail in his slowest and most deliberate manner. 'It may mean
a great deal, or it may mean very little. I don't want in any way
to alarm you, or to alarm your husband; but there's certainly a
marked incipient tendency towards tubercular deposit. Yes, tubercular
deposit... Well, if you ask me the question point-blank, I should
say so... certainly... I should say it was phthisis, very little
doubt of it... In short, what some people would call consumption.'
Ernest went home with Edie, comforting her all the way as well as
he was able, and trying to make light of it, but feeling in his own
heart that the look-out was decidedly beginning to gather blacker
and darker than ever before them. Through the rest of that term
he worked as well as he could; but Edie noticed every morning that
the cough was getting worse and worse; and long before the time
came for them to leave Pilbury he had begun to look distinctly
delicate. Care for Edie and for the future was telling on him: his
frame had never been very robust, and the anxieties of the last
year had brought out the same latent hereditary tendency which had
shown itself earlier and more markedly in the case of his brother
Meanwhile, Dr. Greatrex was assiduous in looking about for something
or other that Ernest could turn his hand to, and writing letters
with indefatigable kindness to all his colleagues and correspondents:
for though he was, as Ernest said, a most unmitigated humbug, that
was really his only fault; and when his sympathies were once really
aroused, as the Le Bretons had aroused them, there was no stone he
would leave unturned if only his energy could be of any service to
those whom he wished to benefit. But unfortunately in this case
it couldn't. 'I'm at my wit's end what to do with you, Le Breton,'
he said kindly one morning to Ernest: 'but how on earth I'm to
manage anything, I can't imagine. For my own part, you know, though
your conduct about that poor man Schurz (a well-meaning harmless
fanatic, I dare say) was really a public scandal--from the point
of view of parents I mean, my dear fellow, from the point of view
of parents--I should almost be inclined to keep you on here in
spite of it, and brave the public opinion of Pilbury Regis, if it
depended entirely upon my own judgment. But in the management of
a school, my dear boy, as you yourself must be aware, a head master
isn't the sole and only authority; there are the governors, for
example, Le Breton, and--and--and, ur, there's Mrs. Greatrex. Now,
in all matters of social discipline and attitude, Mrs. Greatrex is
justly of equal authority with me; and Mrs. Greatrex thinks it would
never do to keep you at Pilbury. So, of course, that practically
settles the question. I'm awfully sorry, Le Breton, dreadfully sorry,
but I don't see my way out of it. The mischief's done already, to
some extent, for all Pilbury knows now that Schurz came down here
to stop with you at your lodgings: but if I were to keep you on
they'd say I didn't disapprove of Schurz's opinions, and that would
naturally be simple ruination for the school--simple ruination.'
Ernest thanked him sincerely for the trouble he had taken, but
wondered desperately in his own heart what sort of future could
ever be in store for them.
The second event was less unexpected, though quite equally
embarrassing under existing circumstances. Hardly more than a month
before the end of the quarter, a little black-eyed baby daughter
came to add to the prospective burdens of the Le Breton family.
She was a wee, fat, round-faced, dimpled Devonshire lass to look
at, as far surpassing every previous baby in personal appearance
as each of those previous babies, by universal admission, had
surpassed all their earlier predecessors--a fact which, as Mr.
Sanders remarked, ought to be of most gratifying import both to
evolutionists and to philanthropists in general, as proving the
continuous and progressive amelioration of the human race: and
Edie was very proud of her indeed, as she lay placidly in her very
plain little white robes on the pillow of her simple wickerwork
cradle. But Ernest, though he learned to love the tiny intruder
dearly afterwards, had no heart just then to bear the conventional
congratulations of his friends and fellow-masters. Another mouth
to feed, another life dependent upon him, and little enough,
as it seemed, for him to feed it with. When Edie asked him what
they should name the baby--he had just received an adverse answer
to his application for a vacant secretaryship--he crumpled up the
envelope bitterly in his hand, and cried out in his misery, 'Call
her Pandora, Edie, call her Pandora; for we've got to the very
bottom of the casket, and there is nothing at all left for us now
but hope--and even of that very little!'
So they duly registered her name as Pandora; but her mother shortened
it familiarly into Dot; and as little Dot she was practically known
Almost as soon as poor Edie was able to get about again, the time
came when they would have to leave Pilbury Regis. The doctor's
search had been quite ineffectual, and he had heard of absolutely
nothing that was at all likely to suit Ernest Le Breton. He had
tried Government offices, Members of Parliament, colonial friends,
every body he knew in any way who miyht possibly know of vacant
posts or appointments, but each answer was only a fresh disappointment
for him and for Ernest. In the end, he was fain to advise his
peccant under-master, since nothing else remained for it, that
he had better go up to London for the present, take lodgings, and
engage in the precarious occupation known as 'looking about for
something to turn up.' On the morning when Edie and he were to
leave the town, Dr. Greatrex saw Ernest privately in his own study.
'I wish very much I could have gone to the station to see you off,
Le Breton,' he said, pressing his hand warmly; 'but it wouldn't
do, you know, it wouldn't do, and Mrs. Greatrex wouldn't like it.
People would say I sympathised secretly with your political opinions,
which might offend Sir Matthew Ogle and others of our governors.
But I'm sorry to get rid of you, really and sincerely sorry, my dear
fellow; and apart from personal feeling, I'm sure you'd have made
a good master in most ways, if it weren't for your most unfortunate
socialistic notions. Get rid of them, Le Breton, I beg of you: do
get rid of them. Well, the only thing I can advise you now is to
try your hand, for the present only--till something turns up, you
know--at literature and journalism. I shall be on the look-out for
you still, and shall tell you at once of anything I may happen to
hear of. But meanwhile, you must try to be earning something. And
if at any time, my dear friend, you should be temporarily in want
of money,'--the doctor said this in a shame-faced, hesitating sort
of way, with not a little humming and hawing--'in want of money
for immediate necessities merely, if you'll only be so kind as to
write and tell me, I should consider it a pleasure and a privilege
to lend you a ten pound note, you know--just for a short time, till
you saw your way clear before you. Don't hesitate to ask me now,
be sure; and I may as well say, write to me at the school, Le
Breton, not at the school-house, so that even Mrs. Greatrex need
never know anything about it. In fact, if you'll excuse me, I've
put a small sum into this envelope--only twenty pounds--which
may be of service to you, as a loan, as a loan merely; if you'll
take it--only till something turns up, you know--you'll really be
conferring a great favour upon me. There, there, my dear boy; now
don't be offended: I've borrowed money myself at times, when I was
a young man like you, and I hadn't a wife and family then as an
excuse for it either. Put it in your pocket, there's a good fellow;
you'll need it for Mrs. Le Breton and the baby, you see; now do
please put it in your pocket.'
The tears rode fast and hot in Ernest's eyes, and he grasped the
doctor's other hand with grateful fervour. 'Dear Dr. Greatrex,'
he said as well as he was able, 'it's too kind of you, too kind of
you altogether. But I really can't take the money. Even after the
expenses of Edie's illness and of baby Dot's wardrobe, we have
a little sum, a very little sum laid by, that'll help us to tide
over the immediate present. It's too good of you, too good of you
altogether. I shall remember your kindness for ever with the most
sincere and heartfelt gratitude.'
As Ernest looked into the doctor's half-averted eyes, swimming
and glistening just a little with sympathetic moisture, his heart
smote him when he thought that he had ever described that good,
kindly, generous man as an unmitigated humbug. 'It shows how little
one can trust the mere outside shell of human beings,' he said to
Edie, self-reproachfully, as they sat together in their hare third-class
carriage an hour later. 'The humbug's just the conventional mask
of his profession--necessary enough, I suppose, for people who
are really going to live successfully in the world as we find it:
the heart within him's a thousand times warmer and truer and more
unspoiled than one could ever have imagined from the outer covering.
He offered me his twenty pounds so delicately and considerately that
but for my father's blood in me, Edie, for your sake, I believe I
could almost have taken it.'
When they got to London, Ernest wished to leave Edie and Dot
at Arthur Berkeley's rooms (he knew nowhere else to leave them),
while he went out by himself to look about for cheap lodgings. Edie
was still too weak, he said, to carry her baby about the streets
of London in search of apartments. But Edie wouldn't hear of this
arrangement; she didn't quite like going to Arthur's, and she felt
sure she could bargain with the London landladies a great deal
more effectually than a man like Ernest--which was an important
matter in the present very reduced condition of the family finances.
In the end it was agreed that they should both go out on the hunt
together, but that Ernest should be permitted to relieve Edie by
turns in taking care of the precious baby.
'They're dreadful people, I believe, London landladies,' said Edie,
in her most housewifely manner; 'regular cheats and skinflints,
I've always heard, who try to take you in on every conceivable point
and item. We must be very careful not to let them get the better
of us, Ernest, and to make full inquiries about all extras, and so
They turned towards Holloway and the northern district, to look
for cheap rooms, and they saw a great many, more or less dear, and
more or less dirty and unsuitable, until their poor hearts really
began to sink within them. At last, in despair, Edie turned up a
small side street in Holloway, and stopped at a tiny house with a
clean white curtain in its wee front bay window. 'This is awfully
small, Ernest,' she said, despondently, 'but perhaps, after all,
it might really suit us.'
The door was opened for them by a tall, raw-boned, hard-faced woman,
the very embodiment and personification of Edie's ideal skinflint
London landlady. Might they see the lodgings, Edie asked dubiously.
Yes, they might, indeed, mum, answered the hard-faced woman. Edie
glanced at Ernest significantly, as who should say that these would
really never do.
The lodgings were very small, but they were as clean as a new pin.
Edie began to relent, and thought, perhaps in spite of the landlady,
they might somehow manage to put up with them. 'What was the rent?'
The hard-faced landlady looked at Edie steadily, and then answered
'Fifteen shillings, mum.'
'Oh, that's too much for us, I'm afraid,' said Edie ruefully. 'We
don't want to go as high as that. We're very poor and quiet people.'
'Well, mum,' the landlady assented quickly, 'it is 'igh for the
rooms, perhaps, mum, though I've 'ad more; but it IS 'igh, mum. I
won't deny it. Still, for you, mum, and the baby, I wouldn't mind
making it twelve and sixpence.'
'Couldn't you say half-a-sovereign?' Edie asked timidly, emboldened
'Arf a suvveran, mum? Well, I 'ardly rightly know,' said the
hard-faced landlady deliberately. 'I can't say without askin' of
my 'usband whether he'll let me. Excuse me a minnit, mum; I'll just
run down and ask 'im.'
Edie glanced at Ernest, and whispered doubtfully, 'They'll do, but
I'm afraid she's a dreadful person.'
Meanwhile, the hard-faced landlady had run downstairs quickly,
and called out in a pleasant voice of childish excitement to her
husband. 'John, John,' she cried--'drat that man, where's he gone
to. Oh, a smokin' of course, in the back kitching. Oh, John, there's
the sweetest little lady you ever set eyes on, all in black, with
a dear baby, a dear little speechless infant, and a invalid 'usband,
I should say by the look of 'im, 'as come to ask the price of the
ground floor lodgin's. And seein' she was so nice and kindlike, I
told her fifteen shillings, instead of a suvveran; and she says,
can't you let 'em for less? says she; and she was that pretty and
engagin' that I says, well, for you I'll make it twelve and sixpence,
mum, says I: and says she, you couldn't say 'arf a suvveran, could
you? and says I, I'll ask my 'usband: and oh, John, I DO wish you'd
let me take 'em at that, for a kinder, sweeter-lookin' dearer family
I never did, an' that I tell you.'
John drew his pipe slowly out of his mouth--he was a big, heavy,
coachman-built sort of person, in waistcoat and shirt-sleeves--and
answered with a kindly smile, 'Why, Martha, if you want to take 'em
for 'arf a suvveran, in course you'd ought to do it. Got a baby,
pore thing, 'ave she now? Well, there, there, you just go this very
minnit, and tell 'em as you'll take 'em.'
The hard-faced landlady went up the stairs again, only stopping a
moment to observe parenthetically that a sweeter little lady she
never did, and what was 'arf-a-crown a week to you and me, John?
and then, holding the corner of her apron in her hand, she informed
Edie that her 'usband was prepared to accept the ten shillings
'I'll try to make you and the gentleman comfortable, mum,' she
said, eagerly; 'the gentleman don't look strong, now do he? We must
try to feed 'im up and keep 'im cheerful. And we've got plenty of
flowers to make the room bright, you see: I'm very fond of flowers
myself, mum: seems to me as if they was sort of company to one, like,
and when you water 'em and tend 'em always, I feel as if they was
alive, and got to know one again, I do, and that makes one love
'em, now don't it, mum? To see 'em brighten up after you've watered
'em, like that there maiden-'air fern there, why it's enough to
make one love 'em the same as if they was Christians, mum.' There
was a melting tenderness in her voice when she talked about the
flowers that half won over Edie's heart, even in spite of her hard
'I'm glad you're so fond of flowers, Mrs.----. Oh, you haven't
told us your name yet,' Edie said, beginning vaguely to suspect that
perhaps the hard-faced landlady wasn't quite as bad as she looked
to a casual observer.
'Alliss, mum,' the landlady answered, filling up Edie's interrogatory
blank. 'My name is 'Alliss.'
'Alice what?' Edie asked again.
'Oh, no, mum, you don't rightly understand me,' the landlady replied,
getting very red, and muddling up her aspirates more decidedly
than ever, as people with her failing always do when they want to
be specially deliberate and emphatic: 'not Halice, but 'Alliss;
haitch, hay, hell, hell, hi, double hess--'Alliss: my full name's
Martha 'Alliss, mum; my 'usband's John 'Alliss. When would you like
to come in?'
'At once,' Edie answered. 'We've left our luggage at the cloak-room
at Waterloo, and my husband will go back and fetch it, while I stop
here with the baby.'
'Not that, he shan't, indeed, mum,' cried the hard-faced landlady,
hastily; 'beggin' your pardon for sayin' so. Our John shall go--that's
my 'usband, mum; and you shall give 'im the ticket. I wouldn't let
your good gentleman there go, and 'im so tired, too, not for the
world, I wouldn't. Just you give me the ticket, mum, and John
shall go this very minnit and fetch it.'
'But perhaps your husband's busy,' said Ernest, reflecting upon
the probable cost of cab hire; 'and he'll want a cab to fetch it
'Bless your 'eart, sir,' said the landlady, busily arranging things
all round the room meanwhile for the better accommodation of the
baby, ''e ain't noways busy 'e ain't. 'E's a lazy man, nowadays, John
is: retired from business, 'e says, sir, and ain't got nothink to
do but clean the knives, and lay the fires, and split the firewood,
and such like. John were a coachman, sir, in a gentleman's family
for most of 'is life, man and boy, these forty year, come Christmas;
and we've saved a bit o' money between us, so as we don't need for
nothink: and 'e don't want the cab, puttin' you to expense, sir,
onnecessary, to bring the luggage round in. 'E'll just borrer the
hand-barrer from the livery in the mews, sir, and wheel it round
'isself, in 'arf an hour, and make nothink of it. Just you give
me the ticket, and set you right down there, and I'll make you and
the lady a cup of tea at once, and John'll bring round the luggage
by the time you've got your things off.'
Ernest looked at Edie, and Edie looked at Ernest. Could they
have judged too hastily once more, after their determination to
be lenient in first judgments for the future? So Ernest gave Mrs.
Halliss the cloak-room ticket, and Mrs. Halliss ran downstairs
with it immediately. 'John,' the cried again, '--drat that man,
where's 'e gone to? Oh, there you are, dearie! Just you put on
your coat an' 'at as fast as ever you can, and borrer Tom Wood's
barrer, and run down to Waterloo, and fetch up them two portmanteaus,
will you? And you drop in on the way at the Waterfield. dairy--not
Jenkins's: Jenkins's milk ain't good enough for them--and tell 'em
to send round two penn'orth of fresh this very minnit, do y'ear,
John, this very minnit, as it's extremely pertickler. And a good thing
I didn't give you them two eggs for your dinner, as is fresh-laid
by our own 'ens this mornin', and no others like 'em to be 'ad in
London for love or money; and they shall 'ave 'em boiled light for
their tea this very evenin'. And you look sharp, John,--drat the
man, 'ow long 'e is--for I tell yon, these is reel gentlefolk, and
them pore too, which makes it all the 'arder; and they've got to
be treated the same in every respect as if they was paying a 'ole
suvverin, bless their 'earts, the pore creechurs.'
'Pore,' said John, vainly endeavouring to tear on his coat with
becoming rapidity under the influence of Mrs. Halliss's voluble
exhortations. 'Pore are they, pore things? and so they may be. I've
knowed the sons of country gentlemen, and that baronights too,
Martha, as 'ad kep' their 'ounds, redooced to be that pore as
they couldn't have afforded to a took our lodgings, even 'umble as
they may be. Pore ain't nothink to do with it noways, as respecks
gentility. I've lived forty years in gentlemen's families, up an'
down, Martha, and I think I'd ought to know somethink about the
'abits and manners of the aristocracy. Pore ain't in the question
at all, it ain't, as far as breedin' goes: and if they're pore, and
got to be gentlefolks too all the same'--John spoke of this last
serious disability in a tone of unfeigned pity--'why, Martha, wot
I says is, we'd ought to do the very best we can for 'em any 'ow,
now, oughtn't we?'
'Drat the man!' cried Mrs. Halliss again, impatiently; 'don't stand
talkin' and sermonin' about it there no longer like a poll parrot,
but just you run along and send in the milk, like a dear, will you?
or that dear little lady'll have to be waitin' for her tea--and her
with a month-old baby, too, the pretty thing, just to think of it!'
And indeed, long before John Halliss had got back again with the
two wee portmanteaus--'I could 'a carried that lot on my 'ead,' he
soliloquised when he saw them, 'without 'avin' troubled to wheel
round a onnecessary encumbrance in the way of a barrer'--Mrs. Halliss
had put the room tidy, and laid the baby carefully in a borrowed
cradle in the corner, and brought up Edie and Ernest a big square
tray covered by a snow-white napkin--'My own washin', mum'--and
conveying a good cup of tea, a couple of crisp rolls, and two
such delicious milky eggs as were never before known in the whole
previous history of the county of Middlesex. And while they drank
their tea, Mrs. Halliss insisted upon taking the baby down into
the kitchen, so that they mightn't be bothered, pore things; for
the pore lady must be tired with nursin' of it herself the livelong
day, that she must: and when she got it into the kitchen, she was
compelled to call over the back yard wall to Mrs. Bollond, the
greengrocer's wife next door, with the ultimate view to getting a
hare's brain for the dear baby to suck at through a handkerchief.
And Mrs. Bollond, being specially so invited, came in by the area
door, and inspected the dear baby; and both together arrived at
the unanimous conclusion that little Dot was the very prettiest
and sweetest child that ever sucked its fat little fingers, Lord
And in the neat wee parlour upstairs, Edie, pouring out tea from
the glittering tin teapot into one of the scrupulously clean small
whitey-gold teacups, was saying meanwhile to Ernest, 'Well, after
all, Ernest dear, perhaps London landladies aren't all quite as
black as they're usually painted.' A conclusion which neither Edie
nor Ernest had ever after any occasion for altering in any way.
THE CLOUDS BEGIN TO BREAK.
And now, what were Ernest and Edie to do for a living! That was
the practical difficulty that stared them at last plainly in the
face--no mere abstract question of right and justice, of socialistic
ideals or of political economy, but the stern, uncompromising,
pressing domestic question of daily bread. They had come from
Pilbury Regis with a very small reserve indeed in their poor lean
little purses; and though Mrs. Halliss's lodgings might be cheap
enough as London lodgings go, their means wouldn't allow them to
stop there for many weeks together unless that hypothetical something
of which they were in search should happen to turn up with most
extraordinary and unprecedented rapidity. As soon as they were
settled in at their tiny rooms, therefore, Ernest began a series
of weary journeys into town, in search of work of some sort or
another; and he hunted up all his old Oxford acquaintances in the
Temple or elsewhere, to see if they could give him any suggestions
towards a possible means of earning a livelihood. Most of them, he
found to his surprise, though they had been great chums of his at
college, seemed a little shy of him nowadays: one old Oxford friend,
in particular, an impeccable man in close-cut frock coat and hat
of shiny perfection, he overheard saying to another, he followed
him accidentally up a long staircase in King's Bench Walk, 'Ah,
yes, I met Le Breton in the Strand yesterday, when I was walking
with a Q.C., too; he's married badly, got no employment, and looks
awfully seedy. So very embarrassing, you know, now wasn't it?' And
the other answered lightly, in the same unconcerned tone, 'Oh, of
course, dreadfully embarrassing, really.' Ernest slank down the
staircase again with a sinking heart, and tried to get no further
hints from the respectabilities of King's Bench Walk, at least in
this his utmost extremity.
Night after night, as the dusk was beginning to throw its pall
over the great lonely desert of London--one vast frigid expanse of
living souls that knew and cared nothing about him--Ernest turned
back, foot-sore and heart-sick, to the cheery little lodgings in
the short side-street at Holloway. There good Mrs. Halliss, whose
hard face seemed to grow softer the longer you looked at it, had
a warm clip of tea always ready against his coming: and Edie, with
wee Dot sleeping placidly on her arm, stood at the door to welcome
him back again in wife-like fashion. The flowers in the window
bloomed bright and gay in the tiny parlour: and Edie, with her
motherly cares for little Dot, seemed more like herself than ever
she had done before since poor Harry's death had clouded the morning
of her happy lifetime. But to Ernest, even that pretty picture of
the young mother and her sleeping baby looked only like one more
reminder of the terrible burden he had unavoidably yet too lightly
taken upon him. Those two dear lives depended wholly upon him for
their daily bread, and where that daily bread was ever to come from
he had absolutely not the slightest notion.
There is no place in which it is more utterly dreary to be quite
friendless than in teeming London. Still, they were not absolutely
friendless even in that great lurid throng of jarring humanity,
all eagerly intent on its own business, and none of it troubling
its collective head about two such nonentities as Ernest and
Edie. Ronald used to come round daily to see them and cheer them
up with his quiet confidence in the Disposer of all things: and
Arthur Berkeley, neglecting his West End invitations and his lady
admirers, used to drop in often of an evening for a friendly chat
and a rational suggestion or two.
'Why don't you try journalism, Le Breton?' he said to Ernest one
night, as they sat discussing possibilities for the future in the
little parlour together. 'Literature in some form or other's clearly
the best thing for a man like you to turn his hand to. It demands
less compliance with conventional rules than any other profession.
No editor or publisher would ever dream of dismissing you, for
example, because you invited your firebrand friend Max Schurz to
dinner. On the contrary, if it comes to that, he'd ask you what
Herr Max thought about the future of trades unions and the socialist
movement in Germany, and he'd advise you to turn it into a column
and a half of copy, with a large type sensational heading, "A
Communistic Leader Interviewed. From our Special Correspondent."'
'But it's such a very useless, unsocialistic trade,' Ernest answered
doubtfully. 'Do you think it would be quite right, Arthur, for
a man to try and earn money by it? Of course it isn't much worse
than school-mastering, I dare say; nobody can say he's performing
a very useful function for the world by hammering a few lines of
Ovid into the skull of poor stupid Blenkinsopp major, who after
all will only use what he calls his education, if he uses it in
any way at all, to enable him to make rather more money than any
other tobacco-pipe manufacturer in the entire trade. Still, one
does feel for all that, that mere writing of books and papers is a
very unsatisfactory kind of work for an ethical being to perform for
humanity. How much better, now, if one could only be a farm-labourer
or a shoemaker!'
Arthur Berkeley looked across at him half angrily. 'My dear Ernest,'
he said, in a severer voice than he often used, 'the time has gone
by now for this economical puritanism of yours. It won't do any
longer. You have to think of your child and of Mrs. Le Breton.
Your first duty is to earn a livelihood for them and yourself;
when you've done that satisfactorily, you may begin to think of the
claims of humanity. Don't be vexed with me, my dear fellow, if I
speak to you very plainly. You've lost your place at Pilbury because
you wouldn't be practical. You might have known they wouldn't let
you go hobnobbing publicly before the very eyes of boys and parents
with a firebrand German Socialist. Mind, I don't say anything
against Herr Schurz myself--what little I know about him is all in
his favour--that he's a thorn in the side of those odious prigs,
the political economists. I've often noticed that when a man wants
to dogmatise to his heart's content without fear of contradiction,
he invariably calls himself a political economist. Then if people
differ from him, he smiles at them the benign smile of superior
wisdom, and says superciliously, "Ah, I see you don't understand
political economy!" Now, your Herr Schurz is a dissenter among
economists, I believe--a sort of embryo Luther come to tilt with
a German toy lance against their economical infallibilities; and
I'm told he knows more about the subject than all the rest of them
put together. Of course, if you like him and respect him--and I know
you have one superstition left, my dear fellow--there's no reason
on earth why you shouldn't do so; but you mustn't parade him too
openly before the scandalised faces of respectable Pilbury. In
future, you must be practical. Turn your hand to whatever you can
get to do, and leave humanity at large to settle the debtor and
creditor account with you hereafter.'
'I'll do my best, Berkeley,' Ernest answered submissively; 'and if
you like, I'll strangle my conscience and try my hand at journalism.'
'Do, there's a good man,' Arthur Berkeley said, delighted at his
late conversion. 'I know two or three editor fellows pretty well,
and if you'll only turn off something, I'll ask them to have a look
Next morning, at breakfast, Ernest discussed the possibilities
of this new venture very seriously with sympathising Edie. 'It's
a great risk,' he said, turning it over dubiously in his mind; 'a
great risk, and a great expense too, for nothing certain. Let me
see, there'll be a quire of white foolscap to start with; that'll
be a shilling--a lot of money as things go at present, Edie, isn't
'Why not begin with half a quire, Ernest?' said his little wife,
cautiously. 'That'd be only sixpence, you see.'
'Do they halve quires at the stationer's, I wonder?' Ernest went
on still mentally reckoning. 'Well, suppose we put it at sixpence.
Then we've got pens already by us, but not any ink--that's a
penny--and there's postage, say about twopence; total ninepence.
That's a lot of money, isn't it, now, for a pure uncertainty?'
'I'd try it, Ernest dear, if I were you,' Edie answered. 'We must
do something, mustn't we, dear, to earn our living.'
'We must,' Ernest said, sighing. 'I wish it were anything but
that; but I suppose what must be must be. Well, I'll go out a walk
by myself in the quietest streets I can find, and try if I can
think of anything on earth a man can write about. Arthur Berkeley
says I ought to begin with a social article for a paper; he knows
the "Morning Intelligence" people, and he'll try to get them to
take something if I can manage to write it. I wonder what on earth
would do as a social article for the "Morning Intelligence"! If
only they'd let me write about socialism now! but Arthur says they
won't take that; the times aren't yet ripe for it. I wish they were,
Edie, I wish they were; and then perhaps you and I would find some
way to earn ourselves a decent living.'
So Ernest went out, and ruminated quietly by himself, as well as he
was able, in the least frequented streets of Holloway and Highgate.
After about half an hour's excogitation, a brilliant idea at last
flashed across him; he had found in a tobacconist's window something
to write about! Your practised journalist doesn't need to think at
all; he writes whatever comes uppermost without the unnecessarily
troublesome preliminary of deliberate thinking. But Ernest Le
Breton was only making his first experiment in the queer craft,
and he looked upon himself as a veritable Watt or Columbus when he
had actually discovered that hitherto unknown object, a thing to
write about. He went straight back to good Mrs. Halliss's with his
discovery whirling in his head, stopping only by the way at the
stationer's, to invest in half a quire of white foolscap. 'The
best's a shilling a quire, mister,' said the shopman; 'second best,
tenpence.' Communist as he was, Ernest couldn't help noticing the
unusual mode of address; but he took the cheaper quality quietly,
and congratulated himself on his good luck in saving a penny upon
the original estimate.
When he got home, he sat down at the plain wooden table by the
window, and began with nervous haste to write away rapidly at his
first literary venture. Edie sat by in her little low chair and
watched him closely with breathless interest. Would it be a success
or a failure? That was the question they were both every moment
intently asking themselves. It was not a very important piece
of literary workmanship, to be sure; only a social leader for a
newspaper, to be carelessly skimmed to-day and used to light the
fire to-morrow, if even that; and yet had it been the greatest
masterpiece ever produced by the human intellect Ernest could not
have worked at it with more conscientious care, or Edie watched
him with profounder admiration. When Shakespeare sat down to write
'Hamlet,' it may be confidently asserted that neither Mistress Anne
Shakespeare nor anybody else awaited the result of his literary
labours with such unbounded and feverish anxiety. By the time
Ernest had finished his second sheet of white foolscap--much erased
and interlined with interminable additions and corrections--Edie
ventured for a moment briefly to interrupt his creative efforts.
'Don't you think you've written as much as makes an ordinary leader
now, Ernest?' she asked, apologetically. 'I'm afraid you're making
it a good deal longer than it ought to be by rights.'
'I'm sure I don't know, Edie,' Ernest answered, gazing at the two
laboured sheets with infinite dubitation and searching of spirit.
'I suppose one ought properly to count the words in an average
leader, and make it the same length as they always are in the
"Morning Intelligence." I think they generally run to just a column.'
'Of course you ought, dear,' Edie answered. 'Run out this minute
and buy one before you go a single line further.'
Ernest looked back at his two pages of foolscap somewhat ruefully.
'That's a dreadful bore,' he said, with a sigh: 'it'll just run
away with the whole penny I thought I'd managed to save in getting
the second quality of foolscap for fivepence. However, I suppose
it can't be helped, and after all, if the thing succeeds, one can
look upon the penny in the light of an investment. It's throwing
a sprat to catch a whale, as the proverb says: though I'm afraid
Herr Max would say that that was a very immoral capitalist proverb.
How horribly low we must be sinking, Edie, when we come to use the
anti-social language of those dreadful capitalists!'
'I don't think capitalists deal much in proverbs, dear,' said Edie,
smiling in spite of herself; 'but you needn't go to the expense
of buying a "Morning Intelligence," I dare say, for perhaps Mrs.
Halliss may have an old one in the house; or if not, she might
be able to borrow one from a neighbour. She has a perfect genius
for borrowing, Mrs. Halliss; she borrows everything I want from
somebody or other. I'll just run down to the kitchen this minute
and ask her.'
In a few seconds Edie returned in triumph with an old soiled and
torn copy of the 'Morning Intelligence,' duly procured by the
ingenious Mrs. Halliss from the dairy opposite. It was a decidedly
antiquated copy, and it had only too obviously been employed by
its late possessor to wrap up a couple of kippered herrings; but
it was still entire, so far as regarded the leaders at least, and
it was perfectly legible in spite of its ancient and fish-like
smell. To ensure accuracy, Ernest and Edie took a leader apiece, and
carefully counted up the number of words that went to the column.
They came on an average to fifteen hundred. Then Ernest counted
his own manuscript with equal care--no easy task when one took
into consideration the interlined or erased passages--and, to his
infinite disgust, discovered that it only extended to seven hundred
and fifty words. 'Why, Edie,' he said, in a very disappointed
tone, 'how little it prints into! I should certainly have thought
I'd written at least a whole column. And the worst of it is, I
believe I've really said all I have to say about the subject.'
'What is it, Ernest dear?' asked Edie.
'Italian organ-boys,' Ernest answered. 'I saw on a placard in
the news shop that one of them had been taken to a hospital in a
starving condition.' He hardly liked to tell even Edie that he had
stood for ten minutes at a tobacconist's window and read the case
in a sheet of 'Lloyd's News' conspicuously hung up there for public
'Well, let me hear what you have written, Ernest dear, and then
see if you couldn't expand it.'
Ernest read it over most seriously and solemnly--it was only a
social leader, of the ordinary commonplace talky-talky sort; but
to those two poor young people it was a very serious and solemn
matter indeed--no less a matter than their own two lives and little
Dot's into the bargain. It began with the particular case of the
particular organ-boy who formed the peg on which the whole article
was to be hung; it went on to discourse on the lives and manners
of organ-boys in general; it digressed into the natural history of
the common guinea-pig, with an excursus on the scenery of the Lower
Apennines; and. it finished off with sundry abstract observations
on the musical aspect of the barrel-organ and the aesthetic value of
hurdygurdy performances. Edie listened to it all with deep attention.
'It's very good, Ernest dear,' she said, with wifely admiration,
as soon as he had finished. 'Just like a real leader exactly; only,
do you know, there aren't any anecdotes in it. I think a social
leader of that sort ought always to have a lot of anecdotes. Couldn't
you manage to bring in something about Fox and Sheridan, or about
George IV. and Beau Brummel? They always do, you know, in most of
Ernest gazed at her in silent admiration. 'How clever of you, Edie,'
he said, 'to think of that! Why, of course there ought to be some
anecdotes. They're the very breath of life to this sort of meaningless
writing. Only, somehow, George IV. and Beau Brummel don't seem
exactly relevant to Italian organ-grinders, now do they?'
'I thought,' said Edie, with hardly a touch of unintentional satire,
'that the best thing about anecdotes of that kind in a newspaper
was their utter irrelevancy. But if Beau Brummel won't do, couldn't
you manage to work in Guicciardini and the galleys? That's strictly
Italian, you know, and therefore relevant; and I'm sure the newspaper
leaders are extremely fond of that story about Guiccardini.'
'They are,' Ernest answered,'most undoubtedly; but perhaps for that
very reason readers may be beginning to get just a little tired of
it by this time.'
'I don't think the readers matter much,' said Edie, with a
brilliant, flash of practical common-sense; 'at least, not nearly
half as much, Ernest, as the editor.'
'Quite true,' Ernest replied, with another admiring look; 'but
probably the editor more or less consults the taste and feelings
of the readers. Well, I'll try to expand it a bit, and I'll manage
to drag in an anecdote or two somehow--if not Guicciardini, at
least something or other else Italian. You see Italy's a tolerably
rich subject, because you can do any amount about Raffael, and Michael
Angelo, and Leonardo, and so forth, not to mention Botticelli. The
papers have made a dreadful run lately on Botticelli.'
So Ernest sat down once more at the table by the window, and began
to interlard the manuscript with such allusions to Italy and the
Italians as could suggest themselves on the spur of the moment to
his anxious imagination. At the end of half an hour--about the
time a practised hand would have occupied in writing the whole
article--he counted words once more, and found there were still
two hundred wanting. Two hundred more words to say about Italian
organ-boys! Alas for the untrained human fancy! A master leader
writer at the office of the 'Morning Intelligence' could have run
on for ever on so fertile and suggestive a theme--a theme pregnant
with unlimited openings for all the cheap commonplaces of abstract
journalistic philanthropy; but poor Ernest, a 'prentice hand at the
trade, had yet to learn the fluent trick of the accomplished news
purveyor; he absolutely could not write without thinking about
it. A third time he was obliged to recommit his manuscript, and a
third time to count the words over. This time, oh joy, the reckoning
came out as close as possible to the even fifteen hundred. Ernest
gave a sigh of relief, and turned to read it all over again,
as finally enlarged and amended, to the critical ears of admiring
There was anecdote enough now, in all conscience, in the article;
and allusions enough to stock a whole week's numbers of the 'Morning
Intelligence.' Edie listened to the whole tirade with an air of
the most severe and impartial criticism. When Ernest had finished,
she rose up and kissed him. 'I'm sure it'll do, Ernest,' she said
confidently. 'It's exactly like a real leader. It's quite beautiful--a
great deal more beautiful, in fact, than anything else I ever read
in a newspaper: it's good enough to print in a volume.'
'I hope the editor'll think so,' Ernest answered, dubiously. 'If
not, what a lot of valuable tenpenny foolscap wasted all for nothing!
Now I must write it all out again clean, Edie, on fresh pieces.'
Newspaper men, it must be candidly admitted, do not usually write
their articles twice over; indeed, to judge by the result, it may
be charitably believed that they do not even, as a rule, read them
through when written, to correct their frequent accidental slips
of logic or English; but Ernest wrote out his organ-boy leader in
his most legible and roundest hand, copperplate fashion, with as
much care and precision as if it were his first copy for presentation
to the stern writing-master of a Draconian board school. 'Editors
are more likely to read your manuscript if it's legible, I should
think, Edie,' he said, looking up at her with more of hope in his
face than had often been seen in it of late. 'I wonder, now, whether
they prefer it sent in a long envelope, folded in three; or in a
square envelope, folded twice over; or in a paper cover, open like
a pamphlet. There must be some recognised professional way of doing
it, and I should think one's more likely to get it taken if one
sends it in the regular professional fashion, than if one makes
it look too amateurish. I shall go in for the long envelope; at
any rate, if not journalistic, it's at least official.'
The editor of the 'Morning Intelligence' is an important personage
in contemporary politics, and a man of more real weight in the
world than half-a-dozen Members of Parliament for obscure country
boroughs; but even that mighty man himself would probably have been
a little surprised as well as amused (if he could have seen it) at
the way in which Ernest and Edie Le Breton anxiously endeavoured
to conciliate beforehand his merest possible personal fads and
fancies. As a matter of fact, the question of the particular paper
on which the article was written mattered to him absolutely less
than nothing, inasmuch as he never looked at anything whatsoever
until it had been set up in type for him to pass off-hand judgment
upon its faults or its merits. His time was far too valuable to be
lightly wasted on the task of deciphering crabbed manuscript.
In the afternoon, Berkeley called to see whether Ernest had followed
his suggestion, and was agreeably surprised to find a whole article
already finished. He glanced through the neatly written pages, and
was still more pleased to discover that Ernest, with an unsuspected
outburst of practicality and practicability, had really hit upon
a possible subject. 'This may do, Ernest,' he said with a sigh of
relief. 'I dare say it will. I know Lancaster wants leader writers,
and I think this is quite good enough to serve his turn. I've
spoken to him about you: come round with me now--he'll be at the
office by four o'clock--and we'll see what we can do for you. It's
absolutely useless sending anything to the editor of a daily paper
without an introduction. You might write with the pen of the angel
Gabriel, or turn out leaders which were a judicious mean between
Gladstone, Burke, and Herbert Spencer, and it would profit you
nothing, for the simple reason that he hasn't got the time to read
them. He would toss Junius and Montesquieu into the waste paper
basket, and accept copy on the shocking murder in the Borough
Road from one of his regular contributors instead. He can't help
himself: and what you must do, Ernest, is to become one of the
regular ring, and combine to keep Junius and Montesquieu permanently
'The struggle for existence gives no quarter,' Ernest said sadly
with half a sigh.
'And takes none,' Berkeley answered quickly. 'So for your wife's
sake you must try your best to fight your way through it on your
own account, for yourself and your family.'
The editor of the 'Morning Intelligence,' Mr. Hugh Lancaster, was
a short, thick-set, hard-headed sort of man, with a kindly twinkle
in his keen grey eyes, and a harassed smile playing continually
around the corners of his firm and dose mouth. He looked as though
he was naturally a good-humoured benevolent person, overdriven
at the journalistic mill till half the life was worn out of him,
leaving the benevolence as a wearied remnant, without energy
enough to express itself in any other fashion than by the perpetual
harassed smile. He saw Arthur Berkeley and Ernest Le Breton at once
in his own sanctum, and took the manuscript from their hands with
a languid air of perfect resignation. 'This is the friend you
spoke of, is it, Berkeley?' he said in a wearied way. 'Well, well,
we'll see what we can do for him.' At the same time he rang a tiny
hand-bell. A boy, rather the worse for printer's ink, appeared at
the summons. Mr. Lancaster handed him Ernest's careful manuscript
unopened, with the laconic order, 'Press. Proof immediately.' The
boy took it without a word. 'I'm very busy now,' Mr. Lancaster went
on in the same wearied dispirited manner: 'come again in thirty-five
minutes. Jones, show these gentlemen into a room somewhere.' And
the editor fell back forthwith into his easy-chair and his original
attitude of listless indifference. Berkeley and Ernest followed
the boy into a bare back room, furnished only with a deal table and
two chairs, and there anxiously awaited the result of the editor's
'Don't be afraid of Lancaster, Ernest,' Arthur said kindly. 'His
manner's awfully cold, I know, but he means well, and I really
believe he'd go out of his way, rather than not, to do a kindness
for anybody he thought actually in want of occupation. With most
men, that's an excellent reason for not employing you: with Lancaster
I do truly think it's a genuine recommendation.'
At the end of thirty-five minutes the grimy-faced office-boy
returned with a friendly nod. 'Editor'll see you,' he said, with
the Spartan brevity of the journalistic world--nobody connected
with newspapers ever writes or speaks a single word unnecessarily,
if he isn't going to be paid for it at so much per thousand--and
Ernest followed him, trembling from head to foot, into Mr.
Lancaster's private study.
The great editor took up the steaming hot proof that had just been
brought him, and glanced down it carelessly with a rapid scrutiny.
Then he turned to Ernest, and said in a dreamy fashion, 'This will
do. We'll print this to-morrow. You may send us a middle very
occasionally. Come here at four o'clock, when a subject suggests
itself to you, and speak to me about it. My time's very fully
occupied. Good morning, Mr. Le Breton. Berkeley, stop a minute, I
want to talk with you.'
It was all done in a moment, and almost before Ernest knew what
had happened he was out in the street again, with tears filling his
eyes, and joy his heart, for here at last was bread, bread, bread,
for Edie and the baby! He ran without stopping all the way back
to Holloway, rushed headlong into the house and fell into Edie's
arms, calling out wildly, 'He's taken it! He's taken it!' Edie
kissed him half-a-dozen times over, and answered bravely, 'I knew
he would, Ernest. It was such a splendid article.' And yet thousands
of readers of the 'Morning Intelligence' next day skimmed lightly
over the leader on organ-boys in their ordinary casual fashion,
without even thinking what hopes and fears and doubts and terrors
had gone to the making of that very commonplace bit of newspaper
rhetoric. For if the truth must be told, Edie's first admiring
criticism was perfectly correct, and Ernest Le Breton's leader was
just for all the world exactly the same as anybody else's.
Meanwhile, Arthur Berkeley had stayed behind as requested in Mr.
Lancaster's study, and waited to hear what Mr. Lancaster had to say
to him. The editor looked up at him wearily from his chair, passed
his bread hand slowly across his bewildered forehead, and then said
the one word, 'Poor?'
'Nothing on earth to do,' Berkeley answered.
'He might make a journalist, perhaps,' the editor gaid, sleepily.
'This social's up to the average. At any rate, I'll do my very best
for him. But he can't live upon socials. We have too many social
men already. What can he do? That's the question. It won't do to
say he can write pretty nearly as well about anything that turns
up as any other man in England can do. I can get a hundred young
fellows in the Temple to do that, any day. The real question's this:
is there anything he can write about a great deal better than all
the other men in all England put together?'
'Yes, there is,' Berkeley answered with commendable promptitude,
undismayed by Mr. Lancaster's excessive requirements. 'He knows
more about communists, socialists, and political exiles generally,
than anybody else in the whole of London.'
'Good,' the editor answered, brightening up, and speaking for
a moment a little less languidly. 'That's good. There's this man
Schurz, now, the German agitator. He's going to be tried soon for
a seditious libel it seems, and he'll be sent to prison, naturally.
Now, does your friend know anything at all of this fellow?'
'He knows him personally and intimately,' Berkeley replied,
delighted to find that the card which had proved so bad a one at
Pilbury Regis was turning up trumps in the more Bohemian neighbourhood
of the Temple and Fleet Street. 'He can give you any information
you want about Schurz or any of the rest of those people. He
has associated with them all familiarly for the last six or seven
'Then he takes an interest in politics,' said Mr. Lancaster, almost
waking up now. 'That's good again. It's so very difficult to find
young men nowadays, able to write, who take a genuine interest in
politics. They all go off after literature and science and aesthetics,
and other dry uninteresting subjects. Now, what does your average
intelligent daily paper reader care, I should like to know, about
literature and science and aesthetics and so forth? Well, he'll do,
I've very little doubt: at any rate, I'll give him a trial. Perhaps
he might be able to undertake this Great Widgerly disenfranchising
case. Stop! he's poor, isn't he? I daresay he'd just as soon not
wait for his money for this social. In the ordinary course, he
wouldn't get paid till the end of the quarter; but I'll give you a
cheque to take back to him now; perhaps he wants it. Poor fellow,
poor fellow! he really looks very delicate. Depend upon it, Berkeley,
I'll do anything on earth for him, if only he'll write tolerably.'
'You're awfully good,' Arthur said, taking the proffered cheque
gratefully. 'I'm sure the money will be of great use to him: and
it's very kind indeed of you to have thought of it.'
'Not at all, not at all,'the editor answered, collapsing dreamily.
'Good morning, good morning.'
At Mrs. Halliss's lodgings in Holloway, Edie was just saying to
Ernest over their simple tea, 'I wonder what they'll give you for
it, Ernest.' And Ernest had just answered, big with hope, 'Well,
I should think it would be quite ten shillings, but I shouldn't
be surprised, Edie, if it was as much as a pound;' when the door
opened, and in walked Arthur Berkeley, with a cheque in his hand,
which he laid by Edie's teacup. Edie took it up and gave a little
cry of delight and astonishment. Ernest caught it from her hand in
his eagerness, and gazed upon it with dazed and swimming vision.
Did he read the words aright, and could it be really, 'Pay E. Le
Breton, Esq., or order, three guineas'? Three guineas! Three guineas!
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