Part 1 out of 2
I have removed spaces that preceded semicolons, exclamation
points, question marks, and closing quotation marks. I have
removed spaces that followed opening quotation marks. I have
converted paragraph formatting and ellipses to PG standard.
In this plain ASCII version, I have converted emphasis and syllable
stress italics to capitals, removed foreign italics, and removed
In "Enoch Soames:"
I added a missing closing quotation mark in the following
phrase: `Ten past two,' he said.
In "Hilary Maltby and Stephen Braxton:"
I changed the opening double quote to a single quote in:
`I wondered what old Mr. Abraham Hayward...
`I knew that if I leaned forward...
SEVEN MEN by Max Beerbohm
When a book about the literature of the eighteen-nineties was
given by Mr. Holbrook Jackson to the world, I looked eagerly in
the index for SOAMES, ENOCH. I had feared he would not be
there. He was not there. But everybody else was. Many
writers whom I had quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly,
lived again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook
Jackson's pages. The book was as thorough as it was brilliantly
written. And thus the omission found by me was an all the
deadlier record of poor Soames' failure to impress himself on
I daresay I am the only person who noticed the omission.
Soames had failed so piteously as all that! Nor is there a
counterpoise in the thought that if he had had some measure of
success he might have passed, like those others, out of my mind,
to return only at the historian's beck. It is true that had his gifts,
such as they were, been acknowledged in his life-time, he would
never have made the bargain I saw him make--that strange
bargain whose results have kept him always in the foreground of
my memory. But it is from those very results that the full
piteousness of him glares out.
Not my compassion, however, impels me to write of him. For
his sake, poor fellow, I should be inclined to keep my pen out of
the ink. It is ill to deride the dead. And how can I write about
Enoch Soames without making him ridiculous? Or rather, how
am I to hush up the horrid fact that he WAS ridiculous? I shall
not be able to do that. Yet, sooner or later, write about him I
must. You will see, in due course, that I have no option. And I
may as well get the thing done now.
In the Summer Term of '93 a bolt from the blue flashed down
on Oxford. It drove deep, it hurtlingly embedded itself in the
soil. Dons and undergraduates stood around, rather pale,
discussing nothing but it. Whence came it, this meteorite?
From Paris. Its name? Will Rothenstein. Its aim? To do a
series of twenty-four portraits in lithograph. These were to be
published from the Bodley Head, London. The matter was
urgent. Already the Warden of A, and the Master of B, and the
Regius Professor of C, had meekly `sat.' Dignified and
doddering old men, who had never consented to sit to any one,
could not withstand this dynamic little stranger. He did not sue:
he invited; he did not invite: he commanded. He was twenty-
one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed more than any
other pair ever seen. He was a wit. He was brimful of ideas.
He knew Whistler. He knew Edmond de Goncourt. He knew
every one in Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris in
Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he had polished off
his selection of dons, he was going to include a few
undergraduates. It was a proud day for me when I--I--was
included. I liked Rothenstein not less than I feared him; and
there arose between us a friendship that has grown ever warmer,
and been more and more valued by me, with every passing year.
At the end of Term he settled in--or rather, meteoritically into--
London. It was to him I owed my first knowledge of that
forever enchanting little world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first
acquaintance with Walter Sickert and other august elders who
dwelt there. It was Rothenstein that took me to see, in
Cambridge Street, Pimlico, a young man whose drawings were
already famous among the few--Aubrey Beardsley, by name.
With Rothenstein I paid my first visit to the Bodley Head. By
him I was inducted into another haunt of intellect and daring,
the domino room of the Cafe Royal.
There, on that October evening--there, in that exuberant vista of
gilding and crimson velvet set amidst all those opposing mirrors
and upholding caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to
the painted and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of presumably
cynical conversation broken into so sharply now and again by
the clatter of dominoes shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep
breath, and `This indeed,' said I to myself, `is life!'
It was the hour before dinner. We drank vermouth. Those who
knew Rothenstein were pointing him out to those who knew him
only by name. Men were constantly coming in through the
swing-doors and wandering slowly up and down in search of
vacant tables, or of tables occupied by friends. One of these
rovers interested me because I was sure he wanted to catch
Rothenstein's eye. He had twice passed our table, with a
hesitating look; but Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on
Puvis de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stooping,
shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and
brownish hair. He had a thin vague beard--or rather, he had a
chin on which a large number of hairs weakly curled and
clustered to cover its retreat. He was an odd-looking person; but
in the 'nineties odd apparitions were more frequent, I think, than
they are now. The young writers of that era--and I was sure this
man was a writer--strove earnestly to be distinct in aspect. This
man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a soft black hat of
clerical kind but of Bohemian intention, and a grey waterproof
cape which, perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be
romantic. I decided that `dim' was the mot juste for him. I had
already essayed to write, and was immensely keen on the mot
juste, that Holy Grail of the period.
The dim man was now again approaching our table, and this
time he made up his mind to pause in front of it. `You don't
remember me,' he said in a toneless voice.
Rothenstein brightly focussed him. `Yes, I do,' he replied after
a moment, with pride rather than effusion--pride in a retentive
memory. `Edwin Soames.'
`Enoch Soames,' said Enoch.
`Enoch Soames,' repeated Rothenstein in a tone implying that it
was enough to have hit on the surname. `We met in Paris two or
three times when you were living there. We met at the Cafe
`And I came to your studio once.'
`Oh yes; I was sorry I was out.'
`But you were in. You showed me some of your paintings, you
know.... I hear you're in Chelsea now.'
I almost wondered that Mr. Soames did not, after this
monosyllable, pass along. He stood patiently there, rather like a
dumb animal, rather like a donkey looking over a gate. A sad
figure, his. It occurred to me that `hungry' was perhaps the mot
juste for him; but--hungry for what? He looked as if he had
little appetite for anything. I was sorry for him; and
Rothenstein, though he had not invited him to Chelsea, did ask
him to sit down and have something to drink.
Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung back the wings of
his cape with a gesture which--had not those wings been
waterproof--might have seemed to hurl defiance at things in
general. And he ordered an absinthe. `Je me tiens toujours
fidele,' he told Rothenstein, `a la sorciere glauque.'
`It is bad for you,' said Rothenstein dryly.
`Nothing is bad for one,' answered Soames. `Dans ce monde il
n'y a ni de bien ni de mal.'
`Nothing good and nothing bad? How do you mean?'
`I explained it all in the preface to "Negations."'
`Yes; I gave you a copy of it.'
`Oh yes, of course. But did you explain--for instance--that there
was no such thing as bad or good grammar?'
`N-no,' said Soames. `Of course in Art there is the good and the
evil. But in Life--no.' He was rolling a cigarette. He had weak
white hands, not well washed, and with finger-tips much stained
by nicotine. `In Life there are illusions of good and evil, but'--
his voice trailed away to a murmur in which the words `vieux
jeu' and `rococo' were faintly audible. I think he felt he was not
doing himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was going to
point out fallacies. Anyhow, he cleared his throat and said
`Parlons d'autre chose.'
It occurs to you that he was a fool? It didn't to me. I was
young, and had not the clarity of judgment that Rothenstein
already had. Soames was quite five or six years older than
either of us. Also, he had written a book.
It was wonderful to have written a book.
If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have revered
Soames. Even as it was, I respected him. And I was very near
indeed to reverence when he said he had another book coming
out soon. I asked if I might ask what kind of book it was to be.
`My poems,' he answered. Rothenstein asked if this was to be
the title of the book. The poet meditated on this suggestion, but
said he rather thought of giving the book no title at all. `If a
book is good in itself--' he murmured, waving his cigarette.
Rothenstein objected that absence of title might be bad for the
sale of a book. `If,' he urged, `I went into a bookseller's and
said simply "Have you got?" or "Have you a copy of?" how
would they know what I wanted?'
`Oh, of course I should have my name on the cover,' Soames
answered earnestly. `And I rather want,' he added, looking hard
at Rothenstein, `to have a drawing of myself as frontispiece.'
Rothenstein admitted that this was a capital idea, and mentioned
that he was going into the country and would be there for some
time. He then looked at his watch, exclaimed at the hour, paid
the waiter, and went away with me to dinner. Soames remained
at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch.
`Why were you so determined not to draw him?' I asked.
`Draw him? Him? How can one draw a man who doesn't
`He is dim,' I admitted. But my mot juste fell flat. Rothenstein
repeated that Soames was non-existent.
Still, Soames had written a book. I asked if Rothenstein had
read `Negations.' He said he had looked into it, `but,' he added
crisply, `I don't profess to know anything about writing.' A
reservation very characteristic of the period! Painters would not
then allow that any one outside their own order had a right to
any opinion about painting. This law (graven on the tablets
brought down by Whistler from the summit of Fujiyama)
imposed certain limitations. If other arts than painting were not
utterly unintelligible to all but the men who practised them, the
law tottered--the Monroe Doctrine, as it were, did not hold
good. Therefore no painter would offer an opinion of a book
without warning you at any rate that his opinion was worthless.
No one is a better judge of literature than Rothenstein; but it
wouldn't have done to tell him so in those days; and I knew that
I must form an unaided judgment on `Negations.'
Not to buy a book of which I had met the author face to face
would have been for me in those days an impossible act of self-
denial. When I returned to Oxford for the Christmas Term I had
duly secured `Negations.' I used to keep it lying carelessly on
the table in my room, and whenever a friend took it up and
asked what it was about I would say `Oh, it's rather a
remarkable book. It's by a man whom I know.' Just `what it
was about' I never was able to say. Head or tail was just what I
hadn't made of that slim green volume. I found in the preface
no clue to the exiguous labyrinth of contents, and in that
labyrinth nothing to explain the preface.
`Lean near to life. Lean very near--nearer.
`Life is web, and therein nor warp nor woof is, but web only.
`It is for this I am Catholick in church and in thought, yet do let
swift Mood weave there what the shuttle of Mood wills.'
These were the opening phrases of the preface, but those which
followed were less easy to understand. Then came `Stark: A
Conte,' about a midinette who, so far as I could gather,
murdered, or was about to murder, a mannequin. It was rather
like a story by Catulle Mendes in which the translator had either
skipped or cut out every alternate sentence. Next, a dialogue
between Pan and St. Ursula--lacking, I felt, in `snap.' Next,
some aphorisms (entitled `Aphorismata' [spelled in Greek]).
Throughout, in fact, there was a great variety of form; and the
forms had evidently been wrought with much care. It was rather
the substance that eluded me. Was there, I wondered, any
substance at all? It did now occur to me: suppose Enoch
Soames was a fool! Up cropped a rival hypothesis: suppose _I_
was! I inclined to give Soames the benefit of the doubt. I had
read `L'Apres-midi d'un Faune' without extracting a glimmer of
meaning. Yet Mallarme--of course--was a Master. How was I
to know that Soames wasn't another? There was a sort of music
in his prose, not indeed arresting, but perhaps, I thought,
haunting, and laden perhaps with meanings as deep as
Mallarme's own. I awaited his poems with an open mind.
And I looked forward to them with positive impatience after I
had had a second meeting with him. This was on an evening in
January. Going into the aforesaid domino room, I passed a table
at which sat a pale man with an open book before him. He
looked from his book to me, and I looked back over my
shoulder with a vague sense that I ought to have recognised him.
I returned to pay my respects. After exchanging a few words, I
said with a glance to the open book, `I see I am interrupting
you,' and was about to pass on, but `I prefer,' Soames replied in
his toneless voice, `to be interrupted,' and I obeyed his gesture
that I should sit down.
I asked him if he often read here. `Yes; things of this kind I
read here,' he answered, indicating the title of his book--`The
Poems of Shelley.'
`Anything that you really'--and I was going to say `admire?'
But I cautiously left my sentence unfinished, and was glad that I
had done so, for he said, with unwonted emphasis, `Anything
I had read little of Shelley, but `Of course,' I murmured, `he's
`I should have thought evenness was just what was wrong with
him. A deadly evenness. That's why I read him here. The
noise of this place breaks the rhythm. He's tolerable here.'
Soames took up the book and glanced through the pages. He
laughed. Soames' laugh was a short, single and mirthless sound
from the throat, unaccompanied by any movement of the face or
brightening of the eyes. `What a period!' he uttered, laying the
book down. And `What a country!' he added.
I asked rather nervously if he didn't think Keats had more or
less held his own against the drawbacks of time and place. He
admitted that there were `passages in Keats,' but did not specify
them. Of `the older men,' as he called them, he seemed to like
only Milton. `Milton,' he said, `wasn't sentimental.' Also,
`Milton had a dark insight.' And again, `I can always read
Milton in the reading-room.'
`Of the British Museum. I go there every day.'
`You do? I've only been there once. I'm afraid I found it rather
a depressing place. It--it seemed to sap one's vitality.'
`It does. That's why I go there. The lower one's vitality, the
more sensitive one is to great art. I live near the Museum. I
have rooms in Dyott Street.'
`And you go round to the reading-room to read Milton?'
`Usually Milton.' He looked at me. `It was Milton,' he
certificatively added, `who converted me to Diabolism.'
`Diabolism? Oh yes? Really?' said I, with that vague
discomfort and that intense desire to be polite which one feels
when a man speaks of his own religion. `You--worship the
Soames shook his head. `It's not exactly worship,' he qualified,
sipping his absinthe. `It's more a matter of trusting and
`Ah, yes.... But I had rather gathered from the preface to
"Negations" that you were a--a Catholic.'
`Je l'etais a cette epoque. Perhaps I still am. Yes, I'm a
This profession he made in an almost cursory tone. I could see
that what was upmost in his mind was the fact that I had read
`Negations.' His pale eyes had for the first time gleamed. I felt
as one who is about to be examined, viva voce, on the very
subject in which he is shakiest. I hastily asked him how soon
his poems were to be published. `Next week,' he told me.
`And are they to be published without a title?'
`No. I found a title, at last. But I shan't tell you what it is,' as
though I had been so impertinent as to inquire. `I am not sure
that it wholly satisfies me. But it is the best I can find. It
suggests something of the quality of the poems.... Strange
growths, natural and wild, yet exquisite,' he added, `and many-
hued, and full of poisons.'
I asked him what he thought of Baudelaire. He uttered the snort
that was his laugh, and `Baudelaire,' he said, `was a bourgeois
malgre lui.' France had had only one poet: Villon; `and two-
thirds of Villon were sheer journalism.' Verlaine was `an
epicier malgre lui.' Altogether, rather to my surprise, he rated
French literature lower than English. There were `passages' in
Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. But `I,' he summed up, `owe nothing to
France.' He nodded at me. `You'll see,' he predicted.
I did not, when the time came, quite see that. I thought the
author of `Fungoids' did--unconsciously, of course--owe
something to the young Parisian decadents, or to the young
English ones who owed something to THEM. I still think so.
The little book--bought by me in Oxford--lies before me as I
write. Its pale grey buckram cover and silver lettering have not
worn well. Nor have its contents. Through these, with a
melancholy interest, I have again been looking. They are not
much. But at the time of their publication I had a vague
suspicion that they MIGHT be. I suppose it is my capacity for
faith, not poor Soames' work, that is weaker than it once was....
TO A YOUNG WOMAN.
Thou art, who hast not been!
Pale tunes irresolute
And traceries of old sounds
Blown from a rotted flute
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
Nor not strange forms and epicene
Lie bleeding in the dust,
Being wounded with wounds.
For this it is
That in thy counterpart
Of age-long mockeries
Thou hast not been nor art!
There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as between the first
and last lines of this. I tried, with bent brows, to resolve the
discord. But I did not take my failure as wholly incompatible
with a meaning in Soames' mind. Might it not rather indicate
the depth of his meaning? As for the craftsmanship, `rouged
with rust' seemed to me a fine stroke, and `nor not' instead of
`and' had a curious felicity. I wondered who the Young Woman
was, and what she had made of it all. I sadly suspect that
Soames could not have made more of it than she. Yet, even
now, if one doesn't try to make any sense at all of the poem, and
reads it just for the sound, there is a certain grace of cadence.
Soames was an artist--in so far as he was anything, poor fellow!
It seemed to me, when first I read `Fungoids,' that, oddly
enough, the Diabolistic side of him was the best. Diabolism
seemed to be a cheerful, even a wholesome, influence in his life.
Round and round the shutter'd Square
I stroll'd with the Devil's arm in mine.
No sound but the scrape of his hoofs was there
And the ring of his laughter and mine.
We had drunk black wine.
I scream'd, `I will race you, Master!'
`What matter,' he shriek'd, `to-night
Which of us runs the faster?
There is nothing to fear to-night
In the foul moon's light!'
Then I look'd him in the eyes,
And I laugh'd full shrill at the lie he told
And the gnawing fear he would fain disguise.
It was true, what I'd time and again been told:
He was old--old.
There was, I felt, quite a swing about that first stanza--a joyous
and rollicking note of comradeship. The second was slightly
hysterical perhaps. But I liked the third: it was so bracingly
unorthodox, even according to the tenets of Soames' peculiar
sect in the faith. Not much `trusting and encouraging' here!
Soames triumphantly exposing the Devil as a liar, and laughing
`full shrill,' cut a quite heartening figure, I thought--then! Now,
in the light of what befell, none of his poems depresses me so
much as `Nocturne.'
I looked out for what the metropolitan reviewers would have to
say. They seemed to fall into two classes: those who had little
to say and those who had nothing. The second class was the
larger, and the words of the first were cold; insomuch that
Strikes a note of modernity throughout.... These tripping
was the only lure offered in advertisements by Soames'
publisher. I had hopes that when next I met the poet I could
congratulate him on having made a stir; for I fancied he was not
so sure of his intrinsic greatness as he seemed. I was but able to
say, rather coarsely, when next I did see him, that I hoped
`Fungoids' was `selling splendidly.' He looked at me across his
glass of absinthe and asked if I had bought a copy. His
publisher had told him that three had been sold. I laughed, as at
`You don't suppose I CARE, do you?' he said, with something
like a snarl. I disclaimed the notion. He added that he was not a
tradesman. I said mildly that I wasn't, either, and murmured
that an artist who gave truly new and great things to the world
had always to wait long for recognition. He said he cared not a
sou for recognition. I agreed that the act of creation was its own
His moroseness might have alienated me if I had regarded
myself as a nobody. But ah! hadn't both John Lane and Aubrey
Beardsley suggested that I should write an essay for the great
new venture that was afoot--`The Yellow Book'? And hadn't
Henry Harland, as editor, accepted my essay? And wasn't it to
be in the very first number? At Oxford I was still in statu
pupillari. In London I regarded myself as very much indeed a
graduate now--one whom no Soames could ruffle. Partly to
show off, partly in sheer good-will, I told Soames he ought to
contribute to `The Yellow Book.' He uttered from the throat a
sound of scorn for that publication.
Nevertheless, I did, a day or two later, tentatively ask Harland if
he knew anything of the work of a man called Enoch Soames.
Harland paused in the midst of his characteristic stride around
the room, threw up his hands towards the ceiling, and groaned
aloud: he had often met `that absurd creature' in Paris, and this
very morning had received some poems in manuscript from him.
`Has he NO talent?' I asked.
`He has an income. He's all right.' Harland was the most
joyous of men and most generous of critics, and he hated to talk
of anything about which he couldn't be enthusiastic. So I
dropped the subject of Soames. The news that Soames had an
income did take the edge off solicitude. I learned afterwards
that he was the son of an unsuccessful and deceased bookseller
in Preston, but had inherited an annuity of 300 pounds from a
married aunt, and had no surviving relatives of any kind.
Materially, then, he was `all right.' But there was still a
spiritual pathos about him, sharpened for me now by the
possibility that even the praises of The Preston Telegraph might
not have been forthcoming had he not been the son of a Preston
man. He had a sort of weak doggedness which I could not but
admire. Neither he nor his work received the slightest
encouragement; but he persisted in behaving as a personage:
always he kept his dingy little flag flying. Wherever
congregated the jeunes feroces of the arts, in whatever Soho
restaurant they had just discovered, in whatever music-hall they
were most frequenting, there was Soames in the midst of them,
or rather on the fringe of them, a dim but inevitable figure. He
never sought to propitiate his fellow-writers, never bated a jot of
his arrogance about his own work or of his contempt for theirs.
To the painters he was respectful, even humble; but for the poets
and prosaists of `The Yellow Book,' and later of `The Savoy,'
he had never a word but of scorn. He wasn't resented. It didn't
occur to anybody that he or his Catholic Diabolism mattered.
When, in the autumn of '96, he brought out (at his own expense,
this time) a third book, his last book, nobody said a word for or
against it. I meant, but forgot, to buy it. I never saw it, and am
ashamed to say I don't even remember what it was called. But I
did, at the time of its publication, say to Rothenstein that I
thought poor old Soames was really a rather tragic figure, and
that I believed he would literally die for want of recognition.
Rothenstein scoffed. He said I was trying to get credit for a
kind heart which I didn't possess; and perhaps this was so. But
at the private view of the New English Art Club, a few weeks
later, I beheld a pastel portrait of `Enoch Soames, Esq.' It was
very like him, and very like Rothenstein to have done it.
Soames was standing near it, in his soft hat and his waterproof
cape, all through the afternoon. Anybody who knew him would
have recognised the portrait at a glance, but nobody who didn't
know him would have recognised the portrait from its
bystander: it `existed' so much more than he; it was bound to.
Also, it had not that expression of faint happiness which on this
day was discernible, yes, in Soames' countenance. Fame had
breathed on him. Twice again in the course of the month I went
to the New English, and on both occasions Soames himself was
on view there. Looking back, I regard the close of that
exhibition as having been virtually the close of his career. He
had felt the breath of Fame against his cheek--so late, for such a
little while; and at its withdrawal he gave in, gave up, gave out.
He, who had never looked strong or well, looked ghastly now--a
shadow of the shade he had once been. He still frequented the
domino room, but, having lost all wish to excite curiosity, he no
longer read books there. `You read only at the Museum now?'
asked I, with attempted cheerfulness. He said he never went
there now. `No absinthe there,' he muttered. It was the sort of
thing that in the old days he would have said for effect; but it
carried conviction now. Absinthe, erst but a point in the
`personality' he had striven so hard to build up, was solace and
necessity now. He no longer called it `la sorciere glauque.' He
had shed away all his French phrases. He had become a plain,
unvarnished, Preston man.
Failure, if it be a plain, unvarnished, complete failure, and even
though it be a squalid failure, has always a certain dignity. I
avoided Soames because he made me feel rather vulgar. John
Lane had published, by this time, two little books of mine, and
they had had a pleasant little success of esteem. I was a--slight
but definite--`personality.' Frank Harris had engaged me to
kick up my heels in The Saturday Review, Alfred Harmsworth
was letting me do likewise in The Daily Mail. I was just what
Soames wasn't. And he shamed my gloss. Had I known that he
really and firmly believed in the greatness of what he as an artist
had achieved, I might not have shunned him. No man who
hasn't lost his vanity can be held to have altogether failed.
Soames' dignity was an illusion of mine. One day in the first
week of June, 1897, that illusion went. But on the evening of
that day Soames went too.
I had been out most of the morning, and, as it was too late to
reach home in time for luncheon, I sought `the Vingtieme.' This
little place--Restaurant du Vingtieme Siecle, to give it its full
title--had been discovered in '96 by the poets and prosaists, but
had now been more or less abandoned in favour of some later
find. I don't think it lived long enough to justify its name; but at
that time there it still was, in Greek Street, a few doors from
Soho Square, and almost opposite to that house where, in the
first years of the century, a little girl, and with her a boy named
De Quincey, made nightly encampment in darkness and hunger
among dust and rats and old legal parchments. The Vingtieme
was but a small whitewashed room, leading out into the street at
one end and into a kitchen at the other. The proprietor and cook
was a Frenchman, known to us as Monsieur Vingtieme; the
waiters were his two daughters, Rose and Berthe; and the food,
according to faith, was good. The tables were so narrow, and
were set so close together, that there was space for twelve of
them, six jutting from either wall.
Only the two nearest to the door, as I went in, were occupied.
On one side sat a tall, flashy, rather Mephistophelian man whom
I had seen from time to time in the domino room and elsewhere.
On the other side sat Soames. They made a queer contrast in
that sunlit room--Soames sitting haggard in that hat and cape
which nowhere at any season had I seen him doff, and this
other, this keenly vital man, at sight of whom I more than ever
wondered whether he were a diamond merchant, a conjurer, or
the head of a private detective agency. I was sure Soames
didn't want my company; but I asked, as it would have seemed
brutal not to, whether I might join him, and took the chair
opposite to his. He was smoking a cigarette, with an untasted
salmi of something on his plate and a half-empty bottle of
Sauterne before him; and he was quite silent. I said that the
preparations for the Jubilee made London impossible. (I rather
liked them, really.) I professed a wish to go right away till the
whole thing was over. In vain did I attune myself to his gloom.
He seemed not to hear me nor even to see me. I felt that his
behaviour made me ridiculous in the eyes of the other man. The
gangway between the two rows of tables at the Vingtieme was
hardly more than two feet wide (Rose and Berthe, in their
ministrations, had always to edge past each other, quarrelling in
whispers as they did so), and any one at the table abreast of
yours was practically at yours. I thought our neighbour was
amused at my failure to interest Soames, and so, as I could not
explain to him that my insistence was merely charitable, I
became silent. Without turning my head, I had him well within
my range of vision. I hoped I looked less vulgar than he in
contrast with Soames. I was sure he was not an Englishman, but
what WAS his nationality? Though his jet-black hair was en
brosse, I did not think he was French. To Berthe, who waited
on him, he spoke French fluently, but with a hardly native idiom
and accent. I gathered that this was his first visit to the
Vingtieme; but Berthe was off-hand in her manner to him: he
had not made a good impression. His eyes were handsome, but-
-like the Vingtieme's tables--too narrow and set too close
together. His nose was predatory, and the points of his
moustache, waxed up beyond his nostrils, gave a fixity to his
smile. Decidedly, he was sinister. And my sense of discomfort
in his presence was intensified by the scarlet waistcoat which
tightly, and so unseasonably in June, sheathed his ample chest.
This waistcoat wasn't wrong merely because of the heat, either.
It was somehow all wrong in itself. It wouldn't have done on
Christmas morning. It would have struck a jarring note at the
first night of `Hernani.' I was trying to account for its
wrongness when Soames suddenly and strangely broke silence.
`A hundred years hence!' he murmured, as in a trance.
`We shall not be here!' I briskly but fatuously added.
`We shall not be here. No,' he droned, `but the Museum will
still be just where it is. And the reading-room, just where it is.
And people will be able to go and read there.' He inhaled
sharply, and a spasm as of actual pain contorted his features.
I wondered what train of thought poor Soames had been
following. He did not enlighten me when he said, after a long
pause, `You think I haven't minded.'
`Minded what, Soames?'
`FAILURE?' I said heartily. `Failure?' I repeated vaguely.
`Neglect--yes, perhaps; but that's quite another matter. Of
course you haven't been--appreciated. But what then? Any
artist who--who gives--' What I wanted to say was, `Any artist
who gives truly new and great things to the world has always to
wait long for recognition'; but the flattery would not out: in the
face of his misery, a misery so genuine and so unmasked, my
lips would not say the words.
And then--he said them for me. I flushed. `That's what you
were going to say, isn't it?' he asked.
`How did you know?'
`It's what you said to me three years ago, when "Fungoids" was
published.' I flushed the more. I need not have done so at all,
for `It's the only important thing I ever heard you say,' he
continued. `And I've never forgotten it. It's a true thing. It's a
horrible truth. But--d'you remember what I answered? I said "I
don't care a sou for recognition." And you believed me.
You've gone on believing I'm above that sort of thing. You're
shallow. What should YOU know of the feelings of a man like
me? You imagine that a great artist's faith in himself and in the
verdict of posterity is enough to keep him happy.... You've
never guessed at the bitterness and loneliness, the'--his voice
broke; but presently he resumed, speaking with a force that I
had never known in him. `Posterity! What use is it to ME? A
dead man doesn't know that people are visiting his grave--
visiting his birthplace--putting up tablets to him--unveiling
statues of him. A dead man can't read the books that are written
about him. A hundred years hence! Think of it! If I could
come back to life then--just for a few hours--and go to the
reading-room, and READ! Or better still: if I could be
projected, now, at this moment, into that future, into that
reading-room, just for this one afternoon! I'd sell myself body
and soul to the devil, for that! Think of the pages and pages in
the catalogue: "SOAMES, ENOCH" endlessly--endless editions,
commentaries, prolegomena, biographies'--but here he was
interrupted by a sudden loud creak of the chair at the next table.
Our neighbour had half risen from his place. He was leaning
towards us, apologetically intrusive.
`Excuse--permit me,' he said softly. `I have been unable not to
hear. Might I take a liberty? In this little restaurant-sans-
facon'--he spread wide his hands--`might I, as the phrase is, "cut
I could but signify our acquiescence. Berthe had appeared at the
kitchen door, thinking the stranger wanted his bill. He waved
her away with his cigar, and in another moment had seated
himself beside me, commanding a full view of Soames.
`Though not an Englishman,' he explained, `I know my London
well, Mr. Soames. Your name and fame--Mr. Beerbohm's too--
very known to me. Your point is: who am _I_?' He glanced
quickly over his shoulder, and in a lowered voice said `I am the
I couldn't help it: I laughed. I tried not to, I knew there was
nothing to laugh at, my rudeness shamed me, but--I laughed
with increasing volume. The Devil's quiet dignity, the surprise
and disgust of his raised eyebrows, did but the more dissolve
me. I rocked to and fro, I lay back aching. I behaved
`I am a gentleman, and,' he said with intense emphasis, `I
thought I was in the company of GENTLEMEN.'
`Don't!' I gasped faintly. `Oh, don't!'
`Curious, nicht wahr?' I heard him say to Soames. `There is a
type of person to whom the very mention of my name is--oh-so-
awfully-funny! In your theatres the dullest comedien needs
only to say "The Devil!" and right away they give him "the loud
laugh that speaks the vacant mind." Is it not so?'
I had now just breath enough to offer my apologies. He
accepted them, but coldly, and re-addressed himself to Soames.
`I am a man of business,' he said, `and always I would put
things through "right now," as they say in the States. You are a
poet. Les affaires--you detest them. So be it. But with me you
will deal, eh? What you have said just now gives me furiously
Soames had not moved, except to light a fresh cigarette. He sat
crouched forward, with his elbows squared on the table, and his
head just above the level of his hands, staring up at the Devil.
`Go on,' he nodded. I had no remnant of laughter in me now.
`It will be the more pleasant, our little deal,' the Devil went on,
`because you are--I mistake not?--a Diabolist.'
`A Catholic Diabolist,' said Soames.
The Devil accepted the reservation genially. `You wish,' he
resumed, `to visit now--this afternoon as-ever-is--the reading-
room of the British Museum, yes? but of a hundred years hence,
yes? Parfaitement. Time--an illusion. Past and future--they are
as ever-present as the present, or at any rate only what you call
"just-round-the-corner." I switch you on to any date. I project
you--pouf! You wish to be in the reading-room just as it will be
on the afternoon of June 3, 1997? You wish to find yourself
standing in that room, just past the swing-doors, this very
minute, yes? and to stay there till closing time? Am I right?'
The Devil looked at his watch. `Ten past two,' he said.
`Closing time in summer same then as now: seven o'clock. That
will give you almost five hours. At seven o'clock--pouf!--you
find yourself again here, sitting at this table. I am dining to-
night dans le monde--dans le higlif. That concludes my present
visit to your great city. I come and fetch you here, Mr. Soames,
on my way home.'
`Home?' I echoed.
`Be it never so humble!' said the Devil lightly.
`All right,' said Soames.
`Soames!' I entreated. But my friend moved not a muscle.
The Devil had made as though to stretch forth his hand across
the table and touch Soames' forearm; but he paused in his
`A hundred years hence, as now,' he smiled, `no smoking
allowed in the reading-room. You would better therefore----'
Soames removed the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it
into his glass of Sauterne.
`Soames!' again I cried. `Can't you'--but the Devil had now
stretched forth his hand across the table. He brought it slowly
down on--the tablecloth. Soames' chair was empty. His
cigarette floated sodden in his wine-glass. There was no other
trace of him.
For a few moments the Devil let his hand rest where it lay,
gazing at me out of the corners of his eyes, vulgarly triumphant.
A shudder shook me. With an effort I controlled myself and
rose from my chair. `Very clever,' I said condescendingly.
`But--"The Time Machine" is a delightful book, don't you
think? So entirely original!'
`You are pleased to sneer,' said the Devil, who had also risen,
`but it is one thing to write about an impossible machine; it is a
quite other thing to be a Supernatural Power.' All the same, I
Berthe had come forth at the sound of our rising. I explained to
her that Mr. Soames had been called away, and that both he and
I would be dining here. It was not until I was out in the open air
that I began to feel giddy. I have but the haziest recollection of
what I did, where I wandered, in the glaring sunshine of that
endless afternoon. I remember the sound of carpenters'
hammers all along Piccadilly, and the bare chaotic look of the
half-erected `stands.' Was it in the Green Park, or in
Kensington Gardens, or WHERE was it that I sat on a chair
beneath a tree, trying to read an evening paper? There was a
phrase in the leading article that went on repeating itself in my
fagged mind--`Little is hidden from this august Lady full of the
garnered wisdom of sixty years of Sovereignty.' I remember
wildly conceiving a letter (to reach Windsor by express
messenger told to await answer):
`MADAM,--Well knowing that your Majesty is full of the
garnered wisdom of sixty years of Sovereignty, I venture to ask
your advice in the following delicate matter. Mr. Enoch
Soames, whose poems you may or may not know,'....
Was there NO way of helping him--saving him? A bargain was
a bargain, and I was the last man to aid or abet any one in
wriggling out of a reasonable obligation. I wouldn't have lifted
a little finger to save Faust. But poor Soames!--doomed to pay
without respite an eternal price for nothing but a fruitless search
and a bitter disillusioning....
Odd and uncanny it seemed to me that he, Soames, in the flesh,
in the waterproof cape, was at this moment living in the last
decade of the next century, poring over books not yet written,
and seeing and seen by men not yet born. Uncannier and odder
still, that to-night and evermore he would be in Hell. Assuredly,
truth was stranger than fiction.
Endless that afternoon was. Almost I wished I had gone with
Soames--not indeed to stay in the reading-room, but to sally
forth for a brisk sight-seeing walk around a new London. I
wandered restlessly out of the Park I had sat in. Vainly I tried to
imagine myself an ardent tourist from the eighteenth century.
Intolerable was the strain of the slow-passing and empty
minutes. Long before seven o'clock I was back at the
I sat there just where I had sat for luncheon. Air came in
listlessly through the open door behind me. Now and again
Rose or Berthe appeared for a moment. I had told them I would
not order any dinner till Mr. Soames came. A hurdy-gurdy
began to play, abruptly drowning the noise of a quarrel between
some Frenchmen further up the street. Whenever the tune was
changed I heard the quarrel still raging. I had bought another
evening paper on my way. I unfolded it. My eyes gazed ever
away from it to the clock over the kitchen door....
Five minutes, now, to the hour! I remembered that clocks in
restaurants are kept five minutes fast. I concentrated my eyes
on the paper. I vowed I would not look away from it again. I
held it upright, at its full width, close to my face, so that I had
no view of anything but it.... Rather a tremulous sheet? Only
because of the draught, I told myself.
My arms gradually became stiff; they ached; but I could not
drop them--now. I had a suspicion, I had a certainty. Well,
what then?... What else had I come for? Yet I held tight that
barrier of newspaper. Only the sound of Berthe's brisk footstep
from the kitchen enabled me, forced me, to drop it, and to utter:
`What shall we have to eat, Soames?'
`Il est souffrant, ce pauvre Monsieur Soames?' asked Berthe.
`He's only--tired.' I asked her to get some wine--Burgundy--
and whatever food might be ready. Soames sat crouched
forward against the table, exactly as when last I had seen him.
It was as though he had never moved--he who had moved so
unimaginably far. Once or twice in the afternoon it had for an
instant occurred to me that perhaps his journey was not to be
fruitless--that perhaps we had all been wrong in our estimate of
the works of Enoch Soames. That we had been horribly right
was horribly clear from the look of him. But `Don't be
discouraged,' I falteringly said. `Perhaps it's only that you--
didn't leave enough time. Two, three centuries hence, perhaps--'
`Yes,' his voice came. `I've thought of that.'
`And now--now for the more immediate future! Where are you
going to hide? How would it be if you caught the Paris express
from Charing Cross? Almost an hour to spare. Don't go on to
Paris. Stop at Calais. Live in Calais. He'd never think of
looking for you in Calais.'
`It's like my luck,' he said, `to spend my last hours on earth
with an ass.' But I was not offended. `And a treacherous ass,'
he strangely added, tossing across to me a crumpled bit of paper
which he had been holding in his hand. I glanced at the writing
on it--some sort of gibberish, apparently. I laid it impatiently
`Come, Soames! pull yourself together! This isn't a mere matter
of life and death. It's a question of eternal torment, mind you!
You don't mean to say you're going to wait limply here till the
Devil comes to fetch you?'
`I can't do anything else. I've no choice.'
`Come! This is "trusting and encouraging" with a vengeance!
This is Diabolism run mad!' I filled his glass with wine.
`Surely, now that you've SEEN the brute--'
`It's no good abusing him.'
`You must admit there's nothing Miltonic about him, Soames.'
`I don't say he's not rather different from what I expected.'
`He's a vulgarian, he's a swell-mobsman, he's the sort of man
who hangs about the corridors of trains going to the Riviera and
steals ladies' jewel-cases. Imagine eternal torment presided
over by HIM!'
`You don't suppose I look forward to it, do you?'
`Then why not slip quietly out of the way?'
Again and again I filled his glass, and always, mechanically, he
emptied it; but the wine kindled no spark of enterprise in him.
He did not eat, and I myself ate hardly at all. I did not in my
heart believe that any dash for freedom could save him. The
chase would be swift, the capture certain. But better anything
than this passive, meek, miserable waiting. I told Soames that
for the honour of the human race he ought to make some show
of resistance. He asked what the human race had ever done for
him. `Besides,' he said, `can't you understand that I'm in his
power? You saw him touch me, didn't you? There's an end of
it. I've no will. I'm sealed.'
I made a gesture of despair. He went on repeating the word
`sealed.' I began to realise that the wine had clouded his brain.
No wonder! Foodless he had gone into futurity, foodless he still
was. I urged him to eat at any rate some bread. It was
maddening to think that he, who had so much to tell, might tell
nothing. `How was it all,' I asked, `yonder? Come! Tell me
`They'd make first-rate "copy," wouldn't they?'
`I'm awfully sorry for you, Soames, and I make all possible
allowances; but what earthly right have you to insinuate that I
should make "copy," as you call it, out of you?'
The poor fellow pressed his hands to his forehead. `I don't
know,' he said. `I had some reason, I know.... I'll try to
`That's right. Try to remember everything. Eat a little more
bread. What did the reading-room look like?'
`Much as usual,' he at length muttered.
`Many people there?'
`Usual sort of number.'
`What did they look like?'
Soames tried to visualise them. `They all,' he presently
remembered, `looked very like one another.'
My mind took a fearsome leap. `All dressed in Jaeger?'
`Yes. I think so. Greyish-yellowish stuff.'
`A sort of uniform?' He nodded. `With a number on it,
perhaps?--a number on a large disc of metal sewn on to the left
sleeve? DKF 78,910--that sort of thing?' It was even so. `And
all of them--men and women alike--looking very well-cared-
for? very Utopian? and smelling rather strongly of carbolic? and
all of them quite hairless?' I was right every time. Soames was
only not sure whether the men and women were hairless or
shorn. `I hadn't time to look at them very closely,' he
`No, of course not. But----'
`They stared at ME, I can tell you. I attracted a great deal of
attention.' At last he had done that! `I think I rather scared
them. They moved away whenever I came near. They followed
me about at a distance, wherever I went. The men at the round
desk in the middle seemed to have a sort of panic whenever I
went to make inquiries.'
`What did you do when you arrived?'
Well, he had gone straight to the catalogue, of course--to the S
volumes, and had stood long before SN--SOF, unable to take
this volume out of the shelf, because his heart was beating so....
At first, he said, he wasn't disappointed--he only thought there
was some new arrangement. He went to the middle desk and
asked where the catalogue of TWENTIETH-century books was
kept. He gathered that there was still only one catalogue. Again
he looked up his name, stared at the three little pasted slips he
had known so well. Then he went and sat down for a long
`And then,' he droned, `I looked up the "Dictionary of National
Biography" and some encyclopedias.... I went back to the
middle desk and asked what was the best modern book on late
nineteenth-century literature. They told me Mr. T. K. Nupton's
book was considered the best. I looked it up in the catalogue
and filled in a form for it. It was brought to me. My name
wasn't in the index, but-- Yes!' he said with a sudden change of
tone. `That's what I'd forgotten. Where's that bit of paper?
Give it me back.'
I, too, had forgotten that cryptic screed. I found it fallen on the
floor, and handed it to him.
He smoothed it out, nodding and smiling at me disagreeably. `I
found myself glancing through Nupton's book,' he resumed.
`Not very easy reading. Some sort of phonetic spelling.... All
the modern books I saw were phonetic.'
`Then I don't want to hear any more, Soames, please.'
`The proper names seemed all to be spelt in the old way. But
for that, I mightn't have noticed my own name.'
`Your own name? Really? Soames, I'm VERY glad.'
`I thought I should find you waiting here to-night. So I took the
trouble to copy out the passage. Read it.'
I snatched the paper. Soames' handwriting was
characteristically dim. It, and the noisome spelling, and my
excitement, made me all the slower to grasp what T. K. Nupton
was driving at.
The document lies before me at this moment. Strange that the
words I here copy out for you were copied out for me by poor
Soames just seventy-eight years hence....
From p. 234 of `Inglish Littracher 1890-1900' bi T. K. Nupton,
publishd bi th Stait, 1992:
`Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimd Max Beerbohm, hoo woz
stil alive in th twentieth senchri, rote a stauri in wich e pautraid
an immajnari karrakter kauld "Enoch Soames"--a thurd-rait poit
hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a bargin with th
Devvl in auder ter no wot posterriti thinx ov im! It iz a sumwot
labud sattire but not without vallu az showing hou seriusli the
yung men ov th aiteen-ninetiz took themselvz. Nou that the
littreri profeshn haz bin auganized az a departmnt of publik
servis, our riters hav found their levvl an hav lernt ter doo their
duti without thort ov th morro. "Th laibrer iz werthi ov hiz
hire," an that iz aul. Thank hevvn we hav no Enoch Soameses
amung us to-dai!'
I found that by murmuring the words aloud (a device which I
commend to my reader) I was able to master them, little by
little. The clearer they became, the greater was my
bewilderment, my distress and horror. The whole thing was a
nightmare. Afar, the great grisly background of what was in
store for the poor dear art of letters; here, at the table, fixing on
me a gaze that made me hot all over, the poor fellow whom--
whom evidently...but no: whatever down-grade my character
might take in coming years, I should never be such a brute as
Again I examined the screed. `Immajnari'--but here Soames
was, no more imaginary, alas! than I. And `labud'--what on
earth was that? (To this day, I have never made out that word.)
`It's all very--baffling,' I at length stammered.
Soames said nothing, but cruelly did not cease to look at me.
`Are you sure,' I temporised, `quite sure you copied the thing
`Well, then it's this wretched Nupton who must have made--
must be going to make--some idiotic mistake.... Look here,
Soames! you know me better than to suppose that I.... After all,
the name "Max Beerbohm" is not at all an uncommon one, and
there must be several Enoch Soameses running around--or
rather, "Enoch Soames" is a name that might occur to any one
writing a story. And I don't write stories: I'm an essayist, an
observer, a recorder.... I admit that it's an extraordinary
coincidence. But you must see----'
`I see the whole thing,' said Soames quietly. And he added,
with a touch of his old manner, but with more dignity than I had
ever known in him, `Parlons d'autre chose.'
I accepted that suggestion very promptly. I returned straight to
the more immediate future. I spent most of the long evening in
renewed appeals to Soames to slip away and seek refuge
somewhere. I remember saying at last that if indeed I was
destined to write about him, the supposed `stauri' had better
have at least a happy ending. Soames repeated those last three
words in a tone of intense scorn. `In Life and in Art,' he said,
`all that matters is an INEVITABLE ending.'
`But,' I urged, more hopefully than I felt, `an ending that can be
avoided ISN'T inevitable.'
`You aren't an artist,' he rasped. `And you're so hopelessly not
an artist that, so far from being able to imagine a thing and make
it seem true, you're going to make even a true thing seem as if
you'd made it up. You're a miserable bungler. And it's like my
I protested that the miserable bungler was not I--was not going
to be I--but T. K. Nupton; and we had a rather heated argument,
in the thick of which it suddenly seemed to me that Soames saw
he was in the wrong: he had quite physically cowered. But I
wondered why--and now I guessed with a cold throb just why--
he stared so, past me. The bringer of that `inevitable ending'
filled the doorway.
I managed to turn in my chair and to say, not without a
semblance of lightness, `Aha, come in!' Dread was indeed
rather blunted in me by his looking so absurdly like a villain in a
melodrama. The sheen of his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the
repeated twists he was giving to his moustache, and most of all
the magnificence of his sneer, gave token that he was there only
to be foiled.
He was at our table in a stride. `I am sorry,' he sneered
witheringly, `to break up your pleasant party, but--'
`You don't: you complete it,' I assured him. `Mr. Soames and I
want to have a little talk with you. Won't you sit? Mr. Soames
got nothing--frankly nothing--by his journey this afternoon. We
don't wish to say that the whole thing was a swindle--a common
swindle. On the contrary, we believe you meant well. But of
course the bargain, such as it was, is off.'
The Devil gave no verbal answer. He merely looked at Soames
and pointed with rigid forefinger to the door. Soames was
wretchedly rising from his chair when, with a desperate quick
gesture, I swept together two dinner-knives that were on the
table, and laid their blades across each other. The Devil stepped
sharp back against the table behind him, averting his face and
`You are not superstitious!' he hissed.
`Not at all,' I smiled.
`Soames!' he said as to an underling, but without turning his
face, `put those knives straight!'
With an inhibitive gesture to my friend, `Mr. Soames,' I said
emphatically to the Devil, `is a CATHOLIC Diabolist'; but my
poor friend did the Devil's bidding, not mine; and now, with his
master's eyes again fixed on him, he arose, he shuffled past me.
I tried to speak. It was he that spoke. `Try,' was the prayer he
threw back at me as the Devil pushed him roughly out through
the door, `TRY to make them know that I did exist!'
In another instant I too was through that door. I stood staring all
ways--up the street, across it, down it. There was moonlight and
lamplight, but there was not Soames nor that other.
Dazed, I stood there. Dazed, I turned back, at length, into the
little room; and I suppose I paid Berthe or Rose for my dinner
and luncheon, and for Soames': I hope so, for I never went to
the Vingtieme again. Ever since that night I have avoided
Greek Street altogether. And for years I did not set foot even in
Soho Square, because on that same night it was there that I
paced and loitered, long and long, with some such dull sense of
hope as a man has in not straying far from the place where he
has lost something.... `Round and round the shutter'd Square'--
that line came back to me on my lonely beat, and with it the
whole stanza, ringing in my brain and bearing in on me how
tragically different from the happy scene imagined by him was
the poet's actual experience of that prince in whom of all
princes we should put not our trust.
But--strange how the mind of an essayist, be it never so stricken,
roves and ranges!--I remember pausing before a wide doorstep
and wondering if perchance it was on this very one that the
young De Quincey lay ill and faint while poor Ann flew as fast
as her feet would carry her to Oxford Street, the `stony-hearted
stepmother' of them both, and came back bearing that `glass of
port wine and spices' but for which he might, so he thought,
actually have died. Was this the very doorstep that the old De
Quincey used to revisit in homage? I pondered Ann's fate, the
cause of her sudden vanishing from the ken of her boy-friend;
and presently I blamed myself for letting the past over-ride the
present. Poor vanished Soames!
And for myself, too, I began to be troubled. What had I better
do? Would there be a hue and cry--Mysterious Disappearance
of an Author, and all that? He had last been seen lunching and
dining in my company. Hadn't I better get a hansom and drive
straight to Scotland Yard?... They would think I was a lunatic.
After all, I reassured myself, London was a very large place, and
one very dim figure might easily drop out of it unobserved--now
especially, in the blinding glare of the near Jubilee. Better say
nothing at all, I thought.
And I was right. Soames' disappearance made no stir at all. He
was utterly forgotten before any one, so far as I am aware,
noticed that he was no longer hanging around. Now and again
some poet or prosaist may have said to another, `What has
become of that man Soames?' but I never heard any such
question asked. The solicitor through whom he was paid his
annuity may be presumed to have made inquiries, but no echo of
these resounded. There was something rather ghastly to me in
the general unconsciousness that Soames had existed, and more
than once I caught myself wondering whether Nupton, that babe
unborn, were going to be right in thinking him a figment of my
In that extract from Nupton's repulsive book there is one point
which perhaps puzzles you. How is it that the author, though I
have here mentioned him by name and have quoted the exact
words he is going to write, is not going to grasp the obvious
corollary that I have invented nothing? The answer can be only
this: Nupton will not have read the later passages of this
memoir. Such lack of thoroughness is a serious fault in any one
who undertakes to do scholar's work. And I hope these words
will meet the eye of some contemporary rival to Nupton and be
the undoing of Nupton.
I like to think that some time between 1992 and 1997 somebody
will have looked up this memoir, and will have forced on the
world his inevitable and startling conclusions. And I have
reasons for believing that this will be so. You realise that the
reading-room into which Soames was projected by the Devil
was in all respects precisely as it will be on the afternoon of
June 3, 1997. You realise, therefore, that on that afternoon,
when it comes round, there the self-same crowd will be, and
there Soames too will be, punctually, he and they doing
precisely what they did before. Recall now Soames' account of
the sensation he made. You may say that the mere difference of
his costume was enough to make him sensational in that
uniformed crowd. You wouldn't say so if you had ever seen
him. I assure you that in no period could Soames be anything
but dim. The fact that people are going to stare at him, and
follow him around, and seem afraid of him, can be explained
only on the hypothesis that they will somehow have been
prepared for his ghostly visitation. They will have been awfully
waiting to see whether he really would come. And when he
does come the effect will of course be--awful.
An authentic, guaranteed, proven ghost, but--only a ghost, alas!
Only that. In his first visit, Soames was a creature of flesh and
blood, whereas the creatures into whose midst he was projected
were but ghosts, I take it--solid, palpable, vocal, but
unconscious and automatic ghosts, in a building that was itself
an illusion. Next time, that building and those creatures will be
real. It is of Soames that there will be but the semblance. I
wish I could think him destined to revisit the world actually,
physically, consciously. I wish he had this one brief escape, this
one small treat, to look forward to. I never forget him for long.
He is where he is, and forever. The more rigid moralists among
you may say he has only himself to blame. For my part, I think
he has been very hardly used. It is well that vanity should be
chastened; and Enoch Soames' vanity was, I admit, above the
average, and called for special treatment. But there was no need
for vindictiveness. You say he contracted to pay the price he is
paying; yes; but I maintain that he was induced to do so by
fraud. Well-informed in all things, the Devil must have known
that my friend would gain nothing by his visit to futurity. The
whole thing was a very shabby trick. The more I think of it, the
more detestable the Devil seems to me.
Of him I have caught sight several times, here and there, since
that day at the Vingtieme. Only once, however, have I seen him
at close quarters. This was in Paris. I was walking, one
afternoon, along the Rue d'Antin, when I saw him advancing
from the opposite direction--over-dressed as ever, and swinging
an ebony cane, and altogether behaving as though the whole
pavement belonged to him. At thought of Enoch Soames and
the myriads of other sufferers eternally in this brute's dominion,
a great cold wrath filled me, and I drew myself up to my full
height. But--well, one is so used to nodding and smiling in the
street to anybody whom one knows that the action becomes
almost independent of oneself: to prevent it requires a very
sharp effort and great presence of mind. I was miserably aware,
as I passed the Devil, that I nodded and smiled to him. And my
shame was the deeper and hotter because he, if you please,
stared straight at me with the utmost haughtiness.
To be cut--deliberately cut--by HIM! I was, I still am, furious at
having had that happen to me.
HILARY MALTBY AND STEPHEN BRAXTON
People still go on comparing Thackeray and Dickens, quite cheerfully.
But the fashion of comparing Maltby and Braxton went out so long ago
as 1795. No, I am wrong. But anything that happened in the bland old
days before the war does seem to be a hundred more years ago than
actually it is. The year I mean is the one in whose spring-time we
all went bicycling (O thrill!) in Battersea Park, and ladies wore
sleeves that billowed enormously out from their shoulders, and Lord
Rosebery was Prime Minister.
In that Park, in that spring-time, in that sea of sleeves, there was
almost as much talk about the respective merits of Braxton and Maltby
as there was about those of Rudge and Humber. For the benefit of my
younger readers, and perhaps, so feeble is human memory, for the
benefit of their elders too, let me state that Rudge and Humber were
rival makers of bicycles, that Hilary Maltby was the author of `Ariel
in Mayfair,' and Stephen Braxton of `A Faun on the Cotswolds.'
`Which do you think is REALLY the best--"Ariel" or "A Faun"?' Ladies
were always asking one that question. `Oh, well, you know, the two
are so different. It's really very hard to compare them.' One was
always giving that answer. One was not very brilliant perhaps.
The vogue of the two novels lasted throughout the summer. As both
were `firstlings,' and Great Britain had therefore nothing else of
Braxton's or Maltby's to fall back on, the horizon was much scanned
for what Maltby, and what Braxton, would give us next. In the autumn
Braxton gave us his secondling. It was an instantaneous failure. No
more was he compared with Maltby. In the spring of '96 came Maltby's
secondling. Its failure was instantaneous. Maltby might once more
have been compared with Braxton. But Braxton was now forgotten. So
This was not kind. This was not just. Maltby's first novel, and
Braxton's, had brought delight into many thousands of homes. People
should have paused to say of Braxton "Perhaps his third novel will be
better than his second," and to say as much for Maltby. I blame
people for having given no sign of wanting a third from either; and I
blame them with the more zest because neither `A Faun on the
Cotswolds' nor `Ariel in Mayfair' was a merely popular book: each, I
maintain, was a good book. I don't go so far as to say that the one
had `more of natural magic, more of British woodland glamour, more of
the sheer joy of life in it than anything since "As You Like It,"'
though Higsby went so far as this in the Daily Chronicle; nor can I
allow the claim made for the other by Grigsby in the Globe that `for
pungency of satire there has been nothing like it since Swift laid
down his pen, and for sheer sweetness and tenderness of feeling--ex
forti dulcedo--nothing to be mentioned in the same breath with it
since the lute fell from the tired hand of Theocritus.' These were
foolish exaggerations. But one must not condemn a thing because it
has been over-praised. Maltby's `Ariel' was a delicate, brilliant
work; and Braxton's `Faun,' crude though it was in many ways, had yet
a genuine power and beauty. This is not a mere impression remembered
from early youth. It is the reasoned and seasoned judgment of middle
age. Both books have been out of print for many years; but I secured
a second-hand copy of each not long ago, and found them well worth
From the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the outbreak of the war,
current literature did not suffer from any lack of fauns. But when
Braxton's first book appeared fauns had still an air of novelty about
them. We had not yet tired of them and their hoofs and their slanting
eyes and their way of coming suddenly out of woods to wean quiet
English villages from respectability. We did tire later. But
Braxton's faun, even now, seems to me an admirable specimen of his
class--wild and weird, earthy, goat-like, almost convincing. And I
find myself convinced altogether by Braxton's rustics. I admit that I
do not know much about rustics, except from novels. But I plead that
the little I do know about them by personal observation does not
confirm much of what the many novelists have taught me. I plead also
that Braxton may well have been right about the rustics of
Gloucestershire because he was (as so many interviewers recorded of
him in his brief heyday) the son of a yeoman farmer at Far Oakridge,
and his boyhood had been divided between that village and the Grammar
School at Stroud. Not long ago I happened to be staying in the
neighbourhood, and came across several villagers who might, I assure
you, have stepped straight out of Braxton's pages. For that matter,
Braxton himself, whom I met often in the spring of '95, might have
stepped straight out of his own pages.
I am guilty of having wished he would step straight back into them.
He was a very surly fellow, very rugged and gruff. He was the
antithesis of pleasant little Maltby. I used to think that perhaps he
would have been less unamiable if success had come to him earlier. He
was thirty years old when his book was published, and had had a very
hard time since coming to London at the age of sixteen. Little Maltby
was a year older, and so had waited a year longer; but then, he had
waited under a comfortable roof at Twickenham, emerging into the
metropolis for no grimmer purpose than to sit and watch the
fashionable riders and walkers in Rotten Row, and then going home to
write a little, or to play lawn-tennis with the young ladies of
Twickenham. He had been the only child of his parents (neither of
whom, alas, survived to take pleasure in their darling's sudden fame).
He had now migrated from Twickenham and taken rooms in Ryder Street.
Had he ever shared with Braxton the bread of adversity--but no, I
think he would in any case have been pleasant. And conversely I
cannot imagine that Braxton would in any case have been so.
No one seeing the two rivals together, no one meeting them at Mr.
Hookworth's famous luncheon parties in the Authors' Club, or at Mrs.
Foster-Dugdale's not less famous garden parties in Greville Place,
would have supposed off-hand that the pair had a single point in
common. Dapper little Maltby--blond, bland, diminutive Maltby, with
his monocle and his gardenia; big black Braxton, with his lanky hair
and his square blue jaw and his square sallow forehead. Canary and
crow. Maltby had a perpetual chirrup of amusing small-talk. Braxton
was usually silent, but very well worth listening to whenever he did
croak. He had distinction, I admit it; the distinction of one who
steadfastly refuses to adapt himself to surroundings. He stood out.
He awed Mr. Hookworth. Ladies were always asking one another, rather
intently, what they thought of him. One could imagine that Mr.
Foster-Dugdale, had he come home from the City to attend the garden
parties, might have regarded him as one from whom Mrs. Foster-Dugdale
should be shielded. But the casual observer of Braxton and Maltby at
Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or elsewhere was wrong in supposing that the two
were totally unlike. He overlooked one simple and obvious point.
This was that he had met them both at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or
elsewhere. Wherever they were invited, there certainly, there
punctually, they would be. They were both of them gluttons for the
fruits and signs of their success.
Interviewers and photographers had as little reason as had hostesses
to complain of two men so earnestly and assiduously `on the make' as
Maltby and Braxton. Maltby, for all his sparkle, was earnest;
Braxton, for all his arrogance, assiduous.
`A Faun on the Cotswolds' had no more eager eulogist than the author
of `Ariel in Mayfair.' When any one praised his work, Maltby would
lightly disparage it in comparison with Braxton's--`Ah, if I could
write like THAT!' Maltby won golden opinions in this way. Braxton,
on the other hand, would let slip no opportunity for sneering at
Maltby's work--`gimcrack,' as he called it. This was not good for
Maltby. Different men, different methods.
`The Rape of the Lock' was `gimcrack,' if you care to call it so; but
it was a delicate, brilliant work; and so, I repeat, was Maltby's
`Ariel.' Absurd to compare Maltby with Pope? I am not so sure. I
have read `Ariel,' but have never read `The Rape of the Lock.'
Braxton's opprobrious term for `Ariel' may not, however, have been due
to jealousy alone. Braxton had imagination, and his rival did not
soar above fancy. But the point is that Maltby's fancifulness went
far and well. In telling how Ariel re-embodied himself from thin air,
leased a small house in Chesterfield Street, was presented at a Levee,
played the part of good fairy in a matter of true love not running
smooth, and worked meanwhile all manner of amusing changes among the
aristocracy before he vanished again, Maltby showed a very pretty
range of ingenuity. In one respect, his work was a more surprising
achievement than Braxton's. For whereas Braxton had been born and
bred among his rustics, Maltby knew his aristocrats only through
Thackeray, through the photographs and paragraphs in the newspapers,
and through those passionate excursions of his to Rotten Row. Yet I
found his aristocrats as convincing as Braxton's rustics. It is true
that I may have been convinced wrongly. That is a point which I could
settle only by experience. I shift my ground, claiming for Maltby's
aristocrats just this: that they pleased me very much.
Aristocrats, when they are presented solely through a novelist's sense
of beauty, do not satisfy us. They may be as beautiful as all that,
but, for fear of thinking ourselves snobbish, we won't believe it. We
do believe it, however, and revel in it, when the novelist saves his
face and ours by a pervading irony in the treatment of what he loves.
The irony must, mark you, be pervading and obvious. Disraeli's great
ladies and lords won't do, for his irony was but latent in his homage,
and thus the reader feels himself called on to worship and in duty
bound to scoff. All's well, though, when the homage is latent in the
irony. Thackeray, inviting us to laugh and frown over the follies of
Mayfair, enables us to reel with him in a secret orgy of veneration
for those fools.
Maltby, too, in his measure, enabled us to reel thus. That is mainly
why, before the end of April, his publisher was in a position to state
that `the Seventh Large Impression of "Ariel in Mayfair" is almost
exhausted.' Let it be put to our credit, however, that at the same
moment Braxton's publisher had `the honour to inform the public that
an Eighth Large Impression of "A Faun on the Cotswolds" is in instant
Indeed, it seemed impossible for either author to outvie the other in
success and glory. Week in, week out, you saw cancelled either's
every momentary advantage. A neck-and-neck race. As thus:--Maltby
appears as a Celebrity At Home in the World (Tuesday). Ha! No,
Vanity Fair (Wednesday) has a perfect presentment of Braxton by `Spy.'
Neck-and-neck! No, Vanity Fair says `the subject of next week's
cartoon will be Mr. Hilary Maltby.' Maltby wins! No, next week
Braxton's in the World.
Throughout May I kept, as it were, my eyes glued to my field-glasses.
On the first Monday in June I saw that which drew from me a hoarse
Let me explain that always on Monday mornings at this time of year,
when I opened my daily paper, I looked with respectful interest to see
what bevy of the great world had been entertained since Saturday at
Keeb Hall. The list was always august and inspiring. Statecraft and
Diplomacy were well threaded there with mere Lineage and mere Beauty,
with Royalty sometimes, with mere Wealth never, with privileged Genius
now and then. A noble composition always. It was said that the Duke
of Hertfordshire cared for nothing but his collection of birds' eggs,
and that the collections of guests at Keeb were formed entirely by his
young Duchess. It was said that he had climbed trees in every corner
of every continent. The Duchess' hobby was easier. She sat aloft and
beckoned desirable specimens up.
The list published on that first Monday in June began ordinarily
enough, began with the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador and the Portuguese
Minister. Then came the Duke and Duchess of Mull, followed by four
lesser Peers (two of them Proconsuls, however) with their Peeresses,
three Peers without their Peeresses, four Peeresses without their
Peers, and a dozen bearers of courtesy-titles with or without their
wives or husbands. The rear was brought up by `Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr.
Henry Chaplin, and Mr. Hilary Maltby.'
Youth tends to look at the darker side of things. I confess that my
first thought was for Braxton.
I forgave and forgot his faults of manner. Youth is generous. It
does not criticise a strong man stricken.
And anon, so habituated was I to the parity of those two strivers, I
conceived that there might be some mistake. Daily newspapers are
printed in a hurry. Might not `Henry Chaplin' be a typographical
error for `Stephen Braxton'? I went out and bought another newspaper.
But Mr. Chaplin's name was in that too.
`Patience!' I said to myself. `Braxton crouches only to spring. He
will be at Keeb Hall on Saturday next.'
My mind was free now to dwell with pleasure on Maltby's great
achievement. I thought of writing to congratulate him, but feared
this might be in bad taste. I did, however, write asking him to lunch
with me. He did not answer my letter. I was, therefore, all the more
sorry, next Monday, at not finding `and Mr. Stephen Braxton' in Keeb's
A few days later I met Mr. Hookworth. He mentioned that Stephen
Braxton had left town. `He has taken,' said Hookworth, `a delightful
bungalow on the east coast. He has gone there to WORK.' He added
that he had a great liking for Braxton--`a man utterly UNSPOILT.' I
inferred that he, too, had written to Maltby and received no answer.
That butterfly did not, however, appear to be hovering from flower to
flower in the parterres of rank and fashion. In the daily lists of
guests at dinners, receptions, dances, balls, the name of Maltby
figured never. Maltby had not caught on.
Presently I heard that he, too, had left town. I gathered that he had
gone quite early in June--quite soon after Keeb. Nobody seemed to
know where he was. My own theory was that he had taken a delightful
bungalow on the west coast, to balance Braxton. Anyhow, the parity of
the two strivers was now somewhat re-established.
In point of fact, the disparity had been less than I supposed. While
Maltby was at Keeb, there Braxton was also--in a sense.... It was a
strange story. I did not hear it at the time. Nobody did. I heard
it seventeen years later. I heard it in Lucca.
Little Lucca I found so enchanting that, though I had only a day or
two to spare, I stayed there a whole month. I formed the habit of
walking, every morning, round that high-pitched path which girdles
Lucca, that wide and tree-shaded path from which one looks down over
the city wall at the fertile plains beneath Lucca. There were never
many people there; but the few who did come came daily, so that I grew
to like seeing them and took a mild personal interest in them.
One of them was an old lady in a wheeled chair. She was not less than
seventy years old, and might or might not have once been beautiful.
Her chair was slowly propelled by an Italian woman. She herself was
obviously Italian. Not so, however, the little gentleman who walked
assiduously beside her. Him I guessed to be English. He was a very
stout little gentleman, with gleaming spectacles and a full blond
beard, and he seemed to radiate cheerfulness. I thought at first that
he might be the old lady's resident physician; but no, there was
something subtly un-professional about him: I became sure that his
constancy was gratuitous, and his radiance real. And one day, I know
not how, there dawned on me a suspicion that he was--who?--some one I
had known--some writer--what's-his-name--something with an M--Maltby--
Hilary Maltby of the long-ago!
At sight of him on the morrow this suspicion hardened almost to
certainty. I wished I could meet him alone and ask him if I were not
right, and what he had been doing all these years, and why he had left
England. He was always with the old lady. It was only on my last day
in Lucca that my chance came.
I had just lunched, and was seated on a comfortable bench outside my
hotel, with a cup of coffee on the table before me, gazing across the
faded old sunny piazza and wondering what to do with my last
afternoon. It was then that I espied yonder the back of the putative
Maltby. I hastened forth to him. He was buying some pink roses, a
great bunch of them, from a market-woman under an umbrella. He looked
very blank, he flushed greatly, when I ventured to accost him. He
admitted that his name was Hilary Maltby. I told him my own name, and
by degrees he remembered me. He apologised for his confusion. He
explained that he had not talked English, had not talked to an
Englishman, `for--oh, hundreds of years.' He said that he had, in the
course of his long residence in Lucca, seen two or three people whom
he had known in England, but that none of them had recognised him. He
accepted (but as though he were embarking on the oddest adventure in
the world) my invitation that he should come and sit down and take
coffee with me. He laughed with pleasure and surprise at finding that
he could still speak his native tongue quite fluently and
idiomatically. `I know absolutely nothing,' he said, `about England
nowadays--except from stray references to it in the Corriere della
Sera; nor did he show the faintest desire that I should enlighten him.
`England,' he mused, `--how it all comes back to me!'
`But not you to it?'
`Ah, no indeed,' he said gravely, looking at the roses which he had
laid carefully on the marble table. `I am the happiest of men.'
He sipped his coffee, and stared out across the piazza, out beyond it
into the past.
`I am the happiest of men,' he repeated. I plied him with the spur of
`And I owe it all to having once yielded to a bad impulse. Absurd,
the threads our destinies hang on!'
Again I plied him with that spur. As it seemed not to prick him, I
repeated the words he had last spoken. `For instance?' I added.
`Take,' he said, `a certain evening in the spring of '95. If, on that
evening, the Duchess of Hertfordshire had had a bad cold; or if she
had decided that it WOULDN'T be rather interesting to go on to that
party--that Annual Soiree, I think it was--of the Inkwomen's Club; or
again--to go a step further back--if she hadn't ever written that one
little poem, and if it HADN'T been printed in "The Gentlewoman," and
if the Inkwomen's committee HADN'T instantly and unanimously elected
her an Honorary Vice-President because of that one little poem; or if-
-well, if a million-and-one utterly irrelevant things hadn't happened,
don't-you-know, I shouldn't be here.... I might be THERE,' he smiled,
with a vague gesture indicating England.
`Suppose,' he went on, `I hadn't been invited to that Annual Soiree;
or suppose that other fellow,--
`Braxton?' I suggested. I had remembered Braxton at the moment of
`Suppose HE hadn't been asked.... But of course we both were. It
happened that I was the first to be presented to the Duchess.... It
was a great moment. I hoped I should keep my head. She wore a tiara.
I had often seen women in tiaras, at the Opera. But I had never
talked to a woman in a tiara. Tiaras were symbols to me. Eyes are
just a human feature. I fixed mine on the Duchess's. I kept my head
by not looking at hers. I behaved as one human being to another. She
seemed very intelligent. We got on very well. Presently she asked
whether I should think her VERY bold if she said how PERFECTLY divine
she thought my book. I said something about doing my best, and asked
with animation whether she had read "A Faun on the Cotswolds." She
had. She said it was TOO wonderful, she said it was TOO great. If
she hadn't been a Duchess, I might have thought her slightly
hysterical. Her innate good-sense quickly reasserted itself. She
used her great power. With a wave of her magic wand she turned into a
fact the glittering possibility that had haunted me. She asked me
down to Keeb.
`She seemed very pleased that I would come. Was I, by any chance,
free on Saturday week? She hoped there would be some amusing people
to meet me. Could I come by the 3.30? It was only an hour-and-a-
quarter from Victoria. On Saturday there were always compartments
reserved for people coming to Keeb by the 3.30. She hoped I would
bring my bicycle with me. She hoped I wouldn't find it very dull.
She hoped I wouldn't forget to come. She said how lovely it must be
to spend one's life among clever people. She supposed I knew
everybody here to-night. She asked me to tell her who everybody was.
She asked who was the tall, dark man, over there. I told her it was
Stephen Braxton. She said they had promised to introduce her to him.
She added that he looked rather wonderful. "Oh, he is, very," I
assured her. She turned to me with a sudden appeal: "DO you think, if
I took my courage in both hands and asked him, he'd care to come to
`I hesitated. It would be easy to say that Satan answered FOR me;
easy but untrue; it was I that babbled: "Well--as a matter of fact--
since you ask me--if I were you--really I think you'd better not.
He's very odd in some ways. He has an extraordinary hatred of
sleeping out of London. He has the real Gloucestershire LOVE of
London. At the same time, he's very shy; and if you asked him he
wouldn't very well know how to refuse. I think it would be KINDER not
to ask him."
`At that moment, Mrs. Wilpham--the President--loomed up to us,
bringing Braxton. He bore himself well. Rough dignity with a touch
of mellowness. I daresay you never saw him smile. He smiled gravely
down at the Duchess, while she talked in her pretty little quick
humble way. He made a great impression.
`What I had done was not merely base: it was very dangerous. I was in
terror that she might rally him on his devotion to London. I didn't
dare to move away. I was immensely relieved when at length she said
she must be going.
`Braxton seemed loth to relax his grip on her hand at parting. I
feared she wouldn't escape without uttering that invitation. But all
was well.... In saying good night to me, she added in a murmur,
"Don't forget Keeb--Saturday week--the 3.30." Merely an exquisite
murmur. But Braxton heard it. I knew, by the diabolical look he gave
me, that Braxton had heard it.... If he hadn't, I shouldn't be here.
`Was I a prey to remorse? Well, in the days between that Soiree and
that Saturday, remorse often claimed me, but rapture wouldn't give me
up. Arcady, Olympus, the right people, at last! I hadn't realised
how good my book was--not till it got me this guerdon; not till I got
it this huge advertisement. I foresaw how pleased my publisher would
be. In some great houses, I knew, it was possible to stay without any
one knowing you had been there. But the Duchess of Hertfordshire hid
her light under no bushel. Exclusive she was, but not of publicity.
Next to Windsor Castle, Keeb Hall was the most advertised house in all
`Meanwhile, I had plenty to do. I rather thought of engaging a valet,
but decided that this wasn't necessary. On the other hand, I felt a
need for three new summer suits, and a new evening suit, and some new
white waistcoats. Also a smoking suit. And had any man ever stayed
at Keeb without a dressing-case? Hitherto I had been content with a
pair of wooden brushes, and so forth. I was afraid these would appal
the footman who unpacked my things. I ordered, for his sake, a large
dressing-case, with my initials engraved throughout it. It looked
compromisingly new when it came to me from the shop. I had to kick it
industriously, and throw it about and scratch it, so as to avert
possible suspicion. The tailor did not send my things home till the
Friday evening. I had to sit up late, wearing the new suits in
`Next day, at Victoria, I saw strolling on the platform many people,
male and female, who looked as if they were going to Keeb--tall, cool,
ornate people who hadn't packed their own things and had reached
Victoria in broughams. I was ornate, but not tall nor cool. My
porter was rather off-hand in his manner as he wheeled my things along
to the 3.30. I asked severely if there were any compartments reserved
for people going to stay with the Duke of Hertfordshire. This worked
an instant change in him. Having set me in one of those shrines, he
seemed almost loth to accept a tip. A snob, I am afraid.
`A selection of the tall, the cool, the ornate, the intimately
acquainted with one another, soon filled the compartment. There I
was, and I think they felt they ought to try to bring me into the
conversation. As they were all talking about a cotillion of the
previous night, I shouldn't have been able to shine. I gazed out of
the window, with middle-class aloofness. Presently the talk drifted
on to the topic of bicycles. But by this time it was too late for me
to come in.
`I gazed at the squalid outskirts of London as they flew by. I
doubted, as I listened to my fellow-passengers, whether I should be
able to shine at Keeb. I rather wished I were going to spend the
week-end at one of those little houses with back-gardens beneath the
railway-line. I was filled with fears.
`For shame! thought I. Was I nobody? Was the author of "Ariel in
`I reminded myself how glad Braxton would be if he knew of my faint-
heartedness. I thought of Braxton sitting, at this moment, in his
room in Clifford's Inn and glowering with envy of his hated rival in
the 3.30. And after all, how enviable I was! My spirits rose. I
would acquit myself well....
`I much admired the scene at the little railway station where we
alighted. It was like a fete by Lancret. I knew from the talk of my
fellow-passengers that some people had been going down by an earlier
train, and that others were coming by a later. But the 3.30 had
brought a full score of us. Us! That was the final touch of beauty.
`Outside there were two broughams, a landau, dog-carts, a phaeton, a
wagonette, I know not what. But almost everybody, it seemed, was
going to bicycle. Lady Rodfitten said SHE was going to bicycle. Year
after year, I had seen that famous Countess riding or driving in the
Park. I had been told at fourth hand that she had a masculine
intellect and could make and unmake Ministries. She was nearly sixty
now, a trifle dyed and stout and weather-beaten, but still
tremendously handsome, and hard as nails. One would not have said she
had grown older, but merely that she belonged now to a rather later
period of the Roman Empire. I had never dreamed of a time when one
roof would shelter Lady Rodfitten and me. Somehow, she struck my
imagination more than any of these others--more than Count Deym, more
than Mr. Balfour, more than the lovely Lady Thisbe Crowborough.
`I might have had a ducal vehicle all to myself, and should have liked
that; but it seemed more correct that I should use my bicycle. On the
other hand, I didn't want to ride with all these people--a stranger in
their midst. I lingered around the luggage till they were off, and
then followed at a long distance.
`The sun had gone behind clouds. But I rode slowly, so as to be sure
not to arrive hot. I passed, not without a thrill, through the
massive open gates into the Duke's park. A massive man with a cockade
saluted me--hearteningly--from the door of the lodge. The park seemed
endless. I came, at length, to a long straight avenue of elms that
were almost blatantly immemorial. At the end of it was--well, I felt
like a gnat going to stay in a public building.
`If there had been turnstiles--IN and OUT--and a shilling to pay, I
should have felt easier as I passed into that hall--that Palladio-
Gargantuan hall. Some one, some butler or groom-of-the-chamber,
murmured that her Grace was in the garden. I passed out through the
great opposite doorway on to a wide spectacular terrace with lawns
beyond. Tea was on the nearest of these lawns. In the central group
of people--some standing, others sitting--I espied the Duchess. She
sat pouring out tea, a deft and animated little figure. I advanced
firmly down the steps from the terrace, feeling that all would be well
so soon as I had reported myself to the Duchess.
`But I had a staggering surprise on my way to her. I espied in one of
the smaller groups--whom d'you think? Braxton.
`I had no time to wonder how he had got there--time merely to grasp
the black fact that he WAS there.
`The Duchess seemed really pleased to see me. She said it was TOO
splendid of me to come. "You know Mr. Maltby?" she asked Lady
Rodfitten, who exclaimed "Not Mr. HILARY Maltby?" with a vigorous
grace that was overwhelming. Lady Rodfitten declared she was the
greatest of my admirers; and I could well believe that in whatever she
did she excelled all competitors. On the other hand, I found it hard
to believe she was afraid of me. Yet I had her word for it that she
`Her womanly charm gave place now to her masculine grip. She
eulogised me in the language of a seasoned reviewer on the staff of a
long-established journal--wordy perhaps, but sound. I revered and
loved her. I wished I could give her my undivided attention. But,
whilst I sat there, teacup, in hand, between her and the Duchess, part
of my brain was fearfully concerned with that glimpse I had had of
Braxton. It didn't so much matter that he was here to halve my
triumph. But suppose he knew what I had told the Duchess! And
suppose he had--no, surely if he HAD shown me up in all my meanness
she wouldn't have received me so very cordially. I wondered where she
could have met him since that evening of the Inkwomen. I heard Lady
Rodfitten concluding her review of "Ariel" with two or three sentences
that might have been framed specially to give the publisher an easy
"quote." And then I heard myself asking mechanically whether she had
read "A Faun on the Cotswolds." The Duchess heard me too. She turned
from talking to other people and said "I did like Mr. Braxton so VERY
`"Yes," I threw out with a sickly smile, "I'm so glad you asked him to
`"But I didn't ask him. I didn't DARE."
`"But--but--surely he wouldn't be--be HERE if--" We stared at each
other blankly. "Here?" she echoed, glancing at the scattered little
groups of people on the lawn. I glanced too. I was much embarrassed.
I explained that I had seen Braxton "standing just over there" when I
arrived, and had supposed he was one of the people who came by the
earlier train. "Well," she said with a slightly irritated laugh, "you
must have mistaken some one else for him." She dropped the subject,
talked to other people, and presently moved away.
`Surely, thought I, she didn't suspect me of trying to make fun of
her? On the other hand, surely she hadn't conspired with Braxton to
make a fool of ME? And yet, how could Braxton be here without an
invitation, and without her knowledge? My brain whirled. One thing
only was clear. I could NOT have mistaken anybody for Braxton. There
Braxton had stood--Stephen Braxton, in that old pepper-and-salt suit
of his, with his red tie all askew, and without a hat--his hair
hanging over his forehead. All this I had seen sharp and clean-cut.
There he had stood, just beside one of the women who travelled down in
the same compartment as I; a very pretty woman in a pale blue dress; a
tall woman--but I had noticed how small she looked beside Braxton.
This woman was now walking to and fro, yonder, with M. de Soveral. I
had seen Braxton beside her as clearly as I now saw M. de Soveral.
`Lady Rodfitten was talking about India to a recent Viceroy. She
seemed to have as firm a grip of India as of "Ariel." I sat
forgotten. I wanted to arise and wander off--in a vague search for
Braxton. But I feared this might look as if I were angry at being
ignored. Presently Lady Rodfitten herself arose, to have what she
called her "annual look round." She bade me come too, and strode off
between me and the recent Viceroy, noting improvements that had been
made in the grounds, suggesting improvements that might be made,
indicating improvements that MUST be made. She was great on
landscape-gardening. The recent Viceroy was less great on it, but
great enough. I don't say I walked forgotten: the eminent woman
constantly asked my opinion; but my opinion, though of course it
always coincided with hers, sounded quite worthless, somehow. I
longed to shine. I could only bother about Braxton.
`Lady Rodfitten's voice sounded over-strong for the stillness of
evening. The shadows lengthened. My spirits sank lower and lower,
with the sun. I was a naturally cheerful person, but always, towards
sunset, I had a vague sense of melancholy: I seemed always to have
grown weaker; morbid misgivings would come to me. On this particular
evening there was one such misgiving that crept in and out of me again
and again...a very horrible misgiving as to the NATURE of what I had
`Well, dressing for dinner is a great tonic. Especially if one
shaves. My spirits rose as I lathered my face. I smiled to my
reflection in the mirror. The afterglow of the sun came through the
window behind the dressing-table, but I had switched on all the
lights. My new silver-topped bottles and things made a fine array.
To-night _I_ was going to shine, too. I felt I might yet be the life
and soul of the party. Anyway, my new evening suit was without a
fault. And meanwhile this new razor was perfect. Having shaved
"down," I lathered myself again and proceeded to shave "up." It was
then that I uttered a sharp sound and swung round on my heel.
`No one was there. Yet this I knew: Stephen Braxton had just looked
over my shoulder. I had seen the reflection of his face beside mine--
craned forward to the mirror. I had met his eyes.
`He had been with me. This I knew.
`I turned to look again at that mirror. One of my cheeks was all
covered with blood. I stanched it with a towel. Three long cuts
where the razor had slipped and skipped. I plunged the towel into
cold water and held it to my cheek. The bleeding went on--alarmingly.
I rang the bell. No one came. I vowed I wouldn't bleed to death for
Braxton. I rang again. At last a very tall powdered footman
appeared--more reproachful-looking than sympathetic, as though I
hadn't ordered that dressing-case specially on his behalf. He said he
thought one of the housemaids would have some sticking-plaster. He
was very sorry he was needed downstairs, but he would tell one of the
housemaids. I continued to dab and to curse. The blood flowed less.
I showed great spirit. I vowed Braxton should not prevent me from
going down to dinner.
`But--a pretty sight I was when I did go down. Pale but determined,
with three long strips of black sticking-plaster forming a sort of Z
on my left cheek. Mr. Hilary Maltby at Keeb. Literature's
`I don't know how late I was. Dinner was in full swing. Some servant
piloted me to my place. I sat down unobserved. The woman on either
side of me was talking to her other neighbour. I was near the
Duchess' end of the table. Soup was served to me--that dark-red soup
that you pour cream into--Bortsch. I felt it would steady me. I
raised the first spoonful to my lips, and--my hand gave a sudden jerk.
`I was aware of two separate horrors--a horror that had been, a horror
that was. Braxton had vanished. Not for more than an instant had he
stood scowling at me from behind the opposite diners. Not for more
than the fraction of an instant. But he had left his mark on me. I
gazed down with a frozen stare at my shirtfront, at my white
waistcoat, both dark with Bortsch. I rubbed them with a napkin. I
made them worse.
`I looked at my glass of champagne. I raised it carefully and drained
it at one draught. It nerved me. But behind that shirtfront was a
`The woman on my left was Lady Thisbe Crowborough. I don't know who
was the woman on my right. She was the first to turn and see me. I
thought it best to say something about my shirtfront at once. I said
it to her sideways, without showing my left cheek. Her handsome eyes
rested on the splashes. She said, after a moment's thought, that they
looked "rather gay." She said she thought the eternal black and white
of men's evening clothes was "so very dreary." She did her best....
Lady Thisbe Crowborough did her best, too, I suppose; but breeding
isn't proof against all possible shocks: she visibly started at sight
of me and my Z. I explained that I had cut myself shaving. I said,
with an attempt at lightness, that shy men ought always to cut
themselves shaving: it made such a good conversational opening. "But
surely," she said after a pause, "you don't cut yourself on purpose?"
She was an abysmal fool. I didn't think so at the time. She was Lady
Thisbe Crowborough. This fact hallowed her. That we didn't get on at
all well was a misfortune for which I blamed only myself and my
repulsive appearance and--the unforgettable horror that distracted me.
Back to Full Books