Sketches in Lavender, Blue and Green
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1920 J. W. Arrowsmith edition.
SKETCHES IN LAVENDER, BLUE AND GREEN
by Jerome K. Jerome
Reginald Blake, Financier and Cad
An item of Fashionable Intelligence
The Choice of Cyril Harjohn
The Materialisation of Charles and Mivanway
Portrait of a Lady
The Man Who Would Manage
The Man Who Lived For Others
A Man of Habit
The Absent-minded Man
A Charming Woman
The Man Who Went Wrong
The Hobby Rider
The Man Who Did Not Believe In Luck
Dick Dunkerman's Cat
The Minor Poet's Story
The Degeneration of Thomas Henry
The City of The Sea
La-ven-der's blue, did-dle, did-dle!
When I am king, did-dle, did-dle!
You shall be queen.
Call up your men, did-dle, did-dle!
Set them to work;
Some to the plough, did-dle, did-dle!
Some to the cart.
Some to make hay, did-dle, did-dle!
Some to cut corn;
While you and I, did-dle, did-dle!
Keep ourselves warm.
REGINALD BLAKE, FINANCIER AND CAD
The advantage of literature over life is that its characters are
clearly defined, and act consistently. Nature, always inartistic,
takes pleasure in creating the impossible. Reginald Blake was as
typical a specimen of the well-bred cad as one could hope to find
between Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park Corner. Vicious without
passion, and possessing brain without mind, existence presented to
him no difficulties, while his pleasures brought him no pains. His
morality was bounded by the doctor on the one side, and the
magistrate on the other. Careful never to outrage the decrees of
either, he was at forty-five still healthy, though stout; and had
achieved the not too easy task of amassing a fortune while avoiding
all risk of Holloway. He and his wife, Edith (nee Eppington), were
as ill-matched a couple as could be conceived by any dramatist
seeking material for a problem play. As they stood before the
altar on their wedding morn, they might have been taken as
symbolising satyr and saint. More than twenty years his junior,
beautiful with the beauty of a Raphael's Madonna, his every touch
of her seemed a sacrilege. Yet once in his life Mr. Blake played
the part of a great gentleman; Mrs. Blake, on the same occasion,
contenting herself with a singularly mean role--mean even for a
woman in love.
The affair, of course, had been a marriage of convenience. Blake,
to do him justice, had made no pretence to anything beyond
admiration and regard. Few things grow monotonous sooner than
irregularity. He would tickle his jaded palate with
respectability, and try for a change the companionship of a good
woman. The girl's face drew him, as the moonlight holds a man who,
bored by the noise, turns from a heated room to press his forehead
to the window-pane. Accustomed to bid for what he wanted, he
offered his price. The Eppington family was poor and numerous.
The girl, bred up to the false notions of duty inculcated by a
narrow conventionality, and, feminine like, half in love with
martyrdom for its own sake, let her father bargain for a higher
price, and then sold herself.
To a drama of this description, a lover is necessary, if the
complications are to be of interest to the outside world. Harry
Sennett, a pleasant-looking enough young fellow, in spite of his
receding chin, was possessed, perhaps, of more good intention than
sense. Under the influence of Edith's stronger character he was
soon persuaded to acquiesce meekly in the proposed arrangement.
Both succeeded in convincing themselves that they were acting
nobly. The tone of the farewell interview, arranged for the eve of
the wedding, would have been fit and proper to the occasion had
Edith been a modern Joan of Arc about to sacrifice her own
happiness on the altar of a great cause; as the girl was merely
selling herself into ease and luxury, for no higher motive than the
desire to enable a certain number of more or less worthy relatives
to continue living beyond their legitimate means, the sentiment was
perhaps exaggerated. Many tears were shed, and many everlasting
good-byes spoken, though, seeing that Edith's new home would be
only a few streets off, and that of necessity their social set
would continue to be the same, more experienced persons might have
counselled hope. Three months after the marriage they found
themselves side by side at the same dinner-table; and after a
little melodramatic fencing with what they were pleased to regard
as fate, they accommodated themselves to the customary positions.
Blake was quite aware that Sennett had been Edith's lover. So had
half a dozen other men, some younger, some older than himself. He
felt no more embarrassment at meeting them than, standing on the
pavement outside the Stock Exchange, he would have experienced
greeting his brother jobbers after a settling day that had
transferred a fortune from their hands into his. Sennett, in
particular, he liked and encouraged. Our whole social system,
always a mystery to the philosopher, owes its existence to the fact
that few men and women possess sufficient intelligence to be
interesting to themselves. Blake liked company, but not much
company liked Blake. Young Sennett, however, could always be
relied upon to break the tediousness of the domestic dialogue. A
common love of sport drew the two men together. Most of us improve
upon closer knowledge, and so they came to find good in one
"That is the man you ought to have married," said Blake one night
to his wife, half laughingly, half seriously, as they sat alone,
listening to Sennett's departing footsteps echoing upon the
deserted pavement. "He's a good fellow--not a mere money-grubbing
machine like me."
And a week later Sennett, sitting alone with Edith, suddenly broke
"He's a better man than I am, with all my high-falutin' talk, and,
upon my soul, he loves you. Shall I go abroad?"
"If you like," was the answer.
"What would you do?"
"Kill myself," replied the other, with a laugh, "or run away with
the first man that asked me."
So Sennett stayed on.
Blake himself had made the path easy to them. There was little
need for either fear or caution. Indeed, their safest course lay
in recklessness, and they took it. To Sennett the house was always
open. It was Blake himself who, when unable to accompany his wife,
would suggest Sennett as a substitute. Club friends shrugged their
shoulders. Was the man completely under his wife's thumb; or,
tired of her, was he playing some devil's game of his own? To most
of his acquaintances the latter explanation seemed the more
The gossip, in due course, reached the parental home. Mrs.
Eppington shook the vials of her wrath over the head of her son-in-
law. The father, always a cautious man, felt inclined to blame his
child for her want of prudence.
"She'll ruin everything," he said. "Why the devil can't she be
"I believe the man is deliberately plotting to get rid of her,"
said Mrs. Eppington. "I shall tell him plainly what I think."
"You're a fool, Hannah," replied her husband, allowing himself the
licence of the domestic hearth. "If you are right, you will only
precipitate matters; if you are wrong, you will tell him what there
is no need for him to know. Leave the matter to me. I can sound
him without giving anything away, and meanwhile you talk to Edith."
So matters were arranged, but the interview between mother and
daughter hardly improved the position. Mrs. Eppington was
conventionally moral; Edith had been thinking for herself, and
thinking in a bad atmosphere. Mrs. Eppington, grew angry at the
"Have you no sense of shame?" she cried.
"I had once," was Edith's reply, "before I came to live here. Do
you know what this house is for me, with its gilded mirrors, its
couches, its soft carpets? Do you know what I am, and have been
for two years?"
The elder woman rose, with a frightened pleading look upon her
face, and the other stopped and turned away towards the window.
"We all thought it for the best," continued Mrs. Eppington meekly.
The girl spoke wearily without looking round.
"Oh! every silly thing that was ever done, was done for the best.
_I_ thought it would be for the best, myself. Everything would be
so simple if only we were not alive. Don't let's talk any more.
All you can say is quite right."
The silence continued for a while, the Dresden-china clock on the
mantelpiece ticking louder and louder as if to say, "I, Time, am
here. Do not make your plans forgetting me, little mortals; I
change your thoughts and wills. You are but my puppets."
"Then what do you intend to do?" demanded Mrs. Eppington at length.
"Intend! Oh, the right thing of course. We all intend that. I
shall send Harry away with a few well-chosen words of farewell,
learn to love my husband and settle down to a life of quiet
domestic bliss. Oh, it's easy enough to intend!"
The girl's face wrinkled with a laugh that aged her. In that
moment it was a hard, evil face, and with a pang the elder woman
thought of that other face, so like, yet so unlike--the sweet pure
face of a girl that had given to a sordid home its one touch of
nobility. As under the lightning's flash we see the whole arc of
the horizon, so Mrs. Eppington looked and saw her child's life.
The gilded, over-furnished room vanished. She and a big-eyed,
fair-haired child, the only one of her children she had ever
understood, were playing wonderful games in the twilight among the
shadows of a tiny attic. Now she was the wolf, devouring Edith,
who was Red Riding Hood, with kisses. Now Cinderella's prince, now
both her wicked sisters. But in the favourite game of all, Mrs.
Eppington was a beautiful princess, bewitched by a wicked dragon,
so that she seemed to be an old, worn woman. But curly-headed
Edith fought the dragon, represented by the three-legged rocking-
horse, and slew him with much shouting and the toasting-fork. Then
Mrs. Eppington became again a beautiful princess, and went away
with Edith back to her own people.
In this twilight hour the misbehaviour of the "General," the
importunity of the family butcher, and the airs assumed by cousin
Jane, who kept two servants, were forgotten.
The games ended. The little curly head would be laid against her
breast "for five minutes' love," while the restless little brain
framed the endless question that children are for ever asking in
all its thousand forms, "What is life, mother? I am very little,
and I think, and think, until I grow frightened. Oh, mother, tell
me, what is life?"
Had she dealt with these questions wisely? Might it not have been
better to have treated them more seriously? Could life after all
be ruled by maxims learned from copy-books? She had answered as
she had been answered in her own far-back days of questioning.
Might it not have been better had she thought for herself?
Suddenly Edith was kneeling on the floor beside her.
"I will try to be good, mother."
It was the old baby cry, the cry of us all, children that we are,
till mother Nature kisses us and bids us go to sleep.
Their arms were round each other now, and so they sat, mother and
child once more. And the twilight of the old attic, creeping
westward from the east, found them again.
The masculine duet had more result, but was not conducted with the
finesse that Mr. Eppington, who prided himself on his diplomacy,
had intended. Indeed, so evidently ill at ease was that gentleman,
when the moment came for talk, and so palpably were his pointless
remarks mere efforts to delay an unpleasant subject, that Blake,
always direct bluntly though not ill-naturedly asked him, "How
Mr. Eppington was disconcerted.
"It's not that--at least that's not what I have come about," he
"What have you come about?"
Inwardly Mr. Eppington cursed himself for a fool, for the which he
was perhaps not altogether without excuse. He had meant to act the
part of a clever counsel, acquiring information while giving none;
by a blunder, he found himself in the witness-box.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," was the feeble response, "merely looked in
to see how Edith was."
"Much the same as at dinner last night, when you were here,"
answered Blake. "Come, out with it."
It seemed the best course now, and Mr. Eppington took the plunge.
"Don't you think," he said, unconsciously glancing round the room
to be sure they were alone, "that young Sennett is a little too
much about the house?"
Blake stared at him.
"Of course, we know it is all right--as nice a young fellow as ever
lived--and Edith--and all that. Of course, it's absurd, but--"
"Well, people will talk."
"What do they say?"
The other shrugged his shoulders.
Blake rose. He had an ugly look when angry, and his language was
apt to be coarse.
"Tell them to mind their own business, and leave me and my wife
alone." That was the sense of what he said; he expressed himself
at greater length, and in stronger language.
"But, my dear Blake," urged Mr. Eppington, "for your own sake, is
it wise? There was a sort of boy and girl attachment between them-
-nothing of any moment, but all that gives colour to gossip.
Forgive me, but I am her father; I do not like to hear my child
"Then don't open your ears to the chatter of a pack of fools,"
replied his son-in-law roughly. But the next instant a softer
expression passed over his face, and he laid his hand on the older
"Perhaps there are many more, but there's one good woman in the
world," he said, "and that's your daughter. Come and tell me that
the Bank of England is getting shaky on its legs, and I'll listen
But the stronger the faith, the deeper strike the roots of
suspicion. Blake said no further word on the subject, and Sennett
was as welcome as before. But Edith, looking up suddenly, would
sometimes find her husband's eyes fixed on her with a troubled look
as of some dumb creature trying to understand; and often he would
slip out of the house of an evening by himself, returning home
hours afterwards, tired and mud-stained.
He made attempts to show his affection. This was the most fatal
thing he could have done. Ill-temper, ill-treatment even, she
might have borne. His clumsy caresses, his foolish, halting words
of tenderness became a horror to her. She wondered whether to
laugh or to strike at his upturned face. His tactless devotion
filled her life as with some sickly perfume, stifling her. If only
she could be by herself for a little while to think! But he was
with her night and day. There were times when, as he would cross
the room towards her, he grew monstrous until he towered above her,
a formless thing such as children dream of. And she would sit with
her lips tight pressed, clutching the chair lest she should start
Her only thought was to escape from him. One day she hastily
packed a few necessaries in a small hand-bag and crept unperceived
from the house. She drove to Charing Cross, but the Continental
Express did not leave for an hour, and she had time to think.
Of what use was it? Her slender stock of money would soon be gone;
how could she live? He would find her and follow her. It was all
Suddenly a fierce desire of life seized hold of her, the angry
answer of her young blood to despair. Why should she die, never
having known what it was to live? Why should she prostrate herself
before this juggernaut of other people's respectability? Joy
called to her; only her own cowardice stayed her from stretching
forth her hand and gathering it. She returned home a different
woman, for hope had come to her.
A week later the butler entered the dining room, and handed Blake a
letter addressed to him in his wife's handwriting. He took it
without a word, as though he had been expecting it. It simply told
him that she had left him for ever.
The world is small, and money commands many services. Sennett had
gone out for a stroll; Edith was left in the tiny salon of their
appartement at Fecamp. It was the third day of their arrival in
the town. The door was opened and closed, and Blake stood before
She rose frightened, but by a motion he reassured her. There was a
quiet dignity about the man that was strange to her.
"Why have you followed me?" she asked.
"I want you to return home."
"Home!" she cried. "You must be mad. Do you not know--"
He interrupted her vehemently. "I know nothing. I wish to know
nothing. Go back to London at once. I have made everything right;
no one suspects. I shall not be there; you will never see me
again, and you will have an opportunity of undoing your mistake--
She listened. Hers was not a great nature, and the desire to
obtain happiness without paying the price was strong upon her. As
for his good name, what could that matter? he urged. People would
only say that he had gone back to the evil from which he had
emerged, and few would be surprised. His life would go on much as
it had done, and she would only be pitied.
She quite understood his plan; it seemed mean of her to accept his
proposal, and she argued feebly against it. But he overcame all
her objections. For his own sake, he told her, he would prefer the
scandal to be connected with his name rather than with that of his
wife. As he unfolded his scheme, she began to feel that in
acquiescing she was conferring a favour. It was not the first
deception he had arranged for the public, and he appeared to be
half in love with his own cleverness. She even found herself
laughing at his mimicry of what this acquaintance and that would
say. Her spirits rose; the play that might have been a painful
drama seemed turning out an amusing farce.
The thing settled, he rose to go, and held out his hand. As she
looked up into his face, something about the line of his lips smote
"You will be well rid of me," she said. "I have brought you
nothing but trouble."
"Oh, trouble," he answered. "If that were all! A man can bear
"What else?" she asked.
His eyes travelled aimlessly about the room. "They taught me a lot
of things when I was a boy," he said, "my mother and others--they
meant well--which as I grew older I discovered to be lies; and so I
came to think that nothing good was true, and that everything and
everybody was evil. And then--"
His wandering eyes came round to her and he broke off abruptly.
"Good-bye," he said, and the next moment he was gone.
She sat wondering for a while what he had meant. Then Sennett
returned, and the words went out of her head.
A good deal of sympathy was felt for Mrs. Blake. The man had a
charming wife; he might have kept straight; but as his friends
added, "Blake always was a cad."
AN ITEM OF FASHIONABLE INTELLIGENCE
Speaking personally, I do not like the Countess of --. She is not
the type of woman I could love. I hesitate the less giving
expression to this sentiment by reason of the conviction that the
Countess of -- would not be unduly depressed even were the fact to
reach her ears. I cannot conceive the Countess of --'s being
troubled by the opinion concerning her of any being, human or
divine, other than the Countess of --.
But to be honest, I must admit that for the Earl of -- she makes an
ideal wife. She rules him as she rules all others, relations and
retainers, from the curate to the dowager, but the rod, though
firmly held, is wielded with justice and kindly intent. Nor is it
possible to imagine the Earl of --'s living as contentedly as he
does with any partner of a less dominating turn of mind. He is one
of those weak-headed, strong-limbed, good-natured, childish men,
born to be guided in all matters, from the tying of a neck-cloth to
the choice of a political party, by their women folk. Such men are
in clover when their proprietor happens to be a good and sensible
woman, but are to be pitied when they get into the hands of the
selfish or the foolish. As very young men, they too often fall
victims to bad-tempered chorus girls or to middle-aged matrons of
the class from which Pope judged all womankind. They make capital
husbands when well managed; treated badly, they say little, but set
to work, after the manner of a dissatisfied cat, to find a kinder
mistress, generally succeeding. The Earl of -- adored his wife,
deeming himself the most fortunate of husbands, and better
testimonial than such no wife should hope for. Till the day she
snatched him away from all other competitors, and claimed him for
her own, he had obeyed his mother with a dutifulness bordering on
folly. Were the countess to die to-morrow, he would be unable to
tell you his mind on any single subject until his eldest daughter
and his still unmarried sister, ladies both of strong character,
attracted towards one another by a mutual antagonism, had settled
between themselves which was to be mistress of him and of his
However, there is little fear (bar accidents) but that my friend
the countess will continue to direct the hereditary vote of the
Earl of -- towards the goal of common sense and public good, guide
his social policy with judgment and kindness, and manage his
estates with prudence and economy for many years to come. She is a
hearty, vigorous lady, of generous proportions, with the blood of
sturdy forebears in her veins, and one who takes the same excellent
good care of herself that she bestows on all others dependent upon
"I remember," said the doctor--we were dining with the doctor in
homely fashion, and our wives had adjourned to the drawing-room to
discuss servants and husbands and other domestic matters with
greater freedom, leaving us to the claret and the twilight--"I
remember when we had the cholera in the village--it must be twenty
years ago now--that woman gave up the London season to stay down
here and take the whole burden of the trouble upon her own
shoulders. I do not feel any call to praise her; she liked the
work, and she was in her element, but it was good work for all
that. She had no fear. She would carry the children in her arms
if time pressed and the little ambulance was not at hand. I have
known her sit all night in a room not twelve feet square, between a
dying man and his dying wife. But the thing never touched her.
Six years ago we had the small-pox, and she went all through that
in just the same way. I don't believe she has ever had a day's
illness in her life. She will be physicking this parish when my
bones are rattling in my coffin, and she will be laying down the
laws of literature long after your statue has become a familiar
ornament of Westminster Abbey. She's a wonderful woman, but a
He laughed, but I detected a touch of irritation in his voice. My
host looked a man wishful to be masterful himself. I do not think
he quite relished the calm way in which this grand dame took
possession of all things around her, himself and his work included.
"Did you ever hear the story of the marriage?" he asked.
"No," I replied, "whose marriage? The earl's?"
"I should call it the countess's," he answered. "It was the gossip
of the county when I first came here, but other curious things have
happened among us to push it gradually out of memory. Most people,
I really believe, have quite forgotten that the Countess of -- once
served behind a baker's counter."
"You don't say so," I exclaimed. The remark, I admit, sounds weak
when written down; the most natural remarks always do.
"It's a fact," said the doctor, "though she does not suggest the
shop-girl, does she? But then I have known countesses, descended
in a direct line from William the Conqueror, who did, so things
balance one another. Mary, Countess of --, was, thirty years ago,
Mary Sewell, daughter of a Taunton linen-draper. The business,
profitable enough as country businesses go, was inadequate for the
needs of the Sewell family, consisting, as I believe it did, of
seven boys and eight girls. Mary, the youngest, as soon as her
brief schooling was over, had to shift for herself. She seems to
have tried her hand at one or two things, finally taking service
with a cousin, a baker and confectioner, who was doing well in
Oxford Street. She must have been a remarkably attractive girl;
she's a handsome woman now. I can picture that soft creamy skin
when it was fresh and smooth, and the West of England girls run
naturally to dimples and eyes that glisten as though they had been
just washed in morning dew. The shop did a good trade in ladies'
lunches--it was the glass of sherry and sweet biscuit period. I
expect they dressed her in some neat-fitting grey or black dress,
with short sleeves, showing her plump arms, and that she flitted
around the marble-topped tables, smiling, and looking cool and
sweet. There the present Earl of --, then young Lord C-, fresh
from Oxford, and new to the dangers of London bachelordom, first
saw her. He had accompanied some female relatives to the
photographer's, and, hotels and restaurants being deemed impossible
in those days for ladies, had taken them to Sewell's to lunch.
Mary Sewell waited upon the party; and now as many of that party as
are above ground wait upon Mary Sewell."
"He showed good sense in marrying her," I said, "I admire him for
it." The doctor's sixty-four Lafitte was excellent. I felt
charitably inclined towards all men and women, even towards earls
"I don't think he had much to do with it," laughed the doctor,
"beyond being, like Barkis, 'willing.' It's a queer story; some
people profess not to believe it, but those who know her ladyship
best think it is just the story that must be true, because it is so
characteristic of her. And besides, I happen to know that it is
"I should like to hear it," I said.
"I am going to tell it you," said the doctor, lighting a fresh
cigar, and pushing the box towards me.
I will leave you to imagine the lad's suddenly developed appetite
for decantered sherry at sixpence a glass, and the familiar currant
bun of our youth. He lunched at Sewell's shop, he tea'd at
Sewell's, occasionally he dined at Sewell's, off cutlets, followed
by assorted pastry. Possibly, merely from fear lest the affair
should reach his mother's ears, for he was neither worldly-wise nor
vicious, he made love to Mary under an assumed name; and to do the
girl justice, it must be remembered that she fell in love with and
agreed to marry plain Mr. John Robinson, son of a colonial
merchant, a gentleman, as she must have seen, and a young man of
easy means, but of a position not so very much superior to her own.
The first intimation she received that her lover was none other
than Lord C-, the future Earl of --, was vouchsafed her during a
painful interview with his lordship's mother.
"I never knew it, madam," asserted Mary, standing by the window of
the drawing-room above the shop, "upon my word of honour, I never
"Perhaps not," answered her ladyship coldly. "Would you have
refused him if you had?"
"I cannot tell," was the girl's answer; "it would have been
different from the beginning. He courted me and asked me to be his
"We won't go into all that," interrupted the other; "I am not here
to defend him. I do not say he acted well. The question is, how
much will compensate you for your natural disappointment?"
Her ladyship prided herself upon her bluntness and practicability.
As she spoke she took her cheque-book out of her reticule, and,
opening it, dipped her pen into the ink. I am inclined to think
that the flutter of that cheque-book was her ladyship's mistake.
The girl had common sense, and must have seen the difficulties in
the way of a marriage between the heir to an earldom and a linen-
draper's daughter; and had the old lady been a person of
discernment, the interview might have ended more to her
satisfaction. She made the error of judging the world by one
standard, forgetting there are individualities. Mary Sewell came
from a West of England stock that, in the days of Drake and
Frobisher, had given more than one able-bodied pirate to the
service of the country, and that insult of the cheque-book put the
fight into her. Her lips closed with a little snap, and the fear
fell from her.
"I am sorry I don't see my way to obliging your ladyship," she
"What do you mean, girl?" asked the elder woman.
"I don't mean to be disappointed," answered the girl, but she spoke
quietly and respectfully. "We have pledged our word to one
another. If he is a gentleman, as I know he is, he will keep his,
and I shall keep mine."
Then her ladyship began to talk reason, as people do when it is too
late. She pointed out to the girl the difference of social
position, and explained to her the miseries that come from marrying
out of one's station. But the girl by this time had got over her
surprise, and perhaps had begun to reflect that, in any case, a
countess-ship was worth fighting for. The best of women are
influenced by such considerations.
"I am not a lady, I know," she replied quietly, "but my people have
always been honest folk, well known, and I shall try to learn. I
am not wishing to speak disrespectfully of my betters, but I was in
service before I came here, ma'am, as lady's maid, in a place where
I saw much of what is called Society. I think I can be as good a
lady as some I know, if not better."
The countess began to grow angry again. "And who do you think will
receive you?" she cried, "a girl who has served in a pastry-cook's
"Lady L- came from behind the bar," Mary answered, "and that's not
much better. And the Duchess of C-, I have heard, was a ballet
girl, but nobody seems to remember it. I don't think the people
whose opinion is worth having will object to me for very long."
The girl was beginning rather to enjoy the contest.
"You profess to love my son," cried the countess fiercely, "and you
are going to ruin his life. You will drag him down to your own
The girl must have looked rather fine at that moment, I should
dearly love to have been present.
"There will be no dragging down, my lady," she replied, "on either
side. I do love your son very dearly. He is one of the kindest
and best of gentlemen. But I am not blind, and whatever amount of
cleverness there may be between us belongs chiefly to me. I shall
make it my duty to fit myself for the position of his wife, and to
help him in his work. You need not fear, my lady, I shall be a
good wife to him, and he shall never regret it. You might find him
a richer wife, a better educated wife, but you will never find him
a wife who will be more devoted to him and to his interests."
That practically brought the scene to a close. The countess had
sense enough to see that she was only losing ground by argument.
She rose and replaced her cheque-book in her bag.
"I think, my good girl, you must be mad," she said; "if you will
not allow me to do anything for you, there's an end to the matter.
I did not come here to quarrel with you. My son knows his duty to
me and to his family. You must take your own course, and I must
"Very well, my lady," said Mary Sewell, holding the door open for
her ladyship to pass out, "we shall see who wins."
But however brave a front Mary Sewell may have maintained before
the enemy, I expect she felt pretty limp when thinking matters
calmly over after her ladyship's departure. She knew her lover
well enough to guess that he would be as wax in the firm hands of
his mother, while she herself would not have a chance of opposing
her influence against those seeking to draw him away from her.
Once again she read through the few schoolboy letters he had
written her, and then looked up at the framed photograph that hung
above the mantelpiece of her little bedroom. The face was that of
a frank, pleasant-looking young fellow, lightened by eyes somewhat
large for a man, but spoiled by a painfully weak mouth. The more
Mary Sewell thought, the more sure she felt in her own mind that he
loved her, and had meant honestly by her. Did the matter rest with
him, she might reckon on being the future Countess of --, but,
unfortunately for her, the person to be considered was not Lord C-,
but the present Countess of --. From childhood, through boyhood,
into manhood it had never once occurred to Lord C- to dispute a
single command of his mother's, and his was not the type of brain
to readily receive new ideas. If she was to win in the unequal
contest it would have to be by art, not by strength. She sat down
and wrote a letter which under all the circumstances was a model of
diplomacy. She knew that it would be read by the countess, and,
writing it, she kept both mother and son in mind. She made no
reproaches, and indulged in but little sentiment. It was the
letter of a woman who could claim rights, but who asked only for
courtesy. It stated her wish to see him alone and obtain from his
own lips the assurance that he wished their engagement to cease.
"Do not fear," Mary Sewell wrote, "that I shall be any annoyance to
you. My own pride would not let me urge you to marry me against
your desire, and I care for you too much to cause you any pain.
Assure me with your own lips that you wish our engagement to be at
an end, and I shall release you without another word."
The family were in town, and Mary sent her letter by a trusty hand.
The countess read it with huge satisfaction, and, re-sealing it,
gave it herself into her son's hands. It promised a happy solution
of the problem. In imagination, she had all the night been
listening to a vulgar breach of promise case. She herself had been
submitted to a most annoying cross-examination by a pert barrister.
Her son's assumption of the name of Robinson had been misunderstood
and severely commented upon by the judge. A sympathetic jury had
awarded thumping damages, and for the next six months the family
title would be a peg on which music-hall singers and comic
journalists would hang their ribald jokes. Lord C- read the
letter, flushed, and dutifully handed it back to his mother. She
made pretence to read it as for the first time, and counselled him
to accord the interview.
"I am so glad," she said, "that the girl is taking the matter
sensibly. We must really do something for her in the future, when
everything is settled. Let her ask for me, and then the servants
will fancy she's a lady's maid or something of that sort, come
after a place, and won't talk."
So that evening Mary Sewell, addressed by the butler as "young
woman," was ushered into the small drawing-room that connects the
library of No. -- Grosvenor Square with the other reception rooms.
The countess, now all amiability, rose to meet her.
"My son will be here in a moment," she explained, "he has informed
me of the purport of your letter. Believe me, my dear Miss Sewell,
no one can regret his thoughtless conduct more than I do. But
young men will be young men, and they do not stop to reflect that
what may be a joke to them may be taken quite seriously by others."
"I don't regard the matter as a joke, my lady," replied Mary
"Of course not, my dear," added the countess, "that's what I'm
saying. It was very wrong of him altogether. But with your pretty
face, you will not, I am sure, have long to wait for a husband; we
must see what we can do for you."
The countess certainly lacked tact; it must have handicapped her
"Thank you," answered the girl, "but I prefer to choose my own."
Fortunately--or the interview might have ended in another quarrel--
the cause of all the trouble at this moment entered the room, and
the countess, whispering a few final words of instruction to him as
she passed out, left them together.
Mary took a chair in the centre of the room, at equal distance from
both doors. Lord C-, finding any sort of a seat uncomfortable
under the circumstances, preferred to stand with his back to the
mantelpiece. Dead silence was maintained for a few seconds, and
then Mary, drawing the daintiest of handkerchiefs from her pocket,
began to cry. The countess must have been a poor diplomatist, or
she might have thought of this; or she may have remembered her own
appearance on the rare occasions when she herself, a big, raw-boned
girl, had attempted the softening influence of tears, and have
attached little importance to the possibility. But when these
soft, dimpled women cry, and cry quietly, it is another matter.
Their eyes grow brighter, and the tears, few and far between, lie
like dewdrops on a rose leaf.
Lord C- was as tender-hearted a lout as ever lived. In a moment he
was on his knees with his arm round the girl's waist, pouring out
such halting words of love and devotion as came to his unready
brain, cursing his fate, his earldom, and his mother, and assuring
Mary that his only chance of happiness lay in his making her his
countess. Had Mary liked to say the word at that moment, he would
have caught her to his arms, and defied the whole world--for the
time being. But Mary was a very practical young woman, and there
are difficulties in the way of handling a lover, who, however ready
he may be to do your bidding so long as your eyes are upon him, is
liable to be turned from his purpose so soon as another influence
is substituted for your own. His lordship suggested an immediate
secret marriage. But you cannot run out into the street, knock up
a clergyman, and get married on the spot, and Mary knew that the
moment she was gone his lordship's will would revert to his
mother's keeping. Then his lordship suggested flight, but flight
requires money, and the countess knew enough to keep his lordship's
purse in her own hands. Despair seized upon his lordship.
"It's no use," he cried, "it will end in my marrying her."
"Who's she?" exclaimed Mary somewhat quickly.
His lordship explained the position. The family estates were
heavily encumbered. It was deemed advisable that his lordship
should marry Money, and Money, in the person of the only daughter
of rich and ambitious parvenus, had offered itself--or, to speak
more correctly, had been offered.
"What's she like?" asked Mary.
"Oh, she's nice enough," was the reply, "only I don't care for her
and she doesn't care for me. It won't be much fun for either of
us," and his lordship laughed dismally.
"How do you know she doesn't care for you?" asked Mary. A woman
may be critical of her lover's shortcomings, but at the very least
he is good enough for every other woman.
"Well, she happens to care for somebody else," answered his
lordship, "she told me so herself."
That would account for it.
"And is she willing to marry you?" inquired Mary.
His lordship shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, well, you know, her people want it," he replied.
In spite of her trouble, the girl could not help a laugh. These
young swells seemed to have but small wills of their own. Her
ladyship, on the other side of the door, grew nervous. It was the
only sound she had been able to hear.
"It's deuced awkward," explained his lordship, "when you're--well,
when you are anybody, you know. You can't do as you like. Things
are expected of you, and there's such a lot to be considered."
Mary rose and clasped her pretty dimpled hands, from which she had
drawn her gloves, behind his neck.
"You do love me, Jack?" she said, looking up into his face.
For answer the lad hugged her to him very tightly, and there were
tears in his eyes.
"Look here, Mary," he cried, "if I could only get rid of my
position, and settle down with you as a country gentleman, I'd do
it to-morrow. Damn the title, it's going to be the curse of my
Perhaps in that moment Mary also wished that the title were at the
bottom of the sea, and that her lover were only the plain Mr. John
Robinson she had thought him. These big, stupid men are often very
loveable in spite of, or because of their weakness. They appeal to
the mother side of a woman's heart, and that is the biggest side in
all good women.
Suddenly however, the door opened. The countess appeared, and
sentiment flew out. Lord C-, releasing Mary, sprang back, looking
like a guilty school-boy.
"I thought I heard Miss Sewell go out," said her ladyship in the
icy tones that had never lost their power of making her son's heart
freeze within him. "I want to see you when you are free."
"I shan't be long," stammered his lordship. "Mary--Miss Sewell is
Mary waited without moving until the countess had left and closed
the door behind her. Then she turned to her lover and spoke in
quick, low tones.
"Give me her address--the girl they want you to marry!"
"What are you going to do?" asked his lordship.
"I don't know," answered the girl, "but I'm going to see her."
She scribbled the name down, and then said, looking the boy
squarely in the face:
"Tell me frankly, Jack, do you want to marry me, or do you not?"
"You know I do, Mary," he answered, and his eyes spoke stronger
than his words. "If I weren't a silly ass, there would be none of
this trouble. But I don't know how it is; I say to myself I'll do,
a thing, but the mater talks and talks and--"
"I know," interrupted Mary with a smile. "Don't argue with her,
fall in with all her views, and pretend to agree with her."
"If you could only think of some plan," said his lordship, catching
at the hope of her words, "you are so clever."
"I am going to try," answered Mary, "and if I fail, you must run
off with me, even if you have to do it right before your mother's
What she meant was, "I shall have to run off with you," but she
thought it better to put it the other way about.
Mary found her involuntary rival a meek, gentle little lady, as
much under the influence of her blustering father as was Lord C-
under that of his mother. What took place at the interview one can
only surmise; but certain it is that the two girls, each for her
own ends, undertook to aid and abet one another.
Much to the surprised delight of their respective parents, there
came about a change in the attitude hitherto assumed towards one
another by Miss Clementina Hodskiss and Lord C-. All objections to
his lordship's unwilling attentions were suddenly withdrawn by the
lady. Indeed, so swift to come and go are the whims of women, his
calls were actually encouraged, especially when, as generally
happened, they coincided with the absence from home of Mr. and Mrs.
Hodskiss. Quite as remarkable was the new-born desire of Lord C-
towards Miss Clementina Hodskiss. Mary's name was never mentioned,
and the suggestion of immediate marriage was listened to without
remonstrance. Wiser folk would have puzzled their brains, but both
her ladyship and ex-Contractor Hodskiss were accustomed to find all
things yield to their wishes. The countess saw visions of a
rehabilitated estate, and Clementina's father dreamed of a peerage,
secured by the influence of aristocratic connections. All that the
young folks stipulated for (and on that point their firmness was
supernatural) was that the marriage should be quiet, almost to the
verge of secrecy.
"No beastly fuss," his lordship demanded. "Let it be somewhere in
the country, and no mob!" and his mother, thinking she understood
his reason, patted his cheek affectionately.
"I should like to go down to Aunt Jane's and be married quietly
from there," explained Miss Hodskiss to her father.
Aunt Jane resided on the outskirts of a small Hampshire village,
and "sat under" a clergyman famous throughout the neighbourhood for
having lost the roof to his mouth.
"You can't be married by that old fool," thundered her father--Mr.
Hodskiss always thundered; he thundered even his prayers.
"He christened me," urged Miss Clementina.
"And Lord knows what he called you. Nobody can understand a word
"I'd like him to marry me," reiterated Miss Clementina.
Neither her ladyship nor the contractor liked the idea. The latter
in particular had looked forward to a big function, chronicled at
length in all the newspapers. But after all, the marriage was the
essential thing, and perhaps, having regard to some foolish love
passages that had happened between Clementina and a certain
penniless naval lieutenant, ostentation might be out of place.
So in due course Clementina departed for Aunt Jane's, accompanied
only by her maid.
Quite a treasure was Miss Hodskiss's new maid.
"A clean, wholesome girl," said of her Contractor Hodskiss, who
cultivated affability towards the lower orders; "knows her place,
and talks sense. You keep that girl, Clemmy."
"Do you think she knows enough?" hazarded the maternal Hodskiss.
"Quite sufficient for any decent woman," retorted the contractor.
"When Clemmy wants painting and stuffing, it will be time enough
for her to think about getting one of your 'Ach Himmels' or 'Mon
"I like the girl myself immensely," agreed Clementina's mother.
"You can trust her, and she doesn't give herself airs."
Her praises reached even the countess, suffering severely at the
moment from the tyranny of an elderly Fraulein.
"I must see this treasure," thought the countess to herself. "I am
tired of these foreign minxes."
But no matter at what cunning hour her ladyship might call, the
"treasure" always happened for some reason or other to be abroad.
"Your girl is always out when I come," laughed the countess. "One
would fancy there was some reason for it."
"It does seem odd," agreed Clementina, with a slight flush.
Miss Hodskiss herself showed rather than spoke her appreciation of
the girl. She seemed unable to move or think without her. Not
even from the interviews with Lord C- was the maid always absent.
The marriage, it was settled, should be by licence. Mrs. Hodskiss
made up her mind at first to run down and see to the preliminaries,
but really when the time arrived it hardly seemed necessary to take
that trouble. The ordering of the whole affair was so very simple,
and the "treasure" appeared to understand the business most
thoroughly, and to be willing to take the whole burden upon her own
shoulders. It was not, therefore, until the evening before the
wedding that the Hodskiss family arrived in force, filling Aunt
Jane's small dwelling to its utmost capacity. The swelling figure
of the contractor, standing beside the tiny porch, compelled the
passer-by to think of the doll's house in which the dwarf resides
during fair-time, ringing his own bell out of his own first-floor
window. The countess and Lord C- were staying with her ladyship's
sister, the Hon. Mrs. J-, at G- Hall, some ten miles distant, and
were to drive over in the morning. The then Earl of -- was in
Norway, salmon fishing. Domestic events did not interest him.
Clementina complained of a headache after dinner, and went to bed
early. The "treasure" also was indisposed. She seemed worried and
"That girl is as eager about the thing," remarked Mrs. Hodskiss,
"as though it was her own marriage."
In the morning Clementina was still suffering from her headache,
but asserted her ability to go through the ceremony, provided
everybody would keep away, and not worry her. The "treasure" was
the only person she felt she could bear to have about her. Half an
hour before it was time to start for church her mother looked her
up again. She had grown still paler, if possible, during the
interval, and also more nervous and irritable. She threatened to
go to bed and stop there if she was not left quite alone. She
almost turned her mother out of the room, locking the door behind
her. Mrs. Hodskiss had never known her daughter to be like this
The others went on, leaving her to follow in the last carriage with
her father. The contractor, forewarned, spoke little to her. Only
once he had occasion to ask her a question, and then she answered
in a strained, unnatural voice. She appeared, so far as could be
seen under her heavy veil, to be crying.
"Well, this is going to be a damned cheerful wedding," said Mr.
Hodskiss, and lapsed into sulkiness.
The wedding was not so quiet as had been anticipated. The village
had got scent of it, and had spread itself upon the event, while
half the house party from G- Hall had insisted on driving over to
take part in the proceedings. The little church was better filled
than it had been for many a long year past.
The presence of the stylish crowd unnerved the ancient clergyman,
long unaccustomed to the sight of a strange face, and the first
sound of the ancient clergyman's voice unnerved the stylish crowd.
What little articulation he possessed entirely disappeared, no one
could understand a word he said. He appeared to be uttering sounds
of distress. The ancient gentleman's infliction had to be
explained in low asides, and it also had to be explained why such
an one had been chosen to perform the ceremony.
"It was a whim of Clementina's," whispered her mother. "Her father
and myself were married from here, and he christened her. The dear
child's full of sentiment. I think it so nice of her."
Everybody agreed it was charming, but wished it were over. The
general effect was weird in the extreme.
Lord C- spoke up fairly well, but the bride's responses were
singularly indistinct, the usual order of things being thus
reversed. The story of the naval lieutenant was remembered, and
added to, and some of the more sentimental of the women began to
cry in sympathy.
In the vestry things assumed a brighter tone. There was no lack of
witnesses to sign the register. The verger pointed out to them the
place, and they wrote their names, as people in such cases do,
without stopping to read. Then it occurred to some one that the
bride had not yet signed. She stood apart, with her veil still
down, and appeared to have been forgotten. Encouraged, she came
forward meekly, and took the pen from the hand of the verger. The
countess came and stood behind her.
"Mary," wrote the bride, in a hand that looked as though it ought
to have been firm, but which was not.
"Dear me," said the countess, "I never knew there was a Mary in
your name. How differently you write when you write slowly."
The bride did not answer, but followed with "Susannah."
"Why, what a lot of names you must have, my dear!" exclaimed the
countess. "When are you going to get to the ones we all know?"
"Ruth," continued the bride without answering.
Breeding is not always proof against strong emotion. The countess
snatched the bride's veil from her face, and Mary Susannah Ruth
Sewell stood before her, flushed and trembling, but looking none
the less pretty because of that. At this point the crowd came in
"I am sure your ladyship does not wish a scene," said Mary,
speaking low. "The thing is done."
"The thing can be undone, and will be," retorted the countess in
the same tone. "You, you--"
"My wife, don't forget that, mother," said Lord C- coming between
them, and slipping Mary's hand on to his arm. "We are both sorry
to have had to go about the thing in this roundabout way, but we
wanted to avoid a fuss. I think we had better be getting away.
I'm afraid Mr. Hodskiss is going to be noisy."
The doctor poured himself out a glass of claret, and drank it off.
His throat must have been dry.
"And what became of Clementina?" I asked. "Did the naval
lieutenant, while the others were at church, dash up in a post-
chaise and carry her off?"
"That's what ought to have happened, for the whole thing to be in
keeping," agreed the doctor. "I believe as a matter of fact she
did marry him eventually, but not till some years later, after the
contractor had died."
"And did Mr. Hodskiss make a noise in the vestry?" I persisted.
The doctor never will finish a story.
"I can't say for certain," answered my host, "I only saw the
gentleman once. That was at a shareholders' meeting. I should
incline to the opinion that he did."
"I suppose the bride and bridegroom slipped out as quietly as
possible and drove straight off," I suggested.
"That would have been the sensible thing for them to do," agreed
"But how did she manage about her travelling frock?" I continued.
"She could hardly have gone back to her Aunt Jane's and changed her
things." The doctor has no mind for minutiae.
"I cannot tell you about all that," he replied. "I think I
mentioned that Mary was a practical girl. Possibly she had thought
of these details."
"And did the countess take the matter quietly?" I asked.
I like a tidy story, where everybody is put into his or her proper
place at the end. Your modern romance leaves half his characters
lying about just anyhow.
"That also I cannot tell you for certain," answered the doctor,
"but I give her credit for so much sense. Lord C- was of age, and
with Mary at his elbow, quite knew his own mind. I believe they
travelled for two or three years. The first time I myself set eyes
on the countess (nee Mary Sewell) was just after the late earl's
death. I thought she looked a countess, every inch of her, but
then I had not heard the story. I mistook the dowager for the
It was towards the end of August. He and I appeared to be the only
two men left to the Club. He was sitting by an open window, the
Times lying on the floor beside him. I drew my chair a little
closer and remarked:- "Good morning."
He suppressed a yawn, and replied "Mornin'"--dropping the "g." The
custom was just coming into fashion; he was always correct.
"Going to be a very hot day, I am afraid," I continued.
"'Fraid so," was the response, after which he turned his head away
and gently closed his eyes.
I opined that conversation was not to his wish, but this only made
me more determined to talk, and to talk to him above all others in
London. The desire took hold of me to irritate him--to break down
the imperturbable calm within which he moved and had his being; and
I gathered myself together, and settled down to the task.
"Interesting paper the Times," I observed.
"Very," he replied, taking it from the floor and handing it to me.
"Won't you read it?"
I had been careful to throw into my voice an aggressive cheeriness
which I had calculated would vex him, but his manner remained that
of a man who is simply bored. I argued with him politely
concerning the paper; but he insisted, still with the same weary
air, that he had done with it. I thanked him effusively. I judged
that he hated effusiveness.
"They say that to read a Times leader," I persisted, "is a lesson
in English composition."
"So I've been told," he answered tranquilly. "Personally I don't
The Times, I could see, was not going to be of much assistance to
me. I lit a cigarette, and remarked that he was not shooting. He
admitted the fact. Under the circumstances, it would have taxed
him to deny it, but the necessity for confession aroused him.
"To myself," he said, "a tramp through miles of mud, in company
with four gloomy men in black velveteen, a couple of depressed-
looking dogs, and a heavy gun, the entire cavalcade being organised
for the purpose of killing some twelve-and-sixpence worth of
poultry, suggests the disproportionate."
I laughed boisterously, and cried, "Good, good--very good!"
He was the type of man that shudders inwardly at the sound of
laughter. I had the will to slap him on the back, but I thought
maybe that would send him away altogether.
I asked him if he hunted. He replied that fourteen hours' talk a
day about horses, and only about horses tired him, and that in
consequence he had abandoned hunting.
"You fish?" I said.
"I was never sufficiently imaginative," he answered.
"You travel a good deal," I suggested.
He had apparently made up his mind to abandon himself to his fate,
for he turned towards me with a resigned air. An ancient nurse of
mine had always described me as the most "wearing" child she had
ever come across. I prefer to speak of myself as persevering.
"I should go about more," he said, "were I able to see any
difference between one place and another."
"Tried Central Africa?" I inquired.
"Once or twice," he answered. "It always reminds me of Kew
"China?" I hazarded.
"Cross between a willow-pattern plate and a New York slum," was his
"The North Pole?" I tried, thinking the third time might be lucky.
"Never got quite up to it," he returned. "Reached Cape Hakluyt
"How did that impress you?" I asked.
"It didn't impress me," he replied.
The talk drifted to women and bogus companies, dogs, literature,
and such-like matters. I found him well informed upon and bored by
"They used to be amusing," he said, speaking of the first named,
"until they began to take themselves seriously. Now they are
I was forced into closer companionship with "Blase Billy" that
autumn, for by chance a month later he and I found ourselves the
guests of the same delightful hostess, and I came to liking him
better. He was a useful man to have about one. In matters of
fashion one could always feel safe following his lead. One knew
that his necktie, his collar, his socks, if not the very newest
departure, were always correct; and upon social paths, as guide,
philosopher, and friend, he was invaluable. He knew every one,
together with his or her previous convictions. He was acquainted
with every woman's past, and shrewdly surmised every man's future.
He could point you out the coal-shed where the Countess of
Glenleman had gambolled in her days of innocence, and would take
you to breakfast at the coffee-shop off the Mile End Road where
"Sam. Smith, Estd. 1820," own brother to the world-famed society
novelist, Smith-Stratford, lived an uncriticised, unparagraphed,
unphotographed existence upon the profits of "rashers" at three-
ha'pence and "door-steps" at two a penny. He knew at what houses
it was inadvisable to introduce soap, and at what tables it would
be bad form to denounce political jobbery. He could tell you
offhand what trade-mark went with what crest, and remembered the
price paid for every baronetcy created during the last twenty-five
Regarding himself, he might have made claim with King Charles never
to have said a foolish thing, and never to have done a wise one.
He despised, or affected to despise, most of his fellow-men, and
those of his fellow-men whose opinion was most worth having
unaffectedly despised him.
Shortly described, one might have likened him to a Gaiety Johnny
with brains. He was capital company after dinner, but in the early
morning one avoided him.
So I thought of him until one day he fell in love; or to put it in
the words of Teddy Tidmarsh, who brought the news to us, "got
mashed on Gerty Lovell."
"The red-haired one," Teddy explained, to distinguish her from her
sister, who had lately adopted the newer golden shade.
"Gerty Lovell!" exclaimed the captain, "why, I've always been told
the Lovell girls hadn't a penny among them."
"The old man's stone broke, I know for a certainty," volunteered
Teddy, who picked up a mysterious but, in other respects,
satisfactory income in an office near Hatton Garden, and who was
candour itself concerning the private affairs of everybody but
"Oh, some rich pork-packing or diamond-sweating uncle has cropped
up in Australia, or America, or one of those places," suggested the
captain, "and Billy's got wind of it in good time. Billy knows his
We agreed that some such explanation was needed, though in all
other respects Gerty Lovell was just the girl that Reason (not
always consulted on these occasions) might herself have chosen for
"Blase Billy's" mate.
The sunlight was not too kind to her, but at evening parties, where
the lighting has been well considered, I have seen her look quite
girlish. At her best she was not beautiful, but at her worst there
was about her an air of breeding and distinction that always saved
her from being passed over, and she dressed to perfection. In
character she was the typical society woman: always charming,
generally insincere. She went to Kensington for her religion and
to Mayfair for her morals; accepted her literature from Mudie's and
her art from the Grosvenor Gallery; and could and would gabble
philanthropy, philosophy, and politics with equal fluency at every
five-o'clock tea-table she visited. Her ideas could always be
guaranteed as the very latest, and her opinion as that of the
person to whom she was talking. Asked by a famous novelist one
afternoon, at the Pioneer Club, to give him some idea of her,
little Mrs. Bund, the painter's wife, had remained for a few
moments with her pretty lips pursed, and had then said:
"She is a woman to whom life could bring nothing more fully
satisfying than a dinner invitation from a duchess, and whose
nature would be incapable of sustaining deeper suffering than that
caused by an ill-fitting costume."
At the time I should have said the epigram was as true as it was
cruel, but I suppose we none of us quite know each other.
I congratulated "Blase Billy," or to drop his Club nickname and
give him the full benefit of his social label, "The Hon. William
Cecil Wychwood Stanley Drayton," on the occasion of our next
meeting, which happened upon the steps of the Savoy Restaurant, and
I thought--unless a quiver of the electric light deceived me--that
"Charming girl," I said. "You're a lucky dog, Billy."
It was the phrase that custom demands upon such occasions, and it
came of its own accord to my tongue without costing me the trouble
of composition, but he seized upon it as though it had been a gem
of friendly sincerity.
"You will like her even more when you know her better," he said.
"She is so different from the usual woman that one meets. Come and
see her to-morrow afternoon, she will be so pleased. Go about
four, I will tell her to expect you."
I rang the bell at ten minutes past five. Billy was there. She
greeted me with a little tremor of embarrassment, which sat oddly
upon her, but which was not altogether unpleasing. She said it was
kind of me to come so early. I stayed for about half an hour, but
conversation flagged, and some of my cleverest remarks attracted no
When I rose to take my leave, Billy said that he must be off too,
and that he would accompany me. Had they been ordinary lovers, I
should have been careful to give them an opportunity of making
their adieus in secret; but in the case of the Honourable William
Drayton and the eldest Miss Lovell I concluded that such tactics
were needless, so I waited till he had shaken hands, and went
downstairs with him.
But in the hall Billy suddenly ejaculated, "By Jove! Half a
minute," and ran back up the stairs three at a time. Apparently he
found what he had gone for on the landing, for I did not hear the
opening of the drawing-room door. Then the Honourable Billy
redescended with a sober, nonchalent air.
"Left my gloves behind me," he explained, as he took my arm. "I am
always leaving my gloves about."
I did not mention that I had seen him take them from his hat and
slip them into his coat-tail pocket.
We at the Club did not see very much of Billy during the next three
months, but the captain, who prided himself upon his playing of the
role of smoking-room cynic--though he would have been better in the
part had he occasionally displayed a little originality--was of
opinion that our loss would be more than made up to us after the
marriage. Once in the twilight I caught sight of a figure that
reminded me of Billy's, accompanied by a figure that might have
been that of the eldest Miss Lovell; but as the spot was Battersea
Park, which is not a fashionable evening promenade, and the two
figures were holding each other's hands, the whole picture being
suggestive of the closing chapter of a London Journal romance, I
concluded I had made an error.
But I did see them in the Adelphi stalls one evening, rapt in a
sentimental melodrama. I joined them between the acts, and poked
fun at the play, as one does at the Adelphi, but Miss Lovell begged
me quite earnestly not to spoil her interest, and Billy wanted to
enter upon a serious argument as to whether a man was justified in
behaving as Will Terriss had just behaved towards the woman he
loved. I left them and returned to my own party, to the
satisfaction, I am inclined to think, of all concerned.
They married in due course. We were mistaken on one point. She
brought Billy nothing. But they both seemed quite content on his
not too extravagant fortune. They took a tiny house not far from
Victoria Station, and hired a brougham for the season. They did
not entertain very much, but they contrived to be seen everywhere
it was right and fashionable they should be seen. The Honourable
Mrs. Drayton was a much younger and brighter person than had been
the eldest Miss Lovell, and as she continued to dress charmingly,
her social position rose rapidly. Billy went everywhere with her,
and evidently took a keen pride in her success. It was even said
that he designed her dresses for her, and I have myself seen him
earnestly studying the costumes in Russell and Allen's windows.
The captain's prophecy remained unfulfilled. "Blase Billy"--if the
name could still be applied to him--hardly ever visited the Club
after his marriage. But I had grown to like him, and, as he had
foretold, to like his wife. I found their calm indifference to the
burning questions of the day a positive relief from the strenuous
atmosphere of literary and artistic circles. In the drawing-room
of their little house in Eaton Row, the comparative merits of
George Meredith and George R. Sims were not considered worth
discussion. Both were regarded as persons who afforded a certain
amount of amusement in return for a certain amount of cash. And on
any Wednesday afternoon, Henrick Ibsen and Arthur Roberts would
have been equally welcome, as adding piquancy to the small
gathering. Had I been compelled to pass my life in such a house,
this Philistine attitude might have palled upon me; but, under the
circumstances, it refreshed me, and I made use of my welcome, which
I believe was genuine, to its full extent.
As months went by, they seemed to me to draw closer to one another,
though I am given to understand that such is not the rule in
fashionable circles. One evening I arrived a little before my
time, and was shown up into the drawing-room by the soft-footed
butler. They were sitting in the dusk with their arms round one
another. It was impossible to withdraw, so I faced the situation
and coughed. A pair of middle-class lovers could not have appeared
more awkward or surprised.
But the incident established an understanding between us, and I
came to be regarded as a friend before whom there was less
necessity to act.
Studying them, I came to the conclusion that the ways and manners
of love are very same-like throughout the world, as though the
foolish boy, unheedful of human advance, kept but one school for
minor poet and East End shop-boy, for Girton girl and little
milliner; taught but the one lesson to the end-of-the-nineteenth-
century Johnny that he taught to bearded Pict and Hun four thousand
Thus the summer and the winter passed pleasantly for the Honourable
Billy, and then, as luck would have it, he fell ill just in the
very middle of the London season, when invitations to balls and
dinner parties, luncheons and "At Homes," were pouring in from
every quarter; when the lawns at Hurlingham were at their
smoothest, and the paddocks at their smartest.
It was unfortunate, too, that the fashions that season suited the
Honourable Mrs. Billy as they had not suited her for years. In the
early spring, she and Billy had been hard at work planning costumes
calculated to cause a flutter through Mayfair, and the dresses and
the bonnets--each one a work of art--were waiting on their stands
to do their killing work. But the Honourable Mrs. Billy, for the
first time in her life, had lost interest in such things.
Their friends were genuinely sorry, for society was Billy's
element, and in it he was interesting and amusing. But, as Lady
Gower said, there was no earthly need for his wife to constitute
herself a prisoner. Her shutting herself off from the world could
do him no good and it would look odd.
Accordingly the Honourable Mrs. Drayton, to whom oddness was a
crime, and the voice of Lady Gower as the voice of duty, sacrificed
her inclinations on the social shrine, laced the new costumes tight
across her aching heart, and went down into society.
But the Honourable Mrs. Drayton achieved not the success of former
seasons. Her small talk grew so very small, that even Park Lane
found it unsatisfying. Her famous laugh rang mechanically. She
smiled at the wisdom of dukes, and became sad at the funny stories
of millionaires. Society voted her a good wife but bad company,
and confined its attentions to cards of inquiry. And for this
relief the Honourable Mrs. Drayton was grateful, for Billy waned
weaker and weaker. In the world of shadows in which she moved, he
was the one real thing. She was of very little practical use, but
it comforted her to think that she was helping to nurse him.
But Billy himself it troubled.
"I do wish you would go out more," he would say. "It makes me feel
that I'm such a selfish brute, keeping you tied up here in this
dismal little house. Besides," he would add, "people miss you;
they will hate me for keeping you away." For, where his wife was
concerned, Billy's knowledge of the world availed him little. He
really thought society craved for the Honourable Mrs. Drayton, and
would not be comforted where she was not.
"I would rather stop with you, dear," would be the answer; "I don't
care to go about by myself. You must get well quickly and take
And so the argument continued, until one evening, as she sat by
herself, the nurse entered softly, closed the door behind her, and
came over to her.
"I wish you would go out to-night, ma'am," said the nurse, "just
for an hour or two. I think it would please the master; he is
worrying himself because he thinks it is his fault that you do not;
and just now"--the woman hesitated for a moment--"just now I want
to keep him very quiet."
"Is he weaker, nurse?"
"Well, he is not stronger, ma'am, and I think--I think we must
The Honourable Mrs. Drayton rose, and, crossing to the window,
stood for a while looking out.
"But where am I to go, nurse?" she said at length, turning with a
smile. "I've no invitations anywhere."
"Can't you make believe to have one?" said the nurse. "It is only
seven o'clock. Say you are going to a dinner-party; you can come
home early then. Go and dress yourself, and come down and say
good-bye to him, and then come in again about eleven, as though you
had just returned."
"You think I must, nurse?"
"I think it would be better, ma'am. I wish you would try it."
The Honourable Mrs. Drayton went to the door, then paused.
"He has such sharp ears, nurse; he will listen for the opening of
the door and the sound of the carriage."
"I will see to that," said the nurse. "I will tell them to have
the carriage here at ten minutes to eight. Then you can drive to
the end of the street, slip out, and walk back. I will let you in
"And about coming home?" asked the other woman.
"You must slip out for a few minutes before eleven, and the
carriage must be waiting for you at the corner again. Leave all
that to me."
In half an hour the Honourable Mrs. Drayton entered the sick-room,
radiant in evening dress and jewels. Fortunately the lights were
low, or "Blase-Billy" might have been doubtful as to the effect his
wife was likely to produce. For her face was not the face that one
takes to dinner-parties.
"Nurse tells me you are going to the Grevilles this evening. I am
so glad. I've been worrying myself about you, moped up here right
through the season."
He took her hands in his and held her out at arm's length from him.
"How handsome you look, dear!" he said. "How they must have all
been cursing me for keeping you shut up here, like a princess in an
ogre's castle! I shall never dare to face them again."
She laughed, well pleased at his words.
"I shall not be late," she said. "I shall be so anxious to get
back and see how my boy has behaved. If you have not been good I
shan't go again."
They kissed and parted, and at eleven she returned to the room.
She told him what a delightful evening it had been, and bragged a
little of her own success.
The nurse told her that he had been more cheerful that evening than
for many nights.
So every day the farce was played for him. One day it was to a
luncheon that she went, in a costume by Redfern; the next night to
a ball, in a frock direct from Paris; again to an "At Home," or
concert, or dinner-party. Loafers and passers-by would stop to
stare at a haggard, red-eyed woman, dressed as for a drawing-room,
slipping thief-like in and out of her own door.
I heard them talking of her one afternoon, at a house where I
called, and I joined the group to listen.
"I always thought her heartless, but I gave her credit for sense,"
a woman was saying. "One doesn't expect a woman to be fond of her
husband, but she needn't make a parade of ignoring him when he is
I pleaded absence from town to inquire what was meant, and from all
lips I heard the same account. One had noticed her carriage at the
door two or three evenings in succession. Another had seen her
returning home. A third had seen her coming out, and so on.
I could not fit the fact in with my knowledge of her, so the next
evening I called. The door was opened instantly by herself.
"I saw you from the window," she said. "Come in here; don't
I followed her, and she closed the door behind her. She was
dressed in a magnificent costume, her hair sparkling with diamonds,
and I looked my questions.
She laughed bitterly.
"I am supposed to be at the opera to-night," she explained. "Sit
down, if you have a few minutes to spare."
I said it was for a talk that I had come; and there, in the dark
room, lighted only by the street lamp without, she told me all.
And at the end she dropped her head on her bare arms; and I turned
away and looked out of the window for a while.
"I feel so ridiculous," she said, rising and coming towards me. "I
sit here all the evening dressed like this. I'm afraid I don't act
my part very well; but, fortunately, dear Billy never was much of a
judge of art, and it is good enough for him. I tell him the most
awful lies about what everybody has said to me, and what I've said
to everybody, and how my gowns were admired. What do you think of
For answer I took the privilege of a friend.
"I'm glad you think well of me," she said. "Billy has such a high
opinion of you. You will hear some funny tales. I'm glad you
I had to leave London again, and Billy died before I returned. I
heard that she had to be fetched from a ball, and was only just in
time to touch his lips before they were cold. But her friends
excused her by saying that the end had come very suddenly.
I called on her a little later, and before I left I hinted to her
what people were saying, and asked her if I had not better tell
them the truth.
"I would rather you didn't," she answered. "It seems like making
public the secret side of one's life."
"But," I urged, "they will think--"
She interrupted me.
"Does it matter very much what they think?"
Which struck me as a very remarkable sentiment, coming from the
Hon. Mrs. Drayton, nee the elder Miss Lovell.
THE CHOICE OF CYRIL HARJOHN
Between a junior resident master of twenty-one, and a backward lad
of fifteen, there yawns an impassable gulf. Between a struggling
journalist of one-and-thirty, and an M.D. of twenty-five, with a
brilliant record behind him, and a career of exceptional promise
before him, a close friendship is however permissible.
My introduction to Cyril Harjohn was through the Rev. Charles
"Our young friend," said the Rev. Mr. Fauerberg, standing in the
most approved tutorial attitude, with his hand upon his pupil's
shoulder, "our young friend has been somewhat neglected, but I see
in him possibilities warranting hope--warranting, I may say, very
great hope. For the present he will be under my especial care, and
you will not therefore concern yourself with his studies. He will
sleep with Milling and the others in dormitory number two."
The lad formed a liking for me, and I think, and hope, I rendered
his sojourn at "Alpha House" less irksome than otherwise it might
have been. The Reverend Charles' method with the backward was on
all fours with that adopted for the bringing on of geese; he cooped
them up and crammed them. The process is profitable to the
trainer, but painful to the goose.
Young Harjohn and myself left "Alpha House" at the end of the same
term; he bound for Brasenose, I for Bloomsbury. He made a point of
never coming up to London without calling on me, when we would dine
together in one of Soho's many dingy, garlic-scented restaurants,
and afterwards, over our bottle of cheap Beaune, discuss the coming
of our lives; and when he entered Guy's I left John Street, and
took chambers close to his in Staple Inn. Those were pleasant
days. Childhood is an over-rated period, fuller of sorrow than of
joy. I would not take my childhood back, were it a gift, but I
would give the rest of my life to live the twenties over again.
To Cyril I was the man of the world, and he looked to me for
wisdom, not seeing always, I fear, that he got it; while from him I
gathered enthusiasm, and learnt the profit that comes to a man from
the keeping of ideals.
Often as we have talked, I have felt as though a visible light came
from him, framing his face as with the halo of some pictured saint.
Nature had wasted him, putting him into this nineteenth century of
ours. Her victories are accomplished. Her army of heroes, the few
sung, the many forgotten, is disbanded. The long peace won by
their blood and pain is settled on the land. She had fashioned
Cyril Harjohn for one of her soldiers. He would have been a
martyr, in the days when thought led to the stake, a fighter for
the truth, when to speak one's mind meant death. To lead some
forlorn hope for Civilisation would have been his true work; Fate
had condemned him to sentry duty in a well-ordered barrack.
But there is work to be done in the world, though the labour lies
now in the vineyard, not on the battlefield. A small but
sufficient fortune purchased for him freedom. To most men an
assured income is the grave of ambition; to Cyril it was the
foundation of desire. Relieved from the necessity of working to
live, he could afford the luxury of living to work. His profession
was to him a passion; he regarded it, not with the cold curiosity
of the scholar, but with the imaginative devotion of the disciple.
To help to push its frontiers forward, to carry its flag farther
into the untravelled desert that ever lies beyond the moving
boundary of human knowledge, was his dream.
One summer evening, I remember, we were sitting in his rooms, and
during a silence there came to us through the open window the
moaning of the city, as of a tired child. He rose and stretched
his arms out towards the darkening streets, as if he would gather
to him all the toiling men and women and comfort them.
"Oh, that I could help you!" he cried, "my brothers and my sisters.
Take my life, oh God, and spend it for me among your people."
The speech sounds theatrical, as I read it, written down, but to
the young such words are not ridiculous, as to us older men.
In the natural order of events, he fell in love, and with just the
woman one would expect him to be attracted by. Elspeth Grant was
of the type from which the world, by instinct rather than by
convention, has drawn its Madonnas and its saints. To describe a
woman in words is impossible. Her beauty was not a possession to
be catalogued, but herself. One felt it as one feels the beauty of
a summer's dawn breaking the shadows of a sleeping city, but one
cannot set it down. I often met her, and, when talking to her, I
knew myself--I, hack-journalist, frequenter of Fleet Street bars,
retailer of smoke-room stories--a great gentleman, incapable of
meanness, fit for all noble deeds.
In her presence life became a thing beautiful and gracious; a
school for courtesy, and tenderness, and simplicity.
I have wondered since, coming to see a little more clearly into the
ways of men, whether it would not have been better had she been
less spiritual, had her nature possessed a greater alloy of earth,
making it more fit for the uses of this work-a-day world. But at
the time, these two friends of mine seemed to me to have been
created for one another.
She appealed to all that was highest in Cyril's character, and he
worshipped her with an unconcealed adoration that, from any man
less high-minded, would have appeared affectation, and which she
accepted with the sweet content that Artemis might have accorded to
the homage of Endymion.
There was no formal engagement between them. Cyril seemed to
shrink from the materialising of his love by any thought of
marriage. To him she was an ideal of womanhood rather than a
flesh-and-blood woman. His love for her was a religion; it had no
taint of earthly passion in its composition.
Had I known the world better I might have anticipated the result;
for the red blood ran in my friend's veins; and, alas, we dream our
poems, not live them. But at the time, the idea of any other woman
coming between them would have appeared to me folly. The
suggestion that that other woman might be Geraldine Fawley I should
have resented as an insult to my intelligence: that is the point
of the story I do not understand to this day.
That he should be attracted by her, that he should love to linger
near her, watching the dark flush come and go across her face,
seeking to call the fire into her dark eyes was another matter, and
quite comprehensible; for the girl was wonderfully handsome, with a
bold, voluptuous beauty which invited while it dared. But
considered in any other light than that of an animal, she repelled.
At times when, for her ends, it seemed worth the exertion, she
would assume a certain wayward sweetness, but her acting was always
clumsy and exaggerated, capable of deceiving no one but a fool.
Cyril, at all events, was not taken in by it. One evening, at a
Bohemian gathering, the entree to which was notoriety rather than
character, they had been talking together for some considerable
time when, wishing to speak to Cyril, I strolled up to join them.
As I came towards them she moved away, her dislike for me being
equal to mine for her; a thing which was, perhaps, well for me.
"Miss Fawley prefers two as company to three," I observed, looking
after her retreating figure.
"I am afraid she finds you what we should call an anti-sympathetic
element," he replied, laughing.
"Do you like her?" I asked him, somewhat bluntly.
His eyes rested upon her as she stood in the doorway, talking to a
small, black-bearded man who had just been introduced to her.
After a few moments she went out upon his arm, and then Cyril
turned to me.
"I think her," he replied, speaking, as was necessary, very low,
"the embodiment of all that is evil in womanhood. In old days she
would have been a Cleopatra, a Theodora, a Delilah. To-day,
lacking opportunity, she is the 'smart woman' grubbing for an
opening into society--and old Fawley's daughter. I'm tired; let us
His allusion to her parentage was significant. Few people thought
of connecting clever, handsome Geraldine Fawley with "Rogue
Fawley," Jew renegade, ex-gaol bird, and outside broker; who,
having expectations from his daughter, took care not to hamper her
by ever being seen in her company. But no one who had once met the
father could ever forget the relationship while talking to the
daughter. The older face, with its cruelty, its cunning, and its
greed stood reproduced, feature for feature, line for line. It was
as though Nature, for an artistic freak, had set herself the task
of fashioning hideousness and beauty from precisely the same
materials. Between the leer of the man and the smile of the girl,
where lay the difference? It would have puzzled any student of
anatomy to point it out. Yet the one sickened, while to gain the
other most men would have given much.
Cyril's answer to my question satisfied me for the time. He met
the girl often, as was natural. She was a singer of some repute,
and our social circle was what is commonly called "literary and
artistic." To do her justice, however, she made no attempt to
fascinate him, nor even to be particularly agreeable to him.
Indeed, she seemed to be at pains to show him her natural--in other
words, her most objectionable side.
Coming out of the theatre one first night, we met her in the lobby.
I was following Cyril at some little distance, but as he stopped to
speak to her the movement of the crowd placed me just behind them.
"Will you be at Leightons' to-morrow?" I heard him ask her in a low
"Yes," she answered, "and I wish you wouldn't come."
"Because you're a fool, and you bore me."
Under ordinary circumstances I should have taken the speech for
badinage--it was the kind of wit the woman would have indulged in.
But Cyril's face clouded with anger and vexation. I said nothing.
I did not wish him to know that I had overheard. I tried to
believe that he was amusing himself, but my own explanation did not
Next evening I went to Leightons' by myself. The Grants were in
town, and Cyril was dining with them. I found I did not know many
people, and cared little for those I did. I was about to escape
when Miss Fawley's name was announced. I was close to the door,
and she had to stop and speak to me. We exchanged a few
commonplaces. She either made love to a man or was rude to him.
She generally talked to me without looking at me, nodding and
smiling meanwhile to people around. I have met many women equally
ill-mannered, and without her excuse. For a moment, however, she
turned her eyes to mine.
"Where's your friend, Mr. Harjohn?" she asked. "I thought you were
I looked at her in astonishment.
"He is dining out to-night," I replied. "I do not think he will
She laughed. I think it was the worst part about the woman, her
laugh; it suggested so much cruelty.
"I think he will," she said.
It angered me into an indiscretion. She was moving away. I
stepped in front of her and stopped her.
"What makes you think so?" I asked, and my voice, I know, betrayed
the anxiety I felt as to her reply. She looked me straight in the
face. There was one virtue she possessed--the virtue that animals
hold above mankind--truthfulness. She knew I disliked her--hate
would be, perhaps, a more exact expression, did not the word sound
out of date, and she made no pretence of not knowing it and
returning the compliment.
"Because I am here," she answered. "Why don't you save him? Have
you no influence over him? Tell the Saint to keep him; I don't
want him. You heard what I said to him last night. I shall only
marry him for the sake of his position, and the money he can earn
if he likes to work and not play the fool. Tell him what I have
said; I shan't deny it."
She passed on to greet a decrepit old lord with a languishing
smile, and I stood staring after her with, I fear, a somewhat
stupid expression, until some young fool came up grinning, to ask
me whether I had seen a ghost or backed a "wrong 'un."
There was no need to wait; I felt no curiosity. Something told me
the woman had spoken the truth. It was mere want of motive that
made me linger. I saw him come in, and watched him hanging round
her, like a dog, waiting for a kind word, or failing that, a look.
I knew she saw me, and I knew it added to her zest that I was
there. Not till we were in the street did I speak to him. He
started as I touched him. We were neither of us good actors. He
must have read much in my face, and I saw that he had read it; and
we walked side by side in silence, I thinking what to say,
wondering whether I should do good or harm, wishing that we were
anywhere but in these silent, life-packed streets, so filled with
the unseen. It was not until we had nearly reached the Albert Hall
that we broke the silence. Then it was he who spoke:
"Do you think I haven't told myself all that?" he said. "Do you
think I don't know I'm a damned fool, a cad, a liar! What the
devil's the good of talking about it?"
"But I can't understand it," I said.
"No," he replied, "because you're a fool, because you have only
seen one side of me. You think me a grand gentleman, because I
talk big, and am full of noble sentiment. Why, you idiot, the
Devil himself could take you in. HE has his fine moods, I suppose,
talks like a saint, and says his prayers with the rest of us. Do
you remember the first night at old Fauerberg's? You poked your
silly head into the dormitory, and saw me kneeling by the bedside,
while the other fellows stood by grinning. You closed the door
softly--you thought I never saw you. I was not praying, I was
trying to pray."
"It showed that you had pluck, if it showed nothing else," I
answered. "Most boys would not have tried, and you kept it up."
"Ah, yes," he answered, "I promised the Mater I would, and I did.
Poor old soul, she was as big a fool as you are. She believed in
me. Don't you remember, finding me one Saturday afternoon all
alone, stuffing myself with cake and jam?"
I laughed at the recollection, though Heaven knows I was in no
laughing mood. I had found him with an array of pastry spread out
before him, sufficient to make him ill for a week, and I had boxed
his ears, and had thrown the whole collection into the road.
"The Mater gave me half-a-crown a week for pocket-money," he
continued, "and I told the fellows I had only a shilling, so that I
could gorge myself with the other eighteenpence undisturbed. Pah!
I was a little beast even in those days!"
"It was only a schoolboy trick," I argued, "it was natural enough."
"Yes," he answered, "and this is only a man's trick, and is natural
enough; but it is going to ruin my life, to turn me into a beast
instead of a man. Good God! do you think I don't know what that
woman will do for me? She will drag me down, down, down, to her
own level. All my ideas, all my ambition, all my life's work will
be bartered for a smug practice, among paying patients. I shall
scheme and plot to make a big income that we may live like a couple
of plump animals, that we may dress ourselves gaudily and parade
our wealth. Nothing will satisfy her. Such women are leeches;
their only cry is 'give, give, give.' So long as I can supply her
with money she will tolerate me, and to get it for her I shall sell
my heart, and my brain, and my soul. She will load herself with
jewels, and go about from house to house, half naked, to leer at
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