The Light That Failed
Part 3 out of 5
whereof he, among a very few, possessed all the words was not a pretty
one, but Dick had heard it many times before without wincing. Without
prelude he launched into that stately tune that calls together and troubles
the hearts of the gipsies of the sea--
'Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain.'?
Dick turned uneasily on the sofa, for he could hear the bows of the
Barralong crashing into the green seas on her way to the Southern Cross.
Then came the chorus--
'We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas,
Until we take soundings in the Channel of Old England
From Ushant to Scilly 'tis forty-five leagues.'?
'Thirty-five-thirty-five,' said Dick, petulantly. 'Don't tamper with Holy
Writ. Go on, Nilghai.'?
'The first land we made it was called the Deadman,'?
and they sang to the end very vigourously.
'That would be a better song if her head were turned the other way--to
the Ushant light, for instance,' said the Nilghai.
'Flinging his arms about like a mad windmill,' said Torpenhow. 'Give us
something else, Nilghai. You're in fine fog-horn form tonight.'
'Give us the "Ganges Pilot"; you sang that in the square the night before
El-Maghrib. By the way, I wonder how many of the chorus are alive
to-night,' said Dick.
Torpenhow considered for a minute. 'By Jove! I believe only you and I.
Raynor, Vicery, and Deenes--all dead; Vincent caught smallpox in Cairo,
carried it here and died of it. Yes, only you and I and the Nilghai.'
'Umph! And yet the men here who've done their work in a well-warmed
studio all their lives, with a policeman at each corner, say that I charge
too much for my pictures.'
'They are buying your work, not your insurance policies, dear child,'
said the Nilghai.
'I gambled with one to get at the other. Don't preach. Go on with the
"Pilot." Where in the world did you get that song?'
'On a tombstone,' said the Nilghai. 'On a tombstone in a distant land. I
made it an accompaniment with heaps of base chords.'
'Oh, Vanity! Begin.' And the Nilghai began--
'I have slipped my cable, messmates, I'm drifting down with the tide,
I have my sailing orders, while yet an anchor ride.
And never on fair June morning have I put out to sea
With clearer conscience or better hope, or a heart more light and free.
'Shoulder to shoulder, Joe, my boy, into the crowd like a wedge
Strike with the hangers, messmates, but do not cut with the edge.
Cries Charnock, "Scatter the faggots, double that Brahmin in two,
The tall pale widow for me, Joe, the little brown girl for you!"
'Young Joe (you're nearing sixty), why is your hide so dark?
Katie has soft fair blue eyes, who blackened yours?--Why, hark!'?
They were all singing now, Dick with the roar of the wind of the open sea
about his ears as the deep bass voice let itself go.
'The morning gun--Ho, steady! the arquebuses to me!?
I ha' sounded the Dutch High Admiral's heart as my lead doth sound the
'Sounding, sounding the Ganges, floating down with the tide,
Moore me close to Charnock, next to my nut-brown bride.
My blessing to Kate at Fairlight--Holwell, my thanks to you;
Steady! We steer for heaven, through sand-drifts cold and blue.'?
'Now what is there in that nonsense to make a man restless?' said Dick,
hauling Binkie from his feet to his chest.
'It depends on the man,' said Torpenhow.
'The man who has been down to look at the sea,' said the Nilghai.
'I didn't know she was going to upset me in this fashion.'
'That's what men say when they go to say good-bye to a woman. It's
more easy though to get rid of three women than a piece of one's life and
'But a woman can be----' began Dick, unguardedly.
'A piece of one's life,' continued Torpenhow. 'No, she can't. His face
darkened for a moment. 'She says she wants to sympathise with you and
help you in your work, and everything else that clearly a man must do
for himself. Then she sends round five notes a day to ask why the dickens
you haven't been wasting your time with her.'
'Don't generalise,' said the Nilghai. 'By the time you arrive at five notes a
day you must have gone through a good deal and behaved accordingly.
Shouldn't begin these things, my son.'
'I shouldn't have gone down to the sea,' said Dick, just a little anxious to
change the conversation. 'And you shouldn't have sung.'
'The sea isn't sending you five notes a day,' said the Nilghai.
'No, but I'm fatally compromised. She's an enduring old hag, and I'm
sorry I ever met her. Why wasn't I born and bred and dead in a
'Hear him blaspheming his first love! Why in the world shouldn't you
listen to her?' said Torpenhow.
Before Dick could reply the Nilghai lifted up his voice with a shout that
shook the windows, in 'The Men of the Sea,' that begins, as all know,
'The sea is a wicked old woman,' and after rading through eight lines
whose imagery is truthful, ends in a refrain, slow as the clacking of a
capstan when the boat comes unwillingly up to the bars where the men
sweat and tramp in the shingle.
'"Ye that bore us, O restore us!?
She is kinder than ye;
For the call is on our heart-strings!"
Said The Men of the Sea.'?
The Nilghai sang that verse twice, with simple cunning, intending that
Dick should hear. But Dick was waiting for the farewell of the men to
'"Ye that love us, can ye move us?
She is dearer than ye;
And your sleep will be the sweeter,"
Said The Men of the Sea.'?
The rough words beat like the blows of the waves on the bows of the
rickety boat from Lima in the days when Dick was mixing paints, making
love, drawing devils and angels in the half dark, and wondering whether
the next minute would put the Italian captain's knife between his
shoulder-blades. And the go-fever which is more real than many doctors'
diseases, waked and raged, urging him who loved Maisie beyond
anything in the world, to go away and taste the old hot, unregenerate life
again,--to scuffle, swear, gamble, and love light loves with his fellows; to
take ship and know the sea once more, and by her beget pictures; to talk
to Binat among the sands of Port Said while Yellow 'Tina mixed the
drinks; to hear the crackle of musketry, and see the smoke roll outward,
thin and thicken again till the shining black faces came through, and in
that hell every man was strictly responsible for his own head, and his
own alone, and struck with an unfettered arm. It was impossible, utterly
'"Oh, our fathers in the churchyard,
She is older than ye,
And our graves will be the greener,"
Said The Men of the Sea.'?
'What is there to hinder?' said Torpenhow, in the long hush that
followed the song.
'You said a little time since that you wouldn't come for a walk round the
'That was months ago, and I only objected to your making money for
travelling expenses. You've shot your bolt here and it has gone home. Go
away and do some work, and see some things.'
'Get some of the fat off you; you're disgracefully out of condition,' said
the Nilghai, making a plunge from the chair and grasping a handful of
Dick generally over the right ribs. 'Soft as putty--pure tallow born of
over-feeding. Train it off, Dickie.'
'We're all equally gross, Nilghai. Next time you have to take the field
you'll sit down, wink your eyes, gasp, and die in a fit.'
'Never mind. You go away on a ship. Go to Lima again, or to Brazil.
There's always trouble in South America.'
'Do you suppose I want to be told where to go? Great Heavens, the only
difficulty is to know where I'm to stop. But I shall stay here, as I told you
'Then you'll be buried in Kensal Green and turn into adipocere with the
others,' said Torpenhow. 'Are you thinking of commissions in hand? Pay
forfeit and go. You've money enough to travel as a king if you please.'
'You've the grisliest notions of amusement, Torp. I think I see myself
shipping first class on a six-thousand-ton hotel, and asking the third
engineer what makes the engines go round, and whether it isn't very
warm in the stokehold. Ho! ho! I should ship as a loafer if ever I shipped
at all, which I'm not going to do. I shall compromise, and go for a small
trip to begin with.'
'That's something at any rate. Where will you go?' said Torpenhow. 'It
would do you all the good in the world, old man.'
The Nilghai saw the twinkle in Dick's eye, and refrained from speech.
'I shall go in the first place to Rathray's stable, where I shall hire one
horse, and take him very carefully as far as Richmond Hill. Then I shall
walk him back again, in case he should accidentally burst into a lather
and make Rathray angry. I shall do that to-morrow, for the sake of air
'Bah!' Dick had barely time to throw up his arm and ward off the
cushion that the disgusted Torpenhow heaved at his head.
'Air and exercise indeed,' said the Nilghai, sitting down heavily on Dick.
'Let's give him a little of both. Get the bellows, Torp.'
At this point the conference broke up in disorder, because Dick would not
open his mouth till the Nilghai held his nose fast, and there was some
trouble in forcing the nozzle of the bellows between his teeth; and even
when it was there he weakly tried to puff against the force of the blast,
and his cheeks blew up with a great explosion; and the enemy becoming
helpless with laughter he so beat them over the head with a soft sofa
cushion that that became unsewn and distributed its feathers, and Binkie,
interfering in Torpenhow's interests, was bundled into the half-empty
bag and advised to scratch his way out, which he did after a while,
travelling rapidly up and down the floor in the shape of an agitated green
haggis, and when he came out looking for satisfaction, the three pillars of
his world were picking feathers out of their hair.
'A prophet has no honour in his own country,' said Dick, ruefully,
dusting his knees. 'This filthy fluff will never brush off my legs.'
'It was all for your own good,' said the Nilghai. 'Nothing like air and
'All for your good,' said Torpenhow, not in the least with reference to
past clowning. 'It would let you focus things at their proper worth and
prevent your becoming slack in this hothouse of a town. Indeed it would,
old man. I shouldn't have spoken if I hadn't thought so. Only, you make a
joke of everything.'
'Before God I do no such thing,' said Dick, quickly and earnestly. 'You
don't know me if you think that.'
I don't think it,' said the Nilghai.
'How can fellows like ourselves, who know what life and death really
mean, dare to make a joke of anything? I know we pretend it, to save
ourselves from breaking down or going to the other extreme. Can't I see,
old man, how you're always anxious about me, and try to advise me to
make my work better? Do you suppose I don't think about that myself?
But you can't help me--you can't help me--not even you. I must play my
own hand alone in my own way.'
'Hear, hear,' from the Nilghai.
'What's the one thing in the Nilghai Saga that I've never drawn in the
Nungapunga Book?' Dick continued to Torpenhow, who was a little
astonished at the outburst.
Now there was one blank page in the book given over to the sketch that
Dick had not drawn of the crowning exploit in the Nilghai's life; when
that man, being young and forgetting that his body and bones belonged to
the paper that employed him, had ridden over sunburned slippery grass
in the rear of Bredow's brigade on the day that the troopers flung
themselves at Caurobert's artillery, and for aught they knew twenty
battalions in front, to save the battered 24th German Infantry, to give
time to decide the fate of Vionville, and to learn ere their remnant came
back to Flavigay that cavalry can attack and crumple and break
unshaken infantry. Whenever he was inclined to think over a life that
might have been better, an income that might have been larger, and a
soul that might have been considerably cleaner, the Nilghai would
comfort himself with the thought, 'I rode with Bredow's brigade at
Vionville,' and take heart for any lesser battle the next day might bring.
'I know,' he said very gravely. 'I was always glad that you left it out.'
'I left it out because Nilghai taught me what the Germany army learned
then, and what Schmidt taught their cavalry. I don't know German.
What is it? "Take care of the time and the dressing will take care of
itself." I must ride my own line to my own beat, old man.'
'Tempe ist richtung. You've learned your lesson well,' said the Nilghai.
'He must go alone. He speaks truth, Torp.'
'Maybe I'm as wrong as I can be--hideously wrong. I must find that out
for myself, as I have to think things out for myself, but I daren't turn my
head to dress by the next man. It hurts me a great deal more than you
know not to be able to go, but I cannot, that's all. I must do my own work
and live my own life in my own way, because I'm responsible for both.
Only don't think I frivol about it, Torp. I have my own matches and
sulphur, and I'll make my own hell, thanks.'
There was an uncomfortable pause. Then Torpenhow said blandly,
'What did the Governor of North Carolina say to the Governor of South
'Excellent notion. It is a long time between drinks. There are the makings
of a very fine prig in you, Dick,' said the Nilghai.
'I've liberated my mind, estimable Binkie, with the feathers in his
mouth.' Dick picked up the still indignant one and shook him tenderly.
'You're tied up in a sack and made to run about blind, Binkie-wee,
without any reason, and it has hurt your little feelings. Never mind. Sic
volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas, and don't sneeze in my eye
because I talk Latin. Good-night.'
He went out of the room.
'That's distinctly one for you,' said the Nilghai. 'I told you it was hopeless
to meddle with him. He's not pleased.'
'He'd swear at me if he weren't. I can't make it out. He has the go-fever
upon him and he won't go. I only hope that he mayn't have to go some
day when he doesn't want to,' said Torpenhow.
* * * * * *
In his own room Dick was settling a question with himself--and the
question was whether all the world, and all that was therein, and a
burning desire to exploit both, was worth one threepenny piece thrown
into the Thames.
'It came of seeing the sea, and I'm a cur to think about it,' he decided.
'After all, the honeymoon will be that tour--with reservations; only . . .
only I didn't realise that the sea was so strong. I didn't feel it so much
when I was with Maisie. These damnable songs did it. He's beginning
But it was only Herrick's Nightpiece to Julia that the Nilghai sang, and
before it was ended Dick reappeared on the threshold, not altogether
clothed indeed, but in his right mind, thirsty and at peace.
The mood had come and gone with the rising and the falling of the tide
by Fort Keeling.
'If I have taken the common clay
And wrought it cunningly
In the shape of a god that was digged a clod,
The greater honour to me.'?
'If thou hast taken the common clay,
And thy hands be not free
From the taint of the soil , thou hast made thy spoil
The greater shame to thee.'--The Two Potters.?
HE DID no work of any kind for the rest of the week. Then came another
Sunday. He dreaded and longed for the day always, but since the
red-haired girl had sketched him there was rather more dread than
desire in his mind.
He found that Maisie had entirely neglected his suggestions about
line-work. She had gone off at score filed with some absurd notion for a
'fancy head.' It cost Dick something to command his temper.
'What's the good of suggesting anything?' he said pointedly.
'Ah, but this will be a picture,--a real picture; and I know that Kami will
let me send it to the Salon. You don't mind, do you?'
'I suppose not. But you won't have time for the Salon.'
Maisie hesitated a little. She even felt uncomfortable.
'We're going over to France a month sooner because of it. I shall get the
idea sketched out here and work it up at Kami's.
Dick's heart stood still, and he came very near to being disgusted with his
queen who could do no wrong. 'Just when I thought I had made some
headway, she goes off chasing butterflies. It's too maddening!'
There was no possibility of arguing, for the red-haired girl was in the
studio. Dick could only look unutterable reproach.
'I'm sorry,' he said, 'and I think you make a mistake. But what's the idea
of your new picture?'
'I took it from a book.'
'That's bad, to begin with. Books aren't the places for pictures. And----'
'It's this,' said the red-haired girl behind him. 'I was reading it to Maisie
the other day from The City of Dreadful Night. D'you know the book?'
'A little. I am sorry I spoke. There are pictures in it. What has taken her
'The description of the Melancolia--
'Her folded wings as of a mighty eagle,
But all too impotent to lift the regal
Robustness of her earth-born strength and pride.
And here again. (Maisie, get the tea, dear.)
'The forehead charged with baleful thoughts and dreams,
The household bunch of keys, the housewife's gown,
Voluminous indented, and yet rigid
As though a shell of burnished metal frigid,
Her feet thick-shod to tread all weakness down.'?
There was no attempt to conceal the scorn of the lazy voice. Dick winced.
'But that has been done already by an obscure artist by the name of
Durer,' said he. 'How does the poem run?--
'Three centuries and threescore years ago,
With phantasies of his peculiar thought.
You might as well try to rewrite Hamlet. It will be a waste of time.
'No, it won't,' said Maisie, putting down the teacups with a clatter to
reassure herself. 'And I mean to do it. Can't you see what a beautiful
thing it would make?'
'How in perdition can one do work when one hasn't had the proper
training? Any fool can get a notion. It needs training to drive the thing
through,--training and conviction; not rushing after the first fancy.' Dick
spoke between his teeth.
'You don't understand,' said Maisie. 'I think I can do it.'
Again the voice of the girl behind him--
'Baffled and beaten back, she works on still;
Weary and sick of soul, she works the more.
Sustained by her indomitable will,
The hands shall fashion, and the brain shall pore,
And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour----
I fancy Maisie means to embody herself in the picture.'
'Sitting on a throne of rejected pictures? No, I shan't, dear. The notion in
itself has fascinated me.--Of course you don't care for fancy heads, Dick.
I don't think you could do them. You like blood and bones.'
'That's a direct challenge. If you can do a Melancolia that isn't merely a
sorrowful female head, I can do a better one; and I will, too. What d'you
know about Melacolias?' Dick firmly believed that he was even then
tasting three-quarters of all the sorrow in the world.
'She was a woman,' said Maisie, 'and she suffered a great deal,--till she
could suffer no more. Then she began to laugh at it all, and then I painted
her and sent her to the Salon.'
The red-haired girl rose up and left the room, laughing.
Dick looked at Maisie humbly and hopelessly.
'Never mind about the picture,' he said. 'Are you really going back to
Kami's for a month before your time?'
'I must, if I want to get the picture done.'
'And that's all you want?'
'Of course. Don't be stupid, Dick.'
'You haven't the power. You have only the ideas--the ideas and the little
cheap impulses. How you could have kept at your work for ten years
steadily is a mystery to me. So you are really going,--a month before you
'I must do my work.'
'Your work--bah! . . . No, I didn't mean that. It's all right, dear. Of
course you must do your work, and--I think I'll say good-bye for this
'Won't you even stay for tea?
'No, thank you. Have I your leave to go, dear? There's nothing more you
particularly want me to do, and the line-work doesn't matter.'
'I wish you could stay, and then we could talk over my picture. If only
one single picture's a success, it draws attention to all the others. I know
some of my work is good, if only people could see. And you needn't have
been so rude about it.'
'I'm sorry. We'll talk the Melancolia over some one of the other Sundays.
There are four more--yes, one, two, three, four--before you go. Good-bye,
Maisie stood by the studio window, thinking, till the red-haired girl
returned, a little white at the corners of her lips.
'Dick's gone off,' said Maisie. 'Just when I wanted to talk about the
picture. Isn't it selfish of him?'
Her companion opened her lips as if to speak, shut them again, and went
on reading The City of Dreadful Night.
Dick was in the Park, walking round and round a tree that he had chosen
as his confidante for many Sundays past. He was swearing audibly, and
when he found that the infirmities of the English tongue hemmed in his
rage, he sought consolation in Arabic, which is expressly designed for the
use of the afflicted. He was not pleased with the reward of his patient
service; nor was he pleased with himself; and it was long before he
arrived at the proposition that the queen could do no wrong.
'It's a losing game,' he said. 'I'm worth nothing when a whim of hers is in
question. But in a losing game at Port Said we used to double the stakes
and go on. She do a Melancolia! She hasn't the power, or the insight, or
the training. Only the desire. She's cursed with the curse of Reuben. She
won't do line-work, because it means real work; and yet she's stronger
than I am. I'll make her understand that I can beat her on her own
Melancolia. Even then she wouldn't care. She says I can only do blood
and bones. I don't believe she has blood in her veins. All the same I lover
her; and I must go on loving her; and if I can humble her inordinate
vanity I will. I'll do a Melancolia that shall be something like a
Melancolia--"the Melancolia that transcends all wit." I'll do it at once,
He discovered that the notion would not come to order, and that he could
not free his mind for an hour from the thought of Maisie's departure. He
took very small interest in her rough studies for the Melancolia when she
showed them next week. The Sundays were racing past, and the time was
at hand when all the church bells in London could not ring Maisie back
to him. Once or twice he said something to Binkie about 'hermaphroditic
futilities,' but the little dog received so many confidences both from
Torpenhow and Dick that he did not trouble his tulip-ears to listen.
Dick was permitted to see the girls off. They were going by the Dover
night-boat; and they hoped to return in August. It was then February,
and Dick felt that he was being hardly used. Maisie was so busy stripping
the small house across the Park, and packing her canvases, that she had
not time for thought. Dick went down to Dover and wasted a day there
fretting over a wonderful possibility. Would Maisie at the very last allow
him one small kiss? He reflected that he might capture her by the strong
arm, as he had seem women captured in the Southern Soudan, and lead
her away; but Maisie would never be led. She would turn her gray eyes
upon him and say, 'Dick, how selfish you are!' Then his courage would
fail him. It would be better, after all, to beg for that kiss.
Maisie looked more than usually kissable as she stepped from the
night-mail on to the windy pier, in a gray waterproof and a little gray
cloth travelling-cap. The red-haired girl was not so lovely. Her green
eyes were hollow and her lips were dry. Dick saw the trunks aboard, and
went to Maisie's side in the darkness under the bridge. The mail-bags
were thundering into the forehold, and the red-haired girl was watching
'You'll have a rough passage to-night,' said Dick. 'It's blowing outside. I
suppose I may come over and see you if I'm good?'
'You mustn't. I shall be busy. At least, if I want you I'll send for you. But
I shall write from Vitry-sur-Marne. I shall have heaps of things to
consult you about. Oh, Dick, you have been so good to me!--so good to
'Thank you for that, dear. It hasn't made any difference, has it?'
'I can't tell a fib. It hasn't--in that way. But don't think I'm not grateful.'
'Damn the gratitude!' said Dick, huskily, to the paddle-box.
'What's the use of worrying? You know I should ruin your life, and
you'd ruin mine, as things are now. You remember what you said when
you were so angry that day in the Park? One of us has to be broken.
Can't you wait till that day comes?'
'No, love. I want you unbroken--all to myself.'
Maisie shook her head. 'My poor Dick, what can I say!'
'Don't say anything. Give me a kiss. Only one kiss, Maisie. I'll swear I
won't take any more. You might as well, and then I can be sure you're
Maisie put her cheek forward, and Dick took his reward in the darkness.
It was only one kiss, but, since there was no time-limit specified, it was a
long one. Maisie wrenched herself free angrily, and Dick stood abashed
and tingling from head to toe.
'Good-bye, darling. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry. Only--keep
well and do good work,--specially the Melancolia. I'm going to do one,
too. Remember me to Kami, and be careful what you drink. Country
drinking-water is bad everywhere, but it's worse in France. Write to me
if you want anything, and good-bye. Say good-bye to the
whatever-you-call-um girl, and--can't I have another kiss? No. You're
quite right. Good-bye.'
A should told him that it was not seemly to charge of the mail-bag
incline. He reached the pier as the steamer began to move off, and he
followed her with his heart.
'And there's nothing--nothing in the wide world--to keep us apart except
her obstinacy. These Calais night-boats are much too small. I'll get Torp
to write to the papers about it. She's beginning to pitch already.'
Maisie stood where Dick had left her till she heard a little gasping cough
at her elbow. The red-haired girl's eyes were alight with cold flame.
'He kissed you!' she said. 'How could you let him, when he wasn't
anything to you? How dared you to take a kiss from him? Oh, Maisie,
let's go to the ladies' cabin. I'm sick,--deadly sick.'
'We aren't into open water yet. Go down, dear, and I'll stay here. I don't
like the smell of the engines. . . . Poor Dick! He deserved one,--only one.
But I didn't think he'd frighten me so.'
Dick returned to town next day just in time for lunch, for which he had
telegraphed. To his disgust, there were only empty plates in the studio.
He lifted up his voice like the bears in the fairy-tale, and Torpenhow
entered, looking guilty.
'H'sh!' said he. 'Don't make such a noise. I took it. Come into my rooms,
and I'll show you why.'
Dick paused amazed at the threshold, for on Torpenhow's sofa lay a girl
asleep and breathing heavily. The little cheap sailor-hat, the
blue-and-white dress, fitter for June than for February, dabbled with
mud at the skirts, the jacket trimmed with imitation Astrakhan and
ripped at the shoulder-seams, the one-and-elevenpenny umbrella, and,
above all, the disgraceful condition of the kid-topped boots, declared all
'Oh, I say, old man, this is too bad! You mustn't bring this sort up here.
They steal things from the rooms.'
'It looks bad, I admit, but I was coming in after lunch, and she staggered
into the hall. I thought she was drunk at first, but it was collapse. I
couldn't leave her as she was, so I brought her up here and gave her your
lunch. She was fainting from want of food. She went fast asleep the
minute she had finished.'
'I know something of that complaint. She's been living on sausages, I
suppose. Torp, you should have handed her over to a policeman for
presuming to faint in a respectable house. Poor little wretch! Look at the
face! There isn't an ounce of immorality in it. Only folly,--slack, fatuous,
feeble, futile folly. It's a typical head. D'you notice how the skull begins
to show through the flesh padding on the face and cheek-bone?'
'What a cold-blooded barbarian it is! Don't hit a woman when she's
down. Can't we do anything? She was simply dropping with starvation.
She almost fell into my arms, and when she got to the food she ate like a
wild beast. It was horrible.'
'I can give her money, which she would probably spend in drinks. Is she
going to sleep for ever?'
The girl opened her eyes and glared at the men between terror and
'Feeling better?' said Torpenhow.
'Yes. Thank you. There aren't many gentlemen that are as kind as you
are. Thank you.'
'When did you leave service?' said Dick, who had been watching the
scarred and chapped hands.
'How did you know I was in service? I was. General servant. I didn't like
'And how do you like being your own mistress?'
'Do I look as if I liked it?'
'I suppose not. One moment. Would you be good enough to turn your
face to the window?'
The girl obeyed, and Dick watched her face keenly,--so keenly that she
made as if to hide behind Torpenhow.
'The eyes have it,' said Dick, walking up and down. 'They are superb
eyes for my business. And, after all, every head depends on the eyes. This
has been sent from heaven to make up for--what was taken away. Now
the weekly strain's off my shoulders, I can get to work in earnest.
Evidently sent from heaven. Yes. Raise your chin a little, please.'
'Gently, old man, gently. You're scaring somebody out of her wits,' said
Torpenhow, who could see the girl trembling.
'Don't let him hit me! Oh, please don't let him hit me! I've been hit cruel
to-day because I spoke to a man. Don't let him look at me like that! He's
reg'lar wicked, that one. Don't let him look at me like that, neither! Oh, I
feel as if I hadn't nothing on when he looks at me like that!'
The overstrained nerves in the frail body gave way, and the girl wept like
a little child and began to scream. Dick threw open the window, and
Torpenhow flung the door back.
'There you are,' said Dick, soothingly. 'My friend here can call for a
policeman, and you can run through that door. Nobody is going to hurt
The girl sobbed convulsively for a few minutes, and then tried to laugh.
'Nothing in the world to hurt you. Now listen to me for a minute. I'm
what they call an artist by profession. You know what artists do?'
'They draw the things in red and black ink on the pop-shop labels.'
'I dare say. I haven't risen to pop-shop labels yet. Those are done by the
Academicians. I want to draw your head.'
'Because it's pretty. That is why you will come to the room across the
landing three times a week at eleven in the morning, and I'll give you
three quid a week just for sitting still and being drawn. And there's a
quid on account.'
'For nothing? Oh, my!' The girl turned the sovereign in her hand, and
with more foolish tears, 'Ain't neither o' you two gentlemen afraid of my
'No. Only ugly girls do that. Try and remember this place. And, by the
way, what's your name?'
'I'm Bessic,--Bessie---- It's no use giving the rest. Bessie
Broke,--Stone-broke, if you like. What's your names? But there,--no one
ever gives the real ones.'
Dick consulted Torpenhow with his eyes.
'My name's Heldar, and my friend's called Torpenhow; and you must be
sure to come here. Where do you live?'
'South-the-water,--one room,--five and sixpence a week. Aren't you
making fun of me about that three quid?'
'You'll see later on. And, Bessie, next time you come, remember, you
needn't wear that paint. It's bad for the skin, and I have all the colours
you'll be likely to need.'
Bessie withdrew, scrubbing her cheek with a ragged
pocket-handkerchief. The two men looked at each other.
'You're a man,' said Torpenhow.
'I'm afraid I've been a fool. It isn't our business to run about the earth
reforming Bessie Brokes. And a woman of any kind has no right on this
'Perhaps she won't come back.'
'She will if she thinks she can get food and warmth here. I know she will,
worse luck. But remember, old man, she isn't a woman; she's my model;
and be careful.'
'The idea! She's a dissolute little scarecrow,--a gutter-snippet and
'So you think. Wait till she has been fed a little and freed from fear. That
fair type recovers itself very quickly. You won't know her in a week or
two, when that abject fear has died out of her eyes. She'll be too happy
and smiling for my purposes.'
'But surely you're not taking her out of charity?--to please me?'
'I am not in the habit of playing with hot coals to please anybody. She has
been sent from heaven, as I may have remarked before, to help me with
'Never heard a word about the lady before.'
'What's the use of having a friend, if you must sling your notions at him
in words? You ought to know what I'm thinking about. You've heard me
'Even so; but grunts mean anything in your language, from bad 'baccy to
wicked dealers. And I don't think I've been much in your confidence for
'It was a high and soulful grunt. You ought to have understood that it
meant the Melancolia.' Dick walked Torpenhow up and down the room,
keeping silence. Then he smote him in the ribs, 'Now don't you see it?
Bessie's abject futility, and the terror in her eyes, welded on to one or
two details in the way of sorrow that have come under my experience
lately. Likewise some orange and black,--two keys of each. But I can't
explain on an empty stomach.'
'It sounds mad enough. You'd better stick to your soldiers, Dick, instead
of maundering about heads and eyes and experiences.'
'Think so?' Dick began to dance on his heels, singing--
'They're as proud as a turkey when they hold the ready cash,
You ought to 'ear the way they laugh an' joke;
They are tricky an' they're funny when they've got the ready money,--
Ow! but see 'em when they're all stone-broke.'?
Then he sat down to pour out his heart to Maisie in a four-sheet letter of
counsel and encouragement, and registered an oath that he would get to
work with an undivided heart as soon as Bessie should reappear.
The girl kept her appointment unpainted and unadorned, afraid and
overbold by turns. When she found that she was merely expected to sit
still, she grew calmer, and criticised the appointments of the studio with
freedom and some point. She liked the warmth and the comfort and the
release from fear of physical pain. Dick made two or three studies of her
head in monochrome, but the actual notion of the Melancolia would not
'What a mess you keep your things in!' said Bessie, some days later, when
she felt herself thoroughly at home. 'I s'pose your clothes are just as bad.
Gentlemen never think what buttons and tape are made for.'
'I buy things to wear, and wear 'em till they go to pieces. I don't know
what Torpenhow does.'
Bessie made diligent inquiry in the latter's room, and unearthed a bale of
disreputable socks. 'Some of these I'll mend now,' she said, 'and some I'll
take home. D'you know, I sit all day long at home doing nothing, just like
a lady, and no more noticing them other girls in the house than if they
was so many flies. I don't have any unnecessary words, but I put 'em
down quick, I can tell you, when they talk to me. No; it's quite nice these
days. I lock my door, and they can only call me names through the
keyhole, and I sit inside, just like a lady, mending socks. Mr. Torpenhow
wears his socks out both ends at once.'
'Three quid a week from me, and the delights of my society. No socks
mended. Nothing from Torp except a nod on the landing now and again,
and all his socks mended. Bessie is very much a woman,' thought Dick;
and he looked at her between half-shut eyes. Food and rest had
transformed the girl, as Dick knew they would.
'What are you looking at me like that for?' she said quickly. 'Don't. You
look reg'lar bad when you look that way. You don't think much o' me, do
'That depends on how you behave.'
Bessie behaved beautifully. Only it was difficult at the end of a sitting to
bid her go out into the gray streets. She very much preferred the studio
and a big chair by the stove, with some socks in her lap as an excuse for
delay. Then Torpenhow would come in, and Bessie would be moved to
tell strange and wonderful stories of her past, and still stranger ones of
her present improved circumstances. She would make them tea as though
she had a right to make it; and once or twice on these occasions Dick
caught Torpenhow's eyes fixed on the trim little figure, and because
Bessie'' flittings about the room made Dick ardently long for Maisie, he
realised whither Torpenhow's thoughts were tending. And Bessie was
exceedingly careful of the condition of Torpenhow's linen. She spoke
very little to him, but sometimes they talked together on the landing.
'I was a great fool,' Dick said to himself. 'I know what red firelight looks
like when a man's tramping through a strange town; and ours is a lonely,
selfish sort of life at the best. I wonder Maisie doesn't feel that
sometimes. But I can't order Bessie away. That's the worst of beginning
things. One never knows where they stop.'
One evening, after a sitting prolonged to the last limit of the light, Dick
was roused from a nap by a broken voice in Torpenhow's room. He
jumped to his feet. 'Now what ought I to do? It looks foolish to go in.--Oh,
bless you, Binkie!' The little terrier thrust Torpenhow's door open with
his nose and came out to take possession of Dick's chair. The door swung
wide unheeded, and Dick across the landing could see Bessie in the
half-light making her little supplication to Torpenhow. She was kneeling
by his side, and her hands were clasped across his knee.
'I know,--I know,' she said thickly. ''Tisn't right o' me to do this, but I
can't help it; and you were so kind,--so kind; and you never took any
notice o' me. And I've mended all your things so carefully,--I did. Oh,
please, 'tisn't as if I was asking you to marry me. I wouldn't think of it.
But you--couldn't you take and live with me till Miss Right comes along?
I'm only Miss Wrong, I know, but I'd work my hands to the bare bone
for you. And I'm not ugly to look at. Say you will!'
Dick hardly recognised Torpenhow's voice in reply--
'But look here. It's no use. I'm liable to be ordered off anywhere at a
minute's notice if a war breaks out. At a minute's notice--dear.'
'What does that matter? Until you go, then. Until you go. 'Tisn't much
I'm asking, and--you don't know how good I can cook.' She had put an
arm round his neck and was drawing his head down.
'Torp,' said Dick, across the landing. He could hardly steady his voice.
'Come here a minute, old man. I'm in trouble'--'Heaven send he'll listen
to me!' There was something very like an oath from Bessie's lips. She was
afraid of Dick, and disappeared down the staircase in panic, but it
seemed an age before Torpenhow entered the studio. He went to the
mantelpiece, buried his head on his arms, and groaned like a wounded
'What the devil right have you to interfere?' he said, at last.
'Who's interfering with which? Your own sense told you long ago you
couldn't be such a fool. It was a tough rack, St. Anthony, but you're all
'I oughtn't to have seen her moving about these rooms as if they belonged
to her. That's what upset me. It gives a lonely man a sort of hankering,
doesn't it?' said Torpenhow, piteously.
'Now you talk sense. It does. But, since you aren't in a condition to
discuss the disadvantages of double housekeeping, do you know what
you're going to do?'
'I don't. I wish I did.'
'You're going away for a season on a brilliant tour to regain tone. You're
going to Brighton, or Scarborough, or Prawle Point, to see the ships go
by. And you're going at once. Isn't it odd? I'll take care of Binkie, but out
you go immediately. Never resist the devil. He holds the bank. Fly from
him. Pack your things and go.'
'I believe you're right. Where shall I go?'
'And you call yourself a special correspondent! Pack first and inquire
An hour later Torpenhow was despatched into the night for a hansom.
'You'll probably think of some place to go to while you're moving,' said
Dick. 'On to Euston, to begin with, and--oh yes--get drunk to-night.'
He returned to the studio, and lighted more candles, for he found the
room very dark.
'Oh, you Jezebel! you futile little Jezebel! Won't you hate me
to-morrow!--Binkie, come here.'
Binkie turned over on his back on the hearth-rug, and Dick stirred him
with a meditative foot.
'I said she was not immoral. I was wrong. She said she could cook. That
showed premeditated sin. Oh, Binkie, if you are a man you will go to
perdition; but if you are a woman, and say that you can cook, you will go
to a much worse place.'?
What's you that follows at my side?--
The foe that ye must fight, my lord.--
That hirples swift as I can ride?--
The shadow of the night, my lord.--
Then wheel my horse against the foe!--
He's down and overpast, my lord.
Ye war against the sunset glow;
The darkness gathers fast, my lord.
-- The Fight of Heriot's Ford.?
'THIS is a cheerful life,' said Dick, some days later. 'Torp's away; Bessie
hates me; I can't get at the notion of the Melancolia; Maisie's letters are
scrappy; and I believe I have indigestion. What give a man pains across
the head and spots before his eyes, Binkie? Shall us take some liver pills?'
Dick had just gone through a lively scene with Bessie. She had for the
fiftieth time reproached him for sending Torpenhow away. She explained
her enduring hatred for Dick, and made it clear to him that she only sat
for the sake of his money. 'And Mr. Torpenhow's ten times a better man
than you,' she concluded.
'He is. That's why he went away. I should have stayed and made love to
The girl sat with her chin on her hand, scowling. 'To me! I'd like to catch
you! If I wasn't afraid o' being hung I'd kill you. That's what I'd do.
D'you believe me?'
Dick smiled wearily. It is not pleasant to live in the company of a notion
that will not work out, a fox-terrier that cannot talk, and a woman who
talks too much. He would have answered, but at that moment there
unrolled itself from one corner of the studio a veil, as it were, of the
flimsiest gauze. He rubbed his eyes, but the gray haze would not go.
'This is disgraceful indigestion. Binkie, we will go to a medicine-man. We
can't have our eyes interfered with, for by these we get our bread; also
mutton-chop bones for little dogs.'
The doctor was an affable local practitioner with white hair, and he said
nothing till Dick began to describe the gray film in the studio.
'We all want a little patching and repairing from time to time,' he
chirped. 'Like a ship, my dear sir,--exactly like a ship. Sometimes the hull
is out of order, and we consult the surgeon; sometimes the rigging, and
then I advise; sometimes the engines, and we go to the brain-specialist;
sometimes the look-out on the bridge is tired, and then we see an oculist. I
should recommend you to see an oculist. A little patching and repairing
from time to time is all we want. An oculist, by all means.'
Dick sought an oculist,--the best in London. He was certain that the local
practitioner did not know anything about his trade, and more certain
that Maisie would laugh at him if he were forced to wear spectacles.
'I've neglected the warnings of my lord the stomach too long. Hence these
spots before the eyes, Binkie. I can see as well as I ever could.'
As he entered the dark hall that led to the consulting-room a man
cannoned against him. Dick saw the face as it hurried out into the street.
'That's the writer-type. He has the same modelling of the forehead as
Torp. He looks very sick. Probably heard something he didn't like.'
Even as he thought, a great fear came upon Dick, a fear that made him
hold his breath as he walked into the oculist's waiting room, with the
heavy carved furniture, the dark-green paper, and the sober-hued prints
on the wall. He recognised a reproduction of one of his own sketches.
Many people were waiting their turn before him. His eye was caught by
a flaming red-and-gold Christmas-carol book. Little children came to
that eye-doctor, and they needed large-type amusement.
'That's idolatrous bad Art,' he said, drawing the book towards himself.
'From the anatomy of the angels, it has been made in Germany.' He
opened in mechanically, and there leaped to his eyes a verse printed in
The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of three,
To see her good Son Jesus Christ
Making the blind to see;
Making the blind to see, good Lord,
And happy we may be.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity!
Dick read and re-read the verse till his turn came, and the doctor was
bending above him seated in an arm-chair. The blaze of the
gas-microscope in his eyes made him wince. The doctor's hand touched
the scar of the sword-cut on Dick's head, and Dick explained briefly how
he had come by it. When the flame was removed, Dick saw the doctor's
face, and the fear came upon him again. The doctor wrapped himself in a
mist of words. Dick caught allusions to 'scar,' 'frontal bone,' 'optic
nerve,' 'extreme caution,' and the 'avoidance of mental anxiety.'
'Verdict?' he said faintly. 'My business is painting, and I daren't waste
time. What do you make of it?'
Again the whirl of words, but this time they conveyed a meaning.
'Can you give me anything to drink?'
Many sentences were pronounced in that darkened room, and the
prisoners often needed cheering. Dick found a glass of liqueur brandy in
'As far as I can gather,' he said, coughing above the spirit, 'you call it
decay of the optic nerve, or something, and therefore hopeless. What is
my time-limit, avoiding all strain and worry?'
'Perhaps one year.'
'My God! And if I don't take care of myself?'
'I really could not say. One cannot ascertain the exact amount of injury
inflicted by the sword-cut. The scar is an old one, and--exposure to the
strong light of the desert, did you say?--with excessive application to fine
work? I really could not say?'
'I beg your pardon, but it has come without any warning. If you will let
me, I'll sit here for a minute, and then I'll go. You have been very good in
telling me the truth. Without any warning; without any warning.
Dick went into the street, and was rapturously received by Binkie.
'We've got it very badly, little dog! Just as badly as we can get it. We'll
go to the Park to think it out.'
They headed for a certain tree that Dick knew well, and they sat down to
thin, because his legs were trembling under him and there was cold fear
at the pit of his stomach.
'How could it have come without any warning? It's as sudden as being
shot. It's the living death, Binkie. We're to be shut up in the dark in one
year if we're careful, and we shan't see anybody, and we shall never have
anything we want, not though we live to be a hundred!' Binkie wagged
his tail joyously. 'Binkie, we must think. Let's see how it feels to be
blind.' Dick shut his eyes, and flaming commas and Catherine-wheels
floated inside the lids. Yet when he looked across the Park the scope of
his vision was not contracted. He could see perfectly, until a procession of
slow-wheeling fireworks defiled across his eyeballs.
'Little dorglums, we aren't at all well. Let's go home. If only Torp were
But Torpenhow was in the south of England, inspecting dockyards in the
company of the Nilghai. His letters were brief and full of mystery.
Dick had never asked anybody to help him in his joys or his sorrows. He
argued, in the loneliness of his studio, henceforward to be decorated with
a film of gray gauze in one corner, that, if his fate were blindness, all the
Torpenhows in the world could not save him. 'I can't call him off his trip
to sit down and sympathise with me. I must pull through this business
alone,' he said. He was lying on the sofa, eating his moustache and
wondering what the darkness of the night would be like. Then came to
his mind the memory of a quaint scene in the Soudan. A soldier had been
nearly hacked in two by a broad-bladed Arab spear. For one instant the
man felt no pain. Looking down, he saw that his life-blood was going
from him. The stupid bewilderment on his face was so intensely comic
that both Dick and Torpenhow, still panting and unstrung from a fight
for life, had roared with laughter, in which the man seemed as if he
would join, but, as his lips parted in a sheepish grin, the agony of death
came upon him, and he pitched grunting at their feet. Dick laughed
again, remembering the horror. It seemed so exactly like his own case.
'But I have a little more time allowed me,' he said. He paced up and
down the room, quietly at first, but afterwards with the hurried feet of
fear. It was as though a black shadow stood at his elbow and urged him
to go forward; and there were only weaving circles and floating pin-dots
before his eyes.
'We need to be calm, Binkie; we must be calm.' He talked aloud for the
sake of distraction. 'This isn't nice at all. What shall we do? We must do
something. Our time is short. I shouldn't have believed that this morning;
but now things are different. Binkie, where was Moses when the light
Binkie smiled from ear to ear, as a well-bred terrier should, but made no
'"Were there but world enough and time, This coyness, Binkie, were not
crime. . . . But at my back I always hear----"' He wiped his forehead,
which was unpleasantly damp. 'What can I do? What can I do? I haven't
any notions left, and I can't think connectedly, but I must do something,
or I shall go off my head.'
The hurried walk recommenced, Dick stopping every now and again to
drag forth long-neglected canvases and old note-books; for he turned to
his work by instinct, as a thing that could not fail. 'You won't do, and you
won't do,' he said, at each inspection. 'No more soldiers. I couldn't paint
'em. Sudden death comes home too nearly, and this is battle and murder
The day was failing, and Dick thought for a moment that the twilight of
the blind had come upon him unaware. 'Allah Almighty!' he cried
despairingly, 'help me through the time of waiting, and I won't whine
when my punishment comes. What can I do now, before the light goes?'
There was no answer. Dick waited till he could regain some sort of
control over himself. His hands were shaking, and he prided himself on
their steadiness; he could feel that his lips were quivering, and the sweat
was running down his face. He was lashed by fear, driven forward by the
desire to get to work at once and accomplish something, and maddened
by the refusal of his brain to do more than repeat the news that he was
about to go blind. 'It's a humiliating exhibition,' he thought, 'and I'm
glad Torp isn't here to see. The doctor said I was to avoid mental worry.
Come here and let me pet you, Binkie.'
The little dog yelped because Dick nearly squeezed the bark out of him.
Then he heard the man speaking in the twilight, and, doglike, understood
that his trouble stood off from him--
'Allah is good, Binkie. Not quite so gentle as we could wish, but we'll
discuss that later. I think I see my way to it now. All those studies of
Bessie's head were nonsense, and they nearly brought your master into a
scrape. I hold the notion now as clear as crystal,--"the Melancolia that
transcends all wit." There shall be Maisie in that head, because I shall
never get Maisie; and Bess, of course, because she knows all about
Melancolia, though she doesn't know she knows; and there shall be some
drawing in it, and it shall all end up with a laugh. That's for myself. Shall
she giggle or grin? No, she shall laugh right out of the canvas, and every
man and woman that ever had a sorrow of their own shall--what is it the
'Understand the speech and feel a stir
Of fellowship in all disastrous fight.
"In all disastrous fight"? That's better than painting the thing merely to
pique Maisie. I can do it now because I have it inside me. Binkie, I'm
going to hold you up by your tail. You're an omen. Come here.'
Binkie swung head downward for a moment without speaking.
'Rather like holding a guinea-pig; but you're a brave little dog, and you
don't yelp when you're hung up. It is an omen.'
Binkie went to his own chair, and as often as he looked saw Dick walking
up and down, rubbing his hands and chuckling. That night Dick wrote a
letter to Maisie full of the tenderest regard for her health, but saying
very little about his own, and dreamed of the Melancolia to be born. Not
till morning did he remember that something might happen to him in the
He fell to work, whistling softly, and was swallowed up in the clean, clear
joy of creation, which does not come to man too often, lest he should
consider himself the equal of his God, and so refuse to die at the
appointed time. He forgot Maisie, Torpenhow, and Binkie at his feet, but
remembered to stir Bessie, who needed very little stirring, into a
tremendous rage, that he might watch the smouldering lights in her eyes.
He threw himself without reservation into his work, and did not think of
the doom that was to overtake him, for he was possessed with his notion,
and the things of this world had no power upon him.
'You're pleased to-day,' said Bessie.
Dick waved his mahl-stick in mystic circles and went to the sideboard for
a drink. In the evening, when the exaltation of the day had died down, he
went to the sideboard again, and after some visits became convinced that
the eye-doctor was a liar, since he could still see everything very clearly.
He was of opinion that he would even make a home for Maisie, and that
whether she liked it or not she should be his wife. The mood passed next
morning, but the sideboard and all upon it remained for his comfort.
Again he set to work, and his eyes troubled him with spots and dashes
and blurs till he had taken counsel with the sideboard, and the
Melancolia both on the canvas and in his own mind appeared lovelier
than ever. There was a delightful sense of irresponsibility upon him, such
as they feel who walking among their fellow-men know that the
death-sentence of disease is upon them, and, seeing that fear is but waste
of the little time left, are riotously happy. The days passed without event.
Bessie arrived punctually always, and, though her voice seemed to Dick
to come from a distance, her face was always very near. The Melancolia
began to flame on the canvas, in the likeness of a woman who had known
all the sorrow in the world and was laughing at it. It was true that the
corners of the studio draped themselves in gray film and retired into the
darkness, that the spots in his eyes and the pains across his head were
very troublesome, and that Maisie's letters were hard to read and harder
still to answer. He could not tell her of his trouble, and he could not
laugh at her accounts of her own Melancolia which was always going to
be finished. But the furious days of toil and the nights of wild dreams
made amends for all, and the sideboard was his best friend on earth.
Bessie was singularly dull. She used to shriek with rage when Dick stared
at her between half-closed eyes. Now she sulked, or watched him with
disgust, saying very little.
Torpenhow had been absent for six weeks. An incoherent note heralded
his return. 'News! great news!' he wrote. 'The Nilghai knows, and so does
the Keneu. We're all back on Thursday. Get lunch and clean your
Dick showed Bessie the letter, and she abused him for that he had ever
sent Torpenhow away and ruined her life.
'Well,' said Dick, brutally, 'you're better as you are, instead of making
love to some drunken beast in the street.' He felt that he had rescued
Torpenhow from great temptation.
'I don't know if that's any worse than sitting to a drunken beast in a
studio. You haven't been sober for three weeks. You've been soaking the
whole time; and yet you pretend you're better than me!'
'What d'you mean?' said Dick.
'Mean! You'll see when Mr. Torpenhow comes back.'
It was not long to wait. Torpenhow met Bessie on the staircase without a
sign of feeling. He had news that was more to him than many Bessies,
and the Keneu and the Nilghai were trampling behind him, calling for
'Drinking like a fish,' Bessie whispered. 'He's been at it for nearly a
month.' She followed the men stealthily to hear judgment done.
They came into the studio, rejoicing, to be welcomed over effusively by a
drawn, lined, shrunken, haggard wreck,--unshaven, blue-white about the
nostrils, stooping in the shoulders, and peering under his eyebrows
nervously. The drink had been at work as steadily as Dick.
'Is this you?' said Torpenhow.
'All that's left of me. Sit down. Binkie's quite well, and I've been doing
some good work.' He reeled where he stood.
'You've done some of the worst work you've ever done in your life. Man
Torpenhow turned to his companions appealingly, and they left the room
to find lunch elsewhere. Then he spoke; but, since the reproof of a friend
is much too sacred and intimate a thing to be printed, and since
Torpenhow used figures and metaphors which were unseemly, and
contempt untranslatable, it will never be known what was actually said
to Dick, who blinked and winked and picked at his hands. After a time
the culprit began to feel the need of a little self-respect. He was quite sure
that he had not in any way departed from virtue, and there were reasons,
too, of which Torpenhow knew nothing. He would explain.
He rose, tried to straighten his shoulders, and spoke to the face he could
'You are right,' he said. 'But I am right, too. After you went away I had
some trouble with my eyes. So I went to an oculist, and he turned a
gasogene--I mean a gas-engine--into my eye. That was very long ago. He
said, "Scar on the head,--sword-cut and optic nerve." Make a note of
that. So I am going blind. I have some work to do before I go blind, and I
suppose that I must do it. I cannot see much now, but I can see best when
I am drunk. I did not know I was drunk till I was told, but I must go on
with my work. If you want to see it, there it is.' He pointed to the all but
finished Melancolia and looked for applause.
Torpenhow said nothing, and Dick began to whimper feebly, for joy at
seeing Torpenhow again, for grief at misdeeds--if indeed they were
misdeeds--that made Torpenhow remote and unsympathetic, and for
childish vanity hurt, since Torpenhow had not given a word of praise to
his wonderful picture.
Bessie looked through the keyhole after a long pause, and saw the two
walking up and down as usual, Torpenhow's hand on Dick's shoulder.
Hereat she said something so improper that it shocked even Binkie, who
was dribbling patiently on the landing with the hope of seeing his master
The lark will make her hymn to God,
The partridge call her brood,
While I forget the heath I trod,
The fields wherein I stood.
'Tis dule to know not night from morn,
But deeper dule to know
I can but hear the hunter's horn
That once I used to blow. -- The Only Son.?
IT WAS the third day after Torpenhow's return, and his heart was
'Do you mean to tell me that you can't see to work without whiskey? It's
generally the other way about.'
'Can a drunkard swear on his honour?' said Dick.
'Yes, if he has been as god a man as you.'
'Then I give you my word of honour,' said Dick, speaking hurriedly
through parched lips. 'Old man, I can hardly see your face now. You've
kept me sober for two days,--if I ever was drunk,--and I've done no work.
Don't keep me back any more. I don't know when my eyes may give out.
The spots and dots and the pains and things are crowding worse than
ever. I swear I can see all right when I'm--when I'm moderately screwed,
as you say. Give me three more sittings from Bessie and all--the stuff I
want, and the picture will be done. I can't kill myself in three days. It
only means a touch of D. T. at the worst.'
'If I give you three days more will you promise me to stop work and--the
other thing, whether the picture's finished or not?'
'I can't. You don't know what that picture means to me. But surely you
could get the Nilghai to help you, and knock me down and tie me up. I
shouldn't fight for the whiskey, but I should for the work.'
'Go on, then. I give you three days; but you're nearly breaking my
Dick returned to his work, toiling as one possessed; and the yellow devil
of whiskey stood by him and chased away the spots in his eyes. The
Melancolia was nearly finished, and was all or nearly all that he had
hoped she would be. Dick jested with Bessie, who reminded him that he
was 'a drunken beast'; but the reproof did not move him.
'You can't understand, Bess. We are in sight of land now, and soon we
shall lie back and think about what we've done. I'll give you three
months' pay when the picture's finished, and next time I have any more
work in hand--but that doesn't matter. Won't three months' pay make
you hate me less?'
'No, it won't! I hate you, and I'll go on hating you. Mr. Torpenhow won't
speak to me any more. He's always looking at maps.'
Bessie did not say that she had again laid siege to Torpenhow, or that at
the end of our passionate pleading he had picked her up, given her a kiss,
and put her outside the door with the recommendation not to be a little
fool. He spent most of his time in the company of the Nilghai, and their
talk was of war in the near future, the hiring of transports, and secret
preparations among the dockyards. He did not wish to see Dick till the
picture was finished.
'He's doing first-class work,' he said to the Nilghai, 'and it's quite out of
his regular line. But, for the matter of that, so's his infernal soaking.'
'Never mind. Leave him alone. When he has come to his senses again
we'll carry him off from this place and let him breathe clean air. Poor
Dick! I don't envy you, Torp, when his eyes fail.'
'Yes, it will be a case of "God help the man who's chained to our Davie."
The worst is that we don't know when it will happen, and I believe the
uncertainty and the waiting have sent Dick to the whiskey more than
'How the Arab who cut his head open would grin if he knew!'
'He's at perfect liberty to grin if he can. He's dead. That's poor
In the afternoon of the third day Torpenhow heard Dick calling for him.
'All finished!' he shouted. 'I've done it! Come in! Isn't she a beauty? Isn't
she a darling? I've been down to hell to get her; but isn't she worth it?'
Torpenhow looked at the head of a woman who laughed,--a full-lipped,
hollow-eyed woman who laughed from out of the canvas as Dick had
intended she would.
'Who taught you how to do it?' said Torpenhow. 'The touch and notion
have nothing to do with your regular work. What a face it is! What eyes,
and what insolence!' Unconsciously he threw back his head and laughed
with her. 'She's seen the game played out,--I don't think she had a good
time of it,--and now she doesn't care. Isn't that the idea?'
'Where did you get the mouth and chin from? They don't belong to Bess.'
'They're--some one else's. But isn't it good? Isn't it thundering good?
Wasn't it worth the whiskey? I did it. Alone I did it, and it's the best I
can do.' He drew his breath sharply, and whispered, 'Just God! what
could I not do ten years hence, if I can do this now!--By the way, what do
you think of it, Bess?'
The girl was biting her lips. She loathed Torpenhow because he had
taken no notice of her.
'I think it's just the horridest, beastliest thing I ever saw,' she answered,
and turned away.
'More than you will be of that way of thinking, young woman.--Dick,
there's a sort of murderous, viperine suggestion in the poise of the head
that I don't understand,' said Torpenhow.
That's trick-work,' said Dick, chuckling with delight at being completely
understood. 'I couldn't resist one little bit of sheer swagger. It's a French
trick, and you wouldn't understand; but it's got at by slewing round the
head a trifle, and a tiny, tiny foreshortening of one side of the face from
the angle of the chin to the top of the left ear. That, and deepening the
shadow under the lobe of the ear. It was flagrant trick-work; but, having
the notion fixed, I felt entitled to play with it,--Oh, you beauty!'
'Amen! She is a beauty. I can feel it.'
'So will every man who has any sorrow of his own,' said Dick, slapping
his thigh. 'He shall see his trouble there, and, by the Lord Harry, just
when he's feeling properly sorry for himself he shall throw back his head
and laugh,--as she is laughing. I've put the life of my heart and the light
of my eyes into her, and I don't care what comes. . . . I'm tired,--awfully
tired. I think I'll get to sleep. Take away the whiskey, it has served its
turn, and give Bessie thirty-six quid, and three over for luck. Cover the
He dropped asleep in the long chair, hid face white and haggard, almost
before he had finished the sentence. Bessie tried to take Torpenhow's
hand. 'Aren't you never going to speak to me any more?' she said; but
Torpenhow was looking at Dick.
'What a stock of vanity the man has! I'll take him in hand to-morrow and
make much of him. He deserves it.--Eh! what was that, Bess?'
'Nothing. I'll put things tidy here a little, and then I'll go. You couldn't
give the that three months' pay now, could you? He said you were to.'
Torpenhow gave her a check and went to his own rooms. Bessie faithfully
tidied up the studio, set the door ajar for flight, emptied half a bottle of
turpentine on a duster, and began to scrub the face of the Melancolia
viciously. The paint did not smudge quickly enough. She took a
palette-knife and scraped, following each stroke with the wet duster. In
five minutes the picture was a formless, scarred muddle of colours. She
threw the paint-stained duster into the studio stove, stuck out her tongue
at the sleeper, and whispered, 'Bilked!' as she turned to run down the
staircase. She would never see Torpenhow any more, but she had at least
done harm to the man who had come between her and her desire and
who used to make fun of her. Cashing the check was the very cream of
the jest to Bessie. Then the little privateer sailed across the Thames, to be
swallowed up in the gray wilderness of South-the-Water.
Dick slept till late in the evening, when Torpenhow dragged him off to
bed. His eyes were as bright as his voice was hoarse. 'Let's have another
look at the picture,' he said, insistently as a child.
'You--go--to--bed,' said Torpenhow. 'You aren't at all well, though you
mayn't know it. You're as jumpy as a cat.'
'I reform to-morrow. Good-night.'
As he repassed through the studio, Torpenhow lifted the cloth above the
picture, and almost betrayed himself by outcries: 'Wiped out!--scraped
out and turped out! He's on the verge of jumps as it is. That's Bess,--the
little fiend! Only a woman could have done that!-with the ink not dry on
the check, too! Dick will be raving mad to-morrow. It was all my fault for
trying to help gutter-devils. Oh, my poor Dick, the Lord is hitting you
Dick could not sleep that night, partly for pure joy, and partly because
the well-known Catherine-wheels inside his eyes had given place to
crackling volcanoes of many-coloured fire. 'Spout away,' he said aloud.
'I've done my work, and now you can do what you please.' He lay still,
staring at the ceiling, the long-pent-up delirium of drink in his veins, his
brain on fire with racing thoughts that would not stay to be considered,
and his hands crisped and dry. He had just discovered that he was
painting the face of the Melancolia on a revolving dome ribbed with
millions of lights, and that all his wondrous thoughts stood embodied
hundreds of feet below his tiny swinging plank, shouting together in his
honour, when something cracked inside his temples like an overstrained
bowstring, the glittering dome broke inward, and he was alone in the
'I'll go to sleep. The room's very dark. Let's light a lamp and see how the
Melancolia looks. There ought to have been a moon.'
It was then that Torpenhow heard his name called by a voice that he did
not know,--in the rattling accents of deadly fear.
'He's looked at the picture,' was his first thought, as he hurried into the
bedroom and found Dick sitting up and beating the air with his hands.
'Torp! Torp! where are you? For pity's sake, come to me!'
'What's the matter?'
Dick clutched at his shoulder. 'Matter! I've been lying here for hours in
the dark, and you never heard me. Torp, old man, don't go away. I'm all
in the dark. In the dark, I tell you!'
Torpenhow held the candle within a foot of Dick's eyes, but there was no
light in those eyes. He lit the gas, and Dick heard the flame catch. The
grip of his fingers on Torpenhow's shoulder made Torpenhow wince.
'Don't leave me. You wouldn't leave me alone now, would you? I can't
see. D'you understand? It's black,--quite black,--and I feel as if I was
falling through it all.'
'Steady does it.' Torpenhow put his arm round Dick and began to rock
him gently to and fro.
'That's good. Now don't talk. If I keep very quiet for a while, this
darkness will lift. It seems just on the point of breaking. H'sh!' Dick knit
his brows and stared desperately in front of him. The night air was
chilling Torpenhow's toes.
'Can you stay like that a minute?' he said. 'I'll get my dressing-gown and
Dick clutched the bed-head with both hands and waited for the darkness
to clear away. 'What a time you've been!' he cried, when Torpenhow
returned. 'It's as black as ever. What are you banging about in the
'Long chair,--horse-blanket,--pillow. Going to sleep by you. Lie down
now; you'll be better in the morning.'
'I shan't!' The voice rose to a wail. 'My God! I'm blind! I'm blind, and
the darkness will never go away.' He made as if to leap from the bed, but
Torpenhow's arms were round him, and Torpenhow's chin was on his
shoulder, and his breath was squeezed out of him. He could only gasp,
'Blind!' and wriggle feebly.
'Steady, Dickie, steady!' said the deep voice in his ear, and the grip
tightened. 'Bite on the bullet, old man, and don't let them think you're
afraid,' The grip could draw no closer. Both men were breathing heavily.
Dick threw his head from side to side and groaned.
'Let me go,' he panted. 'You're cracking my ribs. We-we mustn't let
them think we're afraid, must we,--all the powers of darkness and that
'Lie down. It's all over now.'
'Yes,' said Dick, obediently. 'But would you mind letting me hold your
hand? I feel as if I wanted something to hold on to. One drops through
the dark so.'
Torpenhow thrust out a large and hairy paw from the long chair. Dick
clutched it tightly, and in half an hour had fallen asleep. Torpenhow
withdrew his hand, and, stooping over Dick, kissed him lightly on the
forehead, as men do sometimes kiss a wounded comrade in the hour of
death, to ease his departure.
In the gray dawn Torpenhow heard Dick talking to himself. He was
adrift on the shoreless tides of delirium, speaking very quickly--
'It's a pity,--a great pity; but it's helped, and it must be eaten, Master
George. Sufficient unto the day is the blindness thereof, and, further,
putting aside all Melancolias and false humours, it is of obvious
notoriety--such as mine was--that the queen can do no wrong. Torp
doesn't know that. I'll tell him when we're a little farther into the desert.
What a bungle those boatmen are making of the steamer-ropes! They'll
have that four-inch hawser chafed through in a minute. I told you
so--there she goes! White foam on green water, and the steamer slewing
round. How good that looks! I'll sketch it. No, I can't. I'm afflicted with
ophthalmia. That was one of the ten plagues of Egypt, and it extends up
the Nile in the shape of cataract. Ha! that's a joke, Torp. Laugh, you
graven image, and stand clear of the hawser. . . . It'll knock you into the
water and make your dress all dirty, Maisie dear.'
'Oh!' said Torpenhow. 'This happened before. That night on the river.'
'She'll be sure to say it's my fault if you get muddy, and you're quite near
enough to the breakwater. Maisie, that's not fair. Ah! I knew you'd miss.
Low and to the left, dear. But you've no conviction. Don't be angry,
darling. I'd cut my hand off if it would give you anything more than
obstinacy. My right hand, if it would serve.'
'Now we mustn't listen. Here's an island shouting across seas of
misunderstanding with a vengeance. But it's shouting truth, I fancy,' said
The babble continued. It all bore upon Maisie. Sometimes Dick lectured
at length on his craft, then he cursed himself for his folly in being
enslaved. He pleaded to Maisie for a kiss--only one kiss--before she went
away, and called to her to come back from Vitry-sur-Marne, if she
would; but through all his ravings he bade heaven and earth witness that
the queen could do no wrong.
Torpenhow listened attentively, and learned every detail of Dick's life
that had been hidden from him. For three days Dick raved through the
past, and then a natural sleep. 'What a strain he has been running under,
poor chap!' said Torpenhow. 'Dick, of all men, handing himself over like
a dog! And I was lecturing him on arrogance! I ought to have known that
it was no use to judge a man. But I did it. What a demon that girl must
be! Dick's given her his life,--confound him!--and she's given him one kiss
'Torp,' said Dick, from the bed, 'go out for a walk. You've been here too
long. I'll get up. Hi! This is annoying. I can't dress myself. Oh, it's too
Torpenhow helped him into his clothes and led him to the big chair in the
studio. He sat quietly waiting under strained nerves for the darkness to
lift. It did not lift that day, nor the next. Dick adventured on a voyage
round the walls. He hit his shins against the stove, and this suggested to
him that it would be better to crawl on all fours, one hand in front of
him. Torpenhow found him on the floor.
'I'm trying to get the geography of my new possessions,' said he. 'D'you
remember that nigger you gouged in the square? Pity you didn't keep the
odd eye. It would have been useful. Any letters for me? Give me all the
ones in fat gray envelopes with a sort of crown thing outside. They're of
Torpenhow gave him a letter with a black M. on the envelope flap. Dick
put it into his pocket. There was nothing in it that Torpenhow might not
have read, but it belonged to himself and to Maisie, who would never
belong to him.
'When she finds that I don't write, she'll stop writing. It's better so. I
couldn't be any use to her now,' Dick argued, and the tempter suggested
that he should make known his condition. Every nerve in him revolted. 'I
have fallen low enough already. I'm not going to beg for pity. Besides, it
would be cruel to her.' He strove to put Maisie out of his thoughts; but
the blind have many opportunities for thinking, and as the tides of his
strength came back to him in the long employless days of dead darkness,
Dick's soul was troubled to the core. Another letter, and another, came
from Maisie. Then there was silence, and Dick sat by the window, the
pulse of summer in the air, and pictured her being won by another man,
stronger than himself. His imagination, the keener for the dark
background it worked against, spared him no single detail that might
send him raging up and down the studio, to stumble over the stove that
seemed to be in four places at once. Worst of all, tobacco would not taste
in the darkness. The arrogance of the man had disappeared, and in its
place were settled despair that Torpenhow knew, and blind passion that
Dick confided to his pillow at night. The intervals between the paroxysms
were filled with intolerable waiting and the weight of intolerable
'Come out into the Park,' said Torpenhow. 'You haven't stirred out since
the beginning of things.'
'What's the use? There's no movement in the dark; and, besides,'--he
paused irresolutely at the head of the stairs,--'something will run over
'Not if I'm with you. Proceed gingerly.'
The roar of the streets filled Dick with nervous terror, and he clung to
Torpenhow's arm. 'Fancy having to feel for a gutter with your foot!' he
said petulantly, as he turned into the Park. 'Let's curse God and die.'
'Sentries are forbidden to pay unauthorised compliments. By Jove, there
are the Guards!'
Dick's figure straightened. 'Let's get near 'em. Let's go in and look. Let's
get on the grass and run. I can smell the trees.'
'Mind the low railing. That's all right!' Torpenhow kicked out a tuft of
grass with his heel. 'Smell that,' he said. 'Isn't it good?' Dick sniffed
luxuriously. 'Now pick up your feet and run.' They approached as near
to the regiment as was possible. The clank of bayonets being unfixed
made Dick's nostrils quiver.
'Let's get nearer. They're in column, aren't they?'
'Yes. How did you know?'
'Felt it. Oh, my men!--my beautiful men!' He edged forward as though he
could see. 'I could draw those chaps once. Who'll draw 'em now?'
'They'll move off in a minute. Don't jump when the band begins.'
'Huh! I'm not a new charger. It's the silences that hurt. Nearer,
Torp!--nearer! Oh, my God, what wouldn't I give to see 'em for a
He could hear the armed life almost within reach of him, could hear the
slings tighten across the bandsman's chest as he heaved the big drum
from the ground.
'Sticks crossed above his head,' whispered Torpenhow.
'I know. I know! Who should know if I don't? H'sh!'
The drum-sticks fell with a boom, and the men swung forward to the
crash of the band. Dick felt the wind of the massed movement in his face,
heard the maddening tramp of feet and the friction of the pouches on the
belts. The big drum pounded out the tune. It was a music-hall refrain
that made a perfect quickstep--
He must be a man of decent height,
He must be a man of weight,
He must come home on a Saturday night
In a thoroughly sober state;
He must know how to love me,
And he must know how to kiss;
And if he's enough to keep us both
I can't refuse him bliss.
'What's the matter?' said Torpenhow, as he saw Dick's head fall when
the last of the regiment had departed.
'Nothing. I feel a little bit out of the running,--that's all. Torp, take me
back. Why did you bring me out?'?
There were three friends that buried the fourth,
The mould in his mouth and the dust in his eyes
And they went south and east, and north,--
The strong man fights, but the sick man dies.
There were three friends that spoke of the dead,--
The strong man fights, but the sick man dies.--
'And would he were with us now,' they said,
'The sun in our face and the wind in our eyes.'
THE NILGHAI was angry with Torpenhow. Dick had been sent to
bed,--blind men are ever under the orders of those who can see,--and
since he had returned from the Park had fluently sworn at Torpenhow
because he was alive, and all the world because it was alive and could
see, while he, Dick, was dead in the death of the blind, who, at the best,
are only burdens upon their associates. Torpenhow had said something
about a Mrs. Gummidge, and Dick had retired in a black fury to handle
and re-handle three unopened letters from Maisie.
The Nilghai, fat, burly, and aggressive, was in Torpenhow's rooms.
Behind him sat the Keneu, the Great War Eagle, and between them lay a
large map embellished with black-and-white-headed pins.
'I was wrong about the Balkans,' said the Nilghai. 'But I'm not wrong
about this business. The whole of our work in the Southern Soudan must
be done over again. The public doesn't care, of course, but the
government does, and they are making their arrangements quietly. You
know that as well as I do.'
'I remember how the people cursed us when our troops withdrew from
Omdurman. It was bound to crop up sooner or later. But I can't go,' said
Torpenhow. He pointed through the open door; it was a hot night. 'Can
you blame me?'
The Keneu purred above his pipe like a large and very happy cat--
'Don't blame you in the least. It's uncommonly good of you, and all the
rest of it, but every man--even you, Torp--must consider his work. I know
it sounds brutal, but Dick's out of the race,--down,--gastados expended,
finished, done for. He has a little money of his own. He won't starve, and
you can't pull out of your slide for his sake. Think of your own
'Dick's was five times bigger than mine and yours put together.'
'That was because he signed his name to everything he did. It's all ended
now. You must hold yourself in readiness to move out. You can command
your own prices, and you do better work than any three of us.'
'Don't tell me how tempting it is. I'll stay here to look after Dick for a
while. He's as cheerful as a bear with a sore head, but I think he likes to
have me near him.'
The Nilghai said something uncomplimentary about soft-headed fools
who throw away their careers for other fools. Torpenhow flushed
angrily. The constant strain of attendance on Dick had worn his nerves
'There remains a third fate,' said the Keneu, thoughtfully. 'Consider this,
and be not larger fools than necessary. Dick is--or rather was--an
able-bodied man of moderate attractions and a certain amount of
'Oho!' said the Nilghai, who remembered an affair at Cairo. 'I begin to
see,--Torp, I'm sorry.'
Torpenhow nodded forgiveness: 'You were more sorry when he cut you
out, though.--Go on, Keneu.'
'I've often thought, when I've seen men die out in the desert, that if the
news could be sent through the world, and the means of transport were
quick enough, there would be one woman at least at each man's bedside.'
'There would be some mighty quaint revelations. Let us be grateful
things are as they are,' said the Nilghai.
'Let us rather reverently consider whether Torp's three-cornered
ministrations are exactly what Dick needs just now.--What do you think
'I know they aren't. But what can I do?'
'Lay the matter before the board. We are all Dick's friends here. You've
been most in his life.'
'But I picked it up when he was off his head.'
'The greater chance of its being true. I thought we should arrive. Who is
Then Torpenhow told a tale in plain words, as a special correspondent
who knows how to make a verbal precis should tell it. The men listened
'Is it possible that a man can come back across the years to his calf-love?'
said the Keneu. 'Is it possible?'
'I give the facts. He says nothing about it now, but he sits fumbling three
letters from her when he thinks I'm not looking. What am I to do?'
'Speak to him,' said the Nilghai.
'Oh yes! Write to her,--I don't know her full name, remember,--and ask
her to accept him out of pity. I believe you once told Dick you were sorry
for him, Nilghai. You remember what happened, eh? Go into the
bedroom and suggest full confession and an appeal to this Maisie girl,
whoever she is. I honestly believe he'd try to kill you; and the blindness
has made him rather muscular.'
'Torpenhow's course is perfectly clear,' said the Keneu. 'He will go to
Vitry-sur-Marne, which is on the Bezieres-Landes Railway,--single track
from Tourgas. The Prussians shelled it out in '70 because there was a
poplar on the top of a hill eighteen hundred yards from the church spire
There's a squadron of cavalry quartered there,--or ought to be. Where
this studio Torp spoke about may be I cannot tell. That is Torp's
business. I have given him his route. He will dispassionately explain the
situation to the girl, and she will come back to Dick,--the more especially
because, to use Dick's words, "there is nothing but her damned obstinacy
to keep them apart."'
'And they have four hundred and twenty pounds a year between 'em.
Dick never lost his head for figures, even in his delirium. You haven't the
shadow of an excuse for not going,' said the Nilghai.
Torpenhow looked very uncomfortable. 'But it's absurd and impossible. I
can't drag her back by the hair.'
'Our business--the business for which we draw our money--is to do
absurd and impossible things,--generally with no reason whatever except
to amuse the public. Here we have a reason. The rest doesn't matter. I
shall share these rooms with the Nilghai till Torpenhow returns. There
will be a batch of unbridled "specials" coming to town in a little while,
and these will serve as their headquarters. Another reason for sending
Torpenhow away. Thus Providence helps those who help others,
and'--here the Keneu dropped his measured speech--'we can't have you
tied by the leg to Dick when the trouble begins. It's your only chance of
getting away; and Dick will be grateful.'
'He will,--worse luck! I can but go and try. I can't conceive a woman in
her senses refusing Dick.'
'Talk that out with the girl. I have seen you wheedle an angry Mahdieh
woman into giving you dates. This won't be a tithe as difficult. You had
better not be here to-morrow afternoon, because the Nilghai and I will be
in possession. It is an order. Obey.'?
'Dick,' said Torpenhow, next morning, 'can I do anything for you?'
'No! Leave me alone. How often must I remind you that I'm blind?'
'Nothing I could go for to fetch for to carry for to bring?'
'No. Take those infernal creaking boots of yours away.'
'Poor chap!' said Torpenhow to himself. 'I must have been sitting on his
nerves lately. He wants a lighter step.' Then, aloud, 'Very well. Since
you're so independent, I'm going off for four or five days. Say good-bye
at least. The housekeeper will look after you, and Keneu has my rooms.'
Dick's face fell. 'You won't be longer than a week at the outside? I know
I'm touched in the temper, but I can't get on without you.'
'Can't you? You'll have to do without me in a little time, and you'll be
glad I'm gone.'
Dick felt his way back to the big chair, and wondered what these things
might mean. He did not wish to be tended by the housekeeper, and yet
Torpenhow's constant tenderness jarred on him. He did not exactly know
what he wanted. The darkness would not lift, and Maisie's unopened
letters felt worn and old from much handling. He could never read them
for himself as long as life endured; but Maisie might have sent him some
fresh ones to play with. The Nilghai entered with a gift,--a piece of red
modelling-wax. He fancied that Dick might find interest in using his
hands. Dick poked and patted the stuff for a few minutes, and, 'Is it like
anything in the world?' he said drearily. 'Take it away. I may get the
touch of the blind in fifty years. Do you know where Torpenhow has
The Nilghai knew nothing. 'We're staying in his rooms till he comes
back. Can we do anything for you?'
'I'd like to be left alone, please. Don't think I'm ungrateful; but I'm best
The Nilghai chuckled, and Dick resumed his drowsy brooding and sullen
rebellion against fate. He had long since ceased to think about the work
he had done in the old days, and the desire to do more work had departed
from him. He was exceedingly sorry for himself, and the completeness of
his tender grief soothed him. But his soul and his body cried for
Maisie--Maisie who would understand. His mind pointed out that Maisie,
having her own work to do, would not care. His experience had taught
him that when money was exhausted women went away, and that when a
man was knocked out of the race the others trampled on him. 'Then at
the least,' said Dick, in reply, 'she could use me as I used Binat,--for some
sort of a study. I wouldn't ask more than to be near her again, even
though I knew that another man was making love to her. Ugh! what a
dog I am!'
A voice on the staircase began to sing joyfully--
'When we go--go--go away from here,
Our creditors will weep and they will wail,
Our absence much regretting when they find that they've been getting
Out of England by next Tuesday's Indian mail.'?
Following the trampling of feet, slamming of Torpenhow's door, and the
sound of voices in strenuous debate, some one squeaked, 'And see, you
good fellows, I have found a new water-bottle--firs'-class patent--eh, how
you say? Open himself inside out.'
Dick sprang to his feet. He knew the voice well. 'That's Cassavetti, come
back from the Continent. Now I know why Torp went away. There's a
row somewhere, and--I'm out of it!'
The Nilghai commanded silence in vain. 'That's for my sake,' Dick said
bitterly. 'The birds are getting ready to fly, and they wouldn't tell me. I
can hear Morten-Sutherland and Mackaye. Half the War
Correspondents in London are there;--and I'm out of it.'
He stumbled across the landing and plunged into Torpenhow's room. He
could feel that it was full of men. 'Where's the trouble?' said he. 'In the
Balkans at last? Why didn't some one tell me?'
'We thought you wouldn't be interested,' said the Nilghai, shamefacedly.
'It's in the Soudan, as usual.'
'You lucky dogs! Let me sit here while you talk. I shan't be a skeleton at
the feast.--Cassavetti, where are you? Your English is as bad as ever.'
Dick was led into a chair. He heard the rustle of the maps, and the talk
swept forward, carrying him with it. Everybody spoke at once, discussing
press censorships, railway-routes, transport, water-supply, the capacities
of generals,--these in language that would have horrified a trusting
public,--rangint, asserting, denouncing, and laughing at the top of their
voices. There was the glorious certainty of war in the Soudan at any
moment. The Nilghai said so, and it was well to be in readiness. The
Keneu had telegraphed to Cairo for horses; Cassavetti had stolen a
perfectly inaccurate list of troops that would be ordered forward, and
was reading it out amid profane interruptions, and the Keneu introduced
to Dick some man unknown who would be employed as war artist by the
Central Southern Syndicate. 'It's his first outing,' said the Keneu. 'Give
him some tips--about riding camels.'
'Oh, those camels!' groaned Cassavetti. 'I shall learn to ride him again,
and now I am so much all soft! Listen, you good fellows. I know your
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