The Light That Failed
Part 4 out of 5
military arrangement very well. There will go the Royal Argalshire
Sutherlanders. So it was read to me upon best authority.'
A roar of laughter interrupted him.
'Sit down,' said the Nilghai. 'The lists aren't even made out in the War
'Will there be any force at Suakin?' aid a voice.
Then the outcries redoubled, and grew mixed, thus: 'How many
Egyptian troops will they use?--God help the Fellaheen!--There's a
railway in Plumstead marshes doing duty as a fives-court.--We shall
have the Suakin-Berber line built at last.--Canadian voyageurs are too
careful. Give me a half-drunk Krooman in a whale-boat.--Who
commands the Desert column?--No, they never blew up the big rock in
the Ghineh bend. We shall have to be hauled up, as usual.--Somebody tell
me if there's an Indian contingent, or I'll break everybody's head.--Don't
tear the map in two.--It's a war of occupation, I tell you, to connect with
the African companies in the South.--There's Guinea-worm in most of
the wells on that route.' Then the Nilghai, despairing of peace, bellowed
like a fog-horn and beat upon the table with both hands.
'But what becomes of Torpenhow?' said Dick, in the silence that
'Torp's in abeyance just now. He's off love-making somewhere, I
suppose,' said the Nilghai.
'He said he was going to stay at home,' said the Keneu.
'Is he?' said Dick, with an oath. 'He won't. I'm not much good now, but if
you and the Nilghai hold him down I'll engage to trample on him till he
sees reason. He'll stay behind, indeed! He's the best of you all. There'll be
some tough work by Omdurman. We shall come there to stay, this time.
But I forgot. I wish I were going with you.'
'So do we all, Dickie,' said the Keneu.
'And I most of all,' said the new artist of the Central Southern Syndicate.
'Could you tell me----'
'I'll give you one piece of advice,' Dick answered, moving towards the
door. 'If you happen to be cut over the head in a scrimmage, don't guard.
Tell the man to go on cutting. You'll find it cheapest in the end. Thanks
for letting me look in.'
'There's grit in Dick,' said the Nilghai, an hour later, when the room was
emptied of all save the Keneu.
'It was the sacred call of the war-trumpet. Did you notice how he
answered to it? Poor fellow! Let's look at him,' said the Keneu.
The excitement of the talk had died away. Dick was sitting by the studio
table, with his head on his arms, when the men came in. He did not
change his position.
'It hurts,' he moaned. 'God forgive me, but it hurts cruelly; and yet,
y'know, the world has a knack of spinning round all by itself. Shall I see
Torp before he goes?'
'Oh, yes. You'll see him,' said the Nilghai.
The sun went down an hour ago,
I wonder if I face towards home;
If I lost my way in the light of day
How shall I find it now night is come?
'MAISIE, come to bed.'
'It's so hot I can't sleep. Don't worry.'
Maisie put her elbows on the window-sill and looked at the moonlight on
the straight, poplar-flanked road. Summer had come upon
Vitry-sur-Marne and parched it to the bone. The grass was dry-burnt in
the meadows, the clay by the bank of the river was caked to brick, the
roadside flowers were long since dead, and the roses in the garden hung
withered on their stalks. The heat in the little low bedroom under the
eaves was almost intolerable. The very moonlight on the wall of Kami's
studio across the road seemed to make the night hotter, and the shadow
of the big bell-handle by the closed gate cast a bar of inky black that
caught Maisie's eye and annoyed her.
'Horrid thing! It should be all white,' she murmured. 'And the gate isn't
in the middle of the wall, either. I never noticed that before.'
Maisie was hard to please at that hour. First, the heat of the past few
weeks had worn her down; secondly, her work, and particularly the
study of a female head intended to represent the Melancolia and not
finished in time for the Salon, was unsatisfactory; thirdly, Kami had said
as much two days before; fourthly,--but so completely fourthly that it
was hardly worth thinking about,--Dick, her property, had not written to
her for more than six weeks. She was angry with the heat, with Kami,
and with her work, but she was exceedingly angry with Dick.
She had written to him three times,--each time proposing a fresh
treatment of her Melancolia. Dick had taken no notice of these
communications. She had resolved to write no more. When she returned
to England in the autumn--for her pride's sake she could not return
earlier--she would speak to him. She missed the Sunday afternoon
conferences more than she cared to admit. All that Kami said was,
'Continuez, mademoiselle, continuez toujours,' and he had been repeating
the wearisome counsel through the hot summer, exactly like a cicada,--an
old gray cicada in a black alpaca coat, white trousers, and a huge felt hat.
But Dick had tramped masterfully up and down her little studio north of
the cool green London park, and had said things ten times worse than
continuez, before he snatched the brush out of her hand and showed her
where the error lay. His last letter, Maisie remembered, contained some
trivial advice about not sketching in the sun or drinking water at wayside
farmhouses; and he had said that not once, but three times,--as if he did
not know that Maisie could take care of herself.
But what was he doing, that he could not trouble to write? A murmur of
voices in the road made her lean from the window. A cavalryman of the
little garrison in the town was talking to Kami's cook. The moonlight
glittered on the scabbard of his sabre, which he was holding in his hand
lest it should clank inopportunely. The cook's cap cast deep shadows on
her face, which was close to the conscript's. He slid his arm round her
waist, and there followed the sound of a kiss.
'Faugh!' said Maisie, stepping back.
'What's that?' said the red-haired girl, who was tossing uneasily outside
'Only a conscript kissing the cook,' said Maisie.
'They've gone away now.' She leaned out of the window again, and put a
shawl over her nightgown to guard against chills. There was a very small
night-breeze abroad, and a sun-baked rose below nodded its head as one
who knew unutterable secrets. Was it possible that Dick should turn his
thoughts from her work and his own and descend to the degradation of
Suzanne and the conscript? He could not! The rose nodded its head and
one leaf therewith. It looked like a naughty little devil scratching its ear.
Dick could not, 'because,' thought Maisie, 'he is mind,--mine,--mine. He
said he was. I'm sure I don't care what he does. It will only spoil his work
if he does; and it will spoil mine too.'
The rose continued to nod it the futile way peculiar to flowers. There was
no earthly reason why Dick should not disport himself as he chose, except
that he was called by Providence, which was Maisie, to assist Maisie in
her work. And her work was the preparation of pictures that went
sometimes to English provincial exhibitions, as the notices in the
scrap-book proved, and that were invariably rejected by the Salon when
Kami was plagued into allowing her to send them up. Her work in the
future, it seemed, would be the preparation of pictures on exactly similar
lines which would be rejected in exactly the same way----
The red-haired girl threshed distressfully across the sheets. 'It's too hot
to sleep,' she moaned; and the interruption jarred.
Exactly the same way. Then she would divide her years between the little
studio in England and Kami's big studio at Vitry-sur-Marne. No, she
would go to another master, who should force her into the success that
was her right, if patient toil and desperate endeavour gave one a right to
anything. Dick had told her that he had worked ten years to understand
his craft. She had worked ten years, and ten years were nothing. Dick
had said that ten years were nothing,--but that was in regard to herself
only. He had said--this very man who could not find time to write--that
he would wait ten years for her, and that she was bound to come back to
him sooner or later. He had said this in the absurd letter about sunstroke
and diphtheria; and then he had stopped writing. He was wandering up
and down moonlit streets, kissing cooks. She would like to lecture him
now,--not in her nightgown, of course, but properly dressed, severely and
from a height. Yet if he was kissing other girls he certainly would not
care whether she lecture him or not. He would laugh at her. Very good.
She would go back to her studio and prepare pictures that went, etc., etc.
The mill-wheel of thought swung round slowly, that no section of it might
be slurred over, and the red-haired girl tossed and turned behind her.
Maisie put her chin in her hands and decided that there could be no
doubt whatever of the villainy of Dick. To justify herself, she began,
unwomanly, to weigh the evidence. There was a boy, and he had said he
loved her. And he kissed her,--kissed her on the cheek,--by a yellow
sea-poppy that nodded its head exactly like the maddening dry rose in the
garden. Then there was an interval, and men had told her that they loved
her--just when she was busiest with her work. Then the boy came back,
and at their very second meeting had told her that he loved her. Then he
had---- But there was no end to the things he had done. He had given her
his time and his powers. He had spoken to her of Art, housekeeping,
technique, teacups, the abuse of pickles as a stimulant,--that was
rude,--sable hair-brushes,--he had given her the best in her stock,--she
used them daily; he had given her advice that she profited by, and now
and again--a look. Such a look! The look of a beaten hound waiting for
the word to crawl to his mistress's feet. In return she had given him
nothing whatever, except--here she brushed her mouth against the
open-work sleeve f her nightgown--the privilege of kissing her once. And
on the mouth, too. Disgraceful! Was that not enough, and more than
enough? and if it was not, had he not cancelled the debt by not writing
and--probably kissing other girls?
'Maisie, you'll catch a chill. Do go and lie down,' said the wearied voice
of her companion. 'I can't sleep a wink with you at the window.'
Maisie shrugged her shoulders and did not answer. She was reflecting on
the meannesses of Dick, and on other meannesses with which he had
nothing to do. The moonlight would not let her sleep. It lay on the
skylight of the studio across the road in cold silver; she stared at it
intently and her thoughts began to slide one into the other. The shadow
of the big bell-handle in the wall grew short, lengthened again, and faded
out as the moon went down behind the pasture and a hare came limping
home across the road. Then the dawn-wind washed through the upland
grasses, and brought coolness with it, and the cattle lowed by the
drought-shrunk river. Maisie's head fell forward on the window-sill, and
the tangle of black hair covered her arms.
'Maisie, wake up. You'll catch a chill.'
'Yes, dear; yes, dear.' She staggered to her bed like a wearied child, and
as she buried her face in the pillows she muttered, 'I think--I think. . . .
But he ought to have written.'
Day brought the routine of the studio, the smell of paint and turpentine,
and the monotone wisdom of Kami, who was a leaden artist, but a golden
teacher if the pupil were only in sympathy with him. Maisie was not in
sympathy that day, and she waited impatiently for the end of the work.
She knew when it was coming; for Kami would gather his black alpaca
coat into a bunch behind him, and, with faded flue eyes that saw neither
pupils nor canvas, look back into the past to recall the history of one
Binat. 'You have all done not so badly,' he would say. 'But you shall
remember that it is not enough to have the method, and the art, and the
power, nor even that which is touch, but you shall have also the
conviction that nails the work to the wall. Of the so many I taught,'--here
the students would begin to unfix drawing-pins or get their tubes
together,--'the very so many that I have taught, the best was Binat. All
that comes of the study and the work and the knowledge was to him even
when he came. After he left me he should have done all that could be
done with the colour, the form, and the knowledge. Only, he had not the
conviction. So to-day I hear no more of Binat,--the best of my
pupils,--and that is long ago. So to-day, too, you will be glad to hear no
more of me. Continuez, mesdemoiselles, and, above all, with conviction.'
He went into the garden to smoke and mourn over the lost Binat as the
pupils dispersed to their several cottages or loitered in the studio to make
plans for the cool of the afternoon.
Maisie looked at her very unhappy Melancolia, restrained a desire to
grimace before it, and was hurrying across the road to write a letter to
Dick, when she was aware of a large man on a white troop-horse. How
Torpenhow had managed in the course of twenty hours to find his way to
the hearts of the cavalry officers in quarters at Vitry-sur-Marne, to
discuss with them the certainty of a glorious revenge for France, to
reduce the colonel to tears of pure affability, and to borrow the best
horse in the squadron for the journey to Kami's studio, is a mystery that
only special correspondents can unravel.
'I beg your pardon,' said he. 'It seems an absurd question to ask, but the
fact is that I don't know her by any other name: Is there any young lady
here that is called Maisie?'
'I am Maisie,' was the answer from the depths of a great sun-hat.
'I ought to introduce myself,' he said, as the horse capered in the blinding
white dust. 'My name is Torpenhow. Dick Heldar is my best friend,
and--and--the fact is that he has gone blind.'
'Blind!' said Maisie, stupidly. 'He can't be blind.'
'He has been stone-blind for nearly two months.'
Maisie lifted up her face, and it was pearly white. 'No! No! Not blind! I
won't have him blind!'
'Would you care to see for yourself?' said Torpenhow.
'Oh, no! The Paris train doesn't go through this place till to-night. There
will be ample time.'
'Did Mr. Heldar send you to me?'
'Certainly not. Dick wouldn't do that sort of thing. He's sitting in his
studio, turning over some letters that he can't read because he's blind.'
There was a sound of choking from the sun-hat. Maisie bowed her head
and went into the cottage, where the red-haired girl was on a sofa,
complaining of a headache.
'Dick's blind!' said Maisie, taking her breath quickly as she steadied
herself against a chair-back. 'My Dick's blind!'
'What?' The girl was on the sofa no longer.
'A man has come from England to tell me. He hasn't written to me for six
'Are you going to him?'
'I must think.'
'Think! I should go back to London and see him and I should kiss his eyes
and kiss them and kiss them until they got well again! If you don't go I
shall. Oh, what am I talking about? You wicked little idiot! Go to him at
Torpenhow's neck was blistering, but he preserved a smile of infinite
patience as Maisie's appeared bareheaded in the sunshine.
'I am coming,' said she, her eyes on the ground.
'You will be at Vitry Station, then, at seven this evening.' This was an
order delivered by one who was used to being obeyed. Maisie said
nothing, but she felt grateful that there was no chance of disputing with
this big man who took everything for granted and managed a squealing
horse with one hand. She returned to the red-haired girl, who was
weeping bitterly, and between tears, kisses,--very few of those,--menthol,
packing, and an interview with Kami, the sultry afternoon wore away.
Thought might come afterwards. Her present duty was to go to
Dick,--Dick who owned the wondrous friend and sat in the dark playing
with her unopened letters.
'But what will you do,' she said to her companion.
'I? Oh, I shall stay here and--finish your Melancolia,' she said, smiling
pitifully. 'Write to me afterwards.'
That night there ran a legend through Vitry-sur-Marne of a mad
Englishman, doubtless suffering from sunstroke, who had drunk all the
officers of the garrison under the table, had borrowed a horse from the
lines, and had then and there eloped, after the English custom, with one
of those more mad English girls who drew pictures down there under the
care of that good Monsieur Kami.
'They are very droll,' said Suzanne to the conscript in the moonlight by
the studio wall. 'She walked always with those big eyes that saw nothing,
and yet she kisses me on both cheeks as though she were my sister, and
gives me--see--ten francs!'
The conscript levied a contribution on both gifts; for he prided himself on
being a good soldier.
Torpenhow spoke very little to Maisie during the journey to Calais; but
he was careful to attend to all her wants, to get her a compartment
entirely to herself, and to leave her alone. He was amazed of the ease
with which the matter had been accomplished.
'The safest thing would be to let her think things out. By Dick's
showing,--when he was off his head,--she must have ordered him about
very thoroughly. Wonder how she likes being under orders.'
Maisie never told. She sat in the empty compartment often with her eyes
shut, that she might realise the sensation of blindness. It was an order
that she should return to London swiftly, and she found herself at last
almost beginning to enjoy the situation. This was better than looking
after luggage and a red-haired friend who never took any interest in her
surroundings. But there appeared to be a feeling in the air that she,
Maisie,--of all people,--was in disgrace. Therefore she justified her
conduct to herself with great success, till Torpenhow came up to her on
the steamer and without preface began to tell the story of Dick's
blindness, suppressing a few details, but dwelling at length on the
miseries of delirium. He stopped before he reached the end, as though he
had lost interest in the subject, and went forward to smoke. Maisie was
furious with him and with herself.
She was hurried on from Dover to London almost before she could ask
for breakfast, and--she was past any feeling of indignation now--was
bidden curtly to wait in a hall at the foot of some lead-covered stairs
while Torpenhow went up to make inquiries. Again the knowledge that
she was being treated like a naughty little girl made her pale cheeks
flame. It was all Dick's fault for being so stupid as to go blind.
Torpenhow led her up to a shut door, which he opened very softly. Dick
was sitting by the window, with his chin on his chest. There were three
envelopes in his hand, and he turned them over and over. The big man
who gave orders was no longer by her side, and the studio door snapped
Dick thrust the letters into his pocket as he heard the sound. 'Hullo,
Topr! Is that you? I've been so lonely.'
His voice had taken the peculiar flatness of the blind. Maisie pressed
herself up into a corner of the room. Her heart was beating furiously,
and she put one hand on her breast to keep it quiet. Dick was staring
directly at her, and she realised for the first time that he was blind.
Shutting her eyes in a rail-way carriage to open them when she pleased
was child's play. This man was blind though his eyes were wide open.
'Torp, is that you? They said you were coming.' Dick looked puzzled and
a little irritated at the silence.
'No; it's only me,' was the answer, in a strained little whisper. Maisie
could hardly move her lips.
'H'm!' said Dick, composedly, without moving. 'This is a new
phenomenon. Darkness I'm getting used to; but I object to hearing voices.'
Was he mad, then, as well as blind, that he talked to himself? Maisie's
heart beat more wildly, and she breathed in gasps. Dick rose and began
to feel his way across the room, touching each table and chair as he
passed. Once he caught his foot on a rug, and swore, dropping on his
knees to feel what the obstruction might be. Maisie remembered him
walking in the Park as though all the earth belonged to him, tramping up
and down her studio two months ago, and flying up the gangway of the
Channel steamer. The beating of her heart was making her sick, and
Dick was coming nearer, guided by the sound of her breathing. She put
out a hand mechanically to ward him off or to draw him to herself, she
did not know which. It touched his chest, and he stepped back as though
he had been shot.
'It's Maisie!' said he, with a dry sob. 'What are you doing here?'
'I came--I came--to see you, please.'
Dick's lips closed firmly.
'Won't you sit down, then? You see, I've had some bother with my eyes, and----'
'I know. I know. Why didn't you tell me?'
'I couldn't write.'
'You might have told Mr. Torpenhow.'
'What has he to do with my affairs?'
'He--he brought me from Vitry-sur-Marne. He thought I ought to see you.'
'Why, what has happened? Can I do anything for you? No, I can't. I forgot.'
'Oh, Dick, I'm so sorry! I've come to tell you, and---- Let me take you
back to your chair.'
'Don't! I'm not a child. You only do that out of pity. I never meant to tell
you anything about it. I'm no good now. I'm down and done for. Let me alone!'
He groped back to his chair, his chest labouring as he sat down.
Maisie watched him, and the fear went out of her heart, to be followed by
a very bitter shame. He had spoken a truth that had been hidden from
the girl through every step of the impetuous flight to London; for he was,
indeed, down and done for--masterful no longer but rather a little abject;
neither an artist stronger than she, nor a man to be looked up to--only
some blind one that sat in a chair and seemed on the point of crying. She
was immensely and unfeignedly sorry for him--more sorry than she had
ever been for any one in her life, but not sorry enough to deny his words.
So she stood still and felt ashamed and a little hurt, because she had
honestly intended that her journey should end triumphantly; and now
she was only filled with pity most startlingly distinct from love.
'Well?' said Dick, his face steadily turned away. 'I never meant to worry
you any more. What's the matter?'
He was conscious that Maisie was catching her breath, but was as
unprepared as herself for the torrent of emotion that followed. She had
dropped into a chair and was sobbing with her face hidden in her hands.
'I can't--I can't!' she cried desperately. 'Indeed, I can't. It isn't my fault.
I'm so sorry. Oh, Dickie, I'm so sorry.'
Dick's shoulders straightened again, for the words lashed like a whip.
Still the sobbing continued. It is not good to realise that you have failed in
the hour of trial or flinched before the mere possibility of making sacrifices.
'I do despise myself--indeed I do. But I can't. Oh, Dickie, you wouldn't
ask me--would you?' wailed Maisie.
She looked up for a minute, and by chance it happened that Dick's eyes
fell on hers. The unshaven face was very white and set, and the lips were
trying to force themselves into a smile. But it was the worn-out eyes that
Maisie feared. Her Dick had gone blind and left in his place some one
that she could hardly recognise till he spoke.
'Who is asking you to do anything, Maisie? I told you how it would be.
What's the use of worrying? For pity's sake don't cry like that; it isn't
'You don't know how I hate myself. Oh, Dick, help me--help me!' The
passion of tears had grown beyond her control and was beginning to
alarm the man. He stumbled forward and put his arm round her, and her
head fell on his shoulder.
'Hush, dear, hush! Don't cry. You're quite right, and you've nothing to
reproach yourself with--you never had. You're only a little upset by the
journey, and I don't suppose you've had any breakfast. What a brute
Torp was to bring you over.'
'I wanted to come. I did indeed,' she protested.
'Very well. And now you've come and seen, and I'm--immensely grateful.
When you're better you shall go away and get something to eat. What
sort of a passage did you have coming over?'
Maisie was crying more subduedly, for the first time in her life glad that
she had something to lean against. Dick patted her on the shoulder
tenderly but clumsily, for he was not quite sure where her shoulder
She drew herself out of his arms at last and waited, trembling and most
unhappy. He had felt his way to the window to put the width of the room
between them, and to quiet a little the tumult in his heart.
'Are you better now?' he said.
'Yes, but--don't you hate me?'
'I hate you? My God! I?'
'Isn't--isn't there anything I could do for you, then? I'll stay here in
England to do it, if you like. Perhaps I could come and see you sometimes.'
'I think not, dear. It would be kindest not to see me any more, please. I
don't want to seem rude, but--don't you think--perhaps you had almost
better go now.'
He was conscious that he could not bear himself as a man if the strain
continued much longer.
'I don't deserve anything else. I'll go, Dick. Oh, I'm so miserable.'
'Nonsense. You've nothing to worry about; I'd tell you if you had. Wait a
moment, dear. I've got something to give you first. I meant it for you ever
since this little trouble began. It's my Melancolia; she was a beauty when
I last saw her. You can keep her for me, and if ever you're poor you can
sell her. She's worth a few hundreds at any state of the market.' He
groped among his canvases. 'She's framed in black. Is this a black frame
that I have my hand on? There she is. What do you think of her?'
He turned a scarred formless muddle of paint towards Maisie, and the
eyes strained as though they would catch her wonder and surprise. One
thing and one thing only could she do for him.
The voice was fuller and more rounded, because the man knew he was
speaking of his best work. Maisie looked at the blur, and a lunatic desire
to laugh caught her by the throat. But for Dick's sake--whatever this mad
blankness might mean--she must make no sign. Her voice choked with
hard-held tears as she answered, still gazing at the wreck--
'Oh, Dick, it is good!'
He heard the little hysterical gulp and took it for tribute. 'Won't you
have it, then? I'll send it over to your house if you will.'
'I? Oh yes--thank you. Ha! ha!' If she did not fly at once the laughter
that was worse than tears would kill her. She turned and ran, choking
and blinded, down the staircases that were empty of life to take refuge in
a cab and go to her house across the Parks. There she sat down in the
dismantled drawing-room and thought of Dick in his blindness, useless
till the end of life, and of herself in her own eyes. Behind the sorrow, the
shame, and the humiliation, lay fear of the cold wrath of the red-haired
girl when Maisie should return. Maisie had never feared her companion
before. Not until she found herself saying, 'Well, he never asked me,' did
she realise her scorn of herself.
And that is the end of Maisie.
* * * * * *
For Dick was reserved more searching torment. He could not realise at
first that Maisie, whom he had ordered to go had left him without a word
of farewell. He was savagely angry against Torpenhow, who had brought
upon him this humiliation and troubled his miserable peace. Then his
dark hour came and he was alone with himself and his desires to get
what help he could from the darkness. The queen could do no wrong, but
in following the right, so far as it served her work, she had wounded her
one subject more than his own brain would let him know.
'It's all I had and I've lost it,' he said, as soon as the misery permitted
clear thinking. 'And Torp will think that he has been so infernally clever
that I shan't have the heart to tell him. I must think this out quietly.'
'Hullo!' said Torpenhow, entering the studio after Dick had enjoyed two
hours of thought. 'I'm back. Are you feeling any better?'
'Torp, I don't know what to say. Come here.' Dick coughed huskily,
wondering, indeed, what he should say, and how to say it temperately.
'What's the need for saying anything? Get up and tramp.' Torpenhow
was perfectly satisfied.
They walked up and down as of custom, Torpenhow's hand on Dick's
shoulder, and Dick buried in his own thoughts.
'How in the world did you find it all out?' said Dick, at last.
'You shouldn't go off your head if you want to keep secrets, Dickie. It
was absolutely impertinent on my part; but if you'd seen me rocketing
about on a half-trained French troop-horse under a blazing sun you'd
have laughed. There will be a charivari in my rooms to-night. Seven
'I know--the row in the Southern Soudan. I surprised their councils the
other day, and it made me unhappy. Have you fixed your flint to go?
Who d'you work for?'
'Haven't signed any contracts yet. I wanted to see how your business
would turn out.'
'Would you have stayed with me, then, if--things had gone wrong?' He
put his question cautiously.
'Don't ask me too much. I'm only a man.'
'You've tried to be an angel very successfully.'
'Oh ye--es! . . . Well, do you attend the function to-night? We shall be
half screwed before the morning. All the men believe the war's a certainty.'
'I don't think I will, old man, if it's all the same to you. I'll stay quiet here.'
'And meditate? I don't blame you. You observe a good time if ever a man did.'
That night there was a tumult on the stairs. The correspondents poured
in from theatre, dinner, and music-hall to Torpenhow's room that they
might discuss their plan of campaign in the event of military operations
becoming a certainty. Torpenhow, the Keneu,, and the Nilghai had
bidden all the men they had worked with to the orgy; and Mr. Beeton,
the housekeeper, declared that never before in his checkered experience
had he seen quite such a fancy lot of gentlemen. They waked the
chambers with shoutings and song; and the elder men were quite as bad
as the younger. For the chances of war were in front of them, and all
knew what those meant.
Sitting in his own room a little perplexed by the noise across the landing,
Dick suddenly began to laugh to himself.
'When one comes to think of it the situation is intensely comic. Maisie's
quite right--poor little thing. I didn't know she could cry like that before;
but now I know what Torp thinks, I'm sure he'd be quite fool enough to
stay at home and try to console me--if he knew. Besides, it isn't nice to
own that you've been thrown over like a broken chair. I must carry this
business through alone--as usual. If there isn't a war, and Torp finds out,
I shall look foolish, that's all. If there is a way I mustn't interfere with
another man's chances. Business is business, and I want to be alone--I
want to be alone. What a row they're making!'
Somebody hammered at the studio door.
'Come out and frolic, Dickie,' said the Nilghai.
'I should like to, but I can't. I'm not feeling frolicsome.'
'Then, I'll tell the boys and they'll drag you like a badger.'
'Please not, old man. On my word, I'd sooner be left alone just now.'
'Very good. Can we send anything in to you? Fizz, for instance.
Cassavetti is beginning to sing songs of the Sunny South already.'
For one minute Dick considered the proposition seriously.
'No, thanks, I've a headache already.'
'Virtuous child. That's the effect of emotion on the young. All my
congratulations, Dick. I also was concerned in the conspiracy for your welfare.'
'Go to the devil--oh, send Binkie in here.'
The little dog entered on elastic feet, riotous from having been made
much of all the evening. He had helped to sing the choruses; but scarcely
inside the studio he realised that this was no place for tail-wagging, and
settled himself on Dick's lap till it was bedtime. Then he went to bed with
Dick, who counted every hour as it struck, and rose in the morning with
a painfully clear head to receive Torpenhow's more formal
congratulations and a particular account of the last night's revels.
'You aren't looking very happy for a newly accepted man,' said Torpenhow.
'Never mind that--it's my own affair, and I'm all right. Do you really go?'
'Yes. With the old Central Southern as usual. They wired, and I accepted
on better terms than before.'
'When do you start?'
'The day after to-morrow--for Brindisi.'
'Thank God.' Dick spoke from the bottom of his heart.
'Well, that's not a pretty way of saying you're glad to get rid of me. But
men in your condition are allowed to be selfish.'
'I didn't mean that. Will you get a hundred pounds cashed for me before
'That's a slender amount for housekeeping, isn't it?'
'Oh, it's only for--marriage expenses.'
Torpenhow brought him the money, counted it out in fives and tens, and
carefully put it away in the writing table.
'Now I suppose I shall have to listen to his ravings about his girl until I
go. Heaven send us patience with a man in love!' he said to himself.
But never a word did Dick say of Maisie or marriage. He hung in the
doorway of Torpenhow's room when the latter was packing and asked
innumerable questions about the coming campaign, till Torpenhow began
to feel annoyed.
'You're a secretive animal, Dickie, and you consume your own smoke,
don't you?' he said on the last evening.
'I--I suppose so. By the way, how long do you think this war will last?'
'Days, weeks, or months. One can never tell. It may go on for years.'
'I wish I were going.'
'Good Heavens! You're the most unaccountable creature! Hasn't it
occurred to you that you're going to be married--thanks to me?'
'Of course, yes. I'm going to be married--so I am. Going to be married.
I'm awfully grateful to you. Haven't I told you that?'
'You might be going to be hanged by the look of you,' said Torpenhow.
And the next day Torpenhow bade him good-bye and left him to the
loneliness he had so much desired.
Yet at the last, ere our spearmen had found him,
Yet at the last, ere a sword-thrust could save,
Yet at the last, with his masters around him,
He of the Faith spoke as master to slave;
Yet at the last, tho' the Kafirs had maimed him,
Broken by bondage and wrecked by the reiver,--
Yet at the last, tho' the darkness had claimed him,
He called upon Allah and died a believer.
'BEG your pardon, Mr. Heldar, but--but isn't nothin' going to happen?'
said Mr. Beeton.
'No!' Dick had just waked to another morning of blank despair and his
temper was of the shortest.
''Tain't my regular business, o' course, sir; and what I say is, "Mind
your own business and let other people mind theirs;" but just before Mr.
Torpenhow went away he give me to understand, like, that you might be
moving into a house of your own, so to speak--a sort of house with rooms
upstairs and downstairs where you'd be better attended to, though I try
to act just by all our tenants. Don't I?'
'Ah! That must have been a mad-house. I shan't trouble you to take me
there yet. Get me my breakfast, please, and leave me alone.'
'I hope I haven't done anything wrong, sir, but you know I hope that as
far as a man can I tries to do the proper thing by all the gentlemen in
chambers--and more particular those whose lot is hard--such as you, for
instance, Mr. Heldar. You likes soft-roe bloater, don't you? Soft-roe
bloaters is scarcer than hard-roe, but what I says is, "Never mind a little
extra trouble so long as you give satisfaction to the tenants."'
Mr. Beeton withdrew and left Dick to himself. Torpenhow had been long
away; there was no more rioting in the chambers, and Dick had settled
down to his new life, which he was weak enough to consider nothing
better than death.
It is hard to live alone in the dark, confusing the day and night; dropping
to sleep through sheer weariness at mid-day, and rising restless in the
chill of the dawn. At first Dick, on his awakenings, would grope along the
corridors of the chambers till he heard some one snore. Then he would
know that the day had not yet come, and return wearily to his bedroom.
Later he learned not to stir till there was a noise and movement in the
house and Mr. Beeton advised him to get up. Once dressed--and dressing,
now that Torpenhow was away, was a lengthy business, because collars,
ties, and the like hid themselves in far corners of the room, and search
meant head-beating against chairs and trunks--once dressed, there was
nothing whatever to do except to sit still and brood till the three daily
meals came. Centuries separated breakfast from lunch and lunch from
dinner, and though a man prayed for hundreds of years that his mind
might be taken from him, God would never hear. Rather the mind was
quickened and the revolving thoughts ground against each other as
millstones grind when there is no corn between; and yet the brain would
not wear out and give him rest. It continued to think, at length, with
imagery and all manner of reminiscences. It recalled Maisie and past
success, reckless travels by land and sea, the glory of doing work and
feeling that it was good, and suggested all that might have happened had
the eyes only been faithful to their duty. When thinking ceased through
sheer weariness, there poured into Dick's soul tide on tide of
overwhelming, purposeless fear--dread of starvation always, terror lest
the unseen ceiling should crush down upon him, fear of fire in the
chambers and a louse's death in red flame, and agonies of fiercer horror
that had nothing to do with any fear of death. Then Dick bowed his head,
and clutching the arms of his chair fought with his sweating self till the
tinkle of plates told him that something to eat was being set before him.
Mr. Beeton would bring the meal when he had time to spare, and Dick
learned to hang upon his speech, which dealt with badly fitted gas-plugs,
waste-pipes out of repair, little tricks for driving picture-nails into walls,
and the sins of the charwoman or the housemaids. In the lack of better
things the small gossip of a servant'' hall becomes immensely interesting,
and the screwing of a washer on a tap an event to be talked over for days.
Once or twice a week, too, Mr. Beeton would take Dick out with him
when he went marketing in the morning to haggle with tradesmen over
fish, lamp-wicks, mustard, tapioca, and so forth, while Dick rested his
weight first on one foot and then on the other and played aimlessly with
the tins and string-ball on the counter. Then they would perhaps meet
one of Mr. Beeton's friends, and Dick, standing aside a little, would hold
his peace till Mr. Beeton was willing to go on again.
The life did not increase his self-respect. He abandoned shaving as a
dangerous exercise, and being shaved in a barber's shop meant exposure
of his infirmity. He could not see that his clothes were properly brushed,
and since he had never taken any care of his personal appearance he
became every known variety of sloven. A blind man cannot deal with
cleanliness till he has been some months used to the darkness. If he
demand attendance and grow angry at the want of it, he must assert
himself and stand upright. Then the meanest menial can see that he is
blind and, therefore, of no consequence. A wise man will keep his eyes on
the floor and sit still. For amusement he may pick coal lump by lump out
of the scuttle with the tongs and pile it in a little heap in the fender,
keeping count of the lumps, which must all be put back again, one by one
and very carefully. He may set himself sums if he cares to work them
out; he may talk to himself or to the cat if she chooses to visit him; and if
his trade has been that of an artist, he may sketch in the air with his
forefinger; but that is too much like drawing a pig with the eyes shut. He
may go to his bookshelves and count his books, ranging them in order of
their size; or to his wardrobe and count his shirts, laying them in piles of
two or three on the bed, as they suffer from frayed cuffs or lost buttons.
Even this entertainment wearies after a time; and all the times are very,
Dick was allowed to sort a tool-chest where Mr. Beeton kept hammers,
taps and nuts, lengths of gas-pipes, oil-bottles, and string.
'If I don't have everything just where I know where to look for it, why,
then, I can't find anything when I do want it. You've no idea, sir, the
amount of little things that these chambers uses up,' said Mr. Beeton.
Fumbling at the handle of the door as he went out: 'It's hard on you, sir,
I do think it's hard on you. Ain't you going to do anything, sir?'
'I'll pay my rent and messing. Isn't that enough?'
'I wasn't doubting for a moment that you couldn't pay your way, sir; but
I 'ave often said to my wife, "It's 'ard on 'im because it isn't as if he was
an old man, nor yet a middle-aged one, but quite a young gentleman.
That's where it comes so 'ard."'
'I suppose so,' said Dick, absently. This particular nerve through long
battering had ceased to feel--much.
'I was thinking,' continued Mr. Beeton, still making as if to go, 'that you
might like to hear my boy Alf read you the papers sometimes of an
evening. He do read beautiful, seeing he's only nine.'
'I should be very grateful,' said Dick. 'Only let me make it worth his
'We wasn't thinking of that, sir, but of course it's in your own 'ands; but
only to 'ear Alf sing "A Boy's best Friend is 'is Mother!" Ah!'
'I'll hear him sing that too. Let him come this evening with the
Alf was not a nice child, being puffed up with many school-board
certificates for good conduct, and inordinately proud of his singing. Mr.
Beeton remained, beaming, while the child wailed his way through a
song of some eight eight-line verses in the usual whine of a young
Cockney, and, after compliments, left him to read Dick the foreign
telegrams. Ten minutes later Alf returned to his parents rather pale and
''E said 'e couldn't stand it no more,' he explained.
'He never said you read badly, Alf?' Mrs. Beeton spoke.
'No. 'E said I read beautiful. Said 'e never 'eard any one read like that,
but 'e said 'e couldn't abide the stuff in the papers.'
'P'raps he's lost some money in the Stocks. Were you readin' him about
'No; it was all about fightin' out there where the soldiers is gone--a great
long piece with all the lines close together and very hard words in it. 'E
give me 'arf a crown because I read so well. And 'e says the next time
there's anything 'e wants read 'e'll send for me.'
'That's good hearing, but I do think for all the half-crown--put it into the
kicking-donkey money-box, Alf, and let me see you do it--he might have
kept you longer. Why, he couldn't have begun to understand how
beautiful you read.'
'He's best left to hisself--gentlemen always are when they're
downhearted,' said Mr. Beeton.
Alf's rigorously limited powers of comprehending Torpenhow's special
correspondence had waked the devil of unrest in Dick. He could hear,
through the boy's nasal chant, the camels grunting in the squares behind
the soldiers outside Suakin; could hear the men swearing and chaffing
across the cooking pots, and could smell the acrid wood-smoke as it
drifted over camp before the wind of the desert.
That night he prayed to God that his mind might be taken from him,
offering for proof that he was worthy of this favour the fact that he had
not shot himself long ago. That prayer was not answered, and indeed
Dick knew in his heart of hearts that only a lingering sense of humour
and no special virtue had kept him alive. Suicide, he had persuaded
himself, would be a ludicrous insult to the gravity of the situation as well
as a weak-kneed confession of fear.
'Just for the fun of the thing,' he said to the cat, who had taken Binkie's
place in his establishment, 'I should like to know how long this is going to
last. I can live for a year on the hundred pounds Torp cashed for me. I
must have two or three thousand at least in the Bank--twenty or thirty
years more provided for, that is to say. Then I fall back on my hundred
and twenty a year, which will be more by that time. Let's consider.
Twenty-five--thirty-five--a man's in his prime then, they
say--forty-five--a middle-aged man just entering politics--fifty-five--"died
at the comparatively early age of fifty-five," according to the
newspapers. Bah! How these Christians funk death! Sixty-five--we're
only getting on in years. Seventy-five is just possible, though. Great hell,
cat O! fifty years more of solitary confinement in the dark! You'll die,
and Beeton will die, and Torp will die, and Mai--everybody else will die,
but I shall be alive and kicking with nothing to do. I'm very sorry for
myself. I should like some one else to be sorry for me. Evidently I'm not
going ma before I die, but the pain's just as bad as ever. Some day when
you're vivisected, cat O! they'll tie you down on a little table and cut you
open--but don't be afraid; they'll take precious good care that you don't
die. You'll live, and you'll be very sorry then that you weren't sorry for
me. Perhaps Torp will come back or . . . I wish I could go to Torp and the
Nilghai, even though I were in their way.'
Pussy left the room before the speech was ended, and Alf, as he entered,
found Dick addressing the empty hearth-rug.
'There's a letter for you, sir,' he said. 'Perhaps you'd like me to read it.'
'Lend it to me for a minute and I'll tell you.'
The outstretched hand shook just a little and the voice was not
over-steady. It was within the limits of human possibility that--that was
no letter from Maisie. He knew the heft of three closed envelopes only too
well. It was a foolish hope that the girl should write to him, for he did not
realise that there is a wrong which admits of no reparation though the
evildoer may with tears and the heart's best love strive to mend all. It is
best to forget that wrong whether it be caused or endured, since it is as
remediless as bad work once put forward.
'Read it, then,' said Dick, and Alf began intoning according to the rules
of the Board School--
'"I could have given you love, I could have given you loyalty, such as you
never dreamed of. Do you suppose I cared what you were? But you chose
to whistle everything down the wind for nothing. My only excuse for you is
that you are so young."
'That's all,' he said, returning the paper to be dropped into the fire.
'What was in the letter?' asked Mrs. Beeton, when Alf returned.
'I don't know. I think it was a circular or a tract about not whistlin' at
everything when you're young.'
'I must have stepped on something when I was alive and walking about
and it has bounced up and hit me. God help it, whatever it is--unless it
was all a joke. But I don't know any one who'd take the trouble to play a
joke on me. . . . Love and loyalty for nothing. It sounds tempting enough.
I wonder whether I have lost anything really?'
Dick considered for a long time but could not remember when or how he
had put himself in the way of winning these trifles at a woman's hands.
Still, the letter as touching on matters that he preferred not to think
about stung him into a fit of frenzy that lasted for a day and night. When
his heart was so full of despair that it would hold no more, body and soul
together seemed to be dropping without check through the darkness.
Then came fear of darkness and desperate attempts to reach the light
again. But there was no light to be reached. When that agony had left
him sweating and breathless, the downward flight would recommence till
the gathering torture of it spurred him into another fight as hopeless as
the first. Followed some few minutes of sleep in which he dreamed that
he saw. Then the procession of events would repeat itself till he was
utterly worn out and the brain took up its everlasting consideration of
Maisie and might-have-beens.
At the end of everything Mr. Beeton came to his room and volunteered to
take him out. 'Not marketing this time, but we'll go into the Parks if you
'Be damned if I do,' quoth Dick. 'Keep to the streets and walk up and
down. I like to hear the people round me.'
This was not altogether true. The blind in the first stages of their
infirmity dislike those who can move with a free stride and unlifted
arms--but Dick had no earthly desire to go to the Parks. Once and only
once since Maisie had shut her door he had gone there under Alf's
charge. Alf forgot him and fished for minnows in the Serpentine with
some companions. After half an hour's waiting Dick, almost weeping
with rage and wrath, caught a passer-by, who introduced him to a
friendly policeman, who led him to a four-wheeler opposite the Albert
Hall. He never told Mr. Beeton of Alf's forgetfulness, but . . . this was not
the manner in which he was used to walk the Parks aforetime.
'What streets would you like to walk down, then?' said Mr. Beeton,
sympathetically. His own ideas of a riotous holiday meant picnicking on
the grass of Green Park with his family, and half a dozen paper bags full
'Keep to the river,' said Dick, and they kept to the river, and the rush of
it was in his ears till they came to Blackfriars Bridge and struck thence
on to the Waterloo Road, Mr. Beeton explaining the beauties of the
scenery as he went on.
'And walking on the other side of the pavement,' said he, 'unless I'm
much mistaken, is the young woman that used to come to your rooms to
be drawed. I never forgets a face and I never remembers a name, except
paying tenants, o' course!'
'Stop her,' said Dick. 'It's Bessie Broke. Tell her I'd like to speak to her
again. Quick, man!'
Mr. Beeton crossed the road under the noses of the omnibuses and
arrested Bessie then on her way northward. She recognised him as the
man in authority who used to glare at her when she passed up Dick's
staircase, and her first impulse was to run.
'Wasn't you Mr. Heldar's model?' said Mr. Beeton, planting himself in
front of her. 'You was. He's on the other side of the road and he'd like to
'Why?' said Bessie, faintly. She remembered--indeed had never for long
forgotten--an affair connected with a newly finished picture.
'Because he has asked me to do so, and because he's most particular
'No. 'Orspital blind. He can't see. That's him over there.'
Dick was leaning against the parapet of the bridge as Mr. Beeton pointed
him out--a stub-bearded, bowed creature wearing a dirty
magenta-coloured neckcloth outside an unbrushed coat. There was
nothing to fear from such an one. Even if he chased her, Bessie thought,
he could not follow far. She crossed over, and Dick's face lighted up. It
was long since a woman of any kind had taken the trouble to speak to
'I hope you're well, Mr. Heldar?' said Bessie, a little puzzled. Mr. Beeton
stood by with the air of an ambassador and breathed responsibly.
'I'm very well indeed, and, by Jove! I'm glad to see--hear you, I mean,
Bess. You never thought it worth while to turn up and see us again after
you got your money. I don't know why you should. Are you going
anywhere in particular just now?'
'I was going for a walk,' said Bessie.
'Not the old business?' Dick spoke under his breath.
'Lor, no! I paid my premium'--Bessie was very proud of that word--'for a
barmaid, sleeping in, and I'm at the bar now quite respectable. Indeed I
Mr. Beeton had no special reason to believe in the loftiness of human
nature. Therefore he dissolved himself like a mist and returned to his
gas-plugs without a word of apology. Bessie watched the flight with a
certain uneasiness; but so long as Dick appeared to be ignorant of the
harm that had been done to him . . .
'It's hard work pulling the beer-handles,' she went on, 'and they've got
one of them penny-in-the-slot cash-machines, so if you get wrong by a
penny at the end of the day--but then I don't believe the machinery is
right. Do you?'
'I've only seen it work. Mr. Beeton.'
'I'm afraid I must ask you to help me home, then. I'll make it worth your
while. You see.' The sightless eyes turned towards her and Bessie saw.
'It isn't taking you out of your way?' he said hesitatingly. 'I can ask a
policeman if it is.'
'Not at all. I come on at seven and I'm off at four. That's easy hours.'
'Good God!--but I'm on all the time. I wish I had some work to do too.
Let's go home, Bess.'
He turned and cannoned into a man on the sidewalk, recoiling with an
oath. Bessie took his arm and said nothing--as she had said nothing when
he had ordered her to turn her face a little more to the light. They
walked for some time in silence, the girl steering him deftly through the
'And where's--where's Mr. Torpenhow?' she inquired at last.
'He has gone away to the desert.'
Dick pointed to the right. 'East--out of the mouth of the river,' said he.
'Then west, then south, and then east again, all along the under-side of
Europe. Then south again, God knows how far.' The explanation did not
enlighten Bessie in the least, but she held her tongue and looked to Dick's
patch till they came to the chambers.
'We'll have tea and muffins,' he said joyously. 'I can't tell you, Bessie,
how glad I am to find you again. What made you go away so suddenly?'
'I didn't think you'd want me any more,' she said, emboldened by his
'I didn't, as a matter of fact--but afterwards-- At any rate I'm glad
you've come. You know the stairs.'
So Bessie led him home to his own place--there was no one to hinder--and
shut the door of the studio.
'What a mess!' was her first word. 'All these things haven't been looked
after for months and months.'
'No, only weeks, Bess. You can't expect them to care.'
'I don't know what you expect them to do. They ought to know what
you've paid them for. The dust's just awful. It's all over the easel.'
'I don't use it much now.'
'All over the pictures and the floor, and all over your coat. I'd like to
speak to them housemaids.'
'Ring for tea, then.' Dick felt his way to the one chair he used by custom.
Bessie saw the action and, as far as in her lay, was touched. But there
remained always a keen sense of new-found superiority, and it was in her
voice when she spoke.
'How long have you been like this?' she said wrathfully, as though the
blindness were some fault of the housemaids.
'As you are.'
'The day after you went away with the check, almost as soon as my
picture was finished; I hardly saw her alive.'
'Then they've been cheating you ever since, that's all. I know their nice
A woman may love one man and despise another, but on general feminine
principles she will do her best to save the man she despises from being
defrauded. Her loved one can look to himself, but the other man, being
obviously an idiot, needs protection.
'I don't think Mr. Beeton cheats much,' said Dick. Bessie was flouncing
up and down the room, and he was conscious of a keen sense of
enjoyment as he heard the swish of her skirts and the light step between.
'Tea and muffins,' she said shortly, when the ring at the bell was
answered; 'two teaspoonfuls and one over for the pot. I don't want the
old teapot that was here when I used to come. It don't draw. Get
The housemaid went away scandalised, and Dick chuckled. Then he
began to cough as Bessie banged up and down the studio disturbing the
'What are you trying to do?'
'Put things straight. This is like unfurnished lodgings. How could you let
it go so?'
'How could I help it? Dust away.'
She dusted furiously, and in the midst of all the pother entered Mrs.
Beeton. Her husband on his return had explained the situation, winding
up with the peculiarly felicitous proverb, 'Do unto others as you would
be done by.' She had descended to put into her place the person who
demanded muffins and an uncracked teapot as though she had a right to
'Muffins ready yet?' said Bess, still dusting. She was no longer a drab of
the streets but a young lady who, thanks to Dick's check, had paid her
premium and was entitled to pull beer-handles with the best. Being
neatly dressed in black she did not hesitate to face Mrs. Beeton, and there
passed between the two women certain regards that Dick would have
appreciated. The situation adjusted itself by eye. Bessie had won, and
Mrs. Beeton returned to cook muffins and make scathing remarks about
models, hussies, trollops, and the like, to her husband.
'There's nothing to be got of interfering with him, Liza,' he said. 'Alf,
you go along into the street to play. When he isn't crossed he's as kindly
as kind, but when he's crossed he's the devil and all. We took too many
little things out of his rooms since he was blind to be that particular
about what he does. They ain't no objects to a blind man, of course, but if
it was to come into court we'd get the sack. Yes, I did introduce him to
that girl because I'm a feelin' man myself.'
'Much too feelin'!' Mrs. Beeton slapped the muffins into the dish, and
thought of comely housemaids long since dismissed on suspicion.
'I ain't ashamed of it, and it isn't for us to judge him hard so long as he
pays quiet and regular as he do. I know how to manage young gentlemen,
you know how to cook for them, and what I says is, let each stick to his
own business and then there won't be any trouble. Take them muffins
down, Liza, and be sure you have no words with that young woman. His
lot is cruel hard, and if he's crossed he do swear worse than any one I've
'That's a little better,' said Bessie, sitting down to the tea. 'You needn't
wait, thank you, Mrs. Beeton.'
'I had no intention of doing such, I do assure you.'
Bessie made no answer whatever. This, she knew, was the way in which
real ladies routed their foes, and when one is a barmaid at a first-class
public-house one may become a real lady at ten minutes' notice.
Her eyes fell on Dick opposite her and she was both shocked and
displeased. There were droppings of food all down the front of his coat;
the mouth under the ragged ill-grown beard drooped sullenly; the
forehead was lined and contracted; and on the lean temples the hair was
a dusty indeterminate colour that might or might not have been called
gray. The utter misery and self-abandonment of the man appealed to her,
and at the bottom of her heart lay the wicked feeling that he was
humbled and brought low who had once humbled her.
'Oh! it is good to hear you moving about,' said Dick, rubbing his hands.
'Tell us all about your bar successes, Bessie, and the way you live now.'
'Never mind that. I'm quite respectable, as you'd see by looking at me.
You don't seem to live too well. What made you go blind that sudden?
Why isn't there any one to look after you?'
Dick was too thankful for the sound of her voice to resent the tone of it.
'I was cut across the head a long time ago, and that ruined my eyes. I
don't suppose anybody thinks it worth while to look after me any more.
Why should they?--and Mr. Beeton really does everything I want.'
'Don't you know any gentlemen and ladies, then, while you was--well?'
'A few, but I don't care to have them looking at me.'
'I suppose that's why you've growed a beard. Take it off, it don't become
'Good gracious, child, do you imagine that I think of what becomes of me
'You ought. Get that taken off before I come here again. I suppose I can
come, can't I?'
'I'd be only too grateful if you did. I don't think I treated you very well in
the old days. I used to make you angry.'
'Very angry, you did.'
'I'm sorry for it, then. Come and see me when you can and as often as
you can. God knows, there isn't a soul in the world to take that trouble
except you and Mr. Beeton.'
'A lot of trouble he's taking and she too.' This with a toss of the head.
'They've let you do anyhow and they haven't done anything for you. I've
only to look and see that much. I'll come, and I'll be glad to come, but you
must go and be shaved, and you must get some other clothes--those ones
aren't fit to be seen.'
'I have heaps somewhere,' he said helplessly.
'I know you have. Tell Mr. Beeton to give you a new suit and I'll brush it
and keep it clean. You may be as blind as a barn-door, Mr. Heldar, but it
doesn't excuse you looking like a sweep.'
'Do I look like a sweep, then?'
'Oh, I'm sorry for you. I'm that sorry for you!' she cried impulsively, and
took Dick's hands. Mechanically, he lowered his head as if to kiss--she
was the only woman who had taken pity on him, and he was not too
proud for a little pity now. She stood up to go.
'Nothing o' that kind till you look more like a gentleman. It's quite easy
when you get shaved, and some clothes.'
He could hear her drawing on her gloves and rose to say good-bye. She
passed behind him, kissed him audaciously on the back of the neck, and
ran away as swiftly as on the day when she had destroyed the
'To think of me kissing Mr. Heldar,' she said to herself, 'after all he's
done to me and all! Well, I'm sorry for him, and if he was shaved he
wouldn't be so bad to look at, but . . . Oh them Beetons, how shameful
they've treated him! I know Beeton's wearing his shirt on his back to-day
just as well as if I'd aired it. To-morrow, I'll see . . . I wonder if he has
much of his own. It might be worth more than the bar--I wouldn't have
to do any work--and just as respectable as if no one knew.'
Dick was not grateful to Bessie for her parting gift. He was acutely
conscious of it in the nape of his neck throughout the night, but it seemed,
among very many other things, to enforce the wisdom of getting shaved.
He was shaved accordingly in the morning, and felt the better for it. A
fresh suit of clothes, white linen, and the knowledge that some one in the
world said that she took an interest in his personal appearance made him
carry himself almost upright; for the brain was relieved for a while from
thinking of Maisie, who, under other circumstances, might have given
that kiss and a million others.
'Let us consider,' said he, after lunch. 'The girl can't care, and it's a
toss-up whether she comes again or not, but if money can buy her to look
after me she shall be bought. Nobody else in the world would take the
trouble, and I can make it worth her while. She's a child of the gutter
holding brevet rank as a barmaid; so she shall have everything she wants
if she'll only come and talk and look after me.' He rubbed his newly
shorn chin and began to perplex himself with the thought of her not
coming. 'I suppose I did look rather a sweep,' he went on. 'I had no
reason to look otherwise. I knew things dropped on my clothes, but it
didn't matter. It would be cruel if she didn't come. She must. Maisie
came once, and that was enough for her. She was quite right. She had
something to work for. This creature has only beer-handles to pull,
unless she has deluded some young man into keeping company with her.
Fancy being cheated for the sake of a counter-jumper! We're falling
Something cried aloud within him:--This will hurt more than anything
that has gone before. It will recall and remind and suggest and tantalise,
and in the end drive you mad.
'I know it, I know it!' Dick cried, clenching his hands despairingly; 'but,
good heavens! is a poor blind beggar never to get anything out of his life
except three meals a day and a greasy waistcoat? I wish she'd come.'
Early in the afternoon time she came, because there was no young man in
her life just then, and she thought of material advantages which would
allow her to be idle for the rest of her days.
'I shouldn't have known you,' she said approvingly. 'You look as you
used to look--a gentleman that was proud of himself.'
'Don't you think I deserve another kiss, then?' said Dick, flushing a little.
'Maybe--but you won't get it yet. Sit down and let's see what I can do for
you. I'm certain sure Mr. Beeton cheats you, now that you can't go
through the housekeeping books every month. Isn't that true?'
'You'd better come and housekeep for me then, Bessie.'
'Couldn't do it in these chambers--you know that as well as I do.'
'I know, but we might go somewhere else, if you thought it worth your
'I'd try to look after you, anyhow; but I shouldn't care to have to work
for both of us.' This was tentative.
'Do you remember where I used to keep my bank-book?' said he. 'Torp
took it to be balanced just before he went away. Look and see.'
'It was generally under the tobacco-jar. Ah!'
'Oh! Four thousand two hundred and ten pounds nine shillings and a
penny! Oh my!'
'You can have the penny. That's not bad for one year's work. Is that and
a hundred and twenty pounds a year good enough?'
The idleness and the pretty clothes were almost within her reach now,
but she must, by being housewifely, show that she deserved them.
'Yes; but you'd have to move, and if we took an inventory, I think we'd
find that Mr. Beeton has been prigging little things out of the rooms here
and there. They don't look as full as they used.'
'Never mind, we'll let him have them. The only thing I'm particularly
anxious to take away is that picture I used you for--when you used to
swear at me. We'll pull out of this place, Bess, and get away as far as
ever we can.'
'Oh yes,' she said uneasily.
'I don't know where I can go to get away from myself, but I'll try, and
you shall have all the pretty frocks that you care for. You'll like that.
Give me that kiss now, Bess. Ye gods! it's good to put one's arm round a
woman's waist again.'
Then came the fulfilment of the prophecy within the brain. If his arm
were thus round Maisie's waist and a kiss had just been given and taken
between them,--why then . . . He pressed the girl more closely to himself
because the pain whipped him. She was wondering how to explain a little
accident to the Melancolia. At any rate, if this man really desired the
solace of her company--and certainly he would relapse into his original
slough if she withdrew it--he would not be more than just a little vexed.
It would be delightful at least to see what would happen, and by her
teachings it was good for a man to stand in certain awe of his companion.
She laughed nervously, and slipped out of his reach.
'I shouldn't worrit about that picture if I was you,' she began, in the hope
of turning his attention.
'It's at the back of all my canvases somewhere. Find it, Bess; you know it
as well as I do.'
'But what? You've wit enough to manage the sale of it to a dealer.
Women haggle much better than men. It might be a matter of eight or
nine hundred pounds to--to us. I simply didn't like to think about it for a
long time. It was mixed up with my life so.--But we'll cover up our tracks
and get rid of everything, eh? Make a fresh start from the beginning,
Then she began to repent very much indeed, because she knew the value
of money. Still, it was probable that the blind man was overestimating
the value of his work. Gentlemen, she knew, were absurdly particular
about their things. She giggled as a nervous housemaid giggles when she
tries to explain the breakage of a pipe.
'I'm very sorry, but you remember I was--I was angry with you before
Mr. Torpenhow went away?'
'You were very angry, child; and on my word I think you had some right
'Then I--but aren't you sure Mr. Torpenhow didn't tell you?'
'Tell me what? Good gracious, what are you making such a fuss about
when you might just as well be giving me another kiss?'
He was beginning to learn, not for the first time in his experience, that
kissing is a cumulative poison. The more you get of it, the more you want.
Bessie gave the kiss promptly, whispering, as she did so, 'I was so angry I
rubbed out that picture with the turpentine. You aren't angry, are you?'
'What? Say that again.' The man's hand had closed on her wrist.
'I rubbed it out with turps and the knife,' faltered Bessie. 'I thought
you'd only have to do it over again. You did do it over again, didn't you?
Oh, let go of my wrist; you're hurting me.'
'Isn't there anything left of the thing?'
'N'nothing that looks like anything. I'm sorry--I didn't know you'd take
on about it; I only meant to do it in fun. You aren't going to hit me?'
'Hit you! No! Let's think.'
He did not relax his hold upon her wrist but stood staring at the carpet.
Then he shook his head as a young steer shakes it when the lash of the
stock-whip cross his nose warns him back to the path on to the shambles
that he would escape. For weeks he had forced himself not to think of the
Melancolia, because she was a part of his dead life. With Bessie's return
and certain new prospects that had developed themselves, the
Melancolia--lovelier in his imagination than she had ever been on
canvas--reappeared. By her aid he might have procured mor money
wherewith to amuse Bess and to forget Maisie, as well as another taste of
an almost forgotten success. Now, thanks to a vicious little housemaid's
folly, there was nothing to look for--not even the hope that he might some
day take an abiding interest in the housemaid. Worst of all, he had been
made to appear ridiculous in Maisie's eyes. A woman will forgive the
man who has ruined her life's work so long as he gives her love; a man
may forgive those who ruin the love of his life, but he will never forgive
the destruction of his work.
'Tck--tck--tck,' said Dick between his teeth, and then laughed softly. 'It's
an omen, Bessie, and--a good many things considered, it serves me right
for doing what I have done. By Jove! that accounts for Maisie's running
away. She must have thought me perfectly mad--small blame to her! The
whole picture ruined, isn't it so? What made you do it?'
'Because I was that angry. I'm not angry now--I'm awful sorry.'
'I wonder.--It doesn't matter, anyhow. I'm to blame for making the
'Something you wouldn't understand, dear. Great heavens! to think that
a little piece of dirt like you could throw me out of stride!' Dick was
talking to himself as Bessie tried to shake off his grip on her wrist.
'I ain't a piece of dirt, and you shouldn't call me so! I did it 'cause I hated
you, and I'm only sorry now 'cause you're--'cause you're----'
'Exactly--because I'm blind. There's noting like tact in little things.'
Bessie began to sob. She did not like being shackled against her will; she
was afraid of the blind face and the look upon it, and was sorry too that
her great revenge had only made Dick laugh.
'Don't cry,' he said, and took her into his arms. 'You only did what you
'I--I ain't a little piece of dirt, and if you say that I'll never come to you
'You don't know what you've done to me. I'm not angry--indeed, I'm not.
Be quiet for a minute.'
Bessie remained in his arms shrinking. Dick's first thought was
connected with Maisie, and it hurt him as white-hot iron hurts an open
Not for nothing is a man permitted to ally himself to the wrong woman.
The first pang--the first sense of things lost is but the prelude to the play,
for the very just Providence who delights in causing pain has decreed
that the agony shall return, and that in the midst of keenest pleasure.
They know this pain equally who have forsaken or been forsaken by the
love of their life, and in their new wives' arms are compelled to realise it.
It is better to remain alone and suffer only the misery of being alone, so
long as it is possible to find distraction in daily work. When that resource
goes the man is to be pitied and left alone.
These things and some others Dick considered while he was holding
Bessie to his heart.
'Though you mayn't know it,' he said, raising his head, 'the Lord is a just
and a terrible God, Bess; with a very strong sense of humour. It serves
me right--how it serves me right! Torp could understand it if he were
here; he must have suffered something at your hands, child, but only for
a minute or so. I saved him. Set that to my credit, some one.'
'Let me go,' said Bess, her face darkening. 'Let me go.'
'All in good time. Did you ever attend Sunday school?'
'Never. Let me go, I tell you; you're making fun of me.'
'Indeed, I'm not. I'm making fun of myself. . . . Thus. "He saved others,
himself he cannot save." It isn't exactly a school-board text.' He released
her wrist, but since he was between her and the door, she could not
escape. 'What an enormous amount of mischief one little woman can do!'
'I'm sorry; I'm awful sorry about the picture.'
'I'm not. I'm grateful to you for spoiling it. . . . What were we talking
about before you mentioned the thing?'
'About getting away--and money. Me and you going away.'
'Of course. We will get away--that is to say, I will.'
'You shall have fifty whole pounds for spoiling a picture.'
'Then you won't----?'
'I'm afraid not, dear. Think of fifty pounds for pretty things all to
'You said you couldn't do anything without me.'
'That was true a little while ago. I'm better now, thank you. Get me my
'S'pose I don't?'
'Beeton will, and you'll lose fifty pounds. That's all. Get it.'
Bessie cursed under her breath. She had pitied the man sincerely, had
kissed him with almost equal sincerity, for he was not unhandsome; it
pleased her to be in a way and for a time his protector, and above all
there were four thousand pounds to be handled by some one. Now
through a slip of the tongue and a little feminine desire to give a little, not
too much, pain she had lost the money, the blessed idleness and the pretty
things, the companionship, and the chance of looking outwardly as
respectable as a real lady.
'Now fill me a pipe. Tobacco doesn't taste, but it doesn't matter, and I'll
think things out. What's the day of the week, Bess?'
'Then Thursday's mail-day. What a fool--what a blind fool I have been!?
Twenty-two pounds covers my passage home again. Allow ten for
additional expenses. We must put up at Madam Binat's for old time's
sake. Thirty-two pounds altogether. Add a hundred for the cost of the
last trip--Gad, won't Torp stare to see me!--a hundred and thirty-two
leaves seventy-eight for baksheesh--I shall need it--and to play with.
What are you crying for, Bess? It wasn't your fault, child; it was mine
altogether. Oh, you funny little opossum, mop your eyes and take me out!?
I want the pass-book and the check-book. Stop a minute. Four thousand
pounds at four per cent--that's safe interest--means a hundred and sixty
pounds a year; one hundred and twenty pounds a hear--also safe--is two
eighty, and two hundred and eighty pounds added to three hundred a
year means gilded luxury for a single woman. Bess, we'll go to the bank.'
Richer by two hundred and ten pounds stored in his money-belt, Dick
caused Bessie, now thoroughly bewildered, to hurry from the bank to the
P. and O. offices, where he explained things tersely.
'Port Said, single first; cabin as close to the baggage-hatch as possible.
What ship's going?'
'The Colgong,' said the clerk.
'She's a wet little hooker. Is it Tilbury and a tender, or Galleons and the
'Galleons. Twelve-forty, Thursday.'
'Thanks. Change, please. I can't see very well--will you count it into my
'If they all took their passages like that instead of talking about their
trunks, life would be worth something,' said the clerk to his neighbour,
who was trying to explain to a harassed mother of many that condensed
milk is just as good for babes at sea as daily dairy. Being nineteen and
unmarried, he spoke with conviction.
'We are now,' quoth Dick, as they returned to the studio, patting the
place where his money-belt covered ticket and money, 'beyond the reach
of man, or devil, or woman--which is much more important. I've had
three little affairs to carry through before Thursday, but I needn't ask
you to help, Bess. Come here on Thursday morning at nine. We'll
breakfast, and you shall take me down to Galleons Station.'
'What are you going to do?'
'Going away, of course. What should I stay for?'
'But you can't look after yourself?'
'I can do anything. I didn't realise it before, but I can. I've done a great
deal already. Resolution shall be treated to one kiss if Bessie doesn't
object.' Strangely enough, Bessie objected and Dick laughed. 'I suppose
you're right. Well, come at nine the day after to-morrow and you'll get
'Shall I sure?'
'I don't bilk, and you won't know whether I do or not unless you come.
Oh, but it's long and long to wait! Good-bye, Bessie,--send Beeton here as
you go out.'
The housekeeper came.
'What are all the fittings of my rooms worth?' said Dick, imperiously.
''Tisn't for me to say, sir. Some things is very pretty and some is wore out
'I'm insured for two hundred and seventy.'
'Insurance policies is no criterion, though I don't say----'
'Oh, damn your longwindedness! You've made your pickings out of me
and the other tenants. Why, you talked of retiring and buying a
public-house the other day. Give a straight answer to a straight
'Fifty,' said Mr. Beeton, without a moment's hesitation.
'Double it; or I'll break up half my sticks and burn the rest.'
He felt his way to a bookstand that supported a pile of sketch-books, and
wrenched out one of the mahogany pillars.
'That's sinful, sir,' said the housekeeper, alarmed.
'It's my own. One hundred or----'
'One hundred it is. It'll cost me three and six to get that there pilaster
'I thought so. What an out and out swindler you must have been to spring
that price at once!'
'I hope I've done nothing to dissatisfy any of the tenants, least of all you,
'Never mind that. Get me the money to-morrow, and see that all my
clothes are packed in the little brown bullock-trunk. I'm going.'
'But the quarter's notice?'
'I'll pay forfeit. Look after the packing and leave me alone.'
Mr. Beeton discussed this new departure with his wife, who decided that
Bessie was at the bottom of it all. Her husband took a more charitable
'It's very sudden--but then he was always sudden in his ways. Listen to
There was a sound of chanting from Dick's room.
'We'll never come back any more, boys,
We'll never come back no more;
We'll go to the deuce on any excuse,
And never come back no more!?
Oh say we're afloat or ashore, boys,
Oh say we're afloat or ashore;
But we'll never come back any more, boys,
We'll never come back no more!'?
'Mr. Beeton! Mr. Beeton! Where the deuce is my pistol?'
'Quick, he's going to shoot himself--'avin' gone mad!' said Mrs. Beeton.
Mr. Beeton addressed Dick soothingly, but it was some time before the
latter, threshing up and down his bedroom, could realise the intention of
the promises to 'find everything to-morrow, sir.'
'Oh, you copper-nosed old fool--you impotent Academician!' he shouted
at last. 'Do you suppose I want to shoot myself? Take the pistol in your
silly shaking hand then. If you touch it, it will go off, because it's loaded.
It's among my campaign-kit somewhere--in the parcel at the bottom of
Long ago Dick had carefully possessed himself of a forty-pound weight
field-equipment constructed by the knowledge of his own experience. It
was this put-away treasure that he was trying to find and rehandle. Mr.
Beeton whipped the revolver out of its place on the top of the package,
and Dick drove his hand among the khaki coat and breeches, the blue
cloth leg-bands, and the heavy flannel shirts doubled over a pair of
swan-neck spurs. Under these and the water-bottle lay a sketch-book and
a pigskin case of stationery.
'These we don't want; you can have them, Mr. Beeton. Everything else
I'll keep. Pack 'em on the top right-hand side of my trunk. When you've
done that come into the studio with your wife. I want you both. Wait a
minute; get me a pen and a sheet of notepaper.'
It is not an easy thing to write when you cannot see, and Dick had
particular reasons for wishing that his work should be clear. So he
began, following his right hand with his left: '"The badness of this
writing is because I am blind and cannot see my pen." H'mph!--even a
lawyer can't mistake that. It must be signed, I suppose, but it needn't be
witnessed. Now an inch lower--why did I never learn to use a
type-writer?--"This is the last will and testament of me, Richard Heldar.
I am in sound bodily and mental health, and there is no previous will to
revoke."--That's all right. Damn the pen! Whereabouts on the paper was
I?--"I leave everything that I possess in the world, including four
thousand pounds, and two thousand seven hundred and twenty eight
pounds held for me"--oh, I can't get this straight.' He tore off half the
sheet and began again with the caution about the handwriting. Then: 'I
leave all the money I possess in the world to'--here followed Maisie's
name, and the names of the two banks that held the money.
'It mayn't be quite regular, but no one has a shadow of a right to dispute
it, and I've given Maisie's address. Come in, Mr. Beeton. This is my
signature; I want you and your wife to witness it. Thanks. To-morrow
you must take me to the landlord and I'll pay forfeit for leaving without
notice, and I'll lodge this paper with him in case anything happens while
I'm away. Now we're going to light up the studio stove. Stay with me,
and give me my papers as I want 'em.'
No one knows until he has tried how fine a blaze a year's accumulation of
bills, letters, and dockets can make. Dick stuffed into the stove every
document in the studio--saving only three unopened letters; destroyed
sketch-books, rough note-books, new and half-finished canvases alike.
'What a lot of rubbish a tenant gets about him if he stays long enough in
one place, to be sure,' said Mr. Beeton, at last.
'He does. Is there anything more left?' Dick felt round the walls.
'Not a thing, and the stove's nigh red-hot.'
'Excellent, and you've lost about a thousand pounds' worth of sketches.
Ho! ho! Quite a thousand pounds' worth, if I can remember what I used
'Yes, sir,' politely. Mr. Beeton was quite sure that Dick had gone mad,
otherwise he would have never parted with his excellent furniture for a
song. The canvas things took up storage room and were much better out
of the way.
There remained only to leave the little will in safe hands: that could not
be accomplished to to-morrow. Dick groped about the floor picking up
the last pieces of paper, assured himself again and again that there
remained no written word or sign of his past life in drawer or desk, and
sat down before the stove till the fire died out and the contracting iron
cracked in the silence of the night.
With a heart of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander;
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
With a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney--
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end,
Methinks it is no journey.
-- Tom a' Bedlam's Song.?
'GOOD-BYE, Bess; I promised you fifty. Here's a hundred--all that I got
for my furniture from Beeton. That will keep you in pretty frocks for
some time. You've been a good little girl, all things considered, but you've
given me and Torpenhow a fair amount of trouble.'
'Give Mr. Torpenhow my love if you see him, won't you?'
'Of course I will, dear. Now take me up the gang-plank and into the
cabin. Once aboard the lugger and the maid is--and I am free, I mean.'
'Who'll look after you on this ship?'
'The head-steward, if there's any use in money. The doctor when we
come to Port Said, if I know anything of P. and O. doctors. After that, the
Lord will provide, as He used to do.'
Bess found Dick his cabin in the wild turmoil of a ship full of leavetakers
and weeping relatives. Then he kissed her, and laid himself down in his
bunk until the decks should be clear. He who had taken so long to move
about his own darkened rooms well understood the geography of a ship,
and the necessity of seeing to his own comforts was as wine to him.
Before the screw began to thrash the ship along the Docks he had been
introduced to the head-steward, had royally tipped him, secured a good
place at table, opened out his baggage, and settled himself down with joy
in the cabin. It was scarcely necessary to feel his way as he moved about,
for he knew everything so well. Then God was very kind: a deep sleep of
weariness came upon him just as he would have thought of Maisie, and
he slept till the steamer had cleared the mouth of the Thames and was
lifting to the pulse of the Channel.
The rattle of the engines, the reek of oil and paint, and a very familiar
sound in the next cabin roused him to his new inheritance.
'Oh, it's good to be alive again!' He yawned, stretched himself vigorously,
and went on deck to be told that they were almost abreast of the lights of
Brighton. This is no more open water than Trafalgal Square is a
common; the free levels begin at Ushant; but none the less Dick could feel
the healing of the sea at work upon him already. A boisterous little
cross-swell swung the steamer disrespectfully by the nose; and one wave
breaking far aft spattered the quarterdeck and the pile of new
deck-chairs. He heard the foam fall with the clash of broken glass, was
stung in the face by a cupful, and sniffing luxuriously, felt his way to the
smoking-room by the wheel. There a strong b reeze found him, blew his
cap off and left him bareheaded in the doorway, and the smoking-room
steward, understanding that he was a voyager of experience, said that
the weather would be stiff in the chops off the Channel and more than
half a gale in the Bay. These things fell as they were foretold, and Dick
enjoyed himself to the utmost. It is allowable and even necessary at sea to
lay firm hold upon tables, stanchions, and ropes in moving from place to
place. On land the man who feels with his hands is patently blind. At sea
even a blind man who is not sea-sick can jest with the doctor over the
weakness of his fellows. Dick told the doctor many tales--and these are
coin of more value than silver if properly handled--smoked with him till
unholy hours of the night, and so won his short-lived regard that he
promised Dick a few hours of his time when they came to Port Said.
And the sea roared or was still as the winds blew, and the engines sang
their song day and night, and the sun grew stronger day by day, and Tom
the Lascar barber shaved Dick of a morning under the opened
hatch-grating where the cool winds blew, and the awnings were spread
and the passengers made merry, and at last they came to Port Said.
'Take me,' said Dick, to the doctor, 'to Madame Binat's--if you know
where that is.'
'Whew!' said the doctor, 'I do. There's not much to choose between 'em;
but I suppose you're aware that that's one of the worst houses in the
place. They'll rob you to begin with, and knife you later.'
'Not they. Take me there, and I can look after myself.'
So he was brought to Madame Binat's and filled his nostrils with the
well-remembered smell of the East, that runs without a change from the
Canal head to Hong-Kong, and his mouth with the villainous Lingua
Franca of the Levant. The heat smote him between the shoulder-blades
with the buffet of an old friend, his feet slipped on the sand, and his
coat-sleeve was warm as new-baked bread when he lifted it to his nose.
Madame Binat smiled with the smile that knows no astonishment when
Dick entered the drinking-shop which was one source of her gains. But
for a little accident of complete darkness he could hardly realise that he
had ever quitted the old life that hummed in his ears. Somebody opened a
bottle of peculiarly strong Schiedam. The smell reminded Dick of
Monsieur Binat, who, by the way, had spoken of art and degradation.
Binat was dead; Madame said as much when the doctor departed,
scandalised, so far as a ship's doctor can be, at the warmth of Dick's
reception. Dick was delighted at it. 'They remember me here after a
year. They have forgotten me across the water by this time. Madame, I
want a long talk with you when you're at liberty. It is good to be back
In the evening she set an iron-topped caf‚-table out on the sands, and
Dick and she sat by it, while the house behind them filled with riot,
merriment, oaths, and threats. The stars came out and the lights of the
shipping in the harbour twinkled by the head of the Canal.
'Yes. The war is good for trade, my friend; but what dost thou do here?
We have not forgotten thee.'
'I was over there in England and I went blind.'
'But there was the glory first. We heard of it here, even here--I and
Binat; and thou hast used the head of Yellow 'Tina--she is still alive--so
often and so well that 'Tina laughed when the papers arrived by the
mail-boats. It was always something that we here could recognise in the
paintings. And then there was always the glory and the money for thee.'
'I am not poor--I shall pay you well.'
'Not to me. Thou hast paid for everything.' Under her breath, 'Mon Dieu,
to be blind and so young! What horror!'
Dick could not see her face with the pity on it, or his own with the
discoloured hair at the temples. He did not feel the need of pity; he was
too anxious to get to the front once more, and explained his desire.
'And where? The Canal is full of the English ships. Sometimes they fire
as they used to do when the war was here--ten years ago. Beyond Cairo
there is fighting, but how canst thou go there without a correspondent's
passport? And in the desert there is always fighting, but that is
impossible also,' said she.
'I must go to Suakin.' He knew, thanks to Alf's readings, that Torpenhow
was at work with the column that was protecting the construction of the
Suakin-Berber line. P. and O. steamers do not touch at that port, and,
besides, Madame Binat knew everybody whose help or advice was worth
anything. They were not respectable folk, but they could cause things to
be accomplished, which is much more important when there is work
'But at Suakin they are always fighting. That desert breeds men
always--and always more men. And they are so bold! Why to Suakin?'
'My friend is there.
'Thy friend! Chtt! Thy friend is death, then.'
Madame Binat dropped a fat arm on the table-top, filled Dick's glass
anew, and looked at him closely under the stars. There was no need that
he should bow his head in assent and say--
'No. He is a man, but--if it should arrive . . . blamest thou?'
'I blame?' she laughed shrilly. 'Who am I that I should blame any
one--except those who try to cheat me over their consommations. But it is
'I must go to Suakin. Think for me. A great deal has changed within the
year, and the men I knew are not here. The Egyptian lighthouse steamer
goes down the Canal to Suakin--and the post-boats-- But even then----'
'Do not think any longer. I know, and it is for me to think. Thou shalt
go--thou shalt go and see thy friend. Be wise. Sit here until the house is a
little quiet--I must attend to my guests--and afterwards go to bed. Thou
shalt go, in truth, thou shalt go.'
'As soon as may be.' She was talking as though he were a child.
He sat at the table listening to the voices in the harbour and the streets,
and wondering how soon the end would come, till Madame Binat carried
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