William J. Locke
Part 1 out of 6
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and The Online Distributed Proofreading Team
William J. Locke
In the month of June, 1919, I received a long letter from Brigadier-General
Andrew Lackaday together with a bulky manuscript.
The letter, addressed from an obscure hotel in Marseilles, ran as
MY DEAR FRIEND,
On the occasion of our last meeting when I kept you up to an ungodly hour
of the morning with the story of my wretched affairs to which you patiently
listened without seeming bored, you were good enough to suggest that I
might write a book about myself, not for the sake of vulgar advertisement,
but in order to interest, perhaps to encourage, at any rate to stimulate
the thoughts of many of my old comrades who have been placed in the same
predicament as myself. Well, I can't do it. You're a professional man of
letters and don't appreciate the extraordinary difficulty a layman has, not
only in writing a coherent narrative, but in composing the very sentences
which express the things that he wants to convey. Add to this that English
is to me, if not a foreign, at any rate, a secondary language--I have
thought all my life in French, so that to express myself clearly on any
except the humdrum affairs of life is always a conscious effort. Even this
little prelude, in my best style, has taken me nearly two cigarettes to
write; so I gave up an impossible task.
But I thought to myself that perhaps you might have the time or the
interest to put into shape a whole mass of raw material which I have slung
together--from memory (I have a good one), and from my diary. It may seem
odd that a homeless Bohemian like myself should have kept a diary; but
I was born methodical. I believe my mastery of Army Forms gained me my
promotion! Anyhow you will find in it a pretty complete history of my
career up to date. "I have cut out the war----"
Is there a _lusus naturae_ of any nationality but English, who
rising from Private to Brigadier-General, could write six hundred and
seventy-three sprawling foolscap pages purporting to contain the story
of his life from eighteen-eighty something to June nineteen hundred and
nineteen and deliberately omit, as if it were neither here nor there, its
four and a half years' glorious and astounding episode?
"_I have cut out the war!_"
On looking through the MS. I found that he had cut out the war, in so far
as his military experiences were concerned. In khaki he showed himself to
be as English and John Bull as you please; and how the deuce his meteoric
promotion occurred and what various splendid services compelled the
exhibition on his breast of a rainbow row of ribbons, are matters known
only to the War Office, Andrew Lackaday and his Maker. Well--that is
perhaps an exaggeration of secrecy. The newspapers have published
their official paragraphs. Officers who served under him have given me
interesting information. But from the spoken or written word of Andrew
Lackaday I have not been able to glean a grain of knowledge. That, I say,
is where the intensely English side of him manifested itself. But, on the
other hand, the private life that he led during the four and a half years
of war, and that which he lived before and after, was revealed with a
refreshing Gallic lack of reticence which could only proceed from his
To return to his letter:--
I have cut out the war. Thousands of brainy people will be spending the
next few years of their lives telling you all about it. But I should rather
like to treat it as a blank, a period of penal servitude, a drugged sleep
afflicted with nightmare, a bit of metempsychosis in the middle of normal
life--you know what I mean. The thing that is _I_ is not General
Lackaday. It is Somebody Else. So I have given you, for what it is worth,
the story of Somebody Else. The MS. is in a beast of a muddle like the
earth before the Bon Dieu came in and made His little arrangements. Do with
it what you like. At the present moment I am between the Devil and the Deep
Sea. I am hoping that the latter will be the solution of my difficulties.
(By the way, I'm not contemplating suicide.) In either case it doesn't
matter.... If you are interested in the doings of a spent meteor, I shall
be delighted to write to you from time to time. As you said, you are the
oldest friend I have. You are almost the only living creature who knows the
real identity of Andrew Lackaday. You have been charming enough to give me
not only the benefit of your experience, riper than mine, of a man of the
world, but also such a very human sympathy that I shall always think of you
with sentiments of affectionate esteem.
Well. There was the letter, curiously composed; half French, half English
in the turning of the phrase. The last sentence was sheer translation.
But it was sincere. I need not say that I sent a cordial reply. Our
correspondence thenceforward became intimate and regular.
In his estimate of his manuscript from a literary point of view the
poor General did not exaggerate. Anything more hopeless as a continuous
narrative I have never read. But it supplied facts, hit off odds and
ends of character, and--what the autobiography seldom does--it gave the
_ipsissima verba_ of conversations written in helter-skelter fashion
with flowing pen, sometimes in excellent French, sometimes in English,
which beginning in the elaborate style of his letter broke down into queer
vernacular; it was charmingly devoid of self-consciousness, so that the man
as he was, and not as he imagined himself to be or would like others to
imagine him, stood ingenuously disclosed.
If the manuscript had been that of a total stranger I could not have
undertaken the task of the Bon Dieu making His little arrangements to shape
the earth out of chaos. An elderly literary dilettante, who is not a rabid
archaeologist, has an indolent way of demanding documents clear and precise.
As a matter of fact, it was some months before I felt the courage to tackle
the business. But knowing the man, knowing also Lady Auriol and having
in the meantime made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle Elodie Figasso and
Horatio Bakkus, playing, in fact, a minor role, say, that of Charles, his
friend, in the little drama of his life, I eventually decided to carry out
my good friend's wishes. The major part of my task has been a matter
of arrangement, of joining up flats, as they say in the theatre, of
translation, of editing, of winnowing, as far as my fallible judgment can
decide, the chaff from the grain in his narrative, and of relating facts
which have come within the horizon of my own personal experience.
I begin therefore at the very beginning.
Many a year ago, when the world, myself included, was young, I knew a
circus. This does not mean that I knew it from the wooden benches outside
the ring. I knew it behind the scenes. I was on terms of intimacy with the
most motley crowd it has been my good fortune to meet. It was a famous
French circus of the classical type that has by now, I fear me, passed
away. Its _haute ecole_ was its pride, and it demanded for its
_premiere equestrienne_ the homage due to the great artists of the
world. Bernhardt of the Comedie Francaise--I think she was still there in
those far-off days, Patti of the Opera and Mlle Renee Saint-Maur of the
Cirque Rocambeau were three stars of equal magnitude. The circus toured
through France from year's end to year's end. It pitched its tent--what
else could it do, seeing that municipal ineptitude provided no building
wherein could be run chariot races of six horses abreast? But the tent, in
my youthful eyes, confused by the naphtha glares and the violent
shadows cast on the many tiers of pink faces, loomed as vast as a Roman
amphitheatre. It was a noble tent, a palace of a tent, the auditorium being
but an inconsiderable section. There was stabling for fifty horses.
There were decent dressing-rooms. There was a green-room, with a wooden,
practicable bar running along one end, and a wizened, grizzled, old barman
behind it who supplied your wants from the contents of a myriad bottles
ranged in perfect order in some obscure nook beneath the counter. They did
things in the great manner in the Cirque Rocambeau. It visited none but
first-class towns which had open spaces worthy of its magnificence. It
despised one or two night stands. The Cirque Rocambeau had a way of
imposing itself upon a town as an illusory permanent institution, a week
being its shortest and almost contemptuous sojourn. The Cirque Rocambeau
maintained the stateliness of the old world.
Now the Cirque Rocambeau fades out of this story almost as soon as it
enters it. But it affords the coincidence which enables this story to be
written. For if I had not known the Cirque Rocambeau, I should never
have won the confidence of Andrew Lackaday and I should have remained as
ignorant, as you are, at the present moment, of the vicissitudes of that
worthy man's career.
You see, we met as strangers at a country house towards the end of the war.
Chance turned the conversation to France, where he had lived most of his
life, to the France of former days, to my own early wanderings about
that delectable land, to my boastful accounts of my two or three months'
vagabondage with the Cirque Rocambeau. He jumped as if I had thrown a bomb
instead of a name at him. In fact the bomb would have startled him less.
"The Cirque Rocambeau?"
He looked at me narrowly. "What year was that?"
I told him.
"Lord Almighty," said he, with a gasp. "Lord Almighty!" He stared for a
long time in front of him without speaking. Then to my amazement he said
deliberately: "I remember you! You were a sort of a young English god in a
straw hat and beautiful clothes, and you used to take me for rides on the
clown's pig. The clown was my foster father. And now I'm commanding a
battalion in the British Army. By Gum! It's a damn funny world!"
Memory flashed back with almost a spasm of joy.
"'By Gum!'" I repeated. "Why, that was what my old friend Ben Flint used to
say twenty times an hour!"
It was a shibboleth proving his story true. And I remembered the weedy,
ugly, precocious infant who was the pride and spoiled darling of that
Why I, a young gentleman of leisure, fresh from Cambridge, chose to go
round France with a circus, is neither here nor there. For one thing, I
assure you it was not for the bright eyes of Mlle Renee Saint-Maur or her
lesser sister luminaries. Ben Flint, the English clown, classically styled
"Auguste" in the arena, and his performing pig, Billy, somehow held
the secret of my fascination. Ben Flint mystified me. He was a man of
remarkable cultivation; save for a lapse here and there into North Country
idiom, and for a trace now and then of North Country burr, his English
was pure and refined. In ordinary life, too, he spoke excellent French,
although in the ring he had to follow the classical tradition of the
English clown, and pronounce his patter with a nerve-rasping Britannic
accent. He never told me his history. But there he was, the principal
clown, and as perfect a clown as clown could be, with every bit of his
business at his fingers' ends, in a great and important circus. Like most
of his colleagues, he knew the wide world from Tokio to Christiania; but,
unlike the rest of the crowd, whose life seemed to be bounded by the canvas
walls of the circus, and who differentiated their impressions of Singapore
and Moscow mainly in terms of climate and alcohol, Ben Flint had observed
men and things and had recorded and analysed his experiences, so that,
meeting a more or less educated youth like myself--perhaps a rare bird
in the circus world--standing on the brink of life, thirsting for the
knowledge that is not supplied by lectures at the Universities, he must
have felt some kind of satisfaction in pouring out, for my benefit, the
full vintage of his wisdom.
I see him now, squat, clean-shaven, with merry blue eyes in a mug of a
face, sitting in a deck chair, on a scrap of ragged ground forming the
angle between the row of canvas stables and the great tent, a cob pipe in
his humorous mouth, a thick half litre glass of beer with a handle to it on
the earth beside him, and I hear his shrewd talk of far-away and
mysterious lands. His pretty French wife, who knows no English, charmingly
dishevelled, uncorseted, free, in a dubious _peignoir_ trimmed
with artificial lace--she who moulded in mirific tights, sea-green with
reflections of mother-of-pearl, like Venus Anadyomene, does the tight rope
act every afternoon and evening--sits a little way apart, busy with needle
and thread repairing a sorry handful of garments which to-night will be
tense with some portion of her shapely body. Between them sprawls on his
side Billy, the great brown pig whom Ben has trained to stand on his hind
legs, to jump through hoops, to die for his country....
"They don't applaud. They don't appreciate you, Billy," the clown would
say, choosing his time when applause was scant. "Show them what you think
And then Billy would deliberately turn round and, moving in a semicircle,
present his stern to the delighted audience....
There lies Billy, the pig, the most human pig that ever breathed, adored
by Ben Flint, who, not having given the beast one second's pain in all its
beatific life, was, in his turn, loved by the pig as only a few men are
loved by a dog--and there, sitting on the pig's powerful withers, his blue
smock full of wilted daisies, is little eight-year-old tow-headed Andrew
Lackaday making a daisy chain, which eventually he twines round the
animal's semi-protesting snout.
Yes. There is the picture. It is full summer. We have lunched, Madame
and Ben and Andrew and I, at the little cafe restaurant at the near-by
straggling end of the town. At other tables, other aristocratic members of
the troupe. The humbler have cooked their food in the vague precincts of
the circus. We have returned to all that Ben and his wife know as home. It
is one o'clock. At two, matinee. An hour of blissful ease. We are in the
shade of the great tent; but the air is full of the heavy odour of the dust
and the flowers and the herbs of the South, and of the pungent smell of the
long row of canvas stables.
I call little Andrew. He dismounts from Billy the pig, and, insolent brat,
screws an imaginary eyeglass into his eye, which he contrives to keep
contorted, and assuming a supercilious expression and a languid manner,
struts leisurely towards us, with his hands in his pockets, thereby
giving what I am forced to admit is an imitation of myself perfect in its
burlesque. Ben Flint roars with laughter. I clutch the imp and throw him
across knee and pretend to spank him. We struggle lustily till Madame cries
"But cease, Andre. You are making Monsieur too hot."
And Andrew, docile, ceased at once; but standing in front of me, his back
to Madame, he noiselessly mimicked Madame's speech with his lips, so
drolly, so exquisitely, that Ben Flint's hearty laugh broke out again.
"Just look at the little devil! By Gum! He has a fortune in him."
I learned in the circus as much about Andrew as he knew himself. Perhaps
more; for a child of eight has lost all recollection of parents who died
before he was two. They were circus folk, English, trapeze artists, come,
they said, from a long tour in Australia, where Andrew was born, and their
first European engagement was in the Cirque Rocambeau. Their stay was
brief; their end tragic. Lackaday _Pere_ took to drink, which is the
last thing a trapeze artist should do. Brain and hand at rehearsal one
day lost co-ordination by the thousandth part of a second and Lackaday
_Mere_, swinging from her feet upwards, missed the anticipated grip,
and fell with a thud on the ground, breaking her spine. Whereupon Lackaday
_Pere_ went out and hanged himself from a cross-beam in an empty
Thus, at two years old, Andrew Lackaday started life on his own account.
From that day, he was alone in the world. Nothing in his parents' modest
luggage gave clue to kith or kin. Ben Flint who, as a fellow-countryman,
went through their effects, found not even one letter addressed to them,
found no sign of their contact with any human being living or dead. They
called themselves professionally "The Lackadays." Whether it was their real
name or not, no one in the world which narrowed itself within the limits of
the Cirque Rocambeau, could possibly tell. But it was the only name that
Andrew had, and as good as any other. It was part of his inheritance, the
remainder being ninety-five francs in cash, some cheap trinkets, a couple
of boxes of fripperies which were sold for a song, a tattered copy of
Longfellow's Poems, and a brand new gilt-edged Bible, carefully covered in
brown paper, with "For Fanny from Jim" inscribed on the flyleaf. From which
Andrew Lackaday, as soon as his mind could grasp such things, deduced that
his mother's name was Fanny, and his father's James. But Ben Flint assured
me that Lackaday called his wife Myra, while she called him Alf, by which
names they were familiarly known by their colleagues. So who were Fanny and
Jim, if not Andrew's parents, remained a mystery.
Meanwhile there was the orphan Andrew Lackaday rich in his extreme youth
and the fortune above specified, and violently asserting his right to live
and enjoy. Meanwhile, too, Ben Flint and his wife had lost their pig
Bob, Billy's predecessor. Bob had grown old and past his job and become
afflicted with an obscure porcine disease, possibly senile decay, for
which there was no remedy but merciful euthanasia. The Flints mourned him,
desolate. They had not the heart to buy another. They were childless,
pigless. But behold! There, to their hand was Andrew, fatherless,
motherless. On an occasion, just after the funeral, for which Ben Flint
paid, when Madame was mothering the tiny Andrew in her arms, and Ben stood
staring, lost in yearning for the lost and beloved pig, she glanced up and
"_Tiens_, why should he not replace Bob, _ce petit cochon?_"
Ben Flint slapped his thigh.
"By Gum!" said he, and the thing was done. The responsibility of self
dependence for life and enjoyment was removed from the shoulders of young
Andrew Lackaday for many years to come.
In the course of time, when the child's _etat civil_, as a resident
in France, had to be declared, and this question of nationality became of
great importance in after years--Madame said:
"Since we have adopted him, why not give him our name?"
But Ben, with the romanticism of Bohemia, replied:
"No. His name belongs to him. If he keeps it, he may be able to find out
something about his family. He might be the heir to great possessions.
One never knows. It's a clue anyway. Besides," he added, the sturdy North
countryman asserting itself, "I'm not giving my name to any man save
the son of my loins. It's a name where I come from that has never been
dishonoured for a couple of hundred years."
"But it is just as you like, _mon cheri_," said Madame, who was the
placidest thing in France.
* * * * *
For thirty years I had forgotten all this; but the "By Gum!" of Colonel
Lackaday wiped out the superscription over the palimpsest of memory and
revealed in startling clearness all these impressions of the past.
"Of course we're fond of the kid," said Ben Flint. "He's free from vice and
as clever as paint. He's a born acrobat. Might as well try to teach a duck
to swim. It comes natural. Heredity of course. There's nothing he won't be
able to do when I'm finished with him. Yet there are some things which lick
me altogether. He's an ugly son of a gun. His father and mother, by the
way, were a damn good-looking pair. But their hands were the thick spread
muscular hands of the acrobat. Where the deuce did he get his long, thin
delicate fingers from? Already he can pass a coin from back to front----"
he flicked an illustrative conjuror's hand--"at eight years old. To teach
him was as easy as falling off a log. Still, that's mechanical. What I want
to know is, where did he get his power of mimicry? That artistic sense of
expressing personality? 'Pon my soul, he's damn well nearly as clever as
During the talk which followed the discovery of our former meeting, I
reported to Colonel Lackaday these encomiums of years ago. He smiled
"Most of the dear old fellow's swans were geese, I'm afraid," said he. "And
I was the awkwardest gosling of them all. They tried for years to teach me
the acrobat's business; but it was no good. They might just as well have
spent their pains on a rheumatic young giraffe."
I looked at him and smiled. The simile was not inapposite. How, I asked
myself, could the man into which he had developed, ever have become an
acrobat? He was the leanest, scraggiest long thing I have ever seen. Six
foot four of stringy sinew and bone, with inordinately long legs, around
which his khaki slacks flapped, as though they hid stilts instead of human
limbs. His arms swung long and ungainly, the sleeves of his tunic far above
the bony wrist, as though his tailor in cutting the garment had repudiated
as fantastic the evidence of his measurements. Yet, when one might have
expected to find hands of a talon-like knottiness, to correspond with the
sparse rugosity of his person, one found to one's astonishment the most
delicately shaped hands in the world, with long, sensitive, nervous
fingers, like those of the thousands of artists who have lived and died
without being able to express themselves in any artistic medium. In a word,
the fingers of the artiste manque. I have told you what Ben Flint, shrewd
observer, said about his hands, as a child of eight. They were the same
hands thirty years after. To me, elderly observer of human things, they
seemed, as he moved them so gracefully--the only touch of physical grace
about him--to confer an air of pathos on the ungainly man, to serve as an
index to a soul which otherwise could not be divined.
From this lean length of body rose a long stringy neck carrying a small
head surmounted by closely cropped carotty thatch. His skin was drawn tight
over the framework of his face, as though his Maker had been forced to
observe the strictest economy in material. His complexion was brick red
over a myriad freckles. His features preserved the irregular ugliness of
the child I half remembered, but it was redeemed by light blue candid eyes
set in a tight net of humorous lines, and by a large, mobile mouth, which,
though it could shut grimly on occasions, yet, when relaxed in a smile,
disarmed you by its ear-to-ear kindliness, and fascinated you by the
disclosure of two rows of white teeth perfectly set in the healthy pink
streaks of gum. He had the air of a man physically fit, inured to hardship;
the air, too, in spite of his gentleness, of a man accustomed to command.
In the country house at which we met it had not occurred to me to speculate
on his social standing, as human frailty determined that one should do in
the case of so many splendid and gallant officers of the New Army. His
manners were marked by shy simplicity and quiet reserve. It was a shock to
preconceived ideas to find him bred in a circus, even in so magnificent a
circus as the Cirque Rocambeau, and brought up by a clown, even by such a
superior clown as Ben Flint,
"And my old friend?" I asked. For I had lost knowledge of Ben practically
from the time I ended my happy vagabondage. _Maxima mea culpa_.
"He died when I was about sixteen," replied Colonel Lackaday, "and his wife
a year or so later."
"And then?" I queried, eager for autobiographical revelations.
"Then," said he, "I was a grown up man, able to fend for myself."
That was all I could get out of him, without allowing natural curiosity to
outrun discretion. He changed the conversation to the war, to the France
about which I, a very elderly Captain--have I not confessed to early
twenties thirty years before?--was travelling most uncomfortably, doing
queer odd jobs as a nominal liaison officer on the Quartermaster-General's
staff. His intimacy with the country was amazing. Multiply Sam Weller's
extensive and peculiar knowledge of London by a thousand, and you shall
form some idea of Colonel Lackaday's acquaintance with the inns of
provincial France. He could even trot out the family skeletons of the
innkeepers. In this he became animated and amusing. His features assumed an
actor's mobility foreign to their previous military sedateness, and he used
his delicate hands in expressive gestures. In parenthesis I may say we had
left the week-end party at their bridge or flirtation (according to age) in
the drawing-room, neither pursuits having for us great attraction, in spite
of Lady Auriol Dayne, of whom more hereafter, and we had found our way to
cooling drinks and excellent cigars in our host's library. It was the first
time we had exchanged more than a dozen words, for we had only arrived
that Saturday afternoon. But after the amazing mutual recognition, we sat
luxuriously chaired, excellent friends, and I, for my part, enjoying his
"Ah!" said he, "Montelimar. I know that hotel. _Infect_. And the
_patron_, eh? You remember him. Forty stone. Phoo!"
The gaunt man sat up in his chair and by what mesmeric magic it happened I
know not, but before my eyes grew the living image of the gross, shapeless
creature who had put me to bed in wringing wet sheets.
"And when you complained, he looked like this--eh?"
He did look like that. Bleary-eyed, drooping-mouthed, vacant. I recollected
that the fat miscreant had the middle of his upper lip curiously sunken
into the space of two missing front teeth. The middle of Colonel Lackaday's
upper lip was sucked in.
"And he said: 'What would you have, Monsieur? _C'est la guerre?_'"
The horrible fat man, hundreds of miles away from the front, with every
convenience for drying sheets, had said those identical words. And in the
same greasy, gasping tone.
I gaped at the mimetic miracle. It was then that the memory of the
eight-year-old child's travesty of myself flashed through my mind.
"Pardon me," said I, "but haven't you turned this marvellous gift of yours
to--well to practical use?"
He grinned in his honest, wide-mouthed way, showing his incomparable teeth.
"Don't you think," said he, "I'm the model of a Colonel of the Rifles?"
He grinned again at the cloud of puzzlement on my face, and rose holding
out his hand.
"Time for turning in. Will you do me a favour? Don't give me away about the
Somehow my esteem for him sank like thermometer mercury plunged into ice. I
had thought him, with the blazing record of achievement across his chest, a
man above such petty solicitude. His mild blue eyes searched my thoughts.
"I don't care a damn, Captain Hylton," said he, in a tone singularly
different from any that he had used in our pleasant talk--"if anybody knows
I was born in a stable. A far better man than I once had that privilege.
But as it happens that I am going out to command a brigade next week, it
would be to the interest of my authority and therefore to that of the army,
if no gossip led to the establishment of my identity."
"I assure you, sir----" I began stiffly--I was only a Captain, he, but for
a formality or two, a Brigadier-General.
He clapped his hands on my shoulders--and I swear his ugly, smiling face
was that of an angel.
"My dear fellow," said he, "so long as you regard me as an honest cuss,
nothing matters in the world."
I went to bed with the conviction that he was as honest a cuss as I had
Our hosts, the Verity-Stewarts, were pleasant people, old friends of mine,
inhabiting a Somerset manor-house which had belonged to their family since
the days of Charles the Second. They were proud of their descent; the
Stewart being hyphenated to the first name by a genealogically enthusiastic
Verity of a hundred years ago; but the alternative to their motto suggested
by the son of the house, Captain Charles Verity-Stewart, "The King can do
no wrong," found no favour in the eyes of his parents, who had lived remote
from the democratic humour of the officers of the New Army.
It was to this irreverent Cavalier, convalescent at home from a machine-gun
bullet through his shoulder, and hero-worshipper of his Colonel, that
Andrew Lackaday owed his shy appearance at Mansfield Court. He was proud of
the boy, a gallant and efficient soldier; Lady Verity-Stewart had couched
her invitation in such cordial terms that a refusal would have been
curmudgeonly; and the Colonel was heartily tired of spending his hard-won
leave horribly alone in London.
Perhaps I may seem to be explaining that which needs no explanation. It is
not so. In England Colonel Lackaday found himself in the position of many
an officer from the Dominions overseas. He had barely an acquaintance.
Hitherto his leave had been spent in France. But one does not take a
holiday in France when the War Officer commands attention at Whitehall. He
was very glad to go to the War Office, suspecting the agreeable issue of
his visit. Yet all the same he was a stranger in a strange land, living
on the sawdust and warmed-up soda-water of unutterable boredom. He had
spent--so he said--his happiest hours in London, at the Holborn Empire.
Three evenings had he devoted to its excellent but not soul-enthralling
"In the name of goodness, why?" I asked puzzled.
"There was a troupe of Japanese acrobats," said he. "In the course of a
roving life one picks up picturesque acquaintances. Hosimura, the head of
them, is a capital fellow."
This he told me later, for our friendship, begun when he was eight years
old, had leaped into sudden renewal; but without any idea of exciting my
commiseration. Yet it made me think.
That a prospective Brigadier-General should find his sole relief from
solitude in the fugitive companionship of a Japanese acrobat seemed to me
Meanwhile there he was at Mansfield Court, lean and unlovely, but, as I
divined, lovable in his unaffected simplicity, the very model of a British
field-officer. At dinner on Saturday evening, he had sat between his
hostess and Lady Auriol Dayne. To the former he had talked of the things
she most loved to hear, the manifold virtues of her son. There were
fallings away from the strict standards of military excellence, of course;
but he touched upon them with his wide, charming smile, condoned them with
the indulgence of the man prematurely mellowed who has kept his hold on
youth, so that Lady Verity-Stewart felt herself in full sympathy with
Charles's chief, and bored the good man considerably with accounts of the
boy's earlier escapades. To Lady Auriol he talked mainly about the war, of
which she appeared to have more complete information than he himself.
"I suppose you think," she said at last with a swift side glance, "that I'm
laying down the law about things I'm quite ignorant of."
He said: "Not at all. You're in a position to judge much better than I.
You people outside the wood can see it, in its entirety. We who are in the
middle of the horrid thing can't see it for the trees."
It was this little speech so simple, so courteous and yet not lacking a
touch of irony, that first made Lady Auriol, in the words which she used
when telling me of it afterwards, sit up and take notice.
Bridge, the monomania which tainted Sir Julius Verity-Stewart's courtly
soul, pinned Lady Auriol down to the green-covered table for the rest of
the evening. But the next day she set herself to satisfy her entirely
unreprehensible curiosity concerning Colonel Lackaday.
Lady Auriol, born with even more curiosities than are the ordinary
birthright of a daughter of Eve, had spent most of her life in trying to
satisfy them. In most cases she had been successful. Here be it said that
Lady Auriol was twenty-eight, unmarried, and almost beautiful when she took
the trouble to do her hair and array herself in becoming costume. As to
maiden's greatest and shyest curiosity, well--as a child of her epoch--she
knew so much about the theory of it that it ceased to be a curiosity at
all. Besides, love--she had preserved a girl's faith in beauty--was a
psychological mystery not to be solved by the cold empirical methods which
could be employed in the solution of other problems. I must ask you to bear
this in mind when judging Lady Auriol. She had once fancied herself in love
with an Italian poet, an Antinous-like young man of impeccable manners,
boasting an authentic pedigree which lost itself in the wolf that suckled
Romulus and Remus. None of your vagabond ballad-mongers. A guest when she
first met him of the Italian Ambassador. To him, Prince Charming, knight
and troubadour, she surrendered. He told her many wonders of fairy things.
He led her into lands where woman's soul is free and dances on buttercups.
He made exquisite verses to her auburn hair. But when she learned that
these same verses were composed in a flat in Milan which he shared with a
naughty little opera singer of no account, she dismissed Prince Charming
offhand, and betook herself alone to the middle of Abyssinia to satisfy her
curiosity as to the existence there of dulcimer-playing maidens singing of
Mount Abora to whom Coleridge in his poem assigns such haunting attributes.
Lady Auriol, in fact, was a great traveller. She had not only gone all over
the world--anybody can do that--but she had gone all through the world.
Alone, she had taken her fate in her hands. In comparison with other
geographical exploits, her journey through Abyssinia was but a trip to
Margate. She had wandered about Turkestan. She had crossed China. She had
fooled about Saghalien.... In her schooldays, hearing of the Sanjak of Novi
Bazar, she had imagined the Sanjak to be a funny little man in a red cap.
Riper knowledge, after its dull exasperating way, had brought disillusion;
but like Mount Abora the name haunted her until she explored it for
herself. When she came back, she knew the Sanjak of Novi Bazar like her
Needless to say that Lady Auriol had thrown all her curiosities, her
illusions--they were hydra-headed--her enthusiasms and her splendid
vitality into the war. She had organized and directed as Commandant a great
hospital in the region of Boulogne. "I'm a woman of business," she told
Lackaday and myself, "not a ministering angel with open-worked stockings
and a Red Cross of rubies dangling in front of me. Most of the day I sit
in a beastly office and work at potatoes and beef and army-forms. I can't
nurse, though I daresay I could if I tried; but I hate amateurs. No
amateurs in my show, I assure you. For my job I flatter myself I'm trained.
A woman can't knock about the waste spaces of the earth by herself, head
a rabble of pack-carrying savages, without gaining some experience in
organization. In fact, when I'm not at my own hospital, which now runs on
wheels, I'm employed as a sort of organizing expert--any old where they
choose to send me. Do you think I'm talking swollen-headedly, Colonel
She turned suddenly round on him, with a defiant flash of her brown eyes,
which was one of her characteristics---the woman, for all her capable
modernity, instinctively on the defensive.
"It's only a fool who apologizes for doing a thing well," said Lackaday.
"He couldn't do it well if he was a fool," Lady Auriol retorted.
"You never know what a fool can do till you try him," said Lackaday.
It was a summer morning. Nearly all the house-party had gone to church.
Lady Auriol, Colonel Lackaday and I, smitten with pagan revolt, lounged on
the shady lawn in front of the red-brick, gabled manor house. The air was
full of the scent of roses from border beds and of the song of thrushes
and the busy chitter-chatter of starlings in the old walnut trees of
the further garden. It was the restful England which the exiled and the
war-weary used so often to conjure up in their dreams.
"You mean a fool can be egged on to do great things and still remain a
fool?" asked Lady Auriol lazily.
Lackaday smiled--or grinned--it is all the same--a weaver of fairy nothings
could write a delicious thesis on the question; is Lackaday's smile a grin
or is his grin a smile? Anyhow, whatever may be the definition of the
special ear-to-ear white-teeth-revealing contortion of his visage, it had
in it something wistful, irresistible. You will find it in the face of a
tickled baby six months old. He touched his row of ribbons.
"_Voila_," said he.
"It's polite to say I don't believe it," she said, regarding him beneath
her long lashes. "But, supposing it true for the sake of argument, I should
very much like to know what kind of a fool you are."
Lying back in her long cane chair, an incarnation of the summer morning,
fresh as the air in her white blouse and skirt, daintily white hosed and
shod, her auburn hair faultlessly dressed sweeping from the side parting in
two waves, one bold from right to left, the other with coquettish grace,
from left to right, the swiftness of her face calmed into lazy contours,
the magnificent full physique of her body relaxed as she lay with her
silken ankles crossed on the nether chair support, her hands fingering a
long necklace of jade, she appealed to me as the most marvellous example I
had ever come across of the woman's power of self-transmogrification.
The last time I had seen her was in France, wet through in old
short-skirted kit, with badly rolled muddy puttees, muddier heavy boots, a
beast of a dripping hat pinned through rain-sodden strands of hair, streaks
of mud over her face, ploughing through mud to a British Field Ambulance,
yet erect, hawk-eyed, with the air of a General of Division. There sex was
wiped out. During our chance meeting, one of the many queer chance meetings
of the war, a meeting which lasted five minutes while I accompanied her to
her destination, we spoke as man to man. She took a swig out of my brandy
flask. She asked me for a cigarette--smoked out, she said. I was in nearly
the same predicament, having only, at the moment, for all tobacco, the pipe
I was then smoking. "For God's sake, like a good chap, give me a puff or
two," she pleaded. And so we walked on through the rain and mud, she pipe
in mouth, her shoulders hunched, her hands, under the scornfully hitched up
skirt, deep in her breeches pockets. And now, this summer morning, there
she lay, all woman, insidiously, devilishly alluring woman, almost
voluptuous in her self-confident abandonment to the fundamental conception
of feminine existence.
Lackaday's eyes rested on her admiringly. He did not reply to her remark,
until she added in a bantering tone:
Then he said, with an air of significance: "The most genuine brand you can
imagine, I assure you."
"A motley fool," she suggested idly.
At that moment, Evadne, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the house, who,
as she told me soon afterwards, in the idiom of her generation, had given
the divine-services a miss, carried me off to see a litter of Sealyham
puppies. That inspection over, we reviewed rabbits and fetched a compass
round about the pigsties and crossed the orchard to the chicken's parade,
and passed on to her own allotment in the kitchen garden, where a few
moth-eaten cabbages and a wilting tomato in a planted pot seemed to hang
degraded heads at our approach, and, lingering through the rose garden, we
eventually emerged on the further side of the lawn.
"I suppose you want to go and join them," she said with a jerk of her
bobbed head in the direction of Lady Auriol and Colonel Lackaday.
"Perhaps we ought," said I.
"They don't want us--you can bet your boots," said she.
"How do you know that, young woman of wisdom?"
She sniffed. "Look at 'em."
I looked at 'em; mole-visioned masculine fifty seeing through the eyes of
feminine thirteen; and, seeing very distinctly indeed, I said:
"What would you like to do?"
"If you wouldn't mind very much," she replied eagerly, her interest in, or
her scorn of, elderly romance instantly vanishing, "let us go back to the
peaches. That's the beauty of Sundays. That silly old ass Jenkins"--Jenkins
was the head gardener--"is giving his family a treat, instead of coming
down on me. See?"
Evadne linked her arm in mine. Again I saw. She had already eaten two
peaches. Who was I to stand in the way of her eating a third or a fourth or
a fifth? With the after consequences of her crime against Jenkins, physical
and otherwise, I had nothing to do. It was the affair of her parents, her
doctor, her Creator. But the sight of the rapturous enjoyment on her face
when her white teeth bit into the velvet bloom of the fruit sped one back
to one's own youth and procured a delight not the less intense because it
"Come along," said I.
"You're a perfect lamb," said she.
Before the perfect lamb was led to the peach slaughter, he looked again
across the lawn. Colonel Lackaday had moved his chair very close to Lady
Auriol's wicker lounge, so that facing her, his head was but a couple
of feet from hers. They talked not so much animatedly as intimately.
Lackaday's face I could not see, his back being turned to me; I saw Lady
Auriol's eyes wide, full of earnest interest, and compassionate admiration.
I had no idea that her eyes could melt to such softness. It was a
revelation. No woman ever looked at a man like that, unless she was
an accomplished syren, without some soul-betrayal. I am a _vieux
routier_, an old campaigner in this world of men and women. Time was
when--but that has nothing to do with this story. At any rate I think I
ought to know something about women's eyes.
"Did you ever see anything so idiotic?" asked Evadne, dragging me round.
"I think I did once," said I.
"When was that?"
"Ah!" said I.
"Do tell me, Uncle Tony."
I, who have seen things far more idiotic a thousand times, racked my brain
for an answer that would satisfy the child.
"Well, my dear," I began, "your father and mother, when they were
She burst out: "But they were young. It isn't the same thing. Aunt Auriol's
as old as anything. And Colonel Lackaday's about sixty."
"My dear Evadne," said I. "I happen to know that Colonel Lackaday is
Thirteen shrugged its slim shoulders. "It's all the same," it said.
We went to the net-covered wall of ripe and beauteous temptation, trampling
over Jenkins's beds of I know not what, and ate forbidden fruit. At least
Evadne did, until, son of Adam, I fell.
"Do have a bite. It's lovely. And I've left you the blushy side."
What could I do? There she stood, fair, slim, bobbed-haired, green-kirtled,
serious-eyed, carelessly juicy-lipped, holding up the peach. I, to whom all
wall-fruit is death, bit into the side that blushed. She anxiously watched
"Topping, isn't it?"
"Yum, yum," said I.
"Isn't it?" she said, taking back the peach.
That's the beauty of childhood. It demands no elaborate expression.
Simplicity is its only coinage. A rhapsody on the exquisiteness of the
fruit's flavour would have bored Evadne stiff. Her soul yearned for the
establishment between us of a link of appreciation. "Yum, yum," said I, and
the link was instantly supplied.
She threw away a peach stone and sighed.
"Why?" I asked.
"I'm not looking for any more trouble," she replied.
We returned to the lawn and Lady Auriol and Colonel Lackaday. Not a hole
could be picked in the perfect courtesy of their greeting; but it lacked
passionate enthusiasm. Evadne and I sat down, and our exceedingly dull
conversation was soon interrupted by the advent of the church goers.
Towards lunch time Lackaday and I, chance companions, strolled towards the
"What a charming woman," he remarked.
"Lady Verity-Stewart," said I, with a touch of malice--our hostess was the
last woman with whom he had spoken--"is a perfect dear."
"So she is, but I meant Lady Auriol."
"I've known her since she was that high," I said spreading out a measuring
hand. "Her development has been most interesting."
A shade of annoyance passed over the Colonel's ugly good-humoured face.
To treat the radiant creature who had swum into his ken as a subject for
psychological observation savoured of profanity. With a smile I added:
"She's one of the very best."
His brow cleared and his teeth gleamed out my tribute.
"I've met very few English ladies in the course of my life," said he half
apologetically. "The other day, a brother officer finding me fooling about
Pall Mall insisted on my lunching with him at the Carlton. He had a party.
I sat next to a Mrs. Tankerville, who I gather is a celebrity."
"She is," said I. "And she said, 'You must really come and have tea with me
to-morrow. I've a crowd of most interesting people coming.'"
"She did," cried Lackaday, regarding me with awestricken eyes, as Saul must
have looked at the Witch of Endor. "But I didn't go. I couldn't talk to
her. I was as dumb as a fish. Oh, damned dumb! And the dumber I was the
more she talked at me. I had risen from the ranks, hadn't I? She thought
careers like mine such a romance. I just sat and sweated and couldn't eat.
She made me feel as if she was going to exhibit me as the fighting skeleton
in her freak museum. If ever I see that woman coming towards me in the
street, I'll turn tail and run like hell."
I laughed. "You mustn't compare Mrs. Tankerville with Lady Auriol Dayne."
"_Mon Dieu!_ I should think not!" he cried with a fervent gesture.
Our passage from the terrace across the threshold of the drawing-room cut
short a possible rhapsody.
Later in the afternoon, in the panelled Elizabethan entrance hall, I came
across Lady Auriol in tweed coat and skirt and business-like walking boots,
a felt hat on her head and a stout stick in her hands.
"Whither away?" I asked.
"Colonel Lackaday and I are off for a tramp, over to Glastonbury." Her lips
moved ironically. "Like to come?"
"God forbid!" I cried.
"Thought you wouldn't," she said, drawing on a wash-leather gauntlet, "but
when I'm in Society, I do try to be polite."
"My teaching and example for the last twenty years," said I, "have not been
"You're a master of deportment, my dear Tony." I was old enough to be her
father, but she had always called me Tony, and had no more respect for my
grey hairs than her cousin Evadne. "Tell me," she said, with a swift change
of manner, "do you know anything about Colonel Lackaday?"
"We met here as strangers," said I, "and I can only say that he impresses
me as being a very gallant gentleman."
Her face beamed. She held out her hand. "I'm so glad you think so." She
glanced at the clock.
"Good Lord! I'm a minute late. He's outside. I loathe unpunctuality. So
She waved a careless farewell and strode out.
In the evening she gave Sir Julius to understand that, for aught she cared,
he could go into a corner and play Bridge by himself, thus holding herself
free, as it appeared to my amused fancy, for any pleasanter eventuality. In
a few moments Colonel Lackaday was sitting by her side. I drew a chair to
a bridge-table, and idly looked over my hostess's hand. Presently, being
dummy, she turned to me, with a little motion of her head towards the pair
"Those two--Auriol and ---- don't you think it's rather rapid?"
"My dear Selina," said I. "What would you have? '_C'est la guerre_.'"
It was rather rapid, this intimacy between the odd assorted pair--the
high-bred woman of fervid action and the mild and gawky Colonel born in a
travelling circus. Holding the key to his early life, and losing myself in
conjecture as to his subsequent career until he found himself possessed of
the qualities that make a successful soldier, I could not help noticing the
little things, unperceived by a generous war society, which pathetically
proved that his world and that of Lady Auriol, for all her earth-wide
Bohemianism, were star distances apart. Little tiny things that one
feels ashamed to record. His swift glance round to assure himself of the
particular knife and fork he should use at a given stage of the meal--the
surreptitious pushing forward on the plate, of the knife which he had
leaned, French fashion, on the edge; his queer distress on entering the
drawing-room--his helplessness until the inevitable and unconscious rescue,
for he was the honoured guest; the restraint, manifest to me, which he
imposed on his speech and gestures. Everyone loved him for his simplicity
of manners. In fact they were natural to the man. He might have saved
himself a world of worry. But his trained observation had made him aware
of the existence of a thousand social solecisms, his sensitive character
shrank from their possible committal, and he employed his mimetic genius
as an instrument of salvation. And then his English--his drawing-room
English--was not spontaneous. It was thought out, phrased, excellent
academic English, not the horrible ordinary lingo that we sling at each
other across a dinner-table; the English, though without a trace of foreign
accent, yet of one who has spent a lifetime in alien lands and has not met
his own tongue save on the printed page; of one, therefore, who not being
sure of the shade of slang admissible in polite circles, carefully and
almost painfully avoids its use altogether.
Yet all through that long weekend--we were pressed to stay till the
Wednesday morning--no one, so far as I know, suspected that Colonel
Lackaday found himself in an unfamiliar and puzzling environment.
His appointment to the Brigade came on the Tuesday. He showed me the
letter, during a morning stroll in the garden.
"Don't tell anybody, please," said he.
"Of course not." I could not repress an ironical glance, thinking of Lady
Auriol. "If you would prefer to make the announcement your own way."
He gasped, looking down upon me from his lean height. "My dear fellow--it's
the very last thing I want to do. I've told you because I let the thing out
a day or two ago--in peculiar circumstances--but it's in confidence."
"Confidence be hanged," said I.
Heaven sent me Evadne--just escaped from morning lessons with her
governess, and scuttling across the lawn to visit her Sealyhams. I whistled
her to heel. She raced up.
"If you were a soldier what would you do if you were made a General?"
She countered me with the incredulous scorn bred of our familiarity.
"You haven't been made a General?"
"I haven't," I replied serenely. "But Colonel Lackaday has."
She looked wide-eyed up into Lackaday's face.
"Is that true?"
I swear he blushed through his red sun-glaze.
"Since Captain Hylton says so----"
She held out her hand with perfect manners and said:
"I'm so glad. My congratulations." Then, before the bewildered Lackaday
could reply, she tossed his hand to the winds.
"There'll be champagne for dinner and I'm coming down," she cried and fled
like a doe to the house. At the threshold of the drawing-room she turned.
"Does Cousin Auriol know?"
"Nobody knows," I said.
She shouted: "Good egg!" and disappeared.
I turned to the frowning and embarrassed Lackaday.
"Your modesty doesn't appreciate the pleasure that news will give all those
dear people. They've shown you in the most single-hearted way that they're
your friends, haven't they?"
"They have," he admitted. "But it's very extraordinary. I don't belong to
their world. I feel a sort of impostor."
"With this--and all these?"
I flourished the letter which I still held, and with it touched the rainbow
on his tunic. His features relaxed into his childish ear-to-ear grin.
"It's all so incomprehensible--here--in this old place--among these English
aristocrats--the social position I step into. I don't know whether you can
quite follow me."
"As a distinguished soldier," said I, "apart from your charming personal
qualities, you command that position."
He screwed up his mobile face. "I can't understand it. It's like a
nightmare and a fairy-tale jumbled up together. On the outbreak of war I
came to England and joined up. In a few months I had a commission. I don't
know..." he spread out his ungainly arm--"I fell into the metier--the
business of soldiering. It came easy to me. Except that it absorbed me body
and soul, I can't see that I had any particular merit. Whatever I have
done, it would have been impossible, in the circumstances, not to do. Out
there I'm too busy to think of anything but my day's work. As for these
things"--he touched his ribbons--"I put them up because I'm ordered to. A
matter of discipline. But away from the Army I feel as though I were made
up for a part which I'm expected to play without any notion of the words.
I feel just as I would have done five years ago if I had been dressed like
this and planted here. To go about now disguised as a General only adds to
"If you'll pardon me for saying so," said I, "I think you're
super-sensitive. You imagine yourself to be the same man that you were five
years ago. You're not. You're a different human being altogether. Men with
characters like yours must suffer a sea-change in this universal tempest."
"I hope not," said he, "for what will become of me when it's all over?
Everything must come to an end some day--even the war."
I laughed. "Don't you see how you must have changed? Here you are looking
regretfully to the end of the war. If it were only bloodless you would like
it to go on for ever. Who knows whether you wouldn't eventually wear two
batons instead of the baton and sword."
"I'm not an ambitious man, if you mean that," said he, soberly. "Besides
this war business is far too serious for a man to think of his own
interests. Suppose a fellow schemed and intrigued to get high rank and then
proved inefficient--it would mean death to hundreds or thousands of his
men. As it is, I assure you I'm not cock-a-whoop about commanding a
brigade. I was a jolly sight happier with a platoon."
"At any rate," said I, "other people are cock-a-whoop. Look at them."
The household, turned out like a guard by Evadne, emerged in a body from
the house. Sir Julius beamed urbanely. Lady Verity-Stewart almost fell on
the great man's neck. Young Charles broke into enthusiastic and profane
congratulations. From the point of view of eloquent compliment his speech
was disgraceful; but I loved the glisten in the boy's eyes as he gazed on
his hero. A light also gleamed in the eyes of Lady Auriol. She shook hands
with him in her direct fashion.
"I'm glad. So very very glad." Perhaps I alone--except Lackaday--detected a
little tremor in her voice. "Why didn't you want us to know?"
Instinctively I caught Evadne's eye. She winked at me, acknowledging
thereby that she had divulged the General's secret. But by what feminine
process of divination had she guessed it? Charles came to his chief's
"The General couldn't go around shouting 'I'm to command a brigade mother,
I'm to command a brigade,' could he?"
"He might have stuck on his badges and walked in as if nothing had
happened. It would have been such fun to see who would have spotted them
Thus Evadne, immediately called to order by Sir Julius. The hero said very
little. What in his modesty could the good fellow say? But it was obvious
that the sincere and spontaneous tributes pleased him. Sir Julius, after
the suppression of Evadne, made him the little tiniest well-bred ghost
of an oration. That the gallant soldier under whom his son had the
distinguished honour to serve should receive the news of his promotion
under his roof was a matter of intense gratification to the whole
It was a gracious scene--the little group, on the lawn in shade of the old
manor house, so intimate, so kindly, so genuinely emotional, yet so restful
in its English restraint, surrounding the long, lank, khaki-clad figure
with the ugly face, who, after looking from one to the other of them in a
puzzled sort of way, drew himself up and saluted.
"You're very kind," said he, in reply to Sir Julius. "If I have the same
loyalty in my brigade as I had in my old regiment," he glanced at Charles,
"I shall be a very proud man."
That ended whatever there was of ceremony. Lady Auriol drew me aside.
"Come for a stroll."
"To see the Sealyhams and the rabbits?"
"No, Tony. To talk of our friend. He interests me tremendously."
"I'm glad to hear it," said I.
We entered the rose garden heavy with the full August blooms.
"Well, my dear," said I. "Talk away."
"If you have a bit of sense in you, it would be you who would talk. If
you were a bit _simpatico_ you would at once set the key of the
"All of which implied abuse means that you're dying to know, through the
medium of subtle and psychological dialogue, which is entirely beyond my
brain power, whether you're not just on the verge of wondering if you're
not on the verge of falling in love with Colonel Lackaday."
"You put it with your usual direct brutality----"
"Well," said I. "Are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Dying to know etcetera, etcetera--I am not addicted to vain repetition."
She sighed, tried to pick a black crimson Victor Hugo, pricked her fingers
and said "Damn!" With my penknife I cut the stalk and handed her the rose,
which she pinned on her blouse.
"I suppose I am," she eventually replied. Then she caught me by the arm.
"Look here, Tony, do be a dear. You're old enough to be my ancestor and by
all accounts you've had a dreadful past. Do tell me if I'm making an ass of
myself. I only did it once," she went on, without giving me time to answer.
"You know all about it--Vanucci, the little beast. I needn't put on frills
with you. Since then I swore off that sort of thing. I've gone about in
maiden meditation and man's breeches, fancy free. I've loved lots of men
just as I've loved lots of women--as friends, comrades. I'm level-headed
and, I think, level-hearted. I haven't gone about like David in his wrath,
saying that all men are liars. They're not. They're just as good as women,
if not better. I've no betrayed virgin's grouch against men. But I've made
myself too busy to worry about sex. It's no use talking tosh. Sex is the
root of the whole sentimental, maudlin----"
"But tremulous and bewildering and nerve-racking and delicious and
myriad-adjectived soul-condition," I interrupted, "known generally as love.
Ninety-nine point nine repeater per cent of the world's literature has been
devoted to its analysis. It's therefore of some importance. It's even the
vital principle of the continuity of the human race."
"I'm perfectly aware of it."
"Then why, my dear, resent, as you seem to do, the inevitable reassertion,
in your own case, of the vital principle?"
She laughed. "_Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop_. But that's
just it. Is it a gallop or is it a crawl? I tell you, I thought myself
immune for many years. But now, these last two or three days I'm beginning
to feel a perfect idiot. A few minutes ago if the whole lot of you hadn't
been standing round, I think I should have cried. Just for silly gladness.
After all there are thousands of Brigadier-Generals."
"To be accurate, not more than a few hundreds."
"Hundreds or thousands, what does it matter?" she cried impatiently.
"What's Hecuba to me or I to Hecuba?" Few women have the literary sense
of apposite quotation--but no matter. She went on. "What's one
Brigadier-General to me or I to one Brigadier-General? And yet--there it
is. I'm beginning to fear lest this particular Brigadier-General may mean
a lot to me. So I come back to my original question. Am I making an ass of
"One can't answer that question, my dear Auriol," said I, "without knowing
how far your fears, feelings and all the rest of it are reciprocated."
"Suppose I think they are?"
"Then all I can say is: 'God bless you my children.' But," I added, after a
pause, "I must warn you that your budding idyll is not passing unnoticed."
She snapped her fingers. "I've lived my private life in public too long to
care a hang for that. I'm only concerned about my own course of action.
Shall I go on, or shall I pull myself up with a jerk?"
"What would you like to do?"
She walked on for a few yards without replying. I glanced at her and saw
that the colour had come into her cheeks, and that her eyes were downcast.
At last she said:
"Now that I'm a woman again, I should like to get some happiness out of it.
I should like to give happiness, too, full-handed." She flashed up and took
my arm and pressed it. "I could do it, Tony."
"I know you could," said I.
After which the conversation became more intimate. Anybody, to look at us,
as we walked, arm in arm, round the paths of the rose garden, would have
taken us for lovers. Of course she wanted none of my advice. Her frank and
generous nature felt the imperious need of expansion. I, to whom she could
talk as to a sympathetic wooden idol, happened to be handy. I don't think
she could have talked in the same way to a woman, I don't think she would
have talked so even to me, who had taken her pick-a-back round about her
nursery, if I had not with conviction qualified Lackaday as a gallant
Eventually we came down to the practical aspect of a situation, as old as
Romance itself. The valorous and gentle knight of hidden lineage and the
Earl's daughter. Not daring to aspire, and ignorant of the flame he has
kindled in the high-born bosom, he rides away without betraying his
passion, leaving the fair owner of the bosom to pine in lonely ignorance.
"At this time of day, it's all such damn nonsense," said Lady Auriol.
I pointed out to her that chivalrous souls still beautified God's earth and
that such damn nonsense could not be other than the essence of their being.
To this knightly company Colonel Lackaday might well belong. On the other
hand, there was she, the same old proud Earl's daughter. For all her
modernity, her independence, her democratic sympathies, she remained a
great lady. She had little fortune; but she had position and an ancient
name. Her father, the impoverished fourteenth Earl of Mountshire, and the
thirtieth Baron of something else, refused to sit among the canaille of the
present House of Peers. He bred shorthorns and Berkshire pigs, which he
disposed of profitably, and grew grapes and melons for Covent Garden, read
the lessons in church and wrote letters to the _Times_ about the war
on which the late Guy Earl of Warwick would have rather prided himself when
he took a fancy to make a King.
"The dear old idiot," said Lady Auriol. "He belongs to the time of
But, all the same, in spite of her flouting, her birth assured her a social
position from which she could be thrown by nothing less than outrageous
immorality or a Bolshevist revolution. That Lackaday, to whom the British
Peerage, in the ordinary way, was as closed a book as the Talmud,
realized her high estate I was perfectly aware. Dear and garrulous Lady
Verity-Stewart had given him at dinner the whole family history--she
herself was a Dayne--from the time of Henry I. I was sitting on the other
side of her and heard and amused myself by scanning the expressionless face
of Lackaday who listened as a strayed aviator might listen to the social
gossip of the inhabitants of Mars. Anyhow he left the table with the
impression that the Earl of Mountshire was the most powerful noble in
England and that his hostess and her cousin, Lady Auriol, regarded the
Royal Family as upstarts and only visited Buckingham Palace in order to set
a good example to the proletariat.
"I'm sure he does," said I, after summarizing Lady Verity-Stewart's
"The family has been the curse of my life," said Auriol. "If I hadn't
anticipated them--or is it it?--by telling them to go to the devil, they
would have disowned me long ago. Now they're afraid of me, and I've got the
whip hand. A kind of blackmail; so they let me alone."
"But if you made a _mesalliance_, as they call it," said I, "they'd be
down upon you like a cartload of bricks."
"Bricks?" she retorted, with a laugh. "A cartload of puff-balls. There
isn't a real brick in the whole obsolete structure. I could marry a beggar
man to-morrow and provided he was a decent sort and didn't get drunk and
knock me about and pick his teeth with his fork, I should have them all
around me and the beggar man in a week's time, trying to save face. They'd
move heaven and earth to make the beggar man acceptable. They know that if
they didn't, I'd be capable of going about with him like a raggle-taggle
gipsy--and bring awful disgrace on them."
"All that may be true," said I, "but the modest Lackaday doesn't realize
"I'll put sense into him," replied Lady Auriol. And that was the end,
conclusive or not, of the conversation.
In the afternoon they went off for a broiling walk together. What they
found to say to each other, I don't know. Lady Auriol let me no further
into her confidence, and my then degree of intimacy with the General did
not warrant the betrayal of my pardonable curiosity as to the amount of
sense put into him by the independent lady.
Now, from what I have related, it may seem that Lady Auriol had brought up
all her storm troops for a frontal attack on the position in which the shy
General lay entrenched. This is not the case. There was no question of
attack or siege or any military operation whatever on either side. The
blessed pair just came together like two drops of quicksilver. Each
recognized in the other a generous and somewhat lonely soul; an
appreciation of the major experiences of life and, with that, a craving
for something bigger even than the war, which would give life its greater
meaning. She, born on heights that looked contemptuously down upon a
throne, he born almost in a wayside ditch, their intervening lives a mutual
mystery, they met--so it seemed to me, then, as I mused on the romantical
situation--on some common plane not only of adventurous sympathy but of
a humanity simple and sincere. From what I could gather afterwards, they
never exchanged a word, during this intercourse, of amorous significance.
Nor did they steer the course so dear to modern intellectuals (and so dear
too to the antiquated wanderers through the Land of Tenderness) which led
them into analytical discussions of their respective sentimental states of
being. They talked just concrete war, politics and travel. On their tramps
they scarcely talked at all. They kept in step which maintained the rhythm
of their responsive souls. She would lay an arresting touch on his arm at
the instant in which he pointed his stick at some effect of beauty; and
they would both turn and smile at each other, intimately, conscious of
We left the next morning, Lackaday to take over his brigade in France, I to
hang around the War Office for orders to proceed on my further unimportant
employment. Lady Auriol and Charles saw us off at the station.
"It's all very well for your new brigade, sir," said the latter when
the train was just coming into the station. "They're in luck. But the
regiment's in the soup."
He wanted to discuss the matter, but with, elderly tact I drew the young
man aside, so that the romantic pair should have a decent leave-taking. But
all she said was:
"You'll write and tell me how you get on?"
And he; with a flash in his blue eyes and his two-year-old grin:
"May I really?"
"You may--if a General in the field has time to write to obscure females."
She looked adorable, provoking, with the rich colour rising beneath her
olive cheek--I almost fell in love with her myself and I was glad that the
ironical Charles had his back to her. An expression of shock overspread
Lackaday's ingenuous features. He shot out both hands in protest, and
mumbled something incoherent. She took the hands with a happy laugh, as the
train lumbered noisily in.
Lackaday was silent and preoccupied during the run to London.
At the terminus we parted. I asked him to dinner at my club. He hesitated
for a moment, then declined on the plea of military business. I did not see
him or the Verity-Stewarts or Lady Auriol till after the Armistice.
Like Ancient Gaul, time is nowadays divided into three parts, before,
during and after the war. The lives of most men are split into these three
hard and fast sections. And the men who have sojourned in the Valley of the
Shadow of Death have emerged, for all their phlegm, their philosophy, their
passionate carelessness and according to their several temperaments, not
the same as when they entered. They have taken human life, they have
performed deeds of steadfast and reckless heroism unimagined even in the
war-like daydreams of their early childhood. They have endured want and
misery and pain inconceivable. They have witnessed scenes of horror one of
which, in their former existence, would have provided months of shuddering
nightmare. They have made instant decisions affecting the life or death of
their fellows. They have conquered fear. They have seen the scale of values
upon which their civilized life was so carefully based swept away and
replaced by another strange and grim to which their minds must rigidly
conform. They return to the world of rest where humanity is still
struggling to maintain the old scale. The instinct born of generations of
tradition compels a facile reacceptance. They think: "The blood and mud and
the hell's delight of the war are things of the past. We take up life where
we left it five years ago; we come back to plough, lathe, counter, bank,
office, and we shall carry on as though a Sleeping Beauty spell had been
cast on the world and we were awakening, at the kiss of the Fairy Prince of
peace, to our suspended tasks."
Are they right or are they wrong in their surmise, these millions of
men, who have passed through the Valley of the Shadow, haunted by their
memories, tempered by their plunge into the elemental, illumined by the
self-knowledge gained in the fierce school of war?
Does the Captain V.C. of Infantry, adored and trusted by his men, from
whose ranks he rose by reason of latent qualities of initiative command and
inspiration, contentedly return to the selling of women's stockings in his
old drapery establishment, to the vulgar tyranny of the oily shopwalker, to
the humiliating restrictions and conditions of the salesman's life? Return
he must--perhaps. He has but two trades, both of which he knows profoundly;
the selling of hosiery and the waging of war. As he can no longer wage
war, he sells hosiery. But does he do it contentedly? If his soul, through
reaction, is contented at first, will it continue to be so through the long
uneventful stocking-selling years? Will not the war change he has suffered
cause nostalgias, revolts? Will it bring into his resumed activities a new
purpose or more than the old lassitudes?
These questions were worrying me, as they were worrying most demobilized
men, although I, an elderly man about town, had no personal cause
for anxiety, when, one morning, my man brought me in the card of
Brigadier-General Lackaday. It was early March. I may mention incidentally
that I had broken down during the last wild weeks of the war, and that an
unthinkingly beneficent War Office had flung me into Nice where they had
forgotten me until a few days before.
During my stay in the South I led the lotus life of studious
self-indulgence. I lived entirely for myself and neglected my
correspondence to such a point that folks ceased to write to me. As a
matter of fact I was a very sick man, under the iron rule of doctors and
nurses and such like oppressors; but, except to explain why I had lost
touch with everybody, that is a matter of insignificant importance. The one
or two letters I did receive from Lady Auriol did not stimulate my interest
in The Romance. I gathered that she was in continuous relations with
General Lackaday, who, it appeared, was in the best of health. But when a
man of fifty has his heart and lungs and liver and lights all dislocated he
may be pardoned for his chilly enthusiasm over the vulgar robustness of a
very young Brigadier.
On this March morning, however, when I was beginning, in sober joyousness,
to pick up the threads of English social life, the announcement of General
Lackaday gave me a real thrill of pleasure.
He came in, long, lean, khaki clad, red-tabbed, with, I swear, more rainbow
lines on his breast, and a more pathetically childish grin on his face
than ever. We greeted each other like old friends long separated, and fell
immediately into intimate talk, exchanging our personal histories of seven
months. Mine differed only in brevity from an old wife's tale. His had the
throb of adventure and the sting of failure. In October his brigade had
found immortal glory in heroic death. He had obeyed high orders. The
slaughter was no fault of his. But after the disaster--if the capture of an
important position can be so called--he had been summarily appointed to a
Home Command, and now was demobilized.
"Demobilized?" I cried, "what on earth do you mean?"
"It appears that there are more Brigadier-Generals in the dissolving Army,"
said he, "than there are brigades. I can retire with my honorary rank, but
if I care to stay on, I must do so with the rank and pay of a Major."
I flared up indignant. I presumed that he had consigned the War Office to
flamboyant perdition. In his mild way he had. The War Office had looked
pained. By offering a permanent Major's commission in the Regular Army,
with chance of promotion and pension, it thought it had dealt very
handsomely by Lackaday. It hinted that though he had led his brigade to
victory, he might have employed a safer, a more Sunday school method. Oh!
the hint was of the slightest, the subtlest, the most delicate. The War
Office very pointedly addressed him as General, and, regarding his row of
ribbons, implicitly declared him an ingrate. But for a certain stoniness
of glance developed in places where Bureaucracy would have been very
frightened, the War Office would have so proclaimed him in explicit speech.
"I would have stayed on as a Brigadier," said he. "But the Major's job's
impossible. I should have thought any soldier would have appreciated the
position--and it was a soldier, a colonel whom I saw--but it seems that if
you stay long enough in that place you're at the mercy of the little
girls who run you round, and eventually you arrive at their level of
intelligence. However," he grinned and lit a cigarette, "it's all over. I
can call myself General Lackaday till the day of my death, but not a sou
does it put into my pocket. And, odd as it may appear, I've got to earn my
living. Well, I suppose something will turn up."
Before I had time to question him as to his plans and prospects, he shifted
the talk to our friends, the Verity-Stewarts. He had stayed with them two
or three times. Once Lady Auriol had again been a fellow guest. He had met
her in London, dined at her tiny house in Charles Street, Mayfair--a little
dinner party, doubtless in his honour--and he had called once or twice.
Evidently the Romance was in the full idyllic stage. I asked somewhat
maliciously what Lady Auriol thought of it. He rose to my question like a
"She's far more indignant than I am, I've had to stop her writing to the
newspapers and sending the old Earl down to the House of Lords."
"Lady Auriol ought to be able to pull some strings," said I.
"There are not any strings going to be pulled for me in this business,"
said Lackaday. He rose, stalked about the room--it is a modest bachelor St.
James's Street sitting-room, and he took up about as much of its space as
a daddy-long-legs under a tumbler--and suddenly halted in front of me. "Do
you know why?"
I made a polite gesture of enquiring ignorance.
"Because it's a damn sight too sacred."
I bowed. I understood.
"I can find it in my heart to owe many things to Lady Auriol," he
continued. "She's a great woman. But even to her I couldn't owe my position
in the British Army."
"Did you tell her so?"
I pictured the scene, knowing my Auriol. I could see the pride in her dark
eyes and masterful lips. His renunciation had in it that of the _beau
geste_ which she secretly adored. It put the final stamp on the man.
Upon this little emotional outburst he left, promising to dine with me the
next day. For a month I saw him frequently, once or twice with Lady Auriol.
He was still in uniform, waiting for the final clip of the War Office
scissors severing the red tape that still bound him to the Army.
Lady Auriol said to me: "I think the day he puts off khaki he'll cry."
He stuck to it till the very last day possible. Then he appeared, gaunt and
miserable, in an ill-fitting blue serge suit which, in the wind, flapped
about his lean body. He had the pathetic air of a lost child. On this
occasion--Lady Auriol and he were lunching with me--she adopted a motherly
attitude which afforded me both pleasure and amusement. She seemed bent
on assuring him that the gaudy vestments of a successful General went for
nothing in her esteem; that, like Semele, she felt (had that unfortunate
lady been given a second chance) more at ease with her Jupiter in the
common guise of ordinary man.
How the Romance had progressed I could not tell. Nothing of it was
perceptible from their talk, which was that of mutually understanding
friends. I hinted a question after the meal, when she and I were alone for
a few moments. She shrugged her shoulders, and regarded me enigmatically.
"I'm a little more mid-Victorian than I thought I was."
"Whatever you like it to."
And that is all I had a chance of getting out of her. Well, the relations
between Lackaday and Lady Auriol were no business of mine. I had plenty to
do and to think about, and anxiety over their tender affairs did not rob me
of an hour's slumber.
Then came a day when the offer of a humble mission in connection with the
Peace Conference sent me to Paris. Before starting I had a last interview
with Lackaday. He dined with me alone in my chambers.
He looked ill and worried. His scraggy neck rising far above an evening
collar too low for him seemed to betray by its stringy workings the
perturbation of his spirit. His carroty thatch no longer crisp from the
careful military cut had grown into a kind of untamable towslement. The
last month or two had aged him. He was the last person one would have
imagined to be a distinguished soldier in the Great War.
We talked pleasantly of indifferent things till the cigars were lit--he was
always a charming companion, possessing a gentle and somewhat plaintive
humour--and then he began, against his habit, to speak of himself. Like
thousands of demobilized officers he was looking around for some opening in
civil life. As to what particular round hole his square peg could fit he
was most vague. Perhaps a position in one of the far-away regions that were
to be administered by the League of Nations. Something in Syria or German
"Look here, my dear fellow," I said at last, "I presume I'm the very oldest
surviving acquaintance you have in the world. And you can't accuse me of
indiscreet curiosity. But surely you must have had some kind of profession
before the war."
"Of course I had."
"Then why not go back to it?"
It was the first time I had ventured to question him on his antecedents.
For all his gentleness, he had a personal dignity which was enhanced by the
symbolism of his uniform and forbade impertinent questioning. As he had
kept the shutters pulled down over his pre-war career, having in all our
intercourse given me no hint of the avocations that had led him to know the
Inns of France with the accuracy of a Michelin guide, it was obvious that
he had done so for his own good and deliberate reasons. I had got it into
my stupid head that the qualities which had raised him from private to
Brigadier-General had served him in a commercial pursuit; that he had been,
at the time of his pilgrimage through the country, the agent of some French
On my question he stared at his cigar, twisting it backwards and forwards
between his delicate thumb and two fingers, with the air of a man
hesitating on a decision, until the inevitable happened; the long ash of
the cigar fell over his trousers. He rose with a laugh and a damn and
brushed himself. Then he said:
"Did you ever hear of Les Petit Patou?"
"No," said I, mystified.
"Scarcely anyone in this country ever has. That's the advantage of
obscurity." He reflected for a moment then he said: "I never realized,
until I went very shyly among them, the exquisite delicacy of English
gentlefolk. Not one of you, not even Lady Auriol who has given me the
privilege of her intimate friendship, has ever pressed me to give an
account of myself. I'm not ashamed of Les Petit Patou. But it seems
so--so----" he snapped his fingers for the word--"so incongruous. My
military rank demanded that I should preserve it from ridicule--you'll
remember I asked you to say nothing of the circus."
"Still," said I, "the name Petit Patou conveys nothing to me."
"I'm the original Petit Patou. When I took a partner we became plural.
_Regardez un instant._"
It was only later that I saw the significance of the instinctive French
He rose, glanced around him, pounced on a little silver match-box and
an empty wire waste-paper basket, and contorting his mobile face into a
hideous grimace of imbecility, began to juggle with these two objects and
his cigar, displaying the faultless technique of the professional. After
a few throws, the cigar flew into his mouth, the matchbox fell into the
opened pocket of his dinner jacket and the waste-paper basket descended
over his head. For a second he stood grinning through the wire cage, in
the attitude of one waiting for applause. Then swiftly he disembarrassed
himself of the basket and threw the insulted cigar into the fire.
"Do you think that's a dignified way for General Andrew Lackaday, C.B., to
make his living--in the green skin tights of Petit Patou?"
We talked far into the night. My sleep was haunted by the nightmare of the
six foot four of the stringy, bony emaciation of General Lackaday in green
To realize Petit Patou in the British General of Brigade, we must turn to
the manuscript mentioned at the beginning of this story.
We meet him, a raw youth, standing, one blazing summer day on the Bridge
of Avignon. He insists on this episode, because, says he, the bridge is
associated with important events in his life. It was not, needless to
remark, the Pont d'Avignon of the gay old song, for the further arch of
that was swept away by floods long ago, and it now remains a thing of
pathetic uselessness. Three-quarters of the way across the Rhone might you
go, and then you would come to abrupt nothingness, just the swirling river
far below your arrested feet. It was the new suspension bridge, some
three hundred yards further up, sadly inharmonious with the macchiolated
battlements of the city and the austere mass, rising above them, of the
Palace of the Popes on the one side, and, on the other, the grey antiquity
of the castle of Villeneuve brooding like an ancient mother over its aged
offspring, the clustering sun-baked town. The joyous generation of the Old
Bridge has long since passed away, but to the present generation the New
Bridge affords the same wonder and delight. For it entices like the old,
from stifling streets to the haunts of Pan. There do you find leafy walks,
and dells of shade, and pathways by the great cool river leading to
sequestered spots where you may sit and forget the clatter of flagstones
and the stuffy apartment above them for which the rent is due; where the
air of early June is perfumed by wild thyme and marjoram and the far-flung
sweetness of new mown hay, and where the nightingales sing. So, whenever it
can, all Avignon turns out, as it has turned out for hundreds of years, on
its to and fro adventure across the Bridge of Promise.
It was on a Sunday afternoon when young Lackaday stood there, leaning
moodily over the parapet, regarding it not as a bridge of Promise, but as
a Bridge of Despair. He had fled from the dressing-room of the little
music-hall just outside the city walls, which he shared with three others
of the troupe, from its horrible reek of escaping gas and drainage and
grease-paint and the hoarded human emanations of years, and had come here
instinctively to breathe the pure air that swept down the broad stream.
He had come for rest of mind and comfort of soul; but only found himself
noisily alone amid an unsympathetic multitude.
He had failed. He had learned it first from the apathy of the audience.
He had learned it afterwards from the demeanour and the speech far from
apathetic of the manager and leader of the troupe. They were a company of
six, Les Merveilleux, five jugglers, plate spinners, eccentric musicians,
ventriloquists, and one low comedian. Lackaday was the low comedian, his
business to repeat in burlesque most of the performance of his fellow
artists. It was his first engagement, outside the Cirque Rocambeau, his
first day with the troupe. Everything had gone badly. His enormous lean
length put the show out of scale. The troupe, accustomed to the business of
a smaller man, whose sudden illness caused the gap which Lackaday came from
Paris to fill, resented the change, and gave him little help. They demanded
impossibilities. Although they had rehearsed--and the rehearsals had been
a sufficient nightmare of suffering--everybody had seemed to devote a
ferocious malice to his humiliation. Where the professional juggler is
accustomed to catch things at his hip, they threw them at his knees; they
appeared to decide that his head should be on the level of his breast. The
leading lady, Madame Coincon, wife of the manager, a compact person of five
foot two, roundly declared that she could not play with him, and in his
funniest act, dependent on her co-operation, she left him to be helplessly
funny by himself. The tradition of the troupe required the comedian to be
attired in a loud check suit, green necktie and white felt bowler hat. On
the podgy form of Lackaday's predecessor it produced its comic effect. On
the lank Lackaday it was characterless. In consequence of all this, he had
been nervous, he had missed cues, he had fumbled when he ought to have been
clear, and been clear when he ought comically to have fumbled. He had gone
about his funny business with the air of a curate marrying his vicar to the
object of his hopeless affections.
And Coincon had devastatingly insulted him. What worm was in the head
of Moignon (the Paris music-hall agent) that he should send him such a
monstrosity? He wasn't, _nom de Dieu_, carrying about freaks at a
fair. He wanted a comedian and not a giant. No wonder the Cirque Rocambeau
had come to grief, if it depended on such canaries as Lackaday. Didn't he
know he was there to make the audience laugh?--not to give a representation
of Monsieur Mounet-Sully elongated by the rack.
"_Hop, man petit_," said he at last. "_F---- moi le camp_," which
is a very vulgar way of insisting on a person's immediate retirement. "Here
is your week's salary. I gain by the proceeding. The baggage-man will see
us through. He has done so before. As for Moignon--"
Although Lackaday regarded Moignon as a sort of god dispensing fame and
riches, enthroned on unassailable heights of power, he trembled at the
awful destiny that awaited him. He would be cast, like Lucifer from heaven.
He would be stripped of authority. Coincon's invective against him was so
terrible that Lackaday pitied him even more than he pitied himself. Yet
there was himself to consider. As much use to apply to the fallen Moignon
for an engagement as to the Convent of the Daughters of Calvary. He and
Moignon and their joint fortunes were sent hurtling down into the abyss.
On the parapet of the Bridge of Despair leant young Lackaday, gazing
unseeingly down into the Rhone. His sudden misfortune had been like the
stunning blow of a sandbag. His brain still reeled. What had happened was
incomprehensible. He knew his business. He could conceive no other. He had
been trained to it since infancy. There was not a phase of clown's work
with which he was not familiar. He was a passable gymnast, an expert
juggler, a trick musician, an accomplished conjurer. All that the
Merveilleux troupe act required from him he had been doing successfully for
years. Why then the failure? He blamed the check suit, the ill-will of the
company, the unreason of Madame Coincon....
It did not occur to him that he had emerged from an old world into a new.
That between the old circus public and the new music-hall public there
was almost a generation's change of taste and critical demand. The Cirque
Rocambeau had gone round without perceiving that the world had gone round
too. It wondered why its triumphant glory had declined; and it could
not take steps to adapt itself to the new conditions which it could not
appreciate. Everyone grew old and tradition-bound in the Cirque Rocambeau,
even the horses, until gradually it perished of senile decay. Andrew
Lackaday carrying on the traditions of his foster father, the clown Ben
Flint, had remained with it, principal clown, to the very end. Now and
then, rare passers through from the outer world, gymnasts down on their
luck, glad to take a makeshift engagement while waiting for better things,
had counselled him to leave the antiquated concern. But the Cirque
Rocambeau had been the whole of his life, childhood, boyhood, young
manhood; he was linked to it by the fibres of a generous nature. All
those elderly anxious folk were his family. Many of the children, his
contemporaries, trained in the circus, had flown heartlessly from the
nest, and the elders had fatalistically lamented. Madame Rocambeau, bowed,
wizened, of uncanny age, yet forceful and valiant to the last--carrying
on for the old husband now lying paralysed in Paris who had inherited the
circus from his father misty years ago, would say to the young man, when
one of these defections occurred: "And you Andre, you are not going to
leave us? You have a fine position, and if you are dissatisfied, perhaps we
can come to an arrangement. You are a child of the circus and I love you
like my own flesh and blood. We shall turn the corner yet. All that is
necessary is faith--and a little youth." And Andrew, a simple soul, who had
been trained in the virtues of honour and loyalty by the brave Ben Flint,
would repudiate with indignation the suggestion of any selfish desire to go
abroad and seek adventure.
At last, one afternoon, when the tent, a miserable gipsy thing compared
with the proud pavilion of the days of the glory of Billy the pig, was
pitched on the outskirts of a poor little town, they found Madame Rocambeau
dead in the canvas box-office which she had occupied for fifty years, the
heartbreaking receipts in front of her, counted out into little piles of
bronze and small silver. The end had come. The circus could not be sold as
a going concern. It crumbled away. Somebody bought the old horses, Heaven
knows for what purpose. Somebody bought the antiquated harness and
moth-eaten trappings. Somebody else bought the tents and fittings. But
nobody bought the old careworn human beings, riders and gymnasts and stable
hands who crept away into the bright free air of France, dazed and lost,
like the prisoners released from the Bastille.
It was not so long ago; long enough ago, however, for young Andrew Lackaday
to have come perilously near the end of his savings in Paris, before the
Almighty Moignon (now curse-withered), but then vast and unctuous, reeking
of fat food and diamonds and great cigars, had found him this engagement at
Avignon. He had journeyed thither full of the radiant confidence of twenty.
He stood on the bridge overwhelmed by the despair whose Tartarean blackness
only twenty can experience.
Not a gleam anywhere of hope. His humiliation was absolute. The maniacal
Coincon had not even given him an opportunity of redeeming his failure. He
had been paid to go away. The disgusting yet necessary price of his shame
rattled in his pockets. To-night the baggage man would play his part--a
being once presumably trained, yet sunk so low in incompetence that he was
glad to earn his livelihood as baggage man. And he, Andrew Lackaday, was
judged more incompetent even than this degraded outcast. Why? How could it
be? What was the reason? He dug his nails into his burning temples.
The summer sun beat down on him, and set a-glitter the currents in the
Rhone. The ceaseless, laughing stream of citizens passed him by. Presently
youth's need of action brought him half-unconsciously to an erect position.
He glanced dully this way and that, and then slowly moved along the bridge
towards the Villeneuve bank. Girls bare-headed, arm-in-arm, looked up
at him and laughed, he was so long and lean and comical with his ugly
lugubrious face and the little straw hat perched on top of his bushy
carroty poll. He did not mind, being used to derision. In happier days he
valued it, for the laugh would be accompanied by a nudge and a "_Voila
Auguste!_" He took it as a tribute. It was fame. Now he was so deeply
sunk in his black mood that he scarcely heeded. He walked on to the end of
the bridge, and turned down the dusty pathway by the bank.
Suddenly he became aware of sounds of music and revelry, and a few yards
further on he came to a broad dell shaded by plane trees and set out as a
restaurant garden, with rude tables and benches, filled with good-humoured
thirsty folk; on one side a weather-beaten wooden chalet, having the proud
title of Restaurant du Rhone, served apparently but to house the supply
of drinks which nondescript men and sturdy bare-headed maidens carried
incessantly on trays to the waiting tables. On the dusty midway space--the
garden boasted no blade of grass--couples danced to the strains of a
wheezing hurdy-gurdy played by a white bearded ancient who at the end of
each tune refreshed himself with a draught from a chope of beer on the
ground by his side, while a tiny anaemic girl went round gathering sous in a
shell. When the music stopped you could hear the whir and the click of the
bowls in an adjoining dusty and rugged alley and the harsh excited cries
of the players. During these intervals the serving people in an absent way
would scatter an occasional carafe-full of water on the dancing floor to
lay the dust.
Young Lackaday hung hesitatingly on the outskirts under the wooden archway
that was at once the entrance and the sign-board. The music had ended. The
tables were packed. He felt very thirsty and longed to enter and drink some
of the beer which looked so cool in the long glasses surmounted by its
half inch of white froth--inviting as sea-foam. Shyness held him. These
prosperous, care-free bourgeois, almost indistinguishable one from the
other by racial characteristics, and himself a tragic failure in life and
physically unique among men, were worlds apart. It had never occurred to
him before that he could find himself anywhere in France where the people
were not his people. He felt heart-brokenly alien.
Presently the hurdy-gurdy started the ghostly tinkling of the _Il
Bacio_ waltz, and the ingenuous couples of Avignon rose and began to
dance. The thirst-driven Lackaday plucked up courage, and strode to
a deserted wooden table. He ordered beer. It was brought. He sipped
luxuriously. One tells one's thirst to be patient, when one has to think of
one's sous. He was half-way through when two girls, young and flushed from
dancing together, flung themselves down on the opposite bench--the table
"We don't disturb you, Monsieur?"
He raised his hat politely. "By no means, Mesdemoiselles."
One of them with a quick gesture took up from the table a forgotten
newspaper and began to fan herself and her companion, to the accompaniment
of giggling and chatter about the heat. They were very young. They ordered
grenadine syrup and eau-de-seltz. Andrew Lackaday stared dismally beyond
them, at the dancers. In the happy, perspiring girls in front of him he
took no interest, for all their youth and comeliness and obviously frank
approachability. He saw nothing but the fury-enflamed face of Coincon and
heard nothing but the rasping voice telling him that it was cheaper to pay
him his week's salary than to allow him to appear again. And "_f---- moi
le camp!_" Why hadn't he taken Coincon by the neck then and there with
his long strong fingers and strangled him? Coincon would have had the
chance of a rabbit. He had the strength of a dozen Coincons--he, trained to
perfection, with muscle like dried bull's sinews. He could split an apple
between arm and forearm, in the hollow of his elbow. Why shouldn't he go
back and break Coincon's neck? No man alive had the right to tell him to
_f---- le camp!_
"You don't seem very gay," said a laughing voice.
With a start he recovered consciousness of immediate surroundings. Instead
of two girls opposite, there was only one. Vaguely he remembered that a man
had come up.
"_Un tour de valse, Mademoiselle?_"
"_Je vieux bien_."
And one of the girls had gone, leaving her just sipped grenadine syrup and
seltzer-water. But it had been like some flitting unreality of a dream.
At his blinking recovery the remaining girl laughed again.
"You look like a somnambulist."
He replied: "I beg pardon, Mademoiselle, but I was absorbed in my
"Black ones--_hein?_ They have made you little infidelities?"
He frowned. "They? Who do you mean--they?"
"_Un joli garcon is not absorbed in his reflections_"--she mimicked
his tone--"unless there is the finger of a _petite femme_ to stir them
round and darken them."
"Mademoiselle," said he, seriously. "You are quite mistaken. There's not a
woman in the world against whom I have the slightest grudge."
He spoke truly. It was a matter of love, and Mme Coincon's hostility did
"Word of honour," he added looking into the smiling ironical face.
Love had entered very little into his serious scheme of life. He had had
his entanglements of course. There was Francine Dumesnil, who had fluttered
into the Cirque Rocambeau as a slack wire artist, and after making him vows
of undying affection, had eloped a week afterwards with Hans Petersen, the
only man left who could stand on the bare back of a horse that was not
thick with resin. But the heart of Andrew Lackaday had nothing to do
with the heart of Francine Dumesnil. He had agreed with the aged Madame
Rocambeau. _Sales types_, both of them.
"If it had been _chagrin d'amour_--sorrow of love, Mademoiselle,"
said he, "I should not have been so insensible to the presence of two such
charming young ladies."
"We are polite, all the same," she remarked approvingly.
She sipped her grenadine. Having nothing further to say he sipped his beer.
Presently she said:
"I saw you this afternoon at the _boite_." He looked at her with a
touch of interest. No one would allude to the music-hall as the "box"
except a fellow professional engaged there.
"You too?" he asked.
She nodded. She belonged to a troupe of dancing girls. As they were the
first number, they got away early. She and her friend had gone for a walk
and found this restaurant. It was gay, wasn't it? He said, soberly:
"You were dancing at rehearsal this morning. You've danced at the
music-hall this afternoon, you'll be dancing again this evening--why do you
"One can only be young once," she replied.
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen. And you?"
She would have given him thirty, she said, he looked so serious. And he,
regarding her more narrowly, would have given her fifteen. She was very
young, slight, scarcely formed, yet her movements were lithe and complete
like those of a young lizard. She had laughing, black eyes and a fresh
mouth set in a thin dark face that might one day grow haggard or coarse,
according to her physical development, but was now full with the devil's
beauty of youth. A common type, one that would not arrest masculine eyes as
she passed by. Dozens of the girls there round about might have called her
sister. She was dressed with cheap neatness, the soiled white wing of a
bird in her black hat being the only touch of bravura. She spoke with the
rich accent of the South.
"You are of the _Midi?_" he said.
Yes. She came from Marseilles. Ingenuously chattering she gave him her
family history. In the meanwhile her companions and her partner having
finished their dance had retired to a sequestered corner of the restaurant,
leaving the pair here to themselves. Lackaday learned that her name was
Elodie Figasso. Her father was dead. Her mother was a dressmaker, in which
business she, too, had made her apprenticeship. But an elderly man, a
_huissier_, one of those people who go about with a tricolour-rosetted
cocked hat, and steel buttons and canvas trousers and a leather satchel
chained to their waist, had lately diverted from Elodie the full tide of
maternal affection. As she hated the _huissier_, a vulgar man who
thought of nothing but the good things that the Veuve Figasso could put
into his stomach, and as her besotted mother starved them both in order to
fulfil the _huissier's_ demands, and as she derived no compensating
joy from her dressmaking, she had found, thanks to a friend, a positron as
_figurante_ in a Marseilles Revue, and, _voila_--there she was
free, independent, and, since she had talent and application, was now
earning her six francs a day.
She finished her grenadine. Then with a swift movement she caught a passing
serving maid and slipped into her hand the money for her companion's
scarcely tasted drink and her own. Instantly Andrew protested--Mademoiselle
must allow him to have the pleasure.
But no--never in life, she had not intruded on his table to have free
drinks. As for the _consommation_ of the feather-headed Margot--from
Margot herself would she get reimbursement.
"But yet, Mademoiselle," said he, "you make me ashamed. You must still be
"_Ca ne vous genera pas?_"
She asked the question with such a little air of serious solicitude that
he laughed, for the first time. Would it upset his budget, involve the
sacrifice of a tram ride or a packet of tobacco, if he spent a few sous on
more syrup for her delectation? And yet the delicacy of her motive appealed
to him. Here was a little creature very honest, very much of the people,
very proud, very conscientious.
"On the contrary, Mademoiselle," said he, "I shall feel that you do me an
"It is not to be refused," said she politely, and the serving maid was
despatched for more beer and syrup.
"I waited to see your turn," she said, after a while.
"Ah!" he sighed.
She glanced at him swiftly. "It does not please you that I should talk
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