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Title: Little Windows
Author: Stacy Aumonier
eBook No.: 2200221h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2022
Most recent update: 2022

This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat

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Little Windows
(A Collection of Stories)

by

Stacy Aumonier


Published 1931


Publisher's note

[At the time of publication]
UPS AND DOWNS
A previous collection of stories by
STACY AUMONIER
with a foreword by
JOHN GALSWORTHY
which with
LITTLE WINDOWS
form the complete collection of
STACY AUMONIER'S
SHORT STORIES


Contents

1. The White Flower of a Blameless Life
2. The Brothers
3. A Good Action
4. The Packet
5. William's Narrow Squeak
6. When the Earth Stopped
7. The Brown Wallet
8. The Everlasting Club
9. Glittering Prizes
10. The Baby Grand
11. The Dark Corridor
12. The Mother of Carmen Colignon
13. The Room
14. Funeral March
15. "Page 189"
16. Two Bootmakers
17. Madame Fatality
18. In the Way of Business
19. The Beautiful, Merciless Lady
20. Straight Griggs
21. The Little Window of the Night
22. One Thing Leads To Another
23. The Angel of Accomplishment
24. The Glow-worm
25. The Deserter
26. The Most Wonderful Thing in the World


1. The White Flower of a Blameless Life

I have never attended anything more impressive than the funeral of Pierre Curvellier. Autumn in Brittany is always beautiful, and that year it seemed more beautiful than ever. St. Cyr-en-Bois lies at a sharp angle of the Rinse. Sleepy old white buildings with grey stone roofs nestle around the hill capped by the splendid dome of the Sacred Heart. The narrow cobbled streets are steep and winding, and are always crowded with slow-moving and quick-talking people, in blue, and grey and white; pigs and cattle wander indiscriminately, and sometimes you meet an ox-cart. The air has a tang of apples and salt, and burning peat, and the products of people who live by the soil. The woods are turning brown and crimson and golden. Everything goes slowly at St. Cyr-en-Bois.

And up the winding streets the funeral cort�?¨ge of my old friend went very slowly. Everyone walked. The coffin covered by a deep purple pall was carried by priests. Acolytes carried the Sacred Image. Censers swung, and the priests chanted in unison. Madame Curvellier, tall, distinguished, and in deepest mourning, leant, on the arm of her handsome son, Léon. The procession must have been a quarter of a mile in length. The men stood bareheaded, the women wept, and making the sign of the cross, exclaimed:

"God be merciful to our wise man."

All around one heard the muttered words of love and praise.

"Mother of God, but he was a good man. When my little Jeanne was sick, he sat all night applying lotions..."

"He loved the poor. Who is there to take his place?"

"They say he lent that rascal Couperin the money to rebuild his house, which he had burnt down in a drunken orgy."

"He forgave the boy who stole his fowls. Five times he forgave him."

"He worketh for the poor, but he never took money from the poor."

At the top of the hill the procession halted. In front of the church a platform had been erected by the side of a catafalque. Deputy Longuet, wearing the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, mounted the platform and prayed. The crowd stood with bowed heads. Then deputy Longuet stood up and addressed them. He was a short, pale-faced man with a square black beard. He spoke in a rich vibrant voice, charged with deep emotion. His voice carried across the square.

"Before committing the body of our friend to the last solemn rites of the holy Church, you have done me the honour to invite me to address you," he began.

"Your request fills me with pride and humility. Pride at the honour you confer on me, humility at my power to carry it out worthily. You called him 'The Wise Man of St. Cyr-en-Bois' and you were right. Today we proclaim him not only the Wise Man of St. Cyr-en-Bois, but one of the wise men of France. Today the whole heart of France bleeds with St. Cyren-Bois. She mourns the loss of one of her most distinguished sons.

"He was my friend for thirty years or more. It is easy for me to extol his virtues, but to pay tribute to the genius of his intellect is a task of which I am not capable. It will take time—perhaps a century—before the full measure of his worth shall be proclaimed. He wrote many books, and many that have not yet been published or adjudged. A lawyer, a scientist, a philosopher, a man of letters, for a time a member of the Senate, his whole life was consecrated to the betterment of his fellow-creatures. The fruits of his intellect are the heritage of us all. His works adorn our libraries, his teachings on ethics remain a standard, the influence of his legislation still colours our actions. He was a member of the Académie, and France does not forget. And France will not forget. His name shall be written in letters of gold upon her scrolls through all posterity. The fragrance of his memory shall survive the living episodes of our time.

"Well, may you weep, my friends! Well may France weep! ... and then when our hearts are filled to overflowing we will turn to God and rejoice. Rejoice that in our time so great and good a man should live; rejoice that France still sends forth into the world noble spirits like Pierre Curvellier to work for her eternal good. If I speak of his work in faltering terms, hesitating for the right expression, it is only because it is not yet adjudged. I may say too little or too much. But when I speak of the man himself, his character and life, I have no misgiving. I may say too little, but I cannot say too much. His life was crystal-clear, ennobled by a great simplicity. His mind was an open book for anyone to read. At an early age God granted him the greatest boon He can give to man—a good wife. A loving husband, an affectionate father, a loyal citizen, he was one of those men of whom it may be truly said that no breath of scandal ever marred the serene nobility of his name. He stood for all that was best and purest in this town, for all that was best and purest in France. For the vile he had compassion, for the poor charity, for the ignorant knowledge, and for everyone—help and comfort. His great intellect was an instrument used by him for the advancement of his moral precepts.

"Holding high office in the town he served the poor with equal consideration to the rich. Blessed with a home life of irreproachable purity and beauty, he set it before men without any ostentation, a place of comfort and welcome to all, a living example to those less fortunate. Of him no evil word was spoken, no envy, hatred, or malice engendered. He made no enemies. He lost no friends.

"And so he passes on. Supreme in the councils of his country, courageous in her adversities, steeped in her erudition, tolerant of her faults, we commit his body reverently to the sacred dust of St. Cyr-en-Bois, where he was born and where he spent the great energies of his life, confident that his spirit rides on in triumph to the glory of his country, to the glory of God."


Deputy Longuet bowed, and a low murmur of approval rippled across the square. The procession continued its way to the church. As the librarian of the Municipal Library and an intimate friend of Monsieur Curvellier, many of the townspeople knew me, and came forward to press my hand and to mutter a word of sympathy.

"It is an hour of desolation for St. Cyr-en-Bois," said one.

Old Gabriel Fabre, who had closed his épicerie establishment for the day as a token of respect, gripped my hand.

"The deputy spoke well," he said. "Sublime...sublime. As he said, 'not one word of scandal.' A pure life...a perfect life. God rest his soul."

I was a secessionist from the Roman Church, but I had no intention on that account to omit any respect which I could pay to the memory of my old friend. Nevertheless, in the congestion which occurred by the church doors, a sudden mood came to me to escape from all the ceremony for a time and to enjoy a few moments' solitary reflection. I wandered on into the cemetery and listened to the deep notes of the organ. The leaden sky was reflected in the dim waters of the Rinse. Nature appeared to be attuning itself to the melancholy hour. I leant against the wall beneath the cypress tree and my heart was heavy within me. Not a word of scandal!...How blessed is the rain which falls, and the wind which blows the yellowing leaves away and time which purifies the brown hills against the coming of another spring, another cycle of birth and life and death again. In the mausoleums of history, you may read the records of great men inscribed in deathless marble. Loaded with honours and dignity they go to their rest "without a breath of scandal." Their lives are still to be read like an open book. The purity of their domestic state, the love of their children, the cleanliness, and honour, and chastity of their actions. And yet—was there ever a garden, however fair, where the weeds did not grow?...

I remember when he first came to St. Cyr-en-Bois, the young notary, with a large brass plate in the little street off the market-place. His coming attracted little attention. He was already married to his tall, graceful wife, and they had two young babies. The peasants and tradespeople of our province have no great love for lawyers. They fear them and avoid them as much as possible. They admired the erect figure of Monsieur Curvellier, his charm of manner, his classic distinguished features with the penetrating eyes. But perhaps his whole bearing savoured too much of the actor. It was foreign to them. They preferred snuffly old Boyson, who robbed them but did it with a certain amount of bluntness which they mistook for candour. It was the skill with which he handled the case of the widow La Roche against the depredations of an overbearing landlord that first drew public attention to him. And then after that a remarkable fact was discovered concerning him. He had a genius for forgetting to send in an account to a poor client.

I was one of the first people to make his acquaintance, for the library was almost the first place he visited, and he remained an indefatigable patron till the end of his days. I was immediately impressed by the restless energy of the man. He absorbed books as greedily as a cocotte will absorb scandal or petits-fours. He appeared to have read everything and yet to thirst for more. He was particularly interested in science and metaphysics, but he did not despise history, or fiction, even the work of modern writers.

"I want to know everything, Monsieur Barzac," he said to me one day. "Everything there is to know, and then I want to co-ordinate it."

He invited me to his house and we became great friends. The ménage of Monsieur and Madame Curvellier was a model of what a home should be.

Madame Curvellier was a charming hostess, devoted to her husband and the two children. The house was furnished in the best of taste. I often dined there, and afterwards we would sit talking till a late hour upon the evolution of literature, the wonders of life, the mysteries of science, when Madame Curvellier would go and place her arms around his shoulders and say:

"Now, my dear..."

I knew the sign and I would jump up and say:

"A thousand pardons! I am keeping you up."

And Madame would smile at me and say:

"It is a great delight to have you, Monsieur Barzac, but you spoil my husband. You are bad men, both of you. These late hours!"

And Monsieur Curvellier would pat her hand and say:

"Tyrant! One must talk. Life is to be talked about!"

And she would reply:

"It is more important to live than to talk about life."

Then we would all laugh, and I would seek my hat.

She was a pretty woman with chestnut hair and dark reflective eyes. Her adoration of Pierre was an experience merely to have observed. She understood him profoundly. She studied his every little move, and wish and fancy. She gave him everything which she thought right for him to have, but she did not spoil him. I was conscious of her ever managing him, like a mother with a clever child.

One day when we were alone she said to me:

"Pierre is a genius. It is very difficult. A genius can never stand alone. It has to be supported."

I did not understand her at the time, but in after years I often thought over this remark. All the "difficulties" of Pierre Curvellier were hidden from the world. They were packed around with cotton-wool by his wife. He adored her, but he had no idea how he relied upon her.

That he was a genius was a fact that was not proclaimed for many years. His zeal for social progress soon inveigled him into politics. At the age of thirty-three, when his son and daughter were aged respectively eleven and ten, he was elected as a member of the Senate for our department. The family left for Paris, where they remained for nine years, in the meantime paying constant visits to St. Cyr-en-Bois. Political life worried Monsieur Curvellier considerably. He fought hard for his ideals, but he was not happy. Whenever he came to Si. Cyr-en-Bois he always visited me. His eyes sparkled when he beheld the covers of the old volumes.

"Lucky fellow! Lucky fellow!" he would mutter. "I am becoming embittered." He had little time for literature or scientific research, but some essays on various ethical and scientific subjects were already attracting attention.

One evening he arrived unexpectedly from Paris and came straight to my house. His face was pale and drawn, but his eyes were shining with a new excitement.

"It is finished," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"I have resigned. It has taken me nine years, old friend, to discover that I am not fitted for a political life. Possibly...it has not all been wasted. I have done what I could."

I pressed his hand. "They spike of you as the coming man. There is no office you might not have filled."

"I know. I know. But I am tired of them. It is all machinery and corruption. One does not get down to essentials. One tinkers and potters. The people one is most anxious to help are the people who understand one least. There is an eternal impasse of misunderstanding. But now..."

"Now, what are your plans, Monsieur Curvellier?"

He was very agitated, almost mysterious.

"My wife and daughter and I are coming back to St. Cyr-en-Bois. My son is remaining in Paris to study architecture. I shall resume my practice to a limited extent. And then I have other ambitions."

Suddenly taking me by the shoulders he continued:

"This is a secret just between ourselves, Monsieur Barzac. I have the ambition to write a complete history and analysis of philosophy. And I do not wish the world to know. I shall do it in secret. And I shall crave your help and encouragement."

I naturally expressed my keen anxiety to assist in this noble project, and thanked him profusely for his confidence and friendly trust.

It was then that the wise man became established at St. Cyr-en-Bois. It was for me one of the happiest periods of my life. During the ensuing five years the character of Monsieur Curvellier seemed to reach its apotheosis. His finely modelled face, marked by years of struggle and spiritual turmoil, assumed a placid, almost saintly, mien. His hair was turning grey, but his figure was still very erect. His eyes were the eyes of a dreamer, a seer. But when addressed, they lighted up with quick sympathy. It was at this time that the peasants first began to call him: "The wise man of St. Cyr-en-Bois." They worshipped him. Every important dispute was submitted to his decision. His word was never doubted, his opinion never disputed.

He found time to help the poorest of them. With their instincts of reverence and their ready faith in superstitions, they began to attribute to him almost divine powers. No man in the province had such power over them.

And Madame Curvellier still watched him, and managed him, and mothered him. Proud of his genius, but not blinded by it. Proud of his character, but never relaxing her gentle control. Their pretty daughter Louise married the son of an Italian diplomatist and went to live in Milan, and so Monsieur and Madame Curvellier were alone, except for occasional visits of their son or daughter. Madame Curvellier interested herself on various committees of charitable institutions, assisted her husband in some of his work, kept house for him, and unostentatiously shaped the course of his life.

The great work on the evolution of philosophy proceeded apace. In three years' time he had completed two long volumes. It was to be a five-volume work with an exhaustive index. He made an arrangement with me that for certain hours in the afternoon he worked in my house. I set apart a room for him specially for this purpose. The arrangement had many advantages. For one thing, he was never interrupted there by clients. It was a kind of hiding place. The clerks in his office were instructed to say that they did not know where Monsieur Curvellier was. In addition to that, mine was a very quiet house just outside the town, in a secluded dell, and the room I lent him was one that had been built on by a former client and used as a laboratory. It had a separate entrance through a small vegetable garden. I gave Monsieur Curvellier a latch-key so that he was quite free to come and go whenever he wished. Madame Curvellier approved of this scheme, and instructions were given that when occupying this sanctum, consecrated to so noble a purpose, under no circumstances was he to be disturbed.

Occasionally he invited me in to discuss some point of reference, and when he did I always glowed with pride to observe the steadily-growing pile of manuscript, and to think that my humble abode should be the workshop of what might prove to be an epoch-making composition.

The whole thing worked most satisfactorily. Those were halcyon days. Love and community of interest, charming friendships, the growing fame of our "wise man," pleasant social diversions, glorious nights of talk, the eternal beauty of our Brittany landscapes, occasional new friends to stimulate our mental outlook, and always life going on and on, growing, improving, leading to finer ends...

Summers and winters passed almost imperceptibly. And then one summer there happened what I should have imagined to be an almost unbelievable episode. It shook all the foundations of my belief. It threatened to destroy the delicate fabric of happiness of a whole community of people. It was unreasonable, improbable, terrifying, like an inexplicable cyclone on a cloudless day in summer.

A quarter of a mile from my house on the main road to St. Cyr-en-Bois was an obscure café called the Cafe à la Colonne de Bronze. Occasionally on a summer's evening I and some of my friends would take a glass of syrup and seltzer or a cup of coffee, and sit and enjoy the sunset over the Rinse. It happened that summer that the café changed hands and was occupied by a Monsieur and Madame Bonzard, and their daughter Pauline. For my part I was disappointed at this change, for I had always liked old Poiret, who owned the place before and who had died after a seizure, and I did not like these Bonzards at all. They were a greedy, quarrelsome couple, and the daughter was a vain, frivolous, consciously pretty little coquette. She had masses of fair hair, and a furtive, supplicating feline manner. She was one of those women, not uncommon in our big cities, who always seem to carry on their persons the aroma of a possible romance. She spoke very little, but her deep grey eyes were ever watchful, as though you or I might possess the key to unlock the gates of some mysterious paradise for which she yearned. She was very appealing. I detested her.

I ask you then to conceive of my surprise when one night, returning home from the library, I found Monsieur Curvellier and Pauline Bonzard sitting facing each other at one of the little tables overlooking the river. The actual event might not in itself have been very surprising—the Wise Man of St. Cyr-en-Bois talked to everyone—but there was just something, a certain attitude of interest and absorption which arrested my attention. I joined Monsieur Curvellier and the girl arose and went inside. He greeted me in the usually friendly manner, but there was something a little distracted and self-conscious about it. I naturally made no comment and shortly afterwards we arose and went on to my house, talking about the book.

I dismissed the incident from my mind, but a week later I found them there again at a table inside. Even then I did not attach much importance to the occurrence. My friend was now forty-seven, grey-haired, married to a woman he adored, the father of two charming children, a man of unique reputation for honour and integrity, incapable of an evil thought.

It must have been another coincidence when I beheld him—I believe it was, but I could not swear to it—strolling with a girl who looked like Pauline Bonzard in a lane near my house an hour after sun-fall.

It was indeed not till two months later—the end of July—that my suspicions could no longer remain dormant. I had thrust them back again and again. I simply would not listen to their ugly voice. But one evening coming home a little earlier than usual, I had cone into my garden to smoke a pipe before dinner. I strolled about idly examining my roses and calceo-larias, and listening to the pleasant drone of bees. When I reached the edge of the vegetable garden I heard the sudden click of the little gate connecting the laboratory with the garden. I looked over the hedge. A figure came stealthily from beneath the porch and elided down the path into the road. It was Pauline Bonzard.

Then suddenly I felt my heart beating rapidly. It was unthinkable. Pierre! what possible interests could he and this girl have in common? I refused to believe that there could be anything in the nature of an intrigue. The girl must be in trouble of some sort and Pierre was helping her. I waited till she was well out of sight, then I walked round and tapped on the laboratory door. After a brief interval a voice said: "Come in." When I entered the room I could no longer persuade myself that the affair was entirely insignificant. My old friend blushed and looked confused like a school-boy caught stealing apples. He was feverishly spreading out his manuscript on the table. He glanced at me and at once became boisterously affable. What was I to do? Should I show him that I had observed the visit? With anyone else I might have resented this abuse of my hospitality, but with Pierre Curvellier the case was different. As Madame said—he was a genius. My dearest friend, destined perhaps to be one of the greatest men in France. My mission obviously was to try and protect him. Madame Curvellier was right. Genius was unable to look after itself. I said nothing, but I'm afraid by my confusion I showed that I knew. Perhaps, after all, it was the best way. We sat and chatted for a little while about the events of the day, and then I left him.

That night I gave the matter mature consideration. I'm afraid my conclusions were entirely Pagan. My friends, although my life has been spent among books, I try to persuade myself that I am a man of the world. We all know that these things go on. Let us be honest. I decided that there was no great harm in Monsieur Curvellier's little love affair, provided it did not become too serious, that it did not compromise either of the parties, that it was kept quite secret. Indeed the idea intrigued me a little, that so saintly and intellectual a man should succumb to the wiles of a worthless little minx.

"In a couple of weeks it will be all over," I thought to myself.

But in a month's time it was not all over, and the case began to alarm me. I feared these Bonzards who would not hesitate to cause a scandal if it served their purpose. The couple were frequently together, and my housekeeper informed me that she had seen the girl go into the laboratory nearly every afternoon and stay several hours. I tried to allay her suspicions by remarking that I believed she was doing some work for Monsieur Curvellier, though what the nature of the work might be I had not sufficient imagination to suggest. Moreover, at this time the character of Monsieur Curvellier was undergoing a change. He appeared restless and distraught. In the occasions when I went to dine with him and his wife, he assumed an attitude of jovial good-fellowship which did not seem real. It was overdone. And then he would have sudden periods of abstraction when he hardly seemed conscious of our presence. I observed Madame Curvellier watching him closely, but her face gave no impression of doubt or suspicion.

One day I decided on a very bold step. I went one morning and visited Pauline. I asked her for a few moments' discussion of an important matter alone. She looked a little apprehensive, but she walked out into the road with me. When we were out of sight of the inn, I said:

"My dear girl, I want to be quite frank with you. Monsieur Curvellier is an old friend of mine. It is not for me to criticize the actions of either him or you. I only want to implore you for both your sakes to be circumspect. Do you not think that the time has come when this friendship might end without dishonour or scandal?"

She turned her languorous eyes to mine, and her bosom heaved. Then she said in a breathless whisper: "I love him."

"The devil you do!" I thought, and I was completely nonplussed. I did not like it at all. This catlike little creature looked tenacious. She would take a lot of disengaging from her victim if once she had her claws in. I offered her a considerable sum of money to leave the town and she refused. I could do nothing with her at all.

My worst suspicions were now confirmed. There was nothing left but to tackle Monsieur Curvellier himself. It was a task I did not relish. I let the weeks drift by hoping against hope that the affair would end. I knew that he knew that I knew what was going on. We never once referred to Pauline, but we became a little self-conscious in each other's society. On occasions he avoided me. It could not go on.

At last one evening I could stand it no longer. The girl had been again. It was late in the evening. Hardly had she disappeared down the road before I burst into his room.

"Pierre," I exclaimed, "I implore you, by all that you hold sacred, by our old friendship, let this thing cease."

He gave me a quick pleading look, then suddenly he sat down and buried his face in his hands. His voice came hoarsely through a bosom struggling to choke down the sobs.

"I love her! I live her."

"The devil you do!" I thought.

This was appalling. That Pauline should love Monsieur Curvellier was quite conceivable. But that Monsieur Curvellier should love Pauline was a midsummer madness. What could they have in common? What could he find to talk to her about? Where was that strength of character which had raised him where he was, and made his name a byword for honour and integrity in the town? I was very distressed. I sat down and gazed at him, and muttered helplessly:

"I cannot believe it, Pierre. I cannot believe it."

He stood and paced the room, throwing at me glances of mingled anger and contrition. He was obviously nonplussed how to act. I pleaded with him once more, but he suddenly turned on me and said:

"I beg you leave me to think this out alone."

I shrugged my shoulders and left him.

I hoped the next day to have a visit from him and a frank acknowledgment of his unseemly lapse, but to my astonishment he acted in just the opposite way. He wrote me a curt note. He thanked me for my kindness in having lent him the laboratory for so long, but under the circumstances he did not feel that he could abuse my hospitality any longer. He was taking a room to work in The Café à la Colonne de Bronze!

"He is mad!" I thought. "Something has affected the poor man's brain! He has been working too hard. It is this book 'The Evolution of Philosophy!' Philosophy! Bah! What a grim travesty! The Wise Man of St. Cyr-en-Bois!...a fool! An utter fool!"

I could not leave him like this. I could not let the matter drift. I called on Madame Curvellier. She still did not apparently suspect anything. She was quite calm and placid. She invited me to dinner the following night and I accepted. Everything appeared to be quite normal. Monsieur Curvellier was a little late, but he was quite friendly to me. He apologized for his lateness and joked, and talked as brilliantly as usual.

It was a complete revelation to me. I could hardly speak, but I watched and listened. I saw my friends in a new light. The highbrow of Monsieur Curvellier, the intellectual cast of countenance, the brilliant eyes, the superb manner. I could find nothing lacking, not even weakness, and yet—he had not appeared quite like that the day before. When I again asked myself, "Where was the strength of character which had raised him to where he was?" my eye involuntarily turned in the direction of the calm woman facing me. She was not perhaps a brilliantly, clever woman, but she possessed something which Monsieur Curvellier lacked. She knew it, and he didn't know it.

I cannot tell you how I suffered during the ensuing month. I felt that I was losing my friend, that any minute a terrible catastrophe might envelop us all, that all joy in life was oozing away. I could not work or think coherently. I knew that the wretched business was still going on, and I could do nothing to stop it. The affair reached its climax on the last day of September.

On the twenty-third of the month Pauline suddenly left St. Cir-en-Bois, and my spirits arose accordingly. I was very much on the watch, however, for signs and portents. I could not discover where she had gone. I called at the Bonzards and Madame Bonzard said that her daughter had gone to stay with some cousins, she believed. She was not very interested or communicative. Nevertheless I persisted in my campaign of watchfulness. Every evening I called at the Bonzards and took a glass of groseille or vermouth, and I continued my importunate advances to Monsieur Curvellicr.

One evening I was alone in the café. Monsieur Bonzard was out in the yard at the back chopping wood; Madame Bonzard was not to be seen. The postman came and dumped a few letters down on the bar, and singing out "Post!" he went away. A sudden uncontrollable temptation came over me. I tiptoed to the bar and glanced at the letters. One was addressed to Monsieur Curvellier and was in Pauline's handwriting. Almost without thinking, I slipped the letter into my pocket. I remained on a decent length of time, and then hurried home.

My next operation was not a difficult one. I went into the deserted laboratory and boiled a kettle of water. I opened the letter quite easily. It was brief and fateful. It was written from an address at Dinan, and ran as follows:

"Everything is arranged. I shall expect you here on the thirtieth, but will write again. Till then, all my love, your own P."

I could hardly get my breath when I read this. On thinking it over, I decided that there was no point in my destroying the letter. If he did not answer she would be sure to write again. I could not intercept all their correspondence, but I meant to have one more desperate interview with Monsieur Curvellier. I resealed the letter, and put it back in the post. On the evening of the twenty-eighth I again dined with the Curvelliers. There was still no sign of the impending disruption. Madame Curvellier informed me that her husband was going to Paris on the thirtieth on business, and would be away three weeks.

I thought to myself:

"Oh, is he! Poor dear lady, if you only knew!"

On the evening of the twenty-ninth I had one of the most trying experiences of my life. I tracked Monsieur Curvellier to the room at the Colonne de Bronze, where he kept his manuscripts and a few other odds and ends. I went straight in and seized him by the shoulder.

"Pierre," I said, "I know your plans. To-morrow you mean to run away to that girl."

For a moment he appeared startled, then suddenly his face changed. It bore an expression I had never seen on it before. It was weak, and desperate, and angry.

"What the devil business is it of yours?" he cried.

"My dear old friend," I said, "I am not thinking of myself, I assure you. I am thinking of you and of Madame, your wife, and of your son and daughter, and your good name."

He threw up his arms and snapped:

"Oh, you!...you can't understand. Leave me, for Heaven's sake."

"Pierre," I answered, as calmly as I could, "I have known you now for fifteen years. I had hoped to continue our friendship till the end of our days. But even that I would sacrifice for the sake of your wife. Permit me to picture to you—she is now a middle-aged woman. She has been loyal and true to you. She loves you as no woman has ever loved a man before. She will be getting old. Think! think of the years approaching. She will sit there alone, her hair turning white, her children scattered, her heart broken. She will have nothing...nothing but memories, desolation, despair. And all this for a mad infatuation for a worthless chit."

"I will not allow you to speak of Mademoiselle Bonzard in that way. Get out of the room!"

"But I will speak and you know that I speak the truth. You, who are spoken of as the Wise Man of St. Cyr, with this mighty work on philosophy to come from your hands. How will France be able to reconcile the work with the man?"

I do not know whether I could have adopted a more reasonable attitude, but in any case I could hardly have adopted one that had more disastrous results. A sudden fury seemed to seize my friend. He dashed across the room and picked up a whole armful of the manuscript, and rushing to the stove he tried to squeeze the lot in.

"Philosophy!" he cried. "Don't talk to me of philosophy. There's no such thing. We are all fools."

I screamed when I saw what he was doing and dashed forward and gripped his arm. But it was too late, for a great part of the work. We struggled by the stove. I managed to save a fair portion from being completely burnt, the burning leaves were fluttering about the room, and I was seizing what I could and stamping out the fire. Monsieur Curvellier uttered a low hysterical laugh and left me to do the best I could. The second volume was completely destroyed and half the third. The Wise Man of St. Cyr was on his way to the little flame in Dinan.

On the evening of the thirtieth I was in a perfect fever. I could not keep still. My mind was constantly occupied with the vision of that poor woman sitting by her lonely fireside, innocently dreaming of that perfect man who had betrayed her. At half-past eight I waked into the town and visited her.

She was sitting alone in her little salon.

"Good evening, Monsieur Barzac," she said. "It is kind of you to pay me a little visit."

Her voice was steady, but her face looked strained and wistful. We exchanged little banalities, and kept watching each other. After a time I gradually experienced one of those curious telepathic communications to which we are all subject at times, especially when under great stress. I knew that she knew. And she knew that I knew. We hovered round the brink of the dismal subject, and then—I must have been very unstrung by my experiences of the last few days—I gave an involuntary sob, and buried my face in my hands.

She behaved with charming simplicity. She arose and touched me gently on the shoulder.

"I know, I know," she said, for all the world as though I was the one to be commiserated with.

I pressed her hand and said:

"What can we do? What can we do?"

"There is nothing to be done," she answered.

Then this remarkable woman sat down and took up some knitting.

"Monsieur Barzac," she said, "you must not distress yourself. He will come back."

"How do you know?"

"He always does!"

I stared at her as though I could not believe my senses. He always does! What was this grim intimatun lying at the back of so simple a phrase?

I dared not ask. I sat there watching her as though she were something entirely novel, which I had never seen before. In her gentle voice she continued:

"I could almost tell you to the day when he will come back!"

"When?"

"When he changes his pants!"

"Good God!" I thought, "the shock has turned her brain!"

She looked at me understandingly, and a pathetic smile played round her mouth.

"Monsieur Barzac," she said, "you have been so good a friend to us, so loyal to my husband, I do not feel any compunction in telling you a little episode in our past life. You are one of those men, I think, that if you see a fine horse racing along the road you do not think any the less of it because its body is splashed with mud."

I nodded anxiously and waited for her to continue.

"We spent our honeymoon in the Ardennes. We camped out among the trees. It was surely the happiest, most beautiful honeymoon ever spent. It was spring and the woods were carpeted with hyacinths and bluebells. We had very little luggage. We were right away from the world. On the third day when Monsieur Curvellier went to change his pants he found that one leg had been cut off just below the knee. I never quite knew how this had come about. Whether it was a practical joke played on him by one of his friends, or whether someone in an emergency had cut the leg off to make a bandage, I cannot say. As you may imagine, the reason of it did not greatly disturb us. My husband said it was uncomfortable, but a great joke. We have laughed over the incident all our lives. Very trivial, you may think, but one of those little incidents which make a bond. For all that week, the most gloriously happy week of our lives, he went about with the leg of one pant half a metre shorter than the other. So absurd!...oh, so absurd!"

The humour of it still seemed to affect Madame Curvellier. She buried her face in her hands and laughed weakly.

"But pray, Madame Curvellier, how do you think his little incident will affect your husband's return in this case?"

She dabbed her eyes and looked up at me.

"I packed his bag the other day. I knew, oh yes, I knew quite well where he was going, believe me. I have known everything all along. Only...when Monsieur Curvellier goes to change his pants he will find one leg cut away just below the knee. And then, Monsieur Barzac, he will come back."

I sat there stupefied. Monsieur Curvellier owed everything to this woman. At last I haltingly remarked:

"Is it possible? Do I understand you to say—should I be taking too great an advantage of the confidence you have honoured me with, if I ask...there have been, you say...other episodes?"

Madame Curvelier looked at me squarely. Her proud face did not flinch.

"Monsieur Barzac," she said, "experience has taught me that life is neither all joy nor all sorrow, neither all laughter nor all tears, neither all purity nor all vice; but a commingling of these things. And through them we grope our way to God...My husband is a genius."

Her eyes seemed to challenge me; then she shrugged her shoulders with an air of finality. I pressed her hand; my heart was too full for words.

Five days later, Monsieur Curvellier returned from "Paris," and soon after the Bonzards left the town fir good. We resumed our normal life. The day after he returned he called upon me at the library. He held out both hands to me.

"Ah, old friend," he said. "You were going to get me that volume of Descartes." As he went down the library steps, I watched his firm elastic step, the poise of his saintly head, the winning smile he turned upon the old beggar as he handed him a franc.

* * *

"Kyrie eleison."

"Christe eleison."

"Kyrie eleison."

Was it all a dream? The solemn chanting, the pomp and ceremony, the utter stillness, the catafalque piled with all the symbols of honour and respect? The peasants moving in awed reverence amidst the trophies and the garlands of an honoured life? My eye, fascinated by this heaped tribute, in which bays and laurels abound with the ribbons of the Académie, the Sorbonne, and other learned Societies, Immortelles and wreaths from every corner of France? A bird fluttering screaming above the laurel wreaths, as though in search of berries, then swinging in a half-circle and disappearing, beyond the wall? Is it all a dream? The ice-cold voice of Abbé Foulard cuts the air with its stern note of reality:

"Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda: Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra: Dum veneris judicare sacculum per ignem."

In that tremendous day! In the end we are all humble. However great and honourable we may be, we crave for mercy. We fear this judgment of the world by fire. I, too...have I not concealed the vicious actions of my heart? Have I always been honourable in word and thought to my beloved but unbalanced friend?

She comes forward, apart from the rest, her pale face perfectly controlled, this woman that I have loved in secret for thirty years or more. With an inaudible murmur, she drops upon the grave a small bunch of pure white flowers.

"Kyrie eleison."

"Christe eleison."

"Kyrie eleison."

I turn my back and gaze across the wall, to where a village slumbers in the autumn mist, and the steel-grey waters of the Rinse go hurrying towards the open sea.


2. The Brothers

In the twilight of his mind there stirred the dim realization of pain. He could not account for this nor for his lack of desire to thrust the pain back. It was moreover mellowed by the alluring embraces of an enveloping darkness, a darkness which he idly desired to pierce, and yet which soothed him with its caliginous touch. Some subconscious voice, too, kept repeating that it was ridiculous, that he really had control, that the darkness was due to the fact that it was night, and that he was in his own bed. In the room across the passage his mother was sleeping peacefully. And yet the pain, which he could not account for, seemed to press him down and to rack his lower limbs. There was a soothing interval of utter darkness and forgetfulness, and then the little waves of febrile consciousness began to lap the shores of distant dreams, and visions of half-forgotten episodes became clear and pregnant.

He remembered standing by the French window in their own dining-room, his mother's dining-room, rapping his knuckles gently on the panes. Beneath the window was the circular bed of hollyhocks just beginning to flower, and below the terrace the great avenue of elms nodding lazily in the sun. He could hear the coffee-urn on its brass tripod humming comfortably behind him while lie waited for his mother to come down to breakfast. He was alone, and the newspaper in his hand was shaking. War! He could not grasp the significance of the mad news that lay trembling on the sheets. His mother entered the room, and as he hurried across to kiss her he noted the pallor of her cheeks.

They sat down, and she poured him out his coffee as she had done ever since he could remember. Then, fixing her dark eyes on his and toying restlessly with the beads upon her breast, she said:

"It's true, then, Robin?"

He nodded, and his eyes wandered to the disfiguring newspaper. He felt as though he were in some way responsible for the intrusion of the world calamity into the sanctity of his mother's life; he muttered:

"It's a dreadful business, mother."

His gaze wandered again out of the window between the row of elms. Geddes, the steward, was walking briskly, followed by two collies. Beyond the slope was a hay-cart lumbering slowly in the direction of the farm. "Parsons is rather late with the clover," he thought. He felt a desire to look at things in little bits; the large things seemed overpowering, insupportable. Above all, his mother must not suffer. It was dreadful that any one should suffer, but most of all his mother. He must devote himself to protecting her against the waves of foreboding that were already evident on her face. But what could he say? He knew what was uppermost in her mind—Giles! He had no illusions. He knew that his mother adored his elder brother more passionately than she did himself. It was only natural. He too adored Giles. Everybody did. Giles was his hero, his god. Ever since he could remember, Giles had epitomized to him everything splendid, brave, and chivalrous. He was so glorious to look at, so strong, so manly. The vision of that morning merged into other visions of the sun-lit hours with Giles—his pride when quite a little boy if Giles would play with him; his pride when he saw Giles in flannels, going in to bat at cricket; the terror in his heart when one day he saw Giles thrown from a horse, and then the passionate tears of love and thankfulness when he saw him rise and run laughing after the beast. He remembered that when Giles went away to school his mother found him crying, and told him he must not be sentimental. But he could not help it. He used to visualize the daily life of Giles and write to him long letters which his brother seldom answered. Of course he did not expect Giles to answer; he would have no time. He was one of the most popular boys at school and a champion at every sport.

Then the vision of that morning when the newspaper brought its disturbing news vanished with the memory of his mother standing by his side, her arm round his waist, as they gazed together across a field of nodding corn...

Troubled visions, then, of Giles returning post-haste from Oxford, of himself in the village talking to every one he met about "the dreadful business," speaking to the people on the farm, and to old Joe Walters, the wheelwright, whose voice he could remember saying:

"Ay, tha' woan't tak' thee, Master Robin."

He remembered talking to Mr. Meads at the general shop, and to the Reverend Quirk, whose precious voice he could almost hear declaiming:

"I presume your brother will apply for a commission."

He had wandered then up on to the downs and tried to think about "the dreadful business" in a detached way, but it made him tremble. He listened to the bees droning on the heather, and saw the smoke from the hamlet over by Wodehurst trailing peacefully to the sky. "The dreadful business" seemed incredible.

It was some days later that he met his friend Jerry Lawson wandering up there, with a terrier at his heels. Lawson was a sculptor, a queer chap, whom most people thought a fanatic. Jerry blazed down on him:

"This is hell, Robin. Hell let loose. It could have been avoided. It's a trade war. At the back of it all is business, business, business. And millions of boys will be sacrificed for commercial purposes. Our policy is just as much at fault as—theirs. Look what we did at—"

For an hour he listened to the diatribe of Lawson, tremulously silent. He had nothing to reply. He detested politics and the subtleties of diplomacy. He had left school early owing to an illness which had affected his heart. He had spent his life upon these downs and among his books. He could not adjust the gentle impulses of his being to the violent demands of that foreboding hour. When Lawson had departed, he had sat there a long time. Was Lawson right?

He wandered home, determining that he would read more history, more political economy; he would get to the root of "this dreadful business."

He wanted to talk to Giles, to find out what he really thought, but the radiant god seemed unapproachable; or rode roughshod over the metaphysical doubts of his brother, and laughed. Giles had no misgivings. His conscience was dynamically secure. Besides, there was "the mater."

"When I go, Rob, you must do all you can to buck the mater up." He had looked so splendid when he said that, with his keen, strong face, alert and vibrant, Robin had not had it in his heart to answer. And then had come lonely days, reading news books and occasionally talking with Lawson. When Giles went off to his training he spent more time with his mother, but they did not discuss the dreadful thing which had come into their lives. His mother became restlessly busy, making strange garments, knitting, attending violently to the demands of the household. Sometimes in the evening he would read to her, and they would sit trying to hide from each other the sound of the rain pattering on the leaves outside. He had not dared talk to her of the misgivings in his heart or of his arguments with Lawson...

And then a vision came of a certain day in October. The wind was blowing the rain in fitful gusts from the sea. He was in a sullen, perverse mood. Watching his mother's face that morning, a sudden fact concerning her had come home to him. It had aged, aged during those three months, and the gray hair on that distinguished head had turned almost white. He felt within him a surging conflict of opposing forces. The hour of climacteric had arrived. He must see it once and for all clearly and unalterably. He had put on his mackintosh then and gone out into the rain. He walked up to the long wall by Gray's farm, where on a fine day he could see the sea; but not to-day, it was too wet and misty; but he could be conscious of it, and feel its breath beating on his temples.

He stood there, then, for several hours, under the protection of the wall, listening to the wind and to the gulls who went shrieking before it. He could not remember where he had wandered to after that, except that for some time he was leaning on a rock, watching the waves crashing over the point at Youlton Bay. And then in the evening he had written to Lawson.

"I want to see this thing in its biggest, broadest sense, dear Terry."

He knew he had commenced the letter in this way, for it was a phrase he had repeated to himself at intervals.

"Like you, I hate war and the thought of war. But, good heaven! need I say that? Every one must hate war, I suppose. I agree with you that human life is sacred...But would it be sacred if it stood still?—if it were stagnant?—if it were just a mass affair? It is only sacred because it is an expression of spiritual evolution. It must change, go on, lead somewhere...

"Don't you think that we on this island have as great a right to fight for what we represent as any other nation? With all our faults and poses and hypocrisies, haven't we subscribed something to the commonwealth of humanity?—something of honor, and justice, and equity? I don't believe you will deny all this. But even if you did, and even if I agreed with you, I still should not be convinced that it was not right to fight. As I walked up by the chalk-pit near Gueldstone Head, and saw the stone-gray cottages at Lulton nestling in the hollow of the downs, and smelt the dear salt dampness of it all, and felt the lovely tenderness of the evening light, I thought of Giles and what he represents, and of my mother, and what she represents, and of all the people I know and love with all their faults, and I made up my mind that I would fight for it in any case, in the same way that I would fight for a woman I loved, even if I knew she were a harlot..."

Lying there in his bed, these ebullient thoughts reacted on him. Drowsiness stole over his limbs, and he felt his heart vibrating oddly. There seemed to be a sound of drums, beating a tattoo, of a train rumbling along an embankment. And in fancy he was on his way to London again, with the memory of his mother's eyes as she had said:

"Come back safely, Robin boy."

The memory of that day was terrifying indeed. He was wandering about a vast building near Whitehall, tremulously asking questions, wretchedly conscious that people looked at him and laughed. And then that long queue of waiting men! Some were so dirty, so obscene, and he felt that most of them were sniggering at him. A sergeant spoke sharply, and he shuddered and spilt some ink on one of the many forms he had to fill up. Every one seemed rough and violent. After many hours of waiting he was shown into another room and told to strip. He sat on a form with a row of other men, feeling incredibly naked and very much ashamed. The window was open and his teeth chattered with the cold and the nervous tension of the desperate experience. A doctor spoke kindly to him, and an old major at a table asked him one or two questions. He was dismissed and waited interminably in another room. At last an orderly entered and called his name among some others, and handed him a card. He was rejected.

He returned to Wodehurst that evening shivering and in a mood of melancholy dejection. He was an outcast among his fellows, a being with a great instinct towards expression, but without the power to back it up. The whole thing appeared so utterly unlieroic, almost sordid. He wondered about Giles. If presenting oneself at a recruiting office was such a terrifying ordeal, what must the actual life of a soldier be? Of course Giles was different, but—the monotony, the cheerlessness of barrack life! And then the worse things beyond.

After that he would devour the papers and tramp feverishly on the downs; he tried to obtain work at a munition factory, and was refused; made himself ill sewing bandages and doing chaotic odd jobs. And all the time he thought of Giles, Giles, Giles. What Giles was doing, how Giles was looking, whether he was un-happy, and whether they spoke to him brusquely, like the sergeant had to himself in London.

Then came the vision of the day when Giles came and bade farewell, on his way to France—a terrible day. He could not bring himself to look into his mother's eyes. He felt that if he did so he would be a trespasser peering into the forbidden sanctuary of a holy place. He hovered around her and murmured little banalities about Giles's kit, the train he was to catch, the parcel he was to remember to pick up in London. When it came to parting time, he left those two alone and fled out to the trap that was to take his brother to the station. He had waited there till Giles came, running and laughing and waving his hand. He drove with him to the station, and dared not look back to see his mother standing by the window. They were silent till the trap had passed a mile beyond the village; then Giles had laughed, and talked, and rallied him on his gloomy face.

"I'll soon be back, old man. Buck the mater up, won't you? Whoa, Tommy, what are you shying at?...By jove! won't it be grand on the sea to-night!"

Oh, Giles! Giles! was there ever any one so splendid, so radiant, so uncrushable? His heart went out to his brother at that moment, and he could not answer.

So closely were his own sympathies interwoven with the feelings of his brother that he hardly noticed the moment of actual separation on the platform. His heart was with Giles all the way up to London, then in the train again, and upon the sea with him that night.

In his imagination, quickened by a close study of all the literature he could get hold of on the actual conditions out there, he followed his brother through every phase of his new life. He was with him at the base, in rest camps, and in dug-outs, and more especially was he with him in those zig-zagging trenches smelling of dampness and decay. On dark nights he would hear the scuttle of rats dashing through the wet holes. He would hear the shriek of shells, and the tearing and ripping of the earth. He would start up and try to make his way through the slime of a battered trench which always seemed to be crumbling, crumbling. In his nostrils would hang the penetrating smell of gases that had the quality of imparting terror. So vivid were his impressions of these things that he could not detach his own suffering from that of his brother. There were times when he became convinced that either he or Giles was a chimera. One of them did not exist...He seemed to stand for an eternity peering through a slit in a mud wall and gazing at another mud wall, and feeling the penetrating ooze of dying vegetation creeping into his body. Above his head would loom dark poles and barbarous entanglements. It was as though everything had vanished from the world but symbols of fear and cruelty, which rioted insanely against the heavens, as though everything that man had ever learnt had been forgotten and destroyed; and he growled there in the wet earth, flaunting the feral passions of his remote ancestry. And the cold!—the cold was terrible...He remembered a strange thing happening at that time. During some vague respite from the recurring horror of these imaginings, he had, he believed, been walking out through the meadows, when a numbness seemed to creep over his lower limbs. He could not get back. He had lain helpless in a field when George Carter, one of the farm hands, had found him and helped him home. He had been very ill then, and his mother had sent for Doctor Ewing. He could not remember exactly what the doctor said or what treatment he prescribed, or how long he had lain there in a semi-conscious state, but he vividly remembered hearing the doctor say one day: "It's very curious, madam. I was, as you know, out at the Front for some time with the Red Cross, and this boy has a fever quite peculiar to the men at the Front. Has he been out standing in the wet mud?" He could not remember what his mother answered. He wanted to say: "Ho, no, it's not I. It's Giles," but he had not the strength, and afterwards wondered whether it were an illusion.

He knew that many weeks went by, and still they would not let him walk. That was his greatest trouble, for walking helped him. When he could walk, he could sometimes live in a happier world of make-believe, but in bed the epic tragedy unfolded itself in every livid detail, intensely real.

Long periods of time went by, and still he was not allowed to leave his room. His mother would come and sit with him and read him Giles's letters. They were wonderful letters, full of amusing stories of "rags" and tales of splendid feeds obtained under difficult circumstances. Of the conditions that existed so vividly in Robin's mind there was not one word. To read Giles's letters one would imagine that he was away on a holiday with a party of young undergraduates, having the time of their lives. But the letters had no reality to him. He knew. He had seen it all.

Time became an unrecognizable factor. Eaces came and went. His mother was always there, and there appeared another kind face whom he believed to be a nurse; and sometimes Jerry Lawson would come and sit by the bed, and talk to him about the beauties of the quattrocento and other things he had forgotten, things which belonged to a dead world...

Lying there in bed, he could not detach these impressions very clearly, nor determine how long ago they had taken place. There appeared to be an unaccountable shifting of the folds of darkness, a slipping away of vital purposes, and a necessity for focusing upon some immediate development. This necessity seemed, somehow, emphasized by the overpowering pain that had begun to rack his limbs, more especially his right foot. He wanted to call out, but some voice told him that it would be useless. The night was too impenetrable and heavy, his voice would only die away against its inky pall. There was besides a certain soothing tenderness about it, as though it were caressing him and telling him that he must wait in patience, and all would be well. He knew now that he was sleeping in the open, and that would account for the chilling coldness. At the same time it was not exactly the open. There were walls about and jagged profiles, but apparently no roof or distances. The ground was hard like concrete. He must be infinitely patient and pray for the dawn...He began to feel the dawn before he saw it. It came like the caressing sigh of a woman as she wakes and thinks of her lover in some foreign clime. Somewhere at hand a bird was twittering, aware too of the coming miracle. Almost imperceptibly things began to form themselves. He was certainly behind a wall, but there was a door, with the upper part leaning in. A phrase occurred to his mind: "The white arm of dawn is creeping over the door." A lovely passage! He had read it in some Irish book. The angle at the top of the door was like a bent elbow. It was very, very like the white am—of some Irish queen, perhaps, or of the Mother of men—a white arm creeping over the door, and in its whiteness delicately touching the eyelids of the sleeping inmates, whilst a voice in a soft cadence whispered: "Awake! pull back the door, and let me show you the silver splendors of the unborn day."

A heavy dew was falling, and the cold seemed bitter, whilst all around he became aware of the slow unfolding of desolation; except for the leaning door, nothing seemed to take a recognizable shape, everything was jagged and violent in its form and exuded the cloying odors of death. Somewhere faintly he thought he heard the sound of a cornet, bizarre and fantastic, and having no connection with the utter stillness of this place of sorrow.

His eye searched the broken darkness in fugitive pursuit of a solution of the formless void. Quite near him, apparently, was an oblong board which amidst this wilderness of destruction seemed to have escaped untouched. As the dim violet light began to reveal certain definite concrete things, he became aware that on the board were some Roman letters. He looked at them for some time unseeingly. The word written there stamped itself without meaning on his brain. The word was: "FILLES." He repeated it to himself over and over again. The earth seemed to rock again with a sullen, vibrating passion, as though irritated that the work of destruction was not entirely complete. Things already destroyed seemed to be subjected to further transmutation of formlessness. But still the board remained intact, and he fixed his eyes on it. It imbued him with a strange sense of tranquillity. Ftiles! A little word, but it became to him a link to cosmic things. The desire to reason passed, as the ability to suffer passed. Across the mists of time he seemed to hear the laughter of children. He could almost see them pass. There were Jeannette and Marie, with long black pigtails and check frocks, and just behind them, struggling with a heavy satchel, little fair-haired Ba-bette. How they laughed, those children! and yet he could not determine whether their laughter came from the years that had passed or from the years that were to come. But wherever the laughter came from, it seemed the only thing the powers of darkness could not destroy. He lay then for a long time, conscious of a peace greater than any he could have conceived. And the white arm of dawn crept over the door.


The crowd who habitually came down by the afternoon train trickled out of the station and vanished. The master of Wodehurst came limping through the doorway. His face was bronzed and perhaps a little thinner, but his eyes laughed, and his voice rang out to the steward waiting in the dog-cart:

"Hullo! Sam, how are you?"

He was leaning on two sticks, and a porter followed with his trunks.

"Can I help you up, sir?"

"No, it's all right, old man; I can manage."

He pulled himself up and laughed because he hit his knee upon the mudguard.

"It's good to be home, Sam."

"Yes; I expect your mother will be glad, sir," answered Geddes, touching up the horse. "And so will we all, I'm thinking."

They clattered down the road, and the high spirits of the wounded warrior rose. He asked a thousand questions, and insisted on taking the reins before they had gone far. It was dusk when they began to draw near Wodehurst; a sudden silence had fallen on Giles. The steward realized the reason. He coughed uncomfortably. They were passing within a hundred yards of Wodehurst Church. Suddenly he said in his deep burr:

"We were all very sorry, sir, about Master Robin."

The eyes of the soldier softened; he murmured:

"Poor old chap!"

"I feel I ought to tell you, sir. It was a very queer thing. But one day that young Mr. Lawson—you know, the sculptor—about a week after it all happened, he must have got up at daybreak, I should say—nobody saw him do it. He must have gone down there to the churchyard with his tools, and what do you think? He carved something on the stone—on Mr. Robin's stone."

Giles said quickly: "Carved! What?"

"He carved just under the name and date, 'He died for England.'"

"'He died for England!' He carved that on Robin's grave? What did he mean?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Really! What a rum chap he must be!"

"We didn't know what to do about it, sir. I saw it, and I didn't like to tell your mother, and nobody likes to interfere with a tombstone, it seems profanelike. So there it is to this day."

"Thank you, Sam. I'll think about it."

"Have you had much pain with your foot, sir?"

Giles laughed, and flicked the horse.

"Oh, nothing to write home about, Sam. I had a touch of fever, you know. I didn't tell the mater, It was later on that I got this smash of my right foot. It happened at—I've forgotten the name; some damned little village on the Flemish border. I was lucky in a way, the shrapnel missed me. It was falling stonework that billed up my foot. There was a building, a sort of school, I should think. It got blown to smithereens. It was rather a nasty mess-up. I was there for seven hours before they found me—Hullo! I see the mater standing at the gate."

The horse nearly bolted with the violence of Giles's waving arms...

The dinner—all the dishes that Giles specially loved—was finished. With his arm round his mother's waist and a cigar in the corner of his mouth, he led her into the warm comfort of the white-paneled drawing-room.

"You won't mind my smoking in here to-night, mater?"

"My dear boy!"

They sat in silence, watching the red glow of the log fire. Suddenly Giles said:

"I say, mater, do you know an awfully rum thing Geddes told me?"

His mother looked up.

"I think perhaps I know. Do you mean in the cemetery?"

Giles nodded, puffing at his cigar in little nervous inhalations.

"Yes. I knew. I saw it, of course. I've sat and wondered."

"Such a rum thing to do! What do you think we ought to do about it, mater?"

He saw his mother lean forward; the waves of silver hair seemed to enshrine the beautiful lines of her drawn face; her voice came whispering:

"Hadn't we better leave it, Giles?...Perhaps he really did die for England?"

The young man glanced at her quickly. He saw her aged and broken by the war. He thought of his brother...Then he caught sight of his own face in the mirror, lean, youthful, vigorous. The old tag flashed through his mind:

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

He thrust away that emotional expression, and in the manner of his kind stayed silent, rigid, with his back to the fire. And suddenly he said:

"I say, mater, won't you play me something? Chopin, or one of those Russian Johnnies you play so rippingly?"



3. A Good Action

It is undoubtedly true that the majority of us perform the majority of our actions through what are commonly known as mixed motives.

It would certainly have been quite impossible for Mr. Edwin Pothecary to analyze the concrete impulse which eventually prompted him to perform his good action. It may have been a natural revolt from the somewhat petty and cramped punctilio of his daily life; his drab home life, the bickering, wearing, grasping routine of the existence of fish-and-chips dispenser. A man who earns his livelihood by buying fish and potatoes in the cheapest market, and selling them in the Waterloo Hoad cannot afford to indulge his altruistic fancies to any lavish extent. It is true that the business of Mr. Edwin Pothecary was a tolerably successful one—he employed three assistants and a boy named Scales who was not so much an assistant as an encumbrance and wholesale plate-smasher. Mr. Pothecary engaged him because he thought his name seemed appropriate to the fish-trade. In a weak moment he pandered to this sentimental whim, another ingredient in the strange composition which influences us to do this, that, and the other. But it was not by pandering to whims of this nature that Mr. Pothecary had built up this progressive and odoriferous business with its gay shopfront of blue and brown tiles. It was merely a minor lapse. In tbe fish-and-cbip trade one has to be keen, pushful, self-reliant, ambidexterous, a student of human nature, forbearing, far-seeing, imaginative, courageous, something of a controversialist with a streak of fatalism as pronounced as that of a high-priest in a Brahmin temple. It is better, moreover, to have an imperfect nasal organism, and to be religious.

Edwin had all these qualities. Every day he went from Quince Villa at Buffington to London—forty minutes in the train—and back at night. On Sunday he took the wife and three children to the Methodist Chapel at the corner of the street to both morning and evening services. But even this religious observance does not give us a complete solution for the sudden prompting of an idea to do a good action. Edwin had attended chapel for fifty-two years and such an impulse had never occurred to him before. He may possibly have been influenced by some remark of the preacher, or was it that twinge of gout which set him thinking of the unwritten future? Had it anything to do with the Boy-Scout movement? Some one at some time had told him of an underlying idea—that every day in one's life one should do one pure, good and unselfish action.

Perhaps after all it was all due to the gayety of a spring morning. Certain it is that as he swung out of the garden gate on that morning in April something stirred in him. His round puffy face blinked heavenwards. Almond blossoms fluttered in the breeze above the hedgerows. Larks were singing...Suddenly his eye alighted upon the roof of the Peels' hen-house opposite and Mr. Edwin Pothecary scowled. Lord! How he hated those people! The Peels were Pothe-cary's b�?ªtes-noires. Snobs! Pirates! Rotters!

The Peels' villa was at least three times as big as the Pothecarys'. It was, in fact, not a villa at all. It was a "Court"—whatever that was. It was quite detached, with about fourteen rooms in all, a coachhouse, a large garden, and two black sheds containing forty-five fowls, leading an intensive existence. The Pothecarys had five fowls which sometimes did and sometimes didn't supply them with two or three eggs a day, but it was known that the Peels sent at least two hundred and fifty eggs to market every week, besides supplying their own table. Mr. Peel was a successful dealer in quills and bristles. His wife was the daughter of a post office official and they had three stuck up daughters who would have no truck at all with the Pothecarys. You may appreciate then the twinge of venom which marked the face of Edwin as he passed through his front gate and observed the distant roof of the Peels' fowl-house. And still the almond blossoms nodded at him above the hedge. The larks sang...After all, was it fair to hate any one because they were better off than oneself? Strange how these moods obsess one. The soft air caressed Edwin's cheek. Little flecks of cloud scudded gayly into the suburban panorama. Small green shoots were appearing everywhere. One ought not to hate any one at all—of course. It is absurd. So bad for oneself, apart from tbe others. One ought rather to be kind, forgiving, loving all mankind. Was that a lark or a thrush? He knew little about birds. Dish now!...A not entirely unsatisfactory business really the fried fish trade—when things went well. When customers were numerous and not too cantankerous. Quite easy to run, profitable. A boy came singing down the road. The villas clustered together more socially. There was a movement of spring life...

As Edwin turned the corner of the Station Road, the impulse crystallized. One good action. To-day he would perform one good, kind, unselfish, unadvertised action. No one should ever know of it. Just one today. Then perhaps one to-morrow. And so on; in time it might become a habit. That is how one progressed. He took his seat in the crowded third-class smoker and pretended to read his newspaper, but his mind was too actively engaged with the problems of his new resolution. How? When? Where? How does one do a definitely good action? WEat is the best way to go to work? One could, of course, just quietly slip some money into a poor-box if one could be found. But would this be very good and self-sacrificing? Who gets money put in a poor-box? Surely his own family were poor enough, as far as that went. But he couldn't go back home and give his wife a sovereign. It would be advertising his charity, and he would look silly doing it. His business? He might turn up and say to his assistants: "Boys, you shall all have a day's holiday. We'll shut up, aud here's your pay for the day." Advertising again; besides, what about the hundreds of poor workers in the neighborhood who relied for their mid-day sustenance on "Pothecary's Pride-of-the-Ocean Popular Plaice to Eat?" It would be cruel, cruel and—bad for business in the future. The public would lose confidence in that splendid gold-lettered tablet in the window which said "Cod, brill, halibut, plaice, pilchards always on hand. Eat them or take them away."

The latter sentence did not imply that if you took them away you did not eat them; it simply meant that you could either stand at the counter and eat them from a plate with the aid of a fork and your fingers (or at one of the wooden benches if you could find room—an unlikely contingency, alternatively you could wrap them up in a piece of newspaper and devour them without a fork at the corner of the street.

No, it would not be a good action in any way to close the Popular Plaice to eat. Edwin came to the conclusion that to perform this act satisfactorily it were better to divorce the proceeding entirely from any connection with home or business. The two things didn't harmonize. A good action must be a special and separate effort in an entirely different setting. He would take the day off himself and do it thoroughly.

Mr. Pothecary was known in the neighborhood of the Waterloo Eoad as "The Stinker," a title easily earned by the peculiar qualities of his business and the obvious additional fact that a Pothecary was a chemist. He was a very small man, bald-headed with yellowy-white side whiskers, a blue chin, a perambulating nostril with a large wart on the port side. He wore a square bowler hat which seemed to thrust out the protruding flaps of his large ears. His greeny-black clothes were always too large for him and ended in a kind of thick spiral above his square-toed boots. He always wore a flat white collar—more or less clean—and no tie. This minor defect was easily atoned for by a heavy silver chain on his waistcoat from which hung gold seals and ribbons connecting with watches, knives, and all kinds of ingenious appliances in his waistcoat pockets.

The noble intention of his day was a little chilled on his arrival at the shop. In the first place, although customers were then arriving for breakfast, the boy Scales was slopping water over the front step. Having severely castigated the miscreant youth and prophesied that his chances of happiness in the life to come were about as remote as those of a dead dog-fish in the upper reaches of the Thames, he made his way through the customers to the room at the back, and there he met Dolling.

Dolling was Edwin's manager, and he cannot be overlooked. In the first place, he was remarkably like a fish himself. He had the same dull expressionless eyes and the drooping mouth and drooping mustache. Everything about him drooped and dripped. He was always wet. He wore a gray flannel shirt and no collar or tie. His braces, trousers, and hair all seemed the same color. He hovered in the background with a knife, and did the cutting up and dressing. He had, moreover, all the taciturnity of a fish, and its peculiar ability for getting out of a difficulty. He never spoke. He simply looked lugubrious, and pointed at things with his knife. And yet Edwin knew that he was an excellent manager. For it must be observed that in spite of the gold-lettered board outside with its fanfare of cod, brill, halibut, plaice and pilchards, whatever the customer asked for, by the time it had passed through Dolling's hand it was just fish. No nonsense about it at all. Just plain fish leveled with a uniform brown crust. If you asked for cod you got fish. If you asked for halibut you also got fish. Dolling was something of an artist.

On this particular morning, as Edward entered the back room, Dolling was scratching the side of his head with the knife he used to cut up the fish; a. sure sign tha t he was perplexed about something. It was not customary to exchange greetings in this business, and when he observed "the guv'nor" enter he just withdrew the knife from his hair and pointed it at a packing case on the side table. Edwin knew what this meant. He went up and pressed his flat nose against the chest of what looked like an over-worked amphibian that had been turned down by its own Trades Union. Edwin sneezed before he had had time to withdraw his nose.

"Yes, that's a dud lot," he said. And then suddenly an inspirational moment nearly overwhelmed him. Here was a chance. He would turn to Dolling and say:

"Dolling, this fish is slightly tainted. We must throw it away. We bought it at our risk. Yesterday morning when it arrived it was just all right, hut keeping it in that hot room downstairs where you and your wife sleep has probably finished it. We mustn't give it to our customers. It might poison them—ptomaine poison, you know...eh, Dolling?" It would be a good action, a self-sacrificing action, eh? But when he glanced at the face of Dolling he knew that such an explosion would be unthinkable. It would be like telling a duck it mustn't swim, or an artist that he mustn't paint, or a boy on a beach that he mustn't throw stones in the sea. It was the kind of job that Dolling enjoyed. In the course of a few hours he knew quite well that whatever he said, the mysterious and evil-smelling monster would be served out in dainty parcels of halibut, cod, brill, plaice, etc.

Business was no place for a good action. Too many others depended on it, were involved in it. Edwin went up to Dolling and shouted in his ear—he was rather deaf:

"I'm going out. I may not be back to-day."

Dolling stared at the wall. He appeared about as interested in the statement as a cod might be that had just been informed that a Chinese coolie had won the Calcutta sweep-stake. Edwin crept out of the shop abashed. He felt horribly uncomfortable. He heard some one mutter: " Where's The Stinker off to?" and he realized how impossible it would be to explain to any one there present that he was off to do a good action.

"I will go to some outlying suburb," he thought. Once outside in the sunshine he tried to get back into the benign mood. He traveled right across London and made for Golders Green and Hendon, a part of the world foreign to him. By the time he had boarded the Golders Green 'bus he had quite recovered himself. It was still a brilliant day. "The better the day the better the deed," he thought aptly. He hummed inaudibly; that is to say, he made curious crooning noises somewhere behind his silver chain and signets; the sound was happily suppressed by the noise of the 'bus.

It seemed a very long journey. It was just as they were going through a rather squalid district near Cricklewood that the golden chance occurred to him. The fares had somewhat thinned. There were scarcely a dozen people in the 'bus. Next to him barely a yard away he observed a poor woman with a baby in her arms. She had a thin, angular, wasted face, and her clothes were threadbare but neat. A poor, thoroughly honest and deserving creature, making a bitter fight of it against the buffets of a cruel world. Edwin's heart was touched. Here was his chance. He noticed that from her wrist was suspended a shabby black bag, and the bag was open. He would slip up near her and drop in a half-crown. What joy and rapture when she arrived home and found the unexpected treasure! An unknown benefactor! Edwin chuckled and wormed his way surreptitiously along the seat. Stealthily he fingered his half-crown and hugged it in the palm of his left hand. His heart beat with the excitement of his exploit. He looked out of the window opposite and fumbled bis band towards tbe opening in tbe bag. He touched it. Suddenly a sharp voice rang out:

"That man's picking your pocket!"

An excited individual opposite was pointing at him. Tbe woman uttered an exclamation and snatched at her bag. Tbe baby cried. Tbe conductor rang the bell. Every one seemed to be closing in on Edwin. Instinctively be snatched bis hand away and thrust it in bis pocket (tbe most foolish thing be could have done). Every one was talking. A calm muscular-looking gentleman who bad not spoken seized Edwin by tbe wrist and said calmly:

"Look in your bag, Madam, and see whether be has taken anything."

Tbe 'bus came to a halt. Edwin muttered:

"I assure you—nothing of tbe sort—"

How could be possibly explain that be was doing just tbe opposite? Would a single person believe a word of his yarn about the half-crown? The woman whimpered:

"No, 'e ain't taken nothin', bad luck to 'im. There was only four pennies and a 'alfpenny anyway. Dirty thief!"

"Are you goin' to give 'im in charge?" asked the conductor.

"Yer can't if 'e ain't actually taken nothin', can yer? The dirty thievin' swine tryin' to rob a 'ard workin' 'onest woman!"

"I wasn't! I wasn't!" feebly spluttered Edwin, blushing a ripe beetroot color.

"Shame! Shame! Chuck 'im off the 'bus! Dirty sneak! Call a copper!" were some of the remarks being hurled about.

The conductor was losing time and patience. He beckoned vigorously to Edwin and said:

"Come on, off you go!"

There was no appeal. He got up and slunk out. Popular opinion was too strong against him. As he stepped off the back hoard, the conductor gave him a parting kick which sent him flying on to the pavement. It was an operation received with shrieks of laughter and a round of applause from the occupants of the vehicle, taken up by a small band of other people who had been attracted by the disturbance. He darted down a back street to the accompaniment of boos and jeers.

It says something for Edwin Pothecary that this unfortunate rebuff to his first attempt to do a good action did not send him helter-skelter back to the fried fish shop in the Waterloo Road. He felt crumpled, bruised, mortified, disappointed, discouraged; but is not the path of all martyrs and reformers strewn with similar débris? Are not all really disinterested actions liable to misconstruction? He went into a dairy and partook of a glass of milk and a bun. Then he started out again. He would see more rural, less sophisticated people. In the country there must be simple, kindly people, needing his help. He walked for several hours with but a vague sense of direction. At last he came to a public park.

A group of dirty boys were seated on the grass. They were apparently having a banquet. They did not seem to require him. He passed on, and came to an enclosure. Suddenly between some rhododendron bushes he looked into a small dell. On a seat by himself was an elderly man in a shabby suit. He looked the picture of misery and distress. His hands were resting on his knees, and his eyes were fixed in a melancholy scrutiny on the ground. It was obvious that some great trouble obsessed him. He was as still as a shadow. It was the figure of a man lost in the past or—contemplating suicide? Edwin's breath came quickly. He made his way to him. In order to do this it was necessary to climb a railing. There was probably another way round, but was there time? At any minute there might be a sudden movement, the crack of a revolver. Edwin tore his trousers and scratched his forearm, but he managed to enter the dell unobserved. He approached the seat. The man never looked up. Then Edwin said with sympathetic tears in his voice:

"My poor fellow, may I be of any assistance—?"

There was a disconcerting jar. The melancholy individual started and turned on him angrily:

"Blast you! I'd nearly got it! What the devil are you doing here?"

And without waiting for an answer he darted away among the trees. At the same time a voice called over the park railings:

"Ho! you, there, what are you doing over there? You come back the way you came. I saw yer."

The burly figure of a park-keeper with gaiters and stout stick beckoned him. Edwin got up and clambered back again, scratching his arm.

"Now then," said the keeper. "Name, address, age, and occupation, if you please."

a I was only—" began Edwin. But what was he only doing? Could he explain to a park-keeper that he was only about to do a kind action to a poor man? He spluttered and gave his name, address, age, and occupation.

"Oh," exclaimed the keeper. "Fried fish, eh? And what were you trying to do? Get orders? Or were you begging from his lordship?"

"His lordship?"

"That man you was speaking to was Lord Budleigh-Salterton, the great scientist. He's thinkin' out 'is great invention, otherwise I'd go and ask 'im if 'e wanted to prosecute yer for being in 'is park on felonious intent or what."

"I assure you—" stammered Mr. Pothecary.

The park-keeper saw him well off the premises, and gave him much gratuitous advice about his future behavior, darkened with melancholy prophecies regarding the would-be felon's strength of character to live up to it.

Leaving the park he struck out towards the more rural neighborhood. He calculated that he must be somewhere in the neighborhood of Hendon. At the end of a lane he met a sallow-faced young man walking rapidly. His eyes were bloodshot and restless. He glanced at Edwin and stopped.

"Excuse me, sir," he said.

Edwin drew himself to attention. The young man looked up and down nervously. He was obviously in a great state of distress.

"What can I do for you?"

"I—I—h-hardly like to ask you, sir, I—"

He stammered shockingly. Edwin turned on his most sympathetic manner.

"You are suffering. What is it?"

"Sh-Sh-Shell-shock, shir."

"Ah!"

At last! Some heroic reflex of the war darted through Edwin's mind. Here was his real chance at last. A poor fellow broken by the war and in need, neglected by an ungrateful country. Almost hidden by his outer coat he observed one of those little strips of colored ribbon, which implied more than one campaign.

"Where did you meet your trouble?" he asked.

"P—P—P-Palestine, sir, capturing a T-T-Turkish redoubt. I was through Gallipoli, too, sir, but I won't d-d-distress you. I am in a—in a—hospital at St. Albans, came to see my g-g-g-girl, but she's g-g-g-gone—v-v-vanished..."

"You don't say so!"

"T-t-trouble is I l-l-l-lost my p-pass back. N-not quite enough m-mon—"

"Dear me! How much short are you?"

"S-S-S-Six shill—S-S-S-Six—"

"Six shillings? Well, I' m very sorry. Look here, my good fellow, here's seven-and-sixpence and God bless you!"

"T-T-thank you very much, sir. W-will you give me your n-name and—"

"No, no, no, that's quite all right. I'm very pleased to be of assistance. Please forget all about it."

He pressed the soldier's hand and hurried on. It was done. He had performed a kind, unselfish action and no one should ever hear of it. Mr. Pothecary's eyes glowed with satisfaction. Poor fellow! even if the story were slightly exaggerated, what did it matter? He was obviously a discharged soldier, ill, and in need. The seven-and-sixpence would make an enormous difference. He would always cherish the memory of his kind, unknown benefactor. It was a glorious sensation! Why had he never thought of doing a kindly act? It was inspiring, illuminating, almost intoxicating! He recalled with zest the delirious feeling which ran through him when he said, "No, no, no!" He would not give his name. He was the good Samaritan, a ship passing in the night. And now he would be able to go home, or go back to his business. He swung down the lane, singing to himself. As he turned the corner he came to a low bungalow-building. It was in a rather deserted spot. It had a board outside which announced "Tea, cocoa, light refreshments. Cyclists catered for."

It was past mid-day, and although tea and cocoa had never made any great appeal to the gastronomic fancies of Edwin Pothecary, he felt in his present spiritually elevated mood that here was a suitable spot for a well-merited rest and lunch.

He entered a deserted room, filled with light oak chairs, and tables with green-tiled tops on which were placed tin vases containing dried ferns. A few bluebottles darted away from the tortuous remains of what had once apparently been a ham, lurking behind tall bottles of sweets on the counter. The room smelt of soda and pickles. Edwin rapped on the table for some time, but no one came. At last a woman entered from the front door leading to the garden. She was fat and out of breath.

Edwin coughed and said:

"Good-mornin', madam. May I have a bite of somethin'?"

The woman looked at him and continued panting. When her pulmonary contortions had somewhat subsided she said:

"I s'pose you 'aven't seen a pale young man up the lane?"

It was difficult to know what made him do it, but Edwin lied. He said:

"No."

"Oh!" she replied. "I don't know where 'e's got to. 'E's not s'posed to go out of the garden. 'E's been ill, you know."

"Really!"

"'E's my nefyer, hut I can't always keep an eye on 'im. 'E's a bright one, 'e is. I shall 'ave 'im sent back to the 'ome."

"Ah, poor fellow! I suppose he was—injured in the war?"

"War!" The plump lady snorted. She became almost aggressive and confidential. She came close up to Edwin and shook her finger backwards and forwards in front of his eyes.

"I'll tell yer 'ow much war 'e done. When they talked about conscription, 'e got that frightened, 'e went out every day and tried to drink himself from a A1 man into a CIII man, and by God! 'e succeeded."

"You don't say so!"

"I do say so. And more. When 'is turn came, 'e was in the 'orspital with Delirious Trimmings."

"My God!"

"'E's only just come out. 'E's all right as long as 'e don't get 'old of a little money."

"What do you mean?"

"If 'e can get 'old of the price of a few whiskies, 'e'll 'ave another attack come on! What are yer goin' ter 'ave—tea or cocoa?"

"I must go! I must go!" exclaimed the only customer Mrs. Boggins had had for two days, and gripping his umbrella he dashed out of the shop.

"Good Lord! there's another one got 'em!" ejaculated the good landlady. "I wonder whether 'e pinched anything while I was out? 'Ere! Come back, you dirty little bow-legged swipe!"

But Mr. Pothecary was racing down the lane, muttering to himself: "Yes, that was a good action! A very good action indeed!"

A mile further on he came to a straggling village, a forlorn unkempt spot, only relieved by a gaudy inn called "The Two Tumblers." Edwin staggered into the private bar and drank two pints of Government ale and a double gin as the liquid accompaniment to a bunk of bread and cheese.

It was not till he bad lighted bis pipe after the negotiation of these delicacies that he could again focus his philosophical outlook. Then he thought to himself: "It's a rum thing 'ow difficult it is to do a good action. You'd think it 'd be dead easy, but everythin' seems against yer. One must be able to do it somewhere. P'raps one ought to go abroad, among foreigners and black men. That's it! That's why all these 'ere Bible Society people go out among black people, Chinese and so on. They find there's nothin' doin' over 'ere."

Had it not been for the beer and gin it is highly probable that Edwin would have given up the project, and have returned to fish and chips. But lying back in a comfortable seat in "The Two Tumblers" his thoughts mellowed. He felt broad-minded, comfortable, tolerant...one had to make allowances. There must be all sorts of ways. Money wasn't the only thing. Besides, he was spending too much. He couldn't afford to go on throwing away seven-and-six-pences. One must be able to help people—by helping them. Doing things for them which didn't cost money. He thought of Sir Walter Raleigh throwing down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth to walk over. Romantic but—extravagant and silly, really a shrewd political move, no doubt; not a good action at all. If he met an ill-clad tramp he could take off his coat and wrap round his shoulders and then—? Walk home to Quince Villa in his braces? What would Mrs. Pothecary have to say? Phew! One could save people from drowning, but he didn't know how to swim. Fire! Perhaps there would be a fire. He could swarm up a ladder and save a woman from the top bedroom window. Heroic, but hardly inconspicuous; not exactly what he had meant. Besides, the firemen would never let him; they always kept these showy stunts for themselves. There must he something...

He walked out of "The Two Tumblers."

Crossing the road, he took a turning off the High Street. He saw a heavily-built woman carrying a basket of washing. He hurried after her, and raising his hat, said: "Excuse me, madam, may I carry your basket for you?"

She turned on him suspiciously and glared:

"No, thanks, Mr. Bottle-nose. I've 'ad some of that before. You 'op it! Mrs. Jaggs 'ad 'ers pinched last week that way."

"Of course," he thought to himself as he hurried away. "The trouble is I'm not dressed for the part. A bloomin' swell can go about doin' good actions all day and not arouse suspicions. If I try and 'elp a girl off a tram-car I get my face slapped."

Mr. Pothecary was learning. He was becoming a complete philosopher, but it was not till late in the afternoon that he suddenly realized that patience and industry are always rewarded. He was appealed to by a maiden in distress.

It came about fn this way. He found the atmosphere of Northern London entirely unsympathetic to good deeds. All his action appeared suspect. lie began to feel at last like a criminal. He was convinced that he was being watched and followed. Once he patted a little girl's head in a paternal manner. Immediately a woman appeared at a doorway and bawled out:

"'Ere, Lizzie, you come inside!"

At length in disgust he boarded a south-bound 'bus. He decided to experiment nearer home. He went to the terminus and took a train to the station just before his own. It was a small town called Uplingham. This should be the last dance of the moral philanderer. If there was no one in Uplingham upon whom he could perform a good action, he would just walk home—barely two miles—and go to bed and forget all about it. To-morrow he would return to Eish-and-chips, and the normal behavior of the normal citizen.

Uplingham was a dismal little town, consisting mostly of churches, chapels and pubs, and apparently quite deserted. As Edwin wandered through it there crept over him a sneaking feeling of relief. If he met no one—well, there it was, he had done his best; and he could go home with a clear conscience. After all it was the spirit that counted in these things...

"O-o-oh!"

He was passing a small stone church, standing back on a little frequented lane. The maiden was seated alone in the porch and she was crying. Edwin bustled through the gate and as he approached her he had time to observe that she was young, quietly dressed, and distinctly pretty.

"You are in trouble," he said in his most feeling manner.

She looked up at him quickly, and dabbed her eyes.

"I've lost my baby! I've lost my baby!" she cried.

"Dear, dear, that's very unfortunate! How did it happen?"

She pointed at an empty perambulator in the porch.

"I waited an hour here for my friends and husband and the clergyman. My baby was to be christened." She gasped incoherently. "No one turned up. I went across to the Vicarage. The Vicar was away. I believe I ought to have gone to St. Bride's. This is St. Paul's. They didn't know anything about it. They say people often make that mistake. When I got back the baby was gone. O-o-o-oh!"

"There, there, don't cry," said Mr. Pothecary. "Now I'll go over to St. Bride's and find out about it."

"Oh, sir, do you mind waiting here with the perambulator while I go? I want my baby. I want my baby."

"Why, yes, of course, of course."

She dashed up the lane and left Mr. Pothecary in charge of an empty perambulator. In fifteen minutes' time a thick-set young man came hurrying up to the porch. He looked at Edwin and pointing to the perambulator said:

"Is this Mrs. Frank's or Mrs. Fred's? "

"I don't know," said Edwin, rather testily.

"You don't know! But you're old Binns, ain't you?"

"No, I'm not."

The young man looked at him searchingly and then disappeared. Ten minutes elapsed and then a small boy rode up on a bicycle. He was also out of breath.

"Has Mrs. George been 'ere?" be asked.

"I don't know," replied Edwin.

"Mr. Henderson says he's awfully sorry but he won't be able to get away. You are to kiss the baby for 'im."

"I don't know anything about it."

"This is St. Bride's, isn't it?"

"No, this is St. Paul's."

"Oh!" The boy leapt on to the bicycle and also vanished.

"This is absurd," thought Edwin. "Of course, the whole thing is as plain as daylight. The poor girl has come to the wrong church. The whole party is at St. Bride's, somebody must have taken the baby on there. I might as well take the perambulator along. They'll be pleased. Now I wonder which is the way."

He wheeled the perambulator into the lane. There was no one about to ask. He progressed nearly two hundred yards till he came to a field with a pond in it. This was apparently the wrong direction. He was staring about when he suddenly became aware of a hue and cry. A party of people came racing down the lane headed by the thick-set man, who was exclaiming:

"There he is! There he is!"

Edwin felt his heart beating. This was going to he a little embarrassing. They closed on him. The thickset man seized his wrists and at the same time remarked:

"See he hasn't any firearms on him, Frank."

The large man alluded to as Frank gripped him from behind.

"What have you done with my baby?" he demanded fiercely.

"I 'aven't seen no baby," yelped Mr. Pothecary.

"Oh! 'Aven't yer! What are yer doin' with my perambulator then?"

"I'm takin' it to St. Bride's Church."

"Goin' in the opposite direction."

"I didn't know the way."

"Where's the baby?"

"I 'aven't seen it, I tell yer. The mother said she'd lost it."

"What the hell! Do you know the mother's in bed sick? You're a liar, my man, and we're goin' to take you in charge. If you've done anything to my baby I'll kill you with my hands."

"That's it, Frank. Let 'im 'ave it. Throw 'im in the pond!"

"I tell yer I don't know anythin' about it all, with yer Franks, Freds and Georges! Go to the devil, all of yer!"

In spite of his protestations, some one produced a rope and they handcuffed him and tied him to the gate of the field. A small crowd had collected and began to boo and jeer. A man from a cottage bard by produced a drag, and between them they dragged the pond, as the general belief was that Edwin had tied a stone to the baby and thrown it in and was then just about to make off.

The uproar continued for some time, mud and stones being thrown about rather carelessly.

The crowd became impatient that no baby was found in the pond. At length another man turned up on a bicycle and called out:

"What are you doing, Frank? You've missed the christening!"

"What!"

"Old Binns turned up with the nipper all right. He'd come round the wrong way."

The crowd was obviously disappointed at the release of Edwin, and the father's only solatium was:

"Well, it's lucky for you, old bird!"

He and his friends trundled the perambulator away rapidly across the fields. Edwin had hardly time to give a sigh of relief before he found himself the center of a fresh disturbance. He was approaching the church when another crowd assailed him, headed by the forlorn maiden. She was still in a state of distress, but she was hugging a baby to her.

"Ah! You've found the baby!" exclaimed Edwin, trying to be amiable.

"Where is the perambulator?" she demanded.

"Your 'usband 'as taken it away, madam. He seemed to think I—"

A tall frigid young man stepped forward and said:

"Excuse me, I am the lady's husband. Will you please explain yourself?"

Then Edwin lost his temper.

"Well, damn it, I don't know who you all are!" Ihe case is quite clear. You volunteered to take charge of the perambulator while my wife was absent. On her return you announce that it is spirited away. I shall hold you responsible for the entire cost—nearly ten pounds."

"Make it a thousand," roared Edwin. "I'm 'aving a nice cheap day."

"I don't wish for any more of your insolence, either. My wife has had a very trying experience. The baby has been christened Fred."

"Well, what's the matter with that?' 1 '

"Nothing," screamed the mother. "Only that it is a girl! It's a girl and it has been duly christened Fred in a Christian church. Oh! there's been an awful muddle."

"It's not this old fool's fault," interpolated the elderly woman quietly. "You see, Mrs. Frank and Mrs. Fred Smith were both going to have their babies christened to-day. Only Mrs. Frank was took sick, and sent me along with the child. I went to the wrong church and thinkin' there was some mistake, went back home. Mrs. Frank's baby's never been christened at all. In the meantime, the ceremony was ready to start at St. Paul's and Frank 'isself was there. No baby. They sends old Binns to scout around at other churches.

People do make mistakes—finds this good lady's child all primed up for christening in the church door, and no one near, carries it off. In the meantime, the father had gone on the ramp. It's him that probably went off with the perambulator and trounced you up a bit, old sport. It'll learn you not to interfere so much in future perhaps."

"And the baby's christened Fred!" wailed the mother. "My baby! My Gwendoline!" And she looked at Edwin with bitter recrimination in her eyes.

There was still a small crowd following and boys were jeering, and a fox-terrier, getting very excited, jumped up and bit Mr. Pothecary through the seat of his trousers. He struck at it with his stick, and hit a small boy, whose mother happened to be present. The good lady immediately entered the lists.

"Baby-killer...Hun!" were the last words he heard as he was chased up the street and across the fields in the direction of his own village.

When he arrived it was nearly dark. Mr. Pothecary was tired, dirty, battered, tom, outraged, bruised and hatless. And his spirit hardened. The forces of reaction surged through him. He was done with good actions. He felt vindictive, spiteful, wicked. Slowly he took the last turning and his eye once more alighted on—the Peels's fowl house.

And there came to him a vague desire to end his day by performing some action the contrary to good, something spiteful, petty, malign. His soul demanded some recompense for its abortive energies. And then he remembered that the Peels were away. They were returning late that evening. The two intensive fowl-houses were at the end of the kitchen garden, where all the young spring cabbages and peas had just been planted. They could be approached between a slit in the narrow black fence adjacent to a turnip field. Rather a long way round. A simple and rather futile plan sprang into his mind, but he was too tired to think of anything more criminal or diabolic.

He would creep round to the back, get through the fence, force his way into the fowl-house. Then he would kick out all those expensive Rhode Island pampered hens and lock them out. Inside he would upset everything and smash the place to pieces. The fowls would get all over the place. They would eat the young vegetables. Some of them would get lost, stolen by gypsies, killed by rats. What did he care? The Peels would probably not discover the outrage till the morrow, and they would never know who did it. Edwin chuckled inwardly, and rolled his eyes like the smooth villain of a fit-up melodrama. He glanced up and down to see that no one was looking, then he got across a gate and entered the turnip field.

Within five minutes he was forcing the door of the fowl-house with a spade. The fowls were already settling down for the night, and they clucked rather alarmingly, but Edwin's blood was up. He chased them all out, forty-five of them, and made savage lunges at them with his feet. Then he upset all the corn he could find, and poured water on it and jumped on it. He smashed the complicated invention suspended from the ceiling, whereby the fowls had to reach up and get one grain of corn at a time. To his joy he found a pot of green paint, which he flung promiscuously over the walls and floor (and incidentally his clothes).

Then he crept out and bolted both of the doors.

The sleepy creatures were standing about outside, some feebly pecking about on the ground. He chased them through into the vegetable garden; then he rubbed some of the dirt and paint from his clothes and returned to the road.

When he arrived home he said to his wife:

"I fell off a tram on Waterloo Bridge. Lost my hat."

He was cold and wet and his teeth were chattering. His wife bustled him off to bed and gave him a little hot grog.

Between the sheets he recovered contentment. He gurgled exultantly at this last and only satisfying exploit of the day. He dreamed lazily of the blind rage of the Peels...

It must have been half-past ten when his wife came up to bring him some hot gruel. He had been asleep. She put the cup by the bedside and rearranged his pillow.

"Feeling better?" she asked.

"Yes. I'm right," he murmured.

She sat on a chair by the side of the bed and after a few minutes remarked:

"You've missed an excitement while you've been asleep."

"Oh?"

"Yes. A fire!"

"A fire?"

"The Peels came home about an hour and a half ago and found the place on fire at the back."

"Oh?"

"Their cook Lizzie has been over. She said some straw near the wash-house must have started it. It's burnt out the wash-house and both the fowl-houses. She says Mr. Peel says he don't care very much because he was heavily insured for the lot. But the funny thing is, the fowls wasn't insured and they've found the whole lot down the field on the rabbit-hutches. Somebody must have got in and let the whole lot out. It was a fine thing to do, or else the poor things would have been burnt up. What's the matter, Ned? Is the gruel too hot?"


4. The Packet

I

Mr. Bultishaw stood leaning heavily against the bar in "The Duchess of Teck," talking to his friend, Mr. Ticknett. Their friendship had endured for nearly twenty-seven years, and they still called each other "Mr." Bultishaw and "Mr." Ticknett. They were on the surface a curiously ill-matched couple, and the other salesmen and buyers from Cotterway's could never see what they had in common. Bultishaw was a big puffy man, shabbily florid. He had a fat babyish face, with large bright eyes which always seemed to be on the verge of tears, but whether this condition of liquefaction was due to his excessive emotionalism, or to the generally liquid state of his whole body, it would be difficult to decide. He was of an excitable nature, and though his voice seemed to come wheezing through various local derangements of his system, and was always pitched in a low key, it suggested a degree of excitement—usually of a querulous kind—quite remarkable in a person of his appearance. He was a man of moods, too...He was not always querulous, in fact his querulousness might generally be traced to an occasional revolt of his organic system against the treatment to which it was normally subjected. There were times when he was genial, playful, kind, sentimental, and maudlin. His clothes had a certain pretentiousness of style and wealth, not sustained by the dilapidated condition of their linings and edges, and the many stains of alcohol and the burns from matches and tobacco carelessly dropped. He was the manager of the linoleum department at Cotterway's.

Ticknett had a similar position with regard to "soft goods" in the same firm. But in appearance and character he was entirely dissimilar to Bultishaw. One of the junior salesmen one day called him "The Chinese God," and there was indeed something a little Eastern in his reserved manner, his suavity, and his great capacity for apparently minding his own business and yet at the same time—well, nobody liked Ticknett, but they all admired his ability, and most of them feared him. He was admired because he had risen from the position of being a "packer" in the yard to that of great influence, and he even shared the confidence of Mr. Joseph Cotterway himself. Hie skin was rather yellow, and he had very heavy black eyebrows and mustache and deep-set eyes with a slight cast. His clothes were so well cut that in the bar of "The Duchess of Teck" they seemed almost assertively unobtrusive.

Bultishaw was a prolific talker, and Ticknett was a patient listener. This was perhaps one of their principal bonds of mutual understanding. They had, of course, one common interest of an absorbing nature. It bubbled and sparkled in the innumerable glasses which, at all hours of the day, Mrs. Clarke and Daphne and Gladys handed to them across the bar of "The Duchess of Teck," which in those days was always crowded with the salesmen and the staff of Cotterway's.

On this particular morning, Bultishaw was holding a glass in his fat fingers, and breathing heavily between each sentence. He was saying:

"'Sperience is the thing that counts in the furnishing trade, like anywhere else—ugh! Take any line you like—ugh!—buying cork carpets, eating oysters, or extending the Empire—ugh!—it's the man with'sperience who counts. These young fellers!...ugh!..."

Bultishaw shrugged his shoulders expressively, and glanced round the bar. Immediately a change came over his expression. His eyes sparkled angrily, and he shook the dregs of whisky in his glass, and drank them off with a spluttering gulp. Ticknett followed the glance of his friend and was quickly observant of the reason of Bultishaw's sudden trepidation. "Percy" had entered the bar. Percy was Bultishaw's assistant and also his béte noir.

He was a slim young man dressed in a most extravagant manner. He had a pale face, and a slightly receding chin. He wore a small bowler hat with a very narrow brim, pointed patent leather boots, a very shapely overcoat which almost suggested that he wore corsets, a pale lemon tie held together by a gold pin, and a spotted green waistcoat.

Percy was a very high-spirited young person—an irrepressible—with, a genius for taking stage center. He was invariably accompanied by several friends of his own age, and he had a habit of greeting a whole barful of men, whether he knew them or not, with a cheering cry of:

"Hullo! hullo! HULLO! So here we all are!"

He would deliver this greeting with such a gay abandon that every one would look up and laugh. Men would nod, and call out:

"Hullo! here's Percy! How do, Percy?"

And even those who did not know him would be conscious of some contagious fever of geniality. The conversation would grow louder and livelier, and Percy would invariably become the center of a laughing group.

In spite of his extravagance of manner, his irresponsibility, his passion for misquoting poetry, he had been marked down by several discriminating heads of the firm as "a smart boy."

He was indeed a very smart boy, from his gay clothes to his sparkling repartée with Daphne and Gladys. To Daphne it was known that he was an especial favorite. He would hold her hand across the bar, and smile at her engagingly, and say:

"And how is the moon of my delight!" And other enigmatic and brilliant things.

And Daphne would look at him with her sleepy, passionate eyes, and say:

"Oh, go on! You are a one!"

She was a silent little thing, incredibly ignorant. She was not pretty, but she had masses of gold-brown hair, and a figure rather over-developed. There was about her something extremely attractive to the men who frequented "The Duchess of Teck," a kind of brooding motherliness. She had an appealing way of sighing, and her eyes were always watchful, as though in the face of every stranger she might discover the solution of her troubles.

Bultishaw hated Percy for several reasons. One was essentially a question of personality. He hated his aggressive exuberance, his youthfulness, his ridiculous clothes, his way of brushing back his hair, and incidentally of scoring off Bultishaw. He hated him because he had the habit of upsetting the placid calm of "The Duchess of Teck." He created a restlessness. People did not listen so well when Percy was in the room.

Moreover, he hated the way he took possession of Daphne. It is difficult to know what Bultishaw's ideas were with regard to Daphne. He was himself a widower, aged fifty-six, and he lived in a small flat in Bloomsbury with his two daughters, who were both about Daphne's age. He never made love to her, but he treated her with a sort of proprietary sense of confidence. He told her all about himself. In the morning when the bar was empty he would expatiate on the various ailments which had assailed him overnight, his sleeplessness, his indigestion, his loss of appetite. And he found her very sympathetic. She would say:

"Oh, reely, Mr. Bultishaw! I am sorry! It's too bad! Have you ever tried Ponk's Pills?"

They would discuss Ponk's Pills exhaustively, and their effect on the system, but eventually Mr. Bultishaw would say that he thought he would try "just a wee drop of Scotch." And so he would start his day.

It must, alas! be acknowledged that the accumulated years of his convivial mode of life were beginning to tell on Bultishaw. He was not the man he was. At his best he was a good salesman. He knew the cork lino industry inside out. He had had endless experience. But there were days of fuddlement, days when he would make grievous mistakes, forget appointments, go wrong in his calculations. And the directors were not unobservant of the deterioration of his work and of his personal appearance. There was a very big rumor that Bultishaw was to be superseded by a younger man. This rumor had reached Bultishaw himself, and he accepted it with ironic incredulity.

"How can any one manage lino without'sperience?" he said.

Nevertheless the rumor had worried him of late, and had increased his sleeplessness. He was conscious of himself—the vast moral bulk of himself rolling down the hill. He knew he would never be able to give up drinking. He had no intention of trying. He had been at it too long. He had managed in his time to save nearly a thousand pounds. If he were sacked it would bring in a little bit, but not enough to live on. About fifty pounds a year, but he spent quite this amount in the bar of "The Duchess of Teck" alone. He would have to hunt round for another job. It would be ignominious, and it might be difficult to secure at his age.

This was, then, another reason for disliking Percy, for "the smart boy's" name had been mentioned in this very connection. And what did this soapy-headed young fool know about cork carpets! What'sperience had he had! A paltry two years. He was, too, so insufferably familiar and insolent. He had even once had the audacity to address Bultishaw as "Mr. Bulkychops," a pseudonym that was not only greeted with roars of laughter but had been adopted by others.

On this morning then when Percy made his accustomed entrance with its bravura accompaniment: "Hullo! hullo! HULLO! So here we all are!" Mr. Bultishaw's hand trembled, and he turned his back and muttered:

"That young—!"

The yellow face of Ticknett turned in the direction of Percy, but it was quite expressionless and he made no comment. He lighted another cigarette and looked across the bar at Daphne. The girl's cheeks were dimpled with smiles. Percy was talking to her. Suddenly Ticknett said to her in his chilling voice:

"I want two more Scotch whiskies and a split soda."

The girl looked up, and the dimples left her cheeks. She seemed almost imperceptibly to shrink within herself. She poured out the drinks and handed them to Ticknett. Bultishaw continued his querulous complaints about the insolence of young and ignorant men, trying to oust older and more experienced men from their hardly fought for positions.

And Ticknett listened, and his dark mustache moved in a peculiar way as he said:

"Yes, yes, I quite agree with you, Mr. Bultishaw. It's too bad."

II

A week later there was a sudden and dramatic turn of events in the firm of Cotterway's. Much to everybody's surprise, Percy was suddenly sacked without any reason being given, and Bultishaw was retained. In fact, Bultishaw was given another two years' contract on the same terms as before.

To what extent Ticknett was responsible for this development or what was really at the back of it all, nobody was ever quite clear. It is certain that on the day of Percy's dismissal these two friends dined together, and spent an evening of a somewhat bacchanalian character. It is known that at that time Ticknett had been conspicuously successful over some deal in tapestries with a French firm, and that he had lunched one day alone with Mr. Joseph Cotterway. It is doubtful even whether he ever gave the precise details of his machinations to Bultishaw himself. The result certainly had the appearance of quickening their friendship. They called each other "dear old feller," and there were many whispered implications about "insolent young swine."

The career of Percy was watched with interest. Of course he took his dismissal with a laugh, and entertained a party of his friends to a hilarious farewell supper.

But it happened that that summer was a peculiarly stagnant one in the furnishing world. The brilliant youth did not find it so easy to secure another situation. He was observed at first swinging about the West End in his splendidly nonchalant manner, and he Still frequented the bar of "The Duchess of Teck." But gradually these appearances became more rare. As the months went by he began to lose a little of his self-assurance and swagger, and it is even to be regretted that his gay clothes began to show evidences of wear. He once secured a situation at a small firm in Bayswater, but at the end of three weeks he was again dismissed, the proprietor going bankrupt owing to some unfortunate speculation. It would be idle to imagine what Percy's career would have been had not the war broken out in August when he was still out of employment. He volunteered for service the morning after war was declared, and then indeed there was a great scene of bibulous enthusiasm in "The Duchess of Teck." He was toasted and treated, and every one was crying out:

"Well, good luck, Percy, old man."

And Percy was in the highest spirits, and borrowed money from every one to stand treat to every one else. And Daphne cried quite openly, and in the corner of the bar Bultishaw was whispering to Ticknett:

"This'll knock the starch out of the young swine."

And Ticknett replied:

"He'll get killed."

There was at times a certain curious finality about Ticknett's statements that had a way of making people shudder.

Bultishaw laughed uncomfortably and repeated:

"It'll knock the starch out of him."

The departure of Percy was soon almost forgotten in the bewilderment of drama that began to convulse Europe. Others went also. There was upheaval, and something of a panic in the furnishing world. Every man had his own interests to consider, and there was the big story unfolding day by day to absorb all spare attention. Perhaps the only man among all the devotees of "The Duchess of Teck" who thought considerably about Percy was Bultishaw. It was very annoying, but he could not dismiss the young man from his thoughts.

When the autumn came on, and the cold November rains washed the London streets, Bultishaw would suddenly think of Percy and he would shiver. Percy had been sent to some camp in Essex for his training, and often in the night Bultishaw would wake up and visualize Percy sleeping out in the open, getting wet through to the skin, possibly getting rheumatic fever. He was a ridiculously delicate-looking young man, quite unfitted to be a soldier. It occurred to Bultishaw more than once that if he and Ticknett hadn't...if Percy had secured his position, which everybody said was his due...he wouldn't have been sent out into all this.

And "all this" was a terrible thing to Bultishaw. During the fifty-six years of his life he had made a god of comfort. He loved warmth, good cheer, food, drink, security. The alternative seemed to him hell. He could not believe that there could be any sort of compensation in discomfort, and hardship, in restraint, and discipline, and self-abnegation. It was the thing he could not understand. And then at the end was the Awful Thing itself. He could not bear to dwell on that. He drank more prodigiously than ever.

The firm of Cotterway's was reorganized, and Bultishaw would undoubtedly have had the sack if it had not been for his two years' contract. As it was, expenses in every respect were cut down, and Bultishaw's royalties only amounted to a very small sum. He lived above his salary, and broke into his capital. He seemed more and more to rely on Ticknett. The manager of soft goods seemed to him the one stable thing in a shifting world.

When Percy one day made his sudden, meteoric, and final appearance in "The Duchess of Teck" the whole thing seemed like a dream. The usual crowd was gathered just before lunch, drinking gins and bitters, and whisky, and beer, and talking about "our" navy, and "our" army, and "our" Government, and what "we" should do to the Germans, when the level hum of conversation was broken by a loud and breezy:

"Hullo! hullo! HULLO! So here we all are!"

And lo! and behold, there was Percy, looking somehow bigger than usual, the general gaiety of his appearance emphasized by a pink complexion, a distinct increase of girth, and a beautiful khaki suit. And Bultishaw found himself clapped on the back and the same voice was exclaiming:

"Well, 'ow are you, Bulky-chops? Lookin' better than ever, 'pon my word!"

And then the bar was immediately in a roar of conviviality. Everybody struggled for the honor of standing Percy drinks, for he explained that he was off the next day to France. It is to be feared that during that afternoon Percy got rather drunk. He certainly indulged in violent moods between boisterous hilarity and a certain sullen pugnacity. At intervals he would continually ask for Ticknett, but to Bultishaw's surprise, Ticknett had disappeared almost immediately Percy entered the bar, and was not seen again that day. While, on the other side, Daphne stood cowering against the mahogany casings, looking deadly pale, with great black rings around her eyes.

Percy was quite friendly to Bultishaw, and introduced him to a friend of his in the same regiment, named Prosser, a young man who had previously been in a drapery store. It was not till later in the evening that the dull rumble of some imminent tragedy caused the vast bulk of the linoleum manager's body to tremble. He had been conscious of it all the afternoon. He was frightened. He did not like the way Percy had asked for Ticknett. He did not like Ticknett's disappearance, and above all he did not like the way Daphne had cowered against the wall. There was something at the back of all this, something uncomfortable. He dreaded things of this nature. Why couldn't people go on quietly, eating and drinking and being comfortable? He avoided "The Duchess of Teck," and actually stayed late at his work and caught up some arrears. He decided to go quickly home. When he got outside he commenced to walk, when suddenly Percy came out of a doorway and took hold of his arm. Bultishaw started.

"What is it? What do you want?" he said.

There was something very curious about Percy. He had never seen him like that before. He had been drinking, but he was not drunk. In fact, Bultishaw had never seen him in some ways so sober, so grimly serious. His lips were trembling, and his eyes were unnaturally bright. He gripped Bultishaw's coat and said:

"Where is your friend Ticknett?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen him since this morning," Bultishaw answered.

"Will you swear he isn't in the building? and that you don't know where he is?"

"Yes," gasped the cork-lino manager.

Percy looked into his eyes for some moments, and then he said queerly:

"Ticknett knows that I've got to report first thing in the morning. I've just seen Daphne home. There'll be a packet for Ticknett, do you see? I say there'll be a packet for him. D' you understand, Bulky-chops?"

Bultishaw was very frightened. He did not know a bit what the young man meant. He only knew that he wanted to get away. He didn't want to be mixed up in this. He mumbled:

"I see—er—a packet?...I'll tell him."

"No, you needn't tell him," answered the soldier. "I'm sayin' this for your benefit. I say there'll be a packet for him. D' you understand? There'll be a packet for him."

And he melted into the night...

III

From the day when Percy disappeared with these mysterious words on his lips to the day when the news came that he had been killed there was an interval of time that varied according to the occupation and the preoccupation of his particular acquaintances. To Bultishaw it appeared a very long time, but this may have been partly due to the fact that in the interval he had spent most of the time in bed with a very serious illness. He had been lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, and he had not been allowed to drink. The time had consequently hung very heavily on his hands, and his thoughts had been feeding on each other. The exact time was in effect eleven weeks.

During the latter part of this period his friend Ticknett paid him many visits, and had been very kind and attentive. And it was he indeed who brought the news that Percy had been killed.

It was one evening when it was nearly dark, and Bultishaw was sitting up in his dressing-gown in front of the fire, and his daughter Elsie was sitting on the other side of the fireplace, sewing. Ticknett paid one of his customary visits. Elsie showed him to an easy chair between the two, and after Ticknett's solicitous enquiries regarding Bultishaw's health, the two men reverted to their usual discussion of the staff of Cotterway's and their friends. Suddenly Ticknett remarked quite casually:

"Oh, by the way, young Percy has been killed at the front."

And then the room seemed to become violently darker. Bultishaw struggled to frame some suitable comment upon this but the words failed to come. He sat there with his fat, puffy hands pressing the sides of his easy chair. At last he said:

"Elsie, you might go and get my beef-tea ready."

When his daughter had gone out of the room, he still had nothing to say. He had not dismissed her for the purpose of speaking about the matter to Ticknett, but simply because a strange mood had come to him that he could not trust himself. In the gathering darkness he could see the sallow mask of his friend's face looking at the fire, and his cold eyes peering beneath his heavy brows. Bultishaw at length managed to say:

"Any particulars?"

And Ticknett replied:

"No. It was in the papers yesterday."

And then Ticknett smiled and added:

"So you won't have to bother about your job any longer, Mr. Bultishaw."

And Bultishaw thought:

"There'll be a packet for you, Ticknett. A packet. Do you understand? And by God! you'll deserve it!"

He was still uncertain of what "the packet" would contain, but he had thought a lot about it during his illness, and he was sure the packet would contain something unpleasant, if not terrible. And yet Ticknett was his friend, in fact his only friend; the man who had saved him in a crisis, and who waited on him in his sickness. He tried to pull himself together, and he managed to say in his normally wheezy voice:

"I hope to be back next week."

And indeed on the following Tuesday he did once more report himself to the heads of the firm. He was still very weak and ill, and the doctor had warned him to avoid alcohol in any form. But by half-past twelve he felt so exhausted he decided that a little whisky and milk might help to get him through the day. He crawled round to "The Duchess of Teck" and was soon amongst his congenial acquaintances. It was very warm, very pleasant and ingratiating, the atmosphere of the bar. He ordered his whisky and milk, and then became aware of a striking vacancy. Daphne was not there. Mrs. Clarke and Gladys were busy serving drinks, and a tall thin girl was helping them. A peculiar sense of misgiving came to Bultishaw. He did not like to say anything about it to Mrs. Clarke, but he turned to an old habitué, named Benjamin Strigge, and he whispered:

"Where's Daphne to-day, Mr. Strigge?"

And Mr. Strigge answered:

"Daphne? She ain't been here for nearly three months. There was some story about her and young Percy. I've really forgotten what it was all about. Of course, you 've been away, Mr. Bultishaw. You 've missed all the spicy news, eh? They never interest me. Ha, ha, ha! Can I order you another whisky and milk?"

Bultishaw declined with thanks, and stood there sucking his pipe. In a few minutes Ticknett entered the bar. He appeared to be quite cheerful, and for him garrulous. He was very solicitous about Bultishaw's health, and insistent that he should not stand near a draught. He talked optimistically about the war, and Bultishaw replied in monosyllables. And all the time the ridiculous thought kept racing through his mind:

"You 're going to get a packet, my friend."

It was a week later that Prosser turned up. He was one of eleven men, the sole survivors of a regiment—Percy's regiment. Prosser was slightly wounded in the foot, and strangely altered. He stammered and was no longer a gay companion. He had a wild, abstracted look, as though he had lost the power of listening, and was entirely occupied with inner visions. They could get little information out of him about Percy. He described certain scenes and experiences very vividly, but the description did not convey much to most of the men, for the reason that they were entirely devoid of imagination. The regiment had, as a matter of fact, been ambushed, and practically annihilated. A mine had done some deadly work. He had seen Percy and another man come into the lines in the morning. It was just daybreak. They had been on listening patrol. He had seen them both making their way along a trench to a dug-out, to the very spot where five minutes later the mine blew up.

"Didn't you never see Percy again!" some one asked.

"No," answered the warrior. "But I 'eard 'im laugh."

"Laugh!"

"Yes. You know the way he used to laugh. Loud and clear-like. He must have been two hundred yards away. Suddenly he laughed, and I says to Peters, who was on my right, ''Ark at that blighter, Percy! Seems to think even this is amusin'.' I 'adn't got the words out of my mouth when...just as though the whole bally earth had burst into a gas...not a quarter of a mile away—thought I was gone myself...right over in the quarter where Percy had gone...thousands of tons of mud flung up into the sky...you could 'ear the earth being ripped to pieces, and there were men in it...Oh, Gawd!"

Bultishaw shuddered and felt faint, and the rest of the company seemed to think they were hearing a rather highly colored account of some quite inconceivable phenomenon. Prosser was further detailing his narrative, when he happened to drop a phrase that was very illuminating to Bnltishaw. He was speaking of another man some of them knew, named Bates. The phrase he used was:

"Charley Bates got a packet too!"

A packet! Bnltishaw paid for his drink and went out into the street. He felt rather hot and cold round the temples. He took a cab home, and went straight to bed, explaining to his daughters that he had had 'a very heavy day.' When he rolled between the sheets the true meaning of that sinister phrase "getting a packet" kept revolving through his mind. It was evidently the military expression, and very terse and grim and sardonic it was. These men who met a violent end "got a packet." Percy had got a packet, Bates had got a packet, but why should Ticknett, dividing his days between a furnishing house and a saloon bar, get a packet? It was incredible, preposterous. Men who went out to fight for their country, well—they might expect it. But not men who lead simple, honest, commercial lives. If Ticknett got a packet, why should he not himself get a packet! He passed a sleepless night, but there was one problem he determined to try and solve on the morrow.

IV

Somehow Bultishaw could not bring himself to ask Mrs. Clarke about Daphne, and Gladys, whom he always suspected of laughing at him, he would certainly not question. He eventually got her address from a potman, who had carried some of her things home for her.

When he did get her address, it took him over a week to make up his mind to visit her. He thumbed the envelope and breathed heavily on it, put it back in his pocket and took it out again, and tried to dismiss it from his mind, but the very touch of it seemed to burn his body. At length, on the following Saturday night, he tucked it finally into his waistcoat pocket, and set out in the direction of Kilburn.

It was very dark when he found the obscure street. And the number of the address was a gaunt house of four stories above a low-class restaurant where sausages and slabs of fish were frying in the window, to tempt hungry passers-by. He stumbled up the dark stairs, and was told by two children whom he could not see that "Miss Allen" lived on the third floor. He rang the wrong bell on the third floor (there were two lots of inhabitants) and was told by a lady that "she liked his bleeding cheek waking her in her first sleep, ringing the wrong bell," and the door was slammed in his face.

He tried the other bell, and the door was opened immediately by a gaunt woman who said:

"Who's that? Oh, I thought it was the doctor!"

Bultishaw asked if Miss Daphne Allen lived there, and gave his own name.

The woman stared at him and then said:

"Wait a minute."

She shut the door and left him outside. After a time she came back and said:

"What do you want?"

Bultishaw said, "I just want to speak to her for a few minutes."

The woman again retired, and left him for nearly five minutes. He stood there shivering with cold on the stone stairs, and listening to the strange mixture of noises: children quarreling in the street below, and in the room opposite some one playing a mouth organ. At last the woman came back. She said:

"Come in."

He followed her into a poky room, dimly lighted by a tin paraffin lamp with a pink glass. In the corner of the room was a bed on which a woman was lying, feeding a baby. Her face looked white and thin and her hair was bound up in a shawl. It was Daphne. She looked at him listlessly, and said:

"Well, have you brought any money from him?"

Bultishaw stood blinking at her, unable to comprehend. Whom did she mean by "him"? He coughed, and tried to formulate some sympathetic enquiry, when suddenly the gaunt woman who had shown him in turned on him and cried:

"Well, what the hell are you standing there like that for? You've come from him, I suppose? You're 'is greatest pal, ain't yer? We've never seen a farthing of 'is money yet since the dirty blackguard did 'er in. What 'ave you come slobbering up 'ere for, if it ain't to bring some money? The b——y 'ound! If it 'adn't been for 'im, she might be the wife of a respectable sowljer, and gettin' 'er maintenance and pension, and all that."

There was a mild sob from the bed, and a pleading voice that cried:

"Aunty! Aunty!"

And the baby started to cry. While these little things were happening, the slow-moving mind of Bultishaw for once worked rapidly, came to a conclusion, and formed a resolution. He moved ponderously to the lamp, and took out his purse. He looked across the lamp at Daphne and said:

"He sends you this. He's sorry not to have sent before. He..."

The elder woman dashed toward the table, and looked at the money.

"How much is it?" she said, and then turning to Daphne, she rasped: "It's two quid. That's better than nothing. Is there any more to come?"

Bultishaw again looked at Daphne. She was bending over the child. She seemed indifferent. A strand of her hair had broken loose beneath the shawl. Bultishaw stammered:

"Yes—er—of course. There'll be—er—the same again."

"'Ow often?" whined the elder woman.

"Er—two pounds—every fortnight. Er—I'll bring it myself."

The big man blew his nose, and shuffled from one foot to another.

"Are you getting better? Is there anything else?" he mumbled.

"Oh, no," whined the elder woman. "We 're living in the lap of luxury. Everything we could want. Ain't we, Cissy?"

The woman on the bed did not answer, and Bultishaw fumbled his way out of the room.

That night Bultishaw had a mild return of his illness. He was very feverish. His mind became occupied with visions of Percy. Percy, the gay, the debonair. There was a long line of poplars by a canal, and some low buildings of a factory on the left. The earth was seamed with jagged cuts and holes. Men were burrowing their way underground like moles. The thing was like a torn fringe of humanity, wildly insane. It was very dark, but one was conscious that vast numbers of men were scratching their way toward each other, zigzagging in a drunken, frenzied manner. There was a stench of decaying matter, and of some chemical even more penetrating. There were millions and millions of men, but they were all invisible, silently scratching and listening. Suddenly amidst the dead silence there was the loud burst of Percy's laughter—just as he had laughed in the bar of "The Duchess of Teck"—and his voice rang through the night:

"Hullo! hullo! HULLO! So here we all are!"

And this challenge seemed to awaken the lurking passions of the night. Bultishaw groaned, and started up in bed, and cried out:

"O God! a thousand tons of mud! a thousand tons of mud!"

On the following day Bultishaw made a grievous mistake in his accounts. He was severely hauled over the coals by the directors. As the weeks proceeded he made other mistakes. He became morose and abstracted. He drank his whisky with less and less soda, till he was drinking it almost neat.

"Old Bulky-chops's brain's going," said some of the other salesmen.

He would lean up against the bar, and stare at Ticknett. Their old conversational relationship became reversed. It was Bultishaw who listened, and Ticknett who did the talking. The soft goods manager appeared to be in excellent trim at the time. He seemed more light-hearted than he had been for years. He spoke in his quiet voice about the tactics of Russian generals, and the need for general compulsion in this country for everybody up to the age of forty-five (Ticknett was forty-seven). At Christmas-time he sent Bultishaw a case of old port wine. His position in the firm became more assured. It was said that Ticknett had bought a large block of shares in Cotterway's, Limited, and that he stood a good chance of being put on the board of directorship.

And Bultishaw watched his upward progress with a curious intentness. He himself was blundering down the hill. He had made a large inroad into his capital, and the day could not be far distant when he would be dismissed. Every fortnight he went out to Kilburn and took two sovereigns, and he never spoke of this to Ticknett.

V

Elsie Bultishaw was very mysterious. In her black crepe dress she bustled about the small room, holding the teapot in her hand.

"They say you should never speak ill of the dead," she whispered to her visitor. She emptied a packet of tea into a caddy, and tipped three teaspoonsful into the pot.

"Of course," she continued, "it's very hard on me and Dorothy. It's lucky Dorothy's got that job at the War Office, or I don't know what we'd do."

"Your pore father was not a careful man, I know, my dear," said the visitor.

Elsie poured the boiling water on to the tea-leaves, and sighed.

"It wasn't only that, my dear," she answered. She coughed and then added in a low voice:

"There was some woman in the case. A barmaid, in fact. Of course, pore father's illness cost a lot of money, what with doctors, and specialists, and loss of time and that. But it seems he'd been keeping this woman too, taking her money every fortnight. When everything's settled up, there won't be more 'n twenty pounds a year for me and Dorothy."

"Dear, dear!" said the visitor. "It's all very tragic, my dear."

"You can't think," Elsie continued, warming to the excitement of her narrative, "what we 've been through. We could never have lived through it, if it hadn't been for Mr. Ticknett. He's been kindness itself. And such an extraordinary hallucination pore father had about him. I didn't tell you, did I, dear?"

"No, dear."

"I'll never forget that night father came home. He'd been drinking, of course. But it wasn't only that. I've never seen him like it. He just raved. It was very late, and me and Dorothy were going to bed. He came stumbling into this room, his eyes lookin' all bright and glassylike. He started by saying that the dead could speak. He said he'd only obeyed the voice of the dead. And then he said something about a packet, and about Mr. Ticknett. I was terrified. He described something he said he'd just done. He walked about the room. He pointed to that corner. 'Look,' he says, 'Ticknett was standin' there.' There'd been a dinner to celebrate Mr. Ticknett's election on to the board of directors of Cotterway's. 'I never take my eyes off him all the evening,' father says. 'It was after the dinner, and we went into the saloon. Ticknett was surrounded by his friends. I watched his lying, treacherous, yellow face smirkin' all around. And suddenly a voice spoke to me, a voice from some dim field in France. It says, "Ticknett's going to have a packet." And then I drew my revolver and shot him through the face!' Dorothy shrieked, and I tried to get father to bed. Of course it was all rubbish. He'd never shot no one. It was just raving. Everybody knows that Mr. Ticknett's been father's best friend. He's helped him crowds of times. A nicer man you couldn't meet. He's coming to tea on Sunday. We managed to get poor father to bed, and to get a doctor. But it was no good. He babbled like a child all night. It was so funny like. He really was like a child. He kept on repeating, 'A thousand tons of mud!' and then suddenly, about mornin', he got quite quiet, and his face looked like some great baby's lying there...He died quite peaceful."

Elsie performed a little mild weep, and the visitor indulged in various exclamations of sympathy and interest.

"Oh, dear," she concluded, "it's dreadful the things people imagine when—they're like that."

Elsie went over all the details again, and the visitor recounted a tragic episode she had heard of in connection with a corporal's widow, who was a relation of her own landlady. They discussed the dreadful war, and its effect on the price of bacon and margarine.

After her departure, Elsie washed out and ironed some handkerchiefs, and then prepared her sister's supper. Dorothy arrived home about seven, and the two sisters discussed the events of the day. They sat in front of the fire and listened to a pot stewing. At a sudden pause, Dorothy looked into the fire, and said:

"Do you think Ticknett's really keen on me, Elsie!"

Elsie giggled, and kissed her sister.

"You'd have to be blind not to see that," she said; and then she whispered:

"Are you really keen on him!"

The younger sister continued staring into the fire.

"I don't know. I think I am. I—Isn't this stew nearly done!"

Elsie again giggled, and proceeded to dish up the stew. Before this operation was completed, there was a knock at the door.

Elsie said, "Oh, curse!" and went, and opened it.

In the doorway stood a woman with a small parcel. Her face was deadly white and her lips colorless. She looked like a woman to whom everything that could happen had happened long ago, and the result had left her lifeless and indifferent. She said listlessly:

"Are you Miss Bultishaw?"

And Elsie said, "Yes."

The woman entered, and looked round the room.

"May I speak to you a moment? Is this your sister?" she said.

Elsie answered: "Yes; what do you want?"

"I want to make an explanation, and to give you some money."

She untied the packet, and placed some notes on to the table-cloth.

"What the hell's this?" exclaimed Elsie.

"This is all I could find," muttered the listless woman. "I found them in his breast-pocket. They belonged to your father. It wasn't your father at all who—ought to have paid. He ought to have paid. So I've taken them from him. I hope there's enough. I'm afraid there may not be. It's all I have. It's only right you should have it."

The two sisters stared at her, and involuntarily drew closer together. It was Dorothy who eventually managed to speak:

"What are you talking about?" she said. "Who do you mean by 'him'?"

"Ticknett!"

The sisters gasped, and Dorothy gave a little cry.

"Here! what do you mean?" she said breathlessly. "Have you pinched this money from Ticknett? You'd better be careful. He's coming here. We'll have you arrested."

The listless woman shook her head.

"No, no," she said in her toneless voice. "Don't you believe that. He won't come here."

"Why won't he come here?" rasped Dorothy, with a note of challenge.

The strange visitor stood staring vacantly at the fire. She seemed not to have heard. Her lips were trembling. Suddenly she answered in the same dull, lifeless manner:

"Because he's lying on my bed with a bullet through his heart."


5. William's Narrow Squeak

"Confound that Mrs. Buswell!"

Twenty minutes to nine, and she had not either called me or brought my early cup of tea! During the four years in which I had held the distinguished position of sub-manager to the Southrepps Bank in Baker Street—the youngest sub-manager ever appointed in the whole record of this famous Southrepps banking association, sir—it had always been my proud boast that I had never been one minute late in the morning, not one minute. Apart from the eagerness and interest I flatter myself I have always taken in my work, I consider it a valuable example to the junior clerks. I like to be at my desk when they arrive, and to grade the quality of my morning salutation to a precise scale of minutes. Sharp on time and I say breezily: "Good morning, Mr. So-and-so!" Four minutes late: "Morning." Five minutes late: a curt nod. Anything between five and eight minutes: a black scowl. Anything beyond eight minutes: a peremptory demand for explanation. Punctuality and precision have always been the most pronounced of my characteristics. To these I probably owe my success in life.

Now, I occupied a pleasant suite of rooms in a small house in Motcombe Street. Mrs. Buswell was my landlady. I did my utmost to inculcate into her the value and importance of these two strong principles, and in a fair way I succeeded. On the whole I could not complain of Mrs. Buswell. She knocked on my door every morning at half-past eight, and set down a cup of tea. I would then rise, drink the tea, shave, have a bath, dress, and enter my sitting-room at ten minutes to nine. My breakfast was invariably ready. Breakfast would occupy fifteen minutes. I would then smoke one cigarette, glance at the newspaper, put on my boots, and leave the house at nine-fifteen. I would walk along a quiet street parallel to the Marylebone Road, and arrive at the bank about three minutes before half-past nine. At half-past nine—I say—I would be seated at my desk, pen in hand. Our manager, Mr. Woodward, did not come till ten.

But recently Mrs. Buswell had developed a regrettable lapse. On Monday she had been three minutes late. On Wednesday, four and a half. On Thursday, so late that I had to go without marmalade, and to take a 'bus along the Marylebone Road. I would rather go without breakfast altogether than be late at the bank. And now on this Friday morning she was again ten minutes late and there was no sound of her. I rang the bell and waited, but there was no answer. I went out on to the landing and called down: "Mrs. Buswell, are you there?"

I could get no answer to this. The minutes were crowding by. I was angry. I believe I swore. In any case I hastily donned a dressing-gown and slippers and explored the basement. There was no sign of Mrs. Buswell, and the fire was not lighted. Mystery of mysteries! I went back and consulted my watch. Had it gone wrong? Was I several hours fast? But no, I am a man peculiarly sensitive to time. I knew by my sensations that it must be somewhere about eight-forty-five. Without more ado I went upstairs and knocked on Mrs. Buswell's bedroom door. Again there was no answer. I knocked louder. A dread suspicion came to me. Perhaps she had died in the night, or been murdered?

I boldly opened the door. Mrs. Buswell was not there. The bed was sketchily made. I could not tell whether it had been slept in or not. There was no one else in the house. It was all most provoking. She must have gone out somewhere—perhaps to get some bread or milk. Anyway, I could not afford to waste any more time. I went back to my room, shaved in cold water, had a bath, and dressed myself. By that time it was seven minutes past nine. Still no sign of Mrs. Buswell. I went down into the kitchen. I just had time to make myself a cup of tea, and then, by taking the Marylebone Road 'bus, I could be at the bank at my usual time. I filled the kettle, and struck a match to light the gas-stove, and then I had my second shock. The gas was cut off.

"Now, that's a queer, mysterious thing!" I thought. I had a cheerless breakfast of bread and butter and cold water. I would not be late at the bank. I was just preparing to go when I realized that my boots were not cleaned, and yesterday had been muddy. I then really did swear at the defaulting landlady. To turn up at the bank with yesterday's mud on one's boots is an even more heinous offence than being five minutes late. I fetched my boots and cleaned them.

In the end I had to run to the corner where the 'buses passed. Of course, there was not one in sight! I waited several minutes, fuming with impatience. No 'bus came, neither was there anyone about.

"What's the matter with the world?" I exclaimed, angrily. I crossed the road and ran down the side street that led to Baker Street. I ran nearly all the way. I did not pass a soul, but so consumed was I with my special complexity I hardly noted the fact. It is in any case a source of pride to me to be able to state that when I entered the bank it was just one minute to the half-hour. I was at my desk by half-past, pen in hand. We had at that time only two junior clerks, Weaks and Burton. (Burton, indeed, was really only an office boy.) Of course, they were both late. Burton had been late on several occasions recently and I was in a bad temper. I had had practically no breakfast in order to be in time, and I prepared myself to put Master Burton in his place. Five-and-twenty minutes to ten and neither had arrived. Twenty to, and a deadly stillness pervaded the bank premises.

I became eerily conscious of a silence that I had never felt in my life before. There was no sound of traffic outside at all!

"Perhaps there's been a strike," I thought. "And then, of course, Weaks and Burton would both be unavoidably late."

But I didn't like it at all. I went out to the front door and looked up and down Baker Street. There were no vehicles at all, no people, no life of any sort!

An almost unrealizable horror gripped me. I looked up at windows, peered into basements, and shouted at the top of my voice. There was no answer, no response. The position was too staggering to be grasped. Horrors, visions, black misgivings crept through me. Prophetic utterances, and Biblical quotations.

"And one shall be taken and the other left!"

Had everyone been taken? and I the only other left? I am not an hysterical man. I have always been sensible, orthodox, and practical. I am a member of the Church of England, and an upholder of the Throne and the Unionist party.

I said to myself, firmly: "William, get a grip on yourself!"


I went back to my desk and waited. Perhaps Mr. Woodward would turn up at ten. He was seldom late. It would be in any case an immense relief to discuss the amazing phenomenon with someone. Ten o'clock came, a quarter past, no Mr. Woodward. Then, indeed, I did become slightly unbalanced. I had a sudden inspiration. The telephone! I rushed to the instrument, lifted the receiver, and screamed into it: "Hullo! Hullo! Hullo! Is anyone there?"

There was a pause, and then I distinctly heard a voice say, weakly:

"Hullo, who is that?"

"It's I, William Mears, of the Southrepps Bank. Who are you, for God's sake?"

I listened. There was no sound but the drone of the wires. I waited, and called again and again. The low hum of the wires continued. Then I thought to myself: "Nevertheless, the telephone is working. If it is working, someone must be at the power-station."

Where were the power-stations? I had distinctly heard that voice at the other end—a man's.

I sat calmly at my desk, almost afraid to think. Eleven o'clock came, eleven-fifteen, eleven-thirty. I hope you will place it to my credit that between eleven-thirty and twelve I quietly continued my office routine as though nothing were the matter. We were within a week of our quarterly balances, and there was much to do—especially with all the staff away.

Just before twelve, however, I thought to myself:

"What's the good of banking when there is no one to bank?"

I shut up the ledger, put on my hat, and went out, after carefully locking everything up. The sun was shining, and the roads, wet from yesterday's downpour, gaily reflected the blue and white sky. In that strange hour it gave me a curious sense of comfort to observe light cirrus clouds moving across the sky. Yes, something was alive then.

I walked up Baker Street. The doors of some of the shops were open, and I went in. There were neither shopkeepers nor customers. I could have helped myself to things of untold value. At the corner of Orchard Street was a newspaper placard. It said: "Latest from Newmarket." There was no date on the paper. It seemed grimly ironic to think of horse-racing when Oxford Street was entirely deserted. There was Messrs. Harridge's vast emporium. One of the doors was open and I went in. I walked through endless show-rooms, filled with clothes, books, stationery, silver, plate, glass, all utterly without value or interest to me. Then I came to a large provision department, and my interest quickened. I remembered that I was hungry. There were hundreds of hams, tongues, fowls, quails, and all kinds of thing in jelly. Without any scruples I devoured two jolly little quails in aspic and a fruit tart. The wine department was packed with every conceivable wine, spirit, and liqueur, but I am a temperate man, and these things did not tempt me. It was, moreover, very necessary to keep a clear head. I left Messrs. Harridge's and went farther on down Oxford Street, I was passing the premises of a rival bank, and I went in. It was all open; moreover, the safe was unlocked. I could have helped myself to a bag or two of golden sovereigns and a sack of Treasury notes, but what is the use of five thousand pounds when you cannot even buy the sound of a human voice?

Just before reaching Regent Street I had a most emotional experience. On the roof of a hosier's shop I espied a black cat. It was mewing piteously. Now, I have never been very fond of cats, but I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire for the company of this black friend. I ran into the shop and up the stairs. With great difficulty I managed to get on to the roof. The cat had disappeared. What became of it I never knew. I felt terribly affected by losing this cat. I said to myself:

"William, you are becoming mawkish. You must pull yourself together."

In Regent Street a cheering sight met my gaze—a florist's shop. I hurried in. There were masses of cut roses, lilac, carnations, and violets. There were plants and dwarf trees in pots. I examined them all carefully. The cut flowers were in water, the plants were growing. The general scheme of things began to take shape in my mind. The world was alive, the sun was in the heavens, the clouds and the good air were just as usual. There was life going on of some sort—flowers, a black cat, a voice on the telephone. It appeared to be just human life conspicuous by its absence. I gathered together a large bunch of dark red roses. I buried my face in them, and clung to them as the only connecting link with the things that mattered. I took them with me on my further pilgrimage down West.

Piccadilly Circus was like a neglected dust-heap. Refuse was scattered here and there. Near the Tube station were holes in the wooden pavement, as though someone had started to dig it up and then gone away. I wandered down the Haymarket, across Trafalgar Square, past Charing Cross, and then to the Embankment. The dear old river looked just the same as usual, except that there was no sign of seagulls or pigeons. The little waves were lapping against the piers of the bridge. The river in any case was another live thing. It was crowded with barges, lighters, and small merchantmen, all idle and deserted. I sought avidly for any sign of smoke. There was none.

I went along the Embankment as far as Westminster, then turned back past the House of Commons and along to the Green Park. The Green Park soothed me. It was green, and the trees and bushes were all in leaf. I knelt on the grass and examined it closely. Was it actually growing? or had it reached its crisis and this was the last day of all? I could not tell, but the grass looked fresh and healthy enough.

By the time I reached Buckingham Palace it was a quarter to two, and I felt hungry again. I went into the Palace unchallenged. I wandered about the vast corridors and reception-rooms. At last I came to the kitchens and larders. I found there a profusion of food little less imposing than that at Messrs. Harridge's.

"Well, after all," I thought, "why not? His Majesty would hardly begrudge a meal to his only remaining subject."

I made a fire with wood and coal, and cooked myself a cutlet and boiled some Brussels sprouts ( I am very fond of sprouts). I placed the meal on a tray and carried it up to the Throne Room. I sat on the Throne of England and solemnly consumed my cutlet. I am probably the only man who has ever eaten a cutlet whilst seated on a throne. It was not very comfortable, but the irony of the situation pleased me. Humour has never been considered my strong point, but I was sensible enough to see that whatever humour I had must be developed in order to sustain me through my amazing ordeal.

I kept on pinching myself and saying: "Well, of course, all this is simply a dream."

Then I would go to the window and look out. But no, I never felt so vital and awake before in my life. Everything was vivid and tangible. It had not that nebulous quality which characterized a dream. Something abnormal and supernatural had happened, and I had to face it. I had heard of people finding themselves in colourably similar predicaments—being lost on a desert island, for instance—and I knew that the great thing was to retain one's sanity.

I had really hardly yet begun to think. I was observing and taking my bearings. Serious thinking must come later. I must simply keep sane.

In one of the courtyards of the Palace I came across several large motor-cars. Another bright inspiration came to me. During the war I had had the honour of being allowed to drive a V.A.D. ambulance. I knew quite a bit about cars. I hurried to the first one, a large touring Daimler. To my intense delight, the self-starter acted promptly. I released the clutch and the thing moved. This was perhaps the most satisfactory experience of the day. With a car I could accomplish a great deal. I raced out into the Mall. If need be, I could escape to the country, go up North, or to the coast. There must be life somewhere. Then it occurred to me that it would be an interesting experiment to go first to the Zoo. I returned up Regent Street and I could not help grinning when I realized that I automatically had to toot my horn and slow up at corners. I was at the Zoo in less than fifteen minutes. Leaving the car outside I clambered over the turnstiles. My worst apprehensions were fulfilled. AH the animals had vanished. I ran from house to house. There was no living thing. By some of the houses the ground appeared to be scratched up, as though the animals might have scratched their way out and escaped. Here and there I came across bleached bones and skulls. I believe I could have made a life-long friend of a sea-lion if only the thing had been there. Once I thought I saw a mouse scamper across a jackal's cage, but I could not be certain.

I gave up the Zoo and returned to my car. What should I do? After mature reflection I decided to give up going into the country till the morrow. I would thoroughly explore London first. After all there seemed more probability of meeting people, or finding some solution here rather than among the fields and commons. I went round Regent's Park to the Finchley Road—and then on to Hampstead, keeping my eyes skinned all the time for any appearance of life. I went all through Hampstead and Highgate, and then through Camden Town, Islington and Highbury. I made my way back to the City and the East-end. I went to St. Paul's Cathedral, and entered it questioningly. The great temple of the people gave me back no answer.

I crawled slowly down Cheapside and Fleet Street. My eyes were constantly intrigued by advertisements. "So-and-so's Soap." "Broadstairs is so Bracing." "A readymade suit for seventy shillings." "Give her Bovril." "George Robey to-night at the Coliseum."

I must keep sane.

Late in the afternoon I went back to the bank. Nothing had changed. I tried the telephone again, but this time I did not even hear the hum of the wires. I was feeling physically exhausted and mentally overwrought by the day's experience. Where should I spend the night? I had the choice of Buckingham Palace, the Savoy or Carlton, or my own bed. I quickly decided in favour of the latter. But first of all I must have another good meal. It surprised me that in this respect I felt well and eager for good things. I eventually went down to the Carlton, and once more routed out the kitchens. I venture to say that I prepared myself a meal that the chef himself would not have been too contemptuous of.

After my dinner I lay back in the lounge in the Carlton and reflected. (I almost wished I had worn evening dress I) It was certainly a situation which demanded profound reflection.

"One shall be taken and the other left."

Assuming that there had been some cataclysmic spiritual manifestation, why should all the others be taken and I left? I carefully reviewed the record of my past life. I could conscientiously say that I had little to reproach myself with. I had always been scrupulously honest, industrious, and sincere. I had been a regular and devout communicant at St. Mary's Church, Marylebone. I had no recollection of ever having done a contemptible or mean action. I may on occasions have been a little quicktempered, a little uncharitable to my subordinates, but surely not sufficiently so to arouse the wrath of God.

But what was the position? What was God's idea? I found myself alone, and in charge not only of the South-repps Bank in Baker Street, but of the whole of London. I was King, Prime Minister, and proprietor. I could go and draw out a hundred million pounds in cash to-morrow and drive away—whither?

But more practical details began to impress themselves. At the present moment London was full of fresh food, fruit, and vegetables. On the other hand, there was no electric light or gas. There was no one to attend to the water or the drainage, or to scavenging in general. The streets were already untidy. In a few days all the food would go bad. In a week's time the whole place would be pestilentially insanitary. No, it was obviously the wisest course to clear out. It would be best to find a small house by itself somewhere in the country or near the sea, a house with a well, perhaps. I could take with me stores of tinned food, sufficient to last for years; and then I could grow vegetables and fruit. I would go to one of the libraries and get books on this subject. The sea was the most attractive proposition. Perhaps some foreign ship would come along. Were all countries and cities like this? Possibly not. And yet, there was no suggestion of a local annihilation, no suspicion of poison-gas or plague. In this case there would be the gruesome evidence of dead bodies. Everyone had just vanished. I was entirely alone. And yet—what was that voice on the telephone?

The evening was drawing on. I left the Carlton, drove up the Haymarket in my car, called at a stores, and commandeered several boxes of candles. I could see that another difficulty was going to be bread. I must store quantities of flour, and read up from books how to make bread. In the meantime, there were plenty of dry unsweetened biscuits in tins. I filled up my car—or rather, His Majesty's car—with all the edibles for my immediate use, and then drove back to my rooms in Motcombe Street.

I was thoroughly worn out, but I found the sight of my small familiar properties comforting. I smoked and reflected for another hour, and then I went to bed. Having persuaded myself that I could do nothing but trust to God and my good conscience, I soon fell into a profound sleep.

I don't know how long I had been sleeping when I was disturbed by a disconcerting noise. I awakened with a start, and listened. When I realized what it was I could extract little comfort from a sound which, although unusual in the room I occupied, was quite familiar as a human experience.

It was the sound of a mouse or rat nibbling in the wainscoting in a corner of the room. Now, it had always been a boast of Mrs. Buswell's that her house was free from vermin of any sort, and I knew that this was no idle boast. I threw a boot into the corner, and the sound ceased. In five minutes' time, however, it started again. When one's nerves are already a little on edge, there is nothing so disconcerting in the stillness of the night as this restless gnaw, gnaw, with the uncertainty of the progress and exact location of the rodent. I lighted a candle and banged on the floor again. Again there was a pause, but only of the briefest duration. I left the candle burning, and so tired was I that after a time I did fall asleep. It must have been several hours later when I awoke with an involuntary start, warned by some foreboding movement of the quilt. I opened my eyes in time to see a large brown rat scuttle from the bed and dart out of sight. My heart beat violently with pure dread.

Now, in nearly all living creatures there is some element of companionableness, but in the rat—no! It is surely the most sinister figure, next to the snake, in all organic life. I yearned for living contact, but with the rat—oh, dear, no! I leapt out of bed. The candle was guttering in its socket, and I quickly lighted another. I shouted and hit the floor with my boots. There was no sign of the rat. However, I found the hole through which he had come, and I feverishly stuffed it up with a towel dipped in paraffin. But I knew I should not sleep again that night. I lighted more candles. I opened my bedroom door an inch or two, and I could not be certain, but I fancied I heard scuttling and scuffling on the linoleum of the passage. I shut the door quickly and spread another towel along the bottom of it.

That decided me. First thing in the morning I would load up my car and leave London. It was just what one might have expected. Directly humanity departed, these awful things would come into their own. In a few days London would probably be overrun with rats. I took down a book and read until daylight filtered between the window curtains.

As soon as it was light enough I arose. I went first to see if my good car was outside. I don't know what I thought could have happened to it, but in this crumbling world I realized that the Daimler was the only friend I had. The sight of it in the road beneath almost brought a lump into my throat. When I had breakfasted I made a list of the things I must not forget to take with me, not forgetting petrol and clothes. There would be a certain pleasant satisfaction in rummaging in the big stores, helping myself to a fur overcoat worth a thousand pounds, and choosing the finest linen and wool. Then I would have a clock, and a diary, for I decided during the night that, whatever the future held in store for me, I would accept philosophically. Within my capacity I would lead a normal life. I would shave and dress meticulously, as befitted the sub-manager of the Southrepps Bank. And I would set everything down and keep a record, so that if there were some ultimate solution of this crazy problem I should be in a stronger position to deal with it. Moreover, an ordered and disciplined life would keep me sane.

I made out my list, collected a few household goods, and went out to the car. I put the things in the car, and was just about to board it when an appalling sight met my gaze. I could do nothing but walk round the car and mutter, "My God!"

All the four tyres had been gnawed to ribbons!

I thought of my unpleasant visitor of the night and a cold horror gripped my heart. It was not that there was anything very surprising in a rat gnawing through a motor-tyre, but there was a suggestion of deliberation about this. The tyres had not been eaten. They were just ripped to pieces as though for a purpose.

I had to admonish myself roundly for giving way to an explosion of despair.

"All right, William, don't lose your hair. There are plenty of other cars in London. You saw hundreds yesterday."

I remembered that there were three taxi-cabs on the rank in the Marylebone Road. Without hesitating a second I ran down the street and turned the corner. There was no need for me to cross the road. The three cabs were resting on their iron rims, the tyres all flat and torn!

"Steady! Steady!" I thought. "There must be some locked up in garages that the rats wouldn't have been able to get at."

I walked towards the wealthy residential quarters of Portland Place and Harley Street. Some of the garages were locked up, and I had to batter down the doors with iron bars or anything I could find. It was a pilgrimage ol despair. I spent the whole morning wandering from street to street, from garage to garage. I inspected hundreds of cars, but not one had a tyre intact.

I lunched at the Carlton again, and attempted to formulate a new plan. Of course, there was nothing to prevent me walking out of London, but how was I to carry all my kit? I might get a barrow and load that up, but it would be an arduous journey, and owing to the sedentary life I had always led I was not very strong, and not a very good walker. London is by no means an easy place to walk out of. It would mean at least a ten or twelve-mile walk, pushing a heavy barrow. But there seemed no alternative. I could not spend another night in this awful city, alone amongst the loathsome creatures.

It took me nearly two hours to find a barrow, which I eventually did in Co vent Garden Market. I trundled it up the deserted streets to Messrs. Harridge's. But on my wanderings in search of the barrow I made another significant discovery. You may remember that on the previous day the wooden pavement outside Piccadilly Tube Station gave me the impression that someone had begun to dig it up and had then neglected it. I now discovered that this was something very different. It was a warren of small holes leading into the earth. The same condition prevailed on the Haymarket side of the Tube, and also at Leicester Square and Oxford Circus.

After making this discovery I went tentatively into Piccadilly Tube Station, and went a little way down the spiral staircase till it was too dark to see. A horrible odour assailed my nostrils, and I hastily retreated. So that was it! It required no special astuteness to envisage that vast warren and storehouse beneath, with arteries connecting with the whole underworld of London. I thought of the many evenings I had travelled in the Tubes about theatre time, the gay lighting, pretty women in opera cloaks and jolly youngsters out for an evening's fun, and then with a shudder I thought of it now committed to eternal darkness and foulness, controlled, moreover, by a mysterious cunning and sense of order. The thought was unbearable.

When I arrived at Harridge's with my barrow I was trembling all over. I wandered over the premises with my list, and chose the things I wanted. It took much longer than I had anticipated, and in the course of it I was subjected to further ominous misgivings. For one thing, whereas on the previous day there had been scores of boxes of candles, to-day there was not one in the building. Neither were there any cheeses, lard, or butter. In the provision department some hams which I had suspected of being slightly tainted had disappeared. The fresh food remained untouched. Every room, every floor and partition was honeycombed with holes. Harridge's was being carefully watched.

This experience made me all the more anxious to get away from London.

The barrow was very heavy when I had loaded it up, and I still had to go back to Motcombe Street to collect the things I had left in the car. As it was getting late I decided that I would only go as far as Richmond that night. I would sleep there, and then push on into Surrey the next day.

I tried at several other places to get candles, but they had all disappeared.

By the time I had had a meal and was ready to start it was sundown. I hesitated as to whether I would try and endure one more night in my Motcombe Street rooms, but my first resolution was fortified by the discovery that all the candles I had taken home the previous day had also disappeared. I could have a fire, but otherwise the evening would have to be spent in darkness.

I added the final touches to my strange outfit and started off down the Marylebone Road. I decided to walk to Hammersmith, go across Barnes Bridge, and so on to Richmond that way. I reckoned on a good two hours' walk. But in doing so I had not allowed for inevitable rests. For the first few hundred yards the barrow load did not seem unduly heavy, but by the time I had reached Hyde Park I felt as though I were pushing a railway truck laden with coal. I was panting and puffing, and my hands were chafed and my back ached. I took a good rest and started again. All along the side of the Park as far as Notting Hill I had to rest every dozen yards or so. When I reached Shepherd's Bush I felt doubtful whether I could proceed. I was quite done up, and it was already getting dark. I rested disconsolately on the edge of the barrow. Whilst doing so, my eye caught sight of a rather gaudy public-house. I had never in my life entered one of these places, but it flashed through my mind that here was an occasion when the most fastidious could hardly grieve at my defection. I entered the saloon bar. There was no lack of every conceivable alcoholic refreshment, I drank a wineglassful of neat brandy, and added the bottle to my effects. At the same time I discarded some of my tinned food in order to lighten the load. The effect of the brandy temporarily ameliorated the outlook, but I was very weary and feverishly anxious to get on. I had an impatient desire to get to the other side of the river. I felt I would rather sleep in the open in Richmond Park, or on Barnes Common, than endure another night in any of these unlighted and cheerless houses. Moreover, I tried several times to dissuade myself from accepting a conscious realization—things already moving and scurrying in the fringes of the coming darkness!

As I struggled on painfully towards Plammersmith Broadway I became gradually obsessed by a terrifying conviction. I was being watched! A dark power was encircling me, and when the moment came, I—I could not tell what would happen, but I knew that I should no longer be master of my fate. I kept to the middle of the road and prayed for strength. Just past the Broadway a swarm of black objects swung in a body across my barrow from left to right. A minute later another swarm swung across from right to left. I looked back, and I became aware of a vast semi-circle of black movement following me.

Before I had reached Barnes Bridge, I knew that I could not go on. In any case, I could not go on with my load. I would discard my barrow and run for it, chancing to find on the other side of the river the necessities I needed. Perhaps on the morrow I could return and reclaim my property in daylight. I left the barrow and strode forward swinging a stick. It was less than a hundred yards to the bridge, but before I had reached it I knew that I was defeated. A pale moon was up and I could see sufficient. It was not so much numbers that paralysed my will to go on, as the sense that at the back of them was an ordered plan, a sinister intelligence. I'm afraid I gave way to a moment of self-pity. I saw myself, the conscientious and scrupulous sub-manager of the Southrepps Bank, a pitiable figure, struggling to do his duty, and to behave as became a Christian gentleman, and then—hemmed in and mastered by a dark, unjust fate.

As I stood by the bridge, uncertain how to act, I was suddenly startled by a new amazement. Creeping along the near bank was a small tramp steamer or freighter. It was moving. There was smoke coming out of the funnel. I could almost swear that I could see the figure of a man at the wheel. Then, as I peered more eagerly, I was certain that, though there might be a man at the wheel, the deck of the steamer was swarming with that same dark restless movement. At the top of my voice I yelled out:

"Hullo! Hullo! there! Who's that? Land, I say, for God's sake!"

The steamer crept under the bridge and appeared the other side. I rushed to it and screamed out again:

"Hullo! Hullo! I say. Is that a man? For God's sake, land!"

I waited. There was a noise of squeaking and the rushing of water. As the steamer began to crawl out of sight, I could swear I heard a husky answer:

"I can't. They won't let me!"

I groaned and cried out again, but no further answer came back.

Then, indeed, was I becoming desperate. Why did the creatures not attack me and make an end? I was utterly at their mercy. For a moment I hesitated whether I would not rush on to the Bridge and throw myself into the river, but the idea of suicide has always appeared to me to be of all crimes, next to murder, the most irreligious. No, I would fight to the end.

I walked back to my barrow, my consciousness almost numbed into indifference. So absorbed was I with my spiritual tribulations that I hardly heeded the movements of my black masters. I stood by the barrow hesitating, and then the strangest thing of all happened. I became aware of concentric movements, of swerves and formations, like an army at manoeuvres.

"Now," I thought, "it's coming. Well, let it be quick—"

I was in the middle of the road, and I could see fairly well. I waited patiently, stick in hand. The manoeuvres seemed suddenly to a stop, as though the Generalissimo had achieved a perfect formation. Then two bodies detached themselves and took up positions on either side of me. I could even see their leaders gleaming menacingly on the flanks. And then a third smaller body approached between them. It was apparently conveying a large dark object. The whole cavalcade appeared to be closing in on me, and then it suddenly retreated, leaving the dark object at my feet.

I peered down. It was a large brown rat, a very prince of rats, an enormous fellow. He was wounded in the right leg, whether through fighting or through falling on a sharp object I could not say. The command was obvious. I was being watched by ten thousand specks of light.


I praised God for the thoroughness of my preparations before leaving Harridge's. I had a first-aid outfit, and during the war I had picked up a little knowledge of the valuable craft. I took the things from the barrow, being careful to show no signs of hurry or suspicion. Then I knelt down and bathed the wound, which was bleeding, applied some antiseptic, and bound it up with a clean bandage. I did it as well as I possibly could. The brown rat never stirred. As a brilliant afterthought I smeared a little brandy over his nose. I could not be sure how this would affect him, but I thought the experiment might be worth while. Then I drew apart and waited, to show that the operation was over. Followed a lot of squeaking and whispering, the movement of further formations, and the removal of the invalid. Nonchalantly I strolled off down the street back to Hammersmith. I went unmolested, nevertheless, the sense of depression became accentuated. Before I was in open warfare; now I felt that I was a slave. If I was useful to them they would neither kill me nor let me go.

Strolling back towards Kensington the truth of the whole situation began to dawn on me. The voice on the telephone, the black cat, the man on the steamer, myself—Humanity was not defunct. It had simply been superseded. The earth was now dominated by the rat. Man was a subsidiary and servile creature. A few human beings would be allowed to live, provided they served some useful purpose in the rodentary scheme of things.

In Kensington I found a large private hotel. I was tired, dazed, and beaten. I stumbled in and found my way to a room on the top floor. I struck matches, and satisfied myself that there were no holes in the floor or walls. Then I threw myself on to the bed and fell into a heavy sleep.

It was, of course, only to wake later to the abrupt irritation of that gnaw, gnaw, gnaw in the skirting.

"I shall go mad!" I whispered. Then:

"William, if ever there was a time to pull yourself together it is now. What is to prevent you walking out of London to-morrow morning? They don't come out in daylight. Get right away into the clean, sweet air of the country, and leave everything. Better to die of starvation or exposure than endure this. Besides, who knows but that you may find a colony of humans somewhere?"

The gnawing went on, but I slept by fits and starts. My fears were somehow less directly personal. I felt that my services to the old brown rat would in some way secure me from immediate attack. Once during the night I know that a rat scuttled across the bed. I had no candles, and I was too weary to protest. What would be the good? If I went to another room they would quickly make their way thither. I tried to visualize London a hundred years hence, a mouldy ruin entirely perforated, like an old leaf that has been pressed between the leaves of a book and forgotten. It seemed surprising that it was less than forty-eight hours ago that I had been in this metamorphosed existence, and it already held me in an ice-cold grip of fatality. If I could consider the matter logically and dispassionately I might be able to persuade myself that I was despairing too rapidly, surrendering too easily. But I was enveloped by an atmosphere in which logic seemed to have no place, reason no throne. A few days and nights of this and I should be an old man.

The dawn at last. I rose hastily and began to dress. I had not completed my toilette before I was confronted with a new disaster. The soles of my boots had been eaten! There was again in this the menace of deliberate purpose. There could have been no reason to have eaten my boots for the nourishment they contained. London was chock-full of food. I wandered over the hotel. I found five pairs of gentlemen's boots. In each case the soles had been destroyed. On the other hand, I found seven pairs of ladies' shoes. They were untouched. Why?

So soon as I had consumed a hasty meal I hurried out into the street in my socks. After a brief search I found a bootmaker's shop. One glance satisfied me. All the boxes had been pulled down and eaten into, and the soles of the boots destroyed. Even some ladies' boots of the larger kind were destroyed; but there were plenty of the latter with Louis heels and useless pointed toes. The thing was diabolic. Could I walk out of London in my socks? In any case I would try. It was my only hope. I bound my feet up in thick bandages, after covering them with vaseline. On the top of this I wore two pairs of thick socks.

This time I would go North, where there was no river to cross. I made up a small parcel of food and a change of clothing, and set forth. I will not distress you with a description of that journey. It was a dull record of pain, weariness, and mental anguish. I lost all sense of time or space. Sometimes I would rest on a doorstep and nibble at my food. A curious conviction came over me that I was instinctively imitating the rats' method of eating. It was again nearly dark before I found that the houses were getting more widely separated, and there were occasional lapses of fields and open spaces. Even then—there would be many miles to go before I was clear of it all.

I had nearly reached the end of my tether, and was passing a red-brick wall that might have been the outside wall of some institution, when suddenly I thought I heard the sound of a cry on the other side of the wall—a human cry! With a superhuman effort I leapt at the wall and scrambled to the top. Just on the other side I beheld a woman. She was kneeling down and collecting something from the ground. In the most futile and inane fashion I called out:

"Hullo! Good-evening!"

She turned her face to me. It was the saddest face I have ever seen. At the sight of me it expressed neither relief nor pleasure. It simply looked utterly hopeless and scared. I said:

"Who are you? Will you come with me? Let us escape—"

She looked round with a terrified glance, and muttered:

"No, no, no."

"Why not?"

"They won't let me."

"Who won't?"

"The Masters."

And then with a groan she ran across the courtyard, and darted through a gate which she slammed after her.


Then I knew that all was finished. I was a creature in revolt. I gripped my stick. I would not avoid rats any longer. I would seek them out. I would attack, and die fighting for what I represented.

I stumbled on to the next house I came to, a bleak buff-brick villa. I stamped into the hall and cried out:

"Come on, you devils!"

A new strength seemed to enter my limbs. I went into a dark room and struck at the floor and walls with my stick. But as the strength came so it oozed away. Something unaccountable was happening to me. I fell on to a couch and groaned. I seemed to be rushing through space, through a noisy channel. At the other end sounds detached themselves. I distinctly heard a voice say:

"Hullo, old man, that's better!"

There was an interval, and then the same voice said:

"Hullo, William, old man, you're all right now, eh? You understand? You're all right."

The voice was strikingly familiar. Tom—of course, Tom Stokes. What was he doing in this God-forsaken place? What place? Where was I?

"You remember it all now, old man, don't you? We were having a jolly talk about Bernard Shaw and Dean Inge—"

Dean Inge! The gloomy Dean, they called him. Something shaped and cleared. I remembered a lot of things.

"I'll never forgive myself, old man. We were talking—a jolly talk about what could happen to humanity. You leant over the fireplace, knocking out your pipe. I reached up to get a spill, and, like the clumsy ass I am, I knocked that big vase right over. It fell on to your head. They've had to put in a couple of stitches. You're all right now, old man, eh?"

More familiar than Tom's voice—the cosy security of my own room. More dear to me than Tom's face—the eyes of my wife welcoming me back. Queer, that all that part of my life had been forgotten, that I should have jumped back to the time when I was a sub-manager at a small bank. Queer—

"What could happen to humanity? The gloomy Dean, the gloomy Dean. Yes—"

Yes, I remembered it all.

Thank God!


6. When the Earth Stopped

You may remember that the summer of 1938 was an exceptionally hot one. Anti-cyclones over the eastern Atlantic caused a series of heat waves in northern and western Europe. These conditions began in early June, and they prevailed with only the briefest interruptions right up to the third week in September. People had never known such a hot summer.

One afternoon during the beginning of the first heat wave in June, Lena Trevanna peeped beneath the sunblind and looked down on to the marble terrace of her husbands palatial mansion at Twickenham. The white marble seemed to be dancing and quivering in the sun. Projecting from beneath the awning of an extending deck chair she could see her husband's white buckskin boots, and the sight filled her with bitterness. One might ask whether her husband's boots were a special source of irritation to Lena. It is difficult to say. Certainly, the right boot had once kicked her during a paroxysm of the owner's anger. But it is doubtful whether she hated his feet more than any of the rest of him. She had no desire to see his face at that moment. She was all too familiar with that heavy, puffy jowl, the bald head fringed with white hair, the moist protruding eyes, the bristly tooth-brush moustache, the overhanging eyelids, and the small dark eyes that missed nothing and flashed alternately with anger and cunning.

She hated him, and she hated that miniature city, the roofs of which she could just see on the other side of the park. They called it Trevanna City. It comprised several square miles of studios, workshops, and buildings of plaster and canvas, film factories, and solid houses where lived actors and producers, and operators, and all the rag-tag and bob-tail of that profession she had learned to hate.

And Lena had not always hated it. When a very young girl it had been the ambition of her life to be a filmstar. She had studied and struggled and failed. She knew she was not beautiful. She was short and dark and ill-proportioned. But she had something—she believed she had the ability to portray emotion. For three years she had withstood the buffets of the cinema world. No one gave her the least encouragement. She became despondent and bitter. And then one day she had met the great Julius Trevanna. Even at that time—fifteen years ago—he was a big man in the film world. And now?—was it not a notorious fact that he was the central pivot of a virtual combine, the combine of all British and Colonial film interests? Millions: millions; he had piled them up as other men pile up shillings. And the millions brought no satisfaction to Lena. She was nominally the mistress of the house. In effect she was less than a servant. She was a servant without the power to give notice. She was a slave, a chattle. She wandered through the great corridors and galleries, and was alone—utterly alone.

Some strange, almost perverse desire must have assailed Julius when they first met. She was conscious of him observing her sleepily and tugging at his little moustache as though considering a problem. She disliked him instantly. He was physically repellent to her. And then one day he had come and stroked her hair and said:

"You're a nice little girl, eh?"

She did not know what to do. There suddenly flashed through her mind two visions. One of Lena Baynes—unsuccessful, unknown, penniless, getting old. The other of Lena Trevanna, rich, successful, the greatest film star in the world. If she married him he would be bound to give her leading parts. She had hesitated and dallied. Julius was a masterful man. He had not given her opportunities for long consideration. Money was no object in any of his undertakings. And so one April day she found herself his wife. For a few months there was a semblance of some kind of happiness in their married life, and then came the rift. She almost at once discovered that he was vicious, egotistical, and tyrannical. He tired of her, but he would not let her go. When she suggested herself in leading parts, he said:

"'Um, yes. Well, we shall see. Better begin at the bottom and climb."

He gave her small parts and quickly showed he thought nothing of her ability. One day she overheard him tell a producer that he needn't bother about her because "she was a perfect fool." That was the beginning. They quarrelled, and henceforth their lives were lived apart. They shared the great palace and hardly ever exchanged a word. He clothed her and fed her, but only made her a small allowance. He ordered her about and bullied her. Sometimes he even struck her. For fifteen years she had endured this life, hesitating between numerous alternatives. What could she do? If she left him, she would again have to face the struggle and the disgrace. She had become quite convinced at last that she really had no ability as an actress. And she was getting older. No wonder she began to hate this unreal world. Everything was unreal and unconvincing. Emotions, murders, and marriages and robberies were always being enacted right under her nose. The house itself was frequently in use, and she arrived at the condition of being unable to differentiate between reality and posture. Every vision might be a chimaera. The wljole countryside was unreal—film mad.

On this afternoon as she gazed on to the terrace, she sighed for the days of her youth, when everything was vital and real. The sun was apparently too hot for Julius. She saw him pull his hat over his eyes and stroll into the house. At the same time she observed a large aeroplane gliding downwards beyond the trees. After hovering for a few seconds, it alighted on the landing stage across the park. A small detachable motor-car appeared to be released from the framework and in a few minutes was racing up the drive towards the house.

"It's someone coming to see Julius," she thought.

In her enervated and bored mood she felt a sudden desire to see who this stranger might be. Anything was better than eating her heart out. She found her husband in the Louis XV. salon, still smoking the cigar and glancing at a tape machine. She did not address him. She went and perched herself in the window-seat. Apparently he did not observe her. She pretended to be reading. In a few minutes' time a butler entered with a card on a lacquer tray. He handed it to Julius, who examined it.

"Good God!"

The importance of the message appeared to be so profound that he swung round as though he could not restrain his excitement. He must communicate it to someone. He observed Lena and exclaimed:

"Mark Ulrich! Good God! Mark Ulrich himself! The biggest man in the film world of the whole of America! What the devil does he—"

Apparently feeling that he was being too familiar and communicative, he turned once more to the butler and said:

"Show Mr. Ulrich in."

The room was flooded with a mellow light diffused by the skilful arrangement of sunblinds. She lay shivering in her corner, watchfully alert. The butler retired and re-entered, followed by the visitor. There was little about the first impression of Mr. Mark Ulrich to denote the biggest man in the cinema world. His physique was insignificant, his face was grey and drawn, his clothes dowdy. It was only when he advanced and held out his hands that she observed the quiet power behind the eyes, the steady jaw, the complete sense of assurance which only masterful men possess.

"Mr. Trevanna?" he muttered, and smiled kindly.

Julius was obviously deeply affected, excited and a shade suspicious. What had the American Film King come to him for? He spoke as casually as he could:

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Ulrich—a great honour. Won't you sit down?"

The American perched himself on the corner of a Chesterfield, and passed his hand over his brow.

"I have been most anxious to meet you, Mr. Trevanna. I am a bad traveller. I preferred the old days when we used to come by sea. Even now I insist upon the dirigible. They are slow but comfortable. I must have my bath. It is two and a half days since I left my home in Connecticut to come and visit you."

Julius raised his eyebrows.

"Do I understand that you have come over specially to see me?"

Mr. Ulrich smiled.

"Why not? Yes, indeed. I have a matter I want to discuss with you, if you can spare me the time."

"Why, of course, I have nothing urgent this afternoon or to-night. May I put you up for a day or two?"

"It is very kind of you. I must return to America to-night, however. But if you think well of my idea I shall return again in a few days' time."

"Well, well, now. Make yourself at home. Have a cigar."

"Thank you, I do not smoke. If you can really spare me the time, I will begin to lay my plans before you at once."

He coughed and looked round the room, and his eye alighted on Lena. He gave a little exclamation of surprise.

Julius, who had quite forgotten her, turned in her direction. He barked out:

"My wife!"

Mr. Ulrich immediately walked across the room and held out his hand to her.

"Mrs. Trevanna," he said, "I am delighted to make your acquaintance."

The unaccustomed social attention quite unnerved Lena. She could only gasp: "Thank you...Thank you."

Mr. Ulrich looked slightly puzzled. He glanced from one to the other and then resumed his seat. Julius appeared to hesitate whether to order his wife out of the room, but apparently decided that her presence made no difference one way or the other. The only sound was the ticking of the tape machine. Mr. Ulrich leant forward on his knees, and as he spoke a tinge of colour enlivened his countenance:

"What I am about to propose to you may cause you considerable surprise, and I shall not ask you to come to any decision in the matter till my return from America. The idea has come to me slowly. It is the outcome of the growth of my experience—many, many long years in the film world. I think it began to take shape at the time when the Chinese, and indeed all the Eastern people, began to be absorbed by the fascination of moving picture work. Now, as you know, Mr. Trevanna, the cinema industry is the first industry in the world. It represents a larger flotation of capital, it employs more people, and pays greater dividends than any other two industries in the world put together. You and I, and perhaps a few others, hardly realise the power that is in our hands."

Julius looked up at him quickly.

"Is your idea—an international combine?"

"In a sense—yes. But my idea is more comprehensive than that. I am of opinion that what the famous League of Nations failed to accomplish, the Universal Film Trust could accomplish quite easily."

"I'm afraid I can't see—the League of Nations! What have we to do with politics?"

"We might have everything to do with politics. If we could live up to the ideal which should inspire all parties to the agreement, we could—"

"What could we do?"

"We could stop the earth!"

"What the devil!"

"I do not mean that human life or activities would be stopped. On the contrary, they would be helped, and encouraged, and elevated. What I mean is that history could be stopped. There would be armies, but they would be armies in fustian. We could fight again the battle of the Marne, the battle of Poitiers, the battle of Marathon, but there would never again be bloodshed. There would be nations retaining their national characteristics but as nations they would have no claws or talons. There would be Governments, but they would be tools in our hands. We should enter the age of retrospection. We would wind up the history of the world. We would set it down, and reproduce it on the screens. All men would work simply and reverently for the good of mankind. Agriculture and manufacture and all arts and industries would still go on, of course, but there would be no international politics. With the power that we represent we could check any movement of political aggression. We could stop the production of all armaments except those made of wood and canvas."

"You must be mad!"

Mr. Ulrich smiled gently, and raised his hand.

"Mr. Trevanna," he continued, "I need perhaps hardly point out to you that my life and work have not all been the outcome of a visionary existence. Many people consider me a hard, material man. Even my numerous benefactions have been ascribed as 'good business.' I may mention that, in spite of your unique position in the British film world, you are not the first man I have approached. I only crave your sympathetic consideration. As I say, I do not expect you to give your decision until I return from America."

Julius sucked the stump of his cigar, which had gone out.

"Might I ask—who else have you approached?"

"Ah Sing Fu."

"Ah Sing Fu!"

Lena observed her husband start and shrink back into the easy chair. Mr. Ulrich twisted his fingers around his bony knees and swayed backward and forwards.

"The world has yet to comprehend the Chinese. The Chinese are the most numerous, the most intelligent, the most immovable race on this earth. It may almost be said that they wound up their history some time ago. They have begun to find out how to live. I have spent many happy hours in the society of Ah Sing Fu. He is a philosopher, an idealist, and an extremely able and practical man. As you know, he is the presiding genius of that wonderful group of Eastern film activities which have only come into force during the last fifteen years. It embraces the whole of China and Eastern Siberia and part of Japan. It has its ramifications throughout India and the Malay Archipelago. It is a bigger corporation than either yours or ours. Ah Sing Fu and I are the only people at present who have discussed this idea. I now come to you. Within the course of a few weeks trusted agents of ours will be active throughout Europe and Africa and that part of Asia not yet influenced by Ah Sing Fu."

"But what does it all amount to? How do you propose to go to work?"

"The nations of the world, Mr. Trevanna, are still living on paper credit as a result of the great war. They are, indeed, a lot of bankrupts. They can dress well and dine well and stuff the bills away into a drawer. They are just gambling on. Their very existence depends on the goodwill and good sense of men controlling the largest blocks of actual assets. We film industries are conducted on a cash basis. We represent the biggest, solidest control of capital in the world. Nothing can stand against it!"

"Then we could shove the prices up."

"We could, but that is not the idea of either Ah Sing Fu or myself. Our idea is simply a moral one. On the contrary, we think the charges should be reduced, the standard of production raised; the ego could be turned inwards to absorb the moral of the past and, through it, to determine the way to live."

The eyes of Julius were starting out of his head. He was obviously convinced that he was in the presence of a lunatic, a dangerous lunatic, and yet a person for whom he had a profound respect. He had chafed his fingers once badly pulling the strings against this very man. And Ah Sing Fu was a genius; the whole film world acclaimed it.

He was uncomfortable and disturbed, and suspicious. Why couldn't they leave him alone comfortably piling up his millions. Who cared or believed in the "uplifting of humanity?" At the same time, if he opposed them, what might they not do? His fortune was great, but his commitments were greater. He depended on America, and Russia, and even the East for many things. Unless he was circumspect, he might find himself marooned. He temporised.

"It's a big idea."

Mr. Ulrich blinked at the great salon and cracked a knuckle. Then he arose and walked to the window, and looked across the park. He appeared to be considering some new problem. Suddenly he turned and said quietly:

"This is a very beautiful house. Very quiet and charming. It has suddenly occurred to me—Ah Sing Fu and I had almost determined to call a conference at Joachims in Prague at the end of the month, but when I come to think of it—I wonder whether we could trespass upon your hospitality! This would make an ideal meeting place. And it would be more convenient in many ways. You live here alone, do you not? Of course, it all depends upon the word of Mrs. Trevanna..."

He smiled and bowed to her. Julius grunted and tugged at his little moustache. Lena did not speak. The shafts of unspoken venom passing between husband and wife must have been apparent to Mr. Ulrich, but he gave no recognition of it. Julius suddenly exclaimed:

"Yes, yes, certainly. Have it here, by all means."

But it was said less as a genial invitation than as an assertion that the word of Mrs. Trevanna didn't count one way or the other.

"Very kind, very kind of you indeed," murmured Mr. Ulrich. "As you may imagine, there will be a great number of technicalities to discuss. It will be necessary to get in everyone, and possibly to—eradicate objectionable elements."

He uttered the last sentence very slowly and clearly. There was a touch of velvet menace about it. Julius visualised Ah Sing Fu, Ulrich and Joachim eradicating "objectionable elements." Joachim, he knew, was another of these international fanatics who were becoming so prolific. The centre of his operations was Prague, and he controlled the film interests of all Central Europe. These three together could eradicate anything. They were mad—stark, staring mad; but they frightened him. Fortunately there was his friend, Jonkers, in Brussels. He was a good man, a good, solid man, with no nonsense about him. He would ring up Jonkers, and see what he thought. Between them perhaps they could cope with these lunatics, these visionaries. Damn it! what was his wife doing, suddenly walking over to this American and shaking hands, saying she would like to have the conference here? In his house! He, who by his industry and genius, had built the place, and picked her out of the gutter. He had half a mind to cancel the whole thing. He was being rushed...

"Then that is settled, Mr. Trevanna. I do not mean that you will agree at present to join the combination, but that you will agree that we hold the conference here. It is so much more satisfactory than any written or wirelessed way of communicating. It is necessary that we should all know each other. The personal factor still remains the dominant force in the world."

Mr. Ulrich held out his hand, and Julius found himself gripping it. The vanity of wealth over-rode his other feelings. He desired to impress his rivals.

"Invite as many as you like," he exclaimed. "We could put up a hundred or two and not notice them in this place."

"I do not think it will be necessary to ask more than about twelve or fifteen—just a central body—but the conference will naturally go on for several weeks. After formulating a broadly-designed scheme, it will be necessary to keep constantly in touch with our representatives in all parts of the world. There will be opposition and misunderstanding, and we shall have to clean it up bit by bit."

"I will stroll down the garden with you."

Julius felt a sudden accentuated aversion to his wife. He was annoyed that she had been present. He felt that he was being made to look weak and pliable, and it angered him that she should have observed it. He scowled at her as he suggested the stroll in the garden. It was meant to imply very forcibly that her presence was undesirable. It was quite unnecessary, however. Lena made no attempt to follow. She froze into her former conditionjof sullen aloofness. Mr. Ulrich shook her hand, and the two men went into the garden.

Lena watched them for some time talking earnestly beneath the cedar tree. Ulrich did most of the talking. He was emphasising his points deliberately and clearly, tapping the palm of his left hand with two fingers of his right. In rather less than an hour's time, he took his departure.

Julius came back into the house. He was in a very bad temper. He kept snapping his fingers, a characteristic sign of extreme tension and nervousness. When he saw her, he bawled at her:

"Make all preparations with the servants to entertain twenty men here for three weeks in August."

She felt tempted to reply: "Don't you mean, 'make all preparations with the other servants?'" but she forbore, and shrank away from him. Alone in her room, she thought: "They are going to stop the earth...everything will cease...everything will be unreal for ever."

The unusual spell of heat continued. Three days later her husband remarked to her in the morning:

"Jonkers is coming to-night. Have the Dubarry room prepared for him."

She knew and detested this Jonkers. He was so very like her husband, only not so fat. He had a disgusting, oleaginous, over-familiar way of talking to her. He said one thing with his mouth and another with his eyes. He was cunning, and supercilious, and sensual. He sometimes flattered her, but she knew from his eyes that he thought no more of her than her husband did. Nevertheless, she was interested to hear of the visit. She knew that it was in some way connected with the visit of Mr. Ulrich. All over the world were springing up what her husband called "these crazy internationalists." Ulrich, Ah Sing Fu, Joachim, and these others were of that persuasion. They only awaited some lever. Jonkers and Julius Trevanna would never agree with the rest. They would plot behind the scenes. They would play for their own hands.

She knew that, and she knew it more fully when she saw them together that night after dinner. She pretended to make herself scarce, but she was watching and listening. Jonkers stayed two days and nights, and the two friends talked far into the night. It was very difficult. Julius was suspicious, and she had to appear more dormant and preoccupied than ever. Only once did she manage to overhear a portion of a conversation which completely showed the trend of their ambitions.

"Of course, we shall have to agree," Julius was saying. "It's too big a thing. But this is where we'll come in, Jonkers—"

He explained some technical suggestion of Ulrich's. Lena could not understand it, but she understood the chuckle of the Flemish guest, when he interjected:

"Keep that dark, dear boy. You and I between us, we should make four million a year clear profit over that—if we pretend, see?"

Followed no relief from the prevailing high temperature. Jonkers went and others came. Tapes and telephones and wires were always active, and still the world was unsuspicious of being stopped. July came and went and the day of the conference was drawing near.

Lena was pledged to secrecy. Not a word was to be breathed. The affair was to have the appearance of an ordinary house party. The servants would know nothing about the guests. If it came out that all the film magnates were assembled at one point, the stock markets of the world would be in panic.

Ah Sing Fu was the first arrival. He came with a retinue of three servants and a secretary. He drifted into the house like an autumn leaf indicating the wane of the year—an old man, with a thin, white beard, suave, gentle, impenetrable. Lena would never know him, but she felt that she could trust him.

"No man was ever so wise as some Chinamen look." Ah Sing Fu was like that. There was something about him big, disinterested, indestructible—a pioneer of perpetuity.

He and his retainers glided about the house in their slippered feet. Their presence seemed permeating but intangible. Ulrich followed within twelve hours. Then came Joachim, a jovial giant, with a deep penetrating voice and a laugh that was good to hear. Three others arrived in the night as if by magic. Rene Caradoc, a Frenchman; Raddaes, a Portuguese; and an indeterminate person called Linnsen, who might have been anything from a Moor to a Chicago stock-raiser. They vanished to their rooms, met in the morning, and talked in little groups over their coffee. The conference was already begun. Golf was played in the afternoon, obviously with the idea of giving an impression of normality. Joachim broke a club, and his laugh could be heard across the park. He had probably never played the game before. The afternoon brought two gentlemen from South America and one from Cape Town. Lena was beginning to lose the thread of their identities. Everything was becoming dreamlike, fantastic. The heat was enervating. There was an informal meeting of all parties in the library, and Julius informed her that her presence was not desirable. Again in the night arrived Moder, another American, and a Hindu, with a retinue of five. Within the week the conference was complete. Twenty-three sat round the circular table in the library. All the doors were closed. Lena wandered about the grounds or sat in the garden dreaming. What were they going to do? What would be the outcome of it, this conspiracy to stop the earth? She liked Ulrich, and she liked Joachim and Ah Sing Fu. They were good men. She was convinced of that. But—this heat! She dreaded it, the stopping of the earth, retrospection, going back, nothing happening again, everything to be filmed and unreal. She would not be able to stand it.

While things went on there always seemed a vestige of hope...anything might happen. But if they were successful—

She met them on the terrace and at meal times, pleasant, charming men for the most part. They were very kind to her, very considerate, but pre-occupied. Big things were on the move. Code messages arrived and were despatched all day and night. The weeks dragged by. She overheard occasional remarks which gave her an inkling of development. There appeared to be trouble in South Russia and the Balkans. There would be, of course. Joachim and Ulrich were very active over this. Someone was being squeezed out. The operation appeared to be conducted through a process of buying and selling stock on the Vienna stock exchange. It was all quite incomprehensible.

At the end of the third week two more men appeared; one a German, the other an Albanian. They were initiated into the mysteries. Once she heard one of them remark: "The Dutch are obstinate." She knew they would be. Her heart went out to the Dutch. Then the crushing process began on Amsterdam. Someone else was superseded. It seemed horrible. The whole earth was being cleaned up. And all the time Julius Trevanna and Jonkers were playing some game of their own. Before the others, they did not appear very intimate, but Lena knew that Julius invariably visited Jonkers in his room at night after the others had retired. There was a private telephone and wireless service there. One night she tried to listen at the keyhole. She could hear them talking, but could not hear what they said. And suddenly the door opened and Julius came out. He caught hold of her arm and hurt her.

"What the devil are you doing?" he muttered, and he flung her across the passage.

That night she did not sleep.

The next day she sought out Ulrich. She managed to detach him from a group on the terrace. She whispered:

"Mr. Ulrich, may I have a private word with you?"

"Why, certainly, dear lady."

"Will you come to the end of the second orchid house in ten minutes' time?"

When he came she could not get her breath. She was terrified. She felt sure Julius would know. If she betrayed him, he would kill her. She said:

"Mr. Ulrich, forgive me. I am worried. I know you are good—you are all good men. But this power you are wielding—suppose one day this power should...get into the hands of someone who is not good?"

Mr. Ulrich looked at her kindly, and patted her hand.

"My dear lady," he answered, "you are quite right. And we are taking every precaution. As a matter of fact, the combination can only exist while it is a moral force. You may be sure that immediately it began to be abused humanity would turn and rend it. Our ambition is to keep it dark for many years until its activities have produced concrete results."

"You mean to say that the world won't know it has been stopped?"

He laughed.

"Yes, that is what I mean."

"But suppose—suppose someone inside abused it."

"There is a slight risk of that, of course. But he would have to be wonderfully astute to deceive Ah Sing Fu and—some of the others. Has anyone arrived at the conference whose character you suspect?"

"No."

"There, there, you must not distress yourself, Mrs. Trevanna. Everything is going on splendidly. The meeting has exceeded my wildest anticipations."

A messenger came seeking him. The conference was in session. Lena ordered the car and told the chauffeur to drive fast. She wanted air. The heat was getting unbearable. On her return the party were again on the terrace. They seemed in very good spirits. She heard Joachim say: "On Thursday, then, we will sign."

Ulrich replied: "Yes. If the reply from Brotzel is satisfactory."

She moved among them, and with shy diffidence presided at the silver tea urn. The men were all laughing and joking. Joachim suddenly slapped his leg.

"I have it! I have it! I know what we must do," he exclaimed.

"What is that?"

"We must film it."

"Film what?"

"Thursday. It must go down to posterity. The day when the Conference was signed. All the incidents of the day. The members signing—having tea, talking, enjoying the special delights of Mrs. Trevanna's hospitality."

Ulrich nodded sagely.

"There would be no objection, I'm sure, provided that the films were not released for many years."

"Naturally. What do you say, gentlemen?"

No one objected, although Ah Sing Fu seemed to consider it a superfluous indignity. Rather trivial; nevertheless, he nodded acquiescence. Jonkers smiled cynically.

"Yes, of course. Very good. You must be in this, too, Mrs. Trevanna. Wife of British delegate ministering to her husband, eh?"

The suggestion was greeted with shouts of approval. Lena frowned and felt uncomfortable. What a mockery! And all these years she had wanted to play—now, "the wife of British delegate ministering to his wants." The future generations would never know. No one would know except Jonkers, mocking and sneering behind his black moustache. How unbearable! What could she do to stop it all?

On the Wednesday news came that Brotzel—whoever he was—had been won to the cause. The coast was clear. The next day the Conference would sign and break up. The world would begin to stop.

That night Lena slept for an hour, and then awoke with a start. She rose and went to the window. She pressed her temples against the pane. The heat was intolerable. She looked out into the park. Nothing stirred. Everything was unnaturally still. The silence was oppressive. "The world has stopped...the world has stopped," she thought. "Nothing will ever happen again. There will be no more love, no more romance—only make-believe. It will get hotter and hotter. The sun will scorch it to a cinder, and the other side will freeze. Everyone will die, and either burn up or freeze. Nothing will matter. Nothing will have any value. It will all be as though it had never existed. Perhaps it never did exist. Perhaps it's just a dream—a film."

Suddenly burying her face in her hands, she muttered:

"Oh God! give me power to be real—just once."

The day dawned clear and hot. The terrace glittered with sunlight and crisp shadows. An excellent day for "shooting." The operators were already busy in the park. She could see Joachim laughing and striking preposterous attitudes. Ah Sing Fu fanning himself unconcernedly. A small party having breakfast on the terrace. Ulrich talking quietly and authoritatively. Where was Julius Trevanna? Ah! the inevitable cigar. He strolls—or rather rolls—like a bloated elephant to the easy chair to put his feet up, a newspaper tucked under his arm. A breakfast tray on a table by his left side, the plates and knives dishevelled. He has been for the paper. He looks irritable and bored. A fat band of flesh bulges above his collar. His thick lips are sucking at the cigar.

Down she goes. The sunlight blinds and dizzies her. She could almost faint with that first step into the light. Nervousness, a kind of stage-fright, perhaps. Very, very slowly, like a cat, she creeps across the terrace. A little man by the top of the steps is watching her, and she is pleased. Years and years go by before she reaches the table, but it doesn't matter because the world has stopped. Her actions become slower and slower, and more mechanical. She takes ages to choose the knife in such a collection. The butter-knife would be foolish—possibly ineffective. The bread-knife? No, that sharp, busy little thing so useful for cutting ham. Cutting ham! She laughs inaudibly, but Julius does not stir. The aggressive line of fat above the collar entices her. She is conscious of her face clean cut in profile, expressing a real emotion that shall go down to posterity, of the deliberate grace of her posture as she slowly raises her arm and—thrusts downwards above the collar, and of the voice of the little man at the top of the steps:

"That's right, Mrs. Trevanna, not too fast. Hold it! Fine...fine...My God! what have you done!"...The first big part Julius Trevanna had ever given her an opportunity to play.


7. The Brown Wallet

Giles Meiklejohn was a beaten man. Huddled in the corner of a third class railway carriage on the journey from Epsom to London, he sullenly reviewed the unfortunate series of episodes which had brought him into the position he found himself. Dogged by bad luck!...Thirty-seven years of age; married; a daughter ten years old; nothing attained; his debts exceeding his assets; and now—out of work!

He had tried, too. A little pampered in his upbringing; when the crisis came he had faced it manfully. When, during his very first year at Oxford, the news came of his father's bankruptcy and sudden death from heart failure, he immediately went up to town and sought a situation in any capacity. His mother had died many years previously, and his only sister was married to a missionary in Burmah. His accomplishments at that time? Well, he could play cricket and squash rackets; he knew a smattering of Latin and a smudge of French; he remembered a few dates in history, and he could add up and subtract (a little unreliably). He was good looking, genial, and of excellent physique. He had no illusions about the difficulties which faced him.

His father had always been a kind of practical visionary. Connected with big insurance interests, he was a man of large horizons, profound knowledge, and great ideals. Around his sudden failure and death there had always clung an atmosphere of mystery. That he had never expected to fail, and was unprepared for death a week before it happened is certain. He had had plans for Giles which up to that time he had had no opportunity of putting into operation. The end must have been cyclonic.

Through the intervention of friends, Giles obtained a situation as clerk in an insurance office, his wages amounting to fifteen shillings a week, a sum he had managed to live on. In the evening he attended classes, and studied shorthand and typewriting. At first the freshness of this experience, aided by youth and good health, stimulated him. But as time went on he began to realize that he had chosen work for which he was utterly unsuited. He worked hard but made no progress. He had not a mathematical mind; he was slow in the up-take. The chances of promotion were remote. The men around him seemed so quick and clever. At the end of two years he decided to resign and try something else. If only he had been taught a profession! After leaving the insurance office he went through various experiences; working at a seedsman's nursery, going round with a circus, attempting to get on the stage and failing, working his passage out to South Africa, more clerking, nearly dying from enteric through drinking polluted water, working on an ostrich farm, returning to England as a male nurse to a young man who was mentally deficient.

It was not till he met Minting that he achieved any success at all. They started a press-cutting agency in two rooms in Bloomsbury. Minting was clever, and Giles borrowed fifty pounds (from whom we will explain later). Strangely enough the press-cutting agency was a success. After the first six months they began to do well.

It was at that time that he met Eleanor. She was secretary to Sir Herbert Woolley, the well-known actor-manager, and she happened to call one day concerning the matter of press-cuttings for her employer. From the very first moment there was never any question on either side but that both he and she had met their fate. Neither had there been an instant's regret on either side ever since. They were completely devoted. With the business promising well, he married her within three months. It is probable that if the business had not existed he would have done the same. They went to live in a tiny flat in Maida Vale, and a child was born the following year.

A period of unclouded happiness followed. There was no fortune to be made out of press-cuttings, but a sufficient competence to keep Eleanor and the child in reasonable comfort. Everything progressed satisfactorily for three years. And then one July morning the blow fell. At that time he and Minting were keeping a junior clerk. Giles and Eleanor had been away to the sea for a fortnight's holiday. Minting was to go on the day of their return. When Giles arrived at the office he found the clerk alone. To his surprise he heard that Minting had not been there himself for a fortnight. He did not have long to wait to find the solution of the mystery. The first hint came in the discovery of a blank counterfoil. Minting had withdrawn every penny of their small capital and vanished!

Giles did not tell his wife. He made a desperate effort to pull the concern together, but in vain. There were a great number of outstanding debts, and he had just nine shillings when he returned from his holiday. He rushed round and managed to borrow a pound or two here and there, sufficient to buy food and pay off the clerk, but he quickly foresaw that the crash was inevitable. He had not the business acumen of Minting, and no one seemed prepared to invest money in a bankrupt press-cutting agency. In the midst of his troubles the original source of the fifty pounds upon which he started the business, wrote peremptorily demanding the money back. He went there and begged and pleaded, but it was obvious that the "original source" looked upon him as a waster and ne'er-do-well.

He went bankrupt, and Eleanor had to be told. She took it in just the way he knew she would take it. She said:

"Never mind, darling. We'll soon get on our feet again."

She had been a competent secretary, with a knowledge of French, bookkeeping, shorthand and typewriting. She set to work and obtained a situation herself as secretary to the manager of a firm of wallpaper manufacturers, housing the child during the day with a friendly neighbour.

Giles was idle the whole of August. They gave up the flat and went into lodgings. In September he got work as a clerk to a stationer. His salary was thirty shillings a week, a pound less than his wife was getting. He felt the situation bitterly. Poor Eleanor! How he had let her down. When he spoke about it though she only laughed and said:

"If our troubles are never anything worse than financial ones, darling, I shan't mind."

They continued to be only financial ones till the following year when Eleanor became very ill. She gave birth to a child that died. In a desperate state Giles again approached the "original source." After suffering considerable recrimination and bullying he managed to extract another ten pounds, which quickly vanished. It was three months before Eleanor was well enough to resume work, and during that time they lived in a state of penury. Giles lived almost entirely on tea and bread, and became very run down and thin. He pretended to Eleanor that he had had an increase, and that he had a good lunch every day, so that all the money he earned could be spent on her and the baby. In the meantime he dissected desperately that grimmest of all social propositions—the unskilled labour market. If only he had been taught to be a boot-maker, a plumber, or a house-painter he would have been better off. Manners may make men, but they don't make money, and one has to make money to live. He became envious of his fellow clerks and shop assistants who had never tasted the luxurious diet of a public school training. That he had brains he was fully aware, but they had never been trained in any special direction. They were, moreover, the kind of brains that do not adapt themselves to commercial ends. He had always had a great affection for his father, but he began to nurture a resentment against his memory. His father had treated him badly, bringing him up to a life of ease and assurance and then deserting him.

It would be idle and not very interesting to trace the record of his experiences during the next years up to the time when we find him in the train on the way back from Epsom. It is a dreary story, the record of a series of dull underpaid jobs, a few bright gleams of hope, even days and nights of complete happiness, then dull reactions, strain, worry, hunger, nervous fears, blunted ambitions, and thwarted desires. Through it all the only thing that remained unalterably bright and inspiring, was his wife's face. Not once did she flinch, not once did she lose hope. Her constant slogan: "Never mind, old darling, we'll soon be on our feet again," was ever in his ears, buoying him up through the darkest hours.

And again he was out of work, again Eleanor was not well, and again he had been to the "original source."

The "original source" was his uncle, his father's brother. He was a thin, acid old gentleman, known in commercial circles as a money-maniac. Living alone in a large house at Epsom, with all kinds of telephonic connections with the city, he thought and dreamed of nothing at all but his mistress—money. Between him and Giles' father had always existed a venomous hatred, far more pronounced on the side of his uncle than of his father. It had dated back many years. When his father died and Giles appealed to his uncle, the old gentleman appeared thoroughly to enjoy giving him five pounds as an excuse for a lecture and a subtly conveyed sneer at his father's character.

He was a very wealthy man, and he could easily have launched Giles into the world by putting him through the training for one of the professions, but he preferred to dole out niggardy litte bits of charity and advice, and to boast that he himself was a self-made man, who had had no special training.

"No," thought Giles, "but you have an instinct for making money. I haven't. You don't have to train a duck to swim."

Naturally, they very quickly quarrelled, and his uncle seemed to rejoice in his failures. It was only in his most desperate positions that he appealed to him again.

Lying back in the dimly lighted railway carriage he kept on visualizing his uncle's keen malevolent eyes, the thrust of the pointed chin. The acid tones of his voice echoed through his brain:

"It's quite time, my lad, you pulled yourself together. You ought to have made your fortune by now. Don't imagine I'm always going to help you."

Giles had humbled his pride for his wife and child's sake. He had spent the night at his uncle's, and by exercising his utmost powers of cajolery, had managed to extort three pounds. Three pounds! and the rent overdue, bills pressing, his wife unwell and he—out of work. What was he going to do?

The train rumbled into Waterloo Station without any satisfactory answer being arrived at. He pulled his bag out from under the seat, and stepped slowly out of the carriage.

Walking along the platform it suddenly occurred to him that he was feeling weak and exhausted. "I hope to God I'm not going to be ill," he thought.

The bag, which only contained his night things and a change of clothes, seemed unbearably heavy. A slight feeling of faintness came over him as he passed the ticket-collector.

"I believe I shall have to have a cab," flashed through him.

Two important-looking men got out of a taxi which had just driven up. Giles engaged it, and having given his address he stepped in and sank back exhausted on to the seat. It was very dark in the cab, and he lay huddled in the corner—a beaten man. Everything appeared distant and dim, and unimportant. He had hardly eaten any lunch, and his uncle seemed to have arranged that he should leave his house just before dinner. It was late, and he was hungry and over-wrought.

The cab turned a corner sharply, and Giles lurched and thrust his hand on to the other end of the seat to prevent himself falling. As he did so his knuckles brushed against an object. Quite apathetically he felt to see what it was. He picked it up and held it near the window. It was a brown leather wallet, with a circular brass lock. He regarded it dubiously, and for an instant hesitated whether he should tell the driver to go back to the station, the wallet presumably belonging to one of those two importantlooking men who had got out. But would it be possible to find them? By that time they would probably have gone off by train. No, the right thing to do was to give it up to the police, of course.

It was a fat wallet, and he sat there with it in his hand ruminating. He wondered what it contained. Quite easy just to have a squint anyway. He tried to slip the catch but it wouldn't open. It was locked. It is difficult to determine the extent to which this knowledge affected him. If it had not been locked Giles Meiklejohn's immediate actions, and indeed his future career might have been entirely different. It irritated him that the wallet was locked...tantalized him. If it was locked it meant that it contained something...pretty useful. All round the park he lay back in the cab hugging the wallet like one in a trance.

A desperate, beaten man, holding a fat wallet in his hand. Contrary forces were struggling within his tired mind. Going up Park Lane one of these forces seemed to succumb to the other. Almost in a dream he leant out of the cab, and said quietly to the driver:

"Drive to the Trocadero. I think I'll get a bit of supper first."

Arriving there, he paid the cabman, concealed the wallet in his overcoat and went in. He entered a lavatory and locked himself in. With unruffled deliberation he took out a penknife and began to saw away at the leather around the lock.

"I just want to have a squint," he kept on mentally repeating.

It took him nearly a quarter of an hour to get the wallet open, and when he did his heart was beating like a sledge hammer.

The wallet contained eight thick packets of one pound treasury notes! He feverishly computed the number which each packet contained, and decided that it must be two hundred and fifty. In other words, he had two thousand pounds' worth of ready cash in his possession!

A desperate, beaten man, with a wife and child, hungry...out of work...two thousand pounds!...

There seemed no question about it all then. One side of the scale was too heavily weighted. He took seventeen of the one pound notes and put them in his pocket book, the rest he divided into the pockets of his overcoat, where he also concealed the wallet. He went up into the bar and ordered a double brandy and soda. He drank it in two gulps and went out and hailed another taxi. On the way home he stopped at a caterer's, and bought a cold fowl, some pressed beef, new rolls, cheese, a box of chocolates, and a bottle of wine. Then he drove homeward.

Up to this point his actions seemed to have been controlled by some sub-conscious force. So far as his normal self was concerned, he had hardly thought at all. But as he began to approach his own neighbourhood—his own wife—the realization of what he had done—what he was doing—came home to him...

"It was practically stealing. It is stealing, you know."

Yes, but what would any one else have done in that position? He couldn't let his wife and child starve. There was only one thing he was afraid of...his wife's eyes. She must never know. He would have to be cunning, circumspect. He must get rid of the wallet, conceal the notes from his wife—eke them out in driblets, pretend he was making money somehow. But the wallet? He couldn't leave it in the cab. It would be found and the cabman would give evidence. He mustn't drive home at all. He must get out again, think again. Between Paddington and Maida Vale runs a canal. Happy thought! a canal! he stopped at the bridge and dismissed the man again, tipping him lavishly. The banks of the canal were railed off. It was only possible to get near enough to throw anything in from the bridge. Thither he walked at a rapid stride. The feeling of exhaustion had passed. He was tingling with excitement. He looked eagerly about for a stone, and cursed these modern arrangements of wooden pavements. There were no stones near the canal. Never mind, the thing would probably sink. If it didn't, who could trace its discovery to his action? The point was to get rid of it unseen.

He reached the bridge. A few stray people were passing backward and forward—must wait till everyone was out of sight. He hung about, gripping his portmanteau in one hand, and the wallet in his right hand overcoat pocket. He crossed the bridge once, but still seeing dark figures about he had to return. Why not throw it now? No, there was someone watching in the road opposite—might be a policeman! The police! never had cause to feel frightened at the police before. There would be a splash. Someone might come out of the darkness, a deep voice:

"What was that you threw in the canal?"

No, no, couldn't do it. The bridge was too exposed, too much of a fairway. He hurried off walking rapidly down side streets in the direction of his home. At last an opportunity presented itself. Shabby, deserted little street, a low stone wall enclosing a meagre garden. Not a soul in sight. Like a flash he slipped the wallet over the wall and dropped it. Instantaneously he looked up at the house connected with the garden. A man was looking out of the first floor window, watching him!

He turned and walked quickly back. He thought he heard a call. At the first turning he ran, the portmanteau banging against his leg and impeding his progress. He only ceased running because people stopped and looked at him suspiciously.

"It's all right! It's all right!" he kept saying to himself. "I've got rid of it."

Yes, he was rid of that danger, but there loomed before him the more insidious difficulty of concealing the notes. His pockets bulged with them. When he arrived home, Eleanor would run out into the landing and throw her arms round him. He could almost hear the tones of her gentle voice saying:

"Whatever have you got in your pockets, darling?"

If he put them in the portmanteau she would be almost certain to open it, or she would be in the room when he went to unpack. Very difficult to conceal anything from Eleanor; she knew all about him; every little thing about him interested her. Nothing in their rooms was locked up. Moreover, she was very observant, methodical and practical. Someone had called her psychic, but this was only because she thought more quickly than most people, and had unerring intuitions.

Giles would have to be very cunning. His mental energies were so concerned with the necessity for deceiving Eleanor that the moral aspect of his position was temporarily blurred. He plunged on through the darkness, his mind working rapidly. At the corner of their meagre street he was tempted to stuff the notes in a pillar box and hurry home.

"Don't be a fool," said the other voice. "Here is comfort and luxury interminably—not only for yourself, for the others."

He went boldly up to the house and let himself in. He heard other lodgers talking in the front ground floor room. He hurried by and reached his own landing. To his relief Eleanor's voice came from the room above:

"Is that you, darling?"

He dumped the bag down and in a flash had removed his overcoat and hung it on a peg in a dark corner. Then he called out:

"Hullo, old girl. Everything all right?"

Within a minute his wife's arms were around him, and he exclaimed with forced triumph:

"I touched the old boy for twenty pounds! I've brought home a chicken and things."

"Oh! how splendid! A chicken! Rather extrav. isn't it, darling?"

"One must live, dear angel."

Her confidence and trust in him, her almost childish glee over the gay feast, her solicitude in his welfare, her anxiety that little Anna should have some chicken, but keep the sweets till the morrow, her voice later crooning over the child—all these things mocked his conscience. But he couldn't afford to have a conscience. He couldn't afford to say:

"I stole all this and more."

He was eager for the attainment of that last instance—crooning over the child. Whilst he was putting the little girl to bed, he crept but into the passage and extracted the packets of notes from his overcoat pocket. He took them into the sitting room and wrapped them up in brown paper. He wrote on the outside, "stationery." Then he stuffed the parcel at the back of a cupboard where they kept all kinds of odds and ends.

"That'll have to do for to-night," he thought. "I'm too tired to think of anything better."

When she came down he enlarged the claims of his exhaustion. He had a bit of a head he explained, just as well to turn in early. In the darkness he clung to her fearfully, like a child in terror of separation.

It was not till she was sleeping peacefully that the enormity of his offence came home to him.

If he were found out! It would kill her.

He remembered her expression:

"If our troubles are never anything worse than financial ones, darling, I shan't mind."

Good God! What had he done? He could call it >what he liked, but crudely speaking it was just stealing. He had stolen. He was a criminal, a felon. If found out, it meant arrest, trial, imprisonment—all these horrors he had only vaguely envisaged as concerning a different type of person to himself. In the rough and tumble of his life he had never before done anything criminal, never anything even remotely dishonest. And she, Eleanor, what would she think of him? It would destroy her love, destroy her life, ruin the child.

He must get up, go into the other room and—what? What could he do with the notes? Burn them? Eleanor had that mother's curious faculty for profound, but at the same time, watchful sleep. If he got out of bed she would be aware of it. If he went into the next room and began burning things, she would be instantly alert.

"What's that burning, darling?"

An ever-loving wife may be an embarrassment when one is not quite playing the game. By destroying the wallet he had burnt his boats. If he returned the money he would have to explain what the wallet was doing in a neighbour's garden with the brass lock cut away.

"Besides, you've already spent some," interjected that other voice. "You're horribly in debt. Here's succour. The money probably belongs to some rich corporation. It's not like taking it from the poor. Don't be a fool. Go to sleep."

For hours he tossed feverishly, the pendulum of his resolutions swinging backward and forward. If he was to keep the money, he would have to invent some imaginary source of income, a fictitious job, perhaps, and that would be very difficult because Eleanor was so solicitous, such a glutton for details concerning himself. He might have made out that his uncle had given him a much larger sum of money, but in that case there was the danger that in her impetuous manner Eleanor might have written to the old man, and the old man would smell a rat. Doubtless the affair of the lost wallet would be in the papers the next day, and wouldn't the old man be delighted to bring it home to Giles!

There was nothing to be done but to trust to fate. The milk carts were clattering in the road before he slept.

It was hours later that he heard Anna's merry little laugh, and his wife's voice saying:

"Hush, darling, daddy's asleep. He's very tired."

He got up and faced the ordeals of the day. The place at the back of the lumber cupboard seemed the most exposed in the world. He racked his brains for a more suitable spot. But whichever place he thought of danger seemed to lurk. One never quite knew what Eleanor might do. She was so keen on tidying up and clearing things out. He decided that a crisp walk might clear his mind. He made up the excuse that he was going to the public library to look through the advertisements and went out. He meant to smuggle the parcel of notes out with him, but Eleanor was too much on the spot. She helped him on with his overcoat and said:

"It'll soon be all right again, darling."

Poor Eleanor! What a capacity she had for living! She ought to have married a rich, successful, and clever man. She ought to have everything a beautiful woman desires. Well?...He walked quickly to the nearest news-agent and bought a paper. There was nothing in the morning paper about the loss of the wallet. He felt annoyed about this, until he realized that of course there wouldn't have been time. It would come out later. And indeed whilst standing on the curb anxiously scrutinizing his morning paper, boys came along the street selling the Star and the Evening News.

A paragraph in the Star, headed "£2,000 left in a taxi," supplied him with the information he needed. It announced that Sir James Cusping, K.B.E., a director of a well-known bank and a chief cashier, left a wallet containing two thousand pounds in treasury notes in a taxi at Waterloo Station. The money was the result of a cash transaction concerning certain bank investments. Any one giving information likely to lead to recovery would be suitably rewarded. It also announced that Scotland Yard had the matter in hand.

So far the information was satisfactory. Sir James Cusping was a notoriously wealthy man, and the chief cashier was hardly likely to be held seriously responsible for a loss for which such an important person was jointly responsible. The bank mentioned was a bank that advertised that its available assets exceeded four hundred million pounds. Two thousand pounds meant less to it than two pence would mean to Giles. No one was hurt by the transfer of this useful sum to his own pocket. The sun was shining. Why be down in the mouth about it? What he had done he had done, and he must see it through.

How could anybody trace the theft to him? The two cabmen? They would be hardly likely to remember his face, and neither of them had driven him home. There was no danger from any one except Eleanor. A sudden fever of dread came over him. She would assuredly turn out that cupboard today, find the packet of "stationery." Then—what?

He hurried back home. Approaching the house other fears assailed him. He had visions of policemen waiting for him on the other side of the hall door.

Damn it! His nerves were going to pot. He opened the door with exaggerated nonchalance. There was no one there. No one up in his rooms except his wife and child. Eleanor was singing. The kettle was on the gas ring, ready for tea.

"What a cad I am to her," he thought.

The condition of frenzied agitation continued till the following afternoon when it reached a crisis. He was feeling all unstrung. Seated alone in their little sitting room he was struggling with the resolution to confess everything to Eleanor, when she entered the room. He glanced at her and nearly screamed. She was holding up the parcel in her hand!

In her cheerful voice she said:

"What is this parcel marked stationery, darling? I was turning out the cupboard."

Like an animal driven to bay he jumped up and almost snatched it from her. The inspiration of despair prompted him to exclaim:

"Oh!...that! Yes, yes, I wanted that. It's something a chap wanted me to get for him...It doesn't belong to me."

A chap! What chap? Giles didn't usually refer to chaps. They had no secrets apart. She looked surprised.

"I was just going to open it. As a matter of fact we have run out of stationery."

"Eh? No, no, not that. I must send that back. I'll get some more stationery."

He tucked the packet under his arm and went out into the hall.

"You're not going out at once?" said Eleanor, following.

"Yes, yes, I must post it at once. I'd quite forgotten."

He slipped on his coat and went out without his customary embrace.

Beads of perspiration were on his brow.

"That's done it!" he muttered in the street, "I must never take it back."

An extravagant plan formed in his mind. He went to the library and looked at the advertisements in a local paper. He took down some addresses in St. John's Wood. In half an hour's time he was calling on a landlady in a mean street.

"You have a furnished room to let?" he said when she appeared.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, it's like this. I am an author. I want a quiet room to work in during the day time."

"I've got a nice room as would suit you."

"Come on, then, let me see it, please."

He booked the room, a shabby little over-crowded apartment.

"I'll be coming in to-day," he said.

"Very good, sir. What name might it be?"

"Er—name? Oh, yes, name—er—John Parsons."

He fled down the street and sought a furnishing establishment.

"I want an oak desk which I can lock up—a good strong lock."

He paid seven pounds ten for the desk, and got it taken round at once on a barrow. He then bought scribbling papers, paper, and ink. He established himself in his room, stuffed the packet of notes in the desk and locked it. Then he went out into the street again. The fresh air fanned his temples. He almost chuckled.

"By God! Why didn't I think of this at first?" he reflected. "After the life I've led one forgets the power of money."

He felt singularly calm and confident. It was dark when he got home. He kissed Eleanor and made up an elaborate story about a fellow clerk named Lyel Bristowe, who used to work in the same office, and whom he had met in the street recently. He had wanted this particular stationery most particularly. He had been to see him, and Bristowe was giving him an introduction to a man who might be able to offer him a good situation. The story went down reasonably well, but he thought he detected a pucker of suspicion about his wife's brow.

He was too involved now to turn back. The following day he visited his furnished room. He anxiously unlocked the desk, took out the notes, examined them, put them back, took them out again, stuffed them in his pocket...Very dangerous after all leaving them there, a flimsy lock...there might be a burglary. He had told the landlady that he was an author, and it is true that he spent a great portion of the day inventing fiction...lies to tell Eleanor. He eventually locked the notes up again and went home.

He assumed a somewhat forced air of triumph. He had been successful. Through the influence of Bristowe, he had secured a position as chief cashier to a firm of surgical instrument makers in Camden Town. His salary was to be five pounds a week to commence. Eleanor clapped her hands.

"Oh, but how lovely, darling! I suppose you can do it? You're such an old silly at figures!"

He explained that the work was quite simple, and added ironically that the great thing Messrs. Binns and Binns wanted was a man they could trust.

Then the narrow life of lies proceeded apace. Every day he went to his room, fingered the notes, took some when he needed them, deliberately invented the names and characters of his fellow workers at Messrs. Binns and Binns, even made up little incidents and stories concerning his daily experiences. The whole affair was so inordinately successful. No further reference was made in the newspapers to the missing wallet, and though Scotland Yard were supposed to have the matter in hand, what could they do? Even if by chance suspicion fell on him, there was nothing incriminating to be found in his lodgings, and not a soul knew the whereabouts of "John Parsons." His wife and child were living comfortably. He was gradually paying off his debts.

But if the purely material side of his adventure was successful, the same cannot be said of the spiritual. He was tortured beyond endurance. Lies bred lies. The moral lapse bred other moral lapses. He was conscous of his own moral degeneration. He was ashamed to look his wife in the face. In the evening when he intended to be gay and cheerful he sat morosely in the corner, wishing that the night would come—and go. In the day time he would sit in his room, fretful and desolate. In a mood of despair he began to set down his experiences in terms of fiction, ascribing his feelings to an imaginary person. Sometimes when the position became unbearable he would go out and drink. Often he would go up to the West End and lunch extravagantly at some obscure restaurant. He came into touch with unsavoury people of the underworld.

The marks of his deterioration quickly became apparent to his wife. One morning she said:

"Darling, you're working too hard at that place. You look rotten. Last night when you came home you smelt of brandy."

Then she wept a little, a thing she had never done in their days of adversity. He promised not to do such a thing again. He swore that the work was not hard; the firm were very pleased with him and were going to give him a raise.

The weeks and months went by and he struggled to keep straight. But little by little he felt himself slipping back. He managed to write a few things which he sent off to publishers, but for the most part he avoided his room for any length of time, and sat about in obscure cafés in Soho, drinking and playing cards.

Between himself and his wife the great chasm seemed to be yawning. She was to him the dearest treasure in the world, and he was thrusting her away. In that one weak moment he had destroyed all chance of happiness—hers and his. Too late! Too late! In six months' time he found that he had spent nearly five hundred pounds! At this rate in another eighteen months it would all be gone, and then—what? His moral character destroyed, his wife broken in health, the child without protection or prospects.

One morning he observed his wife glancing in the mirror as she did her hair. It came home to him abruptly that she had aged, aged many years in the last six months. Soon she would be turning gray, middle-aged, old-aged. And he? His hair was thin on top, his face flabby, his organisms becoming inefficient and weak, his nerves eternally on edge. Sometimes he was rude and snappy to her. And he buried his face in the pillow and thought:

"Oh, my darling, what have I done? What have I done?"

That day he concentrated on a great resolve. This thing would have to stop. He would rather be a starving clerk again, rather a bricklayer's navvy, a crossing-sweeper, anything. He wandered the streets, hugging his determination. He avoided his old haunts. There must be no compromise. The thing should be cut clean out. He would confess. They would send back the remainder of the money anonymously, and start all over again. It was hard, but anything was better than this torture.

He returned home early in the afternoon, his face pale and tense. His wife was on the landing. She said:

"Oh, I was just going to send a telegram on to you. It's from your uncle. He says come at once."

A queer little stab of the old instinct of conspiracy went through him. If she had sent the telegram on, it would have come back: "No such firm known at this address."

What did his uncle want? Come at once? Should he go, or should he make his confession first?

"I think you ought to go, darling. It sounds important."

Very well, then. The confession should be postponed till his return.

He caught a train at a quarter to four, and arrived at his uncle's house in daylight. An old housekeeper let him in and said:

"Ah! Your uncle's been asking for you. The doctor's here."

"Is he ill?"

"They say he hasn't long to live. The poor man is in great agony."

He was kept waiting ten minutes. A doctor came out to him, looking very solemn.

"I've just given him an injection of strychnine. He wishes to see you alone."

His uncle was propped up against the pillows. His face unrecognizable except for the eyes, which were unnaturally bright. Giles went close up to him, and took his hand. The old man's voice was only just audible. He whispered:

"Quickly! quickly! I shall be going—"

"What is it, uncle?"

"It mustn't come out, see? musn't get into the newspapers, nothing, the disgrace, see? That's why...no cheques must pass; all cash transaction, see?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"On that bureau...a brown paper parcel...it's yours, all in bonds and cash, see? Twenty-eight thousand pounds...it really belongs to your father...I can't explain...I'm going. He—I swindled him...he thought he was...its all through me he...bankrupt, death, see?"

"Do you mean my father...killed himself?"

"Not exactly, see? Hastened his end...thought he would get into trouble. Take it, Giles, for God's sake! Let me die in peace."

"Why did you? Why did you?"

"I loved your mother...Take it, Giles, for God's sake. Oh, this pain!...it's coming...God help me!"

It was very late when Giles arrived home. His wife was asleep in bed. All the way home he had been repeating to himself in a dazed way:

"Twenty-eight thousand pounds. No, twenty-six thousand. Two thousand to be sent back anonymously to the bank. No need for confession. Twenty-six thousand pounds. Eleanor, Anna. Oh, my dears!"

On the table in the sitting-room was a letter from a firm of publishers, addressed to Mr. John Parsons. It stated that the firm considered the short novel submitted to be a work of striking promise, and the manager would be glad if Mr. Parsons would call on them.

"Perhaps I've found out what I can do," Giles meditated.

Eleanor came into the room in her dressing-gown and embraced him.

"All right, darling?"

"Very much. Uncle has given me twenty-eight—I mean twenty-six thousand pounds. He said he cheated my father out of it."

"Darling! Cheated! How awful."

No, there was no need for confession. The sudden wild change in their fortunes got into his blood. He gripped her round the waist and lifted her up.

"Think of it, old girl, money to live on for ever. A place in the country, eh? You know, your dream: a bit of land and an old house, flowers, chickens, dogs, books, a pony perhaps. What about it?"

"Oh, Giles, I can't realize it. But how splendid, too, about the publishers' letter. Why didn't you tell me you were writing? Why do you call yourself John Parsons?"

No need for confession, no, no, let's go to bed. But oh! to get back to the old intimacy...

And so in the silent night he told her everything.

And the tears she shed upon his burning cheeks gave him the only balm of peace he had enjoyed since the hour he had destroyed the wallet.

It was Eleanor's hand which printed in Roman lettering on the outside of a parcel the address of Sir James Cusping, K.B.E. Inside were two thousand pounds in treasury notes, and on a slip of paper in the same handwriting: "Conscience money. Found in a taxi."


8. The Everlasting Club

On the night of November 11th, 1918, seven men sat round a table in an old barn in an obscure spot in Picardy. The news of the Armistice had come through in the morning, and it was apparent that the occupants of the barn were about to celebrate this historic occasion with what means they had at their disposal. It cannot be said that their faces expressed the kind of hysterical elation which was at that moment marking the faces of the revellers in Paris. London, and New York. Their faces certainly expressed relief, but it was relief tempered by the too close contact of late experience. They were like men dazed and a little drugged. Perhaps their environment had something to do with this. The barn was dark, and cold, and draughty. The rain was beating against the roof. A small kerosene lamp, smelling abominably, gave out a feeble suggestion of warmth. The table was lighted with candles stuck into bottles. Perhaps their remoteness from their fellows gave them a feeling that the news was unbelievable, or that it might be contradicted any moment. The War had been on too long, and the weariness and agony of it were stamped upon their faces.

McLagan and Treadway were pukka soldiers of the old army. The other five had joined up early in the War. All had seen much active service. Ross had served a year in Salonica and two years in Mespot. Bessimer had nearly died from dysentery in Egypt. Reid-Andover and Pirbright had been in Russia with Denikin. McLagan, Treadway, and Dawbarn had spent the whole of their time in France and Flanders. The reason of their meeting in this obscure spot is of no consequence. It was in accordance with instructions of certain higher authorities, who were apparently as unprepared for the end of the War as they were for the beginning. It concerned a report that was to be

drawn up upon the potentialities for military purposes of certain by-products in local quarries. This was looking far ahead, and now—well, the War was over. The 'vine having passed. McLagan, who was the senior officer present, rose and said rather huskily:

"Gentlemen, the King!"

They all rose and barked in chorus: "The King!"

They drank the King's health, and then, as though the toast had stirred them for the first time at some peculiar angle, making them feel a little self-conscious, a little ashamed of this surprising emotion, they began to task more animatedly.

Naturally they talked shop. They talked about "shows" and blunders and guns, and old friends who had gone west. They appeared diffident about discussing the future. They talked as though the War was still going on.

Monsieur Poiret, who owned the ruined farmstead adjoining, had supplied them with fowls and pork and vegetables. Their environment was depressing, but the dinner was adequate. There was an unlimited supply of fairly good red and white wine, and someone had produced a bottle of brandy.

Pirbright and Dawbarn had only arrived that day, and were strangers to the rest. But as the meal progressed, the whole company found they had much in common. This was probably due to the fact that in view of the nature of the enquiry they were called upon to make, they were men of somewhat similar training, experience, and education. In civilian life Pirbright and Bessimer were both metallurgists. Reid-Andover was a fuel expert. Dawbarn had done a lot of scientific research. Ross was a mining engineer. McLagan and Treadway had been in the Geological department of the Indian Army before the War.

Before the meal was finished they were discussing science and moral philosophy, metaphysics, history, astronomy, sociology, and even religion, the kind of subjects that are not habitually discussed in an officers' mess. The meal being finished, and cleared away, coffee was served and the bottle of brandy opened. The table they were seated at was a circular one, and so it cannot be said that anyone sat at the head of it. But if there was one man who dominated it by force of personality that man was McLagan.

He was a big man with a long tapering jaw, dark reflecti?e eyes, and black hair. Celt was written all over him. He was nicknamed "The Wringer," and for this reason: he had a terrible grip. When he shook hands he would bring tears into the eyes of the strongest, and he was quite unconscious of it. He wore, moreover, a heavy signet ring on his third finger, and after shaking hands with him many a man would bear the impression of that ring upon his hand for days. He was as animated a listener as he was talker. His eyes wandered eagerly from one face to another as though he were drawing them all together. He presided over them by an implied sense of authority. His colleague, Treadway, sat on his right. He was a typical officer of the modern school, tall, and almost too spare, with close-cropped grey hair, sensitively modelled features, and eyes whose gentleness and kindliness seemed to belie the profession of arms. He listened, entranced by anything that McLagan said.

Bessimer was the only one of the company whose frame did not seem too lean in that guttering candlelight, and even he looked fit and hard in spite of greater girth, probably the result of taking less exercise than the others. For he had an artificial leg. Ross was a Scotsman, hollow-cheeked, and highly strung. He had a habit of nodding his head constantly when spoken to, and mumbling staccato acquiescence, as though anxious to agree and be done with it. Reid-Andover, with his little clipped moustache and large appealingly dark eyes, looked like a small dog with a biscuit on its nose waiting for the words "Paid for!" He had left three fingers of his right hand somewhere in Northern Russia.

Dawbarn was the oldest man present, quite grey and nearly bald. His voice was almost inaudible and his eyes bloodshot, the result of being gassed in Flanders. He made pathetic attempts to be gay and to enter into the various arguments.

Pirbright was a poet. At least, he should have been a poet. He was a man of abstractions, ideas, and visions. He loved to theorize and speculate. He was the only one who talked of the future, and even then with languid detachment. When someone mentioned the Germans, he muttered: "Poor devils !" and lapsed into a reverie of his own. He was tall and fair, with a large nose, the track of a bullet along his left cheekbone, and a piece of his left ear missing.

The evening wore on, and the men, huddling round the little kerosene lamp, forgot the cold in the heat of argument. And they talked of life and death and immortality. Each one of them, it was found, believed in a life hereafter, but the manner in which man was to survive, and the conditions of his future state, supplied the matter for a spirited debate. The candles guttered in the bottles, and others were produced. The rain had penetrated the roof and dripped steadily into a pool in the corner. The brandy was finished, but there was still plenty of tobacco and red wine. McLagan did not smoke. He had a habit of leaning forward as he spoke, with his large hands interlocked, and suddenly he would throw back his head, disengage his hands, and emphasize a point by shaking his index finger in the air. He made a Macabre figure sitting there in the ill-lit barn, his dark eyes alight with a kind of malicious excitement.

It was considerably past midnight when someone suggested that it was time to turn in. McLagan had been silent for some time, deep in thought. Suddenly he spoke:

"Gentlemen, don't go for a moment. I want to make a suggestion."

They all regarded him, and he leaned forward, peering into the lamp.

"This is perhaps the most profound day in the history of human life. It is hall-marked for posterity. It is an everlasting day. We have all met under rather queer and exceptional circumstances. We have talked of immortality. We are seven—a good Biblical number. I suggest that in our fashion we immortalize this day."

He stopped, and the others watched him interestedly, expecting him to go on, but he only continued to stare into the stove. At last Bessimer said:

"In what way, McLagan?"

He looked up as though startled, and spoke quietly:

"Looking into the eyes of death every day for four years and a half as we all have, we should go mad if we did not believe in the Everlastingness of things. Let us form a club and demonstrate our faith—just as seven."

He paused again, and Ross said:

"What kind of club, McLagan?"

"An Everlasting Club. Roughly speaking, I propose that we meet on this date once a year in some remote place, like this barn. We have a chairman and a secretary. We conduct it quite formally. We dine perhaps, cooking our own food, for no stranger must be present. Then afterwards we have a debate—some man putting forward some new theory or record of experience or belief. We discuss it in the manner we talked things over to-night. That is all."

"But how would this be everlasting?" said Ross, nodding his head jerkily. "We shall all die one at a time. Do you mean that when we die another is elected in our place?"

"No," said McLagan. "That would be a negation of the idea. That would be a concession that things are not everlasting."

And then he explained his idea of the Everlasting Club. The others stared at him dumbfounded. The smoke from their pipes trailed between them and away into the dim obscure corners of the barn. A night bird screamed overhead, and McLagan went on talking. Treadway gaped at him like one bewitched. Pirbright forgot to smoke. Bessimer, Dawbarn, and Ross regarded him solemnly. Only Ross appeared frankly cynical, nodding approval and speaking disapproval.

"It's a mad idea, McLagan," he repeated more than once. "Besides, it's dangerous. I wouldn't have anything to do with it."

But when McLagan had finished his explanation, and the room remained silent, except for the water dripping into the pool, Pirbright stood up and said:

"I will join you for one, and I propose McLagan as President of the Everlasting Club."

"And I will join," said Dawbarn, "and I second that proposition."

"And I," whispered Reid-Andover huskily.

"I will join," said Bessimer, "if I do not have to return to Egypt. I see no danger in it, Ross."

"No, no, not for me," said Ross. "I won't touch it."

"Come, come, Ross," said McLagan, "don't spoil our Biblical number. Whatever danger can there be in it? It is only an experiment, an experiment of faith. What else are we likely to extract from this chaos? The War is over, but the troubles of the poor old world are not over. Nevertheless, the whole thing may have been worth while if out of the ashes emerges a knowledge of the Everlasting."

"Knowledge!" gasped Ross. "I had an aunt once—in Edinburgh it was—she had knowledge—she—she—went mad!"

It is a remarkable tribute to the power of personality that McLagan persuaded these other six men—including Ross in the end—to join the astonishing club. Neither at first did there appear to be anything so very astonishing about it. It appeared an ordinary enough social club formed for the purposes of meeting once a year—on Armistice Day—to debate, and discuss, and establish a complete belief in the Everlasting. It did not meet for two years, partly owing to the fact that Bessimer did go to Egypt and Treadway had to return to India. But Bessimer again got fever in Egypt and had to return to England the following summer. Treadway retired from the Indian Army and came home at about the same time. McLagan persuaded Treadway to take on the secretaryship, and the first meeting was held on November 11th, 1920, in a bungalow up on Leith Hill in Surrey. It was a disused bungalow on an estate that had been left to McLagan by an uncle. The men had all been interested in each other, and felt drawn together by the associations of that historic evening in Picardy, and they fell in with the idea eagerly, all with the exception of Ross, who went down under protest, feeling, however, that he could not let his comrades in.

The first meeting was quite an ordinary and cheery evening. Except for the fact that the bungalow was waterproof, McLagan had tried to reproduce as far as possible the same conditions as those that prevailed in the barn in Picardy. They took food down with them, which he and Treadway cooked. The room was lighted by candles stuck in bottles, and warmed by a stove. Little Reid-Andover created a round of laughter by saying that he only made one stipulation about the Club, that was that he didn't have to have his hand shaken by the president every time. They dined gaily, talking of old times and friends, and drank red wine. When the meal was finished they cleared the table and started the discussion. Pirbright—by previous arrangement—read a brief but thoughtful paper on "The Reasonableness of Re-Incarnation." Bessimer spoke in opposition. Treadway, who wrote shorthand, took down a summary of all the speeches. They were to be copied out and embodied in the archives of the Club. Every member spoke in turn, and McLagan gave a judicial summing up. Forgetting his apprehensions in the excitement of debate, Ross spoke as eagerly as anyone.

There would have been little to distinguish between this meeting of the Everlasting Club and the next, had it not been that early in the following autumn Dawbarn died. He caught a chill playing golf one day in the rain, and, his lungs already affected by poison gas, he contracted double pneumonia and died within three days. This %vas in October, within three weeks of the next meeting of the Everlasting Club. Now what was going to be McLagan's attitude? He had made it pretty clear in his original explanation of the aims of the Club. But how would it operate? Every man had signed a scroll that under no circumstances would he miss a meeting, and that he regarded it in very truth as an Everlasting Club. The members were notified, and the meeting took place. It was the turn of Ross to open the discussion.

He arrived late and was very much on edge, and his attention was immediately riveted upon the empty chair that had been set for Dawbarn; the empty chair, and the cutlery and glass, all as though he were actually there. The others occupied their accustomed places. He wanted to talk about Dawbarn, but some curious force restrained him. He found that it was not the thing. You could talk to Dawbarn, but not about him!

"Do you or do you not believe in the Everlasting?" a voice seemed to whisper.

Dawbarn's absence was ignored. McLagan was in great spirits, carrying in the fowl which he had roasted himself, making jokes with Reid-Andover, proposing toasts. And all the time Ross's eye kept wandering to the empty chair. He could almost see Dawbarn with close-cropped hair and little bald head leaning over his plate. He could almost hear his wheezy voice:

"My dear McLagan, my contention is—"

Treadway calmly read the minutes of the last meeting, as though nothing had happened.

There was something terrible in the sinister assurance of McLagan, and when in the course of the debate that followed he suddenly turned to the empty chair and said:

"You will remember that at our last meeting, Dawbarn, you referred to the Absolute—" Ross wanted to cry out. He could not concentrate. Pirbright was also obviously overwrought, but the others had succumbed to the spell of their chief. They carried on the discussion with spirit and enthusiasm. The Everlasting Club survived its first test.

In chronicling the activities of this remarkable Club, one must make allowances for the unusual nature of its mental composition, partly sentimental, partly ironic, partly genuinely interested in psychological experiment, and wholly dominated by one strong and dominating personality. The more Ross dreaded the meetings the more keenly did he look forward to them, the more influenced was he by the strange character of McLagan. Each meeting was like an entirely novel experience, and productive of stimulating thought. It was like an adventure on some uncharted island.

There were two meetings held around the empty chair of Dawbarn, and then an even greater disaster befell the Club. Treadway was killed in Ireland, and Bessimer died from blood-poisoning.

"That will leave four of us," Ross reflected shudderingly. "Three empty chairs!"

The contemplation of three empty chairs seemed less disturbing than the cold certainty of some ultimate and inevitable tragedy. Ross was the youngest member of the Club, but his heart was weak. When the four forgathered at the next meeting, his mind wavered between the horror of two alternate visions. Perhaps next year his chair would be empty, and still McLagan would be addressing him. "You will remember, my dear Ross, that last year you contended—" Would he be listening? Would he see the bubbles in the wine poured out for him?...but there was a horror that he dreaded more than that. He felt it coming, that inevitable fate—to be the last to prove the Everlasting. The years passed and Pirbright died.

And then Reid-Andover, Ross, and McLagan met and they looked into each other's eyes without expressing the thoughts that lay behind them. Four empty chairs! and Reid-Andover, who was now the secretary, quickly read the minutes of the last meeting. The records of the Club now formed quite a volume, and contained matter that was in the nature of revelation, sacred to the members alone. Nothing disturbed the equanimity of McLagan. He was more assured than ever. Only his dark eyes searched the faces of the other two, as though the only danger might lurk there.

The time had come when certain things had got to be said, and it was McLagan's mission to say them. He leaned across the table and gripped the hands of the other two men in his.

"Listen, you fellows," he said, "remember Treadway and Bessimer both went the same year. It's possible two of us might go this. Let us swear, whoever is left of us three, that he will see this through to the end. This is an Everlasting Club. Swear! Swear!"

"God! I hope it won't be me," said Reid-Andover, "but I swear."

"I swear, too," said Ross, his voice sounding faint and distant.

"I swear," said McLagan firmly.

Reid-Andover had his wish gratified with dramatic suddenness, for he was drowned the following autumn off the West Coast of Scotland, his sailing-boat capsizing in a sudden gale.

"Now there's only McLagan," thought Ross, when he heard the news. "I knew this would be. It was predestined. If only I could die!"

He thought of going abroad, or writing to McLagan to say he couldn't face it. But the more he desired to escape the closer he felt bound to his obligations. He had promised. Besides, the thought of betraying McLagan brought beads of perspiration to his brow. It was he who held the book when they next met, and read the minutes with as much control as he could display. Five empty chairs! and McLagan never so buoyant. He had extended his spiritual adventures. He had much to say, and there was much to be entered in the book.

"On that night, Ross, in the barn at La Villanay, we little thought we should get as far as this..."

He seized Ross's hand once more in his strong grip.

"One of us, Ross, will be the last. Swear on your honour, for the last time perhaps, that if it is you who are left you will see this thing through."

"I shall be the last," Ross replied hoarsely. "I feel it. It's inevitable. I've known it from the first."

"Swear, then!"

"Yes, yes, I swear...I swear."

They closed up the bungalow and left it for a year. And the next year they met again. Ross had aged. His face was thin and drawn, his expression preoccupied. He felt ill and overwrought. They went through the usual formalities, lighting the candles, cooking a modest meal, setting the table for the seven. They read the book, and added to it.

A voice seemed to whisper to Ross: "I shall never see McLagan again. But perhaps before the year is out I, too, shall have gone."

They took the same vows over the book as before. As they were parting McLagan said:

"Queer that the only thing the Great War has perpetuated is—the Unknown. It is as though human society had reacted to the clamour of its idols. In our hearts we preserve the conviction of unknown faiths. In our temples we bury the—Unknown Soldier. It is like starting all over again in our search for the Everlasting."

One night in the late autumn McLagan was found dead in bed in an hotel at Deauville. There was a certain amount of mystery concerning his death. The tap of a gas-stove was turned on a fraction of an inch, but whether this was accidental or intentional no one could say. Death from misadventure was recorded. Ross heard the news with equanimity. He was fully prepared for it. What concerned him the more was the state of his own health. He consulted a specialist, who affirmed that the condition of his heart was serious. He should have a long and complete rest.

"Perhaps I will a little later on," he said. To himself he thought:

"I will not believe that McLagan ran away. He was not a coward. In any case, I am under my vow."

October came and went, and the yellow leaves vanished on the wind, dismantling the stage for the bleak and sombre entrance of November. Ross checked the procession of eleven days, wherein leaden skies, fog, rain, and darkness mingled in indivisible proportion. When the eleventh day dawned, he thought to himself: "And to think that it was this day so many years ago when the world went nearly mad with joy! Where is it all gone, the sense of relief, the spirit of brotherhood and forgiveness, that illumined the face of humanity for twelve brief hours'

Of the task before him he felt little apprehension. His mind had grown accustomed to it, and was more occupied with abstract problems than with concrete fears. He filled a despatch case with the records of the Everlasting Club. lie took wine with him and a little food and set off for the bungalow in the hills. It was pitch dark long before he got there.

He thrust the key into the rusty lock and stumbled in. He struck matches and lighted the candles and the stove. He set the table, and placed the seven chairs in position. He hummed to himself as he grilled a small piece of steak. The mist drifted in between the crevices of the windows and the door. The room seemed unnaturally dark. He drank two glasses of the red wine, and when he had eaten as much of the steak as he could, he stood up and said:

"Gentlemen, the King!"

He gulped the wine and glanced at the six empty chairs. There they all seemed to be, watching him. Dawbarn and Pirbright, little Reid-Andover, the solemn Bessimer, Treadway, elegant and urbane, and more insistent than all—McLagan. He could almost hear McLagan's sardonic laugh, and see the dark eyes checking his movements.

"Gentlemen, the Everlasting Club !"

He drank this second toast in grim silence. The boards creaked, and he thought he heard a mouse or rat gnawing in the wainscoting.

He read the minutes of the last meeting, stressing to the full the balanced logic and the argument as promulgated by the president. He gave a brief summary of his own comments. Then he said:

"Is it your wish, gentlemen, that these minutes be passed?"

He glanced round the table and accepted the uncanny silence as consent. He signed them, and then rose once more to open the last debate. He spoke precisely as though all the other members were present. He struggled to concentrate on the abstraction of their united experiences. Once he thought he heard rain dripping into a pool in the corner of the room, and that he—and they—were back once more in the barn at La Villanay on Armistice night. He felt a sudden desire to scream. He wanted to scream into the growing obscurity across the table to McLagan:

"You fool!...You fool!...don't you know it yet? There's no such thing as the Everlasting. Everything changes."

He gazed wild-eyed at McLagan's chair, and a cold fear settled on his heart.

He pulled himself upright, and muttered:

"All right, McLagan, all right. I promised."

He struggled on till the candles guttered in the bottles and the stove went out. Suddenly he threw himself forward and stretched his right arm out in the direction of McLagan's chair.


A gardener on the estate found him next morning lying face downwards on the table, his right arm stretched out. And the gardener noticed that the fingers of his hand were pressed closely together, as though they had been held in a powerful grip, and on two of the fingers was a mark that might have been indented by a metal ring. By his side were the charred remnants of a book.


9. Glittering Prizes

The secretary, seated at the bureau, pen in hand, listened alertly to the dictates of his chief. Now and then he would glance at him furtively, his eyes filled with a kind of dread and admiration. There was something fascinating in the man's sense of power.

He stood with his back to the fireplace, his legs wide apart, his eyes frowning at the carpet. It was characteristic of him that he hardly revised a phrase, for he did not speak until it was clear-cut in his mind. Between the puffs at his pipe he spoke slowly and deliberately, every word carefully weighed.

He was a big man, of athletic build, with a clean-shaven face that must have been extremely handsome in youth, and even now, somewhere midway between forty and fifty, retained classic proportions, and was only marked by the stresses of life and that slight heaviness and over-emphasis which usually denote strength of character. And yet there was about the eyes an enigmatic quality, a certain sleepy cynicism, as of one who has spent his life amongst inferiors whom he has learnt to despise. The draft finished, he said:

"That will do, Bramscott. Have it typed out and let me see it half an hour before the Minister comes."

"Yes, sir."

"What have I on now till he comes at twelve?"

"Nothing, sir. I imagined the draft would take you longer."

The secretary bowed, as though apologising for his subtle compliment, collected the sheets of paper, and retired. Sir Ernest refilled his pipe. Nothing on, eh? a strange experience for one who boasted of never having a moment free in the twenty-four hours. But still, one need never be idle. He advanced to the bureau, and as he did so an under-secretary entered and handed him a card, saying:

"This gentleman has no appointment, sir, but he wants to know whether you can spare him a few minutes on an important matter."

"What is the matter?"

"He wouldn't say, sir. He said you knew him. You were at Winchester together."

Sir Ernest took up the card and examined it. On it was printed: "Mr. Alfred Voysey."

He examined it carefully and pondered. The name conveyed nothing to him. Now, was this the man Raikes had promised to send him with information about those South American oil concessions—Raikes said he would send him unannounced—or was it the same old story, some broken-down Wykehamist come to borrow money, exploiting the sentimental associa-don of the old school? He detested casual visits, and cadgers, and this was to be one of the most important days so far in his career. But, still—he had a few minutes to spare. The fellow might have come from Raikes. He said perfunctorily:

"Oh, well, show him in."

The secretary retired and in a few moments showed in a tall, thin man, about his own age. His hair was rather long, untidy and grey; his lined, rather pathetic face that of a dreamer. His clothes were just not frayed. He was wearing a long brown ulster, in his hand he carried a cloth cap.

"He has come to borrow!" thought Sir Ernest.

When the door was closed, the unwelcome individual said timidly:

"It's very good of you to see me, Darlington. Do you remember me? We were at Mr. Alston's house together for one term. It was my last term and your first. I must be four years older than you."

"No, I don't remember you. What is it you want to see me about?"

"To be quite candid, I'm most frightfully hard up. I have a wife and two children, and I don't know where to turn to raise money to buy their food."

Sir Ernest was annoyed. His first instinct was to give the fellow a pound and get rid of him. But he was angry, more with himself than with his visitor. He felt that he had been weak. A few pounds one way or the other would make no difference to himself. But why should he? He was all opposed to the principle of promiscuous charity. It was not that he would begrudge the money, it was the sense of being tricked. He should have known for certain that the fellow had only called to borrow money. He didn't want to be bothered with it. It was a sordid and stupid incident, holding no place in the glittering programme of his day. He said curtly:

"What work do you do?"

"I have been many things—a clerk, a reviewer, a writer of lyrics, many things. My father was a publisher. He went bankrupt. I've had no work for months."

Sir Ernest looked at the man witheringly. His mind could not help registering an abrupt comparison. Here was this fellow with his vague pale eyes, his rather weak chin and narrow chest—"a clerk, a reviewer, a writer of lyrics." God! what a life! Here was he, massive, powerful and successful, all the world at his feet. Well, hadn't he worked for it? What was life but a struggle to survive, the race to the swift, the battle to the strong? His jaw set. He thought to himself: "No, I'm hanged if I will!" Out loud he said bitingly:

"I really don't see what it's got to do with me. You had no right to bluff your way in here to beg."

"I didn't bluff my way, Darlington. I merely asked to see you. I thought that as we were at school together—"

"Oh, cut all that out! You're simply taking advantage of it. Why should I give you money? I know nothing about you. I have plenty of calls on my charity. When I want to give, I like to choose my own objects of charity. I'm not going to be wheedled by any stranger who says he was at school with me."

The man lurched a little nearer.

"But I'm willing to work, Darlington. It's a serious matter. You in your position probably can't realize what it is to be poor, really poor, when it's a question of bread for those you love. You have so much—"

Sir Ernest brought his hand down sharply on the lid of the bureau.

"What I have is nothing to do with it. What I've made I've fought for in the open. You say you were at school with me. Right. That postulates the fact that we started with equal opportunities. I've got on and you've failed. Why? Because I've worked and tried, and made sacrifices and you haven't."

"Men are made differently," stammered the visitor.

"Suppose I give you a few pounds," continued Sir Ernest, ignoring him, "what's the good of it? In a few days you will have spent it. You'll be no better off. It's no kind of solution. It's anti-social. It's all wrong."

"Oh, but—Darlington, in the meanwhile, I—I—"

Sir Ernest was losing his temper.

"Pressed as I am by a hundred important matters, I very much resent this kind of intrusion. This is a very important day with me. I particularly resent this playing down to the sentimental association of schooldays."

He pressed a bell, and a tall butler entered.

"Show this gentleman out, please."

The visitor slunk away and vanished. The secretary re-entered with some papers. Sir Ernest was immersed until the arrival of the Minister at twelve o'clock. The distasteful episode was dismissed from his mind. He spent a joyous hour with his elderly chief, conscious of the impression he was making on him by the cold logic of his reason, and the skilled manipulation of written phrases. The old gentleman was delighted with him, and complimented him more than once. Sir Ernest smiled ingratiatingly. There was nothing about those dark eyes to betray the cynical reflection.

"Yes, my friend. When the moment is ripe I shall oust you from your place. I, Ernest Darlington."


The interview over, he said to his visitor:

"Will you stop to lunch, sir?"

No, the Minister thanked him profusely, but he was committed to lunch at home. When he had gone, the secretary, rustling with papers, said:—

"Will you be lunching at home, sir? Lady Darlington has a small party. You are due at the House at two-thirty."

"Eh? Oh, well, I might as well. A man must feed somewhere."

Secretly he enjoyed surprising his family. He saw little of his wife. He was submerged in his work and ambitions, she in social and charitable claims. They had little in common, but he still admired her rather sculpturesque beauty, with the clean-cut lines hinting at her romantic origin. She was a daughter of one of the oldest Scottish peers. He enjoyed the sensation of his rather late arrival, the scarcely hushed expressions of surprise: his daughter was there too, a rather plain girl, heavily built. Also a colonel, two young cadets, a half a dozen others. He liked to watch the shy, eager faces of the young men, to be conscious of their deference to him. They would talk about him, and afterwards it would give them pleasure to say to their friends:—

"Do you know, Sir Ernest himself was there!"

It gave him a pleasant feeling to select plain things out of a rather elaborate menu, a cutlet, some cheese, and a pear; to drink water when the young men were drinking wine; and to jump up before the meal was finished and exclaim:—

"You must excuse me. I am due at the House at two-thirty."

The House! It was there in this somewhat drab assembly that the glitter was most dazzling. Late that afternoon he had to make an eagerly awaited speech in the defence of the Government. Much was expected of him, and he knew that he had the power. Every paper in the country would report his speech to-morrow. His partisans would praise him; the Opposi tun would criticize—possibly sneer at him. What did it matter? On every tongue would be the name "Ernest Darlington!" Even his enemies would not deny his cleverness.

Power—power—he loved the familiar tokens of his welcome, the policemen touching their hats, the toadies in the lobby, the sense of being watched and remarked about. And then conspicuously, before a group of members, the cordial welcome by his chief; the private conference in a Committee room, which he dominated by force of personality.

Came the most insidious glitter of all—the debate itself. As he lolled back on the Government benches, his hat tilted at an insolent angle, his face expressing utter disdain and boredom, he knew that hundreds of eyes were fixed on him. He knew that the rumour had gone round: "Darlington is going to reply to the motion."

It was not difficult to forecast the line of argument that would be adopted by the Opposition, but he listened alertly, making mental notes of weaknesses and discrepancies. At length his moment came. He was upon his feet, to a roar of welcome from his party, and packed benches all over the House.

He began quietly, as a pained father might speak to a recalcitrant child. Then he spoke with cold incisiveness, quoting figures, as though he were adjudging the issue with the detachment of abstract logic, as though the case were of little concern to himself, but was merely a pronouncement of unarguable evidence. Then his voice warmed with a note of passion. He was appealing for the broad interests of his fellow-citizens. He referred scathingly to the narrow outlook of the leaders opposite.

Sometimes he received an interruption, sometimes a roar of applause that appeared to come from all parts of the House. When the need for concentration was less vital, and he could see the end of his argument in sight, his mind for a moment reeled with a drunken sense of elation. He had got them. Another big step up the ladder of success had been reached. That which he had fought for all his life was reaching a climax.

Power—power—power. "The race to the swift; the battle to the strong!"

He rounded his speech off like an accomplished craftsman, leaving the climax to tell its tale, and ending on a note of respect towards the House, of chivalry towards his opponents.


When it was over he mingled with his colleagues, drinking in their praises, sensing the herd thought which dominated the group, presaging avidly the next move in the game. The game! Never for one instant was he oblivious to the consciousness that the whole thing was a game. The thrill of the chase was upon him, the frenzy of the hunter, the will to superimpose one type upon another. Men clever as himself forgathered in another room, and planned the next phase of the hunt. And they spoke earnestly, only their eyes sometimes shifted with uneasy questionings, as much as to say:

"Are you in the game with us? or are you playing a game of your own?"

The discussion over, he strolled into the corridors and there ran into Cairn liven, the newspaper magnate and millionaire.

"Ah! Darlington," said the latter. "Many, many congratulations. You routed them single-handed. We are meeting at dinner to-night. I believe at the Duke of Shropshire's."

"To-night?" muttered Sir Ernest abstractedly. He had not forgotten, but it tickled his vanity to appear indifferent to the aged Duke's invitation.

"Why, yes, the Duke is most anxious you should come. You know who else is coming? Mark Breitenstein, the Canadian; owns half Nova Scotia, you know."

Niven's eyes narrowed, searching his face eagerly. Cairn liven had a game to play, the old Duke also. Why were they so anxious for him to go? He smiled knowingly. There would, of course, in days to come be contracts, concessions, bartering, compromise. When he had power—his brain envisaged many faces such as Cairn Niven's in the days to come, dangling before him the lure of untold wealth—if he only cared to be just a little unscrupulous. But no, no, that was not part of his game. Nevertheless, he said cordially:—

"Of course, Niven, I am coming. For the moment I had forgotten."


In Palace Yard he dismissed his car, telling the man to pick him up at Shropshire House at a quarter to twelve. He felt the need of mental relaxation. He turned westward and wandered along the Embankment. It was a March evening, with already a tang of Spring in the air. The sky was like a pale gauze mantle trying to hide the almost invisible stars. The river was mysteriously alive with magic lights and slow-moving dark objects.

When he had walked some distance he turned and regarded the vague outlines of the towers of Westminster and the vast confusion of buildings wherein operated the nerve force which directed the destinies of a mighty and ancient empire. The sense of its might and its antiquity became overpowering, more overpowering in this silent and remote coign of vantage than within the precincts of the building itself. Big Ben struck, and he reeled slightly like a man drunk with the riches of his own ego. His heart vibrated:

"Power and antiquity and tradition—and to-morrow everyone will be talking of me."

He sat clown on a bench, as though unable to bear the burden of this overpowering revelation. And as he sat there, there strolled towards him two figures. At first he was too preoccupied to notice them. But as they came under the light of the lamp he could not but observe that they were lovers. The man was a pale young clerk or mechanic, and the girl, who was hatless, was slim and pretty of her kind, with large grey eyes and a narrow oval face. His arm was around her shoulders, and hers around his waist. He could see the lovelight in her eyes, and the man's were almost tearful in their dumb adoration.

His preoccupations were eclipsed. They never turned to glance at him. Power, antiquity, tradition. What did they care? They were probably going home to some poor haunt at Battersea or Chelsea. Tomorrow all the world would be talking of him. What did they care? They passed and left him staring at the dark wall that lined the Embankment, as though some sudden strange doubt had entered his heart. For a minute or two he sat there, frowning into nothingness. Then he stood up, and lighting a cigar, walked briskly eastwards.


The dinner at the old Duke of Shropshire's was an unqualified success. Covers were laid for eighteen, and His Grace himself was in his most genial and reminiscent mood, relating stories of all the celebrities of the mid-Victorian era from the Empress Eugénie to General Gordon and Disraeli.

Cairn liven, with his little clipped moustache and ingratiating voice, was making himself charming to the Duchess. The great Mark Breitenstein was a little bewildered and taciturn. He was a man with a large square head, strong jaw, and keen pale eyes. He ate little and drank less, and his attitude seemed to be:

"Come, let's get on with it. Let's get rid of these women and get down to brass tacks."

Sir Ernest was in no hurry for this diversion. It was the hour when he allowed himself to relax. He realized that he was hungry, and he did full justice to the Duke's good foods and ancient vintages. He enjoyed being conspicuous in so glittering a company by exercising the prerogative of the House in wearing an ordinary lounge suit. The House was still sitting, and he liked to give the impression that any minute he might be called away—a most unlikely contingency, he knew.

Moreover, he found himself placed next to a well-known Society beauty—Lady Muriel Lough-Waterspon, an enchanting creature, who talked about him, and flattered him, and flirted with him through the whole dinner. And Sir Ernest sparkled as only he could sparkle, when the hour was ripe and the conditions attuned to his mood. He had never met Lady Muriel before, but, of course, they knew of each other, and there was for this reason a pleasant sense of familiarity between them. Each was playing the same game, with its thrills and dangers, penalties and prizes. His senses quickened as he glanced round the table, and became aware of the many eyes riveted upon them, of many heads nodding knowingly, and of faces expressing:

"Sir Ernest and Lady Muriel—what a couple! They seem to be enjoying themselves. I wonder—"

When the dinner was over the Duke found it difflicult to detach him, so engrossed was he with his partner. The old gentleman eventually had to go himself and dig him out from an annexe of one of the reception rooms, where he was still talking and exchanging imponderable trifles with glitter and abandon.

"Darlington, it distresses me to make this unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion, but my friend Breitenstein is most anxious to have your opinon on a trifling matter. My dear Muriel, you have slain so many innocents, please postpone the slaughter of this one for half an hour."

A delicious moment, not only to stoop and kiss her hand—a most un-English proceeding—not only to detect the shadow of disappointment on her face, but to see her eyes gleam, impressed with his importance. To be dragged from her presence by a duke, to talk politics. Oh, delicious!

Delicious to feign boredom when a millionaire is talking to you, appealing to you subtly about his interests. Delicious to see through him, and the other two men in this new game, to answer evasively and yet to show a complete grasp of the subject. He saw Breitenstein watching him like a fox-terrier at a rabbit hole. How he could use these men when the power was his! He stored up in his brain the information they gave him, and committed himself to promises which he could easily modify in the future.

They talked till nearly midnight, talked till a real sense of weariness crept over him. He excused himself on the strength of work to-morrow. Secretly he promised himself a last half-hour with Lady Muriel, perhaps the adventure of taking her home. But when he returned to the drawing—room she had gone.

"She has gone on to a dance, Sir Ernest," said the Duchess.


He was disappointed. He felt badly treated. Why could she not have waited for him? He was unaccustomed to people who did not pursue him. In the car on the way home he reflected upon the insincerity and frailty of women. And yet he was bound to admit that he would have done the same himself. He served his own purposes the whole time, regardless of others. So did Lady Muriel. The reflection did not raise his spirits, or soften his feeling of disappointment and ill-usage. He wondered apathetically whether his wife and daughter would be at home.

Arrived there he recognized by the silence of the house that they were either in bed or out. He went into the library and rang a bell. A butler entered.

"Are Lady Darlington and Miss Diana out, Jacques?"

"Yes, sir, they've gone to a ball, sir, I believe at the American Embassy."

No change of expression passed over his face, but with an impatient gesture he dismissed the butler, then lighted another cigar and poured himself out a whisky and soda. The great library with its many projections and recesses seemed incredibly silent after the turmoil of the day. Upon the table by the fireplace were the evening newspapers. He picked up one. In a flaming headline across the top of the front page were the words: "Darlington hits out." He smiled with grim satisfaction. He glanced at the sub-headlines and read the résumé of his speech. Quite satisfactory. Neither was he perturbed by the headlines of the Opposition papers. "The old shibboleths." What did it matter? The speech was treated just as importantly. It was all in the game to say that.

When he had read through the paper's account of his speech he sat back and dreamt of the future—all the world at his feet. There flashed before his mind the faces of his fellow Ministers, of his friends, of Lady Muriel and others—praising him, praising him or regarding him with envy. Little remarks they had made were stored up in his memory. Ha, ha! "Darlington hits out!"

The cigar went out and he threw the stump away. A feeling of lassitude crept over him. He felt almost too tired to go up to bed. The room seemed to be getting dimmer, the recesses deeper in shadow. Books, with their voices whispering across the years, are the harbourers of ghosts.

What a fool he was! He who had never flinched in the face of any enemy; he who had fought and won in the great battle; he who did not believe in any nonsense of that sort. It was simply that—over there in that corner facing the fireplace—the room seemed to have unpleasant associations. What were they? He scowled into the obscurity and passed his hand over his jet-black hair. Of course, what nonsense!—that fellow who had called in the morning to borrow money. He had stood there. Well, that matter was done with, and finished. His conscience was perfectly clear. And yet he did not feel anxious to go to bed.

He sat down once more and picked up the evening paper. What else was happening? Did anything else in the world matter beyond his speech?

He glanced at the headlines—foreign politics, murder trials, divorces, an earthquake in Japan, a small war in the Near East. No, nothing of any consequence or interest. He turned to the stop-press news. Still nothing. And then, just below, his eyes caught sight of a tiny paragraph: "An unknown man, wearing a brown ulster and a grey cloth cap, was knocked down and killed by a motor lorry in the Blackfriars Road this afternoon."

Sir Ernest started and glanced involuntarily at the corner of the room which had engaged his attention so mysteriously just before he picked up the paper. A curious cold tremor seemed to pass from the back of his head right down to the base of his spine. He stood up and groped towards the fireplace, as though impelled to seek protective measures—the poker, eh?

Gad! what a fool! He was himself again before he had reached it. His clear brain had destroyed the miasma. Of course it was all just silly. He was tired. It was no business of his. He was under no obligation to give the fellow money. It was no fault of his if he got run over. An accident? Well, what had he said? Let's see. No, no, he had said he had a wife and child. A man wouldn't a wife and child practically starving. Dash it all! What was the fellow's name?

He couldn't remember. He had had enough to memorize that day. But he had given him a card. What had he done with it? Abruptly he remembered that immediately the fellow had gone out he had thrown it on the fire in a mood of irritation.

He had said that they were at Winchester together. The old school—hang it! He had no right to exploit it. A man who truckles to sentimental whims gets nowhere. Sir Ernest squared his jaw. That which had made him what he was leapt forward as if in defence of his life's work. Casually he lit a cigarette and as though in challenge to this sinister attack he walked to the door and turned out all the lights. Then he strolled back calmly to the fireplace and stood there with his back to it, legs wide apart in the defiant attitude that he invariably adopted. He put his arms behind him and scowled into the darkness.

"Well," he muttered, "what about it?"

He twirled the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and waited, as though expecting an answer from some invisible agency. The red embers of the fire cast the shadow of his legs across the carpet, until they merged into the general obscurity. The fire crackled gently, but no other sound came to break the silence. The books, jealously guarding the wisdom of all the ages, had nothing to say. No ghost spoke. The thin lines around Sir Ernest's nostrils, denoting a contempt for human frailty, if not indeed contempt for human nature itself, became accentuated. His yes challenged the darkness and in his heart he laughed derisively, as the phrase recurred to him: "Darlington hits out!"

As though observed by a large company of his fellow-beings he finished his cigarette with studied nonchalance, and threw the end into the fire. But he did not turn his back to the place where the man had stood that morning. Then he strolled casually from the room.

It was not till he reached his bedroom that he reacted to the feelings of relief. He was indeed a little unstrung, victorious but less certain of himself.

The white-panelled bedroom, with its chintz curtains, satinwood furniture and cunningly modulated lights, failed to comfort him entirely. He was master of his fate, and yet in the construction of that fate there seemed something missing, like the very cornerstone itself. He undressed quickly and went to bed. He tried to read, but his mind refused to concentrate. He closed the book and turned out the light.

He sometimes flattered himself that he had a quality in common with Napoleon—the power to sleep at will. But possibly there were nights when even Bonaparte could not sleep, when even he lay awake questioning in his heart the dictates of his star of destiny.

Certainly Sir Ernest could not sleep. He struggled fitfully to piece together the memories of his first term at Winchester. But no, no, it was all vague, an obscure, unhappy time compared with the brilliant successes at work and sport that crowned his last three years. And then came Oxford, where he became a byword.

"What's the good of going in for that? Darlington's entered for it!"

And then the Bar. Everything, everything lying in wait for him, coming so easily. Even his marriage with the eldest daughter of Scotland's leading peer—was it not the envy of all his colleagues? Was it not like Darlington? Was there ever such a gifted, lucky fellow?

Dozing he saw the panoply of his marriage at St. Margaret's, the glamour of Courts and of those who sit in high places, mingled with the roar of applause at his first election address—wine! And across this cut other visions—his mother, long since dead, propped up by his side in a one-horse Victoria down at the old place at Dalehurst, giving him homely advice about his digestive organs and his God. Dear soul!

And then in later years that girl at Oxford—what was her name? Lola? Lola, yes, that was it. An absurd name, but a nice girl, the daughter of a book-seller. They loved each other passionately the two terms before he went down. "Absurd! absurd!" protested the wearying spirit. But her memory was very sweet. She wore a lilac frock and they went for rambles in the meadows, and he would meet her at night along the tow-path by the river. And when he had become violent in his passionate entreaties, she had wept and said:

"Oh, Ernest, let me keep memories of you as I have at present—pure, and sweet, and unspoilt. You could make me happy, but I could never make you happy, dear, for I could not hold you."

And he could see her eyes melting to him in the moonlight, and oh! they haunted him for months. But he knew that she was wiser than he, and he had pulled himself together, and kissed her reverently. And when he had left her at her father's gate he had looked back and seen her standing there, her hair all awry, her lips parted, and her eyes blinded with tears...

The great world had held out its arms to him. And like the strong man that he was, he had mastered the calls of these immature emotions. He had never seen that girl again.

He kept repeating to himself:

"When to-morrow comes I shall be myself. I am dog-tired."

He tried to concentrate on to-morrow's work, to-morrow's glamour, but he was constantly disturbed by outside visions. Above all others, there was one that constantly recurred—the fair, slim girl and her pale young lover, walking by the banks of the river, too absorbed in each other to notice him, utterly indifferent to the glittering prizes while they had each other. He tried to follow them to their meagre nest in the suburbs. He tried to share the prize that they had won, but it eluded him.

It was nearly dawn when he fell into a fitful sleep.

He had no idea how long he had slept, when his dreams were suddenly irrupted by a scream. All his faculties were instantly awake. The scream came from his wife's bedroom. Like a flash he was out of bed, and across the room, and into the next. In the dim light he was aware of two figures struggling. He snatched at the electric-light switch and turned it on just in time to see his wife fall, struck by some implement in the hand of a man. Her jewels were scattered on the floor. With a growl Sir Ernest sprang at him, and struck him senseless with his fist. The house was immediately in a pandemonium. His daughter and the servants came hurrying down the corridors. A doctor was telephoned for. The burglar was handed over to the police.

Lady Darlington lay on the bed unconscious. A long wound extended from the side of her head to her chin. She groaned feebly as they bathed it. The mind of Sir Ernest reacted to the thrust of this surprising experience. It was the kind of experience which one reads about, one that happens to vague shadowy others, but which one cannot associate with oneself. He tingled with the shock and excitement of it, feeling almost exultant. The events of the previous twenty-four hours faded into insignificance. He roamed from one room to the other, while the doctor was dressing his wife's wound, a cave man defending his own.

When she regained consciousness he sat by the bed, holding her hand and murmuring little phrases of sympathy. He comforted and reassured his daughter, who had shown symptoms of fainting. When the day came he bathed, breakfasted, and only prepared to take up his duties when fully assured that his wife's life was out of danger, and that everything was being done to alleviate her pain.

In the days that followed his work was somewhat affected by personal preoccupation. If she had died! The analysis of his own emotions began to surprise him. Custom is apt to dull our powers of analysis. Gina led her life, and he led his. But she was always there, a familiar and beautiful figure.

His symptoms were quickened by the knowledge imparted to him by the doctor a week later. The scar would always remain. His wife was disfigured for life. It was not his fault. He had indeed possibly saved her life. And yet he felt responsible. If he had considered her more, looked after her more—it was proved that the thief had been following her movements carefully for some time—it might never have occurred.

Whenever he could snatch an interval from his work he would go to her room and regard her wonderingly. And his heart was filled with an intense pity. He could see the pathos in her eyes, the pathos and the pride. For she came of the kind who do not complain. And as the weeks passed, the lesson came home to him that Gina, brilliant, sought after and successful, was a cold image which held for him no attractions; but Gina, broken and pathetic, stirred within him emotions so profound that she seemed essential to his very soul.

More and more would he leave his work and social demands to sit and talk with her. And sometimes he would read to her, and discuss his aims and ambitions. And she watched him and wondered too, wondered why after all these years of neglect he should turn to her when she was broken.

And one night she said:—

"Ernest, I sometimes think you waste too much time with me. I mustn't interfere with your career. They all say the same of you. You have the whole world at your feet, dear. There is no prize you might not win."

He took her hands and held them pressed against his temples, as he whispered back:—

"Oh, my dear—my dear. It is only through suffering we learn. We are all so apt to stretch out our hands towards prizes that glitter far away, and then to miss the only prize worth while."


10. The Baby Grand

When the Gabril family first came to live in Camden Town, Gabril was not their name. They were reputed to have come from Silesia, and to have arrived with a name that was quite beyond the capabilities of the neighbourhood to pronounce. Some genius invented the name of Gabril for them, and it was probably a contraction of a more grandiose nomenclature. They were of Jewish stock, but had long ceased to practise or conform to any religious creed. It may almost be said that they had ceased to conform to any creed at all. They were a thoroughly unpleasant family. Solomon Gabril, the father, was a piano-tuner. He had been married twice, and both his wives had died. By his first wife he had two sons and two daughters—Paul, Mischa, Selma, and Katie. By his second wife, one daughter, Lena.

At the time when this story commences, Paul and Mischa were in the early twenties, Selma was eighteen, Katie seventeen, and Lena thirteen. They lived in three rooms and a scullery in a dingy house in Benthal Street. Solomon was a thoroughly competent piano-tuner, otherwise it is quite certain that the eminent firm of piano manufacturers in Kentish Town would not have tolerated him. He was dirty, untidy, wheezy, and vacillating. He indulged in drinking bouts, when nothing would be seen of him for days. When sober his manner was ingratiating, and somewhat facetious. He had a perpetual sneering grin. He was, however, not entirely without feeling, and not entirely a fool.

He was not capable of studied cruelty. He wished well towards his family, and would give them the best of everything, if it hadn't been that there was barely enough for his own indulgences, and self came first. He paid the rent, allowed Selma, the eldest girl, a sufficient sum weekly to buy the bare necessities of life for the rest, and he never struck the children. It cannot be said that either of his sons had so good a character. Paul was frankly what is known as "a bad egg." He had been to prison twice for petty thefts. He never kept a situation for more than a few weeks. He was idle, depraved, and quarrelsome. Mischa was less objectionable than his brother. He was quieter, had never been convicted in crime, but was phlegmatic, morose, and stupid. He worked in a candle factory.

Selma was a narrow strip of a girl, with eyes too close together. She surreptitiously spent money meant for the food of the family on trinkets. She was supposed to manage the household, and to do the cooking and cleaning, and, during such time as she could spare from the local picture-house, she did make some sort of effort in this direction. She was furtive and selfish.

Katie, who did various odd jobs in teashops and private houses, was more like her brother Mischa. She was of the flaccid kind, and sighed her way through the dreary monotony of her days.

The whole family lived in a continuous state of hunger and irritation, with the exception of Mr. Gabril, who was not particularly interested in eating, but who always managed to get a good dinner every day at a coffee-shop, and who drank sufficient beer both to feed himself and to keep him in a static condition of oleaginous indifference to the troubles of others.

Being, as it were, engrafted on to this deplorable family tree, one may readily imagine that the conditions and prospects of the youngest child, Lena, were anything but roseate. She was quite obviously different from the rest. Her mother had been a singer who died at Lena's birth. The child had a broad plump face, and dark brown reflective eyes. She was curiously reserved, and she endured the insults and bullying of her sisters, and the cuffs of her elder brother, with almost uncanny fortitude, as though when all was said and done she was stronger than they; as though she had enduring treasures to defend.

She was sent to the local church school, more with the idea of getting her out of the way, and keeping her out of mischief, than with benefiting her with the liberal education obtainable at that institution. Having bundled her off to school, the family interest in her education and progress vanished. But it was instilled into her in early life that she was the only one who contributed nothing to the general upkeep of the house, and that the sooner she grew up and went out and earned her living the better it would be for her. She slept in one bedroom with the two step-sisters, the three men occupied the other, whilst the third room was dubbed facetiously "the parlour" by Mr. Gabril. It was the room where the whole family congregated, fed, quarrelled, and indulged in whatever recreations were available. It was furnished with a dilapidated sofa, four cane chairs, two packing cases used as chairs, a deal table, a fitted cupboard, an oleograph of King Edward as an admiral, and several coloured plates taken from Christmas numbers. It had a smell of its own, in which fish, cabbage, smoke, drying clothes, and unwashed humanity mingled in degrees varying with the time of day and the state of the weather.

Lena was not allowed to sit on the sofa, which was usually occupied by the males, or in their absence the other two girls. She usually sat on a packing-case by the window, and there she would pore over her school books, trying to learn her lessons, amidst the general din, bickering and disorder.

The family took no interest in her activities, other than those which affected themselves. On her part she formed outside friendships, and developed ambitions which she never imparted to the rest.

And then one day a strange thing happened.

It was evening, and the family had just finished supper. The boys had gone out. Mr. Gabril was sprawling on the sofa, smoking, and reading the evening paper. Selma was washing up in the scullery, Katie was making herself a blouse, and Lena was sitting on her packing-case, reading, when there came a knock at the door. Mr. Gabril said: "Come in!" and there entered a young, rather good-looking clergyman.

The surprise and consternation of the family were immense. The visit of a policeman could not have created a greater shock. Mr. Gabril started as though he expected to be accused of some dreadful vice. Katie dropped her sewing. Selma, catching sight of the visitor through the open door, swiftly wiped her hands on a dry rag, and prepared to re-enter the room. Lena alone seemed unmoved. The stranger said, cheerily:

"Mr. Gabril?"

"That's my name," said Mr. Gabril, suspiciously.

"Good-evening, Mr. Gabril. My name is Winscombe, of the—er—church schools. I wanted to have a word with you about your daughter. Ah! good-evening, Lena!"

The mystery deepened. He nodded familiarly to Lena, who smiled a recognition. Now, what was this all about? The family had no particular use for clergymen, a cold, repressive, prying lot. At the same time, he was certainly a pleasant, gentlemanly fellow. There might be something to be got out of him. The grin returned to Mr. Gabril's face.

"Oh!" he said. "I don't know. What's it about?"

Selma, who had entered the room, and liked the appearance of the young man, qua young man, had a brain-wave. She said:

"Won't you sit down, sir?"

He bowed, and replied:

"Thank you, thank you. Your other two daughters, I presume. Good-evening! Good-evening!"

He sat down and balanced his hat on his knee. Then he began speaking eagerly.

"Do you know, Mr. Gabril, we think your daughter has talent, decided talent. I expect you know she was introduced to my sister by Miss Watson at the school, who suspected her of being musical. My sister has been giving her lessons for the last year, and she is very impressed, very impressed indeed. My sister is not a great musician herself, and she is of opinion that Lena should go to someone more advanced."

"Well, the deuce! The nasty, furtive little cat! Why has she said nothing about this?" reflected Mr. Gabril. Outwardly, he continued to grin, and he spluttered out:

"Eh? Oh yes! Well, well!"

His mind became active. Plays the piano, eh? Well, what did the fellow want? Did he think that he, Solomon Gabril, was going to spend money on piano lessons? Was he such a fool as that? On the other hand, if she could play, perhaps there was money in it. Perhaps she could go on and play at the pictures. He'd heard of girls getting two or three pounds a week at the game. Well? The young fellow continued to talk.

"It has all fallen out rather fortunately, I hope you'll agree. A friend of ours, a comparatively wealthy man, who is also a musical patron, introduced her to Soltz, the well-known professor. Lena played to him yesterday, and he too was impressed by her extreme promise. My friend is willing to pay for a course of lessons for her with Herr Soltz, I presume you would have no objection?"

Something for nothing was entirely in keeping with Mr. Gabril's sense of social morality. But what about this? In what way did he benefit? It wanted thinking over. These people evidently had money. It would be much better if they gave the money to him, and he supervised the girl's musical education. On the other hand, if they taught her to play properly—well, there was money in that. Perhaps it would be better to agree in the meantime. He said:

"Oh, really? Very nice, I'm sure—very nice."

The clergyman continued:

"She will, of course, be leaving school shortly, and then, if she is allowed to devote her whole time to music, we think she may go far—very far indeed."

"Playing for the pictures?" said Mr. Gabril, tentatively.

"Oh, farther than that, I trust."

"Playing at concerts, and so on?"

"Why, yes, and giving her own recitals, and being engaged by orchestral societies, becoming a great artiste, in fact."

Mr. Gabrielas eyes narrowed. He was a piano-tuner. He knew something about the profession. There were people like Paderewski and Pachmann making a lot of money. It had not occurred to him to associate his scrubby little daughter with the dazzling side of a musical career. He had not known till that moment that she knew a note of music. This was an historical day in the history of the Gabril family. But it had its reaction.

When the clergyman had gone, Selma flared up. She was jealous and furious. She went up to Lena and said:

"You little sneak!" and she slapped her face. And then Mr. Gabril saw red. He grabbed Selma, and screamed at her:

"You fool! Leave her alone, or I'll shake the life out of you!"

Selma cried, and Lena cried, and Katie joined in the general uproar, and eventually said she felt sick and was going to bed. Their individual emotions were at cross-purposes. Selma couldn't see that her father was primarily concerned with the commercial potentialities of the situation. She accused him of taking Lena's side against her, who did all the work. She was only drudge. She wasn't given piano lessons. Rich people didn't come chasing after her. A nice thing it was. She supposed Lena would be having dancing lessons next, and be going to Buckingham Palace to be presented at Court. Selma was very hysterical, her mind a little confused by a film she had seen that afternoon, called "The Heir to Millions." It was a thoroughly unpleasant evening, and was not improved by the late advent of the two brothers, both rather drunk. They were too drunk to be impressed by the news about the clergyman's visit. Paul laughed boisterously.

"A parson, eh?" he kept on repeating. "Fancy a parson coming 'ere!" He seemed to think it was quite the funniest thing that had ever happened.

For several weeks Lena was subjected to a running fire of jeering comments, vindictive on the part of her step-sisters, ironic and inane on the part of her brothers. It was only Mr. Gabril himself who displayed' any kind of tolerance. He cannot be said to have shown any great sympathy, but he licked his lips and leered, and bade the others shut up. He told romantic stories of vast fortunes made out of playing the piano. None of the others believed him. It was a dream so outside their normal conception of life as lived in Camden Town that they could not visualize it. It was possible that romantic figures in other settings did such things, but scrubby little Lena, with whose superfluous person they had been herded day and night all her wretched life—nonsense!


The only note of reality was struck three weeks after the clergyman's visit, for one day a piano arrived. It was what is known as a baby grand, and was put in "the parlour." Now this was a concrete and astonishing occurrence. A piano costs money. Amidst the packing-cases and flimsy furniture of the Gabrils' parlour it struck a flamboyant, an alarming note. If it had been an ordinary upright piano it would not have seemed out of place, but a grand! Even Paul was slightly awed, and Selma disagreeably impressed. It seemed to take up all the room, to be insolently assertive. Its contempt for the flimsy furniture oozed from its shining black sides. It was like a large Persian cat of ancient pedigree finding itself in a room full of scraggy, ill-born kittens.

Mr. Gabril chuckled with satisfaction. He ran his fingers over the keys, playing the few florid harmonies he was accustomed to indulge in on his tuning rounds. It was a magnificent piano. The angle of the family's attitude towards Lena shifted a little. What if there were something in it after all? Each one naturally thought of his or her own interests. "Suppose she does make money, where do I come in?"

They stood round the piano in a group and made her play. They seemed to expect some astounding miracle to happen right away. They wanted her to give some definite proof that gold would quickly flow as a result of her exertions. They were disappointed. She certainly seemed to play all right. But she played very dull pieces. There was nothing about the performance to dazzle or surprise.

Nevertheless, they granted her a certain amount of freedom. She was allowed to practise for several weeks unmolested, until the novelty of the situation began to wear off. They got tired of her scales, arpeggios, and repetitions. Besides, nothing was being said about paying her large sums for playing in public. Paul wouldn't let her play at all when he was in the house. Mischa brought home a young man friend, who banged out jazz tunes for two evenings running. Selma began to find the piano useful for piling up plates, and pans, and pots. In three months' time the piano had ceased to be an object of awe. Respect for it vanished. It became part and parcel of the room. Its lid was scratched and marked. It was piled up with papers and plates and odd rubbish. Lena only practised when the others were out, and then she was always being interrupted by knocks at the door, barrel-organs in the street below, or the irksome duty of haying to keep one eye on a boiling pot.

Twice a week she went over to Kensington, and had a lesson from Mr. Soltz. As her father refused to give her any money she had to walk there and back, always hungry, frequently exhausted, ill-shod, shabbily dressed, rain-soaked. But her eyes continued to glow with the fire of her prescribed purposes, and a smile was ever ready on her lips.


A whole year passed before the deplorable incident in connection with the piano happened.

Lena had left school. She was over fifteen. It was pointed out to Mr. Gabril very forcibly by the other members of the family that she might now be out earning money. There was no sign yet that all this piano-playing was going to be any good. She might go on doing it for years, and who was going to keep her? Why should she be allowed to idle about at home, strumming on a piano, when Katie had to go off every morning to a tea-shop?

Paul went out of a job, and Selma had become engaged to a flashy young man who served in the stores, and backed horses. She wanted to get married, and, of course, they had no money to start housekeeping on. That fact was probably the basis of the idea which led to the regrettable incident, that and Paul's unemployment and depravity. It is certain that at the height of this condition of discontent and disorder, Paul and Selma put their heads together. They were both desperate and without moral bias. They plotted a devilish dishonesty. One day, when everyone was out except these two, a gentleman in a bowler hat paid them a visit. He made a careful examination of the piano, and the three of them whispered together in a corner.

On the following Thursday afternoon, Lena was over at Kensington, having a lesson. Mr. Gabril was out tuning, and Katie was, of course, at business also. A van drove up. Four men in green aprons came upstairs. They picked up the "baby" as though it really were a baby. They carried it gently downstairs and deposited it in the van. The foreman handed Paul an envelope, and they drove off. Paul and Selma had sold the piano for seventy pounds!

The plot was ingenious, but somewhat incomplete. They had taken the precaution to deal with a firm in South London, and payment was made in cash. It was obvious that they must not disappear. They must brazen the thing out. Selma was to say that she was alone in the house when the piano people called and said they had instructions to take the piano away and restore it. She knew nothing about it. She supposed it was all right. Nevertheless, it was a risky game. It all depended upon what attitude Mr. Winscombe's people might take. They might advertise. Paul and Selma would have to stick together, and lie like anything. They shared the spoil, but both felt dreadfully frightened. And, curiously enough, Selma felt less frightened of detection than she did of Lena. What would Lena do? There was something queer and uncanny about the kid. You never knew what she would do.

It was unfortunate for Paul that the transaction was a cash one. He went out into the street with thirty-five pounds in his pocket. He was not a good subject to have so much money on him. He had never had so much before in his life. He was frightened and very desperate. He went straight down the road and had three whiskies. Then he began to see things more clearly. There would be a row. He might be arrested, put in prison—anything. What did he care about the family? Thirty-five pounds seemed an enormous sum. He could live for months, and then perhaps something else might turn up, another scoop. He wasn't going back to that house. Of course, he had promised to stick by Selma, but still—what did it matter? Selma could look after herself. Women were always all right. Let's have a good night out first, anyway. He went up West.

After an orgy that lasted three days and nights, he took a train to Brighton, where, in the fullness of time, he married a fat elderly lady, who owned a green-grocer's shop. His subsequent life does not concern us, but, if rumour is to be believed, he got all he deserved.

Selma was pluckier than Paul, and a little more cunning. To her surprise, Lena took the news more philosophically than she had expected. At first, of course, she believed Selma's story that they had sent for the piano to do something to it, but, even when the truth came out, that it had indeed been stolen, she only seemed a little dazed and surprised. It was as though there were within her vibrant forces that could not be deflected by the mere removal of material things.

It was Mr. Gabril who caused Selma most trouble. He was furious. He saw at once that some trick had been played, and he regarded the playing of tricks as his own prerogative. He had, indeed, for some time nurtured this identical idea of selling the piano, and he would have done it more efficiently. He had many friends in the piano-dealing world, friends who were capable of keeping their mouths shut, too. He would have got a good price, and he did not believe there was anything in Lena's future, or, if there were, it would take too long to materialize.

When Paul failed to return the father's suspicions naturally centred upon him. He accepted Selma's statement unquestioningly. Well, what were they going to do? Selma hinted at keeping the matter quiet.

"The piano was only lent. They will hold us responsible," she said.

"Idiot!" yelled the father. "What's the good of that? They're bound to find out in time. Besides, I'm going to find out who did this dirty trick. I'm going to have my revenge."

"Suppose it was Paul?" said Selma, turning rather pale.

"If it was Paul he can go to gaol for it. He's been there before. It's about the only place he's fit for," said the boy's father.

Selma cursed her brother in her heart. The coward! The sneak! Fancy running away, leaving her to bear the brunt of the whole danger! How like a man!

Lena was only concerned with the question as to where she was to practise, and on what piano. She went the first thing next morning and reported the matter to Ih r. Winscombe. That gentleman arrived later with a lawyer. Selma was closely cross-examined. She gave her version of the case, only omitting the fact of Paul's disappearance.

Later in the day Mr. Winscombe had an interview with Sir Robert Ashington, the music patron and owner of the piano. He was a thin, scholarly-looking old gentleman with snow-white hair.

"Well, well," he said, on hearing the clergyman's report, "what are we to do about it?"

"We have already notified the police, and Channing suggests that we might advertise it. If the firm who bought the piano are a bona fide firm they might be willing to come forward. But if, as is most likely, they got it for a song, they may keep quiet. It is easy enough to sell a grand piano, and comparatively easy to alter the number or change it in such a manner that after a little interval they could dispose of it with safety."

"Do you suspect the family?"

The clergyman shrugged his shoulders.

"They are a terrible crowd, sir, terrible. They are certainly capable, either individually or collectively, of doing such a thing. The father, of course, is the most likely. He is in the piano trade, and would know how to go to work."

"What about the child?"

Mr. Winscombe smiled.

"She is splendid. She came to me this morning, and there were tears in her eyes. 'Oh, Mr. Winscombe,' she said, 'don't tell me this is the end! I shall go mad if I cannot go on playing!'"

There was a certain humidity about the eyes of the older man.

"Poor child!" he said. "Well, well, let us fix her up first. She had better have a room in some respectable house we know of. I dare say we can find her another piano. I saw Soltz two days ago. He says she is making astonishing strides."

The Rev. Mr. Winscombe got busy. He had no room available in his own house, but after a rapid search he made arrangements with an American widow, who lived with her son and daughter in a large house in Regent's Park. Her name was Mrs. Bouverie Bennington. She was a warm-hearted, sympathetic woman, interested in social questions, clever, and well read. She had a music-room and a grand piano, which was seldom used in the day-time. Her son was at college, and her daughter was not musical. She gave Lena permission to go there and play whenever she liked.

An advertisement was put in the papers, but no reply was received. Neither were the police ever able to solve the mystery of the vanished baby grand. After a week or two, Selma breathed more freely, but she was still frightened and entirely discontented with her lot. She suffered from sleeplessness, and nightmares in which giants in green baize aprons played pitch and toss with enormous grand pianos that were for ever about to drop on her head. She determined to marry her flashy young shop-assistant at the earliest possible moment. She told him she had saved thirty-five pounds out of her housekeeping money, and he, immediately inspired by the thoughts of this noble endowment, conceived a great scheme by which it could be trebled by a cunning system of backing outsiders for small sums. Selma had no great faith in this, but after considerable discussion she advanced him ten pounds to experiment with. Unfortunately for Selma's future life, the investment was surprisingly successful. It happened during the ensuing month that several most unlikely outsiders romped home to a place. The ten pounds accrued to forty-seven pounds, and they got married and went to live in rooms at Holloway. Selma's half-share of the piano bought her married life—so she also got her deserts.

Her departure was the beginning of the slow disintegration of the whole Gabril family. Mischa went out to Canada, and they did not hear from him again. Katie wanted to come home and take Selma's place, but Mr. Gabril could not see that there was any point in that. She was making good money: let her stop where she was. The rooms could look after themselves. The three of them pigged along as best they could.

A whole year went by. A year and eight months, and then Katie was taken suddenly ill. She had to go to a hospital and have an operation. It was not a serious operation, but in her anaemic and enfeebled condition it proved too much for her. She died under the anaesthetic.

Mr. Gabril was now running rapidly to seed. The firm still employed him, but he was entrusted with less and less orders. His income became automatically less. He began to regard Lena restlessly. It was quite time she was making money—all this talk about a great career! He had been gambling on it, perhaps foolishly. She might be earning a pound a week or so at some honest job. He went to see Mr. Winscombe, and explained.

"My dear sir," said that gentleman, "your daughter is getting on splendidly. Everyone is delighted with her. They say she will be a great artiste. But she must have time. It would be cruel to take her away now."

"How much time?"

"At least another two years. She might give lessons before then."

Two years! And he had got to keep her all that time? Oh no, the game wasn't worth it. He growled an incoherent disapproval, borrowed five shillings from the clergyman, and came away. Something would have to be done. That evening he took Lena severely to task.

"Now, look here," he said, "that parson said you could give lessons. You'd better get busy and find some pupils. If you don't get pupils within the next week I shall take you away and put you in a job."

It happened that evening that Selma called with her husband. She seemed querulous and tearful. The betting system had been a complete failure since their marriage, and she was going to have a baby. What were they going to do? Things were bad enough as it was. How could they afford a child as well? And George was in debt up to his eyes. George did not give the impression of being in debt. He was well clothed and groomed, and his silver cigarette-case was always flashing. He laughed indulgently at his wife. All would be well when the flat-racing season started. He had had some very sound information straight out of the horse's nose-bag.

"When are you going to start making all this money?" Selma suddenly asked Lena.

"What money, Selma?"

Even Mr. Gabril was aghast at this flippant reply. Money! What did the girl think she was doing all this ivory-thumping for? Fun? Pleasure? As a matter of fact, Lena had given the subject little thought. She had at times dreamed that she might one day be rich, and then she would like to go about helping people, even her own people, even Selma. But she did not associate the surging calls of her muse with making money. It was so much bigger and beyond that, so much more tremendous. Of course, she wanted to do her duty. She didn't want to be mean, but she knew that in this social struggle she was born to she had to fight her own battles.

"Perhaps I can get some pupils," she said defensively.

During the next few days she did look round and make inquiries. But pupils were not at all easy to secure. No one had heard of Lena Gabril. She looked too young to have the authority of a teacher. She consulted Mr. Winscombe, and in the end, on his recommendation, a lady in the Camden Road engaged her to teach her two little girls. She was to be paid thirty shillings a term for giving the little girls twelve lessons each.

She broke the news to her father with triumph, but to her chagrin he received it angrily.

"Thirty shillings!" he whined. "What's the good of thirty shillings? You ought to be earning thirty pounds a term."

Thirty pounds! Oh, dear! That would mean teaching forty little girls twelve hours each a term. Four hundred and eighty hours out of the term. When was she to practise? She would have to be cunning with her father, humour him, pretend she was trying to get more and more pupils. The terrible menace of a "job" hung over her. She imagined herself in a pickle factory or a draper's shop, or perhaps out at service. The reflection drove her to work harder and harder at her piano. She said nothing about the kindness Mrs. Bonnington was showing her. She pretended she just went to a house, practised in a room, and came away without seeing anyone. She dreaded that her father might call, make a scene, borrow money, and behave in some disgraceful fashion. Some profound instinct of self-preservation prompted her to remain mute concerning the delightful lunches and teas and talks she had with Mrs. Bennington and her son and daughter. She had discovered a new world, a world she had only been able dimly to imagine through the medium of music. She was emerging through the dark mists of her upbringing into a realm of light and understanding. She did not mean her father and step-sister to drag her back without a bitter struggle.

Two months passed before the climacteric was reached. She had not been able to get any more pupils. Her father got more and more vindictive, bitter, and inclined to violence. Mr. Gabril had been on one of his periodic orgies. He arrived home one evening, his eyes bloodshot and his breath whisky-laden. He had spent all his money and he wanted more. Lena, of course, had none.

"Go and get some," he roared.

"Where can I get any money?" she asked.

"You lazy little slut!" he screamed, in a higher pitch. "Thirty shillings a term you earn, do you? I've been keeping you for seventeen years. To-morrow you'll come along with me. I'll get you a job with a pal of mine who runs a public-house. That's what I'll do. He said he'd give you a job—barmaid, see? In Kentish Town. You'll like it. A nice merry life, plenty of boys and booze, see? Now, you go right along to that woman in the Camden Road and collect the thirty bob she owes you, and bring it back to me at once. Go on, hurry up!"

"I couldn't do that," said Lena, colouring up. "I couldn't call there in the evening like this and ask for money."

"Oh, you couldn't, couldn't yer?" said Mr. Gabril. "You couldn't do what yer father tells yer, couldn't yer? Take that!"

And he struck at her. Lena was expecting this. She put up her arm and parried the blow. She cowered against the wall. Her eyes narrowed. She said quietly:

"All right. I'll go."

She put on her hat and cloak, tidied her hair in the broken mirror, and went slowly out. After she had gone Mr. Gabril felt ill. His heart was behaving queerly. He flopped on to the sofa and lay down.

"I want a drink," he kept on repeating, "that's what's the matter with me—hope she'll be quick. I want a drink."

He waited some time till drowsiness crept over him, and then he sank into a drunken sleep. He was next conscious of cold, discomfort, and wretchedness. He struggled through the coma to find himself. When consciousness came it seemed only partial. Where was he? What had happened? It was raw daylight, and he was lying on the sofa in the parlour...Why, yes, of course, he had had a bit of a binge. But why was he here? Where was Lena? Lena? Why, yes, something had happened. Bit of a row, eh? He remembered now he had sent her out to get some money. Where was she? He called out:

"Lena!"

There was no answer. He got up and stumbled to the girl's bedroom. She was not there. Where the devil was she? He visited each room in turn, and wandered out on to the staircase. It was broad daylight, must be nearly midday, and she had gone out last night. What had happened to her? Accident? Perhaps she'd jumped into the canal because he'd struck her. Girls were like that—silly, hysterical creatures. But Lena wasn't exactly the sort. But what was he to do? He felt ill, and he had no money. He crawled back to the sofa.

He lay there for hours in a kind of torpor, hoping that Lena would return at any moment. There was a little food in the house, but he felt too unwell to eat. Once he worked himself up into a violent fit of rage. He swore and blasphemed loudly, but, finding this only made him feel worse, he desisted. When the room began to get dark again he became desperate. He scribbled a note to Selma, telling her to come and see him at once. He got a boy on the floor below to take it, on a promise of sixpence. Then he waited in the increasing gloom.

It was three hours before Selma came. She came alone. He cursed her for being so long, and she lost her temper. When she heard of Lena's disappearance her expression became blacker still. When her father suggested accident or suicide she cried out savagely:

"Not she, you fool! That's not her luck. I felt it from the first. She's gone to her rich friends."

"Where do they live?"

"I don't know. Somewhere in Regent's Park. I've never been there. I don't know their name."

"I'll make the devils pay for this. How can we find them?"

"Mr. Winscombe would know."

"That's right, curse him! You go round now and find out. Got any money, Selma? If so, for God's sake get me a drink first."

"I haven't any money for drinks for you, but I'Il go round to Mr. Winscombe."

Mr. Gabril growled, and Selma went out. She felt tired herself, but there was a sense of grim satisfaction in being able to hand her step-sister over to the father's vengeance. Mr. Winscombe was out, but he was expected in. He kept her waiting half an hour. When he arrived he said that he knew nothing about Lena's disappearance. He had not seen Mrs. Binnington for weeks. However, he reluctantly gave Selma the name and address.

Armed with this weapon of vengeance, Selma returned to her father. She found him lying face downwards by the fireplace.

She gave a feeble scream when she felt his stiff body. Then she stood up and looked around her. The instinct of self-preservation was fortified by her condition. She had no love for her father. She looked at the sticks of furniture and reflected. She knew her father had no money. But there were three rooms furnished in a way. The whole lot would fetch several pounds. There was an unborn child to consider, and the flat-racing season was not being any goad. Who should have this furniture if not she?

She looked at the crumpled paper in her hand—Lena's address. What should she do about that? If Lena had gone to live with these people, she couldn't prevent her. She was a little frightened of educated people—indeed, a little frightened of Lena herself. Besides, if she returned she might claim her share of the furniture. She flung the paper in the fireplace. Let Lena go her own way. Let her rot.



One spring morning seven years later Selma was walking down Great Portland Street. Her right hand was holding the hand of a chubby little girl of four. Under her left arm was a bundle of washing. She took that narrow turning that runs by the side of the Queen's Hall. Suddenly her eye alighted upon the lithograph of a portrait that seemed familiar. Underneath the portrait in large black type 'vas printed "Lena Gabrielski," and then in red type, "First appearance since her brilliantly successful American tour." Hardly had she recovered from her astonishment at recognizing Lena's portrait when a figure came down the steps from the artistes' door. It was Lena herself. The two women looked straight into each other's eyes. Lena was the first to speak.

"Selma!" she gasped.

Selma was entirely nonplussed. She did not know how to act. She let go of the child's hand and shifted the bundle from one arm to the other, as though anxious to conceal it. She looked from Lena to the poster, and said at random:

"Why do you call yourself that funny long name?"

Lena glanced at the poster.

"Oh, that was my agent's idea. How are you, Selma, and who is this small person?"

"It's my little girl."

Lena stooped and took the child's hand.

"And what is your name?"

The child's eyes kindled at the vision of this beautiful lady so beautifully gowned.

She said: "Irene."

Selma stood apart, consumed with the consciousness of jarring contrast. Her own slatternliness, her bundle, her baby, and this other woman with the clothes, the manner, and faint perfume of the well-bred. Could it be possible that they had the same father? She felt angry. A tear came into her eye, and she groped for the child's hand as though anxious to escape. But the child was apparently too occupied to notice her mother's anxiety. She appeared to have suddenly made a new friend. When Lena had finished her little talk she turned to Selma and said:

"Selma, I tried to find you once or twice, but you had moved and no one knew your address. Why didn't you write to me?"

Selma didn't know what prompted her to do it, but she felt an abrupt desire to hurt Lena, to hurt herself even more. She said bitterly:

"Do you know it was me and Paul that stole your piano? We sold it and shared the spoil."

Lena gave a little gasp. It was her turn to cry, but a smile struggled through her tears. She pressed her step-sister's arm.

"Never mind, Selma. You did me a great service. If you had not taken the piano I should never perhaps have met my—my husband. And we are so happy, Selma."

"You—married!"

"Yes—I married Mrs. Bonnington's son. We live at Hampstead. Won't you come and see us? I have babies of my own. I'd like to help you, Selma."

For a moment the elder woman wavered. She dug her hard fingers tighter into the bundle of washing. Then she said:

"Oh, what's the good?"

A policeman at the corner watched the two women interestedly. Their behaviour struck him as peculiar. Was the woman with the bundle and the baby trying to beg? It didn't seem quite like it. In fact, it looked almost the other way about. The child, too, seemed to be taking an important part in the discussion and was appealing to its mother. Was there going to be a scene? He strolled at the law's pace in their direction. Before he reached them, however, he saw the lady hail a taxi. The three of them entered it, and drove off in the direction of Hampstead.

"Um!" he muttered to himself. "Rum creatures—women!"


11. The Dark Corridor

When the iron door of the cell clicks to, and the convict is shut in for the night, it is not often that the sound produces in him a sense of elation. But to them all there is perhaps one occasion when it does so—the night before release.

At the sound of that familiar click the mind of Raymond Calverley instinctively registered the phrase, "The last time!"

When the door was opened again he would be free. The price would have been paid. Till now he had hardly dare visualize this moment. There had been whole days, whole nights, whole years when he could not persuade himself that it would ever come to pass. He felt sick with agitation. He sat upon the bed and buried his face in his hands. Free, really, really free! He had been a good sleeper, but to-night he would not sleep. Memories, fears, anticipations raced through his brain. In a few hours more he would be facing the outside world. There was something terrifying in the thought—facing the unknown. His sympathies quickened towards some of those old prison "lags" who, after serving twenty years or so, preferred prison life. It was, in any case, familiar and understandable. The outside world to them was completely bewildering. They didn't know how to cope with it.

But he—he was only forty-six, and he had only served five years and three months. Only! Five years and three months! Five thousand years and three hundred months. There had been moments during the first year when he thought he would go mad, when half an hour seemed like an eternity, and he would think:

"That's half-an-hour. Now there's to be another half-hour. Then another and another and another, and then eventually a whole day, and a whole night. Then all over again and again and again till a week passes. Then all over and over again till a month passes. Then the seasons change. It will be winter again, and then summer, and then winter again and then summer, and so on and on and on five times. And I'm changing all the time. The outside world is changing. All the things I desire are cut off from me. I shall never endure it. Oh, God!"

But he had endured it. The reality had come to pass. In a few hours...Of all the manifestations of Nature that which is called human is the most adaptable. As the years passed he found himself adapting himself to prison life, creating a life within a life. There were times when he even persuaded himself that he was happy. This was largely the outcome of a sense of physical well-being. Prison life suited him. He had been forced to work out in the open several hours a day, on the farms, and in the quarries, fourteen hundred feet above the sea on Dartmoor. The air itself was a tonic. He had been plainly but adequately fed. He had to retire for the night at five o'clock. He had been cut off from alcohol, which had been partly the cause of his undoing. During the last two years he had been allowed to smoke for half-an-hour twice a day, but that was all. Everything was regular, ordered, and methodical. He had no responsibility. He was physically fit, much fitter than he had been at any time since he left school. For part of the time he had worked in the carpenter's shop. He had come to like the smell of wood, and the sense of creating something which was going to be used. There had been odd moments when the whole atmosphere of the prison seemed friendly and satisfying. Some little concession would be magnified into a great act of kindness. He had had opportunities for reading, and greater ones for reflecting. And his dominant reflection had been: "I must so manage my mind that I do not eternally regard myself as a criminal." His struggle for self respect had been acute. To foster this he took all the trouble he could with his personal appearance. A wise provision of recent years allows the convict a safety razor and the liberty to wear his hair as he likes. Raymond took advantage of this. He shaved every day, and brushed his grey locks carefully, sometimes even lubricating them with a little of His Majesty's butter! His skin was tanned with sun and wind. He would return to the outside world a better specimen physically. But mentally and morally? here were greater difficulties. His mind said: "I was guilty. I let things drift. I was weak and foolish. I saw an opportunity to make a great sum of money easily. I was dishonest. I was found out. They punished me. I have paid the price. To this extent I am purged. I see things more clearly now. I shall not be dishonest again. I have no desire to be. I have lost the desire in the same way that I have lost the desire for alcohol. I just want my chance to be a decent citizen again. But will they let me? What will be their attitude towards me? Above all—how can I face my son?"

At this point in his reflections he would groan aloud, for his son was the mainspring of his life.

Raymond had been an importer of chemicals, with offices in Fenchurch Street. At the age of twenty-two he had married the daughter of a wealthy shipbroker. After their first passionate attachment he and his wife found that their interests did not dovetail. Had it not been for the son who was born the following year, it is possible that he and his wife would have agreed to separate. Not that there was any serious breach between them. It was simply that familiar cleavage of little things. It took years to discover that they had little in common, and when the discovery was made each prepared to make the best of it—not an unusual marital position. They had remained on perfectly friendly terms, and it was only over the upbringing of the boy that they came into conflict, and even then the contest was conducted without bitterness.

His wife was a Society woman, with Society interests. She rode, hunted, played golf, took the waters at fashionable places abroad, went to church, and backed horses. Raymond liked books and rambling in the country, and that Society spelt with a small "s" which one meets in country inns or London taverns. When his wife condescended to come to London they shared the same house, but they made all their arrangements independently by mutual consent. But when it came to the arrangements about the boy, Ralph, they were forced to compromise. If he wanted the boy in London, she would want him in Yorkshire. If he wanted to take him for a holiday to Cornwall, she would want to take him to Trouville. If he wanted him to go up to Oxford, she would insist on Cambridge. And so the ding-dong race went on, with Kathleen usually a neck or two ahead.

With his wife usually abroad, and his son at college, Raymond would have led a lonely life in the large house in Russell Square. Only there are clubs. He belonged to several and he was a good club man. Many considered him an ideal club man, being genial, lavishly hospitable, and a good raconteur. He drifted into the habit of lunching in clubs, dining in clubs, and calling at clubs between meals. Like many men of his kind, without being a drunkard, he drank considerably too much, in the sheer exuberance of social intercourse. He could afford to be generous, as his business was successful, and his wife had a large private fortune of her own. But one day he was tricked by some Argentine gentlemen, and lost a very large sum of money over a deal in nitrates. The bitterness of this acted upon him disastrously. He was worried by the complications arising from it, and he drowned his distress in the accustomed way. He visited more clubs, and pubs. And unfortunately in one of these expeditions he met Max Rawle. Max was one of those people of no determinate age, nationality or profession, who nevertheless seem to embody all the vices of every age, nation, and profession, and to wrap up the same in a cloak of irresistible charm. He was a natural swindler. People knew he was going to swindle them, and they couldn't help it. They would even forgive him after the deed was done, so plausible and charming was he.

And under the influence of Max Rawle Raymond became as clay in the hands of the potter. They lunched and dined together, played billiards, and went to night clubs. Max was a brilliant talker, and had lived in strange lands and mixed with strange people.

The trouble had occurred soon after he and his wife had disagreed about whether Ralph should go up to Oxford or Cambridge. As usual she had had her way, and Ralph had gone up to Trinity. Kathleen went off to Biarritz and had no intention of returning till the end of the term. Raymond followed the easy path and found himself getting into debt, and his moral fibre slackening. He was too proud to apply to his wife for money to stabilize his affairs. And one mad evening Max dangled before him the lure of a mighty opportunity. It could hardly fail. So ingenious and yet so simple did the scheme appear that Raymond was astonished that it had never occurred to anyone before. It concerned the transference of certain blocks of interests backwards and forwards between two different companies at the opportune moment, thus giving an inflated appearance to both. It hardly seemed dishonest in the way that Max devised it. They were to go shares. But a few days after he had completed his part of the bargain, Max had disappeared, and nothing had been seen of him since. Raymond was left in the air. He was unable to explain his position. A long and involved commercial trial resulted in his being condemned to seven years penal servitude for fraud. With a good conduct record this had been reduced to five years and three months.

But how was he to face his son? His wife had taken the matter better than he had anticipated. She had even written to him regularly every three months, formal little letters about the boy and family affairs. She had upbraided him for not appealing to her when in financial straits. And had hinted that she would set him on his feet again when released. The boy had written him chatty school-boyish letters ignoring his father's crime; his only resentment being apparently that he had had to leave Cambridge before he had been up a year. He had been spending his time partly with his mother, who had settled abroad, and partly with a tutor in a remote village in Suffolk.

His son! Raymond would lie in his cell bed at night and groan. He would think of the boy at all the stages of his life. When he was a toddler and would lie in his arms, when he began to lisp and talk. When he would run to him and throw his arms around him. He could hear the sound of that baby voice: "Daddy, daddy!" And then he taught him all the simple things, and Ralph went to school. How proud he had been when the boy came home and asked his advice and help. He would see the little sturdy figure come swinging along the street, a satchel strapped over his scarlet jersey. His handsome eager face would light up with pleasure when he saw his father. And they would go for walks together, holding hands, and talking about birds, and trees, and games. And the boy loved and respected him. He also loved and respected his mother, and he could not understand any differences between them. And so the parents compromised and patched up a union of sorts, but they were jealous of each other.

Raymond had loved to watch the unfolding of the boy's mind. He had loved the steady growth of their greater intimacy. He had searched fearfully for traces of his own failings and weaknesses. His greatest desire had been that the boy should be a better man than he. And everything pointed to his desire being fulfilled. Ralph was a good boy, unselfish, affectionate, easy-going, and considerate. He was intelligent, but he did not distinguish himself very notably at school either at work or play. But what did that matter? It is often the slow starter who wins the race. Besides, he would always be well provided for. Raymond knew that his mother had left everything to the boy in her will, and he did not resent one penny of it. They would never have any more children. This sense of security contributed largely to his own undoing. There was no need to make efforts. As the boy had become more independent, and his wife more occupied with her own affairs, Raymond became more detached and irresponsible. His business had run smoothly, requiring no great personal strain, and it didn't seem very important whether it succeeded or not. There was no great need for him to labour, neither did there appear any great call on him to set an example, when Ralph was at college. The boy had been launched. He had been handed health, security and good precepts. Raymond had felt that his obligations to society at large were not impressive. And he had begun to drift. The weakness was inexcusable, but it had taken the cold stern experience and suffering of prison life to make it clear to him. The price had been paid. He had so managed his mind that he would leave the prison feeling that he was no longer a criminal.

When the crash had come and he had stood in the dock at the Old Bailey, and listened to the suave voice of the judge condemning him to seven years imprisonment, there had flashed before his mind the image of Ralph's eager young face exclaiming:

"What's all this about, Dad?"

The boy would never believe he was a criminal. He simply could not understand. It had not been indeed a simple case to understand. He had been able to make the excuse, but not the defence, that he himself did not understand. He had muddled things up, signed the wrong papers. The excuse satisfied the boy of course. But the law is more explicit. The law gave him every opportunity, left him every loophole, but was relentless in the logic of its ordered facts.

But since that tragic day the boy had had five years to study those facts. He had come to man's estate. People would have told him, and explained to him, doubtless made things as unpleasant as possible—some of them. And he would have wanted to know—oh, so eagerly! He would not be likely to exclaim now:

"What's all this about, Dad?"

Even his voice would have changed. Oh, God!

He dozed fitfully until the morning light crept between the prison bars, when, strangely enough, he slept soundly, only to be awakened by the familiar click of the cell door.

"The last time!"

He dressed carefully, washed, and had his breakfast. He was led to a room where he filled up many forms. Then his clothes were given him. There was much clanking of chains and keys. Crossing the yard in charge of a warder he passed a working party on its way to the farriers. All of the convicts were familiar to him. Many of them would be there for ten years or more, and in two minutes he would be free! He shuffled along feeling a little ashamed, as though he were taking something from them which they had a right to share. As they neared the outer gate, the warder, a fat elderly person of the old school, said:

"Well, good luck, son!"

A lump came in his throat at this unexpected friendly gesture, and he could not reply. A great wave of pity flooded him, pity...oh, for all the world.

The gate opened. He stepped through into the sunshine. He heard it click behind him. He was free. He stood for a moment bewildered. Then he walked a little way up the road. There was no one about. He stood by a wall and wept, for no palpable reason. He felt curiously sick, like a man surfeited with rich food.

He had half expected...someone would meet him at the prison gates. But the street was utterly deserted. His wife knew of the day of his release and she had sent him money, but no hint of where she was or where the boy was. It was like starting life all over again. He was startled by the approach of a tall figure emerging from a house. His instinct was to run. It was a familiar figure coming to recapture him. A deep booming voice said:

"Well, Calverley, you're out, then!"

It was the prison chaplain. Raymond blinked and the chaplain held out his hand. As he held it he realised that this was the first human hand he had touched for five long years.

"Well, my good fellow, I trust you now to keep straight."

He resented this. Straight! What right had this person to lecture him—Raymond Calverley, the man who was no longer a criminal? Nevertheless he said weakly:

"I shall try, sir."

He wanted to get away. The chaplain made a few more unctuous remarks, but he did not hear them. He hurried away and walked to Princetown Station. He had a pass to London, and he sat in the corner of the waiting-room. The train did not go for nearly an hour. People regarded him furtively. In Princetown everything is known. Every porter on the station would know that he was a released convict.

The journey up was occupied with dreams. Dreams, and hope and fear, and wild anticipations. Where should he go? His wife had no house now in town, and he didn't know where she was, nor where the boy was. Oh, if he could only find Ralph!

He arrived at Paddington late in the afternoon and wandered around the streets adjoining the station. Everything seemed incredibly noisy and bewildering. Newspaper placards were announcing: "Fall of French Government." How futile and unimportant! Didn't they realize that the only important thing was: "Release of Raymond Calverley!" He would have been forgotten by now, although at one time his name had been very much in the public eye. At last he found a dingy little hotel in an obscure street, where he engaged a room. Then he had some tea and wandered the streets again, haunted by the vague idea that he might find Ralph. He went up to the West End and strolled down Regent Street, Piccadilly, and Mayfair. At the corner of Jermyn Street he met a man with whom he had done a lot of business in the past, an old club-fellow. He touched his arm and said:

"Hullo, Frank!"

The man turned and looked at him. An extraordinary scared expression came over his face. His eyes distended, as though he were staring at some strange and dangerous animal. He managed to say:

"Ho—yes, it's—Calverley, isn't it?"

"Yes. How are you?"

"All right. And you? You—er—"

"Yes, I'm free again."

He tried to smile, but the other man's terrified mien froze the smile upon his lips. His expression seemed to say:

"How on earth am I to escape from this awful predicament?"

They exchanged a few banal remarks, and parted, without any reference to the past, or suggestions for the future. As he walked away Raymond winced.

"So that's to be it, is it!" he thought.

The restaurants were crowded with gay diners. If he cared to, he could enter any one of them. He was free. He could mingle with his fellows, and buy rich foods and good wines. But he felt no such inclination. It was too late. He was not accustomed to feeding after five o'clock. He did not feel hungry, and drink he knew would upset him. Moreover, his experience with his old business colleague damped his enthusiasm for social life. He might meet others who would treat him in the same way. How could he expect them to know that he was no longer a criminal? that his mind had been purged of its weakness and self-indulgence?

He wandered about till nine o'clock when a great sense of melancholy and exhaustion overcame him. He went back to his hotel, and to bed. They had given him a room at the end of a dimly-lighted corridor on the second floor. He slept soundly till dawn, when he emerged through a tangled skein of dreams to consciousness. It was as though his own dreams were happy ones, but that they were eternally interrupted by the evil dreams of others. He washed and dressed, and finding that it was too early to obtain breakfast in the hotel, he went out to a coffee stall. He stood there drinking hot weak coffee, and eating hard-boiled eggs, and listening to a slightly inebriated gentleman in evening dress talking to two cabmen about God. The cabmen were laughing, and the coffee stall-keeper was joining in the argument earnestly. The morning air had a tang of hope and defiance. He took a hand in the argument and found himself laughing too. In this company he was happy and at home. No one knew him or cared. In the old days of his prosperity he had spent many a happy hour at a coffee stall. Here was something that had not changed...flotsam and jetsam seeking good-fellowship at the board of abstract argument. When the inebriated gentleman and the cabmen had departed he felt fortified to face his day's campaign.

In the uncertainty of his position he found one tangible spot—his wife's lawyers. They would know of her whereabouts and probably of Ralph's. He had been informed of "their address, and of the fact that they were empowered to pay him twenty-five pounds a month until further notice. He wandered the streets again till ten o'clock his eyes wistfully seeking, and his heart aching for his son. At ten o'clock promptly he presented himself at the office of Tidworth, Bates and Mashie in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He was kept waiting three-quarters of an hour before being shown into the office of an elderly red-faced man, in a white waistcoat, who said curtly:

"Yes, what is your business?"

"I want to know if you can tell me the whereabouts of my wife, Mrs. Raymond Calverley?"

The lawyer looked up quickly, his face expressing a kind of greedy morbid interest. It had something of the expression of his business friend of the night before, only less furtive. The lawyer was in no panic to get away. He had power on his side, and he was prepared to take a certain amount of cynical-enjoyment out of it. He coughed and said:

"Oh, so you are Raymond Calverley. Will you please show me your discharge? I understand that I am to—er—make you a remittance. What is your address?"

Raymond was patient during the formalities. When they were completed he repeated his first question. The lawyer took a long time to say:

"I'm afraid I am not empowered by my client to give you any such information."

Damn the man! Why did he call her "my client" and not "your wife"? Was the stigma of prison life to rob him for ever of even the social amenities? Not even to know where she lived? There flashed through his mind a sudden vision of a night when the nightingales sang in a Devonshire garden and the swift avowal of love passed from lip to lip. Could love like that die utterly? Could passion vanish upon the wind, like the skeleton of a dead leaf? He repeated inanely:

"Your client. Your client. I see." Then with greater vehemence:

"Perhaps then you can give me the address of my son?"

The lawyer was enjoying the spectacle of his helplessness. He shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm afraid I cannot even give you that information."

Raymond saw red.

"Damn you!" he screamed. "He's my boy. He's as much my boy as hers—more, I tell you. Who the devil are you to hold my son from me?"

"You are a little unstrung, Mr. Calverley."

"Unstrung! If you had been five-and-a-quarter years in prison—five thousand years in prison—your heart aching all the time for your boy—and the day you are released some stranger tells you that he will not tell you where he is—wouldn't you be unstrung?"

The lawyer replied in dead level tones:

"I cannot tell where your son is, because—I do not know."

"You do not know!"

"No, sir, I do not know."

Raymond gave a whine, like a dog that has been struck. He groped for his hat upon the table. As he did so his eye alighted on a pile of correspondence. One letter was projecting a little from the rest. It was headed: Hotel Marguerita. Pau. Just below was the top of a capital D. He recognised it as the way Kathleen formed this letter. His face betrayed no recognition. He stumbled from the room.

He would telegraph to Kathleen. Would she still be there? The world seemed terribly harsh. His mind was constantly irrupted by visions of Dartmoor, and strangely enough they were not unfriendly visions. Dolling, who was serving twelve years for manslaughter, and with whom he had had many whispered chats in the carpenter's shop—Dolling would be missing him. Two young warders, Garrod and Purvis, both had done him innumerable petty services. The moors would be grand under this mottled sky...some queer pull about the place...when you're utterly lonely.

He went to a post office and sent a telegram to his wife at Pau. He said:

"Am at Bond's hotel Paddington where is Ralph."

He tried to think of any friend he could go to in the meantime. He reviewed his old life and it seemed to reflect—clubs and pubs! He could never get into a club again, and pubs did not attract him. The illusory nature of friendships made in this way became clear to him. He would have to go abroad—America perhaps. If only he could find Ralph!

He waited for three days, and no telegram came from Kathleen. He wandered the streets and sat in public libraries, reading the newspapers and magazines, and trying to adj ust his mind to the social question. Human activities as recorded in these productions appeared to him complicated and futile. In the old days he had not seen them in this light. Perhaps he had not troubled to think about them. He had just accepted things as they were. Upon one matter he made up his mind definitely—he would find work. He would not go on accepting his wife's money in this ignominious manner.

On the third day he decided to go down to Ashtree, the village in Suffolk, where Ralph spent part of his time with the tutor. It was strange that the boy had made no effort to see him.

He arrived at Ashtree at dusk and left his bag at the local inn. He then asked for the house of Mr. Flanders, the tutor. With considerable difficulty he found it. It was over a mile from the village. His heart was beating violently when he rang the bell. A servant opened the door.

"Is Mr. Flanders in?"

"Yes, sir, what name?"

"Mr. Calverley."

She looked at him a little queerly, but showed him into a sitting-room. In a few moments a thin elderly man entered the room. He started at sight of his visitor, and exclaimed:

"Oh, I thought it was—"

Then he stopped and scrutinized Raymond keenly.

"I came to ask after my son."

The elder man appeared very surprised. He stammered slightly.

"Your son? Your son? Yes. Yes, of course, your son. But he went up to London. He went up to—er—meet you, I understand."

"To meet me! but I haven't seen him. I expected him."

"H'm. Very strange, Mr. Calverley. I'm afraid I can't help you."

This respectable tutor, whom only poverty had driven to accept the tutelage of the son of a convict, was obviously anxious to be rid of the dilemma. With a few formal expressions of regret they parted. Raymond returned to the inn, and found that there was no train back to London that night.

He slept fitfully. What had happened to Ralph? Fear gripped him. He visualized all kinds of terrible things happening to the boy—accidents. The cup and the lip...oh, the grim irony of it! After living that eternity and then on the very day of his release—a skidding car perhaps, a train smash, a fall. At that moment Ralph might lie groaning in a hospital, calling for him. There was only one gleam of brightness in his sombre reflections—Ralph had meant to meet him. The tutor had said that hepiad gone to London on purpose. Freedom is a fine thing, butlove is greater than freedom. Indeed, freedom without love is a negative endurance. Before the dawn broke he had designed plans to find his son. He would enquire at the police stations and hospitals. He would put an advertisement in the agony column of the Times.

And when he arrived in London that was the first thing he did. He inserted:

"To Ralph Calverley. Am at Bond's Hotel, Paddington. Father."

He then rang up the police stations and hospitals. No, no one answering to the description of his son had been heard of.

He walked the streets disconsolately. London suddenly became a city of menace and despair. The people appeared hard-featured and cruel, beasts of prey stalking their victims, utterly indifferent to the feelings and passions of each other. The drone of the traffic was like the whirring of some great machine, grinding the bones and blood of men and women into a colourless pulp. He had never felt so lonely in his cell at Dartmoor.

Backwards and forwards between his hotel and the police station he walked for several days. No answer came to the advertisement in the Times.

One afternoon passing down a meagre street off the Edgware Road, he saw a poor bedraggled woman weeping on another's bosom.

As he passed he heard her say:

"The y 'im 'cause 'e was out of work and stole for us. And now they're turning us out—me and the five kids. What are we going to do? Oh, my Gawd!"

And he heard the other woman, who was also poorly but rather flashily dressed, one who wanders the streets, glancing obliquely—he heard her say:

"Sorl right, Annie, don't you worry. I'll earn money for yer. I'll keep yer goin' till things get brighter."

Without a second's hesitation Raymond dived his hand into his pocket and drew out all the money he had on him, nearly two pounds. He thrust it into the hands of the weeping woman.

"Go on with this, mother," he said huskily.

The woman stared at him, too amazed to speak. The other said:

"Hullo, who are you?"

And they looked into each other's eyes, this ex-convict and this woman who wandered the streets glancing obliquely, and the former said:

"I'm like you. I'm one of the lonely ones."

And he hurried away. Back in his hotel, he went up to his room and sat on the edge of his bed, as he had sat on the edge of his bed in that cell at Dartmoor, pondering, pondering...It was dusk. The working parties would be returning from the quarries. There would be whispered talks together, glints of light from the governor's house, the drone of the organ in the chapel...someone practising for to-morrow's service.

"Lead Kindly Light
Amidst the encircling gloom."

Oh, the weariness of it all! the injustice! His heart throbbed to the beat of that haunting melody. In a grey vision he seemed to see an endless procession walking, two and two, to the slow measure of that hymn—all the unhappy in the world, the outcast, and the weak. His breast was choked with sobs. He gripped the coverlet of the bed and muttered:

"Ralph! Ralph! oh, my boy, my little boy!"

The room grew darker, outside the traffic still roared relentlessly. He was about to throw himself on the bed, when the door opened quietly. A figure glided in and stood with its back to it. He peered forward, and saw a white ghostly face with hollow eyes, regarding him fearfully. He tried to stand up but fell back weakly on the bed. The figure said:

"Is that you, father?"

He stretched out his hands and groaned. The figure came nearer, and then shrank back again to the door. Raymond forced himself to rise. He beat the air with his arms, as though fearful that there were forces at work trying to keep him from his son.

"Ralph! Ralph! oh, my boy, my little boy!"

And as he advanced so did the other shrink back further.

His voice, husky with passion, called out:

"Ralph! Ralph! you're not ashamed of your old father?"

And still the figure cowered furtively by the door. He went close up and peered into his son's eyes.

"What is it, Ralph? What's the matter? My God! you look as though it was you who had committed a crime and not I."

The figure still seemed to be warding him off and the voice said faintly:

"It is I who have committed a crime."

And then the tension broke. The boy sobbed, and the father held him in his arms at last.

"What is it, Ralph? Tell me. Tell your father, boy. Who should not hear of it if not I?"

"For God's sake let me sit down. I'm so tired. I've been wandering all night. I saw your advertisement this morning. And even then I could not make up my mind to come. I'm so ashamed."

"Ashamed! Am I so pure? Am I likely not to forgive—not to understand my son?"

The boy buried his face in his hands and spoke between his fingers.

"I've been living foolishly, father, oh! for years now. Mother spoilt me, gave me lots of money. I got into a funny crowd—betting, drinking, women. She paid my debts again and again. Last Tuesday Lcame up from Ashtree. I had meant to go down to Dartmoor and meet you at the prison gates. But in the afternoon I met Reggie de Tourneville. He was staying at the Grand Eclipse Hotel He asked me to dine with him; then we went up to his room and had a few drinks. Afterwards we went on to some funny joint at Knightsbridge and played cards. There were a crowd of people there and we played baccarat, I won a hundred pounds in about twenty minutes With the excitement of that and the wine I had drunk I simply went off the deep end. I thought I couldn't lose. I plunged wildly. I loved the excitement, people watching me, pretty women, you know, and all that kind of thing. Then of course I began to lose. My luck varied but at about one in the morning I had lost four hundred pounds. I hadn't got it in the world. I had borrowed a hundred and fifty from Reggie. I didn't know where mother was. Besides, she had helped me out so often. She had left Pau. I think she was on her way home. I hadn't enough left to pay my hotel bill or the fare down to Dartmoor. I woke up the next morning feeling awful I wandered about the streets wondering what to do. And then I—I—"

The father's breath was coming in little stabs.

"Yes, Ralph, what did you do, boy?"

"Oh I mucked the whole day away. I hadn t the the courage. It was the next day I did it, the day you came out of prison, and I never met you Reggie had treated me badly, I think. He woifldn t lend me any more. I'm not sure the whole thing wasn t a plant. They got me there. There were other young chaps, too Any way, I kept on thinking of Reggie's room at the Grand Eclipse. When he lent me the money he had gone to a box which he kept locked up in a trunk. It was stuffed with notes. Late in the evening of that day I yielded to temptation. Reggie had gone out to dinner. I went up to one of the clerks downstairs and said casually:

"'Key of Number 141, please.' You know what those big hotels are. Nobody knows anything about anyone. There are dozens of clerks. He gave me the key. I went up by the stairs, and into his room. I forced the lock of the trunk with a poker, but I couldn't force the lock of the box. So I simply wrapped it up in paper and took it away. I took it back to my hotel. Then I borrowed a screwdriver and some pincers. I got it open somehow. Oh, God! what have I done? There were bonds and papers and all kinds of things and nearly three hundred pounds in cash. I never meant to take all that. I just wanted enough to carry on with."

"What have you done with it?" whispered the hoarse voice of the father.

"I've spent some of the money. All the other things I ve kept. I left the hotel, of course, and have gone to another one South of the river."

"What was the money in?"

"Treasury notes and fives, tens, and twenties."

"Have you changed any of the big notes?"

"I've changed one ten."

"You fool!"

"Why!"

"They'll trace the number. Where did you change it?"

"At Cook's. I've taken a ticket for Paris to-night."

"Would anybody at the hotel be likely to identify you?"

"That's what I'm not sure. There are over a thousand passing through every day."

"Reggie will suspect you, of course."

"He's bound to, after what happened. Oh father what can I do? I'm terrified. It means—"

"It was my fault, boy, my crime which led to it. I should have been here to look after you."

"No, no, I've no excuse. I'm finished. And oh, father, I've been so yearning to have you back."

The young man broke down and wept. Raymond pulled himself up. He paced the room for several minutes in silence. Then he said tensely:

"Ralph, boy, go and fetch me that box."

"Fetch it! Why father?"

"Listen to me, carefully. This happened on the night I came out of prison. Fetch me that box. You did not steal that box, Ralph!"

"What do you mean?"

"These old criminals! It's the same story. It's in the blood. You can do nothing for them. Directly they are released they start all over again—the very same day sometimes. You'll read all this in the papers in two days' time."

He laughed bitterly, and the young man looked up amazed.

"You don't mean to say you'd sacrifice yourself for me like that? Oh, I couldn't let you do it, father."

"Why not? If you strolled into an hotel and asked for a key and got it, why should not I, an old ex-convict? Besides, I am strong now. I could endure it. I have nothing more to live for. Your life is just beginning. But, oh, Ralph, boy, promise me—"

"No, no, no, father, I should go mad with remorse. I couldn't let you...oh!"

He gave a low scream of fright for at that moment there was a crisp tap on the door. When the door opened the father was standing as though at attention on parade, the son was cowering against the further wall. In the doorway stood Kathleen. They looked at each other, but no one spoke. Then she turned and shut the door quietly, and stood with her back to it. Her face was pale and drawn, and it suddenly flashed through Raymond that in this company of his wife and his son, he was the only one of flesh and blood. In the crisis which was about to spring on the three of them, it would be he—the ex-convict—who would have to hold the balance. Strangely enough she turned to him first, and her voice was gentle. She said:

"You are free, then, Raymond. I saw your advertisement, and I came to find out what it's all about. I arrived in England yesterday."

He bowed his head.

"I am free," he answered, "but I'm afraid not for long."

"What do you mean?"

"I have already got into mischief again."

The boy jumped up.

"It's a lie, mother. He is trying to shield me. I stole some money the day he came out, and he wants to make out it was he."

Kathleen's eyes glittered and a tear came into them.

"Ralph! Ralph! don't tell me this is true."

The boy swept to her and flung his arms around her.

"Oh, mother, save me. What am I to do? They'll catch me. I know they'll catch me. I've taken a ticket for Paris, but there'll be a man waiting there. He'll tap me on the shoulder. I've seen it all a hundred times these last few days."

"Why did you do this, Ralph? Have I not helped you before? I prayed to you to be less extravagant, but you know I would have helped you again rather than—"

She buried her face in her hands and wept.

"Oh, dear God! My husband and then my son, both—"

Raymond went to her and grasped her shoulders.

"Kathleen, it is only through the eyes of suffering that one sees things clearly and sees them whole. I have suffered and I have learnt to see. It is the life of ease that dulls one and breeds temptation. Give this boy a chance. You have given him everything else, but they have always been the wrong things. Don't let him go to Paris, let him go to where there are great open spaces, and life is a battle to survive. As for this money, what does it matter to me? I have accustomed myself to prison life. I shall be an old 'lag' in time, one who probably prefers prison life to freedom."

A queer expression crept over Kathleen's face as she regarded her husband. She said simply:

"You have changed, Raymond."

They were summng up in each other the toll of those five years. His hair had turned quite grey, but his figure was firmer and more erect, his eye clearer, and his skin healthier. She had become more fragile, her face paler, but she was still a beautiful woman. She turned suddenly to Ralph and said:

"Whom did you steal this money from?"

"Reggie de Tourneville."

Kathleen started, and her figure appeared to sway.

"Reggie de Tourneville!"

She put her hand to her bosom.

"Wait...wait..." she muttered. "Reggie de Tourneville! Indeed!"

She seated herself and pondered. At last she said:

"Ralph, do you love your mother?"

"Mother, how can you ask?"

"Kiss me, dear."

Ralph flung his arms around her and kissed her. She sighed contentedly.

"Now," she said, "you wait here, you two. I know Reggie de Tourneville. I have an idea I can settle this affair with him."

"No, no, mother, you mustn't demean yourself to that swine. He will only snub you, be rude to you. He has an awful reputation in every way. He's rich too, you can't buy him off."

"I can try. Wait for me, I may be some time. Do not move from this room."

And before they could protest she had gone.

The night was cold, and the wind and rain battered against the window panes of the little room. Father and son sat, one on the bed, the other on a chair, listening and waiting. There seemed to be nothing to say in this fateful interlude, or there was so much to say that their strained voices would make it seem unreal. The boat train to Paris went, and the dinner hour came and went. It was nine o'clock and Ralph said:

"She's a long time, father."

"Yes...yes, she's a long time."

Raymond was indeed restless and nervous, and sometimes he would jump up and pace the room. Ralph lighted a cigarette and offered his father one, but the latter would not take it. The room got colder and colder. At a quarter past ten Ralph said peevishly:

"What's she doing, father? She's an awful long time."

And Raymond replied a little hysterically:

"She's settling up! She's settling up!"

And about every ten minutes Ralph would exclaim:

"I wonder where she is. What is she doing, father? Why doesn't she hurry up?"

And Raymond had no response to make.

Came eleven o'clock, half past, a quarter to twelve, midnight, and still the two men sat there feverishly waiting. The ghosts in this meagre hotel had all retired. At a quarter past twelve Ralph was repeating his litany:

"What is she doing? Why doesn't she come, father?" when the latter suddenly exclaimed irritably:

"The parents sacrifice themselves for the children. And then the children grow up and sacrifice themselves for their children and so it goes on. The story of life is an epic of suffering and sacrifice. Birth is the tyrant." Then he lapsed into silence.

At a quarter to one Ralph exclaimed: "Listen."

There were footsteps in the corridor outside. The door opened and Kathleen stood once more before them. Her face was pale except for a spot in the centre of the cheeks, as though they had been slightly rouged. Her eyes sunk in their dark hollows, had an unnatural glitter. She sat down limply at the foot of the bed. The boy, his voice sounding reedy and thin, called out:

"Well? Well?"

Speaking quietly and with perfect control, Kathleen said:

"To-morrow morning, Ralph, you will send that box back to Reggie de Toumeville, with all the bonds and papers. The money I have settled about. I think your father is right. I think it would be good for you to go away for a time, to Canada perhaps."

"Canada!"

"I have been thinking about it, coming back in the cab. All these years that your father has—has been away, I have treated you too indulgently. I have perhaps been too indulgent myself. One's moral fibre slackens."

She gave a little sob, and the son threw his arms around her.

"Oh, mother, I will do anything you tell me."

She stroked his hair and whispered:

"There, there, dear, let us forget all about it, and start again. Now go. I want to speak to your father alone."

The boy embraced them both, then picked up his hat, and stumbled from the room.

Raymond waited for his wife to speak, but she sat there looking down at her hands upon her lap. At last he said:

"Well, Kathleen, what have you to say to me?"

"I'm very, very tired, Raymond."

He went up to her and kissed her lightly on the temple.

"Is that all, my dear?"

"No, can't you feel there's something more?"

He gripped her shoulders firmly.

"Kathleen, is it possible...would you after all—take me back?"

She whispered almost inaudibly:

"If you think I'm worthy of you."

The ex-convict laughed bitterly.

"We all have things to regret, Kathleen...Ralph and I and even you, perhaps. The fiercest joy is to know that one has someone to suffer for, someone who can make one suffer. During the last few days I have experienced the appalling loneliness of the crowded streets. But if you put your ear to the ground you hear the eternal rumble of pity passing from heart to heart. Only to-day I heard a woman offering to sacrifice herself for another. Even in prison I found this. It is the only Jhing that makes life worth while."

"Oh, Raymond, I was terrified of you returning from prison. I thought you would look criminal and bitter, but somehow you look finer. Come, give me your strong arms. I am so weary."

He crushed her to him and murmured:

"I will come for you to-morrow, dear."

For several minutes they clung to each other. Then he led her to the door, and opened it.

"The corridor is dark," she whispered.

He took her hand and whispered back:

"Yes, it is dark, but there is a light at the end. And if we hold each other's hands tightly we will find a way."


12. The Mother of Carmen Colignon

I

If one Sunday morning you wander up the Rue Cadec in Montmartre and lose yourself in the picturesque confusion of the market in that narrow fairway—or perhaps you may have to go a little further afield, round the corner in the Rue des Abesses—in any case, in one of these delightful streets you are almost bound to meet a very old lady who is always an object of universal interest. She is very old, fragile, and bent. She leans for support upon a stout hickory stick. In the other hand she carries a string bag, revealing her modest purchases of leeks, salsifis, bread, fish,' and candles. She appears to be a very popular figure in the market. The men touch their hats and smile friendlily. The women call out:

"Good morning, maman. May God preserve you!"

And her face lights up with an enchanting smile that is in some queer way younger than her body. It is the smile of a young and simple soul, easily flattered, sensitive to affection or indifference. Antiquity has a beauty of its own. When all the passions are dim memories, all the discords inaudible, all the memories themselves mellowed by long years of serene detachment, the face takes on an expression of spiritual beauty that makes one wonder whether the owner were half so beautiful in the lambent years of youth.

Now if you are a stranger, and you ask one of the habitués of the market:

"Who is the dear old lady?"

You will receive a reply given eagerly and proudly:

"Oh, that? Don't you know, monsieur, that is the mother of Carmen Colignon."

"Indeed!" you may reply, "and who is, or was, Carmen Colignon?"

And then a most curious thing happens. Your fellow marketer looks a little bewildered. If it is a man he probably tilts his hat on one side and scratches his head behind the ear. If a woman, she probably taps her cheek with a large latch-key, and then pouts and shakes her head. But whichever sex your marketer may be, you will assuredly get some such answer as this:

"Eh? H'm! Well, now, since you mention it, monsieur, upon my soul I couldn't rightly tell you at the moment. Carmen Colignon? Well, yes, she was—what was she? A singer? An actress? It has escaped my memory. But that is her mother, I assure you, monsieur. We always address her as such, "the mother of Carmen Colignon.'"

Well, well, what would you? The life of the streets, the life of the boulevards—indeed, all life is a fluid business. It flows past us, leaving a trail of fading memories, impressing upon us one central fact—that fame is a transitory thing, but that love and beauty have an endurance of their own.

II

Near the village of Cambo-les-Bains, at the foot of the Pyrenees, there dwelt a small farmer named Raymond Marcillac with his two sons and two daughters. He was regarded as a queer old fish, taciturn and reserved, and somewhat quick-tempered, a difficult man to know. After twenty years of a somewhat fractious married life his wife had died. Monsieur and Madame Marcillac had never been on the best of terms. She was a chicken-headed woman, used to city life, and she had never adapted herself to the farm. She was, moreover, considerably younger than her husband. Monsieur Marcillac was now fifty-three, and one might have predicted that the lamp of romance would have respectably guttered and died out. But oh, dear, no! There came to Cambo a widow named Goud-chaux, who was a consumptive, and her daughter, Honorine. They stayed at a little sanatorium just adjoining the farm. Calling there one day to deliver some butter, he chanced to meet the daughter, Honorine, in the garden. He got into conversation with her. No one knows what was said on either side, but immediately after the visit the neighbours noted a striking and significant change in Monsieur Marcillac. His unkempt beard was trimmed. He scrubbed his hands and face at least twice a day. He bought a new suit and some smart boots. He made curious noises at his work, which some declared to be singing. And every day he made some excuse for calling at the sanatorium.

Six months later he married Honorine Goudchaux, who was then in her twenty-seventh year. Her mother had died, and she went to live at the farm with Monsieur Marcillac and his two sons and daughters.

It is difficult to discover what attraction the uncouth farmer, who was twice her age, could have had for Honorine. But there! these things do happen, and sometimes happen quite satisfactorily. She was a tall woman, rather clumsily built; a simple soul, refined, sensitive, and though by no means handsome, she had a certain appealing charm by virtue of her transparent sincerity and honesty of outlook. She loved her husband, and she made him a devoted wife. All might have been well but for the children of Monsieur Marcillac.

The two girls, Jeanne and Louise, were now respectively sixteen and eighteen. They had been badly brought up. Their mother had either neglected or spoilt them, and since her death they had lived a life of idleness and indulgence. They naturally resented the intrusion of this interloper, who was not only going to monopolise their father's afiections but his property and savings. The sons also resented it, but they were of less consequence in the affair, as shortly afterwards they both married, and one went into the com chandler's profession at Bayonne, whilst the other went to live on an adjoining farm.

III

These two daughters of Monsieur Marcillac soon set to work to make their stepmother's life a misery. Coldly polite to her before their father, they tyrannised her directly his back was turned. And she was a good subject for tyranny, being sensitive and warm-hearted. She did her utmost to be friendly to the girls, but all her advances were repulsed. They sneered at her and mimicked her, and saw to it that all the heavy work of the farmhouse fell upon her shoulders.

After the early repulses she accepted the situation with complacency. She was not unhappy. She worked hard and cheerfully, and always met her husband with a bright smile. She said nothing to him about the way his daughters treated her. And he, poor man, sensed nothing of the antagonism. His daughters feared him. He had an uncompromising way of dealing with disobedience and disrespect, a way in which physical force was strikingly evident.

His new wife delighted him. When his day's work was done, he would return to the house, and the family would sup together. Afterwards he and his wife would sit out in the garden side by side. They were not a talkative couple. Honorine seemed to be satisfied just to be by his side, mending his socks or making up a frock. Monsieur Marcillac would smoke his pipe and read the newspaper. Sometimes he would put the paper down and talk to her about the prospects of root crops, or the prices pigs were fetching in the market at Biarritz. And Honorine would be enchanted. At night beautiful dreams would come to her. In the twilight hour between sleeping and waking she would be conscious of a mysterious outflow of intense happiness...

The child was born the following year, and what a to-do there was! Monsieur Marcillac was overjoyed. There was a baptism and a feast, and the little girl was called Yvonne.

Now if the two daughters resented the intrusion of the mother, the arrival of Yvonne added gall to their bitterness. Apart from the importunacy of the "squealing brat"—as they called it—it soldified the mother's side of the affair, and caused the withdrawal from the work of the farmhouse of its most active and efficient helper.

Monsieur Marcillac, moreover, quickly showed that of all his children this was to be the favourite. He was for ever hovering over the cot and nursing the little mite in his arms.

This strange household functioned without any outward hint of cleavage for five years. It takes two parties to make a quarrel, and Honorine refused to quarrel. She submitted to every kind of insult and gibe. In only one particular did she assert her right and authority—the child. She knew she could not trust the two girls. They were capable of any criminal act. One day Louise smacked Yvonne for no other reason than that she was crying. Honorine flew at her and pushed her into a corner; then picking up a carving fork she said, in accents the passionate quality of which could not be misunderstood:

"If you ever touch my child again I will kill you."

Yvonne was left alone after that, but the mother was treated more cruelly than ever. At five years of age Yvonne was a beautiful child, quick and vivacious, with bright malicious eyes. Louise became engaged to a small tenant farmer named Bartholomé Ombrédanne. Soon, perhaps she would marry and go away—Jeanne also. Everything would turn out well; Honorine held her course. In any case they could not destroy her dreams...

And then one morning Monsieur Marcillac complained of a sore foot. He had trodden on a rusty spike a few days previously and had neglected it. A doctor was fetched. The wound was treated, and he was ordered to stay in bed for several days. He did, indeed, stay in bed for one day, but the next morning he awoke at dawn and said to his wife:

"Honorine, my angel, who is taking those calves to the market at Biarritz?"

"Jacques, beloved."

"Jacques! A pretty dolt to handle such a deal. He'll sell the lot for a capful of sous."

And without more ado he rose from his bed. Honorine protested, cajoled, and even wept, but she could not dissuade him. He struggled into his clothes, limped down into the yard, saddled the mare, got the calves roped into the cart, and drove off.

He returned early in the afternoon. His face was white, and he was suffering great pain. Honorine got him to bed, and the doctor was fetched. Everything that local knowledge, science, and skill could do was done, but Monsieur Marcillac died within forty-eight hours from blood-poisoning.

IV

It was some weeks before Madame Marcillac recovered from the first shock of her great grief. When she was once more able to guage the measure of her working life, she found herself facing a formidable situation. Monsieur Marcillac had made a will. It was a most elaborate will, displaying that relish for meticulous detail which is so characteristic of the French peasant. It might have been the will of some huge landed proprietor rather than that of a small peasant farmer. He had evidently devoted a lot of thought to it. In effect, it amounted to the direction that the farm was to be held in trust for Yvonne. Honorine,

the eldest son, and Monsieur Ombredanne were appointed trustees. The bulk of the profits were to go to Honorine during her lifetime. At the same time a share of the profits was to go to his two daughters, who were to be allowed to remain at the farmhouse, and who he trusted would always treat his wife and her child with "Christian devotion and affection." It was further decreed that Monsieur Ombredanne was to be appointed overseer at a fixed salary. He left various small sums of money to his sons and friends, and the furniture to his wife.

One day the son, together with Ombredanne, and a notary named Pironneau, arrived to discuss the arrangements about the execution of the will and the future conduct of the farm. Honorine was called in, but they hardly addressed her. They talked animatedly about legal terms which she did not understand. This Ombredanne was an insolent, good-looking, youngish man, with a fair beard, large flashing eyes, and slightly protruding teeth.

It was not till some time later that she realised that the salary fixed for the overseer was considerably in excess of what the small farm would stand. It was equally apparent that these three men were hand in glove. She signed all the documents set before her. And the realisation came too late that until Yvonne came of age she was to be little more than an underpaid drudge. She was tied to the farm, committed to live with the two sisters, and was entirely in the hands of Ombredanne and the others so far as finance was concerned.

She bowed to the situation for the sake of her child. Nothing mattered provided little Yvonne had all that she required. And the farm certainly supplied that. There was always milk and eggs, and butter and bacon. But when it came to money—that was a different story. There was machinery to buy, a barn to be re-roofed, seeds and meal to be bought—Monsieur Marcillac had been apparently very negligent. At the end of the first quarter it was explained to her that the farm had made no profit at all. She wanted money for clothes and boots both for herself and the child. There was much shaking of heads, much elaborate explanation. Ah! no, Madame Marcillac must wait. Perhaps after the harvest.

During the whole period of Ombredanne's overseership she never managed to get out of him more than a few hundred francs a year. She was forced to go shabby, to cut up clothes to make things for the child, to slop about the house in old shoes. It would not have been so bad—there was a fierce exaltation in the sense of self-sacrifice for her little one—if only...She could sometimes hear their cruel laughter, their whispers together, and then Jeanne and Louise would go out smartly dressed, and they would go for drives in the governess cart with Ombrédanne, and visit travelling booths and fairs. After a decent period—for they are very strict in those parts about the etiquette of grief—it was announced that Louise and Ombredanne were going to get married. It was also put to her, without equivocation, that the room she occupied was far too large for a single person. It was the only room in the house suitable to a married couple. Times had changed, etc.

Well, well, little Yvonne was nearly six, and could run and talk. There was no reason why she should not be happy in the room above. It would be in any case farther out of the sound and influence of the others. And so she gave up her bridal chamber and moved up to the attic with her child. She was expected to do the cooking and most of the housework, as well as attend to the poultry and make and mend clothing for herself and Yvonne. And yet she found happiness in all this. The sun would come aslant through the open doorway, and she would peep out and behold visions of green maize through a trellis of pollard oak trees, and down below the pale blue ribbon of the Nive creeping from between the shoulders of majestic hills. And in her heart she sang as she took little Yvonne to the village school in the morning, and listened to her prattle when they returned hand in hand across the fields in the evening. She was a mother.

V

As the years advanced her antipathies to the Ombre-danne farmstead—he had now established himself as the master—became finer and more acute. They were less coloured by physical and material issues than by spiritual ones. Monsieur Ombredanne was unscrupulous and selfish, but he was not altogether a cad and a bully. He was rather seduced by the attractiveness of Yvonne, who was indeed a fascinating child. He would sometimes spoil her—give her sweets that were bad for her, pinch her cheeks, and call her a little "bagful of sunshine." Sometimes he would drink brandy and be loose in his conversation; he would say things that bewildered and confused the child. The two sisters showed no signs of living down their animosity. They seemed to exult in saying unkind and improper things to Honorine in her little daughter's presence, and the child was beginning to understand. Something would have to be done.

One day she went to see the notary, Pironneau. With considerable trepidation she unfolded her plan. The furniture had been left her by her husband. She wished to sell it, and with the proceeds go to another part of the country with her daughter. Monsieur Pironneau put on his steel-rimmed spectacles and regarded her critically. He then produced the papers relating to the estate. Placing a blue form before her, he said laconically:

"You must have forgotten, Madame Marcillac, that you signed this paper agreeing not to sell the furniture until your daughter inherits the property."

She shrank from his unfriendly glance. "Yes, I had forgotten."

Going back across the fields she heard a lark singing at some invisible altitude. Apple blossoms were beginning to fall. Spring was merging into summer.

"Never mind, my little one," she murmured, "a way shall be found."

Nevertheless she remained two years more at the farm. And then Louise had a baby, and Monsieur Ombrédanne drank more brandy and sometimes became quarrelsome, and coarser and looser in his behaviour; and Jeanne became more cantankerous because a young man had made love to her, and then deserted her for another. And so one day Honorine packed up her few small possessions and went away with her daughter.

VI

She obtained a situation at one of the little hotels catering for invalids. It was seven miles from Cambo, on the outskirts of a tiny village. The patron agreed to let her have the child, and they slept in a room above the stables. Honorine's work began at six and did not finish till the establishment closed at night, but she was used to long hours. She had to scrub and scour, and wash the saucepans and the blankets, in fact do all the heavy work of the establishment, but it brought with it a sense of elation and freedom. The patron soon realised her worth and was fairly kind and considerate towards her. Yvonne went to the village school, and played in the garden and learnt her lessons in a loft, where Honorine strove to mould her mind, and night and morning they would pray side by side. She was happier than at any time since her husband's death. Sometimes she would awake abruptly at dawn, as though caressed by invisible and loving arms, and she would think:

"Why am I so happy?"

And she could not account for it. She would rise hastily and make Yvonne's chocolate, and prepare eagerly for her day's work. Perhaps she was happy because life is beautiful, and because her own was directed by a singleness of purpose-love for her child. It made her happy to make clothes for Yvonne when she herself was tired to darn afid sew for her, to teach her and humour her,' to suffer for her wilfulness.

And as the years passed she found that the occasions increased when Yvonne made her suffer. She was spoilt at school, spoilt by the visitors to the hotel, spoilt by neighbours and strangers. She was already conscious of her prettiness and charm.

Madame Marcillac only partially realised this. Whatever faults Yvonne might have, her mother took the blame upon herself. Neither could she endure for an instant the little bursts of anger and petulance when Yvonne was thwarted in her desires.

They stayed at this hotel for four years, and then Madame Marcillac decided to make a change. She had saved up several hundred francs, and she did not feel that Yvonne was getting the opportunities for study and improvement which she might get in a town.

They went to Biarritz, and took one room in a back street. Every day she went out to work, and in the evening did sewing and cleaning, or anything that came along. Nevertheless, she found life here more precarious and harder. Everything was more expensive, including Yvonne's education and the little extra luxuries she increasingly demanded. At the end of the first year she had saved nothing, and her daughter was clamouring for greater comforts. She was of course incapable of understanding the situation. She mixed with children in a better state of life, and she instinctively nurtured a grudge against her mother because she did not supply her with the luxuries these other children had.

Madame Marcillac struggled on. She worked late into the night when Yvonne was asleep. She worked till her health gave way. She would probably have worked herself into an early grave, but one day she had a stroke of fortune. A neighbour brought her a Paris newspaper in which was an advertisement by a firm of lawyers asking for information regarding the whereabouts or existence of Honorine Goudchaux, daughter of the late Monsieur and Madame Henri Goudchaux. She wrote to the lawyers, who replied that if she were indeed the individual advertised for, it would be worth her while to go to Paris and interview them. Paris! But what a journey! What an expense! How was it to be done? Could she endure the separation from Yvonne?

But the same neighbour, having a shrewd suspicion that the money would be well invested, offered to advance her her expenses.

And so one day, with much misgiving and heartburning over this first separation from her beloved child, she set out for Paris alone. The expedition was entirely satisfactory. She found the lawyers and proved her identity. It appeared that her mother's brother, who had lived in Athens and was in the currant trade, had died intestate. He was unmarried, and Honorine was the only living relative. The fortune he left, carefully invested, would bring her in approximately twelve thousand francs a year.

VII

On receipt of this news she felt bewildered and somewhat apprehensive, as though she were appropriating something which by rights belonged to others. And then suddenly she thought of Yvonne. Yvonne! This meant clothes, presents, education, joy for Yvonne. Comfort and security for ever, a dot on her marriage. Tears came into her eyes as she thanked the lawyers.

When she returned to Biarritz her health broke down. She went to Yvonne and flung her arms round her and kissed her, and exclaimed:

"Little one, everything is going to be better for you. You are going to have frocks and better food, and a nice place to live in, and a nice school, and everything you wish."

And then she trembled and burst into tears. She was obliged to go to bed and remain there for many days. She could neither eat nor sleep. A doctor came and gave her a powerful sleeping draught.

"You must have a long rest," he said, "you have been working too hard."

The mother and daughter stayed in Biarritz for four more years. At first the income seemed prodigious. She had no idea how far it would go. But she quickly found that there was very little over after they had moved to better quarters and she had paid for Yvonne's schooling and her singing lessons and her multiplying extravagances. The child was very advanced for her years. At the age of sixteen she was already a woman, in many ways more sophisticated than her mother. She could dance and sing, and look at a man with that malicious gleam which predicates the cocotte. But Honorine saw' nothing of this. Yvonne was beyond all criticism.

One day she came to her mother and said:

"Maman, I am tired of this poky little town. Let us go and live in Paris."

Paris! Why should they go and live in Paris? Honorine had got to love this country, this little white town, the blue rolling waves dancing against the rocks, the bold outline of the distant Pyrenees, the happy Basque people in their native dress, the tamarisks and eucalyptus trees. Paris! She sighed a little, knowing that Yvonne would have her way.

And so it proved, for the following autumn the mother and child went to live in Paris. They took a small apartment out in Levallois Perret.

It took Honorine some time to accustom herself to the new conditions. Paris was strange and bewildering. They knew no one there, and the people were hard to deal with and unresponsive. Yvonne announced her intention of having no more lessons except dancing and singing, and so she attended a conservatoire in the Rue Farzillan. It was known at that time—for some reason or other—as the "Conservatoire Voltaire," and it was run by an old gentleman named Sigogne, who had been a ballet master and producer at several Parisian theatres.

At first Honorine was hardly conscious of the significance of this determination of her daughter to devote herself to singing and dancing. She was absorbed with the details of reconstructing their new home, and only too happy that Yvonne was having what she desired. As for Yvonne, she was deliriously happy. She found herself suddenly plunged into a world which she had believed to be unattainable. She was in Paris, the Mecca of her dreams. She met girls who were going on the stage. She proved to her teachers that she was a pupil of more than average promise.

At the end of six months Honorine received a visit from Monsieur Sigogne. He was a tiny little bald-headed man, who looked like a linnet. He hopped into the room and chirruped:

"Madame Marcillac, I congratulate you. Your daughter has great talent. She shall stay with me for two years, and then she will go far."

And patting her hands, he smiled, bowed, and took his departure without another word. Even then Honorine did not entirely grasp the significance of this new departure. It was brought home to her slowly, in the fulness of time. It came about through their friends. Honorine had few friends, but this deficit was more than atoned for by her daughter. Yvonne rapidly formed a great circle of passionate attachments. They were mostly fellow pupils or their friends. They came flooding into the little apartment, and their talk was all about stars, and salaries, and parts, and jealousies, and scandals. They were amusing people, vain and naive, self-centred, warm-hearted and impetuous. But Honorine was a little frightened of them. Moreover they added considerably to the upkeep of the establishment. They led Yvonne into extravagances which she could not afford.

At the end of the first year she found they were living above their means. She did not complain. She struggled on, denying herself many little personal comforts. Then she heard these friends talking among themselves. They were discussing the question of when Yvonne would be ready, who she should go to, what line she should take up, whether she should concentrate on singing or dancing.

One day when they were alone Madame Marcillac said to her daughter:

"My darling, is it your intention to go on the stage?"

"But of course, my dear,"

Honorine looked down at her long fingers, lined and drawn with years of toil. She heard her daughter add a little abruptly:

"I suppose you have no objection, mother?"

"No, little one...you must do as you desire," she said quietly.

When rather less than nineteen, Yvonne went on the stage. She obtained a small part in a musical comedy at Rouen. Honorine stayed there with her. The piece ran for three months, but it gave Yvonne little chance to distinguish herself. At the end of the run they returned to Paris, and for a long time she got nothing else to do at all. This early disappointment upset her badly. She became querulous and bitter. It was Honorine who encouraged her, and painted optimistic pictures of her future. It was nearly a year before she got a small part in a musical piece that was to have an extended tour. The salary was very small and after considerable discussion it was decided that Honorine should not go with her. The expense would be too great, and Yvonne seemed anxious to be left to her own devices.

Honorine spent a lonely time in her little apartment. She wrote to Yvonne every day. She sent her presents and all the money she could spare, for Yvonne's salary was not large enough to live on in the way she had recently become accustomed to. Yvonne replied spasmodically. The longer she was away the less frequent became her letters and when they came they were usually concerned with her petty triumphs and conquests, and plaints concerning the expense of living on tour.

Madame Marcillac decided that she must work. What could she do? She had no skill or ability at anything except housework and sewing. And she knew that Yvonne would be ashamed of her mother occupying herself in this menial way. Nevertheless, she could not remain idle, and something must be done to counteract her daughter's extravagance. So she went out secretly and got work at a pension near by. She worked nine hours daily, and at night came home and wrote a cheery letter to her daughter, giving the impression that she was leading a life of comfort and idleness.

When the tour finished Yvonne returned to Paris, and Honorine deserted her pension, with a guilty feeling that she had done wrong. It would be superfluous to chronicle the record of the next three years of Yvonne's career. It was an ordinary story of little successes and big disappointments. She ran into debt and moved in strange company, whilst Honorine stood watchfully and protectingly on the fringe of these experiences. But at the end of the third year, she made a sudden leap to fame.

VIII

A Jewish gentleman named Karl Matz saw her dance in a revue at a cabaret in the Boulevard St. Martin. After the performance he went round to see her. Without removing a cigar from the corner of his mouth, he said:

"You are being badly managed. You can dance. I could do something with you. Would you care for a contract?"

Care! Yvonne was beside herself with excitement, bhe signed the contract with Monsieur Matz next day binding herself to him for five years at a fixed salary' whether working or not.

It proved a highly satisfactory contract—for Monsieur Matz.

He sent her to a dancing master, Poldini, to whom he gave very precise instructions. He also told her that she must change her name. Yvonne Marcillac sounded too sombre for a dancer. After a good deal of discussion, it was decided that she was to be called "Carmen Colignon." Three months later she appeared at the Folies Bergeres in a ballet called A Travers les Ages. She was a cave woman with bare legs and a panther skin in the opening act, and in the last act a society woman in a snake skin. She made an instantaneous hit.

Honorine watched the performance from the back of the auditorium, and when she heard the roar of applause after Yvonne's first dance tears trickled down her cheeks.

When the show was over she hurried behind to take her child away. She found Yvonne surrounded by admirers. Her eyes were dancing still. She was almost too excited to acknowledge her mother, but when the latter whispered:

"Come, my little one, you must come home to supper; you will be tired." The daughter replied:

"Oh, mother, I shan't be coming home to supper tonight. I've promised to go out with Monsieur Matz and Mademoiselle Folvary and some of the others."

That was the beginning of Honorine's tragic phase, doubly tragic by reason of her own foresight of what was going to happen. One may give to another one's life's blood, one's love, and passion, and devotion, but one cannot make that other love one as one may desire to be loved. Yvonne did not really love her mother. She was fond of her, and she relied upon her, and respected her, but her real love was the glamour of success. In the years that followed it intoxicated her. She became the rage of Paris, and Monsieur Matz became a rich man.

The more successful she became the more indifferent she became towards her mother, and the more devoted her mother became to her. She watched over her, and tended her, and prayed for her. When Yvonne was not dancing she was always lunching or dining with her friends, or driving in the Bois. It is to be feared that she was a little ashamed of her mother in the presence of her brilliant friends. Honorine was now nearly fifty. Her life of toil had left its mark on her. She was a little what is known as "provincial." She wore the same kind of old-fashioned frocks that she used to wear at the farm at Cambo. Her hands were hard and bony, like a servant's. Her remarks were trite and commonplace. She was out of place in that astounding environment. Yvonne seldom introduced her. She would go down to the theatre and hang about the corridors, waiting to see if her daughter wanted anything. And people would say:

"Who is that old countrywoman?"

And the answer would be:

"Oh, don't you know? That's the mother of Carmen Colignon."

But even then she was not altogether unhappy. Sometimes she would take herself to task and think: "Why am I not unhappy? I give my whole life to my daughter, and she does not respond."

And she would look down into the darkening streets, and see the crowds rushing hither and thither on dubious errands. Lamps being lighted, and somewhere in the distance a bell would be tolling...And she would think:

"Even if she does not love me I can still serve her. I am her mother."

And dreams would come to her.

IX

Within a very short time her mind was diverted by material considerations. At first the two hundred francs a month which Monsieur Matz had agreed to pay Yvonne appeared a princely sum. But when she became a star it seemed to dwindle into nothingness. A star must have attendant satellites and luxuries. Yvonne was far too dazzled by her facile success to worry over such details as settling bills or considering ways and means. The more she earned the more she spent. At the end of the first year Madame Marcillac found herself faced with debts she could see no way to meet except by drawing on her capital. She put the matter to Yvonne, who exclaimed:

"Oh, that doesn't matter, mother. I shall soon be earning more, and when my contract runs out they'll have to pay me thousands a night."

When her contract ran out! But that was four years hence. At the present pace Madame Marcillac's capital would be exhausted before then. She pleaded with her daughter to be economical, to think of the future. Yvonne did make some sort of attempt to curb her extravagances—until the next temptation came along. Between the mother and daughter there began to yawn unbridgable chasms of reserve. Yvonne did not mean to be denied the attainment of these new delights. She became furtive and mendacious.. She borrowed money on the quiet, and made all kinds of excuses for breaking into Madame Marcillac's dwindling capital.

So far she had had many admirers but no one who could truthfully be called a lover. But a year after her leap to fame there appeared upon the scene a young actor named Max Gion. He was not a particularly good actor, neither was he very successful, and he had no money. They became engaged.

Madame Marcillac thrilled with delight at her daughter's engagement. The man was young and good-looking, and he had charming manners. It was a love match. She had always dreaded that Yvonne might marry some elderly man for his money.

Soon, however, she found that what the young couple had most in common was a passion for extravagance. When not performing they spent most of their time in cabs and restaurants. Rather than being relieved, her financial commitments were doubled. The capital began to dwindle. Yvonne was dancing superbly, and "Carmen Colignon" was a star of the first magnitude. Her portraits were everywhere. She was painted and sculpted by famous artists. The journals rang with her praises. But Monsieur Matz was not inclined to deviate one franc from the terms of his contract. He had discovered her and made her. He had run the risk of her being a failure.

At the end of the second year of their acquaintance the young couple married and took a little flat in the rue de la Baume. It was plainly hinted that Max would rather not have his beloved Yvonne's mother to live with them. And so she took one room in a little street just off the avenue des Ternes. She lived alone, but her identity was soon established. When she walked quietly backwards and forwards people nudged each other and said:

"Do you know who that is? That's the mother of Carmen Colignon."

And they argued amongst themselves as to why so beautiful and famous a star should have such a queer old fish for a mother. And some wondered why the daughter did not see that her mother was kept in happier circumstances. And they shrugged their shoulders. These theatrical people!...

As the years passed Honorine lived more within herself. Her love for her daughter became a vital abstraction. She gave her all that Yvonne might lead the life she desired. But they had nothing in common. Honorine hovered like a moth on the outskirts of this dazzling and dangerous effulgence wherein her daughter pirouetted to the clamorous approbation of the mob.

X

One day her daughter came to her in great distress. Max—of the good looks and charming manners—was not all that he appeared. He had put his name on the back of a bill. Within seven days he had to find fifteen thousand francs. The alternative was a law case, bankruptcy—possibly arrest.

The fifteen thousand francs was withdrawn from Madame Marcillac's capital. The gay life continued. Before Yvonne's contract had run out her mother was ruined. She had not a penny in the world except what she earned. She went out secretly and reverted to her old profession of housework and sewing. Yvonne seldom asked her mother how she passed her time.

In the meantime Yvonne's life had not been without emotional incident. As their debts increased and they saw no possibility of relief from the mother, they quarrelled bitterly. There were scenes, recrimination, almost ending in a crime passionelle. Eventually Yvonne had no difficulty in divorcing her depraved young husband, and immediately afterwards she married a rich elderly merchant named Mocquard. Paris was intrigued. Her reputation became more assured. When her contract expired she was re-engaged at an enormous figure. She was rich beyond her wildest dreams.

It was at that point that the cleavage with her mother became pronounced. Madame Marcillac would not take a penny of her daughter's money. She gave no reason. It was not for her to criticise. She went calmly about her affairs, her eyes filled with wonder and awe. She went frequently to see her daughter, at an hour when she knew no one would be about. On only one occasion did she show signs of distress. That was on the occasion of her first visit to the new house in the avenue Malakoff, when Yvonne, all aglow with her new wealth and success, openly boasted about it, and offered to make her mother a handsome allowance. And the tears had started to Honorine's eyes, and pressing her hand to her heart, she had exclaimed:

"Oh, my dear, my dear...my little one..."

But she could say no more, and she went quietly away, after refusing the offer. She was set down then definitely as a crank. She was pointed at in the street and laughed at.

"Did you ever see such an old sketch? That's the mother of Carmen Colignon."

Her figure became familiar on the boulevards, and once Sem did a caricature of her which appeared in Le Rire, and which made Yvonne very angry. Honorine shifted her quarters, and took a room up in Montmartre in the rue Cortot.

Years passed. Her eyesight was not too good, and she had trouble with her feet, and one day she bought a stout hickory stick for support. She found work a little tiring, but people were kind to her. She made many friends among people of her own class, who were always anxious and willing to help her.

One December day as she was walking through the square of St. Pierre there came to her a sudden flow of memories of her youth, of her husband, and the days on the old farm at Cambo. Cambo! Hard upon these memories came the reflection that the farm at Cambo belonged to her daughter. It was to be hers when she became of age. Strange that she should have forgotten this all these years. If Yvonne did not object she would not mind accepting the gift. It was associated with a period of calm happiness and purity. It was earned by her own husband by honest toil. She flushed a little at the temptation. Perhaps she would go back there to end her days...

Yvonne had no objection. She laughed contemptuously at what she called "the old piggery." Most certainly her mother should have it. She herself was far too engrossed in big things to worry about such a trifle.

And so one day she packed an old black bag and returned to Biarritz. She was away five days. She went to see Monsieur Pironneau. He was very evasive. He used terms she could not understand. Yes, Monsieur and Madame Ombredanne were still living there. They had a large family. He talked about entail, and forfeiture, and surrenders. She could not tell whether the farm was to be her property or not. The next day she went out to Cambo and wandered around it. She had not the heart to call. It all looked very much the same. She went back to Biarritz and again interviewed the lawyer. It is impossible to know how long she would have been kept there in this indeterminate condition, but her visit was cut short. On the fifth day she picked up a newspaper in the little pension where she was staying, and a headline caught her eye. "Serious illness of Carmen Colignon."

She caught the night train back to Paris, and drove to her daughter's house in the avenue Malakoff. A servant admitted her. The house was all in a fluster. Yes, Carmen Colignon was very ill. The doctor believed it was smallpox, caught at the theatre from one of the stage hands. Monsieur Mocquard was staying elsewhere. He had been advised to, as the disease was very catching. She forced her way upstairs. A dark-featured nurse met her on the landing, and exclaimed:

"You cannot go upstairs. The upper floor is isolated. Madame Mocquard is seriously ill."

"I am going up."

"Who are you?"

"I am her mother."

She pushed back a curtain reeking with disinfectant, and went up to her daughter's bedroom. Yvonne was semi-conscious. For six days and nights she never went further from her daughter's bedside than the adjoining room. She ate hardly anything and slept less. The two nurses, after the first irruption of her entry, took kindly to her. She was useful, and after all she was the patient's mother. She had penetrated into the sick chamber, and if she was to catch the disease she would catch it, whether she stayed or went. On the sixth night she fainted from sheer exhaustion. One of the nurses gave her a powerful sleeping draught. She slept for eleven hours. She came to in a dreamy semi-comatose condition. She thought she was back at the farm at Cambo. Little Yvonne was packing her sachel preparatory for school. She was sing-ing in her childish tremulo a song called "Les fleurs qui passent."

The nurse entered and stood by her bedside. After a short pause she said: "Madame Marcillac, I'm sorry to say your daughter passed away in the night."

Madame Marcillac turned on her side, but she did not speak. She wanted to hear little Yvonne finish the song, "Les fleurs qui passent."

After a time she wept a little and rose from her bed. She put on her cloak and went into her daughter's bedroom. When she beheld her she made the sign of the cross, and knelt by the bedside. And there she remained in prayer for a long while...

XI

All Paris flocked to the funeral of Carmen Colignon. Senators, merchant princes, artists, students, and actors drove out to Pere La Chaise. There were carriages by the score, and magnificent wreaths from Monsieur Mocquard, Monsieur Matz, and other fights of the theatrical profession. The newspapers outvied each other in eulogistic competition. It was an event.

Honorine walked to the funeral.

In the distinguished company hardly anyone noticed the old countrywoman who hobbled into the cemetery, leaning on a hickory stick. She stood on the outskirts of the crowd, and when the ceremony was over she wandered away alone in the direction of the Seine. Alone!...She had no definite plans formed in her mind. She was stunned by the abruptness of the catastrophe, broken by the completeness of it. She found herself wandering by the north bank of the river, looking across at the pile of buildings on the He de la Cite, dominated by Notre Dame. The water looked grey and inviting...sleep-giving. Oh, how she needed sleep! It was Christmas time. People were hurrying hither and thither with parcels and flowers. No, it was not true that all Paris was at the funeral of Carmen Colignon. "All Paris" is a phrase. Many had hardly heard of her. Most were indifferent. Even those who wept and sent expensive wreaths, how long would it be before they, too, forgot?...

Only love is permanent; only a mother's love perhaps...She looked up at the cupola of Notre Dame, and her eye alighted on the cross. Notre Dame! Oh, Mother of God! She seemed to sense in that instant the whole significance of her own fife, and yet she remained dumb...inarticulate. She could express nothing. She had given something which finked her to a spirit greater than her own. She looked up humbly, her eyes filled with wonder and reverence. Barges glided by, and the people hurrying in their thousands, people who had hardly heard of Carmen Colignon. She was conscious of her heart filled with pity and compassion...of a great immensity, of something vast wherein nestle the loves, passions, fears, and frailties of every living thing. And turning her back on the river, she walked slowly away...

XII

Tap-tap! Tap-tap! Along the Rue Cadec she comes this Sunday morning, smiling to herself as though with childish memories. And the men touch their hats and the women cry: "Good-morning, maman. May God preserve you!"

She hobbles on, her old bony fingers clutching the handle of the string bag. She passes by, leaving a trail of unexplained delight.

Tap-tap! Tap-tap!

"Who is she?"

"Don't you know? That's the mother of Carmen Colignon."

"And who in God's name is Carmen Colignon?"

Just by old Grognon's shop she pauses, and her face is silhouetted against the dark opening. It is lined and scored by a hundred tiny cracks and wrinkles, but the beauty remains. And one regards it as, after many years, a reader might regard a leaf that had been pressed between the leaves of some old volume and long forgotten; and the reader gazes enchanted, held by the vision of this magic network of myriad perfections.


13. The Room

The Room was in Praxton Street, which is not very far from the Euston Road. It was fifteen feet by ten feet six inches. It had a door and a window. The window was covered by stiff lace curtains with several tears in them, framed by red plush curtains, which, if pulled together, failed to meet by nearly a yard. The furniture consisted of a circular mahogany table, a Victorian sideboard with mirrors inset in the panels above, a narrow-seated horse-hair chair which had a tendency to shoot the occupant into the fireplace, two other mahogany chairs with green velvet seats, a white enamelled flower-stand supporting a puce-coloured earthenware pot in which a dismal aspidistra struggled for existence. In the angle between the door and the window was an iron frame supporting what proved to be a bed by night and a dumping ground for odds and ends by day. The wall was papered with a strange pattern of violet and pink flowers leaping in irregular waves ceiling-wards. On the walls were many framed oleographs, one of the Crucifixion, one of a small boy holding a piece of sultana cake on a plate, and a large collie dog regarding the cake with melancholy greed. There was a photograph of somebody's husband with a square beard and a white stock, two water-colours of some foreign country characterized by blue mountains reflected in a lake, and a large print of the coronation of King George. On the floor was a yellow and red carpet of indeterminate pattern worn right through in all the most frequented spots of the room. Around the gas chandelier a dozen or so flies played their eternal game of touch.

Now this is a brief description of inanimate objects—except for the flies. But we all know that even inanimate objects—particularly a collection of inanimate objects—have a soul. That is to say that they subtly affect everyone on the spiritual plane. Perhaps it would be safer to say that they have a message.

To James Wilbraham Waite, seated on the horsehair chair on a bright July afternoon, they brought an abrupt message. He looked around the room and he said to himself out aloud:

"This is simply hell!"

He had occupied this room in the lodging-house for seven years, and it had taken all this time to breed in him the special kind of intense loathing and hate which he felt at that moment. It was not the quick hate of sudden anger. It was the slow combustible passion of years of disappointment and dissatisfaction. The room seemed to embody in itself all that he detested and yearned to avoid.

His father had been a small Essex farmer, and James Wilbraham had spent his boyhood on the farm. Owing, however, to Mr. Waite senior's Iack of concentration on the commercial side of the farm, and his too great concentration on the good stuff served over the bar of the "Dog and Destiny," he 'vent bankrupt and died soon after. His wife had died many years before and James Wilbraham, being an only son, found himself at the age of eighteen alone in the world without even a mangel-wurzel to his name. He was a dreamy boy, loving an open-air life. He had done fairly well at the Grammar School. He had no head for mathematics, but excelled at theoretical subjects, which brought him no credit or marks. When his father died there was apparently nothing for him to do but become a farm hand. One of the masters at the school, who had taken an interest in him, did his best to dissuade him from this course. His name was Mr. Flint, and he pointed out the hopeless future of manual labour without capital. He emphasized the fact that James had had quite a good education and that he was intelligent, and that he had only to use his brains to make his way in the world. For two years James fought against the good advice of his friend. He worked for a local farmer, and he might be working for the same farmer now but for the fact that he fell in love with a girl he had seen walking about the streets of Pondersham. He never spoke to her, but she stirred some profound note in his nature. It was less the girl herself, perhaps, than the idea of Iove in the abstract. She was what was known as a lady, inaccessible, remote, fragile as a china vase. He began to regard his rough hands and coarse clothes with misgiving. And then one day he went to the pictures with an acquaintance and found himself suddenly projected into a world of magnificent Life, spelt with a very large L, where gorgeous women flashed in and out of priceless automobiles, and powdered flunkeys ushered them into marvellous palaces. The contrast was too violent. If ever he wanted to possess one of these splendid creatures—well, he could never do so as a farm hand.

His ideas of farming had never been academic, to put it mildly. He had inherited a great deal of his father's vagueness. During his father's lifetime he had regarded the soil as a mysterious substitute for a mother. It succoured him with the good things he liked, and made few calls on his industry. He liked to ride over it, and see the little green shoots budding. Then he would dream by a pond, or idle the hours away with a dog and a ferret.

Consequently when he informed his employer one day, with a sigh, that he had decided to give up farming, that gentleman accepted his resignation 'v ith unblushing satisfaction. Through the influence of Mr. Flint he got a situation as a clerk in a corn chandler's at Pondersham. He earned seventeen and sixpence a week, and managed to keep himself—in a state of chronic hunger.

He endured this life for over a year, when again through the influence of Mr. Flint he considerably improved his position. For he obtained a situation at a scholastic employment agency in London at a salary of thirty shillings a week. It was then that he made his first introduction to the Room. He paid twelve shillings and sixpence a week for it, and that included a breakfast, consisting of tea and a boiled egg. To record his career during the seven years that led up to this particular July afternoon would be tedious in the extreme. It seemed to centre entirely around the Room. By half-crowns and five shillings his salary had now risen to three pounds five shillings. During the next seven years by similar processes it might conceivably rise to five pounds. He would then be thirty-five. But it was not these material considerations and prospects alone which disturbed him. It was that eternal sense of ingrained discontent.

He detested his work. At his desk he was always dreaming. He dreamt of far-off countries, and beauty, and love, and romance. He joined a local library and spent most of his evenings alone reading. And when he had been completely transported into another world he would look up and find himself in the Room. He would catch his own reflection in the crazy mirrors, the boy and sultana cake and the collie dog would appear to be grinning at him insipidly from the wall, the vision of King George in his coronation robes only produced in him a sense of acrid disloyalty. The wallpaper leaping towards the ceiling made him want to scream. Even when he turned out the gas and went to bed he was intensely conscious of enveloping ugliness.

On this particular afternoon his venom focussed on the flies around the chandelier. He had come home early—it was a slack time at the office—and he was reading a novel with a setting in the desert. He became absorbed with visions. He saw the sleepy pile of grey and white buildings against the vivid green of date-palms in an oasis. He could hear the distant sounds of strange music, and breathe the rich perfumes of the African night. Then suddenly he looked up and saw those London flies playing their ridiculous game beneath the chandelier. He felt maddened. He put down the book and made a swipe at them with his handkerchief. They dispersed only to re-form a few seconds later. He hit at them again and again without any tangible result. Then he sat down and thought.

"I want a holiday," he said to himself. "My nerves are in a rotten state." Owing to the exigencies of office work he had had his fortnight's holiday in April. He would not get another until—some time next year. And then he would probably go to Hastings, or Bognor, or worse. It was awful, unendurable.

"I won't have you here," he suddenly said to the flies. There was a look of grim determination on his face. He picked up a towel and slightly damped it, and began a fresh campaign. He soon realized that to hit them in the air was a chance in a hundred. You have to wait till they settle. He tracked them about the room. He killed several on the table, quite a lot on the wall and the window, but nothing seemed to make any difference to the party under the chandelier. He made wild swipes at them and actually hit several on the wing, but back they came. This persistence was either astonishing pluck or astonishing stupidity. It was almost uncanny. He struck wildly at one on the chandelier itself, and then—crash! down came the globe and smashed on the floor. A few minutes later he heard the ponderous steps of his rheumaticky landlady coming up the stairs. He gripped the towel hard. He felt uncertain of himself. "If the old fool makes a fuss about that globe I'll give her a swipe," his mind registered. There was the familiar tap on the door and it opened.

To his surprise she held out a letter. She had not apparently heard the globe smash, neither did she notice it.

"Mrs. Bean's just left this," she said. "It came this morning, but it was addressed to seventy-five."

He took the letter, and said "Thanks;" then, feeling that his passions were somewhat vented, he pointed to the globe and said casually:

"I'm afraid I broke the globe, hitting at a fly."

She said: "Oh, dear! H'm! I'll go and get a dustpan and brush. My legs are that bad."

"I'll get it for you if you like," he answered, feeling suddenly quite amiable.

"I wish you would, Mr. Waite; it's under the kitchen dresser."

The business of getting the dustpan and brush, clearing up the broken glass, and listening to a story about the shocking pain Mr. Bean was suffering with his kidney trouble occupied ten minutes. She went at last and he opened the letter. It was from a firm of lawyers in Liverpool informing him that an uncle of his had recently died in Canada, and under the terms of the will he was the inheritor of approximately six hundred pounds.

Six hundred pounds! For the first time he stared at the Room with unseeing eyes. It had no horrors for him. He saw right through the mahogany sideboard and the leaping wallpaper out into the great broad spaces of the world. Gulls screamed above the heaving decks of a mighty ship. He saw white cities with minarets and mosques glittering in the sun. There were valleys aglow with myriad flowers. A woman was coming towards him—

The desire to talk to someone about his amazing news was irresistible. He knew no one in the house except the landlady. He went downstairs and found her ironing some flannel underclothing in the kitchen. He said:

"I say, Mrs. Beldam, I've come in for some money." The landlady looked up at him with an expression of greedy interest. She said:

"Oh, that's nice, I must say. How much is it?"

"About six hundred pounds."

She looked down at her flannel petticoat. She was cautiously balancing the potentialities of the situation. She couldn't exactly see how she was to come in over this. All it would amount to would be that she would probably lose a lodger. She repeated:

"That's nice." Then, after blowing on her iron, she added:

"You take my advice, young man, and put it all in War Savings Certificates."

"War Savings Certificates!"

He looked at her with horror. Ah! he could see through it all. This social conspiracy to keep him in the Room. Here was the golden key to freedom, and this woman, this state, social life itself, talked to him about War Savings Certificates. Not likely! He barked at her:

"We shall see," and almost ran out of the room.

It was nearly a month before he got his cheque. In the meantime he had been carefully maturing his plans. He bought maps, and guides, and works of reference. He gave the scholastic agency a week's notice, and when he was free he devoted his time to reading and polishing up his French, at which he had been fairly proficient at school.

The Room, if anything, seemed more hideous than before. He felt himself already superior to it; nevertheless, he was still a little frightened. It had for so long dominated him, with its drab menace, he could not believe that he would ever really escape from its clutches. He dreamed of some feral vengeance. Perhaps on the last night he would get busy with an axe or a poker. But no, this would be very foolish. He would be made to pay, and so the Room would score off him.

And so one day in early September he gave up the key of the Room to the landlady and left it for ever.

He had about fifty pounds in cash on him. With the rest of the money he had bought a World-wide Letter of Credit. What destiny had in store for him when the money was spent he neither knew nor cared. He was achieving his supreme ambition—to escape.

Four days later he arrived at Algiers, tired, bewildered, but very excited. He regarded Algiers as a good kicking-off place for his adventures. He wanted to get to the desert, but, knowing nothing of the country, he didn't know how to proceed. He stayed there for a week in a quiet hotel, wandering about, and getting lost in the maze of the Arab quarter. The city repelled him a little with its large hotels and terraces of French villas. Even the Arab quarter had a sense of unreality. He felt every moment that he might step out and find himself in the Earl's Court Road. One day at lunch he got into conversation with a Frenchman, who told him about a journey he was about to take to Laghouat in the south. James Wilbraham pricked up his ears. The Frenchman, it appeared, was a traveller in rugs and bric-à-brac. He was making the journey with a companion, and they were going by car. Yes, there were only the three of them, including the chauffeur, and if James cared to join them and pay his share—the contract was concluded then and there.

Three days later the party left. They motored the whole of the first day through the richly fertile country of Northern Algeria, and spent the night at Boghari up in the hills. The two Frenchmen talked the whole time, and James gathered about one-third of their conversation, which was mostly about women, the rate of exchange, French politics, and trade. At Boghari it was very cold and overcast.

The seeker after romance began to feel depressed that night. It was all very beautiful, of course, but somehow things were not for the moment shaping in the way he had hoped. A motor-car was an unromantic way of travelling, and French commercial travellers can be very boring. He felt a tripper, an alien. He wondered whether he would ever fit into any milieu in which he found himself. In the early morning he dreamt he was back in the Room, and the chairs, and tables, and lace curtains were laughing at him.

The next day, however, the car wound its way down into the plain below, and they began to approach the desert. By midday it was very hot. They lunched at Djerfa on fish soup, bustard stewed in oil, and Algerian wine. The food nauseated James, but the Frenchmen became more and more garrulous. He wanted to get on to where romance would begin. At last they started, and all the afternoon the car raced on down a straight road through endless tracks of sand dotted with scrub, clumps of coarse grass, and occasionally pistacia-trees. It was nearly sundown before they reached the oasis of Laghouat. They drove up to the little hotel just outside the wall of the town.

Having washed and changed his clothes, James felt a great desire to escape from the two Frenchmen. He put on his hat and hurried out. Immediately outside the hotel he was surrounded by swarms of Arab boys jabbering in French. He tried to shoo them off, but four of them followed him everywhere he went. He learnt afterwards to become accustomed to this attention, but at the moment it annoyed him. He wanted to be alone. He crossed the road and climbed up a rocky eminence, followed by his retinue. Clambering over the last boulder he gave a gasp of astonishment. Laghouat is two thousand feet above sea level, and from it the desert slopes gradually down. At first glance it gave him the impression of the sea, an endless quivering ocean glistening in the sun. In the foreground were thousands of stately date-palms, while on his right the little town, dominated by its minaret, was a pleasant jumble of salmon-pink, grey, white, and brown. For the first time since he left the Room he thrilled with a sense of satiety. He sat there for a long while dreaming. The boys chattered to him and among themselves, but he was hardly conscious of them. The sun tipped the horizon, and suddenly he heard a gun fired, a flag fluttered from the top of the minaret, and a diminutive figure in black appeared. Against the clear blue sky, graduated to pale orange on the horizon, the minaret stood out like a pillar of gold. A rich bell-like voice rang out and seemed to reach the furthermost places in the desert. It was the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

James Wilbraham gave a sigh of content.

"I have found it," he thought to himself.

That night he slept badly. He was troubled by the problem of how to keep what he had found. How could he fit into this atmosphere? How could he live? He was at present a foreign guest staying at the only hotel. The town was entirely Arab, its activities almost entirely devoted to the breeding of sheep and cattle. For days he wandered about, listening for signs and portents. The French travellers returned to Algiers. A few other trippers came and went. A week went by. And then one day he met his fate in the person of Giles Duxberry. He was seated on the verandah of the hotel one evening when a tall, angular figure, in a white burnous, came slouching up the path. He seemed to know his way about the hotel, for he made straight for the bell, rang it, and ordered an anisette. Then he retired, washed himself, came back and sat at a table next to James. He poured water into the colourless liquid, drank it in two gulps, and ordered another. When he had consumed four of these insidious drinks, he suddenly said:

"English, aren't you?"

"Yes," said James, with surprise.

"Have a drink?"

It would have been inhuman to refuse, and James also had an anisette. He had never drunk it before, and his single one had a much more potent effect on him than the four did on his chance acquaintance. He tried to be conversational, but it was very difficult. Mr. Duxberry's skin was almost the colour of an Arab's, but his eyes were tired, his manners lethargic. He was like a man utterly bored with every human experience—except perhaps drink. He barked in monosyllables, and explained things in little disconnected sentences.

He was, it appeared, employed by a Lancashire firm in the halfa business. It seemed that some genius had discovered that the long, coarse halfa-grass, which grew in the desert, was excellent material for making paper. It was garnered by the natives, and deposited in bundles in various depôts about the country. Giles Duxberry was in charge of a depôt in a tiny oasis fifteen miles away. He lived there by himself, and the only thing he could find in the job's favour was that once a week he could come into Laghouat and get drunk. He proceeded to get drunk on this occasion, and before the evening was far advanced he was quite incoherent.

Before he had reached this stage, however, he had asked James to come out and see him, and explained where it was. The only way of getting there was on horseback. James felt grateful for his early years spent on a farm. He could ride. The expedition, moreover, carried with it an element of adventure. Perhaps he, too, could get a similar situation.

It took him three days to obtain the loan of a horse, which he eventually did through the intermediary of four people. He felt singularly like a paladin setting out on some holy quest as he left the town behind and cantered across the desert. He had no difficulty in finding his destination. It was a small oasis with the inevitable date-palms, barley, and castor-oil plants, a low, rambling, lime-washed building made of mud and cement, and some half-dozen nomad tents pitched in the sand. He found Duxberry just sitting down to lunch. Without any particular show of warmth the latter said:

"Hullo, you've come then!"

He shouted something in Arabic into the room beyond. The room was plainly but comfortably furnished, and very clean. They had lunch, and were waited on by an incredibly ugly old Ouled Nail woman, with the tattoo mark on her forehead and henna stains on her finger-tips. The food was excellently cooked. James talked and asked questions, and received monosyllabic grunts in reply. Afterwards they sat outside in the sun and smoked. During the afternoon Arabs kept on arriving with donkeys laden with bundles of halfa-grass. Duxberry checked their operations with idle indifference. There was an amazing sense of peace and space. In an idle moment James thought of the awful Room. What a contrast! He felt envious of this hard-bitten, sunburnt manager. Before he left he put out a feeler. He asked his host whether he knew if there were any more jobs like that going.

Duxberry stared at him.

"What for?" he asked.

"Me."

"You!"

He seemed unable to understand.

"But you've got your fare back to England, haven't you?"

"Yes, but I'd rather live here."

"Rather live out in this God-forsaken place than in England!"

"Much."

"What is there to it?"

"I don't know. It's just the sense of—oh, freedom and space, and sun and air."

The older man regarded him gravely.

"Listen, son," he said; "when you've had as much of it as I have you'll cut all that stuff out. I ran away from home when I was a boy and worked my passage to South Africa. For thirty years I've beach-combed all over the earth. I've only one ambition."

"What's that?"

"To get back home."

"Good God!"

They looked at each other uncomprehendingly, like men who have reached a mental impasse.

James Wilbraham left soon after and returned to Laghouat. For days he wandered around the desert or sat in the hotel, pondering over the problem of his own life. Certain realizations became clear to him. He was unhappy. He wanted to stay out there. Giles Duxberry was unhappy. He wanted to go back to England. Well, surely the situation could be adjusted. Let Giles go back to the Room, and see how he liked it. Let James take his place.

A few days later Giles arrived for his weekly "drunk." James waited until he had had his fifth anisette, then he said:

"I say, Duxberry, I'd like to make a proposition to you."

"Carry on, son."

"Could you manage to wangle it so that I could take on your job? If you could I would be pleased to give you a hundred pounds to pay your fare back to England."

The beachcomber's eyes distended. He took a deep draught of the milk-coloured liquid.

"A hundred pounds!" he exclaimed. His eyes said: "Well, of all the blanketty, blanketty—idiots!"

They discussed ways and means. Two days later James again rode out to see his friend. Yes, it was decided that it might be wangled. Correspondence passed, resulting in James having to make a trip to Algiers to interview a gentlernan who was born in Blackburn. The arrangement was satisfactorily made. He returned to Laghouat full of the joy of life. He spent a week with Giles Duxberry, learing the small technicalities of his undertaking. He began to pick up Arabic words and expressions. And then one day he handed over a hundred good English pounds, and Duxberry counted the notes carefully, pouched them, and held out his hand.

"Good luck to you!" he said.

James felt strangely moved. He could hardly speak. It was not that he had developed any particular affection for his new friend, but that he felt him to be a poignant figure in his destiny. He said:

"Good luck to you!"

Nothing more was said. Duxberry mounted his horse, waved a perfunctory farewell, and rode away. James stood there bare-headed, breathing in the warm air, and absorbing the marvellous sense of repose of the desert.


And so one day Giles Duxberry found himself seated in a horse-hair chair that had a tendency to shoot the occupant into the fireplace. He had removed his boots, and was gazing into the fire. Then he looked round and regarded the Room. There was a lovely curly sideboard with mirrors, which reflected the vision of his sunburnt face, a white stand with a pot and a plant, a circular table, two other chairs, a bed. On the wall a pretty pattern and some enchanting pictures—a sacred subject, a boy and a collie dog and a piece of cake, some clever water-colour paintings, King George in his magnificent coronation robes. Civilization!

It was a dream come true—a dream of thirty years. He sighed with happy contentment. He had eighty pounds in cash on him. He had only to stroll out and there were a dozen saloons within a mile, where he could order any drink he liked. There were cinemas and music-halls. There was life passing all the time, strange and amazing things that might happen any moment. He might get a good job, make money, marry some beautiful woman. He gazed fascinated by the Room and murmured:

"Gosh! this is heaven!"

As a man accustomed to live in lonely places he had acquired a habit of talking to himself. He addressed the fire:

"Jeminy! What a fool! what a lunatic! That guy will soon get fed up with it. He'll come bundling back. Anyway, he's not going to take my Room from me. It was a square deal."


14. The Funeral March

She was a woman with a genius for apparent helplessness. She drifted around the verandah of the Hotel Reina Christa like an autumn leaf, and like an autumn leaf she was for ever changing her hue. She was always wearing different-coloured cloaks and shawls, which other people had to fetch for her. Not only men, but women. She was so helpless, you see. To me she was like a white flower, which one is only conscious of at night. One associated her with the night—the dead white face with the little flick of carmine on the lips, the blue-black hair, and those large, dark appealing eyes. She was always appealing, appealing for sympathy and understanding—and anything else. She seemed to give out nothing of herself. She was nebulous. But in my whole life? have never met anyone such a complete mistress of the verb schwärmen. It is a pity there is no real translation for this word, for she embodied it in her every phrase and movement. The women, who were for the most part middle-aged English and American women, staying there for health or pleasure, entirely succumbed to her. They found her most fascinating. She certainly could be amusing at times, and she had travelled a lot, and seen sides of life that appeared entirely romantic and remote to most of them. Moreover, she was Russian, which means so much when you are susceptible to mystic influences.

The men, I noticed, were a little afraid of her, but as they were men whose activities centred principally around golf and bridge it is not surprising. They did not like being asked about their souls, and when their physical beauty was praised openly before a crowd of people they felt self-conscious. But some of them seemed to like to sit and talk with her—alone. There was one young sub—just out of the shell, with some of the yolk still on his hair—who became apparently wildly infatuated. He devoted not only his evenings, but many of the precious hours when he might have been playing golf to her. The frenzy lasted for ten days, and suddenly the pale youth disappeared. Poor Madame Vieninoff wandered the grounds disconsolately.

"Oh, my poor dear Geoffrey," she said to everyone. "What has happened to him? He was so sweet!—so sweet!"

She was discovered the same evening probing under the lilies on the pond beyond the pergola with a walking-stick. I think it was a disappointment to her not to discover that pale face floating amongst them. She was so helpless.

It must have been an even greater disappointment when it transpired that the young man had just remembered that he 'vas down to play in a golf tournament in a town fifteen miles away, and he had not had time to let her know. She soon, however, recovered from this. To that frumpy old Mrs. Wyatt she would exclaim: "Oh, my darling, how beautiful you look to-night! You must always wear cerise and black. What exquisite pearls! They are like your eyes, floating in the ether."

To little Mrs. Champneys she would say:

"Oh, my darling, come and talk to me. I am so lonely. You are so sympathique."

And she would tell Mrs. Champneys all about her dear beloved husband, who she said had been a great musician, and had died many years ago. She would sap this poor little woman's nervous vitality with her moving stories of love, and death, and passion, with her tales of suffering, interlarded with little flicks of cynical humour. She could blow hot and cold too. She was heard one evening screaming at her maid in French, on account of some trivial ill-adjustment of her frock. She sulked for an afternoon because a pretty woman named Viola Winch had occupied the whole of old Colonel Gouchard's time during déjeuner.

But for the most part she had it all her own way. There was little opposition. She was never so happy as when surrounded by some dozen of the hotel habitués listening to her stories, or absorbing her charm.

It was during one of these occasions that I noticed strange little occurrence. The evening train used to come in while the guests were at dinner, consequently the new arrivals usually dined alone, and either did or did not join the others afterwards.

I was seated in a chair on the verandah facing the dining-room obliquely. Madame Vieninoff was the centre of an admiring group as usual. I had never heard her so entertaining. The French door to the dining-room was open, and I observed an elderly distinguished-looking man with white hair and a pointed beard—one of the late-comers—dining alone. He was obviously tired from a long journey and in need of his dinner, which he enjoyed with the quiet satisfaction of a gourmet. He was nearing the end, and had raised a glass of wine to his lips, when? suddenly observed him stop, as though listening. He put the glass down, and frowned perplexedly, as though trying to associate what he was listening to with some past experience.

Then he finished his wine and pondered. After a few more minutes he stood up and came to the open door, where I was sitting, and looked out on to the verandah at the group of people. I saw his eye alight on Madame Vieninoff, and a curious cynical smile twisted his lips. He returned to finish his dinner. I could not see in the dim light whether she had observed him, but I noticed as he went back she was laughing rather hysterically at some reminiscence that she had herself been recounting. Then she became curiously subdued.

When the elderly gentleman came out to partake of his coffee and cognac, Madame Vieninoff had retired. She said the night was oppressive, and was affecting her nerves. I thought to myself: "Ho, ho!" which is another way of saying that we all love a mystery.

I made a point of engaging the newcomer in conversation, although, of course, it was impossible at the moment to talk about Madame Vieninoff. We talked about hotels, and the country, and sport, and other safe subjects which hotel guests interminably discuss. He was a quiet, cultivated Frenchman, prepared to be friendly, but not too communicative—not a man to be rushed or cross-examined. We retired early.

The next two days wrought an extraordinary change in Madame Vieninoff. There was no disguising it. She still drifted about the verandah, but it was in a furtive uncertain manner. She appeared petulant and no one could get a smile out of her. She was obviously, moreover, in dread of finding herself in the presence of this new arrival. She kept her room for hours, and sent her maid for time-tables, or to make enquiries at the bureau about the departure of trains to here, there, and everywhere, which was surprising, as she had told everyone that she meant to winter at the Reina Christa. The poor woman was in great distress, and it became apparent to my friend, whose name I discovered to be Louis Denoyel. Everyone observed that Madame Vieninoff was not herself, but I doubt whether anyone else, except myself, associated her agitation with the arrival of Monsieur Denoyel. On the third afternoon she carne on to the verandah, where I was drinking coffee with Denoyel. She glanced at us and darted away.

Denoyel frowned, and the cynical smile left his face. He stroked his beard, shrugged his shoulders, and muttered:

"Perhaps it's too bad! After all, she's a woman!"

He looked up at me quizzically, and I said:

"All of which I find intriguing."

He thought for a long while. Then he took out a visiting-card, wrote something on it, and rang the bell for the waiter. When the waiter came he said:

"Bring me an envelope, please, and I would like you to take this message to Madame Vieninoff."

The waiter was away for nearly five minutes, and I sat there anxiously hoping that my friend would show me what was written on the card. He was amused at my curiosity, and in a sudden whim he handed it across to me without a word. On it was written in French:

"Do not be alarmed. I am leaving to-morrow morning.—L. D."

When the waiter had taken the message, I said:

"Well, sir, you cannot leave it at that."

He lightly beat a tattoo on the table with his left hand, and then he said:

"No, I suppose, having gone so far, I must tell you the whole thing. But wait till this evening, and we will go out for a stroll along the bay."

The night was warm and fine, and seated on the carcass of a fallen pine tree at the edge of the dunes, just above the bay, Monsieur Denoyel told me this story:


"It's a strange story," he said, "because it is a series of contradictions. But all true stories manage somehow or other to contradict themselves; life is like that, I suppose.

"In the days when the ill-fated Romanoffs flourished and Imperial Russia was a force to be reckoned with, Serge Vieninoff was a musician of some repute in Petersburg. He was inclined to be lazy and had accomplished nothing very distinguished, but people were beginning to talk of his future. He had a considerable private fortune, and kept up a certain amount of style in the most fashionable quarter of the city. He was popular, amiable, and cultured. And then one day he met and fell in love with Wanda Karrienski. She was the daughter of a small innkeeper, and was at that time serving as a manicurist in one of the big stores. That is our friend across the way."

And Monsieur Denoyel nodded in the direction of the Reina Christa, whose lights were reflected upon the still surface of the bay.

"She was of the clinging, helpless, passionate kind, exuding an atmosphere of ingenuousness; but, as you yourself may easily divine, not quite so ingenuous, indeed, not quite so helpless as she appears. She made every kind of apparent protest against marrying the aristocratic Serge. She was of a different class, unworthy, too unsophisticated, and all that kind of thing. Oh, she did the thing well. It was just the kind of attitude which infatuated the musician. He would have none of it, and he married her.

"Now you can imagine, coming from the hard conditions in which she had been brought up, and the struggle and indignity of her calling—for you must realize that a female manicurist in Petersburg in those days did not hold the same kind of position as a manicurist holds in London or New York. Her work was mostly connected with young officers. Suddenly finding herself the mistress of a large and fashionable household, and the legitimate wife of a distinguished and wealthy man—well, what could you expect?

"It was the kind of thing she had dreamed of, and read about in cheap novels, but never considered realizable. And suddenly the dream came true. She adapted herself to these conditions like a duck to water. As you may observe, she is still by no means unlovely, and in those days she was an extremely pretty woman. Moreover, she had a certain native wit, and that most invaluable asset to any woman—the genius of knowing exactly how to dress. In spite of her lowly birth, Vieninoff's friends quickly absorbed her. She became popular and sought after. Her life became one round of dissipation, balls, theatres, dinners, sleigh rides, receptions, and all the gay things which a woman of her nature craves for. Vieninoff couldn't live up to it. He was a dreamer, absorbed in his work; and for the most part he let her go her own way, although devoted to her.

"There were two years of this, and then suddenly—biff! War, revolution, fall of the monarchy, counterrevolution, defeat, ruin! The whole edifice fell to the ground, and among the débris wandered the disconsolate figures of Vieninoff and his wife. He was ruined. The house and furniture were seized by the Bolshevik government, his property was confiscated. Scraping together whatever they could out of the shambles, they managed eventually to reach Paris with a few thousand francs between them and actual starvation.

"They rented two rooms in a meagre little street just off the Rue des Ecoles. It was a wretched place, insufferably hot in the summer, perishingly cold in the winter. But Mr. Vieninoff was a man of spirit. He got together the few treasures they had saved out of the wreck, and spent a portion of his small capital in hiring an upright piano. 'I will teach,' he said. 'I will write and make money. I will rise like a Phoenix. Courage, my little cabbage!'

"To Wanda it was—just hell! For a time she appeared dazed by the whole thing. She had been genuinely frightened, and experienced a certain sense of relief in escaping with her life. But when she began to settle down and realize the situation, the reaction was violent. She found herself cooped up in these two wretched rooms with a man who did nothing but tinkle on a piano, or scribble on sheets of paper. She wandered the streets and found a city larger and gayer than Petersburg. She saw magnificent shops, motorcars, restaurants, theatres, cabarets, and dancing-halls. She saw gay parties of people on their way to these places, and the sight made her eat her heart out. She did not believe in her husband or his ridiculous music. She felt she had been deceived and wronged. She turned against him, and vent all her pent-up spleen upon the unfortunate musician. 'I married an old fool,' she would tell him. 'Oh, my God! all my brilliance thrown away on a nincompoop who thinks he's a genius! Oh, fool that I am.'

"Vieninoff struggled on. He managed to get a few pupils, sons and daughters of tradespeople, who paid badly and were very stupid. They came and went, came and went. He just managed to pay the rent, and buy the barest necessities of life for them both. When not teaching he spent his whole time trying to compose, and for this reason he was happier than his wife. She did nothing but sit about, nag her husband, and urge him to get work that brought in more money.

"He was always optimistic. He believed that better times would come, that he would be appreciated, but nothing happened. The years went by, and their position became only worse. And then Mr. Vieninoff began to cough. And he coughed, and coughed, and something told him that the end was not far off, and the knowledge brought with it an element of relief. For as he coughed so did Wanda become more intolerant and abusive. It was bad enough to have a poor husband, but a sick one was even worse.

"She began to prepare for her husband's death. When he died she would sell that wretched piano, and the few sticks of furniture, burn his musical manuscripts, and try to get back to her beloved Russia. Or perhaps she would marry again, a rich man this time and a brilliant one. Perhaps she would stop in Paris. There were many rich men in Paris—Americans, English, Italian. What did it matter? She had not yet lost her looks. She became quite eager for her husband's death. She even did not hesitate to discuss it with him, to jibe at him, and asked him what provision he had made when he deserted her!"

Monsieur Denoyel threw the stump of his cigar far away across the sand with an angry gesture. It whipped the night air like a firefly, and settled behind some scrub. Then leaning forward on his stick he continued:

"Vieninoff had been very good to his wife. In the early days he had loved her passionately. When eyerything went wrong he had stuck to her. In their material distress he had thought more of her than of himself. When they were practically starving it was never she who went without. But lying on his bed towards the end of his days he suddenly realized with vivid intensity the kind of woman she was. A slow anger and resentment began to burn within him. In fair weather she had been all smiles and charm, in foul she proved herself utterly callous and heartless. He felt a desire to punish her in some way. But what could he do? It was perhaps bad enough to leave her nearly penniless. That alone would have been intolerable if she had loved him and been good to him. But he knew that when he died she would not be penniless for long. She was not that kind of woman. She would dance upon his grave. She would forget him, or cherish his memory as an ugly nightmare. Lying there in the darkness he went over and over again the tragic horror of the situation. It stirred him at strange angles. It even aroused the musician in him. Sombre musical phrases pounded through his brain. He would write his own funeral march! Moreover, it should be played at his own funeral at all costs. It seemed the only thing left to him—a dignified gesture with which to leave the world. The thought almost made him chuckle with anticipation and glee.

"When she asked him the next day what he was doing, he replied: 'I'm writing my masterpiece.' She sneered at him and went out. Mr. Vieninoff was very busy for weeks after that. He never left his room. And then one day he pulled himself together, and putting on an old hat on which the dust was very thick, he crawled out and visited a notary in an adjoining street. 'I want to make my will,' he said. He gave a careful detailed list of all his belongings, and explained that on his death these were to be immediately sold and the money set aside to defray the expenses of a band employed to accompany him to the graye. And the band was to play his own funeral march.

"'Yes,' said the notary. 'And what about your wife?'

"'I leave her the residue of the estate,' he said, with a low chuckle.

"'And what does that amount to?'

"Mr. Vieninoff shrugged his shoulders.

"'Oh,' he replied, 'there are my manuscripts.'

"The notary probably thought he was a lunatic. But there it is. The law's the law. The will was duly drawn up and signed. Haying accomplished this feat Mr. Vieninoff's grip on life appeared to cease. He died quietly one evening a few weeks later. He was quite alone when the end came, his wife being out at a cabaret with a woman friend."

Monsieur Denoyel lighted another cigar. The windows of some of the upper rooms at the Reina Christa were beginning to add their reflections to the pattern on the bay, suggesting that the early people were already retiring. The deep melodious cry of a brown owl reached us from a long way off across the dunes. My informant coughed, and appeared a little uncertain how to complete the picture he was conjuring up. At last he said:

"Paris is essentially a city of the unexpected. One should never be surprised at anything one sees or hears there. But Mr. Vieninoff's funeral was surely one of the most surprising spectacles that ever appeared in that surprising city. Madame Vieninoff had heard nothing about the will, and, as you may imagine, when the notary appeared and read the terms of it to her she was furious. Vieninoff had left her nothing but the premeditated bonfire of his manuscripts. Madame Myrthil, the landlady of the establishment, declared that in a moment of hysterical rage Madame Vieninoff had actually struck her dead husband with a roll of music. But let us prefer to believe that this was an exaggeration. In any case, she found herself in a helpless position. Monsieur Pitau, the notary, was a dry old stick, but he was very efficient, and he performed his duties with meticulous care. His trouble was being so pressed for time. It appeared that Mr. Vieninoff had bought the piano on the hire-purchase system, and it was now his property. This, of course, made a considerable difference, and when everything was sold he found that the estate realized several thousand francs. And this money he had to spend on a band!

"A band! Monsieur Pitau knew nothing about bands. How to hire a band? So the day before the funeral he went to a friend who conducted an orchestra in a café in the Bouleyard Poissinnière. This gentleman was a violinist conducting an orchestra of four. But that wasn't sufficient. Monsieur Pitau wanted a band, a large band to play a funeral march in the streets. He was prepared to spend several thousand francs. The violinist said, 'Good,' leave it to him. The next morning there assembled in a little yard off the Rue des Ecoles the strangest band you can possibly imagine. There were the four musicians from the café wearing a curious green semi-military fustian which was their accustomed uniform. There were seyen or eight students from the Conservatoire with piccolos, clarionets, flutes, and saxophones. There were two drummers from an infantry regiment, and several other odd people who had surely newer had a musical instrument in their hands before. The parts were handed round, and of course there was no time for a rehearsal.

"When the hearse arrived, the conductor drew his strange company up into some kind of order. The perfectly plain corn was covered with a black pall on which reposed one wreath of immortelles. There were no mourners, although Madame Vieninoff followed the band, as though wildly hoping that even yet something might be extracted from this exhibition of lunacy.

"The cavalcade started, and the band struck up. Now the conductor, who played the violin, was some kind of a musician, and he made a serious attempt to interpret the themes of the dead composer. But the same cannot be said of the others. They began solemnly marching down the Boulevard St. Michel. A crowd quickly began to collect. And everyone was saying: 'Whose funeral is this? What is this band? What are they playing?' No one could give an answer. By the time they had crossed the river and reached the Grands Boulevards thousands were following, and the band had got quite out of hand. They had entirely lost all sense of a composition. There never was heard such a raging cacophony, such a screaming riot of discord. Long before they reached Montmartre the students were ragging the whole thing. The saxophone was wailing little bits of jazz, the flute interlarding passages from vulgar popular songs. The people were roaring with laughter, refusing to believe that it was a real funeral at all. It was only the conductor and the two military drummers who lent to the performance any sense of rhythm at all. So great was the congestion that before Montmartre Cemetery was reached a large body of police was telephoned for to keep the people in order. There was very nearly a riot. And in any case, it led to an inquiry, which cost the country thousands of francs. And thus it was that poor Mr. Vieninoff went to his last resting-place, and Madame Vieninoff received her punishment."

Monsieur Denoyel stood up.

"Let us stroll back," he said, "and I will tell you perhaps the strangest part of the story on the way. The affair, as you may imagine, got into the newspapers. It made what the papers calla 'story,' a good 'story' too. It occupied a prominent place on the front page of not only all the French newspapers, but of the English and American. There was something which captured the imagination in an unknown composer writing his own funeral march, and going to his grave to the strains of it.

"While the public interest was still hot on it, an astute publisher had the wit to publish the composition with the 'story' printed on the cover. And then, of course, the most surprising thing of all happened. Someone quite by chance showed a copy to Monsieur Taillandier, the conductor of the Philharmonic orchestra. That gentleman glanced through it idly, and then his interest became aroused. He took it home and studied it. And suddenly he exclaimed to his wife: 'But this is a most interesting and original composition!'

"You have already no doubt anticipated what was to follow. Monsieur Taillandier sought information about this composer and his work, and he was referred to Monsieur Pitau, who passed him on to the widow. One afternoon, he called on Madame Vieninoff. He found her surveying an enormous mass of music manuscripts piled up on the stove. There were tears of anger in her eye, and a box of matches in her hand.

"'What are you doing, madame?' he inquired.

"'I'm trying to destroy the relics of a wasted life,' she blazed at him. 'And the filthy stuff won't burn. It's too thick.'

"Monsieur Taillandier snatched a bundle from the heated stove. The edges of the music were charred. It was his turn to be angry.

"'Imbecile!' he screamed at her.

"She did not, of course, know who he was, and she became even angrier. They had a bad quarter of an hour, till at last he was able to persuade her that the music might not only be good, but it might have some commercial value. This altered the whole case. She allowed him to come later with a secretary and sort the music out. A musical agent was called in to deal with it. Monsieur Taillandier proved himself a sound judge, but he never for a moment anticipated the surprising results of his discovery. A lot of the work was immature, particularly that done during his days of prosperity in Petersburg. But all his later work was surprisingly brilliant. He had written innumerable concertos, symphonies, and sonatas, to say nothing of songs and piano solos. All these were published and performed, and a Vieninoff composition became quite a vogue. But the most profitable discovery for Madame Vieninoff was that of two light operas. One, called 'Licette'—which he must have written when he was starving—you have probably heard, or heard of. It has been running simultaneously in Boston, Paris, and Vienna for nearly a year. The other is shortly to be produced."

"You mean to say," I ventured, "that Madame Vieninoff is a comparatively rich woman, all through her husband's despised compositions?"

Monsieur Denoyel shrugged his shoulders. "She winters here at the Reina Christa. She has her own maid. I have met her during the season at Cannes, and Pau, and Seville. She has not yet found it necessary to—marry her rich man."

We were approaching the wrought-iron entrance gate to the hotel.

"There is one mystery I cannot yet understand, monsieur," I said. "How is it that you know all the details of this affair?"

He pressed my arm confidentially.

"I was the doctor, monsieur, who attended Vieninoff till the last. He told me all on his death-bed. I had the honour of being the only person to send him a final tribute—a wreath of immortelles. I am the only one who knows the whole truth. It is perhaps for this reason that Madame Vieninoff is—well, shall I say a little shy in my presence?"

We walked up the drive, and lo! there on the verandah in her favourite seat was Madame Vieninoff, surrounded by her satellites. I was conscious of a sudden wave of anger, the kind of anger which youth invariably feels in the face of injustice. She had not seen us, and I turned to my friend and whispered:

"You could make it very—unpleasant for her."

He smiled, and patted my shoulder.

"She is a woman," he said, as though this laconic phrase were sufficient to dismiss any form of passionate judgment. Then he held out his hand, and added: "Good night. Do not let her disturb your dreams;" and he gave me a formal little bow and passed through the door and out of my life.

Disturb my dreams! No, she shouldn't disturb my dreams, but she was seriously disturbing my waking hours. Almost involuntarily I ambled in the direction of the verandah. I sat on a wooden bench below it, and I heard her talking, and these were the words which reached me:

"Ah, my poor dear Serge, there was a genius if ever there was one. Listen, darling, he would never have had the courage to persist had I not so often told him success would one day come to him. We were living in quite humble circumstances in those days, a small flat with only one servant. Poor Serge used to despair, but when things were at their blackest, I would take him by the hand and whisper: 'Courage, my dear one, one little step down the fickle road of destiny, and you will be there,' and I would lead him to the piano-stool. I was always at his elbow. I was the rock upon which he leant. During those long months when I nursed him night and day, he clung to me for support and inspiration. He died in my arms. 'Ah, my wife,' he whispered—and these were his last words—'my wife, my love—my inspiration.' Isn't it wonderful, darling, to have loved like that?"

A woman! Oh, my dear Monsieur Denoyel!



15. "Page 189"

There is one theme over which the philosopher never tires of wagging his finger at us. It is that of the illusory character of riches. And there is, perhaps, no field in which his propaganda has been less fruitful of results. One does not argue with him, of course. No one argues with a philosopher; one treats him like a child. One may say that philosophy is and always has been one of the least potent factors in shaping human actions. Passion, greed, prejudice, heredity, love—even the daily press—have all done more.

And so again and again the philosopher and his father, and his grandfather, right back to the days of Diogenes, have enlarged upon the fact that wealth cannot buy any of the things that matter; that riches do not make for happiness; that high thinking and low living is the better programme; that the rich man cannot pass through the eye of a needle. And we say: "Yes, father. You're quite right." And directly his back is turned, we immediately begin to think how best to collect the filthy impedimenta to true happiness. We are willing to take our chance about the needle. Perhaps we shall be the one in ten thousand who gets through. Anyway, it will be a pleasant journey. We are in good company. Smith, Jones, and Pierpont Morgan are all on the same road. If they negotiate the eye, why shouldn't we?

It is an undoubted fact that a vast percentage of the inhabitants of this earth, living in poverty, are in a condition of constant anxiety; are held together, are sustained through years and years of drab existences, by the vague hope that somehow, somewhere, by some means of which they see no tangible evidence, they will acquire—wealth. It is their constant dream; their obsession. If they knew for certain that there was no possibility of their ever becoming rich, they could not go on.

Old Tobias Tollery was not one of these unfortunate creatures. He was enormously wealthy and he despised wealth. Possibly because he had made his money himself, and for fifty years of his life had been a comparatively poor man. Now a wealthy man who despises wealth is, in the opinion of all right-minded people—a crank. And there is no gainsaying the fact that Old Tollery was a crank in every way. He looked like a crank. He dressed like a crank. He talked like a crank. He was a crank.

At the age of seventy-three he lived alone in a large house in the Cromwell Road, attended by two old servants. He spent most of his time in a laboratory which he had built on the top floor. He wore—anything comfortable which happened to be lying about. Flannel trousers and a tweed coat and a scarf; never a collar or a tie. He shuffled along at a great pace in his felt slippers, as though his body was trying to catch up with his large, bald head, which was always occupied with some urgent matter connected with test-tubes, and cylinders, and microscopes. He had innumerable relatives, who had discovered him in his old age, and who were always calling upon him, and to whom he was extremely rude. The sycophantic manner in which they accepted his rebuffs may have been one of the causes of his somewhat cynical regard for wealth. An old bachelor, seventy-three years of age, rather asthmatic, no particular ties or responsibilities—to whom was he going to leave all his money?

He had, however, one and—from the relatives' point of view—dangerous friend, old Simon Occleve. Simon Occleve was his lawyer; a man of similar age and disposition to Tobias himself. He was, indeed, his only friend; the only person in whose society Tobias expressed any pleasure. They dined together twice a week; sometimes lunched together at an imposing club in St. James's Street, and on occasions Tobias would go down to Simon's house at Haslemere and spend a few days. Tobias would assuredly leave Simon part of his fortune unless, happily, the lawyer should die first.

It may be advisable at this point to enumerate the old gentleman's relatives. They consisted, roughly speaking, of two families—the Tollerys and the Bowers. All his immediate family were dead; but he had a married niece, Laura, married to a stationer in West Kensington, whose name was Valentine Bower, and they had living with them two middle-aged, unmarried daughters, Ethel and Clara Bower.

He also had a married nephew, the Reverend Guy Tollery, whose living was at Highgate, and whose wife—a keen-featured, domineering person—rejoiced in the name of Lettice. They, in their turn, had a profligate son, Harold, who had married a barmaid named Annie, a pretty, common, warm-hearted little thing, of whom he was quite unworthy. Harold and Annie Tollery had a small boy of six, named Richard.

These were the sum total of the old gentleman's relatives.

The financial status of the two families was somewhat similar. They had enough, but not sufficient. They suffered from a kind of financial unrest, owing to the unexpected propinquity of this rich uncle. Otherwise, they seemed to have plenty of money to pay their rent, buy good food and clothes, take reasonably long holidays, and get postage stamps (the postage stamps being principally required for the purpose of sending tactful appeals to Uncle Tobias). These appeals were always wrapped up in most plausible covers—church funds, extension of shop premises, education, etc. The old man always said: "Rubbish and nonsense! Fiddlesticks!" But he invariably paid.

The only one he had ceased to help was Harold, who was a notorious gambler, and had been caught out on two occasions telling Uncle Tobias a lie. But before dismissing him, he had delivered himself of a little homily. He had said:

"It's no good your coming to me again. I shan't help you. Go and educate yourself. You are not trying. My whole life has been spent on educating myself, and I'm still doing it. I ran away to sea at fifteen—the best education in the world. I settled in South Africa and observed. That is what education is—applied observation. I studied mining and chemistry. I went to South America, Mexico, and then the States. It was in the States I made my money—eventually and quite unexpectedly...you know—the Tollery Tripod, an electric portable cooker. A ridiculous invention. I take no pride in it. It was just an accident during the course of my education. Go away and observe, and perhaps you'll learn not to be a fool."

One night Tobias and Simon Occleve were dining alone in the large house in Cromwell Road. Their dinner consisted of a lemon sole, a cutlet, and a very ancient cheese. Tobias drank barley-water, and Simon had a little weak whisky and water. When the meal was finished, Tobias lighted a long, thin cigar. He never offered them to his friend, because he knew he preferred a pipe. He waited till the old woman had cleared the things away, then, making himself thoroughly comfortable in the easy chair by the fire and observing that Simon was in a similar happy position opposite, he picked up the black cat from the rug and put it on his knee. He stroked the cat gravely with his long, knobbly fingers, until the purr of contentment attuned itself to the gentle harmony of the hour. Then he said:

"Simon, I am anxious to put myself under a further obligation to you."

"Come, come," smiled Simon; "I don't realize any past obligations, Tobias. I am a professional man—a lawyer—one of these 'thieving lawyers,' you know. I always charge you for whatever I may have the good fortune to be able to do for you."

Tobias pursed up his lips.

"Rubbish and nonsense! Your charges to me, I know, are nominal. But the obligations I am under do not principally concern professional matters."

"Well, what can I do?"

"I want you to find me an acid test."

"A chemical experiment?"

"Almost. Let us call it a psycho-physiological experiment."

"You excite me profoundly, Tobias."

"These people!" Tobias left off stroking the cat and waved his arm impatiently in the direction of the door. "I am tired of it. Something has got to happen. Those two women, Laura, you know (Mrs. Bower), and that clergyman's wife (Lettice)—they were here again this afternoon. It is 'Uncle Tobs!' and 'dear Uncle Tobs, won't you come to our Christmas party?' I'm not a hard man, Simon, although I've led a hard life. Even at my age I am loath to shut out all affection. I realize that my blood relations have a certain call on me. Only the holding of wealth makes one suspicious. I suspect everyone, and yet how do I know? Some of them may have a real affection for me. Since my return I have disbursed among my relatives some four thousand pounds; Harold alone relieved me of five hundred before I had been in the country a year. But my suspicions, founded upon close observation, are that the matter which interests them most deeply is the question of my demise. As you know, Simon, I have made no will. In the event of my death, the money will be divided by your meticulous care between all these people."

"I have always wanted you to make a will, Tobias."

"I know. I know. And I have always put it off. I am now coming to the opinion that I can put it off no longer."

"I think you're right, Tobias. Have you formed any general or individual feelings with regard to your relatives?"

Old Tollery put the cat down and looked meditatively at the fire.

"I cannot abide that clergyman; but Lettice, although objectionable in many ways, I feel to be an honest woman. It is deplorable to have a profligate son. At the same time, I am sorry for Harold's wife—one of the pleasantest and least offensive of them all—and the boy might be a nice boy, if he had the chance of proper education. As for the Bowers, Valentine is a greedy nonentity, Laura is kind in a way, but embittered by a long life with a feeble partner. I sometimes think Ethel is a nice woman. I'm not sure that she has not a real affection for me, or if not, it is most cleverly simulated. I find her more companionable than the gloomy Clara, though Clara, curiously enough, is the only one who has never deliberately begged from me. I am wondering about Clara. I'm not quite certain..."

Simon took a spill and relighted his pipe.

"It is not for me to influence you in any way...Of course, there are institutions, hospitals. You have a pretty considerable fortune, Tobias."

"Yes. I think I shall leave the bulk of my savings to Scientific Research, but I will reserve a sum—say twenty thousand pounds—for my relatives."

Then he leant forward and added:

"Of course, old friend, if you would be happier with—"

But Simon immediately patted the other's knee vigorously.

"I appreciate what you are going to suggest thoroughly. But no, no, no. I am an old man, Tobias. It is very doubtful whether I shall survive you. In any case, I have more than enough for my needs to the end of my days. I should be happier if you willed the money elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is very kind, very kind and thoughtful."

"Well, it must be like that then."

"But this is all quite simple. What do you mean by the acid test, Tobias?"

"What I want to ask you to do is to find some way by which I can test the affection and friendship of my relatives. Give them all an equal chance. The one who proves him or herself the loyalest to me shall inherit—nay, shall have at once—the sum of twenty thousand pounds."

Simon looked down into the bowl of his pipe; then he smiled and answered:

"Well, I am your lawyer. I must obey instructions. But you must give me time."

"There is no hurry. In any case I do not mean to die for some months—not till I have completed a little experiment I am making concerning the extraction of nitrogen from the air."

Simon spent three weeks thinking out his scheme, then he came to Tobias and said:

"I think, old friend, it would be better for me to reveal my plan to you by instalments. In the first place, it will be necessary for me to relieve you of all your money."

"I expected that."

"Naturally. The most obvious plan, but a good ground work."

"Is it necessary to actually do so?"

"Not at all. They will accept my word."

That same week every member of the Bowers and the Tollerys received an identical letter.

Dear Sir or Madam,—Owing to the sudden liquidation of a large company in which he held important interests and the financial crisis arising therefrom, I am instructed by my client, Mr. Tobias Tollery, to warn you that he will require the return of the sum of —— advanced to you as a loan by him on ——. My client will be glad if you will return the same without interest, or in lieu, as great a part of it as you are capable by Saturday week next, the 4th prox.

Yours faithfully,
Simon Occleve.

The effect of this letter was electrical. At ten o'clock the next morning the old gentleman was disturbed at his breakfast by the appearance of Lettice Tollery and Harold.

"What does this mean, Uncle?" screamed Lettice.

"It doesn't mean you're losing your money, does it? It isn't serious, is it?"

"You see what my lawyer says. I leave everything to him."

"Is he to be trusted?"

"Yes, he is!"

"But all your money is surely not in this company."

"Practically."

"It's madness! I can't believe it. Let us call in another lawyer."

"Why add the expense?"

"What's the name of the company, Uncle?" asked Harold.

Before the old man had had time to formulate an answer the door flew open, and Mrs. Bower and Ethel burst into the room. Ethel threw her arms round his neck.

"Oh, Uncle Tobs, tell us it isn't true!" she exclaimed.

"What does it amount to, dear?" breathlessly asked Mrs. Bower.

"It's no good your all pestering me," snapped the old man. "I can tell you nothing. What Simon Occleve says—stands."

"But I haven't got five hundred and sixty pounds to return," said Mrs. Bower.

"And I haven't got two hundred to my name," said Mrs. Tollery.

"And I haven't got a bean in the world," said Harold, and he picked up his hat and walked out.

The storm raged for ten days. It was very trying for Tobias. It interfered with his experiment.

They swept backwards and forwards between the Cromwell Road and Simon Occleve's office in the Temple. The old lawyer was terse and uncommunicative. No, Mr. Tollery was not ruined. But he was badly hit. It all depended upon certain delicate financial operations during the next few weeks. In the meantime all available capital was necessary. The difficulty might right itself if Mr. Tollery's debtors would fulfil their obligations. He could tell them nothing more.

The dreaded Saturday, the 4th prox., arrived. The two old gentlemen dined alone at the end of the day.

"I am quite surprised that our request has met with the response it has," said Tobias, when they had reached the nicotine stage. "Clara has surprised me most. She has sent forty pounds and a formal note of regret that it is not more. Lettice has sent fifteen pounds and a letter of vituperative aggression. No one else has sent money. The Reverend Guy has written a long letter forgiving me my past sins and hoping I may yet find grace in the eyes of God. He promises to send something later on. Valentine, a long whine of excuses. Ethel, gush and regrets. Mrs. Bower, more excuses, and a kind of veiled threat. Harold, nothing at all. His wife, nothing at all. Now, what is the next move, Mr. Lawyer?"

"We must be thorough. We must clean you of every penny."

"The furniture?"

"My 'bailiffs' will arrive next week to take possession!"

"I don't like doing this, Simon. It seems mean."

"I am giving you the acid test."

"Very well."

The "bailiff" arrived on the same day that every member of the family received a letter, this time from Tobias:

Dear ——,—I have very serious news for us all. I regret to say that Mr. Simon Occleve, whom I have always trusted and looked upon as my greatest friend, has absconded. I am completely bankrupt. Another firm of lawyers is winding up my accounts.

Yours, etc.,
T. T.

Within the hour Mrs. Bower appeared with her husband, Valentine, and Ethel, and they were quickly joined by Lettice, who came alone. Tobias was busy in his laboratory, and thither they all pushed their way, and there was a great scene. It reached its climax when they learned that the two gentlemen in the hall were bailiffs. Even the furniture was lost. There was nothing to sell at all.

"And you sit here," shouted Lettice, "messing about with those stinking chemicals!"

"You've treated us disgracefully," echoed Mrs. Bower.

"What are you going to do, Uncle?" asked Ethel. "You'll have to go to a workhouse."

"I told you all the time that that lawyer was a common thief. You could see it in his face." This was Lettice.

"You should never trust lawyers," piped Valentine.

"I could see he was dishonest. Are the police on his track? We shall demand to know all the details." The thin face of Mrs. Bower was thrust forward, and she shook her curls at him threateningly.

"You'll mind your own business," snapped Tobias, who was beginning to feel uncomfortable and angry. But the mask was off. There was no need for any further politeness.

"I shan't trouble to tell you what I think of you, you old fraud!" added Mrs. Bower.

"If you had been a little more informing and friendly to your relations you wouldn't have got into all this mess. You might, for instance, have consulted the Reverend Guy. He's not an adventurer, and he's not wealthy, but he has sound practical sense. He would have looked after your affairs with pleasure."

The old man surveyed Lettice through his thick glasses and remarked:

"Yes. I expect he would. Harold too, perhaps?"

"Harold has never robbed anybody."

Just as they were all going Tobias had a surprise. Valentine shuffled uncomfortably on the fringe of the crowd. The party had reached the door, when the little stationer returned and furtively thrust out his hand.

"Well, I'm damned sorry," he said in his reedy voice, twirling his thin grey moustache with the other hand. "It's damned hard lines." Then he slunk away to the protection of his wife's skirts.

Simon wished to be thorough, but, like a good organizer, he always had an eye to economy. The next day several men appeared. The halls and staircase were gutted of furniture and carpets, which were placed carefully inside various rooms. Then the doors were locked and the shutters were put up. When the family next called Tobias was apparently living in the laboratory, where an iron bedstead had been put in. He was to remain in possession of the house till quarter day, when he was going to Fulham Workhouse. He was also to be allowed to retain his laboratory equipment to that date. The old woman who waited on him had kindly consented to remain also. The house appeared to be empty and utterly desolate. The metamorphosis was complete. Tobias had everything he wanted in the laboratory, but it cannot be said that he was happy. The thing assumed larger dimensions than he had bargained for. It disturbed horrid emotions. "Damn Simon," he thought "It's positively cruel."

He experienced sudden waves of pity for these unfortunate relatives which interfered with his work. The more contemptible and pitiable they were, the more sorry he was for them. What a terrible thing is this money-lust! They were not really in need. They could all, indeed—possibly with the exception of Harold—have paid him back. But they were mad to get his wealth. And in each one it produced an individual eruption. It made them give themselves away. It made him ashamed to enjoy the secret vision of so many naked souls. It was like eavesdropping, uncannily unfair. But he had placed himself in the hands of Simon, and he could not go back. During the weeks that followed he learnt all there was to learn about his blood relations.

Mrs. Bower and Mrs. Tollery called every day for a week, as though they could not credit the disaster. Mrs. Bower continued her abuse and threats to the end of that time; then she vanished, and he never saw her again. Lettice called twice more, and was almost as vindictive, but in the end she said:

"Oh, well, if you want anything you must let us know. I don't say we'll do it, but you can let us know."

Ethel did not come at all, but one day Clara appeared. She was surly and diffident. She neither criticized nor pitied him, but as she went she put down another five pounds and said:

"I know I owe you more. That's the best? can do."

Valentine did not call, but he wrote a letter marked "private," and said again that he was damned sorry and that it was a damned shame. Of Harold, of course, there was no sign; but one day his wife called with the little boy, Richard, who was five years old.

The mother looked worn and worried. She was losing her good looks and her quick, little, birdlike movements. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles. The boy, however, was a fresh-complexioned, jolly little fellow. He put out his arms and kissed "Uncle Tobs" soundly and mustily on the cheek. And Tobias thrilled surprisingly. It was many years since he had been kissed by a child. A pleasant boy...If only he could be educated—escape from the demoralizing influence of his father. Tobias moved uneasily in his chair. He was under a compact with Simon. He must be entirely impartial with all the relatives. They must all have an equal chance. Above all, he must be reserved, abrupt, and rather taciturn.

"Are you reely ruined, Uncle Tobs?" said Annie Tollery. "It's an awful thing. I know Harold treated you bad. What can we do? I hoped he might get another chance. It's the horses, you know, and the cards. He can't let it alone. He's not reely bad, Uncle, not vicious like, except sometimes when they make him drink. It's terrible for us, Uncle."

She pleaded as though she, too, could not credit the disaster. Things must right themselves. Tobias said nothing, but once he patted the little boy on the head. Then he turned away to his bottles and powders.

"I must be getting on with my work," he grunted.

Annie sniffed and blew her nose. As she was going out she put a paper-bag down on the table and said:

"Here's just a little something. I made it myself."

When they had gone he opened the parcel and found it contained a pork pie! And Uncle Tobs turned it over and stared at it. His lips trembled a little, and he replaced it on the table.

"It's very queer," he mumbled.

That evening he dined again with Simon, and their dinner consisted of turbot, pork-pie and salad. He did not tell Simon where the pork-pie came from, but the lawyer gave it as his opinion that it was excellent. Over the fire he said:

"It is rather fortunate that just at this time I have opened a new office in Brick Court. Quite an inaccessible spot to the uninitiated. Of course, my old offices are still going, and it is also a little fortunate that the style of my firm is still 'Messrs. Mulberry & Platt,' for, as you may imagine, we have had many visitors. It has been necessary to let my head clerk, Peters, into the secret. He reports that practically all your relatives have called. Peters is very mysterious and secretive. He is enjoying himself. 'Yes, he says, 'our Mr. Occleve is away just now. I can't tell you more. Have you any demand or complaint against him?' And, of course, they haven't. It's no business of theirs. Peters is quite masterful. He tells them nothing, but gives an appearance of nervous agitation. He asks them endless questions. He is very sympathetic. When they go away they realize that they have done all the talking. They have learnt nothing, but their feelings have been soothed by a kind of vague insinuation that 'our Mr. Occieve really must have absconded. It will all come out in due course. In the meantime, if you have any definite charges to make, etc.'"

"I am beginning to wish the whole thing was over."

"My dear Tobias, of course you are; and I am willing to end it at any time. But I should be glad of, at any rate, one more week of general discomfort. I want to disillusion you of the idea that people are wholly good or wholly bad. It is very unlikely that in the end you will feel that any one of your relatives stands out from the rest. You may want to divide the money equally, or shall we say equitably, according to the various ways they have treated you."

"I am certainly learning a lot."

During that last week Lawyer Occleve put three more tests to these good people, and they were all a repetition. They consisted of a letter from Tobias to each member of the family. He said he was unwell and obliged to keep his bed. He specified three nights, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. He had not the means to invite them to dinner, but would they come in afterwards and read a scientific book to him for a couple of hours? It was November and the nights were cold, and dark, and wet.

In reply to this the Reverend Guy sent him a tract called, "Am I walking in my Master's footsteps?" Valentine wrote and said he would have come, but he was no reader; at the same time, he thought it was a damned shame. No one else answered. On the Tuesday, much to his surprise, Lettice appeared. She was in a very bad temper, and she had last her umbrella on the bus coming along. She bullied him, but read a few chapters of a book on Crystals. She read so badly that Tobias was rude to her at the end of half an hour. She rounded on him for having dragged her all that way for nothing. She said she had had a headache and must go. Tobias was relieved when she went. He noted that she had read as far as page sixty-three. On Thursday no one came at all, but Ethel sent a postcard to say she had meant to come on Tuesday, but vas prevented at the last minute. She couldn't possibly manage either of the other two nights. She hoped he was going on all right, and that things might right themselves. On the last night of the tests the two old gentlemen dined together again. It was considered so remote a possibility that anyone would come that they decided to sit upstairs in the laboratory. Tobias would wear his dressing-gown, and if anyone should come, he would slip into bed, whilst Simon would hide behind the curtain which concealed the sink and lavatory at the end of the room.

The night was very dark and the wind was moaning round the skylight, but the two old friends were in good spirits. Tobias lighted his cigar and Simon his pipe, and they discussed cheerfully the better times to come.

"I am very grateful to you, Simon," said Tobias. "I certainly know how I stand, but I am very relieved that it is all over."

"Yes, yes. Well, we will make plans. We'll soon get you straight again. And while the change is being effected you must come down to Haslemere with me. But come, you were just going to tell me of this new idea of yours with regard to the fourth dimension."

Tobias's eye lighted up. He peered above the ash of his cigar and cleared his throat.

"The idea came to me on reflecting over this discovery of Professor Einstein with regard to the curvature of light. One presupposes that the stellar system—damn!"

"What's the matter, Tobias?"

"Didn't you hear? It was the bell."

"Oh!"

Simon walked stealthily to the door and opened it. The wind seemed to have found its way into the great corridors and passages. He heard the heavy laborious tread of old Mrs. Turner coming slowly up the stone staircase from the basement. She carried a lantern, for the house was in complete darkness, the electric light being presumably cut off. Tobias switched off the light in the laboratory and lighted a paraffin lamp.

"Thank God!" he murmured. "This is the last test. If it's Lettice, I shall simply be rude again."

"No, no, you must be fair," said Simon. "Remember she got as far as page sixty-three."

Tobias got into bed, but Simon hovered by the door. He heard the old woman go wheezing across the hall and slip back the chain on the front door. He listened intently and then drew back into the room.

"It's a man," he said. "I couldn't see whom."

He walked quietly across the room and took up his position behind the curtain. Tobias again muttered "Damn!" and settled down to the posture of the invalid. He was in a very bad mood. He had been rubbed of a cigar in its most intriguing phase, and of the development of an interesting theory at its very birth. They could follow the slow progress of Mrs. Turner, in the van of her late visitor, from floor to floor. Her steps resounded on the bare boards, but the man they could not hear at all. On the landings she stopped to get her breath, and her pulmonary disturbances carried above the wind. The journey seemed interminable. At last she fumbled against the latch of the door.

"A gentleman to see you, sir."

Simon peered through the crack of the curtain, and Tobias turned his weary head in her direction.

In the doorway stood—Harold!

"He's shaved off his moustache," was the first thought which flashed through the mind of Tobias.

There was something phantom-like, unconvincing, about the figure of Harold. He appeared almost to hesitate whether to advance or to bolt from the room again. He looked sideways at Mrs. Turner and did not speak until she had closed the door. Then he walked gingerly up to the bed and said: "Hallo, Uncle."

The visit was so unexpected, and the appearance so surprising, that the old gentleman had no difficulty in simulating the dazed outlook of the invalid. He put out his hand without speaking.

Harold took it and laughed nervously.

"I've come, you see," he stuttered at length, and glanced from the invalid to the dim recesses of the laboratory. He seemed to be listening to the retreating footsteps of Mrs. Turner.

"Sit down," said Tobias, and he pointed to a chair by the lamp.

"Bit lonely here, ain't you, Uncle? All alone in the house, eh? Except for the old—" he jerked his thumb in the direction of the door.

"What's his game?" thought Tobias, and he began to idly speculate upon the young man's motives and character. His thin, rather clever, dissolute face appeared in blotches of irregular colour. His eyes were unnaturally bright. He was red round the temples, but his lips and chin were white. He appeared to be shivering, although the room was warm.

On the table, by the lamp, was an old and heavy volume on Crystals. Tobias pointed a long finger at it and remarked:

"There's the book."

Harold appeared startled, as though he did not understand. He muttered:

"Eh?...the book?"

"Yes, you have come to read to me, haven't you?"

He stared at the book as though mesmerized by its ancient pattern. He touched it with his fingers and turned it over. Then he sniggered again.

"Eh? Oh, yes, of course."

"Sit down then and begin at page one."

Harold obeyed. He thrust the book as near under the lamp as possible and found the place. Then he coughed and looked round at Tobias.

"Go on. Begin at the first paragraph."

He stared at the page fora long time, as though he was not seeing it. Then hesitatingly he began to read. Curiously enough, after the first few paragraphs, he read quite well. His voice was thin and without resonance, but he spoke distinctly and as though the words had meaning. Now and then he would stop and glance furtively round the room. He did not look at Tobias. The wind was still moaning against the skylight; otherwise the room seemed unnaturally silent and remote. At the end of a chapter he sat feverishly rubbing his chin and temple, like an animal heated in the chase. Then he plunged into the book again as though it held some secret charm against a sinister menace. Tobias made no comment; he lay there listening and watching. The night grew late and still Harold read on. Doubtless by this time the old woman would have gone to her bed in the basement. She was rather deaf...very feeble. A long way off could occasionally be heard the hoot of a motor-horn. The room was getting cold. Harold stumbled on, beginning to read huskily. Suddenly he turned over a page and gave a cry...

He started up and stared hard at Tobias. The old man was observing him intently.

"What is this? What is the meaning of this, Uncle?"

In his hand he held a thin, half-sheet of notepaper on which was written the word "Stop" Beneath this sheet of paper was a Bank of England note for one thousand pounds. Across his face there swept a mingled expression of amazement, fear, greed, and a kind of desperate resolve. What his immediate action would have been is open to conjecture, for he was subjected to a further startling shock. He seemed to hear a movement behind him and turning, he beheld the trim figure of Lawyer Occleve, standing by the curtain and idly toying with a long, steel straight-edge.

"Perhaps you will allow me to explain on behalf of my client."

The acid tones of the lawyer's voice seemed to bite the air. He pointed at the chair and continued:

"You may sit down. There is nothing to be alarmed about. The money is yours. My client, as you know, is what is known as a crank. In one of his eccentric moods he set his relatives this little test. When he is old, penniless, and ill, of no use to any of them, whoever has sufficient charity of heart to turn out on a cold night and come and read an uninteresting book to him so far as page 189 shall have a thousand pounds. This is only one of many little tests which, in his fanciful way, he has conceived."

Harold stood up.

"But I don't get the thousand pounds? Not for that? Not just for doing that!"

"Yes, the money is yours."

And suddenly the young man behaved in a most peculiar way. He flung the note from him, and burying his face in his hands, he burst into sobs.

"No, no, no...I can't. You don't know. I'm bad, but—my God! no!"

"My client is not so poverty-stricken as circumstances may appear."

"I know all that."

He looked at Tobias and fell on his knees by the bed.

"Do you know why I came to-night?" he said hoarsely.

"Why?"

"I came to rob you."

He spoke rapidly, as though the relief of confession might be thwarted by some further development.

"I've signed on for an oil ship leaving Tilbury at eight in the morning for South America. I was desperate. Do you remember, Uncle, telling me about education? Applied observation, you called it. Well, I've done a bit of applied observation over this game. I knew there was something on. I've been watching. I followed one of these 'bailiffs' to an office in Brick Court, and I watched that, and one day I saw Mr. Occleve come out and get into a car, in which was Mr. Peters. I was outside here one morning at six o'clock. I saw the men gutting the halls and staircases, but I never saw no furniture vans come to take the things away. So I reasoned they were still here, and the house was full of valuables, and there was some game on. I didn't know what it was. But it looked like some plan to let the whole family in. Whatever happened, I knew I stood to get nothing. If there was a will I shouldn't be in it. My only chance was to find a will and destroy it; then I should be in the share-out. I came to-night to—see if I could find a will. If I couldn't, I was going to take anything I could find and clear out. I was going to take it, mind you. I wasn't going to be scrupulous how. There was only the old woman...I never saw you come in, Mr. Occleve."

"No? Well, since you are making an honest confession, I will tell you that I have an entry from the mews at the back through the basement. And might I ask what you were prepared to do if any of the other relatives called?"

"Yes. I got Annie to write to them all to say that she was coming. And, as a matter of fact, she was. She wanted to come. Then at the last minute I sent her a telegram to say that her mother was sick at Hendon. I knew that would fetch her off."

"Then your wife didn't know you were coming here?"

"No."

"Does she know you're going away?"

"No."

"Well, how will she manage?"

"She'll be glad. She'll manage somehow like the others. I've never been no use to her."

Suddenly he turned to Tobias and said eagerly:

"Uncle, if you can spare it—send her this thousand quid. I don't want it. I've always been a gambler, and ready to take my chance. Perhaps, in a way, it would make up a bit for the way I've mucked things. She's been a good girl and little Dick..."

Tobias coughed and spoke for the first time.

"Very well. Give me an address. I can write to you."

"My name's Thomas Carter. I suppose 'Poste restante, Buenos Ayres,' would find me. You're not going to give me in charge, then, Uncle?"

"No. I've nothing to charge you with except—stupidity. When you get to South America, try and apply your observation to more worthy ends. Your wife shall be provided for. Good night!"

And the little old man got out of bed and lighted a cigar.

Harold stumbled forward and held out his hand.

"Good-bye, Uncle, and God bless—"

Tobias gave the hand a little jerky pressure and muttered:

"All right, all right. If you are in difficulties, call on my agent in the Plaza Gonzalo in Buenos Ayres. He may have word from me. Switch on the electric light in the hall as you go out, and pull the door to. Good-bye."

The two old gentlemen sat facing each other. They heard the footsteps of Harold hurrying down the stairs, the click of the electric light switch, and the bang of the front door. Then Tobias stood up and walked slowly across the room.

"It is late, Simon; but I think a little night-cap, eh?"

"I am of opinion that it would be appropriate, and well deserved."

They each compounded their own mixture. Tobias took three short sips; then he said:

"With regard to the theory of the curvature of light, my opinion is..."


If you had access to the secret archives locked in one of Lawyer Occleve's safes, you might come across a very remarkable document. It is the will of Mr. Tobias Tullery. It would astound you with its lucidity. You would be in a quandary to know whether to praise more highly the fine craftsmanship of its construction or the broad-minded liberality of its intention. Various institutions working for the betterment of mankind are not only generously endowed, but are given an invaluable lead in the wide interpretation of their activities. Towards the end, under the head of "family bequests," the phraseology appears to belong to another mood, as though a lawyer had worded the earlier portions, but had left this purely domestic section to the will-maker himself. It runs as follows:

To my relatives I bequeath such sums as appear to be merited by their behaviour to me when I endured a period of great distress. To those of them who returned me a portion of the money I lent them, I bequeath it a hundredfold. That is to say, to Clara Bower, who returned me forty-five pounds, I bequeath four thousand five hundred. To Lettice, Mrs. Guy Tollery, who returned fifteen pounds, I bequeath fifteen hundred pounds. To Valentine Bower, because he said he was "damned sorry," I leave five hundred pounds. To the Reverend Guy Tollery I leave a dressing-case and a new set of false teeth, as a memento of me. To Mrs. Valentine Bower and her daughter Ethel, I leave two hundred pounds each, for no reason other than that I am a fool. To Annie, wife of Harold Bower, because she one day brought me a pork pie when she thought I was hungry, and who would have read to me quite disinterestedly only that her husband prevented her, I leave the residue of my estate to be held in trust for her son Richard, for whom I have formed a real affection.

Schis represented the family bequests of Tobias Tollery, no mention being made of what he had done for them in life, or of a Quixotic act of generosity he afterwards performed for a man who would have murdered him.

Whether all these liberal benefices will ever be distributed as ordained is still an open question, for old Tobias is still alive, and he hasn't yet completed his experiment with regard to the question of extracting nitrogen from the air.


16. Two Bootmakers

Jim Griggs was a bootmaker from the village of Walldren in Essex. He was a mild-eyed placid little man, nearing his fortieth year. He was happy in his home life with his true and faithful wife Jenny and his three children Agnes, Isobel and young Scom, aged three.

Jim Griggs made and repaired boots for the people of the village, and the surrounding neighbourhood, and he took a quiet and dignified pride in his work. He had no ambitions other than to do his work well, and to keep his wife and children in decent comfort. He had never travelled, except twice to London, and his education was of the sort obtained at a village board school in the 'eighties (and since forgotten). He lived laborious days, and in the evening smoked a pipe and discussed the local gossip with his wife. On Sundays he went to church and read the Sunday newspapers, and occasionally played the harmonium in the stuffy little sitting-room, which was only used on Sundays. There was a profusion of antimacassars and photograph frames, a stuffed pheasant in a glass case, and over the harmonium a coloured text which said, "Christ died to save sinners." On rare occasions Jim would g? to the village inn and drink a glass of beer with a neighbour, and once or twice a year he would g? to the market, or to the flower show at Dudlands Park. This was approximately the extent of his recreations. If you had asked him a question about France, Germany, or Russia, beyond knowing that they were foreign countries he would have been almost as vague as if he were called upon to air his views on the Fourth Dimension. Foreigners were romantic folk, very often clever, but essentially people to be treated with suspicion. Foreign boots were dumped on the market, "flashily built machine-made things." They looked all right at first glance, but on inspection they were found to be full of faults and moreover they didn't last. There was nothing like English leather, and there were no boots like the boots made by Jim Griggs in the village of Walldren.

One day they came and told Jim Griggs that England, France and Russia were at war with Germany and Austria, and Jim said:

"You don't say so! Dear, oh dear!"

Jim and the other villagers took a sudden interest in the newspapers, which they read avidly. It soon became evident to them from a careful study of the press that the Belgians, French and Russians were splendid fellows, whilst the Germans and Austrians were Huns and barbarians, who would have to be crushed. As the months went by a certain mild surprise pervaded the village at the difficulties of the task, and there was almost a consternation when Mr. Pirbright, the schoolmaster, gave it out as his opinion that the affair might last six months or even longer. Nevertheless the war cannot be said to have assumed any very realistic shape to the inhabitants. A few of the boys enlisted and were sent to a camp near Colchester to train. Sco Jim Griggs the whole thing was beyond imagination. He looked upon it as some peculiarly extravagant manifestation of the press. It was like some vague historical pageant that happened long ago and which would come to a comfortable and satisfactory curtain in due course. He took little interest in politics and had long ago forgotten all the history he had learnt. These things bore very little relation to boots. If the boot trade were to be affected, now!—

However, Jim found that in spite of the war people still wanted boots. In fact boots seemed to be in greater demand than ever. He experienced certain difficulties in getting leather, and there was delay in the delivery of brads and paste, but apart from that, when the first excitement was over, he had the rest of his fellow—villagers settled down to their normal lives, and accepted the war as an unfortunate accident which did not concern them very greatly.

A year went by and the schoolmaster's prophecy was forgotten among the limbo of other prophecies and rumours, and still the Huns and barbarians were ravaging the fair fields of France and the busy cities of Belgium. Sometimes at night they would be awakened by the angry "gv-v-v" of Zeppelin propellers and the sharp crack of anti-aircraft guns. A bomb was dropped in a turnip field at Manningham, barely seven miles away. And still things seemed to get worse rather than better.

Mr. Gates, the corn-chandler, learnt that his son was killed, and young Lieutenant Archer, the vicar's only boy, lost both his legs at the battle of Ypres. The months went slowly by and then Conscription—that most un-English, liberty-tampering invention—was brought in and more and more of the boys and men disappeared from the villages and fields. The war indeed had been in progress for nearly three years when Jim Griggs himself received a buff slip of paper instructing him to report for a medical examination.

Jim Griggs was slightly built, but he was wiry and he had nothing organically wrong. He was passed in Grade I, and after a brief interval ordered to report for military service.

Not till this final instruction was in his hands did he credit that such a thing could be. He was forty. He had not given military matters half an hour's consideration in his life.

"I ain't much of a fightin' man," he said somewhat pathetically to old Skinner, the wheelwright, as he glanced round his shop. He was not conscious of any militaristic or vindictive feeling to any living thing. He had never been like that. Credit must be given to Jim that his first and dominant thought was for Jenny and the children. He discovered that a generous Government made provision for his wife and children during his absence. It was not as much as Jim Griggs made at bootmaking, but they would be able to subsist upon it.

And so a day came when Jim went into his little workshop for the last time. He threw an old canvas sack over his lasts, and wrapped his tools up in oiled rags. He felt a queer choking sensation as he looked round the shed, haunted by the ghosts of many happy and laborious memories, but he thrust the feeling back, for he knew he had a more difficult farewell to make. He kissed his wife and the little girls quite cheerily, murmuring:

"1'11 be back all right quite soon, old girl. Be good, Agnes. Be good, Issy." It was only when he picked the little boy up and bounced him high above his head that a tear started to his eye as he said:

"My little Tom! God bless you!"

He brushed the tear quickly away, for it would not do to let his wife see his weakness. She walked with him to the cross-roads, where they picked up Mr. Mellows' dog-cart. Mr. Mellows was a farmer, driving in to Paveney junction to market, and he offered Jim a lift.

The last he saw of his home life was the figure of his wife waving to him from the cross-roads, and smiling through her tears. And so, in similar case to many million others, Jim Griggs went off to the Great War.


Karl Schuch was a bootmaker in a small way at M——, a suburb of Chemnitz. He was a solemn kind-hearted man, and he adored his plump wife Luise and his little son Hans, who was now five years old. His affection for his two daughters, Martha and Cécile, was only tempered by a mild disappointment that they had been born girls and not boys, and that Martha was quite clever and carried off prizes at the Bürgerschule. Apart from the period of his military training when he had been sent to a garrison town in Westphalia, Karl Schuch had spent the whole of his life in or near Chemnitz, and there he had met and married his wife. Once he had worked for two years in the Chemnitzer Schuhwaaren-Fabrik. It was a large boot monopoly which catered to foreign markets, particularly English and American. He had left at the end of that time because he did not approve of their methods. They were slipshod and there was too much machinery.

Karl was a sincere and conscientious bootmaker. He adored boots. He would be quite happy in his little workshop amidst the smell of hide and paste and he would sing to himself as he pored over his work. Occasionally he would get up and go to the back, where the family lived, and call out: "Wife, my clean apron!" or "Wife, when do we eat to-day?" or "Cécile, bring the lamp from the yard."

Apart from bootcraft he was not a particularly clever man, but of one thing he was rather proud. At the Chemnitzer Schuhwaaren-Fabrik he had come in touch with English and American agents and mechanics, and had picked up a smattering of English. He would sometimes impress the family with some English phrase, and the girls boasted at school that their father spoke English like a native. Karl worked very long hours and very assiduously and even then he found it difficult to make ends meet, and it would have been almost impossible if Frau Schuch had not been a very competent and efficient wife. She made a little go a long way, and not only managed to do all her own house work, but also laundry work for some of her better-off neighbours. The family lived in three rooms at the back of the shop, with the help of an outhouse, where washing was done. The living-room was a commodious place with a large stove, some heavy walnut furniture upholstered in horsehair, many cupboards with oleographs of royal personages swinging on the doors, a quantity of coloured glass vases, and a photograph of a tombstone covered with immortelles. The inscription on the tombstone indicated that it was erected to the memory of Karl Schuch's mother. The family worked hard all the week. Sunday was a day of complete relaxation. In the summer evenings Karl and his wife and one of the girls—alternately, according to a strict rule—would go to a café and listen to the band in the square, and in the winter would adjourn to the Hofbräuhaus, and there they would all drink beer and Karl would smoke two cigars. Once a year they always went to Dresden to the opera. On these occasions an arrangement was made with a good neighbour to look after little Hans, so that both the girls should be able to go. They always stayed the night in Dresden with a married sister of Frau Schuch's, and so they made up a large party and were very merry and happy. Karl was a simple likeable fellow. He believed in God in a half-hearted way, and in his Emperor in a whole-hearted way. He made boots reverently and might have been more commercially successful if he had not been quite so conscientious and thorough. His life satisfied him and he had no great ambitions. One Sunday night he was sitting at his favourite café, smoking his second cigar; his wife was sitting next to him knitting, whilst Martha, looking somewhat stiff and self-conscious in her Sunday clothes, was gazing vacantly at the passers-by. There was an air of suppressed excitement about the streets. A somewhat dishevelled acquaintance came up and whispered something in his ear. Karl started and his queer eyes protruded from his puffy cheeks. The acquaintance departed, and Frau Schuch leant forward and said:

"Liebe Karl, what is it?"

Her good man stared solemnly through his thick glasses at the passing crowd, then he threw his half-finished cigar into the gutter, and replied:

"Kaput!"

Three days later he was called up to join the 181st Coy. of the 19th Saxon Dragoons. Within a month he had vanished behind the mists of war somewhere over the Belgian frontier.


And so it came about one night soon after the German drive of March, 1917, had exhausted itself, Jim Griggs found himself out on patrol duty in some godless swamp, groping and clambering through the semi-darkness and the moving slush. Experience had already hardened him to the terror of these things. He had adopted the soldiers' religion, which is the religion of the Fatalist. Either they get me or they don't. Either there's a bullet with my number on or there isn't. Either I get back to Blighty or I go to hell. Anyway it's no good worrying. At the same time don't be a —— fool. It was a comfortable philosophy, only qualified by the constant visages of—Home-if-anything-should-happen! Jenny, Agnes, Issy and little Scom. The old shed with the strips of leather and the canvas sack covering up his tools. The night seemed alive with thousands of mysterious eyes, all of which could see except his own. Someone was always watching him from some angle. Something was always crawling towards him across the mud. Splosh! Curse it, another shell-hole. He was up to his waist in water. He struggled out and reached a higher level. The ground here was all broken up into shell-holes connecting with each other. He groped his way round the angle of a projection and—bumped into another man. It was one of those peculiar positions which have often happened at the front. Each man realized that the other was an enemy. They were both confined within a narrow space. Both realized that to fight would mean certain death for one and probably for two. Neither felt at all disposed to add to his present misery and discomfort. They stood there within a few feet of each other silent, but very alert. Then the German said:

"Good evening, mister, will you have some cigarette?"

And Jim replied:

"O thank you, I don't mind if I do."

The enemy produced a packet of cigarettes, and Jim, in order to be as affable as possible, added:

"A nasty night! You talk English, then."

At that instant a star shell shot up and dropped right overhead, and instinctively each man threw himself on the ground. For a few seconds the unhappy spot they found themselves in was as light as day. And then an apparently insignificant fact impressed itself on Jim's mind. When he threw himself down he found his face within a few inches of the German's boots. Under the glare of the star shell he had nothing else to look at. The boots had just come through the water and most of the mud had been washed off, but what impressed Jim in that passing glimpse was that these were no ordinary boots. They were certainly not service boots of any nationality. They were hand-sewn boots, the work of a craftsman. The inevitable screaming of high-explosive shells followed the disappearance of the light. In the distance could be heard the steady rat-tat-tat of machine guns. They both lay still for nearly five minutes. Then they sat up and Jim said:

"I say, mate, that's a fine pair of boots of yours."

He could see the German grin with pleasure in the dim light as he replied:

"You like? I make zem myself. I am a bootmaker."

Jim chewed his cigarette, exclaiming:

"Go on! That's a funny thing! I'm a bootmaker, too!"

He showed the German his boots which he had made himself, and to his surprise the enemy produced a pocket electric torch and Jim found his boots being submitted to an exhaustive examination, interspersed with grunts of approval. When the examination was finished the German said:

"Ach! So! They are very beautiful boots!"

In broken sentences they discussed welts and leather and soles and uppers, and then a silence fell between them. Machine-guns were still busy in the distance, and rats went scuttling through the water near their feet. At last Jim said:

"Are you married?"

"Yes. God has blessed me with a good wife and three small children."

"Go on," replied Jim, as though it were a most surprising statement. "I've got a wife and three kids too. What's yours? Boys or girls?"

"I have two girls, Martha and Cécile, of twelve and thirteen years. And I have little Hans, who makes five years."

"Well, that's a funny thing! My gals, Agnes and Issy, are ten and eleven, and my young Tom's just three. Look 'ere, lend us your torch, mate. I'll show you his photograph."

The torch was once more produced, and Tom's plump baby face with his arms clinging round his mother's neck, and looking rather scared at the photographer, met with instant approval.

"That's my old girl," Jim added by way of explanation. He also produced two separate photographs of Agnes and Issy. And then Karl Schuch unpacked, from beneath voluminous folds within his tunic, a photograph of a family group. Karl himself was seated in the centre, with little Hans on his knee. His wife was standing up, but leaning over the chair with one hand on the boy's shoulder. The two girls were standing rigidly one on either side. Karl pointed a fat gloved finger at each member, declaiming solemnly:

"Frau Schuch, Martha, Cécile, little Hans."

Jim nodded sympathetically and repeated:

"Frow Schuch, Martha, Sessiler, little Hans." Then he added, "Yes, that's very nice."

Karl replaced the photograph and they again relapsed into silence. After a while Karl sighed. Jim looked across at him quickly.

"It's all very rum," he thought. The night seemed to grow darker. The propellers of some bombing plane could be heard very far away. It occurred to him that this was a very dangerous thing to do. It was what they called "fraternizing." You could be shot for fraternizing. Well, anyway, one might be shot at any time or even—something worse. What did it matter? They were out in No Man's Land, but owing to the configuration of the shell holes they were not observable from either lines, which at this particular point were about two hundred yards apart. It was the confounded Verey lights he detested. He produced a packet of Woodbines, and his new acquaintance acknowledged that they were greatly superior to the cigarettes he smoked himself. A fine rain began to fall, and it was yet two hours before the dawn. In the intense loneliness, surrounded by unknown terrors, Jim felt strangely drawn to this silent fat man whom he ought to have been killing. He repeated once more: "Frow Schuch, Martha, Sessiler, and little Hans!" and then he became silent again. Through the driving masses of thin clouds, stars would sometimes flicker and disappear as though they were racing away from a polluted world. After a long interval, Jim remarked:

"Boys are very cruel."

"Boys?" queried his companion.

"Yes. I don't know what made me think of it. I was just thinking. I remember when I was at school the boys used to catch two stag-beetles. You know those big black chaps with horns. Then they'd draw lots as to who should cut his finger. The boy who lost would make a little cut on his finger with a pen-knife. Then they'd smear the blood over the beetles' heads and make 'em fight. It's funny, but it did. They went for each other and got their horns mixed up. They usually both got killed—"

Karl Schuch's knowledge of English did not enable him to follow this account, but he felt that he was being told some pathetic story, so he nodded his head sympathetically and murmured:

"Ja wohl! Yes...yes...very sad!"

At the end of another silence, Jim said suddenly:

"I believe that's the rest of my party working their way by them farm buildings. I guess we'd better split."

The German nodded.

"I thank you for a pleasant time. Will you tell me your name, bootmaker?"

"Why of course, matey."

And then by the light of the torch these men exchanged cards. That is to say, Jim tore a corner off a sheet in his pay-book and wrote his name and address. And Karl tore off the fly-leaf from a neat diary and inscribed his. They exchanged these and shook hands.

"Well, good-bye, old cock and good luck!" said Jim.

"God be with you, bootmaker!" replied the German, and he stumbled through the rain and became lost in the darkness.

Three days after that Jim's company was almost annihilated. With eleven others he was sent back to a base to be refitted and redrafted. Then he was despatched to another part of the line. For a month he lived almost continuously under fire. Three times he went over the top. He lived through gas attacks with his mask on. He bombed dug-outs, and became inured to death and anguish in every form. But still the bullet with his number on did not find him. He went for days and nights without food. Water was almost always obtainable from shell holes when they were not choked with dead or dying. He learnt some of the tricks of fighting and how to obtain the best cover in attack. He observed the peculiar and unaccountable effect of danger on the character of his fellows—alternating waves of cowardice and bravery. One day he found a sergeant who had performed amazing acts of heroism hiding in a cellar and crying like a child. He slept in the open with the rain pouring on him, and the angry purr of aeroplanes overhead. He got to know the various shells before they "arrived," and to crack vermin in his shirt, and to cook Maconochie under a candle end in the rain. And in brief moments of respite he cleaned his brass buttons, and wrote to his wife a letter which always commenced:

My dear wife, everything all right so far—

and always ended:

Well there's nothing more at present. My love and kisses to you all and the girls and little Tom. With love, your loving husband.

All these experiences Jim went through and he looked upon them as "unusual." They did not impress him fundamentally. They had to be endured, and there it was. Everybody else was doing it. He had not the type of mind which questioned and analyzed. The only experience which seemed to touch some questioning chord in his nature was the experience of meeting a fellow bootmaker—albeit an enemy and barbarian—on that dark night. He felt in some peculiar way that under happier circumstances he and the father of Martha, Sessiler and little Hans might have found much in common, might indeed have been friends. At odd moments, when not occupied in the primitive purposes of life, he would gaze into space, and as though repeating a lesson would mumble:

"Frow Shuck, Martha, Sessiler, and little Hans."

It seemed strange that Mr. Schuch, who knew nothing about him and who made such excellent boots, and was the father of children very like his own, should be sent to a foreign country to try and kill him, Jim Griggs, who bore him no animosity. He did not argue this query to any logical conclusion, but the sense of it left him strangely disturbed. Some weeks later he was sent to a part of the line amongst a lot of tumbled débris which had once been a village. Here they were heavily attacked. A Saxon division came over in wave after wave and were badly cut up. The battle lasted for nearly thirty hours, and in the end the Germans were forced to retire. Soon after dawn Jim and two others were bringing up supplies of hand grenades through what was once the village street. It was littered with dead and reeked of poison gas. His two companions trailed ahead. By the angle of a wall Jim's eye lighted on the form of a dead German twisted in a peculiar manner. He went up and turned him over. It was his friend Karl Schuch of Chemnitz. He was wounded in the leg and slightly on the head. His gas mask had been destroyed. He had been probably brought down and then gassed by his own people. He must have suffered horribly...And then Jim trembled and an unaccountable feeling of sickness came over him. He had seen hundreds of dead men during the last few weeks, hundreds of men who had met that bullet with the right number on, but this seemed somehow different. In a flash he seemed conscious of the dead man's personality. He felt in some way responsible. The vision of his home life, perhaps so much like his own, danced before his eyes. Frow Schuch! little Hans! Jim knelt on the ground and tears started to his eyes. For the first time he became a being in revolt.

"It's a damn shame! It's a damn shame!" he kept repeating. He stroked the dead man's shoulders and his legs, and then a peculiar impulse came to him. He looked at his boots and quite reverently he removed them, cross-strung them, and added them to his many other impedimenta.

He could not exactly account for his action. It was certainly not with the idea of robbing the dead. He did not know what he intended to do with the boots. He had no intention of wearing them, and most assuredly he would not give them away. But they were in some way a sacred link with a fellow-craftsman. No one else must desecrate them. He felt that his friend would understand...

As he rose with the boots dangling round his waist, a voice bawled from amongst some ruins:

"Nah then you there! 'Urry up! What yer 'anging abaht for?"


It was three weeks later that Jim's bullet found him. It was a machine-gun bullet, and it splintered the bone just above the ankle. It was a very busy time, and men lay in heaps in the field dressing stations awaiting attention. Someone ran a needle into his chest and then he was left for twenty-four hours. By the time he arrived at the operating table the wound had become septic. They were also short of anaesthetics. They injected cocaine into his thigh, and his leg was removed from just below the knee. Then he was sent to a base hospital, where two other operations were found to be necessary. After the second he developed pneumonia, and his life hung in the balance for many days. When eventually he was fit enough to hold a pencil, he wrote to his wife and varied his usual opening. He commenced:

My dear wife, I have been a bit dicky since I last wrote...

Also he varied the conclusion:

Please God I will be back home soon. Don't let them young rabbits get into Mr. Mead's turnip field. My love to you all.

And then at last the great day dawned when he saw the cliffs of Blighty through the sea mist. Two great days when he hung impatiently about the bleak buildings of a discharge centre. And a great night when he hobbled up the High Street of Walldren on crutches with his wife by his side. And familiar faces came up out of the mist and said:

"Why, bless me, it's old Jim! How be 'ee, Jim?"

He was all right. There was very little to tell. Thank God the war was over. He was glad to be back home. How was old so-and-so? The girls ran out to meet him, and in the cottage little Tom screamed at first when he beheld his father with something so peculiar about him, and hid his face in his mother's skirt. But very quickly he got over this, and his bright eyes glowed as he lisped an account of how Kitchener, the big black rabbit, had got out into the road and been nearly run over by a cart. The sitting-room had not been used while Jim was away and all the furniture had been covered with newspapers, but on this occasion it was formally reopened and the brass lamp stood in the centre of the round table laden with good things. The girls sat up to supper and Jim listened. They could not get him to talk about the war or of his experiences. He wanted to hear all about everyone in the village, and the girls' adventures at the school-treat, and the troubles there had been about food.

After supper he lighted a candie and went out into the shed. There was the canvas sack flung across the lasts, the bundles of oiled tools, strips of leather and old tins and bootlaces, everything as he had left it. He stood then sometime peering about contentedly. On the morrow he could continue...everything would be the same again. It was very wonderful. When his wife and the girls had retired to bed he sat up some time smoking. The ashes had fallen in the grate. The lamp made little spluttering noises. It was extraordinarily quiet and peaceful. His eye wandered round the room and lighted on the text above the harmonium:

"Christ died to save sinners."

"Yes," he thought quite inconsequently. "I nearly died too."

And he turned out the lamp and went upstairs to bed.

Somehow he could not bring himself to tell his wife about his adventure with his fellow-bootmaker, nor of the plan which was developing in his mind. He would not be able to explain it to her satisfactorily, for indeed he could scarcely explain it to himself.

If he had said to her, "My dear, I have the idea of making a pair of boots for Frow Schuch, and also for Martha, Sessiler and little Hans, she would have said:

"Whatever for, Jim?"

And if he had replied:

"Oh, I don't know. You see—who will make boots for them now? Suppose it had been the other way about?" His wife might have replied:

"Well, suppose it had been. Would he have made boots for us?"

This he could have had no possible reply to. In some ways it did not seem pertinent. It was some peculiar kink in his own nature he wanted to satisfy. He was dominated by the idea.

In the months that followed Jim was very busy. Everyone seemed to have left having their boots repaired till he returned. Nevertheless he found time to carry out his scheme. He had no measurements to go by, but he knew the ages and he allowed an ample margin. German people were fat, and the women had large feet. Many a lady would have been grossly offended at receiving such a gift as the pair of boots that Jim Griggs made for Frau Schuch. And on a shelf just above where he worked there always rested a large pair of field boots, their laces dangling free. Many people asked about these boots, but Jim was not very communicative. They were just a pair he had picked up. Farmer Iddles offered him two pounds for them, but he refused the offer.

And then one day he tied up a very neat and careful package and stitched it up in canvas. It contained four pairs of excellent boots made with the best English leather. Very laboriously he copied out the address, his tongue protruding from his lips as he wrote:

"Frow Schuch, Pumpernickelstrasse 127, Chemnitz."

He gave no name or address of the sender, but he hobbled over to Paveney Junction and sent it off himself, for as he thought he didn't want old Brown at the general shop (which was also the local post office) talking and asking questions.


In a local sorting office not far from Dresden, two tired officials were wearily carrying out their duties late one evening. Their names were Salzmann and Bausch. Bausch was calling out the destination of various parcels to Salzmann, who flung them carelessly on to a long table divided into receptacles. After a while Salzmann became conscious that Bausch had been silent for several minutes, and, moreover, that he was examining and feeling one package very carefully. He said:

"'What is it, comrade?"

"Boots! by all that's holy!"

Salzmann came slowly over to him and felt the package. Then he said:

"Where is Quartermaster Zeitz?"

"He has gone to the corner. That pretty girl who squints will be there..."

"Lend us your knife, comrade."

In less than a minute the canvas was ripped off.

"God in heaven! boots of the very best! Four stout pairs!" exclaimed Bausch.

"Yes, yes, yes," reiterated Salzmann. "Very, very fine boots, of the very best leather. Why now, how this pair would fit my little Walter! and these my two girls. They wore their boots out the year before last. You're not a married man, lucky Bausch!"

"This big pair I could wear myself," answered Bausch quietly.

"H'm! So! Well now, we won't quarrel about this, comrade. You shall have the big pair for yourself and I will have the three small pairs for my offspring."

"Well...as you say," acquiesced the lazy Bausch.

The two men started to walk gingerly across the room to the passage where they kept their hats and coats, when suddenly a voice roared out:

"Now then, you swine! What are you up to?"

"Damn!" muttered Bausch, "the girl who squints wasn't there. He's drunk."

A fat man with very red cheeks and bristling hair bore down upon them.

"Ah, you devils!" he bawled; "I've caught you! Stealing again! Curse you, give me those things."

"The parcel arrived open, quartermaster," wailed Bausch. "We were going to get some hemp."

"You dirty pigs, you lie!"

The big man grabbed the boots and the canvas and pushed Salzmann violently over a desk. The small eyes of Salzmann glittered dangerously. He glowered from behind a pile of sacks.

"That's enough of that," he screamed. "The day for that sort of thing is over. I'll do you in if you report us. You're a thief yourself."

Quartermaster Zeitz hurled one of the boots at his head and he ducked. There was a brief scuffle and Salzmann was flung with violence to the floor, whilst Bausch managed to strike the quartermaster on the side of the head. It ended in a storm of vituperation and threats, and eventually Zeitz retired to the little office at the end of the room, clutching the boots and the canvas covering in his hands. Once installed there he thrust the canvas case into the stove without looking at the address, and he sat there muttering and talking to himself. Then he gradually began to consider the boots. They were magnificent boots, made of the fines English leather. H'm, well, so! Zeitz had no children of his own, and the large pair were not big enough for him. But, perhaps they'd do who Lena, the girl who had failed to keep her appointment. In any case, boot were—boots. On his way out he said:

"I'm sorry I lost my temper, comrades. I've been a bit overwrought, worried by the war. Please forget all about it. Go and buy yourselves some refreshments on your way home."

And he put down five marks on the corner of the table. But in the early morning tramcar Zeitz went sound asleep, and the parcel of boots was stolen by an individual named Straesemann, who earned his living by stealing parcels and acting as a medium for shady transactions. And Straesemann sold the boots to a dealer in Dresden for two hundred marks, and on the proceeds drank himself into an inebriates' home.


In that mood which is neither dreamland nor reality Jim Griggs was lying in his bed. It was just dawn and some sparrows were already twittering outside the cottage window. And there came to him a consciousness of something pleasant and pervadingly tranquil. He had not yet focused any definite vision of the day or of his own place in it, but he knew that it held some secret that was peculiarly his own, something that even his wife did not share. It was as though he had suddenly discovered that a thing of clay had become a jewel possessing rare and uplifting qualities. It stilled some clamorous instinct. It satisfied and enthralled him and became more and more a thing of beauty, because it was always to be found there in his heart. He might lose it for a time, he might not know of its presence, but it would always come back to him, and no one had the power to take it from him. Neither did it concern covenants, nor indeed the bare attainment of success or failure. It was something much bigger than that, because it called unto the deep. It was more endurable than that, because it stretched out through the darkness and was already conscious of the dawn, which it desired so intensely...

Jim sighed and awakened to the world. He blinked at the light and turning on his side he thought:

"I'll just have another forty winks. Then I must go and feed them young rabbits."


17. Madame Fatality

The inconsistencies of human nature—especially female human nature—were a constant theme for discussion on the part of Jean François Jacquemin. Now there was Marcelle. What did that jagged scar on his own left jaw denote? Was it not eternal evidence that he had fought for her and won? Was she not his woman? Had he not even pandered to her feminine whimsy by going through a form of marriage with her? Had he not for the last eight years kept her in comparative comfort and even luxury? And was she satisfied?...Bah! women were unreadable.

It is true that he was considerably older than she—for he was fifty-three. But he still preserved a good deal of the vigour of youth. His brain was still cool, his nerve steady, his eye co-ordinating with the supple movement of muscles, almost as efficiently as on the day when he had fought with the long-armed Barouzel one early morning nine years ago in a disused brickfield out beyond Charenton. It had been a pretty fight, both men stripped to the waist, and armed with short knives of equal length. Each man had three supporters, Barouzel's being members of a gang of which he was the chief. There had also been present Marcelle and a lady called "The Mountain of the Moon," a large flabby person. All present knew what the fight was about, and it was conducted with that precise regard for conformity which you may only find amongst people who are a conscious unit in an inimical body. The fight had lasted seven minutes. Jacquemin had lost the top of a thumb, and had received a gash in the side and in the jaw. He had been apparently a beaten man. The arms of Barouzel were too long for him. And then, during a brief pause, his eye had alighted on Marcelle. Her face was pale, and the eyes distended, the lips drawn tightly over her small white teeth. Her expression gave no indication of preference or prejudice. It was the ice-cold image of detached judgment, cruel but terribly beautiful. Somehow or other it nerved him to a supreme effort. He was no longer Jean François Jacquemin. He was an atom in a chain of fatality, laughing defiantly at death. He threw back his head and laughed and his opponent rushed into administer the coup de grâce. Jacquemin ducked and fell, and as he fell he lunged upward. The knife grazed the wall of Barouzel's heart.

They buried him under a pile of bricks and nettles. The secret of the battle had been honourably preserved. Barouzel's friends were probably not on too good terms with the gendarmerie at that time, and in any case there was no useful purpose to be served by informing. Jacquemin had taken the girl away with him and married her. She was enchanting, adorable, and baffling. He knew no more about her now than he did on the day of the fight. Her moods varied like April winds. She was passionate, gentle, sullen, cold, loving, jealous and untameable. And always about her there was to Jean François this sense of fatality. Fatality is perhaps the most difficult of all things to understand. Many a time he would have given anything to be rid of her, but always he came back to her like a dog conscious of misbehaviour. She was the only thing he feared, she and her sense of fate.

Soon after their marriage a clumsy little affair out at Neuilly, where a fool of a colleague had awakened a household through stepping through a skylight, had led to Jean François being put under lock and key for two years. When he came out Marcelle was waiting for him. He knew she would be. But she expressed no delight or surprise at seeing him, neither did he ever discover how she had managed to live during those two years, and he thought of himself:

"When the time comes she will kill me as one does an old and useless dog." This idea became an obsession, and as he got older he would mumble about it to himself, retaining no animosity against the woman herself, but simply regarding her as an instrument of fate. He would talk about her detachedly as Madame Fatality. Returning at night with the spoils of some dubious enterprise he would mutter: "Well, now, my old cabbage, what will Madame Fatality have to say about this? what will she demand, eh?"

But the strangest thing of all was her jealousy. Why should she be jealous of him, a battered old crock of fifty-three. If he had been jealous of her it might have been reasonable. She was young and beautiful. But he! he had never even been much of a lady's man, and now—well, Marcelle satisfied him. He had no designs about other women, but should he so much as glance at one, he would see that uncanny glitter creep into the back of his wife's eyes. There was the absurd case of the widow Sélonier, who kept a little brasserie over in the Marais. On occasions jean François had been there for refreshment, for Madame Sélonier kept the things he loved. There was an inviting bar at which one could sit up on a high stool and regale oneself with sardines, olives, anchovies and beer. It was his favourite kind of meal. And on two occasions Marcelle had discovered him there passing the time of day with Madame Sélonier. Her suspicions were aroused, and quickly fanned the flames of an unreasonable jealousy. It was quite useless for him to protest that it was Madame SéIonier's anchovies that attracted him, and not her person. She simply did not believe it. And Jean, his ears smarting with the burning accusations of his wife, went along the street murmuring:

"There it is. I am a vile wanton. Madame Fatality says so."

Although meekly accepting this verdict, the incident about Madame Sélonier and the anchovies rankled. Jean François always prided himself upon his own gentlemanly behaviour. Among his associates he moved like a prince. He sprang from some dubious stock in which the gentleman was evident. During his career he had been a clerk, a tramp, a sergeant in an infantry regiment, a cook, a skilled decorator, a forger, a dealer in stolen property, a housebreaker, a pick-pocket, a general agent, and at one time nearly the mayor of a small town in Scouraine. All these enterprises he conducted with a certain flair. He had killed two men in open combat, and broken the faces of others, but he had never murdered for money, or been a blackmailer or a seducer. He dressed well, kept himself clean and his table manners were irreproachable. This was one of the chief points of divergence between himself and the woman who seemed to hold his destiny in the hollow of her hands. Marcelle's table manners were abominable. She made noises eating her soup, she put her knife in her mouth, picked up her bones, and sometimes behaved as though knives and forks had never been invented. For this reason Jean François frequently made excuses to lunch or dine out by himself, and he would pass in any restaurant as a thoroughly respectable citizen of the better class. And then dining alone his thoughts would revert inexorably to Marcelle. He could hardly finish his meal. He would push away the dish of artichokes, and his hand would fumble in his breast pocket for some trinket or jewel.

"Madame Fatality is calling me," he would think. And his mind would register the queer reflection that her call upon him was more potent when she was absent than when she was present. The very uncertainty of his reception acted as a kind of magnet. When he returned and thrust the trinket upon her, she might throw her arms round him and kiss him passionately, or she might accept it sullenly, or she might be entirely preoccupied, or perhaps immersed in some trivial diversion that appeared to her a matter of enormous consequence. It was as though he were regarding both the trinket and himself as entirely passive properties in a drama being performed by others.

As the years advanced stronger and stronger became this hold.

One dull February morning when they had been married nine years, Jean François sat up in bed and envisaged his day's programme. It was to be a momentous twenty-four hours. By this time to-morrow he might be either dead, in prison, or a rich man. He watched Marcelle gliding about the little apartment in a blue and purple kimono. It suited the pallor of her face and the dark swathes of her hair. She was in one of her ice-cold moods. He watched her deftly stirring the coffee and he thought:

"What is Madame Fatality preparing for me today?"

They had not drunk their coffee before they were interrupted by the visit of a gentleman named Sennescheim. He was a thin melancholy individual, carrying a large black valise. He merely said: "I've got it, papa," and put the valise down on the bed and opened it. Jean François examined the contents, and Marcelle hovered disinterestedly in the background. The bag contained a few silver plates and cups, a silver and tortoiseshell box, some miniatures, two travelling clocks and a dozen silk scarves.

"A poor haul!" commented Jean François.

The elder man sighed. "Verdelot is a fool," he said. "Always in too great a hurry. I believe there was money in the escritoire. There were some carved ivories too—Chinese—any one of them would have been worth this lot put together. What about it, Papa?"

"I'll take them to Janicot if you like. He won't pay more than about two hundred though."

"If any one can make the old devil stump up you can."

"Why not try Cohn?"

"No, no, he's watched. There was very nearly trouble over that Nebecourt affair last week."

"Very well. Leave it to me. What about to-night?"

"Everything's in order. This is an early affair, you know, while the family is at dinner. The old man and his wife and daughter are dining alone at six-thirty. Jules has got a job as a handy man around the stables and garden. He will let you in the back way. There's no one else in the house except the butler, who will be waiting, and his wife who will be cooking. The housemaid's away on a holiday. The stairway at the back leads up to the first floor, which is connected by a passage with the two principal bedrooms. In the left-hand drawer of the dressing-table in the daughter's room—the second door on the left when you come on to the landing—is a case containing a pearl necklace, which her fiancé has just given her. There's nothing else of any value. In the old people's room—the first door—is a miniature buhl cabinet, locked. It's got all the old lady's jewellery—many thousand francs worth. If you can't open it you can bring the whole thing away. This'll have to be a quick job. At the bottom of the wardrobe on the right is a cash box. It'll contain all his takings for the week. He banks to-morrow. I should leave it at that, Papa. It'll be a good quick haul, and in these daylight affairs you've always got to allow for the unexpected."

Jean François stretched himself and drank the remainder of the coffee at a gulp. Marcelle came forward and picked up the silk scarves.

"I should like these," she said.

"She would like to have these," repeated her husband.

"They are worth money," Monsieur Sennescheim murmured protestingly.

"It can be arranged."

The elder man shrugged his shoulders and departed.

The disposal of this small collection of stolen property was not the only item in the agenda of Jean's programme, and directly his visitor had departed, he arose and began to perform a rather elaborate toilette. He washed, and shaved, and combed his grey locks back with considerable brio. He donned an enormous black stock, a lounge suit, and a flowing cape. With his felt hat at a jaunty angle and his long ebony cane—which was incidentally a sword-stick—he might have passed as an old actor from the Odéon, going for a stroll between rehearsals. When ready he said:

"My angel, I cannot say what time I shall be back. I have much work to do to-day. But listen, my little white lily, if all goes well—to-morrow, you and I, I think a little holiday might do us good. The air of Paris is not too healthy at times. A little jaunt South—perhaps over the border to Bordighera or Rapallo might be well. What do you say?"

Marcelle was trying the scarves upon her head and looking at herself in the mirror. She made no answer. Jean François added:

"If I were you, my dear, I would be careful not to wear those scarves in public—just yet."

His route lay through the Luxembourg gardens, through which he strolled nonchalantly, swinging the cane with one hand, and carrying the black valise with the other. The air was raw but stimulating, and charged with familiar odours. Crowds of children and their nursemaids occupied the paths. His crafty eyes mellowed at the sight of chubby babies, burbling in their prams. Certain thoughts and reflections he thrust back.

"We all begin like that...if only Madame Fatality..."

The good Janicot received him indifferently. He was not impressed with the goods, and went to considerable pains to profess even greater indifference than he possessed.

The deal took the best part of an hour, but eventually Jean François emerged from a murky passage with a small wad of notes added to his wallet.

For his next engagement he found it necessary to take a circuitous trip on the Métro to the Pont de Flandre. From there he had to walk for nearly twenty minutes through congested mean streets, till he came to a narrow cul-de-sac facing a canal. He entered a house at the end and after making mysterious taps on an inner door was admitted to a room on the ground floor. A man with an extremely yellow face called into the darkness:

"It's all right. It's Uncle Jacquemin."

A thick-set man, with close-cropped hair, and the wickedest eyes that ever challenged the light of day, came forward and said:

"Ah! my old blunderbuss. You arrive opportunely. It's not going well."

He led the way to the back, where a trap-door revealed a spiral staircase leading to the basement. The basement was lighted by two powerful acetylene lamps. It had the appearance of a chemical laboratory. The thick-set man walked over to a press and picked up a pile of five-franc notes.

"Look," he said. "You couldn't pass them on a blind nag."

Jean François picked up the notes and examined them through a magnifying glass. Then he shook his head and said:

"Let's look at the plates."

He knew something about the process, but it was subtle and complicated. The thick-set man and his companion of the yellow face were dispirited and querulous. He made many suggestions, and the thickset man kept repeating:

"Yes, but this all takes time, time and money. How are we going on? It means having others in. The more in the greater the risk. Haven't you more money, Uncle Jacquemin?"

He felt himself getting dispirited too, and a little bewildered and tired. This plant had cost him thousands of francs. Perhaps in the end it would fail—He found himself muttering savagely:

"Perhaps Matame Fatality is opposed to the idea. You can't, you know...go against her."

"What's that?" exclaimed the thick-set man.

"Who? Madame Who?" barked the yellow man.

"Eh? Oh, I don't know. What did I say? Listen, Martin, it's the paper that's wrong."

The two men looked at him and then at each other suspiciously. The discussion went on in a desultory manner. All the parties concerned seemed more anxious about immediate ways and means than in the successful achievement of their purpose. They all knew that the thing was a failure, and wanted to escape with least disaster to themselves.

To the other two men it meant disappointment and the threat of a material predicament. But in Jean François it produced the added menace of a portent, like ice-cold hands encircling him in a narrow room. He produced the notes which he had just received from Janicot and threw them on the table.

"Courage, my brave fellows," he exclaimed unconvincingly, "a little more persistence and a mighty fortune is within our grasp."

His attitude and the gift of the notes was a gesture of defence, or rather of defiance, not against his two accomplices, but against fate. He was glad to escape into the air. The raw light of day steadied him.

"That is finished," he muttered. "Let them be caught there like rats down a drain."

He wandered back in the direction of the Marais. Little midinettes darting hither and thither, with long rolls under their arms, reminded him that it was the hour to feed. He found himself at the corner of the street where Madame Sélonier had her delightful brasserie. Defiantly he directed his footsteps thither. "It's perfectly absurd," he thought. "Madame Fatality must be shown her own business."

He entered the brasserie and bowed elaborately to the proprietress. Seated at his high stool and helping himself to the delicious anchovies and hard-boiled eggs, he quickly forgot about Madame Fatality. He talked to Madame Sélonier about the political situation, about the frocks in the new revue at the Casino de Paris, and about the right way to make a cheese soufflé. She was a plump, middle-aged, rather attractive woman, but Jean François hardly thought about her as a woman. She was just a pleasant companion who served most excellent food and light wine. He was in the brasserie less than half an hour. He then paid his reckoning and departed. Twenty yards down the street he ran into Marcelle!

Her keen eyes challenged him.

"Where have you just come from?"

Jean François did a thing he had not done for many a day. He blushed. He gulped. His tongue seemed to fill his entire mouth. At last he managed to splutter:

"Eh? Oh, I have just—I was just coming—over from the Pont de Flandre—my friends there—we are very much engaged, you know. I'm sorry, my dear—I cannot escort you—very urgent—"

"You haven't had your déjeuner, I suppose."

"No, no, no, far too pressed—"

"Very well. You can take me. I haven't lunched yet either."

So Jean François was enforced to lunch twice. He took her to another little restaurant round the corner. Whilst making a parade of eating he watched her obliquely, as a rabbit might watch a rattlesnake. Enchanting and bewitching creature...if only she wouldn't pick up bones and clean up her plate with bread, smack her lips and pick her teeth with her fingers. Strange and unaccountable...human attractions...fate. Why did he fear her? Why couldn't he tell her the truth? Why did she make him such a coward?

The second lunch over, he hurried away and left her. He had urgent business to attend to on the other side of the river. In an untidy street in Chavalaret he entered a shop which bore above the window the inscription: P. Brimont. It appeared to be a kind of neglected pharmacie, devoted mostly to photographs, postcards, and light literature. A bell clanged crazily as he entered and a thin young man said:

"Good afternoon, sir, you'll find the guv'nor upstairs. He is expecting you."

He mounted three flights and entered a room occupied by four men. Monsieur Brimont came forward and shook hands. He was a little old man, with a very long nose, the tip of which seemed to almost overlap his lower lip. He exclaimed:

"Ah! Jacquemin, welcome! I have here the three promising young birds. Gentlemen, this is Professor Jacquemin himself, who can teach you more in an hour than I can in a week."

And for the next two hours Professor Jacquemin was very busy. He instructed the three promising young gentlemen in various gentle crafts. How, for instance, to remove a pocket-book or a watch and chain in a crowd. How to brush against a stranger and perform the same operation. How to snatch a woman's chatelaine, or remove her purse from it. How to do thimble-rigging and the confidence trick—altogether a thoroughly educational afternoon.

When it was over and the three young gentlemen had departed, Monsieur Brimont took him on one side and said:

"Look here, old comrade, will you execute a commission for me? You know Denise Vallé of the Folies Bergéres? Eh, well, I promised her a packet of 'snow' this evening. The poor child is desperate. Will you deliver it for me? People know I'm a pharmacist and they don't like me hanging about an actress's flat. But with you, a gentleman of independent means and an irreproachable character, it doesn't matter at all. I'll give you her address. And listen, she will give you two hundred francs. Don't let her have the stuff until she has paid. By the way, I owe you one hundred and seventy, commission on that Besnard case, so you can let me have the odd thirty to-morrow."

"It's all in the day's work," responded Jean François, rather fatuously. He was conscious of not being at his best. The printing press had failed. He had been clumsy in his demonstrations to the young men. Madame Fatality seemed likely to meet him at every turn. Why should he give cocaine to a neurotic actress? And yet, after all, if she was neurotic she couldn't do without the stuff. It was fate. But why encourage these young men to lead the kind of life he had led? Well, if he didn't, someone else would. He had only to look at their faces to see that Nature had predestined them for a life of crime. "It's all in the day's work."

He found Denise Vallé in a smart little flat in Etoile. She was in a terrible state of agitation and distress. She thought Monsieur Brimont had forgotten her. And how was she to appear to-night in her new show at the Folies Bergéres without her beloved "snow"? And, oh! of course, she had no money, only a very little, twenty-five francs perhaps. Monsieur Brimont would surely trust her. Jean François ended by letting her off paying altogether. He was obsessed with a sudden misgiving. If Marcelle was suspicious of him visiting Madame Sélonier, what would she think if she saw him coming away from the flat of this notorious woman!

"That's all right. That's all right, mademoiselle, not distress yourself."

He was almost surprised, when he got outside, to find she was not there. He sighed drearily and set off in the direction of the scene of his next and most desperate venture.

To this end he was obliged to take a train to Fontainebleau, for the villa that he proposed to rob was in the forest. It was dusk when he alighted at the little station of Fontainebleau-Avon. He walked across to a café and sipped a cognac whilst waiting for the moment of his appointment. He went carefully over all the details of the directions and information given him by his accomplice. Among them he was known as "the man with no nerves." But on this night he felt strangely unwrought. He kept on trying to persuade himself that nothing could go wrong. He conjured up a vision of the complete success of his enterprise. It was such a simple case. But always before his mind's eye came the image of Madame Fatality spreading the network of her strange charms. He would never, never understand her. Contrary to his usual custom he had another cognac and then set out to walk briskly up the hill. At six-forty precisely he rang the bell of the stables adjoining the villa. Jules admitted him, and put his fingers to his lips.

"It's all right, Uncle," he whispered. "But wait awhile. They have only just gone in. Wait till the sherry has passed and the fish is served. Have you your rubber shoes?"

"Does an artist approach his easel without his paints and brushes?" he replied showily, seating himself on a chair and quietly removing his boots.

"The first staircase down the passage leads up to the quarters where the chauffeur lives; he's away, you know. You go right through two rooms on to another passage. You then take two sharp turnings to the right and you are on the first floor of the villa. The first door on the left is the old people's, the second is the girl's—"

"I know all that. Hurry up and see how they are getting on."

It was ten minutes before Jules announced that the sherry had passed and the fish was being served, then he set forth. Jean François had always prided himself iii being a thoroughly efficient burglar. He was swift in his movements; silent and deliberate. He had, moreover, a quite peculiar sense of topography. Almost automatically he seemed to sense just where things were and the best and quickest way of arriving at his object. In spite of his inward trepidation he never perhaps gave a more highly finished demonstration of his technical skill than on this occasion when he burgled the villa of Monsieur and Madame Lacau St. Just. Within less than seven minutes from the time he had left his accomplice he had found his way noiselessly to the daughter's room, extracted the pearl necklace, entered the room of the old couple, stuffed the cash-box and the miniature buhl cabinet into his bag, and commenced to return.

But there is in the natural development of human affairs always that elusive element which some call chance and others call fate. Life might be safer without it, but it would assuredly be duller. The tragic climacteric which suddenly came upon Jean François was the direct outcome of an entirely fortuitous circumstance, of which Monsieur Lacau St. Just himself was sponsor. The fish had hardly appeared before the old gentleman said:

"Dear, oh dear! I have not taken my medicine. Henri, when you've served the fish, will you fetch my little bottle of capsules. I think I left it with my pipe in the drawing-room."

Now Henri was a portly person and very slow in his movements. He was away some minutes and only returned to say that he could not find Monsieur's bottle of capsules.

Then Madame Lacau St. Just interjected:

"Why, my dear, isn't it on the table in the dressing-room? I think I saw it there this morning. Don't you remember you took some after petit déjeuner. You didn't have any after lunch."

Such an unnecessary twist of fate...if the capsules had only been with the pipe the lives of two people would not have been suddenly enveloped under the dark mantle of tragedy. Jean François was at the bedroom door with the bag in his hand. He was about to reach out to the switch when he caught sight of the bald head of the fat butler appearing above the stairs. He darted behind the door and crouched down. During those few seconds whilst listening to the sounds of pulmonary disorder getting nearer the room, a hundred thoughts and reflections raced through his brain. If he was caught—he was an old offender—he would probably get seven years. He was now fifty-three. He would be sixty when he came out. What was the good of anything at sixty? What would happen to Madame Fatality? He wouldn't be caught. If the butler saw him he would cry out. He mustn't cry out. That was the first thing; the butler must be prevented from crying out. But he mustn't kill him or make any noise. Could he cope with the whole household? Was the old man armed? Could he rely on Jules?...No, he felt intuitively that he could not rely on Jules. The man was a sneak and a coward. The butler mustn't cry out...He saw his whole life in an abrupt perspective. It was going to focus on one fierce instant. He would fight for his life...The butler must be silenced...the first thing...

He let him pass the door and advance two paces into the room, then he swept at him like a whirlwind, his hands to the other's throat, and flung him on to the bed. It was skilfully done. But as they rolled over the butler brought his knee sharply up into the assailant's stomach and winded him. The butler was fat, puffy and out of condition, but he was a comparatively strong man. He was trying to cry out, but the hands of Jean François were glued to his throat. He hit and kicked wildly, and the struggle was by no means unequal. Jean François felt sick from the stomach blow he had received. The affair must be short and sharp. He would not be able to keep this up long. Once he slipped off the edge of the bed, and found himself falling. His hands lost their grasp. The other man was spluttering. In a second he would call out. It was Jean François on one side, his life, himself, his very existence opposed to a world that wished to destroy him. He flung himself back and gripped that throat again with his left hand, whilst the other dashed at his hip pocket...In another two seconds the butler was lying there inert, with a knife driven into his heart, the same knife that had killed the long-armed Barouzel.

Not a sound came from downstairs. The episode had not lasted more than three minutes. He flung the eiderdown over the body, picked up his bag, turned off the light, shut the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket, and then returned the way he had come. He was quite master of himself when he met Jules in the little room off the stables.

"Well?" huskily whispered his confederate.

"All well. Meet me at Sonnescheim's on Sunday."

"You found everything? No difficulties?"

"No, no, pass me those boots, quick!"

"You're a wonder, Uncle."

The younger man sniffed, and nervously gnawed at his right thumb-nail, and added:

"It's all right for you. You get back to Paris. I have to stay on here. I shall have to go through it all right. Cross-questions, examination. Give me a hundred to go on with, Uncle."

In sickening anxiety to be rid of the whole thing. Jean François gave the young man fifty francs, and slipped quietly out. The evening was dark and he hurried in the direction of the station. Like a fool he had not looked up the times of the trains. If he had to wait long it would be too dangerous. He would have to find some other means of getting back. They could, however, hardly get an alarm out in less than an hour.

He took a ticket and sat in a dark corner of the station. He did not like to ask, as he did not want to run the risk of some official remembering his face. There were quite a good few people waiting, and he heard someone say: "The train is late."

In less than a quarter of an hour it came thundering in—the Paris train. He entered feverishly, took his seat, and closed his eyes. A horn sounded and the train moved out.

As he listened to the thundering of the train racing over the metals he realised for the first time that he was saved. Up to that point he had been acting in a kind of dream. He did not dare let himself think. He stretched himself luxuriously. He tingled with the sense of satisfactory accomplishment. He had murdered a man—quite unwillingly, certainly—and he had escaped. It could never be proved against him.

No one had seen him at Fontainebleau except Jules. It wouldn't help Jules to inform against him. Even if he did, it was only one man's word against another, and he had many friends in Paris who would be delighted to swear on oath that at the moment of the crime Jean François Jacquemin was playing "faro" with them. The whole thing had been entirely successful, and his bag contained the spoils that would keep him in material necessities and even luxuries for many days to come.

To-morrow he would leave for the south, calling at Lyons on the way. He knew of an admirable person in Lyons who would pay a good price for the goods. He would take Madame Fatality with him and they would go on to Italy...Madame Fatality! Why, amidst the glowing fires that stirred within him in thinking of her, did there creep the quenching element of dread? Where was she? What was she doing? How would she receive him? He dozed and dreamed in the corner of the carriage. The train would be back in Paris soon after eight. He would drive out and fetch her and they would dine alone at some quiet café. Yes, and on the morrow he would buy her an emerald trinket to wear in her dark hair. She loved to decorate her hair, and to stand and regard her image in the mirror as though mesmerized by the apparition.

As the train ran into the Gare de Lyon he shivered. The night seemed strangely cold. He was tired out and hungry. He must have food and drink. He could not face Madame Fatality in his present state. He went to the station buffet and drank two glasses of Amer Picon. His tired senses responded greedily to this intriguing stimulant. His fears dissipated. He was proud of his success, his skill, his cool judgment, his virile assertion of personality. Life was a battle. The weak went under; the strong prevailed. He had faced death several times, and he was not going to be terrorized by—his wife. No, no, never had he been afraid, he, "the man with no nerves." Nevertheless, he thought he would dine alone. He was happy with his present thoughts, his present self-centred mood. He wanted no other society. In the obscure restaurant off the Rue de Bercy, where he dined, he called loudly for a large bottle of Château Laffitte, which he drank in great gulps. It was late and the customers were slowly dwindling away. He felt the few remaining regarding him with interest—wondering who this distinguished-looking elderly actor might be. How splendid it would be to stand up and say: "Yes, my dear friends, you do indeed behold the great Jacquemin. Under this table I have the spoils of a most distinguished burglary. But an hour ago I murdered a fat butler. I am I."

He grinned sardonically into the ruby glass. The wine was going to his head. He saw himself, as it were, from a distance, dining majestically, behaving with exquisite decorum. What a pity it was that Madame Fatality had such atrocious table manners. Soup, fish, artichokes, pig's feet, salade, kidneys, Gruyère—he did himself well. Had he not fought for it and earned it?

"Waiter, coffee and a fine champagne."

He lighted a cigarette, and leant back luxuriously. A stout, red-faced man entered and took a seat opposite him. He was a coarse, bourgeois bellicose-looking individual. He tucked his napkin into his collar and greedily examined the menu. He produced in Jean François a sudden feeling of loathing and disgust. Probably a thoroughly sound respectable citizen—manager of a hat shop, or a purveyor of canned meat. But, God in Heaven! what a pig!

He ordered hors d'oeuvres, and when the dish with all its little divisions was set in front of him, he rolled his tongue horizontally at great speed between his fat sensual lips. His small eyes narrowed. He had already eaten half the dish in greedy anticipations. He jabbed the fork discriminately into the anchovies, herrings and olives. He gobbled them up, blowing the stones of the olives wildly on to his plate. He shoved slices of tomato into a mouth displaying half masticated portions of fish. He snorted and wheezed, and shook with gastronomic excitement. He was horrible. He was unbearable. Jean François leant forward and said:

"Really! Really!"

The red-faced man looked up savagely.

"What's that?"

"Try and behave like a gentleman."

"What the devil! Who the devil!"

"It makes me feel sick to watch you eat."

And then, of course, the mad thing happened. Without a word the fiery gentleman picked up the dish of hors d'oeuvres and flung the lot in the face of Jean François. The latter's hand instinctively dived towards his hip pocket. A woman on the other side of the room screamed. A waiter ran forward, followed by the manager. The red-faced gentleman stood up, ready for the battle. The waiter was calling out:

"Please, gentlemen! Please, gentlemen!"

The manager, who had turned as white as a sheet, stood at the table.

"What is this?"

Jean François wrenched himself back into a condition of normality. He stood up and bowed.

"The gentleman was quite justified. I insulted him. I apologise profoundly. I am tired. Forgive me. Please let me have my bill."

No one spoke. The red-faced man sat down, glaring.

The waiter presented the bill, Jean François paid, tipped the waiter lavishly, put on his hat, picked up his bag and bowed again.

They followed him out without another word being spoken. He called a cab and drove out to Montparnasse.

Nothing else seemed real. He entered the flat and saw Marcelle standing by the fireplace in exactly the position he knew she would be. The pallor of her face emphasized the brilliance of her dark searching eyes and jet-black hair. She was wearing a black velvet frock, and on the right side of her hair was a dark red rose.

He flung down his bag and cried out desperately: "There it is, my little white lily...all for you. All for you."

Her eyes narrowed and searched him through and through. He seemed to live an eternity whilst she was reading his soul, determining his fate. What the devil was she thinking? He heard her say: "To-morrow," and then repeat the word again and again. Well, what about to-morrow?

She glided towards him and a mocking finger pointed at his chest. He looked down and beheld the flaccid emblem of his doom. Dangling between the folds of his waistcoat was the flabby remnant of—an anchovy!

His heart was beating so rapidly that he was bound to grope for a chair. How could he explain? Was she likely to believe his story about the red-faced man? Was not Madame Sélonier the only person in Paris who dispensed anchovies? Can one argue against fate? He sat there watching her...waiting.

She seemed suddenly active, very occupied. She moved about the room. Then she stood before him holding a hat in her hand, and from it she drew a long steel hat-pin.

"Now she is going to kill me," thought he. "Well, well, it was bound to come."

He felt strangely indifferent. It seemed a matter for reflection rather than action.

"One builds and one builds. Everything is anticipated, every craft acquired, every technical accomplishment perfected, and then in the end one is destroyed—by an anchovy."

But she was saying terrible things to him, accusations, recriminations; she was giving a calm, relentless statement of the record of his life, a vivid analysis of the workings of his soul. And he heard it and he knew it to be true, and yet it did not move him very profoundly. It only moved him in as far as it affected her. What was she going to do? Why didn't she kill him and be done with it?

And then whilst wondering he heard a door slam, and the rain beating on the skylight. He knew then that she had gone. He rushed into the passage and called out:

"Marcelle!...Marcelle! Come back, come back!"

And all night long he sat there looking down at his long, thin hands...those hands that had accomplished so many dubious deeds. It was as though Fate itself had deserted him.

When the dawn broke, he picked up his bag and went out. He found the destination he sought, and it struck him as queer that although it was daylight the inspector was writing in a book under a green-shaded light.

"Well?"

"I have come to give myself up, monsieur."

"What for?"

"I murdered the butler at the villa of Monsieur and Madame Lacau St. Just at Fontainebleau. In this bag are things I stole from there."

There seemed to be a long interval occupied by movement rather than sound. Then the same voice:

"You understand what you are saying?"

"Perfectly, monsieur."

"Brochard, detain this man."


After a vast lapse of time, in which strange and bewildering happenings took place, he was conscious of sitting upright on the edge of a palliasse. A priest was talking to him.

"Have you a wife, my son?"

Jean François shook his head.

"Have you any friends or relations you would wish to communicate with?"

The guilty man again shook his head.

"Is there any way in which I can help you, my son? I pray that you realise the gravity of your position. Come, kneel by my side. The hour is fast approaching."

Jean François jumped up and exclaimed fiercely:

"No! what have I to do with you? How can you help me when Madame Fatality herself has left me?"

"Madame Fatality? Who is she?"

"I have been wedded to her...Oh, for many years ago."

The priest looked meditatively at the silver crucifix suspended from his neck.

"Who was she? Who is she? You said you had no wife."

Jean François did not answer. He sank back on the palliasse, and his eyes were again occupied by his own long supple fingers.

The grey eyes of the priest seemed to be searching for something through the thick walls of the narrow cell. Suddenly he said:

"You still believe in her?"

Jean François sat there stonily without answering. The priest sighed, shook his head, cleared his throat as though about to speak again, buried his face in his hands and shuddered.

After a short interval he made the sign of the cross and went quietly from the cell.


18. In The Way of Business

As the large, thick-set man with the red face, the bushy mustache, and the very square chin swung round on his swivel chair, at the great roll-top desk with its elaborate arrangements of telephones, receivers, and electric buttons, he conveyed to the little mild-eyed man waiting on 'a chair by the door the sense of infinite power.

And surely it must be a position requiring singular gifts and remarkable capacity. For was this not Dollbones, the house famous throughout the civilized world for supplying trimmings, gimp, embroidery, buttons, and other accessories to nearly every retail furnisher in England and the colonies? and was not this Mr. Godfrey Hylam, the London manager? To hold such a position a man must have not only brains, and an infinite capacity for work and driving power, but he must have character, a genius for judging people and making quick decisions.

"Almost like a general," thought the mild-eyed man by the door. He had waited fifty minutes in the outer office for his interview, and on being at length shown in, had been told to "sit down a minute." This minute had been protracted into thirty-five minutes, but it was very interesting to watch the great man grappling with the myriad affairs that came whispering through the wires, and giving sharp instructions to the two flurried clerks who sat in the same office, or dictating to the young lady stenographer who sat furtively on a small chair by his side scribbling into a book with a fountain-pen.

"She looks ill and worried," thought the little man. He was indulging in a dreamy speculation on the girl's home life, when he was suddenly pulled up by the percussion of Mr. Hylam's voice. He realized that the great man was speaking to him. He was saying:

"Let's see, what's your name?"

"Thomas Pinwell, sir," he answered, and stood up.

"What name?" repeated the big man.

"Pinwell—Thomas Pinwell," he said in a rather louder voice.

Mr. Hylam looked irritably among some papers and sighed. He then continued dictating a letter to the stenographer. When that was finished he got up, and went out of the room. He was absent about ten minutes, and then came hurrying in with some more papers. He called out as he walked:

"Jackson, have you got that statement from Jorrocks, Musgrove & Bellwither?"

One of the clerks jumped up and said:

"I'll find it, sir."

The clerk took some time to do this, and in the meanwhile Mr. Hylam dictated another report to the young lady. Then the clerk brought the statement, and he and Mr. Hylam discussed it at some length. He gave the clerk some further instructions, which were twice interrupted by the telephone bell. When this was finished, Mr. Hylam again caught sight of the little man by the door. He looked at him with surprise, and said:

"Let's see, what's your name?"

"Pinwell—Thomas Pinwell, sir," he answered patiently.

Mr. Hylam again sighed and fingered a lot of papers in pigeon-holes. At that moment there was a knock, and a boy in buttons entered and said:

"There's Mr. Curtis, of Curtis, Tonks & Curtis, called."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Hylam. "Yes. All right. Er—ask him to come in. I want to see him." He turned to the telephone, and asked some one to put him on to some one else, and while waiting with the receiver to his ear, his eye once more caught sight of the little man by the door. He called out to him:

"Oh!—er—just wait outside a minute, Mr.—er—Hullo! is that you, Thomson?"

Finding himself temporarily dismissed, Mr. Pinwell took up his hat and went into the outer office. There was a tall, elderly man with a fur-lined overcoat standing there, and he was immediately shown in. He remained with Mr. Hylam just one hour. At the end of that time, one of the directors called and went out to lunch with Mr. Hylam. A clerk gave Mr. Pinwell the tip that he had better call back about four o'clock. He said he would do so. He had had thirty years' experience in the furnishing trade, and he knew that "business was business." One had to be patient, to conform to its prescripts. A gentleman like Mr. Hylam lived under continual pressure. He was acting according to his conscience in the best interests of the firm. One had to take one's chance with him. After all, it would be very nice to get the job. He had been out so long, and he was not so young as he used to be. He thought of his placid wife and the two children. They were indeed getting into a very penurious state. He understood that the salary would be thirty shillings per week,' and a small royalty on the sales. Not a princely emolument but it would make all the difference. Besides, what might not the royalties amount to? If he worked hard and energetically he might make between two and three pounds per week—who knows? He went into an aerated bread shop and had a cup of tea and a piece of seed cake, and read the morning paper. He stayed there as long as he dare, and then went for a stroll round the streets. At four o'clock precisely he presented himself at the managerial office at Dollbones once more. Mr. Hylam had not returned. They expected him every minute. There were five other people waiting to see him. At half-past four Mr. Hylam came in, smoking a cigar. He was accompanied by another gentleman. They walked right through the waiting crowd and went into the inner office and shut the door. As a matter of fact, Mr. Pinwell did not see the manager at all that day. So great was the congestion of business in the trimming, gimp, embroidery, and button business that afternoon that he was advised by one of the least aggressive clerks, at about a quarter to six, to try his luck in the morning. It was a quarterpast three on the following afternoon that he eventually obtained his interview with Mr. Hylam, and it was from his point of view entirely satisfactory. Mr. Hylam said:

"Let's see. You told me your name?"

"Yes, sir," he answered. "Thomas Pinwell."

Mr. Hylam seemed at last to find the papers he desired. He said:

"Er—just come here. Show me your references."

Mr. Pinwell approached the great desk deferentially. On it was a chart of London with one section shaded red. Mr. Hylam read the references carefully and then asked one or two searching questions. At last he said:

"Well, now, look here. This is your section. Go to Mr. Green, and he will give you the cards and samples. Then go to Bodney in the Outer London department upstairs, and he will give you a list of several hundred furnishing houses with the names of the buyers and a few particulars. Everything else you must find out. The salary is thirty shillings a week and two per cent, on sales completed. Settlement monthly. Good-day, Mr.—er—"

He turned to the telephone, and Mr. Pinwell's heart beat rapidly. He had really got a job again! As he walked to the door he had a vision of the expression of delight on his wife's face as he told her the news. He visualized a certain day in a certain month when he would bring home a lot of sovereigns and buy the children things. Two per cent.! For every hundred pounds' worth of orders, two golden sovereigns of his very own! It seemed too good to be true!

His wife indeed did share with him the comforting joys of this new vista of commercial prosperity. They occupied now two rooms in Camling Town, and Tom had been out so long there was no immediate prospect of a removal. But the rent was now secure and just the barest necessities of life, and everything depended on the two per cent, commission. He was to start on the following Monday, and the intervening days were filled with active preparations. There were shirts to mend, an overcoat to be stitched, a pair of boots to have the heels set up, and three new collars to be bought. These were vital things pertinent to the active propaganda of the bread-winner. Other things were urgent,—a new piece of oil-cloth for the bedroom, some underclothes for the girls, and several small debts—but all these things could wait, at any rate a month or two, till the commissions started coming in. For Mrs. Pinwell herself there never seemed necessities. She always managed to look somehow respectable, and, as Mr. Pinwell once remarked to a neighbor, "My wife is a marvel, sir, with a string bag. She always believes in bringing the things home herself. She goes out into the High Street, Camling Town, on a Saturday night, and I assure you, sir, it's surprising what she will bring back. She will make a shilling go further than many of them would half-a-crown. She is a remarkable woman. It surprises me how she manages to bargain, being so unassuming, so diffident, as it were, in the home."

There was nothing, then, missing in the necessary equipment of Mr. Pinwell as he set out with his leather case of samples on the following Monday. It was a cold, bright day, and he enjoyed the exercise of walking. He was not by nature a pushful man and he found the business of calling on people whom he did not know somewhat irksome. Fortunately he was by temperament patient and understanding, and he made allowances when people were rude to him, or kept him waiting indefinitely and then gave him no orders. "It's all in the way of business," he thought as he shuffled out of the shop and sought the next street.

At the end of the first week he explained to his wife:

"You see, my dear, there's a lot of spade-work to be done yet. I'm afraid Flinders, who had the round before me, must have neglected it disgracefully. It all requires working up again. One has to get to know people, the right people, of course. They seem prejudiced against one like, at first."

"Was that Mr. Flinders who used to—" began Mrs. Pinwell in a whisper.

"Yes, my dear, I'm afraid he drank. It was a very distressing story, very distressing indeed. They say he drank himself to death. A very clever salesman too—very clever! They tell me he worked this district up splendidly, and then gradually let it go to pieces."

"Dear, dear! I can't think how people do such things?" murmured Mrs. Pinwell.

"It was a great recommendation in my case," continued her husband, "that I was a teetotaler. Mr. Hylam made a great point of that. He asked me several times, and read the letter of Judkins & Co. vouching for my honesty and sobriety for a period of twenty-two years. He seemed very pleased about that."

At the end of the first month the orders that Mr. Pinwell had secured for Dollbones were of a negligible character. He felt discouraged—as though conscious of there being something fundamentally wrong in his method of doing business—but his wife cheered him by expressing her view that it would probably take months before his initial spade-work would take effect.

He started on his rounds a little earlier after that, and stayed a little later. He became more persistent and more patient. He went back again and again to see people who seemed inaccessible. He tried to be a little more assertive and plausible in his solicitations, but at the end of the second month there was little improvement in his returns, and his commissions amounted to scarcely enough to pay for the new oil-cloth in the sitting-room.

The optimism of Mrs. Pinwell was in no way affected by this failure, but a more alarming note was struck by Mr. Rodney of the "Outer London Department." He told Mr. Pinwell that Mr. Hylam was not at all satisfied with his work so far, and he would have to show greater energy and enterprise during the ensuing month, or the firm would be impelled to try a new traveler for that district, one who could show better results.

Mr. Pinwell was very alarmed. The idea of being "out" again kept him awake at night. It was a very serious thing. He put in longer hours still, and hurried more rapidly between his calls. He increased his stock of samples till they amounted to a very considerable weight. He made desperate appeals for orders, ringing the changes on various ways of expressing himself. But at the end of the next week there was still no improvement on the pages of his order-book. There was one firm in particular who caused him considerable heartburning—Messrs.. Carron and Musswell. These were quite the biggest people in the neighborhood, and had five different branches, each doing a prosperous business. Mr. Pinwell for the life of him could not find out how to get into the good graces of this firm. No one seemed to know who bought for them, and he was referred from one person to another, and sent dashing from one branch to another, all to no purpose.

He had one friend who had a small retail business of his own, a Baptist named Senner, who gave him small orders occasionally. He went into Mr. Senner's shop one Friday, and feeling thoroughly tired and discouraged, he poured out his tale of woe to Mr. Senner. Mr. Senner was a large doleful man, to whom the sorrows of others were as balm. He listened to Mr. Pinwell's misfortunes in sympathetic silence, breathing heavily. At the end of the peroration his son entered the shop. He was a white-faced, dissipated-looking young man who wore lavender ties and brushed his hair back. One might have imagined that he would have been a source of disappointment to Mr. Senner, but quite the contrary was the case. The son had a genius for concealing his vices from his father, and his father had a great opinion of the boy's intelligence and character. He certainly had a faculty of securing orders for his father's business.

On this occasion Mr. Senner turned to his son and said:

"Harry, who buys for Carron & Musswell!"

The son looked at Mr. Pinwell and fidgeted with his nails. Then he grinned weakly and said:

"Oh, you want to get hold of Clappe."

Mr. Pinwell came forward and said:

"Oh, indeed! I'm really very much obliged to you. It's very kind! Mr. Clappe, you say! Dear me! yes. Thank you very much. I'll go and ask for Mr. Clappe." And he shook the young man's hand.

The young man continued grinning in rather a superior manner, and at that moment Mr. Senner's attention was attracted by a customer who entered the shop. Mr. Pinwell picked up his bags and went out. He had not gone more than a dozen yards when he became aware of Senner junior at his side. The young man still grinned, and he said:

"I say, you know, it's no good your going to Carron & Musswell's and asking for Clappe. You'll never get hold of him in that way."

"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Pinwell. "Now tell me, what would you suggest?"

The young man sniffed and looked up and down the street, and a curiously leery expression came over his face. Then he said:

"I expect I could fix it for you all right, Pinwell. You'd better come with me into the bar of the 'Three Amazons' after lunch. I'll introduce you. Of course, you know, Mr. Pinwell,—er—you know, business is business. We always like to oblige our friends, and so on—"

He looked at Mr. Pinwell furtively and bit his nails. For the moment Mr. Pinwell could not catch the drift of these smiles and suggestions, but he had been in the upholstery line for twenty-seven years, and it suddenly dawned upon him that of course the young man was suggesting that if he introduced him, and business came out of it, he would expect a commission or a bonus. He was quite reasonable. He had a sort of ingrained repugnance to these things himself, but he knew that it was done in business. It was quite a usual thing. Some of the best firms—He took the young man's hand and said:

"Er—of course—Mr. Senner, I shall be very pleased to accommodate you. It's—er—only natural, only natural of course. Business is business. Where shall I meet you?"

The appointment was made for the corner of Mulberry Road at half-past two; and at that hour Mr. Pinwell arrived with two heavily laden bags. He walked by the side of the young man down the street, and then crossed over into the High Road. Right opposite them was a large gaudy public house called "The Three Amazons," and they crossed over to it. A feeling of diffidence and shyness came over Mr. Pinwell. He had only entered a public house on about three occasions in his life, and then under some very stringent business demands, or else to get a bottle of brandy when his wife was very ill. Nevertheless he followed the young man through a passage and entered the saloon bar, in the corner of which he deposited his bags. The bar was fairly crowded with business men, but there was one figure that by its personality immediately arrested Mr. Pinwell's attention. He was a very big man in a new shiny top-hat with a curl to it. He was leaning heavily against the center of the bar, and was surrounded by three or four other men who seemed to be hanging on his words. He had a large red face and small, dark, expressionless eyes. The skin seemed to be tight and moist, and to bind up his features in inelastic bags, except round the eyes, where it puckered up into dark yellowish layers of flesh. His hands were fat and stiff and blue like the hands of a gouty subject. His gray hair curled slightly under the brim of his hat, and his clothes were ponderously impressive from the silk reveres of his tail coat to the dark-brown spats that covered his square-toed boots. As they entered, this impressive individual looked in their direction and gave young Mr. Senner a faint nod, and then continued his conversation.

"That's Clappe," whispered Mr. Pinwell's cicerone, and dusted the knees of his trousers. He then added:

"We'd better wait a bit."

They stood there in the corner of the bar, and the young man produced a silver cigarette-case and offered its contents to Mr. Pinwell, an overt act of kindness which that gentleman appreciated but did not take advantage of. They waited there twenty minutes before an opportunity presented itself of making any approach to the great man. But in the meantime Mr. Pinwell watched the conversation with considerable interest. The four men stood very close together, smoking, and speaking in thick whispers. He was alarmed at moments by the way in which one would hold a glass of whisky-and-water at a perilous angle over the waistcoat of another, while fumbling with a cigarette in the unoccupied hand. He could not hear the conversation, but occasional sentences reached him: "It's the cheapest line there is." "Here! I tell you where you can get—" "D'you know what they paid last year!" "I 'ad 'im by the short 'airs that time." "'E says to me—"

It occurred to Mr. Pinwell that there was something distressing about this scene, something repelling and distasteful, but he consoled himself with the reflection that after all business had to be conducted somehow. Money had to be made to pay for the streets and the lamp-posts, and the public baths and the battleships. "Business is not always pleasant," he reflected, "but it has to be done."

At the end of twenty minutes two of the men went away and left Mr. Clappe talking apathetically to the remaining man.

"Now's our chance," said Senner junior, and he walked across the bar. He seized on a lull in the conversation to step forward and touch Mr. Clappe on the arm.

"Er—excuse me, Mr. Clappe," he said. "This is my friend Mr. Pinwell, of Dollbones."

The big man glanced from Senner junior to Mr. Pinwell and gave that gentleman an almost imperceptible nod. He then sighed, breathed heavily, and took a long drink from the glass in front of him.

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Clappe," said Pinwell nervously. "I 've heard about you. I'm with Dollbones, you know, the Dollbones. We have—er—several very good lines just now."

The great Clappe fixed him with his lugubrious eyes and suddenly said in a thick voice:

"What'll you drink?"

It is curious that Mr. Pinwell with all his experience should have been taken back by this hospitable request. He stammered and said:

"Oh! thank you very much, sir. I don't think I'll—at least, I'll have—er—a limejuice and soda."

And then Mr. Clappe behaved in a very extraordinary way. An expression of utter dejection came over his face. He puffed his cheeks out and suddenly muttered, "Oh, my God!"

And then he rolled round and deliberately turned his back on Mr. Pinwell and his friend! It was a very trying moment. Mr. Pinwell was at his wit's end how to act, and Senner junior did not help him in any way. On the contrary he seemed to be taking Mr. Clappe's side. He gave a sort of snigger of disgust, and called across the bar in a jaunty voice:

"Johnny Walker and soda, please, Miss Parritt."

Mr. Pinwell gaped ineffectually at the back of the great man, and hesitated whether to make any further advance. But he was relieved of the necessity of coming to a decision by the act of Mr. Clappe himself, who slowly drained the remnants of refreshment in his glass, and then walked heavily out of the bar, without looking round.

In the meantime young Senner had acquired his drink, and was feverishly tapping the end of a cigarette on the rail. He took a long drink and spluttered slightly, and then, turning on Mr. Pinwell, he said:

"What particular brand of blankety fool are you?"

"I beg your pardon?" exclaimed Mr. Pinwell, amazed.

"I tell you," said the young man, "you 're a particular type of blankety fool. You 've missed the chance of yer life! Don't you know when a man like Clappe asks yer to have a drink yer a blankety fool not to? D' you know that man places thousands and thousands of pounds a year for Carron & Musswell? Thousands, I tell yer! It don't matter to 'im where he places the orders. He puts it all out among 'is pals. You 'ad a chance of being a pal, and you've muffed it!"

"But—but—but—" spluttered Mr. Pinwell. "I really—I—had no idea. I said I would have a drink. It was only that I ordered a—er—non-alcoholic drink. I really can't—"

"Psaugh!"

Young Mr. Senner swirled the whisky round in his glass and drank it at a gulp. Then he muttered:

"Gawd! Asking Clappe for a limejuice and soda!"

Mr. Pinwell thought about this meditatively. He wondered whether he had been in the wrong. After all, people all had their notions of the way to conduct business. Business was a very big thing. It had "evolved"—that was the word!—evolved out of all sorts of complicated social conditions, supply and demand, and so on. A man perhaps who had been in the habit of taking alcoholic refreshment and expecting others to—it might perhaps be difficult for him to understand.

"Don't you never drink?" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Senner.

"I—er—occasionally have a glass of stout," murmured Mr. Pinwell. "Last Christmas my wife's sister brought us a bottle of canary sac. I have no particular taste for—er—things of this sort—"

"Anyway," said Mr. Senner, "you're not under any bally pledge?"

"Oh, dear me, no!" exclaimed Mr. Pinwell.

"Well, then," answered his youthful adviser. "I should advise you next time Clappe or any one like him asks you to have a drink, lap it up like a poodle and stand him a quick one in return."

Mr. Pinwell surveyed his friend over the rim of his glasses, and thought for some minutes. Then he said:

"I'm afraid Mr. Clappe is not likely to ask me to have a drink again."

But the young man of precocious experience answered:

"If you come in here to-morrer, I'll bet yer he'll have forgotten who you are."

It was all a very astounding experience, and that night in bed Mr. Pinwell gave the matter long and serious consideration. If his circumstances had been normal he would have hardly thought about it for five consecutive minutes, but his circumstances were anything but normal. They were somewhat desperate. He was on his last month's trial. If he should be out again!...Both the children wanted new clothes, and Eileen's boots were all to pieces. And then there was that bill of Batson's for three pounds seventeen shillings, for which payment was demanded by the seventeenth; there were other bills less urgent perhaps but—the little man kept turning restlessly in bed and even in his sleep he made febrile calculations.

It must be acknowledged that the result of Mr. Pinwell's nocturnal meditations tended to loosen certain moral tendencies in himself. He set out on the morrow in a peculiarly equivocal frame of mind, wavering between conflicting impulses, but already predisposed to temporize with his conscience if by so doing he could advance what he considered to be the larger issues of business considerations. These first concessions, curiously enough, were not made at the instance of the great Mr. Clappe, however, but at that of a certain Mr. Cherish whom he met during that day. He was a breezy, amiable person, and the manager of the International Hardwood Company. He was just going out to lunch as Mr. Pinwell called, and being in a particularly buoyant mood, owing to a successful business deal, he took hold of our hero's arm and drew him into the street. As they walked along he asked what it was that Pinwell wanted, and that gentleman immediately expatiated on the virtues of the goods he had at his disposal. While talking he found himself almost unconsciously led into the bar of a public-house called "The Queen of Roumania." And when asked by Mr. Cherish, "What he was going to have," a sudden desperate instinct of adventure came over him, and he called for whisky. When it was brought he drank it in little sips, and thought it the most detestable drink he had ever tasted. But he determined to see the matter through, and salved his conscience with the reflection that it was just "in the way of business." He certainly had to acknowledge that after drinking it he felt a certain elevated sense of assurance. He talked to Mr. Cherish quite unselfconsciously and listened to him with concentrated attention. This mental attitude was quickened by the discovery that Mr. Cherish was actually in need of certain embroideries that Dollbones were in a position to supply. It would be quite a big order. He promised to bring samples of the embroideries on the following day, and took his departure. During the afternoon he felt a sudden reaction from the whisky and was very tired. He went home early, complaining to his wife of "a bad headache, as though something had disagreed with him." Nevertheless the prospect of securing the order for the embroideries excited him considerably, and he went so far as to tell her that he hoped things were soon going to take a turn for the better. He arrived at his appointment the next day to the minute, carrying a very heavy valise stuffed with machine embroideries. He was kept waiting by Mr. Cherish for nearly an hour, and was then ushered into his presence. Mr. Cherish was still in a very jovial mood and had another gentleman with him. He shook Mr. Pinw ell's hand and immediately told him three obscene stories that he had just heard—Mr. Cherish was reputed to have the largest repertoire of obscene stories in the trade—and the other gentleman also told two. Pinwell laughed at them to the best of his ability, although they did not appear to him to be particularly humorous. He then felt peculiarly uncomfortable in that for the life of him he could not think of a story in reply. He never could remember these stories. So he opened his valise and displayed the tapestries. The other two gentlemen took a desultory interest in them as tapestries, but a rapacious interest in them as regards value. They were figured tapestries and the price was four pounds seventeen and sixpence a yard. Mr. Cherish mentioned casually that they would want about seventy yards. And then Mr. Pinwell made the rapidest mental calculation he had ever made in his life. Seventy yards at £4. 17s. 6d. would be £341. 5s. which, at two per cent, would mean just on seven pounds for himself! It was dazzling! Seven gold sovereigns! However, the order was not yet given. The two gentlemen talked about it at some length, and looked up other quotations. At last Mr. Cherish said:

"Well, I think we'll go and see what the 'Queen of Roumania' has got up her sleeve."

Mr. Pinwell and the other gentleman laughed, and they all went out. Mr. Pinwell dreaded the prospect of drinking more whisky, but—seven golden sovereigns! enough to pay that bill of Batson's and to buy the children all the clothes they wanted! He knew in any case the etiquette of the trade, and when they arrived in the resplendent bar it was he who insisted on ordering "three Scotch whiskies and a split soda." On the arrival of these regenerating beverages the other two gentlemen resumed their sequence of improper stories. And it was just after the glasses had been re-charged at the instance of Mr. Cherish that he suddenly recollected a story he had heard nearly twenty years ago. It was a disgusting story, and it had impressed itself on his memory for the reason that it struck him when he heard it as being so incredibly vulgar that he could not understand how any one could appreciate it. But as he neared the end of his second glass of whisky it suddenly flashed into his mind that here was the story that Mr. Cherish and his friend would like. He had by this time arrived at an enviable state of unselfconsciousness, and he told the story as well as he had ever told anything in his life. The result amazed him. The other two gentlemen roared with laughter, and Mr. Cherish tilted his hat back and slapped his leg.

"Gawd's truth! that's a damn good story, Pinwell!" he cried out several times.

Other people came into the bar, and Mr. Pinwell found himself something of a hero. Every one seemed to know Mr. Cherish, and he introduced him, and on several occasions said, "I say, Pinwell, tell Mr. Watson that story about the sea captain."

The story was an unqualified success, and seemed in some way to endear him to Mr. Cherish. That gentleman became more confidential and confiding, and they talked about business.

Mr. Pinwell believed he drank four whiskies-and-sodas that afternoon. In any case, he arrived home feeling very bilious and ill. He told his wife he had felt faint, and had taken some brandy—"Thank heaven," he thought, "she doesn't know the difference in smell between brandy and whisky!" He said he would go to bed at once, he thought, and he kissed her in rather a maudlin fashion, and said he knew she would be glad to hear that he had that afternoon taken an order for £341—that would mean nearly seven pounds to them! Enough to buy clothes for the children and pay Batson's bill; he laughed a little hysterically after that, and rolled into bed.

On the following day he was very unwell and unable to get up, and Mrs. Pinwell wrote to the firm and explained that her husband had got his feet wet on his rounds and had contracted a chill. She also inclosed his order-book.

It was three days before he was well enough to resume his rounds, and then he avoided the company of Mr. Cherish and set out on a pilgrimage to the meaner parts of the district. But the orders there seemed few and far between, and a feeling of depression came over him.

On the 21st of the month he was bidden to the presence of Mr. Rodney. That gentleman said that the firm was still dissatisfied with his efforts, but on the strength of the order he had secured from the International Hardwood Co. they were willing to keep him on for another month's trial. But unless at the end of that time he had secured further orders of a similar nature, he must consider his engagement at an end.

It would be tedious and extremely disconcerting to follow the precise movements of Thomas Pinwell during the ensuing four Weeks. It need only be said that, utterly discouraged by his lonely peregrinations in the paths of honest effort, he eventually once more sought the society of young Mr. Senner and Mr. Cherish. In their company he discovered what might be called "a cheering fluidity." He found that whisky made him so ill that he simply could not drink it, but he drank ale, stout, brandy, and gin. None of these things agreed with him, but he found that by drinking as little as possible and ringing the changes on them he could just manage to keep going. The direct result of this moral defection was that his circle of business acquaintances increased at an enormous rate. He gradually got to know the right place and the right hour to catch the right people. His efforts on behalf of Messrs. Dollbones during the following three months were eminently satisfactory, and his own commissions amounted to no mean sum. Neither was his conscience seriously affected by this change of habit. He considered it an inevitable development of his own active progress "in the way of business." The very word "business" had a peculiarly mesmerizing effect upon him. It was a fetish.

He looked upon it as an acolyte might look upon the dogma of some faith he blindly believed in. He believed that people were in some mysterious way pale adjuncts to the idea that, whatever happens, "Business" must go on. He would stand in the corner of the bar of "The Queen of Roumania" and look across the street at the Camling Town public wash-houses, a mid-Victorian Gothic building in stucco and red brick, and then, turning his mild, watery eyes toward Senner junior, he would say:

"It's a wonderful thing—business, you know, Mr. Senner; a very wonderful thing indeed. Now look at the wash-houses! They simply have been the result of business. No progress is made, nothing is done except through business. If it weren't for business we should all be barbarians."

And then he would take a little sip at the gin and water in front of him. After copious trials he found that gin affected him less than any of the other drinks, so he stuck to that. He did not like it, but he found that people simply would not do business with him in Camling Town unless he drank and stood drinks. It was very trying, and the most trying part was the necessity of concealing these aberrations from his wife. When he first started he was conscious that he often returned home smelling of the disgusting stuff. He tried cloves, but they were not very effective. Then one day he had a brilliant inspiration. He was unwell again. It happened very often now—at least once a week—and the doctor gave him some medicine. Then it occurred to him that the medicine might smell like anything else. He would keep up the medicine. His wife was very unsuspecting. He hated deceiving her. He had never deceived her about anything, but he thought, "Women don't understand business. It is for her benefit that I take it."

Sunday was a great joy to him. He would take the children out for a walk in the morning while his wife cooked the dinner. In the afternoon he would have a nap; but the greatest luxury of the day seemed to him that he need drink nothing except water.

At the end of six months there came a proud day when Mr. Rodney informed him that Mr. Hylam was quite satisfied with his progress, and his ordinary salary was raised to two pounds. It was summertime, and the accumulation of his commissions justified the family moving into larger rooms, one of which was to be a bathroom. But Mr. Pinwell was beginning to feel his health very much affected, and he looked forward with intense avidity to the two weeks' holiday which was his due in September. In July he achieved a great triumph. He met and got into the good graces of the great Mr. Clappe. As Senner junior predicted, that gentleman had quite forgotten their previous meeting, and it happened in the company of the good Mr. Cherish. They all met in the bar of "The Cormorant," and after several drinks Cherish said:

"I say, Pinwell, tell Mr. Clappe that story about the sea captain!"

Mr. Pinwell complied, and when he had finished he saw the shiny bags of flesh on Mr. Clappe's face shaking. He was evidently very much amused, although his eyes looked hard and tired. He said hoarsely:

"Damn good! What's yours?"

Mr. Pinwell did not fail on this occasion, and asked for some gin. And directly he noticed that the great man's glass was nearly empty, he insisted on ordering some more all round. He found Mr. Clappe an expensive client. He drank prodigiously, in a splendid nonchalant manner, hardly noticing it, or taking any interest in who paid for it. It took Mr. Pinwell several weeks, and cost him the price of several whole bottles of whisky, before he became sufficiently established in favor to solicit orders. But once having arrived there, the rest was easy, for Mr. Clappe had the reputation of being "loyal to his pals," and he had the power of placing very large orders.

There came a day when Mr. Pinwell received an order for over eight hundred pounds' worth of goods, and for the first time in his life he got very drunk. He arrived home in a cab very late at night and was just conscious enough to tell his wife that he had been taken ill, and some one had given him some brandy, and it had gone to his head. She helped him to bed, and seemed rather surprised and alarmed.

On the following day he was very ill, and a doctor was sent for. He examined him carefully, and looked stern. Out in the hall he said to Mrs. Pinwell:

"Excuse me, Mrs. Pinwell, but does your husband drink rather a lot?"

"Drink!" exclaimed the lady. "My Tom!...Why, he's practically a teetotaler."

The doctor looked at her thoughtfully and murmured, "Oh!" Then, as he turned to go, he said:

"Well, we'll pull him through this, I hope, but he must be very careful. You must advise him never to touch alcohol in any form. It's poison to him," and he left Mrs. Pinwell speechless with indignation.

Mr. Pinwell's illness proved more obstinate than was anticipated, and it was some weeks before he was well enough to get about. When he arrived at that stage the firm of Dollbones were considerate enough to suggest that he might take his holiday earlier than had been arranged, and go away at once.

Consequently, on a certain fine morning in August, Mr. and Mrs. Pinwell, with the two children, set out for a fortnight's holiday to Herne Bay. The firm paid his salary while he was away, and in addition he had now nearly thirty-five pounds in the bank, and all his debts were paid. It was many years since the family had been in such an affluent position, and everything pointed to the prospect of a joyous and beneficial time. And so indeed, to a large extent, it was. Mr. Pinwell felt very shaky when he arrived, and he spent most of his time sitting in a deck chair on the sands, watching the children, while his wife sat on the sands by his side, sewing. The fresh breezes from the Channel made him very sleepy at first, but he gradually got used to them. It was extremely pleasant sitting there listening to the waves breaking on the shore and watching the white sails of yachts gliding hither and thither; very pleasant and very refreshing. It was only after some days that when he was left alone a certain moroseness came over him. He could not explain this to himself; it seemed so unreasonable. But he felt a curious and restless desire and an irritability. These moods became more pronounced as the week advanced, in spite of the fact that his strength returned to him. He had moods when he wished to be alone and the children tired him.

On the fifth day, he and his wife were strolling up from the beach late in the afternoon, and they were nearing their lodgings when he suddenly said:

"I think I'll just stroll round and get a paper."

"Oh! Shall I come with you?" his wife asked.

"No, no, my dear. Don't. Er—I'll just stroll round by myself—"

He seemed so anxious to go by himself that she did not insist, and he sauntered round the corner. He looked back to see that she had gone in, and then he walked rather more quickly round into the High Street. He hummed to himself and glanced rather furtively at the contents of the newspaper bills, then, after looking up and down the street, he suddenly darted into the saloon bar of the principal hotel...

After his second glass of gin-and-water a feeling of comfortable security crept over him. After all, it Was a very ingratiating atmosphere this, ingratiating and sociable. He glanced round the bar and carried on a brief but formal conversation with a florid individual standing near him. He hesitated for a moment whether he would tell him the story about the sea captain, but on second thoughts decided to reserve it to a more intimate occasion. Besides, he must not be away long.

After that it became a habit with Mr. Pinwell for the rest of the holiday for him at some time during the day, and occasionally twice or three times during the day, to "go for a stroll round by himself." His wife never for one moment suspected the purpose of these wanderings, though she was informed that he was taking another bottle of the medicine.

When they returned to town Mr. Pinwell certainly seemed better and more eager about his work. It may be that he had the measure of his constitution more under control. He knew what was the least damaging drink he could take, and he knew how much he dare consume without immediately disastrous results. He gradually became a well-known habitué of all the best-known saloon bars in the neighborhood of his rounds. His character altered. He always remained mild and unassertive, but his face became pinched and thin, and he began to enjoy the reputation of being a "knowing one." He did not make a fortune in his solicitations for orders for gimp, trimmings, buttons, and embroidery, but he certainly earned a very fair competence. In two years' time he was entirely intimate with every buyer of importance in the Camling Town district and out as far as the "Teck Arms" at Highgate. The family still occupied the larger rooms (with the bathroom) that they had moved to, and both the girls attended the Camling Town Collegiate School for Girls, and showed every promise of being worthy and attractive members of society.

It was not till the end of the second year that two events following rapidly on each other's heels tended to disturb the normal conditions of the Pinwell family. A letter arrived one day from a lawyer. It appeared that a brother of Mr. Pinwell's whom he had not seen for twelve years, and who had owned a farm in Northamptonshire, had died intestate. He was not married, and Tom Pinwiell was his only living relative. Under the circumstances he inherited the whole of his brother's property. When this had been assessed it was proved to he worth £140 per year. Needless to say this news brought great joy to the traveler's family. Visions of great splendor opened out before them, wealth, comfort, security. The day after the settlement was made, Tom Pinwell entertained Mr. Cherish, Mr. Clappe, and a few others of his friends to a supper at "The Queen of Roumania," and the next day he was taken Very ill. He lay in a critical state for ten days, nursed with a sort of feline intensity by his wife. The doctor then said that he might recover—he was a different doctor to the one who had so exasperated Mrs. Pinwell with his outrageous suggestions—but that he would be an invalid all his life. He would have to live on special food and must not touch either sweets or alcohol in any form.

On a certain evening Mr. Pinwell showed traces of convalescence and was allowed to sit up in bed. His wife as usual sat by his bedside, knitting. He seemed more cheerful than he had ever been before, and Mrs. Pinwell took the opportunity of saying:

"What a blessing it is, dear, about this money!"

"Yes, dear," answered her spouse.

"Do you know, Tom," she said suddenly, "there is a thing I've wanted to do all my life. And now perhaps is the opportunity."

"What is that, my dear?"

"To go and live in the country."

"Yes, dear."

"Think of it! When you 're better, we can go and get a little cottage somewhere, with a bit of a garden, you know—grow our own vegetables and that. You can live fine in some parts of the country for £140 a year. You'll be able to give up this nasty tiring old business. It'll be lovely."

"Yes, my dear."

Mr. Pinwell's voice sounded rather faint, and she busied herself with his beef-tea. Nothing more was said about the idea that night. But gradually, as he got stronger, Mrs. Pinwell enlarged on the idea. She talked about the flowers they could grow, and the economy of having your own fowls and potatoes. It would have to be right in the country, but not too far from a village or town, so that the girls could continue their schooling and meet other girls. To all of this Mr. Pinwell agreed faintly, and he even made a suggestion that he thought Surrey was nicer than Buckinghamshire.

Mr. Pinwell was confined to his bedroom for nearly two months. And then one day a letter came from Messrs. Dollbones. It was to say that in view of the short time that Mr. Pinwell had been in their service they could not see their way to continue paying his salary after the end of the month, unless he were well enough to continue his work.

Mrs. Pinwell said:

"No, and they needn't continue to pay it at all, for all we care!"

A troubled look came over her husband's face, and he said:

"Um—they've treated me very well, Emma, very well indeed. There's many firms don't pay their employees at all when they're ill."

"Well, then, they jolly well ought to," answered Mrs. Pinwell. "People get ill through doing the firm's work."

Mr. Pinwell sniffed. It was the one subject upon which he and his wife were inclined to differ. Mrs. Pinwell did not understand business; she had no reverence for it.

By the end of the month Mr. Pinwell was up again and going for short walks up and down the street. One day he said:

"Let me see, my dear—next Thursday is the first of the new month, isn't it!"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Pinwell. "And thank goodness you haven't got to go back to that horrid old business!"

Mr. Pinwell said nothing at the time, but a few hours later he said:

"Er—I've been thinking, my dear. I rather think I ought perhaps to—er—to try and see if I could go for a little while on Thursday. You see, the firm have treated me very generously, very generously indeed—and—er—business is business."

"What does it matter?" answered his wife. "I'm sure they've got some one else doing your job by now. Besides, you 're not strong enough."

Mr. Pinwell fidgeted with his watch-chain and walked up the street. During the next two days Mrs. Pinwell could tell that he was fretting. He seemed distracted and inclined to be irritable. He gave demonstrations of his walking powers and stayed out longer and moved more quickly. He got into such a state on the Wednesday evening, that in a weak moment Mrs. Pinwell made the mistake of her life.

She agreed that he might try and go the next day just for an hour or so, but he was to come home directly he felt tired.

Tom started out on the Thursday morning, and he seemed in a great state of elation. In spite of his weakness he insisted on taking one of his bags of samples. He walked more quickly down the street than she had seen him walk for a long time. Mrs. Pinwell then turned to her household duties. She was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that her husband did not come home to lunch, but at half-past three a sudden curious feeling of alarm came over her. She tried to reason with herself that it was all nonsense; nothing had happened, Tom was a little late—that was all. But her reason quailed before some more insidious sense of calamity. The children came home from school at a quarter-past four, and still he had not returned. She gave them their tea and somehow their gay chatter irritated her for the first time. She would not convey to them her sense of fear. She washed up the tea-things and busied herself in the house.

It was a quarter to six when Tom came home. He staggered into the hall. His eyes had a strange look she had not seen before. He was trembling violently. She did not ask any questions. She took his arm and led him into the bedroom and untied his collar and tie. He lay on the bed and his teeth chattered. She got him a hot-water bottle and gradually undressed him. Then she sent one of the girls for the doctor.

In the meantime he started talking incoherently, although he repeated on one or two occasions, "I've taken another bottle of the medicine, Emm'."

The doctor was on duty in the surgery when the child called, and he did not come round till half-past eight.

When he looked a t Pinwell and took his pulse, he said:

"What's he been doing?"

"He's been out," said Mrs. Pinwell. "He said he'd taken another bottle of the medicine."

"Medicine? what medicine?" The doctor seemed to examine the lips of the sick man very closely, then he shook his head. He turned to Mrs. Pinwell as though he were going to make a statement, then he changed his mind. It did not require any great astuteness to determine from the doctor's face that the case was critical. He gave the patient a powder, and after a few instructions to Mrs. Pinwell he went, and said he would return later in the evening. After the doctor had gone, Mr. Pinwell was delirious for an hour, and then he sank into a deep sleep. The doctor returned just after eleven. He examined him and said that nothing more could be done that night. He would return in the morning. In the meantime, if things took a more definite turn, they could send for him.

Tom Pinwell lay unconscious for nearly twenty-four hours, sometimes mumbling feverishly, at other times falling into a deep coma. But suddenly, late on the following evening, he seemed to alter. His face cleared, and he sighed peacefully. Mrs. Pinwell noticed the change and she went up close to the bed. He looked at her and said suddenly:

"I don't think it would do, my dear, to go and live in the country."

"No, no, dear; all right. We'll live where you like."

"You see," he said after a pause, "business has to be gone through...There was Judkins & Co., they treated me very fair, then they went bankrupt. It was very unfortunate, very unfortunate indeed...I wouldn't like these people—what's their name, Emma? ..."

"Dollbones."

"Ah, yes, Dollbones!...Dollbones. No, I wouldn't like them to think I'd let them in like. Just because I had a little money...It's a very serious thing—business..."

Mr. Pinwell seemed about to say something, but he smiled instead and looked up at the ceiling. He became very still after that, and Mrs. Pinwell placed a book so that the candle-light should not shine on his face. All through the night she sat there watching and doing the little things the doctor had told her to. But he was very still. Once he sighed, and on another occasion she thought he said:

"That was very amusin' about that invoice of Barrel and Beelswright, Mr. Cherish...oh, dear me!"

About dawn, thoroughly exhausted with her vigil, Mrs. Pinwell fell into a fitful sleep, sitting up in her chair. She only slept for a few minutes, and then awakened with a start. The short end of candle was spluttering in its socket, and its light was contending with the cold blue glimmer of the early day. She shivered, her frame racked by physical fatigue, and her mind benumbed by the incredible stillness of the little room.

"Consequently, ladies and gentlemen, after placing £17,500 in the reserve fund, for the reasons which I have indicated to you, I feel justified in recommending a dividend of 12½ per cent, on the ordinary shares."

The big man with the square chin dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief and took a sip of water as he resumed his seat. A faint murmur of approval and applause ran round the room; papers rustled, and people spoke in low, breathless voices. Twelve and a half per cent.! It was a good dividend, a very good dividend! A hundred different brains visualized rapidly what it meant to them personally. To some it meant a few extra luxuries, to others comforts, and to some a distinct social advance. If Dollbones could only keep this up!

Sir Arthur Schelling was seconding the adoption of this report, but it was a mere formality. No one took any interest in the white-haired financier, except to nudge each other and say, "That's Schelling. They say he's worth half a million." It was a curiously placid meeting, there was no criticism, and every one seemed on the best of terms. It broke up, and the shareholders dispersed into little knots, or scattered to spread the good news that Dollbones were paying twelve and a half per cent.

Sir Arthur took the chairman's hand and murmured:

"I must congratulate you, Hylam. An excellent report!"

The large man almost blushed with pleasure, and said:

"It's very kind of you, Sir Arthur. Are you lunching in town?"

"I was going to suggest that you lunch with me at the Carlton. I have my car here."

"Oh! thank you very much. I shall be delighted."

Mr. Hylam turned and gave a few instructions to his lawyer and his private secretary, and handed various papers to each; then he followed his host out of the Cannon Street Hotel.

They got into the great car, and each man lighted a well-merited cigar. As they drove through the city, Sir Arthur discussed a few details of the balance-sheet, and then added:

"I really think you have shown a remarkable genius of organization in conducting this business, Hylam. It is a business which I should imagine requires considerable technical knowledge and great—er—tact."

Mr. Hylam laughed deprecatingly and muttered:

"Oh, we have our little difficulties!" He puffed at his cigar and looked out of the window.

"So many—er—varieties of employees, I should imagine?" said Sir Arthur.

"Yes, you 're right, sir. There are varieties. I've had a lot of difficulty with the travelers this year." He gave a vicious puff at his cigar and stamped on the ash on the floor, and suddenly exclaimed:

"Drunken swine!"

Sir Arthur readjusted his gold-rimmed pince-nez and looked at his friend.

"Is that so indeed?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Hylam. "I don't know how it is. They nearly all drink. In one district alone, I've had two travelers practically drink themselves to death, one after the other."

"I'm very distressed to hear that," said Sir Arthur; "very distressed. It's a very great social evil. My wife, as you may know, is on a board of directorship of the Blue Biband Evangelists. They do a lot of good work. They have a branch in Camling Town. They have pleasant evenings, you know—cocoa and bagatelle, and so on; and lectures on Sunday. But, I don't know, it doesn't seem to eradicate the evil."

"No; I'm afraid it's in the blood with many of them," said the managing director.

"Yes, that's very true. I often tell my wife I'm afraid she wastes her time. It seems inexplicable. I can't see why they should do it. What satisfaction can it be to—er—drink to excess? And then it must hamper them so in the prosecution of their work. It seems in a way so—ungrateful, to the people who employ them, I mean. Ah! here we are at the Carlton! Champneys, come back for me at—er—three-thirty. Yes, it's a great social evil, a very great social evil indeed!"


19. The Beautiful, Merciless Lady

There are few men strong enough to withstand success. She is the beautiful, merciless lady.

At the first tap on the shoulder the victim of her favour rocks and staggers. She glances into his eyes, and unless he is a creature of superb control he loses his head. He plunges hither and thither, clutching at the golden aura in which she seems to float. He feels himself a thing apart, transcendent, impervious, invincible. The world of pigmy men around him are merely the drab background to a brilliant picture. He can do no wrong. The standards of morality and behaviour which these others have set up are not his standards. He is the darling of the gods, and he follows his mistress up and up, leaping from crag to crag on the slope of the sunlit mountain.

Whither?

He never puts this query to himself. He lives in a welter of exultation. All things are charged with the magic of a thousand revelations. The younger he is when she first meets him the more devastating are her allurements. Possibly this is why so many infant prodigies never emerge from the infant stage. She stifles them with a surfeit of her riches—the little bores! She likes men best in their early manhood, when she may flirt with them at her leisure. The old she seldom troubles about. They know her wiles and are frequently too cunning or too weary.

Oh, but the young man, still with beauty and health and clean, strong limbs!

It was such a one that she met in the person of my friend, Johnny Lydgate. She led him away and destroyed him as completely as the rose is destroyed by the breath of autumn winds.

There was no reason why he should have been destroyed, no exterior cause. He had a thousand friends and no enemy, except the one which she created in himself. Everything tended to produce in Johnny Lydgate a creature of gentle bearing, of sanity, and equipoise. His father was a delightful old gentleman, a librarian in a country town, who kept homing pigeons and compiled anthologies. His mother and sisters were charming and lovable women. They formed a united, devoted family.

It was at Stoneleigh College that I first met Lydgate. We were inseparable companions for nearly four years. My recollections of him there were those of a pleasant, companionable, almost negative schoolboy. He excelled at nothing and displayed no ambitions. He was affectionate, intelligent, and amusing, but at work and at sport he never rose above mediocrity.

We know a man's body by the familiar regard of its movements and expressions. We know the quality of his mind as it is revealed to us through his opinions and observations, but it is strange how we may get to know a man's soul by some instant of revelation. We may think we are entirely familiar with him. We may have known him intimately for twenty years or more, but one day we suddenly experience a scrap of recognition of something deeper. It may be a phrase that he employs, a gesture, an attitude, some queer telepathic message from his eyes; but in that instant we realize that we know our man for the first time. All our values concerning him become readjusted from that moment.

There came such a moment to me when Lydgate and I were in our last term at Stoneleigh. I remember the moment vividly. It was after our interhouse football match, in which Lydgate had played very well—far above his average. Our Housemaster, who was a very popular man, ran up and, slapping Johnny on the back, called out: "Bravo, Lydgate! Bravo, bravo!" As he turned away I saw my school chum look up at the sky and a queer expression came over his face, a kind of drunken egoism, and I suddenly thought to myself:

"So that is Johnny Lydgate, after all! And I thought I knew—"

For a time after leaving school we lost touch with each other. Boys are very apt to make vows of eternal friendship, and then—well, other things happen along. Writing is such a fag.

Johnny went to Paris to study art, whilst I walked the hospitals. However, he had not been in Paris for a year—he only wrote to me once!—when his father died. As may be imagined, a man who specializes in homing pigeons and anthologies does not leave a fortune. The Lydgate family found themselves in distressed circumstances. Lydgate was recalled from Paris, and had to do something immediately to earn money.

He took the position manfully, and with that cheery good humour that was characteristic of him. He obtained a place as an assistant to a firm of decorative designers, hoping that his meagre training might be of some assistance. His remuneration was, naturally, quite nominal, but the firm held out prospects of advancement. He stayed with this firm for seven years and gave no evidence of special ability. He jogged along stolidly, learning to make pleasant, undistinguished designs for wallpapers, cretonnes, and furniture. He was very popular in the studio where he worked, on account of his unfailing good humour, unselfishness, and gift of fun. He distinguished himself most by making caricatures of his colleagues, and imitating their voices and mannerisms. He displayed no particular ambitions, other than to jog along, and have as good a time as his limited income would allow.

We saw each other occasionally, and when I at last got my degrees I bought a practice in West Kensington, not far from where Lydgate had his rooms. He was at that time earning three hundred a year.

The house I had taken was a tall, gaunt place in an inconspicuous street. I was unmarried, and the place was obviously too large for my requirements. So I had the inspiration to suggest to Lydgate that he should occupy the upper part, and pay me whatever he was paying for his diggings. He accepted my offer with alacrity. His mother and sisters were still living in the country.

The arrangement was full of promise. We had great fun arranging, furnishing, and decorating the rooms. Lydgate spent his evenings and Sundays doing all his own painting and decorating, and he also insisted on doing mine.

I was not convinced that the delicate scheme of grays which he evolved for my consulting-room, with its frieze of stencilled peacocks and yew trees, was quite in keeping with the dignity of my bold brass plate on the front door, but then I knew nothing about art, and Lydgate was so kind in the matter that I let it pass. I had a boy to open the door, and an old woman kept the place reasonably clean, and she used to cook us an evening meal, which we had together.

That was a very happy time for both of us, and it lasted some years. My brass plate did not seem to impress the neighbourhood as I should have liked. Sometimes when I opened the door to people they used to ask for the doctor. I once attended Lydgate when he had a feverish chill, and he said my bedside manners were appalling. But gradually it got about that young Doctor Berners was not such a fool as you might imagine. Some said that he was a fairly good, straight, sensible doctor, who took trouble with his patients. At the end of the first year the practice began to show signs of developing.

It was at this time that Lydgate had an affair with a married ballad-singer. I could never quite get to the root of the matter. Neither could I understand his infatuation. She was a fair, plump person, with magnificent neck and shoulders, a brilliantly clear but unsympathetic voice, and an almost unique gift of self-concentration. She had this wonderful voice, but she knew nothing, not even about music. She used to wear tiny paste diamonds early in the morning, and a shiny vegetable silk jumper which made her person appear even more capacious than it really was. Her name was Betty Brandt, and she had a husband who travelled in automobile accessories.

As I say, I do not know the details of this regrettable affair. I only know that it was very passionate, rather involved, and it went on for nearly six months. At the end of that time something happened. Whether they quarrelled, or whether the traveller in automobile accessories intervened, I cannot say. But Johnny Lydgate was desperately unhappy. He sulked and moped and would not go out, except backward and forward to his work. And then, one day, he did not even go to that. He told me surlily that he had left. He gave no reason. He sat about at home, and apparently drowned his sorrow in charcoal and water-colours. He sketched and drew all day, things which he said he never got an opportunity of doing at "that confounded shop." I thought it as well to leave him alone. He paid his rent the first week and then he asked me for credit, which I naturally acceded.

One Sunday morning I went up to his room, and found the walls covered with drawings and sketches. In my poor opinion they seemed to be a brilliant advance on anything he had done before. I said so, and he seemed pleased, and announced that he was going to hawk his work around to editors, and try to start up on his own. I wished him the best of luck.

At the end of a fortnight his campaign had apparently met with a fair measure of success. He told me he had some commissions and he hoped soon to be able to let me have some money. The next morning he came into the dining-room. His face was crinkled with suppressed laughter, his eyes brilliant with exultant glee. He unfolded a drawing and held it up on the wall. It was a caricature of Betty Brandt!

It was the most brilliant and, at the same time, the crudest thing I have ever seen. It was no portraiture, but you could not mistake it. I had never liked Betty Brandt, and I was on the point of protesting, and then the realization that this drawing, in any case, meant the end of the Betty affair, gave me such a feeling of relief that I laughed almost hysterically. Johnny and I stood side by side, laughing till the tears rolled down our cheeks. Poor Betty!

He seemed freer after that, and worked assiduously at the orders he had in hand. I am afraid they were not very remunerative. It was a long time before he proffered any further contribution toward the upkeep of our establishment, and when he did so, it was with many groans and apologies for the smallness of the amount. I told him that he was not to worry about it; my practice was beginning to pay fairly well, and it made a great difference to me to have a companion.

For a year I observed Lydgate's grim struggle with his artistic conscience. The point was that for the work he wanted to do there was no demand. But there was work which he could do for which there was a demand. The latter gradually absorbed his energies. He refused to sponge on me. In eighteen months' time he had wiped out all debts and was beginning to make headway. He appeared to have resigned himself to a life of steady toil. I found him particularly companionable at that time. I think the Betty Brandt affair had done him good. He was calmer, quicker in his sympathies, more tolerant and reflective. He still had his moments of gay fun; his capacity for fooling was enlarged, his perceptions and discernments were more incisive.

When I was thirty and Lydgate twenty-nine we both seemed to have settled down to a solid professional life. He was making five or six hundred a year, and had even saved a little. I was making rather more, and we had improved the conditions of our household. We now had a "general," as well as a charwoman and a page-boy. On occasions we actually entertained, bought reserved seats for the theatre, and went away for week-end jaunts.

And then, without any ostentatious forewarning, Viola appeared on the scene. She glided into our lives with the inevitableness of a portent in a Greek drama. She had occupied her place upon the stage before we had realized the significance of her entrance. She was the daughter of an old fellow-practitioner, a Doctor Brayscott, with whom I had been on friendly terms, and who had beeen extremely kind to me when I started my practice. His wife was dead, but he and his daughter lived two streets away, and we indulged in those little social amenities which busy professional people always seem to find time for—occasional dinners, a game of bridge, a little music. Viola sang divinely. I was, of course, the first to meet her, and I sang her praises to such good purpose that Lydgate would not rest until he met her. And then, of course, our little trouble began.

There was never a gentler, fairer, more adorable woman than Viola Brayscott. She brought into a room a feeling of complete tranquillity, warmed with the sun-kissed humours of virginal youth, seeking for ever surprises and revelations, giving out love and sympathy and drawing it to herself.

I cannot tell you of the agony and ecstasy of those months that followed. She visited us sometimes with her father, sometimes alone. We visited her, sometimes together, sometimes alone. It took some weeks to realize that we both adored her. What was to happen? Well, I think we played the game fairly. Each knew of the other's infatuation. It was a fair field and no favour. One does learn something, after all, at an English public school. We bore each other no animosity. We took no unfair advantages.

And what of Viola? For some time the pendulum appeared to swing backward and forward. There was no gainsaying the fact that she was really fond of both of us. But the pendulum of that tenderer passion does not swing backward and forward. It has a bias, a rhythm of its own. And we each knew that the day would come when the pendulum would not swing back to one of us.

Heigho! I need hardly tell you the outcome of this contest—you will have foreseen it already. In the social arena, when Lydgate chose to shine, I was no match for him. He had all the advantages of good looks, engaging manners, and that genius for always being at his best in her presence. He shone and sparkled and glowed, whilst I sat dumb and dour and angry with myself. I could not be surprised when the pendulum swung his way and did not return to me.

They got married the following spring, and after a honeymoon in Brittany, went to live in a flat at Barnes. We visited each other occasionally, and the complete success of their union emphasized the loneliness of my own dismal household. They were devoted to each other and bewilderingly happy.

When the possessive sense is outraged, work is our only friend and physician. I worked and worked and worked, and the practice grew. But, oh, the emptiness of those waking hours!

The following year they had a child, a boy, with those lustre-blue eyes of the father. Their happiness appeared complete. Lydgate was still doing reasonably well at what he called his "solid commercial stuff." He seemed to have put all other ambitions behind him. As a social problem I would have wagered that there would be nothing more to solve concerning him—in short, that he was going to "settle down and live happily ever afterward."

But the face of the Sphinx is inscrutable.

It all occurred so surprisingly suddenly. I believe its first inception came about through a caricature he did of Lord Balfour. Balfour is an easy person to caricature, and this was not one of Lydgate's best; but the drawing was published in a weekly and attracted the attention of a well-known Jewish gentleman, who called himself Maurice Loffley, and who dealt in other people's brains. He asked to see some of Lydgate's work, and he admired it extravagantly, especially the caricature of Betty Brandt; but he said:

"My boy, it's celebrities we want. Famous people. Do some, and I'll place them for you."

The outcome was not immediately successful. Lydgate did do some, and some of them were placed; but Mr. Loffley was not very satisfactory over his business arrangements, and Lydgate ended up by doing a caricature of Mr. Loffley himself, which was the best and crudest thing he had turned out since Betty. It was published in another illustrated weekly, and caused joy to all of Mr. Loffley's colleagues and rivals.

The success of this rapidly led to others. Apart from his skill as a draughtsman, Lydgate had a keen wit and an adroit gift of literary exposition. He worked out some wonderful gibes at various famous people. His drawings began to be talked about, and to be in demand by editors and publishers. Their commercial value rose in direct ratio.

Barely six months after the incident of Mr. Loffley—could his name possibly have been Moritz Loeffler?—Johnny Lydgate had a one-man show at the Regent Galleries. The exhibition was a most remarkable success. A publisher bought the copyright of the entire collection right out, and nearly all the originals were sold at high prices. The Press came out with headlines about the discovery of a new satirist. Artists and society people flocked to see the exhibition.

On the Saturday afternoon following the opening I was in the galleries, talking to Johnny and his wife and Mr. Burrows, the owner of the galleries. They were all flushed and excited, and Viola was looking proud and very pretty.

Suddenly Mr. Burrows dived across the room and returned with a tall, striking-looking girl. I did not hear Mr. Burrows introduce her, but, of course, I knew her well by sight. She was a very famous and intellectual woman, the daughter of one of His Majesty's ministers. Her photograph was always gracing the illustrated papers. I saw her shake Johnny's hand, and then I heard her deep contralto voice exclaim with feeling:

"Oh, Mr. Lydgate, I'm so pleased to make your acquaintance. I think your drawings are simply gorgeous!"

I could not hear Johnny's reply. They talked for several minutes, and she passed on. And then I saw him stagger a few steps and look up at the skylight.

My mind immediately reverted to a certain fateful moment at Stoneleigh, on that spring day after the inter-house match, when he was congratulated on his fine play, and I saw upon his face the identical expression. He was like a man dazed and drunken with the riches of his own ego. Instead of the open field and the cheering boys, he was swaying under the narcotic of a more pervading flattery—brilliant and clever people, the faint perfume of a richly dressed woman, admiring and significant glances. "That is he! That's Lydgate—Lydgate himself!"

The beautiful and merciless lady had begun to put her spell on him.

What astonished me was the rapidity with which the poison worked. Within a few months he became a celebrity. He was just thirty-three, at the very fullness of his powers. His popularity was no doubt greatly accelerated by the charm of his personality, his good looks, genial manners, and quaint humour.

He was immediately "taken up" by a certain Lady Stradling, a wealthy and adventurous American woman who adored lions. One invitation led to another. He was always out at some dinner or reception. He developed the club manner. He joined several Bohemian clubs, where he became extremely popular. He would give an entertainment at a drawing-board, making caricatures of people present and keeping up a running fire of most amusing chatter. He began to live extravagantly, but even then he was making more money than he could spend.

At first Viola entered with zest into these manifestations of social advancement. She accompanied him to many dinners and functions, but gradually they began to pall upon her, and she let him go by himself.

I remember meeting him one night the following winter at the Wombats Club. I was enormously impressed by the change in him. I was there when he arrived, and I saw him enter the room. He was still good looking, but his face had become looser,

and a little coarser. He was greeted by cries of "Hallo, Johnny! Good old Johnny!" "Who is that?" "Don't you know? That's Lydgate—Johnny Lydgate!"

He tried to appear impervious to these manifestations, but at the back of his eye I could detect the slow greedy satisfaction of the man whose cup of happiness is overflowing. He spoke to me pleasantly, but his eyes wandered, seeking distinguished names and faces. He was not particularly proud at being seen in conversation with a suburban doctor.

"Who is that? Ah, excuse me, old chap; I want a word with Edwin Wray. Hallo, Wray, old boy!"

Of course, Edwin Wray is familiar to you? You may see his picture on all the hoardings—the famous comedian.

Later, Johnny did one of his inimitable sketches—a huge success, a wonderful hit at Edwin Wray. Afterward he sat at a table near me, drinking rum and water. He had developed a rather affected style of dress, with a voluminous blue and white stock, and peg top trousers. Occasionally he made a note in a sketch-book, or flung an epigram at a neighbour.

The din of the club increased. It was difficult to see across the room for smoke. And suddenly I thought of Viola. Was he neglecting her? Was he cruel to her?

It was very late when I took my departure, and I was crazy to say something to him. I did indeed

manage to mumble something to him about this kind of life being bad for one's nervous energies. He took another sip of rum and said:

"It's a lovely life, old boy—a lovely life!" I left him there.

The memory of that evening disturbed me. I felt that my position as an old friend justified me in indulging in some course of interference. A few days later I called, and found Viola alone. I thought she seemed a little abstracted and self-conscious with me. We talked of different things, and then I blurted out:

"I think Johnny is having too many late nights. He didn't look well the other evening."

She bit her lip and said nothing. Suddenly she rose, pressed my arm, and turned away. She was crying. I went up to her.

"Tell me, Viola, is anything wrong?"

She dabbed her eyes.

"No, no—oh, no; it's only that he—it's just what you say. Too many late nights, and sometimes he drinks too much, and has headaches and is sullen; there's nothing else, Tom. He loves me as much as ever, I am certain. He hasn't the strength, that's all."

Oh, the beautiful, merciless lady! She took nearly three years to destroy my friend. You may say that drink was the cause of his ultimate downfall. Drink certainly accelerated it, but it was not the basic cause. He was drunk before he began to drink—drunk with the rich wine of her charms.

Have you ever seen a man destroyed in that way? The spectacle is not edifying. He went rapidly from bad to worse. The miracle is how he retained his powers as a draughtsman almost to the end. From a pleasant good-looking young man he developed into a puffy, distinguished-looking Georgian roue. The world spoiled him, and he hadn't the strength to stand up against it. The standards of morality and behaviour which these other men set up did not apply to Johnny Lydgate. Oh, dear, no! He was above it all, a thing apart, a genius, the observed of all observers. Sometimes he would be out all night. Sometimes he would be lost for days together. Then he would turn up, be very ill, and go to bed. Viola would minister to him, and give him hot-water bottles. And he would cry and become maudlin. He would swear not to do it again. He loved her—oh, how he loved her!

And she would stroke his temple and whisper:

"Strength, dear, strength. You must try. Oh, you must try, for my sake!"

Of course he would try. How ill he felt! And the days passed, and his physical strength returned to him. Came also the little whispers of the outside world. An invitation to Lady Stradling's; telephone messages from anxious publishers; the sale of two water-colours at a record price; the house dinner at the Wombats Club. Just this once—oh, just this once, Viola!

Back he went, lost to the claims of common decency. His face became lined and blotchy. He trembled in his movements; the veins in his arms and his hands stood out like knotted cords.

To the very end she tended him, shielded him, mothered him, and fought for him. The world will never know what that woman suffered and endured. She says that he was never cruel to her, except by his neglect and lack of consideration. In his behaviour toward her he was always tender and passionate, contrite, disgusted with himself. He knew quite well what he was doing. It was not that he loved Viola any the less, but that he was clay in the hands of that more powerful mistress—the glamour of publicity, to be talked about, to be pointed at, to be praised in the Press.

Doctor Brayscott and I did what we could. We advised and argued and cajoled, and even bullied. He had other real friends, too. Everybody did what he could, but it was of no avail. When he sank into that last illness from which he never recovered. I visited him one day, and sat regarding the spectacle of "that unmatched form and feature of blown youth, blasted with ecstasy." He opened his eyes and looked at me. He gave me a quick glance of apprehension. Suddenly he smiled in his old way and whispered:

"It was worth while, old boy!"

Some men are made that way. They must crowd their life into a capsule and swallow it. They know they are wooing destruction, and it is "worth while." Not for them the steady rhythm of an ordered life. The beautiful, merciless lady pipes the tune and they must dance.


In spite of all, Johnny Lydgate remains a precious and endearing memory to us—to Viola and me. When I married her, two years after his death, we went abroad for a while, and on our return I acquired a practice at Knayling, on the Sussex downs, and there we built our home. The boy is a perfect joy to us. He has his father's eyes and vivacious manners, and something of his mother's warmth and tenderness. The study of his welfare and training is a constant source of affectionate discussion. What will he become? What lies before him? We are full of hope and tremulous surmises. Only at times do the old doubts and fears assail us. He is twenty now, and next term he leaves Cambridge. On this desk, as I write, there is a letter from him, written to his mother:

Mother Dear,—

What is all this about the Indian Civil Service? I should simply hate it. Fancy seeing all one's life in perspective! Knowing exactly how much you will be earning when you're forty-five; knowing that you'll get a pension when you're sixty or seventy, or whenever it is. Who cares what happens when they are seventy! No, old thing. Tony Stephens is going to Paris to study art. I think I should like to join him. You know I can draw, don't you? Smithers thinks my life studies are pretty useful. I have a feeling that I might do well. Anyway, we'll talk it over when I come down. Crowds of love, mother dear.—

Your loving
Son.

And I sit here, turning it over and biting my pen. He has his father's lustre-blue eyes. How would you answer this letter? Can one advise the young?


20. Straight Griggs

There was no doubt but that the meeting of the parents had been a great success. During their seven years of married life Alec and Barbara Griggs often discussed the regrettable fatality that when his parents came over on a visit from America to stay with them, her parents always happened to be abroad. In a way it is not surprising, because although old Mr. and Mrs. John Griggs were pretty methodical and punctilious in their way of going on, and always gave plenty of notice of an intending visit, Barbara's father, Colonel Whetstone, was one of these restless old gentlemen with a passion for travel, and his wife shared this enthusiasm. In spite of his seventy-two years he was erect and agile, and if he once got the "go fever," go he must, despite any arrangements that might have been made.

But at last it had come off. Old Mr. and Mrs. Griggs had come from Florida to spend a couple of months, and Colonel and Mrs. Whetstone were at home at their house across the valley. The month was August and the visit coincided with that unusual English experience—a heat wave. The weather was indeed glorious. During the day Barbara was fairly occupied with her three children, and Alec motored in to Tellinghurst, where he managed the "South Downs Agricultural Implements Ltd." Consequently the parents were thrown very much together.

At first Barbara was in a fever of apprehension. One never knew who was going to get on with whom, did one? But her mind was soon set at rest. Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Whetstone, drawn together instinctively by the adoration of their children and grandchildren, were soon immersed in each other's company, whilst the two men struck up an immediate intimacy. Both had travelled and knocked about the world, and sitting side by side in the shade during the day, or on the verandah at night, these two, the Colonel, with his pipe, and John Griggs, with an endless procession of formidable-looking black cigars, would yarn and discuss world affairs all day, and half through the night (if they were allowed to by their women folk).

Barbara was delighted. The whole thing was a great success. Alec's position at the Agricultural Implement Works was a good one and the firm was prospering, but neither he nor his wife made any pretence to their neighbours that it was his income which supported and sustained "Guestling," one of the most beautiful houses in the whole of the Sussex Weald. High up, but protected on the north and east by a thick belt of pine trees, it faced south, with a glorious view right down the Tellinghurst valley towards the sea. It had been a farmhouse in a very dilapidated condition when the Griggs bought it, but had been restored and enlarged by Lutyens. It showed that scholarly reverence for tradition, combined with the happy application of material, breadth, airiness, comfort and fine proportion which one associates with that eminent architect.

It had a sunk rose garden, a Dutch garden, a bathing pool, and two tennis courts. Perhaps its most attractive feature, however, was the broad terrace in front of the dining-room. On this was set a lime-wood pergola, over which trailed azaleas, clematis, and jasmine. The ground was flagged with broad rough stones, between which grew exquisite little crimson, white and blue rock flowers.

It was, of course, Alec's father, John Griggs, who had paid for all this. He 'vas known to be a very rich man and Alec was the only child. The Griggs were very popular on the countryside, and though many may have been envious, no one begrudged Alec "an American millionaire" father, especially as the hospitality at "Guestling" was notorious. Whether old John Griggs was actually a millionaire or not need not concern us. He was certainly a very rich man, but what the natives of Tellinghurst and district did not know—or only a few of them knew—was that although he was an American, he was only an American by naturalization. He was born and had spent the first twenty-three years of his life in England.

Indeed, many English men took him to task for thus forswearing the land of his birth, but his argument was that, although his heart was loyal enough to the motherland, you could not spend over forty years in a country, enjoy all its opportunities of advancement and make your fortune there, without ceding it whatever benefits your citizenship might afford. America had made him, and he was, moreover, indebted to it for the most priceless asset of his career—his wife, the daughter of a professor of physics at Columbia University.

No one seemed to know the details of John Griggs' chequered career. He had been most things. But it was at St. Louis that he had laid the foundation of his fortune, first in connection with a bleaching business and then through a patent of his own known as "Griggs' Fertilizer."

It was in this city too that he acquired a soubriquet, which had stuck to him ever since: "Straight Griggs." No one was prouder of this title than Alec, his son. If his father had handed down to him one of the most honoured titles in the peerage, it would not have given him such a thrill of pride as this simple and well-earned description of his father's character. If his proprietorial conscience sometimes smote him a little when he looked around the beautiful house and grounds of "Guestling," he consoled him self with the reflection that his possession of them was a source of infinite gratification to the man who had really bought and paid for that possession—"Straight Griggs."

During the first fortnight, owing to the excessive heat, the Griggs hardly went outside the grounds, but the colonel and his wife, who were used to tropical climates, would come over in the afternoon, and very often in the early part of the evening the two elderly gentlemen would have a game of bowls, before settling down to their usual evening's "pow wow." In the third week the colonel had to go up to London for four or five days to attend one or two committee meetings. John went with him in the car to the station, and their parting had quite a note of melancholy regret. The colonel said he was afraid he would find the club he was staying at extremely boring after their delightful talks, while John said feelingly that he would be all the time looking forward to his friend's return.

Now if there was one feature about Griggs which had impressed the colonel more than another it was his innate buoyancy of disposition. It was a quality which conveyed itself to the listener. His eyes were the eyes of an incurable optimist. And when he spoke, in spite of his sixty-three years, the bulk of which had been spent struggling against adversity, his voice bad almost a boyish ring. He was full of enthusiasms, sensitive to impressions, and eager to listen.

It is advisable to keep these facts in mind in gauging the colonel's apprehensions on the night of his return. He had parted with "Straight Griggs" in the manner described, and with these impressions of him indelibly graven on his mind. But on the Friday night when he returned he was conscious of a subtle change in his friend. It was not very marked, but it was there—quite definitely. He was just as affable, just as prepared to talk and to listen, but his manner was preoccupied. Some of his buoyancy had gone, some of his enthusiasm. He was not talking quite so well, or listening quite so well. Perhaps it was the heat. Sometimes during the evening his eyes would wander. When they were seated on the terrace he would let those terrible black cigars of his go out and then restlessly light another. When the colonel was talking to him he would suddenly turn and look down the valley, and the colonel knew that there was something on his mind. Moreover, it was something which had happened during his absence.

He made occasion to take Barbara on one side, but she knew nothing. There had been no mail in from America during his absence. The Griggs had received no letters. How had they spent their time? Well, Mrs. Griggs had hardly been out of the grounds, but Mr. Griggs had taken the car out on two afternoons and gone for a run round the country, nowhere special, that she knew of. The colonel was perplexed. He returned to the terrace and found his friend still sitting alone in the dark. He determined to be as matter of fact as possible. Perhaps this mood would pass.

"Well, John," he said breezily. "I hear you have been for a run or two in my absence. Where did you get to?"

Without moving his cigar Griggs mumbled:

"Oh, one or two round trips—nowhere special. Except"—he paused and looked away down the valley—"I got to the sea, and took a look at Ticehurst and Brynne—came back through Wantney and Glendisham—nowhere special—"

There was an awkward little interval. The colonel wanted to hear more of the story of these wanderings, but he felt that any interruption might snap their flow. He merely murmured: "Um—um;" and refilled his pipe. Then John suddenly got up and appeared to stroll casually to the window that looked into the drawing-room. The rest of the family had just settled down to what had become an evening ritual—a few casual rubbers of bridge. It was essentially a family game, in which the three ladies talked all the time about dressmaking and the bringing up of children, Alec behaved like a cheerful martyr, and no one seemed to know whose deal it was, or what were trumps, or what the score was. John's return to his seat had a more furtive character. He almost tiptoed. When he had lighted a fresh cigar he leaned forward confidentially towards the colonel, and the latter noticed that his eyes had an unusual brightness.

"Colonel," he said quietly, "as you pass through Glendisham, going east, there is a broad stretch of marshland on your left, but the road leads up through a pinewood to Worsleydale Common. But looking down through the trees you can just see the roofs of a long stretch of rambling buildings, built of granite and slate-coloured brick."

He stopped, and looked at the colonel as though asking a question. The latter nodded his head and said almost under his breath:

"Yes, that's right. Deadmoor prison."

John Griggs turned his head from left to right and back again, like a large benevolent-looking eagle. He seemed to be assuring himself thoroughly that he had heard aright. When he spoke again his voice had a husky quality. "Deadmoor! Yes, I...I knew it was."

The colonel felt himself on peculiarly delicate ground. His upbringing decreed that the poking of one's nose into another man's private affairs was a detestable form of ill-breeding. On the other hand here was a fellow creature—and one for whom he had developed an affection—obviously anxious to relieve himself of some oppressive mental load. After a decent interval he said as casually as he could:

"You—you knew of it then?"

There was an obvious sense of relief about the face of "Straight Griggs." He seemed to rejoice that the question had been put to him so squarely, that in fact the issue had become so defined. Leaning towards his friend he said in a deep clear voice:

"I escaped from there forty-one years ago last fall."

The two men looked at each other closely. It was the colonel who was the more disturbed. He gasped, and repeated under his breath:

"Good God! Good God!"

Griggs added calmly, as though meditating:

"I don't know how the law stands. Whether there's a time limit or what. But I suppose if they knew they would put me back."

At this astounding revelation the colonel gave a quick apprehensive glance at the beautiful house, silhouetted against the night sky. Through the open window came the sound of Alec's laughter, and his voice:

"Come on, Mother, you owe me one and threepence. Pay up!"

Griggs spoke more quickly, as though anxious to bridge the chasm that was suddenly yawning between them.

"You will first of all, of course, wonder what I was doing in prison. I will tell you in a few sentences. My father died just after I came down from Oxford—my mother had died when I was a small boy. He left me what seemed to be a pretty considerable fortune—about £32,000. I was young, high-spirited and I had no ties. I immediately proceeded to do all those things which dashing youth regards as 'living.' As you may imagine I had no lack of friends and acquaintances eager to help me in my anxiety to dissipate this fortune. Without, I hope, being vulgarly excessive, I did most of the usual things—travelled luxuriously, entertained, and gambled. Incidentally, I'm afraid I gave a lot away to worthless people.

"Anyway at the end of eighteen months I was astonished to find that my capital of £32,000 had been reduced to rather less than £6,000! It was then that I began to make up my mind to pull myself together. This wouldn't do. I must settle down and find remunerative employment. And it was then, unfortunately, that I came in touch with Millingham. Millingham was one of the most ingratiating people I have ever met. He was tall, good-looking, and about twenty years older than I. We met, I remember, at a coffee stall about five o'clock one morning. I told him a good deal about my position, and afterwards went back with him to his flat in Golden Square.

"Millingham, it seemed, had a successful outside brokers business in the City. To cut it short he persuaded me to join him, and I put £4,000 into his business. I was to have a salary of £1,000 a year and a liberal percentage on the profits. The job suited me admirably. I could live comfortably on £1,000 a year. I was learning a business, and I was still my own master.

"I'm afraid dancing and other dissipations of youth still claimed a lot of my time, and my hours at the office were rather irregular. Nevertheless, I did a certain amount of work, and the whole thing seemed to be going swimmingly. It was two years later that the dreadful crash occurred. It was September, and I was going away with a friend to Norway fishing for a month. On the day of my departure I lunched with Millingham. We lunched lavishly, I remember—cocktails, champagne and liqueurs. His hospitality knew no bounds. About an hour before my train was due to depart he suddenly said:

"'Why, you never signed those Tilbury and Co. documents. I must have your signature before you go. If we take a taxi now you just have time to pop into the office and then have plenty of time for your train.' I nearly said: 'What are the Tilbury and Co. documents?' but I wasn't sufficiently interested.

"My mind was on fjords and fishing. We dashed into the office. I signed everything he put before me, about eight documents in all. His signature was already on them. I caught my train. I had a grand time in Norway. It was perhaps as well, for the day after I returned I was arrested.

"It seemed that I had put my signature to what was nothing more than an appalling kind of bucket-shop swindle. It came out at the trial that Millingham's real name was Malini. He had done this kind of thing once before in New York. He got seven years and I have never seen him since. As for me what could I say or do? As you know ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. I did not even claim not to have read the documents I signed. I made no defence. Legally I had none. On account of my youth, and the fact that I was probably influenced by my senior partner, I was let off with two years.

"Gee! but I was young in those days. I was sent to Wandsworth first, and when I found myself in that forbidding prison I set my teeth, and determined to go through with it. I would make good somehow. I didn't feel a criminal, that was the great thing, and I was young and buoyant. At the end of four months I was transferred to Deadmoor. Deadmoor was a less depressing prison than Wandsworth, but Golly! how the time dragged! The dreadful monotony of that routine, and then the—how can I describe it? kind of filthy undercurrent of confirmed vice running through the bulk of that unhappy crowd. I lie awake at night now sometimes, and think of it. It's horrible. Living in it you gradually feel it gripping you. I don't pretend to know what can be done, but the system's wrong."

Griggs licked his dry lips and frowned into the darkness.

"It was about six months later that the idea of escape occurred to me. There was a saying that no man had ever escaped from Deadmoor. I can quite believe it. I had very little real hope of escaping. But I felt that the mere effort of trying—however much I was punished for it afterwards—might sustain my momentary interest in life, and stimulate my self-respect.

"I began to take my bearings. At that time I was put to work making mailbags in a large building near the centre of the prison. I was passed daily from my cell to the exercise yard, and then to the mailbag building, and so back again to my cell, always, of course, under the eyes of warders. I could not see the slightest loophole of hope. The outer wall of the prison was a most formidable-looking structure, about 16 ft. high and crowned with a close array of steel spikes. About the end of October, however, I was transferred for two days a week to the laundry sheds. Our 'working party' consisted of about fifteen convicts, and in a long black shed near the south wall we did all the laundry work of the prison.

"On the second occasion of my visit there I began to take an alert interest in certain possibilities that this new situation offered. The windows of this shed faced north. The door was on the east side. But on the south side, where there were no windows, there was a space of less than twenty yards between the shed and the outside wall. In this space we used to hang out clothes to dry on clothes lines. I noticed when I was out there that the position was not overlooked at all except by certain upper cells never occupied in day time, and by the back windows of the sanatorium. But it was, I think, these attractive lengths of clothes-line that put temptation into a young fellow's head.

"I came to the conclusion that this was one of those things that wanted doing without too much planning and forethought. It must be like an act of inspiration done at the exact psychological moment. It came a fortnight later. It was early November, late in the afternoon, and already getting dark. There was a slight mist about. I was sent out to collect some runner towels that had been out there all the afternoon. I found myself alone in this secluded space. Looking back on it after all these years I simply gasp at my own coolness and audacity. Without a moment's hesitation I untied about twenty feet of clothes-line. In a few seconds I had made a noose at the end of it. I flung it up to the spikes. At my third attempt the noose caught over one of the spikes. I then tied one of the runner towels loosely round my neck—an inspiration this, as you shall see. It was again only a few seconds before I was at the top of that wall. But it was then that my more serious difficulties began.

"In the first place, although in the yard below I was not exposed up here I seemed to be silhouetted against the sky line for the whole country to see. I was visible from the upper part of the deputy-governor's house, the doctor's house, the sanatorium, and various parts of the prison grounds. It seemed incredibk that I was not immediately spotted. But I was too occupied to worry about this. My position was perilous. The slightest slip, and I should be impaled on those spikes. There was no space for a foothold, and it looked utterly impossible to leap clear of that wall, which appeared to slope outwards.

"It was then that my towel came in. I suppose it was again only seconds, but it seemed an eternity while I twisted it into a kind of pad. This I perched myself on gingerly on the top of the spikes. There was still no chance of jumping, so I simply let myself slither down the side of the wall. I fell with an unholy crash. When I reached the bottom the skin was torn off both my hands and arms, and my legs and body were badly cut and bruised, but I realised that no bones were actually broken. I staggered to my feet and ran.

"It is a curious fact when I look back on it, and I won't say whether I should take credit for it or not, that during the whole of that night's proceedings I never felt any fear. I reckoned the odds against me about ten thousand to one. I made up my mind to regard it as a kind of gallop and not to be broken-hearted when they caught me. Sportsmen aver that the fox enjoys the chase. I don't know anything about that, but I know that I got a curious kind of thrill out of it. I seemed to regard myself in a detached way, like a man looking down from a racestand on an outsider he has backed.

"Going direct south led, I knew, to the marsh, so I just ran till I was out of sight, then I made a wide detour and worked my way to the north side of the prison. As you know, about half a mile north is a pine wood, as the gradient of the hill begins to get steeper. As I say, it was getting dark, and I reckoned if I could make that wood before they caught me, my chances would improve considerably. The trouble was I had to keep on stopping, hiding and dodging, because there were a few stray people about. But I must have had a good quarter of an hour's start before the gun went off. I knew what that meant, but the immediate danger was that it made the people I was likely to meet more alert. That confounded prison garb!

"But my luck held. I knew if I could make the wood, so far as men are concerned, I could give them a good run for their money, for that night anyway; but what I didn't like the thought of was dogs, which I knew they sometimes used on these occasions. Just before reaching the wood, I had to cross a road and an open field. A cart came blundering along the road, and I crouched down under a hedge. While hiding there a sound reached my ears which gave me a certain satisfaction—the sound of trickling water. It was true. After the cart had gone I found a narrow stream by the side of the field. I stepped into it, and waded over a hundred yards, until I came to the edge of the wood.

"I reckoned that might put the dogs off a bit. It was beastly cold and uncomfortable, but as I say I was young in those days. In the wood I had a good drink of water and a rest. Whether they used dogs or not I cannot say. I heard no sound of them. In fact I heard nothing of my pursuers that night. I did not run any more, but walked quickly, keeping my eyes and ears on the alert. I walked for about another two hours and then had a rest on a fallen tree trunk. I felt it necessary to have a kind of committee meeting of one.

"The trouble was I didn't know the country at all, or where I was, or in what direction I was going. Not that this knowledge would have been very much use to me. The night was dark, but although one's eyes get used to it, it was impossible to see more than one's immediate surroundings. I could, however, just tell whether I was on a road or a common. After a time I decided to stick to a narrow road. A road in any case must lead in one direction, and I knew I was heading north. If I met anyone with a lantern or a lighted cart or trap I hid in the hedge, otherwise I did not hesitate to call out a cheery 'good night!' to passing travellers.

"The sound of my own voice gave me confidence. You must remember there were no motor cars in those days! I was beginning to get very hungry, and coming to a field I grubbed up a swede and ate it. It was better than nothing. I could see that my most urgent problem was going to be that of clothes. Unless I could get hold of other clothes the odds were going to remain 10,000 to 1 against me. I dare not go near a village or habitation. It would mean hiding in the daytime and travelling at night, both at great risk; and where and to what end was I to travel?

"In the meantime, how was I to live? With a change of clothes I could take risks. It would be fatal to be merely seen. I don't know how long I plunged on through the darkness. Sometimes I tried to approach some sleeping farm, but I was invariably scared by the barking of dogs. But passing along my lane at some unholy hour of the night, I caught sight of a long bungalow-looking building almost hidden amidst trees. There appeared to be a few dim lights about the place. I determined to reconnoitre, and avoiding the carriage drive which led up to it, I got through the hedge, and approached it Indian fashion, moving noiselessly from cover to cover.

"When I got near enough I could see that it had the character of a hospital or sanatorium. Not a very suitable place to burgle, you may say, but still it held out the possibilities of my most vital need—clothes. When I got to the gravel path that ran all round the outside I took off my boots. I then went carefully across it and approached a window. To my surprise the window was open about two feet at the bottom, and the room was dimly lighted by a gas jet. My first glance told me that my surmise was correct—it was a hospital, apparently a small private hospital. In this room were three beds, only one of which was occupied, and that at the far end by a man who was asleep.

"I tried to take in the details of the room, and suddenly my heart gave a jump. On a chair at the end of the man's bed, and neatly folded up, was a suit of clothes and a collar and shirt! Acting on my inspirational policy, I was through that window like a knife. I shot silently out of the room and gripped my treasure. As I lifted it I caught sight of a small pile of money on the mantel piece. It is amazing how quickly one's mind acts in cases of this kind. During my stay in prison I had vowed to myself again and again that when I regained my freedom I would never do a thing that was not meticulously honest and straightforward, and here I was after a few hours' liberty committing a deliberate burglary! At the same time my instinct of self-preservation was telling me that in this lay my one chance in the 10,000, while my mind was registering a decision that these trifles could be easily replaced when I had made good.

"I had just gripped the money when I heard a brisk step in the passage outside. If I had darted into the room, my outward journey was even quicker. When I alighted on the flower bed outside the window I had to peep back to see what happened. A nurse entered and after glancing at the patient she went straight to the chair where the clothes had lain! Then she stopped, and looked puzzled. She looked on the floor, at the patient, and then around the room. She was obviously bewildered. Without waiting for her bewilderment to develop into suspicion of an outside burglary I crossed the gravel path, collected my boots, sprinted across the garden, got through the hedge and in a few minutes' time was among the furze bushes of an adjoining common.

"It was an unpleasantly cold night to change one's clothes in the open, but excitement kept me warm. I had no matches and I could not see how much the money amounted to. But this seemed of less importance than the clothes. They fitted me quite well, and I stuffed the convict garb as far up as I could into a rabbit hole. After walking on for another half hour there seemed to be no point in plunging about in the dark, so I leant against a tree and tried to get a little sleep. I must have slept an hour or two, for when I awoke there was a glimmer of light in the sky, which served the useful purpose of enabling me to locate the east.

"I was soon able to count my stolen money. There was a sovereign, a half-sovereign, and eight shillings in silver. A very useful accretion of capital upon which to start my new career!

"I was feeling stiff and very hungry, but when I looked at my new brown suit my spirits rose. I should now have to risk entering a town or village. I washed my face in a stream and did my hair as well as I could with my fingers. I was bothered by having no hat. Not that I particularly wanted to wear one, but in those days 'the hatless brigade' was almost unknown, and I feared that this little defect might make me conspicuous. I decided, however, that when I came to a town I would amble along the streets very slowly with my hands in my pockets, as though I had just strolled out of a house.

"I made for a road and after walking rather less than a mile I found myself coming to the outskirts of what appeared to be a fair-sized town. It turned out afterwards to be Brindlehampton. I passed a policeman, who I thought looked at me questioningly. I ambled by him, whistling, and to my relief found that he was not following me. The shops were shut, but a little further on I came to a sight which gladdened me—a cheap eating house for carters and market people. I strolled in and sat down, and a girl came up to serve me. I ordered two fried eggs, some grilled ham, bread, butter, marmalade and a pot of coffee.

"Oh, that breakfast! During the whole course of my life I have never enjoyed such a meal. Afterwards I strolled out and bought cigarettes, and matches. I then came across a hosiers. There I invested in a three-and-ninepenny felt hat and a walking stick. The walking stick was a luxury, but I felt it added conviction to my make-up. I looked at myself in the long mirror. In my brown suit, collar, tie, felt hat, with a cane hanging over my arm, a cigarette in the corner of my mouth, there was nothing about me to betoken the convict. Strolling up the town, my body sated with good food and hot coffee, the odds of 10,000 to 1 against me suddenly seemed to shift to a good level chance. Such is youth!"

"Straight Griggs" sighed. During the whole course of this narrative the colonel could not but be impressed by the extraordinary simplicity of the narrator. Having decided to tell the story be never hesitated. He seemed to be living through the exploits of that night all over again, and although he must have done so a thousand times, the recounting of them appeared to give him a certain boyish satisfaction. On account of "youth" he had nothing to sigh about.

"I knew of course that the safest place in the wide world to hide in was London, and thither I made my way. I even had the audacity to ask a policeman the way to the station, and when he addressed me as 'sir' I thrilled with delight. I really wonder I didn't travel up first class.

"In London I made for the inconspicuous neighbourhood of Camden Town, and took a furnished bedroom in a meagre street. I paid the landlady a week's rent in advance and told her my luggage was on its way from Scotland. It was impossible, of course, to make any definite plans. My immediate problem was to remain hidden until the keenness on my search had somewhat abated. Later on I might manage to get out of the country. In the meantime it would be necessary to get some kind of job—however menial—in order to keep body and soul together, and at the same time not to mix among a crowd of men, any one of whom might recognize me from my photograph, which had appeared in the newspapers. I must say I had managed to alter my appearance pretty considerably, from the photograph.

"My luck was in. Two days later I heard from a man on a seat in the Park about a big rush order a large firm of stationers were dealing with for some continental government. They wanted men for all-night work. I called and applied and was taken on at once, without any question of reference or character. My job consisted mostly in folding circulars, putting them in envelopes and stacking them. I had to work on a nine-hour night shift, and I was paid twenty-five shillings a week. A hard job, you may say, but I realized that I was lucky. I saw no one but a lot of down-and-out scallywags like myself.

"Towards the end of the week I had a queer little experience. Every evening I used to go for a two hours' walk before going on duty. I walked about the streets, avoiding the more conspicuous and well-lighted thoroughfares, but I enjoyed this plunge into adventure. One night I went as far as Oxford Street. I was walking briskly down Margaret Street when a man who was passing me stopped and exclaimed: 'Good God!' My heart gave a violent jump as I looked up. It was Rusbridger. Rusbridger had been one of my pals in the old halcyon days. He was a good chap, but a bit reckless, and unfortunately a bit of a drunkard. Many a wild night had we had out together. Almost instinctively he said: 'Come and have a drink, old boy.'

"I hesitated. Rusbridger made the situation a little more dangerous. At the same time I was in no position to flout a man who might be friendly towards me at that moment. A few minutes later we were in the corner of a saloon bar. Rusbridger knew that I had escaped from prison, and of course he wanted me to tell him everything. I realized that he only meant well, but I also realized that he was a dangerous man to tell things to. He was obviously rather thrilled at the adventure of meeting an escaped convict, but I was certain that in his cups he would go and tell others all about me, and they would tell others, and eventually the wrong person would get to know. I showed my delight at his friendly greeting, but was a bit evasive.

"At last he remembered he had an appointment. We went out and he hailed a hansom cab, and got in. Just as he was saying good bye he thrust his hand in my top waistcoat pocket and said: 'Well, good luck, old boy!' When he had driven off I found two five-pound notes in my pocket.

"During the next few days I developed a new obsession. I kept on thinking of the man in the hospital whose suit I was wearing and whose twenty-eight shillings I had stolen. I felt an overwhelming desire to pay him back while I had the opportunity. With Rusbridger it was different. I could regard the £10 as a gift (he had meant it as such), or knowing his address, I could pay him back at any time. I decided to devote the week-end to this act of atonement. We did not have to work on Saturday night, but were supposed to begin again on Sunday night.

"On Saturday morning I took the train down to Brindlehampton. I wanted to be there in good time, for this reason. I should have to restore the stolen property after dark. I did not know the name of the hospital, and was not quite certain of its position. I wanted to take my bearings in daylight. I decided to stay at a cheap little commercial hotel, to buy a ready-made suit in the town, to change, make a parcel of the brown suit, put the money in an envelope inside, and then—if I had any luck—just drop it through the open window.

"There was one thing causing me considerable perturbation. For the last two days I had been feel ing far from well, and when I reached Brindlehampton on the Saturday morning I was feeling much worse. This was the eleventh day after my escape from prison. I booked my room at the hotel, and then started out to try and rediscover the hospital. I thought I would leave buying the suit till I got back. I reached the outskirts of the town and then realized that it was not going to be any good. My head and back ached and I could hardly see which way I was going from giddiness. Somehow I managed to get back to the hotel, and when I got there I just had the wit to tell the proprietor that I was unwell and going to bed, and I thought I had better have a doctor. It was as well I did. I don't remember the doctor coming. I knew I had a very high temperature and was delirious. I think they gave me sleeping draughts.

"I seemed to be in a stage of unconsciousness for an interminable wretched time. At one time I knew they were carrying me in a stretcher. I got it into my head they were going to bury me, thinking I was dead. I cried out and struggled. There was a long interval of blackness after that...Then one night I seemed to emerge, and look around me. And do you know where I found myself?"

John Griggs shook his long index finger, as though lecturing a small boy.

"I found myself in the same room from which I had stolen the clothes! There was the same man asleep in the corner bed, and I was occupying the bed next to his. Almost instinctively I looked round for some sign of the police. 'They've got me all right,' I thought. But there was no sign of police. After a time the same nurse entered the room. She came up and smiled. Close to, I could see she had a kind face. She gave me something to drink, and I whispered: 'Where am I, nurse?' She wouldn't tell me at first, but after a time I got it out of her. I was in a small-pox isolation hospital.

"To cut this part of the story short for your benefit, for twelve days I had been wearing the suit just removed from the small-pox patient in the bed next to me! On the night of my burglary when I had looked back through the window and saw the nurse enter she had just come to take all his things to the disinfecting chamber. Of course, I did not learn this at the time. I pieced it all together afterwards.

"During my moments of consciousness during the next few days I tried to anticipate the result of my burglary of the small-pox hospital. Would it lead to my apprehension? There was nothing at present to suggest that I was under suspicion. I had given a false name at the hotel, of course, and was supposed to be a commercial traveller. I gathered from the nurse that there had been a mild epidemic of small-pox in the county recently, but it was now well in hand.

"In this hospital there were only my room companion and my self, but there were seven women cases in the other section. She told me that my case was considered a mild one, but that my companion was very bad. The doctor who visited me twice a day was kindness itself. But what about the suit? I kept on thinking. When I was brought in and undressed, did either the nurse or my fellow-patient recognize it? The latter I could almost dismiss without question. He was in no state to worry about a suit of clothes. As to the nurse, I guessed that she would have been too occupied at the time of the undressing, and if afterwards it struck her that there was something familiar about the suit, she would hardly suspect it could be the same one. This would be stretching the large arm of coincidence too far.

"Besides, there is not, as a rule, anything peculiarly striking about a man's clothes. She may not even have observed it very closely before. In this surmise I discovered afterwards that I was correct. But who would get the suit of clothes when we got well? It would, I presume, be brought to me. But then, of course, would come the danger. I could assume that by that time he would be much better and alert. He would assuredly recognize the suit. Then how could I explain? It is wonderful how, when one is ill, one's imagination seems to become so active over trifles.

"I lay there for hours during both the day and the night, tossing about, and visualizing all kinds of compromising situations arising out of the brown suit. At the end of another ten days, however, I gave up worrying, and I noticed that my companion was beginning to show signs of some slight improvement. He had nodded and smiled at me on several occasions, and at last we began to have brief whispered conversations. I learnt that his name was Broome. He was only a few years older than I, and had followed several trades. Lately he had been quite successful, I gathered, as a dealer in brass furnishings, had saved a little money, and was talking of going out to Canada as soon as he was well enough.

"As the weeks went by it became more and more obvious that, in spite of the fact that I did not enter the hospital till twelve days after Broome that, so far as condition was concerned, I had already overhauled him. His face was still a dreadful sight. I came through it with only these few little scars on my left chin, and many people now do not recognize them for what they are."

"I certainly had not," remarked the colonel.

"Brume, nevertheless, was quite hopeful. He had no idea how ill he was. When he found a difficulty in writing he got me to attend to his correspondence. There was always a certain amount of trouble over this. They did not mind us receiving letters, but everything we sent out had to be carefully disinfected and so on, and so they didn't encourage us.

"At the end of two months the doctor said that in ten days' time they would be able to let me go. My mind became active with plans for the future. What on earth was I to do? I realized that I was a fool to have escaped from prison. I had only had about another nine months to serve, and then I could have started out, to work out my own salvation in my own way. But as it was, I had contracted this filthy disease and was liable to arrest at any moment. If caught all this period of liberty would be set against me, and I should get a further stretch as a punishment. It was, moreover, almost inevitable that I should eventually be caught. In any case, I could make no kind of honourable and successful career. My only hope lay in being able to get out of the country.

"When I told Broome they were going to let me go, he somehow or other got it into his head that he was to be released on the same date, and began to make his plans accordingly. He got me to write to a shipping company for him and book a passage to Quebec. This was for just three weeks hence. I also wrote and got hold of a passport which he already possessed. Broome became tremendously excited. He had, I gathered, saved quite a useful sum of money, and he had apparently no one dependent on him. He was full of the fortune he was going to make as a brass furnisher in Canada. He would talk far into the night, with corresponding rises of temperature.

"The doctors could not make out what was the matter with him. It went on for a week like this, and then the thing happened which was to affect my whole career. Broome died. A curious chap, and I can't profess to have felt any special interest in him, beyond the fact that he left in my possession a passport and a second-class single ticket from London to Quebec! Three days later I calmly donned the brown suit again and strolled out to the cab that was to take me to Brindlehamptone Station.

"I had a few busy days in London. The first was devoted to getting an interview with Rusbridger. The good chap lent me £50. And so one morning I turned up with a cabin trunk and a valise for the boat train to Southampton. I felt full of confidence. It was three months since I had escaped from prison, and the search for me had probably relaxed, and the attack of small-pox had altered my appearance, to say nothing of the fact that I had grown a beard. In any case, I found myself ten days later a free man walking the streets of Quebec.

"I cannot describe to you the queer sense of thrill I experienced the first night I strolled about the streets of that quaint old town. I had a kind of inspired feeling. I was bursting with hope, determination, and good resolves. I seemed to detect the hand of Providence in all my later experiences. It was as though I had been duly punished and warned, but was now to be given another chance. The escape, the extraordinary coincidence of my burgling the smallpox hospital, resulting eventually in my free passage to Canada, the lucky meeting with Rusbridger, all these things seemed to stimulate my anxiety to make good.

"I don't propose, colonel, to bore you with an account of my life until I did make good. In no case was it very interesting. Of course I had my ups and downs, but generally speaking I was lucky from the first. I worked hard, and discovered that I was no fool, but the thing I kept foremost in my mind was, even in the smallest dealings to play straight. I think you—you know that in later years I succeeded pretty well. Of course, a fellow doesn't forget, not entirely forget, not even after forty years. Do you think, colonel, do you think a thing like that can be entirely lived down...redeemed, as it were?"

The colonel hesitated.

"Yes, I do. I believe every thing is redeemable. Your wife knows?"

Griggs nodded.

"I told her before we became engaged." His eyes glowed. "I believe—I believe she has almost forgotten. It is so very long ago."

The colonel nodded, and then in a low voice he whispered:

"And so you are Alec Stratford!"

The expression of utter amazement had hardly had time to fill the eyes of "Straight Griggs" before he felt his forearm gripped in a friendly pressure, and the colonel was saying:

"I'm sorry. Forgive me, John. I did not mean to be so theatrical. The temptation was too great. Understand at once that not a word you have told me will ever pass my lips. Only it is rather strange. Do you know that at the time of your escape, I had just returned from the East and had accepted an appointment as deputy governor of Deadmoor Prison. I had not been there a month when one of the convicts—Alec Stratford—escaped. I got into trouble about it. In fact, they were so rude to me that I resigned. I did not mind much. I did not like the job. I remember the escape quite well. Our cook, an Irish girl, saw you on top of the wall from one of our upper windows. She did not tell us for two days, and when I taxed her with this neglect afterwards, she burst into tears. She said her first instinct was to call out, but when she saw how young and brave and sad you looked, instead of doing this she went down on her knees and prayed to the Holy Mother to spare you. You may care to cherish this vision of Kathleen. She has since died."

Griggs leant forward, deep in thought. There came the sound of a piano from the drawing-room. Barbara was playing a Schubert impromptu. A large white moth fluttered across the table between the two men. From below there arose the heavy perfume of freesia. The colonel was continuing in his gentle voice:

"There is one point about which I may allay any fears you may have. You mentioned about being 'sent back to Deadmoor.' This shows that on your ride the other day you did not get very near the prison. If you had you would have observed one striking fact about it. It is dismantled."

"Dismantled!"

"Yes. Some four or five years ago, owing to the general decrease in crime the Home Office decided to close four prisons. Deadmoor was one of them."

"But what are they going to do with it?"

The colonel smiled.

"Oh, what does a government do in a case like that? Nothing at all for years and years. And then—oh, I don't know, something happens. The place gets pulled down and disappears. You could probably buy it yourself for an old song!"

Griggs looked up quickly. He waved his long forefinger in front of the colonel's face.

"There's an idea in that, colonel," he said.


Should you at some time be motoring through Sussex and you pass through the valley of Tellinghurst, just beyond Glendisham, where the road turns northward, you will come to a plateau. On this plateau is a large stretch of intensively cultivated land, dominated by a low white building of elegant design in the Colonial style. Around the grounds are numerous glass-houses, potting-sheds, and so on. At the entrance to the drive a white board with dark green lettering announces the fact that this is: "The Anne Griggs Agricultural College for Women."

For a month or so every summer you might observe at odd times a sprightly old couple walking amidst the flowers, talking to the superintendent or the students, helping, planning, scheming. No one seems tore member that in years gone by hardened convicts traipsed the dead monotony of the exercise yard, where now on that same spot fresh-complexioned girls move smilingly amidst the flowers, or stoop in loving solicitude above the soil. Perhaps sometimes the old man remembers it, but he gives no sign. The leaves fall, and the soil takes them to its bosom, against the coming of a new and distant birth. The cycle revolves, and in time everything is forgotten...

But the soil goes on, producing, producing, indifferent to the frailties of man, reorganizing neither good nor evil, but eternally concentrated on the perpetuation of life. And the new birth comes, and the young buds thrust themselves forward, eager for whatever life may hold, regardless of the tribulations of the past.


21. The Little Window of the Night

Well, well, what does it all matter? Pass the little silver spoon. Stir. Stir very gently. For to-night is the night of the carnival.

Quite soon Denise will be here. I shall hear her step upon the stair, the click of the latch, and then her gay laugh, and the mellow sound of that voice which means everything to me in heaven above and the earth beneath.

"Well, Anton, darling, are you ready?"

Ready! O, God! how beautiful she is. She trembles in my arms. She is all vivid youth, and all utterly mine. When she is not here I do not exist, It is all a sluggard twilight; and suddenly she comes, and the birds are singing in the trees and the kingcups are glowing in a sunlit meadow. When I look into her eyes I am as young as she, a strong man of virile purposes. The poignant moment is all-sufficient. She is mine, and we are a twin-god praising the beauty of the hour. I feel myself a person of tremendous power. All that is best in me is newly discovered. I want to pour out all my strength to serve her. I am breathless for the exchange of understanding. Small things become charged with pregnant significance. We create as we look into each other's eyes, and touch each other's hands. We race along through golden corridors of time. No other hour has ever been till this. And yet I have heard men say she is not beautiful. Who am I to judge? It is just that curve of those smooth cheeks that is Denise and no one else. Just that little tilted nose, the dark-brown hair, the poise of that dear chin and neck, the slender figure. It is all hers, and hers and no other's. And therefore it is mine. And those eyes that await on me, and are so eloquent, those eyes that never misunderstand me, that anticipate my thoughts, that interpret my love. And as I watch her move, and hear her speak, I do not ask whether she is beautiful. She is Denise. She is the alpha and omega of life. There could be nothing different. It would be unthinkable...

She sails across the room to me, holding out her arms. She is wearing a frock of fantastic hues, and in her hair dark-red poppies. Dark-red poppies!...Yes, yes, of course; to-night is the night of the carnival!

So vivid are these moments that sometimes I dream she is here before she actually arrives. I sit by my attic window, watching the little particles of dust flicker in the pale shaft of sunlight. Below me I hear the drone and cries of the great city. A woman over the way is playing that Spanish thing of Debussy's—Soirée dans Grenade. It always excites me. I see the sun sinking behind the mountains. In the courtyard of a dim palace are groups of people. Three swarthy, dark-featured men are playing the guitar and the mandolin, their sensual faces grinning in the amber light. A woman is dancing, quite unconscious of their animal glances. Her body sways, expressing the subtle rubato in the music. Figures are moving covertly in the recesses of a balcony. Fireflies whip the shadows. It is a melody of joy and infinite sadness. The melody of the life of each one of us...Strange that music should have this power! And as I listen to it I recall my first meeting with Denise, for she, too, is a dancer.

No one ever danced quite like Denise. When I first saw her she was like grass blown by the wind, or blossom falling from an appletree, or flecks of cloud scudding across the sky at the break of dawn. She all purity and movement. It is odd how dancing may express all the emotions, exhaust the gamut of all the senses, excite, degrade, inspire, elevate. I had been riding since forenoon. Business in connection with the transfer of one of my father's estates in Picardy had necessitated it. My father was very old, and I an only son. Tired and thirsty, I rode into the courtyard of the inn at Couturet-en-bois. I gave my horse over to a groom. From the back of the inn came the sound of music. Languidly I went up to my room. I looked out of the window. I beheld a pleasure-garden where peasants made merry in holiday season. Beneath a tree two travelling musicians were playing a country gigue. On the grass in the open Denise was dancing. And I stood there and watched, and forgot all about my fatigue and my stiff limbs. She was little more than a child then, supple, lithesome, appealing. She had that peculiar genius of all good dancers in that she appeared to be quite unconscious of her body, and yet to have a complete control of it. A score or so peasants and travellers were seated on the grass. In the intervals there was applause and the buzz of talk. An old man took round a tambourine and collected money. I waited till the dance was finished, and then I buried my face in my hands. The figure of Denise had danced its way into my life, never to be deleted. I rang the bell. To the woman who answered it I said:

"Who is this girl I have observed dancing in the grounds yonder?"

"Oh, that!" replied the chambermaid; "that is Denise Floquet. She is the daughter of old Leon Floquet.—a worthless fellow, Monsieur."

"How worthless?"

"He takes her round the countryside and makes her dance. He lives on her. Monsieur. For himself, he does nothing."

"The old man with the tambourine?"

"Exactly, Monsieur,"

I thanked her and went down to the common room of the inn. I made inquiries and found that Denise and her father had gone on. A mood of melancholy came over me, as though I had lost my dearest friend. I ate my dinner in silence. Half-way through I pushed my plate away and went and sat out at the table pleasantly placed under the trees of the orchard. I sipped my coffee and dreamed of the little dancer. Three men came and occupied the table next to mine. We were the only occupants of the garden. I paid little attention to them, though I was conscious that one was a large, red-faced man who, judging by his remarks, was a traveller for a firm of spirit merchants; the other two were local tradesmen. When they had consumed several liqueurs their conversation became louder, and I could not help overhearing it. Suddenly I became aware that the large, red-faced man had made an unspeakable reference. He was laughing bucolically, and he said something which I cannot repeat. It referred to Denise. I am a hot-tempered man, and I sprang to my feet.

"You—you—unspeakable traducer, you!" I cried, and I flung the contents of a glass pitcher of water full in his face.

I will not recall all the details of that distressing episode. We were all blind with rage. With the apple blossoms falling all around us and the birds singing in the trees, we fought—the four of us—among the marble-topped tables and the chairs. People rushed out of the inn and separated us, but not before I had knocked the large man senseless and flung him among the rhododendron bushes. Denise did not know, and never has known, that I had constituted myself her champion, or the price that I paid for it. For in the struggle I cut my wrist upon a broken wine glass. It bled profusely. In the night I became delirious, and a surgeon was sent for. I developed blood-poisoning. For days I lay in a critical condition in the bedroom of the inn. And then my old father came to see me. I shall never forget his coming. You must know that my father was devoted to me. He had an exaggerated idea of my character and abilities. My mother had died when I was a small boy, and my father wrapped his life round mine. He spoilt me in every way. I could do nothing wrong.

I can see him now as he came shuffling into the room, thrusting out his thin arms, and mumbling:

"My little boy...my brave heart!"

He would never believe that I was more than a little boy, although he entrusted me with all the affairs of his estates. He was educating me in the law, and had a great idea that I was to get into the Senate. Of the origin of my quarrel we said nothing. I do not know how much he learnt, but I know that the traveller in spirits, who was clamouring to set the law on me, was squared. I saw or heard nothing more of him. It was five weeks before I was well enough to get about, and by that time the position between my father and myself became reversed. He was the invalid, and I was well enough to look after him. As a matter of fact, he ought never to have travelled. He was very unwell when he started, and it was only the nervous anxiety and his affection for me which kept him going. When I began to recover, he collapsed. His heart was in an extremely enfeebled state.

One evening I was seated at my window. The sun was setting in a blaze of glory. The fruit blossoms were over, but the bees were busy among the irises and roses. Suddenly I saw my father enter the garden. He was carrying a rug. I was about to call out to him, but somehow I felt constrained to watch him instead. He walked ever so slowly, dragging one foot after the other. He stood amidst the flowers, looking round. Then he appeared to sigh, and with great deliberation he chose a spot under a young birch-tree. He spread out the rug and lay himself down, facing the setting sun. I don't know how it was, but his movements fascinated me. They were so incredibly slow and so elaborate. It appeared to be so important to choose the exact spot. His thin, straight figure lay so still...so very still. Something seemed to tell me that my father was disappointed in me. It was the mise-en-scéne of our little tragedy. I watched him for twenty minutes, and he did not move; then, leaning out of the window, I called gently:

"Father...Father!"

And he gave no sign. I darted back into the room. I was frightened. I felt my heart beating. I sat trembling on the side of the bed. After a long interval I went back to the' window and again called:

"Father...Father!"

And the rigid figure remained inert. Then stealthily I crept down the stairs. I walked across the lawn on tiptoe. I touched my father's shoulder, and he did not wake. A wood-pigeon cooed melodiously up above in the branches of an elm. The bees droned in the young flowers, and the sun went down.

Three months later I was in Paris, studying for the Bar. My father had left me a comparatively rich man, and the heir to great ambitions. His name was to be perpetuated upon the scrolls of fame with the names of the best sons of France. I had not seen Denise again, and I had tried to dismiss her from my memory. I occupied luxurious quarters in the Rue Ambrosine, and I was attended by an old concierge and a valet named Canot. I passed my preliminary examination with comparative ease, and the work interested me. I moved in society of various sorts, and indulged in the orthodox pleasures of my kind.

It was nearly three years later that I again met Denise.

I recognised her at once. It was at Dieppe. I had failed in my final examinations for the Bar. Something went wrong at the end. I failed badly. Discouraged and crestfallen, I had gone away with a party of friends, amongst whom was Monsieur Léon Castille, the Deputy! He was a good friend to me. He believed in me and trusted me in my darkest hour. He insisted that there was a great career for me in the political world. We motored through Brittany and Picardy. At Dieppe we stayed at the Hotel de l'Univers.

One night after dinner I strolled through the back of the town alone. I wanted to escape from people of my own world I went into a little cabaret. It was quite amusing. I have always contended that the humble cabarets supply better entertainment than the much-advertised vaudevilles on the English and American plan. I had no programme, but half-way through a roar of welcome greeted what was evidently a popular number. The orchestra struck up a bowdlerised edition of Mendelssohn's Spring Song. The lights went up. The scene was set with a green cloth background. And suddenly the joyous figure of Spring itself danced before my eyes. For a second I wondered where I had experienced this before, and then the whole thing came back to me—the pleasure-garden at Couturet-en-bois! I sat entranced, clutching the arms of my fauteuil. At the end of the performance I sent round my card. Almost immediately I was admitted and shown to Mademoiselle's dressing-room. Two other actresses were with her and a snuffly old man, whom I recognised as her father.

Denise was examining my card quizzically, and her eyes were still shining with the excitement of the dance. I bowed, and said:

"Mademoiselle, pray forgive me. I had the great pleasure of watching you dance, three years ago, at an inn at Couturet-en-bois. Since then I have not had the good fortune to enjoy such an experience until to-night."

She gave a little cry and looked at me.

"Oh, Monsieur," she cried, "you are extremely gracious."

"May I take the liberty," I hastened to add, "of congratulating you on your well-deserved success, and of prophesying that even greater laurels are awaiting you in the temples of Terpsichore."

One of the actresses laughed at my rather stilted phrases, but Denise did not take her eyes from mine. Her lips were parted, and she smiled with friendly wonder. The old man snuffled at my elbow, and mumbled:

"Some other time, Monsieur. We are engaged for tonight."

What did the old fool mean? I bowed to him and tried to wither him with a glance. But Denise held out her hand.

"It is extremely kind of you, Monsieur," she said. "I remember Couturet-en-bois so well. I was born near there. We are staying at the Rue Bazin, number 47B. It would be so agreeable if Monsieur would call one morning, and we could discuss the dear country which I love."

I felt myself blushing as I bowed above her hand. I murmured my enchantment at the invitation, and promised to call on the morrow. When I had closed the door I heard the sound of shrill laughter coming from within. But I knew it was not Denise who laughed.

And on the morrow my convictions were confirmed. I knew that whatever feelings Denise might entertain towards me she would not be likely to laugh at me. In the stuffy little apartment of the Rue Bazin she treated me with a kind of surprised interest. We said very little. We were like old friends who had known each other for a long time, and suddenly discovered some new and amazing revelation of sympathy. She told me of her struggles and ambitions, and I told her mine. Her disgusting father hovered in the background like a timid dealer at a sale of second-hand furniture.

Three days later she was leaving for Amiens, and I managed to see her once again. I gave her my card. She was to be in Paris in the autumn at the time when I was putting up for the Senate. She promised to come and see me. I cannot account for my lack of enterprise at the time; perhaps our acquaintanceship had been too brief. I was very young, schooled to a meticulous recognition of the conventions. I may have been afraid she would misunderstand me, and that I was taking an unfair advantage of her. But I know that last morning, as we walked along the plague, and her eyes reflected the restless movements of the sea—I knew that I loved her, and there would never be any other woman for me. And I could not bring myself to say it. I let her go, the old melancholy gnawing at my heart.

And that evening I experienced one of the most distressing and disconcerting moments of my life.

I could not go to the cabaret. My friends had made other social engagements for the party, and the old tyrant of convention still controlled me. When I arrived back at the hotel just before midnight, I found old Floquet waiting for me in the hall. He stood up as I entered, and indicated that he wanted to speak to me out in the street. The old rascal had been drinking, without a doubt. He mumbled to himself and tugged at my arm. When we arrived in an unlighted corner of the promenade I asked him his business. He said something about Mademoiselle, but I could not hear very distinctly. He was almost incoherent. I asked if he had any message for me from her. He nodded and winked mysteriously. Suddenly he said quite clearly:

"The price will be a thousand francs,"

I clutched my cane. The promenade seemed to rock. The lights went swinging away amongst the dim stars. I seized him by the coat and shook him.

"Pardon, pardon!" he whined. "Let us say five hundred francs."

He seemed to have an idea I was bargaining with him.

I thrust him heavily against a stone wall, and rushed back to my hotel. When I look back upon that hour, it seems strange that I never doubted the old man. I believed his statement that the message from Denise was that "the price would be a thousand francs!"

Alone in my room that night I suffered agonies of remorse and disillusionment. I was like a drowning man from whom the life-belt had been snatched away. I did not realise till that moment how I had builded on this hope. It was to be the turning-point. The sun-bathed meadows lay before me, and then suddenly...all was again darkness. Two naked alternatives stood out before me. The one, to end it all for ever. The other, to compromise; in other words, "to pay the price." I laughed cynically as I contemplated my choice, knowing full well I had not the courage to do the one, nor the cruelty to do the other.

The following day my friends and I left for Paris. I was occupied for the rest of the summer on literary work and preparations for my political career. I addressed many meetings, and was congratulated by my political colleagues. In certain moods I certainly appeared to have the faculty of moving people. My essays on "Currency" were commended by no less an authority than Monsieur Duparc, of the Academy. Everything pointed to my failure at the Bar being entirely obliterated by a more brilliant and significant career. It would be idle to pretend that I dismissed Denise from my mind. On the contrary, thoughts of her haunted me day and night, but to an extent I controlled them. I steeled myself to the idea that I should never see her again. I closed down the shutters on that portion of my life.

At the end of September I experienced a great disaster. It was at the last and most important political meeting I had to address. The hall was packed to the ceiling. My friend Monsieur Leon Castille occupied the chair. There was great excitement and enthusiasm. When I was called on to address the meeting after my friend had made a long and eloquent address, I suddenly...forgot! I could remember nothing. I stumbled. I repeated myself. I said the wrong thing. In the middle of a sentence I sat down.

I was defeated at the polls by a fairly large majority, and I realised that that career was closed to me. For a long time I could do nothing. I brooded upon my misfortune. I indulged in social pleasures and read considerably. All my friends, with the exception of Monsieur Castille, appeared to lose their confidence in me. I moved out to Passy. In December I married Madame Ostrovic. She was a Frenchwoman, but the widow of a Polish officer. If you ask me candidly, I cannot tell you to this day why we married. We had nothing in common at all, except that she was musical and I myself am something of a 'cellist. We drifted together in a certain social set, where perhaps the others bored us even more than we did each other. Lisette Ostrovic was older than I, frivolous, material-minded, and vain. In her way she was handsome, being tall, dark, and well-developed, with straight firm brows and luminous eyes.

We went for a protracted honeymoon to Rome, Sicily, and Algeria. Indeed, the honeymoon was far too long. We stayed in Algeria for nearly six months. At the end of that time I can say wthout exaggeration that we hated each other. Poor Lisette! I am not going to say who was right or who was wrong, but one day in Biskra we had a terrible quarrel. I need not enter into the nature of it. It is sufficient to say that the next morning I packed up and left her. She told me that she forgave me, but that she never wished to see me again.

It was the end of August when I arrived in Paris. The city was deserted and very hot. I went back to my old rooms in the Rue Ambrosine. I had some vague idea of writing a book upon "International Problems," But when I arrived there I spent most of my time playing the 'cello. Also I found that, owing to neglect, my financial affairs had got into serious disorder. An attorney with whom I had entrusted large blocks of shares and the collecting of rents, had himself got into monetary difficulties. He came to me one night with tears streaming down his cheeks, and confessed the whole matter quite openly. He had appropriated certain funds of mine to meet his own liabilities. He was in an awful muddle. Poor old Lavalliere! I could not be angry with him. He was so distressed. I took him into the library and gave him some refreshment, and then I played the traumerei of Schumann to him till he cried again. It was all very painful.

The following day I was sitting alone in the library, looking through some papers, when Canot entered. He said:

"A young lady requests an interview with you, Monsieur."

I answered idly:

"Show her in here, if she is at all presentable, Canot; for I am bored."

He retired, and in less than two minutes Denise was standing before me.

I was so moved I could not get my voice. She bowed, and said:

"Pardon the liberty I take, Monsieur. You were good enough to ask me to call and see you last year. I did so, but I did not have the good fortune to find you in."

"But, my God!" I answered, "they never told me. Did you not leave your name?"

"I did not like to, Monsieur. I did not think it of any consequence."

"But, good heavens! child, don't you know—it's of tremendous consequence. Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me?"

Almost blindly I groped my way towards her; then I sat down on a chair facing her.

"Denise," I groaned, "if I'd only known!"

She did not understand me. She was a little frightened, but very wistful and sympathetic. Her dear eyes were fixed on me with their kind, mothering, innocent expression. She was more beautiful than ever. How could I have believed that message? How could she be anything but pure and noble, trusting, sublime? Why was I distressing her like this? Why was fate so cruel? Quite untruthfully, but with a vague idea of excusing my behaviour, I blurted out:

"Someone told me you were married!"

A smile tickled the corners of her beautiful eyes. She replied:

"Oh, no, Monsieur. Not I. On the contrary, I understand that I have to congratulate Monsieur."

I shook my head, and pandering to the mood of brutal frankness that came over me, I said:

"You need not do that, Denise. My marriage is a failure."

I observed her start, and an expression of deep sympathy clouded her pretty face. She stood up and murmured:

"Oh! I'm sorry. I'm so—very, very sorry."

Quite roughly I seized her hands and said hoarsely:

"What of your father?"

She did not resist my rough grasp, but with a tear in her voice she answered:

"My father died last year, Monsieur."

"Ah! Was he—cruel to you?"

"One does not speak ill of the dead."

I bowed my head. I felt ashamed. Releasing her hands, I choked out:

"So you are not married? You are not engaged? You are not in love? Tell me everything. Tell me about yourself."

She resumed her seat on the chair, like a little bird upon a bough, with its wings at tension ready to fly away. She spoke quite collectedly:

"No; I am heart-whole. I love my work. I have a good engagement in Paris. Everyone is very kind to me. For the rest—I should never marry a man I did not love and respect."

Love and respect! This remark did not reconcile itself with the allusion to the thousand francs! Blind fool that I had been!

"Denise, Denise," I murmured, "I am lonely. Don't run away from me. I want you to be my friend. I want you to trust me."

She held out her hand.

"Of course I trust you, Monsieur," she said simply.

"Call me Anton."

She hesitated. Tears hovered on the brink of her eyes. I realised that I had been too precipitate. I released her hand.

"Or perhaps you will, one day. Let us meet again—to-day, to-morrow."

The next day we drove in the Bois. She lunched with me at Fan tin's. I called at her tiny flat and took her to the theatre. Within a week our intimacy was complete.

We were like children. She called me Anton and she trusted me, and I gave her no cause to regret her trust.

There began then that period of golden bliss, the ecstasy of which lasts to this day. Life seemed to start for me all over again. Nothing that had ever happened before was of any account. I observed life from a new angle. I was swayed by new impulses, keen desires, and fervid resolutions. Little actions became charged with joy. We lived quite simply, and derived all our pleasure from the mere contact of each other's presence. We met every day. She would call for me, in her neat dove-grey frock. She would say:

"Well, Anton, are you ready?"

I was eager and trembling with the thousand important little things I wanted to tell her since we had met on the previous day. But I would be quite calm. I would reach down my hat and answer:

"Yes, my little wood-pigeon, let us flutter away among the trees."

And we would stroll away side by side, peeping at each other, furtively touching each other's hands. We would sit under the trees in the Luxembourg, and she would tell me all the latest gossip of the theatre, and the colour her new frock was to be, and what the maitre de ballet thought of her new dance, and where quite the nicest omelettes in Picardy are to be obtained, and how she was going to help her dresser's little boy, who was a consumptive, get into a sanatorium in the South, and how careful I must be not to stand in a draught when I called for her at the theatre; and it was all so very, very—important.

It was the end of September when I told her that I loved her. It was in my own room in the Rue Ambrosine. We sat facing each other, and suddenly I took her hands and I held them over my eyes; and I said:

"Denise, what are we going to do? I love you."

I felt her hands trembling, and she stood up. She put her arms around my head and kissed me on the brow.

"Yes," she whispered hoarsely; "I know...I know."

I clung to her hands. I dared not look at her. I repeated helplessly

"What are we going to do?"

I felt her bosom heaving. At length she raised my head and looked into my eyes.

"Anton darling, you know I love you," she answered, "and I want to do what is best for you. I want to make you happy. You do not love your wife, and she does not love you. It cannot be good to go on like that. At the same time I could not be content to be just your mistress. Oh, my dear, let us just go on being good friends. Perhaps, one day—who knows?"

I kissed her then for the first time, and we clung to each other, bewildered by the sudden vortex of emotion in which we were swirled. It was Denise at last who said:

"We must not go on like this, Anton. This must be the last time. I could not bear it—"

In October my wife returned to Paris. She wrote to me from Passy a formal letter concerning business matters. She expressed no wish to see me. In effect she demanded a settlement. She had apparently been living considerably above her means. When I had satisfied her and settled up affairs with my defaulting attorney I found myself a comparatively poor man. I moved to humbler quarters and sold the bulk of my furniture. My friend, M. Castille, was good enough to find me an appointment in the Ministry of Justice, but the salary was small.

It cannot be said that this change in my fortunes seriously affected my spirits. On the contrary, I almost welcomed it. I was so consumed with my love for Denise that nothing else mattered, and I was relieved that my wife showed no disposition to see me again. I told everything to Denise, and she was very loyal and sympathetic.

"So long as I have you they may take every stick of furniture," she said.

"Little one," I said, "everything will be well for us. I know my wife, and I know that before long there will be someone else. And then I shall be free—"

I was right in my prophecy with regard to the fact, but wrong with regard to the time. It is strange how a protraction or prolongation of time may upset the best-laid plans. In war, in peace, in love, time is an all-powerful factor. In this duel of hatred it was my wife who gave way in the main essential, but she defeated me. For it was nearly four years before I received the formal intimation that she was living with Henri Martin, and that divorce proceedings were easily negotiable. And in the meanwhile—No, no, no; I would not for one instant have you imagine that Denise did not remain loyal to me; I would not have you doubt her purity and sincerity. Four years! Day in and day out she was my dear and true friend. She stuck to her faith, and to her principle. She would not marry a man she did not love and respect. Even in my darkest days, when I was dismissed from the Ministry of Justice, and reached the bed-rock of my capital, she believed in me and stuck to me. Even when I lost situation after situation; when M. Castille deserted me; when I pawned my furniture; when I wandered footsore through the streets of Paris, searching for employment, she—she was the one light in my darkness. And when everything seemed finished, when I lay alone in the darkness under the fever, she it was who nursed me, she it was who bought the food which kept my soul and body together—she, the dancing-girl, out of her hard-earned savings!

Four years! Oh God, if it had not been so long! If at our first meeting I had had the pluck, the courage of my impulse! She might have saved me from myself. It was time which destroyed me. Time and the tyranny of habit. And if in the end she left me for another, I have no one to blame but that other self of mine, which is even now stirring the milk-white liquid in the glass. Only the little glass is left me. The little glass in which I see the reflection of that drawn face. Shall I ever forget that expression in her eyes when she first began to suspect? the strained anxiety in her voice as she whispered:

Anton...Anton, what is that...in the little glass?"

So stir; stir gently. Let me once more peep through the little window of the night. Nothing else is left. It was through the little glass I found Denise, and through the little glass I lost her. It was through the little glass I lost my father, and his fortune, and his fair name. It was through the little glass I found and lost my wife. It was through the little glass I lost my career, my position, my friends...everything. And it is only through the little glass that Denise will come back to me to-night across the ages. Thirty years ago! And she will be still vivid and young, fresh and gay, in her fantastic frock, with dark-red poppies in her hair...She will hold out her arms and say:

"Well, Anton, are you ready?"

Am I ready? Oh, God!...Ay, the musicians have already arrived. I hear the slow Spanish dance; the carnival is commencing. And no one at the carnival will dance like my Denise. And I shall hold her in my arms, and she will be mine, mine, mine!

The particles of dust are drifting through the pale shaft of sunlight; the shadows are deepening in the meagre room...The stove is cold. Perhaps soon all will be darkness...darkness and silence; or vivid lights and the movements of dancing feet. Denise!...Denise!


22. One Thing Leads to Another

I

"That's all very well," said Mr. William Egger. And after a pause he repeated: "That's all very well."

In his shirt sleeves, carpet slippers, and embroidered skull-cap, he shuffled restlessly from the breakfast-table to the window, in the sitting-room above his general shop. His wife began to clear away, with the obvious suggestion that it was her place to make herself scarce. This was a father's duty. The boy stood sheepishly staring out of the window. The day was going to be scorching.

Of course it was his duty. It was always a father's duty. He must be firm, admonishing, a little forensic. And all these things came a little difficult to William. He was no orator. It was too early in the morning. He had breakfasted well, and at the back of his mind lurked the old hint of palliation: "Boys will be boys." He cleared his throat and rumbled:

"You say pinching apples isn't stealing. You're wrong. Anything you do becomes a habit. This is the second time Farmer James has written to complain. That doesn't mean that it's only twice you've stolen his apples. It means it's only twice you've been found out."

"I swear it's only twice," said Tom, sulkily.

"That'll do. Don't answer me back. You acknowledge you stole them. Well, what does it mean? You took what didn't belong to yer. It's sinful. You steal apples, and it becomes a habit. Perhaps to-morrow you steal pears, then peaches, then grapes—"

"I've never stolen no grapes!"

"Be quiet, will yer! It's just a question of—one thing leading to another. The downward path, the slippery slope, the—er—Gadarene swine, and so on. If you take these things p'r'aps one day you'll pinch a little money out of the till—my till!—p'r'aps someone else's penknife, umbreller, or whatnot. That's not the end. You're slipping down. Stealing leads to other things—weakness, giving way all the time. In the end, drinking, forgery, goin' to the pictures, all the deadly sins—"

Mrs. Egger had re-entered the room with a brush and crumb-tray and she exclaimed:

"Tom's a very bad boy, William. But you needn't drag in all the deadly sins. One doesn't need to go to hell for pinchin' a few apples."

William showed annoyance. Just like Agnes—to put him on to the job and then interfere.

"I tell yer—one thing leads to another," he barked.

"Yes, but—"

"There's no 'but' about it. Sin is sin, and once on the slippery path, down yer go."

"It's not so bad as all that," replied Mrs. Egger, quickly.

"What I ses is—it's not nice it getting about, us with the shop and that—"

"Oh!...ugh!"

The whole matter might have petered out at that point, but for the fact that, in the disturbance caused by Farmer James's letter, Mrs. Egger had left the bacon-dish on the sideboard. On the bacon-dish were several rinds from their breakfast. Ambling between the window and the sideboard, Mr. Egger's attention had been divided between this dish and a company of fowls in the yard below. The situation was a little too embarrassing to glance at his son. When his wife stood up in defence of the young man he pretended to be annoyed, but he was really relieved. He had landed into this tirade of abuse and admonition, and didn't see quite how to end gracefully. In a moment of distraction he picked up one of the bacon-rinds and flung it out to the fowls.

For the purposes of this story it is necessary to drop the curtain on this domestic scene for the moment and follow the adventures of the bacon-rind.


The fowls were white leghorns, and from their appearance they fared sumptuously. Doubtless a small general shop is a liberal found for scraps, apart from the supply of grain which their kind demands. But there is something about a bacon-rind that is irresistible to nearly all living creatures. Dogs will fight to the death for it, cats desert their kittens, birds and poultry perform prodigious acts in the way of running, doubling, and ducking. The bacon-rind is never safe until safely ensconced in the maw of some hungry champion.

On this occasion three hens rushed at the bacon-rind, and one, a little longer in the legs than the others, got possession. She scampered towards the hedge, followed by seven others, clucking and screaming. Before the hedge was reached the rind had changed hands—beaks, rather——three times. The original bird had regained possession and was about to force her way through a gap, when the cock flew from a savoury refuse heap and savagely pecked her neck. Scandalous that a female should be allowed to enjoy this essentially masculine luxury! There was a rough-and-tumble in the hedge, and the cock got possession. But do not think that he was allowed to enjoy his triumph in peace. The fight was by no means over. So great is the appeal of bacon-rind that the weak will attack the strong, wives will turn on their husbands, the desperate will perform feats of valour which no other incentive could stir them to.

The cock half-flew, half-ran, across the angle of the adjoining field, followed by five of his screaming females. He knew a thing or two, and doubled under an alder-bush and entered a narrow coppice that ran alongside the road. But when he arrived there three of the hens were still on his track.

Now it is one thing to capture a piece of bacon-rind, but quite another thing to swallow it. The latter operation requires several uninterrupted seconds, with the head thrown back. Even at the last moment a rival may seize the end projecting and a fierce tug-of-war take place. And that happened in this case. He ran and ran and ran. He had no recollection afterwards how far he had run, but at last he seemed to have outdistanced his pursuers. There was a moment's respite somewhere by the side of someone's kitchen-garden. He threw back his head, closed his eyes, and began to gulp the succulent morsel inch by inch. Oh, the ecstasy of that oleaginous orgy! Was there ever such a rind?

And then, of course, the thing happened! Someone had seized the end just as it was disappearing, and was tugging it back energetically. Curse! He opened his eyes and blinked. If it was one of his own hens, he would—well, give her a very bad time. Perhaps kill her, perhaps only neglect her. But, no! As he looked into his rival's eyes he realized that he was up against a large brown cock, one of the Rhode Island wretches that belonged to Mr. Waite, the wheelwright. Venom and hatred stirred in his blood. When this little matter of the rind was determined he would settle with this Rhode Island upstart. He was somewhat exhausted and nearly two inches of the rind had been reclaimed by his rival. Backwards and forwards they swung, their feathers sticking out with sinister promise of the real fight that was to follow. The white cock had regained a quarter of an inch when the rind snapped. He gulped his remaining portion, and drew back ready for the fray. Both beaks were lowered, when suddenly the white cock beheld an approaching terror, a large, savage mongrel dog rushing towards them. With a scream he turned, flapped his wings, dashed through the bushes, and left the brown cock to his fate.

II

"Jim! Quick! Quick!" exclaimed Mrs. Waite, running out of the cottage. Jim Waite appeared at the door of his shed, a hammer in his hand:

"What is it? What's the matter, Ida?" he called out, running towards her.

"That dog! That savage mongrel dog of the Beans has killed one of our fowls! O Lordy, it's the cock, too! It's killed the cock!"

"Where is it?"

"Look! Running across the road."

Jim Waite was angry. This was not the first time that mongrel dog of the Beans had raised his ire. It always growled savagely at him and at his wife and children. On one other occasion he had found a fowl murdered, and he had had his suspicions.

He ran into the road in pursuit. The dog, scared at first by the shouts of Mrs. Waite, had left its victim and darted under a culvert the other side of the road. Jim bent down, picked up a stone, flung it into the opening of the culvert, and, as chance would have it, hit the dog on its flank. The dog became angry. It saw red, and likewise Mr. Waite. It ran out and round him in a circle, growling, and then made a sudden rush. Jim was a powerfully-built man, and he brought the hammer down plomp on the mongrel's skull. It would kill no more fowls.

The matter might have ended there had not Mr. Bean, the retired corn-chandler, at that moment turned the corner in his dog-cart and beheld Jim with the hammer in his hand, standing above the corpse of his pet dog. Now Mr. Bean was a thin, wiry man of rather bucolic and eccentric temper. Moreover, he had a great affection for this most unpopular dog of indeterminate breed. Long before he reached the group he roared out:

"What the devil have you done?"

Equally angry, Mr. Waite roared back:

"I've ridded the neighbourhood of this vile beast that's just murdered my cock!"

"Your cock! What the devil does it matter about your cock!"

The dog-cart pulled up, and Mr. Bean jumped out. Before either of the men could say another word, Mrs. Waite pointed to the other side of the hedge and screamed:

"Look! Our only cock! Your blamed dog's killed it. It's always trying to bite everyone."

Mr. Bean followed the direction where she was pointing. His side-whiskers shaking, he exploded:

"Well, then, it was in my ground. If your cock comes into my ground, my dog is justified in killing it."

"There was another cock there—"

"Be damned to that!"

Mr. Waite appeared, a formidable figure towering in the road, with the hammer in his hand, as he said, savagely:

"You shall pay for my cock!"

Nevertheless Mr. Bean replied with spirit:

"You shall pay for my dog!"

"Dog, you call it? Bah!"

III

The attitude of both men appeared threatening, particularly as Mr. Waite handed the hammer to his wife and began to take off his coat. What would have been the immediate outcome is difficult to say. But the uproar and disturbance upset the rather highly-strung young horse, which began to trot off up the road. Mr. Bean did not notice this till it had gone about twenty yards. Then he called after it, but the horse took no notice. So Mr. Bean began to run. He would probably have caught it, but a little farther on a farmhand, late for his breakfast, came swinging down a narrow lane into the road on a solid-tyre bicycle. He did not expect to find a horse and trap there, and he just ducked under the horse's nose and his back tyre struck the left shaft, and he was thrown. So far as the horse was concerned, that put the lid on things. He put back his ears and bolted, with Mr. Bean a kind of forlorn "also ran."

The farm-hand picked up his bicycle and swore. Jim Waite picked up the dead dog, and flung it into Mr. Bean's strip of land. Mrs. Waite picked up the dead cock, and muttering to Mr. Waite: "Well, we'd meant to kill this week, anyway," she took it inside and plucked it while it was warm.

Mr. Bean was a good runner, and he tore down the road, yelling: "Stop him! Stop him!"

He had lost his dog, and the prospect of losing his horse also spurred him on. But a young horse, even encumbered by a dog-cart, can run faster than the fastest man. The distance between them widened. He could see the dogcart swaying and swerving, but the horse stuck to the road. Mr. Bean ran over half a mile. It was a deserted part of the country, and nothing passed him. The horse and cart were out of sight. He rested for a few moments, and then ran on. When he had travelled about another four hundred yards he beheld a group of dark objects at the angle of two narrow roads. For some moments he could not distinguish what they were, but his instinct told him that something had happened. On approaching nearer, he beheld a large car, apparently jammed into the embankment by the side of the road; his dog-cart appeared to be hugging its mudguards. Two of three figures were moving about, but there was no sign of the horse. He rushed up, panting. When within hailing distance, he called out:

"What's up? What's happened? Where's my horse?"

IV

Three busy men turned and regarded him. One was a young chauffeur. The other two were a curious contrast: a tall, white-moustached man of the Indian Army type, and a thin, aesthetic young man in the early twenties.

Now Mr. Bean was in the mood when the great thing he needed in life was sympathy. He was having a bad morning. It was therefore an unpleasant shock to have the white-moustached gentleman turn on him in a blaze of anger and exclaim:

"Who the devil are you? What the devil do you mean, letting your damned horse and trap rush about the country? My God! you've buckled both our front wheels, and I've a most important appointment in forty minutes in Hornborough."

"Where's my horse?" wailed Mr. Bean. "I got out of the trap for a moment, and he bolted."

"What the devil did you get out of the trap for?" roared the stentorian individual. The younger man grinned and said, casually:

"Your horse is all right, old boy. He's trotting about in the meadow yonder, eating lotus-leaves."

Mr. Bean climbed up the embankment and looked over; and, sure enough, there was the horse, two hundred yards down the meadow, nibbling grass in the intervals of staring nervously around. He did not appear damaged at all, but the left shaft of the dog-cart was snapped at the base and the wheel badly twisted. Mr. Bean, however, was not allowed to devote too much attention to his own troubles. The elder man, whom he heard the other address as "General," ordered him down in such a commanding way that he had not the power to disobey.

"Now, my man, listen to me," roared the parade-ground voice. "How far is it to Hornborough?"

"Nine miles," replied Mr. Bean, almost involuntarily adding "sir."

"God!" said the General. "And where is the nearest place we can get a car?"

"There isn't a garage nearer than Hornborough that I know of."

"Isn't there anyone in this God-forsaken part of the country who has got a car?"

"Only Sir Samuel Lemby, and I know he's motored up to town to-day."

"God!" repeated the General, and, turning to the younger man, he said: "What the devil are we going to do, my lord?"

It occurred to Mr. Bean that the younger man, addressed as "my lord," was vaguely amused. He scratched his chin and said:

"It looks like a wash-out, unless we walk, General."

"Walk! Nine miles in forty minutes."

"Perhaps we could hire bicycles."

"Bicycles."

The General's face was a study in stupefied outrage. He turned to Mr. Bean and exclaimed: "Are there no traps about here!"

"Plenty, sir," answered Mr. Bean, who by this time had completely succumbed to the overwhelming atmosphere of a general and a lord. "But no trap could do nine miles in forty minutes."

"But what the devil are we to do? The Minister can't wait. The train won't wait. The House sits at two."

Mr. Bean was enormously impressed. He felt personally responsible for some mysterious national disaster. He said, weakly: "I don't know, sir. It's very awkward."

Then a bright inspiration occurred to him. "A racehorse could do it. Sir Samuel Lemby has race-horses, but he's away, and it's not likely the head-groom would lend any out for such a purpose."

The eyes of the General started out of his head.

"He wouldn't, wouldn't he? How far is it to this Lemby's?"

"There's the house, just up there, sir. Five minutes'

V

The General appeared to be calculating savagely. At last he turned to the younger man and said:

"Gevennah, it's our only chance. You could do this. You rode in the Grand National. What you don't know about horses isn't worth knowing. For God's sake run up the hill. Cajole, bribe, steal—do anything to get the horse. Five minutes, say another five minutes arguing—half an hour to do nine miles. Perhaps you can get across country, save a bit, eh? There's just a chance. The train goes at twelve-thirty-two. Oxted is bound to catch it."

The young man's face lighted up. A queer smile twisted his mouth.

"All right," he said. "I'll have a shot. Give me the report."

"Here it is. I'll follow you up the hill as fast as I can move, in case they want more persuading."

Mr. Bean was left alone with the useless car and the broken dog-cart. He saw the younger man sprinting up the hill like a professional runner, and the elder chasing after him like some valetudinarian crank trying to keep his fat down.

As luck would have it, the younger man came slap on the head-groom and a subordinate leading two silk-coated mares out of the paddock for a canter. He approached the head-groom and smiled.

"My friend," he said, "I'm going to ask you to break all the Ten Commandments in one fell swoop. I am Lord Gevennah, a lover of horseflesh and metaphysics. The gentleman yon observe coming up the hill is not training for the Marathon. He is General Boyd-Boyd, of the War Office Intelligence Staff. You may suggest that War Office and intelligence are a contradiction in terms, but we have not time to argue the matter. The point is. Sir Samuel is a very old friend of the General's and we are convinced that he would come to our rescue in the circumstances."

The head-groom leant forward and said: "Excuse me, sir, but would you mind telling me what you're talking about?"

"A very reasonable request. Farther down the hill, at the cross-roads, you may also observe a car jammed against the embankment. Both the front wheels are buckled. It is essential that we deliver a report—this report, my friend—to Sir Alfred Oxted, the Minister. He is catching the twelve-thirty-two train at Hornborough for London. The report affects the whole aspect of the argument affecting a Bill that is being discussed in the House this afternoon."

"What is it you want me to do, sir?"

"I want the loan of that beautiul roan mare which for the moment your figure so gracefully adorns, for the purpose of riding to Hornborough."

"What! Lend you one of Sir Samuel's racers!"

"Precisely, my friend."

"Not on your dear life! Lend you Iconoclast to go monkeying about the high roads on! Why, it's more than my place is worth."

"Is your place worth more than the interests of the people—the vital necessities of the nation?"

"I know nothing about it. I work for Sir Samuel Lemby. If you get his permission—"

"We have his permission—morally. He is one of the General's oldest friends."

"I've only got your word for it. Sir Samuel paid four thousand seven hundred and fifty for this mare. It can't be done."

"Come! this is quibbling; time is precious. The General said we should waste five minutes arguing. But if you will kindly dismount, I shall still have half-an-hour to get to Hornborough. I promise to bring the mare back safely."

"It can't be done, my son. For all I know the whole thing may be a cock-and-bull story."

"Ah! here comes the General. General, I'm afraid our friend demands security."

"Well, for God's sake give it to him. What the devil does he think we are?"

"Produce everything you've got, General. Pocket-book, money, despatches. I will do the same."

The head-groom beheld wallets of notes being produced, and he became frankly interested. In the end he accepted a bribe of two hundred and twenty-five pounds in cash for the loan of Iconoclast for one hour.

"It's an awful risk," he said, dismally, as he dismounted.

"If you do not take risks you will never arrive," replied the young man, leaping into the saddle. "Without taking risks great battles would not have been won, colonies founded, discoveries made. Iconoclast! an excellent name! Come, old friend! Iconoclast, breaker of idols, shatterer of illusions, trusted enemy to false prophets! Come!"

He pressed the mare's flanks gently with his knees, and she responded.

"Only twenty-nine minutes!" roared the General.

The young man turned a laughing face and waved his hand. His progress was visible to the anxious General's eye for nearly half a mile. The narrow road flanked a sixty-acre field and led into a bridle-path through a chain of little coppices. By taking this bridle-path, the head-groom had explained that he would save a mile or two, as well as the horse's feet. The last they saw of him, he appeared to be leaning over, whispering in the mare's ear. Iconoclast was travelling like the wind.

It was certainly a very beautiful ride. The bridle-path, which once had been a Roman road, ran for nearly six miles in almost a dead straight line. The ground was gently undulating. Woods flashed by, and open spaces, commons with sparse trees, sandy cuttings with gorse and furze projecting at tantalizing angles, stretches of blue distance with cattle grazing, sleepy rivers. On, on, raced this famous offspring of Babylon and Happy Days (you shall read of her in Borwell's History of the Turf).

The young man's face was alight with pleasure. Occasionally he slackened the mare's speed to glance at his wrist-watch. When the road was reached there were three miles to go, and twelve minutes to accomplish it. Iconoclast had justified her good name.

"Steady, now, old girl, steady! We're reaching the stormy outposts of Christian gentlemen."

A sign-post pointed eastward to Hornborough. Fortunately the road was still what is known as a secondary road. A few cars flashed by, their drivers a little nervous of this bolting apparition of man and beast. Hay-carts lumbering leisurely out of fields were the serious source of danger, men on bicycles, market carts, all the slow-moving things.

Twelve minutes, eleven minutes, ten—the road sloping upwards violently to the headland that looks down on the Horn valley.

Nine minutes, eight and a half, eight—the summit reached. Down below, the sleepy valley, almost impervious to the thrusts of time. Thus it must have looked in Boadicea's time. A few more hamlets, a few more cultivated fields.

"Whoa up, old girl!"

The signboard said one and a quarter miles to Horn-borough Station. One mile and a quarter, and eight minutes to go! His faith! a worthy beast, this Iconoclast! One mile and a quarter, and all the way a gentle slope downward. If ever there was a pleasant sporting prospect, here was one. To travel at the rate so far maintained would bring the horse and rider to their destination with some minutes to spare. Away on the horizon appeared tiny white balls of smoke, like little lumps of cotton-wool being shot out of a toy gun. It was the train. He again consulted his wrist-watch and estimated the distance. "It's four minutes late!" he exclaimed, a shade of disappointment in his voice. It would appear, in any case, not an occasion to tarry. One mile and a quarter, and twelve minutes to go. But, curiously enough, the young man seemed in no hurry. He tethered the mare to a gate, on the top bar of which he perched himself, and lit a cigarette.

"A glorious ride, Iconoclast, old friend!" he said, stroking the mare's nozzle. He appeared to be making a careful calculation, his eyes wandering from the little blobs of cotton-wool to his watch. After some minutes he flung his cigarette away, and again took to the saddle. The last mile and a quarter was done at express speed, but certainly not at the greatest speed of which the mare was capable. The rider seemed a little agitated by some meticulous calculation. Some of the road was covered in whirlwind fashion, but there were unaccountable slackenings and halts.

When the little market town of Hornborough was reached, the blobs of cotton-wool arrived simultaneously. There was a furious ride along the broad High Street, terrifying the owners of booths and stalls. Shopkeepers ran to their doors, women clutched their children, and dogs barked. But horse and rider swung round the corner into Church Street, dashed across Ponder's Green, up the slope into the station-yard, and arrived just as the train went out! The whole town must have observed that dramatic ride and commented on it. A young man, on one of Sir Samuel's race-horses—some said it was Iconoclast herself—racing to the station to catch the London train—why?

VI

He flung the reins to an outside porter, and dashed into the station and on to the platform.

"The train has just gone, sir," exclaimed the ticket-collector, grinning. It may be observed, at this juncture, that there is a type of individual who loves to impart information of this kind. He loves to tell you you have just missed your train, or that you are in the wrong train, or that there isn't another one for four hours. His supreme idea of joy is to be able to tell you that you have just missed your last train. It isn't nice.

On this occasion our hero—for so he surely must be—merely muttered the formal exclamations of disappointment, and then went back and remounted his steed, after flinging the improvised groom a purse of gold. (No, if we remember rightly, it was a shilling.) Anyway, he galloped back through the town for all the world to see.

Instead, however, of returning the way he had come, he bore off to the west and, after ten minutes' ride, cantered up the chestnut avenue that led to a Georgian house. In the circular drive in front of the entrance-hall he espied a butler taking a parrot in a cage out for an airing. He called out:

"Hi, Fareweather, can you hold my mare for five minutes? I can't stop. Is Miss Alice in?"

"Yes, my lord. With pleasure, my lord. She's in the Dutch garden, watering the gentians."

Ah! watering the gentians! How like Alice! The Dutch garden was excellent. It had the added charm of being sunk.

The girl looked up at him with that dreamy, does-any-thing-else-exist-but-thou-and-I expression, and he crushed her in his arms. These preliminaries being concluded, she said:

"Well?"

And appropriately enough he answered:

"There's a destiny which shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will!"

"You look as though you had just invented a new religion."

"And so I have, but I haven't had time to patent it. This afternoon the Government will fall, and it will be my work. Religion and opportunity are old bedfellows."

"Tell me."

"You know the storm that has raged round the Subsidies Bill. It has been working to a crisis. The Government have staked their all on squashing the amendment which our people are putting this afternoon. A delicate subject like this is largely a question of figures. Figures can be impressive, but a clever man can use them either way. That is what they've been doing. They have the control end of statistics, and statistics can be wangled. Over the week-end I was at Clive Hall. I was supposed to be there for polo, but I found myself in a mare's nest of conspirators and wanglers. Brigadiers and carpet-salesmen, they've been all over the country, drawing up a report."

"Is it a false report, Mervyn?"

"Yes, and no. A report can be false not so much by what it says as by what it leaves out. See? This was a devilish, wanglish, naughty, spiteful report, and they were going to spring it on the House this afternoon, to crush our people's amendment. I didn't show my hand. I'm only a polo player. I was full of sympathy. A chutney-biting brigadier named Boyd-Boyd fixed an appointment on the 'phone with Oxted, at Hornborough Station, for the twelve-thirty-two. Fie was to deliver the goods. I offered to accompany him, making the excuse that I had to go to town. Cyril lent us his car. We had got as far as some God-forsaken spot in the Weynesham Valley. I was desperate. I couldn't make up my mind whether to dot the old chap over the head and bolt or whether to pinch the report and let it blow away, when fate supervened."

"What happened?"

"A horse in a dog-cart bolted. The fool of a man had got out for some reason or other. In trying to avoid it, our chauffeur ran into a bank, and buckled both the front wheels. We had nine miles to go, and there wasn't such a thing as a car in the neighbourhood. The old Purple Patch nearly went off his nut. Then some magician produced a race-horse."

"A race-horse?"

"Wasn't it sweet? I jumped at the idea. I knew that it would be up to me to do the flying handicap stuff, and with the report once in my possession all would be well. I rode hell-for-leather, and missed the train gracefully by a minute."

"But what will you do with the report?"

"Give it back. It doesn't matter. It will be too late. Figures like that are only useful when used at the right moment. To-morrow the Government will be down, and no one will care a rap about their blinking old report."

"Oh, dear! I'm glad I don't have anything to do with politics."

"You do. You are politics. You are what we fight for, and lie for, and wangle for. You are religion. You are beauty. Haven't you heard the saying: Homo solus aut deus aut demon? You are the rose in the heart of the world. You—"

"Talking about roses, Mervyn, how do you like my gentians?"

"There you go! You always spoil my best periods. Darling, one kiss and I must away."

"Whither, O Lord?"

"To take the mare back, and face the fury of my bonny brigadier."

"He will be angry!"

"What does it matter? Did you ever know a brigadier who mattered? When the big story is told, you'll find he's about as important as a—as a—piece of bacon-rind!"

VII

"You didn't ought to have talked to the boy like that," said Mrs. Egger, as she poured out Mr. Egger's glass of stout at suppertime. "It's set the boy on thinking; and when a boy like Tom starts thinking it's—it's—bad for his health."

"I like that," replied William, blowing the froth off the stout. "Why, it was you put me up to it. Didn't you say—?"

"I told yer to give him a good scolding. It would have been better if you'd boxed his ears. Instead of all this talk."

"What talk?"

"Saying one thing leads to another, and so on."

"Well, isn't it true?"

"In a kind of way it's true. In a kind of way it's silly. Anyway, it sets him on thinking. I saw him in the shop this afternoon staring at them cooking-pears. I know he was thinking about what you said. Now if he took apples to-day, he might take pears to-morrow. It put the notion there, like. He'd never have thought of it. And this evenin' he comes up to me and says, 'Mum, dad said one thing leads to another,' and I says, 'Yes, Tom?' and he says, 'Mum, what was the first thing from which the other things come?' Did you ever hear such notions? Pass the pickles, dear."


23. The Angel of Accomplishment

In reconstructing the sombre story which gathered round the professional association of those two clever men, James Wray and Francis Vallery, it is necessary to know a little of their early life and up-bringing. I am indebted very considerably to my friend, Timothy Rallish, for the light of his somewhat sardonic perceptions upon the character of Wray. They were at Marlborough together, and afterward at Oxford, although at different colleges; Timothy at Oriel, and Wray—as one would naturally expect—at Balliol.

"I used to like him," said Timothy. "I suppose I was the only chap who did. They hated him at Marlborough; he was so confoundedly pious. Up at Oxford it was not so bad. There are always such a lot of precious people at Balliol; it doesn't stand out so. He was an idealist, without a conscience, if you know what I mean. He set up impossible standards, never attempted to live up to them, or to observe whether any one else attempted to. His contempt for his fellow-creatures was almost abnormal. I think the whole attitude in some queer way came out of his music-madness. Music was the absorbing passion of his life, and even for the best of that he never appeared to have a very great opinion. I believe he thought that Bach's compositions were not too bad, and for Beethoven he sometimes indulged in mild patronage. Schumann bored him, so did Wagner, and for Chopin's 'sentimental tripe' he had no use."

"I am talking now of Wray between the age of seventeen and twenty-three—the age when one's critical faculties are relentless, when one knows every darned thing, don't you know. I can't tell why I liked Wray. He did not—and never has—liked me. Perhaps there was something about the profundity of his discontent which appealed to me—his restlessness and detachment. I like people who are dissatisfied. But there was more than that about him: he was a spiritual wanton. I believe he would have sacrificed a city full of babies to perfect one musical phrase. You see, there was no reason at all why he should have gone up to Oxford. He was only interested in music, which has never been properly taught there. I think he liked to compose tone-poems in the society of rich men's sons who were only interested in sports and rag-time. The contact satisfied some cynical kink in his own nature. It was certainly nothing to do with the medievalism of Oxford, which only bored him. O Lord! The things which bored Jimmy Wray when he was twenty-three!"

"At that time," I asked, "do you know anything of his standard of accomplishments?"

"Very little," replied Timothy. "Of course I know nothing about music myself, but people who did know something used to differ considerably about Wray. I got the general impression that he was talented in a nebulous kind of way; that he had ideas but that they were too involved; that he could create atmosphere but that he couldn't construct. He was a very pretty boy at that time, with a thin aesthetic face, dark reflective eyes and two pink spots in the centre of each cheek. He had got out of all sport on the ground that he had a weak heart. It is certainly true that his father—who made a small fortune out of accordion-pleated skirts—died at an early age from heart disease. His mother was a gentle negative kind of woman, who lived at Bournemouth, knitted things for people, and distributed prizes at Girls' Friendly Societies. He also had two sisters, one, I believe, dabbled in Christian Science, the other married a sanitary inspector. They played no great part in Wray's life, neither did any of them, or any relative or ancestor, as far as I can find out, supply any note to account for the peculiarly individual precocity of James himself. Afterward, when he became famous, the whole family was almost shocked."

This conversation with Timothy impressed itself on my memory very vividly, for it occurred just after I had had an interview with Wray's mother. At that time the study and analysis of suppressions and complexes had not reached the degree of fashionable absurdity which it has at the present day, but neurosis has always been a popular complaint amongst those people unlucky enough to be able to afford to indulge in it. As an ordinary, rather over-worked local practitioner, I can only give my opinion that neurosis only exists amongst that small minority of people who do not have to fight for existence.

It appears to me that this instinct of fighting for existence is born in every man or woman. When circumstances rob them of it they are apt to raise some artificial standard and fight for that, for fight they must. We have not reached the millennium. During my thirty-three years' experience in the medical profession I have never yet met the case of a man or a woman who worked hard for a living being neurotic, unless his or her constitution was already undermined by neurotic parentage. You may say that an artificial standard is as good a thing to fight for as a real standard, and so it may be. A man who fights for some spiritual cause is certainly as justified as a man who fights to earn bread and wine. It is all a question of equipoise. But a man who in Timothy's terms would "sacrifice a city full of babies to perfect one musical phrase" is in my opinion a lunatic.

But I am perfectly willing to admit that I may be wrong. For all I know the whole social fabric may be changing its face values. We can only act according to our lights. When Wray's mother came and spoke to me about him I knew nothing about the man. He was thirty-one then. I can see her now, that gentle old lady, with silver curls and pleading eyes, extremely confiding and rather outraged. Such things didn't happen at Bournemouth. But, dear her, Jimmy had only been to Bournemouth once, and he refused to go again because—the trams didn't run on Sundays and it took him two hours to walk out of the town! Was ever such a ridiculous excuse offered! He was a dear boy, a lovable, clever—oh, brilliantly clever!—boy, but quite incomprehensible, and with such awful moods. Then with great solemn shaking curls, bobbing above the stiff corsets, worse than that—a terrible temper...cruel, vindictive, he might do any thing in such moods. She regarded me alertly. I think she thought I might prescribe some pills—they do that in Bournemouth—one to be taken night and morning, will cure asthma, sluggish liver or homicidal mania.

I remarked obligingly that I would see the young man. But how was that to be done? He lived in Chelsea, a terrible, irreligious suburb of London, inhabited by artists and others...quite irresponsible people. Besides, he was so exclusive, so apt to be rude, even violent and abusive. He detested strangers. He was altogether so unlike his dear papa, who treated everyone even his work-people as though they were equals! And then came the terrible crux of the story. It appeared that on Jimmy Wray's solitary visit to Bournemouth he had murdered a cat. Not, mark you, an ordinary stray, vagabond cat, but his mother's cat, his mother's own darling Pee-Wee. The cat, it appeared, had annoyed him for several nights when he was sitting up late, trying to compose. He had warned his mother that something would have to be done. He had appeared haggard and distraught in the mornings. But Mrs. Wray had not taken the matter very seriously. Such a trivial affair! Dear Pee-Wee! He was often like that. He made funny noises in the night...There were several cats in the neighbouring houses, doubtless friends of Pee-Wee's. And then one night the appalling thing happened. Jimmy got up about one o'clock. He went out and picked up a piece of plank. He beat the cat to a pulp! He had never been to Bournemouth since. What can you suggest, Doctor Parsons?

I am quite sure that I should have suggested nothing, done nothing, had I not soon after come in touch with Timothy Rallish, who reported upon Wray in the manner I have stated. I was amused to hear Timothy say that he didn't know why he liked Wray. I knew the reason. It was because Timothy couldn't help liking every one. He was that kind of boy—rather short and stocky, with ingenuous blue eyes which sparkled at you through enormous gold-rimmed glasses. He found life absorbing. He had scrambled through Oxford, accomplishing nothing of note beyond making himself popular. His people were poor, and on coming down from Oxford he had plunged into the vagaries of journalism.

He was full of enthusiasms, and was always doing the donkey-work for some quack. He had a genius for compiling and card-indexing. He edited and subedited various treatises and anthologies. I remember that he once wrote a book with the impressive title, "Concentrate," for a South African pseudo-medical gentleman, who lived in Westminster and charged three guineas a visit for the treatment of concentration. Timothy wrote every word of the book, but when it was published the author was announced as Mr. Hambro MacManus, and this red-haired South African Scot who arranged his rooms in such a theatrical way in Ashley Gardens, and made mysterious passes and grunts over the back of people's heads, claimed the credit for it, and also the royalties. Timothy thought the whole episode extremely amusing.

"I never mind paying for experience," he said. "Poor old Mac! He was quite wrong in most of his theories, but somehow I liked him."

When I told Timothy about my interview with Mrs. Wray he was wildly enthusiastic at the idea of my visiting Jimmy Wray when I next went to London.

"It's no good going to him as a medical man, or letting him know that his mother sent you. You must just meet him socially. He is just possible on occasions. I could easily work it for you. I could introduce you when you are up in town. You could meet him casually at the Albatross Club or the Café Royale. I should love to know what you think of him."

The whole matter passed out of my mind till five months later when I had occasion to visit London for a few days in connection with the idea of purchasing a half-practice from an old medical friend of mine in West Kensington.

Timothy immediately looked me up and reminded me about Wray. His method was characteristic. He came into my bedroom at the little hotel at Paddington, and, striking a sentimental attitude, began humming a well-known popular song. When I asked him what his particular ailment was he laughed and said:

"Don't you know that tune?"

"I've heard it, I believe."

"That's 'The Sheen of thy Golden Tresses,' the most popular song of the day, words by Francis Vallery, music by James Wray. How are the mighty fallen!"

I met Wray that same evening at the Albatross Club. Either Timothy's estimate of him was distorted, or he had altered considerably, or else we had struck him on a good night. He was quite charming to me. His dress was certainly a little affected, but he was still very good looking, and he had a quiet sense of fun, and was prepared to listen and to be entertained. I observed that he was appreciably more friendly to me than he was to Timothy. He had a curious high, rather squeaky voice as though it had never cracked, and a laugh that corresponded. I could understand that this characteristic of him might easily get on one's nerves after a time. But on the whole I could find little to criticize about the man or his behaviour. He even invited me to visit him in his rooms at Chelsea. And there two nights later I met the great Francis Vallery.

In looking back after all these years, and trying to analyze the character of James Wray, it is impossible to do so without associating it with that of Francis Vallery. Their lives and characters dove-tailed and reacted upon one another in a bewildering degree. Physically, they were a strange contrast. Vallery was a heavy, masterful-looking man, with a wide loose mouth, sloping forehead, and cynical, watchful eyes. He was normally taciturn, unresponsive, and curiously brusque in his manners. By comparison Wray seemed slim, debonair, almost unsubstantial. I do not think they really liked each other from the first. On that evening when I saw them together in the Chelsea flat, I could tell by the expression of Vallery's face that Wray's high reedy voice and laughter irritated him. I also came to the conclusion before the evening was over that Vallery had a beast of a temper.

Once an argumentative young student made a remark contradicting a statement of Vallery's, and I saw the latter's eyes blaze with anger and saliva ooze to the corners of his large mouth. He said nothing, however. When we were leaving, the man in the hall handed him his overcoat the wrong way round. Vallery snatched it angrily from his grasp and growled. I knew that Wray was also capable of murdering a cat in a fit of passion, so I said to myself that the happy association which produced "The Sheen of thy Golden Tresses" was not very likely to last.

And then comes the strange aspect of the case. The association between Wray and Vallery lasted for twenty-seven years, and became a by-word amongst English-speaking peoples.

In justice to the memory of them both I would like to hasten to add that they never again did anything quite so bad as "The Sheen of thy Golden Tresses." This song was a little difficult to account for. It was in a way their meeting ground, the plank from which they sprang. It was quite understandable Vallery writing the words, but quite incomprehensible Wray composing the music. It is not known and never will be known by what method or means Vallery influenced Wray to suddenly forsake his precious muse and write this appalling song. For a man who up to that time had considered Chopin "sentimental tripe" to turn suddenly round and write this ballad, which was devoid of any subtlety or distinction, is one of those things one can only state and leave to the imagination of the reader to account for. Vallery had certainly written a good deal of sentimental prose tripe at that time, but nothing quite so bad as that. I think they were both a little ashamed of the song, and never mentioned it. It was nearly a year before anything else sprang from their united efforts, and then was produced the musical play, "The Oasis."

"The Oasis" was a great success and ran at the Lyric for over a year. It was an astonishingly clever work, notable for its complete unity. The words appeared to inspire the music; the music was a vivid expression of the words. You could not think of one without the other. If Vallery's libretto appeared ingenious and suggestive of melody, Wray's music had a literary and whimsical flavour of its own which helped the context enormously. It appeared as though from two extreme poles both men had gone half way to meet the other. Vallery had had little education. He was the son of an unsuccessful bookmaker from Nottingham.

Up to that time he had been known as a writer of jingles and sporting articles, but in "The Oasis" he displayed a considerable ingenuity of construction and a really mordant sense of fun. Wray came halfway down from his pinnacle of involved and atmospheric experiment to write simple melodic airs. It was rather amusing to observe in this work, and in others that followed, how he cunningly employed some of the lesser known themes of the despised Schumann and Chopin, adapted them, elaborated them and converted them into "songs of the day!"

Timothy and I, and some of the others who knew them both, were naturally intrigued to see how the personal side of the association worked. Timothy offered to bet me five pounds that they would quarrel and separate within six months. It certainly seemed remarkable that they did not. It may have been a fortunate factor that two men working together on these lines do not necessarily work in the same room. Vallery brought Wray the libretto, and probably discussed it a little. He was profoundly ignorant of the technical side of music. Wray wrote the music and the lyrics; his partner was clever enough to see that these were good and there was little for him to criticize. They may have discussed joins, and turns and intervals, but there were no great points of cleavage over which they would be likely to fall foul.

During the succeeding five years, four Wray-Vallery productions were staged in London and New York, and companies went on the road with them. By that time they had established their reputation as a unique combination. They were beginning to make money and to be big people in the theatrical world. And Timothy and I were still awaiting the great quarrel. I had by that time joined my friend Doctor Brill in West Kensington, so that I was able to indulge occasionally in the society of Timothy's friends and to visit the theatre. The Wray-Vallery plays were a constant delight to me. I really believe that Timothy was more interested in the men than in their plays. But then he was like that. He would come and report to me the latest scandal concerning them, and indeed their behaviour was always open to criticism of some sort.

One evening Vallery was arrested for assaulting the head waiter at the Amalfi restaurant because he moved his walking-stick from the corner of the room to an umbrella-stand. He escaped with a fine and a little gentle bantering from the Press. The more successful he became the more overbearing became his manners. He hardly troubled to speak to anyone, unless it was a pretty woman, or someone to whom it paid him to be polite. Upon Wray the effect was almost as disastrous, although it touched him in a different way. His manners in some ways improved, that is to say, he was more sociable and amenable. On the other hand he became more shallow and insincere, more of a poseur.

He adopted the garb of the eccentric genius. He was wildly extravagant, and took parties of girls to the Café Royale, and to an ornate bungalow he had hired at Maidenhead. He became less self-opinionated, but it was done as though opinion—no one's opinion—was of any consequence. It was as though he had lost something and the knowledge of it made him desperate. It was a known fact that during those early years of their association Wray and Vallery sometimes quarrelled, but the quarrel never reached an open rupture. Once Wray appeared in my consulting-room. He was looking haggard and ill. When I asked him the trouble he said:

"Pm not sleeping, Parsons."

I advised the usual remedies, recommended a complete rest and change, but as I watched the restless movements of his features I realized how inadequate is the authority of a medical man. We may sometimes make a shrewd guess at the basic cause of a disaster, but no medicine or advice will cure a megalomaniac. Just as he was about to go he turned to me and with one of his quick appealing looks he gasped:

"I hate that man, Valery!"

So you see the old faith in the fetish does not die. What did Wray expect me to do? Possibly he would have been better advised to have gone to a priest. That is, if he could have found a really nice impressive priest, any one would have done, if they had only had sufficient strength of character to change Wray. I thought of his rather futile old mother and I felt sorry for him. I said what I could. I tried to persuade him to give up his association with Vallery. I pointed out that his health was more important than his material success. It wasn't that, he tried to explain, not just the material success. He had quite a decent private income (inherited from his father in the accordion-pleated line). Then what was it? Wray was quite incoherent. He went off late in the evening, and I noticed after he had gone that he had left the prescription I had given him on the table in the hall!

On discussing the matter afterward with Timothy I said:

"What is it that keeps these men together?"

And for all it may be worth I will quote just what Timothy replied. For Timothy at that time had just married a charming girl, a former typist to a dental surgeon in Kilburn, and he was becoming something of a philosopher. This is what Timothy said:

"It is the angel of accomplishment, old man. When people are working, doing things together, especially if they are doing them in the face of difficulties, there is always some queer genie which presides over their affections. Comrades in battle, however opposed they may be temperamentally...Chaps who row in the same boat, play in the same team at cricket or football, or are up against things together. The angel of accomplishment presides over their fate. It's afterward, or when they lose that united sense of conflict, that the trouble sometimes comes."

In the light of what followed I found Timothy's remarks interesting. It was during the production of their sixth success, "The Apple-pie Bed," that the biggest cloud that had so far gathered over the Wray-Vallery combination made its appearance. And, as one might expect, it came in the form of a woman. Lydia Looe played the part of the ingenue, Myra, in "The Apple-pie Bed." She was a pretty girl, not quite so ingenuous as she appeared on the stage, but in any case too good for either James Wray or Francis Vallery, who were both approaching a rather dilapidated middle-age. How their rivalry over the charms of this new discovery never reached a crisis is a mystery to me. I spent a Sunday evening at Wray's flat when all concerned were present, and the look of venom that passed between the two men at the slightest success of either upon the lady's favour was positively frightening. The competition lasted eight months and Vallery appeared to be winning.

"If the matter is really settled," I thought, "I shall dread to pick up my newspaper."

Let me add that all this time the two men were working on a new play, "The Island in Arabia." Timothy said he had seen the figure of Wray all muffled up, hanging about outside Vallery's house in Knightsbridge late at night "looking like an apache." The crash was surely about to come, but in July the Gordian knot was severed by Lydia Looe running away with the business manager of a jam and pickle factory. "The Island in Arabia" was produced the following month and became one of the biggest successes of the series. We all hoped that the episode of Lydia Looe would tend to reconcile the two men, and so apparently it did. But the following year Vallery publicly accused Wray of swindling him. There was a fearful dispute between principals and their lawyers and the matter came into court. I forget the details of the case but it principally concerned the royalties on the songs published separately from the score. I know that Wray lost the case and that it cost him thousands of pounds.

He went on the continent and married a wealthy Hungarian widow, and we all believed that England had seen the last of him. But as though not to be outdone in this, Vallery also married. His marriage was about as disastrous an affair as ever disgraced the records of a divorce court. It lasted eighteen months, and when Mrs. Vallery was eventually persuaded to appeal to the courts she had a most pitiable story to disclose. Not only had she no difficulty in proving Vallery's guilt of faithlessness, but she recorded a distressing series of cruelties. He had struck her on innumerable occasions. He had thrashed her with a belt, locked her in a cupboard, thrown her out into the garden on a wet night, and many times threatened her with a revolver.

A few months after the divorce, news came that Wray's wife had died suddenly under rather mysterious circumstances, in Buda-Pesth. He returned to London, and three years after this law case Wray and Vallery were again at work together on a play which was called, "Wine, Woman, and Mr. Binns." It was one of the most amusing, most lyrical plays seen in London for a decade, and ran for four hundred and fifty odd nights. The Wray-Vallery combination then seemed to make a most surprising spurt. They both settled down and worked hard. Wray's experience in Hungary, whatever it had been, quieted him. He became less eccentric, less depraved, in his appetites. On the other hand, he was rapidly becoming more self-centred, shrewd, and commercial. He appeared to be obsessed with the idea of making a huge fortune. Vallery was also not without ambitions in this direction. And between them they undoubtedly succeeded in grinding the commercial axe to good purpose.

There is no question but that the series of plays that they composed during this latter phase were artistically inferior to the earlier ones, but on the other hand their sureness of touch was more apparent. To use a hackneyed phrase they knew just what the public wanted and how to give it to them.

At that time Timothy and I had quite lost touch with them. Timothy was the proud father of three girls. He had written several successful novels and stories, and was a reader to an eminent firm of publishers. I myself had a son and daughter and an increasing practice. We met frequently and indulged in little social distractions, but we felt no great desire to seek further the companionship of these two notorieties.

"They're getting a bit too thick," was Timothy's comment after reading the details of Vallery's divorce. Nevertheless we still followed their careers with considerable interest, and there often came to us stories of their violent differences, of scenes at rehearsals, ugly threats, and recriminations. On one occasion Wray wanted to have the whole of their interests put in the hands of a well-known agent, but Vallery objected. The dispute went on for months and as usual Vallery had his way. It is said that they wrote "The Girl at Sea" when they were not on speaking terms, and all the score and libretto were passed backward and forward through a lawyer. Still they went on from success to success. Together they wrote some twenty odd variably successful plays. In one new year's honour list we found the name of James Wray, the eminent composer, under the knighthoods. The forces which control the distribution of honours are as mysterious as the forces which control the stars, and rather more inexplicable. How Sir James Wray managed to obtain his title over the heads of many distinguished artists it is impossible to say. These things are usually accepted with a smile and a shrug, and a man's rivals are not often perturbed by them.

But in the case of Vallery the affair reacted disastrously. He was furious. He took the whole thing as a royal affront to himself. If Sir James Wray why not Sir Francis Vallery? It is said that the powers that be have a prejudice against people who have shown up badly in the divorce court. This was true, but on the other hand was Wray's private life above reproach?

His colleague's title broke Vallery up, and it certainly did no good to Wray. They were both now prematurely old men, worn out, and embittered. They never wrote another play together.


Nestling in a hollow among the gentler slopes of the Pyrenees is a little village called Cambo-les-Bains. No harsh winds ever come to Cambo. Even in the few months of winter the air is soft and tender. In February the hedges are aglow with primroses and violets. In March rhododendrons and magnolias raise their insolent heads. Thither Rostand, the famous French poet, laid out a dreamy garden on the proceeds of the success which was to come to "Chanticler." Alas, poor Chanticler! Somethings survive more readily in a sturdier clime. Thither come people whose lungs are not quite the thing—"just for a month or two, old boy." And they lie there in camp beds out in the open under the trees...waiting. It is a good place to die.

Thither one day came Francis Vallery, old and broken in health. He took the ground floor of the Miramar Hotel, with his own valet, and cook and secretary. And thither one day—strangely enough—came Sir James Wray. It seems curious that after a life's enmity they should have been drawn together in the end. It was Vallery who invited Wray. It appears to me less remarkable that Vallery should have invited Wray, than that Wray should have accepted. Vallery was completely friendless. The vicious associations of his youth were snapped. People of interest had deserted him. Friends had betrayed him. Wray—no, Wray was not his friend, but in any case they had worked together. They knew each other's frailties. There were a thousand things they could talk about, discuss...memories. Ah! perhaps the old inspiration might once more spring forth—just one more play. It was seven years now since the curtain had rung down on "The Picador."

But why did Wray go to Cambo? He had friends of a sort, society people, artists. He was still a figure at dinner parties, first nights. His lungs were still all right. His hatred of Vallery was not assuaged. Perhaps he went because he feared him. All through their association he had been under the spell of the stronger party. At every great crisis he knew he had given way. Vallery had him under his thumb from the first. Wray had sworn never to write again, "not a phrase, not a bar." And yet one day he took the train from Biarritz and drove up to the little village in the hills, and there he stayed for seven months.

For the account of the tragic dénouement of this visit Timothy and I are indebted to an American gentleman named Scobie. Scobie had been to Cambo to visit his sister, who was herself suffering from pulmonary trouble.

On his way back through London he had dined at Timothy's one evening at Chelsea, and I was the only other guest. Mr. Scobie was a lean-faced New Englander, with small keen gray eyes beneath shaggy brows. He had long thin hands, the first fingers of which he had the habit of shaking at us alternately as he spoke. He was not anxious to talk about the Wray-Vallery affair. He said he would rather forget all about it, but as Timothy had inveigled him there with the express purpose of pumping in the matter, we were cruel enough to insist. Mr. Scobie had certainly had enough of it. He had had to give evidence in a French court through an interpreter, and he had no great opinion either of French courts, their dilatory methods, or their sanitary arrangements. You see, he was the sole witness of the actual tragedy.

It appeared that his sister's suite of rooms was in the Hotel Miramar annex. From her balcony he had a complete view of the South Veranda, where Vallery spent most of the day. He had spoken to Vallery once or twice, but finding that he was a "bear with a sore neck" he desisted and devoted his attention to other hotel guests.

Then he explained: "The other old boy with the squeaky voice turned up."

"Sir James Wray?"

"Sure. I didn't take much stock of him at first, I used to hear him piping away below, and the other occasionally barking back an answer which I couldn't hear.

"But at last that voice began to get on my nerves. You see I could hear just what he said, but I couldn't hear the reply. It was like listening to a man on the 'phone. My! it was a voice. I was almost on the point of wanting to call out to him to quit. But you know how it is. If you listen to anyone you kind of can't help wanting to hear what they are going to say next."

"What sort of things did he talk about?"

"Most every kind of dither, like old men will—the colour of a girl's frock in some show put across when he was a young man; the best place to buy over-shoes; the retail price of whisky. He was a pretty good hand at whisky, too. He arrived with two cases. The other man sat watching him. I didn't like them. I tried to get my sister moved, but the hotel was full. I was away in Paris during the fall and didn't return for some months. I got back to Cambo three days before—the thing happened."

I don't think Mrs. Timothy took the interest in this incident that we did. In any case she made some excuse about packing up Christmas presents for the children, and left the room.

Mr. Scobie, Timothy and I, drew our chairs up round the fire.

"How did you find things when you got back, Mr. Scobie?"

"Identically the same, sir. There were those two old boys still on the veranda below, sitting some way apart, squeaky voice with the whisky bottle in front of him letting on about the difference between merino and linsey-woolsey, or the rise in home rails, or the name of the girl who used to sell programmes at some God-forsaken theatre. There was the other man, kind of vague in the background, growling 'yes' and 'no' or be damned if he knew or cared. It was November and the weather was heavy and overcast for those parts. It's a dandy place, except for the sick people."

"What happened on the actual day?"

"It all grew out of the same thing, if you'll believe me. It was early in the afternoon. I'd been out for a stroll. When I got to my sister's room, I heard squeaky voice going strong. The other man was asking him where some place was hard by. Yes, sir, I recollect exactly now how the thing came through. Squeaky voice said: 'You remember the villa next to Madam Ponsolle's Epicerie establishment. There's a flower-pot in the window about the size of a stone ginger-beer bottle—well, it's just opposite.' This seemed to satisfy the big man, and except that he growled: 'Oh, it's there, is it?' Then he added rather savagely: 'I know the place you mean. I noticed the flower-pot myself but it's a good three times the size of a stone ginger-beer bottle.'

"Then, believe me, the trouble began. It beats me why the argument got them like that. Squeaky voice began to scream that he had taken particular note of the flower-pot at the time, and he'd swear it wasn't an inch higher than an ordinary stone ginger-beer bottle. And each time he said that the bear got angrier and growled: 'It's three times the size.' The argument raged for an hour. Squeaky voice pointed out that the other was every kind of walleyed, bone-headed thruster, and the bear rolled about the veranda shaking his fist and using language that would have made a Milwaulkee bartender hand in his checks. The exhibition tired me and I went in.

"I think they slackened up, too, after a bit. Somewhere away in the big rooms a meal was cooked. The night came on quick and the moon broke through the clouds. After dinner Im darned if I didn't hear them going it again hammer and tongs. 'I'm a judge of size,' Squeaky was saying. 'There isn't an inch to it.' 'It's damn nearly four times the size,' roared the other, who you see had raised his figures. I was near to getting the hotel management on to quelling the disturbance, but it slackened off. At least, I thought it had. About ten o'clock I went to my room, which was right at the corner. I went on to the balcony to take a last breather, and then I saw the whole darn thing happen—"

"Have a little whisky, Mr. Scobie," said Timothy.

"I will, sir, thank you. It seemed dead still. I thought they had gone in. But suddenly I saw Wray—that's the man's name, sure, Wray—he was crouching in the corner of the veranda just beneath me, and he had a bottle in his hand. I thought at first it was a last carouse, then by the light of the moon I noticed he was holding it by the neck and the bottle was empty. His thin voice came up to me like a husky wail: 'Blast you, it is just the exact size.' I could just see the shadowy form of the other man lying back near the window at the end. He was mumbling: 'Five times as big!'

"Wray went toward him like a cat. I called out, and I think the effect of my cry was to get the big man alert to trouble. He was on his legs by the time Wray reached him. I saw the bottle swing in the air. Then they came to grips. Gosh! Tve seen men fight, but—tables and chairs and glasses were scattered and broken. I heard the bottle break, but one of them was still holding it by the neck. Up and down the veranda they rolled and fought and bit. Just like madmen. Then there was a scream. A man and a woman rushed out. I went below. The big man Vallery was lying in a heap—dead—his throat cut from ear to ear. Wray was writhing by his side. He died the next morning: he died blaspheming. Like a gump I gave out that I'd seen the whole thing and they nailed me for the inquest. Those French courts of justice—ugh! I wanted to forget the whole blamed thing—wipe it out of my memory. But there I was nailed, made to go over and over it again. I never thought it possible to see such scarlet hate and passion—just savage beasts they were—and all over the size of a flower-pot."

"Thank you, Mr. Rallish, just a finger."

The fire glowed in the warm security of the little room and snow was drifting against the windows. In the drawing-room across the passage Mrs. Timothy was running her hands over the keys of a piano. Timothy smiled wistfully.

"Neither Wray nor Vallery ever liked me," he remarked apparently irrelevantly. Then by way of explanation: "I'm going to have my revenge upon them. It isn't often that a writer of fiction has things like that left at his door—"

Mr. Scobie nodded, and shook his long first finger at him.

"I see your point, sir. Provided you leave me out, the goods are yours. Here's another small side issue might be useful to you. It wasn't a flower-pot at all. I verified the fact the next day. It was a child's red stockinette cap. Just think of it. They only had to stroll ten minutes up the village street. They could have taken a ruler, bet each other drinks, laughed the thing off. 'Stead of that they thought it more amusing to fight with broken whisky bottles. What do you think of it?"

We sat there staring at the fire. Timothy was sucking at an empty pipe.

"I can see the explanation," he said at last.

"I should be entertained to hear it, sir."

"You see," said Timothy slowly, "the angel of accomplishment had deserted them."


24. The Glow-worm

Shedlock Graeme was young and very intense. The son of a small linen-draper at Wolverhampton, he displayed at the grammar school what his Uncle Roger described as "brains above his class." He was a shy boy when he went there, without ambitions or ideals. But after a few terms he found himself confronting a surprising position, at least it seemed so to him at the first realization. For the realization came to him that the other boys were extraordinarily stupid. He had never regarded himself as clever, but after a time the opaque stupidity of the other boys gave him pause to think. Was it that they were inordinately dull and stupid or was it possibly that—he was clever? They seemed to take weeks to absorb propositions that were obvious to him at a glance. The problems of Euclid seemed to him self-evident statements, hardly worth going over. Why did these other boys forget dates, historical facts, the rules that govern English construction, the phenomena of natural science? It was all so easy, so easy to remember and to reason about. He displayed a grasp of mathematics that confounded some of the junior masters.

He went through the school like a knife through butter. He won scholarship after scholarship; at the age of eighteen (he had been keeping himself for two years) he won a scholarship that carried him through to a college at Cambridge, that shall be nameless.

He had by this time convinced himself that he was unusually clever, as so indeed he was. Up to that point his attitude towards life had been almost an impersonal one. Brains, brains! he amassed knowledge and information and pigeon-holed it, like a farmer stacking a rick, more interested in his job than in the consciousness that it was his rick, nor even wondering what he was going to do with the rick when it was completed.

He lived with his father and mother and two sisters in a shabby little villa. His father was a weak, gentle little man, who crept off to his work in the morning, and returned in the evening, looking tired out and harassed. His mother was the dominant member of the household. With the peak of her cloth cap pulled down over the back of her head, she raged through the domestic struggle from dawn till night. She went out with her string bag in the morning, and fought in the open market for cheap cuts of meat, vegetables, and groceries, which she carried back with her. She bullied the tradespeople, and haggled over halfpennies. She bullied her husband, her daughters, and sometimes her son. They kept no servant, and Mrs. Graeme's work was never done.

Lily worked in a milliner's shop, but Emma, who was only fifteen and rather delicate, helped her mother in the house, which, in spite of everything, was kept spotlessly clean and tidy. Shedlock was undoubtedly Mrs. Graeme's favourite. Her pinched, drawn face, ever concentrated on the problem of petty economies, sometimes relaxed in the presence of her son. When he began to win prizes and scholarships, she did not say much, but she ceased to bully him. He was granted certain concessions, and little snacks of special food were reserved for him.

Mr. Graeme was frightened of his wife, and used to defend himself by an attitude of extravagant pleasantry. Sitting over his breakfast perhaps a little longer than necessary, and hearing her clattering down the stairs (she would have breakfasted hours earlier), he would mutter:

"Oh, dear, here comes mother! Behave yourselves, children."

He would make a gulp at his coffee and splutter, and as she entered, exclaim:

"Good gracious, my dear, I nearly choked."

"Choked!" would snap Mrs. Graeme. "Time some of you choked!" and she would bang things about and go out.

The girls were flabby creatures, their minds centred on fal-lals and furtive visits to cinemas. They had neither loyalty nor rebellion in their hearts. In a way the family hung together. Never expressing any outward affection, they were nevertheless conscious of unity. They became perhaps more alive to each other when some member was away or sick.

Absorbed in his intellectual advancements Shedlock had devoted little time to the abstract consideration of his family. Eternally conscious of the general sordidness of their social condition, its lack of variety, its physical and mental poverty, he only occasionally experienced emotional stabs. Sometimes when his mother had been particularly trying, he would lie awake at night and his mind would react to her petty oppressions. And then he would suddenly see her as she was, and the conditions that had made her, and the pathos and the tragedy of her. And his heart would ache with love and pity for her. After all she was his mother...

He pitied the poor blind, groping figure of his father, and he loved him, too. He pitied and loved Lily and Emma. He had a kind of deep animal love for them all, a love he felt the more acutely when he was tired or discouraged. But when the morning came he would be glad to be free of the house. The raw light of day had no place for sentimental reflections. He became virile and real, his active mind clamoured for new satisfactions. Ambitions were dawning. There were unknown worlds to be conquered...

It was the news about Cambridge which most profoundly stirred these personal preoccupations. In his scholastic life he had accepted success as a natural prerogative. At the back of his mind was the idea that he would one day slide into a good job, earn a comfortable competence, perhaps marry, perhaps not...do something decent for his people, get his mother away from the sweat and fume of that boiler in the scullery. Help the old man—as he called him—to have a less worrying time, do something for the girls, give them a holiday, presents, or an introduction to some rich friend of his who might marry one of them. All kinds of things.

But...Cambridge! To plod on with examinations and gain scholarships seemed all part of the day's work. But to visualize actually going up to Cambridge held various disturbing factors. Knowing little about the prizes open to an academic life, he instinctively enlarged their scope. It might lead to anything. On the other hand, Cambridge presented the vision of something quite distinct from any previous experience. It seemed to suggest a certain social cleavage.

With his quick mind he could easily envisage adapting himself to the life of the University. But the vision would be immediately bi-sected by the incongruous vision of his mother at that disgusting boiler, or his father slobbering over his food, or even the girls with their cheap trinkets, feverishly queueing up at the local cinema.

The mere acquisition of knowledge for acquiring's sake received its first challenge. What was he doing with the rick? To whom was he going to sell it? And for how much?

The solution of these problems fortunately could be deferred for the moment. He could not deny to himself that his whole being was thrilling with an inward anticipation. His ability had been proved; the test of his character was to come.

His actual novitiateship to the University career was unimpressive and a little disappointing. He did not sleep in college, but in rooms in the town. He attended lectures and had certain rights and privileges, but he had not been there many weeks before he sensed the fact that though he might be at the college he was not of it. There appeared to be slow and subtle processes at work analyzing and tabulating him. The methods by which he had arrived there, his birth, parentage and character were mutely revealed before the tribunal of an iron-bound tradition. No one was rude to him, no one questioned him; he was just made to realize that he was not exactly the thing.

Needless to say, this assault on his vanity wounded him profoundly. He had been prepared to make concessions. He knew that there would be difficulties of this nature to overcome. But relying upon his own intelligence and quickness, he had thought that they might be overcome fairly quickly. Before the term was out he knew that they could not be overcome at all. He would never be "if" the University, or University life.

Returning to Wolverhampton for the holidays, he became more acutely alive to the sordid ménage where he had been brought up. He even nurtured a sudden resentment and detestation of his family. Were they to be the white elephant destined to crush his social career?

He went back determined that, whatever might be his social failings, no one could prevent him from working, and working like a madman. He eschewed games and sports, where he knew he was not wanted, and concentrated on work, whether anyone wanted that work or not. He neither made advances nor avoided his fellow-students. He was like a perfectly controlled automaton, working, watching, concentrating.

It took him two years to establish the fact that he was a mathematician of no mean order. He won more scholarships, and the don of his college flung him a few words of praise and encouragement. And he was all the time aware that the greater his success in this direction, the looser became the claims of social kinship. It was as though a voice were whispering: "Oh, yes, we know all about you and your type. Get on with it. Hurry up, get your scholarships and clear out."

It was at about that time that he formed one of the only friendships of his University career. Derrick Andrews was a young Scotsman, and a scholarship man, like himself. He had been up longer than Shedlock, but being attached to a different college, they had only happened to meet quite recently. Derrick, it appeared, was a red-hot Socialist, and he was astonished at Shedlock's ignorance of social questions. They spent long hours together, and Shedlock, who had thought but little on the general subject, was first of all attracted by the economic side of the question. When it came to economics he could talk Derrick off his head. He found to his surprise that there was a Socialist Club in Cambridge, and there Derrick dragged him, and he listened to all sorts of strange people, expounding all sorts of strange theories.

But it was not till the next term that the thing got him hot and strong. He had won the Smith prize, and his father and mother had been to see him. It was a dreadful day. His mother was all dressed up, and his father was wearing brown boots with a black tail-coat. His mother had been in a bad temper with his father, possibly because her shoes pinched her. She had shouted about the quadrangles in her broad Midland voice, and his father had looked insignificant and pitiable. And they seemed to run into everyone in the college who knew about him. No one made any remarks, or said anything at all, but he was aware of the cynosure of general disapproval.

This—as he knew they thought—"put the lid on it." He felt on edge during the entire time of their visit. He was even snappy to his mother himself. He heaved a mighty sigh of relief when they had gone. But at night he suddenly thought of his mother's face, lined and scarred by sixty years of uncongenial tasks and sordid struggles, and his father's pathetic atmosphere of sentimental futility. And he bit the pillow, and raved, and cursed. Why should these snobs despise his father and mother? His own flesh and blood! Weren't they as good as these pampered beasts!...From that night on he became a devout follower of Derrick Andrews. In fact, he soon became an ardent leader of Derrick Andrews. He read carefully all the standard works on political economy. And then he began to study blue books and white papers and modern economics. And he remembered what he had read, facts and figures.

And on Thursday nights at the Socialist Club, no one was more ardent than he, or eager to get on to their feet, and tear any opposition to pieces.

And during his last term he startled the Cambridge Union by several closely reasoned speeches, based on unarguable mathematics, and several of the elders said: "Who is this young man? He appears dangerous."

Politics, politics! During that last phase, he could think of nothing but politics. All his ambitions to secure some lucrative and paying post went by the board. He was going in for politics. He would get into Parliament. He would stir the whole country up. He had found his mission at last. With Derrick he paid a flying visit to London, attended a sitting of a Trades Union Council, met some of the leaders, cast an encouraging eye on the Houses of Parliament, and made endless plans.

When his decision became known at Wolverhampton there was considerable uneasiness. None of the family quite knew what it portended.

"There's no money in politics," his mother wrote. "Is that what all this is to end in, a spouter in Parliament, and on the wrong side, too? If you must do it, why not keep in with the gentlemen's party, where there's good money to be had anyway?"

His sisters thought it was thrilling, but rather foolish. His father said: "Well, well!"

He came down from Cambridge with several degrees, the reputation of a brilliant mathematician, and no money. He secured a post as secretary to a Labour organization at three pounds a week, having waived his very good chances of a lectureship at a Northern University at six hundred a year. And then his grim political campaign began. The lamp which had been lighted on that day when his parents had visited him at Cambridge continued to burn brightly, although in the pursuit of his new objectives they were almost forgotten. The work, which came natural to him, thrilled and inspired him. His enthusiasms, moreover, were always under the control of his logical mind. He had a natural sense of order and organization. He foresaw the stupendous difficulties of his party. In the same way that at school he had found himself surrounded by stupid boys, so here did he find himself surrounded by unbalanced men. They appeared to him to be for the most part either sincere and unbalanced, or clever, cynical and disgruntled.

How are we to get unity? was his constant wonder. The leaders soon spotted in him a desirable recruit. There were not many of his kind. He had that unusual combination of brains, passion, and balance, so valuable, so rare in the party. He spoke on public platforms, gave lectures, and wrote articles on economic subjects for advanced weeklies. He was recognized as a distinct asset. His personality, moreover, was beginning to develop. Without being exactly good-looking, there was something compelling and attractive about him, now that he had evaded the tremors of adolescence. On a platform he was entirely without self-consciousness. In private he could be sympathetic and urbane.

In two years' time he had become a valuable unit in the party. His income had increased, but even then was less than four hundred a year. Unless through graft there are no big prizes for the political rank and file. But he was happy in the ends he served. He was elected a member of "The Ptolemy," a most exclusive club for shining lights in the Liberal and Labour world. And there he would meet not only the virile spirits of the day, but men whose names were a byword of the immediately preceding generation. And it was there he met old John Wiggan. Wiggan was very old, as "old as God," someone described him. He had been a member of the House in the days of Parnell, Disraeli, and Gladstone. He had been to prison, had suffered, and struggled, been ostracized, mobbed, and derided. He was a kind of living myth. He spent most of his time in "The Ptolemy," hunched up in a corner by the fireplace. He seldom spoke, and took no part in argument. Sometimes late at night he would utter strings of almost inaudible pronouncements, like a voice coming from the back of a dark temple. At one time he had had a mild stroke, and his voice remained thick and somewhat incoherent.

Shedlock liked to sit at the feet of the old man, and await pellucid moments. There were times when in a phrase he seemed to condense the varied arguments of a treatise. At other times he would be foolish and wandering. The younger man nurtured a wild desire to extract praise or encouragement from the veteran. But such a thing was difficult and rare. He was not living in the present. He never read the newspapers, and only followed the trend of affairs through broad generalizations, studying men and their characters, and their behaviour. He was like a monitor from the past, listening at a keyhole. It was at the end of that second year that Shedlock's sudden and dramatic opportunity occurred. Owing to the death of a Conservative M.P. there was to be a by-election in one of the boroughs at Preston. He was invited by the local Labour organization to contest it. He was twenty-three! His mind immediately reverted to William Pitt, who had been Prime Minister at an even earlier age. His senses reeled at this dazzling opportunity. His vanity had been flattered by his facile successes. He felt he could do it. And as his determination formed he knew that his convictions on abstract right and justice were already slightly coloured by the glamour of personal success. And he did not care. Had he not worked and earned his opportunity in open competition? These fools at school, these unbalanced men—who had a better right than he?

He went to Preston, armed with the irrefutable evidence of figures, his retentive memory, the calm logic of his clear brain, and then a little something more—the glitter of early achievement, the growing sense of a platform manner. He went with confidence and assurance. The campaign lasted five weeks and he crowned himself with success. There was no Liberal candidate, and a Conservative majority of over three thousand was converted into a narrow Labour majority of six hundred and thirty.

He returned to London, flushed and triumphant. For several days he relaxed. He sat about like a cat licking its wounds after a battle. He wanted to be flattered and fussed over and handed warm milk.

And one night he went into "The Ptolemy" very late. The club was almost deserted. One or two members formally congratulated him, and then took their departure. He knew that some of them were already jealous. He felt hungry for praise. In the corner sat old Wiggan, brooding and alone. He went up to him and said: "Good evening, sir!"

The old man blinked at him, and nodded, but he said nothing. After some time Shedlock added:

"I managed to get in at Preston, sir."

Again the old man nodded, and heaved a profound sigh. With trembling hands he took a sip of what looked like gin and water. They sat side by side for several minutes without anything being said. It was Shedlock's turn to sigh. He felt disappointed and piqued. Why couldn't the old fool speak?

He was about to rise and go when he became aware by certain movements and shakings that the ancient politician was about to say something. After a time his voice came like a thin rumble across the ages:

"You young men—I've seen so many of you—you'll never do it—you come and go. I've seen you all. You come up to London—to the Mother of Parliaments—Bah!—full of enthusiasms, ideals, beliefs—then do you know what it is destroys you?"

Shedlock looked puzzled, and the old man regarded him absently. Like a confidence, he whispered:

"It's the Glow-worm!"

"The Glow-worm?"

"I call it the Glow-worm because its appeal is more potent at night. It works mostly by night. You may call it what you like—social life perhaps. You of all people will never stand up against it. I see what you are like—full of enthusiasm and ideals, eh?—a short time passes—they get you always—you are listening for the frou-frou of a woman's frock. You are flattered and made much of—you find yourself in gilded salons, midst modulated lights, where women move softly—and where there is something, a kind of refinement, a tradition, you had never dreamt of. And they have something on their side, you know—it takes centuries—"

He waved his arm vaguely, and took another sip at the drink.

"The Glow-worm!—'Oh, Mr. Graeme, you're so clever and original! So interesting!'—Women! all men want to please women—they hate being boors—you find yourself in competition for favours and encouragement—you desire to be thought civilized—they hold these conventions, these leagues, which you would expect to be the arena for abstract argument—what do they become? Society functions! You—do you think you are stronger than the rest? In time you leave your enthusiasms, your ideals in the umbrellastand—you, too, become 'civilized.'

"One talks of principles, but one deals with persons. Why is our party so divided? The principles are there right enough—but all our people are jealous of each other. We have no glow-worm, nothing to lure the heart of a youth like you. You are a good boy, but you will fail—fail like the rest of them—give me my hat."

And without turning again in the direction of Shed-lock he went slowly out. The newly elected M.P. felt bitter and resentful. The one man whose encouragement he would have welcomed simply treated him to a farrago of nonsense. The glow-worm! He laughed sardonically. Rubbish and balderdash! He felt strong purposes crystallizing within him. He would show the old fool whether he had strength of character or not.

He avoided "The Ptolemy" after that, and dismissed old Wiggan from his mind. And that mind had all its work cut out to keep abreast of the claims upon it. Two days later he took his seat in the House, to the cheers of his own party.

Issues of great moment were upon the country, and he was working fourteen hours a day. The demands of the House claimed but a fraction of his activities. He found himself acting as a kind of liaison officer between certain rival factions. He had to begin to feel his way, to study the intricate processes of procedure. His maiden speech was a cut-and-dried affair, dealing with certain economic aspects of a Port of London bill. It was well received by a House which is always quick to detect sincerity. A word of praise from a member of the Opposition caught him blushing like a schoolboy. It seemed a curiously generous and sporting tribute—something entirely personal.

He forgot it quickly in the rush of work, for there was much to do. His mother, and father, and Emma came specially to town to hear him speak. He met them afterwards and they came and had supper at his rooms in Pimlico. The visit was frankly not a success. He felt restless and bored and wanted them to go. He realized how he had advanced, and how they had stopped still. They didn't begin to understand him. His mother was still only interested in his work as a job. She wanted to know all about his financial prospects, what the thing was likely to lead to. Emma wanted to know whom he had met and whether he knew certain titled members yet. The chit-chat about all the people and doings in their dreary suburb of Wolverhampton made him fret and fume.

What interest did they think it could be to him?

He promised to go and see them when the House broke up, and made the excuse of not seeing them off at the station on the grounds that he had an appointment with two of his colleagues. That night the pathetic vision of his father and mother did not disturb his dreams. He had moved up into a plane beyond them...There followed then years of genuine toil, of small triumphs, of disillusionment, bitter disappointments, and a general hardening of the spirit. About his achievements there was nothing spectacular, but he began to build a solid and enviable reputation. He was respected on both sides of the House as a genuine worker, a clear-headed thinker, and a debater not to be lightly disregarded.

What disconcerted him most profoundly at times was not the miscarriage of an argument, or even the defeat of a principle which he regarded as a right principle, but sudden strange undercurrents where the personal equation came uppermost. It was as though beneath the comity of mankind there were ever at work strange forces no one could exactly locate. As though reason had moods, logic passions, and justice a canker of personal envy. Among his friends was Julius Padstowe, who edited a Labour weekly called Unity. He was a sweet, gentle old man, with a grey beard and large sentimental eyes. His essential kindliness attracted Shedlock. By the time he came to realize that old Padstowe had more heart than brains, he became a little involved in what was known at that time as the Padstowe set, of which his daughter, Julie Padstowe, was a leading light.

The Padstowes had a largish rambling house in Camberwell. It was a curious mixture of penury and unnecessary luxury. They had no servants—it would have been too undemocratic, anyway—the housework and cooking were done by anyone who felt in the mood. But they had a hard tennis court, and Mr. Padstowe owned a car—or did it belong to the Unity newspaper? It was a large ramshackle old six-seater usually driven by his son Walter, an aesthetic young man who spike with a drawl, and appeared to regard everything as frightfully amusing. Shedlock would sometimes go there on a Sunday night to supper. It was supposed to be a kind of open house for all their friends. After a tremendous amount of talk it would be discovered that there was nothing in the house for supper but two eggs and a small tin of sardines, for a party of nine or ten. And so amidst great hilarity Walter would get the ancient car out and go foraging. He would return in half an hour's time with a cold roast fowl, which he had bought at somewhere like the Trocadero, a bottle of stuffed olives, a Camembert cheese, and a bottle of Benedictine. And then from his pockets he would produce several large boxes of most expensive Turkish cigarettes. Their flagrant inconsistencies were a constant wonder to Shedlock. They were indeed extremely kind, and there was much about them that was lovable. They would wax bitter for half an hour on end about the chicanery and dishonesty of some minister in the handling of a bill. A few minutes later Walter would tell with great glee of some incident in which he had done a railway company out of sevenpence.

Shedlock would probably have sickened of this atmosphere of rather flabby sweetness had it not been for Julie. Julie was pretty and just nineteen, and she regarded all social complexes with naive optimism. The actions of all men and all women were to her coloured by the essential purity of her outlook. Even Conservative leaders and their wives and families were objects of her mothering pity. She would believe ill of no one. The foolish inconsistencies of her brother she looked upon as the amiable peccadilloes of a God.

In an active world, in which he was invariably the youngest unit, Shedlock found it a great relief to come in contact with a fellow creature—particularly so attractive a fellow creature—younger than himself. She regarded him with adoration, and in her presence he felt his personality expand and glow. With her he felt as great as in the presence of Old Wiggan he felt insignificant.

In a short time he realized that she was the woman he was destined to marry. With Julie as his wife he saw life in a complete and comfortable perspective. She was entirely sympathetic, without being—as so many of the political women he met were—assertive. Her mind, so far untrained, was of the right quality. In his domestic life she would strike the right note; in his political life she would follow him like an echo.

It was at about that time that he met Garrison. Garrison was the most famous person he had ever met, more famous than any member of Parliament that he was on speaking terms with. He wrote novels, with colossal circulations, books on biology, sociology, and indeed all subjects of public interest. He was recognized as one of the world's great thinkers.

Shedlock was invited for a week-end to Garrison's "White Farm," in Sussex, an enormous place, with tennis courts, open-air swimming baths, and paddocks. It was the openest of open houses Shedlock had ever visited. Garrison, a middle-aged untidy-looking man, dressed rather like the manager of a bicycle shop, conducted absurd games during the day, and sat up half the night writing. He was living with his second wife and a number of grown-up children, the progeny of both his first and second wife. There were some twenty-five people spending the week-end there, and Shedlock found that one just had to tack on to a general state of mental exuberance. There were no introductions. If you wanted food you went in search of it. Garrison's attitude was a dead level of genial chaff. It was not till he had been there forty-eight hours that Shedlock had any kind of intimate talk with his host, and then he discovered that the latter, in a raging, ragging kind of way, knew his soul inside out. Shedlock felt himself completely tabulated. He was neither great nor insignificant, but just himself, and what he had done and thought.

He met other vivacious spirits at Garrison's, an American professor of physics, an unruly lord, the editor of a monthly, two other novelists, Bewayne, a Socialist M.P., people whose professions he did not know, but who talked prodigiously and well.

He returned to London feeling that in the game of shaping human destinies, politics did not hold all the cards. It was in every way an exciting visit, and the impression of it hung about his dreams, and coloured his waking hours. There was something almost intoxicating in this virile human fiction. From one of the party—the American professor of physics—he accepted an invitation to dine. And on that occasion he donned his evening clothes without his usual misgivings of conscience. The professor, after all, was a most interesting fellow, as accustomed to wearing evening dress when he dined as Shedlock was to having a morning tub. He felt himself pleasantly anticipating meeting the professor's guests.

From one such house to another he drifted like an enamoured moth, seeking he knew not what. After a crude day bickering on committees, struggling to unravel the involved mechanism of the party machine, there was something singularly attractive about these well-ordered dinners in chaste rooms, where, amidst a profusion of flowers and appropriate wines, civilization itself seemed to sit and speculate idly upon the theory of existence. The direct appeal olostncrete matters last its grip. It was a pleasant game played according to rules recognized by every party and class.

In the spring of the following year three important events happened to Shedlock in rapid succession. A political upheaval presaged the early fall cf the Government. The country was patently dissatisfied and restless. During this upheaval he met Henniken one evening in one of the lobbies. Henniken was official secretary to the Labour Party, and a friend of Shedlock's. He was in an excited state. He seized Shedlock by the buttonhole and said:

"If we get in—and everything points to it—the Chief says he has got an eye on you. How does the Home Office strike you?"

That was the first important thing, and in the ecstasy of it he committed himself to the second important thing—he became officially engaged to Julie Padstowe. The third important thing followed hard upon it. At a dinner party at Garrison's town house in Sloane Square he met Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin. She was a widow in the late thirties, and her husband had been a famous Conservative Foreign Minister for fifteen years. But there is no gainsaying that if she had never met and married Groal-Chamberlin, Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin would still have been a famous, not to say notorious, woman. She had that curious personal magnetism that caused her to be always the centre of attraction in any society. She had an unanalyzable face. It was by no means pretty, but what there was pretty about it was emphasized by her magnetic eyes and her magnetic voice. She was reported to have had innumerable love affairs, but always with famous people. Her name and photograph were always in the papers. She was witty, cultured and courageous. About everything about her, her clothes, her hair, the delicate perfume that emanated from her body, civilization seemed to have prepared and lavished something special and unique. When Shedlock was introduced to her, she flashed at him:

"Oh, Mr. Graeme, I've wanted for so long to meet you!"

Now to an impartial referee, sitting up aloft, that must have seemed, for a start, rather like hitting below the belt. There was Shedlock just emerged from the dim obscurity of a Wolverhampton suburb, just getting his feet, just groping for the first—or perhaps the second—rung of the ladder...

A Chinese drawing-room, old lacquer, cunningly shaded lights flicking into prominence the flash of jewels, clusters of rose-coloured azaleas in gilt baskets, strange and unfamiliar perfumes, the jowls of men famous in many continents. Amidst it all the boy from Wolverhampton perforated through and through by Mrs. Growl-Chamberlin's magnetic eyes.

Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin! anxious to meet him!...

He swayed a little and managed to gasp:

"I can hardly believe it, madam."

"But indeed I do."

She turned to Garrison and said:

"Henry, whom am I sitting next to? Do let me sit next to this nice man here?"

Garrison, with his ineradicable grin:

"Confound you, Agnes, you always upset my parties."

But he found himself leading her into dinner. The dinner was like a dream. He had no idea that women of this kind knew so much, could talk so profoundly, and listen so sympathetically. She seemed to know the world from China to Vienna. She had mixed in foreign courts, and could apparently speak innumerable languages. Little flicks of food fluttered across his plate and vanished. He sipped from a glass that never seemed to empty. At one perverse moment he suddenly thought of supper at home in his mother's house—the cold joint, a salad of the vegetables left from midday dinner, cheese, bread, his father drinking stout, his mother complaining about Lily reading a novel at meal times...

"I think I've read nearly all your speeches," Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin was saying. "You have a rich and fertile mind, Mr. Graeme. Everyone admires your constructive sense. It's so rare. Listen, do come and call on me. I would so love to discuss all these things with you."

She looked at him coyly and added: "You think all our people are very—very reactionary, don't you now? I would so like to persuade you they are not."

Of course he went to call on her, not once or twice, but many times. He wasted hours when he should have been at work, dancing attendance upon her. She argued with him gently and provocatively. And the power of her arguments lay less in their logic than in the precision of her personal discernments. Her personality overrode the mere claims of avowed economics. She seemed to stand for something almost indestructible.

To everyone's surprise the Government weathered the storm the whole of that summer, but the end could not be far off.

Shedlock felt like a ship in some great harbour waiting for the tide. Or rather he felt like the captain of that ship, all agog to put to sea. He was fussing about to see that the bunkers were filled with coal, the stores complete, the engines in perfect working order. Sometimes he would pull himself together, and say to himself firmly: "I am not in love with Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin."

He persuaded himself that this was a true statement of fact. He was not in love with her. But there was something almost more upsetting than being in love. On the other hand, was he in love with Julie Padstowe? The more he associated with Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin and her friends the more futile and unattractive did the society of the Padstowes appear. In spite of their inequalities they were thoroughly nice kind people, much nicer, much more moral than Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin's friends. And yet—he found himself neglecting the Padstowes, neglecting his fiancée more and more. He felt himself swimming round in an eddy, like a fly in a wash-basin when the plug has been pulled out.

During July and August he spent long week-ends at Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin's delightful house in Hertfordshire. He was flattered and made much of. He was made aware of degrees of refinement which he found irresistibly soothing. Politics seemed but a sordid game in the more consuming pastimes of art and philosophy. It seemed of less significance what he thought of them than of what they thought of him. The men there were mostly political opponents, and he could not but be impressed by their genuine English courtesy, breadth, and tolerance. He was never made to feel an outsider. Whatever views a man might have it was of no consequence provided he was a sportsman and behaved like a gentleman. And the desire to make good his claim in this respect usurped every other call.

With what he flattered himself was superhuman restraint he refused her invitation to Scotland in September. It behoved him to put his house in order. In October or November the tide was destined to turn.

But during the weeks she was away he fretted and fumed. The Pawstowes' house at Clerkenwell got on his nerves. Julie got on his nerves. In a consciously dramatic moment he broke off his engagement. There was a great emotional upheaval, tears...In despair he rushed up to see his family at Wolverhampton. He stayed a week, a dreadful week. He felt in a way he was taking leave of them. His feelings were torn between that deep ineradicable affection for one's kind and utter stupefaction at their mode of life. If it were difficult for him to explain anything about himself when he was starting on his political career, how much more difficult now! And could he explain—or even say—anything about Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin? If Lily and Emma had merely known that he knew her, they would have made such a ridiculous fuss, and uttered such banal and hopeless remarks it would have made him almost ill.

At the beginning of October a letter came for him from her. She was on her way to her villa at Rapallo. She urged him to come and stay with her, and gave a list of a few select guests she was expecting (a Cabinet Minister among them).

He could not bring himself to say yes or no. He wrote and thanked her, and explained that it would all depend on the political situation.

More committee meetings, more talk, more undercurrents, a strike pending, a conspiracy against the party leaders. If his chief didn't come into power, what would happen to Shedlock? would he, too, be shelved? There were many jealous rivals anxious for his destruction. Ideas were side-tracked right and left in the clamour for personal advancement. He felt despondent and desperate.

In the third week of October he set out for Rapallo. What his idea was he could not formulate, some vague impulse to escape from he knew not what. He had not let her know he was coming, and when he arrived at the little town scattered around the oval bay, his heart failed him. He drove to a small hotel on the front and stayed the night. His nerves were all on edge, and he kept lecturing himself, and calling himself a fool. What was he doing here? To-morrow he would go back to London and never tell her he had been.

In the morning the sun was streaming through the green shutters. He went out on to the balcony. The bay looked like an opal set in a frame of olive-grey and grey. A hibiscus tree was in full bloom beneath his window. He breakfasted and sat in the sun, and his nerves were steadied by the calm serenity of his environment. He spent the morning walking and dreaming. He learnt that there was a train to Genoa at five o'clock. He would catch it. Of course he would catch it.

Just before four o'clock he was returning to the hotel along the coast road when a car that was passing him stopped, and a voice said:

"Well, now, what do you mean by this?"

How could he explain himself? Why should he be in Rapallo at all if it were not to come and visit her? He spluttered and prevaricated.

"My dear," she said, smiling, "I shall expect you up to dinner. I will send for your things. Geoffrey Arne is with me, and Lady Fordyke, and several people you know. I insist on you coming. Look! that is my little villa up there among the tamarisks."

He bowed and left her, and somehow he felt old and defeated. He sat on the shore and badgered his brains to think of a reasonable excuse for going back and leaving her in this absurd and unexplained manner. One voice within him said:

"Don't go to her, don't go! you'll lose everything if you go. Better to burn your boats and not go." Another voice said:

"You have already burnt your boats. What does it matter? A few days and nights ..."

When he returned to the hotel he went up to his room to wash. To his surprise he found all his things had disappeared! He went down to the hall porter to enquire. The latter looked surprised.

"But a lady called, sir, in a car. I understood it was arranged. She has taken your trunks up to the Villa Igeia. She said you were going there to dine, to stay, sir."

He felt angry. He had promised nothing. This was very like the high-handed way these people went on, and yet...He turned away, anxious to show no feeling. He picked up an Italian paper that had just been delivered. He glanced at the headlines. During his journey out he had studied an Italian phrase-book and grammar. He had picked up enough to ask his way about and understand simple phrases. And the phrase he read in that headline was simple enough. It announced: "Resignation of the British Government."

He cursed Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin! He must go immediately. Every hour now was valuable. Idiot that he was to have come out here! He might have known it would happen like that! He looked at his watch and swore out loud. Fetching away his bag like that made it just impossible for him to catch the train. It meant waiting another twelve hours. It meant...the night at Rapallo inevitably. It meant, above all, seeing her again, being in her insidious atmosphere.

He went up to his room and lay on the bed, and thought. He decided that although he had to stay the night he would not go and stay with Mrs. Groal-Chamberlin. He would go back to-morrow without his bag and without seeing her. He could buy a few necessities in the town. It would be the only way. He lay there until it was dark. Then he went downstairs and had a quiet dinner alone. Afterwards he paced along the front, deep in thought. It must have been about nine o'clock when, walking back in the direction of the hotel, his eye became aware of an isolated villa, nestling among tamarisks, near the top of a short steep hill. It was lighted up, not garishly, but just gently aglow. It looked like a glow-worm against the deep violet of the Mediterranean night.

A glow-worm! At that instant he gave a kind of inward groan. He saw his whole life from the beginning. His zeal, enthusiasms, dreams, ambitions, rushing in one direction. He saw his mother, her cloth cap all awry, sweating at the kitchen boiler. He saw old Wiggan huddling in the corner of the "Ptolemy Club."

"You can call it what you like. I call it the glowworm."

He clutched at his throat and muttered:

"I must get out of this."

He walked hither and thither, like a man distracted. But ten minutes later he was pushing his way rapidly between the tamarisks, towards that light at the top of the hill.


25. The Deserter

He was conscious that some of the men in cloth caps were sniggering at him. They sat there in rows in the bare room, swinging their legs, smoking cigarettes, laughing, muttering coarse jests. They had all been thrown together that morning for the first time, but they appeared drawn to each other by some instinctive comradeship. Wainwright alone felt himself shut out, a being apart. He had already spent three hours with them awaiting his turn to go before the Medical Board, but his tentative approaches towards companionship had been still-born. He was acutely self-conscious, and his furtive offers of cigarettes to the men next to him were received with chilling unresponsiveness. If he addressed one, the answer would be:

"Eh?" or "What d' yer sye?"

They did not seem to be able to understand what he said, any more than he could understand what they said. He made a bold attempt on two occasions to be friendly, to make some laughing comment, and the failure froze him. More and more he felt himself thrust apart, until he was aware of small groups whispering together and laughing at him. Doubtless his olive skin with the mop of dark hair, and the patent fact that he was better dressed, better educated, might act as a barrier, but the knowledge distressed him. He did not feel himself superior to his fellow men, whatever his character or position, but how to cross this terrible mental chasm?

A sergeant and two privates were walking in and out of the room, with lists of names and innumerable army forms. The men, in driblets of dozens, passed through to another room, stripped and went before the Board. When Wainwright's turn came he felt a curious choking feeling, as though he could not get his breath. He felt a desire to make a sudden dash from the building, and then there dawned upon him for the first time the realization of a sudden and terrible experience. He had lost his liberty. He was twenty-four, and all his life to that minute he had been an absolutely free man. He had occasionally been checked by small fetters, but none which could not be instantly broken if he desired it very much. He had been to school, and after school he had been articled to an architect in London, an old friend of his father. The indenture implied certain mutual obligations, but it was one that could have been terminated at any time. There was no hint of bondage. All his life he had been generously treated, perhaps spoilt.

His father, who was a vicar in the East Riding of Yorkshire, had died when he was at school. His mother had worshipped him, and she had died only three years before. His only living relative was his sister, who was married to a wealthy flax-merchant at Huddersfield. In London he had few friends, but he was comfortable and happy in his quiet introspective way. His parents had left him a small private income, and he was absorbed in his work.

He occupied a commodious suite of rooms on Adelphi Terrace, well-stocked with old furniture and books. He had never been interested in politics and had not given the subject of war half an hour's consideration in his life. Nevertheless he was not entirely a book-worm. At school he had been keen on cricket and hockey, and the latter game he still kept up and he played tennis in the summer. He was perhaps highly-strung, but apart from that he was not aware of any physical disability. When the war had come it had seemed so preposterous he tried to thrust it aside as much as possible. He wildly hoped that it would suddenly end in the same cyclonic way it had begun. He would not argue about it. He dismissed it again and again with the simple expression "Ridiculous!" He could not feel a thing that was so much outside himself, and he harboured the eternal suspicion which the artist always had for the politician.

And then suddenly had come that little buff slip of paper ordering him to appear before a certain Medical Board on a certain day at a certain time. Even then he had not grasped the full significance of this onslaught on his liberty. He still thought it was "ridiculous." Something would happen. He would get out of it. It was not till that moment when he stood naked among a crowd of naked men that he realized that his liberty was really at stake; that the war was something which tremendously concerned himself.

He followed them into another room, where an old man was sitting at a desk talking to a lieutenant, and a plump doctor in civilian clothes appeared to be chasing naked men about the room and calling out remarks in a mechanical voice to a clerk. They were weighed, measured, examined in every detail, made to hop, skip, jump and bend. Nothing seemed to be overlooked. Man was reduced to a physical automaton, and nothing else appeared of the slightest consequence.

Wainwright hopped, skipped and jumped with the rest. The doctor asked one or two questions, and he found himself replying huskily: "Yes, sir," or "No, sir," as the case might be. Eventually he found himself standing before the old major and the doctor, feeling more naked than ever, and the major was saying:

"You've never suffered from any organic disease then?"

"No, sir."

They drew apart and talked, and he suddenly felt a desire to go up and say:

"I say, you know, I shan't be any good at this sort of thing."

But that choking sense prevented him from doing this, and also the realization that from their point of view this would also be "ridiculous."

In a few moments the doctor turned round and said:

"All right. Dress up."

He dressed and waited interminably in another room, among his friends in the cloth caps. At length they were despatched to a corridor, where they waited for their names to be called out. He received another buff slip of paper. He had been passed A1. He was liable to be called in fourteen days' time as a first-class fighting man in the Great War!

He walked out of the building, greedy for his momentary liberty, but dazed by the astounding position he faced. He walked all the way to Adelphi Terrace and let himself in. The quiet dignity and beauty of his sitting-room calmed him. The soothing proportions of his William and Mary walnut furniture, the Adams' bay-window overlooking the river, on the table an open book on Old English Mansions, and a pile of Architectural Reviews and Builders.

A fire glowed in the grate and invited him to warm his toes as he reclined on the tall easy-chair, by the side of which was a book-rest and his favourite pipe. This was reality, and the menacing disturbance outside was a dream. In any case here he was himself, and here he could think this thing out to its bitter conclusion.

And so from that time Wainwright began to try and think earnestly and intensely about the war and his own position. And if the conclusions he came to were not ours, we must in any case give him the credit for having tried very hard to get his thoughts into a true focus, and we must allow considerably for his upbringing and environment. For the mind of Wainwright was a very complex affair, and the effect of the war was like that of a bear disturbing a beehive.

If you conceive a swarm of bees intent on the delicate construction of a hive, and suddenly having their well-laid plans obliterated by the nozzle of the fierce monster, you may imagine how for some time his thoughts buzzed round in a complete state of panic. There was no cohesion, no unity, no concentration. He felt personally outraged. He had no feeling of animosity to any living thing. He had read very little history and no political economy. He abhorred politics, and lived for beauty. He had been brought up to see the good in everything, to believe the best in every one, and in the unswerving faith that war was a thing of pre-civilized ages. Incidentally he distrusted newspapers and was always inclined to see the other fellow's point of view more insistently than his own. He became convinced that the war was a politico-economic affair waged by two groups of uninspired and quite uninteresting people.

The outcome of Wainwright's reflections was a determination to become a deserter. Now Wainwright was a Yorkshireman, that is to say, he had the power of combining his idealism with its full quota of hard-headed sense. When he had once made up his mind to desert, he decided to do the thing thoroughly and with the greatest degree of circumspection. He spent a week thinking it all out in detail, and then acted deliberately. He was in a peculiarly good position to desert, for he had money and very few friends. There were barely half a dozen people who would be likely to cause trouble.

His employer, Mr. Haynes, who was getting on in years and spent his whole life at the office, except to go backwards and forwards to his house at Northwood, two assistants who led a very similar life, the woman who came to work for him, his landlord, his lawyer and two or three others whose habitation and movements were familiar to him. The whole scheme was daringly simple. He did not go away and hide in a cave in the Welsh hills, or disguise himself as a blind pedlar, but he simply moved from Adelphi Terrace to South Kensington on the very day that the calling-up notice was served upon him.

Now for any one who wishes to desert or to escape from the eyes of the world we cannot imagine a safer or more appropriate retreat than South Kensington. Nobody in South Kensington takes the slightest notice of anybody else. The tall supercilious houses look right over your head. The broad streets and pavements hold your neighbours at a distance. Provided you are decently dressed, no one takes any interest in you at all. A respectable person might wander there unobserved for ever, like a conventional ghost in a city of make-believe. Inquisitiveness soon exhausts itself in the atmosphere of the Cromwell Road. The vast museum and institutions have the faculty of making the individual appear trivial and inconsequential.

This is of course all assuming—as we have said—that the individual is respectable. If a gentleman in a cloth cap and a scarf instead of a tie—such as Wainwright encountered when he went before his Medical Board—were to make it a practice to lounge about the Exhibition Road, we do not presume to know what secret machinery might be set in motion to make enquiries as to his raison d'être, but a clean collar and a well-cut suit will always act as a soporific in this select neighbourhood. Moreover, there are innumerable buildings which were at that time occupied by gentlemen, dressed very like Wainwright, who were employed in multifarious and mysterious ways in "getting on with the war." All of this is nobody else's business. Certainly not yours or mine. There is not the slightest doubt but that Wainwright might have been wandering about there comfortably to this day, had it not been for certain circumstances which we shall disclose presently.

He took a suite of furnished rooms in a quiet square at the back of South Kensington Station, in the name of George Plinth. He liked the name of George Plinth. He took a long time inventing it. It gave a pleasant suggestion of his profession, and seemed peculiarly appropriate to the neighbourhood. He estimated that the "ridiculous" war would be over within six months or in any case a year, and then he would be able to return and everything would go on as usual. He took two hundred pounds out of the bank and told his lawyer he was going up to Yorkshire on business and would send his address later. He told Mr. Haynes he regretted to leave his employ, but he had been called up to do war work and he hoped to come back to him after. He gave the woman who worked for him a handsome tip and told her he was going to France.

When she had gone he took three taxi-loads of books, drawing materials and household goods to his new address. He wrote to the landlord and sent a year's rent and told him he was going to Scotland. He wrote to two other people and told one he was going to Bristol and the other that he was leaving to take up Red Cross work in Serbia. Having completed this campaign of mellow mendacity, he locked up the flat on Adelphi Terrace and left no address.

"They can take their choice," he said to himself that night in his new rooms as he lighted his pipe after supper. Satisfied that his plans had been executed with complete skill and foresight, he sedulously dismissed the Army authorities from his mind and buried himself in the study of architecture. His landlady was a lantern-jawed, forlorn-looking widow with three young children. She kept the place adequately clean, cooked well, and took no further interest in him beyond that of securing her rent in advance and stealing some of his butter and sugar, altogether an ideal landlady for his purpose.

He spent his days studying, partly in his rooms and partly in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was for the time very satisfactory. When the whole of Europe was in a death-grip, he commenced to compile a book on Doorways in the Reign of Charles II.

Occasionally he went for strolls in Kensington Gardens, and he did not hesitate to venture further afield if he felt in the mood, though he timed his visits to the West End when he would not be likely to meet Mr. Haynes or any other people who knew him. As time went on he became bolder in these enterprises. He went to Hampstead and occasionally into the country for a day. The summer exhausted itself and still the "ridiculous" war went on. He settled down to "stick it" through the winter. His work absorbed him, but he began to experience transient moods of unrest. When he withdrew from his books or his drawing-board, he was acutely conscious of an alien world in the making. Everything socially appeared to be changing kaleidoscopically.

New uniforms both for men and women appeared upon the streets every day. Every one seemed intent and occupied, women especially. He would notice them hurrying along the streets with their little despatch cases, and a new light of independence and enthusiasm in their eyes. And he felt shut out from all this. He would occasionally talk to people, but he avoided controversy. He made no friends and encountered no enemies. He passed thousands of officers, and groups of military police, but no one took any notice of him. He refused to take any interest in the war except to glance at the papers to see if there were any probability of it coming to an end.

One night he was awakened by the sound of guns. He jumped up and went to the window. Flashlights were whipping the sky with jerky movements. He could hear the drone of engines, and below in the street he heard a woman scream. He dressed quickly and went out. The streets were deserted. The night was very dark, and the guns were booming thunderously. He could not see the Zeppelin, but he walked quickly on. Occasionally some one would rush past him, or a motor car dash drunkenly into the darkness. He felt an odd sense of exhilaration in this experience. He thought to himself:

"Up there somewhere are ten or fifteen men—men of flesh and blood like myself—seated in a cage, and their idea is to kill me or anyone else they can."

The thing seemed to present itself at an unusual angle. It appeared very real, but if anything more ridiculous than ever. Why on earth should ten or fifteen good gentlemen whom he had never met want to kill him or any one else? He had never felt any desire to kill any one, not even in a passion. At the corner of a square he ran into an oldish man with a grey beard gazing upwards. He looked eccentric. Perhaps he too shared Wainwright's views. Wainwright spoke to him. He spoke impulsively with that freedom common to men who share a danger. The old man mumbled his replies. Wainwright brought his harangue to the point of the "ridiculousness" of the war. Suddenly the old man turned on him and said:

"Boy, anything that's worth having is worth fighting for. I've got three lads out there. Why aren't you?"

Wainwright stole furtively away into the night, tingling with a dull sense of disappointment. He hardly knew how he got through the winter. Periods of depression became more and more acute, and more and more frequent. The book on Charles II Doorways was half-finished and then discarded. He lost interest in it. He took up the study of Gothic tracery, but he found his mind wandering. There dawned upon him at times the realization that he hadn't perhaps faced the thing quite squarely, but that it was now too late. You cannot destroy a thing by calling it ridiculous. Perhaps it would have been better to become a conscientious objector and to have gone to prison. It would certainly have been more courageous, only...he knew he was not a conscientious objector. He would assuredly fight for anything he believed in. It was only that he objected to be made to fight for some affair he knew nothing about, somebody else's affairs. But it must soon be over now.

The winter passed, but not the war. It appeared indeed to be extending, to be developing, to have "only just begun," some people said. He saw the snowdrops and the violets come and go in Kensington Gardens, and then the daffodils raise their heads and nod at him indifferently. And then one day he met Emma.

It was a warm day at the end of April. It was essentially a day when the heart should be singing, but Wainwright was disconsolate. The sunlight seemed to mock him. He sat on a bench gazing idly at the flowers and listening to the drone of the traffic. Nursemaids passed pushing go-carts and perambulators, children laughed, and their high-spirited voices epitomized the gaiety of the day. He became aware that one perambulator had passed him twice and was returning. He looked up and into the eyes of—Emma.

She was a little thing, round and soft like a bird, with grey mothering eyes ever watchful. She was undeniably pretty, with pallid cheeks, glowing with a kind of warmth more emotional than physical. She had a small nose and a full but not too firm mouth, and a strand of light brown hair waved from under her nurse's cap. As she passed she did not take her eyes from Wainwright's, but she went on.

Twenty paces on she turned and looked timidly back. Then she went on again. Wainwright looked at his hands.

"Somehow, somewhere, somewhere, I have looked into those eyes before," he thought.

He had been instantly conscious of some sudden vital contact. Something peculiar had happened. He had been raised in a flash from the lowest depths of despair to an emotional plane that was in any case exhilarating. He couldn't understand it and so he looked helplessly and wonderingly and for no reason at all at his hands. Then he shifted his legs and looked after her. She was walking very, very slowly, and there was something peculiarly enticing and feline about her movements. She saw him watching her. After a time she turned and came back.

Wainwright felt his heart beating in an unaccountable manner. He wondered whether he should get up and bolt, but his limbs appeared atrophied and he sat there still staring at his hands. Very, very slowly she approached once more, and this time she gave him an almost imperceptible smile. She spoke to the baby, and her voice was soft and purry. The baby made a little noise and it became necessary to rearrange its pillow. After she had done this, still talking to the baby, and as though not conscious of her own action, she sat down at the other end of the bench, and Wainwright became aware of being engulfed in the vortex of a strange and quite inexpressible emotional experience. She appeared to half glance at him occasionally, as though expecting him to speak, but he merely sat there trembling and distracted at his own helplessness.

After a time, the baby not requiring any further attention, she sat back and looked around her, like a little bird perched on a bough. Then she took out a note-book and started to feel in her bag. She was evidently in distress.

Then Wainwright behaved like a man.

"Excuse me," he said, "do you happen to want a pencil?"

The grey eyes looked right into his, and the lips parted in a slow smile.

"Yes, thank you. Could you—?"

Wainwright snatched the pencil out of his pocket and handed it to her. She thanked him, and made some scribbling entry in the book and returned it.

"It's a nice day," she said.

"Yes—ripping," replied the young man.

"The daffodils are pretty," she remarked after a pause.

"Yes, aren't they fine!" he replied eagerly.

There was a most disconcerting pause, and then Wainwright in desperation stood up and peered into the perambulator. He could just see the tip of a pink nose. He said:

"I say, what a jolly baby!"

"Yes, it is pretty, isn't it?" she replied.

"Is it yours?"

She laughed a low gurgly laugh.

"Not much. What do you think?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know," exclaimed Wainwright, who felt he'd made a very tactless remark.

"Oh, I don't mind? I wish it was."

"Do you like babies?"

"Rather. I wish I had one of my own."

This seemed a desperate plunge into the most sacred intimacies and in order to gain time to focus this tremendous confession, Wainwright remarked:

"You're not married then?"

To his surprise she appeared suddenly very solemn.

She nodded and said:

"Yes, I'm married."

"Oh!"

There was another uncomfortable pause, and then she became jerkily confidential.

"I only do this of a morning—to oblige Mrs. Merryfeather of Knightsbridge. I'm married myself. We live at Hammersmith. I used to do type-writing at one time."

It seemed difficult to reply to these disconnected comments, but Wainwright felt that their acquaintanceship was sufficiently developed to venture:

"Have you been married long?"

"Three years."

"Is your husband—in business?"

"He's foreman in a stonemason's yard. He's a very strong man."

"I see."

The principal thing that Wainwright could see was that it was extremely regrettable that so lovable and attractive a little person should not have babies if she desired them. But he felt that he had pursued the matter as far as it was decently appropriate, and he added quickly:

"Do you come here often?"

"Every morning now. I only started last week."

"I seem to know you or to have met you before."

For reply she looked out at him from under her lowered lids and smiled. He added:

"I must be going. Perhaps I'll see you again, then."

She leant forward as though making a mysterious and solemn acquiescence and rose from the bench. Their ways parted and she did not look back.

It may be difficult to gather what gleams of spiritual comfort Wainwright managed to deduce from the foregoing banal conversation, but it is an undoubted fact that it raised him to an unexpected pinnacle of bliss. Possibly it was the things not said rather than the things said, or it may have been the sudden contact with an all too-human creature after a long period of emotional starvation. In any case it is certain that the experience turned his head. For the rest of the day he walked on air. Those grey eyes were between him and his drawing-board. He could not work and he could not think. Through the dull mists of his austere life, and the desperate negation of these latter days, there suddenly fluttered the pennant of a cavalier, a reckless dare-devil fellow, with boots and spurs, and a quick desire for action.

He flung his books aside and went for a long walk. In the evening he swaggered unblushingly into a music-hall. It is quite on the cards that if he had met his former colleagues at Mr. Haynes' or any others likely to be informers, he would not have hesitated to speak to them. Fortunately for him no such contretemps materialized. But the music only maddened him the more, and he returned to his roams late at night to dream of grey eyes and the morrow.

Wainwright was young, somewhat impulsive, and generally illogical, but he was not a fool. Even in those first days when the full glamour of that experience was on him, he entertained no illusions on the score of Emma. He believed himself to be desperately in love with her, but he knew that it was a love without the hope of fruition. Apart from the fact of her being a married woman he realized that she was a being quite apart from himself. She was primitive, uneducated, amazingly ignorant, but the very thought of her stimulated him, and her presence intoxicated him. He had been brought up on strictly puritanical lines, and a reverence for woman was ingrained in his nature. He had never been in love before and literature which reflected variations of the erotic passion did not interest him greatly. But this to him was something altogether unique. No human being had ever been brought face to face with so engaging an experience.

Every morning he went to meet her in the gardens, and sometimes in the afternoon, when she was free of the baby, they would meet again by appointment. They went to Richmond, and Kew, and Hampton Court; but she always insisted on being back at her home at Hammersmith at seven o'clock, because "he" came home at half-past, and she had to prepare "his" supper.

Once Wainwright took her up into Richmond Park. They sat on a low bench among the young ferns, far from the gaze of all living things. She was in one of her unbreakable silent moods, leaning forward on her knees and occasionally glancing at him furtively with her cat-like eyes.

"What are your thoughts, little witch?" he said.

She smiled vaguely and shook her head. Wainwright took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Tell me all about everything," he said.

"What do you mean by 'everything'?" she answered faintly.

"You, your life, your home. Are you happy?"

She seemed to catch her breath. Then she nodded and replied unconvincingly,

"Yes."

He put his arm round her waist and pulled her to him.

"Let me help you. Let me make you happy, Emma."

She half-closed her eyes as though she were slipping away from him. He kissed her on the cheek, and she neither responded nor checked him. She sat there brooding and answering. Wainwright was tortured by the unbridgeable chasm that always seemed to lie between them. She appeared to be drawn to him, to like him and want him, but then there came a point beyond which everything seemed empty and unresponsive. And he was choking for want of sympathy and understanding.

A lark swung upwards and started its song above the chestnut trees. The river away beneath them trembled in a warm mist. Suddenly Wainwright slipped on to his knees, and buried his head in her lap. And then he held her hands over his eyes and he told her everything. He told her about his parents and his upbringing, and his work, and his experience at the Medical Board. He told her he was a deserter, and he explained his views and reasons. He held his cheek against hers, and whispered hoarsely:

"Do you blame me?"

He felt her bosom heaving as she replied simply:

"No. Everybody for himself, I say."

She would not kiss him, but she stroked his hair and after a time she said:

"We must be going back, I think."

He lifted her up, and for a moment she clung limply to him. Then they sauntered across the grass back to the station.

After that they seemed more to each other. Although Emma would not speak to him of her home life, he found her more companionable. He chatted to her indiscriminately about anything that came into his head. Sometimes he made her laugh. He was happier, even when he was not with her. He launched into his work once more. He took a fresh interest in the Charles II Doorways. The war became more and more a matter of minor importance. He found in Emma the thing he had been looking for. She became his mother-confessor. He idealized her. He basked in the self-martyrdom of believing that he loved her and of controlling his passion. His attitude towards her should always be knightly and chivalrous. He gloried in the agony of wanting to kiss her lips, and then forbearing. He had strange dreams concerning her, in which he always played the part of Sir Launcelot.

One morning he noticed that her nurse's cap was pulled down further across her brow than usual. He would not have commented upon it only that once as she was stooping over the baby he observed something else. He said:

"Emma, pull back your cap."

She frowned and shook her head.

"Emma, dear, you've got a bruise on your temple. How did you do it?"

For a moment she was silent, and then her eyes were filled with tears.

"I didn't do it."

"Who did it?"

"He did."

Wainwright started.

"What do you mean? He did it?"

She was shaking and she would not answer. He pressed her arm and whispered:

"Tell me."

But she only shook herself free and answered:

"Oh, it's all right."

From that day Wainwright passed through periods of maddening disquiet. There dawned upon him the complete solution of her moods of sullen unresponsiveness, weighed down as she must be by her secret tragedy. Whenever he hinted that he should come to see her in her home, she shivered and implored him not to. Neither would he speak of it unless forced to. For the most part her attitude remained watchful, supplicating, mildly playful. That she was fond of him and liked to have him dancing attendance was patent. That he stirred any deeper chords in her nature remained problematical.

In any case, they still continued meeting nearly every day, and the fine-drawn skeins of chivalry were tested to their utmost strength. Sometimes she would come to him playful, gay, almost yielding. At other times with dark rims and pink lids to her eyes, distracted and unresponsive. Once she did not appear for nearly a week, and then no cunning arrangement of hat or coiffure could conceal the fact that she was barely recovered from the effects of a black eye.

It was the evidence of this phenomenon which stirred the cavalier to drastic action. For on that evening he followed her home to that block of tenements down by the river at Hammersmith, grandiloquently named "Northallerton Buildings." Stealthily he tracked her to Number 473B. But he did not on that occasion catch sight of her husband, Jim Stroud.

He wandered the neighbourhood of wharfs, narrow gullies, deserted plots of land, meagre dwellings, and vast factories, and a feeling of despair and pity possessed him. For almost the first time he felt dragged from the lure of books and precious study by the call of the grim and terrible social realities. And as the days and nights went by he found himself more and more frequently, without any idea of meeting Emma, haunting this unattractive neighbourhood. It fascinated him. It was nearly three weeks later that he first beheld Jim Stroud.

He had been wandering down by the river one evening, and turning the corner of a passage-way he crossed a mean street of buff-coloured houses when he beheld a man and woman walking thirty paces ahead. He recognized Emma at once. The man was a big heavy chunk of humanity, clumsily built. He was slouching along several yards ahead of the woman, and appeared to be drunk. He was in any case rolling peculiarly and growling at her. Sometimes he would lurch sideways and appear to be going to strike her, and she seemed to shrink back and to be on the alert for some such contingency. Wainwright increased his pace. As he approached he could hear the man's remarks and curses, but he continued stumbling forward. In a few minutes the gaunt frame of Northallerton Buildings loomed against the sky, and swallowed them up as though fully aware that its expansive body had been nourished for generations upon a diet of similar morsels. Wainwright returned home consumed with a melancholy resolution.

On the morrow he found Emma more morose than usual. She said she was tired and did not want to go far. They went and sat on a seat on the Chiswick side of the river. They were both unusually silent. At length Wainwright said:

"Look here, Emma, this can't go on. I saw you last night with your husband. He was cursing you. He looked as though he were going to strike you any minute. Emma, dear, this can't go on. You must leave him. You can't love him. Listen, you shall leave him and go where you like. I will look after you. I promise you I'll never do anything you don't wish me to. I will just be your servant. We will leave London. Go right into the country—anywhere you like. Say you will, Emma."

She was crying. She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and shook all over. He kept trying to soothe her, touching her hands and muttering, "Emma, dear."

At last she said:

"I lied to you. He is not my husband."

Wainwright started.

"What do you mean?"

"He is not my husband. He is my—man!"

"My God!"

The calm assertion of this amazing news left Wainwright stupefied. He stared at the girl, at the river and at the sky. Then gripping her forearm, he exclaimed:

"Then, by God, that settles it. But why haven't you left him before?"

"He's my man," she answered simply.

"But, my dear—" Wainwright stood up. He found himself groping amidst incomprehensible things. He stretched out his arms.

"You'll come with me now though, won't you, Emma? You'll put up with no more of this. Come, we'll start all over again, both of us."

He pulled her up to him, and she swayed passively. Her bosom was still heaving, and she could not control her voice to speak all the way along to the bridge. As they approached the turning that led to the Buildings, Wainwright lowered his voice.

"Emma," he whispered imploringly, "you will come, won't you? You will come to me, or if you won't, you'll promise me to leave him? I will pay for a room for you. You shall go unmolested. You shall be free. Promise me you'll leave him."

Fora moment she appeared as she had when they first met, a small, fluffy bird hovering on a branch, liable to dart away in any direction. He squeezed her hands supplicatingly. Suddenly her eyes lighted up with an incomprehensible burst of anger. She forced herself free and cried out:

"He is my man."

And he beheld her small cat-like body gliding away into the fading light. A little way down the street, she turned and threw him a kiss, and then ran on. Wainwright began to realize that there are things which you cannot get to learn in books. And in the days that followed he felt odd forces working within him. Something was hardening. Some inner impulse clamouring for concrete expression. He remembered the old man's saying on the night of the Zeppelin raid:

"Anything that's worth having is worth fighting for!"

He began to see himself in a different light, to be conscious of a social entity. There were other people in the world besides himself, inextricably interdependent. There must be reasons for everything. And if one asserts oneself, struggles for what one believes in, there must be inevitably—conflict.

"He shan't knock her about! He shan't knock her about in any case," he kept on repeating to himself.

He met her again. She was still incomprehensible, bewildering and more attractive than ever. She seemed at pains to atone for her repulsion of his chivalry. She allowed him to see her home, and she showed him the stone-mason's yard where her man worked. It stood at the angle of the river and a tiny canal. A narrow passage with a low stone wall connected it with the Causeway and a little frequented road. On the left one passed a deserted wharf.

It is necessary to briefly describe this wharf, because it was in this that the affairs of Wainwright reached a crisis on a certain Monday evening in June. A black door always ajar in the midst of a long stretch of black hoarding led into an L-shaped piece of ground partly mud and weeds, but flanked on one side by a strip of broken stone pavement. The land was protected from the river by a stone building with its windows boarded up and its solitary crane out of repair, whilst on the other side was a high wooden fencing, and three tarred huts stood at right angles to the lane.

On the Monday evening we have mentioned it had been raining and the air was still moist and the sky overcast. As Jim Stroud came up the lane from the yard, a young man with a pale face and a mop of dark hair appeared at the doorway of this deserted wharf.

He put his head out and said:

"Mr. Stroud."

Jim stared at this peculiar apparition without much interest or apprehension, merely acknowledging his name by not denying it. And then the young man suddenly delivered himself of the following incredible speech. He said:

"Look here, Jim Stroud. This has got to stop. No one can prevent you living with Emma if she wishes it. But if she does you've got to treat her decently. If you strike her or knock her about again, you'll have to answer for it."

Jim Stroud was a man of remarkably few words when sober. He would frequently go through a day's work without speaking to any one. On this occasion he did not belie his reputation in this respect. He simply pushed through the doorway and pushed the young man back. He then forced the door to behind him.

They were then alone in the deserted wharf. Even then he did not seem to show any inclination to speak. He came grimly onwards till he had the young man's face silhouetted against the black hoarding and then he struck at it with his right fist.

In the fight which followed one of the most disconcerting things for Wainwright was this utter silence of his opponent. He never said a word. Whether he knew all about Wainwright and his relationship to Emma, or whether he looked upon this as merely an ordinary wharfside social amenity, Wainwright was never able to determine.

Wainwright had done a little boxing at school, but he had never fought with bare knuckles in his life. He knew that his chances against the stone-mason were about one in a hundred, but it required some fantastic demand on fate such as these odds suggested to attune him to his new mood. His mind was working very rapidly. He felt exhilarated and utterly indifferent to his danger. He knew that there were one or two things in his favour. He was quicker than his opponent, and he had plenty of elbow room. There was, moreover, no friendly referee to give a breather. His tactics must be to exhaust and wind his man.

He met the first onrush of Stroud's terrific blows on his arms. They hurt, and so did his own knuckles when he got them to Shroud's ribs. The man was horribly strong. Wainwright darted round him, and sometimes simply ran away. If he could have got the other to run after him the tactics might have paid, but Stroud was in no hurry. He just turned and followed him grimly and slowly, certain of his prey.

Wainwright tried to remember some of the instructions of his old gym. instructor up in Yorkshire. He remembered one point, though rather vaguely. It concerned what he called "in-fighting." He knew that if he could get his opponent to lunge heavily at his face, and then step quickly to the left he could crash with his right to the other's jaw. He knew that the jaw was the place to go for.

"You could knock a giant out if you tap him on the side of the jaw," he seemed to hear his old instructor say. Shroud's jaw was a massive affair, and it seemed terribly inaccessible, with two steel bands swinging in front of it. Nevertheless, Wainwright made a sudden determination to try desperately for the other's jaw. He went straight at him, giving blow for blow. In two minutes he was lying on his back in the mud, a blow over the heart like a kick from a horse having laid him there.

He leapt to his feet, and rushed in again. Four times he tried these rushing tactics, and four times he measured his length on the ground. Something else would have to be done. A fine rain was falling, some gulls were whining overhead. Blood was flowing from his mouth, the result of some blow of which he had no recollection. He knew he was badly cut, bruised, and damaged, but it didn't seem to matter. He became like a primitive thing, indifferent to pain, obsessed with the one idea—to get one blow in on the point of that jaw.

He was fighting, being beaten and was enjoying the analysis of his sensations under the trial. He had no idea the mind could think so quickly; he was intensely alert for any strategic advantage; at the same time all sorts of other things kept racing through his brain, odd and ridiculous trifles, snatches of music, nothing whatever to do with the bitter case in hand. He fought mechanically, darting in and breaking away, receiving punishment and inflicting none. Little pools of water lay about the yard. The men would sometimes splash into them, and Stroud's iron-bound boots would slip upon a stone.

"If I can get him on to that wet pavement, he might trip up in those boots," suddenly occurred to Wainwright. He worked his way round so that his back was to the pavement. He was getting weaker. Stroud came on doggedly, driving him back. Foot by foot he gave way. At last he felt his heel touch the stone. Now was the time to be wary. He appeared to be making a great effort, and then suddenly threw up his arms helplessly and fell back. Stroud with a growl rushed in to finish him off. Wainwright heard his iron-clamped boots strike the stone pavement. He saw his malevolent face as he struck with his left. Wainwright sidestepped, and knew that the other had missed and lost his balance. He felt the blow graze his temple, and then with every ounce of strength that was left in him, he swung his right to the point of the stonemason's jaw.

It was not till he beheld his opponent lying insensible on the pavement that Wainwright realized that three spectators had been watching the fight. They were three other men from the mason's yard, and they might have been there all the time for all he knew. They ran up, and one said:

"Bravo, lad, you're a bonny fighter. My God You've knocked out old Jim Stroud!"

They seemed immensely impressed by the fact, and quite indifferent to the cause of the quarrel. On Wharf-side men often fight for the sake of fighting. Two of them propped Jim up and bathed his face.

"You put him to sleep a treat," said one. "He'll be all right in half an hour. What's your name, lad?"

"Plinth."

"Plinth! That's a funny name. You ought to be a—stone-mason."

"Plinth" bathed his face and staggered home. He was feeling very groggy. He managed to stagger to bed. He stayed there for three days, telling his forlorn landlady that he had been in a cab accident. She said: "Reely! How awful!" but took no further interest in the matter. All night he was in a mild fever, going over every incident of the fight. He was obsessed by one fantastic whim. He wished Emma had been there to see it!

He had done it for her, fought for her, proved that in the end he was more of a man than her man. It was only right she should have beheld his triumph. Besides, it might have made all the difference. This man had no more legal claim on her than he had. She was only frightened of him. She was attracted by certain virile qualities in him, and somehow Wainwright had not so far impressed her in that way. And yet, God in Heaven! what did she think? Were all women enigmas?

Come what may, nothing would ever be quite the same after this. When he got about again he avoided Kensington Gardens and their other favourite haunts.

"She must send for me," he thought autocratically.

Ten days went by, and he was becoming anxious. And then one morning there arrived by post a scrawled note.

"Meet me to-morrow night at the lane by Potter's Wharf at nine o'clock.—E."

A quiet sense of triumph stole over him. She had had to write after all. He had asserted his position as the dynamic male. Probably she had heard of his victory and his courage. Now everything would become gradually different. He spent the day calmly at his work, the Charles II Doorways being nearly complete.

At half-past eight he left home. He knew Potter's Wharf well. The little winding lane at the back was a popular rendezvous of theirs. There were some quiet seats near there underneath a clump of willows by the riverside. It was a favourite resort of Hammersmith lovers. It was getting dark as he crossed the bridge, but the sky was clear and the air warm with the breath of early summer. A glorious evening for lovers. He hummed to himself as he took the first turning in Potter's Lane.

And then the thing happened with dramatic suddenness. There was a sharp bend by the wall and an open piece of land stretching to the water-side. As he swung round the corner, four figures closed on him. They were in khaki. A red-faced sergeant said:

"This is the young man we want. You're under arrest, Mr. Plinth or Wainwright, or whatever you call yourself. Fall in, son."

For a fraction of a second the world seemed to rock, his heart beat with sickening fear, the colour left his lips. Then he looked up. Some gulls went screaming into the evening sky, the great river still glided to the wastes. All was movement, and betokened a world of invisible activities. Low against a wall a girl was crouching, a girl with grey watchful eyes, the only person who knew, the only one he had ever told that he vas a deserter. The evening star glimmered above the bridge in a sky that appeared too light and fragile to hold so precious a diadem. He looked round at the men, then pulling himself up, he faced about and said quietly:

"All right, Sergeant. I'm ready."


26. The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

It seemed too good to be true. To-morrow she would be home. Home! magic and immortal word. Little Miss Bracegirdle sipped her tea and sank back against the cushions. Her sister-in-law's flat in Ashley Gardens was cosily furnished, but it was not home. Her sister-in-law was talking to her in her gruff manly voice—blunt, outspoken and a good sort summed up Laura Sieveright—but Millicent Bracegirdle was too preoccupied with her own anticipations to pay particular heed to any discourse. To-morrow she would be back in her own rooms at the deanery. Easingstoke! The dear, sleepy, familiar little town. The Cathedral close, the elms, the Queen Anne houses with their white doors and brass knockers, the rooks chattering above, the river ambling between the high red-brick houses, leaving them reluctantly for the meadows and the sea.

Across the close her brother, the dean, would come, his gown fluttering in the breeze, sheathes of papers under his arm—always so rushed, dear Peter. There had been times when she hardly dare hope to see Easingstoke again. She loved it so passionately that she had tried to thrust it from her mind, as one might try to blur the image of an inaccessible lover.

For ten months she had been a wanderer and outcast. During the preceding summer a chill caught in Scotland had led to a severe attack of congestion of the lungs. And that was not all. A learned-looking gentleman in Harley Street had tapped her all over, and held mysterious rubber tubes to her back and chest. And he had shaken his head pontifically and enunciated her doom:

"You must winter abroad. There's no help for it."

Followed then much bitterness and misgiving, a fluttering and arranging and a hundred farewells and then—Madeira. Oh, the dreariness of those long months. What are sunshine and warmth when your heart is elsewhere? What are the orange groves of the south compared with the bleak meadows of the north, peopled by the ghosts of all that we hold dear?

Nevertheless, one must not be unmindful of God's bountiful goodness. That same learned gentleman had again applied his little rubber tubes. The oracle had again spoken:

"It is a complete cure. The lung is entirely unaffected."

Completely cured and going home to Easingstoke! Oh, she would like to cut short Laura's harangue. What was she talking about? Oh, yes, of course, about the unfairness to women of some law regarding divorce. What did it matter? She wanted to run out of the flat, to fly to the station and scream into the ticket office:

"Third single to Easingstoke, please."

But no, she must be patient till the morrow. The dear Dean had written one of his charming and affectionate letters. He wanted her to do him a great favour. His old friend, Dr. Mildmay Midstone, was lecturing that evening at some hall in the city on a subject which was leading to bitter and acrimonious discussion throughout the ecclesiastical world, namely. the vexed question of the revision of the Prayer Book. Owing to a diocesan conference, he, the Dean, was unable to attend. But as Millicent was actually to be passing through London that day he would be extremely grateful if she would go to the lecture and give him a short précis of Dr. Midstone's opinion. Of course, it was unavoidable.

Moreover, she would have to attend the lecture alone, because Laura said she did not want to go. That was so like Laura, so characteristic. She did things—not because it was right to do them, or because it was her duty—but because she wanted to. In the same way she didn't do things because she didn't want to do them. With regard to this lecture she actually said that she "didn't want to go to the silly old lecture," and added that she "didn't care whether they revised the Prayer Book or not." But that was just Laura, of course. She was so amusing, such a character!

They sat a long time over tea, Millicent talking and listening abstractedly. The lecture was not till eight o'clock. At six o'clock the evening paper was brought in. Laura picked it up. She glanced at the first page and remarked:

"Quite right too! No reprieve for that man Holies."

"What is that, dear?" said Millicent.

"He's a beauty, he is. A married man with children, been carrying on for years with a married woman. The husband caught him one night, and Holles hit him over the head with a spanner and killed him. He's going to be hanged to-morrow morning."

"How awful!"

Millicent wished that her sister-in-law hadn't told her about this grim tragedy. She seldom read the newspapers, and, in any case, always studiously avoided reading about crimes. There was so much beauty in the world—She, she couldn't be sure whether it was right to know about these things or not. They upset one so. At Easingstoke people never discussed them. Neither did they in Madeira. In Madeira everyone seemed gentle, delicate and pleasant. Even the natives were like that. There were lots of churches, flowers, promenades and invalid carriages. But no one seemed to be frightfully ill, and no one was ever reported as doing anything frightfully wicked. The abrupt transition from this atmosphere to a sordid London tragedy was almost too painful, and Laura had a way of almost gloating over it. Wasn't that perhaps the most tragic side of tragedy that people did indeed gloat over it? Tragedy breeds tragedy. Crime breeds crime.

Laura's terse summary of the affair seemed to cast an ugly glamour over more than one aspect of vice. It was not only that the poor wretched man was a murderer. But little Miss Bracegirdle refused to gloat. She refused to assist in any way. When a man is hanged the spirit of a community follows him to the scaffold, and thereby becomes polluted. That is what she believed.

"It matters less about the criminal than about the hangman."

She did not say this to her sister-in-law, but her mind registered the reflection as she moved across to the window and looked down into the darkening streets, where newsboys with raucous voices were gloatingly announcing:

"No reprieve for Vauxhall murderer!"

"I think I will go and change my frock," she said.

Laura was going out to dinner with some friends, so Millicent had a little supper by herself at seven o'clock. and then set out for the lecture.

She took a bus to Charing Cross and walked up the Strand. The streets were crowded with people, and gaily lighted. By the time she reached the Strand the news about there being no reprieve for a murderer was almost stale. Something else was happening—in Turkey this time. Old men were selling gollywogs. Wounded ex-service men were playing cornets, grinding barrel-organs and singing. She gave one a penny and hurried on as if she had committed an offence. Desperate-looking painted women flashed by. A large policeman, with white cotton gloves, juggled nonchalantly with the traffic. Nobody took any notice of Miss BracegirdIe. She was as inconspicuous in that crowd as one of the wooden blocks with which the Strand was paved.

As she hurried on this feeling of loneliness pervaded her. At odd queer moments she knew that she had experienced it all her life. It was always her sense of duty which prevented her giving way to it. Alone, alone, utterly alone. Even at Easingstoke, even at Madeira, but here more especially than anywhere, amidst this great bustling, self-contained crowd of strangers. And yet her heart ached for them. On many of the faces she read the soul-hunger which consumed herself. They, too, were lonely, shouting into the void, yearning for something they knew not what. How wicked she was to think like that. She, whose health had been restored to her, who was blessed with every worldly and spiritual comfort. She was wicked and selfish. She must think of others, help them, bring light and happiness into their dark lives. Her dear brother—

The lecture hall was not so crowded as the importance of the occasion led her to expect. As she glanced at the sparsely filled benches, she thought of Laura. "I don't care whether they revise the Prayer Book or not." She sighed. Laura represented the great bulk of people she feared. At Easingstoke the matter might seem impressive and vital, but here nobody cared. They were out in the streets, in the restaurants, in the music-halls and cinemas, swarms of lonely people trying to escape from themselves. The Prayer Book! They hardly knew what a Prayer Book was.

Dr. Midstone came on the platform, a tall, cadaverous, scholarly-looking man with gold-rimmed glasses. He had a very pronounced stoop, and a way of thrusting out his long arms menacingly at the audience as though he were warding off blows. His voice was rich and full, and regulated by that "sing" which everyone connected with the Church seems to think indispensable. He spoke clearly and conviningly, but without a shade of passion.

He had been speaking for nearly twenty minutes when a terrible realization came to Millicent. She was not listening. Somehow the disturbing mood of the evening still obsessed her. She was thinking of other things, of the people she had seen in the street, 0f herself, of life in the abstract. Her conscience challenged her. "Do you yourself really care whether they revise the Prayer Book or not?"

She blushed at the sheer wickedness of the thought She must concentrate. What would she be able to say to her brother if she could not remember broadly the gist of Dr. Midstone's discourse? Now what is he saying?

For nearly five minutes she followed the speaker closely. Then she found herself thinking about a man she used to know fifteen years ago. She was a girl then, and he was—oh, he was a splendid person, and he used to come to the deanery smelling of Harris tweed. He was large and breezy and...one day he ran away with a girl employed at a local dairy. Fifteen years ago. Heigh-ho!

Dr. Midstone was certainly rather verbose. The minds of other people were wandering, too. Hands were raised to conceal furtive yawns. It would be interesting to know the thoughts that pass through the minds of a hundred people when listening to a sermon.

Perhaps the journey had tired her. She simply could not concentrate. It was half-past nine when the lecture was over, and she had no clear idea as to whether Dr. Midstone was in favour of or opposed to the idea of revising the Prayer Book. It was awful. She could not lie to her brother. She would have to confess that she was too tired to listen.

But once out in the air again she did not feel tired at all. On the contrary, she felt peculiarly buoyant. She decided to walk home. It was not far, and Laura would not be home till past ten. The streets were still crowded, although their character was changing. The profit-seeker was giving way to the pleasure-seeker. People were darting in and out of doors and taxi-cabs on dubious errands. The roar of the traffic was broken by the fragmentary exchange of confidences and appeals. The beggar was evident with his shuffle, and his hope-surrendered glance. Hatless people in evening dress were dawdling outside a theatre, taking a breather between the acts. A drunken man rolled across the street, treating the traffic with the sublime indifference of his kind. A swerving taxi missed him by a matter of inches, and he turned round and put his tongue out at the driver. It was thrilling. Miss Bracegirdle was conscious of a profound sense of contentment. Her heart expanded. She loved all these people, with their frailties, and passions, and queer attitude towards an existence which was entirely alien to her own. She yearned for someone to talk to, to share the spectacle with; otherwise her spirits were in the ascendant. Life seemed a bigger thing than the lecture of Dr. Midstone. She passed Trafalgar Square and walked down Whitehall, a deserted but still impressive fulcrum of a mighty empire. Whitehall excited her enormously. She did not know what all the buildings were, but her mind was busy with the ghosts who peopled it. Pitt, Chatham, john Bright, and Gladstone. To think that she, little Miss Bracegirdle, from Easingstoke, was walking over the very flags that the feet of these great men had touched! She passed the Abbey and the House, which was lighted up. Fancy, at that very moment all those clever gentlemen were sitting there passing acts and bills for the people's good! It seemed so splendid of them to sit up late in the evening to do this, whilst the people themselves were mostly enjoying themselves.

She crossed over to Victoria Street and took a turning on the left. She walked on for several hundred yards and then realized she had taken the wrong turning. She ought to have taken the turning that led direct to the new Roman Catholic Cathedral. Instead of that she had turned too soon. She was about to retrace her steps and then reflected that it would make no difference. She would certainly be able to work her way round to Ashley Gardens by bearing to the right She passed a row of meagre shops and stalls. She was in one of those slums that one comes on more abruptly in London than in any other city of the world. It impressed her as strange that within five minutes' walk of all those gentlemen passing bills for the good of the people some of these same people were living in filth and squalor. A curious inexplicable world.

It was a long way before she came to a turning on the right, and this seemed to lead to a more poverty-stricken district still. All this area lay almost between the shadows of two mighty cathedrals. This could hardly lead to Ashley Gardens. Miss Bracegirdle had lost herself, and there was no one about she felt she could ask to direct her.

She was about to turn back when at the corner of a mews the amazing experience happened to her.

There was a woman with a baby in her arms talking angrily to a boy about twelve years old. She was apparently requesting him to do something which he refused to do. She used words which Miss Bracegirdle knew not the meaning of, but which she sensed as being vehicles of profanity and obscenity. She was hurrying by when the woman suddenly turned to her and said:

"Here, lidy, you're the sort. Hold my baby a minute."

Before she had time to grasp what it was all about, Millicent Bracegirdle found a baby in her arms, and the woman had darted into the mews and the boy after her.

All her life Miss Bracegirdle had been schooled to acts of Christian charity. It was her habit of mind and heart to sacrifice herself for others. But there was about this sudden action an element of outrage. The woman had not asked her or given her a chance of refusing. She did not want to hold the baby, but perhaps her most incisive resentment was that she was about to be made ridiculous. She had sometimes held her little nieces in her arms, but she knew nothing about babies. It would cry or scream. Perhaps it wasn't clean. Really, too bad! Nobody had apparently observed the episode except the boy. Oh, well, perhaps the woman would really only be a minute. There was nothing to do but wait. She peeped into the mews. It was not exactly a mews. It was more like a narrow alley leading to another mean street at the end. At the further corner she noticed a shabby little public-house. Ah, that was it! The dreadful woman had gone in there to get a drink. There was a very just law that women must not take their babies into these awful places. But how callous and terrible! What did the baby's mother know of her? Fancy a woman's craving for drink being so strong that she would even risk losing her baby for the sake of it. Miss Bracegirdle waited patiently, but the woman did not return. Five minutes, ten minutes went by and nothing happened. She began to get scared. Once she thought she saw the boy in the alley. She walked into it, but she could not find him. Other bedraggled people passed her, but no one took any notice of her. If the woman did not come soon, there would be no alternative but to look into the public-house and see if she were there. In the meantime the baby was sleeping peacefully in her arms. She waited twenty minutes, then she screwed up her courage and walked timidly up to the public-house. She tried to peer in, but the glass was opaque. Nothing to do but go boldly in. She pushed the door open and entered. In the bar were some eight or ten people drinking. She had hardly time to glance round before a rough voice bawled out:

"'Ere! out you go! You can't bring a baby in 'ere!"

If the man had struck her with a whip he could not have jarred her sensibilities more acutely. She, Millicent Bracegirdle, sister of the Dean of Easingstoke, being brutally ordered out of a common public-house, holding an unwanted and unexplainable infant in her arms! In that instant she experienced a terrifying vision of Easingstoke—if anyone she knew had seen her!

Fortunately for her spirit of self-respect, her mind was instantly occupied by the more pressing claims of her predicament. She had time to observe that the woman was not there.

She backed out flushed and discomforted. On the pavement once more she was slightly encouraged by a familiar apparition—the boy, who had apparently been watching her proceedings. She ran up to him.

"Little boy, where is—the lady? the baby's mother?"

The boy grinned at her stupidly, and she repeated the question. Then he made a funny noise and pointed at his ears and mouth. He was deaf and dumb. She tried to make signs to him with her disengaged arm, but he laughed and ran up the street. The position then was indeed serious.

If the woman did not appear soon there was only one course of action to follow. She must give the child up to the police. She strolled indeterminately up and down the alley. The place smelt eerie and dank. Disreputable people drifted by her, mostly coming or going to the public-house. In one of the buildings she heard a child screaming.

The baby in her arms began to stir. She felt his little legs kicking feebly against her thin breasts. At that instant a strange yearning came over her. Lonely...lonely. The mother had deserted her child. Poor little mite! It was in her power to take him away from this wretched environment, to bring him up in healthy surroundings, in clean sweet air and simple faith. Perhaps it was the mother's wish.

Oh, how she had desired a child. The physical aspects of marriage had always appeared to her alarming, but—a child. She had hardly dare visualize the blinding joys of motherhood. And at that moment all the repressions and inhibitions of her life reacted to a spiritual call. Her breath came in little stabs. Would it be wicked? very, very wicked? Perhaps the law would not allow her. Her brother, the Dean, what would he say?

It was as though the strange mood which had obsessed her all the evening had here found its solution. She had never faced so venturesome, so desperate a temptation. So consumed was she with the central fact of her potentiality, she could not envisage details. All these minor things would work themselves out if she could only make peace with her conscience.

It was nearly an hour since the woman had left. She must have intended to desert this little waif. She waited the full hour, flustered and tremulous. Then she went back into the street. A policeman was standing at the corner. She went by him furtively, re-traced her steps to Victoria Street, and returned to Ashley Gardens. Laura had just come in, and was smoking a cigarette in front of the fire. When she saw Millicent with the baby in her arms, she uttered an exclamation.

"What in God's name—"

Millicent told her story quietly.

"A woman thrust it in my arms and went away. I waited an hour. She didn't return."

"But, you idiot! What have you brought it here for? Why didn't you give it to the police?"

"I—I don't know. I thought I'd keep it."

And then Laura must needs throw herself on to the Chesterfield and scream with laughter. Millicent 'vas hurt. Laura's harsh, ironic laughter jarred her. What was there so funny about her keeping the child? When Laura could control herself, she said:

"Dear lunatic, of course you can't do it. You would not be allowed to without the mother's consent—"

"I have a feeling the mother would consent. She wanted to get rid of it."

Again Laura was obliged to double up with laughter. Millicent was getting angry.

"Why do you laugh so?"

"Oh, I don't know. You're a scream, Milly. You look so funny sitting there holding the baby as though it were made of glass. You go out to a lecture on the revision of the Prayer Book, and come back with a wretched little brat, which you calmly announce you're going to adopt. Let's have a look at it."

She walked across the room and lifted a gauze veil which had been concealing the baby's face. It was still sleeping, a plump, pretty little thing, with its tiny fist thrust confidingly against Millicent's breast.

"It's sweet," said Millicent in a faint voice.

"It's not too bad," said Laura. "But it's no good, my dear. It's no good being foolish about it. Why, you don't even know how to feed it. Perhaps the mother feeds it. You don't know how old it is, or anything."

"I shall go across and see Mrs. Browning in the flat opposite. She has two babies of her own. She will know."

"Don't be absurd. Let me take it downstairs to the policeman at the corner."

Miss Bracegirdle's eyes flashed with sudden anger.

"Policeman! what should a policeman know about a baby? Why should we send him to prison like a criminal—the innocent mite. It must be nearly time he had his milk. It is an hour and a half already since the mother left him. Oh, leave me alone."

Laura had never seen her sister-in-law before in so fierce a mood. Her laughter and incredulity died down. Within a few minutes Millicent was in Mrs. Browning's flat making Allenbury's and being instructed in the first principles of baby-craft.

Mrs. Browning was a large, sympathetic person, who said:

"I should certainly keep it for the night, my dear. To-morrow we can think what is the best thing to do."

When Millicent had borrowed a cot, given the baby its milk and ensconced it comfortably in her own bedroom, Laura came in and tried her trump card.

"There's just one thing I'd like to point out to you, Milly. You left Easingstoke last summer and went to Scotland. There you were taken ill. You were unable to go back to Easingstoke. You went abroad. Everybody in Easingstoke heard all about it. Very good. You are away ten months, and then suddenly you turn up with a baby you can't explain. You say someone left it in your arms in London. It sounds like the stork story. What do you think people will say?"

Millicent had not thought. She cried out passionately:

"Say! What do I care what they say! Nobody who knows me—my brother—"

"No, no, of course, of course. But people will talk, you know. Mrs. Rusbridger, that old cat Lady Ninelms—"

"Oh, Laura, don't be so disgusting—so mean—"

Laura shrugged her shoulders, kissed Millicent in the cheek, and maliciously hoped that she would have a good night.

Millicent indeed had a wonderful night, perhaps the most wonderful night she had ever enjoyed in her life. She was a creature suddenly metamorphosed. Her eyes shone with the light of one beholding revelation. She was a protector, a person of responsibility, above all things she was—a mother!

She hung round the cot like a tigress watching a cub. She obeyed Mrs. Browning's instructions meticulously. When the baby began to cry she turned it over, rocked it gently, and crooned phrases of an old half-forgotten lullaby. It was midnight before she could bring herself to undress and get into her own bed, and even then she lay awake watching the cot, and constantly peeping at the little innocent face within.

Laura's Parthian shaft troubled her but little. She refused to believe that anyone in Easingstoke would harbour such disgusting suspicions of her. And if they did—what did it matter? Was this not something greater and more ennobling? Was it not the most wonderful thing in the world?...motherhood without passion. The mother of God...she dozed, and dreamed. Little man, little man. He would grow up and she would teach him to speak. In years to come he would gamb?l at her knees. He would call her mummy. Oh, she would make such a good and beautiful boy of him. She would teach him to pray, and then the baby lessons, the unfolding of a dormant soul.

She slept fitfully and dreamed again. She could see him going off to school with his satchel, kissing her good-bye. In the evening frowning over his lessons, asking her questions. And she would put him to bed again, watching him, ministering to him, mothering his mind with inspiring precepts and thoughts. And he would go to college, a jolly, breezy boy. fond of games and open air and intellectual experiments. He would come to her with all his troubles..."Mummy, I'm sorry..." Oh, how kind she would be to him, how helpful, how proud to sacrifice herself. How proud to be seen with him, to lean upon his strong young arms. The years would creep upon her noiselessly, unwittingly, and she would not mind. All that she had to give of spirit, heart and matter should be his, joyous and welcome gifts. The clean young man with strong limbs and a radiant mind would look up to her and love her. His letters...his work, and then perhaps one day another woman. Ah! she would not resent that. Her little man would not be likely to make mistakes. She would love this other woman as a daughter. She would be getting old then, old and weary of the physical struggle just to live. Even as a girl she could listen to the "Nunc dimittis" and her heart would be filled with a kind of quiet joy of resignation. God's will. If she could just live to see his children. The richness and the fullness of her life was overbearing. She had always had so much to give. And now...oh, little man, little man.

She drifted away to a dreamless sleep, only to be awakened by a disconcerting sound. The baby was crying. She started from her bed. She was tired and lethargic. She had perhaps only slept a few minutes—she could not tell. There was milk to warm, the bottle to rinse out and fill, the rubber teat to inspect and see that the milk did not come too quickly. Otherwise the poor mite would have indigestion. Surprising the number of little things to think of and do in connection with so fragile a body. She must not give way. She must learn to school herself to sleepless nights, to petty worries and abrupt fears. The path of childh?od is honeycombed with pitfalls and dangers. If anything should happen to him? But no, that was the first thing—to believe that nothing could happen, to trust in the mercy of God. Apart from this, to do one's best, to go on.

She was indeed tired when morning came. The emotional strain of this novel experience, the lack of sleep, and the keen anxiety with regard to the future all combined to sap her physical strength. But her nervous energy keyed her almost to a state of exuberance. It was she who was inclined to laugh, and Laura who was inclined to be touchy. Laura was one of those people who are always at their worst in the morning, and in the raw cold light she protested that "this baby idea is just silly."

Millicent could not be argued with. Both Laura and Mrs. Browning affirmed that she could not possibly take the baby away without giving information to the police, and having inquiries made. She would be likely to get into trouble, imprisonment perhaps. But Millicent shook her head and went on calmly making her arrangements. She meant to catch the 4.45 to Easingstoke.

She walked up and down the rooms, holding the baby in her arms, her flesh exulting at the magic of that warm contact. She bathed him, and dressed him, and fed him with his many bottles. She was wildly happy, trying to thrust back the doubts and menaces which assailed her through the telepathic communion with her two sceptical friends. She would not discuss the matter with them. She was too fearful to see that they were right. If only she could get away to Easing-stoke...the afternoon found her in a fever to be gone. It was as if the waves of fear were flooding her from without. She dreaded the ring of the bell, the tap on the door. She visualized burly policemen and inspectors accusing her, perhaps taking her to prison. Well, she would face them all. If it must be prison, then let it be. What kind of love is it that will not risk chains and manacles, nay, even a crown of thorns?

Three o'clock. In another hour she would be free. She would escape with her treasure from this sordid and terrifying city. She sketchily packed her own trunk. Laura had gone to a matinée, thoroughly disgruntled with her sister-in-law's absurd behaviour. Her delicate fingers trembled as she collected her simple belongings. The day was misty and the rooms were already darkening.

Going from her bedroom to the sitting-room to collect some books, she suddenly started. Her heart beat violently against her ribs. And yet it was only the ring of the front-door bell.

She stood there almost unable to move, as she heard the maid go to the door. There was a muttering in the hall, and the maid came in.

"Please, miss, there's a—person to see you."

She could not speak. She merely nodded a resigned acquiescence. Within a minute a woman was standing before her. Millicent could not but observe that she was almost pretty, with dark, bright eyes and full passionate lips. At the same time it was the face of a woman emerging from a terrible experience, like a patient coming-to after an anaesthetic. She looked bedraggled and awful. The woman stared at her and said dully but deliberately:

"I've come for my baby."

Millicent felt too stunned to scream the protest which her heart dictated. She returned the same dull stare whilst her mind sought defensive weapons. She repeated meaninglessly:

"Your baby."

"Yus. I've come for my baby."

Should she deny that the baby was there? should she lie? or bribe, plead, cajole or fight?

A second's reflection and she knew that she could do none of these things. She merely said limply:

"Why did you—-how did you—"

The woman did not seem unduly surprised at the vague queries. She said:

"My other boy—the deaf and dumb one—followed you home."

Millicent said: "I see," as though it were a most ordinary experience. But a slight feeling of faintness came over her, and she sat down on an upright chair. Suddenly the woman seemed to emerge from the slattern of the street into an impressive figure. She glanced round the room and said in a rough coarse voice:

"Gawd! what do you know of the life we lead—you people!"

Advancing upon Millicent, she keyed her voice to an hysterical pitch.

"Do you know why I left my baby with you? Because I couldn't face the night and dawn. You'd do the same if you was me. Do you think I'd 'ave got through that night waiting for eight o'clock this morning—waiting for the hour to strike, and 'im waiting there in 'is cell. And we was something to each other in the past. We was, you know, in spite of 'er. I drunk myself till I didn't know what was what last night. You'd 'ave done the same—I knew nothing till two hours ago. It was all over then. Oh, my Gawd!"

What was it all about? What was this woman saying? Who was "'im waiting there in 'is cell"? What had happened? What was it the woman couldn't face? Little Miss Bracegirdle sat upright on her chair, her eyes straining at the other as though she would read her soul. She heard her own voice whisper:

"What has happened?"

The woman was crying sloppily and savagely, dabbing her pink eyes with a filthy rag, biting the end of it in nervous agitation. After her outburst she had turned and leant sideways on the arm of the Chesterfield. Now she swung round on Millicent again. Her voice was tense, and yet not untinged with that furtive enjoyment of horror, which is characteristic of a certain class. She judged her dramatic periods with a nice appreciation of their efffect. She said:

"Don't you know? Don't you know what's happened?"

"No." She nodded her head in the direction of the other room.

"'is father...my 'usband...'e was 'anged at 'Olloway this mornin' at eight o'clock."

Millicent again heard her own voice say inanely:

"Who are you?"

"Mrs. Holles."

There was nothing to say. But a prodigious amount to think. Miss Bracegirdle suddenly found herself weeping. Her thoughts ran riot in overlapping reflections. Her sensibilities appeared less overwhelmed by the tragedy of this woman's position than by the reflection that the baby, which had been so nearly hers, should have a mother so coarse-fibred, a father...a murderer! The innocent mite. And one day long ago that same father must have been as sweet and pretty as the little thing in the next room. Years of training and teaching and striving and then—"hanged by the neck until dead." Could it be possible that the vicious germs were already there in that sleeping unconscious organism? or wasn't it rather environment, bad influence? Wasn't her dream still worth fighting for?

Miss Bracegirdle thrust out her arms and exclaimed:

"Oh, I'm so sorry...so sorry. How terrible." Then she added desperately:

"Mrs. Holles, listen to me. Won't you let me have the baby to look after? I will take care of him. He shall have every loving care and kindness, good schooling, good influences, a career...everything possible shall be done."

Over the mother's face there crept an expression of animal unreason. A dangerous light flickered in her eyes. The sense of theatricality evaporated. She spoke with cold, naked intensity:

"'Ere, none of that. You give me back my baby."

And then Miss Bracegirdle knew. She dropped her arms and shrank back. She saw clearly and she saw it whole. It was not she, but this woman facing her, who was the possessor of the most wonderful thing in the world.

In a kind of trance she rose from her seat and conducted the formalities of deliverance. She acted with calm dignity, marshalling her emotions adroitly. She would not give way. The beauty of that fabric we call life is dependent upon the finely adjusted interweaving of heart and brain. Over this perhaps she had not thought sufficiently—and yet, O God!


The door had snapped to, and the woman and her baby gone. Millicent was glad she had remembered one thing. She had given the woman some money—all she had to spare. She had not given her her address at Easingstoke. What was the use? About this affair there could be no compromise. It must be one thing or the other. She finished packing her bag, telephoned for a taxi, and drove to the station.

"Third single to Easingstoke, please."

It was dark when she reached the old town of many churches. Her brother met her at the station. He kissed her affectionately on both cheeks, and helped her with her luggage into a horse cab.

"Well, my dear, how are you?"

"Rather tired, Peter. I slept badly last night."

That was all she ever said about the episode of the baby, but all the way along in the cab she was trying to imagine what it would be like still holding the baby in her arms. Trying to imagine it and not being able to. The familiar streets and landmarks, the dim outline of the old Cathedral, the slow-moving people, the propinquity of her brother combined to make the experience seem unreal. Things like that didn't happen in Easingstoke. Nothing changed. It was all as though she had never been away at all, as though nothing had ever happened to her, or could happen.

"Well, my dear, did you go and hear Dr.Midstone?"

Dr. Midstone! Yes, Dr. Midstone appeared a reality, and she could not remember a word had said! She muttered something about a most interesting discourse. She would defer details. She was so tired.

Inside the deanery everything appeared almost unbelievably the same. The cosy, rambling rooms, every chair and waste-paper basket in its exactly right place. Mrs. Burnet, the plump housekeeper, with the familiar waddle and smile and the cracked voice.

"Glad to hear thee 're better, miss."

The same quiet dinner, the Dean mildly garrulous concerning the Diocesan Conference. Afterwards the drawing-room, with the two lamps Maggie brings in while the Dean enjoys his one glass of port. Framed woolwork and an etching of Ely Cathedral, a smoke-grey Persian cat sleeping in front of the fire, utterly indifferent to the comings and goings of mere mortals.

She looks into the flames and dreams. The bells of St. Mary's are chiming. Idly she wonders why...St. Mary! Oh, little man.

Her brother joins her. They talk quietly and dispassionately about familiar subjects and familiar people. She writes a letter to her sister-in-law to thank her for her kindness. She puts it with the Dean's letters in the basket in the hall.

It is ten o'clock. The servants are summoned, and the Dean offers up a few short prayers, thanking God for the benefits and the blessings of the day. Then everyone has cocoa and they retire for the night.

Her bedroom with its white walls and chintz curtains smells faintly of lavender and sandal-wood, and some kind of cleaning soap. Over the fireplace is an ivory and ebony crucifix. On one side a watercolour drawing of Lake Lucerne by a cousin. On the other a reproduction of a painting of the Nativity by Cimabue. The room is lighted by two candles. Maggie has already unpacked her things. She disrobes almost stealthily as though the act of disrobing were not quite a right and proper thing to do. She lets her hair fall loosely round her shoulders, and standing in her white night-dress looks at herself in the mirror. The plain, ingenuous face with deep-set grey reflective eyes appears small in its frame of dark brown. Beautiful hair, beautiful hair faintly tinged with grey. Nobody ever sees her like that. Nobody ever sees how beautiful her hair can look. A tear starts to her eye. She dashes it away and ties her hair up in a knot, her white hands moving rapidly and skilfully.

Then she kneels by the bed, her hands pressed on either side of her temples.

And so we will leave her there, for we have no place in that sanctuary, where little Miss Bracegirdle is confiding to her God the spiritual record of her day.


THE END


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