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Title: The Night Visitor and Other Stories
Author: Bennett, Enoch Arnold (1867-1931)
Date of first publication: 1931
Edition used as base for this ebook: London: Cassell, 1931
Date first posted: 14 April 2009
Date last updated: 14 April 2009
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #299

This ebook was produced by: Jon Ingram & the Online Distributed Proofreaders Europe at http://dp.rastko.net

Transcriber's note: The list of "Works by the same author" has been moved to the end of this file.




London, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney

First published 1931
Printed in Great Britain




Marriage, said someone, is one long patience. It usually is not. But it ought to be. Although Anthony Reels was held to be a remarkable inventor, and by reason of his gifts held a fine and a rather free position in an immense new, efficient manufacturing Combine which was trying to destroy the British reputation for muddle, he was little if anything above the average, considered as a husband. And Luce Reels was little, if anything, above the average of wives. The twain had their difficulties from time to time. They had also a child, which was continuous. Rosie had reached the age of three. Some of the marital difficulties originated in Rosie. Luce contended that Rosie was no ordinary child. Anthony, partly in order to tease his wife, contended that Rosie was just an ordinary child. This divergence of view—whether genuine or assumed—about the most important subject on earth, was apt to produce a general domestic atmosphere not entirely favourable to peace and tranquillity, an atmosphere in which discord and conflict flourished.

The season was winter, the weather bleak. Influenza raged. Theatres were full of coughs. Sixty per cent of invitations were refused on account of illness. The Reelses had decided to go South. Anthony had done a great work, likely to lead to vast profits for his firm, (p. 002) and he needed a change. Excellent! But Luce had said that the child, complete with nurse and all impedimenta, must accompany them. Anthony had protested with customary violence against the preposterous notion of taking an infant on a thirty-hour journey by sea and land into an alien clime. What Anthony wanted was a change. There could be no change for him if he was to be charged with the responsibilities of a family. A wife, yes! A family—No! Moreover, the infant would be better and safer at home, in its fixed daily routine, with a nurse faithful and competent. Change was bad for infants, who were all Tories and objected to any disturbance of routine.

Luce won. All arrangements were accomplished for shutting up the flat; tickets taken; rooms engaged. But Anthony, a wonderful comedian, carried his dark grievance beneath a lightsome exterior. Anthony was secretly resentful, not because he felt himself to be in the right, but because he felt himself to be in the wrong. (Luce had handsomely defeated him in argument.) We others, of course, are only rendered gloomy and resentful when, being beaten, we know ourselves to be in the right. Anthony was different. We are Anthony's moral superiors.

Anthony said to himself: "If she thinks I'm going for a very necessary holiday with this child, this nurse, this perambulator, this special bed, these special foods, these kettles and contraptions, she is mistaken. I will be ill. I will be too ill to travel." So on the morning before the planned departure he began to be ill. His acting was brilliant and diplomatically contrived. He stayed in bed, but he said: "It's nothing. I'm only tired. I'll get up for lunch." He managed to give to his optimistic assurance a tone of unreality, the tone of a brave man resisting adversity for the sake of beloved (p. 003) creatures. He did not get up for lunch. He would get up for dinner. But he did not get up for dinner. He laughed nobly at the suggestion of a doctor.

It was an odious spectacle, this spectacle of a clever and successful man of thirty-six, a genius perhaps, fully grown, entirely adult, naughtily feigning to be ill when he was not ill.

Left alone for a few minutes by his attendant loving wife, he smiled devilishly to himself:

"I'll teach her!" he thought.

Then he was startled by the unexpected arrival of the doctor whom he had refused to see.

"There will be trouble now," thought he. "This fiend of a medico will see through my sham."

But no! There was not the least trouble. Dr. Bain accepted seriously Anthony's ingenious account of his symptoms. He took the false patient's temperature, and, shaking the thermometer, pronounced it to be a fraction under a hundred. He would not say whether or not the patient could safely travel on the morrow; but he promised to call very early the next morning and decide then. Luce was exceedingly worried. However, she too was brave and optimistic on the surface, and continued her elaborate preparations for departure on the assumption that everything would turn out for the best.


Having wakened in the middle of the night, Anthony, for some reason which he could not explain, began to read the Bible. He was not by habit an ardent reader, and particularly not an ardent reader of the Bible; but he always kept a Bible on the table by his bedside, in case he might feel a desire to read it, and he never (p. 004) felt the desire. Now, almost before being aware of the fact, lo! he was reading the Bible,—the love-story of Amnon and Tamar.

"After all," said he to himself, "it's great stuff, the Bible is," implying that he was appreciating the greatness of the Book for the first time.

All very odd! His right-hand, exposed to the air of the room, grew cold. Then he realized that the door communicating with Luce's chamber was being cautiously opened.

"A stroke of luck!" thought he wickedly, "that I should be awake. A bit of convincing detail, that! What's she after?"

Out of the tail of his eye he saw her,—her auburn hair (disarranged), her flushed girlish face, her sapphire-coloured dressing-gown (his favourite).

"Hello!" he murmured, with an affected weakness of voice. "Anything wrong?"

"No," answered Luce, in one of her affectionate, anxious tones. "But I saw the light under the door and I wondered whether you were worse or whether you'd gone to sleep and left the light on."

"I'm perfectly all right, thanks," said he, with an accent to show that in his opinion he was far, far from perfectly all right. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd try to read a bit."

Luce was bending over him. Yes, she looked surprisingly young for thirty-two.

"What are you reading?"

"Oh! The Bible. Now you get back to bed, and sleep, my girl."

She put her hand on his forehead.

"You're a bit hot," said she.

"My hand isn't," said he.

She was about to kiss him fondly.

"Don't kiss me," he warned her. "I'm infectious—or (p. 005) contagious. You might give it to Rosie." She withdrew her lips.

"I'll kiss the back of your neck," said she, with a celestial smile.

She inclined her long body, and she did kiss him on the back of his neck.

"Sure you aren't worse?" she asked, apprehensive.

"Oh, no!" Again with artful unconvincingness.

Luce sighed courageously, and departed. A delicious experience for Anthony. It proved that their hostility had vanished, that she was still passionately attached to him. He felt ashamed of his duplicity. Imagine deceiving so loyal and tender a creature! Still, he had begun the fraud, and he must carry it through. Besides, she had defied and vanquished him about the child, and she deserved some punishment. He extinguished the light (so that it should not disturb her loving watchfulness), but for a long period he could not sleep. Indeed, he felt quite unwell. Curious, how the soul reacts on the body!


The next morning Dr. Bain arrived very early, saying brightly that he had to start his day's work at dawn because of the epidemic of influenza, which was running him off his feet. He was a middle-aged man, but apparently incapable of being fatigued. His examination of Anthony was absurdly rapid.

"Out of the question," he remarked.

"What's out of the question?" Anthony demanded.

The doctor glanced aside at Anthony's trunk which lay in a corner all packed save for a few trifles.

"Your leaving to-day—or to-morrow or the next day," said he; and, having said it, Dr. Bain went away. Luce followed him out of the room.

(p. 006) "The fellow's mad!" thought Anthony. "I've a good mind to get up."

Still, the prestige of a doctor is such that, though he may be mad, he must be obeyed. Anthony had successfully deceived the world; but he was conscious of a regret.

"Well," said Luce, returning. "It's all off then. So that's that." She gave her husband a smile, as if to inspire him with hope in his illness.

"What's supposed to be the matter with me?" Anthony questioned.

"'Flu, naturally!" said Luce. "The doctor thinks you ought to have a nurse."

"Rot!" Anthony ejaculated.

Luce calmly continued:

"He says they're difficult to get just now; but he'll get one. He'll have her here this afternoon."

Anthony was dumbfounded. The whole world was mad.

"But how shall you manage?" he asked at length, in amaze. The sensation of being a criminal crushed him.

"Oh!" Luce answered with spurious calm. "Mary will stay. Quite simple."

Mary was the sole private servant in the home, which was a service-flat.

"We can use the railway tickets later on," said Anthony. "But the train seats to Dover and in the Blue Train will be wasted."

"Don't worry" Luce enjoined him masterfully. "I shall telephone about them."

A capable little thing, she was!

Anthony slept. Upon waking he noticed that the trunk had gone from the room.

The nurse arrived in the afternoon, according to prophecy. She struck Anthony as hard and domineering. (p. 007) Within a very brief time she was mistress of the room, and the bedside table was laden with such things as a jug of lemonade, a box of cough-lozenges, some oranges, a bottle of medicine, a glass, a tablespoon, and aspirin. Also, the nurse announced that she would sit up, at least during the first part of the night, and that she could sleep or doze quite comfortably in Anthony's easy-chair.

All which was highly disconcerting. And an even more disconcerting event occurred at about ten o'clock. Dr. Bain paid a second visit.

"I happened to be in the neighbourhood," said he, playing the casual, "so I thought I might as well look in."

Anthony, hardly a man to be deceived by any clumsy imitation of casualness, reflected:

"This looks fishy. Doctor twice in one day! Am I ill? The fellow's a fool. Or is he cadging visits at a guinea a go?"

Just as the fool or cadger was finishing, Luce appeared in the doorway.

"Before you go, doctor, I'd like a word."

Luce left. The doctor left.

After a quarter of an hour or so Luce reappeared.

"Nurse," said she. "Can you spare a minute?" And to Anthony: "Rosie's not well."

Luce left. The nurse left, and as she passed out she switched off the electric light.


About an hour and a half elapsed before the burglar sneaked into the room.

But in the meantime much had happened—in Anthony's soul. He had begun to feel lonely, neglected, (p. 008) and once more the influence of the soul on the body became evident. For, feeling lonely and neglected, he felt ill again. He was hot. The red glow of the electric radiator seemed like some dim glare from Hades. It produced in him a very uncomfortable sensation, and he slipped out of bed and extinguished the radiator. Which unconsidered action left him in complete darkness far from the bed. He reached the bed, by a roundabout route of groping, hurt his toe against the foot of the night-table, jarred the table and heard something drop from it on to the floor. By the sound of its fall on the carpet he knew that the misplaced object must be the metal box of cough-lozenges which among other things the doctor had prescribed for him. Yes, he had had a very slight cough.

The cough now suddenly grew worse—for no reason except that that box was lost on the floor. But, from mere contrariness, he would not search for the box. He inserted himself into the bed, pulled the clothes round his neck, and coughed loudly in the hope that he would be heard over the whole flat. He was not heard. He determined to be a martyr. His body ached as though it had been whipped. He was conscious of a pain behind his eyes. His lips were dry.

Then the soles of his feet discovered that the hot-water bag was practically a cold-water bag. Monstrous! His grievance as a dying man forsaken waxed colossal. Strange, if he was too hot, that he should manufacture a grievance out of the coldness of the hot-water bag! Surely illogical? Not at all! The women responsible for the temperature of the bag did not know that he was too hot. For anything they knew he might be shivering with cold. He was indeed being criminally neglected.... There could be no excuse.

(p. 009) Ages passed. He looked at the little radio-timepiece on the table. To his astonishment and disgust the silver-green signs on the dial indicated that the hour was eleven thirty. He had been utterly abandoned for some ninety minutes! Infamous! He might have died. And why had he been abandoned? Simply because the infant was a little unwell, or deemed to be a little unwell. The infant, then, was everything; and he was nothing! Naught! Yet who was the more important: the babe who might develop into a brainless and insipid female creature, or himself, a genius of an inventor, a man who had done marvels in the application of science to industry, a celebrity whose name was not infrequently in the papers and whom the mightiest chairmen and directors of enormous commercial enterprises saluted with marked respect?... No sense of proportion in the minds of women! No justice on earth! His resentment was righteous and acute, and he held it at a white heat.

Now Mr. Michael Fassbrooke, who was about to be in the same room as this resentment, had none of the characteristics of the ordinary burglar—except the desire to possess other people's property by stealth and without paying for it. Some Irish blood pulsated in his veins. He 'worked' alone, eschewing all gangs or cliques. He knew a very great deal about the police, having been a sergeant-inspector of constabulary in an important provincial city. He had been drawn, much against his will, into a blackmail conspiracy in the Force of that city. The conspiracy having been exposed, Mr. Fassbrooke, partly by reason of his pleasant manners, and partly of a certain difficulty in establishing his guilt, had been allowed to resign. The episode had filled him with a grievance against society. After some starvation he had come to London, and, by the dodge of forged credentials and answering letters of (p. 010) inquiry addressed to himself under a false name, had obtained a clerical post in the West End Travel Agency.

A small but growing agency. A small but not growing salary. However, the smallness of the salary did not trouble him; what he wanted was the post. The post enabled him to know when people of means were shutting up their homes. Only a week earlier Mrs. Luce Reels, across a counter of the Agency, while receiving from him various tickets and vouchers, had herself told him all relevant details of the Reels family movements. He had asked her if she had an All-in insurance policy on the Reels flat. No, she had not. In her opinion to insure the contents—especially jewellery—of a flat on the eighth floor of a vast block was to throw money away. True, she possessed a ruby necklace, far too valuable to expose to the risks of trains-de-luxe. But Mrs. Reels, as she quietly and confidentially explained to the urbane and confidential Mr. Fassbrooke, had discovered the ideal method of keeping jewellery from harm. Saying no word to anybody, not even to her husband, she had just deposited it, as it was—without cases, on the top of a wardrobe: where no burglar would ever dream of looking. Mr. Fassbrooke had openly expressed his admiration of her ingenuity.

Thus, on the night of Anthony's resentment Mr. Fassbrooke knew positively that the Reels flat would be empty. He knew almost everything as to the flat and its tenants. The one trifling item which he did not know was that Mrs. Reels had telephoned to the Agency in the morning to ask whether the train reservations could be disposed of, and had been regretfully told that they could not be, time being too short for so complex an operation.

Mr. Fassbrooke, in evening-dress, had reached the (p. 011) eighth floor of the vast block by the simple device of going up in the lift—to the ninth floor, and walking down the stairs to the eighth. The night-liftman, incurious and utterly unsuspicious, had saluted him with a respect, taking him for a friend of some tenant of the ninth floor—a friend who knew his way about the place. The principal bedrooms of the Reels flat gave on the North Quadrangle. The squalid service-room (for waiters) next to the Reels flat was, as generally at that hour, empty. Mr. Fassbrooke entered it by the door and left it by the window. In a minute he was on one of the Reels balconies. In another minute he had by means of an instrument easily opened a French window. The blind was drawn; the curtains were drawn; but neither blind nor curtains can present any serious obstacle to a determined malefactor.... Mr. Fassbrooke stood within the room, which was as dark as a Polar night when snow is about to fall. He used his electric torch.

Then it was that his ear caught a sound—indeed a cough.


Thoughts ran through Mr. Fassbrooke's head in a galloping procession. Burglary was a mug's game, the last resource of idiots. As a member of the Force he had been well aware of this fact; but he had forgotten it. Now he was aware of it again. You had no peace of mind. Your nights were disturbed. You ran fantastic risks. And the profits, even when you could realize them with safety, were entirely insufficient to atone for the risks, the worry, and the lack of sleep. He had never been caught, though at least once he had escaped arrest only by the clemency of heaven. (In any case he was caught now.) He had in store at home (p. 012) a quantity of precious things which he dared not, yet, attempt to dispose of. Once he had laid hands on a couple of hundred pounds in old and crumpled bank-notes. He had been sure that the owner, a lady, was unacquainted with the numbers of the notes. Nevertheless he could never change one without horrid, nauseating pangs of apprehension. He was an ass. And so on.

In the tenth part of a second all these reflections crowded into his brain. He must act instantly, wisely, perfectly. He must show such supreme self-protective sagacity as no burglar and no politician in a mess had ever shown before. But he could not decide instantaneously upon the perfect act.

He shut off the torch as a preliminary precaution. Futile. Anthony Reel switched on the bed-light. The pair were face to face. Anthony had the formidable appearance of a tousled madman, capable of inordinate homicidal furies. And Mr. Fassbrooke, though admittedly an idiot, was not idiot enough to carry arms in the pursuit of his nocturnal profession.

"Are you a specialist they've sent?" Anthony asked at a loss.

"Yes," Mr. Fassbrooke replied.

"I'm supposed to be very ill," said Anthony. "Do specialists carry torches?"

"I do," said Mr. Fassbrooke.

A pause.

"I see what it is," Anthony went on with a lunatic smile, suddenly enlightened. "You're a cat-burglar, that's what you are! Evening-dress and all!"

"No," said Mr. Fassbrooke, feebly and unconvincingly.

"Then what the devil are you doing here? What are you?"

"I'm an ass," said Mr. Fassbrooke.

(p. 013) He ought to have run. But whither? Moreover, somehow his feet had been screwed down through the carpet into the floor-boards by the unforeseen and the unexpected.

"I daresay," Anthony agreed, glancing at the timepiece. "But you can't come along being an ass in people's bedrooms at twelve o'clock at night. It isn't done. Stand still." Anthony sprang up threateningly. "I understand. I see it all," he proceeded, through his teeth. "You thought the flat was empty. Somebody on this d—d staff in this d—d block of flats had told you that we were leaving this morning. But we didn't leave this morning. We're here. And I'm very ill. Stand still. My strength is the strength of ten. Well, anyhow, I can't be bothered with you to-night. You get out. No, not by the door. The way you got in. By the window—must have been. And look quick!"

"I can't," said Mr. Fassbrooke.

"You'd better. My wife may be in here any minute. And she won't let you off. Women never do."

"I can't," Mr. Fassbrooke repeated.

Anthony's tone suddenly changed to the mild-inquiring.

"Now tell me why not? I've often wanted to know all about cat-burglars. Tell me, and I'll let you go. I promise."

"It's like this," said Mr. Fassbrooke. "I took off my overcoat——"

"Oh! So you had an overcoat?"

"Yes. I was in the service-room, and I took off my overcoat and threw it from the window there on to your balcony here, and then I just sort of sprang from the window-sill on to the edge of the balcony, and hung on to the rail and climbed over, and here I was. But I couldn't jump back from the balcony to the window-sill. I hope I make myself clear."

(p. 014) "You do! You do!" said Anthony.

"And where's your overcoat now?"

"Hanging on the balcony rail."

"That's where you ought to be hanging," observed Anthony. "Tell me, what made you take to burglary? Tell me confidentially. I won't repeat it. Original sin?"

"No, sir. Original idiocy."

Mr. Fassbrooke gave a faint Irish smile. But Anthony laughed quite loudly and at some length.

"That'll do," said Anthony. "Remove yourself. I've had enough of you. If you meet anybody in the passage or the hall, don't argue. Just go straight on. There are two latches on the front-door. It's the top one that you need. Hey! One moment. I've dropped my cough-lozenges under the bed. You might pick them up for me, there's a good fellow."

It was while Mr. Fassbrooke, with jingling burglarious master-keys in his pocket, was obediently ferreting under the bed that Luce Reel added herself to the scene.


Mr. Fassbrooke recognized the vivacious voice of his late customer Luce Reels, and he feigned death—an example of what is called nature's protective mimicry. Luce inspected his moveless hinterland. The man had put his opera-hat on the night-table. Luce's mind had been full of another matter; but the strange spectacle of a man on his knees, and his head beneath the bed, dislodged the other matter with a jerk.

"Who is this gentleman?" she demanded excitedly and imperiously, for she was hardly in a mood to be diplomatic.

The imitation corpse did not stir.

(p. 015) "He just looked in to pick up my cough-lozenges. They've dropped somewhere," Anthony explained with a half-maniacal laugh.

"But who is he?"

"I know everything about him except his name, my dear," Anthony continued. "He's very interesting. Follows a remarkable profession. Also he's capable of making himself generally useful, as you see."

"But who let him in?"

"He let himself in—by the window. He's a burglar, and the finest kind of burglar—a cat-burglar. I've often wanted to meet a specimen. He hasn't pinched anything. In fact I've tamed him. And as he's been so kind about my cough-lozenges, I've promised him to let him go." And to Mr. Fassbrooke, sternly: "Now then! Those cough-lozenges! Get up!"

Mr. Fassbrooke, who could devise nothing better to do, and who clearly perceived the impossibility of remaining under the bed for ever and ever, did get up, with what dignity he could summon, and seizing his hat, deposited the box of cough-lozenges on its stand on the table.

Luce Reels gazed at him. He was rather a handsome fellow, and possessed a good, slim figure. In the Force he had been somewhat obese, for the Force has a mysterious fat-producing influence on all its members; but the anxieties of his nocturnal profession had diminished him considerably. Further, he was stylishly dressed, though at the moment his clothes happened to be a bit rumpled. On the whole he made an agreeable sight to the eye of a young, blonde woman who in spite of a snub-nose and a plain house-frock was herself conscious of certain claims to physical attractiveness.

"Anthony," said Luce at length, mildly reproving, and yet humouring—as was proper to a sick man, (p. 016) "How absurd of you! This is one of the gentlemen from the Travel Agency. I expect he's called about those train-reservations. It was very kind of you, Mr.—er—I don't quite remember your name. Please excuse my husband—he's far from well."

"Of course, madam," said Mr. Fassbrooke.

Luce added, to nobody in particular:

"Though why Mary should have shown him in here I don't understand!"

Whereupon Anthony said crossly:

"Do people call at midnight about train-reservations? And Mary didn't show him in. Haven't I told you he came in by the window too modestly, too unassumingly? Why can't you believe me? If you will take the trouble to look you will see his overcoat hanging on the balcony—unless it's fallen into the quadrangle. And I wish you'd shut either the door or the window. Why do you always leave doors open? The draught in this room is enough to blow the carpet off the floor."

A slight, chill current of air was indeed noticeable.

Luce went to the window and shut it, and in doing so she descried the overcoat: which vision had the effect of changing the direction of her ideas.

At the same instant, that is to say, simultaneously with the turning of Luce's back, Mr. Fassbrooke shot towards the door. But with an even greater velocity Anthony, all radiant in bright pyjamas and outraged fury, shot from the bed, and grasped Mr. Fassbrooke's retreating arm as in a steely vice: grip of the homicidal-insane.

"No you don't!" cried he. "No you don't! I promised I'd let you go, and I will; but you're making mischief between me and my wife and I won't stand it. My wife thinks I'm off my head, and you're letting her think so. Why did you say 'Of course, madam'? Why didn't you admit straight out what you are, you (p. 017) dirty rascal? Whether she saw you at the Travel Agency or whether she didn't, I don't know and I don't care. All I care about is that you should confess—at once. Are you a burglar or aren't you? Yes or no."

"Yes," responded Mr. Fassbrooke.

The response was very limp, like Mr. Fassbrooke's elegant bodily structure. But who can blame him for limpness? In Mr. Fassbrooke's place anybody else would have been limp and would have given the answer that he gave.

"You go and stand in that corner," commanded Anthony, indicating a corner by the window and far from the door.

Mr. Fassbrooke obeyed.

"I see it all!" Luce burst out.

And she did see it all.

"You'd better get back into bed," she said to her husband.

"I am getting back into bed," said Anthony bitterly.

And he did get back into bed—coughed, and took a cough-lozenge.

"To think," said Luce, "that a so-called Travel Agency should deliberately employ a man like you—worming things out of their customers, and——"

"Don't be silly!" Anthony stopped her. "Deliberately'? You surely don't suppose they had the slightest idea what kind of a man the man was. The Travel Agency is perfectly innocent!"

Ignoring this reproof, Luce Reels said, with a new excitement:

"Has he been into my bedroom. My rubies——"

"He hasn't," Anthony stopped her again.

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure!" Anthony shouted, nearly beside himself with rage at her doubts. "Why can't you believe me? You wouldn't believe me when I told (p. 018) you the fellow was a cat-burglar, and now for the second time you aren't believing me. Why is it that women will believe anybody sooner than their husbands?"

Ignoring this reproof also, Luce said:

"I shall go round to the Agency first thing to-morrow morning and tell them. You'll see—"

"Unnecessary, madam. I shall not be there any more," Mr. Fassbrooke put in.

"No," said Luce with liveliness. "You won't be there. You'll be in the lock-up."


"Come here, my girl! Come here, I say!" Anthony ordered his wife, in such a savage tone as no decent husband would use to his wife—unless of course he were alone with her.

Luce, an independent enough wife of the latest modern pattern, obeyed him, to her own astonishment. Perhaps it was only her legs that were frightened, not herself. She stood defiant by the sick-bed.

"Didn't I tell you," said Anthony, "that I've given the man my word that he may go free?"

"If you did, you were very silly," said Luce, suddenly enheartened by the sound of her own voice.

"That's neither here nor there," said Anthony. "The point is that I gave him my word. And permit me to say that it's very bad manners for you to call me silly in front of a complete stranger—especially a burglar. What will the criminal classes think of the intellectual classes?"

"If you don't want to be called silly," Luce retorted. "You shouldn't be silly. I say it was very silly of you, and I stick to it. And anyhow I've not given my word, and I won't. As for your word, it isn't worth (p. 019) anything, and it isn't going to be worth anything. You can't be responsible for me. Nobody can be responsible for me except me. I mean to telephone to the police, and neither you nor anyone else can stop me."

Her accents had been quietly firm. She was showing, and she prided herself on showing, the most marvellous self-control in a most incredibly exasperating situation. Her self-control, however, seemed to be powerless to induce self-control in her husband.

He seized her innocent wrist in a grip even crueller than that which he had employed on the guilty shoulder of Mr. Fassbrooke. Then he seized her other wrist in a similar grip. Then he shook her. The victimized wife was being subjected to physical violence. She had an impulse to cry out; but she nobly restrained it. As for Anthony, he felt happy; he felt masculine; he felt that he was revenging upon the person of Luce the innumerable grievances of the whole splendid, too-patient tribe of husbands against all wives. He exulted in the infliction of pain on the defenceless weak woman. It was the greatest moment of his life. But it was also one of the most painful, humiliating episodes in the annals of intellectual wedlock.

"Don't forget you're ill," said Luce, grimly setting her teeth. "You'll only make yourself worse by these goings on."

"Oh!" cried Anthony. "So at last you've remembered that I'm ill, have you? Here am I, ill, and I have a nurse and a doctor, and you take them both away from me—together. I'm left alone, for hours and hours. Nobody cares. I might have died. I might be a perfect nobody in this flat that you made me take, though I don't want it.

"Who's the most important person in this flat? Possibly you think it's yourself. Well, it isn't. Who are you, after all? What do you do? Nothing but (p. 020) spend, spend, spend. Did you ever earn a penny in your life? Not you! And you never will. You couldn't! You haven't got the brains to earn anything, nor the application, nor the concentration. You're nobody, nobody! And you think you're everybody. Every woman thinks she's everybody. That's what's the matter with women, and the matter with men is that they stand it, because they're so cursedly good-natured. The harem ought to be introduced into this country. It's needed. And the worst sign of civilization is that the Turks are doing away with the harem. The Turks had some sense—once. Now they've lost it. Everything's going to the dogs. And I suppose this is what I fought for in the war.

"Am I one of the hopes of applied science or am I not? Am I a first-rate inventor or am I not?" His voice rose higher. "Am I superior to Edison or am I not? Has there ever been any inventor equal to me, or has there not? Am I the youngest member of the Royal Society or am I not? Everyone knows the answer. And here I'm lying dangerously ill, shamefully neglected, left you may say to die like a dog in a ditch. And my wife has the infernal cheek to tell me I'm very silly. That's all she can think of—naturally—being a woman!"

At this point in his enormous and shocking tirade, Anthony paused, not for want of breath, but apparently because he could not think of anything more effective to say and wished to avoid an anticlimax.

Luce thought, horror-struck:

"This is the end of the world for me! This is what he really thinks about me in his heart. At last I know the truth and my life is ruined. All is over with our marriage. We shall have to separate. Will he take the child from me?"

But Luce, like every woman, was an astounding person, (p. 021) capable in a supreme crisis of feats of self-mastery and heroic duplicity which no male could hope to rival. Aloud, she merely remarked, with breath-taking calmness:

"Mr. Burglar, will you please fetch the doctor. He's in the room opposite, across the passage."

There was no answer. She looked round. The burglar had vanished. The door was open.

Luce's first thought was, not: "He has escaped me after all"; but, "How much did he hear?"

She then addressed Anthony:

"I should like you to know that poor Rosie has got influenza. A rather high temperature. That's why I fetched both the nurse and the doctor."

Any reasonable husband would have subsided at these tidings. But not Anthony, who was thereby roused to an even more formidable fury.

"Ah!" he yelled. "I knew it. I knew it was that horrible spoilt child of yours!" ('Yours,' not 'Ours'!) "And so I'm nobody! If you have to choose between me and the child, you choose the child, who'll grow up into a woman as selfish and futile as you are. Didn't I always say that that brat was born to make some good man unhappy? A nice thing! I tell you once for all——"

The doctor entered, and at sight of the excellent, middle-aged, conscientious Dr. Bain, Anthony did subside, relinquishing Luce's reddened wrist and falling back on the pillows.

"Did you hear him?" Luce murmured.

"Yes," replied the doctor. "He's delirious, that's all." He pushed a thermometer into Anthony's lax and unresisting mouth, and there was silence. "Yes. Hm! Excited. It's nothing. I'll give him a dose. Rosie'll be all right. The nurse is really A.1."

"I never thought of delirium," Luce muttered.

(p. 022) "What do you say?" said the doctor.


She began to cry. She bent down, and kissed and kissed the unofficial representative of the great trade union of husbands, and stroked his damp hair; and kissed and kissed him again.

"Poor neglected darling!" she whispered.

"You know you're simply asking for 'flu, kissing the patient like that!" remarked the doctor.

"I don't care," said Luce.

And she didn't care. More, she utterly forgot about Mr. Fassbrooke.



I sat in the Palais de Thé—the most characteristic London inn of the epoch. Six floors; marble everywhere; two thousand employees, mostly girl; three orchestras and several vocalists; the finest, richest barber's saloon in the whole world; cakes and ribboned chocolates and other sweets on the ground-floor; tea with operatic selections on the first floor; tea with orchestral selections on the second floor; tea unaccompanied on the third floor and the fourth floor and the fifth floor; lifts always ascending and descending; entering multitudes and departing multitudes always jostling each other in the grand entrance and bon-bon hall; not a drop of beer in the entire establishment. I was in a corner on the fifth floor, which is dedicated to chess, draughts, newspapers and meditation.

The enormous, quiet room was very full; that is to say, nearly every marble table was taken, though at many tables only one person was seated; all the solitaries, of whom I was one, were men, in various ages of youth or maturity, prosperity or decay, cheerfulness or gloom.

Over the top edge of my newspaper I saw a little man enter and look round rather vaguely for a seat. At the same instant the occupant of the table next to mine shut his book, snatched up his check and left. (p. 024) The new arrival, who was carrying a leather case, took his place by my side. He appeared to be about fifty. We had our backs to the gilded wall, and the distance between us was not more than a couple of feet.

Dressed in a worn grey suit, with neat collar and grey tie, he had abundant greying brown hair, a sharp, refined nose, restless eyes, thin lips, and a chin that indicated both obstinacy and sensitiveness. Because the haughty tripping waitress did not rush at him instantly to receive his order, he tapped impatiently on the table; when she came, however, he asked for a black coffee and hot toast in tones of marked urbanity and with a very agreeable, wistful smile. The haughty waitress relaxed the austerity of her demeanour and returned the smile with interest: which attention he seemed to take quite as a matter of course; evidently he was well-used to the unbending of waitresses.

In the street below a cornet began to play. The strident sound of it rose clearly into the room, stilling, as it were, the traffic-roar of the centre of the metropolis. The tune was 'The Lost Chord.' Now and then a note trembled in uncertainty, and now and then the intonation was noticeably faulty. My neighbour was soon fidgeting on his chair, and making little noises of protest between his teeth. He scattered salt savagely on his toast, blew his coffee as though it had wilfully sinned against him in being too hot, and glanced once or twice at myself. I felt that he wanted to relieve his pain by speech, and so I slowly folded up my paper.

He said, smiling his sudden, wistful smile:

"That fellow hasn't a notion how to play the cornet."

"I should think not," I replied. "But has anybody? I never yet heard a cornet that didn't make me curse the criminal who invented cornets."

I had thought to soothe him, but I immediately saw that I was going the wrong way to work.

(p. 025) "My dear sir! My dear sir!" he corrected me in a manner of intimacy. "The cornet is a very fine instrument. Perhaps the finest of all instruments. And let me tell you that it was not invented—it has slowly grown out of the old horns—in the course of two or three centuries. The latest form of it is as perfect as anything can be; but that fellow is using an old-fashioned C instrument—and moreover he is merely fumbling at it. You see——" The man's face had become animated; but he suddenly stopped, and, speaking coldly, almost disdainfully, he demanded: "Do you understand music?"


"Because if you don't it's no good me explaining to you."

"I play the piano—for my own amusement," I said apologetically.

"Pooh! I play the piano. Everybody plays the piano. That's nothing. Still, it's something perhaps. You see—the cornet stands before the trumpet and the bugle; it has the qualities of both. It has a vocal quality—if it's played right. Only it's nearly always vulgarized. Listen to that fellow. See how he's altering the tune because he can't fetch the top notes. I tell you there isn't a cornet-player in a hundred who can fetch the four top notes, d, e, f, and g, of the cornet. I'll tell you. Now listen."

He went off into a technical description of the marvels of the cornet and the unrighteousness of incompetent players, and talked about shanks and crooks and valves, and transpositions, and minor thirds. He was now excited, and very pleasantly excited; he even managed to communicate some of his enthusiasm to me. His eager, sharp-featured face shone with joy as he chattered onwards further and further into his theme.

"Of course the greatest composers used the cornet (p. 026) freely. Balfe, for instance. Balfe was a great composer. You've heard The Bohemian Girl. Great work, but not appreciated because it's British." (I had never heard The Bohemian Girl.) "'When Other Lips.' Do you remember the wonderful part for a cornet in that immortal song? Berlioz was always using the cornet. So was Tchaikowsky."

"Really!" I exclaimed; for this was news to me, despite a long experience as a concert-goer.

"Well, naturally!" he exploded crossly. "Naturally!"

Then his face became contorted as if in agony. The cornet-player in the street below was approaching the climax of 'The Lost Chord,' and the raucous, brassy din of the outrage was hideous and excruciating. The cornet-player ceased. My acquaintance's face relaxed; he wiped perspiration from his forehead, and bit a piece of toast and drank coffee.

"My God!" he murmured. "If he begins again.... And to think what it might have been.... Waitress!" Raps on the table, and then a sweet smile to the waitress. "Another coffee, please, my dear." His fingers were twitching with nervousness.

"You love the cornet?" I suggested.

He nodded.

"You play it?"

"I have lived for it."

"That's a cornet you've got there, isn't it?" I indicated the leather case on the table.

He opened the case with a dramatic gesture. It was empty. I was rather startled by his burning glance.

"What a pity!" I murmured, not being able to think of anything else to say. Somehow the revelation of the emptiness of the case seemed to shock me. "And how came you first to be so keen on the cornet?" I asked.

"Ah!" said he. "That's a long story."

(p. 027) "I should be very interested to hear it," said I. And I spoke truly. In my mind the man had transformed the cornet from an instrument of barbarous torture into something distinguished and fine, thrilling, something with intensely human associations.


"Of course," he said, "it wasn't until after I'd been playing the cornet for a bit——"

"But the beginning?" I interrupted him. "The beginning. How came you to begin?"

"Well you see, sir, it was like this. I lived in the country with my father—mother dead. I'd just left school, and we were discussing, my father and I, what I was to do with myself in the world. I don't think we ever agreed about anything. He was always very quiet and polite over it, but we couldn't hit it off. He had to go up to London—somewhere—about something, and I was left alone for the day, without a thing to do. I walked into the village—a mile or two—to buy my first cigarettes openly—I was sixteen or seventeen, probably seventeen, yes, seventeen; and there came a big gilt wagonette through the village, drawn by four white horses. There was a brass band in the wagonette, but only one man was playing; he was standing up and playing a cornet. I didn't know it was a cornet. I'd never seen a cornet before, much less heard one. You see, living right out on the South Downs—it isn't like the north of England, where every village has cornet-players and brass bands. Well, I tell you I'd never had such a feeling as I had when I heard that cornet. Something so rich and big and grand about it—shall I say golden? No, I've never had such a feeling."

His eyes were moist.

(p. 028) "A revelation!" I suggested, moved by his demeanour.

"Yes. I ran after the wagonette three miles—into Lewes. It was a circus band, and they were making a round of the villages to advertise the show. I expect I didn't know quite what I was doing. Instinct. This was in the afternoon, and the performance didn't begin till seven o'clock. I hung about. D'you know, I'd never seen a circus before. It was all terribly romantic to me—all of a piece with the cornet. The big tent and the little tents—stables, dressing-rooms—and the caravans. The canvas roof lifting up and down in the wind, and the flag on the top. And then when it began to get dark! The lighting up! They had gas in those days—I suppose it was laid on from the town mains. Outside one of the small tents I saw a man dressed up as a clown. I thought I recognized him, so I asked him if he wasn't the man who played the cornet in the wagonette. He said he was. He looked at me with a queer sort of a look, because you see I was well-dressed. I asked him if he was going to play it at the performance. He said he was. I got a front seat near the ring. I wanted to be as close to him as I could. And he did play it. Well, I tell you I thought he was the greatest man in the world. And he did play it. Of course, he wasn't really a great performer, but I didn't know any better then.

"In the interval when the audience went to visit the stables I saw him standing with the cornet in his hand. I was very frightened, with all the people there and him making jokes with the people; but I just had to speak to him again. I said: 'My word, Mister, but you can play!' And all of a sudden he looked quite serious at me. He saw my eyes fixed on the cornet, and he said: 'Like to look at it?' You see he was a bit flattered. He gave me the cornet to hold. I pretended (p. 029) to put it to my mouth. He said: 'You couldn't make a sound on it, young sir.' So I tried. I'd watched how he held his lips, and I did make a sound, very loud indeed. The whole crowd turned to see what was up and laughed like anything. I blushed, and gave him back the cornet and ran off back into the big tent for the rest of the performance.

"But he didn't play the cornet any more. He did a trapeze act in the second half. When I got home my father hadn't come. I couldn't sleep all night, and the next morning, as soon as it was light, I set off for Lewes again. I couldn't tell you what made me. I'd three pounds in my pocket—burst open my money-box. The circus people were taking the tents down and packing up and feeding the horses and so on. They were all helping. Everybody did everything in that circus. It was the finest thing I was ever in, and the most exciting. Early morning you know and all! And they were all so jolly. I made friends with the cornet-player—I couldn't tell you how.

"I followed the circus to Brighton. It was a procession half a mile long. The cornet-player told me I could ride with him a bit. I gave cigarettes to all the band. On the way he showed me a bit how to play. He said I could do it, and by heaven, sir, I did do it! The gift, I suppose. The ring-master talked to me. Somehow I slept in one of the tents that night, and helped the next morning to pack up, and I followed 'em again to Southwick—no, Shoreham.

"At Shoreham my father came after me. He'd guessed what had happened. Well, I wouldn't go back with him. I knew I had a vocation, and I couldn't leave it. He was very mild, as usual. In the end he said: 'Just as you please, Jimmy. You know where I live in case you come to grief. I daresay you'll be strolling along in about a fortnight. And it's all (p. 030) experience.' I must say he had some sense—in some things. But he was cynical.

"I was soon playing in the orchestra. But not the cornet. No. The drummer went off on a drinking bout, so I offered to play the drum. But I was practising on the cornet all the time. The cornet-player—he was called Jeroboam—he seemed to like teaching me. It was a glorious life, even when it rained, was Radlett's Royal Circus.

"I got spoony on the Snake Girl—couldn't she twist herself! There was a goodish bit of the tender passion around Radlett's. Oh yes!" His eyes twinkled. "One morning I serenaded her on the cornet outside the caravan where she slept. And there was a devil of a row about it. I'd waked her up. Still, she liked me, but she said she wouldn't have anything to do with me unless I gave up the cornet. It wasn't the sound she objected to so much as shaking the moisture out of the instrument after you've been playing it a bit. Said she couldn't stand that. Of course I wouldn't give up the cornet, especially as I'd begun to buy one on the hire-purchase system. After that I felt I was a real cornet-player. That was how I began, sir."

"But that's not all," I said, eager for more. "There must be a lot more."

"Oh, there is!"

I offered him a cigarette, which he refused.

"Waitress!" Reiterated rap. A smile. "Packet of Gold Flake, please."


He resumed:

"The most astounding thing that ever happened to any man happened to me. Yes, the most astounding! (p. 031) By the way, I ought to mention that I left that Circus. Had to. The Snake Girl made life too hard for me. But when you have been in one circus it's not very difficult to get into another one. In the next one I was billed as a solo cornet-player. About a year later I got a letter from August Manns. August Manns, if you please—asking me to go and see him. Of course, you don't remember him?"

"You mean the Crystal Palace Orchestral conductor?"

"The great conductor," he said gravely.

"A big man in his time," I said.

"A big man for all time, my dear sir. Some friend of his had actually persuaded him to go and hear me play in the circus. I got a day off and saw him and he offered me a place in the Crystal Palace orchestra!"

"Well," I agreed. "That was certainly astounding."

"Oh!" he corrected me sharply. "That's not the astounding thing. I see nothing astounding in that."

"I beg pardon."

"I played in the Crystal Palace orchestra. Yes, sir. I played in Beethoven's C minor symphony."

"On the cornet?"

"On the cornet."

"I don't know much about music," I said. "But surely there's no cornet part in the C minor."

"There is not. But don't you know, aren't you aware that in those days, when you simply couldn't get horn-players in England, the horn parts were played by cornets?"

"I'm sorry," I said humbly. "I did not know. I was not aware."

"Manns saw that I had proper lessons. He was very enthusiastic about me because I was so enthusiastic about the cornet. He said I had a finer classical style (p. 032) than any other cornet-player he'd ever heard. So I had—and have. But only men like Manns could appreciate it, and the classical sobriety of my performance always stood in my way.

"Manns died. Soon afterwards I was playing in the streets. Row with my father. The mere fact is enough. I need not go into details. Yes, I was playing in the streets. Me! I was being paid to move on. I made quite a decent living by moving on." He stared at me proudly, quivering. "Me! The protégé of the great Manns."

"What a disgusting shame!" I burst out.

"It was in this moving on business that the astounding thing happened to me. I used to play in Sloane Street, near the top. Best place in London. Full of rich shoppers, women with overfed pet dogs and so on. I was always moving on there. Mind you, I had no trouble with the police, because I'd taken the trouble to find out what the police could do and what they could not do. You know the police can't move you on far, and they can't move you on at all unless there's a personal complaint from a resident. If you want to give a first-rate performance in the street, why shouldn't you? Lots of people enjoy it.

"Well, I'd been playing a pretty long time in front of one house one morning—I'd surpassed myself—and a man came out of a door and beckoned to me very politely. He gave me a shilling and asked me to tell him about my cornet, and he took me upstairs to the second floor—there were three floors, over a shop. As soon as I was in his rooms he wanted to examine the cornet. He was still very polite. I gave it to him, and he hit me over the head with it and began the most extraordinary tirade—how I was driving him mad, etc., etc., and how he'd do for me if he ever heard me again. Can you imagine it? The fellow was mad (p. 033) already. There was some tussle, and I fell downstairs from the second floor to the first; but I'd got my cornet, all dented as it was. My head was bleeding.

"Then a door opened on the first floor and a lady came out. She heard the noises and me falling and the fellow shouting. I thought I was in for more trouble. But no! She said: 'Are you that splendid cornet-player?' And she took me and looked after me. How she played the cornet herself; she loved the cornet. She was a widow; about twenty-six. Her husband had gone off his head and died in a lunatic asylum. Mrs. Alicia Williams. She gave me some lemonade and showed me her cornet. It was a superb instrument. She locked the door, and as soon as I'd recovered a bit I played it for her in her drawing-room. The stamping overhead was dreadful, but I kept on playing. I had to stay there till evening—till the fellow upstairs had gone out. Daren't move till then, you see.

"Well, she liked me, and she adored my playing, and she was all alone, and she saw at once I was a gentleman—not an ordinary street-player, and I married her. We joined cornets, so to speak. Now that's what I say is the most astounding thing that ever did happen to any man; and you can say what you like. Ah! But I can't describe it to you."

I did not say what I liked, for if I had I should have said that he was not telling this story for the first time; I should have said indeed that he had told it many times before. He had dramatic gestures and pauses, and some of his phrases were rather effectively chosen. He was a performer not only on the cornet. However, he was holding all my attention, and he seemed to be sticking to the truth pretty well. Also I felt great sympathy for him, as surely one ought to feel sympathy (p. 034) for any man who is reduced to disburdening himself to strangers.

"I'm convinced you can describe it to me," I said.


"Well," he took breath. "I don't suppose there ever was a courtship or a honeymoon like ours. Alicia was a bit older than me, and knew more about men than I knew about women. She saw of course that I was a sensitive sort of person—especially in the matter of money: she had money and I hadn't—and she always behaved with the greatest tact. She gave me a new cornet. No, she insisted on giving me hers, because I liked it so much, and she got a new one for herself. During our courtship we used to go out into Epping Forest and play together, all among the trees and far from anybody, except a gipsy or two now and then. It was wonderful, really wonderful. I can never forget those days. And after the wedding we took a small house in the forest; very small; we didn't want to be bothered with servants; but soon we got a deaf woman for a skivvy; and when I played in her ear she'd say she thought she could hear something but wasn't sure. Of course we couldn't talk to her; we had to write down our orders. Still it was very convenient.

"And then my one trouble was removed. My father died and I came into between four and five hundred a year. It was all ideal. Yes, ideal! My wife played very nicely. She didn't play as well as me, no woman could—and jolly few men either. But she played with taste; and she was willing to learn. You couldn't guess what happened next."

"No. I doubt if I could."

"It happened what happens to all artists. We both (p. 035) wanted to show our powers to the public, to give pleasure to others by means of our art. Naturally! We got tired of playing always to ourselves. We tried to get openings at concerts. But there was nothing doing. The notion of duets—two cornets—seemed to frighten the concert-agents. I could have had situations in bands. But no conductor would look at a woman cornet-player, and I wouldn't go without my wife. So it came to music-halls—especially provincial music-halls. Circuits. We did several tours, and in between tours we would go back to our little house and enjoy ourselves. Yes, it was a nice, varied life. And then the next thing happened. I say the next thing happened."


"Ah!" he mused. "What an idyll those years were! Nothing like it before, and there'll never be anything like it again—not in this world, nor in kingdom come either."

"And then?"

"Ah! Waitress! Another coffee, please, my dear." And to me: "I suppose I may as well finish the story now I've begun it. Eh?"

As it was obvious he fully intended to finish the story, I merely nodded.


"One night when my wife made rather a mess of a duet with me on the stage of a music-hall at Reading, I noticed in our dressing-room that her lips were quite blue after she had taken the paint off. I thought I knew what that meant, and I was not wrong. I insisted on her going to London with me early the next morning. A doctor in Queen Anne Street immediately forbade her to play the cornet any more. Heart (p. 036) trouble! You see, the strain of cornet-playing is rather severe. Singers whose hearts go wrong have to give up singing. Much more a cornet-player. I got the doctor to telegraph her certificate of illness to Reading, and my wife never played again. Neither did I ever play again—in public. It was a frightful blow to both of us. She was still young, still beautiful, and we had been making a name, in spite of my deplorable classical style." He smiled sardonically. "But we were very fond of one another—excuse these details, my dear sir—and managed to be very happy in our house in Epping Forest. Our thoughts, and hers especially, turned in other directions—another direction. She loved me to play for her, and even in the winter we would go out together nearly every day—except Sundays—and I would play in the glades.

"In the spring my wife, if you'll pardon the old-fashioned phrase, presented me with twins. Generous! Generous! Yes, she always had a generous mind. Her sister, who was a nurse by profession, and almost as generous as Alicia, came to take charge of the nursery. I began to play my cornet for the twins. But somehow it didn't seem to suit them. In fact the sound of the cornet seemed to send the pair of them straight into hysterics.

"I hoped they would get over this curious aberration of natural taste. But no! The effect was always the same. The mere sight of the cornet upset them. I persevered, but there was no improvement. At last my sister-in-law told me that if I didn't stop playing the cornet in the house she would have to leave, as she couldn't take the responsibility. She was a charming girl, and she cried when she gave me her decision. Alicia also cried.

"I went out into the forest and played by myself; but I had to walk at least a mile to get out of earshot of (p. 037) the house, and anyhow I didn't like playing by myself. Like all artists I needed an audience if I was to obtain any satisfaction. As soon as my wife's health was thoroughly re-established she would go out with me to listen. It was summer; the weather was heavenly. I was happy, and I thought she was. My playing had even improved. But one day her nerves appeared to give way suddenly. She burst into terrible sobs and without a word snatched the cornet from me and threw it into some bushes. She shouted: 'I can't bear it! I can't bear it any longer!' Motherhood had quite changed her.

"I discovered afterwards that motherhood does sometimes change women in the most extraordinary manner. I picked my cornet out of the bushes and we walked home in silence, except that my wife never ceased sobbing. When we reached the house she ran to the babies, seized hold of both of them, and walked up and down the bedroom with them in her arms, still sobbing. An awful scene; I shall always remember it....

"Well, I had played my last cornet solo. I took the instrument and threw it into a pond—drowned it, drowned it." His eyes shone with emotion. "We've been happy. What man could be unhappy with a woman like my wife? Not me! We have had more children. We took a larger house in the village of Epping—some of 'em call it a town. We have money. I am a family man. No, I couldn't honestly say I'm unhappy. And yet—yet——!

"Now and then I go and look at the pond. I expect I couldn't play a cornet now if I tried. It's all gone from me. Now and then I have to come to London on little matters of business, and when I do I always carry this case. I don't know why. Yes, I do know why. It's because I like musicians to know I'm a cornet-player—or was one once." He shut the case. "Now (p. 038) did you ever hear such a story? Isn't it different from any other story you ever heard?"

"It is indeed," I replied. "And I'm very grateful to you for telling it to me."

"I thought you'd be interested," he said with naïve pride. "Waitress, my check, please. I'm in a hurry."

He looked at his watch.

(p. 039) MURDER!


Many great ones of the earth have justified murder as a social act, defensible, and even laudable in certain instances. There is something to be said for murder, though perhaps not much. All of us, or nearly all of us, have at one time or another had the desire and the impulse to commit murder. At any rate, murder is not an uncommon affair. On an average, two people are murdered every week in England, and probably about two hundred every week in the United States. And forty per cent. of the murderers are not brought to justice. These figures take no account of the undoubtedly numerous cases where murder has been done but never suspected. Murders and murderesses walk safely abroad among us, and it may happen to us to shake hands with them. A disturbing thought! But such is life, and such is homicide.


Two men, named respectively Lomax Harder and John Franting, were walking side by side one autumn afternoon, on the Marine Parade of the seaside resort and port of Quangate (English Channel). Both were well-dressed and had the air of moderate wealth, and both were about thirty-five years of age. At this (p. 040) point the resemblances between them ceased. Lomax Harder had refined features, an enormous forehead, fair hair, and a delicate, almost apologetic manner. John Franting was low-browed, heavy chinned, scowling, defiant, indeed what is called a tough customer. Lomax Harder corresponded in appearance with the popular notion of a poet—save that he was carefully barbered. He was in fact a poet, and not unknown in the tiny, trifling, mad world where poetry is a matter of first-rate interest. John Franting corresponded in appearance with the popular notion of a gambler, an amateur boxer, and, in spare time, a deluder of women. Popular notions sometimes fit the truth.

Lomax Harder, somewhat nervously buttoning his overcoat, said in a quiet but firm and insistent tone:

"Haven't you got anything to say?"

John Franting stopped suddenly in front of a shop whose façade bore the sign: "Gontle. Gunsmith."

"Not in words," answered Franting. "I'm going in here."

And he brusquely entered the small, shabby shop.

Lomax Harder hesitated half a second, and then followed his companion.

The shopman was a middle-aged gentleman wearing a black velvet coat.

"Good afternoon," he greeted Franting, with an expression and in a tone of urbane condescension which seemed to indicate that Franting was a wise as well as a fortunate man in that he knew of the excellence of Gontle's and had the wit to come into Gontle's.

For the name of Gontle was favourably and respectfully known wherever triggers are pressed. Not only along the whole length of the Channel coast, but throughout England, was Gontle's renowned. Sportsmen would travel to Quangate from the far north, and even from London, to buy guns. To say: 'I bought (p. 041) it at Gontle's,' or 'Old Gontle recommended it,' was sufficient to silence any dispute concerning the merits of a fire-arm. Experts bowed the head before the unique reputation of Gontle. As for old Gontle, he was extremely and pardonably conceited. His conviction that no other gunsmith in the wide world could compare with him was absolute. He sold guns and rifles with the gesture of a monarch conferring an honour. He never argued; he stated; and the customer who contradicted him was as likely as not to be courteously and icily informed by Gontle of the geographical situation of the shop-door. Such shops exist in the English provinces, and nobody knows how they have achieved their renown. They could exist nowhere else.

"'d afternoon," said Franting gruffly, and paused.

"What can I do for you?" asked Mr. Gontle, as if saying: 'Now don't be afraid. This shop is tremendous, and I am tremendous; but I shall not eat you.'

"I want a revolver," Franting snapped.

"Ah! A revolver!" commented Mr. Gontle, as if saying: 'A gun or a rifle, yes! But a revolver—an arm without individuality, manufactured wholesale! ... However, I suppose I must deign to accommodate you.'

"I presume you know something about revolvers?" asked Mr. Gontle, as he began to produce the weapons.

"A little."

"Do you know the Webley Mark III?"

"Can't say that I do."

"Ah! It is the best for all common purposes." And Mr. Gontle's glance said: 'Have the goodness not to tell me it isn't.'

Franting examined the Webley Mark III.

"You see," said Mr. Gontle. "The point about it is that until the breach is properly closed it cannot be (p. 042) fired. So that it can't blow open and maim or kill the would-be murderer." Mr. Gontle smiled archly at one of his oldest jokes.

"What about suicides?" Franting grimly demanded.


"You might show me just how to load it," said Franting.

Mr. Gontle, having found ammunition, complied with this reasonable request.

"The barrel's a bit scratched," said Franting.

Mr. Gontle inspected the scratch with pain. He would have denied the scratch, but could not.

"Here's another one," said he, "since you're so particular." He simply had to put customers in their place.

"You might load it," said Franting.

Mr. Gontle loaded the second revolver.

"I'd like to try it," said Franting.

"Certainly," said Mr. Gontle, and led Franting out of the shop by the back, and down to a cellar where revolvers could be experimented with.

Lomax Harder was now alone in the shop. He hesitated a long time and then picked up the revolver rejected by Franting, fingered it, put it down, and picked it up again. The back-door of the shop opened suddenly, and, startled, Harder dropped the revolver into his overcoat pocket: a thoughtless, quite unpremeditated act. He dared not remove the revolver. The revolver was as fast in his pocket as though the pocket had been sewn up.

"And cartridges?" asked Mr. Gontle of Franting.

"Oh," said Franting, "I've only had one shot. Five'll be more than enough for the present. What does it weigh?"

"Let me see. Four inch barrel? Yes. One pound four ounces."

(p. 043) Franting paid for the revolver, receiving thirteen shillings in change from a five-pound note, and strode out of the shop, weapon in hand. He was gone before Lomax Harder decided upon a course of action.

"And for you, sir?" said Mr. Gontle, addressing the poet.

Harder suddenly comprehended that Mr. Gontle had mistaken him for a separate customer, who had happened to enter the shop a moment after the first one. Harder and Franting had said not a word to one another during the purchase, and Harder well knew that in the most exclusive shops it is the custom utterly to ignore a second customer until the first one has been dealt with.

"I want to see some foils." Harder spoke stammeringly the only words that came into his head.

"Foils!" exclaimed Mr. Gontle, shocked, as if to say: 'Is it conceivable that you should imagine that I, Gontle, gunsmith, sell such things as foils?'

After a little talk Harder apologized and departed—a thief.

"I'll call later and pay the fellow," said Harder to his restive conscience. "No. I can't do that. I'll send him some anonymous postal orders."

He crossed the Parade and saw Franting, a small left-handed figure all alone far below on the deserted sands, pointing the revolver. He thought that his ear caught the sound of a discharge, but the distance was too great for him to be sure. He continued to watch, and at length Franting walked westward diagonally across the beach.

"He's going back to the Bellevue," thought Harder, the Bellevue being the hotel from which he had met Franting coming out half an hour earlier. He strolled slowly towards the white hotel. But Franting, who had evidently come up the face of the cliff in the penny lift, (p. 044) was before him. Harder, standing outside, saw Franting seated in the lounge. Then Franting rose and vanished down a long passage at the rear of the lounge. Harder entered the hotel rather guiltily. There was no hall-porter at the door, and not a soul in the lounge or in sight of the lounge. Harder went down the long passage.


At the end of the passage Lomax Harder found himself in a billiard-room—an apartment built partly of brick and partly of wood on a sort of courtyard behind the main structure of the hotel. The roof, of iron and grimy glass, rose to a point in the middle. On two sides the high walls of the hotel obscured the light. Dusk was already closing in. A small fire burned feebly in the grate. A large radiator under the window was steel-cold, for though summer was finished, winter had not officially begun in the small economically-run hotel: so that the room was chilly; nevertheless, in deference to the English passion for fresh air and discomfort, the window was wide open.

Franting, in his overcoat, and an unlit cigarette between his lips, stood lowering with his back to the bit of fire. At sight of Harder he lifted his chin in a dangerous challenge.

"So you're still following me about," he said resentfully to Harder.

"Yes," said the latter, with his curious gentle primness of manner. "I came down here specially to talk to you. I should have said all I had to say earlier, only you happened to be going out of the hotel just as I was coming in. You didn't seem to want to talk in the street; but there's some talking has to be done. I've a few things I must tell you." Harder appeared to (p. 045) be perfectly calm, and he felt perfectly calm. He advanced from the door towards the billiard-table.

Franting raised his hand, displaying his square-ended, brutal fingers in the twilight.

"Now listen to me," he said with cold, measured ferocity. "You can't tell me anything I don't know. If there's some talking to be done I'll do it myself, and when I've finished you can get out. I know that my wife has taken a ticket for Copenhagen by the steamer from Harwich, and that she's been seeing to her passport, and packing. And of course I know that you have interests in Copenhagen and spend about half your precious time there. I'm not worrying to connect the two things. All that's got nothing to do with me. Emily has always seen a great deal of you, and I know that the last week or two she's been seeing you more than ever. Not that I mind that. I know that she objects to my treatment of her and my conduct generally. That's all right, but it's a matter that only concerns her and me. I mean that it's no concern of yours, for instance, or anybody else's. If she objects enough she can try and divorce me. I doubt if she'd succeed, but you can never be sure—with these new laws. Anyhow she's my wife till she does divorce me, and so she has the usual duties and responsibilities towards me—even though I was the worst husband in the world. That's how I look at it, in my old-fashioned way. I've just had a letter from her—she knew I was here, and I expect that explains how you knew I was here."

"It does," said Lomax Harder quietly.

Franting pulled a letter out of his inner pocket and unfolded it.

"Yes," he said, glancing at it, and read some sentences aloud: "'I have absolutely decided to leave you, and I won't hide from you that I know you (p. 046) know who is doing what he can to help me. I can't live with you any longer. You may be very fond of me, as you say, but I find your way of showing your fondness too humiliating and painful. I've said this to you before, and now I'm saying it for the last time.' And so on and so on."

Franting tore the letter in two, dropped one half on the floor, twisted the other half into a spill, turned to the fire, and lit his cigarette.

"That's what I think of her letter," he proceeded, the cigarette between his teeth. "You're helping her, are you? Very well. I don't say you're in love with her, or she with you. I'll make no wild statements. But if you aren't in love with her I wonder why you're taking all this trouble over her. Do you go about the world helping ladies who say they're unhappy just for the pure sake of helping? Never mind. Emily isn't going to leave me. Get that into your head. I shan't let her leave me. She has money, and I haven't. I've been living on her, and it would be infernally awkward for me if she left me for good. That's a reason for keeping her, isn't it? But you may believe me or not—it isn't my reason. She's right enough when she says I'm very fond of her. That's a reason for keeping her too. But it isn't my reason. My reason is that a wife's a wife, and she can't break her word just because everything isn't lovely in the garden. I've heard it said I'm unmoral. I'm not all unmoral. And I feel particularly strongly about what's called the marriage tie." He drew the revolver from his overcoat pocket, and held it up to view. "You see this thing. You saw me buy it. Now you needn't be afraid. I'm not threatening you; and it's no part of my game to shoot you. I've nothing to do with your goings-on. What I have to do with is the goings-on of my wife. If she deserts me—for you or for anybody or for nobody—I shall follow her, whether (p. 047) it's to Copenhagen or Bangkok or the North Pole, and I shall kill her—with just this very revolver that you saw me buy. And now you can get out."

Franting replaced the revolver, and began to consume the cigarette with fierce and larger puffs.

Lomax Harder looked at the grim, set, brutal, scowling bitter face, and knew that Franting meant what he had said. Nothing would stop him from carrying out his threat. The fellow was not an argufier; he could not reason; but he had unmistakable grit and would never recoil from the fear of consequences. If Emily left him, Emily was a dead woman; nothing in the end could protect her from the execution of her husband's menace. On the other hand, nothing would persuade her to remain with her husband. She had decided to go, and she would go. And indeed the mere thought of this lady to whom he, Harder, was utterly devoted, staying with her husband and continuing to suffer the tortures and humiliations which she had been suffering for years—this thought revolted him. He could not think it.

He stepped forward along the side of the billiard-table, and simultaneously Franting stepped forward to meet him. Lomax Harder snatched the revolver which was in his pocket, aimed, and pulled the trigger.

Franting collapsed, with the upper half of his body somehow balanced on the edge of the billiard-table. He was dead. The sound of the report echoed in Harder's ear like the sound of a violin string loudly twanged by a finger. He saw a little reddish hole in Franting's bronzed right temple.

'Well,' he thought, 'somebody had to die. And it's better him than Emily.' He felt that he had performed a righteous act. Also he felt a little sorry for Franting.

(p. 048) Then he was afraid. He was afraid for himself, because he wanted not to die, especially on the scaffold; but also for Emily Franting who would be friendless and helpless without him; he could not bear to think of her alone in the world—the central point of a terrific scandal. He must get away instantly....

Not down the corridor back into the hotel-lounge! No! That would be fatal! The window. He glanced at the corpse. It was more odd, curious, than affrighting. He had made the corpse. Strange! He could not unmake it. He had accomplished the irrevocable. Impressive! He saw Franting's cigarette glowing on the linoleum in the deepening dusk, and picked it up and threw it into the fender.

Lace curtains hung across the whole width of the window. He drew one aside, and looked forth. The light was much stronger in the courtyard than within the room. He put his gloves on. He gave a last look at the corpse, straddled the window-sill, and was on the brick pavement of the courtyard. He saw that the curtain had fallen back into the perpendicular.

He gazed around. Nobody! Not a light in any window! He saw a green wooden gate, pushed it; it yielded; then a sort of entry-passage.... In a moment, after two half-turns, he was on the Marine Parade again. He was a fugitive. Should he fly to the right, to the left? Then he had an inspiration. An idea of genius for baffling pursuers. He would go into the hotel by the main-entrance. He went slowly and deliberately into the portico, where a middle-aged hall-porter was standing in the gloom.

"Good evening, sir."

"Good evening. Have you got any rooms?"

"I think so, sir. The housekeeper is out, but she'll be back in a moment—if you'd like a seat. The manager's away in London."

(p. 049) The hall-porter suddenly illuminated the lounge, and Lomax Harder, blinking, entered and sat down.

"I might have a cocktail while I'm waiting," the murderer suggested with a bright and friendly smile. "A Bronx."

"Certainly, sir. The page is off duty. He sees to orders in the lounge, but I'll attend to you myself."

"What a hotel!" thought the murderer, solitary in the chilly lounge, and gave a glance down the long passage. "Is the whole place run by the hall-porter? But of course it's the dead season."

Was it conceivable that nobody had heard the sound of the shot?

Harder had a strong impulse to run away. But no! To do so would be highly dangerous. He restrained himself.

"How much?" he asked of the hall-porter, who had arrived with surprising quickness, tray in hand and glass on tray.

"A shilling, sir."

The murderer gave him eighteenpence, and drank off the cocktail.

"Thank you very much, sir." The hall-porter took the glass.

"See here!" said the murderer. "I'll look in again. I've got one or two little errands to do."

And he went, slowly, into the obscurity of the Marine Parade.


Lomax Harder leant over the left arm of the sea-wall of the man-made port of Quangate. Not another soul was there. Night had fallen. The lighthouse at the extremity of the right arm was occulting. The lights—some red, some green, many white—of ships at (p. 050) sea passed in both directions in endless processions. Waves plashed gently against the vast masonry of the wall. The wind, blowing steadily from the north-west, was not cold. Harder, looking about—thought he knew he was absolutely alone, took his revolver from his overcoat pocket and stealthily dropped it into the sea. Then he turned round and gazed across the small harbour at the mysterious amphitheatre of the lighted town, and heard public clocks and religious clocks striking the hour.

He was a murderer, but why should he not successfully escape detection? Other murderers had done so. He had all his wits. He was not excited. He was not morbid. His perspective of things was not askew. The hall-porter had not seen his first entrance into the hotel, nor his exit after the crime. Nobody had seen them. He had left nothing behind in the billiard-room. No finger marks on the window-sill. (The putting-on of his gloves was in itself a clear demonstration that he had fully kept his presence of mind.) No footmarks on the hard, dry pavement of the courtyard.

Of course there was the possibility that some person unseen had seen him getting out of the window. Slight: but still a possibility! And there was also the possibility that someone who knew Franting by sight had noted him walking by Franting's side in the streets. If such a person informed the police and gave a description of him, inquiries might be made.... No! Nothing in it. His appearance offered nothing remarkable to the eye of a casual observer—except his forehead, of which he was rather proud, but which was hidden by his hat.

It was generally believed that criminals always did something silly. But so far he had done nothing silly, and he was convinced that, in regard to the crime, he never would do anything silly. He had none of the (p. 051) desire, supposed to be common among murderers, to revisit the scene of the crime or to look upon the corpse once more. Although he regretted the necessity for his act, he felt no slightest twinge of conscience. Somebody had to die, and surely it was better that a brute should die than the heavenly, enchanting, martyrized creature whom his act had rescued for ever from the brute! He was aware within himself of an ecstasy of devotion to Emily Franting—now a widow and free. She was a unique woman. Strange that a woman of such gifts should have come under the sway of so obvious a scoundrel as Franting. But she was very young at the time, and such freaks of sex had happened before and would happen again; they were a widespread phenomenon in the history of the relations of men and women. He would have killed a hundred men if a hundred men had threatened her felicity. His heart was pure; he wanted nothing from Emily in exchange for what he had done in her defence. He was passionate in her defence. When he reflected upon the coarseness and cruelty of the gesture by which Franting had used Emily's letter to light his cigarette, Harder's cheeks grew hot with burning resentment.

A clock struck the quarter. Harder walked quickly to the harbour front, where was a taxi-rank, and drove to the station.... A sudden apprehension! The crime might have been discovered! Police might already be watching for suspicious-looking travellers! Absurd! Still, the apprehension remained despite its absurdity. The taxi-driver looked at him queerly. No! Imagination! He hesitated on the threshold of the station, then walked boldly in, and showed his return ticket to the ticket-inspector. No sign of a policeman. He got into the Pullman car, where five other passengers were sitting. The train started.

(p. 052) V

He nearly missed the boat-train at Liverpool Street because according to its custom the Quangate flyer arrived twenty minutes late at Victoria. And at Victoria the foolish part of him, as distinguished from the common-sense part, suffered another spasm of fear. Would detectives, instructed by telegraph, be waiting for the train? No! An absurd idea! The boat-train from Liverpool Street was crowded with travellers, and the platform crowded with senders-off. He gathered from scraps of talk overheard that an international conference was about to take place at Copenhagen. And he had known nothing of it—not seen a word of it in the papers! Excusable perhaps; graver matters had held his attention.

Useless to look for Emily in the vast bustle of the compartments! She had her through ticket (which she had taken herself, in order to avoid possible complications), and she happened to be the only woman in the world who was never late and never in a hurry. She was certain to be in the train. But was she in the train? Something sinister might have come to pass. For instance, a telephone message to the flat that her husband had been found dead with a bullet in his brain.

The swift two-hour journey to Harwich was terrible for Lomax Harder. He remembered that he had left the unburnt part of the letter lying under the billiard-table. Forgetful! Silly! One of the silly things that criminals did! And on Parkeston Quay the confusion was enormous. He did not walk, he was swept, on to the great shaking steamer whose dark funnels rose amid wisps of steam into the starry sky. One advantage: detectives would have no chance in that (p. 053) multitudinous scene, unless indeed they held up the ship.

The ship roared a warning, and slid away from the quay, groped down the tortuous channel to the harbour mouth, and was in the North Sea; and England dwindled to naught but a string of lights. He searched every deck from stem to stern, and could not find Emily. She had not caught the train, or, if she had caught the train, she had not boarded the steamer because he had failed to appear. His misery was intense. Everything was going wrong. And on the arrival at Esbjerg would not detectives be lying in wait for the Copenhagen train?...

Then he descried her, and she him. She too had been searching. Only chance had kept them apart. Her joy at finding him was ecstatic; tears came into his eyes at sight of it. He was everything to her, absolutely everything. He clasped her right hand in both his hands and gazed at her in the dim, diffused light blended of stars, moon and electricity. No woman was ever like her: mature, innocent, wise, trustful, honest. And the touching beauty of her appealing, sad, happy face, and the pride of her carriage! A unique jewel—snatched from the brutal grasp of that fellow—who had ripped her solemn letter in two and used it as a spill for his cigarette! She related her movements; and he his. Then she said:


"I didn't go," he answered. "Thought it best not to. I'm convinced it wouldn't have been any use."

He had not intended to tell her this lie. Yet when it came to the point, what else could he say? He told one lie instead of twenty. He was deceiving her, but for her sake. Even if the worst occurred, she was for (p. 054) ever safe from that brutal grasp. And he had saved her. As for the conceivable complications of the future, he refused to front them; he could live in the marvellous present. He felt suddenly the amazing beauty of the night at sea, and beneath all his other sensations was the obscure sensation of a weight at his heart.

"I expect you were right," she angelically acquiesced.


The Superintendent of Police (Quangate was the county town of the western half of the county), and a detective-sergeant were in the billiard-room of the Bellevue. Both wore mufti. The powerful green-shaded lamps usual in billiard-rooms shone down ruthlessly on the green table, and on the reclining body of John Franting, which had not moved and had not been moved.

A charwoman was just leaving these officers when a stout gentleman, who had successfully beguiled a policeman guarding the other end of the long corridor, squeezed past her, greeted the two officers, and shut the door.

The Superintendent, a thin man, with lips to match, and a moustache, stared hard at the arrival.

"I am staying with my friend Dr. Furnival," said the arrival cheerfully. "You telephoned for him, and as he had to go out to one of those cases in which nature will not wait, I offered to come in his place. I've met you before, Superintendent, at Scotland Yard."

"Dr. Austin Bond!" exclaimed the Superintendent.

"He," said the other.

They shook hands, Dr. Bond genially, the Superintendent half-consequential, half-deferential, as one (p. 055) who had his dignity to think about; also as one who resented an intrusion, but dared not show resentment.

The detective-sergeant recoiled at the dazzling name of the great amateur detective, a genius who had solved the famous mysteries of 'The Yellow Hat,' 'The Three Towns,' 'The Three Feathers,' 'The Gold Spoon,' etc., etc., etc., whose devilish perspicacity had again and again made professional detectives both look and feel foolish, and whose notorious friendship with the loftiest heads of Scotland Yard compelled all police forces to treat him very politely indeed.

"Yes," said Dr. Austin Bond, after detailed examination. "Been shot about ninety minutes, poor fellow! Who found him?"

"That woman who's just gone out. Some servant here. Came in to look after the fire."

"How long since?"

"Oh! About an hour ago."

"Found the bullet? I see it hit the brass on that cue-rack there."

The detective-sergeant glanced at the Superintendent, who, however, resolutely remained unastonished.

"Here's the bullet," said the Superintendent.

"Ah!" commented Dr. Austin Bond, glinting through his spectacles at the bullet as it lay in the Superintendent's hand. "Decimal 38, I see. Flattened. It would be."

"Sergeant," said the Superintendent. "You can get help and have the body moved, now Dr. Bond has made his examination. Eh, doctor?"

"Certainly," answered Dr. Bond, at the fireplace. "He was smoking a cigarette, I see."

"Either he or his murderer."

"You've got a clue?"

(p. 056) "Oh yes," the Superintendent answered, not without pride. "Look here. Your torch, sergeant."

The detective-sergeant produced a pocket electric-lamp, and the Superintendent turned to the window-sill.

"I've got a stronger one than that," said Dr. Austin Bond, producing another torch.

The Superintendent displayed finger-prints on the window-frame, footmarks on the sill, and a few strands of inferior blue cloth. Dr. Austin Bond next produced a magnifying glass, and inspected the evidence at very short range.

"The murderer must have been a tall man—you can judge that from the angle of fire; he wore a blue suit, which he tore slightly on this splintered wood of the window-frame; one of his boots had a hole in the middle of the sole, and he'd only three fingers on his left hand. He must have come in by the window and gone out by the window, because the hall-porter is sure that nobody except the dead man entered the lounge by any door within an hour of the time when the murder must have been committed." The Superintendent proudly gave many more details, and ended by saying that he had already given instructions to circulate a description.

"Curious," said Dr. Austin Bond, "that a man like John Franting should let anyone enter the room by the window! Especially a shabby-looking man!"

"You knew the deceased personally then?"

"No! But I know he was John Franting."

"How, Doctor?"


"Sergeant," said the Superintendent, piqued. "Tell the constable to fetch the hall-porter."

Dr. Austin Bond walked to and fro, peering everywhere, and picked up a piece of paper that had lodged (p. 057) against the step of the platform which ran round two sides of the room for the raising of the spectators' benches. He glanced at the paper casually, and dropped it again.

"My man," the Superintendent addressed the hall-porter. "How can you be sure that nobody came in here this afternoon?"

"Because I was in my cubicle all the time, sir."

The hall-porter was lying. But he had to think of his own welfare. On the previous day he had been reprimanded for quitting his post against the rule. Taking advantage of the absence of the manager, he had sinned once again, and he lived in fear of dismissal if found out.

"With a full view of the lounge?"

"Yes, sir."

"Might have been in there beforehand," Dr. Austin Bond suggested.

"No," said the Superintendent. "The charwoman came in twice. Once just before Franting came in. She saw the fire wanted making up and she went for some coal, and then returned later with some coal. But the look of Franting frightened her, and she went back with her coal."

"Yes," said the hall-porter. "I saw that."

Another lie.

At a sign from the Superintendent he withdrew.

"I should like to have a word with that charwoman," said Dr. Austin Bond.

The Superintendent hesitated. Why should the great amateur meddle with what did not concern him? Nobody had asked his help. But the Superintendent thought of the amateur's relations with Scotland Yard, and sent for the charwoman.

"Did you clean the window here to-day?" Dr. Austin Bond interrogated her.

(p. 058) "Yes, please, sir."

"Show me your left hand." The slattern obeyed. "How did you lose your little finger?"

"In a mangle accident, sir."

"Just come to the window, will you, and put your hands on it. But take off your left boot first."

The slattern began to weep.

"It's quite all right, my good creature." Dr. Austin Bond reassured her. "Your skirt is torn at the hem, isn't it?"

When the slattern was released from her ordeal and had gone, carrying one boot in her grimy hand, Dr. Austin Bond said genially to the Superintendent:

"Just a fluke. I happened to notice she'd only three fingers on her left hand when she passed me in the corridor. Sorry I've destroyed your evidence. But I felt sure almost from the first that the murderer hadn't either entered or decamped by the window."


"Because I think he's still here in the room."

The two police officers gazed about them as if exploring the room for the murderer.

"I think he's there."

Dr. Austin Bond pointed to the corpse.

"And where did he hide the revolver after he'd killed himself?" demanded the thin-lipped Superintendent icily, when he had somewhat recovered his aplomb.

"I'd thought of that, too," said Dr. Austin Bond, beaming. "It is always a very wise course to leave a dead body absolutely untouched until a professional man has seen it. But looking at the body can do no harm. You see the left-hand pocket of the overcoat. Notice how it bulges. Something unusual in it. Something that has the shape of a——. Just feel inside it, will you?"

(p. 059) The Superintendent, obeying, drew a revolver from the overcoat pocket of the dead man.

"Ah! Yes!" said Dr. Austin Bond. "A Webley Mark III. Quite new. You might take out the ammunition." The Superintendent dismantled the weapon. "Yes, yes! Three chambers empty. Wonder how he used the other two! Now, where's that bullet? You see? He fired. His arm dropped, and the revolver happened to fall into the pocket."

"Fired with his left hand, did he?" asked the Superintendent, foolishly ironic.

"Certainly. A dozen years ago Franting was perhaps the finest amateur light-weight boxer in England. And one reason for it was that he bewildered his opponents by being left-handed. His lefts were much more fatal than his rights. I saw him box several times."

Whereupon Dr. Austin Bond strolled to the step of the platform near the door and picked up the fragment of very thin paper that was lying there.

"This," said he, "must have blown from the hearth to here by the draught from the window when the door was opened. It's part of a letter. You can see the burnt remains of the other part in the corner of the fender. He probably lighted the cigarette with it. Out of bravado! His last bravado! Read this."

The Superintendent read:

"... repeat that I realize how fond you are of me, but you have killed my affection for you, and I shall leave our home to-morrow. This is absolutely final. E."

Dr. Austin Bond, having for the nth time satisfactorily demonstrated in his own unique, rapid way, that police-officers were a set of numskulls, bade the Superintendent a most courteous good evening, nodded amicably to the detective-sergeant, and left in triumph.

(p. 060) VII

"I must get some mourning and go back to the flat," said Emily Franting.

She was sitting one morning in the lobby of the Palads Hotel, Copenhagen. Lomax Harder had just called on her with an English newspaper containing an account of the inquest at which the jury had returned a verdict of suicide upon the body of her late husband. Her eyes filled with tears.

"Time will put her right," thought Lomax Harder, tenderly watching her. "I was bound to do what I did. And I can keep a secret for ever."

(p. 061) THE HAT


It was in the National Gallery, London, near closing time. I was bending down to examine more painstakingly 'The Nativity' of Nicolas Poussin, in one of the French rooms. Whenever I visit London I always go to the National Gallery, and whenever I go to the National Gallery I always take care to look at Poussin's 'Nativity,' which for me is one of the most subtle and delightful little pictures in the finest gallery in the world. The simple, enthusiastic joy of the small group of onlookers, the unaffected and almost merry pride of the Madonna in the Child, the exquisiteness of the Child, the originality of the composition, the freshness of the charming colour, the depth of the emotion—all these things enchant me, they have enchanted me for years, and they enchant me more and more as I grow older and wiser in the appreciation of art.

Now as I was gazing at the picture, a man came and stood close by me, and he too bent down to examine it. I glanced idly at him for an instant. I had noticed him ten minutes earlier in the gallery, wandering about, preoccupied and even absorbed. A tall, slim man, of about forty, with dark eyes, a peculiar, intent, dominating, piercing, enigmatic expression on his pale, thin face. Well dressed, even elegant, even distinguished. I had thought: "He must be an expert, possibly a collector." And I had felt a certain excitement, for (p. 062) I regarded collectors—I mean real collectors, who struggle against one another at Christie's and whose sales when they die and leave their pictures behind them, make a front-page item in newspapers—I regarded these beings as the exalted, enviable princes of mankind.

"Jolly thing!" the man murmured in a deep voice, very surprisingly, for strangers never address one another in the National Gallery. No matter how much they may be moved by what they see, they keep their feelings to themselves, according to the traditional British code of scrupulous reserve.

"Yes," I agreed with warmth. Never before had I known a solitary visitor at the National Gallery to be so un-English as to divulge that any picture therein was having the slightest effect on his mind, heart or soul. Nevertheless, the man was English enough.

"That bit of sky through the archway is astounding," the man proceeded. "So dramatic, if I may say so." He looked closely at me, as a detective might have looked at me.

"Well," said I, unduly modest. "I don't know anything about pictures. But for me this Poussin is in a class by itself. And what's more I think Poussin's one of the greatest painters that ever lived."

The man replied, as if he meant it:

"I'm glad to hear you say that. I have a Poussin myself. It's only a sketch, but it's a Poussin all right."

"I wish I had."

Yes, my surmise about him had been sound: he was a collector; he was among the darlings of fate.

"Did you pick it up?" I inquired.

"Shop in the Vauxhall Bridge Road," said he, excusably complacent.

"I congratulate you," I said.

(p. 063) We both ceased to bend, hesitated, and turned away the one from the other.

"Pardon me," he approached me again. "But is that your hat you're wearing?" His tone was surpassingly smooth and gentle, despite its depth.

I must say I was shocked. Here we had been discussing a work of sublime genius, and he suddenly switched off to hats! I was wearing an ordinary bowler hat, like a million other bowler hats, probably made at Denton, a town with which I was not unfamiliar. It fitted me perfectly. It had no exterior marks to differentiate it from its innumerable brothers upon the heads of men. I was shocked, and more shocked than anyone unacquainted with the facts would imagine. For the hat I was wearing was indeed not my own, though I had been covering my half-bald scalp with it at intervals for the better part of six months—indeed since my previous visit to London. During that visit I had lunched with friends at the huge and famous Hotel Majestic in Knightsbridge. I had given up a hat to a cloakroom attendant, and upon leaving had received a hat from a cloakroom attendant. And not until my return to Manchester had I discovered that the hat I had received was not the hat I had deposited.

Of course I ought to have written to the Majestic. But owing to the common, deplorable sloth of human nature I had not done so. The hat fitted me as well as my own. Had it been a worse hat than my own I might have taken the proper measures to regain my property; but it was a better hat than my own.... Human nature is strange and sadly imperfect. In the course of six months I had grown accustomed to the hat, and had long ceased to think of it as another's.

"Why do you ask?" I demanded defensively, but not offensively.

(p. 064) I had already observed in the man's glance some quality of a detective, and I thought it might be imprudent to set him against me. The mystery of him thickened. At one moment he was a connoisseur of pictures, and the next he was apparently the greatest expert of hats in the whole history of male headgear. How in the name of sinister magic had he divined that the hat was not mine?

"If that's the hat I think it is, it has the initials 'T.C.L.' inside, and your initials are 'D.W.'"

"I take off my hat to you," I said.

It would have been more correct to say: "I take off somebody else's hat to you." But he saw the pleasantry, and gave a benevolent laugh. I displayed to him the inside of the hat which bore the initials 'T.C.L.' in gilt.

"And further," said I, "my initials are 'D.W.' And will you please tell me how you do it?" And to myself I thought: "This is the most extraordinary thing that ever happened to me—or to anybody."

"It's very simple," said he. "You were given the wrong hat at the Majestic some time ago—a hat belonging to a—er—gentleman that I know. His initials are 'T.C.L.,' and he had to go away with a hat marked 'D.W.'"

"Quite, quite!" I exclaimed, perhaps impatiently. "I realize what happened. But how did you know that this hat isn't mine?" I resumed the hat.

"I daresay that I have a gift that way," he answered, queerly as I thought. "Sort of intuition."

"And how can I get hold of my own hat? Can you tell me that?" I asked. "I should much prefer my own hat." (This statement was not true.)

"I believe your hat is at the Majestic," said he. "Mr. Lottleton brought it back, hoping you'd bring this one back. I'm going to the Majestic now," he (p. 065) added, looking at his watch sharply. "May I drive you there?"

The guardian of the Gallery was beginning to warn the public that they must depart.

"Whoever could have foreseen this?" I thought to myself, as I preceded the man into the taxi.

"Would you very much mind if I called at my house for one second? It's on our way," said the man.

"By all means. Please!" I begged him. "And I must tell you that I should certainly have taken the hat back long ago to the hotel, but I live in Manchester, and this is the first time I've been in London since then."


A natty, smallish house, in Chapel Street, off Grosvenor Gardens. The window-frames newly painted. Boxes of flowers on some of the window-sills. The front-door a bright and coquettish green. Yes, the house of a man of taste. The man jumped quickly out of the taxi. Then stopped, as he fumbled for keys in his hip-pocket.

"Might come in and see my Poussin," he smiled. "Won't take two seconds."

I accepted the invitation.

As he could open the front-door with his latch-key there was no need for him to ring and no servant appeared. The entrance hall, though narrow, had a delightful aspect: a Turkish rug on the tiled floor; an antique cabinet; etchings on the walls; an oriental lamp suspended from the ceiling; a classical cornice between the ceiling and the walls; a glimpse of well-carpeted stairs, with more etchings on the walls of the staircase. Positively the house of a man of taste who, or whose wife, had an eye for harmony of detail.

(p. 066) "This way," said he. Evidently he was pressed for time.

I followed him into a dining-room, which had closed folding-doors at the back. More proofs of taste in this apartment. A glittering, polished table—empty. Empire chairs; an Empire sideboard. The Poussin sketch, in a frame emphasizing its importance, was over the mantelpiece. An ideal landscape, with ideal figures, men and women, lounging on grass beneath foliage, some of them very negligent in the matter of costume, and others who had apparently decided that to wear any costume whatever in an ideal landscape and ideal weather would be absurd. A lovely thing. Beyond doubt a genuine Poussin. And the fellow had picked it up in the Vauxhall Bridge Road!

"Delicious!" I said. "Do you happen to know what picture it's supposed to be a sketch for?"

"I don't," said he. "Wish I did. I have heard there's a picture in the Louvre—But you see it's very difficult for me to travel."

At that moment we heard a tremendous cry behind the double-doors at the end of the room. It was the cry of a tiny child in distress.

"Good heavens!" the man exclaimed, and rushed to the double-doors, and opened one of them, disclosing a small, nondescript room, such as one generally finds behind London dining-rooms. Formerly it would have been called the breakfast room, doubtless because nobody ever had breakfast in it. Here, judging from its attractive, fluffy, and cushioned aspect, it was most probably a lady's boudoir. A child of perhaps fourteen months, in a 'crawling' frock, was sitting on the clean parquet floor, its face rendered horribly ugly by the distortion of sobs and yells. The child was all alone in the room.

"Good heavens!" the man repeated. "Where's (p. 067) that d——d nurse—leaving the child by itself like this!"

He glanced again at his watch. "What on earth's the matter with you, baby? Celia, what is it?" He bent over the child, seemingly timorous of handling her.

I took her myself into the light of the further window. She shrieked and kicked, but not from temper. She was in agony.

"The little thing's in very severe pain," I said.

Several times she put her tiny, fat hands to her eyes.

A young nurse hurried in. She wore an armlet with an initial on it, showing that she belonged to some Institute and was therefore fully trained.

"My cherub!" cried the nurse. "Why are you naughty?" And she made as if to take the child from me.

"She isn't naughty," said I. "I'm a doctor. Get a sponge or something and some warm water, Nurse. Quick. I see you've been putting zinc ointment on her face for this rash. Food too rich, I expect. She's rubbed some of the ointment into her eyes. It's nothing, but it must be frightful for her while it lasts."

"I'm awfully obliged, sir," said the man. "No idea you were a doctor. Take her away, Nurse. I can't wait another moment."

"No! Get the sponge, Nurse," I insisted, and to the father: "I see you're in a hurry. But I'll stay and finish this job and come on to the Majestic later. Where shall you be? Who shall I ask for? But of course I needn't ask for you, need I? I'll just tell them at the cloakroom."

I had almost to shout, because of the terrible noise made by the struggling child.

"Oh!" said he, imitating my loudness. "I'd like—er—to see you. I shall probably be in the hall there. But if I'm not, will you—er—please ask for Mr. (p. 068) Paddock. Can't thank you enough! No, really I can't."

He gave me a grateful but worried smile, and went.


When, the nurse watching me, I had nearly finished soothing the eyes of the most vociferous baby, the door opened from the back lobby, and a young and very pretty blonde bounded into the room. She had untidy, shingled, golden hair, and liquid, rather wild eyes, blue. She was wearing a pink silk négligée all ribbons and large feathers, with slippers of an elegance to match. An amber necklace. Several rings on her fingers, but not bells on her toes. The mother! She stopped suddenly, at the sight of me, scared.

"Excuse me getting up," I said—I was seated in a low easy-chair—and explained the situation to her in the fewest possible words.

The baby was still crying loudly.

"Your little girl will be better now," I said.

"All alone in the room!" the mother repeated a phrase I had used. "Why did you leave her alone, Nurse?"

"It was you who rang for me," the young nurse answered, somewhat curtly. "When you ring three times it's for me, isn't it? I ran back as soon as I heard baby."

"Yes," said the mother, after a short hesitation, coldly. "You needn't wait now. You'll be late for your evening."

"Very well."

"You'll be back for her ten o'clock feed?"


The nurse vanished.

(p. 069) "It's very good of you, Doctor," said the mother to me, with generous warmth, and a step forward. "Nurse is leaving us. I'm afraid she's been neglecting baby, or—is doing something to her." She stopped, seemed to be reflecting. "Perhaps I oughtn't to say a thing like that."

"No," said I to myself, "You oughtn't. It's a very serious accusation." (The nurse's face had appeared to me to be honest and capable enough.) "But all you mothers are alike. You live in the midst of an imaginary conspiracy against your precious infant's life." And I said aloud: "Of course if a nurse puts zinc ointment on a child's face, she ought to watch it for a bit afterwards."

"That was my fault," said the mother, as impulsive in remorse now, as she had been in charging the nurse a moment earlier. "I put the ointment on. Perhaps nurse didn't know I'd done it."

Without saying anything, she bent down and took her child from me, and dandled it, and clutched it to her, and dandled it afresh; while the child, full of its immense grievance against a cruel and totally enigmatic universe, continued to complain distressingly in the only language it could employ. The mother enveloped the child in fold upon fold of passionate love. She buried the child in her breast, and then buried her fair head in the child. For a minute nothing existed for her but the adored child. She had no emotion save for the adored child. All her being was flowing out of her into the child, and the preoccupied child's being was sucked into the mother.

"I was very ill when she was born," the mother murmured, lips pressing close on the child's neck. "You don't know how ill your mammy was when you came. Naughty mammy, putting nasty, horrid stuff on your poor little face!"

(p. 070) More dandling. A touching, and somehow pathetic spectacle. The elegant, pretty young mother, coquettish in every detail of her toilette, utterly oblivious of her elegance as with a thousand caresses she impetuously fondled her child in the soiled crawling frock.

The baby halted, silent, in the middle of a sobbing intake of breath. It had suddenly occurred to her that her eyes were not hurting her quite so much. She looked round. Then, pessimistic, determined not to be placated, she started once more to yell.

I stood up.

"Sit down, please," I said to the mother.

The mother sat down.

"So my husband's gone away again!" she remarked, discontented and loving. Some trace of the whine in her soft voice.

"She's her husband's idol!" I said to myself. "You can see that in everything about her. She's cared for, this young woman is. She's spoilt. She asks and she gets. And all she has to do is to be delicious to him. And she is delicious to him—possibly too much. She's a perfectly delicious creature, especially with that kid in her bare arms." I was a bachelor and felt a bachelor's regrets—for having left undone that which I ought to have done, and so on. I would have loved to love such a delicious creature—wife and mother. I would have spoilt her to the tune of my last half-penny. Day and night I would have been devising means to spoil her.

She was crying. Tears ran down her delicious, passionate, powdered, and rouged face.

"Let me take baby," I said, in a purposely matter-of-fact tone. "I think you'd better lie on the sofa for a while. Seems to me you aren't very well. I'll give you the baby afterwards." I could see that she was perilously verging on hysteria.

(p. 071) Unresisting, she allowed me to take the child from her. Like a child herself, she laid her body wearily on the sofa, and held out her arms, and I restored the child to her, and she clasped it. On the floor by the sofa was a crimson eiderdown which I spread across her knees. The child had now satisfied itself that the universe was growing kinder. It ceased to sob, but the tears were still slipping over its stout cheeks. The mother also ceased to sob, but the tears were still slipping over her lovely contours. The child stuck a finger into its mother's rosy mouth.

"If I were you," I said, "I should see the doctor. Who is your medical man? I could telephone for him."

"Oh!" said she, plaintively. "We haven't got a regular doctor. I'm never ill. I mean I was only ill when baby was born, and then we had a specialist. But he isn't our doctor."

"Well," I said, "I shall be seeing Mr. Paddock. I'm going to the Majestic to see him about something. I only called here for a minute because I wanted to look at a picture of his—the Poussin. I'll tell him. And in the meantime, do let me advise you just to lie quiet, and don't worry about anything. You're worrying."

"I know I am! I know I am!" she sighed. "But nobody knows what I'm going through." The complaint, flung to anyone who happened to be ready to listen, of the spoiled darling who is convinced that her woe, when she has one, is a blow of fate especially directed against herself, and more grievous than the woe of anybody else could possibly be! "It's that nurse of ours. I admit she's a good nurse. She's very good." The charming, spoilt darling being consciously just! "I thought she'd quite settled down here, and I shouldn't have any more trouble. But no! She's (p. 072) heard—something about my husband—you know, you're a friend of his. There are droves of nurses with prams in Hyde Park, and they gossip. I do believe they all know each other. Well, she won't stay! And she's the second one! I can't understand it. I can't imagine the way they think. It isn't as if I put on any airs with them. I don't. My father kept a shop, and I don't care who knows it. But I suppose a shop-keeper's daughter's as good as a nurse. And yet—You know it isn't fair to baby; it really isn't—a new nurse every two months or so! Of course I'm worried. Who wouldn't be? What mother wouldn't be?"

The delicious creature went on and on, repeating herself, beginning her story all afresh in similar words, the sound of her voice increasing exactly in the manner of a hysterical subject. I let her go on till she was exhausted. To have opposed her in the slightest degree might have precipitated an attack. I did not even correct her notion that I was a friend of her husband's.

It was evident to me that, delicious creature though his wife was, my acquaintance, Mr. Paddock, connoisseur of pictures, must have married someone not quite his intellectual or social equal. Yet what could it be in Mr. Paddock that trained nurses of babies objected to? I might have asked Mrs. Paddock, and perhaps found out; but I feared to do so lest any discussion of the matter should have a disastrous effect on her nerves. After much speculation, I half decided that he must be either a bookmaker or a private detective. He had an imperative appointment, apparently in the foyer of the Majestic. A private detective might have to keep an appointment in the foyers of big metropolitan hotels, for astonishing encounters undoubtedly happened in them. But a bookmaker! Did bookmakers do business in such grandiose rendezvous? I know not. And why, come (p. 073) to think of it, should nurses take exception to either of these important and necessary callings? Or could Mr. Paddock be the public executioner? Or a vivisectionist? Or had he figured as the villain of a divorce case?

"It's very late," the mother charmingly complained. "And I quite forgot to have tea. And of course no one thought of asking me about it. Even if I don't always take tea, you'd suppose they'd just ask me."

At her request I rang the bell. Tea was ultimately brought in, together with the baby's six o'clock repast, by a reserved and impeccable middle-aged parlourmaid. I drank one cup of tea in order to satisfy the delicious creature's yearning to be hospitable to one whom she deemed a benefactor. And then I said good-bye. She jumped up, baby in arms, suddenly endowed with the most perfect health and spirits, and insisted on accompanying me to the front-door. The baby also accompanied me to the front-door. The scene was too exquisite to leave without regret.

No sooner was I in the street than the obvious explanation of the mystery occurred to me: Mr. Paddock must have served a term of imprisonment. Mrs. Paddock was the kind of woman who, when she loves, loves without any reserve.

Then another mystery rose up before me. Mr. Paddock had said that he had to call at home. He had called, but he had spoken to nobody there save myself. He had merely come and gone. For what purpose had he called?


"Mr. Paddock here?" I asked an attendant who stood just within the revolving doors of the Majestic. He looked at me in a peculiar way.

(p. 074) "Mr. Paddock?" (No 'sir'!)

"Yes, Mr. Paddock," I repeated sharply, not very well pleased with his tone or his extreme brevity.

I may be a provincial, but I believe in the rules of the game being observed.

"You'll find him there, sir," said the man, pointing to a group crowded round the counter of the cloakroom.

I had stayed quite a long time at the house in Chapel Street; and the earlier diners, those who meant to go to a theatre, were already arriving in the hotel. It is surprising how fashion will persuade people to dine in Knightsbridge, which is a good mile away from any West End theatre. I approached the group, but among it I saw nobody who resembled my connoisseur acquaintance. Then, happening to glance behind the counter, I saw a tall, slim man (with a lesser man) dressed in a superbly rich livery. His legs were hidden from me by the counter, but I know that he wore knee-breeches and shoes with silver buckles. This was Mr. Paddock. Yes, I admit that the identification came as a very considerable shock to me. Still, as a Midland provincial, I reckoned that I could keep my nerve as well as any Londoner. I neither blanched nor staggered. I understood a number of things.

In the few moments which passed before I could reach the counter, I watched the demeanour of Mr. Paddock as he accepted hats, overcoats and sticks. Some customers he left to the lesser functionary, who gave tickets in exchange for garments. Mr. Paddock never gave a ticket. He gazed hard at his customer, exactly as he had gazed at myself in the National Gallery; he took the hats and garments; and the customer nodded, obviously flattered that the head attendant held it to be unnecessary to hand a ticket to so distinguished a personage.

(p. 075) "Here is your hat, sir," said Mr. Paddock impassively, at length recognizing me as I got nearer. And like lightning he produced my inferior hat from beneath the counter.

He had made no error. The inferior hat was indeed mine.

"Thank you," said I, impassively, putting a shilling on the counter, and abandoning the superior hat.

"Thank you very much, sir."

"It wasn't to you I gave this hat six months ago."

"No, sir."

"I say," said I. "What time are you free to-night?"

"Twelve o'clock, sir."

"I'll look in again, then."

"Thank you, sir."

"Not at all, Mr. Paddock."


Something after midnight Mr. Paddock and I were strolling rather intimately in the direction of Chapel Street. Mr. Paddock was in the smart mufti which he had worn earlier in the day. I had had to wait for him, and in the time of waiting, I had had the pleasure of seeing a rain of shillings and sixpences pour down on to the counter of the principal cloakroom at the Majestic. The sight of this rain had helped me to understand things still better. We got on very well, perhaps because I had accepted the situation with what I am bound to describe as admirable nonchalance. I told him my news about his wife's condition.

"Yes," said he, after very warmly thanking me for my attentions to her and the baby. "I may say that I've been noticing some signs of hysteria for several days. I really called at home this afternoon just to (p. 076) have a look at her: but as soon as I heard baby making that terrible noise I knew there would be a scene, and I thought I shouldn't do any good by staying, so I went at once. I'd no time. I'm speaking to you quite frankly—as a doctor."

"Just so!" I agreed. "I'm glad you are. But as a doctor I must point out to you that hysteria is a pathological condition like any other disease. It isn't something vague that you can safely leave alone in the vague hope that it'll get better. It won't get better if it isn't treated and the causes removed. It'll get worse."

"I see," said he, "I fully see that something must be done. But what to do I don't know. It's very difficult. The servants are aware of the facts, but they don't seem to trouble about them at all. Trained nursemaids do. I suppose there's some difference of rank. Though why a nursemaid should consider herself a cut above a really important person like a cook I can't imagine. What's good enough for a cook ought surely to be good enough for a nursemaid."

"Mysteries!" I commented. "That's what they are. Mysteries! And there it is!"

"I used to be a clerk," Mr. Paddock continued, "at the Grand Babylon Hotel, on the Embankment. Someone discovered that I had a pretty good memory for faces and all sorts of things. In fact people said a quite extraordinary memory—but I don't know about that. Anyhow, as I knew something about the relative financial positions of employees in the big hotels, I suggested myself for the cloakroom. They thought I was mad. But I wasn't. The work was easier, and the profits about ten times as much. And I had lovely suits of clothes free. When I changed from the Grand Babylon to the Majestic—well, I was in clover. You see, I run the cloakroom there. Of course I pay them a (p. 077) rent, and I pay my staff. But there really is money in it. I had always had a few private tastes of my own. I was soon able to indulge them a bit. Then I married.... You see?"


"Naturally I should have told you my—er—circumstances before we'd got to the hotel this afternoon. But at home things fell out so that I hadn't a chance."

"Quite. I understand absolutely."

"I suppose you wouldn't care to look in to-night and see my wife again—professionally. She always waits up for me. I should be very grateful. We've no regular doctor."

"So Mrs. Paddock said. I'll come in with pleasure, but only on a friendly footing. I'm having a short holiday in London."

"I really couldn't—"

"Yes, you could," I corrected him. "And what's more, I have an idea that I could put you on to some treatment that would cure Mrs. Paddock."


Mr. Paddock had forgotten his latch-key. Whether he had left it in the pockets of his gorgeous knee-breeches I know not. At any rate he had to ring instead of masterfully entering the house in Chapel Street. He rang several times. I was wondering, as we waited on the threshold of his most attractive and not unfashionable home (far surpassing in splendour my own), whether the countless male persons who rained sixpences and shillings on to the counter of the cloakroom at the Majestic ever realised what those sixpences and shillings were changed into by the wit of man. I decided that the great majority of those unconscious contributors (p. 078) to the house in Chapel Street would have been astounded by that domestic organism could they have seen it, and that the result upon them of even a glimpse of it would have been to cause them to reduce their sixpences and shillings to threepences and sixpences.

At length the bright door was opened, by the delicious creature Mrs. Paddock,—still attired in the dazzling négligée which I had previously beheld. For a fraction of a second her charming blonde face had an aspect which heralded anxieties for Mr. Paddock on his return home from an arduous day's work. But as soon as the lady caught sight of myself, in the background of the steps, the face softened and cleared and became the face of an amiable and adorable hostess and wife.

I was invited to the boudoir, scene of the baby's afternoon tragedy, where on a tray a delicately-laid supper awaited the breadwinner,—a picnic meal which comprised cold ham, an egg salad, and a small bottle of white wine. I refused food, though Mrs. Paddock urged me to let her run down to the kitchen and find some for me; but a cigar and a glass of wine were pressed upon me by those ringed hands, and I smoked and drank. The moment was extremely agreeable,—and particularly so for me, as I did not share the politely-concealed cares, apprehensions and grievances of husband and wife.

"Now I only called in to say," I said, with as casual and modest an air as I could assume, after I had inquired as to the baby and received the news that it was healthily asleep. "I only called in to say that I know in Manchester a nursemaid who is anxious to come to live in London so as to be near her married sister. She is forty, and she is plain. But she is thoroughly trained and thoroughly conscientious, and she has a long series of first-rate references. Also, I can personally vouch for her. And I am quite certain that (p. 079) she will not care two pins about the trifling matter which has so disturbed your present nursemaid, and the previous one. You may take that from me as a positive fact. Manchester notions are very different from those of London."

When I had said a little more, and my peace-producing scheme in its beautiful comprehensiveness had sunk well into the untranquil mind of Mrs. Paddock a marvellous thing happened.

She rose from her low chair by the table where Mr. Paddock was eating, threw round his neck her arms from which the silken sleeves fell away, and kissed him again and again. Her features were transformed, her loveliness intensified, the glance of her eyes deepened. She did more than kiss him,—she enveloped him, folded him up, in her exquisite and passionate affection. She was then doing what heaven had appointed her to do in this world, and she became perfect. The presence of a stranger did not in the least incommode her, because she was aware of nobody and naught but her husband. She had absolutely no self-consciousness. (The same could certainly not be said of Mr. Paddock.) I wondered once more whether the countless male persons who rained sixpences and shillings on to the counter of the cloakroom at the Majestic ever realized that officials in knee-breeches and buckled shoes are apt to be real human beings with private lives, woes, compensations, ecstasies, unique moments. And I decided that the great majority of them, could they have witnessed the episode, would for the future increase their sixpences and shillings to florins and half-crowns.

But I had a sort of idea that possibly Mrs. Paddock had been rewarding by her kisses the wrong man.



August weather on the Marine Parade at Dunge. Crowded pavements drying in the wind, and another shower preparing on high to baptise anew the big holiday resort. Huge moving cloud-shadows and some sunlight on the turbulent noisy sea below the Parade.

Harcourt Withers, preoccupied, made his way as well as he could through the groups that loitered in front of the postcard shops, the drapers', the chemists', the offices of the road-car companies. Withers was a man of twenty-seven, slim, slight, not tall, in a neat grey suit, with fitting shoes and a discreet necktie. A quiet and rather reserved fellow, he was a native of Dunge; but he did not like its provinciality, especially in the summer season. The dowdy throngs revolted him,—the enormously fat, waddling women, the stolidity of heavy fathers, the vulgar sprightliness of youths, the garish cotton frocks of pretty girls, the sprawling children who got smacked, the comatose, pale babies. The autumn-winter season was much less offensive. Visitors were fewer then, but they had at least some style, and they reminded him of London, where he had lived for two years, a member of the staff of a large firm of estate-agents and auctioneers near Hanover Square.

He transferred his umbrella to his left hand, stopped, raised his hat, and gave a quiet, pleased smile.

(p. 082) "Oh good morning, my dear," he said softly.

The girl had some style, and she was very good looking, despite a certain prominence of the front teeth. A local doctor's daughter, she too was a native of Dunge; but like himself she had acquired a smattering of London; and here was one reason why he had fallen in love with her. She gave him a lovely smile, far more brilliant than the smile she received.

"I am glad to see you," said she, with a sort of gentle exuberance. "What's the matter, Harry?"

She called him Harry because he cared not for the name Harcourt, which seemed to him pretentious and silly, in the provincial manner.

"Nothing. Why?"

"You seemed so preoccupied—before you saw me. It's all gone now."

"No, no. I'm all right. Have to preside at the fortnightly sale to-day. Father's in bed with a chill. Mother's nursing him."

"Oh, Harry! Sorry about your father. I suppose it's nothing serious, is it? But how splendid for you! It's your first auction."

"Yes. I did once finish the tag-end of one."

"Do you feel nervous, darling?"

"Not a bit." (Hardly true.) "But look here, Cecily. Don't you come strolling in to watch me at it."

"Oh I shan't," the girl answered, a little too decidedly for Harcourt's pride. He would have preferred her to show a strong, childlike, feminine desire to stroll in and watch her hero at work with the hammer. "I'm simply frightfully busy. But you'll tell me about it afterwards. I shall see you to-night?"


"Because I've had another talk with dad." Her expression was still benevolent, loving, admiring; but (p. 083) it had somehow lost its bright assurance. And her voice had dropped.


Both of them looked askance at the people round about, fearing listeners.

"Well! He'll never agree. Never!"

A pause.

Harcourt said quietly:

"Then naturally we shall have to manage without him."

"But Harry——"

"But my dear," said Harcourt, in the same low tone, firmly. "You aren't going to tell me that we must put off getting married till your father gets over his tantrums with mine!"

"It's terribly difficult," said Cecily, on a timid, uncertain note.

Harcourt was astonished and hurt. Could the girl hesitate for one moment between himself and her ogre of a father? Was his happiness and hers to be interfered with because her parent and his had quarrelled—and about such a trumpery matter as a doctor's bill? Inconceivable!

"We'll talk to-night," said Harcourt, recovering his full self-possession. "In a hurry. So are you."


The fortnightly auction went very well that morning. The sales were held in a great room at the back of the premises of Withers & Co., in the busy London Road. The walls of the room were papered with large bills announcing for disposal all sorts of desirable mansions, houses, shops, offices, farms, hotels, ground-rents and furnitures. Withers & Co. was a firm old-established (p. 084) and very prosperous. Withers & Co. did real business, as was demonstrated by the red-printed slips 'Disposed of' pasted cross-wise over many of the bills.

Harcourt Withers occupied an elevated rostrum in the middle of the back of the room, with three windows behind him, and a clerk at a desk in front of and below him. The company, some seated, more standing, was numerous beyond the average. Harcourt recognized the group of dealers at the big table, with their callous, rather bored faces. Often, but not always, they formed a 'knock-out ring,' refusing to bid against one another, acquiring articles at far less than true value, and then afterwards holding a private auction of their own and dividing among themselves the difference between the proceeds of the first auction and the proceeds of the second. Old Withers was humorously tolerant of them. Harcourt regarded them as a gang of respectable swindlers and a blot on the ancient institution of auctioneering. He invented schemes for their undoing, but never a practical scheme. His father maintained that not even a new law, backed by all the majesty and force of the British Legislature, could beat them.

Then there were sundry townsmen on the look-out for bargains, a few owners of the objects put up for sale, and a few friends of owners. And lastly there were holiday visitors, who had entered partly to escape from the uncertainties of the weather and partly in obedience to the mighty attraction which a sale by auction always has for sensible persons with a moderate taste for adventure.

Two men in green aprons carried the objects to and fro for inspection, or, if the objects were unwieldy, lifted them up for a moment so that all might behold. From time to time a general faint rustle was heard in the room as pages of the catalogue were turned over.

(p. 085) Harcourt found himself perfectly at ease. His quiet voice was excellently audible, his articulation clear. He glanced benevolently first to one side of the room, then to the other, then down the centre. In obedience to his father's maxim, 'Keep 'em cheerful,' he occasionally made a dryly humorous remark, which was always generously rewarded by answering smiles or even laughs. He did not despise the vocation of an auctioneer, for not only was his father an auctioneer, but his grandfather had been an auctioneer; and therefore the vocation, for him, was mysteriously dignified by family tradition.

Nevertheless, he said in his heart that auctioneering was an absurdly easy job,—at any rate the auctioneering of furniture; the sale of houses, he admitted, did perhaps demand a certain wary diplomatic technique, which must be learned by long experience.

And also in his heart he said, and repeated continuously: "It's impossible that Cecily should stick to her disgusting father. Hasn't she told me again and again how tyrannical and disagreeable and mean he is, and what a hard life her mother had with him. It's impossible! Either she loves me or she doesn't. If she does ... Old Menrow will give way. He's bound to. But he's a d——d obstinate fellow. Or Cecily will defy him. But will she? She's his daughter. She can be obstinate too. And don't I know it!... Impossible! Impossible! Somehow I've got to have her for my wife. And that's flat!"

So he said and said and said in his heart, the while he was selling and selling and selling, and rapping and rapping and rapping with his hammer on the desk of the rostrum. And nobody else in the room had the least suspicion that the young, calm, modest and yet commanding auctioneer had a heart acutely disturbed or a heart at all.

(p. 086) "Lot 171. An old Staffordshire earthenware coloured group. Mary and her lamb. Lot 171," said Harcourt Withers, in a level, judicial tone, but a tone with no boredom in it; the skilled and conscientious auctioneer will never disclose that his interest is waning.

"Ten shillings," responded a voice, it was plainly an American voice; and it belonged, as Harcourt at once saw, to a typical American, lean, loose-limbed, neat, with thin, mobile lips and a square jaw; a man of middle age. Not only Harcourt, but the whole room looked at the American who was thrusting himself into an English auction.

"Ten shillings is bid, ladies and gentlemen," said Harcourt, with as much liveliness as though he was announcing an original and stimulating phenomenon which must arouse the curiosity and excite the passions of the entire company.

"Fifteen," said a voice, and it was the dull voice of one of the dealers performing his daily tedious task.

"One pound."

"One pound is bid for this quaint old figure-piece, ladies and gentlemen," said Harcourt, and glanced round.

"One pound five," replied the dealer.

"Ten," said the American.

"Fifteen," replied the dealer.

"Thirty-five shillings is bid," said Harcourt.

"Two pounds," drawled the American.

The dealer nodded to the auctioneer.

"Two pounds five is bid," said Harcourt.

"Three pounds," said the American, with an even more deliberate drawl than before. It became plain that the American was emulating the cucumber, though defiance of John Bull vibrated in his twang.

The dealer nodded.

"Three pounds five is bid," said Harcourt.

(p. 087) "Four pounds," said the American, with an admirable assumption of condescending tranquillity.

Harcourt's heart ceased to talk to itself about its private affairs, and the image of Cecily vanished from it. "Some mystery here," he thought. For the bit of Staffordshire ware was certainly not worth four pounds at auction, nor even in a second-hand shop. During the early bids he had supposed that the dealer, on behalf of the ring of his colleagues, was merely freezing out the intruder. But at four pounds this theory would no longer hold. Yes, some mystery. The whole room felt the presence of a mystery. The atmosphere of the big room was electrified. Everybody was glad that he or she had come to the auction. Everybody had a new sense of the liveliness of life. Everybody forgave the bad August weather, which had driven such a crowd into the auction-room. Raindrops showed on the three windows, and nobody cared tuppence for the rain. A few patriots remarked to themselves sarcastically: "These Americans think they can do anything with their dollars."

The dealer nodded.

"Four pounds five is bid," said Harcourt.

"Five pounds," drawled the American.

"Five pounds is bid for this beautiful piece," said Harcourt.

The dealer nodded.

"This looks like going on," said Harcourt to himself, after he had announced the bid.

"This is great fun," thought the crowd of spectators.

The bids climbed over one another, climbed and climbed, slowly but most perseveringly.

At length:

"Twenty pounds is bid, ladies and gentlemen," said Harcourt, triumphant in his professional cheerful suavity. His tone said: "Of course it's nothing to me,—all (p. 088) in the day's work. Still, no one can deny that this is a fine auction, held by the oldest firm of auctioneers and estate-agents in Dunge."

Some of the spectators had cheered, timidly.

The bids climbed higher.

"Bring it here, Jim," said Harcourt, to one of the green-aproned men who had been walking to and fro exhibiting the piece.

The man placed the piece on the desk of the auctioneer's rostrum.

Harcourt picked it up, glanced at it, turned it round, glanced at it again, and set it down. Yes, he had not been mistaken. He was superficially acquainted with the piece because, as usual, he had superintended the preparation of the catalogue. The piece was probably about ninety years old. It was genuine. It was quaint. It was pretty and attractive. Mary's blue pannier skirt, beneath the tight white curving low-cut bodice; her jaunty hat; her backward look at the lamb; the whiteness of the lamb; the collar of green leaves round the lamb's neck: all very agreeable to the eyes. Also the piece was perfect—not a chip on it anywhere, not a single one of Mary's delicious little fingers missing. But Harcourt knew that there were thousands of such pieces up and down England, and that there was little demand for them. Collectors disdained them, because of the crudeness of their design. Collectors would not begin to collect them for perhaps another twenty years. And then the prices would mount mightily. Meanwhile a couple of pounds would be quite a good retail price for Mary and the little lamb that Mary had.

Harcourt had now decided that the American was rich and merely showing off, and that the dealer must have received a bidding commission from some client who at the preliminary view had recognized that particular piece and for personal reasons was determined to (p. 089) own it. A diverting encounter,—which would incidentally result in a substantial percentage for the old-fashioned firm of Withers. Auctioneering was capable occasionally of being very romantic and picturesque.

Loud cheers. Thirty pounds had been reached.

Still louder cheers. Forty pounds had been reached.

The affair was as good as a play or a prize-fight,—better. Every member of the crowd was on pins. Harcourt himself was thrilled, in spite of himself. Unprofessional to be thrilled, but thrilled he was! He raised his hammer. Surely the bidding would cease. It did not cease. The bids climbed and climbed, monstrously. Madness on someone's part, naturally. But what matter?

Forty-five pounds, six, seven, eight. A pause. Harcourt raised his hammer once more ... Nine.

Tremendous cheering. The peak of fifty pounds had been attained.

At this moment Harcourt saw his mother in a corner of the room by the double-doors. Was his father worse? No! Absurd idea! The old lady was smiling at him. She wore no mantle, only her green hat. His father must be better, and she had run down, perhaps in the car, just for the pleasure of seeing her son presiding at one of the big fortnightly sales of furniture, ornaments, utensils, and oddments. Just like her.

"Fifty pounds is bid, ladies and gentlemen," said he in a voice particularly masterful for the impressing of his mother.

Another pause.

He handled the piece again. Curious, the sentimentality of people about inanimate objects! He could scarcely understand it. For he lived in a specialized world where everything was always changing hands, where people were for ever getting rid of homes (p. 090) and acquiring homes, and getting rid of furniture and acquiring furniture. An extremely changeful world.

The pause persisted. The thrilled crowd began to whisper. The tension was terrific.

Harcourt glanced at the dealer, who would not look at him. He glanced at the untired, alert American.

"Fifty pounds is bid. Any advance on fifty pounds? No? Come! Who says fifty-one. It's a fine piece. Going—going—"

He stopped, with another questioning glance at the unresponsive dealer. His mother was still smiling. But Harcourt was too professional to smile back. She made a gesture towards him which he did not comprehend, a downward gesture of the hand.


The hammer sharply descended. But it happened to descend on Mary and her little lamb and smote the piece to bits.

Never before had such pandemonium been witnessed in the most respectable auction-rooms of the firm of Withers.

Harcourt's first shamefaced, self-conscious glance was for his mother; but the old lady had gone, doubtless fleeing from the sight of a disaster due solely to her son's inordinate clumsiness.


In obedience to a telephonic message that his father wished to see him at once, the unhappy young auctioneer left the offices of Withers as quickly as possible after the conclusion of the sale, the last part of which had assumed the nature of a dreary and perfunctory anticlimax. But before leaving he had ascertained that (p. 091) his theory of the heroical battle of bidding was substantially correct. The American had informed several people that he had bid for the piece simply because it had taken his fancy. The dealer said that he had been commissioned, without limit, to buy the piece for a visitor who had had to return to London, and whose name was Edall, with an address in Sloane Street. He had withdrawn from the competition at fifty pounds, for the reason that he was only casually acquainted with his client, and had been afraid to interpret the commission too literally. Reference to the firm's books had disclosed to Harcourt that the piece had come, with a miscellaneous lot of other stuff, from a house near Rye. An old clerk offered his opinion that it had probably formed part of the Edall Manor collection (in North Kent), which had been disposed of in one lot to a rich building contractor years earlier. Harcourt had had the fragments of the piece collected in a cloth, perhaps as a souvenir of a unique occasion!

Now he nervously forced a latch-key into the key-hole of the front-door of his home. He had made a shocking fool of himself; the firm would of course have to pay fifty pounds (less the usual percentage) to the owner of the piece; and his father would quite certainly be displeased and sarcastic. Hence Harcourt was entitled to feel nervous and to be resentful against an innocent latch-key.

At length he got the door open.

Cecily herself was standing in the hall, hatless, gloveless, as though she lived there,—she who had not entered the house since the quarrel between their parents.

"Hello!" Harcourt brightly exclaimed. "What's all this?" And he went on quickly: "Heard about my accident?"

"Your accident?"

(p. 092) "Yes. Smashed a fifty pound piece of earthenware at the sale."

"Oh, Harry!"

He then saw that Cecily had begun to cry.

"Oh! It's nothing," said he.

"Your mother—" Cecily began.

"What about her?" he asked. "Come back, hasn't she?"

"No! She never recovered consciousness."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Oh! Harry! I'd better tell you at once. The poor thing's dead."

"Dead?" Harcourt repeated mechanically. "But I saw her at the sale."

"At the sale? When?"

"About an hour and a quarter ago."

Cecily shook her head.

"She's been dead at least an hour and a half."

"But don't I tell you—" He stopped. "Here," he said very quietly. "Come into the drawing-room." He had a sudden sensation of sheer fright, an awful breath-taking qualm such as he had never before experienced.

"Now," said he, when they were shut in the drawing-room. "Please." He was acting perfect self-possession but not acting it very convincingly.

"The hot-water bag in your father's bed had gone wrong. Your mother said she would slip over to the chemist's herself to get a new one, the sort she prefers. She put on her hat, and ran downstairs—you know how quick she can be. At the front-door she saw what the weather was like, and ran upstairs again for her umbrella. At the top of the stairs she fell. They telephoned for your new doctor. He was out. Then they telephoned for father. He came. At first he wouldn't. But I said he must. And I came with him. (p. 093) I thought I might be useful. She was dead. Heart. Father said he'd often told her she ought never to run upstairs."

"Of course he had. I know that."

"But she's so active."

"Yes. Especially when anyone's ill."


"Do you mean to say she didn't go out of the house at all?"

"That's what the parlourmaid told us. Hadn't been out all morning."

In her emotion, Cecily seized Harcourt's hand.

"Where is she?"

"Upstairs, on her own bed."

"Where's your father?"

"He's gone. He said there was nothing to be done. He had two urgent cases. He'll be calling for me soon."

"And father—my father, I mean?"

"He's in bed, of course. But it's nothing but a bad chill with him."

"Does he know?... About mother."

Cecily nodded. Then she added:

"But what do you mean—you saw her at the sale."

Harcourt could not speak at first.

"My dear," he said. "Stay here a minute. Sit down." He led her to an easy-chair. "You're a bit overdone. It was awfully decent of you to come. I'll be back in a moment."

In the hall the parlourmaid was crying.

"Oh, Mr. Harcourt! Mr. Harcourt!"

He nodded to her appreciatively.

"Bessie!" he murmured.

"And so terrible sudden, sir! So—" The stout girl sobbed, hid her face.


(p. 094) He strode up the stairs. Near the top he paused and leaned over the banisters.


"Yes, Mr. Harcourt." The girl subdued her sobs.

"Do I understand that mother didn't go out this morning?"

"No, Mr. Harcourt. She didn't."

"At all?"

"No sir."

"How can you be sure?"

"Well, sir, she was in master's bedroom all the time. And I saw her coming downstairs, pinning her hat."

"What hat was she wearing?"

"The green one, sir."

Harcourt went on. He hesitated outside his mother's door. The sensation of fright was still powerfully upon him. And he was also retrospectively afraid. He was afraid for himself as he had stood an hour and a half earlier looking at his mother from the auctioneer's rostrum. What had he been looking at? He ought to have felt fear in the rostrum. But he had not felt fear; and that seemed somehow very wrong. The mere thought of his not then being afraid frightened him. He was as one who has been through a dreadful and dangerous crisis without knowing it.

And the universe was enlarged for him, transformed for him, made awful for him. Dead, his mother had visited him, signed to him, and vanished. Result: the smashing of the earthenware piece. Why had she done it? Or rather, why had her spirit done it? Yes, her spirit! The universe was strange to him. All his life he had been accustomed to smile superiorly at tales of spirit manifestations. He had dismissed them with one word: 'Imagination.' But he did not smile now. And the word 'imagination' seemed silly, puerile, almost offensive. His eyes had seen his mother, in her green (p. 095) hat. He was not ill; he was in no state of agitated nerves; he had never been subject to delusions; he was as sane as any man could be sane. And his eyes had plainly seen his mother in the everyday, prosaic, commonplace, earthly surroundings of the auction-room, and in full daylight. His fright grew.

But he went into the room.


His mother lay on her bed, from which the pillows were removed. Her brown dress had been disordered, doubtless for the purpose of medical examination, and rather summarily put right. The body and limbs were properly arranged, the arms straight, the legs straight. The face was extremely pale; but the face of Mrs. Withers had always been extremely pale. The eyes of course were closed. How small and how frail she looked—somehow girlish!

Gazing from the foot of the bed, Harcourt divined in the still, recumbent figure the girl his mother had once been. He felt an impulse to cry, but did not cry. He saw as in a dream the whole of his mother's life, from girlhood to grey hairs. And his sadness increased. He was acutely sorry for her, as we are always sorry for the poor dead. He realized that he had never been entirely just, and never generous enough, towards his mother. Millions of us have had exactly such sensations in similar circumstances; but to Harcourt the sensations were as fresh and vital as though he were the first of the human race to feel them.

He glanced round the room, and perceived a hundred trifling familiar objects,—the green hat, out of shape, was on the chest of drawers. The pathos of the whole spectacle was intolerable to him. The idea occurred (p. 096) to him that one day sooner or later all those objects, and all the furniture, would ultimately come to auction, under the hammer, and be hammered down to indifferent purchasers who neither knew nor cared what they had meant to once living souls. The hidden, sinister quality of auctioneering was laid bare to him....

Edall? Edall? The name aroused faint, thin memories. His mother's sister, or half-sister—he forgot which—long since dead, had surely married an Edall. He had never seen her, only heard of her, vaguely. Was the name Edall? Yes, it was Edall? But he could recall nothing whatever of the husband, had certainly never seen him. Perhaps, when he himself was a child, there had been a quarrel between his father and the uncle-in-law. His father had a certain aptitude for quarrelling. Why had the image of his mother visited the auction-room precisely at the moment when the earthenware piece was under the hammer? Why had she died just in time for the visit? Coincidence? Or were there invisible mysteries which for ever magically and tragically enfolded the daily existence of men? No! Coincidence! And yet—— His brain was unequal to the tremendous problems and shadows of problems that loomed, advanced, receded....

A motor-lorry rumbled and blundered through the street below, shaking the house. The man driving it could have no notion of the dread solemnities which his monster was shaking. Harcourt shifted away from the bed to the window. The noise of the lorry dwindled diminuendo into absolute silence. A sigh? A scarcely audible sigh? The ghost of a sigh? Had Harcourt heard a sigh? Impossible! But all his skin was in a tremor. He returned, fearful and unwilling, to the bed.... Undisturbed immobility of death! He wondered where, where, was the spirit which had passed—how?—from the mortal husk on the bed to (p. 097) the auction-room. Then Harcourt gave a start of terror. The left eyelid of the body had flickered. It was still again; but it had flickered. He dashed to the door. Simultaneously there was a knock at the door, which opened. Bessie, the fat parlourmaid, red-eyed.

"Please, Mr. Harcourt, it's the undertaker people, to lay out. And the doctor's called in."

"Hsh! Hsh!" Harcourt stopped her, intensely excited. "Get some brandy. Send the doctor up instantly. And do bring some brandy. Get on with you. And keep those people out of here. Quick!"


The next afternoon.

Mrs. Withers, her wrinkled, small, innocent, white face very sweet and as it were resigned, lay in bed. Cecily, seated by the bed, had just entered the room, and was holding Mrs. Withers' hand.

"But you haven't had any sleep, my dear," said Mrs. Withers in her meek and gentle invalid's voice.

"Oh yes!"

"But you stayed up with me all night."

"Well, I slept from ten this morning till half-past two, and then I had something to eat and then I thought I must come along here again to see how you were getting on."

"You've been very, very kind."

"Not at all. When they telephoned for father yesterday morning I just had the idea I might be useful if I came with him, as Mr. Withers was ill too. Spur of the moment—you know."

"And useful you were, my dear. I shall never be able to thank you. Never! I'm much better. In (p. 098) fact I'm quite well now. And Mr. Withers is on the up grade too. I do believe I shall be downstairs to-morrow. Who's that? Oh! It's you, Harcourt."

Harcourt, bearing a package, joined them, with a jaunty, rather bustling air hardly natural to him. He exchanged with Cecily a glance not seen by Mrs. Withers. That glance said: "We are in the presence of a miracle. The beloved old lady is now different from all other human creatures. She has left earth and come back to it. She is set apart. And she doesn't know it."

And Mrs. Withers did not know it. She thought that she had merely lost consciousness and returned to consciousness. Evidently she had no memory of a tremendous spiritual adventure. Her placidity was complete. The immortal part of her was keeping its own secrets from her brain. The servants, the undertaker's staff, the undertakers themselves had all been most solemnly pledged to silence.

"What's that funny parcel?" Mrs. Withers inquired.

"D'you mean to say you haven't been told about my famous accident yesterday morning at the sale?" Harcourt exclaimed, with histrionic gaiety.


Harcourt related the episode.

"How very careless of you, my dear!" she commented. "Fifty pounds!"

"Yes. Fifty pounds! That we have to pay out! So I thought I'd bring the bits along and have a look at them. My opinion is it can be mended. If it can, we shall at any rate have something for our fifty."

He undid the package, spreading the cloth on the bed and the broken fragments on the cloth.

"Supposed to be Mary and her little lamb."

He fingered the fragments.

"Here's a good half of the lamb," said he.

(p. 099) Mrs. Withers took the bit in her thin, pale, blue-veined hand.

"Where's the bottom of it, my dear?" she asked.

Harcourt pieced together the base of the group.

"Is there anything painted on it?" Mrs. Withers murmured.

"No," said Harcourt.

"Not up in the little hole under Mary's figure?"

Harcourt peered.

"It's so black. Yes. F something. E, s, something. Can't read it. Must have been painted on, some time after it was made. Hasn't stuck. Why, mother?"

"My dear boy," said Mrs. Withers, still with an even placidity. "This is the strangest thing that ever happened. I'm so glad you broke it. I can't tell you how glad I am. If that American had got it and taken it to America with him—no, I could not have borne that. Well, of course I could, because I shouldn't have known anything about it, should I? But if I had known I couldn't. That piece was given to me by my mother on my birthday when I was seven. 'For Essie.' Those were the words."

"But who's Essie?"

"I'm Essie. They always called me Essie when I was a little girl."


"Well, it was a pet name."

"I never knew."

"Perhaps not, my dear. But you don't know everything, do you? Some things get forgotten. And afterwards I gave it to my younger sister, your Aunt Rhoda, that married an Edall. And she's been dead ever so long. Ever so long. We heard that her husband sold up Edall Manor afterwards; but I couldn't be sure, because we—we never saw anything of him. He's dead too. That I do know.... And I'm still here."

(p. 100) Her voice shook, and tears showed in the old lady's eyes; also in Cecily's eyes.

Harcourt looked uneasily at the two women.

"I'm sure it can be mended. That fellow in Norman Street can do it," said he, with a wonderful imitation of casual ordinariness. Then he added: "I'm awfully glad, Mother. Yes, it is the strangest thing. Makes you feel queer somehow."

"I want you to go and tell your father," said Mrs. Withers, still inspecting the fragments.

"Yes," Harcourt agreed.

But before seeing Mr. Withers Harcourt ran downstairs.

"Bessie," he called. "Bring me a whisky-and-soda."


When Bessie brought the whisky-and-soda she announced the tidings that she had seen Dr. Menrow just arriving at the house.

"Show him in here," said Harcourt. And to himself, grimly: "I'll talk to that fellow."

He drank the whisky-and-soda in one draught.

Dr. Menrow was introduced into the room. A middle-aged, harsh-featured, professional man, not well dressed, with nose, eyes, and especially chin all very pugnacious.

"Good afternoon," said he, non-committal, in his customary surly tone. Marvellous how the fellow, with such an unsympathetic style, could keep a clientèle together; but he did. His practice flourished.

"Good afternoon," said Harcourt, standing on the hearth-rug, hands behind back. "Sit down, will you? This is the first chance I've had to speak to you alone. My mother is getting on wonderfully."

(p. 101) "I'm glad."

"No need for you to see her any more. Unless of course—"

"No. No need," the doctor concurred.

"You made a serious mistake there."

"We all make mistakes at times," said the doctor defiantly. "You do." His lip curled as he stared at the young man. "But what particular mistake have I been making lately?"

"About my mother."

"I certainly made no mistake there."

"But you said she was dead."

"I did say your mother was dead. And she was dead. That's positive. Any man who knew his business would have said the same. And he'd have been right."

"But the old lady is alive and nearly well."

"I don't need anybody to tell me that."

"Then how do you explain it?"

"I don't explain it. I merely say she was dead."

"Then it's a miracle."

"I know nothing about miracles. But it's a very solemn thing. Very solemn."

His tone had changed. At last he sat down.

The interview was not proceeding quite as Harcourt had planned it in his mind.

"And that's all you can say?"

"It is." The doctor rose from his chair. "If my daughter's here, I shall be obliged if you will let her know I'm waiting for her."

"I say," Harcourt made a fresh start. "I suppose you think Cecily would never marry without your consent?"

"I think she would not."

"I'm of the same opinion," said Harcourt.

"I'm sure she wouldn't."

(p. 102) "But why?"

"Because she was brought up like that. That's all."

"And you'll never agree to her marrying me because of the row you've had with father."

"Your father said things—— No! I prefer not to discuss your father with you."

"I'm not asking you to." Harcourt sat, and, strangely, the doctor sat also. "But don't you think that seeing all we've been through these last two days, this quarrelling business is a bit silly. When you consider my mother's death—and her return—and ask yourself where she was in those two hours, and what brought her back, what power—you say it was a very solemn thing. It was. These mysteries frighten you. They're too big. Make quarrels seem—seem—well, you see what I mean."

"I do.... Never have I had such a solemn night as I had last night." The doctor's voice quivered.

"I'd undertake to fix father." Harcourt's voice quavered.

He approached the older man.

"Yes. You're right," the doctor murmured. He sprang up and walked to and fro.

Half-an-hour later Harcourt re-entered his mother's bedroom.

"Mother," he began impetuously. "What should you say if I married this Cecily here. Mr. Menrow's here and he agrees."

"Harcourt!" Cecily exclaimed, absurdly startled and self-conscious.

"Yes, he agrees," Harcourt repeated.

"Harcourt," said Mrs. Withers, after they had talked a little, "I want to see you kiss her."

He kissed Cecily. Both of them felt the room to be uncomfortably hot; both of them blushed.

(p. 103) "Cecily, my dear," said Mrs. Withers, placid and full of bliss. "I don't know what Father will give you for a wedding-present. But I shall give you Mary and her lamb. My mother gave it to me—and I feel I must give it to you—and—oh dear!"

(p. 105) THE WIND


The vast stretch of lion-coloured sands; the vaster stretch of tumbling grey sea; the still vaster stretch of disordered grey-inky clouds which passed endlessly at a great rate from west to east across the firmament; the wind; and one small bare-legged figure on the sands.

The wind had been blowing hard for days; it varied in strength from a stiffish breeze to half a gale; once or twice it had surprisingly gone right round to the east, and the clouds had uncovered the sun, and the showers been briefer and fewer; but during the whole holiday the wind had never ceased. As soon as you arrived over the ridge of shingle on the beach, it assaulted you. There was no peace from it except in the lee of the tarry bathing-hut, sole edifice within sight, perched high on the shingle; and the instant you moved even a foot away from the shelter it assaulted you again with new power, and continued incessantly to assault you.

It may have been a healthy wind, but its effect on the nerves was evil. Mr. Frederick Lammond was keenly aware of its sinister influence on his nerves. Mr. Lammond stood where sand and shingle met, between the bathing-hut and the small figure approaching the sea's edge. Hearing a faint shriek from the hut, he turned.

"Look after the child!"

(p. 106) Across the hostile wind the words which had begun in a loud shriek from the lips of the half-undressed girl standing in the doorway of the hut reached him like a whisper.

The wind caused the end of the ribbon encircling his insecure straw hat to vibrate with a noise like the hum of an insect's wings.

He waved a reassuring arm.

"Oh, d——n!" he muttered. "As if I hadn't got my eye on the kid the whole time!"

The infant was yet quite thirty yards off the water.

Mr. Lammond strolled after the infant with careful, callous deliberation.

The infant was the most expensive toy on earth. Her unconscious demands on Mr. Lammond's purse were enormous. She had meant a larger house (with all the expenses of removing and the wages of more servants) because she needed two entire rooms to herself, one for day, one for night. She had meant new furniture, new pictures (specially selected to attract and develop her youthful mind); a self-clicking gate at the top of the stairs; a succession of new toys; a succession of new clothes (for she grew day and night); a superb perambulator, whose wheels revolved on ball-bearings. Also the salary of a trained and certificated nurse, who save for half a day a week devoted her entire existence night and day to the welfare of the expensive toy. Then there was Grade A milk, which the infant seemed to drink in immoderate quantities, and various other costly foods.

And then there was the new motor car, with the chauffeur. Before the era of the infant the Lammonds had been happy with a trifling 7 h.p. run-about, which Frederick drove himself, and which even Edna herself occasionally drove. Edna, however, would not allow the life of 'her' child to be risked in any run-about (p. 107) controlled by an amateur. Strange creature! She had not minded Frederick risking his own life, or hers. But the infant was as sacred as an Indian cow—and not more intelligent. Hence the chauffeur, and you could not decently put a chauffeur in a car of less than 20-40 h.p. Hence, further, liveries for the chauffeur, licence for the chauffeur, many meals for the chauffeur.

Frederick Lammond calculated, and loved to calculate, that his offspring cost him in all an extra thousand a year. He did not grudge the expense, for the profits of the wood trade were increasingly handsome; but he thought it was a lot, a tremendous lot, with little immediate result.

He thought, too, that Edna was rather silly about the child. He excused her silliness, on the score of maternal instinct, which he had often read about and was now witnessing in action. But he found it hard to excuse her criticism, spoken and implied, of his own attitude towards the child. She charged him with indifference. She asked him if he realized that he was a father. She expected him to kiss madly, to hug fondly, to be thrilled by, to think constantly of, the child. He could not. He knew, rather than felt, that he was a father. Certainly he thought that the whole business of the child was wonderful, even miraculous. He was pleased when the child began to adventure across floors on hands and knees; he was gratified when she managed the trick of balancing herself on two legs; he was delighted when she first said 'Ta-ta.' And when she recognized him, smiled at him and otherwise 'took notice' of him, he was absurdly flattered.

Yet for hours together he could completely forget the existence of the child. And he was capable of coming home of an evening and omitting to ask after her. Was it his fault? He could not pretend. Or, if he could pretend, he could only pretend to be more indifferent (p. 108) than he in fact was. A father is not a mother. But Edna was not pleased. The child was drawing Edna away from him. Edna, with the nurse and the child, formed a sort of Opposition to His Majesty's Government. The nurse would say to Mr. Lammond, critically: "Aren't you coming to see your child in her bath?"

Still, despite occasional conjugal friction, it was all very romantic and agreeable.

So, with careful, callous deliberation, Mr. Lammond pursued his child.


The baby, who for some ridiculous reason was usually addressed by her father as 'Joe,' surveyed idly, as she moved, the expanse of sand. The sand was illimitable, and hence beyond her conception. She did not know it was called sand; but she knew what it was. It was a substance which yielded pleasantly to the clutch of her toes, and which amusingly worked itself up between her toes, producing an agreeable tickle.

Though alone in the infinite, she was not a bit afraid, being secure in her conviction that she was the centre of the universe and the most important phenomenon in the universe. She could not have demonstrated this fundamental truth by any process of ratiocination. She could not even have put it into words. She just knew it: which fact settles for ever the great controversy among adults whether or not thought can occur without words.

If she wanted anything somebody was always on the spot either to supply it or to soothe her without supplying it. If she got into any trouble somebody was always there to get her out of it. If she was happy she saw happiness in the faces of others. If she was (p. 109) unhappy she saw sympathetic concern on the faces of others. When others were with her, no matter how many, they all looked at her all the time, keenly, passionately interested in everything she did.

Of course some of the feats she accomplished well merited attention and admiration. For example this new feat of putting one foot in front of the other and so moving magically to fresh and strange and exciting places. And this other feat of making such noises as were made by the giants whose faces were generally up near the ceiling,—a noise for instance like 'Ta-ta,' which was her chiefest success in noise. Whenever she achieved 'Ta-ta,' the audience laughed with joy. She was less effective with noises like 'nanny,' 'daddy,' 'mammy.' But 'Ta-ta' always created a sensation. Had it failed to do so she would have been gravely disappointed.

She lived for sensations. And she could justly boast that she had created a few. As when she first picked up a black, scratchy thing and ran it through her hair in the manner of the tallest and darkest giant! And as when she first made a continuous series of noises in the manner of all the giants. She knew not the significance of these series of noises (nor did anybody else), but they evidently thrilled the whole race of giants. So she often made them and made them longer and longer.

By all these signs it was that she knew positively and unshakably the supremacy of her position in the universe.

After she had been putting one foot cleverly in front of the other for many hours she vaguely perceived, ahead of her, shifting matter which somehow reminded her of her own bath. This perception diverted her from the perception of an invisible, slightly hostile, slightly obstructive thing that was constantly pressing against and chilling her face, arms and legs. But the (p. 110) shifting matter was still very distant, and she perseveringly moved forward in her lonely adventure. Then suddenly, her feet grew painfully cold, and she saw around them soapsuds such as Nanny manufactured in the bath. And she was afraid.

And simultaneously she was afraid of the invisible thing which, also suddenly, became more hostile and more obstructive. And she faintly recalled a frightful experience of cold and sham soapsuds and wetness that had happened to her many years ago,—to be exact, on the previous afternoon. And then to-day's soapsuds, also suddenly, dashed at her red legs, and the invisible hostile thing attacked her anew with shattering fury, and the complicated apparatus of her legs got beyond her control. Her beautiful face was transformed to hideous ugliness; she gave a high screech; and fell down in the water of a tremendous, overpowering bath. And she wanted Nanny more than she had ever wanted anything. And she was colder and wetter than she had ever been; and for the first time in her life she realized the awful terror of solitude in a universe of dread and dismay.


When Edna started to run down from the hut to the sea she already felt slightly, not seriously, inimical towards her husband. A more pleasurable mood was conquering her annoyance with the callous father of a babe fragile and defenceless: a mood due to the consciousness first of the beauty of her own form and face, second of the becoming tints and cut of her bathing-costume, her cloak, her cap and her shoes, and third of the power of her feminine charm over the sinful man.

No one not aware of the fact would have taken her for a mother. She had the body of a girl, and like a girl (p. 111) she bounded lightly across the crackling shingle and the sand. She was lovely to the sight, and she knew that she was lovely. The incessant wind exasperated her delicate skin and her nerves, but she had a mighty force of health to repulse its malign influence.

Then, just before she passed the strolling Frederick, the child fell. Whereupon, at the shock, her features changed, much as the babe's had changed, though less violently.

"There!" she cried, in a savage, hating voice. "You see!... Might have been drowned. That's what she might!"

She ran on. Frederick ran after her, but he could not match the flying girl, who stopped for a second to shed her cloak (which must on no account be exposed to the risk of damage), and yet arrived easily first at the child. She fondly seized the yelling, wet child, and hugged it and soothed it and comforted it in her encircling beautiful arms. Her face was lovely again.

"No harm! No harm!" said Frederick awkwardly, guiltily. "Do her good. Now take her into the water with you. It'll get her used to it. You said you wanted to get her used to it." Such was his attitude towards the greatest disaster of Joe's whole existence.

She replied with calm and intense animosity:

"How can I take her into the water when she hasn't got her bathing things on?"

"I thought she had," said Frederick weakly.

"Of course you didn't."

"Then I'm a liar?"

"Can't you see she hasn't got her bathing things on?"

"Well, her legs are all bare. Hanged if I can tell the difference!"

"Don't know when your own child's in her bathing (p. 112) things and when she isn't! Shows how interested you are in her!"

Joe still shrieked out her desolating woe, which the wind tore into strips and wildly scattered about the sandy waste. Edna was carrying the child at a swift pace upwards towards the distant hut, while Frederick followed behind sheepish but somehow defiant.

"Here! I'll carry her," said he at length,—it was a considerable effort on his part towards an armistice. "She's too heavy for you. And I don't believe she's as wet as all that!"

"No, you won't carry her!... I suppose you're going to leave my cloak behind."

He was. He had not noticed the cloak. He picked it up with fury.

"You did it on purpose!" cried Edna in the unnerving wind, striving to kill him with a glance over her shoulder.

"Did what on purpose?"

"Let her go by herself into the water—deliberately."

"Oh! I see!"

"Yes. The fact is you're jealous of the child. That's what you are. I know. I can see. I've seen it for months. You're jealous."

"Quite!" said Frederick. "And so I meant to let her drown!"


"That's your considered opinion?" Frederick grunted.

"Yes, it is. We may as well be open with one another—at last!" Her tone was affrighting in its terrific sincerity.

Joe's yells increased in strength and resentfulness. She correctly surmised that somehow she had ceased to be the centre of the universe.

(p. 113) IV

A rather dreadful thing happened in the car as they were driving up from the beach to the ancient town, once a Norman port, but now left high and dry by the receding sea.

Edna had done marvels. She had stripped and dried the infant, and then clad it in its unused bathing costume and covered the bathing costume with odd woollies and a rug against any cold, and then completely dressed herself in about four minutes,—she who had reckoned to allow at least thirty minutes for even an informal after-bathe toilette.

And now, while Frederick sat silent in one corner of the speeding car, she sat silent in the other, with the reassured and happy infant clutched to her body. Never before had she had such a sense of utterly owning the infant. Sometimes in the past she had given hints to its father of her estimate of the supreme share which had been hers in the production of the infant; but now, as the car rolled swiftly over the curving road across the marsh, she was convinced that Frederick counted for absolutely naught in the origin of the child. To her and to none else was due the glory. She thought of all that she had suffered for the sublime achievement; she saw clearly how in the daily life of the child Frederick was nobody but an outsider, incompetent, inefficient, and helpless in any real crisis such as that which his callous negligence had just brought about. Her devastating meditations were disturbed by a sudden restlessness on the part of Joe. The child wanted to slip down from its mother's lap on to the floor of the car, and it had its way, and, freed from the rug, sat on the floor and stared around in search of some new activity.

(p. 114) "The truth is," said Edna harshly, gazing straight at Frederick's speciously agreeable fair face, in which she decided that she had always seen the signs of a weak character. "You have no sense of responsibility. Everybody knows that."

Frederick made no answer.

"You know it's true," Edna insisted.

Frederick remarked calmly:

"You said on the beach I meant to let the kid drown."

"So you did! At the moment."

"Well, until you withdraw that, I shall have nothing to do with you."

"I won't withdraw it! Because it's true! Never, you understand! And I'll never speak to you again."

"Very well."

The cleavage between them was absolute and final. And Edna, the outraged mother, exulted in it.

At this point it was that the dreadful thing happened. The child rose clumsily on its fat rosy legs to its chubby feet and lurched against Edna's knees. Edna seized it again. The child querulously rebelled. Edna was forced to loose it, and to the general stupefaction the child then crawled across to its father's boots, and after clutching at his trousers held out appealing fat arms and was taken on to the paternal lap! Nor was that the worst. The child smiled the smile and laughed the laugh of contentment, and talked at some length in its own language, seeming to call upon Edna to share its pleasures in the situation.

An incident perhaps nothing in itself, but the symbolism of it could only be described in one word: dreadful. Never had a well-brought-up child committed such an appalling faux pas. Even Frederick felt extremely self-conscious and uneasy in his unmerited triumph. And because Frederick was not instantly (p. 115) struck dead by lightning, Edna ceased to believe in the justice of God.

The child was apparently quite unaware that its ill-judged act had sealed the everlasting dissolution of the tie between its parents. The chauffeur hooted along his forward path, turning the wheel according to necessity, but turning his head neither to the right nor to the left: splendidly ignorant of the domestic tragedy from which he was only separated by a thin glass wall. The chauffeur had set off on the homeward journey with a vivacious youngish man and a most attractive young woman (in deportment singularly girlish for a mother) jointly in charge of an enchanting baby of uncertain temper. He assumed that these highly civilized creatures were still behind him. He had no notion that magically they had vanished from his car and been replaced by a couple of aged, murderous implacable savages and the very imp of evil.

The car shot through the antique gateway of the stranded town and in another minute came gently to rest in front of the rather picturesque house which the Lammonds had hired for the summer. At the same moment a young, somewhat slatternly girl ran up, full of the importance which rightfully attaches to a functionary of His Majesty's Mails, and handed to Mrs. Lammond, who had precipitately jumped down, an orange envelope.

Edna ripped open the envelope and read aloud, not of course to Frederick, but to herself:

"Mother very ill you had better come at once."

The sender had been so agitated that he (or she) had omitted to sign the message. However, Edna knew that the sender could be none but her maiden sister, Angelica.

(p. 116) V

A strong and unexpected gust of wind—the Lammonds had forgotten the exasperating wind in the shelter of the car—snatched the telegram out of Edna's hand and flew off with it, and then, capricious as winds will be, dropped it in the main street.

"Oh, this wind! This wind!" Edna complained, not of course to Frederick, but to herself, and she ran girlishly after the rapt paper. Frederick might have run after it, but he was descending very gingerly from the car, baby in arms; the chauffeur might have run after it, but the chauffeur was anxiously superintending the descent of his employer.

Frederick stood grimly watching Edna return. She returned with grim dignity. Frederick no doubt regretted the illness of his mother-in-law, whom he liked, but he regarded it chiefly from the angle of his own dignity. The illness had created a most serious diversion. He had stated positively that he would have nothing to do with Edna unless she apologized. Could he keep his word? Ought he to keep it? Difficult problem! He would await developments.

His wife, her face hard set, held out the telegram to him.

"I heard you read it, thanks," said he, coldly polite.

She took Joe from his arms and went into the small house, the front-door of which was half-open.

"Wait please, Sidley," she called to the chauffeur, disappearing.

No word to Frederick did she vouchsafe about her intentions in regard to the telegram.

"If she thinks I'm going in after her without being asked, she's a bit wrong," said Frederick firmly to himself. "It isn't my fault her mother's ill."

(p. 117) He lit a cigarette, not with a match, but with a fusee which fizzed defiantly at tempests.

"Wind rising, sir," the chauffeur ventured, in the way of decorous companionship.

"Yes," said Frederick shortly: he was preoccupied.

The wind was indeed rising. It seemed to rush out in a continuous but irregular stream from some lair behind the house. Every tree—and there were many—in the vicinity waved its agitated, rustling plumes, and the wrought-iron sign of the art-pottery shop opposite the house creaked as it swung.

Just as Frederick was finishing his cigarette Edna reappeared with the child, who was now clad in a normal fashion.

"Will you take her?" said Edna. "You can put her in the perambulator. It's in the garden. She'd really be happier if she went out for a bit, but there's nobody to.... I can't ask that cook. Besides—"

"I suppose I can take her out in the pram as well as anybody else," Frederick snapped, accepting the child.

Edna was silent for a moment.

"I've decided to drive over to Sevenoaks at once," she said at length. She turned to the chauffeur. "You can get there in less than two hours, can't you?"

"Yes, madam. An hour and a half."

"We shall be there easily before six, then. I'm afraid you'll have to wait for your tea till we get there, Sidley."

"Yes, madam."

Edna sprang into the car.

"But what about baby?" asked Frederick, astounded at this extraordinary maternal casualness concerning the welfare of the child. "Nurse won't be back till ten o'clock."

"Nurse will be back on the six-fifteen 'bus," said Edna superiorly. "I've just telephoned to her at (p. 118) Bognor. Baby will be quite all right. I've given her her orange-juice. Of course, she ought to be having her bath before six, but it won't matter to half an hour. I don't believe in children being slaves of habit, however small they are.... Sevenoaks, then," she finished to the chauffeur.

The car vanished in a thin swirl of dust.

It was like magic, sinister magic, this swift abandonment of Frederick, and this abandonment of the child to Frederick's amateurish masculine care—the child moreover whom half an hour earlier he had been charged with attempting to drown.

He was nervous under his terrific responsibilities. And two hours seemed almost eternity.

"The chauffeur's tea, yes! She thinks of that," he sardonically reflected. "But what about my tea?"

However, going aimlessly into the house, he found tea laid for one in the oak-beamed dining-room, and the 'temporary' cook-general there. Clearly Edna had been organizing things to the height of the occasion.

"When will you have your tea, sir?" the touchy sloven inquired, without a smile at baby in father's arms.


"Yes, sir."

He took tea with Joe on his lap, and contrived to keep the uneasy creature diverted by means of minute morsels of brown bread and butter. But when the supply of morsels ceased, Joe began to whimper, having noted with disapproval that something had mysteriously gone wrong in her universe. Frederick carried her through the hot kitchen into the garden at the back of the house, and met the wind. He glanced at his watch. He had purposely dawdled over his tea, and yet only five minutes had passed since he sat down to table and only nine minutes since the departure of (p. 119) Edna. A century; an age! The two hours were still almost intact. He deposited the child in the perambulator. The child immediately resumed its whimpering. He pushed the perambulator along the grass, and the child stopped whimpering. He stopped the perambulator, and the child started to whimper again.

Frederick thereupon said aloud:

"And after all why the hell shouldn't I take her out in the pram for a bit?"

Not an easy feat to manoeuvre the perambulator down the narrow path by the side of the house, through the gate, down the step, into the road; but he accomplished it. He looked along the road in both directions like a guilty thing. Never in his life had he seen a well-dressed man in sole charge of an occupied perambulator. Was he observed? No. But in the main street he would be a perfect cynosure for quidnuncs and char-à-bancs. Still, he successfully persuaded himself that he didn't care who saw him, nor what anybody might say.


But he had scarcely turned into the main street before his mood changed into a mixture of defiance and shame. In the stress of the adventure of the perambulator he entirely forgot the serious illness of his mother-in-law: he even was no longer troubled by the thought of the unbridgeable chasm which now separated Edna and himself. He was far more self-conscious than he had ever been in all his life. But he had begun and he would persevere.

The wind swept across the wide churchyard and smote his cheek and his nerves and the perambulator, and he demanded savagely of the air:

(p. 120) "When will this wind stop? I can't stand much more of it."

Thousands of persons on the South Coast were putting the same question to the skies.

Frederick thanked heaven for one great mercy: Joe was being good. Not a sound from Joe.

At the corner where the high street twists westward at a right angle, by the Lighthouse Hotel, a large char-à-banc rollicked past him, and every offside passenger on that char-à-banc leaned vulgarly over to stare and to grin at the spectacle of a well-dressed man pushing a perambulator up the hill in a high wind. Some of the passengers, an ill-bred lot, commented audibly to one another upon the spectacle.

This trifling incident it was which decided an abashed Frederick to go straight on up the hill towards the old mill, instead of continuing to provide an exciting spectacle for the main street. Often he had beheld from a distance the picturesqueness of the lofty old mill, and here was an opportunity to visit the same. Though the steep road degenerated into a very bumpy path, and the perambulator every moment waxed in weight and unwieldiness, these troubles were compensated by an instant sense of relief.

The mill formed the apex of a huge mound, fenced in from surrounding lands. He had to open a gate, prop it open, force the perambulator across ruts, and shut the gate. At length, hot, he arrived at the bare-armed mill itself. A noble piece of industrial architecture, set high in a marvellous rolling landscape of hill and dale. The views were grandiose, the colours gorgeous. The sun suddenly shone out amid shifting continents of cloud. Frederick felt his soul uplifted and wanted to be a painter.

Withal, the wind was more obstreperous, uproarious, and imperious than ever. Frederick sought shelter (p. 121) from it in the lee of the mill. But, curiously, there was no lee. The wind ran round and round the mill. He could trace the swift-running footsteps of the wind in the short grass: innumerable waves that encircled the mill in a magic ring. The wind exasperated him intensely. Then he guided the perambulator through an aperture where once had been a door into the interior of the mill. Immediate and perfect calm, ease, alleviation, comfort! He sighed, as at a deliverance. The huge dimensions of the mill could only be estimated properly from the inside. What height! What gloom! What tremendous masses of oak and of rusty iron! What English solidity! All abandoned now, and destined to destruction! He was impressed, and wanted to be a poet. The baby, safe under the hood of the perambulator, had fallen asleep.

Frederick noticed, to his left, between various interstices of shaking tree-clumps, distant white figures which indicated that cricket was in progress. At one period he had played a lot of cricket; he was interested in cricket; he had got himself made a member of the town cricket-club. As something of an expert he wondered what sort of cricket was possible in that high wind. Only a couple of hundred yards of cross-country divided him from the scene of the game. He looked at his watch. One hour and thirty-three minutes still remained of the two hours vigil allotted to him by his estranged wife. He hesitated. He glanced at the babe. The babe, well protected, was certainly fast asleep. He hesitated. He recalled uneasily Edna's acid phrase: "You've no sense of responsibility." And the still more disturbing tag: "Everybody knows that." He denied the charge, but he could not deny, even to himself, that he had heard the charge at intervals for many years past. However, the charge was unjust, monstrous, and ridiculous. He hesitated. Then, yielding to the (p. 122) force of temptation, he hurried over two fields and a fence and a paling, and duly reached the cricket-ground; where he had evidence of the fact that cricket could be not unsatisfactorily played in three-quarters of a gale, in even a gale.

But two minutes later the sun vanished behind flying cloudy continents, a relative darkness descended on the summer afternoon, and rain too descended—descended in such soaking, overwhelming quantities that the cricket-ground was emptied in a moment, and the members' hut packed.

Nobody present, except a man from Java, had ever seen such rain. Water surged through the air almost horizontally, driven with extreme violence in front of the pursuing tempest. The curtain of liquid hid the green grass of the fields, and trees became mere blurs on a vast, grey, indistinguishable distance. Everyone said that rain could not possibly continue on this scale of downpour. A boy ran out of the hut, and in a few seconds, while he was yet in sight, his clothes were shining like silk and clinging to his body like tights. The rain did continue; it achieved the incredible and increased, as the wind increased. Men said: "Here's weather that will be in the papers to-morrow!" Frederick, knowing that the infant was well within the security of the mill, maintained by an effort his serenity. Nevertheless he had a very strong and virtuous desire to return to the sleeping Joe.


In the course of time Joe woke up, and rubbed her blue eyes with her podgy pink fists, and gradually became aware of the fact that something fundamental had gone wrong in her world. To her blue eyes the (p. 123) light was unfamiliar; to her lovely delicate ears the sounds they heard were alarmingly unfamiliar; indeed beyond the confines of that ark of comfort and reassurance, her perambulator, every phenomenon was; extremely disconcerting. She could find no clue to the solution of the new enigma of the universe. She waited a few moments to see an attentive known face bending over her, to hear the accents of a soothing, known voice. In vain.

Instantly she had the sense of martyrdom, of injustice. The situation must be remedied, and the first step towards a remedy was to cry. She cried. She wept; she sobbed; she shrieked; she kicked; she fought vacancy and silence with her angry fists. No result. No audience. Gifted with strong practical sense, she would never perform long without an audience, because she knew in her deep brain that to do so was a waste of effort. She therefore ceased to cry, and, her grievance all the while growing, reflected upon the next move in the difficult game of life.

She sat up. She had learnt a lot in eighteen months, and was an adept in the feat of sitting up. She had a feeling of unaccustomed freedom about the shoulders. The fact was, her father had forgotten to adjust and fasten the straps which were designed to prevent her from performing any dangerous acrobatic tricks in the perambulator. She turned over, got on to her hands and knees, and essayed the more complicated action of standing on her feet. She bumped the top of her head against the hood of the perambulator, and fell on her knees again. Fortunately her big head was well protected by the most wonderful growth of hair that any baby of a year and a half had ever achieved. Persevering, she tried again and succeeded.

She was now erect in the perambulator; insecure on the yielding bed, but erect. Mothers and nurses, could (p. 124) they have seen her, would have rushed to save her from certain disaster. But she was alone. She lurched against the side of the perambulator and then fell over the edge of a bottomless precipice: at which she was considerably surprised. But not hurt; for the reason that she had alighted on her back on a heap of sand.

She might have yelled: any ordinary baby would have yelled. But Joe was noted for displaying, on occasion, an admirable stoicism. Instead of yelling, she perceived the humorous quality of the affair, and laughed, and, laughing, rolled off the heap of sand and stood up once more. She wandered a little to and fro, perhaps clumsily, but still with marked success maintaining her balance on those two tiny supports, her feet. She came to the enormous towering mass of the perambulator, pushed against it playfully with her powerful hands, and was diverted to see it slip away, first slowly, then quickly, and vanish. Out of sight out of mind: she forgot the perambulator completely.

She walked towards the light, as any sagacious animal instinctively would, and some water plopped on her soft cheek, warningly. She accepted the warning with philosophy, and retreating, wandered for immense distances in a twilight among the exotic and puzzling matters which met her at each step. Finally, the strangeness of the new universe, and the general increase of noises quite fresh even to her lengthy experience of noises, vanquished her courage. She dropped to the ground, an excruciatingly pathetic little figure in the solitude, and wept seriously. Bangs occurred. She knew no more.


Frederick Lammond, pretending to himself to be in a state of perfect equanimity, was hurrying across the (p. 125) wet earth towards the old mill when he saw his own motor-car come glistening to a standstill at the gate which led to the mill enclosure. He ran forward. The rain had nearly ceased, but at that moment the tremendous downpour resumed and in a few seconds he was soaked and shiny from head to foot. By the time he reached the gate the rain had stopped again, though the wind still grew in violence. Edna's face showed at the window of the car.

"Where's baby?" cried Edna, ignoring his state of saturation.

"She's all right. What's happened?"

"But where is she?"

"I tell you she's all right." With one dripping arm he indicated the mill. "In there. What's the matter? What has happened to you? How did you know I was up here?"

"The whole place knew you came up this way," said Edna curtly—but not too curtly, because the chauffeur was an audience which must be respected.

Edna then explained that, eight miles on the road to Sevenoaks, she had re-examined the telegram and found that, differently from the envelope the form itself was addressed to someone of the name of Copestick. She had returned resentfully home and calling at the post-office, had discovered a confusion of telegrams. Whereas some other person's mother was seriously ill, her own telegram contained the piquant information that a new bathing-costume was en route to her from London.


"You're wet through," said Edna.

"Am I indeed!" Frederick retorted, ominously sardonic—forgetting the audience.

His mother-in-law was no longer in danger, and therefore he felt justified in proceeding hatefully with (p. 126) the terrible feud which existed between himself and his wife.

The wind assaulted the car with extravagant ferocity on every side.

"Why did you leave her in that mill?"

"Out of the rain."

"In her pram?"

"Naturally. She's asleep. What did you expect me to do? I took her out for a bit of a promenade, because I thought that was the best thing to do. Sorry if I was wrong."

He laughed lightly, remembering the audience.

In the same instant the figure of a middle-aged agricultural or gardening man, in a heavy macintosh, appeared behind the car.

"It's all right, sir," said this person, touching his cap, as it were reinforcing the assurance which Frederick had already given to Edna.

"What's all right?"

"The pram, sir."

"The pram?" Frederick had begun to feel chilly. He now suddenly felt warm.

"Yes, sir. I saw it from my door." He pointed to a cottage below. "Lying on its side just here by the gate. I supposed the wind had blown it over. So I came along and brought it into my shed." He pointed again.

Edna jumped from the car, and as she jumped, shrieked:

"But where's my baby?"

"I never saw the baby, ma'am. I thought the nurse was inside the mill, and the pram must have run down the hill of itself and she couldn't fetch it back because of the rain."

"But it was my husband brought baby here in the perambulator!"

The mystery was awful and complete. Abandoned (p. 127) perambulator! Total disappearance of a baby! Rapine! Brigandage! Ransom! Horror! Martyrdom! Death!

Overwhelmed, Frederick could open his mouth but could not speak. And Edna could open her mouth but could not speak. The chauffeur, knowing his duty, remained strictly a chauffeur.

"Must be somewhere, ma'am," said the man in the macintosh unanswerably. But he unwisely suggested: "In the mill."

"How could she be in the mill? She was left in her pram, fast asleep, and you found the pram here. She couldn't have got out of the pram by herself."

Without actually shedding tears, Edna blubbered and sobbed.


It was the chauffeur who first noticed the modification in the architecture of the old mill. He was so excited thereby that he instantly lost his sense of the proprieties and became human. The brick basement of the mill was unaltered, but its upper structure, of massive wood, began to show angles and curves where there had been only straight lines. This frightening phenomena was succeeded by the most loud and awe-some tearings, rippings, groanings and bangs. The incredible noises deafened every ear. Edna covered her ears with her hands, and shrank cringing before the might of the wind, which had now revealed the full horror of its intentions, all its previous exploits being reduced by comparison to airy trifling. The super-structure of the mill toppled over and crashed in complex ruin on the grass. And there was silence, save for the strong rustle of leaves of trees that were keeping themselves upright by dint of yielding. The gale was (p. 128) at its height. It was the same gale that uprooted John Wesley's celebrated oak in the churchyard.

Nobody moved or spoke. Nobody was capable of motion or speech. The wind, as if despising its own power, continued blindly to run round and round the mill, producing the tiny grass-waves which Frederick had noticed before he abandoned his babe and her perambulator.

Edna spoke first—only in a whisper—as she stared spellbound at the disastrous spectacle:

"If baby is inside...!"

Frederick wanted to reply: "She couldn't possibly be inside. How could she be inside? The perambulator was down here by the gate."

But he was still speechless,—struck dumb by the realization of fearful guilt. Often he had been unfairly accused of lack of the sense of responsibility. In the present case the elements of wind and water had combined to undo him. He tried to persuade himself that he had not really been irresponsible, that he had only been unlucky. He could not persuade himself; he bowed to the inevitable verdict of mankind.

Useless to argue that baby was not within the mill, she might have been; and anyhow—where was she?

Although obviously the baby could not be inside the mill, Edna got through the gate and ran up the crystal-beaded grass slope.

"Don't go near it! It's dangerous!" cried Frederick passionately, rushing after her.

But Edna was not to be stopped. As she approached the doorway the baby appeared therein, unsteadily toddling. She was crying, or had been crying. But when she recognized Edna, her soft, chubby, roseate face lightened. She smiled, and proudly uttered with brilliant clearness the very latest addition to her vocabulary:

(p. 129) "Hello!"

Then she stumbled over some unevenness of the threshold and fell down, and she seemed so tiny, so minute, so fragile, so miraculously whole and lovely, against the formidable background of the immense ruin, that Edna, as she picked the child up, burst into tears. And Frederick, though he wept not, nearly choked in the effort to remain a man. And Edna instinctively held the baby towards her father, who kissed Joe in the same moment as Edna kissed her. Grateful, ecstatic joy annihilated resentment. Edna forgave Frederick, without further inquiry. Frederick forgave Edna. Frederick also forgave himself. Both parents in fact were extraordinarily illogical.

And the wind, having accomplished its great task of teaching certain human beings what is really important in life and what is not, at once began to subside.

Spectators accumulated around the gate. The fantastic show of the ancient, toppled mill was already drawing all sorts of eager citizens away even from the equally fantastic show of John Wesley's deracinated tree in the churchyard.

(p. 131) HONOUR


The curtain fell on the first act of Liza in the Larder, a light comedy just like any other light comedy, in which impossible characters did impossible things, betraying in nearly every line they spoke the sentimentality of the author and his affected or real ignorance of what life actually is.

But this was a first night, and the author had previous successes to his credit; in the cast was a star whose known salary was £200 a week, and whose name burned in electricity on the façade of the theatre. The stalls were crowded with the frocks and the white waistcoats of those to whom it was more important to be seen at a first night than to save their souls; similarly with the other parts of the theatre. 'Fans' of the star were everywhere; also friends of all the players; so that every entrance of a player was celebrated with eager, amiable, silly applause which deceived nobody, and the applause on the curtain was loud, though the experienced knew that it came from comparatively few people.

The poor shabby band began to play, with pathetic sprightliness, and the bright hum of general small-talk among acquaintances arose in the auditorium. Many persons went out, to chatter and drink. Among those who remained, in the front row of the stalls, were a dark, tall, full-bodied man of thirty-seven or so, and (p. 132) a younger woman with large dark eyes, a striking nose, and Spanish hair. They were side by side.

The woman, smiling cautiously, said in a weak, meek voice to the man:

"Well, Mr. Cardy, you don't remember me."

The man turned to look at her, and answered in a quiet, low, strong voice, unperturbed and frank:

"I'm very sorry. There's a hole in my head. Everything slips out." No relaxing of his grave features; but a faint glint in his black eyes. Then some memory of the woman's face ascended into his brain from the deeps of the subconscious. "Yes, I do. I——" He hesitated, uncertain. "Help me, please."

"A party at Sybil Chatterton's, she introduced us. We sat on a ricketty sofa."

"Oh yes!" he said, rather blankly. "How long ago?"

"Years," said the woman shortly. "My name was Griffin then. It's Crote now."


"Marriage." Her voice might be weak and meek, but she had a certain originality of tone and some self-confidence.

Mr. Cardy leaned his bulk towards her and murmured:

"Then was that your husband who's just gone out?"

"Not in the least," she murmured in answer, with a little disdainful shaking of the thin, black-draped shoulders. And then, louder: "And what are you doing here? I thought you were a chartered accountant."

"So I am a chartered accountant. But can't chartered accountants go to the theatre?"

"Not on first nights," she said. "It's not done."

He felt flattered by her recollection of him, and her interest in him excited his interest in her. Moreover her way of talking, modest yet challenging, challenging (p. 133) and yet subtly admiring, was very attractive, even if her face was not. Stay! Her eyes were attractive.

"Well," said he. "I'll tell you. And mark how a plain tale shall put you down. I'm here professionally. I'm a bit keen on the theatre, as an institution. It needs ideas, and I think I have a few. Besides being a chartered accountant, I'm a dramatic critic,—New Weekly Review. The job was offered to me a couple of years ago. I took it on."

"And I ought to have known. I apologize. I'd no notion I was in the presence of the great."

"I thought you hadn't," he quizzed in return.

"Of course you are very great," she said. "But in a very small world."

"Pardon me," he corrected her. "A very big world. Thirty theatres in the West End alone. If there were thirty concerts every night in the West End, no hats ever made would be large enough for the heads of the musical critics."

"Yes," she retorted. "But I expect that not one theatregoer in a hundred has ever heard of you, or even of The New Weekly Review. Most people don't read theatrical criticisms, and if they do they don't care a pin who writes them. They hear someone say that a play's good and they just go and see it."

"May I inquire how you know all this?"

"I don't know. It's merely my estimation of the probabilities."

"Ah!" he laughed. And said to himself, about her: "You've got a nerve all the same, with your thin voice and your striking nose and your large eyes!"

Indeed he was a little piqued by her bluntness. And certainly he did not like her voice. But he had to respect her. She was somebody who stood up to him, and who must be stood up to. And there was much in what she said. He wondered curiously where she had (p. 134) found the common sense to think of it for herself. The woman had an unusual brain.

"I admit I'm very pert," she said, dropping her eyelids.

"You're very sound," he replied. "And now it's my turn. What are you doing here? A woman with a mind like yours has no right to be at a preposterous play like this."

Mrs. Crote said:

"Oh! I only came because of Janet Waxworks."

"Who's she?"

"You know. Lady Janet Wickworth. Daughter of an obscure earl. She's playing. She asked me to come."

Mr. Cardy glanced at his programme.

"I don't see her here, whoever she is."

"Oh! Not under her own name. They say it's very brave of her not to take advantage of her name. I forget what she calls herself. She's the parlourmaid who had to drop the decanter at the end of the act. But surely you know her. She's everywhere."

"I believe I do," said Mr. Cardy vaguely. "Yes, I do. Is she stage-struck?"

"Not at all. But they're so poor, you see. She must do something to help. So she is taking to the stage."

"Of course I know her," said he. "I thought somehow I recognized the face. I remember now."

"Of course. Well, if you want to do a kind thing, you'll go round and see her in her dressing-room at the end. She'd be frightfully flattered."

"Are you going?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I must."

"Then I will. But it'll be the first time I've ever been 'behind'." He leaned towards her again. "That ricketty sofa, I remember that too, now. A blue sofa, wasn't it?"

(p. 135) "It was. But what was I wearing,—that stumps you."

"Yes, it does," he agreed. "But I can tell you one or two things you said."

"And I can tell you everything that you said."

Their talk grew more eager and confidential.

"What a nuisance!" exclaimed Mr. Cardy when the curtain rose and abruptly put a stop to their conversation.


At the end of the performance and at the end of the applause, the enthusiasm, the catcalls, the appearance of the author and the speech of humble and grateful thanks to a favour-conferring audience for an enthusiastic reception which it had not given, Mr. Cardy followed Mrs. Crote through an iron door at the side of the proscenium and found himself in a narrow world of electric switches, shabby scene-shifters, grey, numbered canvasses on wooden frames, dirt, litter, and flexes, and large printed injunctions to "Silence." The back wall of a luxurious drawing-room was ascending slowly to heaven, whence came hoarse calls of unseen men. Presently, after another iron door, and still in the wake of Mrs. Crote, and with other persons fore and aft of him, he was climbing mean, stone stairs which continuously turned double corners, and at every double corner were two or more doors, and from every half-open, labelled door came the sound of gay and excited chatter, with glimpses of frocks and tail-coats. At last, and at a great height, they arrived at a door labelled "Lady Janet Wickworth." (The distinguished identity, then, was concealed on the programme only.) A small, poor, distempered room crowded with women in rich raiment and jewels, and correct men, and animated with conversation in loud, smart accents. (p. 136) The aristocratic parlourmaid was in the midst, talking like anything.

"Well, Janet."

"My dear Emilia! No, don't kiss me. My make-up."

"I've brought Mr. Cardy."

"Oh! Mr. Cardy. This is good of you! I do hope you liked the show," said Lady Janet, taking Mr. Cardy's loose hand.

"Of course," said Mr. Cardy. "Who wouldn't?"

She gazed at him appealingly, touchingly, her benevolent mouth working.

"And me?"

"Most decidedly."

"Oh! Thank you! If you like me," said she, "I'm satisfied. I know I'm only a beginner."

She had a most amiable face. Mr. Cardy decided that he must say something agreeable about her and her tiny part in his notice.

"What cheer, old Jan?" cried a voice at the door.

"Jack!" cried Lady Janet ecstatically, breaking away.

Jack, a very young and urgent man, threw his arms round her and kissed her on her make-up.

"You are a dear!" she murmured. And to the others: "This is my cousin, Lord Purfitt."

Then Mr. Cardy seemed to be forgotten, and he felt rather foolish as he gazed self-consciously round the room. There were flowers everywhere, mounds and masses of them. And on the neglected walls hung strings of telegrams, pinned one to another, some scores of them, and Mr. Cardy deciphered in them such phrases as "Fondest good wishes for big success." An electric radiator glowed in a corner. A dressing-table covered with a confusion of bottles and contrivances was at the back of the room. Six naked (p. 137) electric lights filled the place with a dazzling crude glare. People kept coming in and going out, crushing and pushing past one another.

"You were splendid, dearest."

"Not really!"

"My dear Lady Janet. If you can play a parlourmaid you could play simply anything. How did you do it? I loved it all."

"Very courageous of her. But she always had pluck."

"Very tiring the stairs, aren't they? I'm so sorry. They offered me a room on the first floor, Number two, but I wouldn't have it. I told them I had the smallest part, and I must have the least convenient dressing-room. I offered to share it with anyone, but they wouldn't hear of that. Everybody's been most frightfully kind."

"You deserved it all, my dear. I'm sure you've got a great success."

"Do you think so? The author says it won't run a month."

"Oh! The author! They always talk like that, authors do. To save their faces—if there is a failure. But I go to every first night, and you can believe me."

"I can't offer you anything to drink. I forgot it. Just like me."

New, different voices all the time: and the parlourmaid inexhaustibly vivacious, appealing and pleasant.

Mr. Cardy could hear lively voices outside on the stairs: they approached, they receded. Now and then rushing footsteps on the stairs. The little room was excessively hot and close, but none except Mr. Cardy appeared to notice it. He thought of all the other dressing-rooms, all excessively hot, all breathing fictitious enthusiasm and laudation. And he thought of them quiet and desolate during the run, and the (p. 138) tittle-tattle running from one to another, and the same goings and comings at the same moments every night, and the entire, withdrawn, self-centred, aspiring, infinitely tedious, self-deceiving world of the theatre. He felt sorry for Lady Janet; he had compassion for her. She was a nice young woman, a decent woman—probably rather stupid, certainly without real talent for the stage, but unselfish, yearning for righteousness, kind in heart and marked by a natural personal distinction in every tone and gesture. He had always been conscious of sympathy for her. Her simple, confiding eyes aroused in him feelings that were protective. Yes, he would be nice to her in his notice. What could it matter, a touch of insincerity?

The population of the room was diminishing. Mr. Cardy, awakening from a meditation, looked around. No Mrs. Crote! He examined the corners, the threshold. Mrs. Crote had gone. She had vanished without a word, as visitors do in a crowd. Mr. Cardy had a sense of loss, of apprehension, of impending trouble. Mrs. Crote had made an impression on him: but evidently he had made none on her. He wanted to see her again, to see more of her. Lady Janet was negligible, poor lady. Mrs. Crote, however, had a mind. Emilia! That was her name. Throughout the second and third acts of the play he had searched his brain for the name and found it not. Emilia! It denoted perhaps a certain affectation in her parents, but it was a beautiful name. And she at any rate was not affected. Would he ever meet her again? Was she, or Mr. Crote, in that book of short stories, the Telephone Directory? Many people took care to keep out of the Telephone Directory. And her husband? She had a husband.

"You aren't going, Mr. Cardy?"

He was at the door, and Lady Janet had caught him (p. 139) in the act of slipping away. She moved towards him and took his hand earnestly.

"Thank you so much for looking in. I know you wouldn't have come to see me if you hadn't liked my little performance. And I'd sooner have your praise than anybody's. Yes, really. It's the greatest compliment I could ever receive. I mean it. I always read your articles."

She gazed at him, and her soft eyes showed that she did mean it. Strange! Her performance was naught, and he had said scarcely anything in the way of praise. And yet she was almost emotional with naïve gratitude! How disfiguring, on a close view, was her make-up! Dreadful!

"I'm at home on Sunday night, in my small flat. Do come," she pleaded.

He said he would. Perhaps Emilia would be there also. He had an impulse to ask if Mrs. Crote would be there, but somehow he could not act on it. He had another impulse to ask her, Lady Janet, for Mrs. Crote's address, but he was foolishly too proud, or too self-conscious, to do so.

He walked slowly down the stairs, lost his way, and the next moment he was at the stage-entrance, at the side of the theatre, in the alley where he had parked his run-about. It was raining. The night-man of the theatre, in uniform, was waiting respectfully about, ready to do anything for a trifling tip. The night-man touched his cap.

"Wet night, sir. Both commissionaires are gone for taxis, sir. One of 'em 'll be back in a minute, sure."

"It's all right, thanks," said Mr. Cardy, crossing the alley to his car.

A woman was standing at the corner, just under the edge of the glass awning which stretched along the front of the theatre.

(p. 140) "Mrs. Crote." He walked to her as he spoke.

"I'm waiting for a taxi. And I'm waiting. And I shall wait and keep on waiting till one comes. Did you ever see such an empty, damp square?" A weak voice, but a sturdy and humorous demeanour.

"Let me drive you home. My car isn't as gorgeous as any of these"—he pointed to several big cars that were dozing patiently in attendance—"but I'll undertake to get you home—wherever it is."

The façade of the theatre was already dark.

"You're awfully kind. Are you sure I shan't be——"

He tucked her into his car, which would hold two at the most. He had an extraordinary sensation of sudden romance, of having escaped from a great danger. He had a feeling which he had not experienced for many years. He was not near forty, except by the almanac—he was young; he was uplifted; he was happy. Of course he had his reserves about Emilia. Did not like her voice. Perhaps scarcely liked her somewhat masculine frankness. She did not a bit coincide with his ideal of a woman. Still, romance!


Mrs. Crete's one maid said to Mr. Cardy when she opened the door of her mistress's service-flat:

"Madam will not keep you waiting long, sir. She asked me to tell you that she has been washing her hair."

"A nice greeting for a man!" thought Mr. Cardy as he sat alone in the small and very feminine drawing-room perched high up in a huge piled block of homes in central London. Women of course, like men, must wash their hair—or have it washed. But why instruct servants to talk about the fact? If Emilia had paid him (p. 141) a call and his servant had said to her: "Mr. Cardy will not keep you waiting long. He has just been washing his hair,"—what would she have thought of such a reception? It was not as if Emilia did not know that he was coming. She did know; he had warned her. But women permitted themselves all sorts of careless freedoms which they would resent in men who practised them.

He heard a piano overhead. How could people live in these immense warrens, where such poor privacy as there might be was so factitious? Moreover the room did not satisfy him. It was a mixture. Bits of it showed taste, other bits showed a lack of taste. As for comfort, no doubt it was comfortable enough for a woman, but for a man cushions spoilt the ease of every chair. And what cushions! And what bows and what ribbons on the cushions! He compared that interior with the interiors of his own dignified bachelor house, where order and punctuality reigned and servants had been trained to a soothing formality.

He went to the window and looked out and down at the street populous with dolls and toy automobiles. He mused, impatient. Four months since he had first entered her flat, on the afternoon following the first night of the play. It seemed like yesterday; but also it seemed like ten years ago. Time had flown; but time had lagged. She had told him, frank and straight, that she was not 'with' her husband—a Scotchman and a yachtsman, a man who lived on and for the sea, evidently a strange fellow. Yes, strange—yet why were they not together? Emilia had never explained. His common sense, his knowledge of the world, told him that the cause of these mysterious separations was, and could be, never entirely one-sided. Had existence with Emilia been too great a strain on her husband's nerves?

(p. 142) Friends and acquaintances said of them casually, according to the modern custom: "Oh! They couldn't agree, so they agreed to disagree. No reason why they should continue to jar on one another. They have money."

Nobody had even hinted at another woman, in his case, or at another man in hers. Scandal was silent. Only they were definitely apart who had once been amorous enough to marry. Why? Had the husband been driven to sea, as to a refuge? Life was very difficult, very full of dangers. For many years Mr. Cardy had lived in peace—frequently bored perhaps, but in peace. And now—was he not inviting conflict? He felt nervous, hesitant, cornered, at bay. As though in a quandary from which he could only escape by taking a certain course! As though he were compelled to take just that course! It was not Emilia who was compelling him, by the power of her attractiveness. Not at all. He had (he considered) the completest realization of her shortcomings. It was something within himself that was exercising the compulsion.

Emilia came into the room:

"It's not quite dry. But here I am, Phil."

Her weak voice; her formidable nose; her sturdy, challenging demeanour!

Had he not been informed of the fact, he would never have guessed that she had been washing her hair. Then why have referred to it? He was extremely excited, all of a sudden. Why should she have this influence over him? He was not in love with her. At least, his sensations did not accord with any previous conception of what love was. He forgot her defects; and, equally, he forgot her qualities. He could not understand her, and still less could he understand himself.

There she stood, smiling, she, and produced in him a terrible turmoil and a great fear. Not a happy turmoil. (p. 143) No happiness in him at all; seldom even an hour's tranquillity. He was unhappy away from her, and, save in rare moods of expansion, unhappy with her. His business was going well; he had no material cares; but he was unhappy. She liked, admired, respected him; but he was unhappy. She was obviously flattered by the homage of his attentions; but he was unhappy. Yet in the depth of his mind lay unexamined an old-established conviction that love meant happiness. Hence he could not be in love. Nevertheless he knew that any such argument was absurd, and that he was in love and gravely in love.

On this present occasion Emilia was self-conscious, not at ease. Something, doubtless, in his own demeanour that made her so. (Women were disturbingly psychic.) She said little.

Tea was served.

He thought:

"I must speak. At once. No! I will have some tea first. Then I will speak."

He drank a cup of tea.

As soon as he had drunk the tea, a new and charming and reassuring idea came to him:

"It makes it much more intimate, this hair washing and drying. Quite probably she arranged it on purpose to bring us closer together. They're very subtle."

He braced himself, as for a feat dangerous to life.

"Well now, Emilia!"

"Well now, Phil!" She smiled encouragingly, but with reserve.

"I've got something to tell you, and I'm not going to be good at it. And the worst of it is somehow I can't be natural. I'm in love with you. I... want you. Perhaps you guessed."

"Perhaps I did." No smile. "Have some more tea?"


(p. 144) He continued, not displeased with his exordium:

"What about it all?"

"You want me?" Feebly and uncertainly.

"I positively do." He spoke with a masterfulness more assumed than real.

The worst was over. He had plunged, had risen to the surface again, was afloat, if a little out of breath.

"But I am married," she said.

"But your husband will surely set you free."

"He will not."

"How do you know that?"

"I've asked him. And he's refused. His refusal is definite. I know him."

He was amazed, thrilled, and delighted by this extraordinary revelation: which showed what her feelings were. At the same time he had qualms, caused by the disclosure of something queer and not quite nice in her character. She had been beforehand with him! She had taken him for granted! But the qualms were naught. On balance he was immensely relieved.

"I asked him in a general way. You see I had to know where I stood—in life; you know what I mean, Phil."

"Yes. But perhaps if you asked him in a particular way—"

She shook her head.

"No. He wouldn't—ever."

"But why?"

"He's like that, Willie is."

(Willie! First time he had ever heard the fellow's Christian name! What an unsuitable name for such a type of man!)

"But there's no publicity in these days."

"Makes no difference. I've mentioned all that to him."

(p. 145) Mr. Cardy believed implicitly what she said. Waste of time to probe the wife's mind for the husband's reasons. He was forced to accept the situation.

"I say I love you. Do you love me?" He moved his chair closer to hers. Tremendous moments.

She nodded, troubled, serious. The steady gaze of her eyes was magnificent, her bearing perfect. What a woman! She had no faults. She was heroic, and simple and candid as a man. He had made no mistake in her. Imagine the deep satisfaction of living with such a wondrous girl.

"Well then?" he said, speaking with authority—the authority of his passion, of his age, of his experience, of his worldly success. "There is only one thing for us to do."

His tone was very assured; it overstated the confidence of his heart, which mysteriously trembled at the core. He drew still nearer to her. He took her unresisting hand; it was cold to his hot touch. His face approached hers; their bodies were close; she did not retreat. He could see every liquid detail of her eyes. His mouth hovered above hers. His spirit and hers seemed almost to coalesce into one being. Extremes! fulness of life!

"May I?" he murmured.

She shook her head, and murmured solemnly:

"What is the one thing for us to do?"

"Ignore your husband. Act as though he did not exist." His voice was thick.

She shook her head again.

"I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because—I couldn't."


He thought of all the arguments in favour of his (p. 146) proposal. He and she had the rights of sincere lovers. The attitude of society was changed. All their friends would understand and tolerate. Many would even applaud. Was their love to be frustrated, and were both their lives to be rendered disastrous, because of the accursed selfish obstinacy of one man who could gain nothing by the tragedy? Endless arguments. No counter-arguments. Not one. But speak he could not.

"Never!" said she. "It wouldn't be right. I married him. I took the risks."

She softly withdrew her hand from his, and he moved from her. The moment withered which had so miraculously blossomed; it became dust.

"I'm sorry," she said strongly in her thin accents.

Her eyes fell on him for a while. They were wet, but intrepid. They were firm, but compassionate. They withstood him, but they begged his forgiveness. She lowered them, and she smoothed her hair.

He thought, raised above his ordinary self by frightful calamity:

"She is finer, far finer, even than I had guessed, and she will never be mine."


The telephone at 11 p.m.

"Is that Mr. Cardy?"

"Speaking. Who is it?"

"Janet. Can I come and see you to-morrow?"

"No, you can't, my dear. I'm going to Leeds to-morrow to see a play. What's the matter?"

"Something's happened. I can't tell you on the 'phone."

"Well, come along here at once then. My house."

"Sure it won't be a bore?"

(p. 147) "Don't be absurd."

"Thanks frightfully. I'll come. I've only got to take my paint off."

Lady Janet arrived at 11.30. In his most orderly drawing-room Mr. Cardy had some food ready for her after her night's work. He had been seeing her quite a lot. He liked her, not because she was clever or capable, but because she was soothing, took pains to be agreeable, had a strong social sense, admired him, looked up to him. And he liked her also because he had been kind to her.

Six months had elapsed. Many events had occurred. A new European war had threatened, and the menace had passed. Piccadilly had been closed, re-laid, and re-opened. Mrs. Crote had left London; he knew not where she was; he had not seen her since their crucial interview, and he felt it was best that he should not see her. But the play was still running, and there was no prospect of it ceasing to run. Lady Janet sat at the small folding-table in his drawing-room, eating away at cold ham and salad and drinking lager. In the absurd and mediocre play she had nightly dropped the decanter two hundred times at the same moment, and spoken her few lines two hundred times with precisely the same intonations and gestures, and chatted with the same colleagues, and earned about £150, and advanced not one inch in her profession, and had undiminished fond hopes of advancing. She was unchanged,—as wistful, pathetic, bright and appealing as ever.

"Now then, my dear. You've eaten. Tell me."

He offered her a cigarette.

She said:

"I was late on my entrance again to-night in the first act, and I muddled my lines and had to fluff. And the manager was in front, and he was really angry this time."

(p. 148) "But why were you late?"

"Oh! I suppose my watch was wrong: and the dresser couldn't find my apron."

"No, margin for accidents, eh, my dear?"

"I know. I admit it. I know I've no excuse. I wasn't going to blame the dresser. Besides, it wouldn't have been any use."

Feckless thing! Happy-go-lucky! Mrs. Crote would never have been late. And this was not the first time Janet had missed her entrance. Only a week ago she had missed it, and held up the play. Terrible moments! Then, he had helped her the next day by composing a letter for her to the manager. But apparently she was incapable of learning. Yes, feckless! Nevertheless, he liked her very much, with her charming, kind face, her beautiful figure, her lovely voice, her admiration of him, her trust in him, her watchful social ease, her style, her remarkable natural distinction. At any rate it stood to her credit that she had made a serious, brave effort to keep herself,—and she was sticking to it. The obscure earl her father had lost everything in some foolishness in the City; his mortgaged estate was worth less than nothing, and, all unequipped, Janet had gone forth into the world to fight the world. Mrs. Crote had never attempted to justify her existence by work; Mrs. Crote had been content to remain an idle parasite. In this matter, as in natural distinction, Janet showed to advantage over Emilia.

For six months and more his house had struck him as desolate in its masculinity. Likewise his days. Janet's hat lay on a chair. It seemed somehow to furnish the room. Her presence transformed the room. Bachelors were free, but they had to endure hours of tedium. Clubs were devastating institutions. And he had befriended her. He had given her the powerful moral support of his wisdom, his experience, his self-confidence. (p. 149) She counted on him. She ingenuously worshipped him. Probably not much of a housekeeper! But what a mistress of a house! And think of her enormous circle of acquaintances!

"Why have you no flowers here?" she asked.

"You're off the point," he said. (She never could keep to the point.) "The point is, your career." (Her career—comic, touching!) "Will they sack you?"

"I'm afraid they will. My contract's a fortnight's notice." Tears in her soft eyes.

"Well, if they do," he said with inspiring assurance. "You'll get another job. I shall help you. Don't worry any more to-night. I'll think it over."

"You're a dear!" she breathed.

But he thought:

"I can't invent a job for her. As if any manager would listen to me! I don't know any managers. Moreover, it's ridiculous her trying to make a living. She simply can't do it, and never will do it. Making a living isn't her line. What she needs is protection, petting, and all that. She needs to be taken in hand. I'm a fool. But something is driving me on. I wonder what it is."

"I'm not in the least a dear," he contradicted her, after the pause. "But I'll see you through."

The atmosphere of the room was quickly changing.

He thought:

"I'm going to marry this girl. 'Lady Janet Cardy.' All right. 'Mr. Cardy and Lady Janet Cardy.' Decidedly all right! I shall protect her. Spoil her. And she'll adore me and do everything I tell her. No arguments. No standing up to me. Ideal existence!"

He said:

"I've never told you, my dear, but you're fine ... and I'm coarse."

"Coarse is the very last thing you are!" said Janet.

(p. 150) He imagined he was in love with her; but he was only in love with love.

Ting! The clock had most startlingly struck one. Middle of the night! And they were alone together! Forgotten were Janet's troubles, her inefficiencies, the imperilling of her important career. She was in bliss. His altered voice was like a caress. His tone made love to her, if not the words he uttered. She was not surprised, and yet his mood seemed almost too good to be true. She saw a glorious end to struggle and misfortune. She perceived the absurdity of the stage as a vocation for Janet Wickworth. As for him, he had intoxicated himself with the fancied vision of her wonderful self in action as the adoring goddess of Philip Cardy and his home. A single sentence spoken, and the vision would be realized! He rose, walked nervously to and fro; then sat down again, nearer to her, very near to her.

"Janet——" he hesitated. He could see acquiescence in her gaze. "Have another cigarette."

He searched around for the matches.

More nervous even than her wooer, Janet had to alleviate the unbearable suspense by a banality.

"You've seen that in the papers to-night about Mr. Crote," she remarked.


"Yes, Em's husband. Emilia. You know."

"I haven't. What about him?"

"Killed on his yacht. Not drowning. A boom or whatever they call it broke and one part of it hit him on the head, and killed him instantly, so it says."

Philip's back was turned to her, though he had found the matches.

"Oh! And where's she?"

He articulated with preciseness, carefully controlling his throat.

(p. 151) "She's gone on one of those Mediterranean cruises."


And now the vision of Emilia formed before him, and he knew where lay his felicity and the treasure of his heart. Just in time! A minute later! The revelation would have been too late.

He was bound to face Janet and strike a match and hold it for her, close to her lips. He turned. Their eyes met....

It was already too late. He could not withdraw. Honour! How could he disappoint her expectancy? Inconceivable that he should do so. She was waiting for his declaration like an exquisite living vase for the inpouring of some potion divine. He put away a possibility that thrilled him, dismissed it utterly, shattered it.

He would not love, but he would be loved. He could be no more than a kindly deliverer, but he would be adored as an idol. He would bestow bliss and receive only the counterfeit of bliss. His soul would always be false to the worshipping flushed girl. But she would not know. No one had ever guessed the episode between himself and Emilia. His future would be the continual expending of an affectionate benevolence upon Janet. And she could be the happier of the two; for it was better to love than be loved.

"My dear creature," he said steadily. "You're off the point again with your Mr. Crote. The point is that I want you to marry me."

At two-fifteen she went with him to the garage, clinging, and he drove her home in the intimacy of the small car.



The climax came when Mr. Brane, the producer of the play, stamped his foot rather viciously, and called out to the male star:

"Really, Brighthelm!"

There were five chief people in the theatre on that cold morning. On the stage, Alec Brighthelm (the male star), Miss Carstone (the female star), and Jack Duke (a secondary performer in the play but the principal man in the episode now to be recounted). In the front row of the stalls, Mr. Brane—the producer, and Arthur Tiverton, the author of the play, a personage of quite minor importance. They all wore furs or overcoats or both.

Besides the five there were, invisible but not inaudible, several charwomen in the duskier parts of the auditorium, and several players and stage-hands in the wings.

"And what now?" said Brighthelm, coming menacingly down stage to the place where footlights used to be but often are no longer.

Mr. Brane answered very firmly, indeed with challenge, in his irritated voice:

"You will get up stage. If you're doing that now, a week before production, I wonder what you'll be like on the first night and afterwards. It isn't as if I hadn't told you."

(p. 154) The public in its innocence is apt to assume that the star-performer likes to edge himself down stage so as to be as near to the audience as possible. A delusion! The star-performer likes to be up stage, so as to face the audience while speaking to the other players, who are thus compelled, in order to address him, to turn their faces away from the audience. Half the vendettas of the theatre are caused by the universal tendency of actors and actresses illegitimately to seize every chance of getting further up stage than anybody else.

"I think I shouldn't mind being relieved of this part," said Brighthelm, articulating every syllable carefully in his beautiful voice.

An ultimatum, and delivered as such!

The star stood there importantly in handsome insolence. He was fifty, would pass for forty in daylight and for thirty when made up as he knew how to make up for a youthful hero. Though a star, he was not among the first three male stars of the West End. But he was in the first six, and got over £100 a week, and rarely found himself lacking either a job or letters of earnest admiration in feminine calligraphy. He waited, confident; careless of the celebrated producer's renown as a disciplinarian.

The producer and the author murmured to one another. The author gave a short laugh; the producer sniggered.

"Very well, Mr. Brighthelm," said the producer at length, turning to the star and glancing at him through his glinting eye-glasses. "If that's it, we'll tear up the contract. Thank you. Good morning."

"Thank you. Good morning. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen." Mr. Brighthelm bowed, buttoned his fur-overcoat, pulled out of a pocket his yellow gloves, and strode gloriously away and was gone.

(p. 155) "He'll come back to-morrow smiling as if nothing had happened," said the author.

"He won't come back to this stage," said the producer.

The theatre was thrilled. Even the charwomen ceased for a moment to manipulate brushes and cloths. It was indeed a first-rate climax.

"Jack!" called the producer.

"Yes?" said Jack Duke nervously.

"Come here a minute."

Jack Duke jumped down from the stage into the auditorium, and followed the producer and the author, who had retired like conspirators along the centre aisle into the gloom.

"See here, my lad," said the producer, putting his hand on Jack's shoulder. "You're going to take Brighthelm's part."

"Can I do it?" Jack questioned weakly.

"Of course you can. Mr. Tiverton is quite willing. It's the chance of your life."

And it was the chance of Jack's life. He was very good-looking, aged thirty, really thirty, and had adorned the stage only two years, having been tempted from an Insurance post in the City by the irresistible fascination of the theatre. During those two years he had some mild successes, but also had endured hardships which were the reverse of mild. His dream had of course been to play lead in a big West End production. An impossible dream, now suddenly come true! He had been engaged for a smallish part and as understudy to the star. And now, in a hundred seconds, he was transformed into the star! Miraculous! He ought to have been wildly uplifted and happy. But somehow a fearful apprehension filled his heart.

"Let's get on," said the producer loudly, with a certain fictitious cheerfulness. "Miss Carstone, Mr. (p. 156) Duke will replace Mr. Brighthelm. Jack, give your old part to Mr. Tiverton. Tiverton, you'll read Jack's old part this morning, won't you? Jump up there—if you, can, Jack, dear fellow. The rehearsal will proceed."

"There's ten days," said Jack, hesitant.

"Well, do you want ten years?" said the producer gaily. "Naturally," he added, "you'll have to work. You've got to carry the weight of the play, and don't you forget it."

The producer's methods were always drastic. The rehearsal did proceed, from the beginning of the act: but it did not proceed very satisfactorily, because everybody, including the producer himself, had been perturbed by the affair, and everybody, too, was simply dying to get out to lunch and talk about it at great length....


One o'clock in the morning, nine days later.

The curtain had fallen on the dress-rehearsal. Some discreet applause—not much. The house was in darkness.

"House-lights! House-lights!" called a loud, peremptory voice.

And there was light in the auditorium, revealing a few friends of the company and of the management, dotted up and down the stalls and the dress-circle. Mr. Tiverton, the author, was walking solitary to and fro at the back of the pit. Mr. Brane, the autocratic producer, had been seen to run 'behind,' with his pugnacious shoulders raised and his eye-glasses glinting criticism.

A murmur of conversation from the rising sparse audience.

(p. 157) "I think it's heavenly."

"Of course you never know with a play, but really I don't see how it can fail. No, I don't. Really!"

"Mr. Duke is so handsome. He's done wonders."

"Everything went so beautifully smoothly."

All looking on the bright side as usual. Determined to be pleased and to be optimistic.

And then a voice:

"They always say a bad dress-rehearsal means a good first-night."

Which disturbing remark from a realist seemed to show that in the opinion of the speaker, an old actress, there was another and quite different bright side. The stalls emptied.

At the back of the dress-circle stood an extremely fat woman in black, with a red imitation leather strap round her infinite waist, a white cap on her grey hair and a trifling white apron in front. This immense mass, as if awaking from a trance, suddenly projected itself at surprising speed out of the door, down the stairs into the stalls, through the iron door into the wings, up more stairs, and more stairs, and into a dressing-room marked 'Miss Carstone,' where she unscrewed the stopper of a thermos flask and poured forth a steaming liquid into a glass.

The next moment Miss Carstone came into the room.

"Here's your Horlick, Miss," said the fat woman, in the soothing accents of a child's nurse. "Lovely and hot. What I say is, get it down as hot as you can."

"How thoughtful of you—what's your name?"

"Addie, Miss."

"Oh, of course!"

Dressers go with theatres. Players appear and disappear. Dressers stay. Till that night, Miss Carstone had never seen the dresser allotted to her by the management.

(p. 158) "Rest yourself on the sofa, Miss. There's another photograph-call, isn't there, Miss?"

"Yes. But I asked him to do me last. I thought I looked too tired and this stuff would pull me together. He'll send for me."

"Yes, Miss. And very wise you were, I'm sure. Not that you do look tired. No. But a minute's rest is worth half an hour of waiting about. That's what I say."

Fat Addie knelt down, lifted Miss Carstone's feet on to the sofa, covered them, and then fondled Miss Carstone's dress with admiring affection.

"It's the most beautiful frock I've put on any of my ladies for months and months, Miss, and if you'll excuse me you do know how to wear a frock. There's only this buckle wants moving. Half an inch or hardly. I'll speak to the wardrobe mistress. Or I can do it myself to-morrow."

Miss Carstone sipped and sipped, one arm hanging limp.

"Have you seen any of the show?" asked Miss Carstone, handing the empty glass to the attendant Addie. She was a very capable actress of experience and many disappointments and a few triumphs, still slim, still capable of looking a sprightly twenty-six on the stage: and she spoke with the unenthusiastic voice of one accustomed to disillusion.

"Only a tiny bit, Miss. I just slipped into the circle after I'd put those lovely flowers in water—I couldn't bear to see them pining any longer."

"How did it strike you?"

Addie hesitated, with a benevolent smile, eager and yet cautious, on her round old face. That hesitation brought to the surface in the dressing-room all the uncertainties, the doubts, the qualms, the fears which had lain hidden beneath the professional optimism of (p. 159) the stalls at the end of the rehearsal. Sinister visions of players out of work, and dressers out of work, of blank blue paper pasted over the poster-boards, formed themselves vaguely in the little interior.

"I thought you were lovely, Miss. I've never seen you before on the stage. We don't get much chance—dressers don't, I mean. And that frock!" She caressed the frock again.

"But the play?" Miss Carstone was in a state of anxiety which forced her almost morbidly to seek the views of even a dresser.

"Well, Miss, it isn't for me to say. But what I saw—he didn't give you much."

"Who? The author?" Miss Carstone's tone sharpened.

"No, Miss. Mr. Duke, as he calls himself."

"Isn't that his name then?"

"No—I mean.... I only mean they don't always use their real names, do they, Miss?" A pause. "No, Miss. He didn't give you much. You know what I mean."

Miss Carstone did know. The fat woman must have some knowledge of the stage. It was true that Jack Duke thought solely of what he himself had to do, and never of helping his partner to do what she herself had to do. A common fault. Miss Carstone was well used to it.

"Oh, Addie! Don't you think he's very clever, then? I think he's full of talent."

"Yes, Miss. But he didn't give you much." Addie's features were suddenly enlivened with a sort of benevolent malice. "Yes, and I did think he's clever. But is he a plus or a minus, Miss? That's the question."

"What are you saying?"

"A plus or a minus, Miss. I mean for to-morrow night. If you're better than your best on a first night (p. 160) you're a plus, but if you aren't as good as your best you're a minus. And that's all there is to it. You'll excuse me, Miss. But I know what it is. You may have heard that in my time I was roller-skating champion of the world. Yes, Miss. Me. So I know what it is goes on between the public and the artiste. However, that's beside the point, me being once roller-skating champion—lady champion I should have said—of the world. All I say about this Mr. Duke is—"

The fat woman turned away, startlingly silent.

"How wonderful of you!" Miss Carstone murmured, with nearly a break in her voice. The fat Addie—but no more could she address her as 'Addie'!—had been a world-champion and was now a dresser. All news to Miss Carstone, though everybody on the staff of the theatre was thoroughly familiar with every detail of the exciting, incredible, pathetic story! And why had Addie stopped dead in the middle of a sentence?... 'A plus or a minus.' Something in that.

Someone knocked at the door.

"If you could come down now, Miss Carstone. The photographer's ready. Something's happened to Mr. Duke, so he couldn't be taken. They're 'phoning for a doctor."

The messenger was surely very laconic.


Jack Duke had had a violent week, marked by anxieties, acute strain, horrible nervousness, and insomnia. But of course he was the luckiest young actor in the world. And he was envied. Scarcely anybody, except Mr. Brane, the drill-sergeant-producer, believed that he could come through. The producer was simply (p. 161) willing him to come through. All the people connected with the production wanted the play to succeed. They all knew that the play could hardly succeed if Jack Duke did not succeed. And yet some of them somehow wanted him to fail. Illogical reasoning, naturally, but the human heart is rarely logical, and the owners of hearts seldom wish what is best for themselves. They are too apt to forget that you can't have everything.

As for Jack, he was fearful. In more than one Amateur Dramatic Society he had enjoyed tremendous triumphs. But the professional stage was different. On the professional stage the majority of his colleagues knew more than he did. The producer, especially, knew all about everything, and continually made this important fact quite clear. He still called Jack 'my lad,' and compelled Jack to feel his 'lad.' Jack accepted all his suggestions and commands with a pathetic eagerness. And at rehearsals Jack, aware that he was the cynosure of every critical eye, grew more and more self-conscious.

Withal, Jack was a star, or occupying the place of a star. And he began to feel like a star, despite his qualms. In a minor part he was accustomed to bow in silence before all injustices and difficulties. Now he would murmur (mildly) at every imagined or real hindrance to his 'effects.' He would even mention to both the author and the producer that a line here and there might be altered with advantage—or a line suppressed or a line added. He saw with saddening distinctness the defects of every member of the company, and wondered that actors and actresses could be so bad. He judged all of them in relation to himself—did they help him or did they hamper him? He dwelt every moment, privately, on his own needs, and never on the needs of anybody else. He assumed the (p. 162) privileges of a star—in particular the privilege of edging up stage, and keeping his handsome face in full view of the auditorium, no matter what might happen to his fellow-players. If he was not speaking his lines he reflected exclusively either on what he had just said, or on what he was going to say, or on the probable effect upon an audience of his poses and his 'business.' In short, he did everything that in his previous opinion a star ought not to do.

And he justified himself by the memory of the producer's words: "You've got to carry the weight of the play, and don't you forget it."

He didn't forget it.

And he savoured keenly the compensations which fate brought. The press-agent had arranged for him to be interviewed. His photographs had been distributed to the newspapers. Actors who had once been his equals stared at him with the respect due to a superior. His salary had been raised: not sufficiently, but it had been raised.

On one sublime occasion he was recognized, obviously, in the street, by two young women who were beyond question actresses, but with whom he was not personally acquainted. A unique thrill! These simple, aspiring creatures had beheld the man destined to greatness. From this point onwards, within the space of a few days, the illusion grew in him that London was somehow watching those rehearsals in which he was the chief figure, and speculating about the grand result thereof as it would be disclosed on the first night. He fancied thousands and thousands of persons eagerly opening their newspapers on the morning after the first night to find out what kind of a display Jack Duke, the incipient star, had given at that great solemnity.

He would have been happier, or less unhappy, (p. 163) could he have learnt what the rest of the company, and Mr. Brane, and Mr. Tiverton the harmless author, thought of his performance at rehearsals. But he could not get accurate information on the subject. The author said nothing. The producer was non-committal; the producer never went further than: "That's better." And Miss Carstone herself, Jack's opposite number, a sweet being, quite sympathetic and also admiring—Miss Carstone did not unpack her mind to him.

There were colleagues who indulged him with extravagant laudations, and one part of him loved the praise, swallowed it hungrily and thirstily. But another part of him rejected it (with reluctance) as insincere and not disinterested.

Taken in all, the week was the most harassing of his whole life. And the worst thing in it was the awful sense of responsibility.

And the dress-rehearsal furnished no relief. Both the author and the producer maintained their customary attitudes. Miss Carstone, sweet as ever, competent as ever, volunteered no remarks. The usual two-faced persons were prodigal of the usual unconvincing praise. At moments Jack decided that he was fine or very fine; at moments he decided that he was the worst and least effective actor on earth. When he thought of the next night, which was the first night, he was in a panic. He whispered to himself: "I'm in a panic. Yes. I'm in a panic, a panic, a panic."

Then, at the end of an extremely exhausting and nerve-racking night, came the photograph business. This particular photograph business was quite special, apart from, and in addition to, the ordinary photograph call. The photographer was American, and a friend and worshipper of Mr. Tiverton, the author. He was apparently impervious to cold, and walked around the (p. 164) icy stage in his shirt sleeves. He could wait pleasantly for hours, and for hours he had waited. He seemed to have no notion of the passage of time, and one o'clock in the morning was the same to him as three o'clock in the afternoon. The turn of Jack Duke solus arrived. Jack's profile was the subject of the photographer's enthusiasm.

The origin of the catastrophe which ensued was Mr. Tiverton, who had not gone home because the photographer was his friend and under his protective wing. Mr. Tiverton was not a facile talker, but he had his ideas, and he earned his living in main by his ability to put himself imaginatively in the place of others. He sat on the O.P. side of the stage watching Jack Duke. Jack was seated solitary in the full glare of two tremendous, blinding, white electric lights, and on his face was a strange pathetic air of utter, wistful defencelessness. Mr. Tiverton put himself in Jack's place, he understood all Jack's difficulties and trials; and he was very sorry for him indeed, acutely sorry. His eyes grew moist. Jack happened to catch sight of the author's sympathetic gaze. And he saw such a look of compassion, of pity, for a victim, a sufferer, and a creature destined to a terrible martyrdom, as he merely could not stand. The soft glance completely overcame him.

"Is my position so hopeless to them?" he thought, and slipped down off the chair.

"My God!" drawled the photographer. "The poor guy's fainted."

Agitation on the stage.


See the group on the stage, in the terrible glare of the photographer's twin lights. The American in his shirt-sleeves and a strong belt showing round his waist, (p. 165) bent helpless over the inanimate form of the star who in twenty hours ought to be carrying the weight of the play. The tyrannic Mr. Brane bent over the inanimate form, thinking that perhaps he had after all been somewhat too Prussian in his methods with the boy Jack. Mr. Arthur Tiverton, unaware that he was the origin of the disaster, bent over the inanimate form, thinking that Brane had been really an impossible task-master. A minor but resplendent actress tenderly bent over the inanimate form, not daring to kneel on the dusty boards because in the play she was an extremely wealthy society woman clad in a very fragile cream silk frock which had cost seventy-five guineas. Two minor actors bent over the inanimate form, thinking that if the first night had to be postponed for a week they would lose a week's salary and their children might be calling for bread. Several grimy stage-hands stared from a proper distance at the inanimate form.

"He'll be coming to in a moment," said Mr. Tiverton, who, though kindly, hated illness and was very fearful for his play.

"Of course he will," said Mr. Brane. "It's nothing. I bet you he hasn't been eating enough. They often don't. I've often known them not to be able to swallow. First-night nerves."

"Yes, that's it. Nerves," said one of the minor actors with deference.

"Guess we'd better loosen his collar," said the American, who wore no collar while at work and whose shirt was unbuttoned at the neck.

"Yes, I believe that is the correct thing to do," agreed Mr. Brane, with a hint of sardonic humour in his voice, and knelt in order to do the correct thing.

When the correct thing had been done Jack Duke, if still in the greater part of a magnificent evening-suit, (p. 166) had the air of a drunken man who had been knocked out in some fracas at a night-club.

At this point Miss Carstone arrived in a rush and swish of silk, and dropped to her knees by Jack's side without the slightest regard for the expensive property of the management. She spoke not: she only gazed at the young man whose role it was to help her carry the weight of the play.

And then Jack opened his eyes, and a stage-hand came along with a mug of water, a few drops of which Jack drank while many tablespoonfuls of it took the starch out of his steel-like shirt-front.

"I'm all right," Jack murmured. "I shall be all right in a minute."

"That's the stuff, my lad," said Mr. Brane, in a tone of breezy encouragement.

"Yep," said the American, who was supporting Jack's shoulders.

And all the group breathed relief, and decided that the play would be presented according to schedule after all. And yet none of them was entirely reassured in his heart.

And then fat Addie, enormous Addie, appeared, with dignified gait and perfectly possessed. She stopped a few feet away, as became a dresser who was no more the lady champion of the roller-skating universe but merely the social equal of stage-hands. She gazed firmly at Jack Duke, and Jack blinked queerly at her, and the next thing was that Jack fainted again, and everybody had renewed visions of a fatal postponement.

"Let him lie flat, you!" said Addie simply, to the American, who immediately lowered Jack's head and shoulders in obedience.

The stage-manager arrived with the news that he had rung up two doctors, of whom one was out at a maternity case, while as to the other the Exchange had (p. 167) informed him that he was never to be disturbed between midnight and nine in the morning. General exclamations upon the savage inhumanity of the medical profession. Fancy a man ruthlessly insisting on sleep while hard-worked persons toiling at 2 a.m. might be dying as a consequence of devotion to duty! All the eager generosity of the stage was aroused in hot resentment.

"A hospital, then. An ambulance!" said someone.

And off went the stage-manager again.

Miss Carstone was crying. And somehow or other—no one knew how—there were traces of her powder on the shoulder of Jack's swallow-tail.

"He'll come to," said Addie, with impressive tranquillity, watching the pale, inanimate form.

Even Mr. Brane looked at her as if daunted by her demeanour.

"How are you so sure?"

"How am I sure! Why! It's his heart. He's got a weak heart. I knew it—when I saw him on the stage to-night in the last scene. His lips and his eyes. I remember when I was skating at San Francisco in '90 something"—the American looked up—"there was a young woman there, silly thing she was, that fainted I don't know how many times in a waltzing competition—well, it wasn't in San Francisco, it was at Oaklands—same thing you might say. Just like this young man she was,—same look in her eyes. He'll come to. He doesn't want any doctor. He—" Jack Duke did come to. "There! No! You don't need to move him. Let him lie."

"If he really is all right, I think I shall go home," said Mr. Tiverton in an apologetic voice. And rather sheepishly departed. But he was not off the stage before Jack Duke fainted once again. However, Mr. Tiverton took care not to stop. Still, he felt extremely sympathetic.

(p. 168) Fat Addie spoke apart with Miss Carstone.

"You'd better have him carried up to Miss Carstone's dressing-room," said Addie to Mr. Brane, after this chat. "Three of you can do it. The sofa's very comfortable there, and the room's warm. Three of you can do it easy."

Mr. Brane was really shocked at the commanding accents of the dresser. But when their two individualities had faced one another for two seconds, he bowed, grunting. The stage was speedily emptied, Mr. Jack Duke having been borne away in the processional manner of a corpse.

"Is the old girl a'going to pass the night with his lordship?" asked the fireman of a stage-hand in the wings.

"Yes, the old girl is," answered Addie, appearing suddenly from behind a flat. "Where's the wardrobe mistress? If she hasn't gone I want her."

"But where can I change?" Miss Carstone demanded of Addie up in the dressing-room.

Jack Duke was there, lying lightly covered on the sofa, eyes shut.

"Bless us! Here!" said Addie. "You don't suppose he's going to take any notice of you, Miss, do you? He's asleep, that's what he is, and he'll stay asleep. You'll leave me what there is left in that thermos, Miss, for him? You just change as quick as you can and get away. I've told them to ring up the cab-rank for you. The ambulance was coming from Charing Cross, but I've told the hospital it needn't. When once you get into those hospitals you never get out again. I was in a hospital once in Prague, and don't I remember it!"

Miss Carstone hurriedly obeyed the injunction.

"Good night—Mrs. Addie."

"Good night, Miss. And don't you rise up out of bed till tea-time."

(p. 169) "I'll try not to."

"That's all right," said Addie to herself when the leading lady had disappeared. "'Where can I change'—indeed! If she'd seen what I've seen...."


The female ex-champion roller-skater of the world sat in Miss Carstone's dressing-room, which was very inadequately lighted by the dim glow of the electric radiator. She had a woolly table-cloth (purloined from the property master) round her shoulders. Not that she was ever cold—but she liked to feel cosy in the chair untruthfully styled 'easy.' She could just make out the vague outlines of the sofa upon which reclined the chief support of the new play.

"Anybody there?" The murmured question came from the sofa.

"Yes, my lord."

"What time is it?"

"Time for you to go off to sleep again."

Then there was a faint knock at the door—a knock to which the night gave a certain dramatic quality. Addie arose and opened the door. The nocturnal fireman, not quite so fat as Addie, stood on the threshold in his brass and blue and crimson.

"See here," said Addie stepping outside and lifting a finger. "This isn't a fire. It's an illness. And the old girl is passing the night with his lordship. And don't let your tobacco smoke get into this room, if you please."

"I thought I'd see if you wanted anything," said the fireman apologetically in his hoarse, amicable voice.

"Well, I do," whispered Addie. "I want quiet till seven o'clock, and then you can call me, and bring me a pint of milk."

(p. 170) "Enough said!" agreed the old fireman, saluting.

Addie closed the door softly.

"You might put the light on," suggested his lordship from the sofa.

Addie put one of the lights on. The sofa had been transformed into a reasonable imitation of a bed, with pillow, blanket, counterpane, and the occupant in pyjamas: all of which articles had been abstracted from the stores of the theatre; one or two of them had played important parts in forgotten light comedies.

The eyes of the nurse and the nursed met.

"You're over it now."


"Well—" Addie administered to the patient the last contents of Miss Carstone's flask.

"Do they know?" the handsome patient inquired, gently smacking his lips as he relinquished the metal cup.

"No, they don't," Addie replied with emphasis. "And I'll say this for you, my lad. You've got some of your mother's grit in you. Yes. I'll say that for you. When you came to, out of your faint, and saw me, I was afraid you might begin squealing 'mammy' or something of the sort. But you didn't. You kept your nerve and looked at me as if I was a gallery charwoman. You'll get on, my lad. But of course in your place I shouldn't have done what you've done. I shouldn't have told my mother I didn't want anybody to know who she was. At least, I don't think I should. But you never know. Don't talk. Lie quiet. I know you wanted me to give up this place because you were coming here. But why should I give it up? It's a certainty, which acting isn't. I only took this place because you'd gone in for acting and I couldn't rely on you keeping me in food and lodgings any longer. Seems to me lately I've been helping to keep you."

(p. 171) "But—"

"Don't talk, my lord! I'm not complaining. Not me. Young actors who've given up a good sure job to go on the stage oughtn't to have mothers to keep. Well, you haven't got a mother to keep. Don't think I can't see your point of view, the stage being what it is. I see your point of view plain enough. All I say is, in your place I should have said: 'This is my mother, and you can take it or leave it, and go hang all the lot of you!' But I'm like that and you aren't. I daresay you were right. So now you just go off to sleep again and don't let me have to tell you twice."


A tap-tap-tap, a tapping on the door.

"So it's seven o'clock, is it?" thought Addie, waking up in the chair which her fat body told her might have been a relic of the Spanish Inquisition.

His lordship was faintly snoring.

Addie went to the door, and unlatched without opening it.

"Leave it there," she muttered drowsily, and returned to the chair.

Tap-tap-tap, again. Addie rose again and opened the door. Miss Carstone, all in furs, was standing there. In her gloved hand she held the desired milk-bottle.

"How is he?" whispered Miss Carstone.

Addie slipped into the corridor and shut the door behind her.

"He's quite better, he's asleep," said she. "But I thought you were to stay in bed till tea-time, Miss!" Her tone was critical.

"I was so anxious. I did sleep a bit. I met the fireman (p. 172) at the stage-door, and told him I'd bring this milk up for you."

"It's very cold out here," said Addie.

It was indeed very cold on the dark stone stairs, where one electric light was already being defeated by the dawn.

"Come into No. 12 a moment, will you?" Miss Carstone suggested.

They went into No. 12 dressing-room, and Addie turned on the radiator.

"He'll be able to play to-night?"

"Play? Oh, he'll play. But whether he'll be plus or minus—God knows."

"Tell me, Mrs. Addie," said Miss Carstone, in a strange, wistful voice. "You're his mother, aren't you?"

In this sudden crisis fat old Addie showed less than her usual grit and presence of mind. The milk-bottle shook in her hand.

She stammered:

"How did you know?"

"I guessed. I felt sure you were. I just knew."

"Have you got children of your own, Miss?"

"Me! No! I wish I had." Miss Carstone was plaintive, somehow appealing.

"Well! You'll much oblige me, Miss, by not saying anything. And I don't want you to go and get any wrong ideas into your head about Charlie, Miss. If Charlie and me haven't been living together lately, it's not his fault. I wouldn't have it. I knew that wouldn't do, the stage being what it is. And he didn't want to keep it a secret, about him being my son. I made him keep it a secret. A young actor in the West End can't have a dresser for his mother. And all the more when he's acting in the same theatre with her. It might ruin him. It would. So I insisted. I wouldn't have him saying anything."

(p. 173) "You must have had some trouble to get him to agree," said Miss Carstone, with admiration of his lordship shining in her face.

"Oh yes! Oh yes!"

"How wonderful you've both been!... I'm sure he'll be splendid to-night. I feel he will."

"He won't give you much."

"Aren't you rather hard on him, Mrs. Addie?"

"We shall see. But I'll say this. If he can't act with you he can't act with anybody."

"Oh, Mrs. Addie! Well. I'm so relieved. I think I shall go back home and try to sleep again."

"Yes. You'd better, Miss. And you'll keep all this to yourself?"

"I won't breathe it."

"Of course when he's famous—if ever he is famous—we can let it all come out then. It'll be awfully good publicity for Charlie.... Good morning, Miss, and thank you."

Miss Carstone kissed Addie.

Addie said to herself:

"Thought she was kissing him, I lay. I wonder she didn't ask me to kiss him for her. She's too old for him. Well, perhaps she isn't."

There was blitheness in the working part of the theatre that night. Even Mr. Brane was grimly blithe. (As for Mr. Tiverton, the author, he was not in the building.) The company was blithe, and therefore the dressers and others were blithe, because of their joy in the narrow escape from a postponement. They argued, by an excessively human illogicality of reasoning, that because of the escape everything was for the best and therefore that the play was bound to succeed.

Fat Addie alone was not blithe. Neither was she gloomy. She was merely silent with Miss Carstone. (p. 174) Having been a public performer herself, she knew that no remarks should be addressed to a performer until after the performance is over. Transporting her vast bulk unwieldily to and fro in the room, she was content to be merely efficient.

The front of the house was blithe. A British audience is before anything benevolent. All the knowing ones in the stalls knew that young Jack Duke had had a heart-attack at the dress-rehearsal, and the knowledge was soon general. According to the custom of first-nights every performer was greeted with plaudits on his first entrance. And Jack Duke received a far warmer welcome than anybody else. This welcome brought the play to a halt for quite thirty seconds. Jack Duke had shown pluck, Jack Duke had. He had to carry the weight of the play on his youthful shoulders. The ordeal for him was tremendous. Hence he was entitled to every sympathy and to all encouragement.

The audience's expressions of helpful benignity inspired Jack Duke—the Lord Ormsdale of the piece. People were convinced that he acted far better than he in fact did act. At the fall of the first curtain he walked off the stage in the manner of a star, accepted congratulations from his colleagues with a modest condescension, and nodded casually to Mr. Brane. At the fall of the final curtain, when Mr. Brane had made a too-long speech of gratitude to patrons, that important figure said to Jack:

"I rather think you've come through, my lad."

"I'm very glad you think so, sir," said Jack, beating down his pride.

"But Miss Carstone carried the thing."

"That's just what I thought, sir," said Jack, lying.

The play was held to be an unmistakable success.

In her dressing-room Miss Carstone said, dropping on to the sofa where his lordship had slept:

(p. 175) "He was splendid, Mrs. Addie. Really! I don't think we properly realize what we owe to you."

"Did he give you much, Miss?"

"He gave me all he could. But of course he had all he could do to think of himself."

Addie thought:

"Oh, well! I see he couldn't do wrong for you, milady. You're the right sort. I wish I knew how old you are."

Miss Carstone asked:

"You must be very tired."

"Yes, Miss."

"Shall you be seeing him to-night?"

"I might."


The click of the doorlatch awoke Mr. Cecil Glasper, who, like lightning and with a duplicity unworthy of his age, profession and reputation, seized the book on his knee and pretended to have been reading. His sister Camilla, maiden, stood at the door in street attire.

"So you aren't gone to bed, my dear," said Camilla in her clear, quick, prim tones. She was a tall and slender young woman of thirty, with a fair face, fluffy light hair, and thin lips and nose, very neat, very alert, very good-humoured, and her habitual expression denoted an amicable quizzicalness.

"Apparently not, dearest," said Cecil, from the vasty deeps of his easy-chair, and glanced at the clock. "It's half-past two."

"I know," said Camilla calmly. "It's even two thirty-three."

"Four," said Cecil. "Your cheeks are quite flushed."

"The wind."

Cecil was a brownish, benevolent, benignant bachelor of forty who, because he somewhat neglected his mirror and troubled himself not about a certain increase of girth, looked rather more than his years. He had thin lips (beneath a too heavy moustache), and his habitual expression denoted an amicable quizzicalness.

Brother and sister lived together and understood one another in a house of medium size in Blanesfield (p. 178) Terrace, Pimlico, London. If they were rich, it was only in the sense that while achieving comfort they spent less than they earned. Cecil had been for a long time, and for ever and ever would be, the trusted secretary of two wealthy philanthropic societies devoted to the welfare of poor gentlewomen. Camilla had some renown as a competent translator of formidable works from the German and the Russian, and her learned labours brought a few hundred pounds a year into the home.

"And where've you been?" Cecil inquired.

"Oh, Chelsea," Camilla answered.

Cecil knew that "Chelsea" meant the studio of an austere middle-aged sculptor and his young wife.

"So late?"

"Well, we were talking, you know! And there was some dancing."

"Oh, a party!"

"No, no!"

"And did you dance?"

"My dear!"

If modern dance-music was mentioned in their presence, brother and sister would remark quizzically that they were fond of music. In theory neither danced. But Cecil had suspicions about Camilla. He happened to be leading rather a double life himself, to his own surprise and consternation, Hence, quite naturally and uncharitably, he suspected similar possibilities in his dear Camilla. Camilla had once nearly been engaged, during the war. An astonishing episode, for Camilla could be caustic concerning men. The admirer died of a wound. This event filled her with grief, of which she never spoke. Everybody had noticed that it had intensified her causticity and fixed her in spinsterdom.

"I say, Cess!" Camilla's accents were soft and cajoling. (p. 179) She loosed her cloak, threw her hat on the carpet, and sat down on the high hassock or pouf which flanked Cecil's easy-chair on the hearth.

At this point Cecil observed, not without mute expostulation, that Camilla held in her hand a letter addressed to a "Miss Alison Cockburn." A couple of hours earlier he had written this letter and placed it on the hall-table, where letters for post were usually deposited for the attention of servants who would post them.

Said Cecil, controlling his voice:

"Isn't the address right?"

Said Camilla, with infinite tact:

"I expect you're going out with her again one night?"

"Well, I had had the wild idea."

"Now, Cess, please, please don't think I'm trying to interfere in your affairs—"

Cecil thought:

"That's just what you are doing."

"—but are you sure you won't regret it? I've nothing against her. No, nothing. But I understand she's very young, and you told me yourself she never went to bed and never got up. And I've heard other things."

"Who from?"

"Well, friends—who know her."

"Oh, so you talk about her!"

"No, we don't."

"Well then?"

"She just happened to come into the conversation."


"Yes. All I want is to meet her. Can't you ask her here? Can't I write and ask her here?" Camilla's manner was appealing.

The talk continued, and it was the oddest talk that Cecil had ever had with his sister. They were always affectionately intimate (apart from a few brief, estranging (p. 180) squabbles over trifles), and yet Cecil somehow felt that they were now being intimate for the first time in their lives. He admired the skill with which she managed the colloquy. Oh yes, he perceived her cleverness! But this perception did not prevent him from being influenced by the said cleverness.

"Very well," Cecil agreed at length, like a good boy, and he took the letter from Camilla's hand. "Enough said. It's after three. I'll listen to your further wisdom to-morrow."

"You won't post it?"

"Do I run out posting letters at 3 a.m.? Off you go to bed!"

Camilla got up and collected her things. Advanced though the hour was, she looked as fresh as the morn. No trace of fatigue on that sharp, agreeable, vivacious countenance. But a touch of conquering superiority in her final glance.

It was the tactless final glance that vitalized the man in Cecil Glasper. He suddenly saw the scene with Camilla as something monstrous and incredible. The interview had no meaning except on the assumption that he was in love, or about to be in love, with a girl too young for him, a girl whom friends had discussed unfavourably, a dangerous girl, a girl whom Camilla wanted to "vet" before the alleged affair went any further. And Camilla had had the infernal impudence to bring back to him a letter which was practically already posted. And he, with his ridiculous good nature, had quietly accepted the chit's rebuke!

Cecil rose out of his chair and his anger rose also. There was no affair. (Untrue!) There was the merest acquaintance. (Untrue!) The girl was perfectly all right, perfectly correct, indeed charming. And he would certainly see her again, no matter what answer she made to his letter. He would see her as (p. 181) often as he chose; he would see her every night; he would come home from seeing her at any hour he chose; he would come home at 2.30 a.m. if the whim took him to do so; he would stay out all night, and nobody should dare to utter a word of comment upon his proceedings. He liked Camilla; Camilla was fine; but there is a limit to sisterly interference.

And so on and so on.

He would make a stand for freedom; he would terrorise the whole house; freedom was the first prize of life, the heritage of Britons, and he had conducted himself like a milksop. Did he ever attack Camilla's freedom?...

He passed into the hall, waving the letter in the defiant curves of a banner of liberty. He seized his hat, opened the front-door, stepped forth, and pulled the door to very gently lest Camilla might hear! The letter should be posted.

"Women!" muttered Cecil to himself with grandeur as he walked smartly up the Terrace. "I suppose they are all the same. Jealous! Hate one another!" Hitherto he had thought that his sister was different from other women, and he was sorry to admit that this idea had been an illusion.

"She's lost all her sense of proportion," he thought.

"Seemed to imagine I could be duped by a woman," he thought. "That she can judge a woman better than I can! That's good, that is! Considering that I'm having to deal with women at the office all day and every day! Hm!"

When he reached the corner, the wind scurrying gustily down another street nearly blew his hat off (and he saved it only by clutching at it with his free hand). Possibly therefore the flush on Camilla's cheeks when she came into the house might really have been due to the wind as she had said, and not to another (p. 182) cause, as he had been surmising. He was glad; but also sorry, for he desired to condemn Camilla.

Then he saw his goal, the pillar-box.

And after the slightest hesitation he passed it.

"A bit of a walk will do me good," said he to himself. And strolled on and on, and passed another pillar-box. The streets were completely deserted, mysterious, attractive, soothing. Clouds sailed romantically across the dimmed face of the moon. He had not been out so late for years and years. He felt young and adventurous. He traversed the wide waste of Sloane Square, where was a coffee-stall, and entered into the expensive Cadogan region. Jolly to be abroad in the night! He arrived at yet another pillar-box, and with a sudden movement, unconsidered and audacious, he pushed the fatal letter through the slit; and heard it fall on the metal bottom of the receptacle. Probably it was the first letter to occupy that pillar-box since the midnight clearance.

"There!" He had done it. "And be hanged to Camilla! I'll teach her!"

No! Indeed he had not explicitly told Camilla that he would not post the letter. He had perhaps been guilty of fencing; but she could not say that he had promised not to post the letter. Anyhow, he had posted the letter. And she could like it or lump it. Of course he could say, if dissension arose, that he had accidentally left the letter lying in the drawing-room and that a servant had posted it.

Then, as he was skirting a large private garden, shared by the wealthy tenants of a row of tall residences, the boisterous wind lifted the old soft hat clean off his head before he could clutch it, and he saw it wing its way over high railings into the enclosed ground. There it lay, an indistinct object on the sward, only twenty feet distant from him, but as irrecoverable as if (p. 183) it had been twenty miles distant. Awkward, that! He felt abashed by the contretemps. He had only one hat (except an antique silk hat reserved for rare funerals, weddings, and other sad solemnities). Camilla often brushed his sole hat in the mornings. And more than once lately she had insisted that he positively must buy a new one. In a few hours she would be missing the hat. She would be inquiring. There would be a regular hullaballoo. He would be forced to confess that he had gone out after she had retired to bed, and had lost the hat. And that fact, in conjunction with the disappearance of the letter ... Putting two and two together and making four ... Yes, awkward!

He decided to retrieve the hat. He glanced around. Nobody! Nothing but the gas-lamps! Not a light in any of the tall houses, save at one lofty, blinded window, far off. Someone ill, or someone sleepless!

Solitude! He was safe in the depth of the night.

The upright iron rods of the railing were eight inches or so apart, and perhaps seven feet high—spiked at the top. Between them were shorter rods, four feet high, also spiked; and all the rods were joined together by two horizontal rails, one three feet and the other six feet from the pavement. He could do it, by stepping first on the lower rail, then on the spike of one of the shorter rods, and then prising himself up till he was a-straddle of the upper rail. He was young enough. This notion that he was old, or even middle-aged, was preposterous. As for his activity, had he not proved it in certain rhythmic exercises with the person named on the envelope of the letter now lying in the pillar-box? He had his right toe on the lower rail in a moment, and on the spike of one of the shorter rods in another moment. He seized on either hand the spikes of the two higher rods, and used his muscles.... Not so easy. Still, he was young and agile and the thing could (p. 184) be done.... At length he was triumphantly astride of the upper rail, pressed between two of the upper spikes, insecure, as on a horse without stirrups. The next feat would be to cock his outer leg over the spike in front of him on to the inner side of the railings.

Perilous! He dared not try it. He was afraid of falling in a lump on the empty flower-bed that bordered the lawn of the garden. He was stuck. His legs were fixed, moveless. The rough, chill wind disturbed his hair. He called himself by evil epithets. His muttered language was unprintable. Something must be done. Nothing could be done. Clump, clump, clump on the pavement. Surely not a policeman? Yes, a policeman! The majestic figure (not fat, with a face quite youthful) stopped beneath him, half-lit by the flicker of a gas-lamp.

"Women!" thought Cecil bitterly.

The policeman saw an untidy, suspect person, hatless and guiltily self-conscious, perched aloft.

"Hello!" he greeted Cecil hoarsely. "What's this?"

"I was getting my hat," answered Cecil. "It's blown off into the garden here."

Even to Cecil himself the tale sounded far-fetched and silly. "It's down there on the grass," he added.

"Where?" asked the policeman. "I can't see any hat."

Cecil examined the lawn, but he could not see any hat either. The wind had evidently moved it on into some distant shadow.

"Well," said Cecil, "it was there a minute ago."

He felt very unstable, as well as cold. He was by no means accustomed to the nocturnal rigours of the equinox in London. Further, he was extremely uncomfortable, squeezed between two spikes and seated on a sort of narrow iron steed that was all spine and no flesh nor ribs.

(p. 185) "Do you live in one of these houses?" the policeman demanded, his tone growing more curt.

"No-no," said Cecil. "I was just passing."

"At this time of night?"

"Yes," said Cecil. "At this time. Couldn't have been any other time, could it, officer?"

This attempt to be frolicsome with the policeman was ill-judged.

"If you don't live in one of these houses, you're trespassing," said the policeman harshly. "Because this garden's private property, and so's the railings. If you've taken a fancy to go in for being an acrobat you ought to try it on your own railings. Where do you live?"

"Blanesfield Terrace."

"Oh! So it's Blanesfield Terrace, is it? Nowhere near here. I suppose you'll say you came out for a bit of exercise."

"No. I came out to post a letter."

"Well, there's about ten pillar-boxes and a post-office between here and Blanesfield Terrace. What about it?" And as Cecil did not answer the question the policeman concluded: "Come out of it. Come down now, and quickly—that's my advice to you, my man."

"I can't get down. I'm stuck," protested Cecil, whose worst sensation was the sensation of looking and feeling a fool.

"See here," said the policeman, with menace. "Shall I have to pull you down?"

"I wish to heaven you would," said Cecil.

"Got any tools in your pocket?"


"Yes, tools. A jemmy, for instance?"

"Fountain-pen," said Cecil. "That's the best I can do for you."

(p. 186) At this juncture Cecil from his eyrie saw a most extraordinary phenomenon, namely, a file of six policemen with simultaneous clump, clump, clump, on the opposite pavement. He wondered for an instant whether he was not in bed and dreaming: but the reality of the rail which divided his dangling legs was beyond any metaphysical challenge.

"Here, lads!" said the original policeman.

The stalwart string of constables curved in obedience to the summons, crossed the road, and drew up beneath Cecil in military order.

Said the original policeman:

"Here's a cove says he's armed with a fountain-pen. Seems as if he climbed up there to write a letter to his sweetheart, 'Because I love thee!' And he refuses to come down. Pull him down, two or three of you."

The railings were instantly clustered with policemen. One of them with unnecessary violence lifted Cecil's right leg over the upper rail. Cecil fell on the top of two others and the trio collapsed on the pavement, with no damage other than a rent a foot long in Cecil's trousers.

"Don't loose him," the original policeman commanded. "He looks a bit too slippy for my taste."

Cecil was pitched upwards on to his feet and seized by both arms in the grip of the law.

"Where did you say you lived, my man?"

"Blanesfield Terrace."

"What number?"


"Well, we'll have a look at No. 17 Blanesfield Terrace," said the first policeman. "Then we'll have a look at the Walton Street Police Station. Come on with him, lads."

"I'll go quietly," said Cecil, attempting vainly to free his arms.

(p. 187) "You bet you will," said the policeman.

As he walked in shame, one policeman in front, one on either side, and four behind, Cecil reflected upon the mutability of human existence. A few minutes earlier he had been a respectable householder, an educated man, a secretary to philanthropic societies of the highest standing. Now he was a criminal. Hitherto he had always regarded policemen as benevolent beings who said "sir," and interrupted the progress of three-ton lorries in order to facilitate the progress of perambulators. Now policemen were adamantine robots of the law, without bowels.

Until the arrival of the cortège at his own house Cecil Glasper kept his promise to go quietly, though he had been somewhat tried by the ribaldry of three customers of the Sloane Square coffee-stall, close by which the policemen had too deliberately marched him, whereas it would have been quicker and more humane to take the prisoner diagonally across the Square. These three customers, two men and a woman, were in rich evening-dress, but their demeanour and their remarks were unworthy of their attire. "Looks as if he might have been respectable once," the lady had taunted, with a wanton, loose giggle. Cecil, hitherto quite unacquainted with nocturnal London, had felt outraged by the monstrous manners of a great and supposed-to-be-civilized city. Nevertheless he had contrived to maintain an outwardly calm dignity.

As they were mounting the steps of No. 17, however, one of the two pinioning policemen slipped and fell on his knees. Did he loose Cecil's arm, as any policeman of decent feelings would? He did not. He dragged Cecil down with him. Under a sudden angry impulse Cecil fought for freedom. Useless! All seven were instantly upon him. The coarse, physical brutality (p. 188) of the law astounded and shocked him. He ceased to fight.

"Got a latch-key?" demanded his original captor.

"Men usually have," Cecil icily replied.

"Where is it?"

"In my pocket—strange to say."

"No lip, my lad," No. 1 warned him.

"You can use anything I say against me," said Cecil, in a lashing tone.

"Which pocket?"

"Left-hand hip-pocket, I'll get it for you."

"Oh no you won't," said No. 1, and began to search Cecil's pockets.

With a curious moral cruelty, and entirely ignoring the information given to him by Cecil, No. 1 investigated the prisoner's left-hand front-pocket, then the right-hand front-pocket, then the right-hand hip-pocket and finally the left-hand hip-pocket, from which his fingers emerged with a bunch of keys. The groping of another man's hand in the sacred privacy of his pockets, hitherto immaculate, was Cecil's last humiliation; an insult which he nobly swallowed.

In a moment the door was wide open.

"I hope you're convinced now of my bona fides," observed Cecil, with increasing nobility.

"Convinced of his what?" cried No. 1, leering at the others, and gave an enormous laugh.

All the others responded with enormous laughs: noise enough to wake the sedate Terrace from end to end.

"Shove him in, lads," ordered No. 1. "Him and his bona fides, too. Bona fides, eh! I daresay he's only a lodger here. Attic. Bed and breakfast and clean your own boots."

And Cecil, unpinioned at length, was shoved into his Englishman's castle head foremost, disgracefully, (p. 189) ignominiously. He thought: "At the police-court I shall give my own version of this affair." But he thought again: "And what will be the use? They'll all lie together, and the magistrate will believe them, or pretend to. Magistrates always do. It's a regular conspiracy. Helpless! Helpless! That's what we are."

The door was banged with immense force. The whole house shook.

"That will waken Camilla," thought Cecil. "And if she comes down——" He stopped thinking.

The narrow hall was full of policemen, bursting with them—and Cecil somewhere defenceless in the throng. It was at this point that he had confirmation of a suspicion already formed in the streets: namely, that within a certain period several at least of the policemen had not successfully resisted the sovereign attraction of alcoholic liquor. Still, being a magnanimous man, with tastes, he admitted privately that policemen were also human beings and well entitled to fortify themselves with historic liquids before going on duty in the middle of the night: there could be no reason why policemen should be total abstainers.

"We'd better telephone to Walton Street, lads," said No. 1. "I say, Mister, where's your telephone?"

The telephone was situated in the small useless room which in London houses is always found at the back of the dining-room on the ground-floor. Four of the officers vanished into this room, the other three having been instructed to keep guard over the prisoner, who stood idle with one hand in a pocket and the other feeling the long and dangerous rent in his ruined trousers.

"What's this?" demanded one of the three sentinels, pointing suddenly to a piece of sculpture perched on a bracket in the hall.

"A statuette," Cecil replied.

(p. 190) "Is it a Gurdon?" asked the constable surprisingly. He was a tall, fair, youngish man with an alert and almost refined expression on his round face.

"It is," said Cecil dryly. "But what do you know about Mr. Gurdon's work?"

"Oh," said the constable, after a pause. "We have our lecture-clubs and all that, you know, in the Force. And I've been on duty in the Royal Academy before now."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Cecil. And he was. His notions of the state of culture existing in the Constabulary were being enlarged.

"Seems to me she might have been wearing a bit more," observed another constable. "I call it indecent, that's what I call it."

"They like 'em like that," said the tall, fair man. "You get used to it."

Silence. Cecil could not honestly deny the truth of the assertion.

The other policemen came noisily out of the back room. As they did so, Camilla, in a somewhat diaphanous peignoir, appeared with an extremely startled look on her face at the head of the stairs. Nothing of the quizzical in her demeanour now. The tall fair man glanced at her for one instant, whereupon he sprang to the front-door and opened it.

"Oh!" shrieked Camilla and disappeared in a rush. It was as though the incoming wind had wafted her violently away.

"Look here," said No. 1, addressing Cecil. "We've told them all about it at Walton Street, and they aren't satisfied. And you've got to go up there to the Station. You see, I don't mind telling you we're a squad on special duty, and there's been a lot of funny things happening lately round Cadogan Square, including two cat-burglaries. Out with him, lads."

(p. 191) Cecil answered with dignity:

"The police-station's the very place I want to go to. I shall have one or two very plain remarks to make to the Inspector when I arrive there."

"Doesn't matter what you want or what you don't want. Get a move on, and don't argue."

So, hatless, and in draughty trousers, and pinioned, Cecil issued forth again into the streets.

"It's bound to end some time," said he to himself with resignation, and reflected upon the names of friends who might properly be summoned to bail him out.

After a hundred years or so of marching he noticed that the special squad had somehow been reduced in number from seven to six. The tall, fair constable was mysteriously lost to view.

A considerable walk to Walton Street, from Pimlico! But speed induced warmth in Cecil's imperfectly clad body. Only his head was very cold: he predicted neuralgia for himself. Strange that Camilla should have displayed cowardice! And yet perhaps not strange! Earlier in the night she had shown him that all women were alike.

The cortège turned into Walton Street. Lo! The customary blue-and-white lamp bearing the horrid words: 'Police Station'! Up the steps, into the dark stone-floored entry-corridor. Nobody to be seen; but there was a slit of light under a door on the left.

"You go in there," said No. 1 in a murmur. "They're waiting for you, and they're in a hurry. You go in there and you make your plain remarks. We shall come as soon as we've reported."

With that all six policemen walked out of the police-station. Cecil stood still for a minute, for two minutes, possibly for three. He hesitated to confront the Inspector in the room behind the ill-fitting door. Why should (p. 192) he of his own accord confront the Inspector? The idea of escape, of freedom, of the glorious streets, irresistibly tempted him. He crept to the portal, and peeped out. Constables might be lurking there. No! Not a constable! Nobody! The long, straight street slumbered under its double row of lamps. He jumped down the steps, and ran, risking the ignominy of pursuit and recapture. Of course he was a fool to run; the police are always too strong for the public; but he ran.

The same morning Cecil Glasper sat in the sole easy-chair in the little back room where the telephone lived. He wore his loose house-suit of Pyrenees sheep's wool; sign to the household that he was indisposed. He was drinking tea, having refused food: another sign of the same. The gas-stove glowed crimson. He had telephoned to his offices that he was kept away from them by urgent official business. His reason, however, for inhabiting the back room was not that he wanted to telephone but that he was expecting telephone-calls which none but himself could answer or ought to know of. One of these anticipated calls was from the police. He hoped that the police would ring him up before arriving with handcuffs, so that he might arrange for a dignified departure. A wild, silly hope!

The parlourmaid entered with a card:

"Mr. Septimus Mardern," Cecil read.

"I can't see anyone," said he, and then he thought: "Possibly someone to do with the Police!" And he said aloud: "Unless of course——"

"The gentleman says it's very urgent, sir."

"Show him in, then."

Yes, it was the police right enough! The tall, fair constable: the young man looked rather odd in mufti. For some reason or other he was disguised, with a soft (p. 193) hat, blue shirt, and fluid necktie, as a sort of Chelsea artist.

Cecil respectfully and nervously rose.

But Septimus Mardern the constable was nervous too.

"I felt I must call at once, Mr. Glasper, to apologize for last night's affair—I should say this morning's. You see, we were all a bit jolly, and when you're in fancy-dress you're apt to do things——"

Cecil then learnt that his seven imitation policemen had been returning from a big carnival ball in the Albert Hall.

"Sit down, sir," said Cecil sternly, pointing to a hard chair, and himself resumed the easy-chair.

Intense relief in his mind, together with an impulse towards harshness and cruelty! And immediately his physical condition changed to one of perfect health. Even the neuralgia vanished. But he could not maintain the impulse towards harshness and cruelty, because he felt so ridiculously happy and superior. The false constable was a squirming worm in front of him.

"Ah!" he remarked, grimly sardonic. "So it has occurred to you to apologize!"

"Of course you've heard all about it by this time, sir."

"Quite," said Cecil. But he had heard nothing about it. He had not even set eyes on Camilla, who was still in her room, and he had taken care not to meet trouble half-way by arousing her.

"I only want to say, sir, that I really hadn't the slightest idea who you were, until I caught sight of Miss Camilla on the stairs. I'd never had the pleasure of meeting you. But I ought to have known you by your likeness to Miss Camilla. I had only met Miss Camilla at Gurdon's studio—several times. I admit I ought to have stopped the thing at once, the moment I realized (p. 194) whose house we were in. But I rather lost my head—didn't know what to do. So I just ran off. Not for any money would I have done anything to annoy Miss Camilla—nor you either, sir, nor you either—especially after she'd been so kind as to come with me to the ball. I should have brought her home, and then I should have known where you lived; but she left me without telling me. But of course you've heard, sir."

"What I haven't heard is, how Camilla could go to a fancy-dress ball in ordinary clothes."

"Oh! She didn't, sir. We called at my studio on the way, and I fitted her up with a Japanese kimono, which she left behind with Mrs. Gurdon. That was how I knew she'd gone. I'm terribly afraid she'll be vexed. If you could——"

"The fact is, you've not called to apologize to me. You've called to get me to make your peace with Camilla."

"No, no, sir. Both, sir."

"You're a painter?"

"Yes, sir. You may have seen——"

"I haven't."

Mr. Cecil Glasper was touched and uplifted. For he divined that he was assisting at a romance. Septimus Mardern was most obviously deep in love with that deceitful chit, Camilla. He was a frank, honest kind of young man, with an intelligent, fresh kind of face. And he was respectful and repentant and appealing. The spectacle of romantic love delighted Mr. Cecil Glasper, secretary of philanthropic societies. And it impressed him, forced him to behave, and even to think, in a Christian and benevolent manner.

"You know what your lively friends did after you so prudently left us? Took me to the police-station. A bit risky, eh, that?"

"Yes, sir. I heard about an hour ago. It was (p. 195) indeed risky. It was mad. But, if I may say so, it only shows what—er—what an advanced state of jollification they must have been in."

"Well," said Cecil grandly. "I accept your apology. And you'd better call round one afternoon and put things right with Camilla as well."

"I will, sir. This afternoon?"

"Yes, why not? But—But——"

"Yes, sir?"

"You must subscribe among you for a new hat for me. My size is seven and three-quarters."

"You're frightfully decent, sir," said Septimus Mardern, rising. "Frightfully decent. I'll go and tell them all."

No sooner was the painter gone, with a tremendous bang due to the still blusterous wind having snatched the doorknob out of the parlour-maid's hand, than Camilla entered the back room in search of her brother.

"Noisy morning!" said she, bright but nervous; the brightness was obviously being assumed to hide the nervousness, for she avoided Cecil's eye.

"To think," said Cecil to himself, "only a few minutes ago I was fearing to meet her and preparing to go to police-courts and things; and now I've got her under my thumb."

And aloud he retorted:

"Not so noisy as the night."

"Oh?" she parried.

"You're a nice two-faced minx!" said he quizzically.

"Oh?" she parried again.

"Yes," said he. "You took care not to tell me you'd been to a fancy-dress ball."

"Well," said she. "It was so late and I—I didn't want to keep you up with a long talk. Besides I did tell you there'd been some dancing. I'd no idea I was going when I left the house after dinner last night."

(p. 196) "I assert and maintain you're a two-faced minx," said he magisterially.

"You aren't well, my dear," said she.

"I'm perfectly well," said he.

"But you aren't dressed," said she.

"It's the first time I've heard of it," said he.

"But you haven't gone to the office," said she.

"That's quite true," said he. "I'm here sitting in this chair."

"But why, then?"

"I stayed at home to think out what coloured kimono it was you wore last night at that ball."

"Who—who told you?"

"A fellow named Mardern," said Cecil. "He called on me in the middle of the night—as you are well aware. Very friendly chap. And he called again this morning—he's just gone. And he's calling again this afternoon—to see you."

Camilla was blushing in the most maidenly manner.

"But you don't know him," she murmured.

"Oh! Don't I! I have the best reason for knowing him," said Cecil. "He's going to buy me a new hat. I lost mine last night when I went out to post a letter. It blew off into a private garden."

"What letter?"

"That letter your ordered me not to post." Cecil spoke carelessly, boldly. What cared he for her views about his carryings-on with women? Figuratively, she was bound and gagged before him. She dared not raise an eyebrow at him.

"Do tell me all about everything," she appealed, with the touching, modest diffidence of a sweet opponent defeated and captive.

She was delicious to behold in her confusion. But not unhappy, because in Cecil's masterful bullying was the quizzical benevolent note which she knew so well.

(p. 197) Something new had somehow insinuated itself into the house, something that had never been there before, something beautiful, exciting and tender.

The telephone bell sounded. Camilla turned to the instrument.

"You leave that telephone alone," said Cecil, sharply springing up. "You can go."

"I won't," said Camilla. "You've got to tell me all about everything."

"Is that Mr. Glasper," said the delicate voice of the telephone, which was also the voice of the mysterious creature whom Camilla had never seen and had demanded to see.

"Speaking," said Cecil, in a voice rendered uncertain by sudden and extreme agitation.

"I'm so glad I've found you in," said the telephone. "I telephoned to the office and they said you hadn't come."

"No, I hadn't," said Cecil.

Camilla was staring hard at him, fascinated.

"I've had your letter. You asked me to telephone because you couldn't wait," said the telephone.

"And I couldn't."

"Neither could I," said the telephone.

A pause.

"Yes?" said Cecil encouragingly.

"That's the answer," said the telephone.

"What's the answer?"

"Yes," said the telephone, very faintly, very magically.

"Oh!" said Cecil, but with a constrained clumsiness. "I am glad."

"Is that all?" asked the telephone.

"No. There's lots more."

"Say 'I love you, darling'," said the telephone.

"By Jove! I should think I did!" said Cecil, all in (p. 198) his woollen house-suit and his hair untidy and no collar on.

"But say it. Say what I said."

Cecil glanced round at Camilla, reflecting that the girl had no slightest notion of the lengths to which he had gone with the mysterious creature at that instant joined to him by a mile or two of telephone-wire that ran through streets and up walls and under floors. Could she have guessed that the letter contained an offer, a request, an epoch-making proposal——?

He put his hand over the mouthpiece.

"Get out," he said to Camilla.

"I won't," said Camilla.

"Say it, please, I want to hear it," the tiny voice of the telephone insisted.

"I love you, darling," said Cecil, a man. And looked challengingly at Camilla, and blushed exactly as she had blushed.

"Well, of all the——!" exclaimed Camilla.

Yes, something new and lovely had entered the monastic house; and seven policemen had facilitated its arrival.

(p. 199) MYRTLE AT SIX A.M.


It was 5.50 a.m. A lovely, virginal summer morning. The vast London square, with its vast central garden surrounded by vast roads surrounded by vast houses, lay half in sunlight and half in shadow, and the sunlight was gaining every moment over the shadow.

The vast door of No. 91 opened. Mr. Emmarce stepped forth and at the same moment a vast automobile slid forward from somewhere, silent as a ghost, and stopped in front of him. No other living thing in the whole square. Mr. Emanuel Emmarce, known wherever financial newspapers are read, was a short, stubby man nearer fifty than sixty, who wore his distinguished clothes without distinction, and had thick fingers, full, pink cheeks, and a greyish moustache—but warm, dark, gleaming eyes: eyes of a passionate lover of music, a passionate collector of pictures and of Persian pottery.

Following Mr. Emmarce through the vast door came a slimmer, more elegant person rather younger than Mr. Emmarce,—Plaistow, his 'man', carrying a despatch-case.

"Come along," said Mr. Emmarce, petulant.

"Yes, sir," said Plaistow, with deferential hostility. It was as if he had said: "Now be careful. You're all nerves because you got up too early. But I got up (p. 200) earlier, and I went to bed later, as I always do. I'm a very good valet, and I could get a new situation any day of the week. So don't go too far."

"My stick?" queried Mr. Emmarce. But, tyrannic, self-made Napoleon though he was, he modified his tone; for he was aware of all that Plaistow had not said, and he could hardly imagine existence without Plaistow. He hated servants, especially the males, but they were necessary to him. In the attics and basements of the Square slept probably two or three hundred men-servants. In Mr. Emmarce's opinion they ought to be slaves, but each year they were growing less and less like slaves. March of democracy.

"Oh!" exclaimed Plaistow, startled by his own forgetfulness.

He sprang back into the mansion, having first deposited the despatch-case. Mr. Emmarce walked to and fro, head bent, hands behind, Napoleonic. He utterly ignored the chauffeur, who utterly ignored his employer. Still, it was a lovely, a heavenly morning.

A taxi-cab appeared on the horizon of the Square. It approached. Mr. Emmarce thought: "That taxi is coming here." He was right. Before it had stopped, he thought: "That taxi contains my daughter." He was right. The taximan pulled up his flag, and the bell rang. Mr. Emmarce very grimly opened the door of the vehicle and held it open. The moment was dramatic; he felt the drama.

A beautiful young girl within the cab: lightly, fashionably, indecently clad in pale green; a velvet wrap insecure on the bare shoulders; cheeks and lips rosy with rouge; marvellous auburn hair, waved; jewels, richness, perfect expensiveness, the finished product of civilization, as fine as anything the Square could show! His girl! He contrasted her with his memory of his sister at her age, pretty but dowdy—because (p. 201) poor, having to count every sixpence. He had created his daughter, and he was proud of his creation. She was one measure of his success in life.

But he was tired, short of sleep; he had risen too early; he was harassed by the anxieties of an imminent negotiation which would require the most delicate and ruthless handling and which if he was equal to the ordeal would mean a gain of half a million to him; his nerves were stretched tight, ready to snap. He was annoyed to witness his daughter arriving home in a taxi, and alone. True, he had given an order that his chauffeurs were never to be kept up after 2 a.m. But he threw the order out of his mind. And was there no young man with a limousine eager to escort her to her door? A slash across the face of his family pride.

"Hullo, daddy!"

Myrtle admirably maintained her calmness. No sign of astonishment at the strange encounter. No symptom of curiosity as to the reason for her father's presence on the pavement at that hour, obviously prepared for a journey. He appreciated the equanimity of her demeanour, while condemning her for it. She had character. She was his daughter. She had jumped elegantly out of the cab. What youth! What grace! What style! What enchanting arrogance! What a challenge to the democratic contumacy of flunkeys! He did not return her greetings.

"Pay the taxi, there's a darling," she said negligently. "Haven't a cent."

He asked inimically:

"What would you have done if I hadn't happened to be here?"

"Don't know."

He banged the door of the taxi and paid the driver his fare, plus a generous tip. It was his family function to pay. He was the cashier in chief. He was always (p. 202) paying and he was always expected to pay. His family knew nothing and cared nothing of money—where it came from, how it was made. They took money as a matter of course, immense sums of money all the time. But the sums were as naught to him. His expenditure could never match his income. The driver, recognizing a gentleman, and having no eye for thick fingers, touched his hat and departed.

Mr. Emmarce said:

"You're as bad as your mother. How often have you been told never to go out without money?"

"Yes," said Myrtle casually. "How often have I?"

The nerves of Mr. Emmarce snapped.

"You know, my girl," he began bitterly. She was already moving towards the vast open door of the mansion, and with a savage glare he held her gaze as she turned her head at the sound of his voice "You know, my girl, you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Coming home like this at six in the morning after one of your parties! I don't say much, but something must be said sometime. Your cocktails and your dancing and your sleeping it off all day! Day after day and night after night. How old are you? Twenty-two. And look at you! What good are you in the world? What sort of an example do you think you're setting? To servants, for instance? It's the goings-on of young people like you that are upsetting the country, making bad blood, giving these labour fellows a stick to beat us with. What answer is there to their criticisms, I should like to know. There's no answer. It isn't as if you hadn't been educated. You've had every chance. And what use have you made of it? What use have you made of it?"

He paused for an answer. She gave no answer.

He thought:

(p. 203) "What the hell's that man doing with my walking-stick? I shall be late."

Then he continued:

"Here am I just starting out on my day's work, and you're coming home after a night of what I suppose you call pleasure. Do you think anybody respects you? How can anybody respect you? I'm ashamed of you, and I tell you flat." His voice was rising.

Plaistow appeared, bland and unhurried and hostile, with the walking-stick. Plaistow perceived that trouble was afoot between father and daughter, and he was cynically delighted. He passed across the pavement to the automobile and deposited the stick. He and the chauffeur exchanged saturnine winks.

Myrtle had not moved. Her body was still turned towards the mansion and her head towards her father. A statue! But Mr. Emmarce noticed a blush on her neck. He savoured it, as he waited for her to speak. She did not speak.

"If I speak to her, she ought to speak to me—if there were forty servants here!" he thought resentfully. He grunted and got rather heavily into the car. Plaistow shut the door and jumped up by the side of the chauffeur. The car fled away, silent as a ghost. Myrtle had entered the mansion.


Myrtle walked vigorously up the broad, thick-piled stairs, on which no footfall was ever audible. She had felt tired in the cab, but now all the sensations of fatigue had left her with extraordinary suddenness.

The house was in a twilight, pierced here and there by bright shafts of sunshine in which millions of motes vibrated. The electric lamp on the first landing patiently awaited its extinction by the earliest-descending housemaid. (p. 204) Dust lay on the glass of the show-case of the rare faience which stood beneath this lamp. The toilette of the vast mansion would not begin for another hour yet, if as soon. The second landing was lighter than the first because the curtains of its windows had not been drawn close.

Myrtle hesitated at her mother's bedroom, and then opened the heavy door. An enormous chamber, all curtains, cushions, upholstery, knicknacks; and in a corner the Louis-Seize bed, and in the bed her mother, sitting up, and half bent over a spirit-lamp surmounted by a gleaming kettle. One electric lamp burned on the table near the kettle. Otherwise the room was in darkness. The two windows were hidden by thick curtains, for the least ray of daylight would wake Mrs. Emmarce, who even in the most favourable circumstances was a most inefficient sleeper. She made tea for herself when she could not sleep, and she was making tea now.

Myrtle looked at her mother. A handsome woman; a handsome wreck; plump; she had a magnificent, impressive frontage, which a cashmere shawl imperfectly covered. Completely unconscious of the invasion of her room, she was putting tea-leaves into the teapot with a childlike ingenuous interest in the operation.


Mrs. Emmarce gave a start.

"Oh my dear! How you frightened me! What's the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter. I thought you'd be—"

"Wait a moment. Wait a moment. I can't hear you."

The tea-maker pulled wax out of her ears. Any sound, like any light, would arouse her out of her precarious slumber; the wax enabled her to defy the nocturnal noises of the Square.

"Now! What time is it, my pet?"

(p. 205) "Oh! Six o'clock, more or less."

"Good gracious! I thought it was about two."

Mrs. Emmarce lived in a world of her own where time was not. None of her wrist-watches was ever in order, and she seemed to exercise a magical depraving influence even on all respectable and reliable clocks within a radius of twenty feet.

"But you're very late, my pet. How is my dear Lady Massulam? Didn't she ask after me?" The tones of Mrs. Emmarce were charmingly querulous. She loved a tiny grievance; she was always crossing the stream before she reached its bank; but she had a kindly heart.

Myrtle, touched by the simplicity of her mother's yearning for affectionate appreciation, invented at once an agreeable reference to her by Lady Massulam. Then, in response to another inquiry, she mentioned the names of a number of Lady Massulam's other guests.

"You surely must be wanting some breakfast, my pet," said Mrs. Emmarce, abruptly starting a new subject as she poured boiling-water into the teapot.

"No thanks, mother. The usual bacon and eggs were served at five o'clock."

"Well," said Mrs. Emmarce. "I don't know how they manage. Our kitchen-staff wouldn't do it. Come and sit on the bed, my pet. We'll drink out of the same cup."

"But don't I tell you, mother—"

"And there are plenty of biscuits. I've got a new sort!"

When Mrs. Emmarce had decided to play the role of Good Samaritan nothing would deter her.

Smiling, she beckoned to her daughter, who slowly approached the bed and perched thereon, dropping her cloak. Mrs. Emmarce poured some tea without waiting for it to infuse.

(p. 206) "If you'd only come a tiny bit earlier," said she, "you might have shared your father's sandwiches and thermos in his room. He hasn't been gone a minute. I wonder you didn't see him."

"I did," said Myrtle briefly, harshly.


"On the pavement outside. I suppose he's 'stealing a march' on someone as usual."

"My dear!" Mrs. Emmarce protested mildly against the sarcastic tone.

"Well," said Myrtle. "He was very rude to me."


"Yes. And in front of Plaistow and Price, too!"

"But Myrtle! Perhaps you weren't very polite to him."

"I was perfectly polite to him, and he snapped my head off. I blushed. I could feel myself blushing. But not for myself! For him!"

"It's very strange," said Mrs. Emmarce, tremulous. "He popped in to see me only a few minutes since, and chatted—said he'd seen my light burning under the door, and he couldn't go without giving me a hug. Why! He actually wanted to make my tea for me, though he was in a hurry. But I wouldn't let him. No. I would not. Nobody could have been more charming. He takes just as much trouble to be nice to me as he did before you were born, my pet. If all husbands were like him the world would be a very different place for wives."

"Oh, yes," Myrtle retorted, with a hint of a sneer. "We all know he's always charming and all that to you. But not to us. And everyone says he's simply terrible when he's doing one of his business deals. Hard as flint. And that's how he is to me—I mean that's how he was this morning. I really came in to tell you about it."

(p. 207) Mrs. Emmarce was gently crying. Myrtle refused to notice the tears. She loved her mother, but in spite of herself and in spite of her judgment. It was true that the Napoleonic financier invariably treated her mother with the most marvellous consideration. But Myrtle cynically suspected that her father's conjugal demeanour was chiefly the result of a deep feminine unscrupulous cleverness on the part of her mother, who acted the sensitive simpleton, the ivy to the oak, the weak foolish woman adoring and trusting the strong, sagacious, loving, leniently masterful man. Myrtle suspected. She was not sure. Had she been sure she would have scorned her mother, burned her up with disdain, loathed her. Womanly wiles were for Myrtle the most despicable form of iniquity. Ugh! She retched at the thought of it.

"Have some tea."

Myrtle shook her head gloomily.

"To please me, my pet. Just one little sip."

Ruthless, her mother's soft insistence!

"Oh well!" Myrtle, beaten, took just one little sip. Then, with trembling hand, she returned the cup, and stood away from the bed, towering formidably youthful over the ageing weak woman with her sex-appeal undiminished by age.

"My dear! My dear!" said Mrs. Emmarce, when Myrtle had finished the tirade in which she repeated, very correctly—save for a few exaggerations due to her youthfulness and a state of high emotion, all her father's remarks. "Of course I can understand your father. You coming home at six in the morning—he was bound to be upset. You must see that for yourself."

"I think it's monstrous," Myrtle proceeded. "Simply monstrous! Does he imagine I haven't thought about it all hundreds and thousands of times. But what's the use? What can I do? What can any of us girls do? (p. 208) ... 'Educated,' am I? He has a nerve to tell me I'm educated! How am I educated? I can speak French and German, in a way. But what's that? But what can I do? I've been brought up to be idle and spend money, and enjoy myself. Only I don't enjoy myself. I hate it all. I only live as I do because I was taught to live like that, and because all the other girls do it. It isn't my fault. It's your fault—I mean father's. And you always agree with him. I should just like him to show me what I ought to do. He couldn't. And then he rounds on me. Supposing he lost all his money and I had to go out and earn my living. How should I do it? I don't know anything about anything that's real. Why, when I see a housemaid cleaning a room I'm ashamed,—yes, ashamed! Because I couldn't clean a room. Don't know how to. I often feel the maids scorn me, because at any rate they can do something and I can't. They do earn their living. They're in demand, maids are. And they'd leave as soon as look at you. They know if they leave one place they can get forty other places. Of course they scorn me. And don't I guess how they talk about me in the staff-hall! And what will they be saying to-night when Plaistow gets back and Price comes in for orders! A nice juicy story! And I'm forced to stay here and stand it all; I'm in a prison here, because I've been brought up to be idle and helpless! Supposing I walked out, and I've a good mind to; but I know I shan't because I've got no character. My character's never been developed. Nobody ever cared twopence about it. Oh yes, I know I'm considered pretty good at small talk and keeping things going and all that. And I can play the guitar. Negro spirituals! Good God! But supposing I did walk out—I should starve. Well, I might be a mannequin—I was forgetting that—and you know what mannequins are, and what they jolly well have to do! (p. 209) It isn't as if I hadn't given you hints now and then that I wasn't satisfied. I have! But what's the result always been? You've smiled. And you say it wouldn't be right for me to be taking the bread out of another girl's mouth who really needs money. So I'm to be sacrificed. What I say is that a fair day's work for a fair day's pay won't take the bread out of anybody's mouth. And I shouldn't care if it did anyhow. I'm the unemployed. I'm on the dole, that's what I am! And what about father taking the bread out of other people's mouths? Why, he never does anything else!"

She stopped, resentful and triumphant, sure that she had spoken unanswerably. She was merciless, granitic, in her outraged youth. She would make no allowance for anybody. She was unarmed against parents and the world, but she victoriously held the field.

Mrs. Emmarce had ceased to cry, and ceased to drink tea. She was rubbing a thumbnail against her teeth. She thought: "I must be careful. The child only needs handling." She pitied Myrtle's naïve youth. "The child will get over it." She entirely ignored the problem which Myrtle had so passionately stated.

Then she said aloud, very quietly, very soothingly:

"You know, my pet, you'll see later on that you aren't being quite just to your father,—or to me. You ought to know that if he thought you really wanted to work, he wouldn't stand in your way.".

Myrtle broke out again:

"It isn't a question of standing in my way. I don't 'want' to work—why should I, seeing how I've been brought up? I only feel I ought to work. What I need is to be encouraged to work, forced to work, whipped into it. I need to have work knocked into me. I could stand it all right. I should come through. But I can't come through by myself. I need—"

"I'll tell you what you need, my pet," said Mrs. (p. 210) Emmarce, with a strange, confidential smile. "Let's be frank. You're grown up now. You're a woman. What you need is to get married. You're spoiling for it. You know you are. There's nothing else the matter with you. And you know as well as I do you can get married whenever you choose."

Myrtle was startled, dashed, for an instant. How clever her mother was, with that new flattering tone of hers! But the young girl recovered savagely.

"Well, I just won't do it. I'm not going to get married for my father's money. One waster's enough—we don't want two. And I won't be married on my face. And what else have I got to give to a man in exchange for what he'd give me? I can't run a house, haven't the least idea how to! I can't manage servants. I don't know the price of anything except clothes and scent. What sort of a fool should I look in a butcher's shop or a fishmonger's? I couldn't tell beef from mutton until I tasted it. I can't even be punctual. I couldn't make a husband comfortable. Do you think I don't know what sort of a rotter I am? I won't marry a rotter, and I won't cheat a man who isn't a rotter."

"But listen, darling—"

"Oh, shut up, mother! You make me sick."

Myrtle bent her head suddenly, sobbed, and ran out of the room, banging the heavy door.

Mrs. Emmarce sighed gently.


"Are you at home, miss?" Plythe, the fat butler—tall too, but a head shorter than any of the three terrific footmen his solemn legionaries—had ceremonially entered the small drawing-room which lay hidden (p. 211) behind a disguised door in the highly decorated wall of the palatial main reception room.

Myrtle was alone, lounging meditative in a cushioned corner. She had been alone and meditative all day.

"Who is it?"

"Mr. Cuthbert Mallins."

Her first impulse was to answer No. Fourteen hours earlier that day she had been dancing with him, Cuthbert Mallins. Thirteen hours earlier she had been eating bacon and eggs by his side.

"Yes, show him in," said a voice: hers. After all, why should she refuse herself? She was not a coward, and she had had perhaps more than enough of her own society.

Plythe bowed and departed. A very tall young man—as tall as any of the legionaries,—appeared, broad-shouldered, bland, fashionably dressed, smiling.

"Hello, Bertie. What's the meaning of this?"

"Well, you said I might call."

"I'm glad to see you. But you do take a girl at her word, don't you?"

"I do." He had a deep, reverberating voice.

"Wasn't expecting you for at least a week."

"Well, there it is."


"No, thanks. Nothing."

"You've come into a house of mourning, Bertie," she began lightly, when they were both seated, he about six feet away from her. She was noted for her conversational ease. "Smoke if you want." An ambiguous smile prevented him from accepting her announcement literally.

"Some Pekinese dead?" he suggested.

"Much worse," said Myrtle. "I've been officially informed that I'm a rotter." She found pleasure in bursting out with the news and thus startling the young (p. 212) man. They had known one another for a year past, and in recent weeks their intimacy had grown rapidly. During the previous night they had had two separate intimate talks. She liked his mind. She knew that he liked her mind. And he was a man of parts who now and then hinted a polite but effective disdain of the military and the ducal clans. Partner in an enormous firm of stockbrokers. A realist who could smile benignantly on his realism. And well-made, athletic (though with no mad passion for games), personable, discreetly ingenious in the matter of neckties.... Anyhow she would see how he behaved in the situation. Not that she cared how he behaved (she thought)! She just had to have the relief of opening her soul. She had written about the rotter business to her sister and great friend Helen, who was 'finishing' an elaborate education in Paris. But the relief of writing had not endured. Her mother had become an invalid for the day—prudently awaiting her husband's return before deciding on a policy. Her mother had not sought her and she had not sought her mother. Like her mother she awaited her father, but she awaited him as one angry tiger awaits another. She had cancelled a lunch-engagement and a tea-engagement, and declined every siren call of the telephone.

"How a rotter?"

She related the 6 a.m. incident to Mr. Mallins as fully and as brutally as she had related it to Mrs. Emmarce. Rather fun, this audacity; bitter fun, but fun!

"What do you say to it all?" she ended.

"Oh!" said he. "I'm not at liberty to talk freely. I don't know you well enough."

"Bertie, my boy, if you say one more word in that strain I shall ring for help."

"Then I agree with your parent. You are a rotter." (p. 213) He slid down in the easy-chair, and his legs were all across the room. He smiled and frowned at her simultaneously.

"Thank you!"

"Well, you asked for it."

"But I'm really thanking you. I'm not being sarcastic. Yes, I am a rotter. But don't I tell you it's not my fault."

"Yes, it's your fault all right, because you've got brains and character. If you hadn't—"

"I've got brains—a bit. But I certainly haven't got character. So you needn't flatter me."

"As I was saying, if you hadn't got character you wouldn't have told me all about this. Of course you've got character. Only you've been letting it lie idle—until to-day."

"But what can I do? What could I have done?"

"Good God! What a question! If you can't educate your parents, who do you think can? It's your job. You ought to have issued an ultimatum to them—long ago. But there's still time. Do it to-morrow. Do it to-night."

"But what ultimatum?"

"Say you mean to earn your living in your own way. He wants you to be useful at something."

"He doesn't. He was only tired and cross this morning. And it was only the cheap melodrama of him starting out when I was coming home that struck his fancy. He simply couldn't resist it. Supposing he won't have my ultimatum—and he wouldn't, you know!"

"Then walk out of the house."

"Yes, and starve."

"You wouldn't starve. With your family you could always lay your hands on a few hundreds—"

"But that wouldn't be keeping myself. I can't earn anything."

(p. 214) "I know that. You haven't got anything to offer in the labour market. But if you had a few hundreds you could learn to earn."

"Learn what, for instance?"

"There are two things you ought to do. You ought to go to a business college and discipline your mind. And you ought to go to a school for household-training. These two things are obvious. But it doesn't matter what you do, so long as you cure your awful disease."

"Idleness, naturally. Yes, and mind-wandering."

She was deeply impressed by the revelation that his mind marched equally with hers. But she hid her feeling.

"You've evidently been thinking quite a lot about the modern girl," she said sarcastically.

"Yes, I have."

"And you think you're very wise," she added, with a sarcasm still fiercer.

"Perhaps," Cuthbert agreed negligently, pleasantly.

"But why should I take any notice of what you say? You're talking through your hat. Aren't you a rotter too? Why, three times in the last fortnight I've seen you myself up till four in the morning. This morning it was nearly six. How can you do an honest day's work after such nights?"

"Ah!" said Cuthbert. "There's an explanation of that."

"What is it?"

"I won't tell you."

"Why not?"

"Because it's too soon. I won't be hurried."

"You'll tell me this very moment." Myrtle stood up.

Then Cuthbert stood up.

"Very well then. I'm getting to be a rotter because you're making me a rotter. I'm burning the candle at both ends because that's the only way I can see you. (p. 215) I stay late at these damned parties because you stay late. You're my evil star, and so now you know."

"And I suppose this is what you call love-making. Latest fashion, I suppose!" Myrtle's nostrils were expanding and contracting.

"Call it what you please," said Cuthbert.

But in spite of the tenor of these last remarks, and of their tone, Myrtle, even more than Cuthbert, felt that a solemnizing, a thrilling influence had descended upon the room. Both were frightened, as well as happily expectant.

Then Mr. Emmarce himself came in.


Myrtle, exercising by instinct her renowned social tact, assumed imperturbability. After all, she was not in Cuthbert's arms, nor were they seated close side by side. They were standing at two-arms' length.

"Well, Dad, so you're back. This is Cuthbert Mallins. His first visit here. You're just in time to make his acquaintance."

"Oh! But I know Mr. Mallins quite well, don't I?"

"Yes, sir," said the young man, shaking hands.

Mr. Emmarce was blandness itself, very different from the taut Mr. Emmarce of 6 a.m.

"You were quite right this morning, Dad," Myrtle proceeded. "I am a rotter. Cuthbert agrees with you. So do I. I thought it was your fault, though—me being a rotter. But Cuthbert disagrees with me there. He says it's my own."

"But my dear girl!" Mr. Emmarce protested, less imperturbable under shock than his daughter.


(p. 216) Myrtle had sat down, leaving the two astounded men on their feet.

"It's perfectly all right," said Myrtle. "No secrets from Cuthbert. I've told him every word you said. He's in love with me. He didn't mean to tell me so; but I dragged it out of him."

The outraged males glanced at one another, forming in an instant a secret but perfectly futile society for the protection of their sex against the unconscionable and unpredictable sex. Still, all three had a strange sense of relief and well-being, mingled with their apprehensions.

"I'm clearing the air," thought Myrtle.

"She's practically accepted me," thought Cuthbert.

As for Mr. Emmarce, he saw in Mr. Mallins the solution of a frightful domestic problem. Mr. Mallins was supremely eligible.

"And he's my medical adviser, too," Myrtle went on, indicating Cuthbert. "He says I'm suffering from a disease, a moral disease. And he's prescribed the cure, and I shall take it. It starts with an ultimatum—to you, Dad."

"That all?" murmured Mr. Emmarce, diplomatically.

"Either you've had a very successful day, Dad, or you've been talking to mother and she's warned you to mind your p's and q's with me."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Emmarce, dropping into a chair, as if to say: "Well, I'm out without my umbrella. Let it rain, and be hanged to it!"

"The ultimatum is," Myrtle explained, "either you let me—or I should say either you encourage me, positively force me to attend a business college and a school of household-training, and work day and night seriously, and you keep me at it, with a whip if necessary, whether I want or not—or—"

(p. 217) "Or?"

"Or I walk straight out of the house, sell my jewels—the emeralds alone ought to be ample—and go into lodgings and live on the proceeds until I've learnt something useful and got my mind into order, and got all this midnight frolic foolishness out of my system. That's what Cuthbert advises."

"I didn't quite—" Cuthbert began.

"Yes, you did, and you know you did," Myrtle interrupted him violently.

"I accept," said Mr. Emmarce.

"It isn't," Myrtle concluded. "It isn't that I have a passion for business. Not at all! But I'm told that my mind needs discipline. That's what the business college is for. Teach me good habits. Industry, order, and all that. If I succeed, perhaps Cuthbert will graciously condescend to marry me—though he's very angry with me because it seems I've been making him into a rotter too."

"Look here, I say, Myrtle," Cuthbert exploded. "You're really going a bit too far. Mr. Emmarce, believe me—"

At this point Myrtle and Cuthbert had the spectacle of Mr. Emmarce as unobtrusively as possible quitting the room. Having arrived at the door he turned like a humorous, happy fox and said:

"I may as well leave you to it."

He was gone. The door closed quietly.

Myrtle rose.

"Don't get ideas into your head," she remarked threateningly. "There's a tremendous lot to be done, and I daresay I shan't manage to do it, being a rotter. But you may take it from me I won't marry anybody—I mean I won't go into the labour market, because that's what it amounts to, until I've got something to offer."

(p. 218) Cuthbert seized her left hand, and with brutal force, inexcusably wreaking his physical superiority of a male upon a weak defenceless girl, pulled Myrtle almost viciously towards him. Degrading sight!... They were hushed, awed, moveless in the presence and grip of a power which they had yet scarcely begun to understand. The room had ceased to be a drawing-room. It had ceased to exist. They were alone together in space.



Mercia had just finished dressing—by electric light, 8-15 a.m.—when there was a knock at the door of her bedroom.

The room was in perfect order, save for the unmade bed; it had something of the appearance of a home—indeed it was Mercia's home, retreat, fastness, castle; but its dimensions and general aspect were modest, and its window showed that it formed part of an attic floor in the hotel. Worse rooms than Mercia's were, however, to be found by opening doors on the long and narrow carpetless corridors of the attic floor. For Mercia was a member of the upper-class of the hotel-staff. On one side of her lived the second-floor housekeeper, quite a personage; and a few rooms away a far greater personage, the Italian manager of the Grill-Room, hid the secrets of his private life.

"Come in," said Mercia, in a quiet, composed voice.

That voice was one of the keys to the enigma of Mercia's individuality. (Not that her individuality could fairly be called more enigmatic than that of any other human being!) Twenty-four years of age, dark, tallish, with some perhaps disputable claims to beauty, simply dressed in black alpaca enlivened by certain trimmings of (artificial) silk, well shod, smoothly coiffured, unjewelled, efficiently self-manicured, she (p. 220) spoke with benevolent, firm restraint, and she moved in the same manner.

A fat, middle-aged housemaid entered the room, bearing a box in brown paper.

"I knew you'd be dressed, Miss," said the smiling incomer, glancing at the alarm-clock which stood on the small mantelpiece between framed photographs of Mercia's parents. "So I thought I'd run in with this before you went down. I happened to see it on the radiator by my lift."

Evidently Mercia was a favourite with at least one humbler member of the staff.

"It was awfully nice of you," said Mercia, and took the parcel.

The housemaid, rather breathless, vanished quickly, waddling: as one who had five seconds to give and no more.

Mercia gazed with curiosity at the parcel.

Three years earlier, on the death of her mother—her last surviving parent—Mercia had inherited a sum of about £6,000. She had immediately invested her inheritance in gilt-edged stocks, and sworn to herself never to touch the capital. In the three years she had saved, and invested, £800 of interest. Having been told all her life that she possessed a talent for housekeeping and organization, and being modestly convinced of the truth of the story, she had decided to learn the art of running a hotel; for during short sojourns in English provincial hotels she had not once stayed in a hotel whose management she did not think she could easily improve. She had a desire to put herself to the test by renting in due course a small hotel, and so at the same time exercising her faculties and earning a good livelihood.

The strangely logical creature had accordingly set about making her career by obtaining, through the (p. 221) hazard of influence, entry into a first-rate London hotel and then labouring in such of its various departments as were open to girls. She had heard that in Switzerland, where hotel-proprietors are the only salt of the earth, the haughty sons of salt learned the job of their fathers by beginning as dishwashers and ascending industriously in the scale till they reached the throne of supreme power in the director's room. Why should she not do likewise?

She had done likewise—as completely as was permitted to her. She had toiled in the mending department, and the clerical side of the kitchens. She had been a housemaid and then a floor-housekeeper; she had familiarized herself with the beauty-parlours styled cloakrooms; she had rung on and off in the telephone exchange; she had performed early morning shopping in the great markets; and now she was in the bills-department, where day by day the money arrives, and a good part of the friction also arrives. To be perfect in the bills-department one must have a very wide knowledge of the functioning of all services charged for in the bills: which knowledge Mercia demonstrably had.

She now undid the parcel, whose address was written in a masculine hand. Within the beribboned box within the brown-paper was a wreath of gardenias, and on the wreath reposed half a sheet of hotel-notepaper on which had been inscribed, in the same hand as the address, the words:

"Many happy returns of the day. M.F.H."

The unromantic, common-sense creature instantly, to her own surprise, slipped into a most romantic mood. She knew nobody with initials 'M.F.H.' She knew nobody at all likely to bestow flowers upon her. She lived the strict, monastic, insular life of an hotel-employee. She had never mentioned her birthday to (p. 222) anyone, scarcely even to herself. What was the conclusion? The sole possible conclusion, she thought, was that among the hotel-guests she had an unknown male admirer who had been bewitched by her across the counter of the bills-department. She accepted this conclusion. Silly! But sweet! Yes, it was a sweet conclusion, and a thrilling. A conclusion which changed her from Mercia into a quite different girl of the same name.

She always, on principle, had a margin of time in hand. She now expended the margin in arranging for the comfort of the gardenias in a bowl of water.


Susie was dressing, in terrific haste and wild disorder, all across and around the next room to Mercia's. Susie had reached the lipstick stage of her toilette, and was using to the lipstick language which no refined young woman ought to use to a lipstick. As for the room, it had the air of having recently been put to the sack by a burglar with no time to spare.

Twenty-four years of age, dark, tallish, with indisputable claims to beauty, simply but not inexpensively dressed in black alpaca touched at the wrists and the neck with colour, jewelled watch on one wrist, stylistically shod, marvellously coiffured, her fingernails a fine unnatural pink, Susie mumbled to her lipstick without benevolence and without restraint.

Three years earlier Susie had inherited a sum of about £6,000, which money she had immediately employed in transactions on the Stock Exchange, buying many more shares than she had capital to pay for and selling them again before the dawn of pay-day. For some mysterious reason she had a profound belief (p. 223) in her own financial flair. In the first three months of her transactions this belief was richly justified by results. Her £6,000 grew into £12,000 odd, and she foresaw herself a millionaire in a year or so.

But in the second three months fate somehow fought against her, and she lost the entire £12,000 plus a hundred pounds or so which she had to borrow to save herself from bankruptcy, shame, humiliation, and other trials.

Through influence she had obtained a post as saleswoman amid the luxuriant blossoms of the hotel flower-shop. She had been so successful that, a vacancy occurring, she became the head of the fabulous shop. She was not a good head. Her buying was scarcely economical: her accounts were comic, when not tragic, in the eyes of inspecting clerks from the accountant's office. She sinned against various disciplinary rules of the hotel. Punctuality was not her chief virtue. But she kept her position easily, because she could sell more flowers, at higher prices, than anybody else in the varied history of the hotel flower-shop. Hotel guests seemed to be drawn into the flower-shop as by invisible magic cords. She had a passion for flowers, and she would communicate that passion to her fellow-creatures, especially males, by means incomprehensible even to herself.

Susie had the trustful type of mind which assumes that time stands still for you if you are late and still ardently want to accomplish something outside your schedule. She never had in hand a margin of time, but in desperate cases, which with her happened about ten times a day, she always pretended that she had.

This morning she snatched up a parcel from her toilet-table and dashed out of the room and dashed into the next room like Byron's Assyrian wolf. And just within the doorway she dashed into Mercia who, calm (p. 224) and unhasting, was on her way forth. Susie hugged Mercia fondly.

"Child!" said she, her sticky lips on Mercia's soft cheek. "Many of 'em. Here's some chocs. Couldn't afford anything better." And bestowed the parcel.

Mercia took an envelope from her handbag and bestowed it in exchange for the chocs. The envelope contained a cheque.

"Ten pounds!" Susie exclaimed. "You horrid, wealthy darling. You've saved my life!"

Then Mercia hugged.

"We shall be late," said Mercia.

"Hullo!" said Susie. "Hello!" She had spied the wreath of gardenias in their watery bed on the mantelpiece. "Who's the simpleton, my child?"

Mercia, not without pride, displayed the sheet of hotel-notepaper.

"Oh, him!" said Susie.

"You know him?"

"A customer," Susie replied. "Buys flowers twice a day. Can't think what he does with them. Yes, he bought those gardenias last night." She examined the flowers and recognized them. For her every flower had a personality. "Yes, them's them all right. He gave me some chocolates last night."

"These?" Mercia inquired, lifting the box and smiling ironically.

Susie nodded, and laughed. They both laughed.

"You don't mind, child?" said Susie. "You know I never eat chocs. Daren't. And you oughtn't to."

"Of course I don't mind!" Mercia pooh-poohed the absurd idea. "But how did he know about our birthday?"

"I suppose I must have mentioned it," said Susie, self-conscious.

Mercia asked for information about M.F.H.

(p. 225) "Room 404," said Susie, shortly.

"Oh!" Mercia murmured, and cogitated. "Name's Helford, then?"


Thoughtful, Mercia led Susie in the direction of their day's work.


The bills-department gave on to the main entrance-hall or foyer, from which it was separated by a mahogany counter. Over the counter hung an electric sign, "Cashier." At a right-angle to this counter was another and larger counter labelled, also electrically, "Reception." Behind the reception counter rose an immense lace-work of hundreds of pigeon-holes, with brass keys hooked on to some of them, and here and there little packets of letters ledged slanting within them. Next came the book and newspaper stall and the tape-machine. Then the sacred lair of that great, benevolent, and aged panjandrum, the splendidly uniformed hall-porter, who was so important and respected that nobody could ever be quite sure whether he or the managing director was the supreme authority in the world of the hotel. Susie's flower-shop, which from the exterior resembled a conservatory of green punctuated with rich and rare blossoms, stood on the other side of the entrance-hall. The entrance-hall lived night and day in electric light.

At the back of the Cashier counter lay quite a large room, with a wide doorway but no door in it. In the room were several clerks, including two girls (one of them Mercia) and a man. They entered items from slips into colossal books of many colours, and they transferred the entries from the books on to bill-sheets. Every bill bore the words "Cheques not accepted"; (p. 226) cheques, however, were frequently accepted. On one wall of the room was suspended a framed, printed managerial notice of guidance. "THE GUEST IS ALWAYS RIGHT." But the clerks knew that they must add to this injunction the proviso "Except sometimes when money is in dispute."

The traffic between guests and the bills-department was usually at its most active in the morning; for it was in the morning that guests as a rule would depart. On this particular morning Mercia happened to be at the counter. A stout, shabby, and plethoric old gentleman was arguing with her about his bill, which included an item of £26 8s. 6d. for a dinner and a supper. Mercia was exhibiting to him a series of slips, all indubitably signed by himself, vouching for every bit of food and drink served to him or to members of his party during their visit.

Her diplomatic task consisted of proving that the hotel was right while tacitly admitting that he could not possibly be wrong. "Yes, my lord." "Certainly, my lord," said Mercia mildly, soothingly.

His lordship looked at Mercia (when he did not look through her) and saw a discreet female clerk who presumably had no human ties, no private life, no distractions. His lordship had not the least notion that Mercia was not really standing opposite to him at the counter, but rather was flitting in and out of the flower-shop, gazing at a wreath of gardenias in an attic, wondering how and when she could wear them, recalling the physiognomy of Room 404 (with which as floor-housekeeper she had once been completely familiar), and recalling too the physiognomy of a blond young man named Helford, who had had several short conversations with her across the counter about his bills, about London traffic problem, and about nothing. A somewhat wild young man, though agreeable. He made (p. 227) unexpected remarks, but was never familiar; and he never looked through her.

She had not thought twice about him, nor imagined that he had thought twice about her.... And now the startling wreath of gardenias! That wreath of gardenias might well have induced, in a young woman less perfectly self-controlled than Mercia, an absent-mindedness fatal to the diplomatic conduct of business.... The gift of chocolates to Susie she could understand; she could have understood a bracelet to Susie. But a wreath of gardenias to a bill-clerk! Baffling! Exciting! Yes, very exciting—she could not deny the excitement! However, she managed to overcome his lordship, who signed a cheque.

In the glass which covered part of the counter, she could, by bending, see herself. She looked curiously at herself, as if looking for an explanation of the wreath of gardenias.

She had heard the subdued tinkle of the telephone-bell in the room behind her. As soon as the Scottish peer had left the counter, the male clerk came to her side and murmured, scarcely audible, one word:


"What?" Mercia breathed, frowning.

"Suicide. 404. Name Helford—you know. Seems he's a playwright. Writes under the name of Dusk or something. Richard Dusk. Had a failure at the Charing Gross Theatre or somewhere."

"Oh!" breathed Mercia, gathering up the cheque and the series of slips.

Now in a hotel a suicide, or any sort of demise, is an exceedingly grave matter, the news of which reaches every member of the staff in a hundred seconds. The duty of every member of the staff is to hide it from all surviving guests, or, if it becomes known, to be either mute or utterly mysterious about it.

(p. 228) IV

Susie, helped by an assistant, a capable young girl of sixteen, to whom she gave an order about every half minute—and sometimes two orders simultaneously, was busy among her flowers in the flower-shop; the flowers which had lived all alone during the night, and the flowers which had just arrived from the wholesalers.

She looked at the latter, lying as it were drugged with their stalks stretched straight in long wooden boxes, and her glance somehow instantly gave them life and individuality. She talked to them, while lifting them from the cotton-wool, as she might have talked to a cat; she caressed them; she called them sweet names; she condoled with them upon the brevity of floral life and the imminence of death.

And she dashed around the shop, and the assistant dashed around the shop eager to be useful. And the flowers were housed and fed. And Susie's eye glinted and her limbs moved freely and loosely, and her hands were expressive of her feelings towards the flowers.

An impulsive, flyaway, beautiful creature! She had the sort of mind that flits incessantly to and fro, incapable of concentration because of the variety of its interests. While thinking of the flowers she thought of the bestower of chocolates and gardenia wreaths. Her unspoken reflections and her spoken remarks ran into one another and made an extraordinary medley.

"I like him but I don't like his moustache. Quick! Take that box from under my feet. Of course he's a flirt, but he's quite straight. Why does he have a moustache? No! Fold up the paper. Anyhow put it somewhere else. Why did he send those gardenias to Mercia? He never said a word to me about them being (p. 229) for her. You never know what he'll say next. But he's frightfully nice and polite. Under thirty. Yes, under thirty. Now do cut the stalks evenly. You can't cut them with those scissors. Get the large pair. No, stick them in that brown vase in the corner. No, not that one. The brown one in the corner. Can't you see? Why Mercia? He told me when his birthday was, so of course I had to tell him when mine was. Only decent to tell him. Besides, he's all right. Steady with that maidenhair. Steady. He must have money. Comes in twice a day and spends about a pound each time. I wonder what he does with them all. Must know lots of girls.... And then Mercia! And he never let on who they were for. Don't drown them, now. You're flooding the entire shop. Mind your apron. And leave that Japanese pigmy alone. You know it only wants watering every other day. But why Mercia? She never mentioned him to me, and he never mentioned her. Not his sort—I should say—"

"Please miss," said the assistant, "Mr. Medmenham's outside."

And Mr. Medmenham was indeed outside. The great, gloriously-uniformed panjandrum, he who had once been summoned in the night to chat with an American envoy lying sleepless on a bed of pain! The benevolent old fellow had left his den and was espying from the front of the flower-shop.

Susie thought of him always as Father Christmas, because his hair was white and his uniform chiefly scarlet. She dashed to the front of the shop, and enchantingly beamed upon him. She had an affection for the panjandrum, and the affection shone in her bright eyes and showed itself in her parted, pouting red lips.

The panjandrum's red face was very sad and very sympathetic. He thought that Susie was a strange and (p. 230) incalculable piece; but he returned her affection, and his general attitude towards her was that of a guardian and protector.

"Whatever's the matter, Mr. Medmenham?" Susie burst out, rather loudly, ignoring the movement of people in the foyer.

The panjandrum spoke low, a warning in his voice.

"I wanted to tell you myself," said he in a murmur. "Something rather dreadful's happened, and it'll be a shock to you."

Susie glanced across the hall and descried the figure of Mercia. So it could not be Mercia to whom something dreadful had happened.

"Oh dear! What?" Susie lowered her tone.

"It's that Mr. Helford. He's—he's had an accident."

"But he was in here last night. And I've been expecting him every minute. This is his time. Is he hurt?"

"I'm afraid he's hurt. I'm afraid—they say he's gone and killed himself. It's a great calamity for the hotel."

Susie gave a shriek, startling the hall. In the whole of the panjandrum's experience such a shocking noise had never before been heard in the sacred foyer. Hysterical giggles, yes! But a loud shriek!

Mr. Medmenham pushed Susie back into the shop, followed her, and shut the door.

"Come now! Come now!" he softly adjured his ward. And thought: "How sensitive they are!"


When, according to custom, the chambermaid entered the bedroom of Mr. Montagu Frederick Helford from his sitting-room on the morning of the (p. 231) events previously narrated, she found it as usual in darkness save for one or two glints of daylight at the edges of curtains and blinds.

Mr. Helford had been staying in the hotel for several weeks, and the woman knew exactly what she had to do,—namely, draw the curtains and the blind of the right-hand window and leave the curtains and the blind of the left-hand window alone. Mr. Helford did not care for a lot of light at an early hour. He preferred to get used to the dawn gradually. Sometimes Mr. Helford would ask her to transmit his breakfast-order to the floor-waiter; and sometimes he would telephone the order himself from his bedside. The nature of his breakfast would depend on his waking mood.

The chambermaid softly attended to the right-hand window and was just leaving again by the sitting-room door, when she had a 'feeling' (as she afterwards described it) that all was not as usual in the bedroom of the amiable and vivacious Mr. Helford. Till that moment she had refrained, as every discreet British chambermaid does, from looking at the bed.

Looking now at the bed, which was in the shadow of the curtained left-hand window, she perceived, or thought she perceived, in the gloom, that Mr. Helford was lying in bed fully dressed. Not in evening-dress, which might have been explicable, but in a lounge-jacket with soft collar and a club-tie. Being a chambermaid of immense experience in life, she was not unduly alarmed by the odd spectacle; indeed a sardonic and indulgent smile transiently lit her face. Then it struck her that the features of the sleeper (turned towards the wall) had a mortal paleness.

She very courageously approached the bed. Yes, the face of the sleeper was nearly as white as his pillows. Also, though clad, he was lying not on the bed but in the bed, with the sheet, blanket, and eiderdown only (p. 232) just below his shoulders. One arm was inside the bed-clothes; the other, the right, was stretched rather crookedly on the eiderdown. Still more odd, the right hand wore a thick, dark, fur-lined glove. The chambermaid, horrified, but spellbound, gazed closer. There was a small red hole in Mr. Helford's blanched temple. From this hole a little blood, very little, had exuded. Lastly, on the purple eiderdown, and scarcely distinguishable from it, reposed a revolver.

The chambermaid gave a gasp and fled quickly. Here was a first-class sensation, transcending anything in even her experience of the remarkable habits of hotel-guests.

In the corridor the chambermaid met the second floor waiter, an Italian whose English, though adequate enough for his duties, drooped under the strain of tidings poured out by a highly excited woman about the alleged suicide of a rich young gentleman who was admired and beloved by every employee on his floor. The two retired in rapid converse to the service-room at the end of the corridor. In which room the chambermaid fell into hysterics. Other employees joined the scene. The head floor-waiter could not be discovered. When he arrived he listened to the tidings with a certain incredulity, whereupon the chambermaid, who had partially recovered her reason, grew angry.

The head floor-waiter commanded the chambermaid to accompany him into No. 404. She refused. The man insisted. The woman relapsed into hysterics. The head and the second floor-waiters decided to invade the room themselves. They beheld what the chambermaid had beheld, and the head floor-waiter seemed to lose nerve when his subordinate lifted the arm of Mr. Helford and it dropped back like a piece of wood. The head, an Italian also, had an appalling fear of the police, and he furiously cursed the second floor-waiter (p. 233) for daring even to touch the body in the absence of authority.

"Yes," the two men heard as they re-entered the service-room. "And they'll be having me in the dock for murder!" The tearful, despairing voice of the chambermaid!

Confusion! Indecision! Long delay! The supreme director must be informed of the event. The senior waiter picked up the telephone receiver: then replaced it.

"No," he wailed. "I can't say that on the telephone." And he instructed his subordinate: "You go down to the office."

The subordinate declined the job. Discipline had vanished. Bells were unanswered. At length, because some pusher of an unanswered bell had telephoned a complaint to the office, the supreme director most strangely did make his appearance, solemn, calm, ineffably important, he demanded a pass-key. Several were offered to him. But the door would not yield to the persuasion of the key. Nor would the door of 405, the sitting-room.


"Both doors have been bolted on the inside," said the director.

A case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable post!

Should one of the doors be broken in? Decision against this course, as being both too noisy and too destructive!

Then somebody thought of the bathroom door, No. 403. The bathroom door yielded. But the door between the bathroom and the bedroom was locked and the key gone, and there was no pass-key for that secondary door. Who could have locked it? And who could have bolted the other two doors from the inside?

(p. 234) In the end another key was found, and the locksmith began to file its wards. At the very moment of the locksmith's triumphant success, Mercia arrived in the corridor. At the next moment Susie arrived in the corridor. Both were neglecting their duties. They gazed reproaches at one another, but not for the neglect of duties. After them came a doctor who had been summoned; also a policeman. The supreme director, with the head floor-waiter and the locksmith (who felt that he deserved a reward) and the doctor and the policeman and Mercia and Susie (neither of whom cared twopence what the director might think or say) streamed in file into the bedroom.

The bed was empty; the bedroom was empty; the wardrobes held naught but clothes; the sitting-room was empty. The policeman threw up a window; but the window looked upon a stone precipice some seventy feet in depth.


Mercia and Susie, by previous arrangement, spent that evening together at the newest and largest and grandest cinema house, the El Dorado, in the centre of the West End. The great sensation of the hotel had died down during the day, under the influence of a new rumour to the effect that there had been something spurious about the tremendous case of suicide. No member of the staff lower than a few hierarchs of the topmost rank knew the true inwardness of the affair; but instructions had come down from the directorial room that the occurrence of a suicide in the hotel was to be categorically denied. And denied it was. And among the employees everybody pointed out sagaciously to everybody else, first, that a corpse could not have been conveyed unseen out of room No. 404, (p. 235) and second, that the doors of Nos. 404 and 405 could not have bolted themselves on the inside.

Susie could have provided a man or so for the joint birthday-festival, but Mercia said that they had had enough of men for the present, and Susie had rather regretfully agreed to this proposition.

At the end of one super-film, and before another super-film began, Susie suggested that they should test the resources of the refreshment-lounge. As they went out they talked of the super-film just witnessed, but the conversation was less lively and critical than usual: partly because the event of the morning had taught them that super-films were not after all so wildly untrue to real life as the girls had supposed: and partly because the relations between the pair were not completely cordial. Each had privately resented the presence of the other at the crucial moment of entry into No. 404. Some obscure form of jealousy.

Further, Susie resented the fact that whereas not a managerial word had been said to Mercia about her absence from duty, Susie had barely escaped sentence of dismissal for a precisely similar absence from duty. In vain did Mercia explain to Susie that as she, Mercia, was officially in the hotel for the purpose of learning the whole business of hotel-running, it was at once her privilege and her duty to learn the methods of procedure in dealing with cases of suicide; for a suicide might happen in any hotel, and a manageress who through lack of practice could not cope with such a calamity would hardly be justified in claiming that she knew her job. Susie merely sniffed at the argument.

Still, on the surface, and perhaps some distance beneath the surface, the pair were on goodish terms.

The refreshment-lounge rivalled in vastness, and surpassed in splendour, the auditorium itself. Louis XV, of whose style it was a modern imitation, accustomed (p. 236) though he was to the dimensions of Versailles, would have regarded the lounge as no trifle. Scores and scores of tables dotted the immeasurable, thick, glowing carpet, dozens of natty waitresses waited, and hundreds of patrons either promenaded over the carpet or sat in easy-chairs at the tables.

The bill-clerk and the florist sat down at a table, felt quite at home in the magnificence, and, having lit cigarettes, were served with synthetic lemonade.

"Look!" murmured Mercia warningly, and bent her head.

Susie looked, and saw the giver of gardenias and chocolates wandering about with the bright eye of a searcher, just as if he had not been dead twelve hours earlier. He wore the fawn-tinted suit in which the chambermaid had discovered him.

"He's looking for us," muttered Susie, and bent her head.

"Did you tell him we should be here to-night?"

"I may have mentioned it," admitted Susie, confused.

Futile for the pair to avert their faces! The searching eye found them, and Mr. Helford advanced with an astonishing sang-froid.

He doffed his hat. "May I?" he asked, and without awaiting a reply sat down at the table.

"Thank you," said he, to Mercia.

"For what?" Mercia quietly demanded.

"You're wearing some of my gardenias."

It was true. The lapel of her coat held a couple of gardenias from the wreath.

Both girls were self-conscious. Susie kept strict silence.

"But what have I done, dear ladies?" the blond and airy Mr. Helford inquired in a most innocent tone. "I used my knowledge of the stage to make my face a dead white—'dead' is a good word—I painted a fine (p. 237) wound on my forehead, and I put a thick glove on my right hand so that nobody could tell whether my hand was burning hot or stone cold; and I got into bed and laid a revolver convenient; and when the door opened I shut my eyes and didn't move an eyelash. Any harm in that? Was it a crime? Was it bad manners? Did it do wrong to anybody? If anybody carelessly mistook me for a corpse am I to be blamed? And yet you look at me as if I had assassinated both my parents! I know people said I was in despair because my play has just failed in London. What a notion! All good plays fail in London. One expects it. But in New York I made a hundred thousand dollars with that same play. Why should I despair?"

"Mercia," said Susie. "We are missing the next film."

"No you aren't," said Mr. Helford, blithely. "I'm the next film. I've come here to tell you everything, and I must tell you. I haven't told anyone else, and I don't want to tell anyone else. Except the police. The police very kindly paid me a visit this afternoon—at another hotel. They asked me how I got away from No. 404 unseen. I told them I had a confederate. 'Who is he?' said they. 'Wouldn't you like to know?' said I. But I don't mind telling you he's a waiter who's going to start a little restaurant of his own in Soho, and I promised him some capital. All he had to do was to create as much delay as he could before informing the management. He did very well.... I washed the grease paint off my face, put on a uniform mackintosh and a cap which I abstracted from the locker of one of the chauffeurs of the hotel laundry-vans, slipped out of the bathroom door and down the service-staircase and out by the goods entrance. So simple! I do confess that if I'd known earlier it was your birthdays to-day I'd have put the affair off; because I admire both of (p. 238) you so much and I wouldn't have spoilt your birthdays for anything." He smiled. "But you didn't let me know about your birthdays until it was too late to alter my arrangements." He smiled anew.

"So that was it!" said Mercia awkwardly.

"That was it. I see you both hate me. So as I'm desperate at being hated and don't care what happens to me, I'll just tell you one more thing. I only gave both of you little birthday presents because I couldn't bear that one of you should feel out of it. But it's the other one who's knocked me silly. You're dying to know which of you it is who's knocked me silly. And you never will know now, because I see everything is all up with me. And anyhow it's nobody's business but mine.... I must say that though you are alike in looks, you aren't so frightfully alike in anything else—for twins."

Susie glanced up at him, and then quickly down again.

"What we are dying to know, Mr. Helford," Mercia primly remarked. "Is why you played this prank at all."

"It wasn't a prank," Mr. Helford cheerfully protested. "There's a fake suicide in a hotel in my next play, and I had to find out exactly what does happen and how it happens when some idiot shoots himself in a big hotel. You often read of these things in papers, but I needed a few realistic details. And I've got 'em. I interviewed my confederate—five minutes after the police had retired hurt—and the conscientious fellow had taken very careful notes for me. True, he can't spell."

"I understand now," said Mercia, no sign of reproof in her sedate voice. "And I'm glad you told us."

Mr. Helford, the successful playwright, gazed appreciatively and with intense relief into Mercia's (p. 239) eyes, and Mercia gazed into his. And Susie witnessed the exchange and threw down her cigarette. In that instant she had comprehended, with shocked amazement, that it was the chocolates, and not the gardenias, which had been given so that one of the girls should not feel 'out of it.'

"Well, I don't understand," she exclaimed. "What I do understand is that I've lost my situation through this lark of yours, Mr. Helford."

"Susie!" her sister demurred.

"Well," said Susie, correcting herself. "I mean I might have lost it.... Mercia, let's go home. I couldn't possibly stick another film. Besides, it's half over."

The refreshment-lounge was indeed nearly empty. None of the three had noticed the exodus.

The synthetic lemonade had been supplied on an immediate cash basis, and thus there was nothing to delay departure. Mr. Helford rose from the table with the girls. Nobody said good night. Hence Mr. Helford permitted himself to accompany the girls through the satin foyer and the silk vestibule into the street. Susie walked on in front. Mercia made an excuse for her to Mr. Helford, who replied that in his opinion Miss Susie was perfectly justified in her annoyance at his suicidal escapade. He said that he understood. Plainly he and Mercia were in a mood of mutual understanding, and the resentful defection of Susie somehow drew them closer together. Suddenly Susie stopped a taxi, and, jumping into it with the rapidity of an acrobat doing a trick, cried out:

"You two can walk to the hotel together, if Mr. Helford dare put his nose into the place!"

She was gone.

A sad display of pettishness on Susie's part. But Mercia again made an excuse for her, and Mr. Helford (p. 240) asserted that she was, really, a charming girl, and so good-looking. And his tone said further: "But not as charming and as good-looking as you are, Miss Mercia."

They did walk to the hotel together, or rather they walked together till the hotel was less than a hundred yards off. A solemn promenade! And somewhat taciturn! But they both enjoyed it, though they could not have explained why. A month or two later Mr. Helford was in a position to explain why he at any rate had enjoyed it. And he did explain, and Mercia accepted the explanation for the gospel which it in fact was.

Susie's moods, whatever they might be, were never of long duration. She proved to be an enchanting sister-in-law to Mr. Helford, full of affectionate mockeries.



"Well, I'm going now," said Mr. A.P. Lavington, standing in the little doorway of the speckless mahogany cubicle in which he passed his life, to the assistant seated in the chair behind the tiny window of the cubicle. And he spoke the simple words, and the assistant received them, as though they were epoch-making: which indeed they were.

Mr. Lavington was one of the most regularly advertised celebrities in London. Every day, including Sundays, you might see his name in all the principal London newspapers. It occurred in the advertisements of the Mayfair Theatre, thus: "Box Office (Mr. A.P. Lavington) 10 to 10." The Mayfair, for dignity and tradition, was unsurpassed, and probably unequalled, by any theatre in the West End. Standing some eight hundred yards out of the recognized 'theatre district,' it had no competitors within that distance. It was a rather small theatre, but very select. Warm, draughtless, comfortable, cosy, gilded, ornate, frequently re-decorated and re-seated, clean and bright even in its back-of-the-stage staircases, it steadily maintained an artistic policy which well matched its physical policy. Its name was always uttered with respect. "Ah! The Mayfair!" people said, when deciding upon an evening's entertainment, in a tone to imply that any play done at the Mayfair must have (p. 242) merit, and at worst must be a nice play, a play guaranteed not to shock nor to humiliate. The Mayfair had had its failures—it had just experienced one—but fewer than any other theatre in London. In short its reputation was unique, and rightly unique.

Now everybody knows that the most important part of any theatre is not the stage but the box-office. Hence to be the manager of the most important part of a theatre with a unique reputation as clean as its staircases, was to occupy a position unrivalled in the theatrical world. Mr. A.P. Lavington occupied that position—admirably, conscientiously, perfectly. He had occupied it for sixteen years, and for a dozen years before that he had occupied a subordinate position in the same box-office. So that he knew all about the Mayfair. He was the Mayfair.

Tall, slim, austere, urbane, irreproachably clad in a morning coat during the day and in evening dress at night, he was about fifty years of age—and yet he looked but forty. And he had kept this juvenility of appearance in spite of the fact that he worked long hours (10 to 10) and got no exercise except the short walk from his home to the theatre and from the theatre to his home. He would say that he owed his excellent health to regular habits. His habits never changed, and so his appearance never changed. Friends and acquaintances who had known him for thirty years constantly averred, and with sincerity, that he was exactly the same in the twentieth century as he had been in the nineteenth. He believed it.

And not only did he know all about the Mayfair—he knew all about all other theatres. If not actually 'born on the boards,' he had very nearly been born in a box-office. His father had been a box-office manager. Two of his brothers (younger) were box-office managers—in their minor way. One of his sisters had been an (p. 243) actress. Two of his cousins (distant) were dressers. He lived in and for the theatre. He knew all the gossip of the stage, all the plans of all the managers. In the morning he would easily inform himself of the previous night's receipts at every theatre. It is not too much to say that he amounted to a complete encyclopædia, always up to date, of theatrical information. Lastly, he was ever at his post, save during the brief hours of what he called his 'relief.'

The reader will now understand why his words 'I am going now,' spoken at three o'clock in the afternoon, were regarded by himself and his chief assistant as epoch-making.

He walked, with the consciousness of a great occasion, into the dark auditorium. The commissionaires in the foyer said to one another, startled, that 'Mr. Lavington' had gone into the stalls. Certain higher officials, and some artistes, were aware that 'A.P.' had gone into the stalls. The proprietor himself knew that 'Lavington' had (by permission) gone into the stalls. The proprietor, by the way, was the only individual on earth who addressed Mr. A.P. Lavington as 'Lavington,' or who openly referred to him as 'Lavington.'


The stalls of the dark auditorium were nearly uninhabited; only little groups of two or three persons here and there. The orchestra, hidden, was playing soft, vague music. Mr. Lavington glanced around in the gloom, and then, seeing a young girl seated by herself discreetly hiding from general observation in the tenth row, went and sat down beside her. The girl looked at him nervously, recognized him, and smiled as if reassured. He took her hand in a fatherly manner, (p. 244) shook it, squeezed it sympathetically, held it for a moment. A glow of light illuminated the foot of the curtain, and the curtain went up on a comfortable, nice, domestic scene. The orchestra ceased. Voices were heard on the stage.

"I thought I really must see your play, Miss Smith; and of course the dress-rehearsal is my one chance," Mr. Lavington gently murmured in the girl's ear.

"How kind of you, Mr. Lavington!" the girl murmured. Her smile had become heavenly.

Aline Smith (on the play-bills 'Alina Tresham') and Mr. Lavington had made acquaintance a few days earlier through the latter having summoned the former to the window of his cubicle. In his most benevolent tone he had asked her what seats she would want for her first-night. She had replied that she would not want any. Not even the customary 'author's box'? No. Not even that. After a moment she had suggested that she might be granted a couple of seats in the upper-circle. At which Mr. Lavington's head had signified a negative. All sold! She ought to be glad. Yes, she was immensely glad. But all the same stalls would not quite suit her friends. As a compromise he had bestowed upon her two seats (which he could have disposed of for good money) at the back of the dress-circle.

He had instantly taken a fancy to the young author of 'Fireside.' She was pretty; she was neat; she was modest. No! She was not a bit puffed up, though she might well have been at the prospect of having her first play presented at the unique Mayfair. She had absolutely no pretensions and she put on no air of intellectual smartness. If she put on any air at all it was the air of being awkward. She stated frankly that she was a typewriting girl employed in a solicitor's office in Bedford Square, and that she felt rather (p. 245) bewildered. Her demeanour had the innocent-guilty charm of bewilderment. Yet how clever must she be to have written this delightful play, worthy of the splendid traditions of the Mayfair!

"Nay!" said Mr. Lavington paternally, in answer to her inquiring glance when the house-lights went up at the end of the first act of the dress-rehearsal, "I won't tell you what I think till I've seen it all. You'll excuse me now for a minute or two."

And he returned to his mahogany cubicle to find out what had happened there during his absence.

And Aline Smith sat alone again. No one came to congratulate her or to wish her success, or to invite her views on the performance. Few people even knew who she was. She had been present only at scraps of rehearsals, by reason of the difficulty of leaving Bedford Square in office-hours. And, when present, she had been silent, almost apologetic. She preferred Mr. Lavington to anybody else on the theatre staff,—he had been so protective, so full of the milk of human kindness.

On the previous day she had confided in him—far more than she had confided in the publicity-man—told him how she had discovered two backers who had offered to put money into the play, how with the help of her employers a small limited company had been formed £75 (capital—to save stamp duty—and £4,000 of Debentures), how through one of the backers the unique Mayfair had been rented for a month, with option to extend, at £500 a week (the month's rent having been paid in advance), and how not all the debentures had as yet been subscribed for (but it didn't really matter).

Mr. Lavington had said, lightly and casually, that from all he had heard the play was so good he wouldn't have minded applying for a couple of hundred pounds' (p. 246) worth of Debentures himself. What Mr. Lavington actually meant (though he did not know it) was that the author was so young and diffident and feminine and attractive he wouldn't have minded applying, etc. And so on.... An idyll!

Before the curtain rose on the second act Mr. Lavington reappeared, with the publicity-man, a stout gentleman, following him.

"Well, A.P.," said the publicity-man, nodding carelessly to the author, "what do you think of my publicity?"

"Excellent! Excellent!" replied Mr. Lavington with judicial dignity.

Mr. Lavington's private notion was that in the case of 'Fireside' the publicity-man had had rather a soft job. Here was a poor typewriting girl having a play, and a first play, done at the sacrosanct Mayfair! The romance of it! The wonder of it! The possibilities of it! What more could a publicity-man desire? The newspapers positively competed for his snappy communications. The publicity-man departed.

At the end of the second act Mr. Lavington repeated himself to Miss Aline Smith, who, however, gathered from his benign and radiant face that he was highly pleased with the piece. At the end of the third and last act the audience, scanty and blasé as it was, applauded. Miss Smith blushed. She had a feeling that she must rush out of the theatre.

But Mr. Lavington seized her hand.

"My dear," said he. "I've been in the business for thirty years, and I like your play. One can never be sure, but I believe in it. And of course the Governor believes in it—or he'd never have let you have the theatre. Now I wouldn't mind taking £200 of those Debentures, with the ordinary shares that go with them."

(p. 247) Miss Smith showed that she was very deeply impressed.

"There are only £300 of Debentures left now," she murmured.

"Let me take £300 then," said Mr. Lavington nobly.

Miss Smith said that she would see to it by telephone immediately.

"My cheque's ready at any time," said Mr. Lavington.

Outside in the street, jumping on to a penny 'bus, Miss Smith felt perilously dazed. It was all too marvellous. The dress-rehearsal had been a success. And Mr. Lavington, with all his vast experience of the stage, had asked to be allowed to contribute capital!

What Miss Smith did not know, and could not have guessed, was that 'Fireside' happened to be the first play Mr. Lavington had seen in its entirety for about a quarter of a century. How could the kindly man see plays? He was always in his cubicle. Now and then, after ten o'clock, he might slip into the auditorium and witness the end of a play—no more. And but rarely had Mr. Lavington witnessed even the end of a play, because when ten o'clock struck and the shutter punctually descended on the window of his cubicle, Mr. Lavington's leading idea was to go straight home at the earliest possible moment, have a bite and a drink, and retire to bed.


Three 'curtains' after the first act. Five after the second act. A very friendly reception. Such were the reports of the performance received by Mr. A.P. Lavington in his cubicle during the first-night.

At ten minutes past ten, when the ticket window had been shut down and accounts set in order and cash counted and locked away, he went and stood at the (p. 248) back of the dress-circle to witness the final scenes of the last act.

As he knew the exact location of the two seats allotted to the authoress for her friends he glanced with interest at their occupants: a young man and a young woman, neither of them in evening-dress, but both of a neat and dignified clerkly appearance. He regretted the unconventionality of their costume, but otherwise he was content with them—and the more so as they were obviously enthralled by the play and gleaming with joy in it. And Mr. Lavington himself again found much pleasure in the play. Just as he thought Miss Aline Smith delicious, so he thought her light domestic comedy delicious, and he was glad that he had put three hundred pounds into it. Indeed he foresaw a fortune, in which he would share; he foresaw a cottage in the country, retirement, pottering about in a garden, and sleeping as long as he pleased.

At the close there was considerable applause—and sustained applause, sympathetic applause. And the approval of a discriminating audience such as that of the Mayfair—nearly all Mr. Lavington's choice 'first-night list' of patrons were present—meant a great deal both in prestige and in money.

The curtain went up and down and up and down. Then the players were called to receive kindly ovations. There were loud calls for 'author,' 'author,' and 'speech,' 'speech.' Mr. Lavington was delighted. He could not bear the tension of his delight. Clapping his hands was not enough. He must go behind. But as he did not wish to pass through the auditorium he ran out into the street, round the corner, through the stage-door, and so on to the stage.

From the Prompt wing he could hear the still sustained applause (it was louder than ever), and he could see the slim, delicate figure of Aline, all highly nervous (p. 249) and flustered, bowing and blushing. Aline wore a sort of demi-toilette, evidently of home manufacture, evidently inexpensive. The sight of her was pathetic; it touched Mr. Lavington's heart. Here stood that humble, timid young creature, earning probably two pounds a week at most and obliged to calculate her expenditure even to 'bus fares. But so brilliantly gifted that the world was at her feet and a glorious income well within her grasp. In simply no time she would be dashing to and fro in her own motor car and ordering frocks in Bond Street. Romance! Romance!

The curtain fell definitely at last, and no further sound arrived from the auditorium. The sudden silence struck strange, almost sinister. The first-night was over.

Aline came tripping off the stage, which already was, in possession of rough stage-hands who were taking a domestic interior to pieces with disconcerting rapidity and loud noises. Perceiving Mr. Lavington, Aline rushed at him as at an old and intimate friend, impulsively, girlishly. Her joy was almost out of control. Mr. Lavington clasped her hand.

"Congratulations, my dear! Congratulations!" said he, eagerly.

She was so young that she made him feel very old, and he wished, painfully, that he had been nearer her age. Really she was a marvellous being, so simple and yet so talented, What need had she of smart frocks and costly jewels? None! She was perfect, ravishing.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she replied with warm gratitude. Tears stood in her exquisite grey eyes, tears of a bliss that was incredible to her.

"You think it's a success?" she questioned. But the tone of the question showed that the girl was sure of an affirmative answer.

"Very decidedly," said he, with conviction.

(p. 250) "How is the booking?" she asked, surprisingly. What could she know about booking?

"Oh! Quite nice. Quite nice," said he. "Of course one doesn't expect a lot of advance-booking for a first play by an unknown author. If it had been a Barrie, no—but you aren't a Barrie—yet!"

She laughed lightly, as if to imply that if she wasn't yet a Barrie, she soon would be. Mr. Lavington liked her ingenuous confidence. How unspoilt she was!

The stage-manager, the assistant-stage-manager, and two electricians in blue overalls, were standing by. The stage-managers were amiably smiling; the electricians had the indifference of gods.

"I expect some pretty lively booking to-morrow," said Mr. Lavington.

"Yes.... I must go," said Aline, preoccupied. "I shall be late."

He loosed her hand, which he had been steadily holding. She fled. The abruptness of her departure incommoded him.

He reflected:

"She's thinking about somebody else. And the little thing doesn't know enough to know that she ought to go upstairs and congratulate her artistes before she leaves."

He was pushed aside by scene-shifters, who were no respecters of persons. They would have pushed aside the Governor himself had he obstructed their path. Mr. Lavington moved aimlessly up-stage.

"Lavington," said the imperative voice of a stoutish and elegant gentleman who was leaning against one of the big radiators on the back wall.

Mr. Lavington sprang towards him out of a dream.

"Yes, Governor."

"Not an earthly!" the Governor muttered sardonically.

(p. 251) "Well, sir," said Mr. Lavington. "I don't know,"'

"I do."

"The reception was very friendly, sir," said Mr. Lavington.

"The first-night reception is always friendly in this theatre," said the Governor with grimness. "Nothing to it. Nothing to go by. You know that. Or perhaps you don't know. Any booking?"

"Nothing very much," Mr. Lavington admitted.

"You wait and see the notices to-morrow, my boy," said the Governor.

"But we thought you thought very well of the play," said Mr. Lavington.

"I thought it had a fair chance," the Governor said. "Or I shouldn't have let the theatre. But you can never tell. Anybody who could tell for certain would be the richest man in the world in ten years.... No! Not an earthly! Makes no particular difference to us. It's a clean play, and we've got our rent in advance. Good night to you." The Governor vanished.

Mr. Lavington stared around on the now nearly deserted stage. On every white-washed wall he saw in enormous letters the admonitory word 'Silence!' Sinister.

"Lavington." The Governor had reappeared.

"Yes, sir."

"Do I hear that you've put something into this show?"

"Well—yes, sir."

"Three hundred?"

"Yes, sir."

"You can bid your three hundred a fond good-bye," said the Governor, and vanished for the second time.

To leave the theatre Lavington passed by the iron door through the auditorium, which now was sheeted with whitish white-wash sheets and lit by only two or three bulbs. He became aware that beneath all his (p. 252) satisfactions and his congratulations there had from the first been a horrid, hidden disbelief in the reality of the play's success. He had only believed what he wished to believe.


On the second night Mr. Lavington entered the author's box just as the curtain was falling on the last act of 'Fireside.' There she sat, in the same pathetic frock which she had worn on the previous evening to take her call. And she sat alone; she had sat alone throughout the play. And the box was a large box—indeed it was the royal box, with a little drawing-room behind it. She glanced round to see who might be the visitor, and she appeared not a bit surprised to see that the visitor was Mr. Lavington. Taking his offered hand as it were absent-mindedly (but sweetly), and pointing to a chair, she turned her gaze back towards the audience. She was absorbed in the audience.

As for Mr. Lavington, he had no need to look at the audience. He knew everything about the audience without looking at it. He knew that not a single box had been sold, and only one given away—the box in which sat the author. He knew that, though the stalls were two-thirds full, less than one tenth of the somewhat dowdy persons in them had paid for their seats. He knew that the same was true of the dress-circle and of the upper-circle. He knew the exact number of patrons in the pit—a paltry gathering clustered together in the centre of the first three rows thereof. And he knew that the takings in the gallery amounted to appreciably less than a couple of pounds. And somehow he most irrationally felt ashamed, guilty, as though he were somehow to blame for the sparse audience.

What interested Miss Aline Smith, however, was not (p. 253) the size of the audience but its demeanour—especially the demeanour of its hands and its faces. The audience was apparently very pleased with the play. It proved its pleasure by clapping and by smiles. Although far, far smaller and far less smart than the first-night audience, it made quite as much noise as the first-night audience, and showed quite as many smiles. Indeed its demeanour was extremely heartening.

"You can't get over that!" said Aline Smith to Mr. Lavington, proudly and confidently, while the curtain ascended and descended times beyond count, and the performers, all smiling, bowed and bowed.

The applause was very persistent indeed, so much so that Mr. Lavington was moved himself to join in the clapping. The applause would not stop. But in the end it did stop. In every applause there is always a last clap, and on the present occasion the last clap was clapped by Mr. Lavington. Rather pathetic, that!

Then a drum rolled and the orchestra mauled and nearly assassinated 'God Save the King,' and everyone stood at attention. And then the orchestra broke into a fox-trot, and the auditorium was suddenly empty. The people disappeared like water out of a cracked basin. One moment they were there; the next they were not there. Aline Smith and Mr. Lavington by a common impulse sat down again. Mr. Lavington was nervous. Aline was not at all nervous. The assurance of the appreciated playwright had been engendered within her and was rapidly growing.

"You can't get over that," Aline had said; and Mr. Lavington correctly understood the possibly enigmatic phrase to mean: "You may say what you choose about the press-notices, but this applause absolutely contradicts them, and it is genuine. It doesn't matter a pin what the press says so long as the public is enthusiastic."

The press-notices, morning and afternoon, had been (p. 254) deadly—and in the main with the worst sort of deadliness, the benevolent, casual sort. A few were enthusiastic, because Aline was a young beginner and because she had written a 'wholesome' play—such a welcome antidote to the flood of unhealthy sex-dramas, eternal triangles, morbid appeals to the morbid, and so on and so on! A few had sneered at the play. A few had condemned it out and out as amateurish bosh. But the majority had displayed a terrible forbearing kindliness from which disdain peeped out. Yes, the press-notices made very grievous reading.

Mr. Lavington was familiar with the tone of press-notices, and he knew what this tone meant and implied. Nevertheless the tone of Aline Smith changed his attitude, inspired him with hope and trust in the future. After all, you could not get away from the applause, and why shouldn't the play succeed? Were not the annals of the stage punctuated with plays that had triumphed over press-notices?

"No, you can't," said he courageously, forgetting, under Aline's influence, that small audiences are always more enthusiastic than large ones, and that persons who have not paid for their seats with money often consider it a duty to pay for them with applause.

Women were stretching interminable sheets along the rows of stalls. The safety curtain slowly descended. Lights went out. But the electric bulb in the box continued loyally to burn.

The pair, the delicious young lady and the experienced man of middle-age, talked together just like cronies of old standing.

"How much was there in the house to-night?" Aline asked nicely. Already in some mysterious way she was picking up the stage-idiom. Girls were wonderful.

"I don't just remember," lied Mr. Lavington. (He lied even to himself.) "But you'll have the returns (p. 255) slip by first post in the morning. Of course we mustn't expect too much on a second night. They're generally apt to be a bit on the slack side."

"I suppose so."

"And then you know there's a slump on in the West End just now. Always is at this time of year. If you knew some of the returns—Not to mention the weather." He was producing all the traditional excuses which the characteristic optimism of the stage invents and re-invents whenever there is need for them.

A white veil fell with a swish between the box and the rest of the auditorium. It was the enormous sheet which had been loosed from the upper box in order to cover the ornate and gilded fronts of both boxes. It brought about an exquisite privacy of two in the royal box; and the two continued to chat.

"And then," remarked Mr. Lavington, later, "what I always say is that what counts is not what the papers say, but what people say to their friends after they've seen the play. If they've been pleased, as they certainly have been to-night, they spread it about. 'You ought to go and see it,' and people do go and see it. But of course that takes time. We must give it time."

"How long?" questioned Miss Aline Smith, realist.

"Oh! A week—ten days," Mr. Lavington answered, very brightly and optimistically.

And, gazing at Aline, he drew confidence from her shining, attractive countenance and gave the confidence back to her with interest. He was now practically certain that the play would succeed, if for no other reason than that such a delightful play couldn't not succeed. The Governor was wrong; the critics were wrong. And he himself had been wrong to be doubtful about success for one moment. In short, he had come back to his senses and his common-sense.

Then the bulb in the box startlingly expired. No (p. 256) glimmer of light penetrated through the sheet. The pair were in total darkness.

"Aha!" exclaimed Mr. Lavington cheerfully.

But Aline said, with no girlish sign of perturbation:

"I was only going to say that if it's a question of keeping the play on for a few weeks at a loss till it really gets going I can have some more capital. In fact, I've arranged it to-day."


A silence. Mr. Lavington, aware of a terrifying change of heart, due to these tidings, was engaged in thought.

"We'd better be clearing out of here," said he in a voice which disclosed emotion.

He lit his silver lighter, and by its faint illumination gathered up his coat and hat while helping Aline to put on her cloak. They crept from the box, and went through the little drawing-room into a corridor as black as a coalmine after an accident. Then Mr. Lavington's lighter yielded to a draught of cold air and died. Mr. Lavington could not persuade it back to life. He felt for and laid hold of Aline's fragile arm.

"I know the way," said he. "Don't be afraid."

"I'm not," said Aline calmly.

Her arm was warm to Mr. Lavington's hand.

"This is romance," he thought. "But it frightens me."

The corridor seemed to be about a mile long, and it curved and there was a step, for which Mr. Lavington groped with his feet.

"Here's a step," said he, warningly.

At the end of the curve they saw in the distance the (p. 257) trifling greenish flame of a gas-jet turned very low, and it was like a symbol of hope in a hopeless world. They halted beneath the gas-jet, and Mr. Lavington made another futile effort to revive his patent lighter.

"So you can obtain more capital?" said Mr. Lavington.

"Oh, yes," replied Aline, with assurance.

"May I ask where from?" Mr. Lavington weakly demanded.

"My fiancé."

Her fiancé. Then this magical courageous creature was already in love, already appropriated—as you might say!

"He believes in the play?"

"Rather!" said Aline. "He saw it last night with my sister—you remember I asked you for two seats. They're both simply wild about the piece. My fiancé wouldn't have it let down for anything."

"He's rich, your fiancé?"

"He isn't at all rich," said Aline, with a short, airy laugh. "He's a bank clerk. He would have been here to-night, but it's near quarter-day and they have to work late. Only he's saved over £100—towards setting up house, and he can borrow on his insurance policy, with three sureties. It's all in order." She spoke in a tone admirably business-like.

Mr. Lavington comprehended that he was faced with the greatest crisis of his existence.

"It's a bit of a gamble," said he.

"Gamble!" she repeated the word, affronted. "But you yourself—"

"I know! I know!" Mr. Lavington excused himself. "But you never do know—in the theatre."

"Now, Mr. Lavington," she said, looking him straight in the face under the dim gas-jet. "This is a very serious matter. I thought you believed in the play." (p. 258) She was growing more direct and business-like every moment.

Mr. Lavington might even then have recovered his position with her, for she was ready enough to hear what she desired to hear. He was somewhat profoundly disappointed—yes, and hurt—to learn of her engagement. Still, if she was engaged, she was engaged, and there it was! He could not bear to contemplate the bank-clerk, her fiancé, throwing good money after bad, and the disillusion of the youthful pair, and the postponement of the marriage, and the permanent mortgage of the insurance-policy and the tragic general woe. He could not bear it. You may call him a coward, or you may call him a hero. You will probably call him a hero, for to eat one's words requires a heroic moral power of digestion.

"I did believe in the play," he murmured.

"But you don't now?"


"Not after all you said?"


"When did you change your opinion, Mr. Lavington?" Her accents were almost threatening.

"Last night," said he feebly.

"Then you've been deceiving me all this time," she accused him.

He said nothing.

"You've been deceiving me!"

"Well, it's this way," he mumbled. "The capital you've got was, as you may say, gone. I only wanted to cheer you up. After all, there's always a chance."

"Then there is a chance?"

"There isn't enough chance. We only took £22 10s. to-night."

"Then you knew all the time how much there was in the house to-night, and you said you didn't!"

(p. 259) Mr. Lavington ignored this inconvenient question and went on:

"And to-morrow night I shouldn't be surprised if we don't take £12. I'm bound to tell you there's no booking at all.... Well, I booked two stalls to-day. And what's that?"

"But the applause?"

Mr. Lavington explained about the applause.

"The fact is," he said desperately. "Everybody believes the play can't possibly run."

"That isn't true," Aline corrected him. "And who's everybody?"

"The Governor, for one," said Mr. Lavington. "He's quite sure."

"He said so?"



"Last night."

"And you never breathed a word to me!"

"Miss Smith," said Mr. Lavington, "I couldn't bring myself to do it. And I did try to hope. You made me hope."

"Then you think you'll lose your three hundred?"

"Yes. I think so. But that's nothing. A gamble's a gamble. It isn't my three hundred that's worrying me. It's your fiancé putting his savings into the gamble, and borrowing on his policy for it. I must be honest with you."

Did she thank him for his honesty, for his watchfulness over the interests of her fiancé, for his first belief in the play, for his admiration of her and of her talent? Yes, she did.

"Thank you!" said she; but in such a tone...!

Did she admit that at worst she had lost nothing through him, whereas he had lost something considerable through her? She did not.

(p. 260) "She's wounded," said Mr. Lavington to himself. "She can't help it."

He forgave her. He simply could not conceive, without acute discomfort, that she was not perfect. And she was so young, so young; and so pretty, and her charm was so enchanting. And he was a criminal. At least he felt as though he had committed a crime.

"Of course if it's like that," said she, "I'd better go and tell my fiancé at once. He ought to be at our flat by this time. How can we get out?"

"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Lavington, who had succeeded at last with his lighter.

They departed by the stage-door, after devious wandering through passages. The theatre was very cold now. The firemen, all in brass and blue, showed much astonishment at the sight of them.

"Good night," said Aline stiffly, not shaking hands.

She scurried off in the darkness of the street, no longer illuminated by the brilliant electric sign which over the Mayfair during performances displayed to the world in letters of fire the one word: Fireside.


Mr. Lavington entered his drawing-room, which was but little larger than the room behind the royal box of the Mayfair Theatre: it was also his dining-room. He occupied two rooms and a kitchen on the second floor in a house in Shepherds Market, close by the magnificent and monumental mansion erected by an American millionaire for his daughter when she espoused a British Marquis. Mr. Lavington had taken off his dress-coat and was wearing a tweed jacket—one of his oldest, closest and loosest friends. A large portion of the room was occupied by a table. On the (p. 261) table was a plate of cold mutton, some sauce, cheese, bread, a tumbler and a bottle of stout.

At the table sat a middle-aged, stout woman—a year or two the senior of Mr. Lavington. She was mending a shirt. She scarcely looked up when her husband came in and sank into a chair opposite hers.

"You're late, A.P.," said she.

"Yes," said he.

No curiosity on her side. No communicativeness on his. She said no more. He said no more. She continued to mend. Mr. Lavington poured forth stout, with the skill of an expert who knows how to avoid an overflow of froth. He ate and he drank. The room was warm, even close, with a gas-fire.

The twain had lived amiably and smoothly together for nearly a quarter of a century. Few or no quarrels. No romance. No children. A fortnight's holiday a year. He trusted her. She trusted him. His wife's face was bent over her sewing. Mr. Lavington gazed at the face surreptitiously as he ate and drank. It rather more than confirmed her age. It was marked with what are unkindly called blackheads. She just washed it from time to time and nothing else, using no cosmetics. Similarly she just brushed her grey hair, and nothing else. Youth had gone from her. Mr. Lavington doubted whether she had ever been young.

He thought of the delicious embodiment of romantic youthfulness who ten minutes earlier had scurried away from him up the street. He began to make excuses for the girl. She had suffered a tremendous, a devastating disappointment, and she had borne it with real valour. No wonder that she had been a bit curt with him! No wonder that she had forgotten to be grateful to him for his sympathetic, admiring attitude towards her. He understood the girl. He felt for her. Well, she was now with her young love, the bank-clerk, youth with (p. 262) youth, chattering, hoping, making new plans, perhaps sadly but sweetly kissing. At any rate he had saved them from further loss and more disastrous disillusion. (Of course she hated him for his ultimate honesty—he knew that.) He had not saved himself from a dead loss of three hundred pounds. Mr. Lavington's salary was not large. Three hundred pounds represented one fifth of the daily economies of nearly thirty years. He had said not a syllable to his wife about the gamble, for he knew the domestic value of reticence in such masculine affairs. He never would say a syllable about it. His wife 'left everything' to her husband. She trusted him. He trusted her.

He dreamed of the delicious, heavenly, naïve, timid, brave Aline Smith. He dreamed and dreamed, behind his spare, austere, respectable, dependable face. A strange episode, very strange!

"Harriet," said he, enigmatically, lighting his pipe when the bite and sup were finished. "You may not know it, but you've had a d——d near shave."

She was not curious.

"Oh, have I?" said she. "And what was it?"

"Nothing," said he, puffing.

"That's all right, then," she observed blandly, and went on sewing.

And Mr. Lavington said to himself:

"Has she had a d——d near shave?"

One never knew.



Mr. Charles Crone was in his sitting-room at the Grand Babylon Hotel. Bachelor of forty, slim, straight, spruce; his clean-shaven, pale, healthy face showed a character determined and masterful. He had just arrived in London from Australia, where he had spent five very successful years in making money by various enterprises, and chiefly in reaching the position of the most important man in the antipodal marine world: his name had frequently got itself into the English newspapers as being that of the principal power in satisfactorily settling more than one shipping strike. He had vaguely heard, in this connection, that a title might be bestowed upon him; he had also read in the press that he was a millionaire.

The telephone tinkled.

"I won't speak to anyone," he said, in a tone benevolently tyrannic, to the girl-secretary who sprang to the instrument.

He had hired the blonde creature from an agency, and knew nothing about her except that she had lovely hair and was spry and clear-headed.

He added:

"This is the first day of my holiday, and a holiday ought to be a holiday, especially when you haven't had one for five years."

"Yes, sir."

(p. 264) "Curtiss—that's your name isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," said his waiting valet (hired from the same agency), who stood at attention.

"My thick overcoat. And see that the car is ready for me at the door. Use the telephone in my bedroom."

"Yes, sir."

"It's Mr. Henry Crone, sir," said the girl at the telephone.

"Oh! I'd better speak to him." Charles Crone accepted the receiver from her.

Henry Crone, the fairly-well-known actor, was Charles's brother, his elder by two years. Henry had been starring in Australia and New Zealand for some years. The pair of bachelors had seen a great deal of each other, had become intimate, and had travelled to England together. Henry had a room, less luxurious than Charles's installation, in the same hotel.

"What is it, Harry? I thought you had your rehearsal at 10.30. It's 10.40 now."

"Yes," Charles heard Harry's beautiful voice. "I told you last night I was in for a cold. And I am. But if I stay in bed to-day I shall scotch it. Would you mind calling at the Majestic and explaining to Lannop. Won't take you two seconds."

"Who's Lannop?"

"You know—the producer. Tell him to send me the part by messenger at once, and I'll be along to-morrow without fail, word-perfect. He knows I'm a quick study."

"Right, my boy. I'll fix the fellow. Why the devil didn't you let me know earlier?"

"Oh, I thought I might be able to go. Couldn't decide."

'Couldn't decide!' That was Harry all over! Always behind time. Always undecided. The elder (p. 265) brother, but Charles continually felt himself the senior of the twain!

"I'll run in and see you this afternoon," Charles finished, and hung up the receiver.

Within three minutes, Curtiss, aided by three uniformed attendants, was putting his strange employer into the car (also hired from the same agency as Curtiss and the blonde), at the splendid revolving portals of the Grand Babylon.

"Majestic Theatre—stage-door I suppose," said Charles, turning up the collar of his overcoat against the dank, hostile, English climate.

In less than no time the car stopped. Charles saw the sign 'Stage-Door' up an alley.

"Mr. Lannop?" he sharply questioned a shabby old, old man, who was barricaded in a sort of shabby, glazed cell.

The shabby old man gave a bored and negligent glance at the millionaire.

"On the stage," said he, thickly. Then pointed: "First on the left."

Charles Crone voyaged into the dusky entrails of the old, old theatre.


"Late—as usual!"

These words were addressed to Mr. Charles Crone from the middle of the Majestic stage by a fair-haired spectacled gentleman who, at sight of the new comer in the wings, interrupted himself in the middle of some remarks which he was making apparently to the whole company of players assembled on the bare boards. They were spoken with the accents of a man struggling hard, without complete success, to be urbane in the face of many irritating difficulties.

(p. 266) "Give me Mr. Crone's part," said the gentleman very curtly to the stage-manager seated at a rickety table, and impatiently snatched up a little bundle of typescript. Then he walked at speed up to Charles Crone and seized his hand. "Glad to see you, Harry, after all these years. You're looking better. No time to lose." He pushed the typescript into Charles's reluctant palm.

"I only came to explain—"

"Explain be d——d!" the gentleman stopped him vigorously, even rudely, as one who had at last given up the ideal of urbanity. "You've been keeping us all waiting. You ought really to have been here yesterday, but of course you couldn't. And Miss Fifield couldn't. And Miss Fifield can't to-day either. That's the worst of you stars. You think you can.—Not that you're a star—except in Australia, of course. In London you're only a planet. Now, let's get on, there's a good fellow!" The gentleman finished on a more persuasive tone.

But the millionaire was slightly nettled.

"If you will be good enough to listen to me—" the millionaire began again.

"I will not!" the gentleman exploded, his forbearance exhausted. "I haven't a second to waste. We've only twelve days to do it in. The theatre's closed, and the rent's four-fifty a week. I'm not here to indulge in society babble." And turning to the company he said with a sigh: "The opening, please. Positions for the opening. Harry, you're sitting on that chair, straddle; your arms on the back. See? Come on. Read, my lad, read! Don't be afraid, though your voice isn't quite what it was. The part's a 'silly ass' part. You've made your name in 'silly ass' parts and here's the best you ever had. Now! Get a move on!"

Charles Crone the millionaire suddenly laughed; then straddled the indicated chair. He perceived the (p. 267) enormous joke. The spectacled gentleman must be Lannop, the great theatrical producer, who in the grandest theatrical manner had offered a contract to Henry Crone by wireless during the transit of the ship through the Mediterranean. And Lannop had mistaken Charles the millionaire for Henry the actor of 'silly ass' parts. Charles was aware of a certain likeness between them, for once in the precincts of the Sydney Stock Exchange Henry had been accosted as 'Charles, you bandit!' by an important broker.

But that on the stage of the Majestic Charles should be accepted for Henry was startling to Charles. Still more startling to Charles was the fact that Charles felt flattered, Henry the actor being famous for his good looks. True, the great Lannop had remarked a deterioration of voice, but that was a detail. Startling, too, was the further fact that Charles the tyrant had a feeling of pleasure at being ordered about by this Lannop fellow. Decidedly a change for Charles! The spirit of adventure took hold of him. If the Lannop fellow insisted on his being an actor, so be it! He would be an actor and see what happened.

His car was waiting for him. No matter! He had an appointment at Sunbury to inspect a residential property which he thought of buying. No matter! Fantastic complications would ensue. No matter! He would humour the great producer and let things rip. This was the first day of his holiday and a holiday ought to be a holiday. Hence the laugh.

He began to read the part. Having had some experience with the handsome Henry, he knew about cue-words and so on; and he could keep his head. Indeed Charles had never yet been known to lose his head in any crisis.

The rehearsal proceeded.

"I say," said Lannop to the millionaire. "Don't (p. 268) laugh so much. You aren't supposed to see the joke of your own assiness."

"I beg pardon," said the millionaire respectfully, and became grave.

"I say," said Lannop. "I wish you wouldn't be so devilish shrewd. What's happened to you? Do remember you're playing a silly ass."

"I beg pardon," said the millionaire respectfully.

At two o'clock the rehearsal was interrupted for lunch.

"Everybody back at 2.40 please," said Lannop. "And when I say 2.40, I don't mean 2.41."

He gazed hard at the millionaire.

The millionaire dashed forth rather like a schoolboy, dismissed his impatient car, and obtained a thirteen-penny lunch in a tea-shop at the nonchalant hands of a thirty-shillings-a-week girl who had the same demeanour for millionaires as for stenographers. At 2.40 he was waiting on the stage together with the other members of the company. Watch in hand, he chatted familiarly with these humble and self-conscious players, and told them trifles about Australia. One young actor called him 'old man.' The millionaire did not blench.

Then the great Lannop entered.

"No," said the millionaire. "You didn't mean 2.41—you meant 2.45."

Lannop glared at him. The company tremblingly forbore to laugh, for all of them were anxious beginners such as Lannop always chose, when he got the chance, as his raw, malleable material.


At half-past six Mr. Charles Crone returned to his suite at the Grand Babylon Hotel and resumed his (p. 269) natural role of benevolent tyrant, though with a marked sense of guilt which he could not get rid of. Neither his secretary nor his valet knew anything of the condition of Henry Crone.

"What shall I say to him?" Charles asked himself nervously as he hurried to the invalid's room. For the first time in his life he was afraid to meet his weak, charming, unpunctual brother. A man was coming out of the bedroom.

"Are you Mr. Charles Crone?" this man asked, carefully shutting the door.

"I am," said Charles. "Are you by any chance the doctor?"

"Yes. My name is Lydyard. I was telephoned for. I'm glad to meet you. I was just going to call on you. Your brother has a sharp attack of influenza, with a temperature. I shall get a nurse in, if it's agreeable to you. I've told him he can't possibly go out to-morrow, but he wouldn't believe me. He simply refused to believe me. Perhaps you can make him see sense."

"I can," Charles answered with assurance—more assurance than he felt in the privacy of his own mind.

"Of course he won't be able to go out," the doctor continued. "But he'll have a better night if you can knock the idea out of his head quickly—the sooner the better."

"I will knock it out," said Charles, acting perfect calmness.

"And you might prepare him for the nurse," the doctor added.

"He shall be prepared for the nurse," said Charles.

"I'll be along early in the morning. Good day," said the doctor, and shook hands.

Charles tiptoed into the bedroom, which was lighted only by the bed-lamp. There on the tumbled couch, with his handsome, untidy head between two disordered (p. 270) pillows, lay the admired and beloved silly ass in a state of considerable excitement.

"So you're here at last!" Henry petulantly greeted the millionaire.

"Yes," said Charles, apologetic. "I was delayed," he explained, with truth. "How are you?"

"I'm better. I still feel a bit queer; but I'm better. I shall be all right to-morrow."

"I lay you will," Charles concurred submissively.

"By way of precaution I had a doctor in. But I got hold of a wrong 'un. The man's a fool."

"Yes, he is," Charles concurred again.

"How do you know?"

"I've seen him," said the millionaire. "Met him outside. I'll tell you what I've done. I've insisted on him sending for a nurse."

"But I don't want any nurse!" cried Henry.

"I know you don't—not really. But I thought if you had someone handy she could give you whatever you wanted in the night—in case you woke up or anything like that. She might give you a sedative, for instance."

"What rot!" Henry commented.

"Well, if you think so," said the tyrant, meekly, "I'll pack her off again. But you'll have a better chance for to-morrow if you're properly looked after to-night. That's all I was thinking of."

"Well, we'll see," the silly ass indulged the millionaire. "You called at the Majestic?"

"I did. Queer chap, Lannop! Treated me like dirt!"

Henry gave a short, painful laugh.

"That's how he treats everybody."

"However, it's all right. He put on an understudy to-day to read the part. I stayed and heard some of the rehearsal."

"Who was it?"

(p. 271) "The understudy? My dear boy, do you expect me to remember his name?"

"How did he get through?"

"Awful, I thought," Charles replied.

Another short, painful laugh from the silly ass.

That night Charles Crone dined alone in his sitting-room, with pieces of typescript lying about on the table. After dinner the valet, entering from the bedroom, found his new employer striding about the room, pieces of paper in his hand, and talking excitedly to himself.

"No, Curtiss," said the tyrant very quietly. "Your suspicions are unfounded. I am not mad. I'm only studying a speech for a meeting of shareholders. You needn't wait. Call me at 8 in the morning."

"Thank you, sir. Good night, sir," said Curtiss, obsequious; and to himself: "I don't like the look of this. And I've valeted some queer ones in my time too!"

The nurse was not packed off. The next morning the millionaire, after a night chiefly wakeful, interviewed the doctor, learned that the patient was in no danger—so long as he stayed in bed, and also briefly interviewed the patient, who charged him with an incoherent message to Mr. Lannop. Then, after hesitations in the corridor, the millionaire ejaculated to himself, quite loud:

"Hang it. Here goes!"

And set off for the Majestic.

And as he passed through the stage-doorway he thought: "I said I wasn't mad. But I'm not so sure."


The first person he encountered was the great Lannop, in a high state of being busy. The millionaire (p. 272) decided in an instant: of course he must confess, and depart.

"I'd like two minutes with you—somewhere," he addressed the sovereign producer, rather diffidently.

"You can't have it," Lannop replied with curtness. "Some of you people here seem to think I've got pocketfuls of minutes to chuck about. I haven't." And he passed on.

Just as quickly as the millionaire decided that he must confess, he now decided that he could not possibly confess—except perhaps in writing, which would be the method of a coward. The rehearsal began—first act again—almost to time.

"Where's Miss Fifield?" the producer demanded.

"She's telephoned she'll be here before her entrance—she doesn't come on till half-way through the act," the stage-manager soothingly explained.

"Well, she ought to be here now," snorted the producer, martyr to the caprices of stars.

"Yes, sir."

Somebody had to suffer in Miss Fifield's stead, and the producer's spectacles glinted upon Charles Crone.

"Harry!" In a tone of thunder.

"Well?" Charles retorted, challengingly.

The producer, startled by the challenge, mitigated the rigour of his tone: "Where's your part?"

"In my pocket."

"You'd better have it in your hand."

"I don't want it."

"Why not?"

"Because I know my words," said Charles.

"Oh!" said the producer weakly.

This was a point to the millionaire. The great producer chose another victim. The ether became agitated. Every soul on the stage thought of his P's and his Q's. The rehearsal proceeded.

(p. 273) "Harry!" The producer tried once more.

"Yes?" said the millionaire.

"Pardon me if I remind you again that yours is a silly ass part. Can't you get rid of that shrewd manner? I can't imagine where you picked it up. And do contrive to be a bit less authoritative."

"I beg pardon," the millionaire apologized humbly.

The producer was mollified.

"You see," said he quite benevolently. "You must remember that in the third act—Oh! I was forgetting, you haven't had the third act yet. It's promised for this afternoon—author's been tinkering at it. Well, anyhow, in the third act when you hide under the bed in the lady's dressing-gown, you simply must look the silliest ass ever known in the history of light comedy."

The millionaire trembled, as at a frightful shock; then nobly recovered. Nevertheless the tidings that he, Charles Crone, the millionaire, the magnate, the industrial Napoleon of the Antipodes, was destined to hide under a bed in a lady's dressing-gown (and probably naught but half a suit of pyjamas beneath)—these fantastic tidings deprived him of at least seventy-five per cent of his self-confidence; with the result that he pulled his part out of his pocket ready for emergencies. The great Lannop ironically sniggered. The fact was that Charles Crone could not now recall a word of his part.

A few moments later he had an exit. In the wings he saw a little, buxom, stylishly dressed woman, of perhaps thirty, with masterful eyes. And the lady saw Charles. And as soon as she saw him she dashed at him in a kind of ecstasy.

"My dear!" she exclaimed.

And threw her elegant arms round his neck. She was within the hundredth of an inch of kissing him when suddenly she drew back.

(p. 274) "Good morning," she said coldly, a tremor in her voice.

"Good morning," said Charles. And he blushed, who had never blushed before; and turned away.

A mysterious and disconcerting incident! Most mysterious and most disconcerting; but to Charles less mysterious than disconcerting.

"Miss Fifield! Rosie! Your cue!" Charles heard the voice of the producer soon afterwards; he heard, too, the impatient stamping of the producer's foot on the bare boards.

"Sorry, darling!" said the little buxom lady, and advanced on to the stage.

The rehearsal went on. Charles's next entrance, when he had to meet the heroine and be embraced by her, was an agonizing experience. He 'walked' through the remainder of the act as in a nightmare.

At length the producer announced:

"That'll do! Lunch!"

Whereupon Rosie Fifield ran to the producer, took him by the arm, and moved him up to Charles Crone.

"Listen!" said she. "I don't exactly know where I am. We must have a talk. Let's eat together somewhere." She included Charles Crone in her suggestion.

"She's the goods," thought Charles. But he thought a number of other and less agreeable things, his brain working at a hundred revolutions a second to face a situation compared to which the settlement of a Labour dispute in Sydney was a trifle.

"Do come and lunch with me, both of you," he said, with a marvellous imitation of tranquillity.

"We will," said Rosie, answering for the great Lannop as well as for herself.

(p. 275) V

The trio sat alone in a private room of Cerrini's uniquely expensive and select restaurant in Charles Street. The waiter, having served caviare, had been for the moment dismissed.

"I only want to know where I am," Rosie Fifield opened the meeting.

"Then let me tell you," said Charles, before the great Lannop could utter a word.

And he confessed.

Then he felt easier. Nobody had eaten him. Nor had the world come to an end. He felt more like a tyrannic millionaire than he had felt for thirty hours past. He glanced at the great Lannop, whose lower lip was quivering. The great Lannop was no longer great for him. Then Rosie Fifield began to splutter, and her spluttering turned into a laugh. And the laugh was enormous. Indeed, she laughed the laugh of a hoydenish schoolgirl. The waiter came back, and she was still laughing.

The millionaire gazed at her. Yes, she did not look more than thirty; but, as Charles searched his memory, he calculated that this celebrated and highly finished comedienne—unrivalled on the British stage—must be forty if a day. He recalled that she had dropped quite three husbands by the wayside of her varied career. And lo! She could laugh like a schoolgirl. And with what exquisite care and finesse of treatment were her complexion, her eyelashes, her hair, her fingernails arranged and displayed! And what perfection there was in her Parisian attire!

"You aren't you, and I knew it as soon as I got close to you," she shrieked through her astounding hilarity.

"But I must—"

(p. 276) And she rose from her chair, put her arms round the millionaire, and kissed him upon his tyrannical mouth. The presence of the astounded waiter incommoded her not. And what a kiss! How fresh, cool, sweet! And what a delicious, delicate, faint odour of caviare on her lips!

"A jolly world!" thought the millionaire. What a lark was life!

"And why didn't you tell me at the start, sir?" the once-great Lannop asked.

"You wouldn't let me," Charles answered. "You wouldn't listen yesterday, and you wouldn't listen to-day. I'd heard how dictatorial you were. So I accepted the situation."

"Oh! Dictatorial am I! Dictatorial am I! Dictatorial am I!" Lannop repeated, shocked as by a sudden revelation.

Rosie said, resuming her caviare—she enjoyed food:

"I can't understand how it was none of the others realized you weren't Harry."

"That's simple enough," said Lannop. "They're all beginners. I bet most of them had never heard of Crone until they knew he was in the cast."

"But you?" Rosie demanded.

"Me!" said Lannop. "Think of the psychology of the thing. I was expecting a certain individual. An individual came who looked very like him. It never occurred to me that he wasn't the man I was expecting.... You remember I did remark a change in your voice, sir. By the way, who taught you to act, sir?"

"You did," said Charles.


"Yesterday and to-day, of course."

Lannop smiled.

"He'd make a railway engine act," said Rosie Fifield. (p. 277) "But you're marvellous, my dear man, because you can act." And her eyes caressed the millionaire.

"Seems to me anybody could act," said Charles Crone.

"Don't you make any mistake!" Rosie contradicted him with sudden loud violence.

She was no creature to be trifled with.

"Waiter!" cried the dictatorial Lannop. "Hurry up with the fish." And to the other two: "We mustn't be late in getting back." He added reflectively after a pause: "So you're the great Crone, sir!"

"Better not say that in front of my brother Henry," the millionaire smiled. And then he in his turn, after a reflective pause of his own, added: "Of course you and Miss Fifield have to get back to rehearsal, but there's no point now in me going back."

"Why not, sir?" the great Lannop anxiously demanded.

"The gaff is blown," said the millionaire. "And Miss Fifield blew it."

"I did nothing of the sort," Rosie contradicted. "On the contrary I maintained the most marvellous presence of mind at a moment when I was about to kiss an absolute stranger who was passing himself off as an old friend. And what's more, the gaff isn't blown. I didn't say a word to any member of the company this morning."

"My dear sir," said the great Lannop. "You can't possibly desert us now."

"But I never intended to stay with you, my dear sir," argued the millionaire. "Yesterday, when you wouldn't allow me to speak, I quite thought that Harry would be all right again to-day. Yesterday it wasn't so important you shutting me up—"

"My dear Mr. Crone!" the great Lannop suavely protested against such a phrase as 'shut me up.'

(p. 278) "But to-day," the millionaire proceeded with an urbane wave of the hand, "when you shut me up I had something really important to say. I admit I ought to have insisted. But my kind heart betrayed me—as usual. I saw you immersed in your tremendous creative task and my kind heart simply wouldn't let me insist—at that moment anyhow. My good nature has always been my undoing. It's cost me thousands of pounds—"

"Millions, you mean," Rosie put in naughtily.

"Don't let us exaggerate," the millionaire laughed. "Let us stick to thousands. Yesterday only my infernal good nature made me call on you at all. Only my ridiculous good nature made me spend the entire day in rehearsing. And this morning only my perfectly preposterous good nature made me continue rehearsing. I have at last conquered this kind heart of mine—thanks to Miss Fifield. You surely must see that it's utterly out of the question for me to go on with the part. I'm extremely sorry you're inconvenienced, but I can't help it."

"'Inconvenienced', you say!" murmured the great Lannop. "It means ruin for the piece, absolute ruin! Yesterday I might have got a substitute. In fact I had an application, which naturally I refused. And last night the fellow rang me up very excited because he'd got another job.... How soon is your brother likely to be out again?"

"Probably not for a fortnight, the doctor said."

"Ruin! Ruin! That's what it is," said the great Lannop.

"Now Charles—your name is Charles, isn't it—be a man! Don't come the millionaire over us. Don't die on us." This from Rosie.

Charles Crone shook his head.

"But why shouldn't you play it, sir, after all?" The (p. 279) great Lannop burst out as if he had made a sudden discovery.

"Isn't it obvious?" Charles countered.

But he was basely dissembling. He was aware of a curious temptation to go through with the business—at any rate until his brother should be restored to the theatrical world. And only one consideration prevented him from yielding to the fatal prompting of his alleged kind heart and to his natural taste for adventure, namely the thought of the bed and himself in a lady's dressing-gown and little else getting under the bed in the presence of a thousand assembled persons—and especially later on creeping out from under the bed. He heard in fancy the roaring laughter of a thousand assembled persons. No! No!

The great Lannop was a clever individual, and he was particularly clever at temporizing.

"At least," said he, "you won't refuse to help us this afternoon. Every moment is of importance, and I've no one but you even to read the part. If you aren't there it'll put everybody clean off. Three or four precious hours gone west!"

"I'll do that," the millionaire agreed.

"That's good of you, sir. Very good indeed," said the great Lannop.

As the three of them, abreast, Rosie in the middle, were entering the alley which led to the stage-door of the Majestic, a man suddenly held up a camera before them, like a gun, and took aim, and something clicked.

Charles Crone, unaccustomed to such phenomena, stopped and addressed the man:

"Why did you do that?"

"Why, sir," the man replied. "That's Miss Fifield and Mr. Lannop, isn't it? And aren't you Mr. Henry Crone?"

(p. 280) "What the hell's that got to do with you?" said Charles ferociously.

"Daily Mercury" said the man, with a triumphant smile.

Still more troubling to the millionaire than the episode of the camera was the demeanour of the company towards him throughout the whole afternoon. Every soul in the cast seemed to regard him with awe. The behaviour proper to democratic comradeship had completely vanished. Yet neither Rosie nor the great Lannop had whispered the secret. Rosie, indeed, being a sport, ostentatiously addressed him as 'Harry.'

The millionaire had been anticipating with dread the end of the rehearsal, when he would have to resume serious conversation with the great Lannop. For he had by now decided to abandon the show. It was a preliminary sketchy rehearsal of the bed-scene in the third act which had brought him to a final decision. Happily, fate favoured him. At the critical moment, when the company was dismissed, both the great Lannop and Rosie were engaged in earnest converse with the stage-manager. The millionaire seized his hat and overcoat and ran out of the theatre like a pursued stag.


For several hours he lost himself in London; he might have been flying from justice. Hunger at last, at ten o'clock, persuaded him back to the Grand Babylon, for he wanted, not to eat merely, but to eat alone. The blonde secretary, who had faithfully waited for him, reported that various newspaper offices had been calling him up.

"How do these things get about?" Charles vainly fumbled in his brain for an answer.

(p. 281) The secretary was far too discreet to say, without being asked, why various newspaper offices had called him up, and Charles was far too self-conscious to ask. He sent the pretty creature home. He had a sense of impending calamity, and if calamity had to happen he preferred it to happen not in the presence of witnesses. Curtiss the valet informed him that his bath was waiting.

"Water must be cold," observed Charles flippantly.

"Excuse me, sir. I change the water every quarter of an hour." Charles did not desire a bath, but how could he dare to stultify such ingenious devotion?

First he ascertained that his brother was going on satisfactorily, and was at that moment asleep; then he ordered a solitary supper, with champagne, and then he subsided quietly into hot water. When he emerged, his evening clothes were laid out on the bed. He would have preferred pyjamas and dressing-gown, but he had to consider the feelings of Curtiss. Just as he sat down to smoked salmon in his parlour, having dismissed the waiter, the telephone bell rang.

"Speaking for the Daily Mercury," Charles heard.

He rang off. Before he had finished the smoked salmon, the telephone bell rang again.

"Speaking for the Daily Mercury. They cut us off."

"What is it?" Charles asked, submitting as to a decree of heaven.

"Is that Mr. Charles Crone?"


"Oh, Mr. Crone, we hear that you are to play your brother's part in the new Majestic play. Is it true?"

"Of course it's not true."

"We have a photograph of you and Miss Rose Fifield and Mr. Lannop walking into the Majestic this afternoon."

"Have you indeed!"

(p. 282) "Then we may take it it is true?"

"So far as I'm concerned you can take anything you choose," said Charles with disgust, and once more rang off.

Within the next half-hour five other daily papers rang up. The telephone rang a seventh time.

"Look here, whoever you are—I'm sick of this," Charles began.

A voice said:

"Miss Rose Fifield is downstairs and wishes to see you."

Charles was conscious of a shock.

"Send her up," said another voice, which Charles had some reason to believe was his own.

Rose made a magnificent entrance into the sitting-room. Also she was the best-dressed actress in London, and the most forceful and the most energetic and downright.

"Nice of you to see me," said she, giving her hand. "Oh! Bubbly and all! And all by yourself!"

She cast a blue cloak, and her glory was thereby magnified. Charles put a chair for her at the table, and poured out some champagne for her.

"Now don't get ideas into your head, my dear man," said she. "I've only looked in to find out exactly how poor Harry is. We are very old friends, Harry and I, and I've been a bit anxious about him."

The millionaire told her exactly how Harry was.

"I'm so relieved," said she, sighing her content.

They discussed Harry for a while, in very sympathetic and laudatory terms. A pause. Charles had to fill it.

"How's Lannop?" he inquired, foolishly.

"Lannop," Rosie replied, "is on his way to a lunatic asylum."

"Oh! As bad as that, eh?"

"As bad as that," Rosie confirmed. "But of course (p. 283) I quite understand why you won't go on with the part. Quite. It would damage your career."

Charles could not tolerate this idea. As if anything could damage his career!

"I don't see how it would damage my career," said he, grandly. "How could it damage my career? It wouldn't cost me anything; and if you imagine it would make any difference to my position in the City—well, I'd soon show 'em what was what when I got back to work."

"Sorry! Sorry I spoke!" Rosie laughed. "Then you won't go on because you think you'll make a fool of yourself? Can't really act and so on?... You're really too modest."

"I'm not in the least modest," the millionaire corrected her. "And I don't mind telling you that after yesterday and to-day I've come to the conclusion that the art of acting is sort of in my family. Do you call that being too modest?"

Rosie leaned her splendid figure and her radiant face towards him, and murmured confidentially:

"Then what is it? Man to man. I won't split. I'd love to know."

Charles yielded himself to her.

"I'm an idiot," he thought. "But I can't help it. She's marvellous." And he told her, with flattering candour, that what put him off was the under-the-bed incident in the third act.

Rosie did not laugh. She did not even smile.

"And can't I understand?" she said in a low, fraternal voice—man to man. "The way Tony made you do it this afternoon."

"Who's Tony?"

"Lannop. His name's Joshua. So we call him Tony. You see Tony, between ourselves, has no notion of acting technique—honestly. But nobody (p. 284) dares tell him so. I'd like to show you how that bit ought to be played."

"I shan't play it," said Charles, positively.

"No, of course not. You've decided, and that's all there is to it. But I would like to show you how I think it ought to be played. Got a bed handy?"

Charles hesitated.

"Or do they sleep on the floor in this hotel?"

The next moment the two were in the adjoining bedroom. Rosie pulled up the hanging edge of the counterpane.

"No," said she. "This bed won't do. It's too low. A bloater couldn't creep under this bed. Couldn't we lift it at the foot? Put that trunk under one foot and get something else for the other foot?"

Charles had to summon Curtiss, with whose aid the flat trunk was slipped under one foot. The other foot remained safely in the air because brass is rigid.

"That'll do, Curtiss, thanks," said Charles quickly.

"Now you do it according to Tony," said Rosie.

Her delightful tone rendered a refusal impossible. Charles dropped on his hands and knees and crawled under the bed.

"Come out again," said Rosie. The millionaire emerged.

"Don't get up," Rosie went on. "You can dust the knees of your trousers afterwards. You see, the mistake is in going under head foremost. Every part of the human body is expressive, but the face is the most expressive of all. It's a good rule never to hide your face from the audience if you can help it. The proper way is to creep under the bed backwards. Like that you can make use of your face all the time until you're right under the bed and out of sight. It gives you every chance for facial acting. It's far funnier, and it isn't ridiculous. And there's another thing. You (p. 285) haven't got to turn round under the bed in order to creep out again. You're in position."

"You're wonderful," said Charles, after the lecture.

"No," said Rosie. "I merely know the job. I'm only wonderful because I'm about the only person on the West End stage who does know the job. Now try it my way. Go on. Go on! I won't crash the bed down on you."

Charles tried it her way. As he was emerging he heard Rose say:

"Better like that, isn't it?"

"Yes, Madam," Charles heard.

She had been addressing Curtiss through the doorway leading to the parlour. Charles arose and, before dusting his knees, dismissed Curtiss for the second time—and more forcibly.

"But we can't let the bed down by ourselves," said Rosie.

"Of course we can," said Charles. "I'll lift up the end of the bed and you pull away the trunk."

"Never at a loss!" Rosie sweetly observed.

The Herculean feat was accomplished, and the two returned to the parlour and sat once again at the supper-table.

"I shall take my life in my hands to-morrow and show Tony that dodge about getting under the bed," said Rosie, drinking. "May I have a cigarette?"

"Tell me," Charles asked her, somewhat against his own will. "What does the great Lannop say really?"'

"What about?"

"My acting."

"He doesn't say anything about your acting. He needn't. But he says something about you."


"I wouldn't repeat it—couldn't."

"You must," insisted the tyrant.

(p. 286) "He says you haven't played the game."

"Me! Not played the game!"

"Yes! You! Not played the game. He says it's all rot you pretending he wouldn't listen to you. You could have told him yesterday if you'd wanted to. He says you didn't want to. He says you've been having a lark at his expense for two days, and now you've left him in the lurch. And it isn't playing the game. And he wouldn't have expected it from you."

A pause. The cigarette was lighted.

"Mind you!" Rosie finished. "You've asked me and I've told you. If you hadn't asked me—"

"I suppose I'd better go through with the d——d thing."

Rosie went to the telephone. The millionaire heard her say after a few moments:

"Tony? That you? He'll play it."

No sooner had she hung up the receiver than the bell rang. And Charles heard her say: "Who? What? The Times? Oh yes. It's quite true. He is playing the part."

"You're wonderful!" Charles breathed to her as she left the instrument.

"I am," Rosie agreed.

"But you're a two-faced thing," said Charles.

"I am," Rosie agreed. "Well, I must go. I've got my reputation to think of."

"Don't go yet."

"I'm going at once."


As a millionaire and antipodean magnate Charles Crone had never had a quarter of the publicity which fell to his share during the next ten days. Not a morning, (p. 287) not an evening, but what he saw himself, his doings, his talents, his career, a front-page item in the press. The theatrical-staff, the hotel-staff, the blonde secretary and the ingenious Curtiss were heavily employed in protecting him from interviewers, telephone-calls, photographers and other pests of society. To the entire theatre and to the entire hotel he became an object of pride. Individuals who had the right to greet him, to shake his hand, grew swollen-headed. The great Lannop roared at him, but like any sucking-dove. The price of stalls for the first performance was doubled; ditto the price of the two front-rows for the dress-circle.

No perspicacious and unprejudiced observer could have denied that Charles found pleasure in his situation. He certainly did, while pretending that he didn't. But he was compelled to live like a hermit. He could take no exercise. He would dash swiftly into a swift car from the hotel to the theatre, and swiftly into a swift car from the theatre to the hotel. And always he hid from recognition like a guilty thing. A breathless existence!

Not even in his brother's bedroom, visiting the sick, was there surcease from activity. For the recovering Henry was well enough, in the final few days, to coach the millionaire. Henry was puffed up at Charles's sudden notoriety and his remarkable skill in portraying a silly ass, and he was grateful for Charles's superb filling of the breach caused by the stroke of influenza.

But he was jealous too. He showed his jealousy at rehearsals. As the silly ass did not appear in the second act, Charles was free whenever the second act was being rehearsed at the theatre. These periods of enfranchisement he spent in the sick-room under the invalid's tutelage, with the blonde beauty and a fatalistic Curtiss reading the two other important rôles (p. 288) in the act. The blonde beauty was enchanted to be acting the part of Rose Fifield.

In five days the sick man knew not merely every word of the dialogue, but every position of every player, and every bit of business. Next the doctor allowed the patient to rise for a few hours.

"I shall be well enough to play the part myself," said Henry one evening.

"Indeed you won't!" Charles replied, with eyes suddenly blazing.

The brothers hated one another for an instant.

Nevertheless the doctor did agree that, with due precautions, Henry might just conceivably be able to attend the first performance as a member of the audience.

At the dress-rehearsal the millionaire had misgivings. There were about a hundred invited people in the stalls and circle. They constituted an audience, and the audience frightened Charles. Not in the first act, but in the third—in the dressing-gown-pyjama-bed episode. Charles said to himself as in grotesque attire he crawled backwards under the bed:

"Am I a sillier ass than the silly ass I'm playing? I believe I am."

He had been suffering from odd and uncomfortable sensations throughout the day. ("First night nerves," all the experts said.) He passed a very bad night. The following morning—the morning of the supreme ordeal, he stayed in bed. The doctor came into his bedroom to announce that he had examined Henry and that Henry might go to the show.

"You look pretty bad," said the doctor, and pushed a thermometer into the millionaire's mouth.

"101 point 8," said the doctor. "You've got 'flu."

"But how can I have got 'flu?" Charles demanded savagely.

(p. 289) "Caught it from your brother. You must stay in bed."

"Till to-night?"

"And after. Till you're over the attack."

"But I must play to-night."

"There's no 'must,'" said the doctor. "You can't. No doubt you have an understudy?"

In this frightful, this appalling crisis, Charles showed the stuff which had brought him to millionaire-ship and magnate-ship.

"Yes," he said casually. "It'll be an awful nuisance for the theatre, but that can't be helped. I'll tell my secretary to telephone. But I say—not a word to my brother. You see—"

"Of course," said the doctor. "I'll look in this afternoon. Stay in bed and you'll be all right."

The doctor did look in, very late in the afternoon.

"101 point 9," said he. "I'd better send a nurse round."

"Yes. Do."

"Everything all right at the theatre?"

"Oh, yes," said Charles, casually.

The doctor had hardly gone when Charles arose and dressed and in the company of the acquiescent Curtiss dashed to the theatre. He played the first act; but did not take the curtain-call, for the reason that he had fainted in the wings. A doctor from the audience transported him to the Grand Babylon, and it was Henry Crone and not Charles Crone who had the brilliant triumph in the bed-episode in the third act.

The millionaire was not the only player who failed to take a call that night. Rose Fifield missed the final ovation because, in her paint and costume, she had dashed off to the Grand Babylon to watch over Charles Crone. A great artist she was, and all heart.

One newspaper the next morning had headlines: (p. 290) "Success at the Majestic. Millionaire crawls under bed in farcical comedy." And every newspaper praised the millionaire's performance under the bed.

A few months afterwards it began to be rumoured that Rose Fifield was likely to discover a fourth husband.

(p. 291) THE PEACOCK


Mr. Poploy stood up as the half-empty train slackened for the Underground Station at Oxford Circus. He heard a voice, hardly distinguishable from a human voice, announcing from a corner of the ceiling of the carriage: "Oxford Circus. Oxford Circus. Change here for——" and then a lot of names. The new loud-speaker, installed in every carriage of the train! Mr. Poploy pulled at the doors; they would not move. Mr. Poploy abandoned them to their obstinacy. The train stopped, and the doors magically slid open of their own accord. He got out. Whistles. The doors magically slid to behind him. The train was gone. He followed a few people up steps, down steps, through a long sloping tunnel, down which a high wind blew steadily in his face, and which was lined with incitements to gaiety, distraction, food and alcohol. He saw a red light in the distance. He reached the red light. An official in a special costume took from him a small, mysterious piece of thick paper, inscribed with illegible characters, possibly in Sanskrit, and he entered a great cage. Doors clanged upon him and his adventurous companions, and the entire cage and its contents shot up into the air. The cage was lined with more incitements to the life of pleasure and indulgence, and with admonitions to beware of criminal fellow-travellers. The cage ceased suddenly (p. 292) to move. The doors magically opened of their own accord. Mr. Poploy stepped forth, and in a couple of strides he was in an ordinary London street, a bit dazed, but quite unharmed.

"It's all very sinister," said Mr. Poploy, who had not been in a London Tube Railway for several years.

He crossed Oxford Street and went into Great Portland Street, whither he was bound. The hour was close on noon.

Mr. Poploy was a man of family—his own family: twins, Arthur and Annette. He was a slim person, of medium height, neatly but not very well dressed in dark grey, with a soft hat. A mild face, more or less clean-shaven. An unobtrusive deportment. Students of human nature, observing him, would have said:

"The gentleman is nobody in particular."

Yet years earlier he had made money in the Argentine. Having made it, he came home, and, being interested in literature, had bought by sheer accident and for a trifle, a weekly paper whose theme was automobiles, a subject as to which he knew and cared nothing. A newspaper-lord, who already owned eleven periodicals devoted to mechanical traction, was irked by the fact that he did not own twelve, and he purchased Mr. Poploy's organ at Mr. Poploy's price, which was high. Mr. Poploy had taken the price in shares of the newspaper-lord's big limited company. The shares had mightily risen in value. They paid 20%, then 25%, then 30%, then 40%. Mr. Poploy was rich. He had a taste for study, for reflection, for not being in the same place at the same time every day, for watching the wondrous spectacle of the world, and for idleness. It is said that idlers are unhappy. Mr. Poploy was happy, because he was a philosopher and lived in an atmosphere of tranquillity.

(p. 293) But recently his twins had engaged themselves to be married, within two days of one another: and the tranquillity of the house in Onslow Gardens had thereby been shattered as a crystalline dome might be shattered by flung pebbles. At the same time, the newspaper-lord's limited company had proclaimed to its shareholders a gift of one bonus share for every three shares held. Mr. Poploy was richer. His twins, properly anxious to make a display before the two families with which they were to be allied, had insisted that their father must buy a motor car. Mr. Poploy had refused—but they knew him; they knew that he would purchase tranquillity at the price of ten motor cars if necessary.

Mr. Poploy had no motor car. He had a contraption on four wheels which travelled from place to place by the aid of petrol poured into it. The twins had acquired it second-hand in the historic past, with Mr. Poploy's money, for ninety-nine guineas. But Arthur, the elder of the twins by two hours, had always maintained that this contraption was not what he called a car. Still, it had one quality—it moved; and Mr. Poploy, who seldom used the noisy, fussy thing, deemed that the one quality sufficed. Moreover how could he choose a new chariot, seeing that Arthur's fiancée strongly preferred a limousine, whereas Annette's fiancé never went out in anything but an open tourer? Obviously he could not.

Swearing that he would not buy what Arthur called a car, Mr. Poploy had gone forth privately, that morning, in a pure spirit of curiosity, just to see, idly, what the car market was like. Knowledge was always useful, and he had frequently heard the words 'Great Portland Street' on the lips of his son, who regularly perused all the twelve automobilistic papers, and who was apparently the most learned pundit and inclusive encyclopædia (p. 294) ever created on the subject of petrol-driven vehicles, their prices, and their innumerable points.

Mr. Poploy instantly perceived that Great Portland Street, unrecognizably changed from the thoroughfare of his youth, was the centre of the earth. There were more cars in Great Portland Street than he had imagined could exist in the entire world. Every shop was a car-shop, or a shop somehow connected with cars. And the thoroughfare was so long that the other end of it was obscured in the silvery mist of a lovely London morning in spring. There were cars ticketed at £2,880 and cars ticketed at £288, and to the bewildered eye of the ex-proprietor of The Car Owner they looked exactly as fine as one another. No! He would not buy a car; but Great Portland Street made an amusing and instructive sight, and he was glad he had come.

He hesitated for the fraction of a second before a gleaming car-shop with an open front, and in the same fraction of a second a beautiful young man, clad in the height of fashion and smoking a cigarette, stepped forward and spoke to him. What the young man said had no importance. It was his glance that had importance. His glance transfixed the mild Mr. Poploy, rendering him incapable of motion. Nay more, that glance drew Mr. Poploy within the shop, as the moon draws the limitless sea.

"Yes," the young man was soon saying: "What you want is an All-Weather outfit. It has all the advantages of the saloon or limousine and a sports car. Tourer I mean. Now we happen to have in at the moment an All-Weather Spink-Stratton that you couldn't beat anywhere. A real bargain. I mean that, sir. Second-hand, of course, but as you know Spink-Strattons never wear out. Spink-Strattons are always the finest value in the second-hand market. And All-Weather Spink-Strattons are very difficult to find."

(p. 295) At the hallowed and legendary name of Spink-Stratton, the car of cars, the emblem of opulence, the criterion of taste, Mr. Poploy's spinal column began to weaken, almost to liquify.

"Try it now, sir? Yes of course. With the greatest pleasure. Puts you under no obligation whatever. I'll take you out myself."

Well, why not a free ride, and a new experience?

Mr. Poploy had the curious sensation of having lived six months in six minutes. He was another man.


The Spink-Stratton was lodged at the far end of the long, narrow shop. It presented a noble appearance. Mr. Poploy sat in the front seat, and he sat in the back seat; he also sat in each of the folding seats opposite to the back seat. He wound up the winding screen separating the driver from the prospective owner, and he wound it down again. He had the complicated hood up, and he had it down. He tested the angle of the driver's mirror; he touched the tyres and he touched the lamps. And he became quite excited, almost as excited as if he had already bought and paid for the car. He agreed, with fallacious calm, to give the young salesman the honour of demonstrating to him what marvels the car could accomplish in the central streets of London.

"But how shall you get the thing out into the street?" he asked brightly.

"Oh! Easy enough!" said the salesman, with a touch of gentle condescension.

The operation, however, proved not to be very easy. Before, indeed, it was accomplished, five men were working on it: the salesman at the wheel, two more (p. 296) employees pushing and pulling other cars, and two others gauging to eighths of an inch the distances between some dozens of wheels, and giving advice and warnings. Three inferior cars had to be shamefully expelled across the pavement into the street as a preliminary to the glorious enfranchisement of the Spink-Stratton. Seven lads and an old man assisted the entire manoeuvre by their ardent, open-mouthed, grinning attention.

Mr. Poploy, somewhat self-conscious, assumed the back seat. The car started, silent as a phantom, insinuating as a young woman in search of her heart's desire.

"Sweet!" murmured the dandiacal salesman, turning his head affectionately backward to gaze at Mr. Poploy, and with a certain delicate abandonment leaning his left elbow on the upholstery. (Charming quiescence in control of terrific force!) "Sweet! Isn't it?"

"What's sweet?" demanded Mr. Poploy. "Mind the policeman," he added quickly, wishing that the lolling dandy would look ahead instead of astern.

"The engine," replied the salesman. "The policeman's all right," he added, with a more marked condescension.

The policeman was all right, but to Mr. Poploy it seemed that only by good luck was he all right.

The automobile was now shooting down the Marylebone Road, haughty, swift, and noiseless. A super-car, the Spink-Stratton! But Mr. Poploy had a qualm. He recalled that for years he had spoken contemptuously of Spink-Strattons as the symbol of insolent plutocracy. Often he had said that nothing would ever induce him to own a Spink-Stratton, merely because of its horrible symbolism. Villains in popular novels, vulgarians in popular novels, grinders-of-the-faces-of-the-poor in (p. 297) popular novels were always rolling along in their 'powerful and luxurious' Spink-Strattons ('powerful and luxurious' being here used as an adjective of vituperation). He could not go home and tell his satirical children that he had bought a Spink-Stratton no matter how miraculous a bargain it might be.

"Bit noisy," he commented with blandness, referring to the rattling of the All-Weather outfit.

"Well, sir," said the dandy unmoved. "Have you ever known an All-Weather outfit that didn't rattle a bit?"

Mr. Poploy had not.

"Of course we should have everything thoroughly overhauled," said the dandy. "Tightened up."

"Would you mind stopping here half a minute," said Mr. Poploy surprisingly. "I'd like to call at this shop—only a moment." The car was being detained by a traffic block.

"Certainly. As long as you like, sir," said the salesman, and as soon as he could drew elegantly in to the kerb.

Mr. Poploy had seen an oil-painting in the window of a second-hand furniture shop. He knew more about pictures than about motor cars, considered them more interesting, and was more interested in them: an attitude which baffled Arthur, and inspired the boy with kindly pity for his father.

In the wretched shop, crammed with the junk of ages, a stout, middle-aged Jewess of oriental submissiveness displayed to Mr. Poploy the picture which she had extracted from the window.

"Is it a Hondecoeter?" asked Mr. Poploy learnedly.

"Snyders," said the Jewess, smiling as if in apology.

At the sound of that great Dutch reputation Mr. Poploy, after an effort towards self-control, yielded to the ecstasy which a frowsy second-hand shop will too (p. 298) often induce in the breast of the ardent and the enlightened. The painting showed certain fowls of the air and the field against a background of trees and Dutch architecture. It was poetic in conception, masterly in design, brilliant in drawing, and darkly rich in colour. It was an unusual Snyders. In twenty seconds it had developed, for Mr. Poploy, into the most unusual Snyders he had ever seen. Fancy discovering it in the Marylebone Road! What an eye for a good thing had Mr. Poploy! In thirty seconds Mr. Poploy saw that his life would be impossible without that picture, and that the picture would give him the true happiness which for over fifty years he had been searching for in vain. The Jewess, by a fortunate coincidence, liked the picture as much as Mr. Poploy did. She beamed on the picture. Her glance caressed it. And then her glance caressed Mr. Poploy. In forty seconds Mr. Poploy was wondering whether he might not leave the picture in his will to the National Gallery.

"A hundred pounds, sir," said she, stroking her miserable, frayed skirt in the impecunious, dusty squalor of the establishment.

Mr. Poploy was dashed, but the spell of the place and the picture was not broken. He felt himself to be in a terrible situation, on the verge of committing a folly. A hundred pounds! Fantastic! With a hundred pounds he could buy a whole second-hand car (though not a Spink-Stratton). And it seemed that if the Jewess invested a hundred pounds she could easily live on the interest thereof in her present state of comfort.... Still, a Snyders! And such a Snyders! Mr. Poploy might have been lost, had he not had vast experience of similar situations. He knew exactly what to do in order to break the dangerous spell. He merely went to the door, opened it, looked out into the daily (p. 299) world, and immediately saw that the picture was no better than hundreds of other pictures, and not in the least necessary to his future welfare. His sense of perspective was restored. He was saved.

"Shan't be a minute," he called to the dandy, who was lighting a new cigarette.

"I'll give you fifty," he said to the Jewess, re-entering the foul den.

She shook her head placatingly.

"It cost me more than that, sir," said she sadly.

"As you please," said Mr. Poploy, showing bravado, now that the danger was past. "Here's my card in case—"

The Jewess was orientally smooth in her resigned refusal. But she did refuse the offer.

"A near shave that!" said Mr. Poploy to himself as he got back into the Spink-Stratton. He felt as if he had been in a railway accident and escaped unhurt.

"You might go to Onslow Gardens," he suggested to the salesman.

"With pleasure," said the salesman heartily, as though of all places in the world Onslow Gardens was the one which he loved best.

Fortified by his triumphant retreat from the frightful peril of the shop, Mr. Poploy soon decided that he would retreat also from the peril of the car.

"Not bad—in some ways," he murmured, as the car drew up in Onslow Gardens. "But not what I want. How much did you say it was?"

"Eight hundred."

"I'll give you four hundred," said Mr. Poploy, imitating his previous tactics. "As I say, it's not what I want. But I make you the offer."

Of course it was a silly offer. The salesman smiled in benign derision.

"Not at all!" the salesman protested, in answer to (p. 300) Mr. Poploy's excuses for having given him trouble for nothing. "Not at all! I'm only too pleased to have shown you the car, sir. I have others cars that might suit you better, and if you'll let me have your card I'll send you particulars to-night. I might be able to run down myself with another car, if you'll let me. Thank you very much." He wafted himself away.

Mr. Poploy had won twice. He was a victor. He enjoyed his own audacious ruthlessness with tradesmen. He was a devil of a fellow. Spink-Stratton? Pooh! Preposterous! Snyders? Absurd! He wanted no Snyders. He wanted no Spink-Strattons, nor any other car. And he would not be intimidated by his children.


That night before dinner Mr. Poploy was existing placidly in the drawing-room, in front of the evening paper, when Arthur entered.

"Hullo, dad! You there?" Casually, benevolently.

Arthur was twenty-five; a young solicitor; well dressed, if somewhat negligently groomed; an ingenuous and yet sagacious manner; voice rather loud; an inclination to take charge of the world. Mr. Poploy was deeply attached to Arthur; he liked the lad's ingenuous glance, and his comical air of possessing the secret of all wisdom.

"Pauline's here. She may as well stop for dinner, mayn't she?"

Pauline was Arthur's fiancée.

"She must," said Mr. Poploy.

It was a pleasing surprise for Mr. Poploy, whose life since the betrothals of his offspring had been a series of surprises—some delicious, some disturbing.

(p. 301) "Where is she?" asked Mr. Poploy.

"We've just been buying a hat for her, and she's trying it on again."


"In your bedroom."

"Ah, well!" said Mr. Poploy, affecting a sigh. "Do what you like with me."

At this point Pauline, wearing what was evidently the new hat, came into the room. A tall young woman, with a sensible face and a soft smile, who had never shingled her beautiful brown hair. Mr. Poploy privately thought that she would have a 'very good influence' on Arthur. He was already extremely fond of his future daughter-in-law. It had indeed been arranged that after their marriage she and Arthur should live under the ancestral roof (leasehold—renewable every seven years). Mr. Poploy had objected to a lonely life, and the children had agreed that he ought not to be deserted—especially as he was easy to live with. Mr. Poploy anticipated the new existence with some apprehension but with more joy.

Pauline first of all bent down and kissed her future father-in-law. Him she would kiss in public, though not Arthur.

She said, indicating the hat:

"What do you think of it, daddy? It won't do as it is, but I really believe that if the ribbon was a bit darker it might do. Arthur likes it. Only I can't go round to the shop in the morning, because of mother, and I must have it for to-morrow afternoon. I wish we hadn't paid for it. So much easier to change a thing when it isn't paid for."

"Shall I go round with it for you? I used to be fine at ribbons," Mr. Poploy adventurously suggested.

Arthur laughed compassionately; but not Pauline.

She said:

(p. 302) "You are a dear. I should love you to. And everyone knows you've got perfect taste."

She gave him the name and address of the artist who had created the hat.

Mr. Poploy was delighted with life. The companionship of the young things in love enchanted him.

At this happy moment a servant appeared bearing heavily a picture in a dirty gilt frame, and a letter. She leaned the picture against a sofa and handed the letter to Mr. Poploy. The picture was the Snyders; it looked the richest thing, even in the electric light. Mr. Poploy opened the letter, which was a bill: "To 'Birds in Landscape' attributed to Snyders, £50." All Mr. Poploy's enthusiasm for the work of art was suddenly revived, glowing within him and shining in his eyes. Further, he had the intense satisfaction of having beaten down the wily Jewess to his own price.

The three of them gazed upon the picture in concert.

"Not so bad," said Arthur dutifully, but not without condescension.

"It's what I call a work, that is!" said Mr. Poploy, trying to disguise his praise, but not succeeding very well in the attempt.

"One of your bargains, I suppose," said Arthur.

"You may say so," Mr. Poploy agreed.

Arthur, having done his duty, then left the picture, but Pauline continued to gaze at it.

"There's a peacock in it," she murmured, at length, and glanced at her Arthur as if for moral support in an ordeal.

"Yes," said Mr. Poploy.

There was indeed a peacock in it, not in the fore-ground, but plainly discernible, spreading its fine tail against a mass of dark foliage.

"Yes," said Pauline.

"What about it?"

(p. 303) "Oh, nothing! Only peacocks are dreadfully unlucky."

"Never heard that before," said Mr. Poploy negligently. His attitude towards superstitions was always placidly disdainful.

"But they are," insisted Pauline, her sensible, agreeable face subdued to an unusual gravity.

"You don't mean to say you really believe that, my dear?" said Mr. Poploy, amazed.

"Well, dad. It's well known that peacocks are unlucky. Isn't it, Arthur?"

"I believe it is," said Arthur, who was a moral coward.

Mr. Poploy turned on him.

"Do you mean to say you've heard of it before?"

"Of course."

"Not in my house, anyway," said Mr. Poploy.

The dinner was somehow mournful. The gloom might have been due to a telephone message received at the last moment from Annette to say that she was dining with her beloved, who would bring her home about ten o'clock. Or it might have been due to Pauline's conviction concerning the mysterious influence of peacocks on human destiny. Mr. Poploy was disappointed in his sensible darling Pauline. Was it possible that there was a single woman so clever and sagacious as Pauline, who could maintain that a peacock, and a painted peacock at that, was baneful to persons in its vicinity? It was not possible, but there it was.

After dinner Mr. Poploy left the betrothed pair together at table; he was always considerate. Half an hour later Arthur came into the drawing-room alone.

"Where's Pauline?" asked Mr. Poploy.

"She's gone home. I've just put her into a taxi."

"Gone home? What for?"

(p. 304) "Look here, dad," said Arthur, facing his parent brusquely. "Hadn't you better get rid of that picture?"

'"Why? What do you mean?" Mr. Poploy challenged his son defiantly. "I don't know what you mean?"

"It makes Pauline uneasy."

"How does it make her uneasy?"

"Well, she doesn't like to be in the same house with it."

"Is that why she's gone home?"


"Listen, my boy. You'd better take your young woman in hand."

"That's all very well," Arthur blushed.

"I'm positively staggered."

"But you know what they are," said the lad, as one man deeply experienced in women to another.

"Know what who are?"

"Girls. If they have these feelings about anything, they have them. And there you are! You can't argue it out with them. You know that."

"I know I'm not going to get rid of that picture—to please anybody," said Mr. Poploy, and meant what he said.

"She'll never come to live here," said Arthur. "And she'd be miserable if she did. But she won't."

Arthur spoke quite calmly. But Mr. Poploy was thunderstruck.

"Do I understand," he demanded—and it was as though water was boiling under a surface of ice, and working its way upwards to the surface with terrible rapidity. "Am I to understand that all our plans are to be altered because that chit has a silly footling notion about peacocks?"

Arthur, hands sunk in pockets, walked to and fro. Then he fronted his father again.

"You are," said he.

(p. 305) "But it's insane!" said Mr. Poploy, furiously carried away. "It's—it's—— Anyhow, whatever happens I'm not going to get rid of that picture. Is it clear? There's a limit. I say, there's a limit."

Arthur left the room.


Having announced that she would return about ten o'clock, of course Annette returned about eleven o'clock. It was generally thus. With her came her beloved, known in the household as Arcturus, in order to avoid confusion, became his name was Arthur, like Annette's brother. Annette was a feminine version of her brother, but both of them denied any likeness, and indeed always warmly resented the mere suggestion of it. Arcturus had a small estate in Berkshire, which estate he was seriously 'developing,' and the development thereof was the occupation of his life. He was sedate, and much more urbane and cautious in demeanour than the twins: a handsome youth, not only well-dressed but well groomed.

"I say, look here, dad," Annette very briskly demanded. "What on earth do you mean by refusing that car?"

"What car?" asked Mr. Poploy, defensive. "How d'ye do, Arcturus?" To himself he was saying: "Can I possibly have been so mistaken in Pauline? Her attitude is ridiculous." During the previous hour and half he had gone over the Pauline-peacock incident about a thousand times in his mind. He was gravely and uncomfortably preoccupied.

"The Spink-Stratton."

"Oh, that!" Mr. Poploy's tone was negligent, contemptuous. And to himself: "Now how the deuce do (p. 306) they know about the Spink-Stratton? Of course if Pauline really is like that, it'll be better if she doesn't come to live here."

"Yes, that!"

"Who told you about it?"

"It was advertised in The Autocar. Arcturus saw it, and he's been to look at it. So have I. Your card was lying in it, and the man told us you'd tried it and didn't like it."

"True," Mr. Poploy admitted. And to himself: "Is it conceivable that any woman in her senses could suppose for a single instant that a peacock ... a painted peacock ... I daresay that there may be some kind of a superstition about peacocks being.... Preposterous! It's unthinkable that there can be such minds. Won't come to live here, won't she? Well she'd better not."

"But it's a terrific bargain. Arcturus thinks so. So do I. It's exactly the thing you want."

"You mean you want, my child. I don't want it. I'm not going gadding about in any Spink-Stratton. I'd sooner have a Ford. And I must say that I'm a bit startled that you, with your theories about society, are prepared to ride in a Spink-Stratton. After all you've said! And all I've said!" And to himself: "No. I'm hanged if I'll part with the picture! It's a question of principle. If one is to give in to these grotesque notions—well, it simply means general insanity."

Annette's 'theories of society' to which Mr. Poploy had referred, were of what is called an 'advanced' nature. Socialistic. Destructive of class-distinctions, anti-vested-interest, anti-Parliamentary, slightly revolutionary, ever so slightly Soviet. Arthur shared them. Arcturus shared them. Arcturus was developing his land on modern lines, and being as anti-landlord as a landlord could be expected to be. They all three (p. 307) seemed to hanker after a great row in the land. The majority of young people known to Mr. Poploy seemed to hanker after a great row in the land.

"Spink-Stratton indeed!" he repeated.

"Now, dad!" Annette warned her father. "Please don't talk like that. A joke's a joke. But this is serious. What on earth can it matter what's the name of your car? If it's a good car it's a good car. And an All-Weather Spink-Stratton is very rare. You mightn't find another one for six months or a year. People must have cars, I suppose."

"Let them," said Mr. Poploy. "But I won't have a Spink-Stratton. Is it clear?"

The strange, sad thing was that Mr. Poploy had not originally refused the Spink-Stratton because it was a Spink-Stratton, but out of caprice, and to show that he was not going to be bullied by his children into buying any car whatever.

Father and daughter argued vivaciously, and with increasing bitterness, for some time. Arcturus, wise and incurably polite, maintained a certain reserve.

"And you, Arcturus, what do you say?" Mr. Poploy attacked the youth pointedly.

"Well, sir," Arcturus replied. "I quite see your argument."

"Yes, you would, you would!" Annette suddenly exploded. "You're a proper coward, you are! Do you think I haven't been noticing you all this while? You would go against me. And yet you know perfectly well I'm quite right. And you'd agree with me if father wasn't here. It's just like you. Here there's a splendid car for sale very cheap, you say yourself it's a bargain; but because it's a Spink-Stratton and all the plutocrats and snobs in London have Spink-Strattons, we mustn't have one. Can you imagine anything more utterly ridiculous? Might as well say we mustn't go (p. 308) to the opera because they do. I'm off to bed. Good night."

Annette had lost her temper. She dashed from the room. Arcturus followed her. Mr. Poploy heard his daughter continuing her tirade on the landing. Then, through the half-open doors he heard her run upstairs to the second-storey, and Arcturus slowly descend to the ground-floor.

The incident was excessively surprising and tiresome. He glanced gloomily at the picture, which neither Annette nor Arcturus had even noticed. Already he was at loggerheads with a resentful son; Pauline had revealed the hitherto unsuspected weakness of her character, and was certainly estranged from him; Annette was estranged from him; and worst of all, Annette was estranged from her beloved. And yet he, Mr. Poploy, obstinately denied that a painted peacock could bring ill-luck to a house!


A gloomy and wakeful night! Neither of Mr. Poploy's children was visible at breakfast, for which Mr. Poploy himself was late. The parlourmaid informed him that they had both already gone out.

A hat, Pauline's, lay at the unoccupied end of the breakfast-table.

"What's that?" asked Mr. Poploy, striving to hide a general state of irritability.

The parlourmaid replied:

"Mr. Arthur said that you would know about it, sir."

"Oh, did he?" said Mr. Poploy. He pretended to himself that this message was like Arthur's infernal cool cheek. But in fact he was pleased, and to some extent (p. 309) relieved, by the message, which was at any rate a proof that the triangular relations between himself, Arthur and Pauline were not entirely broken off.

After breakfast he rang.

"Where's the box for that hat?"

"I haven't seen one, sir."

"Can't you find something to put it in?"

"I'll try, sir."

While the parlourmaid was looking for something in which to envelope the hat Mr. Poploy passed into the drawing-room, which was being dusted, and surveyed anew the Snyders picture. It was marvellous in the morning light.

"No," he said to himself. "I'll see 'em all at the deuce before I let the thing go."

In due course, and without hurrying himself, he went off with the hat. It was in a brown-paper bag immensely too large for it; the brown paper had a pink border and bore in large characters the name of a huge, popular, cheap department store, which Mr. Poploy had never entered, and for which he felt a high contempt. In ordinary circumstances he would have refused to be seen in the street with such a package; but the circumstances were not ordinary; they were such as to make it clear to him that the aspect of a parcel held between finger and thumb could have no real influence upon his reputation, and that indeed nothing mattered in comparison with his grievances against his family.

At South Kensington Underground Station he entered a cage which instantly sank away with him into the subterranean magic of the Piccadilly Tube Railway. He walked in a gale of wind along tunnels, guided by painted hands and illuminated signs, and came to a platform opposite arched announcements of the wonderful pleasures, foods, and drinks of the upper world. (p. 310) A roar was born out of nothing; it grew louder; it grew deafening; the platform shook; everything shook. A train rushed formidably at him, missed him, and halted, with carriage doors exactly opposite him. The doors magically slipped apart. A number of passengers sprang out of the crowded carriages, forcing him backward. Thousands of passengers seemed to be savagely determined to escape from the carriage, which nevertheless remained uncomfortably full.

Mr. Poploy at last stepped into the carriage, trailing his fragile, huge parcel behind him. He pulled at the parcel and was checked. He turned resentfully to upbraid the parcel. The magic doors had silently closed, and the major and more important portion of the parcel was hanging outside the train. The train started, and in an instant was moving at fantastic speed. Never did a respectable man find himself in such a predicament. Happily the horde of passengers were too tightly uncomfortable and too worried by their own affairs to notice what had happened to Mr. Poploy. The doors, of course, were absolutely immovable. Mr. Poploy had between his gloved fingers a substantial corner of the parcel, and he could feel between the papers a bit of the hat. Though he need not have done so, for the parcel was held by the doors as in a vice, he clung desperately to his piece of it, and waited for the headlong, flying train to stop at Brompton Road station.

It did not stop at Brompton Road station. It fled past the coloured posters and the tiled walls of Brompton Road station as if the pestilence dwelt there. Knightsbridge was the next station, distant about half a mile, and the train, still travelling like a shell from a gun, seemed to Mr. Poploy to be about half an hour in reaching it.

The train slowed; it stopped; while a magic voice (p. 311) in the ceiling talked of Hyde Park Corner and Dover Street, the magic doors slid apart. Mr. Poploy saw what he saw. Most of the paper of the parcel had vanished; the hat remained; it would be more accurate to say that what had once been a hat remained; it was black, torn, and shapeless, horrible to look at. Mr. Poploy, cutting his loss with prompt courage, unobtrusively dropped the hat with the fragments of paper, and it fell between the train and the platform.

The peacock! The sinister, powerful peacock, acting disastrously, and at so great a distance too!

He swore that there was nothing in the affair but pure coincidence. But who—and what woman—would accept the coincidence theory? Did he, honestly, accept it himself? Could there, after all, be something in these so-called superstitions? And was anybody, even the most enlightened, entirely free from the empire of superstition?

Mr. Poploy was now on the platform. No use in proceeding further. He let the train go on without him. He walked back home, where he immediately began to consult the telephone-directory.

"I say," he was soon addressing the transmitter. "My name is Poploy. About that Spink-Stratton car you offered me yesterday. My daughter would like—" And so on.

And a few minutes later he was addressing the transmitter again:

"Poploy. P-o-p-l-o-y. Yes. About that Snyders picture. You told me it was by Snyders. But in your invoice you only say 'attributed to Snyders.' ... No, certainly not! That is not good enough for me.... I'm afraid I shall have to trouble you to send for it."

At any rate, the pretext was good enough to save his face in his own home. Yes, he would save his face. Let them have the Spink-Stratton if they wanted it. (p. 312) Why not? And he could not bear the prospect of his home without his admired Pauline permanently resident therein as a daughter-in-law. She must be made happy. He would buy her a new hat to begin with.

But he was a defeated man, and knew it.

(p. 313) DREAM


It occurred in July. In no other month could it have occurred, for solitude and summer heat were both necessary for it. In July, on Lake Garda, the heat is intense, but the season has not started. An Englishman of about forty (which of course means forty-five), blond, touristic in appearance, was slowly driving a small car on the steep road, full of hairpin turns, leading from the east shore of the great lake to the village of St. Zeno-in-the-mountains, a couple of thousand feet up. He overtook an Englishwoman, blonde, decidedly younger than himself, also touristic in appearance—for though she was dressed in flimsiest white, she carried a red guide-book. The woman walked, and she was hot. The man stopped his car, raised his straw hat.

"Let me give you a lift," he suggested.

The woman smiled.

"I'm nearly there." She pointed to the village, apparently a stone's throw above their heads.

"You'd be nearly there if you were a bird," said the man. "But walking, it's still a good mile." He opened the door of the car.

"You're very kind," said the woman, getting in.

These two were guests at a solitary pension on the lake shore. They were the only guests. The woman had been staying there for a week, the man for four (p. 314) days. Being very English and socially prudent, they had bowed but not spoken. They ate their meals in silence at separate tables in the charming empty dining-room. Nevertheless they knew quite a lot about each other. For in Italy foreigners have to fill up detailed forms for the police; landladies read the forms before delivering them to the authorities; and landladies are communicative. The man knew that the woman was single and that her name was Anna Thistleton. The woman knew that the man was single and that his name was Richard Richardson. The woman had observed that the man received no letters. The man had observed that the woman in four days had received only one letter. Each had observed that the other was addicted to reading and could swim pretty well. The man had heard the woman remark to the waitress that she was rather afraid of the entirely harmless snakes that infested the warm water of Garda.

Arrived at the somnolent village in the full blaze and glory of the afternoon sun, they descended from the car and stood surveying the scene. The village priest, under a large umbrella, was walking to and fro in front of the church of St. Zeno, reading his breviary.

"I suppose that's the village priest," said Mr. Richardson.

"Yes, I suppose it must be," Miss Thistleton answered.

They gazed across the breadth of the lake, upon which a steamer was crawling like a white insect. Huge coloured mountains with jagged granitic tops! White villages here and there lying like toy-villages at the vast feet of the mountains! Shimmer of the lake! A small island with a rococo palace and a little forest thereon! Roads looped like long, white ribbons on the distant slopes. Hum and whirr of insects all around! (p. 315) And the sun pouring down sheets and cataracts of pale golden light upon the whole panorama!

A marvellous spectacle. The contact with the almighty, ruthless sun was immediate and intimidating. Anna and Richard felt that they were in the midst of nature herself, and also that they were an extremely trifling, negligible part of nature. Profoundly impressed, they kept silence.

At last the man said:

"Garda isn't merely the biggest of the Italian lakes; it's the finest, too. Como is nothing to it; Como's a picture postcard compared to Garda. And yet everyone goes to Como."

"Yes," said Anna. "Why is it?"

"It's because people are sheep and as silly as sheep," said Richard.

"I daresay that must be the reason," said Anna.

"It is the reason," said Richard masterfully.

He did not invite Anna to return to the shore in the car. He got in; she got in; and no word uttered. They scarcely spoke on the drive down.

Still, at dinner, though they continued to sit at different tables, they conversed freely across the dining-room—about nothing. They were aware that the emotion shared on the flank of the mountain had somehow created a certain intimacy between them. And later, in the moonlit, sweltering, lovely night, when a dark moving shadow saw a white shadow moving mysteriously in the terraced garden sentinelled by cypresses, both were aware that the intimacy was increasing of its own accord without the help of speech. The white shadow approached the dark.

"I came in your car," said the white shadow, with surprising vivacity. "You come in my row-boat."

"Thanks," said the dark shadow.

In ten minutes they were far out on the lake. The (p. 316) pension was naught but a line of electric lights. The distant shores, east, west, and south, sparkled with tiny groups of flickering light—villages. Except these, there was nothing but the moon, the heat, the flat, unrippled water, the row-boat alone on the water, and themselves alone in the row-boat. Not the faintest sigh of wind. Anna had ceased to pull.

"I suppose you're here for a holiday," Richard murmured, as it were confidentially.

"No," Anna replied. "I'm here because a great misfortune happened to me a few years ago."

"Oh! Sorry to hear that."

"Yes," Anna continued. "I used to have an antique shop in Beauchamp Place. It was a struggle to live. Then I came into money. Well, nearly a thousand a year. That was the misfortune. It was too much for me. I mean for my character. I gave up my shop. My life is all holidays now. Do you understand?"


"Frightful, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," said Richard curtly, not softening the words with a smile.

"And you?" Anna questioned.


"Yes. Are you here for a holiday?"

"No," said Richard. "My life is all holidays. Has been for six years. I never have a holiday from holidays. But I'm not like you. I always had a bit of money."

Each examined the other's face and discerned comeliness, sedateness, kindliness and sense thereon. Both were thrilled. Both knew that the intimacy had multiplied fivefold in half a minute. The next half-hour was wonderful.

"A misfortune?" Anna suggested.

"No. Not at all," Richard answered.

(p. 317) Anna, letting the oar-blades sink beneath the surface of the lake, would say no more.

"I'll tell you, if you'd care to hear," said Richard.

Anna, silent, gazed at the water.

Richard was thinking: "This is no ordinary woman."

And Anna was thinking: "This is no ordinary man."

Anna thought: "Is he going to tell me? He must know I'd care to hear. Anyhow, I won't say I'd care to hear. I'll die first."

Here is what Richard told, after a pause so long that Anna began to fear she might have to die.


"I must warn you, Miss Thistleton," Richard opened rather formally, "it's a very strange story, very strange indeed. But you'll have no difficulty in believing it. It begins with a dream. I dreamt I saw a beautiful young woman at a party. Dressed in white, same as you. She had tawny hair, and small ears, and brown eyes, and high cheek-bones—a bit Russian in fact, she looked. She was tall and not too thin, and she did not smile much: but when she did—However, I can't describe her. Descriptions aren't any good. Except the high cheek-bones. The cheek-bones seemed to be rising up to meet the eyebrows, which matched her hair. I said to myself I must be introduced to that young woman; but I didn't like to ask. I thought if I did it would make me feel self-conscious, and I hate feeling self-conscious. Still, I shouldn't have been satisfied if I hadn't been introduced to her.

"Later in the evening the hostess came up to me and said she wanted to introduce me to her daughter's friend Emily. Emily was the girl. There she was sitting by herself in a corner. So I was introduced to her (p. 318) and I sat down close to her. She talked. Not me. I mean I didn't talk at first, but I did afterwards. She had a very quiet, clear voice. I couldn't be sure whether or not I cared so much for her. All I felt was that I'd never met anybody in the least like her. I probably had, but you know how men do feel—women too perhaps. Or possibly you don't know. Anyway, you see what I mean. I won't go on describing my feelings. Might get sentimental. Ass—you know."

In the moonlight Anna, with her fixed, unsmiling stare on him, noticed a glimmer of a smile on his worn, intelligent face.

"Well, my dream broke off there. But it went on again immediately, and the next thing was I was sitting on a bench in a park or something, and the girl was beside me. Dressed in green—evening-dress. It was night. She was like you—she didn't smile a lot. We'd grown intimate. I didn't know how; but I knew we had. For one thing I was calling her 'Emily'; but she didn't call me by my Christian name. Well, in this dream I asked her to marry me. I wondered whether I was doing right. I even wondered if I was really in love with her. I couldn't be certain. But I did ask her to marry me, because—oh well, I can't explain. I did. She said she would. Then I put my hands on her shoulders and kissed her, and she did smile, and she kissed me, and her face and body were very close to mine. She just breathed 'Richard.' I can't imagine why I'm telling you all these details. Yes, I can. You'll see.

"Well, it was all right. Yes, it was more than all right. I felt about a thousand times happier than I'd ever felt before, and I could feel she was happy. I thought it was all too good to be true. The dream went on all through our engagement. It was tremendously long—I mean my dream was—but there was nothing (p. 319) special about the engagement. It went perfectly smoothly. Her parents—I had none—were charming. They liked me. Presents began to arrive. Yes, it was all smooth, except one thing. The day before the wedding the clergyman fell ill and died, or if he didn't die before the wedding he died soon afterwards. The dream was a bit vague here. Emily was upset about the clergyman. Talked about it being unlucky and so on. But she soon pulled herself together. We got another clergyman and we were married, and we went off on our honeymoon, and the whole thing was splendid. We didn't have a lot of money, but we had enough, and Emily was full of sense—more than I was.

"And the dream went on and on. And then I was in the bedroom, and Emily was lying on the bed, and the doctor and the nurse were there. And then suddenly Emily lifted her head and she said in a loud voice—louder than I'd ever heard her—she almost shouted: 'What a shame! What a shame!' And she dropped back, and I knew she was dead. I didn't need the doctor to tell me she was dead. I knew—in myself. When she said 'What a shame!' Emily meant what a shame it was she should have to die when we were so happy together. And the child born, too.

"I sat still for hours—it seemed hours. I was alone in the room, except for Emily. Then the door opened very quietly and the doctor came in again. I knew what he had to tell me. He said: 'They will be buried together.' The child was dead.

"I jumped up and knocked myself against the door and the latch of the door clicked. And I woke. A servant had come into my bedroom with my morning tea, and she'd shut the door behind her, and it was the click of the door that had wakened me. So all my dream had passed in a fraction of a second, and yet it seemed to have lasted a couple of years. They say all (p. 320) dreams are like that—instantaneous. But this dream was so real to me, even after I woke, that for at least five minutes I could hardly believe that it was a dream. It was the most real dream I've ever had, either before or since. Only of course by the time I'd drunk my tea I'd recovered from it, and I knew it was only a dream and I sort of laughed at it."

"Not easy to laugh at it," said Anna Thistleton, moveless on the thwart of the boat. Her features were stern, because she had been spellbound. "A terrible story I call it."

"Oh!" said Richard lightly. "That's not the story. That's only the dream. I'm coming to the story now."

He spoke without any trace of feeling.

Anna pulled one stroke and then let the oar-blades sink again. The row-boat glided a few yards until very gradually it came to rest. No tide. No wind. The ripples due to the stroke smoothed themselves out. The lake was utterly flat once more. The lights of the villages still endlessly twinkled. The immense moon was climbing with majestic deliberation higher into the sky.


Richard Richardson continued:

"The next day after the dream—mind you, the very next day—I had a late invitation to a party for the same evening. I didn't expect it, and I had arranged to stay at home and read. I went. I knew the hostess fairly well. About five-and-twenty guests in the drawing-room. When I shook hands with the hostess she said I seemed very pale, and asked me what I was looking at. I said I felt perfectly all right and I wasn't looking at anything in particular. Two fibs, I admit. I had caught sight of a girl who reminded me of the Emily of (p. 321) my dream. She was talking to some other people. She had high cheek bones and tawny hair. She wore white. She was beautiful. I couldn't be sure that she was exactly like Emily, but anyhow there was a very marked resemblance. I did my best to think that she wasn't like Emily. But she was. No wonder I'd turned pale, eh? It's not too much to say I was a bit frightened. I thought I'd leave at once.

"However, I didn't, couldn't, because I got involved in talk with friends. Later the hostess came up to me and said she wanted to introduce me to her niece's friend Adelaide. Almost before I knew it I said: 'Your daughter's friend, isn't it?' The hostess said: 'If you choose. You know my youngest daughter is really my niece. You know my husband and I adopted her when her parents died.'

"Well, I was led up to the corner where the girl was sitting and introduced. I remarked to her how carelessly introductions were made nowadays. She had heard my name, but I'd only heard the 'Adelaide' part of her name. She said: 'My full name's Adelaide Emily Britten. Some of my friends call me Adelaide and some Emily.' She had a charming quiet voice. And I'd never met anyone like her before, except the girl in my dream.

"Yes, I tell you I was frightened. And although I was very much taken with her, I said to myself I wouldn't go on with the acquaintance. Not at any price! Well, would you believe me, I met the girl afterwards in all sorts of places. She was a friend of the Gurdons—my hostess. Yet I'd never seen her before. And now I seemed to be constantly running across her. Royal Academy. Theatres. Wimbledon. Restaurants. Even in the streets. It was extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary. Even if I'd tried to avoid her I couldn't have done. But I doubt if I (p. 322) should have tried. You see, I thought she was wonderful. It wasn't anything she said or did. And she probably wasn't the loveliest creature in London. It was just—it was just her. We got quite friendly. Once I asked her if she ever had dreams. She said she dreamt a lot, but always forgot her dreams the moment she woke. She didn't ask me why I'd asked her such a question and I didn't tell her.

"I continued to be frightened. But I said to myself it was ridiculous to be frightened. There was nothing in dreams. Couldn't be. It was all merely a coincidence. A very odd coincidence, but a coincidence. Besides, I might have imagined the resemblance between the dream Emily and the real Emily. Imagination does the strangest things. Moreover I sort of enjoyed being frightened. Child playing with fire kind of thing.

"One night I went to a concert. I never go to concerts, but I happened to go to one that night. There she was, with her father and mother. In the interval she beckoned to me. Yes. I had some chat with daughter and parents. Delightful people the parents were. We met again in the foyer going out, and the father asked me to have supper with them at a restaurant. Said they hadn't dined, because concerts always began so preposterously early; fortunately they ended early too! I had a suspicion that Emily had told him to ask me. I ought to have said how sorry I was I couldn't, on account of another engagement. But I accepted—I was so flattered by the notion that she told her father to ask me.

"During the supper she called me by my Christian name. She'd never done it before. Of course I had to respond. I decided I would call her 'Adelaide,' but when the word came out it was 'Emily.' Our friendship was on a different footing after that. I dined at (p. 323) the Brittens' house. I lunched with Papa Britten at his club. So it continued for months. But Emily and I were very seldom alone together, and when we were we never said anything that anybody mightn't hear.

"Then one night I was at a grand reception at a swell house in Chelsea. A charity affair. Wholesale affair. I hardly knew the people of the house. About midnight there was a simply terrific crowd in the big drawing-room for a variety performance—juggling, comic minstrels, and so on. The place was dreadfully hot. I was behind about ten rows of people, and I couldn't see. So I went out into the garden. It was illuminated. A few couples walking about—and Emily sitting on a bench by herself! First time I'd seen her that night. For weeks I'd been getting less and less frightened. Everything was so real and so nice. Not at all like a dream. But when I saw that garden, I was suddenly frightened again. The garden looked just like a park, and rather like the park or whatever it was in my dream.

"She saw me. I went and sat down by her. I glanced at her dress. I couldn't be sure whether it was green or blue. Artificial light changes some colours. I asked her if it was green or blue. She said it was a bit of both—shot silk. She said it was really electric blue, but it often looked green. Well, she was so soft and melting—if you know what I mean—it made my heart beat. I said to myself that I mustn't propose to her. I couldn't be certain whether I was in love with her or not. No. I mustn't ask her to marry me. I mustn't. I mustn't. But I did. I couldn't stop myself. I asked her in spite of myself. She said Yes. Then I said to myself I mustn't put my hands on her shoulders. But I did. She smiled at last. We kissed. I knew then I was in love with her. I felt amazingly happy. I was frightened. Oh, very! But I didn't care. She was miraculous, and I shut my eyes to everything else. I (p. 324) said to myself it was absolutely childish to be frightened, and if I confessed to her that I was frightened and why I was frightened, she'd laugh—because although she was miraculous, she had quantities of common sense and no use whatever for spiritualism or fortune-telling or anything queer.

"I drove her home that night and told her parents that we were engaged. Everybody was pleased. The atmosphere of the house became almost uproarious. Yes, I'm sure I was very happy, but outwardly I was the least jolly person there. Well, so that was that."

Richard lit a cigarette.


He then continued, in a lower voice:

"I was in favour of a short engagement, because I wanted to get the wedding accomplished, over, done with. I wanted it to be something I couldn't go back on. I wanted the business settled, so that I should know where I was. Emily too was in favour of a short engagement, and really there was no conceivable reason against it. The arrangements went forward with what seemed to me incredible rapidity. Soon I developed a tremendous passion for Emily. 'Passion' is the only word for what I felt in regard to her. I had hours of bliss. I daresay I seemed silly to some people.

"On the other hand, in the night, I had hours of fright. What was I doing? I called myself a fool, a scoundrel, a desperado. Yes, and an executioner! Not a murderer, an executioner. These hours passed, and I was in bliss again. I still didn't say a word to a soul about what was troubling me. I could never have even begun to frame the sentences. And who would (p. 325) have listened to them seriously? Perhaps I ought to have told. But I wasn't capable of it; therefore I didn't try.

"My happiness was intense—and it was terrible. I had to discuss clothes, times, seasons, breakfasts, rings, receptions, trains, honeymoons, new homes. And I did discuss them. And I chose my best man. Once Emily did say to me, in the sweetest way: 'You aren't unwell, are you?' That question gave me a shock. It showed that Emily had a suspicion—no doubt only a very tiny suspicion—that something was a bit wrong somewhere. But I laughed, easily. I kept my nerve. And I managed to kill the suspicion. Presents came in, first one or two, then a lot. The furnishing of our new flat was nearly finished. Then it was quite finished as far as it could be finished until the honeymoon was over and we had got into the place. I'll tell you what I was like. I was like a fly on a pin. Yet I was happy. I expect no fiancé was ever happier than I was—on my good days; but I'll take my oath no fiancé was ever unhappier. To describe my condition would be impossible.

"Then it was the day before the wedding. I dined with the Brittens. My best man and one of the bridesmaids were the only other guests. Emily was told to go to bed early. Bill—that was my best man, Bill Simpson—said that I must go to bed early. Bill was a regular jailer to me. With a joke or two he left me at the lift to my old flat, which was now half empty of furniture. Everything was organized, everything in perfect order. I undressed and got into bed. I didn't sleep one minute all night, but I smoked a whole packet of cigarettes. When daylight came I did sleep, and I was asleep when Bill came along to take me in charge for the ceremony.

"He cursed me like anything, but he laughed at me. He even congratulated me on my powers of sleep. I (p. 326) got up and dressed myself in the most correct manner. Bill had bought a flower for my buttonhole, and he fixed it himself. For breakfast I had only a cup of tea—and some more cigarettes. Just as I was finishing Bill said: 'I was forgetting to tell you that you'll have to be content with being married by a timid little curate, and I hope he won't make a mess of it. The old rector's had a stroke, and they say he can't recover. I've had a telephone message. Of course I've only told the Brittens he's caught a chill and daren't go out. You know what women are.'

"I can hear Bill now saying those exact words. I said 'Poor chap!' in an ordinary tone—casual, too casual. Then I said 'Half a second, my lad. I won't be late; but I must just—' I walked out of the room, snatched a soft hat, and ran down the stairs—I wouldn't ring for the lift. In the street, the motor was waiting for us. I gave that motor a miss. The chauffeur didn't see me. I think nobody saw me. I threw away the flower. I took a 'bus to Victoria.

"I had some luck at Victoria, I mean in the way of trains; and it was luck too that I had my passport in my pocket, and plenty of money, all ready for my honeymoon journey. I reached Ostend that day. I thought of them waiting and waiting at the church. And Emily! I thought what a fearful humiliation it must have been for her. Yes, humiliation! But I'd done the only thing I could do. If I'd gone to the church, it would have been as good as executing Emily.

"The clergyman dying had been too much for me. It finished me, that did! Anyhow, I'd stopped the end of the dream from coming true. It didn't come true. She's married now, Emily is. I saw it in The Times. She has two children. I've been holidaying ever since. I've never felt equal to going back to England, and I never shall. I just wander about. But I've got over it. (p. 327) Oh yes. I've got over it. You do get over things, you know."

"I suppose you wrote and explained?" Anna demanded.

"Not at once. But after about a fortnight I wrote to Bill. No, I didn't explain about my dream. I simply said I felt I oughtn't to marry. I couldn't put that accursed dream down in writing. I gave no address, so I didn't get any reply."

Richard threw the end of his cigarette into the water.



The moon was now completely hidden by clouds; which indeed had covered the entire hemisphere of the firmament. On the water there was a thin haze, and through the haze the villages twinkled and flickered less brightly than before. The first faint stirrings of the punctual night-breeze slightly ruffled the surface of the lake. The boat lay alone on the water, walled in by semi-diaphanous mist that further off thickened into the opaque. The boat seemed to be not merely alone on the water but alone in the world.

And in the little boat Anna and Richard sat still, one at either end. They could discern each other's faces. Anna's was set, thoughtful, almost stern. Richard's appeared to show an obscure shame, not for what he had done or not done years ago—rather for the intimate candour of his narration.

The cooling breeze strengthened; the ripples made a deeper pattern of ridges on the flatness of the water. Anna thought she saw a vague shape in the haze. It was something; it was nothing; it was something. It moved towards the boat. It grew into the shape of (p. 328) a craft. It defined itself. It bore down upon the row-boat. It drew nearer. It solved itself into a long craft with two sails, one dark, the other light. The upright bodies of three men were silhouetted against the light sail. The speed of the craft increased. It swept close by the row-boat. As it swiftly passed, cleaving the water with its prow, Anna shivered, and Richard gave a start. It was gone. The sound of its furrowing died away. The apparition was a vague shape again. It vanished. It was nothing, it was something, it was nothing—nothing. Utter silence. The passing of the sail-boat was like the visionary passing of a spirit from the unknown into the unknown.

Anna Thistleton, her face unrelaxed, began to pull slowly towards the shore. Richard nervously lit another cigarette, and another match fizzled into extinction on the water.

"It's a terrible story," Anna muttered.

"I beg pardon," said Richard, not hearing.

"I say it's a terrible story," Anna repeated, a little harshly.

"Do you condemn me, then?"

"N-o," answered Anna, with indecision in her tone.

"You do."

"I think either you ought to have kept away from your Emily, or you ought to have told her—and early in the proceedings, too," said Anna acidly.

"I couldn't do either the one or the other. Couldn't!"

"Her unhappiness must have been simply frightful. And as you said, her humiliation!"

"But it didn't last," said Richard. "The proof—she's a married woman now with children. And even without her marriage, she'd had more happiness than unhappiness. And I had had happiness. Not as much as hers. But some. And I did save her life in the end. You should remember what I think is a fact—that no (p. 329) man ever before was placed in the position that I found myself in."

Anna, offering no reply, rowed on. The lights of the pension grew brighter. The little landing pier became visible. The boat's nose nudged it and recoiled a few inches from the impact.

"The painter's just behind you," said Anna with curt command. "Make her fast, will you?"

The obedient Richard tied up the boat, and waited.

"No," said Anna, "you're nearest. You get out first."

Richard obeyed and stood high over the boat on the pier and held out his hand. Anna shipped the oars, stood up, and stepped across the thwart on which Richard had been sitting. She took his hand, and sprang lightly on to the wooden pier. She did not loose his hand. She squeezed it.

"Who am I to criticize you," she said softly, sympathetically, comprehendingly. Her accents surprised him. "You couldn't act till you were forced to act, and when you did act you acted rightly. It was not your fault. You had an awful experience. But it was very wonderful, too, wasn't it?"

She was still holding his hand, in a clasp firm and yet tender. But her features had remained stern.

Richard nodded.

"Thank you," he breathed.

"I'm so sorry for you," Anna added.

Then at last she dropped his hand.

They crossed the white, dusty road in a cloud of thick dust, having waited for the passage of a flying automobile with two huge staring eyes. It was gone, round a corner. The noise of the engine sank diminuendo into silence. The dust settled.

"I think I'll sit down. I feel a bit faint," Anna murmured.

(p. 330) She sat down on the first bench in the gardens. Richard did not sit. Cypresses and the vastness of the night and the mystery of human existence were around them.

"No," said Anna, rising jerkily. "I shan't faint. I think I'll go in. I'm quite capable of walking alone, thanks."

He followed her up the steps and slopes and along the terraces of the dark garden until they reached the front-door, which was open and which gave a glimpse of a homely interior furnished with easy-chairs and ash-trays. The interior was a different world from the world of the lake below and the lakeside.

Anna kept in the doorway, barring it to Richard. She gazed at him, with a smile mocking, ambiguous, inscrutable, illegible. Richard could not imagine what such a queer smile meant, what it foreboded for him, how far it concealed, how far it revealed, her most secret thoughts.

"I hope you didn't have any horrid old dream about ME last night," she said suddenly, with a quite new sort of a smile—a smile, however, which was even more enigmatic than the smile it replaced. And no sooner had she made this notable remark than she scurried away like a young girl through the hot lounge, through the drawing-room beyond, through the corridor to her bedroom. Richard heard her door close.

In such a unique, odd manner did a fresh romance begin.

(p. 331) BACCARAT


Gracie and Oliver came round the bend and sat down in a corner of the open-air but roofed terrace in front of the café, and Oliver rang a bell in the wall and ordered coffee for two.

"And what about a crème de menthe?" said Gracie.

"I never take liqueurs," Oliver answered. "Do you?"

"Of course I do. I like the colours of them."

"One crême de menthe," said Oliver, recalling the attendant.

"But you must have one too," Gracie protested.

"No thanks."

"But I can't drink a liqueur alone!" Gracie protested further.

"Why not? Are you afraid?" And Oliver, smiling at Gracie, repeated to the attendant: "One crême de menthe."

Oliver was a tall and very personable young man, dressed with utter correctness. No frilled evening shirts for Oliver. A shirt starched into convex cast-iron. Plain gold cuff-links and studs. No fantasy in the buttons of his white waistcoat. No pattern on his butterfly black tie. His dark hair was perhaps a bit long, but not at the back nor at the sides of his fine head. Only a tuft above the forehead. Age twenty-seven or eight.

(p. 332) Gracie wore white, a demi-toilette—fairly in the fashion—with a diamond-covered wrist-watch of the tiniest size, an erratic timepiece which even when it consented to go was undecipherable without the aid of a microscope. No rings. A coral necklace. Gracie's brown, shining hair somewhat lacked discipline. Her brown flashing eyes, and her gestures, showed impulsiveness and the will to dominate. She was beautiful—or beginning to be beautiful; for she had barely reached nineteen. She thought she was at life's apogee.

They began to smoke, Oliver holding the match. When the attendant returned they drank. They put their heads together and talked with extraordinary vivacity, about speed on land, on water, in the air. And little that they said could have had the slightest interest for anybody else. Only the manner in which they said what they said might have been interesting to outsiders. Each was absorbed in the other. They unconsciously divided the world into two parts: themselves—and outsiders. This was a flirtation. That by a previous understanding they had started dinner, at different tables of course, on the stroke of seven, and hurried through it so that they could escape early and get a few minutes undisturbed together before outsiders had finished eating, was known to everyone in the ship.

For they were on board the Ariadne, a fifteen-thousand ton affair pursuing what was called a "cruise de luxe" in the Mediterranean, and now, having just left the region of Monte Carlo, on her way to Naples, Syracuse, Athens, Constantinople, Crete, and such legendary places. Six hundred passengers, all at leisure and all saloon. No second-class, except for ladies' maids, valets and similar laborious persons. Two hundred and fifty stewards who were on duty at 5.30 a.m. and off duty at 11 p.m., except the swimming-pool attendant (p. 333) whose day began at 3.45 a.m.—because the pool had to be emptied and cleaned every morning.


A stout, tall old lady, waddling with the aid of a stick, appeared round the corner and stopped opposite the pair. Oliver rose.

"Sit down," said the old lady.

Oliver sat.

The old lady was the illustrious Mrs. Julia Hobb, one of the world's richest women, and queen-empress of the ship, by reason less of her wealth than of her natural authority. Her aged features, and the hair on her upper lip, were masculine; and like a man she had made her millions. She had been a widow for over forty years. She was American by birth and by marriage; but she had lost her American accent in world-travel, though she had never troubled herself to learn any foreign language. There were two suites de luxe in the Ariadne. Julia Hobb had the starboard suite. She 'carried' two maids, one of whom acted also as secretary. She was the chief patron of the wireless operator and was continually receiving and sending messages about stock-markets. Scarcely a day passed without some increase in her wealth.

On the first morning of the cruise, the breakfast bugle was blown along the corridors at 8 a.m., as it had always been blown on all the ships of the old-fashioned line of which the Ariadne was a minor member. The strident bugle woke Julia Hobb. Her maids suffered. She sent for the almighty purser. The breakfast bugle was never blown again during that cruise. The official time for dinner was 7 p.m., and few passengers dared to begin the meal later than 7-30 p.m. (p. 334) But Julia Hobb would not dine at 7 p.m., an hour which she described as preposterous. Nor at 7-30 nor at 8, nor at 8-30. But at 8-45. The chief dining-room steward would wait outside her suite of a morning to take her commands concerning the day's menus. When she arrived for dinner in the dining-saloon the white cloths had been removed from every table but hers. Often she dined alone, with four smiling stewards around her, but sometimes she would invite acquaintances to her table; but such companions were not consulted as to the menu. They ate and drank what was put on their plates and in their glasses. She was a firm old monument.

The Ariadne had stayed twenty-eight hours in the region of Monte Carlo. In that space of time Julia Hobb had taken 1,300,000 francs out of the coffers of the International Sporting Club, at chemin de fer or baccarat. 1,300,000 francs was nothing to her. Still, she took it away, as a matter of form. No wonder she was the queen-empress of the ship. No wonder she held the purser under one foot, and the commander himself under the other.

"Gracie," said she now, in her deep, rich voice. "Rose Devizes tells me you would like to play baccarat."

"I should simply love to, Mrs. Hobb," said Gracie, with girlish ardour.

"Do you know how to play?"

"I think so."

"What do you mean, you 'think so'?"

"Well, I watched you play at the Sporting Club; and I do believe I've got the hang of it."

"You may have got the hang of it," said Julia Hobb. "But have you got the money to lose?"

"Yes, Mrs. Hobb."

"How much?"

(p. 335) "A hundred pounds," said Gracie calmly.

"To spare?"

"Yes, Mrs. Hobb."

"Your father spoils you. How's your aunt to-day?"

"About the same—not worse."

"Very well. You come to my room at ten o'clock to-night. Rose Devizes will be there, and some others."

"It's awfully good of you, Mrs. Hobb."

Julia Hobb waddled away—tap, tap, tap on the deck. Beyond telling him to sit down she had taken little notice of Oliver, who was nobody in particular and belonged to no 'set.' Gracie was perhaps somebody. Her father had a very brilliant if slightly precarious position in the City of London. And Gracie with her invalid aunt, and one maid, occupied the other suite de luxe, on the port side of the ship. The invalid aunt was rarely seen—and never at meals.

Oliver resumed the flirtatious duologue, pretending that Julia Hobb's demeanour had not snubbed him, and that if Mrs. Hobb imagined he cared tuppence for her she was wrong.

"I touched 80 on the Oxford Road last week but one, and it's pretty narrow," said he.

Gracie sniffed.

"That's not much. I've done a whole lap at Brooklands at nearly 100," said she.

"Yes," said Oliver, stung. "But Brooklands isn't the Oxford Road; and besides your father gets special cars for you."

To which Gracie retorted:

"I can scarcely wait till ten o'clock. I'll have another crême de menthe."

"You will not," said Oliver with force. "Have an orange juice instead." And he smiled, to soften his force.

(p. 336) "You are a darling," said Gracie.

People began to stroll in from dinner, replete.

"Let's play ping-pong in the gym," Oliver proposed.

Gracie nodded. Entirely ignoring the soft beauty of the Mediterranean night through which the Ariadne was steaming, the pair ran off, Gracie first, down to B deck, down further to C deck, across a bridge, and into the gymnasium.


Gracie, having defeated Oliver at ping-pong by means of a new serve which she had learnt from the gym steward, entered somewhat triumphantly the precincts of Julia Hobb's suite at two minutes to ten. One of the two maids was waiting in the corridor. Julia always had a bodyguard.

"Am I late? Who's there?" Gracie whispered to the maid.

"Lady Devizes, Mr. Leopold Cheddar, Mr. Sacheverell Cheddar, Lord Pertwee and Mrs. Penkethman, Miss."

Timidly and yet audaciously the young girl peeped round the open door and went into the sitting-room, which had many flowers, an electric fan, a long table, a sofa, and six chairs.

"Come along, child," Julia greeted her.

"This is no place for you," said the tall, beautiful Countess of Devizes. "But what's the good of a girl who doesn't know how to play baccarat?"

Rose, and the beautiful Mrs. Penkethman were busy shuffling nine or ten packs of cards, an operation which they concluded with prestidigitatory finger-movements as rapid and sure as those of a conjuror. The handsome young Cheddars, brothers of Rose's absent husband, looked on. Julia Hobb sat with her legs (p. 337) spread and her broad ringed hands on her knees: a customary pose with her.

"I'll be banker," said Julia, and dragged her chair up to one end of the table. "You'd better sit three a side."

The cards were inserted into the 'shoe' with sundry preliminary manipulations which Gracie did not understand. Out of a large silver box the banker distributed counters marked from £1 to 1/-, to the total value of £5 per player. Julia ranged the 'shoe' in front of herself. The game was about to begin, and Gracie was excited as she had never been—not even at Brooklands with the wheel of a racing-car under her hands.

"Smithson! Smithson!" growled Julia. The maid appeared. "Stop that fan."

Smithson stopped the fan, and then the wash of Mediterranean waves against the ship's sides could be faintly heard.

"Now," said Julia, looking at Gracie. "The maximum stake is ten shillings."

Murmurs of protest. "Oh, Julia!" "Oh, Julia darling!" "Do make it a pound, sweetie."

"The maximum stake is ten shillings," Julia repeated. "I know what private baccarat is, or can be. It's very dangerous. Anyone can lose £50 on a couple of shoes with a ten shilling limit, and that's quite enough. You know you haven't a cent, Rose. Neither have Leo and Sachy. And Perty depends on his father. The only people here with any money worth mentioning are Nancy and Gracie and me. Ten shillings maximum. Put down your stakes."

There were five British aristocrats at the table, and Julia pleasantly treated them all like dirt, and they all accepted the treatment. Julia's place of origin was a village street in Kentucky. She had a fancy for aristocrats because they had style and because it amused her (p. 338) to demonstrate that aristocrats by birth were the scum of the earth in the presence of the autocracy of great wealth—backed by a powerful individuality. Everybody put down a ten shillings counter except Nancy Penkethman, who was content to imperil one shilling.

Julia dealt the first cards to Lord Pertwee (son of the Earl of Daleham), who sat on her right. Next to him were Rose Devizes and then Gracie. On the left side were Leo Cheddar, Nancy Penkethman and then Sachy Cheddar. The Bank lost to the right side and won from the left.

"Sucks!" said Nancy gloomily.

"Now don't touch the stakes!" said Julia harshly. "Let nobody touch the stakes. I'm banker." She threw down counters to the right side, and with a rake gathered in the stakes from the left side. The game had fairly begun.

Gracie had made the sum of ten shillings, in her first gamble. She was intensely excited and intensely happy. She felt that she understood the game; therefore that she had a head for cards. And she was playing with some of the smartest people in London, people whose photographs were always in the papers (except the plain old millionairess, who would never allow herself to be photographed). Gracie's own name and photograph had several times been printed, because of her unofficial feats at Brooklands. But that was different. The others had done absolutely nothing. (Nor did they show by a single word any acquaintance with the fact that Gracie had done something.) They simply were. Their mere existence entitled them to publicity. It was all very wonderful.

She won another ten shillings. Then she lost ten shillings twice. Even! Then the cards came to her. She started with a nine. Then she called for a card and got nine again. Then she drew an eight. Then she (p. 339) won on a seven. Then, miraculously, she won on a four. Then she drew a nine.

"You little angel! You cherub. Now we trust you. Don't fail us! Be good! Be kind!" These and similar remarks were addressed to her by Rose Devizes at each deal.

Gracie's successes were apparently without end. But the left side of the table had been losing, and Nancy had used the word 'Sucks' several times, and far worse words. Nobody seemed to mind the Nancy vocabulary. As for Gracie, she admired it. It thrilled her. It demonstrated to her that she was truly in the smart world.

She glanced at the fingernails of Rose and Nancy, which were as red as the lips of Rose and Nancy. Her own fingernails were sadly behind the times. At Naples she would buy the stuff to modernize them. Rose's frock was appreciably above her knees. Observing which Gracie ceased to pull her own frock down from time to time.

Then at length she lost; the sequence of nines was broken. No matter. She collected five pounds from her counters and piled the discs separate from the rest. The rest represented her gains. Marvellous! What a life was this life! Her aunt never played cards. Nor her father.

At the next deal Nancy was attending to her complexion and her lips. Both Nancy and Rose inspected their faces about every five minutes. Gracie, who would forget her face for hours together, perceived that she must do likewise.

"End of play," growled Julia.

Everyone had staked except Nancy.

"Oh! Sorry!" said Nancy, waking up from the vision of her face, and depositing five shillings.

"Take it back," growled Julia.

(p. 340) "But—"

"I said end of play."

"I know I should have won," said Nancy.

The fall of the cards proved that her instinct had been correct. Nancy's lovely eyes filled with tears.

"If you gave half as much thought to your brain as you give to your body," growled Julia pitilessly, "you'd get on better at cards and at everything else."

"Yes, darling," Nancy concurred with tearful humility.

Gracie rather scorned Nancy Penkethman for this display of weakness. But she scorned her more, and scorned Rose Devizes too, because they were old. They were very old. They were at least twenty-nine, and might be thirty. Whereas Gracie was young. With all their care for their complexions, never could they match Gracie's! Her movements were young. Everyone at the table felt her fresh youthfulness. The three stylistic young men were obviously fascinated by her scintillating youth.

The game proceeded. Undeniably it was monotonous—Julia slowly dealing cards, Julia continually either throwing down counters or raking in counters. No skill. All hazard. Nevertheless every moment was thrilling for Gracie, who watched with sadness the gradual diminution of the cards in the shoe. She wanted the shoe to be inexhaustible.... The shoe was empty.

"Do let's have another, Julia darling," pleaded Nancy.

"To-morrow night," Julia answered dryly.

Gracie felt grave disappointment. She would have played all night.

"Julia, dearest," said Rose Devizes. "We're simply frightfully thirsty."

"Well," growled Julia. "You'll keep on being (p. 341) thirsty till I know how we stand," and she took a piece of paper. "Gracie, your counters." Julia reckoned them up. "A hundred and fifty."

Gracie had made £7 10s. Decidedly more than anyone else, for she alone had not once staked less than ten shillings. The Bank had lost.

"Well," said Lord Pertwee to her, "you are my mascot for ever and ever."

She was the cynosure of the table. She said:

"Give me a cigarette—Perty."

First time she had ventured to address the Viscount familiarly.

But in one matter Gracie was disconcerted. Winnings were not paid out, nor losses demanded, by the Bank. A name or a figure on a piece of paper represented Gracie's gain. She would have preferred to carry the money out of the room. However, they would play every night until the end of the cruise, and then she would receive a vast amount.

The young thing crept like a sinner into her aunt's suite de luxe. But she was heard.

"Gracie, my dear."

The door of the prim spinster's sleeping cabin had been left ajar. Gracie peeped into the darkened room.

"It isn't late, Auntie," said the gambler. "I've been with Mrs. Hobb."

"And who else was there?" Gracie catalogued the names, beginning with that of the Viscount.

"That must have been very nice for you," said the tired voice, in a tone to indicate satisfaction at the list of these celebrities.

"It was," said Gracie.

Not a word about gambling.

Leaving, she did not leave her aunt's door ajar. She shut it carefully, and crept out again into the large (p. 342) freedom of the ship. Oliver might be about. She had a desire to show herself to Oliver in her glory. And Oliver was about. Oliver had been waiting. He thought her more lovely, more dazzlingly attractive, than ever. And she in her turn thought that he had points which neither Perty nor Leo nor Sachy possessed, with all their inherited elegance.


One night the passengers gave a concert. The crew had given a concert; and now the passengers were giving a concert. The travellers had seen Naples, Syracuse, Ithaca (home of Ulysses), Athens, the Parthenon, Delphos, Olympia, Corinth, Milo, Santorin (the loveliest island in all the Mediterranean), the Dardanelles, the site of Troy, Constantinople itself. And now the ship was leaving the Golden Horn. The domes and pinnacles of St. Sophia and other mosques were silhouetted in grandeur against the light of a rising moon. Magic of the East. But the passengers were giving a concert. The Social Saloon was packed, and many people on deck were peering through the windows of the saloon and listening to the passengers' concert. Nobody looked at the fading and lessening domes. The ship was an entity in itself. And it was the same entity whether in the Golden Horn or moored to a quay at Southampton. The passengers were giving a concert.

Julia's party objected to the passengers' concert, partly because of their dread of musical amateurishness, but more because it interfered with baccarat, which had been played in Julia's parlour almost nightly. Julia, however, was President of the Entertainments Committee, and Lord Pertwee and Rose Devizes were (p. 343) two of the Vice-Presidents. Therefore Julia had decreed that all her associates must attend, and they did attend. And they sat in the first row. Even Gracie's aunt heard the first part of the concert. Julia applauded every item, and everybody else had to applaud every item. And Nancy Penkethman, while applauding, used terrible language under her breath. But even a passengers' concert ends, and this concert ended—at 11.15.

"Do let's have just one shoe, Julia darling," Nancy pleaded.

To the general astonishment, Julia agreed. The kindly Rose, exercising due discretion, stealthily summoned Gracie, who had been helping to settle her aunt for the night.

On A deck the band was playing for dancing, under electric Chinese lanterns, and among the dancers was Oliver Skelton, whom all his partners found to be rather absent-minded. Once Oliver retired for perambulation and meditation, and conceivably it was not by accident that he passed along the Deck C starboard corridor, upon which abutted the great Julia's apartments. The outer door was closed. But Oliver could catch the sound of laughter within. He could even distinguish Gracie's laugh—a bit too loud, he thought, Gracie's laugh! When, after varied wanderings around the hinterlands of the ship, he regained A deck, the Chinese lanterns were out, the band was packing up, the piano was being made fast, and two minutes later the deck was deserted.

Oliver leaned over the side and gazed far down into the light foam made by the slow passage of the liner through the waters leading to the Sea of Marmora. One bell went. Half-past midnight. A touch on his shoulder. Gracie's. He had not even heard the sound of her high heels on the deck.

(p. 344) "Hello!"

"Hello!" Gracie began, in silence, to repair her face, which nevertheless to Oliver seemed to be in no need of repair. Her fingernails were dyed a brilliant red.

"I wish you wouldn't wait for me every night like this, my lad," said Gracie, rather harshly, gazing into her hand-mirror.

"I don't, my girl," said Oliver, with a certain hostile firmness. "I thought you were in bed."

"It looks so marked," Gracie continued. "Supposing anybody came along?"

"Then why did you come up?" Oliver demanded. "You needn't have done. Nobody asked you to."

"I came up to get a bit of air after all that stuffiness down below. Besides, the whole ship doesn't belong to you, I hope."

"No," said Oliver. "And I hope it doesn't belong to you, either. If I choose to stay on deck, that's my affair."

"And I expect you've been dancing with all the dowdy creatures in the ship," Gracie went on. "Wasn't that chorus of girl-sailors at the concert simply frightful?"

Oliver, ignoring the question, said:

"And I expect you've been gambling as usual."

"Well, why not? Everyone has a flutter."

"I don't," said Oliver.

"No," said Gracie, "but you're not normal, my lad."

"Well, if thinking gambling's a silly business is abnormal, I'm glad I'm not normal."

"You're very rude," said Gracie.

Oliver perceived that the conversation was getting out of hand. He foresaw a row. But, animated by the desperation of a young man in love, he cared not. He wished that he had not employed that word 'silly'. But at the same lime he was glad that he had employed (p. 345) it, because it was a true word, and she had deserved it. He blamed her severely in his heart, saying that she was reckless, flighty, idle, good-for-nothing: a proper specimen of the idle rich girl with no thought but pleasure and caprice, and no manners worth mentioning, and a snob and a snare for fools. Still, he knew, while he strenuously denied to himself, that he loved her. She was worthless, but she was marvellous. No! She was not worthless, but she had become involved in the wrong set, and was intoxicated by its superficial charms. He felt sorry for her. He wanted to save her. Nevertheless he would not yield an inch. And the conviction that she had come up on deck for the sole reason that she could not keep away from him—him, Oliver—stiffened his attitude towards her. He would not have any of her damned nonsense. He would show her.

So he said coldly:

"And from the look of you I should say that you've been losing at this ridiculous baccarat."

He anticipated that an explosion of girlish violence would be the sequel to a remark so provocative, and he was prepared for it. He thought, as most men under fifty think, that he knew all about women and all about handling them. Gracie's response dashed both his omniscience and his savoir-faire. She laughed easily. She lifted her short skirts at the side and did a brief pas seul for his benefit. Her careless gaiety, her young beauty, her smile, were incredibly attractive. He fought within himself against the attraction, and was neither victorious nor vanquished. His face showed that he was at a loss for the correct masculine demeanour in the situation.

"And how did you guess that, sweetie?" Gracie asked in an imploring tone.

"I just guessed it," said Oliver weakly. The truth (p. 346) being that, taken by surprise, he could invent nothing else to say. For he did not know how he had guessed it.

"Well," said Gracie, ceasing to dance, and standing up to him close, "you fancy yourself for a very clever youth. And perhaps you are—in some ways. You must be, or you wouldn't be a Fellow of All Souls. You were very remarkable in your discourses at Olympia and Troy and all those places. Nearly as good as a professional guide, and quite as conceited. Do you know that while you were lecturing us you just looked as if you'd made Olympia and Troy all by your little self? Do you know that we winked at one another; Rose and Nancy and I, because you were so wildly funny, without having the least notion how funny you were? But as for being able to tell from a person's face whether she's been losing or winning at cards you aren't worth the paper you're written on. No, my sweetie, you'd better give the face-reading stunt a miss in future. Be advised by one younger than yourself. I don't say I've won at cards, and I don't say I've lost. That's one of the things you'll never know—from me. But I can tell you this. If I've won I don't spend my winnings on a feeding-bottle for you. And if I've lost, I've got plenty of money to pay. Good night, sweetie, good night!" She picked up her skirt again, tripped a few fancy steps, blew him a kiss, and ran off.

Oliver, alone once more on the long covered deck, was warmed by a mixture of fury and shame. The shame was all his own. The fury was directed equally against her and against himself. She was far cleverer than he had ever suspected. She had beaten him in an encounter. Her speech had been effective. What did she mean by the phrase 'not worth the paper you're written on'? Was it a razor-blade wrapped up in a piece of silk? Or was it a bit of tissue paper|wrapped round nothing at all? Was she fond of him? Did she (p. 347) admire him? Or had she been playing with him during these mysterious weeks? Had she lost at cards or had she won?

No one in the ship knew anything about the financial results of that private baccarat. Her aunt, he surmised, did not even know that baccarat was the regular evening pastime of the impulsive niece. The baccarat party kept themselves to themselves, and very separate from the rest of the passengers. They were bound together in a sort of secret and nefarious society. But Gracie did generally contrive a meeting with him before going to bed. Therefore she must be drawn to him. But was she drawn to him? Was she not merely amusing herself with him out of naughtiness, out of a feminine desire to make a decent honest fellow uneasy in his mind? Oliver was unhappy, dejected.

Two bells went. One o'clock! The ship slept, save for the officers and the A.B. on the bridge. The ship steamed on, asleep, passing shore-lights, passing now and then a lighthouse that winked.


Oliver walked slowly round and round the deck (no doubt to the annoyance of various would-be sleepers in the cabins below). Strange nature, Gracie! So different from the girls and women in the University and London sets to which he had been accustomed! He had undertaken the cruise de luxe partly because he had been medically informed that he was in need of change and rest, and partly for archaeological purposes. The archaeological purposes were being amply fulfilled; and he looked forward to the excavated wonders of Crete. Also he had certainly had a change, quite violent. He had met people, and especially (p. 348) women, of a kind entirely new to his experience. He had actually learned to play ping-pong—most absurd of games!—and to play it well.

But as for rest—well, no man can have rest who has fallen in love. There was no sense in his falling in love with a girl such as Gracie. She had no interest in the things which Oliver regarded as serious. She was a frivolous egoist, interested only in her own pleasures. No proper helpmeet for an earnest and resolute man. Likely to make a mess of any such man's career. In short, no good!

And yet, in her composition there was something that he had found in no other girl! He knew not what it was. He simply knew that she fascinated him. He could not eject her from his mind. Night after night he would wait for the conclusion of her evening baccarat, on the chance of a talk—a talk in which she often showed her worst qualities, and a lot of that impoliteness which girls permit themselves to young men. Yes, she was clever. She was even formidable. Had she not knocked him down with a single speech? Unforgettable sentences in that speech! Her image refused to leave his mind. It inhabited his mind, filled nearly the whole of it. Curse her!

Thus reflecting, he leaned for a long time over the starboard rail, watching the white gleams in the dim water that slid ceaselessly by. Five bells. Half past two. The deck-lights had been extinguished, except one on either side. He yawned. He must go to bed. He yawned. Yes, he must go to bed, if not to sleep. Just one more round of the deck, and then....

As he turned the corner to the port side, he saw, forward, a girl who appeared to be climbing on to the rail. She climbed higher. It was Gracie. He hesitated. He took a couple of seconds to realize the incredible fact that Gracie was about to cast herself overboard, to fall (p. 349) down into the ruthless, careless sea, to commit suicide. He ran towards her at top speed on the toes of his almost silent pumps, and seized her as she put one foot on the broad rail. He seized her round the waist. She clung wildly to the rail. She twisted her head and tried to bite him. She used an astounding strength. But he managed to wrench her off the rail. He threw her down. She lay on her side on the deck, without moving. Then she sobbed. He stood over her.

His heart was thumping. But for a mere hazard of destiny she would have been in the water far below at that moment, soaked, struggling in spite of herself for breath, perhaps hit and maimed by one of the propellers. He was furious with her.

"You d——d little fool!" he muttered. "What do you think you were doing?"

She began to sob. Then tears came into his eyes. He was intensely, painfully, unbearably sorry for her. What dreadful calamity could it have been that had forced her to affront death? She nineteen! She beautiful, intelligent, clever, brilliant, with a rich father and smart friends!

For a moment he could not speak again. Then he said thickly:

"What's the meaning of it?" The narrow expanse of deck seemed to be half a mile long, and he and she were the sole living beings on it. "What's the meaning of it, you d——d little fool?" he repeated.

In his fury he felt happy.

"Why couldn't you leave me alone? I'm no good," Gracie sobbed.

"Yes, you are some good!" Oliver roughly contradicted her, at the same time contradicting his own previous thoughts concerning her. "A nice thing if you'd gone overboard! It's so selfish and mean to go and commit suicide when you're in a scrape of your own (p. 350) making. What about your aunt and your father and your friends here that you've been spending every night with? How nice for all of them!" he sniffed.

Gracie retorted bitterly:

"Auntie! She's the most selfish old woman ever born. Fancies she's an invalid, which she isn't really; and never, never, never thinks of anything but her own disgusting convenience. As for father, he'd have forgotten me in a week after the funeral."

"There wouldn't have been any funeral," Oliver put in.

"Well, after it had been in the newspapers. And shouldn't I have been in the papers! Shouldn't I just! More than any of them—Rose and Nancy and all that lot! And serve them right too! They led me into it. They did it. They let me play, didn't they?"

"Then you have been losing at your rotten baccarat!" said Oliver.

"Did I ever say I hadn't!"

"How much have you lost? Now tell me."

Gracie sat up.

"Tell me!" Oliver insisted.

Gracie hung her head.

"Ninety-four pounds, if you want to know."

"But I heard you tell the old Hobb creature you'd got a hundred pounds to play with."

"Well, I hadn't. I hadn't got anything to play with. I've always had everything I wanted except ready money. Father never gave me that, and Auntie took her cue from him."

"Then you jolly well lied?"

"Yes, I did!" said Gracie stoutly. "And why not? I wasn't going to be trod on by old Julia. I won't be trod on by anybody. I'd just as soon be dead as alive. Yes, I would! And you needn't believe me if you don't want to. My life's my own. It's my life I was taking, (p. 351) not anybody else's. And if I choose to be drowned, that's my business. It isn't theirs, and it isn't yours."

She jumped up. Oliver seized her wrist. But he was admiring her.

"I do wish you hadn't interfered!" she exclaimed, facing her saviour. "What sucks for them if you hadn't! Don't I know what they'd have felt like!" She gave a terrible short laugh. Then added defiantly: "And what are you going to do about it?"

Oliver replied:

"Ninety-four pounds, you say? I suppose you ought to pay immediately. Debt of honour and so on."

"To-morrow morning," said Gracie. "It's the last of the month to-night, and it seems they have a rule of settling their debts every month. So I said I'd pay up to-morrow morning."

"You shall pay up to-morrow morning," said Oliver grandly. "I've got a packet of traveller's cheques, and the purser will cash them. I'll put the notes in an envelope, and hand them over to you on this very spot after breakfast to-morrow."

"But I won't take them!"

"Oh yes, you'll take them," said Oliver.

"Who'll make me?"

"I will. You'll take them and you'll hand 'em over to old Julia as if ninety odd pounds was nothing at all. I'm not going to have any nonsense from you."

"But you can't afford it!"

"You have a nerve to say I can't afford it, I must confess! How the deuce do you know I can't afford it? I undertake to say I'm a dashed sight more solvent than some of your smart friends down there."

Gracie bent her head again. Tears dripped down her face. She was very beautiful in distress. Oliver seized her other wrist. Then he loosed both wrists and pushed the sinful girl away.

(p. 352) "You get to bed," he ordered her. "Get away now! And no more hanky-panky! Quick!" He wanted to kiss her; but he was too proud, too full of his own chivalry.

Gracie obeyed meekly. But after she had walked half a dozen yards she suddenly turned back and faced Oliver once more. Not a couple of feet between their faces! She was not crying, though her cheeks were still wet.

"What now?" Oliver inquired, in an unsteady voice.

"Do you know what's the matter with you?" said Gracie coldly.


"You're too much of a ridiculous English gentleman."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"What do I mean? I mean you're dying to kiss me. But you think I should think you were taking advantage of your noble generosity if you did. And so you won't try."

Her face softened, became heavenly sweet in its relaxing gentleness. She put her thin arms round his neck; and her reddened fingernails met behind him; and she kissed him several times tenderly.

She murmured:

"I do love you, Oliver darling. I do love you, although I am a rotter."

"You are not a rotter!" he swore. "You are magnificent. No girl who was a rotter could be as magnificent as you are." And he clasped her tightly, and returned all and more than all her kisses.



Eva Plym stood by the bed in Lady Helen Stanger's room. She was twenty-four, in a black demi-toilette, with a plain gold wrist-watch and no jewellery. Her face had a certain plumpness, like her figure. It was neither fair nor dark. Her brown eyes mingled kindliness with firmness, seeming now and then to issue a reminder to whomever it might concern: Worms will turn. Not tall and not short, she stood sturdily on her feet, her attitude and restrained gestures indicating capability and efficiency. Lady Helen Stanger would occasionally admit to her friends that Eva was a 'treasure.'

Lady Helen Stanger was in bed, sitting up, several pillows behind her, an Italian newspaper spread in front of her, a shawl round her shoulders, and eye-glasses acrobatically balancing themselves on her long, fine nose. Her years were sixty—at any rate they were not seventy. She had the smooth, calm blandness of one who had never done a day's work, never worried, never inquired about the meaning of life nor tackled the riddle of the universe, never fended for herself even in the smallest detail, never hesitated to say what she wanted and almost never failed to get it, never considered anyone but herself.

"I think that is all, my dear," said Lady Helen, charmingly. "Oh! There's one thing—"

(p. 354) "Yes, Lady Helen?"

There was a trifling point in which Lady Helen had failed to get what she wanted. She had a secret desire that Eva should address her as 'my lady.' Eva never did. Sometimes she said 'Lady Helen,' and sometimes she used no form of address.

"I was wondering whether you wouldn't hear me just as well if I knocked on the head of the bed instead of on the wall. It would save me bending over and uncovering myself. Would you mind going into your room and listening?"

Lady Helen's tone was supplicatory, favour-extracting, but in her faint undertone was autocratic command and the perfect assurance of being obeyed.

Eva went next door, and Lady Helen knocked on the wood of the bed-head.

"Yes, I can hear it quite well," said Eva, returning.

"I'm so glad, my dear. Thank you so much. Is my cream here? Yes. Last night I forgot to put it on. One can't afford to do that." (Lady Helen would not apply her face-cream until she was definitely alone for the night.) "Now do go straight to bed, my dear. Do think of your health. I don't expect for a moment I shall have to knock for you, but if I should I'd like to feel that you'd begun with a good sleep. If I wake up, only my hot food will send me off again, and I particularly want a good night because of my bridge-party to-morrow afternoon. So do go to bed, my dear. Do oblige me."

"Oh, I will," Eva replied, with an acquiescent smile.

Lady Helen nodded a benevolent and bright dismissal.

"D—n the old hag!" Eva murmured indifferently to herself in her own room. "She had me up at three this morning, and she'll have me up at three to-morrow morning. D—n the old hag!"

(p. 355) Then the wicked, unscrupulous, deceitful girl took a blue feather flower out of a drawer, pinned it on her left shoulder, put a necklace round her neck, and crept from the chamber. She hesitated at the head of the staircase; the sound of dance-music was ascending from the far depth below. She tripped down, storey after storey.... She was at large in the freedom, the colour, the movement, the well-bred noise of the huge, fashionable hotel.


In the same hotel, but in another bedroom, separated from Eva's by scores of yards of carpeted corridors flanked with white numbered doors and pairs of boots and sleepy, seated attendants awaiting the sound of bells, and by broad staircases, and by cushioned lifts that reduced the staircases to mere sloping survivals of an earlier civilization—in this other bedroom stood a man named Fonting (M.D., M.R.C.P., M.R.C.S.), hesitant.

He glanced round the room, and remarked to himself in his observant sociological way how in all great capitals and cities of pleasure, all hotel-bedrooms were alike: same bedstead, same bedding, same curtains, same illumination, same sofas, same easy-chair, same gadgetty wardrobe, same lavatory basin, with same bright taps, same bell-pushes, same radiator, same bare walls without fireplace, and same admonitions to visitors incorrectly composed and printed in three languages. The whole very convenient, warm, dry as the Sahara, unventilated and unhygienic—and described as the last syllable of luxury and priced accordingly.

Dr. Fonting had had a severe attack of influenza in Queen Anne Street, London, W.1. He had prescribed (p. 356) for himself one month's holiday. He had found a satisfactory locum tenens to take care of his interesting and unusual practice (in which electricity played an important part.) And he was spending his holiday in a tour of personal inspection of those continental health-resorts which he had never before seen but to which for years he had been 'ordering' wealthy patients on the strength of information gathered from books. He had curiously examined the French and Italian Rivieras, and the loftier hotel centres of Switzerland, and now he was in Northern Italy.

A bachelor aged forty, he was travelling alone. Unlike most people, he enjoyed travelling alone. There was much to see and learn—especially from servants; he had the art of talking easily to strangers, especially women; true, he was snubbed now and then, but he received a devil of a lot of smiling response from innumerable persons—the lively, the adventurous, or the desperately bored.

To-night, somewhat fatigued and preoccupied, he had retired early to his monastic cell. He gazed at himself in the mirror of the cedar wardrobe, thoughtfully doffed his dinner-jacket and pulled to pieces the smart bow of his black necktie. Then he stopped the process of undressing, and walked about, and looked at his watch.

"It's only ten-twenty," said he to himself. "She may appear in the ballroom yet."

In the afternoon an incident had happened to him in front of the hotel. An old lady and a young one had driven up in a sleigh. When they had extricated themselves from the rugs of the sleigh, Dr. Fonting had seen a handbag lying on the ground. Nobody else had seen it. Dr. Fonting had picked it up. "Oh, your bag!" the young lady had exclaimed, turning round at the same moment. She had slipped, and the jerk had (p. 357) disarranged her tam-o'-shanter of coloured wools, disclosing the disposition of her glossy brown hair, which alluringly descended lower on one side of her forehead than on the other. She had taken the bag from the offering hand of Dr. Fonting, and thanked him with a bow and a most beautiful smile. A very ordinary incident, extending over a period of perhaps ten seconds, an incident such as might happen to any man. Nothing! But the smile and the alluring disposition of the hair had remained steadfast in Dr. Fonting's receptive mind.

He had had one glimpse of the girl in the crowded dining-room.

Dr. Fonting slowly re-tied his cravat, resumed his dinner-jacket, and left the bedroom, smiling all the time. Because he wanted not to hurry he chose the staircase in preference to the lift. And on the staircase he paused to collect his ideas and discover precisely what his ideas were: and stared out of a long window. Snow! Mountain peaks! Moon! Stars! Gleaming electric lights! Black fir-trees! White roofs!

The village was a village of hotels, lost in the heights of mountains. To be exact, 4,200 feet above sea-level. Miles and miles from anywhere. But the jazzy sounds of the hotel orchestra ascended from the depths of the well of the staircase.

The contrast between the exterior and the interior phenomena provoked sociological thought. So that the astounding organism of expensive pleasure might exist and smoothly function, everything was brought daily from the distant plains below: foods, fuel, cigarettes, cigars, newspapers, saxophones sometimes, all luxuries, all apparatus. Amid the surrounding frost and snow, in which unprotected humanity would perish in a night, ices were made in the hotel kitchens to finish off a six-course meal. The very stones (p. 358) and wood and metal of which the hotels were constructed had been dragged up the mountain-sides load by load.

A complete microcosm and example of a highly complex material civilization had been implanted on the wide polar waste. And Dr. Fonting had seen dozens of such microcosms and examples, some on the sea-shore, others on the high hills. It was as if half the world consisted of such microcosms and examples, in which money was spent furiously, hysterically, madly, while the other half was given to hard work in circumstances of squalor and drudgery.

"Something wrong!" said Dr. Fonting to himself. "Trouble ahead! But it's very agreeable."

He went down the staircase, thinking of this and of that, and at the bottom, in the great foyer, on the corresponding staircase which served the other wing of the hotel, he saw the girl of the hair and the smile. She was in black, with a blue feather flower on the left shoulder. An even more delicious fact: she was alone; she looked alone.

Fate seemed to be working quite symmetrically.


Eva saw descending the opposite staircase the man who had handed her the bag at the hotel-entrance in the late afternoon. She was glad that she had planted the flower on her shoulder. She had put it there so that if she met a certain man he might see it and be agreeably impressed by her appearance as thereby enhanced. Here was the man. She felt that after all not everything was wrong with the world. A dark man, a very dark man for an Anglo-Saxon. Dark eyes. Black, shining hair. Blue chin. She liked a man's (p. 359) chin to be blue; masculine quality in a blue chin! Not tall, nor short: a good figure and a good carriage; firm tread on the stairs. Nice features. A pleasant expression, if a bit masterful, but if masterful, benevolent in its masterfulness. Age? Under forty. Yes, he must be under forty, because she desired that he should be under forty. Probably only thirty-five. Bachelor? Of course. He had the virginal, naïve look which no married man can preserve for a week; but which a bachelor, any and every bachelor, is capable of carrying to the grave. No woman had ever with the voice of authority told that man that he ought to go and get his hair cut. Not that his hair did need attention; it was perfect. A barrister? Something of the sort, no doubt. But supposing that he was one of those hotel adventurers who lived on their wits; they were reputed to be very ingratiating! Well, she didn't care, for the moment, if he was. She tasted the moment and was satisfied.

He smiled, frankly, openly, and bowed. No nonsense about him. She could do no less than return the greeting.

The band ceased to play dance music, suddenly, in the middle of a bar, and became martial.

"Is it the national anthem?" he suggested, as they approached one another.

"Not ours," she replied.

This remark seemed somehow, to Eva's fancy, to make them comrades in a foreign world.

"No," said he.

He was new to the hotel. She explained that the princes must be entering the ballroom. There were three princes, with a couple of princesses, and suites. Had he not noticed them in the dining-room? No? Well, they had a long table in the corner. Ate there just like other people. No fuss, except that when they (p. 360) came in, or went out, other people rose. Yes, the princes were quite democratic; danced with all sorts of women; but their partners, except the princesses, curtsied to them at the end of each dance.

"I'm talking a lot," thought Eva. "Nervousness." She fell silent.

"I'd like to see them," said the man.

The national anthem ended, and the dance-tune was resumed.

By a common impulse they moved towards the ballroom. A rather splendid apartment, simply but effectively decorated with huge balls of light, and yellow and red streamers that hung from the high ceiling to symbolize flames. White tables all round the room, with glasses and carafes and women's bags and newspapers and things. Many glittering frocks, some of them extremely smart. The dancers circled about a tissue-paper pillar of yellow light that had been created on the centre of the parquet floor. A rich, noisy scene! Heated, excited atmosphere!

"There they are," said Eva, as she and the dark man peeped between black shoulders and pink shoulders. The royal party was assembled in an alcove at the end of the room. A girl was in the very act of curtseying to an old white-moustached prince. The old prince politely and negligently took her girlish hand. Vienna! Versailles! Really rather piquant.

"Can't I find you a seat?" the dark man suggested, after they had watched for a while. "There's an empty table over there."

Eva thought:

"He's a bit casual. As if I could be seen sitting there with a stranger! This must be checked."

She said, pointing to the sofas behind them on the raised border which surrounded the dancing-floor:

"Perhaps here would be better."

(p. 361) They sat down upon an empty sofa, from which they could see only the moving heads of dancers across a hedge of tables and seated figures. Neither spoke.

Eva thought:

"How ridiculous it is that people have to keep on talking! I don't want to talk. Only you can't be mum without feeling awkward. I've no business to be here. I wish I'd never come. No, I don't. Why doesn't he say something?" Nervously she patted the feather flower.

The man said:

"Those prince fellows must have rather a thin time, surely. Always being curtsied to. And nothing to do, really. Especially the young ones. In these days."

Eva responded instantly, with warmth:

"Oh! I often think of it. Especially the young ones. It must be a terrible life. But it's a terrible life for everyone here. Nearly everyone," she modified her assertion.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, idling about. Plenty of them never do anything but go on from place to place; and all the places are the same. Spending money that other people have earned. The boredom! They're all selfish. How could they be anything else?"

"I suppose all the places are the same," said the man reflectively.

"You know them of course."

"Yes," said he. And named a dozen resorts which he had visited.

Eva felt the chill of disappointment. For all his nice smile and deportment the man was merely another of the eternal loungers and wasters. She stiffened in her original attitude instead of changing it to suit his case. A pause. The man's eyes twinkled (p. 362) obscurely. The expression of his face had lost none of its attractiveness.

"But you go to all of them, too," he remarked, gazing straight at her.

"Ah!" she answered firmly, almost bitterly. "Only because I'm paid to."

"Are you a journalist, may I ask?"

"No. I'm companion to Lady Helen Stanger."

"Lady Helen Stanger? Never heard of her."

Eva thought:

"He's inclined to be rather free. But wouldn't the old hag have hated to hear that! And his tone too!"

"You saw me with her this afternoon. She's a widow, and very rich and getting old. She's one of those that are always going on from place to place. But naturally it's different for old people. I was thinking of the young ones. Look at that smart young man there. He's a lovely dancer, and a fine ski-er. But why isn't he at work somewhere, and not idling here week after week?"

"Do you know him? Who is he?"

"Haven't the slightest idea, and I don't want to know him. Only I can't help seeing him."

She gave a short laugh. But the kind look had momentarily vanished from her features.


At this point of the conversation Dr. Fonting began to perceive that he was up against something solid—namely a girl of character.

Said he to himself:

"She's a nice girl, a very nice girl, a girl you could count on if there was any trouble about. Only she's at loggerheads with her world, which really oughtn't (p. 363) to be her world. She's serious and a fighter, and I should imagine she's a fanatic for work, and here she finds herself in a world of idleness and frivolity. But she's certainly a bit free with her tongue. She's got hold of the wrong end of the stick with me. She thinks I'm one of the wasters, and she's preaching at me. Unless of course, she's putting me amongst the old and excusing me on that score!"

He laughed easily in his heart, because he did not feel any older than Eva looked. He was too proud, or too mischievous, to tell her the truth about himself. He liked fun, and he would be the cat to her mouse—but a benevolent cat. And there was the possibility that, though a mouse, she might turn on him and defend herself with the ferocity of a rat. The prospect pleased him.

And he was slightly and not at all disagreeably piqued by her fearless demeanour before him—him a professional medical woman-tamer, who was accustomed by voice and glance and the use of vast experience to tear away the masks of hysteria, neurasthenia, self-indulgence, vice, and compel his fashionable patients to acknowledge, humbled and broken, that they were what they in fact were. He had seen many elegant ladies in moral defeat. His method was, when their resistance was smashed, to build up their confidence again in a new way, with assurances and benevolences and all understanding sympathy. None could be sterner, but none could be kinder, than he.

Eva said:

"It's a mystery to me why a lot of these people come here, particularly the men. They could just as well dance and drink cocktails and stay up till two o'clock in the morning at home as here."

"The snow?"


(p. 364) "The ice?"

"Ice! Why? There's only one pond about as big as a small garden. And they have it lit by electricity so that they can skate by moonlight! And boys to put their skates on for them. And women to serve them drinks by the side of the pond. And as for the snow, they go up a hill in the sleigh and slide down it on skis. And they tumble all the time, and they don't brush the snow off their clothes because it makes them look so sporting. And if they go out of sight of the hotels they take a guide with them to keep them safe. I can understand Alpine-climbing—there's something in that, some hard work and some danger. But this! I should like to see one of these beautiful young dancing-men go for an excursion alone. I should like to see him out alone in a snow-storm. Why! He'd die of fright before he died of cold."

She was savage.

"Do you go out alone, may I ask?"

"I'm not a man. And I've never had the chance to learn to ski. Yes, I do go out alone. Every Thursday afternoon. That's my afternoon off, when Lady Helen arranges one of her numerous bridge-parties. Next Thursday I shall go by the Teleferica railway—aerial, you know—to the Belvedere on the Maiola peak, and I shall walk down."

"But supposing it's snowing?"

"I shall go."

"Dangerous, wouldn't it be?"

"That's why I love it."

"Seems to me, if I may say so, you've chosen the wrong vocation."

Her face softened into a sudden smile. She was her beautiful self again.

Dr. Fonting thought:

"She's got a sense of humour, anyhow. I've talked (p. 365) to about a thousand girls in forty hotels, and this one's the first of her brand I've come across."

"I didn't choose my vocation," she said. "It chose me. I doubt if I was brought up to choose vocations."

Then the concierge of the hotel came vaguely along with searching eye, and his eye lighted on Eva. He bent over her, and murmured in an accent half-Austrian and half-Italian:

"Lady Helen Stangers has sent a message."

Eva's face set hard once more. She rose and bowed rather awkwardly to the doctor.

"Good night."

"Er—good night," said the cat, disappointed at the unexpected escape of his mouse.


On her Thursday afternoon Eva, clad chiefly in the wool of sheep, with ribbed indiarubber under the soles of her feet, sat in the three o'clock Teleferica car which by means of steel cables—one supporting it and the other pulling it—swam slantingly over fields of snow and over the tops of larch trees up to the Maiola peak where was a Belvedere and a restaurant. The small car was nearly filled with 'natives' of the higher villages, but there were two or three male 'visitors' whose skis and ski-sticks had been deposited in the baggage-carrier that trailed behind on pulleys of its own.

The telephone-bell had rung a signal from the Belvedere summit, and the car was just starting when the dark man appeared and jumped into the car. This apparition presented itself to the 'natives' as merely another specimen of the incalculable 'visitor,' but into Eva's heart it struck a species of alarm, even of terror. She had some, if not all, of the feelings appropriate to a (p. 366) great crisis in her life. She felt as though fate had got her into a corner, as though she was being implacably hunted, as though her safety depended on a presence of mind which she could not possibly command. And yet at the same time she felt triumphant, condescending, and mistress of a most marvellous situation.

She said to herself:

"What an extraordinary and exciting coincidence!"

But she also said to herself:

"He has been tracking me. He is here because I am here, because I happened to tell him that this afternoon I should be going up to the Maiola. He didn't seem to be taking any particular notice when I told him. But he did take notice. He's been thinking about coming and now he actually has come!"

And then again she said to herself:

"I am an idiot. Of course it's sheer chance. Everybody goes up in the Teleferica to the Maiola peak sooner or later."

The dark man saw her and greeted her. He held out his hand, which she took in a carefully non-committal manner. She had not see him, except quite momentarily at a distance, since their interrupted conversation in the ballroom. She knew not who he was, nor anything about him; for she had made no inquiry—partly because, having been almost continuously attached to the offended person of Lady Helen, she had had no opportunity to inquire.

Besides, how could she have inquired? Was she to have bluntly demanded information from the concierge? Unthinkable. Had she known the number of his room she might have discovered his name from the visitors' board that flanked the concierge's desk. But she had no notion of the number of his room. And if she could not ask for his name, a million times less could she ask for the number of his room. No! If you (p. 367) are a single young woman in a hotel, you can remain ignorant for ever in the midst of knowledge.

Eva had one of the two seats abutting on the front platform of the car. The dark man stood on the front platform, leaning over the side. She regretted that he wore a moustache, but was glad that he was not arrayed in the absurd, wild, mountaineering costume affected by young men who refrained from mountaineering. He was in an ordinary thick tweed suit, with a leather waistcoat beneath the coat, a vast muffler round his neck, and boots not unlike her own.

"I'm surprised to see you here in this thing," he said, leaning his head sideways towards her and over her.

She had a very near view of his blue chin, which, however, in her opinion, looked better further off.

"What a fib!" she thought, and said aloud: "Then you've forgotten I told you I should go up by it this afternoon to the Maiola peak." She could be firm.

"Oh! Did you? I'm sorry. I remember you said you were going up to the what's-its-name Peak one day. But I thought with your athletic tastes you'd walk up as well as down."

"It's a question of daylight," she answered, primly, ignoring his free quizzicalness. "I can't get away before two-thirty, and if I walked up I should have to come down in the dark—and you can't."

"Then why not walk up and come down in the car?"

"Because it's nicer to walk down," she said coldly.

She had no desire to speak with coldness; an instinct compelled her to do so. She defeated the instinct by ending with a very friendly, semi-humorous smile. She would have wished to be dazzlingly brilliant in repartee; but she had all she could do to keep her head; and a machine was thumping loudly in her breast. Fortunately the grating noise of the pulleys on the supporting cable and the straining of the tractor-cable made it (p. 368) impossible for anyone but herself to hear the noisy, uncontrollable machine within. The car swayed slightly as it advanced through the keen air. Some of the natives were chatting vivaciously in their incomprehensible tongue. The dark man leaned over the parapet of the platform.

A pause.

"It's funny to see trees from the top," said he.

"Yes," she agreed. "I don't like to look over. Makes me giddy; and I can't help thinking what would happen if the cable broke."

The dark man smiled indulgently, without looking at her. Another pause. The dark man gazed up at the sky.

"Snow?" he questioned, facing her now.

"I hope not."

"Looks a bit like it."

"Oh! I don't think so."

"Supposing it does snow?"

"Well," she retorted. "Supposing it does?"

"Shall you walk down in the snow?"

"Why not?"

Some disdain in her voice—disdain of the waster, the idler who flitted from hotel to hotel in the cities of pleasure. But the disdain was not unmixed with a warm appreciation of, and delight in, the sympathetic quality of his facial play and his voice. Perhaps, indeed, she was only simulating disdain for her own satisfaction.

"We're flying over a village now," said the man.


More pauses.

"By Jove!" said the man. "This last piece is a shade steep, isn't it?"

"Yes, I believe it is."

They seemed to be ascending parallel with the front of a jagged precipice in whose ledges lay thick white (p. 369) snow. The car swam to the terminus, ceased to roll, pitched for a few seconds and then lay still. The passengers got out.

"Those are ski-ers, I suppose," said the man, pointing to tiny flying black shapes far down the snowy slopes.


"Snow," said the man, as if mischievously.

It had indeed begun to snow.

"It's all fearfully romantic," said the man.

She thought she detected the tremor of a thrill in his voice.


Dr. Fonting did not ask Eva whether he might walk down the mountain with her; he assumed the permission. And she seemed to expect him to assume it. Nor did he ask her whether she intended to walk down despite the snow. He assumed the intention.

He said to himself:

"If she wants to withdraw and return by the Teleferica, let her say so. I won't make the suggestion—not if it snows elephants and hippopotamuses."

She did not withdraw.

"Now," said she. "There are two ways down. The sleigh road, which is very long because it winds all round the mountain, and the path, which is steeper but much shorter. I suppose you'd prefer the sleigh road. I always take the path."

"Let's take the path, then," he replied carelessly. He was gazing at her as she stood in front of him—short-skirted, booted, socked (with a bright-coloured border), stockinged, tam-o'-shantered, a scarf thrown over her shoulder, stick in gloved hand; and such a firm, benevolent, slightly satirical, utterly delicious look on her rosy face. All in the dancing, flitting snow.

(p. 370) Not a word did she utter about the snow, nor about the first faint shades of dusk that were heralding the night.

He said to himself:

"This is a great moment. And I don't care a d—n what happens."

Things very soon began to happen. The path was exceedingly steep, and now and then slippery even to ribbed indiarubber soles. In places it did not descend—it fell; and Dr. Fonting thought fit to proceed crab-wise. Twice the path divided into two, but the girl showed no hesitation in choosing her way.

He asked himself:

"How many miles of this?"

In quite a few minutes the two were alone in a world of snow. There was nothing but the path above and the path below, a black tree here and there, white wastes, and the hovering snow. Also the light had already considerably failed in the hollows of the mountain where the path led.

Dr. Fonting had meant to talk to her, to worm himself into the interesting privacies of the girl's mind. But there was not the least chance to do so. They could not walk side by side for lack of room on the path. She was always in front. Moreover, all his faculties were monopolized by the business of keeping his feet while in motion. Every step had to be considered.

Then that happened which might well happen. The girl stumbled and fell; and her stick flew over the edge of the path into the snow field. She rolled and reached equilibrium on her back. Dr. Fonting had a sense of triumph. Not he, but she, had fallen. She did not move. He reached her and bent over her. Through the flickering veil of snow he saw her give a difficult smile. He knelt. Her face twitched.

"I think I've broken my ankle. Or sprained it."

(p. 371) "Which one?"

"The left.... No, please don't touch me."

He withdrew his approaching hands.

Time passed.

"Well," he asked. "What are we going to do about it?"

"Don't know."

Night would soon be closing down on them.

"I'd better go for help."

"You'll never find the way."

"I could go back."

"You'll get mixed up in the turns."

"Then down."

"Just as difficult. If you got into the snowfield you'd never get out again."

"Are you in any pain?"

"A bit."

"Have a cigarette."

They both smoked. The flame of the match was friendly, enheartening, but it was gone in a moment.

"Look here," said Dr. Fonting, "we can't stay here like this for ever." He was beginning to feel very cold. The dark of her costume was whitening. "There must be some village not far off. I shall see a light somewhere."

"But you mayn't be able to reach it. Don't I say you'd never get out of the snowfield if you lost your way. There's four feet of snow. You'd sink into it, and you couldn't move. Don't I know?"

Dr. Fonting was now seriously perturbed.

"But I could try. Anyhow, there's no earthly point in waiting like this."

"But I don't want to be left alone. I might be alone all night."

"Somebody might come down—or up."

"Not by this path."

(p. 372) "All right then," said Dr. Fonting.

He started to shovel snow from the banked edge of the path over her legs.

"To keep you warm," said he.

The cigarettes were finished and thrown away, regretfully, almost tragically. Dr. Fonting stamped his feet for warmth and exercised his arms.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

Dr. Fonting answered grimly:

"Well, what do you think I'm going to do? I shan't leave you."

"But you must!" she said, contradicting herself. "You might be frozen to death."

"I shall be frozen to death then," he agreed, and gruffly laughed.

She made no remark. More time passed.

"Listen," he said. "I've got to examine that ankle of yours, before it's quite dark. I'm a doctor."

She sat up, startled, deranging the snow with which he had covered her.

"There's nothing wrong with the ankle, so far as I can see," he said, after he had carefully felt it.

"Isn't there?"

"There isn't. It's all imagination. Auto-suggestion. Please stand up."

She stood up.

"I believe you're right," she said.

They proceeded in the thickening gloom down the mountain.

Just before they came to the hotel Dr. Fonting said:

"One moment. I'm leaving to-morrow morning early. Perhaps I shan't see you to-night. You thought I was a rotter and you'd test me. I hope you're satisfied, miss."

Without a word, the mouse ran into the hotel.

"Yes," he called angrily after her. "I can see through (p. 373) you plain enough." Then he added: "But you're a bit of the right stuff, after all."


The next morning at an early hour Lady Helen Stanger was wakened by unusual noises in her companion's room. Lady Helen accordingly knocked on the wall, and within a few seconds was startled almost out of her grand, ineffable calm by the appearance of Eva in full travelling costume.

"I was just coming in to you, my lady," Eva greeted her employer.

The form of address provided a further shock for Lady Helen.

"My dear!" said Lady Helen benevolently. "What is the matter?"

"My trunk and suit-case going downstairs, my lady."

"But why?"

"I'm going with them."


"Home to my mother and sister."

"To London?"

"Yes. North Kensington."

"But why?"

"Because from the way your ladyship spoke to me the other night when you sent for me, I thought that I wasn't giving you satisfaction."

"But you can't leave me like this!"

"Why not, my lady? A month's wages will be due to me to-morrow. Your ladyship must keep them instead of notice."

"But what am I to do?"

"Your ladyship will do without me."

"I am an old woman."

"Yes, my lady. You are old. But your ladyship has (p. 374) a magnificent constitution, and your health is perfect. Good-bye, my lady. I haven't a moment to lose."

"Well! Of all the—! What are things coming to? I—"

Eva did not hear the rest.

The sleighs of Dr. Fonting and Eva drew up at the station within half a minute of each other, and just as the dawn was completing itself.

"What!" Dr. Fonting exclaimed with obvious joy.

"I've been called straight back to London to my mother," Eva said untruthfully. "It's very fortunate, in a way, because I did want to tell you how ashamed I am—about last night."

"Ashamed?" repeated Dr. Fonting. "But I never admired a young woman more. Have you had my letter?"

"Your letter? No. I haven't had any letter." At word of a letter she could no more conceal her bliss than the dark man concealed his.

"That's that rotten concierge! However, it doesn't matter. Now can I help you about registering your luggage? Or will you help me in registering mine?"

In such wise did the long idyll begin.

Made and Printed in Great Britain by
Ebenezer Baylis and Son, Limited,
The Trinity Press, Worcester, and London







In Collaboration with Edward Knoblock

In Collaboration with Eden Phillpotts

[End of The Night Visitor and Other Stories by Arnold Bennett]