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Title: The Grey Wig: Stories and Novelettes
Author: Zangwill, Israel, 1864-1926
Language: English
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NOVELETTES***


THE GREY WIG

Stories and Novelettes

by

I. Zangwill

Author of "The Mantle of Elijah" "Children of the Ghetto" etc., etc.

1923



  TO MY MOTHER AND SISTERS
  THIS BOOK
  Mainly a Study of Woman
  IS LOVINGLY DEDICATED



PREFATORY NOTE


This Volume embraces my newest and oldest work, and includes--for the
sake of uniformity of edition--a couple of shilling novelettes that are
out of print.

I.Z.

Mentone,
February, 1903.



CONTENTS

   THE GREY WIG
   CHASSÉ-CROISÉ
   THE WOMAN BEATER
   THE ETERNAL FEMININE
   THE SILENT SISTERS
   THE BIG BOW MYSTERY
   MERELY MARY ANN
   THE SERIO-COMIC GOVERNESS



THE GREY WIG



I


They both styled themselves "Madame," but only the younger of the old
ladies had been married. Madame Valière was still a _demoiselle_, but
as she drew towards sixty it had seemed more _convenable_ to possess
a mature label. Certainly Madame Dépine had no visible matrimonial
advantages over her fellow-lodger at the Hôtel des Tourterelles,
though in the symmetrical cemetery of Montparnasse (Section 22)
wreaths of glass beads testified to a copious domesticity in the far
past, and a newspaper picture of a _chasseur d'Afrique_ pinned over
her bed recalled--though only the uniform was the dead soldier's--the
son she had contributed to France's colonial empire. Practically it
was two old maids--or two lone widows--whose boots turned pointed toes
towards each other in the dark cranny of the rambling, fusty corridor
of the sky-floor. Madame Dépine was round, and grew dumpier with age;
"Madame" Valière was long, and grew slimmer. Otherwise their lives ran
parallel. For the true madame of the establishment you had to turn to
Madame la Propriétaire, with her buxom bookkeeper of a daughter and
her tame baggage-bearing husband. This full-blooded, jovial creature,
with her swart moustache, represented the only Parisian success of
three provincial lives, and, in her good-nature, had permitted her
decayed townswomen--at as low a rent as was compatible with
prudence--to shelter themselves under her roof and as near it as
possible. Her house being a profitable warren of American
art-students, tempered by native journalists and decadent poets, she
could, moreover, afford to let the old ladies off coffee and candles.
They were at liberty to prepare their own _déjeuner_ in winter or to
buy it outside in summer; they could burn their own candles or sit in
the dark, as the heart in them pleased; and thus they were as cheaply
niched as any one in the gay city. _Rentières_ after their meticulous
fashion, they drew a ridiculous but regular amount from the mysterious
coffers of the Crédit Lyonnais.

But though they met continuously in the musty corridor, and even
dined--when they did dine--at the same _crémerie_, they never spoke to
each other. Madame la Propriétaire was the channel through which they
sucked each other's history, for though they had both known her in
their girlish days at Tonnerre, in the department of Yonne, they had
not known each other. Madame Valière (Madame Dépine learnt, and it
seemed to explain the frigidity of her neighbour's manner) still
trailed clouds of glory from the service of a Princess a quarter of a
century before. Her refusal to wink at the Princess's goings-on, her
austere, if provincial, regard for the convenances, had cost her
the place, and from these purpureal heights she had fallen lower and
lower, till she struck the attic of the Hôtel des Tourterelles.

But even a haloed past does not give one a licence to annoy one's
neighbours. Madame Dépine felt resentfully, and she hated Madame
Valière as a haughty minion of royalty, who kept a cough, which barked
loudest in the silence of the night.

"Why doesn't she go to the hospital, your Princess?" she complained to
Madame la Propriétaire.

"Since she is able to nurse herself at home," the opulent-bosomed
hostess replied with a shrug.

"At the expense of other people," Madame Dépine retorted bitterly. "I
shall die of her cough, I am sure of it."

Madame showed her white teeth sweetly. "Then it is you who should go
to the hospital."



II


Time wrote wrinkles enough on the brows of the two old ladies, but
his frosty finger never touched their glossy brown hair, for both wore
wigs of nearly the same shade. These wigs were almost symbolic of
the evenness of their existence, which had got beyond the reach of
happenings. The Church calendar, so richly dyed with figures of saints
and martyrs, filled life with colour enough, and fast-days were almost
as welcome as feast-days, for if the latter warmed the general air,
the former cloaked economy with dignity. As for _Mardi Gras_, that
shook you up for weeks, even though you did not venture out of your
apartment; the gay serpentine streamers remained round one's soul as
round the trees.

At intervals, indeed, secular excitements broke the even tenor. A
country cousin would call upon the important Parisian relative, and
be received, not in the little bedroom, but in state in the mustily
magnificent salon of the hotel--all gold mirrors and mouldiness--which
the poor country mouse vaguely accepted as part of the glories of
Paris and success. Madame Dépine would don her ponderous gold brooch,
sole salvage of her bourgeois prosperity; while, if the visitor were
for Madame Valière, that _grande dame_ would hang from her yellow,
shrivelled neck the long gold chain and the old-fashioned watch, whose
hands still seemed to point to regal hours.

Another break in the monotony was the day on which the lottery was
drawn--the day of the pagan god of Luck. What delicious hopes of
wealth flamed in these withered breasts, only to turn grey and cold
when the blank was theirs again, but not the less to soar up again,
with each fresh investment, towards the heaven of the hundred thousand
francs! But if ever Madame Dépine stumbled on Madame Valière buying a
section of a _billet_ at the lottery agent's, she insisted on having
her own slice cut from another number. Fortune itself would be robbed
of its sweet if the "Princess" should share it. Even their common
failure to win a sou did not draw them from their freezing depths
of silence, from which every passing year made it more difficult to
emerge. Some greater conjuncture was needed for that.

It came when Madame la Propriétaire made her _début_ one fine morning
in a grey wig.



III


Hitherto that portly lady's hair had been black. But now, as suddenly
as darkness vanishes in a tropic dawn, it was become light. No gradual
approach of the grey, for the black had been equally artificial. The
wig is the region without twilight. Only in the swart moustache
had the grey crept on, so that perhaps the growing incongruity had
necessitated the sudden surrender to age.

To both Madame Dépine and Madame Valière the grey wig came like a blow
on the heart.

It was a grisly embodiment of their secret griefs, a tantalising
vision of the unattainable. To glide reputably into a grey wig had
been for years their dearest desire. As each saw herself getting older
and older, saw her complexion fade and the crow's-feet gather, and her
eyes grow hollow, and her teeth fall out and her cheeks fall in,
so did the impropriety of her brown wig strike more and more
humiliatingly to her soul. But how should a poor old woman ever
accumulate enough for a new wig? One might as well cry for the
moon--or a set of false teeth. Unless, indeed, the lottery--?

And so, when Madame Dépine received a sister-in-law from Tonnerre, or
Madame Valière's nephew came up by the excursion train from that same
quiet and incongruously christened townlet, the Parisian personage
would receive the visitor in the darkest corner of the salon, with her
back to the light, and a big bonnet on her head--an imposing figure
repeated duskily in the gold mirrors. These visits, instead of
a relief, became a terror. Even a provincial knows it is not
_convenable_ for an old woman to wear a brown wig. And Tonnerre kept
strict record of birthdays.

Tears of shame and misery had wetted the old ladies' hired pillows, as
under the threat of a provincial visitation they had tossed sleepless
in similar solicitude, and their wigs, had they not been wigs, would
have turned grey of themselves. Their only consolation had been that
neither outdid the other, and so long as each saw the other's brown
wig, they had refrained from facing the dread possibility of having to
sell off their jewellery in a desperate effort of emulation. Gradually
Madame Dépine had grown to wear her wig with vindictive endurance, and
Madame Valière to wear hers with gentle resignation. And now, here
was Madame la Propriétaire, a woman five years younger and ten years
better preserved, putting them both to the public blush, drawing the
hotel's attention to what the hotel might have overlooked, in its long
habituation to their surmounting brownness.

More morbidly conscious than ever of a young head on old shoulders,
the old ladies no longer paused at the bureau to exchange the news
with Madame or even with her black-haired bookkeeping daughter. No
more lounging against the newel under the carved torch-bearer, while
the journalist of the fourth floor spat at the Dreyfusites, and the
poet of the _entresol_ threw versified vitriol at perfidious Albion.
For the first time, too--losing their channel of communication--they
grew out of touch with each other's microscopic affairs, and their
mutual detestation increased with their resentful ignorance. And so,
shrinking and silent, and protected as far as possible by their big
bonnets, the squat Madame Dépine and the skinny Madame Valière toiled
up and down the dark, fusty stairs of the Hôtel des Tourterelles,
often brushing against each other, yet sundered by icy infinities. And
the endurance on Madame Dépine's round face became more vindictive,
and gentler grew the resignation on the angular visage of Madame
Valière.



IV


"_Tiens!_ Madame Dépine, one never sees you now." Madame la
Propriétaire was blocking the threshold, preventing her exit. "I was
almost thinking you had veritably died of Madame Valière's cough."

"One has received my rent, the Monday," the little old lady replied
frigidly.

"_Oh! là! là!_" Madame waved her plump hands. "And La Valière, too,
makes herself invisible. What has then happened to both of you? Is it
that you are doing a penance together?"

"Hist!" said Madame Dépine, flushing.

For at this moment Madame Valière appeared on the pavement outside
bearing a long French roll and a bag of figs, which made an excellent
lunch at low water. Madame la Propriétaire, dominatingly bestriding
her doorstep, was sandwiched between the two old ladies, her wig
aggressively grey between the two browns. Madame Valière halted
awkwardly, a bronze blush mounting to match her wig. To be seen
by Madame Dépine carrying in her meagre provisions was humiliation
enough; to be juxtaposited with a grey wig was unbearable.

"_Maman, maman_, the English monsieur will not pay two francs for
his dinner!" And the distressed bookkeeper, bill in hand, shattered
the trio.

"And why will he not pay?" Fire leapt into the black eyes.

"He says you told him the night he came that by arrangement he could
have his dinners for one franc fifty."

Madame la Propriétaire made two strides towards the refractory English
monsieur. "_I_ told you one franc fifty? For _déjeuner_, yes, as many
luncheons as you can eat. But for dinner? You eat with us as one of
the family, and _vin compris_ and _café_ likewise, and it should
be all for one franc fifty! _Mon Dieu!_ it is to ruin oneself. Come
here." And she seized the surprised Anglo-Saxon by the wrist and
dragged him towards a painted tablet of prices that hung in a dark
niche of the hall. "I have kept this hotel for twenty years, I have
grown grey in the service of artists and students, and this is the
first time one has demanded dinner for one franc fifty!"

"_She_ has grown grey!" contemptuously muttered Madame Valière.

"Grey? She!" repeated Madame Dépine, with no less bitterness. "It is
only to give herself the air of a _grande dame_!"

Then both started, and coloured to the roots of their wigs.
Simultaneously they realised that they had spoken to each other.



V


As they went up the stairs together--for Madame Dépine had quite
forgotten she was going out--an immense relief enlarged their souls.
Merely to mention the grey wig had been a vent for all this morbid
brooding; to abuse Madame la Propriétaire into the bargain was to pass
from the long isolation into a subtle sympathy.

"I wonder if she did say one franc fifty," observed Madame Valière,
reflectively.

"Without doubt," Madame Dépine replied viciously. "And fifty centimes
a day soon mount up to a grey wig."

"Not so soon," sighed Madame Valière.

"But then it is not only one client that she cheats."

"Ah! at that rate wigs fall from the skies," admitted Madame Valière.

"Especially if one has not to give dowries to one's nieces," said
Madame Dépine, boldly.

"And if one is mean on New Year's Day," returned Madame Valière, with
a shade less of mendacity.

They inhaled the immemorial airlessness of the staircase as if they
were breathing the free air of the forests depicted on its dirty-brown
wall-paper. It was the new atmosphere of self-respect that they were
really absorbing. Each had at last explained herself and her brown wig to
the other. An immaculate honesty (that would scorn to overcharge fifty
centimes even to _un Anglais_), complicated with unwedded nieces in
one case, with a royal shower of New Year's gifts in the other, had
kept them from selfish, if seemly, hoary-headedness.

"Ah! here is my floor," panted Madame Valière at length, with an air
of indicating it to a thorough stranger. "Will you not come into my
room and eat a fig? They are very healthy between meals."

Madame Dépine accepted the invitation, and entering her own corner
of the corridor with a responsive air of foreign exploration, passed
behind the door through whose keyhole she had so often peered. Ah! no
wonder she had detected nothing abnormal. The room was a facsimile
of her own--the same bed with the same quilt over it and the same
crucifix above it, the same little table with the same books of
devotion, the same washstand with the same tiny jug and basin, the
same rusted, fireless grate. The wardrobe, like her own, was merely a
pair of moth-eaten tartan curtains, concealing both pegs and garments
from her curiosity. The only sense of difference came subtly from the
folding windows, below whose railed balcony showed another view of the
quarter, with steam-trams--diminished to toy trains--puffing past
to the suburbs. But as Madame Dépine's eyes roved from these to the
mantel-piece, she caught sight of an oval miniature of an elegant young
woman, who was jewelled in many places, and corresponded exactly with
her idea of a Princess!

To disguise her access of respect, she said abruptly, "It must be very
noisy here from the steam-trams."

"It is what I love, the bustle of life," replied Madame Valière,
simply.

"Ah!" said Madame Dépine, impressed beyond masking-point, "I suppose
when one has had the habit of Courts--"

Madame Valière shuddered unexpectedly. "Let us not speak of it. Take a
fig."

But Madame Dépine persisted--though she took the fig. "Ah! those were
brave days when we had still an Emperor and an Empress to drive to the
Bois with their equipages and outriders. Ah, how pretty it was!"

"But the President has also"--a fit of coughing interrupted Madame
Valière--"has also outriders."

"But he is so bourgeois--a mere man of the people," said Madame
Dépine.

"They are the most decent sort of folk. But do you not feel cold? I
will light a fire." She bent towards the wood-box.

"No, no; do not trouble. I shall be going in a moment. I have a large
fire blazing in my room."

"Then suppose we go and sit there," said poor Madame Valière.

Poor Madame Dépine was seized with a cough, more protracted than any
of which she had complained.

"Provided it has not gone out in my absence," she stammered at last.
"I will go first and see if it is in good trim."

"No, no; it is not worth the trouble of moving." And Madame Valière
drew her street-cloak closer round her slim form. "But I have lived so
long in Russia, I forget people call this cold."

"Ah! the Princess travelled far?" said Madame Dépine, eagerly.

"Too far," replied Madame Valière, with a flash of Gallic wit. "But
who has told you of the Princess?"

"Madame la Propriétaire, naturally."

"She talks too much--she and her wig!"

"If only she didn't imagine herself a powdered marquise in it! To see
her standing before the mirror in the salon!"

"The beautiful spectacle!" assented Madame Valière.

"Ah! but I don't forget--if she does--that her mother wheeled a
fruit-barrow through the streets of Tonnerre!"

"Ah! yes, I knew you were from Tonnerre--dear Tonnerre!"

"How did you know?"

"Naturally, Madame la Propriétaire."

"The old gossip!" cried Madame Dépine--"though not so old as
she feigns. But did she tell you of her mother, too, and the
fruit-barrow?"

"I knew her mother--_une brave femme_."

"I do not say not," said Madame Dépine, a whit disconcerted.
"Nevertheless, when one's mother is a merchant of the four seasons--"

"Provided she sold fruit as good as this! Take another fig, I beg of
you."

"Thank you. These are indeed excellent," said Madame Dépine. "She owed
all her good fortune to a _coup_ in the lottery."

"Ah! the lottery!" Madame Valière sighed. Before the eyes of both rose
the vision of a lucky number and a grey wig.



VI


The acquaintanceship ripened. It was not only their common grievances
against fate and Madame la Propriétaire: they were linked by the sheer
physical fact that each was the only person to whom the other could
talk without the morbid consciousness of an eye scrutinising the
unseemly brown wig. It became quite natural, therefore, for Madame
Dépine to stroll into her "Princess's" room, and they soon slid into
dividing the cost of the fire. That was more than an economy, for
neither could afford a fire alone. It was an easy transition to the
discovery that coffee could be made more cheaply for two, and that
the same candle would light two persons, provided they sat in the same
room. And if they did not fall out of the habit of companionship even
at the _crémerie_, though "two portions for one" were not served,
their union at least kept the sexagenarians in countenance. Two brown
wigs give each other a moral support, are on the way to a fashion.

But there was more than wigs and cheese-parings in their
_camaraderie_. Madame Dépine found a fathomless mine of edification
in Madame Valière's reminiscences, which she skilfully extracted from
her, finding the average ore rich with noble streaks, though the old
tirewoman had an obstinate way of harking back to her girlhood, which
made some delvings result in mere earth.

On the Day of the Dead Madame Dépine emerged into importance, taking
her friend with her to the Cemetery Montparnasse to see the glass
flowers blooming immortally over the graves of her husband and
children. Madame Dépine paid the omnibus for both (inside places), and
felt, for once, superior to the poor "Princess," who had never known
the realities of love and death.



VII


Two months passed. Another of Madame Valière's teeth fell out. Madame
Dépine's cheeks grew more pendulous. But their brown wigs remained as
fadeless as the cemetery flowers.

One day they passed the hairdresser's shop together. It was indeed
next to the tobacconist's, so not easy to avoid, whenever one wanted
a stamp or a postcard. In the window, amid pendent plaits of divers
hues, bloomed two wax busts of females--the one young and coquettish
and golden-haired, the other aristocratic in a distinguished grey wig.
Both wore diamond rosettes in their hair and ropes of pearls round
their necks. The old ladies' eyes met, then turned away.

"If one demanded the price!" said Madame Dépine (who had already done
so twice).

"It is an idea!" agreed Madame Valière.

"The day will come when one's nieces will be married."

"But scarcely when New Year's Day shall cease to be," the "Princess"
sighed.

"Still, one might win in the lottery!"

"Ah! true. Let us enter, then."

"One will be enough. You go." Madame Dépine rather dreaded the
_coiffeur_, whom intercourse with jocose students had made severe.

But Madame Valière shrank back shyly. "No, let us both go." She added,
with a smile to cover her timidity, "Two heads are better than one."

"You are right. He will name a lower price in the hope of two orders."
And, pushing the "Princess" before her like a turret of defence,
Madame Dépine wheeled her into the ladies' department.

The _coiffeur_, who was washing the head of an American girl, looked
up ungraciously. As he perceived the outer circumference of Madame
Dépine projecting on either side of her turret, he emitted a glacial
"_Bon jour, mesdames._"

"Those grey wigs--" faltered Madame Valière

"I have already told your friend." He rubbed the American head
viciously.

Madame Dépine coloured. "But--but we are two. Is there no reduction on
taking a quantity?"

"And why then? A wig is a wig. Twice a hundred francs are two hundred
francs."

"One hundred francs for a wig!" said Madame Valière, paling. "I did
not pay that for the one I wear."

"I well believe it, madame. A grey wig is not a brown wig."

"But you just said a wig is a wig."

The _coiffeur_ gave angry rubs at the head, in time with his explosive
phrases. "You want real hair, I presume--and to your measure--and to
look natural--and _convenable_!" (Both old ladies shuddered at the
word.) "Of course, if you want it merely for private theatricals--"

"Private theatricals!" repeated Madame Dépine, aghast.

"A _comédienne's_ wig I can sell you for a bagatelle. That passes at a
distance."

Madame Valière ignored the suggestion. "But why should a grey wig cost
more than any other?"

The _coiffeur_ shrugged his shoulders. "Since there are less grey
hairs in the world--"

"_Comment!_" repeated Madame Valière, in amazement.

"It stands to reason," said the _coiffeur_. "Since most persons do
not live to be old--or only live to be bald." He grew animated,
professorial almost, seeing the weight his words carried to unthinking
bosoms. "And since one must provide a fine hair-net for a groundwork,
to imitate the flesh-tint of the scalp, and since each hair of the
parting must be treated separately, and since the natural wave of the
hair must be reproduced, and since you will also need a block for it
to stand on at nights to guard its shape--"

"But since one has already blocks," interposed Madame Dépine.

"But since a conscientious artist cannot trust another's block!
Represent to yourself also that the shape of the head does not remain
as fixed as the dome of the Invalides, and that--"

"_Eh bien_, we will think," interrupted Madame Valière, with dignity.



VIII


They walked slowly towards the Hôtel des Tourterelles.

"If one could share a wig!" Madame Dépine exclaimed suddenly.

"It is an idea," replied Madame Valière. And then each stared
involuntarily at the other's head. They had shared so many things
that this new possibility sounded like a discovery. Pleasing pictures
flitted before their eyes--the country cousin received (on a Box
and Cox basis) by a Parisian old gentlewoman _sans peur_ and _sans
reproche_; a day of seclusion for each alternating with a day of
ostentatious publicity.

But the light died out of their eyes, as Madame Dépine recognised
that the "Princess's" skull was hopelessly long, and Madame Valière
recognised that Madame Dépine's cranium was hopelessly round.
Decidedly either head would be a bad block for the other's wig to
repose on.

"It would be more sensible to acquire a wig together, and draw lots
for it," said Madame Dépine.

The "Princess's" eyes rekindled. "Yes, and then save up again to buy
the loser a wig."

"_Parfaitement_" said Madame Dépine. They had slid out of pretending
that they had large sums immediately available. Certain sums still
existed in vague stockings for dowries or presents, but these, of
course, could not be touched. For practical purposes it was understood
that neither had the advantage of the other, and that the few francs
a month by which Madame Dépine's income exceeded Madame Valière's were
neutralised by the superior rent she paid for her comparative immunity
from steam-trams. The accumulation of fifty francs apiece was thus a
limitless perspective.

They discussed their budget. It was really almost impossible to cut
down anything. By incredible economies they saw their way to saving
a franc a week each. But fifty weeks! A whole year, allowing for
sickness and other breakdowns! Who can do penance for a whole year?
They thought of moving to an even cheaper hotel; but then in the
course of years Madame Valière had fallen three weeks behind with the
rent, and Madame Dépine a fortnight, and these arrears would have to
be paid up. The first council ended in despair. But in the silence of
the night Madame Dépine had another inspiration. If one suppressed the
lottery for a season!

On the average each speculated a full franc a week, with scarcely
a gleam of encouragement. Two francs a week each--already the year
becomes six months! For six months one can hold out. Hardships shared
are halved, too. It will seem scarce three months. Ah, how good are
the blessed saints!

But over the morning coffee Madame Valière objected that they might
win the whole hundred francs in a week!

It was true; it was heartbreaking.

Madame Dépine made a reckless reference to her brooch, but the
Princess had a gesture of horror. "And wear your heart on your shawl
when your friends come?" she exclaimed poetically. "Sooner my watch
shall go, since that at least is hidden in my bosom!"

"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated Madame Dépine. "But if you sold the other
things hidden in your bosom!"

"How do you mean?"

"The Royal Secrets."

The "Princess" blushed. "What are you thinking of?"

"The journalist below us tells me that gossip about the great sells
like Easter buns."

"He is truly below us," said Madame Valière, witheringly. "What! sell
one's memories! No, no; it would not be _convenable_. There are even
people living--"

"But nobody would know," urged Madame Dépine.

"One must carry the head high, even if it is not grey."

It was almost a quarrel. Far below the steam-tram was puffing past.
At the window across the street a woman was beating her carpet with
swift, spasmodic thwacks, as one who knew the legal time was nearly
up. In the tragic silence which followed Madame Valière's rebuke,
these sounds acquired a curious intensity.

"I prefer to sacrifice the lottery rather than honour," she added, in
more conciliatory accents.



IX


The long quasi-Lenten weeks went by, and unflinchingly the two old
ladies pursued their pious quest of the grey wig. Butter had vanished
from their bread, and beans from their coffee. Their morning brew
was confected of charred crusts, and as they sipped it solemnly they
exchanged the reflection that it was quite equal to the coffee at the
_crémerie_. Positively one was safer drinking one's own messes. Figs,
no longer posing as a pastime of the palate, were accepted seriously
as _pièces de résistance_. The Spring was still cold, yet fires could
be left to die after breakfast. The chill had been taken off, and by
mid-day the sun was in its full power. Each sustained the other by
a desperate cheerfulness. When they took their morning walk in the
Luxembourg Gardens--what time the blue-aproned Jacques was polishing
their waxed floors with his legs for broom-handles--they went into
ecstasies over everything, drawing each other's attention to the
sky, the trees, the water. And, indeed, of a sunshiny morning it was
heartening to sit by the pond and watch the wavering sheet of beaten
gold water, reflecting all shades of green in a restless shimmer
against the shadowed grass around. Madame Valière always had a bit
of dry bread to feed the pigeons withal--it gave a cheerful sense of
superfluity, and her manner of sprinkling the crumbs revived Madame
Dépine's faded images of a Princess scattering New Year largess.

But beneath all these pretences of content lay a hollow sense of
desolation. It was not the want of butter nor the diminished meat; it
was the total removal from life of that intangible splendour of hope
produced by the lottery ticket. Ah! every day was drawn blank now.
This gloom, this gnawing emptiness at the heart, was worse than either
had foreseen or now confessed. Malicious Fate, too, they felt, would
even crown with the _grand prix_ the number they would have chosen.
But for the prospective draw for the Wig--which reintroduced the
aleatory--life would scarcely have been bearable.

Madame Dépine's sister-in-law's visit by the June excursion train was
a not unexpected catastrophe. It only lasted a day, but it put back
the Grey Wig by a week, for Madame Choucrou had to be fed at Duval's,
and Madame Valière magnanimously insisted on being of the party:
whether to run parallel with her friend, or to carry off the
brown wig, she alone knew. Fortunately, Madame Choucrou was both
short-sighted and colour-blind. On the other hand, she liked a _petit
verre_ with her coffee, and both at a separate restaurant. But never
had Madame Valière appeared to Madame Dépine's eyes more like the
"Princess," more gay and polished and debonair, than at this little
round table on the sunlit Boulevard. Little trills of laughter came
from the half-toothless gums; long gloved fingers toyed with the
liqueur glass or drew out the old-fashioned watch to see that Madame
Choucrou did not miss her train; she spent her sou royally on a hawked
journal. When they had seen Madame Choucrou off, she proposed to dock
meat entirely for a fortnight so as to regain the week. Madame Dépine
accepted in the same heroic spirit, and even suggested the elimination
of the figs: one could lunch quite well on bread and milk, now the
sunshine was here. But Madame Valière only agreed to a week's trial of
this, for she had a sweet tooth among the few in her gums.

The very next morning, as they walked in the Luxembourg Gardens,
Madame Dépine's foot kicked against something. She stooped and saw a
shining glory--a five-franc piece!

"What is it?" said Madame Valière.

"Nothing," said Madame Dépine, covering the coin with her foot. "My
bootlace." And she bent down--to pick up the coin, to fumble at her
bootlace, and to cover her furious blush. It was not that she wished
to keep the godsend to herself,--one saw on the instant that _le bon
Dieu_ was paying for Madame Choucrou,--it was an instantaneous dread
of the "Princess's" quixotic code of honour. La Valière was capable of
flying in the face of Providence, of taking the windfall to a _bureau
de police_. As if the inspector wouldn't stick to it himself! A
purse--yes. But a five-franc piece, one of a flock of sheep!

The treasure-trove was added to the heap of which her stocking was
guardian, and thus honestly divided. The trouble, however, was that,
as she dared not inform the "Princess," she could not decently back
out of the meatless fortnight. Providence, as it turned out, was
making them gain a week. As to the figs, however, she confessed on the
third day that she hungered sore for them, and Madame Valière readily
agreed to make this concession to her weakness.



X


This little episode coloured for Madame Dépine the whole dreary period
that remained. Life was never again so depressingly definite; though
curiously enough the "Princess" mistook for gloom her steady earthward
glance, as they sauntered about the sweltering city. With anxious
solicitude Madame Valière would direct her attention to sunsets, to
clouds, to the rising moon; but heaven had ceased to have attraction,
except as a place from which five-francs fell, and as soon as the
"Princess's" eye was off her, her own sought the ground again. But
this imaginary need of cheering up Madame Dépine kept Madame Valière
herself from collapsing. At last, when the first red leaves began
to litter the Gardens and cover up possible coins, the francs in the
stocking approached their century.

What a happy time was that! The privations were become second nature;
the weather was still fine. The morning Gardens were a glow of pink
and purple and dripping diamonds, and on some of the trees was the
delicate green of a second blossoming, like hope in the heart of age.
They could scarcely refrain from betraying their exultation to
the Hôtel des Tourterelles, from which they had concealed their
sufferings. But the polyglot population seething round its malodorous
stairs and tortuous corridors remained ignorant that anything was
passing in the life of these faded old creatures, and even on the
day of drawing lots for the Wig the exuberant hotel retained its
imperturbable activity.

Not that they really drew lots. That was a figure of speech, difficult
to translate into facts. They preferred to spin a coin. Madame Dépine
was to toss, the "Princess" to cry _pile ou face_. From the stocking
Madame Dépine drew, naturally enough, the solitary five-franc piece.
It whirled in the air; the "Princess" cried _face_. The puff-puff of
the steam-tram sounded like the panting of anxious Fate. The great
coin fell, rolled, balanced itself between two destinies, then
subsided, _pile_ upwards. The poor "Princess's" face grew even longer;
but for the life of her Madame Dépine could not make her own face
other than a round red glow, like the sun in a fog. In fact, she
looked so young at this supreme moment that the brown wig quite became
her.

"I congratulate you," said Madame Valière, after the steam-tram had
become a far-away rumble.

"Before next summer we shall have yours too," the winner reminded her
consolingly.



XI


They had not waited till the hundred francs were actually in the
stocking. The last few would accumulate while the wig was making. As
they sat at their joyous breakfast the next morning, ere starting for
the hairdresser's, the casement open to the October sunshine, Jacques
brought up a letter for Madame Valière--an infrequent incident.
Both old women paled with instinctive distrust of life. And as the
"Princess" read her letter, all the sympathetic happiness died out of
her face.

"What is the matter, then?" breathed Madame Dépine.

The "Princess" recovered herself. "Nothing, nothing. Only my nephew
who is marrying."

"Soon?"

"The middle of next month."

"Then you will need to give presents!"

"One gives a watch, a bagatelle, and then--there is time. It is
nothing. How good the coffee is this morning!"

They had not changed the name of the brew: it is not only in religious
evolutions that old names are a comfort.

They walked to the hairdresser's in silence. The triumphal procession
had become almost a dead march. Only once was the silence broken.

"I suppose they have invited you down for the wedding?" said Madame
Dépine.

"Yes," said Madame Valière.

They walked on.

The _coiffeur_ was at his door, sunning his aproned stomach, and
twisting his moustache as if it were a customer's. Emotion overcame
Madame Dépine at the sight of him. She pushed Madame Valière into the
tobacconist's instead.

"I have need of a stamp," she explained, and demanded one for five
centimes. She leaned over the counter babbling aimlessly to the
proprietor, postponing the great moment. Madame Valière lost the clue
to her movements, felt her suddenly as a stranger. But finally Madame
Dépine drew herself together and led the way into the _coiffeurs_. The
proprietor, who had reëntered his parlour, reëmerged gloomily.

Madame Valière took the word. "We are thinking of ordering a wig."

"Cash in advance, of course," said the _coiffeur_.

"_Comment!_" cried Madame Valière, indignantly. "You do not trust my
friend!"

"Madame Valière has moved in the best society," added Madame Dépine.

"But you cannot expect me to do two hundred francs of work and then be
left planted with the wigs!"

"But who said two hundred francs?" cried Madame Dépine. "It is only
one wig that we demand--to-day at least."

He shrugged his shoulders. "A hundred francs, then."

"And why should we trust you with one hundred francs?" asked Madame
Dépine. "You might botch the work."

"Or fly to Italy," added the "Princess."

In the end it was agreed he should have fifty down and fifty on
delivery.

"Measure us, while we are here," said Madame Dépine. "I will bring you
the fifty francs immediately."

"Very well," he murmured. "Which of you?"

But Madame Valière was already affectionately untying Madame Dépine's
bonnet-strings. "It is for my friend," she cried. "And let it be as
_chic_ and _convenable_ as possible!"

He bowed. "An artist remains always an artist."

Madame Dépine removed her wig and exposed her poor old scalp, with
its thin, forlorn wisps and patches of grey hair, grotesque, almost
indecent, in its nudity. But the _coiffeur_ measured it in sublime
seriousness, putting his tape this way and that way, while Madame
Valière's eyes danced in sympathetic excitement.

"You may as well measure my friend too," remarked Madame Dépine, as
she reassumed her glossy brown wig (which seemed propriety itself
compared with the bald cranium).

"What an idea!" ejaculated Madame Valière. "To what end?"

"Since you are here," returned Madame Dépine, indifferently. "You may
as well leave your measurements. Then when you decide yourself--Is it
not so, monsieur?"

The _coiffeur_, like a good man of business, eagerly endorsed the
suggestion. "Perfectly, madame."

"But if one's head should change!" said Madame Valière, trembling with
excitement at the vivid imminence of the visioned wig.

"_Souvent femme varie_, madame," said the _coiffeur_. "But it is the
inside, not the outside of the head."

"But you said one is not the dome of the Invalides," Madame Valière
reminded him.

"He spoke of our old blocks," Madame Dépine intervened hastily. "At
our age one changes no more."

Thus persuaded, the "Princess" in her turn denuded herself of her
wealth of wig, and Madame Dépine watched with unsmiling satisfaction
the stretchings of tape across the ungainly cranium.

"_C'est bien_," she said. "I return with your fifty francs on the
instant."

And having seen her "Princess" safely ensconced in the attic, she
rifled the stocking, and returned to the _coiffeur_.

When she emerged from the shop, the vindictive endurance had vanished
from her face, and in its place reigned an angelic exaltation.



XII


Eleven days later Madame Valière and Madame Dépine set out on
the great expedition to the hairdresser's to try on the Wig. The
"Princess's" excitement was no less tense than the fortunate winner's.
Neither had slept a wink the night before, but the November morning
was keen and bright, and supplied an excellent tonic. They conversed
with animation on the English in Egypt, and Madame Dépine recalled the
gallant death of her son, the _chasseur_.

The _coiffeur_ saluted them amiably. Yes, mesdames, it was a beautiful
morning. The wig was quite ready. Behold it there--on its block.

Madame Valière's eyes turned thither, then grew clouded, and returned
to Madame Dépine's head and thence back to the Grey Wig.

"It is not this one?" she said dubiously.

"_Mais, oui_." Madame Dépine was nodding, a great smile
transfiguring the emaciated orb of her face. The artist's eyes
twinkled.

"But this will not fit you," Madame Valière gasped.

"It is a little error, I know," replied Madame Dépine.

"But it is a great error," cried Madame Valière, aghast. And her angry
gaze transfixed the _coiffeur_.

"It is not his fault--I ought not to have let him measure you."

"Ha! Did I not tell you so?" Triumph softened her anger. "He has mixed
up the two measurements!"

"Yes. I suspected as much when I went in to inquire the other day; but
I was afraid to tell you, lest it shouldn't even fit _you_."

"Fit _me_!" breathed Madame Valière.

"But whom else?" replied Madame Dépine, impatiently, as she whipped
off the "Princess's" wig. "If only it fits you, one can pardon him.
Let us see. Stand still, _ma chère_," and with shaking hands she
seized the grey wig.

"But--but--" The "Princess" was gasping, coughing, her ridiculous
scalp bare.

"But stand still, then! What is the matter? Are you a little infant?
Ah! that is better. Look at yourself, then, in the mirror. But it is
perfect!" "A true Princess," she muttered beatifically to herself.
"Ah, how she will show up the fruit-vendor's daughter!"

As the "Princess" gazed at the majestic figure in the mirror, crowned
with the dignity of age, two great tears trickled down her pendulous
cheeks.

"I shall be able to go to the wedding," she murmured chokingly.

"The wedding!" Madame Dépine opened her eyes. "What wedding?"

"My nephew's, of course!"

"Your nephew is marrying? I congratulate you. But why did you not tell
me?"

"I did mention it. That day I had a letter!"

"Ah! I seem to remember. I had not thought of it." Then briskly:
"Well, that makes all for the best again. Ah! I was right not to scold
_monsieur le coiffeur_ too much, was I not?"

"You are very good to be so patient," said Madame Valière, with a sob
in her voice.

Madame Dépine shot her a dignified glance. "We will discuss our
affairs at home. Here it only remains to say whether you are satisfied
with the fit."

Madame Valière patted the wig, as much in approbation as in
adjustment. "But it fits me to a miracle!"

"Then we will pay our friend, and wish him _le bon jour_." She
produced the fifty francs--two gold pieces, well sounding, for which
she had exchanged her silver and copper, and two five-franc pieces.
"And _voilà_," she added, putting down a franc for _pourboire_, "we
are very content with the artist."

The "Princess" stared at her, with a new admiration.

"_Merci bien_," said the _coiffeur_, fervently, as he counted the
cash. "Would that all customers' heads lent themselves so easily to
artistic treatment!"

"And when will my friend's wig be ready?" said the "Princess."

"Madame Valière! What are you saying there? Monsieur will set to work
when I bring him the fifty francs."

"_Mais non_, madame. I commence immediately. In a week it shall be
ready, and you shall only pay on delivery."

"You are very good. But I shall not need it yet--not till the
winter--when the snows come," said Madame Dépine, vaguely. "_Bon
jour_, monsieur;" and, thrusting the old wig on the new block, and
both under her shawl, she dragged the "Princess" out of the shop.
Then, looking back through the door, "Do not lose the measurement,
monsieur," she cried. "One of these days!"



XIII


The grey wig soon showed its dark side. Its possession, indeed,
enabled Madame Valière to loiter on the more lighted stairs, or dawdle
in the hall with Madame la Propriétaire; but Madame Dépine was not
only debarred from these dignified domestic attitudes, but found a new
awkwardness in bearing Madame Valière company in their walks
abroad. Instead of keeping each other in countenance--_duoe contra
mundum_--they might now have served as an advertisement for the
_coiffeur_ and the _convenable_. Before the grey wig--after the grey
wig.

Wherefore Madame Dépine was not so very sorry when, after a few weeks
of this discomforting contrast, the hour drew near of the "Princess's"
departure for the family wedding; especially as she was only losing
her for two days. She had insisted, of course, that the savings for
the second wig were not to commence till the return, so that Madame
Valière might carry with her a present worthy of her position and her
port. They had anxious consultations over this present. Madame Dépine
was for a cheap but showy article from the Bon Marché; but Madame
Valière reminded her that the price-lists of this enterprising firm
knocked at the doors of Tonnerre. Something distinguished (in
silver) was her own idea. Madame Dépine frequently wept during these
discussions, reminded of her own wedding. Oh, the roundabouts at
Robinson, and that delicious wedding-lunch up the tree! One was gay
then, my dear.

At last they purchased a tiny metal Louis Quinze timepiece for eleven
francs seventy-five centimes, congratulating themselves on the surplus
of twenty-five centimes from their three weeks' savings. Madame
Valière packed it with her impedimenta into the carpet-bag lent her by
Madame la Propriétaire. She was going by a night train from the Gare
de Lyon, and sternly refused to let Madame Dépine see her off.

"And how would you go back--an old woman, alone in these dark November
nights, with the papers all full of crimes of violence? It is not
_convenable_, either."

Madame Dépine yielded to the latter consideration; but as Madame
Valière, carrying the bulging carpet-bag, was crying "_La porte, s'il
vous plaît_" to the _concierge_, she heard Madame Dépine come tearing
and puffing after her like the steam-tram, and, looking back, saw
her breathlessly brandishing her gold brooch. "_Tiens!_" she panted,
fastening the "Princess's" cloak with it. "That will give thee an
air."

"But--it is too valuable. Thou must not." They had never "thou'd" each
other before, and this enhanced the tremulousness of the moment.

"I do not give it thee," Madame Dépine laughed through her tears. "_Au
revoir, mon amie_."

"_Adieu, ma chérie!_ I will tell my dear ones of my Paris comrade."
And for the first time their lips met, and the brown wig brushed the
grey.



XIV


Madame Dépine had two drearier days than she had foreseen. She kept
to her own room, creeping out only at night, when, like all cats, all
wigs are grey. After an eternity of loneliness the third day dawned,
and she went by pre-arrangement to meet the morning train. Ah, how
gaily gleamed the kiosks on the boulevards through the grey mist! What
jolly red faces glowed under the cabmen's white hats! How blithely the
birds sang in the bird-shops!

The train was late. Her spirits fell as she stood impatiently at the
barrier, shivering in her thin clothes, and morbidly conscious of all
those eyes on her wig. At length the train glided in unconcernedly,
and shot out a medley of passengers. Her poor old eyes strained
towards them. They surged through the gate in animated masses, but
Madame Valière's form did not disentangle itself from them, though
every instant she expected it to jump at her eyes. Her heart
contracted painfully--there was no "Princess." She rushed round to
another exit, then outside, to the gates at the end of the drive; she
peered into every cab even, as it rumbled past. What had happened? She
trudged home as hastily as her legs could bear her. No, Madame Valière
had not arrived.

"They have persuaded her to stay another day," said Madame la
Propriétaire. "She will come by the evening train, or she will write."

Madame Dépine passed the evening at the Gare de Lyon, and came home
heavy of heart and weary of foot. The "Princess" might still arrive
at midnight, though, and Madame Dépine lay down dressed in her bed,
waiting for the familiar step in the corridor. About three o'clock she
fell into a heavy doze, and woke in broad day. She jumped to her feet,
her overwrought brain still heavy with the vapours of sleep, and threw
open her door.

"Ah! she has already taken in her boots," she thought confusedly. "I
shall be late for coffee." She gave her perfunctory knock, and turned
the door-handle. But the door would not budge.

"Jacques! Jacques!" she cried, with a clammy fear at her heart. The
_garçon_, who was pottering about with pails, opened the door with his
key. An emptiness struck cold from the neat bed, the bare walls, the
parted wardrobe-curtains that revealed nothing. She fled down the
stairs, into the bureau.

"Madame Valière is not returned?" she cried.

Madame la Propriétaire shook her head.

"And she has not written?"

"No letter in her writing has come--for anybody."

"_O mon Dieu!_ She has been murdered. She _would_ go alone by night."

"She owes me three weeks' rent," grimly returned Madame la
Propriétaire.

"What do you insinuate?" Madame Dépine's eyes flared.

Madame la Propriétaire shrugged her shoulders. "I am not at my first
communion. I have grown grey in the service of lodgers. And this is
how they reward me." She called Jacques, who had followed uneasily in
Madame Dépine's wake. "Is there anything in the room?"

"Empty as an egg-shell, madame."

"Not even the miniature of her sister?"

"Not even the miniature of her sister."

"Of her sister?" repeated Madame Dépine.

"Yes; did I never tell you of her? A handsome creature, but she threw
her bonnet over the mills."

"But I thought that was the Princess."

"The Princess, too. Her bonnet will also be found lying there."

"No, no; I mean I thought the portrait was the Princess's."

Madame la Propriétaire laughed. "She told you so?"

"No, no; but--but I imagined so."

"Without doubt, she gave you the idea. _Quelle farceuse!_ I don't
believe there ever was a Princess. The family was always inflated."

All Madame Dépine's world seemed toppling. Somehow her own mistake
added to her sense of having been exploited.

"Still," said Madame la Propriétaire with a shrug, "it is only three
weeks' rent."

"If you lose it, I will pay!" Madame Dépine had an heroic burst of
faith.

"As you please. But I ought to have been on my guard. Where did she
take the funds for a grey wig?"

"Ah, the brown wig!" cried Madame Dépine, joyfully. "She must have
left that behind, and any _coiffeur_ will give you three weeks' rent
for that alone."

"We shall see," replied Madame la Propriétaire, ambiguously.

The trio mounted the stairs, and hunted high and low, disturbing the
peaceful spider-webs. They peered under the very bed. Not even the
old block was to be seen. As far as Madame Valière's own chattels were
concerned, the room was indeed "empty as an egg-shell."

"She has carried it away with the three weeks' rent," sneered Madame
la Propriétaire. "In my own carpet-bag," she added with a terrible
recollection.

"She wished to wear it at night against the hard back of the carriage,
and guard the other all glossy for the wedding." Madame Dépine
quavered pleadingly, but she could not quite believe herself.

"The wedding had no more existence than the Princess," returned Madame
la Propriétaire, believing herself more and more.

"Then she will have cheated me out of the grey wig from the first,"
cried Madame Dépine, involuntarily. "And I who sacrificed myself to
her!"

"_Comment!_ It was your wig?"

"No, no." She flushed and stammered. "But _enfin_--and then, oh,
heaven! my brooch!"

"She has stolen your brooch?"

Great tears rolled down the wrinkled, ashen cheeks. So this was
her reward for secretly instructing the _coiffeur_ to make the
"Princess's" wig first. The Princess, indeed! Ah, the adventuress! She
felt choking; she shook her fist in the air. Not even the brooch to
show when her family came up from Tonnerre, to say nothing of the wig.
Was there a God in the world at all? Oh, holy Mother! No wonder the
trickstress would not be escorted to the station--she never went to
the station. No wonder she would not sell the royal secrets to the
journalist--there were none to sell. Oh! it was all of a piece.

"If I were you I should go to the bureau of police!" said Madame la
Propriétaire.

Yes, she would go; the wretch should be captured, should be haled to
gaol. Even her half of the Louis Quinze timepiece recurred to poor
Madame Dépine's brain.

"Add that she has stolen my carpet-bag."

The local bureau telegraphed first to Tonnerre.

There had been the wedding, but no Madame Valière. She had accepted
the invitation, had given notice of her arrival; one had awaited the
midnight train. The family was still wondering why the rich aunt had
turned sulky at the last hour. But she was always an eccentric; a
capricious and haughty personage.

Poor Madame Dépine's recurrent "My wig! my brooch!" reduced the
official mind to the same muddle as her own.

"No doubt a sudden impulse of senescent kleptomania," said the
superintendent, sagely, when he had noted down for transference to
headquarters Madame Dépine's verbose and vociferous description of
the traits and garments of the runagate. "But we will do our best
to recover your brooch and your wig." Then, with a spasm of supreme
sagacity, "Without doubt they are in the carpet-bag."



XV


Madame Dépine left the bureau and wandered about in a daze. That
monster of ingratitude! That arch-adventuress, more vicious even than
her bejewelled sister! All the long months of more than Lenten
rigour recurred to her self-pitiful mood, that futile half-year of
semi-starvation. How Madame Valière must have gorged on the sly, the
rich eccentric! She crossed a bridge to the Ile de la Cité, and came
to the gargoyled portals of Notre Dame, and let herself be drawn
through the open door, and all the gloom and glory of the building
fell around her like a soothing caress. She dropped before an altar
and poured out her grief to the Mother of Sorrows. At last she arose,
and tottered up the aisle, and the great rose-window glowed like
the window of heaven. She imagined her husband and the dead children
looking through it. Probably they wondered, as they gazed down, why
her head remained so young.

Ah! but she was old, so very old. Surely God would take her soon. How
should she endure the long years of loneliness and social ignominy?

As she stumbled out of the Cathedral, the cold, hard day smote her
full in the face. People stared at her, and she knew it was at the
brown wig. But could they expect her to starve herself for a whole
year?

"_Mon Dieu!_ Starve yourselves, my good friends. At my age, one needs
fuel."

She escaped from them, and ran, muttering, across the road, and almost
into the low grey shed.

Ah! the Morgue! Blessed idea! That should be the end of her. A
moment's struggle, and then--the rose-window of heaven! Hell? No, no;
the Madonna would plead for her; she who always looked so beautiful,
so _convenable_.

She would peep in. Let her see how she would look when they found her.
Would they clap a grey wig upon her, or expose her humiliation even in
death?

"A-a-a-h!" A long scream tore her lips apart. There, behind the glass,
in terrible waxen peace, a gash on her forehead, lay the "Princess,"
so uncanny-looking without any wig at all, that she would not
have recognised her but for that moment of measurement at the
hairdresser's. She fell sobbing before the cold glass wall of the
death-chamber. Ah, God! Her first fear had been right; her brooch had
but added to the murderer's temptation. And she had just traduced this
martyred saint to the police.

"Forgive me, _ma chérie_, forgive me," she moaned, not even conscious
that the attendant was lifting her to her feet with professional
interest.

For in that instant everything passed from her but the great yearning
for love and reconciliation, and for the first time a grey wig seemed
a petty and futile aspiration.



       *       *       *       *       *



CHASSÉ-CROISÉ



I

SET TO PARTNERS


"Oh, look, dear, there's that poor Walter Bassett."

Amber Roan looked down from the roof of the drag at the crossing
restless shuttles, weaving with feminine woof and masculine warp
the multi-coloured web of Society in London's cricket Coliseum.

"Where?" she murmured, her eye wandering over the little tract of
sunlit green between the coaches with their rival Eton and Harrow
favours. Before Lady Chelmer had time to bend her pink parasol a
little more definitely, a thunder of applause turned Amber Roan's
face back towards the wickets, with a piqued expression.

"It's real mean," she said. "What have I missed now?"

"Only a good catch," said the Hon. Tolshunt Darcy, whose eyes had
never faltered from her face.

"My, that's just the one thing I've been dying for," she pouted
self-mockingly.

"Poor Walter Bassett," Lady Chelmer repeated. "I knew his mother."

"Where?" Amber asked again.

"In Huntingdonshire, before the property went to Algy--"

"No, no, Lady Chelmer; I mean, where is poor Walter Whatsaname now?"

"Why, right here," said Lady Chelmer, involuntarily borrowing from the
vocabulary of her young American protégée.

"Walter Bassett!" said the Hon. Tolshunt, languidly. "Isn't that the
chap that's always getting chucked out of Parliament?"

"But his name doesn't sound Irish?" queried Amber.

"What are you talking about, Amber!" cried Lady Chelmer. "Why, he
comes of a good old Huntingdon family. If he had been his own elder
brother, he'd have got in long ago."

"Oh, you mean he never gets _into_ Parliament," said Amber.

"Serve him right. I believe he's one of those independent nuisances,"
said the old Marquis of Woodham. "How is one ever to govern the
country, if every man is a party unto himself?" He said "one," but
only out of modesty; for having once accepted a minor post in a
Ministry that the Premier _in posse_ had not succeeded in forming, he
had retained a Cabinet air ever since.

"Well, the beggar will scarcely come up at Highmead for a third
licking," observed the Hon. Tolshunt.

"No, poor Walter," said Lady Chelmer. "He thought he'd be sure to
get in this time, but he's quite crushed now. Wasn't it actually two
thousand votes less than last time?"

"Two thousand and thirty-three," replied Lord Woodham, with
punctilious inaccuracy.

Involuntarily Amber's eyes turned in search of the crushed candidate
whom she almost saw flattened beneath the 2033 votes, and whom it
would scarcely have been a surprise to find asquat under a carriage,
humbly assisting the footmen to pack the dirty plates. But before
she had time to decide which of the unlively men, loitering round
the carriages or helping stout old dowagers up slim iron ladders,
was sufficiently lugubrious to be identified as the martyr of the
ballot-box, she was absorbed by a tall, masterful figure, whose face
had the radiance of easeful success, and whose hands were clapping at
some nuance of style which had escaped the palms of the great circular
mob.

"I can't see any Walter Bassett," she murmured absently.

"Why, you are staring straight at him," said Lady Chelmer.

Miss Roan did not reply, but her face was eloquent of her astonishment,
and when her face spoke, it was with that vivacity which is the American
accent of beauty. What wonder if the Hon. Tolshunt Darcy paid heed to it,
although he liked what it said less than the form of expression! As he
used to put it in after days, "She gave one look, and threw herself away
from the top of that drag." The more literal truth was that she drew
Walter Bassett up to the top of that drag.

Lady Chelmer protested in vain that she could not halloo to the man.

"You knew his mother," Amber replied. "And he's got no seat."

"Quite symbolical! He, he, he!" and the old Marquis chuckled and
cackled in solitary amusement. "Let's offer him one," he went on, half
to enjoy the joke a little longer, half to utilise the opportunity of
bringing his Ministerial wisdom to bear upon this erratic young man.

"I don't see where there's room," said the Hon. Tolshunt Darcy,
sulkily.

"There's room on the front bench," cackled the Marquis, shaking his
sides.

"Oh, I don't want you to roll off for him," said Miss Roan, who
treated Ministerial Marquises with a contempt that bred in them a
delightful sense of familiarity. "Tolshunt can sit opposite me--he's
stared at the cricket long enough."

Tolshunt blushed with apparent irrelevance. But even the prospect
of staring at Amber more comfortably did not reconcile him to
displacement. "It's so awkward meeting a fellow who's had a tumble,"
he grumbled. "It's like having to condole with a man fresh from a
funeral."

"There doesn't seem much black about Walter Bassett," Amber laughed.
And at this moment--the dull end of a "maiden over"--the radiant
personage in question turned his head, and perceiving Lady Chelmer's
massive smile, acknowledged her recognition with respectful superiority,
whereupon her Ladyship beckoned him with her best parasol manner.

"I want to introduce you to my friend, Miss Roan," she said, as he
climbed to her side.

"I've been reading so much about you," said that young lady, with
a sweet smile. "But you shouldn't be so independent, you know, you
really shouldn't."

He smiled back. "I'm only independent till they come to my way of
thinking."

Lady Chelmer gasped. "Then you still have hopes of Highmead!"

"I won a moral victory there each time, Lady Chelmer."

"How so, sir?" put in the Marquis. "Your opponent increased the
Government majority--"

"And my reputation. A tiresome twaddler. Unfortunately," and he smiled
again, "two moral victories are as bad as a defeat. On the other hand,
a defeat at a bye-election equals a victory at a general. You play a
solo--and on your own trumpet." A burst of cheering rounded off these
remarks. This time Amber did not even inquire what it indicated--she
was almost content to take it as an endorsement of Walter Bassett's
epigrams. But Lord Woodham eagerly improved the situation. "A fine
stroke that," he said, "but a batsman outside a team doesn't play the
game."

"It will be a good time for the country, Lord Woodham," Mr. Bassett
returned quietly, "when people cease to regard the Parliamentary
session as a cricket match, one side trying to bowl over or catch out
the other. But then England always _has_ been a sporting nation."

"Ah, you allow some good in the old country," said Lady Chelmer,
pleased. "Look at the trouble we all take to come here to encourage
the dear boys;" and the words ended with a tired sigh.

"Yes, of course, that is the side on which they need encouragement,"
he rejoined drily. "Majuba was lost on the playing-field of Lord's."

There was a moment of shocked surprise. Lady Chelmer, herself a martyr
to the religion of sport thus blasphemed--of which she understood
as little as of any other religion--hastily tried to pour tea on the
troubled waters. But they had been troubled too deeply. For full
eight minutes the top of the drag became a political platform for
Marquis-Ministerial denunciations of Mr. Gladstone, to a hail of
repartee from the profane young man.

At the end of those eight minutes--when Lady Chelmer was at last able
to reinsinuate tea into the discussion--Miss Amber Roan realised with
a sudden shock that she had not "chipped in" once, and that "poor
Walter Bassett" had commanded her ear for all that time without
pouring into it a single compliment, or, indeed, addressing to it
any observation whatever. For the first time since her début in the
Milwaukee parlour at the age of five, this spoiled daughter of the
dollar had lost sight of herself. As they walked towards the tea-tent,
through the throng of clergymen and parasols and tanned men with
field-glasses, and young bloods and pretty girls, she noted uneasily
that his eyes wandered from her to these types of English beauty,
these flower-faces under witching hats. Indeed, he had led her out of
the way to plough past a row of open carriages. "The shortest cut," he
said, "is past the prettiest woman."

But he had to face her at the tea-table, where she blocked his view of
the tables beyond and plied him with strawberries and smiles under the
sullen glances of the Hon. Tolshunt Darcy and the timid cough of her
chaperon.

"I wonder you waste your time on the silly elections," she said. "We
don't take much stock in Senators in America."

"It's just because M.P.'s are at such a discount that I want to get
in. In the realm of the blind the one-eyed is a king."

"They must be blind not to let you in," she answered with equal
frankness.

"No, they see too well, if you mean the voters. They've got their eye
on the price of their vote."

"What!" she cried. "You can't buy votes in England!"

"Oh, can't you--"

"But I'm sure I read about it in the English histories--it was all
abolished."

"A good many things were abolished by the Decalogue even earlier,"
he replied grimly. "Half an hour before the poll closed I could have
bought a thousand votes at a shilling each."

"Well, that seems reasonable enough," said Lady Chelmer.

"It was beyond my pocket."

"What! Fifty pounds?" cried Amber, incredulously.

The blush that followed was hers, not his. "But what became of the
thousand votes?" she asked hurriedly.

He laughed. "Half an hour before the poll closed they had gone down to
sixpence apiece--like fish that wouldn't keep."

"My! And were they all wasted?"

"No. My rival bought them up. _Vide_ the newspapers--'the polling was
unusually heavy towards the close.'"

"Really!" intervened Lady Chelmer. "Then at that rate you can unseat
him for bribery."

"At that rate--or higher," he replied drily. "To unseat another is
even more expensive than to seat oneself."

"Why, it seems all a question of money," said Miss Amber Roan,
naively.



II

CHASSÉ


Lady Chelmer was glad when the season came to an end and the dancing
mice had no longer to spin dizzyingly in their gilded cage. "The
Prisoner of Pleasure" was Walter Bassett's phrase for her. Even now
she was a convict on circuit. Some of the dungeons were in ancient
castles, from which Bassett was barred, but all of which opened to
Amber's golden keys, though only because Lady Chelmer knew how to turn
them. He, however, penetrated the ducal doors through the letter-box.

The Hon. Tolshunt and Lord Woodham, in their apprehension of the
common foe, began to find each other endurable. If it was politics
that attracted her, Tolshunt felt he too could stoop to a career. As
for the Marquis, he began to meditate resuming office. Both had freely
hinted to her Ladyship that to give a millionaire bride to a man who
hadn't a penny savoured of Socialism.

Galled by such terrible insinuations, Lady Chelmer had dared to sound
the girl.

"I love his letters," gushed Amber, bafflingly. "He writes such cute
things."

"He doesn't dress very well," said Lady Chelmer, feebly fighting.

"Oh, of course, he doesn't bother as much as Tolly, who looks as if he
had been poured into his clothes--"

"Yes, the mould of fashion," quoted Lady Chelmer, vaguely.

An eruption of Walter Bassett in the Press did not tend to allay her
Ladyship's alarm, especially as Amber began to dally with the morning
paper and the evening.

Opening a new People's Library at Highmead--in the absence abroad
of the successful candidate--he had contrived to set the newspapers
sneering. He had told the People that although they might temporarily
accept such gifts as "Capital's conscience-money," yet it was as much
the duty of the parish to supply light as to supply street-lamps;
which was considered both ungracious and unsound. The donor he
described as "a millionaire of means," which was considered wilfully
paradoxical by those who did not know how great capitals are locked up
in industries. But what worked up the Press most was his denunciation
of modern journalism, in malodorous comparison with the literature
this Library would bring the People. "The journalist," he said
tersely, "is Satan's secretary." No shorter cut to notoriety could
have been devised, for it was the "Silly Season," and Satan found
plenty of mischief for his idle hands to do.

"Oh, you poor man!" Amber wrote Walter. "Why don't you say you were
thinking of America--yellow journalism, and all that? The yellow
is, of course, Satan's sulphur. You would hardly believe what his
secretaries have written even of poor little me! And you should see
the pictures of 'The Milwaukee Millionairess' in the Sunday numbers!"

Walter Bassett did not reply regularly and punctually to Amber's
letters, and it was a novel sensation to the jaded beauty who had
often thrown aside masculine missives after a glance at the envelope,
to find herself eagerly shuffling her morning correspondence in the
hope of turning up a trump-card. A card, indeed, it often proved,
though never a postcard, and Amber meekly repaid it fourfold. She
found it delicious to pour herself out to him; it had the pleasure
of abandonment without its humiliation. Verbally, this was the least
flirtatious correspondence she had ever maintained with the opposite
sex.

So when at last, towards the end of the holiday season, the pair met
in the flesh at a country house (Lady Chelmer still protests it was
a coincidence), Walter Bassett had no apprehension of danger, and his
expression of pleasure at the coincidence was unfeigned, for he felt
his correspondence would be lightened. In nothing did he feel the want
of pence more keenly than in his inability to keep a secretary for his
public work. "Money is time," he used to complain; "the millionaire is
your only Methuselah."

The house had an old-world garden, and it was here they had their
first duologue. Amber had quickly discovered that Walter was
interested in the apiaries that lay at the foot of its slope, and so
he found her standing in poetic grace among the tall sweet-peas, with
their whites and pinks and faint purples, a basket of roses in one
hand and a pair of scissors in the other.

As he came to her under the quaint trellised arch, "I always feel like
a croquet ball going through the hoop," he said.

"But the ball is always driven," she said.

"Oh, I dare say it has the illusion of freewill. Doubtless the pieces
in that chess game, which Eastern monarchs are said to play with human
figures, come to think they move of themselves. The knight chuckles as
he makes his tortuous jump at the queen, and the bishop swoops down on
the castle with holy joy."

She came imperceptibly closer to him. "Then you don't think any of us
move of ourselves?"

"One or two of us in each generation. They make the puppets dance."

"You admire Bismarck, I see."

"Yes. A pity he didn't emigrate to your country, like so many Germans."

"Do you think we need him? But he couldn't have been President. You
must be born in America."

"True. Then I shall remain on here."

"You're terrible ambitious, Mr. Bassett."

"Yes, terrible," he repeated mockingly.

"Then come and help me pick blackberries," she said, and caught him by
his own love of the unexpected. They left the formal garden, and came
out into the rabbit-warren, and toiled up and down hillocks in search
of ripe bushes, paying, as Walter said, "many pricks to the pint."
And when Amber urged him to scramble to the back of tangled bushes,
through coils of bristling briars, "You were right," he laughed; "this
_is_ terrible ambitious." The best of the blackberries plucked, Amber
began a new campaign against mushrooms, and had frequent opportunities
to rebuke his clumsiness in crumbling the prizes he uprooted. She
knelt at his side to teach him, and once laid her deft fingers
instructively upon his.

And just at that moment he irritatingly discovered a dead mole, and
fell to philosophising upon it and its soft, velvet, dainty skin--as
if a girl's fingers were not softer and daintier! "Look at its poor
little pale-red mouth," he went on, "gaspingly open, as in surprise at
the strange great forces that had made and killed it."

"I dare say it had a good time," said Amber, pettishly.

After the harvest had been carried indoors they scarcely exchanged a
word till she found him watching the bees the next morning.

"Are you interested in bees?" she inquired in tones of surprise.

"Yes," he said. "They are the most striking example of Nature's
Bismarckism--her habit of using her creatures to work her will through
their own. _Sic vos non vobis._"

"I learnt enough Latin at College to understand that," she said; "but
I don't see how one finds out anything by just watching them hover
over their hives. I've never even been able to find the queen bee.
Won't you come and see what beautiful woods there are behind the
house? Lady Chelmer is walking there, and I ought to be joining her."

"You ought to be taking her an umbrella," he said coldly. Amber looked
up at the sky. Had it been blue, she would have felt it grey. As it
_was_ grey, she felt it black.

"Oh, if you're afraid of a drop of rain--" And Amber walked on
witheringly. It was a clever move.

Walter followed in silence. Amber did not become aware of him till she
was in the middle of an embryonic footpath through tall bracken that
made way, courtseying, for the rare pedestrian.

"Oh!" She gave a little scream. "I thought you were studying the
bees--or the moles."

"I have only been studying your graceful back."

"How mean! Behind my back!" She laughed, pleased. "I hope you haven't
discovered anything Bismarckian about my back."

"Only in the sense that I followed it, and must follow--till the path
widens."

"Ah, how you must hate following--you, so terrible ambitious."

"The path will widen," he said composedly.

She planted her feet firm on Mother Earth--as though it were literally
her own mother--and turned a mocking head over a tantalising shoulder.
"I shall stay still right here."

He smiled maliciously. "And I, too; I follow you no farther."

"Oh, you are just too cute," she said with a laugh of vexation and
pleasure. "You make me go on just to make you follow; but it is really
you that make me lead. That's what you mean by Bismarckism, isn't it?"

"You put it beautifully."

She swung round to face him. "Is there nothing you admire but Force?"

"Not Force--Power!"

"What's the difference?"

"Force is blind."

"So is love," she said. "Do you scorn that?" And her smile was daring
and dazzling.

Ere he could reply Nature outdid her in dazzlement, and superadded a
crash of thunder.

"Yes," he said, as though there had been no interruption. "I scorn
all that is blind--even this storm that may strike you and me. Ah! the
rain," as the great drops began to fall. "Poor Lady Chelmer--without
an umbrella."

"We can shelter by these shrubs." In an instant she was crouching amid
the ferns on a carpet of autumn leaves, making space for him beside
her.

"Thank you--I will stand," he said coldly. "But I don't know if you're
aware these are oak-shrubs."

"What of it?"

"I was only thinking of the Swiss proverb about lightning, 'Vor den
Eichen sollst du weichen.' We ought to make for the beeches."

"I'm not going to leave my umbrella. I am sorry you won't accept a bit
of it." And she bent the tall ferns invitingly towards him.

"I don't like cowering even before the rain," he laughed. "How it
brings out the beautiful earthy smell."

"One enjoys the beautiful earthy smell the better for being nearer to
the earth."

He did not reply.

"Oh, you dear fool," she thought. Hadn't she had heaps of Power from
childhood--over her stern old father, over her weakling mother, over
her governesses, and later over the whole tribe of "the boys," and now
in Europe over Marquises and Honourables--and could it all compare in
intensity to this delicious, poignant sense of being caught up into
a masterful personality! No, not Power but Powerlessness was life's
central reality; not to turn with iron hand the great wheels of Fate,
but to faint at a dear touch, to be sucked up as a moth in the flame.
And for him, too, it were surely as sweet to leave this strenuous
quest for dominance, or to be content with dominating her alone. Oh,
she would bring him to clear vision, to live for nothing but her, even
as she asked for nothing but him.

The harsh scream of a bluejay struck a discord through her reverie.
She remembered that he had yet to be won.

"But didn't you tell me people can't get power without money?" she
said, forgetting the hiatus in the conversation.

"Nor with it generally," he replied, without surprise. "Money is but
a lever. You cannot move the earth unless you have force and fulcrum,
too."

"But I guess a man like you must get real mad to see so many levers
lying about idle."

"Oh, I shall get on without a lever, like primitive man. I have
muscles."

"But it seems too bad not to be able to afford machinery."

"I shall be hand-made."

"Yes, and by your own hand. But won't it be slow?"

"It will be sure."

Every one of his speeches rang like the stroke of a hammer. Yes,
indeed he had muscles.

"But how much surer _with_ money! You ought to turn your career into a
company. Surely it would pay a dividend to its promoters."

"The directors would interfere."

"You could be chairman--with a veto."

He shook his head. "The rain is dripping through your umbrella. Don't
you think we might run to the house?"

"It's only an old hat." It was fresh from Paris, broad-brimmed,
beautiful, and bewitching. "Why don't you find"--she smiled
nervously--"a millionaire of means?"

"And what would be his reward?"

"Just Virtue's. Won't you be a light to England? And isn't it the
duty of parishes and millionaires to supply light?" She was plucking
a fern-leaf to pieces.

"Millionaires' minds don't run that way."

"Not male millionaires, perhaps," she said, turning her face from him
so jerkily that she shook the oak-shrub and it became a shower-bath.

He looked at her, slightly startled. It was the first emotion she had
ever provoked in him, and her heart beat faster.

"I really do think it is giving over now," he said, gazing at her
sopping hat.

'Twas as if he had shaken the shrub again and drenched her with cold
water. He was mocking her, her and her dollars and her love.

"It is quite over," she said savagely, springing up, and growing
even angrier when she found the rain had really stopped, so that her
indignation sounded only like acquiescence. She strode ahead of him,
silent, through the wet bracken, her frock growing a limp rag as it
brushed aside the glistening ferns.

As she struck the broader path to the house, the cackling laugh of a
goat chained to a roadside log followed her cynically. Where had she
heard this bleat before? Ah, yes, from the Marquis of Woodham.



III

BALANCEZ


Walter Bassett had spoken truly. He did not admire love--that blind
force. Women seemed to him delightfully aesthetic objects--to be
kept at a distance, however closely one embraced them. They were
unreasoning beings at the best, even when unbiassed by that supreme
prejudice--love.

It was not his conception of the strong man that he must needs become
as water at some woman's touch and go dancing and babbling like a
sylvan brook. Women were the light of life--he was willing enough to
admit it, but one must be able to switch the light on and off at will.
All these were reasons for not falling in love--they were not reasons
for not marrying. And so, Amber being determined to marry him, there
was really less difficulty than if it had been necessary for him to
fall in love with her.

It took, however, many letters and interviews, full of the subtlest
comedy, infinite advancing and retiring, and recrossing and bowing,
and courtesying and facing and half-turning, before this leap-year
dance could end in the solemn Wedding March.

"You know," she said once, "how I should love the fun of seeing you
plough your way through all the mediocrities."

"That is the means, not the end," he reminded her, rebukingly. "One
only wants the world to swallow one's pills for the world's sake."

"I don't believe you," she said frankly. "Else you'd move mountains
to get the money for the pills, not turn up your nose at the mountain
when it comes to you."

He laughed heartily. "What a delightful confusion of metaphors! I'm
sure you've got Irish blood somewhere."

"Of course I have. Did I never tell you I am descended from the kings
of Ireland?"

He took off his hat mockingly. "I salute Miss Brian Boru."

"You're an awfully good fellow," he told her on a later occasion. "I
almost believe I'd take your money if you were not a woman." "If I
were not a woman I should not offer it to you--I should want a career
of my own."

"And my career would content you?" he asked, touched.

"Absolutely," she lied. "The interest I should take in it--wouldn't
that be sufficient interest on the loan?"

"There is one thing you have taught me," he said slowly--"how
conventional I am! But every prejudice in me shrinks from your
proposition, much as I admire your manliness."

"Perhaps it could be put on more conventional lines--superficially,"
she suggested in a letter that harked back to this conversation. "One
might go through conventional forms. That adorable Disraeli--I have
just been reading his letters. How right he was not to marry for
love!"

The penultimate stage of the pre-nuptial comedy was reached in the
lobby of the Opera, while Society was squeezing to its carriage. It
was after the _Rheingold_, and poor Lady Chelmer could hardly keep
her eyes open, and actually dozed off as she leaned against a wall, in
patient martyrdom. Walter Bassett had been specially irritating, for
he had not come up to the box once, and everybody knows (as the Hon.
Tolshunt had said, with unwonted brilliance) the _Rheingold_ is in
heavy bars.

"I didn't know you admired Wagner so much," Amber said scathingly, as
Walter pushed through the grooms. "Such a rapt devotee!"

"Wagner is the greatest man of the century. He alone has been able to
change London's dinner-hour."

Amber could not help smiling. "Poor Lady Chelmer!" she said, nodding
towards the drowsing dowager. "Since half-past six!"

"Is that our carriage?" said the "Prisoner of Pleasure," opening her
eyes.

"No, dear--I guess we are some fifty behind. Tolly and the Marquis are
watching from the pavement."

The poor lady sighed and went to sleep again.

"Behold the compensations of poverty," observed Walter Bassett.
"The gallery-folk have to wait and squeeze before the opera; the
carriage-folk after the opera."

"You forget the places they occupy _during_ the opera. Poor Wagner!
What a fight! I wish I could have helped his career." And Amber set a
wistful smile in the becoming frame of her white hood.

"The form of the career appears to be indifferent to you," he said,
with a little laugh.

"As indifferent as the man," she replied, meeting his eyes calmly.

The faint scent of her hair mingled with his pleasurable sense of her
frank originality. For the first time the bargain really appealed
to him. He could not but see that she was easily the fairest of that
crush of fair women, and to have her prostrated at the foot of his
career was more subtly delicious than to have her surrender to his
person. The ball was at his foot in surely the most tempting form that
a ball could take. And the fact that he must leave her hurriedly to
write the musical criticism that was the price of his stall, was not
calculated to diminish his appreciation of all the kingdoms of the
world which his temptress was showing him from her high mountain.

"Alas! I must go and write a notice," he sighed.

"Satan's Secretary?" she queried mischievously.

He started. Had he not been just thinking of her as a Satan in skirts?

"_En attendant_ that I become Satan's master," he replied ambiguously,
as he raised his hat.

"Oh, to drive off with him into the peace and solitude of Love--away
from the grinding paths of ambition," thought Amber, when the horses
pranced up.



IV

CROISÉ


"Women, not measures," said the reigning wit anent the administration
which Amber's Salon held together, and in which her husband occupied a
position quite disproportionate to his nominal office, and still
more so to the almost unparalleled brevity of his career as a private
member.

Few, indeed, were the recalcitrants who could resist Amber's smiles,
or her still more seductive sulkiness. Walter Bassett's many enemies
declared that the young Cabinet Minister owed his career entirely to
his wife. His admirers indignantly pointed out that he had represented
Highmead for two sessions before he met Miss Roan. The germ of truth
in this was that he had stipulated to himself that he would not accept
the contract unless Amber, too, must admit "Value received," and in
contributing a career already self-launched, and a good old Huntingdon
name, his pride was satisfied. This, however, had wasted a year or
so, while the Government was getting itself turned out, and it never
entered his brain that his crushing victory at the General
Election could owe anything to a corner in votes--at five dollars a
head--secretly made by a fair American financier.

It was in the thick of the season, and Amber had just said good-bye
to the Bishop, the last of her dinner-guests. "I always say grace when
the church goes," she laughed, as she turned to her budget of unread
correspondence and shuffled the letters, as in the old days, when she
hoped to draw a letter of Walter's. But her method had become more
scientific. Recognising the writers by their crests or mottoes, she
would arrange the letters in order of precedence, alleging it was
to keep her hand in, otherwise she would always be making the most
horrible mistakes in "your Mediæval British etiquette."

"Who goes first to-night?" said her husband, watching her movements
from a voluptuous arm-chair.

"Only Lady Chelmer," Amber yawned, as she broke the seal.

"Didn't I see the scrawl of the Honourable Tolly?"

"Yes, poor dear. I do so want to know if he is happy in British
Honduras. But he must take his turn."

"If he had taken his turn," Walter laughed, "he never would have got
the appointment there."

"No, poor dear; it was very good of you."

"Of me?" Walter's tone was even more amused. His eyes roved round the
vast drawing-room, as if with the thought that he had as little to
do with its dignified grandeur. Then his gaze rested once more on his
wife; she seemed a delicious harmony of silks and flowers and creamy
flesh-tones.

"Mrs. Bassett," he said softly, lingering on the proprietorial term.

"Yes, Walter," she said, not looking up from her letter.

"Do you realise this is the first time we have been alone together
this month?"

"No? Really?" She glanced up absently.

"Never mind that muddle-headed old Chelmer. I dare say she only wants
another hundred or two." He came over, took the letter and her hand
with it. "I have a great secret to tell you."

Now he had captured her attention as well as her hand. Her eyes
sparkled. "A Cabinet Secret?" she said.

"Yes. At this moment every newspaper office is in a fever--to-morrow
all England will be ringing with the news. It is a thunderbolt."

She started up, snatching her hand away, every nerve a-quiver with
excitement. "And you kept this from me all through dinner?"

"I hadn't a chance, darling--I came straight from the scrimmage."

"You won't gloss it over by calling me novel names. I hate stale
thunderbolts. You might have breathed a word in my ear."

"I shall make amends by beginning with the part that is only for your
ear. Do you know what next Monday is?"

"The day you address your constituents, of course. Oh, I see, this
thunderbolt is going to change your speech."

"Is going to change my speech altogether. Next Monday is the seventh
anniversary of our wedding."

"Is it? But what has that to do with your speech at Highmead?"

"Everything." He smiled mysteriously, then went on softly, "Amber, do
you remember our honeymoon?"

She smiled faintly. "Oh, I haven't quite forgotten."

"If you had quite forgotten the misery of it, I should be glad."

"I have quite forgotten."

"You are kinder than I deserve. But I was so startled to find my
career was less to you than a kiss that I was more churlish than I
need have been. I even wished that you might have a child, so that you
might be taken up with it instead of with me."

She blushed. "Yes, I dare say I showed my hand clumsily as soon as it
held all the aces."

"Ah, Amber, you were an angel and I was a beast. How gallantly you
swallowed your disappointment in your bargain, how loyally you worked
heart and soul that I might gain my one ideal--Power!"

"It was a labour of love," she said deprecatingly.

"My noble Amber. But did you think, selfishly engrossed though I have
been with the Fight for Power, that this love-labour of yours was lost
on me? No, 'terrible ambitious' as I was, I could still see I got the
blackberries and you little more than the scratches, and the less you
began to press your claim upon my heart, the more my heart was opening
out with an answering passion. I began to watch the play of your eyes,
the shimmer of light across your cheek, the roguish pout of your lips,
the lock that strayed across your temple--as it is straying now."

She pushed it back impatiently. "But what has all this to do with the
Cabinet Secret?"

"Patience, darling! How much nicer to listen to you than to the
Opposition."

"I shall be in the Opposition unless you get along faster."

"That is what I want--your face opposite me always, instead of
bald-headed babblers. Ah, if you knew how often, of late, it has
floated before me in the House, reducing historic wrangles to
the rocking of children's boats in stormy ponds, accentuating the
ponderous futility." He took her hand again, and a great joy filled
him as he felt its gentle responsive pressure.

"Ponderous, perhaps," she said, smiling faintly; "but not futile,
Walter."

"Futile, so far as I am concerned, dearest. Ah, you are right. Love
is the only reality--everything else a game played with counters. What
are our winnings? A few cheers drowned in the roar that greets
the winning jockey, a few leading articles, stale as yesterday's
newspaper."

"But the good to the masses--" she reminded him.

"Don't mock me with my own phrases, darling. The masses have done me
more good than I can ever do them. Next Monday, dear Amber Roan, we'll
try our honeymoon over again." And his lips sought hers.

She drew back. "Yes, yes, after the Speech. But now--the Secret!"

"There will be no speech--that is the secret."

She drew away from him altogether. "No speech!" she gasped.

"None save to your adorable ear--and the moonlit waters. Woodham has
lent us his yacht--"

"In the middle of a Cabinet Crisis?"

"Which concerns me less than anybody." And he beamed happily.

"Less than anybody?" she repeated.

"Yes--since it is my resignation that makes the crisis."

She fell back into a chair, white and trembling. "You have resigned!"

"For ever. And now, hey for the great round, wonderful world! Don't
you hear our keel cutting the shimmering waters?"

"No," she said savagely. "I hear only Woodham's mocking
laughter!... And it sounds like a goat bleating."

"Darling!" he cried in amaze.

"I told you not to 'darling' me. How dared you change our lives
without a word of consultation?"

"Amber!" His voice was pained now. "I prepared a surprise for the
anniversary of our wedding. One can't consult about surprises."

"Keep your quibbles for the House! But perhaps there is no House,
either."

"Naturally. I have done with it all. I have written for the Chiltern
Hundreds."

"You are mad, Walter. You must take it all back."

"I can't, Amber. I have quarrelled hopelessly with the Party. The
Prime Minister will never forgive what I said at the Council to-day.
The luxury of speaking one's mind is expensive. I ought never to have
joined any Party. I am only fit to be Independent."

"Independence leads nowhere." She rose angrily. "And this is to be the
end of your Career! The Career you married me for!"

"I did wrong, Amber. But before one finds the true God, one worships
idols."

"And what is the true God, pray?"

"The one whose angel and minister you have always been, Amber"--he
lowered his voice reverently--"Love."

"Love!" Her voice was bitter. "Any bench in the Park, any alley in
Highmead, swarms with Love." 'Twas as if Cæsar had skipped from his
imperial chariot to a sociable.

All her childish passion for directing the life of the household,
all her girlish relish in keeping lovers in leading strings, all
that unconscious love of Power which--inversely--had attracted her
to Walter Bassett, and which had found so delightful a scope in her
political activities, leapt--now that her Salon was threatened with
extinction--into agonised consciousness of itself.

Through this brilliant husband of hers, she had touched the destinies
of England, pulled the strings of Empire. Oh, the intoxication of the
fight--the fight for which she had seconded and sponged him! Oh,
the rapture of intriguing against his enemies--himself included--the
feminine triumph of managing Goodman Waverer or Badman Badgerer!

And now--oh, she could no longer control her sobs!

He tried to soothe her, to caress her, but she repulsed him.

"Go to your yacht--to your miserable shimmering waters. I shall spend
my honeymoon here alone.... You discovered I was Irish."



       *       *       *       *       *



THE WOMAN BEATER



I


She came "to meet John Lefolle," but John Lefolle did not know he was
to meet Winifred Glamorys. He did not even know he was himself the
meeting-point of all the brilliant and beautiful persons, assembled in
the publisher's Saturday Salon, for although a youthful minor poet, he
was modest and lovable. Perhaps his Oxford tutorship was sobering.
At any rate his head remained unturned by his precocious fame, and
to meet these other young men and women--his reverend seniors on
the slopes of Parnassus--gave him more pleasure than the receipt of
"royalties." Not that his publisher afforded him much opportunity of
contrasting the two pleasures. The profits of the Muse went to provide
this room of old furniture and roses, this beautiful garden a-twinkle
with Japanese lanterns, like gorgeous fire-flowers blossoming under
the white crescent-moon of early June.

Winifred Glamorys was not literary herself. She was better than
a poetess, she was a poem. The publisher always threw in a few
realities, and some beautiful brainless creature would generally be
found the nucleus of a crowd, while Clio in spectacles languished in a
corner. Winifred Glamorys, however, was reputed to have a tongue that
matched her eye; paralleling with whimsies and epigrams its freakish
fires and witcheries, and, assuredly, flitting in her white gown
through the dark balmy garden, she seemed the very spirit of
moonlight, the subtle incarnation of night and roses.

When John Lefolle met her, Cecilia was with her, and the first
conversation was triangular. Cecilia fired most of the shots; she was
a bouncing, rattling beauty, chockful of confidence and high spirits,
except when asked to do the one thing she could do--sing! Then she
became--quite genuinely--a nervous, hesitant, pale little thing.
However, the suppliant hostess bore her off, and presently her rich
contralto notes passed through the garden, adding to its passion
and mystery, and through the open French windows, John could see her
standing against the wall near the piano, her head thrown back, her
eyes half-closed, her creamy throat swelling in the very abandonment
of artistic ecstasy.

"What a charming creature!" he exclaimed involuntarily.

"That is what everybody thinks, except her husband," Winifred laughed.

"Is he blind then?" asked John with his cloistral _naïveté_.

"Blind? No, love is blind. Marriage is never blind."

The bitterness in her tone pierced John. He felt vaguely the passing
of some icy current from unknown seas of experience. Cecilia's voice
soared out enchantingly.

"Then, marriage must be deaf," he said, "or such music as that would
charm it."

She smiled sadly. Her smile was the tricksy play of moonlight among
clouds of faëry.

"You have never been married," she said simply.

"Do you mean that you, too, are neglected?" something impelled him to
exclaim.

"Worse," she murmured.

"It is incredible!" he cried. "You!"

"Hush! My husband will hear you."

Her warning whisper brought him into a delicious conspiracy with her.
"Which is your husband?" he whispered back.

"There! Near the casement, standing gazing open-mouthed at Cecilia.
He always opens his mouth when she sings. It is like two toys moved by
the same wire."

He looked at the tall, stalwart, ruddy-haired Anglo-Saxon. "Do you
mean to say he--?"

"I mean to say nothing."

"But you said--"

"I said 'worse.'"

"Why, what can be worse?"

She put her hand over her face. "I am ashamed to tell you." How
adorable was that half-divined blush!

"But you must tell me everything." He scarcely knew how he had leapt
into this _rôle_ of confessor. He only felt they were "moved by the
same wire."

Her head drooped on her breast. "He--beats--me."

"What!" John forgot to whisper. It was the greatest shock his recluse
life had known, compact as it was of horror at the revelation, shamed
confusion at her candour, and delicious pleasure in her confidence.

This fragile, exquisite creature under the rod of a brutal bully!

Once he had gone to a wedding reception, and among the serious
presents some grinning Philistine drew his attention to an uncouth
club--"a wife-beater" he called it. The flippancy had jarred upon
John terribly: this intrusive reminder of the customs of the slums. It
grated like Billingsgate in a boudoir. Now that savage weapon recurred
to him--for a lurid instant he saw Winifred's husband wielding it.
Oh, abomination of his sex! And did he stand there, in his immaculate
evening dress, posing as an English gentleman? Even so might some
gentleman burglar bear through a salon his imperturbable swallow-tail.

Beat a woman! Beat that essence of charm and purity, God's best gift
to man, redeeming him from his own grossness! Could such things
be? John Lefolle would as soon have credited the French legend that
English wives are sold in Smithfield. No! it could not be real that
this flower-like figure was thrashed.

"Do you mean to say--?" he cried. The rapidity of her confidence alone
made him feel it all of a dreamlike unreality.

"Hush! Cecilia's singing!" she admonished him with an unexpected
smile, as her fingers fell from her face.

"Oh, you have been making fun of me." He was vastly relieved. "He
beats you--at chess--or at lawn-tennis?"

"Does one wear a high-necked dress to conceal the traces of chess, or
lawn-tennis?"

He had not noticed her dress before, save for its spiritual whiteness.
Susceptible though he was to beautiful shoulders, Winifred's
enchanting face had been sufficiently distracting. Now the thought
of physical bruises gave him a second spasm of righteous horror. That
delicate rose-leaf flesh abraded and lacerated!

"The ruffian! Does he use a stick or a fist?"

"Both! But as a rule he just takes me by the arms and shakes me like a
terrier. I'm all black and blue now."

"Poor butterfly!" he murmured poetically.

"Why did I tell you?" she murmured back with subtler poetry.

The poet thrilled in every vein. "Love at first sight," of which he
had often read and often written, was then a reality! It could be
as mutual, too, as Romeo's and Juliet's. But how awkward that Juliet
should be married and her husband a Bill Sykes in broadcloth!



II


Mrs. Glamorys herself gave "At Homes," every Sunday afternoon, and so,
on the morrow, after a sleepless night mitigated by perpended sonnets,
the love-sick young tutor presented himself by invitation at the
beautiful old house in Hampstead. He was enchanted to find his heart's
mistress set in an eighteenth-century frame of small-paned windows and
of high oak-panelling, and at once began to image her dancing minuets
and playing on virginals. Her husband was absent, but a broad band
of velvet round Winifred's neck was a painful reminder of his
possibilities. Winifred, however, said it was only a touch of sore
throat caught in the garden. Her eyes added that there was nothing in
the pathological dictionary which she would not willingly have caught
for the sake of those divine, if draughty moments; but that, alas! it
was more than a mere bodily ailment she had caught there.

There were a great many visitors in the two delightfully quaint
rooms, among whom he wandered disconsolate and admired, jealous of her
scattered smiles, but presently he found himself seated by her side on
a "cosy corner" near the open folding-doors, with all the other guests
huddled round a violinist in the inner room. How Winifred had managed
it he did not know, but she sat plausibly in the outer room, awaiting
new-comers, and this particular niche was invisible, save to a
determined eye. He took her unresisting hand--that dear, warm hand,
with its begemmed artistic fingers, and held it in uneasy beatitude.
How wonderful! She--the beautiful and adored hostess, of whose
sweetness and charm he heard even her own guests murmur to one
another--it was her actual flesh-and-blood hand that lay in
his--thrillingly tangible. Oh, adventure beyond all merit, beyond
all hoping!

But every now and then, the outer door facing them would open on some
new-comer, and John had hastily to release her soft magnetic fingers
and sit demure, and jealously overhear her effusive welcome to those
innocent intruders, nor did his brow clear till she had shepherded
them within the inner fold. Fortunately, the refreshments were in this
section, so that once therein, few of the sheep strayed back, and
the jiggling wail of the violin was succeeded by a shrill babble
of tongues and the clatter of cups and spoons. "Get me an ice,
please--strawberry," she ordered John during one of these forced
intervals in manual flirtation; and when he had steered laboriously
to and fro, he found a young actor beside her _their_ hands dispart. He
stood over them with a sickly smile, while Winifred ate her ice. When
he returned from depositing the empty saucer, the player-fellow was
gone, and in remorse for his mad suspicion he stooped and reverently
lifted her fragrant finger-tips to his lips. The door behind his back
opened abruptly.

"Good-by," she said, rising in a flash. The words had the calm
conventional cadence, and instantly extorted from him--amid all his
dazedness--the corresponding "Good-by." When he turned and saw it was
Mr. Glamorys who had come in, his heart leapt wildly at the
nearness of his escape. As he passed this masked ruffian, he nodded
perfunctorily and received a cordial smile. Yes, he was handsome and
fascinating enough externally, this blonde savage.

"A man may smile and smile and be a villain," John thought. "I wonder
how he'd feel, if he knew I knew he beats women."

Already John had generalised the charge. "I hope Cecilia will keep him
at arm's length," he had said to Winifred, "if only that she may not
smart for it some day."

He lingered purposely in the hall to get an impression of the brute,
who had begun talking loudly to a friend with irritating bursts of
laughter, speciously frank-ringing. Golf, fishing, comic operas--ah,
the Boeotian! These were the men who monopolised the ethereal
divinities.

But this brusque separation from his particular divinity was
disconcerting. How to see her again? He must go up to Oxford in the
morning, he wrote her that night, but if she could possibly let him
call during the week he would manage to run down again.

  "Oh, my dear, dreaming poet," she wrote to Oxford, "how could you
  possibly send me a letter to be laid on the breakfast-table beside
  _The Times_! With a poem in it, too. Fortunately my husband was in
  a hurry to get down to the City, and he neglected to read my
  correspondence. ('The unchivalrous blackguard,' John commented. 'But
  what can be expected of a woman beater?') Never, never write to me
  again at the house. A letter, care of Mrs. Best, 8A Foley Street,
  W.C., will always find me. She is my maid's mother. And you must not
  come here either, my dear handsome head-in-the-clouds, except to my
  'At Homes,' and then only at judicious intervals. I shall be walking
  round the pond in Kensington Gardens at four next Wednesday, unless
  Mrs. Best brings me a letter to the contrary. And now thank you for
  your delicious poem; I do not recognise my humble self in the dainty
  lines, but I shall always be proud to think I inspired them. Will it
  be in the new volume? I have never been in print before; it will be
  a novel sensation. I cannot pay you song for song, only feeling for
  feeling. Oh, John Lefolle, why did we not meet when I had still my
  girlish dreams? Now, I have grown to distrust all men--to fear the
  brute beneath the cavalier...."

Mrs. Best did bring her a letter, but it was not to cancel the
appointment, only to say he was not surprised at her horror of the
male sex, but that she must beware of false generalisations. Life was
still a wonderful and beautiful thing--_vide_ poem enclosed. He was
counting the minutes till Wednesday afternoon. It was surely a popular
mistake that only sixty went to the hour.

This chronometrical reflection recurred to him even more poignantly in
the hour that he circumambulated the pond in Kensington Gardens.
Had she forgotten--had her husband locked her up? What could have
happened? It seemed six hundred minutes, ere, at ten past five she
came tripping daintily towards him. His brain had been reduced to
insanely devising problems for his pupils--if a man walks two strides
of one and a half feet a second round a lake fifty acres in area,
in how many turns will he overtake a lady who walks half as fast and
isn't there?--but the moment her pink parasol loomed on the horizon,
all his long misery vanished in an ineffable peace and uplifting.
He hurried, bare-headed, to clasp her little gloved hand. He had
forgotten her unpunctuality, nor did she remind him of it.

"How sweet of you to come all that way," was all she said, and it was
a sufficient reward for the hours in the train and the six hundred
minutes among the nursemaids and perambulators. The elms were in their
glory, the birds were singing briskly, the water sparkled, the sunlit
sward stretched fresh and green--it was the loveliest, coolest moment
of the afternoon. John instinctively turned down a leafy avenue.
Nature and Love! What more could poet ask?

"No, we can't have tea by the Kiosk," Mrs. Glamorys protested. "Of
course I love anything that savours of Paris, but it's become so
fashionable. There will be heaps of people who know me. I suppose
you've forgotten it's the height of the season. I know a quiet little
place in the High Street." She led him, unresisting but bemused,
towards the gate, and into a confectioner's. Conversation languished
on the way.

"Tea," he was about to instruct the pretty attendant.

"Strawberry ices," Mrs. Glamorys remarked gently. "And some of those
nice French cakes."

The ice restored his spirits, it was really delicious, and he had
got so hot and tired, pacing round the pond. Decidedly Winifred was
a practical person and he was a dreamer. The pastry he dared not
touch--being a genius--but he was charmed at the gaiety with which
Winifred crammed cake after cake into her rosebud of a mouth. What an
enchanting creature! How bravely she covered up her life's tragedy!

The thought made him glance at her velvet band--it was broader than
ever.

"He has beaten you again!" he murmured furiously. Her joyous eyes
saddened, she hung her head, and her fingers crumbled the cake. "What
is his pretext?" he asked, his blood burning.

"Jealousy," she whispered.

His blood lost its glow, ran cold. He felt the bully's blows on his
own skin, his romance turning suddenly sordid. But he recovered his
courage. He, too, had muscles. "But I thought he just missed seeing me
kiss your hand."

She opened her eyes wide. "It wasn't you, you darling old dreamer."

He was relieved and disturbed in one.

"Somebody else?" he murmured. Somehow the vision of the player-fellow
came up.

She nodded. "Isn't it lucky he has himself drawn a red-herring across
the track? I didn't mind his blows--you were safe!" Then, with one of
her adorable transitions, "I am dreaming of another ice," she cried
with roguish wistfulness.

"I was afraid to confess my own greediness," he said, laughing. He
beckoned the waitress. "Two more."

"We haven't got any more strawberries," was her unexpected reply.
"There's been such a run on them to-day."

Winifred's face grew overcast. "Oh, nonsense!" she pouted. To John the
moment seemed tragic.

"Won't you have another kind?" he queried. He himself liked any kind,
but he could scarcely eat a second ice without her.

Winifred meditated. "Coffee?" she queried.

The waitress went away and returned with a face as gloomy as
Winifred's. "It's been such a hot day," she said deprecatingly. "There
is only one ice in the place and that's Neapolitan."

"Well, bring two Neapolitans," John ventured.

"I mean there is only one Neapolitan ice left."

"Well, bring that. I don't really want one."

He watched Mrs. Glamorys daintily devouring the solitary ice, and felt
a certain pathos about the parti-coloured oblong, a something of
the haunting sadness of "The Last Rose of Summer." It would make
a graceful, serio-comic triolet, he was thinking. But at the last
spoonful, his beautiful companion dislocated his rhymes by her sudden
upspringing.

"Goodness gracious," she cried, "how late it is!"

"Oh, you're not leaving me yet!" he said. A world of things sprang to
his brain, things that he was going to say--to arrange. They had said
nothing--not a word of their love even; nothing but cakes and ices.

"Poet!" she laughed. "Have you forgotten I live at Hampstead?" She
picked up her parasol. "Put me into a hansom, or my husband will be
raving at his lonely dinner-table."

He was so dazed as to be surprised when the waitress blocked his
departure with a bill. When Winifred was spirited away, he remembered
she might, without much risk, have given him a lift to Paddington. He
hailed another hansom and caught the next train to Oxford. But he was
too late for his own dinner in Hall.



III


He was kept very busy for the next few days, and could only exchange a
passionate letter or two with her. For some time the examination
fever had been raging, and in every college poor patients sat with wet
towels round their heads. Some, who had neglected their tutor all the
term, now strove to absorb his omniscience in a sitting.

On the Monday, John Lefolle was good-naturedly giving a special
audience to a muscular dunce, trying to explain to him the political
effects of the Crusades, when there was a knock at the sitting-room
door, and the scout ushered in Mrs. Glamorys. She was bewitchingly
dressed in white, and stood in the open doorway, smiling--an
embodiment of the summer he was neglecting. He rose, but his tongue
was paralysed. The dunce became suddenly important--a symbol of the
decorum he had been outraging. His soul, torn so abruptly from history
to romance, could not get up the right emotion. Why this imprudence of
Winifred's? She had been so careful heretofore.

"What a lot of boots there are on your staircase!" she said gaily.

He laughed. The spell was broken. "Yes, the heap to be cleaned is
rather obtrusive," he said, "but I suppose it is a sort of tradition."

"I think I've got hold of the thing pretty well now, sir." The dunce
rose and smiled, and his tutor realised how little the dunce had to
learn in some things. He felt quite grateful to him.

"Oh, well, you'll come and see me again after lunch, won't you, if one
or two points occur to you for elucidation," he said, feeling vaguely
a liar, and generally guilty. But when, on the departure of the dunce,
Winifred held out her arms, everything fell from him but the sense of
the exquisite moment. Their lips met for the first time, but only for
an instant. He had scarcely time to realise that this wonderful thing
had happened before the mobile creature had darted to his book-shelves
and was examining a Thucydides upside down.

"How clever to know Greek!" she exclaimed. "And do you really talk it
with the other dons?"

"No, we never talk shop," he laughed. "But, Winifred, what made you
come here?"

"I had never seen Oxford. Isn't it beautiful?"

"There's nothing beautiful _here_," he said, looking round his sober
study.

"No," she admitted; "there's nothing I care for here," and had left
another celestial kiss on his lips before he knew it. "And now you
must take me to lunch and on the river."

He stammered, "I have--work."

She pouted. "But I can't stay beyond to-morrow morning, and I want so
much to see all your celebrated oarsmen practising."

"You are not staying over the night?" he gasped.

"Yes, I am," and she threw him a dazzling glance.

His heart went pit-a-pat. "Where?" he murmured.

"Oh, some poky little hotel near the station. The swell hotels are
full."

He was glad to hear she was not conspicuously quartered.

"So many people have come down already for Commem," he said. "I
suppose they are anxious to see the Generals get their degrees. But
hadn't we better go somewhere and lunch?"

They went down the stone staircase, past the battalion of boots, and
across the quad. He felt that all the windows were alive with
eyes, but she insisted on standing still and admiring their ivied
picturesqueness. After lunch he shamefacedly borrowed the dunce's
punt. The necessities of punting, which kept him far from her, and
demanded much adroit labour, gradually restored his self-respect, and
he was able to look the uncelebrated oarsmen they met in the eyes,
except when they were accompanied by their parents and sisters, which
subtly made him feel uncomfortable again. But Winifred, piquant under
her pink parasol, was singularly at ease, enraptured with the changing
beauty of the river, applauding with childish glee the wild flowers on
the banks, or the rippling reflections in the water.

"Look, look!" she cried once, pointing skyward. He stared upwards,
expecting a balloon at least. But it was only "Keats' little rosy
cloud," she explained. It was not her fault if he did not find the
excursion unreservedly idyllic.

"How stupid," she reflected, "to keep all those nice boys cooped up
reading dead languages in a spot made for life and love."

"I'm afraid they don't disturb the dead languages so much as you
think," he reassured her, smiling. "And there will be plenty of
love-making during Commem."

"I am so glad. I suppose there are lots of engagements that week."

"Oh, yes--but not one per cent come to anything."

"Really? Oh, how fickle men are!"

That seemed rather question-begging, but he was so thrilled by
the implicit revelation that she could not even imagine feminine
inconstancy, that he forebore to draw her attention to her inadequate
logic.

So childish and thoughtless indeed was she that day that nothing would
content her but attending a "Viva," which he had incautiously informed
her was public.

"Nobody will notice us," she urged with strange unconsciousness of her
loveliness. "Besides, they don't know I'm not your sister."

"The Oxford intellect is sceptical," he said, laughing. "It cultivates
philosophical doubt."

But, putting a bold face on the matter, and assuming a fraternal air,
he took her to the torture-chamber, in which candidates sat dolefully
on a row of chairs against the wall, waiting their turn to come before
the three grand inquisitors at the table. Fortunately, Winifred and he
were the only spectators; but unfortunately they blundered in at
the very moment when the poor owner of the punt was on the rack. The
central inquisitor was trying to extract from him information about
à Becket, almost prompting him with the very words, but without
penetrating through the duncical denseness. John Lefolle breathed more
freely when the Crusades were broached; but, alas, it very soon became
evident that the dunce had by no means "got hold of the thing." As the
dunce passed out sadly, obviously ploughed, John Lefolle suffered more
than he. So conscience-stricken was he that, when he had accompanied
Winifred as far as her hotel, he refused her invitation to come in,
pleading the compulsoriness of duty and dinner in Hall. But he could
not get away without promising to call in during the evening.

The prospect of this visit was with him all through dinner, at once
tempting and terrifying. Assuredly there was a skeleton at his
feast, as he sat at the high table, facing the Master. The venerable
portraits round the Hall seemed to rebuke his romantic waywardness. In
the common-room, he sipped his port uneasily, listening as in a daze
to the discussion on Free Will, which an eminent stranger had stirred
up. How academic it seemed, compared with the passionate realities
of life. But somehow he found himself lingering on at the academic
discussion, postponing the realities of life. Every now and again, he
was impelled to glance at his watch; but suddenly murmuring, "It is
very late," he pulled himself together, and took leave of his learned
brethren. But in the street the sight of a telegraph office drew his
steps to it, and almost mechanically he wrote out the message: "Regret
detained. Will call early in morning."

When he did call in the morning, he was told she had gone back to
London the night before on receipt of a telegram. He turned away with
a bitter pang of disappointment and regret.



IV


Their subsequent correspondence was only the more amorous. The reason
she had fled from the hotel, she explained, was that she could not
endure the night in those stuffy quarters. He consoled himself with
the hope of seeing much of her during the Long Vacation. He did see
her once at her own reception, but this time her husband wandered
about the two rooms. The cosy corner was impossible, and they could
only manage to gasp out a few mutual endearments amid the buzz and
movement, and to arrange a _rendezvous_ for the end of July. When the
day came, he received a heart-broken letter, stating that her husband
had borne her away to Goodwood. In a postscript she informed him that
"Quicksilver was a sure thing." Much correspondence passed without
another meeting being effected, and he lent her five pounds to pay a
debt of honour incurred through her husband's "absurd confidence in
Quicksilver." A week later this horsey husband of hers brought her on
to Brighton for the races there, and hither John Lefolle flew. But her
husband shadowed her, and he could only lift his hat to her as they
passed each other on the Lawns. Sometimes he saw her sitting pensively
on a chair while her lord and thrasher perused a pink sporting-paper.
Such tantalising proximity raised their correspondence through the
Hove Post Office to fever heat. Life apart, they felt, was impossible,
and, removed from the sobering influences of his cap and gown, John
Lefolle dreamed of throwing everything to the winds. His literary
reputation had opened out a new career. The Winifred lyrics alone had
brought in a tidy sum, and though he had expended that and more
on despatches of flowers and trifles to her, yet he felt this
extravagance would become extinguished under daily companionship,
and the poems provoked by her charms would go far towards their daily
maintenance. Yes, he could throw up the University. He would rescue
her from this bully, this gentleman bruiser. They would live openly
and nobly in the world's eye. A poet was not even expected to be
conventional.

She, on her side, was no less ardent for the great step. She raged
against the world's law, the injustice by which a husband's cruelty
was not sufficient ground for divorce. "But we finer souls must take
the law into our own hands," she wrote. "We must teach society
that the ethics of a barbarous age are unfitted for our century of
enlightenment." But somehow the actual time and place of the elopement
could never get itself fixed. In September her husband dragged her to
Scotland, in October after the pheasants. When the dramatic day was
actually fixed, Winifred wrote by the next post deferring it for
a week. Even the few actual preliminary meetings they planned for
Kensington Gardens or Hampstead Heath rarely came off. He lived in a
whirling atmosphere of express letters of excuse, and telegrams that
transformed the situation from hour to hour. Not that her passion in
any way abated, or her romantic resolution really altered: it was only
that her conception of time and place and ways and means was dizzily
mutable.

But after nigh six months of palpitating negotiations with the
adorable Mrs. Glamorys, the poet, in a moment of dejection, penned
the prose apophthegm, "It is of no use trying to change a changeable
person."



V


But at last she astonished him by a sketch plan of the elopement, so
detailed, even to band-boxes and the Paris night route _viâ_ Dieppe,
that no further room for doubt was left in his intoxicated soul, and
he was actually further astonished when, just as he was putting his
handbag into the hansom, a telegram was handed to him saying: "Gone
to Homburg. Letter follows."

He stood still for a moment on the pavement in utter distraction. What
did it mean? Had she failed him again? Or was it simply that she had
changed the city of refuge from Paris to Homburg? He was about to name
the new station to the cabman, but then, "letter follows." Surely that
meant that he was to wait for it. Perplexed and miserable, he
stood with the telegram crumpled up in his fist. What a ridiculous
situation! He had wrought himself up to the point of breaking with the
world and his past, and now--it only remained to satisfy the cabman!

He tossed feverishly all night, seeking to soothe himself, but really
exciting himself the more by a hundred plausible explanations. He was
now strung up to such a pitch of uncertainty that he was astonished
for the third time when the "letter" did duly "follow."

  "Dearest," it ran, "as I explained in my telegram, my husband became
  suddenly ill"--("if she had only put that in the telegram," he
  groaned)--"and was ordered to Homburg. Of course it was impossible to
  leave him in this crisis, both for practical and sentimental reasons.
  You yourself, darling, would not like me to have aggravated his
  illness by my flight just at this moment, and thus possibly have his
  death on my conscience." ("Darling, you are always right," he said,
  kissing the letter.) "Let us possess our souls in patience a little
  longer. I need not tell you how vexatious it will be to find myself
  nursing him in Homburg--out of the season even--instead of the
  prospect to which I had looked forward with my whole heart and soul.
  But what can one do? How true is the French proverb, 'Nothing happens
  but the unexpected'! Write to me immediately _Poste Restante_, that I
  may at least console myself with your dear words."

The unexpected did indeed happen. Despite draughts of Elizabethbrunnen
and promenades on the Kurhaus terrace, the stalwart woman beater
succumbed to his malady. The curt telegram from Winifred gave no
indication of her emotions. He sent a reply-telegram of sympathy with
her trouble. Although he could not pretend to grieve at this sudden
providential solution of their life-problem, still he did sincerely
sympathise with the distress inevitable in connection with a death,
especially on foreign soil.

He was not able to see her till her husband's body had been brought
across the North Sea and committed to the green repose of the old
Hampstead churchyard. He found her pathetically altered--her face wan
and spiritualised, and all in subtle harmony with the exquisite black
gown. In the first interview, he did not dare speak of their love at
all. They discussed the immortality of the soul, and she quoted George
Herbert. But with the weeks the question of their future began to
force its way back to his lips.

"We could not decently marry before six months," she said, when
definitely confronted with the problem.

"Six months!" he gasped.

"Well, surely you don't want to outrage everybody," she said, pouting.

At first he was outraged himself. What! She who had been ready
to flutter the world with a fantastic dance was now measuring her
footsteps. But on reflection he saw that Mrs. Glamorys was right once
more. Since Providence had been good enough to rescue them, why should
they fly in its face? A little patience, and a blameless happiness lay
before them. Let him not blind himself to the immense relief he
really felt at being spared social obloquy. After all, a poet could be
unconventional in his _work_--he had no need of the practical outlet
demanded for the less gifted.



VI


They scarcely met at all during the next six months--it had,
naturally, in this grateful reaction against their recklessness,
become a sacred period, even more charged with tremulous emotion
than the engagement periods of those who have not so nearly scorched
themselves. Even in her presence he found a certain pleasure in
combining distant adoration with the confident expectation of
proximity, and thus she was restored to the sanctity which she had
risked by her former easiness. And so all was for the best in the best
of all possible worlds.

When the six months had gone by, he came to claim her hand. She was
quite astonished. "You promised to marry me at the end of six months,"
he reminded her.

"Surely it isn't six months already," she said.

He referred her to the calendar, recalled the date of her husband's
death.

"You are strangely literal for a poet," she said. "Of course I _said_
six months, but six months doesn't mean twenty-six weeks by the clock.
All I meant was that a decent period must intervene. But even to
myself it seems only yesterday that poor Harold was walking beside me
in the Kurhaus Park." She burst into tears, and in the face of them he
could not pursue the argument.

Gradually, after several interviews and letters, it was agreed that
they should wait another six months.

"She _is_ right," he reflected again. "We have waited so long, we may
as well wait a little longer and leave malice no handle."

The second six months seemed to him much longer than the first. The
charm of respectful adoration had lost its novelty, and once again
his breast was racked by fitful fevers which could scarcely calm
themselves even by conversion into sonnets. The one point of repose
was that shining fixed star of marriage. Still smarting under
Winifred's reproach of his unpoetic literality, he did not intend to
force her to marry him exactly at the end of the twelve-month. But he
was determined that she should have no later than this exact date
for at least "naming the day." Not the most punctilious stickler for
convention, he felt, could deny that Mrs. Grundy's claim had been paid
to the last minute.

The publication of his new volume--containing the Winifred lyrics--had
served to colour these months of intolerable delay. Even the reaction
of the critics against his poetry, that conventional revolt against
every second volume, that parrot cry of over-praise from the very
throats that had praised him, though it pained and perplexed him,
was perhaps really helpful. At any rate, the long waiting was over at
last. He felt like Jacob after his years of service for Rachel.

The fateful morning dawned bright and blue, and, as the towers of
Oxford were left behind him he recalled that distant Saturday when
he had first gone down to meet the literary lights of London in his
publisher's salon. How much older he was now than then--and yet
how much younger! The nebulous melancholy of youth, the clouds of
philosophy, had vanished before this beautiful creature of sunshine
whose radiance cut out a clear line for his future through the
confusion of life.

At a florist's in the High Street of Hampstead he bought a costly
bouquet of white flowers, and walked airily to the house and rang the
bell jubilantly. He could scarcely believe his ears when the maid told
him her mistress was not at home. How dared the girl stare at him so
impassively? Did she not know by what appointment--on what errand--he
had come? Had he not written to her mistress a week ago that he would
present himself that afternoon?

"Not at home!" he gasped. "But when will she be home?"

"I fancy she won't be long. She went out an hour ago, and she has an
appointment with her dressmaker at five."

"Do you know in what direction she'd have gone?"

"Oh, she generally walks on the Heath before tea."

The world suddenly grew rosy again. "I will come back again," he said.
Yes, a walk in this glorious air--heathward--would do him good.

As the door shut he remembered he might have left the flowers, but he
would not ring again, and besides, it was, perhaps, better he should
present them with his own hand, than let her find them on the hall
table. Still, it seemed rather awkward to walk about the streets with
a bouquet, and he was glad, accidentally to strike the old Hampstead
Church, and to seek a momentary seclusion in passing through its
avenue of quiet gravestones on his heathward way.

Mounting the few steps, he paused idly a moment on the verge of this
green "God's-acre" to read a perpendicular slab on a wall, and his
face broadened into a smile as he followed the absurdly elaborate
biography of a rich, self-made merchant who had taught himself to
read. "Reader, go thou and do likewise," was the delicious bull at the
end. As he turned away, the smile still lingering about his lips, he
saw a dainty figure tripping down the stony graveyard path, and though
he was somehow startled to find her still in black, there was no
mistaking Mrs. Glamorys. She ran to meet him with a glad cry, which
filled his eyes with happy tears.

"How good of you to remember!" she said, as she took the bouquet from
his unresisting hand, and turned again on her footsteps. He followed
her wonderingly across the uneven road towards a narrow aisle of
graves on the left. In another instant she had stooped before a
shining white stone, and laid his bouquet reverently upon it. As he
reached her side, he saw that his flowers were almost lost in the vast
mass of floral offerings with which the grave of the woman beater was
bestrewn.

"How good of you to remember the anniversary," she murmured again.

"How could I forget it?" he stammered, astonished. "Is not this the
end of the terrible twelve-month?"

The soft gratitude died out of her face. "Oh, is _that_ what you were
thinking of?"

"What else?" he murmured, pale with conflicting emotions.

"What else! I think decency demanded that this day, at least, should
be sacred to his memory. Oh, what brutes men are!" And she burst into
tears.

His patient breast revolted at last. "You said _he_ was the brute!" he
retorted, outraged.

"Is that your chivalry to the dead? Oh, my poor Harold, my poor
Harold!"

For once her tears could not extinguish the flame of his anger. "But
you told me he beat you," he cried.

"And if he did, I dare say I deserved it. Oh, my darling, my darling!"
She laid her face on the stone and sobbed.

John Lefolle stood by in silent torture. As he helplessly watched her
white throat swell and fall with the sobs, he was suddenly struck by
the absence of the black velvet band--the truer mourning she had worn
in the lifetime of the so lamented. A faint scar, only perceptible to
his conscious eye, added to his painful bewilderment.

At last she rose and walked unsteadily forward. He followed her in
mute misery. In a moment or two they found themselves on the outskirts
of the deserted heath. How beautiful stretched the gorsy rolling
country! The sun was setting in great burning furrows of gold and
green--a panorama to take one's breath away. The beauty and peace of
Nature passed into the poet's soul.

"Forgive me, dearest," he begged, taking her hand.

She drew it away sharply. "I cannot forgive you. You have shown
yourself in your true colours."

Her unreasonableness angered him again. "What do you mean? I only came
in accordance with our long-standing arrangement. You have put me off
long enough."

"It is fortunate I did put you off long enough to discover what you
are."

He gasped. He thought of all the weary months of waiting, all the long
comedy of telegrams and express letters, the far-off flirtations of
the cosy corner, the baffled elopement to Paris. "Then you won't marry
me?"

"I cannot marry a man I neither love nor respect."

"You don't love me!" Her spontaneous kiss in his sober Oxford study
seemed to burn on his angry lips.

"No, I never loved you."

He took her by the arms and turned her round roughly. "Look me in the
face and dare to say you have never loved me."

His memory was buzzing with passionate phrases from her endless
letters. They stung like a swarm of bees. The sunset was like
blood-red mist before his eyes.

"I have never loved you," she said obstinately.

"You--!" His grasp on her arms tightened. He shook her.

"You are bruising me," she cried.

His grasp fell from her arms as though they were red-hot. He had
become a woman beater.



       *       *       *       *       *



THE ETERNAL FEMININE



He wore a curious costume, representing the devil carrying off his
corpse; but I recognised him at once as the lesser lion of a London
evening party last season. Then he had just returned from a Polar
expedition, and wore the glacier of civilisation on his breast.
To-night he was among the maddest of the mad, dancing savagely with
the Bacchantes of the Latin Quarter at the art students' ball, and
some of his fellow-Americans told me that he was the best marine
painter in the _atelier_ which he had joined. More they did not pause
to tell me, for they were anxious to celebrate this night of nights,
when, in that fine spirit of equality born of belonging to two
Republics, the artist lowers himself to the level of his model.

The young Arctic explorer, so entirely at home in this more tropical
clime, had relapsed into respectability when I spoke to him. He was
sitting at a supper-table smoking a cigarette, and gazing somewhat
sadly--it seemed to me--at the pandemoniac phantasmagoria of screaming
dancers, the glittering cosmopolitan chaos that multiplied itself
riotously in the mirrored walls of the great flaring ball-room, where
under-dressed women, waving many-coloured paper lanterns, rode on the
shoulders of grotesquely clad men prancing to joyous music. For some
time he had been trying hard to get some one to take the money for
his supper; but the frenzied waiters suspected he was clamouring for
something to eat, and would not be cajoled into attention.

Moved by an impulse of mischief, I went up to him and clapped him on
his corpse, which he wore behind.

There was a death-mask of papier-maché on the back of his head with
appropriate funereal drapings down the body.

"I'll take your money," I said.

He started, and turned his devil upon me. The face was made
Mephistophelian, and the front half of him wore scarlet.

"Thanks," he said, laughing roguishly, when he recognised me. "It's
darned queer that Paris should be the place where they refuse to take
the devil's money."

I suggested smilingly that it was the corpse they fought shy of.

"I guess not," he retorted. "It's dead men's money that keeps this
place lively. I wish I'd had the chance of some anyhow; but a rolling
stone gathers no moss, they say--not even from graveyards, I suppose."

He spoke disconsolately, in a tone more befitting the back than the
front of him, and quite out of accord with the reckless revelry around
him.

"Oh! you'll make lots of money with your pictures," I said heartily.

He shook his head. "That's the chap who's going to scoop in the
dollars," he said, indicating a brawny Frenchman attired in a blanket
that girdled his loins, and black feathers that decorated his hair.
"That fellow's got the touch of Velasquez. You should see the portrait
he's doing for the Salon."

"Well, I don't see much art in his costume, anyhow," I retorted.
"Yours is an inspiration of genius."

"Yes; so prophetic, don't you know," he replied modestly. "But you
are not the only one who has complimented me. To it I owe the proudest
moment of my life--when I shook hands with a European prince." And he
laughed with returning merriment.

"Indeed!" I exclaimed. "With which?"

"Ah! I see your admiration for my rig is mounting. No; it wasn't with
the Prince of Wales--confess your admiration is going down already.
Come, you shall guess. _Je vous le donne en trois_."

After teasing me a little he told me it was the Kronprinds of Denmark.
"At the _Kunstner Karneval_ in Copenhagen," he explained briefly. His
front face had grown sad again.

"Did you study art in Copenhagen?" I inquired.

"Yes, before I joined that expedition," he said. "It was from there I
started."

"Yes, of course," I replied. "I remember now. It was a Danish
expedition. But what made you chuck up your studies so suddenly?"

"Oh! I don't know. I guess I was just about sick of most things. My
stars! Look at that little gypsy-girl dancing the can-can; isn't she
fresh? Isn't she wonderful? How awful to think she'll be used up in a
year or two!"

"I suppose there was a woman--the eternal feminine," I said, sticking
him to the point, for I was more interested in him than in the
seething saturnalia, our common sobriety amid which seemed somehow
to raise our casual acquaintanceship to the plane of confidential
friendship.

"Yes, I suppose there was a woman," he echoed in low tones. "The
eternal feminine!" And a strange unfathomable light leapt into his
eyes, which he raised slightly towards the gilded ceiling, where
countless lustres glittered.

"Deceived you, eh?" I said lightly.

His expression changed. "Deceived me, as you say," he murmured, with
a faint, sad smile, that made me conjure up a vision of a passionate
lovely face with cruel eyes.

"Won't you tell me about it?" I asked, as I tendered him a fresh
cigarette, for while we spoke his half-smoked one had been snatched
from his mouth by a beautiful Mænad, who whirled off puffing it.

"I reckon you'll be making copy out of it," he said, his smile growing
whimsical.

"If it's good enough," I replied candidly. "That's why I am here."

"What a lovely excuse! But there's nothing in my affair to make a
story of."

I smiled majestically.

"You stick to your art--leave me to manage mine." And I put a light to
his cigarette.

"Ah, but you'll be disappointed this time, I warrant," he said
laughingly, as the smoke circled round his diabolically handsome face.
Then, becoming serious again, he went on: "It's so terribly plebeian,
yet it all befell through that very _Kunstner Karneval_. I was telling
you of when I first wore this composite costume which gained me the
smile of royalty. It was a very swell affair, of course, not a bit
like this, but it was given in hell."

"In hell!" I cried, startled.

"Yes. _Underverden_ they call it in their lingo. The ball-room
of the palace (the _Palaeet_, an old disused mansion) was got up to
represent the infernal regions--you tumble?--and everybody had to
dress appropriately. That was what gave me the idea of this costume.
The staircase up which you entered was made the mouth of a great
dragon, and as you trod on the first step his eye gleamed blazes and
brimstone. There were great monsters all about, and dark grottoes
radiating around; and when you took your dame into one of them, your
tread flooded them with light. If, however, the cavalier modestly
conducted his mistress into one of the lighted caves, virtue was
rewarded by instantaneous darkness."

"That was really artistic," I said, laughing.

"You bet! The artists spent any amount of money over the affair. The
whole of Hades bristled with ingenious devices in every corner. I had
got a couple of tickets, and had designed the dress of my best girl,
as well as my own, and the morning before (there being little work
done in the studios that day, as you may well imagine) I called upon
her to see her try it on. To my chagrin I found she was down with
influenza, or something of that sort appropriate to the bitter winter
we were having. And it did freeze that year, by Jove!--so hard that
Denmark and Sweden were united--to their mutual disgust, I fancy--by
a broad causeway of ice. I remember, as I walked back from the girl's
house towards the town along the Langelinie, my mortification was
somewhat allayed by the picturesque appearance of the Sound, in whose
white expanse boats of every species and colour were embedded, looking
like trapped creatures unable to stir oar or sail. But as I left the
Promenade and came into the narrow old streets of the town, with their
cobblestones and their quaint, many-windowed houses, my ill-humour
returned. I had had some trouble in getting the second ticket, and now
it looked as if I should get left. I went over in my mind the girls I
could ask, and what with not caring more for one than for another, and
not knowing which were booked already, and what with the imminence of
the ball, I felt the little brains I had getting addled in my head.
At last, in sheer despair, I had what is called a happy thought. I
resolved to ask the first girl of my acquaintance I met in my walk.
Instantly my spirits rose like a thermometer in a Turkish bath. The
clouds of irresolution rolled away, and the touch of adventure made my
walk joyous again. I peered eagerly into every female face I met, but
it was not till I approached the market-place that I knew my fate.
Then, turning a corner, I came suddenly and violently face to face
with Fröken Jensen."

He paused and relit his cigarette, and the maddening music of brass
instruments and brazen creatures, which his story had shut out,
crashed again upon my ears. "I reckon if you were telling this, you'd
stop here," he said, "and put down 'to be continued in our next.'"
There seemed a trace of huskiness in his flippant tones, as if he were
trying to keep under some genuine emotion.

"Never you mind," I returned, smiling. "You're not a writer, anyhow,
so just keep straight on."

"Well, Fröken Jensen was absolutely the ugliest girl I have seen in
all my globe-trottings.... On second thoughts, that is the place to
stop, isn't it?"

"Not at all; it's only in long novels one stops for refreshment. So
go ahead, and--I say--do cut your interruptions _à la_ Fielding and
Thackeray. _C'est vieux jeu_."

"All right, don't get mad. Fröken Jensen had the most irregular
and ungainly features that ever crippled a woman's career; her nose
was--But no! I won't describe her, poor girl. She was about twenty-six
years old, but one of those girls whose years no one counts, who are
old maids at seventeen. Well, you can fancy what a fix I was in. It
was no good pretending to myself that I hadn't seen her, for we nearly
bowled each other over--she was coming along quick trot with a basket
on her arm--and it seemed kind of shuffling to back out of my promise
to her, though she didn't know anything about it. It was like betting
with yourself and wanting to cheat yourself when you lost. I felt I
should never trust myself again, if I turned welsher--that's the word,
isn't it?"

"It's like Jephtha," I said. "He swore, you know, he would sacrifice
the first creature that he saw on his triumphant return from the wars,
and his daughter came out and had to be sacrificed."

"Thank you for the compliment," he said, with a grimace. "But I'm not
up in the classics, so the comparison didn't strike me. But what did
strike me, after the first moment of annoyance, was the humour of the
situation. I turned and walked beside her--under cover of an elaborate
apology for my dashing behaviour. She seemed quite concerned at my
regret, and insisted that it was she that had dashed--it was
her marketing-day, and she was late. You must know she kept a
boarding-house for art and university students, and it was there that
I had made her acquaintance, when I went to dine once or twice with
a studio chum who was quartered there. I had never exchanged two
sentences with her before, as you can well imagine. She was not
inviting to the artistic eye; indeed, I rather wondered how my friend
could tolerate her at the head of the table, till he jestingly told
me it was reckoned off the bill. The place was indeed suited to
the student's pocket. But this morning I was surprised at the
sprightliness of her share in the dialogue of mutual apologies. Her
mind seemed as alert as her step, her voice was pleasing and gentle,
and there was a refreshing gaiety in her attitude towards the situation.

"'But I am quite sure it was _my_ fault,' I wound up rather lamely
at last, 'and, if you will allow me to make you amends, I shall be
pleased to send you a ticket for the ball to-morrow night.'

"She stood still. 'For the _Kunstner Karneval_!' she cried eagerly,
while her poor absurd face lit up.

"'Yes, Fröken; and I shall be happy to escort you there if you will
give me the pleasure.'

"She looked at me with sudden suspicion--the idea that I was chaffing
her must have crossed her mind. I felt myself flushing furiously,
feeling somehow half-guilty by my secret thoughts of her a few moments
ago. We had arrived at the _Amagertorv_--the market-place--and I
recollect getting a sudden impression of the quaint stalls and
the picturesque _Amager_-women--one with a preternaturally hideous
face--and the frozen canal in the middle, with the ice-bound
fruit-boats from the islands, and the red sails of the Norwegian
boats, and the Egyptian architecture of Thorwaldsen's Museum in the
background, making up my mind to paint it all, in the brief instant
before I added in my most convincing tones, 'The Kronprinds will be
there.'

"Her incredulous expression became tempered by wistfulness, and with
an inspiration I drew out the ticket and thrust it into her hand. I
saw her eyes fill with tears as she turned her head away and examined
some vegetables.

"'You will excuse me,' she said presently, holding the ticket limply
in her hand, 'but I fear it is impossible for me to accept your kind
invitation. You see I have so much to do, and my children will be so
uncomfortable without me.'

"'Your children will be at the ball to a man,' I retorted.

"'But I haven't any fancy costume,' she pleaded, and tendered me the
ticket back. It struck me--almost with a pang--that her hand was bare
of glove, and the work-a-day costume she was wearing was ill adapted to
the rigour of the weather.

"'Oh! Come anyhow,' I said. 'Ordinary evening dress. Of course, you
will need a mask.'

"I saw her lip twitch at this unfortunate way of putting it, and
hastened to affect unconsciousness of my blunder.

"'_She_ wouldn't,' I added with feigned jocularity, nodding towards
the preternaturally hideous _Amager_-woman.

"'Poor old thing,' she said gently. 'I shall be sorry when she dies.'

"'Why?' I murmured.

"'Because then I shall be the ugliest woman in Copenhagen,' she
answered gaily.

"Something in that remark sent a thrill down my backbone--there seemed
an infinite pathos and lovableness in her courageous recognition of
facts. It dispensed me from the painful necessity of pretending to be
unaware of her ugliness--nay, gave it almost a _cachet_--made it as
possible a topic of light conversation as beauty itself. I pressed her
more fervently to come, and at last she consented, stipulating only
that I should call for her rather late, after she had quite finished
her household duties and the other boarders had gone off to the ball.

"Well, I took her to the ball (it was as brilliant and gay as this
without being riotous), and--will you believe it?--she made quite a
little sensation. With a black domino covering her impossible face,
and a simple evening dress, she looked as _distinguée_ as my best girl
would have done. Her skin was good, and her figure, freed from the
distracting companionship of her face, was rather elegant, while the
lively humour of her conversation had now fair play. She danced well,
too, with a natural grace. I believe she enjoyed her incog. almost as
much as the ball, and I began to feel quite like a fairy godmother who
was giving poor little Cinderella an outing, and to regret that I had
not the power to make her beautiful for ever, or at least to make life
one eternal fancy ball, at which silk masks might veil the horrors of
reality. I dare say, too, she got a certain kudos through dancing
so much with me, for, as I have told you _ad nauseam_, this lovely
costume of mine was the hit of the evening, and the Kronprinds asked
for the honour of an introduction to me. It was rather funny--the
circuitous etiquette. I had to be first introduced to his
_aide-de-camp_. This was done through an actress of the Kongelige
Theatre, with whom I had been polking (he knew all the soubrettes,
that _aide-de-camp_!). Then he introduced me to the Kronprinds, and
I held out my hand and shook his royal paw heartily. He was very
gracious to me, learning I was an American, and complimented me on
my dress and my dancing, and I answered him affably; and the natives,
gathered round at a respectful distance, eyed me with reverent
curiosity. But at last, when the music struck up again, I said,
'Excuse me, I am engaged for this waltz!' and hurried off to dance
with my Cinderella, much to the amazement of the Danes, who wondered
audibly what mighty foreign potentate His Royal Highness had been
making himself agreeable to."

"It was plain enough," I broke in. "His Satanic Majesty, of course."

"I am glad you interrupted me," he said, "for you give me an opening
to state that the Kronprinds has nothing to do with the story. You, of
course, would have left him out; but I am only an amateur, and I get
my threads mixed."

"Shut up!" I cried. "I mean--go on."

"Oh, well, perhaps, he _has_ got a little to do with the story, after
all; for after that, Fröken Jensen became more important--sharing in
my reflected glory--or, perhaps, now I come to think of it, it was
only then that she became important. Anyway, important she was;
and, among others, Axel Larson--who was got up as an ancient Gallic
warrior, to show off his fine figure--came up and asked me to
introduce him. I don't think I should have done so ordinarily, for he
was the filthiest-mouthed fellow in the _atelier_--a great swaggering
Don Juan Baron Munchausen sort of chap, handsome enough in his raffish
way--a tall, stalwart Swede, blue-eyed and yellow-haired. But the
fun of the position was that Axel Larson was one of my Cinderella's
'children,' so I could not resist introducing him formally to 'Fröken
Jensen.' His happy air of expectation was replaced by a scowl of
surprise and disgust.

"'What, thou, Ingeborg!' he cried.

"I could have knocked the man down. The familiar _tutoiement_, the
Christian name--these, perhaps, he had a right to use; but nothing
could justify the contempt of his tone. It reminded me disagreeably
of the ugliness I had nigh forgotten. I felt Ingeborg's arm tremble in
mine.

"'Yes, it is I, Herr Larson,' she said, with her wonted gentleness,
and almost apologetically. 'This gentleman was good enough to bring
me.' She spoke as if her presence needed explanation--with the
timidity of one shut out from the pleasures of life. I could feel
her poor little heart fluttering wildly, and knew that her face was
alternating from red to white beneath the mask.

"Axel Larson shot a swift glance of surprise at me, which was followed
by a more malicious bolt. 'I congratulate you, Ingeborg,' he said,
'on the property you seem to have come into.' It was a clever _double
entente_--the man was witty after his coarse fashion--but the sarcasm
scarcely stung either of us. I, of course, had none of the motives
the cad imagined; and as for Ingeborg, I fancy she thought he alluded
merely to the conquest of myself, and was only pained by the fear I
might resent so ludicrous a suggestion. Having thrown the shadow
of his cynicism over our innocent relation, Axel turned away highly
pleased with himself, rudely neglecting to ask Ingeborg for a dance. I
felt like giving him 'Hail Columbia,' but I restrained myself.

"Some days after this--in response to Ingeborg's grateful anxiety to
return my hospitality--I went to dine with her 'children.' I found
Axel occupying the seat of honour, and grumbling at the soup and the
sauces like a sort of autocrat of the dinner-table, and generally
making things unpleasant. I had to cling to my knife and fork so as
not to throw the water-bottle at his head. Ingeborg presided meekly
over the dishes, her ugliness more rampant than ever after the
illusion of the mask. I remembered now he had been disagreeable when I
had dined there before, though, not being interested in Ingeborg then,
I had not resented his ill-humour, contenting myself with remarking to
my friend that I understood now why the Danes disliked the Swedes so
much--a generalisation that was probably as unjust as most of one's
judgments of other peoples. After dinner I asked her why she tolerated
the fellow. She flushed painfully and murmured that times were hard.
I protested that she could easily get another boarder to replace him,
but she said Axel Larson had been there so long--nearly two years--and
was comfortable, and knew the ways of the house, and it would be very
discourteous to ask him to go. I insisted that rather than see
her suffer I would move into Larson's room myself, but she urged
tremulously that she didn't suffer at all from his rudeness, it was
only his surface-manner; it deceived strangers, but there was a good
heart underneath, as who could know better than she? Besides, he was
a genius with the brush, and everybody knew well that geniuses were
bears. And, finally, she could not afford to lose boarders--there were
already two vacancies.

"It ended--as I dare say you have guessed--by my filling up one of
those two vacancies, partly to help her pecuniarily, partly to act
as a buffer between her and the swaggering Swede. He was quite
flabbergasted by my installation in the house, and took me aside in
the _atelier_ and asked me if Ingeborg had really come into any money.
I was boiling over, but I kept the lid on by main force, and answered
curtly that Ingeborg had a heart of gold. He laughed boisterously,
and said one could not raise anything on that; adding, with an air of
authority, that he believed I spoke the truth, for it was not likely
the hag would have kept anything from her oldest boarder. 'I dare say
the real truth is,' he wound up, 'that you are hard up, like me, and
want to do the thing cheap.'

"'I wasn't aware you were hard up,' I said, for I had seen him often
enough flaunting it in the theatres and restaurants.

"'Not for luxuries,' he retorted with a guffaw, 'but for
necessities--yes. And there comes in the value of our domestic
eyesore. Why, I haven't paid her a _skilling_ for six months!'

"I thought of poor Ingeborg's thin winter attire, and would have liked
to reply with my fist, only the reply didn't seem quite logical. It
was not my business, after all; but I thought I understood now why
Ingeborg was so reluctant to part with him--it is the immemorial
fallacy of economical souls to throw good money after bad; though when
I saw the patience with which she bore his querulous complaints and
the solicitude with which she attended to his wants, I sometimes
imagined he had some secret hold over her. Often I saw her cower
and flush piteously, as with terror, before his insolent gaze. But I
decided finally his was merely the ascendency of the strong over
the weak--of the bully over his victims, who serve him more loyally
because he kicks them. The bad-tempered have the best of it in this
vile world. I cannot tell you how I grew to pity that poor girl.
Living in her daily presence, I marked the thousand and one trials
of which her life was made up, all borne with the same sweetness and
good-humour. I discovered that she had a bed-ridden mother, whom she
kept in the attic, and whom she stole up to attend to fifty times a
day, sitting with her when her work was done and the moonlight on the
Sound tempted one to be out enjoying one's youth. Alone she managed
and financed the entire establishment, aided only by a little
maid-of-all-work, just squeezing out a scanty living for herself
and her mother. If ever there was an angel on earth it was Ingeborg
Jensen. I tell you, when I see the angels of the Italian masters I
feel they are all wrong: I don't want flaxen-haired cherubs to give
me an idea of heaven in this hell of a world. I just want to see good
honest faces, full of suffering and sacrifice, and if ever I paint an
angel its phiz shall have the unflinching ugliness of Ingeborg Jensen,
God bless her! To be near her was to live in an atmosphere of purity
and pity and tenderness, and everything that is sweet and sacred."

As he spoke I became suddenly aware that the gas-lights were paling,
and glancing towards the window on my left I saw the splendour of the
sunrise breaking fresh and clear over the city of diabolical night,
where in the sombre eastern sky--

"God made himself an awful rose of dawn."

A breath of coolness and purity seemed to waft into the feverish
ball-room; a ray of fresh morning sunlight. I looked curiously at the
young artist. He seemed transfigured. I could scarcely realise that
an hour ago he had been among the rowdiest of the _Comus_ crew, whose
shrieks and laughter still rang all around us. Even his duplex costume
seemed to have grown subtly symbolical, the diabolical part typical
of all that is bestial and selfish in man, the death-mask speaking
silently of renunciation and the peace of the tomb. He went on, after
a moment of emotion: "They say that pity is akin to love, but I am not
sure that I ever loved her, for I suppose that love involves passion,
and I never arrived at that. I only came to feel that I wanted to be
with her always, to guard her, to protect her, to work for her, to
suffer for her if need be, to give her life something of the joy and
sweetness that God owed her. I felt I wasn't much use in the world,
and that would be something to do. And so one day--though not without
much mental tossing, for we are curiously, complexly built, and I
dreaded ridicule and the long years of comment from unsympathetic
strangers--I asked her to be my wife. Her surprise, her agitation, was
painful to witness. But she was not incredulous, as before; she had
learned to know that I respected her.

"Nevertheless, her immediate impulse was one of refusal.

"'It cannot be,' she said, and her bosom heaved spasmodically.

"I protested that it could and would be, but she shook her head.

"'You are very kind to me! God bless you!' she said. 'You have always
been kind to me. But you do not love me.'

"I assured her I did, and in that moment I dare say I spoke the truth.
For in that moment of her reluctance and diffidence to snatch at
proffered joy, when the suggestion of rejection made her appear doubly
precious, she seemed to me the most adorable creature in the world.

"But still she shook her head. 'No one can love me,' she said sadly.

"I took her hand in mute protestation, but she withdrew it gently.

"'I cannot be your wife,' she persisted.

"'Why not, Ingeborg?' I asked passionately.

"She hesitated, panting and colouring painfully, then--the words are
echoing in my brain--she answered softly, '_Jeg kan ikke elske Dem_'
(I cannot love you).

"It was like a shaft of lightning piercing me, rending and
illuminating. In my blind conceit the obverse side of the question had
never presented itself to me. I had taken it for granted I had only to
ask to be jumped at. But now, in one great flash of insight, I seemed
to see everything plain.

"'You love Axel Larson!' I cried chokingly, as I thought of all the
insults he had heaped upon her in her presence, all the sneers and
vile jocosities of which she had been the butt behind her back,
in return for the care she had lavished upon his comfort, for her
pinching to make both ends meet without the money he should have
contributed.

"She did not reply. The tears came into her eyes, she let her head
droop on her heaving breast. As in those visions that are said to
come to the dying, I saw Axel Larson feeding day by day at her board,
brutally conscious of her passion, yet not deigning even to sacrifice
her to it; I saw him ultimately leave the schools and the town to
carry his clever brush to the welcome of a wider world, without a word
or a thought of thanks for the creature who had worshipped and waited
upon him hand and foot; and then I saw her life from day to day unroll
its long monotonous folds, all in the same pattern, all drab duty and
joyless sacrifice, and hopeless undying love.

"I took her hand again in a passion of pity. She understood my
sympathy, and the hot tears started from her eyes and rolled down her
poor wan cheeks. And in that holy moment I saw into the inner heaven
of woman's love, which purifies and atones for the world. The eternal
feminine!"

The sentimental young artist ceased, and buried his devil's face in
his hands. I looked around and started. We were alone in the abandoned
supper-room. The gorgeously grotesque company was seated in a gigantic
circle upon the ball-room floor furiously applauding the efforts of
two sweetly pretty girls who were performing the celebrated _danse du
ventre_.

"The eternal feminine!" I echoed pensively.



       *       *       *       *       *



THE SILENT SISTERS



They had quarrelled in girlhood, and mutually declared their
intention never to speak to each other again, wetting and drying their
forefingers to the accompaniment of an ancient childish incantation,
and while they lived on the paternal farm they kept their foolish oath
with the stubbornness of a slow country stock, despite the alternate
coaxing and chastisement of their parents, notwithstanding the
perpetual everyday contact of their lives, through every vicissitude
of season and weather, of sowing and reaping, of sun and shade, of joy
and sorrow.

Death and misfortune did not reconcile them, and when their father
died and the old farm was sold up, they travelled to London in the
same silence, by the same train, in search of similar situations.
Service separated them for years, though there was only a stone's
throw between them. They often stared at each other in the streets.

Honor, the elder, married a local artisan, and two and a half years
later, Mercy, the younger, married a fellow-workman of Honor's
husband. The two husbands were friends, and often visited each other's
houses, which were on opposite sides of the same sordid street, and
the wives made them welcome. Neither Honor nor Mercy suffered an
allusion to their breach; it was understood that their silence must be
received in silence. Each of the children had a quiverful of children
who played and quarrelled together in the streets and in one another's
houses, but not even the street affrays and mutual grievances of the
children could provoke the mothers to words. They stood at their doors
in impotent fury, almost bursting with the torture of keeping their
mouths shut against the effervescence of angry speech. When either
lost a child the other watched the funeral from her window, dumb as
the mutes.

The years rolled on, and still the river of silence flowed between their
lives. Their good looks faded, the burden of life and child-bearing was
heavy upon them. Grey hairs streaked their brown tresses, then brown
hairs streaked their grey tresses. The puckers of age replaced the
dimples of youth. The years rolled on, and Death grew busy among the
families. Honor's husband died, and Mercy lost a son, who died a week
after his wife. Cholera took several of the younger children. But the
sisters themselves lived on, bent and shrivelled by toil and sorrow, even
more than by the slow frost of the years.

Then one day Mercy took to her death-bed. An internal disease, too
long neglected, would carry her off within a week. So the doctor told
Jim, Mercy's husband.

Through him, the news travelled to Honor's eldest son, who still lived
with her. By the evening it reached Honor.

She went upstairs abruptly when her son told her, leaving him
wondering at her stony aspect. When she came down she was bonneted and
shawled. He was filled with joyous amaze to see her hobble across the
street and for the first time in her life pass over her sister Mercy's
threshold.

As Honor entered the sick-room, with pursed lips, a light leapt into
the wasted, wrinkled countenance of the dying creature. She raised
herself slightly in bed, her lips parted, then shut tightly, and her
face darkened.

Honor turned angrily to Mercy's husband, who hung about impotently.
"Why did you let her run down so low?" she said.

"I didn't know," the old man stammered, taken aback by her presence
even more than by her question. "She was always a woman to say nothin'."

Honor put him impatiently aside and examined the medicine bottle on
the bedside table.

"Isn't it time she took her dose?"

"I dessay."

Honor snorted wrathfully. "What's the use of a man?" she inquired, as
she carefully measured out the fluid and put it to her sister's lips,
which opened to receive it, and then closed tightly again.

"How is your wife feeling now?" Honor asked after a pause.

"How are you, now, Mercy?" asked the old man awkwardly.

The old woman shook her head. "I'm a-goin' fast, Jim," she grumbled
weakly, and a tear of self-pity trickled down her parchment cheek.

"What rubbidge she do talk!" cried Honor, sharply. "Why d'ye stand
there like a tailor's dummy? Why don't you tell her to cheer up?"

"Cheer up, Mercy," quavered the old man, hoarsely.

But Mercy groaned instead, and turned fretfully on her other side,
with her face to the wall.

"I'm too old, I'm too old," she moaned, "this is the end o' me."

"Did you ever hear the like?" Honor asked Jim, angrily, as she
smoothed his wife's pillow. "She was always conceited about her age,
settin' herself up as the equals of her elders, and here am I, her
elder sister, as carried her in my arms when I was five and she was
two, still hale and strong, and with no mind for underground for many
a day. Nigh three times her age I was once, mind you, and now she has
the imperence to talk of dyin' before me."

She took off her bonnet and shawl. "Send one o' the kids to tell my
boy I'm stayin' here," she said, "and then just you get 'em all to
bed--there's too much noise about the house."

The children, who were orphaned grandchildren of the dying woman, were
sent to bed, and then Jim himself was packed off to refresh himself
for the next day's labours, for the poor old fellow still doddered
about the workshop.

The silence of the sick-room spread over the whole house. About ten
o'clock the doctor came again and instructed Honor how to alleviate
the patient's last hours. All night long she sat watching her dying
sister, hand and eye alert to anticipate every wish. No word broke the
awful stillness.

The first thing in the morning, Mercy's married daughter, the only
child of hers living in London, arrived to nurse her mother. But Honor
indignantly refused to be dispossessed.

"A nice daughter you are," she said, "to leave your mother lay a day
and a night without a sight o' your ugly face."

"I had to look after the good man, and the little 'uns," the daughter
pleaded.

"Then what do you mean by desertin' them now?" the irate old woman
retorted. "First you deserts your mother, and then your husband and
children. You must go back to them as needs your care. I carried your
mother in my arms before you was born, and if she wants anybody else
now to look after her, let her just tell me so, and I'll be off in a
brace o' shakes."

She looked defiantly at the yellow, dried-up creature in the bed.
Mercy's withered lips twitched, but no sound came from them. Jim,
strung up by the situation, took the word. "You can't do no good up
here, the doctor says. You might look after the kids downstairs a bit,
when you can spare an hour, and I've got to go to the shop. I'll send
you a telegraph if there's a change," he whispered to the daughter,
and she, not wholly discontented to return to her living interests,
kissed her mother, lingered a little, and then stole quietly away.

All that day the old women remained together in solemn silence, broken
only by the doctor's visit. He reported that Mercy might last a couple
of days more. In the evening Jim replaced his sister-in-law, who slept
perforce. At midnight she reappeared and sent him to bed. The sufferer
tossed about restlessly. At half-past two she awoke, and Honor fed her
with some broth, as she would have fed a baby. Mercy, indeed, looked
scarcely bigger than an infant, and Honor only had the advantage of
her by being puffed out with clothes. A church clock in the distance
struck three. Then the silence fell deeper. The watcher drowsed, the
lamp flickered, tossing her shadow about the walls as if she, too,
were turning feverishly from side to side. A strange ticking made
itself heard in the wainscoting. Mercy sat up with a scream of terror.
"Jim!" she shrieked, "Jim!"

Honor started up, opened her mouth to cry "Hush!" then checked
herself, suddenly frozen.

"Jim," cried the dying woman, "listen! Is that the death spider?"

Honor listened, her blood curdling. Then she went towards the door
and opened it. "Jim," she said, in low tones, speaking towards the
landing, "tell her it's nothing, it's only a mouse. She was always a
nervous little thing." And she closed the door softly, and pressing
her trembling sister tenderly back on the pillow, tucked her up snugly
in the blanket.

Next morning, when Jim was really present, the patient begged
pathetically to have a grandchild with her in the room, day and night.
"Don't leave me alone again," she quavered, "don't leave me alone with
not a soul to talk to." Honor winced, but said nothing.

The youngest child, who did not have to go to school, was brought--a
pretty little boy with brown curls, which the sun, streaming through
the panes, turned to gold. The morning passed slowly. About noon Mercy
took the child's hand, and smoothed his curls.

"My sister Honor had golden curls like that," she whispered.

"They were in the family, Bobby," Honor answered. "Your granny had
them, too, when she was a girl."

There was a long pause. Mercy's eyes were half-glazed. But her vision
was inward now.

"The mignonette will be growin' in the gardens, Bobby," she murmured.

"Yes, Bobby, and the heart's-ease," said Honor, softly. "We lived in
the country, you know, Bobby."

"There is flowers in the country," Bobby declared gravely.

"Yes, and trees," said Honor. "I wonder if your granny remembers when
we were larruped for stealin' apples."

"Ay, that I do, Bobby, he, he," croaked the dying creature, with a
burst of enthusiasm. "We was a pair o' tomboys. The farmer he ran
after us cryin' 'Ye! ye!' but we wouldn't take no gar. He, he, he!"

Honor wept at the laughter. The native idiom, unheard for half a
century, made her face shine under the tears. "Don't let your granny
excite herself, Bobby. Let me give her her drink." She moved the boy
aside, and Mercy's lips automatically opened to the draught.

"Tom was wi' us, Bobby," she gurgled, still vibrating with amusement,
"and he tumbled over on the heather. He, he!"

"Tom is dead this forty year, Bobby," whispered Honor.

Mercy's head fell back, and an expression of supreme exhaustion came
over the face. Half an hour passed. Bobby was called down to dinner.
The doctor had been sent for. The silent sisters were alone. Suddenly
Mercy sat up with a jerk.

"It be growin' dark, Tom," she said hoarsely, "'haint it time to call
the cattle home from the ma'shes?"

"She's talkin' rubbidge again," said Honor, chokingly. "Tell her she's
in London, Bobby."

A wave of intelligence traversed the sallow face. Still sitting up,
Mercy bent towards the side of the bed. "Ah, is Honor still there?
Kiss me--Bobby." Her hands groped blindly. Honor bent down and the old
women's withered lips met.

And in that kiss Mercy passed away into the greater Silence.



        *        *        *        *        *



THE BIG BOW MYSTERY



I


On a memorable morning of early December, London opened its eyes on a
frigid grey mist. There are mornings when King Fog masses his molecules
of carbon in serried squadrons in the city, while he scatters them
tenuously in the suburbs; so that your morning train may bear you from
twilight to darkness. But to-day the enemy's manoeuvring was more
monotonous. From Bow even unto Hammersmith there draggled a dull,
wretched vapour, like the wraith of an impecunious suicide come into a
fortune immediately after the fatal deed. The barometers and thermometers
had sympathetically shared its depression, and their spirits (when they
had any) were low. The cold cut like a many-bladed knife.

Mrs. Drabdump, of 11 Glover Street, Bow, was one of the few persons in
London whom fog did not depress. She went about her work quite as
cheerlessly as usual. She had been among the earliest to be aware of the
enemy's advent, picking out the strands of fog from the coils of darkness
the moment she rolled up her bedroom blind and unveiled the sombre
picture of the winter morning. She knew that the fog had come to stay for
the day at least, and that the gas-bill for the quarter was going to beat
the record in high-jumping. She also knew that this was because she had
allowed her new gentleman lodger, Mr. Arthur Constant, to pay a fixed sum
of a shilling a week for gas, instead of charging him a proportion of the
actual account for the whole house. The meteorologists might have saved
the credit of their science if they had reckoned with Mrs. Drabdump's
next gas-bill when they predicted the weather and made "Snow" the
favourite, and said that "Fog" would be nowhere. Fog was everywhere, yet
Mrs. Drabdump took no credit to herself for her prescience. Mrs. Drabdump
indeed took no credit for anything, paying her way along doggedly, and
struggling through life like a wearied swimmer trying to touch the
horizon. That things always went as badly as she had foreseen did not
exhilarate her in the least.

Mrs. Drabdump was a widow. Widows are not born but made, else you might
have fancied Mrs. Drabdump had always been a widow. Nature had given her
that tall, spare form, and that pale, thin-lipped, elongated, hard-eyed
visage, and that painfully precise hair, which are always associated with
widowhood in low life. It is only in higher circles that women can lose
their husbands and yet remain bewitching. The late Mr. Drabdump had
scratched the base of his thumb with a rusty nail, and Mrs. Drabdump's
foreboding that he would die of lockjaw had not prevented her wrestling
day and night with the shadow of Death, as she had wrestled with it
vainly twice before, when Katie died of diphtheria and little Johnny of
scarlet fever. Perhaps it is from overwork among the poor that Death has
been reduced to a shadow.

Mrs. Drabdump was lighting the kitchen fire. She did it very
scientifically, as knowing the contrariety of coal and the anxiety of
flaming sticks to end in smoke unless rigidly kept up to the mark.
Science was a success as usual; and Mrs. Drabdump rose from her knees
content, like a Parsee priestess who had duly paid her morning devotions
to her deity. Then she started violently, and nearly lost her balance.
Her eye had caught the hands of the clock on the mantel. They pointed to
fifteen minutes to seven. Mrs. Drabdump's devotion to the kitchen fire
invariably terminated at fifteen minutes past six. What was the matter
with the clock?

Mrs. Drabdump had an immediate vision of Snoppet, the neighbouring
horologist, keeping the clock in hand for weeks and then returning it
only superficially repaired and secretly injured more vitally "for the
good of the trade." The evil vision vanished as quickly as it came,
exorcised by the deep boom of St. Dunstan's bells chiming the
three-quarters. In its place a great horror surged. Instinct had failed;
Mrs. Drabdump had risen at half-past six instead of six. Now she
understood why she had been feeling so dazed and strange and sleepy.
She had overslept herself.

Chagrined and puzzled, she hastily set the kettle over the crackling
coal, discovering a second later that she had overslept herself because
Mr. Constant wished to be woke three-quarters of an hour earlier than
usual, and to have his breakfast at seven, having to speak at an early
meeting of discontented tram-men. She ran at once, candle in hand, to his
bedroom. It was upstairs. All "upstairs" was Arthur Constant's domain,
for it consisted of but two mutually independent rooms. Mrs. Drabdump
knocked viciously at the door of the one he used for a bedroom, crying,
"Seven o'clock, sir. You'll be late, sir. You must get up at once." The
usual slumbrous "All right" was not forthcoming; but, as she herself had
varied her morning salute, her ear was less expectant of the echo. She
went downstairs, with no foreboding save that the kettle would come off
second best in the race between its boiling and her lodger's dressing.

For she knew there was no fear of Arthur Constant's lying deaf to
the call of Duty--temporarily represented by Mrs. Drabdump. He was
a light sleeper, and the tram-conductors' bells were probably ringing
in his ears, summoning him to the meeting. Why Arthur Constant,
B.A.--white-handed and white-shirted, and gentleman to the very purse of
him--should concern himself with tram-men, when fortune had confined his
necessary relations with drivers to cabmen at the least, Mrs. Drabdump
could not quite make out. He probably aspired to represent Bow in
Parliament; but then it would surely have been wiser to lodge with a
landlady who possessed a vote by having a husband alive. Nor was there
much practical wisdom in his wish to black his own boots (an occupation
in which he shone but little), and to live in every way like a Bow
working man. Bow working men were not so lavish in their patronage of
water, whether existing in drinking-glasses, morning tubs, or laundress's
establishments. Nor did they eat the delicacies with which Mrs. Drabdump
supplied him, with the assurance that they were the artisan's appanage.
She could not bear to see him eat things unbefitting his station. Arthur
Constant opened his mouth and ate what his landlady gave him, not first
deliberately shutting his eyes according to the formula, the rather
pluming himself on keeping them very wide open. But it is difficult for
saints to see through their own halos; and in practice an aureola about
the head is often indistinguishable from a mist.

The tea to be scalded in Mr. Constant's pot, when that cantankerous
kettle should boil, was not the coarse mixture of black and green sacred
to herself and Mr. Mortlake, of whom the thoughts of breakfast now
reminded her. Poor Mr. Mortlake, gone off without any to Devonport,
somewhere about four in the fog-thickened darkness of a winter night!
Well, she hoped his journey would be duly rewarded, that his perks would
be heavy, and that he would make as good a thing out of the "travelling
expenses" as rival labour leaders roundly accused him of to other
people's faces. She did not grudge him his gains, nor was it her business
if, as they alleged, in introducing Mr. Constant to her vacant rooms, his
idea was not merely to benefit his landlady. He had done her an uncommon
good turn, queer as was the lodger thus introduced. His own apostleship
to the sons of toil gave Mrs. Drabdump no twinges of perplexity. Tom
Mortlake had been a compositor; and apostleship was obviously a
profession better paid and of a higher social status. Tom Mortlake--the
hero of a hundred strikes--set up in print on a poster, was unmistakably
superior to Tom Mortlake setting up other men's names at a case. Still,
the work was not all beer and skittles, and Mrs. Drabdump felt that Tom's
latest job was not enviable.

She shook his door as she passed it on her way back to the kitchen, but
there was no response. The street door was only a few feet off down the
passage, and a glance at it dispelled the last hope that Tom had
abandoned the journey. The door was unbolted and unchained, and the only
security was the latch-key lock. Mrs. Drabdump felt a whit uneasy,
though, to give her her due, she never suffered as much as most good
housewives do from criminals who never come. Not quite opposite, but
still only a few doors off, on the other side of the street, lived the
celebrated ex-detective Grodman, and, illogically enough, his presence in
the street gave Mrs. Drabdump a curious sense of security, as of a
believer living under the shadow of the fane. That any human being of ill
odour should consciously come within a mile of the scent of so famous a
sleuth-hound seemed to her highly improbable. Grodman had retired (with a
competence) and was only a sleeping dog now; still, even criminals would
have sense enough to let him lie.

So Mrs. Drabdump did not really feel that there had been any danger,
especially as a second glance at the street door showed that Mortlake had
been thoughtful enough to slip the loop that held back the bolt of the
big lock. She allowed herself another throb of sympathy for the labour
leader whirling on his dreary way towards Devonport Dockyard. Not that he
had told her anything of his journey, beyond the town; but she knew
Devonport had a Dockyard because Jessie Dymond--Tom's sweetheart--once
mentioned that her aunt lived near there, and it lay on the surface that
Tom had gone to help the dockers, who were imitating their London
brethren. Mrs. Drabdump did not need to be told things to be aware of
them. She went back to prepare Mr. Constant's superfine tea, vaguely
wondering why people were so discontented nowadays. But when she brought
up the tea and the toast and the eggs to Mr. Constant's sitting-room
(which adjoined his bedroom, though without communicating with it), Mr.
Constant was not sitting in it. She lit the gas, and laid the cloth; then
she returned to the landing and beat at the bedroom door with an
imperative palm. Silence alone answered her. She called him by name and
told him the hour, but hers was the only voice she heard, and it sounded
strangely to her in the shadows of the staircase. Then, muttering, "Poor
gentleman, he had the toothache last night; and p'r'aps he's only just
got a wink o' sleep. Pity to disturb him for the sake of them grizzling
conductors. I'll let him sleep his usual time," she bore the tea-pot
downstairs with a mournful, almost poetic, consciousness that soft-boiled
eggs (like love) must grow cold.

Half-past seven came--and she knocked again. But Constant slept on.

His letters, always a strange assortment, arrived at eight, and a
telegram came soon after. Mrs. Drabdump rattled his door, shouted, and at
last put the wire under it. Her heart was beating fast enough now, though
there seemed to be a cold, clammy snake curling round it. She went
downstairs again and turned the handle of Mortlake's room, and went in
without knowing why. The coverlet of the bed showed that the occupant had
only lain down in his clothes, as if fearing to miss the early train. She
had not for a moment expected to find him in the room; yet somehow the
consciousness that she was alone in the house with the sleeping Constant
seemed to flash for the first time upon her, and the clammy snake
tightened its folds round her heart.

She opened the street door, and her eye wandered nervously up and down.
It was half-past eight. The little street stretched cold and still in the
grey mist, blinking bleary eyes at either end, where the street lamps
smouldered on. No one was visible for the moment, though smoke was rising
from many of the chimneys to greet its sister mist. At the house of the
detective across the way the blinds were still down and the shutters up.
Yet the familiar, prosaic aspect of the street calmed her. The bleak air
set her coughing; she slammed the door to, and returned to the kitchen to
make fresh tea for Constant, who could only be in a deep sleep. But the
canister trembled in her grasp. She did not know whether she dropped it
or threw it down, but there was nothing in the hand that battered again
a moment later at the bedroom door. No sound within answered the clamour
without. She rained blow upon blow in a sort of spasm of frenzy, scarce
remembering that her object was merely to wake her lodger, and almost
staving in the lower panels with her kicks. Then she turned the handle
and tried to open the door, but it was locked. The resistance recalled
her to herself--she had a moment of shocked decency at the thought that
she had been about to enter Constant's bedroom. Then the terror came over
her afresh. She felt that she was alone in the house with a corpse. She
sank to the floor, cowering; with difficulty stifling a desire to scream.
Then she rose with a jerk and raced down the stairs without looking
behind her, and threw open the door and ran out into the street, only
pulling up with her hand violently agitating Grodman's door-knocker. In a
moment the first-floor window was raised--the little house was of the
same pattern as her own--and Grodman's full fleshy face loomed through
the fog in sleepy irritation from under a nightcap. Despite its scowl the
ex-detective's face dawned upon her like the sun upon an occupant of the
haunted chamber.

"What in the devil's the matter?" he growled. Grodman was not an early
bird, now that he had no worms to catch. He could afford to despise
proverbs now, for the house in which he lived was his, and he lived in it
because several other houses in the street were also his, and it is well
for the landlord to be about his own estate in Bow, where poachers often
shoot the moon. Perhaps the desire to enjoy his greatness among his early
cronies counted for something, too, for he had been born and bred at Bow,
receiving when a youth his first engagement from the local police
quarters, whence he had drawn a few shillings a week as an amateur
detective in his leisure hours.

Grodman was still a bachelor. In the celestial matrimonial bureau a
partner might have been selected for him, but he had never been able
to discover her. It was his one failure as a detective. He was a
self-sufficing person, who preferred a gas stove to a domestic; but in
deference to Glover Street opinion he admitted a female factotum between
ten A.M. and ten P.M., and, equally in deference to Glover Street
opinion, excluded her between ten P.M. and ten A.M.

"I want you to come across at once," Mrs. Drabdump gasped. "Something has
happened to Mr. Constant."

"What! Not bludgeoned by the police at the meeting this morning, I hope?"

"No, no! He didn't go. He is dead."

"Dead?" Grodman's face grew very serious now.

"Yes. Murdered!"

"What?" almost shouted the ex-detective. "How? When? Where? Who?"

"I don't know. I can't get to him. I have beaten at his door. He does not
answer."

Grodman's face lit up with relief.

"You silly woman! Is that all? I shall have a cold in my head. Bitter
weather. He's dog-tired after yesterday--processions, three speeches,
kindergarten, lecture on 'the moon,' article on cooperation. That's his
style." It was also Grodman's style. He never wasted words.

"No," Mrs. Drabdump breathed up at him solemnly, "he's dead."

"All right; go back. Don't alarm the neighbourhood unnecessarily. Wait
for me. Down in five minutes." Grodman did not take this Cassandra of the
kitchen too seriously. Probably he knew his woman. His small, bead-like
eyes glittered with an almost amused smile as he withdrew them from
Mrs. Drabdump's ken, and shut down the sash with a bang. The poor woman
ran back across the road and through her door, which she would not
close behind her. It seemed to shut her in with the dead. She waited in
the passage. After an age--seven minutes by any honest clock--Grodman
made his appearance, looking as dressed as usual, but with unkempt
hair and with disconsolate side-whisker. He was not quite used to that
side-whisker yet, for it had only recently come within the margin of
cultivation. In active service Grodman had been clean-shaven, like all
members of _the_ profession--for surely your detective is the most
versatile of actors. Mrs. Drabdump closed the street door quietly, and
pointed to the stairs, fear operating like a polite desire to give him
precedence. Grodman ascended, amusement still glimmering in his eyes.
Arrived on the landing he knocked peremptorily at the door, crying, "Nine
o'clock, Mr. Constant; nine o'clock!" When he ceased there was no other
sound or movement. His face grew more serious. He waited, then knocked,
and cried louder. He turned the handle but the door was fast. He tried to
peer through the keyhole, but it was blocked. He shook the upper panels,
but the door seemed bolted as well as locked. He stood still, his face
set and rigid, for he liked and esteemed the man.

"Ay, knock your loudest," whispered the pale-faced woman. "You'll not
wake him now."

The grey mist had followed them through the street door, and hovered
about the staircase, charging the air with a moist sepulchral odour.

"Locked and bolted," muttered Grodman, shaking the door afresh.

"Burst it open," breathed the woman, trembling violently all over, and
holding her hands before her as if to ward off the dreadful vision.
Without another word, Grodman applied his shoulder to the door, and made
a violent muscular effort. He had been an athlete in his time, and the
sap was yet in him. The door creaked, little by little it began to
give, the woodwork enclosing the bolt of the lock splintered, the panels
bent inwards, the large upper bolt tore off its iron staple; the door
flew back with a crash. Grodman rushed in.

"My God!" he cried. The woman shrieked. The sight was too terrible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within a few hours the jubilant newsboys were shrieking "Horrible Suicide
in Bow," and _The Moon_ poster added, for the satisfaction of those too
poor to purchase, "A Philanthropist Cuts His Throat."



II


But the newspapers were premature. Scotland Yard refused to prejudice the
case despite the penny-a-liners. Several arrests were made, so that the
later editions were compelled to soften "Suicide" into "Mystery." The
people arrested were a nondescript collection of tramps. Most of them had
committed other offences for which the police had not arrested them. One
bewildered-looking gentleman gave himself up (as if he were a riddle),
but the police would have none of him, and restored him forthwith to his
friends and keepers. The number of candidates for each new opening in
Newgate is astonishing.

The full significance of this tragedy of a noble young life cut short
had hardly time to filter into the public mind, when a fresh sensation
absorbed it. Tom Mortlake had been arrested the same day at Liverpool on
suspicion of being concerned in the death of his fellow-lodger. The news
fell like a bombshell upon a land in which Tom Mortlake's name was a
household word. That the gifted artisan orator, who had never shrunk upon
occasion from launching red rhetoric at society, should actually have
shed blood seemed too startling, especially as the blood shed was not
blue, but the property of a lovable young middle-class idealist, who had
now literally given his life to the Cause. But this supplementary
sensation did not grow to a head, and everybody (save a few labour
leaders) was relieved to hear that Tom had been released almost
immediately, being merely subpoenaed to appear at the inquest. In an
interview which he accorded to the representative of a Liverpool paper
the same afternoon, he stated that he put his arrest down entirely to the
enmity and rancour entertained towards him by the police throughout the
country. He had come to Liverpool to trace the movements of a friend
about whom he was very uneasy, and he was making anxious inquiries at the
docks to discover at what times steamers left for America, when the
detectives stationed there had, in accordance with instructions from
headquarters, arrested him as a suspicious-looking character. "Though,"
said Tom, "they must very well have known my phiz, as I have been
sketched and caricatured all over the shop. When I told them who I was
they had the decency to let me go. They thought they'd scored off me
enough, I reckon. Yes, it certainly _is_ a strange coincidence that I
might actually have had something to do with the poor fellow's death,
which has cut me up as much as anybody; though if they had known I had
just come from the 'scene of the crime,' and actually lived in the house,
they would probably have--let me alone." He laughed sarcastically. "They
are a queer lot of muddle-heads, are the police. Their motto is, 'First
catch your man, then cook the evidence.' If you're on the spot you're
guilty because you're there, and if you're elsewhere you're guilty
because you have gone away. Oh, I know them! If they could have seen
their way to clap me in quod, they'd ha' done it. Luckily I know the
number of the cabman who took me to Euston before five this morning."

"If they clapped you in quod," the interviewer reported himself as
facetiously observing, "the prisoners would be on strike in a week."

"Yes, but there would be so many blacklegs ready to take their places,"
Mortlake flashed back, "that I'm afraid it 'ould be no go. But do excuse
me. I am so upset about my friend. I'm afraid he has left England, and I
have to make inquiries; and now there's poor Constant gone--horrible!
horrible! and I'm due in London at the inquest. I must really run away.
Good-by. Tell your readers it's all a police grudge."

"One last word, Mr. Mortlake, if you please. Is it true that you were
billed to preside at a great meeting of clerks at St. James's Hall
between one and two to-day to protest against the German invasion?"

"Whew! so I was. But the beggars arrested me just before one, when I was
going to wire, and then the news of poor Constant's end drove it out of
my head. What a nuisance! Lord, how troubles do come together! Well,
good-by, send me a copy of the paper."

Tom Mortlake's evidence at the inquest added little beyond this to the
public knowledge of his movements on the morning of the Mystery. The
cabman who drove him to Euston had written indignantly to the papers to
say that he picked up his celebrated fare at Bow Railway Station at about
half-past four A.M., and the arrest was a deliberate insult to democracy,
and he offered to make an affidavit to that effect, leaving it dubious to
which effect. But Scotland Yard betrayed no itch for the affidavit in
question, and No. 2138 subsided again into the obscurity of his rank.
Mortlake--whose face was very pale below the black mane brushed back from
his fine forehead--gave his evidence in low, sympathetic tones. He had
known the deceased for over a year, coming constantly across him in their
common political and social work, and had found the furnished rooms for
him in Glover Street at his own request, they just being to let when
Constant resolved to leave his rooms at Oxford House in Bethnal Green,
and to share the actual life of the people. The locality suited the
deceased, as being near the People's Palace. He respected and admired
the deceased, whose genuine goodness had won all hearts. The deceased
was an untiring worker; never grumbled, was always in fair spirits,
regarded his life and wealth as a sacred trust to be used for the benefit
of humanity. He had last seen him at a quarter past nine P.M. on the
day preceding his death. He (witness) had received a letter by the last
post which made him uneasy about a friend. He went up to consult deceased
about it. Deceased was evidently suffering from toothache, and was fixing
a piece of cotton-wool in a hollow tooth, but he did not complain.
Deceased seemed rather upset by the news he brought, and they both
discussed it rather excitedly.

By a JURYMAN: Did the news concern him?

MORTLAKE: Only impersonally. He knew my friend, and was keenly
sympathetic when one was in trouble.

CORONER: Could you show the jury the letter you received?

MORTLAKE: I have mislaid it, and cannot make out where it has got to. If
you, sir, think it relevant or essential, I will state what the trouble
was.

CORONER: Was the toothache very violent?

MORTLAKE: I cannot tell. I think not, though he told me it had disturbed
his rest the night before.

CORONER: What time did you leave him?

MORTLAKE: About twenty to ten.

CORONER: And what did you do then?

MORTLAKE: I went out for an hour or so to make some inquiries. Then I
returned, and told my landlady I should be leaving by an early train
for--for the country.

CORONER: And that was the last you saw of the deceased?

MORTLAKE (with emotion): The last.

CORONER: How was he when you left him?

MORTLAKE: Mainly concerned about my trouble.

CORONER: Otherwise you saw nothing unusual about him?

MORTLAKE: Nothing.

CORONER: What time did you leave the house on Tuesday morning?

MORTLAKE: At about five-and-twenty minutes past four.

CORONER: Are you sure that you shut the street door?

MORTLAKE: Quite sure. Knowing my landlady was rather a timid person, I
even slipped the bolt of the big lock, which was usually tied back. It
was impossible for any one to get in, even with a latch-key.

Mrs. Drabdump's evidence (which, of course, preceded his) was more
important, and occupied a considerable time, unduly eked out by
Drabdumpian padding. Thus she not only deposed that Mr. Constant had the
toothache, but that it was going to last about a week; in tragi-comic
indifference to the radical cure that had been effected. Her account of
the last hours of the deceased tallied with Mortlake's, only that she
feared Mortlake was quarrelling with him over something in the letter
that came by the nine o'clock post. Deceased had left the house a little
after Mortlake, but had returned before him, and had gone straight to
his bedroom. She had not actually seen him come in, having been in the
kitchen, but she heard his latch-key, followed by his light step up the
stairs.

A JURYMAN: How do you know it was not somebody else? (_Sensation, of
which the juryman tries to look unconscious_.)

WITNESS: He called down to me over the banisters, and says in his
sweetish voice, "Be hextra sure to wake me at a quarter to seven, Mrs.
Drabdump, or else I shan't get to my tram meeting." (_Juryman
collapses_.)

CORONER: And did you wake him?

MRS. DRABDUMP (breaking down): Oh, my lud, how can you ask?

CORONER: There, there, compose yourself. I mean did you try to wake him?

MRS. DRABDUMP: I have taken in and done for lodgers this seventeen years,
my lud, and have always gave satisfaction; and Mr. Mortlake, he wouldn't
ha' recommended me otherwise, though I wish to Heaven the poor gentleman
had never--

CORONER: Yes, yes, of course. You tried to rouse him?

But it was some time before Mrs. Drabdump was sufficiently calm to
explain that, though she had overslept herself, and though it would have
been all the same anyhow, she _had_ come up to time. Bit by bit the
tragic story was forced from her lips--a tragedy that even her telling
could not make tawdry. She told with superfluous detail how--when Mr.
Grodman broke in the door--she saw her unhappy gentleman-lodger lying on
his back in bed, stone dead, with a gaping red wound in his throat; how
her stronger-minded companion calmed her a little by spreading a
handkerchief over the distorted face; how they then looked vainly about
and under the bed for any instrument by which the deed could have been
done, the veteran detective carefully making a rapid inventory of the
contents of the room, and taking notes of the precise position and
condition of the body before anything was disturbed by the arrival of
gapers or bunglers; how she had pointed out to him that both the windows
were firmly bolted to keep out the cold night air; how, having noted this
down with a puzzled, pitying shake of the head, he had opened the window
to summon the police, and espied in the fog one Denzil Cantercot, whom he
called, and told to run to the nearest police-station and ask them to
send on an inspector and a surgeon; how they both remained in the room
till the police arrived, Grodman pondering deeply the while and making
notes every now and again, as fresh points occurred to him, and asking
her questions about the poor, weak-headed young man. Pressed as to what
she meant by calling the deceased "weak-headed," she replied that some of
her neighbours wrote him begging letters, though, Heaven knew, they were
better off than herself, who had to scrape her fingers to the bone for
every penny she earned. Under further pressure from Mr. Talbot, who was
watching the inquiry on behalf of Arthur Constant's family, Mrs. Drabdump
admitted that the deceased had behaved like a human being, nor was there
anything externally eccentric or queer in his conduct. He was always
cheerful and pleasant spoken, though certainly soft--God rest his soul.
No; he never shaved, but wore all the hair that Heaven had given him.

By a JURYMAN: She thought deceased was in the habit of locking his door
when he went to bed. Of course, she couldn't say for certain. (Laughter.)
There was no need to bolt the door as well. The bolt slid upwards, and
was at the top of the door. When she first let lodgings, her reasons for
which she seemed anxious to publish, there had only been a bolt, but a
suspicious lodger, she would not call him a gentleman, had complained
that he could not fasten his door behind him, and so she had been put to
the expense of having a lock made. The complaining lodger went off soon
after without paying his rent. (Laughter.) She had always known he would.

The CORONER: Was deceased at all nervous?

WITNESS: No, he was a very nice gentleman. (A laugh.)

CORONER: I mean did he seem afraid of being robbed?

WITNESS: No, he was always goin' to demonstrations. (Laughter.) I told
him to be careful. I told him I lost a purse with 3s. 2d. myself on
Jubilee Day.

Mrs. Drabdump resumed her seat, weeping vaguely.

The CORONER: Gentlemen, we shall have an opportunity of viewing the room
shortly.

The story of the discovery of the body was retold, though more
scientifically, by Mr. George Grodman, whose unexpected resurgence into
the realm of his early exploits excited as keen a curiosity as the
reappearance "for this occasion only" of a retired prima donna. His
book, _Criminals I have Caught_, passed from the twenty-third to the
twenty-fourth edition merely on the strength of it. Mr. Grodman stated
that the body was still warm when he found it. He thought that death was
quite recent. The door he had had to burst was bolted as well as locked.
He confirmed Mrs. Drabdump's statement about the windows; the chimney
was very narrow. The cut looked as if done by a razor. There was no
instrument lying about the room. He had known the deceased about a month.
He seemed a very earnest, simple-minded young fellow, who spoke a great
deal about the brotherhood of man. (The hardened old man-hunter's voice
was not free from a tremor as he spoke jerkily of the dead man's
enthusiasms.) He should have thought the deceased the last man in the
world to commit suicide.

Mr. DENZIL CANTERCOT was next called: He was a poet. (Laughter.) He was
on his way to Mr. Grodman's house to tell him he had been unable to do
some writing for him because he was suffering from writer's cramp, when
Mr. Grodman called to him from the window of No. 11 and asked him to run
for the police. No, he did not run; he was a philosopher. (Laughter.) He
returned with them to the door, but did not go up. He had no stomach for
crude sensations. (Laughter.) The grey fog was sufficiently unbeautiful
for him for one morning. (Laughter.)

Inspector HOWLETT said: About 9.45 on the morning of Tuesday, 4th
December, from information received, he went with Sergeant Runnymede
and Dr. Robinson to 11 Glover Street, Bow, and there found the dead body
of a young man, lying on his back with his throat cut. The door of the
room had been smashed in, and the lock and the bolt evidently forced. The
room was tidy. There were no marks of blood on the floor. A purse full of
gold was on the dressing-table beside a big book. A hip-bath, with cold
water, stood beside the bed, over which was a hanging bookcase. There was
a large wardrobe against the wall next to the door. The chimney was very
narrow. There were two windows, one bolted. It was about eighteen feet to
the pavement. There was no way of climbing up. No one could possibly have
got out of the room, and then bolted the doors and windows behind him;
and he had searched all parts of the room in which any one might have
been concealed. He had been unable to find any instrument in the room in
spite of exhaustive search, there being not even a penknife in the
pockets of the clothes of the deceased, which lay on a chair. The house
and the back yard, and the adjacent pavement, had also been fruitlessly
searched.

Sergeant RUNNYMEDE made an identical statement, saving only that _he_ had
gone with Dr. Robinson and Inspector Howlett.

Dr. ROBINSON, divisional surgeon, said: "The deceased was lying on his
back, with his throat cut. The body was not yet cold, the abdominal
region being quite warm. Rigor mortis had set in in the lower jaw, neck,
and upper extremities. The muscles contracted when beaten. I inferred
that life had been extinct some two or three hours, probably not longer,
it might have been less. The bed-clothes would keep the lower part warm
for some time. The wound, which was a deep one, was five and a half
inches from right to left across the throat to a point under the left
ear. The upper portion of the windpipe was severed, and likewise the
jugular vein. The muscular coating of the carotid artery was divided.
There was a slight cut, as if in continuation of the wound, on the thumb
of the left hand. The hands were clasped underneath the head. There was
no blood on the right hand. The wound could not have been self-inflicted.
A sharp instrument had been used, such as a razor. The cut might have
been made by a left-handed person. No doubt death was practically
instantaneous. I saw no signs of a struggle about the body or the room.
I noticed a purse on the dressing-table, lying next to Madame Blavatsky's
big book on Theosophy. Sergeant Runnymede drew my attention to the fact
that the door had evidently been locked and bolted from within."

By a JURYMAN: I do not say the cuts could not have been made by a
right-handed person. I can offer no suggestion as to how the inflictor
of the wound got in or out. Extremely improbable that the cut was
self-inflicted. There was little trace of the outside fog in the room.

Police constable Williams said he was on duty in the early hours of the
morning of the 4th inst. Glover Street lay within his beat. He saw or
heard nothing suspicious. The fog was never very dense, though nasty to
the throat. He had passed through Glover Street about half-past four. He
had not seen Mr. Mortlake or anybody else leave the house.

The Court here adjourned, the coroner and the jury repairing in a body to
11 Glover Street, to view the house and the bedroom of the deceased. And
the evening posters announced "The Bow Mystery Thickens."



III


Before the inquiry was resumed, all the poor wretches in custody had been
released on suspicion that they were innocent; there was not a single
case even for a magistrate. Clues, which at such seasons are gathered by
the police like blackberries off the hedges, were scanty and unripe.
Inferior specimens were offered them by bushels, but there was not a
good one among the lot. The police could not even manufacture a clue.

Arthur Constant's death was already the theme of every hearth,
railway-carriage, and public-house. The dead idealist had points
of contact with so many spheres. The East-end and the West-end alike
were moved and excited, the Democratic Leagues and the Churches, the
Doss-houses and the Universities. The pity of it! And then the
impenetrable mystery of it!

The evidence given in the concluding portion of the investigation was
necessarily less sensational. There were no more witnesses to bring the
scent of blood over the coroner's table; those who had yet to be heard
were merely relatives and friends of the deceased, who spoke of him as he
had been in life. His parents were dead, perhaps happily for them; his
relatives had seen little of him, and had scarce heard as much about him
as the outside world. No man is a prophet in his own country, and, even
if he migrates, it is advisable for him to leave his family at home. His
friends were a motley crew; friends of the same friend are not
necessarily friends of one another. But their diversity only made the
congruity of the tale they had to tell more striking. It was the tale of
a man who had never made an enemy even by benefiting him, nor lost a
friend even by refusing his favours; the tale of a man whose heart
overflowed with peace and goodwill to all men all the year round; of a
man to whom Christmas came not once, but three hundred and sixty-five
times a year; it was the tale of a brilliant intellect, who gave up to
mankind what was meant for himself, and worked as a labourer in the
vineyard of humanity, never crying that the grapes were sour; of a man
uniformly cheerful and of good courage, living in that forgetfulness of
self which is the truest antidote to despair. And yet there was not quite
wanting the note of pain to jar the harmony and make it human. Richard
Elton, his chum from boyhood, and vicar of Somerton, in Midlandshire,
handed to the coroner a letter received from the deceased about ten
days before his death, containing some passages which the coroner read
aloud:--"Do you know anything of Schopenhauer? I mean anything beyond the
current misconceptions? I have been making his acquaintance lately. He is
an agreeable rattle of a pessimist; his essay on 'The Misery of Mankind'
is quite lively reading. At first his assimilation of Christianity and
Pessimism (it occurs in his essay on 'Suicide') dazzled me as an
audacious paradox. But there is truth in it. Verily the whole creation
groaneth and travaileth, and man is a degraded monster, and sin is over
all. Ah, my friend, I have shed many of my illusions since I came to this
seething hive of misery and wrongdoing. What shall one man's life--a
million men's lives--avail against the corruption, the vulgarity, and the
squalor of civilisation? Sometimes I feel like a farthing rushlight in
the Hall of Eblis. Selfishness is so long and life so short. And the
worst of it is that everybody is so beastly contented. The poor no more
desire comfort than the rich culture. The woman, to whom a penny school
fee for her child represents an appreciable slice of her income, is
satisfied that the rich we shall always have with us.

"The real old Tories are the paupers in the Workhouse. The radical
working men are jealous of their own leaders, and the leaders are jealous
of one another. Schopenhauer must have organised a Labour Party in his
salad days. And yet one can't help feeling that he committed suicide as a
philosopher by not committing it as a man. He claims kinship with Buddha,
too; though Esoteric Buddhism at least seems spheres removed from the
philosophy of 'the Will and the Idea.' What a wonderful woman Madame
Blavatsky must be! I can't say I follow her, for she is up in the clouds
nearly all the time, and I haven't as yet developed an astral body. Shall
I send you on her book? It is fascinating.... I am becoming quite a
fluent orator. One soon gets into the way of it. The horrible thing is
that you catch yourself saying things to lead up to 'Cheers' instead of
sticking to the plain realities of the business. Lucy is still doing the
galleries in Italy. It used to pain me sometimes to think of my darling's
happiness when I came across a flat-chested factory-girl. Now I feel her
happiness is as important as a factory-girl's."

Lucy, the witness explained, was Lucy Brent, the betrothed of the
deceased. The poor girl had been telegraphed for, and had started for
England. The witness stated that the outburst of despondency in this
letter was almost a solitary one, most of the letters in his possession
being bright, buoyant, and hopeful. Even this letter ended with a
humorous statement of the writer's manifold plans and projects for the
New Year. The deceased was a good Churchman.

CORONER: Was there any private trouble in his own life to account for the
temporary despondency?

WITNESS: Not so far as I am aware. His financial position was
exceptionally favourable.

CORONER: There had been no quarrel with Miss Brent?

WITNESS: I have the best authority for saying that no shadow of
difference had ever come between them.

CORONER: Was the deceased left-handed?

WITNESS: Certainly not. He was not even ambidexter.

A JURYMAN: Isn't Shoppinhour one of the infidel writers, published by the
Freethought Publication Society?

WITNESS: I do not know who publishes his books.

The JURYMAN (a small grocer and big raw-boned Scotchman, rejoicing in the
name of Sandy Sanderson and the dignities of deaconry and membership of
the committee of the Bow Conservative Association): No equeevocation,
sir. Is he not a secularist, who has lectured at the Hall of Science?

WITNESS: No, he is a foreign writer--(Mr. Sanderson was heard to thank
heaven for this small mercy)--who believes that life is not worth living.

The JURYMAN: Were you not shocked to find the friend of a meenister
reading such impure leeterature?

WITNESS: The deceased read everything. Schopenhauer is the author of a
system of philosophy, and not what you seem to imagine. Perhaps you
would like to inspect the book? (Laughter.)

The JURYMAN: I would na' touch it with a pitchfork. Such books should be
burnt. And this Madame Blavatsky's book--what is that? Is that also
pheelosophy?

WITNESS: No. It is Theosophy. (Laughter.)

Mr. Allan Smith, secretary of the Tram-men's Union, stated that he had
had an interview with the deceased on the day before his death, when he
(the deceased) spoke hopefully of the prospects of the movement, and
wrote him out a check for ten guineas for his Union. Deceased promised to
speak at a meeting called for a quarter past seven A.M. the next day.

Mr. Edward Wimp, of the Scotland Yard Detective Department, said that the
letters and papers of the deceased threw no light upon the manner of his
death, and they would be handed back to the family. His Department had
not formed any theory on the subject.

The coroner proceeded to sum up the evidence. "We have to deal,
gentlemen," he said, "with a most incomprehensible and mysterious case,
the details of which are yet astonishingly simple. On the morning of
Tuesday, the 4th inst., Mrs. Drabdump, a worthy hard-working widow, who
lets lodgings at 11 Glover Street, Bow, was unable to arouse the
deceased, who occupied the entire upper floor of the house. Becoming
alarmed, she went across to fetch Mr. George Grodman, a gentleman known
to us all by reputation, and to whose clear and scientific evidence we
are much indebted, and got him to batter in the door. They found the
deceased lying back in bed with a deep wound in his throat. Life had only
recently become extinct. There was no trace of any instrument by which
the cut could have been effected: there was no trace of any person who
could have effected the cut. No person could apparently have got in or
out. The medical evidence goes to show that the deceased could not have
inflicted the wound himself. And yet, gentlemen, there are, in the nature
of things, two--and only two--alternative explanations of his death.
Either the wound was inflicted by his own hand, or it was inflicted by
another's. I shall take each of these possibilities separately. First,
did the deceased commit suicide? The medical evidence says deceased was
lying with his hands clasped behind his head. Now the wound was made from
right to left, and terminated by a cut on the left thumb. If the deceased
had made it he would have had to do it with his right hand, while his
left hand remained under his head--a most peculiar and unnatural position
to assume. Moreover, in making a cut with the right hand, one would
naturally move the hand from left to right. It is unlikely that the
deceased would move his right hand so awkwardly and unnaturally, unless,
of course, his object was to baffle suspicion. Another point is that on
this hypothesis, the deceased would have had to replace his right hand
beneath his head. But Dr. Robinson believes that death was instantaneous.
If so, deceased could have had no time to pose so neatly. It is just
possible the cut was made with the left hand, but then the deceased was
right-handed. The absence of any signs of a possible weapon undoubtedly
goes to corroborate the medical evidence. The police have made an
exhaustive search in all places where the razor or other weapon or
instrument might by any possibility have been concealed, including the
bed-clothes, the mattress, the pillow, and the street into which it might
have been dropped. But all theories involving the wilful concealment of
the fatal instrument have to reckon with the fact or probability that
death was instantaneous, also with the fact that there was no blood about
the floor. Finally, the instrument used was in all likelihood a razor,
and the deceased did not shave, and was never known to be in possession
of any such instrument. If, then, we were to confine ourselves to the
medical and police evidence, there would, I think, be little hesitation
in dismissing the idea of suicide. Nevertheless, it is well to forget the
physical aspect of the case for a moment and to apply our minds to an
unprejudiced inquiry into the mental aspect of it. Was there any reason
why the deceased should wish to take his own life? He was young, wealthy,
and popular, loving and loved; life stretched fair before him. He had no
vices. Plain living, high thinking, and noble doing were the three
guiding stars of his life. If he had had ambition, an illustrious public
career was within his reach. He was an orator of no mean power, a
brilliant and industrious man. His outlook was always on the future--he
was always sketching out ways in which he could be useful to his
fellow-men. His purse and his time were ever at the command of whosoever
could show fair claim upon them. If such a man were likely to end his own
life, the science of human nature would be at an end. Still, some of the
shadows of the picture have been presented to us. The man had his moments
of despondency--as which of us has not? But they seem to have been few
and passing. Anyhow, he was cheerful enough on the day before his death.
He was suffering, too, from toothache. But it does not seem to have been
violent, nor did he complain. Possibly, of course, the pain became very
acute in the night. Nor must we forget that he may have overworked
himself, and got his nerves into a morbid state. He worked very hard,
never rising later than half-past seven, and doing far more than the
professional 'labour leader.' He taught, and wrote, as well as spoke and
organised. But on the other hand all witnesses agreed that he was looking
forward eagerly to the meeting of tram-men on the morning of the 4th
inst. His whole heart was in the movement. Is it likely that this was the
night he would choose for quitting the scene of his usefulness? Is it
likely that if he had chosen it, he would not have left letters and a
statement behind, or made a last will and testament? Mr. Wimp has found
no possible clue to such conduct in his papers. Or is it likely he would
have concealed the instrument? The only positive sign of intention is the
bolting of his door in addition to the usual locking of it, but one
cannot lay much stress on that. Regarding the mental aspects alone, the
balance is largely against suicide; looking at the physical aspects,
suicide is well-nigh impossible. Putting the two together, the case
against suicide is all but mathematically complete. The answer, then, to
our first question, Did the deceased commit suicide? is, that he did
not."

The coroner paused, and everybody drew a long breath. The lucid
exposition had been followed with admiration. If the coroner had stopped
now, the jury would have unhesitatingly returned a verdict of "murder."
But the coroner swallowed a mouthful of water and went on:--

"We now come to the second alternative--was the deceased the victim of
homicide? In order to answer that question in the affirmative it is
essential that we should be able to form some conception of the modus
operandi. It is all very well for Dr. Robinson to say the cut was made by
another hand; but in the absence of any theory as to how the cut could
possibly have been made by that other hand, we should be driven back to
the theory of self-infliction, however improbable it may seem to medical
gentlemen. Now, what are the facts? When Mrs. Drabdump and Mr. Grodman
found the body it was yet warm, and Mr. Grodman, a witness fortunately
qualified by special experience, states that death had been quite recent.
This tallies closely enough with the view of Dr. Robinson, who, examining
the body about an hour later, put the time of death at two or three hours
before, say seven o'clock. Mrs. Drabdump had attempted to wake the
deceased at a quarter to seven, which would put back the act to a little
earlier. As I understand from Dr. Robinson, that it is impossible to fix
the time very precisely, death may have very well taken place several
hours before Mrs. Drabdump's first attempt to wake deceased. Of course,
it may have taken place between the first and second calls, as he may
merely have been sound asleep at first; it may also not impossibly have
taken place considerably earlier than the first call, for all the
physical data seem to prove. Nevertheless, on the whole, I think we shall
be least likely to err if we assume the time of death to be half-past
six. Gentlemen, let us picture to ourselves No. 11 Glover Street, at
half-past six. We have seen the house; we know exactly how it is
constructed. On the ground floor a front room tenanted by Mr. Mortlake,
with two windows giving on the street, both securely bolted; a back room
occupied by the landlady; and a kitchen. Mrs. Drabdump did not leave her
bedroom till half-past six, so that we may be sure all the various doors
and windows have not yet been unfastened; while the season of the year is
a guarantee that nothing had been left open. The front door, through
which Mr. Mortlake has gone out before half-past four, is guarded by the
latch-key lock and the big lock. On the upper floor are two rooms--a
front room used by deceased for a bedroom, and a back room which he used
as a sitting-room. The back room has been left open, with the key inside,
but the window is fastened. The door of the front room is not only locked
but bolted. We have seen the splintered mortice and the staple of the
upper bolt violently forced from the woodwork and resting on the pin. The
windows are bolted, the fasteners being firmly fixed in the catches. The
chimney is too narrow to admit of the passage of even a child. This room,
in fact, is as firmly barred in as if besieged. It has no communication
with any other part of the house. It is as absolutely self-centred and
isolated as if it were a fort in the sea or a log-hut in the forest. Even
if any strange person is in the house, nay, in the very sitting-room of
the deceased, he cannot get into the bedroom, for the house is one built
for the poor, with no communication between the different rooms, so that
separate families, if need be, may inhabit each. Now, however, let us
grant that some person has achieved the miracle of getting into the front
room, first floor, 18 feet from the ground. At half-past six, or
thereabouts, he cuts the throat of the sleeping occupant. How is he then
to get out without attracting the attention of the now roused landlady?
But let us concede him that miracle, too. How is he to go away and yet
leave the doors and windows locked and bolted from within? This is a
degree of miracle at which my credulity must draw the line. No, the room
had been closed all night--there is scarce a trace of fog in it. No one
could get in or out. Finally, murders do not take place without motive.
Robbery and revenge are the only conceivable motives. The deceased had
not an enemy in the world; his money and valuables were left untouched.
Everything was in order. There were no signs of a struggle. The answer,
then, to our second inquiry, Was the deceased killed by another person?
is, that he was not.

"Gentlemen, I am aware that this sounds impossible and contradictory.
But it is the facts that contradict themselves. It seems clear that the
deceased did not commit suicide. It seems equally clear that the deceased
was not murdered. There is nothing for it, therefore, gentlemen, but to
return a verdict tantamount to an acknowledgment of our incompetence to
come to any adequately grounded conviction whatever as to the means or
the manner by which the deceased met his death. It is the most
inexplicable mystery in all my experience." (Sensation.)

The FOREMAN (after a colloquy with Mr. Sandy Sanderson): We are not
agreed, sir. One of the jurors insists on a verdict of "Death from
visitation by the act of God."



IV


But Sandy Sanderson's burning solicitude to fix the crime flickered
out in the face of opposition, and in the end he bowed his head to the
inevitable "open verdict." Then the floodgates of inkland were opened,
and the deluge pattered for nine days on the deaf coffin where the poor
idealist mouldered. The tongues of the Press were loosened, and the
leader-writers revelled in recapitulating the circumstances of "The
Big Bow Mystery," though they could contribute nothing but adjectives
to the solution. The papers teemed with letters--it was a kind of Indian
summer of the silly season. But the editors could not keep them out, nor
cared to. The mystery was the one topic of conversation everywhere--it
was on the carpet and the bare boards alike, in the kitchen and the
drawing-room. It was discussed with science or stupidity, with aspirates
or without. It came up for breakfast with the rolls, and was swept off
the supper-table with the last crumbs.

No. 11 Glover Street, Bow, remained for days a shrine of pilgrimage. The
once sleepy little street buzzed from morning till night. From all parts
of the town people came to stare up at the bedroom window and wonder with
a foolish face of horror. The pavement was often blocked for hours
together, and itinerant vendors of refreshment made it a new market
centre, while vocalists hastened thither to sing the delectable ditty of
the deed without having any voice in the matter. It was a pity the
Government did not erect a toll-gate at either end of the street. But
Chancellors of the Exchequer rarely avail themselves of the more obvious
expedients for paying off the National Debt.

Finally, familiarity bred contempt, and the wits grew facetious at the
expense of the Mystery. Jokes on the subject appeared even in the comic
papers.

To the proverb, "You must not say Bo to a goose," one added, "or else she
will explain you the Mystery." The name of the gentleman who asked
whether the Bow Mystery was not 'arrowing shall not be divulged. There
was more point in "Dagonet's" remark that, if he had been one of the
unhappy jurymen, he should have been driven to "suicide." A professional
paradox-monger pointed triumphantly to the somewhat similar situation in
"the murder in the Rue Morgue," and said that Nature had been
plagiarising again--like the monkey she was--and he recommended Poe's
publishers to apply for an injunction. More seriously, Poe's solution
was re-suggested by "Constant Reader" as an original idea. He thought
that a small organ-grinder's monkey might have got down the chimney with
its master's razor, and, after attempting to shave the occupant of the
bed, have returned the way it came. This idea created considerable
sensation, but a correspondent with a long train of letters draggling
after his name pointed out that a monkey small enough to get down so
narrow a flue would not be strong enough to inflict so deep a wound. This
was disputed by a third writer, and the contest raged so keenly about the
power of monkeys' muscles that it was almost taken for granted that a
monkey was the guilty party. The bubble was pricked by the pen of "Common
Sense," who laconically remarked that no traces of soot or blood had been
discovered on the floor, or on the nightshirt, or the counterpane. The
_Lancet's_ leader on the Mystery was awaited with interest. It said: "We
cannot join in the praises that have been showered upon the coroner's
summing up. It shows again the evils resulting from having coroners who
are not medical men. He seems to have appreciated but inadequately the
significance of the medical evidence. He should certainly have directed
the jury to return a verdict of murder on that. What was it to do with
him that he could see no way by which the wound could have been inflicted
by an outside agency? It was for the police to find how that was done.
Enough that it was impossible for the unhappy young man to have inflicted
such a wound, and then to have strength and will power enough to hide the
instrument and to remove perfectly every trace of his having left the bed
for the purpose." It is impossible to enumerate all the theories
propounded by the amateur detectives, while Scotland Yard religiously
held its tongue. Ultimately the interest on the subject became confined
to a few papers which had received the best letters. Those papers that
couldn't get interesting letters stopped the correspondence and sneered
at the "sensationalism" of those that could. Among the mass of fantasy
there were not a few notable solutions, which failed brilliantly, like
rockets posing as fixed stars. One was that in the obscurity of the fog
the murderer had ascended to the window of the bedroom by means of a
ladder from the pavement. He had then with a diamond cut one of the panes
away, and effected an entry through the aperture. On leaving he fixed in
the pane of glass again (or another which he had brought with him) and
thus the room remained with its bolts and locks untouched. On its being
pointed out that the panes were too small, a third correspondent showed
that that didn't matter, as it was only necessary to insert the hand and
undo the fastening, when the entire window could be opened, the process
being reversed by the murderer on leaving. This pretty edifice of glass
was smashed by a glazier, who wrote to say that a pane could hardly be
fixed in from only one side of a window frame, that it would fall out
when touched, and that in any case the wet putty could not have escaped
detection. A door panel sliced out and replaced was also put forward, and
as many trap-doors and secret passages were ascribed to No. 11 Glover
Street, as if it were a mediæval castle. Another of these clever theories
was that the murderer was in the room the whole time the police were
there--hidden in the wardrobe. Or he had got behind the door when Grodman
broke it open, so that he was not noticed in the excitement of the
discovery, and escaped with his weapon at the moment when Grodman and
Mrs. Drabdump were examining the window fastenings.

Scientific explanations also were to hand to explain how the assassin
locked and bolted the door behind him. Powerful magnets outside the door
had been used to turn the key and push the bolt within. Murderers armed
with magnets loomed on the popular imagination like a new microbe. There
was only one defect in this ingenious theory--the thing could not be
done. A physiologist recalled the conjurers who swallow swords--by an
anatomical peculiarity of the throat--and said that the deceased might
have swallowed the weapon after cutting his own throat. This was too much
for the public to swallow. As for the idea that the suicide had been
effected with a penknife or its blade, or a bit of steel, which had then
got buried in the wound, not even the quotation of Shelley's line:--

  "Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it,"

could secure it a moment's acceptance. The same reception was accorded
to the idea that the cut had been made with a candle-stick (or other
harmless necessary bedroom article) constructed like a sword stick.
Theories of this sort caused a humorist to explain that the deceased had
hidden the razor in his hollow tooth! Some kind friend of Messrs.
Maskelyne and Cook suggested that they were the only persons who could
have done the deed, as no one else could get out of a locked cabinet. But
perhaps the most brilliant of these flashes of false fire was the
facetious, yet probably half-seriously meant letter that appeared in the
_Pell Mell Press_ under the heading of

  "THE BIG BOW MYSTERY SOLVED

  "Sir,--You will remember that when the Whitechapel murders were
  agitating the universe, I suggested that the district coroner was the
  assassin. My suggestion has been disregarded. The coroner is still at
  large. So is the Whitechapel murderer. Perhaps this suggestive
  coincidence will incline the authorities to pay more attention to me
  this time. The problem seems to be this. The deceased could not have
  cut his own throat. The deceased could not have had his throat cut for
  him. As one of the two must have happened, this is obvious nonsense. As
  this is obvious nonsense I am justified in disbelieving it. As this
  obvious nonsense was primarily put in circulation by Mrs. Drabdump and
  Mr. Grodman, I am justified in disbelieving _them_. In short, sir, what
  guarantee have we that the whole tale is not a cock-and-bull story,
  invented by the two persons who first found the body? What proof is
  there that the deed was not done by these persons themselves, who then
  went to work to smash the door and break the locks and the bolts, and
  fasten up all the windows before they called the police in?--I enclose
  my card, and am, sir, yours truly,

  "ONE WHO LOOKS THROUGH HIS OWN SPECTACLES."

"[Our correspondent's theory is not so audaciously original as he seems
to imagine. Has he not looked through the spectacles of the people who
persistently suggested that the Whitechapel murderer was invariably
the policeman who found the body? _Somebody_ must find the body, if it is
to be found at all.--Ed. P.M.P.]"

The editor had reason to be pleased that he inserted this letter, for it
drew the following interesting communication from the great detective
himself:--

  "THE BIG BOW MYSTERY SOLVED

  "Sir,--I do not agree with you that your correspondent's theory lacks
  originality. On the contrary, I think it is delightfully original. In
  fact it has given me an idea. What that idea is I do not yet propose to
  say, but if 'One who looks through his own spectacles' will favour me
  with his name and address I shall be happy to inform him a little
  before the rest of the world whether his germ has borne any fruit.
  I feel he is a kindred spirit, and take this opportunity of saying
  publicly that I was extremely disappointed at the unsatisfactory
  verdict. The thing was a palpable assassination; an open verdict has a
  tendency to relax the exertions of Scotland Yard. I hope I shall not be
  accused of immodesty, or of making personal reflections, when I say
  that the Department has had several notorious failures of late. It is
  not what it used to be. Crime is becoming impertinent. It no longer
  knows its place, so to speak. It throws down the gauntlet where once it
  used to cower in its fastnesses. I repeat, I make these remarks solely
  in the interest of law and order. I do not for one moment believe that
  Arthur Constant killed himself, and if Scotland Yard satisfies itself
  with that explanation, and turns on its other side and goes to sleep
  again, then, sir, one of the foulest and most horrible crimes of the
  century will for ever go unpunished. My acquaintance with the unhappy
  victim was but recent; still, I saw and knew enough of the man to be
  certain (and I hope I have seen and known enough of other men to judge)
  that he was a man constitutionally incapable of committing an act of
  violence, whether against himself or anybody else. He would not hurt a
  fly, as the saying goes. And a man of that gentle stamp always lacks
  the active energy to lay hands on himself. He was a man to be esteemed
  in no common degree, and I feel proud to be able to say that he
  considered me a friend. I am hardly at the time of life at which a man
  cares to put on his harness again; but, sir, it is impossible that I
  should ever know a day's rest till the perpetrator of this foul deed is
  discovered. I have already put myself in communication with the family
  of the victim, who, I am pleased to say, have every confidence in me,
  and look to me to clear the name of their unhappy relative from the
  semi-imputation of suicide. I shall be pleased if any one who shares my
  distrust of the authorities, and who has any clue whatever to this
  terrible mystery or any plausible suggestion to offer, if, in brief,
  any 'One who looks through his own spectacles' will communicate with
  me. If I were asked to indicate the direction in which new clues might
  be most usefully sought, I should say, in the first instance, anything
  is valuable that helps us to piece together a complete picture of the
  manifold activities of the man in the East-end. He entered one way or
  another into the lives of a good many people; is it true that he
  nowhere made enemies? With the best intentions a man may wound or
  offend; his interference may be resented; he may even excite jealousy.
  A young man like the late Mr. Constant could not have had as much
  practical sagacity as he had goodness. Whose corns did he tread on? The
  more we know of the last few months of his life the more we shall know
  of the manner of his death. Thanking you by anticipation for the
  insertion of this letter in your valuable columns, I am, sir, yours
  truly,

  "George Grodman.

  "46 Glover Street, Bow.

  "P. S.--Since writing the above lines, I have, by the kindness of Miss
  Brent, been placed in possession of a most valuable letter, probably
  the last letter written by the unhappy gentleman. It is dated Monday,
  3 December, the very eve of the murder, and was addressed to her at
  Florence, and has now, after some delay, followed her back to London
  where the sad news unexpectedly brought her. It is a letter couched,
  on the whole, in the most hopeful spirit, and speaks in detail of his
  schemes. Of course there are things in it not meant for the ears of
  the public, but there can be no harm in transcribing an important
  passage:--

  "'You seem to have imbibed the idea that the East-end is a kind of
  Golgotha, and this despite that the books out of which you probably got
  it are carefully labelled "Fiction." Lamb says somewhere that we think
  of the "Dark Ages" as literally without sunlight, and so I fancy people
  like you, dear, think of the "East-end" as a mixture of mire, misery,
  and murder. How's that for alliteration? Why, within five minutes' walk
  of me there are the loveliest houses, with gardens back and front,
  inhabited by very fine people and furniture. Many of my university
  friends' mouths would water if they knew the income of some of the
  shopkeepers in the High Road.

  "'The rich people about here may not be so fashionable as those in
  Kensington and Bayswater, but they are every bit as stupid and
  materialistic. I don't deny, Lucy, I _do_ have my black moments, and
  I do sometimes pine to get away from all this to the lands of sun and
  lotus-eating. But, on the whole, I am too busy even to dream of
  dreaming. My real black moments are when I doubt if I am really doing
  any good. But yet on the whole my conscience or my self-conceit tells
  me that I am. If one cannot do much with the mass, there is at least
  the consolation of doing good to the individual. And, after all, is it
  not enough to have been an influence for good over one or two human
  souls? There are quite fine characters hereabout--especially in the
  women--natures capable not only of self-sacrifice, but of delicacy of
  sentiment. To have learnt to know of such, to have been of service to
  one or two of such--is not this ample return? I could not get to St.
  James's Hall to hear your friend's symphony at the Henschel concert.
  I have been reading Mme. Blavatsky's latest book, and getting quite
  interested in occult philosophy. Unfortunately I have to do all my
  reading in bed, and I don't find the book as soothing a soporific as
  most new books. For keeping one awake I find Theosophy as bad as
  toothache....'"

       *       *       *       *       *

  "The Big Bow Mystery Solved

  "Sir,--I wonder if any one besides myself has been struck by the
  incredible bad taste of Mr. Grodman's letter in your last issue. That
  he, a former servant of the Department, should publicly insult and run
  it down can only be charitably explained by the supposition that his
  judgment is failing him in his old age. In view of this letter, are the
  relatives of the deceased justified in entrusting him with any private
  documents? It is, no doubt, very good of him to undertake to avenge one
  whom he seems snobbishly anxious to claim as a friend; but, all things
  considered, should not his letter have been headed 'The Big Bow Mystery
  Shelved'? I enclose my card, and am, sir,

  "Your obedient servant,

  "Scotland Yard."

George Grodman read this letter with annoyance, and crumpling up the
paper, murmured scornfully, "Edward Wimp!"



V


"Yes, but what will become of the Beautiful?" said Denzil Cantercot.

"Hang the Beautiful!" said Peter Crowl, as if he were on the committee of
the Academy. "Give me the True."

Denzil did nothing of the sort. He didn't happen to have it about him.

Denzil Cantercot stood smoking a cigarette in his landlord's shop, and
imparting an air of distinction and an agreeable aroma to the close
leathery atmosphere. Crowl cobbled away, talking to his tenant without
raising his eyes. He was a small, big-headed, sallow, sad-eyed man, with
a greasy apron. Denzil was wearing a heavy overcoat with a fur collar.
He was never seen without it in public during the winter. In private he
removed it and sat in his shirt sleeves. Crowl was a thinker, or thought
he was--which seems to involve original thinking anyway. His hair was
thinning rapidly at the top, as if his brain was struggling to get as
near as possible to the realities of things. He prided himself on having
no fads. Few men are without some foible or hobby; Crowl felt almost
lonely at times in his superiority. He was a Vegetarian, a Secularist, a
Blue Ribbonite, a Republican, and an Anti-tobacconist. Meat was a fad.
Drink was a fad. Religion was a fad. Monarchy was a fad. Tobacco was a
fad. "A plain man like me," Crowl used to say, "can live without fads."
"A plain man" was Crowl's catchword. When of a Sunday morning he stood
on Mile-end Waste, which was opposite his shop--and held forth to the
crowd on the evils of kings, priests, and mutton chops, the "plain man"
turned up at intervals like the "theme" of a symphonic movement. "I am
only a plain man and I want to know." It was a phrase that sabred the
spider-webs of logical refinement, and held them up scornfully on the
point. When Crowl went for a little recreation in Victoria Park on Sunday
afternoons, it was with this phrase that he invariably routed the
supernaturalists. Crowl knew his Bible better than most ministers, and
always carried a minutely printed copy in his pocket, dog's-eared to mark
contradictions in the text. The second chapter of Jeremiah says one
thing; the first chapter of Corinthians says another. Two contradictory
statements _may_ both be true, but "I am only a plain man, and I want to
know." Crowl spent a large part of his time in setting "the word against
the word." Cock-fighting affords its votaries no acuter pleasure than
Crowl derived from setting two texts by the ears. Crowl had a
metaphysical genius which sent his Sunday morning disciples frantic
with admiration, and struck the enemy dumb with dismay. He had
discovered, for instance, that the Deity could not move, owing to already
filling all space. He was also the first to invent, for the confusion of
the clerical, the crucial case of a saint dying at the Antipodes
contemporaneously with another in London. Both went skyward to heaven,
yet the two travelled in directly opposite directions. In all eternity
they would never meet. Which, then, got to heaven? Or was there no such
place? "I am only a plain man, and I want to know."

Preserve us our open spaces; they exist to testify to the incurable
interest of humanity in the Unknown and the Misunderstood. Even 'Arry is
capable of five minutes' attention to speculative theology, if 'Arriet
isn't in a 'urry.

Peter Crowl was not sorry to have a lodger like Denzil Cantercot, who,
though a man of parts and thus worth powder and shot, was so hopelessly
wrong on all subjects under the sun. In only one point did Peter Crowl
agree with Denzil Cantercot--he admired Denzil Cantercot secretly. When
he asked him for the True--which was about twice a day on the average--he
didn't really expect to get it from him. He knew that Denzil was a poet.

"The Beautiful," he went on, "is a thing that only appeals to men like
you. The True is for all men. The majority have the first claim. Till
then you poets must stand aside. The True and the Useful--that's what we
want. The Good of Society is the only test of things. Everything stands
or falls by the Good of Society."

"The Good of Society!" echoed Denzil, scornfully. "What's the good of
Society? The Individual is before all. The mass must be sacrificed to the
Great Man. Otherwise the Great Man will be sacrificed to the mass.
Without great men there would be no art. Without art life would be a
blank."

"Ah, but we should fill it up with bread and butter," said Peter Crowl.

"Yes, it is bread and butter that kills the Beautiful," said Denzil
Cantercot, bitterly. "Many of us start by following the butterfly through
the verdant meadows, but we turn aside--"

"To get the grub," chuckled Peter, cobbling away.

"Peter, if you make a jest of everything, I'll not waste my time on you."

Denzil's wild eyes flashed angrily. He shook his long hair. Life was very
serious to him. He never wrote comic verse intentionally.

There are three reasons why men of genius have long hair. One is, that
they forget it is growing. The second is, that they like it. The third
is, that it comes cheaper; they wear it long for the same reason that
they wear their hats long.

Owing to this peculiarity of genius, you may get quite a reputation for
lack of twopence. The economic reason did not apply to Denzil, who could
always get credit with the profession on the strength of his appearance.
Therefore, when street arabs vocally commanded him to get his hair cut,
they were doing no service to barbers. Why does all the world watch over
barbers and conspire to promote their interests? Denzil would have told
you it was not to serve the barbers, but to gratify the crowd's
instinctive resentment of originality. In his palmy days Denzil had been
an editor, but he no more thought of turning his scissors against himself
than of swallowing his paste. The efficacy of hair has changed since the
days of Samson, otherwise Denzil would have been a Hercules instead of a
long, thin, nervous man, looking too brittle and delicate to be used even
for a pipe-cleaner. The narrow oval of his face sloped to a pointed,
untrimmed beard. His linen was reproachable, his dingy boots were down at
heel, and his cocked hat was drab with dust. Such are the effects of a
love for the Beautiful.

Peter Crowl was impressed with Denzil's condemnation of flippancy, and he
hastened to turn off the joke.

"I'm quite serious," he said. "Butterflies are no good to nothing or
nobody; caterpillars at least save the birds from starving."

"Just like your view of things, Peter," said Denzil. "Good morning,
madam." This to Mrs. Crowl, to whom he removed his hat with elaborate
courtesy.

Mrs. Crowl grunted and looked at her husband with a note of interrogation
in each eye. For some seconds Crowl stuck to his last, endeavouring not
to see the question. He shifted uneasily on his stool. His wife coughed
grimly. He looked up, saw her towering over him, and helplessly shook his
head in a horizontal direction. It was wonderful how Mrs. Crowl towered
over Mr. Crowl, even when he stood up in his shoes. She measured half an
inch less. It was quite an optical illusion.

"Mr. Crowl," said Mrs. Crowl, "then I'll tell him."

"No, no, my dear, not yet," faltered Peter, helplessly; "leave it to me."

"I've left it to you long enough. You'll never do nothing. If it was a
question of provin' to a lot of chuckleheads that Jollygee and Genesis,
or some other dead and gone Scripture folk that don't consarn no mortal
soul, used to contradict each other, your tongue'ud run thirteen to the
dozen. But when it's a matter of takin' the bread out o' the mouths o'
your own children, you ain't got no more to say for yourself than a
lamp-post. Here's a man stayin' with you for weeks and weeks--eatin' and
drinkin' the flesh off your bones--without payin' a far--"

"Hush, hush, mother; it's all right," said poor Crowl, red as fire.

Denzil looked at her dreamily. "Is it possible you are alluding to me,
Mrs. Crowl?" he said.

"Who then should I be alludin' to, Mr. Cantercot? Here's seven weeks come
and gone, and not a blessed 'aypenny have I--"

"My dear Mrs. Crowl," said Denzil, removing his cigarette from his mouth
with a pained air, "why reproach _me_ for _your_ neglect?"

"_My_ neglect! I like that!"

"I don't," said Denzil more sharply. "If you had sent me in the bill you
would have had the money long ago. How do you expect me to think of these
details?"

"We ain't so grand down here. People pays their way--they don't get no
_bills_" said Mrs. Crowl, accentuating the word with infinite scorn.

Peter hammered away at a nail, as though to drown his spouse's voice.

"It's three pounds fourteen and eightpence, if you're so anxious to
know," Mrs. Crowl resumed. "And there ain't a woman in the Mile End Road
as 'ud a-done it cheaper, with bread at fourpence threefarden a quartern
and landlords clamburin' for rent every Monday morning almost afore the
sun's up and folks draggin' and slidderin' on till their shoes is only
fit to throw after brides and Christmas comin' and sevenpence a week for
schoolin'!"

Peter winced under the last item. He had felt it coming--like Christmas.
His wife and he parted company on the question of Free Education. Peter
felt that, having brought nine children into the world, it was only fair
he should pay a penny a week for each of those old enough to bear
educating. His better half argued that, having so many children, they
ought in reason to be exempted. Only people who had few children could
spare the penny. But the one point on which the cobbler-sceptic of the
Mile End Road got his way was this of the fees. It was a question of
conscience, and Mrs. Crowl had never made application for their
remission, though she often slapped her children in vexation instead.
They were used to slapping, and when nobody else slapped them they
slapped one another. They were bright, ill-mannered brats, who pestered
their parents and worried their teachers, and were as happy as the Road
was long.

"Bother the school fees!" Peter retorted, vexed. "Mr. Cantercot's not
responsible for your children."

"I should hope not, indeed, Mr. Crowl," Mrs. Crowl said sternly. "I'm
ashamed of you." And with that she flounced out of the shop into the
back parlour.

"It's all right," Peter called after her soothingly. "The money'll be all
right, mother."

In lower circles it is customary to call your wife your mother; in
somewhat superior circles it is the fashion to speak of her as "the
wife," as you speak of "the Stock Exchange," or "the Thames," without
claiming any peculiar property. Instinctively men are ashamed of being
moral and domesticated.

Denzil puffed his cigarette, unembarrassed. Peter bent attentively over
his work, making nervous stabs with his awl. There was a long silence. An
organ-grinder played a waltz outside, unregarded; and, failing to annoy
anybody, moved on. Denzil lit another cigarette. The dirty-faced clock on
the wall chimed twelve.

"What do you think," said Crowl, "of Republics?"

"They are low," Denzil replied. "Without a Monarch there is no visible
incarnation of Authority."

"What! do you call Queen Victoria visible?"

"Peter, do you want to drive me from the house? Leave frivolousness to
women, whose minds are only large enough for domestic difficulties.
Republics are low. Plato mercifully kept the poets out of his. Republics
are not congenial soil for poetry."

"What nonsense! If England dropped its fad of Monarchy and became a
Republic to-morrow, do you mean to say that--?"

"I mean to say there would be no Poet Laureate to begin with."

"Who's fribbling now, you or me, Cantercot? But I don't care a
button-hook about poets, present company always excepted. I'm only a
plain man, and I want to know where's the sense of givin' any one person
authority over everybody else?"

"Ah, that's what Tom Mortlake used to say. Wait till you're in power,
Peter, with trade-union money to control, and working men bursting to
give you flying angels and to carry you aloft, like a banner, huzzahing."

"Ah, that's because he's head and shoulders above 'em already," said
Crowl, with a flash in his sad grey eyes. "Still, it don't prove that I'd
talk any different. And I think you're quite wrong about his being
spoilt. Tom's a fine fellow--a man every inch of him, and that's a good
many. I don't deny he has his weaknesses, and there was a time when he
stood in this very shop and denounced that poor dead Constant. 'Crowl,'
said he, 'that man'll do mischief. I don't like these kid-glove
philanthropists mixing themselves up in practical labour disputes they
don't understand.'"

Denzil whistled involuntarily. It was a piece of news.

"I dare say," continued Crowl, "he's a bit jealous of anybody's
interference with his influence. But in this case the jealousy did wear
off, you see, for the poor fellow and he got quite pals, as everybody
knows. Tom's not the man to hug a prejudice. However, all that don't
prove nothing against Republics. Look at the Czar and the Jews. I'm only
a plain man, but I wouldn't live in Russia not for--not for all the
leather in it! An Englishman, taxed as he is to keep up his Fad of
Monarchy, is at least king in his own castle, whoever bosses it at
Windsor. Excuse me a minute, the missus is callin'."

"Excuse _me_ a minute. I'm going, and I want to say before I go--I feel
it only right you should know at once--that after what has passed to-day
I can never be on the same footing here as in the--shall I say
pleasant?--days of yore."

"Oh, no, Cantercot. Don't say that; don't say that!" pleaded the little
cobbler.

"Well, shall I say unpleasant, then?"

"No, no, Cantercot. Don't misunderstand me. Mother has been very much put
to it lately to rub along. You see she has such a growing family. It
grows--daily. But never mind her. You pay whenever you've got the money."

Denzil shook his head. "It cannot be. You know when I came here first I
rented your top room and boarded myself. Then I learnt to know you. We
talked together. Of the Beautiful. And the Useful. I found you had no
soul. But you were honest, and I liked you. I went so far as to take my
meals with your family. I made myself at home in your back parlour. But
the vase has been shattered (I do not refer to that on the mantel-piece),
and though the scent of the roses may cling to it still, it can be pieced
together--nevermore." He shook his hair sadly and shambled out of the
shop. Crowl would have gone after him, but Mrs. Crowl was still calling,
and ladies must have the precedence in all polite societies.

Cantercot went straight--or as straight as his loose gait permitted--to
46 Glover Street, and knocked at the door. Grodman's factotum opened it.
She was a pock-marked person, with a brickdust complexion and a
coquettish manner.

"Oh! Here we are again!" she said vivaciously.

"Don't talk like a clown," Cantercot snapped. "Is Mr. Grodman in?"

"No, you've put him out," growled the gentleman himself, suddenly
appearing in his slippers. "Come in. What the devil have you been doing
with yourself since the inquest? Drinking again?"

"I've sworn off. Haven't touched a drop since--"

"The murder?"

"Eh?" said Denzil Cantercot, startled. "What do you mean?"

"What I say. Since December 4. I reckon everything from that murder, now,
as they reckon longitude from Greenwich."

"Oh," said Denzil Cantercot.

"Let me see. Nearly a fortnight. What a long time to keep away from
Drink--and Me."

"I don't know which is worse," said Denzil, irritated. "You both steal
away my brains."

"Indeed?" said Grodman, with an amused smile. "Well, it's only petty
pilfering, after all. What's put salt on your wounds?"

"The twenty-fourth edition of my book."

"_Whose_ book?"

"Well, _your_ book. You must be making piles of money out of _Criminals I
have Caught_."

"'Criminals _I_ have Caught,'" corrected Grodman. "My dear Denzil, how
often am I to point out that _I_ went through the experiences that make
the backbone of my book, not _you_? In each case _I_ cooked the
criminal's goose. Any journalist could have supplied the dressing."

"The contrary. The journeymen of journalism would have left the truth
naked. You yourself could have done that--for there is no man to beat
you at cold, lucid, scientific statement. But I idealised the bare
facts and lifted them into the realm of poetry and literature. The
twenty-fourth edition of the book attests my success."

"Rot! The twenty-fourth edition was all owing to the murder. Did you do
that?"

"You take one up so sharply, Mr. Grodman," said Denzil, changing his
tone.

"No--I've retired," laughed Grodman.

Denzil did not reprove the ex-detective's flippancy. He even laughed a
little.

"Well, give me another fiver, and I'll cry 'quits.' I'm in debt."

"Not a penny. Why haven't you been to see me since the murder? I had to
write that letter to the _Pell Mell Press_ myself. You might have earned
a crown."

"I've had writer's cramp, and couldn't do your last job. I was coming to
tell you so on the morning of the--"

"Murder. So you said at the inquest."

"It's true."

"Of course. Weren't you on your oath? It was very zealous of you to get
up so early to tell me. In which hand did you have this cramp?"

"Why, in the right of course."

"And you couldn't write with your left?"

"I don't think I could even hold a pen."

"Or any other instrument, mayhap. What had you been doing to bring it
on?"

"Writing too much. That is the only possible cause."

"Oh! I didn't know. Writing what?"

Denzil hesitated. "An epic poem."

"No wonder you're in debt. Will a sovereign get you out of it?"

"No; it wouldn't be the least use to me."

"Here it is, then."

Denzil took the coin and his hat.

"Aren't you going to earn it, you beggar? Sit down and write something
for me."

Denzil got pen and paper, and took his place.

"What do you want me to write?"

"Your Epic Poem."

Denzil started and flushed. But he set to work. Grodman leaned back in
his arm-chair and laughed, studying the poet's grave face.

Denzil wrote three lines and paused.

"Can't remember any more? Well, read me the start."

Denzil read:--

  "Of man's first disobedience and the fruit
   Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
   Brought death into the world--"

"Hold on!" cried Grodman. "What morbid subjects you choose, to be sure!"

"Morbid! Why, Milton chose the same subject!"

"Blow Milton. Take yourself off--you and your Epics."

Denzil went. The pock-marked person opened the street door for him.

"When am I to have that new dress, dear?" she whispered coquettishly.

"I have no money, Jane," he said shortly.

"You have a sovereign."

Denzil gave her the sovereign, and slammed the door viciously. Grodman
overheard their whispers, and laughed silently. His hearing was acute.
Jane had first introduced Denzil to his acquaintance about two years ago,
when he spoke of getting an amanuensis, and the poet had been doing odd
jobs for him ever since. Grodman argued that Jane had her reasons.
Without knowing them, he got a hold over both. There was no one, he felt,
he could not get a hold over. All men--and women--have something to
conceal, and you have only to pretend to know what it is. Thus Grodman,
who was nothing if not scientific.

Denzil Cantercot shambled home thoughtfully, and abstractedly took his
place at the Crowl dinner-table.



VI


Mrs. Crowl surveyed Denzil Cantercot so stonily and cut him his beef so
savagely that he said grace when the dinner was over. Peter fed his
metaphysical genius on tomatoes. He was tolerant enough to allow his
family to follow their Fads; but no savoury smells ever tempted him to be
false to his vegetable loves. Besides, meat might have reminded him too
much of his work. There is nothing like leather, but Bow beefsteaks
occasionally come very near it.

After dinner Denzil usually indulged in poetic reverie. But to-day he did
not take his nap. He went out at once to "raise the wind." But there
was a dead calm everywhere. In vain he asked for an advance at the office
of the _Mile End Mirror_, to which he contributed scathing leaderettes
about vestrymen. In vain he trudged to the City and offered to write the
_Ham and Eggs Gazette_ an essay on the modern methods of bacon-curing.
Denzil knew a great deal about the breeding and slaughtering of pigs,
smoke-lofts and drying processes, having for years dictated the policy of
the _New Pork Herald_ in these momentous matters. Denzil also knew a
great deal about many other esoteric matters, including weaving machines,
the manufacture of cabbage leaves and snuff, and the inner economy of
drain-pipes. He had written for the trade papers since boyhood. But there
is great competition on these papers. So many men of literary gifts know
all about the intricate technicalities of manufactures and markets, and
are eager to set the trade right. Grodman perhaps hardly allowed
sufficiently for the step backwards that Denzil made when he devoted his
whole time for months to _Criminals I have Caught_. It was as damaging as
a debauch. For when your rivals are pushing forwards, to stand still is
to go back.

In despair Denzil shambled toilsomely to Bethnal Green. He paused before
the window of a little tobacconist's shop, wherein was displayed a
placard announcing

  "PLOTS FOR SALE."

The announcement went on to state that a large stock of plots was to be
obtained on the premises--embracing sensational plots, humorous plots,
love plots, religious plots, and poetic plots; also complete manuscripts,
original novels, poems, and tales. Apply within.

It was a very dirty-looking shop, with begrimed bricks and blackened
woodwork. The window contained some musty old books, an assortment of
pipes and tobacco, and a large number of the vilest daubs unhung, painted
in oil on Academy boards, and unframed. These were intended for
landscapes, as you could tell from the titles. The most expensive was
"Chingford Church," and it was marked IS. 9d. The others ran from 6d. to
IS. 3d., and were mostly representations of Scottish scenery--a loch with
mountains in the background, with solid reflections in the water and a
tree in the foreground. Sometimes the tree would be in the background.
Then the loch would be in the foreground. Sky and water were intensely
blue in all. The name of the collection was "Original oil-paintings done
by hand." Dust lay thick upon everything, as if carefully shovelled on;
and the proprietor looked as if he slept in his shop-window at night
without taking his clothes off. He was a gaunt man with a red nose, long
but scanty black locks covered by a smoking-cap, and a luxuriant black
moustache. He smoked a long clay pipe, and had the air of a broken-down
operatic villain.

"Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Cantercot," he said, rubbing his hands, half
from cold, half from usage; "what have you brought me?"

"Nothing," said Denzil, "but if you will lend me a sovereign I'll do you
a stunner."

The operatic villain shook his locks, his eyes full of pawky cunning. "If
you did it after that, it _would_ be a stunner."

What the operatic villain did with these plots, and who bought them,
Cantercot never knew nor cared to know. Brains are cheap to-day, and
Denzil was glad enough to find a customer.

"Surely you've known me long enough to trust me," he cried.

"Trust is dead," said the operatic villain, puffing away.

"So is Queen Anne," cried the irritated poet. His eyes took a dangerous
hunted look. Money he must have. But the operatic villain was inflexible.
No plot, no supper.

Poor Denzil went out flaming. He knew not where to turn. Temporarily he
turned on his heel again and stared despairingly at the shop-window.
Again he read the legend

  "PLOTS FOR SALE."

He stared so long at this that it lost its meaning. When the sense of the
words suddenly flashed upon him again, they bore a new significance. He
went in meekly, and borrowed fourpence of the operatic villain. Then he
took the 'bus for Scotland Yard. There was a not ill-looking servant girl
in the 'bus. The rhythm of the vehicle shaped itself into rhymes in his
brain. He forgot all about his situation and his object. He had never
really written an epic--except "Paradise Lost"--but he composed lyrics
about wine and women and often wept to think how miserable he was. But
nobody ever bought anything of him, except articles on bacon-curing or
attacks on vestrymen. He was a strange, wild creature, and the wench felt
quite pretty under his ardent gaze. It almost hypnotised her, though, and
she looked down at her new French kid boots to escape it.

At Scotland Yard Denzil asked for Edward Wimp. Edward Wimp was
not on view. Like kings and editors, detectives are difficult of
approach--unless you are a criminal, when you cannot see anything
of them at all. Denzil knew of Edward Wimp, principally because of
Grodman's contempt for his successor. Wimp was a man of taste and
culture. Grodman's interests were entirely concentrated on the problems
of logic and evidence. Books about these formed his sole reading; for
_belles lettres_ he cared not a straw. Wimp, with his flexible intellect,
had a great contempt for Grodman and his slow, laborious, ponderous,
almost Teutonic methods. Worse, he almost threatened to eclipse the
radiant tradition of Grodman by some wonderfully ingenious bits of
workmanship. Wimp was at his greatest in collecting circumstantial
evidence; in putting two and two together to make five. He would collect
together a number of dark and disconnected data and flash across them the
electric light of some unifying hypothesis in a way which would have
done credit to a Darwin or a Faraday. An intellect which might have
served to unveil the secret workings of nature was subverted to the
protection of a capitalistic civilisation.

By the assistance of a friendly policeman, whom the poet magnetised into
the belief that his business was a matter of life and death, Denzil
obtained the great detective's private address. It was near King's Cross.
By a miracle Wimp was at home in the afternoon. He was writing when
Denzil was ushered up three pairs of stairs into his presence, but he got
up and flashed the bull's-eye of his glance upon the visitor.

"Mr. Denzil Cantercot, I believe," said Wimp.

Denzil started. He had not sent up his name, merely describing himself as
a gentleman.

"That is my name," he murmured.

"You were one of the witnesses at the inquest on the body of the late
Arthur Constant. I have your evidence there." He pointed to a file. "Why
have you come to give fresh evidence?"

Again Denzil started, flushing in addition this time. "I want money," he
said, almost involuntarily.

"Sit down." Denzil sat. Wimp stood.

Wimp was young and fresh-coloured. He had a Roman nose, and was smartly
dressed. He had beaten Grodman by discovering the wife Heaven meant for
him. He had a bouncing boy, who stole jam out of the pantry without any
one being the wiser. Wimp did what work he could do at home in a secluded
study at the top of the house. Outside his chamber of horrors he was the
ordinary husband of commerce. He adored his wife, who thought poorly of
his intellect but highly of his heart. In domestic difficulties Wimp was
helpless. He could not tell even whether the servant's "character" was
forged or genuine. Probably he could not level himself to such petty
problems. He was like the senior wrangler who has forgotten how to do
quadratics, and has to solve equations of the second degree by the
calculus.

"How much money do you want?" he asked.

"I do not make bargains," Denzil replied, his calm come back by this
time. "I came here to tender you a suggestion. It struck me that you
might offer me a fiver for my trouble. Should you do so, I shall not
refuse it."

"You shall not refuse it--if you deserve it."

"Good. I will come to the point at once. My suggestion concerns--Tom
Mortlake."

Denzil threw out the name as if it were a torpedo. Wimp did not move.

"Tom Mortlake," went on Denzil, looking disappointed, "had a sweetheart."
He paused impressively.

Wimp said, "Yes?"

"Where is that sweetheart now?"

"Where, indeed?"

"You know about her disappearance?"

"You have just informed me of it."

"Yes, she is gone--without a trace. She went about a fortnight before Mr.
Constant's murder."

"Murder? How do you know it was murder?"

"Mr. Grodman says so," said Denzil, startled again.

"H'm! Isn't that rather a proof that it was suicide? Well, go on."

"About a fortnight before the suicide, Jessie Dymond disappeared. So they
tell me in Stepney Green, where she lodged and worked."

"What was she?"

"She was a dressmaker. She had a wonderful talent. Quite fashionable
ladies got to know of it. One of her dresses was presented at Court. I
think the lady forgot to pay for it; so Jessie's landlady said."

"Did she live alone?"

"She had no parents, but the house was respectable."

"Good-looking, I suppose?"

"As a poet's dream."

"As yours, for instance?"

"I am a poet; I dream."

"You dream you are a poet. Well, well! She was engaged to Mortlake?"

"Oh, yes! They made no secret of it. The engagement was an old one. When
he was earning 36s. a week as a compositor, they were saving up to buy a
home. He worked at Railton and Hockes who print the _New Pork Herald_. I
used to take my 'copy' into the comps' room, and one day the Father of
the Chapel told me all about 'Mortlake and his young woman.' Ye gods! How
times are changed! Two years ago Mortlake had to struggle with my
calligraphy--now he is in with all the nobs, and goes to the 'At Homes'
of the aristocracy."

"Radical M.P.'s," murmured Wimp, smiling.

"While I am still barred from the dazzling drawing-rooms, where beauty
and intellect foregather. A mere artisan! A manual labourer!" Denzil's
eyes flashed angrily. He rose with excitement. "They say he always _was_
a jabberer in the composing-room, and he has jabbered himself right out
of it and into a pretty good thing. He didn't have much to say about the
crimes of capital when he was set up to second the toast of 'Railton and
Hockes' at the beanfeast."

"Toast and butter, toast and butter," said Wimp, genially. "I shouldn't
blame a man for serving the two together, Mr. Cantercot."

Denzil forced a laugh. "Yes; but consistency's _my_ motto. I like to see
the royal soul immaculate, unchanging, immovable by fortune. Anyhow, when
better times came for Mortlake the engagement still dragged on. He did
not visit her so much. This last autumn he saw very little of her."

"How do you know?"

"I--I was often in Stepney Green. My business took me past the house of
an evening. Sometimes there was no light in her room. That meant she was
downstairs gossiping with the landlady."

"She might have been out with Tom?"

"No, sir; I knew Tom was on the platform somewhere or other. He was
working up to all hours organising the eight hours' working movement."

"A very good reason for relaxing his sweethearting."

"It was. He never went to Stepney Green on a week night."

"But you always did."

"No--not every night."

"You didn't go in?"

"Never. She wouldn't permit my visits. She was a girl of strong
character. She always reminded me of Flora Macdonald."

"Another lady of your acquaintance?"

"A lady I know better than the shadows who surround me, who is more real
to me than the women who pester me for the price of apartments. Jessie
Dymond, too, was of the race of heroines. Her eyes were clear blue, two
wells with Truth at the bottom of each. When I looked into those eyes my
own were dazzled. They were the only eyes I could never make dreamy." He
waved his hand as if making a pass with it. "It was she who had the
influence over me."

"You knew her, then?"

"Oh, yes. I knew Tom from the old _New Pork Herald_ days, and when I
first met him with Jessie hanging on his arm he was quite proud to
introduce her to a poet. When he got on he tried to shake me off."

"You should have repaid him what you borrowed."

"It--it--was only a trifle," stammered Denzil.

"Yes, but the world turns on trifles," said the wise Wimp.

"The world is itself a trifle," said the pensive poet. "The Beautiful
alone is deserving of our regard."

"And when the Beautiful was not gossiping with her landlady, did she
gossip with you as you passed the door?"

"Alas, no! She sat in her room reading, and cast a shadow--"

"On your life?"

"No; on the blind."

"Always one shadow?"

"No, sir. Once or twice, two."

"Ah, you had been drinking."

"On my life, not. I have sworn off the treacherous wine-cup."

"That's right. Beer is bad for poets. It makes their feet shaky. Whose
was the second shadow?"

"A man's."

"Naturally. Mortlake's, perhaps."

"Impossible. He was still striking eight hours."

"You found out whose shadow? You didn't leave a shadow of doubt?"

"No; I waited till the substance came out."

"It was Arthur Constant."

"You are a magician! You--you terrify me. Yes, it was he."

"Only once or twice, you say?"

"I didn't keep watch over them."

"No, no, of course not. You only passed casually. I understand you
thoroughly."

Denzil did not feel comfortable at the assertion.

"What did he go there for?" Wimp went on.

"I don't know. I'd stake my soul on Jessie's honour."

"You might double your stake without risk."

"Yes, I might! I would! You see her with my eyes."

"For the moment they are the only ones available. When was the last time
you saw the two together?"

"About the middle of November."

"Mortlake knew nothing of the meetings?"

"I don't know. Perhaps he did. Mr. Constant had probably enlisted her in
his social mission work. I knew she was one of the attendants at the big
children's tea in the Great Assembly Hall early in November. He treated
her quite like a lady. She was the only attendant who worked with her
hands."

"The others carried the cups on their feet, I suppose."

"No; how could that be? My meaning is that all the other attendants were
real ladies, and Jessie was only an amateur, so to speak. There was no
novelty for her in handing kids cups of tea. I dare say she had helped
her landlady often enough at that--there's quite a bushel of brats below
stairs. It's almost as bad as at friend Crowl's. Jessie was a real brick.
But perhaps Tom didn't know her value. Perhaps he didn't like Constant to
call on her, and it led to a quarrel. Anyhow, she's disappeared, like the
snowfall on the river. There's not a trace. The landlady, who was such a
friend of hers that Jessie used to make up her stuff into dresses for
nothing, tells me that she's dreadfully annoyed at not having been left
the slightest clue to her late tenant's whereabouts."

"You have been making inquiries on your own account apparently?"

"Only of the landlady. Jessie never even gave her the week's notice, but
paid her in lieu of it, and left immediately. The landlady told me I
could have knocked her down with a feather. Unfortunately, I wasn't there
to do it, or I should certainly have knocked her down for not keeping her
eyes open better. She says if she had only had the least suspicion
beforehand that the minx (she dared to call Jessie a minx) was going,
she'd have known where, or her name would have been somebody else's. And
yet she admits that Jessie was looking ill and worried. Stupid old hag!"

"A woman of character," murmured the detective.

"Didn't I tell you so?" cried Denzil, eagerly. "Another girl would have
let out that she was going. But no, not a word. She plumped down the
money and walked out. The landlady ran upstairs. None of Jessie's things
were there. She must have quietly sold them off, or transferred them to
the new place. I never in my life met a girl who so thoroughly knew her
own mind or had a mind so worth knowing. She always reminded me of the
Maid of Saragossa."

"Indeed! And when did she leave?"

"On the l9th of November."

"Mortlake of course knows where she is?"

"I can't say. Last time I was at the house to inquire--it was at the end
of November--he hadn't been seen there for six weeks. He wrote to her, of
course, sometimes--the landlady knew his writing."

Wimp looked Denzil straight in the eyes, and said, "You mean, of course,
to accuse Mortlake of the murder of Mr. Constant?"

"N-n-no, not at all," stammered Denzil, "only you know what Mr. Grodman
wrote to the _Pell Mell_. The more we know about Mr. Constant's life the
more we shall know about the manner of his death. I thought my
information would be valuable to you, and I brought it."

"And why didn't you take it to Mr. Grodman?"

"Because I thought it wouldn't be valuable to _me_."

"You wrote _Criminals I have Caught_?"

"How--how do you know that?" Wimp was startling him to-day with a
vengeance.

"Your style, my dear Mr. Cantercot. The unique, noble style."

"Yes, I was afraid it would betray me," said Denzil. "And since you know,
I may tell you that Grodman's a mean curmudgeon. What does he want with
all that money and those houses--a man with no sense of the Beautiful?
He'd have taken my information, and given me more kicks than ha'pence for
it, so to speak."

"Yes, he is a shrewd man after all. I don't see anything valuable in your
evidence against Mortlake."

"No!" said Denzil in a disappointed tone, and fearing he was going to be
robbed. "Not when Mortlake was already jealous of Mr. Constant, who was a
sort of rival organiser, unpaid! A kind of blackleg doing the work
cheaper--nay, for nothing."

"Did Mortlake tell you he was jealous?" said Wimp, a shade of sarcastic
contempt piercing through his tones.

"Oh, yes! He said to me, 'That man will work mischief. I don't like your
kid-glove philanthropists meddling in matters they don't understand.'"

"Those were his very words?"

"His _ipsissima verba_."

"Very well. I have your address in my files. Here is a sovereign for
you."

"Only one sovereign! It's not the least use to me."

"Very well. It's of great use to me. I have a wife to keep."

"I haven't," said Denzil, with a sickly smile, "so perhaps I can manage
on it after all." He took his hat and the sovereign.

Outside the door he met a rather pretty servant just bringing in some tea
to her master. He nearly upset her tray at sight of her. She seemed more
amused at the _rencontre_ than he.

"Good afternoon, dear," she said coquettishly. "You might let me have
that sovereign. I do so want a new Sunday bonnet."

Denzil gave her the sovereign, and slammed the hall-door viciously when
he got to the bottom of the stairs. He seemed to be walking arm-in-arm
with the long arm of coincidence. Wimp did not hear the duologue. He was
already busy on his evening's report to headquarters. The next day Denzil
had a body-guard wherever he went. It might have gratified his vanity had
he known it. But to-night he was yet unattended, so no one noted that he
went to 46 Glover Street, after the early Crowl supper. He could not help
going. He wanted to get another sovereign. He also itched to taunt
Grodman. Not succeeding in the former object, he felt the road open for
the second.

"Do you still hope to discover the Bow murderer?" he asked the old
bloodhound.

"I can lay my hand on him now," Grodman announced curtly.

Denzil hitched his chair back involuntarily. He found conversation with
detectives as lively as playing at skittles with bombshells. They got on
his nerves terribly, these undemonstrative gentlemen with no sense of the
Beautiful.

"But why don't you give him up to justice?" he murmured.

"Ah--it has to be proved yet. But it is only a matter of time."

"Oh!" said Denzil, "and shall I write the story for you?"

"No. You will not live long enough."

Denzil turned white. "Nonsense! I am years younger than you," he gasped.

"Yes," said Grodman, "but you drink so much."



VII


When Wimp invited Grodman to eat his Christmas plum-pudding at King's
Cross, Grodman was only a little surprised. The two men were always
overwhelmingly cordial when they met, in order to disguise their mutual
detestation. When people really like each other, they make no concealment
of their mutual contempt. In his letter to Grodman, Wimp said that he
thought it might be nicer for him to keep Christmas in company than in
solitary state. There seems to be a general prejudice in favour of
Christmas numbers, and Grodman yielded to it. Besides, he thought that a
peep at the Wimp domestic interior would be as good as a pantomime. He
quite enjoyed the fun that was coming, for he knew that Wimp had not
invited him out of mere "peace and goodwill."

There was only one other guest at the festive board. This was Wimp's
wife's mother's mother, a lady of sweet seventy. Only a minority of
mankind can obtain a grandmother-in-law by marrying, but Wimp was not
unduly conceited. The old lady suffered from delusions. One of them was
that she was a centenarian. She dressed for the part. It is extraordinary
what pains ladies will take to conceal their age. Another of Wimp's
grandmother-in-law's delusions was that Wimp had married to get her into
the family. Not to frustrate his design, she always gave him her company
on high-days and holidays. Wilfred Wimp--the little boy who stole the
jam--was in great form at the Christmas dinner. The only drawback to his
enjoyment was that its sweets needed no stealing. His mother presided
over the platters, and thought how much cleverer Grodman was than her
husband. When the pretty servant who waited on them was momentarily out
of the room, Grodman had remarked that she seemed very inquisitive. This
coincided with Mrs. Wimp's own convictions, though Mr. Wimp could never
be brought to see anything unsatisfactory or suspicious about the girl,
not even though there were faults in spelling in the "character" with
which her last mistress had supplied her.

It was true that the puss had pricked up her ears when Denzil Cantercot's
name was mentioned. Grodman saw it, and watched her, and fooled Wimp to
the top of his bent. It was, of course, Wimp who introduced the poet's
name, and he did it so casually that Grodman perceived at once that he
wished to pump him. The idea that the rival bloodhound should come to him
for confirmation of suspicions against his own pet jackal was too funny.
It was almost as funny to Grodman that evidence of some sort should be
obviously lying to hand in the bosom of Wimp's hand-maiden; so obviously
that Wimp could not see it. Grodman enjoyed his Christmas dinner, secure
that he had not found a successor after all. Wimp, for his part,
contemptuously wondered at the way Grodman's thought hovered about Denzil
without grazing the truth. A man constantly about him, too!

"Denzil is a man of genius," said Grodman. "And as such comes under the
heading of Suspicious Characters. He has written an Epic Poem and read it
to me. It is morbid from start to finish. There is 'death' in the third
line. I dare say you know he polished up my book?" Grodman's artlessness
was perfect.

"No. You surprise me," Wimp replied. "I'm sure he couldn't have done much
to it. Look at your letter in the Pell Mell. Who wants more polish and
refinement than that showed?"

"Ah, I didn't know you did me the honour of reading that."

"Oh, yes; we both read it," put in Mrs. Wimp. "I told Mr. Wimp it was
very clever and cogent. After that quotation from the letter to the poor
fellow's _fiancée_ there could be no more doubt but that it was murder.
Mr. Wimp was convinced by it too, weren't you, Edward?"

Edward coughed uneasily. It was a true statement, and therefore an
indiscreet. Grodman would plume himself terribly. At this moment Wimp
felt that Grodman had been right in remaining a bachelor. Grodman
perceived the humour of the situation, and wore a curious, sub-mocking
smile.

"On the day I was born," said Wimp's grand-mother-in-law, "over a hundred
years ago, there was a babe murdered."--Wimp found himself wishing it had
been she. He was anxious to get back to Cantercot. "Don't let us talk
shop on Christmas Day," he said, smiling at Grodman. "Besides, murder
isn't a very appropriate subject."

"No, it ain't," said Grodman. "How did we get on to it? Oh, yes--Denzil
Cantercot. Ha! ha! ha! That's curious, for since Denzil revised
_Criminals I have Caught_, his mind's running on nothing but murders.
A poet's brain is easily turned."

Wimp's eye glittered with excitement and contempt for Grodman's
blindness. In Grodman's eye there danced an amused scorn of Wimp; to the
outsider his amusement appeared at the expense of the poet.

Having wrought his rival up to the highest pitch, Grodman slyly and
suddenly unstrung him.

"How lucky for Denzil!" he said, still in the same naive, facetious
Christmasy tone, "that he can prove an alibi in this Constant affair."

"An alibi!" gasped Wimp. "Really?"

"Oh, yes. He was with his wife, you know. She's my woman of all work,
Jane. She happened to mention his being with her."

Jane had done nothing of the kind. After the colloquy he had overheard,
Grodman had set himself to find out the relation between his two
employees. By casually referring to Denzil as "your husband," he so
startled the poor woman that she did not attempt to deny the bond. Only
once did he use the two words, but he was satisfied. As to the alibi, he
had not yet troubled her; but to take its existence for granted would
upset and discomfort Wimp. For the moment that was triumph enough for
Wimp's guest.

"Par," said Wilfred Wimp, "what's a alleybi? A marble?"

"No, my lad," said Grodman, "it means being somewhere else when you're
supposed to be somewhere."

"Ah, playing truant," said Wilfred, self-consciously; his schoolmaster
had often proved an alibi against him. "Then Denzil will be hanged."

Was it a prophecy? Wimp accepted it as such; as an oracle from the gods
bidding him mistrust Grodman. Out of the mouths of little children
issueth wisdom; sometimes even when they are not saying their lessons.

"When I was in my cradle, a century ago," said Wimp's grandmother-in-law,
"men were hanged for stealing horses."

They silenced her with snapdragon performances.

Wimp was busy thinking how to get at Grodman's factotum.

Grodman was busy thinking how to get at Wimp's domestic.

Neither received any of the usual messages from the Christmas Bells.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was sloppy and uncertain. A thin rain drizzled languidly.
One can stand that sort of thing on a summer Bank Holiday; one expects
it. But to have a bad December Bank Holiday is too much of a bad thing.
Some steps should surely be taken to confuse the weather clerk's
chronology. Once let him know that Bank Holiday is coming, and he writes
to the company for more water. To-day his stock seemed low, and he was
dribbling it out; at times the wintry sun would shine in a feeble,
diluted way, and though the holiday-makers would have preferred to take
their sunshine neat, they swarmed forth in their myriads whenever there
was a ray of hope. But it was only dodging the raindrops; up went the
umbrellas again, and the streets became meadows of ambulating mushrooms.

Denzil Cantercot sat in his fur overcoat at the open window, looking at
the landscape in watercolours. He smoked an after-dinner cigarette, and
spoke of the Beautiful. Crowl was with him. They were in the first floor
front, Crowl's bedroom, which, from its view of the Mile End Road, was
livelier than the parlour with its outlook on the backyard. Mrs. Crowl
was an anti-tobacconist as regards the best bedroom; but Peter did not
like to put the poet or his cigarette out. He felt there was something in
common between smoke and poetry, over and above their being both Fads.
Besides, Mrs. Crowl was sulking in the kitchen. She had been arranging
for an excursion with Peter and the children to Victoria Park. (She had
dreamed of the Crystal Palace, but Santa Claus had put no gifts in the
cobbler's shoes.) Now she could not risk spoiling the feather in her
bonnet. The nine brats expressed their disappointment by slapping one
another on the staircases. Peter felt that Mrs. Crowl connected him in
some way with the rainfall, and was unhappy. Was it not enough that he
had been deprived of the pleasure of pointing out to a superstitious
majority the mutual contradictions of Leviticus and the Song of Solomon?
It was not often that Crowl could count on such an audience.

"And you still call Nature Beautiful?" he said to Denzil, pointing to the
ragged sky and the dripping eaves. "Ugly old scare-crow!"

"Ugly she seems to-day," admitted Denzil. "But what is Ugliness but a
higher form of Beauty? You have to look deeper into it to see it; such
vision is the priceless gift of the few. To me this wan desolation of
sighing rain is lovely as the sea-washed ruins of cities."

"Ah, but you wouldn't like to go out into it," said Peter Crowl. As he
spoke the drizzle suddenly thickened into a torrent.

"We do not always kiss the woman we love."

"Speak for yourself, Denzil. I'm only a plain man, and I want to know if
Nature isn't a Fad. Hallo, there goes Mortlake! Lord, a minute of this
will soak him to the skin."

The labour leader was walking along with bowed head. He did not seem to
mind the shower. It was some seconds before he even heard Crowl's
invitation to him to take shelter. When he did hear it he shook his head.

"I know I can't offer you a drawing-room with duchesses stuck about it,"
said Peter, vexed.

Tom turned the handle of the shop door and went in. There was nothing
in the world which now galled him more than the suspicion that he was
stuck-up and wished to cut old friends. He picked his way through the
nine brats who clung affectionately to his wet knees, dispersing them
finally by a jet of coppers to scramble for. Peter met him on the stairs
and shook his hand lovingly and admiringly, and took him into Mrs.
Crowl's bedroom.

"Don't mind what I say, Tom. I'm only a plain man, and my tongue will say
what comes uppermost! But it ain't from the soul, Tom, it ain't from the
soul," said Peter, punning feebly, and letting a mirthless smile play
over his sallow features. "You know Mr. Cantercot, I suppose? The Poet."

"Oh, yes; how do you do, Tom?" cried the Poet. "Seen the _New Pork
Herald_ lately? Not bad, those old times, eh?"

"No," said Tom, "I wish I was back in them."

"Nonsense, nonsense," said Peter, in much concern. "Look at the good you
are doing to the working man. Look how you are sweeping away the Fads.
Ah, it's a grand thing to be gifted, Tom. The idea of your chuckin'
yourself away on a composin'-room! Manual labour is all very well for
plain men like me, with no gift but just enough brains to see into the
realities of things--to understand that we've got no soul and no
immortality, and all that--and too selfish to look after anybody's
comfort but my own and mother's and the kids'. But men like you and
Cantercot--it ain't right that you should be peggin' away at low material
things. Not that I think Cantercot's gospel any value to the masses. The
Beautiful is all very well for folks who've got nothing else to think of,
but give me the True. You're the man for my money, Mortlake. No reference
to the funds, Tom, to which I contribute little enough, Heaven knows;
though how a _place_ can know anything, Heaven alone knows. _You_ give us
the Useful, Tom; that's what the world wants more than the Beautiful."

"Socrates said that the Useful _is_ the Beautiful," said Denzil.

"That may be," said Peter, "but the Beautiful ain't the Useful."

"Nonsense!" said Denzil. "What about Jessie--I mean Miss Dymond? There's
a combination for you. She always reminds me of Grace Darling. How _is_
she, Tom?"

"She's dead!" snapped Tom.

"What?" Denzil turned as white as a Christmas ghost.

"It was in the papers," said Tom; "all about her and the lifeboat."

"Oh, you mean Grace Darling," said Denzil, visibly relieved. "I meant
Miss Dymond."

"You needn't be so interested in her," said Tom surlily. "She don't
appreciate it. Ah, the shower is over. I must be going."

"No, stay a little longer, Tom," pleaded Peter.

"I see a lot about you in the papers, but very little of your dear old
phiz now. I can't spare the time to go and hear you. But I really must
give myself a treat. When's your next show?"

"Oh, I am always giving shows," said Tom, smiling a little. "But my next
big performance is on the twenty-first of January, when that picture of
poor Mr. Constant is to be unveiled at the Bow Break o' Day Club. They
have written to Gladstone and other big pots to come down. I do hope the
old man accepts. A non-political gathering like this is the only occasion
we could both speak at, and I have never been on the same platform with
Gladstone."

He forgot his depression and ill-temper in the prospect, and spoke with
more animation.

"No, I should hope not, Tom," said Peter. "What with his Fads about the
Bible being a Rock, and Monarchy being the right thing, he is a most
dangerous man to lead the Radicals. He never lays his axe to the root of
anything--except oak trees."

"Mr. Cantycot!" It was Mrs. Crowl's voice that broke in upon the tirade.
"There's a _gentleman_ to see you." The astonishment Mrs. Crowl put into
the "gentleman" was delightful. It was almost as good as a week's rent to
her to give vent to her feelings. The controversial couple had moved away
from the window when Tom entered, and had not noticed the immediate
advent of another visitor who had spent his time profitably in listening
to Mrs. Crowl before asking to see the presumable object of his visit.

"Ask him up if it's a friend of yours, Cantercot," said Peter. It was
Wimp. Denzil was rather dubious as to the friendship, but he preferred to
take Wimp diluted. "Mortlake's upstairs," he said; "will you come up and
see him?"

Wimp had intended a duologue, but he made no objection, so he, too,
stumbled through the nine brats to Mrs. Crowl's bedroom. It was a queer
quartette. Wimp had hardly expected to find anybody at the house on
Boxing Day, but he did not care to waste a day. Was not Grodman, too, on
the track? How lucky it was that Denzil had made the first overtures,
so that he could approach him without exciting suspicion.

Mortlake scowled when he saw the detective. He objected to the police--on
principle. But Crowl had no idea who the visitor was, even when told his
name. He was rather pleased to meet one of Denzil's high-class friends,
and welcomed him warmly. Probably he was some famous editor, which would
account for his name stirring vague recollections. He summoned the eldest
brat and sent him for beer (people would have their Fads), and not
without trepidation called down to "Mother" for glasses. "Mother"
observed at night (in the same apartment) that the beer money might have
paid the week's school fees for half the family.

"We were just talking of poor Mr. Constant's portrait, Mr. Wimp," said
the unconscious Crowl; "they're going to unveil it, Mortlake tells me, on
the twenty-first of next month at the Bow Break o' Day Club."

"Ah," said Wimp, elate at being spared the trouble of manoeuvring the
conversation; "mysterious affair that, Mr. Crowl."

"No; it's the right thing," said Peter. "There ought to be some memorial
of the man in the district where he worked and where he died, poor chap."
The cobbler brushed away a tear.

"Yes, it's only right," echoed Mortlake, a whit eagerly. "He was a noble
fellow, a true philanthropist--the only thoroughly unselfish worker I've
ever met."

"He was that," said Peter; "and it's a rare pattern is unselfishness.
Poor fellow, poor fellow. He preached the Useful, too. I've never met his
like. Ah, I wish there was a heaven for him to go to!" He blew his nose
violently with a red pocket-handkerchief.

"Well, he's there, if there _is_," said Tom.

"I hope he is," added Wimp, fervently; "but I shouldn't like to go there
the way he did."

"You were the last person to see him, Tom, weren't you?" said Denzil.

"Oh, no," answered Tom, quickly. "You remember he went out after me; at
least, so Mrs. Drabdump said at the inquest."

"That last conversation he had with you, Tom," said Denzil. "He didn't
say anything to you that would lead you to suppose--"

"No, of course not!" interrupted Mortlake, impatiently.

"Do you really think he was murdered, Tom?" said Denzil.

"Mr. Wimp's opinion on that point is more valuable than mine,"
replied Tom, testily. "It may have been suicide. Men often get sick
of life--especially if they are bored," he added meaningly.

"Ah, but you were the last person known to be with him," said Denzil.

Crowl laughed. "Had you there, Tom."

But they did not have Tom there much longer, for he departed, looking
even worse-tempered than when he came. Wimp went soon after, and Crowl
and Denzil were left to their interminable argumentation concerning the
Useful and the Beautiful.

Wimp went West. He had several strings (or cords) to his bow, and he
ultimately found himself at Kensal Green Cemetery. Being there, he went
down the avenues of the dead to a grave to note down the exact date of a
death. It was a day on which the dead seemed enviable. The dull, sodden
sky, the dripping, leafless trees, the wet, spongy soil, the reeking
grass--everything combined to make one long to be in a warm, comfortable
grave away from the leaden _ennuis_ of life. Suddenly the detective's
keen eye caught sight of a figure that made his heart throb with sudden
excitement. It was that of a woman in a grey shawl and a brown bonnet,
standing before a railed-in grave. She had no umbrella. The rain plashed
mournfully upon her, but left no trace on her soaking garments. Wimp
crept up behind her, but she paid no heed to him. Her eyes were lowered
to the grave, which seemed to be drawing them towards it by some strange
morbid fascination. His eyes followed hers. The simple headstone bore the
name, "Arthur Constant."

Wimp tapped her suddenly on the shoulder.

"How do you do, Mrs. Drabdump?"

Mrs. Drabdump went deadly white. She turned round, staring at Wimp
without any recognition.

"You remember me, surely," he said; "I've been down once or twice to your
place about that poor gentleman's papers." His eye indicated the grave.

"Lor! I remember you now," said Mrs. Drabdump.

"Won't you come under my umbrella? You must be drenched to the skin."

"It don't matter, sir. I can't take no hurt. I've had the rheumatics this
twenty year."

Mrs. Drabdump shrank from accepting Wimp's attentions, not so much
perhaps because he was a man as because he was a gentleman. Mrs. Drabdump
liked to see the fine folks keep their place, and not contaminate their
skirts by contact with the lower castes. "It's set wet, it'll rain right
into the new year," she announced. "And they say a bad beginnin' makes a
worse endin'." Mrs. Drabdump was one of those persons who give you the
idea that they just missed being born barometers.

"But what are you doing in this miserable spot, so far from home?"
queried the detective.

"It's Bank Holiday," Mrs. Drabdump reminded him in tones of acute
surprise. "I always make a hexcursion on Bank Holiday."



VIII


The New Year drew Mrs. Drabdump a new lodger. He was an old gentleman
with a long grey beard. He rented the rooms of the late Mr. Constant, and
lived a very retired life. Haunted rooms--or rooms that ought to be
haunted if the ghosts of those murdered in them had any self-respect--are
supposed to fetch a lower rent in the market. The whole Irish problem
might be solved if the spirits of "Mr. Balfour's victims" would only
depreciate the value of property to a point consistent with the support
of an agricultural population. But Mrs. Drabdump's new lodger paid so
much for his rooms that he laid himself open to a suspicion of a special
interest in ghosts. Perhaps he was a member of the Psychical Society.
The neighbourhood imagined him another mad philanthropist, but as he did
not appear to be doing any good to anybody it relented and conceded his
sanity. Mortlake, who occasionally stumbled across him in the passage,
did not trouble himself to think about him at all. He was too full
of other troubles and cares. Though he worked harder than ever, the
spirit seemed to have gone out of him. Sometimes he forgot himself in
a fine rapture of eloquence--lashing himself up into a divine resentment
of injustice or a passion of sympathy with the sufferings of his
brethren--but mostly he plodded on in dull, mechanical fashion. He still
made brief provincial tours, starring a day here and a day there, and
everywhere his admirers remarked how jaded and overworked he looked.
There was talk of starting a subscription to give him a holiday on the
Continent--a luxury obviously unobtainable on the few pounds allowed
him per week. The new lodger would doubtless have been pleased to
subscribe, for he seemed quite to like occupying Mortlake's chamber the
nights he was absent, though he was thoughtful enough not to disturb the
hard-worked landlady in the adjoining room by unseemly noise. Wimp was
always a quiet man.

Meantime the twenty-first of the month approached, and the East-end was
in excitement. Mr. Gladstone had consented to be present at the ceremony
of unveiling the portrait of Arthur Constant, presented by an unknown
donor to the Bow Break o' Day Club, and it was to be a great function.
The whole affair was outside the lines of party politics, so that even
Conservatives and Socialists considered themselves justified in pestering
the committee for tickets. To say nothing of ladies! As the committee
desired to be present themselves, nine-tenths of the applications for
admission had to be refused, as is usual on these occasions. The
committee agreed among themselves to exclude the fair sex altogether as
the only way of disposing of their womankind, who were making speeches
as long as Mr. Gladstone's. Each committeeman told his sisters, female
cousins, and aunts, that the other committeemen had insisted on divesting
the function of all grace; and what could a man do when he was in a
minority of one?

Crowl, who was not a member of the Break o' Day Club, was particularly
anxious to hear the great orator whom he despised; fortunately Mortlake
remembered the cobbler's anxiety to hear himself, and on the eve of the
ceremony sent him a ticket. Crowl was in the first flush of possession
when Denzil Cantercot returned, after a sudden and unannounced absence
of three days. His clothes were muddy and tattered, his cocked hat was
deformed, his cavalier beard was matted, and his eyes were bloodshot.
The cobbler nearly dropped the ticket at the sight of him. "Hallo,
Cantercot!" he gasped. "Why, where have you been all these days?"

"Terribly busy!" said Denzil. "Here, give me a glass of water. I'm dry as
the Sahara."

Crowl ran inside and got the water, trying hard not to inform Mrs. Crowl
of their lodger's return. "Mother" had expressed herself freely on the
subject of the poet during his absence, and not in terms which would have
commended themselves to the poet's fastidious literary sense. Indeed, she
did not hesitate to call him a sponger and a low swindler, who had run
away to avoid paying the piper. Her fool of a husband might be quite sure
he would never set eyes on the scoundrel again. However, Mrs. Crowl was
wrong. Here was Denzil back again. And yet Mr. Crowl felt no sense of
victory. He had no desire to crow over his partner and to utter that
"See! didn't I tell you so?" which is a greater consolation than religion
in most of the misfortunes of life. Unfortunately, to get the water,
Crowl had to go to the kitchen; and as he was usually such a temperate
man, this desire for drink in the middle of the day attracted the
attention of the lady in possession. Crowl had to explain the situation.
Mrs. Crowl ran into the shop to improve it. Mr. Crowl followed in dismay,
leaving a trail of spilt water in his wake.

"You good-for-nothing, disreputable scare-crow, where have--"

"Hush, mother. Let him drink. Mr. Cantercot is thirsty."

"Does he care if my children are hungry?"

Denzil tossed the water greedily down his throat almost at a gulp, as if
it were brandy.

"Madam," he said, smacking his lips, "I do care. I care intensely. Few
things in life would grieve me more deeply than to hear that a child, a
dear little child--the Beautiful in a nutshell--had suffered hunger. You
wrong me." His voice was tremulous with the sense of injury. Tears stood
in his eyes.

"Wrong you? I've no wish to _wrong_ you," said Mrs. Crowl. "I should like
to _hang_ you."

"Don't talk of such ugly things," said Denzil, touching his throat
nervously.

"Well, what have you been doin' all this time?"

"Why, what should I be doing?"

"How should I know what became of you? I thought it was another murder."

"What!" Denzil's glass dashed to fragments on the floor. "What do you
mean?"

But Mrs. Crowl was glaring too viciously at Mr. Crowl to reply. He
understood the message as if it were printed. It ran: "You have broken
one of my best glasses. You have annihilated threepence, or a week's
school fees for half the family." Peter wished she would turn the
lightning upon Denzil, a conductor down whom it would run innocuously.
He stooped down and picked up the pieces as carefully as if they were
cuttings from the Koh-i-noor. Thus the lightning passed harmlessly over
his head and flew towards Cantercot.

"What do I mean?" Mrs. Crowl echoed, as if there had been no interval. "I
mean that it would be a good thing if you _had_ been murdered."

"What unbeautiful ideas you have to be sure!" murmured Denzil.

"Yes; but they'd be useful," said Mrs. Crowl, who had not lived with
Peter all these years for nothing. "And if you haven't been murdered,
what _have_ you been doing?"

"My dear, my dear," put in Crowl, deprecatingly, looking up from his
quadrupedal position like a sad dog, "you are not Cantercot's keeper."

"Oh, ain't I?" flashed his spouse. "Who else keeps him, I should like to
know?"

Peter went on picking up the pieces of the Koh-i-noor.

"I have no secrets from Mrs. Crowl," Denzil explained courteously. "I
have been working day and night bringing out a new paper. Haven't had a
wink of sleep for three nights."

Peter looked up at his bloodshot eyes with respectful interest.

"The capitalist met me in the street--an old friend of mine--I was
overjoyed at the _rencontre_ and told him the idea I'd been brooding over
for months, and he promised to stand all the racket."

"What sort of a paper?" said Peter.

"Can you ask? To what do you think I've been devoting my days and nights
but to the cultivation of the Beautiful?"

"Is that what the paper will be devoted to?"

"Yes. To the Beautiful."

"I know," snorted Mrs. Crowl, "with portraits of actresses."

"Portraits? Oh, no!" said Denzil. "That would be the True, not the
Beautiful."

"And what's the name of the paper?" asked Crowl.

"Ah, that's a secret, Peter. Like Scott, I prefer to remain anonymous."

"Just like your Fads. I'm only a plain man, and I want to know where the
fun of anonymity comes in. If I had any gifts, I should like to get the
credit. It's a right and natural feeling to my thinking."

"Unnatural, Peter; unnatural. We're all born anonymous, and I'm for
sticking close to Nature. Enough for me that I disseminate the Beautiful.
Any letters come during my absence, Mrs. Crowl?"

"No," she snapped. "But a gent named Grodman called. He said you hadn't
been to see him for some time, and looked annoyed to hear you'd
disappeared. How much have you let _him_ in for?"

"The man's in _my_ debt," said Denzil, annoyed. "I wrote a book for him
and he's taken all the credit for it, the rogue! My name doesn't appear
even in the Preface. What's that ticket you're looking so lovingly at,
Peter?"

"That's for to-night--the unveiling of Constant's portrait. Gladstone
speaks. Awful demand for places."

"Gladstone!" sneered Denzil. "Who wants to hear Gladstone? A man who's
devoted his life to pulling down the pillars of Church and State."

"A man who's devoted his whole life to propping up the crumbling Fads of
Religion and Monarchy. But, for all that, the man has his gifts, and I'm
burnin' to hear him."

"I wouldn't go out of my way an inch to hear him," said Denzil; and went
up to his room, and when Mrs. Crowl sent him up a cup of nice strong tea
at tea-time, the brat who bore it found him lying dressed on the bed,
snoring unbeautifully.

The evening wore on. It was fine frosty weather. The Whitechapel Road
swarmed with noisy life, as though it were a Saturday night. The stars
flared in the sky like the lights of celestial costermongers. Everybody
was on the alert for the advent of Mr. Gladstone. He must surely come
through the Road on his journey from the West Bow-wards. But nobody saw
him or his carriage, except those about the Hall. Probably he went by
tram most of the way. He would have caught cold in an open carriage, or
bobbing his head out of the window of a closed.

"If he had only been a German prince, or a cannibal king," said Crowl,
bitterly, as he plodded towards the Club, "we should have disguised Mile
End in bunting and blue fire. But perhaps it's a compliment. He knows his
London, and it's no use trying to hide the facts from him. They must have
queer notions of cities, those monarchs. They must fancy everybody lives
in a flutter of flags and walks about under triumphal arches, like as if
I were to stitch shoes in my Sunday clothes." By a defiance of chronology
Crowl had them on to-day, and they seemed to accentuate the simile.

"And why shouldn't life be fuller of the Beautiful?" said Denzil. The
poet had brushed the reluctant mud off his garments to the extent it was
willing to go, and had washed his face, but his eyes were still bloodshot
from the cultivation of the Beautiful. Denzil was accompanying Crowl to
the door of the Club out of good fellowship. Denzil was himself
accompanied by Grodman, though less obtrusively. Least obtrusively was he
accompanied by his usual Scotland Yard shadows, Wimp's agents. There was
a surging nondescript crowd about the Club, so that the police, and the
doorkeeper, and the stewards could with difficulty keep out the tide of
the ticketless, through which the current of the privileged had equal
difficulty in permeating. The streets all around were thronged with
people longing for a glimpse of Gladstone. Mortlake drove up in a hansom
(his head a self-conscious pendulum of popularity, swaying and bowing to
right and left) and received all the pent-up enthusiasm.

"Well, good-by, Cantercot," said Crowl.

"No, I'll see you to the door, Peter."

They fought their way shoulder to shoulder.

Now that Grodman had found Denzil he was not going to lose him again. He
had only found him by accident, for he was himself bound to the unveiling
ceremony, to which he had been invited in view of his known devotion to
the task of unveiling the Mystery. He spoke to one of the policemen
about, who said, "Ay, ay, sir," and he was prepared to follow Denzil, if
necessary, and to give up the pleasure of hearing Gladstone for an acuter
thrill. The arrest must be delayed no longer.

But Denzil seemed as if he were going in on the heels of Crowl. This
would suit Grodman better. He could then have the two pleasures. But
Denzil was stopped halfway through the door.

"Ticket, sir!"

Denzil drew himself up to his full height.

"Press," he said majestically. All the glories and grandeurs of the
Fourth Estate were concentrated in that haughty monosyllable. Heaven
itself is full of journalists who have overawed St. Peter. But the
doorkeeper was a veritable dragon.

"What paper, sir?"

"_New York Herald_" said Denzil, sharply. He did not relish his word
being distrusted.

"_New York Herald_" said one of the bystanding stewards, scarce catching
the sounds. "Pass him in."

And in the twinkling of an eye Denzil had eagerly slipped inside.

But during the brief altercation Wimp had come up. Even he could not make
his face quite impassive, and there was a suppressed intensity in the
eyes and a quiver about the mouth. He went in on Denzil's heels, blocking
up the doorway with Grodman. The two men were so full of their coming
_coups_ that they struggled for some seconds, side by side, before they
recognised each other. Then they shook hands heartily.

"That was Cantercot just went in, wasn't it, Grodman?" said Wimp.

"I didn't notice," said Grodman, in tones of utter indifference.

At bottom Wimp was terribly excited. He felt that his _coup_ was going
to be executed under very sensational circumstances. Everything would
combine to turn the eyes of the country upon him--nay, of the world, for
had not the Big Bow Mystery been discussed in every language under the
sun? In these electric times the criminal receives a cosmopolitan
reputation. It is a privilege he shares with few other artists. This time
Wimp would be one of them. And he felt deservedly so. If the criminal had
been cunning to the point of genius in planning the murder, he had been
acute to the point of divination in detecting it. Never before had he
pieced together so broken a chain. He could not resist the unique
opportunity of setting a sensational scheme in a sensational framework.
The dramatic instinct was strong in him; he felt like a playwright who
has constructed a strong melodramatic plot, and has the Drury Lane stage
suddenly offered him to present it on. It would be folly to deny himself
the luxury, though the presence of Mr. Gladstone and the nature of the
ceremony should perhaps have given him pause. Yet, on the other hand,
these were the very factors of the temptation. Wimp went in and took a
seat behind Denzil. All the seats were numbered, so that everybody might
have the satisfaction of occupying somebody else's. Denzil was in the
special reserved places in the front row just by the central gangway;
Crowl was squeezed into a corner behind a pillar near the back of the
hall. Grodman had been honoured with a seat on the platform, which was
accessible by steps on the right and left, but he kept his eye on Denzil.
The picture of the poor idealist hung on the wall behind Grodman's head,
covered by its curtain of brown holland. There was a subdued buzz of
excitement about the hall, which swelled into cheers every now and again
as some gentleman known to fame or Bow took his place upon the platform.
It was occupied by several local M.P.'s of varying politics, a number of
other Parliamentary satellites of the great man, three or four labour
leaders, a peer or two of philanthropic pretensions, a sprinkling of
Toynbee and Oxford Hall men, the president and other honorary officials,
some of the family and friends of the deceased, together with the
inevitable percentage of persons who had no claim to be there save cheek.
Gladstone was late--later than Mortlake, who was cheered to the echo when
he arrived, some one starting "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," as if it
were a political meeting. Gladstone came in just in time to acknowledge
the compliment. The noise of the song, trolled out from iron lungs, had
drowned the huzzahs heralding the old man's advent. The convivial chorus
went to Mortlake's head, as if champagne had really preceded it. His eyes
grew moist and dim. He saw himself swimming to the Millennium on waves of
enthusiasm. Ah, how his brother toilers should be rewarded for their
trust in him!

With his usual courtesy and consideration, Mr. Gladstone had refused to
perform the actual unveiling of Arthur Constant's portrait. "That," he
said in his postcard, "will fall most appropriately to Mr. Mortlake, a
gentleman who has, I am given to understand, enjoyed the personal
friendship of the late Mr. Constant, and has cooperated with him in
various schemes for the organisation of skilled and unskilled classes
of labour, as well as for the diffusion of better ideals--ideals of
self-culture and self-restraint--among the working men of Bow, who have
been fortunate, so far as I can perceive, in the possession (if in one
case unhappily only temporary possession) of two such men of undoubted
ability and honesty to direct their divided counsels and to lead them
along a road, which, though I cannot pledge myself to approve of it in
all its turnings and windings, is yet not unfitted to bring them somewhat
nearer to goals to which there are few of us but would extend some
measure of hope that the working classes of this great Empire may in due
course, yet with no unnecessary delay, be enabled to arrive."

Mr. Gladstone's speech was an expansion of his postcard, punctuated by
cheers. The only new thing in it was the graceful and touching way in
which he revealed what had been a secret up till then--that the portrait
had been painted and presented to the Bow Break o' Day Club, by Lucy
Brent, who in the fulness of time would have been Arthur Constant's wife.
It was a painting for which he had sat to her while alive, and she had
stifled yet pampered her grief by working hard at it since his death. The
fact added the last touch of pathos to the occasion. Crowl's face was
hidden behind his red handkerchief; even the fire of excitement in Wimp's
eye was quenched for a moment by a teardrop, as he thought of Mrs. Wimp
and Wilfred. As for Grodman, there was almost a lump in his throat.
Denzil Cantercot was the only unmoved man in the room. He thought the
episode quite too Beautiful, and was already weaving it into rhyme.

At the conclusion of his speech Mr. Gladstone called upon Tom Mortlake
to unveil the portrait. Tom rose, pale and excited. He faltered as he
touched the cord. He seemed overcome with emotion. Was it the mention of
Lucy Brent that had moved him to his depths?

The brown holland fell away--the dead stood revealed as he had been in
life. Every feature, painted by the hand of Love, was instinct with
vitality: the fine, earnest face, the sad kindly eyes, the noble brow,
seeming still a-throb with the thought of Humanity. A thrill ran through
the room--there was a low, undefinable murmur. Oh, the pathos and the
tragedy of it! Every eye was fixed, misty with emotion, upon the dead man
in the picture, and the living man who stood, pale and agitated, and
visibly unable to commence his speech, at the side of the canvas.
Suddenly a hand was laid upon the labour leader's shoulder, and there
rang through the hall in Wimp's clear, decisive tones the words--"Tom
Mortlake, I arrest you for the murder of Arthur Constant!"



IX


For a moment there was an acute, terrible silence. Mortlake's face was
that of a corpse; the face of the dead man at his side was flushed with
the hues of life. To the overstrung nerves of the onlookers, the brooding
eyes of the picture seemed sad and stern with menace, and charged with
the lightnings of doom.

It was a horrible contrast. For Wimp, alone, the painted face had fuller,
more tragical meanings. The audience seemed turned to stone. They sat or
stood--in every variety of attitude--frozen, rigid. Arthur Constant's
picture dominated the scene, the only living thing in a hall of the dead.

But only for a moment. Mortlake shook off the detective's hand.

"Boys!" he cried, in accents of infinite indignation, "this is a police
conspiracy."

His words relaxed the tension. The stony figures were agitated. A dull
excited hubbub answered him. The little cobbler darted from behind his
pillar, and leapt upon a bench. The cords of his brow were swollen with
excitement. He seemed a giant overshadowing the hall.

"Boys!" he roared, in his best Victoria Park voice, "listen to me. This
charge is a foul and damnable lie."

"Bravo!" "Hear, hear!" "Hooray!" "It is!" was roared back at him from all
parts of the room. Everybody rose and stood in tentative attitudes,
excited to the last degree.

"Boys!" Peter roared on, "you all know me. I'm a plain man, and I want to
know if it's likely a man would murder his best friend."

"No!" in a mighty volume of sound.

Wimp had scarcely calculated upon Mortlake's popularity. He stood on the
platform, pale and anxious as his prisoner.

"And if he did, why didn't they prove it the first time?"

"Hear, Hear!"

"And if they want to arrest him, why couldn't they leave it till the
ceremony was over? Tom Mortlake's not the man to run away."

"Tom Mortlake! Tom Mortlake! Three cheers for Tom Mortlake!" "Hip, hip,
hip, hooray!"

"Three groans for the police!" "Hoo! Oo! Oo!"

Wimp's melodrama was not going well. He felt like the author to whose
ears is borne the ominous sibilance of the pit. He almost wished he
had not followed the curtain-raiser with his own stronger drama.
Unconsciously the police, scattered about the hall, drew together. The
people on the platform knew not what to do. They had all risen and stood
in a densely packed mass. Even Mr. Gladstone's speech failed him in
circumstances so novel. The groans died away; the cheers for Mortlake
rose and swelled and fell and rose again. Sticks and umbrellas were
banged and rattled, handkerchiefs were waved, the thunder deepened. The
motley crowd still surging about the hall took up the cheers, and for
hundreds of yards around people were going black in the face out of mere
irresponsible enthusiasm. At last Tom waved his hand--the thunder
dwindled, died. The prisoner was master of the situation.

Grodman stood on the platform, grasping the back of his chair, a curious
mocking Mephistophelian glitter about his eyes, his lips wreathed into a
half smile. There was no hurry for him to get Denzil Cantercot arrested
now. Wimp had made an egregious, a colossal blunder. In Grodman's heart
there was a great, glad calm as of a man who has strained his sinews to
win in a famous match, and has heard the judge's word. He felt almost
kindly to Denzil now.

Tom Mortlake spoke. His face was set and stony. His tall figure was drawn
up haughtily to its full height. He pushed the black mane back from his
forehead with a characteristic gesture. The fevered audience hung upon
his lips--the men at the back leaned eagerly forward--the reporters were
breathless with fear lest they should miss a word. What would the great
labour leader have to say at this supreme moment?

"Mr. Chairman and gentlemen. It is to me a melancholy pleasure to have
been honoured with the task of unveiling to-night this portrait of a
great benefactor to Bow and a true friend to the labouring classes.
Except that he honoured me with his friendship while living, and that the
aspirations of my life have, in my small and restricted way, been
identical with his, there is little reason why this honourable duty
should have fallen upon me. Gentlemen, I trust that we shall all find an
inspiring influence in the daily vision of the dead, who yet liveth in
our hearts and in this noble work of art--wrought, as Mr. Gladstone has
told us, by the hand of one who loved him." The speaker paused a moment,
his low vibrant tones faltering into silence. "If we humble working men
of Bow can never hope to exert individually a tithe of the beneficial
influence wielded by Arthur Constant, it is yet possible for each of us
to walk in the light he has kindled in our midst--a perpetual lamp of
self-sacrifice and brotherhood."

That was all. The room rang with cheers. Tom Mortlake resumed his seat.
To Wimp the man's audacity verged on the Sublime; to Denzil on the
Beautiful. Again there was a breathless hush. Mr. Gladstone's mobile face
was working with excitement. No such extraordinary scene had occurred in
the whole of his extraordinary experience. He seemed about to rise. The
cheering subsided to a painful stillness. Wimp cut the situation by
laying his hand again upon Tom's shoulder.

"Come quietly with me," he said. The words were almost a whisper, but in
the supreme silence they travelled to the ends of the hall.

"Don't you go, Tom!" The trumpet tones were Peter's. The call thrilled an
answering chord of defiance in every breast, and a low ominous murmur
swept through the hall.

Tom rose, and there was silence again. "Boys," he said, "let me go. Don't
make any noise about it. I shall be with you again to-morrow."

But the blood of the Break o' Day boys was at fever heat. A hurtling mass
of men struggled confusedly from their seats. In a moment all was chaos.
Tom did not move. Half-a-dozen men headed by Peter scaled the platform.
Wimp was thrown to one side, and the invaders formed a ring round Tom's
chair. The platform people scampered like mice from the centre. Some
huddled together in the corners, others slipped out at the rear. The
committee congratulated themselves on having had the self-denial to
exclude ladies. Mr. Gladstone's satellites hurried the old man off and
into his carriage, though the fight promised to become Homeric. Grodman
stood at the side of the platform secretly more amused than ever,
concerning himself no more with Denzil Cantercot, who was already
strengthening his nerves at the bar upstairs. The police about the hall
blew their whistles, and policemen came rushing in from outside and the
neighbourhood. An Irish M.P. on the platform was waving his gingham like
a shillelagh in sheer excitement, forgetting his new-found respectability
and dreaming himself back at Donnybrook Fair. Him a conscientious
constable floored with a truncheon. But a shower of fists fell on the
zealot's face, and he tottered back bleeding. Then the storm broke in all
its fury. The upper air was black with staves, sticks, and umbrellas,
mingled with the pallid hailstones of knobby fists. Yells, and groans,
and hoots, and battle-cries blent in grotesque chorus, like one of
Dvorák's weird diabolical movements. Mortlake stood impassive, with arms
folded, making no further effort, and the battle raged round him as the
water swirls round some steadfast rock. A posse of police from the back
fought their way steadily towards him, and charged up the heights of the
platform steps, only to be sent tumbling backwards, as their leader was
hurled at them like a battering-ram. Upon the top of the heap he fell,
surmounting the strata of policemen. But others clambered upon them,
escalading the platform. A moment more and Mortlake would have been
taken. Then the miracle happened.

As when of old a reputable goddess _ex machinâ_ saw her favourite hero in
dire peril, straightway she drew down a cloud from the celestial stores
of Jupiter and enveloped her fondling in kindly night, so that his
adversary strove with the darkness, so did Crowl, the cunning cobbler,
the much-daring, essay to ensure his friend's safety. He turned off the
gas at the meter.

An Arctic night--unpreceded by twilight--fell, and there dawned the
sabbath of the witches. The darkness could be felt--and it left blood and
bruises behind it. When the lights were turned on again, Mortlake was
gone. But several of the rioters were arrested, triumphantly.

And through all, and over all, the face of the dead man, who had sought
to bring peace on earth, brooded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crowl sat meekly eating his supper of bread and cheese, with his head
bandaged, while Denzil Cantercot told him the story of how he had rescued
Tom Mortlake. He had been among the first to scale the height, and had
never budged from Tom's side or from the forefront of the battle till he
had seen him safely outside and into a by-street.

"I am so glad you saw that he got away safely," said Crowl, "I wasn't
quite sure he would."

"Yes; but I wish some cowardly fool hadn't turned off the gas. I like men
to _see_ that they are beaten."

"But it seemed--easier," faltered Crowl.

"Easier!" echoed Denzil, taking a deep draught of bitter. "Really, Peter,
I'm sorry to find you always will take such low views. It may be easier,
but it's shabby. It shocks one's sense of the Beautiful."

Crowl ate his bread and cheese shamefacedly.

"But what was the use of breaking your head to save him?" said Mrs.
Crowl, with an unconscious pun. "He must be caught."

"Ah, I don't see how the Useful _does_ come in, now," said Peter,
thoughtfully. "But I didn't think of that at the time."

He swallowed his water quickly, and it went the wrong way and added to
his confusion. It also began to dawn upon him that he might be called to
account. Let it be said at once that he wasn't. He had taken too
prominent a part.

Meantime, Mrs. Wimp was bathing Mr. Wimp's eye, and rubbing him generally
with arnica. Wimp's melodrama had been, indeed, a sight for the gods.
Only virtue was vanquished and vice triumphant. The villain had escaped,
and without striking a blow.



X


There was matter and to spare for the papers the next day. The striking
ceremony--Mr. Gladstone's speech--the sensational arrest--these would of
themselves have made excellent themes for reports and leaders. But the
personality of the man arrested, and the Big Bow Mystery Battle--as it
came to be called--gave additional piquancy to the paragraphs and the
posters. The behaviour of Mortlake put the last touch to the
picturesqueness of the position. He left the hall when the lights went
out, and walked unnoticed and unmolested through pleiads of policemen
to the nearest police station, where the superintendent was almost too
excited to take any notice of his demand to be arrested. But to do him
justice, the official yielded as soon as he understood the situation.
It seems inconceivable that he did not violate some red-tape regulation
in so doing. To some this self-surrender was limpid proof of innocence;
to others it was the damning token of despairing guilt.

The morning papers were pleasant reading for Grodman, who chuckled as
continuously over his morning egg, as if he had laid it. Jane was alarmed
for the sanity of her saturnine master. As her husband would have said,
Grodman's grins were not Beautiful. But he made no effort to suppress
them. Not only had Wimp perpetrated a grotesque blunder, but the
journalists to a man were down on his great sensation tableau, though
their denunciations did not appear in the dramatic columns. The Liberal
papers said that he had endangered Mr. Gladstone's life; the Conservative
that he had unloosed the raging elements of Bow blackguardism, and set in
motion forces which might have easily swelled to a riot, involving severe
destruction of property. But "Tom Mortlake" was, after all, the thought
swamping every other. It was, in a sense, a triumph for the man.

But Wimp's turn came when Mortlake, who reserved his defence, was brought
up before a magistrate, and by force of the new evidence, fully committed
for trial on the charge of murdering Arthur Constant. Then men's thoughts
centred again on the Mystery, and the solution of the inexplicable
problem agitated mankind from China to Peru.

In the middle of February, the great trial befell. It was another of the
opportunities which the Chancellor of the Exchequer neglects. So stirring
a drama might have easily cleared its expenses--despite the length of the
cast, the salaries of the stars, and the rent of the house--in mere
advance booking. For it was a drama which (by the rights of Magna Charta)
could never be repeated; a drama which ladies of fashion would have given
their earrings to witness, even with the central figure not a woman. And
there _was_ a woman in it anyhow, to judge by the little that had
transpired at the magisterial examination, and the fact that the country
was placarded with bills offering a reward for information concerning a
Miss Jessie Dymond. Mortlake was defended by Sir Charles Brown-Harland,
Q.C., retained at the expense of the Mortlake Defence Fund (subscriptions
to which came also from Australia and the Continent), and set on his
mettle by the fact that he was the accepted labour candidate for an
East-end constituency. Their Majesties, Victoria and the Law, were
represented by Mr. Robert Spigot, Q.C.

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C, in presenting his case, said: "I propose to show that
the prisoner murdered his friend and fellow-lodger, Mr. Arthur Constant,
in cold blood, and with the most careful premeditation; premeditation
so studied, as to leave the circumstances of the death an impenetrable
mystery for weeks to all the world, though, fortunately, without
altogether baffling the almost superhuman ingenuity of Mr. Edward Wimp,
of the Scotland Yard Detective Department. I propose to show that the
motives of the prisoner were jealousy and revenge; jealousy, not only of
his friend's superior influence over the working men he himself aspired
to lead, but the more commonplace animosity engendered by the disturbing
element of a woman having relations to both. If, before my case is
complete, it will be my painful duty to show that the murdered man was
not the saint the world has agreed to paint him, I shall not shrink from
unveiling the truer picture, in the interests of justice, which cannot
say _nil nisi bonum_ even of the dead. I propose to show that the murder
was committed by the prisoner shortly before half-past six on the morning
of December 4th, and that the prisoner having, with the remarkable
ingenuity which he has shown throughout, attempted to prepare an alibi
by feigning to leave London by the _first_ train to Liverpool, returned
home, got in with his latch-key through the street door, which he had
left on the latch, unlocked his victim's bedroom with a key which he
possessed, cut the sleeping man's throat, pocketed his razor, locked the
door again, and gave it the appearance of being bolted, went downstairs,
unslipped the bolt of the big lock, closed the door behind him, and got
to Euston in time for the _second_ train to Liverpool. The fog helped
his proceedings throughout." Such was in sum the theory of the
prosecution. The pale, defiant figure in the dock winced perceptibly
under parts of it.

Mrs. Drabdump was the first witness called for the prosecution. She was
quite used to legal inquisitiveness by this time, but did not appear in
good spirits.

"On the night of December 3rd, you gave the prisoner a letter?"

"Yes, your ludship."

"How did he behave when he read it?"

"He turned very pale and excited. He went up to the poor gentleman's
room, and I'm afraid he quarrelled with him. He might have left his last
hours peaceful." (Amusement.)

"What happened then?"

"Mr. Mortlake went out in a passion, and came in again in about an hour."

"He told you he was going away to Liverpool very early the next morning?"

"No, your ludship, he said he was going to Devonport." (Sensation.)

"What time did you get up the next morning?"

"Half-past six."

"That is not your usual time?"

"No, I always get up at six."

"How do you account for the extra sleepiness?"

"Misfortunes will happen."

"It wasn't the dull, foggy weather?"

"No, my lud, else I should never get up early." (Laughter.)

"You drink something before going to bed?"

"I like my cup o' tea. I take it strong, without sugar. It always
steadies my nerves."

"Quite so. Where were you when the prisoner told you he was going to
Devonport?"

"Drinkin' my tea in the kitchen."

"What should you say if prisoner dropped something in it to make you
sleep late?"

WITNESS (startled): "He ought to be shot."

"He might have done it without your noticing it, I suppose?"

"If he was clever enough to murder the poor gentleman, he was clever
enough to try and poison me."

The JUDGE: "The witness in her replies must confine herself to the
evidence."

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C.: "I must submit to your lordship that it is a very
logical answer, and exactly illustrates the interdependence of the
probabilities. Now, Mrs. Drabdump, let us know what happened when you
awoke at half-past six the next morning." Thereupon Mrs. Drabdump
recapitulated the evidence (with new redundancies, but slight variations)
given by her at the inquest. How she became alarmed--how she found the
street door locked by the big lock--how she roused Grodman, and got him
to burst open the door--how they found the body--all this with which the
public was already familiar _ad nauseam_ was extorted from her afresh.

"Look at this key (key passed to witness). Do you recognise it?"

"Yes; how did you get it? It's the key of my first-floor front. I am sure
I left it sticking in the door."

"Did you know a Miss Dymond?"

"Yes, Mr. Mortlake's sweetheart. But I knew he would never marry her,
poor thing." (Sensation.)

"Why not?"

"He was getting too grand for her." (Amusement.)

"You don't mean anything more than that?"

"I don't know; she only came to my place once or twice. The last time I
set eyes on her must have been in October."

"How did she appear?"

"She was very miserable, but she wouldn't let you see it." (Laughter.)

"How has the prisoner behaved since the murder?"

"He always seemed very glum and sorry for it."

Cross-examined: "Did not the prisoner once occupy the bedroom of Mr.
Constant, and give it up to him, so that Mr. Constant might have the two
rooms on the same floor?"

"Yes, but he didn't pay as much."

"And, while occupying this front bedroom, did not the prisoner once lose
his key and have another made?"

"He did; he was very careless."

"Do you know what the prisoner and Mr. Constant spoke about on the night
of December 3rd?"

"No; I couldn't hear."

"Then how did you know they were quarrelling?"

"They were talkin' so loud."

Sir CHARLES BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (sharply): "But I'm talking loudly to you
now. Should you say I was quarrelling?"

"It takes two to make a quarrel." (Laughter.)

"Was prisoner the sort of man who, in your opinion, would commit a
murder?"

"No, I never should ha' guessed it was him."

"He always struck you as a thorough gentleman?"

"No, my lud. I knew he was only a comp."

"You say the prisoner has seemed depressed since the murder. Might not
that have been due to the disappearance of his sweetheart?"

"No, he'd more likely be glad to get rid of her."

"Then he wouldn't be jealous if Mr. Constant took her off his hands?"
(Sensation.)

"Men are dog-in-the-mangers."

"Never mind about men, Mrs. Drabdump. Had the prisoner ceased to care for
Miss Dymond?"

"He didn't seem to think of her, my lud. When he got a letter in her
handwriting among his heap he used to throw it aside till he'd torn open
the others."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (with a triumphant ring in his voice): "Thank you,
Mrs. Drabdump. You may sit down."

SPIGOT, Q.C.: "One moment, Mrs. Drabdump. You say the prisoner had ceased
to care for Miss Dymond. Might not this have been in consequence of his
suspecting for some time that she had relations with Mr. Constant?"

The JUDGE: "That is not a fair question."

SPIGOT, Q.C.: "That will do, thank you, Mrs. Drabdump."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C.: "No; one question more, Mrs. Drabdump. Did you ever
see anything--say, when Miss Dymond came to your house--to make you
suspect anything between Mr. Constant and the prisoner's sweetheart?"

"She did meet him once when Mr. Mortlake was out." (Sensation.)

"Where did she meet him?"

"In the passage. He was going out when she knocked and he opened the
door." (Amusement.)

"You didn't hear what they said?"

"I ain't a eavesdropper. They spoke friendly and went away together."

Mr. GEORGE GRODMAN was called, and repeated his evidence at the inquest.
Cross-examined, he testified to the warm friendship between Mr. Constant
and the prisoner. He knew very little about Miss Dymond, having scarcely
seen her. Prisoner had never spoken to him much about her. He should not
think she was much in prisoner's thoughts. Naturally the prisoner had
been depressed by the death of his friend. Besides, he was overworked.
Witness thought highly of Mortlake's character. It was incredible that
Constant had had improper relations of any kind with his friend's
promised wife. Grodman's evidence made a very favourable impression on
the jury; the prisoner looked his gratitude; and the prosecution felt
sorry it had been necessary to call this witness.

Inspector HOWLETT and Sergeant RUNNYMEDE had also to repeat their
evidence. Dr. ROBINSON, police surgeon, likewise retendered his evidence
as to the nature of the wound, and the approximate hour of death. But
this time he was much more severely examined. He would not bind himself
down to state the time within an hour or two. He thought life had been
extinct two or three hours when he arrived, so that the deed had been
committed between seven and eight. Under gentle pressure from the
prosecuting counsel, he admitted that it might possibly have been between
six and seven. Cross-examined, he reiterated his impression in favour of
the later hour.

Supplementary evidence from medical experts proved as dubious and
uncertain as if the court had confined itself to the original witness. It
seemed to be generally agreed that the data for determining the time of
death of any body were too complex and variable to admit of very precise
inference; rigor mortis and other symptoms setting in within very wide
limits and differing largely in different persons. All agreed that death
from such a cut must have been practically instantaneous, and the theory
of suicide was rejected by all. As a whole the medical evidence tended to
fix the time of death, with a high degree of probability, between the
hours of six and half-past eight. The efforts of the prosecution were
bent upon throwing back the time of death to as early as possible after
about half-past five. The defence spent all its strength upon pinning the
experts to the conclusion that death could not have been earlier than
seven. Evidently the prosecution was going to fight hard for the
hypothesis that Mortlake had committed the crime in the interval between
the first and second trains for Liverpool; while the defence was
concentrating itself on an alibi, showing that the prisoner had travelled
by the second train which left Euston Station at a quarter-past seven, so
that there could have been no possible time for the passage between Bow
and Euston. It was an exciting struggle. As yet the contending forces
seemed equally matched. The evidence had gone as much for as against the
prisoner. But everybody knew that worse lay behind.

"Call Edward Wimp."

The story EDWARD WIMP had to tell began tamely enough with
thrice-threshed-out facts. But at last the new facts came.

"In consequence of suspicions that had formed in your mind you took up
your quarters, disguised, in the late Mr. Constant's rooms?"

"I did; at the commencement of the year. My suspicions had gradually
gathered against the occupants of No. 11 Glover Street, and I resolved to
quash or confirm these suspicions once for all."

"Will you tell the jury what followed?"

"Whenever the prisoner was away for the night I searched his room. I
found the key of Mr. Constant's bedroom buried deeply in the side of
prisoner's leather sofa. I found what I imagine to be the letter he
received on December 3rd, in the pages of a 'Bradshaw' lying under the
same sofa. There were two razors about."

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C., said: "The key has already been identified by Mrs.
Drabdump. The letter I now propose to read."

It was undated, and ran as follows:--

  "Dear Tom,--This is to bid you farewell. It is best for us all. I am
  going a long way, dearest. Do not seek to find me, for it will be
  useless. Think of me as one swallowed up by the waters, and be assured
  that it is only to spare you shame and humiliation in the future that I
  tear myself from you and all the sweetness of life. Darling, there is
  no other way. I feel you could never marry me now. I have felt it for
  months. Dear Tom, you will understand what I mean. We must look facts
  in the face. I hope you will always be friends with Mr. Constant.
  Good-by, dear. God bless you! May you always be happy, and find a
  worthier wife than I. Perhaps when you are great, and rich, and famous,
  as you deserve, you will sometimes think not unkindly of one who,
  however faulty and unworthy of you, will at least love you till the
  end.--Yours, till death,

  "JESSIE."

By the time this letter was finished numerous old gentlemen, with wigs
or without, were observed to be polishing their glasses. Mr. Wimp's
examination was resumed.

"After making these discoveries what did you do?"

"I made inquiries about Miss Dymond, and found Mr. Constant had visited
her once or twice in the evening. I imagined there would be some traces
of a pecuniary connection. I was allowed by the family to inspect Mr.
Constant's cheque-book, and found a paid cheque made out for £25 in the
name of Miss Dymond. By inquiry at the Bank, I found it had been cashed
on November l2th of last year. I then applied for a warrant against the
prisoner."

Cross-examined: "Do you suggest that the prisoner opened Mr. Constant's
bedroom with the key you found?"

"Certainly."

BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C. (sarcastically): "And locked the door from within
with it on leaving?"

"Certainly."

"Will you have the goodness to explain how the trick was done?"

"It wasn't done. (Laughter.) The prisoner probably locked the door from
the outside. Those who broke it open naturally imagined it had been
locked from the inside when they found the key inside. The key would, on
this theory, be on the floor as the outside locking could not have been
effected if it had been in the lock. The first persons to enter the room
would naturally believe it had been thrown down in the bursting of the
door. Or it might have been left sticking very loosely inside the lock so
as not to interfere with the turning of the outside key, in which case it
would also probably have been thrown to the ground."

"Indeed. Very ingenious. And can you also explain how the prisoner could
have bolted the door within from the outside?"

"I can. (Renewed sensation.) There is only one way in which it was
possible--and that was, of course, a mere conjurer's illusion. To cause a
locked door to appear bolted in addition, it would only be necessary for
the person on the inside of the door to wrest the staple containing the
bolt from the woodwork. The bolt in Mr. Constant's bedroom worked
perpendicularly. When the staple was torn off, it would simply remain at
rest on the pin of the bolt instead of supporting it or keeping it fixed.
A person bursting open the door and finding the staple resting on the pin
and torn away from the lintel of the door, would, of course, imagine he
had torn it away, never dreaming the wresting off had been done
beforehand." (Applause in court, which was instantly checked by the
ushers.) The counsel for the defence felt he had been entrapped in
attempting to be sarcastic with the redoubtable detective. Grodman seemed
green with envy. It was the one thing he had not thought of.

Mrs. Drabdump, Grodman, Inspector Howlett, and Sergeant Runnymede were
recalled and reëxammed by the embarrassed Sir Charles Brown-Harland as
to the exact condition of the lock and the bolt and the position of the
key. It turned out as Wimp had suggested; so prepossessed were the
witnesses with the conviction that the door was locked and bolted from
the inside when it was burst open that they were a little hazy about the
exact details. The damage had been repaired, so that it was all a
question of precise past observation. The inspector and the sergeant
testified that the key was in the lock when they saw it, though both the
mortice and the bolt were broken. They were not prepared to say that
Wimp's theory was impossible; they would even admit it was quite possible
that the staple of the bolt had been torn off beforehand. Mrs. Drabdump
could give no clear account of such petty facts in view of her immediate
engrossing interest in the horrible sight of the corpse. Grodman alone
was positive that the key was in the door when he burst it open. No, he
did not remember picking it up from the floor and putting it in. And
he was certain that the staple of the bolt was _not_ broken, from the
resistance he experienced in trying to shake the upper panels of the
door.

By the Prosecution: "Don't you think, from the comparative ease with
which the door yielded to your onslaught, that it is highly probable that
the pin of the bolt was not in a firmly fixed staple, but in one already
detached from the woodwork of the lintel?"

"The door did not yield so easily."

"But you must be a Hercules."

"Not quite; the bolt was old, and the woodwork crumbling; the lock was
new and shoddy. But I have always been a strong man."

"Very well, Mr. Grodman. I hope you will never appear at the
music-halls." (Laughter.)

Jessie Dymond's landlady was the next witness for the prosecution. She
corroborated Wimp's statements as to Constant's occasional visits, and
narrated how the girl had been enlisted by the dead philanthropist as a
collaborator in some of his enterprises. But the most telling portion of
her evidence was the story of how, late at night, on December 3rd, the
prisoner called upon her and inquired wildly about the whereabouts of his
sweetheart. He said he had just received a mysterious letter from Miss
Dymond saying she was gone. She (the landlady) replied that she could
have told him that weeks ago, as her ungrateful lodger was gone now some
three weeks without leaving a hint behind her. In answer to his most
ungentlemanly raging and raving, she told him it served him right, as he
should have looked after her better, and not kept away for so long. She
reminded him that there were as good fish in the sea as ever came out,
and a girl of Jessie's attractions need not pine away (as she had seemed
to be pining away) for lack of appreciation. He then called her a liar
and left her, and she hoped never to see his face again, though she was
not surprised to see it in the dock.

Mr. FITZJAMES MONTGOMERY, a bank clerk, remembered cashing the cheque
produced. He particularly remembered it, because he paid the money to a
very pretty girl. She took the entire amount in gold. At this point the
case was adjourned.

DENZIL CANTERCOT was the first witness called for the prosecution on the
resumption of the trial. Pressed as to whether he had not told Mr. Wimp
that he had overheard the prisoner denouncing Mr. Constant, he could not
say. He had not actually heard the prisoner's denunciations; he might
have given Mr. Wimp a false impression, but then Mr. Wimp was so
prosaically literal. (Laughter.) Mr. Crowl had told him something of the
kind. Cross-examined, he said Jessie Dymond was a rare spirit and she
always reminded him of Joan of Arc.

Mr. CROWL, being called, was extremely agitated. He refused to take the
oath, and informed the court that the Bible was a Fad. He could not swear
by anything so self-contradictory. He would affirm. He could not
deny--though he looked like wishing to--that the prisoner had at first
been rather mistrustful of Mr. Constant, but he was certain that the
feeling had quickly worn off. Yes, he was a great friend of the prisoner,
but he didn't see why that should invalidate his testimony, especially as
he had not taken an oath. Certainly the prisoner seemed rather depressed
when he saw him on Bank Holiday, but it was overwork on behalf of the
people and for the demolition of the Fads.

Several other familiars of the prisoner gave more or less reluctant
testimony as to his sometime prejudice against the amateur rival labour
leader. His expressions of dislike had been strong and bitter. The
prosecution also produced a poster announcing that the prisoner would
preside at a great meeting of clerks on December 4th. He had not turned
up at this meeting nor sent any explanation. Finally, there was the
evidence of the detectives who originally arrested him at Liverpool Docks
in view of his suspicious demeanour. This completed the case for the
prosecution.

Sir CHARLES BROWN-HARLAND, Q.C., rose with a swagger and a rustle of his
silk gown, and proceeded to set forth the theory of the defence. He said
he did not purpose to call many witnesses. The hypothesis of the
prosecution was so inherently childish and inconsequential, and so
dependent upon a bundle of interdependent probabilities that it crumbled
away at the merest touch. The prisoner's character was of unblemished
integrity, his last public appearance had been made on the same platform
with Mr. Gladstone, and his honesty and highmindedness had been vouched
for by statesmen of the highest standing. His movements could be
accounted for from hour to hour--and those with which the prosecution
credited him rested on no tangible evidence whatever. He was also
credited with superhuman ingenuity and diabolical cunning of which he had
shown no previous symptom. Hypothesis was piled on hypothesis, as in the
old Oriental legend, where the world rested on the elephant and the
elephant on the tortoise. It might be worth while, however, to point out
that it was at least quite likely that the death of Mr. Constant had not
taken place before seven, and as the prisoner left Euston Station at 7.15
A.M. for Liverpool, he could certainly not have got there from Bow in the
time; also that it was hardly possible for the prisoner, who could prove
being at Euston Station at 5.25 A.M., to travel backwards and forwards to
Glover Street and commit the crime all within less than two hours. "The
real facts," said Sir Charles, impressively, "are most simple. The
prisoner, partly from pressure of work, partly (he had no wish to
conceal) from worldly ambition, had begun to neglect Miss Dymond, to whom
he was engaged to be married. The man was but human, and his head was a
little turned by his growing importance. Nevertheless, at heart he was
still deeply attached to Miss Dymond. She, however, appears to have
jumped to the conclusion that he had ceased to love her, that she was
unworthy of him, unfitted by education to take her place side by side
with him in the new spheres to which he was mounting--that, in short, she
was a drag on his career. Being, by all accounts, a girl of remarkable
force of character, she resolved to cut the Gordian knot by leaving
London, and, fearing lest her affianced husband's conscientiousness
should induce him to sacrifice himself to her; dreading also, perhaps,
her own weakness, she made the parting absolute, and the place of her
refuge a mystery. A theory has been suggested which drags an honoured
name in the mire--a theory so superflous that I shall only allude to it.
That Arthur Constant could have seduced, or had any improper relations
with his friend's betrothed is a hypothesis to which the lives of both
give the lie. Before leaving London--or England--Miss Dymond wrote to her
aunt in Devonport--her only living relative in this country--asking her
as a great favour to forward an addressed letter to the prisoner, a
fortnight after receipt. The aunt obeyed implicitly. This was the letter
which fell like a thunderbolt on the prisoner on the night of December
3rd. All his old love returned--he was full of self-reproach and pity for
the poor girl. The letter read ominously. Perhaps she was going to put an
end to herself. His first thought was to rush up to his friend, Constant,
to seek his advice. Perhaps Constant knew something of the affair. The
prisoner knew the two were in not infrequent communication. It is
possible--my lord and gentlemen of the jury, I do not wish to follow the
methods of the prosecution and confuse theory with fact, so I say it is
possible--that Mr. Constant had supplied her with the £25 to leave the
country. He was like a brother to her, perhaps even acted imprudently in
calling upon her, though neither dreamed of evil. It is possible that he
may have encouraged her in her abnegation and in her altruistic
aspirations, perhaps even without knowing their exact drift, for does he
not speak in his very last letter of the fine female characters he was
meeting, and the influence for good he had over individual human souls?
Still, this we can now never know, unless the dead speak or the absent
return. It is also not impossible that Miss Dymond was entrusted with
the £25 for charitable purposes. But to come back to certainties. The
prisoner consulted Mr. Constant about the letter. He then ran to Miss
Dymond's lodgings in Stepney Green, knowing beforehand his trouble would
be futile. The letter bore the postmark of Devonport. He knew the girl
had an aunt there; possibly she might have gone to her. He could not
telegraph, for he was ignorant of the address. He consulted his
'Bradshaw,' and resolved to leave by the 5.30 A.M. from Paddington,
and told his landlady so. He left the letter in the 'Bradshaw,' which
ultimately got thrust among a pile of papers under the sofa, so that he
had to get another. He was careless and disorderly, and the key found by
Mr. Wimp in his sofa, which he was absurdly supposed to have hidden there
after the murder, must have lain there for some years, having been lost
there in the days when he occupied the bedroom afterwards rented by Mr.
Constant. For it was his own sofa, removed from that room, and the
suction of sofas was well known. Afraid to miss his train, he did not
undress on that distressful night. Meantime the thought occurred to him
that Jessie was too clever a girl to leave so easy a trail, and he jumped
to the conclusion that she would be going to her married brother in
America, and had gone to Devonport merely to bid her aunt farewell. He
determined therefore to get to Liverpool, without wasting time at
Devonport, to institute inquiries. Not suspecting the delay in the
transit of the letter, he thought he might yet stop her, even at the
landing-stage or on the tender. Unfortunately his cab went slowly in the
fog, he missed the first train, and wandered about brooding
disconsolately in the mist till the second. At Liverpool his suspicious,
excited demeanour procured his momentary arrest. Since then the thought
of the lost girl has haunted and broken him. That is the whole, the
plain, and the sufficing story."

The effective witnesses for the defence were, indeed, few. It is so hard
to prove a negative. There was Jessie's aunt, who bore out the statement
of the counsel for the defence. There were the porters who saw him leave
Euston by the 7.15 train for Liverpool, and arrive just too late for the
5.15; there was the cabman (2138), who drove him to Euston just in time,
he (witness) thought, to catch the 5.15 A.M. Under cross-examination, the
cabman got a little confused; he was asked whether, if he really picked
up the prisoner at Bow Railway Station at about 4.30, he ought not to
have caught the first train at Euston. He said the fog made him drive
rather slowly, but admitted the mist was transparent enough to warrant
full speed. He also admitted being a strong trade unionist, SPIGOT,
Q.C., artfully extorting the admission as if it were of the utmost
significance. Finally, there were numerous witnesses--of all sorts and
conditions--to the prisoner's high character, as well as to Arthur
Constant's blameless and moral life.

In his closing speech on the third day of the trial, Sir CHARLES pointed
out with great exhaustiveness and cogency the flimsiness of the case for
the prosecution, the number of hypotheses it involved, and their mutual
interdependence. Mrs. Drabdump was a witness whose evidence must be
accepted with extreme caution. The jury must remember that she was unable
to dissociate her observations from her inferences, and thought that the
prisoner and Mr. Constant were quarrelling merely because they were
agitated. He dissected her evidence, and showed that it entirely bore out
the story of the defence. He asked the jury to bear in mind that no
positive evidence (whether of cabmen or others) had been given of the
various and complicated movements attributed to the prisoner on the
morning of December 4th, between the hours of 5.25 and 7.15 A.M., and
that the most important witness on the theory of the prosecution--he
meant, of course, Miss Dymond--had not been produced. Even if she were
dead, and her body were found, no countenance would be given to the
theory of the prosecution, for the mere conviction that her lover had
deserted her would be a sufficient explanation of her suicide. Beyond the
ambiguous letter, no tittle of evidence of her dishonour--on which the
bulk of the case against the prisoner rested--had been adduced. As for
the motive of political jealousy that had been a mere passing cloud. The
two men had become fast friends. As to the circumstances of the alleged
crime, the medical evidence was on the whole in favour of the time of
death being late; and the prisoner had left London at a quarter-past
seven. The drugging theory was absurd, and as for the too clever bolt
and lock theories, Mr. Grodman, a trained scientific observer, had
pooh-poohed them. He would solemnly exhort the jury to remember that if
they condemned the prisoner they would not only send an innocent man to
an ignominious death on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence, but they
would deprive the working men of this country of one of their truest
friends and their ablest leader.

The conclusion of Sir Charles's vigorous speech was greeted with
irrepressible applause.

Mr. SPIGOT, Q.C., in closing the case for the prosecution, asked the
jury to return a verdict against the prisoner for as malicious and
premeditated a crime as ever disgraced the annals of any civilised
country. His cleverness and education had only been utilised for the
devil's ends, while his reputation had been used as a cloak. Everything
pointed strongly to the prisoner's guilt. On receiving Miss Dymond's
letter announcing her shame, and (probably) her intention to commit
suicide, he had hastened upstairs to denounce Constant. He had then
rushed to the girl's lodgings, and, finding his worst fears confirmed,
planned at once his diabolically ingenious scheme of revenge. He told his
landlady he was going to Devonport, so that if he bungled, the police
would be put temporarily off his track. His real destination was
Liverpool, for he intended to leave the country. Lest, however, his plan
should break down here, too, he arranged an ingenious alibi by being
driven to Euston for the 5.15 train to Liverpool. The cabman would not
know he did not intend to go by it, but meant to return to 11 Glover
Street, there to perpetrate this foul crime, interruption to which he had
possibly barred by drugging his landlady. His presence at Liverpool
(whither he really went by the second train) would corroborate the
cabman's story. That night he had not undressed nor gone to bed; he had
plotted out his devilish scheme till it was perfect; the fog came as an
unexpected ally to cover his movements. Jealousy, outraged affection, the
desire for revenge, the lust for political power--these were human. They
might pity the criminal, they could not find him innocent of the crime.

Mr. Justice CROGIE, summing up, began dead against the prisoner.
Reviewing the evidence, he pointed out that plausible hypotheses neatly
dove-tailed did not necessarily weaken one another, the fitting so well
together of the whole rather making for the truth of the parts. Besides,
the case for the prosecution was as far from being all hypothesis as the
case for the defence was from excluding hypotheses. The key, the letter,
the reluctance to produce the letter, the heated interview with Constant,
the misstatement about the prisoner's destination, the flight to
Liverpool, the false tale about searching for a "him," the denunciations
of Constant, all these were facts. On the other hand, there were various
lacunæ and hypotheses in the case for the defence. Even conceding the
somewhat dubious alibi afforded by the prisoner's presence at Euston at
5.25 A.M., there was no attempt to account for his movements between that
and 7.15 A.M. It was as possible that he returned to Bow as that he
lingered about Euston. There was nothing in the medical evidence to make
his guilt impossible. Nor was there anything inherently impossible in
Constant's yielding to the sudden temptation of a beautiful girl, nor in
a working girl deeming herself deserted, temporarily succumbing to the
fascinations of a gentleman and regretting it bitterly afterwards. What
had become of the girl was a mystery. Hers might have been one of those
nameless corpses which the tide swirls up on slimy river banks. The jury
must remember, too, that the relation might not have actually passed into
dishonour, it might have been just grave enough to smite the girl's
conscience, and to induce her to behave as she had done. It was enough
that her letter should have excited the jealousy of the prisoner. There
was one other point which he would like to impress on the jury, and which
the counsel for the prosecution had not sufficiently insisted upon. This
was that the prisoner's guiltiness was the only plausible solution that
had ever been advanced of the Bow Mystery. The medical evidence agreed
that Mr. Constant did not die by his own hand. Some one must therefore
have murdered him. The number of people who could have had any possible
reason or opportunity to murder him was extremely small. The prisoner had
both reason and opportunity. By what logicians called the method of
exclusion, suspicion would attach to him on even slight evidence. The
actual evidence was strong and plausible, and now that Mr. Wimp's
ingenious theory had enabled them to understand how the door could have
been apparently locked and bolted from within, the last difficulty and
the last argument for suicide had been removed. The prisoner's guilt was
as clear as circumstantial evidence could make it. If they let him go
free, the Bow Mystery might henceforward be placed among the archives of
unavenged assassinations. Having thus well-nigh hung the prisoner, the
judge wound up by insisting on the high probability of the story for the
defence, though that, too, was dependent in important details upon the
prisoner's mere private statements to his counsel. The jury, being by
this time sufficiently muddled by his impartiality, were dismissed, with
the exhortation to allow due weight to every fact and probability in
determining their righteous verdict.

The minutes ran into hours, but the jury did not return. The shadows of
night fell across the reeking, fevered court before they announced their
verdict--

"Guilty!"

The judge put on his black cap.

The great reception arranged outside was a fiasco; the evening banquet
was indefinitely postponed. Wimp had won; Grodman felt like a whipped
cur.



XI


"So you were right," Denzil could not help saying as he greeted Grodman a
week afterwards. "I shall _not_ live to tell the story of how you
discovered the Bow murderer."

"Sit down," growled Grodman; "perhaps you will after all." There was a
dangerous gleam in his eyes. Denzil was sorry he had spoken.

"I sent for you," Grodman said, "to tell you that on the night Wimp
arrested Mortlake I had made preparations for your arrest."

Denzil gasped, "What for?"

"My dear Denzil, there is a little law in this country invented for the
confusion of the poetic. The greatest exponent of the Beautiful is only
allowed the same number of wives as the greengrocer. I do not blame
you for not being satisfied with Jane--she is a good servant but a bad
mistress--but it was cruel to Kitty not to inform her that Jane had a
prior right in you, and unjust to Jane not to let her know of the
contract with Kitty."

"They both know it now well enough, curse 'em," said the poet.

"Yes; your secrets are like your situations--you can't keep 'em long. My
poor poet, I pity you--betwixt the devil and the deep sea."

"They're a pair of harpies, each holding over me the Damocles sword of an
arrest for bigamy. Neither loves me."

"I should think they would come in very useful to you. You plant one in
my house to tell my secrets to Wimp, and you plant one in Wimp's house to
tell Wimp's secrets to me, I suppose. Out with some, then."

"Upon my honour, you wrong me. Jane brought _me_ here, not I Jane. As for
Kitty, I never had such a shock in my life as at finding her installed in
Wimp's house."

"She thought it safer to have the law handy for your arrest. Besides, she
probably desired to occupy a parallel position to Jane's. She must do
something for a living; _you_ wouldn't do anything for hers. And so you
couldn't go anywhere without meeting a wife! Ha! ha! ha! Serve you right,
my polygamous poet."

"But why should _you_ arrest me?"

"Revenge, Denzil. I have been the best friend you ever had in this cold,
prosaic world. You have eaten my bread, drunk my claret, written my book,
smoked my cigars, and pocketed my money. And yet, when you have an
important piece of information bearing on a mystery about which I am
thinking day and night, you calmly go and sell it to Wimp."

"I did-didn't," stammered Denzil.

"Liar! Do you think Kitty has any secrets from me? As soon as I
discovered your two marriages I determined to have you arrested for--your
treachery. But when I found you had, as I thought, put Wimp on the wrong
scent, when I felt sure that by arresting Mortlake he was going to make a
greater ass of himself than even nature had been able to do, then I
forgave you. I let you walk about the earth--and drink--freely. Now it is
Wimp who crows--everybody pats him on the back--they call him the mystery
man of the Scotland Yard tribe. Poor Tom Mortlake will be hanged, and all
through your telling Wimp about Jessie Dymond!"

"It was you yourself," said Denzil, sullenly. "Everybody was giving it
up. But you said 'Let us find out all that Arthur Constant did in the
last few months of his life.' Wimp couldn't miss stumbling on Jessie
sooner or later. I'd have throttled Constant, if I had known he'd touched
her," he wound up with irrelevant indignation.

Grodman winced at the idea that he himself had worked _ad majorem
gloriam_ of Wimp. And yet, had not Mrs. Wimp let out as much at the
Christmas dinner?

"What's past is past," he said gruffly. "But if Tom Mortlake hangs, you
go to Portland."

"How can I help Tom hanging?"

"Help the agitation as much as you can. Write letters under all sorts of
names to all the papers. Get everybody you know to sign the great
petition. Find out where Jessie Dymond is--the girl who holds the proof
of Mortlake's innocence."

"You really believe him innocent?"

"Don't be satirical, Denzil. Haven't I taken the chair at all the
meetings? Am I not the most copious correspondent of the Press?"

"I thought it was only to spite Wimp."

"Rubbish. It's to save poor Tom. He no more murdered Arthur Constant
than--you did!" He laughed an unpleasant laugh.

Denzil bade him farewell, frigid with fear.

Grodman was up to his ears in letters and telegrams. Somehow he had
become the leader of the rescue party--suggestions, subscriptions
came from all sides. The suggestions were burnt, the subscriptions
acknowledged in the papers and used for hunting up the missing girl. Lucy
Brent headed the list with a hundred pounds. It was a fine testimony
to her faith in her dead lover's honour.

The release of the Jury had unloosed "The Greater Jury," which always
now sits upon the smaller. Every means was taken to nullify the value
of the "palladium of British liberty." The foreman and the jurors were
interviewed, the judge was judged, and by those who were no judges. The
Home Secretary (who had done nothing beyond accepting office under the
Crown) was vituperated, and sundry provincial persons wrote
confidentially to the Queen. Arthur Constant's backsliding cheered
many by convincing them that others were as bad as themselves; and
well-to-do tradesmen saw in Mortlake's wickedness the pernicious effects
of Socialism. A dozen new theories were afloat. Constant had committed
suicide by Esoteric Buddhism, as witness his devotion to Mme. Blavatsky,
or he had been murdered by his Mahatma or victimised by Hypnotism,
Mesmerism, Somnambulism, and other weird abstractions. Grodman's great
point was--Jessie Dymond must be produced, dead or alive. The electric
current scoured the civilised world in search of her. What wonder if the
shrewder sort divined that the indomitable detective had fixed his last
hope on the girl's guilt? If Jessie had wrongs why should she not have
avenged them herself? Did she not always remind the poet of Joan of Arc?

Another week passed; the shadow of the gallows crept over the days; on,
on, remorselessly drawing nearer, as the last ray of hope sank below the
horizon. The Home Secretary remained inflexible; the great petitions
discharged their signatures at him in vain. He was a Conservative,
sternly conscientious; and the mere insinuation that his obstinacy was
due to the politics of the condemned only hardened him against the
temptation of a cheap reputation for magnanimity. He would not even grant
a respite, to increase the chances of the discovery of Jessie Dymond. In
the last of the three weeks there was a final monster meeting of protest.
Grodman again took the chair, and several distinguished faddists were
present, as well as numerous respectable members of society. The Home
Secretary acknowledged the receipt of their resolutions. The Trade Unions
were divided in their allegiance; some whispered of faith and hope,
others of financial defalcations. The former essayed to organise a
procession and an indignation meeting on the Sunday preceding the Tuesday
fixed for the execution, but it fell through on a rumour of confession.
The Monday papers contained a last masterly letter from Grodman exposing
the weakness of the evidence, but they knew nothing of a confession. The
prisoner was mute and disdainful, professing little regard for a life
empty of love and burdened with self-reproach. He refused to see
clergymen. He was accorded an interview with Miss Brent in the presence
of a gaoler, and solemnly asseverated his respect for her dead lover's
memory. Monday buzzed with rumours; the evening papers chronicled them
hour by hour. A poignant anxiety was abroad. The girl would be found.
Some miracle would happen. A reprieve would arrive. The sentence would be
commuted. But the short day darkened into night even as Mortlake's short
day was darkening. And the shadow of the gallows crept on and on, and
seemed to mingle with the twilight.

Crowl stood at the door of his shop, unable to work. His big grey eyes
were heavy with unshed tears. The dingy wintry road seemed one vast
cemetery; the street lamps twinkled like corpse-lights. The confused
sounds of the street life reached his ear as from another world. He did
not see the people who flitted to and fro amid the gathering shadows of
the cold, dreary night. One ghastly vision flashed and faded and flashed
upon the background of the duskiness.

Denzil stood beside him, smoking in silence. A cold fear was at his
heart. That terrible Grodman! As the hangman's cord was tightening round
Mortlake, he felt the convict's chains tightening round himself. And yet
there was one gleam of hope, feeble as the yellow flicker of the gas-lamp
across the way. Grodman had obtained an interview with the condemned late
that afternoon, and the parting had been painful, but the evening paper,
that in its turn had obtained an interview with the ex-detective,
announced on its placard

  "GRODMAN STILL CONFIDENT"

and the thousands who yet pinned their faith on this extraordinary man
refused to extinguish the last sparks of hope. Denzil had bought the
paper and scanned it eagerly, but there was nothing save the vague
assurance that the indefatigable Grodman was still almost pathetically
expectant of the miracle. Denzil did not share the expectation; he
meditated flight.

"Peter," he said at last, "I'm afraid it's all over."

Crowl nodded, heart-broken. "All over!" he repeated, "and to think that
he dies--and it is--all over!"

He looked despairingly at the blank winter sky, where leaden clouds shut
out the stars. "Poor, poor young fellow! To-night alive and thinking.
To-morrow night a clod, with no more sense or motion than a bit of
leather! No compensation nowhere for being cut off innocent in the pride
of youth and strength! A man who has always preached the Useful day and
night, and toiled and suffered for his fellows. Where's the justice of
it, where's the justice of it?" he demanded fiercely. Again his wet eyes
wandered upwards towards heaven, that heaven away from which the soul of
a dead saint at the Antipodes was speeding into infinite space.

"Well, where was the justice for Arthur Constant if he, too, was
innocent?" said Denzil. "Really, Peter, I don't see why you should take
it for granted that Tom is so dreadfully injured. Your horny-handed
labour leaders are, after all, men of no aesthetic refinement, with no
sense of the Beautiful; you cannot expect them to be exempt from the
coarser forms of crime. Humanity must look to far other leaders--to the
seers and the poets!"

"Cantercot, if you say Tom's guilty I'll knock you down." The little
cobbler turned upon his tall friend like a roused lion. Then he added,
"I beg your pardon, Cantercot, I don't mean that. After all, I've no
grounds. The judge is an honest man, and with gifts I can't lay claim to.
But I believe in Tom with all my heart. And if Tom is guilty I believe in
the Cause of the People with all my heart all the same. The Fads are
doomed to death, they may be reprieved, but they must die at last."

He drew a deep sigh, and looked along the dreary Road. It was quite dark
now, but by the light of the lamps and the gas in the shop windows the
dull, monotonous Road lay revealed in all its sordid, familiar outlines;
with its long stretches of chill pavement, its unlovely architecture, and
its endless stream of prosaic pedestrians.

A sudden consciousness of the futility of his existence pierced the
little cobbler like an icy wind. He saw his own life, and a hundred
million lives like his, swelling and breaking like bubbles on a dark
ocean, unheeded, uncared for.

A newsboy passed along, clamouring "The Bow murderer, preparaitions for
the hexecution!"

A terrible shudder shook the cobbler's frame. His eyes ranged sightlessly
after the boy; the merciful tears filled them at last.

"The Cause of the People," he murmured brokenly, "I believe in the Cause
of the People. There is nothing else."

"Peter, come in to tea, you'll catch cold," said Mrs. Crowl.

Denzil went in to tea and Peter followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime, round the house of the Home Secretary, who was in town, an
ever-augmenting crowd was gathered, eager to catch the first whisper of a
reprieve.

The house was guarded by a cordon of police, for there was no
inconsiderable danger of a popular riot. At times a section of the crowd
groaned and hooted. Once a volley of stones was discharged at the
windows. The newsboys were busy vending their special editions, and the
reporters struggled through the crowd, clutching descriptive pencils, and
ready to rush off to telegraph offices should anything "extra special"
occur. Telegraph boys were coming up every now and again with threats,
messages, petitions, and exhortations from all parts of the country to
the unfortunate Home Secretary, who was striving to keep his aching head
cool as he went through the voluminous evidence for the last time and
pondered over the more important letters which "The Greater Jury" had
contributed to the obscuration of the problem. Grodman's letter in that
morning's paper shook him most; under his scientific analysis the
circumstantial chain seemed forged of painted cardboard. Then the poor
man read the judge's summing up, and the chain became tempered steel. The
noise of the crowd outside broke upon his ear in his study like the roar
of a distant ocean. The more the rabble hooted him, the more he essayed
to hold scrupulously the scales of life and death. And the crowd grew
and grew, as men came away from their work. There were many that loved
the man who lay in the jaws of death, and a spirit of mad revolt surged
in their breasts. And the sky was grey, and the bleak night deepened, and
the shadow of the gallows crept on.

Suddenly a strange inarticulate murmur spread through the crowd, a vague
whisper of no one knew what. Something had happened. Somebody was
coming. A second later and one of the outskirts of the throng was
agitated, and a convulsive cheer went up from it, and was taken up
infectiously all along the street. The crowd parted--a hansom dashed
through the centre. "Grodman! Grodman!" shouted those who recognised the
occupant. "Grodman! Hurrah!" Grodman was outwardly calm and pale,
but his eyes glittered; he waved his hand encouragingly as the hansom
dashed up to the door, cleaving the turbulent crowd as a canoe cleaves
the waters. Grodman sprang out, the constables at the portal made way for
him respectfully. He knocked imperatively, the door was opened
cautiously; a boy rushed up and delivered a telegram; Grodman forced his
way in, gave his name, and insisted on seeing the Home Secretary on a
matter of life and death. Those near the door heard his words and
cheered, and the crowd divined the good omen, and the air throbbed with
cannonades of joyous sound. The cheers rang in Grodman's ears as the door
slammed behind him. The reporters struggled to the front. An excited knot
of working men pressed round the arrested hansom; they took the horse
out. A dozen enthusiasts struggled for the honour of placing themselves
between the shafts. And the crowd awaited Grodman.



XII


Grodman was ushered into the conscientious Minister's study. The doughty
chief of the agitation was, perhaps, the one man who could not be denied.
As he entered, the Home Secretary's face seemed lit up with relief. At a
sign from his master, the amanuensis who had brought in the last telegram
took it back with him into the outer room where he worked. Needless to
say not a tithe of the Minister's correspondence ever came under his own
eyes.

"You have a valid reason for troubling me, I suppose, Mr. Grodman?" said
the Home Secretary, almost cheerfully. "Of course it is about Mortlake?"

"It is; and I have the best of all reasons."

"Take a seat. Proceed."

"Pray do not consider me impertinent, but have you ever given any
attention to the science of evidence?"

"How do you mean?" asked the Home Secretary, rather puzzled, adding, with
a melancholy smile, "I have had to lately. Of course, I've never been a
criminal lawyer, like some of my predecessors. But I should hardly speak
of it as a science; I look upon it as a question of common-sense."

"Pardon me, sir. It is the most subtle and difficult of all the sciences.
It is, indeed, rather the science of the sciences. What is the whole of
Inductive Logic, as laid down, say, by Bacon and Mill, but an attempt
to appraise the value of evidence, the said evidence being the trails
left by the Creator, so to speak? The Creator has--I say it in all
reverence--drawn a myriad red herrings across the track, but the true
scientist refuses to be baffled by superficial appearances in detecting
the secrets of Nature. The vulgar herd catches at the gross apparent
fact, but the man of insight knows that what lies on the surface does
lie."

"Very interesting, Mr. Grodman, but really--"

"Bear with me, sir. The science of evidence being thus so extremely
subtle, and demanding the most acute and trained observation of facts,
the most comprehensive understanding of human psychology, is naturally
given over to professors who have not the remotest idea that 'things are
not what they seem,' and that everything is other than it appears; to
professors, most of whom by their year-long devotion to the shop-counter
or the desk, have acquired an intimate acquaintance with all the infinite
shades and complexities of things and human nature. When twelve of these
professors are put in a box, it is called a jury. When one of these
professors is put in a box by himself, he is called a witness. The
retailing of evidence--the observation of the facts--is given over to
people who go through their lives without eyes; the appreciation of
evidence--the judging of these facts--is surrendered to people who may
possibly be adepts in weighing out pounds of sugar. Apart from their
sheer inability to fulfil either function--to observe, or to judge--their
observation and their judgment alike are vitiated by all sorts of
irrelevant prejudices."

"You are attacking trial by jury."

"Not necessarily. I am prepared to accept that scientifically, on the
ground that, as there are, as a rule, only two alternatives, the balance
of probability is slightly in favour of the true decision being come to.
Then, in cases where experts like myself have got up the evidence, the
jury can be made to see through trained eyes."

The Home Secretary tapped impatiently with his foot.

"I can't listen to abstract theorising," he said. "Have you any fresh
concrete evidence?"

"Sir, everything depends on our getting down to the root of the matter.
What percentage of average evidence should you think is thorough, plain,
simple, unvarnished fact, 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth'?"

"Fifty?" said the Minister, humouring him a little.

"Not five. I say nothing of lapses of memory, of inborn defects of
observational power--though the suspiciously precise recollection of
dates and events possessed by ordinary witnesses in important trials
taking place years after the occurrences involved, is one of the most
amazing things in the curiosities of modern jurisprudence. I defy you,
sir, to tell me what you had for dinner last Monday, or what exactly you
were saying and doing at five o'clock last Tuesday afternoon. Nobody
whose life does not run in mechanical grooves can do anything of the
sort; unless, of course, the facts have been very impressive. But this by
the way. The great obstacle to veracious observation is the element of
prepossession in all vision. Has it ever struck you, sir, that we never
_see_ any one more than once, if that? The first time we meet a man we
may possibly see him as he is; the second time our vision is coloured and
modified by the memory of the first. Do our friends appear to us as they
appear to strangers? Do our rooms, our furniture, our pipes strike our
eye as they would strike the eye of an outsider, looking on them for the
first time? Can a mother see her babe's ugliness, or a lover his
mistress's shortcomings, though they stare everybody else in the face?
Can we see ourselves as others see us? No; habit, prepossession changes
all. The mind is a large factor of every so-called external fact. The eye
sees, sometimes, what it wishes to see, more often what it expects to
see. You follow me, sir?"

The Home Secretary nodded his head less impatiently. He was beginning to
be interested. The hubbub from without broke faintly upon their ears.

"To give you a definite example. Mr. Wimp says that when I burst open the
door of Mr. Constant's room on the morning of December 4th, and saw that
the staple of the bolt had been wrested by the pin from the lintel, I
jumped at once to the conclusion that I had broken the bolt. Now I admit
that this was so, only in things like this you do not seem to _conclude_,
you jump so fast that you _see_, or seem to. On the other hand, when you
_see_ a _standing_ ring of fire produced by whirling a burning stick, you
do _not_ believe in its continuous existence. It is the same when
witnessing a legerdemain performance. Seeing is not always believing,
despite the proverb; but believing is often seeing. It is not to the
point that in that little matter of the door Wimp was as hopelessly and
incurably wrong as he has been in everything all along. The door _was_
securely bolted. Still I confess that I should have seen that I had
broken the bolt in forcing the door, even if it had been broken
beforehand. Never once since December 4th did this possibility occur
to me, till Wimp with perverted ingenuity suggested it. If this is the
case with a trained observer, one moreover fully conscious of this
ineradicable tendency of the human mind, how must it be with an untrained
observer?"

"Come to the point, come to the point," said the Home Secretary, putting
out his hand as if it itched to touch the bell on the writing-table.

"Such as," went on Grodman, imperturbably, "such as--Mrs. Drabdump. That
worthy person is unable, by repeated violent knocking, to arouse her
lodger who yet desires to be aroused; she becomes alarmed, she rushes
across to get my assistance; I burst open the door--what do you think the
good lady expected to see?"

"Mr. Constant murdered, I suppose," murmured the Home Secretary,
wonderingly.

"Exactly. And so she saw it. And what should you think was the condition
of Arthur Constant when the door yielded to my violent exertions and flew
open?"

"Why, was he not dead?" gasped the Home Secretary, his heart fluttering
violently.

"Dead? A young, healthy fellow like that! When the door flew open, Arthur
Constant was sleeping the sleep of the just. It was a deep, a very deep
sleep, of course, else the blows at his door would long since have
awakened him. But all the while Mrs. Drabdump's fancy was picturing her
lodger cold and stark, the poor young fellow was lying in bed in a nice
warm sleep."

"You mean to say you found Arthur Constant alive?"

"As you were last night."

The Minister was silent, striving confusedly to take in the situation.
Outside the crowd was cheering again. It was probably to pass the time.

"Then, when was he murdered?"

"Immediately afterwards."

"By whom?"

"Well, that is, if you will pardon me, not a very intelligent question.
Science and common-sense are in accord for once. Try the method of
exhaustion. It must have been either by Mrs. Drabdump or myself."

"You mean to say that Mrs. Drabdump--!"

"Poor dear Mrs. Drabdump, you don't deserve this of your Home Secretary!
The idea of that good lady!"

"It was _you_!"

"Calm yourself, my dear Home Secretary. There is nothing to be alarmed
at. It was a solitary experiment, and I intend it to remain so." The
noise without grew louder. "Three cheers for Grodman! Hip, hip, hip,
hooray," fell faintly on their ears.

But the Minister, pallid and deeply moved, touched the bell. The Home
Secretary's home secretary appeared. He looked at the great man's
agitated face with suppressed surprise.

"Thank you for calling in your amanuensis," said Grodman. "I intended to
ask you to lend me his services. I suppose he can write shorthand."

The Minister nodded, speechless.

"That is well. I intend this statement to form the basis of an appendix
to the twenty-fifth edition--sort of silver wedding--of my book,
_Criminals I have Caught_. Mr. Denzil Cantercot, who, by the will I have
made to-day, is appointed my literary executor, will have the task of
working it up with literary and dramatic touches after the model of the
other chapters of my book. I have every confidence he will be able to do
me as much justice, from a literary point of view, as you, sir, no doubt
will from a legal. I feel certain he will succeed in catching the style
of the other chapters to perfection."

"Templeton," whispered the Home Secretary, "this man may be a lunatic.
The effort to solve the Big Bow Mystery may have addled his brain.
Still," he added aloud, "it will be as well for you to take down his
statement in shorthand."

"Thank you, sir," said Grodman, heartily. "Ready, Mr. Templeton? Here
goes. My career till I left the Scotland Yard Detective Department is
known to all the world. Is that too fast for you, Mr. Templeton? A
little? Well, I'll go slower; but pull me up if I forget to keep the
brake on. When I retired, I discovered that I was a bachelor. But it was
too late to marry. Time hung heavy on my hands. The preparation of my
book, _Criminals I have Caught_, kept me occupied for some months. When
it was published, I had nothing more to do but think. I had plenty of
money, and it was safely invested; there was no call for speculation. The
future was meaningless to me; I regretted I had not elected to die in
harness. As idle old men must, I lived in the past. I went over and over
again my ancient exploits; I re-read my book. And as I thought and
thought, away from the excitement of the actual hunt, and seeing the
facts in a truer perspective, so it grew daily clearer to me that
criminals were more fools than rogues. Every crime I had traced,
however cleverly perpetrated, was from the point of view of penetrability
a weak failure. Traces and trails were left on all sides--ragged edges,
rough-hewn corners; in short, the job was botched, artistic completeness
unattained. To the vulgar, my feats might seem marvellous--the average
man is mystified to grasp how you detect the letter 'e' in a simple
cryptogram--to myself they were as commonplace as the crimes they
unveiled. To me now, with my lifelong study of the science of evidence,
it seemed possible to commit not merely one but a thousand crimes that
should be absolutely undiscoverable. And yet criminals would go on
sinning, and giving themselves away, in the same old grooves--no
originality, no dash, no individual insight, no fresh conception! One
would imagine there were an Academy of crime with forty thousand
armchairs. And gradually, as I pondered and brooded over the thought,
there came upon me the desire to commit a crime that should baffle
detection. I could invent hundreds of such crimes, and please myself by
imagining them done; but would they really work out in practice?
Evidently the sole performer of my experiment must be myself; the
subject--whom or what? Accident should determine. I itched to commence
with murder--to tackle the stiffest problems first, and I burned to
startle and baffle the world--especially the world of which I had ceased
to be. Outwardly I was calm, and spoke to the people about me as usual.
Inwardly I was on fire with a consuming scientific passion. I sported
with my pet theories, and fitted them mentally on every one I met. Every
friend or acquaintance I sat and gossiped with, I was plotting how to
murder without leaving a clue. There is not one of my friends or
acquaintances I have not done away with in thought. There is no public
man--have no fear, my dear Home Secretary--I have not planned to
assassinate secretly, mysteriously, unintelligibly, undiscoverably.
Ah, how I could give the stock criminals points--with their second-hand
motives, their conventional conceptions, their commonplace details, their
lack of artistic feeling and restraint."

The crowd had again started cheering. Impatient as the watchers were,
they felt that no news was good news. The longer the interview accorded
by the Home Secretary to the chairman of the Defence Committee, the
greater the hope his obduracy was melting. The idol of the people would
be saved, and "Grodman" and "Tom Mortlake" were mingled in the exultant
plaudits.

"The late Arthur Constant," continued the great criminologist, "came to
live nearly opposite me. I cultivated his acquaintance--he was a lovable
young fellow, an excellent subject for experiment. I do not know when I
have ever taken to a man more. From the moment I first set eyes on him,
there was a peculiar sympathy between us. We were drawn to each other. I
felt instinctively he would be the man. I loved to hear him speak
enthusiastically of the Brotherhood of Man--I, who knew the brotherhood
of man was to the ape, the serpent, and the tiger--and he seemed to find
a pleasure in stealing a moment's chat with me from his engrossing
self-appointed duties. It is a pity humanity should have been robbed of
so valuable a life. But it had to be. At a quarter to ten on the night of
December 3rd he came to me. Naturally I said nothing about this visit
at the inquest or the trial. His object was to consult me mysteriously
about some girl. He said he had privately lent her money--which she was
to repay at her convenience. What the money was for he did not know,
except that it was somehow connected with an act of abnegation in which
he had vaguely encouraged her. The girl had since disappeared, and he
was in distress about her. He would not tell me who it was--of course
now, sir, you know as well as I it was Jessie Dymond--but asked for
advice as to how to set about finding her. He mentioned that Mortlake
was leaving for Devonport by the first train on the next day. Of old I
should have connected these two facts and sought the thread; now, as he
spoke, all my thoughts were dyed red. He was suffering perceptibly from
toothache, and in answer to my sympathetic inquiries told me it had been
allowing him very little sleep. Everything combined to invite the trial
of one of my favourite theories. I spoke to him in a fatherly way, and
when I had tendered some vague advice about the girl, I made him promise
to secure a night's rest (before he faced the arduous tram-men's meeting
in the morning) by taking a sleeping draught. I gave him a quantity of
sulfonal in a phial. It is a new drug, which produces protracted sleep
without disturbing digestion, and which I use myself. He promised
faithfully to take the draught; and I also exhorted him earnestly to bolt
and bar and lock himself in so as to stop up every chink or aperture by
which the cold air of the winter's night might creep into the room. I
remonstrated with him on the careless manner he treated his body, and he
laughed in his good-humoured, gentle way, and promised to obey me in all
things. And he did. That Mrs. Drabdump, failing to rouse him, would cry
'Murder!' I took for certain. She is built that way. As even Sir Charles
Brown-Harland remarked, she habitually takes her prepossessions for
facts, her inferences for observations. She forecasts the future in grey.
Most women of Mrs. Drabdump's class would have behaved as she did. She
happened to be a peculiarly favourable specimen for working on by
'suggestion,' but I would have undertaken to produce the same effect on
almost any woman. The key to the Big Bow Mystery is feminine psychology.
The only uncertain link in the chain was, Would Mrs. Drabdump rush across
to get _me_ to break open the door? Women always rush for a man. I was
well-nigh the nearest, and certainly the most authoritative man in the
street, and I took it for granted she would."

"But suppose she hadn't?" the Home Secretary could not help asking.

"Then the murder wouldn't have happened, that's all. In due course Arthur
Constant would have awoke, or somebody else breaking open the door would
have found him sleeping; no harm done, nobody any the wiser. I could
hardly sleep myself that night. The thought of the extraordinary crime
I was about to commit--a burning curiosity to know whether Wimp would
detect _the modus operandi_--the prospect of sharing the feelings of
murderers with whom I had been in contact all my life without being in
touch with the terrible joys of their inner life--the fear lest I should
be too fast asleep to hear Mrs. Drabdump's knock--these things agitated
me and disturbed my rest. I lay tossing on my bed, planning every detail
of poor Constant's end. The hours dragged slowly and wretchedly on
towards the misty dawn. I was racked with suspense. Was I to be
disappointed after all? At last the welcome sound came--the rat-tat-tat
of murder. The echoes of that knock are yet in my ear. 'Come over and
kill him!' I put my night-capped head out of the window and told her to
wait for me. I dressed hurriedly, took my razor, and went across to 11
Glover Street. As I broke open the door of the bedroom in which Arthur
Constant lay sleeping, his head resting on his hands, I cried, 'My God!'
as if I saw some awful vision. A mist as of blood swam before Mrs.
Drabdump's eyes. She cowered back, for an instant (I divined rather than
saw the action) she shut off the dreaded sight with her hands. In that
instant I had made my cut--precisely, scientifically--made so deep a cut
and drawn out the weapon so sharply that there was scarce a drop of blood
on it; then there came from the throat a jet of blood which Mrs.
Drabdump, conscious only of the horrid gash, saw but vaguely. I covered
up the face quickly with a handkerchief to hide any convulsive
distortion. But as the medical evidence (in this detail accurate)
testified, death was instantaneous. I pocketed the razor and the empty
sulfonal phial. With a woman like Mrs. Drabdump to watch me, I could do
anything I pleased. I got her to draw my attention to the fact that both
the windows were fastened. Some fool, by the by, thought there was a
discrepancy in the evidence because the police found only one window
fastened, forgetting that, in my innocence I took care not to refasten
the window I had opened to call for aid. Naturally I did not call for aid
before a considerable time had elapsed. There was Mrs. Drabdump to quiet,
and the excuse of making notes--as an old hand. My object was to gain
time. I wanted the body to be fairly cold and stiff before being
discovered, though there was not much danger here; for, as you saw by the
medical evidence, there is no telling the time of death to an hour or
two. The frank way in which I said the death was very recent disarmed all
suspicion, and even Dr. Robinson was unconsciously worked upon, in
adjudging the time of death, by the knowledge (query here, Mr. Templeton)
that it had preceded my advent on the scene.

"Before leaving Mrs. Drabdump, there is just one point I should like to
say a word about. You have listened so patiently, sir, to my lectures on
the science of sciences that you will not refuse to hear the last. A good
deal of importance has been attached to Mrs. Drabdump's oversleeping
herself by half an hour. It happens that this (like the innocent fog
which has also been made responsible for much) is a purely accidental
and irrelevant circumstance. In all works on inductive logic it is
thoroughly recognised that only some of the circumstances of a phenomenon
are of its essence and casually interconnected; there is always a certain
proportion of heterogeneous accompaniments which have no intimate
relation whatever with the phenomenon. Yet, so crude is as yet the
comprehension of the science of evidence, that _every_ feature of the
phenomenon under investigation is made equally important, and sought to
be linked with the chain of evidence. To attempt to explain everything is
always the mark of the tyro. The fog and Mrs. Drabdump's oversleeping
herself were mere accidents. There are always these irrelevant
accompaniments, and the true scientist allows for this element of (so to
speak) chemically unrelated detail. Even I never counted on the
unfortunate series of accidental phenomena which have led to Mortlake's
implication in a network of suspicion. On the other hand, the fact that
my servant, Jane, who usually goes about ten, left a few minutes earlier
on the night of December 3rd, so that she didn't know of Constant's
visit, was a relevant accident. In fact, just as the art of the artist or
the editor consists largely in knowing what to leave out, so does the art
of the scientific detector of crime consist in knowing what details to
ignore. In short, to explain everything is to explain too much. And too
much is worse than too little.

"To return to my experiment. My success exceeded my wildest dreams. None
had an inkling of the truth. The insolubility of the Big Bow Mystery
teased the acutest minds in Europe and the civilised world. That a man
could have been murdered in a thoroughly inaccessible room savoured of
the ages of magic. The redoubtable Wimp, who had been blazoned as my
successor, fell back on the theory of suicide. The mystery would have
slept till my death, but--I fear--for my own ingenuity. I tried to stand
outside myself, and to look at the crime with the eyes of another, or of
my old self. I found the work of art so perfect as to leave only one
sublimely simple solution. The very terms of the problem were so
inconceivable that, had I not been the murderer, I should have suspected
myself, in conjunction, of course, with Mrs. Drabdump. The first persons
to enter the room would have seemed to me guilty. I wrote at once (in a
disguised hand and over the signature of 'One who looks through his own
spectacles') to the _Pell Mell Press_ to suggest this. By associating
myself thus with Mrs. Drabdump I made it difficult for people to
dissociate the two who entered the room together. To dash a half-truth in
the world's eyes is the surest way of blinding it altogether. This
pseudonymous letter of mine I contradicted (in my own name) the next day,
and in the course of the long letter which I was tempted to write, I
adduced fresh evidence against the theory of suicide. I was disgusted
with the open verdict, and wanted men to be up and doing and trying to
find me out. I enjoyed the hunt more.

"Unfortunately, Wimp, set on the chase again by my own letter, by dint of
persistent blundering, blundered into a track which--by a devilish tissue
of coincidences I had neither foreseen nor dreamt of--seemed to the world
the true. Mortlake was arrested and condemned. Wimp had apparently
crowned his reputation. This was too much. I had taken all this trouble
merely to put a feather in Wimp's cap, whereas I had expected to shake
his reputation by it. It was bad enough that an innocent man should
suffer; but that Wimp should achieve a reputation he did not deserve, and
over-shadow all his predecessors by dint of a colossal mistake, this
seemed to me intolerable. I have moved heaven and earth to get the
verdict set aside, and to save the prisoner; I have exposed the weakness
of the evidence; I have had the world searched for the missing girl; I
have petitioned and agitated. In vain. I have failed. Now I play my last
card. As the overweening Wimp could not be allowed to go down to
posterity as the solver of this terrible mystery, I decided that the
condemned man might just as well profit by his exposure. That is the
reason I make the exposure to-night, before it is too late to save
Mortlake."

"So that is the reason?" said the Home Secretary, with a suspicion of
mockery in his tones.

"The sole reason."

Even as he spoke, a deeper roar than ever penetrated the study.

"A Reprieve! Hooray! Hooray!" The whole street seemed to rock with
earthquake and the names of Grodman and Mortlake to be thrown up in a
fiery jet. "A Reprieve! A Reprieve!" And then the very windows rattled
with cheers for the Minister. And even above that roar rose the shrill
voices of the newsboys, "Reprieve of Mortlake! Mortlake Reprieved!"
Grodman looked wonderingly towards the street. "How do they know?" he
murmured.

"Those evening papers are amazing," said the Minister, drily. "But I
suppose they had everything ready in type for the contingency." He turned
to his secretary.

"Templeton, have you got down every word of Mr. Grodman's confession?"

"Every word, sir."

"Then bring in the cable you received just as Mr. Grodman entered the
house."

Templeton went back into the outer room and brought back the cablegram
that had been lying on the Minister's writing-table when Grodman came in.
The Home Secretary silently handed it to his visitor. It was from the
Chief of Police of Melbourne, announcing that Jessie Dymond had just
arrived in that city in a sailing vessel, ignorant of all that had
occurred, and had been immediately despatched back to England, having
made a statement entirely corroborating the theory of the defence.

"Pending further inquiries into this," said the Home Secretary, not
without appreciation of the grim humour of the situation as he glanced at
Grodman's ashen cheeks, "I have reprieved the prisoner. Mr. Templeton was
about to despatch the messenger to the governor of Newgate as you entered
this room. Mr. Wimp's card-castle would have tumbled to pieces without
your assistance. Your still undiscoverable crime would have shaken his
reputation as you intended."

A sudden explosion shook the room and blent with the cheers of the
populace. Grodman had shot himself--very scientifically--in the heart. He
fell at the Home Secretary's feet, stone dead.

Some of the working men who had been standing waiting by the shafts of
the hansom helped to bear the stretcher.



       *       *       *       *       *



MERELY MARY ANN



I


Sometimes Lancelot's bell rang up Mrs. Leadbatter herself, but far more
often merely Mary Ann.

The first time Lancelot saw Mary Ann she was cleaning the steps. He
avoided treading upon her, being kind to animals. For the moment she was
merely a quadruped, whose head was never lifted to the stars. Her faded
print dress showed like the quivering hide of some crouching animal.
There were strange irregular splashes of pink in the hide, standing out
in bright contrast with the neutral background. These were scraps of the
original material neatly patched in.

The cold, damp steps gave Lancelot a shudder, for the air was raw. He
passed by the prostrate figure as quickly as he could, and hastened to
throw himself into the easy chair before the red fire.

There was a lamp-post before the door, so he knew the house from its
neighbours. Baker's Terrace as a whole was a defeated aspiration after
gentility. The more auspicious houses were marked by white stones, the
steps being scrubbed and hearth-stoned almost daily; the gloomier
doorsteps were black, except on Sundays. Thus variety was achieved by
houses otherwise as monotonous and prosaic as a batch of fourpenny
loaves. This was not the reason why the little South London side-street
was called Baker's Terrace, though it might well seem so; for Baker
was the name of the builder, a worthy gentleman whose years and virtues
may still be deciphered on a doddering, round-shouldered stone in a
deceased cemetery not far from the scene of his triumphs.

The second time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he did not remember having seen her
before. This time she was a biped, and wore a white cap. Besides, he
hardly glanced at her. He was in a bad temper, and Beethoven was barking
terribly at the intruder who stood quaking in the doorway, so that the
crockery clattered on the tea-tray she bore. With a smothered oath
Lancelot caught up the fiery little spaniel and rammed him into the
pocket of his dressing-gown, where he quivered into silence like a struck
gong. While the girl was laying his breakfast, Lancelot, who was looking
moodily at the pattern of the carpet as if anxious to improve upon it,
was vaguely conscious of relief in being spared his landlady's
conversation. For Mrs. Leadbatter was a garrulous body, who suffered
from the delusion that small-talk is a form of politeness, and that her
conversation was part of the "all inclusive" her lodgers stipulated for.
The disease was hereditary, her father having been a barber, and
remarkable for the coolness with which, even as a small boy whose
function was lathering and nothing more, he exchanged views about the
weather with his victims.

The third time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he noticed that she was rather
pretty. She had a slight, well-built figure, not far from tall, small
shapely features, and something of a complexion. This did not displease
him: she was a little aesthetic touch amid the depressing furniture.

"Don't be afraid, Polly," he said more kindly. "The little devil won't
bite. He's all bark. Call him Beethoven and throw him a bit of sugar."

The girl threw Beethoven the piece of sugar, but did not venture on the
name. It seemed to her a long name for such a little dog. As she timidly
took the sugar from the basin by the aid of the tongs, Lancelot saw how
coarse and red her hand was. It gave him the same sense of repugnance and
refrigescence as the cold, damp steps. Something he was about to say
froze on his lips. He did not look at Mary Ann for some days; by which
time Beethoven had conquered his distrust of her, though she was still
distrustful of Beethoven, drawing her skirts tightly about her as if he
were a rat. What forced Mary Ann again upon Lancelot's morose
consciousness was a glint of winter sunshine that settled on her light
brown hair. He said, "By the way, Susan, tell your mistress--or is it
your mother?"

Mary Ann shook her head but did not speak.

"Oh, you are not Miss Leadbatter?"

"No; Mary Ann."

She spoke humbly; her eyes were shy and would not meet his. He winced as
he heard the name, though her voice was not unmusical.

"Ah, Mary Ann! and I've been calling you Jane all along, Mary Ann what?"

She seemed confused and flushed a little.

"Mary Ann!" she murmured.

"Merely Mary Ann?"

"Yessir."

He smiled. "Seems a sort of white Topsy," he was thinking.

She stood still, holding in her hand the table-cloth she had just folded.
Her eyes were downcast, and the glint of sunshine had leapt upon the long
lashes.

"Well, Mary Ann, tell your mistress there is a piano coming. It will
stand over there--you'll have to move the sideboard somewhere else."

"A piano!" Mary Ann opened her eyes, and Lancelot saw that they were
large and pathetic. He could not see the colour for the glint of sunshine
that touched them with false fire.

"Yes; I suppose it will have to come up through the window, these
staircases are so beastly narrow. Do you never have a stout person in the
house, I wonder?"

"Oh, yes, sir. We had a lodger here last year as was quite a fat man."

"And did he come up through the window by a pulley?"

He smiled at the image, and expected to see Mary Ann smile in response.
He was disappointed when she did not; it was not only that her stolidity
made his humour seem feeble--he half wanted to see how she looked when
she smiled.

"Oh, dear, no," said Mary Ann; "he lived on the ground floor!"

"Oh!" murmured Lancelot, feeling the last sparkle taken from his humour.
He was damped to the skin by Mary Ann's platitudinarian style of
conversation. Despite its prettiness, her face was dulness incarnate.

"Anyhow, remember to take in the piano if I'm out," he said tartly. "I
suppose you've _seen_ a piano--you'll know it from a kangaroo?"

"Yessir," breathed Mary Ann.

"Oh, come, that's something. There is some civilisation in Baker's
Terrace after all. But are you quite sure?" he went on, the teasing
instinct getting the better of him. "Because, you know, you've never seen
a kangaroo."

Mary Ann's face lit up a little. "Oh, yes, I have, sir; it came to the
village fair when I was a girl."

"Oh, indeed!" said Lancelot, a little staggered; "what did it come there
for--to buy a new pouch?"

"No, sir; in a circus."

"Ah, in a circus. Then, perhaps, you can _play_ the piano, too."

Mary Ann got very red. "No, sir; missus never showed me how to do that."

Lancelot surrendered himself to a roar of laughter. "This is a real
original," he said to himself, just a touch of pity blending with his
amusement.

"I suppose, though, you'd be willing to lend a hand occasionally?" he
could not resist saying.

"Missus says I must do anything I'm asked," she said, in distress, the
tears welling to her eyes. And a merciless bell mercifully sounding from
an upper room, she hurried out.

How much Mary Ann did, Lancelot never rightly knew, any more than he knew
the number of lodgers in the house, or who cooked his chops in the
mysterious regions below stairs. Sometimes he trod on the toes of boots
outside doors and vaguely connected them with human beings, peremptory
and exacting as himself. To Mary Ann each of those pairs of boots was a
personality, with individual hours of rising and retiring, breakfasting
and supping, going out and coming in, and special idiosyncrasies of diet
and disposition. The population of 5 Baker's Terrace was nine, mostly
bell-ringers. Life was one ceaseless round of multifarious duties; with
six hours of blessed unconsciousness, if sleep were punctual. All the
week long Mary Ann was toiling up and down the stairs or sweeping them,
making beds or puddings, polishing boots or fire-irons. Holidays were not
in Mary Ann's calendar; and if Sunday ever found her on her knees, it was
only when she was scrubbing out the kitchen. All work and no play makes
Jack a dull boy; it had not, apparently, made Mary Ann a bright girl.

The piano duly came in through the window like a burglar. It was a good
instrument, but hired. Under Lancelot's fingers it sang like a bird and
growled like a beast. When the piano was done growling Lancelot usually
started. He paced up and down the room, swearing audibly. Then he would
sit down at the table and cover ruled paper with hieroglyphics for hours
together. His movements were erratic to the verge of mystery. He had no
fixed hours for anything; to Mary Ann he was hopeless. At any given
moment he might be playing on the piano, or writing on the curiously
ruled paper, or stamping about the room, or sitting limp with despair in
the one easy chair, or drinking whisky and water, or smoking a black
meerschaum, or reading a book, or lying in bed, or driving away in a
hansom, or walking about Heaven alone knew where or why. Even Mrs.
Leadbatter, whose experience of life was wider than Mary Ann's,
considered his vagaries almost unchristian, though to the highest degree
gentlemanly. Sometimes, too, he sported the swallow-tail and the starched
breast-plate, which was a wonder to Mary Ann, who knew that waiters were
connected only with the most stylish establishments. Baker's Terrace did
not wear evening dress.

Mary Ann liked him best in black and white. She thought he looked like
the pictures in the young ladies' novelettes, which sometimes caught her
eye as she passed newsvendors' shops on errands. Not that she was read in
this literature--she had no time for reading. But, even when clothed in
rough tweeds, Lancelot had for Mary Ann an aristocratic halo; in his
dressing-gown he savoured of the grand Turk. His hands were masterful:
the fingers tapering, the nails pedantically polished. He had fair hair,
with moustache to match; his brow was high and white, and his grey eyes
could flash fire. When he drew himself up to his full height, he
threatened the gas globes. Never had No. 5 Baker's Terrace boasted of
such a tenant. Altogether, Lancelot loomed large to Mary Ann; she dazzled
him with his own boots in humble response, and went about sad after a
reprimand for putting his papers in order. Her whole theory of life
oscillated in the presence of a being whose views could so run counter to
her strongest instincts. And yet, though the universe seemed tumbling
about her ears when he told her she must not move a scrap of manuscript,
howsoever wildly it lay about the floor or under the bed, she did not for
a moment question his sanity. She obeyed him like a dog; uncomprehending,
but trustful. But, after all, this was only of a piece with the rest of
her life. There was nothing she questioned. Life stood at her bedside
every morning in the cold dawn, bearing a day heaped high with duties;
and she jumped cheerfully out of her warm bed and took them up one by
one, without question or murmur. They were life. Life had no other
meaning any more than it has for the omnibus hack, which cannot conceive
existence outside shafts, and devoid of the intermittent flick of a whip
point. The comparison is somewhat unjust; for Mary Ann did not fare
nearly so well as the omnibus hack, having to make her meals off such
scraps as even the lodgers sent back. Mrs. Leadbatter was extremely
economical, as much so with the provisions in her charge as with those
she bought for herself. She sedulously sent up remainders till they were
expressly countermanded. Less economical by nature, and hungrier by
habit, Mary Ann had much trouble in restraining herself from
surreptitious pickings. Her conscience was rarely worsted; still there
was a taint of dishonesty in her soul, else had the stairs been less of
an ethical battle-ground for her. Lancelot's advent only made her
hungrier; somehow the thought of nibbling at his provisions was too
sacrilegious to be entertained. And yet--so queerly are we and life
compounded--she was probably less unhappy at this period than Lancelot,
who would come home in the vilest of tempers, and tramp the room with
thunder on his white brow. Sometimes he and the piano and Beethoven would
all be growling together, at other times they would all three be mute;
Lancelot crouching in the twilight with his head in his hands, and
Beethoven moping in the corner, and the closed piano looming in the
background like a coffin of dead music.

One February evening--an evening of sleet and mist--Lancelot, who had
gone out in evening dress, returned unexpectedly, bringing with him for
the first time a visitor. He was so perturbed that he forgot to use his
latch-key, and Mary Ann, who opened the door, heard him say angrily,
"Well, I can't slam the door in your face, but I will tell you in your
face I don't think it at all gentlemanly of you to force yourself upon me
like this."

"My dear Lancelot, when did I ever set up to be a gentleman? You know
that was always your part of the contract." And a swarthy, thick-set
young man with a big nose lowered the dripping umbrella he had been
holding over Lancelot, and stepped from the gloom of the street into the
fuscous cheerfulness of the ill-lit passage.

By this time Beethoven, who had been left at home, was in full ebullition
upstairs, and darted at the intruder the moment his calves appeared.
Beethoven barked with short sharp snaps, as became a bilious
liver-coloured Blenheim spaniel.

"Like master like dog," said the swarthy young man, defending himself at
the point of the umbrella. "Really your animal is more intelligent than
the over-rated common or garden dog, which makes no distinction between
people calling in the small hours and people calling in broad daylight
under the obvious patronage of its own master. This beast of yours is
evidently more in sympathy with its liege lord. Down, Fido, down! I
wonder they allow you to keep such noisy creatures--but stay! I was
forgetting you keep a piano. After that, I suppose, nothing matters."

Lancelot made no reply, but surprised Beethoven into silence by kicking
him out of the way. He lit the gas with a neatly written sheet of music
which he rammed into the fire Mary Ann had been keeping up, then as
silently he indicated the easy chair.

"Thank you," said the swarthy young man, taking it. "I would rather see
you in it, but as there's only one I know you wouldn't be feeling a
gentleman; and that would make us both uncomfortable."

"'Pon my word, Peter," Lancelot burst forth, "you're enough to provoke a
saint."

"'Pon my word, Lancelot," replied Peter, imperturbably, "you're more than
enough to provoke a sinner. Why, what have you to be ashamed of? You've
got one of the cosiest dens in London and one of the comfortablest
chairs. Why, it's twice as jolly as the garret we shared at Leipsic--up
the ninety stairs."

"We're not in Germany now. I don't want to receive visitors," answered
Lancelot, sulkily.

"A visitor! you call me a visitor! Lancelot, it's plain you were not
telling the truth when you said just now you had forgiven me."

"I had forgiven--and forgotten you."

"Come, that's unkind. It's scarcely three years since I threw up my
career as a genius, and you know why I left you, old man. When the first
fever of youthful revolt was over, I woke to see things in their true
light. I saw how mean it was of me to help to eat up your wretched
thousand pounds. Neither of us saw the situation nakedly at first--it was
sicklied o'er with Quixotic foolishness. You see, you had the advantage
of me. Your governor was a gentleman. He says: 'Very well, if you won't
go to Cambridge, if you refuse to enter the Church as the younger son of
a blue-blooded but impecunious baronet should, and to step into the
living which is fattening for you, then I must refuse to take any further
responsibility for your future. Here is a thousand pounds; it is the
money I had set aside for your college course. Use it for your musical
tomfoolery if you insist, and then--get what living you can.' Which was
severe but dignified, unpaternal yet patrician. But what does _my_
governor do? That cantankerous, pig-headed old Philistine--God bless
him!--he's got no sense of the respect a father owes to his offspring.
Not an atom. You're simply a branch to be run on the lines of the old
business or be shut up altogether. And, by the way, Lancelot, he hasn't
altered a jot since those days when--as you remember--the City or
starvation was his pleasant alternative. Of course I preferred
starvation--one usually does at nineteen; especially if one knows there's
a scion of aristocracy waiting outside to elope with him to Leipsic."

"But you told me you were going back to your dad, because you found you
had mistaken your vocation."

"Gospel truth also! My Heavens, shall I ever forget the blank horror that
grew upon me when I came to understand that music was a science more
barbarous than the mathematics that floored me at school, that the life
of a musical student, instead of being a delicious whirl of waltz tunes,
was 'one dem'd grind,' that seemed to grind out all the soul of the
divine art and leave nothing but horrid technicalities about consecutive
fifths and suspensions on the dominant? I dare say most people still
think of the musician as a being who lives in an enchanted world of
sound, rather than as a person greatly occupied with tedious feats of
penmanship; just as I myself still think of a _prima ballerina_ not as a
hard-working gymnast but as a fairy, whose existence is all bouquets and
lime-light."

"But you had a pretty talent for the piano," said Lancelot, in milder
accents. "No one forced you to learn composition. You could have learnt
anything for the paltry fifteen pounds exacted by the Conservatoire--from
the German flute to the grand organ; from singing to scoring band parts."

"No, thank you. _Aut Cæsar aut nihil_. You remember what I always used to
say, 'Either Beethoven--' (The spaniel pricked up his ears)--'or bust.'
If I could not be a great musician it was hardly worth while enduring the
privations of one, especially at another man's expense. So I did the
Prodigal Son dodge, as you know, and out of the proceeds sent you my
year's exes in that cheque you with your damnable pride sent me back
again. And now, old fellow, that I have you face to face at last, can you
offer the faintest scintilla of a shadow of a reason for refusing to take
that cheque? No, you can't! Nothing but simple beastly stuckuppishness.
I saw through you at once; all your heroics were a fraud. I was not your
friend, but your protégé--something to practise your chivalry on. You
dropped your cloak, and I saw your feet of clay. Well, I tell you
straight, I made up my mind at once to be bad friends with you for life;
only when I saw your fiery old phiz at Brahmson's I felt a sort of
something tugging inside my greatcoat like a thief after my pocket-book,
and I kinder knew, as the Americans say, that in half an hour I should be
sitting beneath your hospitable roof."

"I beg your pardon--you will have some whisky?" He rang the bell
violently.

"Don't be a fool--you know I didn't mean that. Well, don't let us
quarrel. I have forgiven you for your youthful bounty, and you have
forgiven me for chucking it up; and now we are going to drink to the
Vaterland," he added, as Mary Ann appeared with suspicious alacrity.

"Do you know," he went on, when they had taken the first sip of renewed
amity dissolved in whisky, "I think I showed more musical soul than you
in refusing to trammel my inspiration with the dull rules invented by
fools. I suppose you have mastered them all, eh?" He picked up some
sheets of manuscript. "Great Scot! How you must have schooled yourself to
scribble all this--you, with your restless nature--full scores, too! I
hope you don't offer this sort of thing to Brahmson."

"I certainly went there with that intention," admitted Lancelot. "I
thought I'd catch Brahmson himself in the evening--he's never in when I
call in the morning."

Peter groaned.

"Quixotic as ever! You can't have been long in London then?"

"A year."

"I suppose you'd jump down my throat if I were to ask you how much is
left of that--" he hesitated, then turned the sentence facetiously--"of
those twenty thousand shillings you were cut off with?"

"Let this vile den answer."

"Don't disparage the den; it's not so bad."

"You are right--I may come to worse. I've been an awful ass. You know how
lucky I was while at the Conservatoire--no, you don't. How should you?
Well, I carried off some distinctions and a lot of conceit, and came over
here thinking Europe would be at my feet in a month. I was only sorry my
father died before I could twit him with my triumph. That's candid, isn't
it?"

"Yes; you're not such a prig after all," mused Peter. "I saw the old
man's death in the paper--your brother Lionel became the bart."

"Yes, poor beggar, I don't hate him half so much as I did. He reminds me
of a man invited to dinner which is nothing but flowers and serviettes
and silver plate."

"I'd pawn the plate, anyhow," said Peter, with a little laugh.

"He can't touch anything, I tell you; everything's tied up."

"Ah, well, he'll get tied up, too. He'll marry an American heiress."

"Confound him! I'd rather see the house extinct first."

"Hoity, toity! She'll be quite as good as any of you."

"I can't discuss this with you, Peter," said Lancelot, gently but firmly.
"If there is a word I hate more than the word heiress, it is the word
American."

"But why? They're both very good words and better things."

"They both smack of the most vulgar thing in the world--money," said
Lancelot, walking hotly about the room. "In America there's no other
standard. To make your pile, to strike ile--oh, how I shudder to hear
these idioms! And can any one hear the word heiress without immediately
thinking of matrimony? Phaugh! It's a prostitution."

"What is? You're not very coherent, my friend."

"Very well, I am incoherent. If a great old family can only bolster up
its greatness by alliances with the daughters of oil-strikers, then let
the family perish with honour."

"But the daughters of oil-strikers are sometimes very charming creatures.
They are polished with their fathers' oil."

"You are right. They reek of it. Pah! I pray to Heaven Lionel will either
wed a lady or die a bachelor."

"Yes; but what do you call a lady?" persisted Peter.

Lancelot uttered an impatient snarl, and rang the bell violently. Peter
stared in silence. Mary Ann appeared.

"How often am I to tell you to leave my matches on the mantel-shelf?"
snapped Lancelot. "You seem to delight to hide them away, as if I had
time to play parlour games with you."

Mary Ann silently went to the mantel-piece, handed him the matches, and
left the room without a word.

"I say, Lancelot, adversity doesn't seem to have agreed with you," said
Peter, severely. "That poor girl's eyes were quite wet when she went out.
Why didn't you speak? I could have given you heaps of lights, and you
might even have sacrificed another scrap of that precious manuscript."

"Well, she has got a knack of hiding my matches all the same," said
Lancelot, somewhat shamefacedly. "Besides, I hate her for being called
Mary Ann. It's the last terror of cheap apartments. If she only had
another name like a human being, I'd gladly call her Miss something. I
went so far as to ask her, and she stared at me in a dazed, stupid, silly
way, as if I'd asked her to marry me. I suppose the fact is she's been
called Mary Ann so long and so often that she's forgotten her father's
name--if she ever had any. I must do her the justice, though, to say she
answers to the name of Mary Ann in every sense of the phrase."

"She didn't seem at all bad-looking, anyway," said Peter.

"Every man to his taste!" growled Lancelot. "She's as _platt_ and
uninteresting as a wooden sabot."

"There's many a pretty foot in a sabot," retorted Peter, with an air of
philosophy.

"You think that's clever, but it's simply silly. How does that fact
affect this particular sabot?"

"I've put my foot in it," groaned Peter, comically.

"Besides, she might be a houri from heaven," said Lancelot; "but a houri
in a patched print frock--" He shuddered and struck a match.

"I don't know exactly what houris from heaven are, but I have a kind of
feeling any sort of frock would be out of harmony--!"

Lancelot lit his pipe.

"If you begin to say that sort of thing we must smoke," he said, laughing
between the puffs. "I can offer you lots of tobacco--I'm sorry I've got
no cigars. Wait till you see Mrs. Leadbatter--my landlady--then you'll
talk about houris. Poverty may not be a crime, but it seems to make
people awful bores. Wonder if it'll have that effect on me? _Ach Himmel!_
how that woman bores me. No, there's no denying it--there's my pouch, old
man--I hate the poor; their virtues are only a shade more vulgar than
their vices. This Leadbatter creature is honest after her lights--she
sends me up the most ridiculous leavings--and I only hate her the more
for it."

"I suppose she works Mary Ann's fingers to the bone from the same
mistaken sense of duty," said Peter, acutely. "Thanks; think I'll try one
of my cigars. I filled my case, I fancy, before I came out. Yes, here it
is; won't _you_ try one?"

"No, thanks, I prefer my pipe."

"It's the same old meerschaum, I see," said Peter.

"The same old meerschaum," repeated Lancelot, with a little sigh.

Peter lit a cigar, and they sat and puffed in silence.

"Dear me!" said Peter, suddenly; "I can almost fancy we're back in our
German garret, up the ninety stairs, can't you?"

"No," said Lancelot, sadly, looking round as if in search of something;
"I miss the dreams."

"And I," said Peter, striving to speak cheerfully, "I see a dog too
much."

"Yes," said Lancelot, with a melancholy laugh. "When you funked becoming
a Beethoven, I got a dog and called him after you."

"What? you called him Peter?"

"No, Beethoven!"

"Beethoven! Really?"

"Really. Here, Beethoven!"

The spaniel shook himself, and perked his wee nose up wistfully towards
Lancelot's face.

Peter laughed, with a little catch in his voice. He didn't know whether
he was pleased, or touched, or angry.

"You started to tell me about those twenty thousand shillings," he said.

"Didn't I tell you? On the expectations of my triumph, I lived
extravagantly, like a fool, joined a club, and took up my quarters there.
When I began to realise the struggle that lay before me, I took chambers;
then I took rooms; now I'm in lodgings. The more I realised it, the less
rent I paid. I only go to the club for my letters now. I won't have them
come here. I'm living incognito."

"That's taking fame by the forelock, indeed! Then by what name must I ask
for you next time? For I'm not to be shaken off."

"Lancelot."

"Lancelot what?"

"Only Lancelot! Mr. Lancelot."

"Why, that's like your Mary Ann!"

"So it is!" he laughed, more bitterly than cordially; "it never struck me
before. Yes, we are a pair."

"How did you stumble on this place?"

"I didn't stumble. Deliberate, intelligent selection. You see, it's the
next best thing to Piccadilly. You just cross Waterloo Bridge, and there
you are at the centre, five minutes from all the clubs. The natives have
not yet risen to the idea."

"You mean the rent," laughed Peter. "You're as canny and careful as a
Scotch professor. I think it's simply grand the way you've beaten out
those shillings, in defiance of your natural instincts. I should have
melted them years ago. I believe you _have_ got some musical genius after
all."

"You over-rate my abilities," said Lancelot, with the whimsical
expression that sometimes flashed across his face even in his most
unamiable moments. "You must deduct the thalers I made in exhibitions.
As for living in cheap lodgings, I am not at all certain it's an economy,
for every now and again it occurs to you that you are saving an awful
lot, and you take a hansom on the strength of it."

"Well, I haven't torn up that cheque yet--"

"Peter!" said Lancelot, his flash of gaiety dying away, "I tell you these
things as a friend, not as a beggar. If you look upon me as the second, I
cease to be the first."

"But, man, I owe you the money; and if it will enable you to hold out a
little longer--why, in Heaven's name, shouldn't you--?"

"You don't owe me the money at all; I made no bargain with you; I am not
a moneylender."

"_Pack dick sum Henker!_" growled Peter, with a comical grimace. "_Was
für_ a casuist! What a swindler you'd make! I wonder you have the face
to deny the debt. Well, and how did you leave Frau Sauer-Kraut?" he said,
deeming it prudent to sheer off the subject.

"Fat as a Christmas turkey."

"Or a German sausage. The extraordinary things that woman stuffed herself
with!--chunks of fat, stewed apples, Kartoffel salad--all mixed up in one
plate, as in a dustbin."

"Don't! You make my gorge rise. _Ach Himmel!_ to think that this nation
should be musical! O Music, heavenly maid, how much garlic I have endured
for thy sake!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Peter, putting down his whisky that he might throw
himself freely back in the easy chair and roar.

"O that garlic!" he said, panting. "No wonder they smoked so much in
Leipsic. Even so they couldn't keep the reek out of the staircases.
Still, it's a great country is Germany. Our house does a tremendous
business in German patents."

"A great country? A land of barbarians rather. How can a people be
civilised that eats jam with its meat?"

"Bravo, Lancelot! You're in lovely form to-night. You seem to go a
hundred miles out of your way to come the truly British. First it was
oil--now it's jam. There was that aristocratic flash in your eye, too,
that look of supreme disdain which brings on riots in Trafalgar Square.
Behind the patriotic, the national note, 'How can a people be civilised
that eats jam with its meat?' I heard the deeper, the oligarchic accent,
'How can a people be enfranchised that eats meat with its fingers?' Ah,
you are right! How you do hate the poor! What bores they are! You
aristocrats--the products of centuries of culture, comfort, and
cocksureness--will never rid yourselves of your conviction that you are
the backbone of England--no, not though that backbone were picked clean
of every scrap of flesh by the rats of Radicalism."

"What in the devil are you talking about now?" demanded Lancelot. "You
seem to me to go a hundred miles out of _your_ way to twit me with my
poverty and my breeding. One would almost think you were anxious to
convince me of the poverty of _your_ breeding."

"Oh, a thousand pardons!" ejaculated Peter, blushing violently. "But good
heavens, old chap! There's your hot temper again. You surely wouldn't
suspect _me_, of all people in the world, of meaning anything personal?
I'm talking of you as a class. Contempt is in your blood--and quite
right! We're such snobs, we deserve it. Why d'ye think I ever took to you
as a boy at school? Was it because you scribbled inaccurate sonatas and I
had myself a talent for knocking tunes off the piano? Not a bit of it. I
thought it was, perhaps, but that was only one of my many youthful
errors. No, I liked you because your father was an old English baronet,
and mine was a merchant who trafficked mainly in things Teutonic. And
that's why I like you still. 'Pon my soul it is. You gratify my historic
sense--like an old building. You are picturesque. You stand to me for all
the good old ideals--including the pride which we are beginning to see is
deuced unchristian. Mind you, it's a curious kind of pride when one looks
into it. Apparently it's based on the fact that your family has lived on
the nation for generations. And yet you won't take my cheque--which is
your own. Now don't swear--I know one mustn't analyse things, or the
world would come to pieces, so I always vote Tory."

"Then I shall have to turn Radical," grumbled Lancelot.

"Certainly you will, when you have had a little more experience of
poverty," retorted Peter. "There, there, old man! forgive me. I only do
it to annoy you. Fact is, your outbursts of temper attract me. They are
pleasant to look back upon when the storm is over. Yes, my dear Lancelot,
you are like the king you look--you can do no wrong. You are picturesque.
Pass the whisky."

Lancelot smiled, his handsome brow serene once more. He murmured, "Don't
talk rot," but inwardly he was not displeased at Peter's allegiance, half
mocking though he knew it.

"Therefore, my dear chap," resumed Peter, sipping his whisky and water,
"to return to our lambs, I bow to your patrician prejudices in favour of
forks. But your patriotic prejudices are on a different level. There, I
am on the same ground as you, and I vow I see nothing inherently superior
in the British combination of beef and beetroot, to the German amalgam
of lamb and jam."

"Damn lamb and jam!" burst forth Lancelot, adding, with his whimsical
look: "There's rhyme, as well as reason. How on earth did we get on this
tack?"

"I don't know," said Peter, smiling. "We were talking about Frau
Sauer-Kraut, I think. And did you board with her all the time?"

"Yes, and I was always hungry. Till the last, I never learnt to stomach
her mixtures. But it was really too much trouble to go down the ninety
stairs to a restaurant. It was much easier to be hungry."

"And did you ever get a reform in the hours of washing the floor?"

"Ha! ha! ha! No, they always waited till I was going to bed. I suppose
they thought I liked damp. They never got over my morning tub, you know.
And that, too, sprang a leak after you left, and helped spontaneously to
wash the floor."

"Shows the fallacy of cleanliness," said Peter, "and the inferiority of
British ideals. They never bathed in their lives, yet they looked the
pink of health."

"Yes,--their complexion was high,--like the fish."

"Ha! ha! Yes, the fish! That was a great luxury, I remember. About once a
month."

"Of course, the town is so inland," said Lancelot.

"I see--it took such a long time coming. Ha! ha! ha! And the Herr
Professor--is he still a bachelor?"

As the Herr Professor was a septuagenarian and a misogamist, even in
Peter's time, his question tickled Lancelot. Altogether the two young men
grew quite jolly, recalling a hundred oddities, and reknitting their
friendship at the expense of the Fatherland.

"But was there ever a more madcap expedition than ours?" exclaimed Peter.
"Most boys start out to be pirates--"

"And some do become music-publishers," Lancelot finished grimly, suddenly
reminded of a grievance.

"Ha! ha! ha! Poor fellow!" laughed Peter. "Then you _have_ found them out
already."

"Does any one ever find them in?" flashed Lancelot. "I suppose they do
exist and are occasionally seen of mortal eyes. I suppose wives and
friends and mothers gaze on them with no sense of special privilege,
unconscious of their invisibility to the profane eyes of mere musicians."

"My dear fellow, the mere musicians are as plentiful as niggers on the
sea-shore. A publisher might spend his whole day receiving regiments of
unappreciated geniuses. Bond Street would be impassable. You look at the
publisher too much from your own standpoint."

"I tell you I don't look at him from any standpoint. That's what I
complain of. He's encircled with a prickly hedge of clerks. 'You will
hear from us.' 'It shall have our best consideration. We have no
knowledge of the Ms. in question.' Yes, Peter, two valuable quartets have
I lost, messing about with these villains."

"I tell you what. I'll give you an introduction to Brahmson. I know
him--privately."

"No, thank you, Peter."

"Why not?"

"Because you know him."

"I couldn't give you an introduction if I didn't. This is silly of you,
Lancelot."

"If Brahmson can't see any merits in my music, I don't want you to open
his eyes. I'll stand on my own bottom. And what's more, Peter, I tell you
once for all"--his voice was low and menacing--"if you try any anonymous
_deus ex machinâ_ tricks on me in some sly, roundabout fashion, don't you
flatter yourself I shan't recognise your hand. I shall, and, by God, it
shall never grasp mine again."

"I suppose you think that's very noble and sublime," said Peter, coolly.
"You don't suppose if I could do you a turn I'd hesitate for fear of
excommunication? I know you're like Beethoven there--your bark is worse
than your bite."

"Very well; try. You'll find my teeth nastier than you bargain for."

"I'm not going to try. If you want to go to the dogs--go. Why should I
put out a hand to stop you?"

These amenities having reëstablished them in their mutual esteem, they
chatted lazily and spasmodically till past midnight, with more smoke than
fire in the conversation.

At last Peter began to go, and in course of time actually did take up his
umbrella. Not long after, Lancelot conducted him softly down the dark,
silent stairs, holding his bedroom candle-stick in his hand, for Mrs.
Leadbatter always turned out the hall lamp on her way to bed. The old
phrases came to the young men's lips as their hands met in a last hearty
grip.

"_Lebt wohl!_" said Lancelot.

"_Auf Wiedersehen!_" replied Peter, threateningly.

Lancelot stood at the hall door looking for a moment after his
friend--the friend he had tried to cast out of his heart as a recreant.
The mist had cleared--the stars glittered countless in the frosty heaven;
a golden crescent-moon hung low; the lights and shadows lay almost
poetically upon the little street. A rush of tender thoughts whelmed the
musician's soul. He saw again the dear old garret, up the ninety stairs,
in the Hotel Cologne, where he had lived with his dreams; he heard the
pianos and violins going in every room in happy incongruity, publishing
to all the prowess of the players; dirty, picturesque old Leipsic rose
before him; he was walking again in the _Hainstrasse_, in the shadow of
the quaint, tall houses. Yes, life was sweet after all; he was a coward
to lose heart so soon; fame would yet be his; fame and love--the love of
a noble woman that fame earns; some gracious creature, breathing sweet
refinements, cradled in an ancient home, such as he had left for ever.

The sentimentality of the Fatherland seemed to have crept into his soul;
a divinely sweet, sad melody was throbbing in his brain. How glad he was
he had met Peter again!

From a neighbouring steeple came a harsh, resonant clang, "One."

It roused him from his dream. He shivered a little, closed the door,
bolted it and put up the chain, and turned, half sighing, to take up
his bedroom candle again. Then his heart stood still for a moment. A
figure--a girl's figure--was coming towards him from the kitchen stairs.
As she came into the dim light he saw that it was merely Mary Ann.

She looked half drowsed. Her cap was off, her hair tangled loosely over
her forehead. In her disarray she looked prettier than he had ever
remembered her. There was something provoking about the large, dreamy
eyes, the red lips that parted at the unexpected sight of him.

"Good heavens!" he cried. "Not gone to bed yet?"

"No, sir. I had to stay up to wash up a lot of crockery. The second floor
front had some friends to supper late. Missus says she won't stand it
again."

"Poor thing!" He patted her soft cheek--it grew hot and rosy under his
fingers, but was not withdrawn. Mary Ann made no sign of resentment. In
his mood of tenderness to all creation his rough words to her recurred to
him.

"You mustn't mind what I said about the matches," he murmured. "When I am
in a bad temper I say anything. Remember now for the future, will you?"

"Yessir."

Her face--its blushes flickered over strangely by the
candle-light--seemed to look up at him invitingly.

"That's a good girl." And bending down he kissed her on the lips.

"Good night," he murmured.

Mary Ann made some startled, gurgling sound in reply.

Five minutes afterwards Lancelot was in bed, denouncing himself as a
vulgar beast.

"I must have drunk too much whisky," he said to himself, angrily. "Good
heavens! Fancy sinking to Mary Ann. If Peter had only seen--There was
infinitely more poetry in that red-cheeked _Mädchen_, and yet I never--It
is true-there is something sordid about the atmosphere that subtly
permeates you, that drags you down to it. Mary Ann! A transpontine
drudge! whose lips are fresh from the coalman's and the butcher's.
Phaugh!"

The fancy seized hold of his imagination. He could not shake it off,
he could not sleep till he had got out of bed and sponged his lips
vigorously.

Meanwhile Mary Ann was lying on her bed, dressed, doing her best to keep
her meaningless, half-hysterical sobs from her mistress's keen ear.



II


It was a long time before Mary Ann came so prominently into the centre of
Lancelot's consciousness again. She remained somewhere in the outer
periphery of his thought--nowhere near the bull's-eye, so to speak--as a
vague automaton that worked when he pulled a bell-rope. Infinitely more
important things were troubling him; the visit of Peter had somehow put a
keener edge on his blunted self-confidence; he had started a grand opera,
and worked at it furiously in all the intervals left him by his
engrossing pursuit after a publisher. Sometimes he would look up from his
hieroglyphics and see Mary Ann at his side surveying him curiously, and
then he would start, and remember he had rung her up, and try to remember
what for. And Mary Ann would turn red, as if the fault was hers.

But the publisher was the one thing that was never out of Lancelot's
mind, though he drove Lancelot himself nearly out of it. He was like an
arrow stuck in the aforesaid bull's-eye, and, the target being conscious,
he rankled sorely. Lancelot discovered that the publisher kept a "musical
adviser," whose advice appeared to consist of the famous monosyllable,
"Don't." The publisher generally published all the musical adviser's own
works, his advice having apparently been neglected when it was most worth
taking; at least so Lancelot thought, when he had skimmed through a set
of Lancers by one of these worthies.

"I shall give up being a musician," he said to himself, grimly. "I shall
become a musical adviser."

Once, half by accident, he actually saw a publisher. "My dear sir," said
the great man, "what is the use of bringing quartets and full scores to
me? You should have taken them to Brahmson; he's the very man you want.
You know his address, of course--just down the street."

Lancelot did not like to say that it was Brahmson's clerks that had
recommended him here; so he replied, "But you publish operas, oratorios,
cantatas!"

"Ah, yes!--h'm--things that have been played at the big
Festivals--composers of prestige--quite a different thing, sir, quite
a different thing. There's no sale for these things--none at all,
sir--public never heard of you. Now, if you were to write some
songs--nice catchy tunes--high class, you know, with pretty words--"

Now Lancelot by this time was aware of the publisher's wily ways; he
could almost have constructed an Ollendorffian dialogue, entitled
"Between a Music Publisher and a Composer." So he opened his portfolio
again and said, "I have brought some."

"Well, send--send them in," stammered the publisher, almost disconcerted.
"They shall have our best consideration."

"Oh, but you might just as well look over them at once," said Lancelot,
firmly, uncoiling them. "It won't take you five minutes--just let me play
one to you. The tunes are rather more original than the average, I can
promise you; and yet I think they have a lilt that--"

"I really can't spare the time now. If you leave them, we will do our
best."

"Listen to this bit!" said Lancelot, desperately. And dashing at a piano
that stood handy, he played a couple of bars. "That's quite a new
modulation."

"That's all very well," said the publisher; "but how do you suppose I'm
going to sell a thing with an accompaniment like that? Look here, and
here! Why, it's all accidentals."

"That's the best part of the song," explained Lancelot; "a sort of
undercurrent of emotion that brings out the full pathos of the words.
Note the elegant and novel harmonies." He played another bar or two,
singing the words softly.

"Yes; but if you think you'll get young ladies to play that, you've got a
good deal to learn," said the publisher, gruffly. "This is the sort of
accompaniment that goes down," and seating himself at the piano for a
moment (somewhat to Lancelot's astonishment, for he had gradually formed
a theory that music publishers did not really know the staff from a
five-barred gate), he rattled off the melody with his right hand,
pounding away monotonously with his left at a few elementary chords.

Lancelot looked dismayed.

"That's the kind of thing you'll have to produce, young man," said the
publisher, feeling that he had at last resumed his natural supremacy, "if
you want to get your songs published. Elegant harmonies are all very
well, but who's to play them?"

"And do you mean to say that a musician in this God-forsaken country must
have no chords but tonics and dominants?" ejaculated Lancelot, hotly.

"The less he has of any other the better," said the great man, drily. "I
haven't said a word about the melody itself, which is quite out of the
ordinary compass, and makes demands upon the singer's vocalisation which
are not likely to make a demand for the song. What you have to remember,
my dear sir, if you wish to achieve success, is that music, if it is to
sell, must appeal to the average amateur young person. The average
amateur young person is the main prop of music in this country."

Lancelot snatched up his song and tied the strings of his portfolio very
tightly, as if he were clenching his lips.

"If I stay here any longer I shall swear," he said. "Good afternoon."

He went out with a fire at his heart that made him insensitive to the
frost without. He walked a mile out of his way mechanically, then,
perceiving his stupidity, avenged it by jumping into a hansom. He dared
not think how low his funds were running. When he got home he forgot to
have his tea, crouching in dumb misery in his easy chair, while the coals
in the grate faded like the sunset from red to grey, and the dusk of
twilight deepened into the gloom of night, relieved only by a gleam
from the street lamp.

The noise of the door opening made him look up.

"Beg pardon, sir. I didn't yer ye come in."

It was Mary Ann's timid accents. Lancelot's head drooped again on his
breast. He did not answer.

"You've bin and let your fire go out, sir."

"Don't bother!" he grumbled. He felt a morbid satisfaction in this
aggravation of discomfort, almost symbolic as it was of his sunk
fortunes.

"Oh, but it'll freeze 'ard to-night, sir. Let me make it up." Taking his
sullen silence for consent she ran downstairs and reappeared with some
sticks. Soon there were signs of life, which Mary Ann assiduously
encouraged by blowing at the embers with her mouth. Lancelot looked on in
dull apathy, but as the fire rekindled and the little flames leapt up and
made Mary Ann's flushed face the one spot of colour and warmth in the
cold dark room, Lancelot's torpidity vanished suddenly. The sensuous
fascination seized him afresh, and ere he was aware of it he was lifting
the pretty face by the chin.

"I'm so sorry to be so troublesome, Mary Ann. There, you shall give me a
kiss to show you bear no malice."

The warm lips obediently met his, and for a moment Lancelot forgot his
worries while he held her soft cheek against his.

This time the shock of returning recollection was not so violent as
before. He sat up in his chair, but his right arm still twined
negligently round her neck, the fingers patting the warm face. "A fellow
must have something to divert his mind," he thought, "or he'd go mad. And
there's no harm done--the poor thing takes it as a kindness, I'm sure. I
suppose _her_ life's dull enough. We're a pair." He felt her shoulders
heaving a little, as if she were gulping down something. At last she
said: "You ain't troublesome. I ought to ha' yerd ye come in."

He released her suddenly. Her words broke the spell. The vulgar accent
gave him a shudder.

"Don't you _hear_ a bell ringing?" he said with dual significance.

"Nosir," said Mary Ann, ingenuously. "I'd yer it in a moment if there
was. I yer it in my dreams, I'm so used to it. One night I dreamt the
missus was boxin' my yers and askin' me if I was deaf and I said to
'er--"

"Can't you say 'her'?" cried Lancelot, cutting her short impatiently.

"Her," said Mary Ann.

"Then why do you say ''er'?"

"Missus told me to. She said my own way was all wrong."

"Oh, indeed!" said Lancelot. "It's missus that has corrupted you, is it?
And pray what used you to say?"

"She," said Mary Ann.

Lancelot was taken aback. "She!" he repeated.

"Yessir," said Mary Ann, with a dawning suspicion that her own vocabulary
was going to be vindicated; "whenever I said 'she' she made me say ''er,'
and whenever I said 'her' she made me say 'she.' When I said 'her and me'
she made me say 'me and she,' and when I said 'I got it from she,' she
made me say 'I got it from ''er.'"

"Bravo! A very lucid exposition," said Lancelot, laughing. "Did she set
you right in any other particulars?"

"Eessir--I mean yessir," replied Mary Ann, the forbidden words flying to
her lips like prisoned skylarks suddenly set free. "I used to say, 'Gie I
thek there broom, oo't?' 'Arten thee goin' to?' 'Her did say to I.' 'I be
goin' on to bed.' 'Look at--'"

"Enough! Enough! What a memory you've got! Now I understand. You're a
country girl."

"Eessir," said Mary Ann, her face lighting up. "I mean yessir."

"Well, that redeems you a little," thought Lancelot, with his whimsical
look. "So it's missus, is it, who's taught you Cockneyese? My instinct
was not so unsound, after all. I dare say you'll turn out something
nobler than a Cockney drudge." He finished aloud, "I hope you went
a-milking."

"Eessir, sometimes; and I drove back the milk-trunk in the cart, and I
rode down on a pony to the second pasture to count the sheep and the
heifers."

"Then you are a farmer's daughter?"

"Eessir. But my feyther--I mean my father--had only two little fields
when he was alive, but we had a nice garden, with plum trees, and rose
bushes, and gillyflowers--"

"Better and better," murmured Lancelot, smiling. And, indeed, the image
of Mary Ann skimming the meads on a pony in the sunshine, was more
pleasant to contemplate than that of Mary Ann whitening the wintry steps.
"What a complexion you must have had to start with!" he cried aloud,
surveying the not unenviable remains of it. "Well, and what else did you
do?"

Mary Ann opened her lips. It was delightful to see how the dull veil, as
of London fog, had been lifted from her face; her eyes sparkled.

Then, "Oh, there's the ground-floor bell," she cried, moving
instinctively toward the door.

"Nonsense; I hear no bell," said Lancelot.

"I told you I always _hear_ it," said Mary Ann, hesitating and blushing
delicately before the critical word.

"Oh, well, run along then. Stop a moment--I must give you another kiss
for talking so nicely. There! And--stop a moment--bring me up some
coffee, please, when the ground floor is satisfied."

"Eessir--I mean yessir. What must I say?" she added, pausing troubled on
the threshold.

"Say, 'Yes, Lancelot,'" he answered recklessly.

"Yessir," and Mary Ann disappeared.

It was ten endless minutes before she reappeared with the coffee. The
whole of the second five minutes Lancelot paced his room feverishly,
cursing the ground floor, and stamping as if to bring down its ceiling.
He was curious to know more of Mary Ann's history.

But it proved meagre enough. Her mother died when Mary Ann was a child;
her father when she was still a mere girl. His affairs were found in
hopeless confusion, and Mary Ann was considered lucky to be taken into
the house of the well-to-do Mrs. Leadbatter, of London, the elder sister
of a young woman who had nursed the vicar's wife. Mrs. Leadbatter had
promised the vicar to train up the girl in the way a domestic should go.

"And when I am old enough she is going to pay me wages as well,"
concluded Mary Ann, with an air of importance.

"Indeed--how old were you when you left the village?"

"Fourteen."

"And how old are you now?"

Mary Ann looked confused. "I don't quite know," she murmured.

"Oh, come," said Lancelot laughingly; "is this your country simplicity?
You're quite young enough to tell how old you are."

The tears came into Mary Ann's eyes.

"I can't, Mr. Lancelot," she protested earnestly; "I forgot to
count--I'll ask missus."

"And whatever she tells you, you'll be," he said, amused at her
unshakable loyalty.

"Yessir," said Mary Ann.

"And so you are quite alone in the world?"

"Yessir--but I've got my canary. They sold everything when my father
died, but the vicar's wife she bought my canary back for me because I
cried so. And I brought it to London and it hangs in my bedroom. And the
vicar, he was so kind to me, he did give me a lot of advice, and Mrs.
Amersham, who kept the chandler's shop, she did give me ninepence, all in
threepenny bits."

"And you never had any brothers or sisters?"

"There was our Sally, but she died before mother."

"Nobody else?"

"There's my big brother Tom--but I mustn't tell you about him."

"Mustn't tell me about him? Why not?"

"He's so wicked."

The answer was so unexpected that Lancelot could not help laughing, and
Mary Ann flushed to the roots of her hair.

"Why, what has he done?" said Lancelot, composing his mouth to gravity.

"I don't know; I was only six. Father told me it was something very
dreadful, and Tom had to run away to America, and I mustn't mention him
any more. And mother was crying, and I cried because Tom used to give me
tickey-backs and go black-berrying with me and our little Sally; and
everybody else in the village they seemed glad, because they had said so
all along, because Tom would never go to church, even when a little boy."

"I suppose then _you_ went to church regularly?"

"Yessir. When I was at home, I mean."

"Every Sunday?"

Mary Ann hung her head. "Once I went meechin'," she said in low tones.
"Some boys and girls they wanted me to go nutting, and I wanted to go
too, but I didn't know how to get away, and they told me to cough very
loud when the sermon began, so I did, and coughed on and on till at last
the vicar glowed at father, and father had to send me out of church."

Lancelot laughed heartily. "Then you didn't like the sermon."

"It wasn't that, sir. The sun was shining that beautiful outside, and I
never minded the sermon, only I did get tired of sitting still. But I
never done it again--our little Sally, she died soon after."

Lancelot checked his laughter. "Poor little fool!" he thought. Then to
brighten her up again he asked cheerily, "And what else did you do on the
farm?"

"Oh, please sir, missus will be wanting me now."

"Bother missus. I want some more milk," he said, emptying the milk-jug
into the slop-basin. "Run down and get some."

Mary Ann was startled by the splendour of the deed. She took the jug
silently and disappeared.

When she returned he said: "Well, you haven't told me half yet. I suppose
you kept bees?"

"Oh, yes, and I fed the pigs."

"Hang the pigs! Let's hear something more romantic."

"There was the calves to suckle sometimes, when the mother died or was
sold."

"Calves! H'm! H'm! Well, but how could you do that?"

"Dipped my fingers in milk, and let the calves suck 'em. The silly
creatures thought it was their mother's teats. Like this."

With a happy inspiration she put her fingers into the slop-basin, and
held them up dripping.

Lancelot groaned. It was not only that his improved Mary Ann was again
sinking to earth, unable to soar in the romantic æther where he would
fain have seen her volant; it was not only that the coarseness of her
nature had power to drag her down, it was the coarseness of her red,
chapped hands that was thrust once again and violently upon his reluctant
consciousness.

Then, like Mary Ann, he had an inspiration.

"How would you like a pair of gloves, Mary Ann?"

He had struck the latent feminine. Her eyes gleamed. "Oh, sir!" was all
she could say. Then a swift shade of disappointment darkened the eager
little face.

"But I never goes out," she cried.

"I never _go_ out," he corrected, shuddering.

"I never _go_ out," said Mary Ann, her lip twitching.

"That doesn't matter. I want you to wear them indoors."

"But there's nobody to see 'em indoors!"

"I shall see them," he reminded her.

"But they'll get dirty."

"No they won't. You shall only wear them when you come to me. If I buy
you a nice pair of gloves, will you promise to put them on every time I
ring for you?"

"But what'll missus say?"

"Missus won't see them. The moment you come in, you'll put them on, and
just before going out--you'll take them off! See!"

"Yessir. Then nobody'll see me looking so grand but you."

"That's it. And wouldn't you rather look grand for me than for anybody
else?"

"Of course I would, sir," said Mary Ann, earnestly, with a grateful
little sigh.

So Lancelot measured her wrist, feeling her pulse beat madly. She really
had a very little hand, though to his sensitive vision the roughness of
the skin seemed to swell it to a size demanding a boxing glove. He bought
her six pairs of tan kid, in a beautiful cardboard box. He could ill
afford the gift, and made one of his whimsical grimaces when he got the
bill. The young lady who served him looked infinitely more genteel than
Mary Ann. He wondered what she would think if she knew for whom he was
buying these dainty articles. Perhaps her feelings would be so outraged
she would refuse to participate in the transaction. But the young lady
was happily unconscious; she had her best smile for the handsome,
aristocratic young gentleman, and mentioned his moustache later to her
bosom-friend in the next department.

And thus Mary Ann and Lancelot became the joint owners of a secret, and
coplayers in a little comedy. When Mary Ann came into the room, she would
put whatever she was carrying on a chair, gravely extract her gloves from
her pocket, and draw them on, Lancelot pretending not to know she was in
the room, though he had just said, "Come in." After allowing her a minute
he would look up. In the course of a week this became mechanical, so that
he lost the semi-ludicrous sense of secrecy which he felt at first, as
well as the little pathetic emotion inspired by her absolute
unconsciousness that the performance was not intended for her own
gratification. Nevertheless, though he could now endure to see Mary Ann
handling the sugar tongs, he remained cold to her for some weeks. He had
kissed her again in the flush of her joy at the sight of the gloves, but
after that there was a reaction. He rarely went to the club now (there
was no one with whom he was in correspondence except music publishers,
and they didn't reply), but he dropped in there once soon after the glove
episode, looked over the papers in the smoking-room, and chatted with a
popular composer and one or two men he knew. It was while the waiter was
holding out the coffee-tray to him that Mary Ann flashed upon his
consciousness. The thought of her seemed so incongruous with the sober
magnificence, the massive respectability that surrounded him, the
cheerful, marble hearth reddened with leaping flame, the luxurious
lounges, the well-groomed old gentlemen smoking eighteenpenny cheroots,
the suave, noiseless satellites, that Lancelot felt a sudden pang of
bewildered shame. Why, the very waiter who stood bent before him would
disdain her. He took his coffee hastily, with a sense of personal
unworthiness. This feeling soon evaporated, but it left less of
resentment against Mary Ann which made him inexplicable to her.
Fortunately, her habit of acceptance saved her some tears, though she
shed others. And there remained always the gloves. When she was putting
them on she always felt she was slipping her hands in his.

And then there was yet a further consolation.

For the gloves had also a subtle effect on Lancelot. They gave him a
sense of responsibility. Vaguely resentful as he felt against Mary Ann
(in the intervals of his more definite resentment against publishers),
he also felt that he could not stop at the gloves. He had started
refining her, and he must go on till she was, so to speak, all gloves. He
must cover up her coarse speech, as he had covered up her coarse hands.
He owed that to the gloves; it was the least he could do for them. So,
whenever Mary Ann made a mistake, Lancelot corrected her. He found these
grammatical dialogues not uninteresting, and a vent for his ill-humour
against publishers to boot. Very often his verbal corrections sounded
astonishingly like reprimands. Here, again, Mary Ann was forearmed by her
feeling that she deserved them. She would have been proud had she known
how much Mr. Lancelot was satisfied with her aspirates, which came quite
natural. She had only dropped her "h's" temporarily, as one drops country
friends in coming to London. Curiously enough, Mary Ann did not regard
the new locutions and pronunciations as superseding the old. They were a
new language; she knew two others, her mother-tongue and her missus's
tongue. She would as little have thought of using her new linguistic
acquirements in the kitchen as of wearing her gloves there. They were for
Lancelot's ears only, as her gloves were for his eyes.

All this time Lancelot was displaying prodigious musical activity, so
much so that the cost of ruled paper became a consideration. There was no
form of composition he did not essay, none by which he made a shilling.
Once he felt himself the prey of a splendid inspiration, and sat up all
night writing at fever pitch, surrounded with celestial harmonies,
audible to him alone; the little room resounded with the thunder of a
mighty orchestra, in which every instrument sang to him individually--the
piccolo, the flute, the oboes, the clarionets, filling the air with a
silver spray of notes; the drums throbbing, the trumpets shrilling, the
four horns pealing with long stately notes, the trombones and bassoons
vibrating, the violins and violas sobbing in linked sweetness, the 'cello
and the contra-bass moaning their under-chant. And then, in the morning,
when the first rough sketch was written, the glory faded. He threw down
his pen, and called himself an ass for wasting his time on what nobody
would ever look at. Then he laid his head on the table, overwrought, full
of an infinite pity for himself. A sudden longing seized him for some one
to love him, to caress his hair, to smooth his hot forehead. This mood
passed too; he smoothed the slumbering Beethoven instead. After a while
he went into his bedroom, and sluiced his face and hands in ice-cold
water, and rang the bell for breakfast.

There was a knock at the door in response.

"Come in!" he said gently--his emotions had left him tired to the point
of tenderness. And then he waited a minute while Mary Ann was drawing on
her gloves.

"Did you ring, sir?" said a wheezy voice, at last. Mrs. Leadbatter had
got tired of waiting.

Lancelot started violently--Mrs. Leadbatter had latterly left him
entirely to Mary Ann. "It's my hastmer," she had explained to him
apologetically, meeting him casually in the passage. "I can't trollop up
and down stairs as I used to when I fust took this house five-an'-twenty
year ago, and pore Mr. Leadbatter--" and here followed reminiscences
long since in their hundredth edition.

"Yes; let me have some coffee--very hot--please," said Lancelot, less
gently. The woman's voice jarred upon him; and her features were not
redeeming.

"Lawd, sir, I 'ope that gas 'asn't been burnin' all night, sir," she
said, as she was going out.

"It has," he said shortly.

"You'll hexcoose me, sir, but I didn't bargen for that. I'm only a
pore, honest, 'ard-workin' widder, and I noticed the last gas bill was
'eavier then hever since that black winter that took pore Mr. Leadbatter
to 'is grave. Fair is fair, and I shall 'ave to reckon it a hextry, with
the rate gone up sevenpence a thousand and my Rosie leavin' a fine
nurse-maid's place in Bayswater at the end of the month to come 'ome and
'elp 'er mother, 'cos my hastmer--"

"Will you please shut the door after you?" interrupted Lancelot, biting
his lip with irritation. And Mrs. Leadbatter, who was standing in the
aperture with no immediate intention of departing, could find no repartee
beyond slamming the door as hard as she could.

This little passage of arms strangely softened Lancelot to Mary Ann. It
made him realise faintly what her life must be.

"I should go mad and smash all the crockery!" he cried aloud. He felt
quite tender again towards the uncomplaining girl.

Presently there was another knock. Lancelot growled, half prepared to
renew the battle, and to give Mrs. Leadbatter a piece of his mind on the
subject. But it was merely Mary Ann.

Shaken in his routine, he looked on steadily while Mary Ann drew on her
gloves; and this in turn confused Mary Ann. Her hand trembled.

"Let me help you," he said.

And there was Lancelot buttoning Mary Ann's glove just as if her name
were Guinevere! And neither saw the absurdity of wasting time upon an
operation which would have to be undone in two minutes. Then Mary Ann,
her eyes full of soft light, went to the sideboard and took out the
prosaic elements of breakfast.

When she returned, to put them back, Lancelot was astonished to see her
carrying a cage--a plain square cage, made of white tin wire.

"What's that?" he gasped.

"Please, Mr. Lancelot, I want to ask you to do me a favour." She dropped
her eyelashes timidly.

"Yes, Mary Ann," he said briskly. "But what have you got there?"

"It's only my canary, sir. Would you--please, sir, would you mind?"--then
desperately, "I want to hang it up here, sir!"

"Here?" he repeated in frank astonishment. "Why?"

"Please, sir, I--I--it's sunnier here, sir, and I--I think it must be
pining away. It hardly ever sings in my bedroom."

"Well, but," he began--then seeing the tears gathering on her eyelids, he
finished with laughing good-nature--"as long as Mrs. Leadbatter doesn't
reckon it an extra."

"Oh, no, sir," said Mary Ann, seriously. "I'll tell her. Besides, she
will be glad, because she don't like the canary--she says its singing
disturbs her. Her room is next to mine, you know, Mr. Lancelot."

"But you said it doesn't sing much."

"Please, sir, I--I mean in summer," explained Mary Ann, in rosy
confusion; "and--and--it'll soon be summer, sir."

"Sw--e-e-t!" burst forth the canary, suddenly, as if encouraged by Mary
Ann's opinion.

It was a pretty little bird--one golden yellow from beak to tail, as
though it had been dipped in sunshine.

"You see, sir," she cried eagerly, "it's beginning already."

"Yes," said Lancelot, grimly; "but so is Beethoven."

"I'll hang it high up--in the window," said Mary Ann, "where the dog
can't get at it."

"Well, I won't take any responsibilities," murmured Lancelot, resignedly.

"No, sir, I'll attend to that," said Mary Ann, vaguely.

After the installation of the canary Lancelot found himself slipping more
and more into a continuous matter-of-course flirtation; more and more
forgetting the slavey in the candid young creature who had, at moments,
strange dancing lights in her awakened eyes, strange flashes of witchery
in her ingenuous expression. And yet he made a desultory struggle against
what a secret voice was always whispering was a degradation. He knew she
had no real place in his life; he scarce thought of her save when she
came bodily before his eyes with her pretty face and her trustful glance.

He felt no temptation to write sonatas on her eyebrow--to borrow Peter's
variation, for the use of musicians, of Shakespeare's "write sonnets on
his mistress's eyebrow"--and, indeed, he knew she could be no fit
mistress for him--this starveling drudge, with passive passions, meek,
accepting, with well-nigh every spark of spontaneity choked out of her.
The women of his dreams were quite other--beautiful, voluptuous, full of
the joy of life, tremulous with poetry and lofty thought, with dark
amorous orbs that flashed responsive to his magic melodies. They hovered
about him as he wrote and played--Venuses rising from the seas of his
music. And then--with his eyes full of the divine tears of youth, with
his brain a hive of winged dreams--he would turn and kiss merely Mary
Ann! Such is the pitiful breed of mortals.

And after every such fall, he thought more contemptuously of Mary
Ann. Idealise her as he might, see all that was best in her as he
tried to, she remained common and commonplace enough. Her ingenuousness,
while from one point of view it was charming, from another was but a
pleasant synonym for silliness. And it might not be ingenuousness--or
silliness--after all! For, was Mary Ann as innocent as she looked? The
guilelessness of the dove might very well cover the wisdom of the
serpent. The instinct--the repugnance that made him sponge off her first
kiss from his lips--was probably a true instinct. How was it possible a
girl of that class should escape the sordid attentions of street swains?
Even when she was in the country she was well-nigh of wooable age, the
likely cynosure of neighbouring ploughboys' eyes. And what of the other
lodgers!

A finer instinct--that of a gentleman--kept him from putting any
questions to Mary Ann. Indeed, his own delicacy repudiated the images
that strove to find entry in his brain, even as his fastidiousness shrank
from realising the unlovely details of Mary Ann's daily duties--these
things disgusted him more with himself than with her. And yet he found
himself acquiring a new and illogical interest in the boots he met
outside doors. Early one morning he went halfway up the second flight of
stairs--a strange region where his own boots had never before trod--but
came down ashamed and with fluttering heart as if he had gone up to steal
boots instead of to survey them. He might have asked Mary Ann or her
"missus" who the other tenants were, but he shrank from the topic. Their
hours were not his, and he only once chanced on a fellow-man in the
passage, and then he was not sure it was not the tax-collector. Besides,
he was not really interested--it was only a flicker of idle curiosity as
to the actual psychology of Mary Ann. That he did not really care he
proved to himself by kissing her next time. He accepted her as she
was--because she was there. She brightened his troubled life a little,
and he was quite sure he brightened hers. So he drifted on, not worrying
himself to mean any definite harm to her. He had quite enough worry with
those music publishers.

The financial outlook was, indeed, becoming terrifying. He was glad there
was nobody to question him, for he did not care to face the facts.
Peter's threat of becoming a regular visitor had been nullified by his
father despatching him to Germany to buy up some more Teutonic patents.
"Wonderful are the ways of Providence!" he had written to Lancelot. "If I
had not flown in the old man's face and picked up a little German here
years ago, I should not be half so useful to him now.... I shall pay a
flying visit to Leipsic--not on business."

But at last Peter returned, Mrs. Leadbatter panting to the door to let
him in one afternoon without troubling to ask Lancelot if he was "at
home." He burst upon the musician, and found him in the most
undisguisable dumps.

"Why didn't you answer my letter, you impolite old bear?" Peter asked,
warding off Beethoven with his umbrella.

"I was busy," Lancelot replied pettishly.

"Busy writing rubbish. Haven't you got 'Ops.' enough? I bet you haven't
had anything published yet."

"I am working at a grand opera," he said in dry, mechanical tones. "I
have hopes of getting it put on. Gasco, the _impresario_, is a member of
my club, and he thinks of running a season in the autumn. I had a talk
with him yesterday."

"I hope I shall live to see it," said Peter, sceptically.

"I hope you will," said Lancelot, sharply.

"None of my family ever lived beyond ninety," said Peter, shaking his
head dolefully; "and then, my heart is not so good as it might be."

"It certainly isn't!" cried poor Lancelot. "But everybody hits a chap
when he's down."

He turned his head away, striving to swallow the lump that would rise to
his throat. He had a sense of infinite wretchedness and loneliness.

"Oh, poor old chap; is it so bad as all that?" Peter's somewhat strident
voice had grown tender as a woman's. He laid his hand affectionately on
Lancelot's tumbled hair. "You know I believe in you with all my soul. I
never doubted your genius for a moment. Don't I know too well that's what
keeps you back? Come, come, old fellow. Can't I persuade you to write
rot? One must keep the pot boiling, you know. You turn out a dozen
popular ballads, and the coin'll follow your music as the rats did the
pied piper's. Then, if you have any ambition left, you kick away the
ladder by which you mounted, and stand on the heights of art."

"Never!" cried Lancelot. "It would degrade me in my own eyes. I'd rather
starve; and you can't shake them off--the first impression is everything;
they would always be remembered against me," he added after a pause.

"Motives mixed," reflected Peter. "That's a good sign." Aloud he said,
"Well, you think it over. This is a practical world, old man; it wasn't
made for dreamers. And one of the first dreams that you've got to wake
from is the dream that anybody connected with the stage can be relied on
from one day to the next. They gas for the sake of gassing, or they tell
you pleasant lies out of mere goodwill, just as they call for your
drinks. Their promises are beautiful bubbles, on a basis of soft soap,
and made to 'bust.'"

"You grow quite eloquent," said Lancelot, with a wan smile.

"Eloquent! There's more in me than you've yet found out. Now then! Give
us your hand that you'll chuck art, and we'll drink to your popular
ballad--hundredth thousand edition, no drawing-room should be without
it."

Lancelot flushed. "I was just going to have some tea. I think it's five
o'clock," he murmured.

"The very thing I'm dying for," cried Peter, energetically; "I'm as
parched as a pea." Inwardly he was shocked to find the stream of whisky
run dry.

So Lancelot rang the bell, and Mary Ann came up with the tea-tray in the
twilight.

"We'll have a light," cried Peter, and struck one of his own with a
shadowy underthought of saving Mary Ann from a possible scolding, in case
Lancelot's matches should be again unapparent. Then he uttered a comic
exclamation of astonishment. Mary Ann was putting on a pair of gloves! In
his surprise he dropped the match.

Mary Ann was equally startled by the unexpected sight of a stranger, but
when he struck his second match her hands were bare and red.

"What in Heaven's name were you putting on gloves for, my girl?" said
Peter, amused.

Lancelot stared fixedly at the fire, trying to keep the blood from
flooding his cheeks. He wondered that the ridiculousness of the whole
thing had never struck him in its full force before. Was it possible
he could have made such an ass of himself?

"Please, sir, I've got to go out, and I'm in a hurry," said Mary Ann.

Lancelot felt intense relief. An instant after his brow wrinkled itself.
"Oho!" he thought. "So this is Miss Simpleton, is it?"

"Then why did you take them off again?" retorted Peter.

Mary Ann's repartee was to burst into tears and leave the room.

"Now I've offended her," said Peter. "Did you see how she tossed her
pretty head?"

"Ingenious minx," thought Lancelot.

"She's left the tray on a chair by the, door," went on Peter. "What an
odd girl! Does she always carry on like this?"

"She's got such a lot to do. I suppose she sometimes gets a bit queer in
her head," said Lancelot, conceiving he was somehow safeguarding Mary
Ann's honour by the explanation.

"I don't think that," answered Peter. "She did seem dull and stupid when
I was here last. But I had a good stare at her just now, and she seems
rather bright. Why, her accent is quite refined--she must have picked it
up from you."

"Nonsense, nonsense," exclaimed Lancelot, testily.

The little danger--or rather the great danger of being made to appear
ridiculous--which he had just passed through, contributed to rouse him
from his torpor. He exerted himself to turn the conversation, and was
quite lively over tea.

"Sw--eet! Sw--w--w--w--eet!" suddenly broke into the conversation.

"More mysteries!" cried Peter. "What's that?"

"Only a canary."

"What, another musical instrument! Isn't Beethoven jealous? I wonder he
doesn't consume his rival in his wrath. But I never knew you liked
birds."

"I don't particularly. It isn't mine."

"Whose is it?"

Lancelot answered briskly: "Mary Ann's. She asked to be allowed to keep
it here. It seems it won't sing in her attic; it pines away."

"And do you believe that?"

"Why not? It doesn't sing much even here."

"Let me look at it--ah, it's a plain Norwich yellow. If you wanted a
singing canary you should have come to me; I'd have given you one 'made
in Germany'--one of our patents--they train them to sing tunes and that
puts up the price."

"Thank you, but this one disturbs me sufficiently."

"Then why do you put up with it?"

"Why do I put up with that Christmas number supplement over the
mantel-piece? It's part of the furniture. I was asked to let it be here
and I couldn't be rude."

"No, it's not in your nature. What a bore it must be to feed it! Let me
see, I suppose you give it canary seed biscuits--I hope you don't give
it butter."

"Don't be an ass!" roared Lancelot. "You don't imagine I bother my head
whether it eats butter or--or marmalade."

"Who feeds it then?"

"Mary Ann, of course."

"She comes in and feeds it?"

"Certainly."

"Several times a day?"

"I suppose so."

"Lancelot," said Peter, solemnly. "Mary Ann's mashed on you."

Lancelot shrank before Peter's remark as a burglar from a policeman's
bull's-eye. The bull's-eye seemed to cast a new light on Mary Ann, too,
but he felt too unpleasantly dazzled to consider that for the moment; his
whole thought was to get out of the line of light.

"Nonsense!" he answered; "why, I'm hardly ever in when she feeds it, and
I believe it eats all day long--gets supplied in the morning like a
coal-scuttle. Besides, she comes in to dust and all that when she
pleases. And I do wish you wouldn't use that word 'mashed.' I loathe it."

Indeed, he writhed under the thought of being coupled with Mary Ann. The
thing sounded so ugly--so squalid. In the actual, it was not so
unpleasant, but looked at from the outside--unsympathetically--it
was hopelessly vulgar, incurably plebeian. He shuddered.

"I don't know," said Peter. "It's a very expressive word, is 'mashed.'
But I will make allowance for your poetical feelings and give up the
word--except in its literal sense, of course. I'm sure you wouldn't
object to mashing a music publisher!"

Lancelot laughed with false heartiness. "Oh, but if I'm to write those
popular ballads, you say he'll become my best friend."

"Of course he will," cried Peter, eagerly sniffing at the red herring
Lancelot had thrown across the track. "You stand out for a royalty on
every copy, so that if you strike ile--oh, I beg your pardon, that's
another of the phrases you object to, isn't it?"

"Don't be a fool," said Lancelot, laughing on. "You know I only object to
that in connection with English peers marrying the daughters of men who
have done it."

"Oh, is that it? I wish you'd publish an expurgated dictionary with most
of the words left out, and exact definitions of the conditions under
which one may use the remainder. But I've got on a siding. What was I
talking about?"

"Royalty," muttered Lancelot, languidly.

"Royalty? No. You mentioned the aristocracy, I think." Then he burst into
a hearty laugh. "Oh, yes--on that ballad. Now, look here! I've brought
a ballad with me, just to show you--a thing that is going like wildfire."

"Not _Good-night and Good-by_, I hope," laughed Lancelot.

"Yes--the very one!" cried Peter, astonished.

"_Himmel!_" groaned Lancelot, in comic despair.

"You know it already?" inquired Peter, eagerly.

"No; only I can't open a paper without seeing the advertisement and the
sickly sentimental refrain."

"You see how famous it is, anyway," said Peter. "And if you want to
strike--er--to make a hit you'll just take that song and do a deliberate
imitation of it."

"Wha-a-a-t!" gasped Lancelot.

"My dear chap, they all do it. When the public cotton to a thing, they
can't have enough of it."

"But I can write my own rot, surely."

"In the face of all this litter of 'Ops.' I daren't dispute that for a
moment. But it isn't enough to write rot--the public want a particular
kind of rot. Now just play that over--oblige me." He laid both hands on
Lancelot's shoulders in amicable appeal.

Lancelot shrugged them, but seated himself at the piano, played the
introductory chords, and commenced singing the words in his pleasant
baritone.

Suddenly Beethoven ran towards the door, howling.

Lancelot ceased playing and looked approvingly at the animal.

"By Jove! he wants to go out. What an ear for music that animal's got."

Peter smiled grimly. "It's long enough. I suppose that's why you call him
Beethoven."

"Not at all. Beethoven had no ear--at least not in his latest period--he
was deaf. Lucky devil! That is, if this sort of thing was brought round
on barrel-organs."

"Never mind, old man! Finish the thing."

"But consider Beethoven's feelings!"

"Hang Beethoven!"

"Poor Beethoven. Come here, my poor maligned musical critic! Would they
give you a bad name and hang you? Now you must be very quiet. Put your
paws into those lovely long ears of yours, if it gets too horrible. You
have been used to high-class music, I know, but this is the sort of thing
that England expects every man to do, so the sooner you get used to it,
the better." He ran his fingers along the keys. "There, Peter, he's
growling already. I'm sure he'll start again, the moment I strike the
theme."

"Let him! We'll take it as a spaniel obligato."

"Oh, but his accompaniments are too staccato. He has no sense of time."

"Why don't you teach him, then, to wag his tail like the pendulum of a
metronome? He'd be more use to you that way than setting up to be a
musician, which Nature never meant him for--his hair's not long enough.
But go ahead, old man, Beethoven's behaving himself now."

Indeed, as if he were satisfied with his protest, the little beast
remained quiet, while his lord and master went through the piece. He did
not even interrupt at the refrain:--

  "Kiss me, good-night, dear love,
     Dream of the old delight;
   My spirit is summoned above,
     Kiss me, dear love, good-night."

"I must say it's not so awful as I expected," said Lancelot, candidly;
"it's not at all bad--for a waltz."

"There, you see!" cried Peter, eagerly; "the public are not such fools
after all."

"Still, the words are the most maudlin twaddle!" said Lancelot, as if he
found some consolation in the fact.

"Yes, but I didn't write _them_!" replied Peter, quickly. Then he grew
red and laughed an embarrassed laugh. "I didn't mean to tell you, old
man. But there--the cat's out. That's what took me to Brahmson's that
afternoon we met! And I harmonised it myself, mind you, every crotchet. I
picked up enough at the Conservatoire for that. You know lots of fellows
only do the tune--they give out all the other work."

"So you are the great Keeley Lesterre, eh?" said Lancelot, in amused
astonishment.

"Yes; I have to do it under another name. I don't want to grieve the old
man. You see, I promised him to reform, when he took me back to his
heart and business."

"Is that strictly honourable, Peter?" said Lancelot, shaking his head.

"Oh, well! I couldn't give it up altogether, but I do practically stick
to the contract--it's all overtime, you know. It doesn't interfere a bit
with business. Besides, as you'd say, it isn't music," he said slyly.
"And just because I don't want it I make a heap of coin out of it--that's
why I'm so vexed at your keeping me still in your debt."

Lancelot frowned. "Then you had no difficulty in getting published?" he
asked.

"I don't say that. It was bribery and corruption so far as my first song
was concerned. I tipped a professional to go down and tell Brahmson he
was going to take it up. You know, of course, well-known singers get
half-a-guinea from the publisher every time they sing a song."

"No; do they?" said Lancelot. "How mean of them!"

"Business, my boy. It pays the publisher to give it them. Look at the
advertisement!"

"But suppose a really fine song was published, and the publisher refused
to pay this blood-money?"

"Then I suppose they'd sing some other song, and let that moulder on the
foolish publisher's shelves."

"Great Heavens!" said Lancelot, jumping up from the piano in wild
excitement. "Then a musician's reputation is really at the mercy of a
mercenary crew of singers, who respect neither art nor themselves. Oh,
yes, we are indeed a musical people!"

"Easy there! Several of 'em are pals of mine, and I'll get them to take
up those ballads of yours as soon as you write 'em."

"Let them go to the devil with their ballads!" roared Lancelot, and with
a sweep of his arm whirled _Good-night_ and _Good-by_ into the air. Peter
picked it up and wrote something on it with a stylographic pen which he
produced from his waistcoat pocket.

"There!" he said, "that'll make you remember it's your own property--and
mine--that you are treating so disrespectfully."

"I beg your pardon, old chap," said Lancelot, rebuked and remorseful.

"Don't mention it," replied Peter. "And whenever you decide to become
rich and famous--there's your model."

"Never! Never! Never!" cried Lancelot, when Peter went at ten. "My poor
Beethoven! What you must have suffered! Never mind, I'll play you your
moonlight sonata."

He touched the keys gently and his sorrows and his temptations faded from
him. He glided into Bach, and then into Chopin and Mendelssohn, and at
last drifted into dreamy improvisation, his fingers moving almost of
themselves, his eyes half closed, seeing only inward visions.

And then, all at once, he awoke with a start, for Beethoven was barking
towards the door, with pricked-up ears and rigid tail.

"Sh! You little beggar," he murmured, becoming conscious that the hour
was late, and that he himself had been noisy at unbeseeming hours.
"What's the matter with you?" And, with a sudden thought, he threw open
the door.

It was merely Mary Ann.

Her face--flashed so unexpectedly upon him--had the piquancy of a vision,
but its expression was one of confusion and guilt; there were tears on
her cheeks; in her hand was a bedroom candle-stick.

She turned quickly, and began to mount the stairs. Lancelot put his hand
on her shoulder, and turned her face towards him and said in an imperious
whisper:--

"Now then, what's up? What are you crying about?"

"I ain't--I mean I'm _not_ crying," said Mary Ann, with a sob in her
breath.

"Come, come, don't fib. What's the matter?"

"I'm not crying, it's only the music," she murmured.

"The music," he echoed, bewildered.

"Yessir. The music always makes me cry--but you can't call it crying--it
feels so nice."

"Oh, then you've been listening!"

"Yessir." Her eyes drooped in humiliation.

"But you ought to have been in bed," he said. "You get little enough
sleep as it is."

"It's better than sleep," she answered.

The simple phrase vibrated through him, like a beautiful minor chord. He
smoothed her hair tenderly.

"Poor child!" he said.

There was an instant's silence. It was past midnight, and the house was
painfully still. They stood upon the dusky landing, across which a bar of
light streamed from his half-open door, and only Beethoven's eyes were
upon them. But Lancelot felt no impulse to fondle her, only just to lay
his hand on her hair, as in benediction and pity.

"So you liked what I was playing," he said, not without a pang of
personal pleasure.

"Yessir; I never heard you play that before."

"So you often listen!"

"I can hear you, even in the kitchen. Oh, it's just lovely! I don't care
what I have to do then, if it's grates or plates or steps. The music goes
and goes, and I feel back in the country again, and standing, as I used
to love to stand of an evening, by the stile, under the big elm, and
watch how the sunset did redden the white birches, and fade in the water.
Oh, it was so nice in the springtime, with the hawthorn that grew on the
other bank, and the bluebells--"

The pretty face was full of dreamy tenderness, the eyes lit up
witchingly. She pulled herself up suddenly, and stole a shy glance at
her auditor.

"Yes, yes, go on," he said; "tell me all you feel about the music."

"And there's one song you sometimes play that makes me feel floating on
and on like a great white swan."

She hummed a few bars of the _Gondel-Lied_--flawlessly.

"Dear me! you have an ear!" he said, pinching it. "And how did you like
what I was playing just now?" he went on, growing curious to know how his
own improvisations struck her.

"Oh, I liked it so much," she whispered back, enthusiastically;
"because it reminded me of my favourite one--every moment I did think--I
thought--you were going to come into that."

The whimsical sparkle leapt into his eyes. "And I thought I was so
original," he murmured.

"But what I liked best," she began, then checked herself, as if suddenly
remembering she had never made a spontaneous remark before, and lacking
courage to establish a precedent.

"Yes--what you liked best?" he said encouragingly.

"That song you sang this afternoon," she said shyly.

"What song? I sang no song," he said, puzzled for a moment.

"Oh, yes! That one about--

  "'Kiss me, dear love, good-night.'

"I was going upstairs but it made me stop just here--and cry."

He made his comic grimace.

"So it was you Beethoven was barking at! And I thought he had an ear! And
I thought you had an ear! But no! You're both Philistines after all.
Heigho!"

She looked sad. "Oughtn't I to ha' liked it?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh, yes," he said reassuringly; "it's very popular. No drawing-room is
without it."

She detected the ironic ring in his voice. "It wasn't so much the music,"
she began apologetically.

"Now--now you're going to spoil yourself," he said. "Be natural."

"But it wasn't," she protested. "It was the words--"

"That's worse," he murmured below his breath.

"They reminded me of my mother as she laid dying."

"Ah!" said Lancelot.

"Yes, sir, mother was a long time dying--it was when I was a little girl
and I used to nurse her--I fancy it was our little Sally's death that
killed her, she took to her bed after the funeral and never left it till
she went to her own," said Mary Ann, with unconscious flippancy. "She
used to look up to the ceiling and say that she was going to little
Sallie, and I remember I was such a silly then, I brought mother flowers
and apples and bits of cake to take to Sally with my love. I put them on
her pillow, but the flowers faded and the cake got mouldy--mother was
such a long time dying--and at last I ate the apples myself, I was so
tired of waiting. Wasn't I silly?" And Mary Ann laughed a little laugh
with tears in it. Then growing grave again, she added: "And at last, when
mother was really on the point of death, she forgot all about little
Sally and said she was going to meet Tom. And I remember thinking she was
going to America--I didn't know people talk nonsense before they die."

"They do--a great deal of it, unfortunately," said Lancelot, lightly,
trying to disguise from himself that his eyes were moist. He seemed to
realise now what she was--a child; a child who, simpler than most
children to start with, had grown only in body, whose soul had been
stunted by uncounted years of dull and monotonous drudgery. The blood
burnt in his veins as he thought of the cruelty of circumstance and the
heartless honesty of her mistress. He made up his mind for the second
time to give Mrs. Leadbatter a piece of his mind in the morning.

"Well, go to bed now, my poor child," he said, "or you'll get no rest at
all."

"Yessir."

She went obediently up a couple of stairs, then turned her head
appealingly towards him. The tears still glimmered on her eyelashes. For
an instant he thought she was expecting her kiss, but she only wanted to
explain anxiously once again, "That was why I liked that song, 'Kiss me,
good-night, dear love.' It was what my mother--"

"Yes, yes, I understand," he broke in, half amused, though somehow the
words did not seem so full of maudlin pathos to him now. "And there--" he
drew her head towards him--"Kiss _me_, good-night--"

He did not complete the quotation; indeed, her lips were already drawn
too close to his. But, ere he released her, the long-repressed thought
had found expression.

"You don't kiss anybody but me?" he said half playfully.

"Oh, no, sir," said Mary Ann, earnestly.

"What!" more lightly still. "Haven't you got half a dozen young men?"

Mary Ann shook her head, more regretfully than resentfully. "I told you I
never go out--except for little errands."

She had told him, but his attention had been so concentrated on the
ungrammatical form in which she had conveyed the information, that the
fact itself had made no impression. Now his anger against Mrs. Leadbatter
dwindled. After all, she was wise in not giving Mary Ann the run of the
London streets.

"But"--he hesitated. "How about the--the milkman--and the--the other
gentlemen?"

"Please, sir," said Mary Ann, "I don't like them."

After that no man could help expressing his sense of her good taste.

"Then you won't kiss anybody but me," he said, as he let her go for the
last time. He had a Quixotic sub-consciousness that he was saving her
from his kind by making her promise formally.

"How could I, Mr. Lancelot?" And the brimming eyes shone with soft light.
"I never shall--never."

It sounded like a troth.

He went back to the room and shut the door, but could not shut out her
image. The picture she had unwittingly supplied of herself took
possession of his imagination: he saw her almost as a dream-figure--the
virginal figure he knew--standing by the stream in the sunset, amid the
elms and silver birches, with daisies in her hands and bluebells at her
feet, inhaling the delicate scent that wafted from the white hawthorn
bushes, and watching the water glide along till it seemed gradually to
wash away the fading colours of the sunset that glorified it. And as he
dwelt on the vision he felt harmonies and phrases stirring and singing in
his brain, like a choir of awakened birds. Quickly he seized paper and
wrote down the theme that flowed out at the point of his pen--a reverie
full of the haunting magic of quiet waters and woodland sunsets and the
gracious innocence of maidenhood. When it was done he felt he must give
it a distinctive name. He cast about for one, pondering and rejecting
titles innumerable. Countless lines of poetry ran through his head, from
which he sought to pick a word or two as one plucks a violet from a posy.
At last a half-tender, half-whimsical look came into his face, and
picking his pen out of his hair, he wrote merely--"Marianne."

It was only natural that Mary Ann should be unable to maintain
herself--or be maintained--at this idyllic level. But her fall was
aggravated by two circumstances, neither of which had any particular
business to occur. The first was an intimation from the misogamist German
Professor that he had persuaded another of his old pupils to include a
prize-symphony by Lancelot in the programme of a Crystal Palace Concert.
This was of itself sufficient to turn Lancelot's head away from all but
thoughts of Fame, even if Mary Ann had not been luckless enough to be
again discovered cleaning the steps--and without gloves. Against such a
spectacle the veriest idealist is powerless. If Mary Ann did not
immediately revert to the category of quadrupeds in which she had
started, it was only because of Lancelot's supplementary knowledge of the
creature. But as he passed her by, solicitous as before not to tread upon
her, he felt as if all the cold water in her pail were pouring down the
back of his neck.

Nevertheless, the effect of both of these turns of fortune was transient.
The symphony was duly performed, and dismissed in the papers as
promising, if over-ambitious; the only tangible result was a suggestion
from the popular composer, who was a member of his club, that Lancelot
should collaborate with him in a comic opera, for the production of which
he had facilities. The composer confessed he had a fluent gift of tune,
but had no liking for the drudgery of orchestration, and, as Lancelot was
well up in these tedious technicalities, the two might strike a
partnership to mutual advantage.

Lancelot felt insulted, but retained enough mastery of himself to reply
that he would think it over. As he gave no signs of life or thought, the
popular composer then wrote to him at length on the subject, offering him
fifty pounds for the job, half of it on account. Lancelot was in sore
straits when he got the letter, for his stock of money was dwindling to
vanishing point, and he dallied with the temptation sufficiently to take
the letter home with him. But his spirit was not yet broken, and the
letter, crumpled like a rag, was picked up by Mary Ann and straightened
out, and carefully placed upon the mantel-shelf.

Time did something of a similar service for Mary Ann herself, picking
her up from the crumpled attitude in which Lancelot had detected her on
the doorstep, straightening her out again, and replacing her upon her
semi-poetic pedestal. But, as with the cream-laid note-paper, the
wrinklings could not be effaced entirely; which was more serious for Mary
Ann.

Not that Mary Ann was conscious of these diverse humours in Lancelot.
Unconscious of changes in herself she could not conceive herself related
to his variations of mood; still less did she realise the inward
struggle, of which she was the cause. She was vaguely aware that he had
external worries, for all his grandeur, and if he was by turns brusque,
affectionate, indifferent, playful, brutal, charming, callous,
demonstrative, she no more connected herself with these vicissitudes than
with the caprices of the weather. If her sun smiled once a day it was
enough. How should she know that his indifference was often a victory
over himself, as his amativeness was a defeat?

If any excuse could be found for Lancelot, it would be that which he
administered to his conscience morning and evening like a soothing syrup.
His position was grown so desperate that Mary Ann almost stood between
him and suicide. Continued disappointment made his soul sick; his proud
heart fed on itself. He would bite his lips till the blood came, vowing
never to give in. And not only would he not move an inch from his ideal,
he would rather die than gratify Peter by falling back on him; he would
never even accept that cheque which was virtually his own.

It was wonderful how, in his stoniest moments, the sight of Mary Ann's
candid face, eloquent with dumb devotion, softened and melted him. He
would take her gloved hand and press it silently. And Mary Ann never knew
one iota of his inmost thought! He could not bring himself to that;
indeed, she never for a moment appeared to him in the light of an
intelligent being; at her best she was a sweet, simple, loving child. And
he scarce spoke to her at all now--theirs was a silent communion--he had
no heart to converse with her as he had done. The piano too was almost
silent; the canary sang less and less, though spring was coming, and
glints of sunshine stole between the wires of its cage; even Beethoven
sometimes failed to bark when there was a knock at the street door.

And at last there came a day when--for the first time in his
life--Lancelot inspected his wardrobe, and hunted together his odds and
ends of jewelry. From this significant task he was aroused by hearing
Mrs. Leadbatter coughing in his sitting-room.

He went in with an interrogative look.

"Oh, my chest!" said Mrs. Leadbatter, patting it. "It's no use my denyin'
of it, sir, I'm done up. It's as much as I can do to crawl up to the top
to bed. I'm thinkin' I shall have to make up a bed in the kitchen. It
only shows 'ow right I was to send for my Rosie, though quite the lady,
and where will you find a nattier nursemaid in all Bayswater?"

"Nowhere," assented Lancelot, automatically.

"Oh, I didn't know you'd noticed her running in to see 'er pore old
mother of a Sunday arternoon," said Mrs. Leadbatter, highly gratified.
"Well, sir, I won't say anything about the hextry gas, though a poor
widder and sevenpence hextry on the thousand, but I'm thinkin' if you
would give my Rosie a lesson once a week on that there pianner, it would
be a kind of set-off, for you know, sir, the policeman tells me your
winder is a landmark to 'im on the foggiest nights."

Lancelot flushed, then wrinkled his brows. This was a new idea
altogether. Mrs. Leadbatter stood waiting for his reply, with a
deferential smile tempered by asthmatic contortions.

"But have you got a piano of your own?"

"Oh, no, sir," cried Mrs. Leadbatter, almost reproachfully.

"Well; but how is your Rosie to practise? One lesson a week is of very
little use anyway, but unless she practises a good deal it'll only be a
waste of time."

"Ah, you don't know my Rosie," said Mrs. Leadbatter, shaking her head
with sceptical pride. "You mustn't judge by other gels--the way that gel
picks up things is--well, I'll just tell you what 'er school-teacher,
Miss Whiteman said. She says--"

"My good lady," interrupted Lancelot, "I practised six hours a day
myself."

"Yes, but it don't come so natural to a man," said Mrs. Leadbatter,
unshaken. "And it don't look natural neither to see a man playin' the
pianner--it's like seein' him knittin'."

But Lancelot was knitting his brows in a way that was exceedingly
natural. "I may as well tell you at once that what you propose is
impossible. First of all, because I am doubtful whether I shall remain
in these rooms; and secondly, because I am giving up the piano
immediately. I only have it on hire, and I--I--" He felt himself
blushing.

"Oh, what a pity!" interrupted Mrs. Leadbatter. "You might as well let me
go on payin' the hinstalments, instead of lettin' all you've paid go for
nothing. Rosie ain't got much time, but I could allow 'er a 'our a day if
it was my own pianner."

Lancelot explained "hire" did not mean the "hire system." But the idea of
acquiring the piano, having once fired Mrs. Leadbatter's brain, could not
be extinguished. The unexpected conclusion arrived at was that she was to
purchase the piano on the hire system, allowing it to stand in Lancelot's
room, and that five shillings a week should be taken off his rent in
return for six lessons of an hour each, one of the hours counterbalancing
the gas grievance. Reviewing the bargain, when Mrs. Leadbatter was gone,
Lancelot did not think it at all bad for him.

"Use of the piano. Gas," he murmured, with a pathetic smile, recalling
the advertisements he had read before lighting on Mrs. Leadbatter's. "And
five shillings a week--it's a considerable relief! There's no loss of
dignity either--for nobody will know. But I wonder what the governor
would have said!"

The thought shook him with silent laughter; a spectator might have
fancied he was sobbing.

But, after the lessons began, it might almost be said it was only when a
spectator was present that he was not sobbing. For Rosie, who was an
awkward, ungraceful young person, proved to be the dullest and most
butter-fingered pupil ever invented for the torture of teachers; at
least, so Lancelot thought, but then he had never had any other pupils,
and was not patient. It must be admitted, though, that Rosie giggled
perpetually, apparently finding endless humour in her own mistakes. But
the climax of the horror was the attendance of Mrs. Leadbatter at the
lessons, for, to Lancelot's consternation, she took it for granted that
her presence was part of the contract. She marched into the room in her
best cap, and sat, smiling, in the easy chair, wheezing complacently and
beating time with her foot. Occasionally she would supplement Lancelot's
critical observations.

"It ain't as I fears to trust 'er with you, sir," she also remarked about
three times a week, "for I knows, sir, you're a gentleman. But it's the
neighbours; they never can mind their own business. I told 'em you was
going to give my Rosie lessons, and you know, sir, that they _will_ talk
of what don't concern 'em. And, after all, sir, it's an hour, and an
hour is sixty minutes, ain't it, sir?"

And Lancelot, groaning inwardly, and unable to deny this chronometry,
felt that an ironic Providence was punishing him for his attentions to
Mary Ann.

And yet he only felt more tenderly towards Mary Ann. Contrasted with
these two vulgar females, whom he came to conceive as her oppressors,
sitting in gauds and finery, and taking lessons which had better befitted
their Cinderella--the figure of Mary Ann definitely reassumed some of its
antediluvian poetry, if we may apply the adjective to that catastrophic
washing of the steps. And Mary Ann herself had grown gloomier--once or
twice he thought she had been crying, though he was too numbed and
apathetic to ask, and was incapable of suspecting that Rosie had anything
to do with her tears. He hardly noticed that Rosie had taken to feeding
the canary; the question of how he should feed himself was becoming every
day more and more menacing. He saw starvation slowly closing in upon him
like the walls of a torture-chamber. He had grown quite familiar with the
pawn-shop now, though he still slipped in as though his goods were
stolen.

And at last there came a moment when Lancelot felt he could bear it no
longer. And then he suddenly saw daylight. Why should he teach only
Rosie? Nay, why should he teach Rosie at all? If he _was_ reduced to
giving lessons--and after all it was no degradation to do so, no
abandonment of his artistic ideal, rather a solution of the difficulty so
simple that he wondered it had not occurred to him before--why should he
give them at so wretched a price? He would get another pupil, other
pupils, who would enable him to dispense with the few shillings he made
by Rosie. He would not ask anybody to recommend him pupils--there was no
need for his acquaintances to know, and if he asked Peter, Peter would
probably play him some philanthropic trick. No, he would advertise.

After he had spent his last gold breast-pin in advertisements, he
realised that to get pianoforte pupils in London was as easy as to get
songs published. By the time he quite realised it, it was May, and then
he sat down to realise his future.

The future was sublimely simple--as simple as his wardrobe had grown.
All his clothes were on his back. In a week or two he would be on the
streets; for a poor widow could not be expected to lodge, partially board
(with use of the piano, gas), an absolutely penniless young gentleman,
though he combined the blood of twenty county families with the genius of
a pleiad of tone poets.

There was only one bright spot in the prospect. Rosie's lessons would
come to an end.

What he would do when he got on the streets was not so clear as the
rest of this prophetic vision. He might take to a barrel-organ--but that
would be a cruel waste of his artistic touch. Perhaps he would die on a
doorstep, like the professor of many languages, whose starvation was
recorded in that very morning's paper.

Thus, driven by the saturnine necessity that sneers at our puny
resolutions, Lancelot began to meditate surrender. For surrender of some
sort must be--either of life or ideal. After so steadfast and protracted
a struggle--oh, it was cruel, it was terrible; how noble, how high-minded
he had been; and this was how the fates dealt with him--but at that
moment--

"Sw--eet," went the canary, and filled the room with its rapturous
demi-semi-quavers, its throat swelling, its little body throbbing with
joy of the sunshine. And then Lancelot remembered--not the joy of the
sunshine, not the joy of life--no, merely Mary Ann.

Noble! high-minded! No, let Peter think that, let posterity think that.
But he could not cozen himself thus! He had fallen--horribly, vulgarly.
How absurd of him to set himself up as a saint, a martyr, an idealist! He
could not divide himself into two compartments like that and pretend that
only one counted in his character. Who was he to talk of dying for art?
No, he was but an everyday man. He wanted Mary Ann--yes, he might as well
admit that to himself now. It was no use humbugging himself any longer.
Why should he give her up? She was his discovery, his treasure-trove,
his property.

And if he could stoop to her, why should he not stoop to popular work, to
devilling, to anything that would rid him of these sordid cares? Bah!
away with all pretences!

Was not this shamefaced pawning as vulgar, as wounding to the artist's
soul as the turning out of tawdry melodies?

Yes, he would escape from Mrs. Leadbatter and her Rosie; he would write
to that popular composer--he had noticed his letter lying on the
mantel-piece the other day--and accept the fifty pounds, and whatever he
did he could do anonymously, so that Peter wouldn't know, after all; he
would escape from this wretched den and take a flat far away, somewhere
where nobody knew him, and there he would sit and work, with Mary Ann for
his housekeeper. Poor Mary Ann! How glad she would be when he told her!
The tears came into his eyes as he thought of her naïve delight. He would
rescue her from this horrid, monotonous slavery, and--happy thought--he
would have her to give lessons to instead of Rosie.

Yes, he would refine her; prune away all that reminded him of her wild
growth, so that it might no longer humiliate him to think to what a
companion he had sunk. How happy they would be! Of course the world would
censure him if it knew, but the world was stupid and prosaic, and
measured all things by its coarse rule of thumb. It was the best thing
that could happen to Mary Ann--the best thing in the world. And then the
world _wouldn't_ know.

"Sw--eet," went the canary. "Sw--eet."

This time the joy of the bird penetrated to his own soul--the joy of
life, the joy of the sunshine. He rang the bell violently, as though he
were sounding a clarion of defiance, the trumpet of youth.

Mary Ann knocked at the door, came in, and began to draw on her gloves.

He was in a mad mood--the incongruity struck him so that he burst into a
roar of laughter.

Mary Ann paused, flushed, and bit her lip. The touch of resentment he had
never noted before gave her a novel charm, spicing her simplicity.

He came over to her and took her half-bare hands. No, they were not so
terrible, after all. Perhaps she had awakened to her iniquities, and had
been trying to wash them white. His last hesitation as to her worthiness
to live with him vanished.

"Mary Ann," he said, "I'm going to leave these rooms."

The flush deepened, but the anger faded. She was a child again--her big
eyes full of tears. He felt her hands tremble in his.

"Mary Ann," he went on, "how would you like me to take you with me?"

"Do you mean it, sir?" she asked eagerly.

"Yes, dear." It was the first time he had used the word. The blood
throbbed madly in her ears. "If you will come with me--and be my
little housekeeper--we will go away to some nice spot, and be quite
alone together--in the country if you like, amid the foxglove and
the meadowsweet, or by the green waters, where you shall stand in the
sunset and dream; and I will teach you music and the piano"--her eyes
dilated--"and you shall not do any of this wretched nasty work any more.
What do you say?"

"Sw--eet, sw--eet," said the canary, in thrilling jubilation.

Her happiness was choking her--she could not speak.

"And we will take the canary, too--unless I say good-by to you as well."

"Oh, no, you mustn't leave us here!"

"And then," he said slowly, "it will not be good-by--nor good-night. Do
you understand?"

"Yes, yes," she breathed, and her face shone.

"But think, think, Mary Ann," he said, a sudden pang of compunction
shooting through his breast. He released her hands. "_Do_ you
understand?"

"I understand--I shall be with you, always."

He replied uneasily, "I shall look after you--always."

"Yes, yes," she breathed. Her bosom heaved. "Always."

Then his very first impression of her as "a sort of white Topsy" recurred
to him suddenly and flashed into speech.

"Mary Ann, I don't believe you know how you came into the world. I dare
say you 'specs you growed."

"No, sir," said Mary Ann, gravely; "God made me."

That shook him strangely for a moment. But the canary sang on:--

"Sw-eet. Sw-w-w-w-w-eet."



III


And so it was settled. He wrote the long-delayed answer to the popular
composer, found him still willing to give out his orchestration, and they
met by appointment at the club.

"I've got hold of a splendid book," said the popular composer. "Awfully
clever; jolly original. Bound to go--from the French, you know. Haven't
had time to set to work on it--old engagement to run over to Monte Carlo
for a few days--but I'll leave you the book; you might care to look over
it. And--I say--if any catchy tunes suggest themselves as you go along,
you might just jot them down, you know. Not worth while losing an idea;
eh, my boy! Ha! ha! ha! Well, good-by. See you again when I come back;
don't suppose I shall be away more than a month. Good-by!" And, having
shaken his hand with tremendous cordiality, the popular composer rushed
downstairs and into a hansom.

Lancelot walked home with the libretto and the five five-pound notes. He
asked for Mrs. Leadbatter, and gave her a week's notice. He wanted to
drop Rosie immediately, on the plea of pressure of work, but her mother
received the suggestion with ill grace, and said that Rosie should come
up and practise on her own piano all the same, so he yielded to the
complexities of the situation, and found hope a wonderful sweetener of
suffering. Despite Rosie and her giggling, and Mrs. Leadbatter and her
best cap and her asthma, the week went by almost cheerfully. He worked
regularly at the comic opera, nearly as happy as the canary which sang
all day long, and, though scarcely a word more passed between him and
Mary Ann, their eyes met ever and anon in the consciousness of a sweet
secret.

It was already Friday afternoon. He gathered together his few personal
belongings--his books, his manuscripts, _opera_ innumerable. There was
room in his portmanteau for everything--now he had no clothes. On the
Monday the long nightmare would be over. He would go down to some obscure
seaside nook and live very quietly for a few weeks, and gain strength and
calm in the soft spring airs, and watch hand-in-hand with Mary Ann the
rippling scarlet trail of the setting sun fade across the green waters.
Life, no doubt, would be hard enough still. Struggles and trials enough
were yet before him, but he would not think of that now--enough that for
a month or two there would be bread and cheese and kisses. And then, in
the midst of a tender reverie, with his hand on the lid of his
portmanteau, he was awakened by ominous sounds of objurgation from the
kitchen.

His heart stood still. He went down a few stairs and listened.

"Not another stroke of work do you do in my house, Mary Ann!" Then there
was silence, save for the thumping of his own heart. What had happened?

He heard Mrs. Leadbatter mounting the kitchen stairs, wheezing and
grumbling, "Well, of all the sly little things!"

Mary Ann had been discovered. His blood ran cold at the thought. The
silly creature had been unable to keep the secret.

"Not a word about 'im all this time. Oh, the sly little thing! Who would
hever a-believed it?"

And then, in the intervals of Mrs. Leadbatter's groanings, there came to
him the unmistakable sound of Mary Ann sobbing--violently, hysterically.
He turned from cold to hot in a fever of shame and humiliation. How had
it all come about? Oh, yes, he could guess. The gloves! What a fool he
had been! Mrs. Leadbatter had unearthed the box. Why did he give her more
than the pair that could always be kept hidden in her pocket? Yes, it was
the gloves. And then there was the canary. Mrs. Leadbatter had suspected
he was leaving her for a reason. She had put two and two together, she
had questioned Mary Ann, and the ingenuous little idiot had naively told
her he was going to take her with him. It didn't really matter, of
course; he didn't suppose Mrs. Leadbatter could exercise any control over
Mary Ann, but it was horrible to be discussed by her and Rosie; and then
there was that meddlesome vicar, who might step in and make things nasty.

Mrs. Leadbatter's steps and wheezes and grumblings had arrived in the
passage, and Lancelot hastily stole back into his room, his heart
continuing to flutter painfully.

He heard the complex noises reach his landing, pass by, and move up
higher. She wasn't coming in to him then; he could endure the suspense no
longer. He threw open his door and said, "Is there anything the matter?"

Mrs. Leadbatter paused and turned her head.

"His there anything the matter!" she echoed, looking down upon him. "A
nice thing when a woman's troubled with hastmer and brought 'ome 'er
daughter to take 'er place, that she should 'ave to start 'untin'
afresh!"

"Why, is Rosie going away?" he said, immeasurably relieved.

"My Rosie! She's the best girl breathing. It's that there Mary Ann!"

"Wh-a-t!" he stammered. "Mary Ann leaving you?"

"Well, you don't suppose," replied Mrs. Leadbatter, angrily, "as
I can keep a gel in my kitchen as is a-goin' to 'ave 'er own
nors-end-kerridge!"

"Her own horse and carriage!" repeated Lancelot, utterly dazed. "Whatever
are you talking about?"

"Well--there's the letter!" exclaimed Mrs. Leadbatter, indignantly.
"See for yourself if you don't believe me. I don't know how much
two and a 'arf million dollars is--but it sounds unkimmonly like a
nors-end-kerridge--and never said a word about 'im the whole time, the
sly little thing!"

The universe seemed oscillating so that he grasped at the letter like a
drunken man. It was from the vicar. He wrote:--

"I have much pleasure in informing you that our dear Mary Ann is the
fortunate inheritress of two and a half million dollars by the death of
her brother Tom, who, as I learn from the lawyers who have applied to me
for news of the family, has just died in America, leaving his money to
his surviving relatives. He was rather a wild young man, but it seems he
became the lucky possessor of some petroleum wells which made him wealthy
in a few months. I pray God Mary Ann may make a better use of the money
than he would have done. I want you to break the news to her, please, and
to prepare her for my visit. As I have to preach on Sunday, I cannot come
to town before, but on Monday (D.V.) I shall run up and shall probably
take her back with me, as I desire to help her through the difficulties
that will attend her entry into the new life. How pleased you will be to
think of the care you took of the dear child during these last five
years. I hope she is well and happy; I think you omitted to write to me
last Christmas on the subject. Please give her my kindest regards and
best wishes and say I shall be with her (D.V.) on Monday."

The words swam uncertainly before Lancelot's eyes, but he got through
them all at last. He felt chilled and numbed. He averted his face as he
handed the letter back to Mary Ann's "missus."

"What a fortunate girl!" he said in a low, stony voice.

"Fortunate ain't the word for it! The mean, sly little cat! Fancy never
telling _me_ a word about 'er brother all these years--me as 'as fed her,
and clothed her, and lodged her, and kepper out of all mischief, as if
she'd bin my own daughter; never let her go out Bankhollidayin' in loose
company--as you can bear witness yourself, sir--and eddicated 'er out of
'er country talk and rough ways, and made 'er the smart young woman she
is, fit to wait on the most troublesome of gentlemen. And now she'll go
away and say I used 'er 'arsh, and overworked 'er, and Lord knows what,
don't tell me! Oh, my poor chest!"

"I think you may make your mind quite easy," said Lancelot, grimly. "I'm
sure Mary Ann is perfectly satisfied with your treatment."

"But she ain't--there, listen! don't you hear her going on?" Poor Mary
Ann's sobs were still audible, though exhaustion was making them momently
weaker. "She's been going on like that ever since I broke the news to 'er
and gave her a piece of my mind--the sly little cat! She wanted to go on
scrubbing the kitchen, and I had to take the brush away by main force. A
nice thing, indeed! A gel as can keep a nors-end-kerridge down on the
cold kitchen stones! 'Twasn't likely I could allow that. 'No, Mary Ann,'
says I, firmly, 'you're a lady, and if you don't know what's proper for a
lady, you'd best listen to them as does. You go and buy yourself a dress
and a jacket to be ready for that vicar who's been a real good kind
friend to you; he's coming to take you away on Monday, he is, and how
will you look in that dirty print? Here's a suvrin,' says I, 'out of my
'ard-earned savin's--and get a pair o' boots, too: you can git a sweet
pair for 2s. 11d. at Rackstraw's afore the sale closes,' and with that I
shoves the suvrin into 'er hand instead o' the scrubbin' brush, and what
does she do? Why, busts out a-cryin' and sits on the damp stones, and
sobs, and sulks, and stares at the suvrin in her hand as if I'd told her
of a funeral instead of a fortune!" concluded Mrs. Leadbatter,
alliteratively.

"But you did--her brother's death," said Lancelot. "That's what she's
crying about."

Mrs. Leadbatter was taken aback by this obverse view of the situation;
but recovering herself, she shook her head. "_I_ wouldn't cry for no
brother that lef me to starve when he was rollin' in two and a 'arf
million dollars," she said sceptically. "And I'm sure my Rosie wouldn't.
But she never 'ad nobody to leave her money, poor dear child, except me,
please Gaud. It's only the fools as 'as the luck in _this_ world." And
having thus relieved her bosom, she resumed her panting progress upwards.

The last words rang on in Lancelot's ears long after he had returned to
his room. In the utter breakdown and confusion of his plans and his
ideas, it was the one definite thought he clung to, as a swimmer in a
whirlpool clings to a rock. His brain refused to concentrate itself on
any other aspect of the situation--he could not, would not, dared not,
think of anything else. He knew vaguely he ought to rejoice with her over
her wonderful stroke of luck, that savoured of the fairy-story, but
everything was swamped by that one almost resentful reflection. Oh, the
irony of fate! Blind fate showering torrents of gold upon this foolish,
babyish household drudge; who was all emotion and animal devotion,
without the intellectual outlook of a Hottentot, and leaving men of
genius to starve, or sell their souls for a handful of it! How was the
wisdom of the ages justified! Verily did fortune favour fools. And
Tom--the wicked--he had flourished as the wicked always do, like the
green bay tree, as the Psalmist discovered ever so many centuries ago.

But gradually the wave of bitterness waned. He found himself listening
placidly and attentively to the joyous trills and roulades of the canary,
till the light faded and the grey dusk crept into the room and stilled
the tiny winged lover of the sunshine. Then Beethoven came and rubbed
himself against his master's leg, and Lancelot got up, as one wakes from
a dream, and stretched his cramped limbs dazedly, and rang the bell
mechanically for tea. He was groping on the mantel-piece for the matches
when the knock at the door came, and he did not turn round till he had
found them. He struck a light, expecting to see Mrs. Leadbatter or Rosie.
He started to find it was merely Mary Ann.

But she was no longer merely Mary Ann, he remembered with another shock.
She loomed large to him in the match-light--he seemed to see her through
a golden haze. Tumultuous images of her glorified gilded future rose and
mingled dizzily in his brain.

And yet, was he dreaming? Surely it was the same Mary Ann, with the same
winsome face and the same large pathetic eyes, ringed though they were
with the shadow of tears. Mary Ann, in her neat white cap--yes--and in
her tan kid gloves. He rubbed his eyes. Was he really awake? Or--a
thought still more dizzying--_had_ he been dreaming? He had fallen asleep
and reinless fancy had played him the fantastic trick, from which,
cramped and dazed, he had just awakened to the old sweet reality.

"Mary Ann!" he cried wildly. The lighted match fell from his fingers and
burnt itself out unheeded on the carpet.

"Yessir."

"Is it true"--his emotion choked him--"is it true you've come into two
and a half million dollars?"

"Yessir, and I've brought you some tea."

The room was dark, but darkness seemed to fall on it as she spoke.

"But why are you waiting on me, then?" he said slowly. "Don't you know
that you--that you--"

"Please, Mr. Lancelot, I wanted to come in and see you."

He felt himself trembling.

"But Mrs. Leadbatter told me she wouldn't let you do any more work."

"I told missus that I must; I told her she couldn't get another girl
before Monday, if then, and if she didn't let me I wouldn't buy a new
dress and a pair of boots with her sovereign--it isn't suvrin, is it,
sir?"

"No," murmured Lancelot, smiling in spite of himself.

"With her sovereign. And I said I would be all dirty on Monday."

"But what can you get for a sovereign?" he asked irrelevantly. He felt
his mind wandering away from him.

"Oh, ever such a pretty dress!"

The picture of Mary Ann in a pretty dress painted itself upon the
darkness. How lovely the child would look in some creamy white evening
dress with a rose in her hair. He wondered that in all his thoughts of
their future he had never dressed her up thus in fancy, to feast his eyes
on the vision.

"And so the vicar will find you in a pretty dress," he said at last.

"No, sir."

"But you promised Mrs. Leadbatter to--"

"I promised to buy a dress with her sovereign. But I shan't be here when
the vicar comes. He can't come till the afternoon."

"Why, where will you be?" he said, his heart beginning to beat fast.

"With you," she replied, with a faint accent of surprise.

He steadied himself against the mantel-piece.

"But--" he began, and ended, "is that honest?"

He dimly descried her lips pouting. "We can always send her another when
we have one," she said.

He stood there, dumb, glad of the darkness.

"I must go down now," she said. "I mustn't stay long."

"Why?" he articulated.

"Rosie," she replied briefly.

"What about Rosie?"

"She watches me--ever since she came. Don't you understand?"

This time he was the dullard. He felt an extra quiver of repugnance for
Rosie, but said nothing, while Mary Ann briskly lit the gas, and threw
some coals on the decaying fire. He was pleased she was going down; he
was suffocating; he did not know what to say to her. And yet, as she was
disappearing through the doorway, he had a sudden feeling things couldn't
be allowed to remain an instant in this impossible position.

"Mary Ann!" he cried.

"Yessir."

She turned back--her face wore merely the expectant expression of a
summoned servant. The childishness of her behaviour confused him,
irritated him.

"Are you foolish?" he cried suddenly; half regretting the phrase the
instant he had uttered it.

Her lip twitched.

"No, Mr. Lancelot!" she faltered.

"But you talk as if you were," he said less roughly. "You mustn't run
away from the vicar just when he is going to take you to the lawyer's to
certify who you are, and see that you get your money."

"But I don't want to go with the vicar--I want to go with you. You said
you would take me with you." She was almost in tears now.

"Yes--but don't you--don't you understand that--that," he stammered;
then, temporising, "but I can wait."

"Can't the vicar wait?" said Mary Ann. He had never known her show such
initiative.

He saw that it was hopeless--that the money had made no more dint upon
her consciousness than some vague dream, that her whole being was set
towards the new life with him, and shrank in horror from the menace of
the vicar's withdrawal of her in the opposite direction. If joy and
redemption had not already lain in the one quarter, the advantages of
the other might have been more palpably alluring. As it was, her
consciousness was "full up" in the matter, so to speak. He saw that he
must tell her plain and plump, startle her out of her simple confidence.

"Listen to me, Mary Ann."

"Yessir."

"You are a young woman--not a baby. Strive to grasp what I am going to
tell you."

"Yessir," in a half sob, that vibrated with the obstinate resentment
of a child that knows it is to be argued out of its instincts by adult
sophistry. What had become of her passive personality?

"You are now the owner of two and a half million dollars--that is about
five hundred thousand pounds. Five--hundred thousand--pounds. Think of
ten sovereigns--ten golden sovereigns like that Mrs. Leadbatter gave you.
Then ten times as much as that, and ten times as much as all that"--he
spread his arms wider and wider--"and ten times as much as all that, and
then"--here his arms were prematurely horizontal, so he concluded hastily
but impressively,--"and then FIFTY times as much as all that. Do you
understand how rich you are?"

"Yessir." She was fumbling nervously at her gloves, half drawing them
off.

"Now all this money will last forever. For you invest it--if only at
three per cent.--never mind what that is--and then you get fifteen
thousand a year--fifteen thousand golden sovereigns to spend every--"

"Please, sir, I must go now. Rosie!"

"Oh, but you can't go yet. I have lots more to tell you."

"Yessir; but can't you ring for me again?"

In the gravity of the crisis, the remark tickled him; he laughed with a
strange ring in his laughter.

"All right; run away, you sly little puss."

He smiled on as he poured out his tea; finding a relief in prolonging his
sense of the humour of the suggestion, but his heart was heavy, and his
brain a-whirl. He did not ring again till he had finished tea.

She came in, and took her gloves out of her pocket.

"No! no!" he cried, strangely exasperated. "An end to this farce! Put
them away. You don't need gloves any more."

She squeezed them into her pocket nervously, and began to clear away the
things, with abrupt movements, looking askance every now and then at the
overcast handsome face.

At last he nerved himself to the task and said: "Well, as I was saying,
Mary Ann, the first thing for you to think of is to make sure of all
this money--this fifteen thousand pounds a year. You see you will be
able to live in a fine manor house--such as the squire lived in in your
village--surrounded by a lovely park with a lake in it for swans and
boats--"

Mary Ann had paused in her work, slop-basin in hand. The concrete details
were beginning to take hold of her imagination.

"Oh, but I should like a farm better," she said. "A large farm with great
pastures and ever so many cows and pigs and outhouses, and a--oh, just
like Atkinson's farm. And meat every day, with pudding on Sundays! Oh, if
father was alive, wouldn't he be glad!"

"Yes, you can have a farm--anything you like."

"Oh, how lovely! A piano?"

"Yes--six pianos."

"And you will learn me?"

He shuddered and hesitated.

"Well--I can't say, Mary Ann."

"Why not? Why won't you? You said you would! You learn Rosie."

"I may not be there, you see," he said, trying to put a spice of
playfulness into his tones.

"Oh, but you will," she said feverishly. "You will take me there. We will
go there instead of where you said--instead of the green waters." Her
eyes were wild and witching.

He groaned inwardly.

"I cannot promise you now," he said slowly. "Don't you see that
everything is altered?"

"What's altered? You are here and here am I." Her apprehension made her
almost epigrammatic.

"Ah, but you are quite different now, Mary Ann."

"I'm not--I want to be with you just the same."

He shook his head. "I can't take you with me," he said decisively.

"Why not?" She caught hold of his arm entreatingly.

"You are not the same Mary Ann--to other people. You are a somebody.
Before, you were a nobody. Nobody cared or bothered about you--you
were no more than a dead leaf whirling in the street."

"Yes, you cared and bothered about me," she cried, clinging to him.

Her gratitude cut him like a knife. "The eyes of the world are on you
now," he said. "People will talk about you if you go away with me now."

"Why will they talk about me? What harm shall I do them?"

Her phrases puzzled him.

"I don't know that you will harm them," he said slowly, "but you will
harm yourself."

"How will I harm myself?" she persisted.

"Well, one day, you will want a--a husband. With all that money it is
only right and proper you should marry--"

"No, Mr. Lancelot, I don't want a husband. I don't want to marry. I
should never want to go away from you."

There was another painful silence. He sought refuge in a brusque
playfulness.

"I see you understand _I'm_ not going to marry you."

"Yessir."

He felt a slight relief.

"Well, then," he said, more playfully still. "Suppose I wanted to go away
from _you_, Mary Ann?"

"But you love me," she said, unaffrighted.

He started back perceptibly.

After a moment, he replied, still playfully, "I never said so."

"No, sir; but--but--" she lowered her eyes; a coquette could not have
done it more artlessly--"but I--know it."

The accusation of loving her set all his suppressed repugnances and
prejudices bristling in contradiction. He cursed the weakness that had
got him into this soul-racking situation. The silence clamoured for
him to speak--to do something.

"What--what were you crying about before?" he said abruptly.

"I--I don't know, sir," she faltered.

"Was it Tom's death?"

"No, sir, not much. I did think of him black-berrying with me and our
little Sally--but then he was so wicked! It must have been what missus
said; and I was frightened because the vicar was coming to take me
away--away from you; and then--oh, I don't know--I felt--I couldn't tell
you--I felt I must cry and cry, like that night when--" she paused
suddenly and looked away.

"When," he said encouragingly.

"I must go--Rosie," she murmured, and took up the tea-tray.

"That night when--" he repeated tenaciously.

"When you first kissed me," she said.

He blushed. "That--that made you cry!" he stammered. "Why?"

"Please, sir, I don't know."

"Mary Ann," he said gravely, "don't you see that when I did that I
was--like your brother Tom?"

"No, sir. Tom didn't kiss me like that."

"I don't mean that, Mary Ann; I mean I was wicked."

Mary Ann stared at him.

"Don't you think so, Mary Ann?"

"Oh, no, sir. You were very good."

"No, no, Mary Ann. Don't say good."

"Ever since then I have been so happy," she persisted.

"Oh, that was because you were wicked too," he explained grimly. "We have
both been very wicked, Mary Ann; and so we had better part now, before
we get more wicked."

She stared at him plaintively, suspecting a lurking irony, but not sure.

"But you didn't mind being wicked before!" she protested.

"I'm not so sure I mind now. It's for your sake, Mary Ann, believe me, my
dear." He took her bare hand kindly and felt it burning. "You're a very
simple, foolish little thing, yes, you are. Don't cry. There's no harm in
being simple. Why, you told me yourself how silly you were once when you
brought your dying mother cakes and flowers to take to your dead little
sister. Well, you're just as foolish and childish now, Mary Ann, though
you don't know it any more than you did then. After all you're only
nineteen--I found it out from the vicar's letter. But a time will
come--yes, I'll warrant in only a few months' time you'll see how wise I
am and how sensible you have been to be guided by me. I never wished you
any harm, Mary Ann, believe me, my dear, I never did. And I hope, I do
hope so much that this money will make you happy. So you see you mustn't
go away with me now--you don't want everybody to talk of you as they did
of your brother Tom, do you, dear? Think what the vicar would say."

But Mary Ann had broken down under the touch of his hand and the
gentleness of his tones.

"I was a dead leaf so long, I don't care!" she sobbed passionately.
"Nobody never bothered to call me wicked then. Why should I bother now?"

Beneath the mingled emotions her words caused him was a sense of surprise
at her recollection of his metaphor.

"Hush! You're a silly little child," he repeated sternly. "Hush! or Mrs.
Leadbatter will hear you." He went to the door and closed it tightly.
"Listen, Mary Ann! Let me tell you once for all that even if you were
fool enough to be willing to go with me, I wouldn't take you with me. It
would be doing you a terrible wrong."

She interrupted him quietly.

"Why more now than before?"

He dropped her hand as if stung, and turned away. He knew he could not
answer that to his own satisfaction, much less to hers.

"You're a silly little baby," he repeated resentfully. "I think you had
better go down now. Missus will be wondering."

Mary Ann's sobs grew more spasmodic. "You are going away without me," she
cried hysterically.

He went to the door again, as if apprehensive of an eavesdropper. The
scene was becoming terrible. The passive personality had developed with a
vengeance.

"Hush, hush!" he cried imperatively.

"You are going away without me. I shall never see you again."

"Be sensible, Mary Ann. You will be--"

"You won't take me with you."

"How can I take you with me?" he cried brutally, losing every vestige of
tenderness for this distressful vixen. "Don't you understand that it's
impossible--unless I marry you," he concluded contemptuously.

Mary Ann's sobs ceased for a moment.

"Can't you marry me, then?" she said plaintively.

"You know it is impossible," he replied curtly.

"Why is it impossible?" she breathed.

"Because--" He saw her sobs were on the point of breaking out, and had
not the courage to hear them afresh. He dared not wound her further by
telling her straight out that, with all her money, she was ridiculously
unfit to bear his name--that it was already a condescension for him to
have offered her his companionship on any terms.

He resolved to temporise again.

"Go downstairs now, there's a good girl; and I'll tell you in the
morning. I'll think it over. Go to bed early and have a long, nice
sleep--missus will let you--now. It isn't Monday yet; we have plenty
of time to talk it over."

She looked up at him with large appealing eyes, uncertain, but calming
down.

"Do, now, there's a dear." He stroked her wet cheek soothingly.

"Yessir," and almost instinctively she put up her lips for a good-night
kiss. He brushed them hastily with his. She went out softly, drying her
eyes. His own grew moist--he was touched by the pathos of her implicit
trust. The soft warmth of her lips still thrilled him. How sweet and
loving she was! The little dialogue rang in his brain.

"Can't you marry me, then?"

"You know it is impossible."

"Why is it impossible?"

"Because--"

"Because what?" an audacious voice whispered. Why should he not? He
stilled the voice but it refused to be silent--was obdurate, insistent,
like Mary Ann herself. "Because--oh, because of a hundred things," he
told it. "Because she is no fit mate for me--because she would degrade
me, make me ridiculous--an unfortunate fortune-hunter, the butt of the
witlings. How could I take her about as my wife? How could she receive
my friends? For a housekeeper--a good, loving housekeeper--she is
perfection, but for a wife--_my_ wife--the companion of my
soul--impossible!"

"Why is it impossible?" repeated the voice, catching up the cue. And
then, from that point, the dialogue began afresh.

"Because this, and because that, and because the other--in short, because
I am Lancelot and she is merely Mary Ann."

"But she is not merely Mary Ann any longer," urged the voice.

"Yes, for all her money, she is merely Mary Ann. And am I to sell myself
for her money--I who have stood out so nobly, so high-mindedly, through
all these years of privation and struggle? And her money is all in
dollars. Pah! I smell the oil. Struck ile! Of all things in the world,
her brother should just go and strike ile!" A great shudder traversed his
form. "Everything seems to have been arranged out of pure cussedness,
just to spite me. She would have been happier without the money, poor
child--without the money, but with me. What will she do with all her
riches? She will only be wretched--like me."

"Then why not be happy together?"

"Impossible."

"Why is it impossible?"

"Because her dollars would stick in my throat--the oil would make me
sick. And what would Peter say, and my brother (not that I care what _he_
says), and my acquaintances?"

"What does that matter to you? While you were a dead leaf nobody bothered
to talk about you; they let you starve--you, with your genius--now you
can let them talk--you, with your heiress. Five hundred thousand pounds.
More than you will make with all your operas if you live a century.
Fifteen thousand a year. Why, you could have all your works performed at
your own expense, and for your own sole pleasure if you chose, as the
King of Bavaria listened to Wagner's operas. You could devote your life
to the highest art--nay, is it not a duty you owe to the world? Would it
not be a crime against the future to draggle your wings with sordid
cares, to sink to lower aims by refusing this Heaven-sent boon?"

The thought clung to him. He rose and laid out heaps of muddled
manuscript--_opera disjecta_--and turned their pages.

"Yes--yes--give us life!" they seemed to cry to him. "We are dead drops
of ink, wake us to life and beauty. How much longer are we to lie here,
dusty in death? We have waited so patiently--have pity on us, raise us up
from our silent tomb, and we will fly abroad through the whole earth,
chanting your glory; yea, the world shall be filled to eternity with the
echoes of our music and the splendour of your name."

But he shook his head and sighed, and put them back in their niches, and
placed the comic opera he had begun in the centre of the table.

"There lie the only dollars that will ever come my way," he said aloud.
And, humming the opening bars of a lively polka from the manuscript, he
took up his pen and added a few notes. Then he paused; the polka would
not come--the other voice was louder.

"It would be a degradation," he repeated, to silence it. "It would be
merely for her money. I don't love her."

"Are you so sure of that?"

"If I really loved her I shouldn't refuse to marry her."

"Are you so sure of that?"

"What's the use of all this wire-drawing?--the whole thing is
impossible."

"Why is it impossible?"

He shrugged his shoulders impatiently, refusing to be drawn back into the
eddy, and completed the bar of the polka.

Then he threw down his pen, rose and paced the room in desperation.

"Was ever any man in such a dilemma?" he cried aloud.

"Did ever any man get such a chance?" retorted his silent tormentor.

"Yes, but I mustn't seize the chance--it would be mean."

"It would be meaner not to. You're not thinking of that poor girl--only
of yourself. To leave her now would be more cowardly than to have left
her when she was merely Mary Ann. She needs you even more now that she
will be surrounded by sharks and adventurers. Poor, poor Mary Ann! It is
you who have the right to protect her now; you were kind to her when the
world forgot her. You owe it to yourself to continue to be good to her."

"No, no, I won't humbug myself. If I married her it would only be for her
money."

"No, no, don't humbug yourself. You like her. You care for her very much.
You are thrilling at this very moment with the remembrance of her lips
to-night. Think of what life will be with her--life full of all that is
sweet and fair--love and riches, and leisure for the highest art, and
fame and the promise of immortality. You are irritable, sensitive,
delicately organised; these sordid, carking cares, these wretched
struggles, these perpetual abasements of your highest self--a few more
years of them--they will wreck and ruin you, body and soul. How many men
of genius have married their housekeepers even--good, clumsy, homely
bodies, who have kept their husband's brain calm and his pillow smooth.
And again, a man of genius is the one man who can marry anybody. The
world expects him to be eccentric. And Mary Ann is no coarse city weed,
but a sweet country bud. How splendid will be her blossoming under the
sun! Do not fear that she will ever shame you; she will look beautiful,
and men will not ask her to talk. Nor will you want her to talk. She will
sit silent in the cosy room where you are working, and every now and
again you will glance up from your work at her and draw inspiration from
her sweet presence. So pull yourself together, man; your troubles are
over, and life henceforth one long blissful dream. Come, burn me that
tinkling, inglorious comic opera, and let the whole sordid past mingle
with its ashes."

So strong was the impulse--so alluring the picture--that he took up the
comic opera and walked towards the fire, his finger itching to throw it
in. But he sat down again after a moment and went on with his work. It
was imperative he should make progress with it; he could not afford to
waste his time--which was money--because another person--Mary Ann to
wit--had come into a superfluity of both. In spite of which the comic
opera refused to advance; somehow he did not feel in the mood for gaiety;
he threw down his pen in despair and disgust. But the idea of not being
able to work rankled in him. Every hour seemed suddenly precious--now
that he had resolved to make money in earnest--now that for a year or
two he could have no other aim or interest in life. Perhaps it was that
he wished to overpower the din of contending thoughts. Then a happy
thought came to him. He rummaged out Peter's ballad. He would write a
song on the model of that, as Peter had recommended--something tawdry and
sentimental, with a cheap accompaniment. He placed the ballad on the rest
and started going through it to get himself in the vein. But to-night the
air seemed to breathe an ineffable melancholy, the words--no longer
mawkish--had grown infinitely pathetic:--

  "Kiss me, good-night, dear love,
     Dream of the old delight;
   My spirit is summoned above,
     Kiss me, dear love, good-night!"

The hot tears ran down his cheeks, as he touched the keys softly and
lingeringly. He could go no farther than the refrain; he leant his elbows
on the keyboard, and dropped his head upon his arms. The clashing notes
jarred like a hoarse cry, then vibrated slowly away into a silence that
was broken only by his sobs.

He rose late the next day, after a sleep that was one prolonged
nightmare, full of agonised, abortive striving after something that
always eluded him, he knew not what. And when he woke--after a momentary
breath of relief at the thought of the unreality of these vague
horrors--he woke to the heavier nightmare of reality. Oh, those terrible
dollars!

He drew the blind, and saw with a dull acquiescence that the brightness
of May had fled. The wind was high--he heard it fly past, moaning. In the
watery sky, the round sun loomed silver-pale and blurred. To his fevered
eye it looked like a worn dollar.

He turned away, shivering, and began to dress. He opened the door a
little, and pulled in his lace-up boots, which were polished in the
highest style of art. But when he tried to put one on, his toes stuck
fast in the opening, and refused to advance. Annoyed, he put his hand in,
and drew out a pair of tan gloves, perfectly new. Astonished, he inserted
his hand again and drew out another pair, then another. Reddening
uncomfortably, for he divined something of the meaning, he examined the
left boot, and drew out three more pairs of gloves, two new and one
slightly soiled.

He sank down, half dressed, on the bed with his head on his breast,
leaving his boots and Mary Ann's gloves scattered about the floor. He was
angry, humiliated; he felt like laughing, and he felt like sobbing.

At last he roused himself, finished dressing, and rang for breakfast.
Rosie brought it up.

"Hullo! Where's Mary Ann?" he said lightly.

"She's above work now," said Rosie, with an unamiable laugh. "You know
about her fortune."

"Yes; but your mother told me she insisted on going about her work till
Monday."

"So she said yesterday--silly little thing! But to-day she says she'll
only help mother in the kitchen--and do all the boots of a morning. She
won't do any more waiting."

"Ah!" said Lancelot, crumbling his toast.

"I don't believe she knows what she wants," concluded Rosie, turning to
go.

"Then I suppose she's in the kitchen now?" he said, pouring out his
coffee down the side of his cup.

"No, she's gone out now, sir."

"Gone out!" He put down the coffee-pot--his saucer was full. "Gone out
where?"

"Only to buy things. You know her vicar is coming to take her away the
day after to-morrow, and mother wanted her to look tidy enough to travel
with the vicar; so she gave her a sovereign."

"Ah, yes; your mother said something about it."

"And yet she won't answer the bells," said Rosie, "and mother's asthma is
worse, so I don't know whether I shall be able to take my lesson to-day,
Mr. Lancelot. I'm so sorry, because it's the last."

Rosie probably did not intend the ambiguity of the phrase. There was real
regret in her voice.

"Do you like learning, then?" said Lancelot, softened, for the first
time, towards his pupil. His nerves seemed strangely flaccid to-day. He
did not at all feel the relief he should have felt at forgoing his daily
infliction.

"Ever so much, sir. I know I laugh too much, sometimes; but I don't mean
it, sir. I suppose I couldn't go on with the lessons after you leave
here?" She looked at him wistfully.

"Well"--he had crumbled the toast all to little pieces now--"I don't
quite know. Perhaps I shan't go away after all."

Rosie's face lit up. "Oh, I'll tell mother," she exclaimed joyously.

"No, don't tell her yet; I haven't quite settled. But if I stay--of
course the lessons can go on as before."

"Oh, I _do_ hope you'll stay," said Rosie, and went out of the room with
airy steps, evidently bent on disregarding his prohibition, if, indeed,
it had penetrated to her consciousness.

Lancelot made no pretence of eating breakfast; he had it removed, and
then fished out his comic opera. But nothing would flow from his pen; he
went over to the window, and stood thoughtfully drumming on the panes
with it, and gazing at the little drab-coloured street, with its high
roof of mist; along which the faded dollar continued to spin
imperceptibly. Suddenly he saw Mary Ann turn the corner, and come along
towards the house, carrying a big parcel and a paper bag in her ungloved
hands. How buoyantly she walked! He had never before seen her move in
free space, nor realised how much of the grace of a sylvan childhood
remained with her still. What a pretty colour there was on her cheeks,
too!

He ran down to the street door and opened it before she could knock. The
colour on her cheeks deepened at the sight of him, but now that she was
near he saw her eyes were swollen with crying.

"Why do you go out without gloves, Mary Ann?" he inquired sternly.
"Remember you're a lady now."

She started and looked down at his boots, then up at his face.

"Oh, yes, I found them, Mary Ann. A nice graceful way of returning me my
presents, Mary Ann. You might at least have waited till Christmas. Then
I should have thought Santa Claus sent them."

"Please, sir, I thought it was the surest way for me to send them back."

"But what made you send them back at all?"

Mary Ann's lip quivered, her eyes were cast down. "Oh--Mr. Lancelot--you
know," she faltered.

"But I don't know," he said sharply.

"Please let me go downstairs, Mr. Lancelot. Missus must have heard me
come in."

"You shan't go downstairs till you've told me what's come over you. Come
upstairs to my room."

"Yessir."

She followed him obediently. He turned round brusquely, "Here, give me
your parcels." And almost snatching them from her, he carried them
upstairs and deposited them on his table on top of the comic opera.

"Now, then, sit down. You can take off your hat and jacket."

"Yessir."

He helped her to do so.

"Now, Mary Ann, why did you return me those gloves?"

"Please, sir, I remember in our village when--when"--she felt a
diffidence in putting the situation into words and wound up quickly,
"something told me I ought to."

"I don't understand you," he grumbled, comprehending only too well. "But
why couldn't you come in and give them to me instead of behaving in that
ridiculous way?"

"I didn't want to see you again," she faltered.

He saw her eyes were welling over with tears.

"You were crying again last night," he said sharply.

"Yessir."

"But what did you have to cry about now? Aren't you the luckiest girl in
the world?"

"Yessir."

As she spoke a flood of sunlight poured suddenly into the room; the sun
had broken through the clouds, the worn dollar had become a dazzling
gold-piece. The canary stirred in its cage.

"Then what were you crying about?"

"I didn't want to be lucky."

"You silly girl--I have no patience with you. And why didn't you want to
see me again?"

"Please, Mr. Lancelot, I knew you wouldn't like it."

"Whatever put that into your head?"

"I knew it, sir," said Mary Ann, firmly. "It came to me when I was
crying. I was thinking of all sorts of things--of my mother and our
Sally, and the old pig that used to get so savage, and about the way the
organ used to play in church, and then all at once somehow I knew it
would be best for me to do what you told me--to buy my dress and go back
with the vicar, and be a good girl, and not bother you, because you were
so good to me, and it was wrong for me to worry you and make you
miserable."

"Tw-oo! Tw-oo!" It was the canary starting on a preliminary carol.

"So I thought it best," she concluded tremulously, "not to see you again.
It would only be two days, and after that it would be easier. I could
always be thinking of you just the same, Mr. Lancelot, always. That
wouldn't annoy you, sir, would it? Because you know, sir, you wouldn't
know it."

Lancelot was struggling to find a voice. "But didn't you forget something
you had to do, Mary Ann?" he said in hoarse accents.

She raised her eyes swiftly a moment, then lowered them again.

"I don't know; I didn't mean to," she said apologetically.

"Didn't you forget that I told you to come to me and get my answer to
your question?"

"No, sir, I didn't forget. That was what I was thinking of all night."

"About your asking me to marry you?"

"Yessir."

"And my saying it was impossible?"

"Yessir, and I said, 'Why is it impossible?' and you said, 'Because--'
and then you left off; but please, Mr. Lancelot, I didn't want to know
the answer this morning."

"But I want to tell you. Why don't you want to know?"

"Because I found out for myself, Mr. Lancelot. That's what I found out
when I was crying--but there was nothing to find out, sir. I knew it all
along. It was silly of me to ask you--but you know I am silly sometimes,
sir, like I was when my mother was dying. And that was why I made up my
mind not to bother you any more, Mr. Lancelot, I knew you wouldn't like
to tell me straight out."

"And what was the answer you found out? Ah, you won't speak. It looks as
if _you_ don't like to tell me straight out. Come, come, Mary Ann, tell
me why--why--it is impossible."

She looked up at last and said slowly and simply, "Because I am not good
enough for you, Mr. Lancelot."

He put his hands suddenly to his eyes. He did not see the flood of
sunlight--he did not hear the mad jubilance of the canary.

"No, Mary Ann," his voice was low and trembling. "I will tell you
why it is impossible, I didn't know last night, but I know now. It is
impossible, because--you are right, I don't like to tell you straight
out."

She opened her eyes wide, and stared at him in puzzled expectation.

"Mary Ann," he bent his head, "it is impossible--because I am not good
enough for you."

Mary Ann grew scarlet. Then she broke into a little nervous laugh. "Oh,
Mr. Lancelot, don't make fun of me."

"Believe me, my dear," he said tenderly, raising his head; "I wouldn't
make fun of you for two million million dollars. It is the truth--the
bare, miserable, wretched truth. I am not worthy of you, Mary Ann."

"I don't understand you, sir," she faltered.

"Thank Heaven for that!" he said with the old whimsical look. "If you did
you would think meanly of me ever after. Yes, that is why, Mary Ann. I
am a selfish brute--selfish to the last beat of my heart, to the inmost
essence of my every thought. Beethoven is worth two of me, aren't you,
Beethoven?" The spaniel, thinking himself called, trotted over. "He never
calculates--he just comes and licks my hand--don't look at me as if I
were mad, Mary Ann. You don't understand me--thank Heaven again. Come
now! Does it never strike you that if I were to marry you now, it would
be only for your two and a half million dollars?"

"No, sir," faltered Mary Ann.

"I thought not," he said triumphantly. "No, you will always remain a
fool, I am afraid, Mary Ann."

She met his contempt with an audacious glance.

"But I know it wouldn't be for that, Mr. Lancelot."

"No, no, of course it wouldn't be, not now. But it ought to strike you
just the same. It doesn't make you less a fool, Mary Ann. There! There!
I don't mean to be unkind, and, as I think I told you once before, it's
not so very dreadful to be a fool. A rogue is a worse thing, Mary Ann.
All I want to do is to open your eyes. Two and a half million dollars are
an awful lot of money--a terrible lot of money. Do you know how long it
will be before I make two million dollars, Mary Ann?"

"No, sir." She looked at him wonderingly.

"Two million years. Yes, my child, I can tell you now. You thought I was
rich and grand, I know, but all the while I was nearly a beggar. Perhaps
you thought I was playing the piano--yes, and teaching Rosie--for my
amusement; perhaps you thought I sat up writing half the night out
of--sleeplessness," he smiled at the phrase, "or a wanton desire to burn
Mrs. Leadbatter's gas. No, Mary Ann, I have to get my own living by hard
work--by good work if I can, by bad work if I must--but always by hard
work. While you will have fifteen thousand pounds a year, I shall be
glad, overjoyed, to get fifteen hundred. And while I shall be grinding
away body and soul for my fifteen hundred, your fifteen thousand will
drop into your pockets, even if you keep your hands there all day. Don't
look so sad, Mary Ann. I'm not blaming you. It's not your fault in the
least. It's only one of the many jokes of existence. The only reason I
want to drive this into your head is to put you on your guard. Though I
don't think myself good enough to marry you, there are lots of men who
will think they are ... though they don't know you. It is you, not me,
who are grand and rich, Mary Ann ... beware of men like me--poor and
selfish. And when you do marry--"

"Oh, Mr. Lancelot!" cried Mary Ann, bursting into tears at last, "why do
you talk like that? You know I shall never marry anybody else."

"Hush, hush! Mary Ann! I thought you were going to be a good girl and
never cry again. Dry your eyes now, will you?"

"Yessir."

"Here, take my handkerchief."

"Yessir ... but I won't marry anybody else."

"You make me smile, Mary Ann. When you brought your mother that cake for
Sally you didn't know a time would come when--"

"Oh, please, sir, I know that. But you said yesterday I was a young woman
now. And this is all different to that."

"No, it isn't, Mary Ann. When they've put you to school, and made you a
Ward in Chancery, or something, and taught you airs, and graces, and
dressed you up"--a pang traversed his heart, as the picture of her in the
future flashed for a moment upon his inner eye--"why, by that time,
you'll be a different Mary Ann, outside and inside. Don't shake your
head; I know better than you. We grow and become different. Life is full
of chances, and human beings are full of changes, and nothing remains
fixed."

"Then, perhaps"--she flushed up, her eyes sparkled--"perhaps"--she grew
dumb and sad again.

"Perhaps what?"

He waited for her thought. The rapturous trills of the canary alone
possessed the silence.

"Perhaps you'll change, too." She flashed a quick deprecatory glance at
him--her eyes were full of soft light.

This time he was dumb.

"Sw--eet!" trilled the canary, "sw--eet!" though Lancelot felt the
throbbings of his heart must be drowning its song.

"Acutely answered," he said at last. "You're not such a fool after all,
Mary Ann. But I'm afraid it will never be, dear. Perhaps if I also made
two million dollars, and if I felt I had grown worthy of you, I might
come to you and say--two and two are four--let us go into partnership.
But then, you see," he went on briskly, "the odds are I may never even
have two thousand. Perhaps I'm as much a duffer in music as in other
things. Perhaps you'll be the only person in the world who has ever
heard my music, for no one will print it, Mary Ann. Perhaps I shall be
that very common thing--a complete failure--and be worse off than even
you ever were, Mary Ann."

"Oh, Mr. Lancelot, I'm so sorry." And her eyes filled again with tears.

"Oh, don't be sorry for me. I'm a man. I dare say I shall pull through.
Just put me out of your mind, dear. Let all that happened at Baker's
Terrace be only a bad dream--a very bad dream, I am afraid I must call
it. Forget me, Mary Ann. Everything will help you to forget me, thank
Heaven, it'll be the best thing for you. Promise me now."

"Yessir ... if you will promise me."

"Promise you what?"

"To do me a favour."

"Certainly, dear, if I can."

"You have the money, Mr. Lancelot, instead of me--I don't want it, and
then you could--"

"Now, now, Mary Ann," he interrupted, laughing nervously, "you're getting
foolish again, after talking so sensibly."

"Oh, but why not?" she said plaintively.

"It is impossible," he said curtly.

"Why is it impossible?" she persisted.

"Because--," he began, and then he realised with a start that they had
come back again to that same old mechanical series of questions--if only
in form.

"Because there is only one thing I could ever bring myself to ask you for
in this world," he said slowly.

"Yes; what is that?" she said flutteringly.

He laid his hand tenderly on her hair.

"Merely Mary Ann."

She leapt up: "Oh, Mr. Lancelot, take me, take me! You do love me! You do
love me!"

He bit his lip. "I am a fool," he said roughly. "Forget me. I ought not
to have said anything. I spoke only of what might be--in the dim
future--if the--chances and changes of life bring us together again--as
they never do. No! You were right, Mary Ann. It is best we should not
meet again. Remember your resolution last night."

"Yessir." Her submissive formula had a smack of sullenness, but she
regained her calm, swallowing the lump in her throat that made her
breathing difficult.

"Good-by, then, Mary Ann," he said, taking her hard red hands in his.

"Good-by, Mr. Lancelot." The tears she would not shed were in her voice.
"Please, sir--could you--couldn't you do me a favour?--Nothing about
money, sir."

"Well, if I can," he said kindly.

"Couldn't you just play Good-night and Good-by, for the last time? You
needn't sing it--only play it."

"Why, what an odd girl you are!" he said with a strange, spasmodic laugh.
"Why, certainly! I'll do both, if it will give you any pleasure."

And, releasing her hands, he sat down to the piano, and played the
introduction softly. He felt a nervous thrill going down his spine as he
plunged into the mawkish words. And when he came to the refrain, he had
an uneasy sense that Mary Ann was crying--he dared not look at her. He
sang on bravely:--

  "Kiss me, good-night, dear love,
     Dream of the old delight;
   My spirit is summoned above,
     Kiss me, dear love, good-night."

He couldn't go through another verse--he felt himself all a-quiver, every
nerve shattered. He jumped up. Yes, his conjecture had been right. Mary
Ann was crying. He laughed spasmodically again. The thought had occurred
to him how vain Peter would be if he could know the effect of his
commonplace ballad.

"There, I'll kiss you too, dear!" he said huskily, still smiling.
"That'll be for the last time."

Their lips met, and then Mary Ann seemed to fade out of the room in a
blur of mist.

An instant after there was a knock at the door.

"Forgot her parcels after a last good-by," thought Lancelot, and
continued to smile at the comicality of the new episode.

He cleared his throat.

"Come in," he cried, and then he saw that the parcels were gone, too, and
it must be Rosie.

But it was merely Mary Ann.

"I forgot to tell you, Mr. Lancelot," she said--her accents were almost
cheerful--"that I'm going to church to-morrow morning."

"To church!" he echoed.

"Yes, I haven't been since I left the village, but missus says I ought to
go in case the vicar asks me what church I've been going to."

"I see," he said, smiling on.

She was closing the door when it opened again, just revealing Mary Ann's
face.

"Well?" he said, amused.

"But I'll do your boots all the same, Mr. Lancelot." And the door closed
with a bang.

They did not meet again. On the Monday afternoon the vicar duly came and
took Mary Ann away. All Baker's Terrace was on the watch, for her story
had now had time to spread. The weather remained bright. It was cold but
the sky was blue. Mary Ann had borne up wonderfully, but she burst into
tears as she got into the cab.

"Sweet, sensitive little thing!" said Baker's Terrace.

"What a good woman you must be, Mrs. Leadbatter," said the vicar, wiping
his spectacles.

As part of Baker's Terrace, Lancelot witnessed the departure from his
window, for he had not left after all.

Beethoven was barking his short snappy bark the whole time at the
unwonted noises and the unfamiliar footsteps; he almost extinguished the
canary, though that was clamorous enough.

"Shut up, you noisy little devils!" growled Lancelot. And taking the
comic opera he threw it on the dull fire. The thick sheets grew slowly
blacker and blacker, as if with rage; while Lancelot thrust the five
five-pound notes into an envelope addressed to the popular composer, and
scribbled a tiny note:--

  "Dear Peter,--If you have not torn up that cheque I shall be glad of it
  by return. Yours,

  "LANCELOT.

  "P.S.--I send by this post a Reverie, called _Marianne_, which is the
  best thing I have done, and should be glad if you could induce Brahmson
  to look at it."

A big, sudden blaze, like a jubilant bonfire, shot up in the grate and
startled Beethoven into silence.

But the canary took it for an extra flood of sunshine, and trilled and
demi-semi-quavered like mad.

"Sw--eet! Sweet!"

"By Jove!" said Lancelot, starting up, "Mary Ann's left her canary
behind!"

Then the old whimsical look came over his face.

"I must keep it for her," he murmured. "What a responsibility! I suppose
I oughtn't to let Rosie look after it any more. Let me see, what did
Peter say? Canary seed, biscuits ... yes, I must be careful not to give
it butter.... Curious I didn't think of her canary when I sent back all
those gloves ... but I doubt if I could have squeezed it in--my boots are
only sevens after all--to say nothing of the cage."



       *       *       *       *       *



THE SERIO-COMIC GOVERNESS



I


Nelly O'Neill had her day in those earlier and quieter reaches of the
Victorian era when the privilege of microscopic biography was reserved
for the great and the criminal classes, and when the Bohemian celebrity
(who is perhaps a cross between the two) was permitted to pass--like a
magic-lantern slide--from obscurity to oblivion through an illuminated
moment.

Thus even her real name has not hitherto leaked out, and to this day the
O'Keeffes are unaware of their relative's reputation and believe their
one connection with the stage to be a dubious and undesirable
consanguinity with O'Keeffe, the actor and fertile farce-writer whose
_Wild Oats_ made a sensation at Covent Garden at the end of the
eighteenth century. To her many brothers and sisters, Eileen was just the
baby, and always remained so, even in the eyes of the eminent civil
engineer who was only her senior by a year. Among the peasantry--subtly
prescient of her freakish destinies--she was dubbed "a fairy child":
which was by no means a compliment. A bad uncanny creature for all the
colleen's winsome looks. The later London whispers of a royal origin had
a travestied germ of truth in her father's legendary descent from Brian
Boru. He himself seemed scarcely less legendary, this highly coloured
squire of the old Irish school, surviving into the Victorian era, like a
Georgian caricature; still inhabiting a turreted castle romantically out
of repair, infested with ragged parasites: still believing in high living
and deep drinking: still receiving the reverence if not the rent of a
feudal tenantry, and the affection of a horsey and bibulous countryside.
When in liquor there was nothing the O'Keeffe might not do except pay off
his mortgages. "He looked like an elephant when he put his trousers on
wrong--you know elephants have their knees the wrong way," Eileen once
told the public in a patter-song. She did not tell the public it was her
father, but like a true artist she learned in suffering what she taught
in song. One of her childish memories was to be stood in a row of
brothers and sisters against a background of antlers, fishing-rods, and
racing prints, and solemnly sworn at for innumerability by a ruddy-faced
giant in a slovenly surtout. "Bad luck to ye, ye gomerals, make up your
minds whether ye're nine or eleven," he would say. "A man ought to know
the size of his family: Mother in heaven, I never thought mine was half
so large!" These attempts to take a census of his children generally
occurred after a peasant had brought him up the drive--"hat in one hand,
and Squire in the other," as the patter-song had it. At the moment of
assisted entry his paternal dignity was always at its stateliest, and it
was not till he had gravely hung his cocked hat upon an imaginary
door-peg in the middle of the hall and seen it flop floorward that he
lost his calm. "Blood and 'ouns, ye've the door taken away again."

Sometimes--though this was scarcely a relief--another befuddled gentleman
would be left at the uninhabited lodge in his stead. That was chiefly
after hunt dinners or card and claret parties, when a new coachman would
take a quartet of gentry home, all clouded as to their identities. "Arrah
now! they've got thimselves mixed! let thim sort thimselves." And the
coachman would grab at the nearest limb, extricate it and its belongings
from the tangle, and prop the total mass against the first gate he
passed. And so with the rest.

Eileen's mother, who was as remarkable for her microscopic piety as for
the beauty untarnished by a copious maternity, figured in the child's
memories as a stout saint who moved with a rustle of silken skirts and
heaved an opulent black silk bosom relieved by a silver cross.

"Who are you?" her spouse would inquire with an oath.

"It's your wife I am, Bagenal dear," she would reply cheerfully. For she
had grown up in the four-bottle tradition, and intoxication appeared as
natural for the superior sex as sleep. Both were temporary phases, and
did not prevent men from being the best of husbands and creatures when
clear. And when the marketwomen or the beggarwomen respectfully inquired
of her, "How is your good provider?" she made her reply with no sense of
irony, though she had been long paying the piper herself. And the piper
figured literally in the household accounts, as well as the fiddler, for
the O'Keeffe was what the mud cabins called a "ginthleman to the
backbone."



II


Family tradition necessitated that Eileen should at least complete her
education at a convent in the outskirts of Paris, and her first communion
was delayed till she should "make" it in that more pious atmosphere. The
O'Keeffe convoyed her across the two Channels, and took the opportunity
of visiting a "variety" theatre in Montmartre, where he was delighted
to find John Bull and his inelegant womenkind so faithfully delineated.
So exhilarated was he by this excellent take-off and a few _bocks_ on the
Boulevard, that he refused to get down from the omnibus at its terminus.

"_Jamais je ne descendrai, jamais_," he vociferated. Eileen was, however,
spared the sight of this miniature French revolution. She was lying
sleepless in the strange new dormitory, watching the nun walking up and
down in the dim weird room reading her breviary, now lost in deep shadow
with the remoter beds, now lucidly outlined in purple dress with creamy
cross as she came under the central night-light. Eileen wondered how she
could see to read, and if she were not just posing picturesquely, but
from the fervency with which she occasionally kissed the crucifix
hanging to the rosary at her side Eileen concluded she must know the
office by heart. Her own Irish home seemed on another planet, and her
turret-bedroom was already far more shadowy than this: presently both
were swallowed up into nothingness.

She commenced her convent career characteristically enough by making a
sensation. For on rising in the morning she felt ineffably feeble and
forlorn; she seemed to have scarcely closed her eyes, when she must be up
and doing. The tiny hand-basin scarcely held enough water to cool her
brow, still giddy from the sea-passage; to do her hair she had to borrow
a minute hand-glass from her neighbour, and when after early mass in the
chapel she found other prayers postponing breakfast, she fainted most
alarmingly and dramatically. She was restored and refreshed with
balm-mint water, but it took some days to reconcile her to the rigid
life. To some aspects of it, indeed, she was never reconciled. The
atmosphere of suspicious supervision was asphyxiating, after the
disorderliness and warm humanity of her Irish home, after the run of the
stables and the kennels, and the freedom of the village, after the chats
with the pedlars and the beggars, and the borrowing and blowing of the
postman's bugle, after the queenship of a host of barefooted gossoons,
her loyal messenger-boys. Now her mere direct glance under reproof
was considered "_hardi_." "Droop your eyes, you bold child," said the
shocked Madame Agathe. A fancy she took to a French girl was checked.
"_On defend les amities particulières_," she was told to her
astonishment. But on this one point Eileen was recalcitrant. She would
even walk with her arm in Marcelle's, and somehow her will prevailed.
Perhaps Eileen was trusted as a foreigner: perhaps Marcelle, being a
day-boarder, weighed less upon the convent's conscience. There came a
time when even their desks adjoined and were not put asunder. For by this
time _Madame La Supèrieure_ herself, at the monthly reading of the marks,
had often beamed upon Eileen. The _maîtresse de classe_ had permitted
her to kiss her crucifix, and the music-mistress was enchanted with her
skill upon the piano and her rich contralto voice, such a godsend for the
choir. In her very first term she was allowed to run up to the dormitory
for something, unescorted by an _Enfant de Marie_. "Ascend, my child,"
said Madame Agathe, smiling sweetly, for Eileen had outstripped all her
classmates that morning in geography, and Eileen, with a prim "_Oui, ma
mere_," rose and sailed with drooping eyelashes to the other end of the
schoolroom, and courtesied herself out of the door, knowing herself the
focus of envy and humorously conscious of her goodness. She had learned
to love this soothing sensation of goodness, as she sat in her blue
pelerine on a hard tabouret before her desk, her hands folded in front of
her, her little feet demurely crossed. The sweeping courtesy of entrance
and exit dramatised this pleasant sense of virtue. Later her aspirant's
ribbon painted it in purple.

She worked hard for her examinations. "_Elle est si sage, cet enfant_,"
she heard Madame Ursule say to Madame Hortense, and she had a delicious
sense of overwork. But she was not always _sage_. Once when her school
desk was ransacked in her absence--one of the many forms of
espionage--she refused to rearrange its tumbled contents, and when she
was given a bad mark for disorder, she cried defiantly, "It is Madame
Rosaline who deserves that bad mark." And the pleasure of seeing herself
as rebel and phrasemaker was no less keen than the pleasure of goodness.

One other institution found her regularly rebellious, and that was the
pious reading which came punctually at half-past eight every morning. She
was bored by all the holy heroines who seemed to have taken vows of
celibacy at the age of four. "Devil take them all," she thought
whimsically one morning. "But I dare say these good little people have no
more reality than our 'little good people' who dance reels with the dead
on November Eve. I wish Dan O'Leary had taught them all to shake their
feet," and at the picture of jiggling little saints Eileen nearly gave
herself away by a peal of laughter. For she had learned to conceal her
unshared contempt for the holy heroines, and found a compensating
pleasure in the sense of amused superiority, and the secret duality which
it gave to her consciousness. She even went so far as to ransack the
library for these beatific biographies, and when she found herself
rewarded for "diligent reading" her amusement was at its apogee. And
thus, when the first awe and interest of the strange life receded, Eileen
was left standing apart as on a little rock, criticising, satirising, and
even circulating verses among the few cronies who were not sneaks. The
dowerless "sisters" who scrubbed the floors, the portioned _Mesdames_,
with their more dignified humility, the Refectory readers, the Father
Confessors, the little _Enfants de Jésus_, the big _Enfants de Marie_,
who sometimes owed their blue ribbon to their birth or their money rather
than to their exemplary behaviour, all had their humours, and all figured
in Eileen's French couplets. The difficulty of passing these from hand to
hand only made the reading--and the writing--the spicier. Literature did
not interfere with lessons, for Eileen composed not during "preparation,"
but while she sat embroidering handkerchiefs, as demure as a sleeping
kitten.

When the kitten was not thus occupied, she was playing with skeins of
logic and getting herself terribly tangled.

She put her difficulties to her favourite nun as they walked in the
quaint arcades of the lovely old garden, and their talk was punctuated
by the flippant click of croquet-balls in the courtyard beyond.

"Madame Agathe is pleased with me to-day," said Eileen. "To-morrow she
will be displeased. But how can I help the colour of my soul any more
than the colour of my hair?"

"Hush, my child; if you talk like that you will lose your faith. Nobody
is pleased or vexed with anybody for the colour of their hair."

"Yes, where I come from a peasant girl suffers a little for having red
hair. Also a man with a hump, he cannot marry unless he owns many pigs."

"Eileen! Who has put such dreadful thoughts into your head?"

"That is what I ask myself, _ma mère_. Many things are done to me and I
sit in the centre looking on, like the weathercock on our castle at home,
who sees himself turning this way and that way and can only creak."

"A weathercock is dead--you are alive."

"Not at night, _ma mère_. At home in my bedroom I used to put out my
candle every night by clapping the extinguisher upon it. Who is it puts
the extinguisher upon me?"

The good sister almost wished it could be she.

But she replied gently, "It is God who gives us sleep--we can't be always
awake."

"Then I am not responsible for my dreams anyhow?"

"I hope you don't have bad dreams," said the nun, affrighted.

"Oh, I dream--what do I not dream? Sometimes I fly--oh, so high, and all
the people look up at me, they marvel. But I laugh and kiss my hand to
them down there."

"Well, there's no harm in flying," said the nun. "The angels fly."

"Oh, but I am not always an angel in my dreams. Is it God who sends these
bad dreams, too?"

"No--that is the devil."

"Then it is sometimes he who puts the extinguisher on?"

"That is when you have not said your prayers properly."

Eileen opened wide eyes of protest. "Oh, but, dear mother, I always say
my prayers properly."

"You think so? That is already a sin in you--the sin of spiritual pride."

"But, _ma mere_, devil-dreams or angel-dreams--it is always the same in
the morning. Every morning one finds oneself ready on the pillow, like a
clock that has been wound up. One did not make the works."

"But one can keep them clean."

Eileen burst into a peal of laughter.

"_Qu'avez-vous donc?_" said the good creature in vexation.

"I thought of a clock washing its face with its hands."

"You are a naughty child--one cannot talk seriously to you."

"Oh, dear mother, I am just as serious when I am laughing as when I am
crying."

"My child, we must never cultivate the mocking spirit. Leave me. I am
vexed with you."

As her first communion approached, however, all these simmerings of
scepticism and revolt died down into the recommended _recueillement_. Her
days of retreat, passed in holy exercises, were an ecstasy of absorption
into the divine, and the pious readings began to assume a truer
complexion as the experiences of sister-souls, deep crying unto deep. Oh,
how she yearned to take the vows, to leave the trivial distracting life
of the outer world for the peace of self-sacrificial love!

As she sat in the chapel, all white muslin and white veil, her hair
braided under a little cap, the new rosary of amethyst--a gift from
home--at her side, her hands clasped, exalted by incense and flowers and
the sweet voices of the choir, chanting Gounod's Canticle, "_Le Ciel a
visité la terre_," she felt that never more would she let this celestial
visitant go. When after the communion she pulled the last piece of
veiling over her face, she felt that it was for ever between her and the
crude world of sense; the "Hymn of Thanksgiving" was the apt expression
of her emotions.

But next time she came under these aesthetic, devotional influences--even
as her own voice was soaring heavenward in the choir--she thought to
herself, "How delicious to have an emotion which you feel will last for
ever and which you know won't!" And a gleam of amusement flitted over her
rapt features.



III


When Eileen returned to the Convent after her first summer vacation in
Ireland she was richer by a surreptitious correspondent. He wrote to her,
care of Marcelle, who had a careless mother. He was a young officer from
the neighbouring barracks who, invited to make merry with the hospitable
O'Keeffe, had fallen a victim to Eileen's girlish charms and mature
appearance, for Eileen carried herself as if her years were three more
and her inches six higher. Her face had the winsome Irish sweetness; it,
too, looked lovelier than a scientific survey would have determined. Her
nose was straightish, her mouth small, her lashes were long and dark and
conspired with her dark hair to trick a casual observer into thinking her
eyes dark, but they were grey with little flecks of golden light if you
looked closelier than you should. Her hands were large but finely shaped,
with long fingers somewhat turned back at the tips, and pretty pink
nails--the hands were especially noticeable, because even when Eileen was
not playing the pianoforte, she was prone to extend her thumb as though
stretching an octave and to flick it as though striking a note.

It was not love-letters, though, that Lieutenant Doherty sent Eileen,
for the schoolgirl had always taken him in a motherly way, and indeed
signed herself "Your Mother-Confessor." But the mystery and difficulty
of smuggling the letters to and fro lent colour to the drab Convent
days, far vivider colour than the whilom passing of verses. So long
as Marcelle's desk remained next to Eileen's it was comparatively
easy--though still risky--while one's head was studiously buried in
"Greek roots," for one's automatic hand to pass or receive the letter
beneath the desks through the dangerous space of daylight between the
two. "Let not your right hand know what your left hand doeth," Eileen
once quoted when Marcelle's conscience pricked. For Marcelle imagined
an amour of the darkest dye, and could not understand Eileen's calmness
any more than Eileen could understand Marcelle's romantic palpitations
alternating with suggestive sniggerings.

But when Marcelle was at length separated from Eileen by a suspicious
management, a much more breathless plan was necessary. For Marcelle would
deposit the Doherty letter in Eileen's compartment in the curtained row
of little niches--where one kept one's work-bag, atlas, and other
educational reserves--or Eileen would slip the reply into Marcelle's, and
there it would lie, exposed to inspectorial ransacking, till such times
as Eileen or Marcelle could transfer it to her bosom. Poor Marcelle lived
with her heart in her mouth, trembling, at every rustle of the curtain,
for her purple ribbon. However, luck favoured the bold, while the only
bad moment in which Eileen was on the verge of detection she surmounted
by a stroke of genius.

"What are you hiding there?" said the music-mistress, more sharply than
she was wont to address her pet pupil. Eileen put her hand to her bosom.
'Twas as if she were protecting the young lieutenant from pursuing foes,
and he became romantically dear to her in that perilous moment, pregnant
with swift invention.

She looked round with dramatic mysteriousness. "Hush, _ma mère_," she
breathed; "the Mother Superior might hear."

"Ah, it concerns the Reverend Mother's fête," cried the music-mistress,
falling into the trap and even saving Eileen from the lie direct. "Good,
my child," and she smiled tenderly upon her. For the birthday of the Lady
Superior which was imminent was heralded by infinite mysteriousness. The
Reverend Mother was taken by surprise, regularly and punctually. The
girls all subscribed, their parents were invited to send plants and
flowers. The air vibrated with sublime secrecy, amid which the Reverend
Mother walked guilelessly. And when the great day came and the fête was
duly sprung upon her, and the pupils all dressed in white overwhelmed her
with bouquets and courtesies, how exquisite was her pleased astonishment!
That night talking was allowed in the Refectory, and how the girls
jabbered! It was like the rolling of ceaseless thunder--one would have
thought they had never talked before and never would talk again, and that
they were anxious to unload themselves once for all.

"How the ordinary becomes the extraordinary by being forbidden,"
philosophised Eileen. "At the Castle I can do a hundred things, which
here become enormous privileges, even if I am allowed to do them at all.
Is it so with everything they say is wrong? Is all sin artificial, and do
people sin so zestfully only because they are cramped? Or is there a
residue of real wickedness?" Thus she thought, struggling against the
obsession of an inquisitorial system which merely clouded her perceptions
of real right and wrong. And alone she ate silently, a saintly figure
amid the laughing, chattering crew.

She wrote her maternal admonitions to young Doherty during the
preparation-time, and far keener than her sense of the lively,
good-looking young officer was her sense of the double life she led
through him in this otherwise monotonous Convent. When she achieved the
blue ribbon of the _Enfants de Marie_, for which she had worked with true
devotion, it added poignancy to her pious pleasure to think that one
false step in her secret life would have marred her overt life.



IV


As the end of her conventual period drew nigh Eileen resolved never to
go back to the spotted world, but to ask her father to pay her dowry as
Bride to the Church, and she had just placed in Marcelle's niche the
letter informing Lieutenant Doherty of her call to the higher life (and
pointing out how apter than ever his confessions would now be) when
Marcelle's signal warned her to look in her own niche. There she found a
letter which she could not read till bread-and-chocolate time, but which
then took the flavour out of these refreshments. Her lover--he leaped to
that verbal position in her thought in this moment of crisis--was ordered
off in haste to Afghanistan. The geographical proficiency which had won
her so many marks served her only too well, but she hastened to extract
her atlas from the fatal niche, and to pore over her geographical misery.
She felt she ought to withdraw her own letter for revision, but she could
not get at Marcelle or even make her understand. In her perturbation she
gave Cabul and Candahar as Kings of Navarre, and Marcelle, implacable as
a pillar-box, went away in the evening like a mail-cart.

But the very same night the Superior handed Eileen an opened cablegram
which banished Lieutenant Doherty much farther than Afghanistan. Her
father was very ill, and called her to his bedside. Things had a way of
happening simultaneously to Eileen, these coincidences dogged her life,
so that she came to think of them as the rival threads of her life
getting tangled at certain points and then going off separately again.
After all, if you have several strings to your life, she told herself,
it would be more improbable that they should always remain separate than
that they should sometimes intertwine.

Eileen reached the Castle through a tossing avenue of villagers, weeping
and blessing, and divined from their torment of sympathy that "his
honour" was already in his grave. Poor feckless father, how she had loved
him spite all his rollicking ways, or perhaps because of them. Through
her tears she saw him counting--on his entry into Paradise--the children
who had preceded him, and more than ever fuzzled by the flapping of their
wings. Oh, poor dearest, how unhomely it would all be to him, this other
world where his jovial laugh would shock the nun-like spirits, where
there was no more claret, cold, mulled, or buttered, and no sound of horn
or tally-ho.

Perhaps it was as well that so many of his brood had gone before him, for
with his departure the Castle fell metaphorically about the ears of the
survivors. Creditors gave quarter no longer, and Mrs. O'Keeffe found
herself reduced to a modest red-gabled farmhouse, with nothing saved from
the crash save that part of her dowry which was invested in trustees for
the education of her boys. There was no question of Eileen returning to
the Convent as a pupil: her desire to take the veil failed at the thought
that now she could only be a dowerless working-sister, not a teacher. And
for teaching, especially music-teaching, she felt she had a real gift. By
a natural transition arose the idea of becoming a music-teacher or a
governess outside a Convent, and since her stay at home only helped to
diminish her mother's resources, she resolved to augment them by leaving
her. Family pride forbade the neighbourhood witnessing a deeper decline.
The O'Keeffes were still "the Quality"; it would be better to seek her
fortunes outside Ireland and retain her prestige at home. The dual
existence would give relish and variety.

Eileen's mind worked so quickly that she communicated these ideas to her
mother, ere that patient lady had quite realised that never more would
she say, "It's your wife I am, Bagenal dear."

"No, no, you are not to be going away," cried Mrs. O'Keeffe, in alarm.

"Why wouldn't I?" asked Eileen.

Mrs. O'Keeffe could not tell, but looked mysterious meanings. This
excited Eileen, so that the poor woman had no rest till she answered
plainly, "Because, mavourneen, it's married you are going to be,
please the saints."

"Married! Me!"

"It was your father's dying wish, God keep his soul."

"But to whom?"

"You should be asking the priest how good he is. Didn't you notice that
the chapel is being white-washed afresh and how clear the Angelus bell
rings? Not that it matters much to him, for he has lashings of money as
well as a heart of gold."

"Hasn't he a name, too?"

"Don't jump down my throat, Eileen darling. I shouldn't be thinking of
O'Flanagan if your father--"

"O'Flanagan! Do you mean the man that bought our Castle at the auction?"

"And isn't it beautifully repaired he's having it for you? He saw you
when you were home for the holidays, and he asked us for your hand, all
so humble, but your father told him he must wait till you came home for
good."

"O'Flanagan!" Eileen flicked him away with her thumb. "A half-mounted
gentleman like that."

"Eileen aroon, beggars can't be choosers."

Eileen flushed all over her body. "No more can beggars on horseback."

"Your father will be sorry you take it like that, mavourneen." And the
stout saint burst into tears.

Eileen winced. She could almost have flung her arms round her mother and
promised to think of it. Suddenly she remembered Lieutenant Doherty. How
dared they tear her away from the man she loved! They had not even
consulted her. She flicked her thumb agitatedly on the back of her
mother's chair. Let her weep! Did they want to sell her, to exchange her
for a castle, as if she were a chess-piece? The thought made her smile
again.

Her mother said no more, but she could not have employed a more
convincing eloquence. The reticence wrought upon Eileen's nerves. After a
couple of months of maternal meekness and family poverty, the suggested
sacrifice began to appeal to her. A letter from Doherty on his steamer
(forwarded to her from Paris by Marcelle), passionately protesting
against her intention to take the vows, came to remind her that sacrifice
was what she yearned for. The coming of the letter was providential, she
told herself: if Marcelle had not posted hers against her will, she might
not have had this monition. To return to the Castle as a bride, martyred
for the family redemption, was really only a way of returning to the
Convent. It meant a life of penance for the good of others. To think
of her mother sunning herself again upon the battlemented terrace, or
sleeping--if only as guest--in the great panelled bedroom, brought a lump
to her throat; her poor tenantry, too, should bless her name; she would
glide among them like a spirit, very sad, yet with such healing in her
smile and in her touch. "Sure the misthress is the swatest angel God iver
sint, so she is." At home she would sit and spin in the old tapestried
room, her own life as faded, and sometimes she would dream in the hall,
among the antlers and beast-skins, and watch the great burning logs, so
much more poetic than this peat smoke which hurt one's eyes. Ah, but then
there was O'Flanagan. Well, he would not be much in the way. He liked
riding over his new estate in his buckskin breeches, cracking his great
loaded whip. She had met him herself once or twice, and the great shy
creature had blushed furiously and ridden off down the first bridle-path.
"I turn his horse's head as well as his," she had thought with a smile.
Yes, she must sacrifice herself. How strange that the nuns should
imagine you only renounced by giving up earthly life. Why, earthly life
might be the most celestial renunciation of all. But Lieutenant Doherty,
what of him? Had she the right to sacrifice him, too? But then she had
never given him any claim upon her--she had been merely his little
mother-confessor. If he had dared to love her--as his passionate protest
against the veil seemed to suggest--it was at his own risk. Poor Doherty,
how grieved he would be in far Afghanistan. He would probably rush upon
the assegais and die, murmuring her name. Her eyes filled with delicious
tears. She sat down and scribbled him a letter hastily, announcing her
impending marriage, and posted it at once, so as to put herself beyond
temptation to draw back. Then she dashed to her mother's room and sobbed
out, "Dear heart, I consent to be martyred."

"What?" said Mrs. O'Keeffe, opening her eyes.

"I consent to be married," Eileen corrected hastily.

"Do you mean to Mr. O'Flanagan?" Mrs. O'Keeffe's face became red as the
sun in mist. The cross heaved convulsively on her black silk bosom.

"To whom else? You haven't forgotten he wanted to marry me."

"No, but _he_ has, I am fearing."

"What?" It was now Eileen's turn to open her eyes, and the tears dried on
her lashes as she listened. Mrs. O'Keeffe explained, amid the ebb and
flow of burning blood, that she had waited in vain for Mr. O'Flanagan to
renew his proposal. At first she thought he was waiting for a decent
interval to elapse, or for the Castle to be ready for his bride, but
gradually she had become convinced by his silence and by the way he
avoided her eye when they met and turned his horse down the nearest
boreen, that Eileen had been right in calling him half-mounted. He had
proposed when he imagined the Squire's fortunes were as of yore, but now
he feared he would have to support the ruined family. Well, he needn't
fear. The family wouldn't touch him with a forty-foot pole.

"If only your poor father had been alive," wound up Mrs. O'Keeffe, "the
dirty upstart would never have dared to put such an insult on his
orphaned daughter, that he wouldn't, and if Dan O'Leary should hear of
it--which the saints forbid--it's not the jig that his foot would be
teaching Mr. O' Flanagan."

The bathos of this anti-climax to martyrdom was too grotesque. Eileen
burst into a peal of laughter, which was taken by her mother as a tribute
to her lively vituperation. Decidedly, life was deliciously odd. Suddenly
she remembered her posted letter to Doherty, and she laughed louder.

Should she send another on its heels? No, it would be rather difficult to
explain. Besides, it would be so interesting to see how he replied.



V


Holly Hall--Eileen's first place--was in the English midlands, towards
the North: a sombre stone house looking down on a small manufacturing
town, whose very grass seemed dingied with coal-dust. "A dromedary town,"
Eileen dubbed it; for it consisted of a long level with two humps,
standing in a bleak desert. On one of the humps she found herself
perched. Below--between the humps--lay the town proper, with its savour
of grime and gain. The Black Hole was Eileen's name for this quarter;
and indeed you might leave your hump, bathed in sunlight, dusty but still
sunlight, and as you came down the old wagon-road you would plunge deeper
and deeper into the yellowish fog which the poor townspeople mistook for
daylight. The streets of the Black Hole bristled with public-houses,
banks, factories, and dissenting chapels. The population was given over
to dogs and football, and medical men abounded. Arches, blank walls, and
hoardings were flamboyant with ugly stage-beauties, melodramatic
tableaux, and the advertisements of tailors. After the Irish glens and
the Convent garden the Black Hole was not exhilarating.

Mr. Maper, the proprietor of Holly Hall, was a mill-owner, a big-boned,
kindly man, who derived his Catholicism from an Irish mother, and had
therefore been pleased to find an Irish girl among the candidates for the
post of companion to his wife.

As he drove her from the station up the steep old wagon-road he explained
the situation, in more than one sense. Eileen's girlish intuition helped
his lame sentences over the stiles. Briefly, she was to polish the
quondam mill-hand, whom he had married when he, too, was a factory
operative, but who had not been able to rise with him. He was an alderman
and a J.P. That made things difficult enough. But how if he became Mayor?
An alderman has no necessary feminine, not even alderwoman, but Mayor
makes Mayoress. And a Mayoress is not safe from the visits of royalty
itself. Of course the Mayoress was not to suspect she was being refined;
"made a Lady Mayoress," as Eileen put it to herself.

She entered with a light heart upon a task she soon found heavy. For
the mistress of Holly Hall had no sense of imperfections. She was a
tall and still good-looking person, and this added to her fatal
complacency. Eileen saw that she imagined God made the woman and money
the lady, and that between a female in a Paris bonnet and a female in a
head-shawl there was a natural gap as between a crested cockatoo and a
hedge-sparrow. Mrs. Maper indeed suffered badly from swelled self, for it
had subconsciously expanded with its surroundings. The wide rooms of the
Hall were her spacious skirts, bedecked with the long glitter of the
glass-houses; her head reached the roof and wore the weathercock as a
feather in her bonnet. All those whirring engines in the misty valley
below were her demon-slaves, and the chimneys puffed up incense at her.
When she drove out, her life-blood coursed pleasurably through the
ramping, glossy horses.

Mrs. Maper, in short, saw herself an empress. It was simply impossible
for her to realise that there were eyes which could still see the
head-shawl, not the crown. Her one touch of dignity was grotesque--it
consisted of extending her arm like a stiff sceptre, in moments of
emphasis, and literally pointing her remarks with her forefinger.
Sometimes she pointed to the ceiling, sometimes to the carpet, sometimes
to the walls. This digital punctuation appeared to be not only
superfluous but irrelevant, for Heaven might be invoked from the floor.

With this bejewelled lady Eileen passed her days either on the Hump, or
in the Black Hole, or in the environs, and but for her sense of humour
and her power of leading a second life above or below her first, her
tenure of the post would have been short. The most delicate repetitions
of mispronounced words, the subtlest substitution of society phrases for
factory idioms, fell blunted against an impenetrable ignorance and
self-sufficiency. Short of dropping the pose of companion and boldly
rapping a pupil on the knuckles, there seemed to her no way of modifying
her mistress. "Who can refine what Fortune has gilded?" she asked herself
in humorous despair. The appearance of Mr. Maper at dinner brought little
relief. It was a strange meal in the lordly dining room--three covers
laid at one end of the long mahogany table, under the painted stare of
somebody else's ancestors. Eileen's girlish enjoyment of the prodigal
fare was spoiled by her furtive watch on the hostess's fork. Nor did the
alderman contribute ease, for he was on pins lest the governess should
reveal her true mission, and on needles lest his wife should reveal her
true depths. Likewise he worried Eileen to drink his choicest wines.
Vintages that she felt her father would have poised on his tongue in
mystic clucking ecstasy stood untasted in a regiment of little glasses
at her elbow.

She repaid them, however, by adroit educational remarks.

"How stupid of me again!" she said once. "I held out my hock glass for
the champagne! Do tell me again which is which, dear Mrs. Maper."

"I suppose you never had a drink of champagne in your life afore you come
here," said Mrs. Maper, beamingly. And she indicated the port glass.

"No, no, Lucy, don't play pranks on a stranger," her husband put in
tactfully. "It's this glass, Miss O'Keeffe."

"Oh, thank you!" Eileen gushed. "And this is what? Sherry?"

"No, port," replied Mr. Maper, scarcely able to repress a wink.

"You'll have to tell me again to-morrow night," said Eileen, enjoying her
own comedy powers. "My poor father tried to teach me the difference
between bird's-eye and shag, but I could never remember."

"Ah, Bob's the boy for teaching you that," guffawed the mill owner. "I
stick to half-crown cigars myself." His wife shot him a dignified rebuke,
as though he were forgetting his station in undue familiarity.

Afterwards Eileen wondered who Bob was, but at the moment she could think
of nothing but the farcical complications arising from the idea of Mrs.
Maper's providing Mr. Maper with a male companion secretly to improve
_his_ manners. Of course the _two_ companions would fall in love with
each other.

After dinner things usually woke up a little, for Eileen was made to play
and even sing from the scores of "Madame Angot" and other recent comic
operas--a form of music that had not hitherto come her way, though it was
the only form the music-racks held to feed the grand piano with. Not till
the worthy couple had retired, could she permit herself her old Irish
airs, or the sonatas and sacred pieces of the Convent.



VI


Accident--the key to all great inventions--supplied Eileen with a new way
of educating her mistress. The cook had been impertinent, Mrs. Maper
complained. "Why don't you hunt her?" Eileen replied. Mrs. Maper
corrected the Irishism by saying, "Do you mean dismiss?" Eileen hastened
to accuse herself of Irish imperfections, and henceforward begged to
learn the correct phrases or pronunciations. Sometimes she ventured
apologetically to wonder if the Irish way was not more approved of the
dictionary. Then they would wander into the library in the apparently
unoccupied wing, and consult dictionary after dictionary till Eileen
hoped Mrs. Maper's brain had received an indelible impression.

One Sunday afternoon a friendly orthoepical difference of this nature
arose even as Mrs. Maper sat in her palatial drawing room waiting for
callers, and they repaired to the library, Mrs. Maper arguing the point
with loud good humour. A glass door giving by corkscrew iron steps on the
garden, banged hurriedly as they made their chattering entry. The rows of
books--that had gone with the Hall like the family portraits--stretched
silently away, but amid the smell of leather and learning, Eileen's
lively nostrils detected the whiff of the weed, and sure enough on the
top of a stepladder reposed a plain briar pipe beside an unclosed Greek
folio.

"The scent is hot," she thought, touching the still warm bowl. "Bob seems
as scared as a rabbit and as learned as an owl." Suddenly she had
difficulty in repressing a laugh. What if Bob _were_ the corresponding
male companion!

"I see Mr. Robert has forgotten his pipe," she said audaciously.

Mrs. Maper was taken aback. "The--the boy is shy," she stammered.

What! Was there a son lying _perdu_ in the house all this while? What
fun! A son who did not even go to church or to his mother's receptions.
But how had he managed to escape her? And why did nobody speak of him?
Ah, of course, he was a cripple, or facially disfigured, morbidly
dreading society, living among his books. She had read of such things.
Poor young man!

After dinner she found herself examining the family album inquisitively,
but beyond a big-browed and quite undistorted baby nursing a kitten,
there did not seem anything remotely potential, and she smiled at herself
as she thought of the difficulty of evolving bibs into briar pipes and
developing Greek folios out of kittens.

From Mrs. Maper's keenness about the University Boat Race as it drew
near, and from her wearing on the day itself a dark blue gown trimmed
profusely with ribbons of the same hue, Eileen divined that Bob was an
Oxford man. This gave the invisible deformed a new touch of interest, but
long ere this Eileen had found a much larger interest--the theatre.

She had never been to the play, and the Theatre Royal of the Black Hole
was the scene of her induction into this enchantment. In those days the
touring company system had not developed to its present complexity, and
the theatre had been closed during the first month or so of Eileen's
residence in Dromedary Town. But at length, to Mrs. Maper's delight, a
company arrived with a melodrama, and as part of her duties, Eileen, no
less excited over the new experience (which her Confessor had permitted
her), drove with her mistress behind a pair of spanking steeds to the
Wednesday _matinee_. Mrs. Maper alleged her inability to leave her
homekeeping husband as the cause of her daylight playgoing, but Eileen
maliciously ascribed it to the pomp of the open carriage.

They occupied a box and Eileen was glad they did. For instead of
undergoing the illusion of the drama, she found it killingly comic as
soon as she understood that it was serious. It was all she could do to
hide her amusement from her entranced companion, and somehow this box at
the theatre reminded her of the Convent room in which she used to sit
listening to the pious readings anent infant prodigies. One afternoon it
came upon her that here Mrs. Maper had learned her strange pump handle
gestures. Here it was that ladies worked arms up and down and pointed
denunciatory forefingers, albeit the direction had more reference to the
sentiment.

It was not till a comic opera came along that Eileen was able to take the
theatre seriously. Then she found some of the melodies of the drawing
room scores wedded to life and diverting action, sometimes even to poetic
dancing; the first gleam of poetry the stage gave her. When these airs
were lively, Mrs. Maper's feet beat time and Eileen lived in the fear
that she would arise and prance in her box. It was an effervescence of
joyous life--the factory girl recrudescent--and Eileen's hand would lie
lightly on Mrs. Maper's shoulder, feeling like a lid over a kettle about
to boil.

When they came home Eileen would gratify her mistress by imitations of
comedians. Presently she ventured on the tragedians, without being seen
through. She even raised her arm towards the ceiling or shot it towards
the centre of the carpet pattern, and Mrs. Maper followed it spellbound.

But from all these monkey tricks she found relief in her real music. When
she crooned the old Irish songs, the Black Hole was washed away as by the
soft Irish rain, and the bogs stretched golden with furze-blossom and
silver with fluffy fairy cotton, and at the doors of the straggling
cabins overhung by the cloud-shadowed mountains, blue-cloaked women
sat spinning, and her eyes filled with tears as though the peat smoke
had got into them.



VII


In such a mood she was playing one Saturday evening in the interval
before dinner, when she became aware that somebody was listening, and
turning her head, she saw through the Irish mist a man's figure standing
in the conservatory. The figure was vanishing when she cried out a whit
huskily, "Oh, pray, don't let me drive you away."

He stood still. "If I am not interrupting your music," he murmured.

"Not at all," she said, breaking it off altogether.

As the mist cleared she had a vivid impression of a tall, fair young
man against a background of palms. "Eyes burning under a white marble
mantel-piece," she summed up his face. Could this uncrippled, rather
good-looking person be Bob?

"Won't you come in, Mr. Robert?" she said riskily.

"I only wished to thank you," he said, sliding a step or two into the
room.

"There is nothing to thank me for," she said, whirling her stool to face
him. "It's my way of amusing myself." She was glad she was in her evening
frock.

"Amusing yourself!" He looked aghast.

"What else? I am alone--I have nothing better in the world to do."

"Does it amuse you?" He was flushed now, even the marble mantel-piece
ruddied by the flame. "I wish it amused me."

Now it was Eileen's turn to gasp. "Then why do you listen?"

"I don't listen--I bury myself as far away as I can."

"So I have understood. Then what are you thanking me for?"

"For what you are doing for--." his hesitation was barely
perceptible--"my mother."

"Oh!" Eileen looked blank. "I thought you meant for my music."

His face showed vast relief. "Oh, you were talking of your music! Of
course, of course, how stupid of me! That is what has drawn me from my
hole, like a rat to the Pied Piper, and I do thank you most sincerely.
But being drawn, what I most wished to thank the Piper for was--"

"Your mother pays the Piper for that," she broke in.

He smiled but tossed his head. "Money! what is that?"

"It is more than I deserve for mere companionship--pleasant drives and
theatres."

He did not accept her delicate reticence.

"But you have altered her wonderfully!" he cried.

"Oh, I have not," she cried, doubly startled. "It's just nothing that I
have done--nothing." Then she felt her modesty had put her foot in a
bog-hole. Unseeingly he helped her out.

"It is most kind of you to put it like that. But I see it in every
movement, every word. She imitates you unconsciously--I became curious to
see so excellent a model, though I had resolved not to meet you. No, no,
please, don't misunderstand."

"I don't," she said mischievously. "You have now given me three reasons
for seeing me. You need give me none for not seeing me."

"But you must understand," he said, colouring again, "how painful all
this has been for me--"

"Not seeing me?" she interpolated innocently.

"The--the whole thing," he stammered.

"Yes, parents are tiresome," she said sympathetically.

He came nearer the music-stool.

"Are they not? They came down every year for the Eights."

"Is that at Oxford?"

"Yes."

She was silent; her thumb flicked at a note on the keyboard behind her.

"But that's not what I mind in them most--"

She wondered at the rapidity with which his shyness was passing into
effusiveness. But then was she not the "Mother-Confessor"? Had not even
her favourite nuns told her things about their early lives, even when
there was no moral to be pointed? "They're very good-hearted," she
murmured apologetically. "I'm often companion--in charity expeditions."

"It's easy to be good-hearted when you don't know what to do with your
money. This place is full of such people. But I look in vain for the
diviner impulse."

Eileen wondered if he were a Dissenter. But then "the place was full of
such people."

"You don't think there's enough religion?" she murmured.

"There's certainly plenty of churches and chapels. But I find myself
isolated here. You see, I'm a Socialist."

Eileen crossed herself instinctively.

"You don't believe in God!" she cried in horror. For the good nuns had
taught her that "_les socialistes_" were synonymous with "_les athées_."

He laughed. "Not, if by God you mean Mammon. I don't believe in
Property--we up here in the sun and the others down there in the soot."

"But you _are_ up here," said Eileen, naively.

"I can't help it. My mother would raise Cain." He smiled wistfully. "She
couldn't bear to see a stranger helping father in the factory
management."

"Then you _are_ down there."

"Quite so. I work as hard as any one even if my labour isn't manual. I
dress like an ordinary hand, too, though my mother doesn't know that, for
I change at the office."

"But what good does that do?"

"It satisfies my conscience."

"And I suppose the men like it?"

"No, that's the strange part. They don't. And father only laughs. But one
must persist. At Oxford I worked under Ruskin."

"Oh, you're an artist!"

"No, I didn't mean that part of Ruskin's work. His gospel of labour--we
had a patch for digging."

"What--real spades!"

"Did you imagine we called a spoon a spade?" he said, a whit resentfully.

Eileen smiled. "No, but I can't imagine you using a common or garden
spade."

"You are thinking of my hands." He looked at them, not without
complacency, Eileen thought, as she herself wondered where he had got his
long white fingers from. "But it is a couple of years ago," he explained.
"It was hard work, I assure you."

"Did your mother know?" Eileen asked with a little whimsical look.

"Of course not. She would have been horrified."

"Well, but most people would be surprised."

"Yes. Put your muscle into an oar or a cricket bat and you are a hero;
put your muscle into a spade and you are a madman."

"You think it's _vice versa_?" queried Eileen, ingenuously.

"Much more. At least," he stammered and coloured again, "I don't pose as
a hero but simply--"

"As what?" Eileen still looked innocent.

"I simply think work is the noblest function of man," he burst forth.
"Don't you?"

"I do not," answered Eileen. "Work is a curse. If the serpent had not
tempted Eve to break God's commandment, we should still be basking in
Paradise."

He looked at her curiously. "You believe that?"

"Isn't it in the Bible?" she answered, seriously astonished.

"Whatever the primitive Semitic allegorist may have thought, work is a
blessing, not a curse."

"Then you _are_ an atheist!" Eileen recoiled from this strange young man.

"Ah, you shrink back!" he said in tones of bitter pleasure. "I told you I
lived in isolation."

Eileen's humour shot forth candidly. "You'll not be isolated when you
die."

His bitterness passed into genial superiority. "You mean I'll go to hell.
How can you believe anything so horrible?"

"Why is that horrible for me to believe? For you--" And she filled up the
sentence with a smile.

"I don't believe you do believe it."

"There's nothing you seem to believe. I do honestly think that you can't
be saved if you don't believe."

"I accept that. The question, however, is what kind of belief and what
kind of saving. Do you suppose Plato is in hell?"

"I don't know. He invented Platonic love, didn't he? So that might save
him." She looked at him with her great grey eyes--he couldn't tell
whether she was quizzing him or not.

"Is that all you know of Plato?"

"I know he was a Greek philosopher. But I only learned Greek roots at the
Convent. So Plato is Greek to me."

"He has been beautifully Englished by the Master of my College. I wish
you'd read him."

"Is the translation in the library?"

"Of course--with lots of other interesting books, and such queer folios
and quartos and first editions. The collector was a man of taste. Why do
you never come and let me show them you?"

"You'd run away."

"No, I wouldn't," he smiled encouragingly.

"Yes, you would. And leave your pipe on Plato!"

He laughed. "Was I rude? But I didn't know you then. Come to-morrow
afternoon and show you've forgiven me."

The new interest was sufficiently tempting. But her maidenliness held
back. "I'll come with your mother."

Disgust lent him wit. "You're her companion--not she yours."

"True. Nor I yours."

"Then I'll come here."

"Bringing the Plato and the folios--?"

"Why not? You can't forbid me my own drawing-room."

"I can run away and leave my crochet-hook behind."

"You'll find me hooked on whenever you return."

"Well, if you're determined--by hook or by crook! But you're not going to
convert me to Socialism?"

"I won't promise."

"You must. I don't mind reading Plato."

"He's worse. He isn't a Christian at all."

"I don't mind that. He's B.C. He couldn't help it. But you Socialists
came after Christ."

"How do you know Socialism isn't a return to Him?"

"Is it?"

"Aha! You are getting interested.... But I hear my mother coming down to
dinner. To be continued in our next. _À demain_, is it not?"

He held out his shapely white hand, and hastened through the conservatory
into the garden.

"Going to dig?" Eileen called after him maliciously.



VIII


Eileen became interested in Robert Maper, for the old books he opened
up to her were quite new and enlarging. She had imagined the Church
replacing Paganism as light replaced darkness. Now she felt that it was
only as gas replaced candle-light. The darkness was less Egyptian than
the nuns insinuated. Plato in particular was a veritable chandelier. It
occurred to her suddenly that he might be on the black list. But she was
afraid to ask her Confessor for fear of hearing her doubt confirmed. To
tell the good father of the semi-secret meetings in the library would
have been superfluous, since there was nothing to conceal even from Mrs.
Maper, though that lady did not happen to know of them. Eileen did not
even use the garden door. Besides, there was never a formal appointment,
not infrequently, indeed, a disappointment, when the library held nothing
but books. Robert Maper merely provided that possibility of an innocent
double life, without which existence would have been too savourless for
Eileen. Even a single line of railway always appeared dismal to her; she
liked the great junctions with their bewildering intertanglements, their
possibilities of collision. And now that Lieutenant Doherty had faded
away into Afghanistan and silence--he did not even acknowledge the letter
announcing her approaching marriage--Robert Maper proved a useful
substitute.

One day Mr. Maper senior invited her to drive down with him and go over
the factory, and as Mrs. Maper was not averse from impressing her
employée by the sight of the other employes, she was permitted to go.
Nothing, however, would induce Mrs. Maper to adventure herself in these
scenes of her early life, touching which she professed a sovereign
ignorance. "Machines are so clattery," she said. "My head wouldn't stand
them. I once went to that exhibition in London and I said to myself,
never no more for this gal."

"And you never did go _any_ more since you were a _girl_?" asked the
companion, with professional pointedness.

"No, never no more," replied Mrs. Maper, serenely, "once is too often, as
the gal said when the black man kissed her."

Eileen laughed dutifully at this quotation from the latest comic opera,
and went off, delighted to companion the husband by way of change. He
proved quite a new man, too, in his own element, bringing the most
complicated machinery to the level of her understanding. Room after room
they passed through, department after department full of tireless
machinery, and tired men and women, who seemed slaves to the whims of
fantastic iron monsters, all legs and arms and wheels. It took a morning
to see everything, down to the pasting and drying and packing rooms, and
as a last treat Mr. Maper took her to the engine-room, whence he said
came the power that turned those myriad wheels, moved those myriad
levers, in whatever department they might be and whatever their function.
Eileen gazed long at the mighty engine, rapt in reverie. She could
scarcely tear herself away, and when at last Mr. Maper brought her into
the counting-house, she had forgotten that she must meet his son there.
The white-browed clerk in corduroys did not, however, raise his eyes from
his ledger, and Eileen was grateful to him for preserving the piquancy of
their relation.

She did not find it so piquant, though, in the library next Sunday
afternoon when he was clutching at her hand and asking her to be his
wife. She awoke as from a dream to the perception of a solemn and
grotesque fact.

"Oh, please!" and she tried to tear her hand away.

He clung on desperately. "Eileen--don't say you don't care at all."

"I'm not Eileen, and I particularly dislike you at this moment. Let me
have my hand, please."

He dropped it like a stinging nettle. "I was hoping you'd let me keep
it," he murmured.

"Why?" She was simple and pitiless. "Because we read Plato together? That
was platonic enough, wasn't it?"

"You can jest about what breaks my heart?"

"I am very sorry. I like you."

His breathing changed, "like a fish thrown back into the water," Eileen
thought. She hastened to add, "But it's not what a wife should feel."

"How do you know what a wife should feel?"

Eileen screwed up her forehead. "If I felt it, I should know, I suppose."

"No, you mightn't. You've liked to come here and talk to me."

"Because I like books. And you talk like a book."

"That was before I fell in love. I didn't talk like a book just now."

"When you took my hand! More like a book than ever. I've read it
all--lots of times."

"Oh, Eil--Miss O'Keeffe--you are very cruel."

Eileen smiled. "I am not--I'm very kind--I threw you back into the
water."

He gasped, as though out of it again. "Do you mean I am not grown
enough?"

She flushed and improvised on his theme. "Not quite that. You hooked
yourself, as you threatened to do. But suppose I had landed you. You know
the next step--hot water. What a lot you would have got into, too!"

"You are thinking of my mother?"

"Yes, raising Cain, I think you said once. Oh, dear, swim about and be
thankful." And a vision of Mrs. Maper's amazement twitched the corners of
her lips and made them more enchanting.

"I'm not so cold-blooded as all that. But if you do throw me back, let it
be with the promise to take me again, when I _am_ grown. I don't say it
to tempt you, but you know I shall be very rich."

"Indigestible, do you mean?"

"Oh, please let us drop that metaphor! Metaphors can never go on all
fours."

"Certainly not when they have fins."

"Don't jest, Eil--Miss O'Keeffe! Let me redeem you from your sordid
life."

"Why is it sordid? You said work was divine."

"You can work in a higher sphere."

"And this is the Socialist! I really thought you'd want me to turn
factory lass."

"You are laughing at me."

"I am perfectly serious. I won't drag you down from Socialism, and a
head-shawl wouldn't become me."

"Why, you'd look sweet in it. Dear, dear, Miss O'Keeffe--"

"Good-by."

"No, you shan't go." He barred her way. Her airiness had given him new
hope.

"If you don't behave sensibly, I'll go altogether--give notice."

"Then I'll follow you to your next place."

"No followers allowed. Seriously, I'll leave if you are foolish."

"Very well," he said abruptly. "Let's go on reading Plato," and he turned
to the book.

"No, no more Dialogues, in or out of Plato."

She was smiling but stern. He opened the library door and bowed as she
passed out.

"Remember," he said. "I will remain foolish for ever."

"You have too long an opinion of yourself," was Eileen's parting flash.



IX


The next evening she sat in the drawing-room before dinner, softly
playing an accompaniment to her thoughts. Why didn't she feel anything
about Robert Maper except a mild irritation at the destruction of so
truly platonic a converse? In a book, of which his proposal savoured, she
would have found him quite a romantic person. In the actuality she felt
as frigid as if his marble forehead was chilling her, and what she
remembered most acutely was his fishlike gasping. Then, too, the
contradictoriness of his social attitude, his desire to make her a rich
drone, his shame at his mother, his reclusive shyness--all the weaknesses
of the man--came to obscure her sense of his literary idealism, if not,
indeed, to reveal it as a mere coquetry with fine ideas and coarse
clothes. And then for a moment the humour of being Mrs. Maper's
daughter-in-law appealed to her, and she laughed to herself in soft
duet with the music.

And in the middle of the duet Mrs. Maper herself burst in, with her
bodice half hooked and her hair half done.

"What's this I hear, Miss Hirish Himpudence, of your goings-on with my
son?"

Eileen swung round on her stool. "I beg your pardon," she said.

"Oh, you can't get out of it by beggin' my pardon, creepin' into the
library like a mouse--and it's a nice sly mouse you are, too, but there's
never a mouse without its cat--"

"She'd have done better to do your hair and mind her business," said
Eileen, calmly.

Mrs. Maper's forefinger shot heavenwards. "It was you as ought to have
minded your business. I didn't pay you like a lady and feed you like a
duchess to set your cap at your betters. But I told Mr. Maper what 'ud
come of it if we let you heat with us, though I didn't dream what a sly
little mouse--"

The torrent went on and on. Eileen as in a daze watched the theatric
forefinger--now pointed at the floor as if to the mouse-hole, now leaping
ceilingwards like the cat,--and her main feeling was professional. She
was watching her pupil, storing up in her memory the mispronunciations
and vulgarisms for later insinuative improvement. Only a tithe of her was
aware of the impertinence. But suddenly she heard herself interrupting
quietly.

"I shall not sleep under your roof another night." Mrs. Maper paused so
abruptly that her forefinger fell limp. She was not sure she meant to
give her companion notice, and have the trouble of training another, and
she certainly did not wish to be dismissed instead of dismissing.

"Silly chit!" she said in more conciliatory tones. "And where will you
sleep?"

But Eileen now felt she must obey her own voice--the voice of her
outraged pride, perhaps even of Brian Boru himself. "Good-by. I'll take
some things in a handbag and send for my box in the morning."

Mrs. Maper's hand pointed to the ceiling. "And is that the way you treat
a lady--you're no lady, I tell you that. I demand a month's notice or I
shall summons you."

At this juncture it occurred to Eileen that this might have been her
mother-in-law, and a smile danced into her eyes.

"Himpudent Hirish hussy! Oh, but I'll have the lore of you. Don't forget
I'm the wife of a Justice of the Peace."

"Very well; you get Justice, I want Peace." And Eileen fled to her room.

She had hardly begun packing her handbag when she heard the door locked
from the outside with a savage snap and a cry of, "I'll learn you who's
mistress here, my lady."

Eileen smiled. She was only on the second floor, and captivity revived
all her girlish prankishness. She now began to enjoy the whole episode.
That she was out of place, out of character, out of lodging even, was
nothing beside the humour of this incursion into real life of the
melodrama she had mocked at. Was she not the innocent heroine entrapped
by the villain? Fortunately, she would not need the hero to rescue her.
She went on packing. When her handbag was ready she looked about for
means to escape. She opened her windows and studied the drop and the odd
bits of helpful rainpipe. Descent was not so easy as she had imagined.
Short of tearing the sheets into strips (and that might really bring her
within the J.P.'s purview) or of picking the lock (which seemed even more
burglarious, not to mention more difficult) she might really remain
trapped. However, there would be time to think properly when she had
packed her big box. Half an hour passed cheerfully in the folding of
dresses to an underplay of planned escapes, and she had just locked the
box, when Mrs. Maper's voice pierced the door panel.

"Well, are you ready to come to supper?"

The governess's instinct corrected "dinner." Mrs. Maper when excited was
always tripping into this betrayal of auld lang syne, but she preserved a
disdainful silence.

"Eileen, why don't you hanser?"

Still silence. The key grated in the lock.

Eileen looked round desperately. The thought of meeting Mrs. Maper again
was intolerable. The mirrored door of the rifled wardrobe stood ajar,
revealing an enticing emptiness. Snatching up her handbag and her hat,
she crept inside and closed the door noiselessly upon herself. "The
wardrobe mouse," she thought, smiling.

"Well, my lady!" Mrs. Maper dashed through the door, in her dinner-gown
and diamonds, her forefinger hovering, balanced, between earth and
heaven. She saw nothing but an answering figure ribboned and jewelled,
that dashed at her and pointed its forefinger menacingly.

The appearance of this figure as from behind the glass shut out from
her mind the idea of another figure behind it. The packed box, neat and
new-labelled, the absence of the handbag and of any sign of occupancy,
the open windows, the silence, all told their lying tale.

"The Hirish witch!" she screamed.

She ran from one window to the other seeking for a sign of the escaped or
the escapade. She was relieved to find no batter of brains and blood
spoiling the green lawn. How had the trick been done? It did not even
occur to her to look under the bed, so hypnotised was she by the sense of
a flown bird. Eileen almost betrayed herself by giggling, as at the real
stage melodrama.

When Mrs. Maper ran downstairs to interrogate the servants--eruption into
the kitchen was one of her incurable habits--Eileen slipped through the
wide-flung door, down the staircase, and then, seeing the butler ahead,
turned sharp off to the little-used part of the corridor and so into the
library. She made straight for the iron staircase to the grounds, and
came face to face with Robert Maper.

Twilight was not his hour for the library--she saw even through her
perturbation that he was pacing it in fond memory. His face lighted up
with amazement, as though the dead had come up through a tombstone.

"Good-by!" she said, shifting her handbag to her left hand and holding
out her right. Her self-possession pleased her.

"What!" he cried. And again he had the gasp of a fish out of water.

"Yes, I came to say good-by."

"You are leaving us?"

"Yes."

"Oh, and it is I that have driven you away!"

"No, no, don't reproach yourself, please don't. Good-by."

He gasped in silence. She gave a little laugh. "Now that I offer you my
hand, it is you who won't take it."

He seized it. "Oh, Eil--Miss O'Keeffe--let me keep it."

"Please! we settled that."

"It will never be settled till you are my wife."

"Listen!" said Eileen, dramatically. "In a few minutes your mother and
father will be seated at dinner. Your mother will have told your father
I've left the house in disgrace. Don't interrupt. Would you be prepared
to walk in upon them with me on your arm and to say, 'Mother, father,
Miss O'Keeffe has done me the honour of consenting to be my wife'?"

With her warm hand still in his, how could he hesitate? "Oh, Eileen, if
you'd only let me!"

The imagination of the tableau was only less tempting to Eileen. It was
procurable--she had only to move her little finger, or rather not to move
it. But the very facility of production lessened the tableau's
temptingness. The triumph was complete without the vulgar actuality.

"I can't," she said, withdrawing her hand. "But you are a good fellow.
Good-by." She moved towards the garden steps. He was incredulous of the
utter end. "I shall write to you," he said.

"This is a short cut," she murmured, descending. As her feet touched the
grass she smiled. How they had both tried to stop her, mother and son!
She hurried through the shrubbery, and by a side gate was out on the old
wagon road. More slowly, but still at a good pace, she descended towards
the Black Hole, now beginning to twinkle and glimmer with lights, and far
less grimy and prosaic than in the crude day.



X


While packing her big box, she had decided to try to lodge that night
with a programme-girl she had got to know at the Theatre Royal, and the
motive that set her pace was the desire to find her before she had
started for the theatre.

The girl usually hovered about Mrs. Maper's box. Once Eileen had asked
her why she wasn't in evidence the week before. "Lord, miss," she said,
"didn't you recognise me on the stage?"

Eileen thus discovered that the girl sometimes figured as a super, when
travelling companies came with sensational pieces, relying upon local
talent, hastily drilled, for the crowds. Mary became a Greek slave, or a
Billingsgate fishwife, with amusing unexpectedness.

Eileen's next discovery about the girl was that she supported a paralysed
mother, though the bed-ridden creature on inspection proved to be more
cheerful than the visitors she depressed. Mr. Maper had sent her grapes
from his hothouse only a few days before, and in taking them to the
little house Eileen had noticed a "Bedroom to Let."

To her relief, when she reached the bleak street, she could see that
though the blind was down, the bill was still in the window. Her spirits
bubbled up again. Ere she could knock at the door, the programme-girl
bounced through it, hatted and cloaked for the theatre.

"Miss O'Keeffe!" She almost staggered backward. Eileen's face worked
tragically in the gloom.

"There are villains after me!" Eileen gasped. "Take this bag, it contains
the family jewels. That bedroom of yours, it is still to let?"

"Yes, miss."

"I take it for to-night, perhaps for ever. The avenger is on my
footsteps. The law may follow me, but I shall defy its myrmidons in my
trackless eyrie."

"Oh, Miss O'Keeffe! You frighten me. I shouldn't like to have all these
jewels in my house, and with my mother tied to her bed."

Eileen burst into a laugh. "Oh, miss!" she said, mimicking the
programme-girl. "Didn't you recognise me on the stage?"

"Mary Murchison!" gasped the programme-girl. "Oh, Miss O'Keeffe, how
wonderful! You nearly made my heart stop--"

"I am sorry, but I do want to take your bedroom. I've left Mrs. Maper,
and you are not to ask any questions."

"I haven't time, I'm late already. Fortunately, I only come on in the
second act."

"That's nice; put my bag in and I'll come to the theatre with you." The
thought was impromptu, an evening with a bed-ridden woman was not
exhilarating at such a crisis.

"You ought to be an actress yourself," the programme-girl remarked
admiringly on the way.

Eileen shuddered. "No, thank you. Scream the same thing night after
night--like a parrot with not even one's own words--I should die of
monotony."

"Oh, it isn't at all monotonous. It's a different audience every night,
and even the laughs come in different places. My parts have mostly been
thinking parts--to-night I'm a prince without a word--but still it's
fun."

"But how can you bear strange men staring at you?"

"One gets used to it. The first time they put me in tights I blushed all
through the piece, but they had painted me so thick it wasn't visible."

"In short, you blushed unseen."

Eileen wished to go to the pit, but her new friend would not hear of her
not occupying her habitual box, since she knew that the management would
be glad to have it occupied if it were empty. This proved to be the case,
and put the seal upon Eileen's enjoyment of the situation. To spend her
evening in Mrs. Maper's box was indeed a climax.

She borrowed theatre-paper and scribbled a note to her ex-employer,
giving the address for her trunk. An orange and some biscuits sufficed
for her dinner.

Not till she was in her little bedroom, surrounded by pious texts, did
she break down in tears.



XI


The next morning, as she sat answering advertisements, the programme-girl
knocked at the door of the bedroom and announced that Mr. Maper had
called.

Eileen turned red. It was too disconcerting. Would he never take "no" for
an answer? "I won't see him. I can't see him," she cried.

The girl departed and returned. "Oh, Miss O'Keeffe, he begs so for only
one word."

"The word is 'no.'"

"After he's been so kind as to bring your box down!"

"Oh, has he? Then the word is 'thanks.'"

"Please, miss, would you mind giving it to him yourself?"

"Who's Irish, you or I? I won't speak to him at all, I tell you."

"But I don't like to send him away like that, when he's been so kind
to mother."

"When has he been kind to your mother?"

"Those grapes you brought--"

"That was old Mr. Maper."

"So is this."

"Oh!" Eileen was quite taken aback, for once. "All right, I'll go into
the parlour."

He was infinitely courteous and apologetic. He had been very anxious
about her. Why had she been so unkind as to leave, and without ever
a good-by to him?

"Oh, hasn't your wife told you, then?"

"She has told me you were rude, and that you left without notice, and
she wants me to prosecute you. I suppose you lost your temper. You
found her rather difficult."

"I found her impossible," said Eileen, frigidly.

"Yes, yes, I understand." He was flushed and unhappy. "You found her
impossible to live with?"

Eileen nodded; she would have added "or to make a lady of," but he
looked so purple and agitated that she charitably forbore. She was
wondering whether Mrs. Maper could really have been so mean as to omit
her share in the quarrel, but he went on eagerly:--

"Quite so, quite so. And what do you think it has been for me?"

She murmured inarticulate sympathy.

"Ah, if you only knew! Oh, my dear Miss O'Keeffe, while you've been in
the house, it's been like heaven."

"I'm glad I've given satisfaction," she said drily.

"Then what do you give by going? I assure you the day you came to the
works it was like heaven there too."

"You forget the temperature," Eileen smiled. "However, it was a very
nice day, and I thank you. But I can't come back after--"

"Who asks you to come back?" he broke in. "No, I should be sorry to see
you again in a menial position, you with your divine gifts of beauty and
song. The idea of your getting a new place," he added with a fall into
prose, "makes me feel sick."

"I value your sympathy, but it is misplaced," she replied freezingly.

"Sympathy! It isn't sympathy! It's jealousy. Oh, my dear Miss O'Keeffe!"
He seized her limp hand. "Eileen! Let me help you--"

As the true significance of his visit, and of the purple agitation,
dawned upon her, the grim humour of the position overbore every other
feeling. Her hand still in his, she began to laugh, and no biting of her
lips could do more than change the laugh into an undignified snigger.
Instead of profiting by his grip of her, he dropped her hand suddenly as
if a hose had been turned on his passion, and this surrender of her hand
reduced Eileen to a passable gravity.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Maper. But really, life is too horribly amusing."

"I'm very sorry it's me that affords you amusement," he said stiffly.

"No, it isn't you at all, it's just the whole thing. You've been most
kind all along. And I dare say you mean to be kind now. But I don't
really need any help. Your wife's threats of prosecution are ridiculous,
she made my longer stay impossible. I could more justly claim a month's
notice from her."

"That's what I thought. I've brought you a month's salary." He fumbled in
his pocket-book.

"Don't trouble. I shall not accept it."

"You shall," he said sternly. "Or I'll prosecute you."

Eileen's laugh rang out clear. This time he laughed too.

"Now, don't you call life amusing?" she said. "Here am I to take a cheque
under penalty of having to pay it."

"Well, which shall it be?"

"Such a cheque is charming." And she held out her hand. He put the cheque
in it and shook both warmly. They parted, the best of friends.

"Come to me for a character, of course," he said.

"Don't you come to me," replied Eileen, with a roguish smile.



XII


Eileen's next place was--as if by contrast--with a much more genteel
family, and a much poorer, though it flew higher socially. It lived in a
house, half in a fashionable London terrace, half in a shabby side
street, and its abode was typical of its ambitions and its means. Mrs.
Lee Carter drew the line clearly between herself and her governess, which
was a blessing, for it meant Eileen's total exclusion from her social
life, and Eileen's consequent enjoyment of her own evenings at home or
abroad, as she wished. This unusual freedom compensated for the hard
work of teaching children in various stages of growth and ignorance how
to talk French and play the piano. Her salary was small, for Mrs. Lee
Carter's ambition to live beyond her neighbours' means was only achieved
by pinching whomever she could. She was not bad-hearted; she simply could
not afford anything but luxuries. Eileen wondered at not being asked
sometimes to perform at her parties, till she found that only celebrities
ever did anything in that house.

This was a period of much mental activity in Eileen's life. The tossing
ocean of London life, the theatres that played Shakespeare, the world of
new books and new thought, her recent perusal of Plato and of man, all
produced fermentation. But every night she knelt by her bedside and said
her "Ave Maria" with a voluptuous sense of spiritual peace, and every
morning she woke with a certain joy in existence and a certain surprise
to find herself again existing. Her old convent-thought recurred. "We
are worked from without--marionettes who can watch their own performance.
And it is very amusing." Once she read of a British action in Afghanistan
against border-tribes, and she wondered if Lieutenant Doherty was in the
fighting. Since she had ceased to be his mother-confessor he had become
very shadowy; his image now rose substantial from the newspaper lines,
and she was surprised to find in herself a little palpitation at his
probable perils. "One's heartstrings, too, are pulled," she thought.
"I don't like it. Marionettes should move, not feel." These reflections,
however, came to her more often anent her family, and the struggles of
her kin for a livelihood touched her more deeply than any love. "We are
like bits of the same shattered body," she thought. "In these cold
English families everybody is another body." She sent most of her salary
to Ireland, and her pocket-money came from singing in the choir on
Sunday.

The bass chorister was a very amusing man. His voice was sepulchral but
his conversation skittish. Eileen's repartees smote him to almost the
only serious respect of his life, and one day he said: "Why, there's
a future in you. Why don't you go on the stage?"

"What nonsense!" But the blood was secretly stirred in her veins. She saw
herself walking along the Black Hole with the programme-girl, but her
point of view had been modified since she had received a similar
suggestion with a shudder. If she could play Rosalind to a great London
audience, the staring men-folk would matter little.

"Why not?" went on the bass tempter. "A humour like yours with such a
voice and such a face!"

"The stage is full of better voices and better faces."

"No, indeed. Why, there isn't a girl at the Half-and-Half--" He stopped
and almost blushed.

She smiled. "Oh, I don't mind your going to such places. What is the
Half-and-Half, a place where they drink beer?"

"Oh, it's just our slang name for a little music-hall that's just between
the East End and the West End, with a corresponding programme."

"Our slang name?"

"Well--" he paused. "If you'll keep it very dark--but of course you
will--I appear there myself."

"You! What do you do?"

"I sing patriotic songs and drinking-songs--"

"Aren't they the same thing in England?"

"Don't say that on the stage or they'll throw pewter pots. They're very
patriotic."

"That's just what I said. What's your name--I suppose you change it?"

"Yes--as I hope you will yours--some day."

"I shan't take yours."

"Nobody arxed you, miss," he said. "And, besides, mine is
copyright--Jolly Jack Jenkins. I make a fiver a week by it."

"A fiver!" The bass chorister suddenly took on an air of Arabian nights.
At this rate she could buy back the family castle. Her struggling
brothers--how they would bless their magician sister--Mick should have
a London practice, Miles a partnership in an engineering firm.

"You come with me and see Fossy," continued Jolly Jack Jenkins.

Eileen declined with thanks. It took a week of Sundays to argue away her
objections--religious, moral, and social. To play Rosalind to fashionable
London was one thing: to appear at a variety theatre or low-class
music-hall, which nobody in her world or Mrs. Lee Carter's had ever heard
of, was another pair of shoes. Yet strange to say, it was the last
consideration that decided her to try. Even if admitted to the boards,
she could make her failure in secure obscurity. It would simply be
another girlish escapade, and she was ripe for mischief after her
long sobriety.

"But even your Mr. Fossy mustn't know my real name or address," she
stipulated.

"Who shall I say you are?"

"Nelly O'Neill."

"Ripping. Flows from the tongue like music."

"Then it's rippling you mean."

"What a tongue! Wait till Fossy sees you."

"Will he ask me to stick it out?"

"Oh, Lord, I wish I had your repartee. But I'm thinking--Nelly
O'Neill--doesn't it give you away a bit?"

"Keeps me a bit, too. I shouldn't like to lose myself altogether--gain
reputation for another woman."

Fossy proved to be a gentleman named Josephs, who in a tiny triangular
room near the stage of the Half-and-Half listened critically to her comic
singing, shook his head and said he would let her know. Eileen left the
room with leaden heart and feet.

"Wait for me a moment, please," Jolly Jack Jenkins called after her,
and she hung about timidly, jostled by dirty attendants and painted
performers. She was reading a warning to artistes that any improper
songs or lines would lead to their instant dismissal, and regretting more
than ever her incompetence for this innocent profession, when she heard
the bass chorister's big breathing behind her.

"Bravo! You knocked him all of a heap."

"Rubbish! Don't try to cheer me."

"You!" Jolly Jack Jenkins opened his eyes. "You taken in by Fossy! He'll
suggest your doing a trial turn next Saturday night when the public are
least critical, you'll make a furore, and he'll offer you two guineas a
week."

"A pleasing picture, but quite visionary. Why, he didn't even ask for an
address to write to!"

"Oh, I dare say he thought care of me would find you. No, don't glower at
me--I don't mean anything wrong."

"I hope you didn't let him misunderstand--"

"You asked me not to let him know too much. Fossy has to do so much with
queer folk--"

"Yes, I saw he had to warn them against improper songs."

Jolly Jack Jenkins exploded in a guffaw.

"I'm sorry I came," said Eileen, in vague distress.

"Fossy isn't," he retorted. "He was clean bowled over. In that Irish
fox-hunting song all the gallery will be shouting 'Tally-ho!' Where did
you pick it up?"

"I didn't _pick_ it up, I _made_ it up for the occasion."

"By Jove! I have to pay a guinea to a bloodsucking composer when _I_ want
a song. Oh, Fossy's spotted a winner this time."

"Why is he called Fossy?"

"I don't know. Nobody knows. I found the name, I pass it on."

"Perhaps it's a corruption of Foxy."

"There! I never thought of that! You _are_ a--!"

The jolly chorister's mouth remained open. But the prophecy that had
already issued from it came true in every detail.



XIII


Despite her private stage-fright, Nelly O'Neill, the new serio-comic,
made a big hit. Her innocent roguery was captivating; her virginal
freshness floated over the footlights, like a spring breeze through the
smoky Hall.

"Well, you _are_ an all-round success," cried Jolly Jack Jenkins, pumping
her hand off at the wings, amid a thunder of applause, encores, and
whistles.

"You mean a Half-and-Half!" laughed Nelly through Eileen's tears. She had
given herself to the audience, but how it had given itself in return,
flashing back to her in electric waves its monstrous vitality, its
apparently single life.

The Half-and-Half was one of those early Victorian halls of the people,
with fixed stars and only a few meteors. The popular favourites changed
their songs and their clothes at periodic intervals, but they would
have lost favour if they had not remained the same throughout everything.
A chairman with a hammer announced the turns, and condescendingly
took champagne with anybody who paid for it. Eileen soon became an
indispensable part of this smoky world. She signed an agreement at three
guineas a week for three years, to perform only at the Half-and-Half.
Fossy saw far. Eileen did not. She jumped for joy when she got beyond
eyeshot. She felt herself jumping out of the governess-life. Second
thoughts and soberer footsteps brought doubt. She had intended telling
Mrs. Lee Carter as soon as the trial-performance was over, but now she
hesitated and was lost. Half the charm lay in the secret adventure, the
dare-devilry. Besides, as a governess she had a comfortable home and a
respectable status, and she had already seen and divined enough of the
world behind the footlights to shrink from being absorbed into it. What
fun in the double life! She had never found a single life worth living.
She would belong to two worlds--be literally Half-and-Half. Nelly O'Neill
must only be born at twilight. But she felt she could not be out
uniformly every evening without some explanation.

"Mrs. Lee Carter," she said, "I have to tell you of a peculiar chance of
augmenting my income that has come to me."

Mrs. Lee Carter, wearing plumes and train for a court reception, paled.
"You are not going to leave me!"

The naïve exclamation strengthened Eileen's hand.

"I don't quite see how to do otherwise," she said boldly.

"Oh, dear, I wish I could afford more. I know you're worth it."

Eileen thought, "If you'd only give your guests good claret instead of
bad champagne!" But she said, "You are very kind--you have always been
most considerate."

The plumes wagged.

"I try to please all parties."

Nelly O'Neill thought, "And to give too many." Eileen said, "Yes, you've
given me my evenings to myself as it is, and considering the new work is
only in the evenings, I did think of running the two, but I'm afraid--"

"If we lightened your work a little--" interrupted Mrs. Lee Carter,
eagerly.

"I shouldn't so much ask that as to have perfect freedom like a young
man--a latch-key even." Never had Eileen looked more demure and Puritan.

"Oh, I hope you won't be working too late--"

"The people who go there are engaged in the daytime. I'd better be frank
with you; it's an extremely unfashionable place towards the East End, and
I quite understand you may not like me to take it. At the same time I
shall never meet anybody who knows me. In fact, it's a dancing and
singing place."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Lee Carter, blankly. "I didn't know you could teach
dancing, too."

"You never asked me.... Of course, if you prefer it, I could come here as
a day governess and leave after tea.... You see it's a longish journey
home: I'm bound to be late...."

"What's the difference? Come and go as you please.... Of course, you
won't mind using the back door when there's a party ... the
servants...."

For the deception Eileen at first salved her conscience Irish-wise by
sending every farthing to her mother under the deceiving pretext of rich
private pupils. She would not even deduct for cabs. Sometimes she could
not get an omnibus, but she almost preferred to walk till she was
footsore, for both riding and walking were forms of penance. The stuffy
omnibus interior after the smoky Hall was nauseating, and in those days
no lady thought of climbing the steep ladder to the slanting roof. But it
sometimes happened that a crawling cabman coming westward would invite
her to a free ride, and Eileen would accept gratefully, and, moreover,
gain from conversations with her drivers new material for her songs.

This period of her life was almost as amusing as she had anticipated; her
only depressions came from the children of the footlights, and the
necessity of adjusting herself superficially to her environment, under
pain of unpopularity. Her isolation and the privacy of her home-life
already made sufficiently for that. And to be disliked even by those she
disliked Eileen disliked. Her nature needed to wallow in warm admiration.
She got plenty.

When, fifteen months later, she agreed to pay Fossy a hundred pounds
for modifying her contract so as to enable her to appear at other Halls,
she said with a smile, "You deserve it. You are the only man at the
Half-and-Half who hasn't made love to me."

Fossy grinned. "If I had known that, I should have demanded a larger
compensation."

Even the bass chorister had not been able to resist proposing, though his
grief at being refused was short-lived, for he died soon after by a fall
from one of those giant wheels that were the saurians of the modern
cycle. Eileen shed many a tear over Jolly Jack Jenkins.

With the growth of her popularity before and behind the footlights came
heavier calls upon her geniality, and, like a hostess who tries to pay
off her debts in one social lump sum, Eileen got "a Sunday out," and
Nelly gave a lunch at a riverside hotel to a motley company of popular
favourites. It was expensive; for the profession, even in those days,
expected champagne. It was appallingly protracted; for the party, having
no work to do that evening, showed no disposition to break up, and
brandies-and-sodas succeeded one another in an aroma of masculine cigars
and feminine cigarettes. It was noisy and hilarious, and gradually it
became rowdy. The Singing Sisters sang, but not in duet. The Lion
Comique, whose loyal melodies were on every barrel-organ, argued
Republicanism and flourished that day's copy of Reynolds's Newspaper, The
Beauteous Bessie Bilhook--"the Queen of Serio-Comics" was scandalously
autobiographic, and the old plantation songster--looking unreal with his
washed face--was with difficulty dissuaded from displaying his ability to
dance on the table without smashing anything. The climax was reserved for
the demure one-legged gymnast, who suddenly produced a pistol and
discharged it in the air. When the panic subsided, he explained to the
landlord and the company that he was "paying his shot."

"That's a hint for me to discharge the bill," said Nelly, adroitly, and,
thanking everybody effusively for the happiness afforded her, she hurried
home to Oxbridge Terrace, to wash it all away in nursery tea. The young
Lee Carters made a restful spectacle with their shining innocent faces,
and she almost wished they would never grow up.

As her success grew, offers from the pantomimes and even the legitimate
stage began to reach her. But now she would not make the step. At the
Halls she was her own mistress, able to arrange at her own convenience
with orchestras. Even Rosalind would have meant long rehearsals and a
complex interference with her governess-life.

At the theatres, too, to judge by all she heard, a sordid side of the
profession was accentuated. The players played for their own hands, and
even the greatest did not disdain to "queer" the effects of their
subordinates, whenever such effects did not heighten their own. Hamlet
had been known to be jealous of the ghost, and the success of his
sepulchral bass. It was in fact a world of jostling jealousies, as hidden
from the public as the prompter. In the Halls she was her own company and
her own playwright and her own composer. She had her elbows free.

And even here Bessie Bilhook, whose vanity was a byword in Lower Bohemia,
and who had arrogantly assumed the sovereignty of the Serio-Comics,
refused to appear on the same programmes unless her name was printed
twice as large as Nelly O'Neill's, and was further displayed on a board
outside, alone in its nine-inch glory. Again, actresses were recognised
by the newspapers; the Halls had as yet no status. Their performers were
not so photographed; indeed, Eileen refused to sit. She desired this
obscurer form of celebrity. If her fame should ever reach Mrs. Lee
Carter, the game would be nearly up. Her poor mother might even suffer
the shock of it; perhaps the professional future of her brothers would be
injured. Her sedate life had grown as dear as her noisy life, she loved
the transition to the innocent home circle.

Yet in this very domesticity lay a danger. It provoked her to an
ever broader humour on the stage. She let herself go, like a swimmer
emboldened by a boat behind. Eileen O'Keeffe she felt would rescue Nelly
O'Neill if licence carried her too near the falls. It was so irresistibly
seductive, this swift response of the audience to the wink of suggestion.
Like a vast lyre, the Hall vibrated to the faintest breath of
roguishness. Almost in contemptuous mockery one was tempted to
experiment....

One day, in a sudden horror of herself, she pleaded illness and hurried
back to her mother for a holiday.



XIV


The straggling village looked much the same, the same pigs and turkeys
rooted and strutted, the same stinging turf-smoke came from the doors and
windows (save from one or two cabins unroofed by the Castle tyrant), the
same weeds grew in the potato-patches, the same old men in patched
brogues pulled their caubeens from their heads and their dudeens from
their mouths, as she went past, half-consciously studying the humours for
stage reproduction. It was hard for her to remember she wasn't "the
Quality" in London, or that the Half-and-Half existed simultaneously with
these beloved woods and waters. In only one particular was the village
changed. Golf links had been discovered near it, a club-house had sprung
up and the peasants found themselves enriched by the employment of their
gossoons as caddies. The O'Keeffes were prospering equally--thanks to her
subsidies--although she hadn't yet bought them back their castle. "All's
for the best in the greenest of isles," she told herself, as she sat
basking in family affection.

And yet the wave of melancholia refused to ebb. Indeed, it swelled and
grew blacker. The remedy seemed to intensify the disease; a holiday but
gave her time to possess her soul, and brood upon its stains, her
childhood's scene but enabled her to measure the realities of her
achievement against the visions of girlhood. Life seemed too hopeless,
too absurd. To amuse the gross adult, to instruct the innocent
child--what did it all mean to her own life? She was tired of doing,
she wanted to _be_ something; something for herself. She was always
observing, imitating, caricaturing, but what was _she_? A nothing, a
phantasm, an emptiness.

"Eileen avourneen," said her mother, suddenly. "I wish you were married."

Eileen opened her eyes. "Dear heart, is this another offer from the
castle?" And she laughed gently.

Mrs. O'Keeffe's fingers played uneasily with her bosom's cross. "No, but
I should feel happier about you. It--it settles people."

"It certainly does," Eileen laughed, and her celebrated ditty, "The
Marriage Settlement," flashed upon her. "Oh, dear," and her laugh changed
to a sigh. "The marriages I see around me!"

"What! Isn't Mrs. Lee Carter happy?"

Eileen flushed. "I shouldn't like to be in her shoes," she said
evasively.

"Officers seem to make the best husbands," said Mrs. O'Keeffe.

"Because they are so much away?" queried Eileen, with a vague memory of
her Lieutenant Doherty.

That night the melancholia was heavy as a nightmare, without the partial
unconsciousness of sleep. This blackness must be "the horrors" she had
heard women of her stage-world speak of. She wanted to spring out of bed,
to run to her mother's room. But that would have meant hysteric
confession, so she bit her lips and stuck her nails into the sheet.
Perhaps suicide would be simplest. She was nothing; it would not even be
blowing out a light. No, she _was_ something, she was a retailer of gross
humours, a vile sinner; it might be kindling more than a light, an
eternal flame. "Child of Mary," indeed! She deserved to be strangled with
her white ribbon. And she exaggerated everything with that morbid
mendacity of the confessional.

Two days later she went for a walk along the springy turf of the valley.
The sun shone overhead, but from her spirit the mist had not quite
lifted. Suddenly a small white ball came scudding towards her feet. She
looked round and saw herself amid little flags sticking in the ground.
Distant voices came to her ear.

"This must be the new game that's creeping in from Scotland," she
thought. "Perhaps I ought to have a song ready if ever it catches on. Ah,
here comes one of the young fools--I'll watch him--"

He came, clothed as in a grey skin that showed the beautiful modelling
of his limbs. His face glowed.

"Ouidà's Apollo," she thought, but in the very mockery she trembled,
struck as by a lightning shaft. The blackness was sucked up into fire
and light. "Am I in the way?" she said with her most bewitching smile.

He raised his hat. "I was afraid you might have been struck."

"Perhaps I was," she could not help saying.

"Oh, gracious, are you hurt?" His voice was instantly caressing.

"Do I look an object for ambulances?"

He smiled dazzlingly. "You look awfully jolly." Later Eileen
remembered how she had taken this reply for a line of poetry.

A week later the Hon. Reginald Winsor, younger brother of an English
Earl, was teaching Eileen golf.

It had been a week of ecstasy.

She thought of Reginald the last thing at night and the first thing in
the morning and dreamed of him all night.

Now she knew what her life had lacked--to be caught up into another's
personality, to lose one's petty individuality in--in what? Surely not
in a larger; she couldn't be so blind as that. In what then? Ah, yes, in
Nature. He was gloriously elemental. He wasn't himself. He was the
masculine. Yes, that was the correlative element her being needed. The
mere manliness of his pipe made its aroma in his clothes adorable. Or was
it his big simplicity, in which she could bury all her torturing
complexity? Oh, to nestle in it and be at rest. Yet she held him at arm's
length. When they shook hands her nerves thrilled, but she was the colder
outwardly for very fear of herself.

On the ninth day he proposed.

Eileen knew it would be that day. Lying in bed that morning, she found
herself caught by her old impersonal whimsy. "I'm a fever, and on the
ninth day of me the man comes out in a rash proposal." Ah, but this
time she was in a tertian, too. What a difference from those other
proposals--proper or improper. Her mind ran over half a dozen, with a
touch of pity she had not felt at the time. Poor Bob Maper, poor Jolly
Jack Jenkins, if it was like this they felt! But was it her fault? No man
could say she had led him on--except, perhaps, the Hon. Reginald, and
towards him her intentions were honourable, she told herself smiling. But
the jest carried itself farther and more stingingly. Could he make an
"honourable" she told herself her? Ah, God, was she worthy of him, of his
simple manhood? And would he continue proposing, if she told him she was
Nelly O'Neill? And what of his noble relatives? No, no, she must not run
risks. She was only Eileen O'Keeffe, she had never left Ireland save for
the Convent. The rest was a nightmare. How glad she was that nobody knew!

The proposal duly took place in a bunker, while Eileen was whimsically
vituperating her ball. The fascination of her virginal _diablerie_ was
like a force compelling the victim to seize her in his arms after the
fashion of the primitive bridegroom. However the poor Honourable
refrained, said boldly, "Try it with this," and under pretence of
changing her golfsticks possessed himself of her hand. For the first time
his touch left her apathetic.

"Now it is coming," she thought, and suddenly froze to a spectator of
the marionette show. As the Hon. Reginald went through his performance,
she felt with a shudder of horror over what brink she had nearly stepped.
The man was merely a magnificent animal! She, with her heart, her soul,
her brain, mated to that! Like a convict chained to a log. Not worthy of
him forsooth! "There's a gulf between us," she thought, "and I nearly
fell down it." And the Half-and-Half rose before her, clamouring,
pungent, deliciously seductive.

"Dear Mr. Winsor," she listened with no less interest to her own part
in the marionette performance, "it's really too bad of you. Just as I
was getting on so nicely, too!"

"Is that all you feel about--about our friendship?"

"All? Didn't you undertake to teach me golf? I haven't the faintest
desire not to go on ... as soon as we have escaped from this wretched
bunker. Come! Did you say the niblick?"

Reginald's manners were too good to permit him to swear, even at golf.

"One's body is like an Irish mud-cabin," Eileen reflected. "It shelters
both a soul and a pig."



XV


Nelly O'Neill threw herself into her work with greater ardour than
ever. But her triumphs were shadowed by worries. She was nervous lest
the Hon. Reginald should turn up at one of her Halls--she had three now;
she was afraid her voice was spoiling in the smoky atmosphere; sometimes
the image of the Hon. Reginald came back reproachfully, sometimes
tantalisingly. Oh, why was he so stupid? Or was it she who had been
stupid?

Then there was the apprehension of the end of her career at the Lee
Carters'. The young generation was nearly grown up. The eldest boy she
even suspected of music-halls. He might stumble upon her.

Her popularity, too, was beginning to frighten her. Adventurous young
gentlemen followed her in cabs--cabs were now a necessity of her triple
appearance--and she never dared drive quite to her door or even the
street. Bracelets she always returned, if the address was given; flowers
she sent to hospitals, anonymous gifts to her family. Nobody ever saw her
wearing his badge.

A sketch of her even found its way to one of Mrs. Lee Carter's journals.

"Why, she looks something like me!" Eileen said boldly.

"You flatter yourself," said Mrs. Lee Carter. "You're both Irish, that's
all. But I don't see why these music-hall minxes should be pictured in
respectable household papers."

"Some people say that the only real talent is now to be found in the
Halls," said Eileen.

"Well, I hope it'll stay there," rejoined her mistress, tartly. Eileen
recalled this conversation a few nights later, when she met Master
Harold Lee Carter outside the door at midnight with a rival latch-key.

"Been to a theatre, Miss O'Keeffe?" asked her whilom pupil.

"No; have you?"

"Well, not exactly a theatre!"

"Why, what do you mean?"

"Sort of half-and-half place, you know."

By the icy chill at her heart at his innocent phrase, she knew how she
dreaded discovery and clung to her social status.

"What is a half-and-half place?" she asked smiling.

"Oh, comic songs and tumblers and you can smoke."

"No? You're not really allowed to smoke in a theatre?"

"Yes, we are. They call it a music-hall--it's great fun. But don't tell
the mater."

"You naughty boy!"

"I don't see it. All the chaps go."

She shook her head. "Not the nicest."

"Oh, that's tommyrot," he said disrespectfully. "Their women folk don't
know--that's all."

Eileen now began to feel like a criminal round whom the toils thicken.
In the most fashionable of her three Halls, she sang a little French
song. And she had taught Master Harold his French.

Of course, even if Nelly were seen by Eileen's friends or acquaintances,
detection was not sure. Eileen was always in such sedate gowns, never
low-cut, her manners were so suppressed, her hair done so differently,
and what a difference hair made! In fact, it was in her private life that
she felt herself more truly the actress. On the boards her real secret
self seemed to flash forth, full of verve, dash, roguery, devilry. Should
she take to a wig, or to character songs in appropriate costumes? No, she
would run the risk. It gave more spice to life. Every evening now was an
adventure, nay three adventures, and when she snuggled herself up at
midnight in her demure white bed, overlooked by the crucifix, she felt
like the hunted were-wolf, safely back in human shape. And she became
more audacious, letting herself go, so as to widen the chasm between
Nelly and Eileen, and make anybody who should suspect her be sure he was
wrong. And occasionally she paid for all this fever and gaiety by fits of
the blackest melancholy.

She had gradually dropped her habit of prayer, but in one of her dark
moods she found herself slipping to her knees and crying: "Oh, Holy
Mother, look down on Thy distressed daughter, and deliver her from the
body of this death. So many wooers and no spark of love in herself; a
woman who sings love-songs with lips no man has touched, a lone-of-soul
who can live neither with the respectable nor with the Bohemians, who
loves you, _sanctissima Maria_, without being sure you exist. Oh, Holy
Mother of God, advocate of sinners, pray for me. If I had only something
solid to cling to--a babe to suckle with its red grotesque little face.
You will say cling to the cross, but is not my whole life also a
crucifixion? I am rent in twain that a thousand fools may laugh nightly.
Oh, Holy Mother, make me at one with myself; it is the atonement I
need. Send me the child's heart, and I will light a hundred candles to
you.... Or do you now prefer electricity? Oh, Maria mavourneen, I cannot
pray to you, for there is a mocking devil within me, and you will not
cast her out." And she burst into hysteric tears.



XVI


As she was about to start one evening for her round, Mrs. Lee Carter's
maid brought up a bombshell. Superficially it looked like a letter with
foreign stamps, marked "Private" and readdressed with an English stamp
from Ireland. But that one line of unerased writing, her name, threw her
into heats and colds, for she remembered the long-forgotten hand of
Lieutenant Doherty. She had to sit down on her bed and finish trembling
before she broke the seal and set free this voice from the past.

  "DEAR MOTHER-CONFESSOR,--You will be wondering why I have been silent
  all these years and why I write now. Well, I will tell you the truth.
  It wasn't that I believed you had really gone into the Convent you
  wrote me you were joining, it was the new and exciting life and
  duties that opened up before me when I got to Afghanistan, far from
  post-offices. Afterwards I was drafted to India and had a lot of
  skirmishing and tiger-shooting, and your image--forgive me!--became
  faint, and I excused myself for not writing by making myself believe
  you were buried in the Convent. ["So, after all, he never got the
  letter telling him I was going to marry back the Castle!" Eileen mused
  joyfully through her agitation.] But now that I am at last coming home
  in a few months, no longer a minor, but nearer a major (that's like one
  of your old jokes)--somehow your face seems to be the only thing I am
  coming back   for. It's no use trying to explain it all, or even
  apologising. It's just like that. I've _confessed_, you see, though it
  is hopeless to get straight with my arrears, so I won't attempt it. And
  when I found out how I felt, of course came the horrible thought that
  you might be in the Convent after all, or, worse still, married and
  done for, so what do you think I did? I just sent this cable to your
  mother: 'Is Eileen free? Reply paid. Colonel Doherty.' Wasn't it clever
  and economical of me to think of the word 'free,' meaning such a
  lot--not married, not a nun, not even engaged to another fellow?
  Imagine my joy when I got back the monosyllable, meaning all that lot.
  I instantly cabled back 'Thanks, don't tell her of this.' ["So that's
  what mother was hinting at," thought Eileen, with a smile.] It was all
  I could do not to cable to you: 'Will you marry me? Reply paid.' ["What
  a good idea for a song!" murmured Nelly.] Put me out of my agony as
  soon as you can, won't you, dearest Eileen? Your face is floating
  before me as I write, with its black Irish eyes and its roguish
  dimples...."

She could read no more. She sat long on her bed, dazed by the rush
of bitter-sweet memories. The Convent, her father, her early years,
this dear boy ... all was washed together in tears. There was something
so bizarre, unexpected and ingenuous about it all; it touched the
elemental in her. If he had excused himself even, she would have
tossed him off impatiently. But his frank exposure of his own
self-contradictoriness appealed subtly to her. Was this the want in her
life, was it for him she had been yearning, below the surface of her
consciousness, even as she had remained below the surface of his? Here,
indeed, was salvation--providential salvation. A hand was stretched to
save her--snatch her from spiritual destruction. The dear brown manly
hand that had potted tigers while she had been gesticulating on
platforms--a performing lioness. Distance, imagination, early memories,
united to weave a glamour round him. It was many minutes before she
could read the postscript: "I think it right to say that my complexion is
not yellow nor my liver destroyed. I know this is how we are represented
on your stage. I have sat for a photograph, especially to send you."

The stage! Why should he just stumble upon the word, to chill her with
the awful question whether she would have to tell him. She was late at
her engagements, her performance was perfunctory--she was no longer with
"the boys," but seated in a howdah on an elephant's back, side by side
with a mighty hunter, or walking with a tall flaxen-haired lieutenant
between the honeysuckled hedges of an Irish boreen. It struck her as
almost miraculous--though it was probably only because her attention
was now drawn to the name--that she read of Colonel Doherty in the
evening paper the gasman tendered her that very evening, as she waited at
the wing. It was a little biography full of deeds of derringdo. "My
Bayard!" she murmured, and her eyes filled with tears.

She wrote and tore up many replies. The first commenced: "What a strange
way of proposing! You begin by giving me two black eyes to prove you've
forgotten me. I am so different in other people's eyes as well as in my
own it would be unfair to accept you. You are in love with a shadow."
The word-play about her eyes seemed to savour of the "Half-and-Half."
She struck it out. But "you are in love with a shadow," remained the
_Leit-motif_ of all the letters. And if he was grasping at a shadow it
would be unfair for her to grasp at the substance.

The correspondence continued by every Indian mail after his receipt of
her guarded refusal; he Quixotic, devoted, no matter how she had changed.
He loved the mere scent of her letter paper. Was she only a governess?
Had she been a charwoman, he would have kissed her cheeks white. The
boyish extravagance of his passion worked upon her, troubling her to her
sincerest core. She would hide nothing from him. She wrote a full account
of her stage career, morbidly exaggerating the vulgarity of her
performance and the degradation of her character. She was blacker than
any charwoman, she said with grim humour. The moment she dropped the
letter into the box, a trembling seized on all her limbs. She spent three
days of torture; her fear of losing him seeming to have heightened her
love for him.

Then Mrs. Lee Carter handed her a cable.

"Sailing unexpectedly S.S. _Colombo_ to-morrow--Doherty." She nearly fell
fainting in dual joy. He was coming home, and he would cross her letter.
Before it could return they would be safely married. It should be
destroyed unread.

"Is anything wrong?" said her mistress.

"No, quite the contrary."

"I am glad, because I had rather unpleasant news to tell you. But you
must have seen that when Kenneth goes to Winchester, there will
practically be nothing for you to do."

"How lucky! For I am going to be married."

"Oh, my dear, I am so glad," gushed Mrs. Lee Carter.

Afterwards Eileen marvelled at the obvious finger of Providence
unravelling her problems. She had never relished the idea of finding
another place, not easily would she find one so dovetailing into her
second life; she might have been tempted to burn her boats.

She prepared now to burn her ships instead. Her contracts with the Halls
were now only monthly; Nelly O'Neill could easily slip out of existence.
She would not say she was going to be married--that would concentrate
attention on herself. Illness seemed the best excuse. For the one week
after the _Colombo's_ arrival she could send conscience money. The
Saturday it was due found her still starred; she did not believe his ship
would get in till late, and managers would particularly dislike being
done out of her Saturday night turn. Perhaps she ought to have left the
previous week, she thought. It was foolish to rush things so close. But
it was not so easy to give up the habits of years, and activity allayed
the fever of waiting. She had sent an ardent letter to meet the ship at
Southampton, saying he was to call at the Lee Carters' in Oxbridge
Terrace on Sunday afternoon, which she had to herself. Being only a poor
governess, she would be unable to meet him at the station or receive him
at the house on Saturday night, even if he got in so early. He must be
resigned to her situation, she added jestingly. On the Saturday afternoon
she received a wire full of their own hieroglyphic love-words, grumbling
but obeying. How could he live till Sunday afternoon? Why hadn't she
resigned her situation?

As she was starting for the Halls for the last time, in the dusk of a
Spring day, a special messenger put into her hand a letter he had
scribbled in the train. He was in London then. Her heart thumped with
a medley of emotions as she tore open the letter:

"Oh, my darling, I shall see you at last face to face--" But she had no
time to spend under the hall-light reading it. In her cab she struck a
match and read another scrap. "But, oh, cruel one, not to let me come
to-night!" She winced. That gave her a pause. If she had let him come--to
the Half-and-Half! He would turn from her, shuddering. And was it not
precisely to the Half-and-Half that honour should have invited him? The
Half-and-Half arrived at the cab window ere she had finished pondering.
She thrust the letter into her pocket.



XVII


Would she ever get through her three Halls? It did not seem as if she had
strength for the Half-and-Half itself. She nerved herself to the task,
and knew, not merely from the shrieks of delight, that she had surpassed
herself. Happy and flushed she flung herself into her waiting cab.

She had the 9.45 turn at her second and most fashionable Hall--a Hall
where the chairman had been replaced by programme numbers--and then would
come her third and last appearance at 10.35. It was strange to think that
in another hour Nelly O'Neill's career would be over. It seemed like
murdering her. Yes, Eileen O'Keeffe would be her murderess. Well, why not
murder what lay between one and happiness? As she waited at the wings,
just before going on, while the orchestra played her opening bars, she
glanced diagonally at the packed stalls, and her heart stood still.
There in the second row sat Colonel Doherty, smoking a big cheroot.
Instinctively she made the sign of the cross; then swayed back and was
caught by the man who changed the programme-numbers.

"Is No. 9 come?" she gasped.

"I think so; aren't you well, Miss O'Neill?"

"For God's sake, give me breathing space," she said, with a last wild
peep at the Colonel. Yes, there was no mistaking him after the three new
portraits he had sent her. He was in cheerful conversation with a stout,
sallow gentleman of the Anglo-Indian stage-type. Both were in immaculate
evening-dress and wore white orchids. How fortunate she had refused to
send any photograph in return, pleading ugliness but really afraid of
theatrical sketches that might find their way to the officers' mess!

The band stopped, changed its tune, No. 9 appeared on the board; there
was a murmur of confusion.

"No, by Heaven, I'll face the music," she said with grim humour. She
almost hustled the hastening juggler out of the way. She was in a
whirlwind of excitement. So he was there--well, so much the better. He
had saved her from lying. He had given her an easy way of confessing.
Words were so inadequate, he should see the reality: the stage to-night
would be her confessional. She would extenuate nothing. She would throw
herself furiously into the fun and racket; go to her broadest limits,
else the confession would be inadequate. Then ... if he survived the
shock ... why then, perhaps, she'd insist on going on with this double
life...! He had risen in his seat. No, no, he must not go away, she could
not risk the juggler boring him.

"I'm better; I mustn't be late at my next shop," she murmured
apologetically as the number and the music were changed back.

"Ah, she's come--she was late," came the murmurs of the audience as it
stirred in excited expectation.

She flung on roguish, feverish, diabolical, seductive in low-cut bodice
pranked with flowers. It was a frenzy of impromptu extravagance, dazzling
even the orchestra; each line accentuated by new gesture, the verses
supplemented by new monologue; a miracle of chic and improvisation, and
the house rose at it. Out of the mist before her eyes thunder seemed to
come in great roars and crashes. She almost groped her way to the wing.

She was recalled. The mist cleared. She bowed direct at him, smiling
defiance from her sparkling eyes. He was applauding with his hands, his
stick, his lungs! Was it possible?--yes, he had not recognised her!

Now came a new revulsion. Again she felt herself saved. She sang her
other songs straight at him, and exaggerated them equally, half to tempt
Providence, half as a bold way of keeping Eileen still concealed. She
heard his companion chuckling, "By Jove, Willie, she's mashed on you,"
as she threw a farewell kiss towards him. Then she hurried to her
dressing-room and took out his letter. She had transferred it to the
pocket of her theatrical gown, but had not as yet found time to finish
it. Even before she re-perused it, another emotion had begun to possess
her, a rush of resentment. So this was how he amused himself while
waiting to clasp her in his arms! How would he ever live through the
hours till Sunday afternoon, forsooth! She was jealous of the applause he
lavished on Nelly O'Neill, incensed at his levity, at his immaculate
evening-dress, at his white orchid. How dare he be so gay and debonair?
Her anger rose as she read his protestations, his romantic professions.
"O my darling, I shall sit up all night, thinking of you, re-reading all
your dear letters, recalling our past, picturing our future. In short, as
old Landor puts it:--

  "'A night of memories and of sighs
    I consecrate to thee.'"

She crumpled the paper in her hand. There was a knock at the door; Fossy
poked his head in. He had risen in the world of Halls, even as Nelly
O'Neill.

"Might I present two friends of mine? They want so much to know you."

"You know I never see anybody, and that I have to hurry off."

"Then, I was to give you this bouquet."

He handed in a costly floral mass. Amid it lay a card, "Colonel Doherty."
She crumpled his letter more viciously.

"Tell them I can give them ten minutes only. Oh, Fossy, it's an amusing
Show, isn't it?"

"It was a rattling good show," said Fossy, half puzzled. "Come in, boys."

Entered the Anglo-Indian twain with shining faces and shirt-fronts,
cheroots politely lowered.

"Oh, smoke away, gentlemen," cried Nelly O'Neill, facing them in all
the dazzle of her flesh and the crudity of her stage-paint, and her
over-lustrous eyes, "don't mind me. Which of you is the Colonel?"

The stout, sallow gentleman jocosely pushed his tall flaxen-haired
companion forward. "Oh, I knew the Major was out of it," he grinned.

"Not at all, Major," said Nelly. "I only wanted to know which I had to
thank for these lovely flowers."

"You have yourself to thank," said the Colonel, smartly. "By Jove! You
gave us a treat. London was worth coming back to."

"Ah, you've been away from London?"

"Just back this very day from India--"

"And of course the first thing after a good dinner is the good old
Friv--" put in the Major.

"Thank you, Major," said Fossy. "That's handsome of you. And now I'll
leave you to Miss O'Neill."

"That's handsomer still," said the Colonel. And the three men guffawed.
Eileen felt sick.

The Major began to talk of the music-halls of India; the Colonel chimed
in. They treated her as a comrade, told her anecdotes of the _coulisses_
of Calcutta. The Colonel retailed a jest of the bazaars.

"I permit smoke, not smoking-room stories," she said severely. At which
the twain poked each other shriekingly in the ribs. After that Eileen let
the Colonel have rope enough to hang himself with, though she felt it
cutting cruelly into her own flesh. It was an orgie of the eternal
masculine, spiced with the aroma of costly cigars.

"I'm so sorry," she said, when she had let them have a quarter of an
hour's run. "I really must fly." And she seized the bouquet, and
carefully adjusted his card in the glowing mass. "Won't you come
and have tea with me to-morrow? About four."

The Colonel winced. "I fear I have another appointment."

"Oh, rot! I'll bring him," said the Major. "Where do you hang out?"

"22 Oxbridge,"--her hesitation was barely perceptible--"Crescent."

The Colonel started. "Do you know it, Colonel?" She looked at him
ingenuously.

"No, but how odd! My other appointment is at 22 Oxbridge Terrace."

"How funny!" laughed Eileen. "Just round the corner. Then you'll be
able to kill two ladies with one cab." And she fled from the Major's
cachinnation.



XVIII


She had missed her turn at the third Hall, but she did not care. She went
on and gave a spiritless performance. It fell dead, but she cared less.
Her head throbbed with a dozen possibilities. She was still undiscovered.
As she sat resting on her couch ere resuming her work-a-day gown, her
nerves stretched to snapping point, and old Irish songs crooning
themselves irrelevantly in her brain, a telegram was handed her.

"He has found out," she thought, going hot and cold. She tore open the
pink envelope... and burst into a shriek of laughter. The dresser rushed
in, wondering. Nelly O'Neill merely held her sides, jollity embodied.
"Oh, the Show, the Show!" she gasped, the tears streaking her painted
cheeks.

The telegram that hung between her fingers in two sheets ran: "Reply
prepaid. I don't know the ways of the stage so I send you this as a sure
way of reaching you to ask when and where I may have the pleasure of
calling upon your friend, Miss O'Keeffe, and renewing the study of
Plato.--Robert Maper, Hotel Belgravia."

"Any answer, miss?" said the imperturbable doorkeeper.

The answer flashed irresistibly into her mind as he spoke. Oh, she would
play up to Bob Maper. Doubtless he imagined her fallen to the level of
her _métier_, though he wasn't insulting. She scribbled hastily: "Robert
Maper, Hotel Belgravia. I am waiting at the Hall for you. Come and take
me to supper.--EILEEN O'NEILL." She gave instructions he was to be
admitted. Then she relapsed into her hysteric amusement. "Oh, the merry
master of marionettes, the night my love comes from beyond the seas, you
send me to supper with Robert Maper." She waited with impatience. Now
that the long-dreaded discovery had come, she was consumed with curiosity
as to its effect upon the discoverer. At last she remembered to wash off
the rouge and the messes necessary for stage-perspective. Her winsome
face came back to her in the mirror, angelic by contrast, and while she
was looking wonderingly at this mystic flashing mask of hers, there was a
knock, and in another instant she was looking into the eyes burning
unchanged under the white marble mantel-piece.

"Ah, there you are!" she said gaily, and shook his hand as though they
had met the evening before. "Where shall we go?"

He accepted the situation. "I don't know--I thought you would know."

"I don't--I never supped with a man in my life."

He flushed with complex pleasure and surprise. "Really! Oh, Eileen!"

"Hush! Call me Nelly, if you must be Christian. I suppose you think you
may, now."

"I--I beg your pardon," he stammered, disconcerted.

"Don't look so gaspy--poor little thing! It shall be thrown back into the
water. Will you carry my bouquet?"

"With pleasure." He grasped it eagerly, and carried it towards the stage
door and a hansom.

"It wanted only that," she said. "Oh, the Show, the Show!"

"I don't understand you."

"Do I understand myself?" They got into the hansom. "Where shall we go?"
she repeated.

"Places all close at twelve on Saturday night."

"Ah, do they? Your hotel also?"

"No, of course one may eat at one's own hotel. If you don't mind going
there--"

"If _you_ don't mind, rather."

"I? Who is my censor?"

"Ah, the word admits I'm discreditable. Never mind, Bob. See how
Christian I am."

"No, no, I've felt it was all my doing. Indirectly I drove you to
it--oh, how you have weighed on me!"

"Really, I'd quite forgotten you."

He winced and gasped. "Hotel Belgravia," he called up through the
trap-door.

"Very strange you should find me," she said, as they glided through the
flashing London night.

"Not in the least. I knew you blindfold, so to speak. You forget how I
used to stand outside the drawing-room, listening to your singing."

"Eavesdropper!" she murmured. But he struck a tender chord--all the
tender chords of her twilight playing that now rose up softly and floated
around her.

"Eavesdropper if you like, who heard nothing that was not beautiful. And
so I hadn't to _look_ for you. As a matter of fact, I wasn't looking but
consulting my programme to know who number eleven was, when you began to
sing."

"If you _had_ looked you wouldn't have recognised me," she said, smiling.

"Probably not. The stage get-up would have blurred my memories."

She began to like him again: the oddness of it all was appealing.
"Nevertheless," she said, "it is strange you should just find me
to-night, for I--"

"No, it isn't," he interrupted eagerly. "I've been every night this
week."

"Ah, eavesdropping again," she said, touched.

"I wanted to be absolutely sure--and then I couldn't pluck up courage to
write to you."

"But you did to-night?"

"You looked so tired--I felt I wanted to protect you."

A sob came into her throat, but she managed to say coldly, "Was I very
bad?"

"To one who had seen you the other nights," he said with complimentary
candour.

She laughed. "How is your mother?"

"Oh, she's very well, thank you. She lives in London now."

"Then your father has retired from--"

"He is dead,--didn't you hear?"

"No." Eileen sat in shocked silence. "I am sorry," she murmured at
length. But underneath this mild shock she was conscious--as they rolled
on without speaking--of a new ease that had come into her life: some
immense relaxation of tension. "A hunted criminal must breathe more
calmly when he is caught," she thought.



XIX


"Lucky I'm in evening dress," she said, loosening her cloak as they went
through a corridor, shimmering with dresses and diamonds, to a crowded
supper-room.

"But you're always in evening dress, surely."

"I might have been in tights." And she had a malicious self-wounding
pleasure in watching him gasp. She hurried into a revelation of her exact
position, as soon as they had secured a just-vacated little table in a
window niche. She omitted only Colonel Doherty.

He listened breathlessly. "And nobody knows you are Eileen O'Keeffe, I
mean Nelly O'Neill?"

She laughed. "You see _you_ don't know which I am."

"It's incredible."

"So much the worse for your theories of credibility. The longer I live,
the less the Show surprises me."

"What show?"

"Oh, it's too long to explain. Say Vanity Fair." Her thumb fell into its
old habit of flicking the table. There was a silence.

"I am sorry you told me," he said slowly.

"Why?"

A waiter loomed over them.

"Supper, Sir Robert?"

She glanced quickly at her companion.

"Yes," he said. "_Ma buonissima!_ I leave it to you. And champagne."

"_Prestissimo_, Sir Robert." He smirked himself off.

"Why does he call you that?" she asked.

"Oh, didn't you know my poor father was made a Baronet, after we
entertained Royalty?"

"No; how strange your lives should have been going on all the time!" The
pop of a cork at her elbow startled her. Then she lifted her frothing
glass. "Sir--to you!"

He clinked his against it. "To the lady of my dreams."

"Still?" She sipped the wine: her eyes sparkled.

"Yes; I've still a long opinion of myself."

She put out her hand quickly and pressed his an instant.

"Thank you!" he said huskily. "That was why I said I was sorry to know
that to the world you were still a governess. Of course I was glad,
too."

"I don't understand. I always said you were more Irish than I."

"I was glad you had kept yourself unspotted from the stage-world."

"Good God! You call that unspotted! What are men made of?"

"You were in a bad atmosphere. Your lips caught phrases."

"Nonsense. I'm a crow, not a parrot; a thoroughly sooty bird."

"It was your whiteness that attracted--your morning freshness. You don't
know what vulgarity is."

"You don't know what _I_ am."

"I know you to your delicious finger-tips. And that's why I am sorry you
told me so much. I wanted to ask Nelly O'Neill to marry me. Now she'll
think I'm only asking Eileen O'Keeffe, the daughter of the Irish
gentleman."

Her eyes filled with tears. "No, they both believe you capable of any
folly. Besides, somebody would find out Nelly all the same." And a smile
made a rainbow across her tears.

The arrival of the soup relaxed the tension of emotion. In mid-plate she
suddenly put down her spoon and laughed softly.

"What is it?" he said, not without alarm at her transitions.

"Why, it would be one of those stock theatrical marriages, into which we
entrap titles! Fascinated by a Serio-Comic, poor silly young man. She
played her cards well, that Nelly. Ha! ha! ha! Who would dream of Plato's
dialogues? And you talk of incredible!"

"I am content to be called silly." He tried to take her hand.

"Well, don't be it in public. You will rank with Lord Tippleton who
married Bessie Bilhook, and made a Lady of her--the only ladyhood she's
ever known."

"No, I can't rank with him," he smiled back. "I'm only a Baronet."

"It sounds the same. Lady Maper!" she murmured. "But, oh, how funny!
There'd be two Lady Mapers."

"My mother would be the Dowager Lady--"

"That's funnier still."

He ate in silence. Eileen mused on the picture of the Dowager, her
forefinger to heaven.

"The Royalty--how did that go off?" she said, as he carved the chicken.

"With fireworks. For the reception father built a new house and furnished
it with old furniture. Royalty stopped an hour and a quarter. Oh, she was
wonderful. I mean my mother. Copied your phrases--see what an impression
you made."

"And what have you been doing since you came into the title?"

"Looking for you."

"Nonsense!" She dropped her fork. "But you knew I had people in Ireland."

"I never knew exactly where."

"But what put you on the track of the music-halls?"

"Nothing. I never dreamed of looking for you there. I just went." Master
Harold Lee Carter's phrase flashed back to her memory, "All the chaps
go."

"But what about the Black Hole--I mean the works?"

"They go on," he said. "I just get the profits."

"And how about your Socialism?"

"You taught me the fallacy of it."

"I? Well, that's the cream of the joke."

"Yes. Don't laugh at me, please. When you came into my life, or rather
when you went out of it--yes, I am Irish--I saw that money and station
are the mere veneer of life: the central reality is--Love."

Again her eyes filled with tears, but she remained silent.

"And I saw that I, the master, was really poorer than the majority of my
serfs, with their wives and bairns."

"You are a good fellow," she murmured. "I--I meant to say," she corrected
herself, "what have you done with your clothes?"

"My clothes!" he echoed vaguely, looking down at his spotless
shirt-front.

"Your factory clothes! Wouldn't it be fun to wear them at supper here? Do
you think they could turn you out? I don't see how, legally. Do test the
question. Yes, do. Please do." And she laid her hand on his black sleeve.
"I won't marry you if you don't."

"I did think you were serious to-night, Eileen," he said, disappointed.

"How could you think that, if you read the programme, as you say? 'Nelly
O'Neill, Serio-Comic.' _Allons, ne faites cette tête mine de hibou_.
Admit the world is entirely ridiculous and give me some more champagne."
Her eyes glittered strangely.

A clock struck twelve.

"What, midnight!" she cried, starting up. "I must go."

"No, no;" he took her hand.

"Yes, yes; don't you know, at the stroke of midnight I change back to a
governess."

"Well, the magic didn't work, for that clock's very slow. Sit down,
please."

"You have spoken the omen. I remain Nelly O'Neill and drop Eileen for
ever. _Vogue la galère._"

"Absit omen!" He shuddered.

"Why not? What do you offer me? The love of one man. But my public loves
me as one man--with a much more voluminous love--I love it in return. Why
should I change?"

"Shall we say merely because the public changes? I am constant."

"Yes, you are very wonderful.... And if it's to-morrow already, my fate
will be settled to-day. Drink to my destiny."

"I drink to our destiny," he said, raising his glass.

"No. Only to mine. It will be decided this afternoon."

"You will give me your answer this afternoon?" he cried joyfully.

"I don't say that. It's my answer I shall know this afternoon. Yours you
shall have to-morrow afternoon. You don't mind giving me one day's option
of your hand?"

"One day's! When you have had--"

She interrupted impatiently. "Let bygones be bygones. You shall have a
letter by Monday afternoon. But, oh, Heavens! how could we marry? You
believe in nothing!"

"There's the Registrar."

She pouted: "Dry legality. No flowers, no organ, no feeling sweet and
virginal in a long veil. Oh, dear! Besides, there's mother--"

"I don't object to the church ceremony."

"I'm glad. The law may end marriage. Marriage shouldn't begin with law.
It ought to look beautiful at the start, at least, though one may know
it's a shaky scraw."

"A shaky what?"

"Oh, it's an Irish term for a bit of black bog that looks like lovely
green meadow. You step out so gaily on the glittering grass, and then
squish! squash! down you go to choke in the ooze."

"Don't be so pessimistic. It would be much more sensible to think of
marriage as solid meadow-land after your present scramble over a shaky
what-d'ye-call it."

"True for you! I give you the stage as the shakiest of all scraws. But
where _is_ solid footing to be found? The world itself is only a vast bog
that sucks in the generations."

"I am sorry I asked you to be serious," he said glumly. "You're such a
quick-change artiste."

"I must quickly assume the governess or I'll lose my character," she
said, rising resolutely.

He put her cloak tenderly round her.

"You know I'll take you without a character," he said lightly.

"If I had no character I might be tempted to take you," she retorted
dispiritingly. "Thank you so much for my first supper."



XX


Eileen slept little. The dramatic possibilities of the interview with
Colonel Doherty were too agitating and too numerous. This time the
marionette-play needed writing. Who should receive him when he called?
Eileen O'Keeffe or Nelly O'Neill?

Either possibility offered exquisite comedy.

Eileen--as plain as possible--with a high, black dress, drooped lids,
stiffly brushed hair, even eyeglasses perhaps, with a deportment redolent
of bread-and-butter and five-finger exercises, could perhaps disenchant
him sufficiently to make him moderate his matrimonial ardour, even to
hurry off apologetically to his serio-comic Circe round the corner. What
a triumph of acting if she could drive him to her rival! Then as he went
through the door--to loosen her hair, throw off her glasses and whistle
him back to Nelly O'Neill!

The part was tempting; it bristled with opportunities. But it was also
too trying. He might begin by taking lover's liberties, and the strain of
repulsing him would be too great. Besides, she wasn't clear how to play
the opening of the scene. But then there was another star part open to
her.

Nelly O'Neill's _rôle_ was much easier: it played itself. She had only
to go on with the episode. And the way the episode went on would also
serve to determine finally her attitude when the moment came to throw off
the mask and turn to governess. The only difficult moment would be the
first--to obfuscate him immediately with the notion that he had mixed up
the two addresses. Even if she failed and he realised his ghastlier
blunder, it would only precipitate the dramatic duel which she must face
sooner or later. All these high-strung possibilities deadened the
horrible pain she knew her soul held for her, as soldiers carry wounds to
be felt when the charge is over. She fell asleep near morning, her battle
planned, and slept late, a sleep full of strange dreams, in one of which
her drunken father counted her, and couldn't decide how many she was.
"It's two I am, father asthore, only two, Eileen and Nelly," she kept
crying. But he counted on.

Towards four in the afternoon she posted herself at the window. It was
absolutely necessary to the comedy that she should open the door to him
herself. At last a cab containing him halted at the door. She
flew down, just supplanting the butler.

"How good of you, Colonel!" she cried. "But where is the Major?"

It was exquisitely calculated. She had pulled the string and the
marionette moved with precision. A daze, a flash, a stammer--all the
embarrassment of a man who believes that in a day-dream he has given
a second address first.

"Miss--Miss O'Neill," he stuttered, mechanically removing his hat.

"Nelly to my friends," she smiled fascinatingly. "Come in!" Christopher
Sly was not more bewildered when he opened his eyes on the glories of his
Court.

"What--what is this address?" he blurted, as she prisoned him by closing
the door.

"Why?... Oh, I know. Ha! ha! ha! You've come to the Crescent instead of
the Terrace."

"That confounded cabman! I'm sure I told him the Terrace."

"Don't swear. He's more accustomed to the Crescent. So many pros coming
home late, and all that!"

He hesitated at the foot of the stairs. "I really think I ought to call
there first...."

Now all the coquette in Nelly O'Neill rose to detain him, subtly tangled
with the actress. She pouted adorably. "Oh, now you're here, can't you
put her second for once?"

"I didn't say it was a _her_."

"A she," corrected the governess, instinctively. Nelly hastened to add,
"No man leaves a woman for a man."

"This is such an old appointment," he pleaded in distress.

"I see. You want to be off with the old love before you are on with the
new."

"Nothing of the kind, I assure you."

"What! Not even the new?"

"Oh, that part!" He smiled and followed her up. "You won't mind my going
soon?"

"The sooner the better if you talk like that!" She threw open the door of
her little sitting-room. How well the Show was going!

"A soda and whisky, Colonel? I suppose that's your idea of tea." She
had the scene ready. She had got it all up like a little play, writing
down the articles on a sheet of paper headed "Property List": "Cigars,
cigarettes, syphons, spirits, sporting-papers," all borrowed from Master
Harold Lee Carter to entertain a visitor.

But at the height of the play's prosperity, while the Colonel clinked
tumblers with Nelly, came a _contretemps_, and all the farce darkened
swiftly to drama as the gay landscape is overgloomed by a thundercloud.

It all came from Mrs. Lee Carter's benevolent fussiness, her interest in
the man who had come to marry her governess. A servant knocked at the
door, stuck her head in, and said, "Mrs. Lee Carter's compliments, and
would you like some tea?"

"No, thank you," said Eileen, hurriedly.

But as the door closed, the Colonel's glass fell to the ground, and he
rose to his feet. His bronzed face was working wildly.

"Mrs. Lee Carter!" he gasped. "You--you are Eileen!"

"Here's a mess," she said coolly, stooping to wipe up the carpet.

"Eileen! Explain!" he said piteously.

"It's you that ought to be explaining. I've all I can do to pick up the
nasty little bits of glass."

"My brain reels. Who _are_ you? What _are_ you? For God's sake."

"Hush! Who are _you_? What are _you_?"

"I know what I was--your lover."

"Whose? Mine or Nelly's?"

"Good God, Eileen! You saw how anxious I was to get to you. That I was
subtly drawn to Nelly is only a proof of how you were in my blood. But
you're not really Nelly O'Neill. This is some stupid practical joke.
Don't torture me longer."

"It tortures you that I should be Nelly O' Neill!" All the confessed
sweetness of her position came up into clear consciousness: the lights,
the laughter, the very smell of the smoke endeared by a thousand
triumphs. How dared he speak of Nelly O'Neill as though she couldn't be
touched with a pitchfork! Yes, and Bob Maper, too--her anger ricocheted
to him--with his priggish notions of saving her from black bogs! And
who was it that now stood over her like a fuddled accusing angel? She
pulled out his letter and read viciously:--

  "'A night of memories and of sighs
    I consecrate to thee.'"

"I was dying to rush to you--you wouldn't see me. And the Major dragged
me--"

"Through all that mud? All those Indian escapades?"

He groaned, "And you listened--!"

"Am I not your mother-confessor?"

He seized her by the wrists. "Don't madden me! You're not really on
the Halls? You _are_ living here as governess. It is some prank, some
masquerade! Say it is!" He shook her. She tried to wrest her hands away.

"Not till you tell me the truth! You haven't been lying to me all these
months?"

A sudden remembrance came to give her strength and scorn. "I _have_ told
you the truth, only my letter crossed you on the ocean. When it returns
to England, you will see."

His grip relaxed, he staggered back. "Come," she said, pursuing her
unforeseen advantage. "We will talk this thing over quietly. I always
said you were in love with a shadow. But I find it was I who imagined a
Bayard."

"And what have I done and said worse than other men?" Again Master Harold
Lee Carter's complacent sentiment came to her. Men were all alike, only
their women folk didn't know.

"Worse than other men!" She laughed bitterly. "I wanted you better--all
the seven heavens better--saint as well as hero, with no thought but for
me, and no one before me or after me. Oh, yes, it sounds a large order,
but that's what we women want. Don't speak! I know what you're going to
say. Skip me. Talk of yourself."

"You get what you want. The other's only make-believe. It passes like
water from a duck's back. You women don't understand. The white fire of
your purity cleanses us, and that is why we will have nothing less--"

"Ah, now you have skipped _to_ me. I'm not pretending there isn't an evil
spirit in me to match yours. It split away from me and became Nelly
O'Neill. You asked which I was? I am both. Here, I am a respectable
governess. Let me ring for Mrs. Lee Carter. She'll give you my character.
The white fire and all that." She pressed the bell.

"Don't be so absurd. Give me time to collect my senses."

"All right, pick up the pieces, while I collect these." She stooped over
the bits of glass.

"But for Heaven's sake don't bring that woman into it--"

The door opened. "Yes, miss?"

"Another glass, please." The servant disappeared.

"I do hope you won't break this one. In what country is it that the
bridegroom breaks a glass in the marriage ceremonial? Oh, yes, I
remember. Fossy told me. Among the Jews. There's a lot in the profession.
Not that it's such a marrying profession. And to think I might have been
a regular bride! But I've lost you, my dear boy, hero of a hundred
hill-fights, I _know_ it--and the moment you've picked your little
bits of senses together, you'll know it, too. Alas, we shall never go
tiger-hunting together.

  "'A night of memories and of sighs
    I consecrate to thee.'"

"I don't say I won't keep my promise," he said sulkily.

"Your promise! Hoity toity! Upon my word! I'm no breach-of-promise
lady--Chops and tomato sauce indeed! I recognise that we could never
marry. There would always be that between us!"

Her fascination gripped him in proportion as she let him go.

"I don't know that I should mind if nobody really knows," he began.

"You! It's I that would mind. And I really know. Could I marry a man who
had told me smoking-room stories? No, Eileen is done with you. Good-by!"

"Good-by? No, I can't go. I can't face the emptiness. You've filled me
and fooled me with love all these weeks. Good God! Do you owe me
nothing?"

"I leave you something--Nelly O'Neill! Go and see her. Now you're off
with the old love. You mark what a prophetess I was. Nelly'll receive you
very differently. No cant of superiority. You'll be just a pair of jolly
good fellows. You'll sit up drinking whisky together and yarning
anecdotes. No uncomfortable pretences; no black bog posing as white
fire; no driven snow business, London snow nicely trodden, in. And
the tales of the world you tell me--how useful they'll come in for
stage-patter! Oh, we shall be happy enough! We can still pick up the
pieces!"

"Eileen! Eileen! you will drive me mad. What do you mean? You know I
could never have a wife on the Halls. It would ruin me in the clubs, it
would--"

"In the clubs! Ha! ha! ha! Every member of which would be delighted to
have tea with me! But who's proposing to you a wife on the Halls? You
said I owed you myself, and it's true, but you don't suppose I could
_marry_ a man I didn't respect? I told you we're not a marrying
profession. Come, let's kiss and be friends."

He drew back as in horror. "No, no, Eileen, I respect you too much for
that."

She looked at him long and curiously. "Yes, the sexes don't understand
each other. Well, good-by. I almost could marry you, after all. But I'm
too wise. Please go. I have a headache and it is quite possible I shall
scream. Good-by, dear. I was never more than a phantom to you--a boyish
memory, and a bad one at that. Don't you know you gave me a pair of black
eyes? Good-by: you'll marry a dear, sweet girl in white muslin who'll
never know. God bless you."



XXI


Sir Robert Maper simply could not get up on the Monday morning. The agony
of suspense was too keen, and he lay with closed eyes, trying to drowse
his consciousness, and exchanging it in his fitful snatches of sleep for
oppressive dreams, in one of which Eileen figured as a Lorelei, combing
her locks on a rock as she sang her siren song.

But she did not prolong his agony beyond mid-day.

  "MY DEAR SIR ROBERT,--Both of us are dead and gone, so, alas! neither
  can marry you. Don't be alarmed, we are only dead to the world, and
  gone to the Continent. 'Get thee to a nunnery.' Hamlet knew best. If I
  could have married any man it would have been you. You are the only
  gentleman I have ever known. But I don't love you. It's a miserable
  pity. I wish I did. I wonder why 'love' is an active verb in all
  languages. It ought to have a passive form, like 'loquor' (though that
  passive should be reserved for parrots). Forgive the governess! I seem
  to have undergone 'love' for two men, but one was a fool and the other
  not quite a rogue, and I dare say I never really loved anybody but
  myself (and there the verb is very active)! I love to coquet, but the
  moment a man comes too close, I feel hunted. I dare say I was secretly
  pleased to find my hero tripping, so as to send him packing. Was ever
  hero in such a comic plight? Poor, unlucky hero! But this will be Greek
  to you--the kind you can't read. Oh, the men I could have married! It
  is curious, when you think of it, the men one little woman might marry
  and be dutifully absorbed in. I could have been a bass chorister's wife
  or a Baronet's wife, the wife of an Honourable dolt, and the wife of a
  dishonourable dramatist. _J'en passe et des meilleurs._ I could have
  lived in Calcutta or in Clerkenwell, been received in Belgravia or in
  Boulogne. Good Lord! the parts one woman is supposed to be fit for,
  while the man remains his stolid, stupid self. Talk of the variety
  stage! Or is it that they all want the same thing of her?

  "Talking of the variety stage, there would have been the danger, too,
  of my thirsting for it, even with a Dowager Lady for a stepmother. The
  nostalgia of the boards is a disease your love might not have warded
  off. You are well rid of both of us.

  "You said--at my first and last supper--that money and station are the
  mere veneer of life, the central reality is love. That is true, if by
  love you read the love of God, of Christ. Do you remember my going one
  day over the works with your poor father? Well, after I had been
  through rooms and rooms of whirring machinery infinitely ingenious and
  diversified--that made my head ache--they took me to a shed where stood
  in a sort of giant peace the great engine that moved it all. 'God!' was
  my instant thought, and somehow my headache fled. And ever since then,
  when I have been oppressed by the complex clatter of life, my thought
  has gone back to that power-room, to the great simple force behind it
  all. I rested in the thought as a swimmer on a placid ocean. But the
  ocean is cold and infinite, and of late I have longed for a more human
  God that loved and forgave, and so I come back to the Christ. You see
  Plato never satisfied me. Your explanation of the B.C. glories was sown
  on barren soil. I grant you a nobility in your Plato as of Greek
  pillars, soaring in the sunlight, but somehow I want the Gothic--I long
  for 'dim religious light' and windows stained with saints. Oh, to find
  my soul again! If I could tell you how the Convent rises before me as a
  vision of blessedness--after life's 'shaky scraw'--the cool cloisters,
  the rows of innocent beds, the delicious old garden. There are tears at
  my heart, as I think of it. What flowers I will bring to my favourite
  nun.... God grant she is still alive! What altar-cloths I will weave
  with my silver and gold! Yes, the wages of sin shall not be death, I
  will pay them to the life eternal; my dowry as the bride of Christ. I,
  too, shall be laid on the altar, my complex corrupt soul shall be
  simplified and purified, and the Holy Mother will lead me by the hand
  like a little child. But all this will be caviare to you. Adieu. I will
  pray for you.

  "Eileen.

  "P.S.--It is a convent that trains the young, so I shall still be a
  Governess."

"And perhaps still a Serio-Comic," thought the Baronet, bitterly.





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