The Best British Short Stories of 1922 by Edward J. O'Brien
WYCH STREET?, by
THE OLIVE, by
ONCE A HERO, by
by William Caine
BALLAD, by A. E.
THE DEVIL TO
PAY, by Max
EMPTY ARMS, by
LENA WRACE, by
THE WOMAN WHO
SAT STILL, by
By Hugh Walpole
WHERE WAS WYCH STREET?, by Stacy
(From The Strand Magasine and The Saturday Evening Post
Copyright, 1921, by The Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1922, by Stacy Aumônier. Reprinted by
permission of the author and of Curtis Brown, Ltd. people
were Mr. and Mrs. Dawes. Mr. Dawes was an entirely negative
person, but Mrs. Dawes shone by virtue of a high, whining,
insistent voice, keyed to within half a note of hysteria.
In the public bar of the Wagtail, in Wapping, four men and a woman
were drinking beer and discussing diseases. It was not a pretty
subject, and the company was certainly not a handsome one. It was a
dark November evening, and the dingy lighting of the bar seemed but to
emphasize the bleak exterior. Drifts of fog and damp from without
mingled with the smoke of shag. The sanded floor was kicked into a
muddy morass not unlike the surface of the pavement. An old lady down
the street had died from pneumonia the previous evening, and the event
supplied a fruitful topic of conversation. The things that one could
get! Everywhere were germs eager to destroy one. At any minute the
symptoms might break out. And soone foregathered in a cheerful spot
amidst friends, and drank forgetfulness.
Prominent in this little group was Baldwin Meadows, a sallow-faced
villain with battered features and prominent cheek-bones, his face cut
and scarred by a hundred fights. Ex-seaman, ex-boxer,
ex-fish-porterindeed, to every one's knowledge, ex-everything. No one
knew how he lived. By his side lurched an enormous coloured man who
went by the name of Harry Jones. Grinning above a tankard sat a
pimply-faced young man who was known as The Agent. Silver rings adorned
his fingers. He had no other name, and most emphatically no address,
but he arranged things for people, and appeared to thrive upon it in
a scrambling, fugitive manner.
Then, at one point, the conversation suddenly took a peculiar turn.
It came about through Mrs. Dawes mentioning that her aunt, who died
from eating tinned lobster, used to work in a corset shop in Wych
Street. When she said that, The Agent, whose right eye appeared to
survey the ceiling, whilst his left eye looked over the other side of
his tankard, remarked:
Where was Wych Street, ma?
Lord! exclaimed Mrs. Dawes. Don't you know, dearie? You must be a
young 'un, you must. Why, when I was a gal every one knew Wych Street.
It was just down there where they built the Kingsway, like.
Baldwin Meadows cleared his throat, and said:
Wych Street used to be a turnin' runnin' from Long Acre into
Oh, no, old boy, chipped in Mr. Dawes, who always treated the
ex-man with great deference. If you'll excuse me, Wych Street was a
narrow lane at the back of the old Globe Theatre, that used to pass by
I know what I'm talkin' about, growled Meadows.
Mrs. Dawes's high nasal whine broke in:
Hi, Mr. Booth, you used ter know yer wye abaht. Where was Wych
Mr. Booth, the proprietor, was polishing a tap. He looked up.
Wych Street? Yus, of course I knoo Wych Street. Used to go there
with some of the boyswhen I was Covent Garden way. It was at right
angles to the Strand, just east of Wellington Street.
No, it warn't. It were alongside the Strand, before yer come to
The coloured man took no part in the discussion, one street and one
city being alike to him, provided he could obtain the material comforts
dear to his heart; but the others carried it on with a certain amount
Before any agreement had been arrived at three other men entered the
bar. The quick eye of Meadows recognized them at once as three of what
was known at that time as The Gallows Ring. Every member of The
Gallows Ring had done time, but they still carried on a lucrative
industry devoted to blackmail, intimidation, shoplifting, and some of
the clumsier recreations. Their leader, Ben Orming, had served seven
years for bashing a Chinaman down at Rotherhithe.
The Gallows Ring was not popular in Wapping, for the reason that
many of their depredations had been inflicted upon their own class.
When Meadows and Harry Jones took it into their heads to do a little
wild prancing they took the trouble to go up into the West-end. They
considered The Gallows Ring an ungentlemanly set; nevertheless, they
always treated them with a certain external deferencean unpleasant
crowd to quarrel with.
Ben Orming ordered beer for the three of them, and they leant
against the bar and whispered in sullen accents. Something had
evidently miscarried with the Ring. Mrs. Dawes continued to whine above
the general drone of the bar. Suddenly she said:
Ben, you're a hot old devil, you are. We was just 'aving a
discussion like. Where was Wych Street?
Ben scowled at her, and she continued:
Some sez it was one place, some sez it was another. I know
where it was, 'cors my aunt what died from blood p'ison, after eatin'
tinned lobster, used to work at a corset shop
Yus, barked Ben, emphatically. I know where Wych Street wasit
was just sarth of the river, afore yer come to Waterloo Station.
It was then that the coloured man, who up to that point had taken no
part in the discussion, thought fit to intervene.
Nope. You's all wrong, cap'n. Wych Street were alongside de church,
way over where the Strand takes a side-line up west.
Ben turned on him fiercely.
What the blazes does a blanketty nigger know abaht it? I've told
yer where Wych Street was.
Yus, and I know where it was, interposed Meadows.
Yer both wrong. Wych Street was a turning running from Long Acre
into Wellington Street.
I didn't ask yer what you thought, growled Ben.
Well, I suppose I've a right to an opinion?
You always think you know everything, you do.
You can just keep yer mouth shut.
It 'ud take more'n you to shut it.
Mr. Booth thought it advisable at this juncture to bawl across the
Now, gentlemen, no quarrellingplease.
The affair might have been subsided at that point, but for Mrs.
Dawes. Her emotions over the death of the old lady in the street had
been so stirred that she had been, almost unconsciously, drinking too
much gin. She suddenly screamed out:
Don't you take no lip from 'im, Mr. Medders. The dirty, thieving
devil, 'e always thinks 'e's goin' to come it over every one.
She stood up threateningly, and one of Ben's supporters gave her a
gentle push backwards. In three minutes the bar was in a complete state
of pandemonium. The three members of The Gallows Ring fought two men
and a woman, for Mr. Dawes merely stood in a corner and screamed out:
Mrs. Dawes stabbed the man who had pushed her through the wrist with
a hatpin. Meadows and Ben Orm-ing closed on each other and fought
savagely with the naked fists. A lucky blow early in the encounter sent
Meadows reeling against the wall, with blood streaming down his temple.
Then the coloured man hurled a pewter tankard straight at Ben and it
hit him on the knuckles. The pain maddened him to a frenzy. His other
supporter had immediately got to grips with Harry Jones, and picked up
one of the high stools and, seizing an opportunity, brought it down
crash on to the coloured man's skull.
The whole affair was a matter of minutes. Mr. Booth was bawling out
in the street. A whistle sounded. People were running in all
Beat it! Beat it for God's sake! called the man who had been
stabbed through the wrist. His face was very white, and he was
obviously about to faint.
Ben and the other man, whose name was Toller, dashed to the door. On
the pavement there was a confused scramble. Blows were struck
indiscriminately. Two policemen appeared. One was laid hors de
combat by a kick on the knee-cap from Toller. The two men fled into
the darkness, followed by a hue-and-cry. Born and bred in the locality,
they took every advantage of their knowledge. They tacked through
alleys and raced down dark mews, and clambered over walk. Fortunately
for them, the people they passed, who might have tripped them up or
aided in the pursuit, merely fled indoors. The people in Wapping are
not always on the side of the pursuer. But the police held on. At last
Ben and Toller slipped through the door of an empty house in Aztec
Street barely ten yards ahead of their nearest pursuer. Blows rained on
the door, but they slipped the bolts, and then fell panting to the
floor. When Ben could speak, he said:
If they cop us, it means swinging.
Was the nigger done in?
I think so. But even if 'e wasn't, there was that other affair the
night before last. The game's up.
The ground-floor rooms were shuttered and bolted, but they knew that
the police would probably force the front door. At the back there was
no escape, only a narrow stable yard, where lanterns were already
flashing. The roof only extended thirty yards either way and the police
would probably take possession of it. They made a round of the house,
which was sketchily furnished. There was a loaf, a small piece of
mutton, and a bottle of pickles, andthe most precious
possessionthree bottles of whisky. Each man drank half a glass of
neat whisky; then Ben said: Well be able to keep 'em quiet for a bit,
anyway, and he went and fetched an old twelve-bore gun and a case of
cartridges. Toller was opposed to this last desperate resort, but Ben
continued to murmur, It means swinging, anyway.
And thus began the notorious siege of Aztec Street. It lasted three
days and four nights. You may remember that, on forcing a panel of the
front door, Sub-Inspector Wraithe, of the V Division, was shot through
the chest. The police then tried other methods. A hose was brought into
play without effect. Two policemen were killed and four wounded. The
military was requisitioned. The street was picketed. Snipers occupied
windows of the houses opposite. A distinguished member of the Cabinet
drove down in a motorcar, and directed operations in a top-hat. It was
the introduction of poison-gas which was the ultimate cause of the
downfall of the citadel. The body of Ben Orming was never found, but
that of Toller was discovered near the front door with a bullet through
his heart. The medical officer to the Court pronounced that the man had
been dead three days, but whether killed by a chance bullet from a
sniper or whether killed deliberately by his fellow-criminal was never
revealed. For when the end came Orming had apparently planned a final
act of venom. It was known that in the basement a considerable quantity
of petrol had been stored. The contents had probably been carefully
distributed over the most inflammable materials in the top rooms. The
fire broke out, as one witness described it, almost like an
explosion. Orming must have perished in this. The roof blazed up, and
the sparks carried across the yard and started a stack of light timber
in the annexe of Messrs. Morrel's piano-factory. The factory and two
blocks of tenement buildings were burnt to the ground. The estimated
cost of the destruction was one hundred and eighty thousand pounds. The
casualties amounted to seven killed and fifteen wounded.
At the inquiry held under Chief Justice Pengammon various odd
interesting facts were revealed. Mr. Lowes-Parlby, the brilliant young
K.C., distinguished himself by his searching cross-examination of many
witnesses. At one point a certain Mrs. Dawes was put in the box.
Now, said Mr. Lowes-Parlby, I understand that on the evening in
question, Mrs. Dawes, you, and the victims, and these other people who
have been mentioned, were all seated in the public bar of the Wagtail,
enjoying its no doubt excellent hospitality and indulging in a friendly
discussion. Is that so?
Now, will you tell his lordship what you were discussing?
Diseases! And did the argument become acrimonious?
Was there a serious dispute about diseases?
Well, what was the subject of the dispute?
We was arguin' as to where Wych Street was, sir.
What's that? said his lordship.
The witness states, my lord, that they were arguing as to where
Wych Street was.
Wych Street? Do you mean W-Y-C-H?
You mean the narrow old street that used to run across the site of
what is now the Gaiety Theatre?
Mr. Lowes-Parlby smiled in his most charming manner.
Yes, my lord, I believe the witness refers to the same street you
mention, though, if I may be allowed to qualify your lordship's
description of the locality, may I suggest that it was a little further
eastat the side of the old Globe Theatre, which was adjacent to St.
Martin's in the Strand? That is the street you were all arguing about,
isn't it, Mrs. Dawes?
Well, sir, my aunt who died from eating tinned lobster used to work
at a corset-shop. I ought to know.
His lordship ignored the witness. He turned to the counsel rather
Mr. Lowes-Parlby, when I was your age I used to pass through Wych
Street every day of my life. I did so for nearly twelve years. I think
it hardly necessary for you to contradict me.
The counsel bowed. It was not his place to dispute with a chief
justice, although that chief justice be a hopeless old fool; but
another eminent K.C., an elderly man with a tawny beard, rose in the
body of the court, and said:
If I may be allowed to interpose, your lordship, I also spent a
great deal of my youth passing through Wych Street. I have gone into
the matter, comparing past and present ordnance survey maps. If I am
not mistaken, the street the witness was referring to began near the
hoarding at the entrance to Kingsway and ended at the back of what is
now the Aldwych Theatre. Oh, no, Mr. Backer! exclaimed Lowes-Parlby.
His lordship removed his glasses and snapped out: The matter is
entirely irrelevant to the case. It certainly was, but the brief
passage-of-arms left an unpleasant tang of bitterness behind. It was
observed that Mr. Lowes-Parlby never again quite got the prehensile
grip upon his cross-examination that he had shown in his treatment of
the earlier witnesses. The coloured man, Harry Jones, had died in
hospital, but Mr. Booth, the proprietor of the Wagtail, Baldwin
Meadows, Mr. Dawes, and the man who was stabbed in the wrist, all gave
evidence of a rather nugatory character. Lowes-Parlby could do nothing
with it. The findings of this Special Inquiry do not concern us. It is
sufficient to say that the witnesses already mentioned all returned to
Wapping. The man who had received the thrust of a hatpin through his
wrist did not think it advisable to take any action against Mrs. Dawes.
He was pleasantly relieved to find that he was only required as a
witness of an abortive discussion.
In a few weeks' time the great Aztec Street siege remained only a
romantic memory to the majority of Londoners. To Lowes-Parlby the
little dispute with Chief Justice Pengammon rankled unreasonably. It is
annoying to be publicly snubbed for making a statement which you know
to be absolutely true, and which you have even taken pains to verify.
And Lowes-Parlby was a young man accustomed to score. He made a point
of looking everything up, of being prepared for an adversary
thoroughly. He liked to give the appearance of knowing everything. The
brilliant career just ahead of him at times dazzled him. He was one of
the darlings of the gods. Everything came to Lowes-Parlby. His father
had distinguished himself at the bar before him, and had amassed a
modest fortune. He was an only son. At Oxford he had carried off every
possible degree. He was already being spoken of for very high political
honours. But the most sparkling jewel in the crown of his successes was
Lady Adela Charters, the daughter of Lord Vermeer, the Minister for
Foreign Affairs. She was his fiancée, and it was considered the
most brilliant match of the season. She was young and almost pretty,
and Lord Vermeer was immensely wealthy and one of the most influential
men in Great Britain. Such a combination was irresistible. There seemed
to be nothing missing in the life of Francis Lowes-Parlby, K.C.
One of the most regular and absorbed spectators at the Aztec Street
inquiry was old Stephen Garrit. Stephen Garrit held a unique but quite
inconspicuous position in the legal world at that time. He was a friend
of judges, a specialist at various abstruse legal rulings, a man of
remarkable memory, and yetan amateur. He had never taken sick, never
eaten the requisite dinners, never passed an examination in his life;
but the law of evidence was meat and drink to him. He passed his life
in the Temple, where he had chambers. Some of the most eminent counsel
in the world would take his opinion, or come to him for advice. He was
very old, very silent, and very absorbed. He attended every meeting of
the Aztec Street inquiry, but from beginning to end he never
volunteered an opinion.
After the inquiry was over he went and visited an old friend at the
London Survey Office. He spent two mornings examining maps. After that
he spent two mornings pottering about the Strand, Kingsway, and
Aldwych; then he worked out some careful calculations on a ruled chart.
He entered the particulars in a little book which he kept for purposes
of that kind, and then retired to his chambers to study other matters.
But before doing so, he entered a little apophthegm in another book. It
was apparently a book in which he intended to compile a summary of his
legal experiences. The sentence ran:
The basic trouble is that people make statements without sufficient
Old Stephen need not have appeared in this story at all, except for
the fact that he was present at the dinner at Lord Vermeer's, where a
rather deplorable incident occurred.
And you must acknowledge that in the circumstances it is useful to
have such a valuable and efficient witness.
Lord Vermeer was a competent, forceful man, a little quick-tempered
and autocratic. He came from Lancashire, and before entering politics
had made an enormous fortune out of borax, artificial manure, and
It was a small dinner-party, with a motive behind it. His principal
guest was Mr. Sandeman, the London agent of the Ameer of Bakkan. Lord
Vermeer was very anxious to impress Mr. Sandeman and to be very
friendly with him: the reasons will appear later. Mr. Sandeman was a
self-confessed cosmopolitan. He spoke seven languages and professed to
be equally at home in any capital in Europe. London had been his
headquarters for over twenty years. Lord Vermeer also invited Mr.
Arthur Toombs, a colleague in the Cabinet, his prospective son-in-law,
Lowes-Parlby, K.C., James Trolley, a very tame Socialist M.P., and Sir
Henry and Lady Breyd, the two latter being invited, not because Sir
Henry was of any use, but because Lady Breyd was a pretty and brilliant
woman who might amuse his principal guest. The sixth guest was Stephen
The dinner was a great success. When the succession of courses
eventually came to a stop, and the ladies had retired, Lord Vermeer
conducted his male guests into another room for a ten minutes' smoke
before rejoining them. It was then that the unfortunate incident
occurred. There was no love lost between Lowes-Parlby and Mr. Sandeman.
It is difficult to ascribe the real reason of their mutual animosity,
but on the several occasions when they had met there had invariably
passed a certain sardonic by-play. They were both clever, both
comparatively young, each a little suspect and jealous of the other;
moreover, it was said in some quarters that Mr. Sandeman had had
intentions himself with regard to Lord Vermeer's daughter, that he had
been on the point of a proposal when Lowes-Parlby had butted in and
forestalled him. Mr. Sandeman had dined well, and he was in the mood to
dazzle with a display of his varied knowledge and experiences. The
conversation drifted from a discussion of the rival claims of great
cities to the slow, inevitable removal of old landmarks. There had been
a slightly acrimonious disagreement between Lowes-Parlby and Mr.
Sandeman as to the claims of Budapest and Lisbon, and Mr. Sandeman had
scored because he extracted from his rival a confession that, though he
had spent two months in Budapest, he had only spent two days in Lisbon.
Mr. Sandeman had lived for four years in either city. Lowes-Parlby
changed the subject abruptly.
Talking of landmarks, he said, we had a queer point arise in that
Aztec Street inquiry. The original dispute arose owing to a discussion
between a crowd of people in a pub as to where Wych Street was.
I remember, said Lord Vermeer. A perfectly absurd discussion.
Why, I should have thought that any man over forty would remember
exactly where it was.
Where would you say it was, sir? asked Lowes-Parlby.
Why to be sure, it ran from the corner of Chancery Lane and ended
at the second turning after the Law Courts, going west.
Lowes-Parlby was about to reply, when Mr. Sandeman cleared his
throat and said, in his supercilious, oily voice:
Excuse me, my lord. I know my Paris, and Vienna, and Lisbon, every
brick and stone, but I look upon London as my home. I know my London
even better. I have a perfectly clear recollection of Wych Street. When
I was a student I used to visit there to buy books. It ran parallel to
New Oxford Street on the south side, just between it and Lincoln's Inn
There was something about this assertion that infuriated
Lowes-Parlby. In the first place, it was so hopelessly wrong and so
insufferably asserted. In the second place, he was already smarting
under the indignity of being shown up about Lisbon. And then there
suddenly flashed through his mind the wretched incident when he had
been publicly snubbed by Justice Pengammon about the very same point;
and he knew that he was right each time. Damn Wych Street! He turned on
Oh, nonsense! You may know something about theseeastern cities;
you certainly know nothing about London if you make a statement like
that. Wych Street was a little further east of what is now the Gaiety
Theatre. It used to run by the side of the old Globe Theatre, parallel
to the Strand.
The dark moustache of Mr. Sandeman shot upwards, revealing a narrow
line of yellow teeth. He uttered a sound that was a mingling of
contempt and derision; then he drawled out:
Really? How wonderfulto have such comprehensive knowledge!
He laughed, and his small eyes fixed his rival. Lowes-Parlby flushed
a deep red. He gulped down half a glass of port and muttered just above
a whisper: Damned impudence! Then, in the rudest manner he could
display, he turned his back deliberately on Sandeman and walked out of
In the company of Adela he tried to forget the little contretemps.
The whole thing was so absurdso utterly undignified. As though he
didn't know! It was the little accumulation of pin-pricks all arising
out of that one argument. The result had suddenly goaded him towell,
being rude, to say the least of it. It wasn't that Sandeman mattered.
To the devil with Sandeman! But what would his future father-in-law
think? He had never before given way to any show of ill-temper before
him. He forced himself into a mood of rather fatuous jocularity. Adela
was at her best in those moods. They would have lots of fun together in
the days to come. Her almost pretty, not too clever face was dimpled
with kittenish glee. Life was a tremendous rag to her. They were
expecting Toccata, the famous opera-singer. She had been engaged at a
very high fee to come on from Covent Garden. Mr. Sandeman was very fond
of music. Adela was laughing, and discussing which was the most
honourable position for the great Sandeman to occupy. There came to
Lowes-Parlby a sudden abrupt misgiving. What sort of wife would this be
to him when they were not just fooling? He immediately dismissed the
curious, furtive little stab of doubt. The splendid proportions of the
room calmed his senses. A huge bowl of dark red roses quickened his
perceptions. His career.... The door opened. But it was not La Toccata.
It was one of the household flunkies. Lowes-Parlby turned again to his
Excuse me, sir. His lordship says will you kindly go and see him in
Lowes-Parlby regarded the messenger, and his heart beat quickly. An
uncontrollable presage of evil racked his nerve-centres. Something had
gone wrong; and yet the whole thing was so absurd, trivial. In a
crisiswell, he could always apologize. He smiled confidently at
Adela, and said:
Why, of course; with pleasure. Please excuse me, dear.
He followed the impressive servant out of the room. His foot had
barely touched the carpet of the library when he realized that his
worst apprehensions were to be plumbed to the depths. For a moment he
thought Lord Vermeer was alone, then he observed old Stephen Garrit,
lying in an easy-chair in the corner like a piece of crumpled
parchment. Lord Vermeer did not beat about the bush. When the door was
closed, he bawled out, savagely:
What the devil have you done?
Excuse me, sir. I'm afraid I don't understand. Is it Sandeman?
Sandeman has gone.
Oh, I'm sorry.
Sorry! By God, I should think you might be sorry! You insulted him.
My prospective son-in-law insulted him in my own house!
I'm awfully sorry. I didn't realize
Realize! Sit down, and don't assume for one moment that you
continue to be my prospective son-in-law. Your insult was a most
intolerable piece of effrontery, not only to him, but to me.
Listen to me. Do you know that the government were on the verge of
concluding a most far-reaching treaty with that man? Do you know that
the position was just touch-and-go? The concessions we were prepared to
make would have cost the State thirty million pounds, and it would have
been cheap. Do you hear that? It would have been cheap! Bakkan is one
of the most vulnerable outposts of the Empire. It is a terrible
danger-zone. If certain powers can usurp our authorityand, mark you,
the whole blamed place is already riddled with this new pernicious
doctrineyou know what I meanbefore we know where we are the whole
East will be in a blaze. India! My God! This contract we were
negotiating would have countered this outward thrust. And you, you
blockhead, you come here and insult the man upon whose word the whole
I really can't see, sir, how I should know all this.
You can't see it! But, you fool, you seemed to go out of your way.
You insulted him about the merest quibblein my house!
He said he knew where Wych Street was. He was quite wrong. I
Wych Street! Wych Street be damned! If he said Wych Street was in
the moon, you should have agreed with him. There was no call to act in
the way you did. And youyou think of going into politics!
The somewhat cynical inference of this remark went unnoticed.
Lowes-Parlby was too unnerved. He mumbled:
I'm very sorry.
I don't want your sorrow. I want something more practical.
What's that, sir?
You will drive straight to Mr. Sandeman's, find him, and apologize.
Tell him you find that he was right about Wych Street after all. If you
can't find him to-night, you must find him to-morrow morning. I give
you till midday to-morrow. If by that time you have not offered a
handsome apology to Mr. Sandeman, you do not enter this house again,
you do not see my daughter again. Moreover, all the power I possess
will be devoted to hounding you out of that profession you have
dishonoured. Now you can go.
Dazed and shaken, Lowes-Parlby drove back to his flat at
Knightsbridge. Before acting he must have time to think. Lord Vermeer
had given him till to-morrow midday. Any apologizing that was done
should be done after a night's reflection. The fundamental purposes of
his being were to be tested. He knew that. He was at a great crossing.
Some deep instinct within him was grossly outraged. Is it that a point
comes when success demands that a man shall sell his soul? It was all
so absurdly triviala mere argument about the position of a street
that had ceased to exist. As Lord Vermeer said, what did it matter
about Wych Street?
Of course he should apologize. It would hurt horribly to do so, but
would a man sacrifice everything on account of some footling argument
about a street?
In his own rooms, Lowes-Parlby put on a dressing-gown, and, lighting
a pipe, he sat before the fire. He would have given anything for
companionship at such a momentthe right companionship. How lovely it
would be to havea woman, just the right woman, to talk this all over
with; some one who understood and sympathized. A sudden vision came to
him of Adela's face grinning about the prospective visit of La Toccata,
and again the low voice of misgiving whispered in his ears. Would Adela
bejust the right woman? In very truth, did he really love Adela? Or
was it alla rag? Was life a raga game played by lawyers,
politicians, and people?
The fire burned low, but still he continued to sit thinking, his
mind principally occupied with the dazzling visions of the future. It
was past midnight when he suddenly muttered a low Damn! and walked to
the bureau. He took up a pen and wrote:
Dear Mr. Sandeman,I must apologize for acting so rudely
to you last night. It was quite unpardonable of me,
especially as I since find, on going into the matter, that
you were quite right about the position of Wych Street. I
can't think how I made the mistake. Please forgive me. Yours
Having written this, he sighed and went to bed. One might have
imagined at that point that the matter was finished. But there are
certain little greedy demons of conscience that require a lot of
stilling, and they kept Lowes-Parlby awake more than half the night. He
kept on repeating to himself, It's all positively absurd! But the
little greedy demons pranced around the bed, and they began to group
things into two definite issues. On the one side, the great
appearances; on the other, something at the back of it all, something
deep, fundamental, something that could only be expressed by one
wordtruth. If he had really loved Adelaif he weren't so
absolutely certain that Sandeman was wrong and he was rightwhy should
he have to say that Wych Street was where it wasn't? Isn't there,
after all, said one of the little demons, something which makes for
greater happiness than success? Confess this, and we'll let you sleep.
Perhaps that is one of the most potent weapons the little demons
possess. However full our lives may be, we ever long for moments of
tranquillity. And conscience holds before our eyes some mirror of an
ultimate tranquillity. Lowes-Parlby was certainly not himself. The gay,
debonair, and brilliant egoist was tortured, and tortured almost beyond
control; and it had all apparently risen through the ridiculous
discussion about a street. At a quarter past three in the morning he
arose from his bed with a groan, and, going into the other room, he
tore the letter to Mr. Sandeman to pieces.
Three weeks later old Stephen Garrit was lunching with the Lord
Chief Justice. They were old friends, and they never found it incumbent
to be very conversational. The lunch was an excellent, but frugal,
meal. They both ate slowly and thoughtfully, and their drink was water.
It was not till they reached the dessert stage that his lordship
indulged in any very informative comment, and then he recounted to
Stephen the details of a recent case in which he considered that the
presiding judge had, by an unprecedented paralogy, misinterpreted the
law of evidence. Stephen listened with absorbed attention. He took two
cob-nuts from the silver dish, and turned them over meditatively,
without cracking them. When his lordship had completely stated his
opinion and peeled a pear, Stephen mumbled:
I have been impressed, very impressed indeed. Even in my own field
oflimited observationthe opinion of an outsider, you may sayso
often it happensthe trouble caused by an affirmation without
sufficiently established data. I have seen lives lost, ruin brought
about, endless suffering. Only last week, a young mana brilliant
careeralmost shattered. People make statements without
He put the nuts back on the dish, and then, in an apparently
irrelevant manner, he said abruptly:
Do you remember Wych Street, my lord?
The Lord Chief Justice grunted.
Wych Street! Of course I do.
Where would you say it was, my lord?
Why, here, of course.
His lordship took a pencil from his pocket and sketched a plan on
It used to run from there to here.
Stephen adjusted his glasses and carefully examined the plan. He
took a long time to do this, and when he had finished his hand
instinctively went towards a breast pocket where he kept a note-book
with little squared pages. Then he stopped and sighed. After all, why
argue with the law? The law was like thatan excellent thing, not
infallible, of course (even the plan of the Lord Chief Justice was a
quarter of a mile out), but still an excellent, a wonderful thing. He
examined the bony knuckles of his hands and yawned slightly.
Do you remember it? said the Lord Chief Justice.
Stephen nodded sagely, and his voice seemed to come from a long way
Yes, I remember it, my lord. It was a melancholy little street.
THE OLIVE, by Algernon Blackwood
(From Pearson's Magazine, London)
Copyright, 1922, by Algernon Blackwood. Reprinted by
permission of the author and of A. P. Watt and Son.
He laughed involuntarily as the olive rolled towards his chair
across the shiny parquet floor of the hotel dining-room.
His table in the cavernous salle à manger was apart: he sat
alone, a solitary guest; the table from which the olive fell and rolled
towards him was some distance away. The angle, however, made him an
unlikely objective. Yet the lob-sided, juicy thing, after hesitating
once or twice en route as it plopped along, came to rest finally
against his feet.
It settled with an inviting, almost an aggressive air. And he
stooped and picked it up, putting it rather self-consciously, because
of the girl from whose table it had come, on the white tablecloth
beside his plate.
Then, looking up, he caught her eye, and saw that she too was
laughing, though not a bit self-consciously. As she helped herself to
the hors d'oeuvres a false move had sent it flying. She watched
him pick the olive up and set it beside his plate. Her eyes then
suddenly looked away againat her motherquestioningly.
The incident was closed. But the little oblong, succulent olive lay
beside his plate, so that his fingers played with it. He fingered it
automatically from time to time until his lonely meal was finished.
When no one was looking he slipped it into his pocket, as though,
having taken the trouble to pick it up, this was the very least he
could do with it. Heaven alone knows why, but he then took it upstairs
with him, setting it on the marble mantelpiece among his field glasses,
tobacco tins, ink-bottles, pipes and candlestick. At any rate, he kept
itthe moist, shiny, lob-sided, juicy little oblong olive. The hotel
lounge wearied him; he came to his room after dinner to smoke at his
ease, his coat off and his feet on a chair; to read another chapter of
Freud, to write a letter or two he didn't in the least want to write,
and then go to bed at ten o'clock. But this evening the olive kept
rolling between him and the thing he read; it rolled between the
paragraphs, between the lines; the olive was more vital than the
interest of these eternal complexes and suppressed desires.
The truth was that he kept seeing the eyes of the laughing girl
beyond the bouncing olive. She had smiled at him in such a natural,
spontaneous, friendly way before her mother's glance had checked hera
smile, he felt, that might lead to acquaintance on the morrow.
He wondered! A thrill of possible adventure ran through him.
She was a merry-looking sort of girl, with a happy, half-roguish
face that seemed on the lookout for somebody to play with. Her mother,
like most of the people in the big hotel, was an invalid; the girl, a
dutiful and patient daughter. They had arrived that very day
A laugh is a revealing thing, he thought as he fell asleep to dream
of a lob-sided olive rolling consciously towards him, and of a girl's
eyes that watched its awkward movements, then looked up into his own
and laughed. In his dream the olive had been deliberately and cleverly
dispatched upon its uncertain journey. It was a message.
He did not know, of course, that the mother, chiding her daughter's
awkwardness, had muttered:
There you are again, child! True to your name, you never see an
olive without doing something queer and odd with it!
A youngish man, whose knowledge of chemistry, including invisible
inks and such-like mysteries, had proved so valuable to the Censor's
Department that for five years he had overworked without a holiday, the
Italian Riviera had attracted him, and he had come out for a two
months' rest. It was his first visit. Sun, mimosa, blue seas and
brilliant skies had tempted him; exchange made a pound worth forty,
fifty, sixty and seventy shillings. He found the place lovely, but
Having chosen at random, he had come to a spot where the
companionship he hoped to find did not exist. The place languished
after the war, slow to recover; the colony of resident English was
scattered still; travellers preferred the coast of France with Mentone
and Monte Carlo to enliven them. The country, moreover, was distracted
by strikes. The electric light failed one week, letters the next, and
as soon as the electricians and postal-workers resumed, the railways
stopped running. Few visitors came, and the few who came soon left.
He stayed on, however, caught by the sunshine and the good exchange,
also without the physical energy to discover a better, livelier place.
He went for walks among the olive groves, he sat beside the sea and
palms, he visited shops and bought things he did not want because the
exchange made them seem cheap, he paid immense extras in his weekly
bill, then chuckled as he reduced them to shillings and found that a
few pence covered them; he lay with a book for hours among the olive
The olive groves! His daily life could not escape the olive groves;
to olive groves, sooner or later, his walks, his expeditions, his
meanderings by the sea, his shoppingall led him to these ubiquitous
If he bought a picture postcard to send home, there was sure to be
an olive grove in one corner of it. The whole place was smothered with
olive groves, the people owed their incomes and existence to these
irrepressible trees. The villages among the hills swam roof-deep in
them. They swarmed even in the hotel gardens.
The guide books praised them as persistently as the residents
brought them, sooner or later, into every conversation. They grew
lyrical over them:
And how do you like our olive trees? Ah, you think them pretty. At
first, most people are disappointed. They grow on one.
They do, he agreed.
I'm glad you appreciate them. I find them the embodiment of grace.
And when the wind lifts the under-leaves across a whole mountain
slopewhy, it's wonderful, isn't it? One realises the meaning of
One does, he sighed. But all the same I should like to get one to
eatan olive, I mean.
Ah, to eat, yes. That's not so easy. You see, the crop is
Exactly, he interrupted impatiently, weary of the habitual and
evasive explanations. But I should like to taste the fruit. I
should like to enjoy one.
For, after a stay of six weeks, he had never once seen an olive on
the table, in the shops, nor even on the street barrows at the market
place. He had never tasted one. No one sold olives, though olive trees
were a drug in the place; no one bought them, no one asked for them; it
seemed that no one wanted them. The trees, when he looked closely, were
thick with a dark little berry that seemed more like a sour sloe than
the succulent, delicious spicy fruit associated with its name.
Men climbed the trunks, everywhere shaking the laden branches and
hitting them with long bamboo poles to knock the fruit off, while women
and children, squatting on their haunches, spent laborious hours
filling baskets underneath, then loading mules and donkeys with their
daily catch. But an olive to eat was unobtainable. He had never cared
for olives, but now he craved with all his soul to feel his teeth in
Ach! But it is the Spanish olive that you eat explained the head
waiter, a German from Basel. These are for oil only. After which he
disliked the olive more than everuntil that night when he saw the
first eatable specimen rolling across the shiny parquet floor,
propelled towards him by the careless hand of a pretty girl, who then
looked up into his eyes and smiled.
He was convinced that Eve, similarly, had rolled the apple towards
Adam across the emerald sward of the first garden in the world.
He slept usually like the dead. It must have been something very
real that made him open his eyes and sit up in bed alertly. There was a
noise against his door. He listened. The room was still quite dark. It
was early morning. The noise was not repeated.
Who's there? he asked in a sleepy whisper. What is it?
The noise came again. Some one was scratching on the door. No, it
was somebody tapping.
What do you want? he demanded in a louder voice. Come in, he
added, wondering sleepily whether he was presentable. Either the hotel
was on fire or the porter was waking the wrong person for some sunrise
Nothing happened. Wide awake now, he turned the switch on, but no
light flooded the room. The electricians, he remembered with a curse,
were out on strike. He fumbled for the matches, and as he did so a
voice in the corridor became distinctly audible. It was just outside
Aren't you ready? he heard. You sleep for ever.
And the voice, although never having heard it before, he could not
have recognised it, belonged, he knew suddenly, to the girl who had let
the olive fall. In an instant he was out of bed. He lit a candle.
I'm coming, he called softly, as he slipped rapidly into some
clothes. I'm sorry I've kept you. I shan't be a minute.
Be quick then! he heard, while the candle flame slowly grew, and
he found his garments. Less than three minutes later he opened the door
and, candle in hand, peered into the dark passage.
Blow it out! came a peremptory whisper. He obeyed, but not quick
enough. A pair of red lips emerged from the shadows. There was a puff,
and the candle was extinguished. I've got my reputation to consider.
We mustn't be seen, of course!
The face vanished in the darkness, but he had recognised itthe
shining skin, the bright glancing eyes. The sweet breath touched his
cheek. The candlestick was taken from him by a swift, deft movement. He
heard it knock the wainscoting as it was set down. He went out into a
pitch-black corridor, where a soft hand seized his own and led himby
a back door, it seemedout into the open air of the hill-side
immediately behind the hotel.
He saw the stars. The morning was cool and fragrant, the sharp air
waked him, and the last vestiges of sleep went flying. He had been
drowsy and confused, had obeyed the summons without thinking. He now
realised suddenly that he was engaged in an act of madness.
The girl, dressed in some flimsy material thrown loosely about her
head and body, stood a few feet away, looking, he thought, like some
figure called out of dreams and slumber of a forgotten world, out of
legend almost. He saw her evening shoes peep out; he divined an evening
dress beneath the gauzy covering. The light wind blew it close against
her figure. He thought of a nymph.
I saybut haven't you been to bed? he asked stupidly.
He had meant to expostulate, to apologise for his foolish rashness,
to scold and say they must go back at once. Instead, this sentence
came. He guessed she had been sitting up all night. He stood still a
second, staring in mute admiration, his eyes full of bewildered
Watching the stars, she met his thought with a happy laugh. Orion
has touched the horizon. I came for you at once. We've got just four
hours! The voice, the smile, the eyes, the reference to Orion, swept
him off his feet. Something in him broke loose, and flew wildly,
recklessly to the stars.
Let us be off! he cried, before the Bear tilts down. Already
Alcyone begins to fade. I'm ready. Come!
She laughed. The wind blew the gauze aside to show two ivory white
limbs. She caught his hand again, and they scampered together up the
steep hill-side towards the woods. Soon the big hotel, the villas, the
white houses of the little town where natives and visitors still lay
soundly sleeping, were out of sight. The farther sky came down to meet
them. The stars were paling, but no sign of actual dawn was yet
visible. The freshness stung their cheeks.
Slowly, the heavens grew lighter, the east turned rose, the outline
of the trees defined themselves, there was a stirring of the silvery
green leaves. They were among olive grovesbut the spirits of the
trees were dancing. Far below them, a pool of deep colour, they saw the
ancient sea. They saw the tiny specks of distant fishing-boats. The
sailors were singing to the dawn, and birds among the mimosa of the
hanging gardens answered them.
Pausing a moment at length beneath a gaunt old tree, whose struggle
to leave the clinging earth had tortured its great writhing arms and
trunk, they took their breath, gazing at one another with eyes full of
You understood so quickly, said the girl, my little message. I
knew by your eyes and ears you would. And she first tweaked his ears
with two slender fingers mischievously, then laid her soft palm with a
momentary light pressure on both eyes.
You're half-and-half, at any rate, she added, looking him up and
down for a swift instant of appraisement, if you're not altogether.
The laughter showed her white, even little teeth.
You know how to play, and that's something, she added. Then, as if
to herself, You'll be altogether before I've done with you.
Shall I? he stammered, afraid to look at her.
Puzzled, some spirit of compromise still lingering in him, he knew
not what she meant; he knew only that the current of life flowed
increasingly through his veins, but that her eyes confused him.
I'm longing for it, he added. How wonderfully you did it! They
roll so awkwardly
Oh, that! She peered at him through a wisp of hair. You've kept
it, I hope.
Rather. It's on my mantelpiece
You're sure you haven't eaten it? and she made a delicious mimicry
with her red lips, so that he saw the tip of a small pointed tongue.
I shall keep it, he swore, as long as these arms have life in
them, and he seized her just as she was crouching to escape, and
covered her with kisses.
I knew you longed to play, she panted, when he released her.
Still, it was sweet of you to pick it up before another got it.
Another! he exclaimed.
The gods decide. It's a lob-sided thing, remember. It can't roll
straight. She looked oddly mischievous, elusive.
He stared at her.
If it had rolled elsewhereand another had picked it up? he
I should be with that other now! And this time she was off and
away before he could prevent her, and the sound of her silvery laughter
mocked him among the olive trees beyond. He was up and after her in a
second, following her slim whiteness in and out of the old-world grove,
as she flitted lightly, her hair flying in the wind, her figure
flashing like a ray of sunlight or the race of foaming watertill at
last he caught her and drew her down upon his knees, and kissed her
wildly, forgetting who and where and what he was.
Hark! she whispered breathlessly, one arm close about his neck. I
hear their footsteps. Listen! It is the pipe!
The pipe! he repeated, conscious of a tiny but delicious
For a sudden chill ran through him as she said it. He gazed at her.
The hair fell loose about her cheeks, flushed and rosy with his hot
kisses. Her eyes were bright and wild for all their softness. Her face,
turned sideways to him as she listened, wore an extraordinary look that
for an instant made his blood run cold. He saw the parted lips, the
small white teeth, the slim neck of ivory, the young bosom panting from
his tempestuous embrace. Of an unearthly loveliness and brightness she
seemed to him, yet with this strange, remote expression that touched
his soul with sudden terror.
Her face turned slowly.
Who are you? he whispered. He sprang to his feet without
waiting for her answer.
He was young and agile; strong, too, with that quick response of
muscle they have who keep their bodies well; but he was no match for
her. Her speed and agility outclassed his own with ease. She leapt.
Before he had moved one leg forward towards escape, she was clinging
with soft, supple arms and limbs about him, so that he could not free
himself, and as her weight bore him downwards to the ground, her lips
found his own and kissed them into silence. She lay buried again in his
embrace, her hair across his eyes, her heart against his heart, and he
forgot his question, forgot his little fear, forgot the very world he
They come, they come, she cried gaily. The Daws is here. Are you
I've been ready for five thousand years, he answered, leaping to
his feet beside her.
Altogether! came upon a sparkling laugh that was like wind among
the olive leaves.
Shaking her last gauzy covering from her, she snatched his hand, and
they ran forward together to join the dancing throng now crowding up
the slope beneath the trees. Their happy singing filled the sky. Decked
with vine and ivy, and trailing silvery green branches, they poured in
a flood of radiant life along the mountain side. Slowly they melted
away into the blue distance of the breaking dawn, and, as the last
figure disappeared, the sun came up slowly out of a purple sea.
They came to the place he knewthe deserted earthquake villageand
a faint memory stirred in him. He did not actually recall that he had
visited it already, had eaten his sandwiches with hotel friends
beneath its crumbling walls; but there was a dim troubling sense of
familiaritynothing more. The houses still stood, but pigeons lived in
them, and weasels, stoats and snakes had their uncertain homes in
ancient bedrooms. Not twenty years ago the peasants thronged its narrow
streets, through which the dawn now peered and cool wind breathed among
I know the house, she cried, the house where we would live! and
raced, a flying form of air and sunlight, into a tumbled cottage that
had no roof, no floor or windows. Wild bees had hung a nest against the
He followed her. There was sunlight in the room, and there were
flowers. Upon a rude, simple table lay a bowl of cream, with eggs and
honey and butter close against a home-made loaf. They sank into each
other's arms upon a couch of fragrant grass and boughs against the
window where wild roses bloomed... and the bees flew in and out.
It was Bussana, the so-called earthquake village, because a sudden
earthquake had fallen on it one summer morning when all the inhabitants
were at church. The crashing roof killed sixty, the tumbling walls
another hundred, and the rest had left it where it stood.
The Church, he said, vaguely remembering the story. They were at
The girl laughed carelessly in his ear, setting his blood in a rush
and quiver of delicious joy. He felt himself untamed, wild as the wind
and animals. The true God claimed His own, she whispered. He came
back. Ah, they were not readythe old priests had seen to that. But he
came. They heard his music. Then his tread shook the olive groves, the
old ground danced, the hills leapt for joy
And the houses crumbled, he laughed as he pressed her closer to
And now we've come back! she cried merrily. We've come back to
worship and be glad! She nestled into him, while the sun rose higher.
I hear themhark! she cried, and again leapt, dancing from his
side. Again he followed her like wind. Through the broken window they
saw the naked fauns and nymphs and satyrs rolling, dancing, shaking
their soft hoofs amid the ferns and brambles. Towards the appalling,
ruptured church they sped with feet of light and air. A roar of happy
song and laughter rose.
Come! he cried. We must go too.
Hand in hand they raced to join the tumbling, dancing throng. She
was in his arms and on his back and flung across his shoulders, as he
ran. They reached the broken building, its whole roof gone sliding
years ago, its walls a-tremble still, its shattered shrines alive with
Hush! she whispered in a tone of awe, yet pleasure. He is there!
She pointed, her bare arm outstretched above the bending heads.
There, in the empty space, where once stood sacred Host and Cup, he
sat, filling the niche sublimely and with awful power. His shaggy form,
benign yet terrible, rose through the broken stone. The great eyes
shone and smiled. The feet were lost in brambles.
God! cried a wild, frightened voice yet with deep worship in
itand the old familiar panic came with portentous swiftness. The
great Figure rose.
The birds flew screaming, the animals sought holes, the worshippers,
laughing and glad a moment ago, rushed tumbling over one another for
He goes again! Who called? Who called like that? His feet shake the
It is the earthquake! screamed a woman's shrill accents in ghastly
Kiss meone kiss before we forget again...! sighed a laughing,
passionate voice against his ear. Once more your arms, your heart
beating on my lips...! You recognised his power. You are now
altogether! We shall remember!
But he woke, with the heavy bed-clothes stuffed against his mouth
and the wind of early morning sighing mournfully about the hotel walls.
Have they left againthose ladies? he inquired casually of the
head waiter, pointing to the table. They were here last night at
Who do you mean? replied the man, stupidly, gazing at the spot
indicated with a face quite blank. Last nightat dinner? He tried to
An English lady, elderly, withher daughter at which moment
precisely the girl came in alone. Lunch was over, the room empty.
There was a second's difficult pause. It seemed ridiculous not to
speak. Their eyes met. The girl blushed furiously.
He was very quick for an Englishman. I was allowing myself to ask
after your mother, he began. I was afraidhe glanced at the table
laid for oneshe was not well, perhaps?
Oh, but that's very kind of you, I'm sure. She smiled. He saw the
small white even teeth....
And before three days had passed, he was so deeply in love that he
simply couldn't help himself.
I believe, he said lamely, this is yours. You dropped it, you
know. Ermay I keep it? It's only an olive.
They were, of course, in an olive grove when he asked it, and the
sun was setting.
She looked at him, looked him up and down, looked at his ears, his
eyes. He felt that in another second her little fingers would slip up
and tweak the first, or close the second with a soft pressure
Tell me, he begged: did you dream anythingthat first night I
She took a quick step backwards. No, she said, as he followed her
more quickly still, I don't think I did. But, she went on
breathlessly as he caught her up, I knewfrom the way you picked it
Knew what? he demanded, holding her tightly so that she could not
get away again.
That you were already half and half, but would soon be altogether.
And, as he kissed her, he felt her soft little fingers tweak his
ONCE A HERO, by Harold Brighouse
Copyright, 1922, by Harold Brighouse. Reprinted by
permission of the author.
Standing in a sheltered doorway a tramp, with a slouch hat crammed
low over a notably unwashed face, watched the outside of the new works
canteen of the Sir William Rumbold Ltd., Engineering Company. Perhaps
because they were workers while he was a tramp, he had an air of
compassionate cynicism as the audience assembled and thronged into the
building, which, as prodigally advertised throughout Calderside, was to
be opened that night by Sir William in person.
There being no one to observe him, the tramp could be frank with his
cynicism; but inside the building, in the platform ante-room, Mr.
Edward Fosdike, who was Sir William's locally resident secretary, had
to discipline his private feelings to a suave concurrence in his
employer's florid enthusiasm. Fosdike served Sir William well, but no
man is a hero to his (male) secretary.
I hope you will find the arrangements satisfactory, Fosdike was
saying, tugging nervously at his maltreated moustache. You speak at
seven and declare the canteen open. Then there's a meal. He hesitated.
Perhaps I should have warned you to dine before you came.
Sir William was aware of being a very gallant gentleman. Not at
all, he said heroically, not at all. I have not spared my purse over
this War Memorial. Why should I spare my feelings? Well, now, you've
seen about the Press?
Oh, yes. The reporters are coming. There'll be flashlight
photographs. Everything quite as usual when you make a public
Sir William wondered if this resident secretary of his were quite
adequate. Busy in London, he had left all arrangements in his local
factotum's hands, and he was doubting whether those hands had grasped
the situation competently. Only as usual? he said sharply. This War
Memorial has cost me ten thousand pounds.
The amount, Fosdike hastened to assure him, has been circulated,
with appropriate tribute to your generosity.
Generosity, criticised Rumbold. I hope you didn't use that word.
Mr. Fosdike referred to his notebook. We said, he read, 'the
cost, though amounting to ten thousand pounds, is entirely beside the
point. Sir William felt that no expense was excessive that would result
in a fitting and permanent expression of our gratitude to the glorious
Thank you, Fosdike. That is exactly my feeling, said the gratified
Sir William, paying Fosdike the unspoken compliment of thinking him
less of a fool than he looked. It is, he went on, from no egotistic
motive that I wish the Press to be strongly represented to-night. I
believe that in deciding that Calderside's War Memorial should take the
form of a Works Canteen, I am setting an example of enlightenment which
other employers would do well to follow. I have erected a monument, not
in stone, but in goodwill, a club-house for both sexes to serve as a
centre of social activities for the firm's employees, wherein the great
spirit of the noble work carried out at the Front by by the Y.M.CA.
will be recaptured and adapted to peace conditions in our local
organisation in the Martlow Works Canteen. What are you taking notes
I thought began Fosdike.
Oh, well, perhaps you are right. Reporters have been known to miss
one's point, and a little first aid, eh? By the way, I sent you some
notes from town of what I intended to say in my speech. I just sent
them ahead in case there was any local point I'd got wrong.
He put it as a question, but actually it was an assertion and a
challenge. It asserted that by no possible chance could there be
anything injudicious in the proposed speech, and it challenged Fosdike
to deny that assertion if he dared.
And Fosdike had to dare; he had to accuse himself of assuming too
easily that Rumbold's memory of local Calderside detail was as fresh as
the memory of the man on the spot.
I did want to suggest a modification, sir, he hazarded timidly.
Really?quite below zeroReally? I felt very contented with the
Yes, sir, it's masterly. But on the spot here
Oh, agreed. Quite right, Fosdike. I am speaking tonight to the
worldno; let me guard against exaggeration. The world includes the
Polynesians and EsquimauxI am speaking to the English-speaking races
of the world, but first and foremost to Calderside. My own people. Yes?
You have a little something to suggest? Some happy local allusion?
It's about Martlow, said Fosdike shortly.
Sir William took him up. Ah, now you're talking, he approved.
Yes, indeed, anything you can add to my notes about Martlow will be
most welcome. I have noted much, but too much is not enough for such an
illustrious example of conspicuous gallantry, so noble a life, so great
a deed, and so self-sacrificing an end. Any details you can add about
Timothy Martlow will indeed
Fosdike coughed. Excuse me, sir, that's just the point. If you talk
like that about Martlow down here, they'll laugh at you.
Laugh? gasped Rumbold, his sense of propriety outraged. My dear
Fosdike, what's come to you? I celebrate a hero. Our hero. Why, I'm
calling the Canteen after Martlow when I might have given it my own
name. That speaks volumes. It did.
But Fosdike knew too well what would be the attitude of a Calderside
audience if he allowed his chief to sing in top-notes an unreserved
eulogy of Tim Martlow. Calderside knew Tim, the civilian, if it had
also heard of Tim, the soldier. Don't you remember Martlow, sir?
Before the war, I mean.
No. Ought I to?
Not on the bench?
Martlow? Yes, now I think of the name in connection with the old
days, there was a drunken fellow. To be sure, an awful blackguard,
continually before the bench. Dear me! Well, well, but a man is not
responsible for his undesirable relations, I hope.
No, sir. But that was Martlow. The same man. You really can't speak
to Calderside of his as an ennobling life and a great example. The war
changed him, butwell, in peace, Tim was absolutely the local bad man,
and they all know it. I thought you did, or
Sir William turned a face expressive of awe-struck wonder.
Fosdike, he said with deep sincerity, this is the most amazing thing
I've heard of the war. I never connected Martlow the hero withwell,
well de mortuis. He quoted:
'Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it; he died As one
that had been studied in his death To throw away the dearest thing he
owed As 'twere a careless trifle.'
Appropriate, I think? I shall use that.
It was, at least, a magnificent recovery from an unexpected blow,
administered by the very man whose duty it was to guard Sir William
against just that sort of blow. If Fosdike was not the local watch-dog,
he was nothing; and here was an occasion when the dog had omitted to
bark until the last minute of the eleventh hour.
Very apt quotation, sir, though there have never been any exact
details of Martlow's death.
Sir William meditated. Do you recall the name of the saint who was
a regular rip before he got religion? he asked.
I think that applies to most of them, said Fosdike.
Yes, but the one in particular. Francis. That's it. He filled his
chest. Timothy Martlow, he pronounced impressively, is the St.
Francis of the Great War, and this Canteen is his shrine. Now, I think
I will go into the hall. It is early, but I shall chat with the people.
Oh, one last thought. When you mentioned Martlow, I thought you were
going to tell me of some undesirable connections. There are none?
There is his mother. A widow. You remember the Board voted her an
addition to her pension.
Oh, yes. And she?
Oh, most grateful. She will be with you on the platform. I have
seen myself that she isfittingly attired.
I think I can congratulate you, Fosdike, said Sir William
magnanimously. You've managed very well. I look forward to a pleasant
evening, a widely reported speech, and
Then Dolly Wainwright came into the ante-room.
If you please, sir, she said, what's going to be done about me?
Two gentlemen who had all but reached the smug bathos of a mutual
admiration society turned astonished eyes at the intruder.
She wore a tarn, and a check blanket coat, which she unbuttoned as
they watched her. Beneath it, suitable to the occasion, was a white
dress, and Sir William, looking at it, felt a glow of tenderness for
this artless child who had blundered into the privacy of the ante-room.
Something daintily virginal in Dolly's face appealed to him; he caught
himself thinking that her frock was more than a miracle in bleached
cottonit was moonshine shot with alabaster; and the improbability of
that combination had hardly struck him when Fosdike's voice forced
itself harshly on his ears.
How did you get in here?
Sir William moved to defend the girl from the anger of his
secretary, but when she said, with a certain challenge, Through the
door, he doubted if she were so defenceless as she seemed.
But there's a doorkeeper at the bottom, said Fosdike. I gave him
I gave him my smile, said Dolly. I won.
Upon my word Fosdike began.
Well, well, interrupted Sir William, what can I do for you?
The reply was indirect, but caused Sir William still further to
readjust his estimate of her.
I've got friends in the meeting to-night, she concluded. They'll
speak up for me, too, if I'm not righted. So I'm telling you.
Don't threaten me, my girl, said Sir William without severity. I
am always ready to pay attention to any legitimate grievance, but
Legitimate? she interrupted. Well, mine's not legitimate. So
I beg your pardon? She puzzled Sir William. Come now, he went on
in his most patriarchal manner, don't assume I'm not going to listen
to you. I am. To-night there is no thought in my mind except the
welfare of Calderside.
Oh, well, she said apologetically, I'm sorry if I riled you, but
it's a bit awkward to speak it out to a man. Only (the unconscious
cruelty of youthor was it conscious?) you're both old, so perhaps I
can get through. It's about Tim Martlow.
Ah, said Sir William encouragingly, our glorious hero.
Yes, said Dolly. I'm the mother of his child.
We are all balloons dancing our lives amongst pins. Therefore, be
compassionate towards Sir William. He collapsed speechlessly on a hard
Fosdike reacted more alertly. This is the first I've heard of
Martlow's being married, he said aggressively.
Dolly looked up at him indignantly. You ain't heard it now, have
you? she protested. I said it wasn't legitimate. I don't say we'd not
have got married if there'd been time, but you can't do everything on
There seemed an obvious retort. Rumbold and Fosdike looked at each
other, and neither made the retort. Instead, Fosdike asked: Are you
employed in the works here?
I was here, on munitions, she said, and then on doles.
And now you're on the make, he sneered.
Oh, I dunno, she said. All this fuss about Tim Martlow. I ought
to have my bit out of it.
Deplorable, grieved Sir William. The crass materialism of it all.
This is so sad. How old are you?
Twenty, said Dolly. Twenty, with a child to keep, and his
father's name up in gold lettering in that hall there. I say somebody
ought to do something.
I suppose now, Miss Fosdike baulked.
Wainwright, Dolly Wainwright, though it ought to be Martlow.
I suppose you loved Tim very dearly?
I liked him well enough. He was good-looking in his khaki.
Liked him? I'm sure it was more than that.
Oh, I dunno. Why? asked the girl, who said she was the mother of
I am sure, said Fosdike gravely, you would never do anything to
bring a stain upon his memory.
Dolly proposed a bargain. If I'm rightly done by, she said, I'll
do right by him.
Anything that marred the harmony of to-night's ceremony,
Miss Wainwright, would be unthinkable, said Sir William, coming to his
Right, said Dolly cheerfully. If you'll take steps according, I'm
sure I've no desire to make a scene.
A scene, gasped Sir William.
Though, she pointed out, it's a lot to ask of any one, you know.
Giving up the certain chance of getting my photograph in the papers. I
make a good picture, too. Some do and some don't, but I take well and
when you know you've got the looks to carry off a scene, it's asking
something of me to give up the idea.
But you said you'd no desire to make a scene.
Poor girls have often got to do what they don't wish to. I wouldn't
make a scene in the usual way. Hysterics and all that. Hysterics means
cold water in your face and your dress messed up and no sympathy. But
with scenes, the greater the occasion the greater the reward, and
there's no denying this is an occasion, is there? You're making a big
to-do about Tim Martlow and the reward would be according. I don't know
if you've noticed that if a girl makes a scene and she's got the looks
for it, she gets offers of marriage, like they do in the police-court
when they've been wronged and the magistrate passes all the men's
letters on to the court missionary and the girl and the missionary go
through them and choose the likeliest fellow out of the bunch?
But my dear young lady Fosdike began.
She silenced him. Oh, it's all right. I don't know that I want to
Then you ought to, said Sir William virtuously.
There's better things in life than getting married, Dolly said.
I've weighed up marriage, and I don't see what there is in it for a
In your case, I should have thought there was everything.
Dolly sniffed. There isn't liberty, she said. And we won the
fight for liberty, didn't we? No; if I made that scene it 'ud be to get
my photograph in the papers where the film people could see it. I've
the right face for the pictures, and my romantic history will do the
Good heavens, girl, cried the scandalised Sir William, have you
no reverence at all? The pictures! You'd turn all my disinterested
efforts to ridicule. You'doh, but there! You're not going to make a
That's a matter of arrangement, of course, said the cool lady.
I'm only showing you what a big chance I shall miss if I oblige you.
Suppose I pipe up my tale of woe just when you're on the platform with
the Union Jack behind you and the reporters in front of you, and that
tablet in there that says Tim is the greatest glory of Calder-side
Sir William nearly screamed. Be quiet, girl. Fosdike, he snarled,
turning viciously on his secretary, what the deuce do you mean by
pretending to keep an eye on local affairs when you miss a thing like
'Tisn't his fault, said Dolly. I've been saving this up for you.
Oh, he groaned, and I'd felt so happy about to-night. He took
out a fountain pen. Well, I suppose there's no help for it. Fosdike,
what's the amount of the pension we allow Martlow's mother?
Double it, add a pound a week, and what's the answer, Mr. Fosdike?
asked Dolly quickly.
Sir William gasped ludicrously.
I mean to say, said Dolly, conferring on his gasp the honour of an
explanation, she's old and didn't go on munitions, and didn't get used
to wangling income tax on her wages, and never had no ambitions to go
on the pictures, neither. What's compensation to her isn't compensation
to me. I've got a higher standard.
The less you say about your standards, the better, my girl,
retorted Sir William. Do you know that this is blackmail?
No, it isn't. Not when I ain't asked you for nothing. And if I pass
the remark how that three pounds a week is my idea of a minimum wage,
it isn't blackmail to state the fact.
Sir William paused in the act of tearing a page out of Fosdike's
note-book. Three pounds a week!
Well, said Dolly reasonably, I didn't depreciate the currency.
Three pounds a week is little enough these times for the girl who fell
from grace through the chief glory of Calderside.
But suppose you marry, suggested Mr. Fosdike.
Then I marry well, she said, having means of my own. And I ought
to, seeing I'm kind of widow to the chief glory of
Sir William looked up sharply from the table. If you use that
phrase again, he said, I'll tear this paper up.
Widow to Tim Martlow, she amended it, defiantly. He handed her the
document he had drawn up. It was an undertaking in brief, unambiguous
terms to pay her three pounds a week for life. As she read it,
exulting, the door was kicked open.
The tramp, whose name was Timothy Martlow, came in and turning,
spoke through the doorway to the janitor below. Call out, he said,
and I'll come back and knock you down again. Then he locked the door.
Fosdike went courageously towards him. What do you mean by this
intrusion? Who are you?
The tramp assured himself that his hat was well pulled down over his
face. He put his hands in his pockets and looked quizzically at the
advancing Mr. Fosdike. So far, he said, I'm the man that locked the
Fosdike started for the second door, which led directly to the
platform. The tramp reached it first, and locked it, shouldering
Fosdike from him. Now, he said, Sir William was searching the wall,
are there no bells? he asked desperately.
No? jeered the tramp. No bell. No telephone. No nothing. You're
scotched without your rifle this time.
Fosdike consulted Sir William. I might shout for the police, he
It's risky, commented the tramp. They sometimes come when they're
Then began the secretary.
It's your risk, emphasised the tramp. And I don't advise it. I've
gone to a lot of trouble this last week to keep out of sight of the
Calderside police. They'd identify me easy, and Sir William wouldn't
I wouldn't like? said Rumbold. I? Who are you?
Wounded and missing, believed dead, quoted the tramp. Only
there's been a lot of beliefs upset in this war, and I'm one of them.
One of what?
I'm telling you. One of the strayed sheep that got mislaid and come
home at the awkwardest times. He snatched his hat off. Have a good
look at that face, your worship.
Timothy Martlow, cried Sir William.
Fosdike staggered to a chair while Dolly, who had shown nothing but
amusement at the tramp, now gave a quick cry and shrank back against
the wall, exhibiting every symptom of the liveliest terror. Of the
trio, Sir William, for whom surely this inopportune return had the most
serious implications, alone stood his ground, and Martlow grimly
appreciated his pluck.
It's very near made a stretcher-case of him, he said, indicating
the prostrated Fosdike. You're cooler. Walking wounded.
Shake hands, old cock, said Martlow, I know you've got it writ up
in there he jerked his head towards the hallthat I'm the chief
glory of Calderside, but damme if you're not the second best yourself,
and I'll condescend to shake your hand if it's only to show you I'm not
Sir William decided that it was politic to humour this visitor. He
shook hands. Then, if you know, he said, if you know what this
building is, it isn't accident that brings you here to-night.
The sort of accident you set with a time-fuse, said Martlow
grimly. I told you I'd been dodging the police for a week lest any of
my old pals should recognise me. I was waiting to get you to-night, and
sitting tight and listening. The things I heard! Nearly made me take my
hat off to myself. But not quite. Not quite. I kept my hat on and I
kept my hair on. It's a mistake to act premature on information
received. If I'd sprung this too soon, the wrong thing might have
happened to me.
What wrong thing, Martlow? asked Sir William with some
indignation. If the fellow meant anything, it was that he would have
been spirited away by Sir William.
Oh, anything, replied Martlow. Anything would be wrong that made
me miss this pleasure. You and me conversing affable here. Not a bit
like it was in the old days before I rose to being the chief glory of
Calderside. Conversation was one-sided then, and all on your side
instead of mine. 'Here again, Martlow,' you'd say, and then they'd
gabble the evidence, and you'd say 'fourteen days' or 'twenty-one
days,' if you'd got up peevish and that's all there was to our friendly
intercourse. This time, I make no doubt you'll be asking me to stay at
the Towers to-night. And, he went on blandly, enjoying every wince
that twisted Sir William's face in spite of his efforts to appear
unmoved, I don't know that I'll refuse. It's a levelling thing, war.
I've read that war makes us all conscious we're members of one
brotherhood, and I know it's true now. Consequently the chief glory of
the place ain't got no right to be too high and mighty to accept your
humble invitation. The best guest-room for Sergeant Martlow, you'll
say. See there's a hot water-bottle in his bed, you'll say, and in case
he's thirsty in the night, you'll tell them to put the whisky by his
After all, a man does not rise to become Sir William Rumbold by
being flabby. Sir William struck the table heavily. Somehow he had to
put a period to this mocking harangue. Martlow, he said, how many
people know you're here?
Tim gave a good imitation of Sir William's gesture. He, too, could
strike a table. Rumbold, he retorted, what's the value of a secret
when it's not a secret? You three in this room know, and not another
soul in Calderside.
Not even your mother? queried Rumbold.
No. I been a bad son to her in the past. I'm a good one now I'm
dead. She's got a bit o' pension, and I'll not disturb that. I'll stay
deadto her, he added forcibly, dashing the hope which leapt in
Why have you come here? Hereto-night?
The easy mockery renewed itself in Martlow's voice. People's ideas
of fun vary, he stated. The fly's idea ain't the same as the
spider's. This 'ere is my ideashaking your hand and sitting cosy with
the bloke that's sent me down more times than I can think. And the fun
'ull grow furious when you and I walk arm in arm on to that platform,
and you tell them all I'm resurrected.
Like this? The proper Mr. Fosdike interjected.
Eh? said Tim. Like what?
You can't go on to the platform in those clothes, Mart-low. Have
you looked in a mirror lately? Do you know what you look like? This is
a respectable occasion, man.
Yes, said Tim drily. It's an occasion for showing respect to me.
I'll do as I am, not having had time to go to the tailor's for my dress
Martlow, said Sir William briskly, time's short. I'm due on that
Right, I'm with you. Tim moved towards the platform door.
Sir William, with a serene air of triumph, played his trump card. He
took out his cheque-book. No, he said. You're not coming.
He shrank back hastily as a huge fist was projected vehemently
towards his face. But the fist swerved and opened. The cheque-book, not
Sir William's person, was its objective. Instead be damned, said Tim
Martlow, pitching the cheque-book to the floor. To hell with your
money. Thought I was after money, did you?
Sir William met his eye. Yes, I did, he said hardily.
That's the sort of mean idea you would have, Sir William Rumbold.
They say scum rises. You grew a handle to your name during the war, but
you ain't grown manners to go with it. War changes them that's
changeable. T'others are too set to change.
Sir William felt a strange glow of appreciation for this man who,
with so easy an opportunity to grow rich, refused money. It's changed
you, he said with ungrudging admiration that had no tincture of
diplomacy in it.
Has it? mused Tim. From what?
Well Sir William was embarrassed. From what you were.
What was I? demanded Tim. Go on, spit it out. What sort of
character would you have given me then?
I'd have called you, said Sir William boldly, a disreputable
drunken loafer who never did an honest day's work in his life. Which
had the merit of truth, and, he thought, the demerit of rashness.
To his surprise he found that Tim was looking at him with
undisguised admiration. Lummy, he said, you've got guts. Yes, that's
right. 'Disreputable drunken loafer.' And if I came back now? he
You were magnificent in the war, Martlow.
First thing I did when I got civvies on was to get blind and
skinned. Drink and civvies go together in my mind.
You'll get over that, said Sir William encouragingly; but he was
puzzled by the curiously wistful note which had replaced Tim's
There's a chance, admitted Tim. A bare chance. Not a chance I'd
gamble on. Not when I've a bigger chance than that. You wouldn't say,
weighing me up now, that I've got a reformed look, would you?
Sir William couldn't. But you'll pull yourself together. You'll
I'll remember the taste of beer, said Tim with fierce conviction.
No, I never had a chance before, but I've got one now, and, by heaven,
I'm taking it. Sir William's apprehension grew acute; if money was not
the question, what outrageous demand was about to be made of him? Tim
went on, I'm nothing but a dirty, drunken tramp to-day. Yes, drunk
when I can get it and craving when I can't. That's Tim Martlow when
he's living. Tim Mart-low dead's a different thing. He's a man with his
name wrote up in letters of gold in a dry canteen. Dry! By God, that's
funny! He's somebody, honoured in Calder-side for ever and ever, amen.
And we won't spoil a good thing by taking chances on my reformation.
I'm dead. I'll stay dead. He paused in enjoying the effect he made.
Sir William stooped to pick his cheque-book from the floor. Don't
do that, said Tim sharply. It isn't out of your mind yet that money's
what I came for. Fun's one thing that brought me. Just for the treat of
showing you myself and watching your quick-change faces while I did it.
And I've had my fun. His voice grew menacing. The other thing I came
for isn't fun. It's this. Dolly screamed as he took her arm and jerked
her to her feet from the corner where she had sought obscurity. He
shook her urgently. You've been telling tales about me. I've heard of
it. You hear all the news when you lie quiet yourself and let other
people do the talking. You came in here to-night to spin a yarn. I
watched you in. Well, is it true?
No, said Dolly, gasping for breath. I mean he insisted, what
you said about you and me. That isn't true?
She repeated her denial. No, he said, releasing her, it 'ud have
a job to be seeing this is the first time I've had the pleasure of
meeting you. That'll do. He opened the platform door politely. I hope
I haven't made you late on the platform, sir, he said.
Both Sir William and the secretary stared fascinated at Dolly, the
enterprising young person who had so successfully bluffed them. I
repeat, don't let me make you late, said Tim from the now wide open
Rumbold checked Fosdike who was, apparently, bent on doing Dolly a
personal violence. That can wait, he said. What can't wait is this.
He held out his hand to Mart-low. In all sincerity, I beg the honour.
Tim shook his hand, and Rumbold turned to the door. Fosdike ran
after him with the notes of his speech. Your speech, sir.
Sir William turned on him angrily. Man, he said, haven't you
heard? That muck won't do now. I have to try to do Martlow justice. He
went out to the platform, Fosdike after him.
Tim Martlow sat at the table and took a bottle from his pocket. He
drew the cork with his teeth, then felt a light touch on his arm. I
was forgetting you, he said, replacing the bottle.
I ain't likely to forget you, said Dolly ruefully.
He gripped her hard. But you are going to forget me, my girl, he
said. Tim Martlow's dead, and his letters of gold ain't going to be
blotted by the likes of you. You that's been putting it about
Calderside I'm the father of your child, and I ain't never seen you in
my life till to-night.
Yes, but you're getting this all wrong, she blubbered. I didn't
have a baby. I was going to borrow one if they'd claimed to see it.
What? No baby? And you put it across old Rumbold? Laughter and
sheer admiration of her audacity were mingled in his voice. With a baby
it was a good bluff; without one, the girl's ingenuity seemed to him to
He gave me that paper, she said, pride subduing tears as she
handed him her splendid trophy.
Three pounds a week for life, he read, with profound reverence.
If you ain't a blinkin' marvel. He complimented her, giving her the
paper back. Then he realised that, through him, her gains were lost.
Gawd, I done wrong. I got no right to mess up a thing like that. I
didn't know. See, I'll tell him I made you lie. I'll own the baby's
But there ain't no baby, she persisted.
There's plenty of babies looking for a mother with three pounds a
week, he said.
She tore the paper up. Then they'll not find me, she said. Three
pounds a week's gone. And your letters of gold, Mr. Martlow, remain.
The practised voice of Sir William Rumbold, speaking on the
platform, filled the ante-room, not with the rhetorician's counterfeit
of sincerity, but, unmistakably, with sincerity itself. I had prepared
a speech, he was saying. A prepared speech is useless in face of the
emotion I feel at the life of Timothy Martlow. I say advisedly to you
that when I think of Martlow, I know myself for a worm. He was despised
and rejected. What had England done for him that he should give his
life for her? We wronged him. We made an outcast of him. I personally
wronged him from the magistrate's bench, and he pays us back like this,
rising from an undeserved obscurity to a height where he rests secure
for ever, a reproach to us, and a great example of the man who won. And
against what odds he played it out to a supreme end, and
You're right, said Tim Marlow, motioning the girl to close the
door. He wasn't used to hearing panegyrics on himself, nor was he aware
that, mechanically, he had raised the bottle to his lips.
Dolly meant to close the door discreetly; instead, she threw it from
her and jumped at the bottle. Tim was conscious of a double crash,
putting an emphatic stop to the sound of Sir William's eulogythe
crash of the door and the bottle which Dolly snatched from him and
pitched against the wall.
Letters of gold, she panted, and you shan't tarnish them. 111 see
He gaped for a moment at the liquor flowing from the bottle, then
raised his eyes to hers. You? he said.
I haven't got a baby to look after, said Dolly. ButI've you.
Where were you thinking of going now?
His eyes went to the door behind which Sir William was, presumably,
still praising him, and his head jerked resolutely. Playing it out,
he said. I've got to vanish good, and sure after that. I'll play it
out, by God. I was a hero once, I'll be a hero still. His foot
crunched broken glass as he moved. I'm going to America, my girl. It's
Perhaps she distrusted the absolute dryness of America, and perhaps
that had nothing to do with Dolly. She examined her hand minutely.
Going to the Isle of Man on a rough day, I wasn't a bit ill, she said
casually. I'm a good sailor.
You put it across Sir William, he said. You're a blinkin'
No, she said, but a thing that's worth doing is worth doing well.
I'm not a marvel, but I might be the metal polish in those gold letters
of your's if you think it worth while.
His trampish squalor seemed to him suddenly appalling. There, don't
do that, he protestedher arm had found its way into his. My
Idiot! said Dolly Wainwright, drawing him to the door.
THE PENSIONER, by William Caine
(From The Graphic)
Copyright, 1922, by William Caine. Reprinted by permission
of the author.
Miss Crewe was born in the year 1821. She received a sort of
education, and at the age of twenty became the governess of a little
girl, eight years old, called Martha Bond. She was Martha's governess
for the next ten years. Then Martha came out and Miss Crewe went to be
the governess of somebody else. Martha married Mr. William Harper. A
year later she gave birth to a son, who was named Edward. This brings
us to the year 1853.
When Edward was six, Miss Crewe came back, to be his governess. Four
years later he went to school and Miss Crewe went away to be the
governess of somebody else. She was now forty-two years old.
Twelve years passed and Mrs. Harper died, recommending Miss Crewe to
her husband's care, for Miss Crewe had recently been smitten by an
incurable disease which made it impossible for her to be a governess
Mr. Harper, who had passionately loved his wife, gave instructions
to his solicitor to pay Miss Crewe the sum of one hundred and fifty
pounds annually. He had some thoughts of buying her an annuity, but she
seemed so ill that he didn't. Edward was now twenty-two.
In the year 1888, Mr. Harper died after a very short illness. He had
expected Miss Crewe to die any day during the past thirteen years, but
since she hadn't he thought it proper now to recommend her to Edward's
care. This is how he did it.
That confounded old Crewe, Eddie. You'll have to see to her. Let
her have her money as before, but for the Lord's sake don't go and buy
her an annuity now. If you do, shell die on your hands in a week!
Shortly afterwards the old gentleman passed away.
Edward was now thirty-five. Miss Crewe was sixty-seven and reported
to be in an almost desperate state. Edward followed his father's
advice. He bought no annuity for Miss Crewe. Her one hundred and fifty
pounds continued to be paid each year into her bank; but by Edward, not
by his late father's solicitors.
Edward had his own ideas of managing the considerable fortune which
he had inherited. These ideas were unsound. The first of them was that
he should assume the entire direction of his own affairs. Accordingly
he instructed his solicitors to realise all the mortgages and
railway-stock and other admirable securities in which his money was
invested and hand over the cash to him. He then went in for the highest
rate of interest which anyone would promise him. The consequence was
that, within twelve years, he was almost a poor man, his annual income
having dwindled from about three thousand to about four hundred pounds.
Though he was a fool he was an honourable man, and so he continued
to pay Miss Crewe her one hundred and fifty pounds each year. This left
him about two hundred and fifty for himself. The capital which his so
reduced income represented was invested in a Mexican brewery in which
he had implicit faith. Nevertheless, he began to think that he might do
well were he to try to earn a little extra money.
The only thing he could do was to paint, not at all well, in
water-colours. He became the pupil, quite seriously, of a young artist
whom he knew. He was now forty-seven years old, while Miss Crewe was
seventy-nine. The year was 1900.
To everybody's amazement Edward soon began to make quite good
progress in his painting. Yes, his pictures were not at all unpleasant
little things. He sent one of them to the Academy. It was accepted. It
was, as I live, sold for ten pounds. Edward was an artist.
Soon he was making between thirty and forty pounds a year. Then he
was making over a hundred. Then two hundred. Then the Mexican brewery
failed, General Malefico having burned it to the ground for a lark.
This happened in the spring of 1914 when Edward was sixty-one and
Miss Crewe Was ninety-three. Edward, after paying her money to Miss
Crewe, might flatter himself on the possibility of having some fifty
pounds a year for himself, that is to say, if his picture sales did not
decline. A single man can, however, get along, more or less, on fifty
pounds more or less.
Then the Great War broke out.
It has been said that in the autumn of 1914 the Old Men came into
their kingdom. As the fields of Britain were gradually stripped bare of
their valid toilers, the Fathers of each village assumed, at good
wages, the burden of agriculture. From their offices the juniors
departed or were torn; the senior clerks carried on desperately until
the Girls were introduced. No man was any longer too old at forty.
Octogenarians could command a salary. The very cinemas were glad to
dress up ancient fellows in uniform and post them on their doorsteps.
Edward could do nothing but paint rather agreeable water-colours,
and that was all. The market for his kind of work was shut. A patriotic
nation was economising in order to get five per cent on the War Loans.
People were not giving inexpensive little water-colours away to one
another as wedding gifts any longer. Only the painters of high
reputation, whose work was regarded as a real investment, could dispose
of their wares.
Starvation stared Edward in the face, not only his own starvation,
you understand, but Miss Crewe's. And Edward was a man of honour.
He hated Miss Crewe intensely, but he had undertaken to provide for
her, and provide for her he musteven if he failed to provide for
He wrapped some samples of his paintings in brown paper, and began
to seek for a job among the wholesale stationers. He offered himself as
one who was prepared to design Christmas-cards and calendars, and
things of the kind.
Adversity had sharpened his wits. Even the wholesale stationers were
not turning white-headed men from their portals. To Edward was accorded
the privilege of displaying the rather agreeable contents of his
parcel. After he had unpacked it and packed it up again some thirty
times he was offered work. His pictures were really rather agreeable.
It was piecework, and he was to do it off the premises, no matter
where. By toiling day and night he might be able to earn as much as £4
a week. He went away and toiled. His employers were pleased with what,
each Monday, he brought them. They did not offer to increase his
remuneration, but they encouraged him to produce, and took practically
everything he offered. Edward was very fortunate.
During the first year of the war he lived like a beast, worked like
a slave, and earned exactly enough to keep his soul in his body and pay
Miss Crewe her one hundred and fifty pounds. During the second year of
the war he did it again. The fourth year of the war found him still
alive and still punctual to his obligations towards Misa Crewe.
Miss Crewe, however, found one hundred and fifty pounds no longer
what it had been. Prices were rising in every direction. She wrote to
Edward pointing this out, and asking him if he couldn't see his way to
increasing her allowance. She invoked the memory of his dear mother and
father, added something about the happy hours that he and she had spent
together in the dear old schoolroom, and signed herself his
Edward petitioned for an increase of pay. He pointed out to his firm
of wholesale stationers that prices were rising in every direction. The
firm, who knew when they had a marketable thing cheap, granted his
petition. Henceforth Edward was able to earn five pounds a week. He
increased Miss Crewe's allowance by fifty pounds, and continued to live
more like a beast than ever, for the price of paper and paints was
soaring. He worked practically without ceasing, save to sleep (which he
could not do) and to eat (which he could not afford). He was now
sixty-four, while Miss Crewe was rising ninety-seven.
Edward had been ailing for a long time. On Armistice Day he struck
work for an hour in order to walk about in the streets and share in the
general rejoicing. He caught a severe cold, and the next day, instead
of staying between his blankets (he had no sheets), he went up to the
City with some designs which he had just completed. That night he was
feverish. The next night he was delirious. The third night he was dead,
and there was an end of him.
He had, however, managed, before he died (two days before), to send
to Miss Crewe a money order for her quarter's allowance of fifty
pounds. This had left him with precisely four shillings and twopence in
the Post Office Savings Bank.
He was, consequently, buried by the parish.
Miss Crewe received her money. She was delighted to have it, and at
once wrote to Edward her customary letter of grateful and affectionate
thanks. She added in a postscript that if he could find it in
his generous heart to let her have a still little more next quarter it
would be most acceptable, because every day seemed to make it harder
and harder for her to get along.
Edward was dead when this letter was delivered.
Miss Crewe sent her money order to her bank, asking that it might be
placed to her deposit account. This she reminded the bank, would bring
up the amount of her deposit to exactly two thousand pounds.
BROADSHEET BALLAD, by A. E. Coppard
(From The Dial)
Copyright, 1922, by The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.
Copyright, 1922, by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted by permission
from Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, published by Alfred A.
Knopf and from Clorinda Walks in Heaven, published by The
Golden Cockerel Press, and with the assent of the author and
of Andrew H. Dakers.
At noon the tiler and the mason stepped down from the roof of the
village church which they were repairing and crossed over the road to
the tavern to eat their dinner. It had been a nice little morning, but
there were clouds massing in the south; Sam the tiler remarked that it
looked like thunder. The two men sat in the dim little tap-room eating,
Bob the mason at the same time reading from a newspaper an account of a
trial for murder.
I dunno what thunder looks like, Bob said, but I reckon this chap
is going to be hung, though I can't rightly say for why. To my thinking
he didn't do it at all: but murder's a bloody thing and someone ought
to suffer for it.
I don't think, spluttered Sam as he impaled a flat piece of
beet-root on the point of a pocket-knife and prepared to contemplate it
with patience until his stuffed mouth was ready to receive it, he
ought to be hung.
There can be no other end for him though, with a mob of lawyers
like that, and a judge like that, and a jury too... why the rope's half
round his neck this minute; he'll be in glory within a month, they only
have three Sundays, you know, between the sentence and the execution.
Well, hark at that rain then!
A shower that began as a playful sprinkle grew to a powerful steady
summer downpour. It splashed in the open window and the dim room grew
more dim, and cool.
Hanging's a dreadful thing, continued Sam, and 'tis often unjust
I've no doubt, I've no doubt at all.
Unjust! I tell you... at majority of trials those who give their
evidence mostly knows nothing at all about the matter; them as knows a
lotthey stays at home and don't budge, not likely!
No? But why?
Why? They has their reasons. I know that, I knows it for truth...
hark at that rain, it's made the room feel cold.
They watched the downfall in complete silence for some moments.
Hanging's a dreadful thing, Sam at length repeated, with almost a
I can tell you a tale about that, Sam, in a minute, said the
other. He began to fill his pipe from Sam's brass box which was
labelled cough lozenges and smelled of paregoric.
Just about ten years ago I was working over in Cotswold country. I
remember I'd been into Gloucester one Saturday afternoon and it rained.
I was jogging along home in a carrier's van; I never seen it rain like
that afore, no, nor never afterwards, not like that. B-r-r-r-r! it came
down... bashing! And we came to a crossroads where there's a public
house called The Wheel of Fortune, very lonely and onsheltered it is
just there. I see'd a young woman standing in the porch awaiting us,
but the carrier was wet and tired and angry or something and wouldn't
stop. 'No room'he bawled out to her'full up, can't take you!' and
he drove on. For the love o' God, mate,' I says, 'pull up and take that
young creature! She's... she's... can't you see!' 'But I'm all behind
as 'tis'he shouts to me'You knows your gospel, don't you: time and
tide wait for no man?' 'Ah, but dammit all, they always call for a
feller'I says. With that he turned round and we drove back for the
girl. She clumb in and sat on my knees; I squat on a tub of vinegar,
there was nowhere else and I was right and all, she was going on for a
birth. Well, the old van rattled away for six or seven miles; whenever
it stopped you could hear the rain clattering on the tarpaulin, or
sounding outside on the grass as if it was breathing hard, and the old
horse steamed and shivered with it. I had knowed the girl once in a
friendly way, a pretty young creature, but now she was white and
sorrowful and wouldn't say much. By and bye we came to another
cross-roads near a village, and she got out there. 'Good day, my
gal'I says, affable like, and 'Thank you sir,'says she, and off she
popped in the rain with her umbrella up. A rare pretty girl, quite
young, I'd met her before, a girl you could get uncommon fond of, you
know, but I didn't meet her afterwards: she was mixed up in a bad
business. It all happened in the next six months while I was working
round those parts. Everybody knew of it. This girl's name was Edith and
she had a younger sister Agnes. Their father was old Harry Mallerton,
kept The British Oak at North Quainy; he stuttered. Well, this Edith
had a love affair with a young chap William, and having a very loving
nature she behaved foolish. Then she couldn't bring the chap up to the
scratch nohow by herself, and of course she was afraid to tell her
mother or father: you know how girls are after being so pesky natural,
they fear, O they do fear! But soon it couldn't be hidden any longer as
she was living at home with them all, so she wrote a letter to her
mother. 'Dear Mother,' she wrote, and told her all about her trouble.
By all accounts the mother was angry as an old lion, but Harry took
it calm like and sent for young William, who'd not come at first. He
lived close by in the village so they went down at last and fetched
'Alright, yes,' he said, 'I'll do what's lawful to be done. There
you are, I can't say no fairer, that I can't.'
'No,' they said, 'you can't.'
So he kissed the girl and off he went, promising to call in and
settle affairs in a day or two. The next day Agnes, which was the
younger girl, she also wrote a note to her mother telling her some more
'God above!' the mother cried out, 'can it be true, both of you
girls, my own daughters, and by the same man! Oh, whatever were you
thinking on, both of ye! Whatever can be done now!'
What! ejaculated Sam, both on 'em, both on 'em!
As true as God's my mercyboth on 'emsame chap. Ah! Mrs.
Mallerton was afraid to tell her husband at first, for old Harry was
the devil born again when he were roused up, so she sent for young
William herself, who'd not come again, of course, not likely. But they
made him come, O yes, when they told the girl's father.
'Well may I go to my d-d-d-damnation at once!' roared old Harryhe
stuttered you know'at once, if that ain't a good one!' So he took off
his coat, he took up a stick, he walked down street to William and cut
him off his legs. Then he beat him till he howled for his mercy, but
you couldn't stop old Harry once he were roused uphe was the devil
born again. They do say as he beat him for a solid hour; I can't say as
to that, but then old Harry picked him up and carried him off to The
British Oak on his own back, and threw him down in his own kitchen
between his own two girls like a dead dog. They do say that the little
one Agnes flew at her father like a raging cat until he knocked her
senseless with a clout over head; rough man he was.
Well, a' called for it sure, commented Sam.
Her did, agreed Bob, but she was the quietest known girl for
miles round those parts, very shy and quiet.
A shady lane breeds mud, said Sam.
What do you say?O ah!mud, yes. But pretty girls both, girls you
could get very fond of, skin like apple bloom, and as like as two pinks
they were. They had to decide which of them William was to marry.
Of course, ah!
I'll marry Agnes'says he.
'You'll not'says the old man'you'll marry Edie.'
'No I won't'William says'it's Agnes I love and I'll be married
to her or I won't be married to e'er of 'em.' All the time Edith sat
quiet, dumb as a shovel, never a word, crying a bit; but they do say
the young one went on like a... a young... Jew.
The jezebel! commented Sam.
You may say it; but wait, my man, just wait. Another cup of beer?
We can't go back to church until this humbugging rain have stopped.
No, that we can't.
It's my belief the 'bugging rain won't stop this side of four.
And if the roof don't hold it off it 'ull spoil the Lord's
Commandments that's just done up on the chancel front.
Oh, they be dry by now, spoke Bob reassuringly and then continued
his tale. I'll marry Agnes or I won't marry nobody'William saysand
they couldn't budge him. No, old Harry cracked on, but he wouldn't have
it, and at last Harry says: 'It's like this.' He pulls a half-crown out
of his pocket and 'Heads it's Agnes,' he says, 'or tails it's Edith,'
Never! Ha! ha! cried Sam.
Heads it's Agnes, tails it's Edie, so help me God. And it come down
Agnes, yes, heads it wasAgnesand so there they were.
And they lived happy ever after?
Happy! You don't know your human nature, Sam; wherever was you
brought up? 'Heads it's Agnes,' said old Harry, and at that Agnes flung
her arms round William's neck and was for going off with him then and
there, ha! But this is how it happened about that. William hadn't any
kindred, he was a lodger in the village, and his landlady wouldn't have
him in her house one mortal hour when she heard all of it; give him the
rightabout there and then. He couldn't get lodgings anywhere else,
nobody would have anything to do with him, so of course, for safety's
sake, old Harry had to take him, and there they all lived together at
The British Oakall in one happy family. But they girls couldn't bide
the sight of each other, so their father cleaned up an old outhouse in
his yard that was used for carts and hens and put William and his Agnes
out in it. And there they had to bide. They had a couple of chairs, a
sofa, and a bed and that kind of thing, and the young one made it quite
'Twas a hard thing for that other, that Edie, Bob.
It was hard, Sam, in a way, and all this was happening just afore I
met her in the carrier's van. She was very sad and solemn then; a
pretty girl, one you could like. Ah, you may choke me, but there they
lived together. Edie never opened her lips to either of them again, and
her father sided with her, too. What was worse, it came out after the
marriage that Agnes was quite free of troubleit was only a trumped-up
game between her and this William because he fancied her better than
the other one. And they never had no child, them two, though when poor
Edie's mischance come along I be damned if Agnes weren't fonder of it
than its own mother, a jolly sight more fonder, and Williamhe fair
You don't say!
I do. 'Twas a rum go, that, and Agnes worshipped it, a fact, can
prove it by scores o' people to this day, scores, in them parts.
William and Agnes worshipped it, and Edieshe just looked on, long of
it all, in the same house with them, though she never opened her lips
again to her young sister to the day of her death.
Ah, she died? Well, it's the only way out of such a tangle, poor
You're sympathizing with the wrong party. Bob filled his pipe
again from the brass box; he ignited it with deliberation; going to the
open window he spat into a puddle in the road. The wrong party, Sam;
'twas Agnes that died. She was found on the sofa one morning stone
dead, dead as a adder.
God bless me, murmured Sam.
Poisoned, added Bob, puffing serenely.
Bob repeated the word poisoned. This was the way of it, he
continued. One morning the mother went out in the yard to collect her
eggs, and she began calling out 'Edie, Edie, here a minute, come and
look where that hen have laid her egg; I would never have believed
it'she says. And when Edie went out her mother led her round the back
of the outhouse, and there on the top of a wall this hen had laid an
egg. 'I would never have believed it, Edie'she says'scooped out a
nest there beautiful, ain't she; I wondered where her was laying.
T'other morning the dog brought an egg round in his mouth and laid it
on the doormat. There now, Aggie, Aggie, here a minute, come and look
where the hen have laid that egg.' And as Aggie didn't answer the
mother went in and found her on the sofa in the outhouse, stone dead.
How'd they account for it? asked Sam, after a brief interval.
That's what brings me to the point about this young feller that's
going to be hung, said Bob, tapping the newspaper that lay upon the
bench. I don't know what would lie between two young women in a
wrangle of that sort; some would get over it quick, but some would
never sleep soundly any more not for a minute of their mortal lives.
Edie must have been one of that sort. There's people living there now
as could tell a lot if they'd a mind to it. Some knowed all about it,
could tell you the very shop where Edith managed to get hold of the
poison, and could describe to me or to you just how she administrated
it in a glass of barley water. Old Harry knew all about it, he knew all
about everything, but he favoured Edith and he never budged a word.
Clever old chap was Harry, and nothing came out against Edie at the
inquestnor the trial either.
Was there a trial then?
There was a kind of a trial. Naturally. A beautiful trial. The
police came and fetched poor William, they took him away and in due
course he was hanged.
William! But what had he got to do with it?
Nothing. It was rough on him, but he hadn't played straight and so
nobody struck up for him. They made out a case against himthere was
some onlucky bit of evidence which I'll take my oath old Harry knew
something aboutand William was done for. Ah, when things take a turn
against you it's as certain as twelve o'clock, when they take a turn;
you get no more chance than a rabbit from a weasel. It's like dropping
your matches into a stream, you needn't waste the bending of your back
to pick them outthey're no good on, they'll never strike again. And
Edith, she sat in court through it all, very white and trembling and
sorrowful, but when the judge put his black cap on they do say she
blushed and looked across at William and gave a bit of a smile. Well,
she had to suffer for his doings, so why shouldn't he suffer for hers.
That's how I look at it....
Yes, God-a-mighty knows. Pretty girls they were, both, and as like
as two pinks.
There was quiet for some moments while the tiler and the mason
emptied their cups of beer. I think, said Sam then, the rain's give
Ah, that it has, cried Bob. Let's go and do a bit more on this
'bugging church or she won't be done afore Christmas.
THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT, by Richmal
Copyright, 1922, by R. C. Lambum. Reprinted by permission of
Mary Clay looked out of the window of the old farmhouse. The view
was dreary enoughhill and field and woodland, bare, colourless,
mist-coveredwith no other house in sight. She had never been a woman
to crave for company. She liked sewing. She was passionately fond of
reading. She was not fond of talking. Probably she could have been very
happy at Cromb Farmalone. Before her marriage she had looked forward
to the long evenings with her sewing and reading. She knew that she
would be busy enough in the day, for the farmhouse was old and
rambling, and she was to have no help in the housework. But she looked
forward to quiet, peaceful, lamplit evenings; and only lately, after
ten years of married life, had she reluctantly given up the hope of
them. For peace was far enough from the old farm kitchen in the
evening. It was driven away by John Clay's loud voice, raised always in
orders or complaints, or in the stumbling, incoherent reading aloud of
Mary was a silent woman herself and a lover of silence. But John
liked to hear the sound of his voice; he liked to shout at her; to call
for her from one room to another; above all, he liked to hear his voice
reading the paper out loud to her in the evening. She dreaded that most
of all. It had lately seemed to jar on her nerves till she felt she
must scream aloud. His voice going on and on, raucous and sing-song,
became unspeakably irritating. His Mary! summoning her from her
household work to where-ever he happened to be, his Get my slippers,
or Bring me my pipe, exasperated her almost to the point of
rebellion. Get your own slippers had trembled on her lips, but had
never passed them, for she was a woman who could not bear anger. Noise
of any kind appalled her.
She had borne it for ten years, so surely she could go on with it.
Yet today, as she gazed hopelessly at the wintry country side, she
became acutely conscious that she could not go on with it. Something
must happen. Yet what was there that could happen?
It was Christmas next week. She smiled ironically at the thought.
Then she noticed the figure of her husband coming up the road. He came
in at the gate and round to the side-door.
She went slowly in answer to the summons. He held a letter in his
Met the postman, he said. From your aunt.
She opened the letter and read it in silence. Both of them knew
quite well what it contained.
She wants us to go over for Christmas again, said Mary.
He began to grumble.
She's as deaf as a post. She's 'most as deaf as her mother was. She
ought to know better than to ask folks over when she can't hear a word
any one says.
Mary said nothing. He always grumbled about the invitation at first,
but really he wanted to go. He liked to talk with her uncle. He liked
the change of going down to the village for a few days and hearing all
its gossip. He could quite well leave the farm to the hands for that
The Crewe deafness was proverbial. Mary's great-grandmother had gone
stone deaf at the age of thirty-five; her daughter had inherited the
affliction and her granddaughter, the aunt with whom Mary had spent her
childhood, had inherited it also at exactly the same age.
All right, he said at last, grudgingly, as though in answer to her
silence, we'd better go. Write and say we'll go.
* * * * *
It was Christmas Eve. They were in the kitchen of her uncle's
farmhouse. The deaf old woman sat in her chair by the fire knitting.
Upon her sunken face there was a curious sardonic smile that was her
habitual expression. The two men stood in the doorway. Mary sat at the
table looking aimlessly out of the window. Outside, the snow fell in
blinding showers. Inside, the fire gleamed on to the copper pots and
pans, the crockery on the old oak dresser, the hams hanging from the
Suddenly James turned.
Jane! he said.
The deaf woman never stirred.
Still there was no response upon the enigmatic old face by the
She turned slightly towards the voice.
Get them photos from upstairs to show John, he bawled.
What about boats? she said.
Photos! roared her husband.
Coats? she quavered.
Mary looked from one to the other. The man made a gesture of
irritation and went from the room.
He came back with a pile of picture postcards in his hand.
It's quicker to do a thing oneself, he grumbled. They're what my
brother sent from Switzerland, where he's working now. It's a fine
land, to judge from the views of it.
John took them from his hand. She gets worse? he said nodding
towards the old woman.
She was sitting gazing at the fire, her lips curved into the curious
Her husband shrugged his shoulders. Aye. She's nigh as bad as her
And her grandmother.
Aye. It takes longer to tell her to do something than to do it
myself. And deaf folks get a bit stupid, too. Can't see what you mean.
They're best let alone.
The other man nodded and lit his pipe. Then James opened the door.
The snow's stopped, he said. Shall we go to the end of the
village and back?
The other nodded, and took his cap from behind the door. A gust of
cold air filled the room as they went out.
Mary took a paper-backed book from the table and came over to the
She started. It was not the sharp, querulous voice of the deaf old
woman, it was more like the voice of the young aunt whom Mary
remembered in childhood. The old woman was leaning forward, looking at
Mary! A happy Christmas to 'ee.
And, as if in spite of herself, Mary answered in her ordinary low
The same to you, auntie.
Thank 'ee. Thank 'ee.
Aunt! Can you hear me speaking like this?
The old woman laughed, silently, rocking to and fro in her chair as
if with pent-up merriment of years.
Yes, I can hear 'ee, child. I've allus heard 'ee.
Mary clasped her hand eagerly.
Thenyou're cured, Aunt
Ay. I'm cured as far as there was ever anything to be cured.
I was never deaf, child, nor never will be, please God. I've took
you all in fine.
Mary stood up in bewilderment.
You? Never deaf?
The old woman chuckled again.
No, nor my mothernor her mother neither.
Mary shrank back from her.
II don't know what you mean, she said, unsteadily. Have you
I'll make you a Christmas present of it, dearie, said the old
woman. My mother made me a Christmas present of it when I was your
age, and her mother made her one. I haven't a lass of my own to give it
to, so I give it to you. It can come on quite sudden like, if you want
it, and then you can hear what you choose and not hear what you choose.
Do you see? She leant nearer and whispered, You're shut out of it
allof having to fetch and carry for 'em, answer their daft questions
and run their errands like a dog. I've watched you, my lass. You don't
get much peace, do you?
Mary was trembling.
Oh, I don't know what to think, she said. II couldn't do it.
Do what you like, said the old woman. Take it as a present,
anywaysthe Crewe deafness for a Christmas present, she chuckled.
Use it or not as you like. You'll find it main amusin', anyways.
And into the old face there came again that curious smile as if she
carried in her heart some jest fit for the gods on Olympus.
The door opened suddenly with another gust of cold air, and the two
men came in again, covered with fine snow.
II'll not do it, whispered Mary, trembling.
We didn't get far. It's coming on again, remarked John, hanging up
The old woman rose and began to lay the supper, silently and deftly,
moving from cupboard to table without looking up. Mary sat by the fire,
motionless and speechless, her eyes fixed on the glowing coals.
Any signs o' the deafness in her? whispered James, looking towards
Mary. It come on my wife jus' when she was that age.
Aye. So I've heered.
Then he said loudly, Mary!
A faint pink colour came into her cheeks, but she did not show by
look or movement that she had heard. James looked significantly at her
The old woman stood still for a minute with a cup in each hand and
smiled her slow, subtle smile.
GENIUS", by Elinor Mordaunt
(From Hutchinson's Magazine and The Century Magasine)
Copyright, 1921, by The Century Co. Copyright, 1922, by
Elinor Mordaunt. Reprinted by permission of the author and
of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
I have written before of Ben Cohen, with his eternal poring and
humming over the scores of great masters; of the timber-yard at Canning
Town, for ever changing and for ever the same, devouring forests with
the eternal windlike rush of saws, slide of gigantic planes; practical
and chill; wrapped in river-fogs, and yet exotic with the dust of
cedar, camphor, paregoric.
In those days Ben Cohen was wont to read music as other boys read
their penny-dreadfuls, avidly, with the imagined sounds like great
waves for ever a-rush through his soul.
In the very beginning it was any music, just music. Then for a while
Wagner held him. Any Wagnerian concert, any mixed entertainment which
included Wagnerit seemed as though he sniffed them upon the
breezeand lie would tramp for miles, wait for hours; biting cold,
sleet, snow, mud, rain, all alike disregarded by that persistence which
the very poor must bring to the pursuit of pleasure, the capture of
Once ensconced, regardless of hard, narrow seats, heights, crowds,
his passion of adoration and excitement took him, shook him, tore him
so that it was wonder his frail body did not split in two, render up
the soul coming forth as Lazarus from the sepulchre. It was indeed, if
you knew little Ben Cohen, him, himself, difficult to realise
that his body had anything more to do with him than the yellow-drab
waterproof which is a sort of uniforma species of charity, covering a
multitude of sins of poverty, shabbiness, thread-barenesshad to do
with the real Jenny Bligh.
And yet, Ben Cohen's body was more completely his than one might
have imagined. Jenny could, and indeed did, slough off her disguise on
Sundays or rare summer days; but Ben and that self which was apart from
musicthat wildly-beating heart, pulsing blood, flooding warmth,
grateful as the watchman's fire in the fog-sodden yard, that little
fire over which he used to hang, warming his stiffened handswere,
after all, amazingly one.
The thing surprised him even more than it surprised any one else;
above all, when it refused to be separated from his holy of holies,
crept, danced, smiled its way through the most portentous scoresa
thrilling sense of Jenny Bligh, all crotchets and quavers, smiles and
thrills, quaint homeliness, sudden dignity.
By the time he first met Jenny he was clear of Wagner, had glanced a
little patronisingly at Beethoven, turned aside and enwrapped himself
in the sombre splendour of Bach, right away from the world; then,
harking back, with a fresh vision, a sudden sense of the inevitable,
had anchored himself in the solemn, wide-stretching harbourage of
It was like a return from a long voyage, tearing round a world full
of beauty and interest, and yet, at the same time, full of pettiness,
fuss, annoyance: a home-coming beyond words. There was a sense of
eternity, a harmony which drew everything to itself, smoothing out the
pattern of life, the present life and the life to come, so crumpled
that, up to this time, he had had no real idea of the meaning of it.
All at once everything was immensely right, with Jenny as an
essential and inevitable part of the rightness. He felt this so
strongly that he never stopped to wonder if other people felt it as
plainly as he did.
Apart from all this, he was bound by the inarticulateness of his
class. His Jewish blood lent him a wider and more picturesque
vocabulary than most, and yet it stopped at any discussion of his
We have an idea that what we call the common people are more
communicative on such subjects than we are; but this is not so. They
talk of their physical ailments and sensations, but they are deeply shy
upon the subject of their feelings. Ben's mother would discuss the
state of her inside, the deaths of her relations and friends; his own
birth, down to the smallest detail. But she would never have dreamt of
telling her son that she loved him, desired his love, hungered for his
coming, grieved at his going.
Ben himself put none of his feeling for Beethoven into words, above
all to his mother; she would not have understood him if he had. He said
nothing of Jenny, either, save as a girl he'd met, a girl he was going
to bring home to tea; but she understood that without any words; that
was courting, part of the business of human nature; much like the
preparation of meals.
It was odd, coming to think of itmight have been ridiculous, save
that ridicule was the sort of thing which could find no possible
lodgment with Benthat his determination to devote his whole musical
life to Beethoven, to interpret him as no Englishman had ever done
before, should have been synonymous with his sacred, heady, and yet
absolute determination to marry Jenny Bligh.
Jenny worked in the jam-factory, and there was something of the
aroma of ripe fruit about her: ripe strawberries, raspberries, plums,
damsons. She was plumpish and fresh: very red lips and very bright
eyes, reddish-brown, the colour of blackberry leaves in autumn, with
hair to match. Her little figure was neat; her small hands, with their
square-tipped fingers, deft and quick in their movements; there was
something at once rounded and clear-cut about everything she did.
A sea-faring admirer used to say that she was a bit short in the
beam, but a daisy fur carryin' sail; and that was the idea she gave:
so well-balanced, so trim, going off to work in her wide white apron on
those rare mornings when she shook off the yellow mackintosh.
Ben saw her like that for the first time crossing the Lee just below
the timber-yard with its cranes like black notes zigzagging out over
the river, which had for once discarded its fog. It was a day of bright
blue sky, immense, rounded, silvery clouds, fresh and clean; with a
wind which caught up the white apron and billowed it out for the sheer
fun of the thing: showing trim ankles, the turn of a plump calf, such
as Ben Cohen had never even thought of before, the realisation of which
was like wine: freshly tasted, red, fruity, running through his veins,
mounting to his head. He had known that women had legs; his mother, the
laundress, suffered from herscomplainingly, devoted woman as she
wasswollen with much standing, and them there dratted veins: stocky
legs, with loose folds of stocking.
As to thinking any more of a woman's legs than of the legs of a
table, the idea had never even occurred to him. But there you are! It
is the unexpected that happens: the sort of thing which we could never
have imagined ourselves as doing, thinking, feeling. The temptations we
have recognised, struggled against, are nothing; but there comes a sort
of wild, whistling wind from nowheremuch the same as that wind about
Jenny's skirts, white apronand our life is like a kaleidoscope,
suddenly shaken up and showing a completely fresh pattern.
Who could have thought itwho?that Ben Cohen, dreamer, idealist,
passionate, pure, the devotee of art, would have fallen in love with
Jenny Bligh's legsor, rather, a pair of ankles, and a little more at
that side where the wind caught her skirtbefore he had so much as a
glimpse of her face?
Just over the bridge she stopped to speak with another girl who
worked in his own counting-house. As Ben hurried up to pass them before
they separated, really see her, this other girl recognised him,
flung him a friendly Hullo! and was answered in the same fashion.
As he moved on he heard herwas meant to hear, knew that he was
meant to hear, from the pitch of the voice
Clever ain't no word fur it! There ain't no tune as
The end of the sentence was lost; but he knew the sort of thing,
knew it by heart, had spent his time running away from it. Now,
however, he was grateful: more grateful still when he met Miss Ankles
again, and she herself, regarding Florry Hines' eulogy as a sort of
introduction, smiled, moved on a step, and herself tossed a Hullo
over one shoulder.
Ben's thin olive-tinted face was flushed as he drew forward to her
side with his odd stoop, his way of ducking his head and raising his
eyes, dark and glowing. He took Jenny's dinner-basket, and she noticed
his hands, large and well-shaped, with long fingers, widened at the
tips. Florry had said that he was a Sheeny, but there was nothing of
the Jew about him apart from his colouring, his brilliant dark eyes;
unless it were a sort of inner glow, an ardour, curbed by his almost
childlike shyness, lack of self-confidence in everything apart from his
music: that something, at once finer and more cruelly persistent,
vital, than is to be found in the purely Anglo-Saxon race.
Though Jenny liked what she called a pretty tune, she knew nothing
whatever of music, understood less. And yet, almost from that first
moment, she imderstood Ben Cohen, realising him as lover and child:
imderstood him better, maybe, then than she did later on: losing her
sure-ness for a while, shaken and bewildered; everything blurred by her
own immensity of love, longing; of fearing that she did not
understandfeeling out of it.
But that was not for sometime to come: in the meanwhile she was like
a dear little bantam hen with one chick; while Ben himself was content
to shelter under her wing, until it grew upon him that, loving her as
he did, loving his motherrealising what it meant to be a mother, in
thinking of Jenny herself with a childhis childin her armsit was
up to him to prove himself for their sakes, to make them proud of him
and his music, without the faintest idea of how proud they were
already, lift the whole weight of care from their shoulders.
The worst of it was, he told them nothing whatever about it. The
better sort of men are given to these crablike ways of appearing to
move away from what they intend to move towards. It simply seemed as
though he were forgetting them a littlethen, more and more; elbowing
them aside to clear the way for his beloved music.
He was no longer deprecating, appealing, leaning upon them: each
woman thought of him as her child, and when his love made a man of
him, they realised the hurt, nothing more.
He overdid it, too, as genius does overdo things; was brusque,
entirely immersed in his great scheme. Sometimes he even laughed to
himself over this. They don't know what I'm up to! he would declare
to himself, with a sense of triumph.
He had never even thought of his music in the money sense before,
but as his love and ambition for the two women grew upon him, he was
like a child with a new toy. He would not only make a great name, he
would make an immense fortune: his mind blinked, dazzled at the very
thought. He moved with a new pride, and alsoalas!a new remoteness.
His health had broken when he was about seventeenhis bent
shoulders still showed that old drag upon the chestand he was away in
a sanatorium for a year. When he came back he was cured. It was young
Saere, the junior partner in the timber business, who had sent him
away; and it was he who, when Ben returned, paid for lessons for him,
so that he learnt to play as well as read music.
From that time onward he had always stuck to the firm, working in
the tally sheds; paid, out of his earnings, for the use of a room and a
piano for practising upon so many hours each week, completely happy and
He had never even thought of leaving the business until he realised
his immense love for Jenny, and, through her, for his mother; the
necessity for doing something big. What did sacrifice matter? What did
it matter being poor, hungry, shabby?What did anything matter just
for a while? There was so little he wanted; meals were a nuisance; his
eyes were so dazzled by the brilliance of the future, set upon a far
horizon, that he forgot the path of the present, still beneath his
If his mother had not set food before him he would scarcely have
thought of it. But, all the same, he ate it, and money had to be earned
by some one or other.
His mother had never let him know the actual pinch of poverty; she
wore that shoe upon her own foot. He had no more idea than a child of
the cost of mere daily necessities; and during the last few years,
between his work and hers, they had been comfortable enough.
We can hang on for a bit, he said, when he spoke of leaving the
wood-yard; and she answered, almost with triumph, that she had hung
on well enough before he'd earned aught but a licking.
At first she was proud of reshouldering the entire burden; it made
him more entirely hers. He could not do without her; even with Jenny he
could not do without her. Put she had not been a young woman when Ben
was born; she was old now, and tired, with that sort of tiredness which
accumulates, heaps up, and which no single night's rest can ever cure;
the tiredness which is ready, more than ready, for a narrower
Hold on until after the concert?
Sorry fur meself if I couldn't.
The concert! That was the goal. There was a public hall at Clapton
where Ben had chanced on some really good musicjust one night of it,
and quite by chanceand this, to his mind, ennobled the Claptonites;
there was the place in which to start the revolutionising of the
musical world. Besidesand here he thought himself very canny, by no
means a Jew for nothingthere were fine old houses at Clapton, and
where there were such houses there must be rich people.
When the date was actually arranged, he practised for the best part
of the day. While he was at home he read music; he lived in a maze of
music. He never thought of advertising, collecting his public; he even
avoided his old friends, his patrons at the timber-yard, overcome by
agonies of shyness at the very thought of so much as mentioning his
concert. Quite simply, in a way he did not even attempt to explain to
himself, he felt that the world of London would scent it from afar off.
As to paid claques, presentation-tickets, patrons, advance
agents, all the booming and flattery, the jam of the powder for an
English audience, he had no idea of the existence of such things.
Beethoven was wonderful, and he had found out wonderful things about
him: that was enough.
When the Angel Gabriel blew the last trump, there would be no need
to invite the dead to rise. Neither was there any need to invite the
really elect to his concert. Not to hear him, Ben Cohen, but to hear
Beethoven as he ought to be heard; that's how he felt.
During those weeks of preparation for the concert, his mother worked
desperately hard to keep their home together without his earnings,
while Jenny helped. At first that had been enough for her, too: to
help. But later
Throughout those long evenings when, already tired from her work in
the factory, she had stood sorting, sprinkling, folding, ironing, the
two women got to a state where they scarcely dared to look at each
other: just a passing glance, a hardish stare, but no looking into.
If he had but once said, I can't bear you to work so hard for me,
everything would have been different, the fatigue wiped out. But he
didn't; he didn't even know they were working for him, working beyond
the limit of an ordinary working-woman's working-day, hard enough, in
Men can't not be expected to notice things the way we do. That's
what they told themselvesthey did not say even this much to each
other. But far, far away, out of sight, out of all actual knowledge,
was the fear which neither of them would have dared to realise, a vague
horror, a sort of ghost....
He don't carehe's changed.
And, indeed, this is how it appeared. All through that time he wore
an odd look of excitement, triumph, pleasure, which lifted him away
from himself. There was a sort of lilt in his very step; his eyes
shone, his cheeks were flushed. When he cleared a pile of
freshly-ironed, starched things from the end of a table, so as to
spread out a score upon it, laid them on the floor where the cat padded
them over with dirty feet, and his mother railed at him, as she still
did railon any subject apart from this of not caringhe glanced up
at her with bright, amused eyes, his finger still following the
black-and-white tangle of notes, looked at Jenny, and laughedactually
You great oaf! cried Mrs. Cohen, and could have killed him. Up at
four o'clock next morning, rewashing, starching, ironing, she retched
with sick fatigue and something morethat sense of giddiness, of being
hit on the head which had oppressed her of late. It was as though that
laugh of Ben's had stuck like a bone in her chest, so sharp that she
could scarcely draw breath; driven all the blood to her head.
And yet it had been full of nothing but triumph, a sort of tender
triumph, almost childish delight. He was going to do
wonderswonders!open a new world to them! He was so dazzled by his
own work, dreams, by all he had in store for them, that he did not even
see them, themselves, worn with toil, realise the meaning of it, the
reason for it. In any case he would have laughed, because they had no
idea how near it was to an end.
That concert! It would be like nothing so much as opening a door
into a new world, where they need never so much as soil a finger:
floating around, dressed in silk, feeding from off the finest china,
sleeping upon down.
Man-like, his eyes were fixed upon the future. No two women had ever
been loved as they were loved. All this work, this washing and ironing,
it resembled nothing more than the opening scene in an opera: a sort of
prelude, for the sake of contrast. They would seeO-o-oh, yes, they
It was like that old childish Shut your eyes and open your mouth.
But theythey were bound in the close-meshed strait-waistcoat of
endless toil, petty anxiety. The days and hours heaped in front of them
obliterated all possible view of the future.
In the beginning they had been as excited as he was over the thought
of the concert. He must wear a rosetteno, a flower in his
button-hole; and white kid gloves; as he moved forward upon the
platform, he must bow right and left, and draw them off as he bowed.
This was Jenny's idea. It was Jenny who made him practise his bows,
and it was Jenny who borrowed a dress-suit from a waiter-friend; while
it was his mother who got up the borrowed shirt to go with it, stiff
and shining; who polished his best boots until they looked near as
near like patent.
All this had been done close upon a fortnight before.
Jenny was a good girl, but if she was not there to see to things,
Jenny might fail with a bubble on the shirt-front. No amount of meaning
well was of any use in getting up a stiff shirt as it ought to be got
Better 'ave it all ready, 'a-case o' anything happening. That was
what Mrs. Cohen said to herself, with a dull dread at the back of her
mind, a feeling as though every next day were a Friday.
Her face had been oddly flushed of late, with a rather fixed and
glassy look about the eyes. Jenny thought of this, on her way to the
concert; alone, for by some ill fate, his nearer vision blurred in that
golden maze of the future, Ben had fixed his concert for a Friday.
This Friday! Always a bad day, bad in itself, bad for every one,
like an east wind; worst of all for a laundress: not so depressing as a
Monday, but so hurried, so overcrowded, with all the ironing and
folding, the packing of the lots, all small, into their separate
newspaper parcels; the accumulated fatigue of a whole week. Some demon
seemed to possess her clients that week: they had come in with a collar
here, a shirt there, an odd pillow-slip, tablecloth, right over
Thursday. She was working until after twelve o'clock that nightso was
Jennyup before dawn next morning, though no one save herself knew of
Whatever they do, they shan't not keep me from my Ben's concert!
That was what she said, with a vision of motors blocking the road in
front of the little hall. But she had been a laundress best part of a
lifetimebefore she discovered herself as the mother of a geniusand
it had bit into her bone: she could not get finished, and she could not
leave the work undone.
Some one's got to earn a living!that was what she said,
embittered by fatigue, the sweat pouring down her face, beaten to every
sensibility, apart from her swollen feet, by the time that Jenny called
in for her, soon after six. She had longed to go, had never even
thought of not going; but by now, apart from her physical pain and
weariness, she was alive to but one point, her whole being drawn out to
a sort of cone with an eye at the end of it; and far, far away at the
back of her brain, struggling with impenetrable mists, but one
thoughtif she scorched anything, she would have to replace h.
When Jenny found that it was impossible to move her, she made her
own way up to Clapton alone. For Ben had to be at the hall early; there
were certain matters to arrange, and he would try over the piano.
Her efforts with Mrs. Cohen had delayed her; she was driven
desperate by that and malice of inanimate thing: every 'bus and tram
was against her, whisking out of sight just as she wanted them, or
blocked by slow crawling carts and lorries. There was a tight, hard
pain in her heart, like toothache, round which her whole body gathered,
pressing, impaled upon it; a sense of desperation, and yet at the heart
of this, like a nerve, the wonder if anything really mastered.
Ben had promised to reserve seats for his mother and herself; but
had he?Had he? Would she find the place blocked by swells with their
hard stare, duchesses and suchlike, glistening in diamonds? In her
minds eye she saw billows of silk, slabs of black doth and shining
white shirt-frontshundreds and hundreds of them. And Ben bowing,
bowing to them as she had taught him to do.
For some time past he had been so far away, so detached that she was
haunted by the fear that if she put out a finger to touch him it might
go through him, as though he were a ghost. At times she had caught him,
had him to her in a passion of love and longing. But even then, with
his head against her heart, his lips, or some pulse or nerve, had moved
in a wordless tune, the beat of time.
If only he had still seemed to need her, nothing, nothing would have
mattered. But he didn't: he needed no oneno one. He seemed so frail,
she had made sure that he wanted looking after; but he didn't. A
drunkard might have fallen down in the street, needed fetching,
supporting, exhorting; a bully come home with a broken head. But it
seemed as though Ben were, in reality, for all his air of appeal,
sufficient to himself, moving like a steady light through the darkness;
unstirred by so much as a breath of wind.
Overcome by anxiety, she got out of the tram too soon.
It had begun to rain, a dull, dark night, and there was a blur of
misty light flooding the pavement a little way ahead. That must be the
hall. She was afraid of overshooting the mark. Those trams had such a
way of getting going just as one wanted to be out of them!
But the light was nothing more than a cinema, and she she had a good
quarter of a mile to walk in the wet. The cruel wet!just like it to
be wet on this night of all nights! Even her optimism was gone. She
kept on thinking of Mrs. Cohen, her flushed face and oddly-glazed eyes;
the queer stiff way in which she moved, held her head. For once she was
angry with Ben.
'Im and his crowds! 'Im an' 'is fine lydies! 'Im an' 'is
After all, she did overshoot her mark; on inquiry for the hall, she
was told that she had passed it, and was obliged to retrace her steps.
No wonder she had passed it; with all she had expected at the back
of her mind! The strip of pavement outside was dark, with not so much
as a single taxi in sight; the door half-shut, the dreary vestibule
badly-lighted, empty, smelling of damp. The sodden-looking sketch of a
man in the pay-box seemed half asleep; stretched, yawned when she
spoke, pushing a strip of pink paper towards her as she gave her name.
For two. He poked out a long neck and peered round the edge of the
box, like a tortoise from its shell.
The other lydy wasn't not able ter come ter-night, answered Jenny
with dignity, and the beast grinned, displaying a wreckage of broken
Ain't not what you might call a crowd, anyway, he remarked.
She could have killed him for that! She realised the white face of a
clock, but she would not look at it. She was early, that was it. Look
how she had hurried. No wonder that she was early. And great ladies
were always late: she had learnt that from the Daily Mail
Two an' two make fourthem too late an' me too early! she said to
herself, with a gallant effort after her own brisk way of taking
things, a surer tap of heels on the stone floor as she turned towards a
swing-door to her left; pushed it open, and was hit in the face by what
seemed like a thick black curtain.
A dim white-gloved hand was thrust through it and took her ticket.
Mind you don't fallno good wasting the lights until they comeif
ever they does come, exhorted and explained a voice out of the
darkness; for, after all, it was not a curtain, but just darkness.
At first Jenny could see nothing. Then, little by little, it seemed
as though different objects crept forward, one by one, like wild
animals from their lair.
Those white patches, the hands of two white-gloved men, holding
sheaves of programmesshe realised one between her own
There was the platform, the great piano sprawling over it; and in
front of this, rows and rows and rowsand rows upon rowsof empty
She looked behind herthey had argued long over the question of
places for herself and his mother. The very best, that's what Ben had
said; but they fought against this, fought and conquered, for the best
seats meant money.
What's a seat more or less, I'd like to know?
Money, all money. Old Mrs. Cohen had been firm upon this point.
Still, there were a great many seats yet further backand all
empty: a little raised, seeming to push themselves forward with the
staring vacuity of an idiot: more seats overhead in a curving balcony,
rising above each other as though proud of their emptiness. It would
have been impossible to believe that mere vacant places could wear so
sinister, as well as foolish, an aspect. An idiot, but a cruel idiot,
too: the whole thing one cruel idiot, of the sort that likes to pull
legs from flies.
There was a clock there, also. For a long while Jenny would not
allow herself to look at it. But something drew her, until it became an
unbearable effort to keep her eyes away from it, to look anywhere else;
and at last she turned her head, stared, sharply, defiantly, as though
It was five-and-twenty minutes to nine. Five-and-twenty minutes to
nine, and the concert was to have begun at eight!Five-and-twenty
minutes to nine, and there was no one thereno one whatever!
The clock hands dragged themselves on for another five minutes; then
one of the men disappeared behind the scene; came back, speaking
excitedly, gesticulating with white hands:
We're to turn on the light. 'E swears as 'e won't give it up'e's
goin' ter play.
Goin' ter play? Well, I'll be blowed!Goin' ter play! An' with
nothing 'ere but That!
Jenny saw how he jerked his head in her direction. So she was
Thatshe, Jenny Bligh!and so far gone that she did not even care.
As the lights went up the hall seemed to swim in a sort of mist: the
terra-cotta walls, the heavy curtains at either side of the platform,
those awful empty seats!
Jenny spread her skirt wide, catching at the chair to either side of
her, stretching out her arms along the backs of them. She had a wild
feeling as though it were up to her to spread herself sufficiently to
cover them all. She half rose. Perhaps she could hide more of that
emptiness if she moved nearer to the front: that was her thought.
But no; she mustn't do that: this was the place Ben had chosen for
her; she must stay where she was. He might look there, miss her, and
imagine that there was nobody, nobody at all; that even she had failed
If only she could spread herselfspread herself
indefinitelymultiply herself: anything, anything to cover those
beastly chairs: sticking out there, grinning, shaming her man!
Then she had a sudden idea of running into the street, entreating
the people to come in; was upon her feet for the second time, when Ben
walked on to the platform.
For once he was not ducking or moving sideways; he came straight
forward, bowed to the front of him, right and left; drew off his gloves
and bowed again. Mingling with her agony of pity, a thrill ran through
Jenny Bligh at this. He remembered her teaching; he was
hershershersafter all, hersmore than ever hers!
The borrowed coat, far too big for him, rose in a sort of hood at
the back of his neck; as he bowed something happened to the centre stud
of his shirt, and it disappeared into an aperture shaped like a dark
gourd in the whiteness.
But, for all that, Jenny felt herself overawed by his dignity, as
any one would have been: there was something in the man so much greater
than his clothes, greater than his conscious, half-childish self.
Jenny's hands were raised to clap; but they dropped into her lap,
lay there, as, with a face set like marble, Ben turned and seated
himself at the piano. There was a moment's pause, while he stared
straight in front of himsuch a pause that a feeling of goose-flesh
ran down the back of her armsthen he began to play.
Jenny had not even glanced at her programme; she would have
understood nothing of it if she had; but it gave the Sonata, Op. III,
as the opening piece.
Ben, however, took no notice of this; but, for some reason he could
not have explained, flung himself straightway into the third item, the
The sounds flooded the hall; swept through it as if it were not
there, obliterating time and space. It was as though the Heavenly Host
had descended upon the earth, sweet, wonderful, and yet terrible, with
a sweep of pinions, deep-drawn breathTubal Cain and his kind, deified
and yet human in their immense masculinity and strength.
Jenny Bligh was neither imaginative nor susceptible to sound, but it
drew her out of herself. It was like bathing in a sea whose waves
overpower one so that, try as one may to cling to the earth, it slips
off from beneath one's feetshamed, beaten. She had a feeling that if
it did not stop soon she would die; and would yet die when it did stop.
Her heart beat thickly and heavily, her eyes were dim; she was
bewildered, lost, and yet exhilarated. It was worse than an air raid,
she thoughtmore exciting, more wonderful.
The end left her almost as much exhausted as Ben himself. The sweat
was running down his face as he got up from his seat, came forward to
the front of the platform, and bowed right and left. Jenny had not
clappedshe would as soon have thought of clapping God with His last
trumpbut Ben bowed as though a whole multitude had applauded him.
By some chance, the only direction in which he did not turn his eyes
was the gallery: even then, he might not have seen a single figure
seated a little to one sidea man with a dark overcoat buttoned up to
his chin, who clapped his two thumbs noiselessly together, drawing in
his breath with a sort of whistle.
That's the stuff! he said. That's the stuff to give 'em!
After a moment's pause, Ben turned again to the piano. This time he
played the Sonata Pathétique in C Minor, Op. XIII; then the Sonata
Walstein in C Major. Between each, he got up, moved forward to the edge
of the platform, and bowed.
At the end of the Sonata, Op. IIIby rights the first on the
programmeduring the short interval which followed it he straightened
his shoulders with a sort of swagger, utterly unlike himself, swung
round to the piano again, and slammed out God Save the King.
He played it through to the very end, then rose, bowed from where he
stood, stared round at the empty halla dreadful, strained, defiant
smile stiffening upon his faceand sinking back upon his stool, laid
his arms across the keyboard with a crash of notes, burying his head
In a moment Jenny was out of her seat. There were chairs in her way,
and she kicked them aside; raked one forward with her foot, and
scrambled on to the platform; then, catching a sideways glimpse of the
empty seats, bent forward and shook her fist at them.
Beasts! Pigs! A-a-a-ah!You!
The attendants had disappeared, the stranger was lost in shadows.
There was nobody there but themselves: it would not have mattered if
there had been: all the lords and ladies, all the swells in the world,
would not have mattered. The great empty hall, suddenly friendly,
closed, curving, around them.
Jenny dropped upon her knees at Ben's side, and flung her arms about
him, with little moans of love and pity; slid one hand beneath his
cheek, with a muffled roll of notes, raised his head and pressed it
against her heart.
There, my dear! There, my lovetheretherethere!
She laid her lips to his thick dark hair, in a passion of adoration,
loving every lock of it; and then, woman-like, picked a white thread
from off his black coat; clasped him afresh, with joy and sorrow like
runnels of living water pouring through and through her.
There, there, there, there!
He was too much of a child to fight against her: all his pride was
gone. Oh, Jenny, Jenny, Jenny! he cried; then, in an extremity of
innocent anguish, amazement
They didn't come! They don't carethey don't want it! Jenny, they
don't want it!
Don't you worry about them there blighters, my darling. Selfish
pigs! they ain't not worth a thought. Don't you worry about them.
Don't you worry about Beethoven, neiferain't no better nor he
oughter be, taeke my word fur it. Lettin' you in like this ere!
Theretherethere, my dear!
They clung together, weeping, rocking to and fro.
Well, said the man in the gallery, I'm jiggered! and crept out
very softly, stumbling a little because of the damp air which seemed to
have got into his eyes and made them smart.
As the lovers came out into the little vestibule, clinging to each
other, they did not so much as see the stranger, who stood talking to
the man in the box-office, but went straight on out into the rain, with
their umbrellas unopened in their hands.
A good thing as the 'all people insists upon payment in advance,
remarked the man in the box-office.
The other gave him a curious, half-contemptuous glance.
I'd like to hear you say that in a year's time.
Because that chap will be able to buy and sell a place like this a
hundred times over by thenQueen's HallAlbert HallI know. It's my
business to know. There's something about his playing. That
something different they're all out for.
It took a long time to get back to Canning Town. Even Jenny had lost
her certainty: her grasp of the ways of 'buses and such things. She
felt oddly clear and empty: like a room swept and garnished, with the
sense of a ghost in some dim corner of it; physically sapped out.
Ben clung to her. He said very little, but he clung to her, with an
odd, lost air: the look of a child who has been slapped in the face,
and cannot understand why.
She was so much smaller than he, like a diminutive, sturdy
steam-tug; and yet if she could have carried him, she would have done
As it was, she threw her whole heart and soul into guiding,
comforting; thinking of a hundred things at once, her soft mouth folded
tight with anxiety.How to prevent him from feeling shamed before his
mother: how to keep the trouble away from her: though at the back of
her own mind was a feelingand she had an idea that it would be at the
back of old Mrs. Cohen's alsoof immense relief, of some load gone:
almost as though her child had been through a bad attack of
scarlet-fever, or something which one does not take twice.
With all this, there was the thought of what she would step out and
buy for their supper, if the fried-fish shop were still open; all she
would do and say to cheer them.
As for Ben, the Hammerclavier was surging through his brain,
carrying the empty hall with it, those rows upon rows of empty
seatsswinging them to and fro so that he felt physically sick, as
though he were at sea.
Quite suddenly, as they got out of the last tram, the rain ceased.
At the worst it had been a mild night of velvety darkness and soft
airs, the reflection from the lamps swimming in a haze of gold across
the wet pavement; but now, just as they reached the end of his own
street, the black sky opened upon a wide sea of pinkish-amber and a
full moon sailed into sight. At the same moment, Ben's sense of
anguished bewilderment cleared away, leaving in its place a feeling of
To be back in his own home againthat was all he asked. You'll
stay the night at our place, Jenny?
Yes; I promised your mother. Her brow knitted, and then cleared
again. Ah, well; that was all over: Ben would go back to his regular
job again; they would get married; then there would be her money, too:
no need for old Mrs. Cohen to do another hand's turn. Plenty of time
for her to rest now: all her life for resting in.
Your mother. As she spoke Ben remembered, for the first time,
actively remembered, for of course it was his mother that he meant when
he thought of home.
She wasn't there, Jenny! She wasn't there!
She was very busy, 'adn't not finished 'er work. Something beyond
Jenny's will stiffened within her. So he had only just realised it! She
tried not to remember, but she could not help itthe flushed face, the
glassy eyes: the whole look of a woman beaten, with her back against a
wall; condemning Ben by her very silence, desperate courage.
Yes, work. Jenny snapped it: hating herself for it, drawing him
closer, and yet unable to help it.
Why began Ben, and then stoppedhorrified. At last he
realised it: perhaps it ran to him through Jenny's arm; perhaps it was
just that he was down on earth again, humble, ductile, seeing other
people's lives as they were, not as he meant to make them.
All night; one the saeme as another.
But why he began again; stopped dead, loosed his own arm and
caught hers. All this while workin' like that! She works too hard.
Jenny, look here: she works too hard. And Ithis damned music! Look
here, Jenny, it's got to stop! I'll never play a note again; she shall
never do a hard stroke of work again; never, nevernot so long as I'm
here to work for her. All my lifeever since I can rememberwashing
and ironing, likelikethe very devil!
He pulled the girl along with him. That was what I was thinking all
the time: to make a fortune so that you'd both have everything you
wanted, a big house, servants, motors, silk dressesAnd all the time
letting you both work yourselves to death! But this is the end; no more
of that. To be happythat's all that matterssort of everyday
No more of that beastly washing, ironingit's the end of that,
anyhow. When I'm back at the timber-yard
He was like a child again, planning; they almost ran down the
street. No more o' that damned washin' and ironin'no more work
True! How true! The street door opened straight into the little
kitchen. She was not in bed, for the light was still burning; they
could see it at either side of the blind, shrunk crooked with steam.
There was one step down into the kitchen; but for all that, the door
would not open when they raised the latch and pushed it, stuck against
Some of those beastly old clothes! Ben shoved it, hailing his
mother. Mother! Mother, you've got something stuck against the door.
Odd that she did not come to his help, quick as she always was.
After all, it gave way too suddenly for him to altogether realise
the oddness; and he stumbled forward right across the kitchen, seeing
nothing until he turned and faced Jenny still standing upon the step,
staring downward, with an ashy-white face, wide eyes fixed upon old
Mrs. Cohen, who lay there at her feet, restingincomprehensibly
They need not have been so emphatic about it allNo more beastly
washing, no more workfor the whole thing was out of their hands once
and for all.
She had fallen across the doorway, a flat-iron still in her
handthe weapon with which she had fought the world, kept the wolf
from that same doorall the strain gone out of her face, a little
twisted to the left side, and oddly smiling. One child's pinafore was
still unironed; the rest were folded, finished.
They raised her between them, laid her upon her bed. It was Jenny
who washed her, wrapped her in clean linenno one else should touch
her; Ben who sat by her, with hardly a break, until the day that she
was buried, wiped out with self-reproach, grief; desolate as any child,
sodden with tears.
He collected all his music into a pile, the day before the funeral,
gave it to Jenny to put under the coppera burnt-offering.
If it hadn't been for that, she might be here now. I don't want
ever to see it againever to hear a note of it! That was what he
Jenny went back to the house with him after the funeral: she was
going to give him his tea, and then return to her own room. In a week
they were to be married, and she would be with him for good, looking
after him. That evening, before she left, she would set his breakfast,
cut his lunch ready for the morrow. By Saturday week they would be
settled down to their regular life together. She would not think about
his music; pushed it away at the back of her mindover and done
withwould not even allow herself the disloyalty of being glad. And
yet was glad, deeply glad, relieved, despite her pride in it, in him:
as though it were something unknown, alien, dangerous, like things
Two men were waiting at the door of the narrow slip of a house: the
tall, thin one with his overcoat still buttoned up to his chin, and
another fat and shining, with a top-hat, black frock-coat, and white
About that concert said the first man.
We were thinking that if we could persuade you to play put in
There was no one there, interrupted Ben roughly. His shoulders
were bent, his head dropped forward on his chest, poking sideways, his
eyes sullen as a child's.
I was there, put in the first man, and I must say, impressed
Very deeply impressed, added the other; but once again Ben brushed
You were thereat my concert! Jenny, standing a little backfor
they were all three crowded upon the tiny door-stepsaw him glance up
at the speaker with something luminous shining through the darkness of
his face. At my concert! And you liked it? You liked it?
'Like' is scarcely the word.
We feel that if you could be persuaded to give another concert,
put in the stout man, blandly, and would allow
I shall never play againnevernever! cried Ben, harshly; but
this time the other went on imperturbably:
allow us to make all arrangements, take all responsibility: boom
you; see to the advertising and all thatwe thought if we were to let
practically all the seats for the first concert go in complimentary
tickets; get a few good names on the committeeperhaps a princess or
something of that sort as a patronessa strong claque
Of course, playing Beethovenplaying him as you played him the
other night. Grandmagnificent! put in the first man realising the
weariness, the drop to blank indifference in the musician's face. The
'Hammerclavier' for instance
It was magical.Oh, yes, yesthatthat! Ben's eyes widened, his
face glowed. He hummed a bar or so. Was there ever anything like it?
My God! was there ever anything like it!
Jenny, who had the key, squeezed past them at this, and ran through
the kitchen to the scullery, where she filled the kettle and put it
upon the gas-ring to boil; looked round her for a moment, with quick,
darting eyeslike a small wild animal at bay in a strange placethen
drew a bucketful of water, turned up her sleeves, the skirt of her new
black frock, tied on an old hessian apron of Mrs. Cohen's, with a
savage jerk of the strings, and dropping upon her knees, started to
scrub the floor, the rough stone floor.
Men!trapsin' in an' out, muckin' up a place!
She could hear the murmur of men's voices in the kitchen, and
through it that trapsin' of other men struggling with a long coffin
on the steep narrow stairs.
On and on it wentthe agonised remembrance of all that banging,
trampling; the swish of her own scrubbing-brush; the voices round the
table where old Mrs. Cohen had stood ironing for hours and hours upon
Then the door into the scullery was opened. For a moment or so she
kept her head obstinately lowered, determined that she would not
look up. Then, feeling her own unkind-ness, she raised it and smiled
upon Ben, who stood there, flushed, glowing, and yet too shame-faced to
speaksmiled involuntarily, as one must smile at a child.
Thatthatmusic stuffI suppose it's burnt? he began, fidgeting
from one foot to another, his head bent, ducking sideways, his shoulder
to his ear.
Her glance enwrapped himsmiling, loving, bitter-sweet. Things were
not going to be as she had thought; none of that going out regularly to
work, coming home to tea like other men; none of that safe sameness of
life. At the back of her calm was a fierce battle; then she rose to her
feet, wiped her hands upon her apron, stooped to the lowest shelf of
the cupboard, and drew out a pile of music.
There you are, my dear. I didn't not burn it, a'causeWell, I
suppose as I sorter knowed all the time as you'd be wantin' it.
Children! Well, one knew where one was with childrenreal children.
But men, that was a different pair of shoes altogethersomething you
could never be sure ofunless you remembered, always remembered, to
treat them as though they were grown-up, think of them as
Now you taeke that an' get along back to yer friends an' yer
playin', and let me get on with my work. It'll be dark an' tea-time on
us afore ever I've time ter so much as turn round.
That woman, said the fat, shining man, as they moved away down the
street, greasy with river-mist.Hang it all! where in the world are
we to get a taxi?Commonplace little thing; a bit of a drag on him, I
Don't you believe it, my friendthat's the sort to give
'emsome'un who will sort of dry-nurse 'emfeed 'emmind 'em. That's
the wife for a genius. The only sort of wifemark my word for it.
THE DEVIL TO PAY, by Max Pemberton
(From The Story-Teller)
Copyright, 1922, by Max Pemberton. Reprinted by permission
of the author.
To say that the usually amiable Ambrose Cleaver was in the devil of
a temper would be merely to echo the words of his confidential clerk,
John, who, looking through the glass partition between their offices,
confessed to James, the office boy, that he had not seen such goings on
since old Ambrose, the founder of the firm, was gathered to his
There won't be a bit of furniture in the place presently, said he,
and I wouldn't give twopence for the cat when he's finished kicking
her. This comes of the women, my boy. Never have nothing to say to a
woman until you've finished your dinner and lighted your cigar. Many a
good business have I seen go into the Bankruptcy Court because of a
petticoat before lunch. You keep away from 'em if you want to be Lord
Mayor of London, same as Dick Whittington was.
James did not desire particularly to become Lord Mayor of London,
but he was greatly amused by his employer's temper.
Never heard such language, said heand him about to marry her.
Why, he almost threw them jewels at her 'ead; and when she told him he
must have let the devil in by accident, he says as he was always glad
to see her friends. They'll make a happy couple, surely.
John shook his old dense head, and would express no opinion upon the
Misfortunes never come singly, said he. Here's that Count Florian
waiting for him in the ante-room. Now that's a man I can't abide. If
anybody told me he was the devil, I'd believe him soon enough. A bad
'un, James, or I don't know the breed. An evil man who seems to pollute
the very air you breathe.
James was not so sure of it.
He give me half a crown for fetching of a cab yesterday, and told
me to go to the music-hall with it. He must have a lot of money, for he
never smokes his cigars more than half-way through, and he wears a
different scarf-pin every day. That's wot comes of observation, Mr.
John. I could tell you all the different pairs of trousers he's worn
for the last three weeks, and so I'm going to make my fortune as the
Mr. John would not argue about that. The bell of the inner office
now tinkled, and that was an intimation that the Count Nicholas Florian
was to be admitted to the Holy of Holies. So the old man hurried away
and, opening the sacred door with circumspection, narrowly escaped
being knocked down by an enraged and hasty catglad to escape that
inferno at any cost.
You rang, sir?
Ambrose Cleaver, thirty-three years of age, square-jawed,
fair-haired, a florid complexion and with a wonderful pair of clear
blue eyes, admitted that he did ring.
And don't be so dd slow next time, he snapped.
I'll see the Count Florian at once.
The old man withdrew timidly, while his master mopped up the ink
from the pot he had broken in his anger.
Enough to try the devil himself, was the sop that argument offered
to his heated imagination. She knows I hate Deauville like poison, and
of course it's to Deauville she must go for the honeymoon. And she
looks so confoundedly pretty when she's in a temperwhat wonderful
eyes she's got! And when she's angry the curls get all round her ears,
and it's as much as a man can do not to kiss her on the spot. Of
course, I didn't really want her to have opals if she thinks they're
unlucky, but she needn't have insisted that I knew about it and bought
them on purpose to annoy her. Good God! I wish there were no women in
the world sometimes. What a splendid place it would be to live in, and
what a fine time the men would havefor, of course, they are all the
daughters of the devil really, and that's why they make life too hot
Mr. John entered at this moment showing in the Count, and so a very
cheerful argument was thus cut short. Ambrose pulled himself together
and suppressing, as best he could, any appearance of aversion from the
caller who now presented himself, he sat back in his chair and prepared
to hear the tale.
Count Florian was at that time some fifty-nine years of age, dark as
an Italian and not without trace of an Eastern origin. Though it was
early in the month of May, he still wore a light Inverness cape of an
ancient fashion, while his patent-leather boots and his silk hat shone
with the polish of a well-kept mirror. When he laughed, however, he
showed ferocious teeth, some capped with gold, and in his eyes was a
fiery light not always pleasant to behold.
A chilly morning, he began. You have no fire, I see.
You find it so? queried Ambrose. Well, I thought it quite warm.
Ah, said the count, you were born, of course, in this detestable
country. Do not forget that where I live there are people who call the
climate hell, and he laughed sardonically, with a laugh quite
unpleasant to hear.
Ambrose did not like such talk, and showed his displeasure plainly.
The climate is good enough for me, he said. Personally, I don't
want to live in the particular locality you name. Have a cigar and tell
me why you calledthe old business, I suppose? Well, you know my
opinion about that. I want none of it. I don't believe it is honest
business, and I think that if we did it, we might all end in the dock.
So you know my mind before we begin.
The Count heard him patiently, but did not seem in any way
There is very little business that is honest, he said;
practically none at all. Look at politics, the Church, art, the
sciencesthose who flourish are the imposters, while your honest men
are foolish enough to starve in garrets. If a man will undertake
nothing that is open to the suspicion of self-interest, he should
abandon all his affairs at once and retire to a monastery, where
possibly he will discover that the prior is cheating the abbot and the
cellarer cheating them both. You have a great business opportunity, and
if anybody suffers it is only the Government, which you must admit is a
pure abstractionsuggesting chiefly a company of undiscovered rascals.
The deal which I have to propose to you concerns a sum of half a
million sterling, and that is not to be passed by lightly. I suggest,
therefore, that at least you read the documents I have brought with me,
and that we leave the matter of honesty to be discussed by the
He laid upon the table a bundle of papers as he spoke, and lighted a
cigarette by lightly rubbing a match against the tip of the fourth
finger of his left hand. Ambrose felt strangely uneasy. A most uncanny
suspicion had come upon him while the man was speaking. He felt that no
ordinary human being faced him, and that he might in very truth be
talking with the devil. Nor would this idea quit him despite its
You must have great influence, Count, he remarked
presentlygreat influence to get such a valuable commission as this!
The Count was flattered.
I have servants in every country, he said; the rich are always my
friendsthe poor often come to me because they are not rich. Few who
know me can do without me; indeed, I may say that but for such men as I
am the world would not go on. I am the mainspring of its endeavour.
And yet when I met you it was on the links above La Turbie.
The count laughed, showing his glittering teeth as any carnivorous
animal might have done.
Ah, I remember. You met me when I was playing golf with a very
saintly lady. Latterly, I hear, she has ceased to go to church and
taken to bobbed hair. Women are strange creatures, Mr. Cleaver, but
difficult, very difficult sometimes. I have had many disappointments
You find men easier?
Indeed, there are few men who are not willing to go to the devil if
the consideration be large enough. A woman, on the other hand, is too
often the victim of her emotions. She will suffer eternal torment for
the man she loves, and she will cheat for him. But for the rest of
usnothing, positively nothing at all; she is neither honest nor
dishonest, she merely passes us by.
Ah, exclaimed Ambrose, a little wearily, I wish I could think
that about my fiancée. She's just been upthat's why you find
me upset. I bought her opals, and, of course, she wants diamonds. You
see, I forgot she wasn't born in October.
The Count nodded his head in sympathy.
I must have a little talk to her. I am sure we shall be good
friends. Miss Kitty Palmer, is it not? Forgive me, I read it in the
newspapersa charming face but a little temper, I think. Well, well,
there is no harm in that. What a dull place the world would be but for
a little temper! You have much to be thankful for, Mr. Cleaververy,
very much. And now this concession, by which you will make two hundred
thousand pounds at a very moderate estimate. There will be very little
temper when you take home that news. No woman is angry with a man who
makes money, but she has a great contempt for him who does not.
Even if he made it dishonestly?
She does not care a snap of the fingers how he makes it, believe
And afterwards, when he goes to prison
Pshawonly fools go to prison. If your foolish principles were
made the test, there would hardly be a free man in Mincing Lane. We
should have to lock up the whole City. Come, let me have your
signature, and I will do the rest. To refuse is madness. You are
offered the chance of a lifetime.
Ambrose did not reply to him immediately. It had come to him
suddenly that this was the hour of a great temptation, and he sat very
still, conscious that his heart beat fast because of the evil that was
near him. The Count watched him, meanwhile, as a wild beast may watch
its prey. The man's eyes appeared to have turned to coals of fire; his
fingers twitched; his teeth were on edgehe had even ceased to smoke.
Well? he said at last, unable to suffer the silence any longer.
Ambrose rose from his chair and went over slowly to the great safe,
which stood in the corner of his office; he unlocked it and took some
documents from a shelf upon the right-hand side. The Count stood at his
elbow while he did so, and he could feel the man's breath warm upon his
Suddenly a violent impulse overcame him. He swung round and seized
the fellow by the collar, and in an instant, endowed as it were with
superhuman strength, he hurled the man into the safe and turned the key
By heaven! he cried, but I have locked up the devil.
Ambrose dismissed John, the man, and James, the boy, and told them
he would have no need of their services for some days.
I am going away for a little holiday, he said. The letters can
await my return. You may both go down to Brighton for a week, and I
will pay your expenses. It is right that you should have a little
change of air more than once a year, so away with you both, and don't
let me hear of you until Monday next.
James looked at John and John looked at James. Was their excellent
employer demented, then, or had they understood him incorrectly?
Not, said John, when they were alone together, that I
particularly wished to go to Brighton just now, but there you are. Half
the pleasure in life, my boy, is wanting to do things, and when you
have to do them without wanting it, even though they are pleasant
things, somehow all the savour has gone out of the salt, so to speak.
But, of course, we shall have to go, seeing that we couldn't tell Mr.
Cleaver a lie.
James was a little astonished at that, for he had told thousands of
lies in his brief life, though now he really had no desire to tell one
I shall be glad to get away from here for a few days, any'ow, he
said; it's so 'ot and close, and when you go near the safe in the
other horfice it's just as though you stood by a roaring fire. Good
thing, Mr. John, that the thing is fire-proof, or we might have the
whole show burned down, as Mr. Ambrose hisself was saying. 'Very 'ot
for the time of year, James,' says he, and 'burnin, 'ot,' says I. We'll
find it cooler at Brighton, Mr. John, and perhaps we can go to the
pictures, though I'm fed up with all them rotten stories about crooks
and such like, and so are you, I'm sure.
Mr. John said that he was, though he was surprised at such an
opinion emanating from James. When they locked up the inner
officetheir master being gone homethey discovered in the fire-grate
the ashes of what had been a formidable-looking document, and it really
did seem as though the concrete upon which the great safe stood had
become quite hot, but there was no visible sign of fire, and so they
went off, wondering and contented, but by no means in a mood of
exhilaration, as properly they should have been.
Ambrose had taken a cab at his own door, and his first visit was to
the Bond Street jeweller who had sold him the opals.
He was quite sure that he had shut up the devil in his office safe,
and as he drove it seemed to him that he became conscious of a new
world round about him, though just how it was new he could not have
Everybody wore a look of great contentthere was subdued laughter
but no real merrimentnor did any hasten as though he had real
business to do; while the very taxi-cabs drove with circumspection, and
actually waited for old ladies to cross the street before them. When
his own cab stopped he gave the man half a crown as usual; but the
driver called him back and pointed out his error.
Excuse me, sir, eighteenpence is the fare with threepence for my
gratuity, that makes one and ninepence. So I have to give you ninepence
back, although I thank you all the same.
Ambrose pocketed the money, quite insensible of anything but the
man's civility, and entered immediately into the sanctum of the great
jeweller. He found that worthy a little distrait and far from any
desire to do big business. In fact, his first words told of his coming
retirement from an occupation which had enriched him during a good
forty years of profit and rarely of loss.
The fact is, Mr. Cleaver, that I foresee the day coming when women
will wear no jewellery. Already the spirit of competition has passed,
and it is by competition and the pride of competition that this trade
has flourished. A woman buys a rope of pearls because another woman
wears one. Lady A cannot allow Lady B to have more valuable diamonds
than she possesses. Very few really admire the gems for their own sake,
and when you think of the crimes that have been committed because of
them, the envious passions they arouse, and the swindles to which they
give birth, then, indeed, we may wish that every precious stone lay
deep at the bottom of the sea.
But, my dear sir, are you not thus banishing much beauty from the
worlddid not the Almighty create precious stones for pretty women to
The jeweller shrugged his shoulders, sweeping aside carelessly some
priceless pearls that lay on the table before him.
The Almighty created them to lie securely in their shells, or deep
in the caverns of the earth; for the rivers to wash them with sweet
waters or the lurid fire to shape them in the bowls of the mountains.
The beauties given us to enjoy are those upon which our eyes may light
in the woodlands or from the heightsthe glory of the sunset, the
stillness of the sea, the thousand Hues of a garden of flowers, or the
cascade as it falls from the mountain top. These things are common to
all, but the precious stone is too often for the neck or the fingers of
the harlot and the adventuress. No, sir, I shall retire from this
business and seek out some quiet spot where I can await with composure
the solemn moment of dissolution we all must face.
Ambrose was almost too astonished to speak.
I admire your philosophy, he said at length, but the fact is,
that I want a diamond ring and a rope of pearls and if
Ah, said the old man interrupting him, it is odd that you should
speak of pearls, for I have just been telling my partner here that
whatever he may do in the future, he will find pearls of little profit
to him. What with imitations and the 'cultured' article, women are
coming already to despise them. But even if you take your fiancée
a diamond ring, will she not merely say to herself: 'an excellent
beginning, now what is the next thing I can get out of him?' Be wise
and cultivate no such spirit of cupidity, foreign to a good woman's
nature but encouraged by the men, who, for vanity's sake, heap presents
upon her. Take rather this little cross, set with pure amethysts, the
emblem of faith and so discover, my dear sir, whether she loves the man
or the jewel, for indeed but few women love both, as all their story
Ambrose took the cross and thanked the old man for his words of
wisdom. Another cab carried him on his way to Upper Gloucester Place
where Kitty Palmer then lived with her saintly motherand as he went,
he reflected upon the jeweller's words.
I'll put her to the proof, he said to himself, if she likes this
twopenny halfpenny cross, she is a miracle among women. But, of course,
she won't like it and there'll be another scene. What a devil of a
temper she was in this morning and how she made the fur fly! If she's
like that now, I shall just take her into my arms and kiss her until
she's done fighting. After all, I wouldn't give sixpence for a woman
who had no spirit. It's their moods that make them so
fascinatinglittle devils that they are at their best!
The arrival at the house cut short his ruminations and he hastened
into the well-known drawing-room and there waited impatiently while the
maid summoned Kitty from her bedroom. She came down immediately to his
great surprisefor usually she kept him waiting at least half an
hourand her mood was strangely changed, he thought. A pretty,
flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, cream and white English type she was, but her
chin spoke also of determination and the eyes which could look love to
eyes that looked again upon occasion could also speak of anger which
resented all control. This afternoon, however, Kitty was as meek as a
lamb. She had become so utterly changed in an hour that Ambrose hardly
My dear girl, he began, I am so sorry that I lost my temper this
Oh, nonot you, Ambrose dear. It was Iof course it was awfully
silly and we won't go to Deauville if you don't want to. Let it be
Fontainebleau by all meansthough really, it does not seem important
whether we do get married or don't while you love me. Love after all is
what matters, isn't it, Ambrose dearest?
He had to say that it was, though he did not like her argument.
When, with some hesitation and not a little fear he showed her the
little gold cross, she admitted to his astonishment that it was one of
the prettiest things she had ever seen.
Somehow, she said, I do not seem to care much for jewellery now.
It has become so vulgarthe commoner the people, the more diamonds
they wear. I shall treasure this, darlingI'll wear it now at lunch.
Of course you are going to take me to lunch, aren't you? Suppose we go
to the Ritz grill-room, the restaurants are so noisy, and I know that
you like grill-rooms, don't you, dear?
Ambrose said yes and they started off. Somehow he felt rather
depressed and he had to confess that Kittyusually so smartlooked
quite shabby. She wore one of her oldest dresses and obviously had
neither powder on her face nor the lightest touch of the rouge which
became her so well. Moreover, she was listless beyond experience, and
when he asked her if she would go to the Savoy and dance that night,
she answered that she thought she would give up dancing altogether. It
quite took his breath away.
Give up dancingbut, Kitty, you're mad about it!
No, dear, I was mad to be mad about it: but what good does it do to
anybody, just going up and down and round and round with a man you may
never see again. Surely we were not sent into the world to do that! Ask
the vicar of the parish what he thinks, or Doctor Lanfry, who is doing
such splendid work at the hospitals. I think we have to make good in
life, and dancing, surely, will not help us. So I mean to give it up,
and smoking and all horrid things. I'm sure you'll like me better for
that, dear; you know how jealous my dancing used to make you, but now
you'll never have any cause to be jealous again.
Ambrose did not know what to say. This seemed to him quite the
flattest lunch he had ever sat out with her, while, as for the people
round about, he thought he had never seen a duller lot. Perhaps, after
all, he had been a little hasty in shutting up the devil so
unceremoniously, but it made him laugh to think that the fellow would
get no lunch anyway and that his stock of cigars would hardly last him
through the day. And at any rate, he argued, the rascal will do no
He drove Kitty to the King's New Hospital when the stupid meal was
overshe was visiting some old people thereand while he waited for
her, he met Dr. Lanfry himself and had a little chat with that
benevolent old gentleman. Naturally their talk concerned the hospital
and he was not a little surprised to find the worthy doctor altogether
in an optimistic mood.
Yes, he said, we shall have no need of these costly places.
Disease is disappearing rapidly from our midst. I see the day coming
when men and women will go untroubled by any ailment from the cradle to
the grave. In some ways, I confess the world will be poorer. Think of
all the human sympathy which human suffering awakensthe profound love
of the mother for the ailing child, the sacrifice of those who wait and
watch by the beds of the sick, the agony of parting leading to the
eternal hope in the justice of God. All these things, the world will
miss when we conquer disease, and the spirit will be the poorer for
them. Indeed, I foresee the day when men will forget the existence of
God just because they have no need to pray for those who suffer; the
devil will have no work to do in that day; but, who knows, humanity may
be worse and not better because of his idleness.
Ambrose agreed with him, though he would never have expressed such
sentiments to Kitty. He found her a little sad when she came out of the
ward, and it seemed that all the patients were so very much better that
they cared but little for her kindly attentions, and when she tried to
read to them, most of them fell asleep. So she went back to Ambrose and
asked him to drive to the vicarage where she hoped to see Canon Kenny,
her good pastor, and find out if he could tell her of some work of
mercy to be done.
I feel, she said, that I must find out the sorrow in the world, I
must help it.
But suppose, my dear, that there isn't any sorrow
Oh, then the world would not be worth living in, I should go out to
the islands of the Pacific and become a missionary. Do you know,
Ambrose dear, I've often thought of putting on boys' clothes and going
to live in the wilderness. A boy seems so much more active than a girl,
and what does it matter since sex no longer counts?
He looked at her aghast.
Sex no longer counts!
No, she said in the simplest way, people will become too
spiritual for that. You will have to love me as though I were your
Ambrose gulped down a d-n and was quite relieved to find
himself presently in the study of the venerable canon, who was just
leaving. England for a Continental holiday. He said that he was not
tired, but really there was very little work to doand he added, with
a laugh: It would almost appear, my children, as though some one had
locked up the devil and there was no more work left for us parsons.
But that surely would be a great, good thing, exclaimed Ambrose,
In a way, yes, the canon rejoined, but consider, all life depends
upon that impulse which comes of strifestrife of the body, strife of
the soul. I worship God believing. He has called upon me to take my
share in fighting the evil which is in the world. Remove that evil, and
what is my inspiration? Beyond the grave, yes, there may be that sphere
of holiness to which the human condition contributes nothinga sphere
in which all happiness, all goodness centres about the presence of the
Eternalbut here we know that man must strive or perish, must fight or
be conqueredmust school his immortal soul in the fire of temptation
and of suffering. So, I say, it may even be a bad day for the world
could the devil be chained in bonds which even he could not burst. It
might even be the loss of the knowledge of the God by whom evil is
permitted to live that good may come.
This and much more he said, always in the tone of one who bared his
head to destiny and had a faith unconquerable. When they left him,
Kitty appeared to have made up her mind, and she spoke so earnestly
that even her lover could not argue with her.
Ambrose, dear, she said, I must see you no more, I shall devote
my life to good works. To-night I shall enter the Convent of the Little
Sisters at Kensington. It is a long, long good-bye, my dearest.
He did not answer her, but calling a taxi, he ordered the man to
drive to Throgmorton Street like the deuce.
He had told James and John to go home, but to his annoyance he found
them still in the office and busy as though nothing extraordinary had
happened. Brushing by them, he dashed into the inner room and turned
the key in the lock of his safe.
Come out! he cried, but nobody answered him.
It was odd, but when he looked inside that massive room of steel,
nobody was to be discerned there. At the same instant, however, he
heard the Count's voice immediately behind him, and turning he
discovered the man at his elbow.
Well? asked the fellow.
So there he stood, exactly in the same attitude as Ambrose had left
him when he crossed the room to find the document. Indeed, the very
same cigarette was held by his evil-looking fingers, and it was clear
that he waited for the word which would signify acceptance of his
Good heavens, thought Ambrose, I must have imagined it all.
He returned to his chair and tossed the paper across the table.
I refuse to sign it, he said curtly, you had better call on
Alderman Karlbard; he's a church-warden, a justice of the peace and a
philanthropist. He's your man and he's pretty sure to end in prison
Thank you for your introduction, said the Count quietly, and,
bowing, he withdrew with the same nonchalant air as he had entered.
Trust the devil to know when he is beaten.
Ambrose watched him go and then calling John, he asked what time it
A quarter to one, sir, said that worthy.
Just in time to lunch with Kitty, Ambrose thought.
And then jumping up as a man who comes by a joyous idea, he cried:
By Gad, what a row I mean to have with herthe darling!
EMPTY ARMS, by Roland Pertwee
(From The Ladies' Home Journal)
Copyright, 1922, by The Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1922, by Roland Pertwee. Reprinted by permission
of the author and of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
There was a maroon wall paper in the dining-room, abundantly
decorated with sweeping curves unlike any known kind of vegetation.
There were amber silk sashes to the Nottingham lace curtains at the
huge bow window and an amber winding sheet was wrapped about the terra
cotta pot in which a tired aspidistra bore forth a yearly leaf. Upon
the Brussels carpet was a massive mahogany dining table, and facing the
window a Georgian chiffonier, brass railed and surmounted by a convex
mirror. The mantlepiece was draped in red serge, ball fringed. There
were bronzes upon it and a marble clock, while above was an overmantel,
columned and bemirrored, upon the shelves of which reposed sorrowful
examples of Doulton ware and a pair of wrought-iron candlesticks. It
was a room divorced from all sense of youth and live beings, sunless,
grave, unlovely; an arid room that bore to the nostrils the taint and
humour of the tomb.
From somewhere near the Edgware Road came the clot-clot of a late
four-wheeler and the shake and rumble of an underground train. The
curtains had been discreetly drawn, the gas turned off at the metre and
an hour had passed since the creaking of the old lady's shoes and the
jingle of the plate basket ascending the stairs had died away. A dim
light from the street lamp outside percolated through the blinds and
faintly illuminated the frame and canvas of a large picture hanging
opposite the mantlepiece.
It was a beautiful picture, a piece of perfect paintingthree
figures in a simple curve of rocks, lit as it were by an afterglow of
sunset. In the centre was a little Madonna draped in blue and gold. Her
elbows were tight to her sides and her upturned palms with their tender
curving fingers were empty. It seemed almost as though they cradled
some one who was not there. Her mouth was pulled down at the corners,
as is a child's at the edge of tears, and in her eyes was a questing
and bewildered look. To her right, leaning upon a slender staff, was
the figure of St. John the Baptist, and upon his face also perplexity
was written. A trick brushwork had given to his eyes a changing
direction whereby at a certain angle you would say he was looking at
the Madonna, and again that he was following the direction of her gaze
out into unknown places. His lips were shaped to the utterance of such
a word as why or where. It seemed as though the two were in a
partnership of sorrow or of search.
The third figure was of Saint Anne, standing a little behind and
looking upward. A strange composition, oddly incomplete, giving an
impression of sadness, of unrest and of loss irredeemable.
A clock was chiming the parts of an hour when the little Madonna
stepped from the frame and tiptoed across the room. To her own
reflection in the mirror opposite she shook her head in a sorrowful
negative. She peeped into a cupboard and behind the draperies of the
mantlepiece, but there was nothing there. She paused before an
engraving of Raphael's Holy Family, murmured Happy Lady and passed
On a small davenport table next to one of the two inexorable
armchairs she found the old lady's workbasket. That was a great piece
of good fortune, since nightly it was locked away with the tea, the
stamps and other temptations that might persuade a soul to steal should
In the many years of her dwelling in the house, but three times only
had she found it unguarded. There are glorious possibilities in a
workbasket. Once she had found wool there, not carded, but a hank of
it, soft, white and most delicate to touch. To handle it had given her
the queerest sensation. She had shut her eyes, and it had seemed to
weave itself into the daintiest garmentsvery small, you understand,
and with sleeves no longer than a middle finger. But it was a silly
imagining, for not many days afterward, looking down from the canvas,
she had seen the old lady, with her clicking ivory needles, knit the
wool into an ugly pair of bed socks.
Quite a while she played in the basket that night. She liked the
little pearl buttons in the pill box, and the safety pins were nice
too. Kind and trustworthy pins they were to hide their points beneath
smooth, round shields. She felt it would be good to take some of them
back in one of her empty hands and hide them in that little crevice of
rock under the juniper tree.
It was the banging of a front door opposite and the sound of running
footsteps that moved her to the window. She drew back the curtain and
peeped out across the way. There were lights in an upstairs window and
a shadow kept crossing and recrossing the blind. It was a nice shadow
and wore a head-dress like her own except that it was more sticky out.
The hall, too, showed a light, and, looking up the street, she saw a
maidservant, running very fast, disappear round the corner. After that
there was silence for a long time. In the street no one moved; it was
deserted, empty as the little Madonna's arms, and dark. A fine rain was
falling, and there were no stars. The sound of distant traffic had died
away. The last underground train had drilled its way through sulphurous
tunnels to the sheds where engines sleep.
She could not tell what kept her waiting at the window; perhaps it
was the moving shadow on the blind, perhaps a prescience, a sense of
happenings near at hand, wonderful yet frightening. A thousand other
times she had looked across the street in the dead of night, only to
shake her head and steal back sorrowfully to her canvas. But tonight it
was different; there was a feeling of promise, as though the question
that she ever asked with her eyes might at last be given an answer.
The front door opened a second time, and a man came out and, though
he was quite young, he looked older than the world. He was shaking and
very white; his hair was disordered and straggled across his brow. He
wore no collar, but held the lapels of his coat across his throat with
trembling fingers. Fearfully he looked up the street where the maid had
gone, then stamped his foot on the paving stones and with his free hand
rubbed his forehead and beat it with his knuckles.
Oh, will he never come! she heard him cry, and the words echoed
through her as though they had been her own.
If it was a prayer he had uttered it was swiftly answered; for at
the moment the maid and a bearded man came round the corner at a fast
walk. The bearded man had a kind face and broad shoulders.
She did not hear what passed between them; but the bearded man
seemed confident and comfortable and compelling, and presently he and
the maid went into the house, while the other man leaned against the
railings and stared out before him at a tiny star which had appeared in
a crack between the driven clouds. Lonely and afraid he looked, and
strangely like herself. The misery of him drew her irresistibly. Always
before, she had shunned the people of every day, having no
understanding of their pleasures or sorrows, seeing little meaning in
their lives or deaths. But here was a mortal who was different, who was
magnetic, and, almost without realising, she passed out of the house,
crossed the road and stood before him, the corners of her cloak draped
across her arms.
He did not seem aware of her at once, and even when she spoke to him
in Italian of the Renaissance he did not hear. So she spoke again and
this time in English: What is it?
He started, rubbed his eyes, blinked at her and answered: Hullo,
who are you?
What is it? she repeated. Have you lost something?
Don'tdon't! he pleaded. Don't even suggest such a thing, little
I won't. I only thoughtand you looked so sad.
Be all right directly. It's the waiting. Kind of you to stop and
speak to me. His eyes strayed over the gold and blue of her cloak.
Been to a theatre? he asked.
She shook her head and looked up at him with a child's perplexity.
ROLAND PERTWEE 237
A play? he amended.
I've no one to play with, she answered simply. See! And she held
out her empty arms.
What's wrong then?
I don't know. She seemed to dwell on the last word. I only
thoughtperhaps you could tell me.
Tell you what?
Help me to find it perhaps. It seemed as if you were looking, too;
that's why I came.
Looking? he repeated. I'm waiting; that's all.
Me too. But it's such a long time, and I get no nearer.
Nearer to what?
Something you lost?
I think so. Must be. I'll go back now.
He put out a hand to stop her. Listen, he said. It'll be hours
before I shall know. I'm frightened to spend them alone. Be a friend,
little lady, and bear me company. 'Tisn't fair to ask, but if you could
stay a little.
I'll stay, she said.
And will you talk to me?
Tell me a story thenjust as if I were a kid, a child. A man isn't
much more these times.
At the word child her arms went out to him, but dropped to her
sides again as he said a man.
Come under the porch, where the rain won't spoil your pretty silk.
That's better. Now tell away.
They sat side by side, and she began to talk. He must have been
listening for other sounds, or surely he would have been bewildered at
the very beginning of what she told..
It's hard to remember when one was alive, but I used to beyes,
hundreds of years ago. I livedcan't remember very well; there was a
high wall all around, and a tower and a bell that rang for prayersand
long, long passages where we walked up and down to tell our beads.
Outside were mountains with snow caps like the heads of the sisters,
and it was cold as snow within, cold and pure as snow. I was sixteen
years old and very unhappy. We did not know how to smile; that I learnt
later and have forgotten since. There was the skull of a dead man upon
the table where we sat to eat, that we might never forget to what
favour we must come. There were no pretty rooms in that house.
What would you call a pretty room? he asked, for the last sentence
was the first of which he was aware.
I don't know, she answered. I think a room with little beds, and
wooden bars across the window, and a high fender would be a pretty
We have been busy making such a room as that, he said. There's a
wall paper with pigs and chickens and huntsmen on it. But go on.
There were iron bars to the window of my cell. He was very strong
and tore them out with his hands as he stood up on the saddle of his
horse. We rode into Florence as dawn broke, and the sun was an angry
red; while we rode his arm was around me and my head upon his shoulder.
He spoke in my ear and his voice trembled for love of me. We had thrown
away the raiment of the sisterhood to which I had belonged, and as I
lay across the saddle I was wrapped in a cloak as crimson as the sun.
Been reading Tennyson, little lady? asked the man.
She did not understand, and went on: It was a palace to which he
brought me, bright with gold, mosaic and fine hangings that dazzled my
eyes after the grey they had been used to look upon. There were many
servants and richly clad friends, who frightened me with their laughter
and the boldness of their looks. On his shoulder he bore me into the
great dining hall, where they sat awaiting us, and one and all they
rose to their feet, leaping upon stools and tables with uplifted
goblets and shouting toasts.
The noise was greater than any I had heard before and set my heart
a-beating like the clapper of the convent bell. But one only stayed in
his chair, and his looks were heavy with anger. At him the rest pointed
fingers and called on him derisively to pay the wager and be glad.
Whereat he tugged from his belt a bag of gold which he flung at us as
though with the will to injure. But he who held me caught the bag in
his free hand, broke the sealed cord at the neck of it and scattered
the coins in a golden rain among the servants.
After this, he set me by his side at the board, gave me drink from
a brimming goblet and quails cooked in honey from wild bees and silver
dishes of nectarines and passion fruit. And presently by twos and
threes the guests departed, singing and reeling as they went, and he
and I were left alone. Alone, she repeated shuddering.
Did you hear anything? said the young man, raising his head. A
cry, a little cry? No? I can hear footsteps moving up and down.
Doctors' boots always creak. There! Listen! It was nothing. What were
Twice in the months that followed I tried to run away, to return to
the convent; but the servants whom I had counted my friends deceived
me, and I was brought back to a beating, brought back strapped to his
stirrup iron as I might have been a Nubian slave. Long since he had
ceased loving me; that lasted such a little while. He called me
Madonna, as though it were a term of shame, and cursed me for coldness
and my nunnery ways. He was only happy when he read in my face the fear
I held him in. And I was always afraid!
Afraid! echoed the man. Until to-night I was never afraid.
And then my baby came, and I was not afraid any more, but contented
all through. I carried him always in my arms by day and night. So pink
and little and with a smile that warmed like sunshine. She paused and
added plaintively: It's hard to remember when one was alive. My hands,
my arms have forgotten the feel of him.
I wish, said the man, I'd had a second opinion. It might have
frightened her though. Oh, heaven, how much longer! Don't mind me,
little lady. You're helping no end. You were speaking of baby. Yes!
He killed my baby, said the little Madonna, because he had killed
my fear of him. Then being done with me, he threw me out in the streets
alone. I thought to end it that night, because my arms were empty and
nothing could be good again. But I could not believe the baby was
indeed gone; I thought if I searched I would find him in the course of
time. Therefore I searched the city from end to end and spoke with
mothers and peeped into nurseries and knocked at many doors. And one
day a door was opened by a man with great eyes and bronze hair swept
back from his browa good man. He wore a loose smock over his doublet,
smeared with many colours, and in his left hand he held a palette and
brushes. When he saw me he fell back a pace and his mouth opened.
'Mother of mercy!' he breathed. 'A real Madonna at last!' His name was
Andrea del Sarto, and he was a painter.
I am a painter, too, said the young man, forgetting his absorption
at the mention of a great name.
He brought me into his room, which was bright with windows and a
fire. He bade me tell my story, and while I spoke never once did his
eyes desert me. When I had ended he rose and walked up and down. Then
he took from a chest a cloak of blue and gold and draped it round me.
'Stand upon that throne, Madonna,' said he, 'and I will put an infant
in your arms that shall live down all the ages.' And he painted me. So
with the child at my breast, I myself had passed into the picture and
found contentment there.
When it was finished the great ones of many cities came to look
upon it, and the story of how I came to be painted went from mouth to
mouth. Among those who were there was he who had taken me from the
nunnery, and, seeing me in perfect happiness, a fury was born in him.
I was hidden behind a hanging and watched the black anger rising up
and knotting his brow into ugly lines. He bought the canvas, and his
servants carried it away. But since the child was in my arms for all
time it mattered little to me.
Then one night two men came to my lodging and without question took
me across the city and led me into the palace where I had lived with
him. And he came forward to meet me in the great hall. There was a
mocking smile on his lips and he pointed to a wall upon which a curtain
'I took away that child,' he said, 'because you valued it higher
than the love of man. Look now.' At a gesture a servant threw back the
hanging and revealed the picture. The babe was gone and my arms crooked
to cradle him were empty with the palms upturned.
I died thento the sound of his laughter I died, and, looking down
from the canvas, I watched them carry me away. And long into the night
the man who twice had robbed me of my child sat at the long table
staring out before him, drinking great draughts and sometimes beating
the boards with his bare fists. As dawn broke he clapped his hands and
a servant entered. He pointed at me with a shaking hand. 'Take it
away,' he cried. 'To a cellar, and let masons brick up the door.' He
was weeping as they carried me down to the dark beneath the house.
What a strange being you are! said the young man. You speak as
though these were real memories. What happened to the picture then?
I lay in the dark for so longhundreds of years, I thinkand
there was nowhere I might look. Afterward I was found and packed in a
box and presently put upon the wall in the sad room, where everything
is so old that I shall not find him there. This is the furthest I have
dared to look. Help me find him, please! Won't you help me find him?
Why, little lady, he answered soothingly, how shall I help?
That's a woman's burden that heaven isn't merciful enough to let a man
share. He stopped abruptly and threw up his head. Did you hear
Through the still, early morning air came a faint, reedy cry.
The young man was upon his feet, fiercely fitting a key into the
The little Madonna had risen, too, and her eyes were luminous, like
glowworms in the dark.
He's calling me, she cried. He's calling.
Mine, said the young man.
She turned to follow, but the door closed between them.
To the firm of Messrs. Ridgewell, Ridgewell, Hitchcock and Plum was
given the task of disposing of the furniture and effects of the late
Sabina Prestwich, spinster, of 22a Cambridge Avenue, Hyde Park, W.
As Mr. Ridgewell, junior, remarked to Mr. Plum while engaged in
compiling the sale list and supplying appropriate encomiums to describe
an upright grand by Rubenthal, Berlin: Victorian muck! Lucky if we
clean up two-fifty on the lot.
Mr. Plum was disposed to agree. Though I must say, he added, it
wouldn't surprise me if that picture was worth a bit. Half a mind to
let old Kineagie have a squint at it.
Please yourself, responded Mr. Ridgewell, Junior, but to my mind
it's ten guineas for nix.
It was the chance discovery of an old document amongst a litter of
receipts and papers that persuaded them to engage an expert opinion.
The document stated that the picture had been discovered bricked up in
a Florentine cellar some fifty years before and had been successfully
smuggled out of Italy. But the man who found it died, and it passed
with a few other unvalued possessions to Sabina Prestwich, now
The result of Eden Kineagie's visit to the house in Cambridge Avenue
was the immediate transference of the canvas to Sotheby's Sale Rooms, a
concerted rush on the part of every European and American connoisseur,
a threatening letter from the Italian Foreign Office, some extravagant
bidding and the ultimate purchase of the picture for the nation, after
a heated debate on the part of twenty-two Royal Academicians and five
painters of the new school, who would have accepted death rather than
the letters, R.A., after their names. Extensive correspondence appeared
in the leading papers; persons wrote expressing the opinion that the
picture had never been painted by Del Sarto, that it was the finest
example of his work, that the price paid was a further example of
government waste, and that the money would have been better employed
repairing the main road between Croydon Town Hall and Sydenham High
Street, the condition of which constituted a menace to motor-cyclists.
For nearly ten days scarcely a single publication appeared that
failed to reproduce a comment or criticism upon the subject; but,
strangely enough, no single leader, writer or casual contributor
remarked upon the oddness of the composition or the absence of the
Infant from the Madonna's arms. In the course of timethat is to say,
on the eleventh daythe matter passed from the public mind, a
circumstance explainable perhaps by the decent interment of the canvas
in the National Gallery, where it affected no one save those mysterious
folk who look at pictures for their pleasure and the umbrellaless
refugee who is driven to take shelter from the fierceness of storms.
The little Madonna was placed upon a south wall, whence she could
look out upon a brave company. And sometimes people would pause to gaze
at her and then shake their heads. And once a girl said, How sad she
looks! I wonder why. And once a little old lady with industrious hands
set up an easel before her and squeezed little twists of colour upon a
palette, then thought a long time and pursed her lips, and puzzled her
brow and finally murmured, I could never copy it. It's soso
changing. And she, too, went away.
The little Madonna did not dare to step from her frame at night, for
other mothers were at hand cradling their babes and the sound of her
footfalls might have wakened them. But it was hard to stay still and
alone in that happy nursery. She could see through an archway to the
right a picture Rubens had painted, and it was all aglow with babies
like roses clustered at a porchfat, dimpled babies who rolled and
laughed in aerial garlands. It would have been nice to pick one and
carry it back with her. Yet perhaps they were not really mothers'
children, but sprites and joys that had not learned the way to nestle.
Had it been otherwise surely the very call of her spirit must have
brought one leaping to her arms.
And then one day came a man and girl, who stopped before her. The
girl was half child, half woman, and the man grey and bearded, but with
brave blue eyes. It was seventeen years since the night she had stolen
across the way and talked with this man in his hour of terror, but time
did not cloud the little Madonna's memory with the dust of
That's the new Del Sarto, said the girl, who was reading from a
small blue book. See, daddy?
Then the man turned and looked at her, fell back a step, came
forward again, passed a hand across his mouth and gasped. What is it?
asked the girl.
He did not answer at once, then: The night you were born- he
said. I'm certain.... It'sit's Del Sarto tool And the poor empty
arms. Just how she looked, and I closed the door on her.
Daddy, what are you saying? There was a frightened tone in the
It's all right, dear, don't mind me. I must find the keeper of the
gallery. Poor little lady! Run back home, tell your mother I may be
There are more things in heaven and earth, he began, but did not
finish. It seemed as though the Madonna's eyes were pleading to him,
and it seemed as if he could still hear her say, Help me find him,
He told his story to the Committee of the National Gallery and, to
do them credit, it was received with the utmost courtesy.
They did not require him to leave them while their decision was
made. This was arrived at by a mere exchange of glances, a nod answered
by a tilt of the head, a wave of the hand, a kindly smile; and the
thing was done.
As the chairman remarked: We must not forget that this gentleman
was living at the time opposite to the house in which the picture was
hanging, and it is possible that a light had been left burning in the
room that contained it.
Those of us who are fathersand I regret for my own part that I
cannot claim the distinctionwill bear me out that the condition of a
man's mind during the painful period of waiting for news as to his
wife's progress is apt to depart from the normal and make room for
imaginings that in saner moments he must dismiss as absurd. There has
been a great deal of discussion and not a little criticism on the part
of the public as to the committee's wisdom in purchasing this picture,
and I am confident you will all agree with me that we could be
responsible for no greater folly than to work upon the canvas with
various removers on the bare hypothesis, unsupported by surface
suggestion, that the Madonna's arms actually contain a child painted in
the first intention. For my own part, I am well assured that at no
period of its being has the picture been tampered with, and it is a
matter of no small surprise to me, sir, that an artist of your
undoubted quality and achievement should hold a contrary opinion. We
are greatly obliged for the courtesy of your visit and trust that you
will feel after this liberal discussion that your conscience is free
from further responsibility in the matter. Good-day.
That was the end of the interview. Once again the door was slammed
in the little Madonna's face.
That night the man told his wife all about it. So you see, he
concluded, there is nothing more I can do.
But she lay awake and puzzled and yearned long after he had fallen
asleep. And once she rose and peeped into the room that used to be the
nursery. It was a changed room now, for the child had grown up, and
where once pigs and chickens and huntsmen had jostled in happy,
farmyard disorder upon the walls, now there were likenesses of Owen
Nares and Henry Ainley, obligingly autographed.
But for her the spirit prevailed, the kindly bars still ribbed the
windows and the sense of sleeping children still haunted the air.
And she it was who told the man what he must do; and although it
scared him a great deal he agreed, for in the end all good husbands
obey their wives.
It felt very eerie to be alone in the National Gallery in the dead
of the night with a tiny electric lamp in one's buttonhole and a sponge
of alcohol and turpentine in one's hand. While he worked the little
Madonna's eyes rested upon him and it could hardly have been mere fancy
that made him believe they were full of gratitude and trust. At the end
of an hour the outline of a child, faint and misty, appeared in her
arms, its head, circled by a tiny white halo, snuggling against the
curve of her little breast.
Then the man stepped back and gave a shout of joy and, remembering
the words the painter had used, he cried out, I will put an infant in
your arms that shall live down all the ages.
He had thought perhaps there would come an answering gladness from
the Madonna herself and looked into her face to find it. And truly
enough it was there. Her eyes, which for centuries had looked
questingly forth from the canvas, now drooped and rested upon the baby.
Her mouth, so sadly downturned at the corners, had sweetened to a smile
of perfect and serene content.
But the men will not believe he washed away the sadness of her looks
with alcohol and turpentine. I did not touch the head. I am certain I
did not, he repeated.
Then how can you explain
Oh, heaven! he answered. Put a child in any woman's arms.
LENA WRACE, by May Sinclair
(From The Dial)
Copyright, 1921, by The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.
Copyright, 1922, by May Sinclair. Reprinted by permission of
the author and of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
She arranged herself there, on that divan, and I knew she'd come to
tell me all about it. It was wonderful, how, at forty-seven, she could
still give that effect of triumph and excess, of something rich and
ruinous and beautiful spread out on the brocades. The attitude showed
me that her affair with Norman Hippisley was prospering; otherwise she
couldn't have afforded the extravagance of it.
I know what you want, I said. You want me to congratulate you.
Yes. I do.
I congratulate you on your courage.
Oh, you don't like him, she said placably.
No, I don't like him at all.
He likes you, she said. He thinks no end of your painting.
I'm not denying he's a judge of painting. I'm not even denying he
can paint a little himself.
Better than you, Roly.
If you allow for the singular, obscene ugliness of his imagination,
It's beautiful enough when he gets it into paint, she said. He
makes beauty. His own beauty.
Oh, very much his own.
Well, you just go on imitating other people'sGod's or
She continued with her air of perfect reasonableness. I know he
isn't good-looking. Not half so good-looking as you are. But I like
him. I like his slender little body and his clever, faded face. There's
a quality about him, a distinction. And look at his eyes. Your
mind doesn't come rushing and blazing out of your eyes, my dear.
No. No. I'm afraid it doesn't rush. And for all the blaze
Well, that's what I'm in love with, the rush, Roly, and the blaze.
And I'm in love, far the first time (she underlined it) with a
Come, I said, come.
Oh, I know. I know you're thinking of Lawson Young and
Well, but they don't count. I wasn't in love with Lawson. It was
his career. If he hadn't been a Cabinet Minister; if he hadn't been so
desperately gone on me; if he hadn't said it all depended on me
Yes, I said. I can see how it would go to your head.
It didn't. It went to my heart. She was quite serious and solemn.
I held him in my hands, Roly. And he held England. I couldn't let him
drop, could I? I had to think of England.
It was wonderfulLena Wrace thinking that she thought of England.
I said Of course. But for your political foresight and your
virtuous action we should never have had Tariff Reform.
We should never have had anything, she said. And look at him now.
Look how he's crumpled up since he left me. It's pitiful.
It is. I'm afraid Mrs. Withers doesn't care about Tariff Reform.
Poor thing. No. Don't imagine I'm jealous of her, Roly. She hasn't
got him. I mean she hasn't got what I had.
All the same he left you. And you weren't ecstatically happy with
him the last year or two.
I daresay I'd have done better to have married you, if that's what
It wasn't what I meant. But she'd always entertained the illusion
that she could marry me any minute if she wanted to; and I hadn't the
heart to take it from her since it seemed to console her for the way,
the really very infamous way, he had left her.
So I said, Much better.
It would have been so nice, so safe, she said. But I never played
for safety. Then she made one of her quick turns.
Frances Archdale ought to marry you. Why doesn't she?
How should I know? Frances's reasons would be exquisite. I suppose
I didn't appeal to her sense of fitness.
Sense of fiddlesticks. She just hasn't got any temperament, that
Any temperament for me, you mean.
I mean pure cussedness, said Lena.
Perhaps. But, you see, if I were unfortunate enough she probably
would marry me. If I lost my eyesight or a leg or an arm, if I
couldn't sell any more pictures
If you can understand Frances, you can understand me. That's how I
felt about Dickey. I wasn't in love with him. I was sorry for him. I
knew he'd go to pieces if I wasn't there to keep him together. Perhaps
it's the maternal instinct.
Perhaps, I said. Lena's reasons for her behaviour amused me; they
were never exquisite, like Frances's, but she was anxious that you
should think they were.
So you see, she said, they don't count, and Norry really is the
I reflected that he would be also, probably, the last. She had, no
doubt, to make the most of him. But it was preposterous that she should
waste so much good passion; preposterous that she should imagine for
one moment she could keep the fellow. I had to warn her.
Of course, if you care to take the risk of him I said. He won't
stick to you, Lena.
Why shouldn't he?
I couldn't tell her. I couldn't say, Because you're thirteen years
older than he is. That would have been cruel. And it would have been
absurd, too, when she could so easily look not a year older than his
It only took a little success like this, her actual triumph in
So I said, Because it isn't in him. He's a bounder and a rotter.
Which was true.
Not a bounder, Roly dear. His father's Sir Gilbert Hippisley.
Hippisleys of Leicestershire.
A moral bounder, Lena. A slimy eel. Slips and wriggles out of
things. You'll never hold him. You're not Iris first affair, you know.
I don't care, she said, as long as I'm his last.
I could only stand and stare at that; her monstrous assumption of
his fidelity. Why, he couldn't even be faithful to one art. He wrote as
well as he painted, and he acted as well as he wrote, and he was never
really happy with a talent till he had debauched it.
The others, she said, don't bother me a bit. He's slipped and
wriggled out of their clutches, if you like.... Yet there was something
about all of them. 'Distinguished.' That's it. He's so awfully fine and
fastidious about the women he takes up with. It flatters you, makes you
feel so sure of yourself. You know he wouldn't take up with you
if you weren't fine and fastidious, tooone of his great ladies....
You think I'm a snob, Roly?
I think you don't mind coming after Lady Willersey.
Well, she said, if you have to come after somebody
True. I asked her if she was giving me her reasons.
Yes, if you want them. I don't. I'm content to love out of all
And she did. She loved extravagantly, unintelligibly, out of all
reason; yet irrefutably. To the end. There's a sort of reason in that,
isn't there? She had the sad logic of her passions.
She got up and gathered herself together in her sombre, violent
beauty and in its glittering sheath, her red fox skins, all her savage
splendour, leaving a scent of crushed orris root in the warmth of her
Well, she managed to hold him, tight, for a year, fairly intact. I
can't for the life of me imagine how she could have cared for the
fellow, with his face all dried and frayed with make-up. There was
something lithe and sinuous about him that may, of course, have
appealed to her. And I can understand his infatuation. He was decadent,
exhausted; and there would be moments when he found her primitive
violence stimulating, before it wore him out.
They kept up the ménage for two astounding years.
Well, not so very astounding, if you come to think of it. There was
Lena's money, left her by old Weinberger, her maternal uncle. You've
got to reckon with Lena's money. Not that she, poor soul, ever reckoned
with it; she was absolutely free from that taint, and she couldn't
conceive other people reckoning. Only, instinctively, she knew. She
knew how to hold Hippisley. She knew there were things he couldn't
resist, things like wines and motor cars he could be faithful to. From
the very beginning she built for permanence, for eternity. She took a
house in Avenue Road with a studio for Hippisley in the garden; she
bought a motor car and engaged an inestimable cook. Lena's dinners, in
those years, were exquisite affairs, and she took care to ask the right
people, people who would be useful to Hippisley, dealers whom old
Weinberger had known, and journalists and editors and publishers. And
all his friends and her own; even friends' friends. Her hospitality was
boundless and eccentric, and Hippisley liked that sort of thing. He
thrived in a liberal air, an air of gorgeous spending, though he
sported a supercilious smile at the fioritura, the luscious
excess of it. He had never had too much, poor devil, of his own. I've
seen the little fellow swaggering about at her parties, with his sharp,
frayed face, looking fine and fastidious, safeguarding himself with
twinklings and gestures that gave the dear woman away. I've seen him,
in goggles and a magnificent fur-lined coat, shouting to her chauffeur,
giving counter orders to her own, while she sat snuggling up in the
corner of the car, smiling at his mastery.
It went on till poor Lena was forty-nine. Then, as she said, she
began to shake in her shoes. I told her it didn't matter so long as
she didn't let him see her shaking. That depressed her, because she
knew she couldn't hide it; there was nothing secret in her nature; she
had always let them see. And they were bothering herthe
othersmore than a bit. She was jealous of every one of them, of
any woman he said more than five words to. Jealous of the models, first
of all, before she found out that they didn't matter; he was so used to
them. She would stick there, in his studio, while they sat, until one
day he got furious and turned her out of it. But she'd seen enough to
set her mind at rest. He was fine and fastidious, and the models were
And their figures, Roly, you should have seen them when they were
undressed. Of course, you have seen them. Well, there isn'tis
And there wasn't. Hippisley had grown out of models just as he had
grown out of cheap Burgundy. And he'd left the stage, because he was
tired of it, so there was, mercifully, no danger from that quarter.
What she dreaded was the moment when he'd take to writing again, for
then he'd have to have a secretary. Also she was jealous of his writing
because it absorbed more of his attention than his painting, and
exhausted him more, left her less of him.
And that year, their third year, he flung up his painting and was,
as she expressed it, at it again. Worse than ever. And he wanted a
She took care to find him one. One who wouldn't be dangerous. You
should just see her, Roly. She brought her in to tea one day for me to
look at and say whether she would do.
I wasn't surewhat can you be sure of?but I could see why Lena
thought she would. She was a little unhealthy thing, dark and sallow
and sulky, with thin lips that showed a lack of temperament, and she
had a stiffness and preciseness, like a Board School teacherjust that
touch of commonness which Lena relied on to put him off. She wore a
shabby brown skirt and a yellowish blouse. Her name was Ethel Reeves.
Lena had secured safety, she said, in the house. But what was the
good of that, when outside it he was going about everywhere with Sybil
Fermor? She came and told me all about it, with a sort of hope that I'd
say something either consoling or revealing, something that she could
You know him, Roly, she said.
I reminded her that she hadn't always given me that credit.
I know how he spends his time, she said.
How do you know?
Well, for one thing, Ethel tells me.
How does she know?
Sheshe posts the letters.
Does she read them?
She needn't. He's too transparent.
Lena, do you use her to spy on him? I said.
Well, she retorted, if he uses her
I asked her if it hadn't struck her that Sybil Fermor might be using
Do you meanas a paravent? Or, she revised it, a
For Bertie Granville, I elucidated. A parachute, by all means.
She considered it. It won't work, she said. If it's her
reputation she's thinking of, wouldn't Norry be worse?
I said that was the beauty of him, if Letty Granville's attention
was to be diverted.
Oh, Roly, she said, do you really think it's that?
I said I did, and she powdered her nose and said I was a dear and
I'd bucked her up no end, and went away quite happy.
Letty Granville's divorce suit proved to her that I was right.
The next time I saw her she told me she'd been mistaken about Sybil
Fermor. It was Lady Hermione Nevin. Norry had been using Sybil as a
paravent for her. I said she was wrong again. Didn't she
know that Hermione was engaged to Billy Craven? They were head over
ears in love with each other. I asked her what on earth had made her
think of her? And she said Lady Hermione had paid him thirty guineas
for a picture. That looked, she said, as if she was pretty far gone on
him. (She tended to disparage Hippisley's talents. Jealousy again.)
I said it looked as if he had the iciest reasons for cultivating
Lady Hermione. And again she told me I was a dear. You don't know,
Roly, what a comfort you are to me.
Then Barbara Vining turned up out of nowhere, and from the first
minute Lena gave herself up for lost.
I'm done for, she said. I'd fight her if it was any good
fighting. But what chance have I? At forty-nine against nineteen, and
The face was adorable if you adore a child's face on a woman's body.
Small and pink; a soft, innocent forehead; fawn skin hair, a fawn's
nose, a fawn's mouth, a fawn's eyes. You saw her at Lena's garden
parties, staring at Hippisley over the rim of her plate while she
browsed on Lena's cakes and ices, or bounding about Lena's tennis court
with the sash ribbons flying from her little butt end.
Oh, yes; she had her there. As much as he wanted. And there would be
Ethel Reeves, in a new blouse, looking on from a back seat, subtle and
sullen, or handing round cups and plates without speaking to anybody,
like a servant. I used to think she spied on them for Lena. They were
always mouching about the garden together or sitting secretly in
corners; Lena even had her to stay with them, let him take her for long
drives in her car. She knew when she was beaten.
I said, Why do you let him do it, Lena? Why don't you turn them
both neck and crop out of the house?
Because I want him in it. I want him at any cost. And I want him to
have what he wants, too, even if it's Barbara. I want him to be
happy.... I'm making a virtue of necessity. It can be done, Roly, if
you give up beautifully.
I put it to her it wasn't giving up beautifully to fret herself into
an unbecoming illness, to carry her disaster on her face. She would
come to me looking more ruined than ruinous, haggard and ashy, her eyes
all shrunk and hot with crying, and stand before the glass, looking at
herself and dabbing on powder in an utter abandonment to misery.
I know, she moaned. As if losing him wasn't enough I must go and
lose my looks. I know crying's simply suicidal at my age, yet I keep on
at it. I'm doing for myself. I'm digging my own grave, Roly. A little
deeper every day.
Then she said suddenly, Do you know, you're the only man in London
I could come to looking like this.
I said, Isn't that a bit unkind of you? It sounds as though you
thought I didn't matter.
She broke down on that. Can't you see it's because I know I
don't any more? Nobody cares whether my nose is red or not. But you're
not a brute. You don't let me feel I don't matter. I know I never did
matter to you, Roly, but the effect's soothing, all the same.... Ethel
says if she were me she wouldn't stand it. To have it going on under my
nose. Ethel is so high-minded. I suppose it's easy to be high-minded if
you've always looked like that. And if you've never had anybody.
She doesn't know what it is. I tell you, I'd rather have Norry there
with Barbara than not have him at all.
I thought and said that would just about suit Hippisley's book. He'd
rather be there than anywhere else, since he had to be somewhere. To be
sure she irritated him with her perpetual clinging, and wore him out.
I've seen him wince at the sound of her voice in the room. He'd say
things to her; not often, but just enough to see how far he could go.
He was afraid of going too far. He wasn't prepared to give up the
comfort of Lena's house, the opulence and peace. There wasn't one of
Lena's wines he could have turned his back on. After all, when she
worried him he could keep himself locked up in the studio away from
There was Ethel Reeves; but Lena didn't worry about his being locked
up with her. She was very kind to Hippisley's secretary. Since she
wasn't dangerous, she liked to see her there, well housed, eating rich
food, and getting stronger and stronger every day.
I must say my heart bled for Lena when I thought of young Barbara.
It was still bleeding when one afternoon she walked in with her old
triumphant look; she wore her hat with an air crâne, and the
powder on her face was even and intact, like the first pure fall of
snow. She looked ten years younger and I judged that Hippisley's affair
with Barbara was at an end.
Wellit had never had a beginning; nor the ghost of a beginning. It
had never happened at all. She had come to tell me that: that there was
nothing in it; nothing but her jealousy; the miserable, damnable
jealousy that made her think things, She said it would be a lesson to
her to trust him in the future not to go falling in love. For, she
argued, if he hadn't done it this time with Barbara, he'd never do it.
I asked her how she knew he hadn't, this time, when appearances all
pointed that way? And she said that Barbara had come and told her.
Somebody, it seemed, had been telling Barbara it was known that she'd
taken Hippisley from Lena, and that Lena was crying herself into a
nervous break-down. And the child had gone straight to Lena and told
her it was a beastly lie. She hadn't taken Hippisley. She liked ragging
with him and all that, and being seen about with him at parties,
because he was a celebrity and it made the other women, the women he
wouldn't talk to, furious. But as for taking him, why, she wouldn't
take him from anybody as a gift. She didn't want him, a scrubby old
thing like that. She didn't like that dragged look about his
mouth and the way the skin wrinkled on his eyelids. There was a
sincerity about Barbara that would have blasted Hippisley if he'd
Besides, she wouldn't have hurt Lena for the world. She wouldn't
have spoken to Norry if she'd dreamed that Lena minded. But Lena had
seemed so remarkably not to mind. When she came to that part of it she
Lena said that was all very well, and it didn't matter whether
Barbara was in love with Norry or not; but how did she know Norry
wasn't in love with her? And Barbara replied amazingly that of
course she knew. They'd been alone together.
When I remarked that it was precisely that, Lena said, No.
That was nothing in itself; but it would prove one way or another; and
it seemed that when Norry found himself alone with Barbara, he used to
After that Lena settled down to a period of felicity. She'd come to
me, excited and exulting, bringing her poor little happiness with her
like a new toy. She'd sit there looking at it, turning it over and
over, and holding it up to me to show how beautiful it was.
She pointed out to me that I had been wrong and she right about him,
from the beginning. She knew him.
And to think what a fool, what a damned silly fool I was, with my
jealousy. When all those years there was never anybody but me. Do you
remember Sybil Fermor, and Lady Hermioneand Barbara? To think I
should have so clean forgotten what he was like.... Don't you think,
Roly, there must be something in me, after all, to have kept him all
I said there must indeed have been, to have inspired so remarkable a
passion. For Hippisley was making love to her all over again. Their
happy relations were proclaimed, not only by her own engaging
frankness, but still more by the marvellous renaissance of her beauty.
She had given up her habit of jealousy as she had given up eating
sweets, because both were murderous to her complexion. Not that
Hippisley gave her any cause. He had ceased to cultivate the society of
young and pretty ladies, and devoted himself with almost ostentatious
fidelity to Lena. Their affair had become irreproachable with time; it
had the permanence of a successful marriage without the unflattering
element of legal obligation. And he had kept his secretary. Lena had
left off being afraid either that Ethel would leave or that Hippisley
would put some dangerous woman in her place.
There was no change in Ethel, except that she looked rather more
subtle and less sullen. Lena ignored her subtlety as she had ignored
her sulks. She had no more use for her as a confidant and spy, and
Ethel lived in a back den off Hippisley's study with her Remington, and
displayed a convenient apathy in allowing herself to be ignored.
Really, Lena would say in the unusual moments when she thought of
her, if it wasn't for the clicking, you wouldn't know she was there.
And as a secretary she maintained, up to the last, an admirable
Up to the last.
It was Hippisley's death that ended it. You know how it
happenedsuddenly, of heart failure, in Paris. He'd gone there with
Furnival to get material for that book they were doing together. Lena
was literally prostrated with the shock; and Ethel Reeves had to go
over to Paris to bring back his papers and his body.
It was the day after the funeral that it all came out. Lena and
Ethel were sitting up together over the papers and the letters, turning
out his bureau. I suppose that, in the grand immunity his death
conferred on her, poor Lena had become provokingly possessive. I can
hear her saying to Ethel that there had never been anybody but her, all
those years. Praising his faithfulness; holding out her dead happiness,
and apologizing to Ethel for talking about it when Ethel didn't
understand, never having had any.
She must have said something like that, to bring it on herself, just
then, of all moments.
And I can see Ethel Reeves, sitting at his table, stolidly sorting
out his papers, wishing that Lena'd go away and leave her to her work.
And her sullen eyes firing out questions, asking her what she wanted,
what she had to do with Norman Hippisley's papers, what she was there
for, fussing about, when it was all over?
What she wantedwhat she had come forwas her letters. They were
locked up in his bureau in the secret drawer.
She told me what had happened then. Ethel lifted her sullen, subtle
eyes and said, You think he kept them?
She said she knew he'd kept them. They were in that drawer.
And Ethel said, Well then, he didn't. They aren't. He burnt them.
We burnt them.... We could, at least, get rid of them!
Then she threw it at her. She had been Hippisley's mistress for
When Lena asked for proofs of the incredible assertion she had
her letters to show.
Oh, it was her moment. She must have been looking out for it, saving
up for it, all those years; gloating over her exquisite secret, her
return for all the slighting and ignoring. That was what had made her
poisonous, the fact that Lena hadn't reckoned with her, hadn't thought
her dangerous, hadn't been afraid to leave Hippisley with her, the
rich, arrogant contempt in her assumption that Ethel would do"' and
her comfortable confidences. It made her amorous and malignant. It
stimulated her to the attempt.
I think she must have hated Lena more vehemently than she loved
Hippisley. She couldn't, then, have had much reliance on her
power to capture; but her hatred was a perpetual suggestion.
Supposingsupposing she were to try and take him?
Then she had tried.
I daresay she hadn't much difficulty. Hippisley wasn't quite so fine
and fastidious as Lena thought him. I've no doubt he liked Ethel's
unwholesomeness, just as he had liked the touch of morbidity in Lena.
And the spying? That had been all part of the game; his and Ethel's.
They played for safety, if you like. They had had to throw
Lena off the scent. They used Sybil Fermor and Lady Hermione and
Barbara Vining, one after the other, as their paravents. Finally
they had used Lena. That was their cleverest stroke. It brought them a
permanent security. For, you see, Hippisley wasn't going to give up his
free quarters, his studio, the dinners and the motor car, if he could
help it. Not for Ethel. And Ethel knew it. They insured her, too.
Can't you see her, letting herself go in an ecstasy of revenge,
winding up with a hysterical youp? You? You thought it was you? It was
memeME.... You thought what we meant you to think.
Lena still comes and talks to me. To hear her you would suppose that
Lawson Young and Dickey Harper never existed, that her passion for
Norman Hippisley was the unique, solitary manifestation of her soul. It
certainly burnt with the intensest flame. It certainly consumed her.
What's left of her's all shrivelled, warped, as she writhed in her
Yesterday she said to me, Roly, I'm glad he's dead. Safe
from her clutches.
She'll cling for a little while to this last illusion: that he had
been reluctant; but I doubt if she really believes it now.
For you see, Ethel flourishes. In passion, you know, nothing
succeeds like success; and her affair with Norman Hippisley advertised
her, so that very soon it ranked as the first of a series of successes.
She goes about dressed in stained-glass futurist muslins, and contrives
provocative effects out of a tilted nose, and sulky eyes, and
sallowness set off by a black velvet band on the forehead, and a black
scarf of hair dragged tight from a raking backward peak.
I saw her the other night sketching a frivolous gesture
THE WOMAN WHO SAT STILL, by Parry
Copyright, 1922, by Abbie Hargraves. Reprinted by
permission of the author.
When he went, when he had to go, he took with him the memory of her
that had become crystallised, set for him in his own frequent words to
her, standing at her side, looking down at her with his keen, restless
eyessuch words as: It puzzles me how on earth you manage to sit so
Then, enlarging: It is wonderful tome how you can keep so happy
doing nothingmake of enforced idleness a positive pleasure! I suppose
it is a gift, and I haven't got itnot a bit. It doesn't matter how
tired I am, I have to keep goingpeople call it industry, but its real
name is nervous energy, run riot. I can't even take a holiday
peacefully. I must be actively playing if I cannot work. I'm just the
direct descendant of the girl in the red shoesthey were red, weren't
they?who had to dance on and on until she dropped. I shall go on and
on until I drop, and then I shall attempt a few more useless yards on
Come now, in answer to the way she shook her head at him, smiled
at him from her sofa, you know very well how I envy you your gift,
your power of sitting stillhappily stillyour power of
And one day, more intimately still, with a sigh and a look (Oh, a
look she understood!), To me you are the most restful person in the
Why he went, except that he had to go; why he stayed away so long,
so very long, are not really relevant to this story; the facts,
stripped of conjecture, were simply these: she was married, and he was
not, and there came the time, it always comes in such relationships as
theirs, when he had to choose between staying without honour and going
quickly. He went. But even the bare facts concerning his protracted
absence are less easily stated because his absence dragged on long
after the period when he might, with impeccable honour, have returned.
The likeliest solution was that setting her aside when he had to,
served so to cut in two his life, so wrenched at his heartstrings, so
burnt and bruised his spirit, that when, in his active fashion he had
lived some of the hurt down, he could not bring himself easily to
reopen the old subjectfresh wounds for him might still lurk in
ithow could he tell? Although it had been at the call, the insistence
of honour, still hadn't he left herdeserted her? Does any woman, even
his own appointed woman, forgive a man who goes speechless away?
Useless, useless speculation! For some reason, some man's reason, when
another's death made her a free woman, yet he lingered and did not
He knew, afterwards, that it was from the first his intention to
claim her. He wanted herdeep down he wanted her as he had always
wanted her; meant to comesome time. Knew all the time that he could
not always keep away. And then, responding to a sudden whim, some turn
of his quickly moving minda mind that could forcibly bury a subject
and as forcibly resurrect ithot-foot and eager he came.
He had left her recovering slowly and surely from a long illness; an
illness that must have proved fatal but for her gift of tranquillity,
her great gift of keeping absolutely, rest-fully still in body, while
retaining a happily occupied mind. Her books, and her big quiet room,
and the glimpse of the flower-decked garden from her window, with just
these things to help her, she had dug herself into the deep heart of
life where the wells of contentment spring. Bird's song in the early
morn and the long, still day before her in which to find herselfto
take a new, firmer hold on the hidden strength of the world. And, just
to keep her in touch with the surface of things, visits from her
Then later, more tightly gripping actuality, with a new, keen,
sharp, growing pleasurethe visits of a friend.
While those lasted there was nothing she would have changed for her
quiet room, her sofa: the room that he lit with his coming; where she
rested and rested, shut in with the memory of all he said, looked,
thought in her presenceuntil again he came.
While they lasted! She had been content, never strong, never able to
do very much, with seclusion before. During the time of his visits she
revelled, rejoiced in it, asking nothing further. While they lasted,
sitting still (Oh, so still), hugging her joy, she didn't think,
wouldn't think, how it might end.
Sometimes, just sometimes, by a merciful providence, things do not
end. She lived for months on the bare chance of its not ending.
Yet, as we know, the end came.
At first while the world called her widowed she sat with her
unwidowed heart waiting for him in the old room, in the old way. Surely
now he would come? She had given good measure of fondness and duty and
friendshipthat was only that under another nameto the one who until
now had stood between her and her heart's desire, and parting with him,
and all the associations that went with him, had surprisingly hurt her.
Always frail, she was illtorn with sorrow and pityand then, very
slowly again, she recovered. And while she recovered, lying still in
the old way, she gave her heart wingswild, surging wingsat last, at
last. Sped it forth, forth to bring her joyto compel it.
While she waited in this fashion a sweet, recaptured sense of
familiarity made his coming seem imminent. She had only to wait and he
would be here. She couldn't have mistaken the looks that had never been
translated into wordsthat hadn't needed words. Though she had longed
and ached for a wordthenshe was quite content now. He had wanted
her just as she was, unashamed and untainted. And to preserve her as
she was he had gone away. And now for the very first time she was truly
glad he had gone in that abrupt, speechless fashionin spite of the
heartache and the long years between them, really and truly glad.
Nothing had been spoilt; they had snatched at no stolen joys. And the
rapture, (what rapture!) of meeting would blot out all that they had
suffered in silencethe separationall of it!
As she waited, getting well for him, she had no regrets, growing
more and more sure of his coming.
It was not until she was well again, not until the months had piled
themselves on each other, that, growing more frightened than she knew,
she began her new work of preparation.
Suddenly, impulsively, when she had reached the stage of giving him
up for days at a time, when hope had nearly abandoned her, then he
He had left a woman so hopeful in outlook, so young and peaceful in
spirit, that with her the advancing years would not matter. On his
journey back to her, visualising her afresh, touching up his memory of
her, he pictured her going a little grey. That would suit hergrey was
her colourblending to lavender in the clothes she always wore for
him. A little grey, but her clear, pale skin unfaded, her large eyes
full of pure, guarded secretssecrets soon to unfold for him alone.
A havena haven! So he thought of her, and now, ready for her,
coming to her, he craved the rest she would give himrest more than
anything in all the world. She, with her sweet white hands, when he
held them, kissed them, would unlock the doors of peace for him,
drawing him into her life, letting him potter and lingerlinger at her
side. Even when long ago he had insisted to her that for him there was
no way of rest, he had known that she, just she, meant rest for him,
when he could claim her for his own. Other women, other pursuits,
offered him excitement, stimulationand then a weariness too profound
for words. But rest, bodily, spiritually, was her unique gift for him.
Shehe smiled as he thought itwould teach him to sit still.
And tired, so tired, he hurried to her across the world as fast as
he could go.
Waiting at her door, the door opened, crossing the thresholdOh, he
had never thought his luck would be so great as to be taken direct to
the well remembered room upstairs! Yet with only a few short inquiries
he was taken thereshe for whom he asked, the mistress of the house,
would be in her sitting-room, he was told, and if he was an old
friend...? He explained that he was a very old friend, following the
maid upstairs. But the maid was mistaken; her mistress was not in her
private sitting-room; not in the house at allshe had gone out, and it
proved on investigation that she had left no word. The maid, returning,
suggested however, that she would not be long. Her mistress had a
meeting this evening; she was expecting some one before dinner; no, she
would certainly not be long, soso if he would like to wait?
He elected to waita little impatiently. He knew it was absurd that
coming, without warningafter how many years was it?he should yet
have made so sure of finding her at home. Absurd, unreasonableand yet
he was disappointed. He ought to have written, but he had not waited to
write. He had pictured the meetinghow many times? Times without
numberand always pictured her waiting at home. And then the room?
Left alone in it he paced the room. But the room enshrined in his
heart of hearts was not this room. Was there, surely there was some
There could be no mistake. There could not be two upstairs rooms in
this comparatively small house, of this size and with this aspect;
westward, and overlooking with two large windows the little walled
garden into which he had so often gazed, standing and talking to her,
saying over his shoulders the things he dare not say face to facethat
would have meant so much more, helped out with look and gesture, face
The garden, as far as he could see, was the same except that he
fancied it less trim, less perfect in order: in the old days it would
be for months at a time all the outside world she sawthere had been
object enough in keeping it trim. Now it looked, to his fancy, like a
woman whose beauty was fading a little because she had lost incentive
to be beautiful. He turned from the garden, his heart amazed, fearful,
back to the room.
The room of the old dayswith closed eyes he reproduced it; its
white walls, its few good pictures, its curtains and carpet of deep
blue. Her sofa by the window, the wide armchair on which he always sat,
the table where, in and out of season, roses, his roses, stood. The
little old gilt clock on the mantlepiece that so quickly, cruelly
ticked away their hour. Books, books everywhere, the most important
journals and a medley of the lighter magazines; those, with her
work-basket, proving her feminine and the range of her interests, her
inconsistency. A woman's room, revealing at a glance her individuality,
But this room! He looked for the familiar thingsthe sofa, the
bookshelves, the little table dedicated to flowers. Yes, the sofa was
there, but pushed away as though seldom used; on the bookshelves new,
strange books were crowding out the old, on the little table drooped a
few faded flowers in an awkward vase. On the mantlepiece, where she
would never have more than one or two good ornaments, and the old gilt
clock, were now stacks of papers, a rack bulging with packing
materialssomething like thatan ink-bottle, a candlestick, the
candle trailed over with sealing-wax, and an untidy ball of string. And
right in the centre of the room a great clumsy writing-table, an office
table, piled with papers again, ledgers, a portable typewriter, anda
litter of cigarette ends.
Like a Mistress on the track of a much-doubted maid he ran his
finger along the edge of a bookcase and then the mantlepiece. He looked
at his fingers; there was no denying the dust he had wiped away.
She must have changed her roomwhy had she done it? But the maid
had saidin her sitting-room
He waited now frightened, now fuming. Still she did not come. Should
he not waitshould he goif this was her room? But he had come so
far, and he needed her sohe must stay. For some dear, foolish woman's
reason she must have lent her room for the use of a feminine busy-body;
a political, higher-thought, pseudo-spiritualistic friend. (He must
weed out her friends!) The trend of the work done in this room now his
quick mind had seized upontitles of books, papers, it was enough.
Notices stuck in the Venetian Mirror (the desecration!) for meetings of
this and that society, and all of them, so he judged, just excuses for
putting unwanted fingers into unwanted, dangerous pies. He thought of
it like thathe could not help it; he saw too far into motive and
internal action; was too impatient of the little storms, the paltry,
tea-cup things. She, with her unique gift of serenityher place was
not among the busybodies grinding axes that were better blunt;
interfering with the slow, slow working of the Mills of God. Her gift
was examplerare and delicate; her light the silver light of a soul,
that through suffering and patience and contemplation, knows itself and
For such fussing, unstable work as it was used for now she ought not
even to have lent her roomthe room he had looked on as a temple of
quietness; the shrine of a priceless temperament.
He smiled his first smileshe should not lend it again.
Then the door opened. Suddenly, almost noisily, she came in.
She had heard, downstairs, his name. So far she was prepared with
her greeting. She came with hands outstretchedhe took her hands and
When he could interrupt her greeting he saidforcing the wordsSo
now you are quite strongand busy?
She told him how busy. She told him how, (but not why) she had
awakened from her long, selfish dream. She said she had found so
latebut surely not too late?the joy of action; constant,
unremitting work for the world's sake. Do you remember how you used
to complain you couldn't sit still? I am like that now
And he listened, listened, each word a deeper stab straight at his
Of all the many things he had done since they met he had nothing to
Having just let her talk (how she talked!) as soon as he decently
could he went. Of all he had come to tell her he said not a word.
Tired, so bitterly tired, he had come seeking rest, and now there was
no more a place of rest for himanywhere.
Yes, he had come across the world to find himself overdue; to find
himself too late. He went out againas soon as he decently
couldtaking only a picture of her that in sixty over-charged minutes
had wiped out the treasured picture of years.
Sixty minutes! After waiting for years she had kept him an hour,
desperately, by sheer force of will keeping a man too stunned at first
to resist, to break free. (Then at last he broke free of that room and
that woman, and went!) For years he had pictured her sitting still as
no other woman sat still, tranquil and graceful, her hair going a
little grey above her clear, pale skin, her eyes of a dream-ridden
saint. And now he must picture her forced into life, vivaciously,
restlessly eager; full of plans, (futile plans, how he knew those
plans!) for the world's upheaval, adding unrest to unrest. And now he
must picture her with the grey hair outwitted by art, with paint on her
beautiful ravaged face.
At first he had wanted to take her in his arms; with his strength to
still her, with his tears to wash the paint off.
But he couldn'the couldn't. He knew that his had been a dream of
such supreme sweetness that to awaken was an agony he could never hide;
knew that you can't re-enter dreamland once you wake.
So he went.
He never knew, with the door shut on him, how she fell on her
sofaher vivacity quenched, her soul spent. He never knew that having
failed, (as she thought) to draw him to her with what she was, she had
vainly, foolishly tried a new modelhimself.
He did not know how inartistic love can be when love is desperate.
MAJOR WILBRAHAM, By Hugh Walpole
(From The Chicago Tribune)
Copyright, 1921, by The Chicago Tribune.
Copyright, 1922, by Hugh Walpole. Reprinted by permission of
the author and of J. B. Pinker.
I am quite aware that in giving you this story just as I was told it
I shall incur the charge of downright and deliberate lying.
Especially I shall be told this by any one who knew Wilbraham
personally. Wilbraham was not, of course, his real name, but I think
that there are certain people who will recognize him from this
description of him. I do not know that it matters very much if they do.
Wilbraham himself would certainly not mind did he know. (Does he know?)
It was the thing above all that he wanted those last hours before he
diedthat I should pass on my conviction of the truth of what he told
me to others. What he did not know was that I was not convinced. How
could I be? But when the whole comfort of his last hours hung on the
simple fact that I was, of course I pretended to the best of my poor
ability. I would have done more than that to make him happy.
It is precisely the people who knew him well who will declare at
once that my little story is impossible. But did they know him well?
Does any one know any one else well? Aren't we all as lonely and
removed from one another as mariners on separate desert islands? In any
case I did not know him well and perhaps for that very reason was not
so greatly surprised at his amazing revelationssurprised at the
revelations themselves, of course, but not at his telling them. There
was always in himand I have known him here and there, loosely, in
club and London fashion, for nearly twenty yearssomething romantic
and something sentimental. I knew that because it was precisely those
two attributes that he drew out of me.
Most men are conscious at some time in their lives of having felt
for a member of their own sex an emotion that is something more than
simple companionship. It is a queer feeling quite unlike any other in
life, distinctly romantic and the more that perhaps for having no sex
feeling in it.
Like the love of women, it is felt generally at sight, but, unlike
that love, it is, I think, a supremely unselfish emotion. It is not
acquisitive, nor possessive, nor jealous, and exists best perhaps when
it is not urged too severely, but is allowed to linger in the
background of life, giving real happiness and security and trust,
standing out, indeed, as something curiously reliable just because it
is so little passionate. This emotion has an odd place in our English
life because the men who feel it, if they have been to public school
and university, have served a long training in repressing every sign or
expression of sentiment towards any other man; nevertheless it
persists, romantically and deeply persists, and the war of 1914 offered
many curious examples of it.
Wilbraham roused just that feeling in me. I remember with the utmost
distinctness my first meeting with him. It was just after the Boer war
and old Johnny Beaminster gave a dinner party to some men pals of his
at the Phoenix. Johnny was not so old thennone of us were; it was a
short time after the death of that old harpy, the Duchess of Wrexe, and
some wag said that the dinner was in celebration of that happy
occasion. Johnny was not so ungracious as that, but he gave us a very
merry evening and he did undoubtedly feel a kind of lightness in the
There were about fifteen of us and Wilbraham was the only man
present I'd never seen before. He was only a captain then and neither
so red faced nor so stout as he afterwards became. He was pretty bulky,
though, even then, and with his sandy hair cropped close, his staring
blue eyes, his toothbrush moustache and sharp, alert movements, looked
the typical traditional British officer.
There was nothing at all to distinguish him from a thousand other
officers of his kind, and yet from the moment I saw him I had some
especial and personal feeling about him. He was not in type at all the
man to whom at that time I should have felt drawn. My first book had
just been published and, although as I now perceive, its publication
had not caused the slightest ripple upon any water, the congratulations
of my friends and relations, who felt compelled, poor things, to say
something, because they had received copies from the author, had made
me feel that the literary world was all buzzing at my ears. I could see
at a glance that Kipling was probably the only decent author about
whom Wilbraham knew anything, and the fragments of his conversation
that I caught did not promise anything intellectually exciting from his
The fact remains that I wanted to know him more than any other man
in the room, and although I only exchanged a few words with him that
night, I thought of him for quite a long time afterwards.
It did not follow from this as it ought to have done that we became
great friends. That we never were, although it was myself whom he sent
for three days before his death to tell me his queer little story. It
was then at the very last that he confided to me that he, too, had felt
something at our first meeting different to what one generally feels,
that he had always wanted to turn our acquaintance into friendship and
had been too shy. I also was shyand so we missed one another, as I
suppose in this funny, constrained, traditional country of ours
thousands of people miss one another every day.
But although I did not see him very often and was in no way intimate
with him, I kept my ears open for any account of his doings. From one
point of view, the Club Window outlook, he was a very usual figure, one
of those stout, rubicund, jolly men, a good polo player, a good man in
a house party, genial-natured, and none too brilliantly brained, whom
every one liked and no one thought about. All this he was on one side
of the report, but, on the other, there were certain stories that were
something more than the ordinary.
Wilbraham was obviously a sentimentalist and an enthusiast; there
was the extraordinary case shortly after T first met him of his
championship of X, a man who had been caught in an especially bestial
kind of crime and received a year's imprisonment for it. On X leaving
prison Wilbra-ham championed and defended him, put him up for months in
his rooms in Duke Street, walked as often as possible in his company
down Piccadilly, and took him over to Paris. It says a great deal for
Wilbraham's accepted normality and his general popularity that this
championship of X did him no harm. It was so obvious that fie himself
was the last man in the world to be afflicted with X's peculiar habits.
Some men, it is true, did murmur something about birds of a feather;
one or two kind friends warned Wilbraham in the way kind friends have,
and to them he simply said: If a feller's a pal he's a pal.
All this might in the end have done Wilbraham harm had not X most
happily committed suicide in Paris in 1905.
There followed a year or two later the much more celebrated business
of Lady C. I need not go into all that now, but here again Wilbraham
constituted himself her defender, although she robbed, cheated, and
maligned him as she robbed, cheated, and maligned every one who was
good to her. It was quite obvious that he was not in love with her; the
obviousness of it was one of the things in him that annoyed her.
He simply felt apparently that she had been badly treated (the very
last thing that she had been), gave her any money he had, put his rooms
at the disposal of herself and her friends, and, as I have said,
championed her everywhere. This affair did very nearly finish him
socially, and in his regiment. It was not so much that they minded his
caring for Lady C(after all, any man can be fooled by any woman)but
it was Lady C's friends who made the whole thing so impossible. Such a
crew! Such a horrible crew! And it was a queer thing to see Wilbraham
with his straight blue eyes and innocent mouth and general air of
amiable simplicity in the company of men like Colonel B and young
Kenneth Parr. (There is no harm, considering the later publicity of his
case, in mentioning his name.) Well, that affair luckily came to an end
just in time. Lady C disappeared to Berlin and was no more seen.
There were other bases into which I need not go when Wilbraham was
seen in strange company, always championing somebody who was not worth
the championing. He had no social tact, and for them at any rate no
moral sense. In himself he was the ordinary normal man about town, no
prude, but straight as a man can be in his debts, his love affairs, his
friendships, and his sport. Then came the war. He did brilliantly at
Mons, was wounded twice, went out to Gallipoli, had a touch of
Palestine, and returned to France again to share in Foch's final
No man can possibly have had more of the war than he had, and it is
my own belief that he had just a little too much of it.
He had been always perhaps a little queer, as we are most of us
queer somewhere, and the horrors of that horrible war undoubtedly
affected him. Finally he lost, just a week before the armistice, one of
his best friends, Ross McLean, a loss from which he certainly never
I have now, I think, brought together all the incidents that can
throw any kind of light upon the final scene.
In the middle of 1919 he retired from the army, and it was from this
time to his death that I saw something of him. He went back to his old
home at Horton's in Duke street, and as I was living at that time in
Marlborough Chambers in Jermyn street we were in easy reach of one
another. The early part of 1920 was a queer, time.. People had
become, I imagine, pretty well accustomed to realizing that those two
wonderful hours of Armistice day had not ushered in the millennium any
more than those first marvellous moments of the Russian revolution
Every one has always hoped for the millennium, but the trouble since
the days of Adam and Eve has always been that people have such
different ideas as to what exactly that millennium shall be. The plain
facts of the matter simply were that during 1919 and 1920 the world
changed from a war of nations to a war of classes, that inevitable
change that history has always shown follows on great wars.
As no one ever reads history, it was natural enough that there
should be a great deal of disappointment and a great deal of
astonishment. Men at the head of affairs who ought to have known better
cried aloud, How ungrateful these people are, after all we've done for
them! and the people underneath shouted that everything had been
muddled and spoiled and that they would have done much better had they
been at the head of affairs, an assertion for which there was no sort
Wilbraham, being a sentimentalist and an idealist, suffered more
from this general disappointment than most people. He had had wonderful
relations with the men under him throughout the war. He had never tired
of recounting how marvelously they had behaved, what heroes they were,
and that it was they who would pull the country together.
At the same time he had a naïve horror of bolshevism and anything
unconstitutional, and he watched the transformation of his brave lads
into discontented and idle workmen with dismay and deep distress. He
used sometimes to come around to my rooms and talk to me; he had the
bewildered air of a man walking in his sleep.
He made the fatal mistake of reading all the papers, and he took in
the Daily Herald in order that he might see what it was these fellows
had to say for themselves.
The Herald upset him terribly. Its bland assumption that Russians
and Sein Feiners could do no wrong, but that the slightest sign of
assertion of authority on the part of any government was wicked
tyranny, shocked his very soul. I remember that he wrote a long, most
earnest letter to Lansbury, pointing out to him that if he subverted
all authority and constitutional government his own party would in its
turn be subverted when it came to govern. Of course, he received no
During these months I came to love the man. The attraction that I
had felt for him from the very first deeply underlay all my relation to
him, but as I saw more of him I found many very positive reasons for my
liking. He was the simplest, bravest, purest, most loyal, and most
unselfish soul alive. He seemed to me to have no faults at all unless
it were a certain softness towards the wishes of those whom he loved.
He could not bear to hurt anybody, but he never hesitated if some
principle in which he believed was called in question.
He had not, of course, a subtle mindhe was no analyst of
characterbut that did not make him uninteresting. I never heard any
one call him dull company, although men laughed at him for his good
nature and unsefishness and traded on him all the time. He was the best
human being I have ever known or am ever likely to know.
Well, the crisis arrived with astonishing suddenness. About the
second or third of August I went down to stay with some friends at the
little fishing village of Rafiel in Glebeshire.
I saw him just before I left London, and he told me that he was
going to stay in London for the first half of August, that he liked
London in August, even though his club would be closed and Horton's
delivered over to the painters.
I heard nothing about him for a fortnight, and then I received a
most extraordinary letter from Box Hamilton, a fellow clubman of mine
and Wilbraham's. Had I heard, he said, that poor old Wilbraham had gone
right off his knocker? Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but
suddenly one day at lunch time Wilbraham had turned up at Grey's (the
club to which our own club was a visitor during its cleaning), had
harangued every one about religion in the most extraordinary way, had
burst out from there and started shouting in Piccadilly, had, after
collecting a crowd, disappeared and not been seen until the next
morning, when he had been found, nearly killed, after a hand-to-hand
fight with the market men in Covent Garden.
It may be imagined how deeply this disturbed me, especially as I
felt that I was myself to blame. I had noticed that Wilbraham was ill
when I had seen him in London, and I should either have persuaded him
to come with me to Glebeshire or stayed with him in London. I was just
about to pack up and go to town when I received a letter from a doctor
in a nursing home in South Audley street saying that a certain Major
Wilbraham was in the home dying and asking persistently for myself. I
took a motor to Drymouth and was in London by five o'clock.
I found the South Audley Street nursing home and was at once
surrounded with the hush, the shaded rooms, the scents of medicine and
flowers, and some undefinable cleanliness that belongs to those places.
I waited in a little room, the walls decorated with sporting prints,
the green baize table gloomily laden with volumes of Punch and the
Tatler. Wilbraham's doctor came in to see me, a dapper, smart little
man, efficient and impersonal. He told me that Wilbraham had at most
only twenty-four hours to live, that his brain was quite clear, and
that he was suffering very little pain, that he had been brutally
kicked in the stomach by some man in the Covent Garden crowd and had
there received the internal injuries from which he was now dying.
His brain is quite clear, the doctor said. Let him talk. It can
do him no harm. Nothing can save him. His head is full of queer
fancies; he wants every one to listen to him. He's worrying because
there's some message he wants to send... he wants to give it to you.
When I saw Wilbraham he was so little changed that I felt no shock.
Indeed, the most striking change in him was the almost exultant
happiness in his voice and eyes.
It is true that after talking to him a little I knew that he was
dying. He had that strange peace and tranquillity of mind that one saw
so often with dying men in the war.
I will try to give an exact account of Wilbraham's narrative;
nothing else is of importance in this little story but that narrative;
I can make no comment. I have no wish to do so. I only want to pass it
on as he begged me to do.
If you don't believe me, he said, give other people the chance of
doing so. I know that I am dying. I want as many men and women to have
a chance of judging this as is humanly possible. I swear to you that I
am telling the truth and the exact truth in every detail.
I began my account by saying that I was not convinced.
How could I be convinced?
At the same time I have none of those explanations with which people
are so generously forthcoming on these occasions. I can only say that I
do not think Wilbraham was insane, nor drunk, nor asleep. Nor do I
believe that some one played a practical joke....
Whether Wilbraham was insane between the hours when his visitor left
him and his entrance into the nursing home I must leave to my readers.
I myself think he was not.
After all, everything depends upon the relative importance that we
place upon ambitions, possessions, emotions,ideas.
Something suddenly became of so desperate an importance to Wilbraham
that nothing else at all mattered. He wanted every one else to see the
importance of it as he did. That is all....
It had been a hot and oppressive day; London had seemed torrid and
uncomfortable. The mere fact that Oxford street was up annoyed him.
After a slight meal in his flat he went to the Promenade Concert at
Queen's Hall. It was the second night of the seasonMonday night,
He bought himself a five shilling ticket and sat in the middle of
the balcony overlooking the floor. He was annoyed again when he
discovered that he had been given a ticket for the non-smoking
section of the balcony.
He had heard no Wagner since August, 1914, and was anxious to
discover the effect that hearing it again would have upon him. The
effect was disappointing. The music neither caught nor held him.
The Meistersinger had always been a great opera for him. The third
act music that Sir Henry Wood gave to him didn't touch him anywhere. He
also discovered that six years' abstinence had not enraptured him any
more deeply with the rushing fiddles in the Tannhäuser Overture nor
with the spinning music in the Flying Dutchman. Then came suddenly
the prelude to the third act of Tristan. That caught him; the peace
and tranquillity that he needed lapped him round; he was fully
satisfied and could have listened for another hour.
He walked home down Regent Street, the quiet melancholy of the
shepherd's pipe accompanying him, pleasing him and tranquillizing him.
As he reached his flat ten o'clock struck from St. James' Church. He
asked the porter whether any one had wanted him during his
absencewhether any one was waiting for him now(some friend had told
him that he might come up and use his spare room one night that week).
No, no one had been. There was no one there waiting.
Great was his surprise, therefore, when opening the door of his flat
he found some one standing there, one hand resting on the table, his
face turned towards the open door. Stronger, however, than Wilbraham's
surprise was his immediate conviction that he knew his visitor well,
and this was curious because the face was undoubtedly strange to him.
I beg your pardon, Wilbraham said to him, hesitating.
I wanted to see you, the Stranger said, smiling.
When Wilbraham was telling me this part of Ids story he seemed to be
envelopedenveloped is the word that best conveys my own experience
of himby some quite radiant happiness. He smiled at me confidentially
as though he were telling me something that I had experienced with him
and that must give me the same happiness that it gave to him.
Ought I to have expected? Ought I to have known he stammered.
No, you couldn't have known, the Stranger answered. You're not
late. I knew when you would come.
Wilbraham told me that during these moments he was surrendering
himself to an emotion and intimacy and companionship that was the most
wonderful thing that he had ever known. It was that intimacy and
companionship, he told me, for which all his days he had been
searching. It was the one thing that life never seemed to give; even in
the greatest love, the deepest friendship, there was that seed of
loneliness hidden. He had never found it in man or woman.
Now it was so wonderful that the first thing he said was: And now
you're going to stay, aren't you? You won't go away at once...?
Of course, I'll stay, he answered. If you want me.
His Visitor was dressed in some dark suit; there was nothing about
Him in any way odd or unusual. His Face was thin and pale, His smile
His English was without accent. His voice was soft and very
But Wilbraham could notice nothing but His Eyes; they were the most
beautiful, tender, gentle Eyes that he had ever seen in any human
They sat down. Wilbraham's overwhelming fear was lest his Guest
should leave him. They began to talk and Wilbraham took it at once as
accepted that his Friend knew all about himeverything.
He found himself eagerly plunging into details of scenes, episodes
that he had long put behind himput behind him for shame perhaps or
for regret or for sorrow. He knew at once that there was nothing that
he need veil nor hidenothing. He had no sense that he must consider
susceptibilities nor avoid self-confession that was humiliating.
But he did find, as he talked on, a sense of shame from another side
creep towards him and begin to enclose him. Shame at the smallness,
meanness, emptiness of the things that he declared.
He had had always behind his mistakes and sins a sense that he was a
rather unusually interesting person; if only his friends knew
everything about him they would be surprised at the remarkable man that
he really was. Now it was exactly the opposite sense that came over
him. In the gold-rimmed mirror that was over his mantlepiece he saw
himself diminishing, diminishing, diminishing.... First himself, large,
red-faced, smiling, rotund, lying back in his chair; then the face
shrivelling, the limbs shortening, then the face small and peaked, the
hands and legs little and mean, then the chair enormous about and
around the little trembling animal cowering against the cushion.
He sprang up.
No, no.... I can't tell you any moreand you've known it all so
long. I am mean, small, nothingI have not even great ambition...
His Guest stood up and put His Hand on his shoulder.
They talked, standing side by side, and He said some things that
belonged to Wilbraham alone, that he would not tell me.
Wilbraham asked Him why He had comeand to him.
I will come now to a few of My friends, He said. First one and
then another. Many people have forgotten Me behind My words. They have
built up such a mountain over Me with the doctrines they have
attributed to Me, the things that they say that I did. I am not
really, He said laughing, His Hand on Wilbraham's shoulder, so dull
and gloomy and melancholy as they have made Me. I loved LifeI loved
men; I loved laughter and games and the open airI liked jokes and
good food and exercise. All things that they have forgotten. So from
now I shall come back to one or two.... I am lonely when they see Me so
Another thing He said. They are making life complicated now. To
lead a good life, to be happy, to manage the world only the simplest
things are neededLove, Unselfishness, Tolerance.
Can I go with You and be with You always? Wilbraham asked.
Do you really want that? He said.
Yes, said Wilbraham, bowing his head.
Then you shall come and never leave Me again. In three days from
Then he kissed Wilbraham on the forehead and went away.
I think that Wilbraham himself became conscious as he told me this
part of his story of the difference between the seen and remembered
Figure and the foolish, inadequate reported words. Even now as I repeat
a little of what Wilbraham said I feel the virtue and power slipping
And so it goes on! As the Figure recedes the words become colder and
colder and the air that surrounds them has in it less and less of
power. But on that day when I sat beside Wilbraham's bed the conviction
in his voice and eyes held me so that although my reason kept me back
my heart told me that he had been in contact with some power that was a
stronger force than anything that I myself had ever known.
But I have determined to make no personal comment on this story. I
am here simply as a narrator of fact....
Wilbraham told me that after his Visitor left him he sat there for
some time in a dream. Then he sat up, startled, as though some voice,
calling, had wakened him, with an impulse that was like a fire suddenly
blazing up and lighting the dark places of his brain. I imagine that
all Wilbraham's impulses in the past, chivalric, idealistic, foolish,
had been of that kindsudden, of an almost ferocious energy and
determination, blind to all consequences. He must go out at once and
tell every one of what had happened to him.
I once read a story somewhere about some town that was expecting a
great visitor. Everything was ready, the banners hanging, the music
prepared, the crowds waiting in the street.
A man who had once been for some years at the court of the expected
visitor saw him enter the city, sombrely clad, on foot. Meanwhile his
Chamberlain entered the town in full panoply with the trumpets blowing
and many riders in attendance. The man who knew the real thing ran to
every one telling the truth, but they laughed at him and refused to
listen. And the real king departed quietly as he had come.
It was, I suppose, an influence of this kind that drove Wilbraham
now. Suddenly something was of so great an importance to him that
nothing else, mockery, hostility, scorn, counted. After all, simply a
supreme example of the other impulses that had swayed him throughout
What followed might I think have been to some extent averted had his
appearance been different. London is a home of madmen and casually
permits any lunacy so that public peace is not endangered; had poor
Wilbraham looked a fanatic with pale face, long hair, ragged clothes,
much would have been forgiven him, but for a stout, middle-aged
gentleman, well dressed, well groomed.... What could be supposed but
insanity and insanity of a very ludicrous kind?
He put on his coat and went out. From this moment his account was
confused. His mind, as he spoke to me, kept returning to that
Visitor.... What happened after his Friend's departure was vague and
uncertain to him, largely because it was unimportant.. He does not know
what time it was when he went out, but I gather that it must have been
about midnight. There were still people in Piccadilly.
Somewhere near the Berkeley Hotel he stopped a gentleman and a lady.
He spoke, I am sure, so politely that the man he addressed must have
supposed that he was asking for a match, or an address, or something of
the kind. Wilbraham told me that very quietly he asked the gentleman
whether he might speak to him for a moment, that he had something very
important to say.
That he would not, as a rule, dream of interfering in any man's
private affairs, but that the importance of his communication
outweighed all ordinary conventions; that he expected that the
gentleman had hitherto, as had been his own case, felt much doubt about
religious questions, but that now all doubt was, once and forever,
I expect that at that fatal word Religion the gentleman started as
though he had been stung by a snake, felt that this mild-looking man
was a dangerous lunatic and tried to move away. It was the lady with
him, so far as I can discover, who cried out:
Oh, poor man, he's ill, and wanted at once to do something for
him. By this time a crowd was beginning to collect and as the crowd
closed around the central figures more people gathered upon the
outskirts and, peering through, wondered what had happened, whether
there was an accident, whether it were a drunk, whether there had
been a quarrel, and so on.
Wilbraham, I fancy, began to address them all, telling them his
great news, begging them with desperate urgency to believe him. Some
laughed, some stared in wide-eyed wonder, the crowd was increasing and
then, of course, the inevitable policeman with his move on, please,
How deeply I regret that Wilbraham was not, there and then,
arrested. He would be alive and with us now if that had been done. But
the policeman hesitated, I suppose, to arrest any one as obviously a
gentleman as Wilbraham, a man, too, as he soon perceived, who was
perfectly sober, even though he was not in his right mind.
Wilbraham was surprised at the policeman's interference. He said
that the last thing that he wished to do was to create any disturbance,
but that he could not bear to let all these people go to their beds
without giving them a chance of realizing first that everything was now
altered, that he had the most wonderful news....
The crowd was dispersed and Wilbraham found himself walking alone
with the policeman beside the Green Park.
He must have been a very nice policeman because before Wilbraham's
death he called at the Nursing Home and was very anxious to know how
the poor gentleman was getting on.
He allowed Wilbraham to talk to him and then did all he could to
persuade him to walk home and go to bed. He offered to get him a taxi.
Wilbraham thanked him, said he would do so, and bade him good night,
and the policeman, seeing that Wilbraham was perfectly composed and
sober, left him.
After that the narrative is more confused. Wilbraham apparently
walked down Knightsbridge and arrived at last somewhere near the Albert
Hall. He must have spoken to a number of different people. One man, a
politician apparently, was with him for a considerable time, but only
because he was so anxious to emphasise his own views about the
Coalition Government and the wickedness of Lloyd George. Another was a
journalist, who continued with him for a while because he scented a
story for his newspaper. Some people may remember that there was a
garbled paragraph about a Religious Army Officer in the Daily
Record. One lady thought that Wilbraham wanted to go home with her
and was both angry and relieved when she found that it was not so.
He stayed at a cabman's shelter for a time and drank a cup of coffee
and told the little gathering there his news. They took it very calmly.
They had met so many queer things in their time that nothing seemed odd
His account becomes clearer again when he found himself a little
before dawn in the park and in the company of a woman and a broken down
pugilist. I saw both these persons afterwards and had some talk with
them. The pugilist had only the vaguest sense of what had happened.
Wilbraham was a proper old bird and had given him half a crown to get
his breakfast with. They had all slept together under a tree and he had
made some rather voluble protests because the other two would talk so
continuously and prevented his sleeping. It was a warm night and the
sun had come up behind the trees surprisin' quick. He had liked the
old boy, especially as he had given him half a crown.
The woman was another story. She was quiet and reserved, dressed in
black, with a neat little black hat with a green feather in it. She had
yellow fluffy hair and bright childish blue eyes and a simple, innocent
expression. She spoke very softly and almost in a whisper. So far as I
could discover she could see nothing odd in Wilbraham nor in anything
that he had said. She was the one person in all the world who had
understood him completely and found nothing out of the way in his talk.
She had liked him at once, she said. I could see that he was kind,
she added earnestly, as though to her that was the most important thing
in all the world. No, his talk had not seemed odd to her. She had
believed every word that he had said. Why not? You could not look at
him and not believe what he said.
Of course it was true. And why not? What was there against it? It
had been a great help for her what the gentleman had told her.... Yes,
and he had gone to sleep with his head in her lap... and she had stayed
awake all night thinking... and he had waked up just in time to see the
sun rise. Some sunrise that was, too.
That was a curious little fact that all three of them, even the
battered pugilist, should have been so deeply struck by that sunrise.
Wilbraham on the last day of his life, when he hovered between
consciousness and unconsciousness, kept recalling it as though it had
been a vision.
The sunand the trees suddenly green and bright like glittering
swords. All shapesswords, plowshares, elephants, and camelsand the
sky pale like ivory. See, now the sun is rushing up, faster than ever,
to take us with him, up, up, leaving the trees like green clouds
beneath usfar, far beneath us
The woman said that it was the finest sunrise she had ever seen. He
talked to her all the time about his plans. He was looking disheveled
now and unshaven and dirty. She suggested that he should go back to his
flat. No, he wished to waste no time. Who knew how long he had got? It
might be only a day or two... He would go to Covent Garden and talk to
the men there.
She was confused as to what happened after that. When they got to
the market the carts were coming in and men were very busy.
She saw the gentleman speak to one of them very earnestly, but he
was busy and pushed him aside. He spoke to another, who told him to
Then he jumped on to a box, and almost the last sight she had of him
was his standing there in his soiled clothes, a streak of mud on his
face, his arms outstretched and crying: It's true! Stop just a
momentyou must hear me!
Some one pushed him off the box. The pugilist rushed in then,
cursing them and saying that the man was a gentleman and had given him
half a crown, and then some hulking great fellow fought the pugilist
and there was a regular mêlée. Wilbraham was in the middle of them, was
knocked down and trampled upon. No one meant to hurt him, I think. They
all seemed very sorry afterwards....
He died two days after being brought into the Nursing Home. He was
very happy just before he died, pressed my hand and asked me to look
after the girl....
Isn't it wonderful, were his last words to me, that it should be
true after all?
As to Truth, who knows? Truth is a large order. This is true
as far as Wilbraham goes, every word of it. Beyond that? Well, it must
be jolly to be so happy as Wilbraham was.
This will seem a lying story to some, a silly and pointless story to
[Note: Several stories omitted because of missing pages
in the print copy.]