A Great Man
by Arnold Bennett
A GREAT MAN
AUTHOR OF 'THE GRAND BABYLON HOTEL,' 'ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS,'
LONDON CHATTO &WINDUS
MY DEAR FRIEND
THE IMPERISHABLE MEMORY
A GREAT MAN
CHAPTER I. HIS
CHAPTER II. TOM
CHAPTER III. HIS
CHAPTER IV. AGED
CHAPTER VI. A
CALAMITY FOR THE
CHAPTER X. MARK
CHAPTER XII. HIS
CHAPTER XIII. A
LION IN HIS LAIR
CHAPTER XIV. HER
CHAPTER XV. HIS
CHAPTER XVII. A
NOVELIST IN A
CHAPTER XIX. HE
PRESS AND PUBLIC
PLAYING THE NEW
CHAPTER XXII. HE
CHAPTER XXV. THE
THE NEW LIFE
HE IS NOT
HE SHORTENS HIS
CHAPTER I. HIS BIRTH
On an evening in 1866 (exactly eight hundred years after the Battle
of Hastings) Mr. Henry Knight, a draper's manager, aged forty, dark,
clean-shaven, short, but not stout, sat in his sitting-room on the
second-floor over the shop which he managed in Oxford Street, London.
He was proud of that sitting-room, which represented the achievement of
an ideal, and he had a right to be proud of it. The rich green
wall-paper covered with peonies in full bloom (poisoning by arsenical
wall-paper had not yet been invented, or Mr. Knight's peonies would
certainly have had to flourish over a different hue) matched the
magenta table-cloth of the table at which Mr. Knight was writing, and
the magenta table-cloth matched the yellow roses which grew to more
than exhibition size on the Axminster carpet; and the fine elaborate
effect thus produced was in no way impaired, but rather enhanced and
invigorated, by the mahogany bookcase full of imperishable printed
matter, the horsehair sofa netted in a system of antimacassars, the
waxen flowers in their glassy domes on the marble mantelpiece, the
Canterbury with its spiral columns, the rosewood harmonium, and the
posse of chintz-protected chairs. Mr. Knight, who was a sincere and
upright man, saw beauty in this apartment. It uplifted his soul, like
soft music in the gloaming, or a woman's face.
Mr. Knight was writing in a large book. He paused in the act of
composition, and, putting the pen between his teeth, glanced through
the pages of the volume. They were filled with the drafts of letters
which he had addressed during the previous seven years to the editors
of various newspapers, including the Times, and several other
organs great then but now extinct. In a space underneath each letter
had been neatly gummed the printed copy, but here and there a letter
lacked this certificate of success, for Mr. Knight did not always
contrive to reach his public. The letters were signed with pseudonyms,
such as A British Citizen, Fiat Justitia, Audi Alteram Partem,
Indignant, Disgusted, One Who Knows, One Who Would Like to Know,
Ratepayer, Taxpayer, Puzzled, and Pro Bono Publicoespecially Pro Bono
Publico. Two letters, to a trade periodical, were signed A Draper's
Manager of Ten Years' Standing, and one, to the Clerkenwell News, bore his own real name.
The letter upon which he was now engaged was numbered seventy-five
in the series, and made its appeal to the editor of the Standard. Having found inspiration, Mr. Knight proceeded, in a hand
distinguished by many fine flourishes:
' ... It is true that last year we only paid off some four
millions, but the year before we paid, I am thankful to say,
than nine millions. Why, then, this outcry against the
of somewhat less than nine millions out of our vast national
revenue towards the further extinction of the National Debt?
not the duty of the State, as well as of the individual, to
debts? In order to support the argument with which I began
communication, perhaps you will permit me, sir, to briefly
the history of the National Debt, our national shame. In 1688
National Debt was little more than six hundred thousand
After briefly outlining the history of the National Debt, Mr. Knight
began a new paragraph thus:
'In the immortal words of Shakspere, wh'
But at this point he was interrupted. A young and pleasant woman in
a white apron pushed open the door.
'Henry,' she called from the doorway.
'You'd better go now.'
'Very well, Annie; I'll go instantly.'
He dropped the pen, reduced the gas to a speck of blue, and in half
a minute was hurrying along Oxford Street. The hour was ten o'clock,
and the month was July; the evening favoured romance. He turned into
Bury Street, and knocked like fate at a front-door with a brass tablet
on it, No. 8 of the street.
'No, sir. He isn't in at the moment, sir,' said the maid who
answered Mr. Knight's imperious summons.
'Not in!' exclaimed Mr. Knight.
'No, sir. He was called away half an hour ago or hardly, and may be
out till very late.'
'Called away!' exclaimed Mr. Knight. He was astounded, shocked,
pained. 'But I warned him three months ago!'
'Did you, sir? Is it anything very urgent, sir?'
'It's' Mr. Knight hesitated, blushing. The girl looked so young
'Because if it is, master left word that anyone was to go to Dr.
Christopher's, 22, Argyll Street.'
'You will be sure to tell your master that I came,' said Mr. Knight
At 22, Argyll Street he was informed that Dr. Christopher had
likewise been called away, and had left a recommendation that urgent
cases, if any, should apply to Dr. Quain Short, 15, Bury Street. His
anger was naturally increased by the absence of this second doctor, but
it was far more increased by the fact that Dr. Quain Short happened to
live in Bury Street. At that moment the enigma of the universe was
wrapped up for him in the question, Why should he have been compelled
to walk all the way from Bury Street to Argyll Street merely in order
to walk all the way back again? And he became a trinity consisting of
Disgusted, Indignant, and One Who Would Like to Know, the middle term
predominating. When he discovered that No. 15, Bury Street, was exactly
opposite No. 8, Bury Street, his feelings were such as break
'Dr. Quain Short is at the Alhambra Theatre this evening with the
family,' a middle-aged and formidable housekeeper announced in reply to
Mr. Knight's query. 'In case of urgency he is to be fetched. His box is
'The Alhambra Theatre! Where is that?' gasped Mr. Knight.
It should be explained that he held the stage in abhorrence, and,
further, that the Alhambra had then only been opened for a very brief
'Two out, and the third at the theatre!' Mr. Knight mused grimly,
hastening through Seven Dials. 'At the theatre, of all places!'
A letter to the Times about the medical profession was just
shaping itself in his mind as he arrived at the Alhambra and saw that a
piece entitled King Carrot filled the bill.
'King Karrot!' he muttered scornfully, emphasizing the
dangerously explosive consonants in a manner which expressed with
complete adequacy, not only his indignation against the entire medical
profession, but his utter and profound contempt for the fatuities of
the modern stage.
The politeness of the officials and the prompt appearance of Dr.
Quain Short did something to mollify the draper's manager of ten years'
standing, though he was not pleased when the doctor insisted on going
first to his surgery for certain requisites. It was half-past eleven
when he returned home; Dr. Quain Short was supposed to be hard behind.
'How long you've been!' said a voice on the second flight of stairs,
'It's all over. A boy. And dear Susan is doing splendidly. Mrs.
Puddiphatt says she never saw such a'
From the attic floor came the sound of a child crying shrilly and
'Aunt Annie! Aunt Annie! Aunt Annie!'
'Run up and quieten him!' Mr. Knight commanded. 'It's like him to
begin making a noise just now. I'll take a look at Susanand my
CHAPTER II. TOM
In the attic a child of seven years was sitting up in a cot placed
by the side of his dear Aunt Annie's bed. He had an extremely
intelligent, inquisitorial, and agnostical face, and a fair, curled
head of hair, which he scratched with one hand as Aunt Annie entered
the room and held the candle on high in order to survey him.
'Well?' inquired Aunt Annie firmly.
'Well?' said Tom Knight, determined not to commit himself, and
waiting wanly for a chance, like a duellist.
'What's all this noise for? I told you I specially wanted you to go
to sleep at once to-night.'
'Yes,' said Tom, staring at the counterpane and picking imaginary
bits off it. 'And you might have known I shouldn't go to sleep after
'And here it's nearly midnight!' Aunt Annie proceeded. 'What do you
'Youyou've left the comb in my hair,' said Tom. He nearly cried.
Every night Aunt Annie curled Tom's hair.
'Is it such a tiny boy that it couldn't take it out itself?' Aunt
Annie said kindly, going to the cot and extracting the comb. 'Now try
to sleep.' She kissed him.
'And I've heard burglars,' Tom continued, without moving.
'Oh no, you've not,' Aunt Annie pronounced sharply. 'You can't hear
burglars every night, you know.'
'I heard running about, and doors shutting and things.'
'That was Uncle Henry and me. Will you promise to be a good boy if I
tell you a secret?'
'I shan't promise,' Tom replied. 'But if it's a good secret
'Well, you've got a cousin, a little boy, ever so little! There!
What do you think of that?'
'I knew someone had got into the house!' was Tom's dispassionate
remark. 'What's his name?'
'He hasn't any name yet, but he will have soon.'
'Did he come up the stairs?' Tom asked.
Aunt Annie laughed. 'No,' she said.
'Then, he must have come through the window or down the chimney; and
he wouldn't come down the chimney 'cause of the soot. So he came
through the window. Whose little boy is he? Yours?'
'No. Aunt Susan's.'
'I suppose she knows he's come?'
'Oh yes. She knows. And she's very glad. Now go to sleep. And I'll
tell Aunt Susan you'll be a good boy.'
'You'd better not,' Tom warned her. 'I don't feel sure. And I say,
auntie, will there come any more little boys to-night?'
'I don't think so, dear.' Aunt Annie smiled. She was half way
through the door, and spoke into the passage.
'But are you sure?' Tom persisted.
'Yes, I'm sure. Go to sleep.'
'Doesn't Aunt Susan want another one?'
'No, she doesn't. Go to sleep, I say.'
''Cause, when I came, another little boy came just afterwards, and
he died, that little boy did. And mamma, too. Father told me.'
'Yes, yes,' said Aunt Annie, closing the door. 'Bee-by.'
'I didn't promise,' Tom murmured to his conscience. 'But it's a good
secret,' he added brazenly. He climbed over the edge of the cot, and
let himself down gently till his feet touched the floor. He found his
clothes, which Aunt Annie invariably placed on a chair in a certain
changeless order, and he put some of them on, somehow. Then he softly
opened the door and crept down the stairs to the second-floor. He was
an adventurous and incalculable child, and he desired to see the baby.
Persons who called on Mr. Henry Knight in his private capacity rang
at the side-door to the right of the shop, and were instructed by the
shop-caretaker to mount two flights of stairs, having mounted which
they would perceive in front of them a door, where they were to ring
again. This door was usually closed, but to-night Tom found it ajar. He
peeped out and downwards, and thought of the vast showroom below and
the wonderful regions of the street. Then he drew in his head, and
concealed himself behind the plush portière. From his hiding-place he
could watch the door of Uncle Henry's and Aunt Susan's bedroom, and he
could also, whenever he felt inclined, glance down the stairway.
He waited, with the patience and the fatalism of infancy, for
something to happen.
After an interval of time not mathematically to be computed, Tom
heard a step on the stairs, and looked forth. A tall gentleman wearing
a high hat and carrying a black bag was ascending. In a flash Tom
recollected a talk with his dead father, in which that glorious and gay
parent had explained to him that he, Tom, had been brought to his
mother's room by the doctor in a black bag.
Tom pulled open the door at the head of the stairs, went outside,
and drew the door to behind him.
'Are you the doctor?' he demanded, staring intently at the bag to
see whether anything wriggled within.
'Yes, my man,' said the doctor. It was Quain Short, wrenched from
'Well, they don't want another one. They've got one,' Tom asserted,
still observing the bag.
'Yes. Aunt Annie said particularly that they didn't want another
'Who is it that has come? Do you know his name? Christopheris that
'I don't know his name. But he's come, and he's in the bedroom now,
with Aunt Susan.'
'How annoying!' said Dr. Quain Short under his breath, and he went.
Tom re-entered, and took up his old position behind the portière.
Presently he heard another step on the stair, and issued out again
to reconnoitre. And, lo! another tall gentleman wearing another high
hat and carrying another black bag was ascending.
'This makes three,' Tom said.
'What's that, my little man?' asked the gentleman, smiling. It was
'This makes three. And they only want one. The first one came ever
such a long time ago. And I can tell you Aunt Susan was very glad when
he did come.'
'Dear, dear!' exclaimed Dr. Christopher. 'Then I'm too late, my
little man. I was afraid I might be. Everything all right, eh?'
Tom nodded, and Dr. Christopher departed.
And then, after a further pause, up came another tall gentleman,
high hat, and black bag.
'This is four,' said Tom.
'What's that, Tommy?' asked Mr. Henry Knight's regular physician and
surgeon. 'What are you doing there?'
'One came hours since,' Tom said. 'And they don't want any more.'
Then he gazed at the bag, which was larger and glossier than its
predecessors. 'Have you brought a very nice one?' he inquired.
'They don't really want another, but perhaps if it's very'
It was this momentary uncertainty on Tom's part that possibly saved
my hero's life. For the parents were quite inexperienced, and Mrs.
Puddiphatt was an accoucheuse of the sixties, and the newborn child was
near to dying in the bedroom without anybody being aware of the fact.
'A very nice what?' the doctor questioned gruffly.
'Baby. In that bag,' Tom stammered.
'Out of the way, my bold buccaneer,' said the doctor, striding
across the mat into the corridor.
At two o'clock the next morning, Tom being asleep, and all going
well with wife and child, Mr. Henry Knight returned at length to his
sitting-room, and resumed the composition of the letter to the editor
of the Standard. The work existed as an artistic whole in his
head, and he could not persuade himself to seek rest until he had got
it down in black-and-white; for, though he wrote letters instead of
sonnets, he was nevertheless a sort of a poet by temperament. You
behold him calm now, master once more of his emotions, and not that
agitated, pompous, and slightly ridiculous person who lately stamped
over Oxford Street and stormed the Alhambra Theatre. And in order to
help the excellent father of my hero back into your esteem, let me
point out that the imminence and the actuality of fatherhood constitute
a somewhat disturbing experience, which does not occur to a man every
Mr. Knight dipped pen in ink, and continued:
' ... who I hold to be not only the greatest poet, but also the
greatest moral teacher that England has ever produced,
'To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
'In conclusion, sir, I ask, without fear of contradiction, are
or are we not, in this matter of the National Debt, to be true
our national selves?
'A CONSCIENTIOUS TAXPAYER.'
The signature troubled him. His pen hovered threateningly over it,
and finally he struck it out and wrote instead: 'Paterfamilias.' He
felt that this pseudonym was perhaps a little inapposite, but some
impulse stronger than himself forced him to employ it.
CHAPTER III. HIS CHRISTENING
'But haven't I told you that I was just writing the very name when
Annie came in to warn me?'
Mr. Knight addressed the question, kindly and mildly, yet with a
hint of annoyance, to his young wife, who was nursing their son with
all the experience of three months' practice. It was Sunday morning,
and they had finished breakfast in the sitting-room. Within an hour or
two the heir was to be taken to the Great Queen Street Wesleyan
Methodist Chapel for the solemn rite of baptism.
'Yes, lovey,' said Mrs. Knight. 'You've told me, time and again.
But, oh Henry! Your name's just Henry Knight, and I want his to be just
Henry Knight, too! I want him to be called after you.'
And the mother, buxom, simple, and adoring, glanced appealingly with
bright eyes at the man who for her epitomized the majesty and
perfections of his sex.
'He will be Henry Knight,' the father persisted, rather coldly.
But Mrs. Knight shook her head.
Then Aunt Annie came into the room, pushing Tom before her. Tom was
magnificently uncomfortable in his best clothes.
'What's the matter, Sue?' Aunt Annie demanded, as soon as she had
noticed her sister's face.
And in a moment, in the fraction of a second, and solely by reason
of Aunt Annie's question, the situation became serious. It jumped up,
as domestic situations sometimes do, suddenly to the temperature at
which thunderstorms are probable. It grew close, heavy, and perilous.
Mrs. Knight shook her head again. 'Nothing,' she managed to reply.
'Susan wants' Mr. Knight began suavely to explain.
'He keeps on saying he would like him to be called' Mrs. Knight
'No I don'tno I don't!' Mr. Knight interrupted. 'Not if you don't
A silence followed. Mr. Knight drummed lightly and nervously on the
table-cloth. Mrs. Knight sniffed, threw back her head so that the tears
should not fall out of her eyes, and gently patted the baby's back with
her right hand. Aunt Annie hesitated whether to speak or not to speak.
Tom remarked in a loud voice:
'If I were you, I should call him Tom, like me. Then, as soon as he
can talk, I could say, How do, Cousin Tom? and he could say back,
How do, Cousin Tom?'
'But we should always be getting mixed up between you, you silly
boy!' said Aunt Annie, smiling, and trying to be bright and sunny.
'No, you wouldn't,' Tom replied. 'Because I should be Big Tom, and
of course he'd only be Little Tom. And I don't think I'm a silly boy,
'Will you be silent, sir!' Mr. Knight ordered in a voice of wrath.
And, by way of indicating that the cord of tension had at last snapped,
he boxed Tom's left ear, which happened to be the nearest.
Mrs. Knight lost control of her tears, and they escaped. She offered
the baby to Aunt Annie.
'Take him. He's asleep. Put him in the cradle,' she sobbed.
'Yes, dear,' said Aunt Annie intimately, in a tone to show how well
she knew that poor women must always cling together in seasons of
stress and times of oppression.
Mrs. Knight hurried out of the room. Mr. Knight cherished an injury.
He felt aggrieved because Susan could not see that, though six months
ago she had been entitled to her whims and fancies, she was so no
longer. He felt, in fact, that Susan was taking an unfair advantage of
him. The logic of the thing was spread out plainly and irrefutably in
his mind. And then, quite swiftly, the logic of the thing vanished, and
Mr. Knight rose and hastened after his wife.
'You deserved it, you know,' said Aunt Annie to Tom.
'Did I?' The child seemed to speculate.
They both stared at the baby, who lay peacefully in his cradle, for
'Annie, come here a moment.' Mr. Knight was calling from another
'Yes, Henry. Now, Tom, don't touch the cradle. And if baby begins to
cry, run and tell me.'
And Aunt Annie went. She neglected to close the door behind her; Tom
closed it, noiselessly.
Never before had he been left alone with the baby. He examined with
minute care such parts of the living organism as were visible, and
then, after courageously fighting temptation, and suffering defeat, he
touched the baby's broad, flat nose. He scarcely touched it, yet the
baby stirred and mewed faintly. Tom began to rock the cradle, at first
gently, then with nervous violence. The faint mew became a regular and
He glanced at the door, and decided that he would make a further
effort to lull the ridiculous agitation of this strange and mysterious
being. Bending down, he seized the baby in both hands, and tried to
nurse it as his two aunts nursed it. The infant's weight was
considerable; it exceeded Tom's estimate, with the result that, in the
desperate process of extracting the baby from the cradle, the cradle
had been overset, and now lay on its beam-ends.
'Hshhsh!' Tom entreated, shooing and balancing as best he could.
Then, without warning, Tom's spirit leapt into anger.
'Will you be silent, sir!' he demanded fiercely from the baby,
imitating Uncle Henry's tone. 'Will you be silent, sir!' He shook the
infant, who was astounded into a momentary silence.
The next thing was the sound of footsteps approaching rapidly along
the passage. Tom had no leisure to right the cradle; he merely dropped
the baby on the floor by the side of it, and sprang to the window.
'You naughty, naughty boy!' Aunt Annie shrieked. 'You've taken baby
out of his cradle! Oh, my pet! my poor darling! my mumsy! Did they,
'I didn't! I didn't!' Tom asserted passionately. 'I've never stirred
from here all the time you were out. It fell out itself!'
'Oh!' screamed Aunt Annie. 'There's a black place on his poor little
In an instant the baby's parents were to the rescue, and Tom was
declaring his innocence to the united family.
'It fell out itself!' he repeated; and soon he began to think of
interesting details. 'I saw it. It put its hand on the edge of the
cradle and pulled up, and then it leaned to one side, and then the
cradle toppled over.'
Of course the preposterous lie was credited by nobody.
'There's one thing!' said Mrs. Knight, weeping for the second time
that morning. 'I won't have him christened with a black forehead, that
At this point, Aunt Annie, who had scurried to the kitchen for some
butter, flew back and anointed the bruise.
'It fell out itself!' Tom said again.
'Whatever would the minister think?' Mrs. Knight wondered.
'It fell out itself!' said Tom.
Mr. Knight whipped Tom, and his Aunt Annie put him to bed for the
rest of the day. In the settled opinion of Mrs. Knight, Tom was
punished for attempting to murder her baby. But Mr. Knight insisted
that the punishment was for lying. As for the baptism, it had
necessarily to be postponed for four weeks, since the ceremony was
performed at the Great Queen Street Chapel only on the first Sunday in
'I never touched it!' Tom asseverated solemnly the next day. 'It
fell out itself!'
And he clung to the statement, day after day, with such obstinacy
that at length the three adults, despite the protests of reason, began
to think that conceivably, just conceivably, the impossible was
possiblein regard to one particular baby. Mrs. Knight had often
commented on the perfectly marvellous muscular power of her baby's hand
when it clutched hers, and signs were not wanting to convince the
parents and the aunt that the infant was no ordinary infant, but indeed
extraordinary and wonderful to the last degree.
On the fourth day, when Tom had asserted for about the hundredth
time, 'It fell out itself,' his Aunt Susan kissed him and gave him a
sweetmeat. Tom threw it away, but in the end, after much coaxing, he
consented to enjoy it. Aunt Susan detected the finger of Providence in
recent events, and one night she whispered to her husband: 'Lovey, I
want you to call him what you said.'
And so it occurred, at the christening, that when the minister
leaned over the Communion-rail to take the wonder-child from its
mother's arms, its father whispered into the minister's ear a double
'Henry Shakspere' began the minister with lifted hand.
And the baby smiled confidently upwards.
CHAPTER IV. AGED TWELVE
'Quick! He's coming!'
It was Aunt Annie who uttered the dramatic whisper, and as she did
so she popped a penknife on to an empty plate in front of an empty
chair at the breakfast-table. Mr. Knight placed a silver watch and
also, separately, a silver chain by the side of the weapon; and,
lastly, Mrs. Knight had the happy inspiration of covering these
articles with the empty slop-basin.
The plotters sat back in their chairs and tried to keep their guilty
eyes off the overturned basin. 'Two slices, Annie?' said Mr. Knight in
a loud tone, elaborately casual. 'Yes, please,' said Aunt Annie. Mrs.
Knight began to pour out coffee. They all three looked at each other,
joyous, naughty, strategic; and the thing of which they were least
conscious, in that moment of expectancy, was precisely the thing that
the lustrous trifles hidden beneath the basin were meant to signalize:
namely, the passage of years and the approach of age. Mr. Knight's hair
was grey; Mrs. Knight, once a slim bride of twenty-seven, was now a
stout matron of thirty-nine, with a tendency to pant after the most
modest feats of stair-climbing; and Aunt Annie, only the other day a
pretty girl with a head full of what is wrongly called nonsense, was a
spinstera spinster. Fortunately, they were blind to these obvious
facts. Even Mr. Knight, accustomed as he was to survey fundamental
truths with the detachment of a philosopher, would have been shocked to
learn that his hair was grey. Before the glass, of a morning, he
sometimes remarked, in the tone of a man whose passion for candour
permits him to conceal nothing: 'It's getting grey.'
Then young Henry burst into the room.
It was exactly twelve years since he had been born, a tiny,
shapeless, senseless, helpless, toothless, speechless, useless, feeble,
deaf, myopic creature; and now he was a school-boy, strong, healthy,
big, and clever, who could define a dodecahedron and rattle off the
rivers of Europe like a house on fire. The change amounted to a
miracle, and it was esteemed as such by those who had spent twelve
years chiefly in watching it. One evening, in the very earliest stages,
while his mother was nursing him, his father had come into the darkened
chamber, and, after bending over the infant, had struck a match to
ignite a cigar; and the eyes of the infant had blinked in the sudden
light. 'See how he takes notice! the mother had cried in
ecstatic wonderment. And from that moment she, and the other two, had
never ceased to marvel, and to fear. It seemed impossible that this
extraordinary fragment of humanity, which at first could not be safely
ignored for a single instant night or day, should survive the
multitudinous perils that surrounded it. But it did survive, and it
became an intelligence. At eighteen months the intelligence could walk,
sit up, and say 'Mum.' These performances were astounding. And the fact
that fifty thousand other babies of eighteen months in London were
similarly walking, sitting up, and saying 'Mum,' did not render these
performances any the less astounding. And when, half a year later, the
child could point to a letter and identify it plainly and
unmistakably'O'the parents' cup was full. The mother admitted
frankly that she had not expected this final proof of understanding.
Aunt Annie and father pretended not to be surprised, but it was a
pretence merely. Why, it seemed scarcely a month since the miraculous
child had not even sense enough to take milk out of a spoon! And here
he was identifying 'O' every time he tried, with the absolute assurance
of a philologist! True, he had once or twice shrieked 'O' while putting
a finger on 'Q,' but that was the fault of the printers, who had
printed the tail too small.
After that the miracles had followed one another so rapidly, each
more amazing than the last, that the watchers had unaffectedly
abandoned themselves to an attitude of permanent delighted
astonishment. They lived in a world of magic. And their entire
existence was based on the tacit assumptiontacit because the truth of
it was so manifestthat their boy was the most prodigious boy that
ever was. He went into knickerbockers. He learnt hymns. He went to
schooland came back alive at the end of the first day and said he had
enjoyed it! Certainly, other boys went to school. Yes, but there was
something special, something indefinable, something incredible, about
Henry's going to school that separated his case from all the other
cases, and made it precious in its wonder. And he began to study
arithmetic, geometry, geography, history, chemistry, drawing, Latin,
French, mensuration, composition, physics, Scripture, and fencing. His
singular brain could grapple simultaneously with these multifarious
subjects. And all the time he was growing, growing, growing. More than
anything else it was his growth that stupefied and confounded and
enchanted his mother. His limbs were enormous to her, and the breadth
of his shoulders and the altitude of his head. It puzzled her to
imagine where the flesh came from. Already he was as tail as she, and
up to Aunt Annie's lips, and up to his father's shoulder. She simply
adored his colossal bigness. But somehow the fact that a giant was
attending the Bloomsbury Middle School never leaked out.
'What's this?' Henry demanded, mystified, as he sat down to
breakfast. There was a silence.
'What's what?' said his father gruffly. 'Get your breakfast.'
'Oh my!' Henry had lifted the basin.
'Had you forgotten it was your birthday?' Mrs. Knight asked,
'Well, I'm blest!' He had in truth forgotten that it was his
'You've been so wrapped up in this Speech Day business, haven't
you?' said Aunt Annie, as if wishful to excuse him to himself for the
They all luxuriated in his surprise, his exclamations, his blushes
of delight, as he fingered the presents. For several days, as Henry had
made no reference to his approaching anniversary, they had guessed that
he had overlooked it in the exciting preparations for Speech Day, and
they had been anticipating this moment with the dreadful joy of
conspirators. And now they were content. No hitch, no anticlimax had
'I know,' said Henry. 'The watch is from father, and you've given me
the chain, mother, and the knife is from Aunt Annie. Is there a thing
in it for pulling stones out of horses' hoofs, auntie?' (Happily, there
'You must make a good breakfast, dear; you've got a big day before
you,' enjoined his mother, when he had thanked them politely, and
assumed the watch and chain, and opened all the blades and other
pleasant devices of the penknife.
'Yes, mother,' he answered obediently.
He always obeyed injunctions to eat well. But it would be unfair to
Henry not to add that he was really a most obedient boyin short, a
good boy, a nice boy. The strangest thing of all in Henry's case was
that, despite their united and unceasing efforts, his three relatives
had quite failed to spoil him. He was too self-possessed for his years,
too prone to add the fanciful charm of his ideas to no matter what
conversation might be proceeding in his presence; but spoiled he was
The Speech Day which had just dawned marked a memorable point in his
career. According to his mother's private notion, it would be a
demonstration, and a triumphant demonstration, that, though the mills
of God grind slowly, they grind exceeding small. For until that term,
of which the Speech Day was the glittering conclusion, the surpassing
merits and talents of her son had escaped recognition at the Bloomsbury
Middle School. He had never reached the top of a form; he had never
received a prize; he had never earned pedagogic praise more generous
than 'Conduct fairprogress fair.' But now, out of the whole school,
he had won the prize for Good Conduct. And, as if this was not
sufficiently dazzling, he had also taken to himself, for an essay on
'Streets,' the prize for English Composition. And, thirdly, he had been
chosen to recite a Shaksperean piece at the ceremony of prize-giving.
It was the success in Composition which tickled his father's pride, for
was not this a proof of heredity? Aunt Annie flattered herself on the
Good Conduct prize. Mrs. Knight exulted in everything, but principally
in the prospective sight of her son at large on the platform delivering
Shakspere to a hushed, attentive audience of other boys' parents. It
was to be the apotheosis of Henry, was that night!
'Will you hear me, father?' Henry requested meekly, when he had
finished the first preparations for his big day, and looked at the
time, and cut a piece of skin from the palm of his hand, to the horror
of his mother and aunt. 'Will you hear me, father?'
(No! I assure you he was not a detestable little prig. He had been
brought up like that.)
And Mr. Knight took Staunton's Shakspere from the bookcase and
opened it at Othello, Act I., scene iii., and Henry arose and
began to explain to the signiors of Venice in what manner Desdemona had
fallen in love with him and he with Desdemona; how he told Desdemona
that even from his boyish days he had experienced moving accidents by
flood and field, and had been sold into slavery, and all about the
cannibals and thebut he came to utter grief at the word
'An-thro-poph-a-gi,' said his father.
'It's a very difficult word, I'm sure,' said his mother.
Difficult or not, Henry mastered it, and went on to the distressful
strokes his youth had suffered, and then to Desdemona's coy hint:
'Upon this hint I spokespake, I mean;
She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used.
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.'
'Have a bit of toast, my pet,' Mrs. Knight suggested.
The door opened at the same moment.
'Enter Desdemona,' said a voice. 'Now do go light on the buttered
toast, Othello. You know you'll be ill.'
It was Cousin Tom. He was always very late for breakfast.
CHAPTER V. MARRONS GLACÉS
And Tom was always being inconvenient, always producing intellectual
discomfort. On this occasion there can be no doubt that if Tom had not
come in just then Henry would have accepted and eaten the buttered
toast, and would have enjoyed it; and his father, mother, and aunt
would have enjoyed the spectacle of his bliss; and all four of them
would have successfully pretended to their gullible consciences that an
indiscretion had not been committed. Here it must be said that the
Achilles' heel of Henry Shakspere Knight lay in his stomach. Despite
his rosy cheeks and pervading robustness, despite the fact that his
infancy had been almost immune from the common ailmentseven
measleshe certainly suffered from a form of chronic dyspepsia.
Authorities differed upon the cause of the ailment. Some, such as Tom,
diagnosed the case in a single word. Mr. Knight, less abrupt, ascribed
the evil to Mrs. Knight's natural but too solicitous endeavours towards
keeping up the strength of her crescent son. Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie
regarded it as a misfortune simply, inexplicable, unjust, and cruel.
But even Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie had perceived that there was at
least an apparent connection between hot buttered toast and the
recurrence of the malady. Hence, though the two women would not admit
that this connection was more than a series of unfortunate
coincidences, Henry had been advised to deprive himself of hot buttered
toast. And here came Tom, with his characteristic inconvenience, to
catch them in the very midst of their folly, and to make even Mr.
Knight, that mask of stern rectitude, a guilty accessory before the
'It's only this once!' Mrs. Knight protested.
'You're quite right,'said Tom. 'It's only this once.'
Henry took the piece of toast, and then, summoning for one supreme
effort all the spiritual courage which he had doubtless inherited from
a long line of Puritan ancestors, he nobly relinquished it.
Mr. Knight's eyes indicated to Tom that a young man who was
constantly half an hour late for breakfast had no moral right to preach
abstinence to a growing boy, especially on his birthday. But the worst
thing about Tom was that he was never under any circumstances abashed.
'As nothing is worse than hot toast cold,' Tom imperturbably
remarked, 'I'll eat it at once.' And he ate the piece of toast.
No one could possibly blame Tom. Nevertheless, every soul round the
table did the impossible and blamed him. The atmosphere lost some of
its festive quality.
Tom Knight was nineteen, thin, pale, and decidedly tall; and his
fair hair still curled slightly on the top of his head. In twelve years
his development, too, had amounted to a miracle, or would have amounted
to a miracle had there been anyone present sufficiently interested to
observe and believe in it. Miracles, however, do not begin to exist
until at least one person believes, and the available credence in the
household had been monopolized by Tom's young cousin. The great
difference between Tom and Henry was that Tom had faults, whereas Henry
had noneyet Tom was the elder by seven years and ought to have known
better! Mr. Knight had always seen Tom's faults, but it was only since
the advent of Henry that Mrs. Knight, and particularly Aunt Annie, had
begun to see them. Before Henry arrived, Tom had been Aunt Annie's
darling. The excellent spinster took pains never to show that Henry had
supplanted him; nevertheless, she showed it all the time. Tom's faults
flourished and multiplied. There can be no question that he was idle,
untruthful, and unreliable. In earliest youth he had been a merry
prank; he was still a prank, but not often merry. His spirit seemed to
be overcast; and the terrible fact came out gradually that he was not
'nicely disposed.' His relatives failed to understand him, and they
gave him up like a puzzle. He was self-contradictory. For instance,
though a shocking liar, he was lavish of truth whenever truth happened
to be disconcerting and inopportune. He it was who told the forewoman
of his uncle's millinery department, in front of a customer, that she
had a moustache. His uncle threshed him. 'She has a moustache,
anyhow!' said this Galileo when his uncle had finished. Mr. Knight
wished Tom to go into the drapery, but Tom would not. Tom wanted to be
an artist; he was always drawing. Mr. Knight had only heard of artists;
he had never seen one. He thought Tom's desire for art was mere wayward
naughtiness. However, after Tom had threatened to burn the house down
if he was not allowed to go to an art-school, and had carried out his
threat so far as to set fire to a bale of cotton-goods in the cellar,
Mr. Knight yielded to the whim for the sake of peace and a low
temperature. He expansively predicted ultimate disaster for Tom. But at
the age of eighteen and a half, Tom, with his habit of inconvenience,
simply fell into a post as designer to a firm of wholesale stationers.
His task was to design covers for coloured boxes of fancy notepaper,
and his pay was two guineas a week. The richness of the salary brought
Mr. Knight to his senses; it staggered, sobered, and silenced him. Two
guineas a week at eighteen and a half! It was beyond the verge of the
horizons of the drapery trade. Mr. Knight had a shop-walker, aged
probably thirty-eight and a half, who was receiving precisely two
guineas a week, and working thirty hours a week longer than Tom.
On the strength of this amazing two guineas, Tom, had he chosen,
might easily have regained the long-lost esteem of his relatives. But
he did not choose. He became more than ever a mystery to them, and a
troubling mystery, not a mystery that one could look squarely in the
face and then pass by. His ideals, if they could be called ideals, were
always in collision with those of the rest of the house. Neither his
aunts nor his uncle could ever be quite sure that he was not enjoying
some joke which they were not enjoying. Once he had painted Aunt
Annie's portrait. 'Never let me see that thing again!' she exclaimed
when she beheld it complete. She deemed it an insult, and she was not
alone in her opinion. 'Do you call this art?' said Mr. Knight. 'If this
is art, then all I can say is I'm glad I wasn't brought up to
understand art, as you call it.' Nevertheless, somehow the painting was
exhibited at South Kensington in the national competition of students
works, and won a medal. 'Portrait of my Aunt,' Tom had described it in
the catalogue, and Aunt Annie was furious a second time. 'However,' she
said, 'no one'll recognise me, that's one comfort!' Still, the medal
weighed heavily; it was a gold medal. Difficult to ignore its presence
in the house!
Tom's crowning sin was that he was such a bad example to Henry.
Henry worshipped him, and the more Tom was contemned the more Henry
'You'll surely be very late, Tom,' Mrs. Knight ventured to remark at
Mr. Knight had descended into the shop, and Aunt Annie also.
'Oh no,' said Tom'not more than is necessary.' And then he glanced
at Henry. 'Look here, my bold buccaneer, you've got nothing to do just
now, have you? You can stroll along with me a bit, and we'll see if we
can buy you a twopenny toy for a birthday present.'
Tom always called Henry his 'bold buccaneer.' He had picked up the
term of endearment from the doctor with the black bag twelve years ago.
Henry had his cap on in two seconds, and Mrs. Knight beamed at this
unusual proof of kindly thought on Tom's part.
In the street Tom turned westwards instead of to the City, where his
daily work lay.
'Aren't you going to work to-day?' Henry asked in surprise.
'No,' said Tom. 'I told my benevolent employers last night that it
was your birthday to-day, and I asked whether I could have a holiday.
What do you think they answered?'
'You didn't ask them,' said Henry.
'They answered that I could have forty holidays. And they requested
me to wish you, on behalf of the firm, many happy returns of the day.'
'Don't rot,' said Henry.
It was a beautiful morning, sunny, calm, inspiriting, and presently
Tom began to hum. After a time Henry perceived that Tom was humming the
same phrase again and again: 'Some streets are longer than others. Some
streets are longer than others.'
'Don't rot, Tom,' Henry pleaded.
The truth was that Tom was intoning a sentence from Henry's prize
essay on streets. Tom had read the essay and pronounced it excellent,
and till this very moment on the pavement of Oxford Street Henry had
imagined Tom's verdict to be serious. He now knew that it was not
Tom continued to chant, with pauses: 'Some streets are longer than
others.... Very few streets are straight.... But we read in the Bible
of the street which is called Straight.... Oxford Street is nearly
straight.... A street is what you go along.... It has a road and two
Henry would have given his penknife not to have written that essay.
The worst of Tom was that he could make anything look silly without
saying that it was sillya trick that Henry envied.
Tom sang further: 'In the times before the French Revolution the
streets of Paris had no pavements ... e.g., they were all
road.... It was no infrequent occurrence for people to be maimed for
life, or even seriously injured, against walls by passing carriages of
'I didn't put haughty,' Henry cried passionately.
'Didn't you?' Tom said with innocence. 'But you put or even
'Well?' said Henry dubiously.
'And you put It was no infrequent occurrence. Where did you steal
that from, my bold buccaneer?'
'I didn't steal it,' Henry asserted. 'I made it up.'
'Then you will be a great writer,' Tom said. 'If I were you, I
should send a telegram to Tennyson, and tell him to look out for
himself. Here's a telegraph-office. Come on.'
And Tom actually did enter a doorway. But it proved to be the
entrance to a large and magnificent confectioner's shop. Henry followed
'A pound of marrons glacés,' Tom demanded.
'What are they?' Henry whispered up at Tom's ear.
'Taste,' said Tom, boldly taking a sample from the scales while the
pound was being weighed out.
'It's like chestnuts,' Harry mumbled through the delicious brown
frosted morsel. 'But nicer.'
'They are rather like chestnuts, aren't they?' said Tom.
The marrons glacés were arranged neatly in a beautiful box; the box
was wrapped in paper of one colour, and then further wrapped in paper
of another colour, and finally bound in pink ribbon.
'Golly!' murmured Henry in amaze, for Tom had put down a large
silver coin in payment, and received no change.
They came out, Henry carrying the parcel.
'But will they do me any harm?' the boy asked apprehensively.
The two cousins had reached Hyde Park, and were lying on the grass,
and Tom had invited Henry to begin the enterprise of eating his
'Harm! I should think not. They are the best things out for the
constitution. Not like sweets at all. Doctors often give them to
patients when they are getting better. And they're very good for
So Henry opened the box and feasted. One half of the contents had
disappeared within twenty minutes, and Tom had certainly not eaten more
than two marrons.
'They're none so dusty!' said Henry, perhaps enigmatically. 'I could
go on eating these all day.'
A pretty girl of eighteen or so wandered past them.
'Nice little bit of stuff, that!' Tom remarked reflectively.
'That little thing there!' Tom explained, pointing with his elbow to
'Oh!' Henry grunted. 'I thought you said a nice little bit of
And he bent to his chestnuts again. By slow and still slower degrees
they were reduced to one.
'Have this,' he invited Tom.
'No,' said Tom. 'Don't want it. You finish up.'
'I think I can't eat any more,' Henry sighed.
'Oh yes, you can,' Tom encouraged him. 'You've shifted about fifty.
Surely you can manage fifty-one.'
Henry put the survivor to his lips, but withdrew it.
'No,' he said. 'I tell you what I'll do: I'll put it in the box and
'But you can't cart that box about for the sake of one chestnut, my
'Well, I'll put it in my pocket.'
And he laid it gently by the side of the watch in his waistcoat
'You can find your way home, can't you?' said Tom. 'It's just
occurred to me that I've got some business to attend to.'
A hundred yards off the pretty girl was reading on a seat. His
business led him in that direction.
CHAPTER VI. A CALAMITY FOR THE SCHOOL
It was a most fortunate thing that there was cold mutton for dinner.
The economic principle governing the arrangement of the menu was that
the simplicity of the mutton atoned for the extravagance of the
birthday pudding, while the extravagance of the birthday pudding
excused the simplicity of the mutton. Had the first course been
anything richer than cold mutton, Henry could not have pretended even
to begin the repast. As it was, he ate a little of the lean, leaving a
wasteful margin of lean round the fat, which he was not supposed to
eat; he also nibbled at the potatoes, and compressed the large remnant
of them into the smallest possible space on the plate; then he
unobtrusively laid down his knife and fork.
'Come, Henry,' said Aunt Annie, 'don't leave a saucy plate.'
Henry had already pondered upon a plausible explanation of his
'I'm too excited to eat,' he promptly answered.
'You aren't feeling ill, are you?' his mother asked sharply.
'No,' he said. 'But can I have my birthday pudding for supper, after
it's all over, instead of now?'
Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie looked at one another. 'That might be
safer,' said Aunt Annie, and she added: 'You can have some cold rice
pudding now, Henry.'
'No, thank you, auntie; I don't want any.'
'The boy's ill,' Mrs. Knight exclaimed. 'Annie, where's the Mother
'The boy's no such thing,' said Mr. Knight, pouring calmness and
presence of mind over the table like oil. 'Give him some Seigel by all
means, if you think fit; but don't go and alarm yourself about nothing.
The boy's as well as I am.'
'I think I should like some Seigel,' said the boy.
Tom was never present at the mid-day meal; only Mrs. Knight knew
that Henry had been out with him; and Mrs. Knight was far too simple a
soul to suspect the horrid connection between the morning ramble and
this passing malaise of Henry's. As for Henry, he volunteered nothing.
'It will pass off soon,' said Aunt Annie two hours later. The time
was then half-past three; the great annual ceremony of Speech Day began
at half-past seven. Henry reclined on the sofa, under an antimacassar,
and Mrs. Knight was bathing his excited temples with eau de Cologne.
'Oh yes,' Mr. Knight agreed confidently; he had looked in from the
shop for a moment. 'Oh yes! It will pass off. Give him a cup of strong
tea in a quarter of an hour, and he'll be as right as a trivet.'
'Of course you will, won't you, my dear?' Mrs. Knight demanded
fondly of her son.
Henry nodded weakly.
The interesting and singular fact about the situation is that these
three adults, upright, sincere, strictly moral, were all lying, and
consciously lying. They knew that Henry's symptoms differed in no
particular from those of his usual attacks, and that his usual attacks
had a minimum duration of twelve hours. They knew that he was decidedly
worse at half-past three than he had been at half-past two, and they
could have prophesied with assurance that he would be still worse at
half-past four than he was then. They knew that time would betray them.
Yet they persisted in falsehood, because they were incapable of
imagining the Speech Day ceremony without Henry in the midst. If any
impartial friend had approached at that moment and told them that Henry
would spend the evening in bed, and that they might just as well resign
themselves first as last, they would have cried him down, and called
him unfriendly and unfeeling, and, perhaps, in the secrecy of their
hearts thrown rotten eggs at him.
It proved to be the worst dyspeptic visitation that Henry had ever
had. It was not a mere 'attack'it was a revolution, beginning with
slight insurrections, but culminating in universal upheaval, the
overthrowing of dynasties, the establishment of committees of public
safety, and a reign of terror. As a series of phenomena it was immense,
variegated, and splendid, and was remembered for months afterwards.
'Surely he'll be better now!' said Mrs. Knight, agonized.
But no! And so they carried Henry to bed.
At six the martyr uneasily dozed.
'He may sleep a couple of hours,' Aunt Annie whispered.
Not one of the three had honestly and openly withdrawn from the
position that Henry would be able to go to the prize-giving. They
seemed to have silently agreed to bury the futile mendacity of the
earlier afternoon in everlasting forgetfulness.
'Poor little thing!' observed Mrs. Knight.
His sufferings had reduced him, in her vision, to about half his
At seven Mr. Knight put on his hat.
'Are you going out, father?' his wife asked, shocked.
'It is only fair,' said Mr. Knight, 'to warn the school people that
Henry will not be able to be present to-night. They will have to alter
their programme. Of course I shan't stay.'
In pitying the misfortune of the school, thus suddenly and at so
critical a moment deprived of Henry's presence and help, Mrs. Knight
felt less keenly the pang of her own misfortune and that of her son.
Nevertheless, it was a night sufficiently tragic in Oxford Street.
Mr. Knight returned with Henry's two prizesSelf-Help and
The Voyage of the 'Fox' in the Arctic Seas.
The boy had wakened once, but dozed again.
'Put them on the chair where he can see them in the morning,' Aunt
'Yes,' said the father, brightening. 'And I'll wind up his watch for
him.... Bless us! what's he been doing to the watch? What is it,
'Why did you do it?' Mr. Knight asked Tom. 'That's what I can't
understand. Why did you do it?'
They were alone together the next morning in the sitting-room. ('I
will speak to that young man privately,' Mr. Knight had said to the two
women in a formidable tone.) Henry was still in bed, but awake and
reading Smiles with precocious gusto.
'Did the kid tell you all about it, then?'
'The kid,' said Mr. Knight, marking by a peculiar emphasis his
dissatisfaction with Tom's choice of nouns, 'was very loyal. I had to
drag the story out of him bit by bit. I repeat: why did you do it? Was
this your idea of a joke? If so, I can only say'
'You should have seen how he enjoyed them! It was tremendous,' Tom
broke in. 'Tremendous! I've no doubt the afternoon was terrible, but
the morning was worth it. Ask Henry himself. I wanted to give him a
treat, and it seems I gave you all one.'
'And then the headmaster!' Mr. Knight complained. 'He was very
upset. He told me he didn't know what they should do without Henry last
'Oh yes. I know old Pingles. Pingles is a great wit. But seriously,
uncle,' said Tomhe gazed at the carpet; 'seriously' He paused.
'If I had thought of the dreadful calamity to the school, I would only
have bought half a pound.'
'Pah!' Mr. Knight whiffed out.
'It's a mercy we're all still alive,' murmured Tom.
'And may I ask, sir' Mr. Knight began afresh, in a new vein,
sarcastic and bitter. 'Of course you're an independent member of
society, and your own master; but may I venture to ask what you were
doing in Hyde Park yesterday at eleven o'clock?'
'You may,' Tom replied. 'The truth is, Bollingtons Limited and me,
just me, have had a row. I didn't like their style, nor their manners.
So the day before yesterday I told them to go to the devil'
'You told them to go to the!'
'And I haven't seen anything of Bollingtons since, and I don't want
'That is where you are going to yourself, sir,' thundered Mr.
Knight. 'Mark my words. That is where you are going to yourself. Two
guineas a week, at your age, and you tell them! I suppose you think
you can get a place like that any day.'
'Look here, uncle. Listen. Mark my words. I have two to say to you,
and two only. Good-morning.'
Tom hastened from the room, and went down into the shop by the
shop-stairs. The cashier of the establishment was opening the safe.
'Mr. Perkins,' said Tom lightly, 'uncle wants change for a ten-pound
note, in gold.'
'Certainly, Mr. Tom. With pleasure.'
'Oh!' Tom explained, as though the notion had just struck him,
taking the sovereigns, 'the note! I'll bring it down in a jiffy.'
'That's all right, Mr. Tom,' said the cashier, smiling with suave
Tom ran up to his room, passing his uncle on the way. He snatched
his hat and stick, and descended rapidly into the street by the
house-stairs. He chose this effective and picturesque method of
departing for ever from the hearth and home of Mr. Knight.
CHAPTER VII. CONTAGIOUS
'There's only the one slipper here,' said Aunt Annie, feeling in the
embroidered slipper-bag which depended from a glittering brass nail in
the recess to the right of the fireplace. And this fireplace was on the
ground-floor, and not in Oxford Street.
'I was mending the other this morning,' said Mrs. Knight, springing
up with all her excessive stoutness from the easy-chair. 'I left it in
my work-basket, I do believe.'
'I'll get it,' said Aunt Annie.
'No, I'll get it,' said Mrs. Knight.
So it occurred that Aunt Annie laid the left slipper (sole upwards)
in front of the brisk red fire, while Mrs. Knight laid the right one.
Then the servant entered the dining-rooma little simple fat thing
of sixteen or so, proud of her cap and apron and her black afternoon
dress. She was breathing quickly.
'Please'm, Dr. Dancer says he'll come at nine o'clock, or as soon
after as makes no matter.'
In delivering the message the servant gave a shrewd, comprehending,
sympathetic smile, as if to say: 'I am just as excited about your plot
as you are.'
'Thank you, Sarah. That will do.' Aunt Annie dismissed her frigidly.
Sarah's departing face fell to humility, and it said now: 'I'm sorry
I presumed to be as excited about your plot as you are.'
The two sisters looked at each other interrogatively, disturbed,
'Can she have been listening at doors?' Aunt Annie inquired in a
Wherever the sisters happened to be, they never discussed Sarah save
in a whisper. If they had been in Alaska and Sarah in Timbuctoo, they
would have mentioned her name in a whisper, lest she might overhear.
And, by the way, Sarah's name was not Sarah, but Susan. It had been
altered in deference to a general opinion that it was not nice for a
servant to bear the same name as her mistress, and, further, that such
an anomaly had a tendency to subvert the social order.
'I don't know,' said Mrs. Knight 'I put her straight about those
lumps of sugar.'
'Did you tell her to see to the hot-water bottle?'
'Bless us, no!'
Aunt Annie rang the bell.
'Sarah, put a hot-water bottle in your master's bed. And be sure the
stopper is quite tight.'
'Yes'm. Master's just coming down the street now, mum.'
Sarah spoke true. The master was in fact coming down the wintry
gaslit street. And the street was Dawes Road, Fulham, in the day of its
newness. The master stopped at the gate of a house of two storeys with
a cellar-kitchen. He pushed open the creaking iron device and entered
the garden, sixteen foot by four, which was the symbol of the park in
which the house would have stood if it had been a mansion. In a stride
he walked from one end to the other of the path, which would have been
a tree-lined, winding carriage-drive had the garden been a park. As he
fumbled for his latchkey, he could see the beaming face of the
representative of the respectful lower classes in the cellar-kitchen.
The door yielded before him as before its rightful lord, and he passed
into his sacred domestic privacy with an air which plainly asserted:
'Here I am king, absolute, beneficent, worshipped.'
'Come to the fire, quick, Henry,' said Aunt Annie, fussing round him
It would be idle to attempt to conceal, even for a moment, that this
was not Henry the elder, but Henry Shakspere, aged twenty-three, with a
face made grave, perhaps prematurely, by the double responsibilities of
a householder and a man of affairs. Henry had lost some of his boyish
plumpness, and he had that night a short, dry cough.
'I'm coming,' he replied curtly, taking off his blue Melton. 'Don't
And in a fraction of a second, not only Aunt Annie, but his mother
in the dining-room and his helot in the cellar-kitchen, knew that the
master was in a humour that needed humouring.
Henry the younger had been the master for six years, since the death
of his father. The sudden decease of its head generally means financial
calamity for a family like the Knights. But somehow the Knights were
different from the average. In the first place Henry Knight was insured
for a couple of thousand pounds. In the second place Aunt Annie had a
little private income of thirty pounds a year. And in the third place
there was Henry Shakspere. The youth had just left school; he left it
without special distinction (the brilliant successes of the marred
Speech Day were never repeated), but the state of his education may be
inferred from the established fact that the headmaster had said that if
he had stayed three months longer he would have gone into logarithms.
Instead of going into logarithms, Henry went into shorthand. And
shorthand, at that date, was a key to open all doors, a cure for every
ill, and the finest thing in the world. Henry had a talent for
shorthand; he took to it; he revelled in it; he dreamt it; he lived for
it alone. He won a speed medal, the gold of which was as pure as the
gold of the medal won by his wicked cousin Tom for mere painting.
Henry's mother was at length justified before all men in her rosy
Among the most regular attendants at the Great Queen Street Wesleyan
Chapel was Mr. George Powell, who himself alone constituted and
comprised the eminent legal firm known throughout Lincoln's Inn Fields,
New Court, the Temple, Broad Street, and Great George Street, as
'Powells.' It is not easy, whatever may be said to the contrary, to
reconcile the exigencies of the modern solicitor's profession with the
exigencies of active Wesleyan Methodism; but Mr. George Powell
succeeded in the difficult attempt, and his fame was, perhaps, due
mainly to this success. All Wesleyan solicitors in large practice
achieve renown, whether they desire it or not; Wesleyans cannot help
talking about them, as one talks about an apparent defiance of natural
laws. Most of them are forced into Parliament, and compelled against
their wills to accept the honour of knighthood. Mr. George Powell,
however, had so far escaped both Parliament and the prefixa fact
which served only to increase his fame. In fine, Mr. George Powell,
within the frontiers of Wesleyan Methodism, was a lion of immense
magnitude, and even beyond the frontiers, in the vast unregenerate
earth, he was no mean figure. Now, when Mr. Powell heard of the death
of Henry Knight, whom he said he had always respected as an upright
tradesman and a sincere Christian, and of the shorthand speed medal of
Henry Shakspere Knight, he benevolently offered the young Henry a
situation in his office at twenty-five shillings a week, rising to
Young Henry's fortune was made. He was in Powells, and under the
protecting ægis of the principal. He shared in the lustre of Powells.
When people mentioned him, they also mentioned Powells, as if that
settled the matterwhatever the matter was. Mr. Powell invested Mrs.
Knight's two thousand pounds on mortgage or freehold security at five
per cent., and upon this interest, with Henry's salary and Aunt Annie's
income, the three lived in comfort at Dawes Road. Nay, they saved, and
Henry travelled second-class between Walham Green and the Temple. The
youth was serious, industrious, and trustworthy, and in shorthand
incomparable. No one acquainted with the facts was surprised when,
after three years, Mr. Powell raised him to the position of his
confidential clerk, and his salary to fifty-two shillings and sixpence.
And then Mr. Powell, who had fought for so long against meaningless
honours, capitulated and accepted a knighthood. The effect upon Dawes
Road was curious and yet very natural. It was almost as though Henry
himself had accepted a knighthood. Both Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie
seemed to assume that Henry had at least contributed to the knighthood
and that the knighthood was in some subtle way the reward of Henry's
talent, rectitude, and strenuousness. 'Sir George'those two syllables
which slipped smoothly off the tongue with no effort to the
speakerentered largely into all conversations in the house at Dawes
Road; and the whole street, beginning with the milkman, knew that Henry
was Sir George'sno, not Sir George's confidential clerk, no such
His salary was three guineas a week. He had a banking account at
Smith, Payne and Smiths, and a pew at the Munster Park Wesleyan Chapel.
He was a power at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He bought books,
including encyclopædias and dictionaries. He wrote essays which were
read and debated upon at the sessions of the Debating Society. (One of
the essays was entitled: 'The Tendencies of Modern Fiction'; he was
honestly irate against the Stream of Trashy Novels Constantly Poured
Forth by the Press.) He took out a life insurance policy for two
hundred and fifty pounds, and an accident policy which provided
enormous sums for all sorts of queer emergencies. Indeed, Henry was
armed at every point. He could surely snap his fingers at Chance.
If any young man in London had the right to be bumptious and
didactic, Henry had. And yet he remained simple, unaffected, and
fundamentally kind. But he was very serious. His mother and aunt
strained every nerve, in their idolatrous treatment of him, to turn him
into a conceited and unbearable jackanapesand their failure to do so
was complete. They only made him more serious. His temper was, and
always had been, what is called even.
And yet, on this particular evening when Sarah had been instructed
to put a hot-water bottle in his bed, Henry's tone, in greeting his
aunt, had been curt, fretful, peevish, nearly cantankerous. 'Don't
worry me!' he had irascibly protested, well knowing that his good aunt
was guiltless of the slightest intention to worry him. Here was a
problem, an apparent contradiction, in Henry's personality.
His aunt, in the passage, and his mother, who had overheard in the
dining-room, instantly and correctly solved the problem by saying to
themselves that Henry's tone was a Symptom. They had both been
collecting symptoms for four days. His mother had first discovered that
he had a cold; Aunt Annie went further and found that it was a feverish
cold. Aunt Annie saw that his eyes were running; his mother wormed out
of him that his throat tickled and his mouth was sore. When Aunt Annie
asked him if his eyes ached as well as ran, he could not deny it. On
the third day, at breakfast, he shivered, and the two ladies perceived
simultaneously the existence of a peculiar rash behind Henry's ears. On
the morning of the fourth day Aunt Annie, up early, scored one over her
sister by noticing the same rash at the roots of his still curly hair.
It was the second rash, together with Henry's emphatic and positive
statement that he was perfectly well, which had finally urged his
relatives to a desperate stepa step involving intrigue and
prevarication. And to justify this step had come the crowning symptom
of peevishnesspeevishness in Henry! It wanted only that!
'I've asked Dr. Dancer to call in to-night,' said Aunt Annie
casually, while Henry was assuming his toasted crimson carpet slippers.
Mrs. Knight was brewing tea in the kitchen.
'What for?' Henry demanded quickly, and as if defensively. Then he
added: 'Is mother wrong again?'
Mrs. Knight had a recurrent 'complaint.'
'Well,' said Aunt Annie darkly, 'I thought it would be as well to be
on the safe side....'
'Certainly,' said Henry.
This was Aunt Annie's neat contribution to the necessary
They had tea and ham-and-eggs, the latter specially chosen because
it was a dish that Henry doted upon. However, he ate but little.
'You're overtired, dear,' his mother ventured.
'Overtired or not, mater,' said Henry with a touch of irony, 'I must
do some work to-night. Sir George has asked me to'
'My dear love,' Mrs. Knight cried out, moved, 'you've no right'
But Aunt Annie quelled the impulsive creature with a glance full of
meaning. 'Sir George what?' she asked, politely interested.
'The governor has asked me to look through his Christmas appeal for
the Clerks' Society, and to suggest any alterations that occur to me.'
It became apparent to the ladies, for the thousand and first time,
that Sir George would be helpless without Henry, utterly helpless.
After tea the table was cleared, and Henry opened his bag and
rustled papers, and the ladies knitted and sewed with extraordinary
precautions to maintain the silence which was the necessary environment
of Henry's labours. And in the calm and sane domestic interior, under
the mild ray of the evening lamp, the sole sounds were Henry's dry,
hacking cough and the cornet-like blasts of his nose into his cambric
'I think I'll do no more to-night,' he said at length, yawning.
'That's right, dear,' his mother ejaculated.
Then the doctor entered, and, for all the world as if by
preconcerted action, the ladies disappeared. Dr. Dancer was on friendly
terms with the household, and, his age being thirty, he was neither too
old nor too young to address Henry as Old Man.
'Hallo, old man,' he began, after staring hard at Henry. 'What's the
matter with your forehead?'
'Forehead?' Henry repeated questioningly.
'Yes. Let's have a look.'
The examination was thorough, and it ended with the thrusting of a
thermometer into Henry's unwilling mouth.
'One hundred and two,' said the doctor, and, smiling faintly, he
whispered something to Henry.
'You're joking,' Henry replied, aghast.
'No, I'm not. Of course it's not serious. But it means bed for a
fortnight or so, and you must go immediately.'
The ladies, who had obviously and shamelessly been doing that which
they so strongly deprecated in Sarah, came back into the room.
In half an hour Henry was in bed, and a kettle containing eucalyptus
was steaming over a bright fire in the bedroom; and his mother was bent
upon black-currant tea in the kitchen; and Aunt Annie was taking down
from dictation, in her angular Italian hand, a letter which began:
'Dear Sir George,I much regret to say'; and little Sarah was standing
hooded and girt up, ready to fly upon errands of the highest importance
at a second's notice.
'Sarah,' said Mrs. Knight solemnly, when Sarah had returned from the
post and the doctor's, 'I am going to trust you. Your master has got
the measles, but, of course, we don't want anyone to know, so you
mustn't breathe a word.'
'No'm,' said Sarah.
'He never had them as a boy,' Mrs. Knight added proudly.
'Didn't he, mum?' said Sarah.
The doctor, whose gift for seriousness was not marked, showed a
tendency to see humour in the situation of Sir George's private
secretary being down with measles. But he was soon compelled to
perceive his mistake. By a united and tremendous effort Mrs. Knight and
Aunt Annie made measles august. As for Sarah, she let slip the truth to
the milkman. It came out by itself, as the spout of a teapot had once
come off by itself in her hand.
The accident policy appeared to provide for every emergency except
CHAPTER VIII. CREATIVE
The sick-roomall due solemnity and importance must be imported
into the significance of that wordthe sick-room became a shrine,
served by two ageing priestesses and a naïve acolyte. Everything was
done to make Henry an invalid in the grand manner. His bed of agony
became the pivot on which the household life flutteringly and
soothingly revolved. No detail of delicate attention which the most
ingenious assiduity could devise was omitted from the course of
treatment. And if the chamber had been at the front instead of at the
back, the Fulham Vestry would certainly have received an application
for permission to lay down straw in the street.
The sole flaw in the melancholy beauty of the episode was that Henry
was never once within ten miles of being seriously ill. He was
incapable of being seriously ill. He happened to be one of those
individuals who, when they 'take' a disease, seem to touch it only with
the tips of their fingers: such was his constitution. He had the
measles, admittedly. His temperature rose one night to a hundred and
three, and for a few brief moments his mother and Aunt Annie enjoyed
visions of fighting the grim spectre of Death. The tiny round pink
spots covered his face and then ran together into a general vermilion.
He coughed exquisitely. His beard grew. He supported life on
black-currant tea and an atmosphere impregnated with eucalyptus. He
underwent the examination of the doctor every day at eleven. But he was
not personally and genuinely ill. He did not feel ill, and he said so.
His most disquieting symptom was boredom. This energetic organism
chafed under the bed-clothes and the black-currant tea and the hushed
eucalyptic calm of the chamber. He fervently desired to be up and
active and stressful. His mother and aunt cogitated in vain to hit on
some method of allaying the itch for work. And then one dayit was the
day before Christmashis mother chanced to say:
'You might try to write out that story you told us aboutwhen you
are a little stronger. It would be something for you to do.'
Henry shook his head sheepishly.
'Oh no!' he said; 'I was only joking.'
'I'm sure you could write it quite nicely,' his mother insisted.
And Henry shook his head again, and coughed. 'No,' he said. 'I hope
I shall have something better to do than write stories.'
'But just to pass the time!' pleaded Aunt Annie.
The fact was that, several weeks before, while his thoughts had been
engaged in analyzing the detrimental qualities of the Stream of Trashy
Novels Constantly Poured Forth by the Press, Henry had himself been
visited by a notion for a story. He had scornfully ejected it as an
inopportune intruder; but it had returned, and at length, to get rid
for ever of this troublesome guest, he had instinctively related the
outline of the tale over the tea-table. And the outline had been
pronounced wonderful. 'It might be called Love in Babylon
Babylon being London, you know,' he had said. And Aunt Annie had
exclaimed: 'What a pretty title!' Whereupon Henry had remarked
contemptuously and dismissingly: 'Oh, it was just an idea I had, that's
all!' And the secret thought of both ladies had been, 'That busy brain
is never still.'
As the shades of Christmas Eve began to fall, Aunt Annie was seated
by the sick-bed, engaged in making entries in the household
washing-book with a lead pencil. Henry lay with his eyes closed. Mrs.
Knight was out shopping. Presently there was a gentle ting of
the front-door bell; then a protracted silence; then another gentle
'Bless the girl! Why doesn't she answer the door?' Aunt Annie
whispered to herself, listening hard.
A third time the bell rang, and Aunt Annie, anathematizing the whole
race of servants, got up, put the washing-book on the dressing-table,
lighted the gas and turned it low, and descended to answer the door in
person and to behead Sarah.
More than an hour elapsed before either sister re-entered Henry's
roomevents on the ground-floor had been rather excitingand then
they appeared together, bearing a bird, and some mince-tarts on a
plate, and a card. Henry was wide awake.
'This is a surprise, dear,' began Mrs. Knight. 'Just listen:
With Sir George Powell's hearty greetings and best wishes for a speedy
recovery! A turkey and six mince-tarts. Isn't it thoughtful of him?'
'It's just like the governor,' said Henry, smiling, and feeling the
tenderness of the turkey.
'He is a true gentleman,' said Aunt Annie.
'And we've sent round to the doctor to ask, and he says there's no
harm in your having half a mince-tart; so we've warmed it. And you are
to have a slice off the breast of the turkey to-morrow.'
'Good!' was Henry's comment. He loved a savoury mouthful, and these
dainties were an unexpected bliss, for the ladies had not dreamt of
Christmas fare in the sad crisis, even for themselves.
Aunt Annie, as if struck by a sudden blow, glanced aside at the gas.
'I could have been certain I left the gas turned down,' she
'I turned it up,' said Henry.
'You got out of bed! Oh, Henry! And your temperature was a hundred
and two only the day before yesterday!'
'I thought I'd begin that thingjust for a lark, you know,' he
He drew from under the bed-clothes the household washing-book. And
there, nearly at the top of a page, were Aunt Annie's last interrupted
'LOVE IN BABYLON'
and the commencement of the tale. The marvellous man had covered
nine pages of the washing-book.
Within twenty-four hours, not only Henry, but his mother and aunt,
had become entirely absorbed in Henry's tale. The ladies wondered how
he thought of it all, and Henry himself wondered a little, too. It
seemed to 'come,' without trouble and almost without invitation. It
cost no effort. The process was as though Henry acted merely as the
amanuensis of a great creative power concealed somewhere in the
recesses of his vital parts. Fortified by two halves of a mince-tart
and several slices of Sir George's turkey, he filled the washing-book
full up before dusk on Christmas Day; and on Boxing Day, despite the
faint admiring protests of his nurses, he made a considerable hole in a
quire of the best ruled essay-paper. Instead of showing signs of
fatigue, Henry appeared to grow stronger every hour, and to revel more
and more in the sweet labour of composition; while the curiosity of the
nurses about the exact nature of what Henry termed the dénouement
increased steadily and constantly. The desires of those friends who had
wished a Happy Christmas to the household were generously gratified.
It was a love tale, of course. And it began thus, the first line
consisting of a single word, and the second of three words:
'And in winter!
'The ladies' waiting-room on the arrival platform of one of our
vast termini was unoccupied save for the solitary figure of a young and
beautiful girl, who, clad in a thin but still graceful costume,
crouched shivering over the morsel of fire which the greed of a great
company alone permitted to its passengers. Outside resounded the roar
and shriek of trains, the ceaseless ebb and flow of the human tide
which beats for ever on the shores of modern Babylon. Enid Anstruther
gazed sadly into the embers. She had come to the end of her resources.
Suddenly the door opened, and Enid looked up, naturally expecting to
see one of her own sex. But it was a man's voice, fresh and strong,
which exclaimed: Oh, I beg pardon! The two glanced at each other, and
then Enid sank backwards.'
Such were the opening sentences of Love in Babylon.
Enid was an orphan, and had come to London in order to obtain a
situation in a draper's shop. Unfortunately, she had lost her purse on
the way. Her reason for sinking back in the waiting-room was that she
had fainted from cold, hunger, and fatigue. Thus she and the man,
Adrian Tempest, became acquainted, and Adrian's first gift to her was
seven drops of brandy, which he forced between her teeth. His second
was his heart. Enid obtained a situation, and Adrian took her to the
Crystal Palace one Saturday afternoon. It was a pity that he had not
already proposed to her, for they got separated in the tremendous
Babylonian crowd, and Enid, unused to the intricacies of locomotion in
Babylon, arrived home at the emporium at an ungodly hour on Sunday
morning. She was dismissed by a proprietor with a face of brass. Adrian
sought her in vain. She sought Adrian in vainshe did not know his
address. Thenceforward the tale split itself into two parts: the one
describing the life of Adrian, a successful barrister, on the heights
of Babylon, and the other the life of Enid, reduced to desperate
straits, in the depths thereof. The contrasts were vivid and terrific.
Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie could not imagine how Henry would bring
the two lovers, each burning secretly the light torch of love in
Babylon, together again. But Henry did not hesitate over the problem
for more than about fifty seconds. Royal Academy. Private View. Adrian
present thereat as a celebrity. Picture of the year, 'The Enchantress.'
He recognises her portrait. She had, then, been forced to sell her
beauty for eighteenpence an hour as an artist's model. To discover the
artist and Enid's address was for Adrian the work of a few minutes.
This might have finished the tale, but Henry opined that the tale
was a trifle short. As a fact, it was. He accordingly invented a
further and a still more dramatic situation. When Adrian proposed to
Enid, she conscientiously told him, told him quietly but firmly, that
she could not marry him for the reason that her father, though innocent
of a crime imputed to him, had died in worldly disgrace. She could not
consent to sully Adrian's reputation. Now, Adrian happened to be the
real criminal. But he did not know that Enid's father had suffered for
him, and he had honestly lived down that distant past. 'If there is a
man in this world who has the right to marry you,' cried Adrian, 'I am
that man. And if there is a man in this world whom you have the right
to spurn, I am that man also.' The extreme subtlety of the thing must
be obvious to every reader. Enid forgave and accepted Adrian. They were
married in a snowy January at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and the story
'Babylon in winter.
Henry achieved the entire work in seven days, and, having achieved
it, he surveyed it with equal pride and astonishment. It was a matter
of surprise to him that the writing of interesting and wholesome
fiction was so easy. Some parts of the book he read over and over
again, for the sheer joy of reading.
'Of course it isn't good enough to print,' he said one day, while
sitting up in the arm-chair.
'I should think any publisher would be glad to print it,' said his
mother. 'I'm not a bit prejudiced, I'm sure, and I think it's one of
the best tales I ever read in all my life.'
'Do you really?' Henry smiled, his natural modesty fighting against
a sure conviction that his mother was right.
Aunt Annie said little, but she had copied out Love in Babylon
in her fine, fair Italian hand, keeping pace day by day with Henry's
extraordinary speed, and now she accomplished the transcription of the
The time arrived for Henry to be restored to a waiting world. He was
cured, well, hearty, vigorous, radiant. But he was still infected,
isolate, one might almost say taboo; and everything in his room,
and everything that everyone had worn while in the room, was in the
same condition. Therefore the solemn process, rite, and ceremony of
purification had to be performed. It began upon the last day of the old
year at dusk.
Aunt Annie made a quantity of paste in a basin; Mrs. Knight bought a
penny brush; and Henry cut up a copy of the Telegraph into long
strips about two inches wide. The sides and sash of the window were
then hermetically sealed; the register of the fireplace was closed, and
sealed also. Clothes were spread out in open order, the bed stripped,
rugs hung over chairs.
'Henry's book?' Mrs. Knight demanded.
'Of course it must be disinfected with the other things,' said Aunt
'Yes, of course,' Henry agreed.
'And it will be safer to lay the sheets separately on the floor,'
Aunt Annie continued.
There were fifty-nine sheets of Aunt Annie's fine, finicking
caligraphy, and the scribe and her nephew went down on their knees, and
laid them in numerical sequence on the floor. The initiatory '
Babylon' found itself in the corner between the window and the
fireplace beneath the dressing-table, and the final 'Babylon'
was hidden in gloomy retreats under the bed.
Then Sarah entered, bearing sulphur in a shallow pan, and a box of
matches. The paste and the paste-brush and the remnants of the
Telegraph were carried out into the passage. Henry carefully
ignited the sulphur, and, captain of the ship, was the last to leave.
As they closed the door the odour of burning, microbe-destroying
sulphur impinged on their nostrils. Henry sealed the door on the
outside with 'London Day by Day,' 'Sales by Auction,' and a leading
article or so.
'There!' said Henry.
All was over.
At intervals throughout the night he thought of the sanative and
benign sulphur smouldering, smouldering always with ghostly yellow
flamelets in the midst of his work of art, while the old year died and
the new was born.
CHAPTER IX. SPRING ONIONS
The return to the world and to Powells, while partaking of the
nature of a triumph, was at the same time something of a cold,
fume-dispersing, commonsense-bestowing bath for Henry. He had meant to
tell Sir George casually that he had taken advantage of his enforced
leisure to write a book. 'Taken advantage of his enforced leisure' was
the precise phrase which Henry had in mind to use. But, when he found
himself in the strenuous, stern, staid, sapient and rational atmosphere
of Powells, he felt with a shock of perception that in rattling off
Love in Babylon he had been guilty of one of those charming
weaknesses to which great and serious men are sometimes tempted, but of
which great and serious men never boast. And he therefore confined his
personal gossip with Sir George to the turkey, the mince-tarts, and the
question of contagion. He plunged into his work with a feeling akin to
dignified remorse, and Sir George was vehemently and openly delighted
by the proofs which he gave of undiminished loyalty and devotion.
Nevertheless Henry continued to believe in the excellence of his
book, and he determined that, in duty to himself, his mother and aunt,
and the cause of wholesome fiction, he must try to get it published.
From that moment he began to be worried, for he had scarcely a notion
how sagaciously to set about the business. He felt like a bachelor of
pronounced views who has been given a baby to hold. He knew no one in
the realms of literature, and no one who knew anyone. Sir George,
warily sounded, appeared to be unaware that such a thing as fiction
existed. Not a soul at the Polytechnic enjoyed the acquaintance of
either an author or a publisher, though various souls had theories
about these classes of persons. Then one day a new edition of the works
of Carlyle burst on the world, and Henry bought the first volume,
Sartor Resartus, a book which he much admired, and which he had
learnt from his father to call simply and familiarlySartor.
The edition, though inexpensive, had a great air of dignity. It met, in
short, with Henry's approval, and he suddenly decided to give the
publishers of it the opportunity of publishing Love in Babylon.
The deed was done in a moment. He wrote a letter explaining the motives
which had led him to write Love in Babylon, and remarked that,
if the publishers cared for the story, mutually satisfactory terms
might be arranged later; and Aunt Annie did Love in Babylon up
in a neat parcel. Henry was in the very act of taking the parcel to the
post, on his way to town, when Aunt Annie exclaimed:
'Of course you'll register it?'
He had not thought of doing so, but the advisability of such a step
at once appealed to him.
'Perhaps I'd better,' he said.
'But that only means two pounds if it's lost, doesn't it?' Mrs.
Henry nodded and pondered.
'Perhaps I'd better insure it,' he suggested.
'If I were you, I should insure it for a hundred pounds,' said Aunt
'But that will cost one and a penny,' said Henry, who had all such
details by heart. 'I could insure it for twenty pounds for fivepence.'
'Well, say twenty pounds then,' Aunt Annie agreed, relenting.
So he insured Love in Babylon for twenty pounds and
despatched it. In three weeks it returned like the dove to the ark (but
soiled), with a note to say that, though the publishers' reader
regarded it as promising, the publishers could not give themselves the
pleasure of making an offer for it. Thenceforward Henry and the
manuscript suffered all the usual experiences, and the post-office
reaped all the usual profits. One firm said the story was good, but too
short. ('A pitiful excuse,' thought Henry. 'As if length could affect
merit.') Another said nothing. Another offered to publish it if Henry
would pay a hundred pounds down. (At this point Henry ceased to insure
the parcel.) Another sent it back minus the last leaf, the matter of
which Henry had to reinvent and Aunt Annie to recopy. Another returned
it insufficiently stamped, and there was fourpence to pay. Another kept
it four months, and disgorged it only under threat of a writ; the
threat was launched forth on Powells' formidable notepaper. At length
there arrived a day when even Henry's pertinacity was fatigued, and he
forgot, merely forgot, to send out the parcel again. It was put in a
drawer, after a year of ceaseless adventures, and Mrs. Knight and Aunt
Annie discreetly forbore to mention it. During that year Henry's
opinion on his work had fluctuated. There had been moments, days
perhaps, of discouragement, when he regarded it as drivel, and himself
as a foolin so far, that is, as he had trafficked with literature. On
the other hand, his original view of it reasserted itself with
frequency. And in the end he gloomily and proudly decided, once and for
all, that the Stream of Trashy Novels Constantly Poured Forth by the
Press had killed all demand for wholesome fiction; he came reluctantly
to the conclusion that modern English literature was in a very poor
way. He breathed a sigh, and dismissed the episode utterly from his
And Love in Babylon languished in the drawer for three
Then, upon an April morning, the following telegram was received at
Dawes Road, Fulham: 'Please bring manuscript me immediately top left
take cab Henry.'
Mrs. Knight was alone in the house with Sarah when the imperious
summons of the telegraph-boy and the apparition of the orange envelope
threw the domestic atmosphere into a state of cyclonic confusion.
Before tearing the envelope she had guessed that Aunt Annie had met
with an accident, that Henry was dead, and that her own Aunt Eliza in
Glossop had died without making a will; and these imaginings had done
nothing to increase the efficiency of her intellectual powers. She
could not read sense into the message, not even with the aid of
spectacles and Sarah.
Happily Aunt Annie returned, with her masculine grasp of affairs.
'He means Love in Babylon,' said Aunt Annie. 'It's in the top
left-hand drawer of his desk. That's what he means. Perhaps I'd better
take it. I'm ready dressed.'
'Oh yes, sister,' Mrs. Knight replied hastily. 'You had better take
Aunt Annie rang the bell with quick decision.
'Sarah,' she said, 'run out and get me a cab, a four-wheeler. You
understand, a four-wheeler.'
'Yes'm. Shall I put my jacket on, mum?' Sarah asked, glancing
through the window.
'No. Go instantly!'
'I wonder what he wants it for,' Aunt Annie remarked, after she had
found the manuscript and put it under her arm. 'Perhaps he has
mentioned it to Sir George, and Sir George is going to do something.'
'I thought he had forgotten all about it,' said Mrs. Knight. 'But he
never gives a thing up, Henry doesn't.'
Sarah drove dashingly up to the door in a hansom.
'Take that back again,' commanded Aunt Annie, cautiously putting her
nose outside the front-door. It was a snowy and sleety April morning,
and she had already had experience of its rigour. 'I said a
'Please'm, there wasn't one,' Sarah defended herself.
'None on the stand, lady,' said the cabman brightly. 'You'll never
get a four-wheeler on a day like this.'
Aunt Annie raised her veil and looked at her sister. Like many
strong-minded and vigorous women, she had a dislike of hansoms which
amounted to dread. She feared a hansom as though it had been a
revolversomething that might go off unexpectedly at any moment and
'I daren't go in that,' she admitted frankly. She was torn between
her allegiance to the darling Henry and her fear of the terrible
'Suppose I go with you?' Mrs. Knight suggested.
'Very well,' said Aunt Annie, clenching her teeth for the sacrifice.
Sarah flew for Mrs. Knight's bonnet, fur mantle, gloves, and muff;
and with remarkably little delay the sisters and the manuscript
started. First they had the window down because of the snow and the
sleet; then they had it up because of the impure air; and lastly Aunt
Annie wedged a corner of the manuscript between the door and the
window, leaving a slit of an inch or so for ventilation. The main body
of the manuscript she supported by means of her muff.
Alas! her morbid fear of hansoms was about to be justifiedat any
rate, justified in her own eyes. As the machine was passing along
Walham Green, it began to overtake a huge market-cart laden, fraught,
and piled up with an immense cargo of spring onions from Isleworth; and
just as the head of the horse of the hansom drew level with the tail of
the market-cart, the off hind wheel of the cart succumbed, and a ton or
more of spring onions wavered and slanted in the snowy air. The driver
of the hansom did his best, but he could not prevent his horse from
premature burial amid spring onions. The animal nobly resisted several
hundredweight of them, and then tottered and fell and was lost to view
under spring onions. The ladies screamed in concert, and discovered
themselves miraculously in the roadway, unhurt, but white and
breathless. A constable and a knife-grinder picked them up.
The accident was more amusing than tragic, though neither Mrs.
Knight nor Aunt Annie was capable of perceiving this fact. The horse
emerged gallantly, unharmed, and the window of the hansom was not even
cracked. The constable congratulated everyone and took down the names
of the two drivers, the two ladies, and the knife-grinder. The
condition of the weather fortunately, militated against the formation
of a large crowd.
Quite two minutes elapsed before Aunt Annie made the horrible
discovery that Love in Babylon had disappeared. Love in
Babylon was smothered up in spring onions.
'Keep your nerve, madam,' said the constable, seeing signs of an
emotional crisis, 'and go and stand in that barber's doorwayboth of
The ladies obeyed.
In due course Love in Babylon was excavated, chapter by
chapter, and Aunt Annie held it safely once more, rumpled but complete.
By the luckiest chance an empty four-wheeler approached.
The sisters got into it, and Aunt Annie gave the address.
'As quick as you can,' she said to the driver, 'but do drive
CHAPTER X. MARK SNYDER
Three-quarters of an hour later Henry might have been seenin fact,
was seen by a number of disinterested wayfarersto enter a magnificent
new block of offices and flats in Charing Cross Road. Love in
Babylon was firmly gripped under his right arm. Partly this strange
burden and partly the brilliant aspect of the building made him feel
self-conscious and humble and rather unlike his usual calm self. For,
although Henry was accustomed to offices, he was not accustomed to
magnificent offices. There are offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields, offices
of extreme wealth, which, were they common lodging-houses, would be
instantly condemned by the County Council. Powells was such a oneand
Sir George had a reputed income of twenty thousand a year. At Powells
the old Dickensian tradition was kept vigorously alive by every
possible means. Dirt and gloom were omnipresent. Cleanliness and ample
daylight would have been deemed unbusinesslike, as revolutionary and
dangerous as a typewriter. One day, in winter, Sir George had taken
cold, and he had attributed his misfortune, in language which he
immediately regretted, to the fact that 'that dd woman had cleaned
the windows'probably with a damp cloth. 'That dd woman' was the
caretaker, a grey-haired person usually dressed in sackcloth, who
washed herself, incidentally, while washing the stairs. At Powells,
nothing but the stairs was ever put to the indignity of a bath.
That Henry should be somewhat diffident about invading Kenilworth
Mansions was therefore not surprising. He climbed three granite steps,
passed through a pair of swinging doors, traversed eight feet of
tesselated pavement, climbed three more granite steps, passed through
another pair of swinging doors, and discovered himself in a spacious
marble hall, with a lift-cabinet resembling a confessional, and broad
stairs behind curving up to Paradise. On either side of him, in place
of priceless works by old masters, were great tablets inscribed with
many names in gold characters. He scanned these tablets timidly, and at
length found what he wanted, 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' under the
heading 'Third Floor.' At the same moment a flunkey in chocolate and
cream approached him.
'Mr. Snyder?' asked Henry.
'Third-floor, left,' pronounced the flunkey, thus giving the tablets
the force of his authority.
As Henry was wafted aloft in the elevator, with the beautiful and
innocuous flunkey as travelling companion, he could not help
contrasting that official with the terrible Powellian caretaker who
haunted the Powellian stairs.
On the third-floor, which seemed to be quite a world by itself, an
arrow with the legend 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' directed his mazed
feet along a corridor to a corner where another arrow with the legend
'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' pointed along another corridor. And as
he progressed, the merry din of typewriters grew louder and louder. At
length he stood in front of a glassy door, and on the face of the door,
in a graceful curve, was painted the legend, 'Mark Snyder, Literary
Agent.' Shadows of vague moving forms could be discerned on the
opalescent glass, and the chatter of typewriters was almost
That morning Mr. Mark Snyder had been to Powells on the business of
one of his clients, a historian of the Middle Ages, and in the absence
of Sir George had had a little talk with Henry. And Henry had learnt
for the first time what a literary agent was, and, struck by the man's
astuteness and geniality, had mentioned the matter of Love in
Babylon. Mr. Snyder had kindly promised to look into the matter of
Love in Babylon himself if Henry could call on him instantly with
the manuscript. The reason for haste was that on the morrow Mr. Snyder
was leaving England for New York on a professional tour of the leading
literary centres of the United States. Hence Henry's telegram to Dawes
Standing there in front of Mr. Snyder's door, Henry wondered
whether, after all, he was not making a fool of himself. But he
Two smart women in tight and elegant bodices, with fluffy bows at
the backs of their necks, looked up from two typewriters, and the one
with golden hair rose smiling and suave.
'Well, you seem a fairly nice sort of boyI shall be kind to you,'
her eyes appeared to say. Her voice, however, said nothing except,
'Will you take a seat a moment?' and not even that until Henry had
asked if Mr. Snyder was in.
The prospective client examined the room. It had a carpet, and
lovely almanacs on the walls, and in one corner, on a Japanese table,
was a tea-service in blue and white. Tables more massive bore enormous
piles of all shapes and sizes of manuscripts, scores and hundreds or
unprinted literary works, and they all carried labels, 'Mark Snyder,
Literary Agent.' Love in Babylon shrank so small that Henry
could scarcely detect its presence under his arm.
Then Goldenhair, who had vanished, came back, and, with the most
enchanting smile that Henry had ever seen on the face of a pretty
woman, lured him by delicious gestures into Mr. Mark Snyder's private
'Well,' exclaimed Mr. Snyder, full of good-humour, 'here we are
again.' He was a fair, handsome man of about forty, and he sat at a
broad table playing with a revolver. 'What do you think of that, Mr.
Knight?' he asked sharply, holding out the revolver for inspection.
'It seems all right,' said Henry lamely.
Mr. Snyder laughed heartily. 'I'm going to America to-morrow. I told
you, didn't I? Never been there before. So I thought I'd get a
revolver. Never know, you know. Eh?' He laughed again.
Then he suddenly ceased laughing, and sniffed the air.
'Is this a business office?' Henry asked himself. 'Or is it a club?'
His feet were on a Turkey carpet. He was seated in a Chippendale
chair. A glorious fire blazed behind a brass fender, and the receptacle
for coal was of burnished copper. Photogravures in rich oaken frames
adorned the roseate walls. The ceiling was an expanse of ornament, with
an electric chandelier for centre.
'Have a cigarette?' said Mr. Snyder, pushing across towards Henry a
tin of Egyptians.
'Thanks,' said Henry, who did not usually smoke, and he put Love
in Babylon on the table.
Mr. Snyder sniffed the air again.
'Now, what can I do for you?' said he abruptly.
Henry explained the genesis, exodus, and vicissitudes of Love in
Babylon, and Mr. Snyder stretched out an arm and idly turned over a
few leaves of the manuscript as it lay before its author.
'Who's your amanuensis?' he demanded, smiling.
'My aunt,' said Henry.
'Ah yes!' said Mr. Snyder, smiling still, 'It's too short, you
know,' he added, grave. 'Too short. What length is it?'
'Nearly three hundred folios.'
'None of your legal jargon here,' Mr. Snyder laughed again. 'What's
'About twenty thousand words then, eh? Too short!'
'Does that matter?' Henry demanded. 'I should have thought'
'Of course it matters,' Mr. Snyder snapped. 'If you went to a
concert, and it began at eight and finished at half-past, would you go
out satisfied with the performers' assurance that quality and not
quantity was the thing? Ha, ha!'
Mr. Snyder sniffed the air yet again, and looked at the fire
inquisitively, still sniffing.
'There's only one price for novels, six-shillings,' Mr. Snyder
proceeded. 'The public likes six shillings' worth of quality. But it
absolutely insists on six shillings' worth of quantity, and doesn't
object to more. What can I do with this?' he went on, picking up
Love in Babylon and weighing it as in a balance. 'What can I
do with a thing like this?'
'If Carlyle came to Kenilworth Mansions!' Henry speculated. At the
same time Mr. Snyder's epigrammatic remarks impressed him. He saw the
art of Richardson and Balzac in an entirely new aspect. It was as
though he had walked round the house of literature, and peeped in at
Mr. Snyder suddenly put Love in Babylon to his nose.
'Oh, it's that!' he murmured, enlightened.
Henry had to narrate the disaster of the onion-cart, at which Mr.
Snyder was immensely amused.
'Good!' he ejaculated. 'Good! By the way, might send it to Onions
Winter. Know Onions Winter? No? He's always called Spring Onions in the
trade. Pushing man. What a joke it would be!' Mr. Snyder roared with
laughter. 'But seriously, Winter might'
Just then Goldenhair entered the room with a slip of paper, and Mr.
Snyder begged to be excused a moment. During his absence Henry
reflected upon the singularly unbusinesslike nature of the
conversation, and decided that it would be well to import a little
business into it.
'I'm called away,' said Mr. Snyder, re-entering.
'I must go, too,' said Henry. 'May I ask, Mr. Snyder, what are your
terms for arranging publication?'
'Ten per cent.,' said Mr. Snyder succinctly. 'On gross receipts.
Generally, to unknown men, I charge a preliminary fee, but, of course,
'Ten per cent.?' Henry inquired.
'Ten per cent.,' repeated Mr. Snyder.
'Does that meanten per cent.?' Henry demanded, dazed.
Mr. Snyder nodded.
'But do you mean to say,' said the author of Love in Babylon
impressively, 'that if a book of mine makes a profit of ten thousand
pounds, you'll take a thousand pounds just for getting it published?'
'It comes to that,' Mr. Snyder admitted.
'Oh!' cried Henry, aghast, astounded. 'A thousand pounds!'
And he kept saying: 'A thousand pounds! A thousand pounds!'
He saw now where the Turkey carpets and the photogravures and the
Teofani cigarettes came from.
'A thousand pounds!'
Mr. Snyder stuck the revolver into a drawer.
'I'll think it over,' said Henry discreetly. 'How long shall you be
'Oh, about a couple of months!' And Mr. Snyder smiled brightly.
Henry could not find a satisfactory explanation of the man's eternal
'Well, I'll think it over,' he said once more, very courteously.
'And I'm much obliged to you for giving me an interview.' And he took
up Love in Babylon and departed.
It appeared to have been a futile and ludicrous encounter.
CHAPTER XI. SATIN
Yes, there had been something wrong with the interview. It had
entirely failed to tally with his expectations of it. The fact was that
he, Henry, had counted for very little in it. He had sat still and
listened, and, after answering Mr. Mark Snyder's questions, he had made
no original remark except 'A thousand pounds!' And if he was
disappointed with Mr. Snyder, and puzzled by him, too, he was also
disappointed with himself. He felt that he had displayed none of those
business qualities which he knew he possessed. He was a man of affairs,
with a sure belief in his own capacity to handle any matter requiring
tact and discretion; and yet he had lolled like a simpleton in the
Chippendale chair of Mr. Snyder, and contributed naught to the
interview save 'A thousand pounds!'
Nevertheless, he sincerely thought Mr. Snyder's terms exorbitant. He
was not of the race of literary aspirants who are eager to be published
at any price. Literature had no fatal fascination for him. His wholly
sensible idea now was that, having written a book, he might as well get
it printed and make an honest penny out of it, if possible. However,
the effect of the visit to Kenilworth Mansions was to persuade him to
resolve to abandon the enterprise; Mr. Mark Snyder had indeed
discouraged him. And in the evening, when he reached Dawes Road, he
gave his mother and aunt a truthful account of the episode, and stated,
pleasantly but plainly, that he should burn Love in Babylon. And
his mother and aunt, perceiving that he was in earnest, refrained from
And after they had gone to bed he took Love in Babylon out of
the brown paper in which he had wrapped it, and folded the brown paper
and tied up the string; and he was in the very act of putting Love
in Babylon bodily on the fire, when he paused.
'Suppose I give it one more chance?' he reflected.
He had suddenly thought of the name of Mr. Onions Winter, and of Mr.
Snyder's interrupted observations upon that publisher. He decided to
send Love in Babylon to Mr. Winter. He untied the string,
unfolded the brown paper, indited a brief letter, and made the parcel
A week later, only a week, Mr. Onions Winter wrote asking Henry to
call upon him without delay, and Henry called. The establishment of Mr.
Onions Winter was in Leicester Square, between the Ottoman Music Hall
and a milliner's shop. Architecturally it presented rather a peculiar
appearance. The leading feature of the ground-floor was a vast arch,
extending across the entire frontage in something more than a
semicircle. Projecting from the keystone of the arch was a wrought-iron
sign bearing a portrait in copper, and under the portrait the words 'Ye
Shakspere Head.' Away beneath the arch was concealed the shop-window,
an affair of small square panes, and in the middle of every small pane
was stuck a small card, 'The Satin LibraryOnions Winter.' This mystic
phrase was repeated a hundred and sixty-five times. To the right of the
window was a low green door with a copper handle in the shape of a
sow's tail, and the legend 'Ye Office of Onions Winter.'
'Is Mr. Winter in?' Henry demanded of a young man in a very high
collar, after he had mastered the mechanism of the sow's tail.
'Yes, he's in,' said the young man rudely, as Henry thought.
(How different from Goldenhair was this high collar!)
'Do you want to see him?' asked the young man, when he had hummed an
air and stared out of the window.
'No,' said Henry placidly. 'But he wants to see me. My name is
Henry had these flashes of brilliance from time to time. They came
of themselves, as Love in Babylon came. He felt that he was
beginning better with Mr. Onions Winter than he had begun with Mr. Mark
In another moment he was seated opposite Mr. Winter in a charming
but littered apartment on the first-floor. He came to the conclusion
that all literary offices must be drawing-rooms.
'And so you are the author of Love in Babylon?' began Mr.
Winter. He was a tall man, with burning eyes, grey hair, a grey beard
which stuck out like the sun's rays, but no moustache. The naked grey
upper lip was very deep, and somehow gave him a formidable appearance.
He wore a silk hat at the back of his head, and a Melton overcoat
rather like Henry's own, but much longer.
'You like it?' said Henry boldly.
'I thinkThe fact is, I will be frank with you, Mr. Knight.' Here
Mr. Onions Winter picked up Love in Babylon, which lay before
him, and sniffed at it exactly as Mr. Snyder had done. 'The fact is, I
shouldn't have thought twice about it if it hadn't been for this
Here Henry explained the odour.
'Ah yes. Very interesting!' observed Mr. Winter without a smile.
'Very curious! We might make a par out of that. Onionsonions. The
public likes these coincidences. Well, as I tell you, I shouldn't have
thought twice about it if it hadn't been for this' (Sniff, sniff.)
'Then I happened to glance at the title, and the title attracted me. I
must admit that the title attracted me. You have hit on a very pretty
title, Mr. Knight, a very pretty title indeed. I took your book home
and read it myself, Mr. Knight. I didn't send it to any of my readers.
Not a soul in this office has read it except me. I'm a bit
superstitious, you know. We all areeveryone is, when it comes to the
point. And that Onionsonions! And then the pretty title! I like your
book, Mr. Knight. I tell you candidly, I like it. It's graceful and
touching, and original. It's got atmosphere. It's got that indefinable
somethingje ne sais quoithat we publishers are always
searching for. Of course it's crudevery crude in places. It might be
improved. What do you want for it, Mr. Knight? What are you asking?'
Mr. Onions Winter rose and walked to the window in order,
apparently, to drink his fill of the statue of Shakspere in the middle
of the square.
'I don't know,' said Henry, overjoyed but none the less perplexed.
'I have not considered the question of price.'
'Will you take twenty-five pounds cash down for itlock, stock, and
barrel? You know it's very short. In fact, I'm just about the only
publisher in London who would be likely to deal with it.'
Henry kept silence.
'Eh?' demanded Mr. Onions Winter, still perusing the Shaksperean
forehead. 'Cash down. Will you take it?'
'No, I won't, thank you,' said Henry.
'Then what will you take?'
'I'll take a hundred.'
'My dear young man!' Mr. Onions Winter turned suddenly to reason
blandly with Henry. 'Are you aware that that means five pounds a
thousand words? Many authors of established reputation would be glad to
receive as much. No, I should like to publish your book, but I am
neither a philanthropist nor a millionaire.'
'What I should really prefer,' said Henry, 'would be so much on
every copy sold.'
'Ah! A royalty?'
'Yes. A royalty. I think that is fairer to both parties,' said Henry
'So you'd prefer a royalty,' Mr. Onions Winter addressed Shakspere
again. 'Well. Let me begin by telling you that first books by new
authors never pay expenses. Never! Never! I always lose money on them.
But you believe in your book? You believe in it, don't you?' He faced
Henry once more.
'Yes,' said Henry.
'Then, you must have the courage of your convictions. I will give
you a royalty of three halfpence in the shilling on every copy after
the first five thousand. Thus, if it succeeds, you will share in the
profit. If it fails, my loss will be the less. That's fair, isn't it?'
It seemed fair to Henry. But he was not Sir George's private
secretary for nothing.
'You must make it twopence in the shilling,' he said in an urbane
but ultimatory tone.
'Very well,' Mr. Onions Winter surrendered at once. 'We'll say
twopence, and end it.'
'And what will the price of the book be?' Henry inquired.
'Two shillings, naturally. I intend it for the Satin Library. You
know about the Satin Library? You don't know about the Satin Library?
My dear sir, I hope it's going to be the hit of the day. Here's
a dummy copy.' Mr. Winter picked up an orange-tinted object from a
side-table. 'Feel that cover! Look at it! Doesn't it feel like satin?
Doesn't it look like satin? But it isn't satin. It's papera new
invention, the latest thing. You notice the book-marker is of
satinreal satin. Now observe the shapeisn't that original? And yet
quite simpleit's exactly square! And that faint design of sunflowers!
These books will be perfect bibelots; that's what they'll bebibelots.
Of course, between you and me, there isn't going to be very much for
the moneya hundred and fifty quite small pages. But that's between
you and me. And the satin will carry it off. You'll see these charming
bijou volumes in every West End drawing-room, Mr. Knight, in a few
weeks. Take my word for it. By the way, will you sign our form of
So Henry perpended legally on the form of agreement, and, finding
nothing in it seriously to offend the legal sense, signed it with due
'Can you correct the proofs instantly, if I send them?' Mr. Winter
asked at parting.
'Yes,' said Henry, who had never corrected a proof in his life. 'Are
you in a hurry?'
'Well,' Mr. Winter replied, 'I had meant to inaugurate the Satin
Library with another book. In fact, I have already bought five books
for it. But I have a fancy to begin it with yours. I have a fancy, and
when I have a fancy, II generally act on it. I like the title. It's a
very pretty title. I'm taking the book on the title. And, really, in
these days a pretty, attractive title is half the battle.'
Within two months, Love in Babylon, by Henry S. Knight, was
published as the first volume of Mr. Onions Winter's Satin Library, and
Henry saw his name in the papers under the heading 'Books Received.'
The sight gave him a passing thrill, but it was impossible for him not
to observe that in all essential respects he remained the same person
as before. The presence of six author's copies of Love in Babylon
at Dawes Road alone indicated the great step in his development. One of
these copies he inscribed to his mother, another to his aunt, and
another to Sir George. Sir George accepted the book with a preoccupied
air, and made no remark on it for a week or more. Then one morning he
said: 'By the way, Knight, I ran through that little thing of yours
last night. Capital! Capital! I congratulate you. Take down this
Henry deemed that Sir George's perspective was somewhat awry, but he
said nothing. Worse was in store for him. On the evening of that same
day he bought the Whitehall Gazette as usual to read in the
train, and he encountered the following sentences:
'TWADDLE IN SATIN.
'Mr. Onions Winter's new venture, the Satin Library, is a
enough thing in its satinesque way. The format is
book-marker voluptuous, the binding Arty-and-Crafty. We
however, congratulate Mr. Winter on the literary quality of
first volume. Mr. Henry S. Knight, the author of Love in
(2s.), is evidently a beginner, but he is a beginner from whom
nothing is to be expected. That he has a certain gross
the management of sentimental narrative we will not deny. It
possible that he is destined to be the delight of the great
public. It is possiblebut improbable. He has no knowledge
life, no feeling for style, no real sense of the dramatic.
Throughout, from the first line to the last, his story moves
plane of tawdriness, theatricality, and ballad pathos. There
some authors of whom it may be said that they will never
themselves. They are born with a certain rhapsodic gift of
commonness, a gift which neither improves nor deteriorates.
dowered with crass mediocrity, they proceed from the cradle to
grave at one low dead level. We suspect that Mr. Knight is of
these. In saying that it is a pity that he ever took up a pen,
have no desire to seem severe. He is doubtless a quite
and harmless person. But he has mistaken his vocation, and
always a pity. We do not care so see the admirable grocery
robbed by the literary trade of a talent which was clearly
by Providence to adorn it. As for the Satin Library, we hope
superior things from the second volume.'
Henry had the fortitude to read this pronouncement aloud to his
mother and Aunt Annie at the tea-table.
'The cowards!' exclaimed Mrs. Knight.
Aunt Annie flushed. 'Let me look,' she whispered; she could scarcely
control her voice. Having looked, she cast the paper with a magnificent
gesture to the ground. It lay on the hearth-rug, open at a page to
which Henry had not previously turned. From his arm-chair he could read
in the large displayed type of one of Mr. Onions Winter's
advertisements: 'Onions Winter. The Satin Library. The success of the
year. Love in Babylon. By Henry S. Knight. Two shillings.
Eighteenth thousand.Onions Winter. The Satin Library. The success of
the year. Love in Babylon. By Henry S. Knight. Two shillings.
And so it went on, repeated and repeated, down the whole length of
the twenty inches which constitute a column of the Whitehall Gazette.
CHAPTER XII. HIS FAME
Henry's sleep was feverish, and shot with the iridescence of strange
dreams. And during the whole of the next day one thought burned in his
brain, the thought of the immense success of Love in Babylon. It
burned so fiercely and so brightly, it so completely preoccupied Henry,
that he would not have been surprised to overhear men whisper to each
other in the street as he passed: 'See that extraordinary thought
blazing away there in that fellow's brain?' It was, in fact, curious to
him that people did not stop and gaze at his cranium, so much the thing
felt like a hollowed turnip illuminated by this candle of an idea. But
nobody with whom he came into contact appeared to be aware of the
immense success of Love in Babylon. In the office of Powells
were seven full-fledged solicitors and seventeen other clerks, without
counting Henry, and not a man or youth of the educated lot of them made
the slightest reference to Love in Babylon during all that day.
(It was an ordinary, plain, common, unromantic, dismal Tuesday in
Lincoln's Inn Fields.) Eighteen thousand persons had already bought
Love in Babylon; possibly several hundreds of copies had been sold
since nine o'clock that morning; doubtless someone was every minute
inquiring for it and demanding it in bookshop or library, just as
someone is born every minute. And yet here was the author, the author
himself, the veritable and only genuine author, going about his daily
business unhonoured, unsung, uncongratulated, even unnoticed! It was
incredible, and, besides being incredible, it was exasperating. Henry
was modest, but there are limits to modesty, and more than once in the
course of that amazing and endless Tuesday Henry had a narrow escape of
dragging Love in Babylon bodily into the miscellaneous
conversation of the office. However, with the aid of his natural
diffidence he refrained from doing so.
At five-fifty Sir George departed, as usual, to catch the six-five
for Wimbledon, where he had a large residence, which outwardly
resembled at once a Bloomsbury boarding-house, a golf-club, and a
Riviera hotel. Henry, after Sir George's exit, lapsed into his
principal's chair and into meditation. The busy life of the
establishment died down until only the office-boys and Henry were left.
And still Henry sat, in the leathern chair at the big table in Sir
George's big room, thinking, thinking, thinking, in a vague but golden
and roseate manner, about the future.
Then the door opened, and Foxall, the emperor of the Powellian
'Here's someone to see you,' Foxall whispered archly; he economized
time by licking envelopes the while. Every night Foxall had to
superintend and participate in the licking of about two hundred
envelopes and as many stamps.
'Who is it?' Henry asked, instantly perturbed and made
self-conscious by the doggishness, the waggishness, the rakishness, of
Foxall's tone. It must be explained that, since Henry did not happen to
be an 'admitted' clerk, Foxall and himself, despite the difference in
their ages and salaries, were theoretically equals in the social scale
of the office. Foxall would say 'sir' to the meanest articled clerk
that ever failed five times in his intermediate, but he would have
expired on the rack before saying 'sir' to Henry. The favour accorded
to Henry in high quarters, the speciality of his position, gave rise to
a certain jealousy of hima jealousy, however, which his natural
simplicity and good-temper prevented from ever becoming formidable.
Foxall, indeed, rather liked Henry, and would do favours for him in
matters connected with press-copying, letter-indexing, despatching, and
other mysteries of the office-boy's peculiar craft.
'It's a girl,' said Foxall, smiling with the omniscience of a man of
'A girl!' Somehow Henry had guessed it was a girl. 'What's she
'She's a bit of all right,' Foxall explained. 'Miss Foster she says
her name is. Better show her in here, hadn't I? The old woman's in your
room now. It's nearly half-past six.'
'Yes,' said Henry; 'show her in here. Foster? Foster? I don't
His heart began to beat like an engine under his waistcoat.
And then Miss Foster tripped in. And she was Goldenhair!
'Good-afternoon, Mr. Knight,' she said, with a charming affectation
of a little lisp. 'I'm so glad I've caught you. I thought I should.
What a lovely room you've got!'
He wanted to explain that this was Sir George's room, not his own,
and that any way he did not consider it lovely; but she gave him no
'I'm awfully nervous, you know, and I always talk fast and loud when
I'm nervous,' she continued rapidly. 'I shall get over it in a few
minutes. Meanwhile you must bear with me. Do you think you can? I want
you to do me a favour, Mr. Knight. Only you can do it. May I sit down?
Oh, thanks! What a huge chair! If I get lost in it, please advertise.
Is this where your clients sit? Yes, I want you to do me a favour. It's
quite easy for you to do. You won't say No, will you? You won't think
I'm presuming on our slight acquaintanceship?'
The words babbled and purled out of Miss Foster's mouth like a
bright spring out of moss. It was simply wonderful. Henry did not
understand quite precisely how the phenomenon affected him, but he was
left in no doubt that his feelings were pleasurable. She had a manner
of lookingof looking up at him and to him, of relying on him as a
great big wise man who could get poor little silly her out of a
difficulty. And when she wasn't talking she kept her mouth open, and
showed her teeth and the tip of her red, red tongue. And there was her
golden fluffy hair! But, after all, perhaps the principal thing was her
dark-blue, tight-fitting bodicenot a wrinkle in all those curves!
It is singular how a man may go through life absolutely blind to a
patent, obvious, glaring fact, and then suddenly perceive it. Henry
perceived that his mother and his aunt were badly dressedin truth,
dowdy. It struck him as a discovery.
'Anything I can do, I'm sure' he began.
'Oh, thank you, Mr. Knight I felt I could count on your good-nature.
She cleared her throat, and then smiled intimately, dazzlingly, and
pushed a thin gold bangle over the wrist of her glove. And as she did
so Henry thought what bliss it would be to slip a priceless diamond
bracelet on to that arm. It was just an arm, the usual feminine arm;
every normal woman in this world has two of them; and yet! But at
the same time, such is the contradictoriness of human nature, Henry
would have given a considerable sum to have had Miss Foster magically
removed from the room, and to be alone. The whole of his being was
deeply disturbed, as if by an earthquake. And, moreover, he could
scarce speak coherently.
'You know,' said Miss Foster, 'I want to interview you.'
He did not take the full meaning of the phrase at first.
'What about?' he innocently asked.
'Oh, about yourself, and your work, and your plans, and all that
sort of thing. The usual sort of thing, you know.'
'For a newspaper?'
He took the meaning. He was famous, then! Peoplethat vague, vast
entity known as 'people'wished to know about him. He had done
something. He had arrested attentionhe, Henry, son of the draper's
manager; aged twenty-three; eater of bacon for breakfast every morning
like ordinary men; to be observed daily in the Underground, and daily
in the A.B.C. shop in Chancery Lane.
'You are thinking of Love in Babylon?' he inquired.
She nodded again. (The nod itself was an enchantment. 'She's just
about my age,' said Henry to himself. And he thought, without realizing
that he thought: 'She's lots older than me practically. She
could twist me round her little finger.')
'Oh, Mr. Knight, she recommenced at a tremendous rate, sitting up in
the great client's chair, 'you must let me tell you what I thought of
Love in Babylon! It's the sweetest thing! I read it right off, at
one go, without looking up! And the title! How did you think of
it? Oh! if I could write, I would write a book like that. Old Spring
Onions has produced it awfully well, too, hasn't he? It's a boom, a
positive, unmistakable boom! Everyone's talking about you, Mr. Knight.
Personally, I tell everyone I meet to read your book.'
Henry mildly protested against this excess of enthusiasm.
'I must,' Miss Foster explained. 'I can't help it.'
Her admiration was the most precious thing on earth to him at that
moment. He had not imagined that he could enjoy anything so much as he
enjoyed her admiration.
'I'm going now, Mr. Knight,' Foxall sang out from the passage.
'Very well, Foxall,' Henry replied, as who should say: 'Foxall, I
benevolently permit you to go.'
They were alone together in the great suite of rooms.
'You know Home and Beauty, don't you?' Miss Foster demanded.
'Home and Beauty?'
'Oh, you don't! I thought perhaps you did. But then, of course,
you're a man. It's one of the new ladies' penny papers. I believe it's
doing rather well now. I write interviews for it. You see, Mr. Knight,
I have a great ambition to be a regular journalist, and in my spare
time at Mr. Snyder's, and in the evenings, I writethings. I'm getting
quite a little connection. What I want to obtain is a regular column in
some really good paper. It's rather awkward, me being engaged all day,
especially for interviews. However, I just thought if I ran away at six
I might catch you before you left. And so here I am. I don't know what
you think of me, Mr. Knight, worrying you and boring you like this with
my foolish chatter.... Ah! I see you don't want to be interviewed.'
'Yes, I do,' said Henry. 'That is, I shall be most happy to oblige
you in any way, I assure you. If you really think I'm sufficiently'
'Why, of course you are, Mr. Knight,' she urged forcefully. 'But,
like most clever men, you're modest; you've no idea of itof your
success, I mean. By the way, you'll excuse me, but I do trust you made
a proper bargain with Mr. Onions Winter.'
'I think so,' said Henry. 'You see, I'm in the law, and we
understand these things.'
'Exactly,' she agreed, but without conviction. 'Then you'll make a
lot of money. You must be very careful about your next contracts. I
hope you didn't agree to let Mr. Winter have a second book on the same
terms as this one.'
Henry recalled a certain clause of the contract which he had signed.
'I am afraid I did,' he admitted sheepishly. 'But the terms are
quite fair. I saw to that.'
'Mr. Knight! Mr. Knight!' she burst out. 'Why are all you young and
clever men the same? Why do you perspire in order that publishers may
grow fat? I know what Spring Onions' terms would be. Seriously,
you ought to employ an agent. He'd double your income. I don't say Mr.
'But Mr. Snyder is a very good agent, isn't he?'
'Yes,' affirmed Miss Foster gravely. 'He acts for all the best men.'
'Then I shall come to him,' said Henry. 'I had thought of doing so.
You remember when I called that dayit was mentioned then.'
He made this momentous decision in an instant, and even as he
announced it he wondered why. However, Mr. Snyder's ten per cent no
longer appeared to him outrageous.
'And now can you give me some paper and a pencil, Mr. Knight? I
forgot mine in my hurry not to miss you. And I'll sit at the table. May
I? Thanks awfully.'
She sat near to him, while he hastily and fumblingly searched for
paper. The idea of being alone with her in the offices seemed
delightful to him. And just then he heard a step in the passage, and a
well-known dry cough, and the trailing of a long brush on the linoleum.
Of course, the caretaker, the inevitable and omnipresent Mrs. Mawner,
had invested the place, according to her nightly custom.
Mrs. Mawner opened the door of Sir George's room, and stood on the
mat, calmly gazing within, the brush in one hand and a duster in the
'I beg pardon, sir,' said she inimically. 'I thought Sir George was
'Sir George has gone,' Henry replied.
Mrs. Mawner enveloped the pair in her sinister glance.
'Shall you be long, sir?'
'I can't say.' Henry was firm.
Giving a hitch to her sackcloth, she departed and banged the door.
Henry and Miss Foster were solitary again. And as he glanced at her,
he thought deliciously: 'I am a gay spark.' Never before had such a
notion visited him.
'What first gave you the idea of writing Love in Babylon, Mr.
Knight?' began Miss Foster, smiling upon him with a marvellous
Henry was nearly an hour later than usual in arriving home, but he
offered no explanation to his mother and aunt beyond saying that he had
been detained by a caller, after Sir George's departure. He read in the
faces of his mother and aunt their natural pride that he should be
capable of conducting Sir George's business for him after Sir George's
departure of a night. Yet he found himself incapable of correcting the
false impression which he had wittingly given. In plain terms, he could
not tell the ladies, he could not bring himself to tell them, that a
well-dressed young woman had called upon him at a peculiar hour and
interviewed him in the strict privacy of Sir George's own room on
behalf of a lady's paper called Home and Beauty. He wanted very
much to impart to them these quite harmless and, indeed, rather
agreeable and honourable facts, but his lips would not frame the
communicating words. Not even when the talk turned, as of course it
did, to Love in Babylon, did he contrive to mention the
interview. It was ridiculous; but so it was.
'By the way' he began once, but his mother happened to speak at
the same instant.
'What were you going to say, Henry?' Aunt Annie asked when Mrs.
Knight had finished.
'Oh, nothing. I forget,' said the miserable poltroon.
'The next advertisement will say twentieth thousand, that's what it
will sayyou'll see!' remarked Mrs. Knight.
'What an ass you are!' murmured Henry to Henry. 'You'll have to tell
them some time, so why not now? Besides, what in thunder's the matter?'
Vaguely, dimly, he saw that Miss Foster's tight-fitting bodice was
the matter. Yes, there was something about that bodice, those teeth,
that tongue, that hair, something about her, which seemed to
challenge the whole system of his ideas, all his philosophy,
self-satisfaction, seriousness, smugness, and general invincibility.
And he thought of her continuallyno particular thought, but a
comprehensive, enveloping, brooding, static thought. And he was
strangely jolly and uplifted, full of affectionate, absent-minded good
humour towards his mother and Aunt Annie.
There was a ting-ting of the front-door bell.
'Perhaps Dr. Dancer has called for a chat,' said Aunt Annie with
Sarah was heard to ascend and to run along the hall. Then Sarah
entered the dining-room.
'Please, sir, there's a young lady to see you.'
The sisters looked at one another.
'What name, Sarah?' Aunt Annie whispered.
'I didn't ask, mum.'
'How often have I told you always to ask strangers' names when they
come to the door!' Aunt Annie's whisper became angry. 'Go and see.'
Henry hoped and feared, feared and hoped. But he knew not where to
Sarah returned and said: 'The young lady's name is Foster, sir.'
'Oh!' said Henry, bursting into speech as some plants burst suddenly
and brilliantly into blossom. 'Miss Foster, eh? It's the lady who
called at the office to-night. Show her into the front-room, Sarah, and
light the gas. I'll come in a minute I wonder what she wants.'
'You didn't say it was a lady,' said his mother.
'No,' he admitted; his tongue was unloosed now on the subject. 'And
I didn't say it was a lady-journalist, either. The truth is,' this liar
proceeded with an effrontery which might have been born of incessant
practice, but was not, 'I meant it as a surprise for you. I've been
interviewed this afternoon, for a lady's paper. And I wouldn't mind
bettingI wouldn't mind betting,' he repeated, 'that she's come for my
All this was whispered.
Henry had guessed correctly. It was the question of a portrait which
Miss Foster plunged into immediately he entered the drawing-room. She
had forgotten it utterlyshe had been so nervous. 'So I ran down here
to-night,' she said, 'because if I send in my stuff and the portrait
to-morrow morning, it may be in time for next week's issue. Now, don't
say you haven't got a photograph of yourself, Mr. Knight. Don't say
that! What a pretty, old-fashioned drawing-room! Oh, there's the very
She pointed to a framed photograph on the plush-covered mantelpiece.
'The very thing, is it?' said Henry. He was feeling his feet now,
the dog. 'Well, you shall have it, then.' And he took the photograph
out of the frame and gave it to her.
No! she wouldn't stay, not a minute, not a second. One moment her
delicious presence filled the drawing-room (he was relieved to hear her
call it a pretty, old-fashioned drawing-room, because, as the
drawing-room of a person important enough to be interviewed, it had
seemed to him somewhat less than mediocre), and the next moment she had
gone. By a singular coincidence, Aunt Annie was descending the stairs
just as Henry showed Miss Foster out of the house; the stairs commanded
the lobby and the front-door.
On his return to the dining-room and the companionship of his
relatives, Henry was conscious of a self-preserving instinct which
drove him to make conversation as rapidly and in as large quantities as
possible. In a brief space of time he got round to Home and Beauty.
'Do you know it?' he demanded.
'No,' said Aunt Annie. 'I never heard of it. But I dare say it's a
very good paper.'
Mrs. Knight rang the bell.
'What do you want, sister?' Aunt Annie inquired.
'I'm going to send Sarah out for a copy of Home and Beauty,'
said Mrs. Knight, with the air of one who has determined to indulge a
wild whim for once in a way. 'Let's see what it's like.'
'Don't forget the name, SarahHome and Beauty!' Aunt Annie
enjoined the girl when Mrs. Knight had given the order.
'Not me, mum,' said Sarah. 'I know it. It's a beautiful paper. I
often buys it myself. But it's like as if what must beI lighted the
kitchen fire with this week's this very morning, paper pattern and
'That will do, thank you, Sarah,' said Aunt Annie crushingly.
CHAPTER XIII. A LION IN HIS LAIR
The respectable portion of the male sex in England may be divided
into two classes, according to its method and manner of complete
immersion in water. One class, the more clashing, dashes into a cold
tub every morning. Another, the more cleanly, sedately takes a warm
bath every Saturday night. There can be no doubt that the former class
lends tone and distinction to the country, but the latter is the
nation's backbone. Henry belonged to the Saturday-nighters, to the
section which calls a bath a bath, not a tub, and which contrives to
approach godliness without having to boast of it on frosty mornings.
Henry performed the weekly rite in a zinc receptacle exactly
circular, in his bedroom, because the house in Dawes Road had been
built just before the craze for dashing had spread to such an extent
among the lower middle-classes that no builder dared build a tenement
without providing for it specially; in brutal terms, the house in Dawes
Road had no bathroom. The preparations for Henry's immersion were
always complex and thorough. Early in the evening Sarah began by
putting two kettles and the largest saucepan to boil on the range. Then
she took an old blanket and spread it out upon the master's bedroom
floor, and drew the bathing-machine from beneath the bed and coaxed it,
with considerable clangour, to the mathematical centre of the blanket.
Then she filled ewers with cold water and arranged them round the
machine. Then Aunt Annie went upstairs to see that the old blanket was
well and truly laid, not too near the bed and not too near the mirror
of the wardrobe, and that the machine did indeed rest in the
mathematical centre of the blanket. (As a fact, Aunt Annie's
mathematics never agreed with Sarah's.) Then Mrs. Knight went upstairs
to bear witness that the window was shut, and to decide the question of
towels. Then Sarah went upstairs, panting, with the kettles and the
large saucepan, two journeys being necessary; and Aunt Annie followed
her in order to indicate to Sarah every step upon which Sarah had
spilled boiling-water. Then Mrs. Knight moved the key of Henry's door
from the inside to the outside; she was always afraid lest he might
lock himself in and be seized with a sudden and fatal illness. Then the
women dispersed, and Aunt Annie came down to the dining-room, and in
accents studiously calm (as though the preparation of Henry's bath was
the merest nothing) announced:
'Henry dear, your bath is waiting.'
And Henry would disappear at once and begin by mixing his bath, out
of the ewers, the kettles, and the saucepan, according to a recipe of
which he alone had the secret. The hour would be about nine o'clock, or
a little after. It was not his custom to appear again. He would put one
kettle out on an old newspaper, specially placed to that end on the
doormat in the passage, for the purposes of Sunday's breakfast; the
rest of the various paraphernalia remained in his room till the
following morning. He then slept the sleep of one who is aware of being
the nation's backbone.
Now, he was just putting a toe or so into the zinc receptacle, in
order to test the accuracy of his dispensing of the recipe, when he
heard a sharp tap at the bedroom door.
'What is it?' he cried, withdrawing the toe.
'Can I open the door an inch?' It was Aunt Annie's voice.
'Yes. What's the matter?'
'There's come a copy of Home and Beauty by the last post, and
on the wrapper it says, See page 16.'
'I suppose it contains thatthing?'
'That interview, you mean?'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'Shall I open it?'
'If you like,' said Henry. 'Certainly, with pleasure.'
He stepped quietly and unconcernedly into the bath. He could hear
the sharp ripping of paper.
'Oh yes!' came Aunt Annie's voice through the chink. 'And there's
the portrait! Oh! and what a smudge across the nose! Henry, it doesn't
make you look at all nice. You're too black. Oh, Henry! what do
you think it's called? Lions in their Lairs. No. 19. Interview with
the brilliant author of Love in Babylon. And you told us her
name was Foster.'
'Whose name?' Henry demanded, reddening in the hot water.
'You knowthat lady's name, the one that called.'
'So it is.'
'No, it isn't, dear. It's Flossie Brighteye. Oh, I beg pardon,
Henry! I'm sure I beg pardon!'
Aunt Annie, in the excitement of discovering Miss Foster's real
name, and ground withal for her original suspicion that the self-styled
Miss Foster was no better than she ought to be, had leaned too heavily
against the door, and thrust it wide open. She averted her eyes and
drew it to in silence.
'Shall I show the paper to your mother at once?' she asked, after a
'Yes, do,' said Henry.
'And then bring it up to you again for you to read in bed?'
'Oh,' replied Henry in the grand manner, 'I can read it to-morrow
He said to himself that he was not going to get excited about a mere
interview, though it was his first interview. During the past few days
the world had apparently wakened up to his existence. Even the men at
the office had got wind of his achievement, and Sir George had been
obliged to notice it. At Powells everyone pretended that this was the
same old Henry Knight who arrived so punctually each day, and yet
everyone knew secretly that it was not the same old Henry Knight.
Everyone, including Henry, feltand could not dismiss the
feelingthat Henry was conferring a favour on the office by working as
usual. There seemed to be something provisional, something unreal,
something uncanny, in the continuance of his position there. And Sir
George, when he demanded his services to take down letters in
shorthand, had the air of saying apologetically: 'Of course, I know
you're only here for fun; but, since you are here, we may as well carry
out the joke in a practical manner.' Similar phenomena occurred at
Dawes Road. Sarah's awe of Henry, always great, was enormously
increased. His mother went about in a state of not being quite sure
whether she had the right to be his mother, whether she was not taking
a mean advantage of him in remaining his mother. Aunt Annie did not
give herself away, but on her face might be read a continuous, proud,
gentle surprise that Henry should eat as usual, drink as usual, talk
simply as usual, and generally behave as though he was not one of the
finest geniuses in England.
Further, Mr. Onions Winter had written to ask whether Henry was
proceeding with a new book, and how pleased he was at the prospective
privilege of publishing it. Nine other publishers had written to inform
him that they would esteem it a favour if he would give them the
refusal of his next work. Messrs. Antonio, the eminent photographers of
Regent Street, had written offering to take his portrait gratis, and
asking him to deign to fix an appointment for a séance. The editor of
Which is Which, a biographical annual of inconceivable utility, had
written for intimate details of his age, weight, pastimes, works,
ideals, and diet. The proprietary committee of the Park Club in St.
James's Square had written to suggest that he might join the club
without the formality of paying an entrance fee. The editor of a
popular magazine had asked him to contribute his views to a 'symposium'
about the proper method of spending quarter-day. Twenty-five charitable
institutions had invited subscriptions from him. Three press-cutting
agencies had sent him cuttings of reviews of Love in Babylon,
and the reviews grew kinder and more laudatory every day. Lastly, Mr.
Onions Winter was advertising the thirty-first thousand of that work.
It was not to be expected that the recipient of all these overtures,
the courted and sought-for author of Love in Babylon, should
disarrange the tenor of his existence in order to read an interview
with himself in a ladies' penny paper. And Henry repeated, as he sat in
the midst of the zinc circle, that he would peruse Flossie Brighteye's
article on Sunday morning at breakfast. Then he began thinking about
Flossie's tight-fitting bodice, and wondered what she had written. Then
he murmured: 'Oh, nonsense! I'll read it to-morrow. Plenty soon
enough.' Then he stopped suddenly and causelessly while applying the
towel to the small of his back, and stood for several moments in a
state of fixity, staring at a particular spot on the wall-paper. And
soon he dearly perceived that he had been too hasty in refusing Aunt
Annie's suggestion. However, he had made his bed, and so he must lie on
it, both figuratively and factually....
The next thing was that he found himself, instead of putting on his
pyjamas, putting on his day-clothes. He seemed to be doing this while
wishing not to do it. He did not possess a
dressing-gownSaturday-nighters and backbones seldom do. Hence he was
compelled to dress himself completely, save that he assumed a silk
muffler instead of a collar and necktie, and omitted the usual
stockings between his slippers and his feet. In another minute he
unostentatiously entered the dining-room.
'Nay,' his mother was saying, 'I can't read it.' Tears of joyous
pride had rendered her spectacles worse than useless. 'Here, Annie,
read it aloud.'
Henry smiled, and he tried to make his smile carry so much meaning,
of pleasant indifference, careless amusement, and benevolent joy in the
joy of others, that it ended by being merely foolish.
And Aunt Annie began:
'It is not too much to say that Mr. Henry Knight, the author of
Love in Babylon, the initial volume of the already world-famous
Satin Library, is the most-talked-of writer in London at the present
moment. I shall therefore make no apology for offering to my readers an
account of an interview which the young and gifted novelist was kind
enough to give to me the other evening. Mr. Knight is a legal luminary
well known in Lincoln's Inn Fields, the right-hand man of Sir George
Powell, the celebrated lawyer. I found him in his formidable room
seated at a'
'What does she mean by formidable, Henry? 'I don't think that's
quite nice,' said Mrs. Knight.
'No, it isn't,' said Aunt Annie. 'But perhaps she means it
'That's it,' said Henry. 'It was Sir George's room, you know.'
'She doesn't look as if she would be easily frightened,' said
Aunt Annie. 'Howeverseated at a large table littered with legal
documents. He was evidently immersed in business, but he was so good as
to place himself at my disposal for a few minutes. Mr. Knight is
twenty-three years of age. His father was a silk-mercer in Oxford
Street, and laid the foundation of the fortunes of the house now known
as Duck and Peabody Limited.'
'That's very well put,' said Mrs. Knight.
'Yes, isn't it?' said Aunt Annie, and continued in her precise, even
''What first gave you the idea of writing, Mr. Knight?' I inquired,
plunging at once in medias res. Mr. Knight hesitated a few
seconds, and then answered: 'I scarcely know. I owe a great deal to my
late father. My father, although first and foremost a business man, was
devoted to literature. He held that Shakspere, besides being our
greatest poet, was the greatest moral teacher that England has ever
produced. I was brought up on Shakspere,' said Mr. Knight, smiling. 'My
father often sent communications to the leading London papers on
subjects of topical interest, and one of my most precious possessions
is a collection of these which he himself put into an album.''
Mrs. Knight removed her spectacles and wiped her eyes.
''With regard to Love in Babylon, the idea came to meI
cannot explain how. And I wrote it while I was recovering from a severe
'I didn't say severe,' Henry interjected. 'She's got that wrong.'
'But it was severe, dear,' said Aunt Annie, and once more
continued: ''I should never have written it had it not been for the
sympathy and encouragement of my dear mother''
At this point Mrs. Knight sobbed aloud, and waved her hand
'Nay, nay!' she managed to stammer at length. 'Read no more. I can't
stand it. I'll try to read it myself to-morrow morning while you're at
chapel and all's quiet.'
And she cried freely into her handkerchief.
Henry and Aunt Annie exchanged glances, and Henry retired to bed
with Home and Beauty under his arm. And he read through the
entire interview twice, and knew by heart what he had said about his
plans for the future, and the state of modern fiction, and the tendency
of authors towards dyspepsia, and the question of realism in
literature, and the Stream of Trashy Novels Constantly Poured Forth by
the Press. The whole thing seemed to him at first rather dignified and
effective. He understood that Miss Foster was no common Fleet Street
But what most impressed him, and coloured his dreams, was the final
sentence: 'As I left Mr. Knight, I could not dismiss the sensation that
I had been in the presence of a man who is morally certain, at no
distant date, to loom large in the history of English fiction.FLOSSIE
A passing remark about his 'pretty suburban home' was the sauce to
CHAPTER XIV. HER NAME WAS GERALDINE
A few mornings later, in his post, whose proportions grew daily
nobler and more imposing, Henry found a letter from Mark Snyder. 'I
have been detained in America by illness,' wrote Mark in his rapid,
sprawling, inexcusable hand, 'and am only just back. I wonder whether
you have come to any decision about the matter which we discussed when
you called here. I see you took my advice and went to Onions Winter. If
you could drop in to-morrow at noon or a little after, I have something
to show you which ought to interest you.' And then there was a
postscript: 'My congratulations on your extraordinary success go
After Henry had deciphered this invitation, he gave a glance at the
page as a whole, which had the air of having been penned by Planchette
in a state of violent hysteria, and he said to himself: 'It's exactly
like Snyder, that is. He's a clever chap. He knows what he's up to. As
to my choosing Onions Winter, yes, of course it was due to him.'
Henry was simple, but he was not a fool. He was modest and
diffident, but, as is generally the case with modest and diffident
persons, there existed, somewhere within the recesses of his
consciousness, a very good conceit of himself. He had already learnt,
the trout, to look up through the water from his hole and compare the
skill of the various anglers on the bank who were fishing for the rise.
And he decided that morning, finally: 'Snyder shall catch me.' His
previous decision to the same effect, made under the influence of the
personal magnetism of Miss Foster, had been annulled only the day
before. And the strange thing was that it had been annulled because of
Miss Foster's share in it, and in consequence of the interview in
Home and Beauty. For the more Henry meditated upon that interview
the less he liked it. He could not have defined its offence in his
eyes, but the offence was nevertheless there. And, further, the
interview seemed now scarcely a real interview. Had it dealt with any
other celebrity, it would have been real enough, but in Henry's view
Henry was different. He was only an imitation celebrity, and Miss
Foster's production was an imitation interview. The entire enterprise,
from the moment when he gave her Sir George's lead pencil to write
with, to the moment when he gave her his own photograph out of the
frame on the drawing-room mantelpiece, had been a pretence, and an
imposition on the public. Surely if the public knew...! And then,
'pretty suburban home'! It wasn't ugly, the house in Dawes Road;
indeed, he esteemed it rather a nice sort of a place, but 'pretty
suburban home' meantwell, it meant the exact opposite of Dawes Road:
he was sure of that. As for Miss Foster, he suspected, he allowed
himself to suspect, he audaciously whispered when he was alone in a
compartment on the Underground, that Miss Foster was a pushing little
thing. A reaction had set in against Flossie Brighteye.
And yet, when he called upon Mark Snyder for the purpose of being
caught, he was decidedly piqued, he was even annoyed, not to find her
in her chair in the outer room. 'She must have known I was coming,' he
reflected swiftly. 'No, perhaps she didn't. The letter was not
dictated.... But then it was press-copied; I am sure of that by the
smudges on it. She must certainly have known I was coming.' And,
despite the verdict that she was a pushing young thing, Henry felt it
to be in the nature of a personal grievance that she was not always
waiting for him there, in that chair, with her golden locks and her
smile and her tight bodice, whenever he cared to look in. His right to
expect her presence seemed part of his heritage as a man, and it could
not be challenged without disturbing the very foundations of human
society. He did not think these thoughts clearly as he crossed the
outer room into the inner under the direction of Miss Foster's
unexciting colleague, but they existed vaguely and furtively in his
mind. Had anyone suggested that he cared twopence whether Miss Foster
was there or not, he would have replied with warm sincerity that he did
not care three halfpence, nor two straws, nor a bilberry, nor even a
'Well,' cried Mark Snyder, with his bluff and jolly habit of
beginning interviews in the middle, and before the caller had found
opportunity to sit down. 'All you want now is a little bit of judicious
engineering!' And Mark's rosy face said: 'I'll engineer you.'
Upon demand Henry produced the agreement with Onions Winter, and he
produced it with a shamed countenance. He knew that Mark Snyder would
'Worse than I expected,' Mr. Snyder observed. 'Worse than I
expected. A royalty of twopence in the shilling is all right. But why
did you let him off the royalty on the first five thousand copies? You
call yourself a lawyer! Listen, young man. I have seen the world, but I
have never seen a lawyer who didn't make a dd fool of himself when
it came to his own affairs. Supposing Love in Babylon sells
fifty thousandwhich it won't; it won't go past fortyyou would have
saved my ten per cent. commission by coming to me in the first place,
because I should have got you a royalty on the first five thousand.
'But you weren't here,' Henry put in.
'I wasn't here! God bless my soul! Little Geraldine Foster would
have had the sense to get that!'
(So her name was Geraldine.)
'It isn't the money,' Mark Snyder proceeded. 'It's the idea of
Onions Winter playing his old game with new men. And then I see you've
let yourself in for a second book on the same terms, if he chooses to
take it. That's another trick of his. Look here,' Mr. Snyder smiled
persuasively, 'I'll thank you to go right home and get that second book
done. Make it as short as you can. When that's out of the wayAh!'
He clasped his hands in a sort of ecstasy.
'I will,' said Henry obediently. But a dreadful apprehension which
had menaced him for several weeks past now definitely seized him.
'And I perceive further,' said Mr. Snyder, growing sarcastic, 'that
in case Mr. Onions Winter chooses to copyright the book in America, you
are to have half-royalties on all copies sold over there. Now about
America,' Mark continued after an impressive pause, at the same time
opening a drawer and dramatically producing several paper-covered
volumes therefrom. 'See thisand thisand thisand this! What are
they? They're pirated editions of Love in Babylon, that's what
they are. You didn't know? No, of course not. I'm told that something
like a couple of hundred thousand copies have been sold in America up
to date. I brought these over with me as specimens.'
'Then Onions Winter didn't copyright'
'No, sir, he didn't. That incredible ass did not. He's just issued
what he calls an authorized edition there at half a dollar, but what
will that do in the face of this at twenty cents, and this wretched
pamphlet at ten cents?' Snyder fingered the piracies. 'Twopence in the
shilling on two hundred thousand copies at half a dollar means over
three thousand pounds. That's what you might well have made if
Providence, doubtless in a moment of abstraction, had not created
Onions Winter an incredible ass, and if you had not vainly imagined
that because you were a lawyer you had nothing to learn about
'Still,' faltered Henry, after he had somewhat recovered from these
shrewd blows, 'I shall do pretty well out of the English edition.'
'Three thousand pounds is three thousand pounds,' said Mark Snyder
with terrible emphasis. And suddenly he laughed. 'You really wish me to
act for you?'
'I do,' said Henry.
'Very well. Go home and finish book number two. And don't let it be
a page longer than the first one. I'll see Onions Winter. With care we
may clear a couple of thousand out of book number two, even on that
precious screed you call an agreement. Perhaps more. Perhaps I may have
a pleasant little surprise for you. Then you shall do a long book, and
we'll begin to make money, real money. Oh, you can do it! I've no fear
at all of you fizzling out. You simply go home and sit down and
write. I'll attend to the rest. And if you think Powells can
struggle along without you, I should be inclined to leave.'
'Surely not yet?' Henry protested.
'Well,' said Snyder in a different tone, looking up quickly from his
desk, 'perhaps you're right. Perhaps it will be as well to wait a bit,
and just make quite sure about the quality of the next book. Want any
'No,' said Henry.
'Because if you do, I can let you have whatever you need. And you
can carry off these piracies if you like.'
As he thoughtfully descended the stairways of Kenilworth Mansions,
Henry's mind was an arena of emotions. Undoubtedly, then, a
considerable number of hundreds of pounds were to come from Love in
Babylon, to say nothing of three thousand lost! Two thousand from
the next book! And after that, 'money, real money'! Mark Snyder had
awakened the young man's imagination. He had entered the parlour of
Mark Snyder with no knowledge of the Transatlantic glory of Love in
Babylon beyond the fact, gathered from a newspaper cutting, that
the book had attracted attention in America; and in five minutes Mark
had opened wide to him the doors of Paradise. Or, rather, Mark had
pointed out to him that the doors of Paradise were open wide. Mr.
Snyder, as Henry perceived, was apt unwittingly to give the impression
that he, and not his clients, earned the wealth upon which he received
ten per cent. commission. But Henry was not for a single instant blind
to the certitude that, if his next book realized two thousand pounds,
the credit would be due to himself, and to no other person whatever.
Henry might be tongue-tied in front of Mark Snyder, but he was capable
of estimating with some precision their relative fundamental importance
in the scheme of things.
In the clerks' office Henry had observed numerous tin boxes
inscribed in white paint with the names of numerous eminent living
authors. He wondered if Mr. Snyder played to all these great men the
same rôlehalf the frank and bluff uncle, half the fairy-godmother. He
was surprised that he could remember no word said about literature,
ideas, genius, or even talent. No doubt Mr. Snyder took such trifles
for granted. No doubt he began where they left off.
He sighed. He was dazzled by golden visions, but beneath the dizzy
and delicious fabric of the dream, eating away at the foundations,
lurked always that dreadful apprehension.
As he reached the marble hall on the ground-floor a lady was getting
into the lift. She turned sharply, gave a joyous and yet timid
commencement of a scream, and left the lift to the liftman.
'I'm so glad I've not missed you,' she said, holding out her small
gloved hand, and putting her golden head on one side, and smiling. 'I
was afraid I should. I had to go out. Don't tell me that interview was
too awful. Don't crush me. I know it was pretty bad.'
So her name was Geraldine.
'I thought it was much too good for its subject,' said Henry. He saw
in the tenth of a second that he had been wholly wrong, very unjust,
and somewhat cruel, to set her down as a pushing little thing. She was
nothing of the kind. She was a charming and extremely stylish woman,
exquisitely feminine; and she admired him with a genuine admiration. 'I
was just going to write and thank you,' he added. And he really
believed that he was.
What followed was due to the liftman. The impatient liftman,
noticing that the pair were enjoying each other's company, made a
disgraceful gesture behind their backs, slammed the gate, and ascended
majestically alone in the lift towards some high altitude whence
emanated an odour of boiled Spanish onions. Geraldine Foster glanced
round carelessly at the rising and beautiful flunkey, and it was the
sudden curve of her neck that did it. It was the sudden curve of her
neck, possibly assisted by Henry's appreciation of the fact that they
were now unobserved and solitary in the hall.
Henry was made aware that women are the only really interesting
phenomena in the world. And just as he stumbled on this profound truth,
Geraldine, for her part, caught sight of the pirated editions in his
hand, and murmured: 'So Mr. Snyder has told you! What a shame,
The sympathy in her voice, the gaze of her eyes under the lashes,
'Do you live far from here?' he stammered, he knew not why.
'In Chenies Street,' she replied. 'I share a little flat with my
friend upstairs. You must come and have tea with me some
afternoonsome Saturday or Sunday. Will you? Dare I ask?'
He said he should like to, awfully.
'I was dining out last night, and we were talking about you,' she
began a few seconds later.
Women! Wine! Wealth! Joy! Life itself! He was swept off his feet by
a sudden and tremendous impulse.
'I wish,' he blurted out, interrupting her'I wish you'd come and
dine with me some night, at a restaurant.'
'Oh!' she exclaimed, 'I should love it.'
'And we might go somewhere afterwards.' He was certainly capable of
And she exclaimed again: 'I should love it!' The naïve and innocent
candour of her bliss appealed to him with extraordinary force.
In a moment or so he had regained his self-control, and he managed
to tell her in a fairly usual tone that he would write and suggest an
He parted from her in a whirl of variegated ecstasies. 'Let us eat
and drink, for to-morrow we die,' he remarked to the street. What he
meant was that, after more than a month's excogitation, he had
absolutely failed to get any single shred of a theme for the successor
to Love in Babylonthat successor out of which a mere couple of
thousand pounds was to be made; and that he didn't care.
CHAPTER XV. HIS TERRIBLE QUANDARY
There was to be an important tea-meeting at the Munster Park Chapel
on the next Saturday afternoon but one, and tea was to be on the tables
at six o'clock. The gathering had some connection with an attempt on
the part of the Wesleyan Connexion to destroy the vogue of Confucius in
China. Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie had charge of the department of
sandwiches, and they asked Henry whether he should be present at the
entertainment. They were not surprised, however, when he answered that
the exigencies of literary composition would make his attendance
impossible. They lauded his self-denial, for Henry's literary work was
quite naturally now the most important and the most exacting work in
the world, the crusade against Confucius not excepted. Henry wrote to
Geraldine and invited her to dine with him at the Louvre Restaurant on
that Saturday night, and Geraldine replied that she should be charmed.
Then Henry changed his tailor, and could not help blushing when he gave
his order to the new man, who had a place in Conduit Street and a way
of looking at the clothes Henry wore that reduced those neat garments
to shapeless and shameful rags.
The first fatal steps in a double life having been irrevocably
taken, Henry drew a long breath, and once more seriously addressed
himself to book number two. But ideas obstinately refused to show
themselves above the horizon. And yet nothing had been left undone
which ought to have been done in order to persuade ideas to arrive. The
whole domestic existence of the house in Dawes Road revolved on Henry's
precious brain as on a pivot. The drawing-room had not only been
transformed into a study; it had been rechristened 'the study.' And in
speaking of the apartment to each other or to Sarah, Mrs. Knight and
Aunt Annie employed a vocal inflection of peculiar impressiveness.
Sarah entered the study with awe, the ladies with pride. Henry sat in
it nearly every night and laboured hard, with no result whatever. If
the ladies ventured to question him about his progress, he replied with
false gaiety that they must ask him again in a month or so; and they
smiled in sure anticipation of the beautiful thing that was in store
for them and the public.
He had no one to consult in his dilemma. Every morning he received
several cuttings, chiefly of an amiable character, about himself from
the daily and weekly press; he was a figure in literary circles; he had
actually declined two invitations to be interviewed; and yet he knew no
more of literary circles than Sarah did. His position struck him as
curious, bizarre, and cruel. He sometimes felt that the history of the
last few months was a dream from which he would probably wake up by
falling heavily out of bed, so unreal did the events seem. One day,
when he was at his wits' end, he saw in a newspaper an advertisement of
a book entitled How to become a Successful Novelist, price
half-a-crown. Just above it was an advertisement of the thirty-eighth
thousand of Love in Babylon. He went into a large bookseller's
shop in the Strand and demanded How to become a Successful Novelist. The volume had to be searched for, and while he was waiting Henry's
eyes dwelt on a high pile of Love in Babylon, conspicuously
placed near the door. Two further instalments of the Satin Library had
been given to the world since Love in Babylon, but Henry noted
with satisfaction that no excessive prominence was accorded to them in
that emporium of literature. He paid the half-crown and pocketed How
to become a Successful Novelist with a blush, just as if the
bookseller had been his new tailor. He had determined, should the
bookseller recognise hima not remote contingencyto explain that he
was buying How to become a Successful Novelist on behalf of a
young friend. However, the suspicions of the bookseller happened not to
be aroused, and hence there was no occasion to lull them.
That same evening, in the privacy of his study, he eagerly read
How to become a Successful Novelist. It disappointed him; nay, it
desolated him. He was shocked to discover that he had done nothing that
a man must do who wishes to be a successful novelist. He had not
practised style; he had not paraphrased choice pages from the classics;
he had not kept note-books; he had not begun with short stories; he had
not even performed the elementary, obvious task of studying human
nature. He had never thought of 'atmosphere' as 'atmosphere'; nor had
he considered the important question of the 'functions of dialogue.' As
for the 'significance of scenery,' it had never occurred to him. In
brief, he was a lost man. And he could detect in the book no practical
hint towards salvation. 'Having decided upon your theme' said the
writer in a chapter entitled 'The Composition of a Novel.' But what
Henry desired was a chapter entitled 'The Finding of a Theme.' He
suffered the aggravated distress of a starving man who has picked up a
There was a knock at the study door, and Henry hastily pushed How
to become a Successful Novelist under the blotting-paper, and
assumed a meditative air. Not for worlds would he have been caught
'A letter, dear, by the last post,' said Aunt Annie, entering; and
then discreetly departed.
The letter was from Mark Snyder, and it enclosed a cheque for a
hundred pounds, saying that Mr. Onions Winter, though under no
obligation to furnish a statement until the end of the year, had sent
this cheque on account out of courtesy to Mr. Knight, and in the hope
that Mr. Knight would find it agreeable; also in the hope that Mr.
Knight was proceeding satisfactorily with book number two. The letter
was typewritten, and signed 'Mark Snyder, per G. F.,' and the 'G. F.'
was very large and distinct.
Henry instantly settled in his own mind that he would attempt no
more with book number two until the famous dinner with 'G. F.' had come
to pass. He cherished a sort of hopeful feeling that after he had seen
her, and spent that about-to-be-wonderful evening with her, he might be
able to invent a theme. The next day he cashed the cheque. The day
after that was Saturday, and he came home at two o'clock with a large
flat box, which he surreptitiously conveyed to his bedroom. Small
parcels had been arriving for him during the week. At half-past four
Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie, invading the study, found him reading
'We're going now, dear,' said Aunt Annie.
'Sarah will have your tea ready at half-past five,' said his mother.
'And I've told her to be sure and boil the eggs three and three-quarter
'And we shall be back about half-past nine,' said Aunt Annie.
'Don't stick at it too closely,' said his mother. 'You ought to take
a little exercise. It's a beautiful afternoon.'
'I shall see,' Henry answered gravely. 'I shall be all right.'
He watched the ladies down the road in the direction of the
tea-meeting, and no sooner were they out of sight than he nipped
upstairs and locked himself in his bedroom. At half-past five Sarah
tapped at his door and announced that tea was ready. He descended to
tea in his overcoat, and the collar of his overcoat was turned up and
buttoned across his neck. He poured out some tea, and drank it, and
poured some more into the slop-basin. He crumpled a piece or two of
bread-and-butter and spread crumbs on the cloth. He shelled the eggs
very carefully, and, climbing on to a chair, dropped the eggs
themselves into a large blue jar which stood on the top of the
bookcase. After these singular feats he rang the bell for Sarah.
'Sarah,' he said in a firm voice, 'I've had my tea, and I'm going
out for a long walk. Tell my mother and aunt that they are on no
account to wait up for me, if I am not back.'
'Yes, sir,' said Sarah timidly. 'Was the eggs hard enough, sir?'
'Yes, thank you.' His generous, kindly approval of the eggs cheered
Henry brushed his silk hat, put it on, and stole out of the house
feeling, as all livers of double lives must feel, a guilty thing. It
was six o'clock. The last domestic sound he heard was Sarah singing in
the kitchen. 'Innocent, simple creature!' he thought, and pitied her,
and turned down the collar of his overcoat.
CHAPTER XVI. DURING THE TEA-MEETING
In spite of the sincerest intention not to arrive too soon, Henry
reached the Louvre Restaurant a quarter of an hour before the appointed
time. He had meant to come in an omnibus, and descend from it at
Piccadilly Circus, but his attire made him feel self-conscious, and he
had walked on, allowing omnibus after omnibus to pass him, in the hope
of being able to get into an empty one; until at last, afraid that he
was risking his fine reputation for exact promptitude, he had suddenly
yielded to the alluring gesture of a cabman.
The commissionaire of the Louvre, who stood six feet six and a half
inches high, who wore a coat like the side of a blue house divided by
means of pairs of buttons into eighty-five storeys, who had the face of
a poet addicted to blank verse, and who was one of the glories of the
Louvre, stepped across the pavement in one stride and assisted Henry to
alight. Henry had meant to give the cabman eighteenpence, but the
occult influence of the glorious commissionaire mysteriously compelled
him, much against his will, to make it half a crown. He hesitated
whether to await Geraldine within the Louvre or without; he was rather
bashful about entering (hitherto he had never flown higher than
Sweeting's). The commissionaire, however, attributing this indecision
to Henry's unwillingness to open doors for himself, stepped back across
the pavement in another stride, and held the portal ajar. Henry had no
alternative but to pass beneath the commissionaire's bended and
respectful head. Once within the gorgeous twilit hall of the Louvre,
Henry was set upon by two very diminutive and infantile replicas of the
commissionaire, one of whom staggered away with his overcoat, while the
other secured the remainder of the booty in the shape of his hat,
muffler, and stick, and left Henry naked. I say 'naked' purposely.
Anyone who has dreamed the familiar dream of being discovered in a
state of nudity amid a roomful of clothed and haughty strangers may, by
recalling his sensations, realize Henry's feelings as he stood alone
and unfriended there, exposed for the first time in his life in evening
dress to the vulgar gaze. Several minutes passed before Henry could
conquer the delusion that everybody was staring at him in amused
curiosity. Having conquered it, he sank sternly into a chair, and
surreptitiously felt the sovereigns in his pocket.
Soon an official bore down on him, wearing a massive silver necklet
which fell gracefully over his chest. Henry saw and trembled.
'Are you expecting someone, sir?' the man whispered in a velvety and
confidential voice, as who should say: 'Have no secrets from me. I am
'Yes,' answered Henry boldly, and he was inclined to add: 'But it's
all right, you know. I've nothing to be ashamed of.'
'Have you booked a table, sir?' the official proceeded with
relentless suavity. As he stooped towards Henry's ear his chain swung
in the air and gently clanked.
'No,' said Henry, and then hastened to assure the official: 'But I
want one.' The idea of booking tables at a restaurant struck him as a
'Upstairs or down, sir? Perhaps you'd prefer the balcony? For two,
sir? I'll see, sir. We're always rather full. What name, sir?'
'Knight,' said Henry majestically.
He was a bad starter, but once started he could travel fast. Already
he was beginning to feel at home in the princely foyer of the Louvre,
and to stare at new arrivals with a cold and supercilious stare. His
complacency, however, was roughly disturbed by a sudden alarm lest
Geraldine might not come in evening-dress, might not have quite
appreciated what the Louvre was.
'Table No. 16, sir,' said the chain-wearer in his ear, as if
depositing with him a state-secret.
'Right,' said Henry, and at the same instant she irradiated the hall
like a vision.
'Am I not prompt?' she demanded sweetly, as she took a light wrap
from her shoulders.
Henry began to talk very rapidly and rather loudly. 'I thought you'd
prefer the balcony,' he said with a tremendous air of the man about
town; 'so I got a table upstairs. No. 16, I fancy it is.'
She was in evening-dress. There could be no doubt about that; it was
a point upon which opinions could not possibly conflict. She was in
'Now tell me all about your_self,' Henry suggested. They were in
the middle of the dinner.
'Oh, you can't be interested in the affairs of poor little me!'
He had never been so ecstatically happy in his life before. In fact,
he had not hitherto suspected even the possibility of that rapture. In
the first place, he perceived that in choosing the Louvre he had
builded better than he knew. He saw that the Louvre was perfect. Such
napery, such argent, such crystal, such porcelain, such flowers, such
electric and glowing splendour, such food and so many kinds of it, such
men, such women, such chattering gaiety, such a conspiracy on the part
of menials to persuade him that he was the Shah of Persia, and
Geraldine the peerless Circassian odalisque! The reality left his fancy
far behind. In the second place, owing to his prudence in looking up
the subject in Chambers' Encyclopædia earlier in the day, he,
who was almost a teetotaler, had cut a more than tolerable figure in
handling the wine-list. He had gathered that champagne was in truth
scarcely worthy of its reputation among the uninitiated, that the
greatest of all wines was burgundy, and that the greatest of all
burgundies was Romanée-Conti. 'Got a good Romanée-Conti?' he said
casually to the waiter. It was immense, the look of genuine respect
that came into the face of the waiter. The Louvre had a good
Romanée-Conti. Its price, two pounds five a bottle, staggered Henry,
and he thought of his poor mother and aunt at the tea-meeting, but his
impassive features showed no sign of the internal agitation. And when
he had drunk half a glass of the incomparable fluid, he felt that a
hundred and two pounds five a bottle would not have been too much to
pay for it. The physical, moral, and spiritual effects upon him of that
wine were remarkable in the highest degree. That wine banished
instantly all awkwardness, diffidence, timidity, taciturnity, and
meanness. It filled him with generous emotions and the pride of life.
It ennobled him.
And, in the third place, Geraldine at once furnished him with a new
ideal of the feminine and satisfied it. He saw that the women of
Munster Park were not real women; they were afraid to be real women,
afraid to be joyous, afraid to be pretty, afraid to attract; they held
themselves in instead of letting themselves go; they assumed that every
pleasure was guilty until it was proved innocent, thus transgressing
the fundamental principle of English justice; their watchful eyes
seemed to be continually saying: 'Touch meand I shall scream for
help!' In costume, any elegance, any elaboration, any coquetry, was
eschewed by them as akin to wantonness. Now Geraldine reversed all
that. Her frock was candidly ornate. She told him she had made it
herself, but it appeared to him that there were more stitches in it
than ten women could have accomplished in ten years. She openly
revelled in her charms; she openly made the most of them. She did not
attempt to disguise her wish to please, to flatter, to intoxicate. Her
eyes said nothing about screaming for help. Her eyes said: 'I'm a
woman; you're a man. How jolly!' Her eyes said: 'I was born to do what
I'm doing now.' Her eyes said: 'Touch meand we shall see'. But what
chiefly enchanted Henry was her intellectual courage and her freedom
from cant. In conversing with her you hadn't got to tread lightly and
warily, lest at any moment you might put your foot through the thin
crust of a false modesty, and tumble into eternal disgrace. You could
talk to her about anything; and she did not pretend to be blind to the
obvious facts of existence, to the obvious facts of the Louvre
Restaurant, for example. Moreover, she had a way of being suddenly and
deliciously serious, and of indicating by an earnest glance that of
course she was very ignorant really, and only too glad to learn from a
man like him.
'Can't I!' he replied, after she had gazed at him in silence over
the yellow roses and the fowl.
So she told him that she was an orphan, and had a brother who was a
solicitor in Leicester. Why Henry should have immediately thought that
her brother was a somewhat dull and tedious person cannot easily be
explained; but he did think so.
She went on to tell him that she had been in London five years, and
had begun in a milliner's shop, had then learnt typewriting and
shorthand, advertised for a post, and obtained her present situation
with Mark Snyder.
'I was determined to earn my own living,' she said, with a charming
smile. 'My brother would have looked after me, but I preferred to look
after myself.' A bangle slipped down her arm.
'She's perfectly wonderful!' Henry thought.
And then she informed him that she was doing fairly well in
journalism, and had attempted sensational fiction, but that none saw
more clearly than she how worthless and contemptible her sort of work
was, and none longed more sincerely than she to produce good work,
serious work.... However, she knew she couldn't.
'Will you do me a favour?' she coaxed.
'What is it?' he said.
'Oh! No! You must promise.'
'Of course, if I can.'
'Well, you can. I want to know what your next book's about. I won't
breathe a word to a soul. But I would like you to tell me. I would like
to feel that it was you that had told me. You can't imagine how keen I
'Ask me a little later,' he said. 'Will you?'
She put her head on one side.
And he replied audaciously: 'Yes.'
'Very well,' she agreed. 'And I shan't forget. I shall hold you to
Just then two men passed the table, and one of them caught
Geraldine's eye, and Geraldine bowed.
'Well, Mr. Doxey,' she exclaimed. 'What ages since I saw you!'
'Yes, isn't it?' said Mr. Doxey.
They shook hands and talked a moment.
'Let me introduce you to Mr. Henry Knight,' said Geraldine. 'Mr.
KnightMr. Doxey, of the P.A.'
'Love in Babylon?' murmured Mr. Doxey inquiringly. 'Very
pleased to meet you, sir.'
Henry was not favourably impressed by Mr. Doxey's personal
appearance, which was attenuated and riggish. He wondered what 'P.A.'
meant. Not till later in the evening did he learn that it stood for
Press Association, and had no connection with Pleasant Sunday
Afternoons. Mr. Doxey stated that he was going on to the Alhambra to
'do' the celebrated Toscato, the inventor of the new vanishing trick,
who made his first public appearance in England at nine forty-five that
'You didn't mind my introducing him to you? He's a decent little man
in some ways,' said Geraldine humbly, when they were alone again.
'Oh, of course not!' Henry assured her. 'By the way, what would you
like to do to-night?'
'I don't know,' she said. 'It's awfully late, isn't it? Time flies
so when you're interested.'
'It's a quarter to nine. What about the Alhambra?' he suggested.
(He who had never been inside a theatre, not to mention a
'Oh!' she burst out. 'I adore the Alhambra. What an instinct you
have! I was just hoping you'd say the Alhambra!'
They had Turkish coffee. He succeeded very well in pretending that
he had been thoroughly accustomed all his life to the spectacle of
women smokingthat, indeed, he was rather discomposed than otherwise
when they did not smoke. He paid the bill, and the waiter brought him
half a crown concealed on a plate in the folds of the receipt; it was
the change out of a five-pound note.
Being in a hansom with her, though only for two minutes, surpassed
even the rapture of the restaurant. It was the quintessence of Life.
CHAPTER XVII. A NOVELIST IN A BOX
Perhaps it was just as well that the curtain was falling on the
ballet when Henry and Geraldine took possession of their stalls in the
superb Iberian auditorium of the Alhambra Theatre. The glimpse which
Henry had of the prima ballerina assoluta in her final pose and
her costume, and of the hundred minor choregraphic artists, caused him
to turn involuntarily to Geraldine to see whether she was not shocked.
She, however, seemed to be keeping her nerve fairly well; so he
smothered up his consternation in a series of short, dry coughs, and
bought a programme. He said to himself bravely: 'I'm in for it, and I
may as well go through with it.' The next item, while it puzzled,
reassured him. The stage showed a restaurant, with a large screen on
one side. A lady entered, chattered at an incredible rate in Italian,
and disappeared behind the screen, where she knocked a chair over and
rang for the waiter. Then the waiter entered and disappeared behind the
screen, chattering at an incredible rate in Italian. The waiter
reappeared and made his exit, and then a gentleman appeared, and
disappeared behind the screen, chattering at an incredible rate in
Italian. Kissing was heard behind the screen. Instantly the waiter
served a dinner, chattering always behind the screen with his customers
at an incredible rate in Italian. Then another gentleman appeared, and
no sooner had he disappeared behind the screen, chattering at an
incredible rate in Italian, than a policeman appeared, and he too,
chattering at an incredible rate in Italian, disappeared behind the
screen. A fearsome altercation was now developing behind the screen in
the tongue of Dante, and from time to time one or other of the
charactersthe lady, the policeman, the first or second gentleman, the
waitercame from cover into view of the audience, and harangued the
rest at an incredible rate in Italian. Then a disaster happened behind
the screen: a table was upset, to an accompaniment of yells; and the
curtain fell rapidly, amid loud applause, to rise again with equal
rapidity on the spectacle of a bowing and smiling little man in
ordinary evening dress.
This singular and enigmatic drama disconcerted Henry.
'What is it?' he whispered.
'Pauletti,' said Geraldine, rather surprised at the question.
He gathered from her tone that Pauletti was a personage of some
importance, and, consulting the programme, read: 'Pauletti, the
world-renowned quick-change artiste.' Then he figuratively kicked
himself, like a man kicks himself figuratively in bed when he wakes up
in the middle of the night and sees the point of what has hitherto
appeared to be rather less than a joke.
'He's very good,' said Henry, as the excellence of Pauletti became
more and more clear to him.
'He gets a hundred a week,' said Geraldine.
When Pauletti had performed two other violent dramas, and dressed
and undressed himself thirty-nine times in twenty minutes, he gave way
to his fellow-countryman Toscato. Toscato began gently with a little
prestidigitation, picking five-pound notes out of the air, and
simplicities of that kind. He then borrowed a handkerchief, produced an
orange out of the handkerchief, a vegetable-marrow out of the orange, a
gibus hat out of the vegetable-marrow, a live sucking-pig out of the
gibus hat, five hundred yards of coloured paper out of the sucking-pig,
a Union-jack twelve feet by ten out of the bunch of paper, and a
wardrobe with real doors and full of ladies' dresses out of the
Union-jack. Lastly, a beautiful young girl stepped forth from the
'I never saw anything like it!' Henry gasped, very
truthfully. He had a momentary fancy that the devil was in this
extraordinary defiance of natural laws.
'Yes,' Geraldine admitted. 'It's not bad, is it?'
As Toscato could speak no English, an Englishman now joined him and
announced that Toscato would proceed to perform his latest and greatest
illusionnamely, the unique vanishing trickfor the first time in
England; also that Toscato extended a cordial invitation to members of
the audience to come up on to the stage and do their acutest to pierce
'Come along,' said a voice in Henry's ear, 'I'm going.' It was Mr.
'Oh, no, thanks!' Henry replied hastily.
'Nothing to be afraid of,' said Mr. Doxey, shrugging his shoulders
with an air which Henry judged slightly patronizing.
'Oh yes, do go,' Geraldine urged. 'It will be such fun.'
He hated to go, but there was no alternative, and so he went,
stumbling after Mr. Doxey up the step-ladder which had been placed
against the footlights for the ascending of people who prided
themselves on being acute. There were seven such persons on the stage,
not counting himself, but Henry honestly thought that the eyes of the
entire audience were directed upon him alone. The stage seemed very
large, and he was cut off from the audience by a wall of blinding rays,
and at first he could only distinguish vast vague semicircles and a
floor of pale, featureless faces. However, he depended upon Mr. Doxey.
But when the trick-box had been brought on to the stageit was a
sort of a sentry-box raised on four legsHenry soon began to recover
his self-possession. He examined that box inside and out until he
became thoroughly convinced that it was without guile. The jury of
seven stood round the erection, and the English assistant stated that a
sheet (produced) would be thrown over Toscato, who would then step into
the box and shut the door. The door would then be closed for ten
seconds, whereupon it would be opened and the beautiful young girl
would step out of the box, while Toscato would magically appear in
another part of the house.
At this point Henry stooped to give a last glance under the box.
Immediately Toscato held him with a fiery eye, as though enraged, and,
going up to him, took eight court cards from Henry's sleeve, a lady's
garter from his waistcoat pocket, and a Bath-bun out of his mouth. The
audience received this professional joke in excellent part, and,
indeed, roared its amusement. Henry blushed, would have given all the
money he had on himsome ninety poundsto be back in the stalls, and
felt a hot desire to explain to everyone that the cards, the Bath-bun,
and especially the garter, had not really been in his possession at
all. That part of the episode over, the trick ought to have gone
forward, but Toscato's Italian temper was effervescing, and he insisted
by signs that one of the jury should actually get into the box bodily,
and so satisfy the community that the box was a box et præterea
nilil. The English assistant pointed to Henry, and Henry, to save
argument, reluctantly entered the box. Toscato shut the door. Henry was
in the dark, and quite mechanically he extended his hands and felt the
sides of the box. His fingers touched a projection in a corner, and he
heard a clicking sound. Then he was aware of Toscato shaking the door
of the box, frantically and more frantically, and of the noise of
distant multitudinous laughter.
'Don't hold the door,' whispered a voice.
'I'm not doing so,' Henry whispered in reply.
The box trembled.
'I say, old chap, don't hold the door. They want to get on with the
trick.' This time it was Mr. Doxey who addressed him in persuasive
'Don't I tell you I'm not holding the door, you silly fool!'
retorted Henry, nettled.
The box trembled anew and more dangerously. The distant laughter
grew immense and formidable.
'Carry it off,' said a third voice, 'and get him out in the wings.'
The box underwent an earthquake; it rocked; Henry was thrown with
excessive violence from side to side; the sound of the laughter
Happily, the box had no roof; it was laid with all tenderness on its
flank, and the tenant crawled out of it into the midst of an interested
crowd consisting of Toscato, some stage-managers, several
scene-shifters, and many ballerinas. His natural good-temper reasserted
itself at once, and he received apologies in the spirit in which they
were offered, while Toscato set the box to rights. Henry was returning
to the stage in order to escape from the ballerinas, whose proximity
disturbed and frightened him, but he had scarcely shown his face to the
house before he was, as it were, beaten back by a terrific wave of
jubilant cheers. The great vanishing trick was brilliantly accomplished
without his presence on the boards, and an official guided him through
various passages back to the floor of the house. Nobody seemed to
observe him as he sat down beside Geraldine.
'Of course it was all part of the show, that business,' he heard a
man remark loudly some distance behind him.
He much enjoyed explaining the whole thing to Geraldine. Now that it
was over, he felt rather proud, rather triumphant. He did not know that
he was very excited, but he observed that Geraldine was excited.
'You needn't think you are going to escape from telling me all about
your new book, because you aren't,' said Geraldine prettily.
They were supping at a restaurant of the discreet sort, divided into
many compartments, and situated, with a charming symbolism, at the back
of St. George's, Hanover Square. Geraldine had chosen it. They did not
need food, but they needed their own unadulterated society.
'I'm only too pleased to tell you,' Henry replied. 'You're about the
only person that I would tell. It's like this. You must imagine a youth
growing up to manhood, and wanting to be a great artist. I don't mean a
painter. I mean aan actor. Yes, a very great actor. Shakspere's
tragedies, you know, and all that.'
She nodded earnestly.
'What's his name?' she inquired.
Henry gazed at her. 'His name's Gerald,' he said, and she flushed.
'Well, at sixteen this youth is considerably over six feet in height,
and still growing. At eighteen his figure has begun to excite remark in
the streets. At nineteen he has a severe attack of scarlet fever, and
while ill he grows still more, in bed, like people do, you know. And at
twenty he is six feet eight inches high.'
'A giant, in fact.'
'Just so. But he doesn't want to be a giant He wants to be an actor,
a great actor. Nobody will look at him, except to stare. The idea of
his going on the stage is laughed at. He scarcely dare walk out in the
streets because children follow him. But he is a great actor,
all the same, in spirit. He's got the artistic temperament, and he
can't be a clerk. He can only be one thing, and that one thing is made
impossible by his height. He falls in love with a girl. She rather
likes him, but naturally the idea of marrying a giant doesn't appeal to
her. So that's off, too. And he's got no resources, and he's gradually
starving in a garret. See the tragedy?'
She nodded, reflective, sympathetically silent.
Henry continued: 'Well, he's starving. He doesn't know what to do.
He isn't quite tall enough to be a show-giantthey have to be over
seven feetotherwise he might at any rate try the music-hall stage.
Then the manager of a West End restaurant catches sight of him one day,
and offers him a place as doorkeeper at a pound a week and tips. He
refuses it indignantly. But after a week or two more of hunger he
changes his mind and accepts. And this man who has the soul and the
brains of a great artist is reduced to taking sixpences for opening
'Does it end there?'
'No. It's a sad story, I'm afraid. He dies one night in the snow
outside the restaurant, while the rich noodles are gorging themselves
inside to the music of a band. Consumption.'
'It's the most original story I ever heard in all my life,' said
'Do you think so?'
'I do, honestly. What are you going to call itif I may ask?'
'Call it?' He hesitated a second. 'A Question of Cubits,' he
'You are simply wonderful at titles,' she observed. 'Thank you.
Thank you so much.'
'No one else knows,' he finished.
When he had seen her safely to Chenies Street, and was travelling to
Dawes Road in a cab, he felt perfectly happy. The story had come to him
almost by itself. It had been coming all the evening, even while he was
in the box, even while he was lost in admiration of Geraldine. It had
cost him nothing. He knew he could write it with perfect ease. And
Geraldine admired it! It was the most original story she had ever heard
in all her life! He himself thought it extremely original, too. He saw
now how foolish and premature had been his fears for the future. Of
course he had studied human nature. Of course he had been through the
mill, and practised style. Had he not won the prize for composition at
the age of twelve? And was there not the tangible evidence of his
essays for the Polytechnic, not to mention his continual work for Sir
He crept upstairs to his bedroom joyous, jaunty, exultant.
'Is that you, Henry?' It was Aunt Annie's inquiry.
'Yes,' he answered, safely within his room.
'How late you are! It's half-past twelve and more.'
'I got lost,' he explained to her.
But he could not explain to himself what instinct had forced him to
conceal from his adoring relatives the fact that he had bought a suit
of dress-clothes, put them on, and sallied forth in them to spend an
evening with a young lady.
Just as he was dropping off to sleep and beauteous visions, he
sprang up with a start, and, lighting a candle, descended to the
dining-room. There he stood on a chair, reached for the blue jar on the
bookcase, extracted the two eggs, and carried them upstairs. He opened
his window and threw the eggs into the middle of Dawes Road, but
several houses lower down; they fell with a soft plup, and
Thus ended the miraculous evening.
The next day he was prostrate with one of his very worst dyspeptic
visitations. The Knight pew at Munster Park Chapel was empty at both
services, and Henry learnt from loving lips that he must expect to be
ill if he persisted in working so hard. He meekly acknowledged the
justice of the rebuke.
On Monday morning at half-past eight, before he had appeared at
breakfast, there came a telegram, which Aunt Annie opened. It had been
despatched from Paris on the previous evening, and it ran: '
Congratulations on the box trick. Worth half a dozen books with the dear
simple public A sincere admirer.' This telegram puzzled everybody,
including Henry; though perhaps it puzzled Henry a little less than the
ladies. When Aunt Annie suggested that it had been wrongly addressed,
he agreed that no other explanation was possible, and Sarah took it
back to the post-office.
He departed to business. At all the newspaper-shops, at all the
bookstalls, he saw the placards of morning newspapers with lines
AMUSING INCIDENT AT THE ALHAMBRA.
A NOVELIST'S ADVENTURE.
VANISHING AUTHOR AT A MUSIC-HALL.
A NOVELIST IN A BOX.
CHAPTER XVIII. HIS JACK-HORNERISM
That autumn the Chancelleries of Europe happened to be rather less
egotistic than usual, and the English and American publics, seeing no
war-cloud on the horizon, were enabled to give the whole of their
attention to the balloon sent up into the sky by Mr. Onions Winter.
They stared to some purpose. There are some books which succeed before
they are published, and the commercial travellers of Mr. Onions Winter
reported unhesitatingly that A Question of Cubits was such a
book. The libraries and the booksellers were alike graciously
interested in the rumour of its advent. It was universally considered a
'safe' novel; it was the sort of novel that the honest provincial
bookseller reads himself for his own pleasure and recommends to his
customers with a peculiar and special smile of sincerity as being not
only 'good,' but 'really good.' People mentioned it with casual
anticipatory remarks who had never previously been known to mention any
novel later than John Halifax Gentleman.
This and other similar pleasing phenomena were, of course, due in
part to the mercantile sagacity of Mr. Onions Winter. For during a
considerable period the Anglo-Saxon race was not permitted to forget
for a single day that at a given moment the balloon would burst and
rain down copies of A Question of Cubits upon a thirsty earth.
A Question of Cubits became the universal question, the question of
questions, transcending in its insistence the liver question, the soap
question, the Encyclopædia question, the whisky question, the cigarette
question, the patent food question, the bicycle tyre question, and even
the formidable uric acid question. Another powerful factor in the case
was undoubtedly the lengthy paragraph concerning Henry's adventure at
the Alhambra. That paragraph, having crystallized itself into a fixed
form under the title 'A Novelist in a Box,' had started on a journey
round the press of the entire world, and was making a pace which would
have left Jules Verne's hero out of sight in twenty-four hours. No
editor could deny his hospitality to it. From the New York dailies it
travelled viâ the Chicago Inter-Ocean to the Montreal Star, and thence back again with the rapidity of light by way of the
Boston Transcript, the Philadelphia Ledger, and the
Washington Post, down to the New Orleans Picayune. Another
day, and it was in the San Francisco Call, and soon afterwards
it had reached La Prensa at Buenos Ayres. It then disappeared
for a period amid the Pacific Isles, and was next heard of in the
Sydney Bulletin, the Brisbane Courier and the Melbourne
Argus. A moment, and it blazed in the North China Herald,
and was shooting across India through the columns of the Calcutta
Englishman and the Allahabad Pioneer. It arrived in Paris as
fresh as a new pin, and gained acceptance by the Paris edition of the
New York Herald, which had printed it two months before and
forgotten it, as a brand-new item of the most luscious personal gossip.
Thence, later, it had a smooth passage to London, and was seen
everywhere with a new frontispiece consisting of the words: 'Our
readers may remember.' Mr. Onions Winter reckoned that it had been
worth at least five hundred pounds to him.
But there was something that counted more than the paragraph, and
more than Mr. Onions Winter's mercantile sagacity, in the immense
preliminary noise and rattle of A Question of Cubits: to wit,
the genuine and ever-increasing vogue of Love in Babylon, and
the beautiful hopes of future joy which it aroused in the myriad breast
of Henry's public. Love in Babylon had falsified the expert
prediction of Mark Snyder, and had reached seventy-five thousand in
Great Britain alone. What figure it reached in America no man could
tell. The average citizen and his wife and daughter were truly
enchanted by Love in Babylon, and since the state of being
enchanted is one of almost ecstatic felicity, they were extremely
anxious that Henry in a second work should repeat the operation upon
them at the earliest possible instant.
The effect of the whole business upon Henry was what might have been
expected. He was a modest young man, but there are two kinds of
modesty, which may be called the internal and the external, and Henry
excelled more in the former than in the latter. While never free from a
secret and profound amazement that people could really care for his
stuff (an infallible symptom of authentic modesty), Henry gradually
lost the pristine virginity of his early diffidence. His demeanour grew
confident and bold. His glance said: 'I know exactly who I am, and let
no one think otherwise.' His self-esteem as a celebrity, stimulated and
fattened by a tremendous daily diet of press-cuttings, and letters from
feminine admirers all over the vastest of empires, was certainly in no
immediate danger of inanition. Nor did the fact that he was still
outside the rings known as literary circles injure that self-esteem in
the slightest degree; by a curious trick of nature it performed the
same function as the press-cuttings and the correspondence. Mark Snyder
said: 'Keep yourself to yourself. Don't be interviewed. Don't do
anything except write. If publishers or editors approach you, refer
them to me.' This suited Henry. He liked to think that he was in the
hands of Mark Snyder, as an athlete in the hands of his trainer. He
liked to think that he was alone with his leviathan public; and he
could find a sort of mild, proud pleasure in meeting every advance with
a frigid, courteous refusal. It tickled his fancy that he, who had
shaken a couple of continents or so with one little book; and had
written another and a better one with the ease and assurance of a
novelist born, should be willing to remain a shorthand clerk earning
three guineas a week. (He preferred now to regard himself as a common
shorthand clerk, not as private secretary to a knight: the piquancy of
the situation was thereby intensified.) And as the day of publication
of A Question of Cubits came nearer and nearer, he more and more
resembled a little Jack Horner sitting in his private corner, and
pulling out the plums of fame, and soliloquizing, 'What a curious,
interesting, strange, uncanny, original boy am I!'
Then one morning he received a telegram from Mark Snyder requesting
his immediate presence at Kenilworth Mansions.
CHAPTER XIX. HE JUSTIFIES HIS FATHER
He went at once to Kenilworth Mansions, but he went against his
will. And the reason of his disinclination was that he scarcely desired
to encounter Geraldine. It was an ordeal for him to encounter
Geraldine. The events which had led to this surprising condition of
affairs were as follows:
Henry was one of those menand there exist, perhaps, more of them
than may be imaginedwho are capable of plunging off the roof of a
house, and then reconsidering the enterprise and turning back. With
Henry it was never too late for discretion. He would stop and think at
the most extraordinary moments. Thirty-six hours after the roseate
evening at the Louvre and the Alhambra, just when he ought to have been
laying a scheme for meeting Geraldine at once by sheer accident, Henry
was coldly remarking to himself: 'Let me see exactly where I am. Let me
survey the position.' He liked Geraldine, but now it was with a sober
liking, a liking which is not too excited to listen to Reason. And
Reason said, after the position had been duly surveyed: 'I have nothing
against this charming lady, and much in her favour. Nevertheless, there
need be no hurry.' Geraldine wrote to thank Henry for the most
enjoyable evening she had ever spent in her life, and Henry found the
letter too effusive. When they next saw each other, Henry meant to keep
strictly private the advice which he had accepted from Reason; but
Geraldine knew all about it within the first ten seconds, and Henry
knew that she knew. Politeness reigned, and the situation was felt to
be difficult. Geraldine intended to be sisterly, but succeeded only in
being resentful, and thus precipitated too soon the second stage of the
entanglement, the stage in which a man, after seeing everything in a
woman, sees nothing in her; this second stage is usually of the
briefest, but circumstances may render it permanent. Then Geraldine
wrote again, and asked Henry to tea at the flat in Chenies Street on a
Saturday afternoon. Henry went, and found the flat closed. He expected
to receive a note of bewitching, cajoling, feminine apology, but he did
not receive it. They met again, always at Kenilworth Mansions, and in
an interview full of pain at the start and full of insincerity at the
finish Henry learnt that Geraldine's invitation had been for Sunday,
and not Saturday, that various people of much importance in her eyes
had been asked to meet him, and that the company was deeply
disappointed and the hostess humiliated. Henry was certain that she had
written Saturday. Geraldine was certain that he had misread the day. He
said nothing about confronting her with the letter itself, but he
determined, in his masculine way, to do so. She gracefully pretended
that the incident was closed, and amicably closed, but the silly little
thing had got into her head the wild, inexcusable idea that Henry had
stayed away from her 'at home' on purpose, and Henry felt this.
He rushed to Dawes Road to find the letter, but the letter was
undiscoverable; with the spiteful waywardness which often characterizes
such letters, it had disappeared. So Henry thought it would be as well
to leave the incident alone. Their cheery politeness to each other when
they chanced to meet was affecting to witness. As for Henry, he had
always suspected in Geraldine the existence of some element, some
quality, some factor, which was beyond his comprehension, and now his
suspicions were confirmed.
He fell into a habit of saying, in his inmost heart: 'Women!'
This meant that he had learnt all that was knowable about them, and
that they were all alike, and thatthe third division of the meaning
was somewhat vague.
Just as he was ascending with the beautiful flunkey in the
Kenilworth lift, a middle-aged and magnificently-dressed woman hastened
into the marble hall from the street, and, seeing the lift in the act
of vanishing with its precious burden, gave a slight scream and then a
laugh. The beautiful flunkey permitted himself a derisive gesture, such
as one male may make to another, and sped the lift more quickly
'Who's she?' Henry demanded.
'I don't know, sir,' said the flunkey. 'But you'll hear her
ting-tinging at the bell in half a second. There!' he added in
triumphant disgust, as the lift-bell rang impatiently. 'There's some
people,' he remarked, 'as thinks a lift can go up and down at once.'
Geraldine with a few bright and pleasant remarks ushered Henry
directly into the presence of Mark Snyder. Her companion was not in the
'Well,' Mr. Snyder expansively and gaily welcomed him, 'come and sit
down, my young friend.'
'Anything wrong?' Henry asked.
'No,' said Mark. 'But I've postponed publication of the Q. C.
for a month.'
In his letters Mr. Snyder always referred to A Question of Cubits
as the Q. C.
'What on earth for?' exclaimed Henry.
He was not pleased. In strict truth, no one of his innumerable
admirers was more keenly anxious for the appearance of that book than
Henry himself. His appetite for notoriety and boom grew by what it fed
on. He expected something colossal, and he expected it soon.
'Both in England and America,' said Snyder.
'Serial rights,' said Snyder impressively. 'I told you some time
since I might have a surprise for you, and I've got one. I fancied I
might sell the serial rights in England to Macalistairs, at my own
price, but they thought the end was too sad. However, I've done
business in New York with Gordon's Weekly. They'll issue the
Q. C. in four instalments. It was really settled last week, but I
had to arrange with Spring Onions. They've paid cash. I made 'em. How
much d'you think?'
'I don't know,' Henry said expectantly.
'Guess,' Mark Snyder commanded him.
But Henry would not guess, and Snyder rang the bell for Geraldine.
'Miss Foster,' he addressed the puzzling creature in a casual tone,
'did you draw that cheque for Mr. Knight?'
'Yes, Mr. Snyder.'
'Bring it me, please.'
And she respectfully brought in a cheque, which Mr. Snyder signed.
'There!' said he, handing it to Henry. 'What do you think of that?'
It was a cheque for one thousand and eighty pounds. Gordon and
Brothers, the greatest publishing firm of the United States, had paid
six thousand dollars for the right to publish serially A Question of
Cubits, and Mark Snyder's well-earned commission on the transaction
amounted to six hundred dollars.
'Things are looking up,' Henry stammered, feebly facetious.
'It's nearly a record price,' said Snyder complacently. 'But you're
a sort of a record man. And when they believe in a thing over there,
they aren't afraid of making money talk and say so.'
'Nay, nay!' thought Henry. 'This is too much! This beats everything!
Either I shall wake up soon or I shall find myself in a lunatic
asylum.' He was curiously reminded of the conjuring performance at the
'Thanks awfully, I'm sure!'
A large grandiose notion swept over him that he had a great mission
in the world.
'That's all I have to say to you,' said Mark Snyder pawkily.
Henry wanted to breathe instantly the ampler ether of the street,
but on his way out he found Geraldine in rapid converse with the
middle-aged and magnificently-dressed woman who thought that a lift
could go up and down at once. They became silent.
'Good-morning, Miss Foster,' said Henry hurriedly.
Then a pause occurred, very brief but uncomfortable, and the
stranger glanced in the direction of the window.
'Let me introduce you to Mrs. Ashton Portway,' said Geraldine. 'Mrs.
Portway, Mr. Knight.'
Mrs. Portway bent forward her head, showed her teeth, smiled,
laughed, and finally sniggered.
'So glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Knight!' she burst out
loudly and uncontrollably, as though Geraldine's magic formula had
loosened a valve capable of withstanding enormous strains. Then she
smiled, laughed, and sniggered: not because she imagined that she had
achieved humour, but because that was her way of making herself
agreeable. If anybody had told her that she could not open her mouth
without sniggering, she would have indignantly disbelieved the
statement. Nevertheless it was true. When she said the weather was
changeable, she sniggered; when she hoped you were quite well, she
sniggered; and if circumstances had required her to say that she was
sorry to hear of the death of your mother, she would have sniggered.
Henry, however, unaccustomed to the phenomena accompanying her
speech, mistook her at first for a woman determined to be witty at any
'I'm glad to meet you,' he said, and laughed as if to insinuate that
that speech also was funny.
'I was desolated, simply desolated, not to see you at Miss Foster's
at home,' Mrs. Ashton Portway was presently sniggering. 'Now, will
you come to one of my Wednesdays? They begin in November. First and
third. I always try to get interesting people, people who have done
'Of course I shall be delighted,' Henry agreed. He was in a mood to
scatter largesse among the crowd.
'That's so good of you,' said Mrs. Ashton Portway, apparently
overcome by the merry jest. 'Now remember, I shall hold you to your
promise. I shall write and remind you. I know you great men.'
When Henry reached the staircase he discovered her card in his hand.
He could not have explained how it came there. Without the portals of
Kenilworth Mansions a pair of fine horses were protesting against the
bearing-rein, and throwing spume across the street.
He walked straight up to the Louvre, and there lunched to the sound
of wild Hungarian music. It was nearly three o'clock when he returned
to his seat at Powells.
'The governor's pretty nearly breaking up the happy home,' Foxall
alarmingly greeted him in the inquiry office.
'Oh!' said Henry with a very passable imitation of guilelessness.
'He rang for you just after you went out at a quarter-past twelve.'
Here Foxall glanced mischievously at the clock. 'He had his lunch sent
in, and he's been raving ever since.'
'What did you tell him?'
'I told him you'd gone to lunch.'
'Did he say anything?'
'He asked whether you'd gone to Brighton for lunch. Krikey! He
nearly sacked me! You know it's his golfing afternoon.'
'So it is. I'd forgotten,' Henry observed calmly.
Then he removed his hat and gloves, found his note-book and pencil,
and strode forward to joust with the knight.
'Did you want to dictate letters, Sir George?' he asked, opening Sir
The knight was taken aback.
'Where have you been,' the famous solicitor demanded, 'since the
middle of the morning?'
'I had some urgent private business to attend to,' said Henry. 'And
I've been to lunch. I went out at a quarter-past twelve.'
'And it's now three o'clock. Why didn't you tell me you were going
'Because you were engaged, Sir George.'
'Listen to me,' said Sir George. 'You've been getting above yourself
lately, my friend. And I won't have it. Understand, I will not have it.
The rules of this office apply just as much to you as to anyone.'
'I'm sorry,' Henry put in coldly, 'if I've put you to any
'Sorry be dd, sir!' exclaimed Sir George.
'Where on earth do you go for your lunch?'
'That concerns no one but me, Sir George,' was the reply.
He would have given a five-pound note to know that Foxall and the
entire staff were listening behind the door.
'You are an insolent puppy,' Sir George stated.
'If you think so, Sir George,' said Henry, 'I resign my position
'And a fool!' the knight added.
'And did you say anything about the thousand pounds?' Aunt Annie
asked, when, in the evening domesticity of Dawes Road, Henry recounted
the doings of that day so full of emotions.
'Not I!' Henry replied. 'Not a word!'
'You did quite right, my dear!' said Aunt Annie. 'A pretty thing,
that you can't go out for a few minutes!'
'Yes, isn't it?' said Henry.
'Whatever will Sir George do without you, though?' his mother
And later, after he had displayed for her inspection the cheque for
a thousand and eighty pounds, the old lady cried, with moist eyes:
'My darling, your poor father might well insist on having you called
Shakspere! And to think that I didn't want it! To think that I didn't
'Mark my words!' said Aunt Annie. 'Sir George will ask you to stay
And Aunt Annie was not deceived.
'I hope you've come to your senses,' the lawyer began early the next
morning, not unkindly, but rather with an intention obviously pacific.
'Literature, or whatever you call it, may be all very well, but you
won't get another place like this in a hurry. There's many an admitted
solicitor earns less than you, young man.'
'Thanks very much, Sir George,' Henry answered. 'But I think, on the
whole, I had better leave.'
'As you wish,' said Sir George, hurt.
'Still,' Henry proceeded, 'I hope our relations will remain
pleasant. I hope I may continue to employ you.'
'Continue to employ me?' Sir George gasped.
'Yes,' said Henry. 'I got you to invest some moneys for me some time
ago. I have another thousand now that I want a sound security for.'
It was one of those rare flashes of hisrare, but blindingly
CHAPTER XX. PRESS AND PUBLIC
At length arrived the eve of the consummation of Mr. Onions Winter's
mercantile labours. Forty thousand copies of A Question of Cubits
(No. 8 of the Satin Library) had been printed, and already, twenty-four
hours before they were to shine in booksellers' shops and on the
counters of libraries, every copy had been sold to the trade and a
second edition was in the press. Thus, it was certain that one immortal
soul per thousand of the entire British race would read Henry's story.
In literature, when nine hundred and ninety-nine souls ignore you, but
the thousandth buys your work, or at least borrows itthat is called
enormous popularity. Henry retired to bed in Dawes Road that night sure
of his enormous popularity. But he did not dream of the devoted army of
forty thousand admirers. He dreamt of the reviews, some of which he
knew were to appear on the day of publication itself. A hundred copies
of A Question of Cubits had been sent out for review, and in his
dreams he saw a hundred highly-educated men, who had given their lives
to the study of fiction, bending anxiously over the tome and seeking
with conscientious care the precise phrases in which most accurately to
express their expert appreciation of it. He dreamt much of the reviewer
of the Daily Tribune, his favourite morning paper, whom he
pictured as a man of forty-five or so, with gold-rimmed spectacles and
an air of generous enthusiasm. He hoped great things from the article
in the Daily Tribune (which, by a strange accident, had
completely ignored Love in Babylon), and when he arose in the
morning (he had been lying awake a long time waiting to hear the
scamper of the newsboy on the steps) he discovered that his hopes were
happily realized. The Daily Tribune had given nearly a column of
praise to A Question of Cubits, had quoted some choice extracts,
had drawn special attention to the wonderful originality of the plot,
and asserted that the story was an advance, 'if an advance were
possible,' on the author's previous book. His mother and Aunt Annie
consumed the review at breakfast with an excellent appetite, and lauded
the insight of the critic.
What had happened at the offices of the Daily Tribune was
this. At the very moment when Henry was dreaming of its
reviewernamely, half-past eleven p.m.its editor was gesticulating
and shouting at the end of a speaking-tube:
'Haven't had proof of that review of a book called A Question of
Cubits, or some such idiotic title! Send it down at once,
instantly. Do you hear? What? Nonsense!'
The editor sprang away from the tube, and dashed into the middle of
a vast mass of papers on his desk, turning them all over, first in
heaps, then singly. He then sprang in succession to various side-tables
and served their contents in the same manner.
'I tell you I sent it up myself before dinner,' he roared into the
tube. 'It's Mr. Clackmannan's copyyou know that peculiar paper he
writes on. Just look about. Oh, conf!'
Then the editor rang a bell.
'Send Mr. Heeky to me, quick!' he commanded the messenger-boy.
'I'm just finishing that leaderette,' began Mr. Heeley, when he
obeyed the summons. Mr. Heeley was a young man who had published a book
'Never mind the leaderette,' said the editor. 'Run across to the
other shop yourself, and see if they've got a copy of A Question of
Cubitsyes, that's it, A Question of Cubitsand do me
fifteen inches on it at once. I've lost Clackmannan's copy.' (The
'other shop' was a wing occupied by a separate journal belonging to the
proprietors of the Tribune.)
'What, that thing!' exclaimed Mr. Heeley. 'Won't it do to-morrow?
You know I hate messing my hands with that sort of piffle.'
'No, it won't do to-morrow. I met Onions Winter at dinner on
Saturday night, and I told him I'd review it on the day of publication.
And when I promise a thing I promise it. Cut, my son! And I say'the
editor recalled Mr. Heeley, who was gloomily departing'We're under no
obligations to anyone. Write what you think, but, all the same, no
antics, no spleen. You've got to learn yet that that isn't our
speciality. You're not on the Whitehall now.'
'Oh, all right, chiefall right!' Mr. Heeley concurred.
Five minutes later Mr. Heeley entered what he called his private
boudoir, bearing a satinesque volume.
'Here, boys,' he cried to two other young men who were already
there, smoking clay pipes'here's a lark! The chief wants fifteen
inches on this charming and pathetic art-work as quick as you can. And
no antics, he says. Here, Jack, here's fifty pages for you'Mr. Heeley
ripped the beautiful inoffensive volume ruthlessly in piecesand
here's fifty for you, Clementina. Tell me your parts of the plot I'll
deal with the first fifty my noble self.'
Presently, after laughter, snipping out of pages with scissors, and
some unseemly language, Mr. Heeley began to write.
'Oh, he's shot up to six foot eight!' exclaimed Jack, interrupting
'Snow!' observed the bearded man styled Clementina. 'He dies in the
snow. Listen.' He read a passage from Henry's final scene, ending with
'His spirit had passed.' 'Chuck me the scissors, Jack.'
Mr. Heeley paused, looked up, and then drew his pen through what he
'I say, boys,'he almost whispered, 'I'll praise it, eh? I'll take it
seriously. It'll be simply delicious.'
'What about the chief?'
'Oh, the chief won't notice it! It'll be just for us three, and a
few at the club.'
Then there was hard scribbling, and pasting of extracts into blank
spaces, and more laughter.
'If an advance were possible,' Clementina read, over Mr. Heeley's
shoulder. 'You'll give the show away, you fool!'
'No, I shan't, Clemmy, my boy,' said Mr. Heeley judicially. 'They'll
stand simply anything. I bet you what you like Onions Winter quotes
that all over the place.'
And he handed the last sheet of the review to a messenger, and ran
off to the editorial room to report that instructions had been
executed. Jack and Clementina relighted their pipes with select bits of
A Question of Cubits, and threw the remaining débris of the volume
into the waste-paper basket. The hour was twenty minutes past
The great majority of the reviews were exceedingly favourable, and
even where praise was diluted with blame, the blame was administered
with respect, as a dentist might respectfully pain a prince in pulling
his tooth out. The public had voted for Henry, and the press, organ of
public opinion, displayed a wise discretion. The daring freshness of
Henry's plot, his inventive power, his skill in 'creating atmosphere,'
his gift for pathos, his unfailing wholesomeness, and his knack in the
management of narrative, were noted and eulogized in dozens of
articles. Nearly every reviewer prophesied brilliant success for him;
several admitted frankly that his equipment revealed genius of the
first rank. A mere handful of papers scorned him. Prominent among this
handful was the Whitehall Gazette. The distinguished mouthpiece
of the superior classes dealt with A Question of Cubits at the
foot of a column, in a brief paragraph headed 'Our Worst Fears
realized.' The paragraph, which was nothing but a summary of the plot,
concluded in these terms: 'So he expired, every inch of him, in the
snow, a victim to the British Public's rapacious appetite for the
The rudeness of the Whitehall Gazette, however, did nothing
whatever to impair the wondrous vogue which Henry now began to enjoy.
His first boom had been great, but it was a trifle compared to his
second. The title of the new book became a catchword. When a little man
was seen walking with a tall woman, people exclaimed: 'It's a question
of cubits.' When the recruiting regulations of the British army were
relaxed, people also exclaimed: 'It's a question of cubits.' During a
famous royal procession, sightseers trying to see the sight over the
heads of a crowd five deep shouted to each other all along the route:
'It's a question of cubits.' Exceptionally tall men were nicknamed
'Gerald' by their friends. Henry's Gerald, by the way, had died as
doorkeeper at a restaurant called the Trianon. The Trianon was at once
recognised as the Louvre, and the tall commissionaire at the Louvre
thereby trebled his former renown. 'Not dead in the snow yet?' the wits
of the West End would greet him on descending from their hansoms, and
he would reply, infinitely gratified: 'No, sir. No snow, sir.' A
music-hall star of no mean eminence sang a song with the refrain:
'You may think what you like,
You may say what you like,
It was simply a question of cubits.'
The lyric related the history of a new suit of clothes that was worn
by everyone except the person who had ordered it.
Those benefactors of humanity, the leading advertisers, used 'A
Question of Cubits' for their own exalted ends. A firm of manufacturers
of high-heeled shoes played with it for a month in various forms. The
proprietors of an unrivalled cheap cigarette disbursed thousands of
pounds in order to familiarize the public with certain facts. As thus:
'A Question of Cubits. Every hour of every day we sell as many
cigarettes as, if placed on end one on the top of the other, would make
a column as lofty as the Eiffel Tower. Owing to the fact that
cigarettes are not once mentioned in A Question of Cubits, we
regret to say that the author has not authorized us to assert that he
was thinking of our cigarettes when he wrote Chapter VII. of that
Editors and publishers cried in vain for Henry. They could get from
him neither interviews, short stories, nor novels. They could only get
polite references to Mark Snyder. And Mark Snyder had made his
unalterable plans for the exploitation of this most wonderful racehorse
that he had ever trained for the Fame Stakes. The supply of chatty
paragraphs concerning the hero and the book of the day would have
utterly failed had not Mr. Onions Winter courageously come to the
rescue and allowed himself to be interviewed. And even then respectable
journals were reduced to this sort of paragraph: 'Apropos of Mr.
Knight's phenomenal book, it may not be generally known what the exact
measure of a cubit is. There have been three different cubitsthe
Scriptural, the Roman, and the English. Of these, the first-named,'
So the thing ran on.
And at the back of it all, supporting it all, was the steady and
prodigious sale of the book, the genuine enthusiasm for it of the
average sensible, healthy-minded woman and man.
Finally, the information leaked out that Macalistairs had made
august and successful overtures for the reception of Henry into their
fold. Sir Hugh Macalistair, the head of the firm, was (at that time)
the only publisher who had ever been knighted. And the history of
Macalistairs was the history of all that was greatest and purest in
English literature during the nineteenth century. Without Macalistairs,
English literature since Scott would have been nowhere. Henry was to
write a long novel in due course, and Macalistairs were to have the
world's rights of the book, and were to use it as a serial in their
venerable and lusty Magazine, and to pay Henry, on delivery of
the manuscript, eight thousand pounds, of which six thousand was to
count as in advance of royalties on the book.
Mr. Onions Winter was very angry at what he termed an ungrateful
desertion. The unfortunate man died a year or two later of
appendicitis, and his last words were that he, and he alone, had
CHAPTER XXI. PLAYING THE NEW GAME
When Henry had seceded from Powells, and had begun to devote several
dignified hours a day to the excogitation of a theme for his new novel,
and the triumph of A Question of Cubits was at its height, he
thought that there ought to be some change in his secret self to
correspond with the change in his circumstances. But he could perceive
none, except, perhaps, that now and then he was visited by the feeling
that he had a great mission in the world. That feeling, however, came
rarely, and, for the most part, he existed in a state of not being
quite able to comprehend exactly how and why his stories roused the
enthusiasm of an immense public.
In essentials he remained the same Henry, and the sameness of his
simple self was never more apparent to him than when he got out of a
cab one foggy Wednesday night in November, and rang at the Grecian
portico of Mrs. Ashton Portway's house in Lowndes Square. A crimson
cloth covered the footpath. This was his first entry into the truly
great world, and though he was perfectly aware that as a lion he could
not easily be surpassed in no matter what menagerie, his nervousness
and timidity were so acute as to be painful; they annoyed him, in fact.
When, in the wide hall, a servant respectfully but firmly closed the
door after him, thus cutting off a possible retreat to the homely
society of the cabman, he became resigned, careless, reckless,
desperate, as who should say, 'Now I have done it!' And as at
the Louvre, so at Mrs. Ashton Portway's, his outer garments were taken
forcibly from him, and a ticket given to him in exchange. The ticket
startled him, especially as he saw no notice on the walls that the
management would not be responsible for articles not deposited in the
cloakroom. Nobody inquired about his identity, and without further
ritual he was asked to ascend towards regions whence came the faint
sound of music. At the top of the stairs a young and handsome man,
faultless alike in costume and in manners, suavely accosted him.
'What name, sir?'
'Knight,' said Henry gruffly. The young man thought that Henry was
on the point of losing his temper from some cause or causes unknown,
whereas Henry was merely timid.
Then the music ceased, and was succeeded by violent chatter; the
young man threw open a door, and announced in loud clear tones, which
Henry deemed ridiculously loud and ridiculously clear:
Henry saw a vast apartment full of women's shoulders and black
patches of masculinity; the violent chatter died into a profound
silence; every face was turned towards him. He nearly fell down dead on
the doormat, and then, remembering that life was after all sweet, he
plunged into the room as into the sea.
When he came up breathless and spluttering, Mrs. Ashton Portway (in
black and silver) was introducing him to her husband, Mr. Ashton
Portway, known to a small circle of readers as Raymond Quick, the
author of several mild novels issued at his own expense. Mr. Portway
was rich in money and in his wife; he had inherited the money, and his
literary instincts had discovered the wife in a publisher's daughter.
The union had not been blessed with children, which was fortunate,
since Mrs. Portway was left free to devote the whole of her time to the
encouragement of literary talent in the most unliterary of cities.
Henry rather liked Mr. Ashton Portway, whose small black eyes seemed
to say: 'That's all right, my friend. I share your ideas fully. When
you want a quiet whisky, come to me.'
'And what have you been doing this dark day?' Mrs. Ashton Portway
began, with her snigger.
'Well,' said Henry, 'I dropped into the National Gallery this
afternoon, but really it was so'
'The National Gallery?' exclaimed Mrs. Ashton Portway swiftly. 'I
must introduce you to Miss Marchrose, the author of that charming
hand-book to Pictures in London. Miss Marchrose,' she called
out, urging Henry towards a corner of the room, 'this is Mr. Knight.'
She sniggered on the name. 'He's just dropped into the National
Then Mrs. Ashton Portway sailed off to receive other guests, and
Henry was alone with Miss Marchrose in a nook between a cabinet and a
phonograph. Many eyes were upon them. Miss Marchrose, a woman of
thirty, with a thin face and an amorphous body draped in two shades of
olive, was obviously flattered.
'Be frank, and admit you've never heard of me,' she said.
'Oh yes, I have,' he lied.
'Do you often go to the National Gallery, Mr. Knight?'
'Not as often as I ought.'
Several observant women began to think that Miss Marchrose was not
making the best of Henrythat, indeed, she had proved unworthy of an
'I sometimes think' Miss Marchrose essayed.
But a young lady got up in the middle of the room, and with
extraordinary self-command and presence of mind began to recite
Wordsworth's 'The Brothers.' She continued to recite and recite until
she had finished it, and then sat down amid universal joy.
'Matthew Arnold said that was the greatest poem of the century,'
remarked a man near the phonograph.
'You'll pardon me,' said Miss Marchrose, turning to him. 'If you are
thinking of Matthew Arnold's introduction to the selected poems, you'll
'My dear,' said Mrs. Ashton Portway, suddenly looming up opposite
the reciter, 'what a memory you have!'
'Was it so long, then?' murmured a tall man with spectacles and a
light wavy beard.
'I shall send you back to Paris, Mr. Dolbiac,' said Mrs. Ashton
Portway, 'if you are too witty.' The hostess smiled and sniggered, but
it was generally felt that Mr. Dolbiac's remark had not been in the
For a few moments Henry was alone and uncared for, and he examined
his surroundings. His first conclusion was that there was not a pretty
woman in the room, and his second, that this fact had not escaped the
notice of several other men who were hanging about in corners. Then
Mrs. Ashton Portway, having accomplished the task of receiving,
beckoned him, and intimated to him that, being a lion and the king of
beasts, he must roar. 'I think everyone here has done something,' she
said as she took him round and forced him to roar. His roaring was a
miserable fiasco, but most people mistook it for the latest fashion in
roaring, and were impressed.
'Now you must take someone down to get something to eat,' she
apprised him, when he had growled out soft nothings to poetesses,
paragraphists, publicists, positivists, penny-a-liners, and other pale
persons. 'Whom shall it be?Ashton! What have you done?'
The phonograph had been advertised to give a reproduction of Ternina
in the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, but instead it broke
into the 'Washington Post,' and the room, braced to a great occasion,
was horrified. Mrs. Portway, abandoning Henry, ran to silence the
disastrous consequence of her husband's clumsiness. Henry, perhaps
impelled by an instinctive longing, gazed absently through the open
door into the passage, and there, with two other girls on a settee, he
perceived Geraldine! She smiled, rose, and came towards him. She looked
disconcertingly pretty; she was always at her best in the evening; and
she had such eyes to gaze on him.
'You here!' she murmured.
Ordinary words, but they were enveloped in layers of feeling, as a
child's simple gift may be wrapped in lovely tinted tissue-papers!
'She's the finest woman in the place,' he thought decisively. And he
said to her: 'Will you come down and have something to eat?'
'I can talk to her,' he reflected with satisfaction, as the
faultless young man handed them desired sandwiches in the supper-room.
What he meant was that she could talk to him; but men often make this
Before he had eaten half a sandwich, the period of time between that
night and the night at the Louvre had been absolutely blotted out. He
did not know why. He could think of no explanation. It merely was so.
She told him she had sold a sensational serial for a pound a
'Not a bad pricefor me,' she added.
'Not half enough!' he exclaimed ardently.
Her eyes moistened. He thought what a shame it was that a creature
like her should be compelled to earn even a portion of her livelihood
by typewriting for Mark Snyder. The faultless young man
unostentatiously poured more wine into their glasses. No other guests
happened to be in the room....
'Ah, you're here!' It was the hostess, sniggering.
'You told me to bring someone down,' said Henry, who had no
intention of being outfaced now.
'We're just coming up,' Geraldine added.
'That's right!' said Mrs. Ashton Portway. 'A lot of people have
gone, and now that we shall be a little bit more intimate, I want to
try that new game. I don't think it's ever been played in London
anywhere yet. I saw it in the New York Herald. Of course, nobody
who isn't just a little clever could play at it.'
'Oh yes!' Geraldine smiled. 'You mean Characters. I remember you
told me about it.'
And Mrs. Ashton Portway said that she did mean 'Characters.'
In the drawing-room she explained that in playing the game of
'Characters' you chose a subject for discussion, and then each player
secretly thought of a character in fiction, and spoke in the discussion
as he imagined that character would have spoken. At the end of the game
you tried to guess the characters chosen.
'I think it ought to be classical fiction only,' she said.
Sundry guests declined to play, on the ground that they lacked the
needful brilliance. Henry declined utterly, but he had the wit not to
give his reasons. It was he who suggested that the non-players should
form a jury. At last seven players were recruited, including Mr. Ashton
Portway, Miss Marchrose, Geraldine, Mr. Dolbiac, and three others. Mrs.
Ashton Portway sat down by Henry as a jurywoman.
'And now what are you going to discuss?' said she.
No one could find a topic.
'Let us discuss love,' Miss Marchrose ventured.
'Yes,' said Mr. Dolbiac, 'let's. There's nothing like leather.'
So the seven in the centre of the room assumed attitudes suitable
for the discussion of love.
'Have you all chosen your characters?' asked the hostess.
'We have,' replied the seven.
'Don't all speak at once,' said Mr. Dolbiac, after a pause.
'Who is that chap?' Henry whispered.
'Mr. Dolbiac? He's a sculptor from Paris. Quite English, I believe,
except for his grandmother. Intensely clever.' Mrs. Ashton Portway
distilled these facts into Henry's ear, and then turned to the silent
seven. 'It is rather difficult, isn't it?' she breathed
'Love is not for such as me,' said Mr. Dolbiac solemnly. Then he
looked at his hostess, and called out in an undertone: 'I've begun.'
'The question,' said Miss Marchrose, clearing her throat, 'is, not
what love is not, but what it is.'
'You must kindly stand up,' said Mr. Dolbiac. 'I can't hear.'
Miss Marchrose glanced at Mrs. Ashton Portway, and Mrs. Ashton
Portway told Mr. Dolbiac that he was on no account to be silly.
Then Mr. Ashton Portway and Geraldine both began to speak at once,
and then insisted on being silent at once, and in the end Mr. Ashton
Portway was induced to say something about Dulcinea.
'He's chosen Don Quixote,' his wife informed Henry behind her hand.
'It's his favourite novel.'
The discussion proceeded under difficulties, for no one was
loquacious except Mr. Dolbiac, and all Mr. Dolbiac's utterances were
staccato and senseless. The game had had several narrow escapes of
extinction, when Miss Marchrose galvanized it by means of a long and
serious monologue treating of the sorts of man with whom a
self-respecting woman will never fall in love. There appeared to be
about a hundred and thirty-three sorts of that man.
'There is one sort of man with whom no woman, self-respecting or
otherwise, will fall in love,' said Mr. Dolbiac, 'and that is the sort
of man she can't kiss without having to stand on the mantelpiece.
Alas!'he hid his face in his handkerchief'I am that sort.'
'Without having to stand on the mantelpiece?' Mrs. Ashton Portway
repeated. 'What can he mean? Mr. Dolbiac, you aren't playing the game.'
'Yes, I am, gracious lady,' he contradicted her.
'Well, what character are you, then?' demanded Miss Marchrose,
irritated by his grotesque pendant to her oration.
'I'm Gerald in A Question of Cubits.'
The company felt extremely awkward. Henry blushed.
'I said classical fiction,' Mrs. Ashton Portway corrected Mr.
Dolbiac stiffly. 'Of course I don't mean to insinuate that it
isn't' She turned to Henry.
'Oh! did you?' observed Dolbiac calmly. 'So sorry. I knew it was a
silly and nincompoopish book, but I thought you wouldn't mind so long
That particular Wednesday of Mrs. Ashton Portway's came to an end in
hurried confusion. Mr. Dolbiac professed to be entirely ignorant of
Henry's identity, and went out into the night. Henry assured his
hostess that really it was nothing, except a good joke. But everyone
felt that the less said, the better. Of such creases in the web of
social life Time is the best smoother.
CHAPTER XXII. HE LEARNS MORE ABOUT
When Henry had rendered up his ticket and recovered his garments, he
found Geraldine in the hall, and a servant asking her if she wanted a
four-wheeler or a hansom. He was not quite sure whether she had
descended before him or after him: things were rather misty.
'I am going your way,' he said. 'Can't I see you home?'
He was going her way: the idea of going her way had occurred to him
suddenly as a beautiful idea.
Instead of replying, she looked at him. She looked at him sadly out
of the white shawl which enveloped her head and her golden hair, and
There was a four-wheeler at the kerb, and they entered it and sat
down side by side in that restricted compartment, and the fat old
driver, with his red face popping up out of a barrel consisting of
scores of overcoats and aprons, drove off. It was very foggy, but one
could see the lamp-posts.
'These fogs are simply awful, aren't they?' he remarked.
She made no answer.
'It isn't often they begin as early as this,' he proceeded; 'I
suppose it means a bad winter.'
But she made no answer.
And then a sort of throb communicated itself to him, and then
another, and then he heard a smothered sound. This magnificent
creature, this independent, experienced, strong-minded, superior,
dazzling creature was cryingwas, indeed, sobbing. And cabs are so
small, and she was so close. Pleasure may be so keen as to be
agonizing: Henry discovered this profound truth in that moment. In that
moment he learnt more about women than he had learnt during the whole
of his previous life. He knew that her sobbing had some connection with
A Question of Cubits, but he could not exactly determine the
'What's the matter?' the blundering fool inquired nervously. 'You
'I'm soso ashamed,' she stammered out, when she had patted her
eyes with a fragment of lace.
'Why? What of?'
'I introduced her to you. It's my fault.'
'But what's your fault?'
'This horrible thing that happened.'
She sobbed again frequently.
'Oh, that was nothing!' said Henry kindly. 'You mustn't think about
'You don't know how I feel,' she managed to tell him.
'I wish you'd forget it,' he urged her. 'He didn't mean to be rude.'
'It isn't so much his rudeness,' she wept. 'It'sanyone saying a
thinglike thatabout your book. You don't know how I feel.'
'Oh, come!' Henry enjoined her. 'What's my book, anyhow?'
'It's yours,' she said, and began to cry gently, resignedly,
It had grown dark. The cab had plunged into an opaque sea of
blackest fog. No sound could be heard save the footfalls of the horse,
which was now walking very slowly. They were cut off absolutely from
the rest of the universe. There was no such thing as society, the
state, traditions, etiquette; nothing existed, ever had existed, or
ever would exist, except themselves, twain, in that lost four-wheeler.
Henry had a box of matches in his overcoat pocket. He struck one,
illuminating their tiny chamber, and he saw her face once more, as
though after long years. And there were little black marks round her
eyes, due to her tears and the fog and the fragment of lace. And those
little black marks appeared to him to be the most delicious,
enchanting, and wonderful little black marks that the mind of man could
possibly conceive. And there was an exquisite, timid, confiding,
surrendering look in her eyes, which said: 'I'm only a weak, foolish,
fanciful woman, and you are a big, strong, wise, great man; my one
merit is that I know how great, how chivalrous, you are!'
And mixed up with the timidity in that look there was something
elsesomething that made him almost shudder. All this by the light of
Good-bye world! Good-bye mother! Good-bye Aunt Annie! Good-bye the
natural course of events! Good-bye correctness, prudence, precedents!
Good-bye all! Good-bye everything! He dropped the match and kissed her.
And his knowledge of women was still further increased.
Oh, the unique ecstasy of such propinquity!
Eternity set in. And in eternity one does not light matches....
The next exterior phenomenon was a blinding flash through the window
of what, after all, was a cab. The door opened.
'You'd better get out o' this,' said the cabman, surveying them by
the ray of one of his own lamps.
'Why?' asked Henry.
'Why?' replied the cabman sourly. 'Look here, governor, do you know
where we are?'
'No,' said Henry.
'No. And I'm jiggered if I do, either. You'd better take the other
blessed lamp and ask. No, not me. I don't leave my horse. I ain't
agoin' to lose my horse.'
So Henry got out of the cab, and took a lamp and moved forward into
nothingness, and found a railing and some steps, and after climbing the
steps saw a star, which proved ultimately to be a light over a
swing-door. He pushed open the swing-door, and was confronted by a
'Will you kindly tell me where I am? he asked the footman.
'This is Marlborough House,' said the footman.
'Oh, is it? Thanks,' said Henry.
'Well,' ejaculated the cabman when Henry had luckily regained the
vehicle. 'I suppose that ain't good enough for you! Buckingham Palace
is your doss, I suppose.'
They could now hear distant sounds, which indicated other vessels in
The cabman said he would make an effort to reach Charing Cross, by
leading his horse and sticking to the kerb; but not an inch further
than Charing Cross would he undertake to go.
The passage over Trafalgar Square was so exciting that, when at
length the aged cabman touched pavementthat is to say, when his horse
had planted two forefeet firmly on the steps of the Golden Cross
Hotelhe announced that that precise point would be the end of the
'You go in there and sleep it off,' he advised his passengers.
'Chenies Street won't see much of you to-night. And make it five bob,
governor. I've done my best.'
'You must stop the night here,' said Henry in a low voice to
Geraldine, before opening the doors of the hotel. 'And I,' he added
quickly, 'will go to Morley's. It's round the corner, and so I can't
lose my way.'
'Yes, dear,' she acquiesced. 'I dare say that will be best.'
'Your eyes are a little black with the fog,' he told her.
'Are they?' she said, wiping them. 'Thanks for telling me.'
And they entered.
'Nasty night, sir,' the hall-porter greeted them.
'Very,' said Henry. 'This lady wants a room. Have you one?'
At the foot of the staircase they shook hands, and kissed in
'Good-night,' he said, and she said the same.
But when she had climbed three or four stairs, she gave a little
start and returned to him, smiling, appealing.
'I've only got a shilling or two,' she whispered. 'Can you lend me
some money to pay the bill with?'
He produced a sovereign. Since the last kiss in the cab, nothing had
afforded him one hundredth part of the joy which he experienced in
parting with that sovereign. The transfer of the coin, so natural, so
right, so proper, seemed to set a seal on what had occurred, to make it
real and effective. He wished to shower gold upon her.
As, bathed in joy and bliss, he watched her up the stairs, a little,
obscure compartment of his brain was thinking: 'If anyone had told me
two hours ago that before midnight I should be engaged to be married to
the finest woman I ever saw, I should have said they were off their
chumps. Curious, I've never mentioned her at home since she called!
He turned sharply and resolutely to go to Morley's, and collided
with Mr. Dolbiac, who, strangely enough, was standing immediately
behind him, and gazing up the stairs, too.
'Ah, my bold buccaneer!' said Mr. Dolbiac familiarly. 'Digested
those marrons glacés? I've fairly caught you out this time,
Henry stared at him, startled, and blushed a deep crimson.
'You don't remember me. You've forgotten me,' said Mr. Dolbiac.
'It isn't Cousin Tom?' Henry guessed.
'Oh, isn't it?' said Mr. Dolbiac. 'That's just what it is.'
Henry shook his hand generously. 'I'm awfully glad to see you,' he
began, and then, feeling that he must be a man of the world: 'Come and
have a drink. Are you stopping here?'
The episode of Mrs. Ashton Portway's was, then, simply one of Cousin
Tom's jokes, and he accepted it as such without the least demur or
'It was you who sent that funny telegram, wasn't it?' he asked
In the smoking-room Tom explained how he had grown a beard in
obedience to the dictates of nature, and changed his name in obedience
to the dictates of art. And Henry, for his part, explained sundry
things about himself, and about Geraldine.
The next morning, when Henry arrived at Dawes Road, decidedly late,
Tom was already there. And more, he had already told the ladies,
evidently in a highly-decorated narrative, of Henry's engagement! The
situation for Henry was delicate in the extreme, but, anyhow, his
mother and aunt had received the first shock. They knew the naked fact,
and that was something. And of course Cousin Tom always made delicate
situations: it was his privilege to do so. Cousin Tom's two aunts were
delighted to see him again, and in a state so flourishing. He was asked
no inconvenient questions, and he furnished no information. Bygones
were bygones. Henry had never been told about the trifling incident of
the ten pounds.
'She's coming down to-night,' Henry said, addressing his mother,
after the mid-day meal.
'I'm very glad,' replied his mother.
'We shall be most pleased to welcome her,' Aunt Annie said. 'Well,
CHAPTER XXIII. SEPARATION
Henry's astonishment at finding himself so suddenly betrothed to the
finest woman in the world began to fade and perish in three days or so.
As he looked into the past with that searching eye of his, he thought
he could see that his relations with Geraldine had never ceased to
develop since their commencement, even when they had not been precisely
cordial and sincere. He remembered strange things that he had read
about love in books, things which had previously struck him as being
absurd, but which now became explanatory commentaries on the puzzling
text of the episode in the cab. It was not long before he decided that
the episode in the cab was almost a normal episode.
He was very proud and happy, and full of sad superior pity for all
young men who, through incorrect views concerning women, had neglected
to plight themselves.
He imagined that he was going to settle down and live for ever in a
state of bliss with the finest woman in the world, rich, famous,
honoured; and that life held for him no other experience, and
especially no disconcerting, dismaying experience. But in this
supposition he was mistaken.
One afternoon he had escorted Tom to Chenies Street, in order that
Tom might formally meet Geraldine. It was rather nervous work, having
regard to Tom's share in the disaster at Lowndes Square; and the more
so because Geraldine's visit to Dawes Road had not been a dazzling
success. Geraldine in Dawes Road had somehow the air, the brazen air,
of an orchid in a clump of violets; the violets, by their mere quality
of being violets, rebuked the orchid, and the orchid could not have
flourished for any extended period in that temperature. Still, Mrs.
Knight and Aunt Annie said to Henry afterwards that Geraldine was very
clever and nice; and Geraldine said to Henry afterwards that his mother
and aunt were delightful old ladies. The ordeal for Geraldine was now
quite a different one. Henry hoped for the best. It did not follow,
because Geraldine had not roused the enthusiasm of Dawes Road, that she
would leave Tom cold. In fact, Henry could not see how Tom could fail
to be enchanted.
A minor question which troubled Henry, as they ascended the stone
stairs at Chenies Street, was this: Should he kiss Geraldine in front
of Tom? He decided that it was not only his right, but his duty, to
kiss her in the privacy of her own flat, with none but a relative
present. 'Kiss her I will!' his thought ran. And kiss her he did.
Nothing untoward occurred. 'Why, of course!' he reflected. 'What on
earth was I worrying about?' He was conscious of glory. And he soon saw
that Tom really was impressed by Geraldine. Tom's eyes said to him:
'You're not such a fool as you might have been.'
Geraldine scolded Tom for his behaviour at Mrs. Ashton Portway's,
and Tom replied in Tom's manner; and then, when they were all at ease,
she turned to Henry.
'My poor friend,' she said, 'I've got bad news.'
She handed him a letter from her brother in Leicester, from which it
appeared that the brother's two elder children were down with
scarlatina, while the youngest, three days old, and the mother, were in
a condition to cause a certain anxiety ... and could Geraldine come to
'Shall you go?' Henry asked.
'Oh yes,' she said. 'I've arranged with Mr. Snyder, and wired Teddy
that I'll arrive early to-morrow.'
She spoke in an extremely matter-of-fact tone, as though there were
no such things as love and ecstasy in the world, as though to indicate
that in her opinion life was no joke, after all.
'And what about me?' said Henry. He thought: 'My shrewd, capable
girl has to sacrifice herselfand mein order to look after
incompetent persons who can't look after themselves!'
'You'll be all right,' said she, still in the same tone.
'Can't I run down and see you?' he suggested.
She laughed briefly, as at a pleasantry, and so Henry laughed too.
'With four sick people on my hands!' she exclaimed.
'How long shall you be away?' he inquired.
'My dearcan I tell?'
'You'd better come back to Paris with me for a week or so, my son,'
said Tom. 'I shall leave the day after to-morrow.'
And now Henry laughed, as at a pleasantry. But, to his surprise,
'Yes, do. What a good idea! I should like you to enjoy yourself, and
Paris is so jolly. You've been, haven't you, dearest?'
'No,' Henry replied. 'I've never been abroad at all.'
'Never? Oh, that settles it. You must go.'
Henry had neither the slightest desire nor the slightest intention
to go to Paris. The idea of him being in Paris, of all places, while
Geraldine was nursing the sick night and day, was not a pleasant one.
'You really ought to go, you know,' Tom resumed. 'You, a novelist
... can't see too much! The monuments of Paris, the genius of the
French nation! And there's notepaper and envelopes and stamps, just the
same as in London. Letters posted in Paris before six o'clock will
arrive in Leicester on the following afternoon. Am I not right, Miss
'No,' said Henry. 'I'm not going to Parisnot me!'
'But I wish it,' Geraldine remarked calmly.
And he saw, amazed, that she did wish it. Pursuing his researches
into the nature of women, he perceived vaguely that she would find
pleasure in martyrizing herself in Leicester while he was gadding about
Paris; and pleasure also in the thought of his uncomfortable thought of
her martyrizing herself in Leicester while he was gadding about Paris.
But he said to himself that he did not mean to yield to womanish
whimshe, a man.
'And my work?' he questioned lightly.
'Your work will be all the better,' said Geraldine with a firm
And then it seemed to be borne in upon him that womanish whims
needed delicate handling. And why not yield this once? It would please
her. And he could have been firm had he chosen.
Hence it was arranged.
'I'm only going to please you,' he said to her when he was
mournfully seeing her off at St. Pancras the next morning.
'Yes, I know,' she answered, 'and it's sweet of you. But you want
someone to make you move, dearest.'
'Oh, do I?' he thought; 'do I?'
His mother and Aunt Annie were politely surprised at the excursion.
But they succeeded in conveying to him that they had decided to be
prepared for anything now.
CHAPTER XXIV. COSETTE
Tom and Henry put up at the Grand Hotel, Paris. The idea was Tom's.
He decried the hotel, its clients and its reputation, but he said that
it had one advantage: when you were at the Grand Hotel you knew where
you were. Tom, it appeared, had a studio and bedroom up in Montmartre.
He postponed visiting this abode, however, until the morrow, partly
because it would not be prepared for him, and partly in order to give
Henry the full advantage of his society. They sat on the terrace of the
Café de la Paix, after a very late dinner, and drank bock, and watched
the nocturnal life of the boulevard, and talked. Henry gatherednot
from any direct statement, but by inferencethat Tom must have
acquired a position in the art world of Paris. Tom mentioned the Salon
as if the Salon were his pocket, and stated casually that there was
work of his in the Luxembourg. Strange that the cosmopolitan quality of
Tom's reputationif, in comparison with Henry's, it might be called a
reputation at allroused the author's envy! He, too, wished to be
famous in France, and to be at home in two capitals. Tom retired at
what he considered an early hournamely, midnightthe oceanic part of
the journey having saddened him. Before they separated he borrowed a
sovereign from Henry, and this simple monetary transaction had the
singular effect of reducing Henry's envy.
The next morning Henry wished to begin a systematic course of the
monuments of Paris and the artistic genius of the French nation. But
Tom would not get up. At eleven o'clock Henry, armed with a map and the
English talent for exploration, set forth alone to grasp the general
outlines of the city, and came back successful at half-past one. At
half-past two Tom was inclined to consider the question of getting up,
and Henry strolled out again and lost himself between the Moulin Rouge
and the Church of Sacré Coeur. It was turned four o'clock when he
sighted the façade of the hotel, and by that time Tom had not only
arisen, but departed, leaving a message that he should be back at six
o'clock. So Henry wandered up and down the boulevard, from the
Madeleine to Marguéry's Restaurant, had an automatic tea at the
Express-Bar, and continued to wander up and down the boulevard.
He felt that he could have wandered up and down the boulevard for
And then night fell; and all along the boulevard, high on seventh
storeys and low as the street names, there flashed and flickered and
winked, in red and yellow and a most voluptuous purple, electric
invitations to drink inspiriting liqueurs and to go and amuse yourself
in places where the last word of amusement was spoken. There was one
name, a name almost revered by the average healthy Englishman, which
wrote itself magically on the dark blue sky in yellow, then
extinguished itself and wrote itself anew in red, and so on tirelessly:
that name was 'Folies-Bergère.' It gave birth to the most extraordinary
sensations in Henry's breast. And other names, such as 'Casino de
Paris,' 'Eldorado,' 'Scala,' glittered, with their guiding arrows of
light, from bronze columns full in the middle of the street. And what
with these devices, and the splendid glowing windows of the shops, and
the enlarged photographs of surpassingly beautiful women which hung in
heavy frames from almost every lamp-post, and the jollity of the
slowly-moving crowds, and the incredible illustrations displayed on the
newspaper kiosks, and the moon creeping up the velvet sky, and the
thousands of little tables at which the jolly crowds halted to drink
liquids coloured like the rainbowwhat with all that, and what with
the curious gay feeling in the air, Henry felt that possibly Berlin, or
Boston, or even Timbuctoo, might be a suitable and proper place for an
engaged young man, but that decidedly Paris was not.
At six o'clock there was no sign of Tom. He arrived at half-past
seven, admitted that he was a little late, and said that a friend had
given him tickets for the first performance of the new 'revue' at the
Folies-Bergère, that night.
'And now, since we are alone, we can talk,' said Cosette, adding, '
'Yes,' Henry agreed.
'Dolbiac has told me you are very richune vogue épatante.... One would not say it.... But how your ears are pretty!' Cosette
glanced admiringly at the lobe of his left ear.
('Anyhow,' Henry reflected, 'she would insist on me coming to Paris.
I didn't want to come.')
They were alone, and yet not alone. They occupied a 'loge' in the
crammed, gorgeous, noisy Folies-Bergère. But it resembled a box in an
English theatre less than an old-fashioned family pew at the Great
Queen Street Wesleyan Chapel. It was divided from other boxes and from
the stalls and from the jostling promenade by white partitions scarcely
as high as a walking-stick. There were four enamelled chairs in it, and
Henry and Cosette were seated on two of them; the other two were empty.
Tom had led Henry like a sheep to the box, where they were evidently
expected by two excessively stylish young women, whom Tom had
introduced to the overcome Henry as Loulou and Cosette, two artistes of
the Théâtre des Capucines. Loulou was short and fair and of a full
habit, and spoke no English. Cosette was tall and slim and dark, and
talked slowly, and with smiles, a language which was frequently a
recognisable imitation of English. She had learnt it, she said, in
Ireland, where she had been educated in a French convent. She had just
finished a long engagement at the Capucines, and in a fortnight she was
to commence at the Scala: this was an off-night for her. She protested
a deep admiration for Tom.
Cosette and Loulou and Tom had held several colloquies, in
incomprehensible French that raced like a mill-stream over a weir, with
acquaintances who accosted them on the promenade or in the stalls, and
at length Tom and Loulou had left the 'loge' for a few minutes in order
to accept the hospitality of friends in the great hall at the back of
the auditorium. The new 'revue' seemed to be the very last thing that
they were interested in.
'Don't be afraid,' Tom, departing, had said to Henry. 'She won't eat
'You leave me to take care of myself,' Henry had replied, lifting
Cosette transgressed the English code governing the externals of
women in various particulars. And the principal result was to make the
English code seem insular and antique. She had an extremely large white
hat, with a very feathery feather in it, and some large white roses
between the brim and her black hair. Her black hair was positively
sable, and one single immense lock of it was drawn level across her
forehead. With the large white hat she wore a low evening-dress,
lace-covered, with loose sleeves to the elbow, and white gloves running
up into the mystery of the sleeves. Round her neck was a tight string
of pearls. The combination of the hat and the evening-dress startled
Henry, but he saw in the theatre many other women similarly
contemptuous of the English code, and came to the conclusion that,
though queer and un-English, the French custom had its points.
Cosette's complexion was even more audacious in its contempt of Henry's
deepest English convictions. Her lips were most obviously painted, and
her eyebrows had received some assistance, and once, in a manner
absolutely ingenuous, she produced a little bag and gazed at herself in
a little mirror, and patted her chin with a little puff, and then
smiled happily at Henry. Yes, and Henry approved. He was forced to
approve, forced to admit the artificial and decadent but indubitable
charm of paint and powder. The contrast between Cosette's lips and her
brilliant teeth was utterly bewitching.
She was not beautiful. In facial looks, she was simply not in the
same class with Geraldine. And as to intellect, also, Geraldine was an
But in all other things, in the things that really mattered (such
was the dim thought at the back of Henry's mind), she was to Geraldine
what Geraldine was to Aunt Annie. Her gown was a miracle, her hat was
another, and her coiffure a third. And when she removed a gloveher
rings, and her finger-nails! And the glimpses of her shoes! She was so
finished. And in the way of being frankly feminine, Geraldine might
go to school to her. Geraldine had brains and did not hide them;
Geraldine used the weapon of seriousness. But Cosette knew better than
that. Cosette could surround you with a something, an emanation of all
the woman in her, that was more efficient to enchant than the brains of
a Georges Sand could have been.
And Paris, or that part of the city which constitutes Paris for the
average healthy Englishman, was an open book to this woman of
twenty-four. Nothing was hid from her. Nothing startled her, nothing
seemed unusual to her. Nothing shocked her except Henry's ignorance of
all the most interesting things in the world.
'Well, what do you think of a French revue, my son?' asked Tom
when he returned with Loulou.
'Don't know,' said Henry, with his gibus tipped a little backward.
'Haven't seen it. We've been talking. The music's a fearful din.' He
felt nearly as Parisian as Tom looked.
'Tiens!' Cosette twittered to Loulou, making a gesture
towards Henry's ears. 'Regarde-moi ces oreilles. Sont jolies. Pas?
And she brought her teeth together with a click that seemed to
render somewhat doubtful Tom's assurance that she would not eat Henry.
Soon afterwards Tom and Henry left the auditorium, and Henry parted
from Cosette with mingled sensations of regret and relief. He might
never see her again. Geraldine....
But Tom did not emerge from the outer precincts of the vast
music-hall without several more conversations with fellows-well-met,
and when he and Henry reached the pavement, Cosette and Loulou happened
to be just getting into a cab. Tom did not see them, but Henry and
Cosette caught sight of each other. She beckoned to him.
'You come and take lunch with me to-morrow? Hein?' she almost
whispered in that ear of his.
'Avec plaisir,' said Henry. He had studied French regularly
for six years at school.
'Rue de Bruxelles, No. 3,' she instructed him. 'Noon.'
'I know it!' he exclaimed delightedly. He had, in fact, passed
through the street during the day.
No one had ever told him before that his ears were pretty.
When, after parleying nervously with the concierge, he arrived at
the second-floor of No. 3, Rue de Bruxelles, he heard violent high
sounds of altercation through the door at which he was about to ring,
and then the door opened, and a young woman, flushed and weeping, was
sped out on to the landing, Cosette herself being the exterminator.
'Ah, mon ami!' said Cosette, seeing him. 'Enter then.'
She charmed him inwards and shut the door, breathing quickly.
'It is my domestique, my servant, who steals me,' she
explained. 'Come and sit down in the salon. I will tell you.'
The salon was a little room about eight feet by ten, silkily
furnished. Besides being the salon, it was clearly also the salle à
manger, and when one person had sat down therein it was full.
Cosette took Henry's hat and coat and umbrella and pressed him into a
chair by the shoulders, and then gave him the full history of her
unparalleled difficulties with the exterminated servant. She looked
quite a different Cosette now from the Cosette of the previous evening.
Her black hair was loose; her face pale, and her lips also a little
pale; and she was draped from neck to feet in a crimson peignoir, very
'And now I must buy the lunch,' she said. 'I must go myself. Excuse
She disappeared into the adjoining room, the bedroom, and Henry
could hear the fracas of silk and stuff. 'What do you eat for
lunch?' she cried out.
'Anything,' Henry called in reply.
'Oh! Que les hommes sont bêtes!' she murmured, her voice
seemingly lost in the folds of a dress. 'One must choose. Say.'
'Whatever you like,' said Henry.
'Oh yes,' said Henry.
She reappeared in a plain black frock, with a reticule in her hand,
and at the same moment a fox-terrier wandered in from somewhere.
'Mimisse!' she cried in ecstasy, snatching up the animal and
kissing it. 'You want to go with your mamma? Yess. What do you think of
my fox? She is real English. Elle est si gentille avec sa
mère! Ma Mimisse! Ma petite fille! My little girl! Dites, mon
ami'she abandoned the dog'have you some money for our lunch?
'That enough?' Henry asked, handing her the piece.
'Thank you,' she said. 'Viens, Mimisse.'
'You haven't put your hat on,' Henry informed her.
'Mais, mon pauvre ami, is it that you take me for a duchess?
I come from the ouvriers, me, the working peoples. I avow it.
Never can I do my shops in a hat. I should blush.'
And with a tremendous flutter, scamper, and chatter, Cosette and her
fox departed, leaving Henry solitary to guard the flat.
He laughed to himself, at himself. 'Well,' he murmured, looking down
into the court, 'I suppose'
Cosette came back with a tin of sardines, a piece of steak, some
French beans, two cakes of the kind called 'nuns,' a bunch of grapes,
and a segment of Brie cheese. She put on an apron, and went into the
kitchenlet, and began to cook, giving Henry instructions the while how
to lay the table and where to find the things. Then she brought him the
coffee-mill full of coffee, and told him to grind it.
The lunch seemed to be ready in about three minutes, and it was
merely perfection. Such steak, such masterly handling of green
vegetables, and such 'nuns!' And the wine!
There were three at table, Mimisse being the third. Mimisse partook
of everything except wine.
'You see I am a woman pot-au-feu,' said Cosette, not without
satisfaction, in response to his praises of the meal. He did not
exactly know what a woman pot-au-feu might be, but he agreed
enthusiastically that she was that sort of woman.
At the stage of coffeeMimisse had a piece of sugar steeped in
coffeeshe produced cigarettes, and made him light his cigarette at
hers, and put her elbows on the table and looked at his ears. She was
still wearing the apron, which appeared to Henry to be an apron of
'So you are fiancé, mon petit? Eh?' she said.
'Who told you?' Henry asked quickly. 'Tom?'
She nodded; then sighed. He was instructed to describe Geraldine in
detail. Cosette sighed once more.
'Why do you sigh?' he demanded.
'Who knows?' she answered. 'Dites! English ladies are cold?
Like that?' She affected the supercilious gestures of Englishwomen whom
she had seen in the streets and elsewhere. 'No?'
'Perhaps,' Henry said.
'Frenchwomen are better? Yes? Dites-moi franchement. You
'In some ways,' Henry agreed.
'You like Frenchwomen more than those cold Englishwomen who have no
'When I'm in Paris I do,' said Henry.
'Ah! Comme tous les Anglais!'
She rose, and just grazed his ear with her little finger. 'Va!
' she said.
He felt that she was beyond anything in his previous experience.
A little later she told him she had to go to the Scala to sign her
contract, and she issued an order that he was to take Mimisse out for a
little exercise, and return for her in half an hour, when she would be
dressed. So Henry went forth with Mimisse at the end of a strap.
In the Boulevard de Clichy who should accost him but Tom, whom he
had left asleep as usual at the hotel!
'What dog is that?' Tom asked.
'Cosette's,' said Henry, unsuccessfully trying to assume a demeanour
at once natural and tranquil.
'My young friend,' said Tom, 'I perceive that it will be necessary
to look after you. I was just going to my studio, but I will accompany
you in your divagations.'
They returned to the Rue de Bruxelles together. Cosette was dressed
in all her afternoon splendour, for the undoing of theatrical managers.
The rôle of woman pot-au-feu was finished for that day.
'I'm off to Monte Carlo to-morrow,' said Tom to her. 'I'm going to
paint a portrait there. And Henry will come with me.'
'To Monte Carlo?' Henry gasped.
'To Monte Carlo.'
'Do you suppose I'm going to leave you here?' Tom inquired. 'And you
can't return to London yet.'
'No,' said Cosette thoughtfully, 'not London.'
They left her in the Boulevard de Strasbourg, and then Tom suggested
a visit to the Luxembourg Gallery. It was true: a life-sized statue of
Sappho, signed 'Dolbiac,' did in feet occupy a prominent place in the
sculpture-room. Henry was impressed; so also was Tom, who explained to
his young cousin all the beauties of the work.
'What else is there to see here?' Henry asked, when the stream of
explanations had slackened.
'Oh, there's nothing much else,' said Tom dejectedly.
They came away. This was the beginning and the end of Henry's
studies in the monuments of Paris.
At the hotel he found opportunity to be alone.
He wished to know exactly where he stood, and which way he was
looking. It was certain that the day had been unlike any other day in
'I suppose that's what they call Bohemia,' he exclaimed wistfully,
solitary in his bedroom.
And then later:
'Jove! I've never written to Geraldine to-day!'
CHAPTER XXV. THE RAKE'S PROGRESS
'Faites vos jeux, messieurs,' said the chief croupier of the
Henry's fingers touched a solitary five-franc piece in his pocket,
large, massive, seductive.
Yes, he was at Monte Carlo. He could scarcely believe it, but it was
so. Tom had brought him. The curious thing about Tom was that, though
he lied frequently and casually, just as some men hitch their collars,
his wildest statements had a way of being truthful. Thus, a work of his
had in fact been purchased by the French Government and placed on
exhibition in the Luxembourg. And thus he had in fact come to Monte
Carlo to paint a portraitthe portrait of a Sicilian Countess, he
said, and Henry believed, without actually having seen the alleged
Countessat a high price. There were more complexities in Tom's
character than Henry could unravel. Henry had paid the entire bill at
the Grand Hotel, had lent Tom a sovereign, another sovereign, and a
five-pound note, and would certainly have been mulcted in Tom's fare on
the expensive train de luxe had he not sagaciously demanded
money from Tom before entering the ticket-office. Without being told,
Henry knew that money lent to Tom was money dropped down a grating in
the street. During the long journey southwards Tom had confessed, with
a fine appreciation of the fun, that he lived in Paris until his
creditors made Paris disagreeable, and then went elsewhere, Rome or
London, until other creditors made Rome or London disagreeable, and
then he returned to Paris.
Henry had received this remark in silence.
As the train neared Monte Carlothe hour was roseate and
matutinalHenry had observed Tom staring at the scenery through the
window, his coffee untasted, and tears in his rapt eyes. 'What's up?'
Henry had innocently inquired. Tom turned on him fiercely. 'Silly ass!'
Tom growled with scathing contempt. 'Can't you feel how beautiful it
And this remark, too, Henry had received in silence.
'Do you reckon yourself a great artist?' Tom had asked, and Henry
had laughed. 'No, I'm not joking,' Tom had insisted. 'Do you honestly
reckon yourself a great artist? I reckon myself one. There's candour
for you. Now tell me, frankly.' There was a wonderful and rare charm in
Tom's manner as he uttered these words. 'I don't know,' Henry had
replied. 'Yes, you do,' Tom had insisted. 'Speak the truth. I won't let
it go any further. Do you think yourself as big as George Eliot, for
example?' Henry had hesitated, forced into sincerity by Tom's
persuasive and serious tone. 'It's not a fair question,' Henry had said
at length. Whereupon Tom, without the least warning, had burst into
loud laughter: 'My bold buccaneer, you take the cake. You always did.
You always will. There is something about you that is colossal,
immense, and magnificent.'
And this third remark also Henry had received in silence.
It was their second day at Monte Carlo, and Tom, after getting
Henry's card of admission for him, had left him in the gaming-rooms,
and gone off to the alleged Countess. The hour was only half-past
eleven, and none of the roulette tables was crowded; two of the
trente-et-quarante tables had not even begun to operate. For some
minutes Henry watched a roulette table, fascinated by the munificent
style of the croupiers in throwing five-franc pieces, louis, and
bank-notes about the green cloth, and the neat twist of the thumb and
finger with which the chief croupier spun the ball. There were thirty
or forty persons round the table, all solemn and intent, and most of
them noting the sequence of winning numbers on little cards. 'What
fools!' thought Henry. 'They know the Casino people make a profit of
two thousand a day. They know the chances are mathematically against
them. And yet they expect to win!'
It was just at this point in his meditations upon the spectacle of
human foolishness that he felt the five-franc piece in his pocket. An
idea crossed his mind that he would stake it, merely in order to be
able to say that he had gambled at Monte Carlo. Absurd! How much more
effective to assert that he had visited the tables and not gambled!...
And then he knew that something within him more powerful than his
common-sense would force him to stake that five-franc piece. He glanced
furtively at the crowd to see whether anyone was observing him. No.
Well, it having been decided to bet, the next question was, how to bet?
Now, Henry had read a magazine article concerning the tables at Monte
Carlo, and, being of a mathematical turn, had clearly grasped the
principles of the game. He said to himself, with his characteristic
caution: 'I'll wait till red wins four times running, and then I'll
stake on the black.'
('But surely,' remarked the logical superior person in him, 'you
don't mean to argue that a spin of the ball is affected by the spins
that have preceded it? You don't mean to argue that, because red wins
four times, or forty times, running, black is any the more likely to
win at the next spin?' 'You shut up!' retorted the human side of him
crossly. 'I know all about that.')
At last, after a considerable period of waiting, red won four times
in succession. Henry felt hot and excited. He pulled the great coin out
of his pocket, and dropped it in again, and then the croupier spun the
ball and exhorted the company several times to make their games, and
precisely as the croupier was saying sternly, 'Rien ne va plus,' Henry
took the coin again, and with a tremendous effort of will, leaning over
an old man seated in front of him, pitched it into the meadow devoted
to black stakes. He blushed; his hair tingled at the root; he was
convinced that everybody round the table was looking at him with
'Quatre, noir, pair, et manque,' cried the croupier.
Black had won.
Henry's heart was beating like a hammer. Even now he was afraid lest
one of the scoundrels who, according to the magazine article, infested
the rooms, might lean over his shoulder and snatch his lawful gains. He
kept an eye lifting. The croupier threw a five-franc piece to join his
own, and Henry, with elaborate calmness, picked both pieces up. His
temperature fell; he breathed more easily. 'It's nothing, after all,'
he thought. 'Of course, on that system I'm bound to win.'
Soon afterwards the old man in front of him grunted and left, and
Henry slipped into the vacant chair. In half an hour he had made twenty
francs; his demeanour had hardened; he felt as though he had frequented
Monte Carlo steadily for years; and what he did not know about the art
and craft of roulette was apocryphal.
'Place this for me,' said a feminine voice.
He turned swiftly. It was Cosette's voice! There she stood,
exquisitely and miraculously dressed, behind his chair, holding a note
of the Bank of France in her gloved hand!
'When did you come?' he asked loudly, in his extreme astonishment.
'Pstt!' she smilingly admonished him for breaking the rule of
the saloons. 'Place this for me.'
It was a note for a thousand francs.
'This?' he said.
'Choose,' she whispered. 'You are lucky. You will bring happiness.'
He did not know what he was doing, so madly whirled his brain, and,
as the black enclosure happened to be nearest to him, he dropped the
note there. The croupier at the end of the table manoeuvred it with his
rake, and called out to the centre: 'Billet de mille francs.'
Then, when it was too late, Henry recollected that black had already
turned up three times together. But in a moment black had won.
'I can quite understand the fascination this game has for people,'
'Leave them there,' said Cosette, pointing to the two notes for a
thousand francs each. 'I like to follow the run.'
Black won again.
'Leave them there,' said Cosette, pointing to the four notes for a
thousand francs each. 'I did say you would bring happiness.' They
smiled at each other happily.
Black won again.
Cosette repeated her orders. Such a method of playing was entirely
contrary to Henry's expert opinion. Nevertheless, black, in defiance of
rules, continued to win. When sixteen thousand francs of paper lay
before Henry, the croupier addressed him sharply, and he gathered, with
Cosette's assistance, that the maximum stake was twelve thousand
'Put four thousand on the odd numbers,' said Cosette. 'Eh? You
'No,' said Henry. 'Evens.'
And the number four turned up again.
At a stroke he had won sixteen thousand francs, six hundred and
forty pounds, for Cosette, and the total gains were one thousand two
hundred and forty pounds.
The spectators were at last interested in Henry's play. It was no
longer an illusion on his part that people stared at him.
'Say a number,' whispered Cosette. 'Shut the eyes and say a number.'
'Twenty-four,' said Henry. She had told him it was her age.
'Bien! Voilà huit louis!' she exclaimed, opening her purse of
netted gold; and he took the eight coins and put them on number
twenty-four. Eight notes for a thousand francs each remained on the
even numbers. The other notes were in Henry's hip-pocket, a crushed
Twenty-four won. It was nothing but black that morning. 'Mais
c'est épatant!' murmured several on lookers anxiously.
A croupier counted out innumerable notes, and sundry noble and
glorious gold plaques of a hundred francs each. Henry could not
check the totals, but he knew vaguely that another three hundred pounds
or so had accrued to him, on behalf of Cosette.
'I fancy red now,' he said, sighing.
And feeling a terrible habitué, he said to the croupier in French: '
'Maximum. Rouge,' repeated the croupier.
Instantly the red enclosure was covered with the stakes of a
quantity of persons who had determined to partake of Henry's luck.
And red won; it was the number fourteen.
Henry was so absorbed that he did not observe a colloquy between two
of the croupiers at the middle of the table. The bank was broken, and
every soul in every room knew it in the fraction of a second.
'Come,' said Cosette, as soon as Henry had received the winnings.
'Come,' she repeated, pulling his sleeve nervously.
'I've broken the bank at Monte Carlo!' he thought as they hurried
out of the luxurious halls. 'I've broken the bank at Monte Carlo! I've
broken the bank at Monte Carlo!'
If he had succeeded to the imperial throne of China, he would have
felt much the same as he felt then.
Quite by chance he remembered the magazine article, and a statement
therein that prudent people, when they had won a large sum, drove
straight to Smith's Bank and banked it coram publico, so that
scoundrels might be aware that assault with violence in the night hours
would be futile.
'If we lunch?' Cosette suggested, while Henry was getting his hat.
'No, not yet,' he said importantly.
At Smith's Bank he found that he had sixty-three thousand francs of
'You dear,' she murmured in ecstasy, and actually pressed a light
kiss on his ear in the presence of the bank clerk! 'You let me keep the
three thousand?' she pleaded, like a charming child.
So he let her keep the three thousand. The sixty thousand was banked
in her name.
'You offer me a lunch?' she chirruped deliciously, in the street. 'I
gave you a lunch. You give me one. It is why I am come to Monte Carlo,
for that lunch.'
They lunched at the Hôtel de Paris.
He was intoxicated that afternoon, though not with the Heidsieck
they had consumed. They sat out on the terrace. It was December, but
like an English June. And the pride of life, and the beauty of the
world and of women and of the costumes of women, informed and uplifted
his soul. He thought neither of the past nor of the future, but simply
and intensely of the present. He would not even ask himself why,
really, Cosette had come to Monte Carlo. She said she had come with
Loulou, because they both wanted to come; and Loulou was in bed with
migraine; but as for Cosette, she never had the migraine,
she was never ill. And then the sun touched the Italian hills, and the
sea slept, and ... and ... what a planet, this earth! He could almost
understand why Tom had wept between Cannes and Nice.
It was arranged that the four should dine together that evening, if
Loulou had improved and Tom was discoverable. Henry promised to
discover him. Cosette announced that she must visit Loulou, and they
parted for a few brief hours.
'Mon petit!' she threw after him.
To see that girl tripping along the terrace in the sunset was a
Henry went to the Hôtel des Anglais, but Tom had not been seen
there. He strolled back to the Casino gardens. The gardeners were
drawing suspended sheets over priceless blossoms. When that operation
was finished, he yawned, and decided that he might as well go into the
Casino for half an hour, just to watch the play.
The atmosphere of the gay but unventilated rooms was heavy and
He chose a different table to watch, a table far from the scene of
his early triumph. In a few minutes he said that he might as well play,
to pass the time. So he began to play, feeling like a giant among
pigmies. He lost two hundred francs in five spins.
'Steady, my friend!' he enjoined himself.
Now, two hundred francs should be the merest trifle to a man who has
won sixty-three thousand francs. Henry, however, had not won
sixty-three thousand francs. On the other hand, it was precisely Henry
who had paid sixty-five francs for lunch for two that day, and Henry
who had lent Tom a hundred and seventy-five francs, and Henry who had
paid Tom's hotel bill in Paris, and Henry who had left England with
just fifty-five poundsa sum which he had imagined to be royally ample
for his needs on the Continent.
He considered the situation.
He had his return-ticket from Monte Carlo to Paris, and his
return-ticket from Paris to London. He probably owed fifty francs at
the hotel, and he possessed a note for a hundred francs, two notes for
fifty francs, some French gold and silver, and some English silver.
Continuing to play upon his faultless system, he lost another fifty
'I can ask her to lend me something. I won all that lot for her,' he
'You know perfectly well you can't ask her to lend you something,'
said an abstract reasoning power within him. 'It's just because you won
all that lot for her that you can't. You'd be afraid lest she should
think you were sponging on her. Can you imagine yourself asking her?'
'Well, I can ask Tom,' he said.
'Tom!' exclaimed the abstract reasoning power.
'I can wire to Snyder,' he said.
'That would look a bit thick,' replied the abstract reasoning power,
'telegraphing for moneyfrom Monte Carlo.'
Henry took the note for a hundred francs, and put it on red, and
went icy cold in the feet and hands, and swore a horrid oath.
He had sworn, and he was a man of his word. He walked straight out
of the Casino; but uncertainly, feebly, as a man who has received a
staggering blow between the eyes, as a man who has been pitched into a
mountain-pool in January, as a somnambulist who has wakened to find
himself on the edge of a precipice.
He paid his bill at the hotel, and asked the time of the next train
to Paris. There was no next train to Paris that night, but there was a
train to Marseilles. He took it. Had it been a train only to Nice, or
to the Plutonian realms, he would have taken it. He said no good-byes.
He left no messages, no explanations. He went. On the next afternoon
but one he arrived at Victoria with fivepence in his pocket. Twopence
he paid to deposit his luggage in the cloakroom, and threepence for the
Underground fare to Charing Cross. From Charing Cross he walked up to
Kenilworth Mansions and got a sovereign from Mark Snyder. Coutts's,
where Mark financed himself, was closed, and a sovereign was all that
Henry was thankful that the news had not yet reached Londonat any
rate, it had not reached Mark Snyder. It was certain to do so, however.
Henry had read in that morning's Paris edition of the New York
Herald: 'Mr. Henry S. Knight, the famous young English novelist,
broke the bank at Monte Carlo the other day. He was understood to be
playing in conjunction with Mademoiselle Cosette, the well-known
Parisian divette, who is also on a visit to Monte Carlo. I am
told that the pair have netted over a hundred and sixty thousand
He reflected upon Cosette, and he reflected upon Geraldine. It was
like returning to two lumps of sugar in one's tea after having got
accustomed to three.
He was very proud of himself for having so ruthlessly abandoned
Monte Carlo, Cosette, Loulou, Tom, and the whole apparatus. And he had
the right to be.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE NEW LIFE
They were nervous, both of them. Although they had been legally and
publicly married and their situation was in every way regular, although
the new flat in Ashley Gardens was spacious, spotless, and luxurious to
an extraordinary degree, although they had a sum of nearly seven
thousand pounds at the bank, although their consciences were clear and
their persons ornamental, Henry and Geraldine were decidedly nervous as
they sat in their drawing-room awaiting the arrival of Mrs. Knight and
Aunt Annie, who had accepted an invitation to afternoon tea and dinner.
It was the third day after the conclusion of their mysterious
'Have one, dearest?' said Geraldine, determined to be gay, holding
up a morsel which she took from a coloured box by her side. And Henry
took it with his teeth from between her charming fingers. 'Lovely,
aren't they?' she mumbled, munching another morsel herself, and he
mumbled that they were.
She was certainly charming, if English. Thoughts of Cosette, which
used to flit through his brain with a surprising effect that can only
be likened to an effect of flamingoes sweeping across an English
meadow, had now almost entirely ceased to disturb him. He had but to
imagine what Geraldine's attitude towards Cosette would have been had
the two met, in order to perceive the overpowering balance of
advantages in Geraldine's favour.
Much had happened since Cosette.
As a consequence of natural reaction, he had at once settled down to
be extremely serious, and to take himself seriously. He had been
assisted in the endeavour by the publication of an article in a monthly
review, entitled 'The Art of Henry Shakspere Knight.' The article
explained to him how wonderful he was, and he was ingenuously and
sincerely thankful for the revelation. It also, incidentally, showed
him that 'Henry Shakspere Knight' was a better signature for his books
than 'Henry S. Knight,' and he decided to adopt it in his next work.
Further, it had enormously quickened in him the sense of his mission in
the world, of his duty to his colossal public, and his potentiality for
He put aside a book which he had already haltingly commenced, and
began a new one, in which a victim to the passion for gambling was
redeemed by the love of a pure young girl. It contained dramatic scenes
in Paris, in the train de luxe, and in Monte Carlo. One of the
most striking scenes was a harmony of moonlight and love on board a
yacht in the Mediterranean, in which sea Veronica prevailed upon Hubert
to submerge an ill-gotten gain of six hundred and sixty-three thousand
francs, although the renunciation would leave Hubert penniless.
Geraldine watched the progress of this book with absolute satisfaction.
She had no fault to find with it. She gazed at Henry with large
admiring eyes as he read aloud to her chapter after chapter.
'What do you think I'm going to call it?' he had demanded of her
'I don't know,' she said.
'Red and Black,' he told her. 'Isn't that a fine title?'
'Yes,' she said. 'But it's been used before;' and she gave him
particulars of Stendhal's novel, of which he had never heard.
'Oh, well!' he exclaimed, somewhat dashed. 'As Stendhal was a
Frenchman, and his book doesn't deal with gambling at all, I think I
may stick to my title. I thought of it myself, you know.'
'Oh yes, dearest. I know you did,' Geraldine said eagerly.
'You think I'd better alter it?'
Geraldine glanced at the floor. 'You see,' she murmured, 'Stendhal
was a really great writer.'
He started, shocked. She had spoken in such a way that he could not
be sure whether she meant, 'Stendhal was a really great writer,'
or, 'Stendhal was a really great writer.' If the former,
he did not mind, much. But if the latterwell, he thought
uncomfortably of what Tom had said to him in the train. And he
perceived again, and more clearly than ever before, that there was
something in Geraldine which baffled himsomething which he could not
penetrate, and never would penetrate.
'Suppose I call it Black and Red? Will that do?' he asked
'It would do,' she answered; 'but it doesn't sound so well.'
'I've got it!' he cried exultantly. 'I've got it! The
Plague-Spot. Monte Carlo the plague-spot of Europe, you know.'
'Splendid!' she said with enthusiasm. 'You are always magnificent at
And it was universally admitted that he was.
The book had been triumphantly finished, and the manuscript
delivered to Macalistairs viâ Mark Snyder, and the huge cheque received
under cover of a letter full of compliments on Henry's achievement.
Macalistairs announced that their Magazine would shortly contain
the opening chapters of Mr. Henry Shakspere Knight's great romance,
The Plague-Spot, which would run for one year, and which combined a
tremendous indictment of certain phases of modern life with an original
love-story by turns idyllic and dramatic. Gordon's Monthly was
serializing the novel in America. About this time, an interview with
Henry, suggested by Sir Hugh Macalistair himself, appeared in an
important daily paper. 'It is quite true,' said Henry in the interview,
'that I went to Monte Carlo to obtain first-hand material for my book.
The stories of my breaking the bank there, however, are wildly
exaggerated. Of course, I played a little, in order to be able to put
myself in the place of my hero. I should explain that I was in Monte
Carlo with my cousin, Mr. Dolbiac, the well-known sculptor and painter,
who was painting portraits there. Mr. Dolbiac is very much at home in
Parisian artistic society, and he happened to introduce me to a famous
French lady singer who was in Monte Carlo at the time. This lady and I
found ourselves playing at the same table. From time to time I put down
her stakes for her; that was all. She certainly had an extraordinary
run of luck, but the bank was actually broken at last by the united
bets of a number of people. That is the whole story, and I'm afraid it
is much less exciting and picturesque than the rumours which have been
flying about. I have never seen the lady since that day.'
Then his marriage had filled the air.
At an early stage in the preparations for that event his mother and
Aunt Annie became passiveceased all activity. Perfect peace was
maintained, but they withdrew. Fundamentally and absolutely,
Geraldine's ideas were not theirs, and Geraldine did as she liked with
Henry. Geraldine and Henry interrogated Mark Snyder as to the future.
'Shall we be justified in living at the rate of two thousand a year?'
they asked him. 'Yes,' he said, 'and four times that!' He had just
perused The Plague-Spot in manuscript. 'Let's make it three
thousand, then,' said Geraldine to Henry. And she had planned the
establishment of their home on that scale. Henry did not tell the
ladies at Dawes Road that the rent of the flat was three hundred a
year, and that the furniture had cost over a thousand, and that he was
going to give Geraldine two hundred a year for dress. He feared
apoplexy in his mother, and a nervous crisis in Aunt Annie.
The marriage took place in a church. It was not this that secretly
pained Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie; all good Wesleyan Methodists marry
themselves in church. What secretly pained them was the fact that Henry
would not divulge, even to his own mother, the locality of the
honeymoon. He did say that Geraldine had been bent upon Paris, and that
he had completely barred Paris ('Quite right,' Aunt Annie remarked),
but he would say no more. And so after the ceremony the self-conscious
pair had disappeared for a fortnight into the unknown and the
And now they had reappeared out of the unknown and the unknowable,
and, with the help of four servants, meant to sustain life in Mrs.
Knight and Aunt Annie for a period of some five hours.
They heard a ring in the distance of the flat.
'Prepare to receive cavalry,' said Geraldine, sitting erect in her
blue dress on the green settee in the middle of the immense
Then, seeing Henry's face, she jumped up, crossed over to her
husband, and gave him a smacking kiss between the eyes. 'Dearest, I
didn't mean it!' she whispered enchantingly. He smiled. She flew back
to her seat just as the door opened.
'Mr. Doxey,' said a new parlourmaid, intensely white and black, and
intensely aware of the eminence of her young employers. And little
Doxey of the P.A. came in, rather shabby and insinuating as usual, and
obviously impressed by the magnificence of his surroundings.
'My good Doxey,' exclaimed the chatelaine. 'How delicious of you to
have found us out so soon!'
'How d'you do, Doxey?' said Henry, rising.
'Awfully good of you to see me!' began Doxey, depositing his
well-preserved hat on a chair. 'Hope I don't interrupt.' He smiled.
'Can't stop a minute. Got a most infernal bazaar on at the Cecil. Look
here, old man,' he addressed Henry: 'I've been reading your Love in
Babylon again, and I fancied I could make a little curtain-raiser
out of itout of the picture incident, you know. I mentioned the idea
to Pilgrim, of the Prince's Theatre, and he's fearfully stuck on it.'
'You mean, you think he is,' Geraldine put in.
'Well, he is,' Doxey pursued, after a brief pause. 'I'm sure he is.
I've sketched out a bit of a scenario. Now, if you'd give permission
and go shares, I'd do it, old chap.'
'A play, eh?' was all that Henry said.
Doxey nodded. 'There's nothing like the theatre, you know.'
'What do you meanthere's nothing like the theatre?'
'For money, old chap. Not short pieces, of course, but long ones;
only, short ones lead to long ones.'
'I tell you what you'd better do,' said Henry, when they had
discussed the matter. 'You'd better write the thing, and I'll have a
look at it, and then decide.'
'Very well, if you like,' said Doxey slowly. 'What about shares?'
'If it comes to anything, I don't mind halving it,' Henry replied.
'I see,' said Doxey. 'Of course, I've had some little experience of
the stage,' he added.
His name was one of those names which appear from time to time in
the theatrical gossip of the newspapers as having adapted, or as being
about to adapt, something or other for the stage which was not meant
for the stage. It had never, however, appeared on the playbills of the
theatres; except once, when, at a benefit matinée, the great John
Pilgrim, whom to mention is to worship, had recited verses specially
composed for the occasion by Alfred Doxey.
'And the signature, dear?' Geraldine glanced up at her husband,
offering him a suggestion humbly, as a wife should in the presence of
'Oh!' said Henry. 'Of course, Mr. Doxey's name must go with mine, as
one of the authors of the piece. Certainly.'
'Dearest,' Geraldine murmured when Doxey had gone, 'you are perfect.
You don't really need an agent.'
He laughed. 'There's rather too much old chap about Doxey,' he
said. 'Who's Doxey?'
'He's quite harmless, the little creature,' said Geraldine
They sat silent for a time.
'Miles Robinson makes fifteen thousand a year out of plays,'
Geraldine murmured reflectively.
'Does he?' Henry murmured reflectively.
The cavalry arrived, in full panoply of war.
'I am thankful Sarah stays with us,' said Mrs. Knight. 'Servants are
so much more difficult to get now than they were in my time.'
Tea was nearly over; the cake-stand in four storeys had been
depleted from attic to basement, and, after admiring the daintiness and
taste displayed throughout Mrs. Henry's drawing-room, the ladies from
Dawes Road had reached the most fascinating of all topics.
'When you keep several,' said Geraldine, 'they are not so hard to
get. It's loneliness they object to.'
'How many shall you have, dear?' Aunt Annie asked.
'Forty,' said Henry, looking up from a paper.
'Don't be silly, dearest!' Geraldine protested. (She seemed so young
and interesting and bright and precious, and so competent, as she sat
there, behind the teapot, between her mature visitors in their black
and their grey: this was what Henry thought.) 'No, Aunt Annie; I have
four at present.'
'Four!' repeated Aunt Annie, aghast. 'But'
'But, my dear!' exclaimed Mrs. Knight. 'Surely'
Geraldine glanced with respectful interest at Mrs. Knight.
'Surely you'll find it a great trial to manage them all?' said Aunt
'No,' said Geraldine. 'At least, I hope not. I never allow myself to
be bothered by servants. I just tell them what they are to do. If they
do it, well and good. If they don't, they must leave. I give an hour a
day to domestic affairs. My time is too occupied to give more.'
'She likes to spend her time going up and down in the lift,' Henry
Geraldine put her hand over her husband's mouth and silenced him. It
was a pretty spectacle, and reconciled the visitors to much.
Aunt Annie examined Henry's face. 'Are you quite well, Henry?' she
'I'm all right,' he said, yawning. 'But I want a little exercise. I
haven't been out much to-day. I think I'll go for a short walk.'
'Yes, do, dearest.'
'Do, my dear.'
As he approached the door, having kissed his wife, his mother,
without looking at him, remarked in a peculiarly dry tone, which she
employed only at the rarest intervals: 'You haven't told me anything
about your honeymoon yet, Henry.'
'You forget, sister,' said Aunt Annie stiffly, 'it's a secret.'
'Not nownot now!' cried Geraldine brightly. 'Well, we'll tell you.
Where do you think we drove after leaving you? To the Savoy Hotel.'
'But why?' asked Mrs. Knight ingenuously.
'We spent our honeymoon there, right in the middle of London. We
pretended we were strangers to London, and we saw all the sights that
Londoners never do see. Wasn't it a good idea?'
'II don't know,' said Mrs. Knight.
'It seems rather queerfor a honeymoon,' Aunt Annie observed.
'Oh, but it was splendid!' continued Geraldine. 'We went to the
theatre or the opera every night, and lived on the fat of the land in
the best hotel in Europe, and saw everythingeven the Tower and the
Mint and the Thames Tunnel and the Tate Gallery. We enjoyed every
'And think of the saving in fares!' Henry put in, swinging the door
to and fro.
'Yes, there was that, certainly,' Aunt Annie agreed.
'And we went everywhere that omnibuses go,' Henry proceeded. 'Once
even we got as far as the Salisbury, Fulham.'
'Well, dear,' Mrs. Knight said sharply, 'I do think you might have
'But, mamma,' Geraldine tried to explain, 'that would have spoilt
'Spoilt what?' asked Mrs. Knight. 'The Salisbury isn't three minutes
off our house. I do think you might have popped in. There I wasand me
thinking you were gone abroad!'
'See you later,' said Henry, and disappeared.
'He doesn't look quite well, does he, Annie?' said Mrs. Knight.
'I know how it used to be,' Aunt Annie said. 'Whenever he began to
make little jokes, we knew he was in for a bilious attack.'
'My dear people,' Geraldine endeavoured to cheer them, 'I assure you
he's perfectly wellperfectly.'
'I've decided not to go out, after all,' said Henry, returning
surprisingly to the room. 'I don't feel like it.' And he settled into
an ear-flap chair that had cost sixteen pounds ten.
'Have one?' said Geraldine, offering him the coloured box from which
she had just helped herself.
'No, thanks,' said he, shutting his eyes.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure;' Geraldine turned to her visitors and
extended the box. 'Won't you have a marron glacé?'
And the visitors gazed at each other in startled, affrighted
'Has Henry eaten some?' Mrs. Knight asked, shaken.
'He had one or two before tea,' Geraldine answered. 'Why?'
'I knew he was going to be ill!' said Aunt Annie.
'But he's been eating marrons glacés every day for a
fortnight. Haven't you, sweetest?' said Geraldine.
'I can believe it,' Aunt Annie murmured, 'from his face.'
'Oh dear! Women! Women!' Henry whispered facetiously.
'He's only saving his appetite for dinner,' said Geraldine, with
'My dear girl,' Mrs. Knight observed, again in that peculiar dry
tone, 'if I know anything about your husband, and I've had him under my
care for between twenty and thirty years, he will eat nothing more
'Now, mater,' said Henry, 'don't get excited. By the way, we haven't
told you that I'm going to write a play.'
'A play, Henry?'
'Yes. So you'll have to begin going to theatres in your old age,
There was a pause.
'Shan't you?' Henry persisted.
'I don't know, dear. What place of worship are you attending?'
There was another pause.
'St. Philip's, Regent Street, I think we shall choose,' said
'But surely that's a church?'
'Yes,' said Geraldine. 'It is a very good one. I have belonged to
the Church of England all my life.'
'Not High, I hope,' said Aunt Annie.
The beneficent Providence which always watched over Henry, watched
over him then. A gong resounded through the flat, and stopped the
conversation. Geraldine put her lips together.
'There's the dressing-bell, dearest,' said she, controlling herself.
'I won't dress to-night,' Henry replied feebly. 'I'm not equal to
it. You go. I'll stop with mother and auntie.'
'Don't you fret yourself, mater,' he said as soon as the chatelaine
had left them. 'Sir George has gone to live at Redhill, and given up
his pew at Great Queen Street. I shall return to the old place and take
'I am very glad,' said Mrs. Knight. 'Very glad.'
'And Geraldine?' Aunt Annie asked.
'Leave me to look after the little girl,' said Henry. He then dozed
for a few moments.
The dinner, with the Arctic lamps dotted about the table, and two
servants to wait, began in the most stately and effective fashion
imaginable. But it had got no further than the host's first spoonful of
soupe aux moules, when the host rose abruptly, and without a word
departed from the room.
The sisters nodded to each other with the cheerful gloom of
prophetesses who find themselves in the midst of a disaster which they
'You poor, foolish boy!' exclaimed Geraldine, running after Henry.
She was adorably attired in white.
* * * * *
The clash of creeds was stilled in the darkened and sumptuous
chamber, as the three women bent with murmurous affection over the bed
on which lay, swathed in a redolent apparatus of eau-de-Cologne and
fine linen, their hope and the hope of English literature. Towards
midnight, when the agony had somewhat abated, Mrs. Knight and Aunt
Annie reluctantly retired in a coupé which Geraldine had ordered for
them by telephone.
And in the early June dawn Henry awoke, refreshed and renewed, full
of that languid but genuine interest in mortal things which is at once
the compensation and the sole charm of a dyspepsy. By reaching out an
arm he could just touch the hand of his wife as she slept in her twin
couch. He touched it; she awoke, and they exchanged the morning smile.
'I'm glad that's over,' he said.
But whether he meant the marrons glacés or the first visit of
his beloved elders to the glorious flat cannot be decided.
Certain it is, however, that deep in the minds of both the spouses
was the idea that the new life, the new heaven on the new earth, had
now fairly begun.
CHAPTER XXVII. HE IS NOT NERVOUS
'Yes,' said Henry with judicial calm, after he had read Mr. Doxey's
stage version of Love in Babylon, 'it makes a nice little
'I'm glad you like it, old chap,' said Doxey. 'I thought you would.'
They were in Henry's study, seated almost side by side at Henry's
great American roll-top desk.
'You've got it a bit hard in places,' Henry pursued. 'But I'll soon
put that right.'
'Can you do it to-day?' asked the adapter.
'Because I know old Johnny Pilgrim wants to shove a new
curtain-raiser into the bill at once. If I could take him this
'I'll post it to you to-night,' said Henry. 'But I shall want to see
Mr. Pilgrim myself before anything is definitely arranged.'
'Oh, of course,' Mr. Doxey agreed. 'Of course. I'll tell him.'
Henry softened the rigour of his collaborator's pen in something
like half an hour. The perusal of this trifling essay in the dramatic
form (it certainly did not exceed four thousand words, and could be
played in twenty-five minutes) filled his mind with a fresh set of
ideas. He suspected that he could write for the stage rather better
than Mr. Doxey, and he saw, with the eye of faith, new plumes waving in
his cap. He was aware, because he had read it in the papers, that the
English drama needed immediate assistance, and he determined to render
that assistance. The first instalment of The Plague-Spot had
just come out in the July number of Macalistair's Magazine, and
the extraordinary warmth of its reception had done nothing to impair
Henry's belief in his gift for pleasing the public. Hence he stretched
out a hand to the West End stage with a magnanimous gesture of rescuing
And yet, curiously enough, when he entered the stage-door of
Prince's Theatre one afternoon, to see John Pilgrim, he was as meek as
if the world had never heard of him.
He informed the doorkeeper that he had an appointment with Mr.
Pilgrim, whereupon the doorkeeper looked him over, took a pull at a
glass of rum-and-milk, and said he would presently inquire whether Mr.
Pilgrim could see anyone. The passage from the portals of the theatre
to Mr. Pilgrim's private room occupied exactly a quarter of an hour.
Then, upon beholding the figure of John Pilgrim, he seemed suddenly
to perceive what fame and celebrity and renown really were. Here was
the man whose figure and voice were known to every theatre-goer in
England and America, and to every idler who had once glanced at a
photograph-window; the man who for five-and-twenty years had stilled
unruly crowds by a gesture, conquered the most beautiful women with a
single smile, died for the fatherland, and lived for love, before a
nightly audience of two thousand persons; who existed absolutely in the
eye of the public, and who long ago had formed a settled, honest,
serious conviction that he was the most interesting and remarkable
phenomenon in the world. In the ingenuous mind of Mr. Pilgrim the
universe was the frame, and John Pilgrim was the picture: his countless
admirers had forced him to think so.
Mr. Pilgrim greeted Henry as though in a dream.
'What name?' he whispered, glancing round, apparently not quite sure
whether they were alone and unobserved.
He seemed to be trying to awake from his dream, to recall the
mundane and the actual, without success.
He said, still whispering, that the little play pleased him.
'Let me see,' he reflected. 'Didn't Doxey say that you had written
'Several books,' Henry informed him.
'Books? Ah!' Mr. Pilgrim had the air of trying to imagine what sort
of thing books were. 'That's very interesting. Novels?'
'Yes,' said Henry.
Mr. Pilgrim, opening his magnificent chest and passing a hand
through his brown hair, grew impressively humble. 'You must excuse my
ignorance,' he explained. 'I am afraid I'm not quite abreast of modern
literature. I never read.' And he repeated firmly: 'I never read. Not
even the newspapers. What time have I for reading?' he whispered sadly.
'In my brougham, I snatch a glance at the contents-bills of the evening
papers. No more.'
Henry had the idea that even to be ignored by John Pilgrim was more
flattering than to be admired by the rest of mankind.
Mr. Pilgrim rose and walked several times across the room; then
addressed Henry mysteriously and imposingly:
'I've got the finest theatre in London.'
'Yes?' said Henry.
'In the world,' Mr. Pilgrim corrected himself.
Then he walked again, and again stopped.
'I'll produce your piece,' he whispered. 'Yes, I'll produce it.'
He spoke as if saying also: 'You will have a difficulty in crediting
this extraordinary and generous decision: nevertheless you must
endeavour to do so.'
Henry thanked him lamely.
'Of course I shan't play in it myself,' added Mr. Pilgrim, laughing
as one laughs at a fantastic conceit.
'No, naturally not,' said Henry.
'Nor will Jane,' said Mr. Pilgrim.
Jane Map was Mr. Pilgrim's leading lady, for the time being.
'And about terms, young man?' Mr. Pilgrim demanded, folding his
arms. 'What is your notion of terms?'
Now, Henry had taken the precaution of seeking advice concerning
'One pound a performance is my notion,' he answered.
'I never give more than ten shillings a night for a curtain-raiser,'
said Mr. Pilgrim ultimatively, 'Never. I can't afford to.'
'I'm afraid that settles it, then, Mr. Pilgrim,' said Henry.
'You'll take ten shillings?'
'I'll take a pound. I can't take less. I'm like you, I can't afford
John Pilgrim showed a faint interest in Henry's singularindeed,
'You don't mean to say,' he mournfully murmured, 'that you'll miss
the chance of having your play produced in my theatre for the sake of
half a sovereign?'
Before Henry could reply to this grieved question, Jane Map burst
into the room. She was twenty-five, tall, dark, and arresting. John
Pilgrim had found her somewhere.
'Jane,' said Mr. Pilgrim sadly, 'this is Mr. Knight.'
'Not the author of The Plague-Spot?' asked Jane Map, clasping
her jewelled fingers.
'Are you the author of The Plague-Spot?' Mr. Pilgrim
whispered'whatever The Plague-Spot is.'
The next moment Jane Map was shaking hands effusively with Henry. 'I
just adore you!' she told him. 'And your Love in Babylonoh,
Mr. Knight, how do you think of such beautiful stories?'
John Pilgrim sank into a chair and closed his eyes.
'Oh, you must take it! you must take it!' cried Jane to John, as
soon as she learnt that a piece based on Love in Babylon was
under discussion. 'I shall play Enid Anstruther myself. Don't you see
me in it, Mr. Knight?'
'Mr. Knight's terms are twice mine,' John Pilgrim intoned, without
opening his eyes. 'He wants a pound a night.'
'He must have it,' said Jane Map. 'If I'm in the piece'
'I insist!' said Jane, with fire.
'Very well, Mr. Knight,' John Pilgrim continued to intone, his eyes
still shut, his legs stretched out, his feet resting perpendicularly on
the heels. 'Jane insists. You understandJane insists. Take your
pound, I call the first rehearsal for Monday.'
Thenceforward Henry lived largely in the world of the theatre, a
pariah's life, the life almost of a poor relation. Doxey appeared to
enjoy the existence; it was Doxey's brief hour of bliss. But Henry,
spoilt by editors, publishers, and the reading public, could not easily
reconcile himself to the classical position of an author in the world
of the theatre. It hurt him to encounter the prevalent opinion that,
just as you cannot have a dog without a tail or a stump, so you cannot
have a play without an author. The actors and actresses were the play,
and when they were pleased with themselves the author was expected to
fulfil his sole function of wagging.
Even Jane Map, Henry's confessed adorer, was the victim, Henry
thought, of a highly-distorted sense of perspective. The principal
comfort which he derived from Jane Map was that she ignored Doxey
The preliminary rehearsals were desolating. Henry went away from the
first one convinced that the piece would have to be rewritten from end
to end. No performer could make anything of his own part, and yet each
was sure that all the other parts were effective in the highest degree.
At the fourth rehearsal John Pilgrim came down to direct. He sat in
the dim stalls by Henry's side, and Henry could hear him murmuring
softly and endlessly:
'Punch, brothers, punch with care
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!'
The scene was imagined to represent a studio, and Jane Map, as Enid
Anstruther, was posing on the model's throne.
'Jane,' Mr. Pilgrim hissed out, 'you pose for all the world like an
'Well,' Jane retorted, 'I am an artist's model.'
'No, you aren't,' said John. 'You're an actress on my stage, and you
must pose like one.'
Whereupon Mr. Pilgrim ascended to the stage and began to arrange
Jane's limbs. By accident Jane's delightful elbow came into contact
with John Pilgrim's eye. The company was horror-struck as Mr. Pilgrim
lowered his head and pressed a handkerchief to that eye.
'Jane, Jane!' he complained in his hoarse and conspiratorial
whisper, 'I've been teaching you the elements of your art for two
years, and all you have achieved is to poke your elbow in my eye. The
rehearsal is stopped.'
And everybody went home.
Such is a specimen of the incidents which were continually
However, as the first night approached, the condition of affairs
improved a little, and Henry saw with satisfaction that the resemblance
of Prince's Theatre to a lunatic asylum was more superficial than real.
Also, the tone of the newspapers in referring to the imminent
production convinced even John Pilgrim that Henry was perhaps not quite
an ordinary author. John Pilgrim cancelled a proof of a poster which he
had already passed, and ordered a double-crown, thus:
LOVE IN BABYLON.
A PLAY IN ONE ACT, FOUNDED ON
HENRY SHAKSPERE KNIGHT'S
HENRY SHAKSPERE KNIGHT AND ALFRED DOXEY.
ENID ANSTRUTHERMISS JANE MAP.
Geraldine met Jane, and asked her to tea at the flat. And Geraldine
hired a brougham at thirty pounds a month. From that day Henry's
reception at the theatre was all that he could have desired, and more
than any mere author had the right to expect. At the final rehearsals,
in the absence of John Pilgrim, his word was law. It was whispered in
the green-room that he earned ten thousand a year by writing things
called novels. 'Well, dear old pal,' said one old actor to another old
actor, 'it takes all sorts to make a world. But ten thousand! Johnny
himself don't make more than that, though he spends more.'
The mischief was that Henry's digestion, what with the irregular
hours and the irregular drinks, went all to pieces.
'You don't look nervous, Harry,' said Geraldine when he came
into the drawing-room before dinner on the evening of the production.
'Nervous?' said Henry. 'Of course I'm not.'
'Then, why have you forgotten to brush your hair, dearest?' she
He glanced in a mirror. Yes, he had certainly forgotten to brush his
'Sheer coincidence,' he said, and ate a hearty meal.
Geraldine drove to the theatre. She was to meet there Mrs. Knight
and Aunt Annie, in whose breasts pride and curiosity had won a tardy
victory over the habits of a lifetime; they had a stage-box. Henry
remarked that it was a warm night and that he preferred to walk; he
would see them afterwards.
No one could have been more surprised than Henry, when he arrived at
Prince's Theatre, to discover that he was incapable of entering that
edifice. He honestly and physically tried to go in by the stage-door,
but he could not, and, instead of turning within, he kept a straight
course along the footpath. It was as though an invisible barrier had
been raised to prevent his ingress.
'Never mind!' he said. 'I'll walk to the Circus and back again, and
then I'll go in.'
He walked to the Circus and back again, and once more failed to get
himself inside Prince's Theatre.
'This is the most curious thing that ever happened to me,' he
thought, as he stood for the second time in Piccadilly Circus. 'Why the
devil can't I go into that theatre? I'm not nervous. I'm not a bit
nervous.' It was so curious that he felt an impulse to confide to
someone how curious it was.
Then he went into the Criterion bar and sat down. The clock showed
seventeen minutes to nine. His piece was advertised to start at
eight-thirty precisely. The Criterion Bar is never empty, but it has
its moments of lassitude, and seventeen minutes to nine is one of them.
After an interval a waiter slackly approached him.
'Brandy-and-soda!' Henry ordered, well knowing that brandy-and-soda
never suited him.
He glanced away from the clock, repeated 'Punch, brothers, punch
with care,' twenty times, recited 'God save the Queen,' took six small
sips at the brandy-and-soda, and then looked at the clock again, and it
was only fourteen minutes to nine. He had guessed it might be fourteen
minutes to ten.
He caught the eye of a barmaid, and she seemed to be saying to him
sternly: 'If you think you can occupy this place all night on a
ninepenny drink, you are mistaken. Either you ought to order another or
hook it.' He braved it for several more ages, then paid, and went; and
still it was only ten minutes to nine. All mundane phenomena were
inexplicably contorted that night. As he was passing the end of the
short street which contains the stage-door of Prince's Theatre, a man,
standing at the door on the lookout, hailed him loudly. He hesitated,
and the manit was the doorkeeperflew forward and seized him and
dragged him in.
'Drink this, Mr. Knight,' commanded the doorkeeper.
'I'm all right,' said Henry. 'What's up?'
'Yes, I know you're all right. Drink it.'
And he drank a whisky-and-soda.
'Come upstairs,' said the doorkeeper. 'You'll be wanted, Mr.
As he approached the wings of the stage, under the traction of the
breathless doorkeeper, he was conscious of the falling of the curtain,
and of the noisiest noise beyond the curtain that he had ever heard.
'Here, Mr. Knight, drink this,' said someone in his ear. 'Keep
steady. It's nothing.'
And he drank a glass of port.
His overcoat was jerked off by a mysterious agency.
The noise continued to be terrible: it rose and fell like the sea.
Then he was aware of Jane Map rushing towards him and of Jane Map
kissing him rapturously on the mouth. 'Come on,' cried Jane Map,
and pulled him by the hand, helter-skelter, until they came in front of
a blaze of light and the noise crashed at his ears.
'I've been through this before somewhere,' he thought, while Jane
Map wrung his hand. 'Was it in a previous existence? No. The Alhambra!'
What made him remember the Alhambra was the figure of little Doxey
sheepishly joining himself and Jane. Doxey, with a disastrous lack of
foresight, had been in the opposite wing, and had had to run round the
stage in order to come before the curtain. Doxey's share in the triumph
was decidedly less than half....
'No,' Henry said later, with splendid calm, when Geraldine, Jane,
Doxey, and himself were drinking champagne in Jane's Empire
dressing-room, 'it wasn't nervousness. I don't quite know what it was.'
He gathered that the success had been indescribable.
Jane radiated bliss.
'I tell you what, old man,' said Doxey: 'we must adapt The
'We'll see about that,' said Henry.
Two days afterwards Henry arose from a bed of pain, and was able to
consume a little tea and dry toast. Geraldine regaled his spiritual man
with the press notices, which were tremendous. But more tremendous than
the press notices was John Pilgrim's decision to put Love in Babylon
after the main piece in the bill of Prince's Theatre. Love in
Babylon was to begin at the honourable hour of ten-forty in future,
for the benefit of the stalls and the dress-circle.
'Have you thought about Mr. Doxey's suggestion?' Geraldine asked
'Yes,' said Henry; 'but I don't quite see the point of it.'
'Don't see the point of it, sweetheart?' she protested, stroking his
dressing-gown. 'But it would be bound to be a frightful success, after
'I know,' said Henry. 'But why drag in Doxey? I can write the next
She kissed him.
CHAPTER XXVIII. HE SHORTENS HIS NAME
One day Geraldine needed a doctor. Henry was startled, frightened,
almost shocked. But when the doctor, having seen Geraldine, came into
the study to chat with Geraldine's husband, Henry put on a calm
demeanour, said he had been expecting the doctor's news, said also that
he saw no cause for anxiety or excitement, and generally gave the
doctor to understand that he was in no way disturbed by the work of
Nature to secure a continuance of the British Empire. The conversation
shifted to Henry's self, and soon Henry was engaged in a detailed
description of his symptoms.
'Purely nervous,' remarked the doctor'purely nervous.'
'You think so?'
'I am sure of it.'
'Then, of course, there is no cure for it. I must put up with it.'
'Pardon me,' said the doctor, 'there is an absolutely certain cure
for nervous dyspepsiaat any rate, in such a case as yours.'
'What is it?'
'Go without breakfast'
'But I don't eat too much, doctor,' Henry said plaintively.
'Yes, you do,' said the doctor. 'We all do.'
'And I'm always hungry at meal-times. If a meal is late it makes me
'You'll feel somewhat uncomfortable for a few days,' the doctor
blandly continued. 'But in a month you'll be cured.'
'You say that professionally?'
'I guarantee it.'
The doctor shook hands, departed, and then returned. 'And eat rather
less lunch than usual,' said he. 'Mind that.'
Within three days Henry was informing his friends: 'I never have any
breakfast. No, none. Two meals a day.' It was astonishing how
frequently the talk approached the great food topic. He never sought an
opportunity to discuss the various methods and processes of sustaining
life, yet, somehow, he seemed to be always discussing them. Some of his
acquaintances annoyed him excessivelyfor example, Doxey.
'That won't last long, old chap,' said Doxey, who had called about
finance. 'I've known other men try that. Give me the good old English
breakfast. Nothing like making a good start.'
'Ass!' thought Henry, and determined once again, and more
decisively, that Doxey should pass out of his life.
His preoccupation with this matter had the happy effect of
preventing him from worrying too much about the perils which lay before
Geraldine. Discovering the existence of an Anti-Breakfast League, he
joined it, and in less than a week every newspaper in the land
announced that the ranks of the Anti-Breakfasters had secured a notable
recruit in the person of Mr. Henry Shakspere Knight. It was widely felt
that the Anti-Breakfast Movement had come to stay.
Still, he was profoundly interested in Geraldine, too. And between
his solicitude for her and his scientific curiosity concerning the
secret recesses of himself the flat soon overflowed with medical
The entire world of the theatre woke up suddenly and simultaneously
to the colossal fact of Henry's genius. One day they had never thought
of him; the next they could think of nothing else. Every West End
manager, except two, wrote to him to express pleasure at the prospect
of producing a play by him; the exceptional two telegraphed. Henry,
however, had decided upon his arrangements. He had grasped the
important truth that there was only one John Pilgrim in the world.
He threw the twenty-five chapters of The Plague-Spot into a
scheme of four acts, and began to write a drama without the aid of Mr.
Alfred Doxey. It travelled fast, did the drama; and the author himself
was astonished at the ease with which he put it together out of little
pieces of the novel. The scene of the third act was laid in the
gaming-saloons of Monte Carlo; the scene of the fourth disclosed the
deck of a luxurious private yacht at sea under a full Mediterranean
moon. Such flights of imagination had hitherto been unknown in the
serious drama of London. When Henry, after three months' labour, showed
the play to John Pilgrim, John Pilgrim said:
'This is the play I have waited twenty years for!'
'You think it will do, then?' said Henry.
'It will enable me,' observed John Pilgrim, 'to show the British
public what acting is.'
Henry insisted on an agreement which gave him ten per cent. of the
gross receipts. Soon after the news of the signed contract had reached
the press, Mr. Louis Lewis, the English agent of Lionel Belmont, of the
United States Theatrical Trust, came unostentatiously round to Ashley
Gardens, and obtained the American rights on the same terms.
Then Pilgrim said that he must run through the manuscript with
Henry, and teach him those things about the theatre which he did not
know. Henry arrived at Prince's at eleven o'clock, by appointment; Mr.
Pilgrim came at a quarter to twelve.
'You have the sense du théâtre, my friend,' said Pilgrim,
turning over the leaves of the manuscript. 'That precious and
incommunicable giftyou have it. But you are too fond of explanations.
Now, the public won't stand explanations. No long speeches. And so
whenever I glance through a play I can tell instantly whether it is an
acting play. If I see a lot of speeches over four lines long, I say,
Dull! Useless! Won't do! For instance, here. That speech of Veronica's
while she's at the piano. Dull! I see it. I feel it. It must go! The
last two lines must go!'
So saying, he obliterated the last two lines with a large and
imperial blue pencil.
'But it's impossible,' Henry protested. 'You've not read them.'
'I don't need to read them,' said John Pilgrim. 'I know they won't
do. I know the public won't have them. It must be give and takegive
and take between the characters. The ball must be kept in the air. Ah!
The theatre!' He paused, and gave Henry a piercing glance. 'Do you know
how I came to be du théâtreof the theatre, young man?' he
demanded. 'No? I will tell you. My father was an old fox-hunting squire
in the Quorn country. One of the best English families, the Pilgrims,
related to the Earls of Waverley. Poor, unfortunately. My eldest
brother was brought up to inherit the paternal mortgages. My second
brother went into the army. And they wanted me to go into the Church. I
refused. Well, said my old father, damn it, Jack! if you won't go to
heaven, you may as well ride straight to hell. Go on the stage. And I
did, sir. I did. Idea for a book there, isn't there?'
The blue-pencilling of the play proceeded. But whenever John Pilgrim
came to a long speech by Hubert, the part which he destined for
himself, he hesitated to shorten it. 'It's too long! It's too long!' he
whispered. 'I feel it's too long. But, somehow, that seems to me
essential to the action. I must try to carry it off as best I can.'
At the end of the second act Henry suggested an interval for lunch,
but John Pilgrim, opening Act III. accidentally, and pouncing on a line
with his blue pencil, exclaimed with profound interest:
'Ah! I remember noting this when I read it. You've got Hubert saying
here: I know I'm a silly fool. Now, I don't think that's quite in the
part. You must understand that when I study a character I become that
character. Perhaps it would not be too much to say that I know more
about that character than the author does. I merge myself into the
character with an intense effort. Now, I can't see Hubert saying I
know I'm a silly fool. Of course I've no objection whatever to the
words, but it seemed to meyou understand what I mean? Shall we strike
A little farther on Henry had given Veronica a little epigram: 'When
a man has to stand on his dignity, you may be sure his moral stature is
'That's more like the sort of thing that Hubert would say,' John
Pilgrim whispered. 'Women never say those things. It's not true to
nature. But it seems to fit in exactly with the character of Hubert.
Shall wetransfer?' His pencil waved in the air....
'Heavenly powers!' Mr. Pilgrim hoarsely murmured, as they attained
the curtain of Act III., 'it's four o'clock. And I had an appointment
for lunch at two. But I never think of food when I am working. Never!'
Henry, however, had not broken his fast since the previous evening.
The third and the greatest crisis in the unparalleled popularity of
Henry Shakspere Knight began to prepare itself. The rumour of its
coming was heard afar off, and every literary genius in England and
America who was earning less than ten thousand pounds a year ground his
teeth and clenched his hands in impotent wrath. The boom and resounding
of The Plague-Spot would have been deafening and immense in any
case; but Henry had an idea, and executed it, which multiplied the
advertisement tenfold. It was one of those ideas, at once quite simple
and utterly original, which only occur to the favourites of the gods.
The serial publication of The Plague-Spot finished in June,
and it had been settled that the book should be issued simultaneously
in England and America in August. Now, that summer John Pilgrim was
illuminating the provinces, and he had fixed a definite date, namely,
the tenth of October, for the reopening of Prince's Theatre with the
dramatic version of The Plague-Spot. Henry's idea was merely to
postpone publication of the book until the production of the play. Mark
Snyder admitted himself struck by the beauty of this scheme, and he
made a special journey to America in connection with it, a journey
which cost over a hundred pounds. The result was an arrangement under
which the book was to be issued in London and New York, and the play to
be produced by John Pilgrim at Prince's Theatre, London, and by Lionel
Belmont at the Madison Square Theatre, New York, simultaneously on one
The splendour of the conception appealed to all that was fundamental
in the Anglo-Saxon race.
John Pilgrim was a finished master of advertisement, but if any man
in the wide world could give him lessons in the craft, that man was
Lionel Belmont. Macalistairs, too, in their stately, royal way, knew
how to impress facts upon, the public.
Add to these things that Geraldine bore twins, boys.
No earthly power could have kept those twins out of the papers, and
accordingly they had their share in the prodigious, unsurpassed and
unforgettable publicity which their father enjoyed without any apparent
direct effort of his own.
He had declined to be interviewed; but one day, late in September,
his good-nature forced him to yield to the pressure of a journalist.
That journalist was Alfred Doxey, who had married on the success of
Love in Babylon, and was already in financial difficulties. He said
he could get twenty-five pounds for an interview with Henry, and Henry
gave him the interview. The interview accomplished, he asked Henry
whether he cared to acquire for cash his, Doxey's, share of the amateur
rights of Love in Babylon. Doxey demanded fifty pounds, and
Henry amiably wrote out the cheque on the spot and received Doxey's
lavish gratitude. Love in Babylon is played on the average a
hundred and fifty times a year by the amateur dramatic societies of
Great Britain and Ireland, and for each performance Henry touches a
guinea. The piece had run for two hundred nights at Prince's, so that
the authors got a hundred pounds each from John Pilgrim.
On the morning of the tenth of October Henry strolled incognito
round London. Every bookseller's shop displayed piles upon piles of
The Plague-Spot. Every newspaper had a long review of it. The
Whitehall Gazette was satirical as usual, but most people felt that
it was the Whitehall Gazette, and not Henry, that thereby looked
ridiculous. Nearly every other omnibus carried the legend of The
Plague-Spot; every hoarding had it. At noon Henry passed by
Prince's Theatre. Two small crowds had already taken up positions in
front of the entrances to the pit and the gallery; and several women,
seated on campstools, were diligently reading the book in order the
better to appreciate the play.
Twelve hours later John Pilgrim was thanking his kind patrons for a
success unique even in his rich and gorgeous annals. He stated that he
should cable the verdict of London to the Madison Square Theatre, New
York, where the representation of the noble work of art which he had
had the honour of interpreting to them was about to begin.
'It was a lucky day for you when you met me, young man,' he
whispered grandiosely and mysteriously, yet genially, to Henry.
On the façade of Prince's there still blazed the fiery sign, which
an excited electrician had forgotten to extinguish:
CHAPTER XXIX. THE PRESIDENT
Prince's Theatre, when it was full, held three hundred and forty
pounds' worth of solid interest in the British drama. Of The
Plague-Spot six evening and two morning performances were given
every week for nearly a year, and Henry's tenth averaged more than two
hundred pounds a week. His receipts from Lionel Belmont's various
theatres averaged rather more. The book had a circulation of a hundred
and twenty thousand in England, and two hundred thousand in America,
and on every copy Henry got one shilling and sixpence. The magnificent
and disconcerting total of his income from The Plague-Spot
within the first year, excluding the eight thousand pounds which he had
received in advance from Macalistairs, was thirty-eight thousand
pounds. I say disconcerting because it emphatically did disconcert
Henry. He could not cope with it. He was like a child who has turned on
a tap and can't turn it off again, and finds the water covering the
floor and rising, rising, over its little shoe-tops. Not even with the
help of Sir George could he quite successfully cope with this deluge of
money which threatened to drown him each week. Sir George, accustomed
to keep his nerve in such crises, bored one hole in the floor and
called it India Three per Cents., bored a second and called it Freehold
Mortgages, bored a third and called it Great Northern Preference, and
so on; but, still, Henry was never free from danger. And the worst of
it was that, long before The Plague-Spot had exhausted its
geyser-like activity of throwing up money, Henry had finished another
book and another play. Fortunately, Geraldine was ever by his side to
play the wife's part.
From this point his artistic history becomes monotonous. It is the
history of his investments alone which might perchance interest the
Of course, it was absolutely necessary to abandon the flat in Ashley
Gardens. A man burdened with an income of forty thousand a year, and
never secure against a sudden rise of it to fifty, sixty, or even
seventy thousand, cannot possibly live in a flat in Ashley Gardens.
Henry exists in a superb mansion in Cumberland Place. He also possesses
a vast country-house at Hindhead, Surrey. He employs a secretary,
though he prefers to dictate his work into a phonograph. His wife
employs a secretary, whose chief duty is, apparently, to see to the
flowers. The twins have each a nurse, and each a perambulator; but when
they are good they are permitted to crowd themselves into one
perambulator, as a special treat. In the newspapers they are invariably
referred to as Mr. Shakspere Knight's 'pretty children' or Mrs.
Shakspere Knight's 'charming twins.' Geraldine, who has abandoned the
pen, is undisputed ruler of the material side of Henry's life. The
dinners and the receptions at Cumberland Place are her dinners and
receptions. Henry has no trouble; he does what he is told, and does it
neatly. Only once did he indicate to her, in his mild, calm way, that
he could draw a line when he chose. He chose to draw the line when
Geraldine spoke of engaging a butler, and perhaps footmen.
'I couldn't stand a butler,' said Henry.
'But, dearest, a great house like this'
'I couldn't stand a butler,' said Henry.
'As you wish, dearest, of course.'
He would not have minded the butler, perhaps, had not his mother and
Aunt Annie been in the habit of coming up to Cumberland Place for tea.
Upon the whole the newspapers and periodicals were very kind to
Henry, and even the rudest organs were deeply interested in him. Each
morning his secretary opened an enormous packet of press-cuttings. In a
good average year he was referred to in print as a genius about a
thousand times, and as a charlatan about twenty times. He was not
thin-skinned; and he certainly was good-tempered and forgiving; and he
could make allowances for jealousy and envy. Nevertheless, now and
then, some casual mention of him, or some omission of his name from a
list of names, would sting him into momentary bitterness.
He endeavoured to enforce his old rule against interviews. But he
could not. The power of public opinion was too strong, especially the
power of American public opinion. As for photographs, they increased.
He was photographed alone, with Geraldine, with the twins, and with
Geraldine and the twins. It had to be. For permission to reproduce the
most pleasing groups, Messrs. Antonio, the eminent firm in Regent
Street, charged weekly papers a fee of two guineas.
'And this is fame!' he sometimes said to himself. And he decided
that, though fame was pleasant in many ways, it did not exactly
coincide with his early vision of it. He felt himself to be so
singularly unchangeable! It was always the same he! And he could only
wear one suit of clothes at a time, after all; and in the matter of
eating, he ate less, much less, than in the era of Dawes Road. He
persisted in his scheme of two meals a day, for it had fulfilled the
doctor's prediction. He was no longer dyspeptic. That fact alone
contributed much to his happiness.
Yes, he was happy, because he had a good digestion and a kind heart.
The sole shadow on his career was a spasmodic tendency to be bored. 'I
miss the daily journey on the Underground,' he once said to his wife.
'I always feel that I ought to be going to the office in the morning.'
'You dear thing!' Geraldine caressed him with her voice. 'Fancy anyone
with a gift like yours going to an office!'
Ah, that gift! That gift utterly puzzled him. 'I just sit down and
write,' he thought. 'And there it is! They go mad over it!'
At Dawes Road they worshipped him, but they worshipped the twins
more. Occasionally the twins, in state, visited Dawes Road, where
Henry's mother was a little stouter and Aunt Annie a little thinner and
a little primmer, but where nothing else was changed. Henry would have
allowed his mother fifty pounds a week or so without an instant's
hesitation, but she would not accept a penny over three pounds; she
said she did not want to be bothered.
One day Henry read in the Times that the French Government
had made Tom a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and that Tom had been
elected President of the newly-formed Cosmopolitan Art Society, which
was to hold exhibitions both in London and Paris. And the Times
seemed to assume that in these transactions the honour was the French
Government's and the Cosmopolitan Art Society's.
Frankly, Henry could not understand it. Tom did not even pay his
'Well, of course,' said Geraldine, 'everybody knows that Tom is
This speech slightly disturbed Henry. And the thought floated again
vaguely through his mind that there was something about Geraldine which
baffled him. 'But, then,' he argued, 'I expect all women are like
A few days later his secretary brought him a letter.
'I say, Geraldine,' he cried, genuinely moved, on reading it. 'What
do you think? The Anti-Breakfast League want me to be the President of
'And shall you accept?' she asked.
'Oh, certainly!' said Henry. 'And I shall suggest that it's called
the National Anti-Breakfast League in future.'
'That will be much better, dearest,' Geraldine smiled.
BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD