Love at Paddington
by W. Pett Ridge
Children had been sent off to Sunday school, and the more
conscientious reached that destination; going in, after delivering
awful threats and warnings to those who preferred freedom of thought
and a stroll down Edgware Road in the direction of the Park. As a
consequence, in the streets off the main thoroughfare leading to
Paddington Station peace and silence existed, broken only by folk who,
after the principal meal of the week, talked in their sleep. Praed
Street was different. Praed Street plumed itself on the fact that it
was always lively, ever on the move, occasionally acquainted with
royalty. Even on a Sunday afternoon, and certainly at all hours of a
week-day, one could look from windows at good racing, generally done by
folk impeded by hand luggage who, as they ran, glanced suspiciously at
every clock, and gasped, in a despairing way, We shall never do it!
or, optimistically, We shall only just do it! or, with resignation,
Well, if we lose this one we shall have to wait for the next.
Few establishments were open in Praed Street, shutters were up at
the numerous second-hand shops, and at the hour of three o'clock p.m.
the thirst for journals at E. G. Mills's (Established 1875) was
satisfied; the appetite for cigars, cigarettes, and tobacco had
scarcely begun. Now and again a couple of boys, who had been reading
stories of wild adventure in the Rocky Mountains, dashed across the
road, upset one of Mrs. Mills's placard boards, and flew in opposite
directions, feeling that although they might not have equalled the
daring exploits of their heroes in fiction, they had gone as far as was
possible in a country hampered by civilization.
Young rascals! said Mrs. Mills, coming back after repairing one of
these outrages. The shop had a soft, pleasing scent of tobacco from the
brown jars, marked in gilded letters Bird's Eye and Shag and
Cavendish, together with the acrid perfume of printer's ink. Still,
I suppose we were all young once. Gertie, raising her voice, isn't it
about time you popped upstairs to make yourself good-looking? There's
no cake in the house, and that always means some one looks in
unexpectedly to tea.
Gertie! Don't you hear me when I'm speaking to you?
Beg pardon, aunt. I was thinking of something else.
You think too much of something else, my dear, said Mrs. Mills
persuasively. I was saying to a customer, only yesterday, that you
don't seem able lately to throw off your work when you've finished. You
keep on threshing it out in your mind. And it's all very well, to a
certain extent, but there's a medium in all things. Mrs. Mills went to
the half-open door, that was curtained only in regard to the lower
portion. Trimming a hat, she cried protestingly. Oh, my dear, and to
think your mother was a Wesleyan Methodist. Before she came to London,
Her niece surveyed the work at arm's length. I've done all I want
to do to it, she said.
Mrs. Mills ordered the hat to be put on that she might ascertain
whether it suited, and this done, and guarded approval given, asked to
be allowed to try it on her own head. Here, again, the results,
inspected in the large mirror set in a narrow wooden frame above the
mantelpiece, gained commendation; Mrs. Mills declared she would feel
inclined to purchase a similar hat, only that Praed Street might say
she was looking for a second husband. Besides, she never went out.
Your poor mother was just as handy with her needle as what you are.
We'd go along together to have a look at the shops in Oxford Street,
and the moment she returned home, she'd set to work, and alter
something to make it look fashionable. Mrs. Mills sighed. Little good
it brought her, though, in the long run.
I am sure, remarked the girl quickly, it never brought her any
Didn't help to get hold of anybody better than your father, at any
rate. But they're both gone, and it's no use talking.
Some one entered the shop.
Your friend Miss Radford, she announced. Now there won't be a
chance for any one else to speak.
The visitor justified the prophecy, by entering the parlour with a
breathless Oh, I've got such news! checking herself on encountering
Mrs. Mills. Mrs. Mills asked, with reserve, concerning the health of
Miss Radford's mother, and mentioned (not apparently for the first
time) that the lady, in her opinion, ought to be living on a gravel
soil. Miss Radford, obviously suffering from repressed information,
promised to deliver the advice, word for word, and in the meantime gave
her own warm thanks.
Old nuisance! she remarked, as the half-curtained door closed. I
wonder how you can put up with her.
My aunt is very good to me.
Isn't it a pity, said the visitor inconsequently, that you're so
short? Well, not exactly short, but certainly only about middle height.
I thinkshe glanced at the mirror complacentlymy idea is it's
partly because I'm tall that I attract so much notice. I'm sure the way
they gaze round after I'm gone byWell, it used to make me feel quite
confused, but I've got over that. You don't have to put up with such
Afraid I forget to turn to see if they're looking.
You've got rather a thoughtless disposition, agreed the other.
Once or twice lately, when I've been telling you things that I don't
tell to everybody, it's struck me that you've been scarcely listening.
The door was closed, but Miss Radford verified this before proceeding.
What do you think? she asked in an awed voice. Whatever do you
think? Two of my old ones have met. Met at a smoking concert
apparently. And they somehow started talking, and my name cropped up,
and, tearfully, they've written me such a unkind letter, with both
their names to it. On the top of it all, the latest one caught sight of
me yesterday afternoon, dressing the window at our establishment, so
that he won't put in an appearance at the Marble Arch this evening.
Because I told him I was an artist. Said I had a picture in the
Royal Academy the year before last.
You are rather foolish at times, aren't you?
I wish, darling, wailed Miss Radford, that you could tell me
something I don't know.
The clock on the mantelpiece struck the half-hour, and Mrs. Mills's
niece, suddenly alarmed, said she would not be absent for more than ten
minutes, an announcement the visitor received with an incredulous shake
of the head. As a fact, Gertie returned in five minutes fully
apparelled, to discover Miss Radford improved in spirits and ready for
A new blouse? she cried, interrupting herself. And you never told
me. Gertie Higham, solemnly, this isn't what I call friendship.
The girl went straight through the shop, and looking up and down
Praed Street, remarked to Mrs. Mills that it intended to be a fine
evening. The elder lady said it was high time Gertie found a young man
to take her out; the girl answered composedly that perhaps Mr. Trew
might call and do her this service.
Or Fred Bulpert? remarked the aunt pointedly.
No, she answered, not Mr. Bulpert, thank you. Mr. Trew is
He isn't the man he was when I first knew him.
I like him because he's the man he is.
She turned quickly at the sound of a deep, husky voice. Mr. Trew, on
the mat, opened his arms at sight of her, and beamed with a face that
was like the midday sun; she took his sleeve and pulled him to the
At five minutes to five, she whispered urgently, you're going to
take me for a walk in Hyde Park.
At four fifty-five to the minute, he agreed. What's the game, may
I kindly ask?
I'll tell you later on.
I hadn't noticed it, he said loudly, re-entering the shop, until
my attention was drawed to it by the little missy here. But there it is
right enough on the playcards. 'Motor omnibuses for London.' He shook
his head, and, leaning across the counter, addressed Mrs. Mills. Light
of my life, sunshine of my existence
Don't you begin your nonsense, ordered the lady, not displeased.
And sweetheart when a boy, I warn you against putting any of your
ill-gotten gains into that sort of speculation. They may perhaps start
one from the Elephant and it'll get about as fur as the Obelisk, and
there it'll stick. And they'll have to take it to pieces, and sell it
for scrap iron. I know what I'm talking about.
That's unusual in your case, said Mrs. Mills.
I get light-headed when I see you, explained Mr. Trew. I was took
like it the first time I ran across you up in the gallery of the old
Princess's, seeing 'Guinea Gold,' and you've had the same effect on me
ever since. What's more, you glory in it. You're proud of the wonderful
influence you exercise over me. And all I get out of you is a 'aughty
The fact is, declared Mrs. Mills, you get too much attention from
the ladies. It spoils you!
See how she spurns me, he cried, turning to Gertie. You wouldn't
treat a gentleman like that, would you, missy? You wouldn't play
football with an honest, loving heart, I'm sure. Oh, come on, with
pretended desperation, let's have a cigar, and try to forget all about
it. A twopenny one; same as you sell to members of the House of Lords.
You're staying to tea, suggested Mrs. Mills, allowing him to make
a selection from a box.
I've got to leave just before five o'clock. Going to take the
little missy here out for a promenade.
Now that is kind and thoughtful of you, declared the other. With
all your silliness, you're not half a bad sort. Gertie, go in and lay
Miss Radford, after inspecting the new-comer over the half-curtain,
decided to leave, although, as she pointed out, this was an opportunity
for enjoying her company that rarely occurred. In confidence, the young
woman remarked that what she hoped might happen at a future date was
that she would meet some one possessing a disengaged brother, in which
case she guaranteed to bring all her influence to bear in favour of
Gertie Higham. Gertie said this was kind, and Miss Radford mentioned
that she always felt ready to do a favour whenever she happened to be
in good spirits.
The three sat at table, with Mrs. Mills in a position that commanded
a view of the shop. Mr. Trew had brought a bag of prawns in the
tail-pocket of his coat, secured, he asserted, after enormous trouble
and expense from the sea coast of Marylebone Road that very afternoon;
they were, anyway, good prawns, and went admirably with thin bread and
butter, and Gertie would have eaten more but for anxiety concerning
progress of the hands of the clock. Mr. Trew, discussing the products
of the sea, regretted that he was bound, by his work, to London
Horses is my occupation, he said, but the ocean's my hobby.
And derided town, charging it with stuffiness in this month of
August, and moreover empty. He wished he were on the pier at Southend,
or at Margate, or at any place, in fact, where he might see the waves
rolling in and rolling out again, and shy pebbles at them.
Gertie could have had her holiday this month, remarked Mrs. Mills,
glancing with pride at her niece, but she preferred not. I don't feel
sure whether she did right or whether she did wrong in giving them up.
There's more unlikely places than a seaside boarding-house to pick up a
future husband. She gave details of a case of a young woman living in
Harrow Road, who, in the summer of 1900, met at Eastbourne a gentleman
with one arm, invalided home from the war; an engagement immediately
followed. Later, the girl discovered he was already married, and that
he had gone away from his wife and children, taking with him the
compensation given to him by his employers, a firm of builders at
I expect the missy is keeping her eyes open, if the truth was
But no definite results, contended Mrs. Mills. That's what I
complain of. At her age I had three after me.
This was long before I came on the scene, explained Mr. Trew to
Gertie; otherwise there would have been bloodshed. Is this meal ad
lib., or do I have to pay extra for another cup of tea?
I don't want her to worry about it; I only want her to keep it in
view. What I should like more than anything would be to see a young man
who was fond of her come in here, at a time like this, and take his
piece of bread and butter, fold it, enjoy it, and sing to us
You're certain about that, aunt?
Providing he had a decent voice. The shop bell rang. Mrs. Mills
half rose and recognized the customer. We are now about to get all the
news of the neighbourhood, she said desolately.
Gertie anticipated her, and, going in, served the lady with a copy
of Fireside Love Stories. Returned with an imperative message.
I shall have to see her, admitted Mrs. Mills. She won't be happy
until she gets some piece of scandal off her mind.
Fair one, said Trew, with a wave of his hand, every moment will
seem like a century until you return!
Gertie was fixing her newly-trimmed hat with the aid of the mirror,
and Mr. Trew was describing an accident witnessed the day before near
Hyde Park corner, when sound of commotion came from the street; he
seized his peaked cap and hurried through the shop. Gertie followed.
Conversation between the two ladies had been interrupted by the same
cause and they were outside the doorway, looking on at a small crowd
that acted as escort to an ambulance in charge of two policemen; the
aim of every one appeared to be to snatch the privilege of securing a
view of the man partly hidden by the brown hood of the conveyance. Mrs.
Mills sent the customer across to obtain particulars, and remarking
cheerfully to Mr. Trew and the girl, You two off? Don't be late back,
mind! turned to the more interesting subject. Children were running up
from side streets, grateful for anything likely to break the serenity
of the afternoon.
If he's damaged hisself, said Mr. Trew, as the ambulance stopped
at the hospital, he's going to the right place to get repaired.
It's to be hoped he has friends.
Everybody's got the friends they deserve to have. Are we going the
direction to suit you, missy, or would you rather have gone Edgware
Let's turn down London Street, she suggested. It will be quiet
there. I've something to tell you. She rolled her parasol carefully.
And I want your help, Mr. Trew.
Three youths near the underground station, with apparently no urgent
occupation, came forward hopefully on seeing Gertie; detecting the fact
that she was in the company of a big, burly man, they had to pretend a
sudden interest in a shuttered window. The two, going into Norfolk
Square, walked on the narrow pavement near the railings of the garden.
Mr. Trew, I've got a young man!
That's the best news, he exclaimed heartily, I've heard this
And I want somehow to get him asked indoors. Once aunt sees him and
hears him talk, it will be all right. But I'm nervous about it, and I
don't know how to manage.
This, he said, holding up a forefinger, is just where old Harry
Trew comes in. This is exactly the sort of job he's fitted for. If he
hadn't took up with another occupation he'd have found himself by this
time in the Foreign Office. Do you want it arranged for to-night?
Right you are! You're going to meet him, I take it, presently. You
asked me to come out with you simply as an excuse for that purpose.
Very well, then. I've got a standing invite, as you very well know, to
drop in at the nine o'clock meal any Sunday evening I like. Your aunt
expects me. The forefinger became emphatic. You simply arrange for
him to meet me, say, outside the Met. at ten minutes to the hower; I
shall be carrying a Lloyd's in my right hand. I brings him
along, continued Mr. Trew exultantly; I introduces him as a young
personal friend of mine that I met on the steamer going to Clacton,
year before last. Your aunt says at once that any friend of mine is a
friend of her'n. You and him pretend not to know each other, but you
gradually become acquainted, and your aunt asks him, at the finish, to
look in again. Does that sound all right, or can you suggest a better
It's splendid, she cried.
I think, he continued, I shall mention in the course of the
evening that his father was the best friend I ever had in the world.
When I was in a slight financial difficulty once, his fatheryour
young man's father, I meancame to my assistance. And him not well off
neither. Turning-point of my life. But for that help I should, likely
enough, have gone down, and down, and down. He looked at her for
approval. What's wrong with that?
He's a gentleman!
Mr. Trew gazed for a few moments at a baby in a perambulator.
I was born in 'fifty-five, the year of the Crimea War, he said
deliberately, and if my mother had had her way, I sh'd have been
christened Sebastopol, which wouldn't have been any catch to a public
man like myself. If I'm spared till next year, I shall be celebrating
my jubilee, and all London will be illuminated, I expect, with military
troops lining the streets. But what I want to tell you, missy, is that,
all that time, I've never seen any good resulting from a girl in your
position of life becoming friendly with any chap who was considerably
above her in regard to what we call social status. On the other hand,
I've seen harm come from it.
There's going to be none in my case, she said quickly.
I know, I know! I'm perfectly sure of that. That is to say, I'm
absolutely certain that is your view now. I can't quite explain what I
mean to any one of your age and your sex. If I was a well-educated
manhere he took off his cap and rubbed the top of his head with the
peakI could find words to wrop it up somehow. The long and the short
of it is, you relinquish the idea. To oblige mepersuasivelyand to
gratify your aunt, who's been pretty good to you since you were a
I don't forget that.
And for your own peace of mind in the future, give it all up, and
you wait a bit until you find some one belonging to your own set.
There isn't the distance between the sets there used to be, she
He took hold of the railings with both hands, and tried to shake
them in an effort of thought.
What's the young chap's name?
I don't know.
There you are!with gloomy triumphdon't that prove the truth
of everything I've been saying?
He doesn't know mine.
That isn't an argument.
Quite so, the girl agreed. It's only a statement of fact. He will
tell me his name directly I ask him, and I shall tell him my name the
moment he asks me.
No occupation, I suppose?
He works for his living.
Then, turning reproachfully upon her, what did you mean by saying
he was a gentleman, and upsetting me to this extent?
He is a gentleman, persisted Gertie. I can tell the difference.
Mr. Trew sighed, and took out his watch. Gertie glanced at it.
I must go, she said. I promised to meet him not far from the shop
I'd do anything to help you, missy, he declared, because I like
you. And it's just because I like you that I don't feel particular
inclined to assist him. He ought to keep to his own sphere. There's a
lot of talk about breaking down the barriers that divide one class from
another, but, I tell you, it's a job that wants very careful handling.
And I've got as much sense as most, and I rather enjoy interfering with
other people's affairs, but this is an undertaking I don't care to
tackle. You'll excuse me for speaking my mind, won't you? It's a habit
I've got into.
It's a good habit, said Gertie. I practise it myself.
On the return, Mr. Trew, cap now at the back of his head, and his
rubicund face bearing indications of seriousness, pointed out that the
girl was in a berth in Great Titchfield Street, which he described as
not so dusty, earning twenty-five shillings a week, and with Saturday
afternoons and Sundays free; a good home, and everything ready for her
when she returned, tired out, at night; first-class feeding, able to
dress well. Mr. Trew, without daring to say whether he was right or
whether he was wrong, begged to suggest there were many girls worse
treated by fortune; it did seem to him that these advantages ought not
to be given up lightly.
There he is! she cried excitedly. Across there. Near the
second-hand furniture shop.
Your aunt's calling you, he said.
Mrs. Mills was out on the pavement, scooping at the air with her
right arm. Gertie instinctively obeyed the order; Mr. Trew kept pace
with her. The three entered the shop, and Mrs. Mills, with a touch of
her heel, closed the door, went inside the tobacco counter, and, across
it, spoke rapidly and vehemently, with the aid of emphatic gesture, for
five minutes by the clock. Mr. Trew, disregarding rules of etiquette,
sat down, whilst the two stood, and became greatly interested in the
mechanism of a cigar-cutter.
Who told you all this, aunt? asked the girl calmly, when Mrs.
Mills had finished.
The lady customer who was here when you went out. Do you deny it?
Of course, if it isn't correct that you've been seen walking about with
a young swell, I've lost my temper for nothing.
Girls will be girls, interposed Mr. Trew.
Not in my house.
It's all perfectly correct, announced Gertie.
Mrs. Mills looked around in a dazed way.
Trew, she cried, what's to be done?
You've had your say, old beauty, he remarked slowly. Now let me
and her go into the parlour and have some musicmusic of a different
The girl hesitated, and looked through the window. He touched her
shoulder. I sh'd take it as a special favour.
He came out a few minutes later, and mentioned to Gertie's aunt that
he had a message to deliver. The music within ceased; the lid of the
Trew, she said.
Queen of my heart.
This isn't the only upset I've had. Who do you think it was in that
ambulance cart this afternoon? I hopped across to have a look. Leaning
over the counter, she whispered.
That complicates matters, so far as she is concerned, he admitted.
I hoped he'd vanished for good. We shall want all the diplomacy that
we've got stored away to deal with this.
Mr. Trew could scarcely be suspected of exceeding his instructions;
he had, upon his return, given privately an account of the words used,
with frequent use of the phrases, I says to him, and He says to me.
But as evenings of the week went by, and other girls at Hilbert's, on
leaving at the hour of seven, were met by courageous youths near the
door, and by shyer lads at a more reticent spot (some of these took
ambush in doorways, affecting to read cricket results in the evening
paper), then Gertie Higham began to wonder whether the message had been
communicated in the precise tone and manner that she had given it. The
blue pinafored girls, stitching gold thread in the workroom at
Hilbert's, cultivated little reserve, and when they had occasion to
enter the office they sometimes told her of young men encountered (say)
at a dance, of ardent protestations of love, faithful promises to meet
And from that day to this, the accounts finished, not so much as
a sign of his lordship.
There was encouragement in the thought that he knew the number in
Great Titchfield Street; was aware that she walked thence to Praed
Street. And each evening on the way home a straw hat temporarily
imposed upon her, a tall boyish figure and an eager method of walking
deceived. At Praed Street, Mrs. Mills, noting that time had not been
wasted on the journey, beamed approval and made much of her niece,
telling her she was a good, sensible girl; one bound to get on in the
world. Gertie did not leave again after her arrival, but turned out a
room upstairs, and swept and dusted with extraordinary energy.
Good spirits increased at Great Titchfield Street when Friday came,
and men at the looms above sang loudly; girls who had borrowed small
sums were reminded by lenders that the moment for payment was close at
hand. At the hour, wages were given through the pigeon-hole of the
windows by Madame, with the assistance of Gertie, and the young women
hung up pinafores, pinned hats, and flew off with the sums as though
there was danger of a refund being demanded. When they had gone,
Madame, dispirited by the paying out of money, said there was not now
the profit in the business that there had been in her father's day,
when you charged what you liked, and everybody paid willingly. To
restore cheerfulness, the two faced each other at the sloping desks,
and Madame dictated whilst Gertie took bills, headed Hilbert's
Military Accoutrement Manufacturers, and wrote the words, To a/c
rendered. Later, she left to Madame the task of locking up.
Near the print shop over the way, a tall young figure in a tweed
suit marched from one unlighted lamp-post to another; the girl drew
back to the staircase, snatching a space for consideration. The next
moment she was crossing the street with the air of an art patron
anxious to inspect before making a purchase.
You gave me such a start, she declared, as a hand touched her
shoulder lightly. I'd begun to think you'd disappeared altogether.
Where've you been hiding?
Do you mind very much, he asked, gazing down at her contentedly,
if I honour you with my company a part of the way?
No objection whatever. Hasn't it been a scorcher? Up there, what
with the heat and the noise of the machines going, it's made my head
You won't care to go to a concert then. Shall we have a boat again
in Regent's Park? We are both magnificent sailors.
I'd rather be somewheres where we can talk.
Why, he declared, that is just what I should prefer. The
similarity in our tastes is almost alarming.
Primrose Hill is rather a nice open space.
Sounds perfectly delightful, he agreed; but I can't in the least
guess where it is.
I know my way about London, said Gertie Higham.
They walked along Oxford Street, the girl endeavouring to keep in
step with him, and he attempting to keep in step with her; they
appeared to decide near to Wells Street that it would be more
convenient to fall back on individual methods. At the corner of
Tottenham Court Road Gertie hailed a yellow omnibus which was on the
point of starting; she skipped up the steps with a confidence that made
the conductor's warning 'Old tight! superfluous.
You didn't mind my sending out that message the other evening?
Beginning the conversation breathlessly.
I considered it kind of you to be so thoughtful.
It wasn't exactly that. I didn't want a row with aunt. What did you
think of Mr. Trew?
Do you know, it occurred to me that he looked rather like an
He is an omnibus driver.
Better than thata friend. I s'pose you're somewhat particular
The conductor came, and the girl had thought of other questions by
the time fares to the Adelaide were paid. A man on the seat in front
turned to ask her companion for a match; he handed over a silver box
that bore a monogram. She begged permission, when it was given back, to
look at the case.
Which stands for the Christian name?
And D. is for the surname thenH. D.
Henry Douglass, he said.
I like the sound of it, she declared. What do you think the name
of the forewoman at our place of business is? She chattered on, and he
listened attentively, as though the sound of her voice was all that
At the Adelaide they alighted, and, walking up the short hill, found
Regent's Park Road; she explained the geography of the district,
pointed out that away south it was all open country until you came to
Marylebone Road. And was it not wonderful how fresh and bracing the air
seemed up here, even on a summer's evening; you could easily imagine
yourself miles and miles away from London. Did he care for the country?
She did not. For one thing, the people there had such an odd way of
speaking that it was a trouble to realize what they were driving at.
She sometimes wondered whether they understood each other.
You're letting me do all the talk, she remarked, as they took
seats in the enclosed space at the top of the hill. Boys were playing
on the slopes, punctuating the game with frequent disputes. A young
couple seated near a tree attracted her notice; the girl's eyes were
closed, head resting on the shoulder of the young man, who had an
aspect of gloomy resignation.
Sillies some people make of themselves, don't they? she said.
I suppose we are, most of us, ludicrous to other people.
Do you laugh at me sometimes?
No, no, he said earnestly; I like you too much to do that.
You think you're a bit fond of me, she said, gazing ahead and
speaking deliberately, because I'm different from most of the girls
you're in the habit of meeting, and my ways make a change for you.
That's about all. You'd soon get tired of me and my manner if we saw
much of each other. I know it won't last.
I shall not trouble to contradict that, he remarked
good-temperedly, because I know you don't believe it yourself. Why, it
would be absolutely splendid to be always with you.
Another couple walked by, breathless after the climb. Gertie,
recognizing her friend Miss Radford, nodded; and that young lady, after
a short scream of astonishment, gave a bow, and nudged her blushing
companion as an instruction to imitate the example by raising his hat.
I'm glad she's seen us, said Gertie. Didn't the young fellow turn
He's a junior clerk in my office.
What a score for me! she cried exultantly. I've a good mind to
ask you now what you do for a living exactly, only that I'd rather find
everything out bit by bit.
You queer little person, he said affectionately. Tell me instead
about yourself. What is a day like at your place of business? Do you
mindit helps to concentrate my attentionif I hold your hand whilst
Why should I? asked Gertie.
There could be no doubt, as she progressed with the description of
Great Titchfield Street, that her mind was well occupied with the daily
work; she gave the recital clearly and well, avoiding repetition and
excluding any suggestion of monotony. Every moment of the hours there
seemed to engage her interest. It was her duty to keep the books, and
keep them straight; to answer the telephone, and sometimes make
purchases of reels of gold thread and of leather. The looms and the
netting machine were worked by men; the rest was done by girls. The
forewoman was described, and her domestic troubles lightly sketched
(Miss Rabbit's father backed horses, excepting when they came in
first). Madame herself was spoken of in lowered respectful
tonespartly because of her high position, partly because of shrewd
and businesslike methods. Madame, it appeared, attributed any success
she attained to the circumstance that she had steered clear of
matrimony. Madame told the girls sometimes that you could wed yourself
to business, or you could wed yourself to a man, but women who tried to
do both found themselves punished for bigamy, sooner or later. Gertie
was a favourite of Madame's; the main reason was, the girl thought,
Shan't tell you! she said, interrupting herself.
Let me hear the worst, begged young Douglass cheerfully. I have,
just for the moment, the courage of a lion.
Well, the reason is that she's under the impression I don't care
much forfor anybody special.
And is Madame correct in her sanguine anticipations?
She was. Until a month or so ago.
He took the other hand quickly.
Let's move on, she recommended, rising sedately. I don't want to
be too late on pay night. Aunt will be thinking I've been knocked down
and robbed of my purse. She's country-bredBerkshireand she says she
doesn't trust Londoners. They went down the slope.
Does she happen to know the town of Wallingford, I wonder?
He declared, on receiving the answer, that nothing could be more
fortunate; this was, indeed, pure luck. For he too was acquainted with
Wallingford, and especially well he knew a village not far off: if he
could but meet Gertie's aunt, here was a subject of mutual interest.
Throwing away the serious manner that came intermittently, he
challenged her to race him down to the Albert Road gate; and she went
at her best speed, not discouraged by shouts from youngsters of Go it,
little 'un! They arrived together at the gate, where Gertie had to
rest for a few moments to regain breath. She pointed out that skirts
hampered one; he admitted he ought to have given her fifty yards start.
They took Regent's Park more demurely.
When you get a colour, he said, you look like a schoolgirl.
As a matter of fact, I shan't see twenty again.
Do you want to?
No, she replied candidly; I'm as happy just now as ever I want to
be. It'll always be something to look back upon.
I wish, he said with earnestness, that you wouldn't talk as
though our friendship was only going to be temporary.
We never know our luck, she remarked. Aunt was saying only the
other evening, 'Gertie,' she saidNow I've been and let you know my
He repeated it twice quietly to himself.
Have you been fond of any one before this? she asked. The girl had
so many questions that her mind jumped from one topic to another.
Oh yes, he answered. When I was a schoolboy at Winchester I fell
in lovedeeply in love. She was a widow, and kept a confectioner's
shop. Good shop, too.
Nothing more serious than that? He shook his head. Glad I'm the
first, she said. And I wish my plan for getting you acquainted with
aunt had come off the other night. It would have made it all seem more
We'll manage it, he promised. Meanwhile, and always, don't forget
that you are my dear sweetheart.
Miss Radford called at Praed Street, inquiring anxiously; and Mrs.
Mills, summoning invention to her aid, said Gertie was not in. Mrs.
Mills followed this up by mentioning that an occasional visit from Miss
Radford could be tolerated, but it was not necessary for her to be
always in and out of the place. Miss Radford, asserting that she never
forced her company upon any one, swung out of the shop; and Mrs. Mills
said to the cat that they did not want too many flighters about.
Why, Mr. Bulpert! With a quick change of manner to a newcomer.
This is a pleasant surprise. Mr. Trew was talking about you not two
The young man took the chair near the counter and, giving it a
twirl, sat down heavily, and rested his chin on the back. I'm putting
on too much avoirdupois, he said gloomily. Saturday, I had to get
into evening dress, and it was as much as I could do to make the
waistcoat buttons meet.
You ought to take more exercise.
What's the use of talking like that? If I take more exercise, I
find myself with a bigger appetite, and then I'm worse off than ever.
He dismissed the problem as insoluble. Where's Gertie? I've got a new
recitation that she'd very much like to hear. I place a certain value
on her criticism.
I'll call her down. And, Mr. Bulpert, I want you to be as nice and
pleasant to her as you can. I had to talk rather sharply to her not
many days ago; now I'd like to make it up. I'm bound to say she took it
You won't forget, he urged, that I'm a man who can always get any
amount of refined society. Sought after as I am for al fresco
concerts and what not
I know, agreed Mrs. Mills. Only Gertie hasn't many friends, and I
want her, just now, to make the most of 'em.
She called her niece, and Gertie came, turning the page of a book,
entitled, Hints for Gentlewomen. Gertie offered her hand to Bulpert,
and remarked that he was growing stout; he advised her, with some
vehemence, to take to glasses before her eyesight became further
impaired. Mrs. Mills went back to the shop with a waggish caution
against too much love-making. Bulpert, after shifting furniture, took
up a position on the white hearthrug, and gave a stirring adventure in
the life of a coastguardsman who saved from a wreck his wife and child.
At the end, Bulpert mopped face, readjusted collar, and waited for
Did you make it up out your own head, Mr. Bulpert?
I did not make it up out of my own head, he said resentfully.
That isn't my line, and well you know it. It was written by a chap
your cousin, Clarence Mills, introduced me to.
Ask him to write it again. It seems to me a stupid piece. The
wife's been away for ten years, and the baby is eighteen months old.
That does require a slight alteration. But what about my rendering
Overdone, answered Gertie. If only you'd stand up and say them
quietly, your pieces would go a lot better.
But I've got to convey the meaning to the ordience.
Give 'em credit for some intelligence. When the coastguardsman is
going out to the wreck, it isn't necessary to wave your arms about like
a windmill. You say he's swimming, and that's enough. And if a floating
spar knocked him senseless before he got to the wreck, I don't believe
he could take them both in his arms and swim back to the shore.
It says he did in the poetry, contended Bulpert with warmth. The
whole fact of the matter is that you don't in the least know what
you're talking about. A sound of voices came from the shop, and Gertie
flushed. Now it's no use your getting hot-tempered about it, he went
on. You speak your mind to me, and I'm entitled to speak my mind to
you. What you suffer from is nothing more nor less than sheer
ignorance. Imperfect education; that's what the complaint is called.
Gertie! A call from the shop.
Do come here just a moment. Here's the strangest coincidence I ever
came across. Gertie obeyed with signs of nervousness. This young
gentleman tells me that he knows Ewelme, and he's actually been inside
the house where I was born!
How do you do? said Gertie.
And he's going down there again shortly, went on Mrs. Mills with
animation, and he means to bring me back some roses from the garden.
Isn't it good of him?
Your daughter is fond of flowers?
She's only my niece, explained Mrs. Mills volubly. Her mother
kicked the bucket some years ago, and her fatherWhat's Wallingford
like now, sir? I've said over and over again that I'd one day take the
Great Western to go and have a look and see what alterations had been
made. But, regretfully, it's never been anything more than talk. I'd
like Gertie to see the place though, so that she could tell whether it
comes up to my description.
He seemed inclined to make an impetuous offer, but a brief shake of
the girl's head arrested him. A boy entered and asked for an evening
newspaper, and Gertie attended to the transaction.
By the bye, turning to the stationery counter, I want one or two
magazines. Their heads came closely together as a selection was being
made; she whispered a caution not to stay too long. In a louder voice,
Gertie announced that the total cost was two shillings and sixpence.
Mrs. Mills beamed across from the tobacco counter, and asked whether he
knew who was keeping The Lamb; Henry Douglass could not supply the
information, but guaranteed to obtain particulars, and bring them to
Praed Street. Mrs. Mills declared herself ashamed to give so much
Are you in business, sir, may I ask?
I am, in a very small way, an architect.
Really? said Gertie interestedly.
But, said Mrs. Mills, you're not wearing a white tie!
She's thinking of an archbishop, remarked Bulpert, coming forward.
I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. Daresay you know me by
name. He found a card in his letter-case, and Henry took it near the
light to examine the wording.
'Fred W. Bulpert,' he read. 'Society Entertainer and
That's in the evenings, of course, said Bulpert. By day, I'm in
the West Central district. Post Office, to tell you the truth. I'll
trouble you for the card back, because I'm running somewhat short of
them. And if you should be arranging a concert at any time, either for
your own benefit or any body else's, you might bear me in mind. F. W.
B. is a great draw, if I may say so, because, you see, a lot of people
have heard him before.
The customer asked whether there was an underground station near;
Mrs. Mills instructed Gertie to walk along with the young gentleman,
and to point out the building. As they left, she urged Henry not to
forget his promise concerning the roses.
Nice, quiet-spoken lad, she commented. I wish Gertie would take
up with some one like him, or even you, and forget all about that
society young man she's been seen strolling with.
I hadn't heard about that, said Bulpert seriously. What are the
solid facts of the matter? Why am I kept in the dark about everything?
Mr. Trew, off duty, and carrying his whip, came to Praed Street late
on a Saturday night, and his look of anxiety disappeared at once when
he saw that Mrs. Mills and her niece were on excellent terms with each
other. He explained that there was no time to spare, because his old
landlady had a hot supper ready, and it was not wise, on these
occasions, to keep her or the meal waiting. He delivered his news.
Pleasant, elderly gent on the front seat started conversation by
talking about prison life, and Trew gave some particulars of a case
with which he was acquainted. One subject leading to another, the gent
said, as the omnibus was crossing Oxford Street, Driver, do you ever
go to the Zoological Gardens on a Sunday afternoon? and thereupon
handed over the two tickets, expressing a hope that the visit would be
enjoyed by the other and his wife.
And me being nothing more than a lonely bachelor, said Trew, I
thought perhaps the little missy here might favour me with her
It'll do her the world of good, declared Mrs. Mills.
They met the next day near the West Entrance at half-past three. Mr.
Trew, arriving early, had been listening to oratory at different
groups, and he mentioned to Gertie that in his opinion some of the
speakers might well be transferred to the Gardens, and kept in a cage;
what he failed to understand was why people could not set to and make
the best of the world, instead of pretending it was all bad. They went
through the turnstiles, and divided attention between animals and
visitors; the former could be identified with the help of labels. Mr.
Trew said, in regard to the people, that it was difficult to tell which
were housemaids, and which were ladies of title.
Oddly enough, remarked Gertie, I was intending to be here this
afternoon, in any case.
Trust me, he said, self-reproach fully, for coming in second.
Never actually won a race in my life yet. Is it the same young feller?
I'm not one to chop and change.
When we run across him, I'll make myself scarce.
You'll do nothing of the kind, Mr. Trew.
He pointed out, in the crocodile house, one or two regular customers
of the Baker Street to Victoria route, and when they recognized him he
became purple with content. A short youth was making notes near a tank
in the corner. Mr. Trew, nudging Gertie, went to him and, in a gruff
voice, asked what the deuce he was doing there; the youth turned to
give a retort.
I've got your young lady cousin with me, explained Mr. Trew. Come
along, and help with the task of looking after her.
Clarence Mills was pleased to meet Gertie, and, as the three went
towards the red-bricked lions' house, mentioned that he proposed to
write a dialogue sketch of the Zoo; up to the present little worth
recording had been overheard, and he expected he would, as usual, be
compelled to invent the conversations.
I read all of yours, Clarence, that appear in the newspapers, said
That doesn't take up a great deal of your time, he remarked.
But you're getting on, aren't you?
I think of going in for the boot-black business, he said. I
believe I could make a reputation there.
Don't you go losing 'eart, advised Mr. Trew. I shouldn't be in
the position I occupy now if I hadn't made up my mind, from the start,
not to get low-spirited. If any disappointments come your way, simply
laugh at 'em. They can stand anything but that. Who is this I see on
the far horizon?
Don't let him catch sight of us just yet, begged the girl
apprehensively. He seems to have ladies with him.
Henry's companions entered the house, as the roaring within became
insistent, and he looked up and down eagerly. Gertie gave a whistle.
You and I have met before, he said smilingly to Mr. Trew.
I was a Boy Messenger then, sir.
Gertie introduced her cousin with a touch of pride.
I am trying to think, said Clarence, where I saw your name
Haven't made a name yet, remarked Henry. Only been at it for
about eighteen months. I say! We don't want to go into that enormous
crowd. We'll stroll round and see how the penguins are getting on. They
sometimes look as though they were thinking of giving me a commission
to draw up plans for new Law Courts.
At one of the open windows the two ladies were standing, watching
over many heads the high tea that was being served to the impatient
animals. The younger one happened to turn as Gertie and her friends
went by; she raised her eyebrows.
Everybody one knows appears to be here, said Henry Douglass. I
wish you had agreed instead to run out with me from Baker Street
Station into the country.
Can't do that yet, she answered definitely. Not until we know
each other a great deal better.
Your rules of conduct are precise.
You'll like me all the better later on, said Gertie, because of
that. Always supposing, she continued, that you do go on liking me.
So far as I can gather, he remarked good-temperedly, I am
persona grata now at Praed Street.
I don't know what that means, she said; but aunt has quite taken
to you. Just look at this! Isn't it extr'ordinary?Clarence, she
called over her shoulder to her cousin, here is most likely where you
saw the name this afternoon.
She examined the inscription framed on the bars. Presented to the
Society by Sir Mark Douglass.
No, said Clarence Mills. That wasn't it. My sluggish memory will
arouse presently, and then I shall be able to exhibit signs of
They were looking down from the terrace at the white bear in his
pit, when a high voice came above the moderate tones of the crowd;
Henry took Gertie's arm, and began to talk rapidly of Nansen and the
North Pole, but this did not prevent her from glancing over her
shoulder. The people gave way to the owner of the insistent voice, and
she, after inspection through pince-nez, made bitter complaint of the
clumsiness of the bear, his murky appearance, the serious consequences
of indiscriminate feeding. Henry endeavoured to detach the members of
his party, but they appeared enthralled by the commanding tones.
I thought we should meet again, said the younger woman, addressing
Miss Loriner, he said to Gertie, with signs of reluctance. A
friend of my sister-in-law.
I am Lady Douglass's companion, remarked Miss Loriner.
She seems ratty about something, said Gertie.
She has what they call the critical faculty, mentioned the other,
with a twinkle of the eye. I happen to be aware of the fact.
Lady Douglass was looking around with the air of one searching for
fresh subjects; Henry led Gertie to her, and made the introductions.
Lady Douglass expressed the view that the Gardens were horribly tiring,
regretted her ill-luck in visiting on a crowded afternoon. But no
misfortune, she added wearily, seems to escape me!
It was not until they descended the steps that the group had an
opportunity for forming itself. Miss Loriner, recognizing the girl's
perturbation of mind, took her ahead, thus foiling the intentions of
Lady Douglass; they could hear her talking of literature to Clarence
Mills in a patronizing way. Gertie's cousin said resolutely, But
George Meredith never wrote a poem with that title. You are thinking of
Owen Meredith. Lady Douglass answered, with pride, that she never
troubled to remember the names of authors.
Clarence is standing up to her, remarked Gertie.
She gets so little contradiction, said Miss Loriner, that it will
have all the charm of novelty. I daren't do it, of course.
You're thinking of your bread and butter.
That's about all I should have to eat if I lost this berth.
Wouldn't care for the job myself.
I can't do anything else, explained Miss Loriner. Did you say
your cousin was a journalist? I wish I could do something like that. I
want to write a novel, badly.
That's probably how you would write it. Why, even Clarence is
finding some trouble over the job. And he's got a brain.
I suppose that is an advantage, admitted the other serenely. How
long have you known Mr. Douglass?
Her husband must get precious tired of the sound of her voice.
He does. He goes away a good deal. The war in South Africa was a
Godsend to him. Just now he is out somewhereI forget where. How long
There are no children.
Gertie glanced back at Lady Douglass in a more friendly way.
Clarence had been dropped owing, apparently, to want of sympathy, and
Trew was selected as one more likely to agree with arguments.
Mr. Douglass's mother is in town, mentioned Miss Loriner, but she
is resting this afternoon.
I wasn't aware he had a mother.
Oh! With illumination. Then you haven't known him long. They are
very fond of each other. She is a dear soul. When matters go wrong down
at Ewelme, it is old Mrs. Douglass who puts everything right.
They were separated by a child who had been startled by a look from
an amiable dromedary. Henry came forward.
I am going to ask my sister-in-law, he said deliberately, to
invite you down to Morden Place. Thank her, won't you?
I'll thank her, replied Gertie, but I shan't accept the
I'd see that she was civil to you.
And I shall see, said the girl obstinately, that she doesn't get
many chances of being anything else. I'd no idea you had swell
relatives; otherwise I'd never have gone on with it.
He went back disappointedly, and Mr. Trew, making his escape with
every sign of relief, told Gertie that, with what he might term a vast
and considerable experience of womankind (including one specimen who,
in May of '99, gave him advice on the task of driving horses through
London streets), this particular one was, he declared, the limit. He
described himself as feeling bruised, black and blue, all over. Without
wishing to interfere in matters which did not concern him, he ventured
to suggest that Gertie might possibly be fortunate in her young man,
but she could scarcely claim to be called lucky in her young man's
I'm going to chuck it, she replied desperately. Chuck it
altogether. You were correct in what you said, that Sunday night, about
distances, and I was wrong.
Mr. Trew, flustered by this instant agreement, began to hedge. He
did not pretend, he said, to be always right; he could recollect many
occasions when he had been considerably wide of the mark. In fact, a
bigger blunderhead, excepting in regard to certain matters, of which
this was not one, probably did not exist. Trew begged to point out that
the middle-aged party walking along behind them was, after all, only
one middle-aged party, and there was no reason to assume that she could
knock out every opponent she encountered. At the finish of his
argument, Trew urged his young companion to put on the gloves, and show
what she could do.
Think I had better not, she said, less definitely. I shan't like
feeling myself beaten, but it's wiser to do that now than to leave it
Mr. Trew became reproachful, almost sarcastic. This, then, was the
stuff that his little friend, niece of his old friend, was made of, was
it? Crumpling up at the first signs of opposition; stepping out of the
ring directly her opponent held up fists! If Gertie represented the
young woman of to-day, give Mr. Trew the young woman of thirty years
ago. He had changed his mind recently on an important subjecta thing
he rarely didand half decided to extend the power of voting to the
other sex, but the present case induced him to believe first thoughts
I'll have another go then, announced Gertie Higham; but I don't
guarantee I shall win.
If I hadn't rather a lot of money out just now, he declared
encouragingly, I'd put every penny of it on you.
They stopped near to the semicircular cage where the condors, in
evening dress and white boa around the neck, surveyed the garden with
the aloof manner of the higher aristocracy. Gertie waited for an
advance; this did not come. Miss Loriner, at the command of Lady
Douglass, furnished the hour, and a scream of dismay was given,
followed by the issuing of orders. Henry must conduct them out of this
dreadful Park; Henry must find a hansom with a reliable horse, and a
driver of good reputation. Also Henry must come on to see his mother,
and take her on to a tea appointment at Cadogan Gardens, thus saving
trouble to Lady Douglass, who was really so fagged and wearied by this
exhausting afternoon that rest, in a partially darkened room, was
nothing short of imperative.
Yes, said Gertie, answering Henry's questioning look; you go!
Lady Douglass remembered to give a word of farewell when she was a
distance of about ten yards away. So pleased to have met you! she
said casually. Henry, near the gates, turned and waved his hand, and
Gertie responded cheerfully.
Now I want to scream! she said.
Clarence Mills declared his intention of providing tea, and Trew
admitted a cup or so would not be likely to prove injurious to the
system; might, indeed, have a soothing effect on the mind. They found
an enamelled table on the lawn, and directly Gertie took the handle of
the teapot she was able to announce that she felt considerably improved
in temper. Her cousin gave an imitation of Lady Douglass's speech and
manner, and Gertie imitated the imitation. Mr. Trew had a difficulty in
deciding which was the more admirable, but asserted either was to be
preferred to the original, and during the progress of the shilling meal
they affected to be distinguished members of society, to the great
astonishment of folk at neighbouring tables, and to the diversion of an
interested waiter. Completely restored now to her normal mood, Gertie
mentioned a number of alert repartees which she would have made if
Henry's sister-in-law had given suitable openings.
I suppose, remarked Mr. Trew, emptying his cup by giving it a jerk
over his shoulder, that, after all, she isn't nearly so bad as she's
painted. She certainly did look to me somewhat made-up; it's a custom
amongst her set, I believe. Often wonder whether it takes anybody in.
He said she was going to invite me to her house in the country, but
she didn't. Wouldn't mind meeting Henry's mother, just once, to find
out what she is like.
It was something on the tape, mentioned her cousin, again
endeavouring to arouse memory. That was where I saw the name. If you
two care to come along to my club, I'll run in, and make sure.
We can get a Waterloo omnibus from the York and Albany corner,
said Mr. Trew.
He warned them, in ascending the steps, that he was going to have a
rare lark with the driver, whose face, it appeared, was new on the
road. They took seats in front, and Mr. Trew, adopting a rustic accent,
inquired of the driver whether the canal below represented the river
Thames; in regard to Trinity Church, near Portland Road Station, he
asked if he was right in assuming this to be St. Paul's; at Peter
Robinson's he put another question, and, information given, demanded
whether Oxford Circus was being run by Barnum. These and other
inquiries were courteously replied to; and when the three alighted near
the fountain and Trew, looking up, thanked the new driver for his
kindness, the driver said, Ta-ta, old True till Death, whipping the
omnibus on the near side to call the conductor's attention to an
Mr. Trew, depressed by the failure of his elaborate scheme, walked
behind the young people, grumbling self-reproachfully. Him recognizing
me all along, and calling me by my nickname at the finish!
Clarence Mills ran up the staircase of his club, and the two walked
inside the railings of the square, inspected the bust of Shakespeare at
the centre. A few people were sitting about. The palatial houses of
amusement on the northern and the western side enjoyed their day of
rest, but gave hints of startling attractions for the coming week. Mr.
Trew considered Shakespeare a well-meaning writer, but somewhat old
fashioned in methods, and was surprised to find that Gertie had
thoroughly enjoyed The Tempest at His Majesty's.
Was you alone?
No. Mr. Douglass took me.
That accounts for it, he said knowingly.
Clarence Mills came looking for them with anxiety. The two hurried
forward and met him at the gate; his forehead remained contracted.
Her husband's yacht, he announced, has been seized by natives.
All on board put to death. They gazed at each other.
So that turns her, remarked Trew slowly, into a widow woman.
There's no family, as I understand; consequently, it makes a bit of
diff'rence to Gertie's young man.
The girl sighed.
I'm sorry for her, she said. Very sorry indeed. And it means that
my path won't be none the easier!
Madame Hilbert and the forewoman in Great Titchfield Street
consulted each other only when crises occurred; the girls knew that if
Madame came to the doorway, saying, Miss Rabbit, just half a second,
please, and the forewoman was absent for half an hour, then some
matter of supreme importance was being discussed. The establishment was
in close touch with the military service at home and abroad, and the
best stroke good fortune could make in favour of Hilbert's was to
arrange a stately ceremonial in India, some alteration in the dress of
officers, or anything that made uniforms necessary. The girls'
workroom, even at ordinary times, presented an aspect of enormous
wealth, with everywhere a display of goldloose threads of it on the
tables, collected threads being sewn on foundations, epaulettes in
course of making, heavy dependent nuggets hung upon scarves. Gold
floated in the air, and when the sun came through the windows it all
looked as though one could play the conjurer, and perform the
enchanting trick of making a dash with the hand and secure sovereigns.
Many of the girls wore glasses because continued attention to the
glistening colours affected the eyes; sometimes a worker became pale of
features, anaemic and depressed, and had to hurry off to the sea-side,
and Miss Rabbit referred to this as an act of Providence. For the most
part, the girls were healthy and cheerful, and they had the
encouragement of good wages. Miss Rabbit, it was reported, took home
every Saturday two pounds ten shillings; the very youngest assistant
made twelve shillings a week.
I do hope, said Madame, at a special private conference, it
doesn't mean she's taking up religion. The forewoman shook her head.
I've known cases in my time where it's come on suddenly, and it's
thrown a girl clean off her balance. If it isn't religion it must be
love. Love has just about the same effect with some of us. Have you
ever been gone on any one, Miss Rabbit?
Only to a very moderate extent, replied the forewoman precisely.
And it's such a long while ago, Madame, that I've nearly forgot all
I don't like to see one of my girls turn like this all at once,
said Madame with anxiety. Moreover, she's the handy one in the
business. There's nothing she doesn't know about the work, and little
she can't do. If anything happened to you, I've always had the idea of
putting her in your position.
Miss Rabbit's features twitched; she corrected the slip at once by
assuming a look of cordial agreement. You always know the right thing
to do, Madame, she murmured reverently.
How'd it be to call her in, and both of us have a talk to her, and
find out whether she's got anything on her mind?
That's a splendid notion, admitted Miss Rabbit with enthusiasm.
Or shall I have a quiet chat with her first, and pave the way, so to
I wish you would, said Madame. You're not particularly clever,
but I believe you've got a kind heart.
The forewoman that evening, whilst the girls were washing and
sharing the brush and comb, and complaining that hair came out by the
handful, entered the office; announcing the occasion as her birthday,
she asked Miss Higham to leave books, and assist in celebrating the
event by taking with her a cup of chocolate. Gertie wanted to reach
home early in order to see whether an expected letter had arrived, but
the invitation suggested a rare compliment, and, with a stipulation
arranging that the hospitality should not exceed the space of twenty
minutes, she accepted. In an A.B.C. shop at the corner, later, Gertie
raised her large cup and wished Miss Rabbit many happy returns. Her
eyes wandered rather eagerly about the crowded tables; the inspection
over, she sighed.
Wonder if I can trust you, dear, said Miss Rabbit, resting elbows.
I've been so often taken in over friendships with people that I
suppose I'm more cautious than most. But there's a look about
youperhaps, though, I'd better keep on the safe side.
I'm not one to chatter.
I know, I know. That's why I've always took to you specially.
Again Miss Rabbit stopped. She stirred her cup of chocolate slowly.
If it's good news, advised Gertie, tell me. I can do with some
just now. If it's not, keep it to yourself.
It's rather serious news, and that's why I think you ought to be
told. First of all, you must promise me, on your soul and honour, not
to breathe a word of it to anybody. Above all, not to Madame.
I promise, she said.
Very well thenwith a satisfied airit's like this. She leaned
across the marble table. Our show is going to burst up.
The dramatic announcement over, and the appropriate ejaculation, the
correct look of amazement and despair given. Miss Rabbit warmed to her
task, and became voluble; at each new paragraph of her discourse she
exacted a fresh guarantee that the information would go no further,
that the bond of absolute secrecy should be respected. Once, she felt
it necessary to say that if the other communicated a single word of the
confidences to any third party, she, Miss Rabbit, would feel it her
duty to haunt Miss Higham to the last hour of her life. Put briefly,
the news came to this. That Madame was in financial difficulties; that
her name and address might be found in the bankruptcy list any coming
Wednesday or Saturday; that no one was likely to be stupid enough to
take over the business; that the members of the staff, men and girls,
would find themselves turned out into a cold, hard world. The drawback
of being connected with a business of a special nature like theirs was
that there existed but few of a similar nature, and these were already
fully supplied with assistants. Miss Rabbit herself intended to look
out for another berth ere the market became swamped by many
applications; with piety, she called attention to a well-known text
which said, Go thou and do likewise. Outside the A.B.C. shop, Miss
Rabbit, in extorting thanks for her generous behaviour, demanded, once
more, a promise.
Say it after me, she ordered. 'I will never utter a single
syllable of all this to a solitary living soul.' Her instructions
complied with, she remarked that a great load was now taken from her
mind, and asked Gertie for advice on the point whether to go home by
omnibus or Tube railway.
The girl arrived at Praed Street after a brisk walk that was
intended to detach the mind from disturbing incident. In the broad
thoroughfare of Portland Place (which looked as though it started with
the idea of being a long, important roadway to the north, and became
suddenly reminded, to its great astonishment, that Regent's Park barred
the way) she had glanced up at the large houses, and wished she lived
in one; in that case she would receive Henry Douglass, at the end of
the silence that had come since the last meeting, and after listening
to him, reject his advances haughtily. That was the phrase. Reject his
advances haughtily. She had read it more than once in the literature
which attracted her in the days before Henry. Since she had known him,
a course of reading, adopted at his suggestion, took her away from the
more flowery and romantic pages, but in the old serial stories the folk
had nothing to do but to make love to each other, with intervals for
meals and rest; they were not restricted to evening hours; the whole
day was at their service. And certainly the ladies never found
themselves burdened with the anxiety of losing a weekly wage, in Great
Titchfield Street, and the prospect of difficulty in finding one to
I'm home, aunt, she announced, entering the shop.
So I see, remarked Mrs. Mills. Two customers were being served at
the newspaper counter, and two were waiting on the tobacco side. Gertie
attended to the orders for cigarettes; the shop cleared.
Is there a letter for me? she asked.
Mrs. Mills shook her head curtly.
Hashas any one called?
Now, let me think. Her aunt deliberated carefully in the manner of
a conscientious witness impressed by the taking of the oath. Yes, Miss
Radford looked in and went again. Left word that she wanted you to go
with her for an outing next Saturday afternoon. Said she wanted a
breath of fresh air. Mr. Trew is insideand that reminds me, I've got
something to say to him. Wait here, like a dear, and look after the
shop. Mrs. Mills closed the door carefully behind her as she went into
So, Mr. Trew, I packed him off about his business, she said,
obviously continuing a half-finished recital. I said, 'She asked me to
tell you that she thought it better for both parties that you and her
shouldn't see each other again.' Don't blame me, do you?
Mr. Trew rubbed his chin with the knuckle of a finger and remarked
that, by rights, he ought to have a shave.
I stopped his two letters when they came, went on Mrs. Mills.
Many a woman in my position would have been curious enough to open
them; I didn't. I simply put them in a drawer where they can be found
when the trouble's all over. No one can blame me for that, surely.
Mr. Trew mentioned that it was a rummy world, and the methods
adopted by the people living in it did not make it the less rummy.
I see what you mean, she said aggrievedly. You think I've gone
too far. But you yourself admitted at the start, when she was meeting
that other young gentleman, that high and low never mixed well. And
when I heard that this one was likely to come into property, I made up
my mind to take the bull by the horns. What's that you say? Speak out,
if you've got anything in your head.
When you take the bull by the horns, said Trew, advancing to the
white hearthrug, what happens is a toss up. I can't tell you yet
whether you've done right or whether you've done wrong; but if you put
the question to me a 'underd years hence, I shall be able to answer
you. What's pretty clear to me is that you're fond of her, and I'm fond
of her, and all we want is to see her comfor'ble and happy. Whether
you're taking the right track to gain that object is more than I can
say. Personally, I shouldn't care to go so far as you've gone.
That's because you're a coward.
Delight of my juvenile heart, said Mr. Trew, it's quite likely
you've hit on precisely the right explanation. Only thing is, it seems
to me somewhat rough on the little missy.
Miss Radford was studying the arrival of trains list at Paddington
in order to ascertain from which platform the 1.20 p.m. started; she
had assumed the slightly demented appearance that so many take when
they enter a railway station. Turning from the poster distractedly, she
clutched at the arm of a sailor, and was putting to him agitated
inquiries concerning the Great Western service when Gertie Higham
interposed, and released the naval man from a duty for which he was not
adequately equipped. Firmly and resolutely she conducted Miss Radford
to the correct platform, where they found seats in a compartment; and
Miss Radford in vain tried to remember whether it was that sitting
facing the engine or sitting with her back to the engine gave her a
headache. Gertie had obtained the tickets, and Miss Radford wanted
hers; Gertie retained possession. On the question of finance, she said
a settlement could be arranged when the outing was over. Other
passengers entered, including two lads, who set at once on the work of
studying scientific books; Miss Radford, changing her manner, dropped
her parasol as the train started, and one of the youths picked it up,
without disengaging his attention from the volume, and handed it to
Thanks awfully, she said, in refined and slightly languid tones;
I am such a clumsy creaturepartly addressing her friend, but mainly
speaking to the entire compartment. Really, I seem quite lost without
my maid to look after me.
You managed to get away from the shop in good time, remarked
What an irritating girl you are, to be sure! whispered Miss
Radford aggrievedly. No help at all when I'm trying to make a good
impression. Wish now I hadn't asked you to come along with me; I only
did it because I couldn't get any one else. What's become of that young
swell I saw you with on Primrose Hill?
I really don't know.
Miss Radford spoke complacently of her intense love of the country
and keen anticipation of the joy to be found at Burnham Beeches, and
when the train stopped at Slough the compartment mentioned to her that
this was where she ought to alight. Gertie, interposing, said that they
were, in reality, going further. On Miss Radford asking, in astonished
tones, Whatever for? she received information that the desire was to
get well away from the crowd. The two, changing at a junction, found a
small train on another platform that had but a single line; Miss
Radford took the precaution of inquiring of the engine-driver whether
he considered it safe. The two lads crossed the bridge, and, to her
intense annoyance, entered a smoking-compartment.
I daresay, perhapsrecovering from this blowthat we shall
manage to run across some others before the day's out.
Well, upon my word, declared the astonished Miss Radford, you
grow more and more peculiar every day!
They discovered themselves, immediately after leaving the station
yard, in an old-fashioned town with large houses close to the brick
pavement; cyclists raced along the narrow roadway, and folk carried
baskets in the direction of the river. Gertie stopped to put an inquiry
to a policeman, and declined to satisfy her companion's curiosity
either in regard to the question or to the answer. Turning to the
right, they came to a market-place and a town hall, and, amongst the
small shops, one that they noted as a suitable place for tea. The sun
was warm, and folk were shopping with suitable deliberation; dogcarts
stood outside the principal establishments, motor cars brought up new
supplies of clients. Gertie appeared greatly interested in the
occupants of these conveyances; some of the ladies were so well
protected from dust that identification would not have been easy. Miss
Radford mentioned that she had not seen so many funny figures about
since the fifth of November of the previous year.
Where are we off to now? she demanded.
A good long walk.
Not me! replied Miss Radford with determination. I've got new
shoes on. You leave me somewhere with a magazine to read, and go off on
your own, and come back when you're tired.
You won't be lonely?
I can always find a pleasure, said Gertie's friend haughtily, in
my own company.
The riverside, Miss Radford decided, was a suitable spot for rest;
she could sit there and, in the intervals of application to literature
of the day, watch young men hiring boats and setting out to
Shillingford or Cholsey. So Gertie Higham started out across the bridge
and walked alone through a village where every shop sold everything,
where the police station was a homely, comfortable cottage, and
children played on wide grass borders of the road. At the cross-roads
she went to the left; an avenue of trees gave a shade that was welcome.
The colour came to her face as she strode along briskly, and this was
not entirely due to hurry or to the rays of the afternoon sun. Once or
twice she almost stopped, as though considering the advisability of
An ivy-covered house stood at the side of iron gates, and Gertie
watched it as she approached. An elderly man was clipping hedges; he
arrested his work, with an evident hope that conversation would occur.
No, young 'ooman, he said, that ent where her ladyship lives.
That's only the gate lodge what you're looking at. A good ha'f-mile
'fore you come the house itself. Do you know her, may I inquire?
We've met in London.
Wellslowly, and making the most of the opportunityshe ent
pleased to see many of her visitors, if all I hear is true; but no
doubt she'd be gratified to see you. I'm only a new-comer hereabouts,
so to speak, but He shook his head thoughtfully, and, taking off his
hat, readjusted the cabbage leaf that lined it. I don't blame Sir Mark
for going off and getting killed. After all, it ent as though she were
left chargeable to the parish, as you may say.
She is quite well to do, I suppose?
Plenty of money about, as me and you would rackon it. I understand
she complains of not having enoughbut there, some people are never
satisfied. Going to give a party next week, he added confidentially.
Not a great turn-out, because they're all in black, so to speak. So
fur as I can gain from the local newspaper
You say it's half a mile up to the house?
You can't very well miss it if you foller your nose, said the old
man, hurt by the interruption.
Through the iron gates Gertie saw two figures coming around the
curve of the gravelled carriage-way; she took ambush hurriedly near to
an oak tree. Henry's voice could be heard, with an occasional remark
from Miss Loriner. And if I promise to worship you all my life, Henry
was saying, will you then give me my heart's desire? His companion
did not reply; he repeated the last words. You must first, she said,
make a name in the world, and show yourself worthy of a woman's love.
They turned as they reached the gates, and when Henry next spoke his
remarks did not reach the girl near the oak tree.
And haven't you been a time! complained Miss Radford. Over a
hower altogether, according to my watch. And I'm simply dying for a cup
of tea. There's only been one young gentleman who waved his hand to me;
I was so cross that I didn't wave back. Whatever are you dodging up to
I'm going to hire a boat, said Gertie, and take you out on the
You can't row.
Some one learnt metaught me on the lake in Regent's Park.
Miss Radford declared, on the journey home, that she envied her
friend's good spirits; in her own case, she always found that if she
became more than ordinarily cheerful she inevitably paid for it by
subsequent depression. Gertie recommended her to adopt the method of
not magnifying grievances; if you wanted to view trouble, you could
take opera-glasses, but you should be careful to hold them the wrong
way round. The studious youths entered the compartment at Goring, their
books now put away in pockets, and similarly cheered by exercise; one,
seated opposite Gertie, touched her foot with his shoe at Pangbourne,
and she took no notice. When he did this again at Tilehurst, she came
down heavily upon his toes, and gave, for her clumsiness, an apologetic
word that he accepted sulkily. Near to Paddington, Miss Radford
mentioned that, in her opinion, men were most frightfully stupid, and
to her surprise Gertie agreed.
Gertie Higham relieved her aunt from duty in the shop, and a letter
brought by the postman at nine o'clock was handed over the counter to
her direct; the official recommended her to accept the offer, and put
the young gentleman out of his misery. The communication was written in
a large hand, about twelve words to a page, and liberally underlined.
Printed in the corner were a telegraphic address, a telephone number,
directions concerning nearest railway station. For heading, Morden
DEAR MISS HIGHAM,We shall be so glad if you can pay us a visit on
Friday next and stay over for the week-end. Dear Henry is
particularly anxious that you should be here on Saturday evening.
What a wonderful summer we are having!!!Yours sincerely,
The girl found a sheet of the best notepaper on the shelves, and
wrote at once.
DEAR LADY DOUGLASS,I shall not be able to come to you next
Friday. I am rather busy.
It is indeed a capital summer. I am enjoying it.Yours sincerely,
An easy matter to obtain a full list of other manufacturers in the
same line of business, and when Madame entrusted her with important
I'm sending you, my dear, because I know I can rely upon you!
Then advantage was taken of the opportunity to skip up a staircase
and, opening a door that had the word Inquiries painted upon it, set
upon the task of routing the defence, to obtain an interview with some
responsible individual. Usually the answer was that no vacancy existed,
but this did not prevent a brief cross-examination. Why was she leaving
Great Titchfield Street, and was it because there did not exist a
sufficient amount of work, and had Hilbert's secured any important
contracts lately, and had the firm any special work in view? To which
questions Miss Higham replied with caution and reserve, so that
frequently the responsible individual came out of his office, walking
with her down the stairs in the endeavour to obtain useful information.
As a rule, the discussion ended with a command that she should look in
again when it chanced she was passing by. At Great Titchfield Street,
when Miss Rabbit and Gertie happened to be, for the moment, alone, the
forewoman begged her in a low, confidential whisper not to put off till
to-morrow anything she could do to-day, adding that procrastination was
the thief of time.
The fact is, said Miss Rabbit, with a burst of private candour, I
don't care what happens so long as you are safe. Very strange, isn't
It seemed to the perplexed girl, at this period, that life was made
up of incidents which could not be spoken about freely. There was no
one with whom she could share the knowledge acquired at Wallingford;
that had to be endured alone. At Praed Street she found her aunt gazing
at her curiously, sometimes beginning a sentence, and stopping, as one
fearful of trespassing on prohibited ground. When Mr. Trew called, he
and Mrs. Mills conferred in undertones, breaking off when the girl came
near, and speaking, in an unconvincing way, of an interesting murder in
South London; Trew thought the police could find the missing man if
they only went the right way about it. Great Titchfield Street, from
eight o'clock in the morning till nearly eight at night, appeared to be
enveloped in a dense fog, with Madame showing none of the distraction
of mind natural to one on the edge of a financial crisis, and Bunny
conveying friendliness by nods and furtive winks; the girls, as always,
chattered freely of their small romances, not concealing their derisive
attitude towards young men, excepting as means of escort and paymasters
where sweets and tram-tickets were involved; any slackening of
attention in these details, and dark hints were given of an intention
of giving the sack. Listening, Gertie came to the conclusion that her
own case was unique, in that she had allowed Henry Douglass to assume
the position of autocrat. One of the men who worked the netting machine
spoke to her exultantly of wisdom in managing his wife; the method
adopted was, it seemed, to contradict every blessed thing she said.
On the top of all this comes Frederick Bulpert, encountered near
Queen's Hall one evening at five minutes to eight, trying to make up
his mind whether to spend a shilling on a promenade concert or to
disburse the money on a steakBulpert very glad to meet Gertie,
because he has something to say to her that he cannot speak of to any
one else; something which must be regarded (says Frederick) as strictly
entre nous. A spot of rain, and the stout young man says with a
reckless air, Oh, come on in! and Gertie agrees to accompany him,
with two provisions: first, that she shall be allowed to pay for
herself; second (because aunt has a new trick of requiring every minute
between Great Titchfield Street and Praed Street to be accounted for),
that Frederick will see her home later to the shop. Gertie thinks a
dose of music will do her as much good as anything.
I don't claim, he admits, to have an over and above savage
breast, but I must confess it soothes me at times.
They are in time to take up position near the fountain in the centre
of the promenade, to join in the welcome given to the leading men of
the orchestra, to swell the applause offered to the conductor, to
singthis being the opening nightthe National Anthem. Frederick
takes what he calls seconds; neighbours misunderstand it for an
expression of disloyalty. Then the programme starts. Frederick Bulpert,
new silk hat at back of head, and arms folded, listens to the William
Tell overture, Handel's Largo, and the suite from Peer Gynt with
the frown of a man not to be taken in and unwilling to be influenced by
the approbation exhibited by people round him. A song follows, and he
remarks to Gertie that a recitation would be more in keeping with the
style of the entertainment. A violin solo with a melody that cries
softly about love, the love of two people, with anxieties at first, at
the end perfect triumph.
We'll have a stroll out in the corridor, commands Bulpert. That
last piece has made me feel somewhat décolleté.
They gain the outer circle when Gertie has persuaded him to give to
her the task of leading through the crowd; her smile obtains a free way
that his truculent methods fail to obtain.
I'm going to give up the Post Office, he announces impressively,
and I'm going in for the stage.
If you can make money at it, there's no reason why you shouldn't.
Bulpert shows disappointment at the form of this agreement.
I've come to the conclusion, he goes on, that I'm not acting
fairly towards the world in concentrating my abilities on the serving
out of stamps and the issuing of postal orders. Besides which, I get no
time for study. Evening before last, at the Finsbury Town Hall, I came
as near to finding my memory fail as ever I've been. I'm burning the
candle at both ends.
Hope you'll have good luck.
I shall deserve to have it, he concedes. I sometimes stand at the
side of the platform, and I see other parties trying in the same line,
and I have to admit to myself that I do put something into my
renditions of our poets and humorists that they fail to convey.
I don't want to miss the Henry the Eighth dances.
Mention of him leads up to what I want to see you about. If I go on
the stageand to tell you the truth, I haven't completely made up my
mind as yetI shall want a certain amount of comfort at home. A
professional man can't be bothered about domestic affairs. He has to
keep his mind on his work.
Where does Henry the Eighth come in?
Bulpert takes her arm. I had an idea of asking you, Gertie, to
A pause of nearly half a minute.
Do you mind if I think it over before giving a definite answer?
I'm agreeable to that, he says, providing you don't take too
thundering long about it.
Thus, a new perplexity was added to those that Gertie Higham already
bore upon her shoulders. There existed arguments in favour of accepting
Bulpert's offer. He belonged to her own set; he was not in a position
to comment upon her manner of speech, and there would be the
satisfaction of knowing that she was in all respects his equal; in many
his superior. Bulpert was perhaps a trifle pompous, more than a trifle
conceited, but he was steady. If she married him, it would be a
distinct score to arrange that it occurred ere Henry Douglass and Miss
Loriner became united; were Gertie to send a small white box containing
sugared cake after, the newspapers announced this fashionable wedding,
the effect of the gift would be marred.
I want to serve him out, she argued to herself, for the way he
treated me. It's only fair!
Mrs. Mills was obviously delighted by the visits of Bulpert, and her
ingenuity in leaving the young people together in the shop parlour
proved that she was a mistress in the art of strategy. Bulpert excused
himself to Gertie for omitting to invite her to the play, or for other
outings, on the grounds that he was saving money; but he sometimes took
her along to Paddington Station to see the night expresses start, and
twice they went together to a large open place of entertainment in
Edgware Road where you could, by dropping a penny in the slot, inspect
a series of pictures that proved less exciting than the exhibited
title; at the same expense you heard Miss Milly Manton's latest song,
and George Limpsey's celebrated triumph in, I wish I didn't talk so
much to Clara! On the evening of a day when Gertie had called upon the
last firm of the list, she told Bulpert, as they met near Marble Arch,
that if he cared to ask her now to be his wife she would accept him.
Right you are, he said. Then we'll consider the matter as
They found Mr. Trew outside the shop when they returned; seeing
them, he assumed the attitude of a figure taking snuff, and Gertie knew
from this he was in good spirits. Mrs. Mills made the announcement that
supper was waitinga special meal because royalty had gone by that day
to take train for Windsorand Mr. Trew suggested Bulpert should have
first cut at the food, the while he and the little missy strolled up
and down to enjoy the evening air.
I was bound to come along and see you, he said. When I got the
news I nearly fell off my seat. Should have done, only that I was
strapped in. You remember Misswhat-was-her-namewe met at the Zoo
that Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Trew stopped to make his announcement in a dramatic form.
She's going to get spliced.
So I guessed, remarked Gertie.
But can you guess who to?
I think I can.
Oh, he said regretfully. Of course, if I'm not the first in the
field with the news, there's an end of it. I sh'd say they'd be a very
comfortable, 'appy, get-on-well-together couple, once they settle
She made a remark in a trembling voice.
Of course you hope they will, he echoed heartily. You and him
have always got along well together. As I said, he hasn't took much
time about it. Finished his book, he tells me.
Mr. Trew, who are you talking about?
Why, your cousin Clarence, of course. I know it's correct because I
got the information straight from the stable. And he would have called
round to tell you, only he was busy. Said he wanted to see you soon,
because he'd got a message. I won't be certain; there was a lot of
traffic about, but I rather fancy it was something in the nature of a
The days that followed were racing days for Gertie. At Great
Titchfield Street a special order came in, and Madame held a kind of
rehearsal, that the girls might know exactly what to do if the
inspector called. The inspector represented the State, which, in the
opinion of Madame and Miss Rabbit and all the assistants, male and
female, was an interfering busybody hampering industry, and preventing
honest workers from earning useful pay for unlimited overtime. To Great
Titchfield Street, by day, came private letters by express messenger
for Gertie, and more than one telegram; she generally found a
communication awaiting her on the return home to Praed Street. Miss
Rabbit accepted the statement that these came from Gertie's cousin,
referring to nothing more romantic than a visit to the country; in
private conversation with senior girls in the workroom, she said,
rather bitterly, that Miss Higham surely took her for a born idiot.
Clarence proved himself alert and quick witted in retort, with an
answer ready for every objection. When Gertie, as a final argument, put
forward the matter of evening dress, he took her straightway to a
celebrated firm (one-half of the lady passengers in public conveyances
along the route gave, as their instruction and appeal to conductors,
Set me down as near as you can to Brown and Hodgkinson's!), and there
was purchased a blouse of white lacecosting so much that Gertie, on
hearing the amount, had to clutch at one of the high chairs; and as
Clarence paid readily with gold, the polite young woman on the other
side of the counter assured him it was well worth the money. Gertie, at
another establishment, bought a pair of slippers, saying to herself
that they would come in handy, even though she did not go to Ewelme.
Reluctance to accept the invitation conveyed through Clarence was
supported at Praed Street by her aunt, who declared the girl would be
like a fish out of water; that she would wish herself home again before
she had been there the space of two minutes. But for Mrs. Mills's
over-earnest counsel it is likely Gertie might have kept her threat (or
promise) to back out at the last moment. On the Friday night, Mrs.
Mills mentioned that the Douglass people were probably only asking
Gertie in order to enjoy a laugh at her expense. The following morning,
to her aunt's astonishment and open dismay, Gertie took a
carefully-packed portmanteau along to the cloakroom at Paddington
Station. In the afternoon she found herself, for the first time in her
life, seated in a second-class carriage.
Afraid you've had rather a rush, said her cousin.
It isn't only that, she admitted, breathlessly. I'm excited about
Not more so than I am. All the same, I feel very much indebted to
you, Gertie, for coming with me. The letter was worded in a way that
meant I was to bring you, or not go at all. You see MaryMiss
Lorineris only a companion at Morden Place. She couldn't have asked
me on her own responsibility.
The girl closed her eyes and snuggled back in the corner. If Henry
exhibited any special sign of affection, she would have to draw herself
up to her full height and say, Mr. Douglass, you're evidently not
aware that you are speaking to an engaged lady. If he went so far as
to propose marriage, the situation would be still more dramatic. Mr.
Douglass, you appear to have left it too late. I am already pledged to
another! There were alternative remarks prepared, and she felt certain
that any one of them would be telling and effective. Clearly, he wanted
to see her; otherwise so much trouble would not have been expended over
the present visit; it was her business to make him see that a London
girl was not to be taken up and dropped, and taken up again.
Manners, she said resolutely, opening her eyes, and addressing a
barge on the canal, manners. That's what some people have got to be
The short train brought them slowly to the one platform of the
station, and before she realized it, Henry Douglass was holding both of
her hands, and looking down at her affectionately. He turned to give a
welcome to her cousin, and Gertie told herself there was no necessity,
for the present, to be dignified or reserved; that could come later.
Outside the station, Miss Loriner was talking to a horse that seemed
impatient to make its way in the direction of home; she and Clarence
took seats at the back of the dogcart with a light rug spread over
knees; they made no complaint of overcrowding.
Can you really drive? inquired Gertie with anxiety. You never
used to speak about it when Mr. Trew was talking.
Life, answered Henry Douglass, is too short to allow one to brag
about everything. I do the best I can. They took the corner and went
at a good pace through the town. By Jove, he went on,
enthusiastically, you have no idea how I've missed you.
The first of the selected reproofs would have come in here
appropriately, but a motor car was coming in the opposite direction
with, as it seemed to her, the definite intention of running into their
conveyance; she grabbed nervously at Henry's arm. When she looked again
the car had gone, leaving dust as a slight memento of the encounter.
Don't take it away! he begged.
Here again either of the sentences might have been delivered; Gertie
decided it would be sufficient to refrain from acceding to his request.
Henry saluted with his whip folk who passed by, and told her who they
were; stopped at one shop to take a parcel of wools intended for his
mother. He had talked about Gertie to his mother, and she was anxious
to meet Miss Higham.
She'll be still more anxious to see me go away.
You wouldn't say that, he asserted, if you knew her.
It's really Lady Douglass I'm afraid of. Look at that board,
'Trespassers will be prosecuted.' I feel it's meant for me.
Trespassers, he said, as a matter of fact, cannot be prosecuted.
The board is all nonsense. Trespassers can only be prosecuted when they
do some sort of damage.
She glanced around to watch a baby in the garden of a cottage;
Clarence Mills and Miss Loriner were kissing. Gertie did not speak
again until they reached the iron gates.
I want to show you the tennis court, he said. The man here can
drive your cousin and Miss Loriner up to the house. She hesitated as
he, stepping down, held out his hand. My mother is waiting there!
They found the grey-haired old lady resting on a low white enamelled
seat, watching a game of singles between two stout men, who had the
distressed look of those who play for the sake of health and figure.
The ruddier of the two was pointed out as Mr. Jim Langham, brother to
Lady Douglass; the other, a barrister with leanings in the direction of
political work, and a present desire to be amiable towards everybody in
the neighbourhood who possessed a vote.
Now, you are to sit down here, Miss Higham, said the old lady,
and talk to me. I may interrupt you, now and again, but you mustn't
mind that. One of the few privileges of age.
I don't know what to talk about.
Talk about yourself. I've heard about you from Henry, but I want to
verify the information. You work for your living, don't you? Well now,
that is interesting. I did the same before I was married. I married
rather well, and then, of course, there was no necessity for me to go
on with it.
When my dear mother says she wants you to talk to her, explained
Henry, what she really means is that she wishes to talk to you. If you
don't mind, I'll go over and teach these men how to play tennis.
Jim Langham came across directly that the game was finished,
interrupting the two as they were getting on good terms with each
other; on the way, he shouted an order to a gardener working near. He
was effusive over the introduction to Gertie, showing his perfect
teeth, and expressing the hope that she would not have to leave on
Monday. The gardener brought a tumbler on a tray, and a syphon.
At this time of the day? said Mrs. Douglass, glancing at the
contents of the glass.
Good whisky, retorted Jim Langham, taking a small quantity of
soda, makes one feel like another man altogether.
In that case, said the old lady, by all means have the drink. My
dear, to Gertie, give me my stick and we'll walk up to the house and
I'll come with you, remarked Jim Langham.
You will stay where you are, ordered Mrs. Douglass.
Gertie, at Great Titchfield Street, had invented a house, doubled
it, and multiplied it by ten; it came as a surprise to her to find that
the residence was a solid building of fair extent with a parapet wall
of stone in front, broad steps leading to the open doors. On the lawn
tea was being set out by a man-servant; he lighted the wick underneath
a silver kettle. Lady Douglass, in black, made an effective entrance
down the steps in the company of a dog that looked like a rat.
How perfectly charming of you to come and see us, she cried,
extending a limp hand. We do so want some one to brighten us up.
Darling, to old Mrs. Douglass, why didn't you tell them to send the
bath-chair for you?
Myra, retorted the other, I walk ten times as much as you do.
Pray take care of yourself, for my sake.
I hope to find some better incentive than that, said the old lady.
Lady Douglass approached the task of pouring out tea with the
hopeless air of one who scarcely hoped to escape error, and when she
had asked for and obtained particulars concerning tastes, Clarence
Mills came, and his presence seemed to upset all the table plans; Mrs.
Douglass arrested her action as she started to pour tea into the sugar
basin. The arrival of Miss Loriner enabled her to resign the position.
Going across to sit beside Gertie, she gave a highly interesting
account of the way in which she had by sheer force of will conquered
the cigarette habit; at present she consumed but twenty a day, unless,
of course, special circumstances provided an excuse.
Not for me, thanks, said Gertie, shaking her head. I can't smoke;
and if I could, I shouldn't.
Tell me! begged Lady Douglass; how is that eccentric old
gentleman we met at the Zoological Gardens?Crew, or Brew, or some
astonishing name of the kind?
I don't suppose, answered the girl defensively, that you really
want to know how he is, but Mr. Trew is quite well, and he isn't in the
least eccentric, and he doesn't profess to be a gentleman.
Henry touched her shoulder with a gesture of appeal; she gave an
But how extremely interesting, cried Lady Douglass, with something
like rapture. And do most of your friends work for a living?
All of 'em. I don't care for loafers.
I myself have been up to my eyebrows in industry this week, said
the other, self-commiseratingly. I sometimes wish charity could be
abolished altogether. It does entail such an enormous amount of hard
labour. One might as well be in Wormwood Scrubbs.
She paused and looked at the girl intently.
By the bye, where is Wormwood Scrubbs? One often hears of it.
Over beyond Shepherd's Bush.
Have you ever been there?
No, answered Gertie; and I've never been to Portland, and I'm not
acquainted with Dartmoor, and I don't know much about Newgate. Why do
I am hugely interested in prison life, declared the other.
You mustn't be surprised, interposed Henry, addressing Gertie, at
any new subject that my sister-in-law mentions. I haven't heard her
speak of this before; and it's only fair to her to say that when she
takes up anything fresh, she drops it long before it has the chance of
becoming stale. Another cup?
He went to the table.
A strange lad, said Lady Douglass musingly. His heart is in the
right place, but sometimes I wonder whether it is the right kind of
heart. Do you mind dining at seven for once in your life. Miss Higham?
It's a ridiculous hour, I know, but we must be at the hall sharp by
eight. Miss Loriner will show you your room when you are ready. I have
a thousand and one things to do, she added exhaustedly.
When Jim Langham joined the party and sat on the grass beside Miss
Higham's chair, the girl rose, and Miss Loriner conducted her into the
house; Henry regarded them with a cheerful smile as they left. The
doors gave entrance to a square hall, with a broad staircase going up
and turning suddenly to an open corridor that went around three sides.
Gertie looked about her astonishedly.
I've never been in a house like this before, she explained.
They went up the highly-polished staircase, Gertie holding at the
banisters for safety.
So Mr. Henry explained to me; and because he was so very good as to
ask your cousin Clarence down, we have made a bargain between each
other. I am to look after you, if you don't mind, and see that you get
through all right.
In a general way, confessed Gertie Higham, I can look after
myself, but just now it's likely I may be glad of a wrinkle or two.
The other nodded.
I have some on my forehead to spare, thanks to Lady Douglass. This
is your roomthrowing open a doorand mine is here, next door. Come
along in, and let us have a talk.
Miss Loriner had a good deal to say, mainly in describing her
present happiness. Clarence was a dear; Clarence was a clever dear,
Clarence had brought a joy into her life that had previously been
absent. Hitherto Miss Loriner, living in houses as a companion to some
testy and difficult woman, found herself only annoyed by the attentions
of men of the Jim Langham type; it was new and enchanting to be
approached courteously. Gertie, when the other stopped to regain
breath, managed to ask how Henry Douglass filled his time, and was
surprised, and partially hurt, to discover that he still went up to Old
Quebec Street on five days of the week.
He might have called at the shop, she argued.
Miss Loriner, for the defence, commended him for his industry. Henry
would, later, have to face the alternative of either giving up his
office in London, or relinquishing duties in the country, but at
present he was engaged in a double task; and if Gertie appreciated how
difficult it proved to deal with Lady Douglass, she would not utter a
word of blame in regard to Henry. One of Lady Douglass's inconvenient
tricks was to shift responsibility. As a case in point, take the
entertainment to which they were going that evening. Lady Douglass,
having promised to organize it, had done not a single thing in the way
Is the place on fire? asked Gertie, startled.
That's the first warning for dinner. You have twenty minutes to
dress. Be sure to let me know if there is anything you want.
Gertie left, to return immediately with a concerned expression and
the announcement that her portmanteau had been robbed of every blessed
thing it contained. Miss Loriner accompanied her to make
investigations, and, switching on the electric light, pointed out that
the maid had unpacked the bagthe articles were on the dressing-table,
and hanging up in the wardrobe. Gertie had only to ring, and the maid
would come at once to help her to dress. Gertie said she had done this
without assistance since the age of three.
Apologies were made later for the brevity of the evening meal, but
it seemed to her a dinner that could only be eaten by folk who had
starved for weeks. Her cousin sat opposite, and she watched his methods
as each course arrived; envied the composure with which Clarence dealt
with such trying dishes as vol au vent and artichokes. Her
serviette was of a larkish disposition, declining to remain on her lap,
and distress increased each time that Henry recovered it; generally, at
these moments of confusion, Lady Douglass took the opportunity to send
down some perplexing inquiry, and the girl felt grateful to Henry for
replying on her behalf. Henry, it appeared, was to contribute to the
programme at the hall, but he declined to give particulars; the
disaster would, he said, be serious enough when it came. Jim Langham
excused himself after dinner from joining the party on the grounds that
he had to play billiards with the groom; and this reminded him of one
of the groom's stories which (taking her aside) he thought Miss Higham
as a Londoner would relish. The anecdote was but half told when Miss
Higham turned abruptly.
That's the right way, said old Mrs. Douglass to her approvingly.
At the door of the town hall carriages and motor cars were setting
folk down, and Gertie, who had hoped the new blouse would enable her to
smile at country costumes, felt depressed by their magnificence. In the
front row Lady Douglass stood up, nodded, gave brief ingratiating
smiles, and told people how remarkably well they were looking. Gertie,
comforted by the near presence of her cousin, glanced over her
shoulder, and wished she were with the shilling folk.
Care to see the programme, Gertie?
I'll do the same as I do at a music hall, she said, and take it
as it comes. How did you think I managed at dinner, Clarence?
I had a knife and two forks left at the end, she said regretfully.
A recitation, Clarence read from his programme. Our friend ought
to be here.
Who do you mean?
Bulpert. You remember Bulpert, don't you?
I'd nearly forgotten him, she admitted.
There was an interval after men had sung and ladies had played, and
a nervous youth had given imitations of popular actors who, it seemed,
possessed the same tone of voice, and practised identical gestures. The
curtain went up on an outdoor scene. A lady was reclining in a hammock.
Why, it's Miss Loriner, whispered Gertie.
A man in tweeds came on backwards and collided with the hammock.
Who's this supposed to be, Clarence?
Young Douglass. Made up with a beard.
An apology was made for the accident, and with the rapidity that the
drama exacts in matters of the heart, the bearded gentleman was in less
than fifteen minutes deeply in love with the lady of the hammock. And
if I promise to worship you all my life, will you then give me my
heart's desire? The lady, with a dexterous movement, came out of her
resting-place. You must first make a name in the world, and, hand upon
heart, show yourself worthy of a woman's love!
What's the matter, Gertie? asked Clarence Mills.
I've made amade a fearful muddle of nearly everything.
Buck up! urged Clarence. Don't let people see you giving way.
The bearded man was leaving when the lady bethought herself to
inquire his name; he proved to be none other than Mr. Francis
Mainright, the well-known African explorer; and after a few more words
the curtain came down on an affianced couple, with applause from all
parts of the hall.
Easy enough, said Gertie, in ceasing to clap hands, for troubles
to be put right on the stage. It's a bit harder in real life.
Lady Douglass accepted congratulations upon the success of her
entertainment, and turned at the end, before leaving the hall, to
request Gertie's attention for a moment. She was extremely anxious that
her dear young brother-in-law should not commit an error that might
last a lifetime. Apparently there was some one up in town who had
managed to engage his affections: Lady Douglass did not know her; Miss
Higham, of course, had not her acquaintance. The young woman, she
believed, occupied an inferior position in life, and Lady Douglass
would dearly like to have the opportunity of pointing out that
supposing the two married, all the stories of ill-bred wives would be
fastened upon Mrs. Henry Douglass. Every night, in every billiard-room,
in every smoking-room in Berkshire, amusing stories, not always true,
would be told of her mistakes; dull folk might find themselves reckoned
as humorists by inventing anecdotes about her, and the general gaiety
would find itself increased. Furthermore, there was this to be said.
Are you ready, dear girl? asked Henry. He came down the steps from
the platform, addressing his inquiry to Gertie.
Quite! answered Lady Douglass. We were just chatting about your
performance. Miss Higham seems to think you should have had more
rehearsals. Doesn't exactly say so, but that is evidently what she
There came a pleasant luxury in waking in a large room, with a maid
pulling up the blinds, and reporting that the day promised to be grand.
The maid could be looked upon as a friend, in that she knew the best
and the worst concerning Miss Higham's clothes, and inquiries were put
to her concerning breakfast; the answer came that this meal was ready
at half-past eight; you went down at any time you pleased between this
and ten o'clock. Mr. Henry breakfasted early; her ladyship and Mr.
Langham were always the last. A start had to be made for church at
twenty past ten. The maid asked whether Miss Higham would like the
bathroom now, and Miss Higham, not quite certain whether it was good
form to say Yes or No, replied in the affirmative. As they went
along the corridor, Gertie heard Henry Douglass singing in the hall
below. The most astonishing detail in this wonderful house proved to be
the size of the sponge.
She determined to hurry over her dressing and get downstairs quickly
in order to talk privately with him, and consequent on this resolve,
found herself, later, knocking at Miss Loriner's room and inquiring
whether that young woman was ready to accompany her. After all, there
would be time to make the announcement during the day.
Have you slept well?
Like a top, declared Gertie. For all the world as though I'd
nothing on my mind.
I don't suppose you have many serious murders to brood about.
Not exactly murders, she replied. Plenty of blunders.
Henry rose from the table as she entered; he dropped his open arms
on seeing that she was not alone. Miss Loriner poured out coffee, and
Henry, at the sideboard, recited the dishes that were being kept warm
there. Sausages, decided Gertie, because it's Sunday morning! She
smiled, out of sheer content at being thus waited upon, and gave them a
description of Praed Street, where the meal was continually interrupted
by purchasers of journals, buyers of half-ounces of shag. She remarked
that it would have been possible here to take breakfast out of doors,
and Henry rang and gave instructions to Rutley, the butler, and the
next moment, as it seemed, they were at table on the lawn, with
sparrows pecking at stray crumbs. Henry, asking permission to smoke,
lighted a pipe.
I've only seen you with cigarettes before, she remarked. Doesn't
the tobacco smell good in the morning air! Do you know what I miss most
of all? Sound of cabs going along to Paddington Station. I shouldn't
care for the country, you know, not for always. She rattled on,
jumping, as was her custom when happy, from one subject to another.
It's miraculous to hear you talking again, he declared. Last
night we could scarcely get a word out of you.
Tell me if I babble too much.
You dear little woman! he cried protestingly.
Clarence Mills came down, and Miss Loriner was relieved of the
difficult task of keeping her eyes averted. Clarence, on the plea that
he had some writing to do, wondered whether he might be excused from
church, and Henry recommended the billiard-room as a quiet place for
work; there was a writing-table at the end, and no one would interfere.
Miss Loriner, when Clarence had finished his meal, offered to conduct
him to the apartment; it was, it seemed, over the stables at the back
of the house, and not easy for a stranger to find; moreover, Miss
Loriner felt anxious to see how writing people started their work. Thus
Henry Douglass and Gertie Higham would have been left alone, but that
Jim Langham, exercising his gift of interference, appeared, rather
puffed about the eyes, and one or two indications hinting that the task
of shaving had not been without accident. Jim Langham's temper in the
early hours seemed to be imperfect; he made only a pretence of eating,
crumbling toast and chipping the top of an egg; he admitted he never
felt thoroughly in form until after lunch. When Henry suggested that
Gertie would like to see the grounds, Jim Langham followed them,
pointing out the rose walk, and the summer-house (that was like a large
beehive) with an air of proprietorship which Henry did not assume.
Henry made an inquiry.
I'm really chapel, if I'm anything, she answered; but I shall
like to go. Especially if you're to be there. It'll be the first time
we've ever been in a place of worship together.
We shall go together again, he said, some day. She shook her
Lady Douglass had breakfasted in her room, and came when they were
ready and waiting; she complained severely that she seemed to be always
the first when any expedition was in train. They walked around the
carriage drive and across fields; at the porch, Lady Douglass offered
to Gertie the hospitable inquiry in regard to the night's rest that
Miss Loriner had made, and went on without waiting for a reply.
Gertie found herself wishing the service would continue for ever. It
was soothing, beautiful, appropriate. Forgiving us those things
whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which
we are not worthy to ask, said the first collect of the day. Grant
that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of
danger, said the third collect. Fulfil now, said the prayer, the
desires and petitions of Thy servants, as may be most expedient for
them. Announced the nervous young curate from the pulpit, The eighth
chapter of John, the thirty-second verse. 'The truth shall make you
free.' The curate had an artificial voice, and he glanced anxiously at
Lady Douglass's aspect of jaded resignation; but it soon became evident
he had something to say; Gertie, listening attentively, wondered
whether he might, in some remarkable manner, have become acquainted
with the particulars of her own case. Truth, he contended, was
indispensable to the wise and comfortable conduct of life. Truth could
only run on the main line; any deviation led to serious disaster. Truth
might, at times, hurt others at the moment, but, in the end, it did
nothing but good. Gertie felt impressed, and the effect of the address
upon her was not decreased when, outside the church, and in accepting
Lady Douglass's invitation to lunch, the young curate mentioned that he
well remembered the great pleasure of meeting Miss Higham at a garden
party, given up in town by the Bishop of London.
Folk had been asked for three o'clock to play tennis, and in walking
across the lawn to look for them, Henry found the first opportunity of
speaking to her alone.
Tell me, dear girl, he said urgently, why did you take no notice
of my letters?
I never received any.
Are you sure? I don't mean that, he went on hurriedly. Only, I
wrote to you three times, and no answer came.
They must have been wrongly addressed. What number did you put on
But I also called, and saw your aunt.
I didn't know that, admitted Gertie.
Looks as though she stopped your notes. I'm sorry if that's the
It worried me frightfully at the time, he said; but it doesn't
I rather fancy it does matter now. The tennis players came in
sight, waving a salutation with their rackets.
Henry's mother apologized for a late appearance; no longer young, no
longer indeed middle-aged, she found it necessary to save up strength,
to use it economically. Gertie listened, content to be free from the
presence of Lady Douglass, and genuinely interested in the other's
conversation. Mark, the eldest son, she explained, arrived within a
year after her marriage; then came two baby girls who went back to
Heaven; then, after a long interval
It was because I had given away the rocking-horse, she declared.
Then Henry. Mark was a good lad, but Henry had always been a dear
lad. Poor Mark made the one great mistake of his life when he selected
a wife, and Mrs. Douglass hoped the girl would understand why she felt
anxious that Henry should not commit a similar error.
I don't care whom he marries, declared the old lady resolutely,
providing he loves her, that she loves him, and that she is a good
That sort ought not to be hard to find.
They are less plentiful, said the other, than some people
imagine. Now I want you to tell me something, my dear.
The girl was preparing to use caution when Jim Langham strolled up;
his expectations of increased cheerfulness appeared to be realized, and
his manner was almost rollicking. He suggested that Gertie should walk
around with him; and the girl, to evade the threatened
cross-examination, nodded an acceptance.
You don't go in for many games, I suppose?
Wish I did, replied Gertie. I shouldn't feel quite so much out of
Henry will expect you to play him at billiards this evening. If you
care to come across now, he offered, I shall be delighted to give you
some idea how to start.
As they turned to go along the path that led to the back of the
house, Gertie glanced over her shoulder. Henry, watching their
departure, missed an easy serve, and endured the reproaches of his
Rutley, I want the key of the billiard-room. Rutley, get it at
I think I know where it was put last, said the butler.
They went up the steps, and waited until Rutley came. Jim Langham
called him a slow-coach, a tortoise, a stick-in-the-mud, and a few
other names. Rutley, unmoved, inquired whether his services were wanted
as marker. Mr. Langham retorted that the butler might take it that
whenever his help was required, definite instructions would be given.
The long room being well lighted by windows on both sides, the
assistance of green shaded lamps that hung dependent above the table
was not required. At the end, a raised platform with table and corner
couches; on the mantelpiece rested a box of cigars, a silver case
containing cigarettes and matches. A dozen cues stood upright in a
military position on a stand. Jim Langham placed the red ball in its
position, and Gertie took spot white. In showing her how to hold the
cue, he touched her hand, and looked quickly to see if she resented
You are going to make a very fine player, he declared presently.
All you need is practice.
Because of the pronounced scent of spirits, she drew away when he
came too near; Jim Langham instantly became more deferential. By the
luck that often comes to beginners, Gertie presently made five, potting
the red and effecting a cannon; she beamed with the delight of success.
Spot white was left in the centre of the table, and Langham, obtaining
the long rest, explained the manner of using it. In doing so, he placed
his hand upon her neck; the next moment he was on his knees conducting
an active search under the table. Gertie, flushed with annoyance, went
towards the door. Before she reached it, a knock came; the door was
Open it from your side, ordered the high-pitched voice of Lady
The key is not here, answered Gertie.
It must be there. Why is the door locked?
How should I know? retorted the girl sharply. You don't suppose I
locked it, do you? She heard Lady Douglass call for the useful Rutley;
and when the butler came, there was a consultation outside. The door
creaked, the lock gave way; Rutley, falling in with the door, just
escaped collision with the perturbed girl. He was told to go.
What does this mean? demanded Lady Douglass. Why are you in the
billiard-room alone, Miss Higham?
I'm not alone. Your brother is here.
That scarcely improves the look of affairs.Jim, where are you?
The gentleman, half emerging, made a mumbled, indistinct request for
matches. Gertie, walking to the end of the room, found a box.
There's your set of teeth, she pointed out, just by the corner
leg. It half frightened me when I saw I'd knocked the whole lot out.
This is a serious matter, said Lady Douglass judicially. The
great thing will be to keep it from the knowledge of Henry.
I'm not ashamed of my part in it! She turned indignantly upon the
red-faced man; his mouth was again furnished with the productions of
the dentist, but he scowled in an alarming way. What did you mean by
it? Was this a dodge of yours, or of hers?
I simply, and by the merest chance, he complained to his sister,
happened to touch her near the shoulder, and you saw for yourself how
she treated me. I shall go off and get a drink, and leave you both to
clear it up as best you can. Serves her right! He repeated this remark
several times, with additions, as he stamped out of the room.
My brother, said Lady Douglass, is peculiar in his manners.
I haven't met his sort before.
But I wonder you did not know better than to trust yourself with
him. Fortunately, you can rely upon me to say nothing about the affair.
It would have been very unlucky if someone else had happened to come to
I don't particularly like being under any sort of obligation to
We won't say anything more about it, ordered the other. I have an
enormous objection to a scandal.
You're not alone in that respect, she retorted.
And we will of course avoid all references to Wormwood Scrubbs.
I don't know what you mean by that!
The tennis folk, after they had replayed their games over the
tea-table, left; Gertie was quiet, and her cousin inquired anxiously
whether anything had occurred. Clarence urged her to keep up courage,
declaring she had managed admirably up to the present.
I feel as though there's thunder in the air, she said.
There isn't, he assured her; not a trace of it. It's a beautiful
day. And, with enthusiasm, Mary tells me she doesn't mind waiting
until I make three hundred a year.
Lucky boy! she remarked absently.
They were still out on the lawn, and Henry had made a suggestion
that they should all play golf-croquet when Rutley came to clear the
table. Lady Douglass gave an instruction aside. Very well, my lady,
said Rutley; it shall be seen to first thing in the morning. If we
could only find the key I'd manage it myself. Henry asked whether
anything was missing; his sister-in-law replied that it was nothing of
importancenothing that he need trouble about. Henry had quite enough
to occupy his mind, and he must please allow her to take charge of some
of the domestic anxieties.
Rather unusual, said old Mrs. Douglass, to find you so
I get very little credit, sighed Lady Douglass.
As they waited on the croquet lawn to take their turn, Henry
remarked to Gertie that no opportunity had yet been found for their
long talk; looking down at her affectionately, he added that perhaps
she could guess all that was in his mind. It had been perfectly
splendid, he went on in his boyish way, simply magnificent, to be near
to her for so long a period of time; they would have many week-ends
similar to this. His mother had spoken approvingly of Gertie, and
nothing else mattered. The girl kept her eyes on her mallet; she could
not bring herself to the point of arresting his speech.
We are waiting for yellow, said Lady Douglass resignedly.
Miss Loriner and Clarence seemed to lose interest in the game as it
proceeded; later, they were missing when their colours were called.
Lady Douglass, throwing down her mallet, delivered a brief oration. If
people intended to play golf-croquet, they should play golf-croquet;
if, on the other hand, they did not propose to play golf-croquet, they
should say, frankly and openly, that they did not propose to play
golf-croquet. Deploring the lack of candour and straight-forwardness,
she pronounced the game at an end.
Where are you going, Henry? He answered promptly. Come back! I
don't want you to go to the billiard-room. You dare not ask me why; you
must just comply with this one wish of mine.
Have you any reasons?
The best of reasons. She exhibited a considerable amount of
agitation; her head went from side to side. Do please obey me. If you
do not, you will regret it to the last hour of your life.
He stared at her curiously.
I rather fancy, interposed Gertie, breaking the pause, that I'm
the best one to explain. She was standing beside old Mrs. Douglass,
and as she spoke she gripped at the back of the wicker chair. I don't
like this mystery where I am concerned. Lady Douglass came to the door
of the billiard-room whilst Mr. Langham and meMr. Langham and I were
there. The door was locked. She had it burst open.
Henry held out his hand appealingly. That can't be all, he urged.
It's all that matters.
Where is Jim? he demanded of Lady Douglass.
I am not my brother's keeper, but I believe he has gone down into
There's something more I've got to say, Gertie went on. Her voice
trembled; she made an effort to control it. It's kind of you to ask me
down here, but I wish you had invited Clarence alone. He knows how to
behave in company like this; I don't. I'm not in it. It was foolish of
me to come. It's like anybody trying to go Nap without a single picture
card in their hand. And I want to tell you something moreI'm engaged!
Engaged to a youngish man in my own station of life.
No, no! he cried.
My dear, said old Mrs. Douglass, looking up concernedly, surely
you're not in earnest!
I think, remarked Lady Douglass impartially, that she is acting
with great wisdom.
I was wishing to-day, the girl went on, raising her voice, that I
hadn't got myself engaged. It happened because of a misunderstanding,
and I did it on the impulse of the moment; all the same, it can't be
helped. And I was pretty jolly before I met Henry, andI don't knowI
may be pretty jolly again. If I go right out of his life nowwhy, I
shall only think, I shall only remember
Old Mrs. Douglass turned in her chair and patted the girl's hand.
I shall only remember how happy I was all the time after I was
lucky enough to meet him. It's over and done with now, and I'm going
back home, where I can be trusted. I must be trusted. Here, you don't
quite believe me. She bent down to old Mrs. Douglass. Not even you.
I'm a foreigner at this place; a foreigner, trying to learn your habits
and customs, and trying to forget my own. Perhaps, one day, you'll see
that although I wasn't very refined, and not too well brought up, she
raised her face, and her chin went out, all the same, I did know how
to keep myself straight.
Young Mills came across the croquet lawn.
Want you for a moment, Clarence, she said.
Henry Douglass, descending the staircase slowly and thoughtfully at
eight o'clock, asked Rutley whether Miss Higham was in the
drawing-room. Rutley answered that the young lady and Mr. Mills had
gone. Walked to Cholsey to catch the evening train to town. One of the
under-gardeners carried their luggage.
Quite thought you knew, sir, mentioned Rutley.
Frederick Bulpert, having obtained two professional engagements at
seven shillings and sixpence each, resigned his situation in the Post
Office, and this left him free to call at Praed Street whenever he
cared to do so. Mrs. Mills described him as a hearty eater, but she
made much of him, apparently out of gratitude. Gertie had spoken to her
about Henry's letters
She looked rather white, said Mrs. Mills to Mr. Trew
confidentially; but I must admit she kept her temper wonderfully well,
And the girl took charge of the intercepted envelopes with their
contents. Her aunt declared, with emphasis, that all along she had
acted for the best. Gertie remarked that people said this whenever they
had done their worst: this was the only reproach given, and Mr. Trew,
as a candid friend, assured Mrs. Mills she had been let off very
lightly. Mr. Trew had anxieties of his own. The new motor omnibuses
still broke down occasionally, and he was able, in passing, to make
offers for the conveyances at an extremely low figure; but many of them
ran without accident, and ran speedily, and he was losing customers
hitherto considered faithful and regular. Summing up, he came to the
conclusion that the world was becoming a jolly sight too clever; the
only comfort he found was that it could not possibly exist much longer.
Regaining cheerfulness, he mentioned that if Mrs. Mills happened to
hear of an American heiress who wanted a good-looking English husband
with a special and particular knowledge of horses, well acquainted with
London, and fond of the sea, why, it would be kind of her to drop him a
postcard, giving the name and address.
When you've finished talking nonsense, she said, perhaps you'll
kindly tell me how I'm to manage in order to get these two young people
married. She'll be happy enough, once she settles down; but, meanwhile,
I don't like seeing her so quiet and thoughtful.
I have never denied, he remarked, that you are the prize packet
of your sex, and in many respects you've got almost the intelligence of
a man. But in a matter of this kindremember, she's as pretty as they
make 'emyou're a born muddler. Leave it to me, and I'll do the best I
can for you.
Wherefore, Mr. Trew made appointments with Bulpert and held secret
discussions with him, sheltering his words with a broad, big hand,
enjoying greatly the sense of management, and, even more, the
atmosphere of conspiracy. Bulpert, on his side, began to realize his
importance, and treated Praed Street with a condescension that was
meant to represent a correct and proper pride. One evening, seated at
the counter there, and waiting for the return of Gertie, he gave a
formal warning to the effect that any cigar presented to him was, in
future, to be taken from the threepenny box.
At Great Titchfield Street, Gertie tried to divert her mind from
personal anxieties by throwing energy into work, with more than common
resolution. A large commission arrived from a ruler of an Eastern
nation, who considered a new and elaborately ornamental sash would
revive a feeling of loyalty in his army and patriotism in his country.
The girls were not permitted except on strictly limited occasions to
work after nine o'clock in the evening, and extra assistants had to be
engaged; the men upstairs who made the leather foundations were watched
and encouraged; Madame begged Gertie to recommend them to keep off the
drink, adding that they would take more notice of this advice if it
came from Miss Higham and not from Madame herself. All the looms were
at their noisy spider work; reels of gold thread were ordered in
twenties; the bobbins began to dance around the maypole,
sewing-machines sang lustily; the telephone only ceased ringing to
deliver messages. Miss Rabbit became hysterical, vehement, cross;
Gertie's intervention became necessary to prevent a strike amongst the
pinafored young women.
We can be led, Miss Higham, they announced determinedly, but we
won't be drove. You tell her to keep a civil tongue in her head, and
all will go well. We're not going to be treated as though we was
The rush of work had, for consequence, a distinct advantage to
Gertie, apart from useful occupation of the mind. She stayed late to
finish books which could not be entered up in the day, and this meant
that, on returning home, the good news was frequently communicated that
Mr. Bulpert had gone; there was also the comfortable fact that she felt
sufficiently tired to go straight to bed. Bunny, at Great Titchfield
Street, on the occasions when she herself had to depart and leave
Madame and Miss Higham together, was a picture of woeful apprehension;
if she managed to gain the private ear of the girl, she reminded her
that no good ever yet came to one who failed to keep a solemn promise.
Don't you worry, answered Gertie. I'm not a parrot.
I shan't feel happy about you, said the forewoman solicitously,
until I hear you've got another berth. The smash-up will come as a
surprise to the others, but I don't care a snap of the fingers about
them or about myself. It's you I'm thinking about!
Madame one night, at the sloping desk, referred vaguely to a wish
that, as she hastened to add, could never in any circumstances be
gratified. Urged by Gertie, on the other side, to put the desire into
words, Madame took off spectacles which she wore only when the rest of
the staff had gone, and said wistfully that if she could but get a
paragraph into the newspapers containing the name of the firm, she
thought it would be possible to die happy. Having ascertained this did
not mean that suicide would follow, Gertie sent a note to Clarence
Mills, absent since the evening of the impulsive departure from Ewelme.
No answer came, and Gertie was assuming that her cousin intended, in
this way, to prove he was not on terms of peace with her, when one of
the loom workers brought in, after lunch hour, an evening journal,
obtained by him because he required advice regarding the investment of
small sums on the prospects of racehorses.
Here's a bit about us, miss, he said exultantly, with thumb
against the paragraph. Here we are. Large as life, and twice as
The paragraph was found in other newspapers, and indeed it went
about Great Britain later and found its way to the Colonies. An
Oriental Omen it was headed, and Madame's only regret appeared to be
that it could not be held to be distinguished by the quality of
absolute truth. But there it stood in print, and there was the name of
Hilbert and Co., the old established firm, making a speciality of
manufacturing military accoutrements, dating from the glorious year of
Waterloo, and Madame's delight proved beyond the powers of expression;
her gratitude to Miss Higham was conveyed by a kiss. One competing
firm, it was discovered, wrote a sarcastic letter to the papers that
must have taken hours to compose, throwing doubts on the accuracy of
the report and inquiring whether it was a fact that Wellington's
achievement followed the Franco-Prussian War, and this might have been
inserted but for the suggestion of self-advertisement made with
something less than the dexterity that belonged to Clarence's pen.
I tell you what, Miss Higham, said Madame definitely. You must
come to supper at my house the very next Sunday evening that ever is.
Your aunt won't mind for once. I'll write down the address. My proper
name is Jacks. Yes, dear, I'm married, to tell you the truth, only I
don't want it talked about here.
Frederick Bulpert, when he arrived on the Sunday evening, entered a
warm protest against what he described as this eternal gadding about.
On ascertaining the destination, he admitted circumstances altered
cases; where business was concerned, private interests had to give way.
He explained that some of his present irritation was due to the fact
that, at a Bohemian concert the previous evening, an elderly gentleman
had been pointed out to him as the representative of an important
Sunday newspaper; the comic singer who gave the information,
encountered a few minutes since in Marylebone Road, confessed that it
was one of his jokes. And all the drinks I stood, complained Bulpert,
and all the amiable remarks I made, absolutely wasted! Gertie,
apparelled in her finest and best, went at the hour of seven, after
Bulpert and her aunt had quarrelled regarding the best and speediest
mode of transit, to make her way to King's Road, Chelsea. There, in a
turning she twice walked by without noticing, she found a house with
several brass knobs at the side of the door. A maid answered her ring.
Sounds as though they're in the studio, remarked the maid, with a
wink. What name?
The servant opened the door and gave the announcement, but in the
tumult it was not heard. Madame's husband was informing Madame in a
loud voice that the most unfortunate day in his life was the occasion
when he allowed her to drag him into a registrar's office. Gertie went
back a few steps, and the maid repeated the name.
You dear! cried Madame, coming forward pleasantly. This is my
husband. You know him by name, I expect. She whispered, The
celebrated river painter. Most successful. And such a worker. Never
idle for a moment.
How d'ye do? said Mr. Jacks, coming forward casually. Sorry I'm
just going out. What's the night like?
Madame switched on the electric light, and Gertie could see that the
room suggested a large cucumber frame with a sloping glass roof and
windows at the far end. On a raised square platform in a corner stood a
draped lay figure, not, apparently, quite sober.
Well, said Madame's husband, after glancing again at the visitor,
if it's fine, I don't know that there's any special necessity for me
to go. What do you say, darling? This to his wife.
Please yourself, Digby, my sweet. If you think you can put up with
our company, I am sure Miss Higham and myself will be delighted if you
can stay. Mr. Jacks, she explained to Gertie, is naturally attracted
to his club, not only because he finds there all the latest news
concerning his profession, but because it gives him an opportunity of
coming into contact with other bright, vivacious spirits. She took
Gertie's coat and hat. Perhaps we can get him to tell us some of his
best stories presently.
Her husband smoothed his hair at the mirror with both hands, and
gave style and uniformity to the two halves of his moustache. This
done, he turned and asked the girl whether she did not consider
Whistler an overrated artist. Just because he happened to be dead,
people raved about him. Would not allow any one else to produce
impressions of the Thames round about Chelsea. Mr. Jacks said, rather
bitterly, that when he too was no more, folk would doubtless be going
mad about him, and Jubilee Place might become impassable owing to the
crowd of dealers waiting their turn there.
And what good do you imagine that will do to me? he demanded. Eh,
what? No use you saying that I ought to be content with the praise of
I didn't say so. How many hours do you work a day?
I can't work unless the fit takes me, argued Madame's husband
Are you subject to them? Fits, I mean?
Madame, assisting the maid in setting the table, took up the case
for the defence, and pointed out to Miss Higham that one profession
differed from another. In the case of painting, for instance, you could
not expect to be ruled by office hours; you had to wait until
inspiration came, and then the light was, perhaps, not exactly what you
required. Besides, friends might drop in at that moment for a smoke and
Sounds like an easy life, remarked Gertie.
You forget the wear and tear of the brain, said Madame.
But we get that in our business.
Hush! whispered the other. He doesn't like hearing that referred
Conversation during the meal was restricted to the subject of the
production of pictures and their subsequent disposal; Madame showed
great deference to the arguments of her husband, occasionally
interposing a mild suggestion which he had no difficulty in knocking
down. At moments of excited contention Madame's husband became
inarticulate, and had to fall back upon the gestures of the studio,
that conveyed nothing to the visitor.
How much do you make a year? she asked, when an opportunity came.
He paused in his task of opening another bottle of stout, and regarded
her with something of surprise.
My good girl, he replied, I don't estimate my results by pounds,
shillings, and pence.
Do you earn a hundred in twelve months?
Wish I did, confessed Madame's husband. In that case, I shouldn't
have to be beholden to other people.
How would you manage if you weren't married?
He looked at the mantelpiece, and inquired of his wife if the clock
was indicating the correct time. Receiving the answer, Madame's husband
became alarmed, declaring it a fortunate thing that he had remembered a
highly important appointment. It represented, he said, the chance of a
lifetime, and to miss it would be nothing short of madness; he bade
Miss Higham good evening in a curt way, and Madame accompanied him to
the front door. There they had a spirited discussion. Madame considered
an allowance of half a crown would be ample; he said, in going, that
his wife was a mean, miserable cat.
I'm afraid, my dear, you shunted him off, remarked Madame, coming
back to the studio. You don't seem to know how to manage men, do you?
Had my suspicions of that before now.
Of course, they're very trying buthelplesslyI don't know.
Sometimes I wish I'd kept single, and then again at other times, when
I've had a hard day of it, I feel glad I'm not coming home to empty
rooms. Taking the rough with the smooth, I suppose most women think
that any husband is better than no husband at all.
Rather than get hold of one who didn't earn his living, declared
Gertie with vehemence, I'd keep single all my life.
He did nearly sell a picture, argued the other, once!
They took easy-chairs, and Madame found a box of chocolates. Mr.
Jacks, it appeared, was not Madame's first love. Mr. Jacks's
predecessor had been ordered out years ago to take part in a war that
improved the receipts entered up in Hilbert's books; on the debit side,
the loss of a good sweetheart had to be placed. Madame dried her eyes,
and in less than half a minute the two were on the subject which
absorbed their principal interests. Price of gold thread, difficulty
with one of the home workers, questions of aiguillettes, sword belts,
sashes, grenades; hopes that the King would shortly issue a new order
concerning officers' uniforms. Madame said that, nowadays, profits were
cut very close; she could remember, in her father's time, when, if
there was not a balance at the end of the year of over a thousand
pounds, serious anxiety ensued. Madame brought out a large album to
show pictures of gorgeous apparel that belonged to days before thrift
became a hobby.
Seems to me, she said, without leading up to the remark, that
Miss Rabbit is the weak link in our chain. Gertie did not make any
comment. I'm going to tell you something. I want to give her other
work to do, and get you to take her place. It will amount to an extra
ten shillings a week, Miss Higham.
Do you really mean it?
It's why I asked you to come here this evening. You see, you have
improved so much this summer. Improved in style, speech, everything!
There's a reason for that!
Gertie Higham walked up and down the studio with excitement in her
eyes. She wanted to ask Madame how long the firm was likely to endure,
but to do this might lead to the betrayal of confidence; meanwhile she
fired inquiries, and Madame, eager to gain her approval of the
suggestion, answered each one promptly. Bunny was not to be reduced in
wages; only in position. One of the new duties would be to run about
and see people; Madame's nerves were not quite all they used to be, and
the hurried traffic of the street frightened her. Next to Madame,
Gertie would be considered, so to speak, as head cook and
bottle-washer. Gertie, collecting all this information, wondered how it
would be possible to let Henry Douglass know that she was making
important progress. Possibly it could be managed through Clarence Mills
and Miss Loriner; she might meet him in London, at some unexpected
Do you object, Madame, she asked, if I run off now, and tell aunt
You accept the offer?
Like a shot! answered Gertie.
You dear! cried Madame.
Frederick Bulpert was on the point of leaving when she reached Praed
Street; he came back into the shop parlour to hear the news. Her aunt
kissed her, and said Gertie was a good, clever girl; Bulpert declared
the promotion well earned.
This is distinctly frankincense and myrrh, he acknowledged. I
feel proud of you, and I don't care who hears me say so. Let me see;
your birthday's next week, isn't it? How about arranging something in
the nature of a conversazione, or what not?
I hope, said Mrs. Mills, escorting him through the shop, that,
later on, you'll do your best to make her happy.
But it's her, protested Bulpert, it's her that's got to make me
Clarence Mills, invited to be present at the birthday evening, wrote
in frolicsome terms, from which the young hostess judged that with him
the progress of love was satisfactory. My dear young relation, near
Paddington Station, of course I will come to your show. If forced to
leave early, you won't think me surly; I have to meet some one you
know! To this Gertie sent a card begging Miss Loriner to include
herself in the invitation, and that young woman forwarded a telegram
from Ewelme with the word Delighted.
Nowto herself hopefullynow I shall hear some news about him!
Gertie decided the evening should differ from evenings which had
preceded it, in that the entire expense was to be borne by herself; and
Mrs. Mills therefore only offered a feeble objection when the girl
arranged that the front room upstairs was to be turned out, rout seats
hired, and a few articles of furniture, including the piano-forte
(which, at one perilous moment, threatened to remain for the rest of
its life at the turn of the staircase), transferred from the shop
parlour. Bulpert announced his intention of taking charge of the
musical and dramatic part of the entertainment. Bulpert no longer
considered himself a visitor at Praed Street, and on one occasion he
entered a stern protest when he found Mr. Trew's hat there, resting
upon the peg which he considered his own. Twice he had suggested that
Gertie should lend him half a sovereign, reducing the amount, by
stages, to eighteenpence; but she answered definitely that advances of
this kind interfered with friendship, and she preferred not to start
I could let you have it back in a fortnight.
Perhaps! she said. And if you did, you would be under the
impression that you were doing me a great favour.
I like to see a girl economical, he remarked, frowning, but
there's a diff'rence between that and being miserly. And, with
resolution, I go further, and I say that if there's anybody who's got
a just and fair and proper claim on your consideration, it is F. W. B.
There's some one who comes before you.
The name, please?
Myself, replied Gertie.
The question of conciliating Miss Rabbit at Great Titchfield Street
had been solved, and matters there were going smoothly. Miss Rabbit
continued to hold her title of forewoman, although she was no longer
forewoman; and Miss Higham took the label of secretary, which well
described duties she did not perform. The girls in the workroom made no
concealment of their satisfaction with the change, and men at the looms
upstairs came individually to Gertie and said, Look here, miss! If
ever you have any difficulty or awk'ardness or anything of the kind
with the other chaps, just give the word, and I'll put it all right.
Bunny, for the preservation of friendship, went down on the birthday
party list, and Miss Radford (who had not been seen for some time) and
two girls (formerly at school with Gertie, and then known as a couple
of terrors, but now grown tall and distinguished, and doing well in a
notable shop in Westbourne Grove), and, of course, Mr. Trew, and two
friends of Bulpert's, whom he guaranteed capable of keeping any party
on the go. Mrs. Mills checked the names, expressed satisfaction.
I was half afraid, she said, you'd want to send a note to that
young gentleman who lives near where I was brought up.
If he came here, replied the girl steadily, I should only fall in
love with him again, and that would complicate matters.
I think you're wise, approved Mrs. Mills.
A charwoman from Sale Street came in to scrub floors, to see to
fireplaces, and to renovate apartments generallya slow worker, on
account of some affection of the heart, but an uncommonly good talker.
When human intercourse failed she addressed articles of furniture,
asking them how much they cost originally, and, sarcastically, whether
they were under the impression that they looked as good as new; to some
she gave the assurance that if she were to meet them at a jumble sale,
she would pass by without a second glance. The charwoman suggested, at
the completion of her task, and rolling up her square mat with the care
of one belonging to an Oriental sect, that her help should be engaged
for the party; Mrs. Mills replied that if they required help, some one
of more active methods and of less years would be approached.
Right you are! she said, taking her money from the counter. In
that case, I'll send along my Sarah.
To suit the young hostess, and to meet the convenience of one or two
of the guests, the party began at an hour that was quite fashionably
late. Miss Radford came early, excusing herself for this breach of
decorum on the grounds that it made her painfully nervous to enter a
room when strangers were present; apart from which, to arrive in good
time meant that one had a chance of looking at oneself in the mirror.
Did Gertie consider that her (Miss Radford's) complexion was showing
signs of going off? A lady friend, who, from the description given,
seemed to be neither a friend nor a lady, had mentioned that Miss
Radford was beginning to look her full age; and remarks of this kind
might be contradicted but could not be ignored.
Don't you ever get anxious about your personal appearance? she
I suppose, agreed Miss Radford, that being properly engaged does
make you a bit less anxious.
Clarence came with Miss Loriner, and the young hostess flushed at
the young woman's first words. Henry sent his best regards. Henry, it
appeared, no longer spent week-ends at Ewelmethis because of some
want of agreement with Lady Douglass; and he was now busy in connection
with a sanatorium at Walton-on-Naze, which demanded frequent journeys
from Liverpool Street. Gertie, in taking Miss Loriner to get rid of hat
and dust-cloak in the adjoining room, felt it good to find herself
remembered. Miss Loriner wanted a small fan, and searching the hand-bag
which she had brought, first looked puzzled, and then became
I've brought Lady Douglass's bag by mistake, she cried,
self-reproachfully. Here are her initials in the corner'M. D.'; not
'M. L.' Miss Loriner gave an ejaculation.
What is it you've found there?
This, announced the other deliberately, is the missing key of the
billiard-room at Morden Place!
The two girls looked at each other, and Gertie nodded.
I've been blaming her brother all along for that trick.
My dear girl, demanded Miss Loriner, aren't you fearfully excited
and indignant about it?
Doesn't seem to matter much now. But, smiling, she is a
character, isn't she? I pity you if she often does things like that.
I shall be uncommonly glad, admitted the other, when Clarence
earns three hundred a year. Do you know that if you had stayed on at
Morden Place, this key would most likely have been found in your
Frederick Bulpert, arriving with his friends, asserted his position
by attempting to kiss Gertie; she drew back, and Bulpert said manfully
that if she could do without it he could also afford to dispense with
the ceremony. He introduced his companions as two of the very best and
brightest, and they intimated, by a modest shrug of the shoulders, that
this might be taken as a correct description. The sisters of Westbourne
Grove came bearing a highly-ornamental cardboard case with a decoration
of angels, and containing a pair of gloves. They mentioned that if the
size was not correct the gloves could be changed, and at once took
seats in the corner of the room, whence they surveyed the company with
a critical air, sighing in unison, as though regretting deeply their
mad impulsiveness in accepting the invitation. On this, other presents
were offered; Bulpert said his memento would come later on. One of his
friends sat on the music-stool, and Sarah, the charwoman's daughter,
entering at the first chord with a tray that held sandwiches and cakes,
said to him casually, Hullo, George, you on in this scene? and handed
around the refreshments. Bulpert's friend, disturbed by the incident,
waited until the girl left the room, and then explained that he had met
her in pantomime, the previous Christmas, at the West London Theatre;
he argued forcibly that people encountered behind the footlights had no
right to claim acquaintance outside. Otherwise, contended Bulpert's
friend, we're none of us safe. He was induced to give his song, and
the first lines,
I went to Margate, once I did, to spend my holidee,
Such funny things you seem to see beside the silver sea
suggested that he was not one disposed to worship originality or
make a fetish of invention. Bulpert, at the end, pointed out that his
friend had omitted the last verse; the man at the pianoforte said there
were some places where he was in the habit of giving the last verse;
this, he declared flatteringly, was not one of them. Gertie's aunt came
upstairs to announce that, the occasion being special, she had taken it
upon herself to put up the shutters. If they excused her for half a
second this would give her sufficient space to tittivate and smarten
Say when you want me to liven 'em up, Gertie, remarked Bulpert.
Go and be nice to those two sisters in the corner.
When we're married, he said, we'll often give little affairs of
this kind. I'm a great believer in hospitality myself.
As he did not appear to make a great deal of headway with the
Westbourne Grove ladies, he was recalled and the task handed over to
Clarence Mills. Clarence scored an immediate success. The sisters, it
seemed, prided themselves upon being tremendous readers; Clarence was
acquainted with some of the writers who, to them, were only names. And
the young hostess would have been able to survey the room with
contentment, but for the fact that Miss Radford suddenly became
depressedwith hands clasped over a knee she rocked to and fro in her
chair. Gertie discovered that to her friend had just come the
terrifying thought that no one loved her, nobody cared for her, and for
all practical purposes Miss Radford might as well be dead and buried,
with daisies growing over her grave. Gertie argued against this
melancholy attitude, and the other explained that it came to her only
at moments when every one else was jolly and cheerful, adding defiantly
that she could not avoid it, and did not mean to avoid it.
People, declared Miss Radford with truculence, have to take me as
they happen to find me!
Bulpert's second friend, advancing with a pack of cards, asked if
Miss Radford would kindly select one and tell him the description. The
Queen of Hearts? Nothing, said Bulpert's second friend, with a gallant
bow, nothing could be more appropriate. Miss Radford cried, Oh, what
a cheeky thing to say! and at once bade farewell to melancholy.
A wonderful man, the second friendable to do everything with cards
that ordinary folk deemed impossible. If you selected a card and tore
it up; and he presentlytalking all the whileproduced a card, and
said in the politest way, I think that is yours, madam? and you
remarked that this was the four of clubs, whereas you selected the
five, he exclaimed, with pretence of irritation, Well, what is there
to grumble at? and, looking again, you saw that it had changed to the
five of clubs. There was nothing to do but to applaud and wonder. He
swallowed cards, and produced them with a slight click from his elbow,
the middle of his back, and his ankle. He allowed Miss Loriner to find
the four aces and put them at the bottom of the pack, and the next
moment asked Mr. Trew, who had just arrived, to produce them from the
inside pocket of his coat. Mr. Trew had some difficulty in finding
them, but the conjurer assisted, and there were the four aces; and Mr.
Trew, after denying the suggestion that he had come prepared to play
whist, admitted the young man was a masterpiece. Mr. Trew's watch was
next borrowed and wrapped in paper; the poker borrowed in order to
smash it; the violent blow given. Miss Radford was asked to be so very
kind as to assist by looking in the plate of nuts that stood on the
table, and there the watch was discovered, safe and sound. Some
thought-reading followed, not easy to understand because of the
incessant monologue kept up by the gifted youth; but the results were
satisfactory, and by pressing the folded pieces of paper very hard
against his forehead, he was able to announce the names written within.
This is yours, I think, Miss Higham. Now, I don't guarantee
success, mind you, in every case, butthe name, I think, is Henryhe
contorted his featuresHenry Douglass. Is that right, may I ask?
Quite correct! replied Gertie.
What did you want to write his name for? demanded Bulpert, seated
next to her.
It was the first that came into my head.
Kindly keep it out of your head in future, he ordered, or else
there'll be ructions.
Did the ladies object to smoke? asked some one. The ladies answered,
separately and collectively, that they adored smoke; the Westbourne
Grove young women, now in excellent fettle, admitted that, at times,
they themselves enjoyed a cigarette, but could not be persuaded to give
a public exhibition of their powers. They did, however, agree to give a
short sketch entitled Who is Who? and the hearthrug was given up to
them; and if they had not made so many correctionsneither appeared to
be well acquainted with her own part in the piece, but each was letter
perfect in the part of the otherthe duologue would have been a great
And now, said Mrs. Mills, let's see about refreshments. Mr. Trew,
where's that corkscrew of yours?
Isn't it about time I was asked to do something? demanded Bulpert,
with an injured air.
Let us see you do your celebrated trick, suggested Gertie's aunt,
with irony, of eating nearly everything there is on the table. That's
what you're really clever at.
Miss Radford, by a sudden inspiration, suggested the ladies should
wait upon the gentlemen, and herself took a plate to Bulpert's
conjuring friend; the example was imitated. Mr. Trew, attended to by
Gertie, declared it a real treat to see her looking like his own little
friend once again.
Makes me think, he said, that if there wasn't quite so much
diplomacy about on the part of those of us who reckon we know
everything, you young uns would get a far better chance. Speaking as
one who's been a fusser all my life, that's my candid opinion.
If you interfered, Mr. Trew, you would interfere wisely.
He emptied his glass in one drink, and set it upon the mantelpiece.
I wouldn't kiss the book on that, if I was you, he replied. But what
you can be very well certain about is that if I saw the chance of doing
anything for you
Miss Rabbit was announced by Sarah, and Gertie had to leave Mr. Trew
in order to make much of her colleague. Bulpert, having edged other
folk from the hearthrug, announced that he was about to give, with the
aid of memory, a short incident of the American Civil War; to his
astonishment and open indignation, one of the Westbourne Grove girls
arrested him with the suggestion that instead they should all have a
game. Challenged to indicate one, she asked what was the matter with
musical chairs. So chairs were placed down the centre of the room,
facing opposite ways alternately. Gertie went to the pianoforte, and
all prepared to join, with the exception of Bulpert, who, in the
corner, and his back to the others, ate sandwiches.
Admirable confusion, thanks to Gertie's ingenious playing. As they
started to march warily in a line up and down the row, she, after
giving the first bar, stopped, and they had to rush for seats. Clarence
Mills was left out and a chair withdrawn. The next trial was much
longer, and only when caution was being relaxed did the music cease;
Miss Loriner, defeated at this bye-election, had to take a seat near to
Clarence. The joyousness was so pronounced that Bulpert found himself
to take some interest, and when Mrs. Mills, left in with Mr. Trew,
eventually won the game, he urged it should be restarted, and that some
other lady should play the music. On the first arrest by Miss Rabbit at
the pianoforte, he sat himself on a chair already occupied by Gertie.
At the moment, Sarah appeared again at the doorway.
A young man, she announced importantly. A gentleman this time.
Henry Douglass came in. Gertie struggled to disengage herself, but
Bulpert declined to move.
Mrs. Mills, I must apologize for calling at this late hour.
Don't mention it, sir.
I have just had a message from my sister-in-law, and I wanted to
see Miss Loriner. Lady Douglass has been taken seriously ill.
Mr. Trew took Bulpert by the collar and sent him with a jerk against
the wall. Gertie, flushed and confused, shook hands with Henry.
I'm not going to break up your evening, he said, looking at her
eagerly. The matter is urgent, or I wouldn't have dared to call.
We are always, she stammered, always pleased to see you, Mr.
My dear mother asked me to give you her love when I met you. There
is a car waiting, he went on, addressing Miss Loriner; could you
manage to come now? We can do it in little over a couple of hours.
Gertie took Miss Loriner into the adjoining room.
If she's really ill, said the girl, don't tell him anything about
the key. He can hear it all, later on. And nobody at Praed Street knows
anything about the affair.
Bulpert declined to escort Miss Rabbit to her omnibus, and, in spite
of hints from Mrs. Mills, remained when all the other guests had
departed. He took opportunity to criticize the management of the
evening, and to deplore the fact that his services had not been
utilized. Making an estimate of the total cost, he again referred to
his suggestion in regard to a series of similar entertainments later
If you find you can afford it, agreed Gertie.
If I can afford it! he echoed surprisedly. There's no question of
me affording it. Why don't you talk sense? You'll be earning the same
good salary after we're spliced as you're earning at the present
No! she answered definitely. When I'm married I give up work at
Great Titchfield Street.
Why, of course, agreed Mrs. Mills. She'll have her home duties to
Bulpert stared at the two separately. Then he rose, pulled at his
waistcoat, and went without speaking a word.
He's took the precaution, remarked Sarah, coming in to clear, as a
bang sounded below, to shut the door after him.
Mrs. Mills, reviewing the party, and expressing the hope that all
had enjoyed themselves, mentioned that Miss Rabbit in the course of the
evening made a statement to her which had, apparently, been weighing on
the lady's mind. Miss Rabbit reproached herself for giving wrong
information in regard to the stability of the firm of Hilbert, and
begged Mrs. Mills would explain. In her own phrase she tried to out
Gertie, and as this had not come off, her suggestion was that bygones
should be considered as bygones, and nothing more said about the
It isn't such a bad world, decided Mrs. Mills, if you only come
to look at it in a good light.
Gertie's sympathy with the invalid of Morden Place found itself
slightly diminished on Monday morning. The front room had not yet been
restored to its normal state, and Mrs. Mills, before rising to start
the boy with his delivery of morning newspapers, had given a brief
lecture on the drawback of excessive ambition, the advisability of not
going on to Land's End when you but held a ticket for Westbourne Park.
Ten minutes later she brought upstairs an important-looking envelope
that bore her name and address in handwriting which left just the space
for the stamp, and Mrs. Mills speculated on the probable contents of
the communication until Gertie made the useful suggestion that the
envelope should be opened. Mrs. Mills, after reading the letter, flung
herself upon the bed and, her head resting on the pillow, sobbed
Lady Douglass wrote near the telegram instructions Private, and,
to ensure perfect secrecy, underlined the word three times.
Nevertheless, Gertie read it without hesitation, and her first
impression was one of regard for the writer's ingenuity. Lady Douglass
feared some rumours might have reached Praed Street concerning the
behaviour of Miss Higham during the brief stay at Ewelme; unable to rid
her mind of this, she was sending a note to assure Mrs. Mills that no
grounds whatever existed for the statements. She, herself, had taken
great trouble to keep the incident quiet, and could not understand how
it had become public property. She hoped Mrs. Mills would believe that
Miss Higham had been guilty of nothing more than a want of discretion,
natural enough in a girl of her age, and, if Lady Douglass might be
allowed to say so, her position in life. Lady Douglass felt it only
right to send this note, and hoped her motives would be understood.
Her motives are clear enough, agreed Gertie. What I can't quite
make out is why she should take so much trouble in going for me. I'm
out of her way, and I shan't get into her way again. What more does she
I'd no idea, wailed her aunt, that there'd been anything amiss.
Of course, I knew you came back Sunday night instead of Monday morning,
but you hinted that was because of Clarence. What are the facts, dear?
Particulars given, Mrs. Mills changed her attitude, both of body and
of mind, and announced an intention of starting at once to have it out
with her ladyship. A good straight talking to, that was what my lady
required, with plain language which included selection of home truths,
and Mrs. Mills flattered herself she was the very woman to undertake
the task. To this Gertie offered several determined objections. First,
Henry's sister-in-law was ill; second, she had endured trouble, and was
not perhaps quite herself; third, the incident was ended, and there
would be nothing useful in raking up the past. Mrs. Mills listened to
the arguments, and agreed to substitute a new resolutionnamely, that
a reply was to be written couched in terms which could not be charged
with the defect of ambiguity.
I shan't help you with the spelling, declared the girl.
Somehow or other, complained Mrs. Mills, you always seem to
manage to get everything your own way.
One gratifying result of the evening party came in the fact that
Bulpert decreased his visits. For two or three weeks he absented
himself from Praed Street; and Mrs. Mills approved this, mentioning as
one of the reasons, that it was not wise for an engaged couple to have
too much of each other's company. When he did call, Mrs. Mills reported
of him that he appeared to have something on his mind; he left before
Gertie arrived, and without disclosing the nature of the burden.
As a rule, it happened at Great Titchfield Street that one good
contract was followed by a slack period, when the difficulty was to
find sufficient work to keep all hands going. But here and now, a high
authority ordered some alteration in the uniform of certain of His
Majesty's officers of the army, and either Madame or Miss Higham was
called frequently to Pall Mall; and, in a brief period, all the
outworkers were again busy: Great Titchfield Street found itself so
fully occupied that the girls had no time to recall songs learned at
the second house of their favourite music hall. Into the hum and
activity of this busy hive came, one evening, Madame's husband, making
his way to the office where Madame and Miss Higham faced each other at
sloping desks. He began to shout; it was clear that on the way from
King's Road he had been taking refreshment to encourage determination.
When he raised his fist, Gertie stepped forward.
Miss Higham, said Madame calmly, I wish you would just run
downstairs and fetch a policeman.
Madame's husband instantly showed a diminution of aggressiveness.
All he wanted was fair play and reasonable treatment. If there did not
happen to be a five-pound note handy, gold would do; failing gold, he
must, of course, be content with silver.
You will go out of this place at once, ordered Madame, in an even
voice; and as a punishment for disobeying my orders, I shall not give
you a single penny all this week. I know very well what you want money
for. I know what you do with money when I give it to you.
Impossible to discuss these matt'rs with you, he said, with an
effort at haughtiness. Purely private 'fairs.
If it wasn't for the business here, she went on, I think you'd
succeed in driving me mad. This just saves me. I'm not going to allow
you to interfere with it, and if you dare to come here again, I shall
most certainly lock you up. Now be off with you.
Mr. Digby Jacks wept, and, at the doorway, threatened to drown
himself in the Thames. In the Thames, just to the right of Cleopatra's
I wish you would.
Shan't, now, he retorted sulkily, just in order to dis'point you.
You're cruel woman, and some day you'll realize it and be sorry. Goo'
night, and be hanged to you.
Gertie congratulated Madame upon her firmness, and the other
admitted the situation was one not easy to handle. For if, she
explained, money had been given, then he would have absented himself
from Jubilee Place for a week; as it was, he would be absent for a
space of two or three days. Gertie expressed surprise at this
behaviour, and Madame said it was almost bound to happen where the wife
earned an income, and the husband gained none. By rights, it should be
the other way about, and then there was a fair prospect of happiness.
Madame counselled the girl to be careful not to imitate the example;
Gertie replied that she had long since made up her mind on this point.
But why don't you get rid of him? she inquired.
Because I've left it too long. Besides, I'm too old to get anybody
Surely you'd be better off alone?
No, I shouldn't, answered Madame promptly. What do you make the
proper total, my dear, of that account Miss Rabbit made a muddle of?
Within her experience it had sometimes happened that Gertie, on the
way home, found herself spoken to by a stranger; this rarely occurred,
because she walked with briskness, and refrained from glancing at other
pedestrians. (Generally the intruder was a youth anxious to make or
sustain a reputation for gallantry, and he accepted the sharp rebuff
with docility.) But news came from Miss Loriner that Lady Douglass,
after years of the luxury of imagining herself in delicate health, was
now genuinely ill, and Henry went down from town each evening by a late
train to make inquiries, returning in the morning. Miss Loriner added
that some of Lady Douglass's indisposition might be due to the fact
that the executors were hinting at the eventual necessity of taking out
probate in regard to Sir Mark's will; this done, a considerable change
in affairs was inevitable. In consequence of the information, Gertie
could not avoid looking about her in the vague hope of encountering
Henry; she wanted to see him, although she knew a meeting would only
disturb and confuse. She waited outside the street door after business
was over, gazing up and down before making a start for home, and it
occurred frequently that a short man of middle age moved a few steps
towards her, and stopped; later, in turning out of Portland Place, she
observed he was following. Once he came so close that she expected to
hear a whining voice complain of space of time since the last meal, and
having the superstition that casual charity appeased the gods, she
found some coppers; but he fell back, and did not speak. It was at the
close of a trying day when the representative of a firm had called, in
Madame's absence, to have what he described in a preface as a jolly,
thundering good row, which finished by an endeavour on his part to
indicate apology by stroking Miss Higham's handon this night, Gertie,
less composed than usual, again caught sight, in crossing Great
Portland Street, of the short man. He turned. She, also turning, met
him in the centre of the roadway.
Do you want to speak to me? she demanded sharply.
Not specially, he answered, in a husky voice.
Then why do you so often follow me about?
I hope I don't cause you any ill convenience; if so be as I do,
I'll stop it at once.
That's all right, said Gertie, impressed by his deferential
manner. Only it seemed to me rather odd. And just now my nerves are
somewhat jerky. He touched his cap, and was shuffling off, when she
recalled him. Stroll along with me, and let's have a talk. What do you
do for a living?
Sure you don't mind being seen with me? he asked.
We'll go up Great Portland Street, and you can say 'good-bye' when
we reach the underground station.
He buttoned his well-worn frock coat, gave himself a brisk punch on
the chest, and with every indication of pride, accompanied her,
keeping, however, slightly to the rear. Gertie repeated her question,
and he replied it was not easy to explain how he gained a livelihood;
odd jobs, was perhaps the best answer he could give. Warning her not to
be frightened, he gave the information that he had spent fifteen years
of his life in prison. Did he begin young, then? No, that was the
curious part about it. He had little thought of starting the game
until, in one week, he lost his wife and, through the failure of a
firm, his employment. Then it seemed to him nothing mattered, and
another out-of-work made a suggestion, and he fell into it, was caught,
and his friend managed to get away.
When I came out, he went on, I found I'd lost all respect for
myself, and I assumed everybody else had lost all respect for me. I
tell you, it isn't a hard task to go down in this world. I've no
business to complain, but there it is; plenty can help you in that
direction, but there's very few capable of assisting you to pick
It's not too late to make a change.
I've got no luck, you see, he explained patiently. This summer I
did nearly get back to what you may call the old style. I was in a
reg'lar job; I contrived to dress myself up almost like a duke, and I
sets out on Sunday afternoon with the full intention of calling on some
old friends I hadn't seen for a good many years. It didn't come off.
Drink, I suppose.
Yes, he said. A chap driving one of these motors had taken a drop
too much. I was in St. Mary's in Praed Street for over six weeks. If it
had been anybody but me, the car would have been driven by some
well-to-do gentleman, and I should have found myself compensated for
life. As I say, I never did have my share of good fortune, and I s'pose
I never shall. All I haven't had of that, I hope will be passed on to
She ought to do something for you.
I don't want her to. I've no wish to interfere with her. I can't
flatter myself I've done her any good, and I'd like to have the
satisfaction of feeling I've done her no harm. Here, I think, looking
around him, we say oh revor.
Gertie took out her purse; he gave an emphatic shake of the head,
The next night he was at the same place, improved in appearance, and
Gertie allowed him to accompany her along Marylebone Road so far as
Harley Street. On the following evening he furnished an escort to Upper
Baker Street, and afterwards extended the journey. His manner was
always respectful, and he still made no attempt to walk abreast with
her. Sometimes a constable would say, Hullo, Joe! and he replied,
Good evening, sir. Not bad weather for the time of year! and going
on, informed Gertie where, and in what circumstances, the acquaintance
had been made.
It happened, on one occasion, that Gertie saw Mr. Trew on the box
seat of his small brown omnibus coming along from the Great Central
Station; he was preparing to flourish a cheery salute, when he caught
sight of her companion. Almost dropping his whip, he gave his head a
jerk to send the shining silk hat well back, and thus give relief to a
suddenly heated brain.
Mrs. Mills was waiting on the Friday evening, some doors east of her
own shop; Gertie's new friend did not wait for instructions from his
companion, but left her instantly.
Who's looking after the counter, aunt?
Mr. Bulpert, replied the other, panting. I've give him a cigar to
stick in his face. He wants to see you. And I want to see you, too. Who
is that you were talking to?
The elderly man I told you about. The one who always waits now to
see me part of the distance home. Quite a character in his way.
Quite a bad character, snapped Mrs. Mills.
Do you know him?
Her aunt gave a gulp. I had the word from Mr. Trew, she said,
still rather breathless, and his idea is that you may as well know it
now as later on. That man is your father, my dearyour father; and the
less you see of him the better. Now, perhaps, you can realize why I
knew it was no use letting you carry on with Mr. Douglass. It was bound
to come out some day!
My father, said the girl slowly and thoughtfully.
Your very own, dearie. Don't let it upset you more than you can
help. I know you've a good deal to put up with just now. Come along and
see Mr. Bulpert. A little sweethearting talk will cheer you up.
Bulpert admitted he had one or two questions to put; but on Gertie
ordering that they should be offered there and then, he said, gloomily,
that some other time would do as well. The girl told him the news just
communicated by her aunt, and waited hopefully for the comment; Bulpert
remarked, with an indulgent air, that it took all sorts to make a
world, and he thought no worse of Gertie because of the fact that she
possessed a parent with a spotted record. He offered to see her father
and give him a definitely worded warning; the girl answered that the
matter could be left in her hands.
But we don't want him to be a drain on us, he contended. I know
what these individuals are like. Species of blackmail, that's what it
amounts to. And I don't wish to see you working your fingers to the
bone, and a certain proportion of the money earned being paid out to
him. I couldn't bear it, so I tell you straight! He slapped a pile of
magazines on the counter.
I'm rather worried, she said, and I don't want any more
misunderstandings. I told you not long ago I shouldn't go back to Great
Titchfield Street once I was married.
That's what I wanted to speak to you about. You're not serious, I
s'pose, in saying this. You're only doing it to test my affection.
I mean every word.
Very well! announced Bulpert defiantly. Understand, then, that
the engagement's off. Entirely and absolutely off. And if you're so
ill-advised as to bring an action for breach, you jolly well can. Won't
be a bad advert, for a public man like F. W. B. It'll get him talked
The final departure of Bulpert erased a troublesome detail in the
girl's life, and she felt suitably thankful; another disappearance gave
her a sensation of regret. She had thought seriously of the patient,
elderly man whom she had now to look upon as her parent, and planned a
scheme, to be prefaced by something in the nature of a brief lecture,
involving pecuniary sacrifice; her game of bricks was knocked over by
the hand of Fate, and Gertie Higham had to put them back into the box.
Mrs. Mills told her much that had hitherto been a secret shared by Mr.
Quite a good sort he was, my dear, until your poor young mother
went, and thenwell, Mr. Trew met him when he came out of Wormwood
Scrubbs, and your father's first words were, 'Don't let the kid ever
know!' Meaning yourself. So we kept it from you, you see, and I hope
you don't blame us. No doubt, he recognized you, because you're so much
like your poor mother, only more stylish, and of course better
educated, and I suppose he felt as though he had to speak. Very likely
he won't ever let you see him again.
Wish I knew where to find him now.
He was like a lot of the others. Not really bad, you understand,
but just rather easily led; and because he thought everything was going
against him, he became reckless. And he belonged to the old days when
once in prison meant always in prison, and no one ever thought that a
man who had made a single blunder could be reformed. I often used to
think, declared Mrs. Mills, that something ought to be done, but of
course I had my business to look after.
You found time to look after me, aunt.
If you could realize, argued the other earnestly, what a dear
baby you was then, you wouldn't trouble to give me any credit for
that. She hesitated. What I've always hoped, lowering her voice,
that some day I might see another one like you.
Madame's case, said Gertie, is a warning to me. I want the right
kind of husband, or none at all!
From Clarence Mills, calling at Praed Street, came news that Lady
Douglass had been instructed to go abroad so soon as she became well
enough to endure the journey; to his great concern, Miss Loriner was
instructed to accompany her. Gertie asked for further information, and
Clarence replied that Henry Douglass had not given up the office in Old
Quebec Street; indeed, he recently entered a competition for plans of a
provincial art gallery, and his portrait was in some journal consequent
on the decision of the judges. Gertie presumed that Clarence did not
happen to have this with him; Clarence found the cutting in his
letter-case and presented it. (Later, it was mounted carefully and
placed in a small frame, and given a position upon her dressing-table.)
Clarence's book was out, and he had just seen a copy at Paddington,
with a card bearing the words, Tremendously Thrilling.
On another point, Clarence was able to announce that Henry had held
something like a court-martial at Ewelme, with all concerned present.
Jim Langham gave evidence; and Lady Douglass, when her turn came,
suggested the key had been placed in her bag by Miss Loriner. Upon
which Miss Loriner declared it would be impossible, in view of this
remark, to give her company to Beaulieu; and Lady Douglass, without any
further hesitation, confessed the truth, urging, in excuse, that it was
but natural in this world to look after oneself, adding a caution to
the effect that anything in the nature of a scene would now mar the
work of the London specialist. Henry's mother, it appeared, was in
favour of taking the risk.
I don't want to see her punished, remarked Gertie. So long as he
knows I was not to blame, I'm perfectly satisfied.
Clarence had private audience with Mrs. Mills before going, and, as
a result, Sarah, the temporary assistant at the party, came to Praed
Street daily; Mrs. Mills admitted that, seeing her niece frequently,
any want of colour might not be so apparent to her as to any one who
saw the girl less often. Sarah's objections to living in were easy to
meet; the only other provision was that liberty should be given if her
services were required for Puss in Boots during the Christmas period.
An excellent worker, Sarah left nothing to be done at the end of the
day, and Gertie, arriving home after the stress of business at Great
Titchfield Street, was able to rest in the parlour, or give assistance
in the shop.
She was making out orders for Christmas cards at the newspaper
counter one night (the popular remark of customers at this period was
Ain't the evenings drawing in something awful!) when a man rushed in
and looked around in a dazed, frightened manner. He muttered
indistinctly some explanation, and was going off, when Gertie called to
Thought it was a bar, he said confusedly. My mistake.
Come here, Mr. Langham, she ordered, putting down her book. Sit
on the high chair. He obeyed, blinking up at the light. What's the
Jim Langham was trembling. He leaned across, and whispered.
You've seen a ghost? she echoed. Don't be so stupid. There are no
such things nowadays, especially in a neighbourhood like this. Where
did you come across it?
Nearnear the station. I've only just come from Wallingford. I was
hurrying up the slope on the right-hand side, and about to turn into
the hotel, when across the way
He looked around apprehensively, and caught sight of Mrs. Mills
peeping over the half blind of the parlour door. Gertie sent her a
reassuring nod, and she disappeared.
What have I done, he wailed appealingly, that everybody should
spy? A police sergeant gazed at me in a most peculiar way about two
minutes ago. What does it mean, Miss Higham?
Doesn't matter what it means, she said sharply, so long as you've
done nothing wrong. Pull yourself together, Mr. Langham. Why don't you
knock off the drink, and be a man?
I'll go and get some now.
It will do you no good. You've been in the habit of taking it when
you didn't need it, and you've spoilt it as a remedy. Stay here for a
while, and calm yourself.
Bad enough, he complained, when living people begin to track you
about, but when the others start doing it! He shivered. Gertie went
to the parlour, and asked her aunt to make some coffee.
Has Lady Douglass gone away yet?
Now why, apropos of nothing, should you mention her name?
You never did have much sense about you, and now you seem to have
none at all. Concentrate your mind. Think! What was the question I put
to you? He admitted he could not recall it, and she repeated the
Leaves early to-morrow morning, he answered; that is partly why I
have come up to town. I don't want to see her again before she goes.
Jim Langham rested elbows on the counter, and covered eyes with his
hands. Have you ever, he asked, in the course of your existence, met
with a bigger fool than me?
To be quite candid, said Gertie, I don't think I have.
She fetched the cup from the back room, and brought it to him. He
sipped at the hot beverage, and appeared to recover.
Do you mind if I smoke? he asked courteously.
She laughed. This is half a tobacconist's shop!
Quite so, remarked Jim Langham, taking a cigar from his case. I
say, he went on confidentially, taking the movable gas jet, do you
know anything about the Argentine?
Mr. Trew might tell you something about it if he were here. I don't
take any interest in horse-racing.
It's a place in South America, he said. I've an idea of getting
out there, and making a fresh start. But I'm in the state of mind that
prevents me from knowing how to set about it. It would be a great
kindness on your part to give me some assistance.
I want all the money I've saved up.
He placed his hand in his waistcoat pocket and pulled out
sovereigns. Gertie, taking a newspaper, turned the pages to find the
'The R. M. S. P.,' she read. I thought that meant you had to
reply to an invitation. Oh, I see. Royal Mail Steam Packet. Here's the
address. There's a boat leaving to-morrow. Would you like to catch
The earlier the better, he cried. I must get away at once. Now,
who can do it all?
A lad came for a packet of cigarettes, and, as Gertie served him,
Mr. Trew entered the doorway; his cheerful salutation caused Jim
Langham to start. Trew announced, joyously, that he was up to the neck
in trouble; for failing to see a young constable's warning in Oxford
Street, he had been suspended from duty for a period of three days.
As I told him, if a driver took notice of all the baby hands held
up, why the 'bus would never reach Victoria. Howsomever, here I am; my
own master for a time, and ready to make myself generally useless. What
about a half-day excursion to Brighton to-morrow, little missy?
This, Mr. Trew, is Mr. Langham.
I don't get on over and above first class, he said, with a
certain relative of yours, sir, but I never met a family yet that was
all alike. Some white sheep in every flock.
Gertie explained Jim Langham's requirements, and Trew, placing his
hat upon the counter, and admitting himself to be something of an
authority on matters connected with the sea, brought his best
intelligence to bear upon the subject. It was too late, he decided, to
go down that evening to the steamship office, but a telegram might be
sent, asking for a berth to be reserved, and Mr. Langham could go to
the docks in the morning.
It is absolutely imperative, declared the other urgently, that I
leave at the first possible moment.
If the worst comes to the worst, said Mr. Trew, you can ship as a
stowaway. You come up on deck, third day out, and kneel at the
captain's feet and sing a song about being an orphan. That, of course,
would be a last resource.
Gertie discovered a telegram form, and on the instructions of Mr.
Trew, filled it in; and Jim Langham assured her that he was more
obliged than he could express in words. Mr. Trew left to arrange the
dispatch of the message.
I count myself extremely fortunate, said the other, to have
encountered you, Miss Higham. If you hear anything against me later on,
II should feel grateful if you thought the best of me that you can. I
wish, he went on, with an anxious air, I wish I knew how to repay
Don't make a fuss about trifles, she recommended.
He gazed at a picture of a well-attired youth smoking a cigar.
I was a decent chap once, he said thoughtfully, but that was long
ago. Look here, Miss Higham! Henryyou know Henry?
I did know him. Turning her face away.
He will be at Paddington Station tomorrow morning at ten. See him
there. Put off every other engagement, and see him.
There will be no use in doing that.
There may be, he contradicted earnestly. You've been very hard
hit over this business, and I happen to know he wants to meet you, only
that he is afraid of appearing intrusive. At ten o'clock at the arrival
platform. May I say good-bye now? God bless you. I haven't much
influence with Him, but II hope He'll be good to you!
She came from behind the counter, and accompanied him to the swing
Whose ghost was it you thought you saw, Mr. Langham?
I must have been mistaken, he replied vaguely. A shame to have
All the comedy in life and some of the tragedy can be found at
London railway stations, and only the fact that members of the staff
are well occupied prevents them from furnishing shelves of bookstalls
with records of their observation. The classes are there (an effort is
being made to cancel one useful intermediate stage), presenting
themselves, for the most part, in a highly-agitated condition of mind,
with the result that officials acquire the methods of those who deal
with the mentally unhinged; show themselves prepared for any display of
eccentricity. Ever, as in life, you remark the people who arrive too
soon, or too late; a few lucky ones come in the very nick of time. The
last named are favourites, selected with no obvious reason by Fortune,
and greatly envied by their contemporaries; it is usual for them to
claim the entire credit to themselves. Apart from these, at the
terminal stations where no barriers exist, are folk who make but little
affectation of being passengers, and use the station as a playground,
with engine and train for toys.
To Paddington at a quarter to ten in the morning came hurriedly,
although there was no cause for hurry, Gertie Higham, escorted by Mr.
Trew, both exceptionally costumed as befitting a notable occasion.
Gertie's escort had a pair of driving-gloves, and he could not
determine whether it looked more aristocratic to wear these or to carry
them with a negligent air; he compromised on the departure platform by
wearing one and carrying the other. The collector-dog trotted up with
the box on his back, and both put in some coppers. They glanced at the
I wish, she said agitatedly, that I could skip half an hour of my
When you get to my age, little missy, remarked Trew, you won't
talk like that. Speaking personally, I can fairly say that if it wasn't
for these new motors I sh'd like to live to be a 'underd. Now, let's
jest make sure and certain about this train.
I thought we had done so.
May as well be on the safe side.
Mr. Trew left her at the bookstall to go on a journey in search of
verification. She observed that he obtained news first from a junior
porter, and worked upwards in the scale, with the evident intention of
obtaining at last corroborative evidence from a director. The girl
turned, and, gazing at the rows of books, found she could not read the
titles clearly. One of the lads of the stall came with a book in his
hand, recommending it to her notice; written by a new chap, he
mentioned confidentially, and highly interesting. Gertie pulled herself
together, and gave attention.
Thank you, she said, but it's the work of a cousin of mine.
The lad put Clarence Mills's novel down, and took up a pocket
edition of Merchant of Venice.
In that case, he remarked, I suppose it's no use showing you
anything written by your Uncle William.
Trew came at a run, saving her the necessity of thinking of an
answer. Mr. Henry was now on the arrival platform, right across where a
finger pointed; Gertie was to wait until a scarlet handkerchief showed
itself, and she begged him very earnestly not to give the signal unless
it appeared to be well justified. A train, that had received no
education in the art of reticence, came to an intervening set of lines,
and Gertie's anxiety increased; she hurried down the platform to a
point from which it was possible to see the meeting. Henry was engaged
in conversation with a Great Western official; Mr. Trew, in going past,
turned and, with a great air of wonder, recognized him. Gertie noted
with satisfaction that Henry's greeting was hearty and unrestrained.
Mr. Trew indicated a superior carriage standing near; she knew, from
his gestures, that he was describing the uncovered conveyances recalled
from his early youth.
Oh, do make haste! she urged under her breath.
They moved a few steps together, and Henry interrupted conversation
with an inquiry. Mr. Trew, astonished to the extent of taking off his
hat, gave a wave with it in the direction of Platform Number One, and
Henry spoke eagerly. Mr. Trew took out his scarlet handkerchief, rubbed
Now, cried Henry, advancing delightedly to meet her, I wonder
what the chances were against our meeting here?
It is rather unexpected, isn't it?
Where, he hesitated, where is Mr. Bulpert?
I really don't know, she replied, smiling. We're not engaged any
Good news! he cried with emphasis. That is to say, it's good news
if you wished the engagement to cease.
I wasn't sorry.
He took her elbow, and glanced around. Mr. Trew was examining a set
of milk churns with the air of an experienced dairyman.
Isn't it amazing, said Henry, how one lucky moment can change the
appearance of everything? I've been feeling lately that nothing could
possibly come right, and now
We mustn't go on too fast, she interposed sagely, because that
only means more disappointment. You haven't heard yet about my father.
Listen whilst I tell you about him.
Gertie waited, as she went on, for a relaxation in the pleasant hold
on her arm, but this did not come. When she had said the last word, he
I knew all about this long before you did, he said. The
information came from my sister-in-law. She had discovered the facts,
and felt disappointed, I think, to find that I was not greatly
impressed. Of course, you're not responsible for his actions any more
than I can be held liable for the behaviour of Jim Langham. Jim is a
much worse nut than your father; he hasn't any excuse for his conduct.
Forged his sister's name to a big cheque, and, naturally, he has
disappeared. I am giving him time to get away before I say anything
about it to her.
May be leaving England now, I suppose?
I hope so; but we needn't bother about him. Let us talk about
ourselves, just as we used to do. Do you remember, dear girl?
I recollect it, she admitted. Every moment, and every step, and
every word. It will always be something good for me to look back upon,
when I'm older.
He bent down to her. We'll look back upon it together, he said
The official to whom Henry had been speaking begged pardon for
interrupting; the train, he announced, would be about five minutes
late. Gertie thanked him with a glance that, at any honestly managed
exchange office, could be converted into bank notes.
Has your view of me altered, then? he asked.
My view of you, she replied steadily, is exactly the same that it
always has been, ever since I first met you. I like you betteroh, a
lot betterthan any one else in the world, and I know that if you
married me you'd do all you could to make me happy and comfortable. But
I shouldn't be happy and comfortable. I've got to look forward; and
when I do that, there's no use in shutting my eyes. I can see quite
clearly what would happen. You'd have this large house down in the
country, and you would ask friends there, and I should make blunders,
and, sooner or later, you'd be certain to feel ashamed of me.
I don't agree, dear, he said with emphasis. Anyhow let us try the
experiment. I am sure you overestimate the distance between us. Think
how well we used to get along together.
If life was all summer evenings and Primrose Hill, she remarked,
I might stand a chance. But it isn't. Your life is going to be that of
a country gentleman in Berkshire; my life is going to be that of a
well-paid worker in Great Titchfield Street.
Wish I could find some method, he cried vehemently, of giving
events a twist. I'd much rather go on in my own profession. I'm making
my way slowly, but I'm making it for myself, and II want you for
company. He gave a gesture of appeal. Can't you see how much it
We've got to take matters as they are, and not as we should like
them to be. And it isn't as though I'd only got myself to think about.
There's you. If I didn't care so much for you, it might be different.
For the moment, protested Henry Douglass, I find myself wishing,
dear, that you were not quite so sensible. We will talk about this
again, won't we? Let me call at Praed Street.
Rather you didn't, said Gertie, if you don't mind, because I
shall never change my decision. And I wish I could explain how sorry I
am it hasn't all come right. She looked up at him with tears in her
eyes. Give me a kiss before we say good-bye.
We're to say a lot of other things to each other, he asserted
determinedly, but we are never to say that! Stay here, until I have
seen these people into the railway omnibus. Please!
The train came slowly; the engine with the air of one that had, in
its time, hurt itself by violent contact with buffers; a line of
porters edged the platform, ready to seize brass handles of
compartments so soon as the train stopped. Gertie stood behind a
trolley, and watched the crowd of alighting passengers. She caught
sight of Lady Douglass and Miss Loriner: Lady Douglass carrying her
small dog, and apparently more authoritative than ever in manner; her
companion nursing a copy of Clarence's book. Henry and Rutley went to
the rear van to see to the luggage, and presently returned; Rutley
talked animatedly, Henry's features exhibited surprise. The railway
omnibus was found; transfer of luggage began.
My dearest, dearest! cried Henry excitedly. Listen to me; hear
the great news Rutley has brought. My brother arrived home last night.
The good fellow is safe and sound. He came down from here, from
Paddington, and called at Ewelme to get some important papers he
wanted. Heard Lady Douglass's voiceshe happened to be annoyed about
somethingand left without seeing her. This meansdon't you
see?that I have nothing now to bother about, excepting my work. And
She had a difficulty in finding words. Mr. Langham did not meet a
I'm going to see the boat train off at Victoria, he went on
rapidly, and I shall be back at Praed Street in an hour. Less than an
hour. We'll go out to lunch together.
I'll wait for you there! promised the happy girl.