The Mission Of Mr. Eustace Greyne
by Robert Hichens
THE MISSION OF MR. EUSTACE GREYNE
By Robert Hichens
Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers
Mrs. Eustace Greyne (pronounced Green) wrinkled her foreheadthat
noble, that startling forehead which had been written about in the
newspapers of two hemisphereslaid down her American Squeezer pen, and
sighed. It was an autumn day, nipping and melancholy, full of the
rustle of dying leaves and the faint sound of muffin bells, and
Belgrave Square looked sad even to the great female novelist who had
written her way into a mansion there. Fog hung about with the policeman
on the pavement. The passing motor cars were like shadows. Their
stertorous pantings sounded to Mrs. Greyne's ears like the asthma of
dying monsters. She sighed again, and murmured in a deep contralto
voice: It must be so. Then she got up, crossed the heavy Persian
carpet which had been bought with the proceeds of a short story in her
earlier days, and placed her forefinger upon an electric bell.
Like lightning a powdered giant came.
Has Mr. Greyne gone out?
Where is he?
In his study, ma'am, pasting the last of the cuttings into the new
Mrs. Greyne smiled. It was a pretty picture the unconscious
six-footer had conjured up.
I am sorry to disturb Mr. Greyne, she answered, with that
gracious, and even curling suavity which won all hearts; but I wish to
see him. Will you ask him to come to me for a moment?
The giant flew, silk-stockinged, to obey the mandate, while Mrs.
Greyne sat down on a carved oaken chair of ecclesiastical aspect to
await her husband.
She was a famous woman, a personage, this simply-attired lady. With
an American Squeezer pen she had won fame, fortune, and a mansion in
Belgrave Square, and all without the sacrifice of principle.
Respectability incarnate, she had so dealt with the sorrows and evils
of the world that she had rendered them utterly acceptable to Mrs.
Grundy, Mr. Grundy, and all the Misses Grundy. People said she dived
into the depths of human nature, and brought up nothing that need
scandalise a curate's grandmother, or the whole-aunt of an archdeacon;
and this was so true that she had made a really prodigious amount of
money. Her large, her solid, her unrelenting books lay upon every
table. Even the smart set kept them, uncutlike pretty sinners who
have never been found outto give an air of haphazard
intellectuality to frisky boudoirs, All the clergy, however unable to
get their tithes, bought them. All bishops alluded to them in pulpit
utterances. Fabulous prices were paid for them by magazine editors.
They ran as serials through all the tale of months. The suburbs
battened on them. The provinces adored them. Country people talked of
no other literature. In fact, Mrs. Eustace Greyne was a really fabulous
Why, then, should she heave these heavy sighs in Belgrave Square?
Why should she lift an intellectual hand as though to tousle the glossy
chestnut bandeaux which swept back from her forcible forehead, and
screw her reassuring features into these wrinkles of perplexity and
The door opened, and Mr. Eustace Greyne appeared, What is it,
Eugenia? upon his lips.
Mr. Greyne was a number of years younger than his celebrated wife,
and looked even younger than his years. He was a very smart man, with
smooth, jet-black hair, which he wore parted in the middle; pleasant,
dark eyes that could twinkle gently; a clear, pale complexion; and a
nice, tall figure. One felt, in glancing at him, that he had been an
Eton boy, and had at least thought of going into the militia at some
period of his life. His history can be briefly told.
Scarcely had he emerged into the world before he met and was married
to Mrs. Eustace Greyne, then Miss Eugenia Hannibal-Barker. He had had
no time to sow a single oat, wild or otherwise; no time to adore a
barmaid, or wish to have his name linked with that of an actress; no
time to do anything wrong, or even to know, with the complete accuracy
desired by all persevering young men, what was really wrong. Miss
Eugenia Hannibal-Barker sailed upon his horizon, and he struck his flag
to matrimony. Ever since then he had been her husband, and had never,
even for one second, emerged beyond the boundaries of the most
intellectual respectability. He was the most innocent of men, although
he knew all the important editors in London. Swaddled in money by his
successful wife, he considered her a goddess. She poured the thousands
into Coutts' Bank, and with the arrival of each fresh thousand he was
more firmly convinced that she was a goddess. To say he looked up to
her would be too mild. As the Cockney tourist in Chamounix peers at the
summit of Mont Blanc, he peered at Mrs. Greyne. And when, finally, she
bought the lease of the mansion in Belgrave Square, he knew her
So now he appeared in the oracle's retreat respectfully, What is
it, Eugenia? upon his admiring lips.
Sit down, my husband, she murmured.
Mr. Greyne subsided by the fire, placing his pointed patent-leather
toes upon the burnished fender. Without the fog grew deeper, and the
chorus of the muffin bells more plaintive. The fire-light, flickering
over Mrs. Greyne's majestic features, made them look Rembrandtesque.
Her large, oxlike eyes were fixed and thoughtful. After a pause, she
Eustace, I shall have to send you upon a mission.
A mission, Eugenia! said Mr. Greyne in great surprise.
A mission of the utmost importance, the utmost delicacy.
Has it anything to do with Romeike &Curtice?
Will it take me far?
That is my trouble. It will take you very far.
Out of London?
Out ofnot out of England?
Yes; it will take you to Algeria.
Good gracious! cried Mr. Greyne.
Mrs. Greyne sighed.
Good gracious! Mr. Greyne repeated after a short interval. Am I
to go alone? Of course you must take Darrell. Darrell was Mr.
And what am I to do at Algiers?
You must obtain for me there the whole of the material for book six
of 'Catherine's Repentance,' Catherine's Repentance was the gigantic
novel upon which Mrs. Greyne was at that moment engaged.
I will not disguise from you, Eustace, continued Mrs. Greyne,
looking increasingly Rembrandtesque, that, in my present work, I am
taking a somewhat new departure.
Well, but we are very comfortable here, said Mr. Greyne.
With each new book they had changed their abode. Harriet took them
from Phillimore Gardens to Queensgate Terrace; Jane's Desire moved
them on to a corner house in Sloane Street; with Isobel's Fortune
they passed to Curzon Street; Susan's Vanity landed them in Coburg
Place; and, finally, Margaret's Involution had planted them in
Belgrave Square. Now, with each of these works of genius Mrs. Greyne
had taken what she called a new departure. Mr. Greyne's remark is,
True. Still, there is always Park Lane.
She mused for a moment. Then, leaning more heavily upon the carved
lions of her chair, she continued:
Hitherto, although I have sometimes dealt with human frailty, I
have treated it gently. I have never betrayed a Zola-spirit.
Zola! My darling! cried Mr. Eustace Greyne. You are surely not
going to betray anything of that sort now!
If she does we shall soon have to move off to West Kensington, was
his secret thought.
No. But in book six of 'Catherine' I have to deal with sin, with
tumult, with African frailty. It is inevitable.
She sighed once more. The burden of the new book was very heavy upon
African frailty! murmured the astonished Eustace Greyne.
Now, neither you nor I, my husband, know anything about this.
Certainly not, my darling. How should we? We have never explored
We must, therefore, get to know about itat least you must. For I
cannot leave London. The continuity of the brain's travelling must not
be imperiled by any violent bodily activity. In the present stage of my
book a sea journey might be disastrous.
Certainly you should keep quiet, my love. But then-
You must go for me to Algiers. There you must get me what I want. I
fear you will have to poke about in the native quarters a good deal for
it, so you had better buy two revolvers, one for yourself and one for
Mr. Greyne gasped. The calmness of his wife amazed him. He was not
intellectual enough to comprehend fully the deep imaginings of a mighty
brain, the obsession work is in the worker.
African frailty is what I want, pursued Mrs. Greyne. One hundred
closely-printed pages of African frailty. You will collect for me the
raw material, and I shall so manipulate it that it will fall
discreetly, even elevatingly, into the artistic whole. Do you
understand me, Eustace?
I am to travel to Algiers, and see all the wickedness to be seen
there, take notes of it, and bring them back to you.
And how long am I to stay?
Until you have made yourself acquainted with the depths.
I should think that would be enough. Take Brush's remedy for
seasickness and plenty of antipyrin, your fur coat for the crossing,
and a white helmet and umbrella for the arrival. You have lead
A couple of Merrin's exercise-books should be enough to contain
When am I to go?
The sooner the better. I am at a standstill for want of the
material. You might catch the express to Paris to-morrow; no, say the
day after to-morrow. She looked at him tenderly. The parting will be
Very bitter, Mr. Eustace Greyne replied.
He felt really upset. Mrs. Greyne laid the hand which had brought
them from Phillimore Gardens to Belgrave Square gently upon his.
Think of the result, she said. The greatest book I have done yet.
A book that will last. A book that will
Take us to Park Lane, he murmured.
The Rembrandtesque head nodded. The noble features, as of a strictly
respectable Roman emperor, relaxed.
A book that will take us to Park Lane.
At this moment the door opened, and the footman inquired:
Could Mademoiselle Verbena see you for a minute, ma'am?
Mademoiselle Verbena was the French governess of the two little
Greynes. The great novelist had consented to become a mother.
In another moment Mademoiselle Verbena was added to the group beside
We have said that Mademoiselle Verbena was the French governess of
little Adolphus and Olivia Greyne, and so she was to this extentthat
she taught them French, and that Mr. and Mrs. Greyne supposed her to be
a Parisian. But life has its little ironies. Mademoiselle Verbena in
the house of this great and respectable novelist was one of them; for
she was a Levantine, born at Port Said of a Suez Canal father and a
Suez Canal mother. Now, nobody can desire to say anything against Port
Said. At the same time, few mothers would inevitably pick it out as the
ideal spot from which a beneficent influence for childhood's happy hour
would be certain to emanate. Nor, it must be allowed, is a Suez Canal
ancestry specially necessary to a trainer of young souls. It may not be
a drawback, but it can hardly be described as an advantage. This,
Mademoiselle Verbena was intelligent enough to know. She, therefore,
concealed the fact that her father had been a dredger of Monsieur de
Lesseps' triumph, her mother a bar-lady of the historic coal wharf
where the ships are fed, and preferred to supposeand to permit others
to supposethat she had first seen the light in the Rue St. Honoré,
her parents being a count and countess of some old régime.
This supposition, retained from her earliest years, had affected her
appearance and her manner. She was a very neat, very trim, even a very
attractive little person, with dark brown, roguish eyes, blue-black
hair, a fairy-like figure, and the prettiest hands and feet imaginable.
She had first attracted Mrs. Greyne's attention by her devotion to St.
Paul's Cathedral, and this devotion she still kept up. Whenever she had
an hour or two free she alwaysso she herself saidspent it in ce
charmant St. Paul.
As she entered the oracle's retreat she cast down her eyes, and
What is it, Miss Verbena? inquired Mrs. Greyne, with a kindly
English accent, calculated to set any poor French creature quite at
Mademoiselle Verbena trembled more.
I have received bad news, madame.
I grieve to hear it. Of what nature?
Mamma has une bronchite très grave.
A what, Miss Verbena?
Pardon, madame. A very grave bronchitis. She cries for me.
The doctors say she will die.
This is very sad.
The Levantine wept. Even Suez Canal folk are not proof against all
human sympathy. Mr. Greyne blew his nose beside the fire, and Mrs.
Greyne said again:
I repeat that this is very sad.
Madame, if I do not go to mamma tomorrow I shall not see her more.
Mrs. Greyne looked very grave.
Oh! she remarked. She thought profoundly for a moment, and then
It is true, madame.
Suddenly Mademoiselle Verbena flung herself down on the Persian
carpet at Mrs. Greyne's large but well-proportioned feet, and, bathing
them with her tears, cried in a heartrending manner:
Madame will let me go! madame will permit me to fly to poor
mammato close her dying eyesto kiss once again
Mr. Greyne was visibly affected, and even Mrs. Greyne seemed
somewhat put about, for she moved her feet rather hastily out of reach
of the dependant's emotion, and made her scramble up.
Where is your poor mother?
In Paris, madame. In the Rue St. Honoré, where I was born. Oh, if
she should die there! If she should
Mrs. Greyne raised her hand, commanding silence.
You wish to go there?
If madame permits.
To-morrow? This is decidedly abrupt.
Mais la bronchite, madame, she is abrupt, and death, she may
True. One moment!
There was an instant's silence for Mrs. Greyne to let loose her
brain in. She did so, then said:
You have my permission. Go to-morrow, but return as soon as
possible. I do not wish Adolphus to lose his still uncertain grasp upon
the irregular verbs.
In a flood of grateful tears Mademoiselle Verbena retired to make
her preparations. On the morrow she was gone.
The morrow was a day of much perplexity, much bustle and excitement
for Mr. Greyne and the valet, Darrell. They were preparing for Algiers.
In the morning, at an early hour, Mr. Greyne set forth in the barouche
with Mrs. Greyne to purchase African necessaries: a small but
well-supplied medicine chest, a pith helmet, a white-and-green
umbrella, a Baedeker, a couple of Smith &Wesson Springfield revolvers
with a due amount of cartridges, a dozen of Merrin's exercise-bookson
mature reflection Mrs. Creyne thought that two would hardly contain a
sufficient amount of African frailty for her present purposea packet
of lead pencils, some bottles of a remedy for seasickness, a silver
flask for cognac, and various other trifles such as travellers in
distant continents require.
Meanwhile Darrell was learning French for the journey, and packing
his own and his master's trunks. The worthy fellow, a man of
twenty-five summers, had never been across the Channelthe Greynes
being by no means prone to foreign traveland it may, therefore, be
imagined that he was in a state of considerable expectation as he laid
the trousers, coats, and waistcoats in their respective places,
selected such boots as seemed likely to wear well in a tropical
climate, and dropped those shirts which are so contrived as to admit
plenty of ventilation to the heated body into the case reserved for
When Mr. Greyne returned from his shopping excursion the barouche,
loaded almost to the gunwaleif one may be permitted a nautical
expression in this connectionhad to be disburdened, and its contents
conveyed upstairs to Mr. Greyne's bedroom, into which Mrs. Greyne
herself presently entered to give directions for their disposing. Nor
was it till the hour of sunset that everything was in due order, the
straps set fast, the keys duly turned in the locksthe labelsMr.
Eustace Greyne: Passenger to Algiers: via Marseillescarefully
written out in a full, round hand. Rook's tickets had been bought; so
now everything was ready, and the last evening in England might be
spent by Mr. Greyne in the drawing-room and by Darrell in the servants'
hall quietly, socially, perhaps pathetically.
The pathos of the situation, it must be confessed, appealed more to
the master than to the servant. Darrell was very gay, and inclined to
be boastful, full of information as to how he would comport himself
with them there Frenchies, and how he would make them pore, godless
Arabs sit up. But Mr. Greyne's attitude of mind was very different. As
the night drew on, and Mrs. Greyne and he sat by the wood fire in the
magnificent drawing-room, to which they always adjourned after dinner,
a keen sense of the sorrow of departure swept over them both.
How lonely you will feel without me, Eugenia, said Mr. Greyne. I
have been thinking of that all day.
And you, Eustace, how desolate will be your tale of days! My mind
runs much on that. You will miss me at every hour.
You are so accustomed to have me within call, to depend upon me for
encouragement in your life-work. I scarcely know how you will get on
when I am far across the sea.
And you, for whom I have labored, for whom I have planned and
calculated, what will be your sensations when you realize that a
gulfthe Gulf of Lyonsis fixed irrevocably between us?
So their thoughts ran. Each one was full of tender pity for the
other. Towards bedtime, however, conscious that the time for colloquy
was running short, they fell into more practical discourse.
I wonder, said Mr. Greyne, whether I shall find any difficulty in
gaining the information you require, my darling. I suppose these
placeshe spoke vaguely, for his thoughts were vagueare somewhat
awkward to come at. Naturally they would avoid the eye of day.
Mrs. Greyne looked profound.
Yes. Evil ever seeks the darkness. You will have to do the same.
You think my investigations must take place at night?
I should certainly suppose so.
And where shall I find a cicerone?
Apply to Rook.
In what terms? You see, dearest, this is rather a special matter,
Very special. But on no account hint that you are in Algiers for
'Catherine's' sake. It would get into the papers. It would be cabled to
America. The whole reading world would be agog, and the future interest
of the book discounted.
Mr. Greyne looked at his wife with reverence. In such moments he
realized, almost too poignantly, her great position.
I will be careful, he said. What would you recommend me to say?
WellMrs. Greyne knit her superb foreheadI should suggest that
you present yourself as an ordinary traveler, but with a specially
inquiring bent of mind and a slight tendency towards
thetheerhidden things of life.
I suppose you wish me to visit the public houses?
I wish you to see everything that has part or lot in African
frailty. Go everywhere, see everything. Bring your notes to me, and I
will select such fragments of the broken commandments as suit my
purpose, which is, as always, the edifying of the human race. Only this
time I mean to purge it as by fire.
That corner house in Park Lane, next to the Duke of Ebury's, would
suit us very well, said Mr. Greyne reflectively.
We could sell our lease here at an advance, his wife rejoined.
You will not waste your journey, Eustace?
My love, returned Mr. Greyne with decision, I will apply to Rook
on arrival, and, if I find his man unsatisfactory, if I have any reason
to suspect that I am not being shown everythingmore especially in the
Kasbah region, which, from the guide-books we bought to-day, is, I take
it, the most abandoned portion of the cityI will seek another
Do so. And now to bed. You must sleep well to-night in preparation
for the journey.
It was their invariable habit before retiring to drink each a
tumbler of barley water, which was set out by the butler in Mrs.
Greyne's study. After this nightcap Mrs. Greyne wrote up her
anticipatory diary, while Mr. Greyne smoked a mild cigar, and then they
went to bed. To-night, as usual, they repaired to the sanctum, and
drank their barley water. Having done so, Mr. Greyne drew forth his
cigar-case, while Mrs. Greyne went to her writing-table, and prepared
to unlock the drawer in which her diary reposed, safe from all prying
The match was struck, the key was inserted in the lock, and turned.
As the cigar end glowed the drawer was opened. Mr. Greyne heard a
contralto cry. He turned from the arm-chair in which he was just about
to seat himself.
My love, is anything the matter?
His wife was bending forward with both hands in the drawer, telling
over its contents.
My diary is not here!
It is gone.
Buthe came over to herthis is very serious. I presume, like
all diaries, it is full of Instinctively he had been about to say
damning; he remembered his dear one's irreproachable character and
substituted precious secrets.
It is full of matter which must never be given to the worldmy
secret thoughts, my aspirations. The whole history of my soul is
Heavens! It must be found.
They searched the writing-table. They searched the room. No diary.
Could you have taken it to my room, and left it there? asked Mr.
They hastened thither, and lookedin vain. By this time the
servants were gone to bed, and the two searchers were quite alone on
the ground floor of their magnificent mansion. Mrs. Greyne began to
look seriously perturbed. Her Roman features worked.
This is appalling, she exclaimed. Some thief, knowing it
priceless, must have stolen the diary. It will be published in America.
It will bring in thousandsbut to others, not to us.
She began to wring her hands. It was near midnight.
Think, my love, think! cried Mr. Greyne. Where could you have
taken it? You had it last night?
Certainly. I remember writing in it that you would be sailing to
Algiers on the Général Bertrand on Thursday of this week, and
that on the night I should be feeling widowed here. The previous night
I wrote that yesterday I should have to tell you of your mission. You
know I always put down beforehand what I shall do, what I shall even
think on each succeeding day. It is a practice that regulates the mind
and conduct, that helps to uniformity.
How true! Who can have taken it? Do you ever leave it about?
Never. Am I a madwoman?
My darling, compose yourself! We must search the house.
They proceeded to do so, and, on coming into the schoolroom, Mrs.
Greyne, who was in front, uttered a sudden cry.
Upon the table of Mademoiselle Verbena lay the diary, open at the
On Thursday next poor Eustace will be on board the Général
Bertrand, sailing for Algiers. I shall be here thinking of myself,
and of him in relation to myself. God help us both. Duty is sometimes
stern. Mem. The corner house in Park Lane, next the Duke of Ebury's,
has sixty years still to run; the lease, that is. Thursdaypoor
What does this portend? cried Mrs. Greyne.
My darling, it passes my wit to imagine, replied her husband.
The parting of Mr. and Mrs. Greyne on the following morning was very
affecting. It took place at Victoria Station, in the midst of a small
crowd of admiring strangers, who had recognised the commanding presence
of the great novelist, and had gathered round to observe her
Mrs. Greyne was considerably shaken by the event of the previous
night. Although, on the discovery of the diary, the house had been
roused, and all the servants closely questioned, no light had been
thrown upon its migration from the locked drawer to the schoolroom
table. Adolphus and Olivia, jerked from sleep by the hasty hands of a
maid, could only weep and wan. The powdered footmen, one and all,
declared they had never heard of a diary. The butler gave warning on
the spot, keeping on his nightcap to give greater effect to his
pronunciamento. It was all most unsatisfactory, and for one wild moment
Mrs. Greyne seriously thought of retaining her husband by her as a
protection against the mysterious thief who had been at work in their
midst. Could it be Mademoiselle Verbena? The dread surmise occurred,
but Mr. Greyne rejected it.
Her father was a count, he said. Besides, my darling, I don't
believe she can read English; certainly not unless it is printed.
So there the matter rested, and the moment of parting came.
There was a murmur of respectful sympathy as Mrs. Greyne clasped her
husband tenderly in her arms, and pressed his head against her
prune-coloured bonnet strings. The whistle sounded. The train moved on.
Leaning from a reserved first-class compartment, Mr. Greyne waved a
silk pocket-handkerchief so long as his wife's Roman profile stood out
clear against the fog and smoke of London. But at last it faded, grew
remote, took on the appearance of a feebly-executed crayon drawing,
vanished. He sank back upon the cushionsalone. Darrell was travelling
second with the dressing-case.
It was a strange sensation, to be alone, and en route to
Algiers. Mr. Greyne scarcely knew what to make of it. A schoolboy
suddenly despatched to Timbuctoo could hardly have felt more terribly
emancipated than he did. He was so absolutely unaccustomed to freedom,
he had been for so long without the faintest desire for it, that to
have it thrust upon him so suddenly was almost alarming. He felt
lonely, anxious, horribly unmarried. To divert his thoughts he drew
forth a Merrin's exercise-book and a pencil, and wrote on the first
page, in large letters, African Frailty, Notes for Then he sat
gazing at the title of his first literary work, and wondering what on
earth he was going to see in Algiers.
Vague visions of himself in the bars of African public-houses, in
mosques, in the two-pair-backs of dervishes, in bazaarswhich he
pictured to himself like those opened by royalties at the Queen's
Hallin Moorish interiors surrounded by voluptuous ladies with large
oval eyes, black tresses, and Turkish trousers of spangled muslin,
flitted before his mental gaze. When the train ran upon Dover Pier, and
the white horses of the turbulent Channel foamed at his feet, he
started as one roused from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. Severe illness
occupied his whole attention for a time, and then recovery.
In Paris he dined at the buffet like one in a dream, and, at the
appointed hour, came forth to take the rapide for Marseilles. He
looked for Darrell and the dressing-case. They were not to be seen.
There stood the train. Passengers were mounting into it. Old ladies
with agitated faces were buying pillows and nibbling biscuits. Elderly
gentlemen with yellow countenances and red ribands in their coats were
purchasing the Figaro and the Gil Blas. Children with
bare legs were being hauled into compartments. Rook's agent was
explaining to a muddled tourist in a tam-o'-shanter the exact
difference between the words Oui and Non The bustle of departure
was in the air, but Darrell was not to be seen. Mr. Greyne had left him
upon the platform with minute directions as to the point from which the
train would start and the hour of its going. Yet he had vanished. The
most frantic search, the most frenzied inquiries of officials and total
strangers, failed to elicit his whereabouts, and, finally, Mr. Greyne
was flung forcibly upward into the wagonlit, and caught by the
contrôleur when the train was actually moving out of the station.
A moment later he fell exhausted upon the pink-plush seat of his
compartment, realising his terrible position. He was now utterly alone;
without servant, hair-brushes, toothbrushes, razors, sponges, pajamas,
shoes. It was a solitude that might be felt. He thought of the sea
journey with no kindly hand to minister to him, the arrival in Africa
with no humble companion at his side, to wonder with him at the black
inhabitants and help him through the customsto say nothing of the
manners. He thought of the dread homes of iniquity into which he must
penetrate by night in search of the material for the voracious
Catherine. He had meant to take Darrell with him to them
allDarrell, whose joyful delight in the prospect of exploring the
Eastern fastnesses of crime had been so boyish, so truly English in its
frank, its even boisterous sincerity.
And now he was utterly alone, almost like Robinson Crusoe.
The contrôleur came in to make the bed. Mr. Greyne told him
the dreadful story.
No doubt he has been lured away, monsieur. The dressing-case was of
Crocodile, gold fittings.
Probably monsieur will never see him again. As likely as not he
will sleep in the Seine to-night, and at the morgue to-morrow.
Mr. Greyne shuddered. This was an ill omen for his expedition. He
drank a stiff whisky-and-soda instead of the usual barley water, and
went to bed to dream of bloody murders in which he was the victim.
When the train ran into Marseilles next morning he was an unshaven,
Have I time to buy a tooth-brush, he inquired anxiously at the
station, before the boat sails for Algiers?
The chef de gare thought so. Monsieur had four hours, if that
was sufficient. Mr. Greyne hastened forth, had a Turkish bath,
purchased a new dressing-case, ate a hasty déjeuner, and took a
cab to the wharf. It was a long drive over the stony streets. He
glanced from side to side, watching the bustling traffic, the hurry of
the nations going to and from the ships. His eyes rested upon two Arabs
who were striding along in his direction. Doubtless they were also
bound for Algiers. He thought they looked most wicked, and hastily took
a note of them for African Frailty. Beside his sense of loss and
loneliness marched the sense of duty. The great woman at home in
Belgrave Square, founder of his fortunes, mother of his children, she
depended upon him. Even in his own hour of need he would not fail her.
He took a lead pencil, and wrote down:
Saw two Arab ruffians. Bare legs. Look capable of anything. Should
not be surprised to hear that they had
There he paused. That they had what? Done things. Of course, but
what things? That was the question. He exerted his imagination, but
failed to arrive at any conclusion as to their probable crimes. His
knowledge of wickedness was really absurdly limited. For the first time
he felt slightly ashamed of it, and began to wish he had gone into the
militia. He comforted himself with the thought that in a fortnight he
would probably be fit for the regular army. This thought cheered him
slightly, and it was with a slight smile upon his face that he welcomed
the first glimpse of the Général Bertrand, which was lying
against the quay ready to cast off at the stroke of noon. Most of the
passengers were aboard, but, as Mr. Greyne stepped out of his cab, and
prepared to pay the Maltese driver, a trim little lady, plainly dressed
in black, and carrying a tiny and rather coquettish hand-bag, was
tripping lightly across the gangway. Mr. Greyne glanced at her as he
turned to follow, glanced, and then started. That back was surely
familiar to him. Where could he have seen it before? He searched his
memory as the little lady vanished. It was a smart, even a chic
back, a back that knew how to take care of itself, a back that need not
go through the world alone, a back, in fine, that was most distinctly
attractive, if not absolutely alluring. Where had he seen it before, or
had he ever seen it at all? He thought of his wife's back, flat,
powerful, uncompromising. This was very different, morehow should he
put it to himself?more Algerian, perhaps. He could vaguely conceive
it a back such as one might meet with while engaged in adding to one's
stock of knowledge ofwellAfrican frailty.
At this moment the steward appeared to show him to his cabin, and
his further reflections were mainly connected with the Gulf of Lyons.
Twilight was beginning to fall when, so far as he was capable of
thinking, he thought he would like a breath of air. For some moments he
lay quite still, dwelling on this idea which had so mysteriously come
to him. Then he got up, and thought again, seated upon the cabin floor.
He knew there was a deck. He remembered having seen one when he came
aboard. He put on his fur coat, still sitting on the cabin floor. The
process took some timehe fancied about a couple of years. At last,
however, it was completed, and he rose to his feet with the assistance
of the washstand and the berth.
The ship seemed very busy, full of almost American activity. He
thought a greater calm would have been more decent, and waited in the
hope that the floor would presently cease to forget itself. As it
showed no symptoms of complying with his desire he endeavoured to spurn
it, and, in the fulness of time, gained the companion.
It was very strange, as he remembered afterwards, that only when he
had gained the companion did the sense of his utter loneliness rush
upon him with overwhelming force: one of the ironies of life, he
supposed. Eventually he shook the companion off with a good deal of
difficulty, and found himself installed upon planks under a grey sky,
and holding fast to a railing, which was all that interposed between
him and eternity.
At first he was only conscious of greyness and the noise of winds
and waters, but presently a black daub seemed to hover for a second
somewhere on the verge of his world, to hover and disappear. He
wondered what it was. A smut, perhaps. He rubbed his face. The daub
returned. It was very large for a smut. He strove to locate it, and
found that it must be somewhere on his left cheek. With a great effort
he took out his pocket-handkerchief. Suddenly the daub assumed
monstrous proportions. He turned his head, and perceived the lady in
black whom he had seen tripping over the gangway on his arrival.
She was a few steps from him, leaning upon the rail in an attitude
of the deepest dejection, with her face averted; yet it struck him that
her right shoulder was oddly familiar, as her back had surely been. The
turn of her head, toohe coughed despairingly. The lady took no
notice. He coughed again. Interest was quickening in him. He was
determined to see the lady's face.
This time she looked around, showing a pale countenance bedewed with
tears, and totally devoid of any expression which he could connect with
a consciousness of his presence. For a moment she stared vacantly at
him, while he, with almost equal vacancy, regarded her. Then a thrill
of surprise shook him. A sudden light of knowledge leaped up in him,
and he exclaimed:
Mademoiselle Verbena! Monsieur? murmured the lady, with an
accent of surprise.
Mademoiselle Verbena! Surely it isit must be!
He had staggered sideways, nearing her.
Mademoiselle Verbena, do you not know me? It is I, Eustace Greyne,
the father of your pupils, the husband of Mrs. Eustace Greyne?
An expression of stark amazement came into the lady's face at these
words. She leaned forward till her eyes were close to Mr. Greyne's then
gave a little cry.
Mon Dieu! It is true! You are so altered that I could not
recognise. And thenwhat are you doing here, on the wide sea, far from
I was just about to ask you the very same question! cried Mr.
Alas, monsieur! said Mademoiselle Verbena in her silvery voice, I
go to see my poor mother.
But I understood that she was dying in Paris.
Even so. But, when I reached the Rue St. Honoré, I found that they
had removed to Algiers. It was the only chance, the doctor saida warm
climate, the sun of Africa. There was no time to let me know. They took
her away at once. And now I followperhaps to find her dead.
Large tears rolled down her cheeks. Mr. Greyne was deeply affected.
Let us hope for the best, he exclaimed, seized by a happy
The Levantine strove to smile.
But you, monsieur, why are you here? Ah! perhaps madame is with
you! Let me go to her! Let me kiss her dear hands once more
Mr. Greyne mournfully checked her fond excitement.
I am quite alone, he said.
A tragic expression came into the Levantine's face.
But, then she began.
It was impossible for him to tell her about Catherine. He was,
therefore, constrained to subterfuge.
II was suddenly overtaken byby influenza, he said, in some
confusion. The doctor recommended change of air, of scene.
He suggested Algiers
Mon Dieu! It is like poor mamma!
Precisely. Our constitutions areare doubtless similar. I shall
take this opportunity also of improving my knowledge of African manners
A strange smile seemed to dawn for a second on Mademoiselle
Verbena's face, but it died instantaneously in a grimace of pain.
My teeth make me bad, she said. Ah, monsieur, I must go below, to
pray for poor mamma she paused, then softly added, and for
She made a movement as if to depart, but Mr. Greyne begged her to
remain. In his loneliness the sight even of a Levantine whom he knew
solaced his yearning heart. He felt quite friendly towards this poor,
unhappy girl, for whom, perhaps, such a shock was preparing upon the
Better stay! he said. The air will do you good.
Ah, if I die, what matter? Unless mamma lives there is no one in
the world who cares for me, for whom I care.
Therethere is Mrs. Greyne, said her husband. And then St.
Paul'sremember St. Paul's.
Ah ce charmant St. Paul's! Shall I ever see him more?
She looked at Mr. Greyne, and suddenlyhe knew not whyMr. Greyne
remembered the incident of the diary, and blushed.
Monsieur has fever!
Mr. Greyne shook his head. The Levantine eyed him curiously.
Monsieur wishes to say something to me, and does not like to
Mr. Greyne made an effort. Now that he was with this gentle lady,
with her white face, her weeping eyes, her plain black dress, the mere
suspicion that she could have opened a locked drawer with a secret key,
and filched therefrom a private record, seemed to him unpardonable.
Yet, for a brief instant, it had occurred to him, and Mrs. Greyne had
seriously held it. He looked at Mademoiselle Verbena, and a sudden
impulse to tell her the truth overcame him.
Yes, he said.
Tell me, monsieur.
In broken wordsthe ship was still very busyMr. Greyne related
the incident of the loss and finding of the diary. As he spoke a slight
change stole over the Levantine's face. It certainly became less pale.
But you have fever now! cried Mr. Greyne anxiously.
I! No; I flush with horror, not with fever! The diary, the sacred
diary of madame, exposed to view, read by the children, perhaps the
servants! That footman, Thomas, with the nose of curiosity! Ah! I
behold that nose penetrating into the holy secrets of the existence of
madame! I behold itah!
She burst into a fit of hysterics, the laughing species, which is so
much more terrible than the other sort. Mr. Greyne was greatly
concerned. He lurched to her, and implored her to be calm; but she only
laughed the more, while tears streamed down her cheeks. The vision of
Thomas gloating over Mrs. Greyne's diary seemed utterly to unnerve her,
and Mr. Greyne was able to measure, by this ebullition of horror, the
depth of the respect and affection entertained by her for his beloved
wife. When, at length, she grew calmer he escorted her towards her
cabin, offering her his arm, on which she leaned heavily. As soon as
they were in the narrow and heaving passage she turned to him, and
Who can have taken the diary?
Mr. Greyne blushed again.
We think it was Thomas, he said.
Mademoiselle Verbena looked at him steadily for a moment, then she
God bless you, monsieur!
Mr. Greyne was startled by the abruptness of this pious ejaculation.
Why? he inquired.
You are a good man. You, at least, would not condescend to insult a
friendless woman by unworthy suspicions. And madame?
Mrs. Greynestammered Mr. Greyneis convinced that it was
Thomas. In factin fact, she was the first to say so.
Mademoiselle Verbena tenderly pressed his hand.
Madame is an angel. God bless you both!
She tottered into her cabin, and, as she shut the door, Mr. Greyne
heard the terrible, laughing hysterics beginning again.
The next day an influence from Africa seemed spread upon the sea.
Calm were the waters, calm and blue. No cloud appeared in the sky. The
fierce activities of the ship had ceased, and Mademoiselle Verbena
tripped upon the deck at an early hour, to find Mr. Greyne already
installed there, and looking positively cheerful. He started up as he
perceived her, and chivalrously escorted her to a chair.
Everyone who has made a voyage knows that the sea breeds intimacies.
By the time the white houses of Algiers rose on their hill out of the
bosom of the waves Mademoiselle Verbena and Mr. Greyne wereshall we
say like sister and brother? She had told him all about her childhood
in dear Paris, the death of her father the count, murmuring the name of
Louis XVI., the poverty of her mother the countess, her own resolve to
put aside all aristocratic prejudices and earn her own living. He, in
return, had related his Eton days, his momentary bias towards the
militia, his marriageas an innocent youthwith Miss Eugenia
Hannibal-Barker. Coming to later times, he was led to confide to the
tenderhearted Levantine the fact that he hoped to increase his stock of
knowledge while in Africa. Without alluding to Catherine, he hinted
that the cure of influenza was not his only reason for foreign travel.
I wish to learn something of men andand women, he murmured in
the shell-like ear presented to him. Of their passions, their desires,
Ah! cried Mademoiselle Verbena. Would that I could assist
monsieur! But I am only an ignorant little creature, and know nothing
of the world! And I shall be ever at the bedside of mamma.
You will give me your address? You will let me inquire for the
Willingly; but I do not know where I shall be. There will be a
message at the wharf. To what hotel goes monsieur?
The Grand Hotel.
I will write there when I have seen mamma. And meanwhile
They were coming into harbour. The heights of Mustapha were visible,
the woods of the Bois de Boulogne, the towers of the Hotel Splendid.
Meanwhile, may I beg monsieur not to She hesitated.
Not to what? asked Mr. Greyne most softly.
Not to let anyone in England know that I am here?
She paused. Mr. Greyne was silent, wondering. Mademoiselle Verbena
drooped her head.
The world is so censorious. It might seem strange that Ithat
monsieura man young, handsome, fascinatingthe same shipI have no
She could get out no more. Her delicacy, her forethought touched Mr.
Greyne to tears.
Not a word, he said. You are right. The world is evil, and, as
you say, I am anot a word!
He ventured to press her hand, as an elder brother might have
pressed it. For the first time he realised that even to the husband of
Mrs. Eustace Greyne the world might attributeGoodness gracious! What
might not the militia think, for instance?
He felt himself, for one moment, potentially a dog.
They parted in a whirl of Arabs on the quay. Mr. Greyne would have
stayed to assist Mademoiselle Verbena, but she bade him go.
She whispered that she thought it better that they should not seem
I will write to-morrow, she murmured. Au revoir!
On the last word she was gone. Mr. Greyne saw nothing but Arabs and
hotel porters. Loneliness seemed to close in on him once more.
That very evening, after a cup of tea, he presented himself at the
office of Rook near the Place du Gouvernement. As he came in he felt a
little nervous. There were no tourists in the office, and a courteous
clerk with a bright and searching eye at once took him in hand.
What can we do for you, sir?
I am a stranger here, began Mr. Greyne.
Quite so, sir, quite so.
The clerk twiddled his business-like thumbs, and looked inquiring.
And being so, Mr. Greyne went on, it is naturally my wish to see
as much of the town as possible; as much as possible, you understand.
You want a guide? Alphonso!
Turning, he shouted to an inner room, from which in a moment emerged
a short, stout, swarthy personage with a Jewish nose, a French head, an
Arab eye with a squint in it, and a markedly Maltese expression.
This is an excellent guide, sir, said the clerk. He speaks
The stout man, whoas Mr Greyne now perceivedhad on a Swiss suit
of clothes, a panama hat, and a pair of German elastic-sided boots,
confessed in pigeon English, interspersed occasionally with a word or
two of something which Mr. Greyne took to be Chinese, that such was
undoubtedly the case.
What do you wish to see? The mosque, the bazaars, St. Eugène, La
Trappe, Mustapha, the baths of the Etat-Major, the Jardin d'Essai, the
One moment! said Mr. Greyne.
He turned to the clerk.
May I take a chair?
Be seated, sir, pray be seated, and confer with Alphonso.
So saying, he gave himself to an enormous ledger, while Mr. Greyne
took a chair opposite to Alphonso, who stood in a Moorish attitude
looking apparently in the direction of Marseilles.
I have come here, said Mr. Greyne, lowering his voice, with a
You wish to see the Belle Fatma. I will arrange it. She receives
every evening in her house in the Rue
One minute! One minute! You said the something 'Fatma'?
The Belle Fatma, the most beautiful woman of Africa. She receives
Pardon me! One moment! Is this lady
Mr. Greyne paused.
Sir? said Alphonso, settling his Spanish neck-tie, and gazing
steadily towards Marseilles.
Is this ladywell, sinful?
Alphonso threw up his hands with a wild Asiatic gesture.
Sinful! La Belle Fatma! She is a lady of the utmost respectability
known to all the town. You go to her house at eight, you take coffee
upon the red sofas, you talk with La Belle, you see the dances and hear
the music. Do not fear, sir; it is good, it is respectable as England,
If it is respectable I don't want to see it, interposed Mr.
Greyne. It would be a waste of time.
The clerk lifted his head from the ledger, and Alphonso, by means of
standing with his back almost square to Mr. Greyne, and looking over
his right shoulder, succeeded at length in fixing his eye upon him.
I have not travelled here to see respectable things, continued Mr.
Greyne, with a slight blush. Quite the contrary.
The voice of Alphonso seemed to have changed, to have taken on a
hard, almost a menacing tone. Mr. Greyne thought of his beloved wife,
of Merrin's exercise-books, and clenched his hands, endeavouring to
feel, and to go on, like a militiaman.
Quite the contrary, he repeated firmly; my object in coming to
Africa is toto search about in the Kasbah, and the disrep
He choked, recovered himself, and continued: Disreputable quarters
What for, sir?
The voice of Alphonso was certainly changed.
What for? said Mr. Greyne, growing purple. For frailty.
For frailtyfor wickedness.
A slight cackle emanated from the ledger, but immediately died away.
A dead silence reigned in the office, broken only by the distant sound
of the sea, and by the hard breathing of Alphonso, who had suddenly
begun to pant.
I wish to go to all the wicked placesall!
The ledger cackled again more audibly. Mr. Greyne felt a prickling
sensation run over him, but the thought of Catherine nerved him to
his awful task.
It is my wife's express desire that I should do so, he added
desperately, quite forgetting Mrs. Greyne's injunction to keep her dark
in his desire to stand well with Rook's.
The ledger went off into a hyena imitation, and Alphonso, turning
still more away from Mr. Greyne, so as to get the eye fuller upon him,
exclaimed, in a mixture of Aryan and Eurasian languages:
Sir, I am a respectable, unmarried man. I was born in Buenos Ayres,
educated in Smyrna, came of age in Constantinople, and have practised
as guide in Bagdad and other particular cities. I refuse to have
anything to do with you and your wife.
So saying, he bounced into the inner room, and banged the door,
while the ledger gave itself up to peals of merriment, and Mr. Greyne
tottered forth upon the sea-front, bathed in a cold perspiration, and
feeling more guilty than a murderer.
It was a staggering blow. He leaned over the stone parapet of the
low wall, and let the soft breezes from the bay flit through his hair,
and thought of Mrs. Greyne spurned by Alphonso. What was he to do?
Kicked out of Rook's, to whom could he apply? There must be wickedness
in Algiers, but where? He saw none, though night was falling and stout
Frenchmen were already intent upon their absinthe.
Does monsieur wish to see the Kasbah to-night?
Was it a voice from heaven? He turned, and saw standing beside him a
tall, thin, audacious-looking young man, with coal-black moustaches,
magnificent eyes, and an air that was half-languid, half-serpentine.
Who are you?
I am a guide, monsieur. Here are my certificates.
He produced from the inner pocket of his coat a large bundle of
If monsieur will deign to look them over.
But Mr. Greyne waved them away. What did he care for Certificates?
Here was a guide to African frailty. That was sufficient. He was in a
desperate mood, and uttered desperate words.
Look here, he said rapidly, are you wicked?
Very wicked, monsieur.
I mean that it is good for me that you are wicked.
Monsieur is very good.
Yes; but I wish to bethat is, to see the other thing. Can you
undertake to show me everything shocking in Algiers?
But certainly, monsieur. For a consideration.
Name your price.
Two hundred pounds, monsieur.
Mr. Greyne started. It seemed a high figure.
Monsieur thought it would be more? I make a special price, because
I have taken a fancy to monsieur. I remove fifty pounds. Monsieur, of
course, will pay all expenses.
Of course, of course.
It was no time to draw back.
How long will it take?
To see all the shocking?
There is a good deal. A fortnight, three weeks. It depends on
monsieur. If he is strong, and can do without sleep
We shall have to be up at night?
I shall go to bed during the day, and get through it in a
Be at the Grand Hotel to-night at ten o'clock precisely.
At ten o'clock I will be there. Monsieur will pay a little in
Here are twenty pounds, cried Mr. Greyne recklessly.
The audacious-looking young man took the notes with decision, made a
graceful salute, and disappeared in the direction of the quay, while
Mr. Greyne walked to his hotel, flushed with excitement, and feeling
like the most desperate criminal in Africa. If the militia could see
At dinner he drank a bottle of champagne, and afterwards smoked a
strong cigar over his coffee and liqueur. As he was finishing these
frantic enjoyments the head waitera personage bearing a strong
resemblance to an enlarged edition of Napoleon the Firstapproached
him rather furtively, and, bending down, whispered in his ear:
A gentleman has called to take monsieur to the Kasbah.
Mr. Greyne started, and flushed a guilty red.
I will come in a moment, he answered, trying to assume a
nonchalant voice, such as that in which a hardened major of dragoons
announces that in his time he was a devil of a fellow.
The head waiter retired, looking painfully intelligent, and Mr.
Greyne sprang upstairs, seized a Merrin's exercise-book and a lead
pencil, put on a dark overcoat, popped one of the Springfield revolvers
into the pocket of it, and hastened down into the hall of the hotel,
where the audacious-looking young man was standing, surrounded by saucy
chasseurs in gay liveries and peaked caps, by Algerian waiters, and by
German-Swiss porters, all of whom were smiling and looking choke-full
of sympathetic comprehension.
Ha! said Mr. Greyne, still in the major's, voice. There you are!
Behold me, monsieur.
Well, let's be off to the mosque.
One of the chasseursa child of eight who was thankful that he knew
no betterburst into a piping laugh. The waiters turned hastily away,
and the German-Swiss porters retreated to the bureau with some
To the mosqueprecisely, monsieur, returned the guide, with
They stepped out at once upon the pavement, where a carriage was in
Where are we going? inquired Mr. Greyne in an anxious voice.
We are going to the heights to see the Ouled, replied the guide.
He bounded in beside Mr. Greyne, the coachman cracked his whip, the
horses trotted. They were off upon their terrible pilgrimage.
On the following afternoon, at a quarter to three, when Mr. Greyne
came down to breakfast, he found, lying beside the boiled eggs, a note
directed to him in a feminine handwriting. He tote it open with
trembling fingers, and read as follows:
1 Rue du Petit Neore.
Dear Monsieur,I am here. Poor mamma is in the hospital. I
am allowed to see her twice a day. At all other times I
remain alone, praying and weeping. I trust that monsieur has
passed a good night. For me, I was sleepless, thinking of
mamma. I go now to church.
He laid this missive down, and sighed deeply. How strangely innocent
it was, how simple, how sincere! There were white souls in
Algiersyes, even in Algiers. Strange that he should know one! Strange
that he, who had filled a Merrin's exercise-book with tiny writing, and
had even overflowed on to the cover after crossing many pages, should
receive the child-like confidences of one! I go now to the church.
Tears came into his eyes as he laid the letter down beside a pile of
buttered toast over which the burning afternoon sun of Africa was
Monsieur will take milk and sugar?
It was the head waiter's Napoleonic voice. Mr. Greyne controlled
himself. The man was smiling intelligently. All the staff of the hotel
smiled intelligently at Mr. Greyne to-daythe waiters, the porters,
the chasseurs. The child of eight who was thankful that he knew no
better had greeted him with a merry laugh as he came down to breakfast,
and an Oh, là, là! which had elicited a rebuke from the
proprietor. Indeed, a wave of human sympathy flowed upon Mr. Greyne,
whose ashy face and dull, washed-out eyes betrayed the severity of his
Monsieur will feel better after a little food.
The head waiter handed the buttered toast with bland majesty, at the
same time shooting a reproving glance at the little chasseur, who was
peeping from behind the door at the afternoon breakfaster.
I feel perfectly well, replied Mr. Greyne, with an attempt at
Still, monsieur will feel much better after a little food.
Mr. Greyne began to toy with an egg.
You know Algiers? he asked.
I was born here, monsieur. If monsieur wishes to explore to-night
again the Kasbah I can
But Mr. Greyne stopped him with a gesture that was almost fierce.
Where is the Rue du Petit Nègre?
Monsieur wishes to go there to-night?
I wish to go there now, directly I have finished breaklunch.
The head waiter's face was wreathed with humorous surprise.
But monsieur is wonderfulsuperb! Never have I seen a traveller
He gazed at Mr. Greyne with tropical appreciation.
Monsieur had better have a carriage. The street is difficult to
Order me one. I shall start at once.
Mr. Greyne pushed away the sunlit buttered toast, and got up.
Monsieur is superb. Never have I seen a traveller like monsieur!
Napoleon's voice was almost reverent. He hastened out, followed slowly
by Mr. Greyne.
A carriage for monsieur! Monsieur desires to go to the Rue du Petit
The staff of the hotel gathered about the door as if to speed a
royal personage, and Mr. Greyne noticed that their faces too were
touched with an almost startled reverence. He stepped into the
carriage, signed feebly, but with determination, to the Arab coachman,
and was driven away, followed by a parting Oh, là là! from the
chasseur, uttered in a voice that sounded shrill with sheer amazement.
Through winding, crowded streets he went, by bazaars and Moorish
bath-houses, mosques and Catholic churches, barracks and cafés, till at
length the carriage turned into an alley that crept up a steep hill. It
moved on a little way, and then stopped.
Monsieur must descend here, said the coachman. Mount the steps,
go to the right and then to the left. Near the summit of the hill he
will find the Rue du Petit Nègre. Shall I wait for monsieur?
The coachman began to make a cigarette, while Mr. Greyne set forth
to follow his directions, and, at length, stood before an arch, which
opened into a courtyard adorned with orange-trees in tubs, and paved
with blue and white tiles. Around this courtyard was a three-storey
house with a flat roof, and from a bureau near a little fountain a
stout Frenchwoman called to demand his business. He asked for
Mademoiselle Verbena, and was at once shown into a saloon lined with
chairs covered with yellow rep, and begged to take a seat. In two
minutes Mademoiselle Verbena appeared, drying her eyes with a tiny
pocket-handkerchief, and forcing a little pathetic smile of welcome.
Mr. Greyne clasped her hand in silence. She sat down in a rep chair at
his right, and they looked at each other.
Mais, mon Dieu! How monsieur is changed! cried the
Levantine. If madame could see him! What has happened to monsieur?
Miss Verbena, replied Mr. Greyne, I have seen the Ouled on the
A spasm crossed the Levantine's face. She put her handkerchief to it
for a moment. What is an Ouled? she inquired, withdrawing it.
I dare not tell you, he replied solemnly.
But indeed I wish to know, so that I may sympathise with monsieur.
Mr. Greyne hesitated, but his heart was full; he felt the need of
sympathy. He looked at Mademoiselle Verbena, and a great longing to
unburden himself overcame him.
An Ouled, he replied, is a dancing-girl from the desert of
Mon Dieu! How does she dance? Is it a valse, a polka, a
quadrille? No. Would that it were! And Mr. Greyne, unable further to
govern his desire for full expression, gave Mademoiselle Verbena a
slightly Bowdlerised description of the dances of the desert. She heard
him with amazement.
How terrible! she exclaimed when he had finished. And does one
pay much to see such steps of the Evil One?
I gave her twenty pounds. Abdallah Jack
My guide informed me that was the price. He tells me it is against
the law, and that each time an Ouled dances she risks being thrown into
Poor lady! How sad to have to earn one's bread by such devices,
instead of by teaching to the sweet little ones of monsieur the
sympathetic grammar of one's native country.
Mr. Greyne was touched to the quick by this allusion, which brought,
as in a vision, the happy home in Belgrave Square before him.
You are an angel! he exclaimed.
Mademoiselle Verbena shook her head.
And this poor Ouled, you will go to her again?
Yes. It seems that she is in communication with all thethewell,
all the odd people of Algiers, and that one can only get at them
Abdallah Jack tells me that while I am here I should pay her a
weekly salary, and that, in return, I shall see all the terrible
ceremonies of the Arabs. I have decided to do so
Ah, you have decided!
For a moment Mr. Greyne started. There seemed a new sound in
Mademoiselle Verbena's voice, a gleam in her dark brown eyes.
Yes, he said, looking at her in wonder. But I have not yet told
The Levantine looked gently sad again.
Ah, she said in her usual pathetic voice, how my heart bleeds for
this poor Ouled. By the way, what is her name?
She is beautiful?
I hardly know. She was so painted, so tattooed, so veryso very
different from Mrs. Eustace Greyne.
How sad! How terrible! Ah, but you must long for the dear bonnet
strings of madame?
Did he? As she spoke Mr. Greyne asked himself the question. Shocked
as he was, fatigued by his researches, did he wish that he were back
again in Belgrave Square, drinking barley water, pasting notices of his
wife's achievements into the new album, listening while she read aloud
from the manuscript of her latest novel? He wondered, andhow strange,
how almost terriblehe was not sure.
Is it not so? murmured Mademoiselle Verbena.
Naturally I miss my beloved wife, said Mr. Greyne with a certain
awkwardness. How is your poor, dear mother?
Tears came at once into the Levantine's eyes.
Very, very ill, monsieur. Still there is a chancejust a chance
that she may not die. Ah, when I sit here all alone in this strange
place, I feel that she will perish, that soon I shall be quite deserted
in this cruel, cruel world!
The tears began to flow down her cheeks with determination. Mr.
Greyne was terribly upset.
You must cheer up, he exclaimed. You must hope for the best.
Sitting here alone, how can I?
Sitting here alonevery true!
A sudden thought, a number of sudden thoughts, struck him.
You must not sit here alone.
You must come out. You must drive. You must see the town, distract
But how? Can aa girl go about alone in Algiers?
Heaven forbid! No; I will escort you.
A smile of innocent, girlish joy transformed her face, but suddenly
she was grave again.
Would it be right, convenable?
Mr. Greyne was reckless. The dog potential rose up in him again.
Why not? And, besides, who knows us here? Not a soul.
That is true.
Put on your bonnet. Let us start at once!
But I do not wear the bonnet. I am not like madame.
To be sure. Your hat.
And as she flew to obey him, Mr. Eustace Greyne found himself
impiously thanking the powers that be for this strange chance of going
on the spree with a toque. When Mademoiselle Verbena returned he was
looking almost rakish. He eyed her neat black hat and close-fitting
black jacket with a glance not wholly unlike that of a militiaman. In
her hand she held a vivid scarlet parasol.
Monsieur, she said, it is terrible, this ombrelle, when
mamma lies at death's door. But what can I do? I have no other, and
cannot afford to buy one. The sun is fierce. I dare not expose myself
to it without a shelter.
She seemed really distressed as she opened the parasol, and spread
the vivid silk above her pretty black-clothed figure; but Mr. Greyne
thought the effect was brilliant, and ventured to say so. As they
passed the bureau by the fountain on their way out the stout
Frenchwoman cast an approving glance at Mademoiselle Verbena.
The little rat will not see much more of the little negro now, she
murmured to herself. After all the English have their uses.
In Belgrave Square Mrs. Eustace Greyne was beginning to get slightly
uneasy. Several things combined to make her so. In the first place,
Mademoiselle Verbena had never returned from her mother's Parisian
bedside, and had not even written a line to say how the dear parent
was, and when the daughter's nursing occupation was likely to be over.
In the second place, Adolphus, in consequence of the Levantine's
absence, had totally lost his grasp, always uncertain, upon the
irregular verbs. In the third place, Darrell, the valet, had returned
to London the day after his departure from it, minus not only his
master's dressing-case, but minus everything he possessed. His story
was that, while waiting at the station in Paris for his master's
appearance, he had entered into conversation with an agreeable
stranger, and been beguiled into the acceptance of an absinthe at a
café just outside. After swallowing the absinthe he remembered nothing
more till he came to himself in a deserted waiting-room at the Gare du
Nord, back to which he had been mysteriously conveyed. In his pocket
was no money, no watch, only the return half of a second-class ticket
from London to Paris. He, therefore, wandered about the streets till
morning broke, and then came back to London a crestfallen and miserable
man, bemoaning his untoward fate, and cursing them blasted Frenchies
from the bottom of his British heart.
Mrs. Greyne's anxiety on her husband's behalf, now that he was
thrown absolutely unattended upon the inhospitable shores of Africa,
was not lessened by a fourth circumstance, which, indeed, worried her
far more than all the others put together. This was Mr. Greyne's
prolonged absence from her side. Precisely one calendar month had now
elapsed since he had buried his face in her prune bonnet strings at
Victoria Station, and there seemed no prospect of his return. He wrote
to her, indeed, frequently, and his letters were full of wistful regret
and longing to be once more safe in the old homestead in Belgrave
Square, drinking barley water, and pasting Romeike &Curtice notices
into the new album which lay, gaping for him, upon the table of his
sanctum. But he did not come; nay, more, he wrote plainly that there
was no prospect of his coming for the present. It seemed that the
wickedness of Africa was very difficult to come at. It did not lie upon
the surface, but was hidden far down in depths to which the ordinary
tourist found it almost impossible to penetrate. In his numerous
letters Mr. Greyne described his heroic and unremitting exertions to
fill the Merrin's note-books with matter that would be suitable for the
purging of humanity. He set out in full his interview with Alphonso at
the office of Rook, and his definite rejection by that cosmopolitan
official. According to the letters, after this event he had spent no
less than a fortnight searching in vain for any sign of wickedness in
the Algerian capital. He had frequented the cafés, the public bars, the
theatres, the churches. He had been to the Velodrome. He had sat by the
hour in the Jardin d'Essai. At night he had strolled in the fairs and
hung about the circus. Yet nowhere had he been able to perceive
anything but the most innocent pleasure, the simple merriment of a gay
and guileless population to whom the idea of crime seemed as foreign as
the idea of singing the English national anthem.
During the third week it was true that mattersalways according to
Mr. Greyne's letters homeslightly improved. While walking near the
quay, in active search for nautical outrage, he saw an Arab dock
labourer, who had been over-smoking kief, run amuck, and knock down a
couple of respectable snake-charmers who were on the point of
embarkation for Tunis with their reptiles. This incident had filed up a
half-score of pages in exercise-book number one, and had flooded Mr.
Greyne with hope and aspiration. But it was followed by a stagnant lull
which had lasted for days and had only been disturbed by the trifling
incident of a gentleman in the Jewish quarter of the town setting fire
to a neighbour's bazaar, in the very natural endeavour to find a French
half-penny which he had chanced to drop among a bale of carpets while
looking in to drive a soft bargain. As Mrs. Greyne wired to Algiers,
such incidents were of no value to Catherine.
A very active interchange of views had gone on between the husband
and wife as time went by, and the book was at a standstill. At first
Mrs. Greyne contented herself with daily letters, but latterly she had
resorted to wires, explanatory, condemnatory, hortatory, and even
comminatory. She began bitterly to regret her husband's well-proven
innocence, and wished she had despatched an uncle of hers by marriage,
an ex-captain in the Royal Navy, who, she began to feel certain, would
have been able to find far more frailty in Algiers than poor Eustace,
in his simplicity, would ever come at. She even began to wish that she
had crossed the sea in person, and herself boldly set about the
ingathering of the material for which she was so impatiently waiting.
Her uneasiness was brought to a head by a letter from a house agent,
stating that the corner mansion in Park Lane next to the Duke of
Ebury's was being nibbled at by a Venezuelan millionaire. She wired
this terrible fact at once to Africa, adding, at an enormous
expenditure of cash:
This will never do. You are too innocent, and cannot see
what lies before you. Obtain assistance. Go to the British
Mr. Greyne at once cabled back:
Am following your advice. Will wire result. Regret my
innocence, but am distressed that you should so utterly
Upon receiving this telegram at night, before a lonely dinner, Mrs.
Eustace Greyne was deeply moved. She felt she had been hasty. She knew
that to very few women was it given to have a husband so free from all
masculine infirmities as Mr. Greyne. At the same time there was
Catherine, there was the mansion in Park Lane, there was the
Venezuelan millionaire. She began to feel distracted, and, for the
first time in her life, refused to partake of sweetbreads fried in
mushroom ketchup, a dish which she had greatly affected from the time
when she wrote her first short story. While she was in the very act of
waving away this delicacy a footman came in with a foreign telegram.
She opened it quickly, and read as follows:
British consul horrified; was ignominiously expelled from
consulate; great scandal; am much upset, but will never give
in, for your sake. Eustace.
As the dread meaning of these words penetrated at length to Mrs.
Greyne's voluminous brain a deep flush overspread her noble features.
She rose from the table with a determination that struck awe to the
hearts of the powdered underlings, and, drawing herself up to her full
Send Mrs. Forbes at once to my study, if you pleaseat once, do
In a moment Mrs. Forbes, who was the great novelist's maid, appeared
on the threshold of the oracle's lair. She was a sober-looking,
black-silk personage, who always wore a pork-pie cap in the house, and
a Mother Hubbard bonnet out of it. Having been in service with Mrs.
Greyne ever since the latter penned her last minor poetryMrs. Greyne
had been a minor poet for three years soon after she put her hair
upMrs. Forbes had acquired a certain literary expression of
countenance and a manner that was decidedly prosy. She read a good deal
after her supper of an evening, and was wont to be the arbiter when any
literary matter was discussed in the servants' hall.
Madam? she said, respectfully entering the room, and bending the
pork-pie cap forward in an attentive attitude.
Mrs. Greyne was silent for a moment. She appeared to be thinking
deeply. Mrs. Forbes gently closed the door, and sighed. It was nearly
her supper-time, and she felt pensive.
Madam? she said again.
Mrs. Greyne looked up. A strange fire burned in her large eyes.
Mrs. Forbes, she said at length, with weighty deliberation, the
mission of woman in the world is a great one.
Very true, madam. My own words to Butler Phillips no longer ago
than dinner this midday.
It is the protecting of manneither more nor less.
My own statement, madam, to Second Footman Archibald this self-same
day at the tea-board.
Man needs guidance, and looks for it to usor rather to me.
At the last word Mrs. Forbes pinched her lips together, and appeared
older than her years and sourer than her normal temper.
At this moment, Mrs. Forbes, continued Mrs. Greyne, with rising
fervour, he looks for it to me from Africa. From that dark continent
he stretches forth his hands to me in humble supplication.
Mr. Greyne has not been taken with another of his bilious attacks,
I hope, madam? said Mrs. Forbes.
Mrs. Greyne smiled. The ignorance of the humbly born entertained
her. It was so simple, so transparent.
You fail to understand me, she answered. But never mind; others
have done the same.
She thought of her reviewers. Mrs. Forbes smiled. She also could be
Madam? she inquired once more after a pause.
I shall leave for Africa to-morrow morning, said Mrs. Greyne. You
will accompany me.
There was a dead silence.
You will accompany me. Do you understand? Obtain assistance from
the housemaids in the packing. Select my quietest gowns, my least
conspicuous bonnets. I have my reasons for wishing, while journeying to
Africa and remaining there, to pass, if possible, unnoticed.
Again there was a pause. Mrs. Greyne looked up at Mrs. Forbes, and
observed a dogged expression upon her countenance.
What is the matter? she asked the maid.
Do we go by Paris, madam? said Mrs. Forbes.
Then, madam, I'm very sorry, but I couldn't risk it, not if it was
Why not? Why this fear of Lutetia?
Madam, I'm not afraid of any Lutetia as ever wore apron, but to go
to Paris to be drugged with absint, and put away in a third-class
waiting-room like a packageI couldn't madam, not even if I have to
leave your service.
Mrs. Greyne recognised that the episode of the valet had struck home
to the lady's maid.
But you will not leave my side.
They will absint you, madam.
But you will travel first in a sleeping-car.
Mrs. Forbes put up her hand to her pork-pie cap, as if considering.
Very well, madam, to oblige you I will undergo it, she said at
length. But I would not do the like for another living lady.
I will raise your wages. You are a faithful creature.
Does master expect us, madam? asked Mrs. Forbes as she prepared to
A bright and tender look stole into Mrs. Greyne's intellectual face.
No, she replied.
She turned her large and beaming eyes full upon the maid.
Mrs. Forbes, she said, with an amount of emotion that was very
rare in her, I am going to tell you a great truth.
Madam? said Mrs. Forbes respectfully.
The sweetest moments of life, those which lift man nearest heaven,
and make him thankful for the great gift of existence, are sometimes
those which are unforeseen.
She was thinking of Mr. Greyne's ecstasy when, upon the inhospitable
African shore where he was now enduring such tragic misfortunes, he
perceived the majestic form of his loved onehis loved one whom he
believed to be in Belgrave Squarecoming towards him to soothe, to
comfort, to direct. She brushed away a tear.
Go, Mrs. Forbes, she said.
And Mrs. Forbes retired, smiling.
An epic might well be written on the great novelist's journey to
Africa, upon her departure from Charing Cross, shrouded in a black
gauze veil, her silent thought as the good ship Empress rode
cork-like upon the Channel waves, her ascetic luncha captain's
biscuit and a glass of waterat the buffet at Calais, her arrival in
Paris when the shades of night had fallen. An epic might well be
written. Perhaps some day it will be, by herself.
In Paris she suffered a good deal on account of Mrs. Forbes, who, in
her fear of ab-sint, became hysterical, and caused not a little
annoyance by accusing various inoffensive French travellers of
nefarious designs upon her property and person. In the Gulf of Lyons
she suffered even more, and as, unluckily, the wind was contrary and
the sea prodigious during the whole of the passage across the
Mediterranean, both she and Mrs. Forbes arrived at Algiers four hours
late, in a condition which may be more easily imagined than properly
Genius in thrall to the body, and absolutely dependent upon green
chartreuse for its flickering existence, is no subject for even a
sympathetic pen. Sufficient to say that, when the ship came in under
the lights of Algiers, the crowd of shouting Arabs was struck to
silence by the spectacle of Mrs. Greyne and Mrs. Forbes endeavouring to
disembark, in bonnets that were placed seaward upon the head instead of
landward, unbuttoned boots, and gowns soaked with the attentions of the
After being gently and permanently relieved of their light
hand-baggage, the mistress and maid, who seemed greatly overwhelmed by
the sight of Africa, and who movedor rather were carriedas in a
dream, were placed reverently in the nearest omnibus, and conveyed to
the farthest hotel, which was situated upon a lofty hill above the
town. Here a slightly painful scene took place.
Having been assisted by the staff into a Moorish hall, Mrs. Greyne
inquired in a reticent voice for her husband, and was politely informed
that there was no person of the name of Greyne in the hotel. For a
moment she seemed threatened with dissolution, but with a supreme
effort calling upon her mighty brain she surmised that her husband was
possibly passing under a pseudonym in order to throw America off the
scent. She, therefore, demanded to have the guests then present in the
hotel at once paraded before her. As there was some difficulty about
thisthe guests being then at dinnershe whispered for the visitors'
book, thinking that, perchance, Mr. Greyne had inscribed his name
there, and that the staff, being foreign, did not recognise it as
murmured by herself. The book was brought, upon its cover in golden
letters the words: Hôtel Loubet et Majestic. Then explanations of a
somewhat disagreeable nature occurred, and Mrs. Greyne and Mrs. Forbes,
after a heavy payment had been exacted for their conveyance to a place
they had desired not to go to, were carried forth, and consigned to
another vehicle, which at length brought them, on the stroke of nine,
to the Grand Hotel.
Having been placed reverently in the brilliantly-lighted hall, they
were surrounded by the proprietor, the maître d'hôtel and his
assistants, the porters, and the chasseurs, with all of whom Mr. Greyne
was now familiar. Brandy and water having been supplied, together with
smelling-salts and burnt feathers, Mrs. Greyne roused herself from an
acute attack of lethargy, and asked for Mr. Greyne. A joyous smile ran
round the circle.
Monsieur Greyne, said the proprietor, who is living here for the
Mr. Eustace Greyne, murmured the great novelist, grasping her
bonnet with both hands.
The maître d'hôtel drew nearer.
Madame wishes to see Monsieur Greyne? he asked.
I doat once.
A blessed consciousness of Mother Earth was gradually beginning to
steal over her. She even strove feebly to sit up on her chair, a
German-Swiss porter of enormous size assisting her.
But Monsieur Greyne is out.
Yes, madame. Monsieur Greyne is always out at night.
The eyes of the little chasseur who knew no better began to twinkle.
Mrs. Forbes gave a slight cough. Tears filled the novelist's eyes.
God bless my Eustace! she murmured, deeply touched by this
evidence of his devotion to her interests.
Madame says asked the proprietor.
Where does Mr. Greyne go? inquired the novelist.
To the Kasbah, madame.
I knew it! cried Mrs. Greyne, with returning animation. I knew it
would be so!
Madame is acquainted with Monsieur Greyne? said the maître
d'hôtel, while the little crowd gathered more closely about the
I am Mrs. Eustace Greyne, returned the great novelist recklessly.
I am the wife of Mr. Eustace Greyne.
There was a moment of supreme silence. Then a loud, an even piercing
Oh, là, là, broke upon the air, succeeded instantaneously by a
burst of laughter that seemed to thrill with all the wild blessedness
of boyhood. It came, of course, from the little chasseur; it came, and
stayed. Nothing could stop it, and eventually the happy child had to be
carried forth upon the sea-front to enjoy his innocent mirth at leisure
and in solitude beneath the African stars. Mrs. Greyne did not notice
his disappearance. She was intent upon important matters.
At what time does Mr. Greyne usually set forth? she asked of the
proprietor, whose face now bore a strangely twisted appearance, as if
afflicted by a toothache.
Immediately after dinner, madame, if not before. Of late it has
generally been before.
And he stays out late?
Very late, madame.
The twisted appearance began to seem infectious. It was visible upon
the faces of most of those surrounding Mrs. Greyne and Mrs. Forbes.
Indeed, even the latter showed some signs of it, although the large
shadow cast over her features by the hind side of her Mother Hubbard
bonnet to some extent disguised them from the public view.
Till what hour? pursued Mrs. Greyne in a voice of almost yearning
tenderness and pity.
Well, madamethe proprietor displayed some slight confusionI
really can hardly say. The maître d'hôtel can perhaps inform
Mrs. Greyne turned her ox-like eyes upon the enlarged edition of
Napoleon the First.
Monsieur Greyne seldom returns before seven or eight o'clock in the
morning, madame. He then retires to bed, and comes down to breakfast at
about four o'clock in the afternoon.
Mrs. Greyne was touched to the very quick. Her husband was
sacrificing his rest, his healthnay, perhaps even his very lifein
her service. It was well she had come, well that a period was to be put
to these terrible researches. They should be stopped at once, even this
very night. Better a thousand literary failures than that her husband's
existence should be placed in jeopardy. She rose suddenly from her
chair, tottered, gasped, recovered herself, and spoke.
Prepare dinner for me at once, she said, and order a carriage and
a competent guide to be before the door in half-an-hour.
Madame is going out? But madame is ill, tired!
It matters not.
Where does madame wish to go?
I am going to the Kasbah to find my husband.
I will escort madame.
The proprietor, the maître d'hôtel, the waiters, the porters,
the chasseurs, Mrs. Greyne and Mrs. Forbes, all turned about to face
the determined speaker.
And there before them, his dark eyes gleaming, his long moustaches
bristling fiercelyhere stood Abdallah Jack.
Man is a self-deceiver. It must, therefore, ever be a doubtful point
whether Mr. Eustace Greyne, during his residence in Africa, absolutely
lost sight of his sense of duty; whether, beguiled by the lively
attentions of a fiercely foreign town, he deliberately resolved to take
his pleasure regardless of consequences and of the sacred ties of
Belgrave Square. We prefer to think that some vague idea of combining
two dutiesthat which he owed to himself and that which he owed to
Mrs. Greynemoved him in all he did, and that the subterfuge into
which he was undoubtedly led was not wholly selfish, not wholly
criminal. Nevertheless, that he had lied to his beloved wife is
certain. Even while she sat over a cutlet and a glass of claret in the
white-and-gold dining-room of the Grand Hotel, preparatory to her
departure to the Kasbah with Abdallah Jack, the dozen of Merrin's
exercise-books lay upstairs in Mr. Greyne's apartments filled to the
brim with African frailty. Already there was material enough in their
pages to furnish forth a library of Catherines. Yet Mr. Greyne still
lingered far from his home, and wired to that home fabricated accounts
of the singular innocence of Algiers. He even allowed it to be supposed
that his own innocence stood in the way of his fulfilment of Mrs.
Greyne's behestshe who could now have given points in knowledge of
the world to whole regiments of militiamen!
It was not right, and, doubtless, he must stand condemned by every
moralist. But let it not be forgotten that he had fallen under the
influence of a Levantine.
Mademoiselle Verbena's mother, hidden in some unnamed hospital of
Algiers, appeared to be one of those ingenious elderly ladies who can
hover indefinitely upon the brink of death without actually dying.
During the whole time that Mr. Greyne had been in Africa her state had
been desperate, yet she still clung to life. As her daughter said, she
possessed extraordinary vitality, and this vitality seemed to have been
inherited by her child. Despite her grave anxieties Mademoiselle
Verbena succeeded in sustaining a remarkable cheeriness, and even a
fascinating vivacity, when in the company of others. As she said to Mr.
Greyne, she did not think it right to lay her burdens upon the
shoulders of her neighbours. She, therefore, forced herself to appear
contented, even at various moments gay, when she and Mr. Greyne were
lunching, dining, or supping together, were driving upon the front,
sailing upon the azure waters of the bay, riding upon the heights
beyond El-Biar, or, ensconced in a sumptuous private box, listening to
the latest French farce at one or another of the theatres. Only one
day, when they had driven out to the monastery at La Trappe de
Staouëli, did a momentary cloud descend upon her piquant features, and
she explained this by the frank confession that she had always wished
to become a nun, but had been hindered from following her vocation by
the necessity of earning money to support her aged parents. Mr. Greyne
had never seen the Ouled since his first evening in Algiers, but he
still paid her a weekly salary, through Abdallah Jack, who explained to
him that the interesting lady, in a discreet retirement, was
perpetually occupied in arranging the exhibitions of African frailty at
which he so frequently assisted. She was, in fact, earning her liberal
salary. Mademoiselle Verbena and Abdallah Jack had met on several
occasions, and Mr. Greyne had introduced the latter to the former as
his guide, and had generously praised his abilities; but in
Mademoiselle Verbena took very little notice of him, and, as time went
on, Abdallah Jack seemed to conceive a most distressing dislike of her.
On several occasions he advised Mr. Greyne not to frequent her company
so assiduously, and when Mr. Greyne asked him to explain the meaning of
his monitions he took refuge in vague generalities and Eastern imagery.
He had a profound contempt for women as companions, which grieved Mr.
Greyne's Western ideas, and evidently thought that Mademoiselle Verbena
ought to be clapped forthwith into a long veil, and put away in a harem
behind an iron grille. When Mr. Greyne explained the English point of
view Abdallah Jack took refuge in a sulky silence; but during the week
immediately preceding the arrival of Mrs. Greyne his temper had become
actively bad, and Mr. Greyne began seriously to consider whether it
would not be better to pay him a last douceur, and tell him to
go about his business.
Before doing this, however, Mr. Greyne desired to have one more
interview with the mysterious Ouled on the heights, to whom he owed the
knowledge which would henceforth enable him to cut out the militia. He
said so to Abdallah Jack. The latter agreed sulkily to arrange it; and
matters so fell out that on the night of Mrs. Greyne's arrival her
husband was seated in a room in one of the remotest houses of the
Kasbah, watching the Ouled's mysterious evolutions, while Mademoiselle
Verbenaas she herself had informed Mr.4 Greynesat in the hospital
by the bedside of her still dying mother. Abdallah Jack had apparently
been most anxious to assist at Mr. Greyne's interview with the Ouled,
but Mr. Greyne had declined to allow this. The evil temper of the guide
was beginning to get thoroughly upon his employer's nerves, and even
the natural desire to have an interpreter at hand was overborne by the
dislike of Abdallah Jack's morose eyes and sarcastic speeches about
women. Moreover, the Ouled spoke a word or two of uncertain French.
Thus, therefore, things fell out, and such was the precise situation
when Mrs. Greyne flicked a crumb from her chocolate brocade gown, tied
her bonnet strings, and rose from table to set forth to the Kasbah with
It was a radiant night. In the clear sky the stars shone
brilliantly, looking down upon the persistent convulsions of the little
chasseur, who had not yet recovered from his attack of merriment on
learning who Mrs. Greyne was. The sea, quite calm now that the great
novelist was no longer upon it, lapped softly along the curving shores
of the bay. The palm-trees of the town garden where the band plays on
warm evenings waved lazily in the soft and scented breeze. The hooded
figures of the Arabs lounged against the stone wall that girdles the
sea-front. In the brilliantly-illuminated restaurants the rich French
population gathered about the little tables, while the withered beggars
stared in upon the oyster shells, the champagne bottles, and the
feathers in the women's audacious hats.
When Mrs. Greyne emerged upon the pavement before the Grand Hotel,
attended by Mrs. Forbes and the guide, she paused for a moment, and
cast a searching glance upon the fairy scene. In this voluptuous
evening and strange environment life seemed oddly dreamlike. She
scarcely felt like Mrs. Greyne. Possibly Mrs. Forbes also felt unlike
herself, for she suddenly placed one hand upon her left side, and
tottered. Abdallah Jack supported her. She screamed aloud.
Madam! she said. It is the vertigo. I am overtook!
She was really ill; her face, indeed, became the colour of a
Let me go to bed, madam, she implored. It is the vertigo, madam.
I am overtook!
Under ordinary circumstances Mrs. Greyne would have prescribed a
dose of Kasbah air, but to-night she felt strange, and she wanted
strangeness. Mrs. Forbes with the vertigo, in a small carriage, would
be inappropriate. She, therefore, bade her retire, mounted into the
vehicle with Abdallah Jack, and was quickly driven away, her bonnet
strings floating upon the winsome wind.
You know my husband? she asked softly of the guide.
Abdallah Jack replied in French that he rather thought he did.
How is he looking? continued Mrs. Greyne in a slightly yearning
voice. My Eustace! she added to herself, my devoted one!
Monsieur Greyne is pale as washed linen upon the Kasbah wall,
replied Abdallah Jack, lighting a cigarette, and wreathing the great
novelist in its grey-blue smoke. He is thin as the Spahi's lance, he
is nervous as the leaves of the eucalyptus-tree when the winds blow
from the north.
Mrs. Greyne was seriously perturbed.
Would I had come before! she murmured, with serious self-reproach.
Monsieur Greyne is worse than all the English, pursued Abdallah
Jack in a voice that sounded to Mrs. Greyne decidedly sinister. He is
worse than the tourists of Rook, who laugh in the doorways of the
mosques and twine in their hair the dried lizards of the Sahara. Even
the guide of Rook rejected him. I only would undertake him because I am
full of evil.
Mrs. Greyne began to feel distinctly uncomfortable, and to wish she
had not been so ready to pander to Mrs. Forbes' vertigo. She stole a
sidelong glance at her strange companion. The carriage was small. The
end of his bristling black moustache was very near. What he said of Mr.
Greyne did not disturb her, because she knew that her Eustace had
sacrificed his reputation to do her service; but what he said about
himself was not reassuring.
I think you must be doing yourself an injustice, she said in a
rather agitated voice.
I do not believe you are so bad as you imply, she continued.
The carriage turned with a jerk out of the brilliantly-lighted
thoroughfare that runs along the sea into a narrow side street, crowded
with native Jews, and dark with shadows.
Madame does not know me.
The exact truth of this observation struck home, like a dagger, to
the mind of Mrs. Greyne.
I am a wicked person, added Abdallah Jack, with a profound
conviction. That is why Monsieur Greyne chose me as his guide.
The novelist began to quake. Her chocolate brocade fluttered. Was
she herself to learn at first hand, and on her first evening in Africa,
enough about African frailty to last her for the rest of her life? And
how much more of life would remain to her after her stock of knowledge
had been thus increased? The carriage turned into a second side street,
narrower and darker than the last.
Are we going right? she said apprehensively.
No, madame; we are going wrongwe are going to the wicked part of
Butbutyou are sure Mr. Greyne will be there?
Abdallah Jack laughed sardonically.
Monsieur Greyne is never anywhere else. Monsieur Greyne is wicked
as is a mad Touareg of the desert.
I don't think you quite understand my husband, said Mrs. Greyne,
feeling in duty bound to stand up for her poor, maligned Eustace.
Whatever he may have done he has done at my special request.
I say that in all his proceedings while in Algiers Mr. Greyne has
been acting under my directions.
Abdallah Jack fixed his enormous eyes steadily upon her.
You are his wife, and told him to come here, and to do as he has
Ye-yes, faltered Mrs. Greyne, for the first time in her life
feeling as if she were being escorted towards the criminal dock by a
jailer with Puritan tendencies.
Then it is true what they say on the shores of the great canal, he
What do they say? inquired Mrs. Greyne.
That England is a land of female devils, returned the guide as the
carriage plunged into a filthy alley, between two rows of blind houses,
and began to ascend a steep hill.
Mrs. Greyne gasped. She opened her lips to protest vigorously, but
her head swameither from indignation or from fatigueand she could
not utter a word. The horses mounted like cats upward into the dense
blackness, from which dropped down the faint sounds of squealing music
and of hoarse cries and laughter. The wheels bounded over the stones,
sank into the deep ruts, scraped against the sides of the unlighted
houses. And Abdallah Jack sat staring at Mrs. Greyne as an English
clergyman's wife might stare at the appalling rites of some deadly
cannibal encountered in a far-off land, with a stony wonder, a sort of
Suddenly the carriage stopped on a piece of waste land covered with
small pebbles. Abdallah Jack sprang out.
Why do we stop? said Mrs. Greyne, turning as pale as ashes.
The carriage can go no farther. Madame must walk.
Mrs. Greyne began to tremble.
We are to leave the coachman?
I shall escort madame, alone.
The great novelist's tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She
felt like a Merrin's exercise-book, every leaf of which was covered
with African frailty. However, there was no help for it. She had to
descend, and stand among the pebbles.
Where are we going?
Abdallah Jack waved his hand towards a stone rampart dimly seen in
the faint light that emanated from the starry sky.
Down there into the alley of the Dead Dervishes.
Mrs. Greyne could not repress a cry of horror. At that moment she
would have given a thousand pounds to have Mrs. Forbes at her side.
Abdallah Jack grasped her by the hand, and led her ruthlessly
forward. Gazing with terror-stricken eyes over the crumbling rampart of
the Kasbah, she saw the city far below her, the lights of the streets,
the lights of the ships in harbour. She heard the music of a bugle, and
wished she were a Zouave safe in barracks. She wished she were a
German-Swiss porter, a merry chasseuranything but Mrs. Eustace
Greyne. One thing alone supported her in this hour of trial, the
thought of her husband's ecstasy when she appeared upon the dread scene
of his awful labours, to tell him that he was released, that he need
visit them no more.
The alley of the Dead Dervishes is long and winding. To Mrs. Greyne
it seemed endless. As she threaded it with faltering step, gripped by
the feverish hand of Abdallah Jack, who now began to display a strange
and terrible excitement, she became a centre of curiosity. Unwashed
Arabs, rakish Zouaves in blue and red, wandering Jews of various
nationalities, unveiled dancing-girls covered with jewels, stared in
wonder upon the chocolate brocade and the floating bonnet strings,
followed upon her footsteps, pointing with painted fingers, and making
remarks of a personal nature in French, Arabic, and other unknown
tongues. She moved in the midst of a crowd, on and on before lighted
interiors from which wild music flowed.
Shall we never be there? she panted to Abdallah Jack. My limbs
refuse their office. She jogged against a Tunisian Jewess in a pointed
hat, and rebounded upon an enormous Riff in a tattered sheep-skin. I
can go no farther.
We are there! Behold the house of the Ouled!
As he uttered the last word he burst into a bitter laugh, and drew
Mrs. Greyne, now gasping for breath, through an open doorway into a
little hall of imitation marble, with fluted pillars adorned with
oilcloth, and walls hung with imported oleographs. From a chamber on
the right, near a winding staircase covered with blue-and-white tiles,
came the sound of laughter, of song, and of a hideous music conveyed to
the astonied ear by pipes and drums.
They are in there! exclaimed Abdallah Jack, folding his arms, and
looking at Mrs. Greyne. Go to your husband!
Mrs. Greyne put her hands to her magnificent forehead, and tottered
forward. She reached the door, she pushed it, she entered. There upon a
wooden dais, surrounded by gilt mirrors and artificial roses, she
beheld her husband, in a check suit and a white Homburg hat, performing
the wildest evolutions, while opposite him a lady, smothered in
coloured silks and coins, tattooed and painted, dyed and scented,
covered with kohl and crowned with ostrich feathers, screamed a nasal
chant of the East, and bounded like an electrified monkey.
Eustace! cried Mrs. Greyne, leaning for support against an
Her husband turned.
Eustace! she cried again. It is I!
He stood as if turned to stone. Mrs. Greyne hesitated, started,
moved forward to the dais, and stared upon the Ouled, who had also
ceased from dancing, and looked strangely surprised, even confused, by
the great novelist's intrusion.
Miss Verbena! she exclaimed. Miss Verbena in Algiers!
Eugenia! said Mr. Greyne in a husky voice, what is this you say?
This lady is the Ouled.
A sardonic laugh came from the doorway. They turned. There stood
Abdallah Jack. He advanced roughly to the Ouled.
Come, he said angrily. Have we not earned the money of the
stranger? Have we not earned enough? To-morrow you shall marry me as
you have promised, and we will return to our own land, to the canal
where you and I were born. And nevermore shall the Levantine instruct
the babes of the English devils, but dwell veiled and guarded in the
harem of her master.
Mademoiselle Verbena! said Mr. Greyne in a more husky voice.
Butbutyour dying mother?
She sleeps, monsieur, in the white sands of Ismailia, beside the
bitter lake. I trust that madame can now go on with the respectable
And with an ironic reverence to Mrs. Eustace Greyne she placed her
hand in Abdallah Jack's and vanished from the room.
Catherine's Repentance, published in a gigantic volume not many
weeks ago, was preceded by Mr. Eustace Greyne's. When last heard of he
was seated in the magnificent library of the corner house in Park Lane
next to the Duke of Ebury's, busily engaged in pasting the newspaper
notices of Mrs. Greyne's greatest work into a superb new album.
The Abdallah Jacks have returned to the Suez Canal, bearing with
them a snug little fortune to be invested in the purchase of a coal
wharf at Port Said, and a remarkably handsome crocodile dressing-case,
fitted with gold, and monogrammed with the initials E. G.