by Henry James
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There was a longish period -- the dense duration of a London
winter, cheered, if cheered it could be called, with lurid electric,
with fierce 'incandescent' flares and glares -- when they repeatedly
met, at feeding-time, in a small and not quite savoury pothouse a
stone's-throw from the Strand. They talked always of pothouses, of
feeding-time -- by which they meant any hour between one and four of
the afternoon; they talked of most things, even of some of the
greatest, in a manner that gave, or that they desired to show as
giving, in respect to the conditions of their life, the measure of
their detachment, their contempt, their general irony. Their general
irony, which they tried at the same time to keep gay and to make
amusing at least to each other, was their refuge from the want of
savour, the want of napkins, the want, too often, of shillings, and of
many things besides that they would have liked to have. Almost all they
had with any security was their youth, complete, admirable, very nearly
invulnerable, or as yet inattackable; for they didn't count their
talent, which they had originally taken for granted and had since then
lacked freedom of mind, as well indeed as any offensive reason, to
reappraise. They were taken up with other questions and other estimates
-- the remarkable limits, for instance, of their luck, the remarkable
smallness of the talent of their friends. They were above all in that
phase of youth and in that state of aspiration in which 'luck' is the
subject of most frequent reference, as definite as the colour red, and
in which it is the elegant name for money when people are as refined as
they are poor. She was only a suburban young woman in a sailor hat, and
he a young man destitute, in strictness, of occasion for a 'topper';
but they felt that they had in a peculiar way the freedom of the town,
and the town, if it did nothing else, gave a range to the spirit. They
sometimes went, on excursions that they groaned at as professional, far
afield from the Strand, but the curiosity with which they came back was
mostly greater than any other, the Strand being for them, with its
ampler alternative Fleet Street, overwhelmingly the Papers, and the
Papers being, at a rough guess, all the furniture of their
The Daily Press played for them the part played by the embowered
nest on the swaying bough for the parent birds that scour the air. It
was, as they mainly saw it, a receptacle, owing its form to the
instinct more remarkable, as they held the journalistic, than that even
of the most highly organised animal, into which, regularly,
breathlessly, contributions had to be dropped -- odds and ends, all
grist to the mill, all somehow digestible and convertible, all conveyed
with the promptest possible beak and the flutter, often, of dreadfully
fatigued little wings. If there had been no Papers there would have
been no young friends for us of the figure we hint at, no chance mates,
innocent and weary, yet acute even to penetration, who were apt to push
off their plates and rest their elbows on the table in the interval
between the turn-over of the pint-pot and the call for the awful
glibness of their score. Maud Blandy drank beer -- and welcome, as one
may say; and she smoked cigarettes when privacy permitted, though she
drew the line at this in the right place, just as she flattered herself
she knew how to draw it, journalistically, where other delicacies were
concerned. She was fairly a product of the day -- so fairly that she
might have been born afresh each morning, to serve, after the fashion
of certain agitated ephemeral insects, only till the morrow. It was as
if a past had been wasted on her and a future were not to be fitted;
she was really herself, so far at least as her great preoccupation
went, an edition, an 'extra special', coming out at the loud hours and
living its life, amid the roar of vehicles, the hustle of pavements,
the shriek of newsboys, according to the quantity of shock to be
administered, thanks to the varying temper of Fleet Street, to the
nerves of the nation. Maud was a shocker, in short, in petticoats, and
alike for the thoroughfare, the club, the suburban train and the humble
home; though it must honestly be added that petticoats were not of her
essence. This was one of the reasons, in an age of 'emancipations', of
her intense actuality, as well as, positively, of a good fortune to
which, however impersonal she might have appeared, she was not herself
in a position to do full justice; the felicity of her having about her
naturally so much of the young bachelor that she was saved the
disfigurement of any marked straddling or elbowing. It was literally
true of her that she would have pleased less, or at least have offended
more, had she been obliged, or been prompted, to assert -- all too
vainly, as it would have been sure to be -- her superiority to sex.
Nature, constitution, accident, whatever we happen to call it, had
relieved her of this care; the struggle for life, the competition with
men, the taste of the day, the fashion of the hour had made her
superior, or had at any rate made her indifferent, and she had no
difficulty in remaining so. The thing was therefore, with the aid of an
extreme general flatness of person, directness of step and simplicity
of motive, quietly enough done, without a grace, a weak inconsequence,
a stray reminder to interfere with the success; and it is not too much
to say that the success -- by which I mean the plainness of the type --
would probably never have struck you as so great as at the moments of
our young lady's chance comradeship with Howard Bight. For the young
man, though his personal signs had not, like his friend's, especially
the effect of one of the stages of an evolution, might have been noted
as not so fiercely or so freshly a male as to distance Maud in the
She presented him in truth, while they sat together, as
comparatively girlish. She fell naturally into gestures, tones,
expressions, resemblances, that he either suppressed, from sensibility
to her personal predominance, or that were merely latent in him through
much taking for granted. Mild, sensitive, none too solidly nourished,
and condemned, perhaps by a deep delusion as to the final issue of it,
to perpetual coming and going, he was so resigned to many things, and
so disgusted even with many others, that the least of his cares was the
cultivation of a bold front. What mainly concerned him was its being
bold enough to get him his dinner, and it was never more void of
aggression than when he solicited in person those scraps of
information, snatched at those floating particles of news, on which his
dinner depended. Had he had time a little more to try his case, he
would have made out that if he liked Maud Blandy, it was partly by the
impression of what she could do for him: what she could do for herself
had never entered into his head. The positive quantity, moreover, was
vague to his mind; it existed, that is, for the present, but as the
proof of how, in spite of the want of encouragement, a fellow could
keep going. She struck him in fact as the only encouragement he had,
and this altogether by example, since precept, frankly, was deterrent
on her lips, as speech was free, judgement prompt, and accent not
absolutely pure. The point was that, as the easiest thing to be with
her, he was so passive that it almost made him graceful and so
attentive that it almost made him distinguished. She was herself
neither of these things, and they were not of course what a man had
most to be; whereby she contributed to their common view the
impatiences required by a proper reaction, forming thus for him a kind
of protective hedge behind which he could wait. Much waiting, for
either, was, I hasten to add, always in order, inasmuch as their
novitiate seemed to them interminable and the steps of their ladder
fearfully far apart. It rested -- the ladder -- against the great stony
wall of the public attention -- a sustaining mass which apparently wore
somewhere, in the upper air, a big, thankless, expressionless face, a
countenance equipped with eyes, ears, an uplifted nose and a gaping
mouth -- all convenient if they could only be reached. The ladder
groaned meanwhile, swayed and shook with the weight of the
close-pressed climbers, tier upon tier, occupying the upper, the
middle, the nethermost rounds and quite preventing, for young persons
placed as our young friends were placed, any view of the summit. It was
meanwhile moreover only Howard Bight's perverse view -- he was
confessedly perverse -- that Miss Blandy had arrived at a perch
superior to his own.
She had hitherto recognised in herself indeed but a tighter clutch
and a grimmer purpose; she had recognised, she believed, in keen
moments, a vocation; she had recognised that there had been eleven of
them at home, with herself as youngest, and distinctions by that time
so blurred in her that she might as easily have been christened John.
She had recognised truly, most of all, that if they came to talk they
both were nowhere; yet this was compatible with her insisting that
Howard had as yet comparatively had the luck. When he wrote to people
they consented, or at least they answered; almost always, for that
matter, they answered with greed, so that he was not without something
of some sort to hawk about to buyers. Specimens indeed of human greed
-- the greed, the great one, the eagerness to figure, the snap at the
bait of publicity, he had collected in such store as to stock, as to
launch, a museum. In this museum the prize object, the high rare
specimen, had been for some time established; a celebrity of the day
enjoying, uncontested, a glass case all to himself, more conspicuous
than any other, before which the arrested visitor might rebound from
surprised recognition. Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet K.C.B., M.P., stood
forth there as large as life, owing indeed his particular place to the
shade of direct acquaintance with him that Howard Bight could boast,
yet with his eminent presence in such a collection but too generally
and notoriously justified. He was universal and ubiquitous,
commemorated, under some rank rubric, on every page of every public
print every day in every year, and as inveterate a feature of each
issue of any self-respecting sheet as the name, the date, the tariffed
advertisements. He had always done something, or was about to do
something, round which the honours of announcement clustered, and
indeed, as he had inevitably thus become a subject of fallacious
report, one half of his chronicle appeared to consist of official
contradiction of the other half. His activity -- if it had not better
been called his passivity -- was beyond any other that figured in the
public eye, for no other assuredly knew so few or such brief
intermittences. Yet, as there was the inside as well as the outside
view of his current history, the quantity of it was easy to analyse for
the possessor of the proper crucible. Howard Bight, with his arms on
the table, took it apart and put it together again most days in the
year, so that an amused comparison of notes on the subject often added
a mild spice to his colloquies with Maud Blandy. They knew, the young
pair, as they considered, many secrets, but they liked to think that
they knew none quite so scandalous as the way that, to put it roughly,
this distinguished person maintained his distinction.
It was known certainly to all who had to do with the Papers, a
brotherhood, a sisterhood of course interested -- for what was it, in
the last resort, but the interest of their bread and butter? -- in
shrouding the approaches to the oracle, in not telling tales out of
school. They all lived alike on the solemnity, the sanctity of the
oracle, and the comings and goings, the doings and the undoings, the
intentions and retractations of Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet K.C.B.,
M.P., were in their degree a part of that solemnity. The Papers, taken
together the glory of the age, were, though superficially multifold,
fundamentally one, so that any revelation of their being procured or
procurable to float an object not intrinsically buoyant would very
logically convey discredit from the circumference -- where the
revelation would be likely to be made -- to the centre. Of so much as
this our grim neophytes, in common with a thousand others, were
perfectly aware; but something in the nature of their wit, such as it
was, or in the condition of their nerves, such as it easily might
become, sharpened almost to acerbity their relish of so artful an
imitation of the voice of fame. The fame was all voice, as they could
guarantee who had an ear always glued to the speaking-tube; the items
that made the sum were individually of the last vulgarity, but the
accumulation was a triumph -- one of the greatest the age could show --
of industry and vigilance. It was after all not true that a man had
done nothing who for ten years had so fed, so dyked and directed and
distributed the fitful sources of publicity. He had laboured, in his
way, like a navvy with a spade; he might be said to have earned by each
night's work the reward, each morning, of his small spurt of glory.
Even for such a matter as its not being true that Sir A. B. C.
Beadel-Muffet K.C.B., M.P., was to start on his visit to the Sultan of
Samarcand on the 23rd, but being true that he was to start on the 29th,
the personal attention required was no small affair, taking the legend
with the fact, the myth with the meaning, the original artless error
with the subsequent earnest truth -- allowing in fine for the statement
still to come that the visit would have to be relinquished in
consequence of the visitor's other pressing engagements, and bearing in
mind the countless channels to be successively watered. Our young man,
one December afternoon, pushed an evening paper across to his
companion, keeping his thumb on a paragraph at which she glanced
without eagerness. She might, from her manner, have known by instinct
what it would be, and her exclamation had the note of satiety. “Oh,
he's working them now?"
"If he has begun he'll work them hard. By the time that has gone
round the world there'll be something else to say. 'We are authorised
to state that the marriage of Miss Miranda Beadel-Muffet to Captain Guy
Devereux, of the Fiftieth Rifles, will not take place.' Authorised to
state -- rather! when every wire in the machine has been pulled over
and over. They're authorised to state something every day in the year,
and the authorisation is not difficult to get. Only his daughters, now
that they're coming on, poor things -- and I believe there are many --
will have to be chucked into the pot and produced on occasions when
other matter fails. How pleasant for them to find themselves hurtling
through the air, clubbed by the paternal hand, like golf-balls in a
suburb! Not that I suppose they don't like it -- why should one suppose
anything of the sort?" Howard Bight's impression of the general
appetite appeared to-day to be especially vivid, and he and his
companion were alike prompted to one of those slightly violent returns
on themselves and the work they were doing which none but the
vulgar-minded altogether avoid. "People -- as I see them -- would
almost rather be jabbered about unpleasantly than not be jabbered about
at all: whenever you try them -- whenever, at least, I do -- I'm
confirmed in that conviction. It isn't only that if one holds out the
mere tip of the perch they jump at it like starving fish; it is that
they leap straight out of the water themselves, leap in their thousands
and come flopping, open-mouthed and goggle-eyed, to one's very door.
What is the sense of the French expression about a person's making des
yeux de carpe? It suggests the eyes that a young newspaper-man seems to
see all round him, and I declare I sometimes feel that, if one has the
courage not to blink at the show, the gilt is a good deal rubbed off
the gingerbread of one's early illusions. They all do it, as the song
is at the music-halls, and it's some of one's surprises that tell one
most. You've thought there were some high souls that didn't do it --
that wouldn't, I mean, to work the oracle, lift a little finger of
their own. But, Lord bless you, give them a chance -- you'll find some
of the greatest the greediest. I give you my word for it, I haven't a
scrap of faith left in a single human creature. Except, of course," the
young man added, "the grand creature that you are, and the cold, calm,
comprehensive one whom you thus admit to your familiarity. We face the
music. We see, we understand; we know we've got to live, and how we do
it. But at least, like this, alone together, we take our intellectual
revenge, we escape the indignity of being fools dealing with fools. I
don't way we shouldn't enjoy it more if we were. But it can't be
helped; we haven't the gift -- the gift, I mean, of not seeing. We do
the worst we can for the money."
"You certainly do the worst you can," Maud Blandy soon replied,
"when you sit there, with your wanton wiles, and take the spirit out of
me. I require a working faith, you know. If one isn't a fool, in our
world, where is one?"
"Oh, I say!" her companion groaned without alarm. "Don't you fail
me, mind you."
They looked at each other across their clean platters, and, little
as the light of romance seemed superficially to shine in them or about
them, the sense was visibly enough in each of being involved in the
other. He would have been sharply alone, the softly sardonic young man,
if the somewhat dry young woman hadn't affected him, in a way he was
even too nervous to put to the test, as saving herself up for him; and
the consciousness of absent resources that was on her own side quite
compatible with this economy grew a shade or two less dismal with the
imagination of his somehow being at costs for her. It wasn't an expense
of shillings -- there was not much question of that; what it came to
was perhaps nothing more than that, being as he declared himself, 'in
the know', he kept pulling her in too, as if there had been room for
them both. He told her everything, all his secrets. He talked and
talked, often making her think of herself as a lean, stiff person,
destitute of skill or art, but with ear enough to be performed to,
sometimes strangely touched, at moments completely ravished, by a fine
violinist. He was her fiddler and genius; she was sure neither of her
taste nor of his tunes, but if she could do nothing else for him she
could hold the case while he handled the instrument. It had never
passed between them that they could draw nearer, for they seemed near,
near verily for pleasure, when each, in a decent young life, was so
much nearer to the other than to anything else. There was no pleasure
known to either that wasn't further off. What held them together was in
short that they were in the same boat, a cockle-shell in a great rough
sea, and that the movements required for keeping it afloat not only
were what the situation safely permitted, but also made for reciprocity
and intimacy. These talks over greasy white slabs, repeatedly mopped
with moist grey cloths by young women in black uniforms, with
inexorable braided 'buns' in the nape of weak necks, these sessions,
sometimes prolonged, in halls of oilcloth, among penal-looking tariffs
and pyramids of scones, enabled them to rest on their oars; the more
that they were on terms with the whole families, chartered companies,
of food-stations, each a race of innumerable and indistinguishable
members, and had mastered those hours of comparative elegance, the
earlier and the later, when the little weary ministrants were limply
sitting down and the occupants of the red benches bleakly interspaced.
So it was, that, at times, they renewed their understanding, and by
signs, mannerless and meagre, that would have escaped the notice of
witnesses. Maud Blandy had no need to kiss her hand across to him to
show she felt what he meant; she had moreover never in her life kissed
her hand to anyone, and her companion couldn't have imagined it of her.
His romance was so grey that it wasn't romance at all; it was a reality
arrived at without stages, shades, forms. If he had been ill or
stricken she would have taken him -- other resources failing -- into
her lap; but would that, which would scarce even have been motherly,
have been romantic? She nevertheless at this moment put in her plea for
the general element. "I can't help it, about Beadel-Muffet; it's too
magnificent -- it appeals to me. And then I've a particular feeling
about him -- I'm waiting to see what will happen. It is genius, you
know, to get yourself so celebrated for nothing -- to carry out your
idea in the face of everything. I mean your idea of being celebrated.
It isn't as if he had done even one little thing. What has he done when
you come to look?"
"Why, my dear chap, he has done everything. He has missed nothing.
He has been in everything, of everything, at everything, over
everything, under everything, that has taken place for the last twenty
years. He's always present, and, though he never makes a speech, he
never fails to get alluded to in the speeches of others. That's doing
it cheaper than anyone else does it, but it's thoroughly doing it --
which is what we're talking about. And so far," the young man
contended, "from its being 'in the face' of anything, it's positively
with the help of everything, since the Papers are everything and more.
They're made for such people, though no doubt he's the person who has
known best how to use them. I've gone through one of the biggest
sometimes, from beginning to end -- it's quite a thrilling little game
-- to catch him once out. It has happened to me to think I was near it
when, on the last column of the last page -- I count 'advertisements',
heaven help us, out! -- I've found him as large as life and as true as
the needle to the pole. But at last, in a way, it goes, it can't help
going, of itself. He comes in, he breaks out, of himself; the letters,
under the compositor's hand, form themselves, from the force of habit,
into his name -- any connection for it, any context, being as good as
any other, and the wind, which he has originally 'raised', but which
continues to blow, setting perpetually in his favour. The thing would
really be now, don't you see, for him to keep himself out. That would
be, on my honour, it strikes me -- his getting himself out -- the
biggest fact in his record."
The girl's attention, as her friend developed the picture, had
become more present. "He can't get himself out. There he is." She had a
pause; she had been thinking. "That's just my idea."
"Your idea? Well, an idea's always a blessing. What do you want for
She continued to turn it over as if weighing its value. "Something
perhaps could be done with it -- only it would take imagination."
He wondered, and she seemed to wonder that he didn't see. "Is it a
situation for a 'ply'!"
"No, it's too good for a ply -- yet it isn't quite good enough for
a short story."
"It would do then for a novel?"
"Well, I seem to see it," Maud said -- "and with a lot in it to be
got out. But I seem to see it as a question not of what you or I might
be able to do with it, but of what the poor man himself may. That's
what I meant just now," she explained, "by my having a creepy sense of
what may happen for him. It has already more than once occurred to me.
Then," she wound up, "we shall have real life, the case itself."
"Do you know you've got imagination?" Her friend, rather
interested, appeared by this time to have seized her thought.
"I see him having for some reason, very imperative, to seek
retirement, lie low, to hide, in fact, like a man 'wanted', but pursued
all the while by the lurid glare that he has himself so started and
kept up, and at last literally devoured ('like Frankenstein', of
course!) by the monster he has created."
"I say, you have got it!" -- and the young man flushed, visibly,
artistically, with the recognition of elements which his eyes had for a
minute earnestly fixed. "But it will take a lot of doing."
"Oh," said Maud, "we shan't have to do it. He'll do it himself."
"I wonder." Howard Bight really wondered. "The fun would be for him
to do it for us. I mean for him to want us to help him somehow to get
"Oh, 'us'!" the girl mournfully sighed.
"Why not, when he comes to us to get in?"
Maud Blandy stared. "Do you mean to you personally? You surely know
by this time that no one ever 'comes' to me."
"Why, I went to him in the first instance; I made up to him
straight, I did him 'at home', somewhere, as I've surely mentioned to
you before, three years ago. He liked, I believe -- for he's really a
delightful old ass -- the way I did it; he knows my name and has my
address, and has written me three or four times since, with his own
hand, a request to be so good as to make use of my (he hopes) still
close connection with the daily Press to rectify the rumour that he has
reconsidered his opinion on the subject of the blankets supplied to the
Upper Tooting Workhouse Infirmary. He has reconsidered his opinion on
no subject whatever -- which he mentions, in the interest of historic
truth, without further intrusion on my valuable time. And he regards
that sort of thing as a commodity that I can dispose of -- thanks to my
'close connection' -- for several shillings."
"And can you?"
"Not for several pence. They're all tariffed, but he's tariffed low
-- having a value, apparently, that money doesn't represent. He's
always welcome, but he isn't always paid for. The beauty, however, is
in his marvellous memory, his keeping us all so apart and not muddling
the fellow to whom he has written that he hasn't done this, that or the
other with the fellow to whom he has written that he has. He'll write
to me again some day about something else -- about his alleged position
on the date of the next school-treat of the Chelsea Cabmen's Orphanage.
I shall seek a market for the precious item, and that will keep us in
touch; so that if the complication you have the sense of in your bones
does come into play -- the thought's too beautiful! -- he may once more
remember me. Fancy his coming to one with a 'What can you do for me
now?'". Bight lost himself in the happy vision; it gratified so his
cherished consciousness of the 'irony of fate' -- a consciousness so
cherished that he never could write ten lines without use of the words.
Maud showed however at this point a reserve which appeared to have
grown as the possibility opened out. "I believe in it -- it must come.
It can't not. It's the only end. He doesn't know; nobody knows -- the
simple-minded all: only you and I know. But it won't be nice,
"It won't be funny?"
"It will be pitiful. There'll have to be a reason."
"For his turning round?" the young man nursed the vision. "More or
less -- I see what you mean. But except for a 'ply' will that so much
matter? His reason will concern himself. What will concern us will be
his funk and his helplessness, his having to stand there in the blaze,
with nothing and nobody to put it out. We shall see him, shrieking for
a bucket of water, wither up in the central flame."
Her look had turned sombre. "It makes one cruel. That is it makes
you. I mean our trade does."
"I dare say -- I see too much. But I'm willing to chuck it."
"Well," she presently replied, "I'm not willing to, but it seems
pretty well on the cards that I shall have to. I don't see too much. I
don't see enough. So, for all the good it does me--!"
She had pushed back her chair and was looking round for her
umbrella. "Why, what's the matter?" Howard Bight too blankly inquired.
She met his eyes while she pulled on her rusty old gloves. "Well,
I'll tell you another time."
He kept his place, still lounging, contented where she had again
become restless. "Don't you call it seeing enough to see -- to have had
so luridly revealed to you -- the doom of Beadel-Muffet?"
"Oh, he's not my business, he's yours. You're his man, or one of
his men -- he'll come back to you. Besides, he's a special case, and,
as I say, I'm too sorry for him."
"That's a proof then of what you do see."
Her silence for a moment admitted it, though evidently she was
making, for herself, a distinction, which she didn't express. "I don't
then see what I want, what I require. And he," she added, "if he does
have some reason, will have to have an awfully strong one. To be strong
enough it will have to be awful."
"You mean he'll have done something?"
"Yes, that may remain undiscovered if he can only drop out of the
papers, sit for a while in darkness. You'll know what it is; you'll not
be able to help yourself. But I shan't want to, for anything."
She had got up as she said it, and he sat looking at her, thanks to
her odd emphasis, with an interest that, as he also rose, passed itself
off as a joke. "Ah, then, you sweet sensitive thing, I promise to keep
it from you."
They met again a few days later, and it seemed the law of their
meetings that these should take place mainly within moderate eastward
range of Charing Cross. An afternoon performance of a play translated
from the Finnish, already several times given, on a series of
Saturdays, had held Maud for an hour in a small, hot, dusty theatre
where the air hung as heavy about the great 'trimmed' and plumed hats
of the ladies as over the flora and fauna of a tropical forest; at the
end of which she edged out of her stall in the last row, to join a
small band of unattached critics and correspondents, spectators with
ulterior views and pencilled shirtcuffs, who, coming together in the
lobby for an exchange of ideas, were ranging from 'Awful rot' to
'Rather jolly'. Ideas, of this calibre, rumbled and flashed, so that,
lost in the discussion, our young woman failed at first to make out
that a gentleman on the other side of the group, but standing a little
off, had his eyes on her for some extravagant, though apparently quite
respectable, purpose. He had been waiting for her to recognise him, and
as soon as he had caught her attention he came round to her with an
eager bow. She had by this time entirely placed him -- placed him as
the smoothest and most shining subject with which, in the exercise of
her profession, she had yet experimented; but her recognition was
accompanied with a pang that his amiable address made but the sharper.
She had her reason for awkwardness in the presence of the rosy, glossy,
kindly, but discernibly troubled personage whom she had waited on 'at
home' at her own suggestion -- promptly welcomed -- and the sympathetic
element in whose 'personality', the Chippendale, the photographic, the
autographic elements in whose flat in the Earl's Court Road, she had
commemorated in the liveliest prose of which she was capable. She had
described with humour his favourite make of Kodak, she had touched upon
his favourite manner of spending his Sundays and had extorted from him
the shy confession that he preferred after all the novel of adventure
to the novel of subtlety. Her embarrassment was therefore now the
greater as, touching to behold, he so clearly had approached her with
no intention of asperity, not even at first referring at all to the
matter that couldn't have been gracefully explained.
She had seen him originally -- had had the instinct of it in making
up to him -- as one of the happy of the earth, and the impression of
him 'at home', on his proving so good-natured about the interview, had
begotten in her a sharper envy, a hungrier sense of the invidious
distinctions of fate, than any her literary conscience, which she
deemed rigid, had yet had to reckon with. He must have been rich, rich
by such estimates as hers; he at any rate had everything, while she had
nothing -- nothing but the vulgar need of offering him to brag, on his
behalf, for money, if she could get it, about his luck. She hadn't in
fact got money, hadn't so much as managed to work in her stuff
anywhere; a practical comment sharp enough on her having represented to
him -- with wasted pathos, she was indeed soon to perceive -- how
'important' it was to her that people should let her get at them. This
dim celebrity had not needed that argument; he had not only, with his
alacrity, allowed her, as she had said, to try her hand, but had tried
with her, quite feverishly, and all to the upshot of showing her that
there were even greater outsiders than herself. He could have put down
money, could have published, as the phrase was -- a bare two columns --
at his own expense; but it was just a part of his rather irritating
luxury that he had a scruple about that, wanted intensely to taste the
sweet, but didn't want to owe it to any wire-pulling. He wanted the
golden apple straight from the tree, where it yet seemed so unable to
grow for him by any exuberance of its own. He had breathed to her his
real secret -- that to be inspired, to work with effect, he had to feel
he was appreciated, to have it all somehow come back to him. The
artist, necessarily sensitive, lived on encouragement, on knowing and
being reminded that people cared for him a little, cared even just
enough to flatter him a wee bit. They had talked that over, and he had
really, as he called it, quite put himself in her power. He had
whispered in her ear that it might be very weak and silly, but that
positively to be himself, to do anything, certainly to do his best, he
required the breath of sympathy. He did love notice, let alone praise
-- there it was. To be systematically ignored -- well, blighted him at
the root. He was afraid she would think he had said too much, but she
left him with his leave, none the less, to repeat a part of it. They
had agreed that she was to bring in prettily, somehow, that he did love
praise; for just the right way he was sure he could trust to her taste.
She had promised to send him the interview in proof, but she had
been able, after all, to send it but in type-copy. If she, after all,
had had a flat adorned -- as to the drawing-room alone -- with
eighty-three photographs, and all in plush frames; if she had lived in
the Earl's Court Road, had been rosy and glossy and well filled out;
and if she had looked withal, as she always made a point of calling it
when she wished to refer without vulgarity to the right place in the
social scale. 'unmistakeably gentle' -- if she had achieved these
things she would have snapped her fingers at all other sweets, have sat
as tight as possible and let the world wag, have spent her Sundays in
silently thanking her stars, and not have cared to know one Kodak, or
even one novelist's 'methods', from another. Except for his unholy itch
he was in short so just the person she would have liked to be that the
last consecration was given for her to his character by his speaking
quite as if he had accosted her only to secure her view of the strange
Finnish 'soul'. He had come each time -- there had been four Saturdays;
whereas Maud herself had had to wait till to-day, though her bread
depended on it, for the roundabout charity of her publicly bad seat. It
didn't matter why he had come -- so that he might see it somewhere
printed of him that he was 'a conspicuously faithful attendant' at the
interesting series; it only mattered that he was letting her off so
easily, and yet that there was a restless hunger, odd on the part of
one of the filled-out, in his appealing eye, which she now saw not to
be a bit intelligent, though that didn't matter either. Howard Bight
came into view while she dealt with these impressions, whereupon she
found herself edging a little away from her patron. Her other friend,
who had but just arrived and was apparently waiting to speak to her,
would be a pretext for a break before the poor gentleman should begin
to accuse her of having failed him. She had failed herself so much more
that she would have been ready to reply to him that he was scarce the
one to complain; fortunately, however, the bell sounded the end of the
interval and her tension was relaxed. They all flocked back to their
places, and her camarade -- she knew enough often so to designate him
-- was enabled, thanks to some shifting of other spectators, to occupy
a seat beside her. He had brought with him the breath of business;
hurrying from one appointment to another he might have time but for a
single act. He had seen each of the others by itself, and the way he
now crammed in the third, after having previously snatched the fourth,
brought home again to the girl that he was leading the real life. Her
own was a dull imitation of it. Yet it happened at the same time that
before the curtain rose again he had, with a "Who's your fat friend?"
professed to have caught her in the act of making her own brighter.
" 'Mortimer Marshal'?" he echoed after she had, a trifle dryly,
satisfied him. "Never heard of him."
"Well, I shan't tell him that. But you have," she said; "you've
only forgotten. I told you after I had been to him."
Her friend thought -- it came back to him. "Oh yes, and showed me
what you had made of it. I remember your stuff was charming."
"I see you remember nothing," Maud a little more dryly said. "I
didn't show you what I had made of it. I've never made anything. You've
not seen my stuff, and nobody has. They won't have it."
She spoke with a smothered vibration, but, as they were still
waiting, it had made him look at her; by which she was slightly the
more disconcerted. "Who won't?"
"Everyone, everything won't. Nobody, nothing will. He's hopeless,
or rather I am. I'm no good. And he knows it."
"O -- oh!" the young man kindly but vaguely protested. "Has he been
making that remark to you?"
"No -- that's the worst of it. He's too dreadfully civil. He thinks
I can do something."
"Then why do you say he knows you can't?"
She was impatient; she gave it up. "Well, I don't know what he
knows -- except that he does want to be loved."
"Do you mean he has proposed to you to love him?"
"Loved by the great heart of the public -- speaking through its
natural organ. He wants to be -- well, where Beadel-Muffet is."
"Oh, I hope not!" said Bight with grim amusement.
His friend was struck with his tone. "Do you mean it's coming on
for Beadel-Muffet -- what we talked about?" And then as he looked at
her so queerly that her curiosity took a jump: "It really and truly is?
Has anything happened?"
"The rummest thing in the world -- since I last saw you. We're
wonderful, you know, you and I together -- we see. And what we see
always takes place, usually within the week. It wouldn't be believed.
But it will do for us. At any rate it's high sport."
"Do you mean," she asked, "that his scare has literally begun?"
He meant, clearly, quite as much as he said. "He has written to me
again he wants to see me, and we've an appointment for Monday."
"Then why isn't it the old game?"
"Because it isn't. He wants to gather from me, as I have served him
before, if something can't be done. On a souvent besoin d'un plus petit
que soi. Keep quiet, and we shall see something."
This was very well; only his manner visibly had for her the effect
of a chill in the air. "I hope," she said, "you're going at least to be
decent to him."
"Well, you'll judge. Nothing at all can be done -- it's too
ridiculously late. And it serves him right. I shan't deceive him,
certainly, but I might as well enjoy him."
The fiddles were still going, and Maud had a pause. "Well, you know
you've more of less lived on him. I mean it's the kind of thing you are
"Precisely -- that's just why I loathe it."
Again she hesitated. "You mustn't quarrel, you know, with your
bread and butter."
He looked straight before him, as if she had been consciously, and
the least bit disagreeably, sententious. "What in the world's that but
what I shall just be not doing? If our bread and butter is the
universal push I consult our interest by not letting it trifle with us.
They're not to blow hot and cold -- it won't do. There he is -- let him
get out himself. What I call sport is to see if he can."
"And not -- poor wretch -- to help him?"
But Bight was ominously lucid. "The devil is that he can't be
helped. His one idea of help, from the day he opened his eyes, has been
to be prominently -- damn the word! -- mentioned: it's the only kind of
help that exists in connection with him. What therefore is a fellow to
do when he happens to want it to stop -- wants a special sort of
prominence that will work like a trap in a pantomime and enable him to
vanish when the situation requires it? Is one to mention that he wants
not to be mentioned -- never, never, please, any more? Do you see the
success of that, all over the place, do you see the headlines in the
American papers? No, he must die as he has lived -- the Principal
Public Person of his time."
"Well," she sighed, "it's all horrible." And then without a
transition: "What do you suppose has happened to him?"
"The dreadfulness I wasn't to tell you?"
"I only mean if you suppose him in a really bad hole."
The young man considered. "It can't certainly be that he has had a
change of heart -- never. It may be nothing worse than that the woman
he wants to marry has turned against it."
"But I supposed him -- with his children all so boomed -- to be
"Naturally; else he couldn't have got such a boom from the poor
lady's illness, death and burial. Don't you remember two years ago? --
'We are given to understand that Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet K.C.B.,
M.P., particularly desires that no flowers be sent for the late Hon.
Lady Beadel-Muffet's funeral.' And then, the next day: 'We are
authorised to state that the impression, so generally prevailing, that
Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet has expressed an objection to flowers in
connection with the late Hon. Lady Beadel-Muffet's obsequies, rests on
a misapprehension of Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet's markedly individual
views. The floral tributes already delivered in Queen's Gate Gardens,
and remarkable for number and variety, have been a source of such
gratification to the bereaved gentleman as his situation permits.' With
a wind-up of course for the following week -- the inevitable few heads
of remark, on the part of the bereaved gentleman, on the general
subject of Flowers at Funerals as a Fashion, vouchsafed, under pressure
possibly indiscreet, to a rising young journalist always thirsting for
the authentic word."
"I guess now," said Maud, after an instant, "the rising young
journalist. You egged him on."
"Dear, no. I panted in his rear."
"It makes you," she added, "more than cynical."
"And what do you call 'more than' cynical?"
"It makes you sardonic. Wicked," she continued; "devilish."
"That's it -- that is cynical. Enough's as good as a feast." But he
came back to the ground they had quitted. "What were you going to say
he's prominent for, Mortimer Marshal?"
She wouldn't, however, follow him there yet, her curiosity on the
other issue not being spent. "Do you know then as a fact, that he's
marrying again, the bereaved gentleman?"
Her friend, at this, showed impatience. "My dear fellow, do you see
nothing? We had it all, didn't we, three months ago, and then we didn't
have it, and then we had it again; and goodness knows where we are. But
I throw out the possibility. I forget her bloated name, but she may be
rich, and she may be decent. She may make it a condition that he keeps
out -- out, I mean, of the only things he has really ever been 'in'."
"The dreadful, nasty, vulgar Papers. She may put it to him -- I see
it dimly and queerly, but I see it -- that he must get out first, and
then they'll talk; then she'll say yes, then he'll have the money. I
see it -- and much more sharply -- that he wants the money, needs it, I
mean, badly, desperately, so that this necessity may very well make the
hole in which he finds himself. Therefore he must do something -- what
he's trying to do. It supplies the motive that our picture, the other
day, rather missed."
Maud Blandy took this in, but it seemed to fail to satisfy her. "It
must be something worse. You make it out that, so that your practical
want of mercy, which you'll not be able to conceal from me, shall
affect me as less inhuman."
"I don't make it out anything, and I don't care what it is; the
queerness, the grand 'irony' of the case is itself enough for me. You,
on your side, however, I think, make it out what you call 'something
worse', because of the romantic bias of your mind. You 'see red'. Yet
isn't it, after all, sufficiently lurid that he shall lose his blooming
"You're sure," Maud appealed, "that he'll lose her?"
"Poetic justice screams for it; and my whole interest in the matter
is staked on it."
But the girl continued to brood. "I thought you contend that
nobody's half 'decent'. Where do you find a woman to make such a
"Not easily, I admit." The young man thought. "It will be his luck
to have found her. That's his tragedy, say, that she can financially
save him, but that she happens to be just the one freak, the creature
whose stomach has turned. The spark -- I mean of decency -- has got,
after all, somehow to be kept alive; and it may be lodged in this
particular female form."
"I see. But why should a female form that's so particular confess
to an affinity with a male form that's so fearfully general? As he's
all self-advertisement, why isn't it much more natural to her simply to
"Well, because, oddly enough, it seems that people don't."
"You do," Maud declared. "You'll kill him."
He just turned a flushed cheek to her, and she saw that she had
touched something that lived in him. "We can," he consciously smiled,
"deal death. And the beauty is that it's in a perfectly straight way.
We can lead them on. But have you ever seen Beadel-Muffet for
yourself?" he continued.
"No. How often, please, need I tell you that I've seen nobody and
"Well, if you had you'd understand."
"You mean he's so fetching?"
"Oh, he's great. He's not 'all' self-advertisement -- or at least
he doesn't seem to be: that's his pull. But I see, you female humbug,"
Bight pursued, "how much you'd like him yourself."
"I want, while I'm about it, to pity him in sufficient quantity."
"Precisely. Which means, for a woman, with extravagance and to the
point of immorality."
"I ain't a woman," Maud Blandy sighed. "I wish I were!"
"Well, about the pity," he went on; "you shall be immoral, I
promise you, before you've done. Doesn't Mortimer Marshal," he asked,
"take you for a woman?"
"You'll have to ask him. How," she demanded, "does one know those
things?" And she stuck to her Beadel-Muffet. "If you're to see him on
Monday shan't you then get to the bottom of it?"
"Oh, I don't conceal from you that I promise myself larks, but I
won't tell you, positively I won't," Bight said, "what I see. You're
morbid. If it's only bad enough -- I mean his motive -- you'll want to
"Well, isn't that what you're to profess to him that you want?"
"Ah," the young man returned, "I believe you'd really invent a
"I would if I could." And with that she dropped it. "There's my fat
friend," she presently added, as the entr'acte still hung heavy and
Mortimer Marshal, from a row much in advance of them, screwed himself
round in his tight place apparently to keep her in his eye.
"He does then," said her companion, "take you for a woman. I seem
to guess he's 'littery'."
"That's it; so badly that he wrote that 'littery' ply Corisanda,
you must remember, with Beatrice Beaumont in the principal part, which
was given at three matinées in this very place and which hadn't even
the luck of being slated. Every creature connected with the production,
from the man himself and Beatrice herself down to the mothers and
grandmothers of the sixpenny young women, the young women of the
programmes, was interviewed both before and after, and he promptly
published the piece, pleading guilty to the 'littery' charge -- which
is the great stand he takes and the subject of the discussion."
Bight had wonderingly followed. "Of what discussion?"
"Why, the one he thinks there ought to have been. There hasn't been
any, of course, but he wants it, dreadfully misses it. People won't
keep it up -- whatever they did do, though I don't myself make out that
they did anything. His state of mind required something to start with,
which has got somehow to be provided. There must have been a noise
made, don't you see? to make him prominent; and in order to remain
prominent, he has got to go for his enemies. The hostility to his ply,
and all because it's 'littery', we can do nothing without that; but
it's uphill work to come across it. We sit up nights trying, but we
seem to get no for'arder. The public attention would seem to abhor the
whole matter even as nature abhors a vacuum. We've nothing to go upon,
otherwise we might go far. But there we are."
"I see," Bight commented. "You're nowhere at all."
"No; it isn't even that, for we're just where Corisanda, on the
stage and in the closet, put us at a stroke. Only there we stick fast
-- nothing seems to happen, nothing seems to come or to be capable of
being made to come. We wait."
"Oh, if he waits with you!" Bight amicably jibed.
"He may wait for ever?"
"No, but resignedly. You'll make him forget his wrongs."
"Ah, I'm not of that sort, and I could only do it by making him
come into his rights. And I recognise now that that's impossible. There
are different cases, you see, whole different classes of them, and his
is the opposite to Beadel-Muffet's."
Howard Bight gave a grunt. "Why the opposite if you also pity him?
I'll be hanged," he added, "if you won't save him too."
But she shook her head. She knew. "No; but it's nearly, in its way,
as lurid. Do you know," she asked, "what he has done?"
"Why, the difficulty appears to be that he can't have done
anything. He should strike once more -- hard, and in the same place. He
should bring out another ply."
"Why so? You can't be more than prominent, and he is prominent. You
can't do more than subscribe, in your prominence, to thirty-seven
'press-cutting' agencies in England and America, and, having done so,
you can't do more than sit at home with your ear on the postman's
knock, looking out for results. There comes in the tragedy -- there are
no results. Mortimer Marshal's postman doesn't knock; the press-cutting
agencies can't find anything to cut. With thirty-seven, in the whole
English-speaking world, scouring millions of papers for him in vain,
and with a big slice of his private income all the while going to it,
the 'irony' is too cruel, and the way he looks at one, as in one's
degree responsible, does make one wince. He expected, naturally, most
from the Americans, but it's they who have failed him worst. Their
silence is that of the tomb, and it seems to grow, if the silence of
the tomb can grow. He won't admit that the thirty-seven look far enough
or long enough, and he writes them, I infer, angry letters, wanting to
know what the deuce they suppose he has paid them for. But what are
they either, poor things, to do?"
"Do? They can print his angry letters. That, at least, will break
the silence, and he'll like it better than nothing."
This appeared to strike our young woman. "Upon my word, I really
believe he would." Then she thought better of it. "But they'd be
afraid, for they do guarantee, you know, that there's something for
everyone. They claim it's their strength -- that there's enough to go
round. They won't want to show that they break down."
"Oh, well," said the young man, "if he can't manage to smash a pane
of glass somewhere--!"
"That's what he thought I would do. And it's what I thought I
might," Maud added; "otherwise I wouldn't have approached him. I did it
on spec, but I'm no use. I'm a fatal influence. I'm a non-conductor."
She said it with such plain sincerity that it quickly took her
companion's attention. "I say!" he covertly murmured. "Have you a
"Of course I've a secret sorrow." And she stared at it, stiff and a
little sombre, not wanting it to be too freely handled, while the
curtain at last rose to the lighted stage.
She was later on more open about it, sundry other things, not
wholly alien, having meanwhile happened. One of these had been that her
friend had waited with her to the end of the Finnish performance and
that it had then, in the lobby, as they went out, not been possible for
her not to make him acquainted with Mr Mortimer Marshal. This gentleman
had clearly waylaid her and had also clearly divined that her companion
was of the Papers -- papery all through; which doubtless had something
to do with his having handsomely proposed to them to accompany him
somewhere to tea. They hadn't seen why they shouldn't, it being an
adventure, all in their line like another; and he had carried them, in
a four-wheeler, to a small and refined club in the region which was as
the fringe of the Piccadilly region, where even their own presence
scarce availed to contradict the implication of the exclusive. The
whole occasion, they were further to feel, was essentially a tribute to
their professional connection, especially that side of it which flushed
and quavered, which panted and pined in their host's personal
nervousness. Maud Blandy now saw it vain to contend with his delusion
that she, underfed and unprinted, who had never been so conscious as
during these bribed moments of her non-conducting quality, was papery
to any purpose -- a delusion that exceeded, by her measure, every other
form of pathos. The decoration of the tea-room was a pale, aesthetic
green, the liquid in the delicate cups a copious potent amber; the
bread and butter was thin and golden, the muffins a revelation to her
that she was barbarously hungry. There were ladies at other tables with
other gentlemen -- ladies with long feather boas and hats not of the
sailor pattern, and gentlemen whose straight collars were doubled up
much higher than Howard Bight's and their hair parted far more at the
side. The talk was so low, with pauses somehow so not of embarrassment
that it could only have been earnest, and the air, an air of privilege
and privacy to our young woman's sense, seemed charged with fine things
taken for granted. If it hadn't been for Bight's company she would have
grown almost frightened, so much seemed to be offered her for something
she couldn't do. That word of Bight's about smashing a window-pane had
lingered with her; it had made her afterwards wonder, while they sat in
their stalls, if there weren't some brittle surface in range of her own
elbow. She had to fall back on the consciousness of how her elbow, in
spite of her type, lacked practical point, and that was just why the
terms in which she saw her services now, as she believed, bid for, had
the effect of scaring her. They came out most, for that matter, in Mr
Mortimer Marshal's dumbly-insistent eyes, which seemed to be
perpetually saying: "You know what I mean when I'm too refined -- like
everything here, don't you see? -- to say it out. You know there ought
to be something about me somewhere, and that really, with the
opportunities, the facilities you enjoy, it wouldn't be so much out of
your way just to -- well, reward this little attention."
The fact that he was probably every day, in just the same anxious
flurry and with just the same superlative delicacy, paying little
attentions with an eye to little rewards, this fact by itself but
scantily eased her, convinced as she was that no luck but her own was
as hopeless as his. He squared the clever young wherever he could get
at them, but it was the clever young, taking them generally, who fed
from his hand and then forgot him. She didn't forget him; she pitied
him too much, pitied herself, and was more and more, as she found, now
pitying everyone; only she didn't know how to say to him that she could
do, after all, nothing for him. She oughtn't to have come, in the first
place, and wouldn't if it hadn't been for her companion. Her companion
was increasingly sardonic -- which was the way in which, at best, she
now increasingly saw him; he was shameless in acceptance, since, as she
knew, as she felt at his side, he had come only, at bottom, to mislead
and to mystify. He was, as she wasn't, on the Papers and of them, and
their baffled entertainer knew it without either a hint on the subject
from herself or a need, on the young man's own lips, of the least
vulgar allusion. Nothing was so much as named, the whole connection was
sunk; they talked about clubs, muffins, afternoon performances, the
effect of the Finnish soul upon the appetite, quite as if they had met
in society. Nothing could have been less like society -- she innocently
supposed at least -- than the real spirit of their meeting; yet Bight
did nothing that he might do to keep the affair within bounds. When
looked at by their friend so hard and so hintingly, he only looked
back, just as dumbly, but just as intensely and, as might be said,
portentously; ever so impenetrably, in fine, and ever so wickedly. He
didn't smile -- as if to cheer -- the least little bit; which he might
be abstaining from on purpose to make his promises solemn: so, as he
tried to smile -- she couldn't, it was all too dreadful -- she wouldn't
meet her friend's eyes, but kept looking, heartlessly, at the 'notes'
of the place, the hats of the ladies, the tints of the rugs, the
intenser Chippendale, here and there, of the chairs and tables, of the
very guests, of the very waitresses. It had come to her early: "I've
done him, poor man, at home, and the obvious thing now will be to do
him at his club." But this inspiration plumped against her fate even as
an imprisoned insect against the window-glass. She couldn't do him at
his club without decently asking leave; whereby he would know of her
feeble feeler, feeble because she was so sure of refusals. She would
rather tell him, desperately, what she thought of him than expose him
to see again that she was herself nowhere, herself nothing. Her one
comfort was that, for the half-hour -- it had made the situation quite
possible -- he seemed fairly hypnotised by her colleague; so that when
they took leave he as good as thanked her for what she had this time
done for him. It was one of the signs of his infatuated state that he
clearly viewed Bight as a mass of helpful cleverness, though the cruel
creature, uttering scarce a sound, had only fixed him in a manner that
might have been taken for the fascination of deference. He might
perfectly have been an idiot for all the poor gentleman knew. But the
poor gentleman saw a possible 'leg up' in every bush; and nothing but
impertinence would have convinced him that she hadn't brought him,
compunctiously as to the past, a master of the proper art. Now, more
than ever, how he would listen for the postman!
The whole occasion had broken so, for busy Bight, into matters to
be attended to before Fleet Street warmed to its work, that the pair
were obliged, outside, to part company on the spot, and it was only on
the morrow, a Sunday, that they could taste again of that comparison of
notes which made for each the main savour, albeit slightly acrid, of
their current consciousness. The air was full, as from afar, of the
grand indifference of spring, of which the breath could be felt so much
before the face could be seen, and they had bicycled side by side out
to Richmond Park as with the impulse to meet it on its way. They kept a
Sunday, when possible, sacred to the Suburbs as distinguished from the
Papers -- when possible being largely when Maud could achieve the use
of the somewhat fatigued family machine. Many sisters contended for it,
under whose flushed pressure it might have been seen spinning in many
different directions. Superficially, at Richmond, our young couple
rested -- found a quiet corner to lounge deep in the Park, with their
machines propped by one side of a great tree and their associated backs
sustained by another. But agitation, finer than the finest scorching,
was in the air for them; it was made sharp, rather abruptly, by a vivid
outbreak from Maud. It was very well, she observed, for her friend to
be clever at the expense of the general 'greed'; he saw it in the light
of his own jolly luck, and what she saw, as it happened, was nothing
but the general art of letting you starve, yourself, in your hole. At
the end of five minutes her companion had turned quite pale with having
to face the large extent of her confession. It was a confession for the
reason that in the first place it evidently cost her an effort that
pride had again and again successfully prevented, and because in the
second she had thus the air of having lived overmuch on swagger. She
could scarce have said at this moment what, for a good while, she had
really lived on, and she didn't let him know now to complain either of
her privation or of her disappointments. She did it to show why she
couldn't go with him when he was so awfully sweeping. There were at any
rate apparently, all over, two wholly different sets of people. If
everyone rose to his bait no creature had ever risen to hers; and that
was the grim truth of her position, which proved at the least that
there were two quite different kinds of luck. They told two different
stories of human vanity; they couldn't be reconciled. And the poor girl
put it in a nutshell. "There's but one person I've ever written to who
has so much as noticed my letter."
He wondered, painfully affected -- it rather overwhelmed him; he
took hold of it at the easiest point. "One person--?"
"The misguided man we had tea with. He alone -- he rose."
"Well then, you see that when they do rise they are misguided. In
other words they're donkeys."
"What I see is that I don't strike the right ones and that I
haven't therefore your ferocity; that is my ferocity, if I have any,
rests on a different ground. You'll say that I go for the wrong people;
but I don't, God knows -- witness Mortimer Marshal -- fly too high. I
picked him out, after prayer and fasting, as just the likeliest of the
likely -- not anybody a bit grand and yet not quite a nobody; and by an
extraordinary chance I was justified. Then I pick out others who seem
just as good, I pray and fast, and no sound comes back. But I work
through my ferocity too," she stiffly continued, "though at first it
was great, feeling as I did that when my bread and butter was in it
people had no right not to oblige me. It was their duty -- what they
were prominent for -- to be interviewed, so as to keep me going; and I
did as much for them any day as they would be doing for me."
Bight heard her, but for a moment said nothing. "Did you tell them
that? I mean to say to them it was your little all?"
"Not vulgarly -- I know how. There are ways of saying it's
'important'; and I hint it just enough to see that the importance
fetches them no more than anything else. It isn't important to them.
And I, in their place," Maud went on, "wouldn't answer either; I'll be
hanged if ever I would. That's what it comes to, that there are two
distinct lots, and that my luck, being born so, is always to try the
snubbers. You were born to know by instinct the others. But it makes me
"More tolerant of what?" her friend asked.
"Well, of what you described to me. Of what you rail at."
"Thank you for me!" Bight laughed.
"Why not? Don't you live on it?"
"Not in such luxury -- you surely must see for yourself -- as the
distinction you make seems to imply. It isn't luxury to be nine-tenths
of the time sick of everything. People moreover are worth to me but
tuppence apiece; there are too many, confound them -- so many that I
don't see really how any can be left over for your superior lot. It is
a chance," he pursued -- "I've had refusals too -- though I confess
they've sometimes been of the funniest. Besides, I'm getting out of
it," the young man wound up. "God knows I want to. My advice to you,"
he added in the same breath, "is to sit tight. There are as good fish
in the sea--!"
She waited a moment. "You're sick of everything and you're getting
out of it; it's not good enough for you, in other words, but it's still
good enough for me. Why am I to sit tight when you sit so loose?"
"Because what you want will come -- can't help coming. Then, in
time, you'll also get out of it. But then you'll have had it, as I
have, and the good of it."
"But what, really, if it breeds nothing but disgust," she asked,
"do you call the good of it?"
"Well, two things. First the bread and butter, and then the fun. I
repeat it -- sit tight."
"Where's the fun," she asked again, "of learning to despise
"You'll see when it comes. It will all be upon you, it will change
for you any day. Sit tight, sit tight."
He expressed such confidence that she might for a minute have been
weighing it. "If you get out of it, what will you do?"
"Well, imaginative work. This job has made me at least see. It has
given me the loveliest tips."
She had still another pause. "It has given me -- my experience has
-- a lovely tip too."
"And what's that?"
"I've told you before -- the tip of pity. I'm so much sorrier for
them all -- panting and gasping for it like fish out of water -- than I
am anything else."
He wondered. "But I thought that was what just isn't your
"Oh, I mean then," she said impatiently , "that my tip is from
yours. It's only a different tip. I want to save them."
"Well," the young man replied, and as if the idea had had a meaning
for him, "saving them may perhaps work out as a branch. The question is
can you be paid for it?"
"Beadel-Muffet would pay me," Maud suddenly suggested.
"Why, that's just what I'm expecting," her companion laughed, "that
he will, after to-morrow -- directly or indirectly -- do me."
"Will you take it from him then only to get him in deeper, as
that's what you perfectly know you'll do? You won't save him; you'll
"What then would you, in the case," Bight asked, "do for your
Well, the girl thought. "I'd get him to see me -- I should have
first, I recognize, to catch my hare -- and then I'd work up my stuff.
Which would be boldly, quite by a master-stroke, a statement of his fix
-- of the fix, I mean, of his wanting, his supplicating to be dropped.
I'd give out that it would really oblige. Then I'd send my copy about,
and the rest of the matter would take care of itself. I don't say you
could do it that way -- you'd have a different effect. But I should be
able to trust the thing, being mine, not to be looked at, or, if looked
at, chucked straight into the basket. I should so have, to that extent,
handled the matter, and I should so, by merely touching it, have broken
the spell. That's my one line -- I stop things off by touching them.
There'd never be a word about him more."
Her friend, with his legs out and his hands locked at the back of
his neck, had listened with indulgence. "Then hadn't I better arrange
it for you that Beadel-Muffet shall see you?"
"Oh, not after you've damned him!"
"You want to see him first?"
"It will be the only way -- to be of any use to him. You ought to
wire him in fact not to open his mouth till he has seen me."
"Well, I will," said Bight at last. "But, you know, we shall lose
something very handsome -- his struggle, all in vain, with his fate.
Noble sport, the sight of it all." He turned a little, to rest on his
elbow, and, cycling suburban young man as he was, he might have been,
outstretched under his tree, melancholy Jacques looking off into a
forest glade, even as sailor-hatted Maud, in -- for elegance -- a new
cotton blouse and a long-limbed angular attitude, might have prosefully
suggested the mannish Rosalind. He raised his face in appeal to her.
"Do you really ask me to sacrifice it?"
"Rather than sacrifice him? Of course I do."
He said for a while nothing more; only, propped on his elbow, lost
himself again in the Park. After which he turned back to her. "Will you
have me?" he suddenly asked.
"Be my bonny bride. For better, for worse, I hadn't, upon my
honour," he explained with obvious sincerity, "understood you were so
"Well, it isn't so bad as that," said Maud Blandy.
"So bad as taking up with me?"
"It isn't as bad as having let you know -- when I didn't want you
He sank back again with his head dropped, putting himself more at
his ease. "You're too proud -- that's what's the matter with you. And
I'm too stupid."
"No, you're not," said Maud grimly. "Not stupid."
"Only cruel, cunning, treacherous, cold-blooded, vile?" He drawled
the words out softly, as if they sounded fair.
"And I'm not stupid either," Maud Blandy went on. "We just, poor
creatures -- well, we just know."
"Of course we do. So why do you want us to drug ourselves with rot?
to go on as if we didn't know?"
She made no answer for a moment; then she said: "There's good to be
"Of course, again. There are all sorts of things, and some much
better than others. That's why," the young man added, "I just put that
question to you."
"Oh no, it isn't. You put it to me because you think I feel I'm no
"How so, since I keep assuring you that you've only to wait? How
so, since I keep assuring you that if you do wait it will all come with
a rush? But say I am sorry for you," Bight lucidly pursued; "how does
that prove either that my motive is base or that I do you a wrong?"
The girl waived this question, but she presently tried another. "Is
it your idea that we should live on all the people--?"
"The people we catch? Yes, old man, till we can do better."
"My conviction is," she soon returned, "that if I were to marry you
I should dish you. I should spoil the business. It would fall off; and,
as I can do nothing myself, then where should we be?"
"Well," said Bight, "we mightn't be quite so high up in the scale
of the morbid."
"It's you that are morbid," she answered. "You've, in your way --
like everyone else, for that matter, all over the place -- 'sport' on
"Well," he demanded, "what is sport but success? What is success
"Bring that out somewhere. If it be true," she said, "I'm glad I'm
After which, for a longish space, they sat together in silence, a
silence finally broken by a word from the young man. "But about
Mortimer Marshal -- how do you propose to save him?"
It was a change of subject that might, by its so easy introduction
of matter irrelevant, have seemed intended to dissipate whatever was
left of his proposal of marriage. That proposal, however, had been
somehow both too much in the tone of familiarity to linger and too
little in that of vulgarity to drop. It had had no form, but the mild
air kept perhaps thereby the better the taste of it. This was sensibly
moreover in what the girl found to reply. "I think, you know, that he'd
be no such bad friend. I mean that, with his appetite, there would be
something to be done. He doesn't half hate me."
"Ah, my dear," her friend ejaculated, "don't, for God's sake, be
But she kept it up. "He clings to me. You saw. It's hideous, the
way he's able to 'do' himself."
Bight lay quiet, then spoke as with a recall of the Chippendale
Club. "Yes, I couldn't 'do' you as he could. But if you don't bring it
"Why then does he cling? Oh, because, all the same, I'm potentially
the Papers still. I'm at any rate the nearest he has got to them. And
then I'm other things."
"I'm so awfully attractive," said Maud Blandy. She got up with this
and, shaking out her frock, looked at her resting bicycle, looked at
the distances possibly still to be gained. Her companion paused, but at
last also rose, and by that time she was awaiting him, a little gaunt
and still not quite cool, as an illustration of her last remark. He
stood there watching her, and she followed this remark up. "I do, you
know, really pity him."
It had almost a feminine fineness, and their eyes continued to
meet. "Oh, you'll work it!" And the young man went to his machine.
It was not till five days later that they again came together, and
during these days many things had happened. Maud Blandy had, with high
elation, for her own portion, a sharp sense of this; if it had at the
time done nothing more intimate for her the Sunday of bitterness just
spent with Howard Bight had started, all abruptly, a turn of the tide
of her luck. This turn had not in the least been in the young man's
having spoken to her of marriage -- since she hadn't even, up to the
late hour of their parting, so much as answered him straight: she dated
the sense of difference much rather from the throb of a happy thought
that had come to her while she cycled home to Kilburnia in the
darkness. The throb had made her for the few minutes, tired as she was,
put on speed, and it had been the cause of still further proceedings
for her the first thing the next morning. The active step that was the
essence of these proceedings had almost got itself taken before she
went to bed; which indeed was what had happened to the extent of her
writing, on the spot, a meditated letter. She sat down to it by the
light of the guttering candle that awaited her on the dining-room table
and in the stale air of family food that only had been -- a residuum so
at the mercy of mere ventilation that she didn't so much as peep into a
cupboard; after which she had been on the point of nipping over, as she
would have said, to drop it into that opposite pillar-box whose vivid
maw, opening out through thick London nights, had received so many of
her fruitless little ventures. But she had checked herself and waited,
waited to be sure, with the morning, that her fancy wouldn't fade;
posting her note in the end, however, with a confident jerk, as soon as
she was up. She had, later on, had business, or at least had sought it,
among the haunts that she had taught herself to regard as professional;
but neither on the Monday nor on either of the days that directly
followed had she encountered there the friend whom it would take a
difference in more matters than could as yet be dealt with to enable
her to regard, with proper assurance or with proper modesty, as a
lover. Whatever he was, none the less, it couldn't otherwise have come
to her that it was possible to feel lonely in the Strand. That showed,
after all, how thick they must constantly have been -- which was
perhaps a thing to begin to think of in a new, in a steadier light. But
it showed doubtless still more that her companion was probably up to
something rather awful; it made her wonder, holding her breath a
little, about Beadel-Muffet, made her certain that he and his affairs
would partly account for Bight's whirl of absence.
Ever conscious of empty pockets, she had yet always a penny, or at
least a ha'penny, for a paper, and those she now scanned, she quickly
assured herself, were edited quite as usual. Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet
K.C.B., M.P. had returned on Monday from Undertone, where Lord and Lady
Wispers had, from the previous Friday, entertained a very select party;
Sir A. B. C. Beadel-Muffet K.C.B., M.P. was to attend on Tuesday the
weekly meeting of the society of the Friends of Rest; Sir A. B. C.
Beadel-Muffet K.C.B., M.P. had kindly consented to preside on
Wednesday, at Samaritan House, at the opening of the Sale of Work of
the Middlesex Incurables. These familiar announcements, however, far
from appeasing her curiosity, had an effect upon her nerves; she read
into them mystic meanings that she had never read before. Her freedom
of mind in this direction was indeed at the same time limited, for her
own horizon was already, by the Monday night, bristling with new
possibilities, and the Tuesday itself -- well, what had the Tuesday
itself become, with this eruption, from within, of interest amounting
really to a revelation, what had the Tuesday itself become but the
greatest day yet of her life? Such a description of it would have
appeared to apply predominantly to the morning had she not, under the
influence, precisely, of the morning's thrill, gone, towards evening,
with her design, into the Charing Cross Station. There, at the
bookstall, she bought them all, every rag that was hawked; and there,
as she unfolded one at a venture, in the crowd and under the lamps, she
felt her consciousness further, felt if for the moment quite
impressively, enriched. 'Personal Peeps -- Number Ninety-Three: a Chat
with the New Dramatist' needed neither the 'H.B.' as a terminal
signature nor a text spangled, to the exclusion of almost everything
else, with Mortimer Marshals that looked as tall as if lettered on
posters, to help to account for her young man's use of his time. And
yet, as she soon made out, it had been used with an economy that caused
her both to wonder and to wince; the 'peep' commemorated being none
other than their tea with the artless creature the previous Saturday,
and the meagre incidents and pale impressions of that occasion
furnishing forth the picture.
Bight had solicited no new interview; he hadn't been such a fool --
for she saw, soon enough, with all her intelligence, that this was what
he would have been, and that a repetition of contact would have dished
him. What he had done, she found herself perceiving -- and perceiving
with an emotion that caused her face to glow -- was journalism of the
intensest essence; a column concocted of nothing, an omelette made, as
it were, without even the breakage of the egg or two that might have
been expected to be the price. The poor gentleman's whereabouts at five
o'clock was the only egg broken, and this light and delicate crash was
the sound in the world that would be sweetest to him. What stuff it had
to be, since the writer really knew nothing about him, yet how its
being just such stuff made it perfectly serve its purpose! She might
have marvelled afresh, with more leisure, at such purposes, but she was
lost in the wonder of seeing how, without matter, without thought,
without an excuse, without a fact and yet at the same time sufficiently
without a fiction, he had managed to be as resonant as if he had beaten
a drum on the platform of a booth. And he had not been too personal,
not made anything awkward for her, had given nothing and nobody away,
had tossed the Chippendale Club into the air with such a turn that it
had fluttered down again, like a blown feather, miles from its site.
The thirty-seven agencies would already be posting to their subscriber
thirty-seven copies, and their subscriber, on his side, would be
posting, to his acquaintance, many times thirty-seven, and thus at
least getting something for his money; but this didn't tell her why her
friend had taken the trouble -- if it had been a trouble; why at all
events he had taken the time, pressed as he apparently was for that
commodity. These things she was indeed presently to learn, but they
were meanwhile part of a suspense composed of more elements than any
she had yet tasted. And the suspense was prolonged, though other
affairs too, that were not part of it, almost equally crowded upon her;
the week having almost waned when relief arrived in the form of a
cryptic post-card. The post-card bore the H.B., like the precious
'Peep', which had already had a wondrous sequel, and it appointed, for
the tea-hour, a place of meeting familiar to Maud, with the simple
addition of the significant word 'Larks!'
When the time he had indicated came she waited for him, at their
small table, swabbed like the deck of a steam-packet, nose to nose with
a mustard-pot and a price-list, in the consciousness of perhaps after
all having as much to tell him as to hear from him. It appeared indeed
at first that this might well be the case, for the questions that came
up between them when he had taken his place were overwhelmingly those
he himself insisted on putting. "What has he done, what has he, and
what will he?" -- that inquiry, not loud but deep, had met him as he
sat down; without however producing the least recognition. Then she as
soon felt that his silence and his manner were enough for her, or that,
if they hadn't been, his wonderful look, the straightest she had ever
had from him, would instantly have made them so. He looked at her hard,
hard, as if he had meant "I say, mind your eyes!" and it amounted
really to glimpse, rather fearful, of the subject. It was no joke, the
subject, clearly, and her friend had fairly gained age, and he had
certainly lost weight, in his recent dealings with it. It struck her
even, with everything else, that this was positively the way he would
have liked him to show if their union had taken the form they hadn't
reached the point of discussing; wearily coming back to her from the
thick of things, wanting to put on his slippers and have his tea, all
prepared by her and in their place, and beautifully to be trusted to
regale her in his turn. He was excited, disavowedly, and it took more
disavowal still after she had opened her budget -- which she did, in
truth, by saying to him as her first alternative: "What did you do him
for, poor Mortimer Marshal? It isn't that he's not in the seventh
"He is in the seventh heaven!" Bight quickly broke in. "He doesn't
want my blood?"
"Did you do him," she asked, "that he should want it? It's splendid
how you could -- simply on that show."
"That show? Why," said Howard Bight, "that show was an immensity.
That show was volumes, stacks, abysses."
He said it in such at tone that she was a little at a loss. "Oh,
you don't want abysses."
"Not much, to knock off such twaddle. There isn't a breath in it of
what I saw. What I saw is my own affair. I've got the abysses for
myself. They're in my head -- it's always something. But the monster,"
he demanded, "has written you?"
"How couldn't he -- that night? I got it the next morning, telling
me how much he wanted to thank me and asking me where he might see me.
So I went," said Maud, "to see him."
"At his own place again?"
"At his own place again. What do I yearn for but to be received at
people's own places?"
"Yes, for the stuff. But when you've had -- as you had had from him
-- the stuff?"
"Well, sometimes, you see, I get more. He gives me all I can take."
It was in her head to ask if by chance Bight were jealous, but she gave
it another turn. "We had a big palaver, partly about you. He
"Me -- first of all, I think. All the more that I've had -- fancy!
-- a proof of my stuff, the despised and rejected, as originally
concocted, and that he has now seen it. I tried it on again with
Brains, the night of your thing -- sent if off with your thing enclosed
as a rouser. They took it, by return, like a shot -- you'll see on
Wednesday. And if the dear man lives till then, for impatience, I'm to
lunch with him that day."
"I see," said Bight. "Well, that was what I did it for. It shows
how right I was."
They faced each other, across their thick crockery, with eyes that
said more than their words, and that, above all, said, and asked, other
things. So she went on in a moment: "I don't know what he doesn't
expect. And he thinks I can keep it up."
"Lunch with him every Wednesday?"
"Oh, he'd give me my lunch, and more. It was last Sunday that you
were right -- about my sitting close," she pursued, "I'd have been a
pretty fool to jump. Suddenly, I see, the music begins. I'm awfully
obliged to you."
"You feel," he presently asked, "quite differently -- so
differently that I've missed my chance? I don't care for that serpent,
but there's something else that you don't tell me." The young man,
detached and a little spent, with his shoulder against the wall and a
hand vaguely playing over the knives, forks and spoons, dropped his
succession of sentences without an apparent direction. "Something else
has come up, and you're as pleased as Punch. Or, rather, you're not
quite entirely so, because you can't goad me to fury. You can't worry
me as much as you'd like. Marry me first, old man, and then see if I
mind. Why shouldn't you keep it up? -- I mean lunching with him?" His
questions came as in play that was a little pointless, without his
waiting more than a moment for answers; though it was not indeed that
she might not have answered even in the moment, had not the pointless
play been more what she wanted. "Was it at the place," he went on,
"that he took us to?"
"Dear no -- at his flat, where I've been before. You'll see, in
Brains, on Wednesday. I don't think I've muffed it -- it's really
rather there. But he showed me everything this time -- the bathroom,
the refrigerator, and the machines for stretching his trousers. He has
nine, and in constant use."
"Nine?" said Bight gravely.
"Nine machines. I don't know how many trousers."
"Ah, my dear," he said, "that's a grave omission; the want of the
information will be felt and resented. But does it all, at any rate,"
he asked, "sufficiently fetch you?" After which, as she didn't speak,
he lapsed into helpless sincerity. "Is it really, you think, his dream
to secure you?"
She replied, on this, as if his tone made it too amusing. "Quite.
There's no mistaking it. He sees me as, most days in the year, pulling
the wires and beating the drum somewhere; that is he sees me of course
not exactly as writing about 'our home' -- once I've got one -- myself,
but as procuring others to do it through my being (as you've made him
believe) in with the Organs of Public Opinion. He doesn't see, if I'm
half decent, why there shouldn't be something about him every day in
the week. He's all right, and he's all ready. And who, after all, can
do him so well as the partner of his flat? It's like making, in one of
those big domestic siphons, the luxury of the poor, your own
soda-water. It comes cheaper, and it's always on the sideboard. 'Vichy
chez soi.' The interviewer at home."
Her companion took it in. "Your place is on my sideboard -- you're
really a first-class fizz! He steps then, at any rate, into
"That," Maud assented, "is what he would like to do." And she knew
more than ever there was something to wait for.
"It's a lovely opening," Bight returned. But he still said, for the
moment, nothing else; as if, charged to the brim though he had
originally been, she had rather led his thought away.
"What have you done with poor Beadel?" she consequently asked.
"What is it, in the name of goodness, you're doing to him? It's worse
"Of course it's worse than ever."
"He capers," said Maud, "on every housetop -- he jumps out of every
bush." With which her anxiety really broke out. "Is it you that are
"If you mean am I seeing him, I certainly am. I'm seeing nobody
else. I assure you he's spread thick."
"But you're acting for him?"
Bight waited. "Five hundred people are acting for him; but the
difficulty is that what he calls the 'terrific forces of publicity' --
by which he means ten thousand other persons -- are acting against him.
We've all in fact been turned on -- to turn everything off, and that's
exactly the job that makes the biggest noise. It appears everywhere, in
every kind of connection and every kind of type, that Sir A. B. C.
Beadel-Muffet K.C.B., M.P. desires to cease to appear anywhere; and
then it appears that his desiring to cease to appear is observed to
conduce directly to his more tremendously appearing, or certainly, and
in the most striking manner, to his not in the least disappearing. The
workshop of silence roars like the Zoo at dinner-time. He can't
disappear; he hasn't weight enough to sink; the splash the diver makes,
you know, tells where he is. If you ask me what I'm doing," Bight wound
up, "I'm holding him under water. But we're in the middle of the pond,
the banks are thronged with spectators, and I'm expecting from day to
day to see stands erected and gate-money taken. There," he wearily
smiled, "you have it. Besides," he then added with an odd change of
tone, "I rather think you'll see to-morrow."
He had made her at last horribly nervous. "What shall I see?"
"It will all be out."
"Then why shouldn't you tell me?"
"Well," the young man said, "he has disappeared. There you are. I
mean personally. He's not to be found. But nothing could make more, you
see, for ubiquity. The country will ring with it. He vanished on
Tuesday night -- was then last seen at his club. Since then he has
given no sign. How can a man disappear who does that sort of thing? It
is, as you say, to caper on the housetops. But it will only be known
"Since when, then," Maud asked, "have you known it?"
"Since three o'clock to-day. But I've kept it. I am -- a while
longer -- keeping it."
She wondered; she was full of fears. "What do you expect to get for
"Nothing -- if you spoil my market. I seem to make out that you
She gave this no heed; she had her thought. "Why then did you three
days ago wire me a mystic word?"
"What do you call 'Larks'?"
"Oh, I remember. Well, it was because I saw larks coming; because I
saw, I mean, what has happened. I was sure it would have to happen."
"And what the mischief is it?"
Bight smiled. "Why, what I tell you. That he has gone."
"Simply bolted to parts unknown. 'Where' is what nobody who belongs
to him is able in the least to say, or seems likely to be able."
"Any more than why?"
"Any more than why."
"Only you are able to say that?"
"Well," said Bight, "I can say what has so lately stared me in the
face, what he has been thrusting at me in all its grotesqueness: his
desire for a greater privacy worked through the Papers themselves. He
came to me with it," the young man presently added. "I didn't go to
"And he trusted you," Maud replied.
"Well, you see what I have given him -- the very flower of my
genius. What more do you want? I'm spent, seedy, sore. I'm sick," Bight
declared, "of his beastly funk."
Maud's eyes, in spite of it, were still a little hard. "Is he
"Good God, no! How can he be? Only trying it -- as a cat, for a
jump, tries too smooth a wall. He drops straight back."
"Then isn't his funk real?"
"As real as he himself is."
Maud wondered. "Isn't his flight--?"
"That's what we shall see!"
"Isn't," she continued, "his reason?"
"Ah," he laughed out, "there you are again!"
But she had another thought and was not discouraged. "Mayn't he be
"Mad -- oh yes. But not, I think, honestly. He's not honestly
anything in the world but the Beadel-Muffet of our delight."
"Your delight," Maud observed after a moment, "revolts me." And
then she said: "When did you last see him?"
"On Tuesday at six, love. I was one of the last."
"Decidedly, too, then, I judge, one of the worst." She gave him her
idea. "You hounded him on."
"I reported," said Bight, "success. Told him how it was going."
"Oh, I can see you! So that if he's dead--"
"Well?" asked Bight blandly.
"His blood is on your hands."
He eyed his hands a moment. "They are dirty for him! But now,
darling," he went on, "be so good as to show me yours."
"Tell me first," she objected, "what you believe. Is it suicide?"
"I think that's the thing for us to make it. Till somebody," he
smiled, "makes it something else." And he showed how he warmed to the
view. "There are weeks of it, dearest, yet."
He leaned more toward her, with his elbows on the table, and in
this position, moved by her extreme gravity, he lightly flicked her
chin with his finger. She threw herself, still grave, back from his
touch, but they remained thus a while closely confronted. "Well," she
at last remarked, "I shan't pity you."
"You make it, then, everyone except me?"
"I mean," she continued, "if you do have to loathe yourself."
"Oh, I shan't miss it." And then as if to show how little, "I did
mean it, you know, at Richmond," he declared.
"I won't have you if you've killed him," she presently returned.
"You'll decide in that case for the nine?" And as the allusion,
with its funny emphasis, left her blank: "You want to wear all the
"You deserve," she said, when light came, "that I should take him."
And she kept it up. "It's a lovely flat."
Well, he could do as much. "Nine, I suppose, appeals to you as the
number of the muses?"
This short passage, remarkably, for all its irony, brought them
together again, to the extent at least of leaving Maud's elbows on the
table and of keeping her friend, now a little back in his chair, firm
while he listened to her. So the girl came out. "I've seen Mrs Chorner
three times. I wrote that night, after our talk at Richmond, asking her
to oblige. And I put on cheek as I had never, never put it. I said the
public would be so glad to hear from her 'on the occasion of her
"Do you call that cheek?" Bight looked amused. "She at any rate
"No, she rose crooked; but she rose. What you had told me there in
the Park -- well, immediately happened. She did consent to see me, and
so far you had been right in keeping me up to it. But what do you think
it was for?"
"To show you her flat, her tub, her petticoats?"
"She doesn't live in a flat; she lives in a house of her own, and a
jolly good one, in Green Street, Park Lane; though I did, as happened,
see her tub, which is a dream -- all marble and silver, like a kind of
a swagger sarcophagus, a thing for the Wallace Collection; and though
her petticoats, as she first shows, seem all that, if you wear
petticoats yourself, you can look at. There's no doubt of her money --
given her place and her things, and given her appearance too, poor
dear, which would take some doing."
"She squints?" Bight sympathetically asked.
"She's so ugly that she has to be rich -- she couldn't afford it on
less than five thousand a year. As it is, I could well see, she can
afford anything -- even such a nose. But she's funny and decent; sharp,
but a really good sort. And they're not engaged."
"She told you so? Then there you are!"
"It all depends," Maud went on; "and you don't know where I am at
all. I know what it depends on."
"Then there you are again! It's a mine of gold."
"Possibly, but not in your sense. She wouldn't give me the first
word of an interview -- it wasn't for that she received me. It was for
something much better."
Well, Bight easily guessed. "For my job?"
"To see what can be done. She loathes his publicity."
The young man's face lighted. "She told you so?"
"She received me on purpose to tell me."
"Then why do you question my 'larks'? What do you want more?"
"I want nothing -- with what I have: nothing, I mean, but to help
her. We made friends -- I like her. And she likes me," said Maud
"Like Mortimer Marshal, precisely."
"No, precisely not like Mortimer Marshal. I caught, on the spot,
her idea -- that was what took her. Her idea is that I can help her --
help her to keep them quiet about Beadel: for which purpose I seem to
have struck her as falling from the skies, just at the right moment,
into her lap."
Howard Bight followed, yet lingered by the way. "To keep whom
"Why, the beastly Papers -- what we've been talking about. She
wants him straight out of them -- straight."
"She too?" Bight wondered. "Then she's in terror?"
"No, not in terror -- or it wasn't that when I last saw her. But in
mortal disgust. She feels it has gone too far -- which is what she
wanted me, as an honest, decent, likely young woman, up to my neck in
it, as she supposed, to understand from her. My relation with her is
now that I do understand and that if an improvement takes place I
shan't have been the worse for it. Therefore you see," Maud went on,
"you simply cut my throat when you prevent improvement."
"Well, my dear," her friend returned, "I won't let you bleed to
death." And he showed, with this, as confessedly struck. "She doesn't
then, you think, know--?"
"Why, what, about him, there may be to be known. Doesn't know of
"She didn't -- certainly."
"Nor of anything to make it likely?"
"What you call his queer reason? No -- she named it to me no more
than you have; though she does mention, distinctly, that he himself
hates, or pretends to hate, the exhibition daily made of him."
"She speaks of it," Bight asked, "as pretending--?"
Maud straightened it out. "She feels him -- that she practically
told me -- as rather ridiculous. She honestly has her feeling; and,
upon my word, it's what I like her for. Her stomach has turned and she
has made it her condition. 'Muzzle your Press,' she says; 'then we'll
talk.' She gives him three months -- she'll give him even six. And
this, meanwhile -- when he comes to you -- is how you forward the
"The Press, my child," Bight said, "is the watchdog of
civilisation, and the watchdog happens to be -- it can't be helped --
in a chronic state of rabies. Muzzling is easy talk; one can but keep
the animal on the run. Mrs Chorner, however," he added, "seems a figure
"It's what I told you she would have to be when, some time back,
you threw out, as a pure hypothesis, to supply the man with a motive,
your exact vision of her. Your motive has come true," Maud went on --
"with the difference only, if I understand you, that this doesn't
appear the whole of it. That doesn't matter" -- she frankly paid him a
tribute. "Your forecast was inspiration."
"A stroke of genius" -- he had been the first to feel it. But there
were matters less clear. "When did you see her last?"
"Four days ago. It was the third time."
"And even then she didn't imagine the truth about him?"
"I don't know, you see," said Maud, "what you call the truth."
"Well, that he -- quite by that time -- didn't know where the deuce
to turn. That's truth enough."
Maud made sure. "I don't see how she can have known it and not have
been upset. She wasn't," said the girl, "upset. She isn't upset. But
"Well, poor thing," Bight remarked, "she'll have to be."
"Upset. Yes, and original too, if she doesn't give up the job." It
had held him an instant -- but there were many things. "She sees the
wild ass he is, and yet she's willing--?"
"'Willing' is just what I asked you three months ago," Maud
returned, how she could be."
He had lost it -- he tried to remember. "What then did I say?"
"Well, practically, that women are idiots. Also, I believe, that
he's a dazzling beauty."
"Ah yes, he is, poor wretch, though beauty to-day in distress."
"Then there you are," said Maud. They had got up, as at the end of
their story, but they stood a moment while he waited for change. "If it
comes out," the girl dropped, "that will save him. If he's dishonoured
-- as I see her -- she'll have him, because then he won't be
ridiculous. And I can understand it."
Bight looked at her in such appreciation that he forgot, as he
pocketed it, to glance at his change. "Oh, you creatures--!"
"Idiots, aren't we?"
Bight let the question pass, but still with his eyes on her, "You
ought to want him to be dishonoured."
"I can't want him, then -- if he's to get the good of it -- to be
Still for a little he looked at her. "And if you're to get the
good?" But she had turned away, and he went with her to the door,
before which, when they had passed out, they had in the side-street, a
backwater to the flood of the Strand, a further sharp colloquy. They
were alone, the small street for a moment empty, and they felt at first
that they had adjourned to a greater privacy, of which, for that
matter, he took prompt advantage. "You're to lunch again with the man
of the flat?"
"Wednesday, as I say; 1.45."
"Then oblige me by stopping away."
"You don't like it?" Maud asked.
"Oblige me, oblige me," he repeated.
"And disoblige him?"
"Chuck him. We've started him. It's enough."
Well, the girl but wanted to be fair. "It's you who started him; so
I admit you're quits."
"That then started you -- made Brains repent; so you see what you
both owe me. I let the creature off, but I hold you to your debt.
There's only one way for you to meet it." And then as she but looked
into the roaring Strand: "With worship." It made her, after a minute,
meet his eyes, but something just then occurred that stayed any word on
the lips of either. A sound reached their ears, as yet unheeded, the
sound of newsboys in the great thoroughfare shouting 'extra-specials'
and mingling with the shout a catch that startled them. The expression
in their eyes quickened as they heard, borne on the air, "Mysterious
Disappearance--!" and then lost it in the hubbub. It was easy to
complete the cry, and Bight himself gasped. "Beadel-Muffet? Confound
"Already?" Maud had turned positively pale.
"They've got it first -- be hanged to them!"
Bight gave a laugh -- a tribute to their push -- but her hand was
on his arm for a sign to listen again. It was there, in the raucous
throats; it was there, for a penny, under the lamps and in the thick of
the stream that stared and passed and left it. They caught the whole
thing -- "Prominent Public Man!" And there was something brutal and
sinister in the way it was given to the flaring night, to the other
competing sounds, to the general hardness of hearing and sight which
was yet, on London pavements, compatible with an interest sufficient
for cynicism. He had been, poor Beadel, public and prominent, but he
had never affected Maud Blandy at least as so marked with this
character as while thus loudly committed to extinction. It was horrid
-- it was tragic; yet her lament for him was dry. "If he's gone I'm
"Oh, he's gone -- now," said Bight.
"I mean if he's dead."
"Well, perhaps he isn't. I see," Bight added, "what you do mean. If
he's dead you can't kill him."
"Oh, she wants him alive," said Maud.
"Otherwise she can't chuck him?"
To which the girl, however, anxious and wondering, made no direct
reply. "Good-bye to Mrs Chorner. And I owe it to you."
"Ah, my love!" he vaguely appealed.
"Yes, it's you who have destroyed him, and it makes up for what
you've done for me."
"I've done it, you mean, against you? I didn't know," he said,
"you'd take it so hard."
Again, as he spoke, the cries sounded out: "Mysterious
Disappearance of Prominent Public Man!" It seemed to swell as they
listened; Maud started with impatience. "I hate it too much," she said,
and quitted him to join the crowd.
He was quickly at her side, however, and before she reached the
Strand he had brought her again to a pause. "Do you mean you hate it so
much you won't have me?"
It had pulled her up short, and her answer was proportionately
straight. "I won't have you if he's dead."
"Then will you if he's not?"
At this she looked at him hard. "Do you know, first?"
"No -- blessed if I do."
"On your honour?"
"On my honour."
"Well," she said after a hesitation, "if she doesn't drop me--"
"It's an understood thing?" he pressed.
But again she hung fire. "Well, produce him first."
They stood there striking their bargain, and it was made, by the
long look they exchanged, a question of good faith. "I'll produce him,"
said Howard Bight.
If it had not been a disaster, Beadel-Muffet's plunge into the
obscure, it would have been a huge success; so large a space did the
prominent public man occupy, for the next few days, in the Papers, so
near did he come, nearer certainly than ever before, to supplanting
other topics. The question of his whereabouts, of his antecedents, of
his habits, of his possible motives, of his probable, or improbable,
embarrassments, fairly raged, from day to day and from hour to hour,
making the Strand, for our two young friends, quite fiercely, quite
cruelly vociferous. They met again promptly, in the thick of the
uproar, and no other eyes could have scanned the current rumours and
remarks so eagerly as Maud's unless it had been those of Maud's
companion. The rumours and remarks were mostly very wonderful, and all
of a nature to sharpen the excitement produced in the comrades by their
being already, as they felt, 'in the know'. Even for the girl this
sense existed, so that she could smile at wild surmises; she struck
herself as knowing much more than she did, especially as, with the
alarm once given, she abstained, delicately enough, from worrying, from
catechising Bight. She only looked at him as to say "See, while the
suspense lasts, how generously I spare you," and her attitude was not
affected by the interested promise he had made her. She believed he
knew more than he said, though he had sworn as to what he didn't; she
saw him in short as holding some threads but having lost others, and
his state of mind, so far as she could read it, represented in equal
measure assurances unsupported and anxieties unconfessed. He would have
liked to pass for having, on cynical grounds, and for the mere ironic
beauty of it, believed that the hero of the hour was only, as he had
always been, 'up to' something from which he would emerge more than
ever glorious, or at least conspicuous; but, knowing the gentleman was
more than anything, more than all else, asinine, he was not deprived of
ground in which fear could abundantly grow. If Beadel, in other words,
was ass enough, as was conceivable, to be working the occasion, he was
by the same token ass enough to have lost control of it, to have
committed some folly from which even fools don't rebound. That was the
spark of suspicion lurking in the young man's ease, and that, Maud
knew, explained something else.
The family and friends had but too promptly been approached, been
besieged; yet Bight, in all the promptness, had markedly withdrawn from
the game -- had had, one could easily judge, already too much to do
with it. Who but he, otherwise, would have been so naturally let loose
upon the forsaken home, the bewildered circle, the agitated club, the
friend who had last conversed with the eminent absentee, the waiter, in
exclusive halls, who had served him with five-o'clock tea, the porter,
in august Pall Mall, who had called his last cab, the cabman, supremely
privileged, who had driven him -- where? 'The Last Cab' would, as our
young woman reflected, have been a heading so after her friend's own
heart, and so consonant with his genius, that it took all her
discretion not to ask him how he had resisted it. She didn't ask, she
but herself noted the title for future use -- she would have at least
got that, 'The Last Cab', out of the business; and, as the days went by
and the extra-specials swarmed, the situation between them swelled with
all the unspoken. Matters that were grave depended on it for each --
and nothing so much, for instance, as her seeing Mrs Corner again. To
see that lady as things had been had meant that the poor woman might
have been helped to believe in her. Believing in her she would have
paid her, and Maud, disposed as she was, really had felt capable of
earning the pay. Whatever, as the case stood, was caused to hang in the
air, nothing dangled more free than the profit derivable from muzzling
the Press. With the watchdog to whom Bight had compared it barking for
dear life, the moment was scarcely adapted for calling afresh upon a
person who had offered a reward for silence. The only silence, as we
say, was in the girl's not mentioning to her friend how these
embarrassments affected her. Mrs Corner was a person she liked -- a
connection more to her taste than any she had professionally made, and
the thought of her now on the rack, tormented with suspense, might well
have brought to her lips a "See there what you've done!"
There was, for that matter, in Bight's face -- he couldn't keep it
out -- precisely the look of seeing it; which was one of her reasons
too for not insisting on her wrong. If he couldn't conceal it this was
a part of the rest of the unspoken; he didn't allude to the lady lest
it might be too sharply said to him that it was on her account he
should most blush. Last of all he was hushed by the sense of what he
had himself said when the news first fell on their ears. His promise to
'produce' the fugitive was still in the air, but with every day that
passed the prospect turned less to redemption. Therefore if her own
promise, on a different head, depended on it, he was naturally not in a
hurry to bring the question to a test. So it was accordingly that they
but read the Papers and looked at each other. Maud felt in truth that
these organs had never been so worth it, nor either she or her friend
-- whatever the size of old obligations -- so much beholden to them.
They helped them to wait, and the better, really, the longer the
mystery lasted. It grew of course daily richer, adding to its mass as
it went and multiplying its features, looming especially larger through
the cloud of correspondence, communication, suggestion, supposition,
speculation, with which it was presently suffused. Theories and
explanations sprouted at night and bloomed in the morning, to be
overtopped at noon by a still thicker crop and to achieve by evening
the density of a tropical forest. These, again, were the green glades
in which our young friends wandered.
Under the impression of the first night's shock Maud had written to
Mortimer Marshal to excuse herself from her engagement to luncheon -- a
step of which she had promptly advised Bight as a sign of her playing
fair. He took it, she could see, for what it was worth, but she could
see also how little he now cared. He was thinking of the man with whose
strange agitation he had so cleverly and recklessly played, and, in the
face of the catastrophe of which they were still so likely to have
news, the vanities of smaller fools, the conveniences of first-class
flats, the memory of Chippendale teas, ceased to be actual or ceased at
any rate to be importunate. Her old interview, furbished into
freshness, had appeared, on its Wednesday, in Brains, but she had not
received in person the renewed homage of its author -- she had only,
once more, had the vision of his inordinate purchase and diffusion of
the precious number. It was a vision, however, at which neither Bight
nor she smiled; it was funny on so poor a scale compared with their
other show. But it befell that when this latter had, for ten days, kept
being funny to the tune that so lengthened their faces, the poor
gentleman glorified in Brains succeeded in making it clear that he was
not easily to be dropped. He wanted now, evidently, as the girl said to
herself, to live at concert pitch, and she gathered, from three or four
notes, to which, at short intervals, he treated her, that he was
watching in anxiety for reverberations not as yet perceptible. His
expectation of results from what our young couple had done for him
would, as always, have been a thing for pity with a young couple less
imbued with the comic sense; though indeed it would also have been a
comic thing for a young couple less attentive to a different drama.
Disappointed of the girl's company at home the author of Corisanda had
proposed fresh appointments, which she had desired at the moment, and
indeed more each time, not to take up; to the extent even that,
catching sight of him, unperceived, on one of these occasions, in her
inveterate Strand, she checked on the spot a first impulse to make
herself apparent. He was before her, in the crowd, and going the same
way. He had stopped a little to look at a shop, and it was then that
she swerved in time not to pass close to him. She turned and reversed,
conscious and convinced that he was, as she mentally put it, on the
prowl for her.
She herself, poor creature -- as she also mentally put it -- she
herself was shamelessly on the prowl, but it wasn't, for her
self-respect, to get herself puffed, it wasn't to pick up a personal
advantage. It was to pick up news of Beadel-Muffet, to be near the
extra-specials, and it was, also -- as to this she was never blind --
to cultivate that nearness by chances of Howard Bight. The blessing of
blindness, in truth, at this time, she scantily enjoyed -- being
perfectly aware of the place occupied, in her present attitude to that
young man, by the simple impossibility of not seeing him. She had done
with him, certainly, if he had killed Beadel, and nothing was now
growing so fast as the presumption in favour of some catastrophe, yet
shockingly to be revealed, enacted somewhere in desperate darkness --
though probably 'on lines', as the Papers said, anticipated by none of
the theorists in their own columns, any more than by clever people at
the clubs, where the betting was so heavy. She had done with him,
indubitably, but she had not -- it was equally unmistakable -- done
with letting him see how thoroughly she would have done; or, to feel
about it otherwise, she was laying up treasure in time -- as against
the privations of the future. She was affected moreover -- perhaps but
half-consciously -- by another consideration; her attitude to Mortimer
Marshal had turned a little to fright; she wondered, uneasily, at
impressions she might have given him; and she had it, finally, on her
mind that, whether or no the vain man believed in them, there must be a
limit to the belief she had communicated to her friend. He was her
friend, after all -- whatever should happen; and there were things
that, even in that hampered character, she couldn't allow him to
suppose. It was a queer business now, in fact, for her to ask herself
if she, Maud Blandy, had produced in any sane human sense an effect of
She saw herself in this possibility as in some grotesque reflector,
a full-length looking-glass of the inferior quality that deforms and
discolours. It made her, as a flirt, a figure for frank derision, and
she entertained, honest girl, none of the self-pity that would have
spared her a shade of this sharpened consciousness, have taken an inch
from facial proportion where it would have been missed with advantage,
or added one in such other quarters as would have welcomed the gift.
She might have counted the hairs of her head, for any wish she could
have achieved to remain vague about them, just as she might have
rehearsed, disheartened, postures of grace, for any dream she could
compass of having ever accidentally struck one. Void, in short, of a
personal illusion, exempt with an exemption which left her not less
helplessly aware of where her hats and skirts and shoes failed, than of
where her nose and mouth and complexion, and, above all, where her poor
figure, without a scrap of drawing, did, she blushed to bethink herself
that she might have affected her young man as really bragging of a
conquest. Her other young man's pursuit of her, what was it but rank
greed -- not in the least for her person, but for the connection of
which he had formed so preposterous a view? She was ready now to say to
herself that she had swaggered to Bight for the joke -- odd indeed
though the wish to undeceive him at the moment when he would have been
more welcome than ever to think what he liked. The only thing she
wished him not to think, as she believed, was that she thought Mortimer
Marshal thought her -- or anyone on earth thought her -- intrinsically
charming. She didn't want to put to him "Do you suppose I suppose that
if it came to the point--?" her reasons for such avoidance being easily
conceivable. He was not to suppose that, in any such quarter, she
struck herself as either casting a spell or submitting to one; only,
while their crisis lasted, rectifications were scarce in order. She
couldn't remind him even, without a mistake, that she had but wished to
worry him; because in the first place that suggested again a pretension
in her (so at variance with the image in the mirror) to put forth arts
-- suggested possibly even that she used similar ones when she lunched,
in bristling flats, with the pushing; and because in the second it
would have seemed a sort of challenge to him to renew his appeal.
Then, further and most of all, she had a doubt which by itself
would have made her wary, as it distinctly, in her present suspended
state, made her uncomfortable; she was haunted by the after-sense of
having perhaps been fatuous. A spice of conviction, in respect to what
was open to her, an element of elation, in her talk to Bight about
Marshal, had there not, after all, been? Hadn't she a little liked to
think the wretched man could cling to her? and hadn't she also a
little, for herself, filled out the future, in fancy, with the picture
of the droll relation? She had seen it as droll, evidently; but had she
seen it as impossible, unthinkable? It had become unthinkable now, and
she was not wholly unconscious of how the change had worked. Such
workings were queer -- but there they were; the foolish man had become
odious to her precisely because she was hardening her face for Bight.
The latter was no foolish man, but this it was that made it the more a
pity he should have placed the impassable between them. That was what,
as the days went on, she felt herself take in. It was there, the
impassable -- she couldn't lucidly have said why, couldn't have
explained the thing on the real scale of the wrong her comrade had
done. It was a wrong, it was a wrong -- she couldn't somehow get out of
that; which was a proof, no doubt, that she confusedly tried. The
author of Corisanda was sacrificed in the effort -- for ourselves it
may come to that. Great to poor Maud Blandy as well, for that matter,
great, yet also attaching, were the obscurity and ambiguity in which
some impulses lived and moved -- the rich gloom of their combinations,
contradictions, inconsistencies, surprises. It rested her verily a
little from her straightness -- the line of a character, she felt,
markedly like the line of the Edgware Road and of Maida Vale -- that
she could be queerly inconsistent, and inconsistent in the hustling
Strand, where, if anywhere, you had, under pain of hoofs and wheels, to
decide whether or no you would cross. She had moments, before
shop-windows, into which she looked without seeing, when all the
unuttered came over her. She had once told her friend that she pitied
everyone, and at these moments, in sharp unrest, she pitied Bight for
their tension, in which nothing was relaxed.
It was all too mixed and too strange -- each of them in a different
corner with a different impossibility. There was her own, in far
Kilburnia; and there was her friend's, everywhere -- for where didn't
he go? and there was Mrs Chorner's, on the very edge of Park 'Line', in
spite of all petticoats and marble baths; and there was
Beadel-Muffet's, the wretched man, God only knew where -- which was
what made the whole show supremely incoherent: he ready to give his
head, if, as seemed so unlikely, he still had a head, to steal into
cover and keep under, out of the glare; he having scoured Europe, it
might so well be guessed, for some hole in which the Papers wouldn't
find him out, and then having -- what else was there by this time to
presume? -- died, in the hole, as the only way not to see, to hear, to
know, let alone be known, heard, seen. Finally, while he lay there
relieved by the only relief, here was poor Mortimer Marshal,
undeterred, undismayed, unperceiving, so hungry to be paragraphed in
something like the same fashion and published on something like the
same scale, that, for the very blindness of it, he couldn't read the
lesson that was in the air, and scrambled, to his utmost, towards the
boat itself that ferried the warning ghost. Just that, beyond
everything, was the incoherence that made for rather dismal farce, and
on which Bight had put his finger in naming the author of Corisanda as
a candidate, in turn, for the comic, the tragic vacancy. It was a
wonderful moment for such an ideal, and the sight was not really to
pass from her till she had seen the whole of the wonder. A fortnight
had elapsed since the night of Beadel's disappearance, and the
conditions attending the afternoon performances of the Finnish drama
had in some degree reproduced themselves -- to the extent, that is, of
the place, the time and several of the actors involved; the audience,
for reasons traceable, being differently composed. A lady of 'high
social position', desirous still further to elevate that character by
the obvious aid of the theatre, had engaged a playhouse for a series of
occasions on which she was to affront in person whatever volume of
attention she might succeed in collecting. Her success had not
immediately been great, and by the third or the fourth day the public
consciousness was so markedly astray that the means taken to recover it
penetrated, in the shape of a complimentary ticket, even to our young
woman. Maud had communicated with Bight, who could be sure of a ticket,
proposing to him that they should go together and offering to await him
in the porch of the theatre. He joined her there, but with so queer a
face -- for her subtlety -- that she paused before him, previous to
their going in, with a straight "You know something!"
"About that rank idiot?" He shook his head, looking kind enough;
but it didn't make him, she felt, more natural. "My dear, it's all
"I mean," she said with a shade of uncertainty, "about poor dear
"So do I. So does everyone. No one now, at any moment, means
anything about anyone else. But I've lost intellectual control -- of
the extraordinary case. I flattered myself I still had a certain
amount. But the situation at last escapes me. I break down. Non
comprenny? I give it up."
She continued to look at him hard. "Then what's the matter with
"Why, just that, probably -- that I feel like a clever man 'done',
and that your tone with me adds to the feeling. Or, putting it
otherwise, it's perhaps only just one of the ways in which I'm so
interesting; that, with the life we lead and the age we live in,
there's always something the matter with me -- there can't help being:
some rage, some disgust, some fresh amazement against which one hasn't,
for all one's experience, been proof. That sense -- of having been sold
again -- produces emotions that may well, on occasion, be reflected in
the countenance. There you are."
Well, he might say that, "There you are," as often as he liked
without, at the pass they had come to, making her in the least see
where she was. She was only just where she stood, a little apart in the
lobby, listening to his words, which she found eminently characteristic
of him, struck with an odd impression of his talking against time, and,
most of all, tormented to recognise that she could fairly do nothing
better, at such a moment, than feel he was awfully nice. The moment --
that of his most blandly (she would have said in the case of another
most impudently) failing, all round, to satisfy her -- was appropriate
only to some emotion consonant with her dignity. It was all crowded and
covered, hustled and interrupted now; but what really happened in this
brief passage, and with her finding no words to reply to him, was that
dignity quite appeared to collapse and drop from her, to sink to the
floor, under the feet of people visibly bristling with 'paper', where
the young man's extravagant offer of an arm, to put an end and help her
in, had the effect of an invitation to leave it lying to be trampled
Within, once seated, they kept their places through two intervals,
but at the end of the third act -- there were to be no less than five
-- they fell in with a movement that carried half the audience to the
outer air. Howard Bight desired to smoke, and Maud offered to accompany
him, for the purpose, to the portico, where, somehow, for both of them,
the sense was immediately strong that this, the squalid Strand, damp
yet incandescent, ugly yet eloquent, familiar yet fresh, was life,
palpable, ponderable, possible, much more than the stuff, neither
scenic nor cosmic, they had quitted. The difference came to them, from
the street, in a moist mild blast, which they simply took in, at first,
in a long draught, as more amusing than their play, and which, for the
moment, kept them conscious of the voices of the air as of something
mixed and vague. The next thing, of course, however, was that they
heard the hoarse newsmen, though with the special sense of the sound
not standing out -- which, so far as it did come, made them exchange a
look. There was no hawker just then within call.
"What are they crying?"
"Blessed if I care!" Bight said while he got his light -- which he
had but just done when they saw themselves closely approached. The
Papers had come into sight in the form of a small boy bawling the
'Winner' of something, and at the same moment they recognised their
reprieve they recognised also the presence of Mortimer Marshal.
He had no shame about it. "I fully believed I should find you."
"But you haven't been," Bight asked, "inside?"
"Not at to-day's performance -- I only just thought I'd pass. But
at each of the others," Mortimer Marshal confessed.
"Oh, you're a devotee," said Bight, whose reception of the poor man
contended, for Maud's attention, with this extravagance of the poor
man's own importunity. Their friend had sat through the piece three
times on the chance of her being there for one or other of the acts,
and if he had given that up in discouragement he still hovered and
waited. Who now, moreover, was to say he wasn't rewarded? To find her
companion as well as at last to find herself gave the reward a
character that it took, somehow, for her eye, the whole of this
misguided person's curiously large and flat, but distinctly bland,
sweet, solicitous countenance to express. It came over the girl with
horror that here was a material object -- the incandescence, on the
edge of the street, didn't spare it -- which she had had perverse
moments of seeing fixed before her for life. She asked herself, in this
agitation, what she would have likened it to; more than anything
perhaps to a large clean china plate, with a neat 'pattern', suspended,
to the exposure of hapless heads, from the centre of the domestic
ceiling. Truly she was, as by the education of the strain undergone,
learning something every hour -- it seemed so to be the case that a
strain enlarged the mind, formed the taste, enriched, even, the
imagination. Yet in spite of this last fact, it must be added, she
continued rather mystified by the actual pitch of her comrade's manner,
Bight really behaving as if he enjoyed their visitor's 'note'. He
treated him so decently, as they said, that he might suddenly have
taken to liking his company; which was an odd appearance till Maud
understood it -- whereupon it became for her a slightly sinister one.
For the effect of the honest gentleman, she by that time saw, was to
make her friend nervous and vicious, and the form taken by his
irritation was just this dangerous candour, which encouraged the
candour of the victim. She had for the latter a residuum of pity,
whereas Bight, she felt, had none, and she didn't want him, the poor
man, absolutely to pay with his life.
It was clear, however, within a few minutes, that this was what he
was bent on doing, and she found herself helpless before his smug
insistence. She had taken his measure; he was made incorrigibly to try,
irredeemably to fail -- to be, in short, eternally defeated and
eternally unaware. He wouldn't rage -- he couldn't, for the citadel
might, in that case, have been carried by his assault; he would only
spend his life in walking round and round it, asking everyone he met
how in the name of goodness one did get in. And everyone would make a
fool of him -- though no one so much as her companion now -- and
everything would fall from him but the perfection of his temper, of his
tailor, of his manners, of his mediocrity. He evidently rejoiced at the
happy chance which had presented him again to Bight, and he lost as
little time as possible in proposing, the play ended, an adjournment
again to tea. The spirit of malice in her comrade, now inordinately
excited, met this suggestion with an amendment that fairly made her
anxious; Bight threw out, in a word, the idea that he himself surely,
this time, should entertain Mr Marshal.
"Only I'm afraid I can take you but to a small pothouse that we
poor journalists haunt."
"They're just the places I delight in -- it would be of an
extraordinary interest. I sometimes venture into them -- feeling
awfully strange and wondering, I do assure you, who people are. But to
go there with you--!" And he looked from Bight to Maud and from Maud
back again with such abysses of appreciation that she knew him as lost
It was demonic of Bight, who immediately answered that he would
tell him with pleasure who everyone was, and she felt this the more
when her friend, making light of the rest of the entertainment they had
quitted, advised their sacrificing it and proceeding to the other
scene. He was really too eager for his victim -- she wondered what he
wanted to do with him. He could only play him at the most a practical
joke -- invent appetising identities, once they were at table, for the
dull consumers around. No one, at the place they most frequented, had
an identity in the least appetising, no one was anyone or anything. It
was apparently of the essence of existence on such terms -- the terms,
at any rate, to which she was reduced -- that people comprised in it
couldn't even minister to each other's curiosity, let alone to envy or
awe. She would have wished therefore, for their pursuer, to intervene a
little, to warn him against beguilement; but they had moved together
along the Strand and then out of it, up a near cross street, without
her opening her mouth. Bight, as she felt, was acting to prevent this;
his easy talk redoubled, and he led his lamb to the shambles. The talk
had jumped to poor Beadel -- her friend had startled her by causing it,
almost with violence, at a given moment, to take that direction, and he
thus quite sufficiently stayed her speech. The people she lived with
mightn't make you curious, but there was of course always a sharp
exception for him. She kept still, in fine, with the wonder of what he
wanted; though indeed she might, in the presence of their guest's
response, have felt he was already getting it. He was getting, that is
-- and she was, into the bargain -- the fullest illustration of the
ravage of a passion; so sublimely Marshal rose to the proposition,
infernally thrown off, that, in whatever queer box or tight place
Beadel might have found himself, it was something, after all, to have
so powerfully interested the public. The insidious artless way in which
Bight made his point! -- "I don't know that I've ever known the public
(and I watch it, as in my trade we have to, day and night) so
consummately interested." They had that phenomenon -- the present
consummate interest -- well before them while they sat at their homely
meal, served with accessories so different from those of the sweet
Chippendale (another chord on which the young man played with just the
right effect!), and it would have been hard to say if the guest were,
for the first moments, more under the spell of the marvellous 'hold' on
the town achieved by the great absentee, or of that of the delicious
coarse tablecloth, the extraordinary form of the saltcellars, and the
fact that he had within range of sight, at the other end of the room,
in the person of the little quiet man with blue spectacles and an
obvious wig, the greatest authority in London about the inner life of
the criminal classes. Beadel, none the less, came up again and stayed
up -- would clearly so have been kept up, had there been need, by their
host, that the girl couldn't at last fail to see how much it was for
herself that his intention worked. What was it, all the same -- since
it couldn't be anything so simple as to expose their hapless visitor?
What had she to learn about him? -- especially at the hour of seeing
what there was still to learn about Bight. She ended by deciding -- for
his appearance bore her out -- that his explosion was but the form
taken by an inward fever. The fever, on this theory, was the result of
the final pang of responsibility. The mystery of Beadel had grown too
dark to be borne -- which they would presently feel; and he was
meanwhile in the phase of bluffing it off, precisely because it was to
"And do you mean you too would pay with your life?" He put the
question, agreeably, across the table to his guest; agreeably of course
in spite of his eye's dry glitter.
His guest's expression, at this, fairly became beautiful. "Well,
it's an awfully nice point. Certainly one would like to feel the great
murmur surrounding one's name, to be there, more or less, so as not to
lose the sense of it, and as I really think, you know, the pleasure;
the great city, the great empire, the world itself for the moment,
hanging literally on one's personality and giving a start, in its
suspense, whenever one is mentioned. Big sensation, you know, that," Mr
Marshal pleadingly smiled, "and of course if one were dead one wouldn't
enjoy it. One would have to come to life for that."
"Naturally," Bight rejoined -- "only that's what the dead don't do.
You can't eat your cake and have it. The question is," he
good-naturedly explained, "whether you'd be willing, for the certitude
of the great murmur you speak of, to part with your life under
circumstances of extraordinary mystery."
His guest earnestly fixed it. "Whether I would be willing?"
"Mr Marshal wonders," Maud said to Bight, "if you are, as a person
interested in his reputation, definitely proposing to him some such
He looked at her, on this, with mild, round eyes, and she felt,
wonderfully, that he didn't quite see her as joking. He smiled -- he
always smiled, but his anxiety showed, and he turned it again to their
companion. "You mean -- a -- the knowing how it might be going to be
"Well yes -- call it that. The consciousness of what one's
unexplained extinction -- given, to start with, one's high position --
would mean, wouldn't be able to help meaning, for millions and millions
of people. The point is -- and I admit it's, as you call it, a 'nice'
one -- if you can think of the impression so made as worth the
purchase. Naturally, naturally, there's but the impression you make.
You don't receive any. You can't. You've only your confidence -- so far
as that's an impression. Oh, it is indeed a nice point; and I only put
it to you," Bight wound up, "because, you know, you do like to be
Mr Marshal was bewildered, but he was not so bewildered as not to
be able, a trifle coyly, but still quite bravely, to confess to that.
Maud, with her eyes on her friend, found herself thinking of him as of
some plump, innocent animal, more or less of the pink-eyed rabbit or
sleek guinea-pig order, involved in the slow spell of a serpent of
shining scales. Bight's scales, truly, had never so shone as this
evening, and he used to admiration -- which was just a part of the
lustre -- the right shade of gravity. He was neither so light as to
fail of the air of an attractive offer, nor yet so earnest as to betray
a gibe. He might conceivably have been, as an undertaker of
improvements in defective notorieties, placing before his guest a
practical scheme. It was really quite as if he were ready to guarantee
the 'murmur' if Mr Marshal was ready to pay the price. And the price
wouldn't of course be only Mr Marshal's existence. All this, at least,
if Mr Marshal felt moved to take it so. The prodigious thing, next, was
that Mr Marshal was so moved -- though, clearly, as was to be expected,
with important qualifications. "Do you really mean," he asked, "that
one would excite this delightful interest?"
"You allude to the charged state of the air on the subject of
Beadel?" Bight considered, looking volumes. "It would depend a good
deal upon who one is."
He turned, Mr Marshal, again to Maud Blandy, and his eyes seemed to
suggest to her that she should put his question for him. They forgave
her, she judged, for having so oddly forsaken him, but they appealed to
her now not to leave him to struggle alone. Her own difficulty was,
however, meanwhile, that she feared to serve him as he suggested
without too much, by way of return, turning his case to the comic;
whereby she only looked at him hard and let him revert to their friend.
"Oh," he said, with a rich wistfulness from which the comic was not
absent, "of course everyone can't pretend to be Beadel."
"Perfectly. But we're speaking, after all, of those who do count."
There was quite a hush, for the minute, while the poor man
faltered. "Should you say that I -- in any appreciable way -- count?"
Howard Bight distilled honey. "Isn't it a little a question of how
much we should find you did, or, for that matter, might, as it were, be
made to, in the event of a real catastrophe?"
Mr Marshal turned pale, yet he met it too with sweetness. "I like
the way" -- and he had a glance for Maud -- "you talk of catastrophes!"
His host did the comment justice. "Oh, it's only because, you see,
we're so peculiarly in the presence of one. Beadel shows so
tremendously what a catastrophe does for the right person. His absence,
you may say, doubles, quintuples, his presence."
"I see, I see!" Mr Marshal was all there. "It's awfully interesting
to be so present. And yet it's rather dreadful to be so absent." It had
set him fairly musing; for couldn't the opposites be reconciled -- "If
he is," he threw out, "absent--!"
"Why, he's absent, of course," said Bight, "if he's dead."
"And really dead is what you believe him to be?"
He breathed it with a strange break, as from a mind too full. It
was on the one hand a grim vision for his own case, but was on the
other a kind of clearance of the field. With Beadel out of the way his
own case could live, and he was obviously thinking what it might be to
be as dead as that and yet as much alive. What his demand first did, at
any rate, was to make Howard Bight look straight at Maud. Her own look
met him, but she asked nothing now. She felt him somehow fathomless,
and his practice with their infatuated guest created a new suspense. He
might indeed have been looking at her to learn how to reply, but even
were this the case she had still nothing to answer. So in a moment he
had spoken without her. "I've quite given him up."
It sank into Marshal, after which it produced something. "He ought
then to come back. I mean," he explained, "to see for himself -- to
have the impression."
"Of the noise he has made? Yes" -- Bight weighed it -- "that would
be the ideal."
"And it would, if one must call it 'noise'," Marshal limpidly
pursued, "make -- a -- more."
"Oh, but if you can't!"
"Can't, you mean, through having already made so much, add to the
"Can't" -- Bight was a wee bit sharp -- "come back, confound it, at
all. Can't return from the dead!"
Poor Marshal had to take it. "No -- not if you are dead."
"Well, that's what we're talking about."
Maud, at this, for pity, held out a perch. "Mr Marshal, I think, is
talking a little on the basis of the possibility of your not being!" He
threw her an instant glance of gratitude, and it gave her a push. "So
long as you're not quite too utterly, you can come back."
"Oh," said Bight, "in time for the fuss?"
"Before" -- Marshal met it -- "the interest has subsided. It
naturally then wouldn't -- would it? -- subside!"
"No," Bight granted; "not if it hadn't, through wearing out -- I
mean your being lost too long -- already died out."
"Oh, of course," his guest agreed, "you mustn't be lost too long."
A vista had plainly opened to him, and the subject led him on. He had,
before its extent, another pause. "About how long, do you think--?"
Well, Bight had to think. "I should say Beadel had rather overdone
The poor gentleman stared. "But if he can't help himself--?"
Bight gave a laugh. "Yes; but in case he could."
Maud again intervened, and, as her question was for their host,
Marshal was all attention. "Do you consider Beadel has overdone it?"
Well, once more, it took consideration. The issue of Bight's,
however, was not of the clearest. "I don't think we can tell unless he
were to. I don't think that, without seeing it, and judging by the
special case, one can quite know how it would be taken. He might, on
the one side, have spoiled, so to speak, his market; and he might, on
the other, have scored as never before."
"It might be," Maud threw in, "just the making of him."
"Surely" -- Marshal glowed -- "there's just that chance."
"What a pity then," Bight laughed, "that there isn't someone to
take it! For the light it would throw, I mean, on the laws -- so
mysterious, so curious, so interesting -- that govern the great
currents of public attention. They're not wholly whimsical -- wayward
and wild; they have their strange logic, their obscure reason -- if one
could only get at it! The man who does, you see -- and who can keep his
discovery to himself! -- will make his everlasting fortune, as well, no
doubt, as that of a few others. It's our branch, our preoccupation, in
fact, Miss Blandy's and mine -- this pursuit of the incalculable, this
study, to that end, of the great forces of publicity. Only, of course,
it must be remembered," Bight went on, "that in the case we're speaking
of -- the man disappearing as Beadel has now disappeared, and
supplanting for the time every other topic -- must have someone on the
spot for him, to keep the pot boiling, someone acting, with real
intelligence, in his interest. I mean if he's to get the good of it
when he does turn up. It would never do, you see, that that should be
"Oh no, not flat, never!" Marshal quailed at the thought. Held as
in a vise by his host's high lucidity, he exhaled his interest at every
pore. "It wouldn't be flat for Beadel, would it? -- I mean if he were
"Not much! It wouldn't be flat for Beadel -- I think I can
undertake." And Bight undertook so well that he threw himself back in
his chair with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat and his head
very much up. "The only thing is that for poor Beadel it's a luxury, so
to speak, wasted -- and so dreadfully, upon my word, that one quite
regrets there's no one to step in."
"To step in ?" His visitor hung upon his lips.
"To do the thing better, so to speak -- to do it right; to --
having raised the whirlwind -- really ride the storm. To seize the
Marshal met it, yet he wondered. "You speak of the reappearance? I
see. But the man of the reappearance would have, wouldn't he? -- or
perhaps I don't follow? -- to be the same as the man of the
disappearance. It wouldn't do as well -- would it? -- for somebody else
to turn up?"
Bight considered him with attention -- as if there were fine
possibilities. "No; unless such a person should turn up, say -- well,
with news of him."
"But what news?"
"With lights -- the more lurid the better -- on the darkness. With
the facts, don't you see, of the disappearance."
Marshal, on his side, threw himself back. "But he'd have to know
"Oh," said Bight, with prompt portentousness, "that could be
It was too much, by this time, for his victim, who simply turned on
Maud a dilated eye and a flushed cheek. "Mr Marshal," it made her say
-- "Mr Marshal would like to turn up."
Her hand was on the table, and the effect of her words, combined
with this, was to cause him, before responsive speech could come, to
cover it respectfully but expressively with his own. "Do you mean," he
panted to Bight, "that you have, amid the general collapse of
speculation, facts to give?"
"I've always facts to give."
It begot in the poor man a large hot smile. "But -- how shall I
say? -- authentic, or as I believe you clever people say, 'inspired'
"If I should undertake such a case as we're supposing, I would of
course by that circumstance undertake that my facts should be -- well,
worthy of it. I would take," Bight on his own part modestly smiled,
"pains with them."
It finished the business. "Would you take pains for me?"
Bight looked at him now hard. "Would you like to appear?"
"Oh, 'appear'!" Marshal weakly murmured.
"Is it, Mr Marshal, a real proposal? I mean are you prepared--?"
Wonderment sat in his eyes -- an anguish of doubt and desire. "But
wouldn't you prepare me--?"
"Would you prepare me -- that's the point," Bight laughed -- "to
There was a minute's mutual gaze, but Marshal took it in. "I don't
know what you're making me say; I don't know what you're making me
feel. When one is with people so up in these things--" and he turned to
his companions, alternately, a look as of conscious doom lighted with
suspicion, a look that was like a cry for mercy -- "one feels a little
as if one ought to be saved from one's self. For I dare say one's
foolish enough with one's poor little wish--"
"The little wish, my dear sir" -- Bight took him up -- "to stand
out in the world! Your wish is the wish of all high spirits."
"It's dear of you to say it." Mr Marshal was all response. "I
shouldn't want, even if it were weak or vain, to have lived wholly
unknown. And if what you ask is whether I understand you to speak, as
it were, professionally--"
"You do understand me?" Bight pushed back his chair.
"Oh, but so well! -- when I've already seen what you can do. I need
scarcely say, that having seen it, I shan't bargain."
"Ah, then, I shall," Bight smiled. "I mean with the Papers. It must
be half profits."
"'Profits'?" His guest was vague.
"Our friend," Maud explained to Bight, "simply wants the position."
Bight threw her a look. "Ah, he must take what I give him."
"But what you give me," their friend handsomely contended, "is the
"Yes; but the terms that I shall get! I don't produce you, of
course," Bight went on, "till I've prepared you. But when I do produce
you it will be as a value."
"You'll get so much for me?" the poor gentleman quavered.
"I shall be able to get, I think, anything I ask. So we divide."
And Bight jumped up.
Marshal did the same, and, while, with his hands on the back of his
chair, he steadied himself from the vertiginous view, they faced each
other across the table. "Oh, it's too wonderful!"
"You're not afraid?"
He looked at a card on the wall, framed, suspended and marked with
the word 'Soups'. He looked at Maud, who had not moved. "I don't know;
I may be; I must feel. What I should fear," he added, "would be his
"Beadel's? Yes, that would dish you. But since he can't--!"
"I place myself," said Mortimer Marshal, "in your hands."
Maud Blandy still hadn't moved; she stared before her at the cloth.
A small sharp sound, unheard, she saw, by the others, had reached her
from the street, and with her mind instinctively catching at it, she
waited, dissimulating a little, for its repetition or its effect. It
was the howl of the Strand, it was news of the absent, and it would
have a bearing. She had a hesitation, for she winced even now with the
sense of Marshal's intensest look at her. He couldn't be saved from
himself, but he might be, still, from Bight; though it hung of course,
her chance to warn him, on what the news would be. She thought with
concentration, while her friends unhooked their overcoats, and by the
time these garments were donned she was on her feet. Then she spoke. "I
don't want you to be 'dished'."
He allowed for her alarm. "But how can I be?"
"Something has come."
"Something--?" The men had both spoken.
They had stopped where they stood; she again caught the sound.
"Listen! They're crying."
They waited then, and it came -- came, of a sudden, with a burst
and as if passing the place. A hawker, outside, with his 'extra',
called by someone and hurrying, bawled it as he moved. "Death of
Beadel-Muffet -- Extraordinary News!"
They all gasped, and Maud, with her eyes on Bight, saw him, to her
satisfaction at first, turn pale. But his guest drank it in. "If it's
true then" -- Marshal triumphed at her -- "I'm not dished."
But she only looked hard at Bight, who struck her as having, at the
sound, fallen to pieces, and as having above all, on the instant,
turned cold for his worried game. "Is it true?" she austerely asked.
His white face answered. "It's true."
The first thing, on the part of our friends -- after each
interlocutor, producing a penny, had plunged into the unfolded 'Latest'
-- was this very evidence of their dispensing with their companion's
further attendance on their agitated state, and all the more that Bight
was to have still, in spite of agitation, his function with him to
accomplish: a result much assisted by the insufflation of wind into Mr
Marshal's sails constituted by the fact before them. With Beadel
publicly dead this gentleman's opportunity, on the terms just arranged,
opened out; it was quite as if they had seen him, then and there, step,
with a kind of spiritual splash, into the empty seat of the boat so
launched, scarcely even taking time to master the essentials before he
gave himself to the breeze. The essentials indeed he was, by their
understanding, to receive in full from Bight at their earliest leisure;
but nothing could so vividly have marked his confidence in the young
man as the promptness with which he appeared now ready to leave him to
his inspiration. The news moreover, as yet, was the rich, grim fact --
a sharp flare from an Agency, lighting into blood-colour the locked
room, finally, with the police present, forced open, of the first hotel
at Frankfort-on-the-Oder; but there was enough of it, clearly, to bear
scrutiny, the scrutiny represented in our young couple by the act of
perusal prolonged, intensified, repeated, so repeated that it was
exactly perhaps with this suggestion of doubt that poor Mr Marshal had
even also a little lost patience. He vanished, at any rate, while his
supporters, still planted in the side-street into which they had lately
issued, stood extinguished, as to any facial communion, behind the
array of printed columns. It was only after he had gone that, whether
aware or not, the other lowered, on either side, the absorbing page and
knew that their eyes had met. A remarkable thing, for Maud Blandy, then
happened, a thing quite as remarkable at least as poor Beadel's
suicide, which we recall her having so considerably discounted.
Present as they thus were at the tragedy, present in far Frankfort
just where they stood, by the door of their stale pothouse and in the
thick of London air, the logic of her situation, she was sharply
conscious, would have been an immediate rupture with Bight. He was
scared at what he had done -- he looked his scare so straight out at
her that she might almost have seen in it the dismay of his question of
how far his responsibility, given the facts, might, if pried into, be
held -- and not only at the judgement-seat of mere morals -- to reach.
The dismay was to that degree illuminating that she had had from him no
such avowal of responsibility as this amounted to, and the limit to any
laxity on her own side had therefore not been set for her with any such
sharpness. It put her at last in the right, his scare -- quite richly
in the right; and as that was naturally but where she had waited to
find herself, everything that now silently passed between them had the
merit, if it had none other, of simplifying. Their hour had struck, the
hour after which she was definitely not to have forgiven him. Yet what
occurred, as I say, was that, if, at the end of five minutes, she had
moved much further, it proved to be, in spite of logic, not in the
sense away from him, but in the sense nearer. He showed to her, at
these strange moments, as blood-stained and literally hunted; the yell
of the hawkers, repeated and echoing round them, was like a cry for his
life; and there was in particular a minute during which, gazing down
into the roused Strand, all equipped both with mob and with constables,
she asked herself whether she had best get off with him through the
crowd, where they would be least noticed, or get him away through quiet
Covent Garden, empty at that hour, but with policemen to watch a
furtive couple, and with the news, more bawled at their heels in the
stillness, acquiring the sound of the very voice of justice. It was
this last sudden terror that presently determined her, and determined
with it an impulse of protection that had somehow to do with pity
without having to do with tenderness. It settled, at all events, the
question of leaving him; she couldn't leave him there and so; she must
see at least what would have come of his own sense of the shock.
The way he took it, the shock, gave her afresh the measure of how
perversely he had played with Marshal -- of how he had tried so, on the
very edge of his predicament, to cheat his fears and beguile his want
of ease. He had insisted to his victim on the truth he had now to
reckon with, but had insisted only because he didn't believe it.
Beadel, by that attitude, was but lying low; so that he would have no
promise really to redeem. At present he had one, indeed, and Maud could
ask herself if the redemption of it, with the leading of their wretched
friend a further fantastic dance, would be what he depended on to drug
the pain of remorse. By the time she had covered as much ground as
this, however, she had also, standing before him, taken his special out
of his hand and, folding it up carefully with her own and smoothing it
down, packed the two together into such a small tight ball as she might
toss to a distance without the air, which she dreaded, of having, by
any looser proceeding, disowned or evaded the news. Howard Bight,
helpless and passive, putting on the matter no governed face, let her
do with him as she liked, let her, for the first time in their
acquaintance, draw his hand into her arm as if he were an invalid or as
if she were a snare. She took with him, thus guided and sustained,
their second plunge; led him, with decision, straight to where their
shock was shared and amplified, pushed her way, guarding him, across
the dense thoroughfare and through the great westward current which
fairly seemed to meet and challenge them, and then, by reaching
Waterloo Bridge with him and descending the granite steps, set him down
at last on the Embankment. It was a fact, none the less, that she had
in her eyes, all the while, and too strangely for speech, the vision of
the scene in the little German city: the smashed door, the exposed
horror, the wondering, insensible group, the English gentleman, in the
disordered room, driven to bay among the scattered personal objects
that only too floridly announced and emblazoned him, and several of
which the Papers were already naming -- the poor English gentleman,
hunted and hiding, done to death by the thing he yet, for so long,
always would have, and stretched on the floor with his beautiful little
revolver still in his hand and the effusion of his blood, from a wound
taken, with rare resolution, full in the face, extraordinary and
She went on with her friend, eastward and beside the river, and it
was as if they both, for that matter, had, in their silence, the dire
material vision. Maud Blandy, however, presently stopped short -- one
of the connections of the picture so brought her to a stand. It had
come over her, with a force she couldn't check, that the catastrophe
itself would have been, with all the unfathomed that yet clung to it,
just the thing for her companion's professional hand; so that, queerly
but absolutely, while she looked at him again in reprobation and pity,
it was as much as she could do not to feel it for him as something
missed, not to wish he might have been there to snatch his chance, and
not, above all, to betray to him this reflection. It had really risen
to her lips -- "Why aren't you, old man, on the spot?" and indeed the
question, had it broken forth, might well have sounded as a provocation
to him to start without delay. Such was the effect, in poor Maud, for
the moment, of the habit, so confirmed in her, of seeing time marked
only by the dial of the Papers. She had admired in Bight the true
journalist that she herself was so clearly not -- though it was also
not what she had most admired in him; and she might have felt, at this
instant, the charm of putting true journalism to the proof. She might
have been on the point of saying: "Real business, you know, would be
for you to start now, just as you are, before anyone else, sure as you
can so easily be of having the pull"; and she might, after a moment,
while they paused, have been looking back, through the river-mist, for
a sign of the hour, at the blurred face of Big Ben. That she grazed
this danger yet avoided it was partly the result in truth of her seeing
for herself quickly enough that the last thing Bight could just then
have thought of, even under provocation of the most positive order, was
the chance thus failing him, or the train, the boat, the advantage,
that the true journalist wouldn't have missed. He quite, under her
eyes, while they stood together, ceased to be the true journalist; she
saw him, as she felt, put off the character as definitely as she might
have seen him remove his coat, his hat, or the contents of his pockets,
in order to lay them on the parapet before jumping into the river.
Wonderful was the difference that this transformation, marked by no
word and supported by no sign, made in the man she had hitherto known.
Nothing, again, could have so expressed for her his continued inward
dismay. It was as if, for that matter, she couldn't have asked him a
question without adding to it; and she didn't wish to add to it, since
she was by this time more fully aware that she wished to be generous.
When she at last uttered other words it was precisely so that she
mightn't press him.
"I think of her -- poor thing: that's what it makes me do. I think
of her there at this moment -- just out of the 'Line' -- with this
stuff shrieked at her windows." With which, having so at once contained
and relieved herself, she caused him to walk on.
"Are you talking of Mrs Chorner?" he after a moment asked. And
then, when he had had her quick "Of course -- of who else?" he said
what she didn't expect. "Naturally one thinks of her. But she has
herself to blame. I mean she drove him--" What he meant, however, Bight
suddenly dropped, taken as he was with another idea, which had brought
them the next minute to a halt. "Mightn't you, by the way, see her?"
"See her now--?"
"'Now' or never -- for the good of it. Now's just your time."
"But how can it be hers, in the very midst--?"
"Because it's in the very midst. She'll tell you things to-night
that she'll never tell again. To-night she'll be great."
Maud gaped almost wildly. "You want me, at such an hour, to
"And send up your card with the word -- oh, of course the right
one! -- on it."
"What do you suggest," Maud asked, "as the right one?"
"Well, 'The world wants you' -- that usually does. I've seldom
known it, even in deeper distress than is, after all, here supposable,
to fail. Try it, at any rate."
The girl, strangely touched, intensely wondered. "Demand of her,
you mean, to let me explain for her?"
"There you are. You catch on. Write that -- if you like -- 'Let me
explain.' She'll want to explain."
Maud wondered at him more -- he had somehow so turned the tables on
her. "But she doesn't. It's exactly what she doesn't; she never has.
And that he, poor wretch, was always wanting to--"
"Was precisely what made her hold off? I grant it." He had waked
up. "But that was before she had killed him. Trust me, she'll chatter
This, for his companion, simply forced it out. "It wasn't she who
killed him. That, my dear, you know."
"You mean it was I who did? Well then, my child, interview me."
And, with his hands in his pockets and his idea apparently genuine, he
smiled at her, by the grey river and under the high lamps, with an
effect strange and suggestive. "That would be a go!"
"You mean" -- she jumped at it -- "you'll tell me what you know?"
"Yes, and even what I've done! But -- if you'll take it so -- for
the Papers. Oh, for the Papers only!"
She stared. "You mean you want me to get it in--?"
"I don't 'want' you to do anything, but I'm ready to help you,
ready to get it in for you, like a shot, myself, if it's a thing you
"A thing I want -- to give you away?"
"Oh," he laughed, "I'm just now worth giving! You'd really do it,
you know. And, to help you, here I am. It would be for you -- only
judge! -- a leg up."
It would indeed, she really saw; somehow, on the spot, she believed
it. But his surrender made her tremble. It wasn't a joke -- she could
give him away; or rather she could sell him for money. Money, thus, was
what he offered her, or the value of money, which was the same; it was
what he wanted her to have. She was conscious already, however, that
she could have it only as he offered it, and she said therefore, but
half-heartedly, "I'll keep your secret."
He looked at her more gravely. "Ah, as a secret I can't give it."
Then he hesitated. "I'll get you a hundred pounds for it."
"Why don't you," she asked, "get them for yourself?"
"Because I don't care for myself. I care only for you."
She waited again. "You mean for my taking you?" And then as he but
looked at her: "How should I take you if I had dealt with you that
"What do I lose by it," he said, "if, by our understanding of the
other day, since things have so turned out, you're not to take me at
all? So, at least, on my proposal, you get something else."
"And what," Maud returned, "do you get?"
"I don't 'get'; I lose. I have lost. So I don't matter." The eyes
with which she covered him at this might have signified either that he
didn't satisfy her or that his last word -- as his word -- rather
imposed itself. Whether or no, at all events, she decided that he still
did matter. She presently moved again, and they walked some minutes
more. He had made her tremble, and she continued to tremble. So unlike
anything that had ever come to her was, if seriously viewed, his
proposal. The quality of it, while she walked, grew intenser with each
step. It struck her as, when one came to look at it, unlike any offer
any man could ever have made or any woman ever have received; and it
began accordingly, on the instant, to affect her as almost
inconceivably romantic, absolutely, in a manner, and quite out of the
blue, dramatic; immeasurably more so, for example, than the sort of
thing she had come out to hear in the afternoon -- the sort of thing
that was already so far away. If he was joking it was poor, but if he
was serious it was, properly, sublime. And he wasn't joking. He was,
however, after an interval, talking again, though, trembling still, she
had not been attentive; so that she was unconscious of what he had said
until she heard him once more sound Mrs Chorner's name. "If you don't,
you know, someone else will, and someone much worse. You told me she
likes you." She had at first no answer for him, but it presently made
her stop again. It was beautiful, if she would, but it was odd -- this
pressure for her to push at the very hour he himself had renounced
pushing. A part of the whole sublimity of his attitude, so far as she
was concerned, it clearly was; since, obviously, he was not now to
profit by anything she might do. She seemed to see that, as the last
service he could render, he wished to launch her and leave her. And
that came out the more as he kept it up. "If she likes you, you know,
she really wants you. Go to her as a friend."
"And bruit her abroad as one?" Maud Blandy asked.
"Oh, as a friend from the Papers -- from them and for them, and
with just your half-hour to give her before you rush back to them. Take
it even -- oh, you can safely" -- the young man developed -- "a little
high with her. That's the way -- the real way." And he spoke the next
moment as if almost losing his patience. "You ought by this time, you
know, to understand."
There was something in her mind that it still charmed -- his
mastery of the horrid art. He could see, always, the superior way, and
it was as if, in spite of herself, she were getting the truth from him.
Only she didn't want the truth -- at least not that one. "And if she
simply, for my impudence, chucks me out of window? A short way is easy
for them, you know, when one doesn't scream or kick, or hang on to the
furniture or the banisters. And I usually, you see" -- she said it
pensively -- "don't. I've always, from the first, had my retreat
prepared for any occasion, and flattered myself that, whatever hand I
might, or mightn't, become at getting in, no one would ever be able so
beautifully to get out. Like a flash, simply. And if she does, as I
say, chuck me, it's you who fall to the ground."
He listened to her without expression, only saying "If you feel for
her, as you insist, it's your duty." And then later, as if he had made
an impression, "Your duty, I mean, to try. I admit, if you will, that
there's a risk, though I don't, with my experience, feel it. Nothing
venture, at any rate, nothing have; and it's all, isn't it? at the
worst, in the day's work. There's but one thing you can go on, but it's
enough. The greatest probability."
She resisted, but she was taking it in. "The probability that she
will throw herself on my neck?"
"It will be either one thing or the other," he went on as if he had
not heard her. "She'll not receive you, or she will. But if she does
your fortune's made, and you'll be able to look higher than the mere
common form of donkey." She recognized the reference to Marshal, but
that was a thing she needn't mind now, and he had already continued.
"She'll keep nothing back. And you mustn't either."
"Oh, won't I?" Maud murmured.
"Then you'll break faith with her."
And, as if to emphasise it, he went on, though without leaving her
an infinite time to decide, for he looked at his watch as they
proceeded, and when they came, in their spacious walk, abreast of
another issue, where the breadth of the avenue, the expanses of stone,
the stretch of the river, the dimness of the distance, seemed to
isolate them, he appeared, by renewing their halt and looking up afresh
toward the town, to desire to speed her on her way. Many things
meanwhile had worked within her, but it was not till she had kept him
on past the Temple Station of the Underground that she fairly faced her
opportunity. Even then too there were still other things, under the
assault of which she dropped, for the moment, Mrs Chorner. "Did you
really," she asked, "believe he'd turn up alive?"
With his hands in his pockets he continued to gloom at her. "Up
there, just now, with Marshal -- what did you take me as believing?"
"I gave you up. And I do give you. You're beyond me. Only," she
added, "I seem to have made you out since then as really staggered.
Though I don't say it," she ended, "to bear hard upon you.
"Don't bear hard," said Howard Bight very simply.
It moved her, for all she could have said; so that she had for a
moment to wonder if it were bearing hard to mention some features of
the rest of her thought. If she was to have him, certainly, it couldn't
be without knowing, as she said to herself, something -- something she
might perhaps mitigate a little the solitude of his penance by
possessing. "There were moments when I even imagined that, up to a
certain point, you were still in communication with him. Then I seemed
to see that you lost touch -- though you braved it out for me; that you
had begun to be really uneasy and were giving him up. I seemed to see,"
she pursued after a hesitation, "that it was coming home to you that
you had worked him up too high -- that you were feeling, if I may say
it, that you had better have stopped short. I mean short of this."
"You may say it," Bight answered. "I had better."
She looked at him a moment. "There was more of him than you
"There was more of him. And now," Bight added, looking across the
river, "here's all of him."
"Which you feel you have on your heart?"
"I don't know where I have it." He turned his eyes to her. "I must
"For more facts?"
"Well," he returned after a pause, "hardly perhaps for 'more' if --
with what we have -- this is all. But I've things to think out. I must
wait to see how I feel. I did nothing but what he wanted. But we were
behind a bolting horse -- whom neither of us could have stopped."
"And he," said Maud, "is the one dashed to pieces."
He had his grave eyes on her. "Would you like it to have been me?"
"Of course not. But you enjoyed it -- the bolt; everything up to
the smash. Then, with that ahead, you were nervous."
"I'm nervous still," said Howard Bight.
Even in his unexpected softness there was something that escaped
her, and it made in her, just a little, for irritation. "What I mean is
that you enjoyed his terror. That was what led you on."
"No doubt -- it was so grand a case. But do you call charging me
with it," the young man asked, "not bearing hard--?"
"No" -- she pulled herself up -- "it is. I don't charge you. Only I
feel how little -- about what has been, all the while, behind -- you
tell me. Nothing explains."
"Why, his act."
He gave a sign of impatience. "Isn't the explanation what I offered
a moment ago to give you?"
It came, in effect, back to her. "For use?"
"Only." It was sharp.
They stood a little, on this, face to face; at the end of which she
turned away. "I'll go to Mrs Chorner." And she was off while he called
after her to take a cab. It was quite as if she were to come upon him,
in his strange insistence, for the fare.
If she kept to herself, from the morrow on, for three days, her
adoption of that course was helped, as she thankfully felt, by the
great other circumstance and the great public commotion under cover of
which it so little mattered what became of private persons. It was not
simply that she had her reasons, but she couldn't during this time have
descended again to Fleet Street even had she wished, though she said to
herself often enough that her behaviour was rank cowardice. She left
her friend alone with what he had to face, since, as she found, she
could in absence from him a little recover herself. In his presence,
the night of the news, she knew she had gone to pieces, had yielded,
all too vulgarly, to a weakness proscribed by her original view. Her
original view had been that if poor Beadel, worked up, as she
inveterately kept seeing him, should embrace the tragic remedy, Howard
Bight wouldn't be able not to show as practically compromised. He
wouldn't be able not to smell of the wretched man's blood, morally
speaking, too strongly for condonations or complacencies. There were
other things, truly, that, during their minutes on the Embankment, he
had been able to do, but they constituted just the sinister subtlety to
which it was well that she should not again, yet awhile, be exposed.
They were of the order -- from the safe summit of Maida Hill she could
make it out -- that had proved corrosive to the muddled mind of the
Frankfort fugitive, deprived, in the midst of them, of any honest
issue. Bight, of course, rare youth, had meant no harm; but what was
precisely queerer, what, when you came to judge, less human, than to be
formed for offence, for injury, by the mere inherent play of the spirit
of observation, of criticism, by the inextinguishable flame, in fine,
of the ironic passion? The ironic passion, in such a world as
surrounded one, might assert itself as half the dignity, the decency,
of life; yet, none the less, in cases where one had seen it prove
gruesomely fatal (and not to one's self, which was nothing, but to
others, even the stupid and the vulgar) one was plainly admonished to
-- well, stand off a little and think.
This was what Maud Blandy, while the Papers roared and resounded
more than ever with the new meat flung to them, tried to consider that
she was doing; so that the attitude held her fast during the freshness
of the event. The event grew, as she had felt it would, with every
further fact from Frankfort and with every extra-special, and reached
its maximum, inevitably, in the light of comment and correspondence.
These features, before the catastrophe, had indubitably, at the last,
flagged a little, but they revived so prodigiously, under the
well-timed shock, that, for the period we speak of, the poor gentleman
seemed, with a continuance, with indeed an enhancement, of his fine old
knack, to have the successive editions all to himself. They had been
always of course, the Papers, very largely about him, but it was not
too much to say that at this crisis they were about nothing else worth
speaking of; so that our young woman could but groan in spirit at the
direful example set to the emulous. She spared an occasional moment to
the vision of Mortimer Marshal, saw him drunk, as she might have said,
with the mere fragrance of the wine of glory, and asked herself what
art Bight would now use to furnish him forth as he had promised. The
mystery of Beadel's course loomed, each hour, so much larger and darker
that the plan would have to be consummate, or the private knowledge
alike beyond cavil and beyond calculation, which should attempt either
to sound or to mask the appearances. Strangely enough, none the less,
she even now found herself thinking of her rash colleague as attached,
for the benefit of his surviving victim, to this idea; she went in fact
so far as to imagine him half-upheld, while the public wonder spent
itself, by the prospect of the fun he might still have with Marshal.
This implied, she was not unconscious, that his notion of fun was
infernal, and would of course be especially so were his knowledge as
real as she supposed it. He would inflate their foolish friend with
knowledge that was false and so start him as a balloon for the further
gape of the world. This was the image, in turn, that would yield the
last sport -- the droll career of the wretched man as wandering forever
through space under the apprehension, in time duly gained, that the
least touch of earth would involve the smash of his car. Afraid, thus,
to drop, but at the same time equally out of conceit of the chill air
of the upper and increasing solitudes to which he had soared, he would
become such a diminishing speck, though traceably a prey to wild human
gyrations, as she might conceive Bight to keep in view for future
It wasn't however the future that was actually so much in question
for them all as the immediately near present, offered to her as the
latter was in the haunting light of the inevitably unlimited character
of any real inquiry. The inquiry of the Papers, immense and ingenious,
had yet for her the saving quality that she didn't take it as real. It
abounded, truly, in hypotheses, most of them lurid enough, but a
certain ease of mind as to what these might lead to was perhaps one of
the advantages she owed to her constant breathing of Fleet Street air.
She couldn't quite have said why, but she felt it wouldn't be the
Papers that, proceeding from link to link, would arrive vindictively at
Bight's connection with his late client. The enjoyment of that
consummation would rest in another quarter, and if the young man were
as uneasy now as she thought he ought to be even while she hoped he
wasn't, it would be from the fear in his eyes of such justice as was
shared with the vulgar. The Papers held an inquiry, but the
Authorities, as they vaguely figured to her, would hold an inquest;
which was a matter -- even when international, complicated and
arrangeable, between Frankfort and London, only on some system unknown
to her -- more in tune with possibilities of exposure. It was not, as
need scarce be said, from the exposure of Beadel that she averted
herself; it was from the exposure of the person who had made of
Beadel's danger, Beadel's dread -- whatever these really represented --
the use that the occurrence at Frankfort might be shown to certify. It
was well before her, at all events, that if Howard Bight's reflections,
so stimulated, kept pace at all with her own, he would at the worst, or
even at the best, have been glad to meet her again. It was her knowing
that and yet lying low that she privately qualified as cowardice; it
was the instinct of watching and waiting till she should see how great
the danger might become. And she had moreover another reason, which we
shall presently learn. The extra-specials meanwhile were to be had in
Kilburnia almost as soon as in the Strand; the little ponied and
painted carts, tipped at an extraordinary angle, by which they were
disseminated, had for that matter, she observed, never rattled up the
Edgware Road at so furious a rate. Each evening, it was true, when the
flare of Fleet Street would have begun really to smoke, she had, in
resistance to old habit, a little to hold her self; but for three
successive days she tided over that crisis. It was not till the fourth
night that her reaction suddenly declared itself, determined as it
partly was by the latest poster that dangled free at the door of a
small shop just out of her own street. The establishment dealt in
buttons, pins, tape, and silver bracelets, but the branch of its
industry she patronised was that of telegrams, stamps, stationery, and
the 'Edinburgh rock' offered to the appetite of the several small
children of her next-door neighbour but one. 'The Beadel-Muffet
Mystery, Startling Disclosures, Action of the Treasury' -- at these
words she anxiously gazed; after which she decided. It was as if from
her hilltop, from her very housetop, to which the window of her little
room was contiguous, she had seen the red light in the east. It had,
this time, its colour. She went on, she went far, till she met a cab,
which she hailed, 'regardless', she felt, as she had hailed one after
leaving Bight by the river. "To Fleet Street" she simply said, and it
took her -- that she felt too -- back into life.
Yes, it was life again, bitter, doubtless, but with a taste, when,
having stopped her cab, short of her indication, in Covent Garden, she
walked across southward and to the top of the street in which she and
her friend had last parted with Mortimer Marshal. She came down to
their favoured pothouse, the scene of Bight's high compact with that
worthy, and here, hesitating, she paused, uncertain as to where she had
best look out. Her conviction, on her way, had but grown; Howard Bight
would be looking out -- that to a certainty; something more, something
portentous, had happened (by her evening paper, scanned in the light of
her little shop window, she had taken instant possession of it), and
this would have made him know that she couldn't keep up what he would
naturally call her 'game'. There were places where they often met, and
the diversity of these -- not too far apart, however -- would be his
only difficulty. He was on the prowl, in fine, with his hat over his
eyes; and she hadn't known, till this vision of him came, what seeds of
romance were in her soul. Romance, the other night, by the river, had
brushed them with a wing that was like the blind bump of a bat, but
that had been something on his part, whereas this thought of bringing
him succour as to a Russian anarchist, to some victim of society or
subject of extradition, was all her own, and was of this special
moment. She saw him with his hat over his eyes; she saw him with his
overcoat collar turned up; she saw him as a hunted hero cleverly drawn
in one of the serialising weeklies or, as they said, in some popular
'ply', and the effect of it was to open to her on the spot a sort of
happy sense of all her possible immorality. That was the romantic
sense, and everything vanished but the richness of her thrill. She knew
little enough what she might have to do for him, but her hope, as sharp
as a pang, was that, if anything, it would put her in danger too. The
hope, as it happened then, was crowned on the very spot; she had never
so felt in danger as when, just now, turning to the glazed door of
their cookshop, she saw a man, within, close behind the glass, still,
stiff and ominous, looking at her hard. The light of the place was
behind him, so that his face, in the dusk of the side-street, was dark,
but it was visible that she showed for him as an object of interest.
The next thing, of course, she had seen more -- seen she could be such
an object, in such a degree, only to her friend himself, and that Bight
had been thus sure of her; and the next thing after that had passed
straight in and been met by him, as he stepped aside to admit her, in
silence. He had his hat pulled down and, quite forgetfully, in spite of
the warmth within, the collar of his mackintosh up.
It was his silence that completed the perfection of these things --
the perfection that came out most of all, oddly, after he had corrected
them by removal and was seated with her, in their common corner, at
tea, with the room almost to themselves and no one to consider but
Marshal's little man in the obvious wig and the blue spectacles, the
great authority on the inner life of the criminal classes. Strangest of
all, nearly, was it, that, though now essentially belonging, as Maud
felt, to this order, they were not conscious of the danger of his
presence. What she had wanted most immediately to learn was how Bight
had known; but he made, and scarce to her surprise, short work of that.
"I've known every evening -- known, that is, that you've wanted to
come; and I've been here every evening, waiting just there till I
should see you. It was but a question of time. To-night, however, I was
sure -- for there's, after all, something of me left. Besides,
besides--!" He had, in short, another certitude. "You've been ashamed
-- I knew, when I saw nothing come, that you would be. But also that
that would pass."
Maud found him, as she would have said, all there. "I've been
ashamed, you mean, of being afraid?"
"You've been ashamed about Mrs Chorner; that is, about me. For that
you did go to her I know."
"Have you been then yourself?"
"For what do you take me?" He seemed to wonder. "What had I to do
with her -- except for you?" And then before she could say: "Didn't she
"Yes, as you said, she 'wanted' me."
"She jumped at you?"
"Jumped at me. She gave me an hour."
He flushed with an interest that, the next moment, had flared in
spite of everything into amusement. "So that I was right, in my perfect
wisdom, up to the hilt?"
"Up to the hilt. She took it from me."
"That the public wants her?"
"That it won't take a refusal. So she opened up."
"Well, recognised and embraced her opportunity. Kept me there till
midnight. Told me, as she called it, everything about everything."
They looked at each other long on it, and it determined in Bight at
last a brave clatter of his crockery. "They're stupendous!"
"It's you that are," Maud replied, "to have found it out so. You
know them down to the ground."
"Oh, what I've found out--!" But it was more than he could talk of
then. "If I hadn't really felt sure, I wouldn't so have urged you. Only
now, if you please, I don't understand your having apparently but kept
her in your pocket."
"Of course you don't," said Maud Blandy. To which she added, "And I
don't quite myself. I only know that now that I have her there nothing
will induce me to take her out."
"Then you potted her, permit me to say," he answered, "on
absolutely false pretences."
"Absolutely; which is precisely why I've been ashamed. I made for
home with the whole thing," she explained, "and there, that night, in
the hours till morning, when, turning it over, I saw all it really was,
I knew that I couldn't -- that I would rather choose that shame, that
of not doing for her what I had offered, than the hideous honesty of
bringing it out. Because, you see," Maud declared, "it was -- well, it
was too much."
Bight followed her with a sharpness! "It was so good?"
"Quite beautiful! Awful!"
He wondered. "Really charming?"
"Charming, interesting, horrible. It was true -- and it was the
whole thing. It was herself -- and it was him, all of him too. Not a
bit made up, but just the poor woman melted and overflowing, yet at the
same time raging -- like the hot-water tap when it boils. I never saw
anything like it; everything, as you guaranteed, came out; it has made
me know things. So, to have come down here with it, to have begun to
hawk it, either through you, as you kindly proposed, or in my own
brazen person, to the highest bidder -- well, I felt that I didn't have
to, after all, if I didn't want to, and that if it's the only way I can
get money I would much rather starve."
"I see." Howard Bight saw all. "And that's why you're ashamed?"
She hesitated -- she was both so remiss and so firm. "I knew that
by my not coming back to you, you would have guessed, have found me
wanting; just, for that matter, as she has found me. And I couldn't
explain. I can't -- I can't to her. So that," the girl went on, "I
shall have done, so far as her attitude to me was to be concerned,
something more indelicate, something more indecent, than if I had
passed her on. I shall have wormed it all out of her, and then, by not
having carried it to market, disappointed and cheated her. She was to
have heard it cried like fresh herring."
Bight was immensely taken. "Oh, beyond all doubt. You're in a fix.
You've played, you see, a most unusual game. The code allows everything
"Precisely. So I must take the consequences. I'm dishonoured, but I
shall have to bear it. And I shall bear it by getting out. Out, I mean,
of the whole thing. I shall chuck them."
"Chuck the Papers?" he asked in his simplicity.
But his wonder, she saw, was overdone -- their eyes too frankly
met. "Damn the Papers!" said Maud Blandy.
It produced in his sadness and weariness the sweetest smile that
had yet broken through. "We shall, between us, if we keep it up, ruin
them! And you make nothing," he went on, "of one's having at last so
beautifully started you? Your complaint," he developed, "was that you
couldn't get in. Then suddenly, with a splendid jump, you are in. Only,
however, to look round you and say with disgust 'Oh, here?' Where the
devil do you want to be?"
"Ah, that's another question. At least," she said, "I can scrub
floors. I can take it out perhaps -- my swindle of Mrs Chorner," she
pursued -- "in scrubbing hers."
He only, after this, looked at her a little. "She has written to
"Oh, in high dudgeon. I was to have attended to the 'press-cutting'
people as well, and she was to have seen herself, at the furthest, by
the second morning (that was day-before-yesterday) all over the place.
She wants to know what I mean."
"And what do you answer?"
"That it's hard, of course, to make her understand, but that I've
felt her, since parting with her, simply to be too good."
"Signifying by it, naturally," Bight amended, "that you've felt
yourself to be so."
"Well, that too if you like. But she was exquisite."
He considered. "Would she do for a ply?"
"Oh God, no!"
"Then for a tile?"
"Perhaps," said Maud Blandy at last.
He understood, visibly, the shade, as well as the pause; which,
together, held him a moment. But it was of something else he spoke.
"And you who had found they would never bite!"
"Oh, I was wrong," she simply answered. "Once they've tasted
"They want to devour," her friend laughed, "not only the bait and
the hook, but the line and the rod and the poor fisherman himself?
Except," he continued, "that poor Mrs Chorner hasn't yet even 'tasted'.
However," he added, "she obviously will."
Maud's assent was full. "She'll find others. She'll appear."
He waited a moment -- his eye had turned to the door of the street.
"Then she must be quick. These are things of the hour."
"You hear something?" she asked, his expression having struck her.
He listened again, but it was nothing. "No -- but it's somehow in
"Well, that she must hurry. She must get in. She must get out." He
had his arms on the table, and, locking his hands and inclining a
little, he brought his face nearer to her. "My sense to-night's of an
openness--! I don't know what's the matter. Except, that is, that
She looked at him, not drawing back. "You know everything -- so
immeasurably more than you admit or than you tell me. You mortally
perplex and worry me."
It made him smile. "You're great, you're great," he only repeated.
"You know it's quite awfully swagger, what you've done."
"What I haven't, you mean; what I never shall. Yes," she added, but
now sinking back -- "of course you see that too. What don't you see,
and what, with such ways, is to be the end of you?"
"You're great, you're great" -- he kept it up. "And I like you.
That's to be the end of me."
So, for a minute, they left it, while she came to the thing that,
for the last half-hour, had most been with her. "What is the 'action',
announced to-night, of the Treasury?"
"Oh, they've sent somebody out, partly, it would seem, at the
request of the German authorities, to take possession."
"Possession, you mean, of his effects?"
"Yes, and legally, administratively, of the whole matter."
"Seeing, you mean, that there's still more in it--?"
"Than meets the eye," said Bight, "precisely. But it won't be till
the case is transferred, as it presently will be, to this country, that
they will see. Then it will be funny."
"Funny?" Maud Blandy asked.
"Lovely for you?"
"Why not? The bigger the whole thing grows, the lovelier."
"You've odd notions," she said, "of loveliness. Do you expect his
situation won't be traced to you? Don't you suppose you'll be forced to
"Why, if it is traced. What do you make, otherwise, of the facts
"Do you call them facts?" the young man asked.
"I mean the Astounding Disclosures."
"Well, do you only read your headlines? 'The most astounding
disclosures are expected' -- that's the valuable text. Is it," he went
on, "what fetched you?"
His answer was so little of one that she made her own scant. "What
fetched me is that I can't rest."
"No more can I," he returned. "But in what danger do you think me?"
"In any in which you think yourself. Why not, if I don't mean in
danger of hanging?"
He looked at her so that she presently took him for serious at last
-- which was different from his having been either worried or perverse.
"Of public discredit, you mean -- for having so unmercifully baited
him? Yes," he conceded with a straightness that now surprised her,
"I've thought of that. But how can the baiting be proved?"
"If they take possession of his effects won't his effects be partly
his papers, and won't they, among them, find letters from you, and
won't your letters show it?"
"Well, show what?"
"Why, the frenzy to which you worked him -- and thereby your
"They won't show it to dunderheads."
"And are they all dunderheads?"
"Every mother's son of them -- where anything so beautiful is
"Beautiful?" Maud murmured.
"Beautiful, my letters are -- gems of the purest ray. I'm covered."
She let herself go -- she looked at him long. "You're a wonder. But
all the same," she added, "you don't like it."
"Well, I'm not sure." Which clearly meant, however, that he almost
was, from the way in which, the next moment, he had exchanged the
question for another. "You haven't anything to tell me of Mrs Chorner's
Oh, as to this, she had already considered and chosen. "What do you
want of it when you know so much more? So much more, I mean, than even
she has known."
"Then she hasn't known--?"
"There you are! What," asked Maud, "are you talking about?"
She had made him smile, even though his smile was perceptibly pale;
and he continued. "Of what was behind. Behind any game of mine. Behind
"So am I then talking of that. No," said Maud, "she hasn't known,
and she doesn't know I judge, to this hour. Her explanation therefore
doesn't bear upon that. It bears upon something else."
"Well, my dear, on what?"
He was not, however, to find out by simply calling her his dear;
for she had not sacrificed the reward of her interview in order to
present the fine flower of it, unbribed, even to him. "You know how
little you've ever told me, and you see how, at this instant, even
while you press me to gratify you, you give me nothing. I give," she
smiled -- yet not a little flushed -- "nothing for nothing."
He showed her he felt baffled, but also that she was perverse.
"What you want of me is what, originally, you wouldn't hear of:
anything so dreadful, that is, as his predicament must be. You saw that
to make him want to keep quiet he must have something to be ashamed of,
and that was just what, in pity, you positively objected to learning.
You've grown," Bight smiled, "more interested since."
"If I have," said Maud, "it's because you have. Now, at any rate,
I'm not afraid."
He waited a moment. "Are you very sure?"
"Yes, for my mystification is greater at last than my delicacy. I
don't know till I do know" -- and she expressed this even with
difficulty -- "what it has been, all the while, that it was a question
of, and what, consequently, all the while, we've been talking about."
"Ah, but why should you know?" the young man inquired. "I can
understand your needing to, or somebody's needing to, if we were in a
ply, or even, though in a less degree, if we were in a tile. But since,
my poor child, we're only in the delicious muddle of life itself--!"
"You may have all the plums of the pudding, and I nothing but a
mouthful of cold suet?" Maud pushed back her chair; she had taken up
her old gloves; but while she put them on she kept in view both her
friend and her grievance. "I don't believe," she at last brought out,
"that there is, or that there ever was, anything."
"Oh, oh, oh!" Bight laughed.
"There's nothing," she continued, "'behind'. There's no horror."
"You hold, by that," said Bight, "that the poor man's deed is all
me? That does make it, you see, bad for me."
She got up and, there before him, finished smoothing her creased
gloves. "Then we are -- if there's such richness -- in a ply."
"Well, we are not, at all events -- so far as we ourselves are
concerned -- the spectators." And he also got up. "The spectators must
look out for themselves."
"Evidently, poor things!" Maud sighed. And as he still stood as if
there might be something for him to come from her, she made her
attitude clear -- which was quite the attitude now of tormenting him a
little. "If you know something about him which she doesn't, and also
which I don't, she knows something about him -- as I do too -- which
"Surely: when it's exactly what I'm trying to get out of you. Are
you afraid I'll sell it?"
But even this taunt, which she took moreover at its worth, didn't
move her. "You definitely then won't tell me?"
"You mean that if I will you'll tell me?"
She thought again. "Well -- yes. But on that condition alone."
"Then you're safe," said Howard Bight. "I can't, really, my dear,
tell you. Besides, if it's to come out--!"
"I'll wait in that case till it does. But I must warn you," she
added, "that my facts won't come out."
He considered. "Why not, since the rush at her is probably even now
being made? Why not, if she receives others?"
Well, Maud could think too. "She'll receive them, but the won't
receive her. Others are like your people -- dunderheads. Others won't
understand, won't count, won't exist." And she moved to the door.
"There are no others." Opening the door, she had reached the street
with it, even while he replied, overtaking her, that there were
certainly none such as herself; but they had scarce passed out before
her last remark was, to their somewhat disconcerted sense, sharply
enough refuted. There was still the other they had forgotten, and that
neglected quantity, plainly in search of them and happy in his instinct
of the chase, now stayed their steps in the form of Mortimer Marshal.
He was coming in as they came out; and his "I hoped I might find
you," an exhalation of cool candour that they took full in the face,
had the effect, the next moment, of a great soft carpet, all flowers
and figures, suddenly unrolled for them to walk upon and before which
they felt a scruple. Their ejaculation, Maud was conscious, couldn't
have passed for a welcome, and it wasn't till she saw the poor
gentleman checked a little, in turn, by their blankness, that she fully
perceived how interesting they had just become to themselves. His face,
however, while, in their arrest, they neither proposed to re-enter the
shop with him nor invited him to proceed with them anywhere else -- his
face, gaping there, for Bight's promised instructions, like a fair
receptacle, shallow but with all the capacity of its flatness, brought
back so to our young woman the fond fancy her companion had last
excited in him that he profited just a little -- and for sympathy in
spite of his folly -- by her sense that with her too the latter had
somehow amused himself. This placed her, for the brief instant, in a
strange fellowship with their visitor's plea, under the impulse of
which, without more thought, she had turned to Bight. "Your eager
claimant," she, however, simply said, "for the opportunity now so
"I've ventured." Mr Marshal glowed back, "to come and remind you
that the hours are fleeting."
Bight had surveyed him with eyes perhaps equivocal. "You're afraid
someone else will step in?"
"Well, with the place so tempting and so empty--!"
Maud made herself again his voice. "Mr Marshal sees it empty itself
perhaps too fast."
He acknowledged, in his large, bright way, the help afforded him by
her easy lightness. "I do want to get in, you know, before anything
"And what," Bight inquired, "are you afraid may happen?"
"Well, to make sure," he smiled, "I want myself, don't you see, to
Our young woman, at this, fairly fell, for her friend, into his
sweetness. "Do let him happen!"
"Do let me happen!" Mr Marshal followed it up.
They stood there together, where they had paused, in their strange
council of three, and their extraordinary tone, in connection with
their number, might have marked them, for some passer catching it, as
persons not only discussing questions supposedly reserved for the
Fates, but absolutely enacting some encounter of these portentous
forces. "Let you -- let you?" Bight gravely echoed, while on the sound,
for the moment, immensities might have hung. It was as far, however, as
he was to have time to speak, for even while his voice was in the air
another, at first remote and vague, joined it there on an ominous note
and hushed all else to stillness. It came, through the roar of
thoroughfares, from the direction of Fleet Street, and it made our
interlocutors exchange an altered look. They recognised it, the next
thing, as the howl, again, of the Strand, and then but an instant
elapsed before it flared into the night. "Return of Beadel-Muffet!
Tremenjous indeed, so tremenjous that, each really turning as pale
with it as they had turned, on the same spot, the other time and with
the other news, they stood long enough stricken and still for the cry,
multiplied in a flash, again to reach them. They couldn't have said
afterwards who first took it up. "Return--?"
"From the Dead -- I say!" poor Marshal piercingly quavered.
"Then he hasn't been--?" Maud gasped it with him at Bight.
But that genius, clearly, was not less deeply affected. "He's
alive?" he breathed in a long, soft wail in which admiration appeared
at first to contend with amazement and then the sense of the comic to
triumph over both. Howard Bight uncontrollably -- it might have struck
them as almost hysterically -- laughed.
The others could indeed but stare. "Then who's dead?" piped
"I'm afraid, Mr Marshal, that you are," the young man returned,
more gravely, after a minute. He spoke as if he saw how dead.
Poor Marshal was lost. "But someone was killed--!"
"Someone undoubtedly was, but Beadel somehow has survived it."
"Has he, then, been playing the game--?" It baffled comprehension.
Yet it wasn't even that what Maud most wondered. "Have you all the
while really known?" she asked of Howard Bight.
He met it with a look that puzzled her for the instant, but that
she then saw to mean, half with amusement, half with sadness, that his
genius was, after all, simpler. "I wish I had. I really believed."
"No; but after Frankfort."
She remembered things. "You haven't had a notion this evening?"
"Only from the state of my nerves."
"Yes, your nerves must be in a state!" And somehow now she had no
pity for him. It was almost as if she were, frankly, disappointed. "I,"
she then boldly said, "didn't believe."
"If you had mentioned that then," Marshal observed to her, "you
would have saved me an awkwardness."
But Bight took him up. "She did believe -- so that she might punish
Maud raised her hand at her friend. "He doesn't understand."
He was indeed, Mr Marshal, fully pathetic now. "No, I don't
understand. Not a wee bit."
"Well," said Bight kindly, "we none of us do. We must give it up."
"You think I really must--?"
"You, sir," Bight smiled, "most of all. The places seem so taken."
His client, however, clung. "He won't die again--?"
"If he does he'll again come to life. He'll never die. Only we
shall die. He's immortal."
He looked up and down, this inquirer; he listened to the howl of
the Strand, not yet, as happened, brought nearer to them by one of the
hawkers. And yet it was as if, overwhelmed by his lost chance, he knew
himself too weak even for their fond aid. He still therefore appealed.
"Will this be a boom for him?"
"His return? Colossal. For -- fancy! -- it was exactly what we
talked of, you remember, the other day, as the ideal. I mean," Bight
smiled, "for a man to be lost, and yet at the same time--"
"To be found?" poor Marshal too hungrily mused.
"To be boomed," Bight continued, "by his smash and yet never to
have been too smashed to know how he was booming."
It was wonderful for Maud too. "To have given it all up, and yet to
have it all."
"Oh, better than that," said her friend: "to have more than all,
and more than you gave up. Beadel," he was careful to explain to their
companion, "will have more."
Mr Marshal struggled with it. "More than if he were dead?"
"More," Bight laughed, "than if he weren't! It's what you would
have liked, as I understand you, isn't it? and what you would have got.
It's what I would have helped you to."
"But who then," wailed Marshal, "helps him?"
"Nobody. His star. His genius."
Mortimer Marshal glared about him as for some sign of such aids in
his own sphere. It embraced, his own sphere too, the roaring Strand,
yet -- mystification and madness! -- it was with Beadel the Strand was
roaring. A hawker, from afar, at sight of the group, was already
scaling the slope. "Ah, but how the devil--?"
Bight pointed to this resource. "Go and see."
"But don't you want them?" poor Marshal asked as the others
"The Papers?" They stopped to answer. "No, never again. We've done
with them. We give it up."
"I mayn't again see you?"
Dismay and a last clutch were in Marshal's face, but Maud, who had
taken her friend's meaning in a flash, found the word to meet them. "We
retire from business."
With which they turned again to move in the other sense, presenting
their backs to Fleet Street. They moved together up the rest of the
hill, going on in silence, not arrested by another little shrieking
boy, not diverted by another extra-special, not pausing again till, at
the end of a few minutes, they found themselves in the comparative
solitude of Covent Garden, encumbered with the traces of its traffic,
but now given over to peace. The howl of the Strand had ceased, their
client had vanished forever, and from the centre of the empty space
they could look up and see stars. One of these was of course
Beadel-Muffet's, and the consciousness of that, for the moment, kept
down any arrogance of triumph. He still hung above them, he ruled,
immortal, the night; they were far beneath, and he now transcended
their world; but a sense of relief, of escape, of the light, still
unquenched, of their old irony, made them stand there face to face.
There was more between them now than there had ever been, but it had
ceased to separate them, it sustained them in fact like a deep water on
which they floated closer. Still, however, there was something Maud
needed. "It had been all the while worked ?"
"Ah, not, before God -- since I lost sight of him -- by me."
"Then by himself?"
"I dare say. But there are plenty for him. He's beyond me."
"But you thought," she said, "it would be so. You thought," she
Bight hesitated. "I thought it would be great if he could. And as
he could -- why, it is great. But all the same I too was sold. I am
sold. That's why I give up."
"Then it's why I do. We must do something," she smiled at him,
"that requires less cleverness."
"We must love each other," said Howard Bight.
"But can we live by that?"
He thought again; then he decided. "Yes."
"Ah," Maud amended, "we must be 'littery'. We've now got stuff."
"For the dear old ply, for the rattling good tile? Ah, they take
better stuff than this -- though this too is good."
"Yes," she granted on reflection, "this is good, but it has bad
holes. Who was the dead man in the locked hotel room?"
"Oh, I don't mean that. That," said Bight, "he'll splendidly
"Why, in the Papers. To-morrow."
Maud wondered. "So soon?"
"If he returned to-night, and it's not yet ten o'clock, there's
plenty of time. It will be in all of them -- while the universe waits.
He'll hold us in the hollow of his hand. His chance is just there. And
there," said the young man, "will be his greatness."
"Greater than ever then?"
She followed; then it made her seize his arm. "Go to him!"
Bight frowned. "'Go'--?"
"This instant. You explain!"
He understood, but only to shake his head. "Never again. I bow to
Well, she after a little understood; but she thought again. "You
mean that the great hole is that he really had no reason, no funk--?"
"I've wondered," said Howard Bight.
"Whether he had done anything to make publicity embarrassing?"
"I've wondered," the young man repeated.
"But I thought you knew!"
"So did I. But I thought also I knew he was dead. However," Bight
added, "he'll explain that too."
"No -- as a different branch. Say day after."
"Ah, then," said Maud, "if he explains--!"
"There's no hole? I don't know!" -- and it forced from him at last
a sigh. He was impatient of it, for he had done with it; it would soon
bore him. So fast they lived. "It will take," he only dropped, "much
His detachment was logical, but she looked a moment at his sudden
weariness. "There's always, remember, Mrs Chorner."
"Oh yes, Mrs Chorner; we luckily invented her."
"Well, if she drove him to his death --?"
Bight, with a laugh, caught at it. "Is that it? Did she drive him?"
It pulled her up, and, though she smiled, they stood again, a
little, as on their guard. "Now, at any rate," Maud simply said at
last, "she'll marry him. So you see how right I was."
With a preoccupation that had grown in him, however, he had already
lost the thread. "How right--?"
"Not to sell my Talk."
"Oh yes," -- he remembered. "Quite right." But it all came to
something else. "Whom will you marry?"
She only, at first, for answer, kept her eyes on him. Then she
turned them about the place and saw no hindrance, and then, further,
bending with a tenderness in which she felt so transformed, so won to
something she had never been before, that she might even, to other
eyes, well have looked so, she gravely kissed him. After which, as he
took her arm, they walked on together. "That, at least," she said,
"we'll put in the Papers."