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Title: Buried Alive: a Tale of These Days
Author: Bennett, Arnold, 1867-1931
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Buried Alive: a Tale of These Days" ***

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BURIED ALIVE
A Tale of These Days

BY
ARNOLD BENNETT



    To
    JOHN FREDERICK FARRAR
    M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P.
    MY COLLABORATOR
    IN THIS AND MANY OTHER BOOKS
    A GRATEFUL EXPRESSION
    OF OLD-ESTABLISHED REGARD



CONTENTS


I.    THE PUCE DRESSING-GOWN

II.   A PAIL

III.  THE PHOTOGRAPH

IV.   A SCOOP

V.    ALICE ON HOTELS

VI.   A PUTNEY MORNING

VII.  THE CONFESSION

VIII. AN INVASION

IX.   A GLOSSY MALE

X.    THE SECRET

XI.   AN ESCAPE

XII.  ALICE'S PERFORMANCES



CHAPTER I


_The Puce Dressing-gown_


The peculiar angle of the earth's axis to the plane of the ecliptic--
that angle which is chiefly responsible for our geography and therefore
for our history--had caused the phenomenon known in London as summer.
The whizzing globe happened to have turned its most civilized face away
from the sun, thus producing night in Selwood Terrace, South Kensington.
In No. 91 Selwood Terrace two lights, on the ground-floor and on the
first-floor, were silently proving that man's ingenuity can outwit
nature's. No. 91 was one of about ten thousand similar houses between
South Kensington Station and North End Road. With its grimy stucco
front, its cellar kitchen, its hundred stairs and steps, its perfect
inconvenience, and its conscience heavy with the doing to death of
sundry general servants, it uplifted tin chimney-cowls to heaven and
gloomily awaited the day of judgment for London houses, sublimely
ignoring the axial and orbital velocities of the earth and even the
reckless flight of the whole solar system through space. You felt that
No. 91 was unhappy, and that it could only be rendered happy by a 'To
let' standard in its front patch and a 'No bottles' card in its
cellar-windows. It possessed neither of these specifics. Though of late
generally empty, it was never untenanted. In the entire course of its
genteel and commodious career it had never once been to let.

Go inside, and breathe its atmosphere of a bored house that is generally
empty yet never untenanted. All its twelve rooms dark and forlorn, save
two; its cellar kitchen dark and forlorn; just these two rooms, one on
the top of the other like boxes, pitifully struggling against the
inveterate gloom of the remaining ten! Stand in the dark hall and get
this atmosphere into your lungs.

The principal, the startling thing in the illuminated room on the
ground-floor was a dressing-gown, of the colour, between heliotrope and
purple, known to a previous generation as puce; a quilted garment
stuffed with swansdown, light as hydrogen--nearly, and warm as the smile
of a kind heart; old, perhaps, possibly worn in its outlying regions and
allowing fluffs of feathery white to escape through its satin pores; but
a dressing-gown to dream of. It dominated the unkempt, naked apartment,
its voluptuous folds glittering crudely under the sun-replacing oil lamp
which was set on a cigar-box on the stained deal table. The oil lamp had
a glass reservoir, a chipped chimney, and a cardboard shade, and had
probably cost less than a florin; five florins would have purchased the
table; and all the rest of the furniture, including the arm-chair in
which the dressing-gown reclined, a stool, an easel, three packets of
cigarettes and a trouser-stretcher, might have been replaced for another
ten florins. Up in the corners of the ceiling, obscure in the eclipse of
the cardboard shade, was a complicated system of cobwebs to match the
dust on the bare floor.

Within the dressing-gown there was a man. This man had reached the
interesting age. I mean the age when you think you have shed all the
illusions of infancy, when you think you understand life, and when you
are often occupied in speculating upon the delicious surprises which
existence may hold for you; the age, in sum, that is the most romantic
and tender of all ages--for a male. I mean the age of fifty. An age
absurdly misunderstood by all those who have not reached it! A thrilling
age! Appearances are tragically deceptive.

The inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown had a short greying beard and
moustache; his plenteous hair was passing from pepper into salt; there
were many minute wrinkles in the hollows between his eyes and the fresh
crimson of his cheeks; and the eyes were sad; they were very sad. Had he
stood erect and looked perpendicularly down, he would have perceived,
not his slippers, but a protuberant button of the dressing-gown.
Understand me: I conceal nothing; I admit the figures written in the
measurement-book of his tailor. He was fifty. Yet, like most men of
fifty, he was still very young, and, like most bachelors of fifty, he
was rather helpless. He was quite sure that he had not had the best of
luck. If he had excavated his soul he would have discovered somewhere in
its deeps a wistful, appealing desire to be taken care of, to be
sheltered from the inconveniences and harshness of the world. But he
would not have admitted the discovery. A bachelor of fifty cannot be
expected to admit that he resembles a girl of nineteen. Nevertheless it
is a strange fact that the resemblance between the heart of an
experienced, adventurous bachelor of fifty and the simple heart of a
girl of nineteen is stronger than girls of nineteen imagine; especially
when the bachelor of fifty is sitting solitary and unfriended at two
o'clock in the night, in the forlorn atmosphere of a house that has
outlived its hopes. Bachelors of fifty alone will comprehend me.

It has never been decided what young girls do meditate upon when they
meditate; young girls themselves cannot decide. As a rule the lonely
fancies of middle-aged bachelors are scarcely less amenable to
definition. But the case of the inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown was
an exception to the rule. He knew, and he could have said, precisely
what he was thinking about. In that sad hour and place, his melancholy
thoughts were centred upon the resplendent, unique success in life of a
gifted and glorious being known to nations and newspapers as Priam
Farll.


_Riches and Renown_


In the days when the New Gallery was new, a picture, signed by the
unknown name of Priam Farll, was exhibited there, and aroused such
terrific interest that for several months no conversation among cultured
persons was regarded as complete without some reference to it. That the
artist was a very great painter indeed was admitted by every one; the
only question which cultured persons felt it their duty to settle was
whether he was the greatest painter that ever lived or merely the
greatest painter since Velasquez. Cultured persons might have continued
to discuss that nice point to the present hour, had it not leaked out
that the picture had been refused by the Royal Academy. The culture of
London then at once healed up its strife and combined to fall on the
Royal Academy as an institution which had no right to exist. The affair
even got into Parliament and occupied three minutes of the imperial
legislature. Useless for the Royal Academy to argue that it had
overlooked the canvas, for its dimensions were seven feet by five; it
represented a policeman, a simple policeman, life-size, and it was not
merely the most striking portrait imaginable, but the first appearance
of the policeman in great art; criminals, one heard, instinctively fled
before it. No! The Royal Academy really could not argue that the work
had been overlooked. And in truth the Royal Academy did not argue
accidental negligence. It did not argue about its own right to exist. It
did not argue at all. It blandly went on existing, and taking about a
hundred and fifty pounds a day in shillings at its polished turnstiles.
No details were obtainable concerning Priam Farll, whose address was
Poste Restante, St. Martin's-le-Grand. Various collectors, animated by
deep faith in their own judgment and a sincere desire to encourage
British art, were anxious to purchase the picture for a few pounds, and
these enthusiasts were astonished and pained to learn that Priam Farll
had marked a figure of £1,000--the price of a rare postage stamp.

In consequence the picture was not sold; and after an enterprising
journal had unsuccessfully offered a reward for the identification of
the portrayed policeman, the matter went gently to sleep while the
public employed its annual holiday as usual in discussing the big
gooseberry of matrimonial relations.

Every one naturally expected that in the following year the mysterious
Priam Farll would, in accordance with the universal rule for a
successful career in British art, contribute another portrait of another
policeman to the New Gallery--and so on for about twenty years, at the
end of which period England would have learnt to recognize him as its
favourite painter of policemen. But Priam Farll contributed nothing to
the New Gallery. He had apparently forgotten the New Gallery: which was
considered to be ungracious, if not ungrateful, on his part. Instead, he
adorned the Paris salon with a large seascape showing penguins in the
foreground. Now these penguins became the penguins of the continental
year; they made penguins the fashionable bird in Paris, and also (twelve
months later) in London. The French Government offered to buy the
picture on behalf of the Republic at its customary price of five hundred
francs, but Priam Farll sold it to the American connoisseur Whitney C.
Whitt for five thousand dollars. Shortly afterwards he sold the
policeman, whom he had kept by him, to the same connoisseur for ten
thousand dollars. Whitney C. Whitt was the expert who had paid two
hundred thousand dollars for a Madonna and St. Joseph, with donor, of
Raphael. The enterprising journal before mentioned calculated that,
counting the space actually occupied on the canvas by the policeman, the
daring connoisseur had expended two guineas per square inch on the
policeman.

At which stage the vast newspaper public suddenly woke up and demanded
with one voice:

"Who is this Priam Farll?"

Though the query remained unanswered, Priam Farll's reputation was
henceforward absolutely assured, and this in spite of the fact that he
omitted to comply with the regulations ordained by English society for
the conduct of successful painters. He ought, first, to have taken the
elementary precaution of being born in the United States. He ought,
after having refused all interviews for months, to have ultimately
granted a special one to a newspaper with the largest circulation. He
ought to have returned to England, grown a mane and a tufted tail, and
become the king of beasts; or at least to have made a speech at a
banquet about the noble and purifying mission of art. Assuredly he ought
to have painted the portrait of his father or grandfather as an artisan,
to prove that he was not a snob. But no! Not content with making each of
his pictures utterly different from all the others, he neglected all the
above formalities--and yet managed to pile triumph on triumph. There are
some men of whom it may be said that, like a punter on a good day, they
can't do wrong. Priam Farll was one such. In a few years he had become a
legend, a standing side-dish of a riddle. No one knew him; no one saw
him; no one married him. Constantly abroad, he was ever the subject of
conflicting rumours. Parfitts themselves, his London agents, knew naught
of him but his handwriting--on the backs of cheques in four figures.
They sold an average of five large and five small pictures for him every
year. These pictures arrived out of the unknown and the cheques went
into the unknown.

Young artists, mute in admiration before the masterpieces from his brush
which enriched all the national galleries of Europe (save, of course,
that in Trafalgar Square), dreamt of him, worshipped him, and quarrelled
fiercely about him, as the very symbol of glory, luxury and flawless
accomplishment, never conceiving him as a man like themselves, with
boots to lace up, a palette to clean, a beating heart, and an
instinctive fear of solitude.

Finally there came to him the paramount distinction, the last proof that
he was appreciated. The press actually fell into the habit of mentioning
his name without explanatory comment. Exactly as it does not write "Mr.
A.J. Balfour, the eminent statesman," or "Sarah Bernhardt, the renowned
actress," or "Charles Peace, the historic murderer," but simply "Mr.
A.J. Balfour," "Sarah Bernhardt" or "Charles Peace"; so it wrote simply
"Mr. Priam Farll." And no occupant of a smoker in a morning train ever
took his pipe out of his mouth to ask, "What is the johnny?" Greater
honour in England hath no man. Priam Farll was the first English painter
to enjoy this supreme social reward.

And now he was inhabiting the puce dressing-gown.


_The Dreadful Secret_


A bell startled the forlorn house; its loud old-fashioned jangle came
echoingly up the basement stairs and struck the ear of Priam Farll, who
half rose and then sat down again. He knew that it was an urgent summons
to the front door, and that none but he could answer it; and yet he
hesitated.

Leaving Priam Farll, the great and wealthy artist, we return to that far
more interesting person, Priam Farll the private human creature; and
come at once to the dreadful secret of his character, the trait in him
which explained the peculiar circumstances of his life.

As a private human creature, he happened to be shy.

He was quite different from you or me. We never feel secret qualms at
the prospect of meeting strangers, or of taking quarters at a grand
hotel, or of entering a large house for the first time, or of walking
across a room full of seated people, or of dismissing a servant, or of
arguing with a haughty female aristocrat behind a post-office counter,
or of passing a shop where we owe money. As for blushing or hanging
back, or even looking awkward, when faced with any such simple, everyday
acts, the idea of conduct so childish would not occur to us. We behave
naturally under all circumstances--for why should a sane man behave
otherwise? Priam Farll was different. To call the world's attention
visually to the fact of his own existence was anguish to him. But in a
letter he could be absolutely brazen. Give him a pen and he was
fearless.

Now he knew that he would have to go and open the front door. Both
humanity and self-interest urged him to go instantly. For the visitant
was assuredly the doctor, come at last to see the sick man lying
upstairs. The sick man was Henry Leek, and Henry Leek was Priam Farll's
bad habit. While somewhat of a rascal (as his master guessed), Leek was
a very perfect valet. Like you and me, he was never shy. He always did
the natural thing naturally. He had become, little by little,
indispensable to Priam Farll, the sole means of living communication
between Priam Farll and the universe of men. The master's shyness,
resembling a deer's, kept the pair almost entirely out of England, and,
on their continuous travels, the servant invariably stood between that
sensitive diffidence and the world. Leek saw every one who had to be
seen, and did everything that involved personal contacts. And, being a
bad habit, he had, of course, grown on Priam Farll, and thus, year after
year, for a quarter of a century, Farll's shyness, with his riches and
his glory, had increased. Happily Leek was never ill. That is to say, he
never had been ill, until this day of their sudden incognito arrival in
London for a brief sojourn. He could hardly have chosen a more
inconvenient moment; for in London of all places, in that inherited
house in Selwood Terrace which he so seldom used, Priam Farll could not
carry on daily life without him. It really was unpleasant and disturbing
in the highest degree, this illness of Leek's. The fellow had apparently
caught cold on the night-boat. He had fought the approaches of insidious
disease for several hours, going forth to make purchases and
incidentally consulting a doctor; and then, without warning, in the very
act of making up Farll's couch, he had abandoned the struggle, and,
since his own bed was not ready, he had taken to his master's. He always
did the natural thing naturally. And Farll had been forced to help him
to undress!

From this point onwards Priam Farll, opulent though he was and
illustrious, had sunk to a tragic impotence. He could do nothing for
himself; and he could do nothing for Leek, because Leek refused both
brandy and sandwiches, and the larder consisted solely of brandy and
sandwiches. The man lay upstairs there, comatose, still, silent, waiting
for the doctor who had promised to pay an evening visit. And the summer
day had darkened into the summer night.

The notion of issuing out into the world and personally obtaining food
for himself or aid for Leek, did genuinely seem to Priam Farll an
impossible notion; he had never done such things. For him a shop was an
impregnable fort garrisoned by ogres. Besides, it would have been
necessary to 'ask,' and 'asking' was the torture of tortures. So he had
wandered, solicitous and helpless, up and down the stairs, until at
length Leek, ceasing to be a valet and deteriorating into a mere human
organism, had feebly yet curtly requested to be just let alone,
asserting that he was right enough. Whereupon the envied of all
painters, the symbol of artistic glory and triumph, had assumed the
valet's notorious puce dressing-gown and established himself in a hard
chair for a night of discomfort.

The bell rang once more, and there was a sharp impressive knock that
reverberated through the forlorn house in a most portentous and
terrifying manner. It might have been death knocking. It engendered the
horrible suspicion, "Suppose he's _seriously_ ill?" Priam Farll sprang
up nervously, braced to meet ringers and knockers.


_Cure for Shyness_


On the other side of the door, dressed in frock coat and silk hat, there
stood hesitating a tall, thin, weary man who had been afoot for exactly
twenty hours, in pursuit of his usual business of curing imaginary
ailments by means of medicine and suggestion, and leaving real ailments
to nature aided by coloured water. His attitude towards the medical
profession was somewhat sardonic, partly because he was convinced that
only the gluttony of South Kensington provided him with a livelihood,
but more because his wife and two fully-developed daughters spent too
much on their frocks. For years, losing sight of the fact that he was an
immortal soul, they had been treating him as a breakfast-in-the-slot
machine: they put a breakfast in the slot, pushed a button of his
waistcoat, and drew out banknotes. For this, he had neither partner, nor
assistant, nor carriage, nor holiday: his wife and daughters could not
afford him these luxuries. He was able, conscientious, chronically
tired, bald and fifty. He was also, strange as it may seem, shy; though
indeed he had grown used to it, as a man gets used to a hollow tooth or
an eel to skinning. No qualities of the young girl's heart about the
heart of Dr. Cashmore! He really did know human nature, and he never
dreamt of anything more paradisaical than a Sunday Pullman escapade to
Brighton.

Priam Farll opened the door which divided these two hesitating men, and
they saw each other by the light of the gas lamp (for the hall was in
darkness).

"This Mr. Farll's?" asked Dr. Cashmore, with the unintentional asperity
of shyness.

As for Priam, the revelation of his name by Leek shocked him almost into
a sweat. Surely the number of the house should have sufficed.

"Yes," he admitted, half shy and half vexed. "Are you the doctor?"

"Yes."

Dr. Cashmore stepped into the obscurity of the hall.

"How's the invalid going on?"

"I can scarcely tell you," said Priam. "He's in bed, very quiet."

"That's right," said the doctor. "When he came to my surgery this
morning I advised him to go to bed."

Then followed a brief awkward pause, during which Priam Farll coughed
and the doctor rubbed his hands and hummed a fragment of melody.

"By Jove!" the thought flashed through the mind of Farll. "This chap's
shy, I do believe!"

And through the mind of the doctor, "Here's another of 'em, all nerves!"

They both instantly, from sheer good-natured condescension the one to
the other, became at ease. It was as if a spring had been loosed. Priam
shut the door and shut out the ray of the street lamp.

"I'm afraid there's no light here," said he.

"I'll strike a match," said the doctor.

"Thanks very much," said Priam.

The flare of a wax vesta illumined the splendours of the puce
dressing-gown. But Dr. Cashmore did not blench. He could flatter himself
that in the matter of dressing-gowns he had nothing to learn.

"By the way, what's wrong with him, do you think?" Priam Farll inquired
in his most boyish voice.

"Don't know. Chill! He had a loud cardiac murmur. Might be anything.
That's why I said I'd call anyhow to-night. Couldn't come any sooner.
Been on my feet since six o'clock this morning. You know what it
is--G.P.'s day."

He smiled grimly in his fatigue.

"It's very good of you to come," said Priam Farll with warm, vivacious
sympathy. He had an astonishing gift for imaginatively putting himself
in the place of other people.

"Not at all!" the doctor muttered. He was quite touched. To hide the
fact that he was touched he struck a second match. "Shall we go
upstairs?"

In the bedroom a candle was burning on a dusty and empty dressing-table.
Dr. Cashmore moved it to the vicinity of the bed, which was like an
oasis of decent arrangement in the desert of comfortless chamber; then
he stooped to examine the sick valet.

"He's shivering!" exclaimed the doctor softly.

Henry Leek's skin was indeed bluish, though, besides blankets, there was
a considerable apparatus of rugs on the bed, and the night was warm. His
ageing face (for he was the third man of fifty in that room) had an
anxious look. But he made no movement, uttered no word, at sight of the
doctor; just stared, dully. His own difficult breathing alone seemed to
interest him.

"Any women up?"

The doctor turned suddenly and fiercely on Priam Farll, who started.

"There's only ourselves in the house," he replied.

A person less experienced than Dr. Cashmore in the secret strangenesses
of genteel life in London might have been astonished by this
information. But Dr. Cashmore no more blenched now than he had blenched
at the puce garment.

"Well, hurry up and get some hot water," said he, in a tone dictatorial
and savage. "Quick, now! And brandy! And more blankets! Now don't stand
there, please! Here! I'll go with you to the kitchen. Show me!" He
snatched up the candle, and the expression of his features said, "I can
see you're no good in a crisis."

"It's all up with me, doctor," came a faint whisper from the bed.

"So it is, my boy!" said the doctor under his breath as he tumbled
downstairs in the wake of Priam Farll. "Unless I get something hot into
you!"


_Master and Servant_


"Will there have to be an inquest?" Priam Farll asked at 6 a.m.

He had collapsed in the hard chair on the ground-floor. The
indispensable Henry Leek was lost to him for ever. He could not imagine
what would happen to his existence in the future. He could not conceive
himself without Leek. And, still worse, the immediate prospect of
unknown horrors of publicity in connection with the death of Leek
overwhelmed him.

"No!" said the doctor, cheerfully. "Oh no! I was present. Acute double
pneumonia! Sometimes happens like that! I can give a certificate. But of
course you will have to go to the registrar's and register the death."

Even without an inquest, he saw that the affair would be unthinkably
distressing. He felt that it would kill him, and he put his hand to his
face.

"Where are Mr. Farll's relatives to be found?" the doctor asked.

"Mr. Farll's relatives?" Priam Farll repeated without comprehending.

Then he understood. Dr. Cashmore thought that Henry Leek's name was
Farll! And all the sensitive timidity in Priam Farll's character seized
swiftly at the mad chance of escape from any kind of public appearance
as Priam Farll. Why should he not let it be supposed that he, and not
Henry Leek, had expired suddenly in Selwood Terrace at 5 a.m. He would
be free, utterly free!

"Yes," said the doctor. "They must be informed, naturally."

Priam's mind ran rapidly over the catalogue of his family. He could
think of no one nearer than a certain Duncan Farll, a second cousin.

"I don't think he had any," he replied in a voice that trembled with
excitement at the capricious rashness of what he was doing. "Perhaps
there were distant cousins. But Mr. Farll never talked of them."

Which was true.

He could scarcely articulate the words 'Mr Farll.' But when they were
out of his mouth he felt that the deed was somehow definitely done.

The doctor gazed at Priam's hands, the rough, coarsened hands of a
painter who is always messing in oils and dust.

"Pardon me," said the doctor. "I presume you are his valet--or--"

"Yes," said Priam Farll.

That set the seal.

"What was your master's full name?" the doctor demanded.

And Priam Farll shivered.

"Priam Farll," said he weakly.

"Not _the_--?" loudly exclaimed the doctor, whom the hazards of life in
London had at last staggered.

Priam nodded.

"Well, well!" The doctor gave vent to his feelings. The truth was that
this particular hazard of life in London pleased him, flattered him,
made him feel important in the world, and caused him to forget his
fatigue and his wrongs.

He saw that the puce dressing-gown contained a man who was at the end of
his tether, and with that good nature of his which no hardships had been
able to destroy, he offered to attend to the preliminary formalities.
Then he went.


_A Month's Wages_


Priam Farll had no intention of falling asleep; his desire was to
consider the position which he had so rashly created for himself; but he
did fall asleep--and in the hard chair! He was awakened by a tremendous
clatter, as if the house was being bombarded and there were bricks
falling about his ears. When he regained all his senses this bombardment
resolved itself into nothing but a loud and continued assault on the
front door. He rose, and saw a frowsy, dishevelled, puce-coloured figure
in the dirty mirror over the fireplace. And then, with stiff limbs, he
directed his sleepy feet towards the door.

Dr. Cashmore was at the door, and still another man of fifty, a
stern-set, blue-chinned, stoutish person in deep and perfect mourning,
including black gloves.

This person gazed coldly at Priam Farll.

"Ah!" ejaculated the mourner.

And stepped in, followed by Dr. Cashmore.

In achieving the inner mat the mourner perceived a white square on the
floor. He picked it up and carefully examined it, and then handed it to
Priam Farll.

"I suppose this is for you," said he.

Priam, accepting the envelope, saw that it was addressed to "Henry Leek,
Esq., 91 Selwood Terrace, S.W.," in a woman's hand.

"It _is_ for you, isn't it?" pursued the mourner in an inflexible voice.

"Yes," said Priam.

"I am Mr. Duncan Farll, a solicitor, a cousin of your late employer,"
the metallic voice continued, coming through a set of large, fine, white
teeth. "What arrangements have you made during the day?"

Priam stammered: "None. I've been asleep."

"You aren't very respectful," said Duncan Farll.

So this was his second cousin, whom he had met, once only, as a boy!
Never would he have recognized Duncan. Evidently it did not occur to
Duncan to recognize him. People are apt to grow unrecognizable in the
course of forty years.

Duncan Farll strode about the ground-floor of the house, and on the
threshold of each room ejaculated "Ah!" or "Ha!" Then he and the doctor
went upstairs. Priam remained inert, and excessively disturbed, in the
hall.

At length Duncan Farll descended.

"Come in here, Leek," said Duncan.

And Priam meekly stepped after him into the room where the hard chair
was. Duncan Farll took the hard chair.

"What are your wages?"

Priam sought to remember how much he had paid Henry Leek.

"A hundred a year," said he.

"Ah! A good wage. When were you last paid?"

Priam remembered that he had paid Leek two days ago.

"The day before yesterday," said he.

"I must say again you are not very respectful," Duncan observed, drawing
forth his pocket-book. "However, here is £8 7_s_., a month's wages in
lieu of notice. Put your things together, and go. I shall have no
further use for you. I will make no observations of any kind. But be
good enough to _dress_--it is three o'clock--and leave the house at
once. Let me see your box or boxes before you go."

When, an hour later, in the gloaming, Priam Farll stood on the wrong
side of his own door, with Henry Leek's heavy kit-bag and Henry Leek's
tin trunk flanking him on either hand, he saw that events in his career
were moving with immense rapidity. He had wanted to be free, and free he
was. Quite free! But it appeared to him very remarkable that so much
could happen, in so short a time, as the result of a mere momentary
impulsive prevarication.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER II


_A Pail_


Sticking out of the pocket of Leek's light overcoat was a folded copy of
the _Daily Telegraph_. Priam Farll was something of a dandy, and like
all right-thinking dandies and all tailors, he objected to the suave
line of a garment being spoilt by a free utilization of pockets. The
overcoat itself, and the suit beneath, were quite good; for, though they
were the property of the late Henry Leek, they perfectly fitted Priam
Farll and had recently belonged to him, Leek having been accustomed to
clothe himself entirely from his master's wardrobe. The dandy absently
drew forth the _Telegraph_, and the first thing that caught his eye was
this: "A beautiful private hotel of the highest class. Luxuriously
furnished. Visitor's comfort studied. Finest position in London. Cuisine
a speciality. Quiet. Suitable for persons of superior rank. Bathroom.
Electric light. Separate tables. No irritating extras. Single rooms from
2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly. 250 Queen's Gate." And
below this he saw another piece of news: "Not a boarding-house. A
magnificent mansion. Forty bedrooms by Waring. Superb public saloons by
Maple. Parisian chef. Separate tables. Four bathrooms. Card-room,
billiard-room, vast lounge. Young, cheerful, musical society. Bridge
(small). Special sanitation. Finest position in London. No irritating
extras. Single rooms from 2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly.
Phone 10,073 Western. Trefusis Mansion, W."

At that moment a hansom cab came ambling down Selwood Terrace.

Impulsively he hailed it.

"'Ere, guv'nor," said the cabman, seeing with an expert eye that Priam
Farll was unaccustomed to the manipulation of luggage. "Give this 'ere
Hackenschmidt a copper to lend ye a hand. You're only a light weight."

A small and emaciated boy, with the historic remains of a cigarette in
his mouth, sprang like a monkey up the steps, and, not waiting to be
asked, snatched the trunk from Priam's hands. Priam gave him one of
Leek's sixpences for his feats of strength, and the boy spat generously
on the coin, at the same time, by a strange skill, clinging to the
cigarette with his lower lip. Then the driver lifted the reins with a
noble gesture, and Priam had to be decisive and get into the cab.

"250 Queen's Gate," said he.

As, keeping his head to one side to avoid the reins, he gave the
direction across the roof of the cab to the attentive cocked ear of the
cabman, he felt suddenly that he had regained his nationality, that he
was utterly English, in an atmosphere utterly English. The hansom was
like home after the wilderness.

He had chosen 250 Queen's Gate because it appeared the abode of
tranquillity and discretion. He felt that he might sink into 250 Queen's
Gate as into a feather bed. The other palace intimidated him. It
recalled the terrors of a continental hotel. In his wanderings he had
suffered much from the young, cheerful and musical society of bright
hotels, and bridge (small) had no attraction for him.

As the cab tinkled through canyons of familiar stucco, he looked further
at the _Telegraph_. He was rather surprised to find more than a column
of enticing palaces, each in the finest position in London; London, in
fact, seemed to be one unique, glorious position. And it was so welcome,
so receptive, so wishful to make a speciality of your comfort, your
food, your bath, your sanitation! He remembered the old boarding-houses
of the eighties. Now all was changed, for the better. The _Telegraph_
was full of the better, crammed and packed with tight columns of it. The
better burst aspiringly from the tops of columns on the first page and
outsoared the very title of the paper. He saw there, for instance, to
the left of the title, a new, refined tea-house in Piccadilly Circus,
owned and managed by gentlewomen, where you had real tea and real
bread-and butter and real cakes in a real drawing-room. It was
astounding.

The cab stopped.

"Is this it?" he asked the driver.

"This is 250, sir."

And it was. But it did not resemble even a private hotel. It exactly
resembled a private house, narrow and tall and squeezed in between its
sister and its brother. Priam Farll was puzzled, till the solution
occurred to him. "Of course," he said to himself. "This is the quietude,
the discretion. I shall like this." He jumped down.

"I'll keep you," he threw to the cabman, in the proper phrase (which he
was proud to recall from his youth), as though the cabman had been
something which he had ordered on approval.

There were two bell-knobs. He pulled one, and waited for the portals to
open on discreet vistas of luxurious furniture. No response! Just as he
was consulting the _Telegraph_ to make sure of the number, the door
silently swung back, and disclosed the figure of a middle-aged woman in
black silk, who regarded him with a stern astonishment.

"Is this----?" he began, nervous and abashed by her formidable stare.

"Were you wanting rooms?" she asked.

"Yes," said he. "I was. If I could just see----"

"Will you come in?" she said. And her morose face, under stringent
commands from her brain, began an imitation of a smile which, as an
imitation, was wonderful. It made you wonder how she had ever taught her
face to do it.

Priam Farll found himself blushing on a Turkey carpet, and a sort of
cathedral gloom around him. He was disconcerted, but the Turkey carpet
assured him somewhat. As his eyes grew habituated to the light he saw
that the cathedral was very narrow, and that instead of the choir was a
staircase, also clothed in Turkey carpet. On the lowest step reposed an
object whose nature he could not at first determine.

"Would it be for long?" the lips opposite him muttered cautiously.

His reply--the reply of an impulsive, shy nature--was to rush out of the
palace. He had identified the object on the stairs. It was a slop-pail
with a wrung cloth on its head.

He felt profoundly discouraged and pessimistic. All his energy had left
him. London had become hard, hostile, cruel, impossible. He longed for
Leek with a great longing.


_Tea_


An hour later, having at the kind suggestion of the cabman deposited
Leek's goods at the cloak-room of South Kensington Station, he was
wandering on foot out of old London into the central ring of new London,
where people never do anything except take the air in parks, lounge in
club-windows, roll to and fro in peculiar vehicles that have ventured
out without horses and are making the best of it, buy flowers and
Egyptian cigarettes, look at pictures, and eat and drink. Nearly all the
buildings were higher than they used to be, and the street wider; and at
intervals of a hundred yards or so cranes that rent the clouds and
defied the law of gravity were continually swinging bricks and marble
into the upper layers of the air. Violets were on sale at every corner,
and the atmosphere was impregnated with an intoxicating perfume of
methylated spirits. Presently he arrived at an immense arched façade
bearing principally the legend 'Tea,' and he saw within hundreds of
persons sipping tea; and next to that was another arched façade bearing
principally the word 'Tea,' and he saw within more hundreds sipping tea;
and then another; and then another; and then suddenly he came to an open
circular place that seemed vaguely familiar.

"By Jove!" he said. "This is Piccadilly Circus!"

And just at that moment, over a narrow doorway, he perceived the image
of a green tree, and the words, 'The Elm Tree.' It was the entrance to
the Elm Tree Tea Rooms, so well spoken of in the _Telegraph_. In certain
ways he was a man of advanced and humane ideas, and the thought of
delicately nurtured needy gentlewomen bravely battling with the world
instead of starving as they used to starve in the past, appealed to his
chivalry. He determined to assist them by taking tea in the advertised
drawing-room. Gathering together his courage, he penetrated into a
corridor lighted by pink electricity, and then up pink stairs. A pink
door stopped him at last. It might have hid mysterious and questionable
things, but it said laconically 'Push,' and he courageously pushed... He
was in a kind of boudoir thickly populated with tables and chairs. The
swift transmigration from the blatant street to a drawing-room had a
startling effect on him: it caused him to whip off his hat as though his
hat had been red hot. Except for two tall elegant creatures who stood
together at the other end of the boudoir, the chairs and tables had the
place to themselves. He was about to stammer an excuse and fly, when one
of the gentlewomen turned her eye on him for a moment, and so he sat
down. The gentlewomen then resumed their conversation. He glanced
cautiously about him. Elm-trees, firmly rooted in a border of Indian
matting, grew round all the walls in exotic profusion, and their topmost
branches splashed over on to the ceiling. A card on the trunk of a tree,
announcing curtly, "Dogs not allowed," seemed to enhearten him. After a
pause one of the gentlewomen swam haughtily towards him and looked him
between the eyes. She spoke no word, but her firm, austere glance said:

"Now, out with it, and see you behave yourself!"

He had been ready to smile chivalrously. But the smile was put to sudden
death.

"Some tea, please," he said faintly, and his intimidated tone said, "If
it isn't troubling you too much."

"What do you want with it?" asked the gentlewoman abruptly, and as he
was plainly at a loss she added, "Crumpets or tea-cake?"

"Tea-cake," he replied, though he hated tea-cake. But he was afraid.

"You've escaped this time," said the drapery of her muslins as she swam
from his sight. "But no nonsense while I'm away!"

When she sternly and mutely thrust the refection before him, he found
that everything on the table except the tea-cakes and the spoon was
growing elm-trees.

After one cup and one slice, when the tea had become stewed and
undrinkable, and the tea-cake a material suitable for the manufacture of
shooting boots, he resumed, at any rate partially, his presence of mind,
and remembered that he had done nothing positively criminal in entering
the boudoir or drawing-room and requesting food in return for money.
Besides, the gentlewomen were now pretending to each other that he did
not exist, and no other rash persons had been driven by hunger into the
virgin forest of elm-trees. He began to meditate, and his meditations
taking--for him--an unusual turn, caused him surreptitiously to examine
Henry Leek's pocket-book (previously only known to him by sight). He had
not for many years troubled himself concerning money, but the discovery
that, when he had paid for the deposit of luggage at the cloak-room, a
solitary sovereign rested in the pocket of Leek's trousers, had
suggested to him that it would be advisable sooner or later to consider
the financial aspect of existence.

There were two banknotes for ten pounds each in Leek's pocket-book; also
five French banknotes of a thousand francs each, and a number of Italian
banknotes of small denominations: the equivalent of two hundred and
thirty pounds altogether, not counting a folded inch-rule, some postage
stamps, and a photograph of a pleasant-faced woman of forty or so. This
sum seemed neither vast nor insignificant to Priam Farll. It seemed to
him merely a tangible something which would enable him to banish the
fiscal question from his mind for an indefinite period. He scarcely even
troubled to wonder what Leek was doing with over two years of Leek's
income in his pocket-book. He knew, or at least he with certainty
guessed, that Leek had been a rascal. Still, he had had a sort of grim,
cynical affection for Leek. And the thought that Leek would never again
shave him, nor tell him in accents that brooked no delay that his hair
must be cut, nor register his luggage and secure his seat on
long-distance expresses, filled him with very real melancholy. He did
not feel sorry for Leek, nor say to himself "Poor Leek!" Nobody who had
had the advantage of Leek's acquaintance would have said "Poor Leek!"
For Leek's greatest speciality had always been the speciality of looking
after Leek, and wherever Leek might be it was a surety that Leek's
interests would not suffer. Therefore Priam Farll's pity was mainly
self-centred.

And though his dignity had been considerably damaged during the final
moments at Selwood Terrace, there was matter for congratulation. The
doctor, for instance, had shaken hands with him at parting; had shaken
hands openly, in the presence of Duncan Farll: a flattering tribute to
his personality. But the chief of Priam Farll's satisfactions in that
desolate hour was that he had suppressed himself, that for the world he
existed no more. I shall admit frankly that this satisfaction nearly
outweighed his grief. He sighed--and it was a sigh of tremendous relief.
For now, by a miracle, he would be free from the menace of Lady Sophia
Entwistle. Looking back in calmness at the still recent Entwistle
episode in Paris--the real originating cause of his sudden flight to
London--he was staggered by his latent capacity for downright, impulsive
foolishness. Like all shy people he had fits of amazing audacity--and
his recklessness usually took the form of making himself agreeable to
women whom he encountered in travel (he was much less shy with women
than with men). But to propose marriage to a weather-beaten haunter of
hotels like Lady Sophia Entwistle, and to reveal his identity to her,
and to allow her to accept his proposal--the thing had been unimaginably
inept!

And now he was free, for he was dead.

He was conscious of a chill in the spine as he dwelt on the awful fate
which he had escaped. He, a man of fifty, a man of set habits, a man
habituated to the liberty of the wild stag, to bow his proud neck under
the solid footwear of Lady Sophia Entwistle!

Yes, there was most decidedly a silver lining to the dark cloud of
Leek's translation to another sphere of activity.

In replacing the pocket-book his hand encountered the letter which had
arrived for Leek in the morning. Arguing with himself whether he ought
to open it, he opened it. It ran: "Dear Mr. Leek, I am so glad to have
your letter, and I think the photograph is most gentlemanly. But I do
wish you would not write with a typewriter. You don't know how this
affects a woman, or you wouldn't do it. However, I shall be so glad to
meet you now, as you suggest. Suppose we go to Maskelyne and Cook's
together to-morrow afternoon (Saturday). You know it isn't the Egyptian
Hall any more. It is in St. George's Hall, I think. But you will see it
in the _Telegraph_; also the time. I will be there when the doors open.
You will recognize me from my photograph; but I shall wear red roses in
my hat. So _au revoir_ for the present. Yours sincerely, Alice Challice.
P.S.--There are always a lot of dark parts at Maskelyne and Cook's. I
must ask you to behave as a gentleman should. Excuse me. I merely
mention it in case.--A. C."

Infamous Leek! Here was at any rate one explanation of a mysterious
little typewriter which the valet had always carried, but which Priam
had left at Selwood Terrace.

Priam glanced at the photograph in the pocket-book; and also, strange to
say, at the _Telegraph_.

A lady with three children burst into the drawing-room, and instantly
occupied the whole of it; the children cried "Mathaw!" "Mathah!"
"Mathaw!" in shrill tones of varied joy. As one of the gentlewomen
passed near him, he asked modestly--

"How much, please?"

She dropped a flake of paper on to his table without arresting her
course, and said warningly:

"You pay at the desk."

When he hit on the desk, which was hidden behind a screen of elm-trees,
he had to face a true aristocrat--and not in muslins, either. If the
others were the daughters of earls, this was the authentic countess in a
tea-gown.

He put down Leek's sovereign.

"Haven't you anything smaller?" snapped the countess.

"I'm sorry I haven't," he replied.

She picked up the sovereign scornfully, and turned it over.

"It's very awkward," she muttered.

Then she unlocked two drawers, and unwillingly gave him eighteen and
sixpence in silver and copper, without another word and without looking
at him.

"Thank you," said he, pocketing it nervously.

And, amid reiterated cries of "Mathah!" "Mathaw!" "Mathah!" he hurried
away, unregarded, unregretted, splendidly repudiated by these delicate
refined creatures who were struggling for a livelihood in a great city.


_Alice Challice_


"I suppose you are Mr. Leek, aren't you?" a woman greeted him as he
stood vaguely hesitant outside St. George's Hall, watching the afternoon
audience emerge. He started back, as though the woman with her trace of
Cockney accent had presented a revolver at his head. He was very much
afraid. It may reasonably be asked what he was doing up at St. George's
Hall. The answer to this most natural question touches the deepest
springs of human conduct. There were two men in Priam Farll. One was the
shy man, who had long ago persuaded himself that he actually preferred
not to mix with his kind, and had made a virtue of his cowardice. The
other was a doggish, devil-may-care fellow who loved dashing adventures
and had a perfect passion for free intercourse with the entire human
race. No. 2 would often lead No. 1 unsuspectingly forward to a difficult
situation from which No. 1, though angry and uncomfortable, could not
retire.

Thus it was No. 2 who with the most casual air had wandered up Regent
Street, drawn by the slender chance of meeting a woman with red roses in
her hat; and it was No. 1 who had to pay the penalty. Nobody could have
been more astonished than No. 2 at the fulfillment of No. 2's secret
yearning for novelty. But the innocent sincerity of No. 2's astonishment
gave no aid to No. 1.

Farll raised his hat, and at the same moment perceived the roses. He
might have denied the name of Leek and fled, but he did not. Though his
left leg was ready to run, his right leg would not stir.

Then he was shaking hands with her. But how had she identified him?

"I didn't really expect you," said the lady, always with a slight
Cockney accent. "But I thought how silly it would be for me to miss the
vanishing trick just because you couldn't come. So in I went, by
myself."

"Why didn't you expect me?" he asked diffidently.

"Well," she said, "Mr. Farll being dead, I knew you'd have a lot to do,
besides being upset like."

"Oh yes," he said quickly, feeling that he must be more careful; for he
had quite forgotten that Mr. Farll was dead. "How did you know?"

"How did I know!" she cried. "Well, I like that! Look anywhere! It's all
over London, has been these six hours." She pointed to a ragged man who
was wearing an orange-coloured placard by way of apron. On the placard
was printed in large black letters: "Sudden death of Priam Farll in
London. Special Memoir." Other ragged men, also wearing aprons, but of
different colours, similarly proclaimed by their attire that Priam Farll
was dead. And people crowding out of St. George's Hall were continually
buying newspapers from these middlemen of tidings.

He blushed. It was singular that he could have walked even half-an-hour
in Central London without noticing that his own name flew in the summer
breeze of every street. But so it had been. He was that sort of man. Now
he understood how Duncan Farll had descended upon Selwood Terrace.

"You don't mean to say you didn't _see_ those posters?" she demanded.

"I didn't," he said simply.

"That shows how you must have been thinking!" said she. "Was he a good
master?"

"Yes, very good," said Priam Farll with conviction.

"I see you're not in mourning."

"No. That is----"

"I don't hold with mourning myself," she proceeded. "They say it's to
show respect. But it seems to me that if you can't show your respect
without a pair of black gloves that the dye's always coming off... I
don't know what you think, but I never did hold with mourning. It's
grumbling against Providence, too! Not but what I think there's a good
deal too much talk about Providence. I don't know what you think,
but----"

"I quite agree with you," he said, with a warm generous smile which
sometimes rushed up and transformed his face before he was aware of the
occurrence.

And she smiled also, gazing at him half confidentially. She was a little
woman, stoutish--indeed, stout; puffy red cheeks; a too remarkable white
cotton blouse; and a crimson skirt that hung unevenly; grey cotton
gloves; a green sunshade; on the top of all this the black hat with red
roses. The photograph in Leek's pocket-book must have been taken in the
past. She looked quite forty-five, whereas the photograph indicated
thirty-nine and a fraction. He gazed down at her protectively, with a
good-natured appreciative condescension.

"I suppose you'll have to be going back again soon, to arrange things
like," she said. It was always she who kept the conversation afloat.

"No," he said. "I've finished there. They've dismissed me."

"Who have?"

"The relatives."

"Why?"

He shook his head.

"I hope you made them pay you your month," said she firmly.

He was glad to be able to give a satisfactory answer.

After a pause she resumed bravely:

"So Mr. Farll was one of these artists? At least so I see according to
the paper."

He nodded.

"It's a very funny business," she said. "But I suppose there's some of
them make quite a nice income out of it. _You_ ought to know about that,
being in it, as it were."

Never in his life had he conversed on such terms with such a person as
Mrs. Alice Challice. She was in every way a novelty for him--in clothes,
manners, accent, deportment, outlook on the world and on paint. He had
heard and read of such beings as Mrs. Alice Challice, and now he was in
direct contact with one of them. The whole affair struck him as
excessively odd, as a mad escapade on his part. Wisdom in him deemed it
ridiculous to prolong the encounter, but shy folly could not break
loose. Moreover she possessed the charm of her novelty; and there was
that in her which challenged the male in him.

"Well," she said, "I suppose we can't stand here for ever!"

The crowd had frittered itself away, and an attendant was closing and
locking the doors of St. George's Hall. He coughed.

"It's a pity it's Saturday and all the shops closed. But anyhow suppose
we walk along Oxford Street all the same? Shall we?" This from her.

"By all means."

"Now there's one thing I should like to say," she murmured with a calm
smile as they moved off. "You've no occasion to be shy with me. There's
no call for it. I'm just as you see me."

"Shy!" he exclaimed, genuinely surprised. "Do I seem shy to you?" He
thought he had been magnificently doggish.

"Oh, well," she said. "That's all right, then, if you _aren't._ I should
take it as a poor compliment, being shy with me. Where do you think we
can have a good talk? I'm free for the evening. I don't know about you."

Her eyes questioned his.


_No Gratuities_


At a late hour, they were entering, side by side, a glittering
establishment whose interior seemed to be walled chiefly in bevelled
glass, so that everywhere the curious observer saw himself and twisted
fractions of himself. The glass was relieved at frequent intervals by
elaborate enamelled signs which repeated, 'No gratuities.' It seemed
that the directors of the establishment wished to make perfectly clear
to visitors that, whatever else they might find, they must on no account
expect gratuities.

"I've always wanted to come here," said Mrs. Alice Challice vivaciously,
glancing up at Priam Farll's modest, middle-aged face.

Then, after they had successfully passed through a preliminary pair of
bevelled portals, a huge man dressed like a policeman, and achieving a
very successful imitation of a policeman, stretched out his hand, and
stopped them.

"In line, please," he said.

"I thought it was a restaurant, not a theatre," Priam whispered to Mrs.
Challice.

"So it is a restaurant," said his companion. "But I hear they're obliged
to do like this because there's always such a crowd. It's very 'andsome,
isn't it?"

He agreed that it was. He felt that London had got a long way in front
of him and that he would have to hurry a great deal before he could
catch it up.

At length another imitation of a policeman opened more doors and, with
other sinners, they were released from purgatory into a clattering
paradise, which again offered everything save gratuities. They were
conducted to a small table full of dirty plates and empty glasses in a
corner of the vast and lofty saloon. A man in evening dress whose eye
said, "Now mind, no insulting gratuities!" rushed past the table and in
one deft amazing gesture swept off the whole of its contents and was
gone with them. It was an astounding feat, and when Priam recovered from
his amazement he fell into another amazement on discovering that by some
magic means the man in evening dress had insinuated a gold-charactered
menu into his hands. This menu was exceedingly long--it comprised
everything except gratuities--and, evidently knowing from experience
that it was not a document to be perused and exhausted in five minutes,
the man in evening dress took care not to interrupt the studies of Priam
Farll and Alice Challice during a full quarter of an hour. Then he
returned like a bolt, put them through an examination in the menu, and
fled, and when he was gone they saw that the table was set with a clean
cloth and instruments and empty glasses. A band thereupon burst into gay
strains, like the band at a music-hall after something very difficult on
the horizontal bar. And it played louder and louder; and as it played
louder, so the people talked louder. And the crash of cymbals mingled
with the crash of plates, and the altercations of knives and forks with
the shrill accents of chatterers determined to be heard. And men in
evening dress (a costume which seemed to be forbidden to sitters at
tables) flitted to and fro with inconceivable rapidity, austere,
preoccupied conjurers. And from every marble wall, bevelled mirror, and
Doric column, there spoke silently but insistently the haunting legend,
'No gratuities.'

Thus Priam Farll began his first public meal in modern London. He knew
the hotels; he knew the restaurants, of half-a-dozen countries, but he
had never been so overwhelmed as he was here. Remembering London as a
city of wooden chop-houses, he could scarcely eat for the thoughts that
surged through his brain.

"Isn't it amusing?" said Mrs. Challice benignantly, over a glass of
lager. "I'm so glad you brought me here. I've always wanted to come."

And then, a few minutes afterwards, she was saying, against the immense
din--

"You know, I've been thinking for years of getting married again. And if
you really _are_ thinking of getting married, what are you to do? You
may sit in a chair and wait till eggs are sixpence a dozen, and you'll
be no nearer. You must do something. And what is there except a
matrimonial agency? I say--what's the matter with a matrimonial agency,
anyhow? If you want to get married, you want to get married, and it's no
use pretending you don't. I do hate pretending, I do. No shame in
wanting to get married, is there? I think a matrimonial agency is a very
good, useful thing. They say you're swindled. Well, those that are
deserve to be. You can be swindled without a matrimonial agency, seems
to me. Not that I've ever been. Plain common-sense people never are. No,
if you ask me, matrimonial agencies are the most sensible things--after
dress-shields--that's ever been invented. And I'm sure if anything comes
of this, I shall pay the fees with the greatest pleasure. Now don't you
agree with me?"

The whole mystery stood explained.

"Absolutely!" he said.

And felt the skin creeping in the small of his back.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER III


_The Photograph_


From the moment of Mrs. Challice's remarks in favour of matrimonial
agencies Priam Farll's existence became a torture to him. She was what
he had always been accustomed to think of as "a very decent woman"; but
really...! The sentence is not finished because Priam never finished it
in his own mind. Fifty times he conducted the sentence as far as
'really,' and there it dissolved into an uncomfortable cloud.

"I suppose we shall have to be going," said she, when her ice had been
eaten and his had melted.

"Yes," said he, and added to himself, "But where?"

However, it would be a relief to get out of the restaurant, and he
called for the bill.

While they were waiting for the bill the situation grew more strained.
Priam was aware of a desire to fling down sovereigns on the table and
rush wildly away. Even Mrs. Challice, vaguely feeling this, had a
difficulty in conversing.

"You _are_ like your photograph!" she remarked, glancing at his face
which--it should be said--had very much changed within half-an-hour. He
had a face capable of a hundred expressions per day. His present
expression was one of his anxious expressions, medium in degree. It can
be figured in the mask of a person who is locked up in an iron
strongroom, and, feeling ill at ease, notices that the walls are getting
red-hot at the corners.

"Like my photograph?" he exclaimed, astonished that he should resemble
Leek's photograph.

"Yes," she asseverated stoutly. "I knew you at once. Especially by the
nose."

"Have you got it here?" he asked, interested to see what portrait of
Leek had a nose like his own.

And she pulled out of her handbag a photograph, not of Leek, but of
Priam Farll. It was an unmounted print of a negative which he and Leek
had taken together for the purposes of a pose in a picture, and it had
decidedly a distinguished appearance. But why should Leek dispatch
photographs of his master to strange ladies introduced through a
matrimonial agency? Priam Farll could not imagine--unless it was from
sheer unscrupulous, careless bounce.

She gazed at the portrait with obvious joy.

"Now, candidly, don't _you_ think it's very, very good?" she demanded.

"I suppose it is," he agreed. He would probably have given two hundred
pounds for the courage to explain to her in a few well-chosen words that
there had been a vast mistake, a huge impulsive indiscretion. But two
hundred thousand pounds would not have bought that courage.

"I love it," she ejaculated fervently--with heat, and yet so nicely! And
she returned the photograph to her little bag.

She lowered her voice.

"You haven't told me whether you were ever married. I've been waiting
for that."

He blushed. She was disconcertingly personal.

"No," he said.

"And you've always lived like that, alone like; no home; travelling
about; no one to look after you, properly?" There was distress in her
voice.

He nodded. "One gets accustomed to it."

"Oh yes," she said. "I can understand that."

"No responsibilities," he added.

"No. I can understand all that." Then she hesitated. "But I do feel so
sorry for you... all these years!"

And her eyes were moist, and her tone was so sincere that Priam Farll
found it quite remarkably affecting. Of course she was talking about
Henry Leek, the humble valet, and not about Leek's illustrious master.
But Priam saw no difference between his lot and that of Leek. He felt
that there was no essential difference, and that, despite Leek's
multiple perfections as a valet, he never had been looked
after--properly. Her voice made him feel just as sorry for himself as
she was sorry for him; it made him feel that she had a kind heart, and
that a kind heart was the only thing on earth that really mattered. Ah!
If Lady Sophia Entwistle had spoken to him in such accents...!

The bill came. It was so small that he was ashamed to pay it. The
suppression of gratuities enabled the monarch of this bevelled palace to
offer a complete dinner for about the same price as a thimbleful of tea
and ten drachms of cake a few yards away. Happily the monarch,
foreseeing his shame, had arranged a peculiar method of payment through
a little hole, where the receiver could see nothing but his blushing
hands. As for the conjurers in evening dress, they apparently never
soiled themselves by contact with specie.

Outside on the pavement, he was at a loss what to do. You see, he was
entirely unfamiliar with Mrs. Challice's code of etiquette.

"Would you care to go to the Alhambra or somewhere?" he suggested,
having a notion that this was the correct thing to say to a lady whose
presence near you was directly due to her desire for marriage.

"It's very good of you," said she. "But I'm sure you only say it out of
kindness--because you're a gentleman. It wouldn't be quite nice for you
to go to a music-hall to-night. I know I said I was free for the
evening, but I wasn't thinking. It wasn't a hint--no, truly! I think I
shall go home--and perhaps some other----"

"I shall see you home," said he quickly. Impulsive, again!

"Would you really like to? Can you?" In the bluish glare of an
electricity that made the street whiter than day, she blushed. Yes, she
blushed like a girl.

She led him up a side-street where was a kind of railway station
unfamiliar to Priam Farll's experience, tiled like a butcher's shop and
as clean as Holland. Under her direction he took tickets for a station
whose name he had never heard of, and then they passed through steel
railings which clacked behind them into a sort of safe deposit, from
which the only emergence was a long dim tunnel. Painted hands, pointing
to the mysterious word 'lifts,' waved you onwards down this tunnel.
"Hurry up, please," came a voice out of the spectral gloom. Mrs.
Challice thereupon ran. Now up the tunnel, opposing all human progress
there blew a steady trade-wind of tremendous force. Immediately Priam
began to run the trade-wind removed his hat, which sailed buoyantly back
towards the street. He was after it like a youth of twenty, and he
recaptured it. But when he reached the extremity of the tunnel his
amazed eyes saw nothing but a great cage of human animals pressed
tightly together behind bars. There Was a click, and the whole cage sank
from his sight into the earth.

He felt that there was more than he had dreamt of in the city of
miracles. In a couple of minutes another cage rose into the tunnel at a
different point, vomited its captives and descended swiftly again with
Priam and many others, and threw him and the rest out into a white mine
consisting of numberless galleries. He ran about these interminable
galleries underneath London, at the bidding of painted hands, for a
considerable time, and occasionally magic trains without engines swept
across his vision. But he could not find even the spirit of Mrs. Alice
Challice in this nether world.


_The Nest_


On letter-paper headed "Grand Babylon Hotel, London," he was writing in
a disguised backward hand a note to the following effect: "Duncan Farll,
Esq. Sir,--If any letters or telegrams arrive for me at Selwood Terrace,
be good enough to have them forwarded to me at once to the above
address.--Yours truly, H. Leek." It cost him something to sign the name
of the dead man; but he instinctively guessed that Duncan Farll might be
a sieve which (owing to its legal-mindedness) would easily get clogged
up even by a slight suspicion. Hence, in order to be sure of receiving a
possible letter or telegram from Mrs. Challice, he must openly label
himself as Henry Leek. He had lost Mrs. Challice; there was no address
on her letter; he only knew that she lived at or near Putney, and the
sole hope of finding her again lay in the fact that she had the Selwood
Terrace address. He wanted to find her again; he desired that ardently,
if merely to explain to her that their separation was due to a sudden
caprice of his hat, and that he had searched for her everywhere in the
mine, anxiously, desperately. She would surely not imagine that he had
slipped away from her on purpose? No! And yet, if incapable of such an
enormity, why had she not waited for him on one of the platforms?
However, he hoped for the best. The best was a telegram; the second-best
a letter. On receipt of which he would fly to her to explain.... And
besides, he wanted to see her--simply. Her answer to his suggestion of a
music-hall, and the tone of it, had impressed him. And her remark, "I do
feel so sorry for you all these years," had--well, somewhat changed his
whole outlook on life. Yes, he wanted to see her in order to satisfy
himself that he had her respect. A woman impossible socially, a woman
with strange habits and tricks of manner (no doubt there were millions
such); but a woman whose respect one would not forfeit without a
struggle!

He had been pushed to an extremity, forced to act with swiftness, upon
losing her. And he had done the thing that comes most naturally to a
life-long traveller. He had driven to the best hotel in the town. (He
had seen in a flash that the idea of inhabiting any private hotel
whatever was a silly idea.) And now he was in a large bedroom
over-looking the Thames--a chamber with a writing-desk, a sofa, five
electric lights, two easy-chairs, a telephone, electric bells, and a
massive oak door with a lock and a key in the lock; in short, his
castle! An enterprise of some daring to storm the castle: but he had
stormed it. He had registered under the name of Leek, a name
sufficiently common not to excite remark, and the floor-valet had proved
to be an admirable young man. He trusted to the floor-valet and to the
telephone for avoiding any rough contact with the world. He felt
comparatively safe now; the entire enormous hotel was a nest for his
shyness, a conspiracy to keep him in cotton-wool. He was an autocratic
number, absolute ruler over Room 331, and with the right to command the
almost limitless resources of the Grand Babylon for his own private
ends.

As he sealed the envelope he touched a bell.

The valet entered.

"You've got the evening papers?" asked Priam Farll.

"Yes, sir." The valet put a pile of papers respectfully on the desk.

"All of them?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thanks. Well, it's not too late to have a messenger, is it?"

"Oh _no_, sir." ("'Too late' in the Grand Babylon, oh Czar!" said the
valet's shocked tone.)

"Then please get a messenger to take this letter, at once."

"In a cab, sir?"

"Yes, in a cab. I don't know whether there will be an answer. He will
see. Then let him call at the cloak-room at South Kensington Station and
get my luggage. Here's the ticket."

"Thank you, sir."

"I can rely on you to see that he goes at once?"

"You can, sir," said the valet, in such accents as carry absolute
conviction.

"Thank you. That will do, I think."

The man retired, and the door was closed by an expert in closing doors,
one who had devoted his life to the perfection of detail in valetry.


_Fame_


He lay on the sofa at the foot of the bed, with all illumination
extinguished save one crimson-shaded light immediately above him. The
evening papers--white, green, rose, cream, and yellow--shared his couch.
He was about to glance at the obituaries; to glance at them in a
careless, condescending way, just to see the _sort_ of thing that
journalists had written of him. He knew the value of obituaries; he had
often smiled at them. He knew also the exceeding fatuity of art
criticism, which did not cause him even to smile, being simply a bore.
He recollected, further, that he was not the first man to read his own
obituary; the adventure had happened to others; and he could recall how,
on his having heard that owing to an error it had happened to the great
so-and-so, he, in his quality of philosopher, had instantly decided what
frame of mind the great so-and-so ought to have assumed for the perusal
of his biography. He carefully and deliberately adopted that frame of
mind now. He thought of Marcus Aurelius on the futility of fame; he
remembered his life-long attitude of gentle, tired scorn for the press;
he reflected with wise modesty that in art nothing counts but the work
itself, and that no quantity of inept chatter could possibly affect, for
good or evil, his value, such as it might be, to the world.

Then he began to open the papers.

The first glimpse of their contents made him jump. In fact, the physical
result of it was quite extraordinary. His temperature increased. His
heart became audible. His pulse quickened. And there was a tingling as
far off as his toes. He had felt, in a dim, unacknowledged way, that he
must be a pretty great painter. Of course his prices were notorious. And
he had guessed, though vaguely, that he was the object of widespread
curiosity. But he had never compared himself with Titanic figures on the
planet. It had always seemed to him that _his_ renown was different from
other renowns, less--somehow unreal and make-believe. He had never
imaginatively grasped, despite prices and public inquisitiveness, that
he too was one of the Titanic figures. He grasped it now. The aspect of
the papers brought it home to him with tremendous force.

Special large type! Titles stretching across two columns! Black borders
round the pages! "Death of England's greatest painter." "Sudden death
of Priam Farll." "Sad death of a great genius." "Puzzling career
prematurely closed." "Europe in mourning." "Irreparable loss to the
world's art." "It is with the most profound regret." "Our readers will
be shocked." "The news will come as a personal blow to every lover of
great painting." So the papers went on, outvying each other in
enthusiastic grief.

He ceased to be careless and condescending to them. The skin crept along
his spine. There he lay, solitary, under the crimson glow, locked in his
castle, human, with the outward semblance of a man like other men, and
yet the cities of Europe were weeping for him. He heard them weeping.
Every lover of great painting was under a sense of personal bereavement.
The very voice of the world was hushed. After all, it was something to
have done your best; after all, good stuff _was_ appreciated by the mass
of the race. The phenomena presented by the evening papers was certainly
prodigious, and prodigiously affecting. Mankind was unpleasantly stunned
by the report of his decease. He forgot that Mrs. Challice, for
instance, had perfectly succeeded in hiding her grief for the
irreparable loss, and that her questions about Priam Farll had been
almost perfunctory. He forgot that he had witnessed absolutely no sign
of overwhelming sorrow, or of any degree of sorrow, in the thoroughfares
of the teeming capital, and that the hotels did not resound to sobbing.
He knew only that all Europe was in mourning!

"I suppose I was rather wonderful--_am_, I mean"--he said to himself,
dazed and happy. Yes, happy. "The fact is, I've got so used to my own
work that perhaps I don't think enough of it." He said this as modestly
as he could.

There was no question now of casually glancing at the obituaries. He
could not miss a single line, a single word. He even regretted that the
details of his life were so few and unimportant. It seemed to him that
it was the business of the journalists to have known more, to have
displayed more enterprise in acquiring information. Still, the tone was
right. The fellows meant well, at any rate. His eyes encountered nothing
but praise. Indeed the press of London had yielded itself up to an
encomiastic orgy. His modesty tried to say that this was slightly
overdone; but his impartiality asked, "Really, what _could_ they say
against me?" As a rule unmitigated praise was nauseous but here they
were undoubtedly genuine, the fellows; their sentences rang true!

Never in his life had he been so satisfied with the scheme of the
universe! He was nearly consoled for the dissolution of Leek.

When, after continued reading, he came across a phrase which discreetly
insinuated, apropos of the policeman and the penguins, that
capriciousness in the choice of subject was perhaps a pose with him, the
accusation hurt.

"Pose!" he inwardly exclaimed. "What a lie! The man's an ass!"

And he resented the following remark which concluded a 'special memoir'
extremely laudatory in matter and manner, by an expert whose books he
had always respected: "However, contemporary judgments are in the large
majority of cases notoriously wrong, and it behooves us to remember this
in choosing a niche for our idol. Time alone can settle the ultimate
position of Priam Farll."

Useless for his modesty to whisper to him that contemporary judgments
_were_ notoriously wrong. He did not like it. It disturbed him. There
were exceptions to every rule. And if the connoisseur meant anything at
all, he was simply stultifying the rest of the article. Time be d----d!

He had come nearly to the last line of the last obituary before he was
finally ruffled. Most of the sheets, in excusing the paucity of
biographical detail, had remarked that Priam Farll was utterly unknown
to London society, of a retiring disposition, hating publicity, a
recluse, etc. The word "recluse" grated on his sensitiveness a little;
but when the least important of the evening papers roundly asserted it
to be notorious that he was of extremely eccentric habits, he grew
secretly furious. Neither his modesty nor his philosophy was influential
enough to restore him to complete calm.

Eccentric! He! What next? Eccentric, indeed!

Now, what conceivable justification------?


_The Ruling Classes_


Between a quarter-past and half-past eleven he was seated alone at a
small table in the restaurant of the Grand Babylon. He had had no news
of Mrs. Challice; she had not instantly telegraphed to Selwood Terrace,
as he had wildly hoped. But in the boxes of Henry Leek, safely retrieved
by the messenger from South Kensington Station, he had discovered one of
his old dress-suits, not too old, and this dress-suit he had donned. The
desire to move about unknown in the well-clad world, the world of the
frequenters of costly hotels, the world to which he was accustomed, had
overtaken him. Moreover, he felt hungry. Hence he had descended to the
famous restaurant, whose wide windows were flung open to the illuminated
majesty of the Thames Embankment. The pale cream room was nearly full of
expensive women, and expending men, and silver-chained waiters whose
skilled, noiseless, inhuman attentions were remunerated at the rate of
about four-pence a minute. Music, the midnight food of love, floated
scarce heard through the tinted atmosphere. It was the best imitation of
Roman luxury that London could offer, and after Selwood Terrace and the
rackety palace of no gratuities, Priam Farll enjoyed it as one enjoys
home after strange climes.

Next to his table was an empty table, set for two, to which were
presently conducted, with due state, a young man, and a magnificent
woman whose youth was slipping off her polished shoulders like a cloak.
Priam Farll then overheard the following conversation:--

_Man_: Well, what are you going to have?

_Woman_: But look here, little Charlie, you can't possibly afford to pay
for this!

_Man_: Never said I could. It's the paper that pays. So go ahead.

_Woman_: Is Lord Nasing so keen as all that?

_Man_: It isn't Lord Nasing. It's our brand new editor specially
imported from Chicago.

_Woman_: Will he last?

_Man_: He'll last a hundred nights, say as long as the run of your
piece. Then he'll get six months' screw and the boot.

_Woman_: How much is six months' screw?

_Man_: Three thousand.

_Woman_: Well, I can hardly earn that myself.

_Man_: Neither can I. But then you see we weren't born in Chicago.

_Woman_: I've been offered a thousand dollars a week to go there,
anyhow.

_Man_: Why didn't you tell me that for the interview? I've spent two
entire entr'actes in trying to get something interesting out of you, and
there you go and keep a thing like that up your sleeve. It's not fair to
an old and faithful admirer. I shall stick it in. Poulet chasseur?

_Woman_: Oh no! Couldn't dream of it. Didn't you know I was dieting?
Nothing saucy. No sugar. No bread. No tea. Thanks to that I've lost
nearly a stone in six months. You know I _was_ getting enormous.

_Man_: Let me put _that_ in, eh?

_Woman_: Just try, and see what happens to you!

_Man_: Well, shall we say a lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? I'm
dieting, too.

_Waiter_: Lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? Yes, sir.

_Woman_: You aren't very gay.

_Man_: Gay! You don't know all the yearnings of my soul. Don't imagine
that because I'm a special of the _Record_ I haven't got a soul.

_Woman_: I suppose you've been reading that book, Omar Khayyam, that
every one's talking about. Isn't that what it's called?

_Man_: Has Omar Khayyam reached the theatrical world? Well, there's no
doubt the earth does move, after all.

_Woman_: A little more soda, please. And just a trifle less impudence.
What book ought one to be reading, then?

_Man_: Socialism's the thing just now. Read Wells on Socialism. It'll be
all over the theatrical world in a few years' time.

_Woman_: No fear! I can't bear Wells. He's always stirring up the dregs.
I don't mind froth, but I do draw the line at dregs. What's the band
playing? What have you been doing to-day? _Is_ this lettuce? No, no! No
bread. Didn't you hear me tell you?

_Man_: I've been busy with the Priam Farll affair.

_Woman_: Priam Farll?

_Man_: Yes. Painter. _You_ know.

_Woman_: Oh yes. _Him_! I saw it on the posters. He's dead, it seems.
Anything mysterious?

_Man_: You bet! Very odd! Frightfully rich, you know! Yet he died in a
wretched hovel of a place down off the Fulham Road. And his valet's
disappeared. We had the first news of the death, through our arrangement
with all the registrars' clerks in London. By the bye, don't give that
away--it's our speciality. Nasing sent me off at once to write up the
story.

_Woman_: Story?

_Man_: The particulars. We always call it a story in Fleet Street.

_Woman_: What a good name! Well, did you find out anything interesting?

_Man_: Not very much. I saw his cousin, Duncan Farll, a money-lending
lawyer in Clement's Lane--he only heard of it because we telephoned to
him. But the fellow would scarcely tell me anything at all.

_Woman_: Really! I do hope there's something terrible.

_Man_: Why?

_Woman_: So that I can go to the inquest or the police court or whatever
it is. That's why I always keep friendly with magistrates. It's so
frightfully thrilling, sitting on the bench with them.

_Man_: There won't be any inquest. But there's something queer in it.
You see, Priam Farll was never in England. Always abroad; at those
foreign hotels, wandering up and down.

_Woman (after a pause)_: I know.

_Man_: What do you know?

_Woman_: Will you promise not to chatter?

_Man_: Yes.

_Woman_: I met him once at an hotel at Ostend. He--well, he wanted most
tremendously to paint my portrait. But I wouldn't let him.

_Man_: Why not?

_Woman_: If you knew what sort of man he was you wouldn't ask.

_Man_: Oh! But look here, I say! You must let me use that in my story.
Tell me all about it.

_Woman_: Not for worlds.

_Man_: He--he made up to you?

_Woman_: Rather!

_Priam Farll (to himself)_: What a barefaced lie! Never was at Ostend in
my life.

_Man_: Can't I use it if I don't print your name--just say a
distinguished actress.

_Woman_: Oh yes, you can do _that_. You might say, of the musical comedy
stage.

_Man_: I will. I'll run something together. Trust me. Thanks awfully.

At this point a young and emaciated priest passed up the room.

_Woman_: Oh! Father Luke, is that you? Do come and sit here and be nice.
This is Father Luke Widgery--Mr. Docksey, of the _Record_.

_Man_: Delighted.

_Priest_: Delighted.

_Woman_: Now, Father Luke, I've just _got_ to come to your sermon
to-morrow. What's it about?

_Priest_: Modern vice.

_Woman_: How charming! I read the last one--it was lovely.

_Priest_: Unless you have a ticket you'll never be able to get in.

_Woman_: But I must get in. I'll come to the vestry door, if there is a
vestry door at St. Bede's.

_Priest_: It's impossible. You've no idea of the crush. And I've no
favourites.

_Woman_: Oh yes, you have! You have me.

_Priest_: In my church, fashionable women must take their chance with
the rest.

_Woman_: How horrid you are.

_Priest_: Perhaps. I may tell you, Miss Cohenson, that I've seen two
duchesses standing at the back of the aisle of St. Bede's, and glad to
be.

_Woman_: But _I_ shan't flatter you by standing at the back of your
aisle, and you needn't think it. Haven't I given you a box before now?

_Priest_: I only accepted the box as a matter of duty; it is part of my
duty to go everywhere.

_Man_: Come with me, Miss Cohenson. I've got two tickets for the
_Record_.

_Woman_: Oh, so you do send seats to the press?

_Priest_: The press is different. Waiter, bring me half a bottle of
Heidsieck.

_Waiter_: Half a bottle of Heidsieck? Yes, sir.

_Woman_: Heidsieck. Well, I like that. _We're_ dieting.

_Priest: I_ don't like Heidsieck. But I'm dieting too. It's my doctor's
orders. Every night before retiring. It appears that my system needs it.
Maria Lady Rowndell insists on giving me a hundred a year to pay for it.
It is her own beautiful way of helping the good cause. Ice, please,
waiter. I've just been seeing her to-night. She's staying here for the
season. Saves her a lot of trouble. She's very much cut up about the
death of Priam Farll, poor thing! So artistic, you know! The late Lord
Rowndell had what is supposed to be the finest lot of Farlls in England.

_Man_: Did you ever meet Priam Farll, Father Luke?

_Priest_: Never. I understand he was most eccentric. I hate
eccentricity. I once wrote to him to ask him if he would paint a Holy
Family for St. Bede's.

_Man_: And what did he reply?

_Priest_: He didn't reply. Considering that he wasn't even an R.A., I
don't think that it was quite nice of him. However, Maria Lady Rowndell
insists that he must be buried in Westminster Abbey. She asked me what I
could do.

_Woman_: Buried in Westminster Abbey! I'd no idea he was so big as all
that! Gracious!

_Priest_: I have the greatest confidence in Maria Lady Rowndell's taste,
and certainly I bear no grudge. I may be able to arrange something. My
uncle the Dean----

_Man_: Pardon me. I always understood that since you left the Church----

_Priest_: Since I joined the Church, you mean. There is but one.

_Man_: Church of England, I meant.

_Priest_: Ah!

_Man_: Since you left the Church of England, there had been a breach
between the Dean and yourself.

_Priest_: Merely religious. Besides my sister is the Dean's favourite
niece. And I am her favourite brother. My sister takes much interest in
art. She has just painted a really exquisite tea-cosy for me. Of course
the Dean ultimately settles these questions of national funerals,
Hence...

At this point the invisible orchestra began to play "God save the King."

_Woman_: Oh! What a bore!

Then nearly all the lights were extinguished.

_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen! Gentlemen, please!

_Priest_: You quite understand, Mr. Docksey, that I merely gave these
family details in order to substantiate my statement that I may be able
to arrange something. By the way, if you would care to have a typescript
of my sermon to-morrow for the _Record_, you can have one by applying at
the vestry.

_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen!

_Man_: So good of you. As regards the burial in Westminster Abbey, I
think that the _Record_ will support the project. I say I _think_.

_Priest_: Maria Lady Rowndell will be grateful.

Five-sixths of the remaining lights went out, and the entire company
followed them. In the foyer there was a prodigious crush of opera
cloaks, silk hats, and cigars, all jostling together. News arrived from
the Strand that the weather had turned to rain, and all the intellect of
the Grand Babylon was centred upon the British climate, exactly as if
the British climate had been the latest discovery of science. As the
doors swung to and fro, the stridency of whistles, the throbbing of
motor-cars, and the hoarse cries of inhabitants of box seats mingled
strangely with the delicate babble of the interior. Then, lo! as by
magic, the foyer was empty save for the denizens of the hotel who could
produce evidence of identity. It had been proved to demonstration, for
the sixth time that week, that in the metropolis of the greatest of
Empires there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Deeply affected by what he had overheard, Priam Farll rose in a lift and
sought his bed. He perceived clearly that he had been among the
governing classes of the realm.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER IV


_A Scoop_


Within less than twelve hours after that conversation between members of
the governing classes at the Grand Babylon Hotel, Priam Farll heard the
first deep-throated echoes of the voice of England on the question of
his funeral. The voice of England issued on this occasion through the
mouth of the _Sunday News_, a newspaper which belonged to Lord Nasing,
the proprietor of the _Daily Record_. There was a column in the _Sunday
News_, partly concerning the meeting of Priam Farll and a celebrated
star of the musical comedy stage at Ostend. There was also a leading
article, in which it was made perfectly clear that England would stand
ashamed among the nations, if she did not inter her greatest painter in
Westminster Abbey. Only the article, instead of saying Westminster
Abbey, said National Valhalla. It seemed to make a point of not
mentioning Westminster Abbey by name, as though Westminster Abbey had
been something not quite mentionable, such as a pair of trousers. The
article ended with the word 'basilica,' and by the time you had reached
this majestic substantive, you felt indeed, with the _Sunday News_, that
a National Valhalla without the remains of a Priam Farll inside it,
would be shocking, if not inconceivable.

Priam Farll was extremely disturbed.

On Monday morning the _Daily Record_ came nobly to the support of the
_Sunday News_. It had evidently spent its Sunday in collecting the
opinions of a number of famous men--including three M.P.'s, a banker, a
Colonial premier, a K.C., a cricketer, and the President of the Royal
Academy--as to whether the National Valhalla was or was not a suitable
place for the repose of the remains of Priam Farll; and the unanimous
reply was in the affirmative. Other newspapers expressed the same view.
But there were opponents of the scheme. Some organs coldly inquired what
Priam Farll had _done_ for England, and particularly for the higher life
of England. He had not been a moral painter like Hogarth or Sir Noel
Paton, nor a worshipper of classic legend and beauty like the unique
Leighton. He had openly scorned England. He had never lived in England.
He had avoided the Royal Academy, honouring every country save his own.
And was he such a great painter, after all? Was he anything but a clever
dauber whose work had been forced into general admiration by the efforts
of a small clique of eccentric admirers? Far be it from them, the
organs, to decry a dead man, but the National Valhalla was the National
Valhalla.... And so on.

The penny evening papers were pro-Farll, one of them furiously so. You
gathered that if Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey the
penny evening papers would, from mere disgust, wipe their boots on Dover
cliffs and quit England eternally for some land where art was
understood. You gathered, by nightfall, that Fleet Street must be a
scene of carnage, full of enthusiasts cutting each other's throats for
the sake of the honour of art. However, no abnormal phenomenon was
superficially observable in Fleet Street; nor was martial law proclaimed
at the Arts Club in Dover Street. London was impassioned by the question
of Farll's funeral; a few hours would decide if England was to be shamed
among the nations: and yet the town seemed to pursue its jog-trot way
exactly as usual. The Gaiety Theatre performed its celebrated nightly
musical comedy, "House Full"; and at Queen's Hall quite a large audience
was collected to listen to a violinist aged twelve, who played like a
man, though a little one, and whose services had been bought for seven
years by a limited company.

The next morning the controversy was settled by one of the _Daily
Record's_ characteristic 'scoops.' In the nature of the case, such
controversies, if they are not settled quickly, settle themselves
quickly; they cannot be prolonged. But it was the _Daily Record_ that
settled this one. The _Daily Record_ came out with a copy of the will of
Priam Farll, in which, after leaving a pound a week for life to his
valet, Henry Leek, Priam Farll bequeathed the remainder of his fortune
to the nation for the building and up-keep of a Gallery of Great
Masters. Priam Farll's own collection of great masters, gradually made
by him in that inexpensive manner which is possible only to the finest
connoisseurs, was to form the nucleus of the Gallery. It comprised, said
the _Record_, several Rembrandts, a Velasquez, six Vermeers, a
Giorgione, a Turner, a Charles, two Cromes, a Holbein. (After Charles
the _Record_ put a note of interrogation, itself being uncertain of the
name.) The pictures were in Paris--had been for many years. The leading
idea of the Gallery was that nothing not absolutely first-class should
be admitted to it. The testator attached two conditions to the bequest.
One was that his own name should be inscribed nowhere in the building,
and the other was that none of his own pictures should be admitted to
the gallery. Was not this sublime? Was not this true British pride? Was
not this magnificently unlike the ordinary benefactor of his country?
The _Record_ was in a position to assert that Priam Farll's estate would
amount to about a hundred and forty thousand pounds, in addition to the
value of the pictures. After that, was anybody going to argue that he
ought not to be buried in the National Valhalla, a philanthropist so
royal and so proudly meek?

The opposition gave up.

Priam Farll grew more and more disturbed in his fortress at the Grand
Babylon Hotel. He perfectly remembered making the will. He had made it
about seventeen years before, after some champagne in Venice, in an hour
of anger against some English criticisms of his work. Yes, English
criticisms! It was his vanity that had prompted him to reply in that
manner. Moreover, he was quite young then. He remembered the youthful
glee with which he had appointed his next-of-kin, whoever they might be,
executors and trustees of the will. He remembered his cruel joy in
picturing their disgust at being compelled to carry out the terms of
such a will. Often, since, he had meant to destroy the will; but
carelessly he had always omitted to do so. And his collection and his
fortune had continued to increase regularly and mightily, and now--well,
there the thing was! Duncan Farll had found the will. And Duncan Farll
would be the executor and trustee of that melodramatic testament.

He could not help smiling, serious as the situation was.

During that day the thing was settled; the authorities spoke; the word
went forth. Priam Farll was to be buried in Westminster Abbey on the
Thursday. The dignity of England among artistic nations had been saved,
partly by the heroic efforts of the _Daily Record_, and partly by the
will, which proved that after all Priam Farll had had the highest
interests of his country at heart.


_Cowardice_


On the night between Tuesday and Wednesday Priam Farll had not a moment
of sleep. Whether it was the deep-throated voice of England that had
spoken, or merely the voice of the Dean's favourite niece--so skilled in
painting tea-cosies--the affair was excessively serious. For the nation
was preparing to inter in the National Valhalla the remains of just
Henry Leek! Priam's mind had often a sardonic turn; he was assuredly
capable of strange caprices: but even he could not permit an error so
gigantic to continue. The matter must be rectified, and instantly! And
he alone could rectify it. The strain on his shyness would be awful,
would be scarcely endurable. Nevertheless he must act. Quite apart from
other considerations, there was the consideration of that hundred and
forty thousand pounds, which was his, and which he had not the slightest
desire to leave to the British nation. And as for giving his beloved
pictures to the race which adored Landseer, Edwin Long, and Leighton--
the idea nauseated him.

He must go and see Duncan Farll! And explain! Yes, explain that he was
not dead.

Then he had a vision of Duncan Farll's hard, stupid face, and
impenetrable steel head; and of himself being kicked out of the house,
or delivered over to a policeman, or in some subtler way unimaginably
insulted. Could he confront Duncan Farll? Was a hundred and forty
thousand pounds and the dignity of the British nation worth the bearding
of Duncan Farll? No! His distaste for Duncan Farll amounted to more than
a hundred and forty millions of pounds and the dignity of whole planets.
He felt that he could never bring himself to meet Duncan Farll. Why,
Duncan might shove him into a lunatic asylum, might...!

Still he must act.

Then it was that occurred to him the brilliant notion of making a clean
breast of it to the Dean. He had not the pleasure of the Dean's personal
acquaintance. The Dean was an abstraction; certainly much more abstract
than Priam Farll. He thought he could meet the Dean. A terrific
enterprise, but he must accomplish it! After all, a Dean--what was it?
Nothing but a man with a funny hat! And was not he himself Priam Farll,
the authentic Priam Farll, vastly greater than any Dean?

He told the valet to buy black gloves, and a silk hat, sized seven and a
quarter, and to bring up a copy of _Who's Who_. He hoped the valet would
be dilatory in executing these commands. But the valet seemed to fulfill
them by magic. Time flew so fast that (in a way of speaking) you could
hardly see the fingers as they whirled round the clock. And almost
before he knew where he was, two commissionaires were helping him into
an auto-cab, and the terrific enterprise had begun. The auto-cab would
easily have won the race for the Gordon Bennett Cup. It was of about two
hundred h.p., and it arrived in Dean's Yard in less time than a fluent
speaker would take to say Jack Robinson. The rapidity of the flight was
simply incredible.

"I'll keep you," Priam Farll was going to say, as he descended, but he
thought it would be more final to dismiss the machine; so he dismissed
it.

He rang the bell with frantic haste, lest he should run away ere he had
rung it. And then his heart went thumping, and the perspiration damped
the lovely lining of his new hat; and his legs trembled, literally!

He was in hell on the Dean's doorstep.

The door was opened by a man in livery of prelatical black, who eyed
him inimically.

"Er----" stammered Priam Farll, utterly flustered and craven. "Is this
Mr. Parker's?"

Now Parker was not the Dean's name, and Priam knew that it was not.
Parker was merely the first name that had come into Priam's cowardly
head.

"No, it isn't," said the flunkey with censorious lips. "It's the
Dean's."

"Oh, I beg pardon," said Priam Farll. "I thought it was Mr. Parker's."

And he departed.

Between the ringing of the bell and the flunkey's appearance, he had
clearly seen what he was capable, and what he was incapable, of doing.
And the correction of England's error was among his incapacities. He
could not face the Dean. He could not face any one. He was a poltroon in
all these things; a poltroon. No use arguing! He could not do it.

"I thought it was Mr. Parker's!" Good heavens! To what depths can a
great artist fall.

That evening he received a cold letter from Duncan Farll, with a
nave-ticket for the funeral. Duncan Farll did not venture to be sure
that Mr. Henry Leek would think proper to attend his master's interment;
but he enclosed a ticket. He also stated that the pound a week would be
paid to him in due course. Lastly he stated that several newspaper
representatives had demanded Mr. Henry Leek's address, but he had not
thought fit to gratify this curiosity.

Priam was glad of that.

"Well, I'm dashed!" he reflected, handling the ticket for the nave.

There it was, large, glossy, real as life.


_In the Valhalla_


In the vast nave there were relatively few people--that is to say, a few
hundred, who had sufficient room to move easily to and fro under the
eyes of officials. Priam Farll had been admitted through the cloisters,
according to the direction printed on the ticket. In his nervous fancy,
he imagined that everybody must be gazing at him suspiciously, but the
fact was that he occupied the attention of no one at all. He was with
the unprivileged, on the wrong side of the massive screen which
separated the nave from the packed choir and transepts, and the
unprivileged are never interested in themselves; it is the privileged
who interest them. The organ was wafting a melody of Purcell to the
furthest limits of the Abbey. Round a roped space a few ecclesiastical
uniforms kept watch over the ground that would be the tomb. The sunlight
of noon beat and quivered in long lances through crimson and blue
windows. Then the functionaries began to form an aisle among the
spectators, and emotion grew tenser. The organ was silent for a moment,
and when it recommenced its song the song was the supreme expression of
human grief, the dirge of Chopin, wrapping the whole cathedral in heavy
folds of sorrow. And as that appeal expired in the pulsating air, the
fresh voices of little boys, sweeter even than grief, rose in the
distance.

It was at this point that Priam Farll descried Lady Sophia Entwistle, a
tall, veiled figure, in full mourning. She had come among the
comparatively unprivileged to his funeral. Doubtless influence such as
hers could have obtained her a seat in the transept, but she had
preferred the secluded humility of the nave. She had come from Paris for
his funeral. She was weeping for her affianced. She stood there,
actually within ten yards of him. She had not caught sight of him, but
she might do so at any moment, and she was slowly approaching the spot
where he trembled.

He fled, with nothing in his heart but resentment against her. She had
not proposed to him; he had proposed to her. She had not thrown him
aside; he had thrown her aside. He was not one of her mistakes; she was
one of his mistakes. Not she, but he, had been capricious, impulsive,
hasty. Yet he hated her. He genuinely thought she had sinned against
him, and that she ought to be exterminated. He condemned her for all
manner of things as to which she had had no choice: for instance, the
irregularity of her teeth, and the hollow under her chin, and the little
tricks of deportment which are always developed by a spinster as she
reaches forty. He fled in terror of her. If she should have a glimpse of
him, and should recognize him, the consequence would be absolutely
disastrous--disastrous in every way; and a period of publicity would
dawn for him such as he could not possibly contemplate either in cold
blood or warm. He fled blindly, insinuating himself through the crowd,
until he reached a grille in which was a gate, ajar. His strange stare
must have affrighted the guardian of the gate, for the robed fellow
stood away, and Priam passed within the grille, where were winding
steps, which he mounted. Up the steps ran coils of fire-hose. He heard
the click of the gate as the attendant shut it, and he was thankful for
an escape. The steps led to the organ-loft, perched on the top of the
massive screen. The organist was seated behind a half-drawn curtain,
under shaded electric lights, and on the ample platform whose parapet
overlooked the choir were two young men who whispered with the organist.
None of the three even glanced at Priam. Priam sat down on a windsor
chair fearfully, like an intruder, his face towards the choir.

The whispers ceased; the organist's fingers began to move over five rows
of notes, and over scores of stops, while his feet groped beneath, and
Priam heard music, afar off. And close behind him he heard rumblings,
steamy vibrations, and, as it were, sudden escapes of gas; and
comprehended that these were the hoarse responses of the 32 and 64 foot
pipes, laid horizontally along the roof of the screen, to the summoning
fingers of the organist. It was all uncanny, weird, supernatural,
demoniacal if you will--it was part of the secret and unsuspected
mechanism of a vast emotional pageant and spectacle. It unnerved Priam,
especially when the organist, a handsome youngish man with lustrous
eyes, half turned and winked at one of his companions.

The thrilling voices of the choristers grew louder, and as they grew
louder Priam Farll was conscious of unaccustomed phenomena in his
throat, which shut and opened of itself convulsively. To divert his
attention from his throat, he partially rose from the windsor chair, and
peeped over the parapet of the screen into the choir, whose depths were
candlelit and whose altitudes were capriciously bathed by the
intermittent splendours of the sun. High, high up, in front of him, at
the summit of a precipice of stone, a little window, out of the
sunshine, burned sullenly in a gloom of complicated perspectives. And
far below, stretched round the pulpit and disappearing among the forest
of statuary in the transept, was a floor consisting of the heads of the
privileged--famous, renowned, notorious, by heredity, talent,
enterprise, or hazard; he had read many of their names in the _Daily
Telegraph_. The voices of the choristers had become piercing in their
beauty. Priam frankly stood up, and leaned over the parapet. Every gaze
was turned to a point under him which he could not see. And then
something swayed from beneath into the field of his vision. It was a
tall cross borne by a beadle. In the wake of the cross there came to
view gorgeous ecclesiastics in pairs, and then a robed man walking
backwards and gesticulating in the manner of some important, excited
official of the Salvation Army; and after this violet robe arrived the
scarlet choristers, singing to the beat of his gesture. And then swung
into view the coffin, covered with a heavy purple pall, and on the pall
a single white cross; and the pall-bearers--great European names that
had hurried out of the corners of Europe as at a peremptory mandate--
with Duncan Farll to complete the tale!

Was it the coffin, or the richness of its pall, or the solitary
whiteness of its cross of flowers, or the august authority of the
bearers, that affected Priam Farll like a blow on the heart? Who knows?
But the fact was that he could look no more; the scene was too much for
him. Had he continued to look he would have burst uncontrollably into
tears. It mattered not that the corpse of a common rascally valet lay
under that pall; it mattered not that a grotesque error was being
enacted; it mattered not whether the actuating spring of the immense
affair was the Dean's water-colouring niece or the solemn deliberations
of the Chapter; it mattered not that newspapers had ignobly misused the
name and honour of art for their own advancement--the instant effect was
overwhelmingly impressive. All that had been honest and sincere in the
heart of England for a thousand years leapt mystically up and made it
impossible that the effect should be other than overwhelmingly
impressive. It was an effect beyond argument and reason; it was the
magic flowering of centuries in a single moment, the silent awful sigh
of a nation's saecular soul. It took majesty and loveliness from the
walls around it, and rendered them again tenfold. It left nothing
common, neither the motives nor the littleness of men. In Priam's mind
it gave dignity to Lady Sophia Entwistle, and profound tragedy to the
death of Leek; it transformed even the gestures of the choir-leader into
grave commands.

And all that was for him! He had brushed pigments on to cloth in a way
of his own, nothing more, and the nation to which he had always denied
artistic perceptions, the nation which he had always fiercely accused of
sentimentality, was thus solemnizing his committal to the earth! Divine
mystery of art! The large magnificence of England smote him! He had not
suspected his own greatness, nor England's.

The music ceased. He chanced to look up at the little glooming window,
perched out of reach of mankind. And the thought that the window had
burned there, patiently and unexpectantly, for hundreds of years, like
an anchorite above the river and town, somehow disturbed him so that he
could not continue to look at it. Ineffable sadness of a mere window!
And his eye fell--fell on the coffin of Henry Leek with its white cross,
and the representative of England's majesty standing beside it. And
there was the end of Priam Farll's self-control. A pang like a pang of
parturition itself seized him, and an issuing sob nearly ripped him in
two. It was a loud sob, undisguised, unashamed, reverberating. Other
sobs succeeded it. Priam Farll was in torture.


_A New Hat_


The organist vaulted over his seat, shocked by the outrage.

"You really mustn't make that noise," whispered the organist.

Priam Farll shook him off.

The organist was apparently at a loss what to do.

"Who is it?" whispered one of the young men.

"Don't know him from Adam!" said the organist with conviction, and then
to Priam Farll: "Who are you? You've no right to be here. Who gave you
permission to come up here?"

And the rending sobs continued to issue from the full-bodied ridiculous
man of fifty, utterly careless of decorum.

"It's perfectly absurd!" whispered the youngster who had whispered
before.

There had been a silence in the choir.

"Here! They're waiting for you!" whispered the other young man excitedly
to the organist.

"By----!" whispered the alarmed organist, not stopping to say by what,
but leaping like an acrobat back to his seat. His fingers and boots were
at work instantly, and as he played he turned his head and whispered--

"Better fetch some one."

One of the young men crept quickly and creakingly down the stairs.
Fortunately the organ and choristers were now combined to overcome the
sobbing, and they succeeded. Presently a powerful arm, hidden under a
black cassock, was laid on Priam's shoulder. He hysterically tried to
free himself, but he could not. The cassock and the two young men thrust
him downwards. They all descended together, partly walking and partly
falling. And then a door was opened, and Priam discovered himself in the
unroofed air of the cloisters, without his hat, and breathing in gasps.
His executioners were also breathing in gasps. They glared at him in
triumphant menace, as though they had done something, which indeed they
had, and as though they meant to do something more but could not quite
decide what.

"Where's your ticket of admission?" demanded the cassock.

Priam fumbled for it, and could not find it.

"I must have lost it," he said weakly.

"What's your name, anyhow?"

"Priam Farll," said Priam Farll, without thinking.

"Off his nut, evidently!" murmured one of the young men contemptuously.
"Come on, Stan. Don't let's miss that anthem, for this cuss." And off
they both went.

Then a youthful policeman appeared, putting on his helmet as he quitted
the fane.

"What's all this?" asked the policeman, in the assured tone of one who
had the forces of the Empire behind him.

"He's been making a disturbance in the horgan loft," said the cassock,
"and now he says his name's Priam Farll."

"Oh!" said the policeman. "Ho! And how did he get into the organ loft?"

"Don't arsk me," answered the cassock. "He ain't got no ticket."

"Now then, out of it!" said the policeman, taking zealously hold of
Priam.

"I'll thank you to leave me alone," said Priam, rebelling with all the
pride of his nature against this clutch of the law.

"Oh, you will, will you?" said the policeman. "We'll see about that. We
shall just see about that."

And the policeman dragged Priam along the cloister to the muffled music
of "He will swallow up death in victory." They had not thus proceeded
very far when they met another policeman, an older policeman.

"What's all this?" demanded the older policeman.

"Drunk and disorderly in the Abbey!" said the younger.

"Will you come quietly?" the older policeman asked Priam, with a touch
of commiseration.

"I'm not drunk," said Priam fiercely; he was unversed in London, and
unaware of the foolishness of reasoning with the watch-dogs of justice.

"Will you come quietly?" the older policeman repeated, this time without
any touch of commiseration.

"Yes," said Priam.

And he went quietly. Experience may teach with the rapidity of
lightning.

"But where's my hat?" he added after a moment, instinctively stopping.

"Now then!" said the older policeman. "Come _on_."

He walked between them, striding. Just as they emerged into Dean's Yard,
his left hand nervously exploring one of his pockets, on a sudden
encountered a piece of cardboard.

"Here's my ticket," he said. "I thought I'd lost it. I've had nothing at
all to drink, and you'd better let me go. The whole affair's a mistake."

The procession halted, while the older policeman gazed fascinated at the
official document.

"Henry Leek," he read, deciphering the name.

"He's been a-telling every one as he's Priam Farll," grumbled the
younger policeman, looking over the other's shoulder.

"I've done no such thing," said Priam promptly.

The elder carefully inspected the prisoner, and two little boys arrived
and formed a crowd, which was immediately dispersed by a frown.

"He don't look as if he'd had 'ardly as much drink as 'ud wash a bus,
does he?" murmured the elder critically. The younger, afraid of his
senior, said nothing. "Look here, Mr. Henry Leek," the elder proceeded,
"do you know what I should do if I was you? I should go and buy myself a
new hat, if I was you, and quick too!"

Priam hastened away, and heard the senior say to the junior, "He's a
toff, that's what he is, and you're a fool. Have you forgotten as you're
on point duty?"

And such is the effect of a suggestion given under certain circumstances
by a man of authority, that Priam Farll went straight along Victoria
Street and at Sowter's famous one-price hat-shop did in fact buy himself
a new hat. He then hailed a taximeter from the stand opposite the Army
and Navy Stores, and curtly gave the address of the Grand Babylon Hotel.
And when the cab was fairly at speed, and not before, he abandoned
himself to a fit of candid, unrestrained cursing. He cursed largely and
variously and shamelessly both in English and in French. And he did not
cease cursing. It was a reaction which I do not care to characterize;
but I will not conceal that it occurred. The fit spent itself before he
reached the hotel, for most of Parliament Street was blocked for the
spectacular purposes of his funeral, and his driver had to seek devious
ways. The cursing over, he began to smooth his plumes in detail. At the
hotel, out of sheer nervousness, he gave the cabman half-a-crown, which
was preposterous.

Another cab drove up nearly at the exact instant of his arrival. And, as
a capping to the day, Mrs. Alice Challice stepped out of it.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER V


_Alice on Hotels_


She was wearing the same red roses.

"Oh!" she said, very quickly, pouring out the words generously from the
inexhaustible mine of her good heart. "I'm so sorry I missed you
Saturday night. I can't tell you how sorry I am. Of course it was all my
fault. I oughtn't to have got into the lift without you. I ought to have
waited. When I was in the lift I wanted to get out, but the lift-man was
too quick for me. And then on the platforms--well, there was such a
crowd it was useless! I knew it was useless. And you not having my
address either! I wondered whatever you would think of me."

"My dear lady!" he protested. "I can assure you I blamed only myself. My
hat blew off, and----"

"Did it now!" she took him up breathlessly. "Well, all I want you to
understand really is that I'm not one of those silly sort of women that
go losing themselves. No. Such a thing's never happened to me before,
and I shall take good care----"

She glanced round. He had paid both the cabmen, who were departing, and
he and Mrs. Alice Challice stood under the immense glass portico of the
Grand Babylon, exposed to the raking stare of two commissionaires.

"So you _are_ staying here!" she said, as if laying hold of a fact which
she had hitherto hesitated to touch.

"Yes," he said. "Won't you come in?"

He took her into the rich gloom of the Grand Babylon dashingly, fighting
against the demon of shyness and beating it off with great loss. They
sat down in a corner of the principal foyer, where a few electric lights
drew attention to empty fauteuils and the blossoms on the Aubusson
carpet. The world was at lunch.

"And a fine time I had getting your address!" said she. "Of course I
wrote at once to Selwood Terrace, as soon as I got home, but I had the
wrong number, somehow, and I kept waiting and waiting for an answer, and
the only answer I received was the returned letter. I knew I'd got the
street right, and I said, 'I'll find that house if I have to ring every
bell in Selwood Terrace, yes', and knock every knocker!' Well, I did
find it, and then they wouldn't _give_ me your address. They said
'letters would be forwarded,' if you please. But I wasn't going to have
any more letter business, no thank you! So I said I wouldn't go without
the address. It was Mr. Duncan Farll's clerk that I saw. He's living
there for the time being. A very nice young man. We got quite friendly.
It seems Mr. Duncan Farll _was_ in a state when he found the will. The
young man did say that he broke a typewriter all to pieces. But the
funeral being in Westminster Abbey consoled him. It wouldn't have
consoled me--no, not it! However, he's very rich himself, so that
doesn't matter. The young man said if I'd call again he'd ask his master
if he might give me your address. A rare fuss over an address, thought I
to myself. But there! Lawyers! So I called again, and he gave it me. I
could have come yesterday. I very nearly wrote last night. But I thought
on the whole I'd better wait till the funeral was over. I thought it
would be nicer. It's over now, I suppose?"

"Yes," said Priam Farll.

She smiled at him with grave sympathy, comfortably and sensibly. "And
right down relieved you must be!" she murmured. "It must have been very
trying for you."

"In a way," he answered hesitatingly, "it was."

Taking off her gloves, she glanced round about her, as a thief must
glance before opening the door, and then, leaning suddenly towards him,
she put her hands to his neck and touched his collar. "No, no!" she
said. "Let me do it. I can do it. There's no one looking. It's
unbuttoned; the necktie was holding it in place, but it's got quite
loose now. There! I can do it. I see you've got two funny moles on your
neck, close together. How lucky! That's it!" A final pat!

Now, no woman had ever patted Priam Farll's necktie before, much less
buttoned his collar, and still much less referred to the two little
moles, one hirsute, the other hairless, which the collar hid--when it
was properly buttoned! The experience was startling for him in the
extreme. It might have made him very angry, had the hands of Mrs.
Challice not been--well, nurse's hands, soft hands, persuasive hands,
hands that could practise impossible audacities with impunity. Imagine a
woman, uninvited and unpermitted, arranging his collar and necktie for
him in the largest public room of the Grand Babylon, and then talking
about his little moles! It would have been unimaginable! Yet it
happened. And moreover, he had not disliked it. She sat back in her
chair as though she had done nothing in the least degree unusual.

"I can see you must have been very upset," she said gently, "though he
_has_ only left you a pound a week. Still, that's better than a bat in
the eye with a burnt stick."

A bat in the eye with a burnt stick reminded him vaguely of encounters
with the police; otherwise it conveyed no meaning to his mind.

"I hope you haven't got to go on duty at once," she said after a pause.
"Because you really do look as if you needed a rest, and a cup of tea or
something of that, I'm quite ashamed to have come bothering you so
soon."

"Duty?" he questioned. "What duty?"

"Why," she exclaimed, "haven't you got a new place?"

"New place!" he repeated after. "What do you mean?"

"Why, as valet."

There was certainly danger in his tendency to forget that he was a
valet. He collected himself.

"No," he said, "I haven't got a new place."

"Then why are you staying here?" she cried. "I thought you were simply
here with a new master, Why are you staying here alone?"

"Oh," he replied, abashed, "it seemed a convenient place. It was just by
chance that I came here."

"Convenient place indeed!" she said stoutly. "I never heard of such a
thing!"

He perceived that he had shocked her, pained her. He saw that some
ingenious defence of himself was required; but he could find none. So he
said, in his confusion--

"Suppose we go and have something to eat? I do want a bit of lunch, as
you say, now I come to think of it. Will you?"

"What? Here?" she demanded apprehensively.

"Yes," he said. "Why not?"

"Well--!"

"Come along!" he said, with fine casualness, and conducted her to the
eight swinging glass doors that led to the _salle à manger_ of the Grand
Babylon. At each pair of doors was a living statue of dignity in cloth
of gold. She passed these statues without a sign of fear, but when she
saw the room itself, steeped in a supra-genteel calm, full of gowns and
hats and everything that you read about in the _Lady's Pictorial,_ and
the pennoned mast of a barge crossing the windows at the other end, she
stopped suddenly. And one of the lord mayors of the Grand Babylon,
wearing a mayoral chain, who had started out to meet them, stopped also.

"No!" she said. "I don't feel as if I could eat here. I really
couldn't."

"But why?"

"Well," she said, "I couldn't fancy it somehow. Can't we go somewhere
else?"

"Certainly we can," he agreed with an eagerness that was more than
polite.

She thanked him with another of her comfortable, sensible smiles--a
smile that took all embarrassment out of the dilemma, as balm will take
irritation from a wound. And gently she removed her hat and gown, and
her gestures and speech, and her comfortableness, from those august
precincts. And they descended to the grill-room, which was relatively
noisy, and where her roses were less conspicuous than the helmet of
Navarre, and her frock found its sisters and cousins from far lands.

"I'm not much for these restaurants," she said, over grilled kidneys.

"No?" he responded tentatively. "I'm sorry. I thought the other
night----"

"Oh yes," she broke in, "I was very glad to go, the other night, to that
place, very glad. But, you see, I'd never been in a restaurant before."

"Really?"

"No," she said, "and I felt as if I should like to try one. And the
young lady at the post office had told me that _that_ one was a splendid
one. So it is. It's beautiful. But of course they ought to be ashamed to
offer you such food. Now do you remember that sole? Sole! It was no more
sole than this glove's sole. And if it had been cooked a minute, it had
been cooked an hour, and waiting. And then look at the prices. Oh yes, I
couldn't help seeing the bill."

"I thought it was awfully cheap," said he.

"Well, _I_ didn't!" said she. "When you think that a good housekeeper
can keep everything going on ten shillings a head a _week_.... Why, it's
simply scandalous! And I suppose this place is even dearer?"

He avoided the question. "This is a better place altogether," he said.
"In fact, I don't know many places in Europe where one can eat better
than one does here."

"Don't you?" she said indulgently, as if saying, "Well, I know one, at
any rate."

"They say," he continued, "that there is no butter used in this place
that costs less than three shillings a pound."

"_No_ butter costs them three shillings a pound," said she.

"Not in London," said he. "They have it from Paris."

"And do you believe that?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Well, I don't. Any one that pays more than one-and-nine a pound for
butter, _at the most_, is a fool, if you'll excuse me saying the word.
Not but what this is good butter. I couldn't get as good in Putney for
less than eighteen pence."

She made him feel like a child who has a great deal to pick up from a
kindly but firm sister.

"No, thank you," she said, a little dryly, to the waiter who proffered a
further supply of chip potatoes.

"Now don't say they're cold," Priam laughed.

And she laughed also. "Shall I tell you one thing that puts me against
these restaurants?" she went on. "It's the feeling you have that you
don't know where the food's _been_. When you've got your kitchen close
to your dining-room and you can keep an eye on the stuff from the moment
the cart brings it, well, then, you do know a bit where you are. And you
can have your dishes served hot. It stands to reason," she said. "Where
is the kitchen here?"

"Somewhere down below," he replied apologetically.

"A cellar kitchen!" she exclaimed. "Why, in Putney they simply can't let
houses with cellar kitchens. No! No restaurants and hotels for me--not
for _choice_--that is, regularly."

"Still," he said, with a judicial air, "hotels are very convenient."

"Are they?" she said, meaning, "Prove it."

"For instance, here, there's a telephone in every room."

"You don't mean in the bedrooms?"

"Yes, in every bedroom."

"Well," she said, "you wouldn't catch me having a telephone in my
bedroom. I should never sleep if I knew there was a telephone in the
room! Fancy being forced to telephone every time you want--well! I And
how is one to know who there is at the other end of the telephone? No, I
don't like that. All that's all very well for gentlemen that haven't
been used to what I call _com_fort in a way of speaking. But----"

He saw that if he persisted, nothing soon would be left of that noble
pile, the Grand Babylon Hotel, save a heap of ruins. And, further, she
genuinely did cause him to feel that throughout his career he had always
missed the very best things of life, through being an uncherished,
ingenuous, easily satisfied man. A new sensation for him! For if any
male in Europe believed in his own capacity to make others make him
comfortable Priam Farll was that male.

"I've never been in Putney," he ventured, on a new track.


_Difficulty of Truth-telling_


As she informed him, with an ungrudging particularity, about Putney, and
her life at Putney, there gradually arose in his brain a vision of a
kind of existence such as he had never encountered. Putney had clearly
the advantages of a residential town in a magnificent situation. It lay
on the slope of a hill whose foot was washed by a glorious stream
entitled the Thames, its breast covered with picturesque barges and
ornamental rowing boats; an arched bridge spanned this stream, and you
went over the bridge in milk-white omnibuses to London. Putney had a
street of handsome shops, a purely business street; no one slept there
now because of the noise of motors; at eventide the street glittered in
its own splendours. There were theatre, music-hall, assembly-rooms,
concert hall, market, brewery, library, and an afternoon tea shop
exactly like Regent Street (not that Mrs. Challice cared for their
alleged China tea); also churches and chapels; and Barnes Common if you
walked one way, and Wimbledon Common if you walked another. Mrs.
Challice lived in Werter Road, Werter Road starting conveniently at the
corner of the High Street where the fish-shop was--an establishment
where authentic sole was always obtainable, though it was advisable not
to buy it on Monday mornings, of course. Putney was a place where you
lived unvexed, untroubled. You had your little house, and your
furniture, and your ability to look after yourself at all ends, and your
knowledge of the prices of everything, and your deep knowledge of human
nature, and your experienced forgivingness towards human frailties. You
did not keep a servant, because servants were so complicated, and
because they could do nothing whatever as well as you could do it
yourself. You had a charwoman when you felt idle or when you chose to
put the house into the back-yard for an airing. With the charwoman, a
pair of gloves for coarser work, and gas stoves, you 'made naught' of
domestic labour. You were never worried by ambitions, or by envy, or by
the desire to know precisely what the wealthy did and to do likewise.
You read when you were not more amusingly occupied, preferring
illustrated papers and magazines. You did not traffic with art to any
appreciable extent, and you never dreamed of letting it keep you awake
at night. You were rich, for the reason that you spent less than you
received. You never speculated about the ultimate causes of things, or
puzzled yourself concerning the possible developments of society in the
next hundred years. When you saw a poor old creature in the street you
bought a box of matches off the poor old creature. The social phenomenon
which chiefly roused you to just anger was the spectacle of wealthy
people making money and so taking the bread out of the mouths of people
who needed It. The only apparent blots on existence at Putney were the
noise and danger of the High Street, the dearth of reliable laundries,
the manners of a middle-aged lady engaged at the post office (Mrs.
Challice liked the other ladies in the post office), and the absence of
a suitable man in the house.

Existence at Putney seemed to Priam Farll to approach the Utopian. It
seemed to breathe of romance--the romance of common sense and kindliness
and simplicity. It made his own existence to that day appear a futile
and unhappy striving after the impossible. Art? What was it? What did it
lead to? He was sick of art, and sick of all the forms of activity to
which he had hitherto been accustomed and which he had mistaken for life
itself.

One little home, fixed and stable, rendered foolish the whole concourse
of European hotels.

"I suppose you won't be staying here long," demanded Mrs. Challice.

"Oh no!" he said. "I shall decide something."

"Shall you take another place?" she inquired.

"Another place?"

"Yes." Her smile was excessively persuasive and inviting.

"I don't know," he said diffidently.

"You must have put a good bit by," she said, still with the same smile.
"Or perhaps you haven't. Saving's a matter of chance. That's what I
always do say. It just depends how you begin. It's a habit. I'd never
really blame anybody for not saving. And men----!" She seemed to wish to
indicate that men were specially to be excused if they did not save.

She had a large mind: that was sure. She understood--things, and human
nature in particular. She was not one of those creatures that a man
meets with sometimes--creatures who are for ever on the watch to pounce,
and who are incapable of making allowances for any male frailty--smooth,
smiling creatures, with thin lips, hair a little scanty at the front,
and a quietly omniscient 'don't-tell-_me_' tone. Mrs. Alice Challice had
a mouth as wide as her ideas, and a full underlip. She was a woman who,
as it were, ran out to meet you when you started to cross the dangerous
roadway which separates the two sexes. She comprehended because she
wanted to comprehend. And when she could not comprehend she would
deceive herself that she did: which amounts to the equivalent.

She was a living proof that in her sex social distinctions do not
effectively count. Nothing counted where she was concerned, except a
distinction far more profound than any social distinction--the historic
distinction between Adam and Eve. She was balm to Priam Farll. She might
have been equally balm to King David, Uriah the Hittite, Socrates,
Rousseau, Lord Byron, Heine, or Charlie Peace. She would have understood
them all. They would all have been ready to cushion themselves on her
comfortableness. Was she a lady? Pish! She was a woman.

Her temperament drew Priam Farll like an electrified magnet. To wander
about freely in that roomy sympathy of hers seemed to him to be the
supreme reward of experience. It seemed like the good inn after the
bleak high-road, the oasis after the sandstorm, shade after glare, the
dressing after the wound, sleep after insomnia, surcease from
unspeakable torture. He wanted, in a word, to tell her everything,
because she would not demand any difficult explanations. She had given
him an opening, in her mention of savings. In reply to her suggestion,
"You must have put a good bit by," he could casually answer:

"Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds."

And that would lead by natural stages to a complete revealing of the fix
in which he was. In five minutes he would have confided to her the
principal details, and she would have understood, and then he could
describe his agonizing and humiliating half-hour in the Abbey, and she
would pour her magic oil on that dreadful abrasion of his sensitiveness.
And he would be healed of his hurts, and they would settle between them
what he ought to do.

He regarded her as his refuge, as fate's generous compensation to him
for the loss of Henry Leek (whose remains now rested in the National
Valhalla).

Only, it would be necessary to begin the explanation, so that one thing
might by natural stages lead to another. On reflection, it appeared
rather abrupt to say:

"Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds."

The sum was too absurdly high (though correct). The mischief was that,
unless the sum did strike her as absurdly high, it could not possibly
lead by a natural stage to the remainder of the explanation.

He must contrive another path. For instance--

"There's been a mistake about the so-called death of Priam Farll."

"A mistake!" she would exclaim, all ears and eyes.

Then he would say--

"Yes. Priam Farll isn't really dead. It's his valet that's dead."

Whereupon she would burst out--

"But _you_ were his valet!"

Whereupon he would simply shake his head, and she would steam forwards--

"Then who are you?"

Whereupon he would say, as calmly as he could--

"I'm Priam Farll. I'll tell you precisely how it all happened."

Thus the talk might happen. Thus it would happen, immediately he began.
But, as at the Dean's door in Dean's Yard, so now, he could not begin.
He could not utter the necessary words aloud. Spoken aloud, they would
sound ridiculous, incredible, insane--and not even Mrs. Challice could
reasonably be expected to grasp their import, much less believe them.

"_There's been a mistake about the so-called death of Priam Farll._"

"_Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds._"

No, he could enunciate neither the one sentence nor the other. There are
some truths so bizarre that they make you feel self-conscious and guilty
before you have begun to state them; you state them apologetically; you
blush; you stammer; you have all the air of one who does not expect
belief; you look a fool; you feel a fool; and you bring disaster on
yourself.

He perceived with the most painful clearness that he could never, never
impart to her the terrific secret, the awful truth. Great as she was,
the truth was greater, and she would never be able to swallow it.

"What time is it?" she asked suddenly.

"Oh, you mustn't think about time," he said, with hasty concern.


_Results of Rain_


When the lunch was completely finished and the grill-room had so far
emptied that it was inhabited by no one except themselves and several
waiters who were trying to force them to depart by means of thought
transference and uneasy, hovering round their table, Priam Farll began
to worry his brains in order to find some sane way of spending the
afternoon in her society. He wanted to keep her, but he did not know how
to keep her. He was quite at a loss. Strange that a man great enough and
brilliant enough to get buried in Westminster Abbey had not sufficient
of the small change of cleverness to retain the company of a Mrs. Alice
Challice! Yet so it was. Happily he was buoyed up by the thought that
she understood.

"I must be moving off home," she said, putting her gloves on slowly; and
sighed.

"Let me see," he stammered. "I think you said Werter Road, Putney?"

"Yes. No. 29."

"Perhaps you'll let me call on you," he ventured.

"Oh, do!" she encouraged him.

Nothing could have been more correct, and nothing more banal, than this
part of their conversation. He certainly would call. He would travel
down to the idyllic Putney to-morrow. He could not lose such a friend,
such a balm, such a soft cushion, such a comprehending intelligence. He
would bit by bit become intimate with her, and perhaps ultimately he
might arrive at the stage of being able to tell her who he was with some
chance of being believed. Anyhow, when he did call--and he insisted to
himself that it should be extremely soon--he would try another plan with
her; he would carefully decide beforehand just what to say and how to
say it. This decision reconciled him somewhat to a temporary parting
from her.

So he paid the bill, under her sagacious, protesting eyes, and he
managed to conceal from those eyes the precise amount of the tip; and
then, at the cloak-room, he furtively gave sixpence to a fat and wealthy
man who had been watching over his hat and stick. (Highly curious, how
those common-sense orbs of hers made all such operations seem
excessively silly!) And at last they wandered, in silence, through the
corridors and antechambers that led to the courtyard entrance. And
through the glass portals Priam Farll had a momentary glimpse of the
reflection of light on a cabman's wet macintosh. It was raining. It was
raining very heavily indeed. All was dry under the glass-roofed
colonnades of the courtyard, but the rain rattled like kettledrums on
that glass, and the centre of the courtyard was a pond in which a few
hansoms were splashing about. Everything--the horses' coats, the
cabmen's hats and capes, and the cabmen's red faces, shone and streamed
in the torrential summer rain. It is said that geography makes history.
In England, and especially in London, weather makes a good deal of
history. Impossible to brave that rain, except under the severest
pressure of necessity! They were in shelter, and in shelter they must
remain.

He was glad, absurdly and splendidly glad.

"It can't last long," she said, looking up at the black sky, which
showed an edge towards the east.

"Suppose we go in again and have some tea?" he said.

Now they had barely concluded coffee. But she did not seem to mind.

"Well," she said, "it's always tea-time for _me_."

He saw a clock. "It's nearly four," he said.

Thus justified of the clock, in they went, and sat down in the same
seats which they had occupied at the commencement of the adventure in
the main lounge. Priam discovered a bell-push, and commanded China tea
and muffins. He felt that he now, as it were, had an opportunity of
making a fresh start in life. He grew almost gay. He could be gay
without sinning against decorum, for Mrs. Challice's singular tact had
avoided all reference to deaths and funerals.

And in the pause, while he was preparing to be gay, attractive, and in
fact his true self, she, calmly stirring China tea, shot a bolt which
made him see stars.

"It seems to me," she observed, "that we might go farther and fare
worse--both of us."

He genuinely did not catch the significance of it in the first instant,
and she saw that he did not.

"Oh," she proceeded, benevolently and reassuringly, "I mean it. I'm not
gallivanting about. I mean that if you want my opinion I fancy we could
make a match of it."

It was at this point that he saw stars. He also saw a faint and
delicious blush on her face, whose complexion was extraordinarily fresh
and tender.

She sipped China tea, holding each finger wide apart from the others.

He had forgotten the origin of their acquaintance, forgotten that each
of them was supposed to have a definite aim in view, forgotten that it
was with a purpose that they had exchanged photographs. It had not
occurred to him that marriage hung over him like a sword. He perceived
the sword now, heavy and sharp, and suspended by a thread of appalling
fragility. He dodged. He did not want to lose her, never to see her
again; but he dodged.

"I couldn't think----" he began, and stopped.

"Of course it's a very awkward situation for a man," she went on, toying
with muffin. "I can quite understand how you feel. And with most folks
you'd be right. There's very few women that can judge character, and if
you started to try and settle something at once they'd just set you down
as a wrong 'un. But I'm not like that. I don't expect any fiddle-faddle.
What I like is plain sense and plain dealing. We both want to get
married, so it would be silly to pretend we didn't, wouldn't it? And it
would be ridiculous of me to look for courting and a proposal, and all
that sort of thing, just as if I'd never seen a man in his
shirt-sleeves. The only question is: shall we suit each other? I've told
you what I think. What do you think?"

She smiled honestly, kindly, but piercingly.

What could he say? What would you have said, you being a man? It is
easy, sitting there in your chair, with no Mrs. Alice Challice in front
of you, to invent diplomatic replies; but conceive yourself in Priam's
place! Besides, he did think she would suit him. And most positively he
could not bear the prospect of seeing her pass out of his life. He had
been through that experience once, when his hat blew off in the Tube;
and he did not wish to repeat it.

"Of course you've got no _home_!" she said reflectively, with such
compassion. "Suppose you come down and just have a little peep at mine?"

So that evening, a suitably paired couple chanced into the fishmonger's
at the corner of Werter Road, and bought a bit of sole. At the newspaper
shop next door but one, placards said: "Impressive Scenes at Westminster
Abbey," "Farll funeral, stately pageant," "Great painter laid to rest,"
etc.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER VI


_A Putney Morning_


Except that there was marrying and giving in marriage, it was just as
though he had died and gone to heaven. Heaven is the absence of worry
and of ambition. Heaven is where you want nothing you haven't got.
Heaven is finality. And this was finality. On the September morning,
after the honeymoon and the settling down, he arose leisurely, long
after his wife, and, putting on the puce dressing-gown (which Alice much
admired), he opened the window wider and surveyed that part of the
universe which was comprised in Werter Road and the sky above. A sturdy
old woman was coming down the street with a great basket of assorted
flowers; he took an immense pleasure in the sight of the old woman; the
sight of the old woman thrilled him. Why? Well, there was no reason,
except that she was vigorously alive, a part of the magnificent earth.
All life gave him joy; all life was beautiful to him. He had his warm
bath; the bath-room was not of the latest convenience, but Alice could
have made a four-wheeler convenient. As he passed to and fro on the
first-floor he heard the calm, efficient activities below stairs. She
was busy in the mornings; her eyes would seem to say to him, "Now,
between my uprising and lunch-time please don't depend on me for
intellectual or moral support. I am on the spot, but I am also at the
wheel and must not be disturbed."

Then he descended, fresh as a boy, although the promontory which
prevented a direct vision of his toes showed accretions. The front-room
was a shrine for his breakfast. She served it herself, in her-white
apron, promptly on his arrival! Eggs! Toast! Coffee! It was nothing,
that breakfast; and yet it was everything. No breakfast could have been
better. He had probably eaten about fifteen thousand hotel breakfasts
before Alice taught him what a real breakfast was. After serving it she
lingered for a moment, and then handed him the _Daily Telegraph_, which
had been lying on a chair.

"Here's your _Telegraph_," she said cheerfully, tacitly disowning any
property or interest in the _Telegraph_. For her, newspapers were men's
toys. She never opened a paper, never wanted to know what was going on
in the world. She was always intent upon her own affairs. Politics--and
all that business of the mere machinery of living: she perfectly ignored
it! She lived. She did nothing but live. She lived every hour. Priam
felt truly that he had at last got down to the bed-rock of life.

There were twenty pages of the _Telegraph_, far more matter than a man
could read in a day even if he read and read and neither ate nor slept.
And all of it so soothing in its rich variety! It gently lulled you; it
was the ideal companion for a poached egg; upstanding against the
coffee-pot, it stood for the solidity of England in the seas. Priam
folded it large; he read all the articles down to the fold; then turned
the thing over, and finished all of them. After communing with the
_Telegraph_, he communed with his own secret nature, and wandered about,
rolling a cigarette. Ah! The first cigarette! His wanderings led him to
the kitchen, or at least as far as the threshold thereof. His wife was
at work there. Upon every handle or article that might soil she put soft
brown paper, and in addition she often wore house-gloves; so that her
hands remained immaculate; thus during the earlier hours of the day the
house, especially in the region of fireplaces, had the air of being in
curl-papers.

"I'm going out now, Alice," he said, after he had drawn on his finely
polished boots.

"Very well, love," she replied, preoccupied with her work. "Lunch as
usual." She never demanded luxuriousness from him. She had got him. She
was sure of him. That satisfied her. Sometimes, like a simple woman who
has come into a set of pearls, she would, as it were, take him out of
his drawer and look at him, and put him back.

At the gate he hesitated whether to turn to the left, towards High
Street, or to the right, towards Oxford Road. He chose the right, but he
would have enjoyed himself equally had he chosen the left. The streets
through which he passed were populated by domestic servants and
tradesmen's boys. He saw white-capped girls cleaning door-knobs or
windows, or running along the streets, like escaped nuns, or staring in
soft meditation from bedroom windows. And the tradesmen's boys were
continually leaping in and out of carts, or off and on tricycles, busily
distributing food and drink, as though Putney had been a beleaguered
city. It was extremely interesting and mysterious--and what made it the
most mysterious was that the oligarchy of superior persons for whom
these boys and girls so assiduously worked, remained invisible. He
passed a newspaper shop and found his customary delight in the placards.
This morning the _Daily Illustrated_ announced nothing but: "Portrait of
a boy aged 12 who weighs 20 stone." And the _Record_ whispered in
scarlet: "What the German said to the King. Special." The _Journal_
cried: "Surrey's glorious finish." And the _Courier_ shouted: "The
Unwritten Law in the United States. Another Scandal."

Not for gold would he have gone behind these placards to the organs
themselves; he preferred to gather from the placards alone what wonders
of yesterday the excellent staid _Telegraph_ had unaccountably missed.
But in the _Financial Times_ he saw: "Cohoon's Annual Meeting. Stormy
Scenes." And he bought the _Financial Times_ and put it into his pocket
for his wife, because she had an interest in Cohoon's Brewery, and he
conceived the possibility of her caring to glance at the report.


_The Simple Joy of Life_


After crossing the South-Western Railway he got into the Upper Richmond
Road, a thoroughfare which always diverted and amused him. It was such a
street of contrasts. Any one could see that, not many years before, it
had been a sacred street, trod only by feet genteel, and made up of
houses each christened with its own name and each standing in its own
garden. And now energetic persons had put churches into it, vast red
things with gigantic bells, and large drapery shops, with blouses at
six-and-eleven, and court photographers, and banks, and cigar-stores,
and auctioneers' offices. And all kinds of omnibuses ran along it. And
yet somehow it remained meditative and superior. In every available
space gigantic posters were exhibited. They all had to do with food or
pleasure. There were York hams eight feet high, that a regiment could
not have eaten in a month; shaggy and ferocious oxen peeping out of
monstrous teacups in their anxiety to be consumed; spouting bottles of
ale whose froth alone would have floated the mail steamers pictured on
an adjoining sheet; and forty different decoctions for imparting
strength. Then after a few score yards of invitation to debauch there
came, with characteristic admirable English common sense, a cure for
indigestion, so large that it would have given ease to a mastodon who
had by inadvertence swallowed an elephant. And then there were the calls
to pleasure. Astonishing, the quantity of palaces that offered you
exactly the same entertainment twice over on the same night!
Astonishing, the reliance on number in this matter of amusement!
Authenticated statements that a certain performer had done a certain
thing in a certain way a thousand and one times without interruption
were stuck all over the Upper Richmond Road, apparently in the sure hope
that you would rush to see the thousand and second performance. These
performances were invariably styled original and novel. All the
remainder of free wall space was occupied by philanthropists who were
ready to give away cigarettes at the nominal price of a penny a packet.

Priam Farll never tired of the phantasmagoria of Upper Richmond Road.
The interminable, intermittent vision of food dead and alive, and of
performers performing the same performance from everlasting to
everlasting, and of millions and millions of cigarettes ascending from
the mouths of handsome young men in incense to heaven--this rare vision,
of which in all his wanderings he had never seen the like, had the
singular effect of lulling his soul into a profound content. Not once
did he arrive at the end of the vision. No! when he reached Barnes
Station he could see the vision still stretching on and on; but, filled
to the brim, he would get into an omnibus and return. The omnibus awoke
him to other issues: the omnibus was an antidote. In the omnibus
cleanliness was nigh to godliness. On one pane a soap was extolled, and
on another the exordium, "For this is a true saying and worthy of all
acceptation," was followed by the statement of a religious dogma; while
on another pane was an urgent appeal not to do in the omnibus what you
would not do in a drawing-room. Yes, Priam Farll had seen the world, but
he had never seen a city so incredibly strange, so packed with curious
and rare psychological interest as London. And he regretted that he had
not discovered London earlier in his life-long search after romance.

At the corner of the High Street he left the omnibus and stopped a
moment to chat with his tobacconist. His tobacconist was a stout man in
a white apron, who stood for ever behind a counter and sold tobacco to
the most respected residents of Putney. All his ideas were connected
either with tobacco or with Putney. A murder in the Strand to that
tobacconist was less than the breakdown of a motor bus opposite Putney
Station; and a change of government less than a change of programme at
the Putney Empire. A rather pessimistic tobacconist, not inclined to
believe in a First Cause, until one day a drunken man smashed Salmon and
Gluckstein's window down the High Street, whereupon his opinion of
Providence went up for several days! Priam enjoyed talking to him,
though the tobacconist was utterly impervious to ideas and never gave
out ideas. This morning the tobacconist was at his door. At the other
corner was the sturdy old woman whom Priam had observed from his window.
She sold flowers.

"Fine old woman, that!" said Priam heartily, after he and the
tobacconist had agreed upon the fact that it was a glorious morning.

"She used to be at the opposite corner by the station until last May but
one, when the police shifted her," said the tobacconist.

"Why did the police shift her?" asked Priam.

"I don't know as I can tell you," said the tobacconist. "But I remember
her this twelve year."

"I only noticed her this morning," said Priam. "I saw her from my
bedroom window, coming down the Werter Road. I said to myself, 'She's
the finest old woman I ever saw in my life!'"

"Did you now!" murmured the tobacconist. "She's rare and dirty."

"I like her to be dirty," said Priam stoutly. "She ought to be dirty.
She wouldn't be the same if she were clean."

"I don't hold with dirt," said the tobacconist calmly. "She'd be better
if she had a bath of a Saturday night like other folks."

"Well," said Priam, "I want an ounce of the usual."

"Thank _you_, sir," said the tobacconist, putting down three-halfpence
change out of sixpence as Priam thanked him for the packet.

Nothing whatever in such a dialogue! Yet Priam left the shop with a
distinct feeling that life was good. And he plunged into High Street,
lost himself in crowds of perambulators and nice womanly women who were
bustling honestly about in search of food or raiment. Many of them
carried little red books full of long lists of things which they and
their admirers and the offspring of mutual affection had eaten or would
shortly eat. In the High Street all was luxury: not a necessary in the
street. Even the bakers' shops were a mass of sultana and Berlin
pancakes. Illuminated calendars, gramophones, corsets, picture
postcards, Manilla cigars, bridge-scorers, chocolate, exotic fruit, and
commodious mansions--these seemed to be the principal objects offered
for sale in High Street. Priam bought a sixpenny edition of Herbert
Spencer's _Essays_ for four-pence-halfpenny, and passed on to Putney
Bridge, whose noble arches divided a first storey of vans and omnibuses
from a ground-floor of barges and racing eights. And he gazed at the
broad river and its hanging gardens, and dreamed; and was wakened by the
roar of an electric train shooting across the stream on a red causeway a
few yards below him. And, miles off, he could descry the twin towers of
the Crystal Palace, more marvellous than mosques!

"Astounding!" he murmured joyously. He had not a care in the world; and
Putney was all that Alice had painted it. In due time, when bells had
pealed to right and to left of him, he went home to her.


_Collapse of the Putney System_


Now, just at the end of lunch, over the last stage of which they usually
sat a long time, Alice got up quickly, in the midst of her Stilton, and,
going to the mantelpiece, took a letter therefrom.

"I wish you'd look at that, Henry," she said, handing him the letter.
"It came this morning, but of course I can't be bothered with that sort
of thing in the morning. So I put it aside."

He accepted the letter, and unfolded it with the professional
all-knowing air which even the biggest male fool will quite successfully
put on in the presence of a woman if consulted about business. When he
had unfolded the thing--it was typed on stiff, expensive, quarto
paper--he read it. In the lives of beings like Priam Farll and Alice a
letter such as that letter is a terrible event, unique, earth-arresting;
simple recipients are apt, on receiving it, to imagine that the
Christian era has come to an end. But tens of thousands of similar
letters are sent out from the City every day, and the City thinks
nothing of them.

The letter was about Cohoon's Brewery Company, Limited, and it was
signed by a firm of solicitors. It referred to the verbatim report,
which it said would be found in the financial papers, of the annual
meeting of the company held at the Cannon Street Hotel on the previous
day, and to the exceedingly unsatisfactory nature of the Chairman's
statement. It regretted the absence of Mrs. Alice Challice (her change
of condition had not yet reached the heart of Cohoon's) from the
meeting, and asked her whether she would be prepared to support the
action of a committee which had been formed to eject the existing board
and which had already a following of 385,000 votes. It finished by
asserting that unless the committee was immediately lifted to absolute
power the company would be quite ruined.

Priam re-read the letter aloud.

"What does it all mean?" asked Alice quietly.

"Well," said he, "that's what it means."

"Does it mean--?" she began.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I forgot. I saw something on a placard this
morning about Cohoon's, and I thought it might interest you, so I bought
it." So saying, he drew from his pocket the _Financial Times_, which he
had entirely forgotten. There it was: a column and a quarter of the
Chairman's speech, and nearly two columns of stormy scenes. The Chairman
was the Marquis of Drumgaldy, but his rank had apparently not shielded
him from the violence of expletives such as "Liar!" "Humbug!" and even
"Rogue!" The Marquis had merely stated, with every formula of apology,
that, owing to the extraordinary depreciation in licensed property, the
directors had not felt justified in declaring any dividend at all on the
Ordinary Shares of the company. He had made this quite simple assertion,
and instantly a body of shareholders, less reasonable and more
avaricious even than shareholders usually are, had begun to turn the
historic hall of the Cannon Street Hotel into a bear garden. One might
have imagined that the sole aim of brewery companies was to make money,
and that the patriotism of old-world brewers, that patriotism which
impelled them to supply an honest English beer to the honest English
working-man at a purely nominal price, was scorned and forgotten. One
was, indeed, forced to imagine this. In vain the Marquis pointed out
that the shareholders had received a fifteen per cent, dividend for
years and years past, and that really, for once in a way, they ought to
be prepared to sacrifice a temporary advantage for the sake of future
prosperity. The thought of those regular high dividends gave rise to no
gratitude in shareholding hearts; it seemed merely to render them the
more furious. The baser passions had been let loose in the Cannon Street
Hotel. The directors had possibly been expecting the baser passions, for
a posse of policemen was handy at the door, and one shareholder, to save
him from having the blood of Marquises on his soul, was ejected.
Ultimately, according to the picturesque phrases of the _Financial
Times_ report, the meeting broke up in confusion.

"How much have you got in Cohoon's?" Priam asked Alice, after they had
looked through the report together.

"All I have is in Cohoon's," said she, "except this house. Father left
it like that. He always said there was nothing like a brewery. I've
heard him say many and many a time a brewery was better than consols. I
think there's 200 £5 shares. Yes, that's it. But of course they're worth
much more than that. They're worth about £12 each. All I know is they
bring me in £150 a year as regular as the clock. What's that there,
after 'broke up in confusion'?"

She pointed with her finger to a paragraph, and he read in a low voice
the fluctuations of Cohoon's Ordinary Shares during the afternoon. They
had finished at £6 5s. Mrs. Henry Leek had lost over £1,000 in about
half-a-day.

"They've always brought me in £150 a year," she insisted, as though she
had been saying: "It's always been Christmas Day on the 25th of
December, and of course it will be the same this year."

"It doesn't look as if they'd bring you in anything this time," said he.

"Oh, but Henry!" she protested.

Beer had failed! That was the truth of it. Beer had failed. Who would
have guessed that beer could fail in England? The wisest, the most
prudent men in Lombard Street had put their trust in beer, as the last
grand bulwark of the nation; and even beer had failed. The foundations
of England's greatness were, if not gone, going. Insufficient to argue
bad management, indiscreet purchases of licences at inflated prices! In
the excellent old days a brewery would stand an indefinite amount of bad
management! Times were changed. The British workman, caught in a wave of
temperance, could no longer be relied upon to drink! It was the crown of
his sins against society. Trade unions were nothing to this latest
caprice of his, which spread desolation in a thousand genteel homes.
Alice wondered what her father would have said, had he lived. On the
whole, she was glad that he did not happen to be alive. The shock to him
would have been too rude. The floor seemed to be giving way under Alice,
melting into a sort of bog that would swallow up her and her husband.
For years, without any precise information, but merely by instinct, she
had felt that England, beneath the surface, was not quite the island it
had been--and here was the awful proof.

She gazed at her husband, as a wife ought to gaze at her husband in a
crisis. His thoughts were much vaguer than hers, his thoughts about
money being always extremely vague.

"Suppose you went up to the City and saw Mr. What's-his-name?" she
suggested, meaning the signatory of the letter.

"_Me_!"

It was a cry of the soul aghast, a cry drawn out of him sharply, by a
most genuine cruel alarm. Him to go up to the City to interview a
solicitor! Why, the poor dear woman must be demented! He could not have
done it for a million pounds. The thought of it made him sick, raising
the whole of his lunch to his throat, as by some sinister magic.

She saw and translated the look on his face. It was a look of horror.
And at once she made excuses for him to herself. At once she said to
herself that it was no use pretending that her Henry was like other men.
He was not. He was a dreamer. He was, at times, amazingly peculiar. But
he was her Henry. In any other man than her Henry a hesitation to take
charge of his wife's financial affairs would have been ridiculous; it
would have been effeminate. But Henry was Henry. She was gradually
learning that truth. He was adorable; but he was Henry. With magnificent
strength of mind she collected herself.

"No," she said cheerfully. "As they're my shares, perhaps I'd better go.
Unless we _both_ go!" She encountered his eye again, and added quietly:
"No, I'll go alone."

He sighed his relief. He could not help sighing his relief.

And, after meticulously washing-up and straightening, she departed, and
Priam remained solitary with his ideas about married life and the fiscal
question.

Alice was assuredly the very mirror of discretion. Never, since that
unanswered query as to savings at the Grand Babylon, had she subjected
him to any inquisition concerning money. Never had she talked of her own
means, save in casual phrase now and then to assure him that there was
enough. She had indeed refused banknotes diffidently offered to her by
him, telling him to keep them by him till need of them arose. Never had
she discoursed of her own past life, nor led him on to discourse of his.
She was one of those women for whom neither the past nor the future
seems to exist--they are always so occupied with the important present.
He and she had both of them relied on their judgment of character as
regarded each other's worthiness and trustworthiness. And he was the
last man in the world to be a chancellor of the exchequer. To him, money
was a quite uninteresting token that had to pass through your hands. He
had always had enough of it. He had always had too much of it. Even at
Putney he had had too much of it. The better part of Henry Leek's two
hundred pounds remained in his pockets, and under his own will he had
his pound a week, of which he never spent more than a few shillings. His
distractions were tobacco (which cost him about twopence a day), walking
about and enjoying colour effects and the oddities of the streets (which
cost him nearly nought), and reading: there were three shops of Putney
where all that is greatest in literature could be bought for
fourpence-halfpenny a volume. Do what he could, he could not read away
more than ninepence a week. He was positively accumulating money. You
may say that he ought to have compelled Alice to accept money. The idea
never occurred to him. In his scheme of things money had not been a
matter of sufficient urgency to necessitate an argument with one's wife.
She was always welcome to all that he had.

And now suddenly, money acquired urgency in his eyes. It was most
disturbing. He was not frightened: he was merely disturbed. If he had
ever known the sensation of wanting money and not being able to obtain
it, he would probably have been frightened. But this sensation was
unfamiliar to him. Not once in his whole career had he hesitated to
change gold from fear that the end of gold was at hand.

All kinds of problems crowded round him.

He went out for a stroll to escape the problems. But they accompanied
him. He walked through exactly the same streets as had delighted him in
the morning. And they had ceased to delight him. This surely could not
be ideal Putney that he was in! It must be some other place of the same
name. The mismanagement of a brewery a hundred and fifty miles from
London; the failure of the British working-man to drink his customary
pints in several scattered scores of public-houses, had most
unaccountably knocked the bottom out of the Putney system of practical
philosophy. Putney posters were now merely disgusting, Putney trade
gross and futile, the tobacconist a narrow-minded and stupid bourgeois;
and so on.

Alice and he met on their doorstep, each in the act of pulling out a
latchkey.

"Oh!" she said, when they were inside, "it's done for! There's no
mistake--it's done for! We shan't get a penny this year, not one penny!
And he doesn't think there'll be anything next year either! And the
shares'll go down yet, he says. I never heard of such a thing in all my
life! Did you?"

He admitted sympathetically that he had not.

After she had been upstairs and come down again her mood suddenly
changed. "Well," she smiled, "whether we get anything or not, it's
tea-time. So we'll have tea. I've no patience with worrying. I said I
should make pastry after tea, and I will too. See if I don't!"

The tea was perhaps slightly more elaborate than usual.

After tea he heard her singing in the kitchen. And he was moved to go
and look at her. There she was, with her sleeves turned back, and a
large pinafore apron over her rich bosom, kneading flour. He would have
liked to approach her and kiss her. But he never could accomplish feats
of that kind at unusual moments.

"Oh!" she laughed. "You can look! _I'm_ not worrying. I've no patience
with worrying."

Later in the afternoon he went out; rather like a person who has reasons
for leaving inconspicuously. He had made a great, a critical resolve. He
passed furtively down Werter Road into the High Street, and then stood a
moment outside Stawley's stationery shop, which is also a library, an
emporium of leather-bags, and an artists'-colourman's. He entered
Stawley's blushing, trembling--he a man of fifty who could not see his
own toes--and asked for certain tubes of colour. An energetic young lady
who seemed to know all about the graphic arts endeavoured to sell to him
a magnificent and complicated box of paints, which opened out into an
easel and a stool, and contained a palette of a shape preferred by the
late Edwin Long, R.A., a selection of colours which had been approved by
the late Lord Leighton, P.R.A., and a patent drying-oil which (she said)
had been used by Whistler. Priam Farll got away from the shop without
this apparatus for the confection of masterpieces, but he did not get
away without a sketching-box which he had had no intention of buying.
The young lady was too energetic for him. He was afraid of being too
curt with her lest she should turn on him and tell him that pretence was
useless--she knew he was Priam Farll. He felt guilty, and he felt that
he looked guilty. As he hurried along the High Street towards the river
with the paint-box it appeared to him that policemen observed him
inimically and cocked their helmets at him, as who should say: "See
here; this won't do. You're supposed to be in Westminster Abbey. You'll
be locked up if you're too brazen."

The tide was out. He sneaked down to the gravelly shore a little above
the steamer pier, and hid himself between the piles, glancing around him
in a scared fashion. He might have been about to commit a crime. Then he
opened the sketch-box, and oiled the palette, and tried the elasticity
of the brushes on his hand. And he made a sketch of the scene before
him. He did it very quickly--in less than half-an-hour. He had made
thousands of such colour 'notes' in his life, and he would never part
with any of them. He had always hated to part with his notes. Doubtless
his cousin Duncan had them now, if Duncan had discovered his address in
Paris, as Duncan probably had.

When it was finished, he inspected the sketch, half shutting his eyes
and holding it about three feet off. It was good. Except for a few
pencil scrawls done in sheer absent-mindedness and hastily destroyed,
this was the first sketch he had made since the death of Henry Leek. But
it was very good. "No mistake who's done that!" he murmured; and added:
"That's the devil of it. Any expert would twig it in a minute. There's
only one man that could have done it. I shall have to do something worse
than that!" He shut up the box and with a bang as an amative couple came
into sight. He need not have done so, for the couple vanished instantly
in deep disgust at being robbed of their retreat between the piles.

Alice was nearing the completion of pastry when he returned in the dusk;
he smelt the delicious proof. Creeping quietly upstairs, he deposited
his brushes in an empty attic at the top of the house. Then he washed
his hands with especial care to remove all odour of paint. And at dinner
he endeavoured to put on the mien of innocence.

She was cheerful, but it was the cheerfulness of determined effort. They
naturally talked of the situation. It appeared that she had a reserve of
money in the bank--as much as would suffice her for quite six months. He
told her with false buoyancy that there need never be the slightest
difficulty as to money; he had money, and he could always earn more.

"If you think I'm going to let you go into another situation," she said,
"you're mistaken. That's all." And her lips were firm.

This staggered him. He never could remember for more than half-an-hour
at a time that he was a retired valet. And it was decidedly not her
practice to remind him of the fact. The notion of himself in a situation
as valet was half ridiculous and half tragical. He could no more be a
valet than he could be a stockbroker or a wire-walker.

"I wasn't thinking of that," he stammered.

"Then what were you thinking of?" she asked.

"Oh! I don't know!" he said vaguely.

"Because those things they advertise--homework, envelope addressing, or
selling gramophones on commission--they're no good, you know!"

He shuddered.

The next morning he bought a 36 x 24 canvas, and more brushes and tubes,
and surreptitiously introduced them into the attic. Happily it was the
charwoman's day and Alice was busy enough to ignore him. With an old
table and the tray out of a travelling-trunk, he arranged a substitute
for an easel, and began to try to paint a bad picture from his sketch.
But in a quarter of an hour he discovered that he was exactly as fitted
to paint a bad picture as to be a valet. He could not sentimentalize the
tones, nor falsify the values. He simply could not; the attempt to do so
annoyed him. All men are capable of stooping beneath their highest
selves, and in several directions Priam Farll could have stooped. But
not on canvas! He could only produce his best. He could only render
nature as he saw nature. And it was instinct, rather than conscience,
that prevented him from stooping.

In three days, during which he kept Alice out of the attic partly by
lies and partly by locking the door, the picture was finished; and he
had forgotten all about everything except his profession. He had become
a different man, a very excited man.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, surveying the picture, "I can paint!"

Artists do occasionally soliloquize in this way.

The picture was dazzling! What atmosphere! What poetry! And what
profound fidelity to nature's facts! It was precisely such a picture as
he was in the habit of selling for £800 or a £1,000, before his burial
in Westminster Abbey! Indeed, the trouble was that it had 'Priam Farll'
written all over it, just as the sketch had!

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER VII


_The Confession_


That evening he was very excited, and he seemed to take no thought to
disguise his excitement. The fact was, he could not have disguised it,
even if he had tried. The fever of artistic creation was upon him--all
the old desires and the old exhausting joys. His genius had been lying
idle, like a lion in a thicket, and now it had sprung forth ravening.
For months he had not handled a brush; for months his mind had
deliberately avoided the question of painting, being content with the
observation only of beauty. A week ago, if he had deliberately asked
himself whether he would ever paint again, he might have answered,
"Perhaps not." Such is man's ignorance of his own nature! And now the
lion of his genius was standing over him, its paw on his breast, and
making a great noise.

He saw that the last few months had been merely an interlude, that he
would be forced to paint--or go mad; and that nothing else mattered. He
saw also that he could only paint in one way--Priam Farll's way. If it
was discovered that Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey; if
there was a scandal, and legal unpleasantness--well, so much the worse!
But he must paint.

Not for money, mind you! Incidentally, of course, he would earn money.
But he had already quite forgotten that life has its financial aspect.

So in the sitting-room in Werter Road, he walked uneasily to and fro,
squeezing between the table and the sideboard, and then skirting the
fireplace where Alice sat with a darning apparatus upon her knees, and
her spectacles on--she wore spectacles when she had to look fixedly at
very dark objects. The room was ugly in a pleasant Putneyish way, with a
couple of engravings after B.W. Leader, R.A., a too realistic
wall-paper, hot brown furniture with ribbed legs, a carpet with the
characteristics of a retired governess who has taken to drink, and a
black cloud on the ceiling over the incandescent burners. Happily these
surroundings did not annoy him. They did not annoy him because he never
saw them. When his eyes were not resting on beautiful things, they were
not in this world of reality at all. His sole idea about
house-furnishing was an easy-chair.

"Harry," said his wife, "don't you think you'd better sit down?"

The calm voice of common sense stopped him in his circular tour. He
glanced at Alice, and she, removing her spectacles, glanced at him. The
seal on his watch-chain dangled free. He had to talk to some one, and
his wife was there--not only the most convenient but the most proper
person to talk to. A tremendous impulse seized him to tell her
everything; she would understand; she always did understand; and she
never allowed herself to be startled. The most singular occurrences,
immediately they touched her, were somehow transformed into credible
daily, customary events. Thus the disaster of the brewery! She had
accepted it as though the ruins of breweries were a spectacle to be
witnessed at every street-corner.

Yes, he should tell her. Three minutes ago he had no intention of
telling her, or any one, anything. He decided in an instant. To tell her
his secret would lead up naturally to the picture which he had just
finished.

"I say, Alice," he said, "I want to talk to you."

"Well," she said, "I wish you'd talk to me sitting down. I don't know
what's come over you this last day or two."

He sat down. He did not feel really intimate with her at that moment.
And their marriage seemed to him, in a way, artificial, scarcely a fact.
He did not know that it takes years to accomplish full intimacy between
husband and wife.

"You know," he said, "Henry Leek isn't my real name."

"Oh, isn't it?" she said. "What does that matter?"

She was not in the least surprised to hear that Henry Leek was not his
real name. She was a wise woman, and knew the strangeness of the world.
And she had married him simply because he was himself, because he
existed in a particular manner (whose charm for her she could not have
described) from hour to hour.

"So long as you haven't committed a murder or anything," she added, with
her tranquil smile.

"My real name is Priam Farll," he said gruffly. The gruffness was caused
by timidity.

"I thought Priam Farll was your gentleman's name."

"To tell you the truth," he said nervously, "there was a mistake. That
photograph that was sent to you was my photograph."

"Yes," she said. "I know it was. And what of it?"

"I mean," he blundered on, "it was my valet that died--not me. You see,
the doctor, when he came, thought that Leek was me, and I didn't tell
him differently, because I was afraid of all the bother. I just let it
slide--and there were other reasons. You know how I am...."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"Can't you understand? It's simple enough. I'm Priam Farll, and I had a
valet named Henry Leek, and he died, and they thought it was me. Only it
wasn't."

He saw her face change and then compose itself.

"Then it's this Henry Leek that is buried in Westminster Abbey, instead
of you?" Her voice was very soft and soothing. And the astonishing woman
resumed her spectacles and her long needle.

"Yes, of course."

Here he burst into the whole story, into the middle of it, continuing to
the end, and then going back to the commencement. He left out nothing,
and nobody, except Lady Sophia Entwistle.

"I see," she observed. "And you've never said a word?"

"Not a word."

"If I were you I should still keep perfectly silent about it," she
almost whispered persuasively. "It'll be just as well. If I were you, I
shouldn't worry myself. I can quite understand how it happened, and I'm
glad you've told me. But don't worry. You've been exciting yourself
these last two or three days. I thought it was about my money business,
but I see it wasn't. At least that may have brought it on, like. Now the
best thing you can do is to forget it."

She did not believe him! She simply discredited the whole story; and,
told in Werter Road, like that, the story did sound fantastic; it did
come very near to passing belief. She had always noticed a certain
queerness in her husband. His sudden gaieties about a tint in the sky or
the gesture of a horse in the street, for example, were most uncanny.
And he had peculiar absences of mind that she could never account for.
She was sure that he must have been a very bad valet. However, she did
not marry him for a valet, but for a husband; and she was satisfied with
her bargain. What if he did suffer under a delusion? The exposure of
that delusion merely crystallized into a definite shape her vague
suspicions concerning his mentality. Besides, it was a harmless
delusion. And it explained things. It explained, among other things, why
he had gone to stay at the Grand Babylon Hotel. That must have been the
inception of the delusion. She was glad to know the worst.

She adored him more than ever.

There was a silence.

"No," she repeated, in the most matter-of-fact tone, "I should say
nothing, in your place. I should forget it."

"You would?" He drummed on the table.

"I should! And whatever you do, don't worry." Her accents were the
coaxing accents of a nurse with a child--or with a lunatic.

He perceived now with the utmost clearness that she did not believe a
word of what he had said, and that in her magnificent and calm sagacity
she was only trying to humour him. He had expected to disturb her soul
to its profoundest depths; he had expected that they would sit up half
the night discussing the situation. And lo!--"I should forget it,"
indulgently! And a mild continuance of darning!

He had to think, and think hard.


_Tears_


"Henry," she called out the next morning, as he disappeared up the
stairs. "What _are_ you doing up there?"

She had behaved exactly as if nothing had happened; and she was one of
those women whose prudent policy it is to let their men alone even to
the furthest limit of patience; but she had nerves, too, and they were
being affected. For three days Henry had really been too mysterious!

He stopped, and put his head over the banisters, and in a queer, moved
voice answered:

"Come and see."

Sooner or later she must see. Sooner or later the already distended
situation must get more and more distended until it burst with a loud
report. Let the moment be sooner, he swiftly decided.

So she went and saw.

Half-way up the attic stairs she began to sniff, and as he turned the
knob of the attic door for her she said, "What a smell of paint! I
fancied yesterday----"

If she had been clever enough she would have said, "What a smell of
masterpieces!" But her cleverness lay in other fields.

"You surely haven't been aspinalling that bath-room chair?... Oh!"

This loud exclamation escaped from her as she entered the attic and saw
the back of the picture which Priam had lodged on the said bath-room
chair--filched by him from the bath-room on the previous day. She
stepped to the vicinity of the window and obtained a good view of the
picture. It was brilliantly shining in the light of morn. It looked
glorious; it was a fit companion of many pictures from the same hand
distributed among European galleries. It had that priceless quality, at
once noble and radiant, which distinguished all Priam's work. It
transformed the attic; and thousands of amateurs and students, from St.
Petersburg to San Francisco, would have gone into that attic with their
hats off and a thrill in the spine, had they known what was there and
had they been invited to enter and worship. Priam himself was pleased;
he was delighted; he was enthusiastic. And he stood near the picture,
glancing at it and then glancing at Alice, nervously, like a mother
whose sister-in-law has come to look at the baby. As for Alice, she said
nothing. She had first of all to take in the fact that her husband had
been ungenerous enough to keep her quite in the dark as to the nature of
his secret activities; then she had to take in the fact of the picture.

"Did you do that?" she said limply.

"Yes," said he, with all the casualness that he could assume. "How does
it strike you?" And to himself: "This'll make her see I'm not a mere
lunatic. This'll give her a shaking up."

"I'm sure it's beautiful," she said kindly, but without the slightest
conviction. "What is it? Is that Putney Bridge?"

"Yes," he said.

"I thought it was. I thought it must be. Well, I never knew you could
paint. It's beautiful--for an amateur." She said this firmly and yet
endearingly, and met his eyes with her eyes. It was her tactful method
of politely causing him to see that she had not accepted last night's
yarn very seriously. His eyes fell, not hers.

"No, no, no!" he expostulated with quick vivacity, as she stepped
towards the canvas. "Don't come any nearer. You're at just the right
distance."

"Oh! If you don't _want_ me to see it close," she humoured him. "What a
pity you haven't put an omnibus on the bridge!"

"There is one," said he. "_That's_ one." He pointed.

"Oh yes! Yes, I see. But, you know, I think it looks rather more like a
Carter Paterson van than an omnibus. If you could paint some letters on
it--'Union Jack' or 'Vanguard,' then people would be sure. But it's
beautiful. I suppose you learnt to to paint from your--" She checked
herself. "What's that red streak behind?"

"That's the railway bridge," he muttered.

"Oh, of course it is! How silly of me! Now if you were to put a train on
that. The worst of trains in pictures is that they never seem to be
going along. I've noticed that on the sides of furniture vans, haven't
you? But if you put a signal, against it, then people would understand
that the train had stopped. I'm not sure whether there _is_ a signal on
the bridge, though."

He made no remark.

"And I see that's the Elk public-house there on the right. You've just
managed to get it in. I can recognize that quite easily. Any one would."

He still made no remark.

"What are you going to do with it?" she asked gently.

"Going to sell it, my dear," he replied grimly. "It may surprise you to
know that that canvas is worth at the very least £800. There would be a
devil of a row and rumpus in Bond Street and elsewhere if they knew I
was painting here instead of rotting in Westminster Abbey. I don't
propose to sign it--I seldom did sign my pictures--and we shall see what
we shall see.... I've got fifteen hundred for little things not so good
as that. I'll let it go for what it'll fetch. We shall soon be wanting
money."

The tears rose to Alice's eyes. She saw that he was more infinitely more
mad than she imagined--with his £800 and his £1,500 for daubs of
pictures that conveyed no meaning whatever to the eye! Why, you could
purchase real, professional pictures, of lakes, and mountains,
exquisitely finished, at the frame-makers in High Street for three
pounds apiece! And here he was rambling in hundreds and thousands! She
saw that that extraordinary notion about being able to paint was a
natural consequence of the pathetic delusion to which he had given
utterance yesterday. And she wondered what would follow next. Who could
have guessed that the seeds of lunacy were in such a man? Yes, harmless
lunacy, but lunacy nevertheless! She distinctly remembered the little
shock with which she had learned that he was staying at the Grand
Babylon on his own account, as a wealthy visitor. She thought it
bizarre, but she certainly had not taken it for a sign of lunacy. And
yet it had been a sign of madness. And the worst of harmless lunacy was
that it might develop at any moment into harmful lunacy.

There was one thing to do, and only one: keep him quiet, shield him from
all troubles and alarms. It was disturbance of spirit which induced
these mental derangements. His master's death had upset him. And now he
had been upset by her disgraceful brewery company.

She made a step towards him, and then hesitated. She had to form a plan
of campaign all in a moment! She had to keep her wits and to use them!
How could she give him confidence about his absurd picture? She noticed
that naïve look that sometimes came into his eyes, a boyish expression
that gave the He to his greying beard and his generous proportions.

He laughed, until, as she came closer, he saw the tears on her eyelids.
Then he ceased laughing. She fingered the edge of his coat, cajolingly.

"It's a beautiful picture!" she repeated again and again. "And if you
like I will see if I can sell it for you. But, Henry----"

"Well?"

"Please, please don't bother about money. We shall have _heaps_. There's
no occasion for you to bother, and I won't _have_ you bothering."

"What are you crying for?" he asked in a murmur.

"It's only--only because I think it's so nice of you trying to earn
money like that," she lied. "I'm not really crying."

And she ran away, downstairs, really crying. It was excessively comic,
but he had better not follow her, lest he might cry too....


_A Patron of the Arts_


A lull followed this crisis in the affairs of No. 29 Werter Road. Priam
went on painting, and there was now no need for secrecy about it. But
his painting was not made a subject of conversation. Both of them
hesitated to touch it, she from tact, and he because her views on the
art seemed to him to be lacking in subtlety. In every marriage there is
a topic--there are usually several--which the husband will never broach
to the wife, out of respect for his respect for her. Priam scarcely
guessed that Alice imagined him to be on the way to lunacy. He thought
she merely thought him queer, as artists _are_ queer to non-artists. And
he was accustomed to that; Henry Leek had always thought him queer. As
for Alice's incredulous attitude towards the revelation of his identity,
he did not mentally accuse her of treating him as either a liar or a
madman. On reflection he persuaded himself that she regarded the story
as a bad joke, as one of his impulsive, capricious essays in the absurd.

Thus the march of evolution was apparently arrested in Werter Road
during three whole days. And then a singular event happened, and
progress was resumed. Priam had been out since early morning on the
riverside, sketching, and had reached Barnes, from which town he
returned over Barnes Common, and so by the Upper Richmond Road to High
Street. He was on the south side of Upper Richmond Road, whereas his
tobacconist's shop was on the north side, near the corner. An unfamiliar
peculiarity of the shop caused him to cross the street, for he was not
in want of tobacco. It was the look of the window that drew him. He
stopped on the refuge in the centre of the street. There was no
necessity to go further. His picture of Putney Bridge was in the middle
of the window. He stared at it fixedly. He believed his eyes, for his
eyes were the finest part of him and never deceived him; but perhaps if
he had been a person with ordinary eyes he would scarce have been able
to believe them. The canvas was indubitably there present in the window.
It had been put in a cheap frame such as is used for chromographic
advertisements of ships, soups, and tobacco. He was almost sure that he
had seen that same frame, within the shop, round a pictorial
announcement of Taddy's Snuff. The tobacconist had probably removed the
eighteenth-century aristocrat with his fingers to his nose, from the
frame, and replaced him with Putney Bridge. In any event the frame was
about half-an-inch too long for the canvas, but the gap was scarcely
observable. On the frame was a large notice, 'For sale.' And around it
were the cigars of two hemispheres, from Syak Whiffs at a penny each to
precious Murias; and cigarettes of every allurement; and the
multitudinous fragments of all advertised tobaccos; and meerschaums and
briars, and patent pipes and diagrams of their secret machinery; and
cigarette-and cigar-holders laid on plush; and pocket receptacles in
aluminium and other precious metals.

Shining there, the picture had a most incongruous appearance. He blushed
as he stood on the refuge. It seemed to him that the mere incongruity of
the spectacle must inevitably attract crowds, gradually blocking the
street, and that when some individual not absolutely a fool in art, had
perceived the quality of the picture--well, then the trouble of public
curiosity and of journalistic inquisitiveness would begin. He wondered
that he could ever have dreamed of concealing his identity on a canvas.
The thing simply shouted 'Priam Farll,' every inch of it. In any
exhibition of pictures in London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Munich, New York
or Boston, it would have been the cynosure, the target of ecstatic
admirations. It was just such another work as his celebrated 'Pont
d'Austerlitz,' which hung in the Luxembourg. And neither a frame of
'chemical gold,' nor the extremely variegated coloration of the other
merchandise on sale could kill it.

However, there were no signs of a crowd. People passed to and fro, just
as though there had not been a masterpiece within ten thousand miles of
them. Once a servant girl, a loaf of bread in her red arms, stopped to
glance at the window, but in an instant she was gone, running.

Priam's first instinctive movement had been to plunge into the shop, and
demand from his tobacconist an explanation of the phenomenon. But of
course he checked himself. Of course he knew that the presence of his
picture in the window could only be due to the enterprise of Alice.

He went slowly home.

The sound of his latchkey in the keyhole brought her into the hall ere
he had opened the door.

"Oh, Henry," she said--she was quite excited--"I must tell you. I was
passing Mr. Aylmer's this morning just as he was dressing his window,
and the thought struck me that he might put your picture in. So I ran in
and asked him. He said he would if he could have it at once. So I came
and got it. He found a frame, and wrote out a ticket, and asked after
you. No one could have been kinder. You must go and have a look at it. I
shouldn't be at all surprised if it gets sold like that."

Priam answered nothing for a moment. He could not.

"What did Aylmer say about it?" he asked.

"Oh!" said his wife quickly, "you can't expect Mr. Aylmer to understand
these things. It's not in his line. But he was glad to oblige us. I saw
he arranged it nicely."

"Well," said Priam discreetly, "that's all right. Suppose we have
lunch?"

Curious--her relations with Mr. Aylmer! It was she who had recommended
him to go to Mr. Aylmer's when, on the first morning of his residence in
Putney, he had demanded, "Any decent tobacconists in this happy region?"
He suspected that, had it not been for Aylmer's beridden and incurable
wife, Alice's name might have been Aylmer. He suspected Aylmer of a
hopeless passion for Alice. He was glad that Alice had not been thrown
away on Aylmer. He could not imagine himself now without Alice. In spite
of her ideas on the graphic arts, Alice was his air, his atmosphere, his
oxygen; and also his umbrella to shield him from the hail of untoward
circumstances. Curious--the process of love! It was the power of love
that had put that picture in the tobacconist's window.

Whatever power had put it there, no power seemed strong enough to get it
out again. It lay exposed in the window for weeks and never drew a
crowd, nor caused a sensation of any kind! Not a word in the newspapers!
London, the acknowledged art-centre of the world, calmly went its ways.
The sole immediate result was that Priam changed his tobacconist, and
the direction of his promenades.

At last another singular event happened.

Alice beamingly put five sovereigns into Priam's hand one evening.

"It's been sold for five guineas," she said, joyous. "Mr. Aylmer didn't
want to keep anything for himself, but I insisted on his having the odd
shillings. I think it's splendid, simply splendid! Of course I always
_did_ think it was a beautiful picture," she added.

The fact was that this astounding sale for so large a sum as five
pounds, of a picture done in the attic by her Henry, had enlarged her
ideas of Henry's skill. She could no longer regard his painting as the
caprice of a gentle lunatic. There was something _in_ it. And now she
wanted to persuade herself that she had known from the first there was
something in it.

The picture had been bought by the eccentric and notorious landlord of
the Elk Hotel, down by the river, on a Sunday afternoon when he was--not
drunk, but more optimistic than the state of English society warrants.
He liked the picture because his public-house was so unmistakably plain
in it. He ordered a massive gold frame for it, and hung it in his
saloon-bar. His career as a patron of the arts was unfortunately cut
short by an order signed by his doctors for his incarceration in a
lunatic asylum. All Putney had been saying for years that he would end
in the asylum, and all Putney was right.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER VIII


_An Invasion_


One afternoon, in December, Priam and Alice were in the sitting-room
together, and Alice was about to prepare tea. The drawn-thread cloth was
laid diagonally on the table (because Alice had seen cloths so laid on
model tea-tables in model rooms at Waring's), the strawberry jam
occupied the northern point of the compass, and the marmalade was
antarctic, while brittle cakes and spongy cakes represented the occident
and the orient respectively. Bread-and-butter stood, rightly, for the
centre of the universe. Silver ornamented the spread, and Alice's two
tea-pots (for she would never allow even Chinese tea to remain on the
leaves for more than five minutes) and Alice's water-jug with the patent
balanced lid, occupied a tray off the cloth. At some distance, but still
on the table, a kettle moaned over a spirit-lamp. Alice was cutting
bread for toast. The fire was of the right redness for toast, and a
toasting-fork lay handy. As winter advanced, Alice's teas had a tendency
to become cosier and cosier, and also more luxurious, more of a
ritualistic ceremony. And to avoid the trouble and danger of going
through a cold passage to the kitchen, she arranged matters so that the
entire operation could be performed with comfort and decency in the
sitting-room itself.

Priam was rolling cigarettes, many of them, and placing them, as he
rolled them, in order on the mantelpiece. A happy, mild couple! And a
couple, one would judge from the richness of the tea, with no immediate
need of money. Over two years, however, had passed since the catastrophe
to Cohoon's, and Cohoon's had in no way recovered therefrom. Yet money
had been regularly found for the household. The manner of its finding
was soon to assume importance in the careers of Priam and Alice. But,
ere that moment, an astonishing and vivid experience happened to them.
One might have supposed that, in the life of Priam Farll at least,
enough of the astonishing and the vivid had already happened.
Nevertheless, what had already happened was as customary and unexciting
as addressing envelopes, compared to the next event.

The next event began at the instant when Alice was sticking the long
fork into a round of bread. There was a knock at the front door, a knock
formidable and reverberating, the knock of fate, perhaps, but fate
disguised as a coalheaver.

Alice answered it. She always answered knocks; Priam never. She shielded
him from every rough or unexpected contact, just as his valet used to
do. The gas in the hall was not lighted, and so she stopped to light it,
darkness having fallen. Then she opened the door, and saw, in the gloom,
a short, thin woman standing on the step, a woman of advanced
middle-age, dressed with a kind of shabby neatness. It seemed impossible
that so frail and unimportant a creature could have made such a noise on
the door.

"Is this Mr. Henry Leek's?" asked the visitor, in a dissatisfied, rather
weary tone.

"Yes," said Alice. Which was not quite true. 'This' was assuredly hers,
rather than her husband's.

"Oh!" said the woman, glancing behind her; and entered nervously,
without invitation.

At the same moment three male figures sprang, or rushed, out of the
strip of front garden, and followed the woman into the hall, lunging up
against Alice, and breathing loudly. One of the trio was a strong,
heavy-faced heavy-handed, louring man of some thirty years (it seemed
probable that he was the knocker), and the others were curates, with the
proper physical attributes of curates; that is to say, they were of
ascetic habit and clean-shaven and had ingenuous eyes.

The hall now appeared like the antechamber of a May-meeting, and as
Alice had never seen it so peopled before, she vented a natural
exclamation of surprise.

"Yes," said one of the curates, fiercely. "You may say 'Lord,' but we
were determined to get in, and in we have got. John, shut the door.
Mother, don't put yourself about."

John, being the heavy-faced and heavy-handed man, shut the door.

"Where is Mr. Henry Leek?" demanded the other curate.

Now Priam, whose curiosity had been excusably excited by the unusual
sounds in the hall, was peeping through a chink of the sitting-room
door, and the elderly woman caught the glint of his eyes. She pushed
open the door, and, after a few seconds' inspection of him, said:

"There you are, Henry! After thirty years! To think of it!"

Priam was utterly at a loss.

"I'm his wife, ma'am," the visitor continued sadly to Alice. "I'm sorry
to have to tell you. I'm his wife. I'm the rightful Mrs. Henry Leek, and
these are my sons, come with me to see that I get justice."

Alice recovered very quickly from the shock of amazement. She was a
woman not easily to be startled by the vagaries of human nature. She had
often heard of bigamy, and that her husband should prove to be a
bigamist did not throw her into a swoon. She at once, in her own mind,
began to make excuses for him. She said to herself, as she inspected the
real Mrs. Henry Leek, that the real Mrs. Henry Leek had certainly the
temperament which manufactures bigamists. She understood how a person
may slide into bigamy. And after thirty years!... She never thought of
bigamy as a crime, nor did it occur to her to run out and drown herself
for shame because she was not properly married to Priam!

No, it has to be said in favour of Alice that she invariably took things
as they were.

"I think you'd better all come in and sit down quietly," she said.

"Eh! It's very kind of you," said the mother of the curates, limply.

The last thing that the curates wanted to do was to sit down quietly.
But they had to sit down. Alice made them sit side by side on the sofa.
The heavy, elder brother, who had not spoken a word, sat on a chair
between the sideboard and the door. Their mother sat on a chair near the
table. Priam fell into his easy-chair between the fireplace and the
sideboard. As for Alice, she remained standing; she showed no
nervousness except in her handling of the toasting-fork.

It was a great situation. But unfortunately ordinary people are so
unaccustomed to the great situation, that, when it chances to come, they
feel themselves incapable of living up to it. A person gazing in at the
window, and unacquainted with the facts, might have guessed that the
affair was simply a tea party at which the guests had arrived a little
too soon and where no one was startlingly proficient in the art of
small-talk.

Still, the curates were apparently bent on doing their best.

"Now, mother!" one of them urged her.

The mother, as if a spring had been touched in her, began: "He married
me just thirty years ago, ma'am; and four months after my eldest was
born--that's John there"--(pointing to the corner near the door)--"he
just walked out of the house and left me. I'm sorry to have to say it.
Yes, sorry I am! But there it is. And never a word had I ever given him!
And eight months after that my twins were born. That's Harry and
Matthew"--(pointing to the sofa)--"Harry I called after his father
because I thought he was like him, and just to show I bore no
ill-feeling, and hoping he'd come back! And there I was with these
little children! And not a word of explanation did I ever have. I heard
of Harry five years later--when Johnnie was nearly five--but he was on
the Continent and I couldn't go traipsing about with three babies.
Besides, if I _had_ gone!... Sorry I am to say it, ma'am; but many's the
time he's beaten me, yes, with his hands and his fists! He's knocked me
about above a bit. And I never gave him a word back. He was my husband,
for better for worse, and I forgave him and I still do. Forgive and
forget, that's what I say. We only heard of him through Matthew being
second curate at St. Paul's, and in charge of the mission hall. It was
your milkman that happened to tell Matthew that he had a customer same
name as himself. And you know how one thing leads to another. So we're
here!"

"I never saw this lady in my life," said Priam excitedly, "and I'm
absolutely certain I never married her. I never married any one; except,
of course, you, Alice!"

"Then how do you explain this, sir?" exclaimed Matthew, the younger
twin, jumping up and taking a blue paper from his pocket. "Be so good as
to pass this to father," he said, handing the paper to Alice.

Alice inspected the document. It was a certificate of the marriage of
Henry Leek, valet, and Sarah Featherstone, spinster, at a registry
office in Paddington. Priam also inspected it. This was one of Leek's
escapades! No revelations as to the past of Henry Leek would have
surprised him. There was nothing to be done except to give a truthful
denial of identity and to persist in that denial. Useless to say
soothingly to the lady visitor that she was the widow of a gentleman who
had been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey!

"I know nothing about it," said Priam doggedly.

"I suppose you'll not deny, sir, that your name is Henry Leek," said
Henry, jumping up to stand by Matthew.

"I deny everything," said Priam doggedly. How could he explain? If he
had not been able to convince Alice that he was not Henry Leek, could he
hope to convince these visitors?

"I suppose, madam," Henry continued, addressing Alice in impressive
tones as if she were a crowded congregation, "that at any rate you and
my father are--er--living here together under the name of Mr. and Mrs.
Henry Leek?"

Alice merely lifted her eyebrows.

"It's all a mistake," said Priam impatiently. Then he had a brilliant
inspiration. "As if there was only one Henry Leek in the world!"

"Do you really recognize my husband?" Alice asked.

"Your husband, madam!" Matthew protested, shocked.

"I wouldn't say that I recognized him as he _was_," said the real Mrs.
Henry Leek. "No more than he recognizes me. After thirty years!....Last
time I saw him he was only twenty-two or twenty-three. But he's the same
sort of man, and he has the same eyes. And look at Henry's eyes.
Besides, I heard twenty-five years ago that he'd gone into service with
a Mr. Priam Farll, a painter or something, him that was buried in
Westminster Abbey. And everybody in Putney knows that this gentleman----"

"Gentleman!" murmured Matthew, discontented.

"Was valet to Mr. Priam Farll. We've heard that everywhere."

"I suppose you'll not deny," said Henry the younger, "that Priam Farll
wouldn't be likely to have _two_ valets named Henry Leek?"

Crushed by this Socratic reasoning, Priam kept silence, nursing his
knees and staring into the fire.

Alice went to the sideboard where she kept her best china, and took out
three extra cups and saucers.

"I think we'd all better have some tea," she said tranquilly. And then
she got the tea-caddy and put seven teaspoonfuls of tea into one of the
tea-pots.

"It's very kind of you, I'm sure," whimpered the authentic Mrs. Henry
Leek.

"Now, mother, don't give way!" the curates admonished her.

"Don't you remember, Henry," she went on whimpering to Priam, "how you
said you wouldn't be married in a church, not for anybody? And how I
gave way to you, like I always did? And don't you remember how you
wouldn't let poor little Johnnie be baptized? Well, I do hope your
opinions have altered. Eh, but it's strange, it's strange, how two of
your sons, and just them two that you'd never set eyes on until this
day, should have made up their minds to go into the church! And thanks
to Johnnie there, they've been able to. If I was to tell you all the
struggles we've had, you wouldn't believe me. They were clerks, and they
might have been clerks to this day, if it hadn't been for Johnnie. But
Johnnie could always earn money. It's that engineering! And now
Matthew's second curate at St. Paul's and getting fifty pounds a year,
and Henry'll have a curacy next month at Bermondsey--it's been promised,
and all thanks to Johnnie!" She wept.

Johnnie, in the corner, who had so far done nought but knock at the
door, maintained stiffly his policy of non-interference.

Priam Farll, angry, resentful, and quite untouched by the recital,
shrugged his shoulders. He was animated by the sole desire to fly from
the widow and progeny of his late valet. But he could not fly. The
Herculean John was too close to the door. So he shrugged his shoulders a
second time.

"Yes, sir," said Matthew, "you may shrug your shoulders, but you can't
shrug us out of existence. Here we are, and you can't get over us. You
are our father, and I presume that a kind of respect is due to you. Yet
how can you hope for our respect? Have you earned it? Did you earn it
when you ill-treated our poor mother? Did you earn it when you left her,
with the most inhuman cruelty, to fend for herself in the world? Did you
earn it when you abandoned your children born and unborn? You are a
bigamist, sir; a deceiver of women! Heaven knows--"

"Would you mind just toasting this bread?" Alice interrupted his
impassioned discourse by putting the loaded toasting-fork into his
hands, "while I make the tea?"

It was a novel way of stopping a mustang in full career, but it
succeeded.

While somewhat perfunctorily holding the fork to the fire, Matthew
glared about him, to signify his righteous horror, and other sentiments.

"Please don't burn it," said Alice gently. "Suppose you were to sit down
on this foot-stool." And then she poured boiling water on the tea, put
the lid on the pot, and looked at the clock to note the exact second at
which the process of infusion had begun.

"Of course," burst out Henry, the twin of Matthew, "I need not say,
madam, that you have all our sympathies. You are in a----"

"Do you mean me?" Alice asked.

In an undertone Priam could be heard obstinately repeating, "Never set
eyes upon her before! Never set eyes on the woman before!"

"I do, madam," said Henry, not to be cowed nor deflected from his
course. "I speak for all of us. You have our sympathies. You could not
know the character of the man you married, or rather with whom you went
through the ceremony of marriage. However, we have heard, by inquiry,
that you made his acquaintance through the medium of a matrimonial
agency; and indirectly, when one does that sort of thing, one takes
one's chance. Your position is an extremely delicate one; but it is not
too much to say that you brought it on yourself. In my work, I have
encountered many sad instances of the result of lax moral principles;
but I little thought to encounter the saddest of all in my own family.
The discovery is just as great a blow to us as it is to you. We have
suffered; my mother has suffered. And now, I fear, it is your turn to
suffer. You are not this man's wife. Nothing can make you his wife. You
are living in the same house with him--under circumstances--er--without
a chaperon. I hesitate to characterize your situation in plain words. It
would scarcely become me, or mine, to do so. But really no lady could
possibly find herself in a situation more false than--I am afraid there
is only one word, open immorality, and--er--to put yourself right with
society there is one thing, and only one, left for you to--er--do. I--I
speak for the family, and I--"

"Sugar?" Alice questioned the mother of curates.

"Yes, please."

"One lump, or two?"

"Two, please."

"Speaking for the family--" Henry resumed.

"Will you kindly pass this cup to your mother?" Alice suggested.

Henry was obliged to take the cup. Excited by the fever of eloquence, he
unfortunately upset it before it had reached his mother's hands.

"Oh, Henry!" murmured the lady, mournfully aghast. "You always were so
clumsy! And a clean cloth, too!"

"Don't mention it, please," said Alice, and then to _her_ Henry: "My
dear, just run into the kitchen, and bring me something to wipe this up.
Hanging behind the door--you'll see."

Priam sprang forward with astonishing celerity. And the occasion
brooking no delay, the guardian of the portal could not but let him
pass. In another moment the front door banged. Priam did not return. And
Alice staunched the flow of tea with a clean, stiff serviette taken from
the sideboard drawer.


_A Departure_


The family of the late Henry Leek, each with a cup in hand, experienced
a certain difficulty in maintaining the interview at the pitch set by
Matthew and Henry. Mrs. Leek, their mother, frankly gave way to soft
tears, while eating bread-and-butter, jam and zebra-like toast. John
took everything that Alice offered to him in gloomy and awkward silence.

"Does he mean to come back?" Matthew demanded at length. He had risen
from the foot-stool.

"Who?" asked Alice.

Matthew paused, and then said, savagely and deliberately: "Father."

Alice smiled. "I'm afraid not. I'm afraid he's gone out. You see, he's a
rather peculiar man. It's not the slightest use me trying to drive him.
He can only be led. He has his good points--I can speak candidly as he
isn't here, and I _will_--he has his good points. When Mrs. Leek, as I
suppose she calls herself, spoke about his cruelty to her--well, I
understood that. Far be it from me to say a word against him; he's often
very good to me, but--another cup, Mr. John?"

John advanced to the table without a word, holding his cup.

"You don't mean to say, ma'am," said Mrs. Leek "that he--?"

Alice nodded grievously.

Mrs. Leek burst into tears. "When Johnnie was barely five weeks old,"
she said, "he would twist my arm. And he kept me without money. And once
he locked me up in the cellar. And one morning when I was ironing he
snatched the hot iron out of my hand and--"

"Don't! Don't!" Alice soothed her. "I know. I know all you can tell me.
I know because I've been through--"

"You don't mean to say he threatened _you_ with the flat-iron?"

"If threatening was only all!" said Alice, like a martyr.

"Then he's not changed, in all these years!" wept the mother of curates.

"If he has, it's for the worse," said Alice. "How was I to tell?" she
faced the curates. "How could I know? And yet nobody, nobody, could be
nicer than he is at times!"

"That's true, that's true," responded the authentic Mrs. Henry Leek. "He
was always so changeable. So queer."

"Queer!" Alice took up the word. "That's it Queer! I don't think he's
_quite_ right in his head, not quite right. He has the very strangest
fancies. I never take any notice of them, but they're there. I seldom
get up in the morning without thinking, 'Well, perhaps to-day he'll have
to be taken off.'"

"Taken off?"

"Yes, to Hanwell, or wherever it is. And you must remember," she said
gazing firmly at the curates, "you've got his blood in your veins. Don't
forget that. I suppose you want to make him go back to you, Mrs. Leek,
as he certainly ought."

"Ye-es," murmured Mrs. Leek feebly.

"Well, if you can persuade him to go," said Alice, "if you can make him
see his duty, you're welcome. But I'm sorry for you. I think I ought to
tell you that this is my house, and my furniture. He's got nothing at
all. I expect he never could save. Many's the blow he's laid on me in
anger, but all the same I pity him. I pity him. And I wouldn't like to
leave him in the lurch. Perhaps these three strong young men'll be able
to do something with him. But I'm not sure. He's very strong. And he has
a way of leaping out so sudden like."

Mrs. Leek shook her head as memories of the past rose up in her mind.

"The fact is," said Matthew sternly, "he ought to be prosecuted for
bigamy. That's what ought to be done."

"Most decidedly," Henry concurred.

"You're quite right! You're quite right!" said Alice. "That's only
justice. Of course he'd deny that he was the same Henry Leek. He'd deny
it like anything. But in the end I dare say you'd be able to prove it.
The worst of these law cases is they're so expensive. It means private
detectives and all sorts of things, I believe. Of course there'd be the
scandal. But don't mind me! I'm innocent. Everybody knows me in Putney,
and has done this twenty years. I don't know how it would suit you, Mr.
Henry and Mr. Matthew, as clergymen, to have your own father in prison.
That's as may be. But justice is justice, and there's too many men going
about deceiving simple, trusting women. I've often heard such tales. Now
I know they're all true. It's a mercy my own poor mother hasn't lived to
see where I am to-day. As for my father, old as he was, if he'd been
alive, there'd have been horsewhipping that I do know."

After some rather pointless and disjointed remarks from the curates, a
sound came from the corner near the door. It was John's cough.

"Better clear out of this!" John ejaculated. Such was his first and last
oral contribution to the scene.


_In the Bath_


Priam Farll was wandering about the uncharted groves of Wimbledon
Common, and uttering soliloquies in language that lacked delicacy. He
had rushed forth, in his haste, without an overcoat, and the weather was
blusterously inclement. But he did not feel the cold; he only felt the
keen wind of circumstance.

Soon after the purchase of his picture by the lunatic landlord of a
fully licensed house, he had discovered that the frame-maker in High
Street knew a man who would not be indisposed to buy such pictures as he
could paint, and transactions between him and the frame-maker had
developed into a regular trade. The usual price paid for canvases was
ten pounds, in cash. By this means he had earned about two hundred a
year. No questions were put on either side. The paintings were delivered
at intervals, and the money received; and Priam knew no more. For many
weeks he had lived in daily expectation of an uproar, a scandal in the
art-world, visits of police, and other inconveniences, for it was
difficult to believe that the pictures would never come beneath the eye
of a first-class expert. But nothing had occurred, and he had gradually
subsided into a sense of security. He was happy; happy in the
untrammelled exercise of his gift, happy in having all the money that
his needs and Alice's demanded; happier than he had been in the errant
days of his glory and his wealth. Alice had been amazed at his power of
earning; and also, she had seemed little by little to lose her
suspicions as to his perfect sanity and truthfulness. In a word, the dog
of fate had slept; and he had taken particular care to let it lie. He
was in that species of sheltered groove which is absolutely essential to
the bliss of a shy and nervous artist, however great he may be.

And now this disastrous irruption, this resurrection of the early sins
of the real Leek! He was hurt; he was startled; he was furious. But he
was not surprised. The wonder was that the early sins of Henry Leek had
not troubled him long ago. What could he do? He could do nothing. That
was the tragedy: he could do nothing. He could but rely upon Alice.
Alice was amazing. The more he thought of it, the more masterly her
handling of these preposterous curates seemed to him. And was he to be
robbed of this incomparable woman by ridiculous proceedings connected
with a charge of bigamy? He knew that bigamy meant prison, in England.
The injustice was monstrous. He saw those curates, and their mute
brother, and the aggrieved mother of the three dogging him either to
prison or to his deathbed! And how could he explain to Alice? Impossible
to explain to Alice!... Still, it was conceivable that Alice would not
desire explanation. Alice somehow never did desire an explanation. She
always said, "I can quite understand," and set about preparing a meal.
She was the comfortablest cushion of a creature that the evolution of
the universe had ever produced.

Then the gusty breeze dropped and it began to rain. He ignored the rain.
But December rain has a strange, horrid quality of chilly persistence.
It is capable of conquering the most obstinate and serious mental
preoccupation, and it conquered Priam's. It forced him to admit that his
tortured soul had a fleshly garment and that the fleshly garment was
soaked to the marrow. And his soul gradually yielded before the attack
of the rain, and he went home.

He put his latchkey into the door with minute precautions against noise,
and crept into his house like a thief, and very gently shut the door.
Then, in the hall, he intently listened. Not a sound! That is to say,
not a sound except the drippings of his hat on the linoleum. The
sitting-room door was ajar. He timidly pushed it, and entered. Alice was
darning stockings.

"Henry!" she exclaimed. "Why, you're wet through!" She rose.

"Have they cleared off?" he demanded.

"And you've been out without an overcoat! Henry, how could you? Well, I
must get you into bed at once--instantly, or I shall have you down with
pneumonia or something to-morrow!"

"Have they cleared off?" he repeated.

"Yes, of course," she said.

"When are they coming back?" he asked.

"I don't think they'll come back," she replied. "I think they've had
enough. I think I've made them see that it's best to leave well alone.
Did you ever see such toast as that curate made?"

"Alice, I assure you," he said, later--he was in a boiling bath--"I
assure you it's all a mistake, I've never seen the woman before."

"Of course you haven't," she said calmingly. "Of course you haven't.
Besides, even if you had, it serves her right. Every one could see she's
a nagging woman. And they seemed quite prosperous. They're hysterical--
that's what's the matter with them, all of them--except the eldest, the
one that never spoke. I rather liked him."

"But I _haven't!_" he reiterated, splashing his positive statement into
the water.

"My dear, I know you haven't."

But he guessed that she was humouring him. He guessed that she was
determined to keep him at all costs. And he had a disconcerting glimpse
of the depths of utter unscrupulousness that sometimes disclose
themselves in the mind of a good and loving woman.

"Only I hope there won't be any more of them!" she added dryly.

Ah! That was the point! He conceived the possibility of the rascal Leek
having committed scores and scores of sins, all of which might come up
against him. His affrighted vision saw whole regions populated by
disconsolate widows of Henry Leek and their offspring, ecclesiastical
and otherwise. He knew what Leek had been. Westminster Abbey was a
strange goal for Leek to have achieved.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER IX


_A Glossy Male_


The machine was one of those electric contrivances that do their work
noiselessly and efficiently, like a garrotter or the guillotine. No
odour, no teeth-disturbing grind of rack-and-pinion, no trumpeting, with
that machine! It arrived before the gate with such absence of sound that
Alice, though she was dusting in the front-room, did not hear it. She
heard nothing till the bell discreetly tinkled. Justifiably assuming
that the tinkler was the butcher's boy, she went to the door with her
apron on, and even with the duster in her hand. A handsome, smooth man
stood on the step, and the electric carriage made a background for him.
He was a dark man, with curly black hair, and a moustache to match, and
black eyes. His silk hat, of an incredible smooth newness, glittered
over his glittering hair and eyes. His overcoat was lined with astrakan,
and this important fact was casually betrayed at the lapels and at the
sleeves. He wore a black silk necktie, with a small pearl pin in the
mathematical centre of the perfect rhomboid of the upper part of a
sailor's knot. His gloves were of slate colour. The chief characteristic
of his faintly striped trousers was the crease, which seemed more than
mortal. His boots were of _glacé_ kid and as smooth as his cheeks. The
cheeks had a fresh boyish colour, and between them, over admirable snowy
teeth, projected the hooked key to this temperament. It _is_ possible
that Alice, from sheer thoughtlessness, shared the vulgar prejudice
against Jews; but certainly she did not now feel it. The man's personal
charm, his exceeding niceness, had always conquered that prejudice,
whenever encountered. Moreover, he was only about thirty-five in years,
and no such costly and beautiful male had ever yet stood on Alice's
doorstep.

She at once, in her mind, contrasted him with the curates of the
previous week, to the disadvantage of the Established Church. She did
not know that this man was more dangerous than a thousand curates.

"Is this Mr. Leek's?" he inquired smilingly, and raised his hat.

"Yes," said Alice with a responsive smile.

"Is he in?"

"Well," said Alice, "he's busy at his work. You see in this weather he
can't go out much--not to work--and so he--"

"Could I see him in his studio?" asked the glossy man, with the air of
saying, "Can you grant me this supreme favour?"

It was the first time that Alice had heard the attic called a studio.
She paused.

"It's about pictures," explained the visitor.

"Oh!" said Alice. "Will you come in?"

"I've run down specially to see Mr. Leek," said the visitor with
emphasis.

Alice's opinion as to the seriousness of her husband's gift for painting
had of course changed in two years. A man who can make two or three
hundred a year by sticking colours anyhow, at any hazard, on canvases--
by producing alleged pictures that in Alice's secret view bore only a
comic resemblance to anything at all--that man had to be taken seriously
in his attic as an artisan. It is true that Alice thought the payment he
received miraculously high for the quality of work done; but, with this
agreeable Jew in the hall, and the _coupé_ at the kerb, she suddenly
perceived the probability of even greater miracles in the matter of
price. She saw the average price of ten pounds rising to fifteen, or
even twenty, pounds--provided her husband was given no opportunity to
ruin the affair by his absurd, retiring shyness.

"Will you come this way?" she suggested briskly.

And all that elegance followed her up to the attic door: which door she
threw open, remarking simply--

"Henry, here is a gentleman come to see you about pictures."


_A Connoisseur_


Priam recovered more quickly than might have been expected. His first
thought was naturally that women are uncalculated, if not incalculable,
creatures, and that the best of them will do impossible things--things
inconceivable till actually done! Fancy her introducing a stranger,
without a word of warning, direct into his attic! However, when he rose
he saw the visitor's nose (whose nostrils were delicately expanding and
contracting in the fumes of the oil-stove), and he was at once
reassured. He knew that he would have to face neither rudeness, nor
bluntness, nor lack of imagination, nor lack of quick sympathy. Besides,
the visitor, with practical assurance, set the tone of the interview
instantly.

"Good-morning, _maître_," he began, right off. "I must apologize for
breaking in upon you. But I've come to see if you have any work to sell.
My name is Oxford, and I'm acting for a collector."

He said this with a very agreeable mingling of sincerity, deference, and
mercantile directness, also with a bright, admiring smile. He showed no
astonishment at the interior of the attic.

_Maître_!

Well, of course, it would be idle to pretend that the greatest artists
do not enjoy being addressed as _maître_. 'Master' is the same word, but
entirely different. It was a long time since Priam Farll had been called
_maître_. Indeed, owing to his retiring habits, he had very seldom been
called _maître_ at all. A just-finished picture stood on an easel near
the window; it represented one of the most wonderful scenes in London:
Putney High Street at night; two omnibus horses stepped strongly and
willingly out of a dark side street, and under the cold glare of the
main road they somehow took on the quality of equestrian sculpture. The
altercation of lights was in the highest degree complex. Priam
understood immediately, from the man's calm glance at the picture, and
the position which he instinctively took up to see it, that he was
accustomed to looking at pictures. The visitor did not start back, nor
rush forward, nor dissolve into hysterics, nor behave as though
confronted by the ghost of a murdered victim. He just gazed at the
picture, keeping his nerve and holding his tongue. And yet it was not an
easy picture to look at. It was a picture of an advanced
experimentalism, and would have appealed to nothing but the sense of
humour in a person not a connoisseur.

"Sell!" exclaimed Priam. Like all shy men he could hide his shyness in
an exaggerated familiarity. "What price this?" And he pointed to the
picture.

There were no other preliminaries.

"It is excessively distinguished," murmured Mr. Oxford, in the accents
of expert appreciation. "Excessively distinguished. May I ask how much?"

"That's what I'm asking you," said Priam, fiddling with a paint rag.

"Hum!" observed Mr. Oxford, and gazed in silence. Then: "Two hundred and
fifty?"

Priam had virtually promised to deliver that picture to the
picture-framer on the next day, and he had not expected to receive a
penny more than twelve pounds for it. But artists are strange organisms.

He shook his head. Although two hundred and fifty pounds was as much as
he had earned in the previous twelve months, he shook his grey head.

"No?" said Mr. Oxford kindly and respectfully, putting his hands behind
his back. "By the way," he turned with eagerness to Priam, "I presume
you have seen the portrait of Ariosto by Titian that they've bought for
the National Gallery? What is your opinion of it, _maître_?" He stood
expectant, glowing with interest.

"Except that it isn't Ariosto, and it certainly isn't by Titian, it's a
pretty high-class sort of thing," said Priam.

Mr. Oxford smiled with appreciative content, nodding his head. "I hoped
you would say so," he remarked. And swiftly he passed on to Segantini,
then to J.W. Morrice, and then to Bonnard, demanding the _maître's_
views. In a few moments they were really discussing pictures. And it was
years since Priam had listened to the voice of informed common sense on
the subject of painting. It was years since he had heard anything but
exceeding puerility concerning pictures. He had, in fact, accustomed
himself not to listen; he had excavated a passage direct from one ear to
the other for such remarks. And now he drank up the conversation of Mr.
Oxford, and perceived that he had long been thirsty. And he spoke his
mind. He grew warmer, more enthusiastic, more impassioned. And Mr.
Oxford listened with ecstasy. Mr. Oxford had apparently a natural
discretion. He simply accepted Priam, as he stood, for a great painter.
No reference to the enigma why a great painter should be painting in an
attic in Werter Road, Putney! No inconvenient queries about the great
painter's previous history and productions. Just the frank, full
acceptance of his genius! It was odd, but it was comfortable.

"So you won't take two hundred and fifty?" asked Mr. Oxford, hopping
back to business.

"No," said Priam sturdily. "The truth is," he added, "I should rather
like to keep that picture for myself."

"Will you take five hundred, _maître_?"

"Yes, I suppose I will," and Priam sighed. A genuine sigh! For he would
really have liked to keep the picture. He knew he had never painted a
better.

"And may I carry it away with me?" asked Mr. Oxford.

"I expect so," said Priam.

"I wonder if I might venture to ask you to come back to town with me?"
Mr. Oxford went on, in gentle deference. "I have one or two pictures I
should very much like you to see, and I fancy they might give you
pleasure. And we could talk over future business. If possibly you could
spare an hour or so. If I might request----"

A desire rose in Priam's breast and fought against his timidity. The
tone in which Mr. Oxford had said "I fancy they might give you pleasure"
appeared to indicate something very much out of the common. And Priam
could scarcely recollect when last his eyes had rested on a picture that
was at once unfamiliar and great.


_Parfitts' Galleries_


I have already indicated that the machine was somewhat out of the
ordinary. It was, as a fact, exceedingly out of the ordinary. It was
much larger than electric carriages usually are. It had what the writers
of 'motoring notes' in papers written by the wealthy for the wealthy
love to call a 'limousine body.' And outside and in, it was miraculously
new and spotless. On the ivory handles of its doors, on its soft yellow
leather upholstery, on its cedar woodwork, on its patent blind
apparatus, on its silver fittings, on its lamps, on its footstools, on
its silken arm-slings--not the minutest trace of usage! Mr. Oxford's car
seemed to show that Mr. Oxford never used a car twice, purchasing a new
car every morning, like stockbrokers their silk hats, or the Duke of
Selsea his trousers. There was a table in the 'body' for writing, and
pockets up and down devised to hold documents, also two arm-chairs, and
a suspended contrivance which showed the hour, the temperature, and the
fluctuations of the barometer; there was also a speaking-tube. One felt
that if the machine had been connected by wireless telegraphy with the
Stock Exchange, the leading studios and the Houses of Parliament, and if
a little restaurant had been constructed in the rear, Mr. Oxford might
never have been under the necessity of leaving the car; that he might
have passed all his days in it from morn to latest eve.

The perfection of the machine and of Mr. Oxford's attire and complexion
caused Priam to look rather shabby. Indeed, he was rather shabby.
Shabbiness had slightly overtaken him in Putney. Once he had been a
dandy; but that was in the lamented Leek's time. And as the car glided,
without smell and without noise, through the encumbered avenues of
London towards the centre, now shooting forward like a star, now
stopping with gentle suddenness, now swerving in a swift curve round a
vehicle earthy and leaden-wheeled, Priam grew more and more
uncomfortable. He had sunk into a groove at Putney. He never left
Putney, save occasionally to refresh himself at the National Gallery,
and thither he invariably went by train and tube, because the tube
always filled him with wonder and romance, and always threw him up out
of the earth at the corner of Trafalgar Square with such a strange
exhilaration in his soul. So that he had not seen the main avenues of
London for a long time. He had been forgetting riches and luxury, and
the oriental cigarette-shops whose proprietors' names end in 'opoulos,'
and the haughtiness of the ruling classes, and the still sterner
haughtiness of their footmen. He had now abandoned Alice in Putney. And
a mysterious demon seized him and gripped him, and sought to pull him
back in the direction of the simplicity of Putney, and struggled with
him fiercely, and made him writhe and shrink before the brilliant
phenomena of London's centre, and indeed almost pitched him out of the
car and set him running as hard as legs would carry to Putney. It was
the demon which we call habit. He would have given a picture to be in
Putney, instead of swimming past Hyde Park Corner to the accompaniment
of Mr. Oxford's amiable and deferential and tactful conversation.

However, his other demon, shyness, kept him from imperiously stopping
the car.

The car stopped itself in Bond Street, in front of a building with a
wide archway, and the symbol of empire floating largely over its roof.
Placards said that admission through the archway was a shilling; but Mr.
Oxford, bearing Priam's latest picture as though it had cost fifty
thousand instead of five hundred pounds, went straight into the place
without paying, and Priam accepted his impressive invitation to follow.
Aged military veterans whose breasts carried a row of medals saluted Mr.
Oxford as he entered, and, within the penetralia, beings in silk hats as
faultless as Mr. Oxford's raised those hats to Mr. Oxford, who did not
raise his in reply. Merely nodded, Napoleonically! His demeanour had
greatly changed. You saw here the man of unbending will, accustomed to
use men as pawns in the chess of a complicated career. Presently they
reached a private office where Mr. Oxford, with the assistance of a
page, removed his gloves, furs, and hat, and sent sharply for a man who
at once brought a frame which fitted Priam's picture.

"Do have a cigar," Mr. Oxford urged Priam, with a quick return to his
earlier manner, offering a box in which each cigar was separately
encased in gold-leaf. The cigar was such as costs a crown in a
restaurant, half-a-crown in a shop, and twopence in Amsterdam. It was a
princely cigar, with the odour of paradise and an ash as white as snow.
But Priam could not appreciate it. No! He had seen on a beaten copper
plate under the archway these words: 'Parfitts' Galleries.' He was in
the celebrated galleries of his former dealers, whom by the way he had
never seen. And he was afraid. He was mortally apprehensive, and had a
sickly sensation in the stomach.

After they had scrupulously inspected the picture, through the clouds of
incense, Mr. Oxford wrote out a cheque for five hundred pounds, and,
cigar in mouth, handed it to Priam, who tried to take it with a casual
air and did not succeed. It was signed 'Parfitts'.'

"I dare say you have heard that I'm now the sole proprietor of this
place," said Mr. Oxford through his cigar.

"Really!" said Priam, feeling just as nervous as an inexperienced youth.

Then Mr. Oxford led Priam over thick carpets to a saloon where electric
light was thrown by means of reflectors on to a small but incomparable
band of pictures. Mr. Oxford had not exaggerated. They did give pleasure
to Priam. They were not the pictures one sees every day, nor once a
year. There was the finest Delacroix of its size that Priam had ever met
with; also a Vermeer that made it unnecessary to visit the Ryks Museum.
And on the more distant wall, to which Mr. Oxford came last, in a place
of marked honour, was an evening landscape of Volterra, a hill-town in
Italy. The bolts of Priam's very soul started when he caught sight of
that picture. On the lower edge of the rich frame were two words in
black lettering: 'Priam Farll.' How well he remembered painting it! And
how masterfully beautiful it was!

"Now that," said Mr. Oxford, "is in my humble opinion one of the finest
Farlls in existence. What do you think, Mr. Leek?"

Priam paused. "I agree with you," said he.

"Farll," said Mr. Oxford, "is about the only modern painter that can
stand the company that that picture has in this room, eh?"

Priam blushed. "Yes," he said.

There is a considerable difference, in various matters, between Putney
and Volterra; but the picture of Volterra and the picture of Putney High
Street were obviously, strikingly, incontestably, by the same hand; one
could not but perceive the same brush-work, the same masses, the same
manner of seeing and of grasping, in a word the same dazzling and
austere translation of nature. The resemblance jumped at one and shook
one by the shoulders. It could not have escaped even an auctioneer. Yet
Mr. Oxford did not refer to it. He seemed quite blind to it. All he said
was, as they left the room, and Priam finished his rather monosyllabic
praise--

"Yes, that's the little collection I've just got together, and I am very
proud to have shown it to you. Now I want you to come and lunch with me
at my club. Please do. I should be desolated if you refused."

Priam did not care a halfpenny about the desolation of Mr. Oxford; and
he most sincerely objected to lunch at Mr. Oxford's club. But he said
"Yes" because it was the easiest thing for his shyness to do, Mr. Oxford
being a determined man. Priam was afraid to go. He was disturbed,
alarmed, affrighted, by the mystery of Mr. Oxford's silence.

They arrived at the club in the car.


_The Club_


Priam had never been in a club before. The statement may astonish, may
even meet with incredulity, but it is true. He had left the land of
clubs early in life. As for the English clubs in European towns, he was
familiar with their exteriors, and with the amiable babble of their
supporters at _tables d'hôte,_ and his desire for further knowledge had
not been so hot as to inconvenience him. Hence he knew nothing of clubs.

Mr. Oxford's club alarmed and intimidated him; it was so big and so
black. Externally it resembled a town-hall of some great industrial
town. As you stood on the pavement at the bottom of the flight of giant
steps that led to the first pair of swinging doors, your head was
certainly lower than the feet of a being who examined you sternly from
the other side of the glass. Your head was also far below the sills of
the mighty windows of the ground-floor. There were two storeys above the
ground-floor, and above them a projecting eave of carven stone that
threatened the uplifted eye like a menace. The tenth part of a slate,
the merest chip of a corner, falling from the lofty summit of that pile,
would have slain elephants. And all the façade was black, black with
ages of carbonic deposit. The notion that the building was a town-hall
that had got itself misplaced and perverted gradually left you as you
gazed. You perceived its falseness. You perceived that Mr. Oxford's club
was a monument, a relic of the days when there were giants on earth,
that it had come down unimpaired to a race of pigmies, who were making
the best of it. The sole descendant of the giants was the scout behind
the door. As Mr. Oxford and Priam climbed towards it, this unique giant,
with a giant's force, pulled open the gigantic door, and Mr. Oxford and
Priam walked imperceptibly in, and the door swung to with a large
displacement of air. Priam found himself in an immense interior, under a
distant carved ceiling, far, far upwards, like heaven. He watched Mr.
Oxford write his name in a gigantic folio, under a gigantic clock. This
accomplished, Mr. Oxford led him past enormous vistas to right and left,
into a very long chamber, both of whose long walls were studded with
thousands upon thousands of massive hooks--and here and there upon a
hook a silk hat or an overcoat. Mr. Oxford chose a couple of hooks in
the expanse, and when they had divested themselves sufficiently he led
Priam forwards into another great chamber evidently meant to recall the
baths of Carcalla. In gigantic basins chiselled out of solid granite,
Priam scrubbed his finger-nails with a nail-brush larger than he had
previously encountered, even in nightmares, and an attendant brushed his
coat with a utensil that resembled a weapon of offence lately the
property of Anak.

"Shall we go straight to the dining-room now," asked Mr. Oxford, "or
will you have a gin and angostura first?"

Priam declined the gin and angostura, and they went up an overwhelming
staircase of sombre marble, and through other apartments to the
dining-room, which would have made an excellent riding-school. Here one
had six of the gigantic windows in a row, each with curtains that fell
in huge folds from the unseen into the seen. The ceiling probably
existed. On every wall were gigantic paintings in thick ornate frames,
and between the windows stood heroic busts of marble set upon columns of
basalt. The chairs would have been immovable had they not run on castors
of weight-resisting rock, yet against the tables they had the air of
negligible toys. At one end of the room was a sideboard that would not
have groaned under an ox whole, and at the other a fire, over which an
ox might have been roasted in its entirety, leaped under a mantelpiece
upon which Goliath could not have put his elbows.

All was silent and grave; the floors were everywhere covered with heavy
carpets which hushed all echoes. There was not the faintest sound.
Sound, indeed, seemed to be deprecated. Priam had already passed the
wide entrance to one illimitable room whose walls were clothed with
warnings in gigantic letters: 'Silence.' And he had noticed that all
chairs and couches were thickly padded and upholstered in soft leather,
and that it was impossible to produce in them the slightest creak. At a
casual glance the place seemed unoccupied, but on more careful
inspection you saw midgets creeping about, or seated in easy-chairs that
had obviously been made to hold two of them; these midgets were the
members of the club, dwarfed into dolls by its tremendous dimensions. A
strange and sinister race! They looked as though in the final stages of
decay, and wherever their heads might rest was stretched a white cloth,
so that their heads might not touch the spots sanctified by the heads of
the mighty departed. They rarely spoke to one another, but exchanged
regards of mutual distrust and scorn; and if by chance they did converse
it was in tones of weary, brusque disillusion. They could at best descry
each other but indistinctly in the universal pervading gloom--a gloom
upon which electric lamps, shining dimly yellow in their vast lustres,
produced almost no impression. The whole establishment was buried in the
past, dreaming of its Titantic yore, when there were doubtless giants
who could fill those fauteuils and stick their feet on those
mantelpieces.

It was in such an environment that Mr. Oxford gave Priam to eat and to
drink off little ordinary plates and out of tiny tumblers. No hint of
the club's immemorial history in that excessively modern and excellent
repast--save in the Stilton cheese, which seemed to have descended from
the fine fruity days of some Homeric age, a cheese that Ulysses might
have inaugurated. I need hardly say that the total effect on Priam's
temperament was disastrous. (Yet how could the diplomatic Mr. Oxford
have guessed that Priam had never been in a club before?) It induced in
him a speechless anguish, and he would have paid a sum as gigantic as
the club--he would have paid the very cheque in his pocket--never to
have met Mr. Oxford. He was a far too sensitive man for a club, and his
moods were incalculable. Assuredly Mr. Oxford had miscalculated the
result of his club on Priam's humour; he soon saw his error.

"Suppose we take coffee in the smoking-room?" he said.

The populous smoking-room was the one part of the club where talking
with a natural loudness was not a crime. Mr. Oxford found a corner
fairly free from midgets, and they established themselves in it, and
liqueurs and cigars accompanied the coffee. You could actually see
midgets laughing outright in the mist of smoke; the chatter narrowly
escaped being a din; and at intervals a diminutive boy entered and
bawled the name of a midget at the top of his voice, Priam was suddenly
electrified, and Mr. Oxford, very alert, noticed the electrification.

Mr. Oxford drank his coffee somewhat quickly, and then he leaned forward
a little over the table, and put his moon-like face nearer to Priam's,
and arranged his legs in a truly comfortable position beneath the table,
and expelled a large quantity of smoke from his cigar. It was clearly
the preliminary to a scene of confidence, the approach to the crisis to
which he had for several hours been leading up.

Priam's heart trembled.

"What is your opinion, _maître_," he asked, "of the ultimate value of
Farll's pictures?"

Priam was in misery. Mr. Oxford's manner was deferential, amiable and
expectant. But Priam did not know what to say. He only knew what he
would do if he could have found the courage to do it: run away,
recklessly, unceremoniously, out of that club.

"I--I don't know," said Priam, visibly whitening.

"Because I've bought a goodish few Farlls in my time," Mr. Oxford
continued, "and I must say I've sold them well. I've only got that one
left that I showed you this morning, and I've been wondering whether I
should stick to it and wait for a possible further rise, or sell it at
once."

"How much can you sell it for?" Priam mumbled.

"I don't mind telling you," said Mr. Oxford, "that I fancy I could sell
it for a couple of thousand. It's rather small, but it's one of the
finest in existence."

"I should sell it," said Priam, scarcely audible.

"You would? Well, perhaps you're right. It's a question, in my mind,
whether some other painter may not turn up one of these days who would
do that sort of thing even better than Farll did it. I could imagine the
possibility of a really clever man coming along and imitating Farll so
well that only people like yourself, _maître_, and perhaps me, could
tell the difference. It's just the kind of work that might be
brilliantly imitated, if the imitator was clever enough, don't you
think?"

"But what do you mean?" asked Priam, perspiring in his back.

"Well," said Mr. Oxford vaguely, "one never knows. The style might be
imitated, and the market flooded with canvases practically as good as
Farll's. Nobody might find it out for quite a long time, and then there
might be confusion in the public mind, followed by a sharp fall in
prices. And the beauty of it is that the public wouldn't really be any
the worse. Because an imitation that no one can distinguish from the
original is naturally as good as the original. You take me? There's
certainly a tremendous chance for a man who could seize it, and that's
why I'm inclined to accept your advice and sell my one remaining Farll."

He smiled more and more confidentially. His gaze was charged with a
secret meaning. He seemed to be suggesting unspeakable matters to Priam.
That bright face wore an expression which such faces wear on such
occasions--an expression cheerfully insinuating that after all there is
no right and no wrong--or at least that many things which the ordinary
slave of convention would consider to be wrong are really right. So
Priam read the expression.

"The dirty rascal wants me to manufacture imitations of myself for him!"
Priam thought, full of sudden, hidden anger. "He's known all along that
there's no difference between what I sold him and the picture he's
already had. He wants to suggest that we should come to terms. He's
simply been playing a game with me up to now." And he said aloud, "I
don't know that I _advise_ you to do anything. I'm not a dealer, Mr.
Oxford."

He said it in a hostile tone that ought to have silenced Mr. Oxford for
ever, but it did not. Mr. Oxford curved away, like a skater into a new
figure, and began to expatiate minutely upon the merits of the Volterra
picture. He analyzed it in so much detail, and lauded it with as much
justice, as though the picture was there before them. Priam was
astonished at the man's exactitude. "Scoundrel! He knows a thing or
two!" reflected Priam grimly.

"You don't think I overpraise it, do you, _cher maître?_ Mr. Oxford
finished, still smiling.

"A little," said Priam.

If only Priam could have run away! But he couldn't! Mr. Oxford had him
well in a corner. No chance of freedom! Besides, he was over fifty and
stout.

"Ah! Now I was expecting you to say that! Do you mind telling me at what
period you painted it?" Mr. Oxford inquired, very blandly, though his
hands were clasped in a violent tension that forced the blood from the
region of the knuckle-joints.

This was the crisis which Mr. Oxford had been leading up to! All the
time Mr. Oxford's teethy smile had concealed a knowledge of Priam's
identity!

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER X


_The Secret_


"What do you mean?" asked Priam Farll. But he put the question weakly,
and he might just as well have said, "I know what you mean, and I would
pay a million pounds or so in order to sink through the floor." A few
minutes ago he would only have paid five hundred pounds or so in order
to run simply away. Now he wanted Maskelyne miracles to happen to him.
The universe seemed to be caving in about the ears of Priam Farll.

Mr. Oxford was still smiling; smiling, however, as a man holds his
breath for a wager. You felt that he could not keep it up much longer.

"You _are_ Priam Farll, aren't you?" said Mr. Oxford in a very low
voice.

"What makes you think I'm Priam Farll?"

"I think you are Priam Farll because you painted that picture I bought
from you this morning, and I am sure that no one but Priam Farll could
have painted it."

"Then you've been playing a game with me all morning!"

"Please don't put it like that, _cher maître_," Mr. Oxford whisperingly
pleaded. "I only wished to feel my ground. I know that Priam Farll is
supposed to have been buried in Westminster Abbey. But for me the
existence of that picture of Putney High Street, obviously just painted,
is an absolute proof that he is not buried in Westminster Abbey, and
that he still lives. It is an amazing thing that there should have been
a mistake at the funeral, an utterly amazing thing, which involves all
sorts of consequences! But that's not my business. Of course there must
be clear reasons for what occurred. I am not interested in them--I mean
not professionally. I merely argue, when I see a certain picture, with
the paint still wet on it: 'That picture was painted by a certain
painter. I am an expert, and I stake my reputation on it' It's no use
telling me that the painter in question died several years ago and was
buried with national honours in Westminster Abbey. I say it couldn't
have been so. I'm a connoisseur. And if the facts of his death and
burial don't agree with the result of my connoisseurship, I say they
aren't facts. I say there's been a--a misunderstanding about--er--
corpses. Now, _cher maître_, what do you think of my position?"
Mr. Oxford drummed lightly on the table.

"I don't know," said Priam. Which was another lie.

"You _are_ Priam Farll, aren't you?" Mr. Oxford persisted.

"Well, if you will have it," said Priam savagely, "I am. And now you
know!"

Mr. Oxford let his smile go. He had held it for an incredible time. He
let it go, and sighed a gentle and profound relief. He had been skating
over the thinnest ice, and had reached the bank amid terrific crackings,
and he began to appreciate the extent of the peril braved. He had been
perfectly sure of his connoisseurship. But when one says one is
perfectly sure, especially if one says it with immense emphasis, one
always means 'imperfectly sure.' So it was with Mr. Oxford. And really,
to argue, from the mere existence of a picture, that a tremendous deceit
had been successfully practised upon the most formidable of nations,
implies rather more than rashness on the part of the arguer.

"But I don't want it to get about," said Priam, still in a savage
whisper. "And I don't want to talk about it." He looked at the nearest
midgets resentfully, suspecting them of eavesdropping.

"Precisely," said Mr. Oxford, but in a tone that lacked conviction.

"It's a matter that only concerns me," said Priam.

"Precisely," Mr. Oxford repeated. "At least it _ought_ to concern only
you. And I can't assure you too positively that I'm the last person in
the world to want to pry; but--"

"You must kindly remember," said Priam, interrupting, "that you bought
that picture this morning simply _as_ a picture, on its merits. You have
no authority to attach my name to it, and I must ask you not to do so."

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Oxford. "I bought it as a masterpiece, and I'm
quite content with my bargain. I want no signature."

"I haven't signed my pictures for twenty years," said Priam.

"Pardon me," said Mr. Oxford. "Every square inch of every one is
unmistakably signed. You could not put a brush on a canvas without
signing it. It is the privilege of only the greatest painters not to put
letters on the corners of their pictures in order to keep other painters
from taking the credit for them afterwards. For me, all your pictures
are signed. But there are some people who want more proof than
connoisseurship can give, and that's where the trouble is going to be."

"Trouble?" said Priam, with an intensification of his misery.

"Yes," said Mr. Oxford. "I must tell you, so that you can understand the
situation." He became very solemn, showing that he had at last reached
the real point. "Some time ago a man, a little dealer, came to me and
offered me a picture that I instantly recognized as one of yours. I
bought it."

"How much did you pay for it?" Priam growled.

After a pause Mr. Oxford said, "I don't mind giving you the figure. I
paid fifty pounds for it."

"Did you!" exclaimed Priam, perceiving that some person or persons had
made four hundred per cent. on his work by the time it had arrived at a
big dealer. "Who was the fellow?"

"Oh, a little dealer. Nobody. Jew, of course." Mr. Oxford's way of
saying 'Jew' was ineffably ironic. Priam knew that, being a Jew, the
dealer could not be his frame-maker, who was a pure-bred Yorkshireman
from Ravensthorpe. Mr. Oxford continued, "I sold that picture and
guaranteed it to be a Priam Farll."

"The devil you did!"

"Yes. I had sufficient confidence in my judgment."

"Who bought it?"

"Whitney C. Witt, of New York. He's an old man now, of course. I expect
you remember him, _cher maître_." Mr. Oxford's eyes twinkled. "I sold it
to him, and of course he accepted my guarantee. Soon afterwards I had
the offer of other pictures obviously by you, from the same dealer. And
I bought them. I kept on buying them. I dare say I've bought forty
altogether."

"Did your little dealer guess whose work they were?" Priam demanded
suspiciously.

"Not he! If he had done, do you suppose he'd have parted with them for
fifty pounds apiece? Mind, at first I thought I was buying pictures
painted before your supposed death. I thought, like the rest of the
world, that you were--in the Abbey. Then I began to have doubts. And one
day when a bit of paint came off on my thumb, I can tell you I was
startled. However, I stuck to my opinion, and I kept on guaranteeing the
pictures as Farlls."

"It never occurred to you to make any inquiries?"

"Yes, it did," said Mr. Oxford. "I did my best to find out from the
dealer where he got the pictures from, but he wouldn't tell me. Well, I
sort of scented a mystery. Now I've got no professional use for
mysteries, and I came to the conclusion that I'd better just let this
one alone. So I did."

"Well, why didn't you keep on leaving it alone?" Priam asked.

"Because circumstances won't let me. I sold practically all those
pictures to Whitney C. Witt. It was all right. Anyhow I thought it was
all right. I put Parfitts' name and reputation on their being yours. And
then one day I heard from Mr. Witt that on the back of the canvas of one
of the pictures the name of the canvas-makers, and a date, had been
stamped, with a rubber stamp, and that the date was after your supposed
burial, and that his London solicitors had made inquiries from the
artist's-material people here, and these people were prepared to prove
that the canvas was made after Priam Farll's funeral. You see the fix?"

Priam did.

"My reputation--Parfitts'--is at stake. If those pictures aren't by you,
I'm a swindler. Parfitts' name is gone for ever, and there'll be the
greatest scandal that ever was. Witt is threatening proceedings. I
offered to take the whole lot back at the price he paid me, without any
commission. But he won't. He's an old man; a bit of a maniac I expect,
and he won't. He's angry. He thinks he's been swindled, and what he says
is that he's going to see the thing through. I've got to prove to him
that the pictures are yours. I've got to show him what grounds I had for
giving my guarantee. Well, to cut a long story short, I've found you,
I'm glad to say!"

He sighed again.

"Look here," said Priam. "How much has Witt paid you altogether for my
pictures?"

After a pause, Mr. Oxford said, "I don't mind giving you the figure.
He's paid me seventy-two thousand pounds odd." He smiled, as if to
excuse himself.

When Priam Farll reflected that he had received about four hundred
pounds for those pictures--vastly less than one per cent, of what the
shiny and prosperous dealer had ultimately disposed of them for, the
traditional fury of the artist against the dealer--of the producer
against the parasitic middleman--sprang into flame in his heart. Up till
then he had never had any serious cause of complaint against his
dealers. (Extremely successful artists seldom have.) Now he saw dealers,
as the ordinary painters see them, to be the authors of all evil! Now he
understood by what methods Mr. Oxford had achieved his splendid car,
clothes, club, and minions. These things were earned, not by Mr. Oxford,
but _for_ Mr. Oxford in dingy studios, even in attics, by shabby
industrious painters! Mr. Oxford was nothing but an opulent thief, a
grinder of the face of genius. Mr. Oxford was, in a word, the spawn of
the devil, and Priam silently but sincerely consigned him to his proper
place.

It was excessively unjust of Priam. Nobody had asked Priam to die.
Nobody had asked him to give up his identity. If he had latterly been
receiving tens instead of thousands for his pictures, the fault was his
alone. Mr. Oxford had only bought and only sold; which was his true
function. But Mr. Oxford's sin, in Priam's eyes, was the sin of having
been right.

It would have needed less insight than Mr. Oxford had at his disposal to
see that Priam Farll was taking the news very badly.

"For both our sakes, _cher maître_," said Mr. Oxford persuasively, "I
think it will be advisable for you to put me in a position to prove that
my guarantee to Witt was justified."

"Why for both our sakes?"

"Because, well, I shall be delighted to pay you, say thirty-six thousand
pounds in acknowledgment of--er--" He stopped.

Probably he had instantly perceived that he was committing a disastrous
error of tact. Either he should have offered nothing, or he should have
offered the whole sum he had received less a small commission. To
suggest dividing equally with Priam was the instinctive impulse, the
fatal folly, of a born dealer. And Mr. Oxford was a born dealer.

"I won't accept a penny," said Priam. "And I can't help you in any way.
I'm afraid I must go now. I'm late as it is."

His cold resistless fury drove him forward, and, without the slightest
regard for the amenities of clubs, he left the table, Mr. Oxford,
becoming more and more the dealer, rose and followed him, even directed
him to the gigantic cloak-room, murmuring the while soft persuasions and
pacifications in Priam's ear.

"There may be an action in the courts," said Mr. Oxford in the grand
entrance hall, "and your testimony would be indispensable to me."

"I can have nothing to do with it. Good-day!"

The giant at the door could scarce open the gigantic portal quickly
enough for him. He fled--fled, surrounded by nightmare visions of
horrible publicity in a law-court. Unthinkable tortures! He damned Mr.
Oxford to the nethermost places, and swore that he would not lift a
finger to save Mr. Oxford from penal servitude for life.


_Money-getting_


He stood on the kerb of the monument, talking to himself savagely. At
any rate he was safely outside the monument, with its pullulating
population of midgets creeping over its carpets and lounging
insignificant on its couches. He could not remember clearly what had
occurred since the moment of his getting up from the table; he could not
remember seeing anything or anyone on his way out; but he could remember
the persuasive, deferential voice of Mr. Oxford following him
persistently as far as the giant's door. In recollection that club was
like an abode of black magic to him; it seemed so hideously alive in its
deadness, and its doings were so absurd and mysterious. "Silence,
silence!" commanded the white papers in one vast chamber, and, in
another, babel existed! And then that terrible mute dining-room, with
the high, unscalable mantelpieces that no midget could ever reach! He
kept uttering the most dreadful judgments on the club and on Mr. Oxford,
in quite audible tones, oblivious of the street. He was aroused by a
rather scared man saluting him. It was Mr. Oxford's chauffeur, waiting
patiently till his master should be ready to re-enter the wheeled salon.
The chauffeur apparently thought him either demented or inebriated, but
his sole duty was to salute, and he did nothing else.

Quite forgetting that this chauffeur was a fellow-creature, Priam
immediately turned upon his heel, and hurried down the street. At the
corner of the street was a large bank, and Priam, acquiring the reckless
courage of the soldier in battle, entered the bank. He had never been in
a London bank before. At first it reminded him of the club, with the
addition of an enormous placard giving the day of the month as a
mystical number--14--and other placards displaying solitary letters of
the alphabet. Then he saw that it was a huge menagerie in which highly
trained young men of assorted sizes and years were confined in stout
cages of wire and mahogany. He stamped straight to a cage with a hole in
it, and threw down the cheque for five hundred pounds--defiantly.

"Next desk, please," said a mouth over a high collar and a green tie,
behind the grating, and a disdainful hand pushed the cheque back towards
Priam.

"Next desk!" repeated Priam, dashed but furious.

"This is the A to M desk," said the mouth.

Then Priam understood the solitary letters, and he rushed, with a new
accession of fury, to the adjoining cage, where another disdainful hand
picked up the cheque and turned it over, with an air of saying, "Fishy,
this!"

And, "It isn't endorsed!" said another mouth over another high collar
and green tie. The second disdainful hand pushed the cheque back again
to Priam, as though it had been a begging circular.

"Oh, if that's all!" said Priam, almost speechless from anger. "Have you
got such a thing as a pen?"

He was behaving in an extremely unreasonable manner. He had no right to
visit his spleen on a perfectly innocent bank that paid twenty-five per
cent to its shareholders and a thousand a year each to its directors,
and what trifle was left over to its men in rages. But Priam was not
like you or me. He did not invariably act according to reason. He could
not be angry with one man at once, nor even with one building at once.
When he was angry he was inclusively and miscellaneously angry; and the
sun, moon, and stars did not escape.

After he had endorsed the cheque the disdainful hand clawed it up once
more, and directed upon its obverse and upon its reverse a battery of
suspicions; then a pair of eyes glanced with critical distrust at so
much of Priam's person as was visible. Then the eyes moved back, the
mouth opened, in a brief word, and lo! there were four eyes and two
mouths over the cheque, and four for an instant on Priam. Priam expected
some one to call for a policeman; in spite of himself he felt guilty--or
anyhow dubious. It was the grossest insult to him to throw doubt on the
cheque and to examine him in that frigid, shamelessly disillusioned
manner.

"You _are_ Mr. Leek?" a mouth moved.

"Yes" (very slowly).

"How would you like this?"

"I'll thank you to give it me in notes," answered Priam haughtily.

When the disdainful hand had counted twice every corner of a pile of
notes, and had dropped the notes one by one, with a peculiar snapping
sound of paper, in front of Priam, Priam crushed them together and
crammed them without any ceremony and without gratitude to the giver,
into the right pocket of his trousers. And he stamped out of the
building with curses on his lips.

Still, he felt better, he felt assuaged. To cultivate and nourish a
grievance when you have five hundred pounds in your pocket, in cash, is
the most difficult thing in the world.


_A Visit to the Tailors'_


He gradually grew calmer by dint of walking--aimless, fast walking, with
a rapt expression of the eyes that on crowded pavements cleared the way
for him more effectually than a shouting footman. And then he debouched
unexpectedly on to the Embankment. Dusk was already falling on the noble
curve of the Thames, and the mighty panorama stretched before him in a
manner mysteriously impressive which has made poets of less poetic men
than Priam Farll. Grand hotels, offices of millionaires and of
governments, grand hotels, swards and mullioned windows of the law,
grand hotels, the terrific arches of termini, cathedral domes, houses of
parliament, and grand hotels, rose darkly around him on the arc of the
river, against the dark violet murk of the sky. Huge trams swam past him
like glass houses, and hansoms shot past the trams and automobiles past
the hansoms; and phantom barges swirled down on the full ebb, threading
holes in bridges as cotton threads a needle. It was London, and the roar
of London, majestic, imperial, super-Roman. And lo! earlier than the
earliest municipal light, an unseen hand, the hand of destiny, printed a
writing on the wall of vague gloom that was beginning to hide the
opposite bank. And the writing said that Shipton's tea was the best. And
then the hand wiped largely out that message and wrote in another spot
that Macdonnell's whisky was the best; and so these two doctrines, in
their intermittent pyrotechnics, continued to give the lie to each other
under the deepening night. Quite five minutes passed before Priam
perceived, between the altercating doctrines, the high scaffold-clad
summit of a building which was unfamiliar to him. It looked serenely and
immaterially beautiful in the evening twilight, and as he was close to
Waterloo Bridge, his curiosity concerning beauty took him over to the
south bank of the Thames.

After losing himself in the purlieus of Waterloo Station, he at last
discovered the rear of the building. Yes, it was a beautiful thing; its
tower climbed in several coloured storeys, diminishing till it expired
in a winged figure on the sky. And below, the building was broad and
massive, with a frontage of pillars over great arched windows. Two
cranes stuck their arms out from the general mass, and the whole
enterprise was guarded in a hedge of hoardings. Through the narrow
doorway in the hoarding came the flare and the hissing of a Wells's
light. Priam Farll glanced timidly within. The interior was immense. In
a sort of court of honour a group of muscular, hairy males, silhouetted
against an illuminated latticework of scaffolding, were chipping and
paring at huge blocks of stone. It was a subject for a Rembrandt.

A fat untidy man meditatively approached the doorway. He had a roll of
tracing papers in his hand, and the end of a long, thick pencil in his
mouth. He was the man who interpreted the dreams of the architect to the
dreamy British artisan. Experience of life had made him somewhat
brusque.

"Look here," he said to Priam; "what the devil do you want?"

"What the devil do I want?" repeated Priam, who had not yet altogether
fallen away from his mood of universal defiance. "I only want to know
what the h-ll this building is."

The fat man was a little startled. He took his pencil from his mouth,
and spit.

"It's the new Picture Gallery, built under the will of that there Priam
Farll. I should ha' thought you'd ha' known that." Priam's lips trembled
on the verge of an exclamation. "See that?" the fat man pursued,
pointing to a small board on the hoarding. The board said, "No hands
wanted."

The fat man coldly scrutinized Priam's appearance, from his greenish hat
to his baggy creased boots.

Priam walked away.

He was dumbfounded. Then he was furious again. He perfectly saw the
humour of the situation, but it was not the kind of humour that induced
rollicking laughter. He was furious, and employed the language of fury,
when it is not overheard. Absorbed by his craft of painting, as in the
old Continental days, he had long since ceased to read the newspapers,
and though he had not forgotten his bequest to the nation, he had never
thought of it as taking architectural shape. He was not aware of his
cousin Duncan's activities for the perpetuation of the family name. The
thing staggered him. The probabilities of the strange consequences of
dead actions swept against him and overwhelmed him. Once, years ago and
years ago, in a resentful mood, he had written a few lines on a piece of
paper, and signed them in the presence of witnesses. Then
nothing--nothing whatever--for two decades! The paper slept... and now
this--this tremendous concrete result in the heart of London! It was
incredible. It passed the bounds even of lawful magic.

His palace, his museum! The fruit of a captious hour!

Ah! But he was furious. Like every ageing artist of genuine
accomplishment, he knew--none better--that there is no satisfaction save
the satisfaction of fatigue after honest endeavour. He knew--none
better--that wealth and glory and fine clothes are nought, and that
striving is all. He had never been happier than during the last two
years. Yet the finest souls have their reactions, their rebellions
against wise reason. And Priam's soul was in insurrection then. He
wanted wealth and glory and fine clothes once more. It seemed to him
that he was out of the world and that he must return to it. The covert
insults of Mr. Oxford rankled and stung. And the fat foreman had
mistaken him for a workman cadging for a job.

He walked rapidly to the bridge and took a cab to Conduit Street, where
dwelt a firm of tailors with whose Paris branch he had had dealings in
his dandiacal past.

An odd impulse perhaps, but natural.

A lighted clock-tower--far to his left as the cab rolled across the
bridge--showed that a legislative providence was watching over Israel.


_Alice on the Situation_


"I bet the building alone won't cost less than seventy thousand pounds,"
he said.

He was back again with Alice in the intimacy of Werter Road, and
relating to her, in part, the adventures of the latter portion of the
day. He had reached home long after tea-time; she, with her natural
sagacity, had not waited tea for him. Now she had prepared a rather
special tea for the adventurer, and she was sitting opposite to him at
the little table, with nothing to do but listen and refill his cup.

"Well," she said mildly, and without the least surprise at his figures,
"I don't know what he could have been thinking of--your Priam Farll! I
call it just silly. It isn't as if there wasn't enough picture-galleries
already. When what there are are so full that you can't get in--then it
will be time enough to think about fresh ones. I've been to the National
Gallery twice, and upon my word I was almost the only person there! And
it's free too! People don't _want_ picture-galleries. If they did they'd
go. Who ever saw a public-house empty, or Peter Robinson's? And you have
to pay there! Silly, I call it! Why couldn't he have left his money to
you, or at any rate to the hospitals or something of that? No, it isn't
silly. It's scandalous! It ought to be stopped!"

Now Priam had resolved that evening to make a serious, gallant attempt
to convince his wife of his own identity. He was approaching the
critical point. This speech of hers intimidated him, rather complicated
his difficulties, but he determined to proceed bravely.

"Have you put sugar in this?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "But you've forgotten to stir it. I'll stir it for
you."

A charming wifely attention! It enheartened him.

"I say, Alice," he said, as she stirred, "you remember when first I told
you I could paint?"

"Yes," she said.

"Well, at first you thought I was daft. You thought my mind was
wandering, didn't you?"

"No," she said, "I only thought you'd got a bee in your bonnet." She
smiled demurely.

"Well, I hadn't, had I?"

"Seeing the money you've made, I should just say you hadn't," she
handsomely admitted. "Where we should be without it I don't know."

"You were wrong, weren't you? And I was right?"

"Of course," she beamed.

"And do you remember that time I told you I was really Priam Farll?"

She nodded, reluctantly.

"You thought I was absolutely mad. Oh, you needn't deny it! I could see
well enough what your thoughts were."

"I thought you weren't quite well," she said frankly.

"But I was, my child. Now I've got to tell you again that I am Priam
Farll. Honestly I wish I wasn't, but I am. The deuce of it is that that
fellow that came here this morning has found it out, and there's going
to be trouble. At least there has been trouble, and there may be more."

She was impressed. She knew not what to say.

"But, Priam----"

"He's paid me five hundred to-day for that picture I've just finished."

"Five hund----"

Priam snatched the notes from his pocket, and with a gesture pardonably
dramatic he bade her count them.

"Count them," he repeated, when she hesitated.

"Is it right?" he asked when she had finished.

"Oh, it's right enough," she agreed. "But, Priam, I don't like having
all this money in the house. You ought to have called and put it in the
bank."

"Dash the bank!" he exclaimed. "Just keep on listening to me, and try to
persuade yourself I'm not mad. I admit I'm a bit shy, and it was all on
account of that that I let that d--d valet of mine be buried as me."

"You needn't tell me you're shy," she smiled. "All Putney knows you're
shy."

"I'm not so sure about that!" He tossed his head.

Then he began at the beginning and recounted to her in detail the
historic night and morning at Selwood Terrace, with a psychological
description of his feelings. He convinced her, in less than ten minutes,
with the powerful aid of five hundred pounds in banknotes, that he in
truth was Priam Farll.

And he waited for her to express an exceeding astonishment and
satisfaction.

"Well, of course if you are, you are," she observed simply, regarding
him with benevolent, possessive glances across the table. The fact was
that she did not deal in names, she dealt in realities. He was her
reality, and so long as he did not change visibly or actually--so long
as he remained he--she did not much mind who he was. She added, "But I
really don't know what you were _dreaming_ of, Henry, to do such a
thing!"

"Neither do I," he muttered.

Then he disclosed to her the whole chicanery of Mr. Oxford.

"It's a good thing you've ordered those new clothes," she said.

"Why?"

"Because of the trial."

"The trial between Oxford and Witt. What's that got to do with me?"

"They'll make you give evidence."

"But I shan't give evidence. I've told Oxford I'll have nothing to do
with it at all."

"Suppose they make you? They can, you know, with a sub--sub something, I
forget its name. Then you'll _have_ to go in the witness-box."

"Me in the witness-box!" he murmured, undone.

"Yes," she said. "I expect it'll be very provoking indeed. But you'd
want a new suit for it. So I'm glad you ordered one. When are you going
to try on?"

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER XI


_An Escape_


One night, in the following June, Priam and Alice refrained from going
to bed. Alice dozed for an hour or so on the sofa, and Priam read by her
side in an easy-chair, and about two o'clock, just before the first
beginnings of dawn, they stimulated themselves into a feverish activity
beneath the parlour gas. Alice prepared tea, bread-and-butter, and eggs,
passing briskly from room to room. Alice also ran upstairs, cast a few
more things into a valise and a bag already partially packed, and,
locking both receptacles, carried them downstairs. Meantime the whole of
Priam's energy was employed in having a bath and in shaving. Blood was
shed, as was but natural at that ineffable hour. While Priam consumed
the food she had prepared, Alice was continually darting to and fro in
the house. At one moment, after an absence, she would come into the
parlour with a mouthful of hatpins; at another she would rush out to
assure herself that the indispensable keys of the valise and bag with
her purse were on the umbrella-stand, where they could not be forgotten.
Between her excursions she would drink thirty drops of tea.

"Now, Priam," she said at length, "the water's hot. Haven't you
finished? It'll be getting light soon."

"Water hot?" he queried, at a loss.

"Yes," she said. "To wash up these things, of course. You don't suppose
I'm going to leave a lot of dirty things in the house, do you? While I'm
doing that you might stick labels on the luggage."

"They won't need to be labelled," he argued. "We shall take them with us
in the carriage."

"Oh, Priam," she protested, "how tiresome you are!"

"I've travelled more than you have." He tried to laugh.

"Yes, and fine travelling it must have been, too! However, if you don't
mind the luggage being lost, I don't."

During this she was collecting the crockery on a tray, with which tray
she whizzed out of the room.

In ten minutes, hatted, heavily veiled, and gloved, she cautiously
opened the front door and peeped forth into the lamplit street She
peered to right and to left. Then she went as far as the gate and peered
again.

"Is it all right?" whispered Priam, who was behind her.

"Yes, I think so," she whispered.

Priam came out of the house with the bag in one hand and the valise in
the other, a pipe in his mouth, a stick under his arm, and an overcoat
on his shoulder. Alice ran up the steps, gazed within the house, pulled
the door to silently, and locked it. Then beneath the summer stars she
and Priam hastened furtively, as though the luggage had contained swag,
up Werter Road towards Oxford Road. When they had turned the corner they
felt very much relieved.

They had escaped.

It was their second attempt. The first, made in daylight, had completely
failed. Their cab had been followed to Paddington Station by three other
cabs containing the representatives and the cameras of three Sunday
newspapers. A journalist had deliberately accompanied Priam to the
booking office, had heard him ask for two seconds to Weymouth, and had
bought a second to Weymouth himself. They had gone to Weymouth, but as
within two hours of their arrival Weymouth had become even more
impossible than Werter Road, they had ignominiously but wisely come
back.

Werter Road had developed into the most celebrated thoroughfare in
London. Its photograph had appeared in scores of newspapers, with a
cross marking the abode of Priam and Alice. It was beset and infested by
journalists of several nationalities from morn till night. Cameras were
as common in it as lamp-posts. And a famous descriptive reporter of the
_Sunday News_ had got lodgings, at a high figure, exactly opposite No.
29. Priam and Alice could do nothing without publicity. And if it would
be an exaggeration to assert, that evening papers appeared with
Stop-press News: "5.40. Mrs. Leek went out shopping," the exaggeration
would not be very extravagant. For a fortnight Priam had not been beyond
the door during daylight. It was Alice who, alarmed by Priam's pallid
cheeks and tightened nerves, had devised the plan of flight before the
early summer dawn.

They reached East Putney Station, of which the gates were closed, the
first workman's train being not yet due. And there they stood. Not
another human being was abroad. Only the clock of St. Bude's was
faithfully awakening every soul within a radius of two hundred yards
each quarter of an hour. Then a porter came and opened the gate--it was
still exceedingly early--and Priam booked for Waterloo in triumph.

"Oh," cried Alice, as they mounted the stairs, "I quite forgot to draw
up the blinds at the front of the house." And she stopped on the stairs.

"What did you want to draw up the blinds for?"

"If they're down everybody will know instantly that we've gone. Whereas
if I--"

She began to descend the stairs.

"Alice!" he said sharply, in a strange voice. The muscles of his white
face were drawn.

"What?"

"D--n the blinds. Come along, or upon my soul I'll kill you."

She realized that his nerves were in active insurrection, and that a
mere nothing might bring about the fall of the government.

"Oh, very well!" She soothed him by her amiable obedience.

In a quarter of an hour they were safely lost in the wilderness of
Waterloo, and the newspaper train bore them off to Bournemouth for a few
days' respite.


_The Nation's Curiosity_


The interest of the United Kingdom in the unique case of Witt _v_.
Parfitts had already reached apparently the highest possible degree of
intensity. And there was reason for the kingdom's passionate curiosity.
Whitney Witt, the plaintiff, had come over to England, with his
eccentricities, his retinue, his extreme wealth and his failing
eyesight, specially to fight Parfitts. A half-pathetic figure, this
white-haired man, once a connoisseur, who, from mere habit, continued to
buy expensive pictures when he could no longer see them! Whitney Witt
was implacably set against Parfitts, because he was convinced that Mr.
Oxford had sought to take advantage of his blindness. There he was,
conducting his action regardless of his blindness. There he was,
conducting his action regardless of expense. His apartments and his
regal daily existence at the Grand Babylon alone cost a fabulous sum
which may be precisely ascertained by reference to illustrated articles
in the papers. Then Mr. Oxford, the youngish Jew who had acquired
Parfitts, who was Parfitts, also cut a picturesque figure on the face of
London. He, too, was spending money with both hands; for Parfitts itself
was at stake. Last and most disturbing, was the individual looming
mysteriously in the background, the inexplicable man who lived in Werter
Road, and whose identity would be decided by the judgment in the case of
Witt _v_. Parfitts. If Witt won his action, then Parfitts might retire
from business. Mr. Oxford would probably go to prison for having sold
goods on false pretences, and the name of Henry Leek, valet, would be
added to the list of adventurous scoundrels who have pretended to be
their masters. But if Witt should lose--then what a complication, and
what further enigmas to be solved! If Witt should lose, the national
funeral of Priam Farll had been a fraudulent farce. A common valet lay
under the hallowed stones of the Abbey, and Europe had mourned in vain!
If Witt should lose, a gigantic and unprecedented swindle had been
practised upon the nation. Then the question would arise, Why?

Hence it was not surprising that popular interest, nourished by an
indefatigable and excessively enterprising press, should have mounted
till no one would have believed that it could mount any more. But the
evasion from Werter Road on that June morning intensified the interest
enormously. Of course, owing to the drawn blinds, it soon became known,
and the bloodhounds of the Sunday papers were sniffing along the
platforms of all the termini in London. Priam's departure greatly
prejudiced the cause of Mr. Oxford, especially when the bloodhounds
failed and Priam persisted in his invisibility. If a man was an honest
man, why should he flee the public gaze, and in the night? There was but
a step from the posing of this question to the inevitable inference that
Mr. Oxford's line of defence was really too fantastic for credence.
Certainly organs of vast circulation, while repeating that, as the
action was _sub judice_, they could say nothing about it, had already
tried the action several times in their impartial columns, and they now
tried it again, with the entire public as jury. And in three days Priam
had definitely become a criminal in the public eye, a criminal flying
from justice. Useless to assert that he was simply a witness subpoenaed
to give evidence at the trial! He had transgressed the unwritten law of
the English constitution that a person prominent in a _cause célèbre_
belongs for the time being, not to himself, but to the nation at large.
He had no claim to privacy. In surreptitiously obtaining seclusion he
was merely robbing the public and the public's press of their
inalienable right.

Who could deny now the reiterated statement that _he_ was a bigamist?

It came to be said that he must be on his way to South America. Then the
public read avidly articles by specially retained barristers on the
extradition treaties with Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chili, Paraguay
and Uruguay.

The curates Matthew and Henry preached to crowded congregations at
Putney and Bermondsey, and were reported verbatim in the _Christian
Voice Sermon Supplement_, and other messengers of light.

And gradually the nose of England bent closer and closer to its
newspaper of a morning. And coffee went cold, and bacon fat congealed,
from the Isle of Wight to Hexham, while the latest rumours were being
swallowed. It promised to be stupendous, did the case of Witt _v_.
Parfitts. It promised to be one of those cases that alone make life
worth living, that alone compensate for the horrors of climate, in
England. And then the day of hearing arrived, and the afternoon papers
which appear at nine o'clock in the morning announced that Henry Leek
(or Priam Farll, according to your wish) and his wife (or his female
companion and willing victim) had returned to Werter Road. And England
held its breath; and even Scotland paused, expectant; and Ireland
stirred in its Celtic dream.


_Mention of Two Moles_


The theatre in which the emotional drama of Witt Parfitts was to be
played, lacked the usual characteristics of a modern place of
entertainment. It was far too high for its width and breadth; it was
badly illuminated; it was draughty in winter and stuffy in summer, being
completely deprived of ventilation. Had it been under the control of the
County Council it would have been instantly condemned as dangerous in
case of fire, for its gangways were always encumbered and its exits of a
mediaeval complexity. It had no stage, no footlights, and all its seats
were of naked wood except one.

This unique seat was occupied by the principal player, who wore a
humorous wig and a brilliant and expensive scarlet costume. He was a
fairly able judge, but he had mistaken his vocation; his rare talent for
making third-rate jokes would have brought him a fortune in the world of
musical comedy. His salary was a hundred a week; better comedians have
earned less. On the present occasion he was in the midst of a double row
of fashionable hats, and beneath the hats were the faces of fourteen
feminine relatives and acquaintances. These hats performed the function
of 'dressing' the house. The principal player endeavoured to behave as
though under the illusion that he was alone in his glory, but he failed.

There were four other leading actors: Mr. Pennington, K.C., and Mr.
Vodrey, K.C., engaged by the plaintiff, and Mr. Cass, K.C., and Mr.
Crepitude, K.C., engaged by the defendant. These artistes were the stars
of their profession, nominally less glittering, but really far more
glittering than the player in scarlet. Their wigs were of inferior
quality to his, and their costumes shabby, but they did not mind, for
whereas he got a hundred a week, they each got a hundred a day. Three
junior performers received ten guineas a day apiece: one of them held a
watching brief for the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, who, being members
of a Christian fraternity, were pained and horrified by the defendants'
implication that they had given interment to a valet, and who were
determined to resist exhumation at all hazards. The supers in the drama,
whose business it was to whisper to each other and to the players,
consisted of solicitors, solicitors' clerks, and experts; their combined
emoluments worked out at the rate of a hundred and fifty pounds a day.
Twelve excellent men in the jury-box received between them about as much
as would have kept a K.C. alive for five minutes. The total expenses of
production thus amounted to something like six or seven hundred pounds a
day. The preliminary expenses had run into several thousands. The
enterprise could have been made remunerative by hiring for it Convent
Garden Theatre and selling stalls as for Tettrazzini and Caruso, but in
the absurd auditorium chosen, crammed though it was to the perilous
doors, the loss was necessarily terrific. Fortunately the affair was
subsidized; not merely by the State, but also by those two wealthy
capitalists, Whitney C. Witt and Mr. Oxford; and therefore the
management were in a position to ignore paltry financial considerations
and to practise art for art's sake.

In opening the case Mr. Pennington, K.C., gave instant proof of his
astounding histrionic powers. He began calmly, colloquially, treating
the jury as friends of his boyhood, and the judge as a gifted uncle, and
stated in simple language that Whitney C. Witt was claiming seventy-two
thousand pounds from the defendants, money paid for worthless pictures
palmed off upon the myopic and venerable plaintiff as masterpieces. He
recounted the life and death of the great painter Priam Farll, and his
solemn burial and the tears of the whole world. He dwelt upon the genius
of Priam Farll, and then upon the confiding nature of the plaintiff.
Then he inquired who could blame the plaintiff for his confidence in the
uprightness of a firm with such a name as Parfitts. And then he
explained by what accident of a dating-stamp on a canvas it had been
discovered that the pictures guaranteed to be by Priam Farll were
painted after Priam Farll's death.

He proceeded with no variation of tone: "The explanation is simplicity
itself. Priam Farll was not really dead. It was his valet who died.
Quite naturally, quite comprehensibly, the great genius Priam Farll
wished to pass the remainder of his career as a humble valet. He
deceived everybody; the doctor, his cousin, Mr. Duncan Farll, the public
authorities, the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, the nation--in fact, the
entire world! As Henry Leek he married, and as Henry Leek he recommenced
the art of painting--in Putney; he carried on the vocation several years
without arousing the suspicions of a single person; and then--by a
curious coincidence immediately after my client threatened an action
against the defendant--he displayed himself in his true identity as
Priam Farll. Such is the simple explanation," said Pennington, K.C., and
added, "which you will hear presently from the defendant. Doubtless it
will commend itself to you as experienced men of the world. You cannot
but have perceived that such things are constantly happening in real
life, that they are of daily occurrence. I am almost ashamed to stand up
before you and endeavour to rebut a story so plausible and so
essentially convincing. I feel that my task is well-nigh hopeless.
Nevertheless, I must do my best."

And so on.

It was one of his greatest feats in the kind of irony that appeals to a
jury. And the audience deemed that the case was already virtually
decided.

After Whitney C. Witt and his secretary had been called and had filled
the court with the echoing twang of New York (the controlled fury of the
aged Witt was highly effective), Mrs. Henry Leek was invited to the
witness-box. She was supported thither by her two curates, who, however,
could not prevent her from weeping at the stern voice of the usher. She
related her marriage.

"Is that your husband?" demanded Vodrey, K.C. (who had now assumed the
principal _rôle_, Pennington, K.C., being engaged in another play in
another theatre), pointing with one of his well-conceived dramatic
gestures to Priam Farll.

"It is," sobbed Mrs. Henry Leek.

The unhappy creature believed what she said, and the curates, though
silent, made a deep impression on the jury. In cross-examination, when
Crepitude, K.C., forced her to admit that on first meeting Priam in his
house in Werter Road she had not been quite sure of his identity, she
replied--

"It's all come over me since. Shouldn't a woman recognize the father of
her own children?"

"She should," interpolated the judge. There was a difference of opinion
as to whether his word was jocular or not.

Mrs. Henry Leek was a touching figure, but not amusing. It was Mr.
Duncan Farll who, quite unintentionally, supplied the first relief.

Duncan pooh-poohed the possibility of Priam being Priam. He detailed all
the circumstances that followed the death in Selwood Terrace, and showed
in fifty ways that Priam could not have been Priam. The man now
masquerading as Priam was not even a gentleman, whereas Priam was
Duncan's cousin! Duncan was an excellent witness, dry, precise,
imperturbable. Under cross-examination by Crepitude he had to describe
particularly his boyish meeting with Priam. Mr. Crepitude was not
inquisitive.

"Tell us what occurred," said Crepitude.

"Well, we fought."

"Oh! You fought! What did you two naughty boys fight about?" (Great
laughter.)

"About a plum-cake, I think."

"Oh! Not a seed-cake, a plum-cake?" (Great laughter.)

"I think a plum-cake."

"And what was the result of this sanguinary encounter?" (Great
laughter.)

"My cousin loosened one of my teeth." (Great laughter, in which the
court joined.)

"And what did you do to him?"

"I'm afraid I didn't do much. I remember tearing half his clothes off."
(Roars of laughter, in which every one joined except Priam and Duncan
Farll.)

"Oh! You are sure you remember that? You are sure that it wasn't he who
tore _your_ clothes off?" (Lots of hysteric laughter.)

"Yes," said Duncan, coldly dreaming in the past. His eyes had the 'far
away' look, as he added, "I remember now that my cousin had two little
moles on his neck below the collar. I seem to remember seeing them. I've
just thought of it."

There is, of course, when it is mentioned in a theatre, something
exorbitantly funny about even one mole. Two moles together brought the
house down.

Mr. Crepitude leaned over to a solicitor in front of him; the solicitor
leaned aside to a solicitor's clerk, and the solicitor's clerk whispered
to Priam Farll, who nodded.

"Er----" Mr. Crepitude was beginning again, but he stopped and said to
Duncan Farll, "Thank you. You can step down."

Then a witness named Justini, a cashier at the Hôtel de Paris, Monte
Carlo, swore that Priam Farll, the renowned painter, had spent four days
in the Hôtel de Paris one hot May, seven years ago, and that the person
in the court whom the defendant stated to be Priam Farll was not that
man. No cross-examination could shake Mr. Justini. Following him came
the manager of the Hôtel Belvedere at Mont Pélerin, near Vevey,
Switzerland, who related a similar tale and was equally unshaken.

And after that the pictures themselves were brought in, and the experts
came after them and technical evidence was begun. Scarcely had it begun
when a clock struck and the performance ended for the day. The principal
actors doffed their costumes, and snatched up the evening papers to make
sure that the descriptive reporters had been as eulogistic of them as
usual. The judge, who subscribed to a press-cutting agency, was glad to
find, the next morning, that none of his jokes had been omitted by any
of the nineteen chief London dailies. And the Strand and Piccadilly were
quick with Witt _v_. Parfitts--on evening posters and in the strident
mouths of newsboys. The telegraph wires vibrated to Witt _v_. Parfitts.
In the great betting industrial towns of the provinces wagers were laid
at scientific prices. England, in a word, was content, and the principal
actors had the right to be content also. Very astute people in clubs and
saloon bars talked darkly about those two moles, and Priam's nod in
response to the whispers of the solicitor's clerk: such details do not
escape the modern sketch writer at a thousand a year. To very astute
people the two moles appeared to promise pretty things.


_Priam's Refusal_


"Leek in the box."

This legend got itself on to the telegraph wires and the placards within
a few minutes of Priam's taking the oath. It sent a shiver of
anticipation throughout the country. Three days had passed since the
opening of the case (for actors engaged at a hundred a day for the run
of the piece do not crack whips behind experts engaged at ten or twenty
a day; the pace had therefore been dignified), and England wanted a
fillip.

Nobody except Alice knew what to expect from Priam. Alice knew. She knew
that Priam was in an extremely peculiar state which might lead to
extremely peculiar results; and she knew also that there was nothing to
be done with him! She herself had made one little effort to bathe him in
the light of reason; the effort had not succeeded. She saw the danger of
renewing it. Pennington, K.C., by the way, insisted that she should
leave the court during Priam's evidence.

Priam's attitude towards the whole case was one of bitter resentment, a
resentment now hot, now cold. He had the strongest possible objection to
the entire affair. He hated Witt as keenly as he hated Oxford. All that
he demanded from the world was peace and quietness, and the world would
not grant him these inexpensive commodities. He had not asked to be
buried in Westminster Abbey; his interment had been forced upon him. And
if he chose to call himself by another name, why should he not do so? If
he chose to marry a simple woman, and live in a suburb and paint
pictures at ten pounds each, why should he not do so? Why should he be
dragged out of his tranquillity because two persons in whom he felt no
interest whatever, had quarrelled over his pictures? Why should his life
have been made unbearable in Putney by the extravagant curiosity of a
mob of journalists? And then, why should he be compelled, by means of a
piece of blue paper, to go through the frightful ordeal and flame of
publicity in a witness-box? That was the crowning unmerited torture, the
unthinkable horror which had broken his sleep for many nights.

In the box he certainly had all the appearance of a trapped criminal,
with his nervous movements, his restless lowered eyes, and his faint,
hard voice that he could scarcely fetch up from his throat. Nervousness
lined with resentment forms excellent material for the plastic art of a
cross-examining counsel, and Pennington, K.C., itched to be at work.
Crepitude, K.C., Oxford's counsel, was in less joyous mood. Priam was
Crepitude's own witness, and yet a horrible witness, a witness who had
consistently and ferociously declined to open his mouth until he was in
the box. Assuredly he had nodded, in response to the whispered question
of the solicitor's clerk, but he had not confirmed the nod, nor breathed
a word of assistance during the three days of the trial. He had merely
sat there, blazing in silence.

"Your name is Priam Farll?" began Crepitude.

"It is," said Priam sullenly, and with all the external characteristics
of a liar. At intervals he glanced surreptitiously at the judge, as
though the judge had been a bomb with a lighted fuse.

The examination started badly, and it went from worse to worse. The idea
that this craven, prevaricating figure in the box could be the
illustrious, the world-renowned Priam Farll, seemed absurd. Crepitude
had to exercise all his self-control in order not to bully Priam.

"That is all," said Crepitude, after Priam had given his preposterous
and halting explanations of the strange phenomena of his life after the
death of Leek. None of these carried conviction. He merely said that the
woman Leek was mistaken in identifying him as her husband; he inferred
that she was hysterical; this inference alienated him from the audience
completely. His statement that he had no definite reason for pretending
to be Leek--that it was an impulse of the moment--was received with mute
derision. His explanation, when questioned as to the evidence of the
hotel officials, that more than once his valet Leek had gone about
impersonating his master, seemed grotesquely inadequate.

People wondered why Crepitude had made no reference to the moles. The
fact was, Crepitude was afraid to refer to the moles. In mentioning the
moles to Priam he might be staking all to lose all.

However, Pennington, K.C., alluded to the moles. But not until he had
conclusively proved to the judge, in a cross-questioning of two hours'
duration, that Priam knew nothing of Priam's own youth, nor of painting,
nor of the world of painters. He made a sad mess of Priam. And Priam's
voice grew fainter and fainter, and his gestures more and more
self-incriminating.

Pennington, K.C., achieved one or two brilliant little effects.

"Now you say you went with the defendant to his club, and that he told
you of the difficulty he was in!"

"Yes."

"Did he make you any offer of money?"

"Yes."

"Ah! What did he offer you?"

"Thirty-six thousand pounds." (Sensation in court.)

"So! And what was this thirty-six thousand pounds to be for?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? Come now."

"I don't know."

"You accepted the offer?"

"No, I refused it." (Sensation in court.)

"Why did you refuse it?"

"Because I didn't care to accept it."

"Then no money passed between you that day?"

"Yes. Five hundred pounds."

"What for?"

"A picture."

"The same kind of picture that you had been selling at ten pounds?"

"Yes."

"So that on the very day that the defendant wanted you to swear that you
were Priam Farll, the price of your pictures rose from ten pounds to
five hundred?"

"Yes."

"Doesn't that strike you as odd?"

"Yes."

"You still say--mind, Leek, you are on your oath!--you still say that
you refused thirty-six thousand pounds in order to accept five hundred."

"I sold a picture for five hundred."

(On the placards in the Strand: "Severe cross-examination of Leek.")

"Now about the encounter with Mr. Duncan Farll. Of course, if you are
really Priam Farll, you remember all about that?"

"Yes."

"What age were you?"

"I don't know. About nine."

"Oh! You were about nine. A suitable age for cake." (Great laughter.)
"Now, Mr. Duncan Farll says you loosened one of his teeth."

"I did."

"And that he tore your clothes."

"I dare say."

"He says he remembers the fact because you had two moles."

"Yes."

"Have you two moles?"

"Yes." (Immense sensation.)

Pennington paused.

"Where are they?"

"On my neck just below my collar."

"Kindly place your hand at the spot."

Priam did so. The excitement was terrific.

Pennington again paused. But, convinced that Priam was an impostor, he
sarcastically proceeded--

"Perhaps, if I am not asking too much, you will take your collar off and
show the two moles to the court?"

"No," said Priam stoutly. And for the first time he looked Pennington in
the face.

"You would prefer to do it, perhaps, in his lordship's room, if his
lordship consents."

"I won't do it anywhere," said Priam.

"But surely--" the judge began.

"I won't do it anywhere, my lord," Priam repeated loudly. All his
resentment surged up once more; and particularly his resentment against
the little army of experts who had pronounced his pictures to be clever
but worthless imitations of himself. If his pictures, admittedly painted
after his supposed death, could not prove his identity; if his word was
to be flouted by insulting and bewigged beasts of prey; then his moles
should not prove his identity. He resolved upon obstinacy.

"The witness, gentlemen," said Pennington, K.C., in triumph to the jury,
"has two moles on his neck, exactly as described by Mr. Duncan Farll,
but he will not display them!"

Eleven legal minds bent nobly to the problem whether the law and justice
of England could compel a free man to take his collar off if he refused
to take his collar off. In the meantime, of course, the case had to
proceed. The six or seven hundred pounds a day must be earned, and there
were various other witnesses. The next witness was Alice.

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER XII


_Alice's Performances_


When Alice was called, and when she stood up in the box, and, smiling
indulgently at the doddering usher, kissed the book as if it had been a
chubby nephew, a change came over the emotional atmosphere of the court,
which felt a natural need to smile. Alice was in all her best clothes,
but it cannot be said that she looked the wife of a super-eminent
painter. In answer to a question she stated that before marrying Priam
she was the widow of a builder in a small way of business, well known in
Putney and also in Wandsworth. This was obviously true. She could have
been nothing but the widow of a builder in a small way of business well
known in Putney and also in Wandsworth. She was every inch that.

"How did you first meet your present husband, Mrs. Leek?" asked Mr.
Crepitude.

"Mrs. Farll, if you please," she cheerfully corrected him.

"Well, Mrs. Farll, then."

"I must say," she remarked conversationally, "it seems queer you should
be calling me Mrs. Leek, when they're paying you to prove that I'm Mrs.
Farll, Mr.----, excuse me, I forget your name."

This nettled Crepitude, K.C. It nettled him, too, merely to see a
witness standing in the box just as if she were standing in her kitchen
talking to a tradesman at the door. He was not accustomed to such a
spectacle. And though Alice was his own witness he was angry with her
because he was angry with her husband. He blushed. Juniors behind him
could watch the blush creeping like a tide round the back of his neck
over his exceedingly white collar.

"If you'll be good enough to reply----" said he.

"I met my husband outside St. George's Hall, by appointment," said she.

"But before that. How did you make his acquaintance?"

"Through a matrimonial agency," said she.

"Oh!" observed Crepitude, and decided that he would not pursue that
avenue. The fact was Alice had put him into the wrong humour for making
the best of her. She was, moreover, in a very difficult position, for
Priam had positively forbidden her to have any speech with solicitors'
clerks or with solicitors, and thus Crepitude knew not what pitfalls for
him her evidence might contain. He drew from her an expression of
opinion that her husband was the real Priam Farll, but she could give no
reasons in support--did not seem to conceive that reasons in support
were necessary.

"Has your husband any moles?" asked Crepitude suddenly.

"Any what?" demanded Alice, leaning forward.

Vodrey, K.C., sprang up.

"I submit to your lordship that my learned friend is putting a leading
question," said Vodrey, K.C.

"Mr. Crepitude," said the judge, "can you not phrase your questions
differently?"

"Has your husband any birthmarks--er--on his body?" Crepitude tried
again.

"Oh! _Moles_, you said? You needn't be afraid. Yes, he's got two moles,
close together on his neck, here." And she pointed amid silence to the
exact spot. Then, noticing the silence, she added, "That's all that I
_know_ of."

Crepitude resolved to end his examination upon this impressive note, and
he sat down. And Alice had Vodrey, K.C., to face.

"You met your husband through a matrimonial agency?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Who first had recourse to the agency?"

"I did."

"And what was your object?"

"I wanted to find a husband, of course," she smiled. "What _do_ people
go to matrimonial agencies for?"

"You aren't here to put questions to me," said Vodrey severely.

"Well," she said, "I should have thought you would have known what
people went to matrimonial agencies for. Still, you live and learn." She
sighed cheerfully.

"Do you think a matrimonial agency is quite the nicest way of----"

"It depends what you mean by 'nice,'" said Alice.

"Womanly."

"Yes," said Alice shortly, "I do. If you're going to stand there and
tell me I'm unwomanly, all I have to say is that you're unmanly."

"You say you first met your husband outside St George's Hall?"

"Yes."

"Never seen him before?"

"No."

"How did you recognize him?"

"By his photograph."

"Oh, he'd sent you his photograph?"

"Yes."

"With a letter?"

"Yes."

"In what name was the letter signed?"

"Henry Leek."

"Was that before or after the death of the man who was buried in
Westminster Abbey?"

"A day or two before." (Sensation in court.)

"So that your present husband was calling himself Henry Leek before the
death?"

"No, he wasn't. That letter was written by the man that died. My husband
found my reply to it, and my photograph, in the man's bag afterwards;
and happening to be strolling past St. George's Hall just at the moment
like--"

"Well, happening to be strolling past St. George's Hall just at the
moment like--" (Titters.)

"I caught sight of him and spoke to him. You see, I thought then that he
was the man who wrote the letter."

"What made you think so?"

"I had the photograph."

"So that the man who wrote the letter and died didn't send his own
photograph. He sent another photograph--the photograph of your husband?"

"Yes, didn't you know that? I should have thought you'd have known
that."

"Do you really expect the jury to believe that tale?"

Alice turned smiling to the jury. "No," she said, "I'm not sure as I do.
I didn't believe it myself for a long time. But it's true."

"Then at first you didn't believe your husband was the real Priam
Farll?"

"No. You see, he didn't exactly tell me like. He only sort of hinted."

"But you didn't believe?"

"No."

"You thought he was lying?"

"No, I thought it was just a kind of an idea he had. You know my husband
isn't like other gentlemen."

"I imagine not," said Vodrey. "Now, when did you come to be perfectly
sure that, your husband was the real Priam Farll?"

"It was the night of that day when Mr. Oxford came down to see him. He
told me all about it then."

"Oh! That day when Mr. Oxford paid him five hundred pounds?"

"Yes."

"Immediately Mr. Oxford paid him five hundred pounds you were ready to
believe that your husband was the real Priam Farll. Doesn't that strike
you as excessively curious?"

"It's just how it happened," said Alice blandly.

"Now about these moles. You pointed to the right side of your neck. Are
you sure they aren't on the left side?"

"Let me think now," said Alice, frowning. "When he's shaving in a
morning--he get up earlier now than he used to--I can see his face in
the looking-glass, and in the looking-glass the moles are on the left
side. So on _him_ they must be on the right side. Yes, the right side.
That's it."

"Have you never seen them except in a mirror, my good woman?"
interpolated the judge.

For some reason Alice flushed. "I suppose you think that's funny," she
snapped, slightly tossing her head.

The audience expected the roof to fall. But the roof withstood the
strain, thanks to a sagacious deafness on the part of the judge. If,
indeed, he had not been visited by a sudden deafness, it is difficult to
see how he would have handled the situation.

"Have you any idea," Vodrey inquired, "why your husband refuses to
submit his neck to the inspection of the court?"

"I didn't know he had refused."

"But he has."

"Well," said Alice, "if you hadn't turned me out of the court while he
was being examined, perhaps I could have told you. But I can't as it is.
So it serves you right."

Thus ended Alice's performances.


_The Public Captious_


The court rose, and another six or seven hundred pounds was gone into
the pockets of the celebrated artistes engaged. It became at once
obvious, from the tone of the evening placards and the contents of
evening papers, and the remarks in crowded suburban trains, that for the
public the trial had resolved itself into an affair of moles. Nothing
else now interested the great and intelligent public. If Priam had those
moles on his neck, then he was the real Priam. If he had not, then he
was a common cheat. The public had taken the matter into its own hands.
The sturdy common sense of the public was being applied to the affair.
On the whole it may be said that the sturdy common sense of the public
was against Priam. For the majority, the entire story was fishily
preposterous. It must surely be clear to the feeblest brain that if
Priam possessed moles he would expose them. The minority, who talked of
psychology and the artistic temperament, were regarded as the cousins of
Little Englanders and the direct descendants of pro-Boers.

Still, the thing ought to be proved or disproved.

Why didn't the judge commit him for contempt of court? He would then be
sent to Holloway and be compelled to strip--and there you were!

Or why didn't Oxford hire some one to pick a quarrel with him in the
street and carry the quarrel to blows, with a view to raiment-tearing?

A nice thing, English justice--if it had no machinery to force a man to
show his neck to a jury! But then English justice _was_ notoriously
comic.

And whole trainfuls of people sneered at their country's institution in
a manner which, had it been adopted by a foreigner, would have plunged
Europe into war and finally tested the blue-water theory. Undoubtedly
the immemorial traditions of English justice came in for very severe
handling, simply because Priam would not take his collar off.

And he would not.

The next morning there were consultations in counsel's rooms, and the
common law of the realm was ransacked to find a legal method of
inspecting Priam's moles, without success. Priam arrived safely at the
courts with his usual high collar, and was photographed thirty times
between the kerb and the entrance hall.

"He's slept in it!" cried wags.

"Bet yer two ter one it's a clean 'un!" cried other wags. "His missus
gets his linen up."

It was subject to such indignities that the man who had defied the
Supreme Court of Judicature reached his seat in the theatre. When
solicitors and counsel attempted to reason with him, he answered with
silence. The rumour ran that in his hip pocket he was carrying a
revolver wherewith to protect the modesty of his neck.

The celebrated artistes, having perceived the folly of losing six or
seven hundred pounds a day because Priam happened to be an obstinate
idiot, continued with the case. For Mr. Oxford and another army of
experts of European reputation were waiting to prove that the pictures
admittedly painted after the burial in the National Valhalla, were
painted by Priam Farll, and could have been painted by no other. They
demonstrated this by internal evidence. In other words, they proved by
deductions from squares of canvas that Priam had moles on his neck. It
was a phenomenon eminently legal. And Priam, in his stiff collar, sat
and listened. The experts, however, achieved two feats, both
unintentionally. They sent the judge soundly to sleep, and they wearied
the public, which considered that the trial was falling short of its
early promise. This _expertise_ went on to the extent of two whole days
and appreciably more than another thousand pounds. And on the third day
Priam, somewhat hardened to renown, reappeared with his mysterious neck,
and more determined than ever. He had seen in a paper, which was
otherwise chiefly occupied with moles and experts, a cautious statement
that the police had collected the necessary _primâ facie_ evidence of
bigamy, and that his arrest was imminent. However, something stranger
than arrest for bigamy happened to him.


_New Evidence_


The principal King's Bench corridor in the Law Courts, like the other
main corridors, is a place of strange meetings and interviews. A man may
receive there a bit of news that will change the whole of the rest of
his life, or he may receive only an invitation to a mediocre lunch in
the restaurant underneath; he never knows beforehand. Priam assuredly
did not receive an invitation to lunch. He was traversing the crowded
thoroughfares--for with the exception of match and toothpick sellers the
corridor has the characteristics of a Strand pavement in the forenoon--
when he caught sight of Mr. Oxford talking to a woman. Now, he had
exchanged no word with Mr. Oxford since the historic scene in the club,
and he was determined to exchange no word; however, they had not gone
through the formality of an open breach. The most prudent thing to do,
therefore, was to turn and take another corridor. And Priam would have
fled, being capable of astonishing prudence when prudence meant the
avoidance of unpleasant encounters; but, just as he was turning, the
woman in conversation with Mr. Oxford saw him, and stepped towards him
with the rapidity of thought, holding forth her hand. She was tall,
thin, and stiffly distinguished in the brusque, Dutch-doll motions of
her limbs. Her coat and skirt were quite presentable; but her feet were
large (not her fault, of course, though one is apt to treat large feet
as a crime), and her feathered hat was even larger. She hid her age
behind a veil.

"How do you do, Mr. Farll?" she addressed him firmly, in a voice which
nevertheless throbbed.

It was Lady Sophia Entwistle.

"How do you do?" he said, taking her offered hand.

There was nothing else to do, and nothing else to say.

Then Mr. Oxford put out his hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Farll?"

And, taking Mr. Oxford's hated hand, Priam said again, "How do you do?"

It was all just as if there had been no past; the past seemed to have
been swallowed up in the ordinariness of the crowded corridor. By all
the rules for the guidance of human conduct, Lady Sophia ought to have
denounced Priam with outstretched dramatic finger to the contempt of the
world as a philanderer with the hearts of trusting women; and he ought
to have kicked Mr. Oxford along the corridor for a scheming Hebrew. But
they merely shook hands and asked each other how they did, not even
expecting an answer. This shows to what extent the ancient qualities of
the race have deteriorated.

Then a silence.

"I suppose you know, Mr. Farll," said Lady Sophia, rather suddenly,
"that I have got to give evidence in this case."

"No," he said, "I didn't."

"Yes, it seems they have scoured all over the Continent in vain to find
people who knew you under your proper name, and who could identify you
with certainty, and they couldn't find one--doubtless owing to your
peculiar habits of travel."

"Really," said Priam.

He had made love to this woman. He had kissed her. They had promised to
marry each other. It was a piece of wild folly on his part; but, in the
eyes of an impartial person, folly could not excuse his desertion of
her, his flight from her intellectual charms. His gaze pierced her veil.
No, she was not quite so old as Alice. She was not more plain than
Alice. She certainly knew more than Alice. She could talk about pictures
without sticking a knife into his soul and turning it in the wound. She
was better dressed than Alice. And her behaviour on the present
occasion, candid, kind, correct, could not have been surpassed by Alice.
And yet... Her demeanour was without question prodigiously splendid in
its ignoring of all that she had gone through. And yet... Even in that
moment of complicated misery he had enough strength to hate her because
he had been fool enough to make love to her. No excuse whatever for him,
of course!

"I was in India when I first heard of this case," Lady Sophia continued.
"At first I thought it must be a sort of Tichborne business over again.
Then, knowing you as I did, I thought perhaps it wasn't."

"And as Lady Sophia happens to be in London now," put in Mr. Oxford,
"she is good enough to give her invaluable evidence on my behalf."

"That is scarcely the way to describe it," said Lady Sophia coldly. "I
am only here because you compel me to be here by subpoena. It is all due
to your acquaintanceship with my aunt."

"Quite so, quite so!" Mr. Oxford agreed. "It naturally can't be very
agreeable to you to have to go into the witness-box and submit to
cross-examination. Certainly not. And I am the more obliged to you for
your kindness, Lady Sophia."

Priam comprehended the situation. Lady Sophia, after his supposed death,
had imparted to relatives the fact of his engagement, and the
unscrupulous scoundrel, Mr. Oxford, had got hold of her and was forcing
her to give evidence for him. And after the evidence, the joke of every
man in the street would be to the effect that Priam Farll, rather than
marry the skinny spinster, had pretended to be dead.

"You see," Mr. Oxford added to him, "the important point about Lady
Sophia's evidence is that in Paris she saw both you and your valet--the
valet obviously a servant, and you obviously his master. There can,
therefore, be no question of her having been deceived by the valet
posing as the master. It is a most fortunate thing that by a mere
accident I got on the tracks of Lady Sophia in time. In the nick of
time. Only yesterday afternoon!"

No reference by Mr. Oxford to Priam's obstinacy in the matter of
collars. He appeared to regard Priam's collar as a phenomenon of nature,
such as the weather, or a rock in the sea, as something to be accepted
with resignation! No sign of annoyance with Priam! He was the prince of
diplomatists, was Mr. Oxford.

"Can I speak to you a minute?" said Lady Sophia to Priam.

Mr. Oxford stepped away with a bow.

And Lady Sophia looked steadily at Priam. He had to admit again that she
was stupendous. She was his capital mistake; but she was stupendous.

At their last interview he had embraced her. She had attended his
funeral in Westminster Abbey. And she could suppress all that from her
eyes! She could stand there calm and urbane in her acceptance of the
terrific past. Apparently she forgave.

Said Lady Sophia simply, "Now, Mr. Farll, shall I have to give evidence
or not? You know it depends on you?"

The casualness of her tone was sublime; it was heroic; it made her feet
small.

He had sworn to himself that he would be cut in pieces before he would
aid the unscrupulous Mr. Oxford by removing his collar in presence of
those dramatic artistes. He had been grossly insulted, disturbed,
maltreated, and exploited. The entire world had meddled with his private
business, and he would be cut in pieces before he would display those
moles which would decide the issue in an instant.

Well, she had cut him in pieces.

"Please don't worry," said he in reply. "I will attend to things."

At that moment Alice, who had followed him by a later train, appeared.

"Good-morning, Lady Sophia," he said, raising his hat, and left her.


_Thoughts on Justice_


"Farll takes his collar off." "Witt _v_. Parfitts. Result." These and
similar placards flew in the Strand breezes. Never in the history of
empires had the removal of a starched linen collar (size 16-1/2) created
one-thousandth part of the sensation caused by the removal of this
collar. It was an epoch-making act. It finished the drama of Witt _v_.
Parfitts. The renowned artistes engaged did not, of course, permit the
case to collapse at once. No, it had to be concluded slowly and
majestically, with due forms and expenses. New witnesses (such as
doctors) had to be called, and old ones recalled. Duncan Farll, for
instance, had to be recalled, and if the situation was ignominious for
Priam it was also ignominious for Duncan. Duncan's sole advantage in his
defeat was that the judge did not skin him alive in the summing up, nor
the jury in their verdict. England breathed more freely when the affair
was finally over and the renowned artistes engaged had withdrawn
enveloped in glory. The truth was that England, so proud of her systems,
had had a fright. Her judicial methods had very nearly failed to make a
man take his collar off in public. They had really failed, but it had
all come right in the end, and so England pretended that they had only
just missed failing. A grave injustice would have been perpetrated had
Priam chosen not to take off his collar. People said, naturally, that
imprisonment for bigamy would have included the taking-off of collars;
but then it was rumoured that prosecution for bigamy had not by any
means been a certainty, as since leaving the box Mrs. Henry Leek had
wavered in her identification. However, the justice of England had
emerged safely. And it was all very astounding and shocking and
improper. And everybody was exceedingly wise after the event. And with
one voice the press cried that something painful ought to occur at once
to Priam Farll, no matter how great an artist he was.

The question was: How could Priam be trapped in the net of the law? He
had not committed bigamy. He had done nothing. He had only behaved in a
negative manner. He had not even given false information to the
registrar. And Dr. Cashmore could throw no light on the episode, for he
was dead. His wife and daughters had at last succeeded in killing him.
The judge had intimated that the ecclesiastical wrath of the Dean and
Chapter might speedily and terribly overtake Priam Farll; but that
sounded vague and unsatisfactory to the lay ear.

In short, the matter was the most curious that ever was. And for the
sake of the national peace of mind, the national dignity, and the
national conceit, it was allowed to drop into forgetfulness after a few
days. And when the papers announced that, by Priam's wish, the Farll
museum was to be carried to completion and formally conveyed to the
nation, despite all, the nation decided to accept that honourable amend,
and went off to the seaside for its annual holiday.


_The Will to Live_


Alice insisted on it, and so, immediately before their final departure
from England, they went. Priam pretended that the visit was undertaken
solely to please her; but the fact is that his own morbid curiosity
moved in the same direction. They travelled by an omnibus past the
Putney Empire and the Walham Green Empire as far as Walham Green, and
there changed into another one which carried them past the Chelsea
Empire, the Army and Navy Stores, and the Hotel Windsor to the doors of
Westminster Abbey. And they vanished out of the October sunshine into
the beam-shot gloom of Valhalla. It was Alice's first view of Valhalla,
though of course she had heard of it. In old times she had visited
Madame Tussaud's and the Tower, but she had not had leisure to get round
as far as Valhalla. It impressed her deeply. A verger pointed them to
the nave; but they dared not demand more minute instructions. They had
not the courage to ask for _It_. Priam could not speak. There were
moments with him when he could not speak lest his soul should come out
of his mouth and flit irrecoverably away. And he could not find the
tomb. Save for the outrageous tomb of mighty Newton, the nave seemed to
be as naked as when it came into the world. Yet he was sure he was
buried in the nave--and only three years ago, too! Astounding, was it
not, what could happen in three years? He knew that the tomb had not
been removed, for there had been an article in the _Daily Record_ on the
previous day asking in the name of a scandalized public whether the Dean
and Chapter did not consider that three months was more than long enough
for the correction of a fundamental error in the burial department. He
was gloomy; he had in truth been somewhat gloomy ever since the trial.
Perhaps it was the shadow of the wrath of the Dean and Chapter on him.
He had ceased to procure joy in the daily manifestations of life in the
streets of the town. And this failure to discover the tomb intensified
the calm, amiable sadness which distinguished him.

Alice, gazing around, chiefly with her mouth, inquired suddenly--

"What's that printing there?"

She had detected a legend incised on one of the small stone flags which
form the vast floor of the nave. They stooped over it. "PRIAM FARLL," it
said simply, in fine Roman letters and then his dates. That was all.
Near by, on other flags, they deciphered other names of honour. This
austere method of marking the repose of the dead commended itself to
him, caused him to feel proud of himself and of the ridiculous England
that somehow keeps our great love. His gloom faded. And do you know what
idea rushed from his heart to his brain? "By Jove! I will paint finer
pictures than any I've done yet!" And the impulse to recommence the work
of creation surged over him. The tears started to his eyes.

"I like that!" murmured Alice, gazing at the stone. "I do think that's
nice."

And _he_ said, because he truly felt it, because the will to live raged
through him again, tingling and smarting:

"I'm glad I'm not there."

They smiled at each other, and their instinctive hands fumblingly met.

A few days later, the Dean and Chapter, stung into action by the
majestic rebuke of the _Daily Record_, amended the floor of Valhalla and
caused the mortal residuum of the immortal organism known as Henry Leek
to be nocturnally transported to a different bed.


_On Board_


A few days later, also, a North German Lloyd steamer quitted Southampton
for Algiers, bearing among its passengers Priam and Alice. It was a
rough starlit night, and from the stern of the vessel the tumbled white
water made a pathway straight to receding England. Priam had come to
love the slopes of Putney with the broad river at the foot; but he
showed what I think was a nice feeling in leaving England. His sojourn
in our land had not crowned him with brilliance. He was not a being
created for society, nor for cutting a figure, nor for exhibiting tact
and prudence in the crises of existence. He could neither talk well nor
read well, nor express himself in exactly suitable actions. He could
only express himself at the end of a brush. He could only paint
extremely beautiful pictures. That was the major part of his vitality.
In minor ways he may have been, upon occasions, a fool. But he was never
a fool on canvas. He said everything there, and said it to perfection,
for those who could read, for those who can read, and for those who will
be able to read five hundred years hence. Why expect more from him? Why
be disappointed in him? One does not expect a wire-walker to play fine
billiards. You yourself, mirror of prudence that you are, would have
certainly avoided all Priam's manifold errors in the conduct of his
social career; but, you see, he was divine in another way.

As the steamer sped along the lengthening pathway from England, one
question kept hopping in and out of his mind:

"_I wonder what they'll do with me next time_?"

Do not imagine that he and Alice were staring over the stern at the
singular isle. No! There were imperative reasons, which affected both of
them, against that. It was only in the moments of the comparative calm
which always follows insurrections, that Priam had leisure to wonder,
and to see his own limitations, and joyfully to meditate upon the
prospect of age devoted to the sole doing of that which he could so
supremely, in a sweet exile with the enchantress, Alice.





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