Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Poor Relations
Author: MacKenzie, Compton, 1883-1972
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 "Poor Relations" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from scanned images available at the Interent
Archive.)



POOR RELATIONS

[Illustration: image of the book's cover]

_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

POOR RELATIONS

SYLVIA & MICHAEL

PLASHERS MEAD

SYLVIA SCARLETT

Harper & Brothers _Publishers_



POOR RELATIONS

By COMPTON MACKENZIE

Author of "SYLVIA SCARLETT" "SYLVIA AND MICHAEL"
ETC.

[Illustration: colophon]

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON



POOR RELATIONS

Copyright, 1919, by Harper & Brothers

Printed in the United States of America

Published February, 1920

B-U

THIS THEME IN C MAJOR WITH VARIATIONS IS INSCRIBED TO THE ROMANTIC AND
MYSTERIOUS MAJOR C BY ONE WHO WAS PRIVILEGED TO SERVE UNDER HIM DURING
MORE THAN TWO YEARS OF WAR

CAPRI, APRIL 30, 1919.



POOR RELATIONS



_Poor Relations_



CHAPTER I


There was nothing to distinguish the departure of the _Murmania_ from
that of any other big liner leaving New York in October for Liverpool or
Southampton. At the crowded gangways there was the usual rain of
ultimate kisses, from the quayside the usual gale of speeding
handkerchiefs. Ladies in blanket-coats handed over to the arrangement of
their table-stewards the expensive bouquets presented by friends who, as
the case might be, had been glad or sorry to see them go. Middle-aged
gentlemen, who were probably not at all conspicuous on shore, at once
made their appearance in caps that they might have felt shy about
wearing even during their university prime. Children in the first
confusion of settling down ate more chocolates from the gift boxes lying
about the cabins than they were likely to be given (or perhaps to want)
for some time. Two young women with fresh complexions, short skirts, tam
o' shanters, brightly colored jumpers, and big bows to their shoes were
already on familiar terms with one of the junior ship's officers, and
their laughter (which would soon become one of those unending oceanic
accompaniments that make land so pleasant again) was already competing
with the noise of the crew. Everybody boasted aloud that they fed you
really well on the _Murmania_, and hoped silently that perhaps the sense
of being imprisoned in a decaying hot-water bottle (or whatever more or
less apt comparison was invented to suggest atmosphere below decks)
would pass away in the fresh Atlantic breezes. Indeed it might be said,
except in the case of a few ivory-faced ladies already lying back with
the professional aloofness of those who are a prey to chronic headaches,
that outwardly optimism was rampant.

It was not surprising, therefore, that John Touchwood, the successful
romantic playwright and unsuccessful realistic novelist, should on
finding himself hemmed in by such invincible cheerfulness surrender to
his own pleasant fancies of home. This was one of those moments when he
was able to feel that the accusation of sentimentality so persistently
laid against his work by superior critics was rebutted out of the very
mouth of real life. He looked round at his fellow passengers as though
he would congratulate them on conforming to his later and more
profitable theory of art; and if occasionally he could not help seeing a
stewardess with a glance of discreet sympathy reveal to an inquirer the
ship's provision for human weakness, he did not on this account feel
better disposed toward morbid intrusions either upon art or life, partly
because he was himself an excellent sailor and partly because after all
as a realist he had unquestionably not been a success.

"Time for a shave before lunch, steward?" he inquired heartily.

"The first bugle will go in about twenty minutes, sir."

John paused for an instant at his own cabin to extract from his suitcase
the particular outrage upon conventional headgear (it was a deerstalker
of Lovat tweed) that he had evolved for this voyage; and presently he
was sitting in the barber shop, wondering at first why anybody should be
expected to buy any of the miscellaneous articles exposed for sale at
such enhanced prices on every hook and in every nook of the little
saloon, and soon afterward seriously considering the advantage of a pair
of rope-soled shoes upon a heeling deck.

"Very natty things those, sir," said the barber. "I laid in a stock once
at Gib., when we did the southern rowt. Shave you close, sir?"

"Once over, please."

"Skin tender?"

"Rather tender."

"Yes, sir. And the beard's a bit strong, sir. Shave yourself, sir?"

"Usually, but I was up rather early this morning."

"Safety razor, sir?"

"If you think such a description justifiable--yes--a safety."

"They're all the go now, and no mistake ... safety bicycles, safety
matches, safety razors ... they've all come in our time ... yes, sir,
just a little bit to the right--thank you, sir! Not your first crossing,
I take it?"

"No, my third."

"Interesting place, America. But I am from Wandsworth myself. Hair's
getting rather thin round the temples. Would you like something to
brisken up the growth a bit? Another time? Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.
Parting on the left's it, I think?"

"No grease," said John as fiercely as he ever spoke. The barber seemed
to replace the pot of brilliantine with regret.

"What would you like then?" He might have been addressing a spoilt
child. "Flowers-and-honey? Eau-de-quinine? Or perhaps a friction? I've
got lavingder, carnation, wallflower, vilit, lilerk...."

"Bay rum," John declared, firmly.

The barber sighed for such an unadventurous soul; and John, who could
not bear to hurt even the most superficial emotions of a barber, changed
his mind and threw him into a smiling bustle of gratification.

"Rather strong," John said, half apologetically; for while the friction
was being administered the barber had explained in jerks how every time
he went ashore in New York or Liverpool he was in the habit of searching
about for some novel wash or tonic or pomade, and John did not want to
make him feel that his enterprise was unappreciated.

"Strong is it? Well, that's a good fault, sir."

"Yes, I suppose it is."

"What took my fancy was the natural way it smelled."

"Yes, indeed, painfully natural," John agreed.

He stood up and confronted himself in the barber's mirror; regarding the
fair, almost florid man, rather under six feet in height, with sanguine
blue eyes and full, but clearly cut, lips therein reflected, he came to
the comforting conclusion that he did not look his forty-two years and
nine months; indeed, while his muffled whistle was shaping rather than
uttering the tune of _Nancy Lee_, he nearly asked the barber to guess
his age. However, he decided not to risk it, pulled down the lapels of
his smoke-colored tweed coat, put on his deerstalker, tipped the barber
sufficiently well to secure a parting caress from the brush, promised to
meditate the purchase of the rope-soled shoes, and stepped jauntily in
the direction of the luncheon bugle. If John Touchwood had not been a
successful romantic playwright and an unsuccessful realistic novelist,
he might have found in the spectacle of the first lunch of an Atlantic
voyage an illustration of human madness and the destructive will of the
gods. As it was, his capacity for rapidly covering the domestic offices
of the brain with the crimson-ramblers of a lush idealism made him
forget the base fabric so prettily if obviously concealed. As it was, he
found an exhilaration in all this berserker greed, in the cries of
inquisitive children, in the rumpled appearance of women whom the bugle
had torn from their unpacking with the urgency of the last trump, in the
acrid smell of pickles, and in the persuasive gesture with which the
glistening stewards handed the potatoes while they glared angrily at one
another over their shoulders. If a cynical realist had in respect of
this lunch observed to John that a sow's ear was poor material for a
silk purse, he would have contested the universal truth of the proverb,
for at this moment he was engaged in chinking the small change of
sentimentality in just such a purse.

"How jolly everybody is," he thought, swinging round to his neighbor, a
gaunt woman in a kind of draggled mantilla, with an effusion of
good-will that expressed itself in a request to pass her the pickled
walnuts. John fancied an impulse to move away her chair when she
declined his offer; but of course the chair was fixed, and the only sign
of her distaste for pickles or conversation was a faint quiver, which to
any one less rosy than John might have suggested abhorrence, but which
struck him as merely shyness. It was now that for the first time he
became aware of a sickly fragrance that was permeating the atmosphere, a
fragrance that other people, too, seemed to be noticing by the way in
which they were looking suspiciously at the stewards.

"Rather oppressive, some of these flowers," said John to the gaunt lady.

"I don't see any flowers at our end of the table," she replied.

And then with an emotion that was very nearly horror John realized that,
though the barber was responsible, he must pay the penalty in a
vicarious mortification. His first impulse was to snatch a napkin and
wipe his hair; then he decided to leave the table immediately, because
after all nobody _could_ suspect him, in these as yet unvexed waters, of
anything but repletion; finally, hoping that the much powdered lady
opposite swathed in mauve chiffons was getting the discredit for the
fragrance, he stayed where he was. Nevertheless, the exhilaration had
departed; his neighbors all seemed dull folk; and congratulating himself
that after this first confused lunch he might reasonably expect to be
put at the captain's table in recognition of the celebrity that he could
fairly claim, John took from his pocket a bundle of letters which had
arrived just before he had left his hotel and busied himself with them
for the rest of the meal.

His success as a romantic playwright and his failure--or, as he would
have preferred to think of it in the satisfaction of fixing the guilty
fragrance upon the lady in mauve chiffons, his comparative failure--as a
realistic novelist had not destroyed John's passion for what he called
"being practical in small matters," and it was in pursuit of this that
having arranged his letters in two heaps which he mentally labeled as
"business" and "pleasure" he began with the former, as a child begins
(or ought to begin) his tea with the bread and butter and ends it with
the plumcake. In John's case, fresh from what really might be described
as a triumphant production in New York, the butter was spread so thickly
that "business" was too forbidding a name for such pleasantly nutritious
communications. His agent had sent him the returns of the second week;
and playing to capacity in one of the largest New York theaters is
nearer to a material paradise than anything outside the Mohammedan
religion. Then there was an offer from one of the chief film companies
to produce his romantic drama of two years ago, that wonderful riot of
color and Biblical phraseology, _The Fall of Babylon_. They ventured to
think that the cinematographer would do his imagination more justice
than the theater, particularly as upon their dramatic ranch in
California they now had more than a hundred real camels and eight real
elephants. John chuckled at the idea of a few animals compensating for
the absence of his words, but nevertheless ... the entrance of
Nebuchadnezzar, yes, it should be wonderfully effective ... and the
great grass-eating scene, yes, that might positively be more impressive
on the films ... with one or two audiences it had trembled for a moment
between the sublime and the ridiculous. It was a pity that the offer had
not arrived before he was leaving New York, but no doubt he should be
able to talk it over with the London representatives of the firm. Hullo
here was Janet Bond writing to him ... charming woman, charming
actress.... He wandered for a few minutes rather vaguely in the maze of
her immense handwriting, but disentangled his comprehension at last and
deciphered:

THE PARTHENON THEATRE.

Sole Proprietress: Miss Janet Bond.

_October 10, 1910._

DEAR MR. TOUCHWOOD,--I wonder if you have forgotten our talk at Sir
Herbert's that night? I'm so hoping not. And your scheme for a real
Joan of Arc? Do think of me this winter. Your picture of the scene with
Gilles de Rais--you see I followed your advice and read him up--has
_haunted_ me ever since. I can hear the horses' hoofs coming nearer and
nearer and the cries of the murdered children. I'm so glad you've had a
success with _Lucrezia_ in New York. I don't _think_ it would suit me
from what I read about it. You know how _particular_ my public is.
That's why I'm so anxious to play the Maid. When will _Lucrezia_ be
produced in London, and where? There are many rumours. Do come and see
me when you get back to England, and I'll tell you who I've thought of
to play Gilles. I _think_ you'll find him very intelligent. But of
course everything depends on your inclination, or should I say
inspiration? And then that wonderful speech to the Bishop! How does it
begin? "Bishop, thou hast betrayed thy holy trust." Do be a little
flattered that I've remembered that line. It needn't _all_ be in blank
verse, and I think little Truscott would be so good as the Bishop. You
see how _enthusiastic_ I am and how I _believe_ in the idea. All good
wishes.

Yours sincerely and hopefully,

JANET BOND.

John certainly was a little flattered that Miss Bond should have
remembered the Maid's great speech to the Bishop of Beauvais, and the
actress's enthusiasm roused in him an answering flame, so that the cruet
before him began to look like the castelated walls of Orleans, and while
his gaze was fixed upon the bowl of salad he began to compose _Act II._
_Scene I_--_Open country. Enter Joan on horseback. From the summit of a
grassy knoll she searches the horizon._ So fixedly was John regarding
his heroine on top of the salad that the head steward came over and
asked anxiously if there was anything the matter with it. And even when
John assured him that there was nothing he took it away and told one of
the under-stewards to remove the caterpillar and bring a fresh bowl.
Meanwhile, John had picked up the other bundle of letters and begun to
read his news from home.

65 HILL ROAD,

St. John's Wood, N.W.,

_October 10_.

DEAR JOHN,--We have just read in the _Telegraph_ of your great success
and we are both very glad. Edith writes me that she did have a letter
from you. I dare say you thought she would send it on to us but she
didn't, and of course I understand you're busy only I should have liked
to have had a letter ourselves. James asks me to tell you that he is
probably going to do a book on the Cymbalist movement in literature. He
says that the time has come to take a final survey of it. He is also
writing some articles for the _Fortnightly Review_. We shall all be so
glad to welcome you home again.

Your affectionate sister-in-law,

BEATRICE TOUCHWOOD.

"Poor Beatrice," thought John, penitently. "I ought to have sent her a
line. She's a good soul. And James ... what a plucky fellow he is!
Always full of schemes for books and articles. Wonderful really, to go
on writing for an audience of about twenty people. And I used to grumble
because my novels hadn't world-wide circulations. Poor old James ... a
good fellow."

He picked up the next letter; which he found was from his other
sister-in-law.

HALMA HOUSE,

198 Earl's Court Square, S.W.,

_October 9_.

DEAR JOHN,--Well, you've had a hit with _Lucrezia_, lucky man! If you
sent out an Australian company, don't you think I might play lead? I
quite understand that you couldn't manage it for me either in London or
America, but after all you _are_ the author and you surely have _some_
say in the cast. I've got an understudy at the Parthenon, but I can't
stand Janet. Such a selfish actress. She literally doesn't think of any
one but herself. There's a chance I may get a decent part on tour with
Lambton this autumn. George isn't very well, and it's been rather
miserable this wet summer in the boarding house as Bertram and Viola
were ill and kept away from school. I would have suggested their going
down to Ambles, but Hilda was so very unpleasant when I just hinted at
the idea that I preferred to keep them with me in town. Both children
ask every day when you're coming home. You're quite the favourite uncle.
George was delighted with your success. Poor old boy, he's had another
financial disappointment, and your success was quite a consolation.

ELEANOR.

"I wish Eleanor was anywhere but on the stage," John sighed. "But she's
a plucky woman. I _must_ write her a part in my next play. Now for
Hilda."

He opened his sister's letter with the most genial anticipation, because
it was written from his new country house in Hampshire, that county
house which he had coveted for so long and to which the now faintly
increasing motion of the _Murmania_ reminded him that he was fast
returning.

AMBLES,

Wrottesford, Hants,

_October 11_.

MY DEAR JOHN,--Just a line to congratulate you on your new success. Lots
of money in it, I suppose. Dear Harold is quite well and happy at
Ambles. Quite the young squire! I had a little coolness with
Eleanor--entirely on her side of course, but Bertram is really such a
_bad_ influence for Harold and so I told her that I did not think you
would like her to take possession of your new house before you'd had
time to live in it yourself. Besides, so many children all at once would
have disturbed poor Mama. Edith drove over with Frida the other day and
tells me you wrote to her. I should have liked a letter, too, but you
always spoil poor Edith. Poor little Frida looks very peaky. Much love
from Harold who is always asking when you're coming home. Mama is very
well, I'm glad to say.

Your affectionate sister,

HILDA CURTIS.

"She might have told me a little more about the house," John murmured to
himself. And then he began to dream about Ambles and to plant
old-fashioned flowers along its mellow red-brick garden walls. "I shall
be in time to see the colouring of the woods," he thought. The
_Murmania_ answered his aspiration with a plunge, and several of the
rumpled ladies rose hurriedly from table to prostrate themselves for the
rest of the voyage. John opened a fourth letter from England.

THE VICARAGE,

Newton Candover, Hants,

_October 7_.

MY DEAREST JOHN,--I was so glad to get your letter, and so glad to hear
of your success. Laurence says that if he were not a vicar he should
like to be a dramatic author. In fact, he's writing a play now on a
Biblical subject, but he fears he will have trouble with the Bishop, as
it takes a very broad view of Christianity. You know that Laurence has
recently become very broad? He thinks the village people like it, but
unfortunately old Mrs. Paxton--you know who I mean--the patroness of the
living--is so bigoted that Laurence has had a great deal of trouble with
her. I'm sorry to say that dear little Frida is looking thin. We think
it's the wet summer. Nothing but rain. Ambles was looking beautiful when
we drove over last week, but Harold is a little bumptious and Hilda does
not seem to see his faults. Dear Mama was looking _very_ well--better
than I've seen her for ages. Frida sends such a lot of love to dearest
Uncle John. She never stops talking about you. I sometimes get quite
jealous for Laurence. Not really, of course, because family affection is
the foundation of civil life. Laurence is out in the garden speaking to
a man whose pig got into our conservatory this morning. Much love.

Your loving sister,

EDITH.

John put the letter down with a faint sigh: Edith was his favorite
sister, but he often wished that she had not married a parson. Then he
took up the last letter of the family packet, which was from his
housekeeper in Church Row.

39 CHURCH ROW,

_Hampstead, N.W._

DEAR SIR,--This is to inform you with the present that everythink is
very well at your house and that Maud and Elsa is very well as it leaves
me at present. We as heard nothink from Emily since she as gone down to
Hambles your other house, and we hope which is Maud, Elsa and myself you
wont spend all your time out of London which is looking lovely at
present with the leaves beginning to turn and all. With dutiful respects
from Maud, Elsa and self, I am,

Your obedient servant,

MARY WORFOLK.

"Dear old Mrs. Worfolk. She's already quite jealous of Ambles ...
charming trait really, for after all it means she appreciates Church
Row. Upon my soul, I feel a bit jealous of Ambles myself."

John began to ponder the pleasant heights of Hampstead and to think of
the pale blue October sky and of the yellow leaves shuffling and
slipping along the quiet alleys in the autumn wind; to think, too, of
his library window and of London spread out below in a refulgence of
smoke and gold; to think of the chrysanthemums in his little garden and
of the sparrows' chirping in the Virginia-creeper that would soon be all
aglow like a well banked-up fire against his coming. Five delightful
letters really, every one of them full of good wishes and cordial
affection! The _Murmania_ swooped forward, and there was a faint tingle
of glass and cutlery. John gathered up his correspondence to go on deck
and bless the Atlantic for being the pathway to home. As he rose from
the table he heard a voice say:

"Yes, my dear thing, but I've never been a poor relation yet, and I
don't intend to start now."

The saloon was empty except for himself and two women opposite, the
climax of whose conversation had come with such a harsh fitness of
comment upon the letters he had just been reading. John was angry with
himself for the dint so easily made upon the romantic shield he upheld
against life's onset; he felt that he had somehow been led into an
ambush where all his noblest sentiments had been massacred; five bells
sounded upon the empty saloon with an almost funereal gravity; and, when
the two women passed out, John, notwithstanding the injured regard of
his steward, sat down again and read right through the family letters
from a fresh standpoint. The fact of it was that there had turned out to
be very few currants in the cake, for the eating of which he had
prepared himself with such well-buttered bread. Few currants? There was
not a single one, unless Mrs. Worfolk's antagonism to the idea of Ambles
might be considered a gritty shred of a currant. John rose at once when
he had finished his letters, put them in his pocket, and followed the
unconscious disturbers of his hearth on deck. He soon caught sight of
them again where, arm in arm, they were pacing the sunlit starboard side
and apparently enjoying the gusty southwest wind. John wondered how long
it would be before he was given a suitable opportunity to make their
acquaintance, and tried to regulate his promenade so that he should
always meet them face to face either aft or forward, but never amidships
where heavily muffled passengers reclined in critical contemplation of
their fellow-travellers over the top of the last popular novel. "Some
men, you know," he told himself, "would join their walk with a mere
remark about the weather. They wouldn't stop to consider if their
company was welcome. They'd be so serenely satisfied with themselves
that they'd actually succeed ... yes, confound them ... they'd bring it
off! Yet, after all, I suppose in a way that without vanity I might
presume they _would_ be rather interested to meet me. Because, of
course, there's no doubt that people _are_ interested in authors. But,
it's no good ... I can't do that ... this is really one of those moments
when I feel as if I was still seventeen years old ... shyness, I suppose
... yet the rest of my family aren't shy."

This took John's thoughts back to his relations, but to a much less
complacent point of view of them than before that maliciously apposite
remark overheard in the saloon had lighted up the group as abruptly and
unbecomingly as a magnesium flash. However inconsistent he might appear,
he was afraid that he should be more critical of them in future. He
began to long to talk over his affairs with that girl and, looking up at
this moment, he caught her eyes, which either because the weather was so
gusty or because he was so ready to hang decorations round a simple fact
seemed to him like calm moorland pools, deep violet-brown pools in
heathery solitudes. Her complexion had the texture of a rose in
November, the texture that gains a rare lucency from the grayness and
moisture by which one might suppose it would be ruined. She was wearing
a coat and skirt of Harris tweed of a shade of misty green, and with her
slim figure and fine features she seemed at first glance not more than
twenty. But John had not passed her another half-dozen times before he
had decided that she was almost a woman of thirty. He looked to see if
she was wearing a wedding ring and was already enough interested in her
to be glad that she was not. This relief was, of course, not at all due
to any vision of himself in a more intimate relationship; but merely
because he was glad to find that her personality, of which he was by now
more definitely aware than of her beauty (well, not beauty, but charm,
and yet perhaps after all he was being too grudging in not awarding her
positive beauty) would be her own. There was something distinctly
romantic in this beautiful young woman of nearly thirty leading her own
life unimpeded by a loud-voiced husband. Of course, the husband might
have had a gentle voice, but usually this type of woman seemed a prey to
bluffness and bigness, as if to display her atmosphere charms she had
need of a rugged landscape for a background. He found himself glibly
thinking of her as a type; but with what type could she be classified?
Surely she was attracting him by being exceptional rather than typical;
and John soothed his alarmed celibacy by insisting that she appealed to
him with a hint of virginal wisdom which promised a perfect intercourse,
if only their acquaintanceship could be achieved naturally, that is to
say, without the least suggestion of an ulterior object. _She had never
been a poor relation yet, and she did not intend to start being one
now._ Of course, such a woman was still unmarried. But how had she
avoided being a poor relation? What was her work? Why was she coming
home to England? And who was her companion? He looked at the other woman
who walked beside her with a boyish slouch, wore gold pince-nez, and had
a tight mouth, not naturally tight, but one that had been tightened by
driving and riding. It was absurd to walk up and down forever like this;
the acquaintance must be made immediately or not at all; it would never
do to hang round them waiting for an opportunity of conversation. John
decided to venture a simple remark the next time he met them face to
face; but when he arrived at the after end of the promenade deck they
had vanished, and the embarrassing thought occurred to him that perhaps
having divined his intention they had thus deliberately snubbed him. He
went to the rail and leaned over to watch the water undulating past; a
sudden gust caught his cap and took it out to sea. He clapped his hand
too late to his head; a fragrance of carnations breathed upon the salt
windy sunlight; a voice behind him, softly tremulous with laughter,
murmured:

"I say, bad luck."

John commended his deerstalker to the care of all the kindly Oceanides
and turned round: it was quite easy after all, and he was glad that he
had not thought of deliberately letting his cap blow into the sea.

"Look, it's actually floating like a boat," she exclaimed.

"Yes, it was shaped like a boat," John said; he was thinking how absurd
it was now to fancy that swiftly vanishing, utterly inappropriate piece
of concave tweed should only a few seconds ago have been worn the other
way round on a human head.

"But you mustn't catch cold," she added. "Haven't you another cap?"

John did possess another cap, one that just before he left England he
had bought about dusk in the Burlington Arcade, one which in the velvety
bloom of a July evening had seemed worthy of summer skies and seas, but
which in the glare of the following day had seemed more like the shreds
of barbaric attire that are brought back by travelers from exotic lands
to be taken out of a glass case and shown to visitors when the
conversation is flagging on Sunday afternoons in the home counties. Now
if John's plays were full of fierce hues, if his novels had been sepia
studies of realism which the public considered painful and the critics
described as painstaking, his private life had been of a mild uniform
pink, a pinkishness that recalled the chaste hospitality of the best
spare bedroom. Never yet in that pink life had he let himself go to the
extent of wearing a cap, which, even if worn afloat by a colored
prizefighter crossing the Atlantic to defend or challenge supremacy,
would have created an amused consternation, but which on the head of a
well-known romantic playwright must arouse at least dismay and possibly
panic. Yet this John (he had reached the point of regarding himself with
objective surprise), the pinkishness of whose life, though it might be a
protest against cynicism and gloom, was eternally half-way to a blush,
went off to his cabin with the intention of putting on that cap. With
himself for a while he argued that something must be done to imprison
the smell of carnations, that a bowler hat would look absurd, that he
really must not catch cold; but all the time this John knew perfectly
well that what he really wanted was to give a practical demonstration of
his youth. This John did not care a damn about his success as a romantic
playwright, but he did care a great deal that these two young women
should vote him a suitable companion for the rest of the voyage.

"Why, it's really not so bad," he assured himself, when before the
mirror he tried to judge the effect. "I rather think it's better than
the other one. Of course, if I had seen when I bought it that the checks
were purple and not black I dare say I shouldn't have bought it--but, by
Jove, I'm rather glad I didn't notice them. After all, I have a right to
be a little eccentric in my costume. What the deuce does it matter to me
if people do stare? Let them stare! I shall be the last of the lot to
feel seasick, anyway."

John walked defiantly back to the promenade deck, and several people who
had not bothered to remark the well-groomed florid man before now asked
who he was, and followed his progress along the deck with the easily
interested gaze of the transatlantic passenger.

For the rest of the voyage John never knew whether the attention his
entrance into the saloon always evoked was due to his being the man who
wore the unusual cap or to his being the man who had written _The Fall
of Babylon_; nor, indeed, did he bother to make sure, for he was
fortified during the rest of the voyage by the company of Miss Doris
Hamilton and Miss Ida Merritt and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

"Now am I attributing to Miss Hamilton more discretion than she's really
got?" he asked himself on the last night of the passage, a stormy night
off the Irish coast, while he swayed before the mirror in the creaking
cabin. John was accustomed, like most men with clear-cut profiles, to
take advice from his reflection, and perhaps it was his dramatic
instinct that led him usually to talk aloud to this lifelong friend.
"Have I in fact been too impulsive in this friendship? Have I? That's
the question. I certainly told her a lot about myself, and I think she
appreciated my confidence. Yet suppose that she's just an ordinary young
woman and goes gossiping all over England about meeting me? I really
must remember that I'm no longer a nonentity and that, though Miss
Hamilton is not a journalist, her friend is, and, what is more,
confessed that the sole object of her visit to America had been to
interview distinguished men with the help of Miss Hamilton. The way she
spoke about her victims reminded me of the way that fellow in the
smoking-saloon talked about the tarpon fishing off Florida ... famous
American statesmen, financiers, and architects existed quite
impersonally for her to be caught just like tarpon. Really when I come
to think of it I've been at the end of Miss Merritt's rod for five days,
and as with all the others the bait was Miss Hamilton."

John's mistrust in the prudence of his behavior during the voyage had
been suddenly roused by the prospect of reaching Liverpool next day. The
word positively exuded disillusionment; it was as anti-romantic as a
notebook of Herbert Spencer. He undressed and got into his bunk; the
motion of the ship and the continual opening and shutting of cabin doors
all the way along the corridor kept him from sleep, and for a long time
he lay awake while the delicious freedom of the seas was gradually
enslaved by the sullen, prosaic, puritanical, bilious word--Liverpool.
He had come down to his cabin, full of the exhilaration of a last quick
stroll up and down the spray-whipped deck; he had come down from a long
and pleasant talk all about himself where he and Miss Hamilton had sat
in the lee of some part of a ship's furniture the name of which he did
not know and did not like to ask, a long and pleasant talk, cozily
wrapped in two rugs glistening faintly in the starlight with salty rime;
he had come down from a successful elimination of Miss Merritt, his
whole personality marinated in freedom, he might say; and now the mere
thought of Liverpool was enough to disenchant him and to make him feel
rather like a man who was recovering from a brilliant, a too brilliant
revelation of himself provoked by champagne. He began to piece together
the conversation and search for indiscretions. To begin with, he had
certainly talked a great deal too much about himself; it was not
dignified for a man in his position to be so prodigally frank with a
young woman he had only known for five days. Suppose she had been
laughing at him all the time? Suppose that even now she was laughing at
him with Miss Merritt? "Good heavens, what an amount I told her," John
gasped aloud. "I even told her what my real circulation was when I used
to write novels, and I very nearly told her how much I made out of _The
Fall of Babylon_, though since that really was a good deal, it wouldn't
have mattered so much. And what did I say about my family? Well, perhaps
that isn't so important. But how much did I tell her of my scheme for
_Joan of Arc_? Why, she might have been my confidential secretary by the
way I talked. My confidential secretary? And why not? I am entitled to a
secretary--in fact my position demands a secretary. But would she accept
such a post? Now don't let me be impulsive."

John began to laugh at himself for a quality in which as a matter of
fact he was, if anything, deficient. He often used to chaff himself,
but, of course, always without the least hint of ill-nature, which is
perhaps why he usually selected imaginary characteristics for genial
reproof.

"Impulsive dog," he said to himself. "Go to sleep, and don't forget that
confidential secretaries afloat and confidential secretaries ashore are
very different propositions. Yes, you thought you were being very clever
when you bought those rope-soled shoes to keep your balance on a
slippery deck, but you ought to have bought a rope-soled cap to keep
your head from slipping."

This seemed to John in the easy optimism that prevails upon the borders
of sleep an excellent joke, and he passed with a chuckle through the
ivory gate.

The next day John behaved helpfully and politely at the Customs, and
indeed continued to be helpful and polite until his companions of the
voyage were established in a taxi at Euston. He had carefully written
down the Hamiltons' address with a view to calling on them one day, but
even while he was writing the number of the square in Chelsea he was
thinking about Ambles and trying to decide whether he should make a dash
across London to Waterloo on the chance of catching the 9: 5 P.M. or
spend the night at his house in Church Row.

"I think perhaps I'd better stay in town to-night," he said. "Good-by.
Most delightful trip across--see you both again soon, I hope. You don't
advise me to try for the 9:5?" he asked once more, anxiously.

Miss Hamilton laughed from the depths of the taxi; when she laughed, for
the briefest moment John felt an Atlantic breeze sweep through the
railway station.

"_I_ recommend a good night's rest," she said.

So John's last thought of her was of a nice practical young woman; but,
as he once again told himself, the idea of a secretary was absurd.
Besides, did she even know shorthand?

"Do you know shorthand?" he turned round to shout as the taxi buzzed
away; he did not hear her answer, if answer there was.

"Of course I can always write," he decided, and without one sigh he
busied himself with securing his own taxi for Hampstead.



CHAPTER II


"I've got too many caps, Mrs. Worfolk," John proclaimed next morning to
his housekeeper. "You can give this one away."

"Yes, sir. Who would you like it given to?"

"Oh, anybody, anybody. Tramps very often ask for old boots, don't they?
Some tramp might like it."

"Would you have any erbjections if I give it to my nephew, sir?"

"None whatever."

"It seems almost too perky for a tramp, sir; and my sister's boy--well,
he's just at the age when they like to dress theirselves up a bit. He's
doing very well, too. His employers is extremely satisfied with the way
he's doing. Extremely satisfied, his employers are."

"I'm delighted to hear it."

"Yes, sir. Well, it's been some consolation to my poor sister, I mean to
say, after the way her husband behaved hisself, and it's to be hoped
Herbert'll take fair warning. Let me see, you _will_ be having lunch at
home I think you said?"

John winced: this was precisely what he would have avoided by catching
the 9:5 at Waterloo last night.

"I shan't be in to lunch for a few days, Mrs. Worfolk, no--er--nor to
dinner either as a matter of fact. No--in fact I'll be down in the
country. I must see after things there, you know," he added with an
attempt to suggest as jovially as possible a real anxiety about his new
house.

"The country, oh yes," repeated Mrs. Worfolk grimly; John saw the
beech-woods round Ambles blasted by his housekeeper's disapproval.

"You wouldn't care to--er--come down and give a look round yourself,
Mrs. Worfolk? My sister, Mrs. Curtis--"

"Oh, I should prefer not to intrude in any way, sir. But if you insist,
why, of course--"

"Oh no, I don't insist," John hurriedly interposed.

"No, sir. Well, we shall all have to get used to being left alone
nowadays, and that's all there is to it."

"But I shall be back in a few days, Mrs. Worfolk. I'm a Cockney at
heart, you know. Just at first--"

Mrs. Worfolk shook her head and waddled tragically to the door.

"There's nothing else you'll be wanting this morning, sir?" she turned
to ask in accents that seemed to convey forgiveness of her master in
spite of everything.

"No, thank you, Mrs. Worfolk. Please send Maud up to help me pack. Good
heavens," he added to himself when his housekeeper had left the room,
"why shouldn't I be allowed a country house? And I suppose the next
thing is that James and Beatrice and George and Eleanor will all be
offended because I didn't go tearing round to see them the moment I
arrived. One's relations never understand that after the production of a
play one requires a little rest. Besides, I must get on with my new
play. I absolutely _must_."

John's tendency to abhor the vacuum of success was corrected by the
arrival of Maud, the parlor-maid, whose statuesque anemia and impersonal
neatness put something in it. Before leaving for America he had
supplemented the rather hasty preliminary furnishing of his new house by
ordering from his tailor a variety of country costumes. These Maud, with
feminine intuition superimposed on what she would have called her
"understanding of valeting," at once produced for his visit to Ambles;
John in the prospect of half a dozen unworn peat-perfumed suits of tweed
flung behind him any lingering doubt about there being something in
success, and with the recapture of his enthusiasm for what he called
"jolly things" was anxious that Maud should share in it.

"Do you think these new things are a success, Maud?" he asked, perhaps a
little too boisterously. At any rate, the parlor-maid's comprehension of
valeting had apparently never been so widely stretched, for a faint
coralline blush tinted her waxen cheeks.

"They seem very nice, sir," she murmured, with a slight stress upon the
verb.

John felt that he had trespassed too far upon the confines of Maud's
humanity and retreated hurriedly. He would have liked to explain that
his inquiry had merely been a venture into abstract esthetics and that
he had not had the least intention of extracting her opinion about these
suits _on him_; but he felt that an attempt at explanation would
embarrass her, and he hummed instead over a selection of ties, as a bee
hums from flower to flower in a garden, careless of the gardener who
close at hand is potting up plants.

"I will take these ties," he announced on the last stave of _A Fine Old
English Gentleman_.

Maud noted them gravely.

"And I shall have a few books. Perhaps there won't be room for them?"

"There won't be room for them, not in your dressing-case, sir."

"Oh, I know there won't be room in that," said John, bitterly.

His dressing-case might be considered the medal he had struck in honor
of _The Fall of Babylon_: he had passed it every morning on his way to
rehearsals and, dreaming of the triumph that might soon be his, had
vowed he would buy it were such a triumph granted. It had cost £75, was
heavy enough when empty to strain his wrist and when full to break his
back, and it contained more parasites of the toilet table and the
writing desk than one could have supposed imaginable. These parasites
each possessed an abode of such individual shape that leaving them
behind made no difference to the number of really useful articles, like
pajamas, that could be carried in the cubic space lined with blue
corded silk on which they looked down like the inconvenient houses of a
fashionable square. Therefore wherever John went, the fittings went too,
a glittering worthless mob of cut-glass, pigskin, tortoiseshell and
ivory.

"But in my portmanteau," John persisted. "Won't there be room there?"

"I might squeeze them in," Maud admitted. "It depends what boots you're
wanting to take with you, sir."

"Never mind," he sighed. "I can make a separate parcel of them."

"There's the basket what we were going to use for the cat, sir."

"No, I should prefer a brown paper parcel," he decided. It would be
improper for the books out of which the historical trappings of his
_Joan of Arc_ were to be manufactured to travel in a lying-in hospital
for cats.

John left Maud to finish the packing and went downstairs to his library.
This double room of fine proportions was, as one might expect from the
library of a popular writer, the core--the veritable omphalos of the
house; with its fluted pilasters, cream-colored panels and
cherub-haunted ceiling, the expanse of city and sky visible from three
sedate windows at the south end and the glimpse of a busy Hampstead
street caught from those facing north, not to speak of the prismatic
rows of books, it was a room worthy of art's most remunerative triumphs,
the nursery of inspiration, and, save for a slight suggestion that the
Muses sometimes drank afternoon tea there, the room of an indomitable
bachelor. When John stepped upon the wreaths, ribbons, and full-blown
roses of the threadbare Aubusson rug that floated like gossamer upon a
green carpet of Axminster pile as soft as some historic lawn, he was
sure that success was not a vacuum. In his now optimistic mood he hoped
ultimately to receive from Ambles the kind of congratulatory benediction
that the library at Church Row always bestowed upon his footsteps.
Indeed, if he had not had such an ambition for his country house, he
could scarcely have endured to quit even for a week this library, where
fires were burning in two grates and where the smoke of his Partaga was
haunting, like a complacent ghost, the imperturbable air. John possessed
another library at Ambles, but he had not yet had time to do more than
hurriedly stock it with the standard works that he felt no country house
should be without. His library in London was the outcome of historical
research preparatory to writing his romantic plays; and since all works
of popular historical interest are bound with a much more lavish
profusion of color and ornament even than the works of fiction to which
they most nearly approximate, John's shelves outwardly resembled rather
a collection of armor than a collection of books. There were, of course,
many books the insides of which were sufficiently valuable to excuse
their dingy exterior; but none of these occupied the line, where romance
after romance of exiled queens, confession after confession of
morganatic wives, memoir after memoir from above and below stairs,
together with catch-penny alliterative gatherings as of rude regents and
libidinous landgraves flashed in a gorgeous superficiality of gilt and
text. In order to amass the necessary material for a play about Joan of
Arc John did not concern himself with original documents. He assumed,
perhaps rightly, that a Camembert cheese is more palatable and certainly
more portable than a herd of unmilked cows. To dramatize the life of
Joan of Arc he took from his shelves _Saints and Sinners of the
Fifteenth Century_ ... but a catalogue is unnecessary: enough that when
the heap of volumes chosen stood upon his desk it glittered like the
Maid herself before the walls of Orleans.

"After all," as John had once pointed out in a moment of exasperation to
his brother, James, the critic, "Shakespeare didn't sit all day in the
reading-room of the British Museum."

An hour later the playwright, equipped alike for country rambles and
poetic excursions, was sitting in a first-class compartment of a London
and South-Western railway train; two hours after that he was sitting in
the Wrottesford fly swishing along between high hazel hedges of
golden-brown.

"I shall have to see about getting a dog-cart," he exclaimed, when after
a five minutes' struggle to let down the window with the aid of a strap
that looked like an Anglican stole he had succeeded in opening the door
and nearly falling head-long into the lane.

"You have to let down the window _before_ you get out," said the driver
reproachfully, trying to hammer the frameless window back into place and
making such a noise about it that John could not bear to accentuate by
argument the outrage that he was offering to this morning of exquisite
decline, on which earth seemed to be floating away into a windless
infinity like one of her own dead leaves. No, on such a morning
controversy was impossible, but he should certainly take immediate steps
to acquire a dog-cart.

"For it's like being jolted in a badly made coffin," he thought, when he
was once more encased in the fly and, having left the high road behind,
was driving under an avenue of sycamores bordered by a small stream, the
water of which was stained to the color of sherry by the sunlight
glowing down through the arches of tawny leaves overhead. To John this
avenue always seemed the entrance to a vast park surrounding his country
house; it was indeed an almost unfrequented road, grass-grown in the
center and lively with rabbits during most of the day, so that his
imagination of ancestral approaches was easily stimulated and he felt
like a figure in a painting by Marcus Stone. It was lucky that John's
sanguine imagination could so often satisfy his ambition; prosperous
playwright though he was, he had not yet made nearly enough money to buy
a real park. However, in his present character of an eighteenth-century
squire he determined, should the film version of _The Fall of Babylon_
turn out successful, to buy a lawny meadow of twenty acres that would
add much to the dignity and seclusion of Ambles, the boundaries of which
at the back were now overlooked by a herd of fierce Kerry cows who
occupied the meadow and during the summer had made John's practice
shots with a brassy too much like big-game shooting to be pleasant or
safe. After about a mile the avenue came to an end where a narrow curved
bridge spanned the stream, which now flowed away to the left along the
bottom of a densely wooded hillside. The fly crossed over with an
impunity that was surprising in face of a printed warning that
extraordinary vehicles should avoid this bridge, and began to climb the
slope by a wide diagonal track between bushes of holly, the green of
which seemed vivid and glossy against the prevailing brown. The noise of
the wheels was deadened by the heavy drift of beech leaves, and the
stillness of this russet world, except for the occasional scream of a
jay or the flapping of disturbed pigeons, demanded from John's
illustrative fancy something more remote and Gothic than the eighteenth
century.

"Malory," he said to himself. "Absolute Malory. It's almost impossible
not to believe that Sir Gawaine might not come galloping down through
this wood."

Eager to put himself still more deeply in accord with the romantic
atmosphere, John tried this time to open the door of the fly with the
intention of walking meditatively up the hill in its wake; the door
remained fast; but he managed to open the window, or rather he broke it.

"I've a jolly good mind to get a motor," he exclaimed, savagely.

Every knight errant's horse in the neighborhood bolted at the thought,
and by the time John had reached the top of the hill and emerged upon a
wide stretch of common land dotted with ancient hawthorns in full
crimson berry he was very much in the present. For there on the other
side of the common, flanked by shelving woods of oak and beech and
backed by rising downs on which a milky sky ruffled its breast like a
huge swan lazily floating, stood Ambles, a solitary, deep-hued,
Elizabethan house with dreaming chimney-stacks and tumbled mossy roofs
and garden walls rising from the heaped amethysts of innumerable
Michaelmas daisies.

"My house," John murmured in a paroxysm of ownership.

The noise of the approaching fly had drawn expectant figures to the
gate; John, who had gratified affection, curiosity and ostentation by
sending a wireless message from the _Murmania_, a telegram from
Liverpool yesterday, and another from Euston last night to announce his
swift arrival, had therefore only himself to thank for perceiving in the
group the black figure of his brother-in-law, the Reverend Laurence
Armitage. He drove away the scarcely formed feeling of depression by
supposing that Edith could not by herself have trundled the
barrel-shaped vicarage pony all the way from Newton Candover to Ambles,
and, finding that the left-hand door of the fly was unexpectedly
susceptible to the prompting of its handle, he alighted with such
rapidity that not one of his smiling relations could have had any
impression but that he was bounding to greet them. The two sisters were
so conscious of their rich unmarried brother's impulsive advance that
each incited her own child to responsive bounds so that they might meet
him half-way along the path to the front door, in the harborage of which
Grandma (whose morning nap had been interrupted by a sudden immersion in
two shawls, and a rapid swim with Emily, the maid from London, acting as
lifebuoy down the billowy passages and stairs of the old house) rocked
in breathless anticipation of the filial salute.

"Welcome back, my dear Johnnie," the old lady panted.

"How are you, mother? What, another new cap?"

Old Mrs. Touchwood patted her head complacently. "We bought it at
Threadgale's in Galton. The ribbons are the new hollyhock red."

"Delightful!" John exclaimed. "And who helped you to choose it? Little
Frida here?"

"Nobody _helped_ me, Johnnie. Hilda accompanied me into Galton; but she
wanted to buy a sardine-opener for the house."

John had not for a moment imagined that his mother had wanted any
advice about a cap; but inasmuch as Frida, in what was intended to be a
demonstrative welcome, prompted by her mother, was rubbing her head
against his ribs like a calf against a fence, he had felt he ought to
hook her to the conversation somehow. John's concern about Frida was
solved by the others' gathering round him for greetings.

First Hilda offered her sallow cheek, patting while he kissed it her
brother on the back with one hand, and with the other manipulating
Harold in such a way as to give John the impression that his nephew was
being forced into his waistcoat pocket.

"He feels you're his father now," whispered Hilda with a look that was
meant to express the tender resignation of widowhood, but which only
succeeded in suggesting a covetous maternity. John doubted if Harold
felt anything but a desire to escape from being sandwiched between his
mother's crape and his uncle's watch chain, and he turned to embrace
Edith, whose cheeks, soft and pink as a toy balloon, were floating
tremulously expectant upon the glinting autumn air.

"We've been so anxious about you," Edith murmured. "And Laurence has
such a lot to talk over with you."

John, with a slight sinking that was not altogether due to its being
past his usual luncheon hour, turned to be welcomed by his
brother-in-law.

The vicar of Newton Candover's serenity if he had not been a tall and
handsome man might have been mistaken for smugness; as it was, his
personality enveloped the scene with a ceremonious dignity that was not
less than archidiaconal, and except for his comparative youthfulness (he
was the same age as John) might well have been considered
archiepiscopal.

"Edith has been anxious about you. Indeed, we have all been anxious
about you," he intoned, offering his hand to John, for whom the sweet
damp odors of autumn became a whiff of pious women's veils, while the
leaves fluttering gently down from the tulip tree in the middle of the
lawn lisped like the India-paper of prayer-books.

"I've got an air-gun, Uncle John," ejaculated Harold, who having for
some time been inhaling the necessary breath now expelled the sentence
in a burst as if he had been an air-gun himself. John hailed the
announcement almost effusively; it reached him with the kind of relief
with which in childhood he had heard the number of the final hymn
announced; and a robin piping his delicate tune from the garden wall was
welcome as birdsong in a churchyard had been after service on Sundays
handicapped by the litany.

"Would you like to see me shoot at something?" Harold went on, hastily
cramming his mouth with slugs.

"Not now, dear," said Hilda, hastily. "Uncle John is tired. And don't
eat sweets just before lunch."

"Well, it wouldn't tire him to see me shoot at something. And I'm not
eating sweets. I'm getting ready to load."

"Let the poor child shoot if he wants to," Grandma put in.

Harold beamed ferociously through his spectacles, took a slug from his
mouth, fitted it into the air-gun, and fired, bringing down two leaves
from an espalier pear. Everybody applauded him, because everybody felt
glad that it had not been a window or perhaps even himself; the robin
cocked his tail contemptuously and flew away.

"And now I must go and get ready for lunch," said John, who thought a
second shot might be less innocuous, and was moreover really hungry. His
bedroom, dimity draped, had a pleasant rustic simplicity, but he decided
that it wanted living in: the atmosphere at present was too much that of
a well-recommended country inn.

"Yes, it wants living in," said John to himself. "I shall put in a good
month here and break the back of Joan of Arc."

"What skin is this, Uncle John?" a serious voice at his elbow inquired.
John started; he had not observed Harold's scout-like entrance.

"What skin is that, my boy?" he repeated in what he thought was the
right tone of avuncular jocularity and looking down at Harold, who was
examining with myopic intensity the dressing-case. "That is the skin of
a white elephant."

"But it's brown," Harold objected.

John rashly decided to extend his facetiousness.

"Yes, well, white elephants turn brown when they're shot, just as
lobsters turn red when they're boiled."

"Who shot it?"

"Oh, I don't know--probably some friend of the gentleman who keeps the
shop where I bought it."

"When?"

"Well, I can't exactly say when--but probably about three years ago."

"Father used to shoot elephants, didn't he?"

"Yes, my boy, your father used to shoot elephants."

"Perhaps he shot this one."

"Perhaps he did."

"Was he a friend of the gentleman who keeps the shop where you bought
it?"

"I shouldn't be surprised," said John.

"Wouldn't you?" said Harold, skeptically. "My father was an asplorer.
When I'm big I'm going to be an asplorer, too; but I sha'n't be friends
with shopkeepers."

"Confounded little snob," John thought, and began to look for his
nailbrush, the address of whose palatial residence of pigskin only Maud
knew.

"What are you looking for, Uncle John?" Harold asked.

"I'm looking for my nailbrush, Harold."

"Why?"

"To clean my nails."

"Are they dirty?"

"Well, they're just a little grubby after the railway journey."

"Mine aren't," Harold affirmed in a lofty tone. Then after a minute he
added: "I thought perhaps you were looking for the present you brought
me from America."

John turned pale and made up his mind to creep unobserved after lunch
into the market town of Galton and visit the local toyshop. It would be
an infernal nuisance, but it served him right for omitting to bring
presents either for his nephew or his niece.

"You're too smart," he said nervously to Harold. "Present time will be
after tea." The sentence sounded contradictory somehow, and he changed
it to "the time for presents will be five o'clock."

"Why?" Harold asked.

John was saved from answering by a tap at the door, followed by the
entrance of Mrs. Curtis.

"Oh, Harold's with you?" she exclaimed, as if it were the most
surprising juxtaposition in the world.

"Yes, Harold's with me," John agreed.

"You mustn't let him bother you, but he's been so looking forward to
your arrival. _When_ is Uncle coming, he kept asking."

"Did he ask _why_ I was coming?"

Hilda looked at her brother blankly, and John made up his mind to try
that look on Harold some time.

"Have you got everything you want?" she asked, solicitously.

"He hasn't got his nailbrush," said Harold.

Hilda assumed an expression of exaggerated alarm.

"Oh dear, I hope it hasn't been lost."

"No, no, no, it'll turn up in one of the glass bottles. I was just
telling Harold that I haven't really begun my unpacking yet."

"Uncle John's brought me a present from America," Harold proclaimed in
accents of greedy pride.

Hilda seized her brother's hand affectionately.

"Now you oughtn't to have done that. It's spoiling him. It really is.
Harold never expects presents."

"What a liar," thought John. "But not a bigger one than I am myself," he
supplemented, and then he announced aloud that he must go into Galton
after lunch and send off an important telegram to his agent.

"I wonder ..." Hilda began, but with an arch look she paused and seemed
to thrust aside temptation.

"What?" John weakly asked.

"Why ... but no, he might bore you by walking too slowly. Harold," she
added, seriously, "if Uncle John is kind enough to take you into Galton
with him, will you be a good boy and leave your butterfly net at home?"

"If I may take my air-gun," Harold agreed.

John rapidly went over in his mind the various places where Harold might
be successfully detained while he was in the toyshop, decided that the
risk would be too great, pulled himself together, and declined the
pleasure of his nephew's company on the ground that he must think over
very carefully the phrasing of the telegram he had to send, a mental
process, he explained, that Harold might distract.

"Another day, darling," said Hilda, consolingly.

"And then I'll be able to take my fishing-rod," said Harold.

"He is so like his poor father," Hilda murmured.

John was thinking sympathetically of the distant Amazonian tribe that
had murdered Daniel Curtis, when there was another tap at the door, and
Frida crackling loudly in a clean pinafore came in to say that the bell
for lunch was just going to ring.

"Yes, dear," said her aunt. "Uncle John knows already. Don't bother him
now. He's tired after his journey. Come along, Harold."

"He can have my nailbrush if he likes," Harold offered.

"Run, darling, and get it quickly then."

Harold rushed out of the room and could be heard hustling his cousin all
down the corridor, evoking complaints of "Don't, Harold, you rough boy,
you're crumpling my frock."

The bell for lunch sounded gratefully at this moment, and John, without
even washing his hands, hurried downstairs trying to look like a hungry
ogre, so anxious was he to avoid using Harold's nailbrush.

The dining-room at Ambles was a long low room with a large open
fireplace and paneled walls; from the window-seats bundles of drying
lavender competed pleasantly with the smell of hot kidney-beans upon the
table, at the head of which John took his rightful place; opposite to
him, placid as an untouched pudding, sat Grandmama. Laurence said grace
without being invited after standing up for a moment with an expression
of pained interrogation; Edith accompanied his words by making with her
forefinger and thumb a minute cruciform incision between two of the
bones of her stays, and inclined her head solemnly toward Frida in a
mute exhortation to follow her mother's example. Harold flashed his
spectacles upon every dish in turn; Emily's waiting was during this meal
of reunion colored with human affection.

"Well, I'm glad to be back in England," said John, heartily.

An encouraging murmur rippled round the table from his relations.

"Are these French beans from our own garden?" John asked presently.

"Scarlet-runners," Hilda corrected. "Yes, of course. We never trouble
the greengrocer. The frosts have been so light ..."

"I haven't got a bean left," said Laurence.

John nearly gave a visible jump; there was something terribly suggestive
in that simple horticultural disclaimer.

"Our beans are quite over," added Edith in the astonished voice of one
who has tumbled upon a secret of nature. She had a habit of echoing many
of her husband's remarks like this; perhaps "echoing" is a bad
description of her method, for she seldom repeated literally and often
not immediately. Sometimes indeed she would wait as long as half an hour
before she reissued in the garb of a personal philosophical discovery
or of an exegitical gloss the most casual remark of Laurence, a habit
which irritated him and embarrassed other people, who would look away
from Edith and mutter a hurried agreement or ask for the salt to be
passed.

"I remember," said old Mrs. Touchwood, "that beans were a favorite dish
of poor Papa, though I myself always liked peas better."

"I like peas," Harold proclaimed.

"I like peas, too," cried Frida excitedly.

"Frida," said her father, pulling out with a click one of the graver
tenor stops in his voice, "we do not talk at table about our likes and
dislikes."

Edith indorsed this opinion with a grave nod at Frida, or rather with a
solemn inclination of the head as if she were bowing to an altar.

"But I like new potatoes best of all," continued Harold. "My gosh, all
buttery!"

Laurence screwed up his eye in a disgusted wince, looked down his nose
at his plate, and drew a shocked cork from his throat.

"Hush," said Hilda. "Didn't you hear what Uncle Laurence said, darling?"

She spoke as one speaks to children in church when the organ begins; one
felt that she was inspired by social tact rather than by any real
reverence for the clergyman.

"Well, I do like new potatoes, and I like asparagus."

Frida was just going to declare for asparagus, too, when she caught her
father's eye and choked.

"Evidently the vegetable that Frida likes best," said John, riding
buoyantly upon the gale of Frida's convulsions, "is an artichoke."

It is perhaps lucky for professional comedians that rich uncles and
judges rarely go on the stage; their occupation might be even more
arduous if they had to face such competitors. Anyway, John had enough
success with his joke to feel much more hopeful of being able to find
suitable presents in Galton for Harold and Frida; and in the silence of
exhaustion that succeeded the laughter he broke the news of his having
to go into town and dispatch an urgent telegram that very afternoon,
mentioning incidentally that he might see about a dog-cart, and, of
course, at the same time a horse. Everybody applauded his resolve except
his brother-in-law who looked distinctly put out.

"But you won't be gone before I get back?" John asked.

Laurence and Edith exchanged glances fraught with the unuttered
solemnities of conjugal comprehension.

"Well, I _had_ wanted to have a talk over things with you after lunch,"
Laurence explained. "In fact, I have a good deal to talk over. I should
suggest driving you in to Galton, but I find it impossible to talk
freely while driving. Even our poor old pony has been known to shy. Yes,
indeed, poor old Primrose often shies."

John mentally blessed the aged animal's youthful heart, and said, to
cover his relief, that old maids were often more skittish than young
ones.

"Why?" asked Harold.

Everybody felt that Harold's question was one that should not be
answered.

"You wouldn't understand, darling," said his mother; and the dining-room
became tense with mystery.

"Of course, if we could have dinner put forward half an hour," said
Laurence, dragging the conversation out of the slough of sex, "we could
avail ourselves of the moon."

"Yes, you see," Edith put in eagerly, "it wouldn't be so dark with the
moon."

Laurence knitted his brow at this and his wife hastened to add that an
earlier dinner would bring Frida's bed-time much nearer to its normal
hour.

"The point is that I have a great deal to talk over with John," Laurence
irritably explained, "and that," he looked as if he would have liked to
add "Frida's bed-time can go to the devil," but he swallowed the impious
dedication and crumbled his bread.

Finally, notwithstanding that everybody felt very full of roast beef and
scarlet-runners, it was decided to dine at half-past six instead of
half-past seven.

"Poor Papa, I remember," said old Mrs. Touchwood, "always liked to dine
at half-past three. That gave him a nice long morning for his patients
and time to smoke his cigar after dinner before he opened the dispensary
in the evening. Supper was generally cold unless he anticipated a night
call, in which case we had soup."

All were glad that the twentieth century had arrived, and they smiled
sympathetically at the old lady, who, feeling that her anecdote had
scored a hit, embarked upon another about being taken to the Great
Exhibition when she was eleven years old, which lasted right through the
pudding, perhaps because it was trifle, and Harold did not feel inclined
to lose a mouthful by rash interruptions.

After lunch John was taken all over the house and all round the garden
and congratulated time after time upon the wisdom he had shown in buying
Ambles: he was made to feel that property set him apart from other men
even more definitely than dramatic success.

"Of course, Daniel was famous in his way," Hilda said. "But what did he
leave me?"

John, remembering the £120 a year in the bank and the collection of
stuffed humming birds at the pantechnicon, the importation of which to
Ambles he was always dreading, felt that Hilda was not being
ungratefully rhetorical.

"And of course," Laurence contributed, "a vicar feels that his
glebe--the value of which by the way has just gone down another £2 an
acre--is not his own."

"Yes, you see," Edith put in, "if anything horrid happened to Laurence
it would belong to the next vicar."

Again the glances of husband and wife played together in mid-air like
butterflies.

"And so," Laurence went on, "when you tell us that you hope to buy this
twenty-acre field we all realize that in doing so you would most
emphatically be consolidating your property."

"Oh, I'm sure you're wise to buy," said Hilda, weightily.

"It would make Ambles so much larger, wouldn't it?" suggested Edith.
"Twenty acres, you see ... well, really, I suppose twenty acres would be
as big as from...."

"Come, Edith," said her husband. "Don't worry poor John with comparative
acres--we are all looking at the twenty-acre field now."

The fierce little Kerry cows eyed the prospective owner peacefully,
until Harold hit one of them with a slug from his air-gun, when they all
began to career about the field, kicking up their heels and waving their
tails.

"Don't do that, my boy," John said, crossly--for him very crossly.

A short cut to Galton lay across this field, which John, though even
when they were quiet he never felt on really intimate terms with cows,
had just decided to follow.

"Darling, that's such a cruel thing to do," Hilda expostulated. "The
poor cow wasn't hurting you."

"It was looking at me," Harold protested.

"There is a legend about Francis of Assisi, Harold," his Uncle Laurence
began, "which will interest you and at the same time...."

"Sorry to interrupt," John broke in, "but I must be getting along. This
telegram.... I'll be back for tea."

He hurried off and when everybody called out to remind him of the short
cut across the twenty-acre field he waved back cheerfully, as if he
thought he was being wished a jolly walk; but he took the long way
round.

It was a good five miles to Galton in the opposite direction from the
road by which he had driven up that morning; but on this fine autumn
afternoon, going down hill nearly all the way through a foreground of
golden woods with prospects of blue distances beyond, John enjoyed the
walk, and not less because even at the beginning of it he stopped once
or twice to think how jolly it would be to see Miss Hamilton and Miss
Merritt coming round the next bend in the road. Later on, he did not
bother to include Miss Merritt, and finally he discovered his fancy so
steadily fixed upon Miss Hamilton that he was forced to remind himself
that Miss Hamilton in such a setting would demand a much higher standard
of criticism than Miss Hamilton on the promenade deck of the _Murmania_.
Nevertheless, John continued to think of her; and so pleasantly did her
semblance walk beside him and so exceptionally mild was the afternoon
for the season of the year that he must have strolled along the greater
part of the way. At any rate, when he saw the tower of Galton church he
was shocked to find that it was already four o'clock.



CHAPTER III


The selection of presents for children is never easy, because in order
to extract real pleasure from the purchase it is necessary to find
something that excites the donor as much as it is likely to excite the
recipient. In John's case this difficulty was quadrupled by having to
find toys with an American air about them, and on top of that by the
narrowly restricted choice in the Galton shops. He felt that it would be
ridiculous, even insulting, to produce for Frida as typical of New
York's luxurious catering for the young that doll, the roses of whose
cheeks had withered in the sunlight of five Hampshire summers, and whose
smile had failed to allure as little girls those who were now
marriageable young women. Nor did he think that Harold would accept as
worthy of American enterprise those more conspicuous portions of a
diminutive Uhlan's uniform fastened to a dog's-eared sheet of cardboard,
the sword belonging to which was rusting in the scabbard and the gilt
lancehead of which no longer gave the least illusion of being metal.
Finally, however, just as the clock was striking five he unearthed from
a remote corner of the large ironmonger's shop, to which he had turned
in despair from the toys offered him by the two stationers, a toboggan,
and not merely a toboggan but a Canadian toboggan stamped with the image
of a Red Indian.

"It was ordered for a customer in 1895," the ironmonger explained.
"There was heavy snow that year, you may remember."

If it had been ordered by Methuselah when he was still in his 'teens
John would not have hesitated.

"Well, would you--er--wrap it up," he said, putting down the money.

"Hadn't the carrier better bring it, sir?" suggested the ironmonger.
"He'll be going Wrottesford way to-morrow morning."

Obviously John could not carry the toboggan five miles, but just as
obviously he must get the toboggan back to Ambles that night: so he
declined the carrier, and asked the ironmonger to order him a fly while
he made a last desperate search for Frida's present. In the end, with
twilight falling fast, he bought for his niece twenty-nine small china
animals, which the stationer assured him would enchant any child between
nine and eleven, though perhaps less likely to appeal to ages outside
that period. A younger child, for instance, might be tempted to put them
in its mouth, even to swallow them if not carefully watched, while an
older child might tread on them. Another advantage was that when the
young lady for whom they were intended grew out of them, they could be
put away and revived to adorn her mantelpiece when she had reached an
age to appreciate the possibilities of a mantelpiece. John did not feel
as happy about these animals as he did about the toboggan: there was not
a single buffalo among them, and not one looked in the least
distinctively American, but the stationer was so reassuring and time was
going by so rapidly that he decided to risk the purchase. And really
when they were deposited in a cardboard box among cotton-wool they did
not look so dull, and perhaps Frida would enjoy guessing how many there
were before she unpacked them.

"Better than a Noah's Ark," said John, hopefully.

"Oh yes, much better, sir. A much more suitable present for a young
lady. In fact Noah's Arks are considered all right for village treats,
but they're in very little demand among the gentry nowadays."

When John was within a quarter of a mile from Ambles he told the driver
of the fly to stop. Somehow he must creep into the house and up to his
room with the toboggan and the china animals; it was after six, and the
children would have been looking out for his return since five. Perhaps
the cows would have gone home by now and he should not excite their
nocturnal apprehensions by dragging the toboggan across the twenty-acre
field. Meanwhile, he should tell the fly to wait five minutes before
driving slowly up to the house, which would draw the scent and enable
him with Emily's help to reach his room unperceived by the backstairs. A
heavy mist hung upon the meadow, and the paper wrapped round the
toboggan, which was just too wide to be carried under his arm like a
portfolio, began to peel off in the dew with a swishing sound that would
inevitably attract the curiosity of the cows were they still at large;
moreover, several of the china animals were now chinking together and,
John could not help feeling with some anxiety, probably chipping off
their noses.

"I must look like a broken-down Santa Claus with this vehicle," he said
to himself. "Where's the path got to now? I wonder why people wiggle so
when they make a path? Hullo! What's that?"

The munching of cattle was audible close at hand, a munching that was
sometimes interrupted by awful snorts.

"Perhaps it's only the mist that makes them do that," John tried to
assure himself. "It seems very imprudent to leave valuable cows out of
doors on a damp night like this."

There was a sound of heavy bodies moving suddenly in unison.

"They've heard me," thought John, hopelessly. "I wish to goodness I knew
something about cows. I really must get the subject up. Of course, they
_may_ be frightened of _me_. Good heavens, they're all snorting now.
Probably the best thing to do is to keep on calmly walking; most animals
are susceptible to human indifference. What a little fool that nephew of
mine was to shoot at them this afternoon. I'm hanged if he deserves his
toboggan."

The lights of Ambles stained the mist in front; John ran the last fifty
yards, threw himself over the iron railings, and stood panting upon his
own lawn. In the distance could be heard the confused thudding of hoofs
dying away toward the far end of the twenty-acre meadow.

"I evidently frightened them," John thought.

A few minutes later he was calling down from the landing outside his
bedroom that it was time for presents. In the first brief moment of
intoxication that had succeeded his defeat of the cattle John had
seriously contemplated tobogganing downstairs himself in order to
"surprise the kids" as he put it. But from his landing the staircase
looked all wrong for such an experiment and he walked the toboggan down,
which lamplight appeared to him a typical product of the bear-haunted
mountains of Canada.

Everybody was waiting for him in the drawing-room; everybody was
flatteringly enthusiastic about the toboggan and seemed anxious to make
it at home in such strange surroundings; nobody failed to point out to
the lucky boy the extreme kindness of his uncle in bringing back such a
wonderful present all the way from America--indeed one almost had the
impression that John must often have had to wake up and feed it in the
night.

"The trouble you must have taken," Hilda exclaimed.

"Yes, I did take a good deal of trouble," John admitted. After all, so
he had--a damned sight more trouble than any one there suspected.

"When will it snow?" Harold asked. "To-morrow?"

"I hope not--I mean, it might," said John. He must keep up Harold's
spirits, if only to balance Frida's depression, about whose present he
was beginning to feel very doubtful when he saw her eyes glittering with
feverish anticipation while he was undoing the string. He hoped she
would not faint or scream with disappointment when it was opened, and he
took off the lid of the box with the kind of flourish to which waiters
often treat dish-covers when they wish to promote an appetite among the
guests.

"How sweet," Edith murmured.

John looked gratefully at his sister; if he had made his will that night
she would have inherited Ambles.

"Ah, a collection of small china animals," said Laurence, choosing a cat
to set delicately upon the table for general admiration. John wished he
had not chosen the cat that seemed to suffer with a tumor in the region
of the tail and disinclined in consequence to sit still.

"Yes, I was anxious to get her a Noah's Ark," John volunteered, seeming
to suggest by his tone how appropriate such a gift would have been to
the atmosphere of a vicarage. "But they've practically given up making
Noah's Arks in America, and you see, these china animals will serve as
toys now, and later on, when Frida is grown-up, they'll look jolly on
the mantelpiece. Those that are not broken, of course."

The animals had all been taken out of their box by now, but a few paws
and ears were still adhering to the cotton-wool.

"Frida is always very light on her toys," said Edith, proudly.

"Not likely to put them in her mouth," said John, heartily. "That was
the only thing that made me hesitate when I first saw them in Fifth
Avenue. But they don't look quite so edible here."

"Frida never puts anything in her mouth," Edith generalized, primly.
"And she's given up biting her nails since Uncle John came home, haven't
you, dear?"

"That's a good girl," John applauded; he did not believe in Frida's
sudden conquest of autophagy, but he was anxious to encourage her in
every way at the moment.

Yes, the gift-horses had shown off their paces better than he had
expected, he decided. To be sure, Frida did not appear beside herself
with joy, but at any rate she had not burst into tears--she had not
thrust the present from her sight with loathing and begged to be taken
home. And then Harold, who had been staring at the animals through his
glasses, like the horrid little naturalist that he was, said:

"I've seen some animals like them in Mr. Goodman's shop."

John hoped a blizzard would blow to-morrow, that Harold would toboggan
recklessly down the steepest slope of the downs behind Ambles, and that
he would hit an oak tree at the bottom and break his glasses. However,
none of these dark thoughts obscured the remote brightness with which he
answered:

"Really, Harold. Very likely. There is a considerable exportation of
china animals from America nowadays. In fact I was very lucky to find
any left in America."

"Let's go into Gallon to-morrow and look at Mr. Goodman's animals,"
Harold suggested.

John had never suspected that one day he should feel grateful to his
brother-in-law; but when the dinner-bell went at half-past six instead
of half-past seven solely on his account, John felt inclined to shake
him by the hand. Nor would he have ever supposed that he should one day
welcome the prospect of one of Laurence's long confidential talks. Yet
when the ladies departed after dessert and Laurence took the chair next
to himself as solemnly as if it were a fald-stool, he encouraged him
with a smile.

"We might have our little talk now," and when Laurence cleared his
throat John felt that the conversation had been opened as successfully
as a local bazaar. Not merely did John smile encouragingly, but he
actually went so far as to invite him to go ahead.

Laurence sighed, and poured himself out a second glass of port.

"I find myself in a position of considerable difficulty," he announced,
"and should like your advice."

John's mind went rapidly to the balance in his passbook instead of to
the treasure of worldly experience from which he might have drawn.

"Perhaps before we begin our little talk," said Laurence, "it would be
as well if I were to remind you of some of the outstanding events and
influences in my life. You will then be in a better position to give me
the advice and help--ah--the moral help, of which I stand in
need--ah--in sore need."

"He keeps calling it a little talk," John thought, "but by Jove, it's
lucky we did have dinner early. At this rate he won't get back to his
vicarage before cock-crow."

John was not deceived by his brother-in-law's minification of their
talk, and he exchanged the trim Henry Clay he had already clipped for a
very large Upman that would smoke for a good hour.

"Won't you light up before you begin?" he asked, pushing a box of
commonplace Murillos toward his brother-in-law, whose habit of biting
off the end of a cigar, of letting it go out, of continually knocking
off the ash, of forgetting to remove the band till it was smoldering,
and of playing miserable little tunes with it on the rim of a
coffee-cup, in fact of doing everything with it except smoke it
appreciatively, made it impossible for John, so far as Laurence was
concerned, to be generous with his cigars.

"I think you'll find these not bad."

This was true; the Murillos were not actually bad.

"Thanks, I will avail myself of your offer. But to come back to what I
was saying," Laurence went on, lighting his cigar with as little
expression of anticipated pleasure as might be discovered in the
countenance of a lodging-house servant lighting a fire. "I do not
propose to occupy your time by an account of my spiritual struggles at
the University."

"You ought to write a novel," said John, cheerfully.

Laurence looked puzzled.

"I am now occupied with the writing of a play, but I shall come to that
presently. Novels, however...."

"I was only joking," said John. "It would take too long to explain the
joke. Sorry I interrupted you. Cigar gone out? Don't take another. It
doesn't really matter how often those Murillos go out."

"Where am I?" Laurence asked in a bewildered voice.

"You'd just left Oxford," John answered, quickly.

"Ah, yes, I was at Oxford. Well, as I was saying, I shall not detain you
with an account of my spiritual struggles there.... I think I may
almost without presumption refer to them as my spiritual progress ...
let it suffice that I found myself on the vigil of my ordination after a
year at Cuddesdon Theological College a convinced High Churchman. This
must not be taken to mean that I belonged to the more advanced or what I
should prefer to call the Italian party in the Church of England. I did
not."

Laurence here paused and looked at John earnestly; since John had not
the remotest idea what the Italian party meant and was anxious to avoid
being told, he said in accents that sought to convey relief at hearing
his brother-in-law's personal contradiction of a charge that had for
long been whispered against him:

"Oh, you didn't?"

"No, I did not. I was not prepared to go one jot or one tittle beyond
the Five Points."

"Of the compass, you mean," said John, wisely. "Quite so."

Then seeing that Laurence seemed rather indignant, he added quickly,
"Did I say the compass? How idiotic! Of course, I meant the law."

"The Five Points are the Eastward Position...."

"It was the compass after all," John thought. "What a fool I was to
hedge."

"The Mixed Chalice, Lights, Wafer Bread, and Vestments, but _not_ the
ceremonial use of Incense."

"And those are the Five Points?"

Laurence inclined his head.

"Which you were not prepared to go beyond, I think you said?" John
gravely continued, flattering himself that he was re-established as an
intelligent listener.

"In adhering to these Five Points," Laurence proceeded, "I found that I
was able to claim the support of a number of authoritative English
divines. I need only mention Bishop Ken and Bishop Andrews for you to
appreciate my position."

"Eastward, I think you said," John put in; for his brother-in-law had
paused again, and he was evidently intended to say something.

"I perceive that you are not acquainted with the divergences of opinion
that unhappily exist in our national Church."

"Well, to tell you the truth--and I know you'll excuse my frankness--I
haven't been to church since I was a boy," John admitted. "But I know I
used to dislike the litany very much, and of course I had my favorite
hymns--we most of us have--and really I think that's as far as I got.
However, I have to get up the subject of religion very shortly. My next
play will deal with Joan of Arc, and, as you may imagine, religion plays
an important part in such a theme--a very important part. In addition to
the vision that Joan will have of St. Michael in the first act, one of
my chief unsympathetic characters is a bishop. I hope I'm not hurting
your feelings in telling you this, my dear fellow. Have another cigar,
won't you? I think you've dipped the end of that one in the
coffee-lees."

Laurence assured John bitterly that he had no reason to be particularly
fond of bishops. "In fact," he went on, "I'm having a very painful
discussion with the Bishop of Silchester at this moment, but I shall
come to that presently. What I am anxious, however, to impress upon you
at this stage in our little talk is the fact that on the vigil of my
ordination I had arrived at a definite theory of what I could and could
not accept. Well, I was ordained deacon by the Bishop of St. Albans and
licensed to a curacy in Plaistow--one of the poorest districts in the
East End of London. Here I worked for three years, and it was here that
fourteen years ago I first met Edith."

"Yes, I seem to remember. Wasn't she working at a girls' club or
something? I know I always thought that there must be a secondary
attraction."

"At that time my financial position was not such as to warrant my
embarking upon matrimony. Moreover, I had in a moment of what I should
now call boyish exaltation registered a vow of perpetual celibacy.
Edith, however, with that devotion which neither then nor at any crisis
since has failed me expressed her willingness to consent to an
indefinite engagement, and I remember with gratitude that it was just
this consent of hers which was the means of widening the narrow--ah--the
all too narrow path which at that time I was treading in religion. My
vicar and I had a painful dispute upon some insignificant doctrinal
point; I felt bound to resign my curacy, and take another under a man
who could appreciate and allow for my speculative temperament. I became
curate to St. Thomas's, Kensington, and had hopes of ultimately being
preferred to a living. I realized in fact that the East End was a
cul-de-sac for a young and--if I may so describe myself without being
misunderstood--ambitious curate. For three years I remained at St.
Thomas's and obtained a considerable reputation as a preacher. You may
or may not remember that some Advent Addresses of mine were reprinted in
one of the more tolerant religious weeklies and obtained what I do not
hesitate to call the honor of being singled out for malicious abuse by
the _Church Times_. Eleven years ago my dear father died and by leaving
me an independence of £417 a year enabled me not merely to marry Edith,
but very soon afterwards to accept the living of Newton Candover. I will
not detain you with the history of my financial losses, which I hope I
have always welcomed in the true spirit of resignation. Let it suffice
that within a few years owing to my own misplaced charity and some bad
advice from a relative of mine on the Stock Exchange my private income
dwindled to £152, while at the same time the gross income of Newton
Candover from £298 sank to the abominably low nett income of £102--a
serious reflection, I think you will agree, upon the shocking financial
system of our national Church. It may surprise you, my dear John, to
learn that such blows from fate not only did not cast me down into a
state of spiritual despair and intellectual atrophy, but that they
actually had the effect of inciting me to still greater efforts."

John had been fumbling with his check book when Laurence began to talk
about his income; but the unexpected turn of the narrative quietened
him, and the Upman was going well.

"You may or may not come across a little series of devotional
meditations for the Man in the Street entitled Lamp-posts. They have a
certain vogue, and I may tell you in confidence that under the pseudonym
of The Lamplighter I wrote them. The actual financial return they
brought me was slight. Barabbas, you know, was a publisher. Ha-ha! No,
although I made nothing, or rather practically nothing out of them for
my own purse, by leading me to browse among many modern works of
theology and philosophy I began to realize that there was a great deal
of reason for modern indifference and skepticism. In other words, I
discovered that, in order to keep the man in the street a Christian,
Christianity must adapt itself to his needs. Filled with a reverent
enthusiasm and perhaps half-consciously led along such a path by your
conspicuous example of success, I have sought to embody my theories in a
play, the protagonist of which is the apostle Thomas, whom when you read
the play you will easily recognize as the prototype of the man in the
street. And this brings me to the reason for which I have asked you for
this little talk. The fact of the matter is that in pursuing my studies
of the apostle Thomas I have actually gone beyond his simple rugged
agnosticism, and I now at forty-two years of age after eighteen years as
a minister of religion find myself unable longer to accept in any
literal sense of the term whatever the Virgin Birth."

Laurence poured himself out a third glass of port and waited for John to
recover from his stupefaction.

"But I don't think I'm a very good person to talk to about these
abstruse divine obstetrics," John protested. "I really haven't
considered the question. I know of course to what you refer, but I think
this is essentially an occasion for professional advice."

"I do not ask for advice upon my beliefs," Laurence explained. "I
recognize that nobody is able to do anything for them except myself.
What I want you to do is to let Edith, myself, and little Frida stay
with you at Ambles--of course we should be paying guests and you could
use our pony and trap and any of the vicarage furniture that you thought
suitable--until it has been decided whether I am likely or not to have
any success as a dramatist. I do not ask you to undertake the Quixotic
task of trying to obtain a public representation of my play about the
apostle Thomas. I know that Biblical subjects are forbidden by the Lord
Chamberlain, surely a monstrous piece of flunkeyism. But I have many
other ideas for plays, and I'm convinced that you will sympathize with
my anxiety to be able to work undisturbed and, if I may say so, in close
propinquity to another playwright who is already famous."

"But why do you want to leave your own vicarage?" John gasped.

"My dear fellow, owing to what I can only call the poisonous behavior of
Mrs. Paxton, my patron, to whom while still a curate at St. Thomas's,
Kensington, I gave an abundance of spiritual consolation when she
suffered the loss of her husband, owing as I say to her poisonous
behavior following upon a trifling quarrel about some alterations I made
in the fabric of _my_ church without consulting her, I have been subject
to ceaseless inquisition and persecution. There has been an outcry in
the more bigoted religious press about my doctrine, and in short I have
thought it best and most dignified to resign my living. I am therefore,
to use a colloquialism,--ah--at a loose end."

"And Edith?" John asked.

"My poor wife still clings with feminine loyalty to those accretions to
faith from which I have cut myself free. In most things she is at one
with me, but I have steadily resisted the temptation to intrude upon the
sanctity of her intimate beliefs. She sees my point of view. Of her
sympathy I can only speak with gratitude. But she is still an
old-fashioned believer. And indeed I am glad, for I should not like to
think of her tossed upon the stormy seas of doubt and exposed to
the--ah--hurricanes of speculation that surge through my own brains."

"And when do you want to move in to Ambles?"

"Well, if it would be convenient, we should like to begin gradually
to-morrow. I have informed the Bishop that I will--ah--be out in a
fortnight."

"But what about Hilda?" John asked, doubtfully. "She is really looking
after Ambles for me, you know."

"While we have been having our little talk in the dining-room Edith has
been having her little talk with Hilda in the drawing-room, and I think
I hear them coming now."

John looked up quickly to see the effect of that other little talk, and
determined to avoid for that night at least anything in the nature of
little talks with anybody.

"Laurence dear," said Edith mildly, "isn't it time we were going?"

John knew that not Hilda herself could have phrased more aptly what she
was feeling; he was sure that in her opinion it was indeed high time
that Edith and Laurence were going.

Laurence went over to the window and pulled aside the curtains to
examine the moon.

"Yes, my dear, I think we might have Primrose harnessed. Where is
Frida?"

"She is watching Harold arrange the animals that John gave her. They are
playing at visiting the Natural History Museum."

John was aware that he had not yet expressed his own willingness for the
Armitage family to move into Ambles; he was equally aware that Hilda was
trying to catch his eye with a questioning and indignant glance and that
he had already referred the decision to her. At the same time he could
not bring himself to exalt Hilda above Edith who was the younger and he
was bound to admit the favorite of his two sisters; moreover, Hilda was
the mother of Harold, and if Harold was to be considered tolerable in
the same house as himself, he could not deny as much of his forbearance
to Laurence.

"Well, I suppose you two girls have settled it between you?" he said.

Hilda, who did not seem either surprised or elated at being called a
girl, observed coldly that naturally it was for John to decide, but that
if the vicarage family was going to occupy Ambles extra furniture would
be required immediately.

"My dear," said Laurence. "Didn't you make it clear to Hilda that as
much of the vicarage furniture as is required can be sent here
immediately? John and I had supposed that you were settling all these
little domestic details during your little talk together."

"No, dear," Edith said, "we settled nothing. Hilda felt, and of course I
can't help agreeing with her, that it is really asking too much of John.
She reminded me that he has come down here to work."

The last icicle of opposition melted from John's heart; he could not
bear to think of Edith's being lectured all the way home by her husband
under the light of a setting moon. "I dare say we can manage," he said,
"and really, you know Hilda, it will do the rooms good to be lived in. I
noticed this afternoon a slight smell of damp coming from the
unfurnished part of the house."

"Apples, not damp," Hilda snapped. "I had the apples stored in one of
the disused rooms."

"All these problems will solve themselves," said Laurence, grandly. "And
I'm sure that John cannot wish to attempt them to-night. Let us all
remember that he may be tired. Come along, Edith. We have a long day
before us to-morrow. Let us say good-night to Mama."

Edith started: it was the first time in eleven years of married life
that her husband had adopted the Touchwood style of addressing or
referring to their mother, and it seemed to set a seal upon his more
intimate association with her family in the future. If any doubts still
lingered about the forthcoming immigration of the vicarage party to
Ambles they were presently disposed of once and for all by Laurence.

"What are you carrying?" he asked Frida, when they were gathered in the
hall before starting.

"Uncle John's present," she replied.

"Do not bother. Uncle John has invited us to stay here, and you do not
want to expose your little animals to the risk of being chipped. No
doubt Harold will look after them for you in the interim--the short
interim. Come, Edith, the moon is not going to wait for us, you know. I
have the reins. Gee-up, Primrose!"

"Fond as I am of Edith," Hilda said, when the vicarage family was out of
hearing. "Fond as I am of Edith," she repeated without any trace of
affection in accent or expression, "I do think this invasion is an
imposition upon your kindness. But clergymen are all alike; they all
become dictatorial and obtuse; they're too fond of the sound of their
own voices."

"Laurence is perhaps a little heavy," John agreed, "a little suave and
heavy like a cornflour shape, but we ought to do what we can for Edith."

He tactfully offered Hilda a share in his own benevolence, in which she
ensconced herself without hesitation.

"Well, I suppose we shall have to make the best of it. Indeed the only
thing that _really_ worries me is what we are to do with the apples."

"Oh, Harold will soon eat them up," said John; though he had not the
slightest intention of being sarcastic, Hilda was so much annoyed by
this that she abandoned all discussion of the vicarage and talked so
long about Harold's inside and with such a passionate insistence upon
what he required of sweet and sour to prevent him from dropping before
her very eyes, that John was able fairly soon to plead that the hour was
late and that he must go to bed.

In his bedroom, which was sharp-scented with autumnal airs and made him
disinclined for sleep, John became sentimental over Edith and began to
weave out of her troubles a fine robe for his own good-nature in which
his sentimentality was able to show itself off. He assured himself of
Edith's luck in having Ambles as a refuge in the difficult time through
which she was passing and began to visualize her past life as nothing
but a stormy prelude to a more tranquil present in which he should be
her pilot. That Laurence would be included in his beneficence was
certainly a flaw in the emerald of his bounty, a fly in the amber of his
self-satisfaction; but, after all, so long as Edith was secure and happy
such blemishes were hardly perceptible. He ought to think himself lucky
that he was in a position to help his relations; the power of doing kind
actions was surely the greatest privilege accorded to the successful
man. And what right had Hilda to object? Good gracious, as if she
herself were not dependent enough upon him! But there had always been
visible in Hilda this wretched spirit of competition. It had been in
just the same spirit that she had married Daniel Curtis; she had not
been able to endure her younger sister's engagement to the tall handsome
curate and had snatched at the middle-aged explorer in order to be
married simultaneously and secure the best wedding presents for herself.
But what had Daniel Curtis seen in Hilda? What had that myopic and
taciturn man found in Hilda to gladden a short visit to England between
his life on the Orinoco and his intended life at the back of the
uncharted Amazons? And had his short experience of her made him so
reckless that nothing but his spectacles were found by the rescuers?
What mad impulse to perpetuate his name beyond the numerous beetles,
flowers, monkeys, and butterflies to which it was already attached by
many learned societies had led him to bequeath Harold to humanity? Was
not his collection of humming birds enough?

"I'm really very glad that Edith is coming to Ambles," John murmured.
"Very glad indeed. It will serve Hilda right." He began to wonder if he
actually disliked Hilda and to realize that he had never really forgiven
her for refusing to be interested in his first published story. How well
he remembered that occasion--twenty years ago almost to a day. It had
been a dreary November in the time when London really did have fogs,
and when the sense of his father's approaching death had added to the
general gloom. James had been acting as his father's partner for more
than a year and had already nearly ruined the practice by his
inexperience and want of affability. George and himself were both in the
city offices--George in wool, himself in dog-biscuits. George did not
seem to mind the soul-destroying existence and was full of financial
ambition; but himself had loathed it and cared for nothing but
literature. How he had pleaded with that dry old father, whose cynical
tormented face on its pillow smeared with cigar ash even now vividly
haunted his memory; but the fierce old man had refused him the least
temporary help and had actually chuckled with delight amidst all his
pain at the thought of how his family would have to work for a living
when he should mercifully be dead. Was it surprising, when that morning
he had found at the office a communication from a syndicate of
provincial papers to inform him of his story's being accepted, that he
should have arrived home in the fog, full of hope and enthusiasm? And
then he had been met with whispering voices and the news of his father's
death. Of course he had been shocked and grieved, even disappointed that
it was too late to announce his success to the old man; but he had not
been able to resist telling Hilda, a gawky, pale-faced girl of eighteen,
that his story had been taken. He could recall her expression in that
befogged gaslight even now, her expression of utter lack of interest,
faintly colored with surprise at his own bad taste. Then he had gone
upstairs to see his mother, who was bathed in tears, though she had been
warned at least six months ago that her husband might die at any moment.
He had ventured after a few formal words of sympathy to lighten the
burden of her grief by taking the auspicious communication from his
pocket, where it had been cracking nervously between his fingers, and
reading it to her. He had been sure that she would be interested because
she was a great reader of stories and must surely derive a grateful
wonder from the contemplation of her own son as an author. But she was
evidently too much overcome by the insistency of grief and by the
prospect of monetary difficulties in the near future to grasp what he
was telling her; it had struck him that she had actually never realized
that the stories she enjoyed were written by men and women any more than
it might have struck another person that advertisements were all written
by human beings with their own histories of love and hate.

"You mustn't neglect your office work, Johnnie," was what she had said.
"We shall want every halfpenny now that Papa is gone. James does his
best, but the patients were more used to Papa."

After these two rebuffs John had not felt inclined to break his good
news to James, who would be sure to sneer, or to George, who would only
laugh; so he had wandered upstairs to the old schoolroom, where he had
found Edith sitting by a dull fire and dissuading little Hugh from
throwing coals at the cat. As soon as he had told Edith what had
happened she had made a hero of him, and ever afterwards treated him
with admiration as well as affection. Had she not prophesied even that
he would be another Dickens? That was something like sisterly love, and
he had volunteered to read her the original rough copy, which,
notwithstanding Hugh's whining interruptions, she had enjoyed as much as
he had enjoyed it himself. Certainly Edith must come to Ambles; twenty
years were not enough to obliterate the memory of that warm-hearted girl
of fifteen and of her welcome praise.

But Hugh? What malign spirit had brought Hugh to his mind at a moment
when he was already just faintly disturbed by the prospect of his
relations' increasing demands upon his attention? Hugh was only
twenty-seven now and much too conspicuously for his own good the
youngest of the family; like all children that arrive unexpectedly after
a long interval, he had seemed the pledge of his parents' renewed youth
on the very threshold of old age, and had been spoiled, even by his
cross-grained old father, in consequence: as for his mother, though it
was out of her power to spoil him extravagantly with money, she gave him
all that she did not spend on caps for herself. John determined to make
inquiries about Hugh to-morrow. Not another penny should he have from
him, not another farthing. If he could not live on what he earned in the
office of Stephen Crutchley, who had accepted the young spendthrift out
of regard for their lifelong friendship, if he could not become a
decent, well-behaved architect, why, he could starve. Not another penny
... and the rest of his relations agreed with John on this point, for if
to him Hugh was a skeleton in the family cupboard, to them he was a
skeleton at the family feast.

John expelled from his mind all misgivings about Hugh, hoped it would be
a fine day to-morrow so that he could really look round the garden and
see what plants wanted ordering, tried to remember the name of an
ornamental shrub recommended by Miss Hamilton, turned over on his side,
and went to sleep.



CHAPTER IV


Early next morning John dreamed that he was buying calico in an immense
shop and that in a dreamlike inconsequence the people there, customers
and shopmen alike, were abruptly seized with a frenzy of destruction so
violent that they began to tear up all the material upon which they
could lay their hands; indeed, so loud was the noise of rent cloth that
John woke up with the sound of it still in his ears. Gradually it was
borne in upon a brain wrestling with actuality that the noise might have
emanated from the direction of a small casement in his bedroom looking
eastward into the garden across a steep penthouse which ran down to
within two feet of the ground. Although the noise had stopped some time
before John had precisely located its whereabouts and really before he
was perfectly convinced that he was awake, he jumped out of bed and
hurried across the chilly boards to ascertain if after all it had only
been a relic of his dream. No active cause was visible; but the moss,
the stonecrop and the tiles upon the penthouse had been clawed from top
to bottom as if by some mighty tropical cat, and John for a brief
instant savored that elated perplexity which generally occurs to heroes
in the opening paragraphs of a sensational novel.

"It's a very old house," he thought, hopefully, and began to grade his
reason to a condition of sycophantic credulity. "And, of course,
anything like a ghost at seven o'clock in the morning is rare--very
rare. The evidence would be unassailable...."

After toadying to the marvelous for a while, he sought a natural
explanation of the phenomenon and honestly tried not to want it to prove
inexplicable. The noise began again overhead; a fleeting object darkened
the casement like the swift passage of a bird and struck the penthouse
below; there was a slow grinding shriek, a clatter of broken tiles and
leaden piping; a small figure stuck all over with feathers emerged from
the herbaceous border and smiled up at him.

"Good heavens, my boy, what in creation are you trying to do?" John
shouted, sternly.

"I'm learning to toboggan, Uncle John."

"But didn't I explain to you that tobogganing can only be carried out
after a heavy snowfall?"

"Well, it hasn't snowed yet," Harold pointed out in an offended voice.

"Listen to me. If it snows for a month without stopping, you're never to
toboggan down a roof. What's the good of having all those jolly hills at
the back of the house if you don't use them?"

John spoke as if he had brought back the hills from America at the same
time as he was supposed to have brought back the toboggan.

"There's a river, too," Harold observed.

"You can't toboggan down a river--unless, of course, it gets frozen
over."

"I don't want to toboggan down the river, but if I had a Canadian canoe
for the river I could wait for the snow quite easily."

John, after a brief vision of a canoe being towed across the Atlantic by
the _Murmania_, felt that he was being subjected to the lawless
exactions of a brigand, but could think of nothing more novel in the way
of defiance than:

"Go away now and be a good boy."

"Can't I ..." Harold began.

"No, you can't. If those chickens' feathers...."

"They're pigeons' feathers," his nephew corrected him.

"If those feathers stuck in your hair are intended to convey an
impression that you're a Red Indian chief, go and sit in your wigwam
till breakfast and smoke the pipe of peace."

"Mother said I wasn't to smoke till I was twenty-one."

"Not literally, you young ass. Why, good heavens, in my young days such
an allusion to Mayne Reid would have been eagerly taken up by any boy."

Something was going wrong with this conversation, John felt, and he
added, lamely:

"Anyway, go away now."

"But, Uncle John, I...."

"Don't Uncle John me. I don't feel like an uncle this morning. Suppose
I'd been shaving when you started that fool's game. I might have cut my
head off."

"But, Uncle John, I've left my spectacles on one of the chimneys. Mother
said that whenever I was playing a rough game I was to take off my
spectacles first."

"You'll have to do without your spectacles, that's all. The gardener
will get them for you after breakfast. Anyway, a Red Indian chief in
spectacles is unnatural."

"Well, I'm not a Red Indian any longer."

"You can't chop and change like that. You'll have to be a Red Indian now
till after breakfast. Don't argue any more, because I'm standing here in
bare feet. Go and do some weeding in the garden. You've pulled up all
the plants on the roof."

"I can't read without my spectacles."

"Weed, not read!"

"Well, I can't weed, either. I can't do anything without my spectacles."

"Then go away and do nothing."

Harold shuffled off disconsolately, and John rang for his shaving water.

At breakfast Hilda asked anxiously after her son's whereabouts; and
John, the last vestige of whose irritation had vanished in the smell of
fried bacon and eggs, related the story of the morning's escapade as a
good joke.

"But he can't see anything without his spectacles," Hilda exclaimed.

"Oh, he'll find his way to the breakfast table all right," John
prophesied.

"These bachelors," murmured Hilda, turning to her mother with a wry
little laugh. "Hark! isn't that Harold calling?"

"No, no, no, it's the pigeons," John laughed. "They're probably fretting
for their feathers."

"It's to be hoped," said old Mrs. Touchwood, "that he's not fallen into
the well by leaving off his spectacles like this. I never could abide
wells. And I hate to think of people leaving things off suddenly. It's
always a mistake. I remember little Hughie once left off his woollen
vests in May and caught a most terrible cold that wouldn't go away--it
simply wouldn't go."

"How is Hugh, by the way?" John asked.

"The same as ever," Hilda put in with cold disapproval. She was able to
forget Harold's myopic wanderings in the pleasure of crabbing her
youngest brother.

"Ah, you're all very hard on poor Hughie," sighed the old lady. "But
he's always been very fond of his poor mother."

"He's very fond of what he can get out of you," Hilda sneered.

"And it's little enough he can, poor boy. Goodness knows I've little
enough to spare for him. I wish you could have seen your way to do
something for Hughie, Johnnie," the old lady went on.

"John has done quite enough for him," Hilda snapped, which was perfectly
true.

"He's had to leave his rooms in Earl's Court," Mrs. Touchwood lamented.

"What for? Getting drunk, I suppose?" John inquired, sternly.

"No, it was the drains. He's staying with his friend, Aubrey Fenton,
whom I cannot pretend to like. He seems to me a sad scapegrace. Poor
little Hughie. I wish everything wasn't against him. It's to be hoped he
won't go and get married, poor boy, for I'm sure his wife wouldn't
understand him."

"Surely he's not thinking of getting married," exclaimed John in
dismay.

"Why no, of course not," said the old lady. "How you do take anybody up,
Johnnie. I said it's to be hoped he won't get married."

At this moment Emily came in to announce that Master Harold was up on
the roof shouting for dear life. "Such a turn as it give Cook and I,
mum," she said, "to hear that garshly voice coming down the chimney.
Cook was nearly took with the convolsions, and if it had of been after
dark, mum, she says she's shaw she doesn't know what she wouldn't of
done, she wouldn't, she's that frightened of howls. That's the one thing
she can't ever be really comfortable for in the country, she says, the
howls and the hearwigs."

"I'm under the impression," John declared, solemnly, "that I forbade
Harold to go near the roof. If he has disobeyed my express commands he
must suffer for it by the loss of his breakfast. He has chosen to go
back on the roof: on the roof he shall stay."

"But his breakfast?" Hilda almost whispered. She was so much awed by her
brother's unusually pompous phraseology that he began to be impressed by
it himself and to feel the first faint intimations of the pleasures of
tyranny: he began to visualize himself as the unbending ruler of all his
relations.

"His breakfast can be sent up to him, and I hope it will attract every
wasp in the neighborhood."

This to John seemed the most savage aspiration he could have uttered:
autumnal wasps disturbed him as much as dragons used to disturb
princesses.

"Harold likes wasps," said Hilda. "He observes their habits."

This revelation of his nephew's tastes took away John's last belief in
his humanity, and the only retort he could think of was a suggestion
that he should go at once to a boarding-school.

"Likes wasps?" he repeated. "The child must be mad. You'll tell me next
that he likes black beetles."

"He trained a black beetle once to eat something. I forget what it was
now. But the poor boy was so happy about his little triumph. You ought
to remember, John, that he takes after his father."

John made up his mind at this moment that Daniel Curtis must have
married Hilda in a spirit of the purest empirical science.

"Well, he's not to go training insects in my house," John said, firmly.
"And if I see any insects anywhere about Ambles that show the slightest
sign of having been encouraged to suppose themselves on an equal with
mankind I shall tread on them."

"I'm afraid the crossing must have upset you, Johnnie," said old Mrs.
Touchwood, sympathetically. "You seem quite out of sorts this morning.
And I don't like the idea of poor little Harold's balancing himself all
alone on a chimney. It was never any pleasure to me to watch tight-rope
dancers or acrobats. Indeed, except for the clowns, I never could abide
circuses."

Hilda quickly took up the appeal and begged John to let the gardener
rescue her son.

"Oh, very well," he assented. "But, once for all, it must be clearly
understood that I've come down to Ambles to write a new play and that
some arrangement must be concluded by which I have my mornings
completely undisturbed."

"Of course," said Hilda, brightening at the prospect of Harold's
release.

"Of course," John echoed, sardonically, within himself. He did not feel
that the sight of Harold's ravening after his breakfast would induce in
him the right mood for Joan of Arc. So he left the breakfast table and
went upstairs to his library. Here he found that some "illiterate oaf,"
as he characterized the person responsible, had put in upside down upon
the shelves the standard works he had hastily amassed. Instead of
setting his ideas in order, he had to set his books in order: and after
a hot and dusty morning with the rows of unreadable classics he came
downstairs to find that the vicarage party had arrived just in time for
lunch, bringing with them as the advance guard of their occupation a
large clothes basket filled with what Laurence described as "necessary
odds and ends that might be overlooked later."

"It's my theory of moving," he added. "The small things first."

He enunciated this theory so reverently that his action acquired from
his tone a momentous gravity like the captain of a ship's when he orders
the women and children into the boats first.

The moving of the vicarage party lasted over a fortnight, during which
John found it impossible to settle down to Joan of Arc. No sooner would
he have worked himself up to a suitable frame of mind in which he might
express dramatically and poetically the maid's reception of her heavenly
visitants than a very hot man wearing a green baize apron would appear
in the doorway of the library and announce that a chest of drawers had
hopelessly involved some vital knot in the domestic communications. It
was no good for John to ask Hilda to do anything: his sister had taken
up the attitude that it was all John's fault, that she had done her best
to preserve his peace, that her advice had been ignored, and that for
the rest of her life she intended to efface herself.

"I'm a mere cipher," she kept repeating.

On one occasion when a bureau of sham ebony that looked like a blind
man's dream of Cologne Cathedral had managed to wedge all its pinnacles
into the lintel of the front door, John observed to Laurence he had
understood that only such furniture from the vicarage as was required to
supplement the Ambles furniture would be brought there.

"I thought this bureau would appeal to you," Laurence replied. "It
seemed to me in keeping with much of your work."

John looked up sharply to see if he was being chaffed; but his
brother-in-law's expression was earnest, and the intended compliment
struck more hardly at John's self-confidence than the most malicious
review.

"Does my work really seem like gimcrack gothic?" he asked himself.

In a fit of exasperation he threw himself so vigorously into the
business of forcing the bureau into the house that when it was inside it
looked like a ruined abbey on the afternoon of a Bank Holiday.

"It had better be taken up into the garrets for the present," he said,
grimly. "It can be mended later on."

The comparison of his work to that bureau haunted John at his own
writing-table for the rest of the morning; thinking of the Bishop of
Silchester's objection to Laurence, he found it hard to make the various
bishops in his play as unsympathetic as they ought to be for dramatic
contrast; then he remembered that after all it had been due to the
Bishop of Silchester's strong action that Laurence had come to Ambles:
the stream of insulting epithets for bishops flowed as strongly as ever,
and he worked in a justifiable pun upon the name of Pierre Cauchon, his
chief episcopal villain.

"I wonder, if I were allowed to, whether I would condemn Laurence to be
burnt alive. Wasn't there a Saint Laurence who was grilled? I really
believe I would almost grill him, I really do. There's something
exceptionally irritating to me about that man's whole personality. And
I'm not at all sure I approve of a clergyman's giving up his beliefs.
One might get a line out of that, by the way--something about a
weathercock and a church steeple. I don't think a clergyman ought to
surrender so easily. It's his business not to be influenced by modern
thought. This passion for realism is everywhere.... Thank goodness, I've
been through it and got over it and put it behind me forever. It's a
most unprofitable creed. What was my circulation as a realist? I once
reached four thousand. What's four thousand? Why, it isn't half the
population of Galton. And now Laurence Armitage takes up with it after
being a vicar for ten years. Idiot! Religion isn't realistic: it never
was realistic. Religion is the entertainment of man's spirituality just
as the romantic drama is the entertainment of his mentality. I don't
read Anatole France for my representation of Joan of Arc. What business
has Laurence to muddle his head with--what's his name--Colonel
Ingoldsby--Ingersoll--when he ought to be thinking about his Harvest
Festival? And then he has the effrontery to compare my work with that
bureau! If that's all his religion meant to him--that ridiculous piece
of gimcrack gothic, no wonder it wouldn't hold together. Why, the green
fumed oak of a sentimental rationalism would be better than that.
Confound Laurence! I knew this would happen when he came. He's taken my
mind completely off my own work. I can't write a word this morning."

John rushed away from his manuscript and weeded furiously down a
secluded border until the gardener told him he had weeded away the
autumn-sown sweet-peas that were coming along nicely and standing the
early frosts a treat.

"I'm not even allowed to weed my own garden now," John thought, burking
the point at issue; and his disillusionment became so profound that he
actually invited Harold to go for a walk with him.

"Can I bring my blow-pipe?" asked the young naturalist, gleefully.

"You don't want to load yourself up with soap and water," said John.
"Keep that till you come in."

"My South American blow-pipe, Uncle John. It's a real one which father
sent home. It belonged to a little Indian boy, but the darts aren't
poisoned, father told mother."

"Don't you be too sure," John advised him. "Explorers will say
anything."

"Well, can I bring it?"

"No, we'll take a non-murderous walk for a change. I'm tired of being
shunned by the common objects of the countryside."

"Well, shall I bring _Ants_, _Bees_, and _Wasps_?"

"Certainly not. We don't want to go trailing about Hampshire like two
jam sandwiches."

"I mean the book."

"No, if you want to carry something, you can carry my cleek and six golf
balls."

"Oh, yes, and then I'll practice bringing eggs down in my mouth from
very high trees."

John liked this form of exercise, because at the trifling cost of making
one ball intolerably sticky it kept Harold from asking questions; for
about two hundred yards he enjoyed this walk more than any he had ever
taken with his nephew.

"But birds' nesting time won't come till the spring," Harold sighed.

"No," said John, regretfully: there were many lofty trees round Ambles,
and with his mouth full of eggs anything might happen to Harold.

The transference of the vicarage family was at last complete, and John
was penitently astonished to find that Laurence really did intend to pay
for their board; in fact, the ex-vicar presented him with a check for
two months on account calculated at a guinea a week each. John was so
much moved by this event--the manner in which Laurence offered the check
gave it the character of a testimonial and thereby added to John's sense
of obligation--that he was even embarrassed by the notion of accepting
it. At the same time a faint echo of his own realistic beginnings
tinkled in his ear a warning not to refuse it, both for his own sake and
for the sake of his brother-in-law. He therefore escaped from the
imputation of avarice by suggesting that the check should be handed to
Hilda, who, as housekeeper, would know how to employ it best. John
secretly hoped that Hilda, through being able to extract what he thought
of as "a little pin money for herself" out of it, might discard the
martyr's halo that was at present pinching her brains tightly enough, if
one might judge by her constricted expression.

"There will undoubtedly be a small profit," he told himself, "for if
Laurence has a rather monkish appetite, Edith and Frida eat very
little."

Perhaps Hilda did manage to make a small profit; at any rate, she seemed
reconciled to the presence of the Armitages and gave up declaring that
she was a cipher. The fatigue of moving in had made Laurence's company,
while he was suffering from the reaction, almost bearable. Frida, apart
from a habit she had of whispering at great length in her mother's ear,
was a nice uninquisitive child, and Edith, when she was not whispering
back to Frida or echoing Laurence, was still able to rouse in her
brother's heart feelings of warm affection. Old Mrs. Touchwood had
acquired from some caller a new game of Patience, which kept her gently
simmering in the lamplight every evening; Harold had discovered among
the odds and ends of salvage from the move a sixpenny encyclopedia that,
though it made him unpleasantly informative, at any rate kept him from
being interrogative, which John found, on the whole, a slight advantage.
Janet Bond had written again most seriously about Joan of Arc, and the
film company had given excellent terms for _The Fall of Babylon_.
Really, except for two huffy letters from his sisters-in-law in London,
John was able to contemplate with much less misgivings a prospect of
spending all the winter at Ambles. Beside, he had secured his dog-cart
with a dashing chestnut mare, and was negotiating for the twenty-acre
field.

Yes, everything was very jolly, and he might even aim at finishing the
first draft of the second act before Christmas. It would be jolly to do
that and jolly to invite James and Beatrice and George and Eleanor, but
not Hugh--no, in no circumstances should Hugh be included in the
yuletide armistice--down to Ambles for an uproarious jolly week. Then
January should be devoted to the first draft of the third act--really it
should be possible to write to Janet Bond presently and assure her of a
production next autumn. John was feeling particularly optimistic. For
three days in succession the feet of the first act had been moving as
rhythmically and regularly toward the curtain as the feet of guardsmen
move along the Buckingham Palace Road. It was a fine frosty morning, and
even so early in the day John was tapping his second egg to the metrical
apostrophes of Uncle Laxart's speech offering to take his niece, Joan,
to interview Robert de Baudricourt. Suddenly he noticed that Laurence
had not yet put in his appearance. This was strange behavior for one who
still preserved from the habit of many early services an excited
punctuality for his breakfast, and lightly he asked Edith what had
become of her husband.

"He hopes to begin working again at his play this morning. Seeing you
working so hard makes him feel lazy." Edith laughed faintly and
fearfully, as if she would deprecate her own profanity in referring to
so gross a quality as laziness in connection with Laurence, and perhaps
for the first time in her life she proclaimed that her opinion was only
an echo of Laurence's own by adding, "_he_ says that it makes him feel
lazy. So he's going to begin at once."

John, whose mind kept reverting iambically and trochaically to the
curtain of his first act, merely replied, without any trace of awe, that
he was glad Laurence felt in the vein.

"But he hasn't decided yet," Edith continued, "which room he's going to
work in."

For the first time a puff of apprehension twitched the little straw that
might be going to break the camel's back.

"I'm afraid I can't offer him the library," John said quickly. "_And you
shall see the King of France to-day_," he went on composing in his head.
"No--_And you shall see King Charles_--no--_and you shall see the King
of France at once--no--and you shall see the King of France forthwith.
Sensation among the villagers standing round. Forthwith is weak at the
end of a line. I swear that you shall see the King of France.
Sensation._ Yes, that's it."

The top of John's egg was by this time so completely cracked by his
metronomic spoon that a good deal of the shell was driven down into the
egg: it did not matter, however, because appetite and inspiration were
both disposed of by the arrival of Laurence.

"I wish you could have managed to help me with some of these things," he
was muttering reproachfully to his wife.

The things consisted of six or seven books, a quantity of foolscap, an
inkpot dangerously brimming, a paper-knife made of olive wood from
Gethsemane, several pens and pencils, and a roll of blotting paper as
white as the snow upon the summit of Mont Blanc, and so fat that John
thought at first it was a tablecloth and wondered what his
brother-in-law meant to do with it. He was even chilled by a brief and
horrible suspicion that he was going to hold a communion service. Edith
rose hastily from the table to help her husband unload himself.

"I'm so sorry, dear, why didn't you ring?"

"My dear, how could I ring without letting my materials drop?" Laurence
asked, patiently.

"Or call?"

"My chin was too much occupied for calling. But it doesn't matter,
Edith. As you see, I've managed to bring everything down quite safely."

"I'm so sorry," Edith went on. "I'd no idea...."

"I told you that I was going to begin work this morning."

"Yes, how stupid of me ... I'm so sorry...."

"Going to work, are you?" interrupted John, who was anxious to stop
Edith's conjugal amenity. "That's capital."

"Yes, I'm really only waiting now to choose my room."

"I'm sorry I can't offer you mine ... but I must be alone. I find...."

"Of course," Laurence agreed with a nod of sympathetic knowingness. "Of
course, my dear fellow, I shouldn't dream of trespassing. I, though
indeed I've no right to compare myself with you, also like to work
alone. In fact I consider that a secure solitude provides the ideal
setting for dramatic composition. I have a habit--perhaps it comes from
preparing my sermons with my eye always upon the spoken rather than upon
the written word--I have a habit of declaiming many of my pages aloud to
myself. That necessitates my being alone--absolutely alone."

"Yes, you see," Edith said, "if you're alone you're not disturbed."

John who was still sensitive to Edith's truisms tried to cover her last
by incorporating Hilda in the conversation with a "What room do you
advise?"

"Why not the dining-room? I'll tell Emily to clear away the breakfast
things at once."

"Clear away?" Laurence repeated.

"And they won't be laying for lunch till a quarter-to-one."

"Laying for lunch?" Laurence gasped. "My dear Hilda! I don't wish to
attribute to my--ah--work an importance which perhaps as a hitherto
unacted playwright I have no right to attribute, but I think John at any
rate will appreciate my objection to working with--ah--the bread-knife
suspended over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles. No, I'm
afraid I must rule out the dining-room as a practicable environment."

"And Mama likes to sit in the drawing-room," said Hilda.

"In any case," Laurence said, indulgently, "I shouldn't feel at ease in
the drawing-room. So I shall not disturb Mama. I had thought of
suggesting that the children should be given another room in which to
play, but to tell the truth I'm tired of moving furniture about. The
fact is I miss my vicarage study: it was my own."

"Yes, nobody at the vicarage ever thought of interrupting him, you see,"
Edith explained.

"Well," said John, roused by the necessity of getting Joan started upon
her journey to interview Robert de Baudricourt, "there are several empty
bedrooms upstairs. One of them could be transformed into a study for
Laurence."

"That means more arranging of furniture," Laurence objected.

"Then there's the garret," said John. "You'd find your bureau up there."

Laurence smiled in order to show how well he understood that the
suggestion was only playfulness on John's side and how little he minded
the good-natured joke.

"There is one room which might be made--ah--conducive to good work,
though at present it is occupied by a quantity of apples; they, however,
could easily be moved."

"But I moved them in there from what is now your room," Hilda protested.

"It is good for apples to be frequently moved," said Laurence, kindly.
"In fact, the oftener they are moved, the better. And this holds good
equally for pippins, codlins, and russets. On the other hand it means I
shall lose half a day's work, because even if I _could_ make a temporary
beginning anywhere else, I should have to superintend the arrangement of
the furniture."

"But I thought you didn't want to have any more furniture arranging to
do," Hilda contested, acrimoniously. "There are two quite empty rooms at
the other end of the passage."

"Yes, but I like the room in which the apples are. John will appreciate
my desire for a sympathetic milieu."

"Come, come, we will move the apples," John promised, hurriedly.

Better that the apples should roll from room to room eternally than that
he should be driven into offering Laurence a corner of the library, for
he suspected that notwithstanding the disclaimer this was his
brother-in-law's real objective.

"It doesn't say anything about apples in the encyclopedia," muttered
Harold in an aggrieved voice. _"Apoplexy treatment of, Apothecaries
measure, Appetite loss of. This may be due to general debility,
irregularity in meals, overwork, want of exercise, constipation, and
many other...."_

"Goodness gracious me, whatever has the boy got hold of?" exclaimed his
grandmother.

"Grandmama, if you mix Lanoline with an equal quantity of Sulphur you
can cure Itch," Harold went on with his spectacles glued to the page.
"And, oh, Grandmama, you know you told me not to make a noise the other
day because your heart was weak. Well, you're suffering from
flatulence. The encyclopedia says that many people who are suffering
from flatulence think they have heart disease."

"Will no one stop the child?" Grandmama pleaded.

Laurence snatched away the book from his nephew and put it in his
pocket.

"That book is mine, I believe, Harold," he said, firmly, and not even
Hilda dared protest, so majestic was Laurence and so much fluttered was
poor Grandmama.

John seized the opportunity to make his escape; but when he was at last
seated before his table the feet of the first act limped pitiably;
Laurence had trodden with all his might upon their toes; his work that
morning was chiropody, not composition, and bungling chiropody at that.
After lunch Laurence was solemnly inducted to his new study, and he may
have been conscious of an ecclesiastical parallel in the manner of his
taking possession, for he made a grave joke about it.

"Let us hope that I shall not be driven out of my new living by being
too--ah--broad."

His wife did not realize that he was being droll and had drawn down her
lips to an expression of pained sympathy, when she saw the others all
laughing and Laurence smiling his acknowledgments; her desperate effort
to change the contours of her face before Laurence noticed her failure
to respond sensibly gave the impression that she had nearly swallowed a
loose tooth.

"Perhaps you'd like me to bring up your tea, dear, so that you won't be
disturbed?" she suggested.

"Ah, tea ..." murmured Laurence. "Let me see. It's now a quarter-past
two. Tea is at half-past four. I will come down for half an hour. That
will give me a clear two hours before dinner. If I allow a quarter of an
hour for arranging my table, that will give me four hours in all.
Perhaps considering my strenuous morning four hours will be enough for
the first day. I don't like the notion of working after dinner," he
added to John.

"No?" queried John, doubtfully. He had hoped that his brother-in-law
would feel inspired by the port: it was easy enough to avoid him in the
afternoon, especially since on the first occasion that he had been taken
for a drive in the new dogcart he had evidently been imbued with a
detestation of driving that would probably last for the remainder of his
life; in fact he was talking already of wanting to sell Primrose and the
vicarage chaise.

"Though of course on some evenings I may not be able to help it," added
Laurence. "I may _have_ to work."

"Of course you may," John assented, encouragingly. "I dare say there'll
be evenings when the mere idea of waiting even for coffee will make you
fidgety. You mustn't lose the mood, you know."

"No, of course, I appreciate that."

"There's nothing so easily lost as the creative gift, Balzac said."

"Did he?" Laurence murmured, anxiously. "But I promise you I shall let
nothing interfere with me _if_--" the conjunction fizzed from his mouth
like soda from a syphon, "_if_ I'm in the--ah--mood. The
mood--yes--ah--precisely." His brow began to lower; the mood was upon
him; and everybody stole quietly from the room. They had scarcely
reached the head of the stairs when the door opened again and Laurence
called after Edith: "I should prefer that whoever brings me news of tea
merely knocks without coming in. I shall assume that a knock upon my
door means tea. But I don't wish anybody to come in."

Laurence disappeared. He seemed under the influence of a strong mental
aphrodisiac and was evidently guaranteeing himself against being
discovered in an embarrassing situation with his Muse.

"This is very good for me," thought John. "It has taught me how easily a
man may make a confounded ass of himself without anybody's raising a
finger to warn him. I hope I didn't give that sort of impression to
those two women on board. I shall have to watch myself very carefully in
future."

At this moment Emily announced that Lawyer Deacle was waiting to see Mr.
Touchwood, which meant that the twenty-acre field was at last his. The
legal formalities were complete; that very afternoon John had the
pleasure of watching the fierce little Kerry cows munch the last grass
they would ever munch in his field. But it was nearly dusk when they
were driven home, and John lost five balls in celebrating his triumph
with a brassy.

Laurence appeared at tea in a velveteen coat, which probably provided
the topic for the longest whisper that even Frida had ever been known to
utter.

"Come, come, Frida," said her father. "You won't disturb us by saying
aloud what you want to say." He had leaned over majestically to
emphasize his rebuke and in doing so brushed with his sleeve Grandmama's
wrist.

"Goodness, it's a cat," the old lady cried, with a shudder. "I shall
have to go away from here, Johnnie, if you have a cat in the house. I'd
rather have mice all over me than one of those horrid cats. Ugh! the
nasty thing!"

She was not at all convinced of her mistake even when persuaded to
stroke her son-in-law's coat.

"I hope it's been properly shooed out. Harold, please look well under
all the chairs, there's a good boy."

During the next few days John felt that he was being in some indefinable
way ousted by Laurence from the spiritual mastery of his own house. John
was averse from according to his brother-in-law a greater forcefulness
of character than he could ascribe to himself; if he had to admit that
he really was being supplanted somehow, he preferred to search for the
explanation in the years of theocratic prestige that gave a background
to the all-pervasiveness of that sacerdotal personality. Yet ultimately
the impression of his own relegation to a secondary place remained
elusive and incommunicable. He could not for instance grumble that the
times of the meals were being altered nor complain that in the smallest
detail the domestic mechanism was being geared up or down to suit
Laurence; the whole sensation was essentially of a spiritual eviction,
and the nearest he could get to formulating his resentment (though
perhaps resentment was too definite a word for this vague uneasiness)
was his own gradually growing opinion that of all those at present under
the Ambles roof Laurence was the most important. This loss of importance
was bad for John's work, upon which it soon began to exert a
discouraging influence, because he became doubtful of his own position,
hypercritical of his talent, and timid about his social ability. He
began to meditate the long line of failures to dramatize the immortal
tale of Joan of Arc immortally, to see himself dangling at the end of
this long line of ineptitudes and to ask himself whether bearing in mind
the vastness of even our own solar system it was really worth while
writing at all. It could not be due to anything or anybody but Laurence,
this sense of his own futility; not even when a few years ago he had
reached the conclusion that as a realistic novelist he was a failure had
he been so profoundly conscious of his own insignificance in time and
space.

"I shall have to go away if I'm ever to get on with this play," he told
himself.

Yet still so indefinite was his sense of subordinacy at Ambles that he
accused his liver (an honest one that did not deserve the reproach) and
bent over his table again with all the determination he could muster.
The concrete fact was still missing; his capacity for self-deception was
still robust enough to persuade him that it was all a passing fancy, and
he might have gone plodding on at Ambles for the rest of the winter if
one morning about a week after Laurence had begun to write, the door of
his own library had not opened to the usurper, manuscript in hand.

"I don't like to interrupt you, my dear fellow.... I know you have your
own work to consider ... but I'm anxious for your opinion--in fact I
should like to read you my first act."

It was useless to resist: if it were not now, it would be later.

"With pleasure," said John. Then he made one effort. "Though I prefer
reading to myself."

"That would involve waiting for the typewriter. Yes, my screed
is--ah--difficult to make out. And I've indulged in a good many erasures
and insertions. No, I think you'd better let me read it to you."

John indicated a chair and looked out of the window longingly at the
birds, as patients in the hands of a dentist regard longingly the
sparrows in the dingy evergreens of the dentist's back garden.

"When we had our little talk the other day," Laurence began, "you will
remember that I spoke of a drama I had already written, of which the
disciple Thomas was the protagonist. This drama notwithstanding the
probably obstructive attitude of the Lord Chamberlain I have rewritten,
or rather I have rewritten the first act. I call the play--ah--_Thomas_."

"It sounds a little trivial for such a serious subject, don't you
think?" John suggested. "I mean, Thomas has come to be associated in so
many people's minds with footmen. Wouldn't _Saint Thomas_ be better, and
really rather more respectful? Many people still have a great feeling of
reverence for apostles."

"No, no, _Thomas_ it is: _Thomas_ it must remain. You have forgotten
perhaps that I told you he was the prototype of the man in the street.
It is the simplicity, the unpretentiousness of the title that for me
gives it a value. Well, to resume. _Thomas. A play in four acts. By
Laurence Armytage._ By the way, I'm going to spell my name with a y in
future. Poetic license. Ha-ha! I shall not advertise the change in the
_Times_. But I think it looks more literary with a y. _Act the First.
Scene the First. The shore of the Sea of Galilee._ I say nothing else. I
don't attempt to describe it. That is what I have learnt from
Shakespeare. This modern passion for description can only injure the
greatness of the theme. _Enter from the left the Virgin Mary._"

"Enter who?" asked John in amazement.

"The Virgin Mary. The mother ..."

"Yes, I know who she is, but ... well, I'm not a religious man,
Laurence, in fact I've not been to church since I was a boy ... but ...
no, no, you can't do that."

"Why not?"

"It will offend people."

"I want to offend people," Laurence intoned. "If thy eye offend thee,
pluck it out."

"Well, you did," said John. "You put in a _y_ instead."

"I'm not jesting, my dear fellow."

"Nor am I," said John. "What I want you to understand is that you can't
bring the Virgin Mary on the stage. Why, I'm even doubtful about Joan of
Arc's vision of the Archangel Michael. Some people may object, though
I'm counting on his being generally taken for St. George."

"I know that you are writing a play about Joan of Arc, but--and I hope
you'll not take unkindly what I'm going to say--but Joan of Arc can
never be more than a pretty piece of medievalism, whereas Thomas ..."

John gave up, and the next morning he told the household that he was
called back to London on business.

"Perhaps I shall have some peace here," he sighed, looking round at his
dignified Church Row library.

"Mrs. James called earlier this morning, sir, and said not to disturb
you, but she hoped you'd had a comfortable journey and left these
flowers, and Mrs. George has telephoned from the theater to say she'll
be here almost directly."

"Thank you, Mrs. Worfolk," John said. "Perhaps Mrs. George will be
taking lunch."

"Yes, sir, I expect she will," said his housekeeper.



CHAPTER V


Mrs. George Touchwood--or as she was known on the stage, Miss Eleanor
Cartright--was big-boned, handsome, and hawklike, with the hungry look
of the ambitious actress who is drawing near to forty--she was in fact
thirty-seven--and realizes that the disappointed adventuresses of what
are called strong plays are as near as she will ever get to the tragedy
queens of youthful aspiration. Such an one accustomed to flash her dark
eyes in defiance of a morally but not esthetically hostile gallery and
to have the whole of a stage for the display of what well-disposed
critics hailed as vitality and cavaliers condemned as lack of repose,
such an one in John's tranquil library was, as Mrs. Worfolk put it,
"rather too much of a good thing and no mistake"; and when Eleanor was
there, John experienced as much malaise as he would have experienced
from being shut up in a housemaid's closet with a large gramophone and
the housemaid. This claustrophobia, however, was the smallest strain
that his sister-in-law inflicted upon him; she affected his heart and
his conscience more acutely, because he could never meet her without a
sensation of guilt on account of his not yet having found a part for her
in any of his plays, to which was added the fear he always felt in her
presence that soon or late he should from sheer inability to hold out
longer award her the leading part in his play. George had often
seriously annoyed him by his unwillingness to help himself; but at the
thought of being married for thirteen years to Eleanor he had always
excused his brother's flaccid dependence.

"George is a bit of a sponge," James had once said, "but Eleanor!
Eleanor is the roughest and toughest loofah that was ever known. She is
irritant and absorbent at the same time, and by gad, she has the
appearance of a loofah."

The prospect of Eleanor's company at lunch on the morning after his
return to town gave John a sensation of having escaped the devil to fall
into the deep sea, of having jumped from the frying-pan into the fire,
in fact of illustrating every known proverbial attempt to express the
distinction without the difference.

"It's a great pity that Eleanor didn't marry Laurence," he thought.
"Each would have kept the other well under, and she could have played
Mary Magdalene in that insane play of his. And, by Jove, if they _had_
married, neither of them would have been a relation! Moreover, if
Laurence had been caught by Eleanor, Edith might never have married at
all and could have kept house for me. And if Edith hadn't married, Hilda
mightn't have married, and then Harold would never have been born."

John's hard pruning of his family-tree was interrupted by a sense of the
house's having been attacked by an angry mob--an illusion that he had
learnt to connect with his sister-in-law's arrival. To make sure,
however, he went out on the landing and called down to know if anything
was the matter.

"Mrs. George is having some trouble with the taxi-man, sir," explained
Maud, who was holding the front-door open and looking apprehensively at
the pictures that were clattering on the walls in the wind.

"Why does she take taxis?" John muttered, irritably. "She can't afford
them, and there's no excuse for such extravagance when the tube is so
handy."

At this moment Eleanor reached the door, on the threshold of which she
turned like Medea upon Jason to have the last word with the taxi-driver
before the curtain fell.

"Did Mr. Touchwood get my message?" she was asking.

"Yes, yes," John called down. "I'm expecting you to lunch."

When he watched Eleanor all befurred coming upstairs, he felt not much
less nervous than a hunter of big game face to face with his first
tiger; the landing seemed to wobble like a howdah; now he had fired and
missed, and she was embracing him as usual. How many times at how many
meetings with Eleanor had he tried unsuccessfully to dodge that
kiss--which always seemed improper whether because her lips were too
red, or too full, he could never decide, though he always felt when he
was released that he ought to beg her husband's pardon.

"You were an old beast not to come and see us when you got back from
America; but never mind, I'm awfully glad to see you, all the same."

"Thank you very much, Eleanor. Why are you glad?"

"Oh, you sarcastic old bear!"

This perpetual suggestion of his senility was another trick of Eleanor's
that he deplored; dash it, he was two years younger than George, whom
she called Georgieboy.

"No, seriously," Eleanor went on. "I was just going to wire and ask if I
could send the kiddies down to the country. Lambton wants me for a six
weeks' tour before Xmas, and I can't leave them with Georgie. You see,
if this piece catches on, it means a good shop for me in the new year."

"Yes, I quite understand your point of view," John said. "But what I
don't understand is why Bertram and Viola can't stay with their father."

"But George is ill. Surely you got my letter?"

"I didn't realize that the presence of his children might prove fatal.
However, send them down to Ambles by all means."

"Oh, but I'd much rather not after the way Hilda wrote to me, and now
that you've come back there's no need."

"I don't quite understand."

"Well, you won't mind having them here for a short visit? Then they can
go down to Ambles for the Christmas holidays."

"But the Christmas holidays won't begin for at least six weeks."

"I know."

"But you don't propose that Bertram and Viola should spend six weeks
here?"

"They'll be no bother, you old crosspatch. Bertram will be at school all
day, and I suppose that Maud or Elsa will always be available to take
Viola to her dancing-lessons. You remember the dancing-lessons you
arranged for?"

"I remember that I accepted the arrangement," said John.

"Well, she's getting on divinely, and it would be a shame to interrupt
them just now, especially as she's in the middle of a Spanish series.
Her _cachucha_ is ..." Eleanor could only blow a kiss to express what
Viola's _cachucha_ was. "But then, of course, I had a Spanish
grandmother."

When John regarded her barbaric personality he could have credited her
with being the granddaughter of a cannibal queen.

"So I thought that her governess could come here every morning just as
easily as to Earl's Court. In fact, it will be more convenient, or at
any rate, equally convenient for her, because she lives at Kilburn."

"I dare say it will be equally convenient for the governess," said John,
sardonically.

"And I thought," Eleanor continued, "that it would be a good opportunity
for Viola to have French lessons every afternoon. You won't want to have
her all the time with you, and the French governess can give the
children their tea. That will be good for Bertram's accent."

"I don't doubt that it will be superb for Bertram's accent, but I
absolutely decline to have a French governess bobbing in and out of my
house. It's bound to make trouble with the servants who always think
that French governesses are designing and licentious, and I don't want
to create a false impression."

"Well, aren't you an old prude? Who would ever think that you had any
sort of connection with the stage? By the way, you haven't told me if
there'll be anything for me in your next."

"Well, at present the subject of my next play is a secret ... and as for
the cast...."

John was so nearly on the verge of offering Eleanor the part of Mary of
Anjou, for which she would be as suitable as a giraffe, that in order to
effect an immediate diversion he asked her when the children were to
arrive.

"Let me see, to-day's Saturday. To-morrow I go down to Bristol, where we
open. They'd better come to-night, because to-morrow being Sunday
they'll have no lessons, which will give them time to settle down.
Georgie will be glad to know they're with you."

"I've no doubt he'll be enchanted," John agreed.

The bell sounded for lunch, and they went downstairs.

"I've got to be back at the theater by two," Eleanor announced, looking
at the horridly distorted watch upon her wrist. "I wonder if we mightn't
ask Maud to open half-a-bottle of champagne? I'm dreadfully tired."

John ordered a bottle to be opened; he felt rather tired himself.

"Let us be quite clear about this arrangement," he began, when after
three glasses of wine he felt less appalled by the prospect, and had
concluded that after all Bertram and Viola would not together be as bad
as Laurence with his play, not to mention Harold with his spectacles and
entomology, his interrogativeness and his greed. "The English governess
will arrive every morning for Viola. What is her name?"

"Miss Coldwell."

"Miss Coldwell then will be responsible for Viola all the morning. The
French governess is canceled, and I shall come to an arrangement with
Miss Coldwell by which she will add to her salary by undertaking all
responsibility for Viola until Viola is in bed. Bertram will go to
school, and I shall rely upon Miss Coldwell to keep an eye on his
behavior at home."

"And don't forget the dancing-lessons."

"No, I had Madame What's-her-name's account last week."

"I mean, don't forget to arrange for Viola to go."

"That pilgrimage will, I hope, form a part of what Miss Coldwell would
probably call 'extras.' And after all perhaps George will soon be fit."

"The poor old boy has been awfully seedy all the summer."

"What's he suffering from? Infantile paralysis?"

"It's all very well for you to joke about it, but you don't live in a
wretched boarding-house in Earl's Court. You mustn't let success spoil
you, John. It's so easy when everything comes your way to forget the
less fortunate people. Look at me. I'm thirty-four, you know."

"Are you really? I should never have thought it."

"I don't mind your laughing at me, you old crab. But I don't like you to
laugh at Georgie."

"I never do," John said. "I don't suppose that there's anybody alive who
takes George as seriously as I do."

Eleanor brushed away a tear and said she must get back to the rehearsal.

When she was gone John felt that he had been unkind, and he reproached
himself for letting Laurence make him cynical.

"The fact is," he told himself, "that ever since I heard Doris Hamilton
make that remark in the saloon of the _Murmania_, I've become suspicious
of my family. She began it, and then by ill luck I was thrown too much
with Laurence, who clinched it. Eleanor is right: I _am_ letting myself
be spoilt by success. After all, there's no reason why those two
children shouldn't come here. _They_ won't be writing plays about
apostles. I'll send George a box of cigars to show that I didn't mean to
sneer at him. And why didn't I offer to pay for Eleanor's taxi? Yes, I
am getting spoilt. I must watch myself. And I ought not to have joked
about Eleanor's age."

Luckily his sister-in-law had finished the champagne, for if John had
drunk another glass he might have offered her the part of the Maid
herself.

The actual arrival of Bertram and Viola passed off more successfully.
They were both presentable, and John was almost flattered when Mrs.
Worfolk commented on their likeness to him, remembering what a nightmare
it had always seemed when Hilda used to excavate points of resemblance
between him and Harold. Mrs. Worfolk herself was so much pleased to have
him back from Ambles that she was in the best of good humours, and even
the statuesque Maud flushed with life like some Galatea.

"I think Maud's a darling, don't you, Uncle John?" exclaimed Viola.

"We all appreciate Maud's--er--capabilities," John hemmed.

He felt that it was a silly answer, but inasmuch as Maud was present at
the time he could not, either for his sake or for hers give an
unconditional affirmative.

"I swopped four blood-allys for an Indian in the break," Bertram
announced.

"With an Indian, my boy, I suppose you mean."

"No, I don't. I mean for an Indian--an Indian marble. And I swopped four
Guatemalas for two Nicaraguas."

"You ought to be at the Foreign Office."

"But the ripping thing is, Uncle John, that two of the Guatemalas are
fudges."

"Such a doubtful coup would not debar you from a diplomatic career."

"And I say, what is the Foreign Office? We've got a French chap in my
class."

"You ask for an explanation of the Foreign Office. That, my boy, might
puzzle the omniscience of the Creator."

"I say, I don't twig very well what you're talking about."

"The attributes of the Foreign Office, my boy, are rigidity where there
should be suppleness, weakness where there should be firmness, and for
intelligence the substitution of hair brushed back from the forehead."

"I say, you're ragging me, aren't you? No, really, what is the Foreign
Office?"

"It is the ultimate preserve of a privileged imbecility."

Bertram surrendered, and John congratulated himself upon the possession
of a nephew whose perseverance and curiosity had been sapped by a
scholastic education.

"Harold would have tackled me word by word during one of our walks. I
shall enter into negotiations with Hilda at Christmas to provide for his
mental training on condition that I choose the school. Perhaps I shall
hear of a good one in the Shetland Islands."

When Mrs. Worfolk visited John as usual at ten o'clock to wish him
good-night, she was enthusiastic about Bertram and Viola.

"Well, really, sir, if yaul pardon the liberty, I must say I wouldn't
never of believed that Mrs. George's children _could_ be so quiet and
nice-behaved. They haven't given a bit of trouble, and I've never heard
Maud speak so highly of anyone as of Miss Viola. 'That child's a regular
little angel, Mrs. Worfolk,' she said to me. Well, sir, I'm bound to say
that children does brighten up a house. I'm sure I've done my best what
with putting flowers in all the vawses and one thing and another, but
really, well I'm quite taken with your little nephew and niece, and I've
had some experience of them, I mean to say, what with my poor sister's
Herbert and all. I _have_ put the tantalus ready. Good-night, sir."

"The fact of the matter is," John assured himself, "that when I'm alone
with them I can manage children perfectly. I only hope that Miss
Coldwell will fall in with my ideas. If she does, I see no reason why we
shouldn't spend an extremely pleasant time all together."

Unfortunately for John's hope of a satisfactory coalition with the
governess he received a hurried note by messenger from his sister-in-law
next morning to say that Miss Coldwell was laid up: the precise disease
was illegible in Eleanor's communication, but it was serious enough to
keep Miss Coldwell at home for three weeks. "_Meanwhile_," Eleanor
wrote, "_she is trying to get her sister to come down from_"--the abode
of the sister was equally illegible. "_But the most important thing
is," Eleanor went on, "that little V. shouldn't miss her
dancing-lessons. So will you arrange for Maud to take her every Tuesday
and Friday? And, of course, if there's anything you want to know,
there's always George._"

Of George's eternal being John had no doubts; of his knowledge he was
less sanguine: the only thing that George had ever known really well was
the moment to lead trumps.

"However," said John, in consultation with his housekeeper, "I dare say
we shall get along."

"Oh, certainly we shall, sir," Mrs. Worfolk confidently proclaimed,
"well, I mean to say, I've been married myself."

John bowed his appreciation of this fact.

"And though I never had the happiness to have any little toddlers of my
own, anyone being married gets used to the idea of having children.
There's always the chance, as you might say. It isn't like as if I was
an old maid, though, of course, my husband died in Jubilee year."

"Did he, Mrs. Worfolk, did he?"

"Yes, sir, he planed off his thumb when he was working on one of the
benches for the stands through him looking round at a black fellow in a
turban covered in jewelry who was driving to Buckingham Palace. One of
the new arrivals, it was; and his arm got blood poisoning. That's how I
remember it was Jubilee year, though usually I'm a terror for knowing
when anything did occur. He wouldn't of minded so much, he said, only he
was told it was the Char of Persia and that made him mad."

"Why? What had he got against the Shah?"

"He hadn't got nothing against the Char. But it wasn't the Char; and if
he'd of known it wasn't the Char he never wouldn't of turned round so
quick, and there's no saying he wouldn't of been alive to this day. No,
sir, don't you worry about this governess. I dare say if she'd of come
she'd only of caused a bit of unpleasantness all round."

At the same time, John thought, when he sent for the children in order
to make the announcement of Miss Coldwell's desertion, notwithstanding
Mrs. Worfolk's optimism it was a pity that the first day of their visit
should be a Sunday.

"I'm sorry to say, Viola, and, of course, Bertram, this applies equally
to you, that poor Miss Coldwell has been taken very ill."

That strange expression upon the children's faces might be an awkward
attempt to express their youthful sympathy, but it more ominously
resembled a kind of gloating ecstacy, as they stood like two cherubs
outside the gates of paradise, or two children outside a bunshop.

"Very ill," John went on, "so ill indeed that it is feared she will not
be able to come for a few days, and so...."

Whatever more John would have said was lost in the riotous acclamations
with which Bertram and Viola greeted the sad news. After the first cries
and leaps of joy had subsided to a chanted duet, which ran somehow like
this:

"Oh, oh, Miss Coldwell,

She can't come to Hampstead,

Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah,

Miss Coldwell's not coming:"

John ventured to rebuke the singers for their insensibility to human
suffering.

"For she may be dangerously ill," he protested.

"How _fizzing_," Bertram shouted.

"She might die."

The prospect that this opened before Bertram was apparently too
beautiful for any verbal utterance, and he remained open-mouthed in a
mute and exquisite anticipation of liberty.

"What and never come to us ever again?" Viola breathed, her blue eyes
aglow with visions of a larger life.

John shook his head, gravely.

"Oh, Uncle John," she cried, "wouldn't that be glorious?"

Bertram's heart was too full for words: he simply turned head over
heels.

"But you hard-hearted little beasts," their uncle expostulated.

"She's most frightfully strict," Viola explained.

"Yes, we shouldn't have been able to do anything decent if she'd come,"
Bertram added.

A poignant regret for that unknown governess suffering from her
illegible complaint pierced John's mind. But perhaps she would recover,
in which case she should spend her convalescence at Ambles with Harold;
for if when in good health she was strict, after a severe illness she
might be ferocious.

"Well, I'm not at all pleased with your attitude," John declared. "And
you'll find me twice as strict as Miss Coldwell."

"Oh, no, we shan't," said Bertram with a smile of jovial incredulity.

John let this contradiction pass: it seemed an imprudent subject for
debate. "And now, to-day being Sunday, you'd better get ready for
church."

"Oh, but we always dress up on Sunday," Viola said.

"So does everybody," John replied. "Go and get ready."

The children left the room, and he rang for Mrs. Worfolk.

"Master Bertram and Miss Viola will shortly be going to church, and I
want you to arrange for somebody to take them."

Mrs. Worfolk hesitated.

"Who was you thinking of, sir?"

"I wasn't thinking of anybody in particular, but I suppose Maud could
go."

"Maud has her rooms to do."

"Well, Elsa."

"Elsa has her dinner to get."

"Well, then, perhaps you would ..."

"Yaul pardon the liberty, sir, but I never go to church except of an
evening _some_times; I never could abide being stared at."

"Oh, very well," said John, fretfully, as Mrs. Worfolk retired. "Though
I'm hanged if _I'm_ going to take them," he added to himself, "at any
rate without a rehearsal."

The two children soon came back in a condition of complete preparation
and insisted so loudly upon their uncle's company that he yielded;
though when he found himself with a child on either side of him in the
sabbath calm of the Hampstead streets footfall-haunted, he was appalled
at his rashness. There was a church close to his own house, but with an
instinct to avoid anything like a domestic scandal he had told his
nephew and niece that it was not a suitable church for children, and had
led them further afield through the ghostly November sunlight.

"But look here," Bertram objected, "we can't go through any slums, you
know, because the cads will bung things at my topper."

"Not if you're with me," John argued. "I am wearing a top-hat myself."

"Well, they did when I went for a walk with Father once on Sunday."

"The slums round Earl's Court are probably much fiercer than the slums
round Hampstead," John suggested. "And anyway here we are."

He had caught a glimpse of an ecclesiastical building, which
unfortunately turned out to be a Jewish tabernacle and not open: a few
minutes later, however, an indubitably Anglican place of worship invited
their attendance, and John trying not to look as bewildered as he felt
let himself be conducted by a sidesman to the very front pew.

"I wonder if he thinks I'm a member of parliament. But I wish to
goodness he'd put us in the second row. I shall be absolutely lost where
I am."

John looked round to catch the sidesman's eye and plead for a less
conspicuous position, but even as he turned his head a terrific crash
from the organ proclaimed that it was too late and that the service had
begun.

By relying upon the memories of youthful worship John might have been
able to cope successfully with Morning Prayer, even with that florid
variation of it which is generally known as Mattins. Unluckily the
church he had chosen for the spiritual encouragement of his nephew and
niece was to the church of his recollections as Mount Everest to a
molehill. As a simple spectator without encumbrances he might have
enjoyed the service and derived considerable inspiration from it for the
decorative ecclesiasticism of his new play; as an uncle it alarmed and
confused him. The lace-hung acolytes, the candles, the chrysanthemums,
the purple vestments and the ticking of the thurible affected him
neither with Protestant disgust nor with Catholic devoutness, but much
more deeply as nothing but incentives to the unanswerable inquiries of
Bertram and Viola.

"What are they doing?" whispered his nephew.

"Hush!" he whispered back in what he tried to feel was the right
intonation of pious reproof.

"What's that little boy doing with a spoon?" whispered his niece.

"Hush!" John blew forth again. "Attend to the service."

"But it isn't a real service, is it?" she persisted.

Luckily the congregation knelt at this point, and John plunged down with
a delighted sense of taking cover. Presently he began to be afraid that
his attitude of devotional self-abasement might be seeming a little
ostentatious, and he peered cautiously round over the top of the pew; to
his dismay he perceived that Bertram and Viola were still standing up.

"Kneel down at once," he commanded in what he hoped would be an
authoritative whisper, but which was in the result an agonized croak.

"I want to see what they're doing," both children protested.

Bertram's Etons appeared too much attentuated for a sharp tug, nor did
John feel courageous enough in the front row to jerk Viola down upon her
knees by pulling her petticoats, which might come off. He therefore
covered his face with his hands in what was intended to look like a
spasm of acute reverence and growled at them both to kneel down, unless
they wanted to be sent back instantly to Earl's Court. Evidently
impressed by this threat the children knelt down; but they were no
sooner upon their knees than the perverse congregation rose to its feet,
the concerted movement taking John so completely unawares that he was
left below and felt when he did rise like a naughty boy who has been
discovered hiding under a table. He was not put at ease by Viola's
asking him to find her place in the prayer-book; it seemed to him
terrible to discern the signs of a vindictive spirit in one so young.

"Hush," he whispered. "You must remember that we're in the front row and
must be careful not to disturb the--" he hesitated at the word
"performers" and decided to envelop whatever they were in a cough.

There were no more questions for a while, nothing indeed but tiptoe
fidgetings until two acolytes advanced with lighted candles to a
position on each side of the deacon who was preparing to read the
gospel.

"Why can't he see to read?" Bertram asked. "It's not dark."

"Hush," John whispered. "This is the gospel"

He knew he was safe in affirming so much, because the announcement that
he was about to read the gospel had been audibly given out by the
deacon. At this point the congregation crossed its innumerable features
three times, and Bertram began to giggle; immediately afterward fumes
poured from the swung censer, and Viola began to choke. John felt that
it was impossible to interrupt what was presumably considered the _pièce
de resistance_ of the service by leading the two children out along the
whole length of the church; yet he was convinced that if he did not lead
them out their gigglings and snortings would have a disastrous effect
upon the soloist. Then he had a brilliant idea: Viola was obviously much
upset by the incense and he would escort her out into fresh air with
the solicitude that one gives to a sick person: Bertram he should leave
behind to giggle alone. He watched his nephew bending lower and lower to
contain his mirth; then with a quick propulsive gesture he hurried Viola
into the aisle. Unfortunately when with a sigh of relief he stood upon
the steps outside and put on his hat he found that in his confusion he
had brought out Bertram's hat, which on his intellectual head felt like
a precariously balanced inkpot; and though he longed to abandon Bertram
to his well merited fate he could not bring himself to walk up
Fitzjohn's Avenue in Bertram's hat, nor could he even contemplate with
equanimity the notion of Bertram's walking up under his. Had it been a
week-day either of them might have passed for an eccentric
advertisement, but on a Sunday....

"And if I stand on the steps of a church holding this minute hat in my
hand," he thought, "people will think I'm collecting for some charity.
Confound that boy! And I can't pretend that I'm feeling too hot in the
middle of November. Dash that boy! And I certainly can't wear it. A
Japanese juggler wouldn't be able to wear it. Damn that boy!"

Yet John would rather have gone home in a baby's bonnet than enter the
church again, and the best that could be hoped was that Bertram dismayed
at finding himself alone would soon emerge. Bertram, however, did not
emerge, and John had a sudden fear lest in his embarrassment he might
have escaped by another door and was even now rushing blindly home.
Blindly was the right adverb indeed, for he would certainly be unable to
see anything from under his uncle's hat. Viola, having recovered from
her choking fit, began to cry at this point, and an old lady who must
have noted with tender approval John's exit came out with a bottle of
smelling-salts, which she begged him to make use of. Before he could
decline she had gone back inside the church leaving him with the bottle.
If he could have forced the contents down Viola's throat without
attracting more attention he would have done so, but by this time one
or two passers-by had stopped to stare at the scene, and he heard one of
them tell his companion that it was a street conjurer just going to
perform.

"Will anything make you stop crying?" he asked his niece in despair.

"I want Bertram," she wailed.

And at that moment Bertram appeared, led out by two sidesmen.

"Your little boy doesn't know how to behave himself in church," one of
them informed John, severely.

"I was only looking for my hat," Bertram explained. "I thought it had
rolled into the next pew. Let go of my arm. I slipped off the hassock. I
couldn't help making a little noise, Uncle John."

John was grateful to Bertram for thus exonerating him publicly from the
responsibility of having begotten him, and he inquired almost kindly
what had happened.

"The hassock slipped, and I fell into the next pew."

"I'm sorry my nephew made a noise," said John to the sidesman. "My niece
was taken ill, and he was left behind by accident. Thank you for showing
him the way out, yes. Come along, Bertram, I've got your hat. Where's
mine?" Bertram looked blankly at his uncle.

"Do you mean to say--" John began, and then he saw a passing taxi to
which he shouted.

"Those smelling-salts belong to an old lady," he explained hurriedly and
quite inadequately to the bewildered sidesman into whose hands he had
thrust the bottle. "Come along," he urged the children, and when they
were scrambling into the taxi he called back to the sidesmen, "You can
give to the jumble sale any hat that is swept up after the service."

Inside the taxi John turned to the children.

"One would think you'd never been inside a church before," he said,
reproachfully.

"Bertram," said Viola, in bland oblivion of all that her uncle had
endured, "when we dress up to-day shall we act going to church, or
finish Robinson Crusoe?"

"Wait till we see what we can find for dressing up," Bertram advised.

John displayed a little anxiety.

"Dressing up?" he repeated.

"We always dress up every Sunday," the children burst forth in unison.

"Oh, I see--it's a kind of habit. Well, I dare say Mrs. Worfolk will be
able to find you an old duster or something."

"Duster," echoed Viola, scornfully. "That's not enough for dressing up."

"I didn't suggest a duster as anything but a supplement to your ordinary
costume. I didn't anticipate that you were going to rely entirely upon
the duster."

"I say, V, can you twig what Uncle John says?"

Viola shook her head.

"Nor more can I," said Bertram, sympathetically.

Before the taxi reached Church Row, John found himself adopting a
positively deferential manner towards his nephew and his niece, and when
they were once again back in the quiet house, the hall of which was
faintly savoury with the maturing lunch he asked them if they would mind
amusing themselves for an hour while he wrote some letters.

"For I take it you won't want to dress up immediately," he added as an
excuse for attending to his own business.

The children confirmed his supposition, but went on to inform him that
the domenical régime at Earl's Court prescribed a walk after church.

"Owing to the accident to my hat I'm afraid I must ask you to let me off
this morning."

"Right-o," Bertram agreed, cheerfully. "But I vote we come up and sit
with you while you write your letters. I think letters are a beastly
fag, don't you?"

John felt that the boy was proffering his own and his sister's company
in a spirit of altruism, and he could not muster enough gracelessness
to decline the proposal. So upstairs they all went.

"I think this is rather a ripping room, don't you, V?"

"The carpet's very old," said Viola.

"Have you got any decent books?" Bertram inquired, looking round at the
shelves. "Any Henty's, I mean, or anything?"

"No, I'm afraid I haven't," said John, apologetically.

"Or bound up Boys Own Papers?"

John shook his head.

"But I'll tell you what I have got," he added with a sudden inspiration.
"Kingsley's _Heroes_."

"Is that a pi book?" asked Bertram, suspiciously.

"Not at all. It's about Greek gods and goddesses, essentially
broad-minded divinities."

"Right-o. I'll have a squint at it, if you like," Bertram volunteered.
"Come on, V, don't start showing off your rotten dancing. Come and look
at this book. It's got some spiffing pictures."

"Lunch won't be very long," John announced in order to propitiate any
impatience at what they might consider the boring entertainment he was
offering.

Presently the two children left their uncle alone, and he observed with
pride that they took with them the book. He little thought that so mild
a dose of romance as could be extracted from Kingsley's _Heroes_ would
before the twilight of that November day run through 36 Church Row like
fire. But then John did not know that there was a calf's head for dinner
that night; he had not realized the scenic capacity of the cistern
cupboard at the top of the house; and most of all he had not associated
with dressing up on Sunday afternoon the histrionic force that Bertram
and Viola inherited from their mother.

"Is it Androméda or Andrómeda?" Bertram asked at lunch.

"Andrómeda, my boy," John answered. "Perseus and Andromeda."

"I think it would make a jolly good play, don't you?" Bertram went on.

Really, thought John, this nephew was a great improvement upon that
spectacled inquisitor at Ambles.

"A capital play," he agreed, heartily. "Are you thinking of writing it?"

"V and I thought we'd do it instead of finishing Robinson Crusoe. Well,
you see, you haven't got any decent fur rugs, and V's awfully stupid
about having her face blacked."

"It's my turn not to be a savage," Viola pleaded in defense of her
squeamishness.

"I said you could be Will Atkins as well. I know I'd jolly well like to
be Will Atkins myself."

"All right," Viola offered. "You can, and I'll be Robinson."

"You can't change like that in the middle of a play," her brother
argued.

John, who appreciated both Viola's dislike of burnt-cork and Bertram's
esthetic objection to changing parts in the middle of a piece, strongly
recommended Perseus and Andromeda.

"Of course, you got the idea from Kingsley? Bravo, Bertram," he said,
beaming with cordial patronage.

"And I suppose," his nephew went on, "that you'd rather we played at the
top of the house. I expect it would be quieter, if you're writing
letters. Mother said you often liked to be quiet." He alluded to this
desire rather shamefully, as if it were a secret vice of his uncle, who
hurriedly approved the choice of the top landing for the scene of the
classic drama.

"Then would you please tell Mrs. Worfolk that we can have the calf's
head?"

"The what?"

"V found a calf's head in the larder, and it would make a fizzing
Gorgon's head, but Mrs. Worfolk wouldn't let us have it."

John was so much delighted with the trend of Bertram's ingenuity that
he sent for Mrs. Worfolk and told her that the calf's head might be
borrowed for the play.

"I'll take no responsibility for your dinner," said his housekeeper,
warningly.

"That's all right, Mrs. Worfolk. If anything happens to the head I
shan't grumble. There'll always be the cold beef, won't there?"

Mrs. Worfolk turned up her eyes to heaven and left the room.

"Well, I think I've arranged that for you successfully."

"Thank you, Uncle John," said Bertram.

"Thank you, Uncle John," said Viola.

What nice quiet well-mannered children they were, after all; and he by
no means ought to blame them for the fiasco of the churchgoing; the
setting had of course been utterly unfamiliar; these ritualistic places
of worship were a mistake in an unexcitable country like England. John
retired to his library and lit a Corona with a sense that he thoroughly
deserved a good cigar.

"Children are not difficult," he said to himself, "if one tries to put
oneself in their place. That request for the calf's head undoubtedly
showed a rare combination of adaptiveness with for a schoolboy what was
almost a poetic fancy. Harold would have wanted to know how much the
head weighed, and whether in life it preferred to browse on buttercups
or daisies; but when finally it was cooked he would have eaten twice as
much as anybody else. I prefer Bertram's attitude; though naturally I
can appreciate a housekeeper's feelings. These cigars are in capital
condition. Really, Bertram's example is infectious, and by gad, I feel
quite like a couple of hours with Joan. Yes, it's a pity Laurence hasn't
got Bertram's dramatic sense. A great pity."

The sabbath afternoon wore on, and though John did not accumulate enough
energy to seat himself at his table, he dreamed a good deal of wonderful
situations in the fourth act, puffing away at his cigar and hearing from
time to time distant shouts and scamperings; these, however, did not
keep him from falling into a gentle doze, from which he was abruptly
wakened by the opening of the library door.

"Ah, is that tea?" he asked cheerfully in that tone with which the
roused sleeper always implies his uninterrupted attention to time and
space.

"No, sir, it's me," a grim voice replied. "And if you don't want us all
to be drowned where we stand, it being a Sunday afternoon, and not a
plumber to be got, and Maud in the hysterics, and those two young
Tartars screaming like Bedlamites, and your dinner ruined and done for,
and the feathers gone from Elsa's new hat, per-raps you could come
upstairs, Mr. Touchwood. Gordon's head indeed, and the boy as naked as a
stitch!"

John jumped to his feet and hurried out on the landing; at the same
moment Bertram with nothing to cover him except a pudding-shape on his
head, a tea-tray on his arm, a Turkish scimitar at his waist, and the
pinions of a blue and green bird tied round his ankles leapt six stairs
of the flight above and alighting at his uncle's feet, thrust the calf's
head into his face.

"You're turned to stone, Phineus," he yelled. "You can't move. You've
seen the Gorgon."

"There he goes again with his Gordon and his Gladstone," said Mrs.
Worfolk. "How dare you be so daring?"

"The Gorgon's sister," cried Bertram lunging at her with the scimitar.
"Beware, I am invisible."

Whereupon he enveloped the calf's head in a napkin, held the tea-tray
before his face, and darted away upstairs.

"I'm afraid he's a little over-excited," said John, doubtfully.

At this moment a stream of water began to flow past his feet and pour
down upon him from the landing above.

"Why, the house is full of water," he gasped.

"It's what I'm trying to tell you, sir," Mrs. Worfolk fumed. "He's done
something with that there cistern and burst it. I can't stop the
water."

John followed Perseus on his wild flight up the stairs down which every
moment water was flowing more freely. When he reached the cistern
cupboard he discovered Maud bound fast to the disordered cistern, while
Viola holding in her mouth a large ivory paper-knife and wearing what
looked like Mrs. Worfolk's sealskin jacket that John had given her last
Christmas was splashing at full length in a puddle on the floor and
clawing at Maud's skirts with ferocious growls and grunts.

"You dare try to undress me again, Master Bertram," the statuesque Maud
was screaming.

"Well, Andromeda's got practically nothing on in the book, and you said
you'd rather not be the sea-monster," Bertram was arguing. "Andromeda,"
he cried seeing by the manner of his uncle's advance that the curtain
must now be rung down upon the play, "I have turned the monster to
stone. Go on, V, you can't move from now on."

Viola stiffened and without a twitch let the stream of water pour down
upon her, while Bertram planting his foot in the small of her back waved
triumphantly the Gorgon's head, both of whose ears gave way under the
strain, so that John's dinner was soon as wet as he was.

The cistern emptied itself at last; Maud was released; Bertram and Viola
were led downstairs to be dried and on Mrs. Worfolk's recommendation
sent instantly to bed.

"I told you," said Bertram, "that if Miss Coldwell had come, we couldn't
have done anything decent."

What woman, John wondered, might serve as a comparable deterrent? The
fantastic idea of appealing for aid to Doris Hamilton flashed through
his mind, but on second thoughts he felt that there would be something
undignified in asking her to come at such a moment. Then he remembered
how often he had heard his sister-in-law Beatrice lament her
childlessness. Why should he not visit James and Beatrice this very
evening? He owed them a visit, and his domestics were all obviously too
much agitated even to contemplate the preparation of dinner. Mrs.
Worfolk would perhaps be in a better temper when he got back and he
would explain to her that the seal was a marine animal, the skin of
which would not be injured by water.

"I think I'll ask Mrs. James to give us a helping hand this week," John
suggested. "I shall be rather busy myself."

"Yes, sir, and so shall I, trying to get the house straight again which
it looks more like Shooting the Chutes at Earl's Court than a
gentleman's house, I'm bound to say."

"Still it might have been worse, Mrs. Worfolk. They might have played
with another element. Fire, for instance. That would have been much more
awkward."

"And it's thanks to me the house isn't on fire as well," Mrs. Worfolk
shrilled in her indignation. "For if that young Turk didn't come
charging down into the kitchen and trying to tell me that the
kitchen-fire was a serpent and start attacking it tooth and nail. And
there was poor Elsa shut up in the coal-cellar and hollering fit to
break anyone's heart. 'She's Daniel in a tower of brass,' he says as
bold as a tower of brass himself."

"And what were you, Mrs. Worfolk?" John asked.

"Oh, his lordship had the nerve to say I was an atlas. 'Yes,' I said,
'my lord, you let me catch hold of you and I'll make your behind look
like an atlas before I've done with it.'"

"Do you think that Mrs. James could control them?" John asked.

"I wouldn't say as the Lord Mayor himself could control them, but it's
not for me to give advice when good food can be turned into Gordon's
heads. And whatever give them the idea, I don't know, for I'm sure
General Gordon was a very handsome man to look at. Yaul excuse me, sir,
but if you don't want to catch your death, you'd better change your
things."

John followed Mrs. Worfolk's advice, and an hour later he was walking
through the misty November night in the direction of St. John's Wood.



CHAPTER VI


If a taxi had lurked in any of the melancholy streets through which John
was making his way to Hill Road he would have taken refuge in it
gratefully, for there was no atmosphere that preyed upon his mind with
such a sense of desolation as the hour of evening prayer in a
respectable Northern suburb. The occasional footsteps of uninspired
lovers dying away into by-streets; the occasional sounds of stuffy
worship proceeding from church or chapel; the occasional bark of a dog
trying to obtain admittance to an empty house; the occasional tread of a
morose policeman; the occasional hoot of a distant motor-horn; the
occasional whiff of privet-shrubberies and of damp rusty railings; the
occasional effusions of chlorotic gaslight upon the raw air, half fog,
half drizzle; the occasional shadows that quivered upon the dimly
luminous blinds of upper windows; the occasional mutterings of
housemaids in basements--not even John's buoyant spirit could rise above
such a weight of depressing adjuncts to the influential Sabbath gloom.
He began to accuse himself of having been too hasty in his treatment of
Bertram and Viola; the scene at Church Row viewed in retrospect seemed
to him cheerful and, if the water had not reached his Aubusson rug,
perfectly harmless. No doubt, in the boarding-house at Earl's Court such
behavior had been considered impossible. Had not the children talked of
finishing Robinson Crusoe and alluded to his own lack of suitable fur
rugs? Evidently last week the drama had been interrupted by the landlady
because they had been spoiling her fur rugs. John was on the point of
going back to Church Row and inviting the children to celebrate his
return in a jolly impromptu supper, when he remembered that there were
at least five more Sundays before Christmas. Next Sunday they would
probably decide to revive the Argonauts, a story that, so far as he
could recall the incidents, offered many opportunities for destructive
ingenuity. Then, the Sunday after, there would be Theseus and the
Minotaur; if there were another calf's head in the larder, Bertram might
easily try to compel Mrs. Worfolk to be the Minotaur and wear it, which
might mean Mrs. Worfolk's resignation from his service, a prospect that
could not be faced with equanimity. But would the presence of Beatrice
exercise an effective control upon this dressing up, and could he stand
Beatrice for six weeks at a stretch? He might, of course, engage her to
protect him and his property during the first few days, and after that
to come for every week end. Suppose he did invite Doris Hamilton, but,
of course, that was absurd--suppose he did invite Beatrice, would Doris
Hamilton--would Beatrice come? Could it possibly be held to be one of
the duties of a confidential secretary to assist her employer in
checking the exuberance of his juvenile relations? Would not Miss
Hamilton decide that her post approximated too nearly to that of a
governess? Obviously such a woman had never contemplated the notion of
becoming a governess. But had she ever contemplated the notion of
becoming a confidential secretary? No, no, the plan was fantastic,
unreal ... he must trust to Beatrice and hope that Miss Coldwell would
presently recover, or that Eleanor's tour would come to a sudden end, or
that George would have paid what he owed his landlady and feel better
able to withstand her criticism of his children. If all these hopes
proved unfounded, a schoolboy, like the rest of human nature, had his
price--his noiselessness could be bought in youth like his silence later
on. John was turning into Hill Road when he made this reflection; he was
within the area of James' cynical operations.

John's eldest brother was at forty-six an outwardly rather improved, an
inwardly much debased replica of their father. The old man had not
possessed a winning personality, but his energy and genuine powers of
accomplishment had made him a successful general practitioner, because
people overlooked his rudeness in the confidence he gave them and
forgave his lack of sympathy on account of his obvious devotion to their
welfare. He with his skeptical and curious mind, his passion for
mathematics and hatred of idealism, and his unaffected contempt for the
human race could not conceive a worse hell in eternity than a general
practice offered him in life; but having married a vain, beautiful, lazy
and conventional woman, he could not bring himself to spoil his honesty
by blaming for the foolish act anything more tangible than the scheme of
creation; and having made himself a damned uncomfortable bed with a
pretty quilt, as he used to say, he had decided that he must lie on it.
No doubt, many general practitioners go through life with the conviction
that they were intended to devote themselves to original research; but
Dr. Robert Touchwood from what those who were qualified to judge used to
say of him had reason to feel angry with his fate.

James, who as a boy had shown considerable talent, was chosen by his
father to inherit the practice. It was typical of the old gentleman that
he did not assume this succession as the right of the eldest son, but
that he deliberately awarded it to James as the most apparently adequate
of his offspring. Unfortunately James, who was dyspeptic even at school,
chose to imitate his father's mannerisms while he was still a student at
Guy's and helping at odd hours in the dispensary. Soon after he had
taken his finals and had seen his name engraved upon the brass plate
underneath his father's, old Dr. Touchwood fell ill of an incurable
disease and James found himself in full charge of the practice, which he
proceeded to ruin, so that not long after his father's death he was
compelled to sell it for a much smaller sum than it would have fetched a
few years before. For a time he played alternately with the plan of
setting up as a specialist in Harley Street or of burying himself in the
country to write a monograph on British dragon-flies--for some reason
these fierce and brilliant insects touched a responsive chord in James.
He finally decided upon the dragon-flies and went down to Ockham Common
in Surrey to search for _Sympetrum Fonscolombii_, a rare migrant that
was reported from that locality in 1892. He could not prove that it was
any more indigenous than himself to the sophisticated county, but in the
course of his observations he met Beatrice Pyrke, the daughter of a
prosperous inn-keeper in a neighboring town, and married her.
Notwithstanding such a catch--he used to vow that she was more
resplendent than even _Anax Imperator_--he continued to take an interest
in dragon-flies, until his monograph was unluckily forestalled a few
years later. It was owing to an article of his in one of the
entomological journals that he encountered Daniel Curtis--a meeting
which led to Hilda's marriage. In those days--John had not yet made a
financial success of literature--this result had seemed to the
embittered odonatist a complete justification of the many hours he had
wasted in preparing for his never-to-be written monograph, because his
sister's future had for some time been presenting a disagreeable and
insoluble problem. Besides observing dragon-flies, James spent one year
in making a clock out of fishbones, and another year in perfecting a
method of applying gold lacquer to poker-work.

A more important hobby, however, that finally displaced all the others
was foreign literature, in the criticism of which he frequently occupied
pages in the expensive reviews, pages that gradually grew numerous
enough to make first one book and then another. James' articles on
foreign literature were always signed; but he also wrote many criticisms
of English literature that were not signed. This hack-work exasperated
him so much that he gradually came to despising the whole of English
literature after the eighteenth century with the exception of the novels
of George Meredith. These he used to read aloud to his wife when he was
feeling particularly bilious and derive from her nervous bewilderment a
savage satisfaction. In her the critic possessed a perpetual incarnation
of the British public that he so deeply scorned, and he treated his
wife in the same way as he fancied he treated the larger entity: without
either of them he would have been intellectually at a loose end. For all
his admiration of French literature James spoke the language with a
hideous British accent. Once on a joint holiday John, who for the whole
of a channel-crossing had been listening to his brother's tirades
against the rottenness of modern English literature and his pæans on
behalf of modern French literature, had been much consoled when they
reached Calais to find that James could not make himself intelligible
even to a porter.

"But," as John had said with a chuckle, "perhaps Meredith couldn't have
made himself intelligible to an English porter."

"It's the porter's fault," James had replied, sourly.

For some years now the critic with his wife and a fawn-coloured bulldog
had lived in furnished apartments at 65 Hill Road, a creeper-matted
house of the early 'seventies which James characterized as quiet and
Beatrice as handy; in point of fact it was neither, being exposed to
barrel-organs and remote from busses. A good deal of the original
furniture still incommoded the rooms; but James had his own chair,
Beatrice had her own footstool, and Henri Beyle the bulldog his own
basket. The fire-place was crowned by an overmantel of six decorative
panels, all that was left of James' method of applying gold lacquer to
poker-work. There were also three or four family portraits, which John
for some reason coveted for his own library, and a drawer-cabinet of
faded and decrepit dragon-flies. Some bookshelves filled with yellow
French novels gave an exotic look to the drab room, which, whenever
James was not smoking his unusually foul pipes, smelt of gravy and malt
vinegar except near the window, where the predominant perfume was of
ferns and oilcloth. Between the living-room and the bedroom were
double-doors hidden by brown plush curtains, which if opened quickly
revealed nothing but a bleak expanse of bed and a gray window fringed
with ragged creepers. When a visitor entered this room to wash his
hands he used to look at James' fishbone clock under its bell-glass on a
high chest of drawers and shiver in the dampness; the fireplace was
covered by a large wardrobe, and one of Beatrice's hats was often on the
bed, the counterpane of which was stenciled with Beyle's paws. John, who
loathed this bedroom, always said he did not want to wash his hands,
when he took a meal at Hill Road.

The depression of his Sunday evening walk had made John less critical
than he usually was of James' rooms, and he heard the gate of the
front-garden swing back behind him with a sense of pleasurable
expectation.

"There will be cold mutton for supper," he said to himself, thinking
rather guiltily of the calf's head that he might have eaten and to
partake of which he had not invited his brother and Beatrice. "Cold
mutton and a very wet salad, with either tinned pears or tinned
pineapple to follow--or perhaps stewed figs."

When John entered, James was deep in his armchair with Beyle snoring on
his lap, where he served as a rest for the large book that his master
was reading.

"Hullo," the critic exclaimed without attempting to rise. "You are back
in town then?"

"Yes, I came back on Friday."

"I thought you wouldn't be able to stand the country for long. Remember
what Horry Walpole said about the country?"

"Yes," said John, quickly. He had not the least idea really, but he had
long ago ceased to have any scruples about preventing James first of all
from trying to remember a quotation, secondly from trying to find it,
thirdly from asking Beatrice where she had hidden the book in which it
was to be found, and finally from not only reading it when the book was
found, but also from reading page after page of irrelevant matter in the
context. "Though Ambles is really very jolly," he added. "I'm expecting
you and Beatrice to spend Christmas with me, you know."

James grunted.

"Well, we'll see about that. I don't belong to the Dickens Fellowship
and I shall be pretty busy. You popular authors soon forget what it
means to be busy. So you've had another success? Who was it this
time--Lucretia Borgia, eh?" he laughed, bitterly. "Good lord, it's
incredible, isn't it? But the English drama's in a sick state--a very
sick state."

"All contemporary art is in a sick state according to the critics," John
observed. "Critics are like doctors; they are not prejudiced in favor of
general good-health."

"Well, isn't it in a sick state?" James demanded, truculently.

"I don't know that I think it is. However, don't let's begin an argument
before supper. Where's Beatrice?"

"She bought a new hat yesterday and has gone to demonstrate its
becomingness to God and woman."

"I suppose you mean she's gone to church? I went to church myself this
morning."

"What for? Copy?"

"No, no, no. I took George's children."

"You don't mean to say that you've got _them_ with you?"

John nodded, and his brother exploded with an uproarious laugh.

"Well, I was fool enough to marry before I was thirty," he bellowed.
"But at any rate I wasn't fool enough to have any children. So you're
going to sup with us. I ought to warn you it's cold mutton to-night."

"Really? Capital! There's nothing I like better than cold mutton."

"Upon my soul, Johnnie, I'll say this for you. You may write stale
romantic plays about the past, but you manage to keep plenty of romantic
sauce for the present. Yes, you're a born optimist. Look at your
skin--pink as a baby's. Look at mine--yellow as a horse's tooth. Have
you heard my new name for your habit of mind? Rosification. Rather good,
eh? And you can rosify anything from Lucretia Borgia to cold mutton.
Now don't look angry with me, Johnnie; you must rosify my ill-humor.
With so many roses you can't expect not to have a few thorns as well,
and I'm one of them. No, seriously, I congratulate you on your success.
And I always try to remember that you write with your tongue in your
cheek."

"On the contrary I believe I write as well as I can," said John,
earnestly. "I admit that I gave up writing realistic novels, but that
was because they didn't suit my temperament."

"No, by gad, they didn't! And, anyway, no Englishman can write a
realistic novel--or any other kind of a novel if it comes to that. My
lord, the English novel!"

"Look here," John protested. "I do not want to argue about either plays
or novels to-night. But if you must talk about books, talk about your
own, not mine. Beatrice wrote to me that you had something coming along
about the French Symbolists. I shouldn't have thought that they would
have appealed to you."

"They don't. I hate them."

"Well, why write a book about them? Their day has been over a long
time."

"To smash them. To prove that they were a pretentious set of epileptic
humbugs."

"Sort of Max Nordau business?"

"Max Nordau! I hope you aren't going to compare me with that flat-footed
bus-conductor. No, no, Johnnie, the rascals took themselves seriously
and I'm going to smash them on their own estimate of their own
importance. I'm going to prove that they were on the wrong track and led
nowhere."

"It's consoling to learn that even French literature can go off the
lines sometimes."

"Of course it can, because it runs on lines. English literature on the
contrary never had any lines on which to run, though in the eighteenth
century it followed a fairly decent coaching-road. Modern English
literature, however, is like a rogue elephant trampling down the jungle
that its predecessors made some attempt to cultivate."

"I never knew that even moral elephants had taken up agriculture
seriously."

James blew all the ashes of his pipe over Beyle in a gust of contempt,
and rose from his chair.

"The smirk!" he cried. "The traditional British smirk! The gerumky-gerum
horse-laugh! British humor! Ha-ha! Begotten by Punch out of Mrs. Grundy
with the Spectator for godfather. '_Go to, you have made me mad._'"

"It's a pity you can't tell me about your new book without flying into a
rage," John said, mildly. "You haven't told me yet when it's to appear."

"My fourteen readers aren't languishing. But to repay politeness by
politeness, my book will come out in March."

"I'm looking forward to it," John declared. "Have you got good terms
from Worrall?"

"As good terms as a consumptive bankrupt might expect from Shylock. What
does the British public care for criticism? You should hear me reading
the proofs to Beatrice. You should really have the pleasure of watching
her face, and listening to her comments. Do you know why Beatrice goes
to church? I'll tell you. She goes to indulge in a debauch of the
accumulated yawns of the week."

"Hush, here she is," John warned him.

James laughed again.

"Johnnie, you're _impayable_. Your sensitiveness to Beatrice betrays the
fount of your success. You treat the British public with just the same
gentlemanly gurgle. And above all you're a good salesman. That's where
George failed when he tried whisky on commission."

"I don't believe you're half the misanthropist you make yourself out."

"Of course, I'm not. I love human nature. Didn't I marry Beatrice, and
didn't I spend a year in making a clock out of fishbones to amuse my
landlady's children, and wasn't I a doctor of medicine without once
using my knowledge of poisons? I love mankind--but dragon-flies were
more complex and dogs are more admirable. Well, Beatrice, did you enjoy
the sermon?"

His wife had come in and was greeting John broadly and effusively, for
when she was excited her loud contralto voice recaptured many rustic
inflections of her youth. She was a tall woman, gaudily handsome,
conserving in clothes and coiffure the fashions of her prime as queens
do and barmaids who become the wives of publicans. On Sundays she wore a
lilac broadcloth with a floriated bodice cut close to the figure; but
she was just as proud of her waist on weekdays and discreet about her
legs, which she wrapped up in a number of petticoats. She was as real or
as unreal as a cabinet-photograph of the last decade of the nineteenth
century: it depended on the attitude of the observer. Although there was
too much of her for the apartments, it could not be said that she
appeared out of place in them; in fact she was rather like a daughter of
the house who had come home for the holidays.

"Why, it's John," she expanded in a voice rich with welcome. "How are
you, little stranger?"

"Thank you very much for the flowers, Beatrice. They were much
appreciated."

"I wanted you to know that we were still in the land of the livin'.
You're goin' to stay to supper, of course? But you'll have to be content
with cold mutton, don't you know."

There was a tradition among novelists that well-bred people leave out
their final "g's"; so Beatrice saved on these consonants what she
squandered upon aspirates.

"And how do you think Jimmie's lookin'?" she went on. "I suppose he's
told you about his new book. Comin' out in March, don't you know. I feel
awfully up in French poitry since he read it out to me. Don't light
another pipe now, dear. The girl's gettin' the supper at once. I think
you're lookin' very well, Johnnie, I do indeed. Don't you think he's
lookin' very well, Jimmie? Has Bill Bailey been out for his run?" This
was Beatrice's affectionate diminutive for Henri Beyle, the dog.

"No, I won't bother about my hands," John put in hastily to forestall
Beatrice's next suggestion.

"We had such a dull sermon," she sighed.

Her husband grunted a request to spare them the details.

"Well, don't you know, it's a dull time for sermons now before
Christmas. But it didn't matter, as what I really wanted was a puff of
fresh air. Yes, I'd begun to think you'd forgotten all about us," she
rambled on, turning archly to John. "I know we must be dull company, but
all work and no play, don't you know ... yours is all plays and no work.
Jimmie, I made a joke," she laughed, twitching her husband's sleeve to
secure his attention. "Did you hear?"

"Yes, I heard," he growled.

"I thought it was rather good, didn't you, Johnnie?"

"Very good indeed," he assented, warmly. "Though I do work
occasionally."

"Oh, of course, you silly thing, I wasn't bein' serious. I told you it
was a joke. I know you must work a bit. Here comes the girl with supper.
You'll excuse me, Johnnie, while I go and titivate myself. I sha'n't be
a minute."

Beatrice retired to the bedroom whence she could be heard humming over
her beautification.

"You're not meditating marriage, are you?" James mocked.

The bachelor shook his head.

"At the same time," he protested, stoutly, "I don't think you're
entitled to sneer at Beatrice. Considering--" he was about to say
"everything," but feeling that this would include his brother too
pointedly he substituted, "the weather, she's wonderfully cheerful. And
you know I've always insisted that these rooms are cramped."

"Yes, well, when a popular success oils my palm, John, we'll move next
door to you in Church Row."

John wished that James would not always harp upon their respective
fortunes: it made him feel uncomfortable, especially when he was
sitting down to cold mutton. Besides, it was unfair; had he not once
advised James to abandon criticism and take up--he had been going to
suggest "anything except literature," but he had noticed James' angry
dismay and had substituted "creative work." What had been the result? An
outburst of contemptuous abuse, a violent renunciation of anything that
approximated to his own work. If James despised his romantic plays, why
could he not be consistent and despise equally the wealth they brought
him? He honored his brother's intellectual sincerity, why could not his
brother do as much for his?

"What beats me," James had once exclaimed, "is how a man like you who
professes to admire--no, I believe you're honest--who does admire
Stendhal, Turgenev, Flaubert and Merimée, who recognizes the perfection
of _Manon Lescaut_ and _Adolphe_, who in a word has taste, can bring
himself to eructate the _Fall of Babylon_."

"It's all a matter of knowing one's own limitations," John had replied.
"I tried to write realistic novels. But my temperament is not
realistic."

"No, if it were," James had murmured, "you wouldn't stand my affectation
of superiority."

It was this way James had of once in a very long while putting himself
in the wrong that used always to heal John's wounded generosity. But
these occasional lapses--as he supposed his cynical brother would call
them--were becoming less and less frequent, and John had no longer much
excuse for clinging to his romantic reverence for the unlucky head of
his family.

During the first half of supper Beatrice delivered a kind of lecture on
housekeeping in London on two pounds twelve shillings and sixpence a
week, including bones for the dog; by the time that the stewed figs were
put on the table this monologue had reduced both brothers to such a
state of gloom by striking at James' experience and John's imagination,
that the sourness of the cream came as a natural corollary; anything but
sour cream would have seemed an obtrusive reminder of housekeeping on
more than two pounds twelve shillings and sixpence a week, including
bones for the dog. John was convinced by his sister-in-law's mood that
she would enjoy a short rest from speculating upon the comparative
versatility of mutton and beef, and by James' reception of her remarks
that he would appreciate her housekeeping all the more after being
compelled to regard for a while the long procession of chops that his
landlady would inevitably marshal for him while his wife was away. The
moment seemed propitious to the unfolding of his plan.

"I want to ask you both a favor," he began. "No, no, Beatrice, I
disagree with you. I don't think the cream is really sour. I find it
delicious, but I daren't ever eat more than a few figs. The cream,
however, is particularly delicious. In fact I was on the point of
inquiring the name of your dairy."

"If we have cream on Sundays," Beatrice explained, "Jimmie has to put up
with custard-powder on Wednesdays. But if we don't have cream on
Sundays, I can spare enough eggs on Wednesdays for real custard."

"That's very ingenious of you," John declared. "But you didn't hear what
I was saying when I broke off in defense of the cream, _which_ is
delicious. I said that I wanted to ask a favor of you both."

"King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid," James chuckled. "Or were you going
to suggest to Beatrice that next time you have supper with us she should
experiment not only with fresh cream, but also with some rare dish like
nightingales' tongues--or even veal, for instance?"

"Now, Jimmie, you're always puttin' hits in at me about veal; but if I
get veal, it throws me out for the whole week."

John made another effort to wrench the conversation free from the topic
of food:

"No, no, James. I was going to ask you to let Beatrice come and give me
a hand with our nephew and our niece." He slightly accentuated the
pronoun of plural possession. "Of course, that is to say, if Beatrice
would be so kind."

"What do you want her to do? Beat them?" James asked.

"No, no, no, James. I'm not joking. As I explained to you, I've got
these two children--er--staying with me. It appears that George is too
overstrained, too ill, that is, to manage them during the few weeks that
Eleanor will be away on tour, and I thought that if Beatrice could be my
guest for a week or two until the governess has re-created her nervous
system, which I understand will take about a month, I should feel a
great weight off my mind. A bachelor household, you know, is not
primarily constructed to withstand an invasion by children. You'd find
them very difficult here, James, if you hadn't got Beatrice."

"Oh, Johnnie, I should love it," his sister-in-law cried. "That is if
Jimmie could spare me."

"Of course, I could. You'd better take her back with you to-night."

"No, really?" said John. "Why that would be splendid. I'm immensely
obliged to you both."

"He's quite anxious to get rid of me," Beatrice laughed, happily. "I
sha'n't be long packin'. Fancy lookin' after Eleanor's two youngsters.
I've often thought I _would_ rather like to see if I couldn't bring up
children."

"Now's your chance," John jovially offered.

"Jimmie didn't ever care much for youngsters," Beatrice explained.

Her husband laughed bitterly.

"Quite enough people hate me, as it is," he sneered, "without
deliberately creating a child of my own to add to the number."

"Oh, no, of course, dear, I know we're better off as we are," Beatrice
said with a soothing pat for her husband's round shoulders. "Only the
idea comes into my head now and again that I'd just like to see if I
couldn't manage them, that's all, dear. I'm not complaining."

"I don't want to hurry you away," James muttered. "But I've got some
work to do."

"We'd better send the servant out to look for a taxi at once," John
suggested. "It's Sunday night, you know."

Twenty minutes later, Beatrice looking quite fashionable now in her
excitement--so many years had it obliterated--was seated in the taxi;
John was half-way along the garden path on his way to join her, when his
brother called him back.

"Oh, by the way, Johnnie," he said in gruff embarrassment, "I've got an
article on Alfred de Vigny coming out soon in _The Nineteenth Century_.
It can't bring me in less than fifteen guineas, but it might not be
published for another three months. I can show you the editor's letter,
if you like. I wonder if you could advance me ten guineas? I'm a little
bothered just at the moment. There was a vet's bill for the dog and...."

"Of course, of course, my dear fellow. I'll send you a check to-night.
Thanks very much for--er--releasing Beatrice, I mean--helping me out of
a difficulty with Beatrice. Very good of you. Good-night. I'll send the
check at once."

"Don't cross it," said James.

On the way back to Hampstead in the dank murkiness of the cab, Beatrice
became confidential.

"Jimmie always hated me to pass remarks about havin' children, don't you
know, but it's my belief that he feels it as much as anyone. Look at the
fuss he makes of poor old Bill Bailey. And bein' the eldest son and
havin' the pictures of his grandfather and grandmother, I'm sure there
are times when he'd give a lot to explain to a youngster of his own who
they really were. It isn't so interestin' to explain to me, don't you
know, because they aren't my relations, except, of course, by marriage.
I always feel myself that Jimmie for an eldest son has been very
unlucky. Well, there's you, for instance. I don't mean to say he's
jealous, because he's not; but still I dare say he sometimes thinks that
he ought to be where you are, though, of course, that doesn't mean to
say that he'd like you to be where he is. But a person can't help
feelin' that there's no reason why you shouldn't both have been where
you are. The trouble with Jimmie was that he wasted a lot of time when
he was young, and sometimes, though I wouldn't say this to anybody but
you, sometimes I do wonder if he doesn't think he married too much in a
hurry. Then there were his dragon-flies. There they all are falling to
pieces from want of interest. I don't suppose anybody in England has
taken so much trouble as Jimmie over dragon-flies, but what is a
dragon-fly? They'll never be popular with the general public, because
though they don't sting, people think they do. And then that fellow--who
is it--it begins with an M--oh dear, my memory is something chronic!
Well, anyway, he wrote a book about bees, and it's tremendously popular.
Why? Because a bee is well-known. Certainly they sting too, but then
they have honey and people keep them. If people kept dragon-flies, it
would be different. No, my opinion is that for an eldest son Jimmie has
been very unlucky."

The next day Bertram disappeared to school at an hour of the morning
which John remembered did exist in his youth, but which he had for long
regarded as a portion of the great backward and abysm of time. Beatrice
tactfully removed his niece immediately after breakfast, not the auroral
breakfast of Bertram, but the comfortable meal of ten o'clock; and
except for a rehearsal of the _bolero_ in the room over the library John
was able to put in a morning of undisturbed diligence. Beatrice took
Viola for a walk in the afternoon, and when Bertram arrived back from
school about six o'clock she nearly spoilt her own dinner by the
assistance she gave him with his tea. John had a couple of quiet hours
with _Joan of Arc_ before dinner, when he was only once interrupted by
Beatrice's coming as her nephew's ambassador to ask what was the past
participle of some Latin verb, which cost him five minutes' search for a
dictionary. After dinner John played two sets of piquet with his
sister-in-law and having won both began to feel that there was a good
deal to be said for a woman's presence in the house.

But about eleven o'clock on the morning of the next day James arrived,
and not only James but Beyle the bulldog, who had, if one might judge by
his behavior, as profound a contempt as his master for John's library,
and a much more unpleasant way of showing it.

"I wish you'd leave your dog in the hall," John protested. "Look at him
now; he's upset the paper-basket. Get down off that chair! I say, do
look at him!"

Beyle was coursing round the room, steering himself with the kinked blob
that served him for a tail.

"He likes the soft carpet," his master explained. "He thinks it's
grass."

"What an idiotic dog," John scoffed. "And I suppose he thinks my
Aubusson is an herbaceous border. Drop it, you brute, will you. I say,
do put him downstairs. He's going to worry it in a minute, and all agree
that bulldogs can't be induced to let go of anything they've once fairly
gripped. Lie down, will you!"

James roared with laughter at his brother's disgust, but finally he
turned the dog out of the room, and John heard what he fancied was a
panic-stricken descent of the stairs by Maud or....

"I say, I hope he isn't chasing Mrs. Worfolk up and down the house," he
ejaculated as he hurried out on the landing. What ever Beyle had been
doing, he was at rest now and smiling up at John from the front-door
mat. "I hope it wasn't Mrs. Worfolk," he said, coming back. "She's in a
very delicate state just at present."

"What?" James shouted, incredulously.

"Oh, not in that way, my dear fellow, not in that way. But she's not
used to having so many visitors in the house."

"I'm going to take one of them away with me, if that'll be any
consolation to her," James announced.

"Not Beatrice?" his brother stammered.

James nodded grimly.

"It's all very fine for you with a mob of servants to look after you:
but I can't spare Beatrice any more easily than you could spare Mrs.
Worfolk. I've been confoundedly uncomfortable for nearly two days, and
my wife must come back."

"Oh, but look here," John protested. "She's been managing the children
magnificently. I've hardly known they were in the house. You can't take
Beatrice away."

"Sorry, Johnnie, but my existence is not so richly endowed with comforts
as yours. You'd better get a wife for yourself. You can afford one."

"But can't we arrive at a compromise?" John pleaded. "Why don't you come
and camp out with me, too?"

"Camp out, you hypocrite!" the critic jeered. "No, no, you can't bribe
me with your luxuries. Do you think that I could work with two children
careering all over the place? I dare say they don't disturb your plays.
I dare say you can't hear them above the clash of swords and the rolling
of thunder, but for critical work I want absolute quiet. Sorry, but I'm
afraid I must carry off Beatrice."

"Well, of course, if you must...." John murmured, despondently. And it
was very little consolation to think, while Viola practised the
_fandango_ in the library preparatory to dislocating the household by
removing Maud from her work to escort her to the dancing-class, that
Beatrice herself would have liked to stay.

"However," John sternly resolved, "the next time that James tries to
scoff at married life I shall tell him pretty plainly what I think of
his affectation."

He decided ultimately to keep the children at Church Row for a week, to
give them some kind of treat on Saturday, and on Saturday evening,
before dinner, to take them back to their father and insist upon his
being responsible for them. If by chance George proved to be really ill,
which he did not suppose for a moment that he would, he should take
matters firmly into his hands and export the children to Ambles until
their mother came home: Viola could practise every known variety of
Spanish dance over Laurence's head, or even in Laurence's room; and as
for Bertram he could corrupt Harold to his heart's content.

On the whole, the week passed off well. Although Viola had fallen like
Lucifer from being an angel in Maud's mind, she won back her esteem by
behaving like a human little girl when they went to the dancing-class
together and did not try to assume diabolic attributes in exchange for
the angelic position she had forfeited. John was allowed to gather that
Viola's chief claim to Maud's forgiveness was founded upon her
encouragement of the advances made to her escort by a handsome young
sergeant of the Line whom they had encountered in the tube.

"Miss Viola behaved herself like a little lady," Maud had informed John
when they came home.

"You enjoyed taking her?"

"Yes, indeed, sir, it's a pleasure to go about with anyone so lady-like.
Several very nice people turned round to admire her."

"Did they, Maud, did they?"

Later, when Viola's account of the afternoon reached him he wondered if
the sergeant was one of those nice people.

Mrs. Worfolk, too, was reconciled to Bertram by the profound respect he
accorded to her tales and by his appreciation of an album of family
photographs she brought out for him from the bottom of her trunk.

"The boy can be as quiet as a mouse," she assured John, "as long as he
isn't encouraged to make a hullabaloo."

"You think I encourage him, Mrs. Worfolk?"

"Well, sir, it's not my place to offer an opinion about managing
children, but giving them a calf's head is as good as telling them to
misbehave theirselves. It's asking for trouble. There he is now, doing
what he calls his home work with a little plate of toffee I made for
him--as good as gold. But what I do ask is where's the use in filling up
a child's head with Latin and Greece. Teach a child to be a heathen
goddess and a heathen goddess he'll be. Teach him the story of the
Infant Samuel and he'll behave like the Infant Samuel, though I must say
that one child who I told about God's voice, in the family to which I
was nursemaid, had a regular fit and woke up screaming in the middle of
the night that he could hear God routing about for him under the bed.
But then he was a child with very old-fashioned notions and took the
whole story for gospel, and his mother said after that no one wasn't to
read him nothing except stories about animals."

"What happened to him when he grew up?" John asked.

"Well, sir, I lost sight of the whole family, but I dare say he became a
clergyman, for he never lost this habit of thinking God was dodging him
all the time. It was God here, and God there, till I fairly got the
jumps myself and might have taken up with the Wesleans if I hadn't gone
as third housemaid to a family where the master kept race-horses which
gave me something else to think about, and I never had anything more to
do with children until my poor sister's Herbert."

"That must have been a great change, Mrs. Worfolk."

"Yes, sir, so it was; but life's only one long changing about, though
they do say there's nothing new under the sun. But good gracious me,
fellows who make up mottoes always exaggerate a bit: they've got to, so
as to keep up with one another."

When Friday evening arrived John nearly emphasized Mrs. Worfolk's
agreement with Heraclitus by keeping the children at Church Row. But by
the last post there came a letter from Janet Bond to beg an earlier
production of _Joan of Arc_ if it was by any means possible, and John
looking at the infinitesimal amount he had written during the week
resolved that he must stick to his intention of taking the children back
to their father on the following day.

"What would you like to do to-morrow?" he inquired. "I happen to have a
free afternoon, and--er--I'm afraid your father wants you back in Earl's
Court, so it will be your last opportunity of enjoying yourselves for
some time--I mean of our enjoying ourselves for some time, in fact,
until we all meet at Ambles for Christmas."

"Oh, I say," Bertram protested. "Have we got to go back to rotten old
Earl's Court? What a sell!"

"I thought we were going to live here always," Viola exclaimed.

"But don't you want to go back to your father?" John demanded in what he
hoped was a voice brimming with reproaches for their lack of filial
piety, but which he could not help feeling was bubbling over with
something very near elation.

"Oh, no," both children affirmed, "we like being with you much best."

John's gratification was suddenly darkened by the suspicion that perhaps
Eleanor had told them to flatter him like this; he turned swiftly aside
to hide the chagrin that such a thought gave him, and when he spoke
again it was almost roughly, because in addition to being suspicious of
their sincerity he was vexed with himself for displaying a spirit of
competitive affection. It occurred to him that it was jealousy rather
than love which made the world go round--a dangerous reflection for a
romantic playwright.

"I'm afraid it can't be helped," he said. "To-morrow is definitely our
last day. So choose your own method of celebrating it without dressing
up."

"Oh, we only dress up on Sundays," Viola said, loftily.

"I vote we go to the Zoo," Bertram opinionated after a weighty pause.

Had his nephew Harold suggested a visit to the Zoo, John would have
shunned the proposal with horror; but with Bertram and Viola the
prospect of such an expedition was positively enticing.

"I must beware of favoritism," John warned himself. "Yes, and I must
beware of being blarneyed." Then aloud he added:

"Very well, we will visit the Zoo immediately after lunch to-morrow."

"Oh, but we must go in the morning," Bertram cried. "There won't be
nearly time to see everything in the afternoon."

"What about our food?"

"We can eat there."

"But, my dear boy," John said. "You are confusing us with the lions. I
much doubt if a human being _can_ eat at the Zoo, unless he has a
passion for peanuts and stale buns, which I have not."

"I swear you can," Bertram maintained. "Anyhow, I know you can get ices
there in the summer."

"We'll risk it," John declared, adventurously; and the children echoed
his enthusiasm with joy.

"We must see the toucans this time," Bertram announced in a grave voice,
"and last time we missed the zebu."

"I shouldn't have thought that possible," John demurred, "with all those
stripes."

"Not the zebra," Bertram severely corrected him. "The zebu."

"Never heard of the beast," John said.

"I say, V," Bertram exclaimed, incredulously. "He's never heard of the
zebu."

Viola was too much shocked by her uncle's ignorance to do more than
smile sadly.

"We'll show it you to-morrow," Bertram promised.

"Thanks very much. I shall enjoy meeting the zebu," John admitted,
humbly. "And any other friends of yours in the animal world whose names
begin with Z."

"And we also missed the ichneumon," Viola reminded her brother.

"Your last visit seems to have been full of broken appointments. It's
just as well you're going again to-morrow. You'll be able to explain
that it wasn't your fault."

"No, it wasn't," said Bertram, bitterly. "It was Miss Coldwell's."

"Yes," said Viola. "She simply tore past everything. And when Bertram
gave the chimpanzee a brown marble instead of a nut and he nearly broke
one of his teeth, she said it was cruel."

"Yes, fancy thinking _that_ was cruel," Bertram scoffed. "He was in an
awful wax, though; he bunged it back at me like anything. But I swopped
the marble on Monday with Higginbotham Minor for two green commonys: at
least I said it was the marble; only really I dropped it while we were
waiting for the bus."

"You're a kind of juvenile Lord Elgin," John declared.

"What did he do?"

"He did the Greek nation over marbles, just as you did the chimpanzee
and Higginbotham Minor."

Next morning John made arrangements to send the children's luggage to
Earl's Court so that he should be able when the Zoological Gardens were
closed to take them directly home and not be tempted to swerve from his
determination: then under the nearest approach to a blue sky that London
can produce in November they set out for Regent's Park.

John with his nephew and niece for guides spent a pleasant if exhausting
day. Remembering the criticism leveled against Miss Coldwell's rapidity
of transit, he loitered earnestly by every cage, although he had really
had no previous conception of how many animals the Zoo included and
began to dread a long list of uninvited occupants at the day's end. He
had a charming triumph in the discovery of two more animals beginning
with Z, to wit, the zibet and the zoril, which was the sweeter for the
fact that they were both new beasts to the children. There was an
argument with the keeper of the snake's house, because Bertram nearly
blinded a lethargic alligator with his sister's umbrella, and another
with the keeper of the giraffes, because in despite of an earnest plea
not to feed them, Viola succeeded in tempting one to sniff moistly a
piece of raspberry noyau. If some animals were inevitably missed, there
were several welcome surprises such as seeing much more of the
hippopotamus than the tips of his nostrils floating like two bits of
mud on the surface of the water; others included the alleged visibility
of a beaver's tail, a conjugal scene between the polar-bears, a truly
demoniac exhibition of rage by the Tasmanian-devil, some wonderful
gymnastics by a baby snow-leopard, a successful attempt to touch a
kangaroo's nose, an indisputable wriggle of vitality from the anaconda,
and the sudden scratching of its ear by a somnolent fruit-eating bat.

About ten minutes before the Gardens closed John, who was tired out and
had somehow got his cigar-case full of peanuts, declared it was time to
go home.

"Oh, but we must just have a squint at the Small Cats' House," Bertram
cried, and Viola clasped her hands in apprehension at the bare idea of
not doing so.

"All right," John agreed. "I'll wait for you three minutes, and then I'm
going slowly along towards the exit."

The three minutes passed, and since the children still lingered he
walked on as he had promised. When they did not catch him up as soon as
he expected, he waited for a while and then with an exclamation of
annoyance turned back.

"What on earth can they find to enjoy in this awful smell?" he wondered,
when he entered the Small Cats' House to drag them out. The house was
empty except for a bored keeper thinking of his tea.

"Have you seen two children?" John asked, anxiously.

"No, sir, this is the Small Cats' House," replied the keeper.

"Children," repeated John, irritably.

"No, sir. Or, yes, I believe there _was_ a little boy and a little girl
in here, but they've been gone some minutes now. It's closing time," he
added, significantly.

John rushed miserably along deserted paths through the dusk, looking
everywhere for Bertram and Viola without success.

"All out," was being shouted from every direction.

"Two children," he panted to a keeper by the exit.

"All out"

"But two children are lost in the Gardens."

"Closing time, sir. They must have gone out by another gate."

He herded John through the turnstile into the street as he would have
herded a recalcitrant gnu into its inclosure.

"But this is terrible," John lamented. "This is appalling. I've lost
George's children."

He hailed a taxi, drove to the nearest police-station, left their
descriptions, and directed the driver to Halma House, Earl's Court
Square.



CHAPTER VII


John came to the conclusion while he was driving to Earl's Court that
the distinctive anxiety in losing two children was to be sought for in
an acute consciousness of their mobility. He had often enough lost such
articles as sovereigns, and matchboxes, and income-tax demands; but in
the disappearance of these he had always been consoled by the knowledge
that they were stationary in some place or another at any given moment,
and that somebody or another must find them at some time or another,
with profit or disappointment to himself. But Bertram and Viola might be
anywhere; if at this moment they were somewhere, before the taxi had
turned the next corner they might be somewhere else. The only kind of
loss comparable to this was the loss of a train, in which case also the
victim was dismayed by the thought of its mobility. Moreover, was it
logically possible to find two children, any more than it was possible
to find a lost train? They could be caught like a train by somebody
else; but except among gipsies, who were practically extinct, the sport
of catching children was nowadays unknown. The classic instance of two
lost children--and by the way an uncle came into that--was _The Babes in
the Wood_, in which story they were neither caught nor found, though
certainly their bodies were found owing to the eccentric behavior of
some birds in the vicinity. It would be distressing to read in the paper
to-morrow of two children's having been found under a drift of
paper-bags in the bear-pit at the Zoo, hugged to death not by each
other, but by the bears. Or they might have hidden themselves in the
Reptile House--Bertram had displayed a dreadful curiosity about the
effect of standing upon one of the alligators--and their fate might
remain for ever a matter of conjecture. Yet even supposing that they
were not at this moment regarding with amazed absorption--absorption was
too ominous a word--with amazed interest the nocturnal gambols of the
great cats, were they on that account to be considered safe? If it was a
question of being crunched up, it made little difference whether one was
crunched up by the wheels of an omnibus or by the jaws of a panther. To
be sure, Bertram was accustomed to go to school by tube every morning,
and obviously he must know by this time how to ask the way to any given
spot....

The driver of the taxi was taking no risks with the traffic, and John's
tightly strung nerves were relaxed; he began to perceive that he was
agitating himself foolishly. The wide smoothness of Cromwell Road was
all that was needed to persuade him that the shock had deprived him for
a short time of common sense. How absurd he had been! Of course the
children would be all right; but he should take good care to administer
no less sharp a shock to George than he had experienced himself. He did
not approve of George's attitude, and if the temporary loss of Bertram
and Viola could rouse him to a sense of his paternal responsibilities,
this disturbing climax of a jolly day would not have been led up to in
vain. No, George's moral, mental, and physical laziness must no longer
be encouraged.

"I shall make the whole business out to be as bad as possible," he
decided. "Though, now that I have had time to think the situation out, I
realize that there is really not the least likelihood of anything's
serious having happened to them."

For James even when he was most exasperating John always felt an
involuntary deference that stood quite apart from the sentimental regard
which he always tried to owe him as head of the family; for his second
brother George he had nothing but contempt. James might be wrongheaded;
but George was fatheaded. James kept something of their father's fallen
day about him; George was a kind of gross caricature of his own self.
Every feature in this brother's face reproduced the corresponding
feature in his own with such compelling suggestiveness of a potentially
similar degeneration that John could never escape from the reproach of
George's insistent kinship. Many times he had been seized by a strong
impulse to cut George ruthlessly out of his life; but as soon as he
perceived that gibbous development of his own aquiline nose, that
reduplication of his own rounded chin, that bull-like thickening of his
own sanguine neck, and that saurian accentuation of the eloquent pouches
beneath his own eyes, John surrendered to the claims of fraternity and
lent George as much as he required at the moment. If Daniel Curtis's
desire to marry Hilda had always puzzled him, Eleanor's willingness to
be tied for life to George was even more incomprehensible. Still, it was
lucky that she had been taken with such a whim, because she was all that
stood between George and absolute dependence upon his family, in other
words upon his younger brother. Whatever Eleanor's faults, however
aggressive her personality, John recognized that she was a hard worker
and that the incubus of a husband like George (to whom she seemed
curiously and inexplicably devoted) entitled her to a great deal of
indulgence.

It was strange to look back now to the time when he and George were both
in the city, himself in dog-biscuits and George in wool, and to remember
that except their father everybody in the family had foretold a
prosperous commercial career for George. Beyond his skill at Solo Whist
and a combination of luck with judgment in betting through July and
August on weight for age selling-plates and avoiding the big autumn
handicaps, John could not recall that George had ever shown a glimmer of
financial intelligence. Once or twice when he had visited his brother in
the wool-warehouse he had watched an interview between George and a bale
of wool, and he had often chuckled at the reflection that the
protagonists were well matched--there had always been something woolly
about George in mind and body; and when one day he rolled stolidly forth
from the warehouse for the last time in order to enter into partnership
with a deluded friend to act as the British agents for a society of
colonial housewives, John felt that the deluded friend would have been
equally well served by a bale of wool. When George and his deluded
friend had tried the patience of the colonial housewives for a year by
never once succeeding in procuring for them what they required, the
partnership was dissolved, and George processed from undertaking to
undertaking till he became the business manager of a theatrical touring
company. Although as a business manager he reached the nadir of his
incompetence he emerged from the post with Eleanor for wife, which
perhaps gave rise to a family legend that George had never been so
successful as when he was a business manager. This legend he never
dispelled by a second exhibition of himself in the part, although he
often spoke regretfully of the long Sundays in the train, playing nap
for penny points. After he married Eleanor he was commission-agent for a
variety of gentlemanly commodities like whisky and cigars; but he drank
and smoked much more than he sold, and when bridge was introduced and
popularized, having decided that it was the best investment for his
share of Eleanor's salary, he abandoned everything else. Moreover,
John's increasing prosperity gave his play a fine stability and
confidence; he used to feel that his wife's current account merely
lapped the base of a solid cliff of capital. A bad week at Bridge came
to be known as another financial disappointment; but he used to say
cheerfully when he signed the I.O.U. that one must not expect everybody
in the family to be always lucky, and that it was dear old John's turn
this week. John himself sometimes became quite giddy in watching the
swift revolutions of the wheel of fortune as spun by George. The effect
of sitting up late at cards usually made George wake with a headache,
which he called "feeling overworked"; he was at his best in the dusky
hours before dinner, in fact just at the time when John was on his way
to explode in his ear the news of the children's disappearance; it was
then that among the attenuated spinsters of Halma House his grossness
seemed nothing more than a ruddy well-being and that his utter
indifference to any kind of responsibility acquired the characteristics
of a ripe geniality.

Halma House, Earl's Court Square, was a very large boarding-house, so
large that Miss Moxley, the most attenuated spinster who lived in it,
once declared that it was more like a residential hotel than a
boarding-house, a theory that was eagerly supported by all the other
attenuated spinsters who clung to its overstuffed furniture or like
dusty cobwebs floated about its garish saloons. Halma House was indeed
two houses squeezed or knocked (or whatever other uncomfortable verb can
be found to express the welding) into one. Above the front-door of
number 198 were the large gilt letters that composed HALMA: above the
front-door of what was once number 200 the equally large gilt letters
that made up HOUSE. The division between the front-door steps had been
removed so as to give an almost Medician grandeur to the entrance, at
the top of which beneath a folded awning a curved garden-seat against
the disused door of number 20 suggested that it was the resort for the
intimate gayety of the boarders at the close of a fine summer day; as
Miss Moxley used to vow, it was really quite an oasis, with the
plane-trees of the square for contemplation not to mention the noising
of the sparrows and the distant tinkling of milk-cans, quite an oasis in
dingy old London. But then Miss Moxley had the early symptoms of
exophthalmus, a malady that often accompanies the poetic temperament;
Miss Moxley, fluttering out for five minutes' fresh air before dinner on
a gentle eve in early June, was capable of idealizing to the semblance
of a careless pastoral group the spectacle of a half-pay major, a portly
widow or two up from the country, and George Touchwood, all brushing the
smuts from their noses while they gossiped together on that seat: this
was by no means too much for her exophthalmic vision.

John's arrival at Halma House in raw November was not greeted by such
evidence of communal felicity; on the contrary, when he walked up the
steps, the garden-seat looked most defiantly uninviting; nor did the
entrance hall with its writhing gilt furniture symbolize anything more
romantic than the competitive pretentiousness of life in a
boarding-house that was almost a residential hotel. A blond waiter whose
hair would have been dishevelled but for the uses of perspiration
informed him that Mr. Tooshvood was in his sitting-room, and led him to
a door at the end of the hall opposite another door that gave descent to
the dungeons of supply, the inmates of which seemed to spend their time
in throwing dishes at one another.

The possession of this sitting-room was the outstanding advantage that
George always claimed for Halma House, whenever it was suggested that he
should change his quarters: Adam discoursing to his youngest descendant
upon the glories of Eden could hardly have outbragged George on the
subject of that sitting-room. John on the other hand disliked it and
took pleasure in pointing out the impossibility of knowing whether it
was a conservatory half transformed into a box-room or a box-room nearly
turned into a conservatory. He used to call it George's amphibious
apartment, with justice indeed, for Bertram and Viola with true
appreciation had once selected it as the appropriate setting in which to
reproduce Jules Verne's _Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea_. The
wallpaper of dark blue flock was smeared with the glistening pattern as
of seaweed upon rocks at low tide; the window was of ground-glass tinted
to the hue of water in a swimming-bath on Saturday afternoon, and was
surrounded by an elaborate arrangement of cork that masked a number of
flower pots filled with unexacting plants; while as if the atmosphere
was not already sufficiently aqueous, a stage of disheartened
aspidistras cast a deep-sea twilight upon the recesses of the room, in
the middle of which was a jagged table of particolored marble, and upon
the walls of which were hung cases of stuffed fish. Mrs. Easton, the
proprietress of Halma House, only lent the room to George as a favor: it
was not really his own, and while he lay in bed of a morning she used
to quarrel there with all the servants in turn. Moreover, any of the
boarders who had bicycles stabled them in this advantageous apartment,
the fireplace of which smoked. Nevertheless, George liked it and used to
knit there for an hour after lunch, sitting in an armchair that smelt
like the cushions of a third-class smoker and looking with his knitting
needles and opaque eyes like a large lobster preening his antennæ in the
corner of a tank.

When John visited him now, he was reading an evening paper by the light
of a rugged mantle of incandescent gas and calculating how much he would
have won if he had backed the second favorite for every steeplechase of
the day.

"Hullo, is that you, John?" he inquired with a yawn, and one hand swam
vaguely in his brother's direction while the other kept its fingers
spread out upon the second favorites like a stranded starfish.

"Yes, I'm afraid I've got very bad news for you, George."

George's opaque eyes rolled slowly away from the races and fixed his
brother's in dull interrogation.

"Bertram and Viola are lost," John proclaimed.

"Oh, that's all right," George sighed with relief. "I thought you were
serious for a minute. Crested Grebe at 4 to 1--yes, my theory that you
ought to back second favorites works out right for the ninth time in
succession. I should have been six pounds up to-day, betting with level
sovereigns. Tut-tut-tut!"

John felt that his announcement had not made quite the splash it ought
to have made in George's deep and stagnant pool.

"I don't think you heard what I said," he repeated. "Bertram and
Viola--_your_ children--are definitely lost."

"I don't expect they are really," said George, soothingly. "No, no, not
really. The trouble is that not one single bookie will take on this
second-favorite system. Ha-ha--they daren't, the cowards! Don't you
bother about the kids; no, no, they'll be all right. They're probably
hanging on behind a van--they often do that when I'm out with them, but
they always turn up in the end. Yes, I should have made twenty-nine
pounds this week."

"Look here," said John, severely, "I want you clearly to understand that
this is not a simple question of losing them for a few minutes or so.
They have been lost now since the Zoo was closed this afternoon, and I
am not yet convinced that they are not shut up inside for the night."

"Ah, very likely," said George. "That's just the kind of place they
might get to."

"The prospect of your children's passing the night in the Zoo leaves you
unaffected?" John demanded in the tone of an examining counsel.

"Oh, they'll have been cleared out by now," said George. "You really
mustn't bother yourself about them, old boy."

"You have no qualms, George, at the notion of their wandering for hours
upon the outskirts of Regent's Park?"

"Now don't you worry, John. I'm not going to worry, and I don't want you
to worry. Why worry? Depend upon it, you'll find them safe and sound in
Church Row when you get back. By the way, is your taxi waiting?"

"No, I dismissed it."

"I was afraid it might be piling up the twopences. Though I dare say a
pyramid of twopences wouldn't bother you, you old plutocrat. Yes, these
second favorites...."

"Confound the second favorites," John exclaimed. "I want to discuss your
children."

"You wouldn't, if you were their father. They involve me in far too many
discussions. You see, you're not used to children. I am."

John's eyes flashed as much as the melancholy illumination permitted;
this was the cue for which he had been waiting.

"Just so, my dear George. You are used to children: I am not. And that
is why I have come to tell you that the police have been instructed to
return them, when found, to _you_ and not to me."

George blinked in a puzzled way.

"To me?" he echoed.

"Yes, to you. To their father. Hasn't their luggage arrived? I had it
sent back here this morning."

"Ah, yes," George said. "Of course! I was rather late getting up this
morning. I've been overworking a bit lately, and Karl did mutter
something about luggage. Didn't it come in a taxi?"

John nodded.

"Yes, I remember now, in a prepaid taxi; but as I couldn't remember that
I was expecting any luggage, I told Karl to send it back where it came
from."

"Do you mean to say that you sent their luggage back after I'd taken the
trouble to...."

"That's all right, old boy. I was feeling too tired to deal with any
problems this morning. The morning is the only opportunity I get for a
little peace. It never occurred to me whose luggage it was. It might
have been a mistake; in fact I thought it was a mistake. But in any case
it's very lucky I did send it back, because they'll want it to-night."

"I'm afraid I can't keep them with me any longer."

Though irony might be lost on George's cold blood, the plain fact might
wake him up to the actuality of the situation and so it did.

"Oh, but look here, old boy," he expostulated, "Eleanor won't be home
for another five weeks. She'll be at Cardiff next week."

"And Bertram and Viola will be at Earl's Court," said John, firmly.

"But the doctor strongly recommended me to rest. I've been very seedy
while you were in America. Stomachic, old boy. Yes, that's the trouble.
And then my nerves are not as strong as yours. I've had a lot of worry
lately."

"I'm sorry," John insisted. "But I've been called away on urgent
business, and I can't leave the children at Church Row. I'm sorry,
George, but as soon as they are found, I must hand them over to you."

"I shall send them down to the country," George threatened.

"When they are once more safely in your keeping, you can do what you
like with them."

"To your place, I mean."

Normally John would have given a ready assent to such a proposal; but
George's attitude had by now aroused his bitter disapproval, and he was
determined that Bertram and Viola should be planted upon their father
without option.

"Ambles is impossible," he said, decidedly. "Besides, Eleanor is anxious
that Viola shouldn't miss her series of Spanish dances. She attends the
dancing-class every Tuesday and Friday. No doubt your landlady will lend
you Karl to escort her."

"Children are very difficult in a boarding-house," George argued.
"They're apt to disturb the other guests. In fact, there was a little
trouble only last week over some game--"

"Robinson Crusoe," John put in.

"Ah, they told you?"

"No, no, go on. I'm curious to know exactly what we missed at Church
Row."

"Well, they have a habit, which Eleanor most imprudently encourages, of
dressing up on Sundays, and as I've had to make it an understood thing
that _none_ of _my_ clothes are to be used, they are apt to borrow other
people's. I must admit that generally people have been very kind about
lending their clothes; but latterly this dressing up has taken a more
ambitious form, and on Sunday week--I think it was--"

"Yes, it would have been a Sunday," John agreed.

"On Sunday week they borrowed Miss Moxley's parrot for Robinson Crusoe.
You remember poor Miss Moxley, John?"

"Yes, she lent you five pounds once," said John, sternly.

"Precisely. Oh yes, she did. Yes, yes, that was why I was so vexed about
her lending her parrot."

"Why shouldn't she lend her parrot?"

"No reason at all why she shouldn't lend it; but apparently parrots are
very excitable birds, and this particular one went mad under the strain
of the children's performance, bit Major Downman's finger, and escaped
by an upper window. Poor Miss Moxley was extremely upset, and the bird
has never been seen since. So you see, as I told you, children are apt
to be rather a nuisance to the other guests."

"None of the guests at Halma House keeps a tame calf?"

George looked frightened.

"Oh no, I don't think so. There's certainly never been the least sign of
mooing in the garden. Besides, I'm sure Mrs. Easton would object to a
calf. She even objects to dogs, as I had to tell James the other day
when he came to see me _very_ early about signing some deed or other.
But what made you ask about a calf? Do you want one?"

"No, I don't want one: I hate cows and calves. Bertram and Viola,
however, are likely to want one next week."

"You've been spoiling them, old chap. They'd never dare ask me for a
calf. Why, it's preposterous. Yes, you've been spoiling them. Ah, well,
you can afford it; that's one thing."

"Yes, I dare say I have been spoiling them, George; but you'll be able
to correct that when they're once again in your sole charge."

George looked doubtful.

"I'm very strict with them," he admitted. "I had to be after they lost
the parrot and burned Mrs. Easton's rug. It was most annoying."

"Yes, luckily I hadn't got any suitable fur rugs," John chuckled. "So
they actually burnt Mrs. Easton's?"

"Yes, and--er--she was so much upset," George went on, "that
she's--well--the fact is, they _can't_ come back, John, because she's
let their room."

"How much do you owe her?" John demanded.

"Oh, very little. I think only from last September. Well, you see,
Eleanor was out of an engagement all the summer and had a wretched
salary at the Parthenon while she was understudying--these
actress-managers are awful harpies--do you know Janet Bond?"

"Yes, I'm writing a tragedy for her now."

"Make her pay, old boy, make her pay. That's my advice. And I know the
business side of the profession. But to come back to Mrs. Easton--I was
really very angry with her, but you see, I've got my own room here and
it's uncommonly difficult to find a private room in a boarding-house, so
I thought we'd stay on here till Eleanor's tour was over. She intends to
save three pounds a week, and if I have a little luck over the sticks
this winter, we shall be quite straight with Mrs. Easton, and then the
children will be able to come back in the New Year."

"How much do you owe her?" John demanded for the second time.

"Oh, I think it's about twenty pounds--it may be a little more."

John knew how much the little more always was in George's calculations,
and rang the bell, which fetched his brother out of the armchair almost
in a bound.

"Old boy, I never ring the bell here," he expostulated. "You see, I
never consider that my private room is included in the attendance."

George moved nervously in the direction of the door to make his peace
with whoever should answer the unwonted summons; but John firmly
interposed himself and explained that he had rung for Mrs. Easton
herself.

"Rung for Mrs. Easton?" George repeated in terrified amazement. "But she
may come!"

"I hope she will," replied John, becoming more divinely calm every
moment in the presence of his brother's agitation.

A tangled head flung itself round the door like one of the minor
characters in a Punch and Judy show.

"Jew ring?" it asked, hoarsely.

"Please ask Mrs. Easton to come down to Mr. Touchwood's sitting-room,"
said John, seriously.

The head sniffed and vanished.

"I wish you could realize, old chap, that in a boarding-house far more
tact is required than anywhere else in the world," George muttered in
melancholy apprehension. "An embassy isn't in it with a boarding-house.
For instance, if I hadn't got the most marvelous tact, I should never
have kept this room. However," he added more cheerfully, "I don't
suppose for a moment that she'll come--unless of course she thinks that
the chimney is on fire. Dash it, John, I wish you could understand some
of the difficulties of my life. That's why I took up knitting. My nerves
are all to pieces. If I were a rich man I should go for a long
sea-voyage."

George fell into a silent brooding upon his misfortunes and ill-health
and frustrated ambitions; John examined the stuffed fish upon the walls,
which made him think of wet days upon the river and waiting drearily in
hotel smoking-rooms for the weather to clear up. Then suddenly Mrs.
Easton filled the room. Positive details of this lady's past were
lacking, although the gossip of a long line of attenuated spinsters had
evolved a rich apocrypha. It was generally accepted, however, that Halma
House was founded partly upon settlements made in her favor long ago by
a generous stockbroker and partly upon an insurance-policy taken out by
her late husband Dr. Easton, almost on the vigil of his death, the only
successful operation he ever performed. The mixed derivation of her
prosperity was significantly set forth in her personal appearance: she
either wore widow's black and powdered her face with pink talcum or she
wore bright satins with plumed hats and let her nose shine: so that
although she never looked perfectly respectable, on the other hand she
never looked really fast.

"Good evening, ma'am," John began at once, assuming an air of
Grandisonian courtesy. "My brother is anxious to settle his account."

The clouds rolled away from Mrs. Easton's brow; the old Eve glimmered
for a moment in her fierce eye; if he had been alone with her, John
would have thought that she was about to wink at him.

"I hear my nephew and niece have been taking liberties with your rug,"
he went on, but feeling that he might have expressed the last sentence
better, he hurriedly blotted the check and with a bow handed it to the
proprietress. "No doubt," he added, "you will overlook it this time? I
am having a new rug sent to you immediately. What--er--skin do you
prefer? Bear? I mean to say, the rug."

He tried to think of any other animal whose personality survived in
rugs, but could think of none except a rabbit, and condemning the
ambiguity of the English language waited in some embarrassment for Mrs.
Easton to reply. She was by this time so surely convinced of John's
interest in her that she opened to him with a trilling flutter of
complacency like a turkey's tail.

"It happened to be a bearskin," she murmured. "But children will be
children. We oughtn't to forget that we were all children once, Mr.
Touchwood."

"So no doubt," John nervously continued, "you will be glad to see them
when they come back to-night. Their room...."

"I shall give orders at once, Mr. Touchwood."

He wished that she would not harp upon the Mr. Touchwood; he seemed to
detect in it a kind of reproachful formality; but he thanked her and
hoped nervously she would now leave him to George.

"Oh dear me, why the girl hasn't lit the fire," Mrs. Easton exclaimed,
evidently searching for a gracious action.

George eying his brother with a glance between admiration and
disquietude told his landlady that he thought the fire smoked a little.

"I shall have the chimney swept to-morrow," she answered as grandly as
if she had conferred a dukedom upon John and an earldom upon George.

Then with a special smile that was directed not so much toward the
successful author as toward the gallant male she tucked away the check
in her bodice, where it looked as forlorn as a skiff upon the tumultuous
billows of the Atlantic, and went off to put on her green satin for
dinner.

"We shall all hope to see you at half-past seven," she paused in the
doorway to assure John.

"You know, I'll tell you what it is, old chap," said George when they
were alone again. "_You_ ought to have taken up the commission business
and _I_ ought to have written plays. But thanks very much for tiding me
over this difficult time."

"Yes," said John, a little sharply. "Your wife's current account wasn't
flowing quite strongly enough, was it?"

"Wonderful woman, Mrs. Easton," George declared. "She has a keen eye for
business."

"And for pleasure too, I should imagine," said John, austerely. "But get
on your coat, George," he added, "because we must go out and inquire at
all the police stations in turn for news of Bertram and Viola. We can't
stop here discussing that woman."

"I tell you the kids will be all right. You mustn't get fussy, John.
It's absurd to go out now," George protested. "In fact I daren't. I must
think of my health. Dr. Burnham who's staying here for a congress of
medical men has given me a lot of advice, and as he has refused to
charge me a penny for it, the least I can do is to pay attention to what
he says. Besides, what are we going to do?"

"Visit all the police stations in London."

"What shall we gain by doing that? Have you ever been to a police
station? They're most uncomfortable places to hang about in before
dinner."

"Get on your coat," John repeated.

George sighed.

"Well, if you insist, I suppose you have the right to insist; but in my
opinion it's a waste of time. And if the kids are in a police station, I
think it would teach them a dashed good lesson to keep them there for
awhile. You don't want to encourage them to lose themselves every day. I
wish _you_ had half a dozen kids."

John, however, was inflexible; the sight of his brother sitting in that
aqueous room and pondering the might-have-beens of the race course had
kindled in his breast the fire of a reformer; George must be taught
that he could not bring children into the world without being prepared
to look after them. He must and should be taught.

"Why, you'd take more trouble," he declared, "if you'd lost a fox
terrier."

"Of course I should," George agreed. "I should have to."

John reddened with indignation.

"Don't be angry, old chap. I didn't mean that I should think more of a
fox terrier. But, don't you see, a dog is dependent upon its collar,
whereas Bertram and Viola can explain where they come from. Is it very
cold out?"

"You'd better wear your heavy coat."

"That means I shall have to go all the way upstairs," groaned George.

The two brothers walked along the hall, and John longed to prod George
with a heavy, spiked pole.

"Going out, Touchwood?" inquired an elderly man of military appearance,
who was practicing golf putts from one cabbage rose to another on the
Brussels carpet.

"Yes, I'm going out, Major. You know my brother, don't you? You remember
Major Downman, John?"

George left his brother with the major and toiled listlessly upstairs.

"I think I once saw a play of yours, Mr. Touchwood."

John smiled as mechanically as the major might have returned a salute.

"_The Fall of Nineveh_, wasn't it?"

The author bowed an affirmative: it was hardly worth while
differentiating between Nineveh and Babylon when he was just going out.

"Yes," the major persisted. "Wasn't there a good deal of talk about the
scantness of some of the ladies' dresses?"

"There may have been," John said. "We had to save on the dresses what we
spent on the hanging gardens."

"Quite," agreed the major, wisely. "But I'm not a puritan myself."

John bowed again to show his appreciation of the admission.

"Oh, no. Rather the reverse, in fact. I play golf every Sunday, and if
it's wet I play bridge."

John wished that George would be quick with his coat.

"But I don't go in much for the theater nowadays."

"Don't you?"

"No, though I used to when I was a subaltern. By gad, yes! But it was
better, I think, in my young days. No offense to you, Mr. Touchwood."

"Distance does lend enchantment," John assented.

"Quite, quite. I suppose you don't remember a piece at the old Prince of
Wales? What was it called? Upon my soul, I've forgotten. It was a
capital piece, though. I remember there was a scene in which the
uncle--or it may not have been the uncle--no, I'm wrong. It was at the
Strand. Or was it? God bless my soul, I don't know which it was. You
don't remember the piece? It was either at the Prince of Wales or the
Strand, or, by Jove, was it Toole's?"

Was George never coming? Every moment would bring Major Downman nearer
to the heart of his reminiscence, and unless he escaped soon he might
have to submit to a narrative of the whole plot.

"Do you know what I'm doing?" the Major began again. "I'm confusing two
pieces. That's what I'm doing. But I know an uncle arrived suddenly."

"Yes, uncles are often rather fidgety," John agreed. "Ah, excuse me,
Major. I see my brother coming downstairs. Good-by, Major, good-by. I
should like to have a chat with you one of these days about the
mid-Victorian theater."

"Delighted," the Major said, fervently. "I shall think of that play
before to-night. Don't you be afraid. Yes, it's on the tip of my tongue.
On the very tip. But I'm confusing two theaters. I see where I've gone
wrong."

At that moment there was the sound of a taxi's arrival at Halma House;
the bell rang; when George opened the door for John and himself to pass
out, they were met by Mrs. Worfolk holding Viola and Bertram tightly,
one in each hand.

"I told you they'd turn up," George said, and immediately took off his
overcoat with a sigh of relief. "Well, you've given us a nice hunt," he
went on with an indignant scowl at the children. "Come along to my room
and explain where you've been. Good evening, Mrs. Worfolk."

In their father's sitting-room Bertram and Viola stood up to take their
trial.

"Yes," opened Mrs. Worfolk, on whom lay the burden of narrating the
malefactors' behavior. "Yes, I've brought back the infant prodigals, and
a nice job I've had to persuade them to come quiet. In fact, I never had
such a job since I took my poor sister's Herbert hollering to the
hospital with a penny as he'd nearly choked himself with, all through
him sucking it to get at some sweet stuff which was stuck to the edge.
He _didn't_ choke, though, because I patted him all down the street the
same as if I'd been bowling a hoop, and several people looked at me in a
very inquisitive way. Not that I ever pay attention to how people looks,
except in church. To begin with, the nerve they've got. Well, I mean to
say, when any one packs up some luggage and sends it off in a taxi,
whoever expects to see it come back again almost at once? It came
bouncing back, I do declare, as if it had been India rubber. 'Well,' as
I said to Maud, 'It just shows how deep they are, and Mr. Touchwood'll
have trouble with them before the day's done. You mark my words.' And,
sure enough, just as I'd made up my mind that you wouldn't be in to tea,
rat-a-tat-tat on the front door, and up drives my lord and my lady as
grand as you like in a taxi. Of course, it give me a bit of a turn, not
seeing you, sir, and I was just going to ask if you'd had an accident or
something, when my lord starts in to argue with the driver that he'd
only got to pay half fare for himself and his sister, the same as his
father does when they travel by train. Oh, yes; he was going to pay the
man himself. Any one would of thought it was the Juke of Wellington, to
hear him arguing with that driver. Well, anyway, in the end, of course I
had to pay the difference out of my housekeeping money, which you'll
find entered in the book. And then, without so much as a blink, my lord
starts in to tell how they'd gone into the Small Rat's House--"

"Cats," interrupted Viola, solemnly.

"Well, rats or cats, what does it matter, you naughty girl? It wasn't of
rats or cats you were thinking, but running away from your poor uncle,
as you perfeckly well know. Yes, indeed, sir, they went into this small
house and dodged you like two pickpockets and then went careering out of
the Zoo in the opposite direction. The first taxi that came along they
caught hold of and drove back to Church Row. 'But your uncle intended
for you to go back to your father, Mr. George, in Earl's Court,' I
remarked very severely. 'We know,' they says to me, laughing like two
hyenas. 'But we don't want to go back to Earl's Court,' putting in a
great deal of rudeness about Earl's Court, which, not wanting to get
them into worse trouble than what they will get into as it is, I won't
repeat. 'And we won't go back to Earl's Court,' they said, what's more.
'We _won't_ go back.' Well, sir, when I've had my orders given me, I
know where I am, and the policeman at the corner being a friend of
Elsa's, he helped; for, believe me or not, they struggled like two
convicks with Maud and I. Well, to cut a long story short, here they
are, and just about fit to be put to bed on the instant."

John could not fancy that Eleanor had contrived such an elaborate
display of preference for his company, and with every wish to support
Mrs. Worfolk by an exhibition of avuncular sternness he could only smile
at his nephew and niece. Indeed, it cost him a great effort not to take
them back with him at once to Hampstead. He hardened himself, however,
and tried to look shocked.

"We wanted to stay with you," said Bertram.

"We wanted to stay with you," echoed Viola.

"We didn't _want_ to dodge you in the Small Cats' House. But we had to,"
said Bertram.

"Yes, we had to," echoed Viola.

"Their luggage _'as_ come back with them," interrupted Mrs. Worfolk,
grimly.

"Oh, of course, they must stay here," John agreed. "Oh, unquestionably!
I wasn't thinking of anything else."

He beckoned to Bertram and Viola to follow him out of the room.

"Look here," he whispered to them in the passage, "be good children and
stay quietly at home. We shall meet at Christmas." He pressed a
sovereign into each hand.

"Good lummy," Bertram gasped. "I wish I'd had this on the fifth of
November. I'd have made old Major Downman much more waxy than he was
when I tied a squib to his coat."

"Did you, Bertram, did you? You oughtn't to have done that. Though I can
understand the temptation. But don't waste this on fireworks."

"Oh no," said Bertram. "I'm going to buy Miss Moxley a parrot, because
we lost hers."

"Are you, Bertram?" John exclaimed with some emotion. "That shows a fine
spirit, my boy. I'm very pleased with you."

"Yes," said Bertram, "because then with what you gave V we'll buy a
monkey at the same time."

"Good heavens," cried John, turning pale. "A monkey?"

"That will be nice, won't it, Uncle John?" Viola asked, tenderly.

But perhaps it would escape from an upper window like the parrot, John
thought, before Christmas.

When the children had been sent upstairs and Mrs. Worfolk had gone back
to Hampstead, John told his brother that he should not stop to dinner
after all.

"Oh, all right," George said. "But I had something to talk over with
you. Those confounded children put it clean out of my mind. I had a
strange letter from Mama this week. It seems that Hugh has got into
rather a nasty fix. She doesn't say what it is, and I don't know why she
wrote to me of all people. But she's evidently frightened about Hugh and
asks me to approach you on his behalf."

"What on earth has he been doing now?" asked John, gloomily.

"I should think it was probably money," said George. "Well, I told you
I'd had a lot of worry lately, and I _have_ been very worried about this
news of Hugh. Very worried. I'm afraid it may be serious this time. But
if I were you, old chap, I should refuse to do anything about it. Why
should he come to you to get him out of a scrape? You've done enough for
him, in my opinion. You mustn't let people take advantage of your good
nature, even if they are relations. I'm sorry my kids have been a bit of
a nuisance, but, after all, they are still only kids, and Hugh isn't.
He's old enough to know better. Mama says something about the police,
but that may only be Hugh's bluff. I shouldn't worry myself if I were
you. It's no good for us all to worry."

"I shall go and see Hugh at once," John decided. "You're not keeping
anything from me, George? He's not actually under arrest?"

"Oh, no, you won't have to visit any more police stations to-night,"
George promised. "Hugh is living with his friend, Aubrey Fenton, at 22
Carlington Road, West Kensington."

"I shall go there to-night," John declared.

He had almost reached the front door when George called him back.

"I've been trying to work out a riddle," he said, earnestly. "You know
there's a medicine called Easton's Syrup? Well, I thought ... don't be
in such a hurry; you'll muddle me up ... and I shall spoil it...."

"Try it on Major Downman," John advised, crossly, slamming the door of
Halma House behind him. "Fatuous, that's what George is, utterly
fatuous," he assured himself as he hurried down the steps.



CHAPTER VIII


John decided to walk from Earl's Court to West Kensington. Being still
in complete ignorance of what Hugh had done, he had a presentiment that
this time it was something really grave, and he was now beginning to
believe that George knew how grave it was. Perhaps his decision to go on
foot was not altogether wise, for he was tired out by a convulsive day,
and he had never experienced before such a fathomless sinking of the
stomach on the verge of being mixed up in a disagreeable family
complication, which was prolonged by the opportunity that the walk
afforded him for dismal meditation. While he hurried with bowed head
along one ill-lighted road after another a temptation assailed him to
follow George's advice and abandon Hugh, and not merely Hugh, but all
the rest of his relations, a temptation that elaborated itself into
going back to Church Row, packing up, and escaping to Arizona or British
East Africa or Samoa. In the first place, he had already several times
vowed never more to have anything to do with his youngest brother;
secondly, he was justified in resenting strongly the tortuous road by
which he had been approached on his behalf; thirdly, it might benefit
Hugh's morals to spend a week or two in fear of the ubiquitous police,
instead of a few stay-at-home tradesmen; fourthly, if anything serious
did happen to Hugh, it would serve as a warning to the rest of his
relations, particularly to George; finally, it was his dinner hour, and
if he waited to eat his dinner before tackling Hugh, he should
undoubtedly tackle him afterward in much too generous a frame of mind.
Yes, it would be wiser to go home at once, have a good dinner, and start
for Arizona to-morrow morning. The longer he contemplated it, the less
he liked the way he had been beguiled into visiting Hugh. If the--the
young bounder--no, really bounder was not too strong a word--if the
young bounder was in trouble, why could he not have come forward openly
and courageously to the one relation who could help him? Why had he
again relied upon his mother's fondness, and why had she, as always,
chosen the indirect channel by writing to George rather than to himself?
The fact of the matter was that his mother and George and Hugh possessed
similar loose conceptions of integrity, and now that it was become a
question of facing the music they had instinctively joined hands. Yet
George had advised him to have nothing more to do with Hugh, which
looked as if his latest game was a bit too strong even for George to
relish, for John declined to believe that George possessed enough of the
spirit of competitive sponging to bother about trying to poach in Hugh's
waters; Hilda or Eleanor might, but George.... George was frightened,
that was it; obviously he knew more than he had told, and he did not
want to be exposed ... it would not astonish him to learn that George
was in the business with Hugh and had invented that letter from Mama to
invoke his intervention before it was too late to save himself. What
could it all be about? Curiosity turned the scale against Arizona, and
John pressed forward to West Kensington.

The houses in Carlington Road looked like an over-crowded row of tall,
thin men watching a football match on a cold day; each red-faced house
had a tree in front of it like an umbrella and trim, white steps like
spats; in a fantastic mood the comparison might be prolonged
indefinitely, even so far as to say that, however outwardly
uncomfortable they might appear, like enthusiastic spectators, they were
probably all aglow within. If John had been asked whether he liked an
interior of pink lampshades and brass gongs, he would have replied
emphatically in the negative; but on this chill November night he found
the inside of number 22 rather pleasant after the street. The maid
looked doubtful over admitting him, which was not surprising, because
an odor of hot soup in the hall and the chink of plates behind a closed
door on the right proclaimed that the family was at dinner.

"Will you wait in the drawing-room, sir?" she inquired. "I'll inform Mr.
Touchwood that you're here."

John felt a grim satisfaction in thus breaking in upon Hugh's dinner;
there was nothing so well calculated to disturb even a tranquil
conscience as an unexpected visit at such an hour; but the effect upon
guilt would be....

"Just say that a gentleman wishes to speak to him for a minute. No
name," he replied.

The walk through the dim streets, coupled with speculations upon the
various crimes that his brother might have committed, had perhaps
invested John's rosy personality with an unusual portentousness, for the
maid accepted his instructions fearfully and was so much flustered by
them that she forgot to turn up the gas in the drawing-room, of which
John was glad; he assured himself that the heavily draped room in the
subdued light gave the final touch to the atmosphere of horror which he
aimed at creating; and he could not resist opening the door to enjoy the
consternation in the dining-room just beyond.

"What is it?"

A murmur from the maid.

"Well, you'd better finish your soup first. I wouldn't let my soup get
cold for anybody."

There followed a general buzz from the midst of which Hugh emerged, his
long, sallow face seeming longer than usual in his anxiety, his long,
thin neck craning forward like an apprehensive bird's, and his bony
fingers clutching a napkin with which he dusted his legs nervously.

"Like a flag of truce," John thought, and almost simultaneously felt a
sharp twinge of resentment at Hugh's daring to sport a dinner jacket
with as much effrontery as if his life had been as white as that expanse
of shirt.

"Good Lord," Hugh exclaimed when he recognized his brother. "I thought
you were a detective, at least. Come in and have some grub, won't you?
Mrs. Fenton will be awfully glad to see you."

John demurred at the invitation. Judging by what he had been told about
Mrs. Fenton's attitude toward Hugh, he did not think that Touchwood was
a welcome name in 22 Carlington Road.

"Aubrey!" Hugh was shouting. "One of my brothers has just blown in."

John felt sure that the rapid feminine voice he could faintly hear had a
distinct note of expostulation in it; but, however earnest the
objection, it was at once drowned in the boisterous hospitality of
Aubrey, who came beaming into the hall--a well set up young man of about
twenty-five with a fresh complexion, glasses, an opal solitaire in his
shirt, and a waxy white flower in his buttonhole.

"Do come in," he begged, with an encouraging wave of his napkin. "We've
only just begun."

Although John felt that by dining in this house he was making himself an
accessory after the still undivulged fact, he was really so hungry by
now that he could not bring himself to refuse. He knew that he was
displaying weakness, but he compounded with his austere self by arguing
that he was more likely to arrive at the truth if he avoided anything in
the nature of precipitate action.

Mrs. Fenton did not receive her guest as cordially as her son; in fact,
she showed plainly that she resented extremely his having been invited
to dinner. She was a well-preserved woman and reminded John of a pink
crystallized pear; her frosted transformation glistened like encrusted
sugar round the stalk, which was represented by a tubular head ornament
on the apex of the carefully tended pyramid; her greeting was sticky.

"My son's friend has spoken of you," Mrs. Fenton was saying, coldly, in
reply to John's apologies for intruding upon her like this. He for his
part was envying her ability to refer to Hugh without admitting his
individual existence, when somebody kicked him under the table, and,
looking up, he saw that Hugh was frowning at him in a cautionary
manner.

"I've already met your brother, the writer," his hostess continued.

"My brother, James?" asked John in amazement. He could not envisage
James in these surroundings.

"No, I have not had the pleasure of meeting him _yet_. I was referring
to the dramatist, who has dined with me several times."

"But," John began, when another kick under the table silenced him.

"Pass the salt, will you, George, old boy?" Hugh said loudly.

John's soup was cold, but in the heat of his suppressed indignation he
did not notice it. So George had been masquerading in this house as
himself; no wonder he had not encouraged the idea of an interview with
Hugh. Evidently a dishonest outrage had been perpetrated in his name,
and though Hugh might kick him under the table, he should soon obtain
his revenge by having Hugh kicked out of the house. John took as much
pleasure in his dinner that evening as a sandbag might have taken in
being stuffed with sand. He felt full when it was over, but it was a
soulless affair; and when Mrs. Fenton, who had done nothing except look
down her nose all through the meal, left the table, he turned furiously
upon Hugh.

"What does this gross impersonation mean?" he demanded.

Aubrey threw himself figuratively between the brothers, which only
seemed to increase John's irritation.

"We wanted to jolly the mater along," he explained. "No harm was
intended, but Hughie was keen to prove his respectability; so, as you
and he weren't on the most cordial terms, we introduced your brother,
George, as yourself. It was a compliment, really, to your public
character; but old George rather enjoyed dining here, and I'm bound to
say he sold the mater some very decent port. In fact, you're drinking it
now."

"And I suppose," said John, angrily, "that between you all you've
perpetrated some discreditable fraud, what? I suppose you've been
ordering shirts in my name as well as selling port, eh? I'll disown the
bill. You understand me? I won't have you masquerading as a gentleman,
Hugh, when you can't behave like one. It's obtaining money under false
pretenses, and you can write to your mother till you're as blue in the
face as the ink in your bottle--it won't help you. I can put up with
laziness; I can tolerate stupidity; I can endure dissipation; but I'm
damned if I'll stand being introduced as George. Port, indeed! Don't try
to argue with me. You must take the consequences. Mr. Fenton, I'm sorry
I allowed myself to be inveigled like this into your mother's house. I
shall write to her when I get home, and I hope she will take steps to
clear that impostor out. No, I won't have a cigar--though I've no doubt
I shall presently receive the bill for them, unless I've also been
passed off as a tobacconist's agent by George. As for him, I've done
with him, too. I shall advertise in the _Times_ that neither he nor Hugh
has any business to order things in my name. I came here to-night in
response to an urgent appeal; I find that I've been made a fool of; I
find myself in a most undignified position. No, I will not have another
glass of port. I don't know how much George exacted for it, but let me
tell you that it isn't even good port: it's turbid and fiery."

John rose from the table and was making for the door, when Hugh took
hold of his arm.

"Look here, old chap," he began.

"Don't attempt to soften me with pothouse endearments," said John,
fiercely. "I will not be called 'old chap.'"

"All right, old chap, I won't," said Hugh. "But before you go jumping
into the street like a lighted cracker, please listen. Nobody has been
ordering anything in your name. You're absolutely off the lines there.
Why, I exhausted your credit years ago. And I don't see why you should
grudge poor old George a few dinners."

"You rascal," John stammered. "You impudent rascal!"

"Don't annoy him, Hughie," Aubrey advised. "I can see his point."

"Oh, you can, sir, can you?" John snapped. "You can understand, can you,
how it affects me to be saddled with brothers like these and port like
this?"

John was so furious that he could not bring himself to mention George or
Hugh by name: they merely represented maddening abstractions of
relationship, and he longed for some phrase like "my son's friend" with
which he might disown them forever.

"You mustn't blame your brother George, Mr. Touchwood," urged Aubrey.
"He's not involved in this latest affair. I'm sorry we told the mater
that he was you, but the mater required jollying along, as I explained.
She can't appreciate Hugh. He's too modern for her."

"I sympathize with Mrs. Fenton."

"You must forgive a ruse. It's just the kind of ruse I should think a
playwright would appreciate. You know. Charley's Aunt and all that."

John clenched his fist: "Don't you mutter to me about a sense of humor,"
he said to Hugh, wrathfully.

"I wasn't muttering," replied Hugh. "I merely observed that a little
sense of humor wouldn't be a bad thing. I'm sorry that George has been
dragged like a red herring across the business, because it's a much more
serious matter than simply introducing George to Mrs. Fenton as you and
selling her some port which personally I think is not at all bad, eh,
Aubrey?"

He poured himself out another glass to prove his conviction.

"You may think all this a joke," John retorted. "But I don't. I consider
it a gross exhibition of bad taste."

"All right. Granted. Let's leave it at that," sighed Hugh, wearily. "But
you don't give a fellow much encouragement to own up when he really is
in a tight corner. However, personally I've got past minding. If I'm
sentenced to penal servitude, it'll be your fault for not listening.
Only don't say I disgraced the family name."

"Hugh's right," Aubrey put in. "We really are in a deuce of a hole."

"Disgrace the family name?" John repeated. "Allow me to tell you that
when you hawk George round London as your brother, the playwright, I
consider _that_ is disgracing the family name."

"So that if I'm arrested for forgery," Hugh asked, "you won't mind?"

"Forgery?" John gasped.

Hugh nodded.

"Yes, we had bad luck in the straight," he murmured, tossing off two
more glasses of port. "Cleared every hurdle like a bird and ... however,
it's no good grumbling. We just didn't pull it off."

"No," sighed Aubrey. "We were beaten by a short head."

John sat down unsteadily, filled up half a glass of Burgundy with
sherry, and drank it straight off without realizing that George's port
was even worse than he had supposed.

"Whose name have you forged?" he brought himself to ask at last.

"Stephen Crutchley's."

"Good heavens!" he groaned. "But this is horrible. And has he found out?
Does he know who did it?"

It was characteristic of John that he did not ask for how much his
friend's name had been forged.

"He has his suspicions," Hugh admitted. "And he's bound to know pretty
soon. In fact, I think the only thing to do is for you to explain
matters. After all, in a way it was a joke."

"Yes, a kind of experimental joke," Aubrey agreed.

"But it has proved to me how easy it is to cash a forged check," Hugh
continued, hopefully. "And, of course, if you talk to Crutchley he'll be
all right. He's not likely to be very severe on the brother of an old
friend. That was one of the reasons we experimented on him--that, and
also partly because I found an old check book of his. He's awfully
careless, you know, is Stephen--very much the high-brow architect and
all that, though he doesn't forget to charge. In fact, so many people
have had to pay for his name that it serves him right to find himself
doing the same for once."

"Does Mrs. Fenton know anything of this?" John asked.

"Why, no," Aubrey answered, quickly. "Well, women don't understand about
money, do they? And the mater has less idea of the wicked world than
most. My father was always a bit of a recluse, don't you see?"

"Was he?" John said, sarcastically. "I should think his son will be a
bit of a recluse, too, before he's done. But forgery! No, it's
incredible--incredible!"

"Don't worry, Johnnie," Hugh insisted. "Don't worry. I'm not worrying at
all, now that you've come along. Nobody knows anything for certain yet.
George doesn't know. Mama doesn't know. Mrs. Fenton doesn't know. And
Stevie only guesses."

"How do you know that he guesses?" John demanded.

"Well, that's part of the story, eh, Aubrey?" said Hugh, turning to his
accomplice, who nodded sagely.

"Which I suppose one ought to tell in full, eh, Aubrey?" he went on.

"I think it would interest your brother--I mean--quite apart from his
being your brother, it would interest him as a playwright," Aubrey
agreed.

"Glasses round, then," called Hugh, cheerfully.

"There's a vacant armchair by the fireplace," Aubrey pointed out to
John.

"Thanks," said John, stiffly. "I don't suppose that the comfort of an
armchair will alleviate my feelings. Begin, sir," he commanded Hugh.
"Begin, and get it finished quickly, for heaven's sake, so that I can
leave this house and think out my course of action in solitude."

"Do you know what it is, Johnnie?" Hugh said, craning his neck and
examining his brother with an air of suddenly aroused curiosity. "You're
beginning to dramatize yourself. I suppose it's inevitable, but I wish
you wouldn't. It gives me the same kind of embarrassed feeling that I
get when a woman starts reciting. You're not subjective. That's the
curse of all romantic writers. You want to get an objective viewpoint.
You're not the only person on in this scene. I'm on. Aubrey's on. Mrs.
Fenton and Stevie Crutchley are waiting in the wings, as it were. And,
for all I know, the police may be waiting there, too, by this time. Get
an objective viewpoint, Johnnie. Subjectivity went out with Rousseau."

"Confound your impudence," John spluttered.

"Yes, that's much better than talking about thinking out a course of
action in solitude," Hugh approved. "But don't run away with the idea
that I'm trying to annoy you. I'm not. I've every reason to encourage
the romantic side of you, because finally it will be the romantic side
of you that will shudder to behold your youngest brother in the dock. In
fact, I'm going the limit on your romance. At the same time I don't like
to see you laying it on too thick. I'll give you your fine feelings and
all that. I'll grant you your natural mortification, etcetera, etcetera.
But try to see my point of view as well as your own. When you're
thinking out a course of action in solitude, you'll light a cigar with a
good old paunch on it, and you'll put your legs up on the mantelpiece,
unless you've grown old-maidish and afraid of scratching the furniture,
and you'll pat your passbook, which is probably suffering from fatty
degeneration. That's a good phrase, Aubrey?"

"Devilish good," the accomplice allowed. "But, look here, Hugh,
steady--the mater gets rather bored if we keep the servants out of the
dining-room too long, and I think your brother is anxious to have the
story. So fire ahead, there's a good fellow."

Hugh looked hurt at the lack of appreciation which greeted the subtler
shades of his discourse, but, observing that John looked still more hurt
at being kept waiting, he made haste to begin without further reference
to style.

"Well, you see, Johnnie, I've always been unlucky."

John made a gesture of impatience; but Hugh raised a sedative hand.

"I know there's nothing that riles lucky people so much as when unlucky
people claim the prerogatives of their bad luck. I'm perfectly willing
to admit that I'm lazier than you. But remember that energy is a gift,
not an attainment. And I was born tired. The first stunning blow I had
was when the old man died. You remember he always regarded me as a bit
of an infant prodigy? So I was from his point of view, for he was over
sixty when he begot me, and he used to look at me just as some people
look at the silver cups they've won for races. But when he died, all the
advantages of being the youngest son died with him, and I realized that
I was an encumbrance. I'm willing to grant that I was a nuisance, too,
but ... however, it's no use raking up old scores.... I'm equally
willing to admit that you've always treated me very decently and that
I've always behaved very rottenly. I'll admit also that my taste in
clothes was beyond my powers of gratification; that I liked wine and
women--or to put a nicer point upon it--whisky and waitresses. I did.
And what of it? You'll observe that I'm not going to try to justify
myself. Have another glass of port? No? Right-o; well, I will. I repeat
I'm not going to attempt to justify myself, even if I couldn't, which I
can, but in vino veritas, which I think you'll admit is Latin. Latin, I
said. Precisely. Where was I?"

"Hugh, old boy, buck up," his friend prompted, anxiously.

"Come, sir," John said, trembling visibly with indignation. "Get on with
your story while you can. I don't want to waste my time listening to the
meanderings of a drunkard."

Hugh's eyes were glazing over like a puddle in frost, but he knitted his
brows and regarded his brother with intense concentration.

"Don't try to take any literary advantage of me, Johnnie. You can dig
out the longest word in the dictionary, but I've got a longer.
Metempsychosis! Hear that? I'm willing to admit that I don't like having
to say it, but you find me another man who can say it at all after
George's port. Metempsychosis! And it's not a disease. No, no, no, no,
don't you run away with the idea that it's a disease. Not at all. It's a
religion. And for three years I've been wasting valuable knowledge like
that on an architect's office. Do you think Stevie wants to hear about
metempsychosis--that's the third time I've cleared it--of course he
doesn't. Stephen Crutchley is a Goth. What am I? I'm a Palladian. There
you have it. Am I right, Aubrey?"

"Quite right, old boy, only come to the point."

"That's all right, Aubrey, don't you be afraid. I'm nursing her along by
the rails. You can lay a hundred pounds to a box of George's cigars bar
one. And that one's me. Where was I? Ah, yes. Well, I'm not going to say
a word against Stephen, Johnnie. He's a friend of yours. He's my boss.
He's one of England's leading ecclesiastical architects. But that
doesn't help me when I find myself in a Somersetshire village seven
miles from the nearest station arguing with a deaf parson about the
restoration of his moldy church. Does it? Of course not. It doesn't help
me when I find myself sleeping in damp sheets and woken up at seven
o'clock by a cross between a gardener and a charwoman for early service.
Does it? Of course not. Architecture like everything else is a good job
when you're waving the flag on top of the tower; but when you're digging
the foundations it's rotten. Stevie and I have had our little
differences, but when he's sober--I mean when I'm sober--he'll tell you
that there's not one of his juniors he thinks better of than me. I'm
against Gothic. I consider Gothic the muddle-headed expression of a
muddle-headed period. But I've been loyal to Stevie, only...."

Hugh paused solemnly, while his friend regarded him with nervous
solicitude.

"Only," Hugh repeated in a loud voice. "Metempsychosis," he murmured,
and drinking two more glasses of wine, he sat back in his chair and
shook his head in mute despair of human speech.

Aubrey took John aside.

"I'm afraid Hugh's too far gone to explain all the details to-night," he
whispered. "But it's really very serious. You see he found an old check
book of Mr. Crutchley's, and more from a joke than anything else he
tried to see if it was difficult to cash a check. It wasn't. He
succeeded. But he's suspected. I helped him indirectly, but of course I
don't come into the business except as an accessory. Only, if you take
my advice, you'll call on Mr. Crutchley as soon as you can, and I'm sure
you'll be able to square things up. You'll know how to manage him; but
Hugh has a way of exasperating him."

All the bland, the almost infantine simplicity of Aubrey Fenton's
demeanor did not avail to propitiate John's rage; and when the maid came
in with a message from his hostess to ask if it would soon be convenient
to allow the table to be cleared, he announced that he should not remain
another minute in the house.

"But can Hugh count on your support?" Aubrey persisted. He spoke like an
election agent who is growing rapidly doubtful of his candidate's
prospects.

"He can count on nothing," said John, violently. "He can count on
nothing at all. On absolutely nothing at all."

Anybody who had seen Hugh's condition at this moment would have agreed
with John. His eyes had already lost even as much life as might have
been discerned in the slow freezing of a puddle, and had now assumed the
glassy fixity and perfect roundness of two bottle-stoppers.

"He can count on nothing," John asseverated.

"I see," said Aubrey, tactfully. "I'll try and get that across to him.
Must you really be going?"

"Immediately."

"You'll trot in and say ta-ta to the mater?"

John had no wish ever again to meet this crystallized lady, but his
politeness rose superior to his indignation, and he followed the son of
the house into the drawing-room. His last glimpse of Hugh was of a
mechanical figure, the only gesture of which was awkwardly to rescue
every glass in turn that the maid endeavored to include in her clearance
of the table.

"It's scandalous," muttered John. "It's--it's abominable! Mrs. Fenton,"
he said with a courtly bow for her hospitality, "I regret that your son
has encouraged my brother to impose himself upon your good-nature. I
shall take steps to insure that he shall do so no longer. I beg your
pardon, Mrs. Fenton, I apologize. Good-night."

"I've always spoilt Aubrey," she said. "And he always had a mania for
dangerous toys which he never could learn to work properly. Never!" she
repeated, passionately.

For an instant the musty sugar in which she was inclosed cracked and
allowed John a glimpse of the feminine humanity underneath; but in the
same instant the crystallization was more complete than ever, and when
John released her hand he nearly took out his handkerchief to wipe away
the stickiness.

"I say, what steps _are_ you going to take to-morrow?" Aubrey asked.

"Never mind," John growled. Inasmuch as he himself had no more idea of
what he intended to do than Aubrey, the reply was a good one.

Where Carlington Road flows into Hammersmith Road John waited for a
passing taxi, apostrophizing meanwhile the befogged stars in the London
sky.

"I shall not forget to-night. No, I certainly sha'n't. I doubt if any
dramatist ever spent such another. A glimpse at all the animals of the
globe, a lunch that would have made a jackal vomit, a search for two
lost children, an interview with a fatuous brother, a loan of over
thirty pounds, a winking landlady, a narrow escape from being bored to
death by a Major, a dinner that gave me the sensation of being slowly
buried alive, a glass of George's port, and for climax the news that my
brother has committed a forgery. How can I think about Joan of Arc? A
few more days like this and I shall never be able to think or write
again--however, please God, there'll always be the cinema."

Whirring home to Hampstead John fell asleep, and when he had
supplemented that amount of repose in the taxi by eight hours in his own
bed, he woke next morning with his mind made up to square matters with
Stephen Crutchley, to withdraw Hugh from architecture, to intern him
until Christmas at Ambles, and in the New Year to transport him to
British Honduras as a mahogany-planter. He had met on board the
_Murmania_ a mahogany-planter who was visiting England for the first
time in thirteen years: the profession must be an enthralling one.

It was only when John reached the offices of Stephen Crutchley in Staple
Inn that he discovered it was Sunday, which meant another whole day's
idleness and suspense, and he almost fell to wishing that he was in
church again with Bertram and Viola. But there was a sweet sadness in
this old paved court, where a few sparrows chirped their plaintive
monotone from an overarching tree, the branches of which fretted a sky
of pearly blue, and where several dreary men were sitting upon the
benches regarding their frayed boots. John could not remain
unsusceptible to the antique charm of the scene, and finding an
unoccupied bench he rested there in the timid sunlight.

"What a place to choose for a forgery," he murmured, reproachfully, and
tried to change the direction of his thoughts by remembering that Dr.
Johnson had lived here for a time. He had no sooner concentrated upon
fancies of that great man than he began to wonder if he was not mistaken
in supposing that he had lived here, and he looked round for some one
who could inform him. The dreary men with frayed boots were only
counting the slow minutes of divine service before the public-houses
could open: they knew nothing of the lexicographer. But the subject of
forgery was not to be driven away by memories of Dr. Johnson, because
his friend, Dr. Dodd, suddenly jumped into the train of thought, and it
was impossible not to conjure up that poor and learned gentleman's last
journey to Tyburn nor to reflect how the latticed dormers on the Holborn
side of the Inn were the same now as then and had actually seen Dr. Dodd
go jolting past. John had often thought how incomprehensible it was that
scarcely a century ago people should have been hanged for such crimes as
forgery; but not it seemed rather more comprehensible. Of course, he
should not like to know that his brother was going to be hanged; but for
the sake of his future it would be an excellent thing to revive capital
punishment for minor crimes. He should like when all this dreadful
business was settled to say to his brother, "Oh, by the way, Hugh, I
hear they've just passed a bill making forgery a capital offense once
more. I think you'll like mahogany-planting."

But would the fear of death act as a deterrent upon such an one as Hugh,
who after committing so dishonorable a crime had lacked even the grace
to make his confession of it soberly? It was doubtful: Hugh was without
shame. From boyhood his career had been undistinguished by a single
decent action; but on the contrary it had been steadily marred by vice
and folly from the time when he had stolen an unused set of British
North Borneo stamps from the locker of his best friend at school to this
monstrous climax. Forgery! Great heavens, had he ever yet envisaged Hugh
listening abjectly (or worse impudently) to the strictures of a scornful
judge? Had he yet imagined the headlines in the press? _Brother of
distinguished dramatist sent to penal servitude. Judge's scathing
comments._ Mr. Touchwood breaks down in court. _Miss Janet Bond's
production indefinitely postponed._ Surely Stephen would not proceed to
extreme measures, but for the sake of their lifelong sympathy spare his
old friend this humiliation; yet even as John reached this conclusion
the chink-chink of the sparrows in the plane-tree sounded upon the air
like the chink-chink of the picks on Dartmoor. Hugh a convict! It might
well befall thus, if his jaunty demeanor hardened Stephen's heart.
Suppose that Stephen should be seized with one of those moral crises
that can only be relieved by making an example of somebody? Would it not
be as well to go down at once to his place in the country and try to
square matters, unembarrassed by Hugh's brazen impenitence? Or was it
already too late? John could not bring himself to believe that his old
friend would call in the police without warning him. Stephen had always
had a generous disposition, and it might well be that rather than wound
John's pride by the revelation of his brother's disgrace he had made up
his mind to say nothing and to give Hugh another chance: that would be
like Stephen. No, he should not intrude upon his week-end; though how he
was going to pass the long Sunday unless he occupied himself with
something more cheerful than his own thoughts he did not know. Should he
visit James and Beatrice, and take them out to lunch with a Symphony
Concert to follow? No, he should never be able to keep the secret of
Hugh's crime, and James would inevitably wind up the discussion by
making it seem as if it were entirely his own fault. Should he visit
George and warn him that the less intercourse he had with Hugh the
better, yes, and incidentally observe to George that he resented his
impersonation of himself at Mrs. Fenton's? No, George's company would be
as intolerable as his port. And the children? No, no, let them dress up
with minds still untainted by their Uncle Hugh's shame; let them enact
Robinson Crusoe and if they liked burn Halma House to the ground. What
was unpremeditated arson compared with deliberate forgery? But if there
was a genuine criminal streak in the Touchwoods, how was he ever again
to feel secure of his relations' honor? To-morrow he might learn that
James had murdered Beatrice because she had slept through the opening
chapters of _Lord Ormont and his Aminta_. To-morrow he might learn that
George was a defaulting bookmaker, that Hilda had embezzled the whole of
Laurence's board, and that Harold was about to be prosecuted by the
Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Why, even his mother
might have taken to gin-drinking in the small hours of the morning!

"God forgive me," said John. "I am losing my faith in humanity and my
respect for my mother. Yet some imbeciles prate about the romance of
crime."

John felt that if he continued to sit here brooding upon his relations
he should be in danger of taking some violent step such as joining the
Salvation Army: he remembered how an actor in _The Fall of Babylon_ had
brooded upon his inability to say his lines with just the emphasis he as
author had required, until on the night before the opening he had left
the theater and become a Salvationist. One of the loafers in the court
shuffled up to John and begged him for a match; when John complied he
asked for something to use it on, and John was so much distressed by the
faint likeness he bore to his eldest brother that he gave him a cigar.

"Without me that is what they would all be by now, every one of them,
James, George, and Hugh," he thought "But if I hadn't been lucky, so
might I," he added, reprovingly, to himself, "though at any rate I
should have tried to join a workhouse and not wasted my time cadging for
matches in Staple Inn."

John was not quite clear about workhouses; he had abandoned realistic
writing before he dealt with workhouse life as it really is.

"However, I can't sit here depressing myself all day; besides, this
bench is damp. What fools those sparrows are to stay chirping in that
tree when they might be hopping about in Hampshire--out of reach of
Harold's air-gun of course--and what a fool I am! But it's no use for me
to go home and work at Joan of Arc. The English archers will only be
shooting broad arrows all the time. I'll walk slowly to the Garrick, I
think, and have an early lunch."

Perversely enough the club did not seem to contain one sympathetic
acquaintance, let alone a friend, that Sunday; and after lunch John was
reduced to looking at the portraits of famous dead players, who bored
him nearly as much as one or two of the live ones who were lounging in
the smoking-room.

"This is getting unendurable," he moaned, and there seemed nothing for
it but to sally forth and walk the hollow-sounding city. From Long Acre
he turned into St. Martin's Lane, shook off the temptation to bore
himself still more hopelessly by a visit to the National Gallery, and
reached Cockspur Street. Three or four Sabbath loiterers were staring at
a window, and John saw that it was the office of the Cunard Line and
that the attraction was a model of the _S.S. Murmania_.

"What a fool I am!" John murmured much more emphatically than in Staple
Inn. He was just going to call a taxi to drive him to Chelsea, when he
experienced from yesterday a revulsion against taxis. Yesterday had been
a nightmare of taxis, between driving to the Zoo and driving to the
police station and driving home after that interview with the forger--by
this time John had discarded Hugh as a relation--not to mention Mrs.
Worfolk in a taxi, and the children in a taxi, and their luggage buzzing
backward and forward between Earl's Court and Hampstead in a taxi. No,
he should walk to Chelsea: a brisk walk with an objective would do him
good. 83 Camera Square. It was indeed rather a tribute to his memory, he
flattered himself, that he could remember her address without referring
to her card. He should walk along the Embankment; it was only half-past
two now.

It was pleasant walking by the river on that fine afternoon, and John
felt as he strode along Grosvenor Road, his spirit rising with the eager
tide, that after all there was nothing like the sea, nothing!

"As soon as I've finished Joan of Arc, I shall take a sea-voyage. It's
all very well for George to talk about sea-voyages, but let him do some
work first. Even if I do send him for a sea-voyage, how will he spend
his time? I know perfectly well. He'll feel seasick for the first week
and play poker for the rest of the passage. No, no, after the Christmas
holidays at Ambles he'll be as right as a trivet without a sea-voyage.
What is a trivet by the way? Now if I had a secretary, I should make a
note of a query like that. As it is, I shall probably never know what a
trivet is; but if I had a secretary, I should ask her to look it up in
the dictionary when we got home. I dare say I've lost thousands of ideas
by not having a secretary at hand. I shall have to advertise--or find
out in some way about a secretary. Thank heaven, neither Hilda nor
Beatrice nor Eleanor nor Edith knows shorthand. But even if Edith did
know shorthand, she'd be eternally occupied with the dactylography--as I
suppose _he'd_ call it--of Laurence's apostolic successes--there's
another note I might make. Of course, it's nothing wonderful as a piece
of wit, but I might get an epigram worth keeping, say three times a
week, if I had a secretary at my elbow. I don't believe that Stephen
will make any difficulties about Hugh. Oh no, I don't think so. I was
tired this morning after yesterday. This walk is making me see events in
their right proportion. Rosification indeed! James brings out these
things as if he were a second Sydney Smith; but in my opinion wit
without humor is like marmalade without butter. And even if I do rosify
things, well, what is it that Lady Teazle says? _I wish it were spring
all the year round and that roses grew under our feet._ And it takes
something to rosify such moral anemia as Hugh's. By the way I wonder
just exactly whereabouts in Chelsea Camera Square is."

Now if there was one thing that John hated, if there was one thing that
dragged even his buoyant spirits into the dust, if there was one thing
worse than having a forger for a blood-relation, it was to be compelled
to ask his way anywhere in London within the four miles radius. He would
not even now admit to himself more than that he did not know the _exact_
whereabouts of Camera Square. Although he really had not the remotest
idea beyond its location in the extensive borough of Chelsea where
Camera Square was, he wasted half-an-hour in dancing a kind of Ladies'
Chain with all the side-streets off King's Road and never catching a
glimpse of his destination. It was at last borne in upon him that if he
wanted to call on Mrs. Hamilton at a respectable hour for afternoon tea
he should simply have to ask his way.

Now arose for John the problem of choosing the oracle. He walked on and
on, half making up his mind every moment to accost somebody and when he
was on the point of doing so perceiving in his expression a latent
haughtiness that held him back until it was too late. Had it not been
Sunday, he would have entered a shop and bought sufficiently expensive
to bribe the shopman from looking astonished at his ignorance.
Presently, however, he passed a tobacconist's, and having bought three
of the best cigars he had, which were not very good, he asked casually
as he was going out the direction of Camera Square. The shopman did not
know. He came to another tobacconist's, bought three more cigars, and
that shopman did not know either. Gradually with a sharp sense of
impending disgrace John realized that he must ask a policeman. He turned
aside from the many inviting policemen in the main road, where the
contemptuous glances of wayfarers might presume his rusticity, and tried
to find a policeman in a secluded by-street. This took another
half-an-hour, and when John did accost this ponderous hermit of the
force he accosted him in broken English.

"Ees thees ze vay to Cahmehra Squah?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders
in what he conceived to be the gesture of a Frenchman who had landed
that morning from Calais.

"Eh?"

"Cahmehra Squah?" John repeated.

The policeman put his hand in his pocket, and John thought he was going
to whistle for help; but it was really to get out a handkerchief to blow
his nose and give him time to guess what John wanted to know.

"Say it again, will yer?" the policeman requested.

John repeated his Gallic rendering of Camera.

"I ain't seen it round here. Where do you say you dropped it?"

"Eet ees a place I vants."

What slow-witted oafs the English were, thought John with a
compassionate sigh for the poor foreigners who must be lost in London
every day. However, this policeman was so loutish that he felt he could
risk an almost perfect pronunciation.

"Oh, Kemmerer Squer," said the policeman with a huge smile of
comprehension. "Why, you're looking at it." He pointed along the road.

"Damn," thought John. "I needn't have asked at all. Sank you.
Good-evening," he said aloud.

"The same to you and many of them, Napoleon," the policeman nodded.

John hurried away, and soon he was walking along a narrow garden, very
unlike a London garden, for it was full of frost-bitten herbaceous
flowers and smelt of the country. Not a house on this side of the square
resembled its neighbor; but Number 83 was the most charmingly odd of
all, two stories high with a little Chinese balcony and jasmine over a
queer pointed porch of wrought iron.

"Yes, sir, Mrs. Hamilton is at home," said the maid.

The last bars of something by Schumann or Chopin died away; in the
comparative stillness that succeeded John could hear a canary singing,
and the tinkle of tea-cups; there was also a smell of muffins
and--mimosa, was it? Anyway it was very delicious, he thought, while he
made his overcoat as small as possible, so as not to fill the tiny hall
entirely.

"Mr. Touchwood was the name?" the maid asked.

"What an intelligent young woman," he thought. "How much more
intelligent than that policeman. But women are more intelligent in small
things."

John felt very large as he bowed his head to enter the drawing-room.



CHAPTER IX


A sudden apprehension of his bulk (though he was only comparatively
massive) overcame John when he stood inside the tiny drawing-room of 83
Camera Square; and it was not until the steam from the tea-pot had
materialized into Miss Hamilton, who in a dress of filmy gray floated
round him as a cloud swathes a mountain, that he felt at ease.

"Why, how charming of you to keep your word," her well-remembered voice,
so soft and deep, was murmuring. "You don't know my mother, do you?
Mother, this is Mr. Touchwood, who was so kind to Ida and me on the
voyage back from America."

Mrs. Hamilton was one of those mothers that never destroy the prospects
of their children by testifying outwardly to what their beauty may one
day come: neither in face nor in expression nor in gesture nor in voice
did she bear the least resemblance to her daughter. At first John was
inclined to compare her to a diminutive clown; but presently he caught
sight of some golden mandarins marching across a lacquer cupboard and
decided that she resembled a mandarin; after which wherever he looked in
the room he seemed to catch sight of her miniature--on the
willow-pattern plates, on the mantelpiece in porcelain, and even on the
red lacquer bridge that spanned the tea-caddy.

"We've all heard of Mr. Touchwood," she said, picking up a small silver
weapon in the shape of a pea-shooter and puffing out her already plump
cheeks in a vain effort to extinguish the flame of the spirit-lamp. "And
I'm devoted to the drama. Pouf! I think this is a very dull instrument,
dear. What would England be without Shakespeare? Pouf! Pouf! One blows
and blows and blows and blows till really--well, it has taught me never
to regret that I did not learn the flute when there was a question of my
having lessons. Pouf! Pouf!"

John offered his services as extinguisher.

"You have to blow very hard," she warned him; and he being determined at
all costs to impress Miss Hamilton blew like a knight-errant at the gate
of an enchanted castle. It was almost too vigorous a blast: besides
extinguishing the flame, it blew several currants from the cake into
Mrs. Hamilton's lap, which John in an access of good-will tried to blow
off again less successfully.

"Bravo," the old lady exclaimed, clapping her hands. "I'm glad to see
that it can be done. But didn't you write _The Walls of Jericho_? Ah no,
I'm thinking of Joshua and his trumpet."

"_The Fall of Babylon_, mother," Miss Hamilton put in with a smile, in
the curves of which quivered a hint of scornfulness.

"Then I was not so far out. _The Fall of Babylon_ to be sure. Oh, what a
fall was there, my countrymen."

She beamed at the author encouragingly, who beamed responsively back at
her; presently she began to chuckle to herself, and John, hoping that in
his wish to be pleasant to Miss Hamilton's mother he was not appearing
to be imitating a hen, chuckled back.

"I'm glad you have a sense of humor," she exclaimed, suddenly assuming
an intensely serious expression and throwing up her eyebrows like two
skipping-ropes.

John, who felt as if he was playing a game, copied her expression as
well as he was able.

"I live on it," she pursued. "And thrive moreover. A small income and an
ample sense of humor. Yes, for thus one avoids extravagance oneself, but
enjoys it in other people."

"And how is Miss Merritt?" John inquired of Miss Hamilton, when he had
bowed his appreciation of the witticism. But before she could reply, her
mother rattled on: "Miss Merritt will not take Doris to America again.
Miss Merritt has written a book called _The Aphorisms of Aphrodite_."

The old lady's remarkable eyebrows were darting about her forehead like
forked lightning while she spoke.

"The Aphorisms of Aphrodite!" she repeated. "A collection of some of the
most declassical observations that I have ever encountered." Like a
diver's arms the eyebrows drew themselves together for a plunge into
unfathomable moral depths.

"My dear mother, lots of people found it very amusing," her daughter
protested.

"Miss Merritt," the old lady asserted, "was meant for bookkeeping by
double-entry, instead of which she had taken to book-writing by
double-entente. The profits may be treble, but the method is base. How
did she affect you, Mr. Touchwood?"

"She frightened me," John confessed. "I thought her manner somewhat
severe."

"You hear that, Doris? Her ethical exterior frightened him."

"You're both very unfair to Ida. I only wish I had half her talents."

"Wrapped in a napkin," said the old lady, "you have your shorthand."

John's heart leapt.

"Ah, you know shorthand," he could not help ejaculating with manifest
pleasure.

"I studied for a time. I think I had vague ideas once of a commercial
career," she replied, indifferently.

"The suggestion being," Mrs. Hamilton put in, "that I discouraged her.
But how is one to encourage shorthand? If she had learnt the deaf and
dumb alphabet I might have put aside half-an-hour every day for
conversation. But it is as hard to encourage shorthand as to encourage a
person who is talking in his sleep."

John fancied that beneath the indifference of the daughter and the
self-conscious humor of the mother he could detect cross-currents of
mutual disapproval; he could have sworn that the daughter was beginning
to be perpetually aware of her mother's presence.

"Or is it due to my obsession that relations should never see too much
of each other?" he asked himself. "Yet she knows shorthand--an
extraordinary coincidence. What a delightful house you have," he said
aloud with as much fervor as would excuse the momentary abstraction into
which he had been cast.

"My husband was a sinologue," Mrs. Hamilton announced.

"Was he indeed?" said John, trying to focus the word.

"And the study of Chinese is nearly as exclusive as shorthand," the old
lady went on. "But we traveled a great deal in China when I was first
married and being upon our honeymoon had but slight need of general
conversation."

No wonder she looked like a mandarin.

"And to me their furniture was always more expressive than their
language. Hence this house." Her black eyebrows soared like a condor to
disappear in the clouds of her snowy hair. "But do not let us talk of
China," she continued. "Let us rather talk of the drama. Or will you
have another muffin?"

"I think I should prefer the muffin," John admitted.

Presently he noticed that Miss Hamilton was looking surreptitiously at
her watch and glancing anxiously at the deepening twilight; she
evidently had an appointment elsewhere, and he rose to make his
farewells.

"For I'm sure you're wanting to go out," he ventured.

"Doris never cares to stay at home for very long," said her mother; and
John was aware once again, this time unmistakably, of the cross-currents
of mutual discontent.

"I had promised to meet Ida in Sloane Square."

"On the holy mount of Ida," the old lady quoted; John laughed out of
politeness, though he was unable to see the point of the allusion; he
might have concluded that after all Mrs. Hamilton was really rather
stupid, perhaps even vain and tiresome, had she not immediately
afterward proposed that he should give Doris time to get ready and have
the benefit of her company along King's Road.

"For I assume you are both going in the same direction," she said,
evoking with her eyebrows the suggestion of a signpost.

"My dear mother, Mr. Touchwood doesn't want to be bored with escorting
me," her daughter was protesting.

John laughed at the idea of being bored; then he fancied that in such a
small room his laughter might have sounded hysterical, and he raised the
pitch of his voice to give the impression that he always laughed like
that. In the end, after a short argument, Miss Hamilton agreed somewhat
ungraciously to let John wait for her. When she was gone to get ready,
her mother leaned over and tapped John's arm with a fan.

"I'm getting extremely anxious about Doris," she confided; the eyebrows
hovering in her forehead like a hawk about to strike gave her listener
the impression that she was really going to say something this time.

"Her health?" he began, anxiously.

"Her health is perfect. It is her independence which worries me. Hence
this house! Her father's brother is only too willing to do anything for
her, but she declines to be a poor relation. Now such an attitude is
ridiculous, because she is a poor relation. To each overture from her
uncle she replies with defiance. At one moment she drowns his remarks in
a typewriter; at another she flourishes her shorthand in his face; and
this summer she fled to America before he had finished what he was
saying. Mr. Touchwood, I rely on you!" she exclaimed, thumping him on
the shoulder with the fan.

John felt himself to be a very infirm prop for the old lady's ambition,
and wobbled in silence while she heaped upon him her aspirations.

"You are a man of the world. All the world's a stage! Prompt her, my
dear Mr. Touchwood, prompt her. You must have had a great experience in
prompting. I rely on you. Her uncle _must_ be allowed to help her. For
pray appreciate that Doris's independence merely benefits charitable
institutions, and in my opinion there is a limit to anonymous
benevolence. Perhaps you've heard of the Home for Epileptic Gentlewomen?
They can have their fits in peace and comfort entirely because my
daughter refuses to accept one penny from her uncle. To a mother, of
course, such behavior is unaccountable. And what is so unjust is that
she won't allow me to accept a penny either, but has even gone so far as
to threaten to live with Miss Merritt if I do. Aphorisms of Aphrodite! I
can assure you that there are times when I do not regret that I possess
an ample sense of humor. If you were a mother, Mr. Touchwood...."

"I _am_ an uncle," said John, quickly. He was not going to let Mrs.
Hamilton monopolize all the privileges of kinship.

"Then who more able to advise a niece? She will listen to you. Friends,
Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. You must remember that she
already admires you as a playwright. Insist that in future she must
admire you from the stalls instead of from the pit--as now. At present
she is pinched. Do not misunderstand me. I speak in metaphors. She is
pinched by straitened circumstances just as the women of China are
pinched by their shoes. She declines to wear a hobble-skirt; but decline
or not, she hobbles through life. She cannot do otherwise, which is why
we live here in Camera Square like two spoonfuls of tea in an old
caddy!"

"But you know, personally," John protested while the old lady was
fanning back her lost breath, "personally, and I am now speaking as an
uncle, personally I must confess that independence charms me."

"Music hath charms," said Mrs. Hamilton. "Who will deny it? And
independence with the indefinite article before it also hath charms; but
independence with no article at all, independence, the abstract noun,
though it may be a public virtue, is a private vice. Vesuvius lends
variety to the Bay of Naples; but a tufted mole on a woman's cheek
affects the observer with abhorrence, like a woolly caterpillar lurking
in the heart of a rose. Let us distinguish between the state and the
individual. Do, my dear Mr. Touchwood, let us always preserve a
distinction between wild nature and human nature."

John was determined not to give way, and he once more firmly asserted
his admiration for independence.

"All the world's a stage," said Mrs. Hamilton. "Yes, and all the men and
women merely players; yet life, Mr. Touchwood, is not a play. I have
realized that since my husband died. The widow of a sinologue has much
to realize. At first I hoped that Doris would marry. But she has never
wanted to marry. Men proposed in shoals. But as I always said to them,
'What is the use of proposing to my daughter? She will never marry.'"

For the first time John began to pay a deep and respectful attention to
the conversation.

"Really I should have thought," he began; but he stopped himself
abruptly, for he felt that it was not quite chivalrous for him to
appraise Miss Hamilton's matrimonial chances. "No doubt Miss Hamilton is
very critical," he substituted.

"She would criticize anybody," the old lady exclaimed. "From the Creator
of us all in general to her own mother in particular she would criticize
anybody. Anybody that is, except Miss Merritt. Do not suppose, for
instance, that she will not criticize you."

"Oh, I have no hope of escaping," John said.

"But pay no attention and continue to advise her. Really, when I think
that on account of her obstinacy a number of epileptic females are
enjoying luxurious convulsions while I am compelled to alternate between
muffins and scones every day of the week, though I never know which I
like better, really I resent our unnecessary poverty. As I say to her,
whether we accept her uncle's offer or not, we are always poor
relations; so we may as well be comfortably off poor relations."

"Don't you suppose that perhaps her uncle is all the fonder of her
because of this independence?" John suggested. "I think I should be."

"But what is the use of that?" Mrs. Hamilton demanded. "Nothing is so
bad for people as stunted affection. My husband spent all his
patrimony--he was a younger son--everything he had in fact upon his
passion for Chinese--well, not quite everything, for he was able to
leave me a small income, which I share with Doris. Pray remember that I
have never denied her anything that I could afford. Although she has
many times plotted with her friend Ida Merritt to earn her own living, I
have never once encouraged her in such a step. The idea to me has always
been painful. A sense of humor has carried _me_ through life; but Doris,
alas, is infected with gloom. Whether it is living in London or whether
it is reading Nietzsche I don't know, but she is infested with gloom.
Therefore when I heard of her meeting you I was glad; I was almost
reconciled to the notion of that vulgar descent upon America. Pray do
not imagine that I am trying to flatter: you should be used to public
approbation by now. John Hamilton is her uncle's name, and he has a
delightful estate near the Mull of Kintyre--Glencockic House--some of
the rents of which provide carpets for the fits of epileptic gentlewomen
and some the children of indigent tradesmen in Ayr with colonial
opportunities. Yet his sister-in-law must choose every morning between
muffins and scones."

John tried unsuccessfully to change the conversation; he even went so
far as to ask the old lady questions about her adventures in China,
although it was one of the rules of his conduct never to expose himself
unnecessarily to the reminiscences of travelers.

"Yes, yes," she would reply, impatiently, "the bells in the temple
gardens are delicious. Ding-dong! ding-dong! But, as I was saying,
unless Doris sees her way to be at any rate outwardly gracious ..." and
so it went on until Doris herself, dressed in that misty green Harris
tweed of the _Murmania_, came in to say that she was ready.

"My dear child," her mother protested. "The streets of London are empty
on Sunday evening, but they are not a Highland moor. What queer notions
of dress you do have, to be sure."

"Ida and I are going out to supper with some friends of hers in Norwood,
and I want to keep warm in the train."

"One of the aphorisms of Aphrodite, I suppose, to wear a
Norfolk-jacket--or should I say a Norwood jacket?--on Sunday evening.
You must excuse her, Mr. Touchwood."

John was by this time thoroughly bored by the old lady's witticisms and
delighted to leave her to fan herself in the firelight, while he and her
daughter walked along toward King's Road.

"No sign of a taxi," said John, whose mind was running on shorthand,
though he was much too shy to raise the topic for a second time. "You
don't mind going as far as Sloane Square by motor-bus?"

A moment later they were climbing to the outside of a motor-bus; when
John pulled the waterproof rug over their knees and felt the wind in his
face while they swayed together and apart in the rapid motion, he could
easily have fancied that they were once again upon the Atlantic.

"I often think of our crossing," he said in what he hoped was an
harmonious mixture of small talk and sentiment.

"So do I."

He tried to turn eagerly round, but was unable to do so on account of
having fastened the strap of the rug.

"Well, in Camera Square, wouldn't you?" she murmured.

"You're not happy there?" In order to cover his embarrassment at finding
he had asked what she might consider an impertinent question John turned
away to fasten the rug more tightly, which nearly kept him from turning
around again at all.

"Don't let's talk about me," she begged, dismissing the subject with a
curt little laugh. "How fast they do drive on Sunday."

"Yes, the streets are empty," he agreed. Good heavens, at this rate they
would be at Sloane Square in five minutes, and he might just as well
never have called on her. What did it matter if the streets were empty?
They were not half as empty as this conversation.

"I'm working hard," he began.

"Lucky you!"

"At least when I say I'm working hard," he corrected himself, "I mean
that I have been working hard. Just at present I'm rather worried by
family matters."

"Poor man, I sympathize with you."

She might sympathize with him; but on this motor-bus her manner was so
detached that nobody could have guessed it, John thought, and he had
looked at her every time a street-lamp illuminated her expression.

"I often think of our crossing," he repeated. "I'm sure it would be a
great pity to let our friendship fade out into nothing. Won't you lunch
with me one day?"

"With pleasure."

"Wednesday at Princes? Or no, better say the Carlton Grill."

"Thanks so much."

"It's not easy to talk on a motor-bus, is it?" John suggested.

"No, it's like trying to talk to somebody whom you're seeing off in a
train."

"I hope you'll enjoy your evening. You'll remember me to Miss Merritt?"

"Of course."

Sloane Square opened ahead of them; but at any rate, John congratulated
himself, he had managed to arrange a lunch for Wednesday and need no
longer reproach himself for a complete deadlock.

"I must hurry," she warned him when they had descended to the pavement.

"Wednesday at one o'clock then."

He would have liked to detain her with elaborate instructions about the
exact spot on the carpet where she would find him waiting for her on
Wednesday; but she had shaken him lightly by the hand and crossed the
road before he could decide between the entrance in Regent Street and
the entrance in Pall Mall.

"It is becoming every day more evident, Mrs. Worfolk," John told his
housekeeper after supper that evening, "that I must begin to look about
for a secretary."

"Yes, sir," she agreed, cheerfully. "There's lots of deserving young
fellows would be glad of the job, I'm shaw."

John left it at that, acknowledged Mrs. Worfolk's wishes for his night's
repose, poured himself out a whisky and soda, and settled himself down
to read a gilded work at fifteen shillings net entitled _Fifteen Famous
Forgers_. When he had read three shillings' worth, he decided that the
only crime which possessed a literary interest for anybody outside the
principals was murder, and went to bed early in order to prepare for the
painful interview at Staple Inn next morning.

Stephen Crutchley, the celebrated architect, was some years older than
John, old enough in fact to have been severely affected by the esthetic
movement in his early twenties; he had a secret belief that was
nourished both by his pre-eminence in Gothic design and by his wife's
lilies and languors that he formed a link with the Pre-Raphaelites. His
legs were excessively short, but short though they were one of them had
managed to remain an inch shorter than the other, which in conjunction
with a ponderous body made his gait something between a limp and a
shamble. He had a long ragged beard which looked as if he had dropped
egg or cigarette-ash on it according to whether the person who was
deciding its color thought it was more gray or more yellow. His
appearance was usually referred to by paragraph writers as leonine, and
he much regretted that his beard was turning gray so soon, when what the
same writers called his "tawny mane of hair" was still unwithered. He
affected the Bohemian costume of the 'eighties, that is to say the
velvet jacket, the flowered silk waistcoat, and the unknotted tie of
deep crimson or old gold kept in place by a prelate's ring; he lunched
every day at the Arts Club, and since he was making at least £6000 a
year, he did not bother to go back to his office in the afternoon. John
had met him first soon after his father's death in 1890 somewhere in
Northamptonshire where Crutchley was restoring a church--his first big
job--and where John was editing temporarily a local paper. In those days
John reacting from dog-biscuits was every bit as romantic as he was now;
he and the young architect had often talked the sun up and spoken
ecstatically of another medieval renaissance, of the nobility of
handicrafts and of the glory of the guilds. Later on, when John in the
reaction from journalism embarked upon realistic novels, Crutchley was
inclined to quarrel with him as a renegade, and even went so far as to
send him a volume of Browning's poems with _The Lost Leader_ heavily
marked in red pencil. Considering that Crutchley was making more money
with his gargoyles than himself with his novels John resented the
accusation of having deserted his friend for a handful of silver; and as
for the ribbon which he was accused of putting in his coat, John thought
that the architect was the last person to underline such an accusation,
when himself for the advancement of his work had joined every
ecclesiastical society from the English Church Union to the Alcuin Club.
There was not a ritualistic parson in the land who wanted with or
without a faculty to erect a rood or reredos but turned to Crutchley for
his design, principally because his watch-chain jingled with religious
labels; although to do him justice, even when he was making £6000 a year
he continued to attend Choral Eucharists as regularly as ever. When John
abandoned realistic novels and made a success as a romantic playwright
his friend welcomed him back to the Gothic fold with emotion and
enthusiasm.

"You and I, John, are almost the only ones left," the architect had
said, feelingly.

"Come, come, Stephen, you mustn't talk as if I was William de Morgan.
I'm not yet forty, and you're not yet forty-five," John had replied,
slightly nettled by this ascription of them to a bygone period.

Yet with all his absurdities and affectations Stephen was a fine fellow
and a fine architect, and when soon after this he had agreed to take
Hugh into his office John would have forgiven him if he had chosen to
perambulate Chelsea in doublet and hose.

Thinking of Stephen as he had known him for twenty years John had no
qualms when on Monday morning he ascended the winding stone steps that
led up to his office in the oldest portion of Staple Inn; nor apparently
had Hugh, who came in as jauntily as ever and greeted his brother with
genial self-possession.

"I thought you'd blow in this morning. I betted Aubrey half-a-dollar
that you'd blow in. He tells me you went off in rather a bad temper on
Saturday night. But you were quite right, Johnnie; that port of George's
is not good. You were quite right. I shall always respect your verdict
on wine in future."

"This is not the moment to talk about wine," said John, angrily.

"I'm afraid that owing to George and his confounded elderberry ink I
didn't put my case quite as clearly as I ought to have done," Hugh went
on, serenely. "But don't worry. As soon as you've settled with Stevie, I
shall tell you all about it. I think you'll be thrilled. It's a pity
you've moved into Wardour Street, or you might have made a good story
out of it."

One of the clerks came back with an invitation for John to follow him
into Mr. Crutchley's own room, and he was glad to escape from his
brother's airy impenitence.

"Wonderful how Stevie acts up to the part, isn't it?" commented Hugh,
when he saw John looking round him at the timbered rooms with their
ancient furniture and medieval blazonries through which they were
passing.

"I prefer to see Crutchley alone," said John, coldly. "No doubt he will
send for you when your presence is required."

Hugh nodded amiably and went over to his desk in one of the latticed
oriel windows, the noise of the Holborn traffic surging in through which
reminded the listener that these perfectly medieval rooms were in the
heart of modern London.

"I should rather like to live in chambers here myself," thought John. "I
believe they would give me the very atmosphere I require for Joan of
Arc; and I should be close to the theaters."

This project appealed to him more than ever when he entered the
architect's inmost sanctum, which containing nothing that did not belong
to the best period of whatever it was, wrought iron or carved wood or
embroidered stuff, impressed John's eye for a scenic effect. Nor was
there too much of it: the room was austere, not even so full as a
Carpaccio interior. Modernity here wore a figleaf; wax candles were
burned instead of gas or electric light; and even the telephone was
enshrined in a Florentine casket. When the oaken door covered with huge
nails and floriated hinges was closed, John sat down upon what is called
a Glastonbury chair and gazed at his friend who was seated upon a gilt
throne under a canopy of faded azure that was embroidered with golden
unicorns, wyverns, and other fabulous monsters in a pasture of silver
fleurs-de-lys.

"Have a cigar," said the Master, as he liked to be called, pushing
across the refectory table that had come out of an old Flemish monastery
a primitive box painted with scenes of saintly temptations, but lined
with cedar wood and packed full of fat Corona Coronas.

"It seems hardly appropriate to smoke cigars in this room," John
observed. "Even a churchwarden-pipe would be an anachronism here."

"Yes, yes," Stephen assented, tossing back his hair with the authentic
Vikingly gesture. "But cigars are the chief consolation we have for
being compelled to exist in this modern world. I haven't seen you,
John, since you returned from America. How's work?"

"_Lucretia_ went splendidly in New York. And I'm in the middle of _Joan
of Arc_ now."

"I'm glad, I'm glad," the architect growled as fiercely as one of the
great Victorians. "But for Heaven's sake get the coats right. Theatrical
heraldry is shocking. And get the ecclesiastical details right.
Theatrical ritual is worse. But I'm glad you're giving 'em Joan of Arc.
Keep it up, keep it up. The modern drama wants disinfecting."

"I suppose you wouldn't care to advise me about the costumes and
processions and all that," John suggested, offering his friend a pinch
of his romantic Sanitas.

"Yes, I will. Of course, I will. But I must have a free hand. An
absolutely free hand, John. I won't have any confounded play-actor
trying to tell me that it doesn't matter if a bishop in the fifteenth
century does wear a sixteenth century miter, because it's more effective
from the gallery. Eh? I know them. You know them. A free hand or you can
burn Joan on an asbestos gasfire, and I won't help you."

"Your help would be so much appreciated," John assured him, "that I can
promise you an absolutely short hand."

The architect stared at the dramatist.

"What did I say? I mean free hand--extraordinary slip," John laughed a
little awkwardly. "Yes, your name, Stephen, is just what we shall
require to persuade the skeptical that it is worth while making another
attempt with Joan of Arc. I can promise you some fine opportunities.
I've got a particularly effective tableau to show the miserable
condition of France before the play begins. The curtain will rise upon
the rearguard of an army marching out of a city, heavy snow will fall,
and above the silence you will hear the howling of the wolves following
in the track of the troops. This is an historical fact. I may even
introduce several wolves upon the stage. But I rather doubt if trained
wolves are procurable, although at a pinch we could use large dogs--but
don't let me run away with my own work like this. I did not come here
this morning to talk about Joan of Arc, but about my brother Hugh."

John rose from his chair and walked nervously up and down the room,
while Stephen Crutchley managed to exaggerate a slight roughness at the
back of his throat into a violent fit of coughing.

"I see you feel it as much as I do," John murmured, while the architect
continued to express his overwrought feelings in bronchial spasms.

"I would have spared you this," the architect managed to gasp at last.

"I'm sure you would," said John, warmly. "But since in what I hope was a
genuine impulse of contrition not entirely dictated by motives of
self-interest Hugh has confessed his crime to me, I am come here this
morning confident that you will allow me to--in other words--what was
the exact sum? I shall of course remove him from your tutelage this
morning."

John's eloquence was not spontaneous; he had rehearsed this speech on
the way from Hampstead that morning, and he was agreeably surprised to
find that he had been able owing to his friend's coughing-fit to
reproduce nearly all of it. He had so often been robbed of a prepared
oration by some unexpected turn of the conversation that he felt now
much happier than he ought under the weight of a family scandal.

"Your generosity...." he continued.

"No, no," interrupted the architect, "it is you who are generous."

The two romantics gazed at one another with an expression of nobility
that required no words to enhance it.

"We can afford to be generous," said John, which was perfectly true,
though the reference was to worth of character rather than to worth of
capital.

"Eighty-one pounds six and eightpence," Crutchley murmured. "But I blame
myself. I should not have left an old check book lying about. It was
careless--it was, I do not hesitate to say so, criminally careless. But
you know my attitude towards money. I am radically incapable of dealing
with money."

"Of course you are," John assented with conviction. "So am I. Money with
me is merely a means to an end."

"Exactly what it is with me," the architect declared. "Money in itself
conveys nothing to me. What I always say to my clients is that if they
want the best work they must pay for it. It's the work that counts, not
the money."

"Precisely my own attitude," John agreed. "What people will not
understand is that an artist charges a high price when he does not want
to do the work. If people insist on his doing it, they must expect to
pay."

"And of course," the architect added, "we owe it to our fellows to
sustain the dignity of our professions. Art in England has already been
too much cheapened."

"You've kept all your old enthusiasms," John told his friend. "It's
splendid to find a man who is not spoilt by success. Eighty-one pounds
you said? I've brought my check book."

"Eighty-one pounds six and eightpence, yes. It was like you, John, to
come forward in this way. But I wish you could have been spared. You
understand, don't you, that I intended to say nothing about it and to
blame myself in silence for my carelessness? On the other hand, I could
not treat your brother with my former confidence. This terrible business
disturbed our whole relationship."

"I am not going to enlarge on my feelings," said John as he handed the
architect the stolen sum. "But you will understand them. I believe the
shock has aged me. I seem to have lost some of my self-reliance. Only
this morning I was thinking to myself that I must really get a private
secretary."

"You certainly should have one," the architect agreed.

"Yes, I must. The only thing is that since this dreadful escapade of
Hugh's I feel that an unbusinesslike creature such as I am ought not to
put himself in the hands of a young man. What is your experience of
women? From a business point of view, I mean."

"I think that a woman would do your work much better than a man," said
the architect, decidedly.

"So do I. I'm very glad to have your advice though."

After this John felt no more reluctant at parting with eighty-one pounds
six and eightpence than he would have felt in paying a specialist two
guineas for advising him to take a long rest when he wanted to take a
long rest. His friend's aloofness from money had raised to a higher
level what might easily have been a most unpleasant transaction: not
even one of his heroes could have extricated himself from an involved
situation more poetically and more sympathetically. It now only remained
to dispose of the villain.

"Shall we have Hugh in?" John asked.

"I wish I could keep him with me," the architect sighed. "But I don't
think I have a right to consult my personal feelings. We must consider
his behavior in itself."

"In any case," said John, quickly, "I have made arrangements about his
future; he is going to be a mahogany-planter in British Honduras."

"Of course I don't use mahogany much in my work, but if ever ..." the
architect was beginning, when John waved aside his kindly intentions.

"The impulse is generous, Stephen, but I should prefer that so far as
you are concerned Hugh should always be as if he had never been. In
fact, I'm bound to say frankly that I'm glad you do not use mahogany in
your work. I'm glad that I've chosen a career for Hugh which will cut
him completely off from what to me will always be the painful
associations of architecture."

While they were waiting for the sinner to come in, John tried to
remember the name of the mahogany-planter whom he had met in the
_Murmania_; but he could get no nearer to it than a vague notion that it
might have been Raikes, and he decided to leave out for the present any
allusion to British Honduras.

Hugh entered his chief's room without a blush: he could not have bowed
his head, however sincere his repentance, because his collars would not
permit the least abasement; though at least, his brother thought, he
might have had the decency not to sit down until he was invited, and
when he did sit down not to pull up his trousers in that aggressive way
and expose those very defiant socks.

Stephen Crutchley rose from his throne and shambled over to the
fireplace, leaning against the stone hood of which he took up an
attitude that would have abashed anybody but Hugh.

"Touchwood," he began, "no doubt you have already guessed why I have
asked you to speak to me."

Hugh nodded encouragingly.

"I do not wish to enlarge upon the circumstances of your behavior,
because your brother, my old friend, has come forward to shield you from
the consequences. Nor do I propose to animadvert upon the forgery
itself. However lightly you embarked upon it, I don't doubt that by now
you have sufficiently realized its gravity. What tempted you to commit
this crime I do not hope to guess; but I fear that such a device for
obtaining money must have been inspired by debts, whether for cards or
for horse-racing, or perhaps even for women I do not pretend to know."

"Add waistcoats and whisky and you've got the motive," Hugh chirped. "I
say, I think your trousers are scorching," he added on a note of anxious
consideration.

"I do not propose to enlarge on any of these topics," said the
architect, moving away from the fire and sniffing irritably the faint
odor of overheated homespun. "What I do wish to enlarge upon is your
brother's generosity in coming forward like this. Naturally I who have
known him for twenty years expected nothing else, because he is a man of
ideals, a writer of whom we are all proud, from whom we all expect great
things and--however I am not going to enlarge upon his obvious
qualities. What I do wish to say is that he and I have decided that
after this business you must leave me. I don't suppose that you
expected to remain; nor, even if you could, do I suppose that you would
wish to remain. Perhaps you are not enough in sympathy with my
aspirations for the future of English architecture to regret our
parting; but I hope that this lesson you have had will be the means of
bringing you to an appreciation of what your brother has done for you
and that in British Honduras you will behave in such a way as to justify
his generosity. Touchwood, good-by! I did not expect when you came to me
three years ago that our last farewell would be fraught--would be so
unpleasant."

John was probably much more profoundly moved by Crutchley's sermon than
Hugh; indeed he was so much moved that he rose to supplement it with one
of his own in which he said the same things about the architect that the
architect had said about him, after which the two romantics looked at
each other admiringly, while they waited for Hugh to reply.

"I suppose I ought to say I'm very sorry and all that," Hugh managed to
mutter at last. "Good-by, Mr. Crutchley, and jolly good luck. I'll just
toddle through the office and say good-by to all the boys, John, and
then I dare say you'll be ready for lunch."

He swaggered out of the room; when the two friends were left together
they turned aside with mutual sympathy from the topic of Hugh to discuss
Joan of Arc and a new transept that Crutchley was designing. When the
culprit put his head round the door and called out to John that he was
ready, the two old friends shook hands affectionately and parted with an
increased regard for each other and themselves.

"Look here, what's all this about British Honduras?" Hugh asked
indignantly when he and his brother had passed under the arched entry of
Staple Inn and were walking along Holborn. "I see you're bent on
gratifying your appetite for romance even in the choice of a colony.
British Honduras! British humbug!"

"I prefer not do discuss anything except your immediate future," said
John.

"It's such an extraordinary place to hit on," Hugh grunted in a tone of
irritated perplexity."

"The immediate future," John repeated, sharply. "To-night you will go
down to Hampshire and if you wish for any more help from me, you will
remain there in the strictest seclusion until I have time to settle your
ultimate future."

"Oh, I shan't at all mind a few weeks in Hampshire. What I'm grumbling
at is British Honduras. I shall rather enjoy Hampshire in fact. Who's
there at present?"

John told him, and Hugh made a grimace.

"I shall have to jolly them up a bit. However it's a good job that
Laurence has lost his faith. I shall be spared his Chloral Eucharists,
anyway. Where are we going to lunch?"

"Hugh!" exclaimed his outraged brother stopping short in the middle of
the crowded pavement. "Have you no sense of shame at all? Are you
utterly callous?"

"Look here, Johnnie, don't start in again on that. I know you had to
take that line with Stevie, and you'll do me the justice of admitting
that I backed you up; but when we're alone, do chuck all that. I'm very
grateful to you for forking out--by the way, I hope you noticed the nice
little touch in the sum? Eighty-one pounds six and eightpence. The six
and eightpence was for my lawyer."

"Do you adopt this sickeningly cynical attitude," John besought.
"Forgery is not a joke."

"Well, this forgery was," Hugh contradicted. "You see, I got hold of
Stevie's old check book and found he had quite a decent little account
in Croydon. So I faked his signature--you know how to do that?"

"I don't want to know."

"You copy the signature upside down. Yes, that's the way. Then old
Aubrey disguised himself with blue glasses and presented the check at
the bank, just allowing himself five minutes to catch the train back to
town. I was waiting at the station in no end of a funk. But it was all
right. The clerk blinked for a minute, but old Aubrey blinked back at
him as cool as you please, and he shoveled out the gold. Aubrey came
jingling on to the platform like a milk-can just as the train was
starting."

"I wish to hear no more."

"And then I found that Stevie was cocking his eye at this check book and
scratching his head and looking at me and--well, he suspected me. The
fact of the matter is that Stevie's as keen on his cash as anybody. I
suppose this is a side account for the benefit of some little lady or
other."

"Silence," John commanded.

"And then I lost my nerve, so that when Stevie started questioning me
about his check book I must have looked embarrassed."

"I'm surprised to hear that," John put in, bitterly.

"Yes, I dare say I could have bluffed it out, because I'd taken the
precaution to cash the check through Aubrey whom Stevie knows nothing
about. But I don't know. I lost my nerve. Well, thanks very much for
stumping up, Johnnie; I'm only glad you got so much pleasure out of it
yourself."

"What do you mean--pleasure?"

"Shut up--don't pretend you didn't enjoy yourself, you old Pharisee.
Look here where _are_ we going to lunch? I'm carrying a bag full of
instruments, you know."

John told Hugh that he declined to lunch with him in his present mood of
bravado, and at the corner of Chancery Lane they parted.

"Mind," John warned him, "if you wish for any help from me you are to
remain for the present at Ambles."

"My dear chap, I don't want to remain anywhere else; but I wish you
could appreciate the way in which the dark and bloody deed was done, as
one of your characters would say. You haven't uttered a word of
congratulation. After all, it took some pluck, you know, and the
signature was an absolutely perfect fake--perfect. The only thing that
failed was my nerve afterwards. But I suppose I should be steadier
another time."

John hurried away in a rage and walked up the Strand muttering:

"What _was_ the name of that mahogany-planter? _Was_ it Raikes or wasn't
it? I must find his card."

It was not until he had posted the following letter that he recovered
some of his wonted serenity.

36 CHURCH ROW,

Hampstead, N.W.,

_Nov. 28, 1910._

MY DEAR MISS HAMILTON,--In case I am too shy to broach the subject at
lunch on Wednesday I am writing to ask you beforehand if in your wildest
dreams you have ever dreamt that you could be a private secretary. I
have for a long time been wanting a secretary, and as you often spoke
with interest of my work I am in hopes that the idea will not be
distasteful to you. I should not have dared to ask you if you had not
mentioned shorthand yesterday and if Mrs. Hamilton had not said
something about your typewriting. This seems to indicate that at any
rate you have considered the question of secretarial work. The fact of
the matter is that in addition to my plays I am much worried by family
affairs, so much so that I am kept from my own work and really require
not merely mechanical assistance, but also advice on many subjects on
which a woman is competent to advise.

I gathered also from your mother's conversation that you yourself were
sometimes harassed by family problems and I thought that perhaps you
might welcome an excuse to get away from them for awhile.

My notions of the salary that one ought to offer a private secretary are
extremely vague. Possibly our friend Miss Merritt would negotiate the
business side, which to me as an author is always very unpleasant. I
should of course accept whatever Miss Merritt proposed without
hesitation. My idea was that you would work with me every morning at
Hampstead. I have never yet attempted dictation myself, but I feel that
I could do it after a little practice. Then I thought you could lunch
with me, and that after lunch we could work on the materials--that is to
say that I should give you a list of things I wanted to know, which you
would search for either in my own library or at the British Museum. Does
this strike you as too heavy a task? Perhaps Miss Merritt will advise
you on this matter too.

If Mrs. Hamilton is opposed to the idea, possibly I might call upon her
and explain personally my point of view. In the meantime I am looking
forward to our lunch and hoping very much that you will set my mind at
rest by accepting the post. I think I told you I was working on a play
with Joan of Arc as the central figure. It is interesting, because I am
determined not to fall into the temptation of introducing a factitious
love-interest, which in my opinion spoilt Schiller's version.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN TOUCHWOOD.



CHAPTER X


When after lunch on Wednesday afternoon John relinquished Miss Hamilton
to the company of her friend Miss Merritt at Charing Cross Station, he
was relinquishing a secretary from whom he had received an assurance
that the very next morning she would be at his elbow, if he might so
express himself. In his rosiest moments he had never expected so swift a
fulfilment of his plan, and he felt duly grateful to Miss Merritt, to
whose powers of persuasion he ascribed the acceptance in spite of Mrs.
Hamilton's usually only too effective method of counteracting any kind
of independent action on her daughter's part. On the promenade deck of
the _Murmania_ Miss Merritt had impressed John with her resolute
character; now she seemed to him positively Napoleonic, and he was more
in awe of her than ever, so much so indeed that he completely failed to
convey his sense of obligation to her good offices and could only beam
at her like a benevolent character in a Dickens novel. Finally he did
manage to stammer out his desire that she would charge herself with the
financial side of the agreement and was lost in silent wonder when she
had no hesitation in suggesting terms based on the fact that Miss
Hamilton had no previous experience as a secretary.

"Later on, if you're satisfied with her," she said, "you must increase
her salary; but I will be no party to over-payment simply because she is
personally sympathetic to you."

How well that was put, John thought. Personally sympathetic! How
accurately it described his attitude toward Miss Hamilton. He took leave
of the young women and walked up Villiers Street, cheered by the
pleasant conviction that the flood of domestic worries which had
threatened to destroy his peace of mind and overwhelm his productiveness
was at last definitely stayed.

"She's exactly what I require," he kept saying to himself, exultantly.
"And I think I may claim without unduly flattering myself that the post
I have offered her is exactly what she requires. From what that very
nice girl Miss Merritt said, it is evidently a question of asserting
herself now or never. With what a charming lack of self-consciousness
she agreed to the salary and even suggested the hours of work herself.
Oh, she's undoubtedly practical--very practical; but at the same time
she has not got that almost painfully practical exterior of Miss
Merritt, who must have broken in a large number of difficult employers
to acquire that tight set of her mouth. Probably I shall be easy to
manage, so working for me won't spoil her unbusinesslike appearance.
To-morrow we are to discuss the choice of a typewriter; and by the way,
I must arrange which room she is to use for typing. The noise of a
machine at high speed would be as prejudicial to composition as Viola's
step-dancing. Yes, I must arrange with Mrs. Worfolk about a room."

John's faith in his good luck was confirmed by the amazing discovery
that Mrs. Worfolk had known his intended secretary as a child.

"Her old nurse in fact!" he exclaimed joyfully, for such a melodramatic
coincidence did not offend John's romantic palate.

"No, sir, not her nurse. I never was not what you might call a nurse
proper. Well, I mean to say, though I was always fond of children I
seemed to take more somehow to the house itself, and so I never got
beyond being a nursemaid. After that I gave myself up to rising as high
as a housemaid _can_ rise until I married Mr. Worfolk. Perhaps you may
remember me once passing the remark that I'd been in service with a
racing family? Well, after I left them I took a situation as upper
housemaid with a very nice family in the county of Unts, and who came up
to London for the season to Grosvenor Gardens. Then I met Mr. Worfolk
who was a carpenter and he made packing-cases for Mr. Hamilton who was
your young lady's pa. Oh, I remember him well. There was a slight
argument between Mr. Worfolk and I--well, not argument, because ours was
a very happy marriage, but a slight conversation as to whether he was to
make cases for Chi-ner or Chi-nese knick-knacks, and Mr. Worfolk was
wrong."

"But were you in service with Mr. Hamilton? Did he live in
Huntingdonshire?"

"No, no, sir. You're getting very confused, if you'll pardon the
obsivation. Very confused, you're getting. This Mr. Hamilton was a
customer of Mr. Worfolk and through him coming to superintend his
Chi-nese valuables being packed I got to know his little girl--your
secretary as is to be. Oh, I remember her perfickly. Why, I mended a
hole in her stocking once. Right above the garter it was, and she was so
fond of our Tom. Oh, but he _was_ a beautiful mouser. I've heard many
people say they never saw a finer cat nowhere."

"You have a splendid memory, Mrs. Worfolk."

"Yes, sir. I have got a good memory. Why, when I was a tiny tot I can
remember my poor grandpa being took sudden with the colic and rolling
about on the kitchen hearth-rug, groaning, as you might say, in a agony
of pain. Well, he died the same year as the Juke of Wellington, but
though I was taken to the Juke's funeral by my poor mother, I've
forgotten that. Well, one can't remember everything, and that's a fact;
one little thing will stick and another little thing won't. Well, I mean
to say, it's a good job anybody can't remember everything. I'm shaw
there's enough trouble in the world as it is."

Mrs. Worfolk startled the new secretary when she presented herself at 36
Church Row next day by embracing her affectionately in the hall before
she had explained the reason for such a demonstration. It soon
transpired, however, that Miss Hamilton's memory was as good as Mrs.
Worfolk's and that she had not forgotten those jolly visits to the
carpenter long ago, nor even the big yellow Tomcat. As for the master
of the house, he raised his housekeeper's salary to show what importance
he attached to a good memory.

For a day or two John felt shy of assigning much work to his secretary;
but she soon protested that, if she was only going to type thirty to
fifty lines of blank verse every other morning, she should resign her
post on the ground that it was an undignified sinecure.

"What about dictating your letters? You made such a point of my knowing
shorthand."

"Yes, I did, didn't I?" John agreed.

Dictation made him very nervous at first; but with a little practice he
began to enjoy it, and ultimately it became something in the nature of a
vice. He dictated immensely long letters to friends whose very existence
he had forgotten for years, the result of which abrupt revivals of
intercourse was a shower of appeals to lend money to these companions of
his youth. Yet this result did not discourage him from the habit of
dictating for dictation's sake, and every night before he turned over to
go to sleep he used to poke about in the rubbish-heap of the past for
more forgotten friends. As a set off to incommoding himself with a host
of unnecessary correspondents he became meticulously businesslike, and
after having neglected Miss Janet Bond for several weeks he began to
write to her daily about the progress of the play, which notwithstanding
his passion for dictation really was progressing at last. Indeed he
worked up the manageress of the Parthenon to such a pitch of excitement
that one morning she appeared suddenly at Church Row and made a dramatic
entrance into the library when John, who had for the moment exhausted
his list of friends, was dictating a letter to _The Times_ about the
condition of some trees on Hampstead Heath.

"I've broken in upon your inspiration," boomed Miss Bond in tones that
she usually reserved for her most intensely tragic moments.

In vain did the author asseverate that he was delighted to see her; she
rushed away without another word; but that evening she wrote him an
ecstatic letter from her dressing-room about what it had meant to her
and what it always would mean to her to think of his working like that
for her.

"But we mustn't deride Janet Bond," said the author to his secretary,
who was looking contemptuously at die actress's heavy caligraphy. "We
must remember that she will create Joan of Arc."

"Yes, it's a pity, isn't it?" Miss Hamilton commented, dryly.

"Oh, but won't you allow that she's a great actress?"

"I will indeed," she murmured with an emphatic nod.

Carried along upon his flood of correspondence John nevertheless managed
to steer clear of his relations, and in his present frame of mind he was
inclined to attribute his successful course like everything else that
was prospering just now to the advent of Miss Hamilton. However, it was
too much to expect that with his newly discovered talent he should
resist dictating at any rate one epistolary sermon to his youngest
brother, of whose arrival at Ambles he had been sharply notified by
Hilda. This weighty address took up nearly a whole morning, and when it
was finished John was disconcerted by Miss Hamilton's saying:

"You don't really want me to type all this out?"

"Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know. But it seems to me that whatever he's done this won't
make him repent. You don't mind my criticizing you?"

"I asked you to," he reminded her.

"Well, it seems to me a little false--a little, if I may say so,
complacently wrathful. It's the sort of thing I seem to remember reading
and laughing at in old-fashioned books. Of course, I'll type it out at
once if you insist, but it's already after twelve o'clock, and we have
to go over the material for the third act. I can't somehow fit in what
you've just been dictating with what you were telling me yesterday about
the scene between Gilles de Rais and Joan. I'm so afraid that you'll
make Joan preach, and of course she mustn't preach, must she?"

"All right," conceded John, trying not to appear mortified. "If you
think it isn't worth sending, I won't send it."

He fancied that she would be moved by his sensitiveness to her judgment;
but, without a tremor, she tore the pages out of her shorthand book and
threw them into the waste-paper basket. John stared at the ruthless
young woman in dismay.

"Didn't you mean me to take you at your word?" she asked, severely.

He was not altogether sure that he had, but he lacked the courage to
tell her so and checked an impulse to rescue his stillborn sermon from
the grave.

"Though I don't quite like the idea of leaving my brother at Ambles with
nothing to occupy his energies," John went on, meditatively, "I'm
doubtful of the prudence of exposing him to the temptations of
idleness."

"If you want to give him something to do, why don't you intrust him with
getting ready the house for your Christmas party? You are always
worrying about its emptiness."

"But isn't that putting in his way temptations of a more positive kind?"
he suggested.

"Not if you set a limit to your expenditure. Can you trust his taste? He
ought to be an adept at furnishings."

"Oh, I think he'd do the actual furnishing very well. But won't it seem
as if I am overlooking his abominable behavior too easily?"

With a great effort John kept his eyes averted from the waste-paper
basket.

"You must either do that or refuse to have anything more to do with
him," Miss Hamilton declared. "You can't expect him to be the mirror of
your moral superiority for the rest of his life."

"You seem to take quite an interest in him," said John, a little
resentfully.

Miss Hamilton shrugged her shoulders.

"All right," he added, hurriedly. "I'll authorize him to prepare the
house for Christmas. He must fight his own battles with my sister,
Hilda. At any rate, it will annoy her."

Miss Hamilton shook her head in mock reproof.

"Act Three. Scene One," the dramatist announced in the voice of a mystic
who has at last shaken himself free from earthly clogs and is about to
achieve levitation. It was consoling to perceive that his secretary's
expression changed in accord with his own, and John decided that she
really was a most attractive young woman and not so unsympathetic as he
had been upon the verge of thinking. Moreover, she was right. The
important thing at present, the only thing, in fact, was the progress of
the play, and it was for this very purpose that he had secured her
collaboration--well, perhaps collaboration was too strong a word--but,
indeed, so completely had she identified herself with his work that
really he could almost call it collaboration. He ought not to tax his
invention at this critical point with such a minor problem as the
preparation of Ambles for a family reunion. Relations must go to the
deuce in their own way, at any rate until the rough draft of the third
act was finished, which, under present favorable conditions, might
easily happen before Christmas. His secretary was always careful not to
worry him with her own domestic bothers, though he knew by the way she
had once or twice referred to her mother that she was having her own
hard fight at home. He had once proposed calling upon the old lady; but
Doris had quickly squashed the suggestion. John liked to think about
Mrs. Hamilton, because through some obscure process of logic it gave him
an excuse to think about her daughter as Doris. In other connections he
thought of her formally as Miss Hamilton, and often told himself how
lucky it was that so charming and accomplished a young woman should be
so obviously indifferent to--well, not exactly to himself, but surely he
might allege to anything except himself as a romantic playwright.

Meanwhile, the play itself marched on with apparent smoothness, until
one morning John dictated the following letter to his star:

       *       *       *       *       *

MY DEAR MISS BOND,--Much against my will, I have come to the conclusion
that without a human love interest a play about Joan of Arc is
impossible. You will be surprised by my abrupt change of front, and you
will smile to yourself when you remember how earnestly I argued against
your suggestion that I might ultimately be compelled to introduce a
human love interest. The fact of the matter is that now I have arrived
at the third act I find patriotism too abstract an emotion for the
stage. As you know, my idea was to make Joan so much positively
enamoured of her country that the ordinary love interest would be
superseded. I shall continue to keep Joan herself heart free; but I do
think that it would be effective to have at any rate two people in love
with her. My notion is to introduce a devoted young peasant who will
follow her from her native village, first to the court at Chinon, and so
on right through the play until the last fatal scene in the market place
at Rouen. I'm sure such a simple lover could be made very moving, and
the contrast would be valuable; moreover, it strikes me as a perfectly
natural situation. Further, I propose that Gilles de Rais should not
only be in love with her, but that he should actually declare his love,
and that she should for a brief moment be tempted to return it, finally
spurning him as a temptation of the Devil, and thereby reducing him to
such a state of despair that he is led into the horrible practices for
which he was finally condemned to death. Let me know your opinion soon,
because I am at this moment working on the third act.

Yours very sincerely,

JOHN TOUCHWOOD.

       *       *       *       *       *

To which Miss Bond replied by telegram:

       *       *       *       *       *

Complete confidence in you, and think suggestion magnificent, there
should be exit speech of renunciation for Joan to bring down curtain of
third act.

JANET BOND.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You agree with these suggestions?" John asked his secretary.

"Like Miss Bond, I have complete confidence in you," she replied.

He looked at her earnestly to see if she was laughing at him, and put
down his pen.

"Do you know that in some ways you yourself remind me of Joan?"

It was a habit of John's, who had a brain like a fly's eye, to perceive
historical resemblances that were denied to an ordinary vision.
Generally he discovered these reincarnations of the past in his own
personality. While he was writing _The Fall of Babylon_ he actually
fretted himself for a time over a fancied similarity between his
character and Nebuchadnezzar's, and sometimes used to wonder if he was
putting too much of himself into his portrayal of that dim potentate;
and during his composition of _Lucretia_ he was so profoundly convinced
that Cæsar Borgia was simply John Touchwood over again in a more
passionate period and a more picturesque costume that, as the critics
pointed out, he presented the world with an aspect of him that would
never have been recognized by Machiavelli. Yet, even when Harold was
being most unpleasant, or when Viola and Bertram were deafening his
household, John could not bring himself to believe that he and Gilles de
Rais, who was proved to have tortured over three hundred children to
death, had many similar traits; nor was he willing to admit more than a
most superficial likeness to the feeble Dauphin Charles. In fact, at one
time he was so much discouraged by his inability to adumbrate himself in
any of his personages that he began to regret his choice of Joan of Arc
and to wish that he had persevered in his intention to write a play
about Sir Walter Raleigh, with whom, allowing for the sundering years,
he felt he had more in common than with any other historical figure.
Therefore he was relieved to discover this resemblance between his
heroine and his secretary, in whom he was beginning to take nearly as
much interest as in himself.

"Do you mean outwardly?" asked Miss Hamilton, looking at an engraving of
the bust from the church of St. Maurice, Orleans. "If so, I hope her
complexion wasn't really as scaly as that."

"No, I mean in character."

"I suppose a private secretary ought not to say 'what nonsense' to her
employer, but really what else can I say? You might as well compare Ida
Merritt to Joan of Arc; in fact, she really is rather like my conception
of her."

"I'm sorry you find the comparison so far-fetched," John said, huffily.
"It wasn't intended to be uncomplimentary."

"Have you decided to introduce those wolves in the first act, because I
think I ought to begin making inquiries about suitable dogs?"

When Miss Hamilton rushed away from the personal like this, John used to
regret that he had changed their relationship from one of friendship to
one of business. Although he admired practicalness, he realized that it
was possible to be too practical, and he sighed sometimes for the tone
that his unknown admirers took when they wrote to him about his work.
Only that morning he had received a letter from one of these, which he
had tossed across the table for his secretary's perusal before he
dictated a graceful reply.

       *       *       *       *       *

HILLCREST,

Highfield Road,

Hornsey, N.,

_Dec. 14, 1910_.

DEAR SIR:--I have never written to an author before, but I cannot help
writing to ask you _when_ you are going to give us another play. I
cannot tell you how much I enjoy your plays--they take me into another
world. Please do not imagine that I am an enthusiastic schoolgirl. I am
the mother of four dear little children, and my husband and I both act
in a dramatic club at Hornsey. We are very anxious to perform one of
your plays, but the committee is afraid of the expense. I suppose it
would be asking too much of you to lend us some of the costumes of _The
Fall of Babylon_. I think it is your greatest work up till now, and I
simply live in all those wonderful old cities now and read everything I
can find about them. I was brought up very strictly when I was young and
grew to hate the Bible--please do not be shocked at this--but since I
saw _The Fall of Babylon_ I have taken to reading it again. I went nine
times--twice in the gallery, three times in the pit, twice in the upper
circle and twice in the dress circle, once in the fifth row at the side
and once right in the middle of the front row! I cut out the enclosed
photo of you from _The Tatler_, and, would it be asking too much to sign
your name? Hoping for the pleasure of a reply, I remain,

Your sincere admirer,

(MRS.) ENID FOSTER.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What extraordinary lunatics there are in this world," Miss Hamilton had
commented. "Have you noticed the one constant factor in these letters?
All the women begin by saying that it is the first time they have ever
written to an author; of course, they would say the same thing to a man
who kissed them. The men, however, try to convey that they're in the
habit of writing to authors. I think there's a moral to be extracted
from that observation."

Now, John had not yet attained--and perhaps it was improbable that he
ever would attain--those cold summits of art out of reach alike of the
still, sad music and the hurdy-gurdies of humanity, so that these
letters from unknown men and women, were they never so foolish,
titillated his vanity, which he called "appealing to his imagination."

"One must try to put oneself in the writer's place," he had urged,
reproachfully.

"Um--yes, but I can't help thinking of Mrs. Enid Foster living in those
wonderful old cities. Her household will crash like Babylon if she isn't
careful, and her family will be reduced to eating grass like
Nebuchadnezzar, if the green-grocer's book is neglected any longer."

"You won't allow the suburbs to be touched by poetry?"

John had tried to convey in his tone that Miss Hamilton in criticizing
the enthusiasm of Mrs. Foster was depreciating his own work. But she had
seemed quite unconscious of having rather offended him and had taken
down his answer without excusing herself. Now when in a spirit that was
truly forgiving he had actually compared her to his beloved heroine, she
had scoffed at him as if he was a kind of Mrs. Foster himself.

"You're very matter-of-fact," he muttered.

"Isn't that a rather desirable quality in a secretary?"

"Yes, but I think you might have waited to hear why you reminded me of
Joan of Arc before you began talking about those confounded wolves,
which, by the way, I have decided to cut out."

"Don't cut out a good effect just because you're annoyed with me," she
advised.

"Oh no, there are other reasons," said John, loftily. "It is possible
that in an opening tableau the audience may not appreciate that they are
wolves, and if they think they're only a lot of stray dogs, the effect
will go for nothing. It was merely a passing idea, and I have discarded
it."

Miss Hamilton left him to go and type out the morning's correspondence,
and John settled down to a speech by the Maid on the subject of
perpetual celibacy: he wrote a very good one.

"She may laugh at me," said the author to himself, "but she _is_ like
Joan--extraordinarily like. Why, I can hear her making this very
speech."

Miss Hamilton might sometimes profane John's poetic sanctuaries and
sometimes pull his leg when he was on tiptoe for a flight like Mr.
Keats' sweetpeas, but she made existence much more pleasant for him, and
he had already reached the stage of wondering how he had ever managed to
get along without her. He even went so far in his passion for historical
parallels as to compare his situation before she came to the realm of
France before Joan of Arc took it in hand. He knew in his heart that
these weeks before Christmas were unnaturally calm; he had no hope of
prolonging this halcyon time much further; but while it lasted he would
enjoy it to the full. Any one who had overheard John announcing to his
reflection in the glass an unbridled hedonism for the immediate future
might have been pardoned for supposing that he was about to amuse
himself in a very desperate fashion. As a matter of fact, the averred
intention was due to nothing more exciting than the prospect of a long
walk over the Heath with Miss Hamilton to discuss an outline of the
fourth act, which John knew would gradually be filled in with his plans
for writing other plays and finally be colored by a conversation, or,
anyhow, a monologue about himself as a human being without reference to
himself as an author.

"What is so delightful about Miss Hamilton," he assured that credulous
and complaisant reflection, "is the way one can talk to her without
there being the least danger of her supposing that one has any ulterior
object in view. Notwithstanding all the rich externals of the past, I'm
bound to confess that the relations between men and women are far more
natural nowadays. I suppose it was the bicycle that began female
emancipation; had bicycles been invented in the time of Joan of Arc she
would scarcely have had to face so much ecclesiastical criticism of her
behavior."

The walk was a success; amongst other things, John discovered that if he
had had a sister like Miss Hamilton, most of his family troubles would
never have arisen. He shook his head sadly at the thought that once upon
a time he had tried to imagine a Miss Hamilton in Edith, and in a burst
of self-revelation, like the brief appearance of two or three acres of
definitely blue sky overhead, he assured his secretary that her coming
had made a difference to his whole life.

"Well, of course you get through much more in the day now," she agreed.

John would have liked a less practical response, but he made the best of
it.

"I've got so much wrapped up in the play," he said, "that I'm wondering
now if I shall be able to tear myself away from London for Christmas. I
dread the idea of a complete break--especially with the most interesting
portion just coming along. I think I must ask you to take your holiday
later in the year, if you don't mind."

He had got it out, and if he could have patted himself on the back
without appearing ridiculous in a public thoroughfare he would have done
so. His manner might have sounded brusque, but John was sure that the
least suggestion of any other attitude except that of an employer
compelled against his will to seem inconsiderate would have been fatal.

"That would mean leaving my mother alone," said Miss Hamilton,
doubtfully.

John looked sympathetic, but firm, when he agreed with her.

"She would understand that literary work takes no account of the church
calendar," he pointed out. "After all, what is Christmas?"

"Unfortunately, my mother is already very much offended with me for
working with you at all. Oh, well, bother relations!" she exclaimed,
vehemently. "I'm going to be selfish in future. All right, if you
insist, I must obey--or lose my job, eh?"

"I might have to engage a locum tenens. You see, now that I've got into
the habit of dictating my letters and relying upon somebody else to keep
my references in order and--"

"Yes, yes," she interrupted. "I quite see that it would put you to great
inconvenience if I cried off. All the same, I can't help being worried
by the notion of leaving mother alone on Christmas Day itself. Why
shouldn't I join you on the day after?"

"The very thing," John decided. "I will leave London on Christmas Eve,
and you shall come down on Boxing Day. But I should travel in the
morning, if I were you. It's apt to be unpleasant, traveling in the
evening on a Bank Holiday. Hullo, here we are! This walk has given me a
tremendous appetite, and I do feel that we've made a splendid start with
the fourth act, don't you?"

"The fourth act?" repeated his secretary. "It seems to me that most of
the time you were talking about the position of women in modern life."

John laughed gayly.

"Ah, I see you haven't even yet absolutely grasped my method of work. I
was thinking all the while of Joan's speech to her accusers. I can
assure you that all my remarks were entirely relevant to what I had in
my head. That's the way I get my atmosphere. I told you that you
reminded me of her, but you wouldn't believe me. In doublet and hose you
would be Joan."

"Should I? I think I should look more like Dick Whittington in a touring
pantomime. My legs are too thin for tights."

"By the way, I wonder if Janet Bond has good legs?" said John,
pensively.

It was charming to be able to talk about women's legs like this without
there being the slightest suggestion that they had any; yet, somehow the
least promising topics were rehabilitated by the company of Miss
Hamilton, and most of them, even the oldest, acquired a new and
absorbing interest. John had registered a vow on the first day his
secretary came that he would watch carefully for the least signs of
rosifying her and he had renewed this vow every morning before his
glass; but it was sometimes difficult not to attribute to her all sorts
of mysterious fascinations, as on those occasions when he would have
kept her working later than usual in the afternoon and when she would
have been persuaded to stay for tea, for which she made a point of
getting home to please her mother, who gave it a grand importance. John
was convinced that even James would forgive him for thinking that in all
England there was not a more competent, a more charming, a more--he used
to pull himself up guiltily at about the third comparative and stifle
his fancies in the particularly delicious cake that Mrs. Worfolk always
seemed to provide on the days when his secretary stayed to tea.

It was on one of these rosified afternoons, full of candlelight and
firelight and the warmed scent of hyacinths that Miss Hamilton rallied
John about his exaggerated dread of his relations.

"For I've been working with you now for nearly three weeks, and you've
not been bothered by them once," she declared.

"My name! My name!" he cried. "Touchwood?"

"I begin to think it's nothing but an affectation," she persisted.
"_You're_ not pestered by charitable uncles who want to boast of what
they've done for their poor brother's only daughter. _You're_ not made
to feel that you've wrecked your mother's old age by earning your own
living."

"Yes, they have been quiet recently," he admitted. "But there was such a
terrible outbreak of Family Influenza just before you came that some
sort of prostration for a time was inevitable. I hope you don't expect
my brother, Hugh, to commit a forgery every week. Besides, that
excellent suggestion of yours about preparing Ambles for Christmas has
kept him busy, and probably all the rest of them down there too. But
it's odd you should raise the subject, because I was going to propose
your having supper here some Sunday soon and inviting my eldest brother
and his wife to meet you."

"To-morrow is the last Sunday before Christmas. The Sunday after is
Christmas Day."

"Is it really? Then I must dictate an invitation for to-morrow, and I
must begin to see about presents on Monday. By Jove, how time has
flown!"

"After all, what is Christmas?" she laughed.

"Oh, you must expect children to be excited about it," John murmured. "I
don't like to disappoint _them_. But I'd no idea Christmas was on top of
us like this. You'll help me with my shopping next week? I hope to
goodness Eleanor won't come and bother me. She'll be getting back to
town to-morrow. It's really extraordinary, the way the time has passed."

John dictated an urgent invitation to James and Beatrice to sup with
them the following evening, and since it was too late to let them know
by post, he decided to see Miss Hamilton as far as the tube and leave
the note in person at Hill Road.

James arrived for supper in a most truculent mood, and this being
aggravated by his brother's burgundy, of which he drank a good deal,
referring to it all the while as poison, much to John's annoyance,
embroiled him half way through supper in an argument with Miss Hamilton
on the subject of feminine intelligence.

"Women are not intelligent," he shouted. "The glimmering intelligence
they sometimes appear to exhibit is only one of their numerous sexual
allurements. A woman thinks with her nerves, reasons with her emotions,
and speculates with her sensations."

"Rubbish," said Miss Hamilton, emphatically.

"Now, Jimmie dear," his wife put in, "you'll only have indigestion if
you get excited while you're eatin'."

"I shall have indigestion anyway," growled her husband. "My liver will
be like dough to-morrow after this burgundy. I ought to drink a light
moselle."

"Well, you can have moselle," John began.

"I loathe moselle. I'd as soon drink syrup of squills," James bellowed.

"All right, you shall have syrup of squills next time."

"Oh, Johnnie," Beatrice interposed with a wide reproachful smile.
"Jimmie's only joking. He doesn't really like syrup of squills."

"For heaven's sake, don't try to analyze my tastes," said James to his
wife.

John threw a glance at Miss Hamilton, which was meant to express "What
did I tell you?" But she was blind to his signal and only intent upon
attacking James on behalf of her sex.

"Women have not the same kind of intelligence as men," she began,
"because it is denied to them by their physical constitution. But they
have, I insist, a supplementary intelligence without which the great
masculine minds would be as ineffective as convulsions of nature. Women
work like the coral polyps...."

"Bravo!" John cried. "A capital comparison!"

"An absurd comparison!" James contradicted. "A ludicrous comparison!
Woman is purely individualistic. The moment she begins to take up with
communal effort, she tends to become sterile."

"Do get on with your supper, dear," urged Beatrice, who had only
understood the last word and was anxious not "to be made to feel small,"
as she would have put it, in front of an unmarried woman.

John perceived her mortification and jumped through the argument as a
clown through a paper hoop.

"Remember I'm expecting you both at Ambles on Christmas Eve," he said,
boisterously. "We're going to have a real old-fashioned Christmas
party."

James forgot all about women in his indignation; but before he could
express his opinion Beatrice held up another paper hoop for the
distraction of the audience.

"I'm simply longin' for the country," she declared. "Christmas with a
lot of children is the nicest thing I know."

John went through the hoop with aplomb and refused to be unseated by his
brother.

"James will enjoy it more than any of us," he chuckled.

"What!" shouted the critic. "I'd sooner be wrecked on a desert island
with nothing to read but a sixpenny edition of the Christmas Carol.
Ugh!"

John looked at Miss Hamilton again, and this time his appeal was not
unheeded; she said no more about women and let James rail on at
sentimental festivities, which, by the time he had finished with them,
looked as irreparable as the remains of the tipsy-cake. There seemed no
reason amid the universal collapse of tradition to conserve the habit of
letting the ladies retire after dinner. As there was no drawing-room in
his bachelor household, it would have been more comfortable to smoke
upstairs in the library; but James returned to Fielding after
demolishing Dickens and protested against being made to hurry over his
port; so his host had to watch Beatrice escort Miss Hamilton from the
dining-room with considerable resentment at what he thought was her
unjustifiably protective manner.

"As my secretary," he felt, "Miss Hamilton is more at home in my house
than Beatrice is. I suppose, though, that like everything else I have my
relations are going to take possession of her now."

"Where did you pick up your lady-help?" James asked, when he and his
brother were left alone with the wine.

"If you're alluding to Miss Hamilton," John said, sharply, "I met her on
board the _Murmania_, crossing the Atlantic."

"I never heard any good come of traveling acquaintances. She has a good
complexion; I suppose she took your eye by not being seasick. Beware of
women with good complexions who aren't seasick, Johnnie. They always
flirt."

"Are you supposed to be warning me against my secretary?"

"Any woman who finds herself at a man's elbow is dangerous. Nurses, of
course, are the most notoriously dangerous--but a secretary who isn't
seasick is nearly as bad."

"Thanks very much for your brotherly concern," said John, sarcastically.
"You will be relieved to hear that the relationship between Miss
Hamilton and myself is a purely practical one, and likely to remain
so."

"Platonism was never practical," James answered with a snort. "It was
the most impractical system ever imagined."

"Fortunately Miss Hamilton is sufficiently interested in her work and in
mine not to bother her head about the philosophy of the affections."

James was irritating when he was criticizing contemporary literature;
but his views of modern life were infuriating.

"I'm not accusing your young woman--how old is she, by the way? About
twenty-nine, I should guess. A damned dangerous age, Johnnie. However,
as I say, I'm not accusing her of designs upon you. But a man who writes
the kind of plays that you do is capable of any extravagance, and you're
much too old by now to be thinking about marriage."

"I don't happen to be thinking about marriage," John retorted. "But I
refuse to accept your dictum about my age. I consider that the effects
of age have been very much exaggerated by the young. You cannot call a
man of forty-two old."

"You look much more than forty-two. However, one can't write plays like
yours without exposing oneself to a good deal of emotional wear and
tear. No, no, you're making a great mistake in introducing a woman into
the house. Believe me, Johnnie, I'm speaking for your good. If I hadn't
married, I might have preserved my illusions about women and compounded
just as profitable a dose of dramatic nux vomica as yourself."

"What do you mean by a dose of dramatic nux vomica?"

"That's my name for the sort of plays you write, which unduly accelerate
the action of the heart and make a sane person retch. However, don't
take my remarks in ill part. I was simply commenting on the danger of
letting a good-looking young woman make herself indispensable."

"I'm glad you allow her good looks," John said, witheringly. "Any one
who was listening to our conversation would get the impression that she
was as ugly and voracious as a harpy."

"Yes, yes. She's quite good-looking. Very nice ankles."

"I haven't noticed her ankles," John said, austerely.

"You will, though," his brother replied with an encouraging laugh. "By
the way, what's that rascal, Hugh, been doing? I hear you've replanted
him in the bosom of the family. Isn't Hugh rather too real for one of
your Christmas parties?"

John, after some hesitation, had decided not to tell any of the others
the details of Hugh's misdemeanor; he had even denied himself the
pleasure of holding him up to George as a warning; hence the renewal of
his interest in Hugh had struck the family as a mere piece of
sentimentality.

"Crutchley didn't seem to believe he'd ever make much of architecture,"
he explained to James. "And I'm thinking of helping him to establish
himself in British Honduras."

"Bah! For less than he'll cost you in British Honduras you could
establish me as the editor of a new critical weekly," James grunted.

"There is still time for Hugh to make something of his life," John
replied. He had not had the slightest intention of trying to score off
his eldest brother by this remark, and he was shocked to see what a
spasm of ill will twisted up his face.

"I suppose your young woman is responsible for this sudden solicitude
for Hugh's career? I suppose it's she who has persuaded you that he has
possibilities? You take care, Johnnie. You can't manipulate the villain
in life as you can on the stage."

Now, Miss Hamilton, though she had not met him, had shown just enough
interest in Hugh to give these remarks a sting; and John must have been
obviously taken aback, for the critic at once recovered his good humor
and proposed joining the ladies upstairs. Beatrice was sitting by the
fire; her husband's absence had allowed her to begin the digestion of an
unusually good dinner in peace, and the smoothness of her countenance
made her look more than ever like a cabinet photograph of the early
'nineties. Miss Hamilton, on the other hand, seemed bored, and very
soon she declared that she must go home lest her mother should be
anxious.

"Oh, you have a mother?" James observed in such a tone that John thought
it was the most offensive remark of the many he had heard him make that
evening. He hoped that Miss Hamilton would not abandon him after this
first encounter with his relations, and he tried to ascertain her
impressions while she was putting on her things in the hall.

"I'm afraid you've had a very dull evening," he murmured,
apologetically. "I hope my sister-in-law wasn't more tiresome than
usual. What did she talk about?"

"She was warning me--no, I won't be malicious--she was explaining to me
the difficulties of an author's wife."

"Yes, poor thing; I'm afraid my brother must be very trying to live
with. I hope you were sympathetic?"

"So sympathetic," Miss Hamilton replied, with a mocking glance, "that I
told her I was never likely to make the experiment. Good night, Mr.
Touchwood. To-morrow as usual."

She hurried down the steps and was gone before he could utter a word.

"I don't think she need have said that," he murmured to himself on his
way back to the library. "I've no doubt Beatrice was very trying; but I
really don't think she need have said that to me. It wasn't worth
repeating such a stupid remark. That's the way things acquire an undue
importance."

With John's entrance the conversation returned to Miss Hamilton; but,
though it was nearly all implied criticism of his new secretary, he had
no desire to change the topic. She was much more interesting than the
weekly bills at Hill Road, and he listened without contradiction to his
brother's qualms about her experience and his sister-in-law's regrets
for her lack of it.

"However," said John to his reflection when he was undressing, "they've
got to make the best of her, even if they all think the worse. And the
beauty of it is that they can't occupy her as they can occupy a house. I
must see about getting Hugh off to the Colonies soon. If I don't find
out about British Honduras, he can always go to Canada or Australia. It
isn't good for him to hang about in England."



CHAPTER XI


Whether it was due to the Christmas card look of his new house or merely
to a desire to flaunt a romantic hospitality in the face of his eldest
brother, it is certain that John had never before in his life gone so
benevolently mad as during the week that preceded Christmas in the year
1910. Mindful of that afternoon in the town of Galton when he had tried
to procure for Harold and Frida gifts of such American appearance as
would excuse his negligence, he was determined not to expose himself for
a second time to juvenile criticism, and in the selection of toys he
pandered to every idiosyncrasy he had so far observed in his nephews and
nieces. Thus, for Bertram he bought a large stamp album, several sheets
of tropical stamps, a toy theater, representatives of every species in
the great genus marbles, a set of expensive and realistic masks, and a
model fireman's outfit. For Viola he filled a trunk with remnants of
embroideries and all kinds of stuffs, placing on top two pairs of ebony
castanets and the most professional tambourine he could find; and, in
order that nature might not be utterly subordinated to art, he bought
her a very large doll, rather older in appearance than Viola herself; in
fact, almost marriageable. In the hope of obliterating the
disappointment of those china animals, he chose for Frida a completely
furnished dolls' house with garage and stables attached, so grand a
house, indeed, that by knocking all the rooms into one, she could with
slight inconvenience have lived in it herself; this residence he
populated with gentleman-dolls, lady-dolls, servant-dolls, nurse-dolls,
baby-dolls, horses, carriages, and motors; nor did he omit to provide a
fishmonger's shop for the vicinity. For Harold he bought a butterfly
collector's equipment, a vacuum pistol, a set of climbing-irons, a
microscope, and at the last moment a juvenile diver's equipment with
air pumps and all accessories, which was warranted perfectly safe,
though the wicked uncle wondered if it really was.

"I don't want a mere toy for the bathroom," he explained.

"Quite so, sir," the shopman assented, with a bow. "This is guaranteed
for any ordinary village pond or small stream."

For his grown-up relations John bought the kind of presents that one
always does buy for grown-up relations, the kind of presents that look
very ornamental on the counter, seem very useful when the shopman
explains what they are for, puzzle the recipient and the donor when the
shopman is no longer there, and lie about the house on small tables for
the rest of the year. In the general odor of Russia leather that clung
to his benefactions John hoped that Miss Hamilton would not consider too
remarkable the attaché case that he intended to give her, nor amid the
universal dazzle of silver object to the few little luxuries of the
writing-desk with which he had enhanced it. Then there were the presents
for the servants to choose, and he counted much on Miss Hamilton's
enabling him to introduce into these an utilitarian note that for two or
three seasons had been missing from his donations, which to an outsider
might have seemed more like lures of the flesh than sober testimonials
to service. He also counted upon her to persuade Mrs. Worfolk to
accompany Maud down to Ambles: Elsa was to be left in Church Row with
permission to invite to dinner the policeman to whom she was betrothed
and various friends and relations of the two families.

When the presents were settled John proceeded to lay in a store of
eatables and drinkables, in the course of which enterprise he was
continually saying:

"I've forgotten for the moment what I want next, but meanwhile you'd
better give me another box of Elvas plums."

"Another drum? Yes, sir," the shopman would reply, licking his pencil in
a way that was at once obsequious and pedantic, though it was not
intended to suggest more than perfect efficiency.

When the hall and the adjacent rooms at 36 Church Row had been turned
into rolling dunes of brown paper, John rushed about London in a last
frenzy of unbridled acquisitiveness to secure plenty of amusement for
the children. To this end he obtained a few well-known and well-tried
favorites like the kinetoscope and the magic lantern, and a number of
experimental diversions which would have required a trained engineer or
renowned scientist to demonstrate successfully. Finally he bargained for
the wardrobe of a Santa Claus whose dignified perambulations round the
Christmas Bazaar of a noted emporium had attracted his fancy on account
of the number of children who followed him everywhere, laughing and
screaming with delight. It was not until he had completed the purchase
that he discovered it was not the exterior of the Santa Claus which had
charmed his little satellites, but the free distribution of bags of
coagulated jujubes.

"I expect I'd better get the Christmas tree in the country," said John,
waist-deep in the still rising drift of parcels. "I dare say the Galton
shops keep those silver and magenta globes you hang on Christmas trees,
and I ought to patronize the local tradesmen."

"If you have any local shopping to do, I'm sure you would be wise to go
down to-day," Miss Hamilton suggested, firmly. "Besides, Mrs. Worfolk
won't want to arrive at the last minute."

"No, indeed, I shan't, Miss," said the housekeeper. "Well, I mean to
say, I don't think we ever shall arrive, not if we wait much longer. We
shall require a performing elephant to carry all these parcels, as it
is."

"My idea was to go down in the last train on Christmas Eve," John
argued. "I like the old-fashioned style, don't you know?"

"Yes, old-fashioned's the word," Mrs. Worfolk exclaimed. "Why, who's to
get the house ready if we all go trooping down on Christmas Eve? And if
I go, sir, you must come with me. You know how quick Mrs. Curtis always
is to snap any one up. If I had my own way, I wouldn't go within a
thousand miles of the country; that's a sure thing."

John began to be afraid that his housekeeper was going back on her word,
and he surrendered to the notion of leaving town that afternoon.

"I say, what is this parcel like a long drain-pipe?" he asked in a final
effort to detain Miss Hamilton, who was preparing to make her farewells
and leave him to his packing.

"Ah, it would take some finding out," Mrs. Worfolk interposed. "I've
never seen so many shapes and sizes of parcels in all my life."

"They must have made a mistake," said John. "I don't remember buying
anything so tubular as this."

He pulled away some of the paper wrapping to see what was inside.

"Ah, of course! They're two or three boxes of Elvas plums I ordered. But
please don't go, Miss Hamilton," he protested. "I am relying upon you to
get the tickets to Waterloo."

In spite of a strenuous scene at the station, in the course of which
John's attempts to propitiate Mrs. Worfolk led to one of the porters
referring to her as his mother, they managed to catch the five o'clock
train to Wrottesford. After earnestly assuring his secretary that he
should be perfectly ready to begin work again on Joan of Arc the day
after her arrival and begging her on no account to let herself be
deterred from traveling on the morning of Boxing Day, John sank back
into the pleasant dreams that haunt a warm first-class smoking
compartment when it's raining hard outside in the darkness of a December
night.

"We shall have a green Christmas this year," observed one of his fellow
travelers.

"Very green," John assented with enthusiasm, only realizing as he spoke
that the superlative must sound absurd to any one who was unaware of his
thoughts and hiding his embarrassment in the _Westminster Gazette_,
which in the circumstances was the best newspaper he could have chosen.

John was surprised and depressed when the train arrived at Wrottesford
to find that the member of the Ambles party who had elected to meet him
was Hilda; and there was a long argument on the platform who should
drive in the dogcart and who should drive in the fly. John did not want
to ride on the back seat of the dogcart, which he would have to do
unless he drove himself, a prospect that did not attract him when he saw
how impatiently the mare was dancing about through the extreme lateness
of the train. Hilda objected to driving with his housekeeper in the fly,
and in the end John was compelled to let Maud and Mrs. Worfolk occupy
the dogcart, while he and Hilda toiled along the wet lanes in the fly.
It was decided to leave the greater portion of the luggage to be fetched
in the morning, but even so it was after eight o'clock before they got
away from the station, and John, when he found himself immured with
Hilda in the musty interior of the hired vehicle was inclined to
prophesy a blue Christmas this year. To begin with, Hilda would try to
explain the system she had pursued in allotting the various bedrooms to
accommodate the large party that was expected at Ambles. It was bad
enough so long as she confined herself to a verbal exposition, but when
she produced a map of the house, evidently made by Hugh on an idle
evening, and to illuminate her dispositions struck away most of John's
matches, it became exasperating. His brain was already fatigued by the
puzzle of fitting into two vehicles four pieces, one of which might not
move to the square next two of the remaining pieces, and another of
which could not move backward.

"I leave it entirely to you," he declared, introducing at last into the
intellectual torment of chess some of the happy irresponsibleness of
bridge. "You mustn't set me these chess problems in a jolting fly before
dinner."

"Chess!" Hilda sniffed with a shiver. "Draughts would be a better name."

She did not often make jokes, and before John had recovered sufficiently
from his surprise to congratulate her with a hearty laugh, she was off
again upon her querulous and rambling narration of the family news.

"If everything _had_ been left to me, I might have managed, but Hugh's
interference, apparently authorized by you, upset all my poor little
arrangements. I need hardly say that Mama was so delighted to have her
favorite at home with her that she has done everything since his arrival
to encourage his self-importance. It's Hughie this and Hughie that,
until I get quite sick of the sound of his name. And he's very unkind to
poor little Harold. Apart from being very coarse and sarcastic in front
of him, he is sometimes quite brutal. Only this morning he shot him in
the upper part of the leg with a pellet from the poor little man's own
air-gun."

John did laugh this time, and shouted "Merry Christmas!" to a passing
wagon.

"I dare say it sounds very funny to you. But it made Harold cry."

"Come, come, Hilda, it's just as well he should learn the potentialities
of his own instrument. He'll sympathize with the birds now."

"Birds," she scoffed. "Fancy comparing Harold with a bird!"

"It is rather unfair," John agreed.

"However, you won't be so ready to take Hugh's part when you see what
he's been doing at Ambles."

"Why, what has he been doing?"

"Oh, never mind. I'd rather you judged for yourself," said Hilda,
darkly. "Of course, I don't know what Hugh has been up to in London that
you've had to send him down to Hampshire. I always used to hear you vow
that you would have nothing more to do with him. But I know that
successful people are allowed to change their minds more often than the
rest of us. I know success justifies everything. And it isn't as if Hugh
was grateful for your kindness. I can assure you that he criticizes
everything you do. Any stranger who heard him talking about your plays
would think that they were a kind of disgrace to the family. As for
Laurence, he encourages him, not because he likes him, but because Hugh
fills him up with stories about the stage. Though I think that a
clergyman who has got into such a muddle with his bishops would do
better not to make himself so conspicuous. The whole neighborhood is
talking about him."

"What is Laurence's latest?"

"Why, stalking about in a black cloak, with his hair hanging down over
his collar, stopping people in quiet lanes and reciting Shakespeare to
them. It's not surprising that half the county is talking about his
behavior and saying that he was turned out of Newton Candover for being
drunk when the bishop took a confirmation, and _some_ even say that he
kept a ballet girl at the vicarage. But do you think that Edith objects?
Oh, no! All that Laurence does must be right, because it's Laurence. She
prays for him to get back his belief in the Church of England, though
who's going to offer him another living I'm sure I don't know, so she
might just as well spare her knees. And when she's not praying for him,
she's spoiling him. She actually came out of her room the other morning
with her finger up to her lips, because Laurence wasn't to be disturbed
at that moment. I need hardly tell you I paid no attention and went on
saying what I had to say to Huggins about the disgraceful way he's let
the pears get so sleepy."

"It's a pity you didn't succeed in waking them up instead of Laurence,"
John chuckled.

"It's all very well for you to laugh, John, but if you could see the way
that Edith is bringing up Frida! She's turning her into a regular little
molly-coddle. I'm sure poor Harold does his best to put some life into
the child, but she shrinks and twitches whenever he comes near her. I
told Edith that it wasn't to be wondered at if Harold did tease her
sometimes. She encourages him to tease her by her affectations. I used
to think that Frida was quite a nice little girl when I only saw her
occasionally, but she doesn't improve on acquaintance. However, I blame
her mother more than I do her. Why, Edith doesn't even make the child
take her cod-liver oil regularly, whereas Harold drinks his up like a
little Trojan."

"Never mind," said John, soothingly. "I'm sure we shall all feel more
cheerful after Christmas. And now, if you don't mind, I'm afraid I must
keep quiet for the rest of the drive. I've got a scene to think about."

The author turned up the collar of his coat and retired into the further
corner while Hilda chewed her veil in ruminative indignation until the
mellow voice of Laurence, who had taken up a statuesque pose of welcome
by the gate, broke the dank silence of the fly.

"Ah, John, my dear fellow, we are delighted to see you. The rain has
stopped."

If Laurence had still been on good terms with his Creator, John might
have thought from his manner that he had personally arranged this break
in the weather.

"Is Harold there?" asked Hilda, sharply.

"Here I am, mother; I've just caught a Buff-tip, and it won't go into my
poison-bottle."

"And what is a Buff-tip?" inquired Laurence in a tone of patronizing
ignorance.

"Oh, it's a pretty common moth."

"Harold, darling, don't bother about moths or butterflies to-night. Come
and say how d'ye do to dear Uncle John."

"I've dropped the cork of my poison-bottle. Look out, Frida, bother you,
I say, you'll tread on it."

The combined scents of cyanide of potassium and hot metal from Harold's
bull's-eye lantern were heavy upon the moist air; when the cork was
found, Harold lost control over the lantern which he flashed into
everybody's face in turn, so that John, rendered as helpless as a
Buff-tip, walked head foremost into a sopping bush by the side of the
path. However, the various accidents of arrival all escaped being
serious, and the thought of dinner shortened the affectionate greetings.
Remembering how Hugh had paid out Harold with his own air-gun, John
greeted his youngest brother more cordially than he could ever have
supposed it was possible to greet him again.

By general consent, the owner of the house was allowed to be tired that
evening, and all discussion of the Christmas preparations was postponed
until the next day. Harold made a surreptitious attempt to break into
the most promising parcel he could find, but he was ill rewarded by the
inside, which happened to be a patent carpet sweeper.

Before old Mrs. Touchwood went to bed, she took John aside and
whispered:

"They're all against Hughie. But I've tried to make the poor boy feel
that he's at home, and dear Georgie will be coming very soon, which will
make it pleasanter for Hugh, and I've thought of a nice way to manage
Jimmie."

"I think you worry yourself needlessly over Hugh, Mama; I can assure you
he's perfectly capable of looking after himself."

"I hope so," the old lady sighed. "All my patience came out beautifully
this evening. So I hope Hughie will be all right. He seemed to think you
were a little annoyed with him."

"Did he tell you why?"

"Not exactly, but I understand it was something to do with money. You
mustn't be too strict with Hugh about money, John. You must always
remember that he hasn't got all the money he wants, and you must make
allowances accordingly. Ah, dear, peace on earth, good-will towards men!
But I don't complain. I'm very happy here with my patience, and I dare
say something can be done to get rid of the bees that have made a nest
in the wall just under my bedroom window. They're asleep now, but when
they begin to buzz with the warm weather Huggins must try and induce
them to move somewhere else. Good-night, my dear boy."

Next morning when John leaned out of his window to inhale the Hampshire
air and contemplate his domain he was shocked to perceive upon the lawn
below a large quadrangular excavation in which two workmen were actually
digging.

"Hi! What are you doing?" he shouted.

The workmen stared at John, stared at one another, stared at their
spades, and went on with their digging.

"Hi! What the devil are you doing?"

The workmen paid no attention; but the voice of Harold came trickling
round the corner of the house with a gurgle of self-satisfaction.

"_I_ didn't do it, Uncle John. I began geology last week, but I haven't
dug up _anything_. Mother wouldn't let me. It was Uncle Hugh and Uncle
Laurence. Mother knew you'd be angry when you saw what a mess the garden
was in. It does look untidy, doesn't it? Huggins said he should complain
to you, first thing. He says he'd just as soon put brown sugar on the
paths as _that_ gravel. Did you know that Ambles is built on a gravel
subsoil, Uncle John? Aren't you glad, because my geology book says that
a gravel subsoil is the healthiest...."

John removed himself abruptly out of earshot.

"What is that pernicious mess on the front lawn?" he demanded of Hugh
half-an-hour later at breakfast.

"Ah, you noticed it, did you?"

"Noticed it? I should think I did notice it. I understand that you're
responsible."

"Not entirely," Laurence interposed, gently. "Hugh and I must accept a
joint responsibility. The truth is that for some time now I've felt that
my work has been terribly at the mercy of little household noises, and
Hugh recommended me to build myself an outside study. He has made a very
clever design, and has kindly undertaken to supervise its erection. As
you have seen, they are already well on with the foundations. The design
which I shall show you after breakfast is in keeping with the house, and
of course you will have the advantage of what I call my little Gazebo
when I leave Ambles. Have I told you that I'm considering a brief
experience of the realities of the stage? After all, why not?
Shakespeare was an actor."

If John had been eating anything more solid than a lightly boiled egg at
the moment he must have choked.

"You can call it your little Gazebo as much as you like, but it's
nothing but a confounded summerhouse," he shouted.

"Look here, Johnnie," said Hugh, soothingly. "You'll like it when it's
finished. This isn't one of Stevie's Gothic contortions. I admit that to
get the full architectural effect there should be a couple of them. You
see, I've followed the design of the famous dovecotes at...."

"Dovecoats be damned," John exploded. "I instructed you to prepare the
house for Christmas; I didn't ask you to build me a new one."

"Laurence felt that he was in the way indoors," Edith explained,
timidly.

"The impression was rather forced upon me," said Laurence with a glance
at Hilda, who throughout the dispute had been sitting virtuously silent;
nor did she open her thin lips now.

"He was going to pay for his hermitage out of the money he ought to have
made from writing _Lamp-posts_," Edith went on in a muddled exposition
of her husband's motives. "He wasn't thinking of himself at all. But of
course if you object to his building this Gas--oh, I am so bad at proper
names--he'll understand. Won't you, dear?"

"Oh, I shall understand," Laurence admitted with an expression of
painfully achieved comprehension. "Though I may fail to see the
necessity for such strong language."

Frida wiggled in the coils of an endless whisper from which her mother
extricated her at last by murmuring:

"Hush, darling, Uncle John is a little vexed about something."

Hilda and her son still sat in mute self-righteousness; and Grandmama,
who always had her breakfast in bed, was not present to defend Hugh.

"If it had been anywhere except on the lawn right in front of my room,"
John began more mildly.

"We tried to combine suitability of site with facility of access,"
Laurence condescended to explain. "But pray do not say another word," he
added, waving his fingers like magic wands to induce John's silence.
"The idea of my little Gazebo does not appeal to you. That is enough. I
do not grudge the money already spent upon the foundations. Further
discussion will irritate us all, and I for one have no wish to disturb
the harmony of the season." Then exchanging his tone of polite martyrdom
for the suave jocularity of a vicar, he continued: "And when are we to
expect our Yuletide guests? I hear that the greater portion of your
luggage is still in the care of the station-master at Wrottesford. If I
can do anything to aid in the transport of what rumor says is our
Christmas commissariat, do not hesitate to call upon my services. I am
giving the Muse a holiday and am ready for anything. Harold, pass the
marmalade, please."

John felt incapable of further argument with Laurence and Hugh in
combination, and having gained his point, he let the subject of the
Gazebo drop. He was glad that Miss Hamilton was not here; he felt that
she might have been rather contemptuous of what he tried to believe was
"good-nature," but recognized in his heart as "meekness," even
"feebleness."

"When are Cousin Bertram and Cousin Viola coming?" Harold asked.

"Wow-wow-wow!" Hugh imitated, and he was probably expressing the general
opinion of Harold's re-entry into the breakfast-table conversation.

"For goodness' sake, boy, don't talk about them as if they were elderly
colonial connections," John commanded with the resurgent valor that
Harold always inspired. "Bertram and Viola are coming to-morrow. By the
way, Hilda, is there any accommodation for a monkey? I don't know for
certain, but Bertram talked vaguely of bringing a monkey down. Possibly
a small annex could be attached to the chickenhouse."

"A monkey?" Edith exclaimed in alarm. "Oh, I hope it won't attack dear
Frida."

"I shall shoot him, if he does," Harold boasted. "I shot a mole last
week."

"No, you didn't, you young liar," Hugh contradicted. "It was killed by
the trap."

"Harold is always a very truthful little boy," said his mother, glaring.

"Is he? I hadn't noticed it," Hugh retorted.

"Far be it from me to indulge in odious comparisons," Laurence
interposed, grandly. "But I cannot help being a trifle--ah--tickled by
so much consideration's being exhibited on account of the temporary
lodging of a monkey and so much animus--however, don't let us rake up a
disagreeable topic."

John thought it was a pity that his brother-in-law had not felt the same
about raking up the lawn when after breakfast he was telling Huggins to
fill in the hole and hearing that it was unlikely to lose the scar for a
long time.

"You could have knocked me down with a feather, sir, when they started
in hacking away at a lovely piece of turf like that."

"I'm sure I could," John agreed, warmly.

"But what's done can't be undone, and the best way to mend a bad job
would be to make a bed for ornamental annuals. Yes, sir, a nice bed in
the shape of a star--or a shell."

"No thanks, Huggins, I should prefer grass again, even if for a year or
two the lawn does look as if it had been recently vaccinated."

John's Christmas enthusiasm had been thoroughly damped by the atmosphere
of Ambles and he regretted that he had let himself be persuaded into
coming down two days earlier than he had intended. It had been Mrs.
Worfolk's fault, and when his housekeeper approached him with a
complaint about the way things were being managed in the kitchen John
told her rather sharply that she must make the best of the present
arrangements, exercise as much tact as possible, and remember that
Christmas was a season when discontent was out of fashion. Then he
retreated to the twenty-acre field to lose a few golf-balls. Alas, he
had forgotten that Laurence had proclaimed himself to be in a holiday
humor and was bored to find that this was so expansive as to include an
ambition to see if golf was as difficult as people said.

"You can try a stroke if you really want to," John offered, grudgingly.

"I understand that the theory of striking involves the correct
application of the hands to the club," said the novice. "I set much
store by the old adage that well begun is half done."

"The main thing is to hit the ball."

"I've no doubt whatever about being able to hit the ball; but if I
decide to adopt golf as a recreation from my dramatic work I wish to
acquire a good style at the outset," Laurence intoned, picking up the
club as solemnly as if he was going to baptize it. "What is your advice
about the forefinger of my left hand? It feels to me somewhat
ubiquitous. I assume that there is some inhibition upon excessive
fidgeting."

"Keep your eye on the ball," John gruffly advised him. "And don't shift
your position."

"One, two, three," murmured Laurence, raising the club above his
shoulder.

"Fore!" John shouted to a rash member of the household who was crossing
the line of fire.

A lump of turf was propelled a few feet in the direction of the
admonished figure, and the ball was hammered down into the soft earth.

"You distracted me by counting four," Laurence protested. "My intention
was to strike at three. However, if at first you don't succeed...."

But John could stand no more of it and escaped to Galton, where he
bought a bushel of lustrous ornaments for the Christmas tree that was
even now being felled by Huggins in a coppice remote from Harold's
myopic explorations. Then for two days the household worked feverishly
and unitedly in a prevalent odor of allspice; the children were decoyed
from the house while the presents were mysteriously conveyed to the
drawing-room, which had been consecrated to the forthcoming revelry;
Harold, after nearly involving himself in a scandal by hiding himself
under the kitchen-table during one of the servant's meals in order to
verify the cubic contents of their several stockings, was finally
successful in contracting with Mrs. Worfolk for the loan of one of hers;
Frida whispered as ceaselessly as a grove of poplars; everybody's
fingers were tattooed by holly-pricks; and the introduction of so much
decorative vegetation into the house brought with it a train of
somnambulant insects.

On Saturday afternoon the remaining guests arrived, and when John heard
Bertram and Viola shouting merrily up and down the corridors he
recognized the authentic note of Christmas gayety at last. James was
much less disagreeable than he had expected, and did not even freeze
Beatrice when she gushed about the loveliness of the holly and reminded
everybody that she was countrified herself; Hilda and Eleanor were
brought together by their common dread of Hugh's apparent return to
favor; George exuded a gross reproduction of the host's good-will and
wandered about the room reading jokes from the Christmas numbers to
those who would listen to him; Laurence kissed all the ladies under the
mistletoe, bending down to them from his majesty as patronizingly as in
the days of his faith he used to communicate the poor of the parish;
Edith clapped her hands every time that Laurence brought off a kiss and
talked in a heart-felt tremolo about the Christmas-tides of her
girlhood; Frida conceived an adoration for Viola; Hugh egged on Bertram
to tease, threaten, and contradict Harold on every occasion; Grandmama
in a new butter-colored gown glowed in the lamplight, and purred over
her fertility, as if on the day she had accepted Robert Touchwood's
hand nearly half a century ago she had foreseen this gathering and had
never grumbled when she found she was going to have another baby.

"Snapdragon will be ready at ten," John proclaimed, "and then to bed, so
that we're all fit for Christmas Day."

He was anxious to get the household out of the way, because he had
formed a project to dress himself up that night as Santa Claus and, as
he put it to himself, stimulate the children's fancy in case they should
be awake when their stockings were being filled.

The clock struck ten; Mrs. Worfolk gave portentous utterance to the
information that the snapdragon was burning beautiful; there was a rush
for the pantry where the ceremony was to take place. Laurence picked out
his raisins as triumphantly as if he were snatching souls from a
discredited Romish purgatory. Harold notwithstanding his bad sight
seemed to be doing well until Bertram temporarily disabled him by
snatching a glowing raisin from the fiercest flame and ramming it down
his neck. But the one who ate most of all, more even than Harold, was
George, whose fat fingers would scoop up half-a-dozen raisins at a go,
were they never so hot, until gradually the blue flames flickered less
alertly and finally went out altogether in a pungency of burnt brandy.

"Half-past ten," John, who was longing to dress himself up, cried
impatiently.

His efforts to urge the family up to bed were rather interfered with by
Laurence, who detained Eleanor with numerous questions about going on
the stage with a view to correcting a few technical deficiencies in his
dramatic craftsmanship.

"I'm anxious to establish by personal experience the exact length of the
interval required to change one's costume, and also the distance from
one's green-room to the--ah--wings. I do not aim high. I should be
perfectly satisfied with such minor parts as Rosencrantz or Metellus
Cimber. Perhaps, Eleanor, you will introduce me to some of your
theatrical friends after the holidays? There is a reduced day return up
to town every Thursday. We might lunch together at one of those little
Bohemian restaurants where rumor says that an excellent lunch is to be
had for one and sixpence."

Eleanor promised she would do all she could, because John evidently
wanted her to go to bed, and he was the uncle of her children.

"Thank you, Eleanor. I hope that as a catechumen I shall do honor to
you. By the way, you will be interested in the part of Pontius Pilate's
wife in my play. In fact I'm hoping that you will--ah--interpret it
ultimately."

"Did you ever think of writing a play about Polonius's wife?" James
growled on his way upstairs. "Good-night."

When the grown-ups were safely in their rooms, John could not understand
why the children were allowed to linger in the passage, gossiping and
bragging; they would never go to sleep at this rate.

"I've got two cocoons of a Crimson-underwing," Harold was saying.

"Poof!" Viola scoffed. "What are they. Bertram touched the nose of a
kangaroo last time we went to the Zoo."

"Yes, and I prodded a crocodile with V's umbrella," added Bertram,
acknowledging her testimonial by awarding his sister a kind of share in
the exploit.

"Well, I was bitten by a squirrel once," related Harold in an attempt to
keep his end up. "And that was in its nest, not in a cage."

"A squirrel!" Viola sneered. "Why, the tallest giraffe licked Bertram's
fingers with his tongue, and they stayed wet for hours afterwards."

"Well, so could I, if I went to the Zoo," Harold maintained with a sob
at the back of his throat.

"No, you couldn't," Bertram contradicted. "Because your fingers are too
smelly."

"Much too smelly!" Viola corroborated.

Various mothers emerged at this point and put a stop to the contest; the
hallowed and gracious silence of Christmas night descended upon Ambles,
and John went on tiptoe up to his bedroom.

"The beard, I suppose, is the most important item," he said to himself,
when he had unpacked his costume.

It was a noble beard, and when John had fixed it to his cheeks with a
profusion of spirit-gum, he made up his mind that it became him so well
that he would grow one of his own, which whitening with the flight of
time would in another thirty years make him look what he hoped to
be--the doyen of romantic playwrights. The scarlet robe of Santa Claus
with its trimming of bells, icicles, and holly and its ruching of snow
had been made in a single piece without buttons, so that when John put
it over his head the beard caught in the folds and part of it was
thinned out by an icicle. In trying to disentangle himself John managed
to get one sleeve stuck to his cheek much more firmly than the beard had
ever been. Nor were his struggles to free himself made easier by the
bells, which tinkled with every movement and made him afraid that
somebody would knock at the door soon and ask if he had rung. Finally he
got the robe in place, plucked several bits of sleeve from his cheek,
renovated the beard, gathered together the apples, oranges, sweets, and
small toys he had collected for the stockings, looked at his watch,
decided that it was at least an hour too early to begin, and lay down
upon his bed, where notwithstanding the ticking of his beard he fell
asleep. When he woke, it was after one o'clock; the house was absolutely
still. He walked cautiously to the little room occupied by Frida, turned
the handle, and felt his way breathlessly along the bed to where the
stocking should be hung. Unfortunately, the bed had somehow got twisted
round or else his beard had destroyed his sense of direction, for while
he was groping for the stocking he dropped an orange on Frida's face,
who woke with a loud scream.

"Hush, my little dear," John growled in what he supposed to be the
correct depth for the character. "It's only Santa Claus."

"Go away, go away," shrieked the horrified child.

John tried to strike a match to reassure her, and at the cost of a
shower of apples on the floor, which sounded like bombs in the tense
darkness, he managed to illuminate his appearance for an instant. The
effect on Frida was appalling; she screamed a thousand times louder than
before and fled from the room. John ran after her to stop her before she
woke up everybody else and spoilt his fantasy; but he was hampered by
the costume and Frida gained the sanctuary of her parents' bedroom.

"I only hope the little idiot will frighten them more than I frightened
her," muttered John, hurrying as fast as he could back to his own room.

Suddenly from the hall below he heard a sound of sleigh-bells that put
to shame the miserable little tinkle that attended his own progress;
above the bells rose peals of hearty laughter, and above the laughter
Hugh's voice could be heard shouting:

"Wake up! Wake up! Good people all! Here's Santa Claus! Santa Claus!
Wake up!"

Just as John reached his own room, Hugh appeared at the head of the
stairs brandishing a lighted torch, while close behind him dragging
Harold's toboggan loaded with toys was a really superb Santa Claus.

John locked his door and undressed himself savagely, tearing off his
beard in handfuls and flinging all the properties into a corner.

"Anyway, whoever it is," he said, "he'll get the credit of driving Frida
mad. That's one thing. But who is it? I suppose it's Laurence showing us
how well he can act."

But it was Aubrey Fenton whom Hugh had invited down to Ambles for
Christmas and smuggled into the house like this to sweeten the
unpleasant surprise. What annoyed John most was that he himself had
never thought of using the toboggan; but the new Santa Claus was an
undoubted success with the children, and Frida's sanity was soon
restored by chocolates. The mystery of the apples and oranges strewn
about her bedroom remained a mystery, though Hilda tried to hint that
her niece had abstracted them from the sideboard.

John was able to obtain as much sympathy as he wanted from the rest of
the family over Hugh's importation of his friend. In fact they were so
eager to express their disapproval of such calm self-assurance, not to
mention the objectionable way in which he had woken everybody up in the
middle of the night, that John's own indignation gradually melted away
in the heat of their malice. As for Grandmama, she shut herself up in
her bedroom on Christmas morning and threatened not to appear all day,
so deep was her hatred of that young Fenton who was the author of all
Hugh's little weaknesses--not even when she could shift the blame could
she bring herself to call her son's vices and crimes by any stronger
name. Aubrey, who lacked Hugh's serene insolence, wanted to go back to
London and was so much abashed in his host's presence and so
appreciative of what he had done in the affair of the check that John's
compassion was aroused and he made the intruder welcome. His hospitality
was rewarded, because it turned out that Aubrey's lifelong passion for
mechanical toys saved the situation for many of John's purchases, nearly
all of which he managed to set in motion; nor could it be laid to his
account that one of the drawing-room fireworks behaved like an
out-of-door firework, because while Aubrey was lighting it at the right
end Harold was lighting it simultaneously at the other.

On the whole, the presentation of the Christmas gifts passed off
satisfactorily. The only definite display of jealousy occurred over the
diver's equipment given to Harold, which was more than Bertram
notwithstanding his own fireman's outfit could suppress.

"I'll swop with you, if you like," he began mildly enough.

But Harold clutched the diver's mask to his breast and shrank from the
proposal.

"I think you'd rather be a fireman," Bertram persisted. "Anybody can be
a diver, can't they, V?"

Viola left her doll in a state of semi-nudity and advanced to her
brother's support.

"You'd look much nicer as a fireman, Harold," she said, coaxingly. "I
wish I could be a fireman."

"Well, you can if you like," he answered, sullenly, looking round with a
hunted expression for his mother, who unluckily for her son was in
another part of the house arguing with Mrs. Worfolk about the sauce for
the plum-pudding.

"But wouldn't you rather wear a pretty brass helmet?" Viola went on.

"No, I wouldn't," said Harold, desperately wrapping himself in the
rubber tubes that was so temptingly conspicuous a portion of his
equipment.

"Oh, you little idiot," Viola burst out, impatiently. "What's the good
of your dressing up as a diver? In those goggles you always look like a
diver."

"I don't, do I, Frida?" Harold implored.

Now Frida was happy with her dolls'-house; she had no reason to be loyal
to Harold, who had always treated her shamefully; but the spirit of the
squaw rose in her breast and she felt bound to defend the wigwam against
outside criticism. Therefore she assured Harold that in ordinary life he
did not look in the least like a diver.

"Well," Bertram announced, throwing aside the last pretense of
respecting property, "V and I want that diver's dress, because we often
act _Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea_."

"Well, I can act _Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea_ too."

"No you can't because you haven't read it."

"Yes, I have."

"What a bung!" exclaimed Bertram. "You've only read _A Journey to the
Center of the Earth_ and _Round the World in Eighty Days_."

Then he remembered Frida's attitude. "Look here, if you take the
fireman's uniform you can set fire to Frida's house."

Frida yelled her refusal.

"And put it out, you little idiot," Bertram added.

"And put it out," Viola echoed.

Frida rushed to her mother.

"Mother, mother, don't let them burn my dolls'-house! Mother, you won't,
will you? Bertram wants to burn it."

"Naughty Bertram!" said Edith. "But he's only teasing you, darling."

"Good lummy, what a sneak," Bertram commented, bitterly, to his sister.

Viola eyed her cousin with the scorn of an Antigon.

"Beastly," she murmured. "Come on, Bertram, you don't want the diver's
dress!"

"Rather not. And anyway it won't work."

"It will. It will," cried Harold, passionately. "I'm going to practice
in a water-butt the first fine day we have."

It happened that John was unable to feel himself happily above these
childish jealousies, because at that moment he was himself smarting with
resentment at his mother's handing over to James all that she still
retained of family heirlooms. His eldest brother already had the
portraits, and now he was to have what was left of the silver, which
would look utterly out of place in Hill Road. If John had been as young
as Bertram, he would have spoken his mind pretty freely on the subject
of giving James the silver and himself a checkered woolen kettle-holder.
It was really too disproportionate, and he did mildly protest to the old
lady that she might have left a few things at Ambles.

"But Jimmie is the eldest, and I expect him to take poor Hugh's part.
The poor boy will want somebody when I'm gone, and Jimmie is the
eldest."

"He may be the eldest, but I'm the one who has to look after Hugh--and
very often James for that matter."

"Ah well, you're the lucky one, but Jimmie is the eldest and Hugh is the
baby."

"But James hasn't any children."

"Nor have you, my dear boy."

"But I might have," said John.

If this sort of thing went on much longer, he would, too--dozens of
children.

"Bertram," John called out. "Come here, my boy, and listen to me. When I
go back to London, you shall have a diving-suit too if I can find
another."

Eleanor tossed her head back like a victorious game-cock; she would have
crowed, if she could.

"Dinner is ready," announced Hilda fresh from a triumph over Mrs.
Worfolk about the sauce and happily ignorant of the dreadful relegation
of her son. After an unusually large meal even for Christmas the company
lay about the drawing-room like exhausted Roman debauchees, while the
pink and green paper caps out of the crackers one by one fluttered from
their brows to the carpet. Snores and the occasional violent whizz of an
overwound toy were all that broke the stillness. At tea-time everybody
woke up, and Bertram was allowed to put on his fireman's uniform in
order to extinguish a bonfire that Huggins had hoped would burn slowly
over the holidays. After a comparatively light supper games were played;
drawing-room fireworks were let off; Laurence blacked his nose in the
magic lantern; and George walking ponderously across the room to fetch
himself a cigar was struck on the ear by a projectile from the vacuum
pistol, the red mark of which was visible for some time even on his
florid countenance. Then, when the children became too quarrelsome to be
any longer tolerated out of bed, a bowl of punch was brought in and Auld
Lang Syne was sung. After which everybody agreed that it had been a very
merry Christmas, and Grandmama was led weeping up to bed.

The next morning about midday John announced that he was driving to
Wrottesford for the purpose of meeting Miss Hamilton.

"For though it is holiday time, I must do a certain amount of work," he
explained.

"Miss Hamilton?" said Grandmama. "And who may Miss Hamilton be?"

Hilda, Edith, Eleanor, and Beatrice all looked very solemn and
mysterious; James chuckled; Hugh brightened visibly.

"Well, I suppose we mustn't mind a stranger's coming to spoil our happy
party," Hilda sighed.

"Ah, this will be your new secretary of whom rumor has already spoken,"
said Laurence. "Possibly she will give me some advice on the subject of
the typing of manuscripts."

"Miss Hamilton will be very busy while she is staying here," said John,
curtly.

Everybody looked at everybody else, and there was an awkward pause,
which was relieved by Harold's saying that he would show her where he
thought a goldfinch would make a nest in spring.

"Dear little man," murmured his mother with a sigh for his childish
confidence.

"Shall _I_ drive in to meet her?" Hugh suggested.

"No, thank you," said John, quickly.

"That's right, Johnnie," James guffawed. "You stick to the reins
yourself."



CHAPTER XII


John did not consider himself a first-class whip: if he had been offered
the choice between swimming to meet his love like Leander, climbing into
her father's orchard like Romeo, and driving to meet her with a
dog-cart, he would certainly, had the engagement shown signs of being a
long one, have chosen any mode of trysting except the last. This
morning, however, he was not as usual oppressed by a sense of imperfect
sympathy between himself and the mare; he did not think she was going to
have hysterics when she blew her nose, nor fancy that she was on the
verge of bolting when she tossed her chestnut mane; the absence of
William the groom seemed a matter for congratulation rather than for
regret; he felt as reckless as Phaeton, as urgent as Jehu, and the mare
knew it. Generally, when her master held the reins, she would try to
walk up steep banks or emulate in her capricious greed the lofty
browsings of the giraffe; this morning at a steady swinging trot she
kept to the middle of the road, passed two motor-cars without trying to
box the landscape, and did not even shy at the new hat of the vicar's
wife.

Later on, however, when John was safe in the station-yard and saw the
familiar way in which Miss Hamilton patted the mare he decided not to
take any risk on the return journey and in spite of his brother's
parting gibe to hand over the reins to his secretary; nor was the
symbolism of the action distasteful. How charming she looked in that
mauve frieze! How well the color was harmonizing with the purple
hedgerows! How naturally she seemed to haunt the woodland scene!

"Oh, this exquisite country," she sighed. "Fancy staying in London when
you can write here!"

"It does seem absurd," the lucky author agreed. "But the house is very
full at present. We shall be rather exposed to interruptions until the
party breaks up."

He gave her an account of the Christmas festival, to which she seemed
able to listen comfortably and appreciatively in spite of the fact that
she was driving. This impressed John very much.

"I hope your mother wasn't angry at your leaving town," he said,
tentatively. "I thought of telegraphing an invitation to her; but there
really isn't room for another person."

"I'm afraid I can't say that she was gracious about my desertion of her.
Indeed, she's beginning to put pressure on me to give up my post. Quite
indirectly, of course, but one feels the effect just the same. Who
knows? I may succumb."

John nearly fell out of the dog-cart.

"Give up your post?" he gasped. "But, my dear Miss Hamilton, the
dog-roses won't be in bloom for some months."

"What have dog-roses got to do with my post?"

He laughed a little foolishly.

"I mean the play won't be finished for some months. Did I say dog-roses?
I must have been thinking of the dog-cart. You drive with such admirable
unconcern. Still, you ought to see these hedgerows in summer. Now the
time I like for a walk is about eight o'clock on a June evening. The
honeysuckle smells so delicious about eight o'clock. There's no doubt it
is ridiculous to live in London. I hope you made it quite clear to your
mother you had no intention of leaving me?"

"Ida Merritt did most of the arguing."

"Did she? What a very intelligent girl she is, by the way. I confess I
took a great fancy to her."

"You told mother once that she frightened you."

"Ah, but I'm always frightened by people when I meet them first. Though
curiously enough I was never frightened of you. Some people have told me
that _I_ am frightening at first. You didn't find that did you?"

"No, I certainly did not. And I can't imagine anybody else's doing so
either."

Although John rather plumed himself upon the alarm he was credited with
inspiring at first sight, he did not argue the point, because he really
never had had the least desire to frighten his secretary.

"And your relations don't seem to find you very frightening," she
murmured. "Good gracious, what an assemblage!"

The dog-cart had just drawn clear of the beechwood, and the whole of the
Ambles party could be seen vigilantly grouped by the gate to receive
them, which John thought was a lapse of taste on the part of his guests.
Nor was he mollified by the way in which after the introductions were
made Hugh took it upon himself to conduct Miss Hamilton indoors, while
he was left shouting for William the groom. If it was anybody's business
except his own to escort her into the house, it was Hilda's.

"What a very extraordinary thing," said John, fretfully, "that the
_only_ person who's wanted is not here. Where is that confounded boy?"

"I'm here," cried Bertram, responding to the epithet instinctively.

"Not you. Not you. I wanted William to take the mare."

When lunch was over John found that notwithstanding his secretary's
arrival he was less eager to begin work again upon his play than he had
supposed.

"I think I must be feeling rather worn out by Christmas," he told her.
"I wonder if a walk wouldn't do you good after the journey."

"Now that's a capital notion," exclaimed Hugh, who was standing close by
and overheard the suggestion. "We might tramp up to the top of Shalstead
Down."

"Oh yes," Harold chimed in. "I've never been there yet. Mother said it
was too far for me; but it isn't, is it, Uncle John?"

"Your mother was right. It's at least three miles too far," said John,
firmly. "Oh, by the way, Hugh, I've been thinking over your scheme for
that summerhouse or whatever you call it, and I'm not sure that I don't
rather like the idea after all. You might put it in hand this afternoon.
You'd better keep Laurence with you. I want him to have it in the way he
likes it, although of course I shall undertake the expense. Where's
Bertram? Ah, there you are. Bertram, why don't you and Viola take Harold
down to the river and practice diving? I dare say Mr. Fenton will
superintend the necessary supply of air and reduce the chances of a
fatal accident."

"But the water's much too cold," Hilda protested in dismay.

"Oh well, there's always something to amuse one by a river without
actually going into the water," John said. "You like rivers, don't you,
Fenton? I'm afraid we can't offer you a very large one, but it wiggles
most picturesquely."

Aubrey Fenton, who was still feeling twinges of embarrassment on account
of his uninvited stay at Ambles, was prepared to like anything his host
put forward for his appreciation, and he spoke with as much enthusiasm
of a promenade along the banks of the small Hampshire stream as if he
were going to view the Ganges for the first time. John, having disposed
of him, looked around for other possible candidates for a walk.

"You look like hard work, James," he said, approvingly.

"I've a bundle of trash here for review," the critic growled.

"I'm sorry. I was going to propose a stroll up Shalstead Down. Never
mind. You'll have to walk into your victims instead." And, by gad, he
would walk into them too, John thought, after that dinner yesterday.

Beatrice and Eleanor were not about; old Mrs. Touchwood was unlikely at
her age to venture up the third highest elevation in Hampshire; Hilda
was occupied with household duties; Edith had a headache. Only George
now remained unoccupied, and John was sure he might safely risk an
invitation to him; he looked incapable of walking two yards.

"I suppose you wouldn't care for a constitutional, George?" he inquired,
heartily.

"A constitutional?" George repeated, gaping like a chub at a large
cherry. "No, no, no, no. I always knit after lunch. Besides I never walk
in the country. It ruins one's boots."

George always used to polish his own boots with as much passionate care
as he would have devoted to the coloring of a meerschaum pipe.

"Well, if nobody wants to climb Shalstead Down," said John beaming
happily, "what do you say, Miss Hamilton?"

A few minutes later they had crossed the twenty-acre field and were
among the chalk-flecked billows of the rising downs.

"You're a terrible fraud," she laughed. "You've always led me to believe
that you were completely at the mercy of your relations. Instead of
which, you order them about and arrange their afternoon and really bully
them into doing all sorts of things they never had any intention of
doing, or any wish to do, what's more."

"Yes, I seemed to be rather successful with my strategy to-day," John
admitted. "But they were stupefied by their Christmas dinner. None of
them was really anxious for a walk, and I didn't want to drag them out
unwillingly."

"Ah, it's all very well to explain it away like that, but don't ever ask
me to sympathize with you again. I believe you're a replica of my poor
mother. Her tyranny is deeply rooted in consideration for others. Why do
you suppose she is always trying to make me give up working for you? For
her sake? Oh, dear no! For mine."

"But _you_ don't forge my name and expect her to pay me back. _You_
don't arrive suddenly and deposit children upon her doorstep."

"I dare say I don't, but for my mother Ida Merritt represents all the
excesses of your relations combined in one person. I'm convinced that if
you and she were to compare notes you would find that you were both
suffering from acute ingratitude and thoroughly enjoying it. But come,
come, this is not a serious conversation. What about the fourth act?"

"The fourth act of what?" he asked, vaguely.

"The fourth act of Joan of Arc."

"Oh, Joan of Arc. I think I must give her a rest. I don't seem at all in
the mood for writing at present. The truth is that I find Joan rather
lacking in humanity and I'm beginning to think I made a mistake in
choosing such an abnormal creature for the central figure of a play."

"Then what have I come down to Hampshire for?" she demanded.

"Well, it's very jolly down here, isn't it?" John retorted in an
offended voice. "And anyway you can't expect me to burst into blank
verse the moment you arrive, like a canary that's been uncovered by the
housemaid. It would be an affectation to pretend I feel poetical this
afternoon. I feel like a jolly good tramp before tea. I can't stand
writers who always want to be literary. I have the temperament of a
country squire, and if I had more money and fewer relations I should
hardly write at all."

"Which would be a great pity," said his secretary.

"Would it?" John replied in the voice of one who has found an unexpected
grievance and is determined to make the most of it. "I doubt if it
would. What is my work, after all? I don't deceive myself. There was
more in my six novels than in anything I've written since. I'm a failure
to myself. In the eyes of the public I may be a success, but in the
depths of my own heart--" he finished the sentence in a long sigh, all
the longer because he was a little out of breath with climbing.

"But you were so cheerful a few minutes ago. I'm sure that country
squires are not the prey to such swift changes of mood. I think you must
be a poet really."

"A poet!" he exclaimed, bitterly, with what he fancied was the kind of
laugh that is called hollow. "Do I look like a poet?"

"If you're going to talk in that childish way I sha'n't say any more,"
she warned him, severely. "Oh, there goes a hare!"

"Two hares," said John, trying to create an impression that in spite of
the weight of his despondency he would for her sake affect a
light-hearted interest in the common incidents of a country walk.

"And look at the peewits," she said. "What a fuss they make about
nothing, don't they?"

"I suppose you are comparing me to a peewit now?" John reproachfully
suggested.

"Well, a moment ago you compared yourself to an uncovered canary; so if
I've exceeded the bounds of free speech marked out for a secretary, you
must forgive me."

"My dear Miss Hamilton," he assured her, "I beg you to believe that you
are at liberty to compare me to anything you like."

Having surrendered his personality for the exercise of her wit John felt
more cheerful. The rest of the walk seemed to offer with its wide
prospects of country asleep in the winter sunlight a wider prospect of
life itself; even Joan of Arc became once again a human figure.

It was to be feared that John's manipulation of his guests after lunch
might have had the effect of uniting them against the new favorite; and
so it had. When he and Miss Hamilton got back to the house for tea the
family was obviously upon the defensive, so obviously indeed that it
gave the impression of a sculptor's group in which each figure was
contributing his posture to the whole. There was not as yet the least
hint of attack, but John would almost have preferred an offensive action
to this martyred withdrawal from the world in which it was suggested
that he and Miss Hamilton were living by themselves. It happened that a
neighbor, a colorless man with a disobedient and bushy dog, called upon
the Touchwoods that afternoon, and John could not help being aware that
to the eyes of his relations he and his secretary appeared equally
intrusive and disturbing; the manner in which Hilda offered Miss
Hamilton tea scarcely differed from the manner in which she propitiated
the dog with a bun; and it would have been rash to assert that she was
more afraid of the dog's biting Harold than of the secretary's doing so.

"Don't worry Miss Hamilton, darling. She's tired after her long walk.
Besides, she isn't used to little boys. And don't make Mr. Wenlow's dog
eat sugar if it doesn't want to."

Eleanor would ordinarily have urged Bertram to prove that he could
achieve what was denied to his cousin. Yet now in the face of a common
enemy she made overtures to Hilda by simultaneously calling off her
children from the intruders.

"If I'd known that animals were so welcomed down here," James grumbled,
"I should have brought Beyle with us."

It was not a polite remark; but the disobedient dog in an effusion of
cordiality had just licked the back of James' neck, and he was not
nearly so rude as he would have been about a human being who had
surprised him, speaking figuratively, in the same way.

"Lie down, Rover," whispered the colorless neighbor with so rich a blush
that until it subsided the epithet ceased to be appropriate.

Rover unexpectedly paid attention to the command, but chose Grandmama's
lap for his resting place, which made Viola laugh so ecstatically that
Frida felt bound to imitate her, with the result that a geyser of tea
spurted from her mouth and descended upon her father's leg. Laurence
rose and led his daughter from the room, saying:

"Little girls who choke in drawing-rooms must learn to choke outside."

"I'm afraid she has adenoids, poor child," said Eleanor, kindly.

"I know what that word means," Harold bragged with gloating knowledge.

"Shut up!" cried Bertram. "You know everything, glass-eyes. But you
don't know there are two worms in your tea-cup."

"There aren't," Harold contradicted.

"All right, drink it up and see. I put them there myself."

"Eleanor!" expostulated the horrified mother. "_Do_ you allow Bertram to
behave like this?"

She hurriedly poured away the contents of Harold's cup, which proved
that the worms were only an invention of his cousin. Yet the joke was
successful in its way, because there was no more tea, and therefore
Harold had to go without a third cup. Edith, whose agitation had been
intense while her husband was brooding in the passage over Frida's
chokes, could stay still no longer, but went out to assist with tugs and
taps of consolation. The colorless visitor departed with his disobedient
dog, and soon a thin pipe was heard in vain whistles upon the twilight
like the lisp of reeds along the dreary margin of a December stream.

John welcomed this recrudescence of maternal competition, which seemed
likely to imperil the alliance, and he was grateful to Bertram and Viola
for their provocation of it. But he had scarcely congratulated himself,
when Hugh came in and at once laid himself out to be agreeable to Miss
Hamilton.

"You've put the summerhouse in hand?" John asked, fussily, in order to
make it perfectly clear to his brother that he was not the owner of
Ambles.

Hugh shook his head.

"My dear man, it's Boxing Day. Besides, I know you only wanted to get
rid of me this afternoon. By the way, Aubrey's going back to town
to-night. Can he have the dog-cart?"

John looked round at the unbidden guest with a protest on his lips; he
had planned to keep Aubrey as a diversion for Hugh, and had taken quite
a fancy to him. Aubrey however, had to be at the office next day, and
John was distressed to lose the cheerful young man's company, although
it had been embarrassing when Grandmama had shuddered every time he
opened his mouth. Another disadvantage of his departure was the
direction of the old lady's imagination toward an imminent marriage
between Hugh and Miss Hamilton, which was extremely galling to John,
especially as the rest of the family was united in suggesting a similar
conjunction between her and himself.

"I don't want to say a word against her, Johnnie," Grandmama began to
mutter one evening about a week later when every game of patience had
failed in turn through congestion of the hearts. "I'm not going to say
she isn't a lady, and perhaps she doesn't mean to make eyes at Hughie."

John would have liked to tell his mother that she was on the verge of
senile decay; but the dim old fetish of parental respect blinked at him
from the jungle of the past, and in a vain search for a way of stopping
her without being rude he let her ramble on.

"Of course, she has very nice eyes, and I can quite understand Hughie's
taking an interest in her. I don't grudge the dear boy his youth. We all
get old in time, and its natural that with us old fogies round him he
_should_ be a little interested in Miss Hamilton. All the same, it
wouldn't be a prudent match. I dare say she thinks I shall have
something to leave Hugh, but I told her only yesterday that I should
leave little or nothing."

"My dear Mama, I can assure you that my secretary--my secretary," John
repeated with as much pomposity as might impress the old lady, "is not
at all dazzled by the glamour of your wealth or James' wealth or
George's wealth or anybody's wealth for that matter."

He might have said that the donkey's ears were the only recognizable
feature of Midas in the Touchwood family had there been the least chance
of his mother's understanding the classical allusion.

"I don't mean to hint that she's _only_ after Hugh's money. I've no
doubt at all that she's excessively in love with him."

"Really?" John exclaimed with such a scornfully ironical intonation that
his mother asked anxiously if he had a sore throat.

"You might take a little honey and borax, my dear boy," she advised, and
immediately continued her estimate of the emotional situation. "Yes, as
I say, excessively in love! But there can't be many young women who
resist Hugh. Why, even as a boy he had his little love affairs. Dear me,
how poor papa used to laugh about them. 'He's going to break a lot of
hearts,' poor papa used to say."

"I don't know about hearts," John commented, gruffly. "But he's broken
everything else, including himself. However, I can assure you, Mama,
that Miss Hamilton's heart is not made of pie-crust, and that she is
more than capable of looking after herself."

"Then you agree with me that she has a selfish disposition. I _am_ glad
you agree with me. I didn't trust her from the beginning; but I thought
you seemed so wrapped up in her cleverness--though when I was young
women didn't think it necessary to be clever--that you were quite blind
to her selfishness. But I _am_ glad you agree with me. There's nobody
who has more sympathy for true love than I have. But though I always
said that love makes the world go round, I've never been partial to
vulgar flirtations. Indeed, if it had to be, I'd rather they got engaged
properly, even if it did mean a long engagement--but leading poor Hughie
on like this--well, I must speak plainly, Johnnie, for, after all, I am
your mother, though I know it's the fashion now to think that children
know more than their parents, and, in my opinion, you ought to put your
foot down. There! I've said what I've been wanting to say for a week,
and if you jump down my throat, well, then you must, and that's all
there is to it."

Now, although John thought his mother fondly stupid and was perfectly
convinced when he asked himself the question that Miss Hamilton was as
remote from admiring Hugh as he was himself, he was nevertheless unable
to resist observing Hugh henceforth with a little of the jealousy that
most men of forty-two feel for juniors of twenty-seven. He was not
prepared to acknowledge that his opinion of Miss Hamilton was colored by
any personal emotion beyond the unqualified respect he gave to her
practical qualities, and he was sure that the only reason for anxiety
about possible developments between her and Hugh was the loss to himself
of her valuable services.

"I've reached an age," he told his reflection, whose crow's-feet were
seeming more conspicuous than usual in the clear wintry weather, "when a
man becomes selfish in small matters. Let me be frank with myself. Let
me admit that I do dislike the idea of an entanglement with Hugh,
because I _have_ found in Miss Hamilton a perfect secretary whom I
should be extremely sorry to lose. Is that surprising? No, it is quite
natural. Curious! I noticed to-day that Hugh's hair is getting very thin
on top. Mine, however, shows no sign of baldness, though fair men nearly
always go bald before dark men. But I'm inclined to fancy that few
observers would give me fifteen years more than Hugh."

If John had really been conscious of a rival in his youngest brother, he
might have derived much encouragement from the attitude of all the other
members of the family, none of whom seemed to think that Hugh had a look
in. But, since he firmly declined to admit his secretary's potentiality
for anything except efficient clerical work, he was only irritated by
it.

"Are you going to marry Miss Hamilton?" Harold actually wanted to know
one evening. He had recently been snubbed for asking the company what
was the difference between gestation and digestion, and was determined
to produce a conundrum that could not be evaded by telling him that he
would not understand the answer. John's solution was to look at his
watch and say it was time for him and Bertram to be in bed, hoping that
Bertram would take it out of his cousin for calling attention to their
existence. One of Bertram's first measures at Ambles had been to
muffle, impede, disorganize and finally destroy the striking of the
drawing-room clock. When this had been accomplished he could count every
night on a few precious minutes snatched from the annihilation of bed
during which he sat mute as a mummy in a kind of cataleptic ecstasy. The
betrayer of this profound peace sullenly gathered up the rubbish with
which he was wont to litter the room every night, and John saw Bertram's
eye flash like a Corsican sharpening the knife of revenge. But whatever
was in store for Harold lacked savor when John heard from the group of
mothers, aunts, sisters, and sisters-in-law the two words "Children
know" dying away in a sibilance of affirmative sighs.

After that it was small consolation to hear a scuffle outside in the
hall followed by the crash of Harold's dispersed collections and a wail
of protest. For the sake of a childish quarrel Hilda and Eleanor were
not going to break up the alliance to which they were now definitely
committed.

"It's so nice for poor Harold to have Bertram to play with him,"
volunteered one mother.

"Yes, and it's nice for Bertram too, because Harold's such a little
worker," the other agreed.

Even George's opaque eyes glimmered with an illusion of life when he
heard his wife praise her nephew; she had not surprised him so
completely since on a wet afternoon, thirteen years ago, she accepted
his hand. It was even obvious to Edith that she must begin to think
about taking sides; and, having exhausted her intelligence by this
discovery, she had not enough wit left to see that now was her
opportunity to trade upon John's sentimental affection for herself, but
proceeded to sacrifice her own daughter to the success of the hostile
alliance.

"I think perhaps it's good for Frida to be teased sometimes," she
ventured.

As for Beatrice, she was not going to draw attention to her
childlessness by giving one more woman the chance of feeling superior to
herself, and her thwarted maternity was placed at the disposal of the
three mothers. Indeed it was she who led the first foray, in which she
was herself severely wounded, as will be seen.

Among the unnecessary vexations and unsatisfactory pleasures which the
human side of John inflicted upon the well-known dramatist, John
Touchwood, was the collection of press-cuttings about himself and his
work; one of Miss Hamilton's least congenial tasks was to preserve in a
scrap-book these tributes to egoism.

"You don't really want me to stick in this paragraph from _High Life_?"
she would protest.

"Which one is that?"

"Why, this ridiculous announcement that you've decided to live on the
upper slopes of the Andes for the next few months in order to gather
material for a tragedy about the Incas."

"Oh, I don't know. It's rather amusing, I think," John would insist,
apologetically. Then, rather lamely, he would add, "You see, I
subscribe."

Miss Hamilton, with a sigh, would dip her brush in the paste.

"I can understand your keeping the notices of your productions, which I
suppose have a certain value, but this sort of childish gossip...."

"Gossip keeps my name before the public."

Then he would fancy that he caught a faint murmur about "lack of
dignity," and once even he thought she whispered something about "lack
of humor."

Therefore, in view of the importance he seemed to attach to the most
irrelevant paragraph, Miss Hamilton could not be blamed for drawing his
attention to a long article in one of those critical quarterlies or
monthlies that are read in club smoking-rooms in the same spirit of
desperation in which at railway stations belated travelers read
time-tables. This article was entitled _What Is Wrong With Our Drama?_
and was signed with some obscurely allusive pseudonym.

"I suppose I am involved in the general condemnation?" said John, with
an attempt at a debonair indifference.

Had he been alone he might have refrained from a descent into
particulars, but having laid so much stress upon the salvage of
worthless flotsam, he could not in Miss Hamilton's presence ignore this
large wreck.

"_Let us pause now to contemplate the roundest and the rosiest of our
romantic cherubs._ Ha-ha! I suppose the fellow thinks that will irritate
me. As a matter of fact, I think it's rather funny, don't you? Rather
clever, I mean. Eh? _But, after all, should we take Mr. Touchwood
seriously? He is only an exuberant schoolboy prancing about with a
pudding-dish on his head and shouting 'Let's pretend I'm a
Knight-at-Arms' to a large and susceptible public. Let us say to Mr.
Touchwood in the words of an earlier romantic who was the fount and
origin of all this Gothic stucco:_

    _'O what can ail thee, Knight-at-Arms,_
    _So staggered by the critics' tone?_
    _The pit and gallery are full,_
    _And the play has gone.'_

"I don't mind what he says about _me_," John assured his secretary. "But
I do resent his parodying Keats. Yes, I do strongly resent that. I
wonder who wrote it. I call it rather personal for anonymous criticism."

"Shall I stick it in the book?"

"Certainly," the wounded lion uttered with a roar of disdain. At least
that was the way John fancied he said "certainly."

"Do you really want to know who wrote this article?" she asked,
seriously, a minute or two later.

"It wasn't James?" the victim exclaimed in a flash of comprehension.

"Well, all I can tell you is that two or three days ago your brother
received a copy of the review and a letter from the editorial offices. I
was sorting out your letters and noticed the address on the outside.
Afterwards at breakfast he opened it and took out a check."

"James would call me a rosy cherub," John muttered. "Moreover, I did
tell him about Bertram and the pudding-dish when he was playing at
Perseus. And--no, James doesn't admire Keats."

"Poor man," said Miss Hamilton, charitably.

"Yes, I suppose one ought to be sorry for him rather than angry," John
agreed, snatching at the implied consolation. "All the same, I think I
ought to speak to him about his behavior. Of course, he's quite at
liberty to despise my work, but I don't think he should take advantage
of our relationship to introduce a note of personal--well, really, I
don't think he has any right to call me a round and rosy cherub in
print. After all, the public doesn't know what a damned failure James
himself is. I shouldn't so mind if it really was a big pot calling the
kettle black. I could retaliate then. But as it is I can do nothing."

"Except stick it in your press-cutting book," suggested Miss Hamilton,
with a smile.

"And then my mother goes and presents him with all the silver! No, I
will not overlook this lapse of taste; I shall speak to him about it
this morning. But suppose he asks me how I found out?"

"You must tell him."

"You don't mind?"

"I'm your secretary, aren't I?"

"By Jove, Miss Hamilton, you know, you really are...."

John stopped. He wanted to tell her what a balm her generosity was to
his wound; but he felt that she would prefer him to be practical.

It was like the critic to welcome with composure the accusation of what
John called his duplicity, or rather of what he called duplicity in the
privacy of his own thoughts: to James he began by referring to it as
exaggerated frankness.

"I said nothing more than I've said a hundred times to your face," his
brother pointed out.

"That may be, but you didn't borrow money from me on the strength of
what you said. You told me you had an article on Alfred de Vigny
appearing shortly. You didn't tell me that you were raising the money as
a post obit on my reputation."

"My dear Johnnie, if you're going to abuse me in metaphors, be just at
any rate. Your reputation was a corpse before I dissected it."

"Very well, then," cried John, hotly, "have it your own way and admit
that you're a body-snatcher."

"However," James continued, with a laugh that was for him almost
apologetic, "though I hate excuses, I must point out that the money I
borrowed from you was genuinely on account of Alfred de Vigny and that
this was an unexpected windfall. And to show I bear you no ill will,
which is more than can be said for most borrowers, here's the check I
received. I'm bound to say you deserve it."

"I don't want the money."

"Yet in a way you earned it yourself," the critic chuckled. "But let me
be quite clear. Is this a family quarrel? I don't want to quarrel with
you personally. I hate your work. I think it false, pretentious and
demoralizing. But I like you very much. Do, my dear fellow, let us
contract my good taste in literature and bad taste in manners with your
bad taste in literature and good taste in manners. Like two pugilists,
let's shake hands and walk out of the ring arm-in-arm. Even if I hit you
below the belt, you must blame your curves, Johnnie. You're so plump and
rosy that...."

"That word is becoming an obsession with you. You seem to think it
annoys me, but it doesn't annoy me at all."

"Then it is a family quarrel. Come, your young lady has opened her
campaign well. I congratulate her. By the way, when am I to congratulate
you?"

"This," said John, rising with grave dignity, "is going too far."

He left his brother, armed himself with a brassey, proceeded to the
twenty-acre field, and made the longest drive of his experience. At
lunch James announced that he and Beatrice must be getting back to town
that afternoon, a resolution in which his host acquiesced without even a
conventional murmur of protest. Perhaps it was this attitude of John's
that stung Beatrice into a challenge, or perhaps she had been egged on
by the mothers who, with their children's future to consider, were not
anxious to declare open war upon the rich uncle. At any rate, in her
commonest voice she said:

"It's plain that Jimmie and I are not wanted here any longer."

The mothers looked down at their plates with what they hoped was a
strictly neutral expression. Yet it was impossible not to feel that they
were triumphantly digging one another in the ribs with ghostly fingers,
such an atmosphere of suppressed elation was discernible above the
modest attention they paid to the food before them. Nobody made an
effort to cover the awkwardness created by the remark, and John was
faced with the alternative of contradicting it or acknowledging its
truth; he was certainly not going to be allowed to ignore it in a burst
of general conversation.

"I think that is rather a foolish remark, Beatrice," was his comment.

She shrugged her shoulders so emphatically that her stays creaked in the
horrid silence that enveloped the table.

"Well, we can't all be as clever as Miss Hamilton, and most of us
wouldn't like to be, what's more."

"The dog-cart will be round at three," John replied, coldly.

His sister-in-law, bursting into tears, rushed from the room. James
guffawed and helped himself to potatoes. The various mothers reproved
their children for breaches of table manners. George looked nervously at
his wife as if she was on the point of following the example of
Beatrice. Grandmama, who was daily receding further and further into the
past, put on her spectacles and told John, reproachfully, that he ought
not to tease little Beatrice. Hugh engaged Miss Hamilton in a
conversation about Bernard Shaw. John, forgetting he had already dipped
twice in mustard the morsel of beef upon his fork, dipped it again, so
that his eyes presently filled with tears, to which the observant Harold
called everybody's attention.

"Don't make personal remarks, darling," his mother whispered.

"That's what Johnnie said to me this morning," James chuckled.

When the dog-cart drove off with James and Beatrice at three o'clock to
catch the 3:45 train up to town, John retired to his study in full
expectation that when the mare came back she would at once turn round
for the purpose of driving Miss Hamilton to catch the 5:30 train up to
town: no young woman in her position would forgive that vulgar scene at
lunch. But when he reached his desk he found his secretary hard at work
upon the collection of material for the play as if nothing had happened.
In the presence of such well-bred indifference the recollection of
Beatrice's behavior abashed him more than ever, and, feeling that any
kind of even indirect apology from him would be distasteful to Miss
Hamilton, he tried to concentrate upon the grouping of the trial scene
with an equal show of indifference to the mean events of family life. He
was so far successful that the afternoon passed away without any
allusion to Beatrice, and when the gong sounded for tea his equanimity
was in order again.

After tea, however, Eleanor managed to get hold of John for what she
called a little chat about the future, but which he detected with the
mind's nose as an unpleasant rehash of the morning's pasticcio. He
always dreaded this sister-in-law when she opened with zoological
endearments, and his spirits sank to hear her exclaim boisterously:

"Now, look here, you poor wounded old lion, I'm going to talk to you
seriously about Beatrice."

"There's nothing more to be said," John assured her.

"Now don't be an old bear. You've already made one poor aunt cry; don't
upset me too."

Anybody less likely to be prostrated by grief than Eleanor at that
moment John could not have imagined. She seemed to him the incarnation
of a sinister self-assurance.

"Rubbish," he snapped. "In any case, yours would only be stage tears,
you old crocodile--if I may copy your manner of speech."

"Isn't he in a nasty, horrid, cross mood?" she demanded, with an
affected glance at an imaginary audience. "No, but seriously, John! I do
want to give you a little advice. I suppose it's tactless of me to talk
about advising the great man, but don't bite my head off."

"In what capacity?" the great man asked. "You've forgotten to specify
the precise carnivore that will perform the operation."

"Oh dear, aren't we sarcastic this afternoon?" she asked, opening wide
her eyes. "However, you're not going to frighten me, because I'm
determined to have it out with you, even if you order the dog-cart
before dinner. Johnnie, is it fair to let a complete stranger make
mischief among relations?"

John played the break in Eleanor's voice with beautiful ease.

"I will not have Miss Hamilton's name dragged into these sordid family
squabbles," he asseverated.

"I'm not going to say a word against Miss Hamilton. I think she's a
charming young woman--a little too charming perhaps for you, you
susceptible old goose."

"For goodness sake," John begged, "stick to the jungle and leave the
farmyard alone."

"Now you're not going to rag me out of what I'm going to say. You know
that I'm a real Bohemian who doesn't pay attention to the stupid little
conventionalities that, for instance, Hilda or Edith might consider.
Therefore I'm sure you won't misunderstand me when I warn you about
people talking. Of course, you and I are accustomed to the freedom of
the profession, and as far as I'm concerned you might engage half a
dozen handsome lady secretaries without my even noticing it. But the
others don't understand. They think it's funny."

"Good heavens, what are you trying to suggest?" John demanded.

He could manage the break, but this full pitch made him slog wildly.

"_I_'m not trying to suggest anything. I'm simply telling you what other
people may think. You see, after all, Hilda and Edith couldn't help
noticing that you did allow Miss Hamilton to make mischief between you
and your brother. I dare say James was in the wrong; but is it a part of
a secretary's duties to manage her employer? And James _is_ your
brother. The natural deduction for conventional people like Hilda and
Edith was that--now, don't be annoyed at what I'm going to say, but I
always speak out--I'm famous for my frankness. Well, to put it frankly,
they think that Miss Hamilton can twist you round her little finger.
Then, of course, they ask themselves why, and for conventional people
like Hilda and Edith there's only one explanation. Of course, I told
them it was all nonsense and that you were as innocent as an old lamb. I
dare say you don't mind people talking. That's your business, but I
shouldn't have been a good pal if I hadn't warned you that people will
talk, if they aren't talking already."

"You've got the mind of an usher," said John. "I can't say worse than
that of anybody. Wasn't it you who suggested a French governess should
be given the freedom of Church Row and who laughed at me for being an
old beaver or some other prudish animal because I objected? If I can be
trusted with a French governess, I can surely be trusted with a
confidential secretary. Besides, we're surrounded by an absolute
_chevaux de frise_ of chaperons, for I suppose that Hilda and Edith may
fairly be considered efficient chaperons, even if you are still too
youthfully Bohemian for the post."

Eleanor's age was the only vulnerable spot in her self-confidence, and
John took advantage of it to bring her little chat to a bitter end.

"My dear Johnnie," she said, tartly, "I'm not talking about the present.
I'm warning you about the future. However, you're evidently not in the
mood to listen to anybody."

"No, I'm not," he assented, warmly. "I'm as deaf as an old adder."

The next day John, together with Mrs. Worfolk and Maud, left for
Hampstead, and his secretary traveled with him up to town.

"Yes," his housekeeper was overheard observing to Elsa in the hall of 36
Church Row, "dog-cart is a good name for an unnatural conveyance, but
give me a good old London cab for human beings. Turn again, Whittington,
they say, and they're right. They may call London noisy if they like,
but it's as quiet as a mouse when you put it alongside of all that
baaring and mooing and cockadoodledoing in the country. Well, I mean to
say, Elsa, I'm getting too old for the country. And the master's getting
too old for the country, in my opinion. I'm in hopes he'll settle down
now, and not go wearing himself out any more with the country. Believe
me or not as you will, Elsa, when I tell you that the pore fellow had to
play at ball like any little kid to keep himself amused."

"Fancy that, Mrs. Worfolk," Elsa murmured with a gentle intake of
astonished breath.

"Yes, it used to make me feel all over melancholy to see him. All by
himself in a great field. Pore fellow. He's lonely, that's what it is,
however...."

At this point the conversation born upon whispers and tut-tut passed out
of John's hearing toward the basement.

"I suppose my own servants will start gossiping next," he grumbled to
himself. "Luckily I've learnt to despise gossip. Hullo, here's another
bundle of press-cuttings.

"_It is rumored that John Touchwood's version of Joan of Arc which he is
writing for that noble tragedienne, Miss Janet Bond, will exhibit the
Maid of Orleans in a new and piquant light. The distinguished dramatist
has just returned from France where he has been obtaining some
startling scenic effects for what is confidently expected will be the
playwright's most successful production. We are sorry to hear that Miss
Bond has been suffering from a sharp attack of 'flu, but a visit to Dr.
Brighton has--_"

These and many similar paragraphs were all pasted into the album by his
secretary the next morning, and John was quite annoyed when she referred
to them as worthless gossip.

"You don't know what gossip is," he said, thinking of Eleanor. "I ignore
real gossip."

Miss Hamilton smiled to herself.



CHAPTER XIII


After the Christmas party at Ambles John managed to secure a
tranquillity that, however brief and deceptive he felt it was like to
be, nevertheless encouraged him sufficiently to make considerable
progress with the play while it lasted. Perhaps Eleanor's warning had
sunk deeper than she might have supposed from the apparent result of
that little chat with her brother-in-law about his future; at any rate,
he was so firmly determined not to give the most evil mind the least
opportunity for malicious exaggeration that in self-defense he devoted
to Joan of Arc a more exclusive attention than he had hitherto devoted
to any of his dramatic personages. Moreover, in his anxiety to prove how
abominably unjust the insinuations of his family were, he imparted to
his heroine some of his own temporary remoteness from the ordinary
follies and failings of humanity.

"We are too much obsessed by sex nowadays," he announced at the club one
afternoon, and was tempted to expatiate upon his romantic shibboleth to
several worn out old gentlemen who had assented to this proposition.
"After all," he argued, "life is not all sex. I've lately been
enormously struck by that in the course of my work. Take Joan of Arc for
instance. Do we find any sex obsession in her? None. But is she less
psychologically interesting on that account? No. Sex is the particular
bane of modern writers. Frankly, I cannot read a novel nowadays. I
suppose I'm old-fashioned, but I'd rather be called old-fashioned than
asked to appreciate one of these young modern writers. I suppose there's
no man more willing than myself to march with the times, but I like the
high roads of literature, not the muddy lanes...."

"The John Longs and John Lanes that have no turnings," a club wag put
in.

"Look at Stevenson," the dramatist continued, without paying any
attention to the stupid interruption. "When Stevenson wrote a love scene
he used to blush."

"So would any one who had written love scenes as bad as his," sniggered
a young man, who seemed oblivious of his very recent election to the
club.

The old members looked at him severely, not because he had sneered at
Stevenson, but because, without being spoken to, he had volunteered a
remark in the club smoking-room at least five years too soon.

"I've got a young brother who thinks like you," said John, with friendly
condescension.

"Yes, I know him," the young man casually replied.

John was taken aback; it struck him as monstrous that a friend of Hugh's
should have secured election to _his_ club. The sanctity of the retreat
had been violated, and he could not understand what the world was coming
to.

"How is Hugh?" the young man went on, without apparently being the least
conscious of any difference between the two brothers. "Down at your
place in Hampshire, isn't he? Lucky chap; though they tell me you
haven't got many pheasants."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You don't preserve?"

"No, I do not preserve." John would have liked to add "except the
decencies of intercourse between old and young in a club smoking-room";
but he refrained.

"Perhaps you're right," said the young man. "These are tough times for
landed proprietors. Well, give my love to Hugh when you see him," he
added, and turning on his heel disappeared into the haze of a more
remote portion of the smoking-room.

"Who is that youth?" John demanded.

The old members shook their heads helplessly, and one of the waiters was
called up to be interrogated.

"Mr. Winnington-Carr, I believe, sir," he informed them.

"How long has he been a member?"

"About a week, I believe, sir."

John looked daggers of exclamation at the other members.

"We shall have perambulators waiting in the lobby before we know where
we are," he said, bitterly.

Everybody agreed that these ill-considered elections were a scandal to a
famous club, and John, relinquishing the obsession of sex as a topic,
took up the obsession of youth, which he most convincingly proved to be
the curse of modern life.

It was probably Mr. Winnington-Carr's election that brought home to John
the necessity of occupying himself immediately with his brother's
future; at this rate he should find Hugh himself a member of his club
before he knew where he was.

"I'm worrying about my young brother," he told Miss Hamilton next day,
and looked at her sharply to watch the effect of this remark.

"Why, has he been misbehaving himself again?"

"No, not exactly misbehaving; but a friend of his has just been elected
to my club, and I don't think it's good for Hugh to be hanging about in
idleness. I do wish I could find the address of that man Raikes from
British Honduras."

"Where is it likely to be?"

"It was a visiting-card. It might be anywhere."

"If it was a visiting-card, the most likely place to find it is in one
of your waistcoat-pockets."

John regarded his secretary with the admiration that such a practical
suggestion justified, and rang the bell.

"Maud, please bring down all my waistcoats," he told his valeting
parlor-maid, who presently appeared in the library bowed down by a heap
of clothes as a laborer is bowed down by a truss of hay.

In the twenty-seventh waistcoat that was examined the card was found:

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Sydney Ricketts.

14 Lyonesse Road, Belize,

Balam, S.W., British Honduras.

"I thought his name was Raikes," John muttered, indignantly.

"Never mind. A rose by any other name...." Miss Hamilton began.

John might almost have been said to interrupt what she was going to say
with an angry glare; but she only laughed merrily at his fierce
expression.

"Oh, I beg your pardon--I'd forgotten your objection to roses."

Mr. Ricketts, who was fortunately still in London, accepted John's
invitation to come and see him at Church Row on business. He was a
lantern-jawed man with a tremendous capacity for cocktails, a sinewy
neck, and a sentimental affection for his native suburb. At the same
time, he would not hear a word against British Honduras.

"I reckon our regatta at Belize is the prettiest little regatta in the
world."

"But the future of logwood and mahogany?" John insisted.

"Great," the visitor assured him. "Why don't _you_ come out to us? You'd
lose a lot of weight if you worked for a few months up the Zucara river.
Here's a photograph of some of our boys loading logwood."

"They look very hot," said John, politely.

"They are very hot," said Mr. Ricketts. "You can't expect to grow
logwood in Iceland."

"No, of course not. I understand that."

In the end it was decided that John should invest £2000 in the logwood
and mahogany business and that sometime in February Hugh should be ready
to sail with Mr. Ricketts to Central America.

"Of course he'll want to learn something about the conditions of the
trade at first. Yes, I reckon your brother will stay in Belize at
first," said the planter, scratching his throat so significantly that
John made haste to fill up his glass, thinking to himself that, if the
cocktails at the Belize Yacht Club were as good as Mr. Ricketts boasted,
Hugh would be unlikely ever to see much more of mahogany than he saw of
it at present cut and rounded and polished to the shape of a solid
dining-room table. However, the more attractive Belize, the less
attractive England.

"I think you told me this was your first visit home in fifteen years?"
he asked.

"That's right. Fifteen years in B.H."

"B.H.?" repeated the new speculator, nervously.

"British Honduras."

"Oh, I beg your pardon. The initials associated themselves in my mind
for the moment with another place. B.H. you call it. Very appropriate I
should think. I suppose you found many changes in Balham on your
return?"

"Wouldn't have known it again," said Mr. Ricketts. "For one thing they'd
changed all the lamp-posts along our road. That's the kind of thing to
teach a man he's growing old."

Perhaps Hugh wouldn't recognize Hampstead after fifteen years, John
thought, gleefully; he might even pass his nearest relations in the
street without a salute when like a Rip van Winkle of the tropics he
returned to his native country after fifteen years.

"I suppose the usual outfit for hot climates will be necessary?"

Mr. Ricketts nodded; and John began to envisage himself equipping Hugh
from the Army and Navy Stores.

"I always think there is something extraordinarily romantic about a
tropical outfit," he ventured.

"It's extraordinarily expensive," said Mr. Ricketts. "But everything's
going up. And mahogany's going up when I get back to B.H., or my name
isn't Sydney Ricketts."

"There's nothing you particularly recommend?"

"No, they'll tell you everything you want at the Stores and a bit over,
except--oh, yes, by the way, don't let him forget his shaker."

"Is that some special kind of porous overcoat?"

Mr. Ricketts laughed delightedly.

"Well, if that isn't the best thing I've heard since I was home. Porous
overcoat! No, no, a shaker is for mixing drinks."

"Humph!" John grunted. "From what I know of my brother, he won't require
any special instrument for doing that. Good-by, Mr. Ricketts; my
solicitor will write to you about the business side. Good-by."

When John went back to his work he was humming.

"Satisfactory?" his secretary inquired.

"Extremely satisfactory. I think Hugh is very lucky. Ricketts assures me
that in another fifteen years--that is about the time Hugh will be
wanting to visit England again--there is no reason why he shouldn't be
making at least £500 a year. Besides, he won't be lonely, because I
shall send Harold out to British Honduras in another five years. It must
be a fascinating place if you're fond of natural history, B.H.--as the
denizens apparently call it among themselves," he added, pensively.

It could not be claimed that Hugh was enraptured by the prospect of
leaving England in February, and John who was really looking forward to
the job of getting together his outfit was disappointed by his brother's
lack of enthusiasm. He simply could not understand anybody's failure to
be thrilled by snake-proof blankets and fever-proof filters, by
medicine-chests and pith helmets and double-fly tents and all the
paraphernalia of adventure in foreign parts. Finally he delivered an
ultimatum to Hugh, which was accepted albeit with ill grace, and
hardening his heart against the crossed letters of protest that arrived
daily from his mother and burying himself in an Army and Navy Stores'
catalogue, he was able to intrench himself in the opinion that he was
doing the best that could be done for the scapegrace. The worst of
putting Hugh on his feet again was the resentment such a brotherly
action aroused among his other relations. After the quarrel with James
he had hardly expected to hear from him for a long time; but no sooner
had the news about British Honduras gone the round of the family than
his eldest brother wrote to ask him for a loan of £1000 to invest in a
projected critical weekly of which he was to be the editor. James added
that John could hardly grudge him as much as that for log-rolling at
home when he was prepared to spend double that amount on Hugh to roll
logs abroad.

"I can't say I feel inclined to help James after that article about my
work," John observed to Miss Hamilton. "Besides, I hate critical
weeklies."

It happened that the post next morning brought a large check from his
agent for royalties on various dramas that in various theaters all over
the world were playing to big business; confronted by that bright-hued
token of prosperity he could not bring himself to sit down and pen a
flat refusal to his brother's demand. Instead of doing that he merely
delayed for a few hours the birth of a new critical weekly by making an
appointment to talk the matter over, and it was only a fleeting pleasure
that he obtained from adding a postscript begging James not to bring his
dog with him when he called at Church Row.

"For if that wretched animal goes snorting round the room all the time
we're talking," he assured his secretary, "I shall agree to anything in
order to get rid of it. I shall find all my available capital invested
in critical weeklies just to save the carpet from being eaten."

James seemed to have entirely forgotten that his brother had any reason
to feel sore with him; he also seemed entirely unconscious of there
being the least likelihood of his refusing to finance the new venture.
John remembering how angry James had been when on a former occasion he
had reminded him that Hugh's career was still before him, was careful to
avoid the least suggestion of throwing cold water upon the scheme.
Therefore in the circumstances James' unusual optimism, which lent his
sallow cheeks some of the playwright's roses, was not surprising, and
before the conversation had lasted many minutes John had half promised a
thousand pounds. Having done this, he did try to retrieve the situation
by advising James to invest it in railway-stock and argued strongly
against the necessity of another journal.

"What are you going to call this further unnecessary burden upon our
powers of assimilation?"

"_I_ thought _The New Broom_ would be a good title."

"Yes, I was positive you'd call it The New-Something-or-other. Why not
The New Way to pay Old Scores? I'll back you to do that, even if you
can't pay your old debts. However, listen to me. I'll lend the money to
you personally. But I will not invest it in the paper. For security--or
perhaps compensation would be a better word--you shall hand over to me
the family portraits and the family silver."

"I'd rather it was a business proposition," James objected.

"My dear fellow, a new critical weekly can never be a business
proposition. How many people read your books?"

"About a dozen," James calculated.

"Well, why should more people read your paper? No, you can have the
money, but it must be regarded as a personal loan, and I must have the
portraits and the silver."

"I don't see why you should have them."

"I don't see why you should start a new critical weekly."

John could not help enjoying the power that his brother's ambition had
put in his hands and he insisted firmly upon the surrender of the
heritage.

"All right, Jacob, I suppose I must sell my birthright for a mess of
pottage."

"A printer's pie would describe it better," said John.

"Though why you want a few bad pictures and a dozen or so forks and
spoons, I can't conceive."

"Why do you want them?" John countered.

"Because they're mine."

"And the money is mine."

James went away with a check for a thousand pounds in his pocket; but he
went away less cheerful than he arrived. John, on the other hand, was
much impressed by the manner in which he had dealt with his eldest
brother; it was worth while losing a thousand pounds to have been able
to demonstrate clearly to James once for all that his taste in
literature was at the mercy of the romanticism he so utterly despised.
And while he felt that he had displayed a nice dignity in forcing James
to surrender the portraits and the silver, he was also pleasantly aware
of an equally nice magnanimity in being willing to overlook that
insulting article. But Miss Hamilton was at his elbow to correct the
slightest tendency to be too well pleased with himself.

"After all I couldn't disappoint poor old James," he said, fishing for
an encomium and dangling his own good heart as the bait. His secretary,
however, ignored the tempting morsel and swam away into the deeps of
romantic drama where his munificence seemed less showy somehow.

"You know best what you _want_ to do," she said, curtly. "And now, have
you decided upon this soliloquy for Joan in her dungeon?"

"What do you feel about it?"

She held forth upon the advantages of a quiet front scene before the
trial, and the author took her advice. He wished that she were as
willing to discant upon his treatment of James, but he consoled himself
for her lack of interest by supposing that she was diffident about
giving the least color to any suggestion that she might be influencing
him to her own advantage.

Hugh came up to town in order to go more fully into the question of his
future, and John regarding Miss Hamilton's attitude towards him tried to
feel perfectly sure that she was going out of her way to be pleasant to
Hugh solely with an idea of accentuating the strictly professional side
of her association with himself. If this were not the case, he should be
justified in thinking that she did really like Hugh very much, which
would be an uncomfortable state of affairs. Still, explain it away as he
might, John did feel a little uneasy, and once when he heard of a visit
to the theater preceded by dinner he was upon the verge of pointing out
to Hugh that until he was definitely established in mahogany and
logwood he must be extremely careful about raising false hopes. He
managed to refrain from approaching Hugh on the subject, because he knew
that if he betrayed the least anxiety in that direction Hugh was capable
of making it a matter of public jest. He decided instead to sound Miss
Hamilton upon her views.

"You've never had any longing for the tropics?" he asked, as casually as
he was able.

"Not particularly, though of course I should enjoy any fresh
experience."

"I was noticing the other day that you seemed to dislike spiders; and,
of course, the spiders in hot countries are terrible. I remember reading
of some that snare birds, and I'm not sure that in parts of South
America they don't even attack human beings. Many people of course do
not mind them. For instance, my brother-in-law Daniel Curtis wrote a
very moving account of a spider as large as a bat, with whom he
fraternized on the banks of the Orinoco. It's quite a little classic in
its way."

John noted with the warmest satisfaction that Miss Hamilton shuddered.

"Your poor brother," she murmured.

"Oh, he'll be all right," said John, hurriedly. "I'm equipping him with
every kind of protection against insects. Only yesterday I discovered a
most ingenious box which is guaranteed to keep one's tobacco from being
devoured by cockroaches, and I thought Hugh looked very well in his pith
helmet, didn't you?"

"I'm afraid I really didn't notice," Miss Hamilton replied,
indifferently.

Soon after this conversation James' birthright was formally surrendered
and John gave up contemplating himself upon a peak in Darien in order to
contemplate himself as the head of an ancient and distinguished family.
While the portraits were being hung in the library he discoursed upon
the romance of lineage so volubly that he had a sudden dread of Miss
Hamilton taking him for a snob, which he tried to counteract by putting
into the mouth of Joan of Arc sentiments of the purest demophilism.

"I shall aim at getting all the material for the play complete by April
1st--my birthday, by the way. Yes, I shall be forty-three. And then I
thought we might go into retreat and aim at finishing entirely by the
end of June. That would enable Miss Bond to produce in September without
hurrying the rehearsals. _Lucretia_ will be produced over here in April.
I think it would be rather jolly to finish off the play in France.
Domrèmy, Bourges, Chinon, Orleans, Compiègne, Rouen--a delightful tour.
You could have an aluminum typewriter...."

John's dreams of literature and life in France were interrupted by Mrs.
Worfolk, who entered the room with a mystery upon her lips.

"There's the Reverend Armitage waiting to see you in the hall, sir. But
he was looking so queer that I was in two minds if I ought to admit him
or not. It was Elsa who happened to open the door. Well, I mean to say,
Maud's upstairs doing her rooms, and Elsa was a bit frightened when she
saw him, through her being engaged to a policeman and so her mind
running on murders and such like. Of course as soon as I saw it was the
Reverend Armitage I quieted her down. But he really does look most
peculiar, if you'll pardon the obsivation on Mrs. Armitage's husband. I
don't think he's actually barmy _yet_; but you know, he gives any one
the idea he will be soon, and I thought you ought to be told before he
started to rave up and down the house. He's got a funny look in his eye,
the same as what a man once had who sat opposite me in a bus and five
minutes afterwards jumped off on Hammersmith Bridge and threw himself
into the river. Quite a sensation it created, I remember, and we all had
to alight, so as the conductor could give what information he had to a
policeman who'd only heard the splash."

Mrs. Worfolk had been too garrulous; before she had time to ascertain
her master's views on the subject of admitting Laurence there was a tap
at the door, and Laurence himself stalked into the room. Unquestionably,
even to one who had not known him as a clergyman, he did present an odd
appearance with his fur-lined cloak of voluminous black, his long hair,
his bundle of manuscript and theatrical newspapers, and his tragic eye;
the only article of attire that had survived his loss of faith was the
clergyman's hat; but even that had lost its former meekness and now gave
the effect of a farouche sombrero.

"Well met," he intoned, advancing solemnly into the room and gripping
his brother-in-law's hand with dramatic effect. "I would converse with
you, John."

"That's a blank verse line," said John. There really was not much else
that he could have said to such an affected greeting.

"Probably, probably," Laurence muttered, shaking his head. "It's
difficult for me to talk in prose nowadays. But I have news for you,
John, good news. _Thomas_ is finished."

"You needn't wait, Mrs. Worfolk," said John.

His housekeeper was standing by the door with a face wreathed in notes
of interrogation and seemed unwilling to retire.

"You needn't wait, Mrs. Worfolk," he repeated, irritably.

"I thought you might have been wanting somebody fetched, sir."

John made an impatient gesture and Mrs. Worfolk vanished.

"You know Miss Hamilton, Laurence," said John, severely.

"Ah, Miss Hamilton! Forgive my abstraction. How d'ye do? But--ah--I was
anxious to have a few words in private."

"Miss Hamilton is my confidential secretary."

"I bow to your domestic arrangements," said Laurence. "But--ah--my
business is of an extremely private nature. It bears in fact directly
upon my future."

John was determined to keep his secretary in the room. He had a feeling
that money was going to be asked for, and he hoped that her presence
would encourage him to hold out against agreeing to lend it.

"If you have anything to say to me, Laurence, you must say it in front
of my secretary. I cannot be continually shooing her from the room like
a troublesome cat."

The ex-vicar looked awkward for a moment; but his natural conceit
reasserted itself and flinging back his cloak he laid upon the table a
manuscript.

"Fresh from Miss Quirk's typewriting office here is _Thomas_," he
announced. "And now, my dear fellow, I require a little good advice."
There was flowing into his voice the professional unction of the
clergyman with a north transept to restore. "Who was it that first said
'Charity begins at home'? Yes, a little good advice about my play. In
deference to the Lord Chamberlain while reserving to my conscience the
right to execrate his despotism I have expunged from my scenes the
_central_ figures of the gospel story, and I venture to think that there
is now no reason why _Thomas_ should not be--ah--produced."

"I'm afraid I can't invite you to read it to me just at present,
Laurence," said John, hurriedly. "No, not just at present, I'm afraid.
When I'm working myself I'm always chary of being exposed to outside
influences. _You_ wouldn't like and _I_ shouldn't like to find in _Joan
of Arc_ echoes of _Thomas_. Miss Hamilton, however, who is thoroughly
conversant with my point of view, would perhaps...."

"I confess," Laurence interrupted, loftily, "that I do not set much
store by its being read. No, no. You will acquit me of undue
self-esteem, my dear fellow, if I say at once in all modesty that I am
satisfied with my labors, though you may be a little alarmed when I
confide in you my opinion that it is probably a classic. Still, such is
my deliberate conviction. Moreover, I have already allowed our little
party at Ambles to hear it. Yes, we spent a memorable evening before the
manuscript was dispatched to Miss Quirk. Some of the scenes, indeed,
proved almost too dramatic. Edith was quite exhausted by her emotion
and scarcely slept all night. As for Hilda, I've never seen her so
overcome by anything. She couldn't say anything when I finished. No, no,
I sha'n't read it to you. In fact, to be--ah--blunt, I could scarcely
endure the strain a second time. No, what I want you to do, my dear
fellow, is to--ah--back it. The phrase is Hugh's. We have all been
thrilled down at Ambles by rumors of your generosity, and I know you'll
be glad of another medium for exercising it. Am I unduly proud of my
work if I say that it seems to me a more worthy medium than British
Honduras or weekly papers?"

John had been gazing at Miss Hamilton with a mute appeal to save him
while his brother-in-law was talking; she, however, bending lower every
moment to hide her mirth made no attempt to show him a way of escape and
John had to rely upon his own efforts.

"Wouldn't it be better," he suggested, mildly, "to submit your play to a
manager before we--before you try to put it on yourself? I have never
invested any money in my own plays, and really I...."

"My dear John, far be it from me to appear to cast the least slur--to
speak in the faintest way at all slightingly of your plays, but I do not
quite see the point of the comparison. Your plays--excellent as they
are, most excellent--are essentially commercial transactions. My play is
not a commercial transaction."

"Then why should I be invited to lose my money over it?"

Laurence smiled compassionately.

"I thought you would be glad of the opportunity to show a disinterested
appreciation of art. In years to come you will be proud to think that
you were one of the first to give practical evidence of your belief in
_Thomas_."

"But perhaps I'm just as skeptical as your hero was. I may not believe
in your play's immortality."

Laurence frowned.

"Come, my dear fellow, this is being petty. We are all counting on you.
You wouldn't like to hear it said that out of jealousy you had tried to
suppress a rival dramatist. But I must not let my indignation run away
with me, and you must forgive my heat. I am overstrained. The magnitude
of the subject has almost been too much for me. Besides, I should have
explained at once that I intended to invest in _Thomas_ all that is left
of my own little capital. Yes, I am even ready to do that. Then I shall
spend a year as an actor, after which I shall indulge my more worldly
self by writing a few frankly commercial plays before I begin my next
great tragedy entitled _Paul_."

John decided that his brother-in-law had gone mad; unable to think of
any action more effective at such a crisis, he rang the bell. But when
Maud came to inquire his need he could not devise anything to tell her
except that Mr. Armitage was staying to lunch.

It was a most uncomfortable meal, because Miss Hamilton in order to keep
herself from laughing aloud had to be preternaturally grave, and John
himself was in a continuous state of nervous irritation at Laurence, who
would let everything on his plate grow cold while he droned on without a
pause about the simplicity of the best art. It was more than tantalizing
to watch him gradually build up a mouthful upon his fork, still talking;
slowly raise it to his lips, still talking; and wave the overloaded fork
to and fro before him, still talking. But it was an agony to watch the
carefully accumulated mouthful drop back bit by bit upon his plate,
until at last very slowly and still talking he would insert one cold and
tiny morsel into his patient mouth, so tiny a morsel that the
mastication of it did not prevent him from still talking.

"I'm afraid you're not enjoying your lunch," his host said.

"Don't wait for me, my dear fellow; when I am interested in something
else I cannot gobble my food. Though in any case," he added in a
resigned voice, "I shall have indigestion. One cannot write plays like
_Thomas_ without exposing oneself to the ills that flesh is heir to."

After lunch, much to John's relief, his brother-in-law announced that he
had an appointment with Eleanor and would therefore be unable to stay
even long enough to smoke a cigar.

"Yes," he said. "Eleanor and I are going to interview one or two of her
theatrical friends. No doubt I shall soon be able to proclaim myself a
rogue and a vagabond. Yes, yes, poor Edith was quite distressed this
morning when I told her that jestingly. However, she will be happy to
hear to-night when I get back that her brother has been so large."

"Eh?"

"Not that Edith expected him to be otherwise. No, no, my dear fellow,
Edith has a most exalted opinion of you, which indeed I share, if I may
be permitted so to do. Good-by, John, and many thanks. Who knows? Our
little lunch may become a red-letter day in the calendar of English
dramatic art. Let me see, the tube-station is on the left as I go out?
Good-by, John; I wish I could stay the night with you, but I have a
cheap day-ticket which forbids any extension of my plans."

When John got back to the library he turned in bewilderment to his
secretary.

"Look here. I surely never gave him the least idea that I was going to
back his confounded play, did I?"

"On the contrary, you made it perfectly clear that you were not."

"I'm glad to hear you say so, because he has gone away from here
apparently under the delusion that I am. He'll brag about it to Eleanor
this afternoon, and before I know where I am she will be asking me to
set George up with a racing-stable."

Eleanor did not go as far as that, but she did write to John and point
out that the present seemed a suitable moment to deal with the question
of George's health by sending him on a voyage round the world. She added
that for herself she asked nothing; but John had an uneasy impression
that it was only in the belief that he who asks not to him shall it be
given.

"Take down two letters, please, Miss Hamilton," he said, grimly.

       *       *       *       *       *

DEAR LAURENCE,--I am afraid that you went away yesterday afternoon under
a misapprehension. I do _not_ see my way to offer any financial
contribution toward the production of your play. I myself passed a long
apprenticeship before I was able to get one of my plays acted, and I do
not think that you can expect to do otherwise. Do not imagine that I am
casting any doubts upon the excellence of _Thomas_. If it is as good as
you claim, you will have your reward without any help from me. Your idea
of getting acquainted with the practical side of the stage is a good
one. If you are not already engaged in the autumn, I think I can offer
you one of the minor bishops in _Joan of Arc_.

Your affectionate brother-in-law,

JOHN TOUCHWOOD.

       *       *       *       *       *

DEAR ELEANOR,--I must say decidedly that I do not perceive any
likelihood of George's health deriving much benefit from a voyage round
the world. If he is threatened with sleeping sickness, it would be rash
to expose him to a tropical climate. If he is suffering from a sluggish
liver, he will get no benefit from lolling about in smoking-saloons,
whatever the latitude and longitude. I have repeatedly helped George
with his schemes to earn a living for himself and he has never failed to
squander my money upon capricious race-horses. You know that I am always
willing to come forward on behalf of Bertram and Viola; but their father
must show signs of helping himself before I do anything more for him. I
am sorry that I cannot offer you a good part in _Joan of Arc_; there is
really nothing to suit you for I presume you would not care to accept
the part of Joan's mother. However, it has now been decided to produce
_Lucretia_ in April and I shall do my best to persuade Grohmann to
offer you a part in that.

Your affectionate brother-in-law,

JOHN TOUCHWOOD.

       *       *       *       *       *

John did not receive an answer to either of these letters, and out of an
atmosphere of pained silence he managed to conjure optimistically an
idea that Laurence and Eleanor had realized the justice of his point of
view.

"You do agree with me that they were going too far?" he asked Miss
Hamilton; but she declined to express an opinion.

"What's the good of having a confidential secretary, if I can't ask her
advice about confidential matters?" he grumbled.

"Are you dissatisfied with me?"

"No, no, no. I'm not dissatisfied. What an exaggeration of my remark!
I'm simply a little puzzled by your attitude. It seems to me--I may be
wrong--that instead of ... well, at first you were always perfectly
ready to talk about my relations and about me, whereas now you won't
talk about anything except Joan of Arc. I'm really getting quite bored
with Joan of Arc."

"I was only an amateur when I began," she laughed. "Now I'm beginning to
be professional."

"I think it's a great mistake," said John, decidedly. "Suppose I insist
upon having your advice?"

"You'd find that dictation bears two meanings in English, to only one of
which are you entitled under the terms of our contract."

"Look here, have I done anything to offend you?" he asked, pathetically.

But she would not be moved and held her pencil so conspicuously ready
that the author was impaled upon it before he could escape and was soon
hard at work dictating his first arrangement of the final scene in a
kind of indignant absent-mindedness.

Soon after this John received a note from Sir Percy Mortimer, asking if
he could spare time to visit the great actor-manager some evening in the
course of the current week. Between nine-thirty and ten was indicated as
a suitable time, inasmuch as Sir Percy would then be in his
dressing-room gathering the necessary momentum to knock down all the
emotional fabric carefully built up in the first two acts by the most
cunning of contemporary dramatists. Sir Percy Mortimer, whose name was
once Albert Snell, could command anybody, so it ought not to have been
remarkable that John rather flustered by the invitation made haste to
obey. Yet, he must have been aware of an implied criticism in Miss
Hamilton's smile, which flashed across her still deep eyes like a sunny
wind, for he murmured, apologetically:

"We poor writers of plays must always wait upon our masters."

He tried to convey that Sir Percy was only a mortal like himself, but he
failed somehow to eliminate the deep-rooted respect, almost it might be
called awe of the actor that was perceptible under the assumed
carelessness of the author.

"You see, it may be that he is anxious to hear some of my plans for the
near future," he added.

If Sir Percy Mortimer was impressive in the smoking-room of the Garrick
Club as himself, he was dumbfounding in his dressing-room as Lord
Claridge, the ambassador, about to enter Princess Thingumabobski's salon
and with diplomatic wiles and smiles to settle the future of several
couples, incidentally secure for himself the heart and hand of a young
heiress. His evening-dress had achieved an immaculation that even Ouida
never dreamed of; he wore the Grand Cross of the Victorian Order with as
easy an assurance as his father had worn the insignia of a local
friendly society in Birmingham; he was the quintessential diplomat of
girlish dreams, and it was not surprising that women were ready to
remove even their hats to see him perform at matinees.

"Ah, it's very good of you to look me up, my dear fellow. I have just a
quarter-of-an-hour. Godfrey!" He turned to address his valet, who might
have been a cardinal driven by an ecclesiastical crisis like the spread
of Modernism into attendance upon an actor.

"Sir Percy?"

"I do not wish to be disturbed until I am called for the third act."

"Very good, Sir Percy."

"And Godfrey!"

"Sir Percy?"

"The whisky and soda for Mr. Touchwood. Oh, and Godfrey!"

"Sir Percy?"

"If the Duke of Shropshire comes behind, tell His Grace that I am
unavoidably prevented from seeing him until after the third act. I will
_not_ be interrupted."

"No, Sir Percy. I quite understand, Sir Percy."

The valet set the decanter at John's elbow and vanished like the ghost
of a king.

"It's just this, my dear fellow," the actor-manager began, when John who
had been trying to decide whether he should suggest Peter the Great or
Augustus the Strong as the next part for his host was inclining towards
Augustus. "It's just this. I believe that Miss Cartright, a former
member of my company, is _also_ a relation of yours."

"She is my sister-in-law," admitted John, swallowing both Peter and
Augustus in a disappointed gulp.

"In fact, I believe that in private life she is Mrs. George Touchwood.
Correct me if I am wrong in my names."

Sir Percy waited, but John did not avail himself of the offer, and he
went on.

"Well, my dear fellow, she has approached me upon a matter which I
confess I have found somewhat embarrassing, referring as it does to
another man's private affairs; but as one of the--as--how shall I
describe myself?--" He fingered the ribbon of the Victorian Order for
inspiration. "As an actor-manager of some standing, I felt that you
would prefer me to hear what she had to say in order that I might
thereby adjudicate--yes, I think that is the word--without any--no,
forgive me--adjudicate is _not_ the word. Adjudicate is too strong. What
is the word for outsiders of standing who are called in to assist at the
settlement of a trade dispute? Whatever the word is, that is the word I
want. I understand from Miss Cartright--Mrs. George Touchwood in private
life--that her husband is in a very grave state of health and entirely
without means." Sir Percy looked at himself in the glass and dabbed his
face with the powder-puff. "Miss Cartright asked me to use my influence
with you to take some steps to mitigate this unpleasant situation upon
which, it appears, people are beginning to comment rather unfavorably.
Now, you and I, my dear fellow, are members of the same club. You and I
have high positions in our respective professions. Is it wise? There may
of course be a thousand reasons for leaving your brother to starve with
an incurable disease. But is it wise? As a man of the world, I think
not." He touched his cheeks with the hare's-foot and gave them a richer
bloom. "Don't allow me to make any suggestion that even borders upon the
impertinent, but if you care to accept my mediation--_that_ is the word
I couldn't remember." In his enthusiasm Sir Percy smacked his leg, which
caused him a momentary anxiety for the perfection of his trousers.
"Mediation! Of course, that's it--if you care, as I say, to accept my
mediation I am willing to mediate."

John stared at the actor-manager in angry amazement. Then he let himself
go:

"My brother is not starving--he eats more than any human being I know.
Nor is he suffering from anything incurable except laziness. I do not
wish to discuss with you or anybody else the affairs of my relations,
which I regret to say are in most cases only too much my own affairs."

"Then there is nothing for me to do," Sir Percy sighed, deriving what
consolation he could from being unable to find a single detail of his
dress that could be improved.

"Nothing whatever," John agreed, emphatically.

"But what shall I say to Miss Cartright, who you _must_ remember is a
former member of my company, as well as your sister-in-law?"

"I leave that to you."

"It's very awkward," Sir Percy murmured. "I thought you would be sure to
see that it is always better to settle these unpleasant matters--out of
court, if I may use the expression. I'm so afraid that Miss Cartright
will air her grievance."

"She can wash as much dirty linen as she likes and air it every day in
your theater," said John, fiercely. "But my brother George shall _not_
go on a voyage round the world. You've nothing else to ask me? Nothing
about my plans for the near future?"

"No, no. I've a success, as you know, and I don't expect I shall want
another play for months. You've seen my performance, of course?"

"No," said John, curtly, "I've not."

And when he left the actor-manager's dressing-room he knew that he had
wounded him more deeply by that simple negative than by all the mighty
insults imaginable.

However, notwithstanding his successful revenge John left the theater in
a rage and went off to his club with the hope of finding a sympathetic
listener into whose ears he could pour the tale of Sir Percy's
megalomania; but by ill luck there was nobody suitable in the
smoking-room that night. To be sure, Sir Philip Cranbourne was snoring
in an armchair, and Sir Philip Cranbourne was perhaps a bigger man in
the profession than Sir Percy Mortimer. Yet, he was not so much bigger
but that he would have welcomed a tale against the younger theatrical
knight whose promotion to equal rank with himself he had resented very
much. Sir Philip, however, was fast asleep, and John doubted if he hated
Sir Percy sufficiently to welcome being woken up to hear a story against
him--particularly a story by a playwright, one of that miserable class
for which Sir Philip as an actor had naturally a very profound contempt.
Moreover, thinking the matter over, John came to the conclusion that
the story, while it would tell against Sir Percy would also tell against
himself, and he decided to say nothing about it. When he was leaving the
club he ran into Mr. Winnington-Carr, who greeted him airily.

"Evening, Touchwood!"

"Good evening."

"What's this I hear about Hugh going to Sierra Leone? Bit tough, isn't
it, sending him over to a plague spot like that? You saw that paragraph
in _The Penguin_? Things we should like to know, don't you know? Why
John Touchwood's brother is taking up a post in the tropics and whether
John himself is really sorry to see him go."

"No, I did not see that paragraph," said John, icily.

Next morning a bundle of press-cuttings arrived.

"There is nothing here but stupid gossip," said John to his secretary,
flinging the packet into the fire. "Nothing that is worth preserving in
the album, I mean to say."

Miss Hamilton smiled to herself.



CHAPTER XIV


The buzz of gossip, the sting of scandalous paragraph, even the
blundering impertinence of the actor-knight were all forgotten the
following afternoon when a telegram arrived from Hampshire to say that
old Mrs. Touchwood was dying. John left London immediately; but when he
reached Ambles he found that his mother was already dead.

"She passed away at five o'clock," Edith sobbed.

Perhaps it was to stop his wife's crying that Laurence abandoned at any
rate temporarily his unbelief and proclaimed as solemnly as if he were
still Vicar of Newton Candover that the old lady was waiting for them
all above. Hilda seemed chiefly worried by the fact that she had never
warned James of their mother's grave condition.

"I did telegraph Eleanor, who hasn't come; and how I came to overlook
James and Beatrice I can't think. They'll be so hurt. But Mama didn't
fret for anybody in particular. No, Hugh sat beside the bed and held her
hand, which seemed to give her a little pleasure, and I was kept
occupied with changing the hot-water bottles."

In the dining-room George was knitting lugubriously.

"You mustn't worry yourself, old chap," he said to John with his usual
partiality for seductive advice. "You can't do anything now. None of us
can do anything till the funeral, though I've written to Eleanor to
bring my top-hat with her when she comes."

The embarrassment of death's presence hung heavily over the household.
The various members sat down to supper with apologetic glances at one
another, and nobody took a second helping of any dish. The children were
only corrected in whispers for their manners, but they were given to
understand by reproachful head-shakes that for a child to put his
elbows on the table or crumble his bread or drink with his mouth full
was at such a time a cruel exhibition of levity. John could not help
contrasting the treatment of children at a death with their treatment at
a birth. Had a baby arrived upstairs, they would have been hustled out
of sight and sound of the unclean event; but over death they were
expected to gloat, and their curiosity was encouraged as the fit
expression of filial piety.

"Yes, Frida, darling, dear Grandmama will have lots and lots of lovely
white flowers. Don't kick the table, sweetheart. Think of dear Grandmama
looking down at you from Heaven, and don't kick the table-leg, my
precious," said Edith in tremulous accents, gently smoothing back her
daughter's indefinite hair.

"Can people only see from Heaven or can they hear?" asked Harold.

"Hush, my boy," his Uncle Laurence interposed. "These are mysteries into
which God does not permit us to inquire too deeply. Let it suffice that
our lightest actions are known. We cannot escape the omniscient eye."

"I wasn't speaking about God," Harold objected. "I was asking about
Grandmama. Does she hear Frida kicking the table, or does she only see
her?"

"At this solemn moment, Harold, when we should all of us be dumb with
grief, you should not persist. Your poor grandmother would be pained to
hear you being persistent like this."

Harold seemed to think he had tricked his uncle into answering the
question, for he relapsed into a satisfied silence; Edith's eyes flashed
gladly through her tears to welcome the return of her husband's truant
orthodoxy. All managed to abstain while they were eating from any more
conspicuous intrusion of the flesh than was inevitable; but there was a
painful scene after supper, because Frida insisted that she was
frightened to sleep alone, and refused to be comforted by the offer of
Viola for company. The terrible increase of Grandmama's powers of
hearing and seeing might extend to new powers of locomotion in the
middle of the night, in which case Viola would be no protection.

"But Grandmama is in Heaven, darling," her mother urged.

"I want to sleep with you. I'm frightened. I want to sleep with you,"
she wailed.

"Laurence!" murmured Edith, appealingly.

"Death is a great leveler," he intoned. Grateful to the chance of being
able to make this observation, he agreed to occupy his daughter's room
and thereby allow her to sleep with her mother.

"You're looking sad, Bertram," John observed, kindly, to his favorite
nephew. "You mustn't take this too much to heart."

"No, Uncle John, I'm not. Only I keep wishing Grandmama had lived a
little longer."

"We all wish that, old man."

"Yes, but I only meant a very little longer, so that I needn't have gone
back for the first week of term."

John nervously hurried his nephew up to bed beyond the scorching of
Laurence's rekindled flames of belief. Downstairs, he tried to extract
from the attitude of the grown-up members of the family the attitude he
would have liked to detect in himself. If a few months ago John had been
told that his mother's death would affect him so little he would have
been horrified by the suggestion; even now he was seriously shocked at
himself. Yet, try as he might, he could not achieve the apotheosis of
the old lady that he would have been so content to achieve. Undoubtedly
a few months ago he would have been able without being conscious of
self-deception to pretend that he believed not only in the reality of
his own grief, but also in that of the others. He would have taken his
part in the utterance of platitudes about life and death, separation and
reunion. His own platitudes would have been disguised with poetic
tropes, and he might have thought to himself how well such and such a
phrase was put; but he would quickly have assured himself that it was
well put because it was the just expression of a deep emotion. Now he
could not make a single contribution to the woeful reflections of those
round him. He believed neither in himself nor in them. He knew that
George was faintly anxious about his top-hat, that Hilda was agitated at
the prospect of having to explain to James and Beatrice her
unintentional slight, that Laurence was unable to resist the opportunity
of taking the lead at this sorrowful time by reverting to his priestly
office. And Hugh, for whom the old lady had always possessed a fond
unreasoning affection, did his countenance express more than a hardly
concealed relief that it was all over? Did he not give the impression
that he was stretching his legs after sitting still in one position for
too long? Edith, to be sure, was feeling some kind of emotion that
required an endless flow of tears, but it seemed to John that she was
weeping more for the coming of death than for the going of her mother.
And the children, how could they be expected to feel the loss of the old
lady? There under the lamp like a cenotaph recording the slow hours of
age stood her patience-cards in their red morocco case; there they would
be allowed to stand for a while to satisfy the brief craving for
reverence, and then one of the children realizing that Grandmama had no
more need of playing would take possession of them; they would become
grubby and dog-eared in younger hands; they would disappear one by one,
and the memory of that placid presence would hardly outlive them.

"It's so nice to think that her little annuity died with her," sighed
Edith. She spoke of the annuity as if it were a favorite pug that had
died out of sympathy with its mistress. "I should hate to feel I was
benefiting from the death of somebody I loved," she explained presently.

John shivered; that remark of his sister's was like a ghostly footstep
upon his own grave, and from a few years hence, perhaps much less, he
seemed to hear the family lawyer cough before he settled himself down to
read the last will and testament of John Touchwood.

"Of course, poor Mama had been dreadfully worried these last weeks,"
Hilda said. "She felt very much the prospect of Hugh's going abroad--and
other things."

John regarded his elder sister, and was on the point of asking what she
meant to insinuate by other things, when a lament from upstairs startled
the assembled family.

"Come to bed, mother, come to bed, I want you," Frida was shrieking over
the balustrade. "The door of Grandmama's room made a noise just now."

"You had better go," said Laurence in answer to his wife's unvoiced
appeal; and Edith went off gratefully.

"It will always be a consolation to me," said Laurence, "that Mama was
able to hear _Thomas_ read to her. Yes, yes, she was so well upon that
memorable evening. So very well. By the way, John, I shall arrange with
the Vicar to read the burial service myself. It will add the last touch
to the intimacy of our common grief."

In his own room that night John tried hard not to criticize anybody
except himself. It was he who was cynical, he who was hard, he who was
unnatural, not they. He tried to evoke from the past early memories of
his mother, but he could not recall one that might bring a tear to his
eye. He remembered that once she had smacked him for something George
had done, that she had never realized what a success he had made of his
life's work, that she was--but he tore the unfilial thoughts from his
brain and reminded himself how much of her personality endured in his
own. George, Edith, and himself resembled her: James, Hilda, and Hugh
resembled their father. John's brothers and sisters haunted the
darkness; and he knew that deep down in himself he blamed his father and
mother for bringing them all into the world; he could not help feeling
that he ought to have been an only child.

"I do resent their existence," John thought. "I'm a heartless egotist.
And Miss Hamilton thinks I'm an egotist. Her manner towards me lately
has been distant, even contemptuous. Could that suggestion of Hilda's
have had any truth in it? Was Mama worried to death by Hugh's going
abroad? Did James complain to her about my taking the portraits and the
silver? Is it from any standpoint conceivable that my own behavior did
hasten her end?"

John's self-reproaches were magnified in the darkness, and he spent a
restless and unhappy night, trying to think that the family was more
important than the individual.

"You feel it terribly, don't you, dear Johnnie?" Edith asked him next
morning with an affectionate pressure upon his arm. "You're looking
quite worn out."

"We all feel it terribly," he sighed.

During the three days before the funeral John managed to work himself up
into a condition of sentimentality which he flattered himself was
outwardly at any rate affecting. Continuous reminders of his mother's
existence culminating in the arrival of a new cap she had ordered just
before her last swift illness seemed to induce in him the illusion of
sorrow; and without the least idea of what he intended to do with them
afterwards he collected a quantity of small relics like spectacle-cases
and caps and mittens, which he arranged upon his dressing-table and
brooded over with brimming eyes. He indulged Harold's theories about the
psychical state of his grandmother; he practiced swinging a golf club,
but he never once took out a ball; he treated everybody to magnificent
wreaths, and presented the servants as well as his nephews and nieces
with mourning; he ordered black-edged note-paper; he composed an epitaph
in the manner of Sir Thomas Browne with cadences and subtle
alliterations. Then came the funeral, which ruined the last few romantic
notions of grief that he had been able to preserve.

To begin with, Beatrice arrived in what could only be described as a
towering rage: no less commonplace epithet would have done justice to
the vulgarity of her indignation. That James the eldest son and she his
wife should not have been notified of the dangerous condition of Mama,
but should have been summoned to the obsequies like mere friends of the
family had outraged her soul, or, as Beatrice herself put it, had
knocked her down like a feather. Oh yes, she had always been considered
beneath the Touchwood standard of gentility, but poor Mama had not
thought the worse of her for that; poor Mama had many times gone out of
her way to be specially gracious towards her; poor Mama must have "laid"
there wondering why her eldest daughter-in-law did not come to give her
the last and longest farewell. She had not been lucky enough to be
blessed with children, but poor Mama had sometimes congratulated her
upon that fact; poor Mama had realized only too well that children were
not always a source of happiness. She knew that the undeserved poverty
which had always dogged poor old Jimmie's footsteps had lately caused to
be exacted from him the family portraits and the family silver pressed
upon him by poor Mama herself; but was that a reason for excluding him
from his mother's death-bed? She would not say whom she blamed, but she
had her own ideas, and though Hilda might protest it was her fault, she
knew better; Hilda was incapable of such barbarity. No, she would _not_
walk beside James as wife of the chief mourner; she would follow in the
rear of the funeral procession and hope that at any rate she was not
grudged that humble place. If some people resented her having bought the
largest wreath from a very expensive flower-shop, she was not too proud
to carry the wreath herself; she had carried it all the way from town
first-class to avoid its being crushed by heedless third-class
passengers.

"And when I die," sobbed Beatrice, "I hope that James will remember we
weren't allowed to see poor Mama before she went to Heaven, and will let
me die quite alone. I'm sure I don't want my death to interfere with
other people's amusements."

The funeral party gathered round the open grave; Laurence read the
service so slowly and the wind was so raw that grief was depicted upon
every countenance; the sniffing of many noses, above which rose
Beatrice's sobs of mortification and rage, mingled with the sighing of
the yews and the sexton's asthma in a suitably lachrymose symphony.

"Now that poor Mama has gone," said Hilda to her brother that afternoon,
"I dare say you're anxious for me to be gone too."

"I really don't think you are entitled to ascribe to me such unnatural
sentiments," John expostulated. "Why should I want you to die?"

He could indeed ask this, for such an event would inevitably connote his
adoption of Harold.

"I didn't mean you wanted me to die," said Hilda, crossly. "I meant you
would like me to leave Ambles."

"Not at all. I'm delighted for you to stay here so long as it suits your
convenience. And that applies equally to Edith. Also I may say to
George," he added with a glance at Eleanor, who had taken the
opportunity of mourning to equip herself with a new set of black
bearskin furs. Eleanor shook herself like a large animal emerging from
the stream.

"And to me?" she asked with a challenge in her eyes.

"You must judge for yourself, Eleanor, how far my hospitality is likely
to be extended willingly to you after last week," replied John, coldly.
He had not yet spoken to his sister-in-law about the interference of Sir
Percy Mortimer with his private affairs, and he now awaited her excuses
of reproaches with a curiosity that was very faintly tinged with
apprehension.

"Oh, I'm not at all ashamed of what I did," she declared. "George can't
speak up for himself, and it was my duty to do all I could to help him
in a matter of life and death."

John's cheeks flushed with stormy rose like a menacing down, and he was
about to break over his sister-in-law in thunder and lightning when
Laurence, entering the room at the moment and only hearing imperfectly
her last speech, nodded and sighed:

"Yes, yes. Eleanor is indeed right. Yes, yes. In the midst of life...."

Everybody hurried to take advantage of the diversion; a hum of
platitudes rose and fell upon the funereal air. John in a convulsion of
irritability ordered the dog-cart to drive him to the station. He was
determined to travel back to town alone; he feared that if he stayed any
longer at Ambles his brother-in-law would revive the discussion about
his play; he was afraid of Hugh's taking advantage of his mother's death
to dodge British Honduras and of James' trading upon his filial piety to
recover the silver and the family portraits.

When John got back to Church Row he found a note from Miss Hamilton to
say she had influenza and was unlikely to be back at work for at least a
week--if indeed, she added, she was able to come back at all. This
unpleasant prospect filled him with genuine gloom, and it was with great
difficulty that he refrained from driving immediately to Camera Square
in order to remonstrate with her in person. His despondency was not
lightened by Mrs. Worfolk's graveside manner and her assumption of a
black satin dress hung with jet bugles that was usually reserved to mark
the more cheerful festivals of the calendar. Worn thus out of season
hung it about the rooms like a fog, and its numerous rustlings coupled
with the housekeeper's sighs of commiseration added to the lugubrious
atmosphere a sensation of damp which gave the final touch to John's
depression. Next morning the weather was really abominable; the view
over London from his library window showed nothing but great cobwebs of
rain that seemed to be actually attached to a sky as gray and solid as a
dusty ceiling. Action offered the only hope of alleviating life upon
such a day, and John made up his mind to drive over to Chelsea and
inquire about his secretary's health. He found that she was better,
though still in bed; being anxious to learn more about her threatened
desertion he accepted the maid's invitation to come in and speak to Mrs.
Hamilton. The old lady looked more like a clown than ever in the
forenoon while the rice-powder was still fresh upon her cheeks, and John
found her humor as irritating as he would have found the humor of a real
clown in similar circumstances. Her manner towards him was that of a
person who is aware of, but on certain terms is willing to overlook a
grave indiscretion, and she managed most successfully to make him feel
that he was on his defense.

"Yes, poor Doris has been very seedy. And her illness has unluckily
coincided with mine."

"Oh, I'm sorry ..." he began.

"Thank you. I'm used to being ill. I am always ill. At least, as luck
will have it, I usually feel ill when Doris has anything the matter with
her."

This John was ready to believe, but he tried to look at once shocked and
sympathetic.

"Do not let us discuss my health," Mrs. Hamilton went on scorching her
eyebrows in the aureole of martyrdom she wore. "Of what importance is my
health? Poor Doris has had a very sharp attack, a very sharp attack
indeed."

"I'm afraid that the weather...."

"It's not the weather, Mr. Touchwood. It is overwork." And before John
could say a word she was off. "You must remember that Doris is not used
to hard work. She has spent all her life with me, and you can easily
imagine that with a mother always at hand she has been spared the least
hardship. I would have done anything for her. Ever since my husband
died, my life has been one long buffer between Doris and the world. You
know how obstinately she has refused to let me do all I wanted. I refer
to my brother-in-law, Mr. Hamilton of Glencockie. And this is the
result. Nervous prostration, influenza, a high temperature--and sharp
pains, which between ourselves I'm inclined to think are perhaps not so
bad as she imagines. People who are not accustomed to pains," said the
old lady, jealously, "are always apt to be unduly alarmed and to
attribute to them a severity that is a leetle exaggerated. I suffer so
much myself that I cannot take these pains quite as seriously as Doris
does. However, the poor child really has a good deal to put up with, and
of course I've insisted that she must never attempt such hard work
again. I don't suppose you meant to be inconsiderate, Mr. Touchwood. I
don't accuse you of deliberate callousness. Please do not suppose that I
am suggesting that the least cruelty in your behavior; but you _have_
overworked her. Moreover, she has been worried. One or two of our
friends have suggested more in joke than in earnest that she might be
compromised by her association with you. No doubt this was said in joke,
but Doris lacks her mother's sense of humor, and I'm afraid she has
fretted over this. Still, a stitch in time saves nine, and her illness
must serve as an excuse for what with a curiously youthful
self-importance she calls 'leaving you in the lurch.' As I said to her,
'Do not, my dear child, worry about Mr. Touchwood. He can find as many
secretaries as he wants. Probably he thought he was doing you a good
turn, and you've overstrained yourself in trying to cope with duties to
which you have not been accustomed. You cannot expect to fly before you
can walk.'"

The old lady paused to fan back her breath, and John seized the
conversation.

"Does Miss Hamilton herself wish to leave me like this, or is it only
you who think that she ought to leave me?"

"I will be frank with you," the old lady panted. "Doris has not yet made
up her mind."

"As long as she is allowed to make up her own mind," said John, "I have
nothing to say. But I hope you are not going to overpersuade her. After
all she is old enough to know what she wants to do."

"She is not as old as her mother."

He shook his head impatiently.

"Could I see her?"

"See her?" the old lady answered in amazement. "See her, Mr. Touchwood?
Didn't I explain that she was in bed?"

"I beg your pardon. I'd forgotten."

"Men are apt to forget somewhat easily. Come, come, do not let us get
bitter. I took a great fancy to you when I met you first, and though I
have been a little disappointed by the way in which you have taken
advantage of Doris's eagerness for new experiences I don't really bear
you any deep grudge. I don't believe you meant to be selfish. It is only
a mother who can pierce a daughter's motives. You with your recent loss
should be able to appreciate that particularly now. Poor Doris! I wish
she were more like me."

"If you really think I have overworked her," said John, "I'm extremely
sorry. I dare say her enthusiasm carried me away. But I cannot
relinquish her services without a struggle. She has been, and she _is_
invaluable," he added, warmly.

"Yes, but we must think of her health. I'm sorry to seem so
_intransigente_, but I am only thinking of her."

John was not at all taken in by the old lady's altruism, but he was
entirely at a loss how to argue in favor of her daughter's continuing to
work for him. His perplexity was increased by the fact that she herself
had written to express her doubtfulness about returning; it might
conceivably be that she did not want to return and that he was
misjudging Mrs. Hamilton's sincerity. Yet when he looked at the old lady
he could not discover anything but a cold egotism in every fold of those
flabby cheeks where the powder lay like drifted snow in the ruts of a
sunless lane. It was surely impossible that Doris should willingly have
surrendered the liberty she enjoyed with him; she must have written
under the depressing effects of influenza.

While John was pondering his line of action Mrs. Hamilton had fanned
herself into a renewed volubility; finding that it was impossible to
cross the torrent of words that she was now pouring forth, he sat down
by the edge of it, confused and deafened, and sometimes gasping a faint
protest when he was splashed by some particularly outrageous argument.

"Well, I'll write to her," he said at last.

"I beg you will do nothing of the kind. In the present feeble state of
her health a letter will only agitate her. I hope to persuade her to
come with me to Glencockie where her uncle will, I know, once more
suggest adopting her as his heiress...."

The old lady flowed on with schemes for the future of Doris in which
there was so much talk of Scotland that in the end his secretary
appeared to John like an advertisement for whisky. He saw her
rosy-cheeked and tam-o-shantered, smiling beneath a fir-tree while
mockingly she quaffed a glass to the health of her late employer. He saw
her as a kind of cross between Flora Macdonald and Highland Mary by the
banks of Loch Lomond. He saw her in every guise except that in which he
desired to see her--bending with that elusive and ironical smile over
the typewriter they had purchased together. Damn!

John made hurried adieus and fled to his taxi from the little house in
Camera Square. The interview with Mrs. Hamilton had cost him
half-a-crown and his peace of mind: it had cost the driver one halfpenny
for the early edition of the _Star_. How much happier was the life of a
taxi-driver than the life of a playwright!

"I wouldn't say as how Benedictine mightn't win at Kempton this
afternoon," the driver observed to John when he alighted. "I reckon I'll
have half-a-dollar on, any old way. It's Bolmondeley's horse and bound
to run straight."

Benedictine did win that afternoon at six to one: indubitably the life
of a taxi-driver was superior to his own, John thought as he turned with
a shudder from the virgin foolscap upon his writing-desk and with a late
edition of the _Star_ sank into a deep armchair.

"A bachelor's life is a very lonely one," he sighed. For some reason
Maud had neglected to draw the curtains after tea, and the black yawning
window where the rain glistened drearily weighed upon his heart with a
sense of utter abandonment. Ordinarily he would have rung the bell and
pointed reproachfully to the omission; but this afternoon, he felt
incapable of stirring from his chair to ring a bell. He could not even
muster enough energy to poke the fire, which would soon show as little
life as himself. He listened vainly for the footsteps of Maud or Mrs.
Worfolk that he might call out and be rescued from this lethargy of
despair; but not a sound was audible except the dripping rain outside
and the consumptive coughs of the moribund fire.

"Perhaps I'm feeling my mother's death," said John, hopefully.

He made an effort to concentrate his mind upon an affectionate
retrospect of family life. He tried to convince himself that the death
of his mother would involve a change in the attitude of his relations.
Technically he might not be the eldest son, and while his mother had
been alive he had never assumed too definitely the rights of an eldest
son. Practically, however, that was his status, and his acquisition of
the family portraits and family silver could well be taken as the
visible sign of that status; with his mother's death he might surely
consider himself in the eyes of the world the head of the family. Did he
want such an honor? It would be an expensive, troublesome, and
ungrateful post like the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland. Why didn't Maud
come and draw those curtains? A thankless job, and it would be more
congenial to have a family of his own. That meant marriage. And why
shouldn't he get married? Several palmists had assured him he would be
married one day: most of them indeed had assured him he was married
already.

"If I get married I can no longer be expected to bother about my
relations. Of course in that case I should give back the portraits and
the silver. My son would be junior to Bertram. My son would occupy an
altogether inconspicuous position in the family, though he would always
take precedence of Harold. But if my son had a child, Harold would
become an uncle. No, he wouldn't. Harold would be a first cousin once
removed. Harold cannot become an uncle unless Hilda marries again and
has another child who has another child. Luckily, it's all very
improbable. I'm glad Harold is never likely to be an uncle: he would
bring the relationship into an even greater disrepute. Still, even now
an uncle is disreputable enough. The wicked uncle! It's proverbial, of
course. We never hear of the wicked cousin or the nefarious aunt. No,
uncles share with stepmothers the opprobrium and with mothers-in-law the
ridicule of the mob. Unquestionably, if I do marry, I shall still be an
uncle, but the status may perhaps be merged in paternity. Suppose I
marry and never have any children? My wife will be pitied by Hilda,
Edith, and Eleanor and condoled with by Beatrice. She would find her
position intolerable. My wife? I wish to goodness Maud would come in and
draw those curtains. My wife? That's the question. At this stage the
problem of her personality is more important than theoretical
speculation about future children. Should I enjoy a woman's bobbing in
and out of my room all the time? Suppose I were married at this moment,
it would be my wife's duty to correct Maud for not having drawn those
curtains. If I were married at this moment I should say, 'My dear, Maud
does not seem to have drawn the curtains. I wonder why.' And my wife
would of course ring the bell and remonstrate with Maud. But suppose my
wife were upstairs? She might be trying on a new hat Apparently wives
spend a great deal of time with hats. In that case I should be no better
off than I am at present. I should still have to get out of this chair
and ring for Maud. And I should have to complain twice over. Once to
Maud herself and afterwards all over again to my wife about Maud. Then
my wife would have to rebuke Maud. Oh, it would be a terribly
complicated business. Perhaps I'm better off as a bachelor. It's an odd
thing that with my pictorial temperament I should never yet have
visualized myself as a husband. My imagination is quite untrammeled in
most directions. Were I to decide to-morrow that I would write a play
about Adam and Eve, I should see myself as Adam and Eve and the Serpent
and almost as the Forbidden Fruit itself without any difficulty. Why
can't I see myself as a husband? When I think of the number of people
and things I've been in imagination it really does seem extraordinary I
should never have thought of being a husband. Apparently Maud has
completely forgotten about the curtains. It looks as if I should have to
give up all hope now of her coming in to draw them of her own accord.
Poor Miss Hamilton! I do trust that horrible old clown of a mother isn't
turning somersaults round her room at this moment and sending up her
temperature to three figures. Of course, she must come back to me. She
is indispensable. I miss her very much. I've accustomed myself to a
secretary's assistance, and naturally I'm lost without her. These morbid
thoughts about matrimony are due to my not having done a stroke of work
all day. I will count seventeen and rise from this chair."

John counted seventeen, but when he came to the fatal number he found
that his will to move was still paralyzed, and he went on to
forty-nine--the next fatal number in his private cabbala. When he
reached it he tightened every nerve in his body and leapt to his feet.
Inertia was succeeded by the bustle of activity: he rang for Maud; he
poked the fire; he brushed the tobacco-ash from his waistcoat; he blew
his nose; he sat down at his desk.

My dear Miss Hamilton, [he wrote,] I cannot say how distressed I was to
hear the news of your illness and still more to learn from your mother
that you were seriously thinking of resigning your post. I'm also
extremely distressed to hear from her that there are symptoms of
overwork. If I've been inconsiderate I must beg your forgiveness and ask
you to attribute it to your own good-will. The fact is your example has
inspired me. With your encouragement I undoubtedly do work much harder
than formerly. Today, without you, I have not written a single word, and
I feel dreadfully depressed at the prospect of your desertion. Do let me
plead for your services when you are well again, at any rate until I've
finished Joan of Arc, for I really don't think I shall ever finish that
play without them. I have felt the death of my poor mother very much,
but I do not ascribe my present disinclination for work to that. No, on
the contrary, I came back from the funeral with a determination to bury
myself--that might be expressed better--to plunge myself into hard work.
Your note telling me of your illness was a great shock, and your
mother's uncompromising attitude this morning has added to my dejection.
I feel that I am growing old and view with horror the approach of age.
I've been sitting by the fire indulging myself in very morbid thoughts.
You will laugh when I tell you that amongst them was the idea--I might
call it the chimera of marriage. Do please get well soon and rescue me
from myself.

Yours very sincerely,

JOHN TOUCHWOOD.

I do not, of course, wish to disturb the relationship between yourself
and your mother, but my own recent loss has reminded me that mothers do
not live forever.



CHAPTER XV


John waited in considerable anxiety for Miss Hamilton's reply to his
letter, and when a few days later she answered his appeal in person by
presenting herself for work as usual he could not express in words the
intensity of his satisfaction, but could only prance round her as if he
had been a dumb domestic animal instead of a celebrated romantic
playwright.

"And what have you done since I've been away?" she asked, without
alluding to her illness or to her mother or to her threat of being
obliged to leave him.

John looked abashed.

"Not very much, I'm afraid."

"How much?"

"Well, to be quite honest, nothing at all"

She referred sympathetically to the death of Mrs. Touchwood, and,
without the ghost of a blush, he availed himself of that excuse for
idleness.

"But now you're back," he added, "I'm going to work harder than ever.
Oh, but I forgot. I mustn't overwork you."

"Nonsense," said Miss Hamilton, sharply. "I don't think the amount you
write every day will ever do me much harm."

John busied himself with paper, pens, ink, and notebooks, and was soon
as deep in the fourth act as if there had never been an intermission.
For a month he worked in perfect tranquillity, and went so far as to
calculate that if Miss Hamilton was willing to remain forever in his
employ there was no reason why he should not produce three plays a year
until he was seventy. Then one morning in mid-February Mr. Ricketts
arrived in a state of perturbation to say that he had been unable to
obtain any reply to several letters and telegrams informing Hugh when
their steamer would leave. Now here they were with only a day before
departure, and he was still without news of the young man. John looked
guilty. The fact was that he had decided not to open any letters from
his relations throughout this month, alleging to himself the
interruption they caused to his work and trusting to the old
superstition that if left unanswered long enough all letters, even the
most disagreeable, answered themselves.

"I was wondering why your correspondence had dwindled so," said Miss
Hamilton, severely.

"But that is no excuse for my brother," John declared. "Because I don't
write to him, that is no reason why he shouldn't write to Mr. Ricketts."

"Well, we're off to-morrow," said the mahogany-planter.

An indignant telegram was sent to Hugh; but the prepaid answer came back
from Hilda to say that he had gone off with a friend a fortnight ago
without leaving any address. Mr. Ricketts, who had been telephoned for
in the morning, arrived about noon in a taxi loaded with exotic luggage.

"I can't wait," he assured John. "The lad must come on by the next boat.
I shan't go up country for a week or so. Good-by, Mr. Touchwood; I'm
sorry not to have your brother's company. I was going to put him wise to
the job on the trip across."

"But look here, can't you...." John began, despairingly.

"Can't wait. I shall miss the boat. West India Docks," he shouted to the
driver, "and stop at the last decent pub in the city on the way
through."

The taxi buzzed off.

Two days later Hugh appeared at Church Row, mentioned casually that he
was sorry he had missed the boat, but that he had been doing a little
architectural job for a friend of his.

"Very good bridge," he commented, approvingly.

"Over what?" John demanded.

"Over very good whisky," said Hugh. "It was up in the North. Capital
fun. I was designing a smoking-room for a man I know who's just come
into money. I've had a ripping time. Good hands every evening and a very
decent fee. In fact, I don't see why I shouldn't start an office of my
own."

"And what about mahogany?"

"Look here, I never liked that idea of yours, Johnnie. Everybody agrees
that British Honduras is a rotten climate, and if you want to help me,
you can help me much more effectively by setting me up on my own as an
architect."

"I do not want to help you. I've invested £2,000 in mahogany and
logwood, and I insist on getting as much interest on my money as your
absence from England will bring me in."

"Yes, that's all very well, old chap. But why do you want me to leave
England?"

John embarked upon a justification of his attitude, in the course of
which he pointed out the dangers of idleness, reminded Hugh of the
forgery, tried to inspire him with hopes of independence, hinted at
moral obligations, and rhapsodized about colonial enterprise. As a
mountain of forensic art the speech was wonderful: clothed on the lower
slopes with a rich and varied vegetation of example and precept, it
gradually ascended to the hard rocks of necessity, honor, and duty until
it culminated in a peak of snow where John's singleness of motive
glittered immaculately and inviolably to heaven. It was therefore
discouraging for the orator when he paused and walked slowly up stage to
give the culprit an opportunity to make a suitably penitent reply, after
which the curtain was to come down upon a final outburst of magnanimous
eloquence from himself, that Hugh should merely growl the contemptuous
monosyllable "rot."

"Rot?" repeated John in amazement.

"Yes. Rot. I'm not going to reason with you...."

"Ah, indeed?" John interrupted, sarcastically.

"Because reason would be lost on you. I simply repeat 'Rot!' If I don't
want to go to British Honduras, I won't go. Why, to hear you talk
anybody would suppose that I hadn't had the same opportunities as
yourself. If you chose to blur your intelligence by writing romantic
tushery, you must remember that by doing so you yielded to temptation
just as much as I did when I forged Stevie's name. Do you think I would
write plays like yours? Never!" he proclaimed, proudly.

"It seems to me that the conversation is indeed going outside the limits
of reason," said John, trying hard to restrain himself.

"My dear old chap, it has never been inside the limits. No, no, you
collared me when I was down over that check. Well, here's what you paid
to get me out of the mess." He threw a bundle of notes on the table. "So
long, Johnnie, and don't be too resentful of my having demonstrated that
when I _am_ left for a while on my own I can earn money as well as you.
I'm going to stay in town for a bit before I go North again, so I shall
see you from time to time. By the way, you might send me the receipt to
Carlington Road. I'm staying with Aubrey as usual."

When his brother had gone, John counted the notes in a stupor. It would
be too much to say that he was annoyed at being paid back; but he was
not sufficiently pleased to mention the fact to Miss Hamilton for two
days.

"Oh, I am so glad," she exclaimed when at last he did bring himself to
tell her.

"Yes, it's very encouraging," John agreed, doubtfully. "I'm still
suffering slightly from the shock, which has been a very novel
sensation. To be perfectly honest, I never realized before how much less
satisfactory it is to be paid back than one thinks beforehand it is
going to be."

In spite of the disturbing effect of Hugh's honesty, John soon settled
down again to the play, and became so much wrapped up in its daily
progress that one afternoon he was able without a tremor to deny
admittance to Laurence, who having written to warn him that he was
taking advantage of a further reduction in the price on day-tickets, had
paid another visit to London. Laurence took with ill grace his
brother-in-law's message that he was too busy on his own work to talk
about anybody's else at present.

"I confess I was pained," he wrote from Ambles on John's own note-paper,
"by the harsh reception of my friendly little visit. I confess that
Edith and I had hoped you would welcome the accession of a relative to
the ranks of contemporary playwrights. We feel that in the circumstances
we cannot stay any longer in your house. Indeed, Edith is even as I pen
these lines packing Frida's little trunk. She is being very brave, but
her tear-stained face tells its own tale, and I confess that I myself am
writing with a heavy heart. Eleanor has been most kind, and in addition
to giving me several more introductions to her thespian friends has
arranged with the proprietress of Halma House for a large double room
with dressing-room attached on terms which I can only describe as
absurdly moderate. Do not think we are angry. We are only pained,
bitterly pained that our happy family life should suddenly collapse like
this. However, excelsior, as the poet said, or as another poet even
greater said, 'sic itur ad astra.' You will perhaps be able to spare a
moment from the absorption of your own affairs to read with a fleeting
interest that Sir Percy Mortimer has offered me the part of the butler
in a comedy of modern manners which he hopes to stage--you see I am
already up to the hilt in the jargon of the profession--next autumn.
Eleanor considers this to be an excellent opening, as indeed so do I.
Edith and little Frida laugh heartily when they are not too sad for such
simple fun when I enter the room and assume the characteristic
mannerisms of a butler. All agree I have a natural propensity for droll
impersonation. Who knows? I may make a great hit, although Sir Percy
warns me that the part is but a slight one. Eleanor, however, reminds me
that deportment is always an asset for an actor. Have I not read
somewhere that the great Edmund Kean did not disdain to play the tail
end of a dragon erstwhile? I wish you all good luck in your own work, my
dear John. People are interested when they hear you are my
brother-in-law, and I have told them many tales of the way you are wont
to consult me over the little technical details of religion in which I
as a former clergyman have been able to afford you my humble
assistance."

"What a pompous ass the man is," said John to his secretary. He had read
her the letter, which made her laugh.

"I believe you're really quite annoyed that _he's_ showing an
independent spirit now."

"Not at all. I'm delighted to be rid of him," John contradicted. "I
suppose he'll share George's aquarium at Halma House."

"You don't mind my laughing? Because it is very funny, you know."

"Yes, it's funny in a way," John admitted. "But even if it weren't, I
shouldn't mind your laughing. You have, if I may say so, a peculiarly
musical laugh."

"Are you going to have Joan's scaffold right center or left center?" she
asked, quickly.

"Eh? What? Oh, put it where you like. By the way, has your mother been
girding at you lately?"

Miss Hamilton shrugged her shoulders.

"She isn't yet reconciled to my being a secretary, if that's what you
mean."

"I'm sorry," John murmured. "Confound all relations!" he burst out. "I
suppose she'd object to your going to France with me to finish off the
play?"

"She would object violently. But you mustn't forget that I've a will of
my own."

"Of course you have," said John, admiringly. "And you will go, eh?"

"I'll see--I won't promise. Look here, Mr. Touchwood, I don't want to
seem--what shall I call it--timid, but if I did go to France with you, I
suppose you realize my mother would make such a fuss about it that
people would end by really talking? Forgive my putting such an
unpleasant idea into your innocent head; being your confidential
secretary, I feel I oughtn't to let you run any risks. I don't suppose
you care a bit how much people talk, and I'm sure I don't; at the same
time I shouldn't like you to turn round on me and say I ought to have
warned you."

"Talk!" John exclaimed. "The idea is preposterous. Talk! Good gracious
me, can't I take my secretary abroad without bring accused of ulterior
motives?"

"Now, don't work yourself into a state of wrath, or you won't be able to
think of this terribly important last scene. Anyway, we sha'n't be going
to France yet, and we can discuss the project more fully when the time
comes."

John thought vaguely how well Miss Hamilton knew how to keep him
unruffled, and with a grateful look--or what was meant to be a grateful
look, though she blushed unaccountably when he gave it--he concentrated
upon the site of his heroine's scaffold.

During March the weather was so bright and exhilarating that John and
his secretary took many walks together on Hampstead Heath; they also
often went to town, and John derived much pleasure from discussing
various business affairs with her clerical support; he found that it
helped considerably when dealing with the manager of a film company to
be able to say "Will you make a note of that, please, Miss Hamilton?"
The only place, in fact, to which John did not take her was his club,
and that was only because he was not allowed to introduce ladies there.

"A rather mediæval restriction," he observed one day to a group
assembled in the smoking-room.

"There was a time, Touchwood, when you used to take refuge here from
your leading ladies," a bachelor member chuckled.

"But nowadays Touchwood has followed Adam with the rest of us," put in
another.

"What's that?" said John, sharply.

There was a general burst of merriment and headshaking and wagging of
fingers, from which and a succession of almost ribald comment John began
to wonder if his private life was beginning to be a subject for club
gossip. He managed to prevent himself from saying that he thought such
chaff in bad taste, because he did not wish to give point to it by
taking it too much in earnest. Nevertheless, he was seriously annoyed
and avoided the smoking-room for a week.

One night, after the first performance of a friend's play, he turned in
to the club for supper, and, being disinclined for sleep, because
although it was a friend's play it had been a tremendous success, which
always made him feel anxious about his own future he lingered on until
the smoking-room was nearly deserted. Towards three o'clock he was
sitting pensively in a quiet corner when he heard his name mentioned by
two members, who had taken seats close by without perceiving his
presence. They were both strangers to him, and he was about to rise from
his chair and walk severely out of the room, when he heard one say to
the other:

"Yes, they tell me his brother-in-law writes his plays for him."

John found this so delightfully diverting an idea that he could not
resist keeping quiet to hear more.

"Oh, I don't believe that," said the second unknown member.

"Fact, I assure you. I was told so by a man who knows Eleanor
Cartright."

"The actress?"

"Yes, she's a sister-in-law of his."

"Really, I never knew that."

"Oh yes. Well, this man met her with a fellow called Armitage, an
ex-monk who broke his vows in order to marry Touchwood's sister."

John pressed himself deeper into his armchair.

"Really? But I never knew monks could marry," objected number two.

"I tell you, he broke his vows."

"Oh, I see," murmured number two, who was evidently no wiser, but was
anxious to appear so.

"Well, it seems that this fellow Armitage is a thundering fine poet, but
without much experience of the stage. Of course, he wouldn't have had
much as a monk."

"Of course not," agreed number two, decidedly.

"So, what does Johnnie Touchwood do--"

"Damned impudence calling me Johnnie," thought the subject of the
duologue.

"But make a contract with his brother-in-law to stay out of the way down
in Devonshire or Dorsetshire--I forget which--but, anyway, down in the
depths of the country somewhere, and write all the best speeches in old
Johnnie's plays. Now, it seems there's been a family row, and they tell
me that Armitage is going to sue Johnnie."

"What was the row about?"

"Well, apparently Johnnie is a bit close. Most of these successful
writers are, of course," said number one with the nod of an expert.

"Of course," agreed his companion, with an air of equally profound
comprehension.

"And took advantage of his position as the fellow with money to lord it
over the rest of his family. There's another brother--an awful clever
beggar--James, I think his name is--a real first-class scientist,
original research man and all that, who's spent the whole of his fortune
on some great discovery or other. Well, will you believe it, but the
other day when he was absolutely starving, Johnnie Touchwood offered to
lend him some trifling sum if he would break the entail."

"I didn't know the Touchwoods were landed proprietors. I always
understood the father was a dentist," said number two.

"Oh, no, no. Very old family. Wonderful old house down in Devonshire or
Dorset--I wish I could remember just where it is. Anyway, it seems that
the eldest brother clung on to this like anything. Of course, he would."

"Of course," number two agreed.

"But Johnnie, who's hard as flint, insisted on breaking the entail in
his own favor, and now I hear he's practically turned the whole family
into the street, including James' boy, who in the ordinary course of
events would have inherited."

"Did Eleanor Cartright tell your friend this?" asked number two.

"Oh no, I've heard that from lots of people. It seems that old Mrs.
Touchwood died of grief over the way Johnnie carried on. It's really a
very grim story when you hear the details; unfortunately, I can't
remember all of them. My memory's getting awfully bad nowadays."

Number two muttered an expression of sympathy, and the other continued:

"But one detail I do remember is that another brother--"

"It's a large family, then?"

"Oh, very large. As I was saying, the old lady was terribly upset not
only about breaking the entail, but also over her youngest son, who had
some incurable disease. It seems that he was forced by Johnnie to go out
to the Gold Coast--I think it was--in order to see about some money that
Johnnie had invested in rubber or something. As I say, I can't remember
the exact details. However, cherchez la femme, I needn't add the reasons
for all this."

"A woman?"

"Exactly," said number one. "Some people say it's a married woman, and
others say it's a young girl of sixteen. Anyway, Johnnie's completely
lost his head over her, and they tell me...."

The two members put their heads together so that John could not hear
what was said: but it must have been pretty bad, because when they put
them apart again number two was clicking his tongue in shocked
amazement.

"By Jove, that will cause a terrific scandal, eh?"

John decided he had heard enough. Assuming an expression of intense
superiority, the sort of expression a man might assume who was standing
on the top of Mount Everest, he rose from his chair, eyed the two
gossips with disdain, and strode out of the smoking-room. Just as he
reached the door, he heard number one exclaim:

"Hulloa, see who that was? That was old Percy Mortimer."

"Oh, of course," said number two, as sapiently as ever, "I didn't
recognize him for a moment. He's beginning to show his age, eh?"

On the way back to Hampstead John tried to assure himself that the
conversation he had just overheard did not represent anything more
important than the vaporings of an exceptionally idiotic pair of men
about town; but the more he meditated upon the tales about himself
evidently now in general circulation, the more he was appalled at the
recklessness of calumny.

"One has joked about it. One has laughed at Sheridan's _School for
Scandal_. One has admitted that human beings are capable of almost
incredible exaggeration. But--no, really this is too much. I've gossiped
sometimes myself about my friends, but never like that about a
stranger--a man in the public eye."

John nearly stopped the taxi to ask the driver if _he_ had heard any
stories about John Touchwood; but he decided it would not be wise to run
risk of discovery that he enjoyed less publicity than he was beginning
to imagine, and he kept his indignation to himself.

"After all, it is a sign of--well, yes, I think it might fairly be
called fame--a sign of fame to be talked about like that by a couple of
ignorant chatterboxes. It is, I suppose, a tribute to my position. But
Laurence! That's what annoyed me most. Laurence to be the author of my
plays! I begin to understand this ridiculous Bacon and Shakespeare
legend now. The rest of the gossip was malicious, but that was--really,
I think it was actionable. I shall take it up with the committee. The
idea of that pompous nincompoop writing Lucretia's soliloquy before she
poisons her lips! Laurence! Good heavens! And fancy Laurence writing
Nebuchadnezzar's meditation upon grass! By Jove, an audience would have
some cause to titter then! And Laurence writing Joan's defense to the
Bishop of Beauvais! Why, the bombastic pedant couldn't even write a
satisfactory letter to the Bishop of Silchester to keep himself from
being ignominiously chucked out of his living."

The infuriated author bounced up and down on the cushions of the taxi in
his rage.

"Shall I give you an arm up the steps, sir?" the driver offered,
genially, when John, having alighted at his front door, had excessively
overpaid him under the impression from which he was still smarting of
being called a skinflint.

"No, thank you."

"Beg pardon, sir. I thought you was a little bit tiddly. You seemed a
bit lively inside on the way up."

"I suppose the next thing is that I shall get the reputation of being a
dipsomaniac," said John to himself, as he flung open his door and
marched immediately, with a slightly accentuated rigidity of bearing,
upstairs to bed.

But he could not sleep. The legend of his behavior that was obviously
common gossip in London oppressed him with its injustice. Every
accusation took on a new and fantastic form, while he turned over and
over in an attempt to reach oblivion. He began to worry now more about
what had been implied in his association with Miss Hamilton than about
the other stories. He felt that it would only be a very short time
before she would hear of the tale in some monstrous shape and leave him
forever in righteous disgust. Ought he, indeed, to make her aware
to-morrow morning of what was being suggested? And even if he did not
say anything about the past, ought he to compromise her more deeply in
the future?

It was six o'clock before John fell asleep, and it was with a violent
headache that he faced his secretary after breakfast. Luckily there was
a letter from Janet Bond asking him to come and see her that morning
upon a matter of importance. He seized the excuse to postpone any
discussion of last night's revelation, and, telling Miss Hamilton he
should be back for lunch, he decided to walk down to the Parthenon
Theater in the hope of arriving there with a clearer and saner view of
life. He nearly told her to go home; but, reflecting that he might come
back in quite a different mood, he asked her instead to occupy herself
with the collation of some scattered notes upon Joan of Arc that were
not yet incorporated into the scheme of the play. He remembered, too,
that it would be his birthday in three days' time, and he asked her to
send out notes of invitation to his family for the annual celebration,
at which the various members liked to delude themselves with the idea
that by presenting him with a number of useless accessories to the
smoking-table they were repaying him in full for all his kindness. He
determined that his birthday speech on this occasion should be made the
vehicle for administering a stern rebuke to malicious gossip. He would
dam once for all this muddy stream of scandal, and he would make
Laurence write a letter to the press disclaiming the authorship of his
plays. Burning with reformative zeal and fast losing his headache, John
swung down Fitzjohn's Avenue in the spangled March sunlight to the
wicked city below.

The Parthenon Theater had for its acropolis the heights of the Adelphi,
where, viewed from the embankment gardens below, it seemed to be looking
condescendingly down upon the efforts of the London County Council to
intellectualize the musical taste of the generation. In the lobby--it
had been called the propylæum until it was found that such a long name
had discouraged the public from booking seats beforehand through fear of
mispronunciation--a bust of Janet Bond represented the famous statue
Pallas Athene on the original acropolis, and the programme-girls,
dressed as caryatides, supplied another charming touch of antiquity. The
proprietress herself was the outstanding instance in modern times of the
exploitation of virginity--it must have been a very profitable
exploitation, because the Parthenon Theater itself had been built and
paid for by her unsuccessful admirers. Each year made Janet Bond's
position as virgin and actress more secure, and at the rate her
reputation was growing it was probable that she would soon be at liberty
to produce the most immodest plays. At present, however, she still
applied the same standard of her conduct to her plays as to herself. Nor
did she confine herself to that. She was also very strict about the
private lives of her performers, and many a young actress had been seen
to leave the stage door in tears because Miss Bond had observed her in
unsuitable company at supper. Mothers wrote from all over England to beg
Miss Bond to charge herself with the care of their stage-struck
daughters; the result was a conventional tone among the supernumeraries
slightly flavored with militant suffragism and the higher mathematics.
Nor was art neglected; indeed some critics hinted that in the Parthenon
Theater art was cultivated at the expense of life, though none of them
attempted to gainsay that Miss Bond had learned how to make virtue pay
without selling it.

In appearance the great tragedienne was somewhat rounder in outline than
might have been expected, and more matronly than virginal, perhaps
because she was in her own words a mother to all her girls. Her voice
was rich and deep with as much variety as a cunningly sounded gong. She
never made up for the stage, and she wore hygienic corsets: this
intimate fact was allowed to escape through the indiscretion of a
widespread advertisement, but its publication helped her reputation for
decorum, and clergymen who read their wives' _Queen_ or _Lady_ commented
favorably on the contrast between Miss Bond and the numerous
open-mouthed actresses who preferred to advertise toothpaste. England
was proud of Miss Bond, feeling that America had no longer any right to
vaunt a monopoly of virtuous actresses; and John, when he rang the bell
of Miss Bond's flat that existed cleverly in the roof of the theater,
was proud of his association with her. He did not have to wait long in
her austere study; indeed he had barely time to admire the fluted calyx
of a white trumpet daffodil that in chaste symbolism was the only
occupant of a blue china bowl before Miss Bond herself came in.

"I'm so hating what I'm going to have to say to you," she boomed.

This was a jolly way to begin an interview, John thought, especially in
his present mood. He tried to look attentive, faintly surprised,
dignified, and withal deferential; but, not being a great actor, he
failed to express all these states of mind at a go, and only succeeded
in dropping his gloves.

"Hating it," the actress cried. "Oh, hating it!"

"Well, if you'd rather postpone it," John began.

"No, no. It must be said now. It's just this!" She paused and fixed the
author more intensely than a snake fixes a rabbit or a woman in a bus
tries to see if the woman opposite has blacked her eyelashes. "Can I
produce _Joan of Arc_?"

"I think that question is answered by our contract," replied John, who
was used to leading ladies, and when they started like this always fell
back at once in good order on business.

"Yes, but what about my unwritten contract with the public?" she
demanded.

"I don't know anything about that," said the author. Moreover, I don't
see how an unwritten contract can interfere with our written contract."

"John Touchwood, I'm going to be frank with you, fiercely frank. I can't
afford to produce a play by you about a heroine like Joan of Arc unless
you take steps to put things right."

"If you want me to cut that scene...."

"Oh, I'm not talking about scenes, John Touchwood. I'm talking about
these terrible stories that everybody is whispering about you. I don't
mind myself what you do. Good gracious me, I'm a broad-minded modern
woman; but my public looks for something special at the Parthenon. The
knowledge that I am going to play the Maid of Orleans has moved them
indescribably; I was fully prepared to give you the success of your
career, but ... these stories! This girl! You know what people are
saying? You must have heard. How can I put your name on my programme as
the author of _Joan of Arc_? How can I, John Touchwood?"

If John had not overheard that conversation at his club the night
before, he would have supposed that Miss Bond had gone mad.

"May I inquire exactly what you have heard about me and my private
life?" he inquired, as judicially as he could.

"Please spare me from repeating the stories. I can honestly assure you
that I don't believe them. But you as a man of the world know very well
how unimportant it is whether a story is true or not. If you were a
writer of realistic drama, these stories, however bad they were,
wouldn't matter. If your next play was going to be produced at the Court
Theater, these stories would, if anything, be in favor of success ...
but at the Parthenon...."

"You are talking nonsense, Miss Bond," interrupted John, angrily. "You
are more in a condition to play Ophelia than Joan of Arc. Moreover, you
shan't play Joan of Arc now. I've really been regretting for some weeks
now that you were going to play her, and I'm delighted to have this
opportunity of preventing you from playing her. I don't know to what
tittle-tattle you've been listening. I don't care. Your opinion of your
own virtue may be completely justified, but your judgment of other
people's is vulgar and--however, let me recommend you to produce a play
by my brother-in-law, the Reverend Laurence Armitage. Even your
insatiable ambition may be gratified by the part of the Virgin Mary, who
is one of the chief characters. Good morning, Miss Bond. I shall
communicate with you more precisely through my agent."

John marched out of the theater, and on the pavement outside ran into
Miss Ida Merritt.

"Ah, you're a sensible woman," he spluttered, much to her astonishment.
"For goodness' sake, come and have lunch with me, and let's talk over
everything."

John, in his relief at meeting Miss Merritt, had taken her arm in a
cordial fashion, and steered her across the Strand to Romano's without
waiting to choose a less conspicuously theatrical restaurant. Indeed in
his anxiety to clear his reputation he forgot everything, and it was
only when he saw various people at the little tables nudging one another
and bobbing their heads together that he realized he was holding Miss
Merritt's arm. He dropped it like a hot coal, and plunged down at a
table marked "reserved." The head waiter hurried across to apprise him
of the mistake, and John, who was by now horribly self-conscious,
fancied that the slight incident had created a stir throughout the
restaurant. No doubt it would be all over town by evening that he and
his companion in guilt had been refused service at every restaurant in
London.

"Look here," said John, when at last they were accommodated at a table
painfully near the grill, the spitting and hissing from which seemed to
symbolize the attitude of a hostile society. "Look here, what stories
have you heard about me? You're a journalist. You write chatty
paragraphs. For heaven's sake, tell me the worst."

"Oh, I haven't heard anything that's printable," Miss Merritt assured
him, with a laugh.

John put his head between his hands and groaned; the waiter thought he
was going to dip his hair into the hors d'oeuvres and hurriedly
removed the dishes.

"No, seriously, I beg you to tell me if you've heard my name connected
in any unpleasant way with Miss Hamilton."

"No, the only thing I've heard about Doris is that your brother, Hugh,
is always pestering her with his attentions."

"What?" John shouted.

"Coming, sir," cried the waiter, skipping round the table like a
monkey.

John waved him away, and begged Miss Merritt to be more explicit.

"Why didn't she complain to me?" he asked when he had heard her story.

"She probably thought she could look after herself. Besides, wasn't he
going to British Guiana?"

"He was," replied John. "At least he was going to some tropical colony.
I've heard so many mentioned that I'm beginning myself to forget which
it was now. So that's why he didn't go. But he shall go. If I have to
have him kidnaped and spend all my savings on chartering a private yacht
for the purpose, by Heaven, he shall go. If he shrivels up like a burnt
sausage the moment he puts his foot on the beach he shall be left there
to shrivel. The rascal! When does he pester her? Where?"

"Don't get so excited. Doris is perfectly capable of looking after
herself. Besides, I think she rather likes him in a way."

"Never," John cried.

"Liver is finished, sair," said the officious waiter, dancing in again
between John and Miss Merritt.

John shook his fist at him and leant earnestly over the table with one
elbow in the butter.

"You don't seriously suggest that she is in love with him?" he asked.

"No, I don't think so. But I met him myself once and took rather a fancy
to him. No, she just likes him as a friend. It's he who's in love with
her."

"Under my very eyes," John ejaculated. "Why, it's overwhelming."

A sudden thought struck him that even at this moment while he was calmly
eating lunch with Miss Merritt, as he somewhat loosely qualified the
verb, Hugh might be making love to Miss Hamilton in his own house.

"Look here," he cried, "have you nearly finished? Because I've suddenly
remembered an important appointment at Hampstead."

"I don't want any more," said Miss Merritt, obligingly.

"Waiter, the bill! Quick! You don't mind if I rush off and leave you to
finish your cheese alone?"

His guest shook her head and John hurried out of the restaurant.

No taxi he had traveled in had ever seemed so slow, and he kept putting
his head out of the window to urge the driver to greater speed, until
the man goaded to rudeness by John's exhortations and the trams in
Tottenham Court Road asked if his fare thought he was a blinking bullet.

"I'm not bullying you. I'm only asking you to drive a little faster,"
John shouted back.

The driver threw his eyes heavenward in a gesture of despair for John's
sanity but he was pacified at Church Row by half-a-sovereign and even
went so far as to explain that he had not accused John of bullying him,
but merely of confusing his capacity for speed with that of a bullet's.
John thought he was asking for more money, gave him half-a-crown and
waving his arm, half in benediction, half in protest, he hurried into
the hall.

"They've nearly finished lunch, sir," murmured Maud who was just coming
from the dining-room. "Would you like Elsa to hot you up something?"

John without a word pounced into the dining-room, where he caught Hugh
with a stick of celery half-way to his mouth and Miss Hamilton with a
glass of water half-way down from hers in the other direction.

"Oh, I'm so sorry we began without you," said the culprits
simultaneously.

John murmured something about a trying interview with Janet Bond, lit a
cigar, realized it was rude to light cigars when people were still
eating, threw the cigar away, and sat down with an appearance of
exhaustion in one of those dining-room armchairs that stand and wait all
their lives to serve a moment like this.

"I'm sorry, but I must ask you to go off as soon as you've finished
your lunch, Hugh. I've a lot of important business to transact with Miss
Hamilton."

"Oh, but I've finished already," she exclaimed, jumping up from the
table.

It was the first pleasant moment in John's day, and he smiled,
gratefully. He felt he could even afford to be generous to this
intrusive brother, and before he left the room with Miss Hamilton he
invited him to have some more celery.

"And you'll find a cigar in the sideboard," he added. "But Maud will
look after you. Maud, look after Mr. Hugh, please, and if anybody calls
this afternoon, I'm not at home."



CHAPTER XVI


John's first impulse had been to pour out in Miss Hamilton's ears the
tale of his wrongs, and afterward, when he had sufficiently impressed
her with the danger of the position in which the world was trying to
place them, to ask her to marry him as the only way to escape from it.
On second thoughts, he decided that she might be offended by the
suggestion of having been compromised by him and that she might resent
the notion of their marriage's being no more than a sop to public
opinion. He therefore abandoned the idea of enlarging upon the scandal
their association had apparently created and proposed to substitute the
trite but always popular scene of the prosperous middle-aged man's
renunciation of love and happiness in favor of a young and penurious
rival. He recalled how many last acts in how many sentimental comedies
had owed their success to this situation, which never failed with an
audience. But then the average audience was middle-aged. Thinking of the
many audiences on which from private boxes he had looked down, John was
sure that bald heads always predominated in the auditorium; and
naturally those bald heads had been only too ready to nod approval of a
heroine who rejected the dashing jeune premier to fling herself into the
arms of the elderly actor-manager. It was impossible to think of any
infirmity severe enough to thwart an actor-manager. Yet a play was
make-believe: in real life events would probably turn out quite
differently. It would be very depressing, if he offered to make Doris
and Hugh happy together by settling upon them a handsome income, to find
Doris jumping at the prospect. Perhaps it would be more prudent not to
suggest any possibility of a marriage between them. It might even be
more prudent not to mention the subject of marriage at all. John looked
at his secretary with what surely must have been a very eloquent glance
indeed, because she dropped her pencil, blushed, and took his hand.

"How much simpler life is than art," John murmured. He would never have
dared to allow one of his heroes in a moment of supreme emotion like
this to crane his neck across a wide table in order to kiss the heroine.
Any audience would have laughed at such an awkward gesture; yet, though
he only managed to reach her lips with half an inch to spare, the kiss
was not at all funny somehow. No, it ranked with Paolo's or Anthony's or
any other famous lover's kiss.

"And now of course I can't be your secretary any longer," she sighed.

"Why? Do you disapprove of wives' helping their husbands?"

"I don't think you really want to get married, do you?"

"My dear, I'm absolutely dying to get married."

"Truly?"

"Doris, look at me."

And surely she looked at him with more admiration than he had ever
looked at himself in a glass.

"What a time I shall have with mother," she gasped with the gurgling
triumphant laugh of a child who has unexpectedly found the way to open
the store-cupboard.

"Oh, no, you won't," John prophesied, confidently. "I'm not going to
have such an excellent last scene spoilt by unnecessary talk. We'll get
married first and tell everybody afterwards. I've lately discovered what
an amazing capacity ordinary human nature has for invention. It really
frightens me for the future of novelists, who I cannot believe will be
wanted much longer. Oh no, Doris, I'm not going to run the risk of
hearing any preliminary gossip about our marriage. Neither your mother
nor my relations nor the general public are going to have any share in
it before or after. In fact to be brief I propose to elope.
Notwithstanding my romantic plays I have spent a private life of utter
dullness. This is my last opportunity to do anything unusual. Please, my
dearest girl, let me experience the joys of an actual elopement before
I relapse into eternal humdrummery."

"A horrid description of marriage!" she protested.

"Comparative humdrummery, I should have said, comparative, that is to
say, with the excesses attributed to me by rumor. I've often wanted to
write a play about Tiberius, and I feel well equipped to do so now. But
I'm serious about the elopement. I really do want to avoid my relations'
tongues."

"I believe you're afraid of them."

"I am. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm in terror of them," he said.

"But where are we going to elope to?"

John picked up the _Times_.

"If only the _Murmania_," he began. "And by Jove, she will too," he
cried. "Yes, she's due to sail from Liverpool on April 1st."

"But that's your birthday," she objected.

"Exactly."

"And I've already sent out those invitations."

"Exactly. For some years my relations have made an April fool of me by
dining at my expense on that day. I have two corner-cupboards
overflowing with their gifts--the most remarkable exhibition of
cheapness and ingenuity ever known. This year I am going to make April
fools of them."

"By marrying me?" she laughed.

"Well, of course it's no use pretending that they'll be delighted by
that joke, though I intend to play another still more elaborately
unpleasant. At the back of all their minds exists one anxiety--the
dispositions of my last will and testament. Very well. I am going to
cure that worry forever by leaving them Ambles. I can't imagine anything
more irritating than to be left a house in common with a number of
people whom you hate. Oh, it's an exquisite revenge. Darling secretary,
take down for dictation as your last task the following:

"'I, John Touchwood, playwright, of 36 Church Row, Hampstead, N.W., and
Ambles, Wrottesford, Hants, do hereby will and bequeathe.'"

"I don't understand," she said. "Are you really making a will? or are
you only playing a joke?"

"Both."

"But is this really to take effect when you're dead? Oh dear, I wish you
wouldn't talk about death when I've just said I'll marry you."

John paused thoughtfully:

"It does seem rather a challenge to fate," he agreed. "I know what I'll
do. I'll make over Ambles to them at once. After all, I am dead to them,
for I'll never have anything more to do with any of them. Cross out what
you took down. I'll alter the form. Begin as for a letter:

     "'My dear relations,

     "'When you read this I shall be far away.' ... I think that's the
     correct formula?" he asked.

     "It sounds familiar from many books," she assured him.

     "'Far away on my honeymoon with Miss Doris Hamilton.' Perhaps that
     sounds a little ambiguous. Cross out the maiden name and substitute
     'with Mrs. John Touchwood, my former secretary. Since you have
     attributed to us every link except that of matrimony you will no
     doubt be glad of this opportunity to contradict the outrageous
     tales you have most of you' ... I say most of you," John explained,
     "because I don't really think the children started any scandal ...
     'you have most of you been at such pains to invent and circulate.
     Realizing that this announcement will come as a sad blow, I am
     going to soften it as far as I can by making you a present of my
     country house in Hampshire, and I am instructing my solicitors to
     effect the conveyance in due form. From now onwards therefore one
     fifth of Ambles will belong to James and Beatrice, one fifth to
     George, Eleanor, Bertram, and Viola, and one fifth to Hilda and
     Harold, one fifth to Edith, Laurence, and Frida, and one fifth to
     Hugh.' ... I feel that Hugh is entitled to a proportionately larger
     share," he said with his eyes on the ceiling, "because I understand
     that I've robbed him of you."

     "Who on earth told you that?" she demanded, putting down her
     pencil.

     "Never mind," said John, humming gayly his exultation. "Continue
     please, Miss Hamilton! 'I shall make no attempt to say which fifth
     of the house shall belong to whom. Possibly Laurence and Hilda will
     argue that out between them, and if any structural alterations are
     required no doubt Hugh will charge himself with them. The
     twenty-acre field is included in the gift, so that there will be
     plenty of ground for any alterations or extensions deemed necessary
     by the future owners.'"

     "How ridiculous you are ... John," she laughed. "It all sounds so
     absurdly practical--as if you really meant it."

     "My dear girl, I do mean it. Continue please, Miss Hamilton! 'I
     have long felt that the collection of humming-birds made by Daniel
     Curtis in the Brazils should be suitably housed, and I propose that
     a portion of the stables should be put in order for their reception
     together with what is left of the collection of British
     dragon-flies made by James. My solicitors will supply a sum of £50
     for this purpose and Harold can act as curator of what will be
     known as the Touchwood Museum. With regard to Harold's future, the
     family knows that I have invested £2000 in the mahogany plantations
     of Mr. Sydney Ricketts in British Honduras, and if Hugh does not
     take up his post within three months I shall ask Mr. Ricketts to
     accept Harold as a pupil in five years' time. He had better begin
     to study Hondurasian or whatever the language is called at once.
     Until Harold is called upon to make his decision I shall instruct
     Mr. Ricketts to put the interest with the capital. While on the
     subject of nephews and nieces, I may as well say that the family
     pictures and family silver will be sent back to Ambles to be held
     in trust for Bertram upon his coming of age. Furthermore, I am
     prepared to pay for the education of Bertram, Harold, Frida, and
     Viola at good boarding-schools. Viola can practice her dancing in
     the holidays. Bertram's future I will provide for when the time
     comes. I do not wish George to have any excuse for remaining at
     Halma House--and I have no doubt that a private sitting-room will
     be awarded to him at Ambles. In the event of undue congestion his
     knitting would not disturb Laurence's poetic composition, and his
     system of backing second favorites in imagination can be carried on
     as easily at Ambles as in London. If he still hankers for a sea
     voyage, the river with Harold and himself in a Canadian canoe will
     give him all the nautical adventure he requires. My solicitors have
     been instructed to place a canoe at his disposal. To James who has
     so often reproved me for my optimism I would say-once more "Beware
     of new critical weeklies" and remind him that a bird in the hand is
     worth two in the bush. In other words, he has got a thousand pounds
     out of me, and he won't get another penny. Eleanor has shown
     herself so well able to look after herself that I am not going to
     insult her by offering to look after her. Hilda with her fifth of
     the house and her small private income will have nothing to do but
     fuss about the proportionate expenses of the various members of the
     family who choose to inhabit Ambles. I am affording her an unique
     opportunity for being disagreeable, of which I'm sure she will take
     the fullest advantage. I may say that no financial allowance will
     be made to those who prefer to live elsewhere. As for Laurence, his
     theatrical future under the patronage of Sir Percy Mortimer is no
     doubt secure. However, if he grows tired of playing butlers, I hope
     that his muse will welcome him back to Ambles as affectionately as
     his wife.

     "'I don't think I have anything more to say, my dear relations,
     except that I hope the presents you are bringing me for my birthday
     will come in useful as knick-knacks for your delightful house. You
     can now circulate as many stories about me as you like. You can
     even say that I have founded a lunatic asylum at Ambles. I am so
     happy in the prospect of my marriage that I cannot feel very hardly
     towards you all, and so I wish you good luck.

     "'Your affectionate brother, brother-in-law, and uncle,

     "'JOHN TOUCHWOOD.'

"Type that out, please, Miss Hamilton, while I drive down to Doctors
Commons to see about the license and book our passage in the
_Murmania_."

John had never tasted any success so sweet as the success of these two
days before his forty-third birthday; and he was glad to find that Doris
having once made up her mind about getting married showed no signs of
imperilling the adventure by confiding her intention to her mother.

"Dear John," she said, "I bolted to America with Ida Merritt last year
without a word to Mother until I sent her a wireless from on board.
Surely I may elope with you ... and explain afterwards."

"You don't think it will kill her," suggested John a little anxiously.
"People are apparently quite ready to accuse one of breaking a maternal
heart as lightly as they would accuse one of breaking an appointment."

"Dear John, when we're married she'll be delighted."

"Not too delighted, eh, darling? I mean not so delighted that she'll
want to come and gloat over us all day. You see, when the honeymoon's
over, I shall have to get to work again on that last act, and your
mother does talk a good deal. I know it's very intelligent talk, but it
would be rather an interruption."

The only person they took into their confidence about the wedding,
except the clergyman, the verger, and a crossing-sweeper brought in to
witness the signing of the register was Mrs. Worfolk.

"Well, that's highly satisfactory! You couldn't have chosen a nicer
young lady. Well, I mean to say, I've known her so long and all. And you
expect to be back in June? Oh well, I shall have everything nice and
tidy you may be sure. And this letter you want handed to Mr. James to
be read to the family on your birthday? And I'm to give them their
dinners the same as if you were here yourself? I see. And how many
bottles of champagne shall I open? Oh, not to stint them? No, I quite
understand. Of course, they would want to drink your healths. Certainly.
And so they ought! Well, I'm bound to say I wish Mr. Worfolk could have
been alive. It makes me quite aggravated to think he shouldn't be here.
Well, I mean to say, he being a family carpenter had helped at so many
weddings."

The scene on the _Murmania_ did not differ much from the scene on board
the same ship six months ago. John had insisted that Doris should wear
her misty green suit of Harris tweed; but he himself had bought at the
Burlington Arcade a traveling cap that showed plainly the sobering
effects of matrimony. In the barber's saloon he invested in a pair of
rope-soled shoes; he wanted to be sure of being able to support his wife
even upon a heeling deck. Before dinner they went forward to watch the
stars come out in the twilight--stars that were scarcely as yet more
luminous in the green April sky than daisies in a meadow. They stood
silent listening to the splash of the dusky sea against the bows, until
the shore lamps began to wink astern.

"How savage the night looks coming after us," said John. "It's jolly to
think that in the middle of all that blackness James is reading my
birthday welcome to the family."

"Poor dears!"

"Oh, they deserve all they've got," he said, fiercely. "And to think
that only six months ago I was fool enough to read their letters of
congratulation quite seriously in this very ship. It was you with your
remark about poor relations that put your foot through my picture."

"You're very much married already, aren't you, John?"

"Am I?"

"Yes, for you're already blaming me for everything."

"I suppose this is what James would call one of my confounded
sentimental endings," John murmured.

"Whatever he called it, he couldn't invent a better ending himself," she
murmured back. "You know, critics are very like disappointed old maids."

The great ship trembled faintly in the deeper motion, and John holding
Doris to him felt that she too trembled faintly in unison. They stood
like this in renewed silence until the stars shone clearly, and the
shore lamps were turning to a gold blur. John may be excused for
thinking that the bugle for dinner sounded like a flourish from
_Lohengrin_. He had reason to feel romantic now.

THE END

[Illustration: image of the book's back cover]

       *       *       *       *       *

The following typogrphical errors have been corrected by the etext
transcriber:

light of a setting moor.=> light of a setting moon.

the attenuated spinsters of Halam=> the attenuated spinsters of Halma

Do you thing Stevie wants=> Do you think Stevie wants

walk to Chealsea=> walk to Chelsea

"It is bcoming every day=> "It is becoming every day

that it it worth while making another attempt=> that it is worth while
making another attempt

taken up a stauesque=> taken up a statuesque

caught a faint mumur about=> caught a faint murmur about

The tax buzzed off.=> The taxi buzzed off.

But I'm serious about the elopment.=> But I'm serious about the
elopement.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Poor Relations" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home