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Title: Under One Flag
Author: Marsh, Richard, 1857-1915
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 "Under One Flag" ***

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



Google Books (Oxford University)



Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=ZjgPAAAAQAAJ
      (Oxford University)

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                                          Under One Flag



                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR

              CURIOS
              ADA VERNHAM, ACTRESS
              MRS MUSGRAVE AND HER HUSBAND
              MISS ARNOTT'S MARRIAGE
              THE MAGNETIC GIRL
              CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG LADY
              THE GARDEN OF MYSTERY

                     JOHN LONG, Publisher, London



                            Under One Flag



                                  By

                            Richard Marsh

                     Author of "The Beetle," etc.



                                London

                              John Long

                  13 and 14 Norris Street, Haymarket

                       [_All Rights Reserved_]



                                _First Published in 1906_



                               CONTENTS


       A Pet Of The Ballet.

       A Christmas Miracle.

       Our Musical Comedy.

       Staggers.

       My Wedding Day.

       Two of a Trade.

       Rewarded.

       On the River.

       A Member of the Anti-Tobacco League.

       That Foursome.

       An Episcopal Scandal.

       Mr Bloxam and the British Constitution.

       For Debt.

       The Thirteen Club.



                            Under One Flag



                         A PET OF THE BALLET


                                  I

She was regarding, ruefully, the condition of her white satin shoes.
They were articles which the ladies of the ballet had to provide for
themselves. Twice she had sewn on fresh uppers, and now both uppers and
soles had gone. Clearly it was a case in which a new pair would have to
be bought. And yet, this week, money seemed shorter than ever. She
wondered if skilful patching would not make them do till treasury. And,
while she wondered, there was a knock at the door.

"Come in."

Polly Steele was the only visitor who ever came her way. She took it
for granted that it was Polly now--though why Miss Steele should be so
ceremonious as to knock she did not stop to think. She was continuing
to consider the question of the possibility of repairing the shoes when
a voice behind her caused her to spring to her feet with a start.

"Pardon--Miss Lizzie Emmett?"

Standing in the doorway was an individual who was dressed in a fashion
in which gentlemen in the immediate neighbourhood of Hercules Buildings
were not accustomed to dress. His clothes were beautiful, he wore
patent leather shoes, his tie was a marvel, he carried a glossy silk
hat in a well-gloved hand. He became his costume--so tall and so
slender; with a little beard cut to a point; a charming moustache, the
ends of which curled gracefully upwards. The vision was such an
unexpected one that Lizzie, forgetful, for the moment, of her manners,
stared at the stranger with bewildered surprise. "I'm Liz Emmett." The
stranger bowed and smiled.

"In that case, Miss Emmett, I believe that I have the honour of being
the bearer of a little parcel for you. I trust that the contents may
have the pleasure to meet with your approbation--also the source from
which it comes."

He advanced into the room--the poor, scantily-furnished, untidy, tawdry
little room!--holding out to her a small, neatly-fastened package. She
took it with what was almost an air of sullen indifference, evincing
neither curiosity nor satisfaction. "I don't know you." Again a bow and
a smile.

"That is my misfortune, which I hope is on the high road towards
amendment. My name is Philippe Rossignol. It may be that the day is not
far distant when mademoiselle will come to look upon me as a friend--as
a very good friend indeed--eh?"

There was something in the fellow's obsequious bearing which savoured
of impertinence--something which it seemed as if the girl resented.

"I shouldn't think that you'd ever be a friend of mine. You don't look
as if you was my sort."

The smile became more pronounced, and also more insulting.

"Not your sort? I pray that I have not so much ill fortune."

He paused, as if for her to speak. She spoke.

"I don't care for foreigners. Can't abide 'em. Never could."

The man drew himself up as if she had struck him. The smile lingered
about his lips, though something very different was in his eyes. He was
silent, as if considering what to say. His words, when they came,
ignored her unflattering remark.

"The abode of mademoiselle is a little difficult to discover, unless
one happens to know just exactly where it is."

"No one asked you to discover it, as I know of, so I don't see what
odds that makes to you."

The girl's insistent rudeness seemed to occasion the stranger not only
surprise, but something else as well, something approaching to
curiosity. He observed her with more attention, as if she suggested a
problem to his mind which was of the nature of a puzzle. She was young,
strongly built, healthy. Beyond that, so far as he could see, she was
nothing. She had neither face nor figure. Her movements were ungainly,
her features were, emphatically, plain. Her dress was not only
poor--worse, it was in execrable taste. She seemed to have decked herself
in as many colours as she conveniently could, none of them being in
sympathy with her complexion. Her manners were those of a woman of the
people, her voice was a female Cockney's. Metaphorically, M. Rossignol
shrugged his shoulders; to himself he said,--

"What there is attractive in her is for him to decide; for my part, I
would rather that it were for him than for me. It is a folly even for a
fool, even such a fool as that!"

Aloud he bade the lady farewell. "I have the pleasure of wishing
mademoiselle a very good day."

As he backed towards the door he favoured her with a bow which could
scarcely have been lower had she been an empress. She let him go
without a word or sign of greeting. It was only when he had vanished,
and the sound of his footsteps had ceased upon the stairs, that she
found her tongue.

"Greasy foreigner, nasty, sneering beast! Coming shoving his nose in
here as if he was somebody and me the dirt under his feet. I'll show
him! If he'd stayed much longer, a-trying it on with me, I'd have give
him one for himself, and helped him to the door. What's this, I'd like
to know." She glanced down at the package she was holding, as if
suddenly remembering it was there. She read the address which was on
it. "'Miss Lizzie Emmett, 14 Hercules Buildings, Westminster.' He's got
my address all right, though how he's got it is more than I can say.
What's inside? Feels as if it was something hard." She made as if to
open it. Then in a fit of sudden petulance she threw it from her, so
that it landed on the bed which was at her back. "I'm not going to
trouble myself about his rubbish. I never set eyes on him in all my
life before--who's he, I'd like to know. If ever he shows himself
inside my place again, I'll start him travelling." She resumed her
consideration of the vexed question of the shoes. "I can't get no more
till Saturday, so they'll have to do, and that's all about it. I'll
fake 'em up with cardboard, same as I did once before, and if anybody
notices it, why, they'll have to."

Seating herself on the only chair the room contained she began to cut,
with a pair of scissors, pieces out of the lid of a cardboard box,
which was yellow on one side and white on the other. She was not deft
with her fingers, nor quick. The job promised to be a long one, and not
remarkable for neatness when done. As with hunched shoulders she
pursued her task of cobbling, for a second time there came a knock at
the door.

"Now who's that? If it's that bloke back again, he'll get what for."
This, _sotto voce_; then, aloud, "Is that you, Polly?"

It was not Polly, as the voice which answered showed.

"Does anyone live here named Emmett?"

The visitor this time was a woman. Lizzie eyed her with as much
surprise as she had eyed the man; certainly she was every whit as much
out of place in Hercules Buildings as he had been. Like him, she was
tall and slender, and beautifully dressed. Lizzie's feminine gaze,
taking in the details of her costume, dimly realised its costliness.

"May I come in?"

"If you like you can."

Apparently the stranger did like. She closed the door behind her,
standing, for a moment, to regard Miss Emmett. Then her look wandered
about the room. She wore a big hat, to which was attached a veil which
was so thick as almost to entirely obscure her features. But one
realised, from something in her attitude, that what she saw filled her
with amazement.

"I think that I may have made a mistake."

"I shouldn't be surprised but what you had."

"Is it a Miss Lizzie Emmett who lives here?"

"Yes--Liz Emmett--that's me."

"You!" The astonishment in the speaker's voice was unequivocal, and not
complimentary. One understood that she was studying Lizzie from behind
her veil as if she could scarcely believe her eyes. Her speech
faltered. "Excuse me, but are you in the profession?"

A hint of defiance came into Lizzie's tone. She was beginning to
suspect that her visitor might be something in the district-visiting
line.

"I'm in the ballet at the Cerulean Theatre--that's what I am!"

The stranger seemed to shiver as she heard; as if the answer removed
from her mind the last traces of doubt, leaving her, instead, with a
feeling of uncomfortable certainty. Turning towards the tiny fireplace,
she began to trifle with the odds and ends which were on the
mantelshelf. Then, once more confronting Lizzie, with a deliberate
movement she raised her veil.

"Do you know me?"

"I can't say as how I do."

"I am Agnes Graham."

Lizzie was moved to genuine emotion. She rose from her chair in a
flutter of excitement. She became more awkward than ever.

"Think of me not knowing you! I ought to, seeing how often I've seen
your picture. I beg your pardon, Miss Graham, I'm sure, but won't you
take a chair?"

"Thank you, for the present I'll stand." She eyed the other
steadfastly; it seemed as if the more she gazed the more her wonder
grew. "I'm afraid that I have come to you on a foolish errand, and that
you will laugh at me before I've done, if you don't do worse."

"Laugh at you, Miss Graham. That I'm sure I won't."

"May I ask, Miss Emmett, if you know anything of my private history?"

"Me!" The inquiry might have conveyed a reproach, Lizzie's denial was
uttered with so much earnestness. "I don't know nothing at all about
you, miss, except what's in the papers."

"Except what's in the papers!" Miss Graham smiled, not sunnily. "In
that case you know more about me than I do about myself. Still, I am
disposed to inflict on you a fragment of personal history. You might
not think it, but, in spite of what is in the papers, I'm a dreamer."

"Indeed, miss? I'm a dreamer too."

The words were spoken so simply that it seemed difficult to suspect the
speaker of a second intention. Miss Graham, however, shot at her a
sudden doubting glance. Her tone became harder.

"I trust, for both our sakes, that our dreams do not run on the same
lines. I have always dreamed of a home; of a harbour at last; of peace
at the end; of a time when I shall be able to take my seat among the
best, with a mind at ease. It may sound odd, but I have always looked
forward to making a good marriage."

"I should think, miss, that you might have done that over and over
again."

"I might, but I haven't. But lately I have thought that I might. I am
sick of the stage, sick to death!"

She gave a little passionate gesture. In her voice there was a ring of
sincerity.

"I shouldn't have thought, miss, that you would ever have been sick of
the stage."

"You wouldn't have thought! What do you know of it? You!" She cast a
look at Lizzie which was as scornful as her words. Then glanced at the
empty rust-worn grate. Then again met Lizzie face to face. "I will be
as frank with you as I would ask you to be frank with me. I have
dreamed--I use the word advisedly!--I say that I have dreamed of being
Countess of Bermondsey."

"Countess of Bermondsey! I'd like to lay, miss, that you could be
anything you please!"

Miss Graham's lips were drawn close together.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Laughing at you! Me, miss! I shouldn't think of doing such a thing."

"Then may I ask you to be as candid as myself? Before this my dream
might have been something more solid than a dream, if it had not been
for you."

"For me!"

Lizzie was open-eyed and open-mouthed.

"Pray don't let us play the actress off the boards. Don't you think we
might confine that sort of thing to our hours of business?"

"But I don't understand you, miss. Do you mean that you might have been
the Countess of Bermondsey if it had not been for me?"

Miss Graham's eyes were as keen and cold as the other's were hot and
eager.

"I see that a denial is trembling on your lips. Pray don't trouble
yourself to utter it. Is that the sort of person you are? I assure you
that, in this case, at least, you make a mistake; for unfortunately I
speak from knowledge." She stopped, then resumed with a strain of
passion in her voice which, almost with every word, became more
strenuous. "The Earl of Bermondsey, as, doubtless, you are aware,
although for reasons of your own you may feign ignorance, has, for some
time, been a friend of mine. I had reason to believe that he might
become more, until, recently, the outward tokens of his friendship
waned. I looked for the reason. I found it. He has, lately, become an
assiduous patron of the Cerulean Theatre. This morning I taxed him with
it. He offered no denial. I asked him for the lady's name. He
floundered--as you may be aware his lordship is an adept at
floundering--and, as he floundered, a piece of paper fell from his
pocket on to the floor. I picked it up. On it was a lady's name and her
address. I asked if she was the attraction at the Cerulean. He owned
that she was. He said things of her," the speaker's voice quivered,
"which I do not care to recount at second hand to you. 'Lizzie Emmett,
14 Hercules Buildings, Westminster,' was on the paper, and it was of
you those things were said."

"Me!"

The actress moved slightly away from the fireplace, speaking with a
strength of feeling and an eloquence of gesture which, had she been
capable of such efforts on the stage, would have gained her
immortality.

"It may be sport to you--I daresay it is, there was a time when I used
to think that sort of thing was sport--but it is death to me. Death! He
has as good as promised that I shall be his wife. I have staked
everything upon the fulfilment of his promise. Nothing can compensate
me for his breaking it. I won't try to make you understand why--you
mightn't understand me if I tried! But if he does, I'll go
under--under! If you only knew what I've endured since he's begun to
tire, you'd pity me. I'm here to ask you to pity me now. We're both
women--be generous--I'll be sworn it's not of much consequence to
you--be good to me. If you'll only send him back to me, help me to be
his wife, there's nothing I won't do for you, in reason or out of
reason. I swear it. I'll put it down in black and white in any form you
like!" With trembling hands she caught hold of Lizzie's shabby sleeve.
"But don't be cruel to me--don't be cruel!"

Lizzie shrunk away from her.

"You're making a mistake, Miss Graham, a big mistake!"

"Don't say that, for pity's sake, don't say that! Show mercy to me, as
one day you may want some other woman to show mercy to you."

Lizzie withdrew herself still farther from the other's eager pleading.

"You've got it all wrong, I'm not the girl you're taking me for. I
don't know no Earl of Bermondsey, nor yet no Earl of anything, and I
don't want to."

"Why should you deny it?"

"Because it's the truth. I'm straight, I am, and I always have been,
and I always mean to be, and if any of your toffs came playing it off
on to me he'd get a bit more than he quite wanted."

The girl's tone and manner carried conviction even to her hearer.

"Is it possible that he is known to you under some different name? Tell
me, what friends have you?"

The singularity of the request did not seem to occur to Lizzie. The
reply came as promptly as if the question had been a commonplace.

"Friends? Do you mean fellows? The only fellow that ever was a friend
to me, and he's only a sort of a one, is Joe Mason, what's carpenter up
at the theatre; he's no earl. Ask yourself the question--do I look the
sort of girl an earl would take up with?"

Miss Graham felt that she did not--had felt so all along; not although
the earl was possessed of such peculiar tastes as was the one in
question.

"You might look different on the stage--one can make oneself look like
anything there."

"I might and I mightn't. As far as I know no one ever took me for a
beauty even on the stage, not even Joe Mason."

The girl's eyes twinkled with laughter, as if the bare possibility of
such a thing struck her as comical. Her visitor returned to the
fireplace. She made a little troubled movement with her hands.

"I wish you would be frank with me. You must know something of him,
even if you don't know him, else how came your name and address to be
in his pocket, and why should he claim your acquaintance?"

"It beats me fair, it does. I never gave it him, that's certain.
There's a muddle somewhere."

"Is there anyone else of your name at the theatre?"

"If there is I never heard of it, and I've been there now getting on
for two years. There's no one else of that name in the ballet, that I
do know."

"Have you ever acted for him as a go-between? Just think! I'll tell you
what he looks like. He's quite young, only twenty-two; short, rather
stout, light hair parted on the side, no moustache, red face, blue
eyes; and when he's at all excited he speaks as if he had a plum in his
mouth."

Lizzie shook her head.

"If he's like what you say he's not a beauty, but, so far as I know, I
never set eyes on him; and as for being a go-between, either for him or
for anybody else, I'd scorn to do it."

Agnes Graham's glance returned to the empty grate. She seemed to be
reflecting.

"I believe you. You sound honest, and you look it. But that there's a
mystery somewhere I'm persuaded. I'm in a desperate strait, and I want
you to do something for me. I'll pay you for it well."

"I don't want your pay."

The other went on unheeding.

"I want you to use your eyes, and to find out who it is at the Cerulean
he is after. That there is someone I have the best of reasons for
knowing. When you have found out I want you to tell me. And if you
won't do it for pay, do it out of kindness."

Lizzie hesitated.

"I'm not fond of spying, and I'm not fond of them as is, but as he
don't seem to be using you well, if I do find out who he's playing it
off with--though, mind you, I don't see how I'm going to--still, as I
say, if I should happen to find out, why, I'll tell you, straight!"

"Thank you."

Agnes Graham held out her hand, in order that, by grasping it, the girl
might ratify the bargain. And she did.

When she was again alone, Liz Emmett was lost in wonder. As she had
said, she also was a dreamer and, as became a dreamer, had her heroes
and her heroines. Theatrical heroines hers, for the most part, were;
not, that is, the creations of the dramatist's fancy, but their
flesh-and-blood enactors. The popular actress was the ideal creature of
her waking visions. Who, on the contemporary stage, was more popular,
in her own line, than Agnes Graham? There was a time when Lizzie had
been more than half inclined to bate her voice when uttering her name.
Even to this hour she had regarded her with a kind of reverence. Now
this idol, whom the public voice had set upon such a lofty pedestal,
had actually been to visit her; had come unceremoniously into her room
and filled it with her presence, with, for purpose, such an errand.

The errand was not the least strange part of this strange happening.
Agnes Graham, famous as she was beautiful, in the theatrical firmament
a bright particular star, had supposed that she, Lizzie Emmett, was her
rival for the heart, and possibly the hand, of an earl; a belted earl,
as she remembered to have seen it printed somewhere. The thing was most
confounding. How could such a notion have got into the air?

Lizzie, taking down the oblong shilling mirror from the nail on which
it hung, surveyed her face in it relentlessly. She was conscious of her
imperfections, and indifferent to them. She had supple limbs, was
fairly quick upon her feet, sufficiently smart at rehearsals, equal to
the average _figurante_. She was aware that, when so much was said,
about all was said. She had neither good looks nor cleverness, was no
scholar, nor wished to be, had a rough tongue, a quick temper, and a
clumsy, if a willing, hand. And Agnes Graham had imagined that she had
out-distanced her in the affections of a belted earl! Was ever idea
more ludicrous? As the ridiculous side struck Lizzie she began to
laugh; she continued laughing till her merriment threatened to become
hysterical.

As it approached a climax she caught sight of the package which she had
thrown upon the bed. She checked herself.

"Then there was that foreign bloke. I wonder what rubbish is in that
paper of his."

Putting down the looking-glass, she took up the parcel. She cut it open
with her scissors with a contemptuous air. Inside was a leather case.
She paused to examine it. She had seen others like it in the windows of
jewellers' shops. Pressing a spring, the top flew open. As it did so
she gave a sort of gasp. On a bed of satin reposed a necklace of
shimmering crystals. They gleamed and glistened like drops of dew. The
pupils of her eyes dilated. She spoke in a whisper.

"Diamonds? They can't be diamonds?" She had seen diamonds in shop
windows and on other women. "They can't be real."

Suddenly she gave utterance to an exclamation which the squeamish would
have called an oath and a vulgarity. Presently she joined to it a
snatch from the slang of the streets.

"This cops the biscuit."

She was staring, with wide-open eyes, at a strip of pasteboard which
was in the centre of the necklace, so that it was surrounded by a
stream of light. It was a gentleman's visiting-card. On it was engraved
"Earl of Bermondsey." She glared at it, as if she fancied that her
seeing sense must be playing her tricks. Her voice, when she spoke, was
vibrant; in it there was a curious ringing.

"Well, if this don't take the blooming barrowful, straight it does.
'Earl of Bermondsey'! If that ain't the bloke she was a-talking of. If
this ain't a case of Queer Street, I'm a daisy!"

She picked the card up between her finger and thumb gingerly, as if she
was afraid it might burn her. She turned it over; on the reverse
something was scribbled in pencil. Not being skilled in reading
illegible handwriting, it was with difficulty she deciphered it: "With
Mr Jack Smith's compliments."

"And who may Mr Jack Smith be, I'd like to know, when he's at home.
Anyhow, one thing's certain sure, this little lot ain't meant for me. I
don't know nothing about no Jack Smith, nor yet about no Earl of
Bermondsey neither, and I don't want to; and as for oily foreigners, I
can't abide 'em. I'll just take the entire boiling to Miss Graham.
Perhaps she'll be able to twig the bloke's little lay; it's more than I
can."


                                  II

Lizzie Emmett had already departed some time when fresh visitors made
an unceremonious entry into her empty room. The door was opened and,
without giving any premonitory notice of her intention, a girl came in.

"Lizzie!" she cried. Then perceived that there was no one there. "Well,
if Lizzie isn't out!" She slightly raised her voice. "Tom, Lizzie's
out, but she's not gone far, because she hasn't locked the door. You
can come in--I'll give you leave. We'll wait for her."

There entered the room, with something of a shuffle, a man with a
rough, untrimmed brown beard. He was big and broad, also, it seemed, a
little shy; attired, obviously, in his best clothes. He seemed ill at
ease in them, as if, somehow, they deprived his limbs of their wonted
freedom. He gripped the brim of his brown billycock with both his large
red hands. There was on his good-natured face a mixture of amusement
with confusion, as though he was in possession of some happiness of
which he was, at one and the same time, proud yet ashamed.

The girl looked him up and down, as if searching for something wrong in
his costume or his bearing.

"Now you've got to behave yourself."

He shuffled from one foot to the other. And he grinned.

"Don't I always behave myself?"

"You've got to behave yourself extra special well, you're in a lady's
room." He looked about him, his grin continually expanding. The girl,
propping up the mirror which Lizzie had left upon the table against a
box, began, by its aid, to fidget with her hat, talking as she did so.
"Tom Duffield, you're on your good behaviour; as I might say, you're on
appro. If I'm going to be your wife you've got to do something to show
that you deserve it, so don't you seem to forget it." The man laughed,
for so big a fellow, with curious softness. "It's all very well for you
to laugh, but perhaps it is not all so cut and dried as you quite
think. You're going to take two ladies out for a holiday to Kew
Gardens, Mr Duffield, by the boat, so just you behave to them in a way
that'll show you'll do credit to me as a husband." He laughed again.
She faced him. "Well, and what might you be laughing at?"

He shuffled with his feet.

"Nothing--at you."

"That's a nice thing to say, upon my word. If you think I'm nothing, or
that I'm going to be treated as nothing, you'll soon find that you're
mistaken, and so I tell you. Don't stand fidgeting there like a great
gawk; go and get some sweets--chocolates--good ones, none of your cheap
truck, mind, and some fruit--grapes; Lizzie'll be ready by the time
you're back."

The man put on his hat. He went, without a word, to do her bidding,
with the obedience and the silence of a well-trained dog. Indeed, on
his face, in his eyes, even in his bearing, there was something which
was dog-like. The girl stared for a moment at the door through which he
had gone.

"He's useful if he's not ornamental."

She returned to the mirror. Not impossibly it suggested to her that
exactly the contrary might have been said of herself--she was
ornamental if she was not useful. Even stronger than the man's
resemblance to a dog was hers to a humming-bird. Like it, she was
small; like it, too, she was exquisitely, daintily fashioned, almost
too fragile for human nature's daily food. She seemed singularly out of
place in that poor, tawdry chamber. Fitted, rather, for a gilded cage,
or at least for some shrine of elegance and glitter. Everything about
her was in proportion, tiny, and, if she was a little overdressed--if,
for instance, in the details of her costume there was too much colour,
the accentuation became her peculiarly exotic beauty. Her attitudes,
her gestures, her little tricks of movement, all were bird-like; one
felt, so free from grossness was her frame, that she scarcely was a
thing of earth at all.

She preened herself before the poor apology for a looking-glass as if
there was nothing in the world which could be better worth her doing.
In it her pretty black eyes flashed back their enjoyment of the
situation; they loved to see themselves imaged in a mirror; nor were
they ashamed to confess their pleasure. If, on her cheeks, there was
the suspicion of a bloom which was not Nature's, it was not there
because either youth or health was failing; when one earns one's living
behind the floats one's roses fade. The blood-red line of her lips was
real enough, as also was the rose-pink of her delicate nostrils.

She had scarcely been alone a minute, and with so small a
looking-glass had had no time to examine all that there was of herself
that would repay examining, when she heard the sound of footsteps
coming up the stairs. She listened.

"Who's that?" Her small white teeth gleamed between her scarlet lips.
"It's that silly Tom come back again. Now, what's he forgotten? Perhaps
he's met Liz, so they've both come back together." The steps were but a
single pair, hardly a woman's. There was an audible uncertainty in the
way in which they negotiated each separate tread which suggested that
the road was unfamiliar. "It's that Tom! Now, what's he want, I
wonder?" Someone tapped at the door. "That doesn't sound like Tom.
Someone, I expect, for Lizzie. Bother!" Then aloud, "Come in."

The abuse which had been on the tip of the girl's tongue, ready to be
hurled at the offending Tom, gave place to something very different
indeed. She appeared, for the moment, to be overcome by something which
was akin to consternation, to have lost her presence of mind, her
readiness of speech. Nor, possibly, was her confusion lessened by the
fact that the newcomer seemed to be, every whit, as embarrassed as she
was. He was a young man, except, perhaps, in a legal sense, nothing but
a boy. Not a very intellectual nor healthy-looking boy either. For a
person of his age he was unpleasantly stout; so stout as almost to
merit the epithet of bloated. His cheeks were puffy, so also was his
body. That the redness of his face was not the ruddiness of physical
vigour was demonstrated by the obvious fact that the mere exertion of
climbing the staircase had made him short of breath. Although his dress
was that of a man of fashion he scarcely seemed a gentleman. Not only
was he _gauche_ and clumsy, there was about him an atmosphere of
coarseness which was redolent rather of the tap-room than the
drawing-room. One perceived, instinctively, that the society in which
he would be most at home would be that of the _convives_ of the bar.

That the girl knew him was evident--as evident as that he knew her. He
looked at her with something in his eyes which was not spiritual; she
at him as if she would infinitely have preferred his room to his
company.

She was the first to speak.

"Well, you've got a cheek! Upon my word! What do you mean by coming
here?"

There was a curious quality in his voice as he replied, which almost
amounted to an impediment in his speech.

"When you gave me your address last night, Miss Emmett, I told you I'd
look you up. You didn't suppose I gave you a fiver for it unless I
meant to use it."

The girl continued to look at him for still another second. Then a
burning flush set all her face in flames. She turned away trembling, as
if she were positively frightened. She murmured to herself,--

"Here's a pretty kettle of fish! The brute! If I hadn't clean forgotten
all about it! Whatever shall I say?"

He came farther into the room.

"I hope you've received my little present, Miss Emmett, and that you
like it."

She angrily confronted him.

"My name's not Emmett, so don't you think it."

"Not Emmett!" He winked. "Of course not. Still, as it's been good
enough for me to find you with, it's near enough, for me. If it comes
to that, my name's not Smith."

"I don't care what your name is, and the sooner you get out of this the
better it'll be for you."

"Don't be cross, my dear. I only want you and I to understand each
other."

"I don't want any of your understandings. I don't want to have anything
to say to you. My friend's just stepped out; if he comes back and finds
you here he'll throw you down the stairs quicker than you came up
them."

"Your friend?" An ugly look came into the young man's eyes. "So you've
got a friend."

As she met his glance the girl's face hardened.

"What do you mean? You think yourself too clever. I'm not the sort you
take me for. When I say my friend I mean the young man to whom I'm
engaged to be married, so don't you make any error."

"On my honour, I believe that you look prettier by day than you do by
night."

"Don't try any of your nonsense on with me. Are you going to get out of
this?"

"You might at least thank me for the pretty present which I sent you!"

"Don't talk stuff to me about your presents, you've sent me none of
them."

A look of inquiry came into the young man's face, and of annoyance.

"Hasn't Rossignol been yet? Do you mean to say you haven't had it?"

"Had what? Oh, stow this, do! Do you think I don't know what kind of
chap you are? You're a barber's clerk, that's what you are. You've got
a pound or two in your pocket, and you go gassing about and pretending
you're a don, and talk about sending presents as if you'd got the Bank
of England at your back, when, I lay odds, it breaks you to pay for
your clothes. We girls come across lots of your sort, so we come to
know your trade mark, don't you see."

"I do assure you that in my case you're wrong, Miss Emmett."

"Don't I tell you that my name's not Emmett? When you said last night
that you'd give me five pounds for my name and address I saw that you
were fool enough for anything, so I gave you the first that came, and
that happened to be a friend of mine's, and I'm in her place now,
waiting for her to come back with my young man, so that's how you've
chanced to find me here."

Her companion eyed her as if he were endeavouring to ascertain from her
countenance whether or not she was speaking the truth.

"If what you say is true, then I shouldn't be surprised if your friend
has got the present I sent to you."

"Oh, has she? Then she's welcome. I daresay fifteen pence would pay for
it." With an exclamation as of alarm she ran to the door. "There's my
young man. If you don't go, I'll call out to him. If there's anything
you want to say to me you can say it to-night at the theatre. Now, are
you going?"

"Honour bright, if I come to the theatre will you let me speak to you?"

"Of course I will. Haven't I always done. Hark! there's my young man
coming along the pavement, I know his step. Go, there's a good chap,
you don't want to get me into trouble."

"Will you give me a kiss if I go?"

"What, here, now? What do you take me for? Do you want me to get my
head knocked off my shoulders? If my young man caught me at any of
those games he'd do it as soon as look at me, and yours too. We'll talk
about that sort of thing to-night, at the theatre. Can't you go when I
ask you?"

It appeared that he could, because he did. She shut the door behind him
the instant he was through it, keeping fast hold of the handle with her
hand. She listened to his descending footsteps with an expression of
satisfaction not unmingled with anxiety. As they died away she
sighed--a sigh of unequivocal relief.

"That was a near thing, it ought to be a lesson to me, it's given me
quite a turn." In spite of its artificial bloom, her pretty, dainty
face had assumed a sudden pallor, a fact of which her candid friend,
the mirror, at once informed her. "I declare that I look quite white;
that sort of thing's enough to make anyone look white." She repaired
her loss of complexion with the aid of something which she took from
her pocket. "It's a mercy Tom wasn't here, or even Lizzie. She's a
queer sort, is Lizzie, and she might have wanted a lot of explanation
before she could have been got to see the joke of my giving him her
name and address instead of mine. Of course I only did it for a lark.
If I'd thought he meant to do anything with it I wouldn't have given it
him for a good many fivers, though the coin was useful." There came
from between her lips a little ripple of laughter almost like the burst
of music which proceeds from a song-bird's throat. "What fools fellows
are! He's no toff, anyone can see it with half an eye, he's only a
clerk or something got hold of 'a little bit of splosh' and trying to
do the swagger. He's said his last words to me, anyhow; Saturday, the
theatre'll see my back for good and all. And until then I'll take care
that Tom comes and does the dutiful." She stood in an attitude of
listening. "That is Lizzie. It's lucky that Mr Jack Smith was off the
premises before she came."

Lizzie came boisterously in, her cheeks red with the haste she had
made, her eyes glistening with excitement.

"Polly Steele!" she exclaimed. "You here!"

The other girl bestowed on her one mischievous glance, then returned to
the mirror.

"It looks like it, doesn't it? You don't happen to have seen Tom, I
suppose?"

"Tom? Tom Duffield?"

"That's the gentleman. I've got a bit of news for you, my dear. Tom and
I have made it up."

"Made it up?" She looked at the speaker inquisitorially, then read her
meaning. "Oh, Polly, I'm so glad!"

"I thought you would be. He doesn't seem sorry."

"When was it? Last night at the theatre I didn't seem as if I could get
a word with you."

"No? I wonder how that was." Polly eyed her friend, her face alive with
mischief. "It was this morning, my dear. He came round while I was at
breakfast, and he went on so, and he seemed so set on it, that I
couldn't find it in my heart to keep on saying no. So the banns are to
be put up on Sunday, and we're to be married a month to-day."

"Oh, Polly!"

"And Saturday'll be my last appearance on any stage. Tom's going to
allow me forty shillings a week until we're married; and of course I
shall have my meat for nothing--he won't hear of my keeping on at the
theatre. He's making money hand over fist at that shop of his; sold ten
beasts last week and I don't know how many sheep. You should hear him
talking! I shall be riding in my carriage before you know where you
are."

Lizzie was leaning against the mantelshelf as Agnes Graham had leaned,
and, as the famous actress had done, was looking down at the empty
grate.

"I'm glad you're leaving the theatre. I was beginning to get worried
about you."

"Worried about me! Whatever for?"

Again Miss Polly's countenance was instinct with impish roguery.

"Oh, you know very well what I mean, my lady, so no pretending. You're
too pretty for the theatre, and that's the truth."

"Why, I thought a theatre was just the place where pretty girls are
wanted."

"Maybe. But pretty girls don't want a theatre, leastways, not if they
can help it, they don't." Lizzie spoke with sudden animation. "But talk
about your news! What do you think's come my way?"

"A set of diamonds?"

There was mockery in Polly's tone, and in her eyes.

"You may laugh, but that's just what it was--leastways, a diamond
necklace."

"Lizzie!"

"Yes, as fine a one as ever you saw--better than Maggie Sinclair's, and
they say hers is worth a thousand."

"It wasn't meant for you."

"Wasn't it? There it was upon the parcel as plain as print, 'Miss
Lizzie Emmett, 14 Hercules Buildings, Westminster,' and inside there
was the fellow's card--'With Mr Jack Smith's compliments.'"

"What? Lizzie! Where is it?"

"It's where it ought to be--with her as Mr Jack Smith ought to marry."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Why, Polly, it's like a story, just like it is in the books. Who do
you think's been here this morning? In this very room?"

Polly drew back, as with a sudden accession of timidity.

"Not Jack Smith?"

"Jack Smith! I'd have Jack Smithed him if he'd shown his nose inside my
place. Someone as is worth a good few Jack Smiths--Agnes Graham!"

"Agnes Graham!"

"Yes, you may stare, but it's truth, she came into this very room. And
I've just come from her place. And what do you think she done as I was
coming away? Kissed me--yes! straight. It seems as this here Jack Smith
he's as good as promised to marry her, and she's been driving herself
half silly because he's been carrying on with a girl at our show--yes!
And this morning, as they was having a few words, something fell out of
his pocket. She picked it up. On it was my name and my address. She
asks him if that was the girl. He says it was--like his blamed
impudence! So she comes round to me and asks me not to sneak away her
bloke."

"Asks you?"

"Yes, queer start, ain't it? I'm the sort to sneak away anybody's
bloke! I'd give a bit to know how he got hold of my name and address."

"It does seem odd!"

"Odd ain't the word for it. There's something what's a little more than
odd about it, as it seems to me. And who do you think Jack Smith is?"

"Some barber's clerk or other, I suppose."

"Barber's clerk! Why, he's the Earl of Bermondsey!"

"Who? Lizzie! You don't mean that!"

"I do, it's gospel truth! His name was printed on the card; 'With Mr
Jack Smith's compliments' was wrote on the back. Miss Graham told me it
was him, she knew his writing directly she set eyes on it. He's been
passing himself off as Jack Smith to some girl or other up at our
place, and going on no end."

Miss Steele, her face turned away from Lizzie, was drumming on the
table with the fingers of her left hand.

"Did you say that he was going to marry Miss Graham?"

"It seems that he as good as promised that he would, but now she's
afraid that he'll take up with this other girl what he's been carrying
on with."

"What makes her think so?"

"Don't I tell you that he about equal to up and told her so."

Miss Steele was silent.

"Does she think"--there was a tremulous break in her voice--"that he
would marry the other girl?"

"That's what she's afraid of, though, if I was her, I'd let him. If I
was Miss Graham I wouldn't marry him, not if he was a hundred times the
Earl of Bermondsey. Don't you remember what we was reading about him
only the other day--how he'd just come into his money, and what a lot
of it there was? And houses, and parks, and forests, and I don't know
what? My truth! He's only a kid, and a pretty sort of kid he seems to
be; one of them fools what's worse than the clever ones, just because
they're fools. I shouldn't be surprised if this girl what he's been
carrying on with--I'll find out who she is before this night is gone,
and if she gave him my address I'll mark her!"

"Perhaps she only did it for a joke!"

"A nice sort of joke! What do you think? I'll spoil her beauty, the
nasty cat! I shouldn't be surprised, if she played her cards cleverly,
but what she got him to take her to church."

"I wonder!"

"The Countess of Bermondsey! That's a mouthful, ain't it?"

"The Countess of Bermondsey!"

As Miss Polly Steele echoed her companion's words she was still
standing against the table, her little slender figure drawn as upright
as a dart. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were sparkling, her lips
were parted; one could see how her bosom rose and fell as her breath
came in quick, eager respirations. Something had filled her with a
strange excitement which each moment was mastering her more completely.

It was Lizzie who first heard the ascending footsteps.

"Hullo!" she cried. "Here's Mr Duffield."

A sudden peculiar change had taken place in the expression on Polly's
countenance; it had become hard, even angry, her gleaming teeth had
closed upon her lower lip. Lizzie admitted the returning lover.

"Morning, Mr Duffield." She looked at him with what was intended to be
archness. "Polly has been telling me all about it. I wish you joy."

He laughed, as though she had perpetrated a capital joke.

"Thank you, Miss Emmett. We mean to have a bit if we can get it, don't
we, Polly?" He was laden with paper parcels. He advanced with them
towards the little silent figure which was standing at the table, his
good-humoured face one mighty smile. "I've brought the whole shop full.
Here you are, old girl. You'll want a cart to carry them."

She struck out at him with her clenched hands, dashing the parcels he
was holding out to her in confusion on to the floor. She was in a flame
of passion.

"I don't want your rubbish! And how dare you call me old girl? Who do
you think you are, and what do you think I am? Keeping me waiting here,
dancing attendance on your pleasure, and then insulting me; if you ever
try to speak to me again I'll slap your face."

She pushed past him towards the door.

"Polly!" cried Lizzie, staring at her in a maze of wonder.

Miss Steele shook her fist so close to Lizzie's face it grazed her
skin. Rage transfigured her. Her voice was shrill with fury.

"You great, ugly, stupid idiot! You've done more harm this morning than
you'll ever do good in all your life! Let me pass!"

At the door she turned to shake her fist at Mr Duffield.

"Don't you dare to follow me!"

She vanished, flying down the stairs three or four steps at a time, in
a whirlwind of haste, leaving her lover and her friend in speechless
amazement, as if the heavens had fallen.



                         A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE


"Bank holidays are admittedly common nuisances; they are neither
Sundays nor week-days; they disorganise everything, both public and
private life; and what is Christmas Day but a bank holiday, I should
like to know! Here am I actually having to make my own bed and prepare
my own breakfast; goodness only knows what I shall do about my lunch
and dinner. And this in the twentieth century."

It was a monstrous fact. Granted that to a certain extent I had
to thank my own weakness, still, Christmas Day was to blame. When,
about a month before, Mr and Mrs Baines had begun to drop hints
that they would like to spend Christmas Day with relatives at some
out-of-the-way hole in Kent--it was three years since they had spent
Christmas Day together, Mrs Baines told me with her own lips--I was
gradually brought to consent. Of course I could not remain alone with
Eliza--who is a remarkably pretty girl, mind you, though she is a
housemaid--so I let her spend Christmas Day with her mother. They all
three went off the day before--Eliza's home is in Devonshire--so that
there was I left without a soul to look after me.

I allow that to some small extent the fault was mine. My bag was
packed--Baines had packed it with his own hands, assisted by his wife
and Eliza, and to my certain knowledge each had inserted a Christmas
present, which it was intended should burst upon me with the force of a
surprise. I had meant to spend Christmas with Popham. It seemed to me
that since I had to spend it under somebody else's roof it might as
well be under his. But on the morning of the twenty-fourth--Tuesday--I
had had a letter--a most cheerful letter--in which Popham informed me
that since one of his children had the measles, and another the mumps,
and his wife was not well, and his own constitution was slightly
unbalanced owing to a little trouble he had had with his motor--he had
nearly broken his neck, from what I could gather--it had occurred to
him that Christmas under his roof might not be such a festive season as
he had hoped, and so he gave me warning. Obviously I did not want to
force myself into a hospital, so I wired to Popham that I thought, on
the whole, that I preferred my own fireside.

But I said nothing about my change of plans to Mr and Mrs Baines or
Eliza, for it seemed to me that since they had made their arrangements
they might as well carry them out, and I had intended to go to one of
those innumerable establishments where, nowadays, homeless and
friendless creatures are guaranteed--for a consideration--a "social
season."

Eliza started after breakfast, Mr and Mrs Baines after lunch. I told
them that I was going by the four o'clock and could get my bag taken to
the cab without their assistance. When the time came I could not make
up my mind to go anywhere. So I dined at the club and had a dullish
evening. And on Christmas Day I had to make my own bed and light my own
fire.

A really disreputable state of affairs!

I never had such a time in my life. I was bitterly cold when I first
got up--it had been freezing all night--but I was hot enough long
before I had a fire. The thing would not burn. There was a gas
stove in the kitchen, I could manage that all right, to a certain
extent--though it made an abominable smell, which I had not noticed
when Mrs Baines had been on the premises--but I could not spend all
Christmas Day crouching over half a dozen gas jets. Not to speak of the
danger of asphyxiation, which, judging from the horrible odour,
appeared to me to be a pretty real one. I wanted coal fires in my own
rooms, or, at least, in one of them. But the thing would not behave in
a reasonable manner. I grew hot with rage, but the grate remained as
cold as charity.

I live in a flat--Badminton Mansions--endless staircases, I don't know
how many floors, and not a Christian within miles. I had a dim notion,
I don't know how I got it, but I had a dim notion that a person of the
charwoman species ascended each morning to a flat somewhere overhead to
do--I had not the faintest idea what, but the sort of things charwomen
do do. Driven to the verge of desperation--consider the state I was in,
no fire, no breakfast, no nothing, except that wretched gas stove,
which I was convinced that I should shortly have to put out if I did
not wish to be suffocated--it occurred to me, more or less vaguely,
that if I could only intercept that female I might induce her, by the
offer of a substantial sum, to put my establishment into something like
order. So, with a view of ascertaining if she was anywhere about, I
went out on to the landing to look for her.

"Now," I told myself, "I suppose I shall have to stand in this
condition"--I had as nearly as possible blacked myself all over--"for a
couple of hours outside my own door and then she won't come."

No sooner had I shown my unwashed face outside than I became conscious
that a child--a girl--was standing at the open door of the flat on the
opposite side of the landing. I was not going to retreat from a mere
infant; I declined even to notice her presence, though I became
instantly aware that she was taking the liveliest interest in mine. I
looked up and down, saw there were no signs of any charwoman, and
feeling that it would be more dignified to return anon--when that child
had vanished--was about to retire within my own precincts,
when--the child addressed me.

"I wish you a merry Christmas."

I was really startled. The child was a perfect stranger to me. I just
glanced across at her, wishing that I was certain if what I felt upon
my nose actually was soot, and replied--with sufficient frigidity,--

"Thank you. Your wish is obliging. But there is not the slightest
chance of my having a merry Christmas, I give you my word of honour."

My intention was to--metaphorically--crush the child, but she was not
to be crushed. I already had my back to her, when she observed,--

"I am so sorry. Are you in any trouble?"

I turned to her again.

"I don't know what you call trouble, but on a morning like this I am
without a fire and it seems extremely probable that I shall have to
remain without one."

"No fire!" Even from across the landing I was conscious that that
child's eyes were opened wider. "Why, it's freezing. Haven't you any
coals or wood?"

"Oh, yes, I've plenty of coals and wood, but what's the good of them if
they won't burn?"

"Won't burn? Why ever won't they burn?"

"I don't know why they won't burn--you'd better ask 'em."

I am altogether without a clear impression of how it happened. I can
only say that that child came across the landing, and, as I returned
into my own quarters, she came after me--quite uninvited. We moved to
the dining-room, the scene of my futile efforts. She regarded the
recalcitrant grate with thoughtful gaze. It began to be borne in on me
that she was rather a nice-looking child, with brown hair, and a great
deal of it, and big brown eyes. Presently she said,--

"I have seen people make a fire."

Which was an absurd remark. I snubbed her.

"I don't know that there's anything remarkable in that. I also have
seen people make a fire."

"One would never think it to look at that grate."

"What's the matter with the grate?"

"It's too full of everything. To make a fire you begin with paper."

"Haven't I begun with paper? There are at least six newspapers at the
bottom of that grate; it's stuffed full of paper."

"That's just it; I believe it's stuffed too full. And I feel sure that
you don't want to start with a whole forest full of wood. And it looks
to me as if you had emptied a whole scuttle full of coals on the top of
all the rest."

"I have."

"Then how ridiculous of you. How can you expect it to burn? I think I
can show you how it ought to be."

She showed me. I ought not to have let her; I do not need to be told
that, but I did. I held the scuttle while she put back into it nearly
all the coal; then she removed about five-sixths of the wood and
nine-tenths of the paper, and started to lay that fire all over again.
And she kept talking all the time.

"Have you had your breakfast?"

"I emphatically haven't."

"I haven't had any either."

It struck me that there was a suggestiveness about her tone.

"I'm afraid I can't ask you to share mine."

"Why? Haven't you any food?"

"Oh, I daresay there's food, but--it wants cooking.

"Well, let's cook it! Oh, do let's cook it! I should so love to cook my
own breakfast; I never have; it would be just like a picnic."

"I don't know that I care for picnics; I'm too old."

"I've seen people older than you are." I felt flattered; I am not so
very old after all. "What have you got? Have you any eggs?"

"I shouldn't be surprised if I have some eggs."

"Then, to begin with, we'll say eggs. How shall we cook them?"

"Boil them."

"Couldn't we fry them? I'm rather fond of fried eggs."

"So far as I'm concerned I'm sure we couldn't fry them."

"I'm afraid I might make rather a mess of it. Then we'll say boiled
eggs. What else--bacon?"

"I imagine that there may be bacon."

"Then we'll say eggs and bacon; that'll be lovely. Don't you like
bacon?"

"I don't object to it--occasionally--if it's properly cooked."

"How do you like it cooked?"

"I haven't a notion. I've never even seen anyone cook bacon."

"I don't think I have either. But we'll see what we can do. And cocoa?"

"No cocoa. I doubt if there's any in the place. And we won't say
coffee. I don't believe there are more than half a dozen people in the
world who can make good coffee. And I feel convinced that I'm not one
of them."

"I don't care for coffee. We'll say tea--and toast."

"I think I could make some toast, if pressed."

"I'm glad you can do something. You see; now the fire's going to burn.
Where's the pantry? Let's go and look what's in it."

The fire certainly did show signs of an intention to behave as a fire
ought to. I don't know how she had done it, it seemed simple enough,
but there it was. Feeling more and more conscious that my conduct was
altogether improper, not to say ridiculous, I led that child from the
dining-room, across the kitchen, to the receptacle where Mrs Baines
keeps her store of provisions. She looked round and round and I knew
she was not impressed.

"There doesn't seem to be very much to eat, does there?"

The same thing had struck me. The shelves seemed full of emptiness, and
there was nothing hanging from the hooks. Still, as coming from an
entire stranger, the remark was not in the best of taste.

"You see," I explained, feebly enough, "it's Christmas."

That child's eyes opened wider than ever; I was on the point of warning
her that if she went on like that they would occupy the larger part of
her face.

"Of course it's Christmas. Do you suppose that I don't know it's
Christmas? That's just the reason why you should have more to eat than
ever. Some people eat more at Christmas than they do during all the
rest of the year put together."

This was such a truly astonishing statement to make that, unless I
wished to enter into a preposterous argument, I had nothing to say. I
also realised that it did not become me to enter at any length, to a
mere child--and she an utter stranger!--into the reasons why, at
Christmas, it had come to pass that my larder did not happen to be so
well filled as it might have been. I merely endeavoured to pin her to
the subject in hand.

"There are eggs and bacon and bread, and I believe there's tea--all the
materials for the morning meal. I don't know what else you require."

"That's true--that's quite true. There are eggs in three different
baskets; I expect one basket's for cooking eggs, one for breakfast eggs
and one for new-laid. We'll have new-laid. How many shall we have?
Could you eat two?"

"I have been known to eat two; especially when, on occasions like the
present, breakfast has been about two hours late."

"Then we'll have two each. Then there's the bacon; fortunately it's
already cut into rashers, but--how shall we cook it? I know!" She
clapped her hands. "I'll fetch Marjorie!"

"Marjorie!" As she uttered the name I was conscious of a curious
fluttering sensation, which was undoubtedly the result of the irregular
proceedings. I had known a person of that name myself once, but it was
absurd to suppose that the fluttering had anything to do with that.
"Who's Marjorie?"

"Marjorie's my sister, of course." I did not see any of course about
it, but I had too much self-respect to say so. "She's ever so fond of
cooking; she's a splendid cook. I'll go and get her to cook that
bacon."

Before I could stop her she was off; the child moved like lightning.
What I ought to have done would have been to slam my front door and
refuse to open it again. Who was Marjorie? Extraordinary how at the
mere mental repetition of the name that fluttering returned. Her
sister? She might be a young woman of two or three-and-twenty. I could
not allow strange persons of that description to cook my bacon, with me
in my dressing-gown and soot upon my nose.

I am practically persuaded that I was nearly on the point of closing
the front door, with a view--so to speak--of not opening it again
during the whole of the day, when that child returned, with another
child a little taller than herself. This child had black hair, dark
blue eyes, and was as self-possessed a young person as I ever yet
encountered; grave as a judge--graver! She looked me straight in the
face, with her head inclined just a little forward.

"I beg your pardon. It seems curious that I should call on you without
even knowing your name, but my sister Kathleen told me that you were in
rather a trouble about your breakfast, so I thought I would come and
see if I could help you."

"That's--that's very good of you. Will--will you both of you breakfast
with me?"

I wasn't one quarter so self-possessed as she was; indeed, I was all of
a quiver.

"Kathleen tells me that she has already consented to do so, and I
should be very pleased to join her. Now, Kathleen, where is that bacon
you spoke about?"

They went into the pantry and took matters into their own hands as if
the place belonged to them and as if they had been cooking my
breakfasts for years. I positively felt in the way, and hinted as
much--with an inclination to stammer.

"Perhaps--perhaps you'll be able to do without my assistance."

The young woman was quite clear upon that subject, and did not hesitate
to say so.

"Thank you; I would much rather be without your assistance. I don't
care to have men meddle in domestic matters."

She spoke as if she had been fifty instead of perhaps twelve. I
wondered if she had her sentiments from her mother; I could have sworn
she had them from someone.

"Then in that case I might--I might have a wash and--and put myself
into another coat."

She looked me up and down with something in her air which was not
suggestive of approval.

"I'm sure you might. You don't look at all tidy; not in the least like
Christmas Day. Only please be ready in five minutes."

I was, so was the bacon; everything was ready in that five minutes. I
do not know how they did it, those two children, but they did. There
was the table laid, places for three, and we three sat down to an
excellent meal. Marjorie served the bacon. I have tasted a good deal
worse, mind you, and the plates were hot! Kathleen poured out the tea,
and I ate and drank and looked on, and wondered how it all had
happened. Presently Marjorie asked a question.

"Have you had any Christmas presents yet?"

"No, I can't say that I have, not just yet, but--my goodness!" An idea
occurred to me. "A most extraordinary thing; do you know, I was
positively forgetting to give you two people your Christmas presents."

Both looked at me, their faces notes of exclamation. Marjorie spoke.

"You can't really have presents for us--not really. I daresay half an
hour ago you didn't know we were in the world."

"Can't I? Such an observation simply shows the limitations of your
knowledge."

I rose from the table; I left the room. When I returned I had a parcel
in either arm.

"Now if those two parcels don't contain the very Christmas presents you
want, then all I can say is, I have misjudged your wants entirely and
beg to apologise."

You should have seen their countenances! their looks of wonder when
inside each parcel was discovered a doll, the very finest and largest
article of the kind that could be procured, although I say it. Of
course they had been meant for Popham's girls, but more dolls could be
bought for them and sent on afterwards. In the meantime those two young
women were in a state of almost dangerous agitation.

"Why," cried Marjorie, "mine has black hair and blue eyes!"

"And mine has brown hair and brown eyes!"

"You dear!"

They said this both together. Then they precipitated themselves at me,
and they kissed me--absolute strangers! Then the dolls had breakfast
with us. Each sat on a chair beside its proprietor, and I, as it were,
sat in the centre of the four. I have seldom assisted at a livelier
meal. We laughed and we talked, and we ate and we drank, and we fed the
dolls--those dolls had both a large and an indigestible repast. I felt
convinced they would suffer for it afterwards. And in the midst of it
all I heard a strange voice; at least it was strange to me.

"I beg ten thousand pardons, but I couldn't think what had become of
those children--I thought I heard their voices. What are they doing
here?"

I looked up and there, standing in the open doorway, was a lady; a
young lady, a charming, and, indeed, a pretty young lady. Those two
young women flung themselves at her as they had flung themselves at me;
only, if anything, more so.

"Mamma! mamma! just look at our dolls! Aren't they beautiful? And when
you lay them down they shut their eyes and say good-night."

The lady was their mamma; exactly the right sort of mamma for them to
have. I explained, and she explained, and it was all explained. By a
most amazing coincidence she was in almost the same plight as I was.
She was a Mrs Heathcote; had recently come with her two girls from
India; had taken the flat opposite mine in the expectation of her
husband joining her by Christmas Day, instead of which his ship had
been delayed in the Suez Canal, or somewhere, somehow, and he could not
possibly reach her for at any rate a day or two. And on the previous
day, Christmas Eve, her cook had behaved in the most abominable manner,
and had had to be sent packing, and her sympathetic friend, the
housemaid, had gone with her, so that on Christmas Day Mrs Heathcote
was positively left without a soul to do a thing for her; precisely my
condition. She had gone out to see if temporary help could be procured,
and during her absence those two daughters of hers had slipped across
to me. She had found no help, so that she had to deal with precisely
the same problem which confronted me. She had breakfast with us--and
the dolls!--Marjorie explaining that it was she who had cooked the
bacon, and in an amazingly short space of time we were all of us on
terms of the most delightful sociability.

I insisted that they must all go out with me to lunch at a restaurant.
It might not seem to promise much entertainment to have to go for a
meal to a place of the kind on Christmas Day, but the girls were
delighted. It is my experience that most children like feeding in
public, I don't know why, and when pressed their mother was willing, so
I was charmed.

"Now," I observed, "that it is settled we are to go somewhere, the
question is--where?"

"May I choose?" asked Mrs Heathcote.

"My dear madam, if you only would, you would confer on me a really
great favour. On the subject of the choice of a restaurant I consider a
lady's opinion to be of the very first importance."

That was not, perhaps, the whole truth, but on such matters, at such
moments, one need not be a stickler. She smiled--she had an uncommonly
pleasant smile; it reminded me of someone, somewhere, though I could
not think who. She rested her elbows on the table, placing her hands
palm to palm.

"Then I say Ordino's."

When she said that I had a shock. I stared.

"Excuse me--what--what did you say?"

She smiled again.

"I suppose you'll think I'm silly, and I daresay you've never heard of
the place, and I myself don't know where it is, and anyhow it mayn't be
at all nice--mind I'm not giving it any sort of character. But if the
place is still in existence, since it is Christmas Day and we
are to lunch at a restaurant, if the choice is left to me, I say
again--Ordino's."

"May I ask if you've any special reason for--for choosing this
particular place?"

There was an interval of silence before she answered. Although I had
purposely turned my back to her I had a sort of feeling that there was
an odd look upon her face.

"Yes, I have a special reason, in a sort of a way. When we've lunched
perhaps I'll tell it you. If the lunch has been a very bad one then
you'll say--quite rightly--that you'll never again rely upon a woman's
reason where a restaurant's concerned."

It was--I had to hark back into my forgotten mental lumber to think how
many years it was since I had entered Ordino's door. I had told myself
that I would never enter it again. And yet here was this stranger
suddenly proposing that I should visit it once more, on Christmas
Day of all days in the year. Why, the last time I fed there--the very
last time--it was a Christmas Day.

I should write myself down a fool were I to attempt to describe the
feelings with which I set about that Christmas morning's entertainment.
We lunched at Ordino's. It was within half a mile of where I lived, and
yet I had never seen or passed it since. The street in which it was had
been to me as if it were shut at both ends. If a cabman had wanted to
take me down that way I had stopped him, even though it meant another
sixpence.

It had scarcely changed, either within or without. As the four of us
trooped inside--six with the dolls, for the dolls went out to lunch
with us--I had an eerie sort of sensation that it was only yesterday
that I was there. The same window with the muslin curtain drawn across;
the same small room with the eight or ten marble tables; the same high
desk, and if it was not the same woman who was seated at it then she
was a very decent imitation.

"What a queer little place it seems."

Mrs Heathcote said this as we stood looking about for a table.

"Yes, it does seem queer."

It did--for a reason I was not disposed to explain. I chose the same
table--that is, the table next to the desk in which the woman sat. As
might have been expected, we had the place to ourselves, and the whole
services of the one waiter. I fancy that the establishment provided us
with a tolerable meal; the cooking always had been decent at Ordino's.
Judging from the way in which the others despatched the fare which was
set before us, the tradition still survived. So far as I was personally
concerned I was scarcely qualified to criticise. Each mouthful "gave me
furiously to think;" I thought between the mouthfuls; never before had
I had a meal so full of thinking. My guests were merry enough; those
two young women were laughing all the time.

At last we came to the dessert. "Madam," I began, "have you been badly
treated or well?"

"Excellently treated, thank you. I think it has all been capital, only
I'm afraid you haven't had your proper share."

"Oh, yes, I have had my proper portion and to spare. Is it allowable to
ask you to gratify my curiosity by telling me for what special reason
you chose Ordino's?"

She toyed with a pear which she was peeling.

"You will laugh at me."

"There will be no malice in my laughter if I do."

"Then the story is not mine."

"Whose then?"

"It's about my sister--Marjorie."

I gripped the edge of the table, but she did not notice, she was
peeling her pear. Her daughters were occupied with their dolls. They
were teaching them the only proper way in which to consume a banana.
Judging from his contortions the one waiter seemed to find the
proceedings as good as a play.

"You have a sister whose name is Marjorie?"

"Oh, yes, she is all the relations I have."

"Marjorie what?"

"Marjorie Fleming." Then I knew that a miracle had happened. "My eldest
girl is named after her." I might have guessed it; I believe I did.
"She's the dearest creature in the world, but she hasn't had the very
best of times."

I said nothing, having nothing to say. I waited for her to go on, which
presently she did do, dreamily, as she peeled her pear.

"Do you know that it was in this place--I suppose in this very
room--perhaps at this very table, that her life was spoilt one
Christmas Day."

"How--how spoilt?"

It seemed as if my tongue had shrivelled in my mouth.

"What is it that spoils a woman's life?"

"How should I know?"

"I thought that everyone knew what spoils a woman's life--even you
cynical bachelors." Cynical bachelors! I was beginning to shiver as if
each word she uttered was a piece of ice slipped down my back.
"Different people write it different ways, but it's all summed up in
the same word in the end--a lover."

"I thought that it was a lover who is supposed to make a woman's life
the perfect thing it ought to be."

"He either makes or mars it. In my sister's case he--marred it."

"A woman's life is not so easily spoilt."

"Hers was. All in a moment. It was years and years ago, but it's with
her still--that moment. I know, I know! Poor Marjorie! The whole of her
life worth living is in the land of ghosts."

My heart stopped beating. The sap in my veins was dried. It seemed as
if the world was slipping from me. All Marjorie's life worth living was
in the land of ghosts? Why, then, we were in the land of ghosts
together!

"She told me the story once, and only once, but I've never forgotten
it--never; a woman never does forget that kind of story, and I'm sure
Marjorie never will. I know it's just as present to her now as if it
had only happened yesterday. Dear Marjorie! You don't know what a dear
sister my sister is. Although, in those days, she was only a young
girl, she lived alone in London. Our father and mother died when we
were children. She was full of dreams of becoming a great artist; they
are gone now, with the other dreams. She had a lover, who was jealous
of her artist friends. They had lovers' tiffs. They used often to come
to this place. They came here together one Christmas Day, of all days
in the year. And it is because of what happened on that Christmas Day
that Ordino's Restaurant has been to me a sort of legend, a shrine
which had to be visited when occasion offered. They quarrelled.
Marjorie told me that she never could remember just how the quarrel
began, and I believe her. Quarrels, especially between a man and a
woman, spring out of nothing often and often. They grew furiously hot.
Suddenly, in his heat, he said something which no man ever ought to say
to any woman, above all to the woman whom he loves. Marjorie stood up.
She laid on the table the locket he had just given her--a Christmas
gift--with, in it, his portrait and hers. And she said, 'I return you
your locket. Presently, when I get home, I will return all that you
have given me. I never wish to see you, or to hear from you, again.'
And she went towards the entrance, he doing nothing to stop her. As she
opened the door she saw him stand up and give the locket, her locket,
to the woman who sat at the desk, as that woman is sitting now, and he
said, in tones which he evidently intended that she should hear,
'Madam, permit me to beg your acceptance of this locket. Since it is
associated with someone whom I wish I had never met, you will do me a
great favour by relieving me of its custody.' Marjorie waited to hear
no more. She went out, alone, into the street, that Christmas Day, and
she has never seen him since or heard if he is alive or dead."

I was speechless. I could only sit and stare at the ghosts who stared
at me.

All at once "the woman who sat at the desk," as Mrs Heathcote had put
it, came down from her place and stood beside us.

"Madam," she exclaimed, in what struck me, even then, as tones of
singular agitation, "it is a miracle, a true miracle. You must forgive
me, I could not help but listen; my parents have told me the story many
and many a time. It all happened as you have said. It was to my mother
the locket was given. She wished very much not to take it, but the
young gentleman, he was very excited, and at last, to avoid a scene, my
father said to her, 'At least in your keeping it will be safe; worse
might befall it than to be left in your hands. These foolish young
people will make it up again. Presently they will return; you will be
able to give back the locket to its proper owner.' But they did not
return, neither the one nor the other, never, not once! At last my
mother died; the locket came to me. She wished that when I was in the
desk I should always carry it as she had done, for she believed that,
at last, there would arrive a day when one or the other would return
and the locket would be restored. Madam, here is the locket. I entreat
you to permit me to beg you to return it to your sister, to whom it
properly belongs."

The speaker held out something which I vaguely recognised as the locket
of that eventful Christmas Day, which I had purchased with such loving
thought and tender carefulness, and of which I had rid myself in such a
storm of rage. Mrs Heathcote stared alternately at it and at the woman
who for so long had held it, as a sacred charge, in such safe keeping,
as if its sudden appearance had robbed her of her power of speech. I
was conscious that someone had come into the place. Instantly those two
young persons--who were still instructing their dolls in the proper
manner of eating a banana--tore off towards the door, crying, at the
top of their voices,--

"Father! father! Oh, mother, here's father!"

And all at once Mrs Heathcote went pushing past me, then I knew
that she was in the arms of a man with a beard--I believe she was
crying!--and exclaiming,--

"Robert, have you dropped from the skies?"

"No," he responded, reasonably enough, "I've merely dropped in from the
overland route. I made up my mind I'd get at you somehow by Christmas
Day, and I have. But before I was allowed to go to you, where I
supposed you to be, I was made to come here. For some mysterious reason
of her own that sister of yours, before she went anywhere else,
insisted on visiting Ordino's Restaurant; for an explanation, if you
want one, I can only refer you to Marjorie."

Marjorie! Behind him was a woman whose face, whose form, whose
everything I knew. It seemed that "the woman who sat at the desk"
recognised her also. She held out the locket.

"Madam, allow me to have the happiness to return to you your locket.
That it is yours I am sure because of your portrait which is in it. You
have scarcely altered at all since the day it was taken."

I snatched it from her.

"Give it to me!" I stormed. "Since, through all these years, it has
been held in such safe keeping, Marjorie, won't you take your locket
back again?"

She had never moved her eyes from off my face, just as I had kept mine
on hers. She moved a little forward. And--then I had her in my arms and
her cheek was next to mine, and the locket was in her hand,
and--we both of us were crying--I admit it.... Oh, yes, it was a
miracle of grace and healing, since by the grace of God the open wound
was healed. For us--for Marjorie and me--the life worth living is no
longer in the land of ghosts. We are living it now, together; dear
wife! together.

And it is universally admitted that we are the best customers Ordino's
Restaurant has. Those two young persons have been there again and again
since then, with their dolls, whom they are still instructing in the
proper manner of eating a banana. I should be afraid to estimate how
many bananas they have themselves consumed in the process of instruction.
And to think that that Christmas miracle all came about because that
child intruded herself into my apartments--actually!--with a view of
showing me how to make a fire!

In itself, was that not a miracle too?



                          OUR MUSICAL COMEDY


"I forbid you to do it!"

Of course when George said that, with such an air, and in such a tone,
I should have been perfectly justified in making an end of everything.
The idea of his actually ordering me, when we had been engaged scarcely
any time at all, was really too much. But I remembered what was due to
myself and--I think!--behaved beautifully. I was merely crushing.

"You will remember, if you please, that, at present, I am not your
wife. And may I ask if you propose to speak to me like that when I am?"

"I trust that whenever I see you contemplating a false step I shall
always use my influence to endeavour to persuade you not to take it."

"Persuasion is one thing--ordering is quite another."

It all began with the private theatricals in aid of the parochial
charities. Almost for the first time since I had been in the place
people seemed to have found out my existence. It was the rector's
son--Frank Spencer--who was the actual discoverer. I really believe it
was that fact which George did not like. Mr Spencer came and said that
they were going to have theatricals and would I take part in them? I
told him that I had never acted in my life. He declared that they could
not do without me. I explained that I did not see how that could be,
since I had not had the least experience, and, indeed, doubted if I
should not make a complete spectacle of myself and spoil everything. He
replied that it was ridiculous to talk like that--which I thought was
rather rude of him, since he was sure that I should make a
first-rate actress--though I could not even guess what made him sure;
and everybody was certain that the whole thing would be an utter
failure without me--then look how the parochial charities would suffer!
I confess that I did not understand why everybody should take that
view; though, on the other hand, I did not want the charities to
languish on my account, and--well, I may as well own it--I rather liked
the idea. I thought it was not half a bad one. Because I never had
acted was no reason why I never should; at any rate, it occurred to me
that it would be capital fun to try.

So when I informed Mr Spencer that I would consider the matter, I fancy
that I rather conveyed the impression that my consideration might have
a favourable issue.

Then the trouble began. George objected. When I wrote and told him that
I was thinking of taking part in an amateur dramatic performance in aid
of some most deserving charities, which were much in need of help, he
sent me back a letter which rather surprised me. In the course of it he
observed that there was a great deal too much of that sort of thing
about--if that were so then certainly hitherto none of it had come my
way; that not seldom amateur theatricals were but a cloak for something
about which the less said the better--what he meant I had not the least
idea; that they were generally exhibitions of incompetent vanity--which
was not exactly a pleasant remark to make; that he could not understand
how any sane person could wish to be connected with proceedings which,
as a rule, were merely the outcome of a desire for vulgar notoriety. He
concluded by remarking that while he had not the slightest desire to
bias my judgment, of which, as I was aware, he had the highest opinion,
at the same time he hoped that I would consider very carefully what he
had said before arriving at a final decision.

Two days afterwards I met Mr Spencer, and he overpersuaded me. It is
not to be denied that he had a most persuasive manner, and was,
decidedly, not bad-looking; though, of course, that had nothing to do
with it. It was the moving fashion in which he depicted the lamentable
condition of the Coal Club, and the Clothing Club, and the Soup
Kitchen, and that kind of thing, which induced me to promise to do all
that I could for the Good Cause.

Still, when later Mr Spencer informed me that it was suggested that _A
Pair of Knickerbockers_ should be one of the pieces, and I had read it,
and understood that it was proposed I should play Mrs Melrose to his Mr
Melrose, I admit that I was taken aback. It was at this point that
George came on the scene. When he heard, there was quite a storm.

"Do you actually propose to appear upon the public stage attired in a
pair of knickerbockers?"

"Do you call the Assembly Room at the 'Lion' the public stage?" I
asked.

"I do, since anyone will be admitted who chooses to pay at the door."

"I'm sure there's nothing wrong in the piece or the rector wouldn't
allow it to be played."

"The rector! You're not engaged to the rector, you're engaged to me,
and I forbid you to do it."

It was then I made that crushing retort about not being his wife yet.
Still, at the bottom of my heart I felt that there was reason in what
he said. I doubt if any girl ever has looked well--really well!--in
knickerbockers, and I was sure that they would not suit me. I had not
the faintest intention of appearing either in public or private in any
garment of any kind whatever which I knew would make me look a fright.
So I made a great show of my willingness to meet George's wishes on
every possible occasion, and promised that I would not act in _A Pair
of Knickerbockers_. He was delighted, and--well, we had rather a nice
time.

When I told Mr Spencer of my decision I quite expected that he would
not like it. On the contrary, he did not seem to mind in the least;
indeed, he seemed to be almost relieved.

"That decides it!" he exclaimed. "Your refusal is the last straw; it
brings me to the sticking point; now I have made up my mind."

Then he made of me a confidant.

It appeared that he was a dramatist; he had written a play. It was most
interesting. He had sent it to the manager of every theatre in London,
and to a good many out of London too, and not one of them would bring
it out. Which showed that there was something in it.

"Because," as he explained, "it's notorious that a man who's an
outsider, and by that I mean one who wasn't born on the stage, or
doesn't own a newspaper, or fifty thousand a year, or a handle to his
name, has no more chance of getting a decent play accepted than he has
of flying to the moon. If this play of mine was piffle, or the usual
kind of stodge, then it might have a chance of being produced. The mere
fact that it has not been produced, and probably never will be, proves
that it is out of the common ruck."

He looked so handsome as he said this, and so full of scorn for the
people who were incapable of seeing merit when it stared them in the
face, that I felt a wave of sympathy sweep over me.

"Not that it matters," he continued. "In this world nothing matters."

It seemed rather a sweeping assertion. But I understood the bitterness
which called it forth. So, with one fleeting glance out of the corner
of my eye to let him know that there was one who comprehended, I
suffered him to go on. And he went on.

"However, where there's a will there's a way, and when a man's set on
gaining his end it's hard to stop him--if he is a man! There's more
roads lead to Rome than one. My play shall see the light in the same
fashion that many a work of genius has done before. Who knows how and
where Shakespeare's first play was produced? We'll act it at the
'Lion.'"

"How splendid!" I exclaimed.

"Mind you," he added with a modesty which did him credit, "I don't say
that my play's a work of genius."

"But I'm sure it is."

He shook his head.

"Frankly, it's not. In fact, it's a musical comedy in one act."

"But a musical comedy may be a work of genius."

He regarded me with what I felt almost amounted to an air of mystery.

"Did you ever know a musical comedy that was?"

"Yours may be an exception to the rule."

He suddenly seemed to make up his mind to adopt an air of perfect
frankness.

"I know whereabouts my piece is as well as anyone living, and
I give you my word it's not a work of genius. It's a kind of a
go-as-you-please sort of thing; you'll see what I mean when you've read
it."

I did see; or, rather, it would be more correct to say that I did not
see. I told him so when we met again.

"I found it so difficult to make out what it's all about; it seems so
vague. Nothing that anybody does seems to have any connection with
anything that anybody else does."

The way in which he received my criticism was charming; he did not show
the slightest sign of being hurt.

"You think that's a fault?" he said.

"It does appear to be rather a disadvantage. You know when people go to
the theatre they like to have some idea of what they're looking at."

"I suppose they do. The fact is, that that's where the trouble was--I
got stuck. When anyone had been doing anything I couldn't think what
they ought to do next, so I started someone else doing something else
instead. That's why I said it was a kind of a go-as-you-please. You
observe I call it _A Lover's Quarrel_. Don't you think it's rather a
good title?"

"It's not a bad title. But I don't understand which the lovers are
supposed to be, or where the quarrel comes in."

"Perhaps not. You see the title was used in a sort of general sense." A
bright idea seemed all at once to strike him. I was beginning to
suspect that that was a kind of thing which did not strike him very
often. "I tell you what--you've got the dramatic instinct--couldn't you
give me a hint or two? What I want is a collaborator."

I felt convinced that he wanted something.

"Of course, I'm quite without experience. I think you're rash in
crediting me with a dramatic instinct. I'm not sure that I even know
what you mean. But I'll look through it again and see if I can be of
any use."

"Do! and, mind you, do with it as you like; turn it inside out; cut it
to pieces; anything! I know you'll make a first-rate thing of it. And I
tell you what, we'll announce ourselves as joint authors."

In a weak moment--he certainly had very seductive eyes!--I yielded what
amounted to a tacit consent. I read his play again, and came to the
conclusion that while, as it stood, it was absolute rubbish, it yet
contained that of which something might be made. I re-wrote the thing
from beginning to end. What a time I had while I was in the throes of
composition! and what a time everyone else had who came within a mile
of me! I was scarcely on speaking terms with a single creature, and
when anyone tried to speak to me I felt like biting them.

When it was finished Mr Spencer was in ecstasies.

"It's splendid! magnificent! there's nothing like it on the London
stage!" I admit that I thought that that was possible. "There's no
mistake about it, not the slightest shred of a scintilla of doubt,
we've written a masterpiece!"

The "we" was good, and as for the "masterpiece," it was becoming
plainer and plainer that Mr Frank Spencer was one of those persons who
are easily pleased; which, as that sort is exceedingly rare, was, after
all, a fault on the right side.

"Everybody," he went on, "will be enraptured with it; they won't be
able to help it; they're absolutely bound to be."

I wished I felt as certain of that as he did. Indeed I doubted so much
if rapture would represent the state of mind of a certain gentleman
that, in the daily letter which I always wrote to him, I never even
hinted that I was engaged on a work of collaboration; though, for a
time, that work filled my mind to the extinction of everything else.

"Now," continued my co-author, "the thing is to cast it, and, mind you,
this will want casting, this will; no round pegs in square holes. We
don't want to have a fine play spoilt by anyone incapable; everyone
will have to be as good as we can get."

Although he spoke as if it would be a task of the most delicate
kind--and, for my part, I did not see how, in the neighbourhood of West
Marden, we were going to cast it at all; yet, in actual practice he
seemed to me to make nothing of the matter. When he came with what he
called the "proposed cast" I was really amazed.

"Do you seriously mean, Mr Spencer, that these are the people whom you
suggest should act in our play?"

"Certainly. I've thought this thing out right to the bed-rock, and I
assure you that we couldn't do better. Of course, you must remember
that I shall do a good bit myself. I fancy you'll be surprised when you
see me act. I haven't much voice, but it isn't voice, you know, that's
wanted in this sort of thing; and though I can't say that I'm a regular
dancer I can throw my feet about in a way that'll tickle 'em. And then
there's you--you'll be our winning card; the star of the evening.
You'll carry off the thing on your own shoulders, with me to help you.
The others, they'll just fill in the picture, as it were."

"I do hope, Mr Spencer, that you won't rely on me too much. I've told
you, again and again, that I've never acted in my life, and have not
the faintest notion if I can or can't."

Putting his hands into his trouser pockets he tried to patronise me as
if he were a wiseacre of two hundred instead of a mere child of twenty.

"My dear Miss Wilson, I know an actress when I see one."

"You have an odd way of expressing yourself. I hope that you don't mean
that when you see me you see an actress; because I assure you that I
trust that you do nothing of the kind."

I wondered what George would think and say if he heard that
hare-brained young simpleton accusing me of looking like an actress.

"You give my words a wrong construction. I only meant to express my
profound conviction that in your hands everything will be perfectly
safe."

"I can only say, Mr Spencer, that I hope you're right, because when I
think of some of the people whose names you have put upon this piece of
paper I have my doubts. I see you have Mrs Lascelles to act Dora
Egerton, who is supposed to be a young girl, and who has to both sing
and dance. I should imagine that Mrs Lascelles never sang a note; her
speaking voice is as hoarse as a crow's. And as for dancing, why, she
must weigh I don't know what, and is well past forty."

"There's nothing else Mrs Lascelles could act."

"Nothing else she could act! Act! I'm perfectly convinced that she
can't act anything."

Mr Spencer winked, which was a reprehensible habit--one of several
which I was meaning to tell him I objected to.

"She'll take two rows of reserved seats."

"Indeed, is that her qualification? Then am I to take it that the
qualifications of all the rest of the people whom you have down on your
piece of paper are of a similar kind?"

His manner immediately became confidential; he was very fond of
becoming confidential. It was a fondness which I was commencing to
perceive that it might become advisable to check before it went too
far. There were moments when I never knew what he was going to say. I
felt that he might say anything.

"You see, between ourselves, on the strict QT, it's like this; if we
want to make the show the howling success it ought to be, what we've
got to do is to see that everyone in the cast represents money."

"I don't understand."

I did not.

"Oh, yes, you do; only--I know!" He winked again; there was positively
an impertinent twinkle in his eye. "You can see as far through a brick
wall as anybody, when you like, only sometimes you don't like. What
we've got to do is to fill the Assembly Rooms with money, and with more
money, mind you, than the room holds. And the way to do that is to get
the people to act whose names I have got down on that piece of paper."

"I still don't follow you. However, since you are managing the affair I
suppose it's no business of mine. You are responsible for its success,
not I."

"Exactly; you've hit it! I am responsible, and you may take it from me
that in a little matter of this sort I know my way about. It's going to
be a success--a bumper."

In spite of his confidence, when we came to actual business, things did
not begin auspiciously.

By way of a commencement, he read the piece to the people who were
going to act it. He said that dramatists always did do so, and that it
was necessary to do everything in regular order. The reading took place
at Mrs Lascelles's house, The Grange. I had not been in the house
before, and from the manner in which she received me I inclined to the
opinion that she would just as soon I had not come into it then. As I
looked round the room I could not but feel that, for the performance of
a musical comedy, Mr Spencer had gathered together a truly curious
company. I began to wish that I had had no hand in the collaboration.
Before he had finished the reading that wish took a very much more
definite form.

He was not a good reader; that fact forced itself upon one's attention
before he had got through three lines. But had he been the finest
reader in the world it would not have made a great deal of difference.
A more dreadful set of people to read a musical comedy to one could not
by any possibility imagine. The jokes--especially as he read them!--did
not strike even me as being very good ones, and sometimes they were a
little frivolous. What does one expect in a musical comedy? Had they
been the finest jokes conceivable it would not have mattered. I do not
believe there was a person present who could have seen a joke at all,
even with the aid of a surgical operation. Each time there was a touch
of frivolity the faces of the audience grew graver. And as for the
songs! Everybody knows the kind of songs one does hear in musical
comedies. The words are not suggestive of either Shakespeare or the
musical glasses. I had planned mine on the same lines. There was one
chorus which struck me as rather catchy.


             "It tickled me so I had to smile;
              I told the girl she was full of guile.
              She said, 'What ho!'
              I replied, 'Oh, no!
              To put salt on my tail you must walk a mile!'"


I do not pretend that that's poetry, or anything but nonsense. You
expect nonsense in a musical comedy. But when Mr Spencer had read two
verses, Mrs Parker, who is the wife of the chairman of our local bench,
rose from her chair with an expression of countenance calculated to
sour all the milk for miles around, and observed--in such a tone of
voice!--

"Excuse me, Mr Spencer. I must go. When I received your invitation I
did not expect this kind of thing."

"What kind of thing?"

Mr Spencer looked up with a start. It was rapidly becoming more and
more obvious to me that he was one of those young men who are incapable
of seeing even as far as the tips of their own noses. He had been
stammering and stumbling on in apparently sublime unconsciousness of
the sort of reception which our masterpiece was receiving. The
singularity of Mrs Parker's bearing seemed to take him entirely by
surprise.

"May I ask, Mr Spencer, what you call the--stuff you have been
reading?"

"Stuff? You mean the piece? It's a musical comedy."

"Indeed. I haven't noticed any music yet, and as for comedy--there is
none. It appears to me to be a mere tissue of meaningless vulgarity.
Where did you get it from?"

"Miss Wilson and I wrote it together--that is, she did the greater part
of it. In fact, Miss Wilson practically wrote it all."

Which was true enough, but he need not have put it quite so
emphatically just at that moment.

"Miss Wilson?" Mrs Parker put up her glasses and she looked at me. How
she looked! "I have not the pleasure of Miss Wilson's acquaintance, but
I cannot help thinking that she might have been better employed."

Then she went. Fancy my sensations!

Mr Spencer must have been pachydermatous. He seemed unable to feel
either on his own account or on mine. Candid criticism of that
ultra-candid sort was to him like water on a duck's back. Directly Mrs
Parker was out of the room he turned to Mrs Lascelles.

"I don't think it's so bad, do you?--considering!"

"Considering." She said this with an accent for which I could have
thrown something at her. That wretched boy only smiled. It seemed to be
his _role_ in life--to smile. Mrs Lascelles was good enough to add a
sort of saving clause. "I daresay it will be better on the stage than
it is off."

Mr Spencer jumped at the opening.

"Of course! On the stage it will be simply ripping! It's meant to be
acted, not read; no good play ever reads well. The better it is the
worse it reads."

"This one doesn't read well, does it? In any case I think you made a
mistake in asking Mrs Parker to take part in a piece of the kind."

"It was a mistake, wasn't it?"

That young man beamed as if he were congratulating himself on having
done something exceedingly clever. In return, Mrs Lascelles observed
him with an air which was not exactly beaming.

"Frankly, Mr Spencer, I don't see much of a part in the piece for me."

As a matter of fact there was no part; there was just a song and a
dance and nothing else. But I, personally, was convinced that that was
too much. That extraordinary young man, however, put the matter in a
way which staggered me.

"You see, Mrs Lascelles, it's like this: your part at present is simply
outlined--the outline has to be filled in. That's the advantage of a
piece like this, you can do that so easily. What I want is your idea of
what you'd like the part to be, and then I'll write it up. See what I
mean?"

I did not see what he meant. Under the circumstances I think I was to
be congratulated on having been able to hold my peace--till later.

The reading limped to a finish. Then came the chorus. So far as I was
able to gather, not a creature thought anything of the play, and they
thought still less of the parts which had been allotted them. Mr
Spencer scattered promises like leaves in autumn. It made my ears burn
to listen to him. I was not so pliable. For instance, Major Hardy came
up to me to make some truly sensible remarks.

"Candidly, Miss Wilson"--everybody was candid, it was in the air--"my
idea was that we should represent _Hamlet_. I don't know if you are
aware that I am by way of being a Shakespearian scholar. I have formed
my own notion of the Prince of Denmark. I fancy that I might give shape
and substance to that notion if I were allowed to read the part. I
should have to read it. Between ourselves, my memory is so imperfect
that I could never hope to get anything off by heart. You will
therefore see that it is something of a jump to the--eh--kind of thing
we have just been listening to. So far as I understand it is proposed
that I should play a negro minstrel. Now Mrs Hardy would never permit
me to black my face--never! She'd be afraid that it wouldn't come off
again. On some points she is extremely nervous. Could the part not be
transformed into that of a Highland piper? I have the kilts, and I have
the pipes, and I can do some remarkable things with the bagpipes when I
am once fairly started. Sometimes it takes me a little time to get into
my stride, apt to make two or three false starts, don't you know; wind
goes wrong or something, but really, people seem to find that the most
amusing part of it."

I informed him that the character could not be "transformed" into a
Highland piper; that as for bagpipes, they were out of the question. I
had heard of his "pipes." He was fond of playing on them in remote
portions of his grounds; people had mistaken them for foghorns. In
fact, I tried to convey the impression that I was not to be trifled
with. From the look which came on his face I fancy that, to a great
extent, I succeeded.

What does anyone suppose was the first remark which Mr Spencer
addressed to me when at last we were alone together?--with all the
assurance in the world!

"Went off magnificently, didn't it? I told you it would; with a regular
bang!"

My attitude, when confronted by this amazing observation, was one of
polar frigidity.

"I noticed the bang; it was one of those bangs which accompany a final
explosion. Of course, I need scarcely observe that, so far as I am
concerned, the whole affair is at an end."

"Miss Wilson! you're joking! You're not going to let them see that
you're afraid of them?"

"Afraid! Mr Spencer, you use the most extraordinary language. Why
should I be afraid? I beg to inform you that I am afraid of nothing,
and of no one."

"I'm sure of it! All you have to do is to show a bold front and you'll
do as you like with the lot of them."

"So far I've not observed much of the bold front about you. You kowtow
to everyone as if you liked nothing so much as being trampled on."

"That's diplomacy; bound to be diplomatic. This sort of thing always
begins like this."

"Does it? Then I wish you'd told me so at the beginning. I hate
diplomacy."

"Miss Wilson, you have the dramatic instinct--"

"Mr Spencer, I wish you wouldn't talk nonsense. I believe you say that
to everyone. I heard you tell Mrs Lascelles that when she appears on
the stage she'll hold the audience in the hollow of her hand."

"So she will. She's going to appear in short skirts. When they catch
sight of her they'll kill themselves with laughing."

When he said that a dreadful suspicion flashed across my mind that he
was making fun of us all, including me; having a joke at our expense. I
had little doubt, after what I had seen and heard that afternoon, that
he was perfectly capable of such disgraceful conduct. I did not
hesitate to let him know at once what I suspected.

"Mr Spencer, is it your intention that we shall all of us make
laughing-stocks of ourselves for your amusement? Because, if so, I beg
to state that I, for one, decline. I heard what you said to Mrs
Lascelles; I heard you tell her that she would make the hit of the
piece."

"So she will; a hit's made in all kinds of ways."

"Do you dare to tell me that all the while you were intentionally
leading her on to making a complete idiot of herself?"

No eel that ever lived could compare with that young man for
slipperiness. He always had an explanation handy--the more impossible
the position the readier the explanation was.

"It's like this. If people are bent on making fools of themselves, and
will only bite your nose off if you try to stop them, what are you to
do? I tell you that the burden of the piece will be on your shoulders
and mine before the night comes round, and we'll carry it off. But it's
no good telling people that now, it has to be managed. Let's wait till
they've got themselves into a fine old hole, and all the tickets are
sold. All the country-side will crowd to see them make fools of
themselves. Then, when they've muddled themselves into a state of
semi-idiocy, they'll come and beg us--as a favour--to do what they
wouldn't let us do at any price if we were to propose it now. You leave
it to me. I've perhaps got a funny way of my own of doing things, but
I've a knack of getting where I want at the end. You keep your eyes
wide open and you'll see some sport."

He closed one of his eyes that very moment and winked at me again. It
was clear enough that he was a reprehensible young rascal, and all the
while there was a doubt at the back of my head as to whether he would
not wind up by landing me in a disagreeable situation. But, as I think
I have already said, he had such a way about him, and such a plausible
air, and he really was so good-looking, that he actually succeeded in
persuading me--after all that had already happened--to continue my
connection with that miserable play.

We had the first rehearsal. Oh, dear, it was dreadful! Not only were we
all at sixes and sevens--no one knew anything of his or her part, or
had the faintest notion what to do--but not a creature seemed to have
an idea of how to put matters even a little into shape. As for that
Spencer boy, he was worse than useless. It seemed to me that he took
either an imbecile or a malicious pleasure in making confusion worse
confounded. As for order! Everybody was talking together, and as no one
could get anyone to pay the least attention to what he or she was
saying, by degrees some of them began to sulk.

"You ought," I yelled to Mr Spencer when, for a moment, I succeeded in
catching him by the coat sleeve, "for the first rehearsal to have
called the principal performers only; we shall never get on like this."

Although the piece was only in one act there was a long cast, and a
tremendous chorus, besides no end of people who were just supposed to
dress up and walk on and off. "Get half the parish on the stage, and
the other half is bound to come and laugh at them"--that was Mr
Spencer's idea. The consequence was that that ridiculous little
platform at the "Lion," which was going to be the stage, was so crammed
with people that there was scarcely room to move, so that the
proceedings almost resembled a scrimmage in a game of Rugby football.

Miss Odger, who was standing by, heard what I said, although Mr Spencer
apparently continued oblivious of my presence. Quite uninvited she
answered for him.

"And pray, Miss Wilson, who would you describe as the principal
performers? I suppose you, of course, are one."

She certainly was not another, she was only in the chorus.

"Anyhow, Miss Odger, one would hardly speak of the members of the
chorus as principals, would one?"

"Is that so? I had no idea. In my ignorance I thought we were all
supposed to be equal. Since we are all doing our best I did not know
that some of us were to be treated as inferiors. May, did you?"

She turned to Miss Taylor, who, I was aware, hated the sight of me, as
her answer showed.

"Didn't you know, my dear, that Miss Wilson not only wrote most of the
piece, but proposes to act most of it too? I daresay she will let Mr
Spencer do a little, but the rest of us, I imagine, are only to form a
kind of background."

"If that is the case the sooner it becomes generally known the better.
Miss Wilson will find that she will be at liberty to do it all by
herself, though she may have to do it without the background."

It was no use my attempting to match myself against them at saying
disagreeable things there, even had my dignity permitted it, which it
did not. I simply walked away.

That rehearsal, which really never was a rehearsal at all, ended in
something like a general squabble. Everybody went away on pretty bad
terms with everybody else. I doubt if one single creature left that
room in a good temper, except Frank Spencer. He seemed absolutely
radiant. I should not have been a scrap surprised to learn that,
directly the last of us was out of sight, he had to hold his hands to
his sides to keep himself from bursting with laughter.

The next day, as regards my share in the proposed entertainment, there
came the final straw in the shape of a visit from his mother. Such a
visit! Mrs Spencer was an individual to whom I never had felt drawn. A
little, fussy woman, with a fidgety manner, who was always tangling
herself up in her own sentences. When she was announced, what she
wanted with me I could not guess. It was with indescribable sensations
that I gradually learnt.

"Miss Wilson," she began, "you are an orphan." I admitted it. From the
way in which she was regarding me she might have been expecting me to
deny it. "Therefore, much should be excused you. Providence does not
wish us to press hardly on the motherless." I did not know what she
meant, or why she was nodding her head as if it were hung on springs.
"My dear young lady, I would ask you to excuse me if, on this occasion,
I speak in a manner calculated to show you that I appreciate your
situation, if I ask you to regard me as if I were your mother." I
stared. I could not at all fancy Mrs Spencer as my mother. But that was
only the beginning. What she proceeded to say next took my breath away.
"I know my boy. I know his faults. I know his virtues. He has many fine
qualities." Had he? I could only say I had not noticed them. "But it
has not been always altogether fortunate for him that he is such a
universal favourite--especially with young women." She looked at me in
a style which made me go both hot and cold. "He has generous instincts;
noble impulses; a natural inclination to do only what is right and
proper. But--alas!--he is of a pliant disposition, as clay in the hands
of the modeller; easily led astray."

"Is that so? I am bound to admit that your son has not struck me as
being a very vertebrate creature, but I don't see what his
peculiarities have to do with me."

"Miss Wilson, I don't like to hear you talk like that. I don't like
it."

"Mrs Spencer!"

"It shows a callous disposition, especially in one who is, apparently,
so young."

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean perfectly well. Your own conscience is telling
you, as you sit there, that you have taken advantage of his simplicity
to induce my boy to do what he never would have done if he had been
left alone."

"Mrs Spencer! This is monstrous!"

"It is no use your jumping up from your chair in that excitable manner
and raising your voice. I am here to do my duty as a mother, and as the
wife of the rector of this parish. Already your machinations have
created a scandal, and you have set the whole place by the ears. Can
you deny that you have entangled my son in a dreadful business, the end
and aim of which is to perform in public a stage play for which you are
responsible?"

"I presume that you are aware that you are alluding to Mr Frank
Spencer's own musical comedy."

"It is not straightforward of you to attempt to take up such an
attitude, Miss Wilson. Is it not a fact that for the play--which Mrs
Parker informs me is of an absolutely impossible kind--"

"Oh, Mrs Parker was your informant, was she?"

"Certainly. She was never more shocked in her life. To think that she
should have been invited--actually invited!--to listen to such dreadful
stuff!"

"It was your son who invited her; it was he who read the dreadful
stuff, of which he is part author."

"Miss Wilson, it is unworthy of you to try to put the blame upon my
boy, who is a mere lad."

"He's older than I am."

"In years, but we do not count by years only. I insist upon your
telling me if for that dreadful play you are not principally, and
practically, solely responsible?"

"I certainly have tried to make sense of your son's nonsense."

"And you really propose to perform it in public?"

"For the benefit of the parochial charities."

"For the benefit of the parochial charities!" You should have seen the
expression which was on her funny little face as she repeated my words.
"Miss Wilson, you dare to say such a thing! When you are perfectly well
aware that neither the rector nor I would ever permit a farthing of any
money obtained by such means to be devoted to such a purpose!"

"This is the most extraordinary thing I ever heard. Don't you know that
the inception of the whole affair is your son's? He came and begged me
to take part in an entertainment in aid of the parochial charities; he
forced me to read his wretched play--"

"Oh, Miss Wilson! Miss Wilson! How can you talk to me in such a
manner!" She actually wrung her hands, or seemed to. "Your painful
behaviour compels me to ask if it is a fact that you are engaged to be
married?"

"I am, though I do not see what that has to do with the matter under
discussion."

"Then, under such circumstances, do you think it right and proper to
encourage my poor boy?"

"Encourage your poor boy! I!"

I thought when she said that, that I should have had a fit.

"He is always with you; it is common talk. He is continually at your
house--"

"Do you imagine that I invite him?"

I believe that I screamed at her.

"He has a photograph of yours in his cigarette-case; another in his
pocket-book; another in his desk; a fourth on his bedroom mantelpiece."

"That's where my photographs have vanished to! Now I understand! Let me
inform you, Mrs Spencer, that if, as you say, your son has my
photographs, he has stolen them. Yes, stolen them--without asking my
permission, and without my knowledge--like any common thief."

I do not deny that I lost my temper, but who, under the circumstances,
would not have done? We had a brisk discussion. When we parted it was
with a mutually-expressed hope that it was to meet no more.

Soon afterwards I went out to get some stamps. Old Bunting, who keeps
the general shop and the post-office, received me with what he perhaps
meant for an ingratiating simper.

"I hear, miss, that we're to have lively doings up at the Assembly
Rooms; real old-fashioned ballet dancing and all sorts of things."

"I don't know what you mean, Mr Bunting."

I did not.

"Regular music-hall performances, so I'm told; short skirts and no end.
It seems a bit unusual for ladies and gentlemen to go in for that kind
of thing, but you'll have the place crammed to the doors, I promise you
so much."

When I left Bunting's almost the first person I encountered was Mr
Frank Spencer. I had it out with him then and there.

"Mr Spencer, will you at once return those four photographs of mine
which you have stolen, or will it be necessary to communicate with the
police?" He had the assurance to pretend to look surprised, but then he
had assurance enough to pretend anything. "Your mother informs me that
the whole idea of a performance in aid of the parochial charities is an
invention of your own; on your father's behalf she repudiates it
altogether. How dare you attempt to drag me into such a thing? As for
that miserable musical comedy of yours--"

"Of ours."

If I could believe my senses there was still a twinkle in his eye.

"Of yours; you will give me your word of honour that you will destroy
it at once, or I promise you that you shall hear from my solicitors."

"Really, Miss Wilson, I think it's rather hard of you to assail a
fellow tooth and nail like this."

"You think I'm hard on you, do you? Here comes someone who, I fancy,
you will find is of a different opinion." For who should come sailing
into sight but George. Although I had not the faintest notion where he
had sprung from, on the whole the sight of him was not unwelcome.
"George," I began, "Mr Spencer has stolen four of my photographs. I
want him to return them to me at once."

"So this is Mr Spencer." George looked him up and down in a style which
was not exactly flattering. "I am sure, Mr Spencer, that it is
unnecessary for me to emphasise Miss Wilson's request."

"Quite. Here are two of the photographs in question." He took one from
a cigarette-case, and a second from a pocket-book, as his mother had
said. That boy's audacity! "I will see that the other two are forwarded
directly I reach home."

I still addressed myself to George.

"Mr Spencer appears desirous of associating me with a scrawl which he
calls a musical comedy. Will you request him to see that the manuscript
of the thing is entirely destroyed?"

"You hear, Mr Spencer?"

"Perfectly. I will do better than Miss Wilson asks. I will send the
'scrawl' in question with the two photographs. She will then be able to
do with it what she pleases. While apologising for any inconvenience
which Miss Wilson may have been occasioned, I would beg to be allowed
to add that I think that Miss Wilson is disposed to regard me with
almost undue severity. She forgets how hard up for amusement a fellow
may be in a place like this. My idea was to get her to join me in
playing off a joke on the aboriginals which wouldn't be forgotten for
years. I can only express my regret that she should have taken up the
point of view she has."

The impertinent young rascal walked off with his head in the air, and a
look on his face which nearly suggested that he was the injured party.
And, of course, George proceeded to lecture me.

"So this is your idea of taking part in amateur theatricals on behalf
of the parochial charities!"

"It's not my idea at all," I retorted. "You know very well it isn't."

But he refused to admit that he knew anything of the kind. He would
keep on making the most uncalled-for observations, instead of showing
me the sympathy of which I stood so much in need. We almost quarrelled.

Mr Spencer sent back the photographs and the musical comedy. I tore
that into shreds and burnt them every one. But I did not hear the last
of it for ages. It created quite a schism in the place. All sorts of
people were offended; I have not the faintest notion why. Although some
of them even went so far as to attempt to lay the blame on me. I have
been the victim of a good deal of injustice in my life, but that really
was the most unjustifiable injustice of all.



                               STAGGERS


A grey, watery sky, through which there are occasional glimpses of the
sun. A sloping and a muddy field. A large crowd. I suppose it is
attributable to the proximity of the village; but I had no idea that
there would be such a gathering. A long line of vehicles in the
adjoining lane--principally dogcarts. Most of them seem to be as full
as they can hold, occasionally fuller. Philipson informs me that the
occupants of these vehicles intend to follow the hunt by road; he adds
that they will probably see more of it than we shall. His observation
occasions me surprise. If it be possible to hunt in a comfortable
dog-cart, along decent roads, in a civilised manner, why should he have
induced me to spend a guinea on the hire of an animal which, I am
convinced, is of uncertain temper?

I was aware that meets were popular functions, but I had no notion they
were so popular as this. It may be owing to the fact that we are only
about twenty miles from town, but the place is inundated by what can
only be described as an actual rabble. Men and boys, and even women and
girls, line the hedges, many of them without hats, or, in the case of
the latter, bonnets. The inhabitants seemed to have turned out _en
masse_. They escorted us from the station much in the fashion in which
a crowd escorts a regimental band through the streets of London, only
they got in our way much more than the crowd is ever allowed to get in
the way of the band. There was no footpath in the lane, and I am sure
that sometimes as many as half a dozen people were under my horse's
feet at once. A strong feeling of sociability seems to reign among the
spectators; and, as several of them are shouting to each other right
across the field, the noise is considerable. Some of the remarks which
fall upon my ears can scarcely be regarded as flattering by the
enthusiastic sportsmen present who are members of the hunt. Among all
these people the horsemen seem to be in an insignificant minority. Yet
there are quite a number of them, too.

In a cleared space in the centre of the field is a cart. It looks very
much like the carts which are used to convey bulls through
thoroughfares in town. Only, unlike those, this is roofed over. It is
also more elegantly fashioned. The wheels, which are tolerably clean,
are painted bright scarlet, while the cart itself is chastely decorated
in two shades of green. Some little distance behind it, in the charge
of the huntsman and two whippers-in, are the hounds. I am bound to say
that those sagacious animals appear to me to be taking less interest in
the proceedings than one might reasonably expect.

Presently an elderly gentleman, who weighs, perhaps, seventeen or
eighteen stone, and who is attired in magnificent apparel, as befits
the Master of the Hunt, gets out of the carriage in which he has driven
to the ground, and scrambles on to the back of a horse which promises
weight-carrying power rather than speed. "Ready, Jenkins!" he cries. A
respectable-looking individual, in a long green coat, which he wears
ostentatiously unbuttoned in front, goes to the rear of the deer-cart,
and, presumably, unfastens the door. A hush, as of expectation,
follows. Nothing, however, happens. The man in the green coat seems to
be having an argument with something inside the cart.

"Twist his tail!" shouts a voice in the crowd--decidedly a boy's.

"The brute won't uncart," says Philipson.

I immediately have visions. I think of the tales I have read of the
cruelties which always attend stag-hunts; of the poor, frenzied,
frightened creature tearing madly, blindly, beside itself with terror,
to escape the merciless pursuit of the ferocious, eager hounds. Only a
short time ago I had read somewhere a piteous account of a stag which,
in its agony, had broken its heart and died. And they called it sport!
I had half a mind to express myself on the subject, there and then,
strongly; to declare that I, for one, would not take part in such an
orgy of senseless cruelty. I had my hand upon the rein, and was about
to turn my horse's head stationwards, resolute to forfeit the guinea
which I had paid for its hire rather than continue to be a constituent
fraction of such a ruthless throng, when the deer uncarted. I fancy
that the man in the green coat punched it in the ribs, or adopted some
similar means of persuasion. But the animal certainly did get out of
the cart.

In appearance it was not all my imagination had pictured it. It was
undoubtedly a deer, but of what kind I have no notion. I am no sort of
an authority on the subject, but I apprehend that this one was of a
breed which does not run to size. When one thinks of a stag one thinks
of antlers; if that stag had antlers, then they were in what may be
described as an apologetic state. I protest that I saw nothing of them.
What struck me most was the animal's demeanour. Whether it
was paralysed by fear, or by forebodings of the horrible fate that
was in store for it, is more than I can say. When it got out of the
cart, it walked about a dozen feet, then stopped to crop the grass.
"Hi-hi-hi-i-i!" shouted the crowd, unnecessarily, it seemed to me. Even
the hounds showed signs of interest. Some of them began to bark quite
noisily. Everyone was excited--except the deer. It looked up, as if
actuated by a certain indifferent curiosity, went on about another
dozen feet, then stopped to crop the grass again. The excitement was
increasing. At this rate of progression the creature would be out of
the field by the time "the shades of night were falling." The man in
the green coat, coming to the front of the deer-cart, took down the
whip which was beside the driver's seat. With the whip in his hand he
walked after the deer. When he had got within a foot or so of it, he
cracked the whip in the air with the report of a pistol-shot. The deer
looked up, as if surprised and even pained at such conduct. The man
cracked the whip a second time. The deer seemed annoyed. Kicking up its
heels like a skittish colt, it ambled down the slope and over the
hedge.

Immediately the whole place was in a turmoil. The vehicles in the lane
began to move. A large proportion of the crowd streamed across the
field with the apparent intention of seizing the deer by the heels
before it had a chance of getting away. The hounds barked; men shouted;
boys whistled. It was a scene of pleasing confusion. In a few seconds,
I take it, the word to start was given, the huntsman blew his horn, and
the hounds, barking as if with the intent to split their throats, went
rushing after the people, who already were rushing after the deer. The
hunt was off. I, also, was nearly off, because, in the muddle, which
was the most marked feature of the moment, a man in pink cannoned
against me, and almost succeeded in laying my steed and its rider low.
"Look out where you're coming to!" he exclaimed, as he went pushing
past me--which struck me, then, as being the most unreasonable remark I
had ever had addressed to me.

When I had had time to regain my own and my horse's equilibrium, I
perceived that Philipson, some little distance off, was being borne
away in the seething crowd of riders. Looking back towards me he waved
his whip. "Come on!" he cried. I came on. It was about time I did.
Everyone, with one accord, was making for the gate which was in the
corner of the field, and as I, unwittingly, was in the direct road to
it, perfect strangers were addressing me with that absence of restraint
which we look for only in the case of our lifelong friends. The process
of getting through the gate reminded me not a little of the crowd which
one sees outside the pit door of a popular theatre. Everyone seemed
anxious to get through first, and everyone seemed to be under the
impression that everybody else was doing his best to hinder him. I
daresay it took me five minutes to reach the other side of it. When I
did, I quite expected that Philipson would have been with the hounds, a
mile away. However, somewhat to my surprise, I found him awaiting me,
like a true friend, but a little wanting on the point of temper.

"You've been a nice time!" he observed.

"It hasn't been my idea of a nice time," I ventured to observe.

It hadn't.

"We may as well go home," he went on further to remark, "for all the
chances we have of seeing any sport to-day."

If that indeed were so, we, at least, had not the galley to ourselves.
We all scampered across the field, scattering as we went. Through
another gate, across one or two more fields, until at a sudden dip in
the ground we found ourselves confronted by a wire fence. We had not
seen a sign of the hunt. Obviously the fence was unsurmountable. We
moved along in search of a gate. When found, it proved to be locked,
and of diabolically ingenious construction. To open it was beyond our
powers. One man proposed pulling up a yard or two of the fencing, but
as he made no attempt to put his own proposal into execution, we let it
pass. The language employed was unprintable. We separated, Philipson
and I going off in search of a hedge--or of what, I believe, is called
upon the stage a "practicable" gate; Philipson, on the way, being more
voluminous on the subject of wire fencing than I ever thought he could
have been.

We discovered ourselves, at last, to be in a lane, though we had not
the faintest notion of where we were, or of where the hunt was either.
However, we trotted on, as if we still entertained hopes of being in at
whatever it may be which, in "stagging," takes the place of death.
Suddenly we reached a point at which another lane turned into ours. As
we did so, three men in pink came tearing along it as if they were
riding for their lives. At sight of us they almost pulled their horses
back upon their haunches.

"Where are they?" demanded the man in front.

Philipson was able to supply him with but scanty information.

"Haven't seen them since they started," he remarked.

"Confound it!" cried the man.

Off rode the trio, as if the hounds were at their heels. We followed at
a milder pace. We had not gone far before we heard the sound of wheels
approaching from behind us. Looking back, we perceived that three
dog-carts were advancing in Indian file. Judging from the rate at which
they were coming, one might have been excused for supposing that, being
without the fear of pains and penalties for furious driving, they were
matched against time. They slowed when they reached us.

"Where are they?" inquired the driver of the leading vehicle--if he was
not a publican, then I am prepared to assert that he was a butcher.

"Haven't the faintest notion," replied Philipson.

The driver of the second cart struck in. There could not be the shadow
of a doubt as to what he was--"Vet" was written large all over him.

"It's all right, push along, Jim! He's making for the cinder-heaps, I
tell you; I know he is. When the wind's like this, he always makes for
there."

Two girls were in the hindmost cart--probably relations of one or other
of the gentlemen in front. The one who was acting as Jehu waved her
whip impatiently.

"Yes, do let's hurry on! What's the good of hanging about?--we're only
wasting time!"

The procession re-started. I do not remember to have ever seen vehicles
careering along what, I presume, was a public highway, at such a rate
before. You could hardly see the wheels go round. From a purely
spectacular point of view it was exhilarating--really!

"Do you call this stag-hunting?" inquired Philipson, his eyes fixed on
the rapidly retreating dog-carts.

"No," I said, "I don't."

I was unable to tell what prompted his inquiry. It seemed an
uncalled-for one just then. But I could but answer it.

We jogged on for, perhaps, another mile without, it seemed, getting
nearer to anything, or to anywhere, when an astonishing thing took
place. We were still in the lane, and, judging from appearances, we
bade fair to continue in the lane during the remainder of the day. All
at once, without giving us the slightest warning of its approach,
something, springing over the hedge upon our right, alighted on the
road only three or four yards in front of us. It stared at us, and we
at it. Not impossibly, we were the more surprised of the two. Certainly
it was the first to recover its presence of mind. Swerving to one side,
it cleared the hedge upon our left with a degree of agility which did
it credit. It was only after it was over that we realised what it was.

"It's the deer!" cried Philipson.

"It's the deer!" I echoed.

We watched it moving across the field at a pace which, though it
appeared leisurely, a little observation showed us was much faster than
it seemed. While we hesitated, wondering what, under the circumstances,
would be the proper thing for us to do, the whole pack of hounds came
through the hedge over which the deer had first appeared. Without
condescending to notice us, dashing helter-skelter through the hedge in
front of them, they continued the chase.

"Come on!" shouted Philipson.

And I came!

Forcing our horses through a gap in the hedge, we found ourselves in a
position which, from a sportsman's point of view, was as pleasant as it
was unexpected. A glance over my shoulder showed me that we were not
alone. Three or four horsemen, who seemed to be racing, were close
behind us, while a not inconsiderable field tailed off in the distance.
For what seemed three-quarters of an hour but what, probably, was more
like three minutes, we enjoyed something like a burst. Our horses were
comparatively fresh; the going was easy; the quarry, at the start, at
any rate, was well in view. We passed over field after field--they were
divided from each other by apologies for hedges; although, so far as I
am aware, my steed did not pretend to be much of a jumper, the animal
took them in its stride. It seemed as if the blood was growing warmer
in my veins. I felt that this sort of thing really was worth paying a
guinea for; that, if this was "stagging," you might give me as much of
it as you chose. On we went, with such determination that I did not even
slacken rein when a row of hurdles rose right in front of me. I went
at them with the _sang-froid_ of a steeplechaser. My horse negotiated
the obstacle in gallant fashion, clearing it with his forelegs and
bringing it down with his hind. Philipson, who was somewhat in the
rear, with a want of spirit of which I had scarcely thought him capable,
steered for the gap which I had made. Taking full advantage of the
opening I had given him, he crept up to my side.

"This is something like!" he gasped.

"Magnificent!" I answered.

I but voiced the feelings of my heart--it was magnificent. The ground,
which was open pasture, descended in a gentle slope for fully half a
mile. Far away, and getting farther and farther, was the deer. Although
it still seemed to be travelling at its leisure, plainly enough it kept
away from the hounds with ease. A hundred yards behind they followed it
like a single dog. You could not have covered them with the proverbial
pocket-handkerchief, because they were scattered pretty widely, both to
the right and to the left, and behind and in front; but evidently they
were animated by a common purpose, to get on even terms with their
quarry.

"This is too hot to last!" gasped Philipson.

I was becoming conscious of that fact myself. Horses jobbed out at a
guinea a day are not supposed to be Derby fliers; nor are they
guaranteed to keep on at top speed for an indefinite distance. Away we
raced--it was, literally, racing; but, the further we went, the more
clearly I realised that something was going wrong with my animal's
works. I should have to ease up soon or stop entirely. The stag, and
the hounds, and the country together, settled the question for me in a
fashion of their own.

We had come down a reasonably graduated incline, I know not how far,
and I know not how long, when I suddenly perceived that the graduation
of the incline was ceasing to be reasonable. From a mere slope it was
becoming transformed into a positive declivity. Instead of falling,
say, one in a hundred, it was beginning to fall one in ten, and, so far
as I could perceive, bade fair, ere long, to fall one in something less
than two. Indeed, not more than a couple of hundred feet in front of
us, unless appearances were deceptive, the ground dropped away into
what looked uncommonly like a sheer precipice. At any rate, the deer
and hounds, passing over it in their wild career, had disappeared from
view as if by magic. Philipson and I reined up our horses as short as
we could. I do not fancy that either of the brutes objected. As we did
so, several other men came up one after another from behind; the
legitimate hunt they were, who had followed from the first, and whom we
had all but robbed of their laurels. They reined up almost in a line
with us.

"Pretty steep bit here," said a man upon my left.

A man upon his left replied to him.

"Beastly! That's an old quarry ahead; you can get down it, but it isn't
easy. There's the railway in front; there's a devil of a fence, and a
devil of a hedge to tackle before you reach it. Then ditto, ditto on
the other side, then a brook, then a plantation of young trees which
want thinning, and which is not so well adapted to horse exercise as
the maze at Hampton Court."

The speaker's knowledge of the country proved to be correct--at least,
as far as Philipson and I investigated it, which was as far as the old
quarry. It might have been possible to get down it--indeed, the speaker
proved that it was by going down it himself, and inducing three other
idiots to go down with him; but precipice-climbing on horseback had not
been the sort of experience we had been in search of when we went
"stagging." Philipson and I refrained. We remained up above with
several other sensible persons, and watched those enthusiastic
"staggers" tearing--with no slight expenditure of labour--bars out of
the strongly and carefully-constructed fence, the property of the
railway company. Then, with their pocket-knives, they commenced to cut
a gap in the thickest six-foot hedge, an appurtenance of the same
corporation. When we had seen so much, Philipson and I had seen enough.
We induced our horses to retrace their steps uphill.

The descent had been delightful, the ascent was not so pleasant. If it
was half a mile down, it was, certainly, three miles up. Nor was the
sum total of our satisfaction heightened when, after sundry
divagations, we found ourselves in what bore a singular resemblance to
that unending lane which we had originally--and so gladly!--quitted.

"It strikes me," remarked Philipson, as he looked to the right and to
the left of him, "that I've been here before. I seem to know this
lane."

I seemed to know it, too. But it was no use making the worst of things.
I endeavoured to put a fair front upon the matter.

"I dare say if we keep on we shall get somewhere soon."

"I hope we shall," said Philipson, in what struck me as being a tone of
almost needless gloom.

We did keep on--that I do earnestly protest. Not very fast, it is
true--our horses, for reasons of their own, seemed to object to hurry.
I said nothing, and as Philipson, if possible, said still less,
conversation languished. We had pursued the devious twistings of that
eternal lane for what seemed to be ten miles, and which, possibly, were
nearly two, when an exclamation from Philipson roused me to a
consideration of the surroundings.

"Hallo!--I say!--what's that?"

"What's what?"

I followed, with my eyes, the direction in which he was pointing with
his outstretched hand. He had stayed his horse, and was raising himself
in his stirrups with what seemed to be positive excitement. His
interest seemed centred in a flock of sheep which browsed unconcernedly
in the meadow on our left. At the first glance I thought that they were
sheep, "and nothing more." A moment's inspection, however, disclosed
the fact that among them was a creature of another species, a little
larger than themselves, but not much, and of a different shape and
colour. Like them, it grazed, "the world forgetting," if not "by the
world forgot," and seemed to be so very much at its ease, and so
entirely at peace with all the world, that some seconds elapsed before
ocular demonstration succeeded in convincing me that it might be a
relation to the noble animal which a large number of enthusiastic
sportsmen were ardently pursuing.

"It is a deer?"

The words came from me in the form of a query. For some reason the
inquiry seemed to nettle Philipson. He seemed to think that there could
be no possible room for doubt.

"Of course it's a deer. What's more, it's the deer."

"No!"

That did seem to me to be almost inconceivable. How came the creature
there? Why did it not betray more symptoms of anxiety? Did it suppose
that it was out for a holiday, the programme of which included
refreshments by the way? Was it possible that it could already have
forgotten its wild flight from the red-hot ardour of the heated chase?
What had become of the hounds, and the hunt, and the array of
dog-carts, and the excited pedestrian throng? Were we two all that was
left of them?

While such questions passed through my brain, for which I in vain
sought answers, we sat on our horses on one side of the hedge, while on
the other the proud monarch of the woodland cropped the sweet grasses
with the humble sheep, for all the world as if he were one of them.
Plainly, we were more interested in him than he in us; the close
proximity of men caused him no annoyance.

Philipson volunteered an observation.

"I fancy we'd better stop here till the cart comes along. Someone ought
to keep an eye on him. The last time I was out the deer was lost. I
believe it was over two months before he was found again."

It occurred to me that Philipson was proposing that we should act
towards this denizen of the forest glades very much as if we were a
couple of policemen--we were to guard, not to hunt it. The
responsibility which Philipson was desirous that we should assume was
not, however, forced upon us. Before I could say "Yes" or "No" to what
struck me as being his somewhat singular proposition, who should come
trotting along the lane but the Master of the Hunt himself. He was
alone. One perceived that he had not unduly spurred his willing beast.
Philipson nodded. He jerked his thumb over the hedge.

"There's the deer."

"Eh?" The Master pulled up. He looked where Philipson pointed. He saw
that the thing was so. "What the dickens is it doing there?" That is
what I wanted to know. He was a portly man. The peculiar behaviour of
the deer seemed to fill his soul with indignation. His face put on an
extra tinge of ruddiness. "Where're the hounds?"

"I expect the stag threw them off in the forest; we quitted when we
crossed the line and made for it--didn't think it was good enough."

I thought that Philipson's words were neatly chosen; they conveyed the
impression that we had been in the hunt from the beginning, all the
way, to the point alluded to.

"Where's the cart?"

"Haven't a notion. My friend and I thought that we would keep an eye
upon the stag till we had news of it."

Although he did not say so, the Master appeared to think that it might
be advisable that he also should keep an eye upon the stag. His
interest in the creature's safety was certainly likely to be of a more
personal kind than either Philipson's or mine. I take it that stags are
animals of intrinsic value, not to be regarded as things to be lightly
trifled with, deserving of as much care and consideration as, say, the
domestic cow. So we sat, all three in a row; pretty silent, on the
whole; staring over the hedge at the monarch of the woodland, as he
enjoyed an adventitious meal.

Presently a boy came into the field through a gate at the side. I
imagine he was a shepherd boy--I have no positive proof to adduce of
the fact, but such is my impression. I noticed that he cast at the
flock what I felt was an interested glance, and, as he did so, observed
the stranger in their midst. It was enough for him that there was a
stranger; he did not stop to inquire who he was or what had brought him
there, but on the instant he obeyed what I suspect to be the natural
instinct of the natural boy. I believe that I was the only one of the
trio who had noticed his approach--as yet he had not noticed us at all.
Had I foreseen his fell design, I should, undoubtedly, have given
tongue; but by the time I had so much as an inkling of his intention it
already was too late, the deed was done. It is possible that he was
under the impression that the intruder was, uninvited, taking a
gratuitous meal, and that he resented both his impertinence and his
dishonesty. Anyhow, stooping down, he picked up a stone and hurled it
at the deer with that force and that directness of aim with which boys
can throw stones. The missile struck the animal a resounding blow, I
should judge, in the neighbourhood of the ribs, at a moment when it was
not expecting anything of the kind. It leaped high in the air in the
first flush of its surprise; then, without staying to make inquiries,
it bolted across the field and over the hedge at a pace which was very
much in excess of anything which I had seen it display in the presence
of the hounds.

I conceive that the Master was to the full as amazed as the deer had
been, and also, when he understood what had happened, as indignant. He
looked after the vanished animal as if totally at a loss to comprehend
the cause of its curious conduct--no doubt he had known that deer
before--then he brought his head round slowly, scouring the landscape
as he did so, till the boy came within his line of vision. Having
sighted him, he glared as at some monstrosity, his cheeks purpling, and
the blood-vessels becoming more and more distinct. Philipson explained.

"The young beggar threw a brick at him--nice young rascal!"

The Master shook his clenched fist at the boy across the hedge. I never
before saw an elderly gentleman in such a passion.

"You somethinged somethinged something, what do you mean by throwing
your somethinged somethinged bricks at my blankety blankety deer?" Even
the casual reader must have read something about the remarkable
language which occasionally exudes from the lips of gentlemen, in
moments of excitement, on the hunting-field. The Master flavoured the
atmosphere with examples of that sort of language then. "If I get hold
of you, I'll twist your somethinged somethinged head off your blankety
blankety shoulders!"

If there had been a handy gate, it is probable that the Master would
have used it to pursue that boy, and, regardless of consequences, when
caught, have given him something for himself. But there was no gate
just there. The hedge was well established and closely grown. The
Master's horse was not the kind of quadruped to force its way through
such an obstacle, or to surmount it by a jump, especially with its
owner on its back.

The Master's stentorian tones were the first intimation the boy had
received that there had been spectators of his action. When he heard
that strident voice, and was saluted by that flow of language, and
recognised the Master's "pink," no doubt he realised the full enormity
of his offence. As he did so, like the deer, "he stood not on the order
of his going, but went at once," rushing pell-mell through the gate by
which he had entered, and passing from our sight.

"I'd give five pounds," declared the Master, "for a chance of breaking
every bone in the scoundrel's body!"

As I was hoping that he did not mean exactly what he said, Philipson,
who kept his eyes open, diverted our interest into a new channel.

"Hallo! There's the hounds!" he cried.

Turning round, as Philipson had done, sure enough, in the field behind
us, there were the hounds. At least, there were some of them. Each
individual member of the pack was wandering about in a desultory
fashion, doing nothing in particular, apparently not a little bored,
and wondering what it was that had brought it there.

"What are those dogs doing there by themselves? Where's the hunt?"
inquired the Master.

That was the question. So far as could be seen, not a person was in
sight. Since the deer had come in one direction, and now a portion of
the hounds had come in another, perhaps, shortly, the hunt might appear
in a third. One never knew. There seemed to be little or no connection
between the various parties. That this was so seemed to occur to the
Master. The reflection excited him. It moved him to action. There was a
gate into that field, a decrepit gate, which hung loosely on its
hinges. Pushing it open, the Master bustled into the meadow, holloaing
and shouting with much zeal, but to little purpose. The hounds did not
seem to understand him in the least, or to know him either. But when he
rode right into their midst, and commenced to strike out at them
indiscriminately with the lash of his hunting-whip, they began to bark
at the top of their voices, and, as the poet has it, to make "the
welkin ring." If clamour was what he was aiming at, then he succeeded
to perfection--the "music of the pack" was deafening. But if, as I
rather fancy, he entertained some dim idea of whipping the dogs on to
the trail of the stag, then the result was ignominious failure. They
barked and jumped about, and jumped about and barked, and he lashed
them and shouted, but, beyond that, nothing and nobody got any
"forwarder."

The performance might have continued until one side or the other had
had enough of it--the probability being that the Master would have been
the first to tire--had not the deer, finding that the hounds did not
come to it, saved them trouble by coming to them. That sagacious
animal--I was beginning to suspect that it was a sagacious brute, and
at least as well acquainted as anyone else with the rules of the
game--put in a fresh, and, as usual, wholly unexpected appearance on
the scene. Philipson, as his habit seemed to be, had his eyes the
widest open.

"By Jove! There's the deer!"

There was the deer, in the very next field to the one in which the
Master, with ideas of his own, was whipping the hounds. And, what was
more, there were some of the hunt as well. Nor were they entirely
unprovided with dogs; they were being shown the way by, so to speak,
their share of the pack--some six or eight hounds. On they came in
gallant style. The stag, leaping the hedge, found himself confronted by
the major portion of the pack. When he saw the dogs, the dogs saw him.
Then there was music! In an instant the Master and his antics were
forgotten--they went for their quarry with a tumultuous welcome. With
perfect ease he doubled on his tracks, and, leaping back over the
hedge, returned at an acute angle to the course he had come. The Master
went spluttering after him. Philipson and I did our best to get a share
of the fun.

The scene was changed like a transformation scene in a theatre. A
moment or two before, the place had been deserted, and not a soul had
been in sight. Now people came hurrying from every quarter, as if they
had been concealed behind unseen wings and waiting for the signal to
appear. Half a dozen horsemen and a line of dog-carts came scurrying
along the lane. You would have thought they had been flying for life,
the dog-carts in particular. Horsemen and horsewomen seemed to spring
up out of the ground on every side. On a sudden, the entire hunt
appeared to be gathered together almost as it had been at first.
Everyone went pounding away across the turf, crashing through the
hedges--preferentially selecting the gates, however, when they could
find them--as if, whatever they might have been doing hitherto, they
meant business at last.

Certainly, there is something contagious in such surroundings. I found
that there was, and my horse did, too. Just now the animal had appeared
dead tired, and I should have said also a little lame. But when the
flurry began, and eager riders, on all sides, went pressing hastily
forward, moved by a common mastering excitement, my wearied
guinea's-worth, forgetting its fatigue, became as lively as the best of
them. The revival of the interest had also freshened me. Away we went,
my steed and I, as light-heartedly, apparently, as if it had been the
first move we had made that day.

We had another burst--though I am bound to admit that in a singularly
short space of time both the deer and the hounds were out of sight.
They had gone before, not improbably, so far as I was concerned, for
good. But as a large number of people, who were undoubtedly as much out
of the hunt as I was, went pounding eagerly on, I went pounding too.
Philipson was on my left. It was more than doubtful if he would catch a
glimpse of the stag again that day--it would be entirely owing to the
benevolence of that intelligent creature if he did. Yet on his face was
mirrored a stern, concentrated purpose, which might have suggested to a
stranger that he had at last made up his mind to hunt the quarry,
single-handed, to its final doom.

That burst did not continue long--fortunately. I was becoming conscious
that a good many people seemed to be getting in front, and that my
horse was exhibiting no marked anxiety to occupy a post of honour,
when, having edged my way through still another gate, I found myself on
the high road. Soon the road began to bear a striking resemblance to a
street. Shortly I found myself, in company with a number of other
individuals, clattering down what was obviously the leading
thoroughfare of a country town.

Among the inhabitants our advent created the liveliest interest. We
might have been royalty, from the way in which they stared at us.
Someone looked out of every door and window. Numbers of persons lined
the pavements. As I passed one house I heard a woman shrieking up the
stairs,--

"Bill, 'ere's the 'unters; come and 'ave a look at 'em."

I suppose Bill came. Encouraging remarks were addressed to us by
miscellaneous spectators, principally boys.

"You're all right, mister, 'e's gone down there; if you 'urries up,
you'll get a sight of 'im."

I do not know if the observation was directed to me; if it was, I could
have assured the speaker that neither my horse nor myself had the
slightest intention of "hurrying up" to catch a sight of anyone.

About a hundred yards farther down we found ourselves in the midst of
what looked very like an actual riot. Although the street was very wide
just there, it was rendered almost impassable by a motley concourse of
vehicles, horsemen and pedestrians. On one side of the street was a
butcher's shop. Towards this butcher's shop all faces were turned. From
it there proceeded an amazing din--there were sounds of dogs barking,
of men's voices, and of one voice in particular.

I turned to Philipson in search of an explanation. The explanation
which he proffered, although succinct and to the point, took me
somewhat by surprise.

"Stag's taken shelter in the butcher's shop."

It seemed to me to be a curious shelter for a stag to choose--a
butcher's shop! And so, judging from his words, which, in an interval
of comparative silence, were distinctly audible, the butcher seemed
himself to think.

"Don't let any of your dogs come into my place, or I'll cut their
somethinged throats for them. Your deer--if it is your deer--has done
me ten-pounds'-worth of damage. You pay me that ten pounds, and then
I'll talk to you; but not till then. You know who I am; there's my name
and my address!"--the speaker pointed with his cleaver to the name over
his shop-front--"and if you want anything from me, you know how to get
it. There's the law for me as well as for you! But don't let any of you
chaps--I don't care who he is--try to set foot in my premises, or he'll
be sorry, and so I tell you."

The butcher seemed to be very angry indeed, which, if the deer really
had done him ten-pounds'-worth of damage, was not to be wondered at.

Philipson and I did not wait to see the discussion ended. We adjourned
to an inn and there refreshed. A roaring trade that inn was doing. The
stag's behaviour did someone good. And very sociable were the
customers. I gleaned from them several interesting scraps of
information. It appeared that that was not the first time a stag had
sought refuge in that particular butcher's shop; and since the
enterprising tradesman invariably demanded compensation for damages
which he alleged the creature had done him, dark suspicions were
entertained as to the means which he adopted to get him there.

As I journeyed homewards, on the whole I was disposed to conclude that
chasing a carted stag, under certain given conditions, might be made a
not unamusing pastime--with about it a flavour of something Gallic,
perhaps. They have some odd notions of sport on the other side of the
Channel.

The stag-hunter's pleasure depends, it seems to me, entirely on the
intelligence of the particular stag whose services happen to be
retained for the day. If, being ill-tempered, or obstinate, or stupid,
the moment it is uncarted it runs straight on, and keeps straight on,
then, I should say, the probability is exceedingly strong that no
single member of the hunt will ever catch sight of it again till the
hunt is over. If, on the other hand, the creature is generous, not to
say charitable--as our stag was!--and wanders about looking for
disconsolate "staggers"--as our stag did!--then, I take it, the affair
may be managed--by the stag!--in such a manner that everyone concerned
may be justified in thinking that he has done something worth his
talking about.



                            MY WEDDING DAY


The night before my wedding day I could scarcely sleep a wink--that is,
to speak of. I suppose it was partly the excitement; because, of
course, I could not help thinking--and there were so many things to
think of. "Now, Maud," said mamma, when she was bidding me good-night,
"don't you girls stop up talking. You get between the sheets as soon as
you're upstairs, and go to sleep at once." But she might as well have
talked to the moon. Of course, Eveleen came in to have what she called
a "few last words"; from the way she said it there might have been
going to be a funeral instead of a wedding. I had not previously
suspected her of being sentimental; but that night she was positively
depressing. And so horridly hopeful. She hoped that George would make a
good husband, and that we should be happy, and that I should never
regret what I was doing, and that it would all turn out for the best,
and that marriage would suit me, and that I should not go into a rapid
decline, like Aunt Louisa did, and that George would not quarrel with
mamma, and that he would not estrange me from all my relations and
friends, and that whatever happened I should always remember she was
the only sister I had; she kept on hoping that sort of thing till I had
to bundle her off.

To crown all, when at last I was between the sheets, who should come
creeping into the room like a ghost but mamma herself, though it must
have been frightfully late; and her manner was positively sepulchral.

"When you were a small child," she began, "I always used to come and
kiss you before you went to sleep; have you forgotten?" Of course I had
not forgotten. "So I have come again to kiss you, for the last time."

"Dear mother, I'm not dying to-morrow; at least, I hope not."

"That depends on what you mean by dying"--which was a cheerful thing to
say! "I trust, my dear daughter, that events will prove you have chosen
wisely, and that you will have every happiness; my own married life has
not been without its trials. Only, in the midst of your own happiness,
do not forget that you have a mother, and that you are still my child.
God bless you!"

As she stooped over to kiss me I felt her tears fall on my cheeks. That
finished me. After she had gone I had a good cry--the first I had had
for years and years. I was more than half disposed to jump out of bed
and run after her and promise that I would never leave her--never!
never! never!--but--I managed not to. Still I was anything but
comfortable, lying all alone in the dark there. Because I could not
shut my eyes to the fact that mamma had said things to George, and that
George had said things to mamma, and that papa had said things to both
of them; and everybody knows how that sort of thing grows, till a
breach is made which may never be bridged over. Then there was my
dress. Three times I had had to have it altered; till, finally, in
desperation, I had made up my mind to have an entirely new bodice made.
I could not go to the altar screwed up so tight as to be in continual
terror of my seams bursting, or else being suffocated. George would be
furious if anything did happen. The new bodice was something of a fit.
But it had not yet come home, though Mme. Sylvia had promised--pledged
what she called her professional reputation--that it should come before
ten o'clock to-morrow morning. Still, I could not help owning to myself
that I had scarcely any faith in the woman; and suppose it did not come?
My wedding dress!

The horror of such a prospect was too much for me. I believe it
frightened me to sleep, if you could call it sleep. Because then I
dreamt--such dreams! They were really dreadful nightmares. I know that
in one of them George was throwing mamma out of the window and I had on
scarcely a rag, and papa, laughing like a maniac, was cutting my
wedding dress into tiny shreds and Eveleen was shrieking; when, in the
very midst of it, I woke with a start--a frightful start--to find that
someone was gripping my shoulder with a clutch of steel, and that a
voice was saying to me in the pitchy darkness,--

"Maud, wake up!--wake up! There are burglars in the house; they are in
the drawing-room stealing your presents!"

Roused out of sleep by a thunder-clap like that, it was not surprising
if I were disposed to wonder where I was and what had happened.

"Who is it?" I inquired. "And what's the matter?"

"It's Eveleen! And as for what's the matter, they're not my presents,
so it's not of the slightest consequence to me what becomes of them,
though I should not be in the least surprised if they're all of them
gone by now. Do wake up!"

Before I really knew it I was not only wide awake, but I was stealing
along the pitch dark passage in my night-gown, with Eveleen's hand in
mine. Sure enough, as we leaned over the baluster, we could see,
through the open door, that there was a light in the drawing-room,
where all my wedding-presents were laid out for inspection.

"What are you doing in there?" I cried. "Who are you?"

Looking back they seemed rather foolish questions to have asked. It
was, perhaps, because she felt this strongly that, without the
slightest warning, Eveleen burst into the most appalling shrieks and
yells.

"Help! help!--murder!--thieves!--burglars!--help-p!"

I had never suspected her of having such powerful lungs. It was partly
owing to the surprise occasioned by the discovery, and partly to the
thrill which the noise she made sent right through me, that I was
induced to do the most daring--and also the rashest--thing I ever did
do. Without giving Eveleen the least hint of my intention, I flew down
the stairs and dashed into the drawing-room in my night-gown, just as I
was. What would have happened if the burglar had stayed and attacked me
is too terrible for thought. Fortunately, he did nothing of the kind.
Just as I tore through the door the light in the room went out; I heard
a scrambling noise, as if somebody was stumbling against furniture and
knocking over chairs. Then I saw a blind lifted and a figure leaped
through the open window. I believe I should have leaped after him if
Eveleen had not stopped me. I had already lifted the corner of the
blind when she shouted,--

"Maud! What are you going to do?"

"I can see him running across the lawn, and I believe he's taken all my
presents!"

"If he has, whatever good do you suppose you'll be able to do by
jumping through the window after him?"

"There he is! He's going through the gate! He'll escape!"

Eveleen, coming rushing across the room, flung her arms around me and
held me tight.

"Come back!" she cried; which were hardly the correct words to use,
since, as a matter of fact, I had not actually gone.

Then papa and mamma and the servants came hurrying in, and there
was a fine to-do. That burglar had apparently supposed that those
wedding-presents had been laid out for his inspection. Anyhow, he had
gone carefully over them and selected the very best. As Eveleen rather
coarsely--and also ungratefully--put it, the things he had left behind
were hardly worth having. He had taken Aunt Jane's turquoise bracelet,
and Uncle Henry's pearl necklace, and Mrs Mackenzie's diamond brooch,
and, indeed, nearly every scrap of jewellery, and the silver
tea-service, and the dressing-case--George's own present to me--and
five cheques, and all sorts of things; though, of course, in the
excitement of the moment, we could hardly be certain what he had taken;
but I may say at once that it turned out to be worse even than we
feared. When, at last, a policeman did appear upon the scene, he was
anything but sympathetic. From his manner we might have left my
presents lying about on purpose, and the window open too. He was the
most disagreeable policeman I ever did encounter.

Anyone would easily imagine that after such an interruption there was
no more sleep for me that night. But mamma insisted upon my going back
to bed. Extraordinary though it may seem, I believe I was no sooner
between the sheets than I was fast asleep. And that time I had no
dreams. I was visited by no premonitions of what was to happen to me on
what I had meant should be the happiest day of my life. My existence
had been uneventful up to then. Scarcely anything worth speaking of had
occurred, except my meeting George. It appeared that Fate had resolved
to crowd into a few hours the misfortunes which might very well have
been spread over the nineteen years I had been in the world. Everything
went wrong; some evil spirit had been let loose that day to play on me
as many cruel pranks as it possibly could--I feel sure of it. Stealing
my wedding-presents was only the beginning. I had worked and schemed,
planned and contrived, so that everything should go smoothly and be as
nice as it could be. Instead of which anything more tragic could hardly
be conceived.

To begin with, Eveleen, who seemed destined on that occasion to act as
a bird of ill-omen, awoke me, for the second time, out of sleep with a
piece of information which was really almost worse than her first had
been. Indeed, for a moment or two, when I realised all that it meant,
it seemed to me to be an absolutely crushing blow. She waited till she
was sure that I had my eyes wide open; then she let fall her bombshell.

"Maud, I have another pleasant piece of news for you. Bertha has the
measles."

"Eveleen," I exclaimed, starting up in bed, "what do you mean?"

"Exactly what I say. And as Constance slept with her last night she
will probably have them also, so that you will, at any rate, be two
bridesmaids short. Read that."

She handed me a letter which she had been holding in her hand. Seating
herself on the side of my bed, she watched me with an air of calm
resignation while I read it. It was easy enough for her to be calm; it
was different for me. I had arranged for four bridesmaids. Bertha Ellis
was to be one; her cousin, Constance Farrer, was to be another. Bertha
had had for some days what we had thought was a cold; during the night
it had turned into measles--at her time of life, because she was as old
as I was. And Constance had actually slept in the same bed with her.
So, as Mrs Ellis had written to point out, it was altogether out of the
question that either of them should be present at my wedding.

"Now," I demanded, "perhaps you will be so good as to tell me what I am
to do."

"I suppose it would be too late to get anyone to take their places?"

"At the eleventh hour--practically at the church door? And who is to
get into their dresses? They are both of them so ridiculously small."

"You would have them like that in order to make you look tall. It seems
as if it were a judgment."

"How can you say such awful things? Why don't you suggest something?"

"The only thing I am able to suggest is that you should do without them
and put up with Ellen and me.

"You know very well that I only asked Ellen Mackenzie because I knew
that her mother was going to give me a diamond brooch--and now it's
stolen. It's not alone that she's hideous, but she won't harmonise with
me in the very least; and, anyhow, having only two bridesmaids will
spoil everything."

"Then there's nothing for you to do except postpone the wedding, unless
you know of some establishment where they hire out bridesmaids of all
shapes and sizes on the shortest notice."

"If it were your wedding day I wouldn't talk to you so heartlessly. How
can you be so unkind?"

"Pray, Maud, don't start crying. Red eyes and a red nose won't improve
either your appearance or anything else. You are perfectly aware how
your nose does go red on the slightest provocation."

Talk about the affection of an only sister! Mamma came in just as I
felt like shaking Eveleen.

"Oh, mamma," I burst out, "Bertha Ellis has the measles, and Constance
Farrer is almost sure to have them, so I shall be two bridesmaids
short, and I had set my heart on having four."

Mamma was, if anything, less demonstrative in the way of sympathy even
than Eveleen.

"Be so good, Maud, as not to excite yourself unnecessarily. You will
have need of all your self-control before the day is over. Anything
more unreasonable than your father's conduct I cannot imagine. He
insists on going to the City."

At that both Eveleen and I jumped up.

"But, mamma, he's to give me away at half-past twelve!"

"That makes not the smallest difference to your father. It seems that
there's some absurd foreign news which he says will turn that
ridiculous City upside down, and he simply insists on going."

I was beginning to put some clothes on anyhow.

"Then he sha'n't!--I won't let him! Mamma, you mustn't let him!"

"It's all very well for you to say that, and goodness knows I have done
my best; but you might as well talk to a wooden figure-head as to your
father when he is in one of his moods. He's gone already."

"Gone! Mamma!"

"He said that if he was not back at twelve he would meet you at the
church door at half-past; but you know how he may be relied upon to
keep an appointment of that kind; especially as he went out of his way
to inform me--not for the first time--that the whole business is a pack
of rubbish."

There are fathers, no doubt, who take the tenderest interest in
everything which concerns their children; especially when they have
only two, and both of them are daughters. But if my father has any
tenderness in him he manages to conceal the fact from the knowledge of
his family. And as for interest, I doubt if he takes any real interest
in either of us. When George was coming to the house about seven times
a week mamma dropped a hint to papa to sound George as to what was the
object of his dropping in so often. But papa could not be induced to
take it.

"Don't you try to induce me to ask the man if he intends to make a fool
of himself, because I won't do it." That was all that papa could be
induced to say.

When, after all, without any prompting from anyone, George put to me
the question on which hinged so much of my life's happiness, it was
ever so long before anyone said a word about it to papa. As to
referring George to him, as some daughters, more fortunately situated,
might have done, I knew better. At last, one evening, when I was alone
with him in the drawing-room after dinner, I managed to find courage
enough to tell him.

"Papa, I think you ought to know that I am engaged to be married."

He looked up from the book which he was reading.

"What's that? Rubbish!"

He looked down again. It was a promising beginning.

"It may be rubbish, but it is a simple fact. I am engaged to be
married."

"How old are you?"

"I should have thought you would have known my age. I was eighteen last
birthday."

"In another ten years it will be time enough to think of nonsense of
that sort."

"Ten years! I am going to be married in six weeks from to-day."

"Be so good as not to interrupt me when I'm reading with nonsensical
observations of that kind."

That was the form my father's congratulations took. It may easily be
imagined what trouble we had with him. He could not be brought to
regard things seriously. It was not merely because he thought I was too
young; if I had been fifty it would have been exactly the same. It was
simply because he hated being bothered. And yet when, after repeated
trials, it was driven home to his understanding that I was going to be
married, and that George was a respectable person, he surprised me by
the generosity which he all at once displayed. One morning, as he was
leaving the breakfast-table to start for the City, he slipped a piece
of paper into my hand.

"That's to buy clothes."

When I had looked at it, and saw it was a cheque, and the figures which
were on it, I jumped up and ran after him into the hall, and kissed
him.

"What's that for?" he demanded. I explained. Putting his hand on my
shoulder he turned me towards the light and looked me up and down. Then
he remarked, "Perhaps, after all, that young man's not such a fool as I
thought him." It was the nearest approach to a compliment he had ever
paid me.

What we had to endure from him on the great question of the wedding!
His ideas on the subject were barbarian.

"Let us all go in a four-wheeler--we can put the young man on the
box--and drive round the corner to the nearest registrar. It will all
be done in a business-like manner inside ten minutes."

That was his notion of what a wedding ought to be. I need scarcely say
that mine was entirely different. I had made up my mind to have a
really pretty wedding. May Harvey had been married the year before.
Hers was a pretty wedding; I had resolved that mine should be prettier
still. Mamma, Eveleen and I arranged everything. By degrees we
persuaded him, if not exactly to agree, then at least to wink at what
was going to happen. On one point I was firm--that he should give me
away. He promised that he would. But when he began to realise what a
pretty wedding really meant he became restless and more and more
trying, and he said the most horrid things. And now on the very day
itself he had gone off to the City! If I could have relied on his
returning at twelve, or even on his meeting me at the church at
half-past, I should not have minded. But I was perfectly aware that if
business was at all pressing he would think nothing of sending one of
his clerks to take his place; on some absolutely essential matters I
knew to my cost that he had not the slightest sense of propriety. As,
however, all I could do was to hope for the best, there was nothing
left but to appear resigned.

"I presume if my own father doesn't care enough about me to trouble
himself to be present at my marriage it's not of the slightest
consequence."

Just as I was about to sigh Eliza, the housemaid, appeared in the
doorway, addressing mamma.

"If you please, ma'am, cook's going."

Mamma turned round to her with a start.

"Cook's going--where?"

"She's leaving the situation."

"Eliza! What do you mean?"

"If you please, ma'am, Mary and she have been having words about who it
was left the drawing-room window open last night; and then Mary she
said she believed as how it was cook's young man who broke in and stole
Miss Maud's presents; and then cook, she said that after that she
wouldn't stay with her in the same house not another minute; so she's
gone upstairs to put her things together."

Off went mamma to interview cook. I turned to Eveleen, who was still
sitting on the side of my bed with an air of complete unconcern, as if
nothing whatever mattered. I always did say that she was almost too
much like papa.

"It seems as if everything was going wrong--everything! Eveleen, what
is the time?"

"Just past ten."

"Past ten! Has my dress come?" She shook her head with an air of the
utmost nonchalance. If it had been her dress! "But Mme. Sylvia promised
that I should have it before ten! And I've had no breakfast!"

"There is breakfast waiting for you downstairs."

"As if I wanted any breakfast! As if I could eat, feeling as I do! You
know that I had arranged to commence dressing at ten! Eveleen, what am
I to do?"

"You mean about the dress? It's only just past ten; it may come still."

"May come! Eveleen, do you want me to--to hit you? Eliza or someone
must go at once and fetch it, finished or not."

"I daresay Eliza can go, if you think it necessary. If you take my
advice you won't excite yourself."

"Won't excite myself! If it were your wedding and your dress you'd talk
in a different strain."

"I should have made different arrangements."

"You would have made--" I bit my lip till it nearly bled; I had to do
something to stop myself. "I know how nice you can be if you like; but
I don't mean to quarrel with you, to-day of all days, if I can help
it." As I was speaking Eliza reappeared in the doorway. "Eliza, I want
you to get a hansom and to tell the man to drive you to Mme. Sylvia's
as fast as he can. I'll give you a note to her. You're to bring my
dress back with you. I'll write the note while you're putting on your
hat. Do be as quick as you can."

"If you please, miss, Miss Mackenzie's downstairs."

A voice exclaimed behind Eliza,--

"Oh, no, she's not; she's here." There stood Ellen, in her bridesmaid's
dress, all smiles. She came bustling into the room--in that bustling
way she always has. "Well, my children, how are you? And how's the
sweet young bride? You told me to be here by ten--ready dressed--and
here I am. What do you think of it?" She turned and twisted herself
about so as to show off her dress. "It's a bit tight under the arms and
a shade loose in the back, but it's not so bad. Am I the first? Where
are Bertha and Constance?"

I waved my hand towards Eveleen.

"Tell her--I can't!"

Eveleen told her everything, and I will say this for her, she made out
things to be as bad as they very well could be. Ellen Mackenzie's face
was a study. She is one of the plainest girls I know--her dress did not
suit her at all; I knew it wouldn't; nothing ever does; and she seemed
to grow plainer and plainer as she listened. But she was more
sympathetic than any of my relations had been. She threw her arms round
me, quite indifferent as to what might happen to her dress.

"You poor darling! To have had your presents stolen--and two
bridesmaids down with the measles--and your father gone to that horrid
City--and the servants quarrelling--and now no wedding-dress! As to
that Mme. Sylvia, if I were in your place I should feel like wringing
her neck."

"I shouldn't be surprised if I did wring it if my dress isn't ready by
the time that Eliza gets there. Eliza, haven't you got your hat on?"

She had actually stood there looking on and listening, with her eyes
and mouth wide open. But she was ready almost as soon as the note
was--it was a note! And just as we had started her off, with strict
injunctions to come back at once and bring the dress back with her, if
she had to snatch it out of the dressmaker's hands, a person arrived
who stated that he was a detective and had come to inquire into the
burglary, and who insisted on seeing me. So we saw him all three of us
together, and a most unpleasant interview it was. He asked me the most
disagreeable questions, wanting to know what I valued the missing
presents at, and how much they had cost, and if the jewellery was real,
and unpleasant things of that sort. While we were in the very midst of
it mamma came in in a state of painful excitement.

"Are you a policeman?" she demanded. "Because if you are I should like
you to tell my cook and my parlourmaid that if they leave my house this
day without giving me due and proper notice they will do so at their
peril, and that I shall prosecute them both as sure as they are
living." The detective stroked his chin and seemed disinclined to do as
mamma desired. She went on, "My parlourmaid has been making the most
unwarrantable accusations against my cook, in consequence of which she
declares that she won't stay in the house another minute; and when I
told my parlourmaid what I thought of her behaviour she announced that
she should also go at once. They are both perfectly well aware that it
is my daughter's wedding day, and that if they do go everything will be
in a state of confusion; so I want you to speak to them and bring them
to a proper sense of their duty."

The detective still seemed dubious.

"I am afraid, madam, that that sort of thing hardly comes within my
jurisdiction. But if they are going I should like to ask them a few
questions about this burglary before they leave the house."

Cook with her hat on, and Mary with hers in her hand, had been standing
in the doorway all the while. Cook now came forward--battle in her eye;
we always had had trouble with her temper.

"I'm quite ready to answer any questions that's put to me; but if
anyone says a word against Mr Parsons, who's as honest and respectable
a man as ever walked this earth, then I say they're liars."

Then came Mary, who, as we had all of us noticed, always had a way of
hinting more than she actually said.

"What I say is true, and I'm not going to be frightened from speaking
the truth by anyone. I say that Mr Parsons was hanging about this house
last night till after twelve o'clock; and so he was."

There was a frightful scene. I believe, if the detective had not been
present, that those two women would have attacked each other. When
Eveleen and Ellen got me back into my own room my nerves were in such a
state that I was trembling all over. It was past eleven. There were
still no signs of Eliza or my dress. The carriage was to come to take
me to the church at twelve; the wedding was to be at half-past; as we
wanted to catch the afternoon train for Paris we had arranged to have
it early. I was feeling both miserable and desperate, altogether
different from what I had intended to feel.

"I shall go and fetch the dress myself," I said.

"Rather than you shall do that," exclaimed Eveleen, "I'll go myself."
And she went, giving me a few words of advice before she departed. "Do
control yourself, Maud, and don't give way. Everything will be all
right if you keep calm. I promise to bring you your dress in twenty
minutes, if I don't meet Eliza with it on the way."

It was all very well for her to talk about keeping calm, but I had
reached a stage when something had to be done. So I threw myself on the
bed and had a cry. Although Ellen did try to comfort me it was not the
slightest use. Then, when she saw the state I was in, she started
crying too. And while we were both of us at it in came mamma. She was
almost in a worse condition than we were. Cook and Mary had both left,
and the detective had gone without having done the slightest good, and
everything was topsy-turvy. The refreshments for the reception which
was to take place after the wedding were to come in from outside, and
the waiters also; still, it was dreadful to be practically servantless.
Mamma was in such a state of painful agitation that she almost drove me
to hysterics. Then Jane, the kitchenmaid, came rushing in. Since Eliza
had not yet returned, she was the only maid we had in the house.

"If you please, ma'am, the carriages have come."

"Carriages! What carriages?"

"To take Miss Maud and her bridesmaids to the wedding, ma'am."

"Wedding!" Mamma laughed; it was an awful sound. "Since it does not
seem likely that there will be any wedding, it will hardly be worth
their while to wait."

"Shall I tell them to go, ma'am?"

When the idiotic Jane asked that question I leapt right off the bed on
to the floor.

"Mamma! Jane! How can you be so absurd?"

I was just going to give both of them a piece of my mind--because
mamma's conduct really was ridiculous--when someone else came tearing
up the staircase. It was Eveleen, followed by a smartly-dressed young
woman carrying a large box--which I made a dash at--with Eliza in the
rear.

"Here's your dress!" cried Eveleen.

The young woman began to explain.

"Mme. Sylvia sends her apologies, and hopes you will excuse her for
having kept you waiting; but there has been an unavoidable delay owing
to an unfortunate misunderstanding--"

Eveleen cut her short.

"We'll have the apologies and all that sort of thing afterwards. What
you have to do, Maud, is to put on that dress in the shortest time on
record, and let's hope it fits. You've been crying--so have you,
mamma--and Ellen! You're three nice people. As for you, Ellen, nothing
will get those marks off your face except clean water, and you'll have
to wash."

Ellen's complexion takes a tremendous time; she uses all sorts of
things for it, so that that was a bad blow for her. We all began to
bustle. The young woman began to unpack the box, and I got quite ready
to slip into the dress when it was unpacked. Suddenly there was an
exclamation from Mme. Sylvia's assistant.

"My goodness! what is this?" She was holding up what looked as if it
were some weird sort of a blouse made of all the colours of the
rainbow; it was certainly not part of my wedding-dress. She stared and
we stared. Then she dropped on to a chair with a groan. "There's been a
mistake," she gasped. "In the hurry I've brought a dress which we have
been making for Mrs Markham for a fancy-dress ball, and I'm afraid your
dress has gone to her."

There are moments in life when, the worst having come to the worst,
obviously the only thing left to do is to look it boldly in the face. I
realised that one of those moments had come to me then. All hope was
gone; nothing remained but to calmly face despair. I gave myself
a sort of mental pinch, and walked quietly up to that young woman,
feeling--and no doubt looking--almost dangerously cool. I picked up
the parti-coloured garment, which was all that had been brought to me
after all that strain and stress.

"This looks as if it might be some sort of fancy dress. Am I to
understand that it is a fancy dress?"

I believe that that assistant was overawed by my manner.

"Yes; it's for one of our customers--a Mrs Markham--for a fancy-dress
ball."

"And, pray, where is my wedding-dress?"

"I expect it has been sent to Mrs Markham in mistake for hers."

"And when may I rely on receiving it back from Mrs Markham?"

"Not before to-morrow, at the earliest; it has been put on a train at
Euston--she lives in the North."

"Since I am to be married to-day, it will not be of much use to me
to-morrow, will it? Put this article back in your box. Return it to
Mme. Sylvia, and inform her, with my compliments, that she will hear
from my solicitors. I should imagine that she will probably hear from
Mrs Markham's solicitors also. Take Mrs Markham's fancy costume--and
yourself--away as fast as you possibly can. Eveleen, I will be married
in my going-away dress."

I have little doubt that they were all impressed by what, under the
circumstances, seemed my almost preternatural calmness. Scarcely a word
was spoken by anyone. Even mamma merely remarked that the assistants in
Mme. Sylvia's establishment seemed to be as utter idiots as their
principal; and that, for mamma, was nothing. I bundled her off to
dress, and I made Eveleen and Ellen go too. I attired myself for my
wedding, which was far from what I had intended to do. It had been
arranged that I should be costumed by a sort of committee consisting of
my four bridesmaids, with mamma acting as my supervisor. But since that
arrangement had been made everything had been altered; and as now
nothing remained but my going-away dress, I needed no assistance in
putting on that. With a travelling costume a bridal veil seemed almost
painfully out of place, so I resolved to do without that also. I wore a
hat.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches to my hat there came a
tapping at my bedroom door. When I cried, "Come in!" to my amazement
who should enter but George's best man, Jack Bowles.

"Maud!" he exclaimed. "Whatever's up? Do you know it's nearly two, and
George is almost off his head, and the parson's going to a funeral?"

I turned to him with what he has since assured me was the air of a
tragedy queen.

"I am ready now. We will start at once."

He stared, as well he might.

"Like that?" he cried.

"Like this. You and I will drive to the church together, and I will
explain everything to you as we go." I hurried with him down the
staircase, calling to the others as I went; unseen, unnoticed, a quiver
passed all over me as I recalled how, in the days gone by, with a
prophetic eye, I had seen myself, a vision of snowy white, descend that
staircase "with measured step and slow," surrounded by my bridesmaids.
"Mamma, I'm going to drive to the church with Mr Bowles. You and
Eveleen and Ellen had better follow in another carriage."

"My dear!" mamma's voice came back. "What do you mean? I'm not nearly
ready yet."

"Maud!" Eveleen distinctly shouted.

But I waited for nothing; for no one. Hastening to a carriage with Mr
Bowles, off we started. It was rather an invidious position; there had
been passages with Mr Bowles which made my situation one of some
delicacy. When George told me that he had asked him to be his best man,
I felt that he was hardly the person I should have chosen for the part.
However, I had not quite seen my way to acquaint him with the manner in
which Mr Bowles had behaved at Mrs Miller's dance; to speak of nothing
else. So there we were alone together perhaps for the last time in our
lives. Possibly what had passed between us made him all the quicker to
feel for me in the plight in which--as I explained to him--I found
myself. He showed the most perfect sympathy. Even George could not have
been nicer.

But, for me, disasters were not ended. I was to be the victim of
another before the church was reached. It seems to me that motor
cars are always doing something. As we were passing along the
busiest part of the High Street one of them did something then. It
skidded--or something--and took off one of our back wheels. Down
dropped a corner of the brougham with a crash which sent me flying into
Mr Bowles's arms. Presently, when, apparently uninjured, we found
ourselves standing in the road, the centre of an interested and
rapidly-increasing crowd, we realised that it might have been worse.

"The stars," I murmured, with a presence of mind which, now that I look
back upon it, seems to have been really phenomenal, "are fighting
against me in their courses."

"Poor old George," said Mr Bowles, who was always rather inclined to
slang, "will be fairly off his nut."

All at once I espied papa coming along in a hansom cab. I called out to
him. Stopping the cab he sprang out to us.

"What are you two doing here?" he demanded, in not unreasonable
astonishment. Then he went on to offer exactly the kind of explanation
I had expected. "Do you know, I've been so occupied that I quite
overlooked the fact that I was due with you at half-past twelve. I hope
it made no difference. Where's George?"

"He's at the church."

"At the church? What's he doing there?"

"He's waiting for me to come and be married."

"Waiting? How's that? Aren't you married already?"

"No; and--it--doesn't look--as if--I--ever--shall be."

"Jump into my hansom--you and Bowles--we'll soon see about that."

We jumped in, Mr Bowles and I, and we drove off to the church--to my
wedding!--three in a hansom cab! If ever anyone had foretold that such
a thing would--or could--have happened to me I should have expired on
the spot.

When we reached the church--we did reach it!--we found that such of the
people as remained were standing on the steps or in the doorway.
George, who was nearly distracted, came rushing forward at the
sight of me; the people actually cheered. It appeared that the
clergyman--our vicar--who had been specially retained, had gone to a
funeral; but a curate, of some sort, had been routed out from
somewhere, and he performed the service. Just as it was begun in came
mamma and Eveleen and Ellen. The instant it was over George and I tore
off home, got my trunks--George himself helped to carry them--and
rushed to Charing Cross just in time to catch the boat-train.

When it had started, and he and I were in a compartment alone together,
I put my head on his shoulder and I cried--with joy. Everything had
gone as wrong as it very well could have done; but we were married!



                            TWO OF A TRADE


"Fares, please!"

The omnibus conductor stood in front of a lady, young, and not
ill-looking, and waited. As he waited he flicked his packet of tickets
with the forefinger of his right hand. The lady addressed seemed to
experience some difficulty in finding the sum required. She felt in a
bag which was hanging at her waist. She dived into the recesses of a
pocket which was apparently placed in an even more inaccessible
position than a lady's pocket is wont to be. Without result. Her
proceedings attracted the attention of all her fellow-passengers; and
the 'bus was full;--indeed, her man[oe]uvres were the cause of some
inconvenience to her immediate neighbours. At last she delivered
herself of a piece of information.

"I've lost my purse!"

The conducter eyed her stolidly. He was not so young as he had been.
Possibly a long experience of 'bus conducting had brought him into
intimate relations with ladies who did lose things; so that his
sympathies were dulled.

"Lost your purse?"

He echoed her words as if the matter was not of the slightest interest
to him.

"Yes;--that is, I had it when I came into the 'bus;--I'm afraid it has
been stolen."

"Stolen?" echoed the conductor;--still with an air of complete
indifference.

"Yes," said an old man, who was on the seat opposite, at the end
farthest from the door; "and that man sitting by you is the man as took
it."

Since Bruce Palliser was the only man sitting by her the allusion could
only be to him. He turned on the speaker in surprise.

"Are you suggesting, sir, that I have stolen the lady's purse?"

"That's it; that's what I'm suggesting. Only it's more than a
suggestion. I see you fumbling with the lady's skirt. I wondered what
you was up to. Now I know."

A woman sitting on the other side of the purseless lady interposed.

"Here's a penny, if that's any good;--or, for the matter of that,
here's twopence. It's not nice for any of us to be crowded in the same
'bus with parties who say they've had their purses stolen."

"I'm afraid it isn't," admitted the sufferer. "I'm very sorry,
but--all my money was in my purse. If you would let me have a penny I
should be very much obliged."

The penny was forthcoming.

"Do you make any charge?" inquired the conductor, as he handed over the
ticket in exchange.

"No," rejoined the lady. "I do not."

"He's got it on him now," asserted the old gentleman in the corner. "If
you'll hand him over to a policeman you'll find he has."

"I trust," exclaimed Mr Palliser, "that you'll afford me an opportunity
to prove that what this person says is absolutely false."

The young lady stood up.

"Please stop the 'bus. I'm going to get out."

"You call a policeman," persisted the old gentleman. "You'll soon find
where your purse is."

"But, madam!" cried Mr Palliser. The 'bus stopped. The young lady began
to move towards the door. Bruce Palliser following, appealing to her as
he did so. "Madam!--if you will give me your attention for a single
instant!"

The young lady alighted. Mr Palliser alighted also. The 'bus went on.

"I see him take it," announced the old gentleman in the corner. "Put it
in his pocket, I believe he did."

Bruce Palliser, standing in the roadway, tried to induce the young lady
to give him a chance to establish his innocence.

"If you will permit me to explain who I am, I will make it quite clear
to you--"

She cut him short.

"Have the kindness not to address me."

She climbed into a passing hansom. He had to spring to one side to
avoid being cut down by a furniture van. By the time the van had gone
the cab had gone also.

Later in the day he rushed into the station with just time enough to
enable him to catch the train which was to take him home. He had
already entered a compartment before he realised that a seat near the
door was occupied by the young lady of the omnibus. The recognition was
obviously mutual. Something in her attitude made him conscious of a
ridiculous sense of discomfort. He felt that if he did not leave the
carriage she would--although the train was about to start. Scrambling
back on to the platform he was hustled into another compartment by an
expostulating guard. When the train stopped at Market Hinton, and he
got out, he observed that the young lady of the omnibus was emerging
from the compartment from which he had retreated with so small a show
of dignity. Apparently she also had reached her journey's end. He
thought he knew most of the people who lived thereabouts, at least by
sight. He had certainly never seen her before. Who could she be?

Stupidly enough he hung about the station, allowing himself to be
buttonholed by an old countryman who was full of his sufferings from
rheumatism--one of that large tribe with which every doctor is
familiar, the members of which never lose a chance of obtaining medical
advice for nothing. He was not in the best of tempers by the time that
he reached home. Nor was his temper improved by the greeting which he
received from Jack Griffiths, who had acted as his _locum_ during his
enforced absence in London.

"You're not looking any better for your change," declared Jack, who had
an unfortunate--and exasperating--knack of seeing the pessimistic side
of things. "You're looking all mops and brooms."

"I'm not feeling all mops and brooms--whatever state of feeling that
may be. On the contrary, I'm feeling as fit as I ever felt in the whole
of my life."

"Then you're not looking it; which is a pity. Because it's my opinion
that you'll want all the stock of health you can lay your hands on if
you're to continue to hold your own in Market Hinton."

"What might you happen to mean?--you old croaker!"

"It's easy to call me a croaker, sir, but facts are facts; and I tell
you that that new doctor's making things hum--cutting the grass from
under your very feet."

"What new doctor?"

"The new doctor. I wasn't aware that there was more than one. If there
is then you're in greater luck even than I thought you were."

"Are you alluding to that female creature?"

"I am. I am alluding to Dr Constance Hughes, M.D. (London). Mrs Vickers
is of opinion that she's a first-rate doctor."

"Mrs Vickers!--Why, she's one of my oldest patients."

"Precisely; which is perhaps one reason why she feels disposed to try a
change. Anyhow she called Dr Constance Hughes in one day, when that
medical lady happened to be passing; and I'm inclined to think that, if
she could only see her way, she'd like to call her in again."

"Pretty unprofessional conduct! What does the woman mean by it?"

"Which woman? Dr Constance Hughes? She's nothing to do with it. She had
to go in when they stopped her on the high road; but, from what I
understand, when she learnt that Mrs Vickers was your patient she
declined to call again. Than her conduct nothing could have been more
professional. But it isn't only Mrs Vickers. I hear golden opinions of
her on every side. And she drives some of the finest horses I ever
saw."

"So I've been told. Thank goodness, so far I've seen neither the woman
nor her horses; but if half they say is true, she knows more of horse
flesh than of medicine."

"Then, in that case, she must be a dabster. Heaps of money, I'm
informed; taken up the profession simply for the sake of something to
do, and because she loves it. Bruce, Dr Constance Hughes is going to be
a dangerous rival!"

Such, ere long, was to be Bruce Palliser's own opinion.

When, the following afternoon, he returned from his rounds, he learned
that an urgent summons had come for him, earlier in the day, from Mrs
Daubeny, one of his most influential patients. He hurried round to her.
On his arrival at the house the maid who opened the door informed him
that the other doctor was upstairs. As he had not come, and Mrs Daubeny
was in such pain, they had sent for other assistance. While she was
speaking, the maid conducted him upstairs. Opening a door, she ushered
him in, announcing his appearance.

"Dr Palliser."

He found himself in a bedroom, with someone lying in the bed, and two
women standing on either side of it. One of the women he recognised as
Foster, Mrs Daubeny's housekeeper; and the other--as the lady of the
omnibus. He stared at her in blank amazement. Although she had her hat
on, her sleeves were turned up, and she was holding in her hand what
he perceived to be a clinical thermometer. Foster went--awkwardly
enough--through a form of introduction.

"Oh, Dr Palliser, I'm so glad you've come! This is Miss Hughes--I mean
Dr Hughes. Mrs Daubeny has been so bad that if she hadn't come I don't
know what we should have done."

Mr Palliser bowed; so stiffly that the inclination of his head only
just amounted to a movement. The lady was as stiff. Although she looked
him full in the face there was that in the quality of her glance which
almost hinted that she did not notice he was there. She explained the
position, in a tone of voice which could hardly have been more frigid.

"Mrs Daubeny has had an attack of acute laryngitis, rather a severe
one. Fortunately, however, the worst is over; unless, that is, it
should recur."

"I am obliged to you. I have had the honour to treat Mrs Daubeny on
former occasions. I will see that all is done that is necessary."

The lady returned her thermometer to its case. She turned down her
sleeves. She donned a sable jacket which Mr Palliser could not but feel
was not unbecoming. With the curtest possible nod to the newcomer she
quitted the room.

At his solitary meal that night, the more Bruce Palliser turned matters
over in his mind the less he liked them.

"This is a nice kettle of fish! To think of her being Dr Constance
Hughes! For all I know she may actually be of opinion that it was I who
stole her purse--as that lying old scoundrel asserted--I should like to
wring his neck! She wouldn't condescend to even give me a hearing; the
vixen! She has a first-rate tale to tell against me, anyhow. Why, if
she chooses to tell everyone that someone stole her purse, and that
there was a man in the omnibus who declared he saw me take it, I
sha'n't even be able to bring an action for slander; the thing is true
enough. I ought to have dragged that old ruffian out by the hair of his
head, and made him own then and there that he lied. I've half a mind to
write to her and insist on her giving me an opportunity to explain. But
she wouldn't do it; she's that kind of woman. I know it! I could see by
the way she treated me this afternoon that she means to get her knife
into me--and well in, too. A male rival is bad enough--I've had one or
two passages-of-arms with old Harford--but a female--and such a female!
I may as well announce my practice for sale while there's any of it
left to sell. That woman won't leave a stone unturned to ruin me!"

During the next few days he was destined to hear more of Dr Constance
Hughes than he cared for. She seemed to have impressed other people a
good deal more favourably than she had him. Market Hinton is in the
centre of a hunting country. The fact that she had quite a string of
first-rate horses, and that she could handle the "ribbons" as well as
any coachman, and had an excellent seat in a saddle, appealed to the
local imagination in an especial degree. To be a "good sportsman" meant
much at Market Hinton; of anyone who reached that high standard they
could think no evil. Bruce Palliser found that, because Dr Constance
Hughes had hunters who, with her on them, could hold their own in any
country, and in any company, people were taking it for granted that her
medical qualifications must necessarily be unimpeachable.

Old Rawlins, of "The King's Head," put the case in a nutshell.

"She drives a mare that would win a prize at any show in England; and
it does you good to see the way she drives her. That mare wants some
driving! I say that a woman who can handle a horse like she can handle
that mare ought to be able to handle anything. She shall have the
handling of Mrs Rawlins the next time she's ill; I'll have her sent
for."

Bruce Palliser was to make the close acquaintance of the mare in
question before very long, and in a fashion which did not tend to give
him such a high opinion of the creature as Mr Rawlins possessed.

Just as he was preparing for dinner a call came to a patient who lived
the other side of the town. His stable only contained one horse, and
that had already done a good day's work. Taking out his bicycle he
proceeded to the patient's house on that. He was not detained long.
Glancing at his watch as he was about to return he perceived that if he
made haste he would not be so very late for dinner after all, and would
have a chance of getting something to eat before everything was
spoiled. So he bowled along at a pace which was considerably above the
legal limit. It was bright moonlight. Until he reached Woodcroft, the
residence of Dr Constance Hughes, he had the road practically all to
himself.

Woodcroft was a corner house. As he neared it he became suddenly
conscience that a vehicle was coming along the road which bounded it on
one side. As he came to the corner the vehicle swept round it. He had
just time to see that it was a high dog-cart, and that Dr Constance
Hughes was driving. For some reason the discovery caused him to lose
his head. Forgetting that he was riding a free wheel, instead of
jamming on the brakes he tried to back pedal. Before he had realised
his mistake he was under the horse's hoofs, and the dog-cart had passed
right over him.

Mr Palliser was conscious that the startled animal first reared, then
bolted--or rather, tried to. Fortunately her master sat behind her in
the shape of her mistress. Not only was she brought to a standstill,
but, in less than half a minute, Dr Constance Hughes had descended from
the dog-cart, and was kneeling at Mr Palliser's side.

Her first remark was scarcely sympathetic.

"You ought to have rung your bell," she said.

"I hadn't a bell to ring," he retorted.

"Then you never ought to come out without one, as you're very well
aware. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

He proved that there was nothing wrong by quietly fainting in the
middle of the road.

"What's up?" was the first remark which he made when he returned to
consciousness. "What's happened? Where am I? What on earth--"

He stopped, to groan with pain, and to recognise the futility of an
attempt to sit upright. He lay still, looking about him with wide-open
eyes. He was in bed--not his own, but someone else's. And in someone
else's room; one, moreover, which was strange to him. On one side stood
Dr Constance Hughes; behind her was that very general practitioner and
ancient rival--Joseph Harford. It was the lady who replied.

"As to where you are, you're in my house. And you've come back to your
senses just in time to let us know if you would like your leg cut off."

"My leg?"

"I said your leg. At present it's a question of that only. It may be
necessary to proceed further later on."

"What do you mean?"

Bruce Palliser was conscious that his right leg was subjecting him to
so much agony that beads of sweat stood on his brow.

"Compound fracture. Tibia and peroneal both broken. Mr Harford is of
opinion that the only thing is to amputate at once."

"Is he? I'm much obliged."

"I say no."

"Do you?"

"I do. I say they can be set, being of opinion that it's worth while
risking something on the off chance of being able to save your leg,
since it's better to go about with two than one."

Mr Harford shook his head.

"I've had my say; having done so I wash my hands of all responsibility.
If we amputate at once your life will not be endangered. If there is
any postponement we may not be able to operate at all; you may lose
your life and your leg."

"That is your opinion?"

"It is--emphatically."

"Then I'll keep my leg. Set it." He closed his eyes, he had to, the
pain just then was so exquisite. Presently he opened them again to
address the lady pointedly. "_You_ set it."

"I intend to. Would you like an anæsthetic? It won't be pleasant."

"No."

"Then grit your teeth. I'll be as quick as I can; but I'm afraid you'll
have a pretty bad time."

He gritted his teeth, and he had a pretty bad time. But through it all
he recognised that the work was being done by a workman, with skill and
judgment, with as much delicacy also as the thing permitted. He had not
thought that such a slip of a girl could have had such strength or
courage. When the task was over she gave what sounded like a gratified
sigh.

"That's done. You've behaved like a man."

"And you're a surgeon born."

That was all he could mutter. Then he swooned, unconsciousness
supervened; he had come to the end of his tether.

The bad time continued longer than he cared to count. The days slipped
by, and still he lay in that bed. One morning he asked her,--

"How's it going?"

"As well as can be expected; better perhaps. But this is not going to
be a five minutes' job--you know better than that?"

"I ought to have let old Harford cut it off; I should have made a
quicker recovery."

"Nonsense. In that case you would never, in the real sense of the word,
have recovered at all. Now there's every probability of your being as
sound as ever. You only want time. There's no inflammation; the wound
keeps perfectly sweet. You've a fine physique; you've lived cleanly. I
counted upon these things when I took the chances."

Two days afterwards he broached another matter.

"You know I can't stop here. I'm putting you to tremendous expense, and
no end of inconvenience. The idea's monstrous. I'm ashamed of myself
for having stopped so long. You must have me put into the ambulance at
once and carted home."

"You will stay where you are. I'm in charge of this case. I decline to
allow you to be moved."

"But--!"

"But me no buts. As your medical adviser I refuse to permit of any
interference. In such a matter you of all persons ought to set a good
example."

He was silent. Not only was he helpless and too weak for argument, but
there was in her manner an air of peremptory authority before which he
positively quailed. Yet, the next day, he returned to the attack.

"I don't want there to be any misunderstanding between us, so please
realise that I'm quite aware that the accident was entirely my fault,
that you were in no way to blame, and that therefore you are not in any
sense responsible for my present position."

"I know that as well as you do. You ought to have had a bell; no
bicyclist ought to be without a bell, especially at night. I did not
hear you coming, but you heard me; yet you ran right into me although
you heard."

"I lost my head."

"You lost something.

"Therefore I wish to emphasise the fact that I have not the slightest
right to encroach upon your hospitality, or your time, or your
services."

"Does that mean that you would rather dispense with the latter? Or are
you merely again trying to display a refractory spirit?"

"I'm not doing anything of the kind. I simply don't wish to take
advantage of your--your generosity."

"Generosity? My good sir, you are mistaken. Yours is an interesting
case. I flatter myself that not everybody could have saved that leg of
yours. You know how seldom one gets an interesting case at Market
Hinton; I mean to make the best of this one now I've got it. You'll
regard this as a hospital. And you'll stay in it, as patiently as your
nature permits, until, in due course, you receive your discharge."

There was silence. He watched her while she adjusted fresh bandages. He
thought that he had never seen work of the kind more deftly done. As
she bent over him he noticed what a dainty profile she had, and what
beautiful hands. Presently he spoke again.

"Miss Hughes--"

"Dr Hughes, if you please. I didn't proceed to my M.D. degree for
nothing."

"I beg your pardon. Dr Hughes, what has become of my patients while
I've been lying here?"

"I've been taking them. Do you object?"

"Object! Indeed, no; only--I'm afraid--"

He stopped.

"Yes? What are you afraid of?"

"Nothing; that is--I hardly know how you'll take it."

"What are you afraid of?"

"Only that, when they've once tried you, they won't care to return to
me."

"That's it, is it? I thought so. Do you take me to be that kind of
person? I'm extremely obliged."

"You're quite mistaken. I didn't mean it in that way at all, as you
know. I meant it for a clumsy compliment."

"It's a kind of clumsy compliment I don't care about, thank you very
much."

"But, professionally, you are infinitely cleverer than I am."

"Professionally, I am nothing of the kind. It's not fair of you to
laugh at me. Wherever I go people tell me how skilful you are,
especially those who know. Besides, you need have no fear of
illegitimate competition. It is not likely that I shall remain in
Market Hinton."

He started.

"You are not going away?"

"I am, most probably. I only came here as an experiment; from my point
of view it is an experiment which has failed."

He was still, to speak again after another interval. A more serious
note was in his speech.

"Dr Hughes, when that man in the omnibus said I had stolen your purse,
did you believe him?"

"I did not."

"Not for an instant?"

"Not for a single instant. And that for the best of reasons; my purse
had not been stolen. I could have bitten my tongue off directly I had
allowed myself to hint that it might have been; because it instantly
occurred to me that it was well within the range of possibility that I
had left it behind me at a shop at which I had been making some
purchases. I drove straight back to the shop, and there it was."

"Why didn't you allow me to explain?"

"There was nothing for you to explain. As a matter of fact the
explanation would have had to come from me, and I was in too bad a
temper for that. Women have a reputation for making spectacles of
themselves in that particular fashion; it didn't please me to think
that I'd fallen in line with my sisters." She added, after a pause:
"You've no notion what a vile temper I have."

"I doubt if it's such a very bad one."

"You doubt? You don't! You, of all people, ought to know what kind of
temper I've got."

He smiled enigmatically.

"I do."

It was some time afterwards, when he had advanced to the dignity of an
easy-chair and a leg-rest, that some of the points of that conversation
were touched on again. It was he who began.

"Dr Hughes."

"_Doctor_ Palliser?"

The emphasis which she laid upon the "Doctor" was most pronounced.

"Pardon me, I am not a doctor, I am a mere F.R.C.S."

"Is it necessary that you should always 'Doctor' me?"

"Pardon me again. I remember an occasion when you went a little out of
your way to make it plain to me that you had not proceeded to your M.D.
degree for nothing."

"You needn't always flaunt that in my face."

"I won't, since you appear to have changed your mind--until you change
it again." She looked at him, with a gleam in her eyes which was half
laughter, half something else. He went on: "At the same time, since
what I have to say to you is strictly professional, I don't think that,
on this occasion, the 'Doctor' Hughes will be out of place. You once
said to me that you had some vague intention of not remaining in Market
Hinton."

"It wasn't a vague intention then; it is less vague now. I am going."

"That is a pity."

"Why? It will be all the better for you; one competitor less."

"I am afraid I don't see it altogether in that light. You see, I was
thinking of taking a partner."

"A partner?"

"Exactly, a partner. The practice was getting a little beyond me. When
I am able to move about again, as I soon shall be, thanks to you, it
may get beyond me again. Now what would you say to taking a partner?"

"I! What! Bring another woman here?"

"No, I was not thinking of that. Indeed, I was not thinking of a woman
at all. I was thinking of a man."

"A man!"

"I was thinking of myself."

"You! Mr Palliser!"

"Why shouldn't we--you and I--be partners? Miss Hughes--Dr
Constance"--suddenly, as he went on she looked down--"don't you think
that it is possible that we might work together? That an arrangement
might be made which--would be agreeable to us both?"

"Of course--there is always a possibility."

"Don't you think that, in this instance, there's a probability?"

"There might be."

"Don't you feel that such an arrangement would be, from all possible
points of view, a desirable one? I do; I feel it strongly."

"Do you?"

"Don't you?" She was silent; so he continued, "I'd give all I have in
the world, all I hope to have, to hear you say that you'd like us to be
partners."

She looked up at him.

"I'd like to have--you for a partner," she said.



                               REWARDED


                                  I

"Am I altered?"

She was, and yet was not. In one sense, not so much as he had expected.
In another sense, more. Or was the alteration in himself? Mr Ferguson
was conscious of a curious qualm as he recognised that at least the
thing was possible.

He had told himself, over and over again, not only that he was not a
romantic man, but that there was no romance about the story. He had
loved Helen Sinclair when he was scarcely more than a boy, and when she
was, certainly, nothing but a girl. Sir Matthew Griswold had come her
way, and--well--she had married him. How much her mother had had to do
with the match, and how much she herself had had to do with it, was a
matter Mr Ferguson never could determine. Griswold was scarcely more
than half an Englishman. His mother had left him large estates in South
America. To those estates he had departed with his wife. On those
estates for eighteen--or was it nineteen?--years Lady Griswold had
practically resided.

If Mr Ferguson was broken-hearted when his love forsook him, he
concealed the fact with admirable ability. Indeed, it is an open
question whether, very soon, he did not tell himself that it was just
as well. A poor wife, possibly any sort of wife, might have proved a
drag on his career. For he had a career. And, in a certain way, he had
succeeded in that career to quite a remarkable extent. He was M.P. for
the Culmshire Boroughs. He had made a name in literature. Literature,
that is, of a kind. Not light and fanciful, but matter-of-fact and
solid. He was, in fact, that wholly indescribable personage, a
promising politician. He was beginning to feel, and possibly others
were beginning to feel as well, that there was only one thing needed to
enable him to turn the promise into fulfilment. That thing was money.
He was not, in a positive sense, a poor man. In a relative sense, he
was. He was very far from being as rich as he felt that he ought to be
if he was ever to occupy that position in politics which he would like
to occupy.

Helen Sinclair had sent him a little note when her marriage with Sir
Matthew was finally arranged. Mr Ferguson had not replied to it. She
had particularly desired that he would not reply. After that there had
been no communication between them for years. Mr Ferguson, of course,
was aware that Lady Griswold was still alive. The Griswolds were
sufficiently important personages in English society to be heard of now
and then, even from that remote portion of the world, from an English
social point of view, in which they chose to dwell.

One day a certain young friend of Mr Ferguson's made up his mind to
travel in South America. He came and asked Mr Ferguson if he could make
him known to any persons "over there." The request was, geographically,
rather vaguely worded, but Mr Ferguson, smiling to himself as he wrote,
gave him a note of introduction to Lady Griswold, in case he should
get, say, within a hundred miles of her. That young man got within a
hundred miles of her. He made a long sojourn with the Griswolds. They
made much of him. Lady Griswold even went so far as to write and thank
Mr Ferguson for having thought of her. Mr Ferguson replied to her
letter. The lady replied again. And so, between them, there grew up a
curious correspondence, a correspondence which, if they had only known
it, was in its way pathetic. Perhaps, after a fashion of their own,
they did recognise the pathos of the thing. Then Sir Matthew died. He
was thirty years older than his wife. The widow, in her distress, wrote
to Ronald--Mr Ferguson was once more "Ronald" to her--in her grief.
And, in soothing her sorrow, Mr Ferguson had dropped a hint. When he
wrote again he dropped another hint. And then another, and another, and
another. By degrees the widow began to take the hints. The end of it
was, that, after many years of exile, Lady Griswold had come home.

Mr Ferguson understood quite well that it was because of those hints
which he had dropped that Lady Griswold had come home. He had not
written one plain word. Nothing which she would be able to fasten on
and say, "Did you not write this, or that, and so deceive me?" His
political training had tended to develop the bump of caution which he
had originally possessed. "Non-committal" was the watchword for him. He
was unwilling to commit himself to any person, in any way, on any
subject whatsoever. Experience had taught him, or had seemed to teach
him, that that was the safest policy. But he certainly had dropped
those hints. And, as it appeared to him, with cause.

It is true enough that, since he was left forlorn, he had never thought
of marriage. Never once, until Sir Matthew died. He had discovered, with
an old sensation of surprise, that he had still a tenderness for his
boyhood's love. Though until he saw Lady Griswold's handwriting--she
wrote the same hand which she had written as a girl--he had been
unaware of the fact during all these years. That young man had sent Mr
Ferguson a glowing account of his sojourn with the Griswolds. According
to him, Lady Griswold was the most charming woman in the world. And so
young. The traveller protested that she scarcely looked as if she were
more than twenty. Even allowing for the natural exaggeration of
grateful youth, this sounded well. In her letters Lady Griswold had
herself declared that she felt young. She only had one child, a girl.
That young man scarcely spoke of the girl. Lady Griswold alluded to her
rarely. When Mr Ferguson heard that Sir Matthew had divided his vast
possessions equally between his wife and his daughter, and that the
widow was free to do with her portion exactly what she pleased, his
heart actually throbbed a little faster in his breast. Here was the
wealth he needed to make his standing sure. It was then he dropped a
more decisive hint than any other of the hints which he had dropped,
the hint which had induced Lady Griswold to come home.

She had told him that he was not to meet her on her arrival in her
native land. She would let him know when he was to call on her in town.
She had let him know. He had waited on her command. He had been
conscious of a slight internal fluttering as he came up the stairs. Now
he held her by the hand.

"Am I altered?"

It was when she asked that question that Mr Ferguson had been made
aware of that curious qualm. She had not altered anything like so much
as might reasonably have been expected. She showed not the slightest
sign of having lived in such a very trying climate. She was, perhaps, a
little filled out. Perhaps a little more stately. There was about her
the certain something which so distinctly divides the woman from the
girl. But there was not a wrinkle on her face. Not a line of sorrow or
of care. She looked at him, too, with the eyes of a girl; she certainly
looked very much more like twenty-six than thirty-six. And yet!--

And yet, what? It is rather difficult to put the matter into words. The
truth is, that as he stood in front of her, holding her hand in his,
looking into her eyes, he felt an absolute conviction that this was not
the sort of woman that he cared for. That this was not the sort of
woman that he ever could care for now. But he could not tell her so.
Just as little could he leave her inquiry unanswered.

"No, I do not think that you have altered."

Her womanly perception was not to be deceived.

"You are saying that to please me. I see you do think that I have
altered."

"I think that you have grown younger."

"Ronald!"

She dropped her eyes, as a young girl might drop her eyes on receiving
her first compliment. The blood showed through her cheeks. He felt that
she expected him to say something else. But he could not say it.

"And me--what do you think of the changes which have taken place in
me?"

She looked up at him shyly, with a shyness which he found curiously
embarrassing.

"You are just what I expected you would be. See here."

Taking him by the hand she led him to a table. On the table lay a
photographic album. The album was of considerable size. It seemed to be
full of photographs. She opened it.

"See," she said, "I have them all. At least, I think I have them all."

The album contained nothing but photographs of Mr Ferguson. He filled
it from cover to cover. When he perceived this was so, he was
tongue-tied. He felt, almost, as if he were some guilty thing. She went
on,--

"I made arrangements with someone over here--he is in a news agency, or
something. I told him to find out whenever you were photographed and to
send me copies. So you see that I have been able to follow the changes
which have taken place in you from year to year."

He said nothing. He could say nothing. He could only turn over the
leaves of that photographic album.

"But I not only have your photographs, I have every speech you ever
made. I have read them over and over again. I believe I know some of
them by heart. I have everything you ever wrote. I have records of you
which will surprise you, one day, when you see them, Ronald." She
paused. Then added, half beneath her breath: "And you? Did you take any
interest in me?"

"Were not my letters proofs of that?"

"Yes, indeed! Ah, Ronald, if it had not been for you I should never
have come home."

He was startled.

"But what was there to keep you out of England now?"

"Nothing, only you. I always told myself that I never would come back
unless you wrote and said you wished me to."

He was silent for a second, oddly silent. It was with an effort that he
seemed to speak.

"You take my breath away."

"Do I?" she laughed. "Ronald, instead of being eighteen years, it does
not seem to me as if it were eighteen days since we were parted." Not
eighteen days! It seemed to him as if it had been eighteen hundred
years and more. "I want to tell you all about it. I always said to
myself that I would tell you all about it the very first time I saw
you, if I had to tell you on my bended knees."

"What is there to tell?"

"What is there not to tell! Now sit down and listen."

He had to sit beside her on a couch, and he had to listen. He did not
know how to help it. He would have given something to have known. He
felt that between himself and this woman there was a great gulf fixed.
While she--she seemed to be so happy in his presence as to be
unconscious that anything was wrong. She seemed to be unconscious that
there was a single jarring note which marred the perfect harmony.

"Ronald, do you remember Major Pettifer?"

Pettifer! The mere mention of the name brought back to him the long
passage of the years. Why, Pettifer had been dead these dozen years and
more. He told her so.

"Has he? Well, it was owing to Major Pettifer that I married Sir
Matthew Griswold."

"Owing to Pettifer? How do you mean?"

"He came down with you one day to mother's. At that time mother was
worrying me to marry Sir Matthew, and Sir Matthew himself was worrying
me even worse than mother. Between them I was nearly driven out of my
mind. I chanced to be passing an open window when I overheard a remark
which Major Pettifer addressed to you. 'To you,' he said, 'marrying a
poor girl means ruin.' 'Well,' you answered, 'it shall mean ruin.' Your
words struck me as with a sudden light of revelation. I made up my mind
upon the instant. I told myself that if marrying a poor girl did mean
ruin, then a poor girl you should not marry. Sir Matthew seemed even
older than he was. My mother had told me, with her own lips, that it
was quite possible that he would not live a year. I knew all through
that you never would marry anyone but me. I knew you, Ronald! Even
supposing Sir Matthew lived two years--then I should not be poor. You
would not be ruined by mating yourself with poverty."

She was silent. And he was silent. This was far worse than he could
possibly have expected.

"Do you mean to say that you married Griswold because of some chance
words which you heard Pettifer address to me, a mere fragment of a
conversation to which you did not even possess the key?"

"I do. I simply made up my mind that you should not be ruined by
marrying me, even though, for love of me, you courted ruin. I resolved
that when I became your wife, in every possible sense of the word I
would bring you fortune."

"But during eighteen years of married life have you had no sort of
compensation?"

"I have had the compensation of looking forward, the compensation of
expecting this."

What _could_ he say to her? He vowed that never again would he commit
himself even to the extent of dropping a hint. He ought to have better
learnt the lesson which had been taught him on many and many a
platform.

"You have had children."

"One child--a girl."

"Was she no compensation?"

"Really, I can hardly tell you. I seem to have seen so little of her;
though, of course, she has been with me nearly all the time. But,
somehow, to myself, I never seem yet to have become a mother."

"How old is she?"

"Let me see, she was born the year that I was married, so she must be
nearly eighteen. Frankly, Inez is so different to me in all respects
that she never seems to me to be my daughter. Here she is." If Lady
Griswold did not welcome the opening door, which was possible, she
allowed no sign of annoyance to escape her. "Inez, this is Mr
Ferguson."

Mr Ferguson stood staring, as if spellbound, at the girl who had
entered the room. He felt more than half inclined to rub his eyes. It
was an extraordinary thing. This big-eyed girl, who was so unlike the
fair and stately Lady Griswold that she might almost have belonged to a
different race of human beings, he seemed to have seen many and many a
time in his dreams. He who flattered himself that he was no dreamer.
Her appearance was so familiar to him that he could have drawn her
likeness even before she entered the room. It was odd. It was even
preposterous. Yet it was so. She advanced with outstretched hand. Even
her soft, musical voice, with its faint suggestion of a foreign accent,
seemed familiar to him.

"Mr Ferguson, I have seen you before."

"You have seen me, Miss Griswold? Where?"

"In my dreams."

Her mother interposed.

"In your dreams? Inez, don't be so silly! What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say." She turned to Mr Ferguson. "In your dreams, have
you not seen me?"

Mr Ferguson hardly knew what to make of her, or of himself.

"It is an extraordinary thing, but I do seem to have seen you in my
dreams, many and many a time."

"It was not seeming. It was reality. We have seen each other in our
dreams."

"Inez! Mr Ferguson, let me show you some photographs of our home in
South America." She led Mr Ferguson towards a table on which there was
a large portfolio. As they went, she whispered, "Ronald, I sometimes
really think that Inez is a little mad."

Mr Ferguson answered her never a word. For in an instant of time, in
the flashing of an eye, something seemed to have come into his life
which had never come into it before. For one thing, there had come into
his life the real presence of the ideal woman of his dreams.


                                  II

"I think that I have earned him, Marian!"

Mrs Glover, putting up her glasses, surveyed Lady Griswold through them
quizzically.

"Earned him? You have earned him, over and over again, a hundred
thousand times, my dear."

Lady Griswold positively blushed with pleasure.

"Do you really think so? Do you really think that he will think so too?
To look at me you would not think I was romantic, but I suppose I am."

"If there is a more romantic creature at present existing in the world
I should like to meet her, or rather, I am almost tempted to say I
shouldn't. Are you sure that after all your romance will end well?"

"Sure?" Lady Griswold seemed surprised. "How do you mean?"

"Are you sure that this Mr Ferguson of yours will adequately reward you
for your eighteen years of--what shall I say?--servitude or waiting?"

Lady Griswold dropped her eyes in that girlish way she had. Her fingers
trifled with a fold in the skirt of her dress.

"You do not know him."

"I fancied that I did. I assure you I hear enough of him from Mr
Glover. Mr Glover seems to think that some fine day Mr Ferguson is
going to save the country."

"I have no doubt that he will, when there is need of him. I mean that
you do not know him as--I know him. He will adequately reward me
for--oh, for more than I have done."

"Indeed." There was an odd smile about the visitor's lips. "He seems to
be very much struck with that girl of yours."

"With Inez? He is good to her for my sake. I know what he suffers,
because, you see, she is so different from me in all respects. But it
is like him, to suffer for me."

"Frankly, Helen, is there a definite engagement between you?"

"Well, Marian, you are trying to dig deeper into my secrets than I
quite bargained for. But I don't mind telling you that it was he who
asked me to come home."

"He asked you to come home, did he? Did he ask you to come home to be
his wife?"

Lady Griswold's cheeks went flaming red.

"Marian, I will tell you nothing else than this, that I am the happiest
woman in the world."

There was an odd smile about the visitor's lips.

"You are at least the funniest woman in the world, my dear. It appears
to me that you have devoted one portion of your life to the pursuit of
one chimera. I only hope that you are not going to devote the remaining
portion to the pursuit of another."

"A chimera! Do you call Ronald a chimera?" Lady Griswold laughed. "I
will tell Ronald that you called him a chimera."

Mrs Glover rose to go.

"You may tell him that I called him what you please. I don't think he
is likely to care for what I may call him. He has been called too many
things in his time to be super-sensitive. Mr Ferguson was born hard.
The life he has lived has made him one of the hardest men I know. I am
not saying it at all as a reproach, my dear; it seems to me that coming
statesmen have to be hard, but it is so."

"My dear Marian, you don't know Ronald. He may seem hard outwardly.
Inwardly, it only requires a touch to turn him into a naming fiery
furnace."

Lady Griswold stated the truth more exactly than, for an instant, she
imagined. Mrs Glover would not allow that it was the truth.

"You really are the funniest woman, my dear Helen. If Mr Ferguson's
temperature ever gets to summer heat he will be in danger of--well,
cracking. But never mind that. All's well that ends well. I only hope
that it will all end well with you, my dear."

"All end well!" Lady Griswold told herself, when her visitor had gone.
"She only hopes that it will all end well with me. As though it could
end any other way but well! Foolish Marian! These women of the world
have not, in their keeping, all the wisdom. Their besetting weakness is
that they are so apt to measure other people's corn with their own
bushels."

There was a photograph frame, fastened with a clasp, on the table at
which she was standing. She unclasped it. It contained the usual
photograph of Mr Ferguson, the very latest.

"Ronald, she does not know you, she says that you are hard. My Ronald!"
She pressed her lips against the pictured lips in the pictured face.
"How often I have kissed your effigy! When--" she was actually
trembling--"when shall I kiss your living lips instead?" Laying the
photograph down upon the table, she covered her face with her hands.
"When, when? How often have I cried for you in the dead of the night,
and--and yearned to hold you in my arms!"

She seemed to be positively crying. She was crying, there was not a
doubt of it. Removing her hands from before her flaming face, with her
handkerchief she dried the tears which stood in her smarting eyes.

"I think, as Marian says, that I have earned you. I have waited for you
eighteen years. You must not make me wait much longer. I will not let
you, Ronald. When one has loved, for eighteen years, as I have loved,
one's love--one's love becomes--too much for one." She looked down as
if, although she was alone, she was ashamed. "I wonder if it was the
climate, or whether it is I. I think--I think that it is I. Love with
me is not, I think, an affair of climate." She stretched out her arms
in front of her with a strange gesture of strange passion. "I think
that I am made for love! Ronald, I am made for love! That day of which,
almost in my madness, I have dreamed, that day for which I have waited
eighteen years, that day when you shall take me in your arms, I shall
go mad--with joy--that joy which follows after waiting. Ronald!
Ronald!"

Again she put her hands before her face. She trembled as with fever.
She began to pace, feverishly, about the room.

"I wonder what he is waiting for? I wonder if he thinks it is too soon?
Too soon! Too soon! If he thinks it is too soon, I, even I, I myself,
will show him if it is too soon. Ronald! Ronald!"

Even while the name was still upon her lips a servant was standing with
the handle of the open door in his hand, announcing,--

"Mr Ferguson!"

And Mr Ferguson came in.

As Lady Griswold turned to greet him, one could not but feel that she
was beautiful. Beautiful with the beauty which is the crowning beauty
of all beauty in the eyes of many men. The beauty of the beautiful
woman who is in the full, rich, ripe glory of her summer's prime. She
advanced to him with both her hands held out.

"Ronald!"

There was a look of welcome on her face, and in her eyes and about her
lips, and, as it seemed, in every curve and outline of her body, for
which some men, to have had it appear for them, would nave given a good
slice of their possessions. But Mr Ferguson seemed, positively, as if
he would rather that it had not been there.

He seemed reluctant, even, to yield her one of his hands in exchange
for both of hers.

"Lady Griswold--"

"Lady Griswold! Why do you call me Lady Griswold? Call me Helen! Am I
not Helen?"

He was silent. To himself he said,--

"It is going to be more difficult even than I fancied. After all, I
almost wish that I had written. Bah! I am a coward! Better to face it
once and for all." Then, to her, "Lady Griswold, who _once_ was Helen."
Before she could interpose, he added, "There is something I wish
particularly to say to you."

"To me?" She caught her breath. "Ronald! What is it?"

He saw she caught her breath. It made him awkward. He began to
blunder,--

"I trust that what I am about to say to you will not--cause you to feel
annoyed."

"Annoyed! As though anything which you could say to me could cause me
to feel annoyed! Ronald, how little you know me after all."

He wished to Heaven that she knew him better.

"I can only hope that, when you have heard me out, you will not think
that I have, in any way, misled you."

"Misled me! As though you had misled me, as though you could mislead
me--Ronald."

Mr Ferguson was a cool and a courageous man. But his courage almost
failed him then. He felt that he was face to face with the most
difficult and the most delicate task that he had ever had to face in
all his life. The look which was in this woman's eyes, which was on her
face, which was, so to speak, all over her, was, to him, nothing less
than terrible. He would rather have encountered a look of the deadliest
hatred than the love-light which was in her eyes. As a rule, in his way
he was a diplomatist. Now, his diplomacy wholly failed him. He
struggled from blunder on to blunder.

"I feel that--that, in this matter, I may not, myself, have been wholly
free from blame--"

"Blame? You have not been free from blame? I will not have you say that
you have been to blame in anything, I will not let you say it, Ronald."

"But--"

"But me no buts! If there has been blame, then it has been wholly mine.
But, Ronald, you will not blame me--now?"

"If you will permit me to explain--"

"Oh, yes, I will permit you to explain. Will you do it standing up? I
would rather, since you ask my permission, that you make your
explanation sitting at my side. I would rather, Ronald, have it so?"

It was maddening. Did she mean to compel him to play the brute?

"Lady Griswold, I--I must really beg you to hear me, without
interruption, to an end."

"Ronald! Is that your House of Commons manner when the Opposition won't
be still?"

He was a man whom it was notoriously, exceedingly difficult to
irritate. But he was beginning then to be conscious of an unwonted
feeling of irritation.

"I am simply here, Lady Griswold, to inform you that I propose to
marry."

"Propose to marry! Is that the way in which you speak of it? And you do
really think that it is news to me--after all your letters? Ronald!
Ronald!"

It was inconceivable that a woman could be such a fool. Yet it was so.
There was a rapturous suggestion in her voice which, literally,
frightened him. The devil fly away with those letters of his! If ever
he even dropped so much as a shadow of a hint again! She actually began
to woo him. She came to him, she took both his hands in hers, she
looked into his eyes--how she looked into his eyes! And he--he almost
wished that he had no eyes to look into.

"Ronald! Ronald!" With what an unspoken eloquence of meaning she
pronounced his name. "News to me? Rather--I will say it, after all
these years--tidings of great joy. News to me! I will make you my
confession, sir, in full." Why did he not nip her confession in the
bud? Why did he stand there as if spellbound? He was speechless. A bolt
seemed to have come out of the blue, and to have struck him dumb. And
she went on,--

"For eighteen years, my lord, I have dreamed of this--this one hour. I
cannot tell whether I am a wicked woman, or whether I am not. I tell
you just how it has been with me. I have done what seemed to me to be
my duty, from day to day, from month to month, yes, from year to year,
and I do not think that anyone has ever heard me once repine. But all
the time it has seemed that I, my own self, have been far away, and I
watched and waited till I could join my own self--where you were. I
knew that this day would come. I knew it, with a sure and a certain
knowledge, all along. You see, Ronald, I knew you. I think it is that
knowledge which kept me young. For I am young. I still am young,
Ronald, in every sense. Indeed, I have sometimes feared that I am too
young to be a fitting mate for a leader among men. Ronald, love of my
life, speak to me, my dear."

He was looking away--down at the floor. He was standing in front of
her, wearing the hang-dog air of a convicted criminal. He spoke to her.

"It is Inez." That is what he said.

She did not catch his meaning. Perhaps she did not distinctly catch his
words. "Inez? What is Inez? Inez has nothing to do with us, my dear."

"Whom I am going to marry."

She looked at him as if she were dimly trying to realise what, by any
possibility, could be his meaning. She seemed almost to think that
great joy had caused him to lose his mental equilibrium, as it most
certainly had caused her to lose hers. She put out her hands, as if he
were a child, and advanced them towards his face.

"Ronald--kiss me,--after all these years."

Then the man blazed up. He seized her wrists just as her fingers
touched his cheeks. He broke into a fury. "Don't."

She looked at him askance.

"Ronald--won't you kiss me?"

Still he could not tell it to her, not face to face. He roughly dropped
her hands. He turned away. She looked at him in wondering amazement.

"Ronald, what do you mean?"

Then he turned to her. On his face there was that expression of
resolution with which, in certain of his moods, the House of Commons
was beginning to be very well acquainted.

"Lady Griswold, the purpose of my visit was to inform you that, with
your permission, I propose to do myself the honour of marrying your
daughter Inez."

Still she did not understand him.

"Ronald, what--what do you mean?"

She compelled him to be brutal, or, at least, it seemed to him that she
compelled him.

"Lady Griswold, you must forgive my saying that you have made what I
had hoped would be the happiest hour of my life one of the bitterest.
If you had permitted me to speak at first you would have spared us both
much pain. It would be absurd for me to pretend that I do not
understand your meaning. You seem to take it for granted that things
are to be with us as they were before the war. You appear to be wholly
oblivious of the fact that eighteen--or is it nineteen?--years ago you
jilted me."

"Jilted you? I--Ronald--I--I jilted you?"

"It is always my desire to use the most courteous and the gentlest
language which will adequately convey my meaning. I know not how you
may gloze it to yourself. To me it seems simply that--you promised to
marry me, and you married Sir Matthew Griswold."

"But--Ronald--I--I have explained--just--how it was."

"Madam, did I require your explanation?"

She shrunk away, cowering as if she were some wild, frightened thing.

"But--but you wrote and asked me to come home."

"Lady Griswold, if you will refer to the letters of mine to which you
are alluding, you will perceive that I merely suggested that it was
possible that you might find more congenial surroundings in England
than in Mexico."

"You--you meant more than that. And, Ronald--Ronald, I haven't ceased
to love you all the time!"

"Lady Griswold, you compel me to use what may seem to be the language
of discourtesy. How was I to know that, married to one man, you loved
another? When you married him you died to me. I thought that, for me,
all love was dead. But when I saw your daughter Inez--I have a
constitutional objection to use the language of violence, or of
passion. It is a plain statement of the naked truth that, when I saw
your daughter Inez, that instant I knew that for me all love was not
yet dead. It may appear to you that I have known her but a short time.
Too short a time for knowledge. But I will say to you what I would not
say to all the world. I seem to have known her--yes, certainly for
years. I must certainly have known her in my dreams. I could have drawn
her portrait, which would have been her very duplicate, instinct with
all but life before she came into this room."

"Indeed. Is--is that so, Ronald?"

"I must have loved her in the spirit before I met her in the flesh. I
must have done. And the strangest part of it all is that she seems,
also, to have loved me."

"I do not think that that is strange, though the whole affair is,
perhaps, a little strange."

"So, Lady Griswold, I have come to crave your permission to make your
child my wife."

"I see. You want to marry Inez. Now--now I understand. Well, Ronald, I
think I have known you long enough to be able to trust you with my
child." The door opened to admit Miss Griswold. "Inez, the strangest
thing has happened, which I am sure will overwhelm you with surprise.
Mr Ferguson actually tells me that he loves you."

How we can smile, some of us, both men and women, when our very hearts
are weeping gouts of blood. It is a curious illustration of the dual
personality which is in each of us.

"My dear mother, that is no news. I know he loves me!"

"And what is even stranger, he tells me that you love him."

"That thing is less strange even than the other. I have loved him--oh,
for years. Really, since the hour I was born. I believe that I was
predestined to love him when I still was in the womb of time. I
certainly have loved him for eighteen years, dear mother."

"For eighteen years? How odd! Well, Mr Ferguson, you will make her
happy--always happy--won't you? And, Inez, you will be a good wife
to--to Ronald? And so may every happiness be yours, you foolish pair!"

And before they suspected her intention, Lady Griswold had departed
deftly.



                             ON THE RIVER

                       AN IDYLL OF A BEANFEAST


                                  I
                     THE PLEASURES OF THE PEOPLE

Yes, I went on the river. I thought it would give me a chance to blow
off steam--and it did.

I ran down to Richmond, and I got a craft from Messum, and I turned her
nose up stream, and I started to scull for Molesey, but I never got
there.

It was a lovely day. There was a cloudless sky. A twittering breeze,
springing into being when least expected and most desired, plashed
against one's cheeks with cooling kisses, It was a day when the glamour
of the waters, the magic of the stream, the poetry of the river, should
have been at its best. And it was. There had been an extensive
beanfeast.

And the beanfeasters had been beanfeasting.

I afterwards became acquainted with the name of the firm which had
beanfeasted. It was one which stands high in the commercial aristocracy
of this country. Its products are known, and respected, and bought, and
eaten, and liked! the wide world over. It is understood to treat
its employees well. Undoubtedly that day it had treated them
well--uncommonly well--or somebody had. If there was any male person
who could have been adequately described as perfectly sober, I did not
see him, while there were as many as several who would have been most
inadequately described as quite another kind of thing.

It was between four and five when I got afloat, an hour at which, I
have since been informed, the average beanfeast begins to be
beanfeasty, a point to be borne in mind. There were about five thousand
beanfeasters--the statistics are pure guess-work--of whom four thousand
nine hundred and ninety-nine were on the river. If there were any who
had been on it before they hid themselves away in nooks and crannies,
and dissembled, for I am willing to assert, and even bet sixpence, that
if any of those I saw had handled a scull on a previous occasion, it
was in the days of their innocence, and that since then they had become
hazy as to which end of it ought to be put in the water.

When I was clear of the bank I started to take my jacket off.
Immediately I was the object of remarks which, by a slight effort of
the imagination, might almost have been described as personal.

"He's undressing! I say, Jim, 'ere's a bloke undressing! Now, you
girls, turn yer 'eads away!"

"Excuse me, sir, but do you 'appen to 'ave observed as there's lydies
present?"

"If you're a-goin' to bythe don't you do it. Git be'ind a tree. It
ain't to be allard. Where's them coppers?"

"Can't yer let the gentleman alone? 'E's a-goin' to wash 'isself! Ain't
no one got a kyke of soap to lend 'im?"

"Gar on! 'E's Beckwith's brother, that's who 'e is. 'E's goin' to give
a little entertainment. Now then, 'and the 'at round, you'll 'ave to
mike it thirteenpence before 'e's goin' to begin!"

These remarks were made in tones which were distinctly something more
than audible. It was gratifying to find that the advent of an
inoffensive and sober stranger could be an occasion of so much public
interest. If the mere removing of my coat caused such comment, what
would happen if I turned up my shirt sleeves? I am bound to admit that
the large majority of the other oarsmen kept their coats on, either in
the interests of decency or something else, and their hats too--which
if the same were not "billy-cocks" then they were "toppers." The
sight of an amateur sculler with a black coat buttoned tightly across
his chest, and a billy-cock hat set on his brow at an angle of
seventy-five degrees, digging the handle of his scull into the back
of his friend in front of him in his efforts to keep out of time,
always pleases.

Steering I found a trifle difficult. There were boats to the left and
boats to the right of me, boats in the front and boats at the back of
me, and as few of them seemed to have any real notion as to which
direction they were going, the question became involved. I had not got
properly under way before I found this out.

"Now, then, where are yer goin' to?"

This question was put to me by a gentleman in a check suit and a top
hat, who was tugging at a pair of sculls as if he was having an
argument with them, two male friends being fore and three females aft.
Two of the ladies had, in a playful manner, each hold of a rudder
string, and as one jerked against the other the movements of the boat
were of the teetotum order.

I replied to the inquiry with the courtesy which I felt that the
occasion required.

"Where am I going to? Shortly, sir, I expect to go into the river, when
you have finally decided to send me there."

This courtesy of mine the gentleman in the check coat and the top hat
mistook for humour.

"Funny, ain't yer?"

"I shall be when they fish me out. Not a doubt of it."

"I shouldn't be surprised but what you fancies yourself."

"Should you not be surprised? Indeed. Think of that now!"

This remark of mine seemed to rouse the gentleman's ire. I do not know
why. He became personal.

"I've seen better blokes nor you sold down our street two for three
ha'pence, with a plate o' whelks thrown in--long-faced lardy!"

"Go a'ead, Bill, never mind 'im!"

"'Is mother don't know 'e's out!"

This from his two friends in the bow. Bill went "a'ead." He thrust his
sculls into the stream, or meant to, and pulled with all his might, and
caught a crab, and went backwards on to the twain in the prow. It was a
marvel the craft did not go over. The ladies screamed, the gentlemen
struggled, but there is a providence which attends on fools, and the
last I saw of them, Bill, having another row with the sculls, was
starting in pursuit of his top hat, which floated on the shining
waters.

This sort of thing was doing me good. Ordinarily I should have resented
Richmond emulating Hampstead Heath on a Bank Holiday; but, things being
as they were, the position gave my nervous system just that fillip it
required. I felt that if I could only have a row royal with some
half-dozen of those beanfeasters--a good old-fashioned shindy--they
would enjoy themselves and I should, and I should go back to dream
dreams with a sound mind in a sound body, even though the latter was
ornamented by a bruise or two.

I had that trifling argument, dear me, yes. Shades of my sires! what
displays of oarsmanship I saw that afternoon.

"I say, matey, give us 'old of that there oar!"

The request came from an individual who formed one of a crew of four,
with the usual eight or ten passengers, and who was looking with a
certain amount of longing at a scull which was drifting on the stream
towards me.

"How did you happen to lose it?" I inquired, as I drew it towards me.

"It was my friend as done it; 'e 'it it out of my 'and."

This was an allusion to the rower in front of him, which the rower
resented.

"'Ow do yer make that out? Didn't you clout me in the middle of the
back with it, and ain't you been clouting me with it all the way along,
and didn't I say to you, ''Enery, if you keeps on a-doing that
something'll 'appen'?"

The gentleman who had been deprived of his scull dissented.

"If you knocks your back against my oar what's that got to do with me?"

"Why, you crackpot, don't you know better than that? If you was to 'old
your oar as you ought to, I shouldn't come agin it, should I?"

"It's easy talking!"

"Ain't I sittin' in front of yer?"

"Course you are."

"Then why don't you keep your eye on the middle of my back?"

"So I do."

"Then why don't you move when I move?"

"'Ow can I? 'Ow am I to know when you're goin' to move? Sometimes you
never move at all."

"You're a pretty sort to come out rowin' with, you don't know no more
about a boat than a baby. 'Ere, put me ashore! I've 'ad enough of bein'
mucked about by the likes o' you. I should enjoy myself more if I was
lookin' on from the land."

The last speaker was, I believe, the most sensible man on the river
that afternoon.

On a sudden I found myself in the middle of a race. I was lazying past
the Island. I had long since given up all thoughts of Molesey, and was
taking my ease, anticipating what might happen, when three boats which
I had just passed all at once went mad. There was a single and a double
skiff, and a four-oared tub. With one accord they started racing. I was
only a yard or two in front, and though I might have pulled clear, on
the other hand I might not; and, anyhow, it was their business not to
run me down, a fact which they did not seem to be aware of. On they
came, shouting and splashing, the steering, in particular, being
something frightful to behold. In a minute we were all four in a heap.
They yelled at me, passengers and crews, with an unanimity which was
amazing.

"Why don't yer get out of the way?"

"Pardon me, ladies and gentlemen, but, really, how could I?"

"If yer don't know 'ow to row what d'yer want to get into a boat for?"

"That, curiously enough, was an inquiry which I was about to address to
you."

The stroke of the four diverted public attention from me by falling
foul of the lady who was supposed--it was the purest supposition--to be
acting as coxswain.

"Don't pull both strings at once! Pull this 'and, now pull the other!
Don't I tell you not to pull both strings at once! What d'yer think yer
doin'?"

"Fust you says pull this 'and, then you says pull that 'and, 'ow am I
to know?"

A gentleman in the double skiff interposed.

"That's right, my little dear, don't you tyke none of 'is lip. You jump
inter the water and swim to me, I'll look arter yer!"

Apparently this gentleman had forgotten that there was somebody else
whom it was his duty to look after, a fact of which he was suddenly
reminded.

"I'm sure if the lydy'd like to chynge places with me, I'm willin'; it
don't myke no manner o' odds to me. If this is your idea of lookin'
arter a lydy, it ain't mine, that's all I sye."

When I at last drew clear they still were wrangling. I have a faint
recollection that the ladies were threatening to "mark" each other, or
anybody else who wanted it. It seemed clear that their ideas of
pleasure were inseparably associated with words of a kind.


                                  II
                 THE ROMANCE OF THE LADY IN THE BOAT

As I was abreast of Ham House my attention was caught by the
proceedings of the occupants of a boat upon my left. These were two
gentlemen and a lady. The gentlemen were not only having "words;" quite
evidently they were passing from "language" to something else. I
thought for a second or two that they were going to fight it out in the
boat, in which case I should quite certainly have enjoyed an
opportunity of earning the Royal Humane Society's medal, but,
apparently yielding to the urgent entreaties of the attendant lady,
they changed their minds.

"Don't fight 'ere!" she exclaimed. "You're a pretty sort to come for a
holiday with, upon my word!"

They undoubtedly were, on anybody's word. With the possible intention
of meeting her views to the best of their ability, they began to pull
to the shore as hard as they could, each keeping severely to a time of
his own. Before the boat was really close to land the gentleman in the
bow sprang up, jumped overboard, and splashed through the foot or two
of water to the bank. Declining to be left behind in an enterprise so
excellent, his companion was after him like a shot, and in less than no
time they were going it like anything upon the sandy slope. In their
ardour it had possibly escaped their attention that the result of their
man[oe]uvres would be to leave their fair associate in what, all things
considered, might be described as a somewhat awkward situation. There
was the boat drifting into the middle of the stream, the oars, which
the enthusiastic friends had left in the rowlocks, threatening every
moment to part company, while the lady called upon heaven and earth to
witness her condition.

Pulling alongside, I took off my cap.

"Pardon me, madam, but since your natural protectors appear to have
deserted you, might I hope to enjoy the extreme felicity of your
presence in my boat?"

She stared at me, askance.

"Who would yer think ye're talking to?"

"You, my dear madam. Do me the pleasure of sharing my craft."

She smiled bewitchingly.

"I don't mind if I do. It'll just about serve 'em right, the--!"

Then she used words. And she hopped into my boat and I thought that we
were over. But there is a providence which watches over us, so we only
shipped about a bucketful. I began to row her over the sunlit ripples,
and made conversation as we went.

"Your friends appear to have had a little difference of opinion."

"Couple of bloomin' fools, that's what I call 'em, straight! Tom 'e
says Joe splashes 'im, then 'e splashes Joe, then Joe splashes 'im,
then they gets to words, then they wants to fight it out in the middle
of the river. Nice I should 'ave looked if I'd a let 'em!"

"You would."

"What do you think? silly softs! No, what I says is if two blokes wants
to fight, let 'em do it on dry land, or else let 'em put me on dry land
before they does it in a boat."

"Your sentiments do you credit."

"All I 'opes is they'll give theirselves a fair old doin'. I'd like to
see 'em knock the stuffin' clean out of theirselves, straight, I
would."

"So should I. They appear, however, to have decided not to. They seem
to have had their attention diverted by the discovery that you are
missing."

My impression was, and is, that they had been made acquainted of my
abduction of the lady by persistent shouts of interfering friends upon
the river. They left off fighting, and, instead, took to running along
the bank and yelling at us.

"Eliza, what are you doing in there? Come out of it!"

This question and command, shouted by the shorter of the two, a
sandy-haired young ruffian, with a voice like a brass trumpet, seemed,
under the circumstances, to be singularly out of place. The
observations of his companion were more to the point.

"All right, guv'nor, you wait a bit! you wait till I get a 'old on yer!
If I don't play a toon on yer, I'll give yer leave to call me names!"

The lady comforted me.

"Don't you mind what they say."

"I don't."

But presently someone came upon the scene whose remarks I decided to
mind, in a way. An unwieldy tub bore down upon us, containing perhaps
twelve or fourteen people. A stalwart young fellow, standing up in the
bow, addressed himself to me.

"Excuse me, guv'nor, but might I ask what you're doin' along of that
young lady?"

"Pardon me, sir, in my turn, but might I inquire what business that is
of yours?"

"I don't want none of your sauce! Just you tell me what's your little
game."

This struck me as being tolerably cool, sauce being evidently at least
as much in his line as in mine.

"My little game, sir, is a saunter on the stream. Good-bye."

And with that I pulled away. The stranger became almost inarticulate
with rage.

"Set me alongside of 'im! put me aboard of 'im! I'll knock 'is
somethinged 'ead off 'is somethinged shoulders!"

His friends yelled in chorus. One shouted question caught my ear.

"What are you doing along of the bloke's wife?"

I looked at my companion.

"Is it possible that the gentleman is your husband?"

"Course 'e is. You put me into the boat 'long with 'im right away! Tom
and Joe, they're friends of 'is, but you ain't no friend of 'is, nor
yet of mine. I don't want to get into no trouble along o' you! Do you
'ear what I tell you, put me into 'is boat!"

"With the greatest possible pleasure."

But the thing was not so easy. The whole dozen were screaming at once,
and, judging by the threats they used, it seemed tolerably plain that
if I brought my craft within reach of theirs an attempt would be made
to board me, and there would be every probability of an awkward spill.
So, deeming discretion to be the better part of valour, I made for the
Surrey shore, intending to there land my passenger and restore her to
a--I trusted--fond, though excited, husband's arms. My intentions,
however, were misconstrued; they supposed I was running away, proposing
to save my skin from a drubbing instead of the lady's from a ducking,
so they started hotly in pursuit, their shouts redoubling. What was
worse, the lady thought so too, and commenced to give me a side of her
tongue which I trust, for his sake, it was her wont to spare her
husband.

I never was better abused; the bawling crew behind were good at the
game, but the ungrateful virago I had snipped was easily first. I grew
a trifle warm. If I was to be slanged I would be slanged for something.
I decided to give the husband a chase and the wife a little excursion.
It would have been easy enough to have shown a lead to the pursuing tub
until the end of time. I bent to the oars and let her have it. You
should have heard the hubbub. They saw that if I played that trick they
would never catch me, and how they raved! The joke was that my lady
passenger raved with the best of them--and her adjectives!

"Something, something, something you! If you don't put me into my
husband's somethinged boat, I'll spill the somethinged show!"

"Spill it."

For a moment I thought she would. Then she hesitated, reflected that
she not improbably might be left to drown, and didn't.

"I'll mark your face for you!" she screamed.

"If you move from your seat, my dear madam, I'll upset the show."

"Do!" she yelled. Then, as an afterthought, "'Elp! murder! police! 'E's
a-goin' to drown me!"

It seemed absurd to exhaust oneself for the sake of giving a pleasant
trip to a lady who would persist in shouting for the police in a voice
loud enough to be heard a mile away, especially as people on the
Twickenham shore evinced signs of misconstruing the situation. I
resolved, by way of vengeance, to concede what she wanted, and let the
pursuers catch us.

"My dear madam, as I have already informed you, nothing would give me
greater pleasure than to put you on board your husband's boat--I will
prove it."

Precisely what I expected happened. The lumbering tub came up. The
husband, with half a dozen of his friends, tried to board us. The frail
skiff careened. There was the crowd of us, including, thank goodness!
the lady passenger, in the stream. I had taken the precaution to draw
close into shore before staying my wild career, foreseeing the
inevitable catastrophe, so that it was only an affair of wading, yet I
do believe that I was the only one who really enjoyed the thing. I
doubt if the lady did. She swooned, or pretended to, directly she
reached dry land. As for her friends, the whole gallant gang would have
set on to me at once. But I will do her husband the justice to admit
that he was a man. He claimed the affair as his own, and he insisted on
taking it on as his own, and he took me on with it.

I had wanted a row royal and I had got it. Beanfeasting had not knocked
the fighting qualities out of him. If he was not a professional
pugilist he was a near relation. I can use them a bit, but he gave me
as good as I sent, and a trifle better. It was the difference between
the amateur and the professional; at his own game the tradesman always
wins. If we had fought to a finish I should have had enough, but we
didn't. A policeman came across the stream and stopped us. I had
escaped a black eye, but that was about all I had escaped. I had landed
a few, but they had been returned with interest. Twice had I been
fairly grassed, once with a tingler under the chin. I felt for a moment
as if I had swallowed every tooth in my head. I had the devout
satisfaction of knowing that my nervous system had received just that
fillip which it stood in need of.

"I'll have a lesson or two," I told myself, "from someone who can kill
me at sight, and the next time I meet my lady passenger's husband I
will do the grassing."

There's nothing like argument _a priori_ for clearing the air or
cobwebs from the brain. Do not talk to me of arbitration. I am a
physical force man. I returned to town feeling twice the man I left it.



                     A MEMBER OF THE ANTI-TOBACCO
                                LEAGUE


                                  I
                            THE SIX CIGARS

Sunday morning. A cold wind blowing, slush in the streets, sleet
drizzling steadily down. For the moment the market was deserted. Not
because of the weather, wretched though the weather was, but because of
the excitement which was in the air.

A crowd buzzed about the entrance to the court. A crowd which grew
every second larger. A crowd which overflowed from the street itself,
so that its tributaries streamed into the network of lanes and of
alleys. An excited, a noisy, a shouting crowd. An angry crowd. A crowd
which gave utterance to its opinions at the top of its voice, in
language which was plain-spoken to a fault.

Jim Slater caught sight of a friend. He twisted himself round to shout
at him.

"Wot yer, Bill! That's another one he's done for--that makes seven!"

"It is true then? He 'as done it."

"Done it! I should think he 'as done it! Found the pore gal just as he
left 'er, lying up agin the wall, with 'er clothes over 'er 'ead, and
'er inside, wot 'e'd cut out, lying alongside--a 'orrid sight!"

"I'd like to 'ave the 'andlin'? of 'im!"

"'Andling of 'im! My Gawd!" A volley of expletives from Jim. "If I 'ad
the 'andling of 'im once I wouldn't want it twice. I'd cut the ---- up
for cat's meat!"

There was a chorus of approval from those who had heard. A woman's
voice rose above the hubbub; she shook her fist at the police who
guarded the entrance to the court.

"What's the good of you p'lice? You lets a chap carve us women up as if
we was cattle, and you never don't trouble yourselves to move a finger!
I'd be ashamed."

She was supported by a lady friend, a woman with a shawl over her head,
her hair streaming down her back; a woman who, evidently, had risen
hastily from bed.

"You're right, Polly! If a pore bloke steals a 'aporth o' fried
fish, they takes jolly good care, them slops, they runs him in, but
a ---- can do for as many of us gals as he ---- well chooses, and they
don't even trouble themselves to ketch 'im. Yah-h! I'd like to see him
do for some of them, I would--straight!"

From the crowd another loud-voiced chorus of approval. Jim Slater
formed a speaking-trumpet with his hands, and yelled,--

"Why don't yer ketch 'im?"

A hoarse, husky murmur from the throng, rapidly rising to a roar,--

"Yes, why don't yer?"

The inquiry was repeated over and over again, each time more angrily.
The people began to surge forward, pressing towards the entrance of the
court, where the police were standing. A sergeant was heard shouting,
in staccato tones,--

"Now then! Stand back there! No pushing!"

Policeman YZ 001 spoke to the comrade at his side.

"We shall have to call some more of our chaps out. They look to me like
meaning mischief."

"Now then, stand back there! What do you want to shove like that for?"

Then came back question for question.

"Why don't yer ketch 'im?"

But none of these things troubled the Rev. Simon Chasuble. His house
was within a few minutes' walk of the scene of all the hubbub. It was a
new house, newer, even, than the church which it adjoined. Both church
and house stood in a side street, within a stone's throw of the great
thoroughfare in which something like a riot seemed to be threatening.

As yet no whisper of the growing excitement seemed to have penetrated
the sacred precincts of the clergyman's home. The Rev. Simon was in his
study. A man of medium height, with iron-grey hair, shaven cheeks, and
light blue eyes.

He appeared to have been engaged in what, considering all things, was a
somewhat singular pursuit. He seemed to have been manufacturing cigars.
On a table in front of him was tobacco, both in roll and in leaf, and
some of the implements which are used, when pursuing their trade, by
the makers of cigars. It seemed clear that some of these implements had
been in recent use, for actually with his own fingers the Rev. Simon
was putting finishing touches to six cigars.

For many reasons the thing seemed strange. It was Sunday morning. The
Rev. Simon had, not very long since, returned from officiating at early
celebration. The bell would soon be rung to announce the commencement
of another of the multifarious services in which the soul of the
reverend gentleman delighted. His surplice, his bands, his hood, his
biretta were lying ready on a chair, so that, without loss of time, he
might slip them on, hurry across the courtyard which divided the house
from the church, and plunge at once _in medias res_.

It seemed an odd moment for a clergyman to select to engage in the
manufacture of cigars! Especially bearing in mind the Rev. Simon's
well-known and peculiar tenets. He was the leader, through all that
district, of the Anti-Everythingites. "Down with every sort of
Reasonable Enjoyment!" was the motto which, metaphorically, he had
nailed to his banner. And, among the other varieties of reasonable
enjoyment, especially "Down with Tobacco!" He was a member of the
Anti-Tobacco League. He had spoken, preached, and written against
the use of tobacco in any and all of its forms. Indeed, at that
very moment, cheek by jowl with the tobacco itself, was a heap of
anti-tobacco literature. That curious tract, in the form of a leaflet,
"Is Tobacco Smoked in Heaven?" lay on the top of the pile.

There must have been some curious cause which had impelled the Rev.
Simon Chasuble to engage, even on a small scale, in the manufacture of
cigars. And, in fact, there was, and curious cigars they were which he
was making.

As he covered, with a really credible dexterity, each cigar with an
outer wrapper, he left the bottom of it open. After covering the six
cigars he did some rather funny things. Unlocking a drawer in a
cabinet, which stood against a wall, he took out an unusually large
pair of plain glass goggles. He put them on. He stuffed two small
corks, which seemed to have been shaped for the purpose, up his
nostrils, as far as they would go. He tied an enormous, and peculiarly
shaped, respirator over his mouth. After completing these preparations
he produced, from a corner of the same drawer, a small metal box and a
little instrument, fashioned something like the tiny spoon with which
we serve ourselves to cayenne pepper. As very carefully he unscrewed
the lid, it was seen that the interior of the box was of ingenious
construction. It was divided into two halves. In one division was a
colourless liquid, in the other a powder of a vivid violet hue. In the
centre of each of the pieces of glass was a hole which was just large
enough to allow of his inserting the delicate instrument which, at one
extremity, was shaped something like a tiny spoon. With this he took
out first a spoonful of the violet powder, which he dropped into the
end of one of the cigars which he had purposely left open, the thin
end; then a spoonful of the colourless liquid, which he dropped on to
the powder. Without an instant's loss of time he re-screwed the lid on
to the box and, with an almost simultaneous movement, completed the
manufacture of the cigar, closing and shaping the end in a manner
which, if it was his first attempt in that direction, was not a little
to his credit.

He repeated the operation with each cigar, reopening and re-closing the
box each time, and that with a degree of celerity which was not the
least singular part of the whole performance. When he had finished his
proceedings he removed the goggles, the plugs from his nostrils, the
respirator from his mouth, and, together with the metal box, and the
spoon-shaped instrument, he replaced them in the drawer.

With a smile of beaming satisfaction he turned to the result of his
handiwork. There they lay, six very fair-looking cigars, not too
pointed and not too stubby, all in a row in front of him upon the
table.

"An old secret adapted to a new purpose. These cigars are likely to be
more efficacious in repressing the nicotine habit than all the sermons
that were ever preached, and all the books that were ever written."

The Rev. Simon chuckled, a startling chuckle it was. It distorted his
whole countenance; made another man of him; turned a not ill-looking
gentleman into a hideous thing. It was the chuckle of a lunatic. It
came and went in, as it were, a twinkling of the eye; but the Rev.
Simon Chasuble had only to indulge in that sinister chuckle in public
once, and the incumbency of St Ursula's Church would there and then be
vacant.

"I'll put them in the case."

He placed the cigars carefully, one by one, in a handsome case, which
had been lying beside them on the table.

"How fortunate that the secret should have been in my possession; that
it should have been given to me to adapt it to so rare an end! What a
power for good the adaptation places in my hands! Given the opportunity
it may be mine to remove the nicotine habit for ever from the world.
One whiff and the slave is gone. And none shall know from whence the
blow has come. It will seem as though it has fallen from on high."

Again that dreadful chuckle, coming and going in a second, as the Rev.
Simon was in the act of making the sign of the cross.

Someone tried the handle of the door; then, finding it locked, rapped
upon the panel.

"Papa! papa!"

The Rev. Simon turned towards the door, a sudden look of keen suspicion
in his light blue eyes. But his voice was smooth and soft. "Helena?"

"Oh, papa, another of those poor women has been murdered!"

The Rev. Simon seemed to hesitate. The fashion of his countenance was
changed. It became unrelenting, pitiless. His voice became harsh and
measured.

"Do you mean that another of the inhabitants of Sodom has met with the
reward of her misdeeds? Well? God has judged!"

"Oh, papa, don't talk like that! The poor creature has been almost cut
to pieces, it is dreadful! The whole place is in excitement, we are
afraid there'll be a riot. Do open the door!"

"Have you yet to learn that, under no circumstances, do I allow secular
matters to interfere with the due performance of my spiritual duties on
the Lord's own day? If the woman is dead, she is dead. I am no
trafficker in horrors. To-morrow I shall hear all that I need to hear.
Go. I am engaged."

The girl went. The Rev. Simon listened to her retreating footsteps.
And, as she went, there was heard a sound which was very like the sound
of a woman's sobbing.

The Incumbent of St Ursula's stood with his hands clasped in front of
him, his eyes turned upwards. He quoted scripture.

"'The adulterers shall surely be put to death!' 'It is the day of the
Lord's vengeance!' 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord!'
And am I not thy minister, O God, that Thou hast appointed to work Thy
will?' The harlot's house is the way to hell, going down to the
chambers of death!' Yea, O God, yea! 'So let the wicked perish!'"

The Rev. Simon took a crucifix, which dangled from the cord of his
cassock, and held it in front of him. He crossed himself. He pressed
the crucifix to his lips. He seemed, for some seconds, to be engaged in
silent prayer. Then, very methodically, he removed the evidences of his
having been engaged so recently in the manufacture of cigars. The
cigars themselves, oddly enough, he slipped, case and all, into an
inner pocket of his cassock.

All at once there was borne on some current of the air the distant
murmur of a crowd. He stood and listened. The sound grew louder; it
seemed to be coming nearer. The light faded from the Rev. Simon's eyes;
every faculty was absorbed in the act of listening. The sound was
approaching; it rose and fell; now dying away in a sullen murmur, now
rising to a startling yell. His hand stole into his bosom. When it
reappeared it held a knife, shaped something like a surgeon's scalpel.

"'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.'"

Again that chuckle, the revelation of the lunatic.

Momentarily the noise increased. One began to individualise voices; to
realise that the tumult was the product of a thousand different
throats.

"Some riot, I suppose. One of their periodical differences with the
police. What's that?"


                                  II
                      THE CIGAR WHICH WAS SMOKED

"That" was the sound of heavy footsteps hastening towards the study
door. The handle was turned; a fist was banged against the panel.

"Who's here?"

"I am here! Let me in!"

The voice was quick, sharp, abrupt, distinctly threatening. The Rev.
Simon looked round the room with shifty, inquiring eyes. He whispered
to himself.

"Philip Avalon? My sister's son? What does he want with me?" He felt,
with his fingers, the edge of the knife which he was holding. He asked
aloud, in a voice which was more than sufficiently stern, "What do you
want with me, sir?"

"I want to speak to you. Do you hear? Be quick and let me in!"

The speaker's tone was even more threatening than before; it was as if
he defied disobedience. The shifty look in the Rev. Simon's eyes
increased. Again he whispered to himself.

"It is nothing, only some fresh insolence, some new bee he has in his
bonnet."

Then aloud, "You speak with sufficient arrogance, sir, as if the house
were your own."

For response there came a storm of blows upon the panels of the door.

"By ----, if you don't open the door I'll break it in!"

Wheeling right round with a swift, crouching movement, the Rev. Simon
ran towards the window. It seemed, for the moment, as if he meditated
flight. He already had his hand upon the sash, to throw it open, when
he changed his mind. He drew himself up, he thrust the knife back into
his bosom; he strode towards the door with resolute, unflinching steps.
With unfaltering hand, turning the key in the lock, he flung the door
wide open. His voice rang out in tones of authority.

"Philip Avalon, how dare you conduct yourself in such a fashion? Do you
forget what day this is, and that I suffer no bawling intrusion to
divert my thoughts from my ministrations at the altar?"

The rejoinder which came from the young man who, regardless of the Rev.
Simon's attempt to prevent his ingress, thrust his way into the room,
was more forcible than civil.

"You villain! You damned villain!"

The Rev. Simon drew himself still straighter. His bearing, while it
suggested horror and amazement, commanded reverence.

"Philip Avalon! I am the priest of God!"

"The priest of God!" In a fit of seemingly uncontrollable passion, the
young man struck the elder to the ground. "Lie there, you hound!"

For some seconds the Rev. Simon lay where he had fallen.

The young man who had used him with such scant ceremony was tall and
broad. He had a fair beard, and was about thirty years of age. His
dress was careless. He stood glaring down upon the clergyman with
gleaming eyes. He seemed mastered by irresistible excitement.

The Incumbent of St Ursula's raised himself sufficiently from the floor
to enable him to glance up at his assailant.

"You have laid the hands of violence not only upon a much older man
than yourself, and one who is your own flesh and blood, but also upon a
priest of God. It completes the measure of your crimes. Coward! as well
as sinner!"

For a moment the young man remained speechless. When he did speak the
words came rushing from him in a torrent.

"If you continue to play the hypocrite and to adopt that tone with me
I'll go and I'll stand upon your doorstep, and I'll shout to the
people--you hear them? They are already beside themselves with rage!"
As he spoke yells and execrations were borne from the street without
into the room. "I'll shout to them, 'You want Tom the Tiger, the fiend
in human shape who has butchered seven helpless women in your midst?
He's in here! He's my uncle, Simon Chasuble, the Incumbent of St
Ursula's! I deliver him into your hands! Come in and use him as you
will!' And they'll come in, come swarming, yelling, rushing in--men,
women, children--and they'll tear you limb from limb, and will mete out
on your vile body the punishment which, after all, will be less than it
deserves!"

As he paused the young man stood with clenched fists and flaming looks,
as if it was as much as he could do to keep himself from a repetition,
in a much more emphatic form, of his previous assault.

The Rev. Simon rose to his feet gingerly. He withdrew himself, with
commendable prudence, further from where Philip Avalon was standing.
The shifty look came back into his eyes. But his voice was firm.

"What wild words are these?"

"The words may be wild, but they are true ones. Since these hideous
butcheries have been taking place in the surrounding slums and alleys a
Vigilance Committee has been formed, with a view of assisting the
police. I am a member. This morning I was out on my appointed beat. I
saw someone coming down Rainbow Court. I drew back into the shadow, and
I stood and I watched. It was you. You had on a rough black overcoat
and a cloth cap, and though you were laughing to yourself
you seemed desirous of avoiding observation. I wondered what you
were doing there at that hour in such a guise. I hesitated a
moment whether to follow you. Then I plunged into the court. Just
where I had seen you standing I found a woman lying on the ground,
dead--murdered--disembowelled; unmistakeably the handiwork of Tom the
Tiger. I was so amazed, so horrified, so actually frightened, that for
the life of me I could not think what I ought to do. I've been walking
about London all night trying to make up my mind. And now I have come
to ask you if there is in you sufficient of the man to give you courage
to go at once and yield yourself to the police; if there isn't, I shall
drag you."

"It's a lie!"

"What is a lie?"

"All that you have said is a lie. You always were a liar, Philip
Avalon."

The nephew stared at his uncle. It seemed that he found it hard to
believe that a man could be so shapen in iniquity.

"You can still speak to me like that, knowing that I know you. You
certainly are, to me, a revelation of infinite possibilities in human
nature. But I am not here to palter. Do you intend to surrender
yourself, or am I to drag you to the police, or am I to call in the
assistance of the people in the street? I give you a minute in which to
decide."

The young man took out his watch. Layman and cleric eyed each other. As
they did so the Rev. Simon's countenance was transfigured in a fashion
which startled his nephew not a little. Before Philip Avalon had
guessed his intention, the Incumbent of St Ursula's, hurrying past him,
had locked the study door and pocketed the key. As he did so he broke
into chuckling laughter. As his nephew surveyed him a glimmer of new
light began to find its way into his brain.

"Man! what is the matter with you? What have you done?"

The Rev. Simon continued chuckling. Indeed, it seemed as if he would
never stop. And there was something so unpleasant about his laughter
that, considerably to his own surprise, Philip Avalon found himself
giving way to shudder after shudder.

"Mad! stark mad!" he told himself. "And to think that none of us ever
guessed it!"

Now that the fact was actually revealed he perceived, too late, what a
lurid light it threw upon the puzzles of the past. As to the man's
madness there could be no shred of doubt. He stood gibbering in front
of him. And though Philip was very far from being, in any sense, an
expert in mental pathology, he was acute enough to realise that an
element of something horrible, of something altogether dangerous,
differentiated this man's madness from that of the ordinary lunatic. As
by the stroke of a magician's wand the clergyman had been transformed
into a fiend. He held out his hand toward Philip, never ceasing to
chuckle. Even his voice was changed; it had become an almost childish
treble.

"Yes, I did it. I! I! Seven, Philip--seven harlots slain by my single
hand! All England rings with it, yet no one guesses it was I!"

In the sudden horror of the situation the young man found it difficult
to preserve his presence of mind. He endeavoured to collect his
thoughts. He resolved to continue to speak with the voice of authority.
With some recollection of stories which he had read, or heard, of the
power of the sane man's eye, he did his best to unflinchingly meet the
madman's glance.

"Give me the key of the door, at once!"

"The key? Of the door? Oh, yes! Here is the key of the door."

The Rev. Simon produced from the bosom of his cassock what looked to
Philip Avalon very like a surgeon's scalpel. The weapon gleamed
ominously in the madman's hand. Involuntarily the young man shrank
back. His uncle noticed the gesture. His chuckling increased. He held
out the knife.

"Yes, Philip, this is the key of the door. It is with this key that I
unlocked the gates of the chambers of death for the seven harlots." The
madman's voice sank to a whisper, a whisper of a peculiarly penetrating
kind. "Philip, the Lord came to me in a dream one night, and bade me go
out among the armies of the wicked and kill! kill! kill! And I arose
and cried, O Lord, I will do as thou biddest me! And I have begun. The
tares are ripe unto the harvest, and I have my hand upon the sickle,
and I'll not stay until the whole of the harvest is reaped and cast
into the fire which never shall be quenched!"

Philip Avalon found that his uncle's manner and conversation was
beginning to have on him an effect which he had often heard described,
but which he had never before experienced, the effect of making his
blood run cold. What was he to do? It seemed to him that to attempt to
grapple with a homicidal madman, while he was in the possession of such
a weapon, was not an adventure to be recommended. A thought occurred to
him. He moved across the room. The madman immediately moved after him.

"What are you going to do? Stand still!"

Philip turned.

"I was merely about to ring for a glass of water."

The madman's suspicions were at once on the alert.

"A glass of water? What do you want with a glass of water? No! You
sha'n't ring! you sha'n't!"

He brandished his weapon in a fashion which induced his nephew to take
temporary refuge behind an arm-chair.

"Take care, sir! You will do yourself a mischief."

The Rev. Simon proved that he was, at least, in certain directions,
sufficiently keen of apprehension.

"No, Philip, it is not myself I shall do a mischief to, it is you. You
would prevent a servant of the Lord from doing his master's will; it is
meet, therefore, you should die."

Philip braced himself for the struggle which seemed to him to be
inevitably impending. But, as he paused, a sudden idea seemed to come
into the Rev. Simon's disordered brain. His chuckling redoubled.

"No! no! no!--a better way!--a better way! Philip, you're a smoker;
smoke one of my cigars."

The Rev. Simon took a cigar case from an inner pocket in his cassock.
Opening it, he held it out towards Philip Avalon. It contained six
cigars. The young man's bewilderment grew more and more. That the Rev.
Simon Chasuble, whose fulminations against what he was wont to speak of
as the "nicotine habit," had always made him seem, to his nephew, to be
more or less insane, should actually produce a case of cigars from a
pocket in his cassock, and offer him one to smoke, to Philip Avalon the
action seemed to paint the disorder of his uncle's brain in still more
vivid hues.

In his bewilderment the young man refused his uncle's offer.

"Thank you, I do not care to smoke just now."

But the Rev. Simon was insistent.

"But I say you shall, you shall! You never smoked a cigar like mine
before, and you never will again!"

Again that accentuation of the chuckle. Thinking that by humouring his
uncle's whim he would at least be afforded breathing space, Philip
took, from the proffered case, one of the six cigars. The Rev. Simon
watched him with eager eyes.

"Cut off the tip! Quick, Philip, quick!"

"What does he think he's up to now?" inquired Philip of himself. He cut
off, with his penknife, the point of the cigar, and as he did so an
idea came also to him. "I'll strike a match and light up; then I'll
drop the match into the fireplace, and that'll give me a chance to ring
the bell."

Only the first part of this programme, however, was carried into
effect. He struck a match, smiling in spite of himself at the eagerness
with which he perceived that his uncle watched him. He applied the
lighted match to his cigar. And as the slender whiff of smoke came from
between his lips, as if struck by lightning, he fell to the floor stone
dead.

The Rev. Simon Chasuble's experimental essay with his ingenious
contrivance for the conversion of smokers had been a complete success.
He knelt beside the silent figure. He kissed his crucifix; he crossed
himself.

"I thought that it would be a better way. So shall all the enemies of
the Lord perish from off the face of the earth! Shall I?"

He made, with his knife, a dreadful significant gesture over the region
of the dead man's abdomen. As he did so the bell of the adjoining
church was heard summoning the worshippers to service. On the Rev.
Simon the sound had a marvellous effect. He rose to his feet. Every
appearance of madness passed away from him. He seemed clothed again in
his right mind. He glanced at the clock upon the mantelshelf. His
manner became clerically stern.

"It is time for service to begin. I must suffer nothing to interfere
with my ministrations at the altar." Going to the door, he unlocked it,
and threw it open. He called, "Helena!"

A girl's voice replied, she thought he was calling her to church.

"Yes, papa, I'm coming! I am almost ready."

"Come here at once. Something has happened to Philip."

The girl came hurrying in, buttoning her gloves as she entered. She
exclaimed at the sight of her cousin lying so still upon the floor.

"Oh, papa, what is the matter with him? Is he in a fit?"

Her father was rapidly donning his surplice, his stole, and his hood,
surveying himself, as he did so, in a mirror.

"He is in something of the kind. As I was talking to him he fell
suddenly to the ground. See that he receives every necessary attention.
It is time for service to commence. I cannot stay."

The Incumbent of St Ursula's left the room. Directly afterwards he was
seen, in his clerical vestments, hurrying across the courtyard towards
the church.



                            THAT FOURSOME


"Come with me," said Hollis, "down to Littlestone."

Littlestone? Never heard of it. Didn't know there was such a place.
Told him so.

"I cannot help your ignorance, my dear Short. I can only tell you that
it is the spot for you." He looked me up and down. "For a man of your
build the very spot." What he meant I hadn't the faintest notion. "If
you do there what you ought to do, and what everyone does, it'll get
seven pounds off you inside a week." I began to guess. "Such air, such
breezes, and the finest links in England!"

"Links?" I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, commencing to
perceive that there was something at the back of this man's mind.

"Links, Short, which are links. Better than Sandwich. St Andrews are
not to be compared with them. And as for Wimbledon, bah! You come down
with me to Littlestone and I'll teach you how to play golf--golf, sir!
The Royal and Ancient! The king of games! You'll feel yourself a
different man from the moment your fingers close about a club."

I knew it was all nonsense. Was perfectly aware of it. Entirely
conscious that it was mere flummery to talk about my being a different
man from the moment my fingers closed about a club. But I'm one of the
best-natured souls alive. If a man wanted me to go tobogganing with him
down the icebergs round the North Pole--wanted me strongly
enough--I do believe I should have to go. I should be positively
unhappy if I let him go alone, though I should be a good deal unhappier
if I didn't. There is nothing I dislike so much as cold. Unless it is
tobogganing. I once tobogganed down a hill in Derbyshire. I wish to say
no more except to mention that I am still alive. Though when part of me
reached the bottom of the hill that was all there was to it. To this
hour, when I touch certain portions of my frame I remember.

But I wish to harrow no one's feelings.

I went down to Littlestone. Found it was in a remote corner of Kent.
Travelled by the South Eastern. Dismal, dirty, draughty carriage. Cold
wind blowing. Tried every means of escaping it short of hiding
underneath the seat. Stopped once at each station and twice between
most of them. Changed whenever it occurred to the officials that they'd
like a sort of game of "general post." Arrived at a shed which did duty
as a station, chilled to the bone and feeling as if I had had the
longest journey of my life. Was bumped along in a thing which I imagine
was called an omnibus to Littlestone. Found Hollis awaiting me.

"Welcome to Littlestone, Short! You look another man already." I felt
it. "I'd have come to the station only no one ever knows when those
trains will get in." Mine had been about an hour and three-quarters
late, at least, according to the time-table. "Did one of the best
rounds of my life this afternoon; sixteenth hole in four; stroke under
bogey."

A person who could talk of "rounds" and "bogey" when I felt as I felt
then, I had no use for. I stood before the fire trying to get warm.

Had a pretty bad dinner. Heard more golf in half an hour than during
the preceding ten years. Then more golf afterwards. In ordinary society
one is not supposed to talk of one's own achievements, good, bad or
indifferent. Unless my experience was singular, the people in that
place talked of nothing else. Went to bed as early as possible to
escape it. Dropped off to sleep wondering if the wind would leave
anything of the house standing by the morning.

Forgot to lock the door. Roused by Hollis entering my bedroom. It was
broad day. But it seemed to me that I had only just closed my eyes.

"Come out and have a swim. The water's like ice, brace you up. Strong
current. Man drowned here last week."

"Thank you. I've no intention of being the man who's drowned here this
week. I prefer a tub."

Had a tub. Went down to survey the scene. Never more surprised in my
life. Road. Strip of rusty grass in front. Vast quantities of stones
beyond. Then sea. Confronted by perhaps twenty houses. Cheap stuccoed
structures of the doll's-house type of architecture. Beyond, on either
side, desolation. A flat, rank, depressing, stony wilderness. Whether
Nature or man was most to blame for making things as bad as they seemed
under those leaden, before-breakfast skies, it would have needed an
expert to determine.

No one was in sight. Until Hollis appeared I was the only idiot about.
His teeth were chattering.

"Not a pretty place," I observed.

"No, it isn't."

"Neither the place nor its surroundings seem to have many claims in the
direction of the picturesque."

"It's a beastly hole. That's what we want."

"You want it to be a--beastly hole?"

I looked at him askance. Wondering, for the moment, if he was joking.
But he wasn't.

"Rather. Crowds of people would come if we made it attractive. Place'd
be ruined."

"Ruined?"

"For golf. As it is the place is packed in summer. People come from all
over the place. Can't play on our own links. Regular mob. Confound 'em,
I say. Why, this last summer a man brought his wife with him. She rowed
him like anything when she found out what sort of place it was. Had
brought a lot of pretty dresses with her, and that sort of thing.
Didn't see being left alone all day with nothing to do except sit on
the beach and throw stones in the sea. That wasn't her idea of a
holiday. We should have a lot of women of that sort about if we didn't
take care."

Unreasonable some women are who do not golf. Especially when they are
attached to men who do. So selfish on their part to even hint that they
have ideas, or tastes, of their own.

At breakfast the great theme was broached. Hollis regarded me with what
I was dimly conscious was a cold and a scornful eye. I had had no idea
that he was the kind of man he really appeared to be. Or I should
certainly never have come. In a manner of speaking our acquaintance, of
some fifteen or sixteen years' standing, had been merely superficial. I
was beginning to wish that it had continued on those lines.

"I believe you've never played."

"I've handled a club."

So I had. I had once been round some fields with six balls and a club.
I brought the club back--that is, most of it; the man from whom I had
borrowed it seemed to be tolerably satisfied, on the whole; though I
had, as it were, scattered the balls about me as I went. Amazing the
capacity those six golf balls had for losing themselves. I was without
a caddie. Grass was long. Even when I managed to hit one, I seldom saw
where it went. That is, with sufficient precision to be able to lay my
hand upon it afterwards. With balls at a shilling apiece I concluded
that golf might prove expensive.

Hollis read more meaning into my words than I actually intended.

"That's all right. I didn't know you'd gone as far as that." I did not
propose to correct him; though without an adequate understanding of
what it was that he might mean. "What's your handicap?"

"I can't say that I have one."

"I suppose you belong to a club."

"Well, not exactly."

"Not exactly? What do you mean? Either you do or you don't. Speak up,
man, and say what you mean."

His manner was positively warm. I endeavoured to explain. It was not
the last explanation I did endeavour to make.

"You see, it was this way. I thought of putting up for a club--"

"What club?"

"Oh, a little local one; nothing of any account; a sort of place where
people in the neighbourhood go and mess about."

"Mess about?"

"I fancy the word adequately describes what takes place. They've
knocked up a course of a kind on some local common-land, it's quite
rudimentary. I don't think that any serious play takes place. It was
that, in a measure, which actuated me."

"Weren't you elected?"

"Elected? I never put up. I'd no doubt that they'd have been delighted
to have me, only I didn't go so far. I only thought of doing so."
Something in the expression of his face induced me to hasten on. "My
dear Hollis, you may take it for granted that in everything which
concerns golf I'm a novice."

"There are novices and novices. I call a man with a handicap of
eighteen a novice."

"You may certainly credit me with a handicap of eighteen. I would
remind you that you asked me to come to Littlestone in order that you
might teach me golf."

"I'll teach you, if the thing's to be done." He regarded me in a manner
which I did not altogether like. I do not know why people are apt to
look at me in a peculiar way when I propose to make myself proficient
in some branch of athletics. "I have arranged a foursome with old
Pickard. He has a friend who ought to be about your mark. I'm told that
he's a perfect ass." I imagine that Mr Hollis perceived that there was
something on my countenance which made it desirable to throw light upon
words which distinctly needed it. "I mean, of course, in a golfing
sense only. I daresay that in any other sense he's all that could be
desired, as you are, old man."

Almost immediately after breakfast, Hollis and I started for the links,
where we were to meet our antagonists. As we had but a short distance
to go we walked, each of us carrying a bag full of clubs. After we had
gone a few steps I became conscious that Hollis was regarding my bag
with what I could not but feel was a considerable amount of interest.

"You seem to have a newish lot of clubs."

"They're brand new, all of them. I bought them on purpose to come down
here."

During the interval of silence which followed, Hollis stroked his
moustache. I had an idea that he was smiling; though I did not know
what at. I was not aware that I had said anything humorous.

"You seem to have a goodish few."

"I told the assistant at the shop to let me have everything that was
requisite. I must admit that he seems to have interpreted my intentions
in a generous spirit. I appear to have more clubs than you do. I don't
know if that's an advantage or not."

Rather to my surprise Hollis stood still and turned to me.

"I say, you know, that friend of Pickard's has played."

"So I gathered."

"He's not a regular idiot."

"I thought you said he was."

"Well, there are degrees even in idiots. And Pickard himself is a bit
short-tempered."

"If he has a wife, if that is the case, I am sorry for her. Otherwise I
don't see how the fact of his good or bad temper can concern me."

"No? Perhaps not. He can control himself. After all, a foursome has to
give way for a twosome. I think I ought to tell you that we're lunching
at two."

"At two? That's all right. Why, it's only just past ten."

There was that in Hollis's words and manner which I could not but
regard as cryptic; though I did not feel disposed, at the moment, to
point this out to him. Presently he asked a question.

"By the way, what club do you use for your tee-shot?"

"The tee-shot?" I had heard the expression. I have no doubt that, if I
had had a little time for reflection, I should have recalled in what
connection. As it was, feeling a trifle flustered, I--if I may put it
in that way--hedged. "It depends upon the--eh--position of the ball
and--so on. What club do you use?"

"I always use a putter."

"A putter? Do you? Indeed. I can't say that I invariably use--ah--a
putter, not for a tee-shot. What are you laughing at?"

Hollis had burst into a loud, and so far as I could perceive, wholly
unprovoked guffaw. The man was developing a keenness of scent for what
was funny with which I had not credited him. I wondered if I had said
anything which was unintentionally amusing. In my pocket was a little
manual of terms used at golf. I was disposed to refer to it with a view
of ascertaining exactly what a putter was; but I refrained.

"Short," continued Hollis, "I'll get you the smartest caddie
obtainable. If you'll take my strong advice, you'll act on any hint he
may happen to drop; and, in particular, you'll use each club as he
hands it you without a word."

Again there was that something in Hollis's words and manner which I can
only once more describe as cryptic. Indeed, I will go further and say
that I found it a little disconcerting. We had but another hundred and
fifty yards to go. While we were traversing that short distance I was
almost moved to suggest that I was not feeling altogether inclined to
play that morning; and that, therefore, if a substitute could be found
to fill my place he had better find him. I wish I had suggested it. It
was merely the desire not to spoil Hollis's game which stayed my hand.
And a lamentable lack of gratitude, to speak of nothing else, he
displayed. I have seldom had a more uncomfortable experience. To think
that I had gone to that wretched place, out of the purest
good-nature, simply and solely to allow myself to be subjected to such
treatment. Nothing could have been more unexpected. To say not a word
about the money which I had expended on that bagful of clubs. Quite a
sum.

We came to a spot where three or four men were hanging about, and where
one man was hitting at a ball.

"Is this where we start?" I asked.

"This is the first tee."

"The first tee? Oh! Indeed."

I wish to state here, before going further, that that was the first
time I had ever been on a golf course in my life. The desire was borne
in upon me very strongly to mention this to Hollis before any
misunderstanding could possibly arise; because I foresaw, even then,
that misunderstandings might arise, in consequence of which I might
find myself in a false position. But, for one thing, I felt that Hollis
might possibly think that the moment was ill-chosen to make such a
communication; and then, striding up to the other men, he began talking
to them as if he had known them all their lives; and so, since I could
hardly interrupt him, the opportunity was lost. Which I have ever since
regretted.

Presently I was aware that Hollis was calling the attention of one of
the strangers to me.

"This is my friend Short. Short, this is Pickard. Pickard, Short's a
dark horse; one of those unattached men who have no handicaps."

"I take it that you're a plus man, Mr Short."

I perceived at once that Mr Pickard was a Scotchman. I do not desire,
in any illiberal spirit, to say that I object to Scotchmen as a nation;
but I do not hesitate to affirm that I realised, on the instant, that
this was the type of Scotchman with whom I was not likely to find
myself in sympathy. He was six feet high and grey-bearded, and had a dry
way of speaking which made it difficult to determine, especially for a
stranger, what it was he really did mean, and a trick of looking at you
from under his beetle brows, which was actually threatening. I did not
know what a plus man was, but I supposed that he was endeavouring to
perpetrate something in the way of a joke, so I made an effort to fall
in with what I imagined to be his humour.

"Oh, yes, Mr Pickard, I'm a plus man." Directly I said it Mr Pickard
looked at me a little oddly, and as the other men who were within
hearing turned towards me as if I had said something surprising, not
knowing what it was I really had said, I tried to pass it off, as it
were, with a little joke of my own. "That's to say, I'm a surplus man."

Nobody laughed except myself, and I only did it with difficulty.

Hollis had walked off with my bagful of clubs. Just then I saw it
advancing towards me slung across the back of a disreputable urchin of
about twelve or thirteen years of age. Hollis had talked of getting me
the smartest caddie procurable. If that little ragamuffin was his idea
of smartness, I could only say we differed. Mr Pickard was not
unnaturally struck by the incongruity of the association of my
beautiful new clubs with that unwashed youngster.

"My gracious!" he exclaimed. "Here's some pretty things! And who might
be the owner of these pretty things?"

"They're mine," I explained.

"Yours? Mr Short, have you had a fortune left you? To be sure they look
as if they were all of them new."

"They are. I bought them yesterday."

"Did you, indeed? And what have you done with the old lot?"

"I left them behind me."

As a matter of plain fact, the clubs in that bag were the first I had
possessed in my life. But in view of that old man's malicious glance,
and with a suspicion flashing through my brain that some of the other
men were grinning, I did not feel called upon to admit it. Mr Pickard
continued,--

"I think, Mr Short, you said that you were a plus man. To a player of
your calibre I take it that it doesn't matter how new a club is.
Unfortunately, some of us weaklings can't touch a ball with one that
isn't an old friend." He turned to a little slip of a man, with an
eyeglass and a vacuous smile, and a pair of perfectly ridiculous
stockings. "Let me introduce you to Mr Barstow, who is to be my partner
in the thrashing you are about to give us."

Mr Barstow's smile expanded. I immediately perceived what Hollis had
meant by speaking of him as a perfect ass; though why he had coupled
him with me I did not understand.

"I suppose you and I are the duffers," he observed, which was an
uncalled-for remark to make. One, moreover, which, so far as he could
tell, was without a shadow of justification. "I hope," he added, "that
you are a bigger duffer than I am."

"I can only trust that I am not," I retorted with what, I imagine, was
some dignity.

The game was started. Mr Pickard hit off, his ball going what seemed to
me a terrific distance. Hollis went next, his ball going as far as Mr
Pickard's. Then Barstow went. He went through a series of acrobatic
contortions which were simply ludicrous. Recorded by the cinematograph
they would have been side-splitting. When he did play his ball did not
go anything like so far as either of the others.

"Barstow, you've a pretty way of addressing a ball," remarked his
partner.

"Yes," he said, "that's the best part of my game."

What Mr Pickard meant by "addressing a ball" I did not know. It
appeared to me to be an absurd phrase to use. But I did not doubt that
it conveyed a scathing comment on Barstow's performance. My turn
followed. Remembering what Hollis had said, I took the club that young
ruffian handed me without a word of remonstrance; though it seemed
somewhat hard that, as the possessor of such a number--and such an
expensive lot--of clubs I was not at liberty to select which one of
them I chose; particularly as it seems only reasonable to assume that
in such matters each man has his own ideas. However, my cue was to be
docile, and to defer, so far as was possible, to the judgment of one
whose knowledge of the game was, presumably, greater than mine. Though
I did resent being dragooned by an unwashed urchin whose whole attire
would have been dear at five shillings; especially as I had a kind of
feeling that there was that in his bearing, and in the way in which,
out of the corner of his eye, he kept looking at me, and at my clubs,
which was positively impertinent.

I had noticed, with that quickness of observation for which I am
peculiar, that each of the others had swung his club two or three times
through the air before actually striking the ball. I did not know why
they had done this. So far as I was able to judge there was no
ostensible cause for such a proceeding. But as it was apparently one of
the formulas of the game, and I was desirous of avoiding anything
approaching to irregularity, I followed their example.

Unfortunately I must have moved my arm before I was quite prepared; and
also with more vigour than I had intended. Because, not only did I
almost lose my own balance, but the end of the club, not travelling
quite in the direction I had meant it should, struck the wretched boy
who was carrying my clubs with what, I must admit, was considerable
force. He gave a yell which must have been heard a mile off. He dropped
to the ground with a degree of promptness which took me quite aback. I
was commencing to explain that really the boy ought to have had sense
enough to stand farther off, when Hollis cut me short with a
brusqueness which was most embarrassing.

"If you hadn't hit him you'd have hit someone else. Haven't you sense
enough to know that you ought to see that you're well clear of everyone
before you start to swing? You'll be committing murder next."

I need hardly say that I did not like being addressed, in public, in
that way, by one who called himself my friend. Nor was my sensation of
annoyance lessened when it was discovered, as of course it was
discovered, that the boy had been scarcely touched. Presently, getting
up, through his grimy tears he expressed his willingness to continue to
carry my clubs, though, so far as I was concerned, I was quite ready to
let someone else carry them. Under the circumstances, the way in which
Hollis spoke to him was unnecessary.

"You're a well-plucked lad," he said. "Never mind, bear up! If you've
luck you'll get round without being killed."

If Hollis's words were unnecessary, which, I hold, they were, Mr
Pickard's interposition was monstrous.

"That ought to cost you five shillings, Mr Short. I shouldn't like you
to hit me a crack like that for a good deal more than twice the money."

In pecuniary matters the stinginess of Scotchmen is proverbial; which
was perhaps the reason why he was disposed to make so free with other
people's money. I said nothing. One had only to glance at my bagful of
clubs to perceive that it was going to cost me enough to play golf as
it was. If I had to pay five shillings, or anything like five
shillings, every time some clumsy boy chose to place himself where I
did not expect him to be, and where, therefore, he ought not to be,
golf, as a game, would be placed out of my reach on the mere ground of
expense only.

In silence I approached the little heap of sand on the summit of which
my too-obvious caddie had planted my ball. I prepared to hit it. Before
doing so I glanced round in order to make sure that, this time, no one
was within reach; and was gratified to find that, taking, as it were,
the hint, everyone had withdrawn to a respectful distance; though I
could not see why they need have moved either so fast or so far.

"We're giving you plenty of room, old chap," said Hollis.

Since there was no one within perhaps twenty yards of me I could see
that for myself, so that that was another unnecessary remark which he
thought it worth his while to make. Then I made my stroke.

There is more in hitting a golf ball than some might imagine. There is
more, even, in swinging a club--with anything, that is, approximate to
ease. It is not so easy to do either as it seems to be when you watch
other people doing it. When I saw Hollis and Pickard hitting their
balls, what struck me most was the simplicity of the thing. Barstow's
comparative failure to hit his had caused me to regard him almost with
contempt. To begin with, it was only when I got the club into my own
hands, and was making ready to strike with it, that I realised how long
it was, how uncomfortably long. I had to put myself into quite an
ungainly attitude in order to swing it clear of the ground. After what
had already occurred I did not wish to say anything; but had I been
left to myself, I should have gone carefully through that bag of clubs,
and selected one the mere handling of which did not fill me with a
feeling of comparative helplessness.

Then again, it was only when I stood in front of it that it was brought
home to my sense of perception how small the ball was, how unreasonably
small. The two things seemed so out of proportion; the long, unwieldy
club, the minute ball. It was difficult to make up one's mind just
where to stand in order to reach it to the best advantage. If you stood
straight over it you not only could not see it, but you had to hold the
club half-way down the butt in order to strike with it at all. If, on
the other hand, you stood at a little distance, it seemed to me not
easy, owing to the size of the ball, and its peculiar situation, to
make sure of hitting anything but the vacant air.

I own that, actuated by these considerations, I tried first one
position and then another, and then, possibly, a third, and soon, in
order to ascertain by actual experience, which would suit me best; but
my legitimate anxiety did not afford Hollis a ghost of an excuse for
still one more of his unnecessary remarks.

"Make up your mind what you are going to do, Short. I think I told you
lunch was at two."

Without another moment's hesitation I made my stroke, in what I may
almost speak of as an access of temper. I closed my eyes and let fly.
Quite what had become of the ball I could not say, but I was conscious
of having hit it; and when I opened my eyes again I found that everyone
was gazing to the right of where I was standing with what was evidently
a considerable amount of interest.

"That was a fine drive!" exclaimed Mr Pickard. "It must have had a
carry of a couple of hundred yards."

"It's about that distance off the line," said Hollis.

What he meant I could not tell. I was finding myself at a continual
disadvantage in not being acquainted with the technical terms of the
game; but from a certain sourness in his tone I suspected him of being
jealous of a more generous player's commendation. He and Pickard and
Barstow started off, each with a caddie in attendance; while,
apparently ignoring their movements, my wretched boy started off in
quite a different direction. I heard Hollis's coarse laugh, and
Pickard's Scotch chuckle, and Barstow's vacuous snigger. Wondering what
was amusing them, I called after my caddie, who was walking away,
totally oblivious of the fact that I was standing still.

"Boy, where are you going to?"

Without troubling himself to stop, or even to glance in my direction,
he answered me over his shoulder as if, instead of being his employer,
I was not a person of the least importance.

"I'm going after your ball. Don't you want it?"

The youngster's impertinence was so marked that a stranger who was
standing beside me was moved to nearly uncontrollable merriment. When I
turned and stared at him he offered what he possibly meant for an
explanation.

"I fancy you'll find your caddie's right, sir; you sent your ball in
that direction."

Refraining from a reply--the man was beneath my notice--I strode on
after the boy. On and on we went, and the farther we went the farther
we were from Hollis and the others.

"It must have been a tremendous hit," I observed, "if the ball came all
this way."

"The hole's not over here," was all that boy condescended to say. Then
he added, as if by way of an afterthought, "You might as well have hit
it behind you. Now you'd better drive it back to the sandbox, if you
can do it. It's the shortest road to the green--and the easiest."

When at last we reached the ball we found that it was in a wholly
inaccessible position, amid uneven ground, at the bottom of a small
hole, surrounded by grass and weeds, principally thistles, which were
almost breast-high.

"It is unfortunate that it should have stopped just here," I remarked.

That boy said nothing. He looked at me. He handed me a club, which was
rather shorter than the one I had used at first, and had a piece of
metal at the lower end, with an air which was partly sulky and partly
something worse. Then, with a sort of hop, skip and jump, which was
grotesque in the extreme, he withdrew himself ten or twelve feet from
where I was, and waited in the apparent expectation that, with that
ridiculous implement, I was going to strike the ball just where it was.
As this was evidently a boy who needed keeping in his place, I
addressed him with a certain degree of sternness, holding out the club
which he had given me.

"What do you call this thing?"

"That's your lofting iron."

"It might have been of some use if you had given it me when I made my
first shot--"

"You can't drive with a lofting iron."

"Can't I! I don't know how it is that you are in a position to say what
I can or what I can't do. You have never seen me play before."

"No, that I never have."

He said this with an emphasis which was in itself an impertinence. I
eyed him with an even greater sternness than at first.

"It occurs to me, my boy, that you're not the sort of lad I should have
chosen for a caddie had I myself had a voice in the matter. Let me give
you fair warning that I am not a person whom it is safe to trifle with,
so be careful. Lift that ball--at once, and place it in a position
where it will be more convenient for me to strike it."

"Lift the ball!"

His eyes and mouth opened wide. I might have said something amazing.

"I told you to lift the ball; and I added, at once."

"Lift the ball!" he echoed, with parrot-like stupidity. "If I was to do
it they might never let me on the links again."

"Don't talk nonsense. And don't attempt to take advantage of my
inexperience. I am not so simple as you may imagine, as you will
shortly learn. Do you suppose that I, or anyone else, with a thing like
this, can hit a ball out of a hole like that?"

"You have only to give it a bit of a twist and it'll come flying out."

"Will it? Indeed. That is your opinion, it isn't mine. However, since I
emphatically do not wish to bandy words with a mere child like you, I
will give you a practical demonstration of the truth of what I assert."

I gave him one, which, as I expected, was entirely successful. I made
at least a dozen attempts to get the ball out of that hole, while he
stood looking on, with feelings which I do not attempt to depict.
Really serious attempts, which increased in vigour as they multiplied.
I struck at it with all the force of which I was capable, repeatedly,
again and again. But so far from it "flying out," to adopt that
ignorant lad's ignorant phrase, I doubt if I moved it so much as an
inch. I sent the sand and dust "flying," but I sent nothing else. It
was not for want of perseverance, because I kept on hitting until I not
only became hot, but until I realised that, if I persisted in my futile
efforts much longer, I, a man of the world, of ripened years, of good
social and commercial position, might run the risk of becoming a
ridiculous spectacle in the eyes of that soapless little vagabond. So,
snatching up the ball out of its preposterous position, with it in one
hand, and the useless implement which that boy had given me in the
other, I started at a good round pace towards where Hollis and the
others were waiting for me at a distance of a quarter of a mile.

I need scarcely mention that, by the time I reached them, I was hotter
than ever; hot, also, in more senses than one. It was very present to
my mind that I had not gone to Littlestone for that kind of thing. I
had gone to play golf, and not with the intention of performing a
series of monkey-like antics in front of a dirty little ragamuffin
who--to all intents and purposes--had been thrust upon me against my will.
Such being my dominant sensation it will easily be believed that I was
not inclined for badinage, whatever shape it might take. However, with
complete indifference to what my feelings might be, Hollis began
practically as soon as I was within shouting range.

"I hope we haven't hurried you, Short. I think I told you lunch was at
two."

Even under difficult circumstances I was dignified.

"I hope, gentlemen, that I have not kept you waiting."

"We're blocking the course, but we will devoutly trust that that
doesn't matter. Two men who passed us just now--after waiting, they
declared, a quarter of an hour--seemed disposed to think strong
thoughts, but some men are like that. We were afraid we'd seen the last
of you. You went with your ball for a trip into the country, and you
seemed disposed to stay there. What's happened? Have you holed out in
two?"

Completely ignoring the singularity of Hollis's manner I did my best to
make clear how the delay had been caused.

"I am a stranger here, so it is far from my wish to make any complaint;
so I will only say that the lad who is supposed to act as my caddie has
totally disregarded my instructions, and thus much time has been lost."

"What is it that the young rascal wouldn't do? We noticed that you
seemed to be enjoying a little discussion; we wondered how long it was
going to last."

I explained, or rather, I had better put it that I endeavoured to,
because after events proved that I endeavoured in vain.

"My ball was lying in a position in which it was perfectly impossible
for anyone to hit it; yet when I asked him to place it somewhere where
it would be more get-at-able, I won't say he refused, but he certainly
didn't do it."

"Do you mean to say he wouldn't put your ball somewhere where you could
get an easy whack at it?"

"At least he didn't. As a consequence I have been pounding away at it
in the most ridiculous manner, so that, finally, rather than lose any
more time I picked up the ball myself, and I've brought it with me."

The three men looked at each other in a way which was significant of
something, though I was not able positively to decide of what. There
was a momentary silence. Then Hollis remarked, with an air of gravity
which was almost too portentous to be real,--

"So you brought it with you, and that is it in your hand; I see.
Perhaps you adopted the shortest way of getting it here. Short, you're
a more remarkable player than I suspected. Pickard, I think we'll give
you this hole. We may have better fortune with the next--that is, if
Short is lucky."

We all marched forward in a body. Not a word was spoken. For some
reason no one seemed to be in a conversational mood. Beginning to feel
the silence almost irksome, I was trying to think of some appropriate
remark with which to start the ball of conversation rolling, when,
without the slightest warning, one of the caddies--not my caddie, but
one of the others--stopped short, and began to emit yell after yell of
laughter. What had caused him to behave in that unseemly way I could
not even guess. I was amazed. I stared at him.

"What is the matter with him?" I asked.

Directly I did so Mr Pickard clapped his hands to his sides and began
to yell even louder than the caddie. And Mr Barstow joined him. And the
other caddies, even my own. There they were, all of them, doubled
up--positively doubled up--by uncontrollable mirth, caused goodness
alone knew by what. Hollis and I were the only persons who preserved
our gravity; and, as I glanced at Hollis, I noticed that his features
seemed to be distorted by pain.

"Don't--don't!" he gasped, waving his hands feebly in the air. "You'll
put me off my game!"

"What's the matter with them? What's the joke?" I inquired with, I am
sure, the most exemplary mildness.

Hollis's reply was extraordinary.

"Don't speak to me like that, Short--don't--or the consequences may be
serious! My suffering's internal."

What he meant I had not a notion. Few things are more annoying than to
feel that individuals in whose society you are are revelling in a joke
the entire identity of which is hidden from you. In my judgment, in
such a situation, it is someone's plain duty to drop some sort of a
hint as to where the jest comes in. However, once more, I refrained
from comment.

We reached the starting-place for the second hole. They wanted me to
commence, but I declined. So they had their strokes, and then my turn
came. I had very carefully noticed how they managed, so that I
approached the ball feeling that I had picked up several more or less
valuable hints, of which I promised myself that I would not be slow to
take advantage. And I have little doubt that I should have done very
well had not Hollis chosen that moment to make some more, to say the
least of it, unnecessary remarks.

"Let me point out to you, Short, that the second hole lies over there,
and that therefore you should drive your ball neither to the right nor
the left, but as straight in front of you as you can, because the
straighter you drive, the nearer to the hole your ball will be, and the
object is to reach the hole in as few strokes as possible. And I may
take this opportunity to observe that it is not one of a caddie's
duties to place a player's ball in the exact position in which the
player would like it to be placed."

Again someone laughed. I fancy more than one, but I did not look to see
who. I began to suspect that this was a case of actual bad manners.

"I can't play with this thing!" I exclaimed, eyeing the club which that
impudent boy had given me.

"What's wrong with it? The gentleman whom you requested to provide you
with every requisite for the game has supplied you with a liberal
assortment of drivers; you ought to have no difficulty in finding one
to suit you."

I myself chose a club from those in the bag.

"That's a niblick. You can hardly drive with a niblick."

"Why not? Is it an essential condition of the game that you should play
a certain stroke with a particular club?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Still, I cannot but think that you will hardly
do yourself justice if you drive with a niblick. If you are in search
of a little variety why not drive with a putter? These are the clubs
with which one generally drives."

He gripped half a dozen clubs, all of them more or less like the one
with which I had played my first shot.

"But they are so long--and so unwieldy."

"That you should be of that opinion is unfortunate. Still, one
generally drives with them. However, as you please. Drive with what you
jolly well like. Only drive. Not only is lunch at two, but we are still
blocking the course."

As it happened, two other men had come up, with their caddies. One of
them said,--

"If you gentlemen are not in a hurry perhaps you won't mind our going
on."

"Not in the least. Time is of no object to us. We are here for the day.
You will probably find us still here when you come round again, should
you propose to do a second round. Go on, please."

While they went on I examined the clubs which Hollis had suggested;
finally deciding on one, though it was not at all to my taste.

"Mind you, this is much too long for me."

"It does not look as if it were the kind of club to which you're
accustomed. Perhaps you would prefer a hockey-stick. Should I send for
one while we're waiting?"

"I thought," growled Pickard, "that we'd come here to play golf."

With that I let fly. I did not propose to wait for the repetition of
such an insinuation as that; emanating, moreover, from a complete
stranger. I did not pause to consider, to take aim, for anything.
Scarcely were the words out of that unmannerly Scotchman's lips than I
made my stroke. Owing, no doubt, to the haste to which I was impelled,
I hit nothing but the vacant air, though I had used such force that I
myself almost tumbled to the ground.

"That would have been a good shot," commented Hollis, "if you had hit
the ball. It's a pity you missed it. Have another go."

I immediately repeated my stroke, hardly giving myself time to recover
my equilibrium. Not at all to my surprise, in view of the excessive
length of the club, I struck the end of it against the earth so
violently as to break it clean in two, to say nothing of the jarring
sensation which went right up to my shoulder.

"You hit something that time," murmured Hollis, "though it wasn't the
ball. Have another club. There are plenty more where that came from."

I took another club from that impudent lad. I was hot--more, I was
indignant. It galled me to be compelled to suspect that it could be
possible that I was providing unintentional amusement for a number of
persons, not one of whom, under ordinary circumstances, I should have
thought worthy of my serious attention. Again I made my stroke. And
this time I not only hit the ball, but, in consequence, I presume, of
the almost frenzy with which I was actuated, the club itself slipped
from my hand, and went careering through the air.

"You hit the ball that time," admitted Hollis. "But--you are a
remarkable golfer, Short, and it's an extraordinary fact that your club
should have gone farther than the ball."

"We'll give you this match, Hollis," growled Mr Pickard, with an air
which I could only call uncouth. "I'm off."

"My good Pickard, we'll give it you. Or--should we postpone it to a day
on which we can all get up early, say at sunrise, so that we can have
the whole day before us, and the links to ourselves?"

"No thank you, I've had enough."

"I am sorry, gentlemen," I observed, "if I have spoilt your game."

No statement, as coming from me, could have been handsomer, bearing in
mind that I was the principal sufferer. But Mr Pickard was incapable of
saying anything handsome.

"I didn't know we'd had a game."

"Come, Pickard," suggested the vacuous Barstow, "it hasn't been so bad
as that. I've enjoyed it--as far as it's gone, thanks to Mr Short. I'm
sorry, Mr Short, that I'm not staying down here long enough to enable
us to finish it."

I said nothing. I was not disposed to cross swords in what he might
imagine to be a duel of repartee with a man like Barstow. The two men
marched off with their caddies without another word. I walked off with
Hollis.

Seldom have I had a more disagreeable walk than that was. Not that, so
far as Hollis was concerned, it lasted for any considerable distance;
though it was longer than I desired. In the course of a very few
minutes he showed me the kind of man he was; and, in so doing, revealed
a side of his character of whose existence I had not even dreamed.
Scarcely had we left the golf links behind than he remarked--until that
moment he had not uttered a single word, nor had I,--

"If you're going by the 12.48 I'll see you off."

"Twelve-forty-eight!" I cried. "I thought you said that lunch was at
two."

"I had forgotten that I have an engagement for lunch with a man which I
shall be compelled to keep. You needn't stay. There's nothing here but
golf."

He looked at me in a manner which I resented with every fibre of my
being.

"Allow me to remind you, Hollis, that I came here at your express
invitation, on the understanding that you were to teach me golf."

"Did you? I'm sorry. I shall be happy to refund any expenses to which
you have been put. But, if you take my strong advice, after your
exhibition of this morning you will not stay here any longer than you
can help. You might not find it agreeable. As I say, if you are going
by the 12.48 I will see you off."

"Will you? I am obliged. You needn't. Nor need you come with me another
step. Indeed, I would rather you did not. I will wish you good-morning
here--and good-bye."

"Good-bye," he echoed.

Without uttering another syllable he swung round on his heels and
strode back towards the golf-links, leaving me to pursue my way alone.
My sensations I will not attempt to depict. What a discovery I had
made! What a character had been revealed, as it were, by a flash of
lightning! I had regarded this man as an acquaintance, almost as a
friend, and yet had never known him till that moment.

I did not travel by the 12.48. I went up by the afternoon train to
town. I lunched alone; and, in that place, could not have had better
society. I am of a buoyant disposition. By the time I reached London I
had, practically, wiped the whole regrettable incident off the tablets
of my mind. And I had arrived at a decision. I had resolved to hire a
field, or an open piece of ground, and engage the services of an expert
golf player, a professional, to coach me in the rudiments of the game.
And the next time I play a foursome I will undertake to surprise
certain persons whose names I do not care to mention.



                         AN EPISCOPAL SCANDAL


It had been an eloquent sermon; the Bishop had been at his best. That
was the general feeling. At the informal meeting which was held in the
Dean's parlour, the morning after, this feeling was strongly expressed.

"If," said Mr Dean, "words can make men temperate, then surely the
words which we were privileged to hear proceeding from the pulpit in
our beloved cathedral yesterday afternoon must have carried conviction
to many an erring soul."

So said all of them. Canon Gorse, in particular, felt bound to say that
he had heard many temperance sermons in his time, but never one which
had impressed him more strongly than the one which the Bishop had
delivered yesterday to the clerical and lay workers in the cause of
total abstinence. When the Canon made this outspoken declaration, every
parson in the room--and every man of them had preached temperance
sermons in his time, so they ought to have been good judges--exclaimed,
"Hear, hear!"

Perhaps the enthusiasm was rendered greater by the fact that, until
quite lately, the Bishop had scarcely been a stalwart. Always on the
side of temperance--oh, yes, certainly that--but on the question, the
vital question, of total abstinence his views had scarcely been so
pronounced as some of his admirers, both clerical and lay, would have
wished. Indeed, it was understood that the Bishop himself favoured a
good glass of wine at times. In fact, it was reported that he was even
esteemed a connoisseur in the matter of certain Spanish wines which are
nowadays esteemed old-fashioned. That this should have been so was, in
a degree, unfortunate; because how could teetotalism, as a propaganda,
assume those dimensions which were in every way desirable in a diocese,
the bishop of which, as it was well known, himself looked with a by no
means unloving eye on the wine when it is red! When, therefore, it was
announced that, if only for example's sake, the Bishop would
henceforward shun the spirit which is man's universal curse, it was
felt, and rightly felt, that a victory had been won. That victory had,
so to speak, been consummated by the Bishop's sermon in the cathedral
yesterday, in which he had declared himself a teetotaller, on the side
of the teetotallers, and willing, nay, anxious, to stand in their
forefront and to lead the van.

"One thing," observed Canon Gorse, "seems plain--that is, that we now
shall be on safe ground in refusing to renew the lease of 'The Rose and
Crown.' For that, thank goodness!"

Again the reverend Canon seemed but to give voice to the opinion of all
who heard him. This question of "The Rose and Crown" had been as a
thorn in the side of the cathedral chapter. "The Rose and Crown" was an
inn which actually faced the door by means of which the choir and
officiating clergy were wont to gain admittance to the sacred edifice.
Sad tales were told of it: of how quarts of stout, and such like
obnoxious fluids, had been sent in from "The Rose and Crown" to the
choirmen while they had actually been engaged in practice, and other
dreadful stories. The lease of the inn was running out. The
landlord--one George Boulter--desired its renewal. The house, and the
ground upon which it stood, was the property of the cathedral chapter.
Mr Boulter had already been privately notified that, in all
probability, his lease would not be renewed. It was the desire of the
chapter that the house should be transformed into a Church institute.
The only factor which might upon this point breed dissension had
hitherto been the Bishop. But now, as the Bishop himself had signed the
pledge, it seemed plain that, as Canon Gorse had observed, the scandal
of a number of clergymen owning a public-house would be put an end to.

The Canon had scarcely uttered his remark when the library door opened,
and a servant, entering, advanced to Mr Dean.

"Mr Boulter, sir, says he wishes to see you most particular."

"Mr Boulter!" exclaimed the Dean. The man himself, the landlord of "The
Rose and Crown." The Dean reflected. He rubbed his nose with his
glasses. "What is it that Mr Boulter can wish to say to me? However, I
will see him. Tell him so." The servant vanished. The Dean turned to
the assembled clergymen. "It is, perhaps, just as well that I should
see the man at once, and let him know clearly what our position is."

"Exactly," said Canon Gorse. "Let him understand that plainly. It will
not only be fair to ourselves, but it will also be fair to the man."

Mr Boulter was a portly person: his countenance was ruddy; in manner he
was affable. He was, all over, Mine Host of the Inn; a type of Boniface
which, if we may believe the chroniclers, used to abound, but which,
under the present advance of the teetotal forces, is, we will say
fortunately, becoming extinct. He reverenced a gentleman, but above all
things he reverenced the cloth. His motto as a boy had been "Church and
Crown"; but in these latter days he had begun to fear that both Church
and Crown were on the side of the enemy.

"Mr Boulter," observed the Dean, as he entered the room in which that
gentleman was waiting, "I am pressed for time. Indeed, I have a meeting
in the library. I must therefore ask you to tell me in as few words as
possible what it is you wish to say."

Mr Boulter turned the brim of his hat round and round in his hands.

"It is about the lease, Mr Dean."

"I thought so. I may as well be brief with you, and clear. You may take
my word for it that the lease will not be renewed, and that, in short,
'The Rose and Crown' will cease to be an inn."

"I think not, Mr Dean."

"You think not, Mr Boulter! May I ask what you mean?"

There was something in the tone in which Mr Boulter said that he
thought not which the Dean did not understand. He stared at Mr Boulter
with dignified surprise. Mr Boulter actually smiled.

"I think that 'The Rose and Crown' will continue to be an inn. That is
what I meant, Mr Dean."

The Dean shrugged his shoulders.

"If you choose to persist in thinking so, in spite of my assurance to
the contrary, that is your affair, not mine."

The Dean turned to go, as if the interview were already at an end. Mr
Boulter coughed behind his hand.

"I should like to have one word with you before you go." The Dean faced
round. "Then am I to tell my tale?"

"Your tale? What tale?"

"About the Bishop, Mr Dean."

"About the Bishop?" The Dean looked the innkeeper up and down. A vague
suspicion crossed his mind. Already, at this hour of the morning, could
the man be drunk? There was nothing in the fellow's bearing to denote
anything of the kind. And, indeed, it was matter of common notoriety
that, personally, the landlord of "The Rose and Crown" was an
abstemious man. But, none the less, there was at that particular moment
something about Mr Boulter's manner which the Dean was at a loss to
understand. "What do you mean by your tale about the Bishop, sir?"

For a moment or two Mr Boulter continued to turn his hat round and
round in his hands, as if he found some difficulty in choosing the
exact words in which to frame what he wished to say.

"I understand," he began at last, "that yesterday the Bishop preached a
sermon upon temperance."

"You understand quite rightly. It would have done you good, Mr Boulter,
to have heard that sermon. Had you done so, you would understand how
strong would be the Bishop's opposition to any renewal of the lease of
'The Rose and Crown.'"

"Indeed!" Mr Boulter's tone was dry. "I am not so sure of that."

The Dean stared. The man's manner was so very odd.

"Be so good, Mr Boulter, as to say plainly what it is you mean."

"I don't know what you think, sir, of a bishop who comes straight from
preaching a sermon on temperance into my public-house."

"Mr Boulter!"

"It's no good you're looking at me like that, sir. I was surprised, I
don't mind owning it. But just let me tell my tale."

The Dean let him tell his tale.

"Yesterday afternoon I was standing at my private door, looking out
into the street. It was getting dusk. The service in the cathedral was
over, and I thought that everyone had gone. All of a sudden I saw the
little door open which we call the Dean's door, and which you know is
right in front of my house. Someone came out and walked quickly across
the street towards my place. I drew back and went inside. When I got
inside the bar I saw that there was some one in a little compartment
which only holds about two comfortably, and which I call a private
wine-bar. I heard him ask Miss Parkins, one of my young ladies, if we
had such a thing as a glass of good sound port."

The Dean shuddered--he scarcely knew why. The fact is that port was the
liquid of which the Bishop, in his less stalwart days, had been
esteemed such an excellent judge.

"The compartment in which he was is meant for parties who wish to keep
themselves quite private. It's boarded up on either side, and in front
of it, facing the bar, is a panel of glazed glass set in a mahogany
frame, with just enough room between it and the counter to pass, say, a
glass of wine. If the party inside wants to keep himself to himself,
it's next to impossible to see his face unless you go round by the door
in the front. I couldn't see this party's face, but I could see enough
of him to see he was a parson. He was short and stout"--the Bishop was
short and stout--"and though he had the collar of his coat turned up,
it wasn't turned up enough to hide the collar of his shirt. Seeing that
I had seen him come out of the Dean's own door in the cathedral, and
that he was a parson, things seemed a little queer. So I asked Miss
Parkins, on the quiet, if she knew who it was. I could see she couldn't
altogether make it out. She said, although she hadn't seen his face,
she seemed to know his voice. Well, he liked my port. I heard him say
so; and I heard him tell Miss Parkins that he was considered as good a
judge of port wine as any man in England." Again the Dean was conscious
of a shiver. "Anyhow, he drank a bottle of it before he went."

"A bottle, Mr Boulter?"

"Yes, sir, a bottle, and one glass over. Directly he had gone my potman
went into the private wine-bar for something or other, and as soon as
he got inside he called out, 'Hallo! the gentleman's left his bag
behind.' And he handed a little leather bag across the bar. Any
gentleman who had put away a bottle of port wine in the time that
gentleman had done might forget a trifle of a bag like that. It was a
beautiful little bag. I had never seen one quite like it before. It had
got some initials and a crest stamped on one side. I opened it to see
if there was anything inside by means of which I could identify it, and
return it to the owner. There was something inside--a sermon. I never
saw anything more beautifully written than that sermon--it was like
copperplate." Once more the Dean was conscious of a shudder travelling
down his spine. The Bishop's beautiful caligraphy was famous--a fair
handwriting is nowadays too rare. "On the front page was written the
Bishop's name and address in full, and in the top left-hand corner was
written: 'Preached in the cathedral on the afternoon of the 13th of
November, 189--.' That's yesterday afternoon, sir. I've brought that
bag with me. You'll find the sermon still inside. Perhaps you know
whose bag that is, sir."

Mr Boulter picked up a small leather bag which had been lying, hitherto
unnoticed, upon a chair, and handed it to the astonished Dean. The Dean
_did_ know whose bag it was--he knew too well. There was no mistaking
those initials and that crest. There was no necessity to examine the
sermon which Mr Boulter assured him was inside. The Dean gazed at that
excellent example of fine workmanship in leather bags as if he realised
that he had all at once become an actor in what might turn out to be a
tragedy. Words proceeded from his stammering lips.

"You are, I am sure, too reasonable a man, Mr Boulter, to jump at
impossible conclusions from imperfect premisses."

"I don't know what you call 'imperfect premisses.' Directly I saw the
name and address which was written on the front page of that sermon,
Miss Parkins cried out, 'Why, it was the Bishop's voice!' She stared at
me as if she was going to have a fit--and well she might. Miss Parkins
is a good girl, as all my young ladies are, and, indeed, everybody else
about my place, although I say it." Mr Boulter glared at the Dean with
eyes which were full of meaning. "She never misses a chance of hearing
the Bishop preach when she can get one, and if there's anyone who ought
to know the Bishop's voice it's her. It seems to me, begging your
pardon, sir, that I ought to have a reward for bringing that leather
bag back safe and sound."

"Certainly, Mr Boulter. Any sum in reason you like to mention."

"The reward I want is the renewal of my lease."

"That, as I have already told you, is--"

"Excuse me just one moment, sir. You see that?" Taking an envelope out
of an inner pocket of his coat, Mr Boulter flourished it in the Dean's
face. "I've a boy who lives in London, and writes for the papers; a
smart chap he is, and well respected in his trade. I've written an
account of how the Bishop preached a sermon on temperance in the
cathedral--a fine sermon it was, I'm told by those who heard it--and of
how he then walked straight out of the cathedral into my
public-house, and put away a bottle of old port, and got so drunk that
he forgot his bag and left it behind him, with the sermon which he had
just been preaching on temperance inside of it. That account's in this
envelope. I'm going to send it to my boy, and I'm going to tell him to
turn it into money; and I'll lay you what odds you please--although I'm
no more a betting man than you are--that, before a week is over, the
tale will be told in every paper in England, ah! and known all the
world over. You're going to take away my living. My grandfather kept
'The Rose and Crown' decent, my father kept it decent, and I've kept it
decent; there's never been even so much as a shadow of a complaint made
against me by the police, nor by no one. And yet you cathedral
gentlemen have taken a sudden fad into your heads, and you're going to
ruin me. Very well, ruin me! You think you're going to do good to the
cause of temperance by shutting up 'The Rose and Crown.' What harm do
you suppose will be done to the cause of temperance by that tale being
told, as they do tell that sort of tale nowadays, in all the newspapers
of the world? I guess the cause of temperance will not get over that
tale for years--it will be always being told. At the very least, if I
do have to go I will take care that somebody else goes with me. Now
which is it to be--am I to have my lease renewed, or am I to post this
envelope?"

The Dean hesitated.

"In any case, as you must be aware, Mr Boulter, the matter is not one
which can be decided on the spur of the moment; the decision is not
with me."

"Understand me, sir. If I go away from here without a promise of
renewal, I post this letter. I know as well as you know that in the
whole business your voice will be the ruling voice. You give me a bit
of writing in which you undertake to do your best to get my lease
renewed, and I will give you this envelope, with what's inside. And I
will give you my promise never to breathe a word that the Bishop ever
so much as came near my place. As for Miss Parkins, I know she won't
speak unless she's forced. She's a religious girl; she thinks a lot of
the Bishop, and she's too much shocked at the whole affair. I never saw
a girl so upset. Now which is it to be?"

The Dean still hesitated--with sufficient cause.

"What term of renewal would you require?"

"The last lease was for ninety-nine years, and I want this lease to be
for ninety-nine."

"Ninety-nine years, Mr Boulter?"

Mr Boulter did not get a promise of renewal for ninety-nine years, or
anything like it, but he did get "a bit of writing." With that "bit of
writing" in a secure division of his plethoric pocket-book he went
away. The Dean was left to his reflections. The leather bag he held in
one hand, the envelope which the landlord of "The Rose and Crown" had
given him he held in the other. Putting down the bag, he tore the
envelope into halves, then into quarters, and crossing the room he
dropped the fragments in the fire which burned brightly in the grate.

"Terrible! terrible!" This he said as he watched the pieces of paper
being consumed by the flames. Then he seemed to endeavour to pull
himself together. "Well, I shall have to tell them. I must give reasons
for the thing which I have done. The tale will have to travel so far,
but"--the Dean pressed his lips together; few men's countenances were
capable of assuming a severer aspect than Dean Pettifer's--"I will make
it my especial business to see that it goes no farther." He still
seemed to hesitate before returning to the apartment in which his
colleagues were awaiting him. "I must say that I never thought it of
him. I have been always conscious that in his latitudinarianism there
was a certain element of danger. But I never dreamed that he was
capable of such a thing as this--no, never!"

It was with a distinctly unsatisfactory look upon his face that he made
his reappearance in the little impromptu meeting. The criminatory
leather bag he carried in his left hand. It is not impossible that
those who were present became immediately conscious that with the Dean,
since they had seen him last, all things had not gone well. The buzz of
conversation, which had been audible as he opened the door, ceased upon
his entrance, as though something in his bearing acted as a damper.

The somewhat awkward silence was broken by Canon Gorse.

"Well, was Boulter troublesome?"

The Dean laid the bag in front of him upon the table.

"He was." The Dean carefully wiped his glasses. There was a suggestion
of curious expectation in the eyes which were fixed upon him. Their
owners already perceived that there was something in the air. Was it
possible that the landlord of "The Rose and Crown" had behaved in the
manner which, in the estimation of some persons, is a natural
characteristic of individuals of his class, and had been guilty of
actual violence in the sacred precincts of the Deanery? "He was
troublesome in a sense for which, on this occasion, I will simply say
that I was unprepared; and to such a degree that I have given him what
amounts to a virtual undertaking that his lease shall be renewed."

This was evidently not the sort of thing for which his listeners had
been waiting--one could see it by their faces. Some of them changed
colour, and some of their jaws dropped open. Canon Gorse stared at the
speaker, as if he found it difficult to believe that his own ears were
capable of fulfilling their normal functions.

"Pettifer, impossible!" Perceiving that the word might seem too strong,
he amended it. "That is to say, how do you mean?"

The Dean leaned over the table. His attitude, indeed his whole manner,
suggested severity tempered by sorrow.

"Before I say anything further I wish to have an understanding with all
of you that not one word of what I am about to utter will be breathed
by any one of you to any creature living--and by that I mean neither to
your wives, nor to your daughters, nor to any member of your
households--that it will be received as though it came to you under the
seal of the confessional." There was silence. "If anyone feels himself,
for any cause whatever, unable to give such a pledge, then I must
respectfully ask that person at once to withdraw."

No one did withdraw. No one said either Ay or Nay. So it may be
supposed that the pledge which the Dean required was unanimously given.
That the Dean understood that to be the case was evident. He held up
the little leather bag in front of him as if it were some dreadful
thing.

"This bag is the Bishop's--our beloved Bishop's bag. I know it, of my
own knowledge, to be the bag which he had with him in the cathedral
yesterday afternoon. It still contains the MS. of the sermon which the
Bishop preached, and which we all rejoiced to hear. This bag has just
been brought to me by the landlord of 'The Rose and Crown.' It was
left, unintentionally left, on his premises by a person who, at the
close of yesterday afternoon's service, went out of the Dean's door of
the cathedral into one of Mr Boulter's private bars, and there and then
consumed a bottle of port wine."

The Dean ceased. There again was silence--there well might be. The Dean
again went on,--

"A son of Mr Boulter's is engaged on one of those scurrilous journals
which are called society papers. Mr Boulter proposed to send this story
up to his son to print. On the understanding that the matter shall be
confined to his own breast, I have deemed it wisdom to give him, as I
have said, what virtually amounts to an undertaking that his lease
shall be renewed. That is all I have to say. You will feel with me that
it is too much. May I ask you not to speak of this matter even among
yourselves, but, as I shall do, to do your best to blot it from your
minds? Let us, if we can, forget that this thing has ever been. And
now, with your permission, I will wish you all good-day."

They went like a flock of sheep, although there was almost a suspicion
of pathos in the manner of their parting. When they were gone the Dean
set himself to perform a task of the exceeding delicacy of which, to
say the least, he was fully conscious. He was not a man to palter with
what he deemed his duty. He was certainly not a man to shrink from
doing a thing merely because the thing was disagreeable. Therefore,
scarcely had the last of his colleagues turned his back on the Deanery
than he put the little leather bag into a larger bag, and, with that
larger bag grasped firmly in his hand, he strode off to the Palace.

He was going to make it his business to see that without any further
unnecessary loss of time the Bishop came into what was, undoubtedly,
his own again.

He found his lordship in the library. The Bishop was dictating to his
secretary, the Rev. John Budgen. The secretary was seated at a table;
the Bishop took his ease in a capacious arm-chair. As the Dean entered,
his lordship greeted him with that genial heartiness for which the
Bishop of Boundersville is famed. Not a trace of guilty consciousness
about him anywhere--not a trace! It was with a sort of shock that the
Dean noticed that there was nothing of the kind.

"How do, Pettifer? I'm doing what I call my morning task of
stone-breaking--writing letters, by proxy, to a lot of people who have
more time on their hands than they know what to do with, and who,
therefore, insist upon wasting mine. Anything particular to say to me?"

The Dean was, perhaps, too refined--the thing is possible. He was not
only a fine scholar, he was a fine gentleman. He was of opinion that
dignitaries, and particularly all dignitaries of the Church, should
have the standard of manners which was peculiarly his own. The Bishop's
heartiness, his rough-and-ready methods of expression, had always
grated on his high-strung sensibilities; especially did they grate just
then.

"I am bound to state, my lord, that what I have to say to you is of the
first importance."

The Bishop looked at him a little quizzically. Possibly the Dean's
exaggerated preciseness appealed to a sense which there is no reason
why even a bishop should be without.

"Excuse me, Budgen; I'll ring when I'm ready." The secretary withdrew.
"Now, Pettifer, fire away. Who killed the cat, and which cat's been
killed?"

Such a fashion of speech was actually offensive to the Dean. Perhaps
the spirit of mischief still lingered in the Bishop's breast; perhaps,
at times, the Bishop found the Dean almost as trying as the Dean found
him. Under the circumstances such a bearing on the part of the Bishop
shocked the Dean almost into speechlessness. He gazed at his spiritual
superior in a manner which, unless he was mistaken, made his lordship
wince. "Has your lordship not missed your lordship's sermon-bag?"

At the question his lordship plainly started.

"My sermon-bag, Pettifer? What do you mean?"

"My lord, I mean what I say."

The Bishop was perturbed. Rising from his chair, he began to fidget
about the room. "Why do you ask?"

"Because it has been returned to me."

"Returned to you--no!"

"Yes, my lord; I have it here." The Dean produced the little bag from
inside the larger one. He held it up in front of him as he had held it
up in front of him at the impromptu meeting at the Deanery. "I will not
ask how it came to stray from your lordship's keeping."

The Bishop looked at the Dean; the Dean looked straight at him. It was
evident that his lordship was not completely at his ease.

"I perceive that you have heard the story."

"I regret, my lord, to say that I have."

The Bishop plainly flushed; perhaps he found the Dean's tone and manner
slightly galling.

"Perhaps it was not quite the thing to do, but"--his lordship shrugged
his shoulders--"what does it matter?"

The Dean, in his turn, winced.

"What does it matter, my lord? Surely your lordship knows that it
matters."

"How did the bag come into your possession, Pettifer?"

"It was brought to me by Mr Boulter, the landlord of 'The Rose and
Crown.'"

"Boulter!--'The Rose and Crown!'--No, by George!"

His lordship said "By George!" and as he said it the Dean shrunk back
as if he had received a blow.

"Mr Boulter, as the price of his silence, extracted from me a promise
that his lease should be renewed."

The Bishop woke up. He showed more alertness than he had hitherto
displayed.

"You promised him that his lease should be renewed--the lease of 'The
Rose and Crown'?"

"I did. I thought it better that I should do so than that such a story
should be told."

"Story? What story?"

The Dean, before he answered, indulged himself with a pause for
consideration.

"My lord, if any word which I may utter seems lacking in respect, as
coming from me to you, I entreat your pardon. My lord, when I heard
that, after preaching a sermon, and so grand a sermon, upon total
abstinence, you passed straight from the cathedral pulpit to the bar of
a common public-house, and there drank so large a quantity of wine
that, in the temporary forgetfulness which it occasioned, you left the
sermon itself behind you in the bar, I felt that it were better that I
should promise almost anything than that such a story should be told."

As he listened the Bishop's countenance underwent a variety of
changes. When the Dean had finished the Bishop dropped into a chair,
and--laughed. Not a genteel simper, but a loud and a long guffaw. The
Dean felt that he could not endure such levity even from a bishop--his
own bishop, too.

"My lord, in such a matter you may see occasion for merriment, but if
you could have seen, at the Deanery, the faces of the cathedral clergy
as I told to them the story--"

"Pettifer, what do you mean?"

Springing to his feet, the Bishop grasped the speaker by the arm. The
Dean was startled.

"I say, if you could only have seen their faces--"

"Do you mean to say that you have told this story to anyone?"

"I was constrained to state my reasons for giving such a promise to the
landlord of 'The Rose and Crown.'"

"I hardly know if I ought not to strike you, Arthur Pettifer."

"My lord!"

"I hardly know if I ought not to pillory you in the market-place, and
so compel you to do penance for your slanderous tongue. I have long
been conscious of a certain pharisaical narrowness in your mental and
in your moral outlook. I have seen in you what has seemed to me a
hideous tendency to think the worst both of women and of men. But I
never thought you capable of such gross obliquity of judgment as you
yourself appear now to own to. Is it possible that you believed that
such a story as you have told me could be true?"

The Dean had turned quite pale. He seemed to speak beneath his breath.

"Is it possible that Boulter lied?"

"Is it possible, Arthur Pettifer, that you could believe that I--I,
Ralph Ingall, with whose life's history you are as well acquainted
almost as myself--could so perjure myself that, as God's minister, in
God's house, I could pledge myself never again to let alcohol pass my
lips in any shape or form, and that then, with that pledge still warm
upon my lips, I could pass straight into a pot-house and stupefy myself
with wine?"

"Was it--was it Budgen, then?"

"Budgen? Budgen? Pettifer, this is worse and worse! You know that
Budgen has never touched a drop of alcoholic stimulant since the day
that he was born. I will tell you the story of that bag so far as I
know it myself. And I will see that your promise to the man Boulter is
kept both in the spirit and the letter. I will place it upon you, as an
enduring penance, that for the continued existence of his
drink-shop you, and you alone, shall be responsible."

The Dean was silent. He seemed to totter as a man who received a
crushing blow. The Bishop paced up and down the room. Like an accusing
spirit--possessed of a tolerable corporation--he poured out upon the
Dean a curious, correct, and circumstantial history of the adventures
of his sermon-bag.

"There was a man at my college whose name I need not mention. We were
ordained together. I will put it gently, and will say that he did not
take full advantage of his opportunities. I believe that, for some time
now, he has ceased to exercise his clerical office. He has become a
reporter for the '----'"--the Bishop named a paper which all good
Churchmen are supposed to read--"and he came to me yesterday afternoon,
into the vestry, after I had done my sermon. Possibly you may have seen
him there. He told me that he had come down from town specially to
report my sermon. According to him the train had been late, and he only
arrived in time to hear a part. He asked me if I would let him see my
notes. On the spur of the moment I handed him my bag, with the sermon
in it. I told him that he might make, what he expressed a desire to
make, a verbatim copy, and that he was then to return to me my
property. I felt immediately afterwards that I had, perhaps, not done
the wisest possible thing. But it was then too late. After the story
you have told me, what he did with bag and sermon I can guess."

While the Bishop was still speaking a servant appeared at the door.

"My lord, a person--I believe a clergyman--desires me to inform your
lordship that he wishes to see you at once upon very pressing
business."

"Yes, my lord; that is so."

The scandalised servant turned to find that the person alluded to had,
uninvited, found his way into the Bishop's presence. The Bishop
recognised his visitor; he signified the same to the servant who had
_not_ shown him in.

The visitor in question was an individual of somewhat doubtful
appearance. He looked half cleric, half layman. He was short and stout,
and so far resembled the Bishop, but the resemblance went no farther.
The Bishop, taking possession of the little leather bag which the Dean
still retained, held it out to the newcomer.

"Well, sir, have you come to make another copy of my sermon? As you
perceive, it has been returned to me, but not by you."

The stranger wiped his brow. He seemed more than a trifle embarrassed.

"I regret to say that I have not yet taken a copy of it, my lord. The
fact is, my lord, that, as I told you yesterday, I left town without
having lunched, and after leaving your lordship in the cathedral I felt
so exhausted that I just stepped across the road to take a glass of
wine--"

"Quite so, sir. I understand too well. Since my sermon upon temperance
has once been returned by the landlord of a tavern, I do not think that
I care to run the risk of its reaching me by means of a similar channel
a second time. So far as you are concerned, sir, my sermon must go
unreported." The Bishop rang the bell. The servant reappeared. "Dawes,
show this gentleman out."

The gentleman was shown out, though it seemed, from his manner, that
there still was something which he would have wished to say.

When he had gone the Bishop placed the little leather bag upon a table.
He turned to the Dean. He looked at him, and he said, more in sorrow
than in anger,--

"Pettifer, how long does it take you to know a man?"



                      MR BLOXAM AND THE BRITISH
                             CONSTITUTION


I say that the British constitution is in a shameful condition. I say
that any system of legislation which breeds matrimonial discord and
sets a husband against his wife, or, what is much worse, a wife against
her husband, is a disgrace to civilisation. I say it without
hesitation. I have said it before, and I say it again.

Look at me and Mrs Bloxam. From the first I have had difficulties with
that woman. She has never properly perceived the inevitable and natural
superiority of the husband over the wife. No, not once. I can prove it
out of the mouths of a cloud of witnesses. But when it comes to making
the husband the laughing-stock of his native land, not to speak of his
own parish, and an object of derision in the low columns of a ribald
press, then I assert, emphatically, that something must be done. And it
will have to be done, too, and that before very long. I've had enough
of it, I do know that. The time has come to throw aside the entangled
folds of the cloak of dignity, and to wave the impassioned arms of a
threatening Nemesis. Let her beware. And her aiders and abettors, let
them beware also.

I had a difference with our rector. I do not deny that the Reverend
George Crookenden has his good points. Every man has. Although Mr
Crookenden failed to see that I have mine. Therefore, when it was
pointed out that the parish of Copstone was in a state of educational
inefficiency, I threw my weight into the scale of intelligence. It was
shown that the Church school was a failure. So I said, "Let there be a
School Board." And there was a School Board. And what is more, I was
put forward as a candidate. I admit that, at first, I was unwilling. I
declare, positively, that I refused five distinct and separate times.
But at last I was overpersuaded. I stood. And now I wish to goodness
that I hadn't. But who can foresee the march of events as they trickle
through the convoluted waterways of an impenetrable thicket?

Mrs Bloxam has always been an enemy to the intellectual advance of the
age.

"Bother your books and things!" she would say. "I want a girl with some
knowledge of housework. Is she going to get it out of them?"

"Certainly, if she looks for it in the proper quarter."

"And pray, what do you call the proper quarter?" Mrs Bloxam looked at
me in a way I particularly dislike, as if I were an inferior animal.
"You are yourself such an omnivorous reader that no doubt you will be
able to throw light upon the subject."

I knew what she meant, but I declined to let her see it.

"It is true that I do not read trashy novels, or sickly love tales,
which present a false picture of the stern realities of life. I confine
my attention to works of a higher class."

"There are not many of them published, are there?"

"What do you mean?"

"Because I have never seen you read anything but newspapers since we
were married, and I doubt if you ever read a whole book through in your
life."

The assertion took my breath away. But I declined to argue. I always do
decline when circumstances permit. They did most clearly then. Though,
when I considered the matter afterwards, I perceived that, had I
chosen, I might have overwhelmed her with the force of my reasoning. In
my opinion, reading is a finite process. I read a great deal when I was
a lad, though I do not quite remember what. There the matter ended.
Life is, as it were, divided into sections. Each section should be
devoted to a different object. For me the section devoted to reading is
passed.

The bombshell fell while we were at dinner, and while Jane was still in
the room.

"What rubbish is this I hear about your being a candidate for this
tuppenny-hapenny School Board which is going to plague the unfortunate
people?"

"My dear, I am not responsible for all the rubbish you may hear."

"Then you admit that it is a rubbishing idea?"

"I do nothing of the kind; at least, so far as my standing is
concerned. On the contrary, I am standing in deference to the
earnestly-expressed wish of the more intelligent portion of the
inhabitants of this parish."

"Meaning Broadbridge the cobbler, Tyler the blacksmith and their
friends, who never attend any place of worship, but spend most of their
time at the 'Fox and Hounds' instead. They know that you have been
silly enough to quarrel with Mr Crookenden and propose to use you as a
catspaw."

"I traverse the whole of your assertion, but decline to dwell on so
delicate a subject. Any discussion had better be postponed to when we
are alone."

"Jane, leave the room."

I did not wish Jane to leave the room. Not at all. On the contrary, I
wished her to stay. I had yet occasion for her services. But, on the
other hand, I did not desire to humiliate Mrs Bloxam by forbidding the
girl to carry out her mistress's commands. So Jane went. And then Mrs
Bloxam expressed herself on the subject of my candidature with a
fluency which I found it difficult to curtail. As usual, she allowed
her language to become stronger than the occasion required. But when it
came to her "positively prohibiting"--her own words--me to go to the
poll, I put my foot down. I pointed out, with irresistible clearness
of reasoning, that I was pledged to represent the conscience of a
well-defined section of our neighbours, and by that pledge my sense of
honour constrained me to stand. And, in fact, that I would stand by it.
Nothing she could say would turn me from my purpose. Not of such weak
materials was I made. The sooner she understood that the better. And,
at last, she did understand--in a measure.

"Then all I can say is that your quarrel with Mr Crookenden will be
life-long. Which will be nice for me, and for all of us. So the sooner
you sell this place and go to live elsewhere, the better it will be."

"Henrietta, I am ready to forgive Crookenden at any moment of any day.
He has only to ask me; he will find me quite prepared. Do you mean to
say that he is so dead to the beauty and the sweetness of a united
parish that he is unwilling to allow to others that freedom of
conscience which he claims for himself."

"It is unfortunate, Augustus, that when there are two ways between
which to choose, you should always prefer the silliest. Still I feel
that it is rather your misfortune than your fault, since it is in that
way you are constituted. I can only hope that, on this occasion, you
will yourself see your folly before it is too late."

There the discussion ended. I was not disposed to bandy personalities
with Mrs Bloxam. I never am.

At the same time I am prepared to confess that I was not altogether
satisfied with the persons who were bracketed with me as associates in
my candidature. There were to be seven members of the Board, so there
were seven of us. We found it rather difficult to complete the tale,
but it was done. We called ourselves Progressives. We stood for
intellectual advance. Our motto was "Brain Emancipation. Unchaining of
the Intellect. Cultivation of the Mind." It was of my own composition,
and was generally found to be pregnant with suggestion. As someone, I
forget who it was, himself pointed out to me, "The more you look at it,
the more you understand what it means." That I felt myself to be the
case.

Unfortunately, my colleagues were hardly up to the standard to which
this motto pointed, as a whole. Nor to be quite correct, even in part.
There was Broadbridge, who undoubtedly does mend shoes, and who also,
it is equally certain, drinks. He is the person I dislike most in the
whole country side. Ever since this School Board business has been in
the air he has endeavoured to borrow small sums of money from me, and
has been in a state of almost continual intoxication. Tyler, the
proprietor of the smithy on Wayman's Hill, calls himself a Red
Republican, and is the most ignorant, argumentative and I may add,
quarrelsome person I ever encountered. We three were the actual
candidates. The other four were dummies, dragged in by the head and
heels to make up the tale of the seven. One of them, Isaac Harding,
who styles himself an "odd man," and who is in reality a loafing,
able-bodied vagabond, who makes his wife support him by taking in
washing, told me that his name had been used without his authority,
and that he "didn't know nothing at all about it." Which I thought
extremely probable. It is not easy to find seven Progressive candidates
in a parish like Copstone.

Not the least of our misfortunes, from my point of view, was the fact
that we were compelled to hold our meetings at the "Fox and Hounds."
The parish room is practically under the control of the rector, and
even had I been willing to ask his permission, which I was not, I doubt
if he would have allowed us to have them there. So we were driven to
what they call the "large room" at the "Fox and Hounds." I liked our
quarters none the more because they were so exactly suited to the
tastes of my associates. They loved the place; had they had their own
way I believe they would have lived there altogether; the proximity of
the bar was, to them, an unqualified, unceasing delight. I do not know
what is the state of the law on the subject of treating at School Board
elections; but if there is no clause objecting to candidates treating
each other, then there ought to be. I never, at any hour of the day or
night, met my colleagues without their suggesting something to drink,
which, if I wished to avoid unpleasant observations, I had to pay for.
It was most unsatisfactory. I found myself on the high road to being
held up as an inciter to drink and an encourager of drunkenness. It was
a decidedly undesirable condition of affairs.

But I could have borne it all. I could have put up with being seen with
Broadbridge when he had to cling to my neck to prevent himself
reclining in the gutter. I could have swallowed my feelings at being
coupled with Tyler in his idiotic denunciations of all that is decent
and respectable in my native land. It was to suffer in the cause of
truth and progress, it was to show Mr Crookenden that there are persons
who will not be trampled on rough-shod, and that he is not the only
creature in the parish who dare call his soul his own. But there was
something which I could not endure. And it was that which came soon. It
was that which has caused that epoch in my life to become branded with
indelible letters of flaming fire.

When I say that the first intimation was received from a third party, I
say more than enough to show what was the state of affairs which
obtained in my domestic circle. I was driving up Wayman's Hill, when,
as I was passing his smithy, Tyler, coming out, called to me to stop.
He was in his shirt-sleeves; had his hammer in his hand; and I could
see that he was shoeing Mr Rudd's brown mare. As usual, he did without
a preface.

"I don't know if you call this the proper way in which to treat us, Mr
Bloxam, because, if you do, I don't. I thought that in this election
business you were with us heart and soul. We're standing by you like
men, why don't you stand by us?"

"What on earth do you mean?"

I wondered if, at that hour of the day, he had already been drinking.

He took a printed paper out of his pocket, smoothed it open with his
dirty hand and passed it to me. It was the election address of the
opposition candidates.

"That's an advance copy which I got from Briggs the printer on the
quiet. Perhaps you'll let me know what explanation you have to offer."

There had been some mystery as to who Crookenden's supporters were to
be. Now it seemed that the names were out. But what did the fellow mean
by asking me for an explanation? What had I to do with Mr Crookenden's
puppets? I glanced at the list. The first name was Crookenden's. Of
course, it always would be first, where he had a voice in the matter.
The second was "Ada Kate Laughton." It seemed incredible. Actually Mrs
Laughton. Well, if Laughton chose to let his wife make a public
exhibition of herself, all I could say was that I was extremely sorry
for him. Hadn't the woman any household duties to attend to? Everybody
knew who was the grey mare in that establishment. Some men do not know
how to rule their wives. Still, that such a woman as Mrs Laughton
should take it upon herself to oppose me was--I will be mild and say
surprising. The third name was--it was a hoax, a silly hoax. Tyler, or
someone, was trying to make me a butt for a practical joke. But I was
not to be so easily caught, the thing was too preposterous. Yet there
it was, in all the dignity of print. "Bloxam, Henrietta." Address, "The
Chestnuts." Description, "Married Woman." The letters danced before my
eyes. I stared at them with unseeing gaze.

"What nonsense is this?" I muttered.

"That's what I want to know, what nonsense that is. That's what I
thought I'd ask you to explain, like a man."

I looked at Tyler. Tyler looked at me. There was something on his face
which I did not relish; something which approximated to a grin, an
unfriendly grin.

"Where did you get this paper from?"

"I tell you--from Briggs the printer. He's printing them. That's a
private copy."

"It's a hoax. Someone's been having a joke with you."

"Don't you make any mistake. No one would play a joke off on me, not
round these parts."

He grasped his hammer in an eminently suggestive way. What he said was
probably correct. He had the reputation, a well-deserved one, of being
a man with whom one would joke with difficulty and danger.

"All the same, Mr Tyler, the statement on this paper is ridiculously
incorrect. Mrs Bloxam, my wife, is not a candidate; she has no
intention of becoming a candidate; and, I may say at once, that under
no circumstances would I permit her to do so. Especially in opposition
to me, her husband. The idea is really too ridiculous for
contemplation. I beg you will dismiss it at once and finally from your
mind."

I prepared to start. He held my horse's head.

"But suppose she is a candidate, what then?"

"You don't flatter me, Mr Tyler. Should you allow your wife to act in
direct antagonism to your wishes?"

"I reckon not." He grinned significantly. "Then shall you leather Mrs
Bloxam if she tries any of her little games? I rather fancy you'll find
you've put off leathering her too long. They want a lot of strap when
you're first starting."

What did the fellow mean? How dare he talk to me like that? Really,
this business was bringing me on terms of uncomfortable familiarity
with the most curious characters. Leather Mrs Bloxam! I shivered at the
thought. What did he take me for? And her? Henrietta is not the sort of
person to whom it is necessary to do more than remotely hint at what
are the channels in which the course of a wife's duty flows. And yet--

I wished the fellow had never shown me his wretched, nonsensical,
trumpery paper, which he had apparently stolen from the imbecile
Briggs. As though my mind was not already sufficiently occupied. If I
had dreamt that this preposterous School-Board business would have been
such a source of worry, so far as I was concerned Crookenden and his
Church school might have gone on for ever. In my agitation--I am
agitated, sometimes, by a very little--I touched Toby with the whip, so
that, when I got him home, he was in quite a lather.

Mrs Bloxam was in her own sitting-room. I found her there. I had worked
myself into something approaching a state of indignation. I produced
Tyler's handbill with a sort of flourish.

"Henrietta, some scoundrel has been taking liberties with your name."

"Mr Bloxam!"

She was engaged on some needlework of a domestic character, from which
she looked up at me with an air of apparent surprise.

"I shall cause immediate legal proceedings to be taken against the man
who has acted in a manner calculated to bring you and myself into
public contempt."

"To what man do you allude?"

"To the man who put your name on this."

I gave her Tyler's handbill. She looked it up and down, very carefully,
as it seemed to me.

"I fail to see what there is here to which you have any reason to take
objection."

"Nothing there! When the impertinent rascal has dared to put you
forward as one of Crookenden's puppets."

"If he has done so, he is to blame, for I certainly am no one's puppet.
I have merely availed myself of that of which you have so freely
availed yourself, the right to call my soul my own."

"Henrietta! I don't understand what you mean."

"And yet it is simple enough. Ever since I have been able to think on
such subjects at all, I have had my own views on the subject of
education--true education as opposed to false. When I see such
creatures as Broadbridge and Tyler endeavouring to promulgate their
hideous notions and notorious malpractices in the place in which I
live, I cannot refuse to listen to the call of duty which summons me,
both as a Christian and a woman of education and refinement, to take my
stand against them."

"Then am I to gather that that name--that your name--that my name--is
there by your authority?"

"Your name, certainly not. My name, undoubtedly."

"But have you forgotten that I am myself a candidate?"

"So, I am sorry to say, I have been given to understand."

"I represent the cause of progress and advance."

"Both, I imagine, in the direction of the public-house. I am credibly
informed that since your candidature there has been more drunkenness in
Copstone than has ever been known before in the annals of the parish."

It was a monstrous thing to say. Yet I wished that my associates had
been teetotallers, and that we could have had the use of the parish
room.

"Henrietta, I will not characterise the statement which you have just
now made. I content myself by taking up my position as head of this
household to prohibit your pursuing any farther the dangerous pathways
along which your feet have been induced to stray by the Jesuitical
teachings of an insidious foe."

"Speak English, Augustus, if you please, at home. Rodomontade, if you
choose, where nobody understands you, or wants to. Here say plainly
what you mean."

"I forbid you to carry the farce of your candidature any farther."

"That I readily undertake to do. I promise you it shall be no farce."

"Farce or no farce, I command you to take your name from off that
list." I regret to say that Henrietta snapped her fingers in the air.
"Am I to understand that you snap your fingers at the expression of my
wishes?"

"You have not even troubled yourself to do that. You have known all
along what my wishes were, yet you have chosen to entirely ignore my
most sacred aspirations."

"Henrietta, the husband is the head of the wife."

"Who says so? Your friend Tyler? It is notorious that he scoffs at the
sanctity of the marriage tie."

"Don't call that man my friend."

"No? Do you authorise me to state in public that you repudiate his
friendship?"

"I won't chop phrases with you. I will merely remind you that at the
altar you promised me obedience."

"Suppose you were to instruct me to commit murder, would you consider
it my duty to carry the promise even so far?"

"I am not instructing you to commit murder."

"You are requesting me to do something analogous, to murder all that is
best and noblest in the parish of Copstone."

"That's an outrageous falsehood."

She stood up.

"Of course, if you accuse me of deliberate untruth--"

"You won't get out of it like that. I tell you, frankly, that if you
are not careful I shall go straight to Crookenden and tell him with my
own lips that I have forbidden you to stand."

"He knows already that you would forbid me. They all know it. It is
because of that knowledge they have urged me to take up the position I
have done, and to persist in it; in the hope that my action may do
something to mitigate the evil example which you are setting to the
parish."

"This is awful. When I stood beside you at the altar I never thought
that you would speak and behave to me like this--never!"

"Nor I that I should be constrained to such a course. You may, however,
easily make the situation more tolerable."

"How?"

"By withdrawing your candidature."

"Indeed! Now I see the point at which the whole thing's aimed.
Crookenden has egged you on to make a public exhibition of yourself in
order to drive me from the righteous stronghold which I have occupied.
I see the Jesuit hand."

She shrugged her shoulders as calmly as if we were discussing the
question of thick or clear soup for dinner.

"You see things which do not exist. It is a condition of a certain
mental state. There is one thing I should like to say. I have been told
that courtesy is the characteristic note of English politics. That men
may sit on opposite sides of the House and yet be very good friends
both in and out of it. I hope that may be the same with us. You have
taken up the cry of 'Beer and the "Fox and Hounds,"' I that of the
'Bible and Clean Living.' Let each admit that the other may be actuated
by conscientious motives. Then we shall still be good friends, though
we may agree to differ."

It was no use talking to such a woman, not the slightest. We all have
to bear our burdens, and I bore mine, though I never supposed that it
would have taken the shape of being opposed by my own wife in an
election for the School Board. As a matter of fact, it was
unendurable--yet I bore it. Not only did she persist in her candidature,
but she carried it on with a degree of activity which was little less
than astounding. The contest afforded considerable entertainment to the
parish. From the public interest point of view there might have been
only two candidates--she and I. It was a subject of constant comment
in the public prints. "Husband and wife oppose each other at a
School-Board election. Amusing situation. Lively proceedings." That was
the sort of headline which confronted me in I do not know how many
papers.

Some of my colleagues actually chose to regard me as responsible for
Mrs Bloxam's conduct. It is a painful moment when a man, of a naturally
sensitive disposition, has to state in public that his wife is acting
in direct defiance of his wishes. And the delicacy of his position is
intensified when his hearers begin to criticise her conduct. It is in
accordance with the fitness of things to abuse your opponent; but when
your opponent is your own wife, it is an open question whether, even if
you are entitled to abuse her yourself, your associates have a right to
do so too. It is obviously a problem of an exceedingly complicated
character, and one which, I believe, has never been properly thrashed
out. I shall never forget my sensations when, at a meeting at the "Fox
and Hounds," Tyler began to call Henrietta names. I had to stop him.
Then he said I was a traitor. He certainly succeeded in creating a
suspicion that I was in collusion with my own wife to cause him and
myself to be defeated. I had to put great restraint upon myself to
prevent a vulgar brawl.

One morning, as I was walking along Church Lane, I met Crookenden. I
stopped him. There was no beating about the bush. I went straight to
the point.

"I hope, Mr Crookenden, that you are able to reconcile it with your
conscience that you have succeeded in sowing the seeds of discord
between husband and wife."

"Pray how have I done that?"

"You know very well what I mean, sir. Have the goodness not to feign
ignorance with me."

"You refer to your wife's action with reference to that pet scheme of
yours, the School Board with which you are about to saddle the parish."

He actually laughed. That is the kind of man he is. No wonder that some
say the Church of England totters to a fall! Just then Colonel Laughton
came through the clapper gate. Crookenden turned to him.

"Ah, Mr Bloxam, here is the man you should assail. Laughton, Mr Bloxam
wants to know who induced Mrs Bloxam to put herself forward in
connection with that School Board of his."

"Why, Madge, of course." The Colonel addressed himself to me. "Mrs
Laughton said to your wife, 'Here's Bloxam making an ass of
himself'--"

"Sir!"

"I'm not implying that that's the exact word she used, but that's the
sense of it. 'Let's do something to show that it's not always the women
who are idiots. If you'll stand, I will.' But your wife wouldn't, so
Madge kept on, and kept on at her, till she did; few people can hold
out against Madge when she's made up her mind about a thing." Laughton
put his feet apart, his stick under his arm, and his hands in his
trouser pockets. "Why, you don't mean to say that you object to your
wife standing. My wife is, and I don't mind."

"The cases are not identical. Mrs Laughton is not standing in
opposition to you."

"No, I'm not a fool--at least, I'm not that kind. Now, look here,
Bloxam, we all know what's the matter with you, and why you've gone out
of your road to set the parish by the ears. Crookenden's rubbed you the
wrong way, that's the beginning and the end of it. Now here is
Crookenden, and I'm speaking for him when I say that he'll be delighted
to shake hands with you and say 'As we were.' Then your wife'll
withdraw her candidature in favour of yours, and be only too glad to
get the chance of doing it."

Crookenden held out his hand.

"Whether Bloxam prefers to stand as an opposition candidate or not
makes no difference to me. But I do trust that he won't allow a
friendship of many years' standing to be interrupted by a little
difference of opinion on the subject of education."

There was a twinkle in the rector's eyes which I did not altogether
relish. But I believe I should have taken his hand if Tyler had not
just then appeared in sight. I remembered what I had said to him, and
in his hearing, and I refrained. I observed, with dignity,--

"I am afraid that there is more in question than a difference of
opinion on the subject of education."

And I walked away.

Tyler fell in beside me as I went along the field-path, inquiring,--

"Well, have you finally decided to give us the chuck?"

"May I ask, Mr Tyler, what it is you mean?"

"Oh, it's plain enough. I always am plain, I am." He was, confound his
impudence! "Have you arranged to back out in favour of Mrs Bloxam?
That's what I want to know. So long as one of the family gets in, I
dare say you don't care which it is. But that won't do for me." He laid
his great, grimy hand upon my shoulder, and kept it there
in spite of my effort at withdrawal. "You've been stirring us up,
you've been worriting us till you've got us all alive about this
here School Board, you've got us all to stand, and now it looks
to me as if you was going to dish us and leave us to be laughed at;
because, don't tell me that a man can't get his wife to do what he
chooses--leastways, a man that is a man." He looked at me with his
great black eyes in a way I did not like. "You mind me, Mr Bloxam, if
after all that's passed I'm left out in the cold, for folks to snigger
at, no matter by whom it is, man or woman, you'll be sorry--you hear
that? you'll be sorry. I'm not the sort to play a joke on, as perhaps
you'll find before you've done."

He slouched off without affording me an opportunity to give him a piece
of my mind, even had I been disposed to do so, of which I am not sure.
The fact is, he is such an impossible character, having been convicted
several times of assaults with violence, that he is not at all the sort
of person with whom I should condescend to remonstrate, beyond, that
is, a certain clearly-defined limit.

Two days afterwards the poll was taken. Very thankful I was. Had it
been postponed much longer I should have gone away for a change of air.
My system was completely run down. I saw most plainly that for a person
of my constitution public life was not desirable. I wished, very
heartily, that I had never had anything to do with the business from
the first.

My emotions cannot be pictured when the result was announced. Mrs
Bloxam and I were bracketed together at the head of those who were
elected. We had each received the same number of votes. And it is my
belief that all the idiots in the country-side, of every shade of
opinion, thought it would be a joke to plump for the pair of us. On no
other hypothesis can I understand such an obvious coincidence.
Crookenden came next. And, after him, came four of his nominees. I was
the only one on our side who was returned.

There, at present, the situation remains. The first meeting of the
Board has yet to take place. I need not point out how, in anticipation
of that event, my situation is painful in the extreme. That solemn
truth is only too obvious. I am one against six; and one of those six
is Henrietta. It is dreadful to think that, in public matters, my wife
should be in a position to trample on me whenever she pleases. How can
a woman respect her husband when he is in such a humiliating minority?
Situated as we are she has only to contradict me to prevail. What,
then, becomes of marital authority? Such a condition of affairs is an
unnatural one.

My recent colleagues, by some perversion of reasoning, choose to
consider, as they put it, that I have "dished" them. I do not know how
they make it out. I can safely affirm that my conduct defies criticism.
Yet Tyler has already nearly assaulted me in the street; while in the
presence of a large number of persons, Broadbridge has asked me if I
call myself a gentleman. It seems to me that I could hardly be in a
more uncomfortable position.

I say--I have said it more than once before, but I repeat it
again--that the fact that such a state of things should be even
possible, points to a radical defect in the fabric of the British
constitution. One, moreover, which calls for instant and drastic
remedy, if we are not to relapse into a condition of worse than
savagery. To speak of nothing else, how can a woman give due and proper
consideration to the Apostolic teaching, "Wives, obey your husbands,"
if she is not only in active and even organised opposition to her
husband, but actually in a majority against him of six to one?

I ask the question without having the slightest doubt of what is the
answer which I must receive. It is not in accordance with the Divine
intention that a husband should be made to look like a fool. And what
else can he do if he finds himself in such a situation?



                               FOR DEBT


Fourteen days for "contempt of court"--ominous phrase that between the
commas. The county court judge has made an order that a certain debt
shall be paid within a certain time. Circumstances have been too
strong--compliance has been impossible. You are summoned to show cause
why, in default, you should not be committed to prison. The hearing
takes place in a distant town. Circumstances are, just then, so strong
that you are unable to put in a personal appearance--being without the
money with which to pay your fare. Shortly afterwards--you having, in
the interim, received no sort of notice as to what has taken place at
the distant court--the high bailiff of your district writes to tell you
that he has received a warrant for your arrest. He has, he says, written
of his own initiative to your creditors' solicitors, asking if they
will allow him to suspend the execution of the warrant for a week--to
give you a further opportunity to pay. They have complied with his
request. He hopes--in his letter--that, within the week, the money will
be paid. You go at once to see him. You tell him you would if you
could--you only wish you could! You never have been able to pay since
the debt was incurred--circumstances have been too strong. He is a
kindly-hearted man--though a shrewd man of the world. He is convinced,
of his own experience, that imprisonment for debt does no one any good,
neither the man who owes, nor the man who is owed, nor the onlookers
who have to contribute to the support of destitute debtors. In your
case he will write again, asking still to be allowed to give you time.
You return home, hoping that some miracle may happen so that you still
may pay. Four days afterwards you admit a young man at your front door.
He has come to enforce the warrant. Your creditors have, that morning,
instructed the high bailiff to take his prisoner at once--they decline
to concede another hour. You and your wife put a few things in a
bag--your wife trying her best not to let you think that she will cry
her eyes out directly you are gone. She wishes you to take four and
threepence in your pocket. Argument, at such a moment, would mean
hysterics--and a scene. Her breath comes in great sobs as she kisses
you. You give way. You take the money--leaving her with just one
shilling. A small payment is due to you upon the morrow; it is on that
she is relying; you hope, with all your heart and soul, that it will
come. You go with the bailiff--to gaol--because circumstances have been
too strong.

The bailiff is a communicative youngster, kindly hearted, like his
chief. You are only the third one he has "taken." He is paid by the
job, he will receive five shillings for "taking" you. He considers it
money easily earned--he would have received no more had you "dodged"
him for days. The county gaol is two-and-twenty miles away, in a lovely
country, on the side of a hill, on the edge of the downs. You reach it
about half-past four on a glorious July afternoon. You and your
custodian are admitted through a wicket in the huge doors. The bailiff
shows his warrant. The gatekeeper tells you to go straight on. You go
straight on, across an open space, up half a dozen steps, under a lofty
arch, which has some architectural pretensions, to a room on the left.
The room is a sort of office. In it are two warders, a policeman and a
man from whose wrists the policeman is removing a pair of handcuffs.
The bailiff delivers his warrant to one of the warders. Certain entries
are made in a book. The bailiff obtains a receipt for you--and goes. It
is only when he has gone that you realise you are a prisoner. One of
the warders favours you with his attention.

"What's in that bag?"

"Only a change of clothing and my work. Can I not work while I am
here?"

"Don't ask me questions. You oughtn't to have brought any bag in
here--it's against orders. How much money have you got?" You hand him
over four and twopence--on the way you have expended a penny on a
bottle of ink. "Can you write? Then put your name here."

You affix your signature to a statement acknowledging that you have
handed the warder the sum of four and twopence. Another warder
enters--an older man. He addresses you,--

"What's your name?" You tell him. "Your age? your religion? your
trade?" You allow that you are a poor devil of an author. He goes. The
first warder favours you again.

"Take your boots off! Come here!" You step on to a weighing-machine. He
registers your weight. "Put your boots on again. Come along with me,
the two of you."

He snatches up your bag, you follow him, accompanied by the gentleman
who wore the handcuffs. Unlocking a door, he leads the way down a
flight of stone steps to cells which apparently are beneath the level
of the ground. "In there!" Your companion goes into one of them. The
door is banged upon him. "In here!" You go into another. The door is
banged on you. You find yourself alone in a whitewashed cell which
contains absolutely nothing but a sort of wooden frame which is raised,
perhaps, twelve inches from the floor of red and black lozenge-shaped
tiles. After some three or four minutes the door is opened to admit the
older warder. He hands you some books--without a word. And, without a
word, he goes out again and bangs the door. He has left you in
possession of a Bible, a prayer book, hymn book, an ancient and ragged
volume of the _Penny Post_--in its way a curiosity--and a copy of
_Quentin Durward_--Routledge's three-and-sixpenny edition, almost as
good as new. Presently the first warder reappears.

"What property have you got about you?"

You give him all you have, he returning your handkerchief. Having given
him everything, he satisfies himself that you have nothing more by
feeling in your pockets.

"Can't I have my work? It is in my bag. Can't I work while I am here?"

"Ask all questions when you see the governor to-morrow." He vanishes.
Another five minutes, he appears again. "Come along. Bring your books!"

You go into the corridor. Another person is there--in a brick-coloured
costume on which is stamped, at irregular intervals, the "broad arrow."
You recognise the gentleman who wore the handcuffs.

"Here you are!" The warder hands you a distinctly dirty round tin,
holding, as you afterwards learn, a pint, filled with something which
is greyish brown in hue, and a small loaf, of a shape, size and colour
the like of which you have never seen before. The warder observes that
you are eyeing the contents of the tin distrustfully. "That's good
oatmeal, though you mayn't like the look of it. But it isn't the body
you've got to think about, it's the soul--that's everything."

He says this in a quick, cut-and-thrust fashion which suggests that,
behind the official, there is marked individuality of character. With
the gentleman in the brick-coloured costume, you follow him up the
flight of steps you not very long ago descended. He unlocks the door.
"Stand here." Your companion stands. "You come along with me!" He
unlocks another door, you follow him down another flight of stone steps
into a lofty ward, on one side of which are cells. He shows you into
one. Being in, he bangs the door on you. You are in a cell which is own
brother to the one which you have quitted, only that this one makes
some pretence to being furnished. It is, perhaps, ten feet by eight
feet. The roof is arched, rising, probably, to quite twelve feet. Walls
and roofs are of whitewashed brick. The floor is tiled. Opposite to the
door, about five feet from the ground, is a small window. Panes of
ground glass about two inches square are set in a massive iron frame.
The only thing you can see through the window are iron bars. If you get
through the window, you will still have to reckon with the bars.

The furniture consists of a wooden frame about two feet by six. An
attenuated mattress, which you afterwards learn is stuffed with coir. A
pillow of the same ilk. A pair of clean sheets which, by the way, the
warder gave you, and which you have brought into the cell. A pair of
blankets which look as if they had not been washed for years. A
coverlet which, in common with the rest of the bedding, is stamped with
the "broad arrow." There is a heavy wooden stool. A table perhaps
eighteen inches square. In one corner is a shelf. On it is a wooden
soap-box, containing an ancient scrap of yellow soap, a wooden
salt-box containing salt, a small comb and a round tin, very much like
a publican's pint pot. On the floor are a tin washing-basin, a covered
tin, which you find you are supposed to use for personal purposes, a
home-made hand broom, an odd collection of rags, some whiting, by the
aid of which latter articles you are required to keep your cell and
your utensils clean and in good order.

While you are taking a mental inventory of your quarters a voice
addresses you. Turning to the door you perceive that near the top of it
is a "bull's eye" spy-hole, covered on the outside by a revolving flap.
This flap has been raised, someone is looking at you from without.

"Where are you from?" You vouchsafe the information.

"How long have you got?" You again oblige. "Never say die! keep up your
pecker, old chap!"

"Are they going to keep me locked in here?"

"Till you've seen the doctor in the morning, then they'll let you out.
Cheer up!"

The speaker disappears, the flap descends. You try to cheer up, to act
upon the advice received, though, to be frank, you find the thing a
little difficult. You taste the stuff in the tin. It may, as the warder
said, be good oatmeal, but to an unaccustomed palate it is not
inviting. You try a morsel of the mahogany-coloured loaf. It is dry as
sawdust, and sour. Opposite you, against the wall, hangs a printed
card. It is headed, "Dietary for Destitute Debtors." You are a
destitute debtor--for the next fourteen days this will be your bill of
fare. For breakfast and for supper daily, a pint of gruel, six ounces
of bread. For those two meals there does not seem to be a promise of
much variety. For dinner, on Mondays and Fridays, you will receive six
ounces of bread, eight ounces of potatoes and three ounces of cooked
meat, without bone; or as a substitute for the meat, three-quarters of
an ounce of fat bacon and eight ounces of beans--you wonder how they
manage to weigh that three-quarters of an ounce. On Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays, four ounces of bread, six ounces of potatoes and three
quarters of a pint of soup. On Wednesdays and Sundays, four ounces of
bread, six ounces of potatoes and six ounces of suet pudding.

Stretching out the mattress upon the wooden frame, you endeavour to
digest the circumstances of your situation and the prospect of such a
dietary. In the ill-lighted cell the shadows quickly deepen. There is a
clock somewhere in the prison. It noisily clangs out the half-hours and
the hours. Soon after it has announced that it is half-past seven there
is a sound of hurrying footsteps, a clattering of keys, a banging of
doors. All is still--curiously still. In your cell it is much too
dark to read. You make your bed. Undressing, you get between the
sheets--immediately discovering that they rival sandpaper for roughness.
The bed is just wide enough to enable you to lie flat upon your back--if
you turn, unless you are very careful, you either strike against the
wall or fall upon the floor. Also, you are not long in learning that it
contains other occupants besides yourself. You have heard and read a
great deal about the cleanliness of prisons. However that may be, it is
quite certain that cleanliness has no connection with that particular
set of bedding. It is alive. All night you lie in agony--literally. The
clanging clock makes darkness hideous--it seems to accentuate the
all-prevailing silence. Your brain is in a whirl--thoughts are trampling
on each other's heels. To mental discomfort is added physical. When the
earliest glimpse of dawn peeps through the caricature of an honest
window you rise and search. There is slaughter. Rest is out of the
question. Putting on your clothes you pace the cell. Soon after six
the door is opened, an officer thrusts in his head.

"All right?"

You answer "Yes "--what can you tell him? He disappears and bangs the
door. At half-past seven there is a sound of the unlocking of locks and
of footsteps. The warder, reappearing, hands you a tin and a loaf, own
brother to those which you received last night.

"Can't I wash?"

"Haven't you any water?" He looks round your cell. "You haven't a water
can. I'll bring you one."

He presently does--a round, open tin, painted a vivid blue, containing
perhaps three quarts of water. You fill your basin and wash--the first
pleasant thing you have done since you saw the gaol. Then you consider
your breakfast. You are hungry, hungrier than you would have been at
home--but you cannot manage the gruel, and the bread still less. Apart
from the flavour, the gruel is in such a dirty tin that you cannot but
suspect its contents of being dirty too. The bread is hard, dry and
sour, bearing not the faintest resemblance to any of the numerous
varieties of bread which you have tasted. Hungry as you are, you give
up the attempt at eating. Sitting on the bed, you take up _Quentin
Durward_, which these many years you have almost known by heart. About
half-past ten your door is thrown wide open.

"Stand up for the governor!" cries a warder.

You stand up. A short man is in front of you without a hat on, attired
in civilian costume. Between fifty and sixty, with grey hair and beard,
carrying a pair of glasses in his hand, quiet and unassuming--a
gentleman, every inch of him. He puts to you the same sort of questions
which have already been put to you by the officers at the gate.

"What are you here for? Where do you come from? Have you"--here was a
variation--"anything to ask me?"

"Can I not work while I am here?"

"What are you?"

"An author. I have a commission for some work. If I cannot do it while
I am here, I shall not be able to get it in in time."

"Did you bring anything with you?"

"I brought everything--paper, pens and ink."

"Certainly you can work, you are entitled to work at your trade. I will
see that the things are sent to you."

He goes, leaving, somehow, an impression behind him that you are not
entirely cut off from the world after all. Another half-hour passes;
the officer who received you at the gate fetches you "to see the
doctor!" "Seeing the doctor" entails the unlocking and locking of doors
and quite a journey. You are finally shown into a room in which a young
man sits writing at a table. He looks up. "Is this a debtor?" Then to
you, "Is there anything the matter with you?"

You tell him that, to the best of your knowledge and belief, there is
not. He looks down. You have seen the doctor and he has seen you; you
are dismissed. The officer escorts you back to your ward.

"Now you've seen the doctor," he tells you, as he unlocks the door,
"you needn't go back to your cell, if you don't like."

He lets you through, re-locks the door and vanishes. You go down the
steps alone and at your leisure. You perceive that the ward is larger
than you last night supposed. It is paved with flagstones. On one side
there are two tiers of cells--one tier over yours. The upper tier is on
a level with the door through which you have just come. An iron gallery
runs down the front of it the whole length of the ward. Strolling along
the flagstones, you find that an open door, almost opposite your cell,
admits you into what, were the surroundings only different, would
be quite a spacious and a pleasant garden. There is grass in the
centre--in excellent condition--flower-beds all round. Between the
grass and the beds is a narrow pathway of flagstones. Three or four men
are walking on this pathway. At sight of you, with one accord, they
come and offer greeting. It reminds you, in rather gruesome fashion, of
your schooldays, of your first arrival at school--there is such a
plethora of questions. You vouchsafe just so much information as you
choose, eyeing the while your questioners. There are four of them--as
doleful-looking a quartette as one would care to see. These men in
prison because--they could pay, but wouldn't!--or can, but won't! Upon
the face of it the idea is an absurdity. Apart from the fact that the
clothes of all four would not, probably, fetch more than half a
sovereign, there is about them an air of depression which suggests,
not only that they are beaten by fortune, but that they are even more
hopeless of the future than of the past. Yet they strive to wear an
appearance of jollity. As to their personal histories, they are
frankness itself. One of them is a little fellow about forty-five, a
cabman. He is in for poor rates, £1, 12s. It seems funny that a man
should be taken twenty miles to prison, to be kept there at the public
expense, because he is too poor to pay his poor rates. Another is a
hawker, a thin, grizzled, unhealthy-looking man about fifty; his attire
complete would certainly not fetch eighteenpence. As he puts it,
there is something of a mystery about his case--a moneylending
job--two-and-twenty shillings.

"The worst of it is, I paid two instalments. The judge he ordered five
shillings a month. I pays two months; then I has a slice of bad luck;
then I gets here; and there's ten bob thrown clean away."

A third is an old man--he owns to sixty-six--unmistakably an
agricultural labourer. He is the healthiest looking and the best
dressed of the lot. He has evidently put on his best clothes to come to
gaol, the chief feature of the said best clothes being a clean pair of
corduroys. The story he tells is a queer one. He was away harvesting.
His "old woman" bought a dress from a tallyman. She said nothing of her
purchase to him, said nothing even when two months afterwards she died,
aged sixty-eight--she must have been a dress-loving old lady! It was
only after he had buried her that he learned what she had done. The
tallyman presented a claim for eighteen shillings.

"This here dress wasn't no good to me; it were as good as new, so I
says to this here chap, 'You can have it back again'; but this here
chap he wouldn't have it, so here I be."

The fourth man appears to be the clearest-headed member of the
party. He is a bricklayer's labourer, aged thirty-four. He is in for
£1, 16s., an ancient baker's bill. His story also has elements of
queerness. The bill was incurred nearly four years ago. He fell from a
scaffold, was in hospital six months, his home was broken up; the
baker, taking pity on his misfortunes, forgave the bill. Later on the
baker himself was ruined. A speculator--you are destined to hear a good
deal about this speculator; it seems that he sends a regular procession
to the county gaol--bought up the baker's book debts. He immediately
"went for" the bricklayer's labourer, who had the worst of it, and who,
in consequence, is here. When in full work the labourer earns a pound a
week. He was out of work for four weeks before he "came in." The day
after he did "come in," his wife and six children went upon the parish.
A pretty state of things.

I seems that there are four other prisoners for debt. But just now
they are shut off in a room at the end of the ward, having an
exercise-ground of their own; there is apt to be too much noise if the
prisoners are all together.

Presently a warder appears, not only with your writing materials, but
also with your bag, its contents left untouched, with all your
property, indeed, except your watch, your tobacco, and your money.
Almost simultaneously dinner appears, at noon. You are presented with
two tins and a tiny loaf. The door leading to the exercise-ground is
closed. With your dinner in your hand you troop up the stone steps with
your companions. You discover that there is a large room at the end of
the upper tier of cells, "First Class Misdemeanants" being painted on
the panels of the door. There being, for the moment, no prisoner of
that particular class, you have the use of it. It contains tables and
stools, all sorts of things--among others, wooden spoons. Armed with a
wooden spoon you investigate your tins. It is Wednesday. At the bottom
of the large one, which is dirtier than ever, is a slab of suet
pudding, brown in hue. With the aid of your spoon and your fingers you
eat it; though lukewarm and sticky, it is grateful to your anxious
stomach. In the smaller tin are two potatoes, in their jackets, said
jackets having, apparently, never been washed. You eat the potatoes,
too; but though you are hungrier than ever, the bread you cannot
manage. On your mentioning that you could dispose neither of your
supper nor of your breakfast, the labourer and the cabman tear off to
your cell downstairs, immediately returning in possession of your
despised food, which they eat with voracity. They assure you that you
will be able to eat anything after you have been here a few days, even
the tins. You learn that if you make your wants known to an officer, he
will purchase whatever you choose to pay for. Your chief anxiety is to
work. You know from experience that you cannot do good work upon an
empty stomach. Slender though your resources are, you resolve that you
will devote at least a portion of them to the purchase of something
which you will be able to eat for breakfast and for supper.

In the afternoon, as you are working in your cell--with the door
open--a warder enters the ward. You make known to him your wants. He
says he will send you the officer whose duty it is to make purchases
for prisoners. When the officer comes, you request him to lay out two
shillings for you to the best advantage, and learn, to your dismay,
that on the day on which you make a purchase you are supposed to be
keeping yourself, and therefore receive none of the prison rations. It
is too late to recede, so you tell the officer to make the best of your
two shillings. You work till half-past four, then go into the exercise
ground, which was opened again at two till five. At five it is closed
for the night. Supper is served. You dispose of the greater portion of
the gruel, this time you even dispose of some of the bread. Work in
your cell till past seven, then stroll with the others up and down the
ward. The room at the end of the lower ward has been unlocked. The
prisoners are all together. The four you have not seen prove to be very
like the four you have--two of them are here at the suit of the
speculator in old and bad debts, who is responsible for the presence of
the bricklayer's labourer; for poor rates another. A small calculation
discloses the fact that a little over ten pounds would set all the
eight men free. Shortly before eight you are locked in your cells till
the morning. Another night of agony! When at half-past six the warder
looks in to ask if you are all right, you answer "No"--you have not
closed your eyes since entering the gaol--you have been eaten alive.

"I'll bring you a change of bedding." He does. "You'll find these all
right, they've never been issued. You can't keep things clean this
side--most of them wear their own clothes, you see, and they come in
all alive, oh!"

You exchange your bedding for that which he brings, thankfully, wishing
you had spoken before. About seven the same officer reappears. He
brings your "things." There is a half-quartern loaf, two ounces of tea,
quarter of a pound of butter, half a pound of cheese, tin of corned
beef, couple of lemons; you never knew what good food was till you
found yourself in possession of those supplies. Directly his back is
turned, breaking a corner off the loaf, you rub it against the butter.
If they would only allow you the use of a tin knife, what a godsend it
would be! A kettle of boiling water is brought at breakfast time.
Putting some tea in your pint pot, with a piece of lemon peel, you fill
it from the kettle. Although you have to drink your tea from the
teapot, you make a sumptuous meal.

At half-past eight you go with the other Church of England prisoners to
chapel, a large room, which would probably seat five hundred, allowing
to each person the same amount of space which he occupies outside. The
debtors occupy the back seats. There is a gallery overhead. There are
four raised seats on either side, against the walls; a warder sits in
each of them. A pulpit is at the other end, an altar of rather a
nondescript kind--which it need be, seeing that the Roman Catholic
service is held here too--a couple of screens, more raised seats. A
warder is standing before the altar; a door is at either side of him.
Through these doors, so soon as the debtors are seated, begins to enter
a stream of men, a space of several feet being between each. Those who
are awaiting trial are the first to come. The prison costume of blue
serge worn by the majority means that their own clothes are unfit to
wear. So far as appearance goes, the four or five men in their own
apparel would come within the scope of the immortal definition of a
gentleman. You have heard about some of them in the debtors' ward. The
slight, young fellow in black is a post-office clerk; he has to stand
his trial for stealing a letter which contained a cheque. So soon as he
reaches his place he falls upon his knees and prays. He wants all the
help which prayer can bring him; in all human probability there is penal
servitude ahead. The highly respectable-looking individual, with
carefully-trimmed black hair and whiskers, who sits on the bench in
front of you upon your right, is charged with stabbing his wife;
luckily, she is not dead. The big, sandy-haired fellow upon his left,
right in front of you, has rank murder to answer for. The story of his
crime has been for weeks the talk of the countryside; a dramatic story,
with glimpses of livid tragedy. He and his paramour, being shut out one
night from the workhouse, took refuge on the hills under the shelter of
an overhanging rock. In the night they quarrelled; he slew her with a
stone. In the early morning a shepherd met him running across the hills,
wet with her blood. Stopping, the man told the shepherd what he had
done. Returning together they found the woman under the rock, dead, her
head and face battered and broken, the stone beside her.

The trial men are followed by the convicted prisoners, in
brick-coloured costumes; some with knickerbockers--those sentenced to
penal servitude, who are waiting to be drafted to a convict station;
some in trousers--those who are sentenced to not more than two years'
imprisonment. The warders stand up as they enter, watching them as cats
do mice. Each man is careful that he is a certain distance behind the
man in front of him. They sit five on a bench which would comfortably
accommodate twenty, in rows, each man exactly behind his fellow. While
the procession continues, a woman passes behind one of the screens--a
female warder. She commences to play a series of voluntaries on an
unseen harmonium--"The Voice that Breathed o'er Eden," "There is a
Green Hill"--airs which seem strange accompaniments to such a
procession. The chaplain is away for his holidays. The schoolmaster
reads the service--an abbreviated edition of Morning Prayer. He does
not read badly. The congregation seems to listen with reverent
attention, which is not to be wondered at, with the warders eyeing them
like hawks. They join heartily in the responses, which is, again, not
strange, considering that the only chance they have of hearing their
own voice is in chapel. At the end a hymn is sung--"Thine for ever! God
of love"--under the circumstance, an odd selection. The congregation
sing with the full force of their lungs; perhaps strangely the result
is not unpleasing. The female prisoners are in the gallery overhead. A
woman's voice soars above the others, clear as a bell. You wonder who
it is--officer or prisoner. After the hymn the schoolmaster pronounces
the benediction. The service is over.

You work nearly all that day. How your companions manage without work
is beyond your comprehension. This is an excellent school for the
inculcation and encouragement of the Noble Art of Loafing. In the
afternoon another prisoner is introduced. He calls himself a
blacksmith, is about sixty, has scarcely a shirt to his back, and is
here for poor rates! Later on, two more. One is in prison clothes, the
other cowers in a corner of his cell, refusing to have intercourse with
anyone. Presently the story goes that he is crying. The fellow
in the prison clothes has been brought from a town more than thirty
miles away, sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment, for a debt of
twelve-and-sixpence.

When, shortly before five, ceasing work, you go into the
exercise-ground for a breath of air, you find a warder with a bundle
under his arm. In the corner is a brick erection with, fitted into the
wall, a thermometer to register over 300° Fahrenheit. It is the oven in
which they bake the prisoners' clothes. In the bundle under the
warder's arm are the clothes of the twelve-and-sixpenny debtor. A
debtor's clothes must be in an indescribable condition before they
constrain him to wear the prison uniform. This man's rags--the warder,
who is in a communicative mood, declares that you cannot call them
clothes--are about as bad as they can be. It is only after the
thermometer has continued for some minutes to register a temperature of
over 230° that their unmentionable occupants are effectually destroyed.

You sleep better that night; the new bedding--from, at any rate, one
point of view--is clean. The next day you come again upon prison
rations, eked out, if you choose, with what is left of your own
supplies. It is Friday. The Litany is read in the chapel. With what
strenuousness do the members of the congregation announce that they are
miserable sinners! After chapel you are beginning work when a warder
calls your name.

"Put your things together--bring your sheets and towel--your discharge
has come. Don't keep me waiting; come along!"

In a maze you ram your things into your bag. You follow the warder. He
takes you to a room in which the governor is seated at a table. He
addresses you.

"Your discharge has come." To the officer: "Get this man his
discharge-note and such property as you may have of his."

Bewildered, you question the governor.

"But who has paid the money?"

"No one. You are discharged at the instance of your creditors. I will
read you my instructions."

He does. They are to the effect that your creditors having made an
application for your release, the registrar of the county court from
which you were committed directs the governor of the gaol to discharge
you from his custody forthwith. When he has finished reading, he hands
you a letter which has come to you from your wife. Still at a loss to
understand exactly what has happened, a few minutes later you find
yourself outside the gates.

You have been a prisoner not three whole days. As you look around
you--realising that you are once more your own man--you wonder what a
man feels like, in his first moments of freedom, after he has been a
prisoner three whole months. And years? Think of it!...

On reaching home you find that your wife has received a letter from
your creditors. Somewhat late in the day they have been making
inquiries into the truth of your statements. They have ascertained that
it is a fact that circumstances have been too strong for you, that you
have been unable to pay. That being the case, they tell your wife,
being unwilling to keep you any longer in gaol, they have given
instructions for your immediate release. So here you are. It seems
strange, in these days of abolition of imprisonment for debt, that
creditors should still have the power of sending their debtors to gaol
when they please--and when they please, of letting them out again.



                          THE THIRTEEN CLUB


                                  I

George Gardiner is a man whose ideas--when he has any--are beneath
contempt. I always treated them as they deserved, save on one occasion.
That I ever swerved, so far as he was concerned, from the paths of the
scornful will, I fear, be the cause to me of lifelong regret.

He had been reading somewhere some nonsense about a number of
weak-minded persons who had gathered themselves together in what they
called a Thirteen Club. It had been the object of this preposterous
association to trample on all sorts of popular superstitions. The
members had made it their business to throw down the gage to Fortune,
whenever, so to speak, opportunity offered. To challenge Luck, in and
out of season, to come on and do its worst. Presumably they derived
some sort of satisfaction from this course of conduct. Though, for my
part, I cannot see what shape it can have taken.

It was at his own dinner-table he told us about what he had read.
Having enlarged upon the subject at quite sufficient length he startled
us all by suggesting that we should form a similar society on our own
account. I was astounded. My own impression is that we all were. Though
I am free to admit that we concealed the fact with a degree of success
which, now that I look back, fills me with amazement.

There were eight of us present besides Gardiner. We were his guests.
Some of us were sensible men. We must have been. Personally I have
never heard so much as a hint breathed against the presumption that I
am in possession of a considerable amount of commonsense. My mother has
told me, times without number, that she always relies upon my strong
commonsense--observe the adjective. If certain of my relatives have not
treated me on all matters with that respect to which I consider myself
entitled, I feel it is because Providence has seen fit to endow them
but scantily with what I have in such abundance. By way of clinching
the question I would remark that Miss Adeline Parkes--the young lady
whom I trust one day to make Mrs Augustus Short--has more than once
declared that the only fault she has to find with me is that I have too
much sense. She has two or three times assured me--with the prettiest
pout; there is a quality about Adeline's lips which gives charm even to
a pout--that my point of view is always the sensible one, and that I do
not make sufficient allowance for those whose strength in that
direction is not so great as my own.

It would be ridiculous to assume that I was the only level-headed
person among the eight individuals whom Gardiner had assembled in his
dining-room. Indeed I have reason to believe that Ernest Bloxam is not
entirely an idiot. And from the way Bob Waters has treated me I cannot
but conclude that he has some notions of what is right and proper.
Three of the men present were entire strangers to me. Though it would
be wrong to set them down, merely on that account, as fools. Still I
cannot forget that it was owing to one of these three, who told me his
name was Finlayson, that I found myself involved in that cataclysm of
events, my connection with which I shall continue to lament.

Gardiner waited till the cloth had been removed before he made his
nefarious suggestion. I cannot but feel that he selected the moment
with malicious intention, because at that period of the entertainment
we had each of us already disposed of two or three glasses of
champagne, and were engaged in the consumption of what I should
describe as three or four more. Champagne is, to my mind, a most
insidious liquid. It affects me before I really know what is happening.
I am credibly informed that no sooner had Gardiner made his proposition
than I seconded it with acclamation. I can only say that I am
surprised. When I am further assured that I entered into the scheme
with zest, and that some of the wildest proposals came from me, I can
but turn to the pages of history and reflect, with a sigh, that even
the greatest men have had their moments of weakness.

The outlines of the scheme which we drew up between us--I decline to
allow for a single instant that I was the leading spirit; Gardiner was
the instigator, and I have the clearest possible impression that the
man Finlayson was his chief aider and abettor--were as follows. We were
to form ourselves into a Thirteen Club. There were to be thirteen
members, commencing with Gardiner and his eight guests, to whom four
others were to be joined. We bound ourselves to act, under all possible
circumstances, in opposition to the teachings of popular superstition.
When we were told that a thing was unlucky we were at once to do it,
and when lucky we were not to do it on any terms. For instance, we were
always to look at a new moon through glass; always to walk under
ladders; always to cross people on staircases; always to arrange for
the most important events to occur on a Friday. On the other hand we
were not to turn over the money in our pockets at the first glimpse of
a new moon; not to make the sign of the cross when we met a person who
squinted; not to salute a black cat; not to occupy a chair which was
reputed lucky when engaged in a quiet hand at cards; not to pick up
pins. The subscription was to be thirteen shillings. There was to be a
dinner, which was to be a sort of glorification of our principles, at
which all the members were to be present. The dinner ticket was to cost
thirteen shillings, and thirteen shillings was to be spent in wine.

It was that Thirteen Club dinner which was the cause of all the
trouble.

When, the following day, I was gradually recovering from the headache
which had kept me in bed till afternoon, I was informed that Gardiner
and the man Finlayson wished to see me. It was between three and four
o'clock. Simply attired in a dressing-gown and slippers I was wondering
whether it would or would not be advisable to venture on another
seidlitz powder. I was trying to remember how many I had already taken.
I had a notion that the box was full, or nearly full, in the morning,
and as there were only two in it now it would seem as if I had taken
nearly as many as were good for me. It will be seen that that was not a
moment at which I would be likely to extend a warm welcome to the man
who had caused me to spend the day in the society of a box of seidlitz
powders. My instinct would have been to deny myself entirely, had I
been afforded the opportunity, but I was not. Before I knew it they
were showing themselves into my room.

Not the least irritating part of it was that they both of them seemed
in the best of health and spirits. They glanced at me, then at each
other. I am almost persuaded that I detected the man Finlayson in the
act of winking.

"Hollo!" began Gardiner. "Got a cold?" I signified that I had something
which perhaps might not be inaccurately diagnosed as being of the
nature of a cold.

"Ah," remarked Finlayson, "there was a bad draught where you sat last
night. What are you taking for it?" He perceived the box which was in
front of me. "Seidlitz powders? Best thing possible for a cold--like
yours."

I had not previously heard seidlitz powders spoken of as being of use
in an affection of the kind. But I allowed the remark to go unanswered.
I was not in a mood to chop straws with a person who was to all intents
and purposes a stranger to me.

An observation, however, which Gardiner immediately made was productive
of something very much like a shock to my system. Tapping the toes of
his boots with his cane he said, in quite a casual tone of voice, as it
seemed to me, _apropos_ of nothing at all,--

"By the way, Short, it strikes me that we shall have some difficulty in
arranging to have the tables shaped like coffins."

"Tables--shaped like coffins?" I stared at him. "What do you mean?"

"It was your idea, and not a bad one. As you said, we may as well be
thorough. But, you see, it would involve our having the tables
specially made for us, and that would come expensive."

While I was asking myself what Gardiner might be talking about,
Finlayson struck in.

"We can manage about the skeletons as menu holders."

"And skulls and cross-bones as table ornaments."

"And a real live black cat for every guest; though it's doubtful if we
shall be able to induce each waiter to carry one on his shoulders."

"You'll find that we shall have to confine them in wicker-work cages.
If we left them free they'd make a bolt for the door. If we fastened
them to the legs of the chairs there might be shindies. The waiters
might object to being scratched. Not to speak of the guests. Some folks
are so fussy."

I glanced from one to the other. I suspected them of a desire to amuse
themselves at my expense. But, although their remarks were entirely
beyond my comprehension, they appeared to be as serious as it was in
their power to be.

"May I ask what it is you're talking about?"

My inquiry seemed to occasion Gardiner surprise.

"Why, about the inaugural dinner of the Thirteen Club, of course. I
say, Short, has your cold caused you to lose your memory?"

It had. Actually. My mind was a blank page as regards what had taken
place on the previous night bearing on that particular theme. When they
favoured me with what they called a simple recital of what they stated
had occurred I found it simply incredible. It was only when Gardiner
produced a sheet of paper covered with my writing that I was compelled
to belief. It was crowded with a number of memoranda on the subject of
the rules and constitution of the proposed club. There was a list of
the names of the first nine members, with my own in front. Notes having
special reference to that ridiculous dinner. And, to crown all, a form
of declaration by which each signatory had bound himself to do certain
things, to which each person present had attached his name, with my own
again, in front.

It is not too much to say that I gazed at this amazing document with
eyes which almost refused to credit what they saw. The caligraphy was
mine beyond a doubt, though here and there a trifle shaky. But in what
condition I could have been when I penned such stuff as that I
altogether failed to understand.

"I suppose," I observed tentatively, "that this is a joke."

"A joke?" echoed Gardiner. "Rather! It will be the best joke that ever
was."

"Will be? What do you mean by will be?"

"Why, the whole thing will be. As for that dinner, if it's carried out
on the lines which you laid down--and it sha'n't be our fault if it
isn't--it will not only be the talk of London, but it will be a joke
which we shall none of us forget as long as we live."

"Let us understand each other, Gardiner. I am not quite well to-day."

"You're not looking well."

"I'm not feeling well." There was something in his manner I resented. I
desired that the tone of my reply should bring that home to him.
"Something I had at your rooms last night has disagreed with me."

"Perhaps it was the oyster sauce."

This was Finlayson.

"I am not prepared to say exactly what it was."

"It couldn't have been the wine," Gardiner declared. "I was careful to
see that every bottle was of the best."

"It might have been the olives," murmured Finlayson. "You never know."

"I repeat that I am not able to precisely locate the blame, but it
certainly was something. I therefore beg you to understand that I am
not in a condition to argue. So that when I ask you to forget, as I
have done, what seems to have been a very poor jest, and when I tear
this sheet of nonsense into shreds, as I now proceed to do--"

"Short!" Gardiner caught me by the wrist. "What are you up to? I had a
clean copy made of that, and it's gone to the printer's. I felt that
the original ought to be preserved."

"Gone to the printer's! Gardiner, what are you saying?"

"We left it at the printer's on the way to engage the room for the
dinner."

"Engage the room for the dinner! Gardiner, are you in earnest?"

"Certainly, at the Coliseum Restaurant. We've settled the
preliminaries. It's to be on Friday week, the fifth Friday of the
month, the unluckiest day of all, in accordance with your suggestion."

"Is it possible that you seriously suppose that I could allow myself to
become associated with such a--such a travesty as this?"

I held up the sheet of paper.

"Allow yourself! Why, when you were unanimously elected president you
spoke of the delight it would give you to serve."

"And you collected the subscriptions."

"Collected the subscriptions?"

"And deposited them in my tobacco jar, where, at the present moment,
they repose. You appointed the first meeting for next Friday at my
rooms, and promised you would occupy the chair."

"Gardiner, I have already alluded to the ill-health from which I am
suffering--"

"Possibly," interrupted Finlayson, "it was the anchovy toast. You ate a
plateful."

"I ate a plateful?" I looked at the speaker to see if he was gibing. He
showed no signs of it. "If I ate anything like that quantity it
probably was. But I do not wish to enter into that matter now. To show
how constitutionally unfitted I am to become associated with such a
scheme, I have only to point out that I am myself extremely
superstitious in little things."

When I said that the man Finlayson broke into a gust of laughter, in
which Gardiner immediately joined him. I observed their merriment with
a growing sense of umbrage.

"I don't know what you see to laugh at in my plain statement of a plain
fact. And to show you that it is a fact, I have only to inform you that
with the fall of a great-aunt's portrait from its place against the
wall I directly connect a long chain of disasters which presently
followed."

On my volunteering that piece of information their screams of laughter
increased to such an extent that I thought they would have done
themselves an injury. It was some time before Gardiner was able to gasp
out, between his guffaws, and with both hands held to his
sides,--

"You're splendid! You're immense! Why, last night you suggested that
each man should bring to the dinner a portrait of a relative; that the
whole thirteen should be hung against the wall, and be sent, at
intervals, toppling headlong to the floor."

"I suggested that--I?"

"Great Scott!" shouted Finlayson; and he actually slapped me on the
back, as if he were the friend of a lifetime. "I thought last night
you were the most amusing man I had ever met, but to-day, in that
dressing-gown, and with that box of seidlitz powders in front of you,
you'll be the death of me if you don't take care."

I never had been regarded as a humorist before. At least, so far as my
recollection carries me. I do not know why, but such is the case. That
these two persons should find me funny, especially as I felt in
anything but a frivolous mood, was unexpected. They certainly persisted
in their refusal to take me seriously. The graver I became the more
they screamed with laughter. It was really disconcerting. And finally
resulted in so destroying the mental equipoise on which I pride myself,
not without reason, that I actually found myself indulging, without the
slightest desire to do so, in those extravagances which they seemed so
singularly disposed to relish.

With such completeness, indeed, was the balance of my mind destroyed,
that when they went away they left me irrevocably committed to a scheme
for which I felt the greatest possible natural distaste. My earnest
desire was to contemn the very notion of a Thirteen Club. Instead of
which I found myself in the position of president of such an
association; regarded almost as its originator; certainly as one of its
leading spirits. How it had come about I was at a loss to imagine.
Moreover, I had undertaken to assist at a so-called dinner, which was
to be an orgie of a character, the very thought of which sent cold
shivers down my back.

During the next few days I felt most uncomfortable. As it were, as if I
were under a ban. My life had hitherto been so regular. I had been so
careful to observe the conventionalities; to do exactly what other
people did, in exactly the same way, that I was ashamed to think of my
connection with so extravagant a coterie. Not the least annoying part
of the matter was that the very fact of my having joined a society
which had undertaken to disregard all the trivialities of superstition
seemed to compel me to treat them with more respect than ever before.
The thing became quite an obsession. For example, someone had told me
that in walking on the pavement one should be careful to place one's
foot well in the centre of the flagstones, since it was unlucky to let
it come in contact with one of the lines of union. This absurd remark
came all at once to the forefront of my brain with such force that I
more than once caught myself playing fantastic tricks in the open
street in my desire to avoid the conjunction of the paving-stones. What
opinion passers-by must have formed of my condition I do not care to
think. Some equally weak-minded person had mentioned, at some period of
my career, that it was a sure forerunner of misfortune if one walked
through a street in which there were three black dogs. I had forgotten
all about the nonsensical allegation till I joined the Thirteen Club.
Then it came back to me in such a fashion that whenever I had to turn
into a fresh street I would quite involuntarily pause to discover if
anything could be seen in the shape of three black dogs. I am rather
short-sighted, and am persuaded that in consequence I sometimes saw
them when they were not there to be seen. But as a trampler on current
superstitions I was not taking any risks. I must have walked
unnecessary miles to avoid such an encounter. Not to speak of the money
I lavished on cab fares.

Once, when walking with Adeline, as we were about to enter the park I
saw a man leading three black poodles along the row. I started back,
but Adeline addressed me in such a tone that I thought it prudent to
pursue our original intention. So soon as we entered, the man with the
poodles turned right round, and passed so close that one of his charges
sniffed at me. I was conscious of a sense of vague discomfort. It is a
curious commentary on the occurrence, that when I returned home I found
that I had lost a five-pound note. It had been in my cigarette-case and
I must have dropped it when taking out a cigarette. The accident did
not tend to weaken my objection to three black dogs.

I was not reassured by the proceedings at the first meeting of the
Thirteen Club which took place on the Friday in Gardiner's rooms.
Several things were said and done to which I objected. Some of them, I
regret to add, were said and done by me. The whole tone of the thing
was most distasteful. A code of fines was drawn up which was monstrous.
If you did not go out of your way to flout every credulous fancy you
had to pay for it; sometimes a considerable sum. You were supposed to
make open confession of your faults. But as I was conscious that the
paving-stones and the black dogs between them might cost me a little
fortune, in my case this was supposition only. For the future I would
make a point of promenading up and down the thoroughfares which were
ornamented by a trio of sooty-hued canine quadrupeds, and would
persistently step on the seams in the pavement. But the past was past.
It was not for me to resurrect it.

As the day appointed for that travesty of a dinner approached I became
more and more alive to the unsatisfactory nature of my relations with
Adeline. It had been my constant habit to tell her everything. There
had been moments when she had seemed to hint that I had a tendency to
tell her too much. As if my desire to make of her a confidante in the
little matters of my daily life suggested a tendency in the direction
of the egotistical. She even went so far as to assert that I was too
fond of talking about myself. Which observation I felt to be uncalled
for. For if a man may not talk to his future wife about himself what
ought he to talk about?

I had this most uncalled-for insinuation in my mind when I refrained
from mentioning to Adeline that I had become associated with the
Thirteen Club. I own that I had a suspicion that she might not care for
my having done so. But then I did not care for it myself. And in the
delicate position in which I found myself placed my chief desire was to
avoid unnecessary friction. Still as the fatal hour approached I did
wish that I had been more open.

Especially in the light of a little conversation which took place
during the usual afternoon call which I was paying her on the very day
before.

"I see that some more ignorant and wicked persons have joined
themselves in what they call a Thirteen Club."

She was looking at a newspaper, and I was thinking of Gardiner's
obstinacy in insisting on having skeletons for menu holders. Her words,
which were entirely unexpected, made me jump.

"Adeline, whoever told you that?"

"It's in the paper."

"In the paper!"

For an instant I felt as if I were in imminent danger of a paralytic
stroke. Whoever could have put it in the paper? Had they dared to
mention any names? Fortunately it appeared that they had not. Her next
remark, however, added to my sense of discomfiture.

"It says in the paper that the whole thirteen of them are going to dine
together to-morrow. To show, I suppose, how stupid people can be if
they like. It will serve them right if they're all dead within the
year."

"Adeline!"

Under the circumstances it was dreadful to hear her say such things.
But she went on, wholly regardless of what I might be feeling.

"I've no patience with people who want to make fun of the most
cherished beliefs of their ancestors."

"Surely, Adeline, you are not superstitious?"

"I am. All nice people are in their heart of hearts. I wouldn't walk
under a ladder for anything, nor sit at a table on which the knives
were crossed. And whenever I spill the salt I'm unhappy."

I was silent. I had myself driven up to the house because there seemed
to be three black dogs in every street. What could I say?

When, the following evening, I went to that preposterous, and, I had
almost begun to think, sacrilegious dinner, my heart was in my boots.


                                  II

Somewhat to my surprise, just as I was about to start, Lawrence Jackson
called. Jackson is an invertebrate, lymphatic creature, of whose mental
equipment I have no opinion at all. How he ever brought himself to
belong to such an organisation as the Thirteen Club was to me a
mystery. I had not quite finished dressing when he arrived. When I
entered the room I found him fidgeting in his usual purposeless way
from chair to chair, and from table to table. I noticed at once that
his shirt front was creased; a sure sign, in a man of his class, of
cerebral disturbance. He rushed to me as I entered, gazing at me
through his eyeglass.

"Now that I have come I don't know what to say to you, you are such an
enthusiastic upholder of the club."

I was not so sure of that myself. Though I was aware that such an idea
was current among certain of its members. To use what I believe is an
Americanism--in my reply I sat on the fence.

"In its President what would you expect?"

"Quite so! quite so! I suppose it is all right?"

"All right? Jackson? What do you mean?"

"In going on as we are going on we're doing nothing wrong, running no
unwise risks, or that kind of thing?" As I had been putting a similar
inquiry to myself I was without an answer. When I turned away he broke
out, in agitated accents, "Short, I've come to warn you!"

"To warn me, Jackson?"

"Whatever you do, don't ride in a cab drawn by a white horse."

"Why?"

"Don't ask me, but don't! Don't walk under a ladder when there's a
red-haired woman looking on."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't take the last piece of bread and butter off a plate."

"I never did such a thing in my life."

"Above all, don't sleep in a house in which there is a man with one leg
shorter than the other."

"Jackson, occupying the position which I hold, which we both hold, I am
surprised to hear you speak in such a strain."

"I knew you would be, but I can't help it. I suppose we're not allowed
to believe in dreams?"

"Several of the rules are aimed at that particular form of foolish
credulity."

"Foolish, is it? Then all I can say is, that the things I've dreamt
about you during the last night or two have been enough to turn a man's
brain. I've seen you in the most frightful situations, awful. Such
dreams must mean something--they must. Anyhow, Mrs Jackson insisted on
my giving you warning. She believes in everything."

"In a woman, Jackson, that sort of thing is excusable. We, as men, know
better."

"If she knew that I was going to this--this flare-up I don't know what
she would do. She'd expect to see me brought home dead on a shutter. I
do hope no harm will come of it all."

"My dear Jackson, it is time to start. Suppose we have a glass of
sherry before we go."

"It would brace us up."

I cannot say why he supposed that I required bracing up. Though his
need was plain enough. As we drove to the Coliseum--I noticed, quite by
accident, that the cab horse was not white--he entertained me with
conversation of a kind to which I had a strong objection.

"I suppose that when thirteen people sit down to dinner, it's the one
who rises first who dies within the year. Of course, as President
you'll do that." Would I? we should see. "I have heard that if all rise
together all are marked for death. I'll see that nothing of that sort
happens, because I'll take particularly good care that I sit tight. I
don't want to leave my wife a widow, and--and my children." His tone
became lugubrious. "Not that I shall get much good by sitting tight,
because I had an aunt who used to have it that it was the one who
remained last at table who died. Mrs Jackson maintains that when
thirteen people dine together the consequences are such that those who
don't die within the year wish they could. Which is a cheerful way of
looking at the thing."

It was. More than once during the drive I was on the point of informing
Jackson that if he did not divert his conversation into different
channels I should be moved to take the extreme step of throwing him out
of the cab. By the time we reached the restaurant my depression had
increased to what I felt must be a visible extent.

As the hansom drew up at the door the horse slipped. It was only by
something in the shape of a miracle that the vehicle escaped being
overturned. For a second I certainly thought that we were over. I was
in a state of tremulous agitation.

"Ah," sighed Jackson, when at last we stood upon the pavement, "that's
a precursor of what's to come. If we were sensible men we should act
upon the warning, and go and have a chop together round the corner. I
feel as if a grim, relentless fate was marching me to execution."

It was with no pleasurable anticipations that we approached the feast
which had been prepared for us. My own impression is that if it had not
been for the attendants we might have acted on Jackson's suggestion and
dined upon a chop. A uniformed individual, advancing with what he
possibly intended to be an ingratiating smile, murmured,--

"Thirteen Club, gentlemen?"

I do not know why he took it for granted that we belonged to an
association of the kind. It is hardly probable that we bore the fact
upon our faces. There were other persons coming to the establishment to
dine to whom he did not address a similar inquiry; persons who looked
quite as likely to belong to such an organisation as we did.

As we were being ushered up the stairs we encountered Boulter, Tom
Boulter, who had apparently arrived just in front of us. He regarded me
with what I felt to be a doubtful eye.

"Feeling peckish?" he cried.

"Well, I can't say that I do--very. Do you?"

The tone of his reply was decidedly emphatic.

"Not likely. Wish I hadn't come. I've a lot of delicate things on hand
just now and want all the luck I can get, instead of fooling it away on
a silly show of this kind."

Boulter is a member of the Stock Exchange. I understood him to be
referring to speculations in which he was at that time engaged. The
reference touched me on a tender spot. The shares of a company in which
I was interested had fallen three-quarters that very morning. Suppose I
discovered to-morrow that they had dropped another three-quarters, I
should feel that the fall was of the nature of a visitation. If, by a
sort of sympathetic consequence, all my investments were to become
depressed, what would my emotions be?

We were shown into a room which was in partial darkness. Gardiner came
forward and gripped me by the hand.

"What," I inquired, "is the matter with the light?"

"My dear Short, what a question. Evil fortune is supposed to lurk in
shadows. It is our end and aim to laugh at all such fancies."

As I was about to observe that that was no reason why we should be
driven to tread upon each other's toes, to my surprise he made quite a
speech to the assembled company.

"Mr President and Gentlemen of the Thirteen Club,--We are all arrived
and will now proceed to partake of that hilarious banquet which has
been specially designed to enable us to express our scorn and contempt
for those ridiculous superstitions which have bound our ancestors about
as with swaddling clothes. We will show that we have risen superior to
those foolish traditions, the fear of which haunted them by day and
kept them awake at night. By way of making our position quite plain we
will commence by doing something the mere thought of which would have
made our great-grandmothers shiver and shake. A mirror will be handed
to each of you. As you pass into the dining-room you will dash it to
the ground with sufficient force to shatter it to fragments,
exclaiming, as you do so, 'So much for the bad luck a broken mirror is
supposed to bring!' It will be to begin as we intend to go on."

My own mother used to lay stress on the bad fortune which attends the
fracturing of a mirror. It was with sensations almost amounting to
dismay that I heard Gardiner's cold-blooded announcement of his
determination to compel me, among others, to treat my mother's feelings
with what was really equivalent to filial disrespect. Something of the
kind, I am convinced, was nearly general, and would have found
utterance, had not the man Finlayson stifled any attempt at
remonstrance by bustling about and forcing each of us to take a small
round mirror, which was without a frame. At the same time Gardiner,
putting his hand upon my shoulder, actually impelled me towards a door
leading to an inner room.

"I must protest--" I began.

But he cut me short, pretending to misunderstand what I was about to
say.

"In one instant so you shall. You shall be the first to break your
mirror, as you suggested."

"As I suggested!"

"Only give us time, and all your suggestions shall be acted on. You
will find, my dear Short, if you will only have a little patience, that
the whole affair has been planned on the lines which you yourself laid
down. Gentlemen, Mr Augustus Short, as our President, will lead the
way."

I do not know exactly what happened. I fancy that Gardiner jerked my
arm, anyhow, the mirror slipped from my grasp, and although I certainly
did not "dash" it to the ground, directly it touched the floor it was
shivered into fragments with quite an extraordinary amount of noise. My
conviction is that those mirrors were specially and artfully arranged
to smash with a kind of explosion directly they came into contact with
a resisting substance. I caught myself stammering, while I was still
bewildered by the din the thing had made,--

"So much for the bad luck a broken mirror is supposed to bring!"

I have a vague idea that the others did as I had done, but my
impressions were of such a variegated hue that for some seconds I
hardly knew what was taking place. I found myself in an apartment the
lights of which were shaded by globes of a peculiarly ghastly green.
The walls were hung in black. Mottoes sprawled across them. I noted
two, "The Thirteen Club laughs at luck." "Down with all Omens." There
was a table in the centre shrouded in the same funereal shade. One
presumed that it was laid for dinner. But the articles upon it were of
such an unusual sort, and were arranged in such fantastic forms, that
the thing was but presumption. Gardiner, however, did what I suppose he
considered his best to make the matter clear.

"I think, Mr President and Gentlemen, you will agree with me that this
is a fitting environment for such a function as the inaugural dinner of
the Thirteen Club."

I, for one, disagreed with him entirely. But at that instant I found
myself without the capacity to say so. To be frank, the look of the
whole thing had surprised me into speechlessness. Gardiner went on in a
tone of voice which suggested that he was enjoying himself immensely.
If that were the case then I am convinced that he in his enjoyment was
singular.

"We find ourselves surrounded by the proverbial attributes of gloom.
The lighting is uncanny, it lends to us all the attributes of sick
men. The walls and tables are decked with the traditional trappings of
the tomb. The only ornaments upon the festive board are skeletons,
cross-bones, and skulls. You will notice that the knives are crossed.
The drinking cups are of funereal ebony. Beside each chair is a black
cat in a black wicker cage."

That explained the peculiar sounds which were arising. Most of those
cats were objecting to the position in which Gardiner had placed them.

"So far as we have been able, Mr Finlayson and I have spared no pains
to provide a harmonious whole. Without self-conceit we are conscious
that we have made just those arrangements for you which you would have
wished to have made for yourselves. It only remains for the Thirteen
Club to show that it can be gay and light-hearted even among
surroundings the most forbidding. To your seats!" Gardiner bundled me
to mine. "One little ceremony still has to be performed. Each will find
in front of him a salt-cellar full of salt. Take it between your right
finger and thumb and spill the contents on the board."

He forced what I perceived to be a salt-cellar between my fingers,
then, giving my wrist a twist, he compelled me to upset it. I objected,
strongly, to the unceremonious manner in which he persisted in making
me behave as if I were an automaton. Moreover, I thought of Adeline's
view on the subject of the spilling of salt.

"This is beyond a joke," I exclaimed.

"Beyond a joke!" he echoed. "I should think it was. It's a challenge
from the Thirteen Club to the gnomes and goblins of Demon Fortune to
come on and do their worst. One word as regards the waiters. We have
been at some trouble to select notoriously bad characters, most of them
with crime-stained hands. The costume is a little notion of my own.
Waiters!"

There was a rustling behind us. From under the sombre hangings
which screened the wall there appeared a number of the most
forbidding-looking figures I ever beheld. They were enveloped from head
to foot in some shiny material which was red as blood. Slits were cut
for their eyes, nose, and mouth. Beyond that there was nothing to show
that the creatures within were men. The sight of them made me
positively uneasy. Especially after Gardiner's allusion to "notoriously
bad characters" and "crime-stained hands." Had I anticipated anything
of that sort I certainly should not have come.

"Another observation," he continued, in that strident voice which
grated more and more upon my ears, "I would ask to be permitted to make
before you fall to the feast with that appetite which, I am well aware,
grows every instant sharper." Did it? That was decidedly not the case
with mine. "Referring to the menu, I would beg of you to bestow on it a
little careful study, and then to tell me if you are not of opinion
that it is a masterpiece from the point of view of its suitability to
this unique occasion. The conception, I hasten to add, is again my very
own."

I glanced at the menu card which a small white skeleton thrust out
towards me in its attenuated hand. This is what I read:--


                     MENU OF THE INAUGURAL DINNER
                        OF THE THIRTEEN CLUB.

                              _Potages_.
                        Consommé Tete de Mort.
              Crème d'Entrepreneurs des Pompes Funebres;

                             _Poissons_.
                     Soles a la Pierre Tumulaire.
                     Saumon, Sauce Fossoyeur.

                              _Entrees_.
                    Ris de Veau au Jus Mortuaire.
                    Pajasky de Volaille en Cercueil.

                              _Releves_.
                Quartier d'Agneau Roti, Sauce Cadavre.
                     Boeuf Braisé aux Revenants.

                              _Legumes_.
                     Pommes de Terre Meurtriere.
                  Petits Pois Nouveaux a la Suicide.

                               _Rotis_.
           Canetons Rotis a la memoire de la Fin de Touts.
                     Salade des Espoirs Evanouis.

                             _Entremets_.
                        Savarin au Cimetiere.
                           Parfait Woking.
                        Gateaux Kensal Green.


My knowledge of French is, in a manner of speaking, limited. It was
only after some moments' consideration that the monstrous nature of the
thing began to dawn on me. Was it possible that we were supposed to eat
food prepared in such fashions as the menu suggested? What connection
could sweetbreads have with "mortuary juice," and potatoes with murder?
What were "tombstone" soles, and "gravedigger" sauce? The allusions to
"Woking" and "Kensal Green," at a dinner-table, in association with
sweets, was enough to destroy one's appetite entirely. Was the
intention to hint that the dishes so named would send us there? One
shuddered at the thought.

I had not yet succeeded in realising the full horror of this final
outrage when one of the gruesomely-attired figures which it had been
Gardiner's humour to provide as waiters planted itself at my side. A
voice issued from one of the slits in the scarlet envelope, deep,
harsh, threatening, addressing me as if presenting a pistol at my head,
and demanding my money or my life.

"Death's Head Soup, or Cream of Undertakers?"

The question so startled me that I nearly jumped out of my chair. What
could the creature mean? A glance at the card which I was holding
showed that the reference was to the first two dishes on the bill of
fare. He was asking which of them I wished to have. I felt as if I were
on the point of choking. The same inquiry, uttered, as it seemed to me,
in the same sinister accents, came in a chorus from all round the
table.

Silence followed. Then a voice was heard which I recognised as Tom
Boulter's.

"Excuse me, Gardiner, but if you don't mind I think I'll slip round to
a tripe shop I know and dine off a saveloy. I've heard a saveloy
described as a 'bag of mystery'; but, anyhow, it can hardly be more
mysterious than 'cream of undertakers.'"

"Personally I never eat a dish of which I know nothing--never. And it's
outrageous--simply outrageous--that we should be expected to play
tricks with our digestion by attempting to eat such--such extraordinary
things."

This was James Rutherford, whose one hobby is what he calls "dieting"
himself. What he would think of such a bill of fare I could dimly
fancy. Lawrence Jackson spoke next. Judging from his tone he was on the
verge of tears. He is a man who is easily moved in the direction of the
melancholic.

"It isn't only what there is to eat. It's everything. Making us sit in
a chamber of horrors, with a possible murderer behind your chair, and a
green light always makes me ill. If I stay here much longer I shall
have to be carried out, I know I shall. I was far from well when I
came. Each second I'm growing worse. What my wife would say if she were
here I do not dare to think."

"If this is a Thirteen Club dinner I'm off it. Stomach's turned."

I am thankful to say that this distinctly vulgar remark was made by a
person who was a perfect stranger to me. A remark which was immediately
afterwards made by the man Finlayson transfixed me with astonishment.

"I must own that I think our President's carried the whole thing a
little too far."

I sprang to my feet.

"I carried the whole thing a little too far!"

"One cannot but feel that some of your ideas are a little morbid."

"My ideas!"

To my surprise, and also to my indignation, a chorus of voices rose
from round the table, all, actually, condemning me.

"Certainly!"

"Beyond all reason!"

"Show a disordered imagination!"

"Monstrous that we should have to submit to them!"

"If we'd had the faintest notion of what you proposed to do we should
none of us ever have come."

"Gentlemen," I shouted, "I protest that my ideas have not been carried
out."

"Not in their entirety," the man Finlayson had the audacity to retort.
"The notion that corpses should be scattered about the room, and that
we should sit in coffins, and wear graveclothes, was a little--it
really was a little, don't you think?"

"Mr Finlayson, do you dare to affirm that I--I--suggested that there
should be corpses in the room, and coffins, and--and graveclothes? I
have no hesitation in affirming that a more abominable insinuation I
never heard."

The objectionable stranger to whom allusion has already been made rose
from his chair.

"At last, Mr Short, I do agree with you. The business is an abominable
one from beginning to end. As our President you have subjected us to a
series of outrages against which it is our duty to protest in the most
forcible manner."

"Hear! hear!" muttered someone. I do not know what ridiculous person it
was.

"The most effective protest we can offer," continued the preposterous
stranger, "is to at once leave the room. And that I for one shall
instantly proceed to do. Those gentlemen who think with me will no
doubt follow my example. You will be left to enjoy an orgie which a
mentally, morally, and physically diseased imagination alone could have
conceived."

Nearly every person present stood upon his feet. There were all sorts
of exclamations.

"Hear! hear!"

"Bravo!"

"Excellently said!"

"Serve him right!"

One peculiarly offensive idiot observed,--

"Let him gorge himself upon his Death's Head Soup and his Cream of
Undertakers!"

There was every symptom of a general stampede from the apartment. Just
as the rush was beginning Gardiner's voice made itself audible above
the din.

"Gentlemen, one moment, if you please. Am I to understand that the
arrangements which have been made for you, as Members of the Thirteen
Club, do not meet with your approval?"

"You are!"

"Then--they shall be changed!"

Precisely what took place I do not know. On a sudden the greenish
coloured lights went out. The room was plunged into darkness. In the
midst of the consequent confusion mysterious sounds were heard as of
persons rushing hither and thither; of the swishing of draperies.
People cannoned against me when I moved. That we were about to be the
victims of some final, stranger outrage I greatly feared. Perhaps those
miscreants whom Gardiner had engaged as waiters were preparing to dip
their hands deeper still in crime. I endeavoured to retain my presence
of mind, prepared to play the man, though expectant of the worst.

All in an instant, while I was straining my eyes to see what was
happening in the darkness, the gloom was gone, the room flashed into
radiant brightness. Not lit this time by greenish globes, but by a
hundred incandescent lamps which starred the ceiling. And when by
degrees our dazzled gaze became accustomed to the unexpected
illumination, we recognised that a transformation scene had taken
place. There were no funereal hangings, but gaily-frescoed walls. No
sombre-looking board, fantastically disfigured, but an inviting-looking
table, covered with snow-white drapery, decked with glittering glass
and flashing silver. No blood-red figures suggestive of the assistants
of the Holy Office, but a dozen smiling waiters, immaculately clad. And
at the table's head stood Gardiner, who, with outstretched hand,
invited us to take our seats. "Gentlemen, the Inaugural Dinner of the
Thirteen Club is at an end, and with it the Club. A dinner of another
sort is ready to be served. I beg you will do me the honour of
partaking of it as my guests."


                                 III

Yes, George Gardiner and the man Finlayson had arranged it all between
them. I am conscious that, in a fashion, they made of us their butts.
They had their little joke at our expense. But, in the end, the laugh
was on our side. So we forgave them easily, at least I know I did. I
never yet sat down to a better dinner than Gardiner had had prepared
for us that night, nor one as good. No doubt the reaction, the
surprise, the laughter, provided a piquant sauce. For when we realised
that that monstrous menu had been but a ghastly joke, and that a
banquet calculated to tempt the jaded palate of an Epicurus was
awaiting the favour of our consumption, we enjoyed the joke as heartily
as its perpetrator could have himself desired.

As I departed homeward I purchased from an urchin for a shilling his
last copy of the night's paper, and found that those shares in which I
was interested had been firm, when the Stock Exchange had closed,
at an advance of one and a half. Most satisfactory, really. On the
following day, when I paid Adeline my usual call, I learned that a
lately-deceased aunt had left her quite a snug little legacy. Nothing
could have been more agreeable from every point of view. The foolish
child assured me that she knew she was going to be visited by a stroke
of good fortune since, only two days before, she had found a money
spider on the brim of her hat. While I congratulated the dear girl I
laughed at her credulity, pointing out that it is only the ignorant who
believe in omens. In the present age of enlightenment and progress
educated men and women treat them, as of course, with that indifference
they deserve. I went on to explain that as articles of faith such
trivial superstitions were only possible in the childhood of the world.

But whether or not she was in complete agreement with me I am not
wholly sure.



                               THE END


                          *   *   *   *   *
              COLSTON AND COY. LTD., PRINTERS, EDINBURGH





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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.



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