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Title: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories
Author: Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900
Language: English
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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 "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories" ***

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Transcribed from the 1913 Methuen and Co. edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



                           LORD ARTHUR SAVILE’S
                                  CRIME
                        THE PORTRAIT OF MR. W. H.
                            AND OTHER STORIES


                                    BY
                               OSCAR WILDE

                                * * * * *

                            METHUEN & CO. LTD.
                           36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
                                  LONDON

                             _Tenth Edition_

                                * * * * *

_First Published_—
       _Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime_, _The                    _1887_
       Canterville Ghost_, _The Sphinx
       without a Secret_, _and the Model
       Millionaire_
       _Issued in Collected Form_                            _1891_
       _The Portrait of Mr. W. H._                           _1889_
_First Issued by Methuen and Co._            _March_         _1908_
(_Limited Edition on Handmade Paper and
Japanese Vellum_)
_Third Edition_ (_F’cap. 8vo 5s. net_)       _September_     _1908_
_Fourth Edition_ (_5s. net_)                 _October_       _1909_
_Fifth Edition_ (_5s. net_)                  _March_         _1911_
_Sixth and Seventh Editions_ (_F’cap. 8vo    _April_         _1912_
1s. net_)
_Eighth Edition_ (_1s. net_)                 _September_     _1912_
_Ninth Edition_ (_1s.net_)                   _May_           _1913_
_Tenth Edition_ (_5s. net_)                           _1913_



CONTENTS

                                       PAGE
LORD ARTHUR SAVILE’S CRIME                3
THE CANTERVILLE GHOST                    65
THE SPHINX WITHOUT A SECRET             121
THE MODEL MILLIONAIRE                   133
THE PORTRAIT OF MR. W. H.               145



LORD ARTHUR SAVILE’S CRIME
A STUDY OF DUTY


CHAPTER I


IT was Lady Windermere’s last reception before Easter, and Bentinck House
was even more crowded than usual.  Six Cabinet Ministers had come on from
the Speaker’s Levée in their stars and ribands, all the pretty women wore
their smartest dresses, and at the end of the picture-gallery stood the
Princess Sophia of Carlsrühe, a heavy Tartar-looking lady, with tiny
black eyes and wonderful emeralds, talking bad French at the top of her
voice, and laughing immoderately at everything that was said to her.  It
was certainly a wonderful medley of people.  Gorgeous peeresses chatted
affably to violent Radicals, popular preachers brushed coat-tails with
eminent sceptics, a perfect bevy of bishops kept following a stout
prima-donna from room to room, on the staircase stood several Royal
Academicians, disguised as artists, and it was said that at one time the
supper-room was absolutely crammed with geniuses.  In fact, it was one of
Lady Windermere’s best nights, and the Princess stayed till nearly
half-past eleven.

As soon as she had gone, Lady Windermere returned to the picture-gallery,
where a celebrated political economist was solemnly explaining the
scientific theory of music to an indignant virtuoso from Hungary, and
began to talk to the Duchess of Paisley.  She looked wonderfully
beautiful with her grand ivory throat, her large blue forget-me-not eyes,
and her heavy coils of golden hair.  _Or pur_ they were—not that pale
straw colour that nowadays usurps the gracious name of gold, but such
gold as is woven into sunbeams or hidden in strange amber; and they gave
to her face something of the frame of a saint, with not a little of the
fascination of a sinner.  She was a curious psychological study.  Early
in life she had discovered the important truth that nothing looks so like
innocence as an indiscretion; and by a series of reckless escapades, half
of them quite harmless, she had acquired all the privileges of a
personality.  She had more than once changed her husband; indeed, Debrett
credits her with three marriages; but as she had never changed her lover,
the world had long ago ceased to talk scandal about her.  She was now
forty years of age, childless, and with that inordinate passion for
pleasure which is the secret of remaining young.

Suddenly she looked eagerly round the room, and said, in her clear
contralto voice, ‘Where is my cheiromantist?’

‘Your what, Gladys?’ exclaimed the Duchess, giving an involuntary start.

‘My cheiromantist, Duchess; I can’t live without him at present.’

‘Dear Gladys! you are always so original,’ murmured the Duchess, trying
to remember what a cheiromantist really was, and hoping it was not the
same as a cheiropodist.

‘He comes to see my hand twice a week regularly,’ continued Lady
Windermere, ‘and is most interesting about it.’

‘Good heavens!’ said the Duchess to herself, ‘he is a sort of
cheiropodist after all.  How very dreadful.  I hope he is a foreigner at
any rate.  It wouldn’t be quite so bad then.’

‘I must certainly introduce him to you.’

‘Introduce him!’ cried the Duchess; ‘you don’t mean to say he is here?’
and she began looking about for a small tortoise-shell fan and a very
tattered lace shawl, so as to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

‘Of course he is here; I would not dream of giving a party without him.
He tells me I have a pure psychic hand, and that if my thumb had been the
least little bit shorter, I should have been a confirmed pessimist, and
gone into a convent.’

‘Oh, I see!’ said the Duchess, feeling very much relieved; ‘he tells
fortunes, I suppose?’

‘And misfortunes, too,’ answered Lady Windermere, ‘any amount of them.
Next year, for instance, I am in great danger, both by land and sea, so I
am going to live in a balloon, and draw up my dinner in a basket every
evening.  It is all written down on my little finger, or on the palm of
my hand, I forget which.’

‘But surely that is tempting Providence, Gladys.’

‘My dear Duchess, surely Providence can resist temptation by this time.
I think every one should have their hands told once a month, so as to
know what not to do.  Of course, one does it all the same, but it is so
pleasant to be warned.  Now if some one doesn’t go and fetch Mr. Podgers
at once, I shall have to go myself.’

‘Let me go, Lady Windermere,’ said a tall handsome young man, who was
standing by, listening to the conversation with an amused smile.

‘Thanks so much, Lord Arthur; but I am afraid you wouldn’t recognise
him.’

‘If he is as wonderful as you say, Lady Windermere, I couldn’t well miss
him.  Tell me what he is like, and I’ll bring him to you at once.’

‘Well, he is not a bit like a cheiromantist.  I mean he is not
mysterious, or esoteric, or romantic-looking.  He is a little, stout man,
with a funny, bald head, and great gold-rimmed spectacles; something
between a family doctor and a country attorney.  I’m really very sorry,
but it is not my fault.  People are so annoying.  All my pianists look
exactly like poets, and all my poets look exactly like pianists; and I
remember last season asking a most dreadful conspirator to dinner, a man
who had blown up ever so many people, and always wore a coat of mail, and
carried a dagger up his shirt-sleeve; and do you know that when he came
he looked just like a nice old clergyman, and cracked jokes all the
evening?  Of course, he was very amusing, and all that, but I was awfully
disappointed; and when I asked him about the coat of mail, he only
laughed, and said it was far too cold to wear in England.  Ah, here is
Mr. Podgers!  Now, Mr. Podgers, I want you to tell the Duchess of
Paisley’s hand.  Duchess, you must take your glove off.  No, not the left
hand, the other.’

‘Dear Gladys, I really don’t think it is quite right,’ said the Duchess,
feebly unbuttoning a rather soiled kid glove.

‘Nothing interesting ever is,’ said Lady Windermere: ‘_on a fait le monde
ainsi_.  But I must introduce you.  Duchess, this is Mr. Podgers, my pet
cheiromantist.  Mr. Podgers, this is the Duchess of Paisley, and if you
say that she has a larger mountain of the moon than I have, I will never
believe in you again.’

‘I am sure, Gladys, there is nothing of the kind in my hand,’ said the
Duchess gravely.

‘Your Grace is quite right,’ said Mr. Podgers, glancing at the little fat
hand with its short square fingers, ‘the mountain of the moon is not
developed.  The line of life, however, is excellent.  Kindly bend the
wrist.  Thank you.  Three distinct lines on the _rascette_!  You will
live to a great age, Duchess, and be extremely happy.  Ambition—very
moderate, line of intellect not exaggerated, line of heart—’

‘Now, do be indiscreet, Mr. Podgers,’ cried Lady Windermere.

‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure,’ said Mr. Podgers, bowing, ‘if
the Duchess ever had been, but I am sorry to say that I see great
permanence of affection, combined with a strong sense of duty.’

‘Pray go on, Mr. Podgers,’ said the Duchess, looking quite pleased.

‘Economy is not the least of your Grace’s virtues,’ continued Mr.
Podgers, and Lady Windermere went off into fits of laughter.

‘Economy is a very good thing,’ remarked the Duchess complacently; ‘when
I married Paisley he had eleven castles, and not a single house fit to
live in.’

‘And now he has twelve houses, and not a single castle,’ cried Lady
Windermere.

‘Well, my dear,’ said the Duchess, ‘I like—’

‘Comfort,’ said Mr. Podgers, ‘and modern improvements, and hot water laid
on in every bedroom.  Your Grace is quite right.  Comfort is the only
thing our civilisation can give us.

‘You have told the Duchess’s character admirably, Mr. Podgers, and now
you must tell Lady Flora’s’; and in answer to a nod from the smiling
hostess, a tall girl, with sandy Scotch hair, and high shoulder-blades,
stepped awkwardly from behind the sofa, and held out a long, bony hand
with spatulate fingers.

‘Ah, a pianist! I see,’ said Mr. Podgers, ‘an excellent pianist, but
perhaps hardly a musician.  Very reserved, very honest, and with a great
love of animals.’

‘Quite true!’ exclaimed the Duchess, turning to Lady Windermere,
‘absolutely true!  Flora keeps two dozen collie dogs at Macloskie, and
would turn our town house into a menagerie if her father would let her.’

‘Well, that is just what I do with my house every Thursday evening,’
cried Lady Windermere, laughing, ‘only I like lions better than collie
dogs.’

‘Your one mistake, Lady Windermere,’ said Mr. Podgers, with a pompous
bow.

‘If a woman can’t make her mistakes charming, she is only a female,’ was
the answer.  ‘But you must read some more hands for us.  Come, Sir
Thomas, show Mr. Podgers yours’; and a genial-looking old gentleman, in a
white waistcoat, came forward, and held out a thick rugged hand, with a
very long third finger.

‘An adventurous nature; four long voyages in the past, and one to come.
Been ship-wrecked three times.  No, only twice, but in danger of a
shipwreck your next journey.  A strong Conservative, very punctual, and
with a passion for collecting curiosities.  Had a severe illness between
the ages sixteen and eighteen.  Was left a fortune when about thirty.
Great aversion to cats and Radicals.’

‘Extraordinary!’ exclaimed Sir Thomas; ‘you must really tell my wife’s
hand, too.’

‘Your second wife’s,’ said Mr. Podgers quietly, still keeping Sir
Thomas’s hand in his.  ‘Your second wife’s.  I shall be charmed’; but
Lady Marvel, a melancholy-looking woman, with brown hair and sentimental
eyelashes, entirely declined to have her past or her future exposed; and
nothing that Lady Windermere could do would induce Monsieur de Koloff,
the Russian Ambassador, even to take his gloves off.  In fact, many
people seemed afraid to face the odd little man with his stereotyped
smile, his gold spectacles, and his bright, beady eyes; and when he told
poor Lady Fermor, right out before every one, that she did not care a bit
for music, but was extremely fond of musicians, it was generally felt
that cheiromancy was a most dangerous science, and one that ought not to
be encouraged, except in a _tête-à-tête_.

Lord Arthur Savile, however, who did not know anything about Lady
Fermor’s unfortunate story, and who had been watching Mr. Podgers with a
great deal of interest, was filled with an immense curiosity to have his
own hand read, and feeling somewhat shy about putting himself forward,
crossed over the room to where Lady Windermere was sitting, and, with a
charming blush, asked her if she thought Mr. Podgers would mind.

‘Of course, he won’t mind,’ said Lady Windermere, ‘that is what he is
here for.  All my lions, Lord Arthur, are performing lions, and jump
through hoops whenever I ask them.  But I must warn you beforehand that I
shall tell Sybil everything.  She is coming to lunch with me to-morrow,
to talk about bonnets, and if Mr. Podgers finds out that you have a bad
temper, or a tendency to gout, or a wife living in Bayswater, I shall
certainly let her know all about it.’

Lord Arthur smiled, and shook his head.  ‘I am not afraid,’ he answered.
‘Sybil knows me as well as I know her.’

‘Ah!  I am a little sorry to hear you say that.  The proper basis for
marriage is a mutual misunderstanding.  No, I am not at all cynical, I
have merely got experience, which, however, is very much the same thing.
Mr. Podgers, Lord Arthur Savile is dying to have his hand read.  Don’t
tell him that he is engaged to one of the most beautiful girls in London,
because that appeared in the _Morning Post_ a month ago.

‘Dear Lady Windermere,’ cried the Marchioness of Jedburgh, ‘do let Mr.
Podgers stay here a little longer.  He has just told me I should go on
the stage, and I am so interested.’

‘If he has told you that, Lady Jedburgh, I shall certainly take him away.
Come over at once, Mr. Podgers, and read Lord Arthur’s hand.’

‘Well,’ said Lady Jedburgh, making a little _moue_ as she rose from the
sofa, ‘if I am not to be allowed to go on the stage, I must be allowed to
be part of the audience at any rate.’

‘Of course; we are all going to be part of the audience,’ said Lady
Windermere; ‘and now, Mr. Podgers, be sure and tell us something nice.
Lord Arthur is one of my special favourites.’

But when Mr. Podgers saw Lord Arthur’s hand he grew curiously pale, and
said nothing.  A shudder seemed to pass through him, and his great bushy
eyebrows twitched convulsively, in an odd, irritating way they had when
he was puzzled.  Then some huge beads of perspiration broke out on his
yellow forehead, like a poisonous dew, and his fat fingers grew cold and
clammy.

Lord Arthur did not fail to notice these strange signs of agitation, and,
for the first time in his life, he himself felt fear.  His impulse was to
rush from the room, but he restrained himself.  It was better to know the
worst, whatever it was, than to be left in this hideous uncertainty.

‘I am waiting, Mr. Podgers,’ he said.

‘We are all waiting,’ cried Lady Windermere, in her quick, impatient
manner, but the cheiromantist made no reply.

‘I believe Arthur is going on the stage,’ said Lady Jedburgh, ‘and that,
after your scolding, Mr. Podgers is afraid to tell him so.’

Suddenly Mr. Podgers dropped Lord Arthur’s right hand, and seized hold of
his left, bending down so low to examine it that the gold rims of his
spectacles seemed almost to touch the palm.  For a moment his face became
a white mask of horror, but he soon recovered his _sang-froid_, and
looking up at Lady Windermere, said with a forced smile, ‘It is the hand
of a charming young man.

‘Of course it is!’ answered Lady Windermere, ‘but will he be a charming
husband?  That is what I want to know.’

‘All charming young men are,’ said Mr. Podgers.

‘I don’t think a husband should be too fascinating,’ murmured Lady
Jedburgh pensively, ‘it is so dangerous.’

‘My dear child, they never are too fascinating,’ cried Lady Windermere.
‘But what I want are details.  Details are the only things that interest.
What is going to happen to Lord Arthur?’

‘Well, within the next few months Lord Arthur will go a voyage—’

‘Oh yes, his honeymoon, of course!’

‘And lose a relative.’

‘Not his sister, I hope?’ said Lady Jedburgh, in a piteous tone of voice.

‘Certainly not his sister,’ answered Mr. Podgers, with a deprecating wave
of the hand, ‘a distant relative merely.’

‘Well, I am dreadfully disappointed,’ said Lady Windermere.  ‘I have
absolutely nothing to tell Sybil to-morrow.  No one cares about distant
relatives nowadays.  They went out of fashion years ago.  However, I
suppose she had better have a black silk by her; it always does for
church, you know.  And now let us go to supper.  They are sure to have
eaten everything up, but we may find some hot soup.  François used to
make excellent soup once, but he is so agitated about politics at
present, that I never feel quite certain about him.  I do wish General
Boulanger would keep quiet.  Duchess, I am sure you are tired?’

‘Not at all, dear Gladys,’ answered the Duchess, waddling towards the
door.  ‘I have enjoyed myself immensely, and the cheiropodist, I mean the
cheiromantist, is most interesting.  Flora, where can my tortoise-shell
fan be?  Oh, thank you, Sir Thomas, so much.  And my lace shawl, Flora?
Oh, thank you, Sir Thomas, very kind, I’m sure’; and the worthy creature
finally managed to get downstairs without dropping her scent-bottle more
than twice.

All this time Lord Arthur Savile had remained standing by the fireplace,
with the same feeling of dread over him, the same sickening sense of
coming evil.  He smiled sadly at his sister, as she swept past him on
Lord Plymdale’s arm, looking lovely in her pink brocade and pearls, and
he hardly heard Lady Windermere when she called to him to follow her.  He
thought of Sybil Merton, and the idea that anything could come between
them made his eyes dim with tears.

Looking at him, one would have said that Nemesis had stolen the shield of
Pallas, and shown him the Gorgon’s head.  He seemed turned to stone, and
his face was like marble in its melancholy.  He had lived the delicate
and luxurious life of a young man of birth and fortune, a life exquisite
in its freedom from sordid care, its beautiful boyish insouciance; and
now for the first time he became conscious of the terrible mystery of
Destiny, of the awful meaning of Doom.

How mad and monstrous it all seemed!  Could it be that written on his
hand, in characters that he could not read himself, but that another
could decipher, was some fearful secret of sin, some blood-red sign of
crime?  Was there no escape possible?  Were we no better than chessmen,
moved by an unseen power, vessels the potter fashions at his fancy, for
honour or for shame?  His reason revolted against it, and yet he felt
that some tragedy was hanging over him, and that he had been suddenly
called upon to bear an intolerable burden.  Actors are so fortunate.
They can choose whether they will appear in tragedy or in comedy, whether
they will suffer or make merry, laugh or shed tears.  But in real life it
is different.  Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which
they have no qualifications.  Our Guildensterns play Hamlet for us, and
our Hamlets have to jest like Prince Hal.  The world is a stage, but the
play is badly cast.

Suddenly Mr. Podgers entered the room.  When he saw Lord Arthur he
started, and his coarse, fat face became a sort of greenish-yellow
colour.  The two men’s eyes met, and for a moment there was silence.

‘The Duchess has left one of her gloves here, Lord Arthur, and has asked
me to bring it to her,’ said Mr. Podgers finally.  ‘Ah, I see it on the
sofa!  Good evening.’

‘Mr. Podgers, I must insist on your giving me a straightforward answer to
a question I am going to put to you.’

‘Another time, Lord Arthur, but the Duchess is anxious.  I am afraid I
must go.’

‘You shall not go.  The Duchess is in no hurry.’

‘Ladies should not be kept waiting, Lord Arthur,’ said Mr. Podgers, with
his sickly smile.  ‘The fair sex is apt to be impatient.’

Lord Arthur’s finely-chiselled lips curled in petulant disdain.  The poor
Duchess seemed to him of very little importance at that moment.  He
walked across the room to where Mr. Podgers was standing, and held his
hand out.

‘Tell me what you saw there,’ he said.  ‘Tell me the truth.  I must know
it.  I am not a child.’

Mr. Podgers’s eyes blinked behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, and he
moved uneasily from one foot to the other, while his fingers played
nervously with a flash watch-chain.

‘What makes you think that I saw anything in your hand, Lord Arthur, more
than I told you?’

‘I know you did, and I insist on your telling me what it was.  I will pay
you.  I will give you a cheque for a hundred pounds.’

The green eyes flashed for a moment, and then became dull again.

‘Guineas?’ said Mr. Podgers at last, in a low voice.

‘Certainly.  I will send you a cheque to-morrow.  What is your club?’

‘I have no club.  That is to say, not just at present.  My address is—,
but allow me to give you my card’; and producing a bit of gilt-edge
pasteboard from his waistcoat pocket, Mr. Podgers handed it, with a low
bow, to Lord Arthur, who read on it,

                          _Mr. SEPTIMUS R. PODGERS_
                         _Professional Cheiromantist_
                          103_a_ _West Moon Street_

‘My hours are from ten to four,’ murmured Mr. Podgers mechanically, ‘and
I make a reduction for families.’

‘Be quick,’ cried Lord Arthur, looking very pale, and holding his hand
out.

Mr. Podgers glanced nervously round, and drew the heavy _portière_ across
the door.

‘It will take a little time, Lord Arthur, you had better sit down.’

‘Be quick, sir,’ cried Lord Arthur again, stamping his foot angrily on
the polished floor.

Mr. Podgers smiled, drew from his breast-pocket a small magnifying glass,
and wiped it carefully with his handkerchief.

‘I am quite ready,’ he said.



CHAPTER II


TEN minutes later, with face blanched by terror, and eyes wild with
grief, Lord Arthur Savile rushed from Bentinck House, crushing his way
through the crowd of fur-coated footmen that stood round the large
striped awning, and seeming not to see or hear anything.  The night was
bitter cold, and the gas-lamps round the square flared and flickered in
the keen wind; but his hands were hot with fever, and his forehead burned
like fire.  On and on he went, almost with the gait of a drunken man.  A
policeman looked curiously at him as he passed, and a beggar, who
slouched from an archway to ask for alms, grew frightened, seeing misery
greater than his own.  Once he stopped under a lamp, and looked at his
hands.  He thought he could detect the stain of blood already upon them,
and a faint cry broke from his trembling lips.

Murder! that is what the cheiromantist had seen there.  Murder!  The very
night seemed to know it, and the desolate wind to howl it in his ear.
The dark corners of the streets were full of it.  It grinned at him from
the roofs of the houses.

First he came to the Park, whose sombre woodland seemed to fascinate him.
He leaned wearily up against the railings, cooling his brow against the
wet metal, and listening to the tremulous silence of the trees.  ‘Murder!
murder!’ he kept repeating, as though iteration could dim the horror of
the word.  The sound of his own voice made him shudder, yet he almost
hoped that Echo might hear him, and wake the slumbering city from its
dreams.  He felt a mad desire to stop the casual passer-by, and tell him
everything.

Then he wandered across Oxford Street into narrow, shameful alleys.  Two
women with painted faces mocked at him as he went by.  From a dark
courtyard came a sound of oaths and blows, followed by shrill screams,
and, huddled upon a damp door-step, he saw the crook-backed forms of
poverty and eld.  A strange pity came over him.  Were these children of
sin and misery predestined to their end, as he to his?  Were they, like
him, merely the puppets of a monstrous show?

And yet it was not the mystery, but the comedy of suffering that struck
him; its absolute uselessness, its grotesque want of meaning.  How
incoherent everything seemed!  How lacking in all harmony!  He was amazed
at the discord between the shallow optimism of the day, and the real
facts of existence.  He was still very young.

After a time he found himself in front of Marylebone Church.  The silent
roadway looked like a long riband of polished silver, flecked here and
there by the dark arabesques of waving shadows.  Far into the distance
curved the line of flickering gas-lamps, and outside a little walled-in
house stood a solitary hansom, the driver asleep inside.  He walked
hastily in the direction of Portland Place, now and then looking round,
as though he feared that he was being followed.  At the corner of Rich
Street stood two men, reading a small bill upon a hoarding.  An odd
feeling of curiosity stirred him, and he crossed over.  As he came near,
the word ‘Murder,’ printed in black letters, met his eye.  He started,
and a deep flush came into his cheek.  It was an advertisement offering a
reward for any information leading to the arrest of a man of medium
height, between thirty and forty years of age, wearing a billy-cock hat,
a black coat, and check trousers, and with a scar upon his right cheek.
He read it over and over again, and wondered if the wretched man would be
caught, and how he had been scarred.  Perhaps, some day, his own name
might be placarded on the walls of London.  Some day, perhaps, a price
would be set on his head also.

The thought made him sick with horror.  He turned on his heel, and
hurried on into the night.

Where he went he hardly knew.  He had a dim memory of wandering through a
labyrinth of sordid houses, of being lost in a giant web of sombre
streets, and it was bright dawn when he found himself at last in
Piccadilly Circus.  As he strolled home towards Belgrave Square, he met
the great waggons on their way to Covent Garden.  The white-smocked
carters, with their pleasant sunburnt faces and coarse curly hair, strode
sturdily on, cracking their whips, and calling out now and then to each
other; on the back of a huge grey horse, the leader of a jangling team,
sat a chubby boy, with a bunch of primroses in his battered hat, keeping
tight hold of the mane with his little hands, and laughing; and the great
piles of vegetables looked like masses of jade against the morning sky,
like masses of green jade against the pink petals of some marvellous
rose.  Lord Arthur felt curiously affected, he could not tell why.  There
was something in the dawn’s delicate loveliness that seemed to him
inexpressibly pathetic, and he thought of all the days that break in
beauty, and that set in storm.  These rustics, too, with their rough,
good-humoured voices, and their nonchalant ways, what a strange London
they saw!  A London free from the sin of night and the smoke of day, a
pallid, ghost-like city, a desolate town of tombs!  He wondered what they
thought of it, and whether they knew anything of its splendour and its
shame, of its fierce, fiery-coloured joys, and its horrible hunger, of
all it makes and mars from morn to eve.  Probably it was to them merely a
mart where they brought their fruits to sell, and where they tarried for
a few hours at most, leaving the streets still silent, the houses still
asleep.  It gave him pleasure to watch them as they went by.  Rude as
they were, with their heavy, hob-nailed shoes, and their awkward gait,
they brought a little of a ready with them.  He felt that they had lived
with Nature, and that she had taught them peace.  He envied them all that
they did not know.

By the time he had reached Belgrave Square the sky was a faint blue, and
the birds were beginning to twitter in the gardens.



CHAPTER III


WHEN Lord Arthur woke it was twelve o’clock, and the midday sun was
streaming through the ivory-silk curtains of his room.  He got up and
looked out of the window.  A dim haze of heat was hanging over the great
city, and the roofs of the houses were like dull silver.  In the
flickering green of the square below some children were flitting about
like white butterflies, and the pavement was crowded with people on their
way to the Park.  Never had life seemed lovelier to him, never had the
things of evil seemed more remote.

Then his valet brought him a cup of chocolate on a tray.  After he had
drunk it, he drew aside a heavy _portière_ of peach-coloured plush, and
passed into the bathroom.  The light stole softly from above, through
thin slabs of transparent onyx, and the water in the marble tank
glimmered like a moonstone.  He plunged hastily in, till the cool ripples
touched throat and hair, and then dipped his head right under, as though
he would have wiped away the stain of some shameful memory.  When he
stepped out he felt almost at peace.  The exquisite physical conditions
of the moment had dominated him, as indeed often happens in the case of
very finely-wrought natures, for the senses, like fire, can purify as
well as destroy.

After breakfast, he flung himself down on a divan, and lit a cigarette.
On the mantel-shelf, framed in dainty old brocade, stood a large
photograph of Sybil Merton, as he had seen her first at Lady Noel’s ball.
The small, exquisitely-shaped head drooped slightly to one side, as
though the thin, reed-like throat could hardly bear the burden of so much
beauty; the lips were slightly parted, and seemed made for sweet music;
and all the tender purity of girlhood looked out in wonder from the
dreaming eyes.  With her soft, clinging dress of _crêpe-de-chine_, and
her large leaf-shaped fan, she looked like one of those delicate little
figures men find in the olive-woods near Tanagra; and there was a touch
of Greek grace in her pose and attitude.  Yet she was not _petite_.  She
was simply perfectly proportioned—a rare thing in an age when so many
women are either over life-size or insignificant.

Now as Lord Arthur looked at her, he was filled with the terrible pity
that is born of love.  He felt that to marry her, with the doom of murder
hanging over his head, would be a betrayal like that of Judas, a sin
worse than any the Borgia had ever dreamed of.  What happiness could
there be for them, when at any moment he might be called upon to carry
out the awful prophecy written in his hand?  What manner of life would be
theirs while Fate still held this fearful fortune in the scales?  The
marriage must be postponed, at all costs.  Of this he was quite resolved.
Ardently though he loved the girl, and the mere touch of her fingers,
when they sat together, made each nerve of his body thrill with exquisite
joy, he recognised none the less clearly where his duty lay, and was
fully conscious of the fact that he had no right to marry until he had
committed the murder.  This done, he could stand before the altar with
Sybil Merton, and give his life into her hands without terror of
wrongdoing.  This done, he could take her to his arms, knowing that she
would never have to blush for him, never have to hang her head in shame.
But done it must be first; and the sooner the better for both.

Many men in his position would have preferred the primrose path of
dalliance to the steep heights of duty; but Lord Arthur was too
conscientious to set pleasure above principle.  There was more than mere
passion in his love; and Sybil was to him a symbol of all that is good
and noble.  For a moment he had a natural repugnance against what he was
asked to do, but it soon passed away.  His heart told him that it was not
a sin, but a sacrifice; his reason reminded him that there was no other
course open.  He had to choose between living for himself and living for
others, and terrible though the task laid upon him undoubtedly was, yet
he knew that he must not suffer selfishness to triumph over love.  Sooner
or later we are all called upon to decide on the same issue—of us all,
the same question is asked.  To Lord Arthur it came early in life—before
his nature had been spoiled by the calculating cynicism of middle-age, or
his heart corroded by the shallow, fashionable egotism of our day, and he
felt no hesitation about doing his duty.  Fortunately also, for him, he
was no mere dreamer, or idle dilettante.  Had he been so, he would have
hesitated, like Hamlet, and let irresolution mar his purpose.  But he was
essentially practical.  Life to him meant action, rather than thought.
He had that rarest of all things, common sense.

The wild, turbid feelings of the previous night had by this time
completely passed away, and it was almost with a sense of shame that he
looked back upon his mad wanderings from street to street, his fierce
emotional agony.  The very sincerity of his sufferings made them seem
unreal to him now.  He wondered how he could have been so foolish as to
rant and rave about the inevitable.  The only question that seemed to
trouble him was, whom to make away with; for he was not blind to the fact
that murder, like the religions of the Pagan world, requires a victim as
well as a priest.  Not being a genius, he had no enemies, and indeed he
felt that this was not the time for the gratification of any personal
pique or dislike, the mission in which he was engaged being one of great
and grave solemnity.  He accordingly made out a list of his friends and
relatives on a sheet of notepaper, and after careful consideration,
decided in favour of Lady Clementina Beauchamp, a dear old lady who lived
in Curzon Street, and was his own second cousin by his mother’s side.  He
had always been very fond of Lady Clem, as every one called her, and as
he was very wealthy himself, having come into all Lord Rugby’s property
when he came of age, there was no possibility of his deriving any vulgar
monetary advantage by her death.  In fact, the more he thought over the
matter, the more she seemed to him to be just the right person, and,
feeling that any delay would be unfair to Sybil, he determined to make
his arrangements at once.

The first thing to be done was, of course, to settle with the
cheiromantist; so he sat down at a small Sheraton writing-table that
stood near the window, drew a cheque for £105, payable to the order of
Mr. Septimus Podgers, and, enclosing it in an envelope, told his valet to
take it to West Moon Street.  He then telephoned to the stables for his
hansom, and dressed to go out.  As he was leaving the room he looked back
at Sybil Merton’s photograph, and swore that, come what may, he would
never let her know what he was doing for her sake, but would keep the
secret of his self-sacrifice hidden always in his heart.

On his way to the Buckingham, he stopped at a florist’s, and sent Sybil a
beautiful basket of narcissus, with lovely white petals and staring
pheasants’ eyes, and on arriving at the club, went straight to the
library, rang the bell, and ordered the waiter to bring him a
lemon-and-soda, and a book on Toxicology.  He had fully decided that
poison was the best means to adopt in this troublesome business.
Anything like personal violence was extremely distasteful to him, and
besides, he was very anxious not to murder Lady Clementina in any way
that might attract public attention, as he hated the idea of being
lionised at Lady Windermere’s, or seeing his name figuring in the
paragraphs of vulgar society—newspapers.  He had also to think of Sybil’s
father and mother, who were rather old-fashioned people, and might
possibly object to the marriage if there was anything like a scandal,
though he felt certain that if he told them the whole facts of the case
they would be the very first to appreciate the motives that had actuated
him.  He had every reason, then, to decide in favour of poison.  It was
safe, sure, and quiet, and did away with any necessity for painful
scenes, to which, like most Englishmen, he had a rooted objection.

Of the science of poisons, however, he knew absolutely nothing, and as
the waiter seemed quite unable to find anything in the library but
_Ruff’s Guide_ and _Bailey’s Magazine_, he examined the book-shelves
himself, and finally came across a handsomely-bound edition of the
_Pharmacopoeia_, and a copy of Erskine’s _Toxicology_, edited by Sir
Mathew Reid, the President of the Royal College of Physicians, and one of
the oldest members of the Buckingham, having been elected in mistake for
somebody else; a _contretemps_ that so enraged the Committee, that when
the real man came up they black-balled him unanimously.  Lord Arthur was
a good deal puzzled at the technical terms used in both books, and had
begun to regret that he had not paid more attention to his classics at
Oxford, when in the second volume of Erskine, he found a very interesting
and complete account of the properties of aconitine, written in fairly
clear English.  It seemed to him to be exactly the poison he wanted.  It
was swift—indeed, almost immediate, in its effect—perfectly painless, and
when taken in the form of a gelatine capsule, the mode recommended by Sir
Mathew, not by any means unpalatable.  He accordingly made a note, upon
his shirt-cuff, of the amount necessary for a fatal dose, put the books
back in their places, and strolled up St. James’s Street, to Pestle and
Humbey’s, the great chemists.  Mr. Pestle, who always attended personally
on the aristocracy, was a good deal surprised at the order, and in a very
deferential manner murmured something about a medical certificate being
necessary.  However, as soon as Lord Arthur explained to him that it was
for a large Norwegian mastiff that he was obliged to get rid of, as it
showed signs of incipient rabies, and had already bitten the coachman
twice in the calf of the leg, he expressed himself as being perfectly
satisfied, complimented Lord Arthur on his wonderful knowledge of
Toxicology, and had the prescription made up immediately.

Lord Arthur put the capsule into a pretty little silver _bonbonnière_
that he saw in a shop window in Bond Street, threw away Pestle and
Hambey’s ugly pill-box, and drove off at once to Lady Clementina’s.

‘Well, _monsieur le mauvais sujet_,’ cried the old lady, as he entered
the room, ‘why haven’t you been to see me all this time?’

‘My dear Lady Clem, I never have a moment to myself,’ said Lord Arthur,
smiling.

‘I suppose you mean that you go about all day long with Miss Sybil
Merton, buying _chiffons_ and talking nonsense?  I cannot understand why
people make such a fuss about being married.  In my day we never dreamed
of billing and cooing in public, or in private for that matter.’

‘I assure you I have not seen Sybil for twenty-four hours, Lady Clem.  As
far as I can make out, she belongs entirely to her milliners.’

‘Of course; that is the only reason you come to see an ugly old woman
like myself.  I wonder you men don’t take warning.  _On a fait des folies
pour moi_, and here I am, a poor rheumatic creature, with a false front
and a bad temper.  Why, if it were not for dear Lady Jansen, who sends me
all the worst French novels she can find, I don’t think I could get
through the day.  Doctors are no use at all, except to get fees out of
one.  They can’t even cure my heartburn.’

‘I have brought you a cure for that, Lady Clem,’ said Lord Arthur
gravely.  ‘It is a wonderful thing, invented by an American.’

‘I don’t think I like American inventions, Arthur.  I am quite sure I
don’t.  I read some American novels lately, and they were quite
nonsensical.’

‘Oh, but there is no nonsense at all about this, Lady Clem!  I assure you
it is a perfect cure.  You must promise to try it’; and Lord Arthur
brought the little box out of his pocket, and handed it to her.

‘Well, the box is charming, Arthur.  Is it really a present?  That is
very sweet of you.  And is this the wonderful medicine?  It looks like a
_bonbon_.  I’ll take it at once.’

‘Good heavens!  Lady Clem,’ cried Lord Arthur, catching hold of her hand,
‘you mustn’t do anything of the kind.  It is a homoeopathic medicine, and
if you take it without having heartburn, it might do you no end of harm.
Wait till you have an attack, and take it then.  You will be astonished
at the result.’

‘I should like to take it now,’ said Lady Clementina, holding up to the
light the little transparent capsule, with its floating bubble of liquid
aconitine.  I am sure it is delicious.  The fact is that, though I hate
doctors, I love medicines.  However, I’ll keep it till my next attack.’

‘And when will that be?’ asked Lord Arthur eagerly.  ‘Will it be soon?’

‘I hope not for a week.  I had a very bad time yesterday morning with it.
But one never knows.’

‘You are sure to have one before the end of the month then, Lady Clem?’

‘I am afraid so.  But how sympathetic you are to-day, Arthur!  Really,
Sybil has done you a great deal of good.  And now you must run away, for
I am dining with some very dull people, who won’t talk scandal, and I
know that if I don’t get my sleep now I shall never be able to keep awake
during dinner.  Good-bye, Arthur, give my love to Sybil, and thank you so
much for the American medicine.’

‘You won’t forget to take it, Lady Clem, will you?’ said Lord Arthur,
rising from his seat.

‘Of course I won’t, you silly boy.  I think it is most kind of you to
think of me, and I shall write and tell you if I want any more.’

Lord Arthur left the house in high spirits, and with a feeling of immense
relief.

That night he had an interview with Sybil Merton.  He told her how he had
been suddenly placed in a position of terrible difficulty, from which
neither honour nor duty would allow him to recede.  He told her that the
marriage must be put off for the present, as until he had got rid of his
fearful entanglements, he was not a free man.  He implored her to trust
him, and not to have any doubts about the future.  Everything would come
right, but patience was necessary.

The scene took place in the conservatory of Mr. Merton’s house, in Park
Lane, where Lord Arthur had dined as usual.  Sybil had never seemed more
happy, and for a moment Lord Arthur had been tempted to play the coward’s
part, to write to Lady Clementina for the pill, and to let the marriage
go on as if there was no such person as Mr. Podgers in the world.  His
better nature, however, soon asserted itself, and even when Sybil flung
herself weeping into his arms, he did not falter.  The beauty that
stirred his senses had touched his conscience also.  He felt that to
wreck so fair a life for the sake of a few months’ pleasure would be a
wrong thing to do.

He stayed with Sybil till nearly midnight, comforting her and being
comforted in turn, and early the next morning he left for Venice, after
writing a manly, firm letter to Mr. Merton about the necessary
postponement of the marriage.



CHAPTER IV


IN Venice he met his brother, Lord Surbiton, who happened to have come
over from Corfu in his yacht.  The two young men spent a delightful
fortnight together.  In the morning they rode on the Lido, or glided up
and down the green canals in their long black gondola; in the afternoon
they usually entertained visitors on the yacht; and in the evening they
dined at Florian’s, and smoked innumerable cigarettes on the Piazza.  Yet
somehow Lord Arthur was not happy.  Every day he studied the obituary
column in the _Times_, expecting to see a notice of Lady Clementina’s
death, but every day he was disappointed.  He began to be afraid that
some accident had happened to her, and often regretted that he had
prevented her taking the aconitine when she had been so anxious to try
its effect.  Sybil’s letters, too, though full of love, and trust, and
tenderness, were often very sad in their tone, and sometimes he used to
think that he was parted from her for ever.

After a fortnight Lord Surbiton got bored with Venice, and determined to
run down the coast to Ravenna, as he heard that there was some capital
cock-shooting in the Pinetum.  Lord Arthur at first refused absolutely to
come, but Surbiton, of whom he was extremely fond, finally persuaded him
that if he stayed at Danieli’s by himself he would be moped to death, and
on the morning of the 15th they started, with a strong nor’-east wind
blowing, and a rather choppy sea.  The sport was excellent, and the free,
open-air life brought the colour back to Lord Arthur’s cheek, but about
the 22nd he became anxious about Lady Clementina, and, in spite of
Surbiton’s remonstrances, came back to Venice by train.

As he stepped out of his gondola on to the hotel steps, the proprietor
came forward to meet him with a sheaf of telegrams.  Lord Arthur snatched
them out of his hand, and tore them open.  Everything had been
successful.  Lady Clementina had died quite suddenly on the night of the
17th!

His first thought was for Sybil, and he sent her off a telegram
announcing his immediate return to London.  He then ordered his valet to
pack his things for the night mail, sent his gondoliers about five times
their proper fare, and ran up to his sitting-room with a light step and a
buoyant heart.  There he found three letters waiting for him.  One was
from Sybil herself, full of sympathy and condolence.  The others were
from his mother, and from Lady Clementina’s solicitor.  It seemed that
the old lady had dined with the Duchess that very night, had delighted
every one by her wit and _esprit_, but had gone home somewhat early,
complaining of heartburn.  In the morning she was found dead in her bed,
having apparently suffered no pain.  Sir Mathew Reid had been sent for at
once, but, of course, there was nothing to be done, and she was to be
buried on the 22nd at Beauchamp Chalcote.  A few days before she died she
had made her will, and left Lord Arthur her little house in Curzon
Street, and all her furniture, personal effects, and pictures, with the
exception of her collection of miniatures, which was to go to her sister,
Lady Margaret Rufford, and her amethyst necklace, which Sybil Merton was
to have.  The property was not of much value; but Mr. Mansfield, the
solicitor, was extremely anxious for Lord Arthur to return at once, if
possible, as there were a great many bills to be paid, and Lady
Clementina had never kept any regular accounts.

Lord Arthur was very much touched by Lady Clementina’s kind remembrance
of him, and felt that Mr. Podgers had a great deal to answer for.  His
love of Sybil, however, dominated every other emotion, and the
consciousness that he had done his duty gave him peace and comfort.  When
he arrived at Charing Cross, he felt perfectly happy.

The Mertons received him very kindly.  Sybil made him promise that he
would never again allow anything to come between them, and the marriage
was fixed for the 7th June.  Life seemed to him once more bright and
beautiful, and all his old gladness came back to him again.

One day, however, as he was going over the house in Curzon Street, in
company with Lady Clementina’s solicitor and Sybil herself, burning
packages of faded letters, and turning out drawers of odd rubbish, the
young girl suddenly gave a little cry of delight.

‘What have you found, Sybil?’ said Lord Arthur, looking up from his work,
and smiling.

‘This lovely little silver _bonbonnière_, Arthur.  Isn’t it quaint and
Dutch?  Do give it to me!  I know amethysts won’t become me till I am
over eighty.’

It was the box that had held the aconitine.

Lord Arthur started, and a faint blush came into his cheek.  He had
almost entirely forgotten what he had done, and it seemed to him a
curious coincidence that Sybil, for whose sake he had gone through all
that terrible anxiety, should have been the first to remind him of it.

‘Of course you can have it, Sybil.  I gave it to poor Lady Clem myself.’

‘Oh! thank you, Arthur; and may I have the _bonbon_ too?  I had no notion
that Lady Clementina liked sweets.  I thought she was far too
intellectual.’

Lord Arthur grew deadly pale, and a horrible idea crossed his mind.

‘_Bonbon_, Sybil?  What do you mean?’ he said in a slow, hoarse voice.

‘There is one in it, that is all.  It looks quite old and dusty, and I
have not the slightest intention of eating it.  What is the matter,
Arthur?  How white you look!’

Lord Arthur rushed across the room, and seized the box.  Inside it was
the amber-coloured capsule, with its poison-bubble.  Lady Clementina had
died a natural death after all!

The shock of the discovery was almost too much for him.  He flung the
capsule into the fire, and sank on the sofa with a cry of despair.



CHAPTER V


MR. Merton was a good deal distressed at the second postponement of the
marriage, and Lady Julia, who had already ordered her dress for the
wedding, did all in her power to make Sybil break off the match.  Dearly,
however, as Sybil loved her mother, she had given her whole life into
Lord Arthur’s hands, and nothing that Lady Julia could say could make her
waver in her faith.  As for Lord Arthur himself, it took him days to get
over his terrible disappointment, and for a time his nerves were
completely unstrung.  His excellent common sense, however, soon asserted
itself, and his sound, practical mind did not leave him long in doubt
about what to do.  Poison having proved a complete failure, dynamite, or
some other form of explosive, was obviously the proper thing to try.

He accordingly looked again over the list of his friends and relatives,
and, after careful consideration, determined to blow up his uncle, the
Dean of Chichester.  The Dean, who was a man of great culture and
learning, was extremely fond of clocks, and had a wonderful collection of
timepieces, ranging from the fifteenth century to the present day, and it
seemed to Lord Arthur that this hobby of the good Dean’s offered him an
excellent opportunity for carrying out his scheme.  Where to procure an
explosive machine was, of course, quite another matter.  The London
Directory gave him no information on the point, and he felt that there
was very little use in going to Scotland Yard about it, as they never
seemed to know anything about the movements of the dynamite faction till
after an explosion had taken place, and not much even then.

Suddenly he thought of his friend Rouvaloff, a young Russian of very
revolutionary tendencies, whom he had met at Lady Windermere’s in the
winter.  Count Rouvaloff was supposed to be writing a life of Peter the
Great, and to have come over to England for the purpose of studying the
documents relating to that Tsar’s residence in this country as a ship
carpenter; but it was generally suspected that he was a Nihilist agent,
and there was no doubt that the Russian Embassy did not look with any
favour upon his presence in London.  Lord Arthur felt that he was just
the man for his purpose, and drove down one morning to his lodgings in
Bloomsbury, to ask his advice and assistance.

‘So you are taking up politics seriously?’ said Count Rouvaloff, when
Lord Arthur had told him the object of his mission; but Lord Arthur, who
hated swagger of any kind, felt bound to admit to him that he had not the
slightest interest in social questions, and simply wanted the explosive
machine for a purely family matter, in which no one was concerned but
himself.

Count Rouvaloff looked at him for some moments in amazement, and then
seeing that he was quite serious, wrote an address on a piece of paper,
initialled it, and handed it to him across the table.

‘Scotland Yard would give a good deal to know this address, my dear
fellow.’

‘They shan’t have it,’ cried Lord Arthur, laughing; and after shaking the
young Russian warmly by the hand he ran downstairs, examined the paper,
and told the coachman to drive to Soho Square.

There he dismissed him, and strolled down Greek Street, till he came to a
place called Bayle’s Court.  He passed under the archway, and found
himself in a curious _cul-de-sac_, that was apparently occupied by a
French Laundry, as a perfect network of clothes-lines was stretched
across from house to house, and there was a flutter of white linen in the
morning air.  He walked right to the end, and knocked at a little green
house.  After some delay, during which every window in the court became a
blurred mass of peering faces, the door was opened by a rather
rough-looking foreigner, who asked him in very bad English what his
business was.  Lord Arthur handed him the paper Count Rouvaloff had given
him.  When the man saw it he bowed, and invited Lord Arthur into a very
shabby front parlour on the ground floor, and in a few moments Herr
Winckelkopf, as he was called in England, bustled into the room, with a
very wine-stained napkin round his neck, and a fork in his left hand.

‘Count Rouvaloff has given me an introduction to you,’ said Lord Arthur,
bowing, ‘and I am anxious to have a short interview with you on a matter
of business.  My name is Smith, Mr. Robert Smith, and I want you to
supply me with an explosive clock.’

‘Charmed to meet you, Lord Arthur,’ said the genial little German,
laughing.  ‘Don’t look so alarmed, it is my duty to know everybody, and I
remember seeing you one evening at Lady Windermere’s.  I hope her
ladyship is quite well.  Do you mind sitting with me while I finish my
breakfast?  There is an excellent _pâté_, and my friends are kind enough
to say that my Rhine wine is better than any they get at the German
Embassy,’ and before Lord Arthur had got over his surprise at being
recognised, he found himself seated in the back-room, sipping the most
delicious Marcobrünner out of a pale yellow hock-glass marked with the
Imperial monogram, and chatting in the friendliest manner possible to the
famous conspirator.

‘Explosive clocks,’ said Herr Winckelkopf, ‘are not very good things for
foreign exportation, as, even if they succeed in passing the Custom
House, the train service is so irregular, that they usually go off before
they have reached their proper destination.  If, however, you want one
for home use, I can supply you with an excellent article, and guarantee
that you will he satisfied with the result.  May I ask for whom it is
intended?  If it is for the police, or for any one connected with
Scotland Yard, I am afraid I cannot do anything for you.  The English
detectives are really our best friends, and I have always found that by
relying on their stupidity, we can do exactly what we like.  I could not
spare one of them.’

‘I assure you,’ said Lord Arthur, ‘that it has nothing to do with the
police at all.  In fact, the clock is intended for the Dean of
Chichester.’

‘Dear me!  I had no idea that you felt so strongly about religion, Lord
Arthur.  Few young men do nowadays.’

‘I am afraid you overrate me, Herr Winckelkopf,’ said Lord Arthur,
blushing.  ‘The fact is, I really know nothing about theology.’

‘It is a purely private matter then?’

‘Purely private.’

Herr Winckelkopf shrugged his shoulders, and left the room, returning in
a few minutes with a round cake of dynamite about the size of a penny,
and a pretty little French clock, surmounted by an ormolu figure of
Liberty trampling on the hydra of Despotism.

Lord Arthur’s face brightened up when he saw it.  ‘That is just what I
want,’ he cried, ‘and now tell me how it goes off.’

‘Ah! there is my secret,’ answered Herr Winckelkopf, contemplating his
invention with a justifiable look of pride; ‘let me know when you wish it
to explode, and I will set the machine to the moment.’

‘Well, to-day is Tuesday, and if you could send it off at once—’

‘That is impossible; I have a great deal of important work on hand for
some friends of mine in Moscow.  Still, I might send it off to-morrow.’

‘Oh, it will be quite time enough!’ said Lord Arthur politely, ‘if it is
delivered to-morrow night or Thursday morning.  For the moment of the
explosion, say Friday at noon exactly.  The Dean is always at home at
that hour.’

‘Friday, at noon,’ repeated Herr Winckelkopf, and he made a note to that
effect in a large ledger that was lying on a bureau near the fireplace.

‘And now,’ said Lord Arthur, rising from his seat, ‘pray let me know how
much I am in your debt.’

‘It is such a small matter, Lord Arthur, that I do not care to make any
charge.  The dynamite comes to seven and sixpence, the clock will be
three pounds ten, and the carriage about five shillings.  I am only too
pleased to oblige any friend of Count Rouvaloff’s.’

‘But your trouble, Herr Winckelkopf?’

‘Oh, that is nothing!  It is a pleasure to me.  I do not work for money;
I live entirely for my art.’

Lord Arthur laid down £4, 2s. 6d. on the table, thanked the little German
for his kindness, and, having succeeded in declining an invitation to
meet some Anarchists at a meat-tea on the following Saturday, left the
house and went off to the Park.

For the next two days he was in a state of the greatest excitement, and
on Friday at twelve o’clock he drove down to the Buckingham to wait for
news.  All the afternoon the stolid hall-porter kept posting up telegrams
from various parts of the country giving the results of horse-races, the
verdicts in divorce suits, the state of the weather, and the like, while
the tape ticked out wearisome details about an all-night sitting in the
House of Commons, and a small panic on the Stock Exchange.  At four
o’clock the evening papers came in, and Lord Arthur disappeared into the
library with the _Pall Mall_, the _St. James’s_, the _Globe_, and the
_Echo_, to the immense indignation of Colonel Goodchild, who wanted to
read the reports of a speech he had delivered that morning at the Mansion
House, on the subject of South African Missions, and the advisability of
having black Bishops in every province, and for some reason or other had
a strong prejudice against the _Evening News_.  None of the papers,
however, contained even the slightest allusion to Chichester, and Lord
Arthur felt that the attempt must have failed.  It was a terrible blow to
him, and for a time he was quite unnerved.  Herr Winckelkopf, whom he
went to see the next day was full of elaborate apologies, and offered to
supply him with another clock free of charge, or with a case of
nitro-glycerine bombs at cost price.  But he had lost all faith in
explosives, and Herr Winckelkopf himself acknowledged that everything is
so adulterated nowadays, that even dynamite can hardly be got in a pure
condition.  The little German, however, while admitting that something
must have gone wrong with the machinery, was not without hope that the
clock might still go off, and instanced the case of a barometer that he
had once sent to the military Governor at Odessa, which, though timed to
explode in ten days, had not done so for something like three months.  It
was quite true that when it did go off, it merely succeeded in blowing a
housemaid to atoms, the Governor having gone out of town six weeks
before, but at least it showed that dynamite, as a destructive force,
was, when under the control of machinery, a powerful, though a somewhat
unpunctual agent.  Lord Arthur was a little consoled by this reflection,
but even here he was destined to disappointment, for two days afterwards,
as he was going upstairs, the Duchess called him into her boudoir, and
showed him a letter she had just received from the Deanery.

‘Jane writes charming letters,’ said the Duchess; ‘you must really read
her last.  It is quite as good as the novels Mudie sends us.’

Lord Arthur seized the letter from her hand.  It ran as follows:—

                                                  THE DEANERY, CHICHESTER,
                                                             27_th_ _May_.

    My Dearest Aunt,

    Thank you so much for the flannel for the Dorcas Society, and also
    for the gingham.  I quite agree with you that it is nonsense their
    wanting to wear pretty things, but everybody is so Radical and
    irreligious nowadays, that it is difficult to make them see that they
    should not try and dress like the upper classes.  I am sure I don’t
    know what we are coming to.  As papa has often said in his sermons,
    we live in an age of unbelief.

    We have had great fun over a clock that an unknown admirer sent papa
    last Thursday.  It arrived in a wooden box from London, carriage
    paid, and papa feels it must have been sent by some one who had read
    his remarkable sermon, ‘Is Licence Liberty?’ for on the top of the
    clock was a figure of a woman, with what papa said was the cap of
    Liberty on her head.  I didn’t think it very becoming myself, but
    papa said it was historical, so I suppose it is all right.  Parker
    unpacked it, and papa put it on the mantelpiece in the library, and
    we were all sitting there on Friday morning, when just as the clock
    struck twelve, we heard a whirring noise, a little puff of smoke came
    from the pedestal of the figure, and the goddess of Liberty fell off,
    and broke her nose on the fender!  Maria was quite alarmed, but it
    looked so ridiculous, that James and I went off into fits of
    laughter, and even papa was amused.  When we examined it, we found it
    was a sort of alarum clock, and that, if you set it to a particular
    hour, and put some gunpowder and a cap under a little hammer, it went
    off whenever you wanted.  Papa said it must not remain in the
    library, as it made a noise, so Reggie carried it away to the
    schoolroom, and does nothing but have small explosions all day long.
    Do you think Arthur would like one for a wedding present?  I suppose
    they are quite fashionable in London.  Papa says they should do a
    great deal of good, as they show that Liberty can’t last, but must
    fall down.  Papa says Liberty was invented at the time of the French
    Revolution.  How awful it seems!

    I have now to go to the Dorcas, where I will read them your most
    instructive letter.  How true, dear aunt, your idea is, that in their
    rank of life they should wear what is unbecoming.  I must say it is
    absurd, their anxiety about dress, when there are so many more
    important things in this world, and in the next.  I am so glad your
    flowered poplin turned out so well, and that your lace was not torn.
    I am wearing my yellow satin, that you so kindly gave me, at the
    Bishop’s on Wednesday, and think it will look all right.  Would you
    have bows or not?  Jennings says that every one wears bows now, and
    that the underskirt should be frilled.  Reggie has just had another
    explosion, and papa has ordered the clock to be sent to the stables.
    I don’t think papa likes it so much as he did at first, though he is
    very flattered at being sent such a pretty and ingenious toy.  It
    shows that people read his sermons, and profit by them.

    Papa sends his love, in which James, and Reggie, and Maria all unite,
    and, hoping that Uncle Cecil’s gout is better, believe me, dear aunt,
    ever your affectionate niece,

                                                               JANE PERCY.

    _PS._—Do tell me about the bows.  Jennings insists they are the
    fashion.

Lord Arthur looked so serious and unhappy over the letter, that the
Duchess went into fits of laughter.

‘My dear Arthur,’ she cried, ‘I shall never show you a young lady’s
letter again!  But what shall I say about the clock?  I think it is a
capital invention, and I should like to have one myself.’

‘I don’t think much of them,’ said Lord Arthur, with a sad smile, and,
after kissing his mother, he left the room.

When he got upstairs, he flung himself on a sofa, and his eyes filled
with tears.  He had done his best to commit this murder, but on both
occasions he had failed, and through no fault of his own.  He had tried
to do his duty, but it seemed as if Destiny herself had turned traitor.
He was oppressed with the sense of the barrenness of good intentions, of
the futility of trying to be fine.  Perhaps, it would be better to break
off the marriage altogether.  Sybil would suffer, it is true, but
suffering could not really mar a nature so noble as hers.  As for
himself, what did it matter?  There is always some war in which a man can
die, some cause to which a man can give his life, and as life had no
pleasure for him, so death had no terror.  Let Destiny work out his doom.
He would not stir to help her.

At half-past seven he dressed, and went down to the club.  Surbiton was
there with a party of young men, and he was obliged to dine with them.
Their trivial conversation and idle jests did not interest him, and as
soon as coffee was brought he left them, inventing some engagement in
order to get away.  As he was going out of the club, the hall-porter
handed him a letter.  It was from Herr Winckelkopf, asking him to call
down the next evening, and look at an explosive umbrella, that went off
as soon as it was opened.  It was the very latest invention, and had just
arrived from Geneva.  He tore the letter up into fragments.  He had made
up his mind not to try any more experiments.  Then he wandered down to
the Thames Embankment, and sat for hours by the river.  The moon peered
through a mane of tawny clouds, as if it were a lion’s eye, and
innumerable stars spangled the hollow vault, like gold dust powdered on a
purple dome.  Now and then a barge swung out into the turbid stream, and
floated away with the tide, and the railway signals changed from green to
scarlet as the trains ran shrieking across the bridge.  After some time,
twelve o’clock boomed from the tall tower at Westminster, and at each
stroke of the sonorous bell the night seemed to tremble.  Then the
railway lights went out, one solitary lamp left gleaming like a large
ruby on a giant mast, and the roar of the city became fainter.

At two o’clock he got up, and strolled towards Blackfriars.  How unreal
everything looked!  How like a strange dream!  The houses on the other
side of the river seemed built out of darkness.  One would have said that
silver and shadow had fashioned the world anew.  The huge dome of St.
Paul’s loomed like a bubble through the dusky air.

As he approached Cleopatra’s Needle he saw a man leaning over the
parapet, and as he came nearer the man looked up, the gas-light falling
full upon his face.

It was Mr. Podgers, the cheiromantist!  No one could mistake the fat,
flabby face, the gold-rimmed spectacles, the sickly feeble smile, the
sensual mouth.

Lord Arthur stopped.  A brilliant idea flashed across him, and he stole
softly up behind.  In a moment he had seized Mr. Podgers by the legs, and
flung him into the Thames.  There was a coarse oath, a heavy splash, and
all was still.  Lord Arthur looked anxiously over, but could see nothing
of the cheiromantist but a tall hat, pirouetting in an eddy of moonlit
water.  After a time it also sank, and no trace of Mr. Podgers was
visible.  Once he thought that he caught sight of the bulky misshapen
figure striking out for the staircase by the bridge, and a horrible
feeling of failure came over him, but it turned out to be merely a
reflection, and when the moon shone out from behind a cloud it passed
away.  At last he seemed to have realised the decree of destiny.  He
heaved a deep sigh of relief, and Sybil’s name came to his lips.

‘Have you dropped anything, sir?’ said a voice behind him suddenly.

He turned round, and saw a policeman with a bull’s-eye lantern.

‘Nothing of importance, sergeant,’ he answered, smiling, and hailing a
passing hansom, he jumped in, and told the man to drive to Belgrave
Square.

For the next few days he alternated between hope and fear.  There were
moments when he almost expected Mr. Podgers to walk into the room, and
yet at other times he felt that Fate could not be so unjust to him.
Twice he went to the cheiromantist’s address in West Moon Street, but he
could not bring himself to ring the bell.  He longed for certainty, and
was afraid of it.

Finally it came.  He was sitting in the smoking-room of the club having
tea, and listening rather wearily to Surbiton’s account of the last comic
song at the Gaiety, when the waiter came in with the evening papers.  He
took up the _St. James’s_, and was listlessly turning over its pages,
when this strange heading caught his eye:

                         SUICIDE OF A CHEIROMANTIST.

He turned pale with excitement, and began to read.  The paragraph ran as
follows:

    Yesterday morning, at seven o’clock, the body of Mr. Septimus R.
    Podgers, the eminent cheiromantist, was washed on shore at Greenwich,
    just in front of the Ship Hotel.  The unfortunate gentleman had been
    missing for some days, and considerable anxiety for his safety had
    been felt in cheiromantic circles.  It is supposed that he committed
    suicide under the influence of a temporary mental derangement, caused
    by overwork, and a verdict to that effect was returned this afternoon
    by the coroner’s jury.  Mr. Podgers had just completed an elaborate
    treatise on the subject of the Human Hand, that will shortly be
    published, when it will no doubt attract much attention.  The
    deceased was sixty-five years of age, and does not seem to have left
    any relations.

Lord Arthur rushed out of the club with the paper still in his hand, to
the immense amazement of the hall-porter, who tried in vain to stop him,
and drove at once to Park Lane.  Sybil saw him from the window, and
something told her that he was the bearer of good news.  She ran down to
meet him, and, when she saw his face, she knew that all was well.

‘My dear Sybil,’ cried Lord Arthur, ‘let us be married to-morrow!’

‘You foolish boy!  Why, the cake is not even ordered!’ said Sybil,
laughing through her tears.



CHAPTER VI


WHEN the wedding took place, some three weeks later, St. Peter’s was
crowded with a perfect mob of smart people.  The service was read in the
most impressive manner by the Dean of Chichester, and everybody agreed
that they had never seen a handsomer couple than the bride and
bridegroom.  They were more than handsome, however—they were happy.
Never for a single moment did Lord Arthur regret all that he had suffered
for Sybil’s sake, while she, on her side, gave him the best things a
woman can give to any man—worship, tenderness, and love.  For them
romance was not killed by reality.  They always felt young.

Some years afterwards, when two beautiful children had been born to them,
Lady Windermere came down on a visit to Alton Priory, a lovely old place,
that had been the Duke’s wedding present to his son; and one afternoon as
she was sitting with Lady Arthur under a lime-tree in the garden,
watching the little boy and girl as they played up and down the
rose-walk, like fitful sunbeams, she suddenly took her hostess’s hand in
hers, and said, ‘Are you happy, Sybil?’

‘Dear Lady Windermere, of course I am happy.  Aren’t you?’

‘I have no time to be happy, Sybil.  I always like the last person who is
introduced to me; but, as a rule, as soon as I know people I get tired of
them.’

‘Don’t your lions satisfy you, Lady Windermere?’

‘Oh dear, no! lions are only good for one season.  As soon as their manes
are cut, they are the dullest creatures going.  Besides, they behave very
badly, if you are really nice to them.  Do you remember that horrid Mr.
Podgers?  He was a dreadful impostor.  Of course, I didn’t mind that at
all, and even when he wanted to borrow money I forgave him, but I could
not stand his making love to me.  He has really made me hate cheiromancy.
I go in for telepathy now.  It is much more amusing.’

‘You mustn’t say anything against cheiromancy here, Lady Windermere; it
is the only subject that Arthur does not like people to chaff about.  I
assure you he is quite serious over it.’

‘You don’t mean to say that he believes in it, Sybil?’

‘Ask him, Lady Windermere, here he is’; and Lord Arthur came up the
garden with a large bunch of yellow roses in his hand, and his two
children dancing round him.

‘Lord Arthur?’

‘Yes, Lady Windermere.’

‘You don’t mean to say that you believe in cheiromancy?’

‘Of course I do,’ said the young man, smiling.

‘But why?’

‘Because I owe to it all the happiness of my life,’ he murmured, throwing
himself into a wicker chair.

‘My dear Lord Arthur, what do you owe to it?’

‘Sybil,’ he answered, handing his wife the roses, and looking into her
violet eyes.

‘What nonsense!’ cried Lady Windermere.  ‘I never heard such nonsense in
all my life.’



THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
A HYLO-IDEALISTIC ROMANCE


CHAPTER I


WHEN Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase,
every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no
doubt at all that the place was haunted.  Indeed, Lord Canterville
himself, who was a man of the most punctilious honour, had felt it his
duty to mention the fact to Mr. Otis when they came to discuss terms.

‘We have not cared to live in the place ourselves,’ said Lord
Canterville, ‘since my grandaunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton, was
frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two
skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for
dinner, and I feel bound to tell you, Mr. Otis, that the ghost has been
seen by several living members of my family, as well as by the rector of
the parish, the Rev. Augustus Dampier, who is a Fellow of King’s College,
Cambridge.  After the unfortunate accident to the Duchess, none of our
younger servants would stay with us, and Lady Canterville often got very
little sleep at night, in consequence of the mysterious noises that came
from the corridor and the library.’

‘My Lord,’ answered the Minister, ‘I will take the furniture and the
ghost at a valuation.  I come from a modern country, where we have
everything that money can buy; and with all our spry young fellows
painting the Old World red, and carrying off your best actresses and
prima-donnas, I reckon that if there were such a thing as a ghost in
Europe, we’d have it at home in a very short time in one of our public
museums, or on the road as a show.’

‘I fear that the ghost exists,’ said Lord Canterville, smiling, ‘though
it may have resisted the overtures of your enterprising impresarios.  It
has been well known for three centuries, since 1584 in fact, and always
makes its appearance before the death of any member of our family.’

‘Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville.  But
there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature
are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.’

‘You are certainly very natural in America,’ answered Lord Canterville,
who did not quite understand Mr. Otis’s last observation, ‘and if you
don’t mind a ghost in the house, it is all right.  Only you must remember
I warned you.’

A few weeks after this, the purchase was completed, and at the close of
the season the Minister and his family went down to Canterville Chase.
Mrs. Otis, who, as Miss Lucretia R. Tappan, of West 53rd Street, had been
a celebrated New York belle, was now a very handsome, middle-aged woman,
with fine eyes, and a superb profile.  Many American ladies on leaving
their native land adopt an appearance of chronic ill-health, under the
impression that it is a form of European refinement, but Mrs. Otis had
never fallen into this error.  She had a magnificent constitution, and a
really wonderful amount of animal spirits.  Indeed, in many respects, she
was quite English, and was an excellent example of the fact that we have
really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course,
language.  Her eldest son, christened Washington by his parents in a
moment of patriotism, which he never ceased to regret, was a fair-haired,
rather good-looking young man, who had qualified himself for American
diplomacy by leading the German at the Newport Casino for three
successive seasons, and even in London was well known as an excellent
dancer.  Gardenias and the peerage were his only weaknesses.  Otherwise
he was extremely sensible.  Miss Virginia E. Otis was a little girl of
fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large
blue eyes.  She was a wonderful amazon, and had once raced old Lord
Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a half,
just in front of the Achilles statue, to the huge delight of the young
Duke of Cheshire, who proposed for her on the spot, and was sent back to
Eton that very night by his guardians, in floods of tears.  After
Virginia came the twins, who were usually called ‘The Stars and Stripes,’
as they were always getting swished.  They were delightful boys, and with
the exception of the worthy Minister the only true republicans of the
family.

As Canterville Chase is seven miles from Ascot, the nearest railway
station, Mr. Otis had telegraphed for a waggonette to meet them, and they
started on their drive in high spirits.  It was a lovely July evening,
and the air was delicate with the scent of the pine-woods.  Now and then
they heard a wood pigeon brooding over its own sweet voice, or saw, deep
in the rustling fern, the burnished breast of the pheasant.  Little
squirrels peered at them from the beech-trees as they went by, and the
rabbits scudded away through the brushwood and over the mossy knolls,
with their white tails in the air.  As they entered the avenue of
Canterville Chase, however, the sky became suddenly overcast with clouds,
a curious stillness seemed to hold the atmosphere, a great flight of
rooks passed silently over their heads, and, before they reached the
house, some big drops of rain had fallen.

Standing on the steps to receive them was an old woman, neatly dressed in
black silk, with a white cap and apron.  This was Mrs. Umney, the
housekeeper, whom Mrs. Otis, at Lady Canterville’s earnest request, had
consented to keep on in her former position.  She made them each a low
curtsey as they alighted, and said in a quaint, old-fashioned manner, ‘I
bid you welcome to Canterville Chase.’  Following her, they passed
through the fine Tudor hall into the library, a long, low room, panelled
in black oak, at the end of which was a large stained-glass window.  Here
they found tea laid out for them, and, after taking off their wraps, they
sat down and began to look round, while Mrs. Umney waited on them.

Suddenly Mrs. Otis caught sight of a dull red stain on the floor just by
the fireplace and, quite unconscious of what it really signified, said to
Mrs. Umney, ‘I am afraid something has been spilt there.’

‘Yes, madam,’ replied the old housekeeper in a low voice, ‘blood has been
spilt on that spot.’

‘How horrid,’ cried Mrs. Otis; ‘I don’t at all care for blood-stains in a
sitting-room.  It must be removed at once.’

The old woman smiled, and answered in the same low, mysterious voice, ‘It
is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on that
very spot by her own husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, in 1575.  Sir
Simon survived her nine years, and disappeared suddenly under very
mysterious circumstances.  His body has never been discovered, but his
guilty spirit still haunts the Chase.  The blood-stain has been much
admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed.’

‘That is all nonsense,’ cried Washington Otis; ‘Pinkerton’s Champion
Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time,’ and
before the terrified housekeeper could interfere he had fallen upon his
knees, and was rapidly scouring the floor with a small stick of what
looked like a black cosmetic.  In a few moments no trace of the
blood-stain could be seen.

‘I knew Pinkerton would do it,’ he exclaimed triumphantly, as he looked
round at his admiring family; but no sooner had he said these words than
a terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of
thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted.

‘What a monstrous climate!’ said the American Minister calmly, as he lit
a long cheroot.  ‘I guess the old country is so overpopulated that they
have not enough decent weather for everybody.  I have always been of
opinion that emigration is the only thing for England.’

‘My dear Hiram,’ cried Mrs. Otis, ‘what can we do with a woman who
faints?’

‘Charge it to her like breakages,’ answered the Minister; ‘she won’t
faint after that’; and in a few moments Mrs. Umney certainly came to.
There was no doubt, however, that she was extremely upset, and she
sternly warned Mr. Otis to beware of some trouble coming to the house.

‘I have seen things with my own eyes, sir,’ she said, ‘that would make
any Christian’s hair stand on end, and many and many a night I have not
closed my eyes in sleep for the awful things that are done here.’  Mr.
Otis, however, and his wife warmly assured the honest soul that they were
not afraid of ghosts, and, after invoking the blessings of Providence on
her new master and mistress, and making arrangements for an increase of
salary, the old housekeeper tottered off to her own room.



CHAPTER II


THE storm raged fiercely all that night, but nothing of particular note
occurred.  The next morning, however, when they came down to breakfast,
they found the terrible stain of blood once again on the floor.  ‘I don’t
think it can be the fault of the Paragon Detergent,’ said Washington,
‘for I have tried it with everything.  It must be the ghost.’  He
accordingly rubbed out the stain a second time, but the second morning it
appeared again.  The third morning also it was there, though the library
had been locked up at night by Mr. Otis himself, and the key carried
upstairs.  The whole family were now quite interested; Mr. Otis began to
suspect that he had been too dogmatic in his denial of the existence of
ghosts, Mrs. Otis expressed her intention of joining the Psychical
Society, and Washington prepared a long letter to Messrs. Myers and
Podmore on the subject of the Permanence of Sanguineous Stains when
connected with Crime.  That night all doubts about the objective
existence of phantasmata were removed for ever.

The day had been warm and sunny; and, in the cool of the evening, the
whole family went out for a drive.  They did not return home till nine
o’clock, when they had a light supper.  The conversation in no way turned
upon ghosts, so there were not even those primary conditions of receptive
expectation which so often precede the presentation of psychical
phenomena.  The subjects discussed, as I have since learned from Mr.
Otis, were merely such as form the ordinary conversation of cultured
Americans of the better class, such as the immense superiority of Miss
Fanny Davenport over Sarah Bernhardt as an actress; the difficulty of
obtaining green corn, buckwheat cakes, and hominy, even in the best
English houses; the importance of Boston in the development of the
world-soul; the advantages of the baggage check system in railway
travelling; and the sweetness of the New York accent as compared to the
London drawl.  No mention at all was made of the supernatural, nor was
Sir Simon de Canterville alluded to in any way.  At eleven o’clock the
family retired, and by half-past all the lights were out.  Some time
after, Mr. Otis was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside
his room.  It sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming
nearer every moment.  He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at
the time.  It was exactly one o’clock.  He was quite calm, and felt his
pulse, which was not at all feverish.  The strange noise still continued,
and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps.  He put on his
slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened
the door.  Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man
of terrible aspect.  His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair
fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of
antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung
heavy manacles and rusty gyves.

‘My dear sir,’ said Mr. Otis, ‘I really must insist on your oiling those
chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the
Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator.  It is said to be completely efficacious
upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect
on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines.  I shall
leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply
you with more should you require it.’  With these words the United States
Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door,
retired to rest.

For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural
indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor,
he fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly
green light.  Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak
staircase, a door was flung open, two little white-robed figures
appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head!  There was evidently
no time to be lost, so, hastily adopting the Fourth Dimension of Space as
a means of escape, he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house
became quite quiet.

On reaching a small secret chamber in the left wing, he leaned up against
a moonbeam to recover his breath, and began to try and realise his
position.  Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three
hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted.  He thought of the
Dowager Duchess, whom he had frightened into a fit as she stood before
the glass in her lace and diamonds; of the four housemaids, who had gone
off into hysterics when he merely grinned at them through the curtains of
one of the spare bedrooms; of the rector of the parish, whose candle he
had blown out as he was coming late one night from the library, and who
had been under the care of Sir William Gull ever since, a perfect martyr
to nervous disorders; and of old Madame de Tremouillac, who, having
wakened up one morning early and seen a skeleton seated in an arm-chair
by the fire reading her diary, had been confined to her bed for six weeks
with an attack of brain fever, and, on her recovery, had become
reconciled to the Church, and broken off her connection with that
notorious sceptic Monsieur de Voltaire.  He remembered the terrible night
when the wicked Lord Canterville was found choking in his dressing-room,
with the knave of diamonds half-way down his throat, and confessed, just
before he died, that he had cheated Charles James Fox out of £50,000 at
Crockford’s by means of that very card, and swore that the ghost had made
him swallow it.  All his great achievements came back to him again, from
the butler who had shot himself in the pantry because he had seen a green
hand tapping at the window pane, to the beautiful Lady Stutfield, who was
always obliged to wear a black velvet band round her throat to hide the
mark of five fingers burnt upon her white skin, and who drowned herself
at last in the carp-pond at the end of the King’s Walk.  With the
enthusiastic egotism of the true artist he went over his most celebrated
performances, and smiled bitterly to himself as he recalled to mind his
last appearance as ‘Red Ruben, or the Strangled Babe,’ his _début_ as
‘Gaunt Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor,’ and the _furore_ he had
excited one lovely June evening by merely playing ninepins with his own
bones upon the lawn-tennis ground.  And after all this, some wretched
modern Americans were to come and offer him the Rising Sun Lubricator,
and throw pillows at his head!  It was quite unbearable.  Besides, no
ghosts in history had ever been treated in this manner.  Accordingly, he
determined to have vengeance, and remained till daylight in an attitude
of deep thought.



CHAPTER III


THE next morning when the Otis family met at breakfast, they discussed
the ghost at some length.  The United States Minister was naturally a
little annoyed to find that his present had not been accepted.  ‘I have
no wish,’ he said, ‘to do the ghost any personal injury, and I must say
that, considering the length of time he has been in the house, I don’t
think it is at all polite to throw pillows at him’—a very just remark, at
which, I am sorry to say, the twins burst into shouts of laughter.  ‘Upon
the other hand,’ he continued, ‘if he really declines to use the Rising
Sun Lubricator, we shall have to take his chains from him.  It would be
quite impossible to sleep, with such a noise going on outside the
bedrooms.’

For the rest of the week, however, they were undisturbed, the only thing
that excited any attention being the continual renewal of the blood-stain
on the library floor.  This certainly was very strange, as the door was
always locked at night by Mr. Otis, and the windows kept closely barred.
The chameleon-like colour, also, of the stain excited a good deal of
comment.  Some mornings it was a dull (almost Indian) red, then it would
be vermilion, then a rich purple, and once when they came down for family
prayers, according to the simple rites of the Free American Reformed
Episcopalian Church, they found it a bright emerald-green.  These
kaleidoscopic changes naturally amused the party very much, and bets on
the subject were freely made every evening.  The only person who did not
enter into the joke was little Virginia, who, for some unexplained
reason, was always a good deal distressed at the sight of the
blood-stain, and very nearly cried the morning it was emerald-green.

The second appearance of the ghost was on Sunday night.  Shortly after
they had gone to bed they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful crash in the
hall.  Rushing downstairs, they found that a large suit of old armour had
become detached from its stand, and had fallen on the stone floor, while,
seated in a high-backed chair, was the Canterville ghost, rubbing his
knees with an expression of acute agony on his face.  The twins, having
brought their pea-shooters with them, at once discharged two pellets on
him, with that accuracy of aim which can only be attained by long and
careful practice on a writing-master, while the United States Minister
covered him with his revolver, and called upon him, in accordance with
Californian etiquette, to hold up his hands!  The ghost started up with a
wild shriek of rage, and swept through them like a mist, extinguishing
Washington Otis’s candle as he passed, and so leaving them all in total
darkness.  On reaching the top of the staircase he recovered himself, and
determined to give his celebrated peal of demoniac laughter.  This he had
on more than one occasion found extremely useful.  It was said to have
turned Lord Raker’s wig grey in a single night, and had certainly made
three of Lady Canterville’s French governesses give warning before their
month was up.  He accordingly laughed his most horrible laugh, till the
old vaulted roof rang and rang again, but hardly had the fearful echo
died away when a door opened, and Mrs. Otis came out in a light blue
dressing-gown.  ‘I am afraid you are far from well,’ she said, ‘and have
brought you a bottle of Dr. Dobell’s tincture.  If it is indigestion, you
will find it a most excellent remedy.’  The ghost glared at her in fury,
and began at once to make preparations for turning himself into a large
black dog, an accomplishment for which he was justly renowned, and to
which the family doctor always attributed the permanent idiocy of Lord
Canterville’s uncle, the Hon. Thomas Horton.  The sound of approaching
footsteps, however, made him hesitate in his fell purpose, so he
contented himself with becoming faintly phosphorescent, and vanished with
a deep churchyard groan, just as the twins had come up to him.

On reaching his room he entirely broke down, and became a prey to the
most violent agitation.  The vulgarity of the twins, and the gross
materialism of Mrs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying, but what
really distressed him most was, that he had been unable to wear the suit
of mail.  He had hoped that even modern Americans would be thrilled by
the sight of a Spectre In Armour, if for no more sensible reason, at
least out of respect for their national poet Longfellow, over whose
graceful and attractive poetry he himself had whiled away many a weary
hour when the Cantervilles were up in town.  Besides, it was his own
suit.  He had worn it with great success at the Kenilworth tournament,
and had been highly complimented on it by no less a person than the
Virgin Queen herself.  Yet when he had put it on, he had been completely
overpowered by the weight of the huge breastplate and steel casque, and
had fallen heavily on the stone pavement, barking both his knees
severely, and bruising the knuckles of his right hand.

For some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly stirred out of
his room at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper repair.
However, by taking great care of himself, he recovered, and resolved to
make a third attempt to frighten the United States Minister and his
family.  He selected Friday, the 17th of August, for his appearance, and
spent most of that day in looking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding
in favour of a large slouched hat with a red feather, a winding-sheet
frilled at the wrists and neck, and a rusty dagger.  Towards evening a
violent storm of rain came on, and the wind was so high that all the
windows and doors in the old house shook and rattled.  In fact, it was
just such weather as he loved.  His plan of action was this.  He was to
make his way quietly to Washington Otis’s room, gibber at him from the
foot of the bed, and stab himself three times in the throat to the sound
of slow music.  He bore Washington a special grudge, being quite aware
that it was he who was in the habit of removing the famous Canterville
blood-stain, by means of Pinkerton’s Paragon Detergent.  Having reduced
the reckless and foolhardy youth to a condition of abject terror, he was
then to proceed to the room occupied by the United States Minister and
his wife, and there to place a clammy hand on Mrs. Otis’s forehead, while
he hissed into her trembling husband’s ear the awful secrets of the
charnel-house.  With regard to little Virginia, he had not quite made up
his mind.  She had never insulted him in any way, and was pretty and
gentle.  A few hollow groans from the wardrobe, he thought, would be more
than sufficient, or, if that failed to wake her, he might grabble at the
counterpane with palsy-twitching fingers.  As for the twins, he was quite
determined to teach them a lesson.  The first thing to be done was, of
course, to sit upon their chests, so as to produce the stifling sensation
of nightmare.  Then, as their beds were quite close to each other, to
stand between them in the form of a green, icy-cold corpse, till they
became paralysed with fear, and finally, to throw off the winding-sheet,
and crawl round the room, with white bleached bones and one rolling
eye-ball, in the character of ‘Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide’s Skeleton,’ a
_rôle_ in which he had on more than one occasion produced a great effect,
and which he considered quite equal to his famous part of ‘Martin the
Maniac, or the Masked Mystery.’

At half-past ten he heard the family going to bed.  For some time he was
disturbed by wild shrieks of laughter from the twins, who, with the
light-hearted gaiety of schoolboys, were evidently amusing themselves
before they retired to rest, but at a quarter past eleven all was still,
and, as midnight sounded, he sallied forth.  The owl beat against the
window panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind
wandered moaning round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family
slept unconscious of their doom, and high above the rain and storm he
could hear the steady snoring of the Minister for the United States.  He
stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with an evil smile on his
cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a cloud as he stole
past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of his murdered
wife were blazoned in azure and gold.  On and on he glided, like an evil
shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed.  Once he
thought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying
of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange
sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger
in the midnight air.  Finally he reached the corner of the passage that
led to luckless Washington’s room.  For a moment he paused there, the
wind blowing his long grey locks about his head, and twisting into
grotesque and fantastic folds the nameless horror of the dead man’s
shroud.  Then the clock struck the quarter, and he felt the time was
come.  He chuckled to himself, and turned the corner; but no sooner had
he done so, than, with a piteous wail of terror, he fell back, and hid
his blanched face in his long, bony hands.  Right in front of him was
standing a horrible spectre, motionless as a carven image, and monstrous
as a madman’s dream!  Its head was bald and burnished; its face round,
and fat, and white; and hideous laughter seemed to have writhed its
features into an eternal grin.  From the eyes streamed rays of scarlet
light, the mouth was a wide well of fire, and a hideous garment, like to
his own, swathed with its silent snows the Titan form.  On its breast was
a placard with strange writing in antique characters, some scroll of
shame it seemed, some record of wild sins, some awful calendar of crime,
and, with its right hand, it bore aloft a falchion of gleaming steel.

Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened,
and, after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, he fled back to
his room, tripping up in his long winding-sheet as he sped down the
corridor, and finally dropping the rusty dagger into the Minister’s
jack-boots, where it was found in the morning by the butler.  Once in the
privacy of his own apartment, he flung himself down on a small
pallet-bed, and hid his face under the clothes.  After a time, however,
the brave old Canterville spirit asserted itself, and he determined to go
and speak to the other ghost as soon as it was daylight.  Accordingly,
just as the dawn was touching the hills with silver, he returned towards
the spot where he had first laid eyes on the grisly phantom, feeling
that, after all, two ghosts were better than one, and that, by the aid of
his new friend, he might safely grapple with the twins.  On reaching the
spot, however, a terrible sight met his gaze.  Something had evidently
happened to the spectre, for the light had entirely faded from its hollow
eyes, the gleaming falchion had fallen from its hand, and it was leaning
up against the wall in a strained and uncomfortable attitude.  He rushed
forward and seized it in his arms, when, to his horror, the head slipped
off and rolled on the floor, the body assumed a recumbent posture, and he
found himself clasping a white dimity bed-curtain, with a sweeping-brush,
a kitchen cleaver, and a hollow turnip lying at his feet!  Unable to
understand this curious transformation, he clutched the placard with
feverish haste, and there, in the grey morning light, he read these
fearful words:—

                                YE OLDE GHOSTE

                      Ye Onlie True and Originale Spook.
                          Beware of Ye Imitationes.
                         All others are Counterfeite.

The whole thing flashed across him.  He had been tricked, foiled, and
outwitted!  The old Canterville look came into his eyes; he ground his
toothless gums together; and, raising his withered hands high above his
head, swore, according to the picturesque phraseology of the antique
school, that when Chanticleer had sounded twice his merry horn, deeds of
blood would be wrought, and Murder walk abroad with silent feet.

Hardly had he finished this awful oath when, from the red-tiled roof of a
distant homestead, a cock crew.  He laughed a long, low, bitter laugh,
and waited.  Hour after hour he waited, but the cock, for some strange
reason, did not crow again.  Finally, at half-past seven, the arrival of
the housemaids made him give up his fearful vigil, and he stalked back to
his room, thinking of his vain hope and baffled purpose.  There he
consulted several books of ancient chivalry, of which he was exceedingly
fond, and found that, on every occasion on which his oath had been used,
Chanticleer had always crowed a second time.  ‘Perdition seize the
naughty fowl,’ he muttered, ‘I have seen the day when, with my stout
spear, I would have run him through the gorge, and made him crow for me
an ’twere in death!’  He then retired to a comfortable lead coffin, and
stayed there till evening.



CHAPTER IV


THE next day the ghost was very weak and tired.  The terrible excitement
of the last four weeks was beginning to have its effect.  His nerves were
completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise.  For five
days he kept his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point
of the blood-stain on the library floor.  If the Otis family did not want
it, they clearly did not deserve it.  They were evidently people on a
low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the
symbolic value of sensuous phenomena.  The question of phantasmic
apparitions, and the development of astral bodies, was of course quite a
different matter, and really not under his control.  It was his solemn
duty to appear in the corridor once a week, and to gibber from the large
oriel window on the first and third Wednesday in every month, and he did
not see how he could honourably escape from his obligations.  It is quite
true that his life had been very evil, but, upon the other hand, he was
most conscientious in all things connected with the supernatural.  For
the next three Saturdays, accordingly, he traversed the corridor as usual
between midnight and three o’clock, taking every possible precaution
against being either heard or seen.  He removed his boots, trod as
lightly as possible on the old worm-eaten boards, wore a large black
velvet cloak, and was careful to use the Rising Sun Lubricator for oiling
his chains.  I am bound to acknowledge that it was with a good deal of
difficulty that he brought himself to adopt this last mode of protection.
However, one night, while the family were at dinner, he slipped into Mr.
Otis’s bedroom and carried off the bottle.  He felt a little humiliated
at first, but afterwards was sensible enough to see that there was a
great deal to be said for the invention, and, to a certain degree, it
served his purpose.  Still, in spite of everything, he was not left
unmolested.  Strings were continually being stretched across the
corridor, over which he tripped in the dark, and on one occasion, while
dressed for the part of ‘Black Isaac, or the Huntsman of Hogley Woods,’
he met with a severe fall, through treading on a butter-slide, which the
twins had constructed from the entrance of the Tapestry Chamber to the
top of the oak staircase.  This last insult so enraged him, that he
resolved to make one final effort to assert his dignity and social
position, and determined to visit the insolent young Etonians the next
night in his celebrated character of ‘Reckless Rupert, or the Headless
Earl.’

He had not appeared in this disguise for more than seventy years; in
fact, not since he had so frightened pretty Lady Barbara Modish by means
of it, that she suddenly broke off her engagement with the present Lord
Canterville’s grandfather, and ran away to Gretna Green with handsome
Jack Castleton, declaring that nothing in the world would induce her to
marry into a family that allowed such a horrible phantom to walk up and
down the terrace at twilight.  Poor Jack was afterwards shot in a duel by
Lord Canterville on Wandsworth Common, and Lady Barbara died of a broken
heart at Tunbridge Wells before the year was out, so, in every way, it
had been a great success.  It was, however, an extremely difficult
‘make-up,’ if I may use such a theatrical expression in connection with
one of the greatest mysteries of the supernatural, or, to employ a more
scientific term, the higher-natural world, and it took him fully three
hours to make his preparations.  At last everything was ready, and he was
very pleased with his appearance.  The big leather riding-boots that went
with the dress were just a little too large for him, and he could only
find one of the two horse-pistols, but, on the whole, he was quite
satisfied, and at a quarter past one he glided out of the wainscoting and
crept down the corridor.  On reaching the room occupied by the twins,
which I should mention was called the Blue Bed Chamber, on account of the
colour of its hangings, he found the door just ajar.  Wishing to make an
effective entrance, he flung it wide open, when a heavy jug of water fell
right down on him, wetting him to the skin, and just missing his left
shoulder by a couple of inches.  At the same moment he heard stifled
shrieks of laughter proceeding from the four-post bed.  The shock to his
nervous system was so great that he fled back to his room as hard as he
could go, and the next day he was laid up with a severe cold.  The only
thing that at all consoled him in the whole affair was the fact that he
had not brought his head with him, for, had he done so, the consequences
might have been very serious.

He now gave up all hope of ever frightening this rude American family,
and contented himself, as a rule, with creeping about the passages in
list slippers, with a thick red muffler round his throat for fear of
draughts, and a small arquebuse, in case he should be attacked by the
twins.  The final blow he received occurred on the 19th of September.  He
had gone downstairs to the great entrance-hall, feeling sure that there,
at any rate, he would be quite unmolested, and was amusing himself by
making satirical remarks on the large Saroni photographs of the United
States Minister and his wife, which had now taken the place of the
Canterville family pictures.  He was simply but neatly clad in a long
shroud, spotted with churchyard mould, had tied up his jaw with a strip
of yellow linen, and carried a small lantern and a sexton’s spade.  In
fact, he was dressed for the character of ‘Jonas the Graveless, or the
Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,’ one of his most remarkable
impersonations, and one which the Cantervilles had every reason to
remember, as it was the real origin of their quarrel with their
neighbour, Lord Rufford.  It was about a quarter past two o’clock in the
morning, and, as far as he could ascertain, no one was stirring.  As he
was strolling towards the library, however, to see if there were any
traces left of the blood-stain, suddenly there leaped out on him from a
dark corner two figures, who waved their arms wildly above their heads,
and shrieked out ‘BOO!’ in his ear.

Seized with a panic, which, under the circumstances, was only natural, he
rushed for the staircase, but found Washington Otis waiting for him there
with the big garden-syringe; and being thus hemmed in by his enemies on
every side, and driven almost to bay, he vanished into the great iron
stove, which, fortunately for him, was not lit, and had to make his way
home through the flues and chimneys, arriving at his own room in a
terrible state of dirt, disorder, and despair.

After this he was not seen again on any nocturnal expedition.  The twins
lay in wait for him on several occasions, and strewed the passages with
nutshells every night to the great annoyance of their parents and the
servants, but it was of no avail.  It was quite evident that his feelings
were so wounded that he would not appear.  Mr. Otis consequently resumed
his great work on the history of the Democratic Party, on which he had
been engaged for some years; Mrs. Otis organised a wonderful clam-bake,
which amazed the whole county; the boys took to lacrosse, euchre, poker,
and other American national games; and Virginia rode about the lanes on
her pony, accompanied by the young Duke of Cheshire, who had come to
spend the last week of his holidays at Canterville Chase.  It was
generally assumed that the ghost had gone away, and, in fact, Mr. Otis
wrote a letter to that effect to Lord Canterville, who, in reply,
expressed his great pleasure at the news, and sent his best
congratulations to the Minister’s worthy wife.

The Otises, however, were deceived, for the ghost was still in the house,
and though now almost an invalid, was by no means ready to let matters
rest, particularly as he heard that among the guests was the young Duke
of Cheshire, whose grand-uncle, Lord Francis Stilton, had once bet a
hundred guineas with Colonel Carbury that he would play dice with the
Canterville ghost, and was found the next morning lying on the floor of
the card-room in such a helpless paralytic state, that though he lived on
to a great age, he was never able to say anything again but ‘Double
Sixes.’  The story was well known at the time, though, of course, out of
respect to the feelings of the two noble families, every attempt was made
to hush it up; and a full account of all the circumstances connected with
it will be found in the third volume of Lord Tattle’s _Recollections of
the Prince Regent and his Friends_.  The ghost, then, was naturally very
anxious to show that he had not lost his influence over the Stiltons,
with whom, indeed, he was distantly connected, his own first cousin
having been married _en secondes noces_ to the Sieur de Bulkeley, from
whom, as every one knows, the Dukes of Cheshire are lineally descended.
Accordingly, he made arrangements for appearing to Virginia’s little
lover in his celebrated impersonation of ‘The Vampire Monk, or, the
Bloodless Benedictine,’ a performance so horrible that when old Lady
Startup saw it, which she did on one fatal New Year’s Eve, in the year
1764, she went off into the most piercing shrieks, which culminated in
violent apoplexy, and died in three days, after disinheriting the
Cantervilles, who were her nearest relations, and leaving all her money
to her London apothecary.  At the last moment, however, his terror of the
twins prevented his leaving his room, and the little Duke slept in peace
under the great feathered canopy in the Royal Bedchamber, and dreamed of
Virginia.



CHAPTER V


A FEW days after this, Virginia and her curly-haired cavalier went out
riding on Brockley meadows, where she tore her habit so badly in getting
through a hedge, that, on her return home, she made up her mind to go up
by the back staircase so as not to be seen.  As she was running past the
Tapestry Chamber, the door of which happened to be open, she fancied she
saw some one inside, and thinking it was her mother’s maid, who sometimes
used to bring her work there, looked in to ask her to mend her habit.  To
her immense surprise, however, it was the Canterville Ghost himself!  He
was sitting by the window, watching the ruined gold of the yellowing
trees fly through the air, and the red leaves dancing madly down the long
avenue.  His head was leaning on his hand, and his whole attitude was one
of extreme depression.  Indeed, so forlorn, and so much out of repair did
he look, that little Virginia, whose first idea had been to run away and
lock herself in her room, was filled with pity, and determined to try and
comfort him.  So light was her footfall, and so deep his melancholy, that
he was not aware of her presence till she spoke to him.

‘I am so sorry for you,’ she said, ‘but my brothers are going back to
Eton to-morrow, and then, if you behave yourself, no one will annoy you.’

‘It is absurd asking me to behave myself,’ he answered, looking round in
astonishment at the pretty little girl who had ventured to address him,
‘quite absurd.  I must rattle my chains, and groan through keyholes, and
walk about at night, if that is what you mean.  It is my only reason for
existing.’

‘It is no reason at all for existing, and you know you have been very
wicked.  Mrs. Umney told us, the first day we arrived here, that you had
killed your wife.’

‘Well, I quite admit it,’ said the Ghost petulantly, ‘but it was a purely
family matter, and concerned no one else.’

‘It is very wrong to kill any one,’ said Virginia, who at times had a
sweet Puritan gravity, caught from some old New England ancestor.

‘Oh, I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics!  My wife was very
plain, never had my ruffs properly starched, and knew nothing about
cookery.  Why, there was a buck I had shot in Hogley Woods, a magnificent
pricket, and do you know how she had it sent up to table?  However, it is
no matter now, for it is all over, and I don’t think it was very nice of
her brothers to starve me to death, though I did kill her.’

‘Starve you to death?  Oh, Mr. Ghost, I mean Sir Simon, are you hungry?
I have a sandwich in my case.  Would you like it?’

‘No, thank you, I never eat anything now; but it is very kind of you, all
the same, and you are much nicer than the rest of your horrid, rude,
vulgar, dishonest family.’

‘Stop!’ cried Virginia, stamping her foot, ‘it is you who are rude, and
horrid, and vulgar, and as for dishonesty, you know you stole the paints
out of my box to try and furbish up that ridiculous blood-stain in the
library.  First you took all my reds, including the vermilion, and I
couldn’t do any more sunsets, then you took the emerald-green and the
chrome-yellow, and finally I had nothing left but indigo and Chinese
white, and could only do moonlight scenes, which are always depressing to
look at, and not at all easy to paint.  I never told on you, though I was
very much annoyed, and it was most ridiculous, the whole thing; for who
ever heard of emerald-green blood?’

‘Well, really,’ said the Ghost, rather meekly, ‘what was I to do?  It is
a very difficult thing to get real blood nowadays, and, as your brother
began it all with his Paragon Detergent, I certainly saw no reason why I
should not have your paints.  As for colour, that is always a matter of
taste: the Cantervilles have blue blood, for instance, the very bluest in
England; but I know you Americans don’t care for things of this kind.’

‘You know nothing about it, and the best thing you can do is to emigrate
and improve your mind.  My father will be only too happy to give you a
free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirits of every kind,
there will be no difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are
all Democrats.  Once in New York, you are sure to be a great success.  I
know lots of people there who would give a hundred thousand dollars to
have a grandfather, and much more than that to have a family Ghost.’

‘I don’t think I should like America.’

‘I suppose because we have no ruins and no curiosities,’ said Virginia
satirically.

‘No ruins! no curiosities!’ answered the Ghost; ‘you have your navy and
your manners.’

‘Good evening; I will go and ask papa to get the twins an extra week’s
holiday.’

‘Please don’t go, Miss Virginia,’ he cried; ‘I am so lonely and so
unhappy, and I really don’t know what to do.  I want to go to sleep and I
cannot.’

‘That’s quite absurd!  You have merely to go to bed and blow out the
candle.  It is very difficult sometimes to keep awake, especially at
church, but there is no difficulty at all about sleeping.  Why, even
babies know how to do that, and they are not very clever.’

‘I have not slept for three hundred years,’ he said sadly, and Virginia’s
beautiful blue eyes opened in wonder; ‘for three hundred years I have not
slept, and I am so tired.’

Virginia grew quite grave, and her little lips trembled like rose-leaves.
She came towards him, and kneeling down at his side, looked up into his
old withered face.

‘Poor, poor Ghost,’ she murmured; ‘have you no place where you can
sleep?’

‘Far away beyond the pine-woods,’ he answered, in a low dreamy voice,
‘there is a little garden.  There the grass grows long and deep, there
are the great white stars of the hemlock flower, there the nightingale
sings all night long.  All night long he sings, and the cold, crystal
moon looks down, and the yew-tree spreads out its giant arms over the
sleepers.’

Virginia’s eyes grew dim with tears, and she hid her face in her hands.

‘You mean the Garden of Death,’ she whispered.

‘Yes, Death.  Death must be so beautiful.  To lie in the soft brown
earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence.
To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow.  To forget time, to forgive life,
to be at peace.  You can help me.  You can open for me the portals of
Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger than
Death is.’

Virginia trembled, a cold shudder ran through her, and for a few moments
there was silence.  She felt as if she was in a terrible dream.

Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing of the
wind.

‘Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?’

‘Oh, often,’ cried the little girl, looking up; ‘I know it quite well.
It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult to read.
There are only six lines:

    When a golden girl can win
    Prayer from out the lips of sin,
    When the barren almond bears,
    And a little child gives away its tears,
    Then shall all the house be still
    And peace come to Canterville.

But I don’t know what they mean.’

‘They mean,’ he said sadly, ‘that you must weep for me for my sins,
because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I have no
faith, and then, if you have always been sweet, and good, and gentle, the
Angel of Death will have mercy on me.  You will see fearful shapes in
darkness, and wicked voices will whisper in your ear, but they will not
harm you, for against the purity of a little child the powers of Hell
cannot prevail.’

Virginia made no answer, and the Ghost wrung his hands in wild despair as
he looked down at her bowed golden head.  Suddenly she stood up, very
pale, and with a strange light in her eyes.  ‘I am not afraid,’ she said
firmly, ‘and I will ask the Angel to have mercy on you.’

He rose from his seat with a faint cry of joy, and taking her hand bent
over it with old-fashioned grace and kissed it.  His fingers were as cold
as ice, and his lips burned like fire, but Virginia did not falter, as he
led her across the dusky room.  On the faded green tapestry were
broidered little huntsmen.  They blew their tasselled horns and with
their tiny hands waved to her to go back.  ‘Go back! little Virginia,’
they cried, ‘go back!’ but the Ghost clutched her hand more tightly, and
she shut her eyes against them.  Horrible animals with lizard tails, and
goggle eyes, blinked at her from the carven chimney-piece, and murmured
‘Beware! little Virginia, beware! we may never see you again,’ but the
Ghost glided on more swiftly, and Virginia did not listen.  When they
reached the end of the room he stopped, and muttered some words she could
not understand.  She opened her eyes, and saw the wall slowly fading away
like a mist, and a great black cavern in front of her.  A bitter cold
wind swept round them, and she felt something pulling at her dress.
‘Quick, quick,’ cried the Ghost, ‘or it will be too late,’ and, in a
moment, the wainscoting had closed behind them, and the Tapestry Chamber
was empty.



CHAPTER VI


ABOUT ten minutes later, the bell rang for tea, and, as Virginia did not
come down, Mrs. Otis sent up one of the footmen to tell her.  After a
little time he returned and said that he could not find Miss Virginia
anywhere.  As she was in the habit of going out to the garden every
evening to get flowers for the dinner-table, Mrs. Otis was not at all
alarmed at first, but when six o’clock struck, and Virginia did not
appear, she became really agitated, and sent the boys out to look for
her, while she herself and Mr. Otis searched every room in the house.  At
half-past six the boys came back and said that they could find no trace
of their sister anywhere.  They were all now in the greatest state of
excitement, and did not know what to do, when Mr. Otis suddenly
remembered that, some few days before, he had given a band of gypsies
permission to camp in the park.  He accordingly at once set off for
Blackfell Hollow, where he knew they were, accompanied by his eldest son
and two of the farm-servants.  The little Duke of Cheshire, who was
perfectly frantic with anxiety, begged hard to be allowed to go too, but
Mr. Otis would not allow him, as he was afraid there might be a scuffle.
On arriving at the spot, however, he found that the gypsies had gone, and
it was evident that their departure had been rather sudden, as the fire
was still burning, and some plates were lying on the grass.  Having sent
off Washington and the two men to scour the district, he ran home, and
despatched telegrams to all the police inspectors in the county, telling
them to look out for a little girl who had been kidnapped by tramps or
gypsies.  He then ordered his horse to be brought round, and, after
insisting on his wife and the three boys sitting down to dinner, rode off
down the Ascot Road with a groom.  He had hardly, however, gone a couple
of miles when he heard somebody galloping after him, and, looking round,
saw the little Duke coming up on his pony, with his face very flushed and
no hat.  ‘I’m awfully sorry, Mr. Otis,’ gasped out the boy, ‘but I can’t
eat any dinner as long as Virginia is lost.  Please, don’t be angry with
me; if you had let us be engaged last year, there would never have been
all this trouble.  You won’t send me back, will you?  I can’t go!  I
won’t go!’

The Minister could not help smiling at the handsome young scapegrace, and
was a good deal touched at his devotion to Virginia, so leaning down from
his horse, he patted him kindly on the shoulders, and said, ‘Well, Cecil,
if you won’t go back I suppose you must come with me, but I must get you
a hat at Ascot.’

‘Oh, bother my hat!  I want Virginia!’ cried the little Duke, laughing,
and they galloped on to the railway station.  There Mr. Otis inquired of
the station-master if any one answering the description of Virginia had
been seen on the platform, but could get no news of her.  The
station-master, however, wired up and down the line, and assured him that
a strict watch would be kept for her, and, after having bought a hat for
the little Duke from a linen-draper, who was just putting up his
shutters, Mr. Otis rode off to Bexley, a village about four miles away,
which he was told was a well-known haunt of the gypsies, as there was a
large common next to it.  Here they roused up the rural policeman, but
could get no information from him, and, after riding all over the common,
they turned their horses’ heads homewards, and reached the Chase about
eleven o’clock, dead-tired and almost heart-broken.  They found
Washington and the twins waiting for them at the gate-house with
lanterns, as the avenue was very dark.  Not the slightest trace of
Virginia had been discovered.  The gypsies had been caught on Brockley
meadows, but she was not with them, and they had explained their sudden
departure by saying that they had mistaken the date of Chorton Fair, and
had gone off in a hurry for fear they might be late.  Indeed, they had
been quite distressed at hearing of Virginia’s disappearance, as they
were very grateful to Mr. Otis for having allowed them to camp in his
park, and four of their number had stayed behind to help in the search.
The carp-pond had been dragged, and the whole Chase thoroughly gone over,
but without any result.  It was evident that, for that night at any rate,
Virginia was lost to them; and it was in a state of the deepest
depression that Mr. Otis and the boys walked up to the house, the groom
following behind with the two horses and the pony.  In the hall they
found a group of frightened servants, and lying on a sofa in the library
was poor Mrs. Otis, almost out of her mind with terror and anxiety, and
having her forehead bathed with eau-de-cologne by the old housekeeper.
Mr. Otis at once insisted on her having something to eat, and ordered up
supper for the whole party.  It was a melancholy meal, as hardly any one
spoke, and even the twins were awestruck and subdued, as they were very
fond of their sister.  When they had finished, Mr. Otis, in spite of the
entreaties of the little Duke, ordered them all to bed, saying that
nothing more could be done that night, and that he would telegraph in the
morning to Scotland Yard for some detectives to be sent down immediately.
Just as they were passing out of the dining-room, midnight began to boom
from the clock tower, and when the last stroke sounded they heard a crash
and a sudden shrill cry; a dreadful peal of thunder shook the house, a
strain of unearthly music floated through the air, a panel at the top of
the staircase flew back with a loud noise, and out on the landing,
looking very pale and white, with a little casket in her hand, stepped
Virginia.  In a moment they had all rushed up to her.  Mrs. Otis clasped
her passionately in her arms, the Duke smothered her with violent kisses,
and the twins executed a wild war-dance round the group.

‘Good heavens! child, where have you been?’ said Mr. Otis, rather
angrily, thinking that she had been playing some foolish trick on them.
‘Cecil and I have been riding all over the country looking for you, and
your mother has been frightened to death.  You must never play these
practical jokes any more.’

‘Except on the Ghost! except on the Ghost!’ shrieked the twins, as they
capered about.

‘My own darling, thank God you are found; you must never leave my side
again,’ murmured Mrs. Otis, as she kissed the trembling child, and
smoothed the tangled gold of her hair.

‘Papa,’ said Virginia quietly, ‘I have been with the Ghost.  He is dead,
and you must come and see him.  He had been very wicked, but he was
really sorry for all that he had done, and he gave me this box of
beautiful jewels before he died.’

The whole family gazed at her in mute amazement, but she was quite grave
and serious; and, turning round, she led them through the opening in the
wainscoting down a narrow secret corridor, Washington following with a
lighted candle, which he had caught up from the table.  Finally, they
came to a great oak door, studded with rusty nails.  When Virginia
touched it, it swung back on its heavy hinges, and they found themselves
in a little low room, with a vaulted ceiling, and one tiny grated window.
Imbedded in the wall was a huge iron ring, and chained to it was a gaunt
skeleton, that was stretched out at full length on the stone floor, and
seemed to be trying to grasp with its long fleshless fingers an
old-fashioned trencher and ewer, that were placed just out of its reach.
The jug had evidently been once filled with water, as it was covered
inside with green mould.  There was nothing on the trencher but a pile of
dust.  Virginia knelt down beside the skeleton, and, folding her little
hands together, began to pray silently, while the rest of the party
looked on in wonder at the terrible tragedy whose secret was now
disclosed to them.

‘Hallo!’ suddenly exclaimed one of the twins, who had been looking out of
the window to try and discover in what wing of the house the room was
situated.  ‘Hallo! the old withered almond-tree has blossomed.  I can see
the flowers quite plainly in the moonlight.’

‘God has forgiven him,’ said Virginia gravely, as she rose to her feet,
and a beautiful light seemed to illumine her face.

‘What an angel you are!’ cried the young Duke, and he put his arm round
her neck and kissed her.



CHAPTER VII


FOUR days after these curious incidents a funeral started from
Canterville Chase at about eleven o’clock at night.  The hearse was drawn
by eight black horses, each of which carried on its head a great tuft of
nodding ostrich-plumes, and the leaden coffin was covered by a rich
purple pall, on which was embroidered in gold the Canterville
coat-of-arms.  By the side of the hearse and the coaches walked the
servants with lighted torches, and the whole procession was wonderfully
impressive.  Lord Canterville was the chief mourner, having come up
specially from Wales to attend the funeral, and sat in the first carriage
along with little Virginia.  Then came the United States Minister and his
wife, then Washington and the three boys, and in the last carriage was
Mrs. Umney.  It was generally felt that, as she had been frightened by
the ghost for more than fifty years of her life, she had a right to see
the last of him.  A deep grave had been dug in the corner of the
churchyard, just under the old yew-tree, and the service was read in the
most impressive manner by the Rev. Augustus Dampier.  When the ceremony
was over, the servants, according to an old custom observed in the
Canterville family, extinguished their torches, and, as the coffin was
being lowered into the grave, Virginia stepped forward and laid on it a
large cross made of white and pink almond-blossoms.  As she did so, the
moon came out from behind a cloud, and flooded with its silent silver the
little churchyard, and from a distant copse a nightingale began to sing.
She thought of the ghost’s description of the Garden of Death, her eyes
became dim with tears, and she hardly spoke a word during the drive home.

The next morning, before Lord Canterville went up to town, Mr. Otis had
an interview with him on the subject of the jewels the ghost had given to
Virginia.  They were perfectly magnificent, especially a certain ruby
necklace with old Venetian setting, which was really a superb specimen of
sixteenth-century work, and their value was so great that Mr. Otis felt
considerable scruples about allowing his daughter to accept them.

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I know that in this country mortmain is held to
apply to trinkets as well as to land, and it is quite clear to me that
these jewels are, or should be, heirlooms in your family.  I must beg
you, accordingly, to take them to London with you, and to regard them
simply as a portion of your property which has been restored to you under
certain strange conditions.  As for my daughter, she is merely a child,
and has as yet, I am glad to say, but little interest in such
appurtenances of idle luxury.  I am also informed by Mrs. Otis, who, I
may say, is no mean authority upon Art—having had the privilege of
spending several winters in Boston when she was a girl—that these gems
are of great monetary worth, and if offered for sale would fetch a tall
price.  Under these circumstances, Lord Canterville, I feel sure that you
will recognise how impossible it would be for me to allow them to remain
in the possession of any member of my family; and, indeed, all such vain
gauds and toys, however suitable or necessary to the dignity of the
British aristocracy, would be completely out of place among those who
have been brought up on the severe, and I believe immortal, principles of
republican simplicity.  Perhaps I should mention that Virginia is very
anxious that you should allow her to retain the box as a memento of your
unfortunate but misguided ancestor.  As it is extremely old, and
consequently a good deal out of repair, you may perhaps think fit to
comply with her request.  For my own part, I confess I am a good deal
surprised to find a child of mine expressing sympathy with mediævalism in
any form, and can only account for it by the fact that Virginia was born
in one of your London suburbs shortly after Mrs. Otis had returned from a
trip to Athens.’

Lord Canterville listened very gravely to the worthy Minister’s speech,
pulling his grey moustache now and then to hide an involuntary smile, and
when Mr. Otis had ended, he shook him cordially by the hand, and said,
‘My dear sir, your charming little daughter rendered my unlucky ancestor,
Sir Simon, a very important service, and I and my family are much
indebted to her for her marvellous courage and pluck.  The jewels are
clearly hers, and, egad, I believe that if I were heartless enough to
take them from her, the wicked old fellow would be out of his grave in a
fortnight, leading me the devil of a life.  As for their being heirlooms,
nothing is an heirloom that is not so mentioned in a will or legal
document, and the existence of these jewels has been quite unknown.  I
assure you I have no more claim on them than your butler, and when Miss
Virginia grows up I daresay she will be pleased to have pretty things to
wear.  Besides, you forget, Mr. Otis, that you took the furniture and the
ghost at a valuation, and anything that belonged to the ghost passed at
once into your possession, as, whatever activity Sir Simon may have shown
in the corridor at night, in point of law he was really dead, and you
acquired his property by purchase.’

Mr. Otis was a good deal distressed at Lord Canterville’s refusal, and
begged him to reconsider his decision, but the good-natured peer was
quite firm, and finally induced the Minister to allow his daughter to
retain the present the ghost had given her, and when, in the spring of
1890, the young Duchess of Cheshire was presented at the Queen’s first
drawing-room on the occasion of her marriage, her jewels were the
universal theme of admiration.  For Virginia received the coronet, which
is the reward of all good little American girls, and was married to her
boy-lover as soon as he came of age.  They were both so charming, and
they loved each other so much, that every one was delighted at the match,
except the old Marchioness of Dumbleton, who had tried to catch the Duke
for one of her seven unmarried daughters, and had given no less than
three expensive dinner-parties for that purpose, and, strange to say, Mr.
Otis himself.  Mr. Otis was extremely fond of the young Duke personally,
but, theoretically, he objected to titles, and, to use his own words,
‘was not without apprehension lest, amid the enervating influences of a
pleasure-loving aristocracy, the true principles of republican simplicity
should be forgotten.’  His objections, however, were completely
overruled, and I believe that when he walked up the aisle of St.
George’s, Hanover Square, with his daughter leaning on his arm, there was
not a prouder man in the whole length and breadth of England.

The Duke and Duchess, after the honeymoon was over, went down to
Canterville Chase, and on the day after their arrival they walked over in
the afternoon to the lonely churchyard by the pine-woods.  There had been
a great deal of difficulty at first about the inscription on Sir Simon’s
tombstone, but finally it had been decided to engrave on it simply the
initials of the old gentleman’s name, and the verse from the library
window.  The Duchess had brought with her some lovely roses, which she
strewed upon the grave, and after they had stood by it for some time they
strolled into the ruined chancel of the old abbey.  There the Duchess sat
down on a fallen pillar, while her husband lay at her feet smoking a
cigarette and looking up at her beautiful eyes.  Suddenly he threw his
cigarette away, took hold of her hand, and said to her, ‘Virginia, a wife
should have no secrets from her husband.’

‘Dear Cecil!  I have no secrets from you.’

‘Yes, you have,’ he answered, smiling, ‘you have never told me what
happened to you when you were locked up with the ghost.’

‘I have never told any one, Cecil,’ said Virginia gravely.

‘I know that, but you might tell me.’

‘Please don’t ask me, Cecil, I cannot tell you.  Poor Sir Simon!  I owe
him a great deal.  Yes, don’t laugh, Cecil, I really do.  He made me see
what Life is, and what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than
both.’

The Duke rose and kissed his wife lovingly.

‘You can have your secret as long as I have your heart,’ he murmured.

‘You have always had that, Cecil.’

‘And you will tell our children some day, won’t you?’

Virginia blushed.



THE SPHINX WITHOUT A SECRET
AN ETCHING


ONE afternoon I was sitting outside the Café de la Paix, watching the
splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my vermouth
at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was passing before me,
when I heard some one call my name.  I turned round, and saw Lord
Murchison.  We had not met since we had been at college together, nearly
ten years before, so I was delighted to come across him again, and we
shook hands warmly.  At Oxford we had been great friends.  I had liked
him immensely, he was so handsome, so high-spirited, and so honourable.
We used to say of him that he would be the best of fellows, if he did not
always speak the truth, but I think we really admired him all the more
for his frankness.  I found him a good deal changed.  He looked anxious
and puzzled, and seemed to be in doubt about something.  I felt it could
not be modern scepticism, for Murchison was the stoutest of Tories, and
believed in the Pentateuch as firmly as he believed in the House of
Peers; so I concluded that it was a woman, and asked him if he was
married yet.

‘I don’t understand women well enough,’ he answered.

‘My dear Gerald,’ I said, ‘women are meant to be loved, not to be
understood.’

‘I cannot love where I cannot trust,’ he replied.

‘I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,’ I exclaimed; ‘tell
me about it.’

‘Let us go for a drive,’ he answered, ‘it is too crowded here.  No, not a
yellow carriage, any other colour—there, that dark green one will do’;
and in a few moments we were trotting down the boulevard in the direction
of the Madeleine.

‘Where shall we go to?’ I said.

‘Oh, anywhere you like!’ he answered—‘to the restaurant in the Bois; we
will dine there, and you shall tell me all about yourself.’

‘I want to hear about you first,’ I said.  ‘Tell me your mystery.’

He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and handed
it to me.  I opened it.  Inside there was the photograph of a woman.  She
was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with her large vague eyes
and loosened hair.  She looked like a _clairvoyante_, and was wrapped in
rich furs.

‘What do you think of that face?’ he said; ‘is it truthful?’

I examined it carefully.  It seemed to me the face of some one who had a
secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not say.  Its
beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries—the beauty, in fact,
which is psychological, not plastic—and the faint smile that just played
across the lips was far too subtle to be really sweet.

‘Well,’ he cried impatiently, ‘what do you say?’

‘She is the Gioconda in sables,’ I answered.  ‘Let me know all about
her.’

‘Not now,’ he said; ‘after dinner,’ and began to talk of other things.

When the waiter brought us our coffee and cigarettes I reminded Gerald of
his promise.  He rose from his seat, walked two or three times up and
down the room, and, sinking into an armchair, told me the following
story:—

‘One evening,’ he said, ‘I was walking down Bond Street about five
o’clock.  There was a terrific crush of carriages, and the traffic was
almost stopped.  Close to the pavement was standing a little yellow
brougham, which, for some reason or other, attracted my attention.  As I
passed by there looked out from it the face I showed you this afternoon.
It fascinated me immediately.  All that night I kept thinking of it, and
all the next day.  I wandered up and down that wretched Row, peering into
every carriage, and waiting for the yellow brougham; but I could not find
_ma belle inconnue_, and at last I began to think she was merely a dream.
About a week afterwards I was dining with Madame de Rastail.  Dinner was
for eight o’clock; but at half-past eight we were still waiting in the
drawing-room.  Finally the servant threw open the door, and announced
Lady Alroy.  It was the woman I had been looking for.  She came in very
slowly, looking like a moonbeam in grey lace, and, to my intense delight,
I was asked to take her in to dinner.  After we had sat down, I remarked
quite innocently, “I think I caught sight of you in Bond Street some time
ago, Lady Alroy.”  She grew very pale, and said to me in a low voice,
“Pray do not talk so loud; you may be overheard.”  I felt miserable at
having made such a bad beginning, and plunged recklessly into the subject
of the French plays.  She spoke very little, always in the same low
musical voice, and seemed as if she was afraid of some one listening.  I
fell passionately, stupidly in love, and the indefinable atmosphere of
mystery that surrounded her excited my most ardent curiosity.  When she
was going away, which she did very soon after dinner, I asked her if I
might call and see her.  She hesitated for a moment, glanced round to see
if any one was near us, and then said, “Yes; to-morrow at a quarter to
five.”  I begged Madame de Rastail to tell me about her; but all that I
could learn was that she was a widow with a beautiful house in Park Lane,
and as some scientific bore began a dissertation on widows, as
exemplifying the survival of the matrimonially fittest, I left and went
home.

‘The next day I arrived at Park Lane punctual to the moment, but was told
by the butler that Lady Alroy had just gone out.  I went down to the club
quite unhappy and very much puzzled, and after long consideration wrote
her a letter, asking if I might be allowed to try my chance some other
afternoon.  I had no answer for several days, but at last I got a little
note saying she would be at home on Sunday at four and with this
extraordinary postscript: “Please do not write to me here again; I will
explain when I see you.”  On Sunday she received me, and was perfectly
charming; but when I was going away she begged of me, if I ever had
occasion to write to her again, to address my letter to “Mrs. Knox, care
of Whittaker’s Library, Green Street.”  “There are reasons,” she said,
“why I cannot receive letters in my own house.”

‘All through the season I saw a great deal of her, and the atmosphere of
mystery never left her.  Sometimes I thought that she was in the power of
some man, but she looked so unapproachable, that I could not believe it.
It was really very difficult for me to come to any conclusion, for she
was like one of those strange crystals that one sees in museums, which
are at one moment clear, and at another clouded.  At last I determined to
ask her to be my wife: I was sick and tired of the incessant secrecy that
she imposed on all my visits, and on the few letters I sent her.  I wrote
to her at the library to ask her if she could see me the following Monday
at six.  She answered yes, and I was in the seventh heaven of delight.  I
was infatuated with her: in spite of the mystery, I thought then—in
consequence of it, I see now.  No; it was the woman herself I loved.  The
mystery troubled me, maddened me.  Why did chance put me in its track?’

‘You discovered it, then?’ I cried.

‘I fear so,’ he answered.  ‘You can judge for yourself.’

‘When Monday came round I went to lunch with my uncle, and about four
o’clock found myself in the Marylebone Road.  My uncle, you know, lives
in Regent’s Park.  I wanted to get to Piccadilly, and took a short cut
through a lot of shabby little streets.  Suddenly I saw in front of me
Lady Alroy, deeply veiled and walking very fast.  On coming to the last
house in the street, she went up the steps, took out a latch-key, and let
herself in.  “Here is the mystery,” I said to myself; and I hurried on
and examined the house.  It seemed a sort of place for letting lodgings.
On the doorstep lay her handkerchief, which she had dropped.  I picked it
up and put it in my pocket.  Then I began to consider what I should do.
I came to the conclusion that I had no right to spy on her, and I drove
down to the club.  At six I called to see her.  She was lying on a sofa,
in a tea-gown of silver tissue looped up by some strange moonstones that
she always wore.  She was looking quite lovely.  “I am so glad to see
you,” she said; “I have not been out all day.”  I stared at her in
amazement, and pulling the handkerchief out of my pocket, handed it to
her.  “You dropped this in Cumnor Street this afternoon, Lady Alroy,”  I
said very calmly.  She looked at me in terror but made no attempt to take
the handkerchief.  “What were you doing there?” I asked.  “What right
have you to question me?” she answered.  “The right of a man who loves
you,” I replied; “I came here to ask you to be my wife.”  She hid her
face in her hands, and burst into floods of tears.  “You must tell me,” I
continued.  She stood up, and, looking me straight in the face, said,
“Lord Murchison, there is nothing to tell you.”—“You went to meet some
one,” I cried; “this is your mystery.”  She grew dreadfully white, and
said, “I went to meet no one.”—“Can’t you tell the truth?” I exclaimed.
“I have told it,” she replied.  I was mad, frantic; I don’t know what I
said, but I said terrible things to her.  Finally I rushed out of the
house.  She wrote me a letter the next day; I sent it back unopened, and
started for Norway with Alan Colville.  After a month I came back, and
the first thing I saw in the _Morning Post_ was the death of Lady Alroy.
She had caught a chill at the Opera, and had died in five days of
congestion of the lungs.  I shut myself up and saw no one.  I had loved
her so much, I had loved her so madly.  Good God! how I had loved that
woman!’

‘You went to the street, to the house in it?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘One day I went to Cumnor Street.  I could not help it; I was tortured
with doubt.  I knocked at the door, and a respectable-looking woman
opened it to me.  I asked her if she had any rooms to let.  “Well, sir,”
she replied, “the drawing-rooms are supposed to be let; but I have not
seen the lady for three months, and as rent is owing on them, you can
have them.”—“Is this the lady?” I said, showing the photograph.  “That’s
her, sure enough,” she exclaimed; “and when is she coming back,
sir?”—“The lady is dead,” I replied.  “Oh sir, I hope not!” said the
woman; “she was my best lodger.  She paid me three guineas a week merely
to sit in my drawing-rooms now and then.”  “She met some one here?” I
said; but the woman assured me that it was not so, that she always came
alone, and saw no one.  “What on earth did she do here?” I cried.  “She
simply sat in the drawing-room, sir, reading books, and sometimes had
tea,” the woman answered.  I did not know what to say, so I gave her a
sovereign and went away.  Now, what do you think it all meant?  You don’t
believe the woman was telling the truth?’

‘I do.’

‘Then why did Lady Alroy go there?’

‘My dear Gerald,’ I answered, ‘Lady Alroy was simply a woman with a mania
for mystery.  She took these rooms for the pleasure of going there with
her veil down, and imagining she was a heroine.  She had a passion for
secrecy, but she herself was merely a Sphinx without a secret.’

‘Do you really think so?’

‘I am sure of it,’ I replied.

He took out the morocco case, opened it, and looked at the photograph.
‘I wonder?’ he said at last.



THE MODEL MILLIONAIRE
A NOTE OF ADMIRATION


UNLESS one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.
Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the
unemployed.  The poor should be practical and prosaic.  It is better to
have a permanent income than to be fascinating.  These are the great
truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised.  Poor Hughie!
Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance.  He never
said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life.  But then he
was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut
profile, and his grey eyes.  He was as popular with men as he was with
women and he had every accomplishment except that of making money.  His
father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a _History of the
Peninsular War_ in fifteen volumes.  Hughie hung the first over his
looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between _Ruff’s Guide_ and
_Bailey’s Magazine_, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt
allowed him.  He had tried everything.  He had gone on the Stock Exchange
for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears?  He
had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe
and souchong.  Then he had tried selling dry sherry.  That did not
answer; the sherry was a little too dry.  Ultimately he became nothing, a
delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no
profession.

To make matters worse, he was in love.  The girl he loved was Laura
Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his
digestion in India, and had never found either of them again.  Laura
adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoe-strings.  They were the
handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between them.  The
Colonel was very fond of Hughie, but would not hear of any engagement.

‘Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own,
and we will see about it,’ he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum in
those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.

One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons
lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor.  Trevor
was a painter.  Indeed, few people escape that nowadays.  But he was also
an artist, and artists are rather rare.  Personally he was a strange
rough fellow, with a freckled face and a red ragged beard.  However, when
he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures were eagerly
sought after.  He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it
must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his personal charm.  ‘The
only people a painter should know,’ he used to say, ‘are people who are
_bête_ and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and
an intellectual repose to talk to.  Men who are dandies and women who are
darlings rule the world, at least they should do so.’  However, after he
got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright,
buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and had given him the
permanent _entrée_ to his studio.

When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a
wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man.  The beggar himself was
standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio.  He was a
wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous
expression.  Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears
and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand
he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered
hat for alms.

‘What an amazing model!’ whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his
friend.

‘An amazing model?’ shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; ‘I should
think so!  Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day.  A
_trouvaille_, _mon cher_; a living Velasquez!  My stars! what an etching
Rembrandt would have made of him!’

‘Poor old chap!’ said Hughie, ‘how miserable he looks!  But I suppose, to
you painters, his face is his fortune?’

‘Certainly,’ replied Trevor, ‘you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do
you?’

‘How much does a model get for sitting?’ asked Hughie, as he found
himself a comfortable seat on a divan.

‘A shilling an hour.’

‘And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?’

‘Oh, for this I get two thousand!’

‘Pounds?’

‘Guineas.  Painters, poets, and physicians always get guineas.’

‘Well, I think the model should have a percentage,’ cried Hughie,
laughing; ‘they work quite as hard as you do.’

‘Nonsense, nonsense!  Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint
alone, and standing all day long at one’s easel!  It’s all very well,
Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art
almost attains to the dignity of manual labour.  But you mustn’t chatter;
I’m very busy.  Smoke a cigarette, and keep quiet.’

After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the framemaker
wanted to speak to him.

‘Don’t run away, Hughie,’ he said, as he went out, ‘I will be back in a
moment.’

The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor’s absence to rest for a
moment on a wooden bench that was behind him.  He looked so forlorn and
wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and felt in his pockets
to see what money he had.  All he could find was a sovereign and some
coppers.  ‘Poor old fellow,’ he thought to himself, ‘he wants it more
than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight’; and he walked across
the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar’s hand.

The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, ‘thank you.’

Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what
he had done.  He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for
his extravagance, and had to walk home.

That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o’clock, and
found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and
seltzer.

‘Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?’ he said, as he
lit his cigarette.

‘Finished and framed, my boy!’ answered Trevor; ‘and, by the bye, you
have made a conquest.  That old model you saw is quite devoted to you.  I
had to tell him all about you—who you are, where you live, what your
income is, what prospects you have—’

‘My dear Alan,’ cried Hughie, ‘I shall probably find him waiting for me
when I go home.  But of course you are only joking.  Poor old wretch!  I
wish I could do something for him.  I think it is dreadful that any one
should be so miserable.  I have got heaps of old clothes at home—do you
think he would care for any of them?  Why, his rags were falling to
bits.’

‘But he looks splendid in them,’ said Trevor.  ‘I wouldn’t paint him in a
frock coat for anything.  What you call rags I call romance.  What seems
poverty to you is picturesqueness to me.  However, I’ll tell him of your
offer.’

‘Alan,’ said Hughie seriously, ‘you painters are a heartless lot.’

‘An artist’s heart is his head,’ replied Trevor; ‘and besides, our
business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as we
know it.  _À chacun son métier_.  And now tell me how Laura is.  The old
model was quite interested in her.’

‘You don’t mean to say you talked to him about her?’ said Hughie.

‘Certainly I did.  He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely
Laura, and the £10,000.’

‘You told that old beggar all my private affairs?’ cried Hughie, looking
very red and angry.

‘My dear boy,’ said Trevor, smiling, ‘that old beggar, as you call him,
is one of the richest men in Europe.  He could buy all London to-morrow
without overdrawing his account.  He has a house in every capital, dines
off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.’

‘What on earth do you mean?’ exclaimed Hughie.

‘What I say,’ said Trevor.  ‘The old man you saw to-day in the studio was
Baron Hausberg.  He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and
that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as
a beggar.  _Que voulez-vous_?  _La fantaisie d’un millionnaire_!  And I
must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or perhaps I should
say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.’

‘Baron Hausberg!’ cried Hughie.  ‘Good heavens!  I gave him a sovereign!’
and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.

‘Gave him a sovereign!’ shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of
laughter.  ‘My dear boy, you’ll never see it again.  _Son affaire c’est
l’argent des autres_.’

‘I think you might have told me, Alan,’ said Hughie sulkily, ‘and not
have let me make such a fool of myself.’

‘Well, to begin with, Hughie,’ said Trevor, ‘it never entered my mind
that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way.  I can
understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an
ugly one—by Jove, no!  Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home
to-day to any one; and when you came in I didn’t know whether Hausberg
would like his name mentioned.  You know he wasn’t in full dress.’

‘What a duffer he must think me!’ said Hughie.

‘Not at all.  He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept
chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together.  I
couldn’t make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I
see it all now.  He’ll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the
interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after
dinner.’

‘I am an unlucky devil,’ growled Hughie.  ‘The best thing I can do is to
go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn’t tell any one.  I shouldn’t dare
show my face in the Row.’

‘Nonsense!  It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit,
Hughie.  And don’t run away.  Have another cigarette, and you can talk
about Laura as much as you like.’

However, Hughie wouldn’t stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and
leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a
card on which was written, ‘Monsieur Gustave Naudin, _de la part de_ M.
le Baron Hausberg.’  ‘I suppose he has come for an apology,’ said Hughie
to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the room,
and said, in a slight French accent, ‘Have I the honour of addressing
Monsieur Erskine?’

Hughie bowed.

‘I have come from Baron Hausberg,’ he continued.  ‘The Baron—’

‘I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincerest apologies,’ stammered
Hughie.

‘The Baron,’ said the old gentleman with a smile, ‘has commissioned me to
bring you this letter’; and he extended a sealed envelope.

On the outside was written, ‘A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura
Merton, from an old beggar,’ and inside was a cheque for £10,000.

When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a
speech at the wedding breakfast.

‘Millionaire models,’ remarked Alan, ‘are rare enough; but, by Jove,
model millionaires are rarer still!’



THE PORTRAIT OF MR. W. H.


CHAPTER I


I HAD been dining with Erskine in his pretty little house in Birdcage
Walk, and we were sitting in the library over our coffee and cigarettes,
when the question of literary forgeries happened to turn up in
conversation.  I cannot at present remember how it was that we struck
upon this somewhat curious topic, as it was at that time, but I know that
we had a long discussion about Macpherson, Ireland, and Chatterton, and
that with regard to the last I insisted that his so-called forgeries were
merely the result of an artistic desire for perfect representation; that
we had no right to quarrel with an artist for the conditions under which
he chooses to present his work; and that all Art being to a certain
degree a mode of acting, an attempt to realise one’s own personality on
some imaginative plane out of reach of the trammelling accidents and
limitations of real life, to censure an artist for a forgery was to
confuse an ethical with an æsthetical problem.

Erskine, who was a good deal older than I was, and had been listening to
me with the amused deference of a man of forty, suddenly put his hand
upon my shoulder and said to me, ‘What would you say about a young man
who had a strange theory about a certain work of art, believed in his
theory, and committed a forgery in order to prove it?’

‘Ah! that is quite a different matter,’ I answered.

Erskine remained silent for a few moments, looking at the thin grey
threads of smoke that were rising from his cigarette.  ‘Yes,’ he said,
after a pause, ‘quite different.’

There was something in the tone of his voice, a slight touch of
bitterness perhaps, that excited my curiosity.  ‘Did you ever know
anybody who did that?’ I cried.

‘Yes,’ he answered, throwing his cigarette into the fire,—‘a great friend
of mine, Cyril Graham.  He was very fascinating, and very foolish, and
very heartless.  However, he left me the only legacy I ever received in
my life.’

‘What was that?’ I exclaimed.  Erskine rose from his seat, and going over
to a tall inlaid cabinet that stood between the two windows, unlocked it,
and came back to where I was sitting, holding in his hand a small panel
picture set in an old and somewhat tarnished Elizabethan frame.

It was a full-length portrait of a young man in late sixteenth-century
costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on an open
book.  He seemed about seventeen years of age, and was of quite
extraordinary personal beauty, though evidently somewhat effeminate.
Indeed, had it not been for the dress and the closely cropped hair, one
would have said that the face with its dreamy wistful eyes, and its
delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl.  In manner, and especially
in the treatment of the hands, the picture reminded one of François
Clouet’s later work.  The black velvet doublet with its fantastically
gilded points, and the peacock-blue background against which it showed up
so pleasantly, and from which it gained such luminous value of colour,
were quite in Clouet’s style; and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy
that hung somewhat formally from the marble pedestal had that hard
severity of touch—so different from the facile grace of the
Italians—which even at the Court of France the great Flemish master never
completely lost, and which in itself has always been a characteristic of
the northern temper.

‘It is a charming thing,’ I cried, ‘but who is this wonderful young man,
whose beauty Art has so happily preserved for us?’

‘This is the portrait of Mr. W. H.,’ said Erskine, with a sad smile.  It
might have been a chance effect of light, but it seemed to me that his
eyes were quite bright with tears.

‘Mr. W. H.!’ I exclaimed; ‘who was Mr. W. H.?’

‘Don’t you remember?’ he answered; ‘look at the book on which his hand is
resting.’

‘I see there is some writing there, but I cannot make it out,’ I replied.

‘Take this magnifying-glass and try,’ said Erskine, with the same sad
smile still playing about his mouth.

I took the glass, and moving the lamp a little nearer, I began to spell
out the crabbed sixteenth-century handwriting.  ‘To the onlie begetter of
these insuing sonnets.’ . . . ‘Good heavens!’ I cried, ‘is this
Shakespeare’s Mr. W. H.?’

‘Cyril Graham used to say so,’ muttered Erskine.

‘But it is not a bit like Lord Pembroke,’ I answered.  ‘I know the
Penshurst portraits very well.  I was staying near there a few weeks
ago.’

‘Do you really believe then that the sonnets are addressed to Lord
Pembroke?’ he asked.

‘I am sure of it,’ I answered.  ‘Pembroke, Shakespeare, and Mrs. Mary
Fitton are the three personages of the Sonnets; there is no doubt at all
about it.’

‘Well, I agree with you,’ said Erskine, ‘but I did not always think so.
I used to believe—well, I suppose I used to believe in Cyril Graham and
his theory.’

‘And what was that?’ I asked, looking at the wonderful portrait, which
had already begun to have a strange fascination for me.

‘It is a long story,’ said Erskine, taking the picture away from
me—rather abruptly I thought at the time—‘a very long story; but if you
care to hear it, I will tell it to you.’

‘I love theories about the Sonnets,’ I cried; ‘but I don’t think I am
likely to be converted to any new idea.  The matter has ceased to be a
mystery to any one.  Indeed, I wonder that it ever was a mystery.’

‘As I don’t believe in the theory, I am not likely to convert you to it,’
said Erskine, laughing; ‘but it may interest you.’

‘Tell it to me, of course,’ I answered.  ‘If it is half as delightful as
the picture, I shall be more than satisfied.’

‘Well,’ said Erskine, lighting a cigarette, ‘I must begin by telling you
about Cyril Graham himself.  He and I were at the same house at Eton.  I
was a year or two older than he was, but we were immense friends, and did
all our work and all our play together.  There was, of course, a good
deal more play than work, but I cannot say that I am sorry for that.  It
is always an advantage not to have received a sound commercial education,
and what I learned in the playing fields at Eton has been quite as useful
to me as anything I was taught at Cambridge.  I should tell you that
Cyril’s father and mother were both dead.  They had been drowned in a
horrible yachting accident off the Isle of Wight.  His father had been in
the diplomatic service, and had married a daughter, the only daughter, in
fact, of old Lord Crediton, who became Cyril’s guardian after the death
of his parents.  I don’t think that Lord Crediton cared very much for
Cyril.  He had never really forgiven his daughter for marrying a man who
had not a title.  He was an extraordinary old aristocrat, who swore like
a costermonger, and had the manners of a farmer.  I remember seeing him
once on Speech-day.  He growled at me, gave me a sovereign, and told me
not to grow up “a damned Radical” like my father.  Cyril had very little
affection for him, and was only too glad to spend most of his holidays
with us in Scotland.  They never really got on together at all.  Cyril
thought him a bear, and he thought Cyril effeminate.  He was effeminate,
I suppose, in some things, though he was a very good rider and a capital
fencer.  In fact he got the foils before he left Eton.  But he was very
languid in his manner, and not a little vain of his good looks, and had a
strong objection to football.  The two things that really gave him
pleasure were poetry and acting.  At Eton he was always dressing up and
reciting Shakespeare, and when we went up to Trinity he became a member
of the A.D.C. his first term.  I remember I was always very jealous of
his acting.  I was absurdly devoted to him; I suppose because we were so
different in some things.  I was a rather awkward, weakly lad, with huge
feet, and horribly freckled.  Freckles run in Scotch families just as
gout does in English families.  Cyril used to say that of the two he
preferred the gout; but he always set an absurdly high value on personal
appearance, and once read a paper before our debating society to prove
that it was better to be good-looking than to be good.  He certainly was
wonderfully handsome.  People who did not like him, Philistines and
college tutors, and young men reading for the Church, used to say that he
was merely pretty; but there was a great deal more in his face than mere
prettiness.  I think he was the most splendid creature I ever saw, and
nothing could exceed the grace of his movements, the charm of his manner.
He fascinated everybody who was worth fascinating, and a great many
people who were not.  He was often wilful and petulant, and I used to
think him dreadfully insincere.  It was due, I think, chiefly to his
inordinate desire to please.  Poor Cyril!  I told him once that he was
contented with very cheap triumphs, but he only laughed.  He was horribly
spoiled.  All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled.  It is the secret of
their attraction.

‘However, I must tell you about Cyril’s acting.  You know that no
actresses are allowed to play at the A.D.C.  At least they were not in my
time.  I don’t know how it is now.  Well, of course, Cyril was always
cast for the girls’ parts, and when _As You Like It_ was produced he
played Rosalind.  It was a marvellous performance.  In fact, Cyril Graham
was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen.  It would be impossible
to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy, the refinement of the whole
thing.  It made an immense sensation, and the horrid little theatre, as
it was then, was crowded every night.  Even when I read the play now I
can’t help thinking of Cyril.  It might have been written for him.  The
next term he took his degree, and came to London to read for the
diplomatic.  But he never did any work.  He spent his days in reading
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and his evenings at the theatre.  He was, of
course, wild to go on the stage.  It was all that I and Lord Crediton
could do to prevent him.  Perhaps if he had gone on the stage he would be
alive now.  It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good
advice is absolutely fatal.  I hope you will never fall into that error.
If you do, you will be sorry for it.

‘Well, to come to the real point of the story, one day I got a letter
from Cyril asking me to come round to his rooms that evening.  He had
charming chambers in Piccadilly overlooking the Green Park, and as I used
to go to see him every day, I was rather surprised at his taking the
trouble to write.  Of course I went, and when I arrived I found him in a
state of great excitement.  He told me that he had at last discovered the
true secret of Shakespeare’s Sonnets; that all the scholars and critics
had been entirely on the wrong tack; and that he was the first who,
working purely by internal evidence, had found out who Mr. W. H. really
was.  He was perfectly wild with delight, and for a long time would not
tell me his theory.  Finally, he produced a bundle of notes, took his
copy of the Sonnets off the mantelpiece, and sat down and gave me a long
lecture on the whole subject.

‘He began by pointing out that the young man to whom Shakespeare
addressed these strangely passionate poems must have been somebody who
was a really vital factor in the development of his dramatic art, and
that this could not be said either of Lord Pembroke or Lord Southampton.
Indeed, whoever he was, he could not have been anybody of high birth, as
was shown very clearly by the 25th Sonnet, in which Shakespeare
contrasting himself with those who are “great princes’ favourites,” says
quite frankly—

    Let those who are in favour with their stars
    Of public honour and proud titles boast,
    Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
    Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.

And ends the sonnet by congratulating himself on the mean state of him he
so adored.

    Then happy I, that love and am beloved
    Where I may not remove nor be removed.

This sonnet Cyril declared would be quite unintelligible if we fancied
that it was addressed to either the Earl of Pembroke or the Earl of
Southampton, both of whom were men of the highest position in England and
fully entitled to be called “great princes”; and he in corroboration of
his view read me Sonnets CXXIV. and CXXV., in which Shakespeare tells us
that his love is not “the child of state,” that it “suffers not in
smiling pomp,” but is “builded far from accident.”  I listened with a
good deal of interest, for I don’t think the point had ever been made
before; but what followed was still more curious, and seemed to me at the
time to dispose entirely of Pembroke’s claim.  We know from Meres that
the Sonnets had been written before 1598, and Sonnet CIV. informs us that
Shakespeare’s friendship for Mr. W. H. had been already in existence for
three years.  Now Lord Pembroke, who was born in 1580, did not come to
London till he was eighteen years of age, that is to say till 1598, and
Shakespeare’s acquaintance with Mr. W. H. must have begun in 1594, or at
the latest in 1595.  Shakespeare, accordingly, could not have known Lord
Pembroke till after the Sonnets had been written.

‘Cyril pointed out also that Pembroke’s father did not die till 1601;
whereas it was evident from the line,

    You had a father; let your son say so,

that the father of Mr. W. H. was dead in 1598.  Besides, it was absurd to
imagine that any publisher of the time, and the preface is from the
publisher’s hand, would have ventured to address William Herbert, Earl of
Pembroke, as Mr. W. H.; the case of Lord Buckhurst being spoken of as Mr.
Sackville being not really a parallel instance, as Lord Buckhurst was not
a peer, but merely the younger son of a peer, with a courtesy title, and
the passage in _England’s Parnassus_, where he is so spoken of, is not a
formal and stately dedication, but simply a casual allusion.  So far for
Lord Pembroke, whose supposed claims Cyril easily demolished while I sat
by in wonder.  With Lord Southampton Cyril had even less difficulty.
Southampton became at a very early age the lover of Elizabeth Vernon, so
he needed no entreaties to marry; he was not beautiful; he did not
resemble his mother, as Mr. W. H. did—

    Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
    Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

and, above all, his Christian name was Henry, whereas the punning sonnets
(CXXXV. and CXLIII.) show that the Christian name of Shakespeare’s friend
was the same as his own—_Will_.

‘As for the other suggestions of unfortunate commentators, that Mr. W. H.
is a misprint for Mr. W. S., meaning Mr. William Shakespeare; that “Mr.
W. H. all” should be read “Mr. W. Hall”; that Mr. W. H. is Mr. William
Hathaway; and that a full stop should be placed after “wisheth,” making
Mr. W. H. the writer and not the subject of the dedication,—Cyril got rid
of them in a very short time; and it is not worth while to mention his
reasons, though I remember he sent me off into a fit of laughter by
reading to me, I am glad to say not in the original, some extracts from a
German commentator called Barnstorff, who insisted that Mr. W. H. was no
less a person than “Mr. William Himself.”  Nor would he allow for a
moment that the Sonnets are mere satires on the work of Drayton and John
Davies of Hereford.  To him, as indeed to me, they were poems of serious
and tragic import, wrung out of the bitterness of Shakespeare’s heart,
and made sweet by the honey of his lips.  Still less would he admit that
they were merely a philosophical allegory, and that in them Shakespeare
is addressing his Ideal Self, or Ideal Manhood, or the Spirit of Beauty,
or the Reason, or the Divine Logos, or the Catholic Church.  He felt, as
indeed I think we all must feel, that the Sonnets are addressed to an
individual,—to a particular young man whose personality for some reason
seems to have filled the soul of Shakespeare with terrible joy and no
less terrible despair.

‘Having in this manner cleared the way as it were, Cyril asked me to
dismiss from my mind any preconceived ideas I might have formed on the
subject, and to give a fair and unbiassed hearing to his own theory.  The
problem he pointed out was this: Who was that young man of Shakespeare’s
day who, without being of noble birth or even of noble nature, was
addressed by him in terms of such passionate adoration that we can but
wonder at the strange worship, and are almost afraid to turn the key that
unlocks the mystery of the poet’s heart?  Who was he whose physical
beauty was such that it became the very corner-stone of Shakespeare’s
art; the very source of Shakespeare’s inspiration; the very incarnation
of Shakespeare’s dreams?  To look upon him as simply the object of
certain love-poems is to miss the whole meaning of the poems: for the art
of which Shakespeare talks in the Sonnets is not the art of the Sonnets
themselves, which indeed were to him but slight and secret things—it is
the art of the dramatist to which he is always alluding; and he to whom
Shakespeare said—

          Thou art all my art, and dost advance
    As high as learning my rude ignorance,

he to whom he promised immortality,

    Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men,—

was surely none other than the boy-actor for whom he created Viola and
Imogen, Juliet and Rosalind, Portia and Desdemona, and Cleopatra herself.
This was Cyril Graham’s theory, evolved as you see purely from the
Sonnets themselves, and depending for its acceptance not so much on
demonstrable proof or formal evidence, but on a kind of spiritual and
artistic sense, by which alone he claimed could the true meaning of the
poems be discerned.  I remember his reading to me that fine sonnet—

    How can my Muse want subject to invent,
    While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
    Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
    For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
    O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
    Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
    For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
    When thou thyself dost give invention light?
    Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
    Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
    And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
    Eternal numbers to outlive long date—

and pointing out how completely it corroborated his theory; and indeed he
went through all the Sonnets carefully, and showed, or fancied that he
showed, that, according to his new explanation of their meaning, things
that had seemed obscure, or evil, or exaggerated, became clear and
rational, and of high artistic import, illustrating Shakespeare’s
conception of the true relations between the art of the actor and the art
of the dramatist.

‘It is of course evident that there must have been in Shakespeare’s
company some wonderful boy-actor of great beauty, to whom he intrusted
the presentation of his noble heroines; for Shakespeare was a practical
theatrical manager as well as an imaginative poet, and Cyril Graham had
actually discovered the boy-actor’s name.  He was Will, or, as he
preferred to call him, Willie Hughes.  The Christian name he found of
course in the punning sonnets, CXXXV. and CXLIII.; the surname was,
according to him, hidden in the seventh line of the 20th Sonnet, where
Mr. W. H. is described as—

    A man in hew, all _Hews_ in his controwling.

‘In the original edition of the Sonnets “Hews” is printed with a capital
letter and in italics, and this, he claimed, showed clearly that a play
on words was intended, his view receiving a good deal of corroboration
from those sonnets in which curious puns are made on the words “use” and
“usury.”  Of course I was converted at once, and Willie Hughes became to
me as real a person as Shakespeare.  The only objection I made to the
theory was that the name of Willie Hughes does not occur in the list of
the actors of Shakespeare’s company as it is printed in the first folio.
Cyril, however, pointed out that the absence of Willie Hughes’s name from
this list really corroborated the theory, as it was evident from Sonnet
LXXXVI. that Willie Hughes had abandoned Shakespeare’s company to play at
a rival theatre, probably in some of Chapman’s plays.  It is in reference
to this that in the great sonnet on Chapman, Shakespeare said to Willie
Hughes—

    But when your countenance fill’d up his line,
    Then lack’d I matter; that enfeebled mine—

the expression “when your countenance filled up his line” referring
obviously to the beauty of the young actor giving life and reality and
added charm to Chapman’s verse, the same idea being also put forward in
the 79th Sonnet—

    Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
    My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
    But now my gracious numbers are decay’d,
    And my sick Muse doth give another place;

and in the immediately preceding sonnet, where Shakespeare says—

          Every alien pen has got my _use_
    And under thee their poesy disperse,

the play upon words (use=Hughes) being of course obvious, and the phrase
“under thee their poesy disperse,” meaning “by your assistance as an
actor bring their plays before the people.”

‘It was a wonderful evening, and we sat up almost till dawn reading and
re-reading the Sonnets.  After some time, however, I began to see that
before the theory could be placed before the world in a really perfected
form, it was necessary to get some independent evidence about the
existence of this young actor, Willie Hughes.  If this could be once
established, there could be no possible doubt about his identity with Mr.
W. H.; but otherwise the theory would fall to the ground.  I put this
forward very strongly to Cyril, who was a good deal annoyed at what he
called my Philistine tone of mind, and indeed was rather bitter upon the
subject.  However, I made him promise that in his own interest he would
not publish his discovery till he had put the whole matter beyond the
reach of doubt; and for weeks and weeks we searched the registers of City
churches, the Alleyn MSS. at Dulwich, the Record Office, the papers of
the Lord Chamberlain—everything, in fact, that we thought might contain
some allusion to Willie Hughes.  We discovered nothing, of course, and
every day the existence of Willie Hughes seemed to me to become more
problematical.  Cyril was in a dreadful state, and used to go over the
whole question day after day, entreating me to believe; but I saw the one
flaw in the theory, and I refused to be convinced till the actual
existence of Willie Hughes, a boy-actor of Elizabethan days, had been
placed beyond the reach of doubt or cavil.

‘One day Cyril left town to stay with his grandfather, I thought at the
time, but I afterwards heard from Lord Crediton that this was not the
case; and about a fortnight afterwards I received a telegram from him,
handed in at Warwick, asking me to be sure to come and dine with him that
evening at eight o’clock.  When I arrived, he said to me, “The only
apostle who did not deserve proof was St. Thomas, and St. Thomas was the
only apostle who got it.”  I asked him what he meant.  He answered that
he had not merely been able to establish the existence in the sixteenth
century of a boy-actor of the name of Willie Hughes, but to prove by the
most conclusive evidence that he was the Mr. W. H. of the Sonnets.  He
would not tell me anything more at the time; but after dinner he solemnly
produced the picture I showed you, and told me that he had discovered it
by the merest chance nailed to the side of an old chest that he had
bought at a farmhouse in Warwickshire.  The chest itself, which was a
very fine example of Elizabethan work, he had, of course, brought with
him, and in the centre of the front panel the initials W. H. were
undoubtedly carved.  It was this monogram that had attracted his
attention, and he told me that it was not till he had had the chest in
his possession for several days that he had thought of making any careful
examination of the inside.  One morning, however, he saw that one of the
sides of the chest was much thicker than the other, and looking more
closely, he discovered that a framed panel picture was clamped against
it.  On taking it out, he found it was the picture that is now lying on
the sofa.  It was very dirty, and covered with mould; but he managed to
clean it, and, to his great joy, saw that he had fallen by mere chance on
the one thing for which he had been looking.  Here was an authentic
portrait of Mr. W. H., with his hand resting on the dedicatory page of
the Sonnets, and on the frame itself could be faintly seen the name of
the young man written in black uncial letters on a faded gold ground,
“Master Will. Hews.”

‘Well, what was I to say?  It never occurred to me for a moment that
Cyril Graham was playing a trick on me, or that he was trying to prove
his theory by means of a forgery.’

‘But is it a forgery?’ I asked.

‘Of course it is,’ said Erskine.  ‘It is a very good forgery; but it is a
forgery none the less.  I thought at the time that Cyril was rather calm
about the whole matter; but I remember he more than once told me that he
himself required no proof of the kind, and that he thought the theory
complete without it.  I laughed at him, and told him that without it the
theory would fall to the ground, and I warmly congratulated him on the
marvellous discovery.  We then arranged that the picture should be etched
or facsimiled, and placed as the frontispiece to Cyril’s edition of the
Sonnets; and for three months we did nothing but go over each poem line
by line, till we had settled every difficulty of text or meaning.  One
unlucky day I was in a print-shop in Holborn, when I saw upon the counter
some extremely beautiful drawings in silver-point.  I was so attracted by
them that I bought them; and the proprietor of the place, a man called
Rawlings, told me that they were done by a young painter of the name of
Edward Merton, who was very clever, but as poor as a church mouse.  I
went to see Merton some days afterwards, having got his address from the
printseller, and found a pale, interesting young man, with a rather
common-looking wife—his model, as I subsequently learned.  I told him how
much I admired his drawings, at which he seemed very pleased, and I asked
him if he would show me some of his other work.  As we were looking over
a portfolio, full of really very lovely things,—for Merton had a most
delicate and delightful touch,—I suddenly caught sight of a drawing of
the picture of Mr. W. H.  There was no doubt whatever about it.  It was
almost a _facsimile_—the only difference being that the two masks of
Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table as they are
in the picture, but were lying on the floor at the young man’s feet.
“Where on earth did you get that?” I said.  He grew rather confused, and
said—“Oh, that is nothing.  I did not know it was in this portfolio.  It
is not a thing of any value.”  “It is what you did for Mr. Cyril Graham,”
exclaimed his wife; “and if this gentleman wishes to buy it, let him have
it.”  “For Mr. Cyril Graham?” I repeated.  “Did you paint the picture of
Mr. W. H.?”  “I don’t understand what you mean,” he answered, growing
very red.  Well, the whole thing was quite dreadful.  The wife let it all
out.  I gave her five pounds when I was going away.  I can’t bear to
think of it now; but of course I was furious.  I went off at once to
Cyril’s chambers, waited there for three hours before he came in, with
that horrid lie staring me in the face, and told him I had discovered his
forgery.  He grew very pale and said—“I did it purely for your sake.  You
would not be convinced in any other way.  It does not affect the truth of
the theory.”  “The truth of the theory!” I exclaimed; “the less we talk
about that the better.  You never even believed in it yourself.  If you
had, you would not have committed a forgery to prove it.”  High words
passed between us; we had a fearful quarrel.  I dare say I was unjust.
The next morning he was dead.’

‘Dead!’ I cried,

‘Yes; he shot himself with a revolver.  Some of the blood splashed upon
the frame of the picture, just where the name had been painted.  By the
time I arrived—his servant had sent for me at once—the police were
already there.  He had left a letter for me, evidently written in the
greatest agitation and distress of mind.’

‘What was in it?’ I asked.

‘Oh, that he believed absolutely in Willie Hughes; that the forgery of
the picture had been done simply as a concession to me, and did not in
the slightest degree invalidate the truth of the theory; and, that in
order to show me how firm and flawless his faith in the whole thing was,
he was going to offer his life as a sacrifice to the secret of the
Sonnets.  It was a foolish, mad letter.  I remember he ended by saying
that he intrusted to me the Willie Hughes theory, and that it was for me
to present it to the world, and to unlock the secret of Shakespeare’s
heart.’

‘It is a most tragic story,’ I cried; ‘but why have you not carried out
his wishes?’

Erskine shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Because it is a perfectly unsound
theory from beginning to end,’ he answered.

‘My dear Erskine,’ I said, getting up from my seat, ‘you are entirely
wrong about the whole matter.  It is the only perfect key to
Shakespeare’s Sonnets that has ever been made.  It is complete in every
detail.  I believe in Willie Hughes.’

‘Don’t say that,’ said Erskine gravely; ‘I believe there is something
fatal about the idea, and intellectually there is nothing to be said for
it.  I have gone into the whole matter, and I assure you the theory is
entirely fallacious.  It is plausible up to a certain point.  Then it
stops.  For heaven’s sake, my dear boy, don’t take up the subject of
Willie Hughes.  You will break your heart over it.’

‘Erskine,’ I answered, ‘it is your duty to give this theory to the world.
If you will not do it, I will.  By keeping it back you wrong the memory
of Cyril Graham, the youngest and the most splendid of all the martyrs of
literature.  I entreat you to do him justice.  He died for this
thing,—don’t let his death be in vain.’

Erskine looked at me in amazement.  ‘You are carried away by the
sentiment of the whole story,’ he said.  ‘You forget that a thing is not
necessarily true because a man dies for it.  I was devoted to Cyril
Graham.  His death was a horrible blow to me.  I did not recover it for
years.  I don’t think I have ever recovered it.  But Willie Hughes?
There is nothing in the idea of Willie Hughes.  No such person ever
existed.  As for bringing the whole thing before the world—the world
thinks that Cyril Graham shot himself by accident.  The only proof of his
suicide was contained in the letter to me, and of this letter the public
never heard anything.  To the present day Lord Crediton thinks that the
whole thing was accidental.’

‘Cyril Graham sacrificed his life to a great Idea,’ I answered; ‘and if
you will not tell of his martyrdom, tell at least of his faith.’

‘His faith,’ said Erskine, ‘was fixed in a thing that was false, in a
thing that was unsound, in a thing that no Shakespearean scholar would
accept for a moment.  The theory would be laughed at.  Don’t make a fool
of yourself, and don’t follow a trail that leads nowhere.  You start by
assuming the existence of the very person whose existence is the thing to
be proved.  Besides, everybody knows that the Sonnets were addressed to
Lord Pembroke.  The matter is settled once for all.’

‘The matter is not settled!’ I exclaimed.  ‘I will take up the theory
where Cyril Graham left it, and I will prove to the world that he was
right.’

‘Silly boy!’ said Erskine.  ‘Go home: it is after two, and don’t think
about Willie Hughes any more.  I am sorry I told you anything about it,
and very sorry indeed that I should have converted you to a thing in
which I don’t believe.’

‘You have given me the key to the greatest mystery of modern literature,’
I answered; ‘and I shall not rest till I have made you recognise, till I
have made everybody recognise, that Cyril Graham was the most subtle
Shakespearean critic of our day.’

As I walked home through St. James’s Park the dawn was just breaking over
London.  The white swans were lying asleep on the polished lake, and the
gaunt Palace looked purple against the pale-green sky.  I thought of
Cyril Graham, and my eyes filled with tears.



CHAPTER II


IT was past twelve o’clock when I awoke, and the sun was streaming in
through the curtains of my room in long slanting beams of dusty gold.  I
told my servant that I would be at home to no one; and after I had had a
cup of chocolate and a _petit-pain_, I took down from the book-shelf my
copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and began to go carefully through them.
Every poem seemed to me to corroborate Cyril Graham’s theory.  I felt as
if I had my hand upon Shakespeare’s heart, and was counting each separate
throb and pulse of passion.  I thought of the wonderful boy-actor, and
saw his face in every line.

Two sonnets, I remember, struck me particularly: they were the 53rd and
the 67th.  In the first of these, Shakespeare, complimenting Willie
Hughes on the versatility of his acting, on his wide range of parts, a
range extending from Rosalind to Juliet, and from Beatrice to Ophelia,
says to him—

    What is your substance, whereof are you made,
    That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
    Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
    And you, but one, can every shadow lend—

lines that would be unintelligible if they were not addressed to an
actor, for the word ‘shadow’ had in Shakespeare’s day a technical meaning
connected with the stage.  ‘The best in this kind are but shadows,’ says
Theseus of the actors in the _Midsummer Night’s Dream_, and there are
many similar allusions in the literature of the day.  These sonnets
evidently belonged to the series in which Shakespeare discusses the
nature of the actor’s art, and of the strange and rare temperament that
is essential to the perfect stage-player.  ‘How is it,’ says Shakespeare
to Willie Hughes, ‘that you have so many personalities?’ and then he goes
on to point out that his beauty is such that it seems to realise every
form and phase of fancy, to embody each dream of the creative
imagination—an idea that is still further expanded in the sonnet that
immediately follows, where, beginning with the fine thought,

    O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
    By that sweet ornament which _truth_ doth give!

Shakespeare invites us to notice how the truth of acting, the truth of
visible presentation on the stage, adds to the wonder of poetry, giving
life to its loveliness, and actual reality to its ideal form.  And yet,
in the 67th Sonnet, Shakespeare calls upon Willie Hughes to abandon the
stage with its artificiality, its false mimic life of painted face and
unreal costume, its immoral influences and suggestions, its remoteness
from the true world of noble action and sincere utterance.

    Ah, wherefore with infection should he live
    And with his presence grace impiety,
    That sin by him advantage should achieve
    And lace itself with his society?
    Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
    And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
    Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
    Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?

It may seem strange that so great a dramatist as Shakespeare, who
realised his own perfection as an artist and his humanity as a man on the
ideal plane of stage-writing and stage-playing, should have written in
these terms about the theatre; but we must remember that in Sonnets CX.
and CXI. Shakespeare shows us that he too was wearied of the world of
puppets, and full of shame at having made himself ‘a motley to the view.’
The 111th Sonnet is especially bitter:—

    O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
    The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
    That did not better for my life provide
    Than public means which public manners breeds.
    Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
    And almost thence my nature is subdued
    To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand:
    Pity me then and wish I were renew’d—

and there are many signs elsewhere of the same feeling, signs familiar to
all real students of Shakespeare.

One point puzzled me immensely as I read the Sonnets, and it was days
before I struck on the true interpretation, which indeed Cyril Graham
himself seems to have missed.  I could not understand how it was that
Shakespeare set so high a value on his young friend marrying.  He himself
had married young, and the result had been unhappiness, and it was not
likely that he would have asked Willie Hughes to commit the same error.
The boy-player of Rosalind had nothing to gain from marriage, or from the
passions of real life.  The early sonnets, with their strange entreaties
to have children, seemed to me a jarring note.  The explanation of the
mystery came on me quite suddenly, and I found it in the curious
dedication.  It will be remembered that the dedication runs as follows:—

                           TO THE ONLIE BEGETTER OF
                            THESE INSUING SONNETS
                           MR. W. H. ALL HAPPINESSE
                              AND THAT ETERNITIE
                                   PROMISED
                                      BY
                             OUR EVER-LIVING POET
                                   WISHETH
                               THE WELL-WISHING
                                ADVENTURER IN
                                   SETTING
                                    FORTH.

                                                                     T. T.

Some scholars have supposed that the word ‘begetter’ in this dedication
means simply the procurer of the Sonnets for Thomas Thorpe the publisher;
but this view is now generally abandoned, and the highest authorities are
quite agreed that it is to be taken in the sense of inspirer, the
metaphor being drawn from the analogy of physical life.  Now I saw that
the same metaphor was used by Shakespeare himself all through the poems,
and this set me on the right track.  Finally I made my great discovery.
The marriage that Shakespeare proposes for Willie Hughes is the marriage
with his Muse, an expression which is definitely put forward in the 82nd
Sonnet, where, in the bitterness of his heart at the defection of the
boy-actor for whom he had written his greatest parts, and whose beauty
had indeed suggested them, he opens his complaint by saying—

    I grant thou wert not married to my Muse.

The children he begs him to beget are no children of flesh and blood, but
more immortal children of undying fame.  The whole cycle of the early
sonnets is simply Shakespeare’s invitation to Willie Hughes to go upon
the stage and become a player.  How barren and profitless a thing, he
says, is this beauty of yours if it be not used:—

    When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
    And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
    Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
    Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
    Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
    Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
    To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
    Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

You must create something in art: my verse ‘is thine, and _born_ of
thee’; only listen to me, and I will ‘_bring forth_ eternal numbers to
outlive long date,’ and you shall people with forms of your own image the
imaginary world of the stage.  These children that you beget, he
continues, will not wither away, as mortal children do, but you shall
live in them and in my plays: do but—

    Make thee another self, for love of me,
    That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

I collected all the passages that seemed to me to corroborate this view,
and they produced a strong impression on me, and showed me how complete
Cyril Graham’s theory really was.  I also saw that it was quite easy to
separate those lines in which he speaks of the Sonnets themselves from
those in which he speaks of his great dramatic work.  This was a point
that had been entirely overlooked by all critics up to Cyril Graham’s
day.  And yet it was one of the most important points in the whole series
of poems.  To the Sonnets Shakespeare was more or less indifferent.  He
did not wish to rest his fame on them.  They were to him his ‘slight
Muse,’ as he calls them, and intended, as Meres tells us, for private
circulation only among a few, a very few, friends.  Upon the other hand
he was extremely conscious of the high artistic value of his plays, and
shows a noble self-reliance upon his dramatic genius.  When he says to
Willie Hughes:

    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
    When in _eternal lines_ to time thou grow’st:
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee;—

the expression ‘eternal lines’ clearly alludes to one of his plays that
he was sending him at the time, just as the concluding couplet points to
his confidence in the probability of his plays being always acted.  In
his address to the Dramatic Muse (Sonnets C. and CI.), we find the same
feeling.

    Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
    To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
    Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
    Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?

he cries, and he then proceeds to reproach the Mistress of Tragedy and
Comedy for her ‘neglect of Truth in Beauty dyed,’ and says—

    Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
    Excuse not silence so, for ‘t lies in thee
    To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
    And to be praised of ages yet to be.
    Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
    To make him seem long hence as he shows now.

It is, however, perhaps in the 55th Sonnet that Shakespeare gives to this
idea its fullest expression.  To imagine that the ‘powerful rhyme’ of the
second line refers to the sonnet itself, is to mistake Shakespeare’s
meaning entirely.  It seemed to me that it was extremely likely, from the
general character of the sonnet, that a particular play was meant, and
that the play was none other but _Romeo and Juliet_.

    Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
    Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
    But you shall shine more bright in these contents
    Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.
    When wasteful wars shall statues overturn,
    And broils root out the work of masonry,
    Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
    The living record of your memory.
    ‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
    Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
    Even in the eyes of all posterity
    That wear this world out to the ending doom.
    So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
    You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

It was also extremely suggestive to note how here as elsewhere
Shakespeare promised Willie Hughes immortality in a form that appealed to
men’s eyes—that is to say, in a spectacular form, in a play that is to be
looked at.

For two weeks I worked hard at the Sonnets, hardly ever going out, and
refusing all invitations.  Every day I seemed to be discovering something
new, and Willie Hughes became to me a kind of spiritual presence, an
ever-dominant personality.  I could almost fancy that I saw him standing
in the shadow of my room, so well had Shakespeare drawn him, with his
golden hair, his tender flower-like grace, his dreamy deep-sunken eyes,
his delicate mobile limbs, and his white lily hands.  His very name
fascinated me.  Willie Hughes!  Willie Hughes!  How musically it sounded!
Yes; who else but he could have been the master-mistress of Shakespeare’s
passion, {1} the lord of his love to whom he was bound in vassalage, {2}
the delicate minion of pleasure, {3} the rose of the whole world, {4} the
herald of the spring {5} decked in the proud livery of youth, {6} the
lovely boy whom it was sweet music to hear, {7} and whose beauty was the
very raiment of Shakespeare’s heart, {8} as it was the keystone of his
dramatic power?  How bitter now seemed the whole tragedy of his desertion
and his shame!—shame that he made sweet and lovely {9} by the mere magic
of his personality, but that was none the less shame.  Yet as Shakespeare
forgave him, should not we forgive him also?  I did not care to pry into
the mystery of his sin.

His abandonment of Shakespeare’s theatre was a different matter, and I
investigated it at great length.  Finally I came to the conclusion that
Cyril Graham had been wrong in regarding the rival dramatist of the 80th
Sonnet as Chapman.  It was obviously Marlowe who was alluded to.  At the
time the Sonnets were written, such an expression as ‘the proud full sail
of his great verse’ could not have been used of Chapman’s work, however
applicable it might have been to the style of his later Jacobean plays.
No: Marlowe was clearly the rival dramatist of whom Shakespeare spoke in
such laudatory terms; and that

                Affable familiar ghost
    Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,

was the Mephistopheles of his _Doctor Faustus_.  No doubt, Marlowe was
fascinated by the beauty and grace of the boy-actor, and lured him away
from the Blackfriars Theatre, that he might play the Gaveston of his
_Edward II_.  That Shakespeare had the legal right to retain Willie
Hughes in his own company is evident from Sonnet LXXXVII., where he
says:—

    Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
    And like enough thou know’st thy estimate:
    The _charter of thy worth_ gives thee releasing;
    My _bonds_ in thee are all determinate.
    For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
    And for that riches where is my deserving?
    The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
    _And so my patent back again is swerving_.
    Thyself thou gayest, thy own worth then not knowing,
    Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
    So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
    Comes home again, on better judgement making.
       Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
       In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.

But him whom he could not hold by love, he would not hold by force.
Willie Hughes became a member of Lord Pembroke’s company, and, perhaps in
the open yard of the Red Bull Tavern, played the part of King Edward’s
delicate minion.  On Marlowe’s death, he seems to have returned to
Shakespeare, who, whatever his fellow-partners may have thought of the
matter, was not slow to forgive the wilfulness and treachery of the young
actor.

How well, too, had Shakespeare drawn the temperament of the stage-player!
Willie Hughes was one of those

    That do not do the thing they most do show,
    Who, moving others, are themselves as stone.

He could act love, but could not feel it, could mimic passion without
realising it.

    In many’s looks the false heart’s history
    Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange,

but with Willie Hughes it was not so.  ‘Heaven,’ says Shakespeare, in a
sonnet of mad idolatry—

       Heaven in thy creation did decree
    That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
    Whate’er thy thoughts or thy heart’s workings be,
    Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.

In his ‘inconstant mind’ and his ‘false heart,’ it was easy to recognise
the insincerity and treachery that somehow seem inseparable from the
artistic nature, as in his love of praise that desire for immediate
recognition that characterises all actors.  And yet, more fortunate in
this than other actors, Willie Hughes was to know something of
immortality.  Inseparably connected with Shakespeare’s plays, he was to
live in them.

    Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
    Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
    The earth can yield me but a common grave,
    When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
    Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
    Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
    And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
    When all the breathers of this world are dead.

There were endless allusions, also, to Willie Hughes’s power over his
audience—the ‘gazers,’ as Shakespeare calls them; but perhaps the most
perfect description of his wonderful mastery over dramatic art was in _A
Lover’s Complaint_, where Shakespeare says of him:—

    In him a plenitude of subtle matter,
    Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives,
    Of burning blushes, or of weeping water,
    Or swooning paleness; and he takes and leaves,
    In either’s aptness, as it best deceives,
    To blush at speeches rank, to weep at woes,
    Or to turn white and swoon at tragic shows.

                                  * * * * *

    So on the tip of his subduing tongue,
    All kind of arguments and questions deep,
    All replication prompt and reason strong,
    For his advantage still did wake and sleep,
    To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep.
       He had the dialect and the different skill,
       Catching all passions in his craft of will.

Once I thought that I had really found Willie Hughes in Elizabethan
literature.  In a wonderfully graphic account of the last days of the
great Earl of Essex, his chaplain, Thomas Knell, tells us that the night
before the Earl died, ‘he called William Hewes, which was his musician,
to play upon the virginals and to sing.  “Play,” said he, “my song, Will
Hewes, and I will sing it to myself.”  So he did it most joyfully, not as
the howling swan, which, still looking down, waileth her end, but as a
sweet lark, lifting up his hands and casting up his eyes to his God, with
this mounted the crystal skies, and reached with his unwearied tongue the
top of highest heavens.’  Surely the boy who played on the virginals to
the dying father of Sidney’s Stella was none other but the Will Hews to
whom Shakespeare dedicated the Sonnets, and who he tells us was himself
sweet ‘music to hear.’  Yet Lord Essex died in 1576, when Shakespeare
himself was but twelve years of age.  It was impossible that his musician
could have been the Mr. W. H. of the Sonnets.  Perhaps Shakespeare’s
young friend was the son of the player upon the virginals?  It was at
least something to have discovered that Will Hews was an Elizabethan
name.  Indeed the name Hews seemed to have been closely connected with
music and the stage.  The first English actress was the lovely Margaret
Hews, whom Prince Rupert so madly loved.  What more probable than that
between her and Lord Essex’s musician had come the boy-actor of
Shakespeare’s plays?  But the proofs, the links—where were they?  Alas! I
could not find them.  It seemed to me that I was always on the brink of
absolute verification, but that I could never really attain to it.

From Willie Hughes’s life I soon passed to thoughts of his death.  I used
to wonder what had been his end.

Perhaps he had been one of those English actors who in 1604 went across
sea to Germany and played before the great Duke Henry Julius of
Brunswick, himself a dramatist of no mean order, and at the Court of that
strange Elector of Brandenburg, who was so enamoured of beauty that he
was said to have bought for his weight in amber the young son of a
travelling Greek merchant, and to have given pageants in honour of his
slave all through that dreadful famine year of 1606–7, when the people
died of hunger in the very streets of the town, and for the space of
seven months there was no rain.  We know at any rate that _Romeo and
Juliet_ was brought out at Dresden in 1613, along with _Hamlet_ and _King
Lear_, and it was surely to none other than Willie Hughes that in 1615
the death-mask of Shakespeare was brought by the hand of one of the suite
of the English ambassador, pale token of the passing away of the great
poet who had so dearly loved him.  Indeed there would have been something
peculiarly fitting in the idea that the boy-actor, whose beauty had been
so vital an element in the realism and romance of Shakespeare’s art,
should have been the first to have brought to Germany the seed of the new
culture, and was in his way the precursor of that _Aufklärung_ or
Illumination of the eighteenth century, that splendid movement which,
though begun by Lessing and Herder, and brought to its full and perfect
issue by Goethe, was in no small part helped on by another
actor—Friedrich Schroeder—who awoke the popular consciousness, and by
means of the feigned passions and mimetic methods of the stage showed the
intimate, the vital, connection between life and literature.  If this was
so—and there was certainly no evidence against it—it was not improbable
that Willie Hughes was one of those English comedians (_mimæ quidam ex
Britannia_, as the old chronicle calls them), who were slain at Nuremberg
in a sudden uprising of the people, and were secretly buried in a little
vineyard outside the city by some young men ‘who had found pleasure in
their performances, and of whom some had sought to be instructed in the
mysteries of the new art.’  Certainly no more fitting place could there
be for him to whom Shakespeare said, ‘thou art all my art,’ than this
little vineyard outside the city walls.  For was it not from the sorrows
of Dionysos that Tragedy sprang?  Was not the light laughter of Comedy,
with its careless merriment and quick replies, first heard on the lips of
the Sicilian vine-dressers?  Nay, did not the purple and red stain of the
wine-froth on face and limbs give the first suggestion of the charm and
fascination of disguise—the desire for self-concealment, the sense of the
value of objectivity thus showing itself in the rude beginnings of the
art?  At any rate, wherever he lay—whether in the little vineyard at the
gate of the Gothic town, or in some dim London churchyard amidst the roar
and bustle of our great city—no gorgeous monument marked his
resting-place.  His true tomb, as Shakespeare saw, was the poet’s verse,
his true monument the permanence of the drama.  So had it been with
others whose beauty had given a new creative impulse to their age.  The
ivory body of the Bithynian slave rots in the green ooze of the Nile, and
on the yellow hills of the Cerameicus is strewn the dust of the young
Athenian; but Antinous lives in sculpture, and Charmides in philosophy.



CHAPTER III


AFTER three weeks had elapsed, I determined to make a strong appeal to
Erskine to do justice to the memory of Cyril Graham, and to give to the
world his marvellous interpretation of the Sonnets—the only
interpretation that thoroughly explained the problem.  I have not any
copy of my letter, I regret to say, nor have I been able to lay my hand
upon the original; but I remember that I went over the whole ground, and
covered sheets of paper with passionate reiteration of the arguments and
proofs that my study had suggested to me.  It seemed to me that I was not
merely restoring Cyril Graham to his proper place in literary history,
but rescuing the honour of Shakespeare himself from the tedious memory of
a commonplace intrigue.  I put into the letter all my enthusiasm.  I put
into the letter all my faith.

No sooner, in fact, had I sent it off than a curious reaction came over
me.  It seemed to me that I had given away my capacity for belief in the
Willie Hughes theory of the Sonnets, that something had gone out of me,
as it were, and that I was perfectly indifferent to the whole subject.
What was it that had happened?  It is difficult to say.  Perhaps, by
finding perfect expression for a passion, I had exhausted the passion
itself.  Emotional forces, like the forces of physical life, have their
positive limitations.  Perhaps the mere effort to convert any one to a
theory involves some form of renunciation of the power of credence.
Perhaps I was simply tired of the whole thing, and, my enthusiasm having
burnt out, my reason was left to its own unimpassioned judgment.  However
it came about, and I cannot pretend to explain it, there was no doubt
that Willie Hughes suddenly became to me a mere myth, an idle dream, the
boyish fancy of a young man who, like most ardent spirits, was more
anxious to convince others than to be himself convinced.

As I had said some very unjust and bitter things to Erskine in my letter,
I determined to go and see him at once, and to make my apologies to him
for my behaviour.  Accordingly, the next morning I drove down to Birdcage
Walk, and found Erskine sitting in his library, with the forged picture
of Willie Hughes in front of him.

‘My dear Erskine!’ I cried, ‘I have come to apologise to you.’

‘To apologise to me?’ he said.  ‘What for?’

‘For my letter,’ I answered.

‘You have nothing to regret in your letter,’ he said.  ‘On the contrary,
you have done me the greatest service in your power.  You have shown me
that Cyril Graham’s theory is perfectly sound.’

‘You don’t mean to say that you believe in Willie Hughes?’ I exclaimed.

‘Why not?’ he rejoined.  ‘You have proved the thing to me.  Do you think
I cannot estimate the value of evidence?’

‘But there is no evidence at all,’ I groaned, sinking into a chair.
‘When I wrote to you I was under the influence of a perfectly silly
enthusiasm.  I had been touched by the story of Cyril Graham’s death,
fascinated by his romantic theory, enthralled by the wonder and novelty
of the whole idea.  I see now that the theory is based on a delusion.
The only evidence for the existence of Willie Hughes is that picture in
front of you, and the picture is a forgery.  Don’t be carried away by
mere sentiment in this matter.  Whatever romance may have to say about
the Willie Hughes theory, reason is dead against it.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ said Erskine, looking at me in amazement.
‘Why, you yourself have convinced me by your letter that Willie Hughes is
an absolute reality.  Why have you changed your mind?  Or is all that you
have been saying to me merely a joke?’

‘I cannot explain it to you,’ I rejoined, ‘but I see now that there is
really nothing to be said in favour of Cyril Graham’s interpretation.
The Sonnets are addressed to Lord Pembroke.  For heaven’s sake don’t
waste your time in a foolish attempt to discover a young Elizabethan
actor who never existed, and to make a phantom puppet the centre of the
great cycle of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.’

‘I see that you don’t understand the theory,’ he replied.

‘My dear Erskine,’ I cried, ‘not understand it!  Why, I feel as if I had
invented it.  Surely my letter shows you that I not merely went into the
whole matter, but that I contributed proofs of every kind.  The one flaw
in the theory is that it presupposes the existence of the person whose
existence is the subject of dispute.  If we grant that there was in
Shakespeare’s company a young actor of the name of Willie Hughes, it is
not difficult to make him the object of the Sonnets.  But as we know that
there was no actor of this name in the company of the Globe Theatre, it
is idle to pursue the investigation further.’

‘But that is exactly what we don’t know,’ said Erskine.  ‘It is quite
true that his name does not occur in the list given in the first folio;
but, as Cyril pointed out, that is rather a proof in favour of the
existence of Willie Hughes than against it, if we remember his
treacherous desertion of Shakespeare for a rival dramatist.’

We argued the matter over for hours, but nothing that I could say could
make Erskine surrender his faith in Cyril Graham’s interpretation.  He
told me that he intended to devote his life to proving the theory, and
that he was determined to do justice to Cyril Graham’s memory.  I
entreated him, laughed at him, begged of him, but it was of no use.
Finally we parted, not exactly in anger, but certainly with a shadow
between us.  He thought me shallow, I thought him foolish.  When I called
on him again his servant told me that he had gone to Germany.

Two years afterwards, as I was going into my club, the hall-porter handed
me a letter with a foreign postmark.  It was from Erskine, and written at
the Hôtel d’Angleterre, Cannes.  When I had read it I was filled with
horror, though I did not quite believe that he would be so mad as to
carry his resolve into execution.  The gist of the letter was that he had
tried in every way to verify the Willie Hughes theory, and had failed,
and that as Cyril Graham had given his life for this theory, he himself
had determined to give his own life also to the same cause.  The
concluding words of the letter were these: ‘I still believe in Willie
Hughes; and by the time you receive this, I shall have died by my own
hand for Willie Hughes’s sake: for his sake, and for the sake of Cyril
Graham, whom I drove to his death by my shallow scepticism and ignorant
lack of faith.  The truth was once revealed to you, and you rejected it.
It comes to you now stained with the blood of two lives,—do not turn away
from it.’

It was a horrible moment.  I felt sick with misery, and yet I could not
believe it.  To die for one’s theological beliefs is the worst use a man
can make of his life, but to die for a literary theory!  It seemed
impossible.

I looked at the date.  The letter was a week old.  Some unfortunate
chance had prevented my going to the club for several days, or I might
have got it in time to save him.  Perhaps it was not too late.  I drove
off to my rooms, packed up my things, and started by the night-mail from
Charing Cross.  The journey was intolerable.  I thought I would never
arrive.  As soon as I did I drove to the Hôtel l’Angleterre.  They told
me that Erskine had been buried two days before in the English cemetery.
There was something horribly grotesque about the whole tragedy.  I said
all kinds of wild things, and the people in the hall looked curiously at
me.

Suddenly Lady Erskine, in deep mourning, passed across the vestibule.
When she saw me she came up to me, murmured something about her poor son,
and burst into tears.  I led her into her sitting-room.  An elderly
gentleman was there waiting for her.  It was the English doctor.

We talked a great deal about Erskine, but I said nothing about his motive
for committing suicide.  It was evident that he had not told his mother
anything about the reason that had driven him to so fatal, so mad an act.
Finally Lady Erskine rose and said, George left you something as a
memento.  It was a thing he prized very much.  I will get it for you.

As soon as she had left the room I turned to the doctor and said, ‘What a
dreadful shock it must have been to Lady Erskine!  I wonder that she
bears it as well as she does.’

‘Oh, she knew for months past that it was coming,’ he answered.

‘Knew it for months past!’ I cried.  ‘But why didn’t she stop him?  Why
didn’t she have him watched?  He must have been mad.’

The doctor stared at me. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said.

‘Well,’ I cried, ‘if a mother knows that her son is going to commit
suicide—’

‘Suicide!’ he answered.  ‘Poor Erskine did not commit suicide.  He died
of consumption.  He came here to die.  The moment I saw him I knew that
there was no hope.  One lung was almost gone, and the other was very much
affected.  Three days before he died he asked me was there any hope.  I
told him frankly that there was none, and that he had only a few days to
live.  He wrote some letters, and was quite resigned, retaining his
senses to the last.’

At that moment Lady Erskine entered the room with the fatal picture of
Willie Hughes in her hand.  ‘When George was dying he begged me to give
you this,’ she said.  As I took it from her, her tears fell on my hand.

The picture hangs now in my library, where it is very much admired by my
artistic friends.  They have decided that it is not a Clouet, but an
Oudry.  I have never cared to tell them its true history.  But sometimes,
when I look at it, I think that there is really a great deal to be said
for the Willie Hughes theory of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.



FOOTNOTES


{1}  Sonnet xx. 2.

{2}  Sonnet xxvi. 1.

{3}  Sonnet cxxvi. 9.

{4}  Sonnet cix. 14.

{5}  Sonnet i. 10.

{6}  Sonnet ii. 3.

{7}  Sonnet viii. 1.

{8}  Sonnet xxii. 6.

{9}  Sonnet xcv. 1.





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