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Title: Mrs Albert Grundy—Observations in Philistia
Author: Frederic, Harold
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.

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MRS ALBERT GRUNDY--OBSERVATIONS IN PHILISTIA

By Harold Frederic


[Illustration: 0007]



_Presenting in Outline the Comfortable and Well-Regulated Paradox over
which She Presides, and showing its Mental Elevation_


I suppose about the name there is no doubt. For sixty years we
have followed that gifted gadabout and gossip, Heine, and called it
Philistia. And yet, when one thinks of it, there may have been a mistake
after all. Artemus Ward used to say that he had been able, with effort,
to comprehend how it was possible to measure the distance between the
stars, and even the dimensions and candle-power, so to speak, of those
heavenly bodies; what beat him was how astronomers had ever found out
their names. So I find myself wondering whether Philistia really is the
right name for the land where She must be obeyed.

If so, it is only a little more the region of mysterious paradox and
tricksy metamorphosis. We think of it always and from all time as given
over to Her rule. We feel in our bones that there was a troglodyte Mrs
Grundy; we imagine to ourselves a British matron contemporary with the
cave bear and the woolly elephant But her very antiquity only makes it
more puzzling.

There is an old gentleman who always tries to prove to me that the
French are really Germans, that the Germans are all Slavs, and that the
Russians are strictly Tartars: that is to say, that in keeping-count
of the early races as they swarmed Westward we somehow skipped one, and
have been wrong ever since. There must be some such explanation of how
the domain which She sways came to be called Philistia.

I say this, because the old Philistia was tremendously masculine. It was
the Jews who struck the feminine note. They used to swagger no end when
they won a victory, and utilise it to the utmost limit of merciless
savagery; but when it came their turn to be thrashed they filled
the very heavens with complaining clamour. We got no hint that the
Philistines ever failed to take their medicine like men.

Consider those splendid later Philistines, the Norsemen. In all their
martial literature there is no suggestion of a whine. They loved
fighting for its own sake; next to braining their foes, they admired
being themselves hewn into sections. They never blamed their gods when
they had the worst of it. They never insisted that they were always
right and their enemies invariably wrong. They cared nothing about all
that. They demanded only fun. It was their victims, the Frankish and
Irish monks, who shed women's tears and besought Providence to play
favourites.

And here is the paradox. The children of these Berserker loins are
become the minions of Mrs Grundy. By some magic she has enshrined
Respectability in their temples. In one division of her empire she makes
Mr Helmer drink tea; in another she sets everybody reading the _Buchholz
Family_; in her chosen island home her husband on the sunniest Sundays
carries an umbrella instead of a walking-stick. Fancy the wild delirium
of delight with which the old Philistines would have raided her
homestead, chopping down her Robert Elsmeres, impaling her Horsleys, and
making the skies lurid with the flames of her semi-detached villa! Yet
we call her place Philistia!

I know the villa very well. It is quite near to the South Kensington
Museum. The title "Fernbank" is painted on the gate-posts. How
well-ordered and comfortable does life beyond those posts remain! Here
are no headaches in the morning. Here white-capped domestics move with
neat alertness along the avenues of gentle routine, looking neither to
the policeman on the right nor fiery-jacketed Thomas Atkins on the left.
Here my friend Mr Albert Grundy invariably comes home by the Underground
to dinner. Here his three daughters--girls of a type with a diminishing
upper lip, with sharper chins and greater length of limb than of
old--lead deeply washed existences, playing at tennis, smiling in
flushed silence at visitors, feeding contentedly upon Mudie's stores,
the while their mamma spreads the matrimonial net about the piano or
makes tours of inspection among her outlying mantraps on the lawn. Here
simpers the innocuous curate; here Uncle Dudley, who has seen life in
Australia and the Far West, watches the bulbs and prunes the roses, and,
I should think, yawns often to himself; here Lady Willoughby Wallaby's
card diffuses refinement from the summit of the card-basket in the hall.

To this happy home there came but last week--or was it the week
before--a parcel of books. There were four complete novels in twelve
volumes--fruits of that thoughtful arrangement by which the fair reader
in Philistia is given three distinct opportunities to decide whether she
will read the story through or not. Mrs Albert is a busy woman, burdened
with manifold responsibilities to Church and State, to organised
charities, to popularised music, to art-work guilds and the Amalgamated
Association of Clear Starchers, not to mention a weather-eye kept at
all times upon all unmarried males: but she still finds time to open
all these packets of new books herself. On this occasion she gave to
her eldest, Ermyntrude, the first volume of a novel by Mrs --------. It
doesn't matter what fell to the share of the younger Amy and Floribel.
For herself she reserved the three volumes of the latest work of Mr
--------.

She tells me now that words simply can _not_ express her thankfulness
for having done so. It seems the selection was not entirely accidental.
She was attracted, she admits, by the charmingly dainty binding of
the volumes, but she was also moved by an instinct, half maternal
prescience, half literary recollection. She thought she remembered
having seen the name of this man-writer before. Where? It came to her
like a flash, she says. Only a while ago he had a hook called _A Bunch
of Patrician Ladies_ or something of that sort, which she almost made
up her mind not to let the girls read at all, but at last, with some
misgivings, permitted them to skim hastily, because though the morals
were rocky--perhaps that wasn't her word--the society was very good.
But this new book of his had not even that saving feature. Respectable
people were only incidentally mentioned in it. Really it was quite _too_
low. The chief figure was a farm-girl who for the most part skimmed
milk or cut swedes in a field, and at other times behaved in a manner
positively unmentionable. Mrs Albert told me she had locked the volumes
up, after only partially perusing them. I might be sure _her_ daughters
never laid eyes on them. They had gone back to the library, with a note
expressing surprise that such immoral books should be sent into any
Christian family. What made the matter worse, she went on, was that
Ermyntrude read in some paper, at a friend's house, that this man,
whoever he may be, was the greatest of English novelists, and that this
particular book of his was a tragic work of the noblest and loftiest
order, which dignified the language. She was sure she didn't know what
England was coming to, when reporters were allowed to put things
like that in the papers. Fortunately she only took in _The Daily
Tarradiddle_, which one could always rely upon for sound views, and
which gave this unspeakable book precisely the contemptuous little
notice it deserved.

It was a relief, however--and here the good matron visibly brightened
up--to think that really wholesome and improving novels were still
produced. There was that novel by Mrs --------. Had I read it? Oh,

I must lose no time! Perhaps it was not altogether so enchanting as that
first immortal work of hers, which had almost, one might say, founded
a new religion. True, one of the girls in it worked altar-cloths for a
church, and occasionally the other characters broke out into religious
conversation; but there were no clergymen to speak of, and the charm
of the other's ecclesiastical mysticism was lacking. "To be frank, the
first and last volumes were just a bit slow. But oh! the lovely second
volume! A young Englishman and his sister go to Paris. They stumble
right at the start into the most delightful, picturesque, artistic
set. Think of it: Henri Régnault is personally introduced, and delivers
himself of extended remarks----"

"I met an old friend of Regnault's at the Club the other day,"
I interposed, "who complained bitterly of that. He said it was
insufferable impudence to bring him in at all, and still worse to make
him talk such blather as is put into his mouth."

Mrs Albert sniffed at this Club friend and went on. That Paris part of
the book seemed to her to just palpitate with life. It was Paris to the
very letter--gay, intellectual, sparkling, and oh! so free! The young
Englishman at once set up a romantic establishment in the heart of
Fontainebleau Forest with a French painter-girl. His sister was almost
as promptly debauched by an elderly French sculptor. But you never lost
sight of the fact that the author was teaching a valuable moral lesson
by all this. Indeed, that whole part of the book was called "Storm
and Stress." And all the while you saw, too, how innately superior the
national character of the young Englishman was to that of the French
people about him. One _knew_ that in good time _he_ would have a moral
awakening, and return to England, marry, settle down, and make money in
his business. Side by side with this you saw the entire hopelessness
of any spiritual regeneration in the French painter-girl or any of
her artistic set. And this was shown with such delicate art--it was so
_perfect_ a picture of the moral contrast between the two nations--that
the girls saw it at once.

"Then the girls," I put in--"that is to say, you didn't lock _this_ book
up?"

Mrs Albert lifted her eyebrows at me.

"How do you mean?" she asked. "Do you know who the author is? The idea!
Why, the papers print whole columns about _anything_ she writes. Every
day you may see paragraphs about the mere prospect of books she
hasn't even begun yet. I suppose such blatant publicity must be very
distressing to her, but the public simply insist upon it. _The Daily
Tarradiddle_ devoted an entire leader to this particular book. I assure
you, all my friends are talking of nothing else--many of them people,
too, whom you would not suspect of any literary tastes whatever, and who
_never_ read novels as a rule. But they don't regard _this_ as a novel.
They think of it--I quote Lady Willoughby Wallaby's exact words--as an
exposition of those Christian principles which make our England what it
is."



_Setting forth the Untoward Circumstances under which the Right Tale was
Unfolded in the Wrong Company_


Much has been written about that variety of "cab-wit" which occurs to
a man on his way home from dinner: the brilliant sallies he might have
made, the smart retorts which would so bravely have reversed the balance
of laughter had they only come in time. We are less frank about the
other sort. No one dwells in type upon the manner in which we marshal
our old jokes and arrange our epigrams as we drive along to the house of
feasting.

No doubt the practice of getting up table-talk is going out. The
three-bottle men took it to the grave with them, along with the
snuff-box, and the toupee, and the feather-bed, and other amenities
of the Regency. There never was but one diner-out in the London of my
knowledge who was at pains to prepare his conversations, each for its
special occasion and audience, and he, poor man, broke down under
the strain and disappeared from view. The others are too lazy, too
indifferent, too cocksure of themselves, to go to all this bother. The
old courtly sense of responsibility to the host is perished from among
them. But none the less, the least dutiful and diligent of all their
number does ask himself questions as the whirling rubber tyres bear him
onward, and the cab-mirror shows him the face of a man to whom people
ought to listen.

The question I asked myself, as I drove past the flaring shop windows
of Old Brompton Road the other evening, was whether the Grundys would
probably like my story of Nate Salsbury and the Citizen of South Bend,
Indiana. A good deal depended upon the decision. It was a story which
had greatly solidified my position in other hospitable quarters; it
could be brought in _apropos_ of almost anything, or for that matter of
quite nothing at all; it had never been printed, so far as I know, in
any of those American comic papers which supply alike the dining-rooms
of Mayfair and the editorial offices of Fleet Street with such humour
as they come into possession of; and I enjoyed telling it. On the other
hand, the Grundys were old friends of mine, who would never suspect that
they had missed anything if I preserved silence on the subject of South
Bend, and who would go on asking me to dinner whether I told new tales
or not; moreover, their attitude towards fresh jokes was always a
precarious quantity, and I had an uneasy feeling that if I told my story
to them and it failed to come off, so to speak, I should never have the
same confidence in it again.

When I had entered the drawing-room of Fernbank, shaken hands with
Mrs Albert Grundy and Ermyntrude, and stolen a little glance about the
circle as I walked over to the fireplace, it had become clear that the
story was not to be told. Beside the half-dozen of the family, including
the curate, there was a tall young man with a very high collar,
shoulders that sloped down like a Rhine-wine bottle, and a stern
expression of countenance. Uncle Dudley whispered to me, as we held our
hands over the asbestos, that he was a literary party, and the son of
old Sir Watkyn Hump, who was a director in one of Albert's companies.
The other guests were a stout and motherly lady in a cap and a purplish
smile, and a darkling young woman with a black velvet riband around her
thin neck, and a look of wearied indifference upon her face. This effect
of utter boredom did not visibly diminish upon my being presented to
Miss Wallaby.

I have an extremely well-turned little brace of sentences with which to
convey the intelligence to a young lady that the honour of taking her
down to dinner has fallen upon me--sentences which combine professions
of admiring pleasure with just a grateful dash of respectful
playfulness; they brought no new light into Miss Wallaby's somewhat
scornful _pince-nez_. Decidedly I would not tell my South Bend story
_that_ night!

But all the same I did. What led up to it I hardly know. It was at the
ptarmigan stage, I remember--or was it a capercailzie?--and young Mr
Hump had commented upon the great joy of living in England, where one
could enjoy delicious game all the year round, instead of in a country
like America, where the inhabitants notoriously had nothing but fried
salt pork to eat for many months at a time. Perhaps it was not worth
while, but I ventured the correcting remark that there was no season of
the year when one couldn't have eighteen edible varieties of wild birds
in America for every one that England has ever heard of. Mr Hump preened
his chin about on the summit of his collar and smiled with superior
incredulity. The others looked grave. Mrs Grundy whispered to me
warningly, over her left shoulder, that Mr Hump had made America his
special subject, and wrote most vigorous and comminatory articles about
it almost every week. I was painfully conscious that Miss Wallaby's cold
right shoulder had been still further withdrawn from me.

Well, it was at this grotesquely inauspicious moment that I told my
story. It is easy enough now to see that it was sheer folly, madness
if you like, to do so. I was only too bitterly conscious of that when I
reviewed the events of the evening in my homeward cab. It was _apropos_
of nothing under the wide sky. But at the moment, I suppose, I hoped
that it would relieve the situation. In one sense it did.

Baldly summarised, this is the tale. Years ago the admirable Nate
Salsbury was on a "one-night-stand" tour with his bright little company
of comedians through the least urban districts of Indiana, and came upon
South Bend, which is an important centre of the wagon-making industry,
but is not precisely a focussing point of dramatic traditions and
culture.

In the vestibule of the small theatre that evening there paced up and
down a tall, middle-aged, weasel-backed citizen, his hands plunged deep
in his pockets, doubt and irresolution written all over his face. As
others paid their money and passed in he would watch them with obvious
longing; then he would go and study once more the attractive coloured
bill of the Company, with its bevy of pretty girls in skirts just short
enough to disclose most enticing little ankles; then once more he would
resume his perplexed walk to and fro. At last he made up his mind, and
approached Salsbury with diffidence. "Mister," he said, "air you the
boss of this show?" "What can I do for you?" asked Nate. "Well--no
offence meant--but--can I--that is to say--will it be all right to
bring a lady to your show?" "That, sir, depends!" responded the manager
firmly. "Well," the citizen went on, "what I was gittin' at is this--can
I be perfectly safe in bringin' _my wife_ here?"

"Sir," said Salsbury with dignity, and an eye trained to abstain from
twinkling, "it is no portion of my business to inquire whether she is
your wife or not, but if she comes in here she's got to behave herself!"

A solitary note of laughter fell upon the air when I had told this
story, and on the instant Uncle Dudley, perceiving that he had made
a mistake, dropped his napkin, and came up from fishing for it on the
floor red-faced and dumb. All else was deadly silence.

"I--I suppose they really weren't married at all?" said the curate,
after a chilling pause.

"Marriage, I regret to say, means next to nothing in most parts of
America," remarked Mr Hump, judicially. "The most sacred ties are there
habitually made the subject of ribald jests. I have been assured by
a person who spent nearly three weeks in the United States some years
since that it is an extremely rare experience to meet an adult American
who has not been divorced at least once. This fact made a vivid
impression on my mind at the time, and I--ahem!--have written frequently
upon it since."

"I suppose the trouble arises from their all living in hotels--having no
home life whatever," said Mrs Albert, with a kindly air of coming to my
rescue.

"Who on earth told you that?" I began, but was cut short.

"I confess," broke in Miss Wallaby, with frosty distinctness of tone and
enunciation, "that the assumption upon which the incident just related
is based--the assumption that the la--woman referred to would probably
misconduct herself in a place of public resort--seems to me startlingly
characteristic of the country of which it is narrated. It has been truly
said that the most valuable test of a country's actual, as distinct
from its assumed, worth, is the respect it pays to its women. Both at
Cheltenham and at Newnham the idea is steadily inculcated--I might
say insisted upon as of paramount importance--that the nation's real
civilisation rests upon the measure, not alone of chivalrous deference,
but of esteem and confidence which my sex, by its devotion to duty, and
its intellectual sympathy with broad aims and lofty purposes, is able to
inspire and command."

"But I assure you," I protested feebly, "the story I told was a joke."

"There are some subjects," interposed Lady Willoughby Wallaby, the
fixed smile lighting up with an angry, winter-sunset glow her inflamed
countenance--"there are some subjects on which it is best not to joke."
As she spoke she wagged a mitted thumb at her hostess, and on the
instant the ladies rose. Mr Hump hastened round to hold the door open
as they filed out, their heads high in air, their skirts rustling
indignantly over the threshold. Then he followed them, closing the door
with decision behind him.

"Gad, Albert," said Uncle Dudley, reaching over for the port, "I don't
wonder that the pick of our young fellows go in for marrying American
girls."

"Pass it along!" remarked the father of Mrs Albert's three daughters, in
a voice of confirmed dejection.



_Annotating Sundry Points of Contact found to exist between the Lady and
Contemporary Art_


Scene.--_Just inside the door of a studio._

Time.--_Last Sunday in March, 5 p.m._

1st Citizeness. O, thank you _so_ much!

2nd do. _So_ good of you to come!

1st do. I _so_ dote upon art!

2nd do. So kind of you to say so!

1st do. Thank you _so_ much for asking us!

2nd do. Delighted, I'm sure! Thank _you_ for coming!

1st Citizeness. Not at all! Thank you for--for thanking me
for--Well--_good-bye_. (_Exit--with family group_.)

Husband of 2nd Citizeness (_with gloom_). And who might _those_ thankful
bounders be?

2nd Citizeness (_wearily_). O, don't ask _me!_ I don't know! From
Addison Road way, I should think.

1st Citizeness (_outside_). Well! If _that_ thing gets into the Academy!

Family Group. Did you notice the ridiculous way her hair was done? Did
you ever taste such tea in your life? How yellow Mrs. General Wragg is
getting to look in the daylight. Yes--there's our four-wheeler. (_Exeunt
omnes._)


The above is not intended for presentation upon any stage--not even
that of the Independent Theatre. It has been cast into the dramatic
mould merely for convenience' sake. It embodies what I chiefly remember
about Picture Sunday.

It has come to be my annual duty--a peculiarly hardy, not to say
temerarious, annual--to convoy Mrs Albert Grundy and her party about
sections of Chelsea and Brompton on the earlier of the two Show
Sabbaths. I drifted into this function through having once shared an
attic with a young painter, whose colleagues used to come to borrow
florins of him whenever one of his pictures disappeared from any shop
window, and so incidentally formed my acquaintance. My claim nowadays
upon their recollection is really very slight. I just know them well
enough to manage the last Sunday in March: even that might be awkward if
they were not such good-natured fellows.

But it would be difficult to persuade Mrs Albert of this. That good lady
is wont, when the playfully benignant mood is upon her, to describe me
as her connecting link with Bohemia. She probably would be puzzled to
explain her meaning; I certainly should. But if she were provided with
affidavits setting forth the whole truth--viz., that my entire income
is derived from an inherited part-interest in an artificial-ice machine;
that there are two clergymen on the committee of my only club; that I am
free from debt; and that I play duets on the piano with my sister--still
would she cling to the belief that I am a young man with an extremely
gay, rakish side, who could make thrilling revelations of Bohemia if I
would. Of course, I am never questioned on the subject; but I can see
that it is a point upon which the faith of Fernbank is firmly grounded.
Often Mrs Albert's conversation cuts figure-eights on very thin ice when
we are alone, as if just to show me that _she_ knows. More than once
I have discovered Ermyntrude looking furtively at me, as the wistful
shepherd-boy on the plains of Dura might have gazed at the distant haze
overhanging bold, unspeakable Babylon. I rarely visit the house but
Uncle Dudley winks at me. However, nothing is ever asked me about the
dreadful things with which they suppose me to be upon intimate terms.

It seemed for a long time, on Sunday, as if an easy escape had been
arranged for me by Providence. At two o'clock, the hour appointed for
our crusade, a heavy fog overhung everything. Looking out from the
drawing-room windows, only the very nearest of the neatly trimmed
firs on the lawn were to be distinguished. The street beyond was utter
blackness.

At three o'clock the ladies took off their bonnets. It was really too
bad. Uncle Dudley, strolling in from his nap in the library, suggested
that with a lantern we might visit some of the nearer studios: "not
necessarily for publication, but as a guarantee of good faith." Mrs
Albert turned a look of tearful vexation upon him, before which he fled.

"There's this consolation," she remarked presently, holding me with an
unwavering eye: "if we are to be defrauded out of our expedition to-day,
that will furnish all the more reason why you should take us next
Sunday--_the_ Sunday. You have often talked of having us see the
Academicians at home--but we've never been."

"I remember that there has been talk about it," I said; "but hardly that
the talk was mine. Truth is, I don't know a single Academician, even by
sight."

It was clear that they did not believe me. Mrs Albert continued: "Lady
Wallaby expressed surprise, only last evening, that we should consent to
go about among the outsiders. She and her daughter _never_ do."

"Outsiders!" I was tempted into saying. "Why, they can paint the head
off the Academy!"

Miss Timby-Hucks simpered outright. "You do say such droll things!" she
remarked, somewhat obscurely. "Mamma always declares that you remind her
of the _Sydney Bulletin_."

"Whom _do_ you take to the Academy Show Sunday?--or perhaps I oughtn't
to ask," came from Ermyntrude.

"No, we have no right to inquire," said Mrs Albert; and I turned to the
window and the enshrouded lawn once more.

All at once the fog lifted. The bonnets were produced again. Nearly
three hours of daylight remained to us. Tidings that the horse was too
lame to be taken out only staggered Mrs Albert for the briefest fraction
of time. There were still four-wheelers in Gilead. Besides, if the
driver happened to be sober, he would know the streets so much better
than their stupid coachman. This would be of advantage, because time
was so limited. We should have to just run in, say "How-d'ye-do," take
a flying look round, and scamper out again, Mrs Albert said. By firmly
adhering to this rule, she estimated that we might do sixteen or
seventeen studios.

Heaven alone knows how many we did "do." Nor have I any clear
recollections of what we saw. A confused vision remains to me of long
hall-ways lined with frames and packing-cases; half-an-acre, more or
less, of painted canvas, out of which only here and there a pair of
bright eyes, a glowing field of poppies, or the sheen from a satin gown,
fixed itself disconnectedly on the memory; hordes and hordes of tall
young women helping themselves to tea and cakes; and always the pathetic
figure of the artist's wife, or sister, tired to very death, standing by
the door with a wearied smile on her lips, and the polite falsehood,
"So good of you to come!" on her tongue. I wondered, I remember, if she
never forgot herself and said instead, "So kind of you to go!" But under
Mrs Albert's system there was no time to wait and see.

Once, indeed, we dallied over our task. Mrs Albert encountered a lady
from Wormwood Scrubs of her acquaintance, who was indiscreet enough to
mention that she had been asked to stop here for supper. The news
spread through the petticoated portion of my group as by magic. Miss
Timby-Hucks came over and asked me, so audibly that the artist-host
had to blush and turn away, if I didn't think it would be a deliciously
romantic experience to sup in one of these lofty studios, with the
gaslight on the armour, and the great, solemnly silent pictures looking
down upon us as we ate. Mrs Albert lingered for some time looking at
this artist's work with her head on one side, and eyes filled with rapt,
dreamy enjoyment--but nothing came of it.

It was after we had been back in Fern-bank for an hour or more--our own
cold repast nearly over--that Mrs Albert thought of something. She laid
down her fork with a gesture of annoyance. "It has just occurred to me,"
she said; "we never went to that Mr Whistler's, whose pictures are on
exhibition in Bond Street. Everybody's talking about him, and I did so
want not to miss his studio."

"I don't think he has a Show Sunday," I said. "I never heard of it, if
he has."

"O no, it is only these last few weeks that anybody has heard of him,"

Mrs Albert replied. "I read the first announcement about his beautiful
pictures in _The Daily Tarradiddle_ only the other day."

"Whistler? Whistler?" put in Uncle Dudley. "Why, surely _he's_ not new.
Why--I remember--he was mixed up in a law-suit, wasn't it, years ago?"

"O no, Dudley," responded Mrs Albert; "I was under that same impression,
till Lady Wallaby set me right. It seems that was another man
altogether--some foreign adventurer who pretended to be able to paint
and imposed upon people--don't you recall how _The Tarradiddle_ exposed
him?--and Mr Burnt-Jones had him arrested, or something--O, quite a
dreadful person. But _this_ Mr Whistler is an Englishman. I read in _The
Illustrated London News_ that he represented modern British Art. That
alone would make it quite clear it was a different man. I did so want to
see him! Lady-Wallaby tells me she has heard he is extremely amusing in
his conversation--and quite presentable manners, too."

"Why don't you ask him to dinner?" said Mr Albert Grundy. "If he's
amusing it's more than most of the men you drum up are."

"You seem to think _everybody_ can be asked to dinner, Albert," the
lady of the house replied. "Artists don't dine--unless they are in the
Academy, of course. Tea, yes--or perhaps supper; but one doesn't
ask people to meet them at dinner. It's like actors--and--and
non-commissioned officers."



_Affording a Novel and Subdued Scientific Light, by which divers
Venerable Problems may be Observed Afresh_


It is my opinion," said Uncle Dudley, stretching out his slippered
feet, and thrusting his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat--"it
is my opinion that women are different from men."

"Several commentators have advanced this view," I replied. "For example,
it has been noted that the gentle sex cross a muddy street on their
heels, whereas we skip over on our toes."

"That is interesting if true," responded Uncle Dudley. "What I mean is
that all this talk about the human race is humbug. There are _two_ human
races! And they are getting wider apart every few minutes, too!"

"Have you mentioned this to any one?" I asked.

Uncle Dudley went on developing his theme. "I daresay that for millions
of years after the re-separation of the sexes this difference was too
slight to be noticed at all. The cave man, for instance--the fellow who
went around hunting the Ichthyosaurus with a brick tied on the end of an
elm club, and spent the whole winter underground sucking the old bones,
and then whittling them up into Runic buttons for the South Kensington
Museum: I suppose, now, that his wife and sister-in-law, say, didn't
strike him as being specially different from himself--except, of course,
in that they only got plain bones and gristle and so on to eat, whereas
all the marrow and general smooth-sailing in meats went his way. _You_,
can't imagine _him_ saying to himself: 'These female people here are not
of my race at all They are of another species. They are in reality as
much my natural enemies as that long-toed, red-headed, brachycephalous
tramp living in the gum-tree down by the swamp, who makes offensive
gestures as I ride past on my tame _Ursus spelous_'--now, can you?"

I frankly shook my head. "No, I don't seem to be able to imagine that.
It would be almost as hard as to guess off-hand where, when, and how you
caught this remarkable scientific spasm."

Uncle Dudley smiled. He rose, and walked with leisurely lightness up
and down in front of the chimney-piece, still with his palms spread
like little misplaced wings before his armpits. He smiled again. Then he
stopped on the hearth-rug and looked down amiably upon me.

"Well--what d'ye think? There's something in it, eh?"

"My dear fellow," I began, "what puzzles me is----"

"O, I don't mean to say that I've worked it all out," put in Uncle
Dudley, reassuringly. "Why, I get puzzled myself, every once in a while.
But I'm on the right track, my boy; and, as they say in Adelaide, I'm
going to hang to it like a pup to a root."

"How long have you been this way?" I asked, with an affectation of
sympathy.

Uncle Dudley answered with shining eyes. "Why, if you'll believe me, it
seems now as if I'd had the germs of the idea in my mind ever since I
came back to England, and began living here at Fernbank. But the thing
dawned upon me--that is to say, took shape in my head--less than a
fortnight ago. It all came about through being up here one evening with
nothing to read, and my toe worse than usual, and Mrs Albert having been
out of sorts all through dinner. Somehow, I felt all at once that I'd
got to read scientific works. I couldn't resist it. I was like Joan
of Arc when the cows and sheep took partners for a quadrille. I heard
voices--Darwin's and--and--Benjamin Franklin's--and--lots of others. I
hobbled downstairs to the library, and I brought up a whole armful of
the books that Mrs Albert bought when she expected Lady Wallaby was
going to be able to get her an invitation to attend the Hon. Mrs
Coon-Alwyn's Biological Conversaziones. Look there! What do you say to
that for ten days' work? And had to cut every leaf, into the bargain!"

I gazed with respect at the considerable row of books he indicated:
books for the most part bound in the scarlet of the International Series
or the maroon of Contemporary Science, but containing also brown covers,
and even green "sport" varieties.

"Well, and what is it all about?" I asked. "Why have you read
these things? Why not the reports of the Commission on Agricultural
Depression, or Lewis Morris's poems, or even----" but my imagination
faltered and broke.

"It was instinct, my boy," returned Uncle Dudley, with impressive
confidence. "There had been a thought--a great idea--growing and
swelling in my head ever since I had been living in this house. But
I couldn't tell what it was. As you might say, it was wrapped up in
a cocoon, like the larvæ of the lepidoptera--ahem!--and something was
needed to bring it out."

"When I was here last you were trying Hollands with quinine bitters," I
remarked casually.

"Don't fool!" Uncle Dudley admonished me. "I'm dead in earnest. As I
said, it was pure instinct that led me to these books. They have made
everything clear. I only wanted their help to get the husk off my
discovery, and hoist it on my back, us it were, and bring it out here in
the daylight. And so now you know what I'm getting at when I say: Women
are different from Men."

"That is the discovery, then?" I inquired.

Uncle Dudley nodded several times. Then he went on, with emphasised
slowness: "I have lived here now for four years, seeing my sister-in-law
every day, watching Ermyntrude grow up to womanhood and the little girls
peg along behind her, and meeting the female friends who come here
to see them--and, sir, I tell you, they're not alone a different sex:
they're a different animal altogether! Take my word for it, they're a
species by themselves."

"Miss Timby-Hucks is certainly very much by herself," I remarked.

My friend smiled. "And not altogether her own fault either," he
commented. "But, speaking of science, it's remarkable how, when you once
get a firm grip on a big, central, main-guy fact, all the little facts
come in of their own accord to support it. Now, there's that young
simpleton you met here at dinner a while ago: I mean Eustace Hump.
Do you know that both Ermyntrude and the Timby-Hucks, and even Miss
Wallaby, think that that chap is a perfect ideal of masculine wit and
beauty? You and I would hesitate about using him to wad a horse-pistol
with: but there isn't one of those girls that wouldn't leap with joy if
he began proposing to her; and as for their mothers, why, the old ladies
watch him as a kingfisher eyes a tadpole."

"Your similes are exciting," I said; "but what do they go to show?"

"My dear fellow, science can show anything. I haven't gone all through
it yet, but I tell you, it's wonderful! Take this, for instance"--he
reached for a green book on the mantel, and turned over the leaves--"now
listen to this. The book is written by a man named Wallace--nice,
shrewd-looking old party by his picture, you can see--and this is what
he says on page 285: 'Some peahens preferred an old pied peacock; a
Canada goose paired with a Bernicle gander; a male widgeon was preferred
by a pintail duck to its own species; a hen canary preferred a male
greenfinch to either linnet, goldfinch, siskin, or chaffinch.' Now,
do you see that? The moment my eyes first lighted on that, I said to
myself: 'Now I understand about the girls and Eustace Hump.' Isn't it
clear to you?"

"Absolutely," I assented. "You ought to read a paper at the Royal
Aquarium--before the Balloon Society, I mean."

"And then look at this," Uncle Dudley went on, with animation. "Now,
you and I would ask ourselves what on earth such a gawky, spindling,
poor-witted youngster as that thought he was doing among women, anyhow.
But you turn over the page, and here you have it: 'Goat-suckers, geese,
carrion vultures, and many other birds of plain plumage have been
observed to dance, spread their wings or tails, and perform strange
love-antics.' Doesn't that fasten Hump to the wall like a beetle on a
pin, eh?"

"But I am not sure that I entirely follow its application to your
original point," I suggested.

"About women, you mean? My boy, in science everything applies. The woods
are full of applications. But seriously, women _are_ different. As I
said, in the barbarism at the back of beyond this divergence started.
With the beginning of what we call civilisation, it became more and
more marked. The progress of the separation increases nowadays by
square-root--or whatever you call it. The sexes are wider apart to-day
than ever. They like each other less; they quarrel more. You can see
that in the Divorce Courts, in the diminished proportion of early
marriages, in the increasing evidences of domestic infelicity all about
one."

I could not refrain from expressing the fear that all this boded ill for
the perpetuity of the human race.

Uncle Dudley is a light-hearted man. He was not depressed by the
apprehensions to which I had given utterance. Instead he hummed
pleasantly to himself as he put Wallace back on the shelf. He began
chuckling as a moment later he bethought himself to fill our glasses
afresh.

"Did I ever tell you my cat story?" he asked cheerily, testing the knob
to see that the door was shut. "Once a little boy came in to his father
and said: 'Pa, we won't be troubled any more with those cats howling
about on our roof at night. I've just been looking out of the upstairs
window, and they're all out there fighting and screaming and tearing
each other to pieces. There won't be one of them alive by morning!' Then
the father replied: 'My son, you imagine a vain thing. When increasing
years shall have furnished your mind with a more copious store of
knowledge, you will grasp the fact that all this commotion and dire
disturbance which you report to me only signifies more cats.'"

At this juncture the servant came in with the soda-water. We talked no
more of science that evening.



_Touching the Experimental Graft of a Utilitarian Spirit upon the
Aesthetic Instinct in our Sisters_


I HAD strolled about the galleries of Burlington House for a couple of
hours on Press Day, looking a little at pictures here and there, but for
the most part contemplating with admiration the zeal and good faith of
the ladies and gentlemen who stopped, note-book in hand, before every
frame: when some one behind me gave a friendly tug at my sleeve. I
turned, to find myself confronted by a person I seemed not to know--a
small young woman in an alpine hat and a veil which masked everything
about her face except its dentigerous smile. Even as I looked I was
conscious of regret that, if acquaintances were to be made for me in
this spontaneous fashion, destiny had not selected instead a certain
tall, slender, dark young lady, clad all in black and cock's-plumes,
whom I had been watching at her work of notetaking in room after room,
with growing interest. Then, peering more closely through the veil, I
discovered that I was being accosted by Miss Timby-Hucks.

"You didn't know me!" she said, with a vivacious half-giggle, as we
shook hands; "and you're not specially pleased to see me; and you're
asking yourself, 'What on earth is she doing here?' Now, don't deny it!"

"Well, you know," I made awkward response--"of course--_Press_ day----"

"Ah, but I belong to the Press," said Miss Timby-Hucks.

"Happy Press! And since when?"

"O it's nearly a fortnight now. And most _interesting_ I find the work.
You know, for a long time now I've been _so_ restless, _so_ anxious to
find some opening to a real career, where I might be my genuine self,
and be an active part of the great whirling stream of existence, and
concentrate my mind upon the actualities of life--don't you yourself
think it will be _just_ the thing for me?"

"Undoubtedly," I replied without hesitation. "And do you find focussing
yourself on the actualities--ah--remunerative?"

"Well," Miss Timby-Hucks explained, "nothing of mine has been printed
yet, you see, so that I don't know as to that. But I am assured it
will be all right. You see, I'm _very_ intimate with a cousin of Mrs
Umpelbaum, who is the wife of the proprietor of _Maida Vale_, and in
that way it came about. Lady-reporters never have any chance, I am told,
unless they have friends in the proprietor's family, or know the editor
extremely well. It all goes by favour, like--like----"

"Like the dearest of all the actualities," I put in. "But how is it they
don't print your stuff?"

"I haven't written any, as yet. The difficulty was to find a subject,"
Miss Timby-Hucks rejoined. "O that awful 'subject'! I thought and thought
and thought till my head was fit to burst. I went to see Mrs Umpelbaum
herself, and asked her to suggest something. You know she writes a great
deal for the paper herself. She said they hadn't had any 'Reminiscences
of Carlyle' now for some weeks; but afterwards she agreed with me that
would not be quite the thing for one to _begin_ with. She couldn't
suggest anything else, except that I should have a chat with my
dressmaker. Very often in that way, she said, lady-reporters get the
most _entertaining_ revelations of gossip in high life. But it happened
that just then it was not--not exactly convenient--for me to call upon
my dressmaker; and so _that_ suggestion came to nothing, too."

"I had no idea lady-journalism was so difficult," I remarked, with
sympathy.

"O indeed, yes!" Miss Timby-Hucks went on. "One can't expect to be _en
rapport_, as we journalists say, with Society, without spending a great
deal of money. There is one lady-reporter, Mrs Umpelbaum told me, who
has made quite a leading position for herself, solely through
hairdressers and American dentists. But I don't mind admitting that that
would involve more of an outlay than I could afford, just at the
moment."

"So you never got a subject?" I asked.

"Yes; finally I did. I was over at the Grundys', telling my troubles,
and Uncle Dudley--you know, being so much with the girls, I always
call him that--Uncle Dudley said that the fashionable thing now
was interviews, and that lady-journalists did this better than
gentlemen-reporters because they had more nerve. By that I suppose he
meant a more delicate nervous organisation, quicker to grasp and absorb
fine shades of character. But that hardly helped me, because whom was I
to interview, and about what? _That_ was the question! But Uncle Dudley
thought a moment, and was ready with a suggestion. Everything depended,
he said, upon making a right start. I must pick out a personality and
a theme at once non-contentious and invested with popular interest His
idea was that I should begin by interviewing Mr T. M. Healy on 'The
Decline of the Deep-Sea Mock-Turtle Fisheries on the West Coast of
Ireland.' If I could get Mr Healy to talk frankly on this subject, he
felt sure that I should chain public attention at a bound."

"Superb!" I cried. "And did you do it?"

"No," Miss Timby-Hucks confessed; "I went to the House and sent in my
card, but it was another Irish Member who came out to see me--I think
his name was Mulhooly. He was very polite, and explained that since
some recent sad event in one of the Committee Rooms, fifteen I think
its number was, it was the rule of his party that, when a lady sent in
a card to one Member, some other Member answered it. It prevented
confusion, he said, and was not in antagonism to the expressed views of
the Church."

"Talking of nothing," I said, leading the way over to a divan, on which
we seated ourselves: "you seem to have finally secured a subject. I
assume you are doing the Academy for _Maida Vale_."

"Yes," replied Miss Timby-Hucks with gentle firmness; "you might say I
have _done_ it. I have been here since the very minute the doors opened,
and I've gone twelve times round. I wish I could have seen you earlier.
I should so like to have had your opinion of the various works as we
passed."

"It is better not," I commented. "There are ladies present."

The lady-reporter looked at me for a furtive instant dubiously. Then
she smiled a little under her veil. "You _do_ say such odd things!" she
remarked. "I am glad to see that a great many ladies _are_ present.
It shows how we are securing our proper recognition in journalism.
I believe there are actually more of us here than there are
gentlemen-reporters--I should say gentle-men-critics. And it is the
same in art, too. You can see--I've counted them up in my catalogue
here--there are this year two hundred and forty-four lady-artists
exhibiting in this Academy three hundred and forty-six works of art.
Think of that! Fifty of them are described as Mrs, and there are one
hundred and ninety-four who are unmarried."

"Think of _that!_" I retorted.

"And there are among them," Miss Timby-Hucks went on, "one Marchioness,
one Countess, one Baroness, and one plain Lady. I am going to begin my
article with this. I think it will be interesting, don't you?"

"I'd be careful not to particularise about the plain Lady," I suggested.
"That might be _too_ interesting."

She was over-full of her subject to smile. "No, I mean," she said, "as
showing how the ranks of British Art are being filled from the
very highest classes, and are appealing more and more to the female
intellect. I don't believe it will occur to any one else to count up in
the catalogue. So that will be original with me--to enlighten my sex as
to the glorious part they play in this year's Academy."

"But have you seen their pictures?" I asked, repressing an involuntary
groan.

"Every one!" replied Miss Timby-Hucks. "They are all good. There isn't
what I should call a bad one--that is, a Frenchy or immoral one--among
them. I shall say that, too, in my criticism; but of course I shall have
to word it carefully, because I fancy Mr Umpelbaum is a foreigner of
some sort--and you know they're all so sensitive about the superiority
of British Art."

"It is their nature; they can't help it," I pointed out. "They try their
best, however, to master these unworthy emotions. Sometimes, indeed,
their dissimulation reaches a really high plane of endeavour."

"They have nothing at all on the Continent like our Royal Academy, I am
told," said Miss Timby-Hucks. "That isn't generally known, is it? I had
thought of saying it."

"It will be a safe statement," I assured her. "You might go further,
and assert that no other country at any stage of its history has had
anything like the Royal Academy. It is the unique blossom of British
civilisation."

Miss Timby-Hucks seemed to like the phrase, and made a note of it on
the back of her catalogue. "Yes," she continued, "I thought of making
my criticism general, dealing with things like that. But I've got
some awfully interesting figures to put in. For example, there are
sixty-eight Academicians and Associates exhibiting: they have one
hundred and thirty-five oil paintings, sixteen water-colour or
black-and-white drawings, eight architectural designs, and twenty-three
pieces of sculpture--a total of one hundred and eighty-two works of art,
or two and sixty-seven hundredths each. I got at that by dividing the
total number of works by the total number of Academicians. Do you think
any one else will be likely to print that first in a daily paper? Mrs
Umpelbaum told me that _Maida Vale_ made a special point of new facts. I
don't think I shall say much about the pictures themselves.
What _is_ there to say about pictures by the Academicians? As I told
mamma this morning, they wouldn't be Academicians if they didn't paint
good pictures, would they? and good pictures speak for themselves. Of
course, I shall describe the subjects of Sir Frederic's pictures--by the
way, what _is_ a Hesperides?--and some of the others: I'll get you to
pick out for me a few leading names. But I shall make my main point the
splendid advance of lady-artists--I heard some one say in the other room
there'd never been half so many before--and the elevating effect this
has upon British Art. In fact, mightn't I say that is what makes British
Art what it is to-day?"

"It is one of the reasons, undoubtedly," I assented, as I rose. "There
are others, however."

"Ees, I know," said Miss Timby-Hucks: "the diffusion of Christian
principles amongst us, our high national morality, and the sanctity of
the English home. Mrs Albert said only last night that these lay at the
very foundation of British art."

"Mrs Albert is a woman of discernment," I said, making a gesture of
farewell.

But Miss Timby-Hucks on the instant thought of something. Her eyes
glistened, her two upper front teeth gleamed. "O, it's just occurred
to me!" she exclaimed, moving nearer to my side, and speaking-in
confidential excitement. "I know now how that lady-reporter manages with
the hairdressers and dentists. She doesn't pay them money at all. She
mentions their names in the papers instead. How dull of me not to have
thought of that before! Why--yes--I will!--I'll put my dressmaker among
the Private View celebrities!"

One likes to be civil to people who are obviously going to succeed in
the world. I forthwith took Miss Timby-Hucks out to luncheon.



_Relating to Various Phenomena attending the Progress of the Sex along
Lines of the Greatest Resistance_


My own idea," said Uncle Dudley, "is that women ought to be confined to
barracks during elections just the same as soldiers."

"I was quite prepared to find _you_ entertaining views of that
character," remarked Miss Wallaby, with virginal severity. "Men who
have wandered about the less advanced parts of the earth, and spent long
periods of time in contact with inferior civilisations, quite generally
do feel that way. Life in the Colonies, and in similar rude and remote
regions, does produce that effect upon the masculine mind. But here
in England, the nerve-centre of the English-speaking race, the point
of concentration from which radiate all the impulses of refinement and
culture that distinguish our generation, men are coming to see these
matters in a different light. They no longer refuse to listen to the
overwhelming arguments in favour of entire feminine equality----"

"Oh, _I_ admit _that_ at once," broke in Uncle Dudley. "But do women
nowadays believe in equality among themselves? In my youth they used to
devote pretty well all their energies to showing how much superior they
were to other women."

"I spoke of the masculine attitude," said Miss Wallaby, coldly. "Viewed
intelligently, the gradations and classifications which we maintain
among ourselves, at the cost of such infinite trouble and personal
self-sacrifice, are the very foundation upon which rests the
superstructure of British Society."

"I admit that, too," Uncle Dudley hastened to put in. "Really, we are
getting on very nicely."

Miss Wallaby ignored the interruption altogether. "The point is," she
went on, "that the male mind in England is coming--with characteristic
slowness, no doubt, but still coming--to recognise the necessity of
securing the very fullest and most complete participation of my sex in
public affairs. As the diffusion of enlightenment progresses, men will
more and more abandon the coarse and egoistic standards of their days of
domination by brute force, and turn instead to the ideals of purity and
sweetness which Woman in Politics typifies. It has been observed that
one may pick out the future rulers of England in each coming generation
by scanning the honour-lists of Oxford and Cambridge. How happy a day it
will be for England, and civilisation, when this is said of Girton and
Newnham as well!"

"I spent a summer in the State of Maine once, some years ago,"
said Uncle Dudley. "That's the State, you know, where they've had a
Prohibition law now for nearly forty years. The excess of females
over males is larger there, I believe, than it is anywhere else in the
world--owing to the fact that all the young men who are worth their salt
emigrate to some other State as soon as they've saved up enough for a
railway-ticket. The men that you do see lounging around there, in the
small villages, are all minding the baby, or sitting on the doorstep
shelling peas, or out in the backyard, with their mouths full of
clothes-pins, hanging up sheets and pillow-cases on the line to dry. The
women there take a very active part in politics--and every census shows
that Maine's population has diminished. Shipbuilding has almost ceased,
farms are being abandoned yearly, the State is mortgaged up to its
eyebrows, and you get nothing but fried clams and huckleberry-pie for
breakfast--but, of course, I suppose there _is_ a good deal of purity
and sweetness."

Miss Wallaby rose and walked away from us; the black velvet riband
around her neck, the glint of gas-light on her eyeglasses, the wearied
haughtiness on her swarthy, high-nosed face, seemed to unite in saying
to us that we were very poor creatures indeed.

"She's been down to the Retired Licensed Victuallers' Division of
Surrey, you know," exclaimed Uncle Dudley, "making speeches in favour of
the sitting Member, old Sir Watkyn Hump."

"Ah, that accounts for the milk in the cocoa-nut," I remarked.

"Well, no," my friend mused aloud, "I fancy _young_ Hump accounts for
that. See--she's gone and cut him out from under the Timby-Hucks's
guns."

It was at one of Mrs Albert Grundy's evenings at home, and Uncle Dudley
and I now had possession of a quiet corner to ourselves. From this
pleasant vantage-ground we indolently surveyed the throng surrounding
Mrs Albert at the piano end of the room, and stretching off through the
open double doors into the adjoining chamber--a throng of dazzling
arms and shoulders, of light-hued satins and fluffy stuffs, of waving
feathers, and splendid piles of braided hair, and mostly comely faces
wreathed in politic smiles. Here and there the mass of pinks and whites
and creams was broken abruptly by a black coat with a hat under its
sleeve. Dudley and I idly commented upon the fact that almost all these
coats belonged to undersized elderly men, generally with spectacles
and a grey beard, and we noted with placid interest that as they came
in--announced in stentorian tones as Mr and Mrs So-and-so--their wives
as a rule were several inches taller and many many years younger than
themselves.

Then it was entertaining, too, to watch Mrs Albert shake hands with
these newcomers. She knew just at what angle each preferred that
ceremony, keeping her knuckles well down in welcoming the more
sophisticated and up-to-date people from about Cromwell Road and the
Park, but elevating them breast-high to greet those from around Brompton
way, and hoisting them quite up to the chin-level with the guests
from beyond Earl's Court, who were still in the toils of last year's
fashions.

"Smart woman, that sister of mine!" said Uncle Dudley. "See the way
she's manoeuvred her shoulder around in front of the Timby-Hucks's nose,
so as to head her off from getting in and being introduced to the Hon.
Mrs Coon-Alwyn. And--hello! by George, she's won!--there's the Dowager
Countess of Thames-Ditton coming in! You'll never know the anguish, my
boy, that was caused by the uncertainty whether she would come or not.
Emily hasn't been able to eat these past four days, expecting every
moment the knock of the postman bringing her ladyship's refusal to come.
The only thing that enabled her to keep up, she said, was fixing her
mind resolutely on the fact that the aristocracy are notoriously
impolite about answering invitations. But now, happy woman--her cup is
fairly running over. This is a great night for Fernbank.
And--look!--hanged if that girl isn't trying to edge her way in there,
too! See how prettily Emily managed that? Oh, Timby-Hucks! Timby-Hucks!
you've put your foot in it this time. You'll never figure on the
free-list for _this_ show again."

Misfortune indeed claimed Miss Timby-Hucks for its very own. Mrs Albert
had twice adroitly interposed her well-rounded shoulders between that
enterprising young woman and social eminence--the second time with quite
obvious determination of purpose. And there, too, behind the door, young
Mr Hump bent his sloping shoulders and cliff-like collar humbly over
Miss Wallaby's chair, listening with all his considerable ears to her
selected monologues. Ah, the vanity of human aspirations!

Casting an heroic glance over the field of defeat, Miss Timby-Hucks's
eye lighted upon our corner, and on the instant her two upper front
teeth gleamed in a smile of relief. At all events, _we_ were left--and
she came towards us with a decisive step.

"I've hardly seen you since the Academy," she said in her sprightly way
to me, after we had all shaken hands, and she had seated herself between
us on the sofa.

"And how did your article come out?" I asked politely.

"Oh, it never came out at all," she replied. "It seems it got left over
too long. The editor _said_ it was owing to the pressure of interesting
monkey-language matter upon his columns; but _I_ believe it was just
because I'm a lady journalist, and so does the cousin of Mrs Umpelbaum,
the proprietor's wife. It must have been that--because, long after the
editor gave this excuse, there were the daily papers still printing
their criticisms, 'Eleventh Notice of the Royal Academy,' 'The Spring
Exhibitions--Fourteenth Article,' and so on. I taxed him with it--told
him I heard they had some still left, that they were going to begin
printing again after the elections were over--but he said it was
different with dailies. All _they_ needed were advertisements and market
reports, and police news, and telegrams about the Macedonian frontier,
and they could print art criticisms and book reviews whole years after
they should have appeared, because nobody ever read them when they were
printed--but weeklies had to be absolutely up to date."

"Evil luck does pursue you!" I said, compassionately. "So you haven't
got into print at all?"

"O I'm not a bit cast down," replied Miss Timby-Hucks, with jaunty
confidence. "There's no such word as fail in my book. The way to succeed
is just to keep pegging away. I know of one lady-journalist who went
every day for nine weeks to interview the Countess of Wimps about her
second son's having been warned off Newmarket Heath. Every day she was
refused admittance--once she got into the hall and was put out by a
brutal footman--but it never unnerved her. Each morning she went again.
And she would have succeeded by this time, probably--only the Countess
suddenly left England to spend the summer in Egypt."

"Yes, Wady Halfa _has_ its advantages, even in July," said Uncle Dudley.
"It is warm, and there are insects, but one is allowed by law to kill
them--in Egypt."



_Illustrating the operation of Vegetables and Feminine Duplicity upon
the Concepts of Maternal Responsibility_


I FELT that I was on sufficiently intimate terms with Mrs Albert Grundy
to tell her that she was not looking well. She gave a weary little sigh
and said she knew it.

Indeed, poor lady, it was apparent enough. She has taken of late to
wearing her hair drawn up from her forehead over a roll--the effect of
mouse-tints at which Nature is beginning to hint, being frankly helped
out by powder. Everybody about Fernbank recognises that in some way
this reform has altered the whole state of affairs. The very servant
who comes to the door, or who brings in the tea-things, seems to carry
herself in a different manner since the change has been made. Of course,
it is by no means a new fashion, but it was not until the Dowager
Countess of Thames-Ditton brought it in person to Fernbank that Mrs
Albert could be quite sure of its entire suitability. Up to that time it
had seemed to her a style rather adapted to lady lecturers and the wives
of men who write: and though Mrs Albert has the very highest regard for
literature--quite dotes on it, as she says--she is somewhat inclined to
sniff at its wives.

We all feel that the change adds character to Mrs Albert's face--or
rather exhibits now that true managing and resourceful temper, which was
formerly obscured and weakened by a fringe. But the new arrangement has
the defects of its qualities. It does not lend itself to tricks.
The countenance beneath it does not easily dissemble anxiety or mask
fatigue. And both were written broadly over Mrs Albert's fine face.
"Yes," she said, "I know it."

The consoling suggestion that soon the necessity of giving home-dinners
to the directors in her husband's companies would have ended, and
that then a few weeks out of London, away somewhere in the air of the
mountains or the sea, would bring back all her wonted strength and
spirits, did no good. She shook her head and sighed again.

"No," she said, "it isn't physical. That is to say, it _is_ physical, but
the cause is mental. It is over-worry."

"Of all people on earth--_you!_" I replied reproachfully. "Why think
of it--a husband who is the dream of docile propriety, a competency
broadening each year into a fortune, a home like this, such servants,
such appointments, such a circle of admiring friends--and then your
daughters! Why, to be the mother of such a girl as Ermyntrude-------"

"Precisely," interrupted Mrs Albert. "To be the mother of such a girl,
as you say. Little you know what it really means! But, no--I know what
you were going to say--_please_ don't! it is too sad a subject."

I could do nothing but feebly strive to look my surprise. To think
of sadness connected with tall, handsome, good-hearted Ermie, was
impossible.

"You think I am exaggerating, I know," Mrs Albert went on. "Ah, you do
not know!"

"Nothing could be more evident," I replied, "than that I don't know. I
can't even imagine what on earth you are driving at."

Mrs Albert paused for a moment, and pushed the toe of her wee slipper
meditatively back and forth on the figure of the carpet.

"Yes, I _will_ tell you," she said at last. "You are such an old friend
of the family that you are almost one of us. And besides, you are always
sympathetic--so different from Dudley. Well, the point is this. You know
the young man--Sir Watkyn's son--Mr Eustace Hump."

"I have met him here," I assented.

"Well, I doubt if you will meet him here any more," Mrs Albert said,
impressively.

"The deprivation shall not drive me to despair or drink," I assured her.
"I will watch over myself."

"I dare say you did not care much for him," said Mrs Albert. "I know
Dudley didn't. But, all the same, he _was_ eligible. He is an only son,
and his father is a Baronet--an hereditary title--and they are _rolling_
in wealth. And Eustace himself, when you get to know him, has some very
admirable qualities. You know he _writes!_"

"I have heard him say so," I responded, perhaps not over graciously.

"O, _regularly_, for a number of weekly papers. It is understood that
quite frequently he gets paid--not of course that that matters to
him--but his associations are distinctly literary. I have always felt
that with his tastes and connections his wife--granting of course that
she was the right kind of woman--might at last set up a real literary
_salon_ in London. We have wanted one so long, you know."

"Have we?" I murmured listlessly, striving all the while to guess what
relation all this bore to the question of Ermyntrude. I built up in my
mind a hostile picture of the odious Hump, with his shoulders sloping
off like a German wine-bottle, his lean neck battlemented in high
starched walls of linen, and his foolish conceited face--and leaped
hopefully to the conclusion that Ermyntrude had rejected him. I could
not keep the notion to myself.

"Well--has she sent him about his business?" I asked, making ready to
beam with delight.

"No," said Mrs Albert, ruefully. "It never got to that, so far as I can
gather--but at all events it is all over. I expect every morning now
to read the announcement in the _Morning Post_ that a marriage has been
arranged between him and--and--Miss Wallaby!"

I sat upright, and felt myself smiling. "What!--the girl with the black
ribbon round her neck?" I asked comfortably.

"It would be more appropriate round her heart," remarked Mrs Albert,
with bitterness in her tone. "Why, do you know? her mother, for all that
she's Lady Wallaby, hasn't an 'h' in her whole composition."

"Well, neither has old Sir Watkyn Hump," I rejoined pleasantly. "So it's
a fair exchange."

"Ah, but _he_ can afford it," put in Mrs Albert. "But the
Wallabys--well, I can only say that I had a right to look for different
treatment at _their_ hands. How, do you suppose, they would ever have
been asked to the Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn's garden-party, or met Lady
Thames-Ditton, or been put in society generally, if I had not taken an
interest in them? Why, that girl's father, old Sir Willoughby Wallaby,
was never anything but chief of police, or something like that, out in
some Australian convict settlement. I _have_ heard he was knighted by
mistake, but of course my lips are sealed."

"I suppose they really have behaved badly," I said, half
interrogatively.

"Badly!" echoed the wrathful mother. "I will leave you to judge. It was
done here, quite under my own roof. You know Miss Wallaby volunteered
her services, and went down into the Retired Licensed Victuallers'
Division of Surrey to electioneer for Sir Watkyn. Do you know, I never
suspected anything. And then Miss Timby-Hucks, she went down also, but
they rather cold-shouldered her, and she came back, and she told me
things, and _still_ I wouldn't believe it. Well then--three weeks
ago--my Evening At Home--you were here--the Wallabys came as large as
life, and that scheming young person manoeuvred about until she got
herself alone with Eustace and my Ermyntrude, and then she told her a
scene she had witnessed during her recent election experiences. There
was a meeting for Sir Watkyn at some place, I can't recall the name,
and there were a good many of the other side there, and they hooted and
shouted, and raised disturbance, until at last there was one speaker
they would not hear at all. All this that girl told Ermyntrude
seriously, and as if she were overflowing with indignation. And then she
came to the part where the speaker stood his ground and tried to make
himself heard, and the crowd yelled louder than ever, and still he
doggedly persisted--and then someone threw a large vegetable marrow,
soft and very ripe, and it hit that speaker just under the ear, and
burst all over him!"

"Ha-ha-ha!" I ejaculated. "The vegetable marrow in politics is new--full
of delightful possibilities and seeds--wonder it has never been thought
of before."

"Yes," said Mrs Albert, with a sigh. "Ermyntrude also thought it was
funny. She has a very keen sense of humour--quite too keen. _She_
laughed, too!"

"And why not?" I asked.

"Why not?" demanded Mrs Albert, with shining eyes. "Because the story
had been told just to trap her into laughing--because--because the
speaker upon whom that unhappy vegetable marrow exploded was--_Eustace
Hump!_"



_Containing Thoughts upon the Great Unknown, to which are added
Speculations upon her Hereafter_


It is not often that I find the time to take part in Mrs Albert
Grundy's Thursdays--the third and fifth Thursdays of each month, from 4
to 6.30 P.M.--but on a certain afternoon pleasant weather and the sense
of long-accrued responsibility drew me to Fernbank.

It was really very nice, after one got there. Perhaps it would have been
less satisfactory had escape from the drawing-room been a more difficult
matter. Inside that formal chamber, with its blinds down-drawn to shield
the carpet from the sun, the respectable air hung somewhat heavily about
the assembled matronhood of Brompton and the Kensingtons. The units in
this gathering changed from time to time--for Mrs Albert's circle is a
large and growing one--but the effect of the sum remained much the same.
The elderly ladies talked about the amiability and kindliness of
the Duchess of Teck; and argued the Continental relationships of the
Duchesses of Connaught and Albany, first into an apparently hopeless
tangle of _burgs_ and _hausens_ and _zollerns_ and _sweigs_, then
triumphantly out again into the bright daylight of well-ordered and
pellucid genealogy. The younger wives spoke in subdued voices of more
juvenile Princesses on the lower steps of the throne, with occasional
short-winged flights across the North Sea in imaginative search of a
suitable bride for the then unwedded Duke of York, if an importation
should be found to be necessary--about which opinions might in all
loyalty differ. The few young girls who sat dutifully here beside
their mammas or married sisters talked of nothing at all, but
smiled confusedly and looked away whenever another's glance, caught
theirs--and, I daresay, thought with decent humility upon Marchionesses.

But outside, on the garden-lawn at the rear of the house, the _Almanach
de Gotha_ threw no shadow, and the pungent scent of jasmine and lilies
drove the leathery odour of Debrett from the soft summer air. The gentle
London haze made Whistlers and Maitlands of the walls and roof-lines and
chimney-pots beyond. The pretty girls of Fernbank held court here on the
velvet grass, with groups of attendant maidens from sympathetic
Myrtle Lodges and Cedarcrofts and Chestnut Villas--selected homesteads
stretching all the way to remote West Kensington. They said there was
no one left in London. Why, as I sat apart in the shade of the ivy
overhanging the garden path, and watched this out-door panorama of the
Grundys' friendships, it seemed as if I had never comprehended before
how many girls there really were in the world.

And how sweet it was to look upon these damsels, with their dainty
sailor's hats of straw, their cheeks of Devon cream and damask, their
tall and shapely forms, their profiles of faultless classical delicacy!
What if, in time, they too must sit inside, by preference, and babble
of royalties and the peerage, and politely uncover those two aggressive
incisors of genteel maturity when they were asked to have a third cup
of tea? That stage, praise heaven, should be many years removed. We will
have no memento mori bones or tusks out here in the sunlit garden--but
only tennis balls, and the inspiring chalk-bands on the sward, and the
noble grace of English girlhood, erect and joyous in the open air.
# Much as I delighted in this spectacle, it forced upon me as well a
certain vague sense of depression. These lofty and lovely creatures were
strangers to me. I do not mean that their names were unknown to me, or
that I had not exchanged civil words with many of them, or that I might
not be presented to, and affably received by, them all. The feeling was,
rather, that if it were possible for me to marry them all, we still to
the end of our days would remain strangers. I should never know what to
say to them; still less should I ever be able to guess what they were
thinking.

The tallest and most impressive of all the bevy--the handsome girl
in the pale brown frock with the shirt-front and jacketed blouse,
who stands leaning with folded hands upon her racket like an indolent
Diana--why, I punted her about the whole reach from Sunbury to Walton
during the better part of a week, only last summer, not to mention
sitting beside her at dinner every evening on the houseboat. We were so
much together, in truth, that my friends round about, as I came to know
afterwards, canvassed among themselves the prospect of our arranging
never to separate. Yet I feel that I do not know this girl. We are
friends, yes; but we are not acquainted with each other.

More than once--perhaps a dozen times--in driving through the busier
of London streets, my fancy has been caught by this thing: a
hansom whirling smartly by, the dark hood of which frames a woman's
face--young, wistful, ivory-hued. It is like the flash exposure of
a kodak--this bald instant of time in which I see this face, and
comprehend that its gaze has met mine, and has burned into my memory a
lightning picture of something I should not recognise if I saw it again,
and cannot at all reproduce to myself, and probably would not like if I
could, yet which leaves me with the feeling that I am richer than I was
before. In that fractional throb of space there has been snatched an
unrehearsed and unprejudiced contact of human souls--projected from one
void momentarily to be swept forward into another; and though not the
Judgment Day itself shall bring these two together again, they know each
other.

Now that I look again at the goddess in the pale-brown gown, these
unlabelled faces of the flitting hansoms seem by comparison those of
familiar companions and intimates.

I get no sense of human communion from that serene and regular
countenance, with its exquisite nose, its short upper-lip and glint of
pearls along the bowed line of the mouth, its correctly arched brows and
wide-open, impassive blue eyes. I can see it with prophetic admiration
out-queening all the others at Henley, or at Goodwood, or on the great
staircase of Buckingham Palace. I can imagine it at Monte Carlo, flushed
a little at the sight of retreating gold; or at the head of a great
noble's table, coldly poised above satin throat and shoulders, and
stirring no muscle under the free whisperings of His Excellency to the
right. I can conceive it in the Divorce Court, bearing with metallic
equanimity the rude scrutiny of a thousand unlicensed eyes. But my fancy
wavers and fails at the task of picturing that face at my own fireside,
with the light of the home-hearth painting the fulness of her rounded
chin, and reflecting back from her glance, as we talk of men and books
and things, the frank gladness of real comradeship.

But--tchut!--I have no fireside, and the comrades I like best
are playing halfcrown whist at the club; and these are all nice
girls--hearty, healthful, handsome girls, who can walk, run, dance,
swim, scull, skate, ride as no others have known or dared to do since
the glacial wave of Christianity depopulated the glades and dells of
Olympus. They will mate after their kind, and in its own good time along
will come a new generation of straight, strong-limbed, thin-lipped,
pink-and-white girls, and of tow-headed, deep-chested lads, their
brothers--boys who will bully their way through Rugby and Harrow,
misspell and misapprehend their way into the Army, the Navy, and the
Civil Service, and spread themselves over the habitable globe, to rule,
through sheer inability to understand, such Baboos and Matabele and mere
Irishry as Imperial destiny delivers over to them.

The vision is not wholly joyous, as it with diffidence projects itself
beyond, into that further space where new strange other generations
walk--the girls still taller and more coldly tubbed, the boys astride
a yet more temerarious saddle of dull dominion. Reluctant prophecy
discerns beneath their considerable feet the bruised fragments of many
antique trifles--the _bric-à-brac_ of an extinct sentimental fraction
that had a sense of humour and could spell--and, to please mamma, the
fig-leaves have quite overspread and hidden the statues in their garden.
But power is there, and empire; they still more serenely loom above the
little foreign folks who cook, and sing to harps and fiddles, and paint
for their amusement; such as it is under their shaping, they possess the
earth.

So, as the sun goes down in the Hammersmith heavens, I take off my hat,
and salute the potential mothers of the New Rome.



_Glancing at some Modern Aspects of Master John Gutenberg's ingenious
but Over-rated Invention_


It was very pleasant thus to meet Uncle Dudley in the Strand. Only here
and there is one who can bear that test. Whole legions of our friends,
decent and deeply reputable people, fall altogether out of the picture,
so to speak, on this ancient yet robust thoroughfare. They do very well
indeed in Chelsea or Highgate or the Pembridge country, where they are
at home: there the surroundings fit them to a nicety; there they produce
upon one only amiable, or at the least, natural, impressions. But to
encounter them in the Strand is to be shocked by the blank incongruity
of things. It is not alone that they give the effect of being lost--of
wandering helplessly in unfamiliar places. They offend your perceptions
by revealing limitations and shortcomings which might otherwise have
been hidden to the end of time. You see suddenly that they are not such
good fellows, after all. Their spiritual complexions are made up for the
dim light which pervades the outskirts of the four-mile radius--and go
to pieces in the jocund radiance of the Strand. It is flat presumption
on their part to be ambling about where the ghosts of Goldsmith and
Johnson walk, where Prior and Fielding and our Dick Steele have passed.
Instinctively you go by, looking the other way.

It was quite different with Uncle Dudley. You saw at once that he
belonged to the Strand, as wholly as any of our scorned and scornful
sisters on its comers, competing with true insular doggedness against
German cheeks and raddled accents; as fully as any of its indigenous
loafers, hereditary in their riverside haunts from Tudor times, with
their sophisticated joy in drink and dirt, their large self-confidence
grinning through rags and sooty grime. It seemed as if I had always
associated Uncle Dudley with the Strand.

He was standing in contemplation before a brave window, wherein American
cheese, Danish butter, Norwegian fish, Belgian eggs, German sausages,
Hungarian bacon, French vegetables, Australian apples, and Algerian
fruits celebrate the catholicity of the modern British diet. He turned
when I touched his shoulder, and drew my arm through his.

"Sir," said Uncle Dudley, "let us take a walk along the Strand to the
Law Courts, where I conceive that the tide of human existence gets the
worst of it with unequalled regularity and dispatch."

On his way he told me that his gout had quite vanished, owing to his
foresight in collecting a large store of the best medical advice, and
then thoughtfully and with pains disregarding it all. He demonstrated to
me at two halting places that his convalescence was compatible with rich
and strong drinks. He disclosed to me, as we sauntered eastward, his
purpose in straying thus far afield.

"You know Mrs Albert is really a kindly soul," he said. "It isn't in her
to keep angry. You remember how sternly she swore that she and Fernbank
had seen the last of Miss Timby-Hucks. It only lasted five weeks--and
now, bless me if the girl isn't more at home on our backs than ever.
She's shunted herself off, now, into a new branch of journalism--it
seems that there are a good many branches in these days."

"It has been noticed," I assented.

"She doesn't write any more," he explained, "that is, _for_ the papers.
She goes instead to the Museum or somewhere, and reads carefully every
daily and weekly journal, I believe, in England. Her business is to pick
out possible libels in them--and to furnish her employers, a certain
firm of solicitors, with a daily list of these. They communicate with
the aggrieved people, notifying them that they _are_ aggrieved, which
they very likely would not otherwise have known, and the result is, of
course, a very fine and spirited crop of litigation."

"Then that accounts for all the recent----"

"Perhaps not quite _all_," put in Uncle Dudley. "But the Timby-Hucks is
both energetic and vigilant, and she tells me she is doing splendidly.
She is very enthusiastic about it, naturally. She says that while
the money is, of course, an object, her real satisfaction is in the
humanitarian aspects of her work."

"I am not sure that I follow," I said doubtingly.

"No, I didn't altogether myself at the start," said Uncle Dudley, "but
as she explains it, it is very simple. You see business is in a bad
way in London--worse, they say, than usual. The number of unemployed is
something dreadful to think of, so I am told by those who have thought
of it. There are many thousands of people with no food, no fire, no
clothes to speak of. Most people are discouraged about this. They can't
see how the thing can be improved. But Miss Timby-Hucks has a very
ingenious idea. Why, she asks, do not all the Unemployed sue all the
newspapers for libel? Do you catch the notion?"

"By George!" I exclaimed, "that is a bold, comprehensive thought!"

"Yes, isn't it?" cried Uncle Dudley. "I am immensely attracted by it.
For one thing, it is so secure, so certain! Broadly speaking, there are
no risks at all. I suppose there has never yet been a case, no matter
what its so-called merits, in which the English newspaper hasn't been
cast in damages of some sort Nobody is too humble or too shady to get
a verdict against an editor or newspaper proprietor. Miss Timby-Hucks
relates several most touching instances where the wolf was actually at
the door, the children shoeless and hungry, the mother prostrated by
drink, rain coming through the roof and so on--and everything has been
changed to peace and contentment by the happy thought of bringing a
libel suit. The father now wears a smile and a white waistcoat; the
drains have been repaired; the little children, nicely washed and
combed, kick each other's shins with brand new boots, and sing
cheerfully beneath a worsted-work motto of 'God bless our Home!' I find
myself much affected by the thought."

"You had always a tender heart," I responded. "I suppose there would be
no trouble about the Judges?"

"Not the least in the world," said Uncle Dudley, with confidence. "Of
course the Bench would have to be greatly enlarged, but there need be no
fear on that score. There is a mysterious but beneficent rule, my boy,
which you can always count upon in this making of judges--no matter how
hail-fellow-well-met an eminent lawyer may be, no matter how intimate
his connection with newspapers, how large his indebtedness to them for
his career--the moment he gets on the Bench he catches the full, fine,
old-crusted judicial spirit toward the Press. The scales fall with a
bang from his eyes, and he sees the editor and newspaper proprietor
as they really are--designing criminals, mercenary reprobates, social
pests--to be lectured and bullied and put down. O, you may rely on the
Judges! They are as safe as a new Liberal peer is to vote Tory."

"But the 'power of the Press'?" I urged. "If the newspapers combine in
protest, and----"

"You talk at random!" said Uncle Dudley almost austerely. "I should say
the most certain, the most absolutely reliable, element in the whole
case is the fact that newspapers do not combine. Whenever one editor
gets hit, all the others grin. One journal is mulcted in heavy damages:
the rest have all a difficulty in dissembling their delight. You read in
natural history that kites are given to falling upon one of their kind
which gets wounded or decrepit, and picking out its eyes. Well, kites
are also made of newspapers."

"And juries?" I began to ask.

"Here we are," remarked Uncle Dudley, turning in toward the guarded
portals of the great hall.

"I have a friend among the attendants here, a thoughtful and discerning
man. I will learn from him where we may look for the spiciest case. He
takes a lively interest in the flaying of editors. I believe he was once
a printer. He will tell us where the axe gleams most savagely to-day:
where; we shall get the most journalistic blood for our money. You were
speaking of juries. Just take a look at one of them--if you are not
afraid of spoiling your luncheon--and you will see that they speak for
themselves. They regard all newspapers as public enemies--particularly
when the betting tips have been more misleading than usual. They stand
by their kind. They 'give the poor man a chance' without hesitation,
without fail. They are here to avenge the discovery of movable types,
and they do it. Come with me, and witness the disembowelling of a daily,
the hamstringing of a sub-editor--a publisher felled by the hand of the
Law like a bullock. Since the bear-pits of Bankside were closed there
has been no such sport."

Unhappily, it turned out that none of the Judges had come down to the
Courts that day. There was a threat of east wind in the air. "You see,
if they don't live, to a certain age they get no pensions, and their
heirs turn a key in the lock on the old gentlemen in weather like this,"
explained Uncle Dudley, turning disappointedly away.



_Detailing certain Prudential Measures taken during the Panic incident
to a Late Threatened Invasion_


I HOPE," said Mrs Albert, "that I am as free to admit my errors in
judgment as another. Evidently there has been a mistake in this matter,
and it is equally obvious that I am the one who must have made it. I did
not need to have this pointed out to me, Dudley. What I looked to you
for was advice, counsel, sympathy. You seem not to realise at all how
important this is to me. A false step now may ruin everything--and you
simply sit there and grin!"

"My dear sister," replied Uncle Dudley, smoothing his face, "the smile
was involuntary. It shall not recur. I was only thinking of Albert's
enthusiasm for the----"

"Yes, I know!" put in Mrs Albert; "for that girl with the zouave
jacket----"

"_And_ the scarlet petticoat," prompted Uncle Dudley.

"_And_ the crinoline," said the lady.

"O, he did not insist upon that. I recall his exact words. 'Whether this
under-garment,' he said, 'be made of some stiff material like horsehair,
or by means of steel hoops, is a mere question of detail.' No, Albert
expressly kept an open mind on that point."

"I agree with you," remarked Mrs Albert coldly, "to the extent that he
certainly does keep his mind on it. He has now reverted to the subject,
I should think, at least twenty times. I am not so blind as you may
imagine. I notice that that Mr Labouchere also keeps on referring, every
week, to another girl in _her_ zouave jacket, whom _he_ remembers with
equal fondness, apparently."

"Yes," put in Uncle Dudley, "those words about the 'stiff material like
horsehair' _were_ in _Truth_. I daresay Albert simply read them
there, and just unconsciously repeated them. We often do inadvertent,
unthinking things of that sort."

Mrs Albert shook her head. "It is nothing to me, of course," she said,
"but I cannot help feeling that the middle-aged father of a family might
concentrate his thoughts upon something nobler, something higher, than
the recollection of the charms of a red petticoat, thirty years ago.
That is so characteristic of men. They cannot discuss a question
broadly----"

"Think not?" queried Uncle Dudley, with interest. "You should listen at
the keyhole sometime, after you have led the ladies out from dinner."

"I mean personally, in a general way. They always particularise. Albert,
for example, allows all his views on this very important question to be
coloured by the fact that when he was a young man he admired some girl
in a short red Balmoral petticoat. Whenever conversation touches
upon any phase of the whole subject of costume, out he comes with his
tiresome adulation of that particular garment. Of course, I ask no
questions--I should prefer not to be informed--I try not even to draw
inferences--but I notice that Ermyntrude is beginning to observe the
persistency with which her father----"

"My good Emily," urged Uncle Dudley, consolingly, "far back in the
Sixties we all liked that girl; we couldn't help ourselves--she was
the only girl there was. And we think of her fondly still--we old
fellows--because for us she was also the last there was! When she went
out, lo and behold! we too had gone out, not to come back any more. When
Albert and I babble about a scarlet petticoat, it is only as a symbol of
our own far-away youth. O delicious vision!--the bright, bright red, the
skirt that came drooping down over it, not hiding too much that pretty
little foot and ankle, the dear zouave jacket moulding itself so
delicately to the persuasive encircling arm----"

"Dudley! I really must recall you to yourself," said Mrs Albert. "We
were speaking of quite another matter. I am in a very serious dilemma.
First of all, as I explained to you, to please the Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn
I became one of the Vice-Presidents of the Friendly Divided Skirt
Association. You know how useful she can be, in helping to bring
Ermyntrude out successfully. And of course everybody _knew_ that, even
if we _did_ have them _made_, we should never _wear_ them. That was
_quite_ out of the question."

"And then?" asked Uncle Dudley.

"Well, then, let me see--yes, next came the Neo-Dress-Improver League.
I never understood what the object was, precisely; it was a kind of
secession from the other, led by the Countess of Wimps, and I needn't
tell you that she is of the _utmost_ importance to us, and there was
simply _nothing_ for me to do but to become a Lady Patroness of _that_.
You were in extremely nice company--there were seven or eight ladies of
title among the Patronesses, our names all printed together in beautiful
little gilt letters--and you really weren't committed to anything that
I could make out. No--_that_ was all right. I should do the same
thing again, under the circumstances. No, the trouble came with the
Amalgamated Anti-Crinoline Confederacy. That was where I was too hasty,
I think."

"That's the thing with the protesting post-cards, isn't it?" inquired
Uncle Dudley.

"That very feature of it alone ought to have warned me," Mrs Albert
answered with despondency. "My own better sense should have told me
that post-cards were incompatible with selectness. But you see, the
invitations were sent out by the authoress of _The Street-Sprinkler's
Secret_, and that gave me the impression that it was to be literary--to
represent Culture and the Arts, you know; and that appealed to me, of
course, very strongly."

"I have always feared that your literary impulses would run away with
you," Uncle Dudley declared gravely.

"It is my weak side; I don't deny it," replied his sister. "Where
letters and authorship, and that sort of thing, you know, are concerned,
it is my nature to be sympathetic. And besides, the Dowager Lady
Thames-Ditton was very pronounced in favour of the movement, and I
_couldn't_ fly in the face of that, could I? I must say, though, that I
had my misgivings almost from the first. Miss Wallaby told the Rev. Mr
Grayt-Scott that a lady she knew had looked over quite a peck or more of
the post-cards which came in one day, and they were nine-tenths of them
from Earl's Court."

"Yes," remarked Uncle Dudley, "I think I have heard that the post-card
reaches its most luxuriant state of literary usefulness in that
locality. It was from that point that they tried to rush the
Laureateship, you know."

"Well, you can imagine how I felt when I heard it. It is all well enough
to be literary--nobody realises that more than I do--and it is all very
well to be loyal--of course! But one draws the line at Earl's Court--at
least, that part of it. I say frankly that it serves me right. I should
have known better. One thing I cannot be too thankful for--Ermyntrude
did not send a post-card. Some blessed instinct prompted me to tell her
there was no hurry about it--that I did not like to see young girls
too forward in such matters. And now--why--who knows--Dudley! I have an
idea! Ermie shall join the Crinoline Defence League!"

"I see--the family will hedge on the crinoline issue. Capital!"

"You know, after all, we may have to wear them. It's quite as likely as
not. The old Duchess of West Ham is President of the League, and she is
very influential in the highest quarters. Her Grace, I understand, _is_
somewhat bandy, but she has always maintained the strictest Christian
respectability, and her action in this matter will count for a great
deal. Just think, if she should happen to take a fancy to Ermyntrude!
That Miss Wallaby has thrust herself forward till she is actually a
member of the Council, and she is going to deliver an address on 'The
Effect of Modesty on National Morals.' She told our curate that at
one of the meetings of the Council she came within an ace of being
introduced to the Duchess herself. Now surely, if _she_ can accomplish
all this, Ermie ought to be able to do still more. Tell me, Dudley, what
do _you_ think?"

"I think," replied Uncle Dudley musingly, "I think that the scarlet
petticoat, _with_ the zouave jack----"

Mrs Albert interrupted him with sternness. "Don't you see," she
demanded, "that if it _does_ come, the dear girl will share in the
credit of bringing it in, and if it doesn't come, I shall have the
advantage of having helped to stave it off. Whichever side wins, there
we are."

Uncle Dudley rose, and looked thoughtfully out upon the fog, and stroked
his large white moustache in slow meditation. "Yes--undoubtedly," he
said at last, "there we are."



_Dealing with the Deceptions of Nature, and the Freedom from, Illusion
Inherent in the Unnatural_


There was once a woman--obviously a thoughtful woman--who remarked that
she had noticed that if she managed to live till Friday, she invariably
survived the rest of the week. I did not myself know this philosopher,
who is preserved to history in one of Roscoe Conkling's speeches, but
her discovery always recurs to me about this time of year, when February
begins to disclose those first freshening glimpses of sunlight and blue
skies to bleared, fog-smudged and shivering London. Aha! if we have won
thus far, if we have contrived to get to February, then we shall surely
see the Spring. At least the one has heretofore involved the other--and
there is confident promise in the smile of a noon-day once more able to
cast a shadow, albeit the teeth of the east wind gleam close behind that
smile.

It was a day for a walk--no set and joyous rural tramp, indeed, with
pipe and wallet, and a helpful spring underfoot in the clean hard
roadway, and an honest, well-balanced stick for the bell-ringing gentry
who shall come at you on wheels from behind--but just an orderly,
contemplative urban ramble, brisk enough for warmth, but with no hurry,
and above all no destination. And it was a day, moreover, for letting
one's fellow-creatures pass along with scant notice--a winter-ridden,
shuffling, mud-stained company these, conscious of being not at all
worth examination--and for giving eye instead to the house-fronts in the
sunshine, and radiant chimneypots and tiles above them, and the signs of
blessed, unaccustomed blue still further up. There was, it is true, an
undeniable disproportion between the inner look of these things, and
this gladness of the heart because of them. Glancing more closely, one
could see that they were not taking the sun seriously, and, for their
own part, were expecting more fogs next week. And farther westward, when
stucco, brick, and stone gave way to park-land, it was apparent at sight
that the trees were flatly incredulous.

They say that in Ireland, where the mildness of climate has in the past
prompted many experiments with exotic growths, the trees not really
indigenous to the island never learn sense, but year after year are
gulled by this February fraud into gushing expansively forth with
sap and tender shoots, only to be gripped and shrivelled by the icy
after-hand of March. The native tree, however, knows this trick of old,
and greets the sham Spring with a distinctive, though well-buttoned-up
wink. In Kensington Park region one couldn't be sure that the trees
really saw the joke. It is not, on the whole, a humourous neighbourhood.
But at all events they were not to be fooled into premature buds and
sprouts and kindred signs of silliness. Every stiffly exclusive drab
trunk rising before you, every section of the brown lacework of twigs up
above, seemed to offer a warning advertisement: "No connection with the
sunshine over the way!"

Happily the flower-beds exhibited more sympathy. Up through the mould
brave little snowdrops had pushed their pretty heads, and the crocuses,
though with their veined outer cloaks of sulphur, mauve, and other tints
still wrapped tight about them, wore almost a swaggering air to show
how wholly they felt at home. Emboldened by this bravado, less confident
fellows were peeping forth, though in such faltering fashion that one
could scarcely tell which was squill, which narcissus or loitering
jonquil. Still, it was good to see them. They too were glad that they
had lived till February, because after that comes the Spring.

And it was better still, as I turned to stroll on, to behold coming
toward me down the path, with little swinging step, and shapely head
well up in air, none other than our Ermyntrude.

I say "our" because--it is really absurd to think of it--it seems only a
few months ago since she was a sprawling tom-boy sort of a little girl,
who sat on my knee and listened with her mouth open to my reminiscences
of personal encounters with unicorns and the behemoth of Holy Writ. She
must be now--by George! she _is_--not a minute under two-and-twenty. And
that means--_hélas!_ it undoubtedly means--that I am getting to be an
old boy indeed. At Christmas-tide--I recall it now--Mrs Albert spoke of
me as the oldest friend of the family. It sounded kindly at the time,
and I had a special pleasure in the smile Ermyntrude wore as she,
with the others, lifted her glass towards me. I won't say what vagrant
thoughts and ambitions that smile did not raise in my mind--and, lo!
they were toasting me as an amiable elderly friend of the Fernbank
household. No wonder I am glad to have lived till February!

Ermyntrude had a roll of music in her hands. There was a charming glow
on her cheeks, and a healthy, happy, sparkle in her eyes. She stopped
short before me, with a little exclamation of not displeased surprise!

"Why, how nice to run upon you like this," she said, in high spirits.
"We thought you must have gone off to the Riviera, or Algiers, or
somewhere--for your cold, you know. Mamma was speaking of you only
yesterday--hoping that you were taking care of yourself."

"Had I a cold?" I asked absently. The air had grown chillier. We walked
along together, and she let me carry the music.

"O--you haven't heard," she exclaimed suddenly, "such news as I have for
you! You couldn't ever guess!"

"Is it something about crinoline?" I queried. "Your mother was telling

"Rubbish!" said Ermyntrude gaily. "I'm engaged!"

The wind had really got round into the East, and I, fastened my coat
at the collar. "I am sure"--I remarked at last--"I'm sure I
congratulate--the happy young man. Do I know him?"

"I hardly think so," she replied. "You see, it's--it's what you might
call rather sudden. We haven't known him ourselves very long--that is,
intimately. You may have heard his name--the Honourable Knobbeleigh
Jones. It's a very old family though the title is somewhat new. His
father is Lord Skillyduff, you know."

"The shipping man?" I said, wearily.

"Yes. He and papa are together on some board or other. That is how we
came to know them. Papa says he never saw such business ability and
sterling worth combined in one man before--I'm speaking of the father,
you know. He began life in quite a small way, with just a few ships that
he rented, or something like that. Then there was a war on some coast in
Africa or Australia--it begins with an A, I know--oh, _is_ there a place
called Ashantee?--yes, that's it--and he got the contract to take out
four shiploads of hay to our troops--it would be for their horses,
wouldn't it?"

"Yes: the asses connected with the military branch are needed at
home--or at least are kept there."

"Well, after he started, he got orders to stop at some place and wait
for other orders. He did so, and he waited four years and eight months.
Those orders never came. The hay all rotted, of course: the ships almost
moulded away: I daresay some of the crew died of old age--But Mr Jones
never stirred from his post. Finally, some English official came on him
by accident--quite! and so he was recalled. Papa says very few men would
have shown such tenacity of purpose and grasp of the situation. Mamma
says his fidelity to duty was magnificent."

"Magnificent--yes," I commented; "but it wasn't war."

"Oh, bless you! there _was_ no war _then_," explained Ermyntrude. "The
war had been ended for _years_. And all that while the pay for shipping
that hay had been going on, so that the Government owed him--I think
it was £45,000. Of course he got more contracts, and then he was made a
baronet, and could build his own ships; and now he is a lord, and papa
says the War Office would be quite helpless without him."

"And the son," I asked; "what does he do?"

"Why, nothing, of course!" said Ermyntrude, lifting her pretty brows a
little in surprise. "He is the eldest son."

"I didn't know but he might have gone in for the Army, or Parliament, or
something," I explained weakly: "just to occupy his mind."

She smiled to herself--somewhat grimly, I thought. "No," she said,
assuming a serious face, "he says doing things is all rot, if you aren't
obliged to do them. Of course, he goes in for hunting and shooting and
all that, and he has a houseboat and a yacht, and one year he was in the
All-Slumpshire eleven, but that was too much bother. He hates bother."

We had come out upon the street now, and walked for a little in silence.

"Ermie," I said at last, "you mustn't be annoyed with me--this is one of
my sentimental days, and you know as an old friend of the family I've
a certain right of free speech--but this doesn't seem to me quite good
enough. A girl like you--beautiful and clever and accomplished, knowing
your way about among books, and with tastes above the ruck--there ought
to be a better outlook for you than this! I know that type of young
man, and he isn't in your street at all. Come now!" I went on, gathering
courage, "look me in the face if you can, and tell me that you honestly
love this young man, or that you really respect his father, or that you
candidly expect to be happy. I defy you to do it!"

I was wrong. Ermyntrude did look me in the face, squarely and without
hesitation. She halted for the moment to do so, and her gaze, though not
unkindly, was full of serious frankness.

"There is one thing I do expect," she said, calmly. "I expect to get
away from Fernbank."



_Suggesting Considerations possibly heretofore Overlooked by
Commentators upon the Laws of Property_


You will find Dudley up in what he calls his library," said Mrs Albert
in the hallway. "I'm _so_ sorry I must go out--but he'll be glad to see
you. And--let me entreat you, don't give him any encouragement!"

"What!" I cried, "encourage Uncle Dudley? Oh--never, never!"

"No, just be firm with him," Mrs Albert went on. "Say that it mustn't be
thought of for a moment. And Oh--by the way--it's as well to warn you:
_don't_ ask him what he did it for! It seems that every one asks him
that--and he gets quite enraged about it now, when that particular
question is put. As like as not he'd throw something at you." She spoke
earnestly, in low, impressive tones.

"Wild horses should not drag it from me," I pledged myself. "I will not
encourage him: I will not enrage him; I swear not to ask him what he did
it for. But--if you don't mind--could I, so to speak, bear the shock of
learning what it is that he _has_ done?"

"You haven't heard?" Mrs Albert asked, glancing up at me, with an
astonished face, as I stood on the stairs. When I shook my head, she put
out her hand to the latch, and opened the door, as if to heighten the
dramatic suspense. Then she turned and looked me in the eye with solemn
intentness. "What has he done?" she echoed in a hollow voice: "You go
upstairs and see!"

The door closed behind her, and I made my way noiselessly, two steps at
a time, to the floor above. Some vague sense of disaster seemed to
brood over the silent, half-lighted stairway and the deserted landing.
I knocked at Uncle Dudley's door--almost prepared to find my signal
unanswered. But no, his voice came back, cheerily enough, and I entered
the room.

"Oh, it's you!" said my friend, rising from his chair. "Glad to see
you,"--and we shook hands. Standing thus, I found myself staring into
his face with a rude and prolonged fixity of gaze, under which he first
smiled--a strange, unwholesome sort of smile--then flushed a little,
then scowled and averted his glance.

"Great heavens!" I exclaimed at last. "Why, man alive, what on earth
possessed you to--"

"Come now!" broke in Uncle Dudley, with peremptory sternness. "Chuck
it!"

"Yes--I know"--I stammered haltingly along--"I promised I wouldn't ask
you--but--"

"But the original simian instincts triumph over your resolutions, eh?"
said my friend, crustily. "Yes, I know. I've had pretty nearly a week of
it now. That question has been asked me, I estimate, somewhere about six
hundred and seventy-eight times since last Thursday. It's only fair to
you to tell you that I have registered a vow to hit the next man who
asks me that fool of a question--'What did you do it for?'--straight
under his left ear. I probably saved your life by interrupting you."

Though the words were fierce, there was a marked return of geniality
in the tone. I took the liberty of putting a hand over Uncle Dudley's
shoulder, and marching him across to the window.

"Let's have a good look at you," I said.

"I did it myself; I did it with my little hatchet; I did it because
I wanted to; I had a right to do it; I should do it again if the
fit struck me----" Thus, with mock gravity, Uncle Dudley ran on as I
scrutinised his countenance in the strong light. "And furthermore," he
added, "I don't care one single hurrah in Hades whether you like it or
not."

"I think on the whole," I mused aloud--"yes, I think I rather do like
it--now that I accustom myself to it."

Uncle Dudley's face brightened on the instant. "Do you really?" he
exclaimed, and beamed upon me. In spite of his professed indifference to
my opinion, it was obvious that I had pleased him.

"Sit down," he said--"there are the matches behind you--hope these
aren't too green for you. Yes, my boy, I created quite a flutter in the
hen-yard, I can tell you. Did my sister tell you?--she nearly fainted,
and little Amy burst out boo-hooing as if she'd lost her last friend.
When you come to think of it, old man, it's really too ridiculous, you
know."

"It certainly has its grotesque aspects," I admitted.

Uncle Dudley looked up sharply, as if suspecting some ironical meaning
in my words. "You really do think it's an improvement?" he asked, with a
doubtful note in his voice.

"Of course, it makes a tremendous change," I said, diplomatically, "and
the novelty tends perhaps to confuse judgment: but I must confess the
result is--is, well, very interesting."

My friend did not look wholly satisfied. "It shows what stupid people we
are," he went on in a dogmatic way. "Why, the way they've gone on, you'd
think I had no property rights in the thing at all--that I was merely a
trustee for it--bound to give an account to every Tom-Dick-and-Harry who
came along and had nothing better to occupy his mind with. And then that
eternal, vacuous, woollen-brained 'What did you do it for?' Oh, that's
got to be too sickening for words! And the confounded familiarity of the
whole thing! Why, hang me, if even the little Jew cigar dealer down on
the corner didn't feel entitled to pass what he took to be some friendly
remarks on the subject. 'Vy,' he said, 'if I could say vidout vlattery,
vot a haddsobe jeddlebad you ver, and vy did you do dot by yourself?' It
gets on a man's nerves, you know, things like that."

"But hasn't anyone liked the change?" I asked.

Uncle Dudley sighed. "That's the worst of it," he said, dubiously.
"Only two men have said they liked it--and it happens that they are both
persons of conspicuously weak intellect. That's rather up against me,
isn't it? But on the other hand, you know, people who are silliest about
everything else always get credit for knowing the most about art and
beauty and all that. Perhaps in such a case as this, I daresay their
judgment might be better than all the others. And after all, what do
_I_ care? That's the point I make: that it's _my_ business and nobody
else's. If a man hasn't got a copyright in his own personal appearance,
why there is no such thing as property. But instead of recognising this,
any fellow feels free to come up and say: 'You look like an unfrocked
priest,' or 'Hullo! another burglar out of work,' and he's quite
surprised if you fail to show that you're pleased with the genial
brilliancy of his remarks. I don't suppose there is any other
single thing which the human race lapses into such rude and insolent
meddlesomeness over as it does over this."

"It _is_ pathetic," I admitted--"but--but it'll soon grow again."

Uncle Dudley laughed a bitter laugh. "By Jove," he cried, "I've more
than half a mind not to let it. It would serve 'em right if I didn't.
Why, do you know--you'd hardly believe it! My sister had a dinner party
on here for Saturday night, and after I'd--I'd done it--she cancelled
the invitations--some excuse about a family loss--a bereavement, my boy.
Well, you know, treatment of that sort puts a man on his mettle. I'm
entitled to resent it. And besides--you know--of course it does make
a great change--but somehow I fancy that when you get used to it--come
now--the straight griffin, as they say--what do _you_ think?"

"I'm on oath not to encourage you," I made answer.

"There you have it!" cried Uncle Dudley: "the old tyrannical conspiracy
against the unusual, the individual, the true! Let nobody dare to be
himself! Let us have uniformity, if all else perishes. The frames must
be alike in the Royal Academy, that's the great thing; the pictures
don't matter so much. You see our women-folk now, this very month,
getting ready to case themselves in ugly hoops which they hate, at the
bidding of they know not whom, because, if they did not, the hideous
possibility of one woman being different from another woman would darken
the land. A man is not to be permitted the pitiful privilege of seeing
his own mouth, not even once in fifteen years, simply because it
temporarily inconveniences the multitude in their notions as to how he
is in the habit of looking! What rubbish it is!"

"It _is_ rubbish," I assented--"and you are talking it. Your sister who
fainted, your niece who wept, your friends who averted their gaze in
anguish, the hordes of casual jackasses who asked why you did it, the
kindly little Jew cigar man who broke forth in lamentations--these are
the world's jury. They have convicted you--sorrowfully but firmly. You
yourself, for all your bravado, realise the heinousness of your crime.
You are secretly ashamed, remorseful, penitent. I answer for you--you
will never do it again."

"And yet it isn't such a bad mouth, either," mused Uncle Dudley, with
a lingering glance at the mirror over the mantel. "There is humour,
delicacy of perception, affection, gentleness--ever so many nice
qualities about it which were all hidden up before. The world ought to
welcome the revelation--and it throws stones instead. Ah well!--pass
the matches--let us yield gracefully to the inevitable! It shall grow
again."

"Mrs Albert will be so glad," I remarked.



_Narrating the Failure of a Loyal Attempt to Circumvent Adversity by
means of Modern Appliances_


If his name was Jabez, why weren't we told so, I'd like to know?"
demanded Mrs Albert of me, with a momentary flash in her weary glance.
"What right had the papers to go on calling him J. Spencer, year after
year, while he was deluding the innocent, and fattening upon the bodies
of his dupes? To be sure, now that the mask is off, and he has fled,
they speak of him always as Jabez. Why didn't they do it before, while
honest people might still have been warned? But no--they never did--and
now it's too late--too late!"

The poor lady's voice broke pathetically upon this reiterated plaint.
She bowed her head, and as I looked with pained sympathy upon the
drooping angle of her proud face, I could see the shadows about her lips
quiver.

A sad tale indeed it was, to which I had been listening--here in
a lonesome corner of the cloistral, dim-lit solitude of the big
drawing-room at Fernbank. It was not a new story. Kensington has known
it by heart for a generation. Bloomsbury learned it earlier, and before
that it was familiar in Soho--away off in the old days when the ruffling
gentry of Golden Square fought for the chance of buying ingenious John
Law's South Sea scrip. And even then, the experience was an ancient and
half-forgotten memory of Bishopsgate and the Minories. It was the old,
old tragedy of broken fortunes.

Mrs Albert was clear that it began with the Liberator troubles. I had
my own notion that Mr Albert Grundy was skating on thin ice before the
collapse of the building societies came. However that may be, there was
no doubt whatever that the cumulative Australian disasters had finished
the business. There were melancholy details in her recital which I lack
the courage to dwell upon. The horse and brougham were gone; the
lease of Fernbank itself was offered for sale, with possession before
Michaelmas, if desired; Ermyntrude's engagement was as good as off.

"It won't be a bankruptcy," said Mrs Albert, lifting her face and
resolutely winking the moisture from her lashes. "We shall escape
that--but for the moment at least I must abandon my position in society.
Dudley is over to-day looking at a small place in Highgate, although
Albert thinks he would prefer Sydenham. My own feeling is that some
locality from which you could arrive by King's Cross or St Paneras would
be best. One never meets anybody one knows there. Then, when matters
adjust themselves again, as of course they will, we could return
here--to this neighbourhood, at least--and just mention casually having
been out at our country place--on the children's account, of course. And
Floribel _is_ delicate, you know."

"Oh well, then," I said, trying to put buoyance into my tone, "it isn't
so had after all. And you feel--Albert feels--quite hopeful about things
coming right again?"

My friend's answering nod of affirmation had a certain qualifying
dubiety about it. "Yes, we're hopeful," she said. "But a fortnight ago,
I felt positively sanguine. Nobody ever worked harder than I did to
deserve success, any way. I only failed through gross treachery--and
that, too, at the hands of the very people of whom I could never,
_never_ have believed it. When you find the aristocracy openly actuated
by mercenary motives, as I have done this past month, it almost makes
you ask what the British nation is coming to!"

"Dear me!" I exclaimed, "is it as bad as that?"

"You shall judge for yourself," said Mrs Albert gravely. "You know
that I organised--quite early in the Spring--the Loyal Ladies' Namesake
Committee of Kensington. I do not boast in saying that I really
organised it, quite from its beginnings. The idea was mine; practically
all the labour was mine. But when one is toiling to realise a great
ideal like that, one frequently loses sight of small details. I ought to
have known better--but I took a serpent to my bosom. I was weak enough
to associate with me in the enterprise that monument of duplicity and
interested motives--the Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn. Why, she hadn't so much as
an initial letter to entitle her to belong----"

"I am not sure that I follow you," I put in. "Ladies' Namesake
Committee--initial letter--I don't seem to grasp the idea."

"It's perfectly simple," explained Mrs Albert. "The idea was that all
the ladies--our set, you know--whose name was 'May' should combine in
subscribing for a present."

"But your name is Emily," I urged, thoughtlessly.

"Oh, we weren't exactly literal about it," said Mrs Albert; "we
_couldn't_ be, you know. It would have shut out some of our very best
people. But I came very near the standard, indeed. My second name is
Madge. You take the first two letters of that, and the 'y' from Emily,
and there you have it. Oh, I assure you, very few came even as near it
as that--and as I said to Dudley at the time, if you think of it, even
_her_ name isn't _really_ May. It's only a popular contraction. But that
Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn, she had no actual right whatever to belong. Her
names are Hester Winifred Edith. She hasn't even one _letter_ right!"

"Ah, that was indeed treachery!" I ejaculated.

"Oh, no, that, was not what I referred to," Mrs Albert set me right. "Of
course, I was aware of her names. I had seen them in the 'Peerage'
for years. It was what she did after her entrance that covers her
with infamy. But I will narrate the events in their order. First, we
collected £1100. Of course, our own contribution was not large, but
Ermyntrude and I hunted the various church registers--we don't speak of
it, but even the Nonconformist ones we went through--and we got a
tremendous number of Christian names more or less what was desired, and
our circulars were sent to _every one_, far and near. As I said, we
raised quite £1100. Then there came the question of the gift."

Mrs Albert uttered this last sentence with such deliberate solemnity
that I bowed to show my consciousness of its importance.

"Yes," she went on, "the selection of the gift. Now I had in mind a most
appropriate and useful present. Have you heard of the Oboid Oil Engine?
No? Well, it is an American invention, and has been brought over here by
an American, who has bought the European rights from the inventor. He is
in the next building to Albert, in the City, and they meet almost
every day at luncheon, and have struck up quite a friendship. He has
connections which might be of the _utmost_ importance to Albert, and
if Albert could only have been of service to him in introducing this
engine, there is literally _no telling_ what might not have come of it.
Albert does not _say_ that a partnership would have resulted, but I can
read it in his face."

"But would an oil engine have been--under the circumstances--you know
what I mean----" I began.

"Oh, _most_ suitable!" responded Mrs Albert with conviction. "It is
really, it seems, a very surprising piece of machinery. After it's once
bought, the cheapness of running it is simply _absurd_. It does all
sorts of things at no expense worth mentioning--anything you want it to
do. It appears that if it had been invented at that time, the pyramids
in Egypt could have been built by it for something like 130 per cent,
less than their cost is estimated to have been--or something like that.
Oh, it is quite extraordinary, I assure you. Albert says he could stand
and watch it working for hours--especially if he had an interest in the
company."

"But I hadn't heard that there were any new pyramid plans on just
now--although, when I think of it, Shaw-Lefevre did have some
Westminster Abbey project which----"

"No, no!" interrupted Mrs Albert. "One of the engine's greatest uses is
in agriculture. It does _everything_--threshes, garners, mows, milks--or
no, not that, but almost _everything_. No self-respecting farmer, they
say, dreams of being without one--that is, of course, if he knows about
it. You can see what it would have meant, if one had been thus publicly
introduced on the princely farm at Sandringham. All England would have
rung with demands for the Oboid--and Albert feels sure that the American
man would have been grateful--and--and--then perhaps we need never have
left Fernbank at all."

My poor friend shook her head mournfully at the thought

"And the Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn?" I asked.

The fire came back into Mrs Albert's eye. "That woman," she said,
with bitter calmness, "was positively not ashamed to intrude her own
mercenary and self-seeking designs upon this loyal and purely patriotic
association. Why, she did it almost openly. She intrigued behind my back
with whole streetsful of people that one would hardly know on ordinary
occasions, paid them calls in a carriage got up for the occasion with
a bright new coat of arms, made friends with them, promised them heaven
only knows what, and actually secured nineteen votes to my three for the
purchase of a mouldy old piece of tapestry--something about Richard
III and Oliver Cromwell meeting on the battlefield, I think the subject
is--which belonged to her husband's family. Of course, my lips are
sealed, but I have been _told_ that at Christie's it would hardly have
fetched £100. I say nothing myself, but I can't prevent people drawing
certain deductions, can I? And when I reflect also that her two
most active supporters in this nefarious business were Lady
Thames-Ditton--whose financial difficulties are notorious--and the
Countess of Wimps---- whose tradespeople--well, we won't go into
_that_--it does force one to ask whether the fabric of British society
is not being undermined at its very top. In this very day's paper I
read that the Hon. Mrs Coon-Alwyn has hired a yacht, and will spend the
summer in Norwegian waters--while we--we----"

The door opened, and we made out through the half-light the comfortable
figure of Uncle Dudley. He was mopping his brow, and breathed heavily
from his long walk as he advanced.

"Well?" Mrs Albert asked, in a saddened and subdued tone, "Did you see
the place?"

"There are five bedrooms on the two upper floors," he made answer, "but
there's no bath-room, and the bus doesn't come within four streets of
the house."



_Introducing Scenes from a Foreign Country, and also conveying Welcome
Intelligence, together with some Instruction_


It was at a little village perched well up on one of the carriage-roads
ascending the Brocken, a fortnight or so ago, that I received a wire
from Uncle Dudley. It was kind of him to think of it--all the more as he
had good news to tell. "Family lighted square on their feet," was what
the message said, and I was glad to gather from this that the Grundys
had weathered their misfortunes, and that Mrs Albert was herself again.

The thought was full of charm. It seemed as if I had never realised
before how fond I was of these good people. In sober fact; I dare say
that I had not dwelt much upon their woes during my holiday. But now,
with this affectionately thoughtful telegram addressing me as their
oldest friend, the one whom they wished to be the first to share the joy
of their rescued state, it was easy enough to make myself believe
that my whole vacation had been darkened with brooding over their
unhappiness.

It had not occurred to me before, but that was undoubtedly why I had
not liked the Harz so much this year as usual. Now that I thought of
it, walking down the birch-lined footpath towards the hamlet and the
telegraph office, the place seemed to have gone off a good deal. In
other seasons, before the spectre of cholera flooded its sylvan retreats
with an invading horde of Hamburgers, the Harzwald had been my favourite
resort. I had grown to love its fir-clad slopes, its shadowed glens, its
atmosphere of prehistoric myth and legend, as if I were part and product
of them all. Its people, too, had come much nearer to my breast than
any other Germans ever could. I had enjoyed being with them just because
they were what the local schoolmaster disdainfully declared them to
be--_Erdzertrümmerungsprozeszuribekanntevolk_--that is to say, people
entirely ignorant of the scientific theories about geological upheavals
and volcanic formations, and so able cheerfully to put their trust in
the goblins who reared these strange boulders in fantastic piles on
every hill top, and to hear with good faith the shouts of the witches as
they bounded over the Hexentanzplatz. Last year it had seemed even worth
the added discomfort of the swarming Hamburgers to be again in this
wholesome, sweet-aired primitive place. But this year--I saw now
clearly as I looked over Uncle Dudley's message once more--it had not
been so pleasant. The hotel boy, Fritzchen, whom I had watched year
after year with the warmth of a fatherly well-wisher--smiling with
satisfaction at his jovial countenance, his bustling and competent ways,
and his comical attempts at English--had this season swollen up into
a burly and consequential lout, with a straw-coloured sprouting on his
upper-lip, and a military manner. They called him Fritz now, and he gave
me beer out of the old keg after I had heard the new one tapped.

The evening gatherings of the villagers in the hotel, too, were
not amusing as they once had been. The huge lion-maned and grossly
over-bearded _Kantor_, or music-master, who came regularly at nightfall
to thump on the table with his bludgeon-like walking stick, to roar
forth impassioned monologues on religion and politics, and to bellow
ceaselessly at Fritzchen for more beer, had formerly delighted me. This
time he seemed only a noisy nuisance, and the half-circle of grave old
retired foresters and middle-aged _Jàger_ officers who sat watching
him over their pipes, striving vainly now and again to get in a word
edgewise about the auctions of felled trees in the woods, or the
mutinous tendencies of the charcoal-burners, presented themselves in the
light of tiresome prigs. If they had been worth their salt, I felt, they
would long ago have brained the Kantor with their stoneware mugs. Even
as I walked I began to be conscious that a three weeks' stay in the Harz
was a good deal of time, and that the remaining third would certainly
hang on my hands.

By the time I reached the telegraph station I had my answer to Uncle
Dudley ready in my mind. He liked the forcible imagery of Australia and
the Far West; and I would speak to him at this joyful juncture after
his own heart. It seemed that I could best do this by giving him to
understand that I was celebrating his news--that I was, in one of his
own phrases, "painting the town red." It required some ingenuity to work
this idea out right, but I finally wrote what appeared to answer the
purpose:--"_Brocken und Umgebung sind roth gemalen_"--and handed it in
to the man at the window.

He was a young man with close-cropped yellow hair and spectacles,
holding his chin and neck very stiff in the high collar of his uniform.
He glanced over my despatch, at first with careless dignity. Then he
read it again attentively. Then he laid it on the table, and bent
his tight-buttoned form over it as well as might be in a severe and
prolonged scrutiny. At last he raised himself, turned a petrifying gaze
on through his glasses at me, and shook his head.

"It is not true," he said. "Some one has you deceived."

"But," I tried to explain to him, with the little German that I knew
scattering itself in all directions in the face of this crisis, "it is a
figure of speech, a joke, a----"

The telegraph man stared coldly at my luckless despatch, and then at me.
"You would wish to state to your friend, perhaps," he suggested, "that
they seem as if they had been coloured with red, owing to the change in
the leaves."

"No, no," I put in. "It must be that they _have_ been painted, _are_
painted, or he will not me understand."

"But, my good sir," retorted the operator with emphasis, "they are _not_
painted! From the door gaze you forth! What make you with this nonsense,
that Brocken and vicinity are red painted?"

"Well, then," I said wearily, oppressed by the magnitude of the task,
"I don't know how to word it myself, but you can fix it for me. Just say
that I am _going_ to paint them red--that will do just as well.

"But you shall not! It is forbidden!" exclaimed the official, holding
himself like a poker, and glaring vehemence through his glasses. "It
is strongly forbidden! When you one brush-mark shall make, quick to
the prison go you. In Germany have we for natural beauty respect--also
laws."

Reluctantly, but of necessity, I abandoned metaphor, and in a humble
spirit telegraphed in English to Uncle Dudley at his club that I was
very glad. Even as my pen clung in irresolution on the paper over
this word "glad," the impulse rose in me to add: "_Tired of Harz. Am
returning immediately_."

"When the same here is," remarked the operator, moodily studying the
unknown words, "in Brunswick stopped it will be."

I translated it for him, and added, "I go from here home, to be where
officials their own business mind."

He nodded, not unamiably, and replied as he handed me out my change:
"Yes, I know: England. So well their own business there officials mind,
that Balfour to Argentina easily comes."

Walking up the hillside again, already quite captive to the fascination
of the morrow's homeward flight, I met at the turn of the path a family
party--father, mother, and two girls in the younger teens--seated along
the rocky siding, and gazing with a common air of dejection upon a
portentous row of bags and portmanteaus at their feet. The notion that
they were Hamburgers died still-born. Nothing more obviously un-German
than these wayfarers was ever seen.

"I hope, sir," the man spoke up as I approached, "that I am right in
presuming that you speak English!"

I bowed assent, and even as I did so, recognised him. "I hope _I_ am
right," I answered, "in thinking that I have met you before--at Mr
Albert Grundy's in London--you are the American gentleman with the Oboid
Oil Engine, are you not?"

"Well, by George!" he cried, rising and offering his hand with frank
delight, and introducing me in a single comprehensive wave to his wife
and daughters. "Yes, sir," he went on, "and I wish I had an Oboid here
right now--up in the basement of that stone boarding-house on the knoll
there--just for the sake of heating up, and shutting down the valves,
and blowing the whole damned thing sky-high. That would suit me, sir,
right down to the ground."

"Were strangers here, sir," he explained in answer to my question: "we'd
seen a good deal of the Dutch at home--I mean _our_ home--and we thought
we'd like to take a look at 'em in the place they come from. Well, sir,
we've had our look, and we're satisfied. We don't want any more on our
plate, thank you. One helping is an elegant sufficiency. Do you know the
trick they played on us? Why, I took a team of horses yesterday from a
place they called Ibsenburg or Ilsenburg, or some such name, and had
it explained to my driver that he was to take us up to the top of the
Brocken, there, and stop all night, and fetch us back this morning. When
we got up as far as Shierke, there, it was getting pretty dark, and the
women-folks were nervous, and so we laid up for the night. There didn't
seem anything for the driver to do but set around in the kitchen and
drink beer, and he needed money for that, and so I gave him some loose
silver, and told him to make himself at home. We got the words out of a
dictionary for that--_machen sie selbst zu Heim_ we figured 'em out to
be--and I spoke them at him slowly and distinctly, so that he had no
earthly excuse for not understanding. But, would you believe it, sir,
the miserable cuss just up and skipped out, horses, rig and all, while
we were getting supper! And here we were this morning, landed high and
dry. No conveyance, nobody to comprehend a word of English, no nothing.
We haven't seen the top of their darned mountain even."

"What I'm more concerned about, I tell Wilbur," put in the lady, "is
seeing the bottom of it. If they had only sense enough to make valises
and bonnet-boxes ball-shaped, we could have rolled 'em down hill."

"There'll be no trouble about all that," I assured them, and we talked
for a little about the simple enough process of getting their luggage
carried down to the village, and of finding a vehicle there. I, indeed,
agreed to make one of their party on quitting the Harz, that very
afternoon.

"And now tell me about the Grundys," I urged, when these more pressing
matters were out of the way. "I got a wire to-day saying--hinting that
they are in luck's way again."

"Is that so?" exclaimed the American, at once surprised and pleased.
"I'm glad to hear it. I can't guess what it might be in. Grundy's got
so many irons in the fire--some white hot, some lukewarm, some frosted
straight through--you never can tell. The funny thing is--he can't tell
himself. Why, sir, those men of yours in the City of London, they don't
know any more about business than a babe unborn. If they were in New
York they'd have their eyeteeth skinned out of their heads in the shake
of a lamb's tail. Why, we've been milking them dry for a dozen years
back. And yet, you know, somehow----"

"Somehow--?" I echoed, encouragingly.

"Well, sir, somehow--that's the odd thing about it--they don't stay
milked."



_Disclosing the Educational Influence exerted by the Essex Coast, and
other Matters, including Reasons for Joy_


Sit down here by the fire--no, in the easy chair," said Ermyntrude,
with a note of solicitude in her kindly voice. "Mamma won't be home for
half an hour yet, and I want a nice, quiet, serious talk with you. Oh,
it's going to be extremely serious, and you must begin by playing that
you are at least one hundred and fifty years old."

"That won't be so difficult," I replied, not without the implication of
injury. "It will only be adding a few decades to the venerableness that
I seem always to possess in your eyes."

"Oh!" said Ermie, and looked at me inquiringly for a moment. Then she
seated herself, and gazed with much steadiness into the fire. I waited
for the nice, serious talk to begin--and waited a long time.

"Well, my dear child," I broke in upon the silence at last, "I hoped to
have been the very first to come and tell your mother how deeply glad I
was to see you all back again in Fernbank. But that wretched rheumatism
of mine--_at my age_, you know------"

I was watching narrowly for even the faintest sign of deprecation. She
did not stir an eyelash.

"Yes," she suddenly began, still intently gazing into the fire; "papa
has got his money all back, and more. That is, it isn't the same money,
but somebody else's--I'm sure I don't know whose. Sometimes I feel sorry
for those other people, whoever they are, who have had to give it up
to us. Then, other times, I am so glad simply to be in again where it's
warm that I don't care."

"The firelight suits your face, Ermie," I said, noting with the pleasure
appropriate to my position as the oldest friend of the family, how
sweetly the soft radiance played upward upon the fair young rounded
throat and chin, and tipped the little nostrils with rosy light.

"Fortunately," she went on, as if I had not spoken, "some Americans took
the house furnished in September for three months--I think, poor souls,
that they believed it was the London season--and so we never had to
break up, and we were able to get back again in time for Uncle Dudley to
plant all his bulbs. They seem to have been very quiet people. Mamma
had a kind of notion that they would practise with bucking horses on
the tennis-lawn, and shoot at bottles and clay pigeons here in the
drawing-room. The only thing we could find that they did was to paste
thick paper over the ventilator in the dining-room. And yet a policeman
told our man that they slept with their bedroom windows open all night.
Curious, isn't it?"

"I like to have one of these 'nice, quiet, serious talks' with you,
Ermie," I said.

Even at this she did not lift her eyes from the grate. "Oh, don't be
impatient--it will be serious enough," she warned me. "They say, you
know, that drowning people see, in a single instant of time, whole years
of events, whole books full of things. Well, I've been under water for
six months, and--and--I've noticed a good deal."

"Ah! is there a submarine observation station at Clacton-on-Sea? Now you
speak of it, I _have_ heard of queer fish being studied there."

"None queerer than we, my dear friend, you may be sure. Mamma was right
in choosing the place. We never once saw a soul we knew. Of course, it
is the dullest and commonest thing on earth--but it exactly fitted us
during that awful period. We were going at first to Cromer, but
mamma learned that that was the chosen resort of dissolute theatrical
people--it seems there has been a poem written in which it is called
'Poppy land,' which mamma saw at once must be a cover for opium-eating
and all sorts of dissipation. So we went to Clacton instead. But what
I was going to say is this--I did a great deal of thinking all through
those six months. I don't say that I am any wiser than I was, because,
for that matter, I am very much less sure about things than I was
before. But I was simply a blank contented fool then. Now it's different
to the extent that I've stirred up all sorts of questions and problems
buzzing and barking about me, and I don't know the answers to them, and
I can't get clear of them, and they're driving me out of my head--and
there you are. That's what I wanted to talk with you about."

I shifted my feet on the fender, and nodded with as sensible an
expression as I could muster.

"That's why I said you must pretend to yourself that you are
very old--quite a fatherly person, capable of giving a girl
advice--sympathetic advice. In the first place--of course you know that
the engagement with that Hon. Knobbeleigh Jones has been off for ages.
Don't interrupt me! It isn't worth speaking of except for one point.
His father, Lord Skillyduff, was the principal rogue in the combination
which plundered papa of his money. Having got the Grundy money they had
no use for the Grundy girl. Now, he justified his rascality by pleading
that he had to make provision for _his_ daughters, and everybody said
he was a good father. Papa goes in again through some other opening, and
after a long fight brings out a fresh fortune, which he has taken away
from somebody else--and I heard him tell mamma that he was doing it for
the sake of _his_ daughters. People will say _he_ is a good father--I
know _I_ do."

"None better in this world," I assented cordially.

"Well, don't you see," Ermyntrude went on, "that puts daughters in the
light of a doubtful blessing. Papa's whole worry and struggle was for
us--for _me_. I was the load on his back. I don't like to be a
load. While we were prosperous, there was only one way for me to get
down--that is by marriage. When we became poor, there was another
way--that I should earn my own living. But this papa wouldn't listen to.
He quite swore about it--vowed he would rather work his fingers to the
bone; rather do anything, no matter what it was, or what people thought
of him for doing it, than that a daughter of his should take care
of herself. He would look upon himself as disgraced, he said. Those
lodgings of ours at Clacton weren't specially conducive to good temper,
I'm afraid; for I told him that the real disgrace would be to keep me in
idleness to sell to some other Knobbeleigh Jones, or to palm me off on
some better sort of young man who would bind himself to work for me all
his life, and then find that I would have been dear at the price of
a fortnight's labour--and then mamma cried.--and papa, he swore
more--and--and--"

I stirred the fire here, and then blushed to rediscover that it was
asbestos I was knocking about. "How stupid of me!" I exclaimed, and
murmured something about having been a stranger to Fernbank so long.

Ermyntrude took no notice. "I made a pretence of going up to London on
a visit," she continued, "and I spent five days looking about, making
inquiries, trying to get some notion of how girls who supported
themselves made a beginning. I talked a little with such few girls that
I knew as were in town, and I cared to see--guardedly, of course. They
had no idea--save in the way of the governess or music teacher. I'd cut
my throat before I'd be either of those--forced to dress like ladies on
the wages of a seamstress, and to smile under the insults of tradesmen's
wives and their louts of children. An actress I might be, after I had
starved a long time in learning my business--but before that mamma would
have died of shame. Then there are typewriters, and lady journalists
and telegraph clerks--I am surly enough sometimes to do that last to
perfection--but they all have to have special talents or knowledge. As
for saleswomen in the shops--there are a dozen poor genteel wretches
standing outside ready to claw each other's eyes out for every vacancy.
I went over Euston Road way at noon, and I watched the work-girls come
out of the factories and workshops, and they had such sharp, knowing,
bullying faces that I knew I should be a helpless fool among them. And
watching them--and watching the other girls on the street... in the
Strand and Piccadilly--I told you I was going to talk seriously, my dear
friend--it all came to seem to me like a nightmare. It frightened me.
These were the girls whose fathers had failed to provide for them--that
was absolutely all the difference between them and me. I had looked
lazily down at marriage as a chance of escaping being bored here at
Fernbank. They were all looking fiercely up at marriage as the one only
chance of rescue from weary toil, starvation wages, general poverty and
misery. In both cases the idea was the same--to find some man, no matter
what kind of a man, if only he will take it upon himself to provide
something different. You see what poor, dependent things we really are!
Why should it be so? That's what I want to know."

"Oh, that's all you want to know, is it?" I remarked, after a little
pause. "Well, I think--I think you had better give me notice of the
question."

"I have tried to read what thinkers say about it," she added; "but they
only confuse one the more. There is a Dr Wallace whom the papers speak
of as an authority, and he has been writing a long article this very
week--or else it is an interview--and he says that everything will be
all right, that all the nice women will marry all the good men, and that
the other kinds will die off immediately, and everybody will be oh, so
happy--in a 'regenerated society.' That is another thing I wanted to
ask you about. He speaks--they all speak--so confidently about this
'regenerated society.' Do you happen to know when it is to be?"

"The date has not been fixed, I believe," I replied.

The early winter twilight had darkened the room, and the light from the
grate glowed ruddily upon the girl's face as she bent forward, her chin
upon her clasped hands, looking into the fire.

"There is another date which remains undetermined,"' I added, faltering
not a little at heart, but keeping my tongue under fair control. "I
should like to speak to you about it, if I may take off my lamb's-wool
wig and Santa Claus beard, and appear before you once more as a
contemporary citizen. It is this, Ermie. I am not so very old, after
all. There is only a shade over a dozen years between us--say a baker's
dozen. My habits--my personal qualities, tolerable and otherwise,
are more or less known to you. I am prosperous enough, so far as this
world's goods go. But I am tired of living----"

I stopped short, and stared in turn blankly at the mock coals. A
freezing thought had just thrust itself into the marrow of my brain. She
would think that I was saying all this because her father had regained
and augmented his fortune. I strove in a numb, puzzled way to retrace
what I had just uttered--to see if the words offered any chance of
getting away upon other ground--and could not remember at all.

"Tired of living," I heard Ermyntrude echo. I saw her nod her head
comprehendingly in the firelight. She sighed.

"Yes, except upon conditions," I burst forth. "I weary of living alone.
There hasn't been a time for years when I didn't long to tell you
this--and most of all at Clacton, if I had known you were at Clacton.
You have admitted yourself that _nobody_ knew you were there." The words
came more easily now. "But always before I shrank from speaking. There
was something about you too childlike, too innocent, too--too----"

"Too silly," suggested Ermie, with an affable effect of helping me out.

Then she unlocked her fingers, and, still looking into the fire,
stretched out a hand backward to me. "All the same," she murmured, after
a little, "it isn't an answer to my question, you know."

"But it is to mine!" I made glad response, "and in my question all the
others are enwrapped--always have been, always will be. And, oh, darling
one----"

"That is mamma in the hall," said Ermyntrude.



_Describing Impressions of a Momentous Interview, loosely gathered by
One who, although present, was not quite In it_


Mrs Albert has smiled upon my suit to be her son-in-law.

The smile did not, however, gush forth spontaneously at the outset. When
the opportunity for imparting our great news came, we three were in the
drawing-room, and Mrs Albert, who had just entered, had been allowed to
discover me holding Ermyntrude's passive hand in mine. She cast a swift
little glance over us both, and seemed not to like what she saw. I
was conscious of the impression on the instant that Ermyntrude did not
particularly like it either. An effect of profound isolation, absurd
enough, but depressingly real, suddenly encompassed me. I began talking
something--the words coming out and scattering quite on their own
incoherent account--and the gist of what they made me say sounded in my
ears as if it were a determined enemy who was saying it Why should I be
speaking of my age, and the fact that I had held Ermie on my knee as a
child, and even of my rheumatism? And did I actually allude to them?
or only hear the clamorous echoes of conscience in my guilty soul, the
while my tongue was uttering other matters? I don't know, and the fear
that Ermie would admit that she really hadn't been paying attention has
restrained me from asking her since.

But Mrs Albert was paying attention. She held me with a cool and
unblinking eye during my clumsy monologue, and she continued this steady
gaze for a time after I had finished. She stirred the small and shapely
headgear of black velvet and bird's-wing which she had worn in from
the street, just by the fraction of a forward inch, to show that she
understood what I had been saying--and also very much which I had left
unsaid.

"Hm--m!" the good lady remarked, at length. "I see!"

"Well, mamma, having seen," Ermyntrude turned languidly in her chair to
observe, lifting the hand which still rested within mine into full and
patent view, and then withdrawing it abruptly--"having seen, and been
seen, there's really nothing more to do, is there?"

"She is very young," said the mother, in a tentative musing manner which
suggested the thought that I, on the other hand, was very much the other
way.

Ermyntrude sniffed audibly, and rose to her feet. "I am
three-and-twenty," she said, "and that is enough, thank you." There was
something in it all which I did not understand. The sensation of being
out of place, as in the trying-on room of a dressmaker's, oppressed me.
The sex were effecting sundry manouvres and countermarchings peculiar to
themselves--so much I could see by the way in which the two were talking
with their eyes--hut what it was all about was beyond me. The mother
finally inclined her head to one side, and pursed together her lips.
Ermyntrude drew herself to her full stature, threw up her chin for a
moment like one of Albert Moore's superb full-throated goddesses, and
then relaxed with that half-cheerful sigh which we express in types
with "heigho!" It was at once apparent to me that the situation had
lightened--but how or why I cannot profess to guess. Uncle Dudley, to
whom I subsequently narrated what I had observed, abounded in theories,
but upon reflection they do not impress, much less convince, me. Here
is in substance one of the several hypothetical conversations which
he sketched out as having passed in that moment of pre-occupied and
surcharged silence:

Mother [_lowering brows_]. You may be sure that at the very best it will
be Bayswater.

Daughter [_with quiver of nostrils_]. Better that than hanging on for a
Belgravia which never comes.

Mother [_disclosing the tips of two teeth_]. It is a chance of a title
going for ever.

Daughter [_curling lip_]. What chance is ever likely _here?_

Mother [_lifting brows_]. He's as old as Methusaleh!"

Daughter [_flashing eyes_]. That's my business!

Mother [_little trembling of the eyelashes_]. You will never know how I
have striven and struggled for you!

Daughter [_smoothing features_]. Merely the innate maternal instinct, my
dear, common to all mammalia.

Mother [_beginning to tip head sidewise_]. It is true that Tristram is
docile, sheep-like, simple----

Daughter [_lifting her chin_]. And old enough to be enchained at my feet
all his life.

Mother [_head much to one side_]. And he has always been extremely
cordial with _me_----

Daughter [_chin high in air_]. And not another girl in my set has had a
proposal for _years_.

Mother [_brightening eye_]. We shall be in time to buy everything at the
January sales!

[Mother _smiles;_ Daughter _sighs relief. The imaginations of both
wander pleasantly off to visions of sublimated Christmas shopping, in
connection with the trousseau and betrothal gifts. General joy._]

As I have said, this is Uncle Dudley's idea, not mine. My own fancy
prefers to conjure up a tenderer dialogue, in which the mother, all fond
solicitude, bids the maiden search well her heart, and answer only its
true appeal, and the sweet daughter, timid, fluttering, half-frightened
and wholly glad, flashes hack from the depths of her soul the rapt
assurance of her fate. But Dudley was certainly right about the ending,
as the first words Mrs Albert uttered go to show.

"Don't forget to remind me, then, about presents for the Gregory
children," she said all at once, in a swift sidelong whisper at
Ermyntrude. Then she turned, and as I gazed wistfully upon her face,
it melted sedately, gracefully, a little at a time, into the smile I
sought.

"My dear Tristram," she began, and her voice took on a coo of genuine
kindliness and warmth as she went on, "of course Albert and I have had
other views--and the dear girl is perfectly qualified to adorn the
most exalted and exclusive circles--if I do say it myself--but--but
her happiness is our one desire, and if she feels that it is getting--I
_would_ say, if you and she are quite clear in your own minds--and we
both have the greatest confidence in your practical common-sense, and
your _honour_--and we have all learned to be fond of you--and--and I am
really very glad!"

"Most of all things in the world, dear lady, I hoped for this," I had
begun to say, with fervour. I stopped, upon the discovery that Mrs
Albert was not listening, but had turned and was conferring with her
daughter in half-audible asides.

"Mercy, no!" the mother said. "They'd know in a minute that it had been
a present to us. That old Mrs Gregory is a perfect _lynx_ for detecting
such things. I suppose their boys are too big for tricycles, else your
father knows a dealer who----"

My own Ermie looked thoughtful. "It won't seem queer, you think,
our bursting in upon them with Christmas presents like this--without
provocation?" she asked.

"My dear child, queer or not queer," said Mrs Albert, "it is imperative.
You know how much depends upon it--there are plenty of others who would
be equally useful in various ways, but not like the _Gregorys_--and
if there were there's no time now. If this could have happened, now, a
fortnight ago, or even last week----"

"Yes, but it didn't," replied Ermyntrude. "It only happened to-day." She
turned to me, with a little laugh in her eyes. "Mamma complains that we
delayed so long. We have interfered with the Christmas arrangements."

"If I had only known! But--I claim to be treated as one of the family,
you know--I couldn't quite grasp what you were saying about the
Gregorys. I gather that our--our betrothal involves Christmas presents
for them, but I confess I don't know why. Or oughtn't I to have asked,
dear?"

For answer Ermyntrude looked saucily into my face, twisted her dear
nose into a pretty little mocking grimace, and ran out of the room. Mrs
Albert vouchsafed no explanation, but talked of other matters--and there
were enough to talk about.

It was not, indeed, till late in the evening, when Uncle Dudley and
I were upon our last cigar, that I happened to recall the mystifying
incident of the Gregorys.

"That's simplicity itself," said Uncle Dudley. "The Gregorys own one of
the tidiest country seats in Nottinghamshire--lovely old house, sylvan
arbours, high wall, fascinating rural roads--in the very heart of county
society, too--O, a most romantic and eligible place!"

"Well, what of it? What has that to do with Ermyntrude and me and Santa
Claus?"

"If you will read the _Morning Post_ the day after your wedding, my
dear, dull friend, you will learn that Colonel Gregory has placed at
the disposal of a certain bridal couple for their honeymoon his ideal
country residence. The paper will not state why, but I will tell you in
confidence. It will be because the bride's mother is a resourceful and
observant woman, who knows how to plant at Christmas that she may gather
at Easter."

"I hate to have you always so beastly cynical, Dudley," I was emboldened
to exclaim.

Uncle Dudley regarded me attentively for an instant. He took a
thoughtful sip at his drink, and then began smiling at his glass. When
he turned to me again, the smile had grown into a grin.

"You are belated, my boy," he said. "You ought to have married into the
Grundys years ago. You were just born to be one of the family."





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