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Title: A Man from the North
Author: Bennett, Arnold
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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A MAN FROM THE NORTH

BY

ARNOLD BENNETT

AUTHOR OF "THE OLD WIVES' TALE,"
"BURIED ALIVE"

NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN

1911



TO THE ONE WHOM I MOST HONOUR



A MAN FROM THE NORTH



CHAPTER I


There grows in the North Country a certain kind of youth of whom it
may be said that he is born to be a Londoner. The metropolis, and
everything that appertains to it, that comes down from it, that goes up
into it, has for him an imperious fascination. Long before schooldays
are over he learns to take a doleful pleasure in watching the exit of
the London train from the railway station. He stands by the hot engine
and envies the very stoker. Gazing curiously into the carriages, he
wonders that men and women who in a few hours will be treading streets
called Piccadilly and the Strand can contemplate the immediate future
with so much apparent calmness; some of them even have the audacity to
look bored. He finds it difficult to keep from throwing himself in the
guard's van as it glides past him; and not until the last coach is a
speck upon the distance does he turn away and, nodding absently to the
ticket-clerk, who knows him well, go home to nurse a vague ambition and
dream of Town.

London is the place where newspapers are issued, books written, and
plays performed. And this youth, who now sits in an office, reads all
the newspapers. He knows exactly when a new work by a famous author
should appear, and awaits the reviews with impatience. He can tell you
off-hand the names of the pieces in the bills of the twenty principal
West-end theatres, what their quality is, and how long they may be
expected to run; and on the production of a new play, the articles of
the dramatic critics provide him with sensations almost as vivid as
those of the most zealous first-nighter at the performance itself.

Sooner or later, perhaps by painful roads, he reaches the goal of his
desire. London accepts him--on probation; and as his strength is, so
she demeans herself. Let him be bold and resolute, and she will make
an obeisance, but her heel is all too ready to crush the coward and
hesitant; and her victims, once underfoot, do not often rise again.



CHAPTER II


The antique four-wheeler, top-heavy with luggage, swung unsteadily
round by Tattersall's and into Raphael Street. Richard thrust down the
window with a sharp bang, indicative of a strange new sense of power;
but before the cab came to a standstill he had collected himself, and
managed to alight with considerable decorum. When the door opened
in answer to his second ring, a faint, sour odour escaped from the
house, and he remembered the friendly feminine warnings which he had
received at Bursley on the subject of London lodgings. The aspect of
the landlady, however, reassured him; she was a diminutive old woman
in ridiculously short skirts, with a yellow, crinkled face, grey eyes,
and a warm, benevolent smile that conquered. As she greeted Richard she
blushed like a girl, and made a little old-fashioned curtsey. Richard
offered his hand, and, after wiping hers on a clean apron, she took it
timidly.

"I hope we shall get on well together, sir," she said, looking straight
up into her new lodger's eyes.

"I'm sure we shall," answered Richard, sincerely.

She preceded him up the narrow, frowsy staircase, which was full of
surprising turns.

"You'll find these stairs a bit awkward at first," she apologised.
"I've often thought of getting a bit of nice carpet on them, but what's
the use? It would be done for in a week. Now, here's your room, sir,
first floor front, with two nice French windows, you see, and a nice
balcony. Now, about tidying it of a morning, sir. If you'll step out
for a walk as soon as you get up, my daughter shall make the bed,
and dust, and you'll come in and find it all nice and straight for
breakfast."

"Very well," assented Richard.

"That's how I generally arrange with my young men. I like them to have
their breakfast in a nice tidy room, you see, sir. Now, what will you
have for tea, sir? A little nice bread and butter...."

When she was gone Richard formally surveyed his quarters: a long,
rather low room, its length cut by the two windows which were Mrs.
Rowbotham's particular pride; between the windows a table with a faded
green cloth, and a small bed opposite; behind the door an artfully
concealed washstand; the mantelpiece, painted mustard yellow, bore
divers squat earthenware figures, and was surmounted by an oblong
mirror framed in rosewood; over the mirror an illuminated text,
"Trust in Jesus," and over the text an oleograph, in collision with
the ceiling, entitled, "After the Battle of Culloden." The walls were
decorated with a pattern of giant pink roses; and here and there,
hiding the roses, were hung photographs of persons in their Sunday
clothes, and landscapes hand-painted in oil, depicting bridges, trees,
water, and white sails in the distance. But the furnishing of the room
caused Richard no uneasiness; in a few moments he had mentally arranged
how to make the place habitable, and thenceforth he only saw what
should and would be.

Tea was brought in by a girl whose face proclaimed her to be Mrs.
Rowbotham's daughter. At the sight of her Richard privately winked; he
had read in books about landladies' daughters, but this one gave the
lie to books; she was young, she was beautiful, and Richard would have
sworn to her innocence. With an accession of boldness which surprised
himself, he inquired her name.

"Lily, sir," she said, blushing like her mother.

He cut the new, heavy bread, and poured out a cup of tea with the
awkwardness of one unaccustomed to such work, and, having made space
on the tray, set the evening paper against the sugar basin, and began
to eat and read. Outside were two piano organs, children shouting,
and a man uttering some monotonous unintelligible cry. It grew dark;
Mrs. Rowbotham came in with a lamp and cleared the table; Richard
was looking through the window, and neither spoke. Presently he sat
down. That being his first night in London, he had determined to spend
it quietly _at home_. The piano organs and the children were still
strident. A peculiar feeling of isolation momentarily overcame him, and
the noises of the street seemed to recede. Then he went to the window
again, and noticed that the children were dancing quite gracefully; it
occurred to him that they might be ballet children. He picked up the
paper and examined the theatrical advertisements, at first idly, but
afterwards in detail.

With a long sigh, he took his hat and stick, and went very slowly
downstairs. Mrs. Rowbotham heard him fumbling with the catch of the
front door.

"Are you going out, sir?"

"Only just for a walk," said Richard, nonchalantly.

"Perhaps I'd better give you a latch-key?"

"Thanks."

Another moment and he was in the delicious streets, going east.



CHAPTER III


Although he had visited London but once before, and then only for a few
hours, he was not unfamiliar with the topography of the town, having
frequently studied it in maps and an old copy of Kelly's directory.

He walked slowly up Park Side and through Piccadilly, picking out as
he passed them the French Embassy, Hyde Park Corner, Apsley House,
Park Lane, and Devonshire House. As he drank in the mingled glare and
glamour of Piccadilly by night,--the remote stars, the high sombre
trees, the vast, dazzling interiors of clubs, the sinuous, flickering
lines of traffic, the radiant faces of women framed in hansoms,--he
laughed the laugh of luxurious contemplation, acutely happy. At last,
at last, he had come into his inheritance. London accepted him. He
was hers; she his; and nothing should part them. Starvation in London
would itself be bliss. But he had no intention of starving! Filled with
great purposes, he straightened his back, and just then a morsel of mud
thrown up from a bus-wheel splashed warm and gritty on his cheek. He
wiped it off caressingly, with a smile.

Although it was Saturday night, and most of the shops were closed,
an establishment where watches and trinkets of "Anglo-Spanish" gold,
superb in appearance and pillowed on green plush, were retailed at
alluring prices, still threw a brilliant light on the pavement, and
Richard crossed the road to inspect its wares. He turned away, but
retraced his steps and entered the shop. An assistant politely inquired
his wishes.

"I want one of those hunters you have in the window at 29/6," said
Richard, with a gruffness which must have been involuntary.

"Yes, sir. Here is one. We guarantee that the works are equal to the
finest English lever."

"I'll take it." He put down the money.

"Thank you. Can I show you anything else?"

"Nothing, thanks," still more gruffly.

"We have some excellent chains...."

"Nothing else, thanks." And he walked out, putting his purchase in his
pocket. A perfectly reliable gold watch, which he had worn for years,
already lay there.

At Piccadilly Circus he loitered, and then crossed over and went
along Coventry Street to Leicester Square. The immense façade of the
Ottoman Theatre of Varieties, with its rows of illuminated windows and
crescent moons set against the sky, rose before him, and the glory of
it was intoxicating. It is not too much to say that the Ottoman held a
stronger fascination for Richard than any other place in London. The
British Museum, Fleet Street, and the Lyceum were magic names, but
more magical than either was the name of the Ottoman. The Ottoman, on
the rare occasions when it happened to be mentioned in Bursley, was a
synonym for all the glittering vices of the metropolis. It stank in
the nostrils of the London delegates who came down to speak at the
annual meetings of the local Society for the Suppression of Vice. But
how often had Richard, somnolent in chapel, mitigated the rigours of a
long sermon by dreaming of an Ottoman ballet,--one of those voluptuous
spectacles, all legs and white arms, which from time to time were
described so ornately in the London daily papers.

The brass-barred swinging doors of the Grand Circle entrance were
simultaneously opened for him by two human automata dressed exactly
alike in long semi-military coats, a very tall man and a stunted boy.
He advanced with what air of custom he could command, and after taking
a ticket and traversing a heavily decorated corridor encountered
another pair of swinging doors; they opened, and a girl passed out,
followed by a man who was talking to her vehemently in French. At
the same moment a gust of distant music struck Richard's ear. As he
climbed a broad, thick-piled flight of steps, the music became louder,
and a clapping of hands could be heard. At the top of the steps hung
a curtain of blue velvet; he pushed aside its stiff, heavy folds with
difficulty, and entered the auditorium.

The smoke of a thousand cigarettes enveloped the furthest parts of
the great interior in a thin bluish haze, which was dissipated as
it reached the domed ceiling in the rays of a crystal chandelier.
Far in front and a little below the level of the circle lay a line
of footlights broken by the silhouette of the conductor's head. A
diminutive, solitary figure in red and yellow stood in the centre
of the huge stage; it was kissing its hands to the audience with a
mincing, operatic gesture; presently it tripped off backwards, stopping
at every third step to bow; the applause ceased, and the curtain fell
slowly.

The broad, semicircular promenade which flanked the seats of the grand
circle was filled with a well-dressed, well-fed crowd. The men talked
and laughed, for the most part, in little knots, while in and out,
steering their way easily and rapidly among these groups, moved the
women: some with rouged cheeks, greasy vermilion lips, and enormous
liquid eyes; others whose faces were innocent of cosmetics and showed
pale under the electric light; but all with a peculiar, exaggerated
swing of the body from the hips, and all surreptitiously regarding
themselves in the mirrors which abounded on every glowing wall.

Richard stood aloof against a pillar. Near him were two men in evening
dress conversing in tones which just rose above the general murmur of
talk and the high, penetrating tinkle of glass from the bar behind the
promenade.

"And what did she say then?" one of the pair asked smilingly. Richard
strained his ear to listen.

"Well, _she_ told _me_," the other said, speaking with a dreamy drawl,
while fingering his watch-chain absently and gazing down at the large
diamond in his shirt,--"_she_ told _me_ that she said she'd do for him
if he didn't fork out. But I don't believe her. You know, of course....
There's Lottie...."

The band suddenly began to play, and after a few crashing bars the
curtain went up for the ballet. The rich _coup d'oeil_ which presented
itself provoked a burst of clapping from the floor of the house and the
upper tiers, but to Richard's surprise no one in his proximity seemed
to exhibit any interest in the entertainment. The two men still talked
with their backs to the stage, the women continued to find a pathway
between the groups, and from within the bar came the unabated murmur of
voices and tinkle of glass.

Richard never took his dazed eyes from the stage. The moving pageant
unrolled itself before him like a vision, rousing new sensations,
tremors of strange desires. He was under a spell, and when at last the
curtain descended to the monotonous roll of drums, he awoke to the fact
that several people were watching him curiously. Blushing slightly,
he went to a far corner of the promenade. At one of the little tables
a woman sat alone. She held her head at an angle, and her laughing,
lustrous eyes gleamed invitingly at Richard. Without quite intending to
do so he hesitated in front of her, and she twittered a phrase ending
in _chéri_.

He abruptly turned away. He would have been very glad to remain and say
something clever, but his tongue refused its office, and his legs moved
of themselves.

At midnight he found himself in Piccadilly Circus, unwilling to go
home. He strolled leisurely back to Leicester Square. The front of the
Ottoman was in darkness, and the square almost deserted.



CHAPTER IV


He walked home to Raphael Street. The house was dead, except for a
pale light in his own room. At the top of the bare, creaking stairs he
fumbled a moment for the handle of his door, and the regular sound of
two distinct snores descended from an upper storey. He closed the door
softly, locked it, and glanced round the room with some eagerness. The
smell of the expiring lamp compelled him to unlatch both windows. He
extinguished the lamp, and after lighting a couple of candles on the
mantelpiece drew a chair to the fireplace and sat down to munch an
apple. The thought occurred to him: "This is my home--for how long?"

And then:

"Why the dickens didn't I say something to that girl?"

Between the candles on the mantelpiece was a photograph of his sister,
which he had placed there before going out. He looked at it with a half
smile, and murmured audibly several times:

"Why the dickens didn't I say something to that girl, with her _chéri_?"

The woman of the photograph seemed to be between thirty and forty years
of age. She was fair, with a mild, serious face, and much wavy hair.
The forehead was broad and smooth and white, the cheek-bones prominent,
and the mouth somewhat large. The eyes were a very light grey; they
met the gaze of the spectator with a curious timid defiance, as if to
say, "I am weak, but I can at least fight till I fall." Underneath the
eyes--the portrait was the work of an amateur, and consequently had not
been robbed of all texture by retouching--a few crowsfeet could be seen.

As far back as Richard's memory went, he and Mary had lived together
and alone in the small Red House which lay half a mile out of Bursley,
towards Turnhill, on the Manchester road. At one time it had been
rurally situated, creeping plants had clothed its red walls, and the
bare patch behind it had been a garden; but the gradual development
of a coal-producing district had covered the fields with smooth,
mountainous heaps of grey refuse, and stunted or killed every tree
in the neighbourhood. The house was undermined, and in spite of iron
clamps had lost most of its rectangles, while the rent had dropped to
fifteen pounds a year.

Mary was very much older than her brother, and she had always appeared
to him exactly the mature woman of the photograph. Of his parents he
knew nothing except what Mary had told him, which was little and vague,
for she watchfully kept the subject at a distance.

She had supported herself and Richard in comfort by a medley of
vocations, teaching the piano, collecting rents, and practising the
art of millinery. They had few friends. The social circles of Bursley
were centred in its churches and chapels; and though Mary attended
the Wesleyan sanctuary with some regularity, she took small interest
in prayer-meetings, class-meetings, bazaars, and all the other minor
religious activities, thus neglecting opportunities for intercourse
which might have proved agreeable. She had sent Richard to the
Sunday-school; but when, at the age of fourteen, he protested that
Sunday-school was "awful rot," she answered calmly, "Don't go, then;"
and from that day his place in class was empty. Soon afterwards the
boy cautiously insinuated that chapel belonged to the same category as
Sunday-school, but the hint failed of its effect.

The ladies of the town called sometimes, generally upon business, and
took afternoon tea. Once the vicar's wife, who wished to obtain musical
tuition for her three youngest daughters at a nominal fee, came in and
found Richard at a book on the hearthrug.

"Ah!" said she. "Just like his father, is he not, Miss Larch?" Mary
made no reply.

The house was full of books. Richard knew them all well by sight, but
until he was sixteen he read only a select handful of volumes which had
stood the test of years. Often he idly speculated as to the contents of
some of the others,--"Horatii Opera," for instance: had that anything
to do with theatres?--yet for some curious reason, which when he grew
older he sought for in vain, he never troubled himself to look into
them. Mary read a good deal, chiefly books and magazines fetched for
her by Richard from the Free Library.

When he was about seventeen, a change came. He was aware dimly, and as
if by instinct, that his sister's life in the early days had not been
without its romance. Certainly there was something hidden between her
and William Vernon, the science master at the Institute, for they were
invariably at great pains to avoid each other. He sometimes wondered
whether Mr. Vernon was connected in any way with the melancholy which
was never, even in her brightest moments, wholly absent from Mary's
demeanour. One Sunday night--Richard had been keeping house--Mary,
coming in late from chapel, threw his arms round his neck as he opened
the door, and, dragging down his face to hers, kissed him hysterically
again and again.

"Dicky, Dick," she whispered, laughing and crying at the same time,
"something's happened. I'm almost an old woman, but something's
happened!"

"I know," said Richard, retreating hurriedly from her embrace. "You're
going to marry Mr. Vernon."

"But how could you tell?"

"Oh! I just guessed."

"You don't mind, Dick, do you?"

"I! Mind!" Afraid lest his feelings should appear too plainly, he asked
abruptly for supper.

Mary gave up her various callings, the wedding took place, and William
Vernon came to live with them. It was then that Richard began to read
more widely, and to form a definite project of going to London.

He could not fail to respect and like William. The life of the married
pair seemed to him idyllic; the tender, furtive manifestations
of affection which were constantly passing between Mary and her
sedate, middle-aged husband touched him deeply, and at the thought
of the fifteen irretrievable years during which some ridiculous
misunderstanding had separated this loving couple, his eyes were
not quite as dry as a youth could wish. But with it all he was
uncomfortable. He felt himself an intruder upon holy privacies; if
at meal-times husband and wife clasped hands round the corner of
the table, he looked at his plate; if they smiled happily upon no
discoverable provocation, he pretended not to notice the fact. They
did not need him. Their hearts were full of kindness for every living
thing, but unconsciously they stood aloof. He was driven in upon
himself, and spent much of his time either in solitary walking or
hidden in an apartment called the study.

He ordered magazines whose very names Mr. Holt, the principal
bookseller in Bursley, was unfamiliar with, and after the magazines
came books of verse and novels enclosed in covers of mystic design, and
printed in a style which Mr. Holt, though secretly impressed, set down
as eccentric. Mr. Holt's shop performed the functions of a club for
the dignitaries of the town; and since he took care that this esoteric
literature was well displayed on the counter until called for, the
young man's fame as _a great reader_ soon spread, and Richard began to
see that he was regarded as a curiosity of which Bursley need not be
ashamed. His self-esteem, already fostered into lustiness by a number
of facile school successes, became more marked, although he was wise
enough to keep a great deal of it to himself.

One evening, after Mary and her husband had been talking quietly some
while, Richard came into the sitting-room.

"I don't want any supper," he said, "I'm going for a bit of a walk."

"Shall we tell him?" Mary asked, smiling, after he had left the room.

"Please yourself," said William, also smiling.

"He talks a great deal about going to London. I hope he won't go
till--after April; I think it would upset me."

"You need not trouble, I think, my dear," William answered. "He talks
about it, but he isn't gone yet."

Mr. Vernon was not quite pleased with Richard. He had obtained for
him--being connected with the best people in the town--a position as
shorthand and general clerk in a solicitor's office, and had learnt
privately that though the youth was smart enough, he was scarcely
making that progress which might have been expected. He lacked
"application." William attributed this shortcoming to the excessive
reading of verse and obscure novels.

April came, and, as Mr. Vernon had foretold, Richard still remained
in Bursley. But the older man was now too deeply absorbed in another
matter to interest himself at all in Richard's movements,--a matter in
which Richard himself exhibited a shy concern. Hour followed anxious
hour, and at last was heard the faint, fretful cry of a child in the
night. Then stillness. All that Richard ever saw was a coffin, and in
it a dead child at a dead woman's feet.

Fifteen months later he was in London.



CHAPTER V


Mr. Curpet, of the firm of Curpet and Smythe, whose name was painted in
black and white on the dark green door, had told him that the office
hours were from nine-thirty to six. The clock of the Law Courts was
striking a quarter to ten. He hesitated a moment, and then seized the
handle; but the door was fast, and he descended the two double flights
of iron stairs into the quadrangle.

New Serjeant's Court was a large modern building of very red brick
with terra-cotta facings, eight storeys high; but in spite of its
faults of colour and its excessive height, ample wall spaces and
temperate ornamentation gave it a dignity and comeliness sufficient
to distinguish it from other buildings in the locality. In the centre
of the court was an oval patch of brown earth, with a few trees whose
pale-leaved tops, struggling towards sunlight, reached to the middle of
the third storey. Round this plantation ran an immaculate roadway of
wooden blocks, flanked by an equally immaculate asphalt footpath. The
court possessed its own private lamp-posts, and these were wrought of
iron in an antique design.

Men and boys, grave and unconsciously oppressed by the burden of the
coming day, were continually appearing out of the gloom of the long
tunnelled entrance and vanishing into one or other of the twelve
doorways. Presently a carriage and pair drove in, and stopped opposite
Richard. A big man of about fifty, with a sagacious red and blue face,
jumped alertly out, followed by an attentive clerk carrying a blue
sack. It seemed to Richard that he knew the features of the big man
from portraits, and, following the pair up the staircase of No. 2, he
discovered from the legend on the door through which they disappeared
that he had been in the presence of Her Majesty's Attorney-General.
Simultaneously with a misgiving as to his ability to reach the standard
of clerical ability doubtless required by Messrs. Curpet and Smythe,
who did business cheek by jowl with an attorney-general and probably
employed him, came an elevation of spirit as he darkly guessed what
none can realise completely, that a man's future lies on his own knees,
and on the knees of no gods whatsoever.

He continued his way upstairs, but Messrs. Curpet and Smythe's portal
was still locked. Looking down the well, he espied a boy crawling
reluctantly and laboriously upward, with a key in his hand which
he dragged across the bannisters. In course of time the boy reached
Messrs. Curpet and Smythe's door, and opening it stepped neatly over a
pile of letters which lay immediately within. Richard followed him.

"Oh! My name's Larch," said Richard, as if it had just occurred to him
that the boy might be interested in the fact. "Do you know which is my
room?"

The boy conducted him along a dark passage with green doors on
either side, to a room at the end. It was furnished mainly with
two writing-tables and two armchairs; in one corner was a disused
copying-press, in another an immense pile of reporters' note-books; on
the mantelpiece, a tumbler, a duster, and a broken desk lamp.

"That's your seat," said the boy, pointing to the larger table, and
disappeared. Richard disposed of his coat and hat and sat down, trying
to feel at ease and not succeeding.

At five minutes past ten a youth entered with the "Times" under his
arm. Richard waited for him to speak, but he merely stared and took off
his overcoat. Then he said,--

"You've got my hook. If you don't mind I'll put your things on this
other one."

"Certainly," assented Richard.

The youth spread his back luxuriously to the empty fireplace and opened
the "Times," when another and smaller boy put his head in at the door.

"Jenkins, Mr. Alder wants the 'Times.'"

The youth silently handed over the advertisement pages which were lying
on the table. In a minute the boy returned.

"Mr. Alder says he wants the inside of the 'Times.'"

"Tell Mr. Alder to go to hell, with my compliments." The boy hesitated.

"Go on, now," Jenkins insisted. The boy hung on the door-handle,
smiling dubiously, and then went out.

"Here, wait a minute!" Jenkins called him back. "Perhaps you'd better
give it him. Take the damn thing away."

A sound of hurried footsteps in the next room was succeeded by an
imperious call for Jenkins, at which Jenkins slipped nimbly into his
chair and untied a bundle of papers.

"Jenkins!" the call came again, with a touch of irritation in it, but
Jenkins did not move. The door was thrust open.

"Oh! You are there, Jenkins. Just come in and take a letter down." The
tones were quite placid.

"Yes, Mr. Smythe."

"I never take any notice of Smythe's calls," said Jenkins, when he
returned. "If he wants me, he must either ring or fetch me. If I once
began it, I should be running in and out of his room all day, and I've
quite enough to do without that."

"Fidgety, eh?" Richard suggested.

"Fidgety's no word for it, _I_ tell you. Alder--that's the manager, you
know--said only yesterday that he has less trouble with forty Chancery
actions of Curpet's than with one county-court case of Smythe's. I know
I'd a jolly sight sooner write forty of Curpet's letters than ten of
Smythe's. I wish I'd got your place, and you'd got mine. I suppose you
can write shorthand rather fast."

"Middling," said Richard. "About 120."

"Oh! We had a man once who could do 150, but he'd been a newspaper
reporter. I do a bit over a hundred, if I've not had much to drink
overnight. Let's see, they're giving you twenty-five bob, aren't they?"

Richard nodded.

"The man before you had thirty-five, and he couldn't spell worth a
brass button. I only get fifteen, although I've been here seven years.
A damn shame I call it! But Curpet's beastly near. If he'd give some
other people less, and me a bit more...."

"Who are 'some other people'?" asked Richard, smiling.

"Well, there's old Aked. He sits in the outer office--you won't have
seen him because he doesn't generally come till eleven. They give him a
pound a week, just for doing a bit of engrossing when he feels inclined
to engross, and for being idle when he feels inclined to be idle. He's
a broken-down something or other,--used to be clerk to Curpet's father.
He has some dibs of his own, and this just finds him amusement. I bet
he doesn't do fifty folios a week. And he's got the devil's own temper."

Jenkins was proceeding to describe other members of the staff when the
entry of Mr. Curpet himself put an end to the recital. Mr. Curpet was a
small man, with a round face and a neatly trimmed beard.

"Good morning, Larch. If you'll kindly come into my room, I'll dictate
my letters. Good morning, Jenkins." He smiled and withdrew, leaving
Richard excessively surprised at his suave courtesy.

In his own room Mr. Curpet sat before a pile of letters, and motioned
Richard to a side table.

"You will tell me if I go too fast," he said, and began to dictate
regularly, with scarcely a pause. The pile of letters gradually
disappeared into a basket. Before half a dozen letters were done
Richard comprehended that he had become part of a business machine of
far greater magnitude than anything to which he had been accustomed
in Bursley. This little man with the round face dealt impassively
with tens of thousands of pounds; he mortgaged whole streets, bullied
railway companies, and wrote familiarly to lords. In the middle of one
long letter, a man came panting in, whom Richard at once took for Mr.
Alder, the Chancery manager. His rather battered silk hat was at the
back of his head, and he looked distressed.

"I'm sorry to say we've lost that summons in Rice _v._ The L. R.
Railway."

"Really!" said Mr. Curpet. "Better appeal, and brief a leader, eh?"

"Can't appeal, Mr. Curpet."

"Well, we must make the best of it. Telegraph to the country. I'll
write and keep them calm. It's a pity they were so sure. Rice will have
to economise for a year or two. What was my last word, Larch?" The
dictation proceeded.

One hour was allowed for lunch, and Richard spent the first moiety
of it in viewing the ambrosial exteriors of Strand restaurants. With
the exception of the coffee-house at Bursley, he had never been in
a restaurant in his life, and he was timid of entering any of those
sumptuous establishments whose swinging doors gave glimpses of richly
decorated ceilings, gleaming tablecloths, and men in silk hats greedily
consuming dishes placed before them by obsequious waiters.

At last, without quite knowing how he got there, he sat in a long,
low apartment, papered like an attic bedroom, and odorous of tea and
cake. The place was crowded with young men and women indifferently
well-dressed, who bent over uncomfortably small oblong marble-topped
tables. An increasing clatter of crockery filled the air. Waitresses,
with pale, vacant faces, dressed in dingy black with white aprons,
moved about with difficulty at varying rates of speed, but none of
them seemed to betray an interest in Richard. Behind the counter, on
which stood great polished urns emitting clouds of steam, were several
women whose superior rank in the restaurant was denoted by a black
apron, and after five minutes had elapsed Richard observed one of these
damsels pointing out himself to a waitress, who approached and listened
condescendingly to his order.

A thin man, rather more than middle-aged, with a grey beard and
slightly red nose, entered and sat down opposite to Richard. Without
preface he began, speaking rather fast and with an expressive vivacity
rarely met with in the ageing,--

"Well, my young friend, how do you like your new place?"

Richard stared at him.

"Are you Mr. Aked?"

"The same. I suppose Master Jenkins has made you acquainted with all my
peculiarities of temper and temperament.--Glass of milk, roll, and two
pats of butter--and, I say, my girl, try not to keep me waiting as long
as you did yesterday." There was a bright smile on his face, which the
waitress unwillingly returned.

"Don't you know," he went on, looking at Richard's plate,--"don't you
know that tea and ham together are frightfully indigestible?"

"I never have indigestion."

"No matter. You soon will have if you eat tea and ham together. A young
man should guard his digestion like his honour. Sounds funny, doesn't
it? But it's right. An impaired digestive apparatus has ruined many a
career. It ruined mine. You see before you, sir, what might have been
an author of repute, but for a wayward stomach."

"You write?" Richard asked, interested at once, but afraid lest Mr.
Aked might be cumbrously joking.

"I used to." The old man spoke with proud self-consciousness.

"Have you written a book?"

"Not a book. But I've contributed to all manner of magazines and
newspapers."

"What magazines?"

"Well, let me see--it's so long ago. I've written for 'Cornhill.' I
wrote for 'Cornhill' when Thackeray edited it. I spoke to Carlyle once."

"You did?"

"Yes. Carlyle said to me--Carlyle said to me--Carlyle said--" Mr.
Aked's voice dwindled to an inarticulate murmur, and, suddenly ignoring
Richard's presence, he pulled a book from his pocket and began to
finger the leaves. It was a French novel, "La Vie de Bohème." His face
had lost all its mobile expressiveness.

A little alarmed by such eccentricity, and not quite sure that this
associate of Carlyle was perfectly sane, Richard sat silent, waiting
for events. Mr. Aked was clearly accustomed to reading while he ate;
he could even drink with his eyes on the book. At length he pushed his
plates away from him, and closed the novel with a snap.

"I see you're from the country, Larch," he said, as if there had been
no lapse in the conversation. "Now, why in God's name did you leave the
country? Aren't there enough people in London?"

"Because _I_ wanted to be an author," answered Richard, with more
assurance than veracity, though he spoke in good faith. The fact was
that his aspirations, hitherto so vague as to elude analysis, seemed
within the last few minutes mysteriously to have assumed definite form.

"You're a young fool, then."

"But I've an excellent digestion."

"You won't have it if you begin to write. Take my word, you're a young
fool. You don't know what you're going in for, my little friend."

"Was Murger a fool?" Richard said clumsily, determined to exhibit an
acquaintance with "La Vie de Bohème."

"Ha! We read French, do we?"

Richard blushed. The old man got up.

"Come along," he said peevishly. "Let's get out of this hole."

At the pay-desk, waiting for change, he spoke to the cashier, a thin
girl with reddish-brown hair, who coughed,--

"Did you try those lozenges?"

"Oh! yes, thanks. They _taste_ nice."

"Beautiful day."

"Yes; my word, isn't it!"

They walked back to the office in absolute silence; but just as they
were going in, Mr. Aked stopped, and took Richard by the coat.

"Have you anything special to do next Thursday night?"

"No," said Richard.

"Well, I'll take you to a little French restaurant in Soho, and we'll
have dinner. Half a crown. Can you afford?"

Richard nodded.

"And, I say, bring along some of your manuscripts, and I'll flay them
alive for you."



CHAPTER VI


An inconstant, unrefreshing breeze, sluggish with accumulated impurity,
stirred the curtains, and every urban sound--high-pitched voices of
children playing, roll of wheels and rhythmic trot of horses, shouts
of newsboys and querulous barking of dogs--came through the open
windows touched with a certain languorous quality that suggested a
city fatigued, a city yearning for the moist recesses of woods, the
disinfectant breath of mountain tops, and the cleansing sea.

On the little table between the windows lay pen, ink, and paper.
Richard sat down to be an author. Since his conversation with Mr.
Aked of the day before he had lived in the full glow of an impulse
to write. He discerned, or thought he discerned, in the fact that he
possessed the literary gift, a key to his recent life. It explained,
to be particular, the passion for reading which had overtaken him at
seventeen, and his desire to come to London, the natural home of the
author. Certainly it was strange that hitherto he had devoted very
little serious thought to the subject of writing, but happily there
were in existence sundry stray verses and prose fragments written at
Bursley, and it contented him to recognise in these the first tremulous
stirrings of a late-born ambition.

During the previous evening he had busied himself in deciding upon a
topic. In a morning paper he had read an article entitled "An Island of
Sleep," descriptive of Sark; it occurred to him that a similar essay
upon Lichfield, the comatose cathedral city which lay about thirty
miles from Bursley, might suit a monthly magazine. He knew Lichfield
well; he had been accustomed to visit it from childhood; he loved it.
As a theme full of picturesque opportunities it had quickened his
imagination, until his brain seemed to surge with vague but beautiful
fancies. In the night his sleep had been broken, and several new ideas
had suggested themselves. And now, after a day of excited anticipation,
the moment for composition had arrived.

As he dipped his pen in the ink a sudden apprehension of failure
surprised him. He dismissed it, and wrote in a bold hand, rather
carefully,--

 MEMORIES OF A CITY OF SLEEP.

That was surely an excellent title. He proceeded:--

 _On the old stone bridge, beneath which the clear, smooth waters of
 the river have crept at the same pace for centuries, stands a little
 child, alone. It is early morning, and the clock of the time-stained
 cathedral which lifts its noble gothic towers scarce a hundred yards
 away, strikes five, to the accompaniment of an unseen lark overhead._

He sat back to excogitate the next sentence, staring around the room
as if he expected to find the words written on the wall. One of the
gilt-framed photographs was slightly askew; he left his chair to put
it straight; several other pictures seemed to need adjustment, and
he levelled them all with scrupulous precision. The ornaments on the
mantelpiece were not evenly balanced; these he rearranged entirely.
Then, having first smoothed out a crease in the bedcover, he sat down
again.

But most of the beautiful ideas which he had persuaded himself
were firmly within his grasp, now eluded him, or tardily presented
themselves in a form so obscure as to be valueless, and the useful few
that remained defied all attempts to bring them into order. Dashed by
his own impotence, he sought out the article on Sark, and examined it
afresh. Certain weekly organs of literature had educated him to sneer
at the journalism of the daily press, but it appeared that the man who
wrote "An Island of Sleep" was at least capable of expressing himself
with clearness and fluency, and possessed the skill to pass naturally
from one aspect of his subject to another. It seemed simple enough....

He went to the window.

The sky was a delicate amber, and Richard watched it change to rose,
and from rose to light blue. The gas-lamps glared out in quick
succession; some one lowered the blind of a window opposite his own,
and presently a woman's profile was silhouetted against it for a
moment, and then vanished. A melody came from the public house, sung
in a raucous baritone to the thrumming of a guitar; the cries of the
playing children had now ceased.

Suddenly turning into the room, he was astonished to find it almost in
darkness; he could distinguish only the whiteness of the papers on the
table.

He was not in the mood for writing to-night. Some men wrote best in
the evening, others in the morning. Probably he belonged to the latter
class. Be that as it might, he would rise at six the next morning and
make a new beginning. "It's only a question of practice, of course," he
said, half aloud, repressing a troublesome dubiety. He would take a
short walk, and go early to bed. Gradually his self-confidence returned.

As he closed the front door there was a rustle of silks and a transient
odour of violets; a woman had gone by. She turned slightly at the sound
of the door, and Richard had a glimpse of a young and pretty face
under a spreading hat, a full, ripe bust whose alluring contours were
perfectly disclosed by a tight-fitting bodice, and two small white
hands, in one a dangling pair of gloves, in the other an umbrella. He
passed her, and waited at the corner by Tattersall's till she overtook
him again. Now she stood on the kerb within six feet of him, humming an
air and smiling to herself. Up went the umbrella to signal for a hansom.

"The Ottoman," Richard heard her say across the roof of the cab, the
driver leaning forward with his hand to his ear. What a child's voice
it seemed, lisping and artless!

The cabman winked at Richard, and gently flicked his horse. In a moment
the hansom was two dwindling specks of red in a shifting multitude of
lights.

An hour later he saw her in the promenade of the theatre; she stood
against a pillar, her eyes on the entrance. As their glances met,
she threw her head a little backwards, like one who looks through
spectacles on the end of his nose, and showed her teeth. He sat down
near her.

Presently she waved her hand to a man who was coming in. He seemed
about thirty, with small, clear eyes, bronzed cheeks, a heavy jaw, and
a closely trimmed brown moustache. He was fashionably garbed, though
not in evening dress, and he greeted her without raising his hat.

"Shall we have a drink?" she suggested. "I'm so thirsty."

"Fizz?" the man drawled. She nodded.

Soon they went out together, the man carelessly stuffing change for a
five-pound note into his pocket.

"What's the difference between him and me?" Richard reflected as he
walked home. "But just wait a bit; wait till I've...."

When he reached his lodging the meanness of the room, of his clothes,
of his supper, nauseated him. He dreamed that he was kissing the
Ottoman girl, and that she lisped, "Nice boy," whereupon he cast a
handful of sovereigns on her lap.

At six o'clock the next morning he was working at his article. In
two days it was finished, and he had despatched it to a monthly
magazine, "together with a stamped directed envelope for its return if
unsuitable," in accordance with the editorial instructions printed
below the table of contents in every number. The editor of the
"Trifler" promised that all manuscripts so submitted, and written on
one side of the paper only, should be dealt with promptly.

He had been expecting to discuss his work with Mr. Aked at the
proposed dinner, but this had not taken place. On the morning after
the arrangement had been made, Mr. Aked fell ill, and in a few days he
wrote to resign his post, saying that he had sufficient to live on, and
felt "too venerable for regular work."

Richard held but the frailest hope that "A City of Sleep" would be
accepted, but when the third morning arrived, and the postman brought
nothing, his opinion of the article began to rise. Perhaps it had
merit, after all; he recalled certain parts of it which were distinctly
clever and striking. Hurrying home from the office that afternoon, he
met the landlady's daughter on the stairs, and said casually,--

"Any letters for me, Lily?"

"No, sir." The girl had an attractive blush.

"I'll take a couple of eggs for tea, if Mrs. Rowbotham has them."

He remained at home in the evening, waiting for the last delivery,
which occurred about 9:30. The double knocks of the postman were
audible ten or twelve houses away. At last Richard heard him mounting
the steps of No. 74, and then his curt rat-tat shook the house. A
little thud on the bare wooden floor of the hall seemed to indicate a
heavier package than the ordinary letter.

As, when a man is drowning, the bad actions of a whole lifetime present
themselves to him in one awful flash, so at that moment all the faults,
the hopeless crudities, of "A City of Sleep" confronted Richard. He
wondered at his own fatuity in imagining for a single instant that the
article had the barest chance of acceptance. Was it not notorious that
famous authors had written industriously for years without selling a
line!

Lily came in with the supper-tray. She was smiling.

"Warm work, eh, Lily?" he said, scarcely knowing that he spoke.

"Yes, sir, it's that hot in the kitchen you wouldn't believe." Setting
down the tray, she handed him a foolscap envelope, and he saw his own
handwriting as if in a dream.

"For me?" he murmured carelessly, and placed the letter on the
mantelpiece. Lily took his orders for breakfast, and with a pleasant,
timid "Good-night, sir," left the room.

He opened the envelope. In the fold of his manuscript was a sheet
of the best cream-laid note-paper bearing these words in flowing
copperplate: "The Editor presents his compliments to Mr. Larch
[written] and regrets to be unable to use the enclosed article, for the
offer of which he is much obliged."

The sight of this circular, with the offices of the magazine
illustrated at the top, and the notification in the left-hand corner
that all letters must be addressed to the editor and not to any member
of the staff individually, in some mysterious way mitigated Richard's
disappointment. Perhaps the comfort of it lay in the tangible assurance
it afforded that he was now actually _a literary aspirant_ and had
communications, however mortifying, with _the press_.

He read the circular again and again during supper, and determined to
re-write the article. But this resolve was not carried out. He could
not bring himself even to glance through it, and finally it was sent to
another magazine exactly as it stood.

Richard had determined to say nothing in the office about his writing
until he could produce a printed article with his name at the foot;
and frequently during the last few days his mouth had watered as he
anticipated the sweetness of that triumph. But next day he could not
refrain from showing to Jenkins the note from the "Trifler." Jenkins
seemed impressed, especially when Richard requested him to treat the
matter as confidential. A sort of friendship arose between them, and
strengthened as time went on. Richard sometimes wondered how precisely
it had come about, and why it continued.



CHAPTER VII


Albert Jenkins was nineteen years of age, and lived with his parents
and seven brothers and sisters in Camberwell; his father managed a
refreshment bar in Oxford Street. He had been in the employ of Messrs.
Curpet and Smythe for seven years,--first as junior office boy, then
as senior office boy, and finally as junior shorthand clerk. He was
of the average height, with a shallow chest, and thin arms and legs.
His feet were very small--he often referred to the fact with frank
complacency--and were always encased in well-fitting hand-made boots,
brightly polished. The rest of his attire was less remarkable for
neatness; but at intervals an ambition to be genteel possessed him,
and during these recurrent periods the nice conduct of his fingernails
interfered somewhat with official routine. He carried his hat either
at the back of his head or tilted almost upon the bridge of his nose.
In the streets he generally walked with sedate deliberation, his hands
deep in his pockets, his eyes lowered, and an enigmatic smile on his
thin lips.

His countenance was of a pale yellow complexion just tinged with red,
and he never coloured; his neck was a darker yellow. Upon the whole,
his features were regular, except the mouth, which was large, and
protruded like a monkey's; the eyes were grey, with a bold regard,
which not seldom was excusably mistaken for insolence.

Considering his years, Jenkins was a highly accomplished person, in
certain directions. Upon all matters connected with her Majesty's mail
and inland revenue, upon cab fares, bus-routes, and local railways,
upon "Pitman outlines," and upon chamber practice in Chancery, he
was an unquestioned authority. He knew the addresses of several
hundred London solicitors, the locality of nearly every street and
square within the four-mile radius, and, within the same limits, the
approximate distance of any one given spot from any other given spot.

He was the best billiard-player in the office, and had once made a
spot-barred break of 49; this game was his sole pastime. He gambled
regularly upon horse-races, resorting to a number of bookmakers, but
neither winning nor losing to an appreciable extent; no less than three
jockeys occasionally permitted him to enjoy their companionship, and he
was never without a stable-tip.

His particular hobby, however, was restaurants. He spent half his
income upon food, and quite half his waking hours either in deciding
what he should consume, or in actual drinking and mastication. He had
personally tested the merits of every bar and house of refreshment in
the neighbourhood of the Law Courts, from Lockhart's to Gatti's, and
would discourse for hours on their respective virtues and defects. No
restaurant was too mean for his patronage, and none too splendid; for
days in succession he would dine upon a glass of water and a captain
biscuit with cheese, in order to accumulate resources for a delicate
repast in one of the gilded establishments where the rich are wont to
sustain themselves; and he had acquired from his father a quantity of
curious lore, throwing light upon the secrets of the refreshment trade,
which enabled him to spend the money thus painfully amassed to the best
advantage.

Jenkins was a cockney and the descendant of cockneys; he conversed
always volubly in the dialect of Camberwell; but just as he was subject
to attacks of modishness, so at times he attempted to rid himself of
his accent, of course without success. He swore habitually, and used
no reticence whatever, except in the presence of his employers and of
Mr. Alder the manager. In quick and effective retort he was the peer
of cabmen, and nothing could abash him. His favourite subjects of
discussion were restaurants, as before mentioned, billiards, the turf,
and women, whom he usually described as "tarts." It was his custom to
refer to himself as a "devil for girls," and when Mr. Alder playfully
accused him of adventures with females of easy virtue, his delight was
unbounded.

There were moments when Richard loathed Jenkins, when the gross and
ribald atmosphere which attended Jenkins' presence nauseated him, and
utter solitude in London seemed preferable to the boy's company; but
these passed, and the intimacy throve. Jenkins, indeed, had his graces;
he was of an exceedingly generous nature, and his admiration for the
deep literary scholarship which he imagined Richard to possess was
ingenuous and unconcealed. His own agile wit, his picturesque use of
slang, his facility in new oaths, and above all his exact knowledge of
the byways, and backwaters of London life, endowed him, in Richard's
unaccustomed eyes, with a certain specious attractiveness. Moreover,
the fact that they shared the same room and performed similar duties
made familiar intercourse between them natural and necessary. With no
other member of the staff did Richard care to associate. The articled
clerks, though courteously agreeable to everyone, formed an exclusive
coterie; and as for the rest, they were either old or dull, or both.
He often debated whether he should seek out Mr. Aked, who was now
recovered, and had once, unfortunately in Richard's absence, called at
the office; but at length he timidly decided that the extent of their
acquaintance would not warrant it.

"Where shall we go to lunch to-day?" was almost the first question
which Richard and Jenkins asked each other in the morning, and a
prolonged discussion would follow. They called the meal "lunch," but it
was really their dinner, though neither of them ever admitted the fact.

Jenkins had a predilection for grill-rooms, where raw chops and
steaks lay on huge dishes, and each customer chose his own meat and
superintended its cooking. A steak, tender and perfectly cooked, with
baked potatoes and half a pint of stout, was his ideal repast, and he
continually lamented that no restaurant in London offered such cheer
at the price of one shilling and threepence, including the waiter.
The cheap establishments were never satisfactory, and Jenkins only
frequented them when the state of his purse left no alternative. In
company with Richard he visited every new eating-house that made its
appearance, in the hope of finding the restaurant of his dreams, and
though each was a disappointment, yet the search still went on. The
place which most nearly coincided with his desires was the "Sceptre,"
a low, sombre room between the Law Courts and the river, used by
well-to-do managing clerks and a sprinkling of junior barristers. Here,
lounging luxuriously on red plush seats, and in full sight and hearing
of a large silver grill, the two spent many luncheon hours, eating
slowly, with gross, sensual enjoyment, and secretly elated by the
proximity of men older and more prosperous than themselves, whom they
met on equal terms.

Richard once suggested that they should try one of the French
restaurants in Soho which Mr. Aked had mentioned.

"Not me!" said Jenkins, in reply. "You don't catch me going to those
parley-voo shops again. I went once. They give you a lot of little
messes, faked up from yesterday's dirty plates, and after you've eaten
half a dozen of 'em you don't feel a bit fuller. Give me a steak and a
potato. I like to know what I'm eating."

He had an equal detestation of vegetarian restaurants, but once, during
a period of financial depression, he agreed to accompany Richard,
who knew the place fairly well, to the "Crabtree" in Charing Cross
Road, and though he grumbled roundly at the insubstantiality of the
three-course dinner _à la carte_ which could be obtained for sixpence,
he made no difficulty, afterwards, about dining there whenever
prudence demanded the narrowest economy.

An air of chill and prim discomfort pervaded the Crabtree, and the
mingled odour of lentils and sultana pudding filled every corner. The
tables were narrow, and the chairs unyielding. The customers were for
the most eccentric as to dress and demeanour; they had pale faces, and
during their melancholy meals perused volumes obviously instructive, or
debated the topics of the day in platitudinous conversations unspiced
by a single oath. Young women with whom their personal appearance was
a negligible quantity came in large numbers, and either giggled to one
another without restraint or sat erect and glared at the males in a
manner which cowed even Jenkins. The waitresses lacked understanding,
and seemed to resent even the most courteous advances.

One day, just as they were beginning dinner, Jenkins eagerly drew
Richard's attention to the girl at the pay-desk. "See that girl?" he
said.

"What about her? Is she a new one?"

"Why, she's the tart that old Aked used to be after."

"Was she at that A. B. C. shop in the Strand?" said Richard, who began
to remember the girl's features and her reddish brown hair.

"Yes, that's her. Before she was at the A. B. C. she was cashier at
that boiled-beef place opposite the Courts, but they say she got the
sack for talking to customers too much. She and Aked were very thick
then, and he went there every day. I suppose his courting interfered
with business."

"But he's old enough to be her father!"

"Yes. He ought to have been ashamed of himself. She's not a bad kind,
eh?"

"There wasn't anything between them, really, was there?"

"_I_ don't know. There might have been. He followed her to the A. B. C,
and I think he sometimes took her home. Her name's Roberts. We used to
have him on about her--rare fun."

The story annoyed Richard, for his short _tête-à-tête_ with Mr. Aked
had remained in his mind as a pleasant memory, and though he was aware
that the old man had been treated with scant respect by the youngsters
in the office, he had acquired the habit of mentally regarding him
with admiration, as a representative of literature. This attachment to
a restaurant cashier, clearly a person of no refinement or intellect,
scarcely fitted with his estimate of the journalist who had spoken to
Carlyle.

During the meal he surreptitiously glanced at the girl several times.
She was plumper than before, and her cough seemed to be cured. Her
face was pleasant, and undoubtedly she had a magnificent coiffure.

When they presented their checks, Jenkins bowed awkwardly, and she
smiled. He swore to Richard that next time he would mention Mr.
Aked's name to her. The vow was broken. She was willing to exchange
civilities, but her manner indicated with sufficient clearness that a
line was to be drawn.

In the following week, when Richard happened to be at the Crabtree
alone, at a later hour than usual, they had rather a long conversation.

"Is Mr. Aked still at your office?" she asked, looking down at her
account books.

Richard told what he knew.

"Oh!" she said, "I often used to see him, and he gave me some lozenges
that cured a bad cough I had. Nice old fellow, wasn't he?"

"Yes, I fancy so," Richard assented.

"I thought I'd just ask, as I hadn't seen him about for a long time."

"Good afternoon--Miss Roberts."

"Good afternoon--Mr.----"

"Larch."

They both laughed.

A trivial dispute with Jenkins, a few days later, disclosed the
fact that that haunter of bars had a sullen temper, and that his
displeasure, once aroused, was slow to disappear. Richard dined alone
again at the Crabtree, and after another little conversation with Miss
Roberts, having time at his disposal, he called at the public library
in St. Martin's Lane. In a half-crown review he saw an article, by a
writer of considerable repute, entitled "To Literary Aspirants," which
purported to demonstrate that a mastery of the craft of words was only
to be attained by a regular course of technical exercises; the nature
of these exercises was described in detail. There were references to
the unremitting drudgery of Flaubert, de Maupassant, and Stevenson,
together with extracts chosen to illustrate the slow passage of the
last-named author from inspired incompetence to the serene and perfect
proficiency before which all difficulties melted. After an unqualified
statement that any man--slowly if without talent, quickly if gifted by
nature--might with determined application learn to write finely, the
essayist concluded by remarking that never before in the history of
literature had young authors been so favourably circumstanced as at
that present. Lastly came the maxim, _Nulla dies sine linea_.

Richard's cooling enthusiasm for letters leaped into flame. He had
done no writing whatever for several weeks, but that night saw him
desperately at work. He took advantage of the quarrel to sever all
save the most formal connection with Jenkins, dined always frugally at
the Crabtree, and spent every evening at his lodging. The thought of
Alphonse Daudet writing "Les Amoureuses" in a Parisian garret supported
him through an entire month of toil, during which, besides assiduously
practising the recommended exercises, he wrote a complete short story
and began several essays. About this time his "City of Sleep" was
returned upon his hands in a condition so filthy and ragged that he was
moved to burn it. The short story was offered to an evening daily, and
never heard of again.

It occurred to him that possibly he possessed some talent for dramatic
criticism, and one Saturday evening he went to the first performance
of a play at the St. George's theatre. After waiting for an hour
outside, he got a seat in the last row of the pit. Eagerly he watched
the critics take their places in the stalls; they chatted languidly,
smiling and bowing now and then to acquaintances in the boxes and dress
circle; the pit was excited and loquacious, and Richard discovered that
nearly everyone round about him made a practice of attending first
nights, and had an intimate knowledge of the _personnel_ of the stage.
Through the hum of voices the overture to "Rosamund" fitfully reached
him. During whole bars the music was lost; then some salient note
caught the ear, and the melody became audible again until another wave
of conversation engulfed it.

The conclusion of the last act was greeted with frenzied hand-clapping,
beating of sticks, and inarticulate cries, while above the general
noise was heard the repeated monosyllable "'thor, 'thor." After what
seemed an interminable delay the curtain was drawn back at one side
and a tall man in evening dress, his face a dead white, stepped before
the footlights and bowed several times; the noise rose to a thunderous
roar, in which howls and hissing were distinguishable. Richard shook
from head to foot, and tears unaccountably came to his eyes.

The whole of Sunday and Monday evening were occupied in writing a
detailed analysis and appreciation of the play. On Tuesday morning he
bought a weekly paper which devoted special attention to the drama, in
order to compare his own view with that of an acknowledged authority,
and found that the production was dismissed in ten curt lines as mere
amiable drivel.

A few days afterwards Mr. Curpet offered him the position of cashier
in the office, at a salary of three pounds a week. His income was
exactly doubled, and the disappointments of unsuccessful authorship
suddenly ceased to trouble him. He began to doubt the wisdom of making
any further attempt towards literature. Was it not clear that his
talents lay in the direction of business? Nevertheless a large part
of his spare cash was devoted to the purchase of books, chiefly the
productions of a few celebrated old continental presses, which he had
recently learned to value. He prepared a scheme for educating himself
in the classical tongues and in French, and the practice of writing was
abandoned to make opportunity for the pursuit of culture. But culture
proved to be shy and elusive. He adhered to no regular course of study,
and though he read much, his progress towards knowledge was almost
imperceptible.

Other distractions presented themselves in the shape of music and
painting. He discovered that he was not without critical taste
in both these arts, and he became a frequenter of concerts and
picture-galleries. He bought a piano on the hire-purchase system, and
took lessons thereon. In this and other ways his expenditure swelled
till it more than swallowed up the income of three pounds a week which
not long before he had regarded as something very like wealth. For
many weeks he made no effort to adjust the balance, until his debts
approached the sum of twenty pounds, nearly half of which was owing to
his landlady. He had to go through more than one humiliating scene
before an era of economy set in.

One afternoon he received a telegram to say that William Vernon had
died very suddenly. It was signed "Alice Clayton Vernon." Mrs. Vernon
was William's stately cousin-in-law, and Richard, to whom she had
spoken only once,--soon after Mary's wedding,--regarded her with awe;
he disliked her because he found it impossible to be at ease in her
imposing presence. As he went into Mr. Curpet's room to ask for leave
of absence, his one feeling was annoyance at the prospect of having
to meet her again. William's death, to his own astonishment, scarcely
affected him at all.

Mr. Curpet readily granted him two days' holiday, and he arranged to go
down to Bursley the following night for the funeral.



CHAPTER VIII


Wearied of sitting, Richard folded his overcoat pillow-wise, put it
under his head, and extended himself on the polished yellow wood. But
in vain were his eyes shut tight. Sleep would not come, though he
yawned incessantly. The monstrous beat of the engine, the quick rattle
of windows, and the grinding of wheels were fused into a fantastic
resonance which occupied every corner of the carriage and invaded his
very skull. Then a light tapping on the roof, one of those mysterious
sounds which make a compartment in a night-train like a haunted room,
momentarily silenced everything else, and he wished that he had not
been alone.

Suddenly jumping up, he put away all idea of sleep, and lowered the
window. It was pitch dark; vague changing shapes, which might have been
either trees or mere fancies of the groping eye, outlined themselves a
short distance away; far in front was a dull glare from the engine, and
behind twinkled the guard's lamp.... In a few seconds he closed the
window again, chilled to the bone, though May was nearly at an end.

The thought occurred to him that he was now a solitary upon the face
of the earth. It concerned no living person whether he did evil or
good. If he chose to seek ruin, to abandon himself to the most ignoble
impulses, there was none to restrain,--not even a brother-in-law. For
several weeks past, he had been troubled about his future, afraid
to face it. Certainly London satisfied him, and the charm of living
there had not perceptibly grown less. He rejoiced in London, in its
vistas, its shops, its unending crowds, its vastness, its wickedness;
each dream dreamed about London in childhood had come true; and surer
than ever before was the consciousness that in going to London he had
fulfilled his destiny. Yet there was something to lack in himself.
His confidence in his own abilities and his own character was being
undermined. Nearly a year had gone, and he had made no progress, except
at the office. Resolutions were constantly broken; it was three months
since he had despatched an article to a newspaper. He had not even
followed a definite course of study, and though his acquaintance with
modern French fiction had widened, he could boast no exact scholarship
even in that piquant field. Evening after evening--ah! those long,
lamplit evenings which were to be given to strenuous effort!--was
frittered away upon mean banalities, sometimes in the company of some
casual acquaintance and sometimes alone. He had by no means grasped the
full import and extent of this retrogression; it was merely beginning
to disturb his self-complacence, and perhaps, ever so slightly, his
sleep. But now, hurrying to the funeral of William Vernon, he lazily
laughed at himself for having allowed his peace of mind to be ruffled.
Why bother about "getting on"? What did it matter?

He still experienced but little sorrow at the death of Vernon. His
affection for the man had strangely faded. During the nine months that
he had lived in London they had scarcely written to one another, and
Richard regarded the long journey to attend William's obsequies as a
tiresome concession to propriety.

That was his real attitude, had he cared to examine it.

At about four o'clock it was quite light, and the risen sun woke
Richard from a brief doze. The dew lay in the hollows of the fields but
elsewhere there was a soft, fresh clearness which gave to the common
incidents of the flying landscape a new and virginal beauty--as though
that had been the morn of creation itself. The cattle were stirring,
and turned to watch the train as it slipped by.

Richard opened the window again. His mood had changed, and he felt
unreasonably joyous. Last night he had been too pessimistic. Life lay
yet before him, and time enough to rectify any indiscretions of which
he might have been guilty. The future was his, to use as he liked.
Magnificent, consoling thought! Moved by some symbolic association of
ideas, he put his head out of the window and peered in the direction of
the train's motion. A cottage stood alone in the midst of innumerable
meadows; as it crossed his vision, the door opened, and a young woman
came out with an empty pail swinging in her left hand. Apparently she
would be about twenty-seven, plump and sturdy and straight. Her hair
was loose about her round, contented face, and with her disengaged
hand she rubbed her eyes, still puffed and heavy with sleep. She wore
a pink print gown, the bodice of which was unfastened, disclosing a
white undergarment and the rich hemispheres of her bosom. In an instant
the scene was hidden by a curve of the line, and the interminable
succession of fields resumed, but Richard had time to guess from her
figure that the woman was the mother of a small family. He pictured her
husband still unconscious in the warm bed which she had just left; he
even saw the impress of her head on the pillow, and a long nightdress
thrown hastily across a chair.

He was deeply and indescribably affected by this suggestion of peaceful
married love set in so great a solitude. The woman and her hypothetical
husband and children were only peasants, their lives were probably
narrow and their intellects dormant, yet they aroused in him a feeling
of envy which surged about his brain and for the moment asphyxiated
thought....

Later on the train slackened speed as it passed through a
shunting-yard. The steam from the light shunting-engine rose with
cloud-like delicacy in the clear air, and an occasional short whistle
seemed to have something of the quality of a bird's note. The men with
their long poles moved blithely among the medley of rails, signalling
one another with motions of the arm. The coupling-chains rang with a
merry, giant tinkle, and when the engine brought its load of waggons to
a standstill, and a smart, metallic bump, bump, bump ran _diminuendo_
from waggon to waggon, one might have fancied that some leviathan game
was being played. Richard forgot the girl with the pail, and soon after
went to sleep.

At six o'clock the train reached Knype, where he had to change. Two
women with several children also alighted, and he noticed how white
and fatigued were their faces; the children yawned pitifully. An icy,
searching wind blew through the station; the exhilaration of the
dawn was gone, and a spirit of utter woe and disaster brooded over
everything. For the first time William's death really touched him.

The streets of Bursley were nearly empty as he walked through the town
from the railway station, for the industrial population was already
at work in the manufactories, and the shops not yet open. Yet Richard
avoided the main thoroughfares, choosing a circuitous route lest he
might by chance encounter an acquaintance. He foresaw the inevitable
banal dialogue:--

"Well, how do you like London?"

"Oh, it's fine!"

"Getting on all right?"

"Yes, thanks."

And then the effort of two secretly bored persons to continue a
perfunctory conversation unaided by a single mutual interest.

A carriage was driving away from the Red House just as Richard got
within sight of it; he nodded to the venerable coachman, who gravely
touched his hat. The owner of the carriage was Mr. Clayton Vernon,
William's cousin and an alderman of Bursley, and Richard surmised that
Mrs. Clayton Vernon had put herself in charge of the place until the
funeral should be over. He trembled at the prospect of a whole day to
be spent in the company of these excellent people, whom William had
always referred to with a smile, and yet not without a great deal of
respect. The Clayton Vernons were the chief buttress of respectability
in the town; rich, strictly religious, philanthropic, and above all
dignified. Everyone looked up to them instinctively, and had they
possessed but one vice between them, they would have been loved.

Mrs. Clayton Vernon herself opened the door. She was a stately woman of
advanced middle age, with a suave, imperious manner.

"I left Clayton to have breakfast by himself," she said, as she led
Richard into the sitting-room; "I thought you would like someone here
to welcome you after your long night journey. Breakfast will be ready
almost directly. How tired you must be! Clayton said it was a pity you
should come by the night train, but of course it is quite right that
you should inconvenience your employers as little as possible, quite
right. And we admire you for it. Now will you run upstairs and wash?
You've not forgotten the way?..."

The details of the funeral had been settled by Mr. Clayton Vernon,
who was the chief mourner, and Richard had nothing to do but fall in
with preconcerted plans and answer decorously when spoken to. The
arrangement was satisfactory in that it relieved him from duties which
would have been irksome, but scarcely gratifying to his pride. He had
lived nearly all his life in that house, and had known the dead man
perhaps more intimately than anyone else present. However, he found it
convenient to efface himself.

In the evening there was an elaborate tea at which were present the
Clayton Vernons and the minister who had conducted the funeral service.
The minister and the alderman left immediately afterwards to attend a
meeting, and when they were gone Mrs. Clayton Vernon said,--

"Now we are all alone, Richard. Go into the drawing-room and I will
follow. I do want to have a chat with you."

She came in with needle and thread and scissors.

"If you will take off your coat, I will stitch on that button that is
hanging by one thread. I noticed it this morning, and then it went
quite out of my mind. I am so sorry!"

"Oh, thanks!" he blushed hotly. "But I can stitch myself, you know--"

"Come, you needn't be shy of an old woman seeing you in your
shirt-sleeves. Do as I ask."

He doffed the coat.

"I always like young men to be immaculately neat," she said, cutting
off a piece of cotton. "One's personal character is an index to one's
character, don't you think? Of course you do. Here, thread the needle
for me. I am afraid since your dear sister died you have grown a little
careless, eh? She was _most_ particular. Ah, what a mother she was to
you!"

"Yes," said Richard.

"I was very grieved to see you go to the funeral in a soft
hat--Richard, really I was. It wasn't respectful to your
brother-in-law's memory."

"I never thought. You see, I started in rather a hurry." The fact was
that he had no silk hat, nor could he easily afford to buy one.

"But you _should_ think, my dear boy. Even Clayton was shocked. Are
those your best clothes?"

Richard answered that they were. He sheepishly protested that he never
bothered about clothes.

There was a silence, broken by her regular stitching. At last she
handed him the coat and helped him to put it on. He went to the old
green sofa, and somewhat to his dismay she sat down by his side.

"Richard," she began, in a changed, soft voice, and not without
emotion, "do you know we are expecting great things from you?"

"But you shouldn't. I'm a very ordinary sort of person."

"No, no. That you are not. God has given you great talents, and you
must use them. Poor William always used to say that you were highly
gifted and might do great things."

"Might!"

"Yes--if you tried."

"But how am I gifted? And what 'great things' are expected?" he asked,
perhaps angling for further flattering disclosures.

"I cannot answer that," said Mrs. Clayton Vernon; "it is for you to
answer. You have given all your friends the impression that you would
do something worth doing. You have raised hopes, and you must not
disappoint them. We believe in you, Richard. That is all I can say."

"That's all very well; but--" He stopped and played with the seal on
his watch-chain. "The fact is, I am working, you know. I want to be an
author--at least a journalist."

"Ah!"

"It's a slow business--at first--" Suddenly moved to be confidential,
he went on to give her some account, incomplete and judiciously
edited, of his life during the past year.

"You have relieved my mind greatly, and Clayton will be so glad. We
were beginning to think--"

"Why were you 'beginning to think'?"

"Well, never mind now."

"But why?"

"Never mind. I have full confidence in you, and I am sure you will get
on. Poor boy, you have no near connections or relatives now?"

"No, none."

"You must look on Clayton and myself as very near relatives. We have no
children, but our hearts are large. I shall expect you to write to me
sometimes and to come and stay with us now and then."



CHAPTER IX


In the centre of the reading-room at the British Museum sit four men
fenced about by a quadruple ring of unwieldy volumes which are an index
to all the knowledge in the world. The four men know those volumes as
a good courier knows the Continental Bradshaw, and all day long, from
early morning, when the attendants, self-propelled on wheeled stools,
run around the rings arranging and aligning the huge blue tomes, to
late afternoon, when the immense dome is like a dark night and the
arc lamps hiss and crackle in the silence, they answer questions,
patiently, courteously; they are seldom embarrassed and less seldom in
the wrong.

Radiating in long rows from the central fortress of learning, a
diversified company of readers disposes itself: bishops, statesmen,
men of science, historians, needy pedants, popular authors whose
broughams are waiting in the precincts, journalists, medical students,
law students, curates, hack-writers, women with clipped hair and black
aprons, idlers; all short-sighted and all silent.

Every few minutes an official enters in charge of an awed group of
country visitors, and whispers mechanically the unchanging formula:
"Eighty thousand volumes in this room alone: thirty-six miles of
bookshelves in the Museum altogether." Whereupon the visitors stare
about them, the official unsuccessfully endeavours not to let it appear
that the credit of the business belongs entirely to himself, and the
party retires again.

Vague, reverberating noises roll heavily from time to time across the
chamber, but no one looks up; the incessant cannibal feast of the
living upon the dead goes speechlessly forward; the trucks of food are
always moving to and fro, and the nonchalant waiters seem to take no
rest.

Almost Richard's first care on coming to London had been to obtain
a reader's ticket for the British Museum, and for several months he
had made a practice of spending Saturday afternoon there, following
no special line of study or research, and chiefly contenting himself
with desultory reading in the twenty thousand volumes which could be
reached down without the slow machinery of an order form. After a time
the charm of the place had dwindled, and other occupations filled his
Saturday afternoons.

But when upon his return from William's funeral he stepped from
Euston Station into Bloomsbury, the old enthusiasms came back in all
their original freshness. The seduction of the street vistas, the
lofty buildings, and the swiftly flitting hansoms once more made mere
wayfaring a delight; the old feeling of self-confident power lifted his
chin, and the failures of the past were forgotten in a dream of future
possibilities. He dwelt with pleasure on that part of his conversation
with Mrs. Clayton Vernon which disclosed the interesting fact that
Bursley would be hurt if he failed to do "things." Bursley, and
especially Mrs. Clayton Vernon, good woman, should not be disappointed.
He had towards his native town the sentiments of a consciously clever
husband who divines an admiring trust in the glance of a little
ignoramus of a wife. Such faith was indeed touching.

One of the numerous resolutions which he made was to resume attendance
at the British Museum; the first visit was anticipated with impatience,
and when he found himself once more within the book-lined walls of the
reading-room he was annoyed to discover that his plans for study were
not matured sufficiently to enable him to realise any definite part
of them, however small, that day. An idea for an article on "White
Elephants" was nebulous in his brain; he felt sure that the subject
might be treated in a fascinating manner, if only he could put hands
on the right material. An hour passed in searching Poole's Index
and other works of reference, without result, and Richard spent the
remainder of the afternoon in evolving from old magazines schemes
for articles which would present fewer difficulties in working out.
Nothing of value was accomplished, and yet he experienced neither
disappointment nor a sense of failure. Contact with innumerable books
of respectable but forbidding appearance had cajoled him, as frequently
before, into the delusion that he had been industrious; surely it was
impossible that a man could remain long in that atmosphere of scholarly
attainment without acquiring knowledge and improving his mind!

Presently he abandoned the concoction of attractive titles for his
articles, and began to look through some volumes of the "Biographie
Universelle." The room was thinning now. He glanced at the clock; it
was turned six. He had been there nearly four hours! With a sigh of
satisfaction he replaced all his books and turned to go, mentally
discussing whether or not so much application did not entitle him, in
spite of certain resolutions, to go to the Ottoman that evening.

"Hey!" a voice called out as he passed the glass screen near the door;
it sang resonantly among the desks and ascended into the dome; a number
of readers looked up. Richard turned round sharply, and beheld Mr.
Aked moving a forefinger on the other side of the screen.

"Been here long?" the older man asked, when Richard had come round
to him. "I've been here all day--first time for fifteen years at
least. Strange we didn't see each other. They've got a beastly new
regulation about novels less than five years old not being available. I
particularly wanted some of Gissing's--not for the mere fun of reading
'em of course, because I've read 'em before. I wanted them for a
special purpose--I may tell you about it some day--and I couldn't get
them, at least several of them. What a tremendous crowd there is here
nowadays!"

"Well, you see, it's Saturday afternoon," Richard put in, "and Saturday
afternoon's the only time that most people can come, unless they're men
of independent means like yourself. You seem to have got a few novels
besides Gissing's, though." About forty volumes were stacked upon Mr.
Aked's desk, many of them open.

"Yes, but I've done now." He began to close the books with a smack and
to pitch them down roughly in new heaps, exactly like a petulant boy
handling school-books. "See, pile them between my arms, and I bet you
I'll carry them away all at once."

"Oh, no. I'll help you," Richard laughed. "It'll be far less trouble
than picking up what you drop."

While they were waiting at the centre desk Mr. Aked said,--

"There's something about this place that makes you ask for more volumes
than can possibly be useful to you. I question whether I've done any
good here to-day at all. If I'd been content with three or four books
instead of thirty or forty, I might have done something. By the way,
what are you here for?"

"Well, I just came to look up a few points," Richard answered vaguely.
"I've been messing about--got a notion or two for articles, that's all."

Mr. Aked stopped to shake hands as soon as they were outside the
Museum. Richard was very disappointed that their meeting should have
been so short. This man of strange vivacity had thrown a spell over
him. Richard was sure that his conversation, if only he could be
persuaded to talk, would prove delightfully original and suggestive;
he guessed that they were mutually sympathetic. Ever since their
encounter in the A. B. C. shop Richard had desired to know more of
him, and now, when by chance they met again, Mr. Aked's manner showed
little or no inclination towards a closer acquaintance. There was of
course a difference between them in age of at least thirty years, but
to Richard that seemed no bar to an intimacy. It was, he surmised, only
the physical part of Mr. Aked that had grown old.

"Well, good-bye."

"Good-bye." Should he ask if he might call at Mr. Aked's rooms or
house, or whatever his abode was? He hesitated, from nervousness.

"Often come here?"

"Generally on Saturdays," said Richard.

"We may see each other again, then, sometime. Good-bye."

Richard left him rather sadly, and the sound of the old man's quick,
alert footsteps--he almost stamped--receded in the direction of
Southampton Row. A minute later, as Richard was turning round by
Mudie's out of Museum Street, a hand touched his shoulder. It was Mr.
Aked's.

"By the way," the man's face crinkled into a smile as he spoke, "are
you doing anything to-night?"

"Nothing whatever."

"Let's go and have dinner together--I know a good French place in Soho."

"Oh, thanks. I shall be awfully pleased."

"Half a crown, _table d'hôte_. Can you afford?"

"Certainly I can," said Richard, perhaps a little annoyed, until
he recollected that Mr. Aked had used exactly the same phrase on a
previous occasion.

"I'll pay for the wine."

"Not at all--"

"I'll pay for the wine," Mr. Aked repeated decisively.

"All right. You told me about this Soho place before, if you remember."

"So I did, so I did, so I did."

"What made you turn back?"

"A whim, young friend, nothing else. Take my arm."

Richard laughed aloud, for no reason in particular, except that he felt
happy. They settled to a brisk walk.

       *       *       *       *       *

The restaurant was a square apartment with a low and smoky beamed
ceiling, and shining brass hat-pegs all round the walls; above the
hat-pegs were framed advertisements of liqueurs and French, Italian,
and Spanish wines. The little tables, whose stiff snowy cloths came
near to touching the floor at every side, gleamed and glittered in the
light of a fire. The place was empty save for an old waiter who was
lighting the gas. The waiter turned a large, mild countenance to Mr.
Aked as the two entered, and smiling benignly greeted him with a flow
of French, and received a brief reply in the same language. Richard
failed to comprehend what was said.

They chose a table near the fire. Mr. Aked at once pulled a book from
his pocket and began to read; and Richard, somewhat accustomed by this
time to his peculiarities, found nothing extraordinary in such conduct.
This plain little restaurant seemed full of enchantment. He was in
Paris,--not the great Paris which is reached _via_ Charing Cross, but
that little Paris which hides itself in the immensity of London. French
newspapers were scattered about the room; the sound of French voices
came musically through an open door; the bread which was presently
brought in with the _hors d'oeuvre_ was French, and the setting of the
table itself showed an exotic daintiness which he had never seen before.

Outside a barrel organ was piercingly strident in the misty dusk. Above
the ground-glass panes of the window, Richard could faintly descry the
upper storeys of houses on the opposite side of the road. There was a
black and yellow sign, "Umberto Club," and above that a blue and red
sign, "Blanchisserie française." Still higher was an open window from
which leaned a young, negligently dressed woman with a coarse Southern
face; she swung a bird-cage idly in her hand; the bird-cage fell
and was swallowed by the ground glass, and the woman with a gesture
of despair disappeared from the window; the barrel organ momentarily
ceased its melody and then struck up anew.

Everything seemed strangely, delightfully unsubstantial, even the
meek, bland face of the waiter as he deftly poured out the soup. Mr.
Aked, having asked for the wine list, called "Cinquante, Georges, s'il
vous plait," and divided his attention impartially between his soup
and his book. Richard picked up the "Echo de Paris" which lay on a
neighbouring chair. On the first page was a reference in displayed type
to the success of the feuilleton "_de notre collaborateur distingué_,"
Catulle Mendès. How wondrously enticing the feuilleton looked, with its
descriptive paragraphs cleverly diversified by short lines of dialogue,
and at the end "CATULLE MENDÈS, _à suivre. Réproduction interdite!_"
Half Paris, probably, was reading that feuilleton! Catulle Mendès was a
real man, and no doubt eating his dinner at that moment!

When the fish came, and Georges had gently poured out the wine, Mr.
Aked's tongue was loosed.

"And how has the Muse been behaving herself?" he began.

Richard told him, with as little circumlocution as pride would allow,
the history of the last few sterile months.

"I suppose you feel a bit downhearted."

"Not in the least!" answered Richard, bravely, and just then his reply
was approximately true.

"_Never_ feel downhearted?"

"Well, of course one gets a bit sick sometimes."

"Let's see, to-day's the 30th. How many words have you written this
month?"

"How many words!" Richard laughed. "I never count what I do in that
way. But it's not much. I haven't felt in the humour. There was the
funeral. That put me off."

"I suppose you think you must write only _when the mood is on you_."
Mr. Aked spoke sarcastically, and then laughed. "Quite a mistake. I'll
give you this bit of advice and charge nothing for it. Sit down every
night and write five hundred words descriptive of some scene which has
occurred during the day. Never mind how tired you are; do it. Do it
for six months, and then compare the earlier work with the later, and
you'll keep on."

Richard drank the wisdom in.

"Did you do that once?"

"I did, sir. Everyone does it that comes to anything. I didn't come to
anything, though I made a bit of money at one time. But then mine was
a queer case. I was knocked over by dyspepsia. Beware of dyspepsia. I
was violently dyspeptic for twenty years--simply couldn't write. Then
I cured myself. But it was too late to begin again." He spoke in gulps
between mouthfuls of fish.

"How did you cure yourself?"

The man took no notice of the question, and went on:--

"And if I haven't written anything for twenty years, I'm still an
author at heart. In fact, I've got something 'in the air' now. Oh! I've
always had the literary temperament badly. Do you ever catch yourself
watching instinctively for the characteristic phrase?"

"I'm afraid I don't quite know what you mean."

"Eh?"

Richard repeated what he had said, but Mr. Aked was absorbed in pouring
out another glass of wine.

"I wish you'd tell me," Richard began, after a pause, "how you first
_began_ to write, or rather to get printed."

"My dear little friend, I can't tell you anything new. I wrote for
several years and never sold a line. And for what peculiar reason,
should you think? Simply because not a line was worth printing. Then my
things began to be accepted. I sold a story first; I forget the title,
but I remember there was a railway accident in it, and it happened to
come before the editor of a magazine just when everyone was greatly
excited about a railway smash in the West of England. I got thirty
shillings for that."

"I think I should get on all right enough if only I could sell _one_
thing." Richard sighed.

"Well, you must wait. Why, damn it all, man!"--he stopped to drink, and
Richard noticed how his hand shook. "How long have you been working
seriously? Not a year! If you were going in for painting, you surely
wouldn't expect to sell pictures after only a year's study?" Mr. Aked
showed a naïve appreciation of himself in the part of a veteran who
deigns to give a raw recruit the benefit of vast experience.

"Of course not," assented Richard, abashed.

"Well, then, don't begin to whine."

After the cheese Mr. Aked ordered coffee and cognac, and sixpenny
cigars. They smoked in silence.

"Do you know," Richard blurted out at length, "the fact is I'm not
sure that I'm meant for writing at all. I never take any pleasure
_in_ writing. It's a confounded nuisance." He almost trembled with
apprehension as he uttered the words.

"You like thinking about what you're going to write, arranging,
observing, etc.?"

"Yes, I like that awfully."

"Well, here's a secret. No writer does like writing, at least not one
in a hundred, and the exception, ten to one, is a howling mediocrity.
That's a fact. But all the same they're miserable if they don't write."

"I'm glad; there's hope."

When Richard had finished his coffee, it occurred to him to mention
Miss Roberts.

"Do you ever go to the Crabtree?" he asked.

"Not of late."

"I only ask because there's a girl there who knows you. She inquired of
me how you were not long since."

"A girl who knows me? Who the devil may she be?"

"I fancy her name's Roberts."

"Aha! So she's got a new place, has she? She lives in my street. That's
how I know her. Nice little thing, rather!"

He made no further remark on the subject, but there remained an absent,
amused smile on his face, and he pulled at his lower lip and fastened
his gaze on the table.

"You must come down sometime, and see me; my niece keeps house for me,"
he said before they separated, giving an address in Fulham. He wrung
Richard's hand, patted him on the shoulder, winking boyishly, and went
off whistling to himself very quietly in the upper register.



CHAPTER X


The slender, badly hung gate closed of itself behind him with a
resounding clang, communicating a little thrill to the ground.

In answer to his ring a girl came to the door. She was rather short,
thin, and dressed in black, with a clean white apron. In the half light
of the narrow lobby he made out a mahogany hat-rack of conventional
shape, and on a wooden bracket a small lamp with a tarnished reflector.

"No," Richard heard in a quiet, tranquil voice, "Mr. Aked has just gone
out for a walk. He didn't say what time he should be back. Can I give
him any message?"

"He sent me a card to come down and see him this afternoon, and--I've
come. He said about seven o'clock. It's a quarter past now. But perhaps
he forgot all about it."

"Will you step inside? He may only be away for a minute or two."

"No, thanks. If you'll just tell him I've called--"

"I'm so sorry--" The girl raised her hand and rested it against the
jamb of the doorway; her eyes were set slantwise on the strip of
garden, and she seemed to muse an instant.

"Are you Mr. Larch?" she asked hesitatingly, just as Richard was saying
good-day.

"Yes," answered Richard.

"Uncle was telling me he had had dinner with you. I'm _sure_ he'll be
back soon. Won't you wait a little while?"

"Well--"

She stood aside, and Richard passed into the lobby.

The front room, into which he was ushered, was full of dim shadows,
attributable to the multiplicity of curtains which obscured the
small bay window. Carteret Street and the half-dozen florid, tawny,
tree-lined avenues that run parallel to it contain hundreds of living
rooms almost precisely similar. Its dimensions were thirteen feet by
eleven, and the height of the ceiling appeared to bring the walls,
which were papered in an undecipherable pattern of blue, even closer
together than they really were. Linoleum with a few rugs served for
a carpet. The fireplace was of painted stone, and a fancy screen of
South African grasses hid the grate. Behind a clock and some vases
on the mantelpiece rose a confection of walnut and silvered glass. A
mahogany chiffonier filled the side of the room farthest from the
window; it had a marble top and a large mirror framed in scroll work,
and was littered with salt-cellars, fruit plates, and silver nicknacks.
The table, a square one, was covered by a red cloth of flannel-like
texture patterned in black. The chairs were of mahogany and horsehair,
and matched the sofa, which stretched from the door nearly to the
window. Several prints framed in gilt and oak depended by means of
stout green cord from French nails with great earthenware heads. In the
recess to the left of the hearth stood a piano, open, and a song on the
music-stand. What distinguished the room from others of its type was
a dwarf bookcase filled chiefly with French novels whose vivid yellow
gratefully lightened a dark corner next the door.

"Uncle is very forgetful," the girl began. There was some sewing on the
table, and she had already taken it up. Richard felt shy and ill at
ease, but his companion showed no symptom of discomposure. He smiled
vaguely, not knowing what to reply.

"I suppose he walks a good deal," he said at length.

"Yes, he does." There was a second pause. The girl continued to sew
quietly; she appeared to be indifferent whether they conversed or not.

"I see you are a musician."

"Oh, no!" She laughed, and looked at his eyes. "I sing a very little
bit."

"Do you sing Schubert's songs?"

"Schubert's? No. Are they good?"

"Rather. They're _the_ songs."

"Classical, I suppose." Her tone implied that classical songs were
outside the region of the practical.

"Yes, of course."

"I don't think I care much for classical music."

"But you should."

"Should I? Why?" She laughed gaily, like a child amused. "Hope Temple's
songs are nice, and 'The River of Years,' I'm just learning that. Do
you sing?"

"No--I don't really sing. I haven't got a piano at my place--now."

"What a pity! I suppose you know a great deal about music?"

"I wish I did!" said Richard, trying awkwardly not to seem flattered.

A third pause.

"Mr. Aked seems to have a fine lot of French novels. I wish I had as
many."

"Yes. He's always bringing them in."

"And this is the latest, eh?" He picked up "L'Abbé Tigrane," which lay
on the table by the sewing.

"Yes, I fancy uncle got that last night."

"You read French, of course?"

"I! No, indeed!" Again she laughed. "You mustn't imagine, Mr. Larch,"
she went on, and her small eyes twinkled, "that I am at all like uncle.
I'm not. I've only kept house for him a little while, and we are
really--quite different."

"How do you mean, 'like uncle'?"

"Well," the quiet voice was imperceptibly raised, "I'm not a great
reader, and I know nothing of books. I'm not clever, you know. I can't
bear poetry."

Richard looked indulgent.

"But you do read?"

"Yes, sometimes a novel. I'm reading 'East Lynne.' Uncle bought it for
me the other day."

"And you like it?"

There was a timid tap at the door, and a short, stout servant with red
hands and a red face entered; her rough, chubby forearms were bare, and
she carried a market basket. "Please, 'm," she ejaculated meaningly and
disappeared. Mr. Aked's niece excused herself, and when she returned
Richard looked at his watch and rose.

"I'm very sorry about uncle--but it's just like him."

"Yes, isn't it?" Richard answered, and they exchanged a smile.

He walked down Carteret Street humming a tuneless air and twirling
his stick. Mr. Aked's niece had proved rather disappointing. She was
an ordinary girl, and evidently quite unsusceptible to the artistic
influences which subtly emanated from Mr. Aked. But with the exception
of his landlady and his landlady's daughter, she was the first woman
whom Richard had met in London, and the interview had been somewhat of
an ordeal.

Yes, it was matter for regret. Suppose she had been clever, witty, full
of that "nameless charm" with which youths invest the ideal maidens of
their dreams--with which, indeed, during the past week he had invested
her! He might have married her. Then, guided by the experience of a
sympathetic uncle-in-law, he would have realised all his ambitions. A
vision of Mr. Richard Larch, the well-known editor, and his charming
wife, giving a dinner-party to a carefully selected company of literary
celebrities, flitted before him. Alas! The girl's "East Lynne," her
drawing-room ballads, the mean little serving-maid, the complacent
vulgarity of the room, the house, the street, the neighbourhood,
combined effectually to dispel it.

He felt sure that she had no aspirations.

It was necessary to wait for a train at Parson's Green station. From
the elevated platform grass was visible through a gently falling mist.
The curving rails stole away mysteriously into a general greyness,
and the twilight, assuaging every crudity of the suburban landscape,
gave an impression of vast spaces and perfect serenity. Save for the
porter leisurely lighting the station lamps, he was alone,--alone, as
it seemed to him, in an upper world, above London, and especially above
Fulham and the house where lived the girl who read "East Lynne." How
commonplace must she be! Richard wondered that Mr. Aked could exist
surrounded by all the banalities of Carteret Street. Even his own
lodging was more attractive, for at least Raphael Street was within
sound of the central hum and beat of the city.

A signal suddenly shone out in the distance; it might have been a
lighthouse seen across unnumbered miles of calm ocean. Rain began to
fall.



CHAPTER XI


Richard's Sabbaths had become days of dismal torpor. A year ago, on
first arriving in London, he had projected a series of visits to
churches famous either for architectural beauty or for picturesque
ritual. A few weeks, however, had brought tedium. He was fundamentally
irreligious, and his churchgoing proceeded from a craving, purely
sensuous, which sought gratification in ceremonial pomps, twilight
atmospheres heavy with incense and electric with devotion, and dim
perspectives of arching stone. But these things he soon discovered lost
their fine savour by the mere presence of a prim congregation secure in
the brass armour of self-complacency; for him the worship was spoilt
by the worshippers, and so the time came when the only church which he
cared to attend--and even to this he went but infrequently, lest use
should stale its charm--was the Roman Catholic oratory of St. Philip
Neri, where, at mass, the separation of the sexes struck a grateful
note of austerity, and the mean appearance of the people contrasted
admirably with the splendour of the priests' vestments, the elaborate
music, and the gilt and colour of altars. Here deity was omnipotent
and humanity abject. Men and women of all grades, casting themselves
down before the holy images in the ecstatic abandonment of repentance,
prayed side by side, oblivious of everything save their sins and the
anger of a God. As a spectacle the oratory was sublime.

He visited it about once a month. The mornings of intervening Sundays
were given to aimless perambulation of the parks, desultory reading,
or sleep; there was nothing to prevent him leaving town for the day,
but he was so innocent of any sort of rural lore that the prospect of a
few hours in the country was seldom enticing enough to rouse sufficient
energy for its accomplishment. After dinner he usually slept, and in
the evening he would take a short walk and go early to bed. For some
reason he never attempted to work on Sundays.

It had rained continuously since he left Parson's Green station on the
previous night, till midday on Sunday, and in the afternoon he was
lounging half asleep with a volume of verse on his knee, considering
whether or not to put on his hat and go out, when Lily entered; Lily
was attired for conquest, and with her broad velvet hat and pink
bows looked so unlike a servant-girl that drowsy Richard started up,
uncertain what fairy was brightening his room.

"Please, sir, there's a young gentleman as wants to see you."

"Oh!--who is it?" No one had ever called upon him before.

"I don't know, sir; it's a young _gentleman_."

The young gentleman was ushered in. He wore a new black frock coat, and
light grey trousers which fell in rich folds over new patent-leather
boots. The shortcomings of his linen, which was dull and bluish in
tint, were more than atoned for by the magnificence of a new white silk
necktie with heliotrope spots. He carried a silk hat and a pair of
unworn kid gloves in one hand, and in the other a half-smoked cigar and
a stick, with whose physiognomy Richard was quite familiar.

"Hello, Jenkins!"

"Good afternoon, Mr. Larch. I was just passing this way, and I thought
I'd look you up." With an inclination of the head more ridiculous even
than he intended, Jenkins placed his hat, stick, and gloves on the bed,
and, nicely adjusting the tails of his coat, occupied a chair.

The quarrel between Richard and Jenkins had been patched up a few days
before.

"So this is your digs. Nice large windows!"

"Yes, decent windows."

Although these two were on terms of almost brutal familiarity during
office hours, here each felt slightly uncomfortable in the other's
presence. Jenkins wiped his pallid, unhealthy face with a cambric
handkerchief which he unfolded for the purpose.

"Been to church this morning?"

Meditatively Jenkins flicked some cigar-ash into the fire-grate, and
then answered, "Yes."

"I thought so."

"Why?"

"Because you're such a swell."

"Ain't I, just!" Jenkins spoke with frank delight. "Two guineas the
suit, my boy! Won't I knock 'em in the Wal--worth Road!"

"But where's your ring?" Richard asked, noticing the absence of the
silver ring which Jenkins commonly wore on his left hand.

"Oh! I gave it to my sister. She wanted to give it to her young man."

"She's engaged, is she?"

"Yes--at least I suppose she is."

"And when are you going to get engaged?"

Jenkins emitted a sound expressive of scorn. "You don't catch me
entering the holy bonds. Not this child! It ain't all lavender, you
bet. I say, you know Miss Roberts at the veg--red-haired tart." Jenkins
was unaware that Richard had been going regularly to the Crabtree. "I
was passing the place last night just as they were closing, and I
walked down to Charing Cross with her. I asked her to meet me to-day
somewhere, but she couldn't."

"You mean she wouldn't. Well, and what sort's she?"

"Devilish nice, _I_ tell you. But not my style. But there's a girl
I know--lives down the Camberwell New Road. She is a treat now,--a
fair treat. About seventeen, and plump as a pigeon. I shall see her
to-night."

"Oh, indeed!" said Richard, for the hundredth time marvelling that he
should be on a footing of intimacy with Albert Jenkins. The girl at
Carteret Street, whatever her imperfections, did not use the Cockney
dialect. And her smile was certainly alluring. Moreover, she had
dignity. True, she liked "East Lynne" and Hope Temple's songs, but
it occurred to Richard that it might be pleasanter to listen even to
these despised melodies than to remain solitary at Raphael Street or
to accompany Jenkins on a _prowl_. Why should he not go down that
afternoon to see Mr. Aked--and his niece? He immediately decided that
he would do so.

"It's turned out fine," said Jenkins. "What are you up to to-night?
Will you come and have a turn round with me?"

"Let me see.... The fact is, I can't." He fought desperately against
the temptation to mention that he proposed to call on a lady, but in
vain. Forth it must come. "I'm going to see a girl."

"Aha!" exclaimed Jenkins, with a terribly arch look. "So that's the
little game, eh! Who's the mash?"

Richard smiled reticently.

"Well, I'll be off." Jenkins rose, and his eye caught Richard's little
bookcase; he scanned the titles of the volumes.

"Oh! Likewise ah! Zola! Now we're getting at the secret. No wonder
you're so damn studious. Zola, indeed! Well, so long. See you
to-morrow. Give my love to the girl.... I say, I suppose you haven't
got Zola in English, have you?"

"No."

"Never mind. So long."



CHAPTER XII


The little red-armed servant beamed an amiable recognition.

"Very hot day!" Richard said.

"Beg pardon, sir."

"Very hot day," rather louder. They were in the passage.

The door of the sitting-room opened, and Mr. Aked's niece stood before
him, her finger on her lips and her eyebrows raised in a gesture of
warning. She suddenly smiled, almost laughed. Richard remembered that
smile for a long time afterwards. It transformed not only a girl's
face, but the whole of Carteret Street. He had never seen anything like
it. Shaking hands in silence, he followed her into the room, and she
gently closed the door.

"Uncle's not well," she explained. "He's asleep now, and I don't
want you to wake him. In this house, you know, if any one speaks in
the passage, you can hear it even in the attic. Uncle was caught in
the rain last night; he has a very weak chest, and gets bronchitis
directly."

"I'm awfully sorry I disturbed you," said Richard. "The fact is I
was down this way, and I thought I'd call." It sounded a sufficiently
reasonable excuse, he considered. "I hope you weren't asleep too."

"Yes, I was dozing in this chair." She put her head back, and drummed
with her fingers lightly on the arms of the chair. "But I'm glad you've
called."

"Why?"

"Oh! Because one wants to see some one--some one new, especially after
being in a sick-room."

"You've been sitting up late." His tone was accusing. It seemed to him
that somehow they were already intimate.

"Only till three o'clock, and I slept later this morning. How
changeable the sun is to-day!" She moved her chair, and he saw her
in profile. Her hands were on her lap. She coaxed a foot stool into
position with her toes, and placed her feet on it.

"You look just like a picture in this week's 'Illustrated London
News'--I mean in general pose," he exclaimed.

"Do I? How nice that sounds! What is it?"

"Whistler's 'Portrait of his Mother.' But I hope you don't think I
think you look old."

"How old do I look?" She turned her head slightly towards him.

"About twenty-three, only I imagine you're much younger."

Although she did not reply, she made no pretence of being annoyed, nor
did Richard tax himself with a _gaucherie_.

"It took me years to like Whistler's pictures," she said; and in
response to Richard's surprised question she was beginning to explain
that a large part of her life had been passed in the companionship of
works of graphic art, when a slippered step was heard in the hall and
some one fumbled with the door-handle. Mr. Aked entered.

"Uncle! You wicked old man!" She sprang up, flushed, and her eyes
sparkled angrily. "Whatever did you get up for? It's enough to kill
you."

"Calm yourself, my child. I got up because I didn't want to stay in
bed,--exactly that." Mr. Aked paused to take breath and sank into a
chair. "Larch, I heard your voice in the passage. Upon my word, I
quite forgot you yesterday. I suppose Adeline's been telling you I'm
seriously ill, eh? Ah! I've had many a worse attack than this. Put that
antimacassar over my shoulders, child."

He had given Richard a hot, limp hand, on which the veins formed soft
ridges in the smooth, brittle skin. His grey hair was disarranged, and
he wore a dirty, torn dressing-gown. His face had lost its customary
alert expression; but his sunk, shining eyes glanced with mysterious
restlessness first at Richard, then at Adeline, who, uttering no
further word, covered him well and put the hassock under his feet.

"Well, well, well!" he sighed and closed his eyes wearily. The other
two sat silent for a time; then Adeline, talking very quietly, and
with a composure not quite unaffected, took up their interrupted
conversation. Richard gathered that her justifiable vexation would
remain in abeyance till he had gone. Soon her tone grew more natural;
she leaned forward with hands clasped round one knee, and Richard felt
like a receiver of confidences as she roughly outlined her life in the
country which had come to an end only two years ago. Were all the girls
so simply communicative, he wondered; it pleased him to decide that
they were not, and that to any other but himself she would have been
more reserved; that there was, in fact, an affinity between them. But
the presence of her uncle, which Adeline seemed able to ignore utterly,
hindered Richard from being himself.

"How do you like London, after living so long in the country?" he asked
inevitably.

"I know practically nothing of London, real London," she said; "but I
think these suburbs are horrid,--far duller than the dullest village.
And the people! They seem so uninteresting, to have no character!"

The hoarse, fatigued voice of Mr. Aked crept in between them. "Child!"
he said--and he used the appellation, not with the proper dignity of
age, but rather like an omniscient schoolboy, home for the holiday,
addressing a sister--"Child!"--his eyes were still closed,--"the
suburbs, even Walham Green and Fulham, are full of interest, for those
who can see it. Walk along this very street on such a Sunday afternoon
as to-day. The roofs form two horrible, converging straight lines I
know, but beneath there is character, individuality, enough to make
the greatest book ever written. Note the varying indications supplied
by bad furniture seen through curtained windows, like ours" (he
grinned, opened his eyes, and sat up); "listen to the melodies issuing
lamely from ill-tuned pianos; examine the enervated figures of women
reclining amidst flower-pots on narrow balconies. Even in the thin
smoke ascending unwillingly from invisible chimney-pots, the flutter
of a blind, the bang of a door, the winking of a fox terrier perched
on a window-sill, the colour of paint, the lettering of a name,--in
all these things there is character and matter of interest,--truth
waiting to be expounded. How many houses are there in Carteret Street?
Say eighty. Eighty theatres of love, hate, greed, tyranny, endeavour;
eighty separate dramas always unfolding, intertwining, ending,
beginning,--and every drama a tragedy. No comedies, and especially no
farces! Why, child, there is more character within a hundred yards of
this chair than a hundred Balzacs could analyse in a hundred years."

All the old vivacity had returned to his face; he had been rhetorical
on a favourite subject, and he was frankly pleased with himself.

"You will tire yourself, uncle," said Adeline. "Shall we have tea?"

Richard observed with astonishment that she was cold and unmoved.
Surely she could not be blind to the fact that Mr. Aked was a very
remarkable man with very remarkable ideas! Why, by the way, had those
ideas never presented themselves to _him_? He would write an article
on the _character_ of Raphael Street. Unwillingly he announced that he
must go; to remain longer would be to invite himself to tea.

"Sit still, Larch. You'll have a cup of tea."

Adeline left the room; and when she had gone, Mr. Aked, throwing a
glance after her, said,--

"Well, what do you think of my notions of the suburb?"

"They are splendid," Richard replied, glowing.

"There's something in them, I imagine," he agreed complacently. "I've
had an idea lately of beginning to scribble again. I know there's a
book waiting to be written on 'The Psychology of the Suburbs,' and I
don't like to see copy lying about wasted. The old war-horse scenting
the battle, you understand." He smiled grandiosely. "'Psychology of the
Suburbs'! Fine title that! See how the silent _P_ takes away all the
crudity of the alliteration; that's because one never listens to words
with the ears alone, but with the eyes also.... But I should need help.
I want a clever chap who can take down from dictation, and assist me in
the details of composition. I suppose you wouldn't care to come here
two or three evenings a week?"

Richard answered sincerely that nothing would suit him better.

"I should make you joint author, of course. 'Psychology of the
Suburbs,' by Richard Aked and Richard Larch. It sounds rather catchy,
and I think it ought to sell. About four hundred octavo pages, say
a hundred thousand words. Six shillings--must be popular in price.
We might get a royalty of ninepence a copy if we went to the right
publisher. Sixpence for me and threepence for you. Would that do?"

"Oh, perfectly!" But was not Mr. Aked running on rather fast?

"Perhaps we'd better say fivepence halfpenny for me and threepence
halfpenny for you; that would be fairer. Because you'll have to
furnish ideas, you know. 'Psychology of the Suburbs, Psychology of the
Suburbs'! Fine title! We ought to do it in six months."

"I hope you'll be quite well again soon. Then we--"

"Quite well!" he repeated sharply. "I shall be as right as a trivet
to-morrow. You don't suppose that I can't take care of myself! We'll
start at once."

"You're not forgetting, Mr. Aked, that you've never seen any of my
stuff yet? Are you sure I shall be able to do what you want?"

"Oh, you'll do. I've not seen your stuff, but I guess you've got the
literary habit. The literary habit, that's the thing! I'll soon put you
up to the wrinkles, the trade secrets."

"What is your general plan of the book?" Richard asked with some
timidity, fearing to be deemed either stupid or inquisitive at the
wrong moment. He had tried to say something meet for a great occasion,
and failed.

"Oh, I'll go into that at our first formal conference, say next
Friday night. Speaking roughly, each of the great suburban divisions
has, for me at any rate, its own characteristics, its peculiar moral
physiognomy." Richard nodded appreciatively. "Take me blindfold to
any street in London, and I'll discover instantly, from a thousand
hints, where I am. Well, each of these divisions must be described in
turn, not topographically of course, but the inner spirit, the soul
of it. See? People have got into a way of sneering at the suburbs.
Why, the suburbs _are_ London! It is alone the--the concussion of
meeting suburbs in the centre of London that makes the city and West
End interesting. We could show how the special characteristics of the
different suburbs exert a subtle influence on the great central spots.
Take Fulham; no one thinks anything of Fulham, but suppose it were
swept off the face of the earth the effect would be to alter, for the
seeing eye, the character of Piccadilly and the Strand and Cheapside.
The play of one suburb on another and on the central haunts is as
regular, as orderly, as calculable, as the law of gravity itself."

They continued the discussion until Adeline came in again with a tray
in her hands, followed by the little red-armed servant. The two began
to lay the cloth, and the cheerful rattle of crockery filled the
room....

"Sugar, Mr. Larch?" Adeline was saying, when Mr. Aked, looking
meaningly at Richard, ejaculated,--

"Friday then?"

Richard nodded. Adeline eyed her uncle distrustfully.

For some reason, unguessed by Richard, Adeline left them alone
during most of the evening, and in her absence Mr. Aked continued to
discourse, in vague generalities not without a specious poetical charm,
on the subject upon which they were to collaborate, until Richard was
wholly intoxicated with its fascinating possibilities. When he left,
Adeline would not allow Mr. Aked to go to the door, and went herself.

"If I hadn't been very firm," she laughed as they were shaking hands in
the passage, "uncle would have stood talking to you in the street for
goodness knows how long, and forgotten all about his bronchitis. Oh,
you authors, I believe you are every one like babies." Richard smiled
his gratification.

"Mr. Larch, Mr. Larch!" The roguish summons came after him when he was
half-way up the street. He ran back and found her at the gate with her
hands behind her.

"What have you forgotten?" she questioned. He could see her face but
dimly in the twilight of the gas-lamps.

"I know--my umbrella," he answered.

"Didn't I say you were all like--little children!" she said, as she
whipped out the umbrella and gave it to him over the gate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anxious at once to add something original to the sum of Mr. Aked's
observations, he purposely chose a round-about route home, through the
western parts of Fulham and past the Salisbury hotel. It seemed to him
that the latent poetry of the suburbs arose like a beautiful vapour
and filled these monotonous and squalid vistas with the scent and the
colour of violets, leaving nothing common, nothing ignoble. In the
upturned eyes of a shop-girl who went by on the arm of her lover he
divined a passion as pure as that of Eugénie Grandet; on the wrinkled
countenance of an older woman he beheld only the nobility of suffering;
a youth who walked alone, smoking a cigarette, was a pathetic figure
perhaps condemned to years of solitude in London. When there was no
one else to see, he saw Adeline,--Adeline with her finger on her
lips, Adeline angry with her uncle, Adeline pouring out tea, Adeline
reaching down his hat from the peg, Adeline laughing at the gate.
There was something about Adeline that.... How the name suited her!...
Her past life, judging from the hints she had given, must have been
interesting. Perhaps that accounted for the charm which....

Then he returned to the book. He half regretted that Mr. Aked should
have a hand in it at all. He could do it himself. Just as plainly as if
the idea had been his own, he saw the volume complete, felt the texture
of the paper, admired the disposition of the titlepage, and the blue
buckram binding; he scanned the table of contents, and carelessly eyed
the brief introduction, which was, however, pregnant with meaning;
chapter followed chapter in orderly, scientific fashion, and the
last summoned up the whole business in a few masterly and dignified
sentences. Already, before a single idea had been reduced to words,
"The Psychology of the Suburbs" was finished! A unique work! Other
authors had taken an isolated spot here or there in the suburbs and
dissected it, but none had viewed them in their complex entirety; none
had attempted to extract from their incoherence a coherent philosophy,
to deal with them sympathetically as Mr. Aked and himself had done--or
rather were to do. None had suspected that the suburbs were a riddle,
the answer to which was not undiscoverable. Ah, that secret, that key
to the cipher! He saw it as it might be behind a succession of veils,
flimsy obstructions which just then baffled his straining sight, but
which he would rip and rend when the moment for effort came.

The same lofty sentiments occupied his brain the next morning. He
paused in the knotting of his necktie, to look out of the window,
seeking even in Raphael Street some fragment of that psychology of
environment invented by Mr. Aked. Nor did he search quite in vain. All
the phenomena of humble life, hitherto witnessed daily without a second
thought, now appeared to carry some mysterious meaning which was on the
point of declaring itself. Friday, when the first formal conference
was to occur, seemed distressingly distant. But he remembered that a
very hard day's work, the casting and completing of a gigantic bill of
costs, awaited him at the office, and he decided to throw himself into
it without reserve; the time would pass more quickly.



CHAPTER XIII


Every solicitor's office has its great client, whose affairs,
watchfully managed by the senior partner in person, take precedence of
all else, and whom every member of the staff regards with a particular
respect caught from the principals themselves. Messrs. Curpet and
Smythe were London agents to the tremendous legal firm of Pontifex,
of Manchester, said to enjoy the largest practice in the midlands;
and they were excusably proud of the fact. One of the first lessons
that a new clerk learnt in the establishment at New Serjeant's Court
was that, at no matter what expenditure of time and trouble, Pontifex
business, comprising some scores of separate causes, must be transacted
so irreproachably that old Mr. Pontifex, by repute a terrible fellow,
might never have cause of complaint. On those mornings, happily rare,
when a querulous letter did by chance arrive from Manchester, the whole
office trembled apprehensively, and any clerk likely to be charged with
negligence began at once to consider the advisability of seeking a new
situation.

The Pontifex bill of costs was made up annually in June. As the time
drew near for presenting it, more and more clerks were pressed into its
service, until at the last everyone found himself engaged, in one way
or another, upon this colossal account.

When Richard arrived at the office, he found the immense pile of
white foolscap sheets upon his table, and next it the still higher
pile of blue sheets forming the draft bill. All was finished except
the checking of the figures and the final castings. As the cashier
and accountant, he was ultimately responsible for this. He parcelled
out the sheets, keeping the largest share for himself, and the work
began. In every room there was a low muttering of figures, broken
by an occasional oath when someone happened to lose the thread of
an addition. The principals hovered about, full of solicitude and
encouragement, and, according to custom on such occasions, lunch was
served on the premises at the firm's expense. Richard continued to
add while eating, keeping his head clear and seldom making a mistake;
nothing existed for him but the column of pounds, shillings, and pence
under his eyes.

The pile of finished sheets grew, and soon the office boys, commanded
by Jenkins, were passing the earlier portion of the bill through
the copying-press. As the hours went by, the helpers from other
departments, no longer required, went back to their own neglected
duties, and Richard did the last additions alone. At length the bill
was absolutely finished, and he carried it himself to the stationer's
to be sewed. In half an hour it came back, and he laid it ceremoniously
before Mr. Curpet. The grand total went round the office, leaping
from lip to lip like the result of an important parliamentary poll.
It was higher than in any previous year by nearly a thousand pounds.
Each of the clerks took a personal pride in its bigness, and secretly
determined to petition for an increase of salary at the first
opportunity. They talked together in groups, discussing details, while
a comfortable lassitude spread from room to room.

Richard stood by the open window, absently watching the pigeons and the
cleaners at the Law Courts opposite. In a corner an office boy, new to
his work, was stamping envelopes with slow precision. Jenkins, with one
foot on a table, was tying a shoe lace. It had struck six ten minutes
ago, and everyone was gone except Mr. Smythe, whose departure Jenkins
awaited with impatience. The hot day subsided slowly to a serene and
lovely evening, and the customary noises of the Strand ascended to
Richard like the pastoral hum of a valley to a dweller on a hill, not
breaking but rather completing the stillness of the hour. Gradually his
brain freed itself from the obsession of figures, though he continued
to muse vaguely over the bill, which had just been posted. It would
certainly be settled by cheque within a week, for Messrs. Pontifex were
invariably prompt. That cheque, which he himself would enter and pay
into the bank, amounted to as much as he could earn in twenty years,
if he remained a clerk. He tried to imagine the scene in which, at
some future date, he would give Mr. Curpet notice of his intention to
resign his position, explaining that he preferred to support himself by
literature. The ineffable sweetness of such a triumph! Could he ever
realise it? He could, he must; the alternative of eternal clerkship
was not to be endured. His glance fell on Jenkins. That poor, gay,
careless, vulgar animal would always be a clerk. The thought filled him
with commiseration, and also with pride. Fancy Jenkins writing a book
called "The Psychology of the Suburbs"!

"I'm going to smoke," Jenkins said; "be blowed to Bertie dear." (Mrs.
Smythe had once addressed her husband in the office as "Bertie dear,"
and thenceforth that had been his name among the staff.) Richard made
no answer. When a minute later Jenkins, discreetly directing his puffs
to the open window, asked him for the titles of one or two of Zola's
novels in English, and their price, he gave the required information
without turning round and in a preoccupied tone. It was his wish
at that moment to appear dreamy. Perhaps a hint of the intellectual
difference between them would suggest itself even to Jenkins. Suddenly
a voice that seemed to be Mr. Smythe's came from the other side of the
glass partition which separated the room from the general corridor.

"Jenkins, what the devil do you mean by smoking in the office?"
The pipe vanished instantly, and Jenkins faced his accuser in some
confusion, only to find that he had been victimised. It was Mr. Aked.

"You're as gassy as ever, I see," Jenkins said with a shade of
annoyance. Mr. Aked laughed, and then began to cough badly, bending
forward with flushed cheeks.

"Surely you shouldn't have left the house to-day," Richard said,
alarmed.

"Why not?" The retort was almost fierce.

"You're not fit."

"Fiddlesticks! I've only got a bit of a cough."

Richard wondered what he had called for.

Jenkins began to discuss with him the shortcomings of Mr. Smythe as an
employer, and when that fruitful subject had been exhausted there was a
silence.

"Coming home?" Mr. Aked asked Richard, who at once prepared to leave.

"By the way, Larch, how's the mash?" Jenkins wore his archest manner.

"What mash?"

"Why, the girl you said you were going to see yesterday afternoon."

"I never said--" Richard began, looking nervously towards Mr. Aked.

"Oh, no, of course not. Do you know, Mr. Aked, he's begun his little
games with the women. These fellows from the country--so shy and all
that--they're regular cautions when you come to know them." But Mr.
Aked made no response.

"I was thinking you might as well come down to-morrow night instead of
Friday," he said quietly to Richard, who had busied himself with the
locking of a safe.

"To-morrow? Certainly, I shall be very glad," Richard answered.
Evidently Mr. Aked was as eager as himself to make a beginning of the
book. No doubt that was why he had called. Surely, together they would
accomplish something notable!

Jenkins had climbed on a lofty stool. He gave vent to a whistle,
and the other two observed that his features were twisted into an
expression of delirious mirth.

"Aha! aha!" he grinned, looking at Richard. "I begin to perceive.
You're after the pretty niece, eh, Master Larch? And a nice plump
little thing she is, too! She came here once to fetch uncle home."

Mr. Aked sprang instantly forward and cuffed Jenkins' ear.

"It's not the first time I've had to do that, nor the second," he said.
"I suppose you never will learn to behave yourself." Jenkins could
easily have thrashed the old man--he really looked old to-day--and no
consideration for the latter's age would have restrained him from doing
so, had not the habit of submission acquired during those years when
Mr. Aked ruled the outer office proved stronger than his rage. As it
was, he took up a safe position behind the stool and contented himself
with words.

"You're a beauty, you are!" he began. "How's the red-haired A. B. C.
girl getting on? You know, the one that lost her place at the Courts'
restaurant through you. If she hadn't been a fool, she'd have brought
an action for breach of promise. And how many more are there? I
wonder--"

Mr. Aked made an uncertain dart after him, but he vanished through
the doorway, only to encounter Mr. Smythe. With a rather servile "'d
afternoon, sir," to the latter, Mr. Aked walked rapidly out of the
office.

"What the devil are you all up to?" Mr. Smythe inquired crossly. "Is
Aked after money, Larch?"

"Not at all, Mr. Smythe. He only called to see me."

"You are a friend of his, are you?"

"Well, I know him."

"H'm! Jenkins, come and take a letter."

As Richard hurried down into the court, he felt exceedingly angry with
Mr. Aked. Why could not the man be more dignified? Everyone seemed to
treat him with contempt, and the cause was not altogether obscure. He
had no dignity. Richard felt personally aggrieved.

Neither of them spoke of the recent incident as they walked down to
the Temple station. Mr. Aked, indeed, said nothing; a fit of coughing
occupied him. Somehow Richard's faith in "The Psychology of the
Suburbs" had lessened a little during the last half-hour.



CHAPTER XIV


"Is that you, Mr. Larch?"

He distinctly made out Adeline's head and bust above him. Her white
apron was pressed against the bannisters, as with extended arms and
hands grasping the stair-rail she leaned over to see who was below.

"It is, Miss Aked," he answered. "The door was open, and so I walked
in. Is anything wrong?"

"I've just sent Lottie out for the doctor. Uncle is very ill. I wish
you'd see that he comes at once. It's in the Fulham Road, a little to
the left--you'll notice the red lamp."

As Richard ran out, he met the doctor, a youngish man with a Scots face
and grey hair, hurrying down the street, the servant-girl breathless in
the rear.

"Master was took ill last night, sir," the latter said, in answer to
Richard's question. "Pneumonia, the doctor says as it is, and something
else, and there's coming a nurse to-night. Master has attacks of it,
sir--he can't get his breath."

He stood in the passage, uncertain what to do; the doctor had already
gone upstairs.

"It must be very serious," he murmured.

"Yes, sir." Lottie began to whimper. Richard said he would call again
later to make inquiries, and presently discovered himself in Fulham
Road, walking slowly towards Putney.

Mr. Aked's case was hopeless; of that Richard felt sure. The man must
be getting on in years, and his frame, not constitutionally vigorous,
had doubtless been fatally weakened by long-continued carelessness.
What a strange creature of whims and enthusiasms he was! Although there
could be no question as to his age, Richard never regarded him as more
than a few years older than himself. He had none of the melancholy,
the circumspection, the fixity of view, the prudent tendency towards
compromise, the serene contented apathy, which usually mark his time of
life. He was still delicately susceptible to new influences, his ideals
were as fluid as Richard's own. Life had taught him scarcely anything,
and least of all sagacity and a dignified carriage. He was the typical
bachelor, whose deeper feelings have never been stirred. Did regrets
for a possibly happier past, shadows of dead faces, the memory of
kisses, ever ruffle his equanimity? Richard thought not. He must
always have lived in the present. But he was an artist: though somehow
the man had descended in his estimation, Richard clung to that. He
possessed imagination and he possessed intellect, and he could fuse
them together. Yet he had been a failure. Viewed in certain lights,
Richard admitted he was a pitiful figure. What was his true history?
Richard felt instinctively that none could answer that question, even
in outline, except Mr. Aked, and suddenly he discerned that the man's
nature, apparently frank to immodesty, had its own reserves, the
existence of which few ever suspected. And when the worst was said, Mr.
Aked possessed originality; in an incongruous way he still retained
the naïve graces of youthfulness; he was inspiring, and had exerted
influences for which Richard could not but be grateful.

"The Psychology of the Suburbs" had receded swiftly into the
background, a beautiful, impossible idea! Richard knew now that it
could never have been carried out. A little progress would have been
made, and then, as difficulties increased, both he and Mr. Aked would
have tacitly abandoned their enterprise. They were very much alike, he
thought, and the fancied similarity pleased him. Perhaps at some future
time he might himself carry the undertaking to completion, in which
case he would dedicate his book to the memory of Mr. Aked. He did not
regret that the dream of the last few days was ended. It had been very
enjoyable, but the awakening, since according to his present wisdom
it must have occurred sooner or later, was less unpleasant now than it
could have been at any more advanced stage. Moreover, it was pleasant
to dream of the dream.

Mr. Aked was dying: he knew it from Adeline's tone. Poor Adeline! To
whom would she turn? She had implied that the only relatives for whom
she cared, these being on her mother's side, were in America. From whom
would she seek assistance? Who would conduct the formalities of the
funeral, and the testamentary business, such as it was? His loathing
for funerals seemed to have vanished, and he was not without hope that
Adeline, though their acquaintance was of the shortest, might engage
his help for her helplessness. And after the funeral, what would she
do? Since she would probably have enough to live upon, she might elect
to remain where she was. In which case he would visit her now and then
of an evening. Her imminent loneliness gave her a pathetic charm, and
he made haste to draw a picture of himself and her on either side the
fireplace talking familiarly while she knitted or sewed.

Yes, he was actually a grown man, and entitled to his romances. He
might eventually fall in love with her, having discovered in her
character rare qualities now unsuspected. It was improbable, but not
impossible, and he had, in fact, already glanced at the contingency
several times before. Oh for a passion, a glorious infatuation, even
if it ended in disaster and ruin! The difficulty was that Adeline fell
short of the ideal lover. That virginal abstraction was to have been an
artist of some sort, absolutely irreligious, broad in social views, the
essence of refinement, with a striking but not necessarily beautiful
face, soft-spoken, and isolated--untrammelled by friends. Adeline was
no artist; he feared she might be a regular attendant at chapel and
painfully orthodox as to the sexual relations. Was she refined? Had
she a striking face? He said Yes, twice. Her voice was low and full of
pretty modulations. Soon, perhaps, she would be alone in the world. If
only she had been an artist.... That deficiency, he was afraid, would
prove fatal to any serious attachment. Still, it would be good to visit
her.

He was crossing Putney Bridge. Night had fallen, and the full brilliant
moon showed a narrow stream crawling between two broad flats of mud.
Just below the bridge a barge lay at anchor; the silhouette of a man
moved leisurely about on it, and then a boat detached itself from the
stem of the barge and dropped down river into darkness. On the bridge
busses and waggons rattled noisily. Young men with straw hats and
girls in white blouses and black skirts passed to and fro in pairs,
some chattering, some silent. The sight of these couples gave Richard
an idea for the abandoned "Psychology of the Suburbs." What if Mr. Aked
recovered? He remembered his sister telling him that their grandfather
had survived after having been three times surrendered to death by the
doctors. "The Psychology of the Suburbs" began to attract him. It might
come to completion, if Mr. Aked lived, and then.... But what about
those evenings with the lonely Adeline? The two vistas of the future
clashed with and obscured each other, and he was overcome by vague
foreboding. He saw Mr. Aked struggling for breath in the mean suburban
bedroom, and Adeline powerless at his side. The pathos of her position
became intolerable.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he got back to Carteret Street, it was she who came to the door.

"How is he?"

"About the same. The nurse has come. She told me to go to bed at once,
but I don't feel as if I wanted to sleep. You will sit down a little?"

She took the rocking-chair, and leaning back with a gesture of
lassitude rocked gently; her white face, with the red eyes and
drooping eyelids, gave sign of excessive fatigue, and on her lips there
was a gloomy pout. After she had described Mr. Aked's condition in some
detail and told what the doctor had said, they sat silent for a while
in that tense atmosphere which seems to stifle vitality in a house of
dangerous sickness. Overhead the nurse moved about, making the window
rattle softly now and then.

"You have known uncle a long time, haven't you?"

"Not at all," Richard answered. "It's a very funny thing, but though I
seem to know him quite well, I've not met him half a dozen times in my
life. I saw him first about a year ago, and then I met him again the
other day at the British Museum, and after we'd had dinner together we
were just like old friends."

"I certainly thought from what he said that you _were_ old friends.
Uncle has so few friends. Except one or two neighbours I do believe you
are the first person that has ever called at this house since I came to
live here."

"At any rate, we have soon got to know each other," said Richard,
smiling. "It isn't a week since you asked me if my name was Larch." She
returned the smile, though rather mechanically.

"Perhaps my mistake about your being an old friend of Uncle Aked's
explains that," she said.

"Well, we won't bother about explaining it; there it is, and if I can
help you in any way just now, you must tell me."

"Thank you, I will." She said it with perfect simplicity. Richard was
conscious of a scarcely perceptible thrill.

"You must have had an awful time last night, all alone," he said.

"Yes, but I was too annoyed to feel upset."

"Annoyed?"

"Because uncle has brought it all on himself by carelessness. I do
think it's a shame!" She stopped rocking, and sat up, her face full of
serious protest.

"He's not the sort of man to take care of himself. He never thought--"

"That's just it. He should have thought, at his age. If he dies, he
will practically have killed himself, yes, killed himself. There's no
excuse, going out as he did, in spite of all I said. Fancy him coming
downstairs last Sunday in the state he was, and then going out on
Monday, though it _was_ warm!"

"Well, we'll hope he will get better, and it may be a lesson to him."

"Hark! What was that?" She sprang to her feet apprehensively and
listened, her breast pulsing beneath the tight black bodice and her
startled inquiring eyes fixed on Richard's. A very faint tinkle came
from the rear of the house.

"Perhaps the front-door bell," he suggested.

"Of course. How silly of me! I fancied.... Who can it be at this time?"
She went softly into the passage. Richard heard the door open, and then
a woman's voice, which somehow seemed familiar,--

"How is Mr. Aked to-night? Your servant told our servant that he was
ill, and I felt anxious."

"Oh!" Adeline exclaimed, discomposed for a moment, as it seemed to
Richard; then she went on coldly, "Uncle is about the same, thank you,"
and almost immediately closed the door.

"A person to inquire about uncle," she said to Richard, with a peculiar
intonation, on re-entering the room. Then, just as he was saying that
he must go, there was a knock on the ceiling and she flew away again.
Richard waited in the passage till she came downstairs.

"It's nothing. I thought he was dying! Oh!" and she began to cry freely
and openly, without attempting to wipe her eyes.

Richard gazed hard at the apron string loosely encircling her waist;
from that white line her trembling bust rose like a bud from its calyx,
and below it the black dress flowed over her broad hips in gathered
folds; he had never seen a figure so exquisite, and the beauty of it
took a keener poignancy from their solitude in the still, anxious
night--the nurse and the sick man were in another sphere.

"Hadn't you better go to bed?" he said. "You must be tired out and
over-excited." How awkward and conventional the words sounded!



CHAPTER XV


In Adeline's idiosyncrasy there was a subtle, elusive suggestion of
singularity, of unexpectedness, which Richard in spite of himself found
very alluring, and he correctly attributed it, in some degree, to the
peculiar circumstances of her early life, an account of which, with
characteristic quaintness, she had given him at their second meeting.

       *       *       *       *       *

The posthumous child of Richard Aked's brother, Adeline, who had
no recollection of her mother, lived at first with her maternal
grandparents and two uncles. She slept alone at the top of the house,
and when she arose in the morning from the big bed with its red
curtains and yellow tassels, she always ran to the window. Immediately
below here were the leads which roofed the great projecting windows
of the shop. It was her practice at night to scatter crumbs on the
leads, and sometimes she would be early enough to watch the sparrows
pecking them; more often all the crumbs had vanished while she was
yet asleep. The Square never failed to interest her in the morning.
In the afternoon it seemed torpid and morose; but before dinner,
more especially on Saturdays and Mondays, it was gaily alert--full
of canvas-covered stalls, and horses and carts, and heaped piles of
vegetables, and pigs grunting amidst straw, and rough rosy-faced men,
their trousers tied at the knees with string, who walked about heavily,
cracking whips. These things arrived mysteriously, before the sun, and
in the afternoon they dwindled imperceptibly away; the stalls were
unthatched, the carts jolted off one by one, and the pigs departed
squeaking, until at five o'clock the littered Square was left deserted
and forlorn. Now and again a new stall, unfolding vivid white canvas,
stood out brightly amid its soiled companions; then Adeline would
run downstairs to her favourite uncle, who had breakfast at 7.30 so
that he might be in charge of the shop while the rest were at table:
"Uncle Mark, Uncle Mark, there is a new stall up at the top of the
Square, near the New Inn!" "Perhaps it is only an old one with its face
washed," Uncle Mark would say; and Adeline, raising her right shoulder,
would put her head on it and laugh, screwing up her eyes.

In those days she was like a little Puritan girl, with her plain
frocks and prim gait. Her black hair, confined by a semicircular comb
which stretched from ear to ear over the top of her head, was brushed
straight away from her forehead, and fell across the entire width
of her shoulders in glossy, wavy lines. Her grey eyes were rather
large, except when she laughed, and they surveyed people with a frank,
inquiring look which frightened some of the commercial travellers who
came into the shop and gave her threepenny bits; it seemed as if all
one's secret shames stood revealed to that artless gaze. Her nose was
short and flattened, but her mouth happened to be perfect, of exactly
the classic form and size, with delectable lips half hiding the small
white teeth.

To her the house appeared to be of immense proportions; she had been
told that once, before she was born, it was three houses. Certainly it
possessed more than the usual number of staircases, and one of these,
with the single room to which it gave access, was always closed. From
the Square, the window of the disused chamber, obscured and bare,
contrasted strangely with the clear panes, white blinds, and red pads
of the others. This room was next to her own, the two staircases
running parallel; and the thought of its dread emptiness awed her at
nights. One Saturday night in bed she discovered that grandma, who had
been plaiting her hair for Sunday, had left a comb sticking in it. She
called aloud to grandma, to Uncle Mark, to Uncle Luke, in vain. None
of them came to her; but she distinctly heard an answering cry from the
shut room. She ceased to call, and lay fearfully quiet for a while;
then it was morning, and the comb had slipped out of her hair and down
into the bed.

Beneath the house were many cellars. One served for kitchen, and
Adeline had a swing there, hung from a beam; two others were larders;
a fourth held coal, and in a fifth ashes were thrown. There were yet
two more under the shop, to be reached by a separate flight of stone
steps. Uncle Mark went down those steps every afternoon to turn on the
gas, but he would never allow Adeline to go with him. Grandma, indeed,
was very cross if, when the door leading to the steps happened to be
open, Adeline approached within a yard of it. Often, chattering to the
shop-girls, who at quiet times of the day clustered round the stove
with their sewing, she would suddenly think of the cellars below, and
her heart would seem to stop.

If the shutters were up, the shop was even more terribly mysterious
than either the cellars or the disused room. On Sunday afternoons,
when grandpa snored behind a red and yellow handkerchief in the
breakfast-room, it was necessary for Adeline to go through the shop
and up the show-room staircase, in order to reach the drawing-room,
because to get to the house staircase would involve disturbing the
sleeper. How strange the shop looked as she hurried timorously across!
A dim twilight, worse than total darkness, filtered through the cracks
of the shutters, showing faintly the sallow dust-sheets which covered
the merinos and the chairs on the counters, and she always reached
the show-room, which had two large, unobstructed windows, with a sob
of relief. Very few customers were asked into the show-room; Adeline
employed it on weekdays as a nursery; here she nursed her dolls, flew
kites, and read "Little Wideawake," a book given to her by a commercial
traveller; there was a cheval glass near the front window in which she
contemplated herself long and seriously.

She never had the companionship of other children, nor did she desire
it. Other children, she understood, were rude and dirty; although
Uncle Mark and Uncle Luke taught in the Sunday-school, and grandpa
had once actually been superintendent, she was not allowed to go
there, simply because the children were rude and dirty. But she went
to morning chapel, sitting alone with grandpa on the red cushions of
the broad pew, that creaked every time she moved; Uncle Mark and Uncle
Luke sat away up in the gallery with the rude and dirty Sunday-school
children; grandma seldom went to chapel; the ministers called to see
her instead. Once to her amazement Uncle Luke had ascended the pulpit
stairs, looking just as if he was walking in his sleep, and preached.
It seemed so strange, and afterwards the religious truths which she had
been taught somehow lost their awfulness and some of their reality. On
Sunday evenings she celebrated her own private service, in which she
was preacher, choir, organist, and congregation. Her extempore prayers
were the secret admiration of grandma, who alone heard them. Adeline
stayed up for supper on Sundays. When the meal was over, grandpa opened
the big Bible, and in his rich, heavy voice read that Shem begat
Arphaxad and Arphaxad begat Salah and Salah begat Eber and Eber begat
Pelag, and about the Ammonites and the Jebusites and the Canaanites and
the Moabites; and then they knelt, and he prayed for them that rule
over us, and widows and orphans; and at the word "orphans," grandma,
who didn't kneel like the others but sat upright in her rocking-chair
with one hand over her eyes, would say "Amen, Amen," under her breath.
And after it was all over Adeline would choose whether Uncle Mark or
Uncle Luke should carry her to bed.

Grandpa died, and then grandma, and Aunt Grace (who was not an aunt
at all, but a cousin) came to stay with Adeline and her uncles, and
one day the shutters of the shop were put up and not taken down again.
Adeline learnt that Uncle Mark and Uncle Luke were going a long way
off, to America, and that she was to live in future with Aunt Grace in
a large and splendid house full of coloured pictures and statues and
books. It seemed odd that Aunt Grace, whose dresses were rather shabby,
should have a finer house than grandpa's, until Uncle Mark explained
that the house did not really belong to Aunt Grace; Aunt Grace merely
kept it in order for a rich young gentleman who had fifteen servants.

       *       *       *       *       *

When she had recovered from the parting with her uncles, Adeline
accepted the change with docility. Long inured as she was to spiritual
solitude (for the closest friendship that can exist between a child and
an adult comprises little more than an affectionate tolerance on either
side, and certainly knows nothing of those intimate psychic affinities
which attract child to child or man to man), she could not, indeed,
have easily found much hardship in the conditions of her new life. One
matter troubled her at first, namely, that Aunt Grace never prayed or
read the Bible or went to chapel; nor, so far as Adeline knew, did
anyone else at the Abbey. But she soon became reconciled to this state
of things. For a time she continued to repeat her prayers; then the
habit ceased.

The picture-gallery, of which she had heard a great deal, fascinated
her at once. It was a long but not very lofty apartment, receiving
daylight from a hidden source, hung with the finest examples of the
four great Italian schools which flourished during the first half of
the sixteenth century: the Venetian, a revel of colour; the Roman,
dignified and even sedate; the Florentine, nobly grandiose; and the
school of Parma, mysteriously delicate. Opportunity serving, she spent
much of her time here, talking busily to the madonnas, the Christs,
the martyred saints, the monarchs, the knights, the lovely ladies,
and all the naïve mediæval crowd, giving each of them a part in her
own infantile romances. When she grew older, she copied--who shall
say whether consciously or unconsciously?--the attitudes and gestures
of the women; and perhaps in time there passed into Adeline, by some
ineffable channel, at least a portion of their demure grace and
contented quietude. There were pictures also in the square library,
examples of quite modern English and French work, sagaciously chosen
by one whose critical faculty had descended to him through four
generations of collectors; but Adeline had no eyes for these. The
books, however, gorgeous prisoners in glass, were her good friends,
though she might never touch them, and though the narrow, conventional
girl's education assiduously bestowed upon her by her aunt in person,
stifled rather than fostered curiosity with regard to their contents.

When Adeline was about nineteen, her guardian became engaged to be
married to a middle-aged farmer, a tenant of the Abbey, who made it
clear that in espousing Aunt Grace he was not eager to espouse Aunt
Grace's _protégée_ also. A serious question arose as to her future. She
had only one other relative in England, Mr. Aked, and she passively
accepted his timely suggestion that she should go to London and keep
house for him.



CHAPTER XVI


On the Wednesday evening Richard took tea at the Crabtree, so that he
might go down by train to Parson's Green direct from Charing Cross.
The coffee-room was almost empty of customers; and Miss Roberts, who
appeared to be in attendance there, was reading in the "cosy corner,"
an angle of the room furnished with painted mirrors and a bark bench of
fictitious rusticity.

"What are you doing up here?" he asked, when she brought his meal.
"Aren't you cashier downstairs any longer?"

"Oh, yes," she said, "I should just think I was. But the girl that
waits in this room, Miss Pratt, has her half-holiday on Wednesdays,
and I come here, and the governor takes my place downstairs. I do
it to oblige him. He's a gentleman, he is. _That_ polite! I have my
half-holiday on Fridays."

"Well, if you've nothing else to do, what do you say to pouring out my
tea for me?"

"Can't you pour it out yourself? Poor thing!" She smiled pityingly, and
began to pour out the tea.

"Sit down," Richard suggested.

"No, thank you," she said. "There! If it isn't sweet enough, you can
put another lump in yourself;" and she disappeared behind the screen
which hid the food-lift.

Presently he summoned her to make out his check. He was debating
whether to tell her that Mr. Aked was ill. Perhaps if he did so she
might request to be informed how the fact concerned herself. He decided
to say nothing, and was the more astonished when she began:

"Did you know Mr. Aked was very ill?"

"Yes. Who told you?"

"Why, I live near him, a few doors away--didn't I tell you once?--and
their servant told ours."

"Told your servant?"

"Yes," said Miss Roberts, reddening a little, and with an inflection
which meant, "I suppose you thought _my_ family wouldn't have a
servant!"

"Oh!" He stopped a moment, and then an idea came to him. "It must have
been you who called last night to inquire!" He wondered why Adeline had
been so curt with her.

"Were you there then?"

"Oh, yes. I know the Akeds pretty well."

"The doctor says he'll not get better. What do you think?"

"I'm afraid it's a bad lookout."

"Very sad for poor Miss Aked, isn't it?" she said, and something in the
tone made Richard look up at her.

"Yes," he agreed.

"Of course you like her?"

"I scarcely know her--it's the old man I know," he replied guardedly.

"Well, if you ask me, I think she's a bit stand-offish."

"Perhaps that's only her manner."

"You've noticed it too, have you?"

"Not a bit. I've really seen very little of her."

"Going down again to-night?"

"I may do."

Nothing had passed between Adeline and himself as to his calling that
day, but when he got to Carteret Street she evidently accepted his
presence as a matter of course, and he felt glad. There was noting in
her demeanour to recall the scene of the previous night. He did not
stay long. Mr. Aked's condition was unchanged. Adeline had watched
by him all day, while the nurse slept, and now she confessed to an
indisposition.

"My bones ache," she said, with an attempt to laugh, "and I feel
miserable, though under the circumstances there's nothing strange in
that."

He feared she might be sickening towards influenza, caught from her
uncle, but said nothing, lest he should alarm her without cause. The
next day, however, his apprehension was justified. On his way to the
house in the evening he met the doctor at the top of Carteret Street
and stopped him.

"You're a friend of Mr. Aked's, eh?" the doctor said, examining
Richard through his gold-rimmed spectacles. "Well, go and do what
you can. Miss Aked is down with the influenza now, but I don't think
it will be a severe attack if she takes care. The old fellow's state
is serious. You see, he has no constitution, though perhaps that's
scarcely a disadvantage in these cases; but when it comes to double
basic pneumonia, with fever, and cardiac complications, pulse 140,
respiration 40, temperature 103 to 104, there's not a great deal of
chance. I've got a magnificent nurse, though, and she'll have her hands
full. We ought really to send for another one, especially as Miss Aked
wants looking after too.... Bless you," he went on, in answer to a
question from Richard, "I can't say. I injected strychnia this morning,
and that has given relief, but he may die during the night. On the
other hand he may recover. By the way, they seem to have no relations,
except a cousin of Mr. Aked's who lives in the north. I've wired to
her. Good evening. See what you can do. I'm due in my surgery in two
minutes."

Richard introduced himself to the nurse, explained that he had seen
the doctor, and asked if he could render assistance. She was a slender
girl of about twenty-three, with dark, twinkling eyes and astonishingly
small white ears; her blue uniform, made of the same print as a
servant's morning-dress, fitted without a crease, and her immense
apron was snowy. On one linen cuff was a stain; she noticed this while
talking to Richard, and adroitly reversed the wristband under his very
gaze.

"I suppose you know the Akeds pretty well?" she questioned.

"Well, pretty well," he answered.

"Do you know any friends of theirs, women, who happen to live near?"

"I feel fairly sure they have practically no acquaintances. I have
never met any people here."

"It is very awkward, now that Miss Aked is taken ill."

The mention of Adeline gave him an opportunity to make more particular
inquiries as to her condition.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," the nurse said, "only she must stay
in bed and keep quite quiet."

"I fancied last night she looked ill," he said sagely.

"You were here last night?"

"Yes, and the night before."

"Oh! I wasn't aware--" The nurse stopped a moment. "Pardon me, if I am
indiscreet, but are you engaged to Miss Aked?"

"No," said Richard shortly, uncertain whether or not he was blushing.
The nurse's eyes twinkled, but otherwise her impassive gravity suffered
no diminishment. "Not at all," he added. "I am merely a friend, anxious
to do anything I can."

"I will get you to do some marketing for me," she decided suddenly.
"The maid is sitting with Mr. Aked--he's a little easier for the
moment--and Miss Aked, I think, is asleep. If I give you a list, can
you discover the shops? I am quite ignorant of this neighbourhood."

Richard thought he could discover the shops.

"In the meantime I will have a bath. I have had no rest worth
mentioning for twenty-four hours, and I want freshening up. Don't come
back for twenty minutes, or there will be no one to let you in. Stay,
I will give you the latch-key." It was attached to her chatelaine.

Equipped with written orders and a sovereign, he went out. Though he
was away barely a quarter of an hour, she was dressed and downstairs
again when he came in, her face as radiant as if she had just risen.
She counted the change, and checked the different purchases with the
list. Richard had made no mistakes.

"Thank you," she said very formally. He had expected a little praise.

"Is there anything else I can do?" he asked, determined not to weary in
good works, however coldly his efforts were received.

"I think you might sit with Mr. Aked for a while," she said; "I must
positively give some attention to Miss Aked, and half an hour's rest
would not harm me. See, there are some slippers; would you mind taking
off your boots and putting those on instead? Thank you. You may talk to
Mr. Aked if he talks to you, and let him hold your hand--he'll probably
want to. Let him have just a sip of the brandy and milk I will give
you, whenever he asks for it. Don't mind if he grumbles at everything
you do. Try to soothe him. Remember he is very seriously ill. Shall I
take you upstairs?"

She looked at Richard and then at the door; and Richard, hesitating
for a fraction of a second, stepped past her to open it. He managed
it awkwardly because he had never done such a thing for a lady in his
life, nor could he quite understand what mysterious prompting had
led him to be so punctilious now. The nurse bowed acknowledgment and
preceded him to the sick-room. He felt as a student feels just before
the examination papers are handed round.

A smell of linseed escaped from the bedroom as the nurse pushed open
the door.

"Stay outside a moment," she said to Richard. He could see the grate,
on which a kettle was singing over a small fire. In front of the fire
was a board, with a large bowl and spoon, and some pieces of linen.
Then he was conscious of nothing but a loud sound of rapid, painful
breathing, accompanied by moans and a strange rattling which came to
his ears with perturbing distinctness. He knew nothing of sickness
beyond what people had told him, and these phenomena inspired him with
physical dread. He wished to run away.

"A friend of yours is coming to sit with you, Mr. Aked--you know Mr.
Larch," he heard the nurse say; she was evidently busy about the bed.
"You can go now, Lottie," she went on to the servant. "Wash up the
things I have put in the sink, and then off to bed."

Richard waited with painful expectancy for the voice of Mr. Aked.

"Larch--did you say--why--didn't he come--before?" The tones were
less unnatural than he had anticipated, but it seemed that only by
the exercise of a desperate ingenuity could the speaker interject the
fragments of a sentence here and there between his hurrying gasps.

Then the servant went downstairs.

"Come in, Mr. Larch," the nurse called pleasantly.

The patient, supported by pillows, was sitting upright in bed, and
as Richard entered he looked towards the door with the expression of
an unarmed man on the watch for an assassin. His face was drawn and
duskily pale, but on each cheek burned a red flush; at every cruel
inspiration the nostrils dilated widely, and the shoulders were raised
in a frenzied effort to fill the embarrassed lungs.

"Well, Mr. Aked," Richard greeted him, "here I am, you see."

He made no reply beyond a weak nod, and signed to the nurse for the
feeding-cup of brandy and milk, which she held to his mouth. Richard
was afraid he might not be able to stay in the room, and marvelled
that the nurse could be unmoved and cheerful in the midst of this
piteous altercation with death. Was she blind to the terror in the
man's eyes?

"You had better sit here, Mr. Larch," she said quietly, pointing to a
chair by the bedside. "Here is the drink; hold the cup--so. Ring this
bell if you want me for anything." Then she noiselessly disappeared.

No sooner had he sat down than Mr. Aked seized his shoulder for
support, and each movement of the struggling frame communicated itself
to Richard's body. Richard suddenly conceived a boundless respect for
the nurse, who had watched whole nights by this tortured organism on
the bed. Somehow existence began to assume for him a new and larger
aspect; he felt that till that moment he had been going through the
world with his eyes closed; life was sublimer, more terrible, than
he had thought. He abased himself before all doctors and nurses and
soldiers in battle; they alone tasted the true savour of life.

Art was a very little thing.

Presently Mr. Aked breathed with slightly less exertion, and he
appeared to doze for a few moments now and then, though Richard could
scarcely believe that any semblance of sleep was possible to a man in
his condition.

"Adeline?" he questioned once.

"She's getting on fine," Richard said soothingly. "Would you like a
sip?"

He put his grey lips clumsily round the lip of the cup, drank, and then
pushed the vessel away with a gesture of irritation.

The windows were open, but the air was perfectly still, and the gas
burnt without a tremor between the windows and the door.

"I'm stifled," the patient gasped. "Are they--doing--all they can--for
me?"--Richard tried to reassure him.

"It's all over--with me--Larch--I can't--keep it up long--I'm
going--going--they'll have to try--something else."

His lustrous eyes were fastened on Richard with an appealing gaze.
Richard turned away.

"I'm frightened--I thought I shouldn't be--but I am. Doctor suggested
parson--it's not that--I said no.... Do you think--I'm dying?"

"Not a bit," said Richard.

"That's a lie--I'm off.... It's a big thing,--death--everyone's
afraid--of it--at last.... Instinct!... Shows there's something--awful
behind it."

If Richard had been murdering the man, he could not have had a sharper
sense of guilt than at that moment oppressed him.

Mr. Aked continued to talk, but with a growing incoherence which
gradually passed into delirium. Richard looked at his watch. Only
thirty minutes had slipped by, and yet he felt as if his shoulder had
suffered the clutch of that hot hand since before the beginning of
time! Again he experienced the disconcerting sensation of emotional
horizons suddenly widened.

People were walking down the street; they talked and laughed. How
incongruously mirthful and careless their voices sounded! Perhaps
they had never watched by a sick-bed, never listened to the agonised
breathing of a pneumonia patient. That incessant frantic intake of
air! It exasperated him. If it did not stop soon, he should go mad. He
stared at the gas-flame, and the gas-flame grew larger, larger, till
he could see nothing else.... Then, after a long while, surely the
breathing was more difficult! There was a reverberating turmoil in the
man's chest which shook the bed. Could Richard have been asleep, or
what? He started up; but Mr. Aked clung desperately to him, raising
his shoulders higher and higher in the struggle to inhale, and leaning
forward till he was bent almost double. Richard hesitated, and then
struck the bell. It seemed as if the nurse would never come. The door
opened softly.

"I'm afraid he is much worse," Richard said to the nurse, striving to
cover his agitation. She looked at Mr. Aked.

"Perhaps you had better fetch the doctor."

When he returned, Mr. Aked was lying back unconscious.

"Of course the doctor can do nothing now," said the nurse, calmly
answering the question in his eyes. "He'll never speak any more."

"But Miss Aked?"

"It can't be helped. I shall say nothing to her till morning."

"Then she won't see him?"

"Certainly not. It would be madness for her to leave her bed."

The doctor arrived, and the three talked quietly together about the
alarming prevalence of influenza at that time of the year, and the
fatal results of carelessness.

"I tell you honestly," the doctor said, "I'm so overworked that I
should be quite satisfied to step into my coffin and not wake again.
I've had three 3 A. M. midwifery cases this week--forceps, chloroform,
and the whole bag of tricks--on the top of all this influenza, and I'm
about sick of it. That's the worst of our trade; it comes in lumps.
What do you say, nurse?"



CHAPTER XVII


The nurse suggested that Richard should remain at Carteret Street for
the rest of the night, using the sofa in the sitting-room. Contrary
to his expectation, he slept well and dreamlessly for several hours,
and woke up refreshed and energetic. The summer sun was dispersing a
light mist. One thought occupied his mind,--Adeline's isolation and
need of succour. Mentally he enveloped her with tender solicitude; and
the prospect of giving her instant aid, and so earning her gratitude,
contributed to a mood of vigorous cheerfulness to which his sorrow for
Mr. Aked's death formed but a vague and distant background.

No one seemed to be stirring. He washed luxuriously in the little
scullery, and then, silently unbolting the front door, went out for a
walk. It was just six o'clock, and above the weazen trees which line
either side of Carteret Street the sparrows were noisily hilarious. As
he strode along in the fresh, sunny air, his fancy pictured scene after
scene between himself and Adeline in which he rendered a man's help and
she offered a woman's gratitude. He determined to take upon himself
all the arrangements for the funeral, and looked forward pleasurably
to activities from which under different circumstances he would have
shrunk with dismay. He thought of Adeline's aunt or cousin, distant in
the north, and wondered whether she or any other relatives, if such
existed, would present themselves; he hoped that Adeline might be
forced to rely solely on him. A milkboy who passed with his rattling
cans observed Richard talking rapidly to no visible person, and turned
round to stare.

When he got back to the house, he noticed that the blinds had been
drawn in the sitting-room. Lottie, the chubby-armed servant, was
cleaning the step; her eyes were red with crying.

"Is nurse up yet?" he asked her.

"Yes, sir, she's in the kitchen," the girl whimpered.

He sprang over the wet step into the passage. As his glance fell on
the stairs leading up to the room where lay the body of Mr. Aked,
separated from the unconscious Adeline only by a gimcrack wall of lath
and plaster, an uncomfortable feeling of awe took hold of him. Death
was very incurable, and he had been assisting at a tragedy. How unreal
and distorted seemed the events of a few hours before! He had a curious
sense of partnership in shame, as if he and the nurse and the doctor
had last night done Adeline an injury and were conspiring to hide their
sin. What would she say when she knew that her uncle was dead? What
would be her plans? It occurred to him now that she would of course act
quite independently of himself; it was ridiculous to suppose that he,
comparatively a stranger, could stand to her in the place of kith and
kin; he had been dreaming. He was miserably disheartened.

He made his way to the kitchen, and, pushing the door open quietly,
found the nurse engaged in cooking a meal.

"May I come in, nurse?"

"Yes, Mr. Larch."

"You seem to have taken charge of the house," he said, admiring her
quick, neat movements; she was as much at home as if the kitchen had
been her own.

"We often find it necessary," she smiled. "Nurses have to be ready for
most things. Do you prefer tea or coffee for breakfast?"

"Surely you aren't getting breakfast for me? I could have had something
in town."

"Surely I am," she said. "If you aren't fastidious, I'll make tea.
Miss Aked has had a moderately good night ... I've told her.... She
took it very well, said she expected it. Of course there's a lot to be
done, but I can't bother her yet. We ought to have a telegram from Mrs.
Hopkins, her aunt, this morning."

"I wish you would give Miss Aked a message from me," Richard broke in.
"Tell her I shall be very glad to see after things--the funeral, you
know, and so on--if she cares. I can easily arrange to take a holiday
from the office."

"I am sure that would relieve her from a lot of anxiety," the nurse
said appreciatively. To hide a certain confusion Richard suggested that
he should be allowed to lay the cloth in the sitting-room, and she
told him he would find it in a drawer in the sideboard. He wandered
off, speculating upon Adeline's probable answer to his proposal. Soon
he heard the rattling of cups and saucers, and the nurse's footstep on
the stair. He laid the cloth, putting the cruet in the middle and the
salt-cellars at opposite corners, and then sat down in front of the
case of French books to scan their titles, but he saw nothing save a
blur of yellow. After a long time the nurse came down again.

"Miss Aked says she cannot thank you enough. She will leave everything
to you,--everything. She is very much obliged indeed. She doesn't think
Mrs. Hopkins will be able to travel, because of her rheumatism, and
there is no one else. Here is the key of Mr. Aked's desk, and some
other keys--there should be about £20 in gold in the cash box, and
perhaps some notes."

He took the keys, feeling profoundly happy.

"I shall just go up to the office first," he decided, "and arrange to
get off, and then come down here again. I suppose you will stay on till
Miss Aked is better?"

"Oh, of course."

"She will be in bed several days yet?"

"Probably. She might be able to sit up an hour or two the day after
to-morrow--in her own room."

"It wouldn't do for me to see her?"

"I think not. She is very weak. No, you must act on your own
responsibility."

He and the nurse had breakfast together, talking with the freedom of
old friends. He told her all he knew of the Akeds, not forgetting
to mention that Mr. Aked and himself were to have collaborated in a
book. When Richard let this out, she showed none of those signs of
timid reverence which the laity are wont to exhibit in the presence of
literary people.

"Indeed!" she said politely, and then after a little pause: "I actually
write verses myself sometimes."

"You do? And are they published?"

"Oh, yes, but perhaps not on their merits. You see, my father has
influence--"

"A journalist, is he, perhaps?"

She laughed at the idea, and mentioned the name of a well-known
novelist.

"And you prefer nursing to writing!" Richard ejaculated when he had
recovered from the announcement.

"To anything in the world. That is why I am a nurse. Why should I
depend on my father, or my father's reputation?"

"I admire you for not doing so," Richard replied. Hitherto he had only
read about such women, and had questioned if they really existed.
He grew humble before her, recognising a stronger spirit. Yet her
self-reliance somehow chafed him, and he directed his thoughts to
Adeline's feminine trustfulness with a slight sense of relief.

       *       *       *       *       *

The funeral took place on Sunday. Richard found the formalities to be
fewer and simpler than he had expected, and no difficulties arose of
any kind. Mrs. Hopkins, as Adeline had foreseen, was unable to come,
but she sent a long letter full of advice, and offering her niece a
temporary home. Adeline had not yet been allowed to leave her bed, but
on the Sunday morning the nurse had said that she might sit up for an
hour or two in the afternoon, and would like to see Richard then.

He returned to Carteret Street on foot when the funeral was over.

"You are glad it is all finished?" the nurse said.

"Yes," he answered a little wearily. His mind had dwelt on Mr. Aked
that day, and the lonely futility of the man's life had touched him
with chill, depressing effect. Moreover, now it came to the point, he
rather dreaded than desired that first interview with Adeline after her
uncle's death. He feared that despite any service he had rendered, they
were not much more than acquaintances. He morbidly conjectured what she
would say to him and how he would reply. But he was glad when the nurse
left him alone at the door of Adeline's room. He knocked rather louder
than he had intended, and after hesitating a second walked in. Adeline
was seated in an armchair near the window, fully dressed in black, with
a shawl over her shoulders. Her back was towards him, but he could see
that she was writing a letter on her knee. She looked round suddenly
as the door opened, and gave a little "Oh!" at the same time lifting
her hands. Her face was pale, her hair flat, and her eyes large and
glittering. He went up to her.

"Mr. Larch!" She held his hand in her thin white one with a soft, weak
pressure, silently gazing at him while tears gathered in her upturned
eyes. Richard trembled in every part of his body; he could not speak,
and wondered what was the matter with him.

"Mr. Larch, you have been very kind. I shall never be able to thank
you."

"I hope you won't bother about any thanks," he said. "Are you better?"
And yet he wished her to say more.

With apparent reluctance she loosed his hand, and he sat down near her.

"What should I have done without you!... Tell me about to-day. You
can't think how relieved I am now that it is over--the funeral, I mean."

He said there was nothing to tell.

"Were there many other funerals?"

"Yes, a lot."

He answered her questions one after another; she seemed to be
interested in the least detail, but neither of them mentioned the dead
man. Her eyes seldom left him. When he suggested that she must dismiss
him as soon as she felt tired, she laughed, and replied that she was
not likely to be tired for a very long while, and that he must have tea
with her and nurse.

"I was writing to my two uncles in San Francisco when you came in," she
said. "They will be terribly upset about me at first, poor fellows, but
I have told them how kind you have been, and Uncle Mark always used
to say I had plenty of sense, so that ought to ease their minds." She
smiled.

"Of course you have made no definite plans yet?" he asked.

"No, I sha'n't settle anything at present. I want to consult you about
several things, but some other time, when I am better. I shall have
enough money, I think--that is one solid comfort. My aunt Grace--Mrs.
Hopkins--has asked me to go and stay with her. Somehow I don't want to
go--you'll think it queer of me, I daresay, but I would really prefer
to stop in London."

He noticed that she said nothing as to joining her uncles in San
Francisco.

"I fancy I shall like London," she went on, "when I know it."

"You aren't thinking, then, of going to San Francisco?"

He waited apprehensively for her answer. She hesitated. "It is so
far--I don't quite know how my uncles are situated--"

Evidently, for some reason, she had no desire to leave London
immediately. He was very content, having feared that she might pass at
once away from him.

They had tea on a little round chess-table. The cramped space and
the consequent necessity of putting spare plates of cake on the bed
caused some amusement, but in the presence of the strong, brusque nurse
Adeline seemed to withdraw within herself, and the conversation, such
as it was, depended on the other two.

"I have been telling Miss Aked," the nurse said after tea was over,
"that she must go to the seaside for a week or two. It will do her an
immense deal of good. What she needs most of all is change. I suggested
Littlehampton; it is rather a quiet spot, not too quiet; there is nice
river scenery, and a quaint old port, and quantities of lovely rustic
villages in the neighbourhood."

"It would certainly be a good thing," Richard agreed; but Adeline said,
rather petulantly, that she did not wish to travel, and the project was
not discussed further.

He left soon afterwards. The walk home seemed surprisingly short,
and when he got to Raphael Street he could remember nothing of the
thoroughfares through which he had passed. Vague, delicious fancies
flitted through his head, like fine lines half recalled from a great
poem. In his room there was a smell from the lamp, and the windows
were shut tight.

"Poor old landlady," he murmured benignantly, "when will she learn to
leave the windows open and not to turn down the lamp?"

Having unfastened one of the windows, he extinguished the lamp and went
out on to the little balcony. It was a warm evening, with a cloudy
sky and a gentle, tepid breeze. The noise of omnibuses and cabs came
even and regular from Brompton Road, and occasionally a hansom passed
up Raphael Street. He stood leaning on the front of the balcony till
the air of traffic had declined to an infrequent rumble, his thoughts
a smiling, whirling medley impossible to analyze or describe. At last
he came in, and, leaving the window ajar, undressed slowly without a
light, and lay down. He had no desire to sleep, nor did he attempt
to do so; not for a ransom would he have parted with the fine, full
consciousness of life which thrilled through every portion of his
being. The brief summer night came to an end; and just as the sun was
rising he dozed a little, and then got up without a trace of fatigue.
He went to the balcony again, and drank in all the sweet invigorating
freshness of the morning. The sunlit streets were enveloped in an
enchanted silence.



CHAPTER XVIII


Nearly three weeks later came the following letter from Adeline. In the
meanwhile she had had a rather serious relapse, and he had seen her
only once or twice for a few minutes.

 My dear Mr. Larch,--This time I am _quite_ sure I am well again. Nurse
 is obliged to leave to-day, as she is wanted at a hospital, and she
 has persuaded me to go to Littlehampton _at once_, and given me the
 address of some rooms. I shall leave Victoria to-morrow (Wednesday) by
 the 1.10 train; Lottie will go with me, and the house will be locked
 up. Good-bye for the present, if I don't see you. We shall not stay
 more than a week or ten days. I will write to you from Littlehampton.

 Ever yours most gratefully,

 A. A.

 P. S. I was expecting you down to-night.

"'If I don't see you'!" he repeated to himself, smiling, and examining
Adeline's caligraphy, which he had not seen before. It was a bold but
not distinguished hand. He read the note several times, then folded it
carefully and put it in his pocket-book.

By reason of an unexpected delay at the office he almost missed her
at Victoria. The train was due out at least a minute before he rushed
into the station; fortunately trains are not invariably prompt. Adeline
was leaning from a carriage window to hand a penny to a newspaper boy;
the boy dropped the penny, and she laughed. She wore a black hat with
a veil. Her cheeks were a little fuller, and her eyes less unnaturally
brilliant, at any rate under the veil; and Richard thought that he had
never seen her look so pretty.

"There it is, silly boy, there!" she was saying as he came up.

"I thought I'd just see if you were all right," he panted. "I should
have been here earlier, only I was detained."

"How kind of you to take so much trouble!" she said, taking his hand,
and fixing her eyes intently on his. The guard came along to fasten the
doors.

"Luggage all in?" Richard asked.

"Yes, thanks. Lottie saw to it while I got the tickets. I find she is
quite an experienced traveller." At which Lottie, effaced in a corner,
blushed.

"Well, I hope you will enjoy yourself." The whistle sounded, and the
train jerked forward Adeline began to wave a good-bye.

"I see there's a Sunday league trip to Littlehampton on Sunday," he
said, walking along with the train.

"Oh! Do come down."

"You'd like me to?"

"Very much."

"I will, then. Send me the address."

She gave a succession of little nods, as the train carried her away.



CHAPTER XIX


Richard's eye travelled expectantly over the tanned crowd of men
in flannels and gaily attired girls which lined the platform of
Littlehampton station, but Adeline was not to be seen. He felt somewhat
disappointed, and then decided that he liked her the better for not
having come to meet him. "Besides," he thought, "the train being a
special is not in the time-table, and she would not know when it was
due."

Her lodging was in a long, monotonous terrace which ran at right angles
to the seashore, turning its back upon the river. Noon was at hand, and
the fierce rays of the unclouded sun were untempered by any breeze. The
street lay hushed, for everyone was either at church or on the sands.
In response to his inquiry, the landlady said that Miss Aked was out,
and had left a message that if a gentleman called, he was to follow her
to the jetty. Obeying the directions given to him, Richard soon found
himself by the banks of the swift Arun, with the jetty some distance in
front, and beyond that the sea, which shimmered blindly in the heat.
Throngs of respectably dressed people wandered up and down, and a low,
languid murmur of conversation floated out as it were from the cavities
of a thousand parasols. Perspiring children whose hands were chafed
by gloves full of creases ran to and fro among the groups, shouting
noisily, and heedless of the frequent injunction to remember what day
it was. Here and there nurses pushing perambulators made cool spots
of whiteness in the confusion of colour. On the river boats and small
yachts were continually sweeping towards the sea on the ebbing tide;
now and then a crew of boys would attempt to pull a skiff against the
rapid current, persevere for a few strokes, and then, amid scoffs from
the bank, ignominiously allow themselves to be whirled past the jetty
with the other craft.

Richard had never seen a southern watering-place before, and he had
fondly expected something different from Llandudno, Rhyl, or Blackpool,
something less stolid and more continental. Littlehampton fell short
of his anticipations. It was unpicturesque as a manufacturing town,
and its summer visitors were an infestive, lower-middle class folk,
garishly clothed, and unlearned in the fine art of enjoyment. The pure
accent of London sounded on every side from the lips of clerks and
shop-girls and their kin. Richard forgot that he was himself a clerk,
looking not out of place in that scene.

Presently he espied a woman who seemed to belong to another sphere. She
was leaning over the parapet of the jetty, and though a black and white
sunshade entirely hid her head and shoulders, the simple, perfectly
hung black skirt, the neatly shod foot, the small, smoothly gloved hand
with thin gold circlet at wrist, sufficed to convince him that here,
by some strange chance, was one of those exquisite creatures who on
Saturday afternoons drove past the end of Raphael Street on their way
to Hurlingham or Barnes. He wondered what she did there, and tried to
determine the subtleties of demeanour and costume which constituted
the plain difference between herself and the other girls on the jetty.
At that moment she stood erect, and turned round. Why, she was quite
young.... He approached her.... It was Adeline.

Astonishment was so clearly written on his face that she laughed as
they exchanged greetings.

"You seem startled at the change in me," she said abruptly. "Do you
know that I positively adore clothes, though I've only just found it
out. The first thing I did when I got here was to go over to Brighton,
and spend terrific sums at a dressmaker's. You see, there wasn't
time in London. You don't despise me for it, I hope? I've plenty of
money--enough to last a long, long time."

She was dazzling, and she openly rejoiced in the effect her appearance
had made on Richard.

"You couldn't have done better," he answered, suddenly discovering with
chagrin that his own serge suit was worn and shabby.

"I'm relieved," she said; "I was afraid my friend might think me vain
and extravagant." Her manner of saying "my friend"--half mockery, half
deference--gave Richard intense satisfaction.

They walked to the end of the jetty and sat down on a stone seat.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she exclaimed enthusiastically.

"What--the town, or the people, or the sea?"

"Everything. I've scarcely been to the seaside before in all my life,
and I think it's lovely."

"The sea would be splendid if one could see it, but it blinds one even
to glance at it in this heat."

"You shall have half my sunshade." She put it over him with a
protective gesture.

"No, no," he demurred.

"I say yes. Why don't men carry sunshades? It's only their pride that
stops them.... So you don't like the town and the people?"

"Well--"

"I love to see plenty of people about. And you would, too, if you'd
been fixed like me. I've never seen a real crowd. There are crushes
when you go into theatres, sometimes, aren't there?"

"Yes. Women faint."

"But I shouldn't. I would have given anything not long ago to be in one
of those crushes. Now, of course, I can just please myself. When we are
back in London, do you think I could persuade you to take me?"

"You might," he said, "if you asked nicely. But young ladies who wear
clothes like yours don't usually patronise the pit, where the crushes
are. Stalls or dress circle would be more in your style. I propose we
take the dress circle. You wouldn't enjoy your crush going in, but at
the Lyceum and some other theatres, there is quite a superior crush
coming out of the stalls and dress circle."

"Yes, that is better. And I shall buy more clothes. Oh! I will be
shockingly wasteful. If poor old uncle knew how his money was to be
spent--"

A little child, chased by one still less, fell down flat in front of
them, and began to cry. Adeline picked it up, losing her sunshade, and
kissed both children. Then she took a paper of chocolates from her
pocket and gave several to each child, and they ran away without saying
thank you.

"Have one?" She offered the bag to Richard. "That's another luxury I
shall indulge in--chocolates. Do have just one, to keep me company,"
she appealed. "By the way, about dinner. I ordered dinner for both of
us at my rooms, but we can improve on that. I have discovered a lovely
little village a few miles away, Angmering, all old cottages and no
drains. Let us drive there in a victoria, and picnic at a cottage. I
know the exact place for us. There will be no people there to annoy
you."

"But you like 'people,' so that won't do at all."

"I will do without 'people' for this day."

"And what shall we have for dinner?"

"Oh! Eggs and bread and butter and tea."

"Tea for dinner! Not very solid, is it?"

"Greedy! If you have such a large appetite, eat a few more chocolates;
they will take it away."

She rose, pointing to a victoria in the distance.

He looked at her without getting up, and their eyes met with smiles.
Then he, too, rose. He thought he had never felt so happy. An
intoxicating vision of future felicities momentarily suggested itself,
only to fade before the actuality of the present.

The victoria stopped at Adeline's rooms. She called through the open
window to Lottie, who came out and received orders to dine alone, or
with the landlady if she preferred.

"Lottie and Mrs. Bishop are great friends," Adeline said. "The silly
girl would sooner stay in to help Mrs. Bishop with housework than go
out on the beach with me."

"She must indeed be silly. I know which I should choose!" It seemed a
remark of unutterable clumsiness--after he had said it, but Adeline's
faint smile showed no dissatisfaction. He reflected that he would have
been better pleased had she totally ignored it.

The carriage ran smoothly along the dusty roads, now passing under
trees, and now skirting poppy-clad fields whose vivid scarlet almost
encroached on the highway itself. Richard lay back, as he had seen men
do in the Park, his shoulder lightly touching Adeline's. She talked
incessantly, though slowly, in that low voice of hers, and her tones
mingled with the measured trot of the enfeebled horse, and lulled
Richard to a sensuous quiescence. He slightly turned his face towards
hers, and with dreamy deliberateness examined her features,--the dimple
in her cheek which he had never noticed before, the curves of her ear,
her teeth, her smooth black hair, the play of light in her eye; then
his gaze moved to her large felt hat, set bewitchingly aslant on the
small head, and then for a space he would look at the yellowish-green
back of the imperturbable driver, who drove on and on, little witting
that enchantment was behind him.

They consumed the eggs and bread and butter and tea which Adeline had
promised; and they filled their pockets with fruit. That was Adeline's
idea. She gave herself up to enjoyment like a child. When the sun was
less strenuous they walked about the village, sitting down frequently
to admire its continual picturesqueness. Time sped with astonishing
rapidity; Richard's train went at twenty-five minutes past seven, and
already, as they stood by the margin of the tiny tributary of the Arun,
some grandfather's clock in a neighbouring cottage clattered five. He
was tempted to say nothing about the train, quietly allow himself to
miss it, and go up by the first ordinary on Monday morning. But soon
Adeline inquired about his return, and they set off to walk back to
Littlehampton; the carriage had been dismissed. He invented pretexts
for loitering, made her sit on walls to eat apples, tried to get lost
in by-paths, protested that he could not keep the pace she set; but
to no purpose. They arrived at the station at exactly a quarter past
seven. The platform was busy, and they strolled to the far end of it
and stood by the engine.

"I wish to heaven the train didn't leave so early," he said. "I'm sure
the sea air would do me a lot of good, if I could get enough of it.
What a beautiful day it has been!" He sighed sentimentally.

"I never, never enjoyed myself so perfectly," she said emphatically.
"Suppose we beseech the engine-driver to lie still for a couple of
hours?" Richard's smile was inattentive.

"You are sure you haven't done too much," he said with sudden
solicitude, looking at her half anxiously.

"I! not a bit. I am absolutely well again." Her eyes found his and held
them, and it seemed to him that mystic messages passed to and fro.

"How long do you think of staying?"

"Not long. It gets rather boring, being alone. I expect I shall return
on Saturday."

"I was thinking I would run down again on Saturday for the
week-end,--take a week-end ticket," he said; "but of course, if--"

"In that case I should stay a few days longer. I couldn't allow myself
to deprive you of the sea air which is doing you so much good. By next
Saturday I may have discovered more nice places to visit, perhaps even
prettier than Angmering.... But you must get in."

He would have given a great deal just then to be able to say firmly: "I
have changed my mind about going. I will stay at a hotel to-night and
take the first train to-morrow." But it required more decision than he
possessed, and in a few moments he was waving good-bye to her from the
carriage window.

There were several other people in the compartment,--a shy
shop-girl and her middle-aged lover, evidently employés of the same
establishment, and an artisan with his wife and a young child. Richard
observed them intently, and found a curious, new pleasure in all their
unstudied gestures and in everything they said. But chiefly he kept
a watch on the shop-girl's lover, who made it no secret that he was
dwelling in the seventh heaven. Richard sympathised with that man. His
glance fell on him softly, benignantly. As the train passed station
after station, he wondered what Adeline was doing, now, and now, and
now.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following Saturday he took tea with Adeline at her lodgings.
The train had been late, and by the time they were ready for the
evening walk without which no visitor to the seaside calls the day
complete, it was close upon nine o'clock. The beach was like a fair or
a north-country wake. Conjurers, fire-eaters, and minstrels each drew
an audience; but the principal attraction was a man and woman who wore
masks and were commonly supposed to be distinguished persons to whom
fate had been unkind. They had a piano in a donkey-cart, and the woman
sang to the man's accompaniment. Just as Richard and Adeline came up,
"The River of Years" was announced for performance.

"Let us listen to this," said Adeline.

They stood at the rim of the crowd. The woman had a rich contralto
voice and sang with feeling, and her listeners were generous of both
applause and coppers.

"I wonder who she is," Adeline murmured, with a touch of
melancholy,--"I wonder who she is. I love that song."

"Oh, probably some broken-down concert-singer," Richard said curtly,
"with a drunken husband."

"But she sang beautifully. She made me feel--you know--funny.... A
lovely feeling, isn't it?" She looked up at him.

"Yes," he said, smiling at her.

"You're laughing."

"Indeed I'm not. I know what you mean perfectly well. Perhaps I had it
just then, too--- a little. But the song is a bit cheap."

"_I_ could listen to it every day, and never get tired of listening.
Don't you think that if a song gives _anyone_ that--feeling, there must
be some good in it?"

"Of course it's far better than most; but--"

"But not equal to those classical songs you told me about--the first
time I saw you, wasn't it? Yes, Schubert: was that the name? I mean
to get those, and you must show me the best ones, and play the
accompaniments, and then I shall judge for myself."

"I shall make an awful mess of the accompaniments; they're not
precisely easy, you know."

"Full of accidentals, are they? I sha'n't like them, then. I never do
like that sort of song."

"But you will; you must."

"Must I?" she almost whispered, in tones of gentle, feminine surrender.
And after a second or two: "Then I'll try, if it will keep you in a
good temper."

They stood fronting the sea. She looked straight ahead into the
darkening distance, and then turned round to him with a mock plaintive
expression, and they both laughed.

"Wouldn't it be better up by the river," he suggested, "where there are
fewer people?"

A little to his surprise, she agreed that it was certainly rather noisy
and crowded on the beach on Saturday nights, and they turned their
backs to the shore. The moon had risen, and shone at intervals through
clouds. For a few score yards they walked in silence. Then Adeline
said,--

"It's very dull here during the week for a poor single woman like me. I
shall go home on Monday."

"But think of London in this weather."

"I do think of it. I think of the parks and the restaurants and the
theatres."

"The good theatres are closed now."

"Well, the music-halls. I've never been in one, and if they are very
naughty, then I want to go very much. Besides, there are lots of
theatres open. I've read all the theatrical advertisements in the
'Telegraph,' and there must be plenty of things to see. You mayn't
think them worth seeing, but I should enjoy any theatre."

"I believe you would," he said. "I used to be like that."

"Up to now I've had no real pleasure--what I call pleasure--and I'm
just going to have it. I'll settle down afterwards."

"Didn't your uncle take you out much?"

"I should say he didn't. He took me to a concert once. That was all--in
nearly two years. I suppose it never occurred to him that I was leading
a dull life."

She made a movement with her hands, as if to put away from her all the
drab dailiness of her existence in Carteret Street.

"You can soon recover lost time," Richard said cheerfully.

His fancy was in the rosy future, vividly picturing the light-hearted
gaieties, Bohemian, unconventional, artistic, in which he and she
should unite. He saw himself and Adeline becoming dearer to each
other, and still dearer, her spirit unfolding like a flower, and
disclosing new beauties day by day. He saw her eyes glisten when they
met his; felt the soft pressure of her hand; heard her voice waver
with tenderness, expectant of his avowal. And then came his own bold
declaration: "I love you, Adeline," and her warm, willing lips were
upon his. God! To dream of such beatitudes!

She had slightly quickened her step. The quays were silent and
deserted, save for these two. Presently masts rose vaguely against the
sky, and they approached a large ship. Richard leaned over the parapet
to decipher the name on her bows. "Juliane," he spelt out.

"That is Norwegian or Danish."

They lingered a few moments, watching the movements of dim figures
on deck, listening to the musical chatter of an unknown tongue, and
breathing that atmosphere of romance and adventure which foreign
vessels carry with them from strange lands; then they walked on.

"Hush!" exclaimed Adeline, stopping, and touching Richard's arm.

The sailors were singing some quaint modern strain.

"What is it?" she asked when they had finished a verse.

"It must be a Norwegian folk-song. It reminds me of Grieg."

Another verse was sung. It began to rain,--warm, summer drops.

"You will be wet," Richard said.

"Never mind."

A third verse followed, and then a new air was started. It rained
faster.

"Come under the shelter of the wall here," Richard urged, timidly
taking her arm. "I think I see an archway."

"Yes, yes," she murmured, with sweet acquiescence; and they stood
together a long time under the archway in silence, while the Norwegian
sailors, heedless of weather, sang song after song.

The next morning the sky had cleared again, but there was a mist over
the calm sea. They walked idly on the level sands. At first they
were almost alone. The mist intensified distances; a group of little
children paddling in a foot of water appeared to be miles away. Slowly
the mist was scattered by the sun, and the beach became populous with
visitors in Sunday attire. In the afternoon they drove to Angmering,
Adeline having found no preferable haunt.

"You have no train to catch to-night," she said; "what a relief! Shall
you start very early to-morrow?"

"I'm not particular," he answered. "Why?"

"I was thinking that Lottie and I would go up by the same train as you,
but perhaps you won't care to be bothered with women and their luggage."

"If you really intend to return to-morrow, I'll wire to Curpet not to
expect me till after lunch, and we'll go at a reasonable hour."

He left her at her lodging as the clock was striking eleven; but
instead of making direct for his hotel, he turned aside to the river
to have a last look at the "Juliane." Curiously, it began to rain,
and he sheltered under the archway where he had stood with Adeline on
the previous night. Aboard the "Juliane" there was stir and bustle.
He guessed that the ship was about to weigh anchor and drop down with
the tide. Just after midnight she slid cautiously away from the quay,
to the accompaniment of hoarse calls and the rattling of chains and
blocks.



CHAPTER XX


During the journey to town Adeline would talk of nothing but her
intention to taste all the amusements which London had to offer. She
asked numberless questions with the persistency of an inquisitive
child, while Lottie modestly hid herself behind a copy of "Tit Bits,"
which had been bought for her.

"Now I will read out the names of the plays advertised in the
'Telegraph,'" she said, "and you must tell me what each is like, and
whether the actors are good, and the actresses pretty, and things of
that kind."

Richard entered with zest into the conversation. He was in a boisterous
mood, and found her very willing to be diverted. Once, when he used
a technical term, she stopped him: "Remember, I have never been to a
theatre." On Sunday she had made the same remark several times. It
seemed as if she liked to insist on the point.

The morning was delicious, full of light and freshness, and the torpid
countryside through which the train swept at full speed suggested a
gentle yet piquant contrast to the urban, gaslight themes which they
were discussing. Though the sun shone with power, Adeline would not
have the blinds drawn, but sometimes she used the newspaper for a
shade, or bent her head so that the broad brim of her hat might come
between her eyes and the sunshine. After an hour the talk slackened
somewhat. As Richard, from his seat opposite, looked now at Adeline and
now at the landscape, a perfect content stole over him. He wished that
the distance to London could have been multiplied tenfold, and rejoiced
in every delay. Then he began to miss the purport of her questions, and
she had to repeat them. He was examining his heart. "Is this love?" his
thoughts ran. "Do I actually love her now,--_now_?"

When the train stopped at New Cross, and Richard said that they would
be at London Bridge in a few minutes, she asked when he would go down
to Carteret Street.

"Any time," he said.

"To-morrow night?"

He had hoped she would fix the same evening. "When is the theatre-going
to commence?" he queried.

She laughed vaguely: "Soon."

"Suppose I book seats for the Comedy?"

"We will talk about it to-morrow night."

It appeared that her desire for the relaxations of town life had
suddenly lost its instancy.

Immediately he reached the office he wrote a note to Mr. Clayton
Vernon. Some three hundred pounds was coming to him under the will of
William Vernon, and he had purposed to let Mr. Clayton Vernon invest
this sum for him; but the letter asked that a cheque for £25 should be
sent by return of post. Later in the afternoon he went to a tailor in
Holborn, and ordered two suits of clothes.

He grew restless and introspective, vainly endeavouring to analyse
his feeling towards Adeline. He wished that he had himself suggested
that he should call on her that night, instead of allowing her to
name Tuesday. When he got home, he looked at the letter which he had
received from her a fortnight before, and then, enclosing it in a
clean envelope, put it away carefully in his writing-case. He felt
that he must preserve all her letters. The evening dragged itself out
with desolating tedium. Once he went downstairs intending to go to the
theatre, but returned before he had unlatched the front door.

Mrs. Rowbotham laid his supper that evening, and he began to tell her
about his holiday, mentioning, with fictitious _naïveté_, that he
had spent it in the company of a young lady. Soon he gave the whole
history of his acquaintance with the Akeds. She warmly praised his
kindness towards Adeline.

"My Lily is keeping company with a young man," she said, after a pause;
"a respectable young chap he is, a bus-conductor. This is his night
off, and they're gone to the Promenade Concert. I didn't like her going
at first, but, bless you, you have to give in. Young folk are young
folk, all the world over.... But I must be getting downstairs again. I
have to do everything myself to-night. Ah! when a girl falls in love,
she forgets her mother. It's natural, I suppose. Well, Mr. Larch, it
will be your turn soon, I hope." With that she left the room quickly,
missing Richard's hurried disclaimer.

"So you're engaged, Lily," he said to the girl next morning.

Lily blushed and nodded; and as he looked at her eyes, he poignantly
longed for the evening.



CHAPTER XXI

They sat by the window and talked till the day began to fade and the
lamplighter had passed up the street. Several matters of business
needed discussion,--the proving of Mr. Aked's will, the tenancy of
the house and the opening of a new banking-account. Richard, who was
acting informally as legal adviser, after the manner of solicitors'
clerks towards their friends, brought from his pocket some papers for
Adeline's signature. She took a pen immediately.

"Where do I put my name?"

"But you must read them first."

"I shouldn't understand them a bit," she said; "and what is the use of
employing a lawyer, if one is put to the trouble of reading everything
one signs?"

"Well--please yourself. To-morrow you will have to go before a
commissioner for oaths and swear that certain things are true; you'll
be compelled to read the affidavits."

"That I won't! I shall just swear."

"But you simply must."

"Sha'n't. If I swear to fibs, it will be your fault."

"Suppose I read them out to you?"

"Yes, that would be nicer; but not now, after supper."

For a few moments there was silence. She stood up and drew her finger
in fanciful curves across the window-pane. Richard watched her, with a
smile of luxurious content. It appeared to him that all her movements,
every inflection of her voice, her least word, had the authenticity
and the intrinsic grace of natural phenomena. If she turned her head
or tapped her foot, the gesture was right,--having the propriety which
springs from absolute self-unconsciousness. Her mere existence from one
moment to the next seemed in some mysterious way to suggest a possible
solution of the riddle of life. She illustrated nature. She was for
him intimately a part of nature, the great Nature which hides itself
from cities. To look at her afforded him a delight curiously similar to
that which the townsman derives from a rural landscape. Her face had
little conventional beauty; her conversation contained no hint either
of intellectual powers or of a capacity for deep feeling. But in her
case, according to his view, these things were unnecessary, would in
fact have been superfluous. She _was_ and that sufficed.

Mingled with the pleasure which her nearness gave him, there were
subordinate but distinct sensations. Except his sister Mary, he had
never before been upon terms of close familiarity with any woman, and
he realised with elation that now for the first time the latencies
of manhood were aroused. His friendship--if indeed it were nothing
else--with this gracious, inscrutable creature seemed a thing to be
very proud of, to gloat upon in secret, to contemplate with a dark
smile as one walked along the street or sat in a bus.... And then, with
a shock of joyful, half-incredulous surprise, he made the discovery
that she--she--had found some attractiveness in himself.

Their loneliness gave zest and piquancy to the situation. On neither
side were there relatives or friends who might obtrude, or whom it
would be proper to consult. They had only themselves to consider.
Not a soul in London, with the exception of Lottie, knew of their
intimacy,--the visit to Littlehampton, their plans for visiting the
theatres, her touching reliance upon him. Ah, that confiding feminine
trust! He read it frequently in her glance, and it gave him a sense of
protective possession. He had approached no closer than to shake her
hand, and yet, as he looked at the slight frame, the fragile fingers,
the tufts of hair which escaped over her ears,--these things seemed to
be his. Surely she had donned that beautiful dress for him; surely she
moved gracefully for him, talked softly for him!

He left his chair, quietly lighted the candles at the piano, and began
to turn over some songs.

"What are you doing?" she asked, from the window.

"I want you to sing."

"Must I?"

"Certainly. Let me find something with an easy accompaniment."

She came towards him, took up a song, opened it, and bade him look at
it.

"Too difficult," he said abruptly. "Those arpeggios in the bass,--I
couldn't possibly play them."

She laid it aside obediently.

"Well, this?"

"Yes. Let us try that."

She moved nearer to him, to miss the reflection of the candles on the
paper, and put her hands behind her back. She cleared her throat. He
knew she was nervous, but he had no such feeling himself.

"Ready?" he asked, glancing round and up into her face. She smiled
timidly, flushing, and then nodded.

"No," she exclaimed the next second, as he boldly struck the first
chord. "I don't think I'll sing. I can't."

"Oh, yes, you will--yes, you will."

"Very well." She resigned herself.

The first few notes were tremulous, but quickly she gained courage. The
song was a mediocre drawing-room ballad, and she did not sing with much
expression, but to Richard's ear her weak contralto floated out above
the accompaniment with a rich, passionate quality full of intimate
meanings. When his own part of the performance was not too exacting, he
watched from the corner of his eye the rise and fall of her breast, and
thought of Keats's sonnet; and then he suddenly quaked in fear that all
this happiness might crumble at the touch of some adverse fate.

"I suppose you call that a poor song," she said when it was finished.

"I liked it very much."

"You did? I am so fond of it, and I'm glad you like it. Shall we try
another?" She offered the suggestion with a gentle diffidence which
made Richard desire to abase himself before her, to ask what in the
name of heaven she meant by looking to him as an authority, a person
whose will was to be consulted and whose humours were law.

Again she put her hands behind her back, cleared her throat, and began
to sing.... He had glimpses of mystic, emotional deeps in her spirit
hitherto unsuspected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lottie came in with a lamp.

"You would like supper?" Adeline said. "Lottie, let us have supper at
once."

Richard remembered that when Mr. Aked was alive, Adeline had been
accustomed to go into the kitchen and attend to the meals herself;
but evidently this arrangement was now altered. She extinguished the
candles on the piano, and took the easy-chair with a question about
Schubert. Supper was to be served without the aid of the mistress of
the house. She had been training Lottie,--that was clear. He looked
round. The furniture was unchanged, but everything had an unwonted air
of comfort and neatness, and Adeline's beautiful dress scarcely seemed
out of keeping with the general aspect of the room. He gathered that
she had social aspirations. He had social aspirations himself. His
fancy delighted to busy itself with fine clothes, fine furniture, fine
food, and fine manners. That his own manners had remained inelegant
was due to the fact that the tireless effort and vigilance which any
amelioration of their original crudity would have necessitated, were
beyond his tenacity of purpose.

The supper was trimly laid on a very white tablecloth, and chairs were
drawn up. Lottie stood in the background for a few moments; Adeline
called her for some trifling service, and then dismissed her.

"Won't you have some whisky? I know men always like whisky at night."

She touched a bell on the table.

"The whisky, Lottie--you forgot it."

Richard was almost awed by her demeanour. Where could she have learnt
it? He felt not unlike a bumpkin, and secretly determined to live up to
the standard of deportment which she had set.

"You may smoke," she said, when Lottie had cleared the table after
supper; "I like it. Here are some cigarettes--'Three Castles'--will
they do?" Laughing, she produced a box from the sideboard, and handed
it to him. He went to the sofa, and she stood with one elbow resting on
the mantelpiece.

"About going to the theatre--" she began.

"May I take you? Let us go to the Comedy."

"And you will book seats, the dress circle?"

"Yes. What night?"

"Let us say Friday.... And now you may read me those documents."

When that business was transacted, Richard felt somehow that he must
depart, and began to take his leave. Adeline stood erect, facing him in
front of the mantelpiece.

"Next time you come, you will bring those Schubert songs, will you not?"

Then she rang the bell, shook hands, and sat down. He went out; Lottie
was waiting in the passage with his hat and stick.



CHAPTER XXII


Seven or eight weeks passed.

During that time Richard spent many evenings with Adeline, at the
theatre, at concerts, and at Carteret Street. When they were going up
to town, he called for her in a hansom. She usually kept him waiting
a few minutes. He sat in the sitting-room, listening to the rattle
of harness and the occasional stamp of a hoof outside. At length he
heard her light step on the stairs, and she entered the room, smiling
proudly. She was wonderfully well dressed, with modish simplicity and
exact finish, and she gave him her fan to hold while she buttoned
her long gloves. Where she ordered her gowns he never had the least
notion. They followed one another in rapid succession, and each seemed
more beautiful than the last. All were sober in tint; the bodices were
V-shaped, and cut rather low.

Lottie carefully placed a white wrap over her mistress's head, and then
they were off. In the hansom there was but little conversation, and
that of a trivial character. In vain he endeavoured to entice her into
discussions. He mentioned books which he had read; she showed only a
perfunctory interest. He explained why, in his opinion, a particular
play was good and another bad; generally she preferred the wrong
one, or at least maintained that she liked all plays, and therefore
would not draw comparisons. Sometimes she would argue briefly about
the conduct of certain characters in a piece, but he seldom found
himself genuinely in agreement with her, though as a rule he verbally
concurred. In music she was a little less unsympathetic towards his
ideals. They had tried over several of his favourite classical songs,
and he had seen in her face, as she listened, or hummed the air, a glow
answering to his own enthusiasm. She had said that she would learn one
of them, but the promise had not been kept, though he had reminded her
of it several times.

These chagrins, however, were but infinitesimal ripples upon the
smooth surface of his happiness. All of them together were as nothing
compared to the sensations which he experienced in helping her out of
the cab, in the full glare of a theatre façade. Invariably he overpaid
the driver, handing him the silver with an inattentive gesture, while
Adeline waited on the steps,--dainty food for the eyes of loiterers and
passers-by. He offered his arm, and they passed down the vestibule and
into the auditorium. With what artless enjoyment she settled herself in
her seat, breathing the atmosphere of luxury and display as if it had
been ozone, smiling radiantly at Richard, and then eagerly examining
the occupants of the boxes through a small, silver-mounted glass! She
was never moved by the events on the stage, and whether it happened to
be tragedy or burlesque at which they were assisting, she turned to
Richard at the end of every act with the same happy, contented smile,
and usually began to make remarks upon the men and women around her. It
was the play-house and not the play of which she was really fond.

After the fall of the curtain, they lingered till most of the audience
had gone. Sometimes they supped at a restaurant. "It is my turn,"
she would say now and then, when the obsequious waiter presented the
bill, and would give Richard her purse. At first, for form's sake, he
insisted on his right to pay, but she would not listen. He wondered
where she had caught the pretty trick of handing over her purse instead
of putting down the coins, and he traced it to a play which they had
seen at the Vaudeville theatre. Yet she did it with such naturalness
that it did not seem to have been copied. The purse was small, and
always contained several pounds in gold, with a little silver. The
bill paid, he gave it back to her with a bow.

Then came the long, rapid drive home, through interminable lamp-lined
streets, peopled now only by hansoms and private carriages, past
all the insolent and garish splendours of Piccadilly clubs, into
whose unveiled windows Adeline eagerly gazed; past the mysterious,
night-ridden Park; past the dim, solemn squares and crescents of
Kensington and Chelsea, and so into the meaner vicinage of Fulham.
It was during these midnight journeys, more than at any other time,
that Richard felt himself to be a veritable inhabitant of the City of
Pleasure. Adeline, flushed with the evening's enjoyment, talked of
many things, in her low, even voice, which was never raised. Richard
answered briefly; an occasional reply was all she seemed to expect.

Immediately, on getting out of the cab, she said good-night, and
entered the house alone, while Richard directed the driver back to
Raphael Street. Returning thus, solitary, he endeavoured to define what
she was to him, and he to her. Often, when actually in her presence, he
ventured to ask himself, "Am I happy? Is this pleasure?" But as soon as
he had left her, his doubtfulness vanished, and he began to long for
their next meeting. Little phrases of hers, unimportant gestures, came
back vividly to his memory; he thought how instinct with charm they
were. And yet, was he really, truly in love? Was she in love? Had there
been a growth of feeling since that night at Carteret Street after the
holiday at Littlehampton? He uncomfortably suspected that their hearts
had come nearer to each other that night than at any time since.

He tried to look forward to the moment when he should invite her to
be his wife. But was that moment approaching? At the back of his mind
lay an apprehension that it was not. She satisfied one part of his
nature. She was the very spirit of grace; she was full of aplomb and
a delicate tact; she had money. Moreover, her constant reliance upon
him, her clinging womanishness, the caressing, humouring tone which her
voice could assume, powerfully affected him. He divined darkly that
he was clay in her hands; that all the future, even the future of his
own heart, depended entirely upon her. If she chose, she might be his
goddess.... And yet she had sharp limitations....

Again, was she in love?

When he woke up of a morning he wondered how long his present happiness
would continue, and whither it was leading him. A scrap of conversation
which he had had with Adeline recurred to him frequently. He had asked
her, once when she had complained of ennui, why she did not become
acquainted with some of her neighbours.

"I don't care for my neighbours," she replied curtly.

"But you can't live without acquaintances all your life."

"No, not all my life," she said with significant emphasis.



CHAPTER XXIII


They had been to the National Gallery; it was Saturday afternoon.
Adeline said that she would go home; but Richard, not without a little
trouble, persuaded her to dine in town first; he mentioned a French
restaurant in Soho.

As they walked up Charing Cross Road, he pointed out the Crabtree, and
referred to the fact that at one time he had frequented it regularly.
She stopped to look at its white-and-gold frontage. In enamel letters
on the windows were the words: "Table d'hôte, 6 to 9, 1/6."

"Is it a good place?" she asked.

"The best in London--of that kind."

"Then let us dine there; I have often wanted to try a vegetarian
restaurant."

Richard protested that she would not like it.

"How do you know? If you have been so often, why shouldn't I go once?"
She smiled at him, and turned to cross the street; he hung back.

"But I only went for economy."

"Then we will only go for economy to-day."

He dangled before her the attractions of the French restaurant
in Soho, but to no purpose. He was loth to visit the Crabtree.
Most probably Miss Roberts would be on duty within, and he felt an
inscrutable unwillingness to be seen by her with Adeline.... At last
they entered. Looking through the glass doors which lead to the
large, low-ceiled dining-room on the first floor, Richard saw that
it was nearly empty, and that the cash-desk, where Miss Roberts was
accustomed to sit, was for the moment unoccupied. He led the way in
rather hurriedly, and selected places in a far corner. Although it was
scarcely beginning to be dusk, the table electric lights were turned
on, and their red shades made glimmering islands of radiance about the
room.

Richard kept a furtive watch on the cash-desk; presently he saw Miss
Roberts take her seat behind it, and shifted his glance to another
quarter. He was preoccupied, and answered at random Adeline's amused
queries as to the food. Between the soup and the entrée they were kept
waiting; and Adeline, Richard being taciturn, moved her chair in order
to look round the room. Her roving eyes stopped at the cash-desk,
left it, and returned to it. Then a scornful smile, albeit scarcely
perceptible, appeared on her face; but she said nothing. Richard saw
her glance curiously at the cash-desk several times, and he knew, too,
that Miss Roberts had discovered them. In vain he assured himself that
Miss Roberts was not concerned in his affairs; he could not dismiss a
sensation of uneasiness and discomfort. Once he fancied that the eyes
of the two girls met, and that both turned away suddenly.

When the dinner was over, and they were drinking the coffee for which
the Crabtree is famous, Adeline said abruptly,--

"I know someone here."

"Oh!" said Richard, with fictitious nonchalance. "Who?"

"The girl at the pay-desk,--Roberts, her name is."

"Where have you met her?" he inquired.

Adeline laughed inimically. He was startled, almost shocked, by the
harsh mien which transformed her face.

"You remember one night, just before uncle died," she began, bending
towards him, and talking very quietly. "Someone called while you and
I were in the sitting-room, to inquire how he was. That was Laura
Roberts. She used to know uncle--she lives in our street. He made love
to her--she didn't care for him, but he had money and she encouraged
him. I don't know how far it went--I believe I stopped it. Oh! men are
the strangest creatures. Fancy, she's not older than me, and uncle was
over fifty!"

"Older than you, surely!" Richard put in.

"Well, not much. She knew I couldn't bear her, and she called that
night simply to annoy me."

"What makes you think that?"

"Think! I know it.... But you must have heard of the affair. Didn't
they talk about it at your office?"

"I believe it was mentioned once," he said hastily.

She leaned back in her chair, with the same hard smile. Richard felt
sure that Miss Roberts had guessed they were talking about herself,
and that her eyes were fixed on them, but he dared not look up for
confirmation; Adeline gazed boldly around her. They were antagonistic,
these two women, and Richard, do what he would, could not repress
a certain sympathy with Miss Roberts. If she had encouraged Mr.
Aked's advances, what of that? It was no mortal sin, and he could not
appreciate the reason of Adeline's strenuous contempt for her. He saw a
little gulf widening between himself and Adeline.

"What tremendously red hair that girl has!" she said, later on.

"Yes, but doesn't it look fine!"

"Ye-es," Adeline agreed condescendingly.

When he paid the bill, on the way out, Miss Roberts greeted him with
an inclination of the head. He met her eye steadily, and tried not to
blush. As she checked the bill with a tapping pencil, he could not help
remarking her face. Amiability, candour, honesty, were clearly written
on its attractive plainness. He did not believe that she had been
guilty of running after Mr. Aked for the sake of his money. The tales
told by Jenkins were doubtless ingeniously exaggerated; and as for
Adeline, Adeline was mistaken.

"Good evening," Miss Roberts said simply, as they went out. He raised
his hat.

"You know her, then!" Adeline exclaimed in the street.

"Well," he answered, "I've been going there, off and on, for a year
or two, and one gets acquainted with the girls." His tone was rather
petulant. With a quick, winning smile, she changed the subject, and he
suspected her of being artful.



CHAPTER XXIV


"I am going to America," she said.

They sat in the sitting-room at Carteret street. Richard had not seen
her since the dinner at the vegetarian restaurant, and these were
almost the first words she addressed to him. Her voice was as tranquil
as usual; but he discerned, or thought he discerned, in her manner a
consciousness that she was guilty towards him, that at least she was
not treating him justly.

The blow was like that of a bullet: he did not immediately feel it.

"Really?" he questioned foolishly, and then, though he knew that she
would never return: "For how long are you going, and how soon?"

"Very soon, because I always do things in a hurry. I don't know for
how long. It's indefinite. I have had a letter from my uncles in San
Francisco, and they say I _must_ join them; they can't do without me.
They are making a lot of money now, and neither of them is married....
So I suppose I must obey like a good girl. You see I have no relatives
here, except Aunt Grace."

"You many never come back to England?"

(Did she colour, or was it Richard's fancy?)

"Well, I expect I may visit Europe sometimes. It wouldn't do to give
England up entirely. There are so many nice things in England,--in
London especially...."

Once, in late boyhood, he had sat for an examination which he felt
confident of passing. When the announcement arrived that he failed, he
could not believe it, though all the time he knew it to be true. His
thoughts ran monotonously: "There must be some mistake; there must be
some mistake!" and like a little child in the night, he resolutely shut
his eyes to keep out the darkness of the future. The same puerility
marked him now. Assuming that Adeline fulfilled her intention, his
existence in London promised to be tragically cheerless. But this
gave him no immediate concern, because he refused to contemplate the
possibility of their intimacy being severed. He had, indeed, ceased
to think; somewhere at the back of the brain his thoughts lay in wait
for him. For the next two hours (until he left the house) he lived
mechanically, as it were, and not by volition, subsisting merely on a
previously acquired momentum.

He sat in front of her and listened. She began to talk of her uncles
Mark and Luke. She described them in detail, told stories of her
childhood, even recounted the common incidents of her daily life with
them. She dwelt on their kindness of heart, and their affection for
herself; and with it all she seemed a little to patronise them, as
though she had been accustomed to regard them as her slaves.

"They are rather old-fashioned," she said, "unless they have altered.
Since I heard from them, I have been wondering what they would think
about my going to theatres and so on--with you."

"What should they think?" Richard broke in. "There's nothing whatever
in that. London isn't a provincial town, or even an American city."

"I shall tell them all about you," she went on, "and how kind you were
to me when I scarcely knew you at all. You couldn't have been kinder if
you'd been my only cousin."

"Say 'brother,'" he laughed awkwardly.

"No, really, I'm quite serious. I never thanked you properly. Perhaps I
seemed to take it all as a matter of course."

He wished to heaven she would stop.

"I'm disgusted that you are going," he grumbled, putting his hands
behind his head,--"disgusted."

"In many ways I am sorry too. But don't you think I am doing the right
thing?"

"How am I to tell?" he returned quickly. "All I know is that when you
go I shall be left all alone by my little self. You must think of me
sometimes in my lonely garret." His tone was light and whimsical, but
she would not follow his lead.

"I shall often think of you," she said musingly, scanning intently the
toe of her shoe.

It seemed to him that she desired to say something serious, to justify
herself to him, but could not gather courage to frame the words.

When he got out of the house, his thoughts sprang forth. It was a
chilly night; he turned up the collar of his overcoat, plunged his
hands deep into the pockets, and began to walk hurriedly, heedlessly,
while examining his feelings with curious deliberation. In the first
place, he was inexpressibly annoyed. "Annoyed,"--that was the right
word. He could not say that he loved her deeply, or that there was a
prospect of his loving her deeply, but she had become a delightful
factor in his life, and he had grown used to counting upon her for
society. Might he not, in time, conceivably have asked her to marry
him? Might she not conceivably have consented? In certain directions
she had disappointed him; beyond doubt her spiritual narrowness had
checked the growth of a passion which he had sedulously cherished and
fostered in himself. Yet, in spite of that, her feminine grace, her
feminine trustfulness, still exercised a strong and delicate charm. She
was a woman and he was a man, and each was the only friend the other
had; and now she was going away. The mere fact that she found a future
with her uncles in America more attractive than the life she was then
leading, cruelly wounded his self-love. He, then, was nothing to her,
after all; he had made no impression; she could relinquish him without
regret! At that moment she seemed above and beyond him. He was the poor
earthling; she the winged creature that soared in freedom now here, now
there, giving her favours lightly, and as lightly withdrawing them.

One thing came out clear: he was an unlucky fellow.

He ran over in his mind the people who would remain to him in London
when she had gone. Jenkins, Miss Roberts--Bah! how sickeningly
commonplace were they! _She_ was distinguished. She had an air, a
_je ne sais quoi_, which he had never observed in a woman before.
He recalled her gowns, her gestures, her turns of speech,--all the
instinctive touches by which she proved her superiority.

It occurred to him fancifully that there was a connection between her
apparently sudden resolve to leave England, and their visit to the
Crabtree and encounter with Miss Roberts. He tried to see in that
incident a premonition of misfortune. What morbid fatuity!

Before he went to sleep that night he resolved that at their next
meeting he would lead the conversation to a frank discussion of their
relations and "have it out with her." But when he called at Carteret
Street two days later, he found it quite impossible to do any such
thing. She was light-hearted and gay, and evidently looked forward to
the change of life with pleasure. She named the day of departure, and
mentioned that she had arranged to take Lottie with her. She consulted
him about a compromise, already effected, with her landlord as to the
remainder of the tenancy, and said she had sold the furniture as it
stood, for a very small sum, to a dealer. It hurt him to think that she
had given him no opportunity of actively assisting her in the hundred
little matters of business involved in a change of hemisphere. What had
become of her feminine reliance upon him?

He felt as if some object was rapidly approaching to collide with and
crush him, and he was powerless to hinder it.

Three days, two days, one day more!



CHAPTER XXV


The special train for Southampton, drawn up against the main-line
platform at Waterloo, seemed to have resigned itself with an almost
animal passivity to the onslaught of the crowd of well-dressed men and
women who were boarding it. From the engine a thin column of steam
rose lazily to the angular roof, where a few sparrows fluttered with
sudden swoops and short flights. The engine-driver leaned against the
side of the cab, stroking his beard; the stoker was trimming coal
on the tender. Those two knew the spectacle by heart: the scattered
piles of steamer trunks amidst which passengers hurried hither and
thither with no apparent object; the continual purposeless opening and
shutting of carriage doors; the deferential gestures of the glittering
guard as he bent an ear to ladies whose footmen stood respectfully
behind them; the swift movements of the bookstall clerk selling
papers, and the meditative look of the bookstall manager as he swept
his hand along the shelf of new novels and selected a volume which he
could thoroughly recommend to the customer in the fur coat; the long
colloquies between husbands and wives, sons and mothers, daughters and
fathers, fathers and sons, lovers and lovers, punctuated sometimes
by the fluttering of a handkerchief, or the placing of a hand on a
shoulder; the unconcealed agitation of most and the carefully studied
calm of a few; the grimaces of porters when passengers had turned away;
the slow absorption by _their_ train of all the luggage and nearly all
the people; the creeping of the clock towards the hour; the kisses;
the tears; the lowering of the signal,--to them it was no more than a
common street-scene.

Richard, having obtained leave from the office, arrived at a quarter
to twelve. He peered up and down. Could it be that she was really
going? Not even yet had he grown accustomed to the idea, and at times
he still said to himself, "It isn't really true; there must be some
mistake." The moment of separation, now that it was at hand, he accused
of having approached sneakingly to take him unawares. He was conscious
of no great emotion, such as his æsthetic sense of fitness might have
led him to expect,--nothing but a dull joylessness, the drab, negative
sensations of a convict foretasting a sentence of years.

There she stood, by the bookstall, engaged in lively talk with the
clerk, while other customers waited. Lottie was beside her, holding a
bag. The previous night they had slept at Morley's Hotel.

"Everything is all right, I hope?" he said, eyeing her narrowly, and
feeling extremely sentimental.

"Yes, thank you.... Lottie, you must go and keep watch over our
seats.... Well," she went on briskly, when they were left alone, "I am
actually going. I feel somehow as if it can't be true."

"Why, that is exactly how I have felt for days!" he answered, allowing
his voice to languish, and then fell into silence. He assiduously
coaxed himself into a mood of resigned melancholy. With sidelong
glances, as they walked quietly down the platform, he scanned her face,
decided it was divine, and dwelt lovingly on the thought: "I shall
never see it again."

"A dull day for you to start!" he murmured, in tones of gentle concern.

"Yes, and do you know, a gentleman in the hotel told me we should be
certain to have bad weather, and that made me so dreadfully afraid that
I nearly resolved to stay in England." She laughed.

"Ah, if you would!" he had half a mind to exclaim, but just then he
became aware of his affectation and trampled on it. The conversation
proceeded naturally to the subject of seasickness and the little joys
and perils of the voyage. Strange topics for a man and a woman about to
be separated, probably for ever! And yet Richard, for his part, could
think of none more urgent.

"I had better get in now, had I not?" she said. The clock stood at five
minutes to noon. Her face was sweetly serious as she raised it to his,
holding out her hand.

"Take care of yourself," was his fatuous parting admonition.

Her hand rested in his own, and he felt it tighten. Beneath the veil
the colour deepened a little in her rosy cheeks.

"I didn't tell you," she said abruptly, "that my uncles had begged me
to go to them weeks and weeks ago. I didn't tell you--and I put them
off--because I thought I would wait and see if you and I--cared for
each other."

It had come, the explanation! He blushed red, and stuck to her hand.
The atmosphere was suddenly electric. The station and the crowd were
blotted out.

"You understand?" she questioned, smiling bravely.

"Yes."

He was dimly conscious of having shaken hands with Lottie, of the
banging of many doors, of Adeline's face framed in a receding window.
Then the rails were visible beside the platform, and he had glimpses of
people hurriedly getting out of the train at the platform opposite. In
the distance the signal clattered to the horizontal. He turned round,
and saw only porters, and a few forlorn friends of the voyagers; one
woman was crying.

       *       *       *       *       *

Instead of going home from the office, he rambled about the
thoroughfares which converge at Piccadilly Circus, basking in the
night-glare of the City of Pleasure. He had four pounds in his pocket.
The streets were thronged with swiftly rolling vehicles. Restaurants
and theatres and music halls, in evening array, offered their gorgeous
enticements, and at last he entered the Café Royal, and, ordering
an elaborate dinner, ate it slowly, with thoughtful enjoyment. When
he had finished, he asked the waiter to bring a "Figaro." But there
appeared to be nothing of interest in that day's "Figaro," and he laid
it down.... The ship had sailed by this time. Had Adeline really made
that confession to him just before the train started, or was it a fancy
of his? There was something fine about her disconcerting frankness ...
fine, fine.... And the simplicity of it! He had let slip a treasure.
Because she lacked artistic sympathies, he had despised her, or at
best underestimated her. And once--to think of it!--he had nearly
loved her.... With what astonishing rapidity their intimacy had waxed,
drooped, and come to sudden death!... Love, what _was_ love? Perhaps he
loved her now, after all....

"Waiter!" He beckoned with a quaint movement of his forefinger which
brought a smile to the man's face--a smile which Richard answered
jovially.

"Sir?"

"A shilling cigar, please, and a coffee and cognac."

At about nine o'clock he went out again into the chill air, and the
cigar burnt brightly between his lips. He had unceremoniously dismissed
the too importunate image of Adeline, and he was conscious of a certain
devil-may-care elation.

Women were everywhere on the pavements. They lifted their silk skirts
out of the mud, revealing ankles and lace petticoats. They smiled
on him. They lured him in foreign tongues and in broken English. He
broadly winked at some of the more youthful ones, and they followed
him importunately, only to be shaken off with a laugh. As he walked,
he whistled or sang all the time. He was cut adrift, he explained to
himself, and through no fault of his own. His sole friend had left him
(much she cared!), and there was none to whom he owed the slightest
consideration. He was at liberty to do what he liked, without having
to consider first, "What would _she_ think of this?" Moreover, he must
discover solace, poor blighted creature! Looking down a side street, he
saw a man talking to a woman. He went past them, and heard what they
said. Then he was in Shaftesbury Avenue. Curious sensations fluttered
through his frame. With an insignificant oath, he nerved himself to a
resolve.

Several times he was on the very point of carrying it out when his
courage failed. He traversed the Circus, got as far as St. James's
Hall, and returned upon his steps. In a minute he was on the north side
of Coventry Street. He looked into the faces of all the women, but in
each he found something to repel, to fear.

Would it end in his going quietly home? He crossed over into the
seclusion of Whitcomb Street to argue the matter. As he was passing the
entry to a court, a woman came out, and both had to draw back to avoid
a collision.

"_Chéri_!" she murmured. She was no longer young, but her broad,
Flemish face showed kindliness and good humour in every feature of it,
and her voice was soft. He did not answer, and she spoke to him again.
His spine assumed the consistency of butter; a shuddering thrill ran
through him. She put her arm gently into his, and pressed it. He had no
resistance....



CHAPTER XXVI


It was the morning of Boxing Day, frosty, with a sky of steel grey; the
streets were resonant under the traffic.

Richard had long been anticipating the advent of the New Year, when
new resolutions were to come into force. A phrase from a sermon heard
at Bursley stuck in his memory: _Every day begins a new year_. But he
could not summon the swift, courageous decision necessary to act upon
that adage. For a whole year he had been slowly subsiding into a bog
of lethargy, and to extricate himself would, he felt, need an amount
of exertion which he could not put forth unless fortified by all the
associations of the season for such feats, and by the knowledge that
fellow-creatures were bracing themselves for a similar difficult wrench.

Now that he looked back upon them, the fourteen months which had
elapsed since Adeline's departure seemed to have succeeded one another
with marvellous rapidity. At first he had chafed under the loss of her,
and then gradually and naturally he had grown used to her absence. She
wrote to him, a rather long letter, full of details about the voyage
and the train journey and her uncles' home; he had opened the envelope
half expecting that the letter might affect him deeply; but it did not;
it struck him as a distinctly mediocre communication. He sent a reply,
and the correspondence ended. He did not love her, probably never had
loved her. A little sentiment: that was all. The affair was quite over.
If it had been perhaps unsatisfactory, the fault was not his. A man,
he reflected, cannot by taking thought fall in love (and yet this was
exactly what he had attempted to do!), and that in any case Adeline
would not have suited him. Still, at moments when he recalled her face
and gestures, her exquisite feminality, and especially her fine candour
at their parting, he grew melancholy and luxuriously pitied himself.

At the commencement of the year which was now drawing to a close he
had attacked the art of literature anew, and had compassed several
articles; but as one by one they suffered rejection, his energy had
dwindled, and in a short time he had again entirely ceased to write.
Nor did he pursue any ordered course of study. He began upon a number
of English classics, finishing few of them, and continued to consume
French novels with eagerness. Sometimes the French work, by its neat,
severe effectiveness, would stir in him a vague desire to do likewise,
but no serious sustained effort was made.

In the spring, when loneliness is peculiarly wearisome, he had joined
a literary and scientific institution, for young men only, upon whose
premises it was forbidden either to drink intoxicants or to smoke
tobacco. He paid a year's subscription, and in less than a fortnight
loathed not only the institution but every separate member and official
of it. Then he thought of transplanting himself to the suburbs, but
the trouble of moving the library of books which by this time he
had accumulated deterred him, as well as a lazy aversion for the
discomforts which a change would certainly involve.

And so he had sunk into a sort of coma. His chief task was to kill
time. Eight hours were due to the office and eight to sleep, and eight
others remained to be disposed of daily. In the morning he rose late,
retarding his breakfast hour, diligently read the newspaper, and
took the Park on the way to business. In the evening, as six o'clock
approached, he no longer hurried his work in order to be ready to
leave the office immediately the clock struck. On the contrary, he
often stayed after hours when there was no necessity to stay, either
leisurely examining his accounts, or gossiping with Jenkins or one of
the older clerks. He watched the firm's welfare with a jealous eye,
offered suggestions to Mr. Curpet which not seldom were accepted, and
grew to be regarded as exceptionally capable and trustworthy. He could
divine now and then in the tone or the look of the principals (who were
niggardly with praise) an implicit trust, mingled--at any rate, in
the case of the senior partner--with a certain respect. He grew more
sedate in manner, and to the office boys, over whom he had charge,
he was even forbidding; they disliked him, finding him a martinet
more strict and less suave than Mr. Curpet himself. He kept them
late at night sometimes without quite sufficient cause, and if they
showed dissatisfaction, told them sententiously that boys who were so
desperately anxious to do as little as they could would never get on in
the world.

Upon leaving the office he would stroll slowly through Booksellers' Row
and up the Strand, with the gait of a man whose time is entirely his
own. Once or twice a week he dined at one of the foreign restaurants in
Soho, prolonging the meal to an unconscionable length, and repairing
afterwards to some lounge for a cigar and a liqueur. He paid particular
attention to his dress, enjoying the sensation of wearing good clothes,
and fell into a habit of comparing his personal appearance with that of
the men whom he rubbed shoulders with in fashionable cafés and bars.
His salary sufficed for these petty extravagances, since he was still
living inexpensively in one room at Raphael Street; but besides what
he earned, his resources included the sum received from the estate of
William Vernon. Seventy pounds of this had melted in festivities with
Adeline, two hundred pounds was lent upon mortgage under Mr. Curpet's
guidance, and the other fifty was kept in hand, being broken into as
infrequent occasion demanded. The mortgage investment did much to
heighten his status not only with the staff but with his principals.

Seated in a wine-room or lager-beer hall, meditatively sipping from
glass or tankard, and savouring a fragrant cigar, he contrived to
extract a certain pleasure from the contemplation of his equality with
the men around him. Many of them, he guessed with satisfaction, were in
a worse or a less secure position than his own. He studied faces and
made a practice of entering into conversation with strangers, and these
chance encounters almost invariably left him with the impression that
he had met a mental inferior. Steeping himself, as it were, in all the
frivolous, lusory activities of the West End, he began to acquire that
indefinable, unmistakable air of _savoir-faire_ characteristic of the
prosperous clerk who spends his leisure in public places. People from
the country frequently mistook him for the young man-about-town of
the society papers, familiar with every form of metropolitan chicane,
luxury, and vice.

       *       *       *       *       *

After breakfast he went out into the Park with his skates. The
Serpentine had been frozen hard for more than a week, and yesterday, a
solitary unit in tens of thousands, he had celebrated Christmas on the
ice, skating from noon till nearly midnight, with brief intervals for
meals. The exercise and the fresh air had invigorated and enlivened
him, and this morning, as he plunged once more into the loose throng
of skaters, his spirits were buoyant. It had been his intention to
pass yet another day on the Serpentine; but a sudden, surprising fancy
entered his head, flitted away, and returned again and again with such
an increasing allurement that he fell in love with it: Why not commence
to write now? Why, after all, leave the new beginning till the New
Year? Was it true--what he had mournfully taken for granted for a month
past, and so lately as an hour ago--that he lacked the moral strength
to carry a good resolution into effect at any time he chose?... In a
moment, he had sworn to work four hours before he slept that night.

The decision reached, his humour became unequivocally gay. He shot
forward with longer, bolder strokes, enjoying with a keener zest the
swift motion and the strange black-and-white, sylvan-urban scene about
him. He forgot the year of idleness which lay immediately behind him,
forgot every previous failure, in the passionate exultation of his
new resolve. He whistled. He sang. He attempted impossible figures,
and only laughed when they ended in a fall. A woman, skating alone,
stumbled to her knees; he glided towards her, lifted her lightly,
raised his hat, and was gone before she could thank him: it was neatly
done; he felt proud of himself. As the clock struck twelve he took off
his skates, and walked in a quiet corner of the Park, deliberating
intently upon the plot of a story, which fortunately had been in his
mind for several months.

When he came in to dinner, he gave Lily five shillings for a Christmas
box, almost without thinking, and though he had no previous intention
of doing so; and inquired when she was to be married. He ordered tea
for four o'clock, so that the evening might be long. In the afternoon
he read and dozed. At a quarter to five the tea-things were cleared
away, the lamp was burning brightly, the blinds drawn, and his
writing-materials arranged on the table. He lit a pipe and sat down by
the fire. At last, at last, the old, long-abandoned endeavours were
about to be resumed!

The story which he was going to write was called "Tiddy-fol-lol." The
leading character was an old smith, to be named Downs, employed in
the forge of a large iron foundry at Bursley. Downs was a Primitive
Methodist of the narrowest type, and when his daughter fell in love
with and married a sceneshifter at the local theatre, she received
for dowry a father's curse. Once, in the foundry, Downs in speaking
of the matter had referred to his daughter as no better than a
"Tiddy-fol-lol," and for years afterwards a favourite sport of the
apprentice boys was to run after him, at a safe distance, calling
"Tiddy-fol-lol, Tiddy-fol-lol." The daughter, completely estranged
from her parent, died in giving birth to a son who grew up physically
strong and healthy, but half an idiot. At the age of twelve, quite
ignorant of his grandfather's identity, he was sent by his father to
work at the foundry. The other lads saw a chance for fun. Pointing
out Downs to him in the forge, they told him to go close to the man
and say "Tiddy-fol-lol." "What dost thee want?" Downs questioned
gruffly, when the boy stood before him with a vacant grin on his face.
"Tiddy-fol-lol," came the response, in the aggravating, uninflected
tones peculiar to an imbecile. Downs raised his tremendous arm in a
flash of anger, and felled the youngster with a blow on the side of
the head. Then he bade him rise. But the child, caught just under the
ear, had been struck dead. Downs was tried for manslaughter, pronounced
insane, and subsequently released as a harmless lunatic. The Salvation
Army took charge of him, and he lived by selling "War-Cries" in the
streets, still pursued by boys who shouted "Tiddy-fol-lol."

Properly elaborated, Richard opined, such a plot would make a powerful
story. In his brain the thing was already complete. The one difficulty
lay in the selection of a strong opening scene; that done, he was sure
the incidents of the tale would fall naturally into place. He began to
cogitate, but his thoughts went wool-gathering most pertinaciously,
though time after time he compelled them to return to the subject in
hand by force of knitted brows. He finished his pipe and recharged it.
The fire burnt low, and he put on more coal. Still no suitable opening
scene presented itself. His spirits slowly fell. What ailed him?

At length, an idea! He was not going to fail, after all. The story must
of course begin with a quarrel between old Downs and his daughter.
He drew up to the table, took a pen, and wrote the title; then a few
sentences, hurriedly, and then a page. Then he read what was written,
pronounced it unconvincing rubbish, and tore it up. Words were
untractable, and, besides, he could not _see_ the scene. He left the
table, and after studying a tale of de Maupassant's, started on a new
sheet, carefully imitating the manner of that writer. But he could by
no means satisfy himself. Mrs. Rowbotham appeared with the supper-tray,
and he laid his writing-materials on the bed. During supper he took up
de Maupassant once more, and at ten o'clock made yet a third attempt,
well knowing beforehand that it would not be successful. The plot
tumbled entirely to pieces; the conclusion especially was undramatic;
but how to alter it?...

He was disgusted with himself. He wondered what would happen to him if
he lost his situation. Supposing that the firm of Curpet and Smythe
failed! Smythe was a careless fellow, capable of ruining business in a
month if for any reason Curpet's restraining influence was withdrawn.
These and similar morbid fancies assailed him, and he went to bed sick
with misery, heartily wishing that he had been less precipitate in his
attempt to be industrious. He had a superstition that if he had waited
for the New Year, the adventure might have resulted more happily.

In the night he awoke, to lament upon his solitariness. Why had he
no congenial friends? How could he set about obtaining sympathetic
companionship? He needed, in particular, cultured feminine society.
Given that, he could work; without it he should accomplish nothing. He
reflected that in London there were probably thousands of "nice girls,"
pining for such men as he. What a ridiculous civilisation it was that
prevented him from meeting them! When he saw a promising girl in a
bus, why in the name of heaven should he not be at liberty to say to
her, "Look here, I can convince you that I mean well; let us make each
other's acquaintance"?... But convention, convention! He felt himself
to be imprisoned by a relentless, unscaleable wall.... Then he dreamt
that he was in a drawing-room full of young men and women, and that all
were chattering vivaciously and cleverly. He himself stood with his
back to the fire, and talked to a group of girls. They looked into his
face, as Adeline used to look. They grasped his ideals and his aims
without laborious explanations; half a word was sufficient to enlighten
them; he saw the gleam of appreciative comprehension in their eyes long
before his sentences were finished....



CHAPTER XXVII


The next morning was bright with sunshine; the frost had broken, and
the streets were beginning to be muddy. Richard went out, his mind
empty, and dully dejected. At Sloane Street he mounted a bus, taking
the one vacant front seat on the top. For a little while he stared
absently at the handle of his stick. Presently a chance movement of
the head made him aware that someone's eyes were upon him. He looked
round. In the far corner of the seat opposite was Miss Roberts. She
hesitated, flushing, and then bowed, and he responded. No further
communications were possible just then (and for this, at the moment,
he felt thankful), because they were separated by two young gentlemen
wearing tweed caps, and collars which might have been clean once, who
were arguing briskly over a copy of the "Sportsman."

For some strange reason of diffidence, Richard had not been to the
Crabtree since his visit there with Adeline. He was sardonically in
search of his motive for staying away when the young gentlemen with
the "Sportsman" left the bus. Miss Roberts grew rosy as he got up and
offered her his hand, at the same time seating himself by her side.
She wore a black jacket and skirt, well worn but in good preservation,
a hat with red flowers, and grey woollen gloves; and any person of
ordinary discernment would have guessed her occupation without a great
deal of difficulty. During the last year she had become stouter, and
her figure was now full rather than slender; her features, especially
the nostrils, mouth, and chin, were somewhat heavy, but she had
prettily shaped ears, and her eyes, of no definable tint, were soft and
tender; her reddish-brown hair was as conspicuous and as splendid as
ever, coiled with tight precision at the back of her head, and escaping
here and there above her ears in tiny flying wisps. The expression of
her face was mainly one of amiability, but passive, animal-like, inert;
she seemed full of good-nature.

"We haven't seen you at the Crabtree, lately," she said.

"You are still at the old place, then?"

"Oh, yes; and shall be, I expect. They've taken another floor now, and
we're the biggest vegetarian restaurant in London."

There was a note of timid agitation in her voice, and he noticed
besides that her cheeks were red and her eyes shone. Could it be that
this encounter had given her pleasure? The idea of such a possibility
afforded him secret delight.... She, a breathing woman, glad to see
him! He wondered what the other people on the bus were thinking of
them, and especially what the driver thought; the driver had happened
to catch sight of them when they were shaking hands, and as Richard
examined the contour of the man's rubicund face, he fancied he saw
there a glimmer of a smile. This was during a little pause in the
conversation.

"And how have you spent Christmas?" It was Richard's question.

"At home," she answered simply, "with father and mother. My married
sister and her husband came over for the day."

"And I spent mine all alone," he said ruefully. "No friends, no
pudding, no nothing."

She looked at him compassionately.

"I suppose you live in rooms? It must be very lonely."

"Oh!" he returned lightly, yet seizing with eager satisfaction the
sympathy she offered, "it's nothing when you're used to it. This makes
my third Christmas in London, and none of them has been particularly
uproarious. Fortunately there was the skating this year. I was on the
Serpentine nearly all day."

Then she asked him if skating was easy to learn, because she had been
wanting to try for years, but had never had opportunity. He answered
that it was quite easy, if one were not afraid.

"I'm going your way," he said, as they both got off at Piccadilly
Circus, and they walked along Coventry Street together. The talk
flagged; to rouse it Richard questioned her about the routine of the
restaurant,--a subject on which she spoke readily, and with a certain
sense of humour. When they reached the Crabtree,--

"Why, it's been painted!" Richard exclaimed. "It looks very swagger,
indeed, now."

"Yes, my! doesn't it? And it's beautiful inside, too. You must come in
sometime."

"I will," he said with emphasis.

She shook his hand quite vigorously, and their eyes met with a
curious questioning gaze. He smiled to himself as he walked down
Chandos Street; his dejection had mysteriously vanished, and he even
experienced a certain uplifting of spirit. It occurred to him that he
had never at all understood Miss Roberts before. How different she was
outside the restaurant! Should he go to the Crabtree for lunch that
day, or should he allow a day or two to elapse? He decidedly prudently
to wait.

He debated whether he should mention the meeting to Jenkins, and said
on the whole that he would not do so. But he found Jenkins surprisingly
urbane, and without conscious volition he was soon saying,--

"Guess who I came down with on the bus this morning."

Jenkins gave it up.

"Laura Roberts;" and then, seeing no look of comprehension on Jenkins'
face, "You know, the cashier at the Crabtree."

"Oh--_her_!"

The stress was a little irritating.

"_I_ saw her about a fortnight ago," Jenkins said.

"At the Crabtree?"

"Yes. Did she say anything to you about me?" The youth smiled.

"No. Why?"

"Nothing. We had a talk, and I mashed her a bit,--that's all."

"Ah, my boy, you won't get far with her."

"Oh, sha'n't I? I could tell you a thing or two _re_ Laura Roberts, if
I liked."

Although Jenkins' remark was characteristic, and Richard knew well
enough that there was nothing behind his words, yet his mind reverted
instantly to the stories connecting Miss Roberts with Mr. Aked.

"Don't gas," he said curtly. "She looks on you as a boy."

"Man enough for any woman," said Jenkins, twirling the rudiments of a
moustache.

The discussion might have gone further, had it not been interrupted by
Mr. Smythe, who burst suddenly into the room, as his custom was.

"Larch, come with me into Mr. Curpet's room." His tone was brusque. He
had none of Mr. Curpet's natural politeness, though on rare occasions,
of which the present was not one, he sought clumsily to imitate it.
Richard felt a vague alarm.

With a muffler round his throat, Mr. Curpet was seated before the fire,
blowing his nose and breathing noisily. Mr. Smythe went to the window,
and played with the tassel of the blind cord.

"We are thinking of making some changes, Larch," Mr. Curpet began.

"Yes, sir." His heart sank. Was he to be dismissed? The next sentence
was reassuring.

"In future all costs will be drawn and settled in the office, instead
of being sent out. Do you feel equal to taking charge of that
department?"

Richard had many times helped in the preparation of bills of cost, and
possessed a fair knowledge of this complicated and engaging subject. He
answered very decidedly in the affirmative.

"What we propose," Mr. Smythe broke in, "is that you should have an
assistant, and that the two of you should attend to both the books and
the costs."

"Of course your salary will be increased," Mr. Curpet added.

"Let me see, what do you get now?" This from Mr. Smythe, whose memory
was imperfect.

"Three pounds ten, sir."

"Suppose we say four pounds ten," said Mr. Smythe to Mr. Curpet, and
then turning to Larch: "That's very good indeed, you know, young man;
you wouldn't get that everywhere. By Jove, no, you wouldn't!" Richard
was fully aware of the fact. He could scarcely credit his own luck.
"And we shall expect you to keep things up to the mark."

Mr. Curpet smiled kindly over his handkerchief, as if to intimate that
Mr. Smythe need not have insisted on that point.

"And you may have to stay late sometimes," Mr. Smythe went on.

"Yes, sir."

When the interview was finished, he retraced his career at the office,
marvelling that he should have done anything unusual enough to inspire
his principals to such appreciation, and he soon made out that,
compared with others of the staff, he had indeed been a model clerk.
A delicious self-complacence enveloped him. Mr. Smythe had had the air
of conferring a favour; but Mr. Curpet was at the head of affairs at
No. 2 Serjeant's Court, and Mr. Curpet's attitude had been decidedly
flattering. At first he had a difficulty in grasping his good fortune,
thought it too good to be true; but he ended by believing in himself
very heartily. In the matter of salary, he stood now second only to Mr.
Alder, he a youth not three years out of the provinces. Three years
ago an income of £234 per annum would have seemed almost fabulous. His
notions as to what constituted opulence had changed since then, but
nevertheless £234 was an excellent revenue, full of possibilities. A
man could marry on that and live comfortably; many men ventured to
marry on half as much. In clerkdom he had indubitably risen with ease
to the upper ranks. There was good Northern stuff in Richard Larch,
after all! As he walked home, his brain was busy with plans, beautiful
plans for the New Year,--how he would save money, and how he would
spend his nights in toil.



CHAPTER XXVIII


There happened to be a room to let on the same floor as Richard's
own. The rent was only five shillings per week, and he arranged to
take it and use it as a bedroom, transforming the other and larger
room into a study. Mrs. Rowbotham was asked to remove all her tables,
chairs, carpets, pictures, ornaments, and accessories from both
rooms, as he proposed to furnish them entirely anew at his own cost.
This did not indicate that a sudden increase of revenue had, as once
on a previous occasion, engendered in him a propensity to squander.
On the contrary, his determination to live economically was well
established, and he hoped to save a hundred pounds per annum with
ease. But the influence of an æsthetic environment upon his literary
work would, he argued, probably be valuable enough to justify the
moderate expenditure involved, and so all the leisure of the last
days of the year was given to the realisation of certain theories in
regard to the furnishing of a study and a bedroom. Unfortunately the
time at his disposal was very limited--- was it not essential that
the place should be set in order by the 31st of December, that work
might commence on the 1st of January?--but he did not spare himself,
and the result, when he contemplated it on New Year's Eve, filled him
with pleasure and pride. He felt that he could write worthily in that
study, with its four autotype reproductions of celebrated pictures
on the self-coloured walls, its square of Indian carpet over Indian
matting, its long, low bookshelves, its quaint table with the elm
top, its plain rush-bottomed chairs, and its broad luxurious divan.
He marvelled that he had contrived so long to exist in the room as it
was before, and complacently attributed his ill-success as a writer to
the lack of harmonious surroundings. By the last post arrived a New
Year's card from Mrs. Clayton Vernon. Twelve months ago she had sent a
similar kind token of remembrance, and he had ignored it; in the summer
she had written inviting him to spend a few days at Bursley, and he
had somewhat too briefly asked to be excused. To-night, however, he
went out, bought a New Year's card, and despatched it to her at once.
He flowed over with benevolence, viewing the world through the rosy
spectacles of high resolve. Mrs. Clayton Vernon was an excellent woman,
and he would prove to her and to Bursley that they had not estimated
too highly the possibilities of Richard Larch. He was, in truth,
prodigiously uplifted. The old sense of absolute power over himself
for good or evil returned. A consciousness of exceptional ability
possessed him. The future, splendid in dreams, was wholly his; and yet
again--perhaps more thoroughly than ever before--the ineffectual past
was effaced. To-morrow was the New Year, and to-morrow the new heaven
and the new earth were to begin.

He had decided to write a novel. Having failed in short stories and in
essays, it seemed to him likely that the novel, a form which he had
not so far seriously attempted, might suit his idiosyncrasy better. He
had once sketched out the plot of a short novel, a tale of adventure
in modern London, and on examination this struck him as ingenious and
promising. Moreover, it would appeal--like Stevenson's "New Arabian
Nights," which in Richard's mind it distantly resembled--both to the
general and to the literary public. He determined to write five hundred
words of it a day, five days a week; at this rate of progress he
calculated that the book would be finished in four months; allowing two
months further for revision, it ought to be ready for a publisher at
the end of June.

He drew his chair up to the blazing fire, and looked down the vista of
those long, lamplit evenings during which the novel was to grow under
his hands. How different he from the average clerk, who with similar
opportunities was content to fritter away those hours which would
lead himself, perhaps, to fame! He thought of Adeline, and smiled.
What, after all, did such as he want with women? He was in a position
to marry, and if he met a clever girl of sympathetic temperament, he
emphatically would marry (it did not occur to him to add the clause,
"Provided she will have me"); but otherwise he would wait. He could
afford to wait,--to wait till he had made a reputation, and half a
score of women, elegant and refined, were only too willing to envelop
him in an atmosphere of adoration.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was part of his plan for economy to dine always at the Crabtree,
where one shilling was the price of an elaborate repast, and he went
there on New Year's Day. As he walked up Charing Cross Road, his
thoughts turned naturally to Miss Roberts. Would she be as cordial
as when he had met her on the omnibus, or would she wear the polite
mask of the cashier, treating him merely as a frequenter of the
establishment? She was engaged when he entered the dining-room, but she
noticed him and nodded. He looked towards her several times during his
meal, and once her eyes caught his and she smiled, not withdrawing
them for a few moments; then she bent over her account book.

His fellow-diners seemed curiously to have degenerated, to have grown
still narrower in their sympathies, still more careless in their
eating, still more peculiar or shabbier in their dress. The young women
of masculine aspect set their elbows on the table more uncompromisingly
than ever, and the young men with soiled wristbands or no wristbands
at all were more than ever tedious in their murmured conversations. It
was, indeed, a bizarre company that surrounded him! Then he reflected
that these people had not altered. The change was in himself. He had
outgrown them; he surveyed them now as from a tower. He was a man with
a future, using this restaurant because it suited him temporarily to
do so, while they would use it till the end, never deviating, never
leaving the rut.

"So you have come at last!" Miss Roberts said to him when he presented
his check. "I was beginning to think you had deserted us."

"But it's barely a week since I saw you," he protested. "Let me wish
you a happy New Year."

"The same to you." She flushed a little, and then: "What do you think
of our new decorations? Aren't they pretty?"

He praised them perfunctorily, even without glancing round. His eyes
were on her face. He remembered the reiterated insinuations of Jenkins,
and wondered whether they had any ground of fact.

"By the way, has Jenkins been here to-day?" he inquired, by way of
introducing the name.

"Is that the young man who used to come with you sometimes? No."

There was no trace of self-consciousness in her bearing, and Richard
resolved to handle Jenkins with severity. Another customer approached
the pay-desk.

"Well, good afternoon." He lingered.

"Good afternoon." Her gaze rested on him softly. "I suppose you'll be
here again _some_ time." She spoke low, so that the other customer
should not hear.

"I'm coming every day now, I think," he answered in the same tone, with
a smothered laugh. "Ta-ta."

That night at half-past seven he began his novel. The opening chapter
was introductory, and the words came without much effort. This being
only a draft, there was no need for polish; so that when a sentence
refused to run smoothly at the first trial, he was content to make it
grammatical and leave it. He seemed to have been working for hours when
a desire took him to count up what was already written. Six hundred
words! He sighed the sigh of satisfaction, and looked at his watch,
to find that it was exactly half-past eight. The discovery somewhat
damped his felicity. He began to doubt whether stuff composed at the
rate of ten words a minute could have any real value. Pooh! Sometimes
one wrote quickly, and sometimes slowly. The number of minutes occupied
was no index of quality. Should he continue writing? Yes, he would....
No.... Why should he? He had performed the task self-allotted for the
day, and more; and now he was entitled to rest. True, the actual time
of labour had been very short; but then, another day the same amount of
work might consume three or four hours. He put away his writing-things,
and searched about for something to read, finally lighting on "Paradise
Lost." But "Paradise Lost" wanted actuality. He laid it aside. Was
there any valid reason why he should not conclude the evening at the
theatre? None. The frost had returned with power, and the reverberation
of the streets sounded invitingly through his curtained windows. He
went out, and walked briskly up Park Side. At Hyde Park Corner he
jumped on an omnibus.

It was the first night of a new ballet at the Ottoman. "Standing-room
only," said the man at the ticket-office. "All right," said Richard,
and, entering, was greeted with soft music, which came to him like a
fitful zephyr over a sea of heads.



CHAPTER XXIX


One Saturday afternoon towards the end of February, he suddenly decided
to read through so much of the draft novel as was written; hitherto
he had avoided any sort of revision. The resolve to accomplish five
hundred words a day had been kept indifferently well, and the total
stood at about fourteen thousand. As he wrote a very bold hand, the
sheets covered made quite a respectable pile. The mere bulk of them
cajoled him, in spite of certain misgivings, into an optimistic
surmise as to their literary quality. Never before had he written so
much upon one theme, and were the writing good or bad, he was, for a
few moments, proud of his achievement. The mischief lay in the fact
that week by week he had exercised less and still less care over
the work. The phrase, "Anything will do for a draft," had come to
be uttered with increasing frequency as an excuse for laxities of
style and construction. "I will make that right in the revision,"
he had reassured himself, and had gone negligently forward, leaving
innumerable crudities in the wake of his hurrying pen. During the last
few days he had written scarcely anything, and perhaps it was a hope
of stimulating a drooping inspiration by the complacent survey of work
actually done that tempted him to this hazardous perusal.

He whistled as he took up the manuscript, as a boy whistles when going
into a dark cellar. The first three pages were read punctiliously,
every word of them, but soon he grew hasty, rushing to the next
paragraph ere the previous one was grasped; then he began shamelessly
to skip; and then he stopped, and his heart seemed to stop also.
The lack of homogeneity, of sequence, of dramatic quality, of human
interest; the loose syntax; and the unrelieved mediocrity of it all,
horrified him. The thing was dry bones, a fiasco. The certainty that
he had once more failed swept over him like a cold, green wave of the
sea, and he had a physical feeling of sickness in the stomach.... It
was with much ado that he refrained from putting the whole manuscript
upon the fire, and crushing it venomously into the flames with a
poker. Then he steadied himself. His self-confidence was going, almost
gone; he must contrive to recover it, and he sought for a way. (Where
were now the rash exultations of the New Year?) It was impossible
that his work should be irredeemably bad. He remembered having read
somewhere that the difference between a fine and a worthless novel was
often a difference of elaboration simply. A conscientious re-writing,
therefore, might probably bring about a surprising amelioration. He
must immediately make the experiment. But he had long since solemnly
vowed not to commence the second writing till the draft was done;
the moral value of finishing even the draft had then seemed to him
priceless. No matter! Under stress of grievous necessity, that oath
must be forsworn. No other course could save him from collapse.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went out into the streets. The weather, fine and bright, suggested
the earliest infancy of spring, and Piccadilly was full of all classes
and all ages of women. There were regiments of men, too, but the gay
and endless stream of women obsessed him. He saw them sitting in
hansoms and private carriages and on the tops of omnibuses, niched in
high windows, shining in obscurity of shops, treading the pavements
with fairy step, either unattended or by the side of foolish,
unappreciative males. Every man in London seemed to have the right to
a share of some woman's companionship, except himself. As for those
men who walked alone, they had sweethearts somewhere, or mothers and
sisters, or they were married and even now on the way to wife and
hearth. Only he was set apart.

A light descended upon him that afternoon. The average man and the
average woman being constantly thrown into each other's society, custom
has staled for them the exquisite privilege of such intercourse. The
rustic cannot share the townsman's enthusiasm for rural scenery; he
sees no matter for ecstasy in the view from his cottage door; and in
the same way the average man and the average woman dine together, talk
together, walk together, and know not how richly they are therein
blessed. But with solitaries like Richard it is different. Debarred
from fellowship with the opposite sex by circumstances and an innate
diffidence which makes the control of circumstance impossible, their
starved sensibilities acquire certain morbid tenderness. (Doubtless the
rustic discerns morbidity in the attitude of the townsman towards the
view from his cottage door.) Richard grasped this. In a luminous moment
of self-revelation, he was able to trace the growth of the malady.
From its first vague and fugitive symptoms, it had so grown that now,
on seeing an attractive woman, he could not be content to say, "What
an attractive woman!" and have done with it, but he needs must build a
house, furnish a room in the house, light a fire in the room, place
a low chair by the fire, put the woman in the chair, with a welcoming
smile on her upturned lips--and imagine that she was his wife. And it
was not only attractive women that laid the spell upon him. The sight
of any living creature in petticoats was liable to set his hysterical
fancy in motion. Every woman he met was Woman.... Of the millions of
women in London, why was he not permitted to know a few? Why was he
entirely cut off? There they were: their silk skirts brushed him as
they passed; they thanked him for little services in public vehicles;
they ministered to him in restaurants; they sang to him at concerts,
danced for him at theatres; touched his existence at every side--and
yet they were remoter than the stars, unattainable as the moon.... He
rebelled. He sank in despair, and rose to frenzies of anger. Then he
was a pathetic figure, and extended to himself his own pity, smiling
sardonically at fate. Fate was the harder to bear because he was
convinced that, at the heart of him, he was essentially a woman's man.
None could enjoy the feminine atmosphere more keenly, more artistically
than he. Other men, who had those delicious rights for which he longed
in vain, assessed them meanly, or even scorned them.... He looked back
with profound regret to his friendship with Adeline. He dreamt that
she had returned, that he had fallen in love with her and married her,
that her ambitions were leading him forward to success. Ah! Under the
incentive of a woman's eyes, of what tremendous efforts is a clever man
not capable, and deprived of it to what deeps of stagnations will he
not descend! Then he awoke again to the fact that he knew no woman in
London.

Yes, he knew one, and his thoughts began to play round her caressingly,
idealising and ennobling her. She only gave him his change daily at
the Crabtree, but he knew her; there existed between them a kind of
intimacy. She was a plain girl, possessing few attractions, except the
supreme one of being a woman. She was below him in station; but had
she not her refinements? Though she could not enter into his mental
or emotional life, did she not exhale for him a certain gracious
influence? His heart went forth to her. Her flirtations with Mr. Aked,
her alleged dalliance with Jenkins? Trifles, nothings! She had told him
that she lived with her mother and father and a younger brother, and on
more than one occasion she had mentioned the Wesleyan chapel; he had
gathered that the whole family was religious. In theory he detested
religious women, and yet--religion in a woman ... what was it? He
answered the question with a man's easy laugh. And if her temperament
was somewhat lymphatic, he divined that, once roused, she was capable
of the most passionate feeling. He had always had a predilection for
the sleeping-volcano species of woman.



CHAPTER XXX


Richard was soon forced to the conclusion that the second writing
of his novel was destined to be a failure. For a few days he stuck
doggedly to the task, writing stuff which, as he wrote it, he knew
would ultimately be condemned. Then one evening he stopped suddenly, in
the middle of a word, bit the penholder for a moment, and threw it down
with a "Damn!" This sort of thing could not continue.

"Better come up and see my new arrangements at Raphael Street
to-night," he said to Jenkins the next day. He wanted a diversion.

"Any whisky going?"

"Certainly."

"Delighted, I'm sure," said Jenkins, with one of his ridiculous polite
bows. He regarded these rare invitations as an honour; it was more than
six months since the last.

They drank whisky and smoked cigars which Jenkins had thoughtfully
brought with him, and chattered for a long time about office matters.
And then, as the cigar-ash accumulated, the topics became more
personal and intimate. That night Jenkins was certainly in a serious
vein; further, he was on his best behaviour, striving to be sympathetic
and gentlemanly. He confided to Richard his aspirations. He wished
to learn French and proposed to join a Polytechnic Institute for the
purpose. Also, he had thoughts of leaving home, and living in rooms,
like Richard. He was now earning twenty-eight shillings a week; he
intended to save money and to give up all intoxicants beyond half a
pint of bitter a day. Richard responded willingly to his mood, and
offered sound advice, which was listened to with deference. Then the
talk, as often aforetime, drifted to the subject of women. It appeared
that Jenkins had a desire to "settle down" (he was twenty-one). He knew
several fellows in the Walworth Road who had married on less than he
was earning.

"What about Miss Roberts?" Richard questioned.

"Oh! She's off. She's a bit too old for me, you know. She must be
twenty-six."

"Look here, my boy," said Richard, good-humouredly. "I don't believe
you ever had anything to do with her at all. It was nothing but
boasting."

"What will you bet I can't prove it to you?" Jenkins retorted, putting
out his chin, an ominous gesture with him.

"I'll bet you half-a-crown--no, a shilling."

"Done."

Jenkins took a leather-case from his pocket, and handed Richard a
midget photograph of Miss Roberts. Underneath it was her signature,
"Yours sincerely, Laura Roberts."

Strange to say, the incident did not trouble Richard in the least.

He walked down to Victoria with Jenkins towards midnight, and on
returning to his lodging, thought for the hundredth time how futile was
his present mode of existence, how bare of all that makes life worth
living. Of what avail to occupy pretty rooms, if one occupied them
alone, coming into them at night to find them empty, leaving them in
the morning without a word of farewell? In the waste of London, Laura
Roberts made the one green spot. He had lost interest in his novel. On
the other hand, his interest in the daily visit to the Crabtree was
increasing.

As day succeeded day he fell into a practice of deliberately seeking
out and magnifying the finer qualities in her nature, while ignoring
those which were likely to offend him; indeed he refused to allow
himself to be offended. He went so far as to retard his lunch-hour
permanently, so that, the rush of customers being past, he should
have better opportunity to talk to her without interruption. Then
he timidly essayed the first accents of courtship, and finding his
advances accepted, grew bolder. One Sunday morning he met her as she
was coming out of the Wesleyan chapel at Munster Park; he said the
encounter was due to accident. She introduced him to her relations, who
were with her. Her father was a big, stout, dark man, dressed in black
faced-cloth, with a heavy beard, huge chubby fingers, and jagged grey
finger-nails. Her mother was a spare woman of sorrowful aspect, whose
thin lips seldom moved; she held her hands in front of her, one on the
top of the other. Her brother was a lank schoolboy, wearing a damaged
mortar-board hat.

Shortly afterwards he called on her at Carteret Street. The schoolboy
opened the door, and after inviting him as far as the lobby, vanished
into a back room only to reappear and run upstairs. Richard heard his
loud, agitated whisper: "Laura, Laura, here's Mr. Larch come to see
you."

They strolled to Wimbledon Common that night.

His entity seemed to have become dual. One part of him was willingly
enslaved to an imperious, headstrong passion; the other stood calmly,
cynically apart, and watched. There were hours when he could foresee
the whole of his future life, and measure the bitter, ineffectual
regret which he was laying up; hours when he admitted that his passion
had been, as it were, artificially incited, and that there could be
no hope of an enduring love. He liked Laura; she was a woman, a balm,
a consolation. To all else he obstinately shut his eyes, and, casting
away every consideration of prudence, hastened to involve himself more
and more deeply. Swiftly, swiftly, the climax approached. He hailed it
with a strange, affrighted joy.



CHAPTER XXXI


They were upon Chelsea Embankment in the late dusk of a Saturday
evening in May. A warm and gentle wind stirred the budding trees to
magic utterances. The long, straight line of serried lamps stretched
away to an enchanted bridge which with twinkling lights hung poised
over the misty river. The plash of an oar came languorously up from
the water, and the voices of boys calling. At intervals, couples like
themselves passed by, either silent or conversing in low tones that
seemed to carry inner, inarticulate meanings. As for them, they were
silent; he had not her arm, but they walked close together. He was
deeply and indescribably moved; his heart beat heavily, and when he
looked at her face in the gloom and saw that her eyes were liquid, it
beat yet more heavily; then lay still.

"Let us sit down--shall we?" he said at length, and they turned to an
empty bench under a tree. "What is she thinking?" he wondered, and then
the dominant feeling of the moment possessed him wholly. His ambitions
floated out of sight and were forgotten. He remembered nothing except
the girl by his side, whose maddening bosom rose and fell under his
very gaze. At that moment she belonged to no class; had no virtues, no
faults. All the inessentials of her being were stripped away, and she
was merely a woman, divine, desired, necessary, waiting to be captured.
She sat passive, expectant, the incarnation of the Feminine.

He took her hand and felt it tremble. At the contact a thrill ran about
him, and for a second a delicious faintness robbed him of all strength.
Then with inexplicable rapidity his mind went unerringly back to that
train-journey to William's funeral. He saw the cottage in the fields,
and the young mother, half robed and with sleep in her eyes, standing
at the door. Exquisite vision!

He heard himself speaking,--

"Laura...."

The little hand gave a timorous encouragement.

"Laura ... you are going to marry me."

The intoxicating pressure of her lips on his was answer. Heedless of
publicity, he crushed her against his breast, this palpitating creature
with the serious face. Ah, she could love!

It was done. The great irretrievable moment had gone to join a million
other moments of no significance. He felt triumphant, fiercely
triumphant. His frightful solitude was at an end. One woman was his. A
woman ... his, his own!

See! A tear quivered in her eye.



CHAPTER XXXII


Sunday was stiflingly hot. At Sloane Street the roof of every Putney
omnibus was already laden with passengers, and Richard on his way to
Carteret Street to make the acquaintance of Laura's married sister,
Milly Powell, her husband and young child, was forced at last to be
content with a seat inside. The public houses were just closing for
the afternoon, and the footpaths full of holiday-makers, with here and
there a girl or a middle-aged man carrying a Bible. No vehicles were
abroad except the omnibuses and an occasional hired carriage which
passed by with a nonchalant, lazy air.

At the Redcliffe Arms there got in a little family party consisting of
a stout, seemingly prosperous man, gruffly good-humoured, his wife, and
a boy of about three years, whose puffy face was disfigured by large
spectacles.

"Sit here, Milly, out of the sun," the man said curtly.

Richard looked up at the sound of the name. The woman's likeness to
Laura was unmistakable; beyond doubt she must be the sister of his
betrothed. He examined her curiously. She was perhaps slightly under
thirty, of a good height and well set, with a large head and a large,
plain face. Her movements were clumsy. She appeared to be just upon
the line which divides the matron from the young mother. In both her
features and her attire there were faint reminders of girlish grace, or
at least of the charm of the shy wife who nurses her first-born. Her
complexion was clear and fresh, her ears small and delicately pink, her
eyes cool grey. But one did not notice these beauties without careful
inspection, while the heavy jaws, the lax eyelids, the flattened
nose whose tilt unpleasantly revealed the nostrils, were obvious and
repellent. She wore a black gown, which fitted badly, imparting an
ungainliness probably foreign to her proper figure. Her broad hat of
black straw, trimmed with poppies and corn-flowers, was strikingly
modish, and the veil, running at an angle from the extremity of the
brim down to her chin, gave to her face a cloistered quality which
had its own seductiveness. Her small hands were neatly gloved, and
held a cheap, effective parasol. The woman's normal expression was one
of cow-like vacancy, but now and then her eyes would light up as she
spoke to the child, gently restraining it, reassuring it, rallying it
with simple banter. She was still in love with her husband; frequently
she glanced at him with furtive wistfulness. She was able to enjoy
the summer weather. She was not quite dead to the common phenomena of
the roadside. But the last resistances of departing youthfulness and
vivacity against the narcotic of a dull, unlovely domesticity were
taking place. In a year or two she would be the typical matron of the
lower middle-class.

When Richard had made these observations, he reflected: "Laura will be
like that--soon." Mentally he compared the two faces, and he could, as
it were, see Laura's changing....

Then followed a reverie which embraced the whole of his past life. He
recognised that, while he bore all the aspect of prosperity, he had
failed. Why had nature deprived him of strength of purpose? Why could
not he, like other men, bend circumstances to his own ends? He sought
for a reason, and he found it in his father, that mysterious, dead
transmitter of traits, of whom he knew so little, and on whose name lay
a blot of some kind which was hidden from him. He had been born in the
shadow, and after a fitful struggle towards emergence, into the shadow
he must again retire. Fate was his enemy. Mary had died; Mary would
have helped him to be strong. Mr. Aked had died; Mr. Aked's inspiring
influence would have incited and guided his efforts. Adeline had
abandoned him to a fatal loneliness.

He knew that he would make no further attempt to write. Laura was not
even aware that he had had ambitions in that direction. He had never
told her, because she would not have understood. She worshipped him, he
felt sure, and at times he had a great tenderness for her; but it would
be impossible to write in the suburban doll's-house which was to be
theirs. No! In future he would be simply the suburban husband--dutiful
towards his employers, upon whose grace he would be doubly dependent;
keeping his house in repair; pottering in the garden; taking his wife
out for a walk, or occasionally to the theatre; and saving as much
as he could. He would be good to his wife--she was his. He wanted to
get married at once. He wanted to be master of his own dwelling. He
wanted to have Laura's kiss when he went out of a morning to earn the
bread-and-cheese. He wanted to see her figure at the door when he
returned at night. He wanted to share with her the placid, domestic
evening. He wanted to tease her, and to get his ears boxed and be
called a great silly. He wanted to creep into the kitchen and surprise
her with a pinch of the cheek as she bent over the range. He wanted to
whisk her up in his arms, carry her from one room to another, and set
her down breathless in a chair.... Ah! Let it be soon. And as for the
more distant future, he would not look at that. He would keep his eyes
on the immediate foreground, and be happy while he could. After all,
perhaps things had been ordered for the best; perhaps he had no genuine
talent for writing. And yet at that moment he was conscious that he
possessed the incommunicable imaginative insights of the author.... But
it was done with now.

The conductor called out their destination, and as Laura's sister
gathered the child in her arms he sprang out and hurried down Carteret
Street in order to reach the house first and so avoid a meeting on
the doorstep. He heard the trot of the child behind him. Children....
Perhaps a child of his might give sign of literary ability. If so--and
surely these instincts descended, were not lost--how he would foster
and encourage it!


THE END





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