Part 2 out of 4
picturing their disgust at being compelled to carry out the terms of
such a will. Often, since, he had meant to destroy the will; but
carelessly he had always omitted to do so. And his collection and his
fortune had continued to increase regularly and mightily, and now--well,
there the thing was! Duncan Farll had found the will. And Duncan Farll
would be the executor and trustee of that melodramatic testament.
He could not help smiling, serious as the situation was.
During that day the thing was settled; the authorities spoke; the word
went forth. Priam Farll was to be buried in Westminster Abbey on the
Thursday. The dignity of England among artistic nations had been saved,
partly by the heroic efforts of the _Daily Record_, and partly by the
will, which proved that after all Priam Farll had had the highest
interests of his country at heart.
On the night between Tuesday and Wednesday Priam Farll had not a moment
of sleep. Whether it was the deep-throated voice of England that had
spoken, or merely the voice of the Dean's favourite niece--so skilled in
painting tea-cosies--the affair was excessively serious. For the nation
was preparing to inter in the National Valhalla the remains of just
Henry Leek! Priam's mind had often a sardonic turn; he was assuredly
capable of strange caprices: but even he could not permit an error so
gigantic to continue. The matter must be rectified, and instantly! And
he alone could rectify it. The strain on his shyness would be awful,
would be scarcely endurable. Nevertheless he must act. Quite apart from
other considerations, there was the consideration of that hundred and
forty thousand pounds, which was his, and which he had not the slightest
desire to leave to the British nation. And as for giving his beloved
pictures to the race which adored Landseer, Edwin Long, and Leighton--
the idea nauseated him.
He must go and see Duncan Farll! And explain! Yes, explain that he was
Then he had a vision of Duncan Farll's hard, stupid face, and
impenetrable steel head; and of himself being kicked out of the house,
or delivered over to a policeman, or in some subtler way unimaginably
insulted. Could he confront Duncan Farll? Was a hundred and forty
thousand pounds and the dignity of the British nation worth the bearding
of Duncan Farll? No! His distaste for Duncan Farll amounted to more than
a hundred and forty millions of pounds and the dignity of whole planets.
He felt that he could never bring himself to meet Duncan Farll. Why,
Duncan might shove him into a lunatic asylum, might...!
Still he must act.
Then it was that occurred to him the brilliant notion of making a clean
breast of it to the Dean. He had not the pleasure of the Dean's personal
acquaintance. The Dean was an abstraction; certainly much more abstract
than Priam Farll. He thought he could meet the Dean. A terrific
enterprise, but he must accomplish it! After all, a Dean--what was it?
Nothing but a man with a funny hat! And was not he himself Priam Farll,
the authentic Priam Farll, vastly greater than any Dean?
He told the valet to buy black gloves, and a silk hat, sized seven and a
quarter, and to bring up a copy of _Who's Who_. He hoped the valet would
be dilatory in executing these commands. But the valet seemed to fulfill
them by magic. Time flew so fast that (in a way of speaking) you could
hardly see the fingers as they whirled round the clock. And almost
before he knew where he was, two commissionaires were helping him into
an auto-cab, and the terrific enterprise had begun. The auto-cab would
easily have won the race for the Gordon Bennett Cup. It was of about two
hundred h.p., and it arrived in Dean's Yard in less time than a fluent
speaker would take to say Jack Robinson. The rapidity of the flight was
"I'll keep you," Priam Farll was going to say, as he descended, but he
thought it would be more final to dismiss the machine; so he dismissed
He rang the bell with frantic haste, lest he should run away ere he had
rung it. And then his heart went thumping, and the perspiration damped
the lovely lining of his new hat; and his legs trembled, literally!
He was in hell on the Dean's doorstep.
The door was opened by a man in livery of pre-latical black, who eyed
"Er----" stammered Priam Farll, utterly flustered and craven. "Is this
Now Parker was not the Dean's name, and Priam knew that it was not.
Parker was merely the first name that had come into Priam's cowardly
"No, it isn't," said the flunkey with censorious lips. "It's the
"Oh, I beg pardon," said Priam Farll. "I thought it was Mr. Parker's."
And he departed.
Between the ringing of the bell and the flunkey's appearance, he had
clearly seen what he was capable, and what he was incapable, of doing.
And the correction of England's error was among his incapacities. He
could not face the Dean. He could not face any one. He was a poltroon in
all these things; a poltroon. No use arguing! He could not do it.
"I thought it was Mr. Parker's!" Good heavens! To what depths can a
great artist fall.
That evening he received a cold letter from Duncan Farll, with a
nave-ticket for the funeral. Duncan Farll did not venture to be sure
that Mr. Henry Leek would think proper to attend his master's interment;
but he enclosed a ticket. He also stated that the pound a week would be
paid to him in due course. Lastly he stated that several newspaper
representatives had demanded Mr. Henry Leek's address, but he had not
thought fit to gratify this curiosity.
Priam was glad of that.
"Well, I'm dashed!" he reflected, handling the ticket for the nave.
There it was, large, glossy, real as life.
_In the Valhalla_
In the vast nave there were relatively few people--that is to say, a few
hundred, who had sufficient room to move easily to and fro under the
eyes of officials. Priam Farll had been admitted through the cloisters,
according to the direction printed on the ticket. In his nervous fancy,
he imagined that everybody must be gazing at him suspiciously, but the
fact was that he occupied the attention of no one at all. He was with
the unprivileged, on the wrong side of the massive screen which
separated the nave from the packed choir and transepts, and the
unprivileged are never interested in themselves; it is the privileged
who interest them. The organ was wafting a melody of Purcell to the
furthest limits of the Abbey. Round a roped space a few ecclesiastical
uniforms kept watch over the ground that would be the tomb. The sunlight
of noon beat and quivered in long lances through crimson and blue
windows. Then the functionaries began to form an aisle among the
spectators, and emotion grew tenser. The organ was silent for a moment,
and when it recommenced its song the song was the supreme expression of
human grief, the dirge of Chopin, wrapping the whole cathedral in heavy
folds of sorrow. And as that appeal expired in the pulsating air, the
fresh voices of little boys, sweeter even than grief, rose in the
It was at this point that Priam Farll descried Lady Sophia Entwistle, a
tall, veiled figure, in full mourning. She had come among the
comparatively unprivileged to his funeral. Doubtless influence such as
hers could have obtained her a seat in the transept, but she had
preferred the secluded humility of the nave. She had come from Paris for
his funeral. She was weeping for her affianced. She stood there,
actually within ten yards of him. She had not caught sight of him, but
she might do so at any moment, and she was slowly approaching the spot
where he trembled.
He fled, with nothing in his heart but resentment against her. She had
not proposed to him; he had proposed to her. She had not thrown him
aside; he had thrown her aside. He was not one of her mistakes; she was
one of his mistakes. Not she, but he, had been capricious, impulsive,
hasty. Yet he hated her. He genuinely thought she had sinned against
him, and that she ought to be exterminated. He condemned her for all
manner of things as to which she had had no choice: for instance, the
irregularity of her teeth, and the hollow under her chin, and the little
tricks of deportment which are always developed by a spinster as she
reaches forty. He fled in terror of her. If she should have a glimpse of
him, and should recognize him, the consequence would be absolutely
disastrous--disastrous in every way; and a period of publicity would
dawn for him such as he could not possibly contemplate either in cold
blood or warm. He fled blindly, insinuating himself through the crowd,
until he reached a grille in which was a gate, ajar. His strange stare
must have affrighted the guardian of the gate, for the robed fellow
stood away, and Priam passed within the grille, where were winding
steps, which he mounted. Up the steps ran coils of fire-hose. He heard
the click of the gate as the attendant shut it, and he was thankful for
an escape. The steps led to the organ-loft, perched on the top of the
massive screen. The organist was seated behind a half-drawn curtain,
under shaded electric lights, and on the ample platform whose parapet
overlooked the choir were two young men who whispered with the organist.
None of the three even glanced at Priam. Priam sat down on a windsor
chair fearfully, like an intruder, his face towards the choir.
The whispers ceased; the organist's fingers began to move over five rows
of notes, and over scores of stops, while his feet groped beneath, and
Priam heard music, afar off. And close behind him he heard rumblings,
steamy vibrations, and, as it were, sudden escapes of gas; and
comprehended that these were the hoarse responses of the 32 and 64 foot
pipes, laid horizontally along the roof of the screen, to the summoning
fingers of the organist. It was all uncanny, weird, supernatural,
demoniacal if you will--it was part of the secret and unsuspected
mechanism of a vast emotional pageant and spectacle. It unnerved Priam,
especially when the organist, a handsome youngish man with lustrous
eyes, half turned and winked at one of his companions.
The thrilling voices of the choristers grew louder, and as they grew
louder Priam Farll was conscious of unaccustomed phenomena in his
throat, which shut and opened of itself convulsively. To divert his
attention from his throat, he partially rose from the windsor chair, and
peeped over the parapet of the screen into the choir, whose depths were
candlelit and whose altitudes were capriciously bathed by the
intermittent splendours of the sun. High, high up, in front of him, at
the summit of a precipice of stone, a little window, out of the
sunshine, burned sullenly in a gloom of complicated perspectives. And
far below, stretched round the pulpit and disappearing among the forest
of statuary in the transept, was a floor consisting of the heads of the
privileged--famous, renowned, notorious, by heredity, talent,
enterprise, or hazard; he had read many of their names in the _Daily
Telegraph_. The voices of the choristers had become piercing in their
beauty. Priam frankly stood up, and leaned over the parapet. Every gaze
was turned to a point under him which he could not see. And then
something swayed from beneath into the field of his vision. It was a
tall cross borne by a beadle. In the wake of the cross there came to
view gorgeous ecclesiastics in pairs, and then a robed man walking
backwards and gesticulating in the manner of some important, excited
official of the Salvation Army; and after this violent robe arrived the
scarlet choristers, singing to the beat of his gesture. And then swung
into view the coffin, covered with a heavy purple pall, and on the pall
a single white cross; and the pall-bearers--great European names that
had hurried out of the corners of Europe as at a peremptory mandate--
with Duncan Farll to complete the tale!
Was it the coffin, or the richness of its pall, or the solitary
whiteness of its cross of flowers, or the august authority of the
bearers, that affected Priam Farll like a blow on the heart? Who knows?
But the fact was that he could look no more; the scene was too much for
him. Had he continued to look he would have burst uncontrollably into
tears. It mattered not that the corpse of a common rascally valet lay
under that pall; it mattered not that a grotesque error was being
enacted; it mattered not whether the actuating spring of the immense
affair was the Dean's water-colouring niece or the solemn deliberations
of the Chapter; it mattered not that newspapers had ignobly misused the
name and honour of art for their own advancement--the instant effect was
overwhelmingly impressive. All that had been honest and sincere in the
heart of England for a thousand years leapt mystically up and made it
impossible that the effect should be other than overwhelmingly
impressive. It was an effect beyond argument and reason; it was the
magic flowering of centuries in a single moment, the silent awful sigh
of a nation's saecular soul. It took majesty and loveliness from the
walls around it, and rendered them again tenfold. It left nothing
common, neither the motives nor the littleness of men. In Priam's mind
it gave dignity to Lady Sophia Entwistle, and profound tragedy to the
death of Leek; it transformed even the gestures of the choir-leader into
And all that was for him! He had brushed pigments on to cloth in a way
of his own, nothing more, and the nation to which he had always denied
artistic perceptions, the nation which he had always fiercely accused of
sentimentality, was thus solemnizing his committal to the earth! Divine
mystery of art! The large magnificence of England smote him! He had not
suspected his own greatness, nor England's.
The music ceased. He chanced to look up at the little glooming window,
perched out of reach of mankind. And the thought that the window had
burned there, patiently and unexpectantly, for hundreds of years, like
an anchorite above the river and town, somehow disturbed him so that he
could not continue to look at it. Ineffable sadness of a mere window!
And his eye fell--fell on the coffin of Henry Leek with its white cross,
and the representative of England's majesty standing beside it. And
there was the end of Priam Farll's self-control. A pang like a pang of
parturition itself seized him, and an issuing sob nearly ripped him in
two. It was a loud sob, undisguised, unashamed, reverberating. Other
sobs succeeded it. Priam Farll was in torture.
_A New Hat_
The organist vaulted over his seat, shocked by the outrage.
"You really mustn't make that noise," whispered the organist.
Priam Farll shook him off.
The organist was apparently at a loss what to do.
"Who is it?" whispered one of the young men.
"Don't know him from Adam!" said the organist with conviction, and then
to Priam Farll: "Who are you? You've no right to be here. Who gave you
permission to come up here?"
And the rending sobs continued to issue from the full-bodied ridiculous
man of fifty, utterly careless of decorum.
"It's perfectly absurd!" whispered the youngster who had whispered
There had been a silence in the choir.
"Here! They're waiting for you!" whispered the other young man excitedly
to the organist.
"By----!" whispered the alarmed organist, not stopping to say by what,
but leaping like an acrobat back to his seat. His fingers and boots were
at work instantly, and as he played he turned his head and whispered--
"Better fetch some one."
One of the young men crept quickly and creakingly down the stairs.
Fortunately the organ and choristers were now combined to overcome the
sobbing, and they succeeded. Presently a powerful arm, hidden under a
black cassock, was laid on Priam's shoulder. He hysterically tried to
free himself, but he could not. The cassock and the two young men thrust
him downwards. They all descended together, partly walking and partly
falling. And then a door was opened, and Priam discovered himself in the
unroofed air of the cloisters, without his hat, and breathing in gasps.
His executioners were also breathing in gasps. They glared at him in
triumphant menace, as though they had done something, which indeed they
had, and as though they meant to do something more but could not quite
"Where's your ticket of admission?" demanded the cassock.
Priam fumbled for it, and could not find it.
"I must have lost it," he said weakly.
"What's your name, anyhow?"
"Priam Farll," said Priam Farll, without thinking.
"Off his nut, evidently!" murmured one of the young men contemptuously.
"Come on, Stan. Don't let's miss that anthem, for this cuss." And off
they both went.
Then a youthful policeman appeared, putting on his helmet as he quitted
"What's all this?" asked the policeman, in the assured tone of one who
had the forces of the Empire behind him.
"He's been making a disturbance in the horgan loft," said the cassock,
"and now he says his name's Priam Farll."
"Oh!" said the policeman. "Ho! And how did he get into the organ loft?"
"Don't arsk me," answered the cassock. "He ain't got no ticket."
"Now then, out of it!" said the policeman, taking zealously hold of
"I'll thank you to leave me alone," said Priam, rebelling with all the
pride of his nature against this clutch of the law.
"Oh, you will, will you?" said the policeman. "We'll see about that. We
shall just see about that."
And the policeman dragged Priam along the cloister to the muffled music
of "He will swallow up death in victory." They had not thus proceeded
very far when they met another policeman, an older policeman.
"What's all this?" demanded the older policeman.
"Drunk and disorderly in the Abbey!" said the younger.
"Will you come quietly?" the older policeman asked Priam, with a touch
"I'm not drunk," said Priam fiercely; he was unversed in London, and
unaware of the foolishness of reasoning with the watch-dogs of justice.
"Will you come quietly?" the older policeman repeated, this time without
any touch of commiseration.
"Yes," said Priam.
And he went quietly. Experience may teach with the rapidity of
"But where's my hat?" he added after a moment, instinctively stopping.
"Now then!" said the older policeman. "Come _on_."
He walked between them, striding. Just as they emerged into Dean's Yard,
his left hand nervously exploring one of his pockets, on a sudden
encountered a piece of cardboard.
"Here's my ticket," he said. "I thought I'd lost it. I've had nothing at
all to drink, and you'd better let me go. The whole affair's a mistake."
The procession halted, while the older policeman gazed fascinated at the
"Henry Leek," he read, deciphering the name.
"He's been a-telling every one as he's Priam Farll," grumbled the
younger policeman, looking over the other's shoulder.
"I've done no such thing," said Priam promptly.
The elder carefully inspected the prisoner, and two little boys arrived
and formed a crowd, which was immediately dispersed by a frown.
"He don't look as if he'd had 'ardly as much drink as 'ud wash a bus,
does he?" murmured the elder critically. The younger, afraid of his
senior, said nothing. "Look here, Mr. Henry Leek," the elder proceeded,
"do you know what I should do if I was you? I should go and buy myself a
new hat, if I was you, and quick too!"
Priam hastened away, and heard the senior say to the junior, "He's a
toff, that's what he is, and you're a fool. Have you forgotten as you're
on point duty?"
And such is the effect of a suggestion given under certain circumstances
by a man of authority, that Priam Farll went straight along Victoria
Street and at Sowter's famous one-price hat-shop did in fact buy himself
a new hat. He then hailed a taximeter from the stand opposite the Army
and Navy Stores, and curtly gave the address of the Grand Babylon Hotel.
And when the cab was fairly at speed, and not before, he abandoned
himself to a fit of candid, unrestrained cursing. He cursed largely and
variously and shamelessly both in English and in French. And he did not
cease cursing. It was a reaction which I do not care to characterize;
but I will not conceal that it occurred. The fit spent itself before he
reached the hotel, for most of Parliament Street was blocked for the
spectacular purposes of his funeral, and his driver had to seek devious
ways. The cursing over, he began to smooth his plumes in detail. At the
hotel, out of sheer nervousness, he gave the cabman half-a-crown, which
Another cab drove up nearly at the exact instant of his arrival. And, as
a capping to the day, Mrs. Alice Challice stepped out of it.
* * * * *
_Alice on Hotels_
She was wearing the same red roses.
"Oh!" she said, very quickly, pouring out the words generously from the
inexhaustible mine of her good heart. "I'm so sorry I missed you
Saturday night. I can't tell you how sorry I am. Of course it was all my
fault. I oughtn't to have got into the lift without you. I ought to have
waited. When I was in the lift I wanted to get out, but the lift-man was
too quick for me. And then on the platforms--well, there was such a
crowd it was useless! I knew it was useless. And you not having my
address either! I wondered whatever you would think of me."
"My dear lady!" he protested. "I can assure you I blamed only myself. My
hat blew off, and----"
"Did it now!" she took him up breathlessly. "Well, all I want you to
understand really is that I'm not one of those silly sort of women that
go losing themselves. No. Such a thing's never happened to me before,
and I shall take good care----"
She glanced round. He had paid both the cabmen, who were departing, and
he and Mrs. Alice Challice stood under the immense glass portico of the
Grand Babylon, exposed to the raking stare of two commissionaires.
"So you _are_ staying here!" she said, as if laying hold of a fact which
she had hitherto hesitated to touch.
"Yes," he said. "Won't you come in?"
He took her into the rich gloom of the Grand Babylon dashingly, fighting
against the demon of shyness and beating it off with great loss. They
sat down in a corner of the principal foyer, where a few electric lights
drew attention to empty fauteuils and the blossoms on the Aubusson
carpet. The world was at lunch.
"And a fine time I had getting your address!" said she. "Of course I
wrote at once to Selwood Terrace, as soon as I got home, but I had the
wrong number, somehow, and I kept waiting and waiting for an answer, and
the only answer I received was the returned letter. I knew I'd got the
street right, and I said, 'I'll find that house if I have to ring every
bell in Selwood Terrace, yes', and knock every knocker!' Well, I did
find it, and then they wouldn't _give_ me your address. They said
'letters would be forwarded,' if you please. But I wasn't going to have
any more letter business, no thank you! So I said I wouldn't go without
the address. It was Mr. Duncan Farll's clerk that I saw. He's living
there for the time being. A very nice young man. We got quite friendly.
It seems Mr. Duncan Farll _was_ in a state when he found the will. The
young man did say that he broke a typewriter all to pieces. But the
funeral being in Westminster Abbey consoled him. It wouldn't have
consoled me--no, not it! However, he's very rich himself, so that
doesn't matter. The young man said if I'd call again he'd ask his master
if he might give me your address. A rare fuss over an address, thought I
to myself. But there! Lawyers! So I called again, and he gave it me. I
could have come yesterday. I very nearly wrote last night. But I thought
on the whole I'd better wait till the funeral was over. I thought it
would be nicer. It's over now, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Priam Farll.
She smiled at him with grave sympathy, comfortably and sensibly. "And
right down relieved you must be!" she murmured. "It must have been very
trying for you."
"In a way," he answered hesitatingly, "it was."
Taking off her gloves, she glanced round about her, as a thief must
glance before opening the door, and then, leaning suddenly towards him,
she put her hands to his neck and touched his collar. "No, no!" she
said. "Let me do it. I can do it. There's no one looking. It's
unbuttoned; the necktie was holding it in place, but it's got quite
loose now. There! I can do it. I see you've got two funny moles on your
neck, close together. How lucky! That's it!" A final pat!
Now, no woman had ever patted Priam Farll's necktie before, much less
buttoned his collar, and still much less referred to the two little
moles, one hirsute, the other hairless, which the collar hid--when it
was properly buttoned! The experience was startling for him in the
extreme. It might have made him very angry, had the hands of Mrs.
Challice not been--well, nurse's hands, soft hands, persuasive hands,
hands that could practise impossible audacities with impunity. Imagine a
woman, uninvited and unpermitted, arranging his collar and necktie for
him in the largest public room of the Grand Babylon, and then talking
about his little moles! It would have been unimaginable! Yet it
happened. And moreover, he had not disliked it. She sat back in her
chair as though she had done nothing in the least degree unusual.
"I can see you must have been very upset," she said gently, "though he
_has_ only left you a pound a week. Still, that's better than a bat in
the eye with a burnt stick."
A bat in the eye with a burnt stick reminded him vaguely of encounters
with the police; otherwise it conveyed no meaning to his mind.
"I hope you haven't got to go on duty at once," she said after a pause.
"Because you really do look as if you needed a rest, and a cup of tea or
something of that, I'm quite ashamed to have come bothering you so
"Duty?" he questioned. "What duty?"
"Why," she exclaimed, "haven't you got a new place?"
"New place!" he repeated after. "What do you mean?"
"Why, as valet."
There was certainly danger in his tendency to forget that he was a
valet. He collected himself.
"No," he said, "I haven't got a new place."
"Then why are you staying here?" she cried. "I thought you were simply
here with a new master, Why are you staying here alone?"
"Oh," he replied, abashed, "it seemed a convenient place. It was just by
chance that I came here."
"Convenient place indeed!" she said stoutly. "I never heard of such a
He perceived that he had shocked her, pained her. He saw that some
ingenious defence of himself was required; but he could find none. So he
said, in his confusion--
"Suppose we go and have something to eat? I do want a bit of lunch, as
you say, now I come to think of it. Will you?"
"What? Here?" she demanded apprehensively.
"Yes," he said. "Why not?"
"Come along!" he said, with fine casualness, and conducted her to the
eight swinging glass doors that led to the _salle a manger_ of the Grand
Babylon. At each pair of doors was a living statue of dignity in cloth
of gold. She passed these statues without a sign of fear, but when she
saw the room itself, steeped in a supra-genteel calm, full of gowns and
hats and everything that you read about in the _Lady's Pictorial,_ and
the pennoned mast of a barge crossing the windows at the other end, she
stopped suddenly. And one of the lord mayors of the Grand Babylon,
wearing a mayoral chain, who had started out to meet them, stopped also.
"No!" she said. "I don't feel as if I could eat here. I really
"Well," she said, "I couldn't fancy it somehow. Can't we go somewhere
"Certainly we can," he agreed with an eagerness that was more than
She thanked him with another of her comfortable, sensible smiles--a
smile that took all embarrassment out of the dilemma, as balm will take
irritation from a wound. And gently she removed her hat and gown, and
her gestures and speech, and her comfortableness, from those august
precincts. And they descended to the grill-room, which was relatively
noisy, and where her roses were less conspicuous than the helmet of
Navarre, and her frock found its sisters and cousins from far lands.
"I'm not much for these restaurants," she said, over grilled kidneys.
"No?" he responded tentatively. "I'm sorry. I thought the other
"Oh yes," she broke in, "I was very glad to go, the other night, to that
place, very glad. But, you see, I'd never been in a restaurant before."
"No," she said, "and I felt as if I should like to try one. And the
young lady at the post office had told me that _that_ one was a splendid
one. So it is. It's beautiful. But of course they ought to be ashamed to
offer you such food. Now do you remember that sole? Sole! It was no more
sole than this glove's sole. And if it had been cooked a minute, it had
been cooked an hour, and waiting. And then look at the prices. Oh yes, I
couldn't help seeing the bill."
"I thought it was awfully cheap," said he.
"Well, _I_ didn't!" said she. "When you think that a good housekeeper
can keep everything going on ten shillings a head a _week_.... Why, it's
simply scandalous! And I suppose this place is even dearer?"
He avoided the question. "This is a better place altogether," he said.
"In fact, I don't know many places in Europe where one can eat better
than one does here."
"Don't you?" she said indulgently, as if saying, "Well, I know one, at
"They say," he continued, "that there is no butter used in this place
that costs less than three shillings a pound."
"_No_ butter costs them three shillings a pound," said she.
"Not in London," said he. "They have it from Paris."
"And do you believe that?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Well, I don't. Any one that pays more than one-and-nine a pound for
butter, _at the most_, is a fool, if you'll excuse me saying the word.
Not but what this is good butter. I couldn't get as good in Putney for
less than eighteen pence."
She made him feel like a child who has a great deal to pick up from a
kindly but firm sister.
"No, thank you," she said, a little dryly, to the waiter who proffered a
further supply of chip potatoes.
"Now don't say they're cold," Priam laughed.
And she laughed also. "Shall I tell you one thing that puts me against
these restaurants?" she went on. "It's the feeling you have that you
don't know where the food's _been_. When you've got your kitchen close
to your dining-room and you can keep an eye on the stuff from the moment
the cart brings it, well, then, you do know a bit where you are. And you
can have your dishes served hot. It stands to reason," she said. "Where
is the kitchen here?"
"Somewhere down below," he replied apologetically.
"A cellar kitchen!" she exclaimed. "Why, in Putney they simply can't let
houses with cellar kitchens. No! No restaurants and hotels for me--not
for _choice_--that is, regularly."
"Still," he said, with a judicial air, "hotels are very convenient."
"Are they?" she said, meaning, "Prove it."
"For instance, here, there's a telephone in every room."
"You don't mean in the bedrooms?"
"Yes, in every bedroom."
"Well," she said, "you wouldn't catch me having a telephone in my
bedroom. I should never sleep if I knew there was a telephone in the
room! Fancy being forced to telephone every time you want--well! I And
how is one to know who there is at the other end of the telephone? No, I
don't like that. All that's all very well for gentlemen that haven't
been used to what I call _com_fort in a way of speaking. But----"
He saw that if he persisted, nothing soon would be left of that noble
pile, the Grand Babylon Hotel, save a heap of ruins. And, further, she
genuinely did cause him to feel that throughout his career he had always
missed the very best things of life, through being an uncherished,
ingenuous, easily satisfied man. A new sensation for him! For if any
male in Europe believed in his own capacity to make others make him
comfortable Priam Farll was that male.
"I've never been in Putney," he ventured, on a new track.
_Difficulty of Truth-telling_
As she informed him, with an ungrudging particularity, about Putney, and
her life at Putney, there gradually arose in his brain a vision of a
kind of existence such as he had never encountered. Putney had clearly
the advantages of a residential town in a magnificent situation. It lay
on the slope of a hill whose foot was washed by a glorious stream
entitled the Thames, its breast covered with picturesque barges and
ornamental rowing boats; an arched bridge spanned this stream, and you
went over the bridge in milk-white omnibuses to London. Putney had a
street of handsome shops, a purely business street; no one slept there
now because of the noise of motors; at eventide the street glittered in
its own splendours. There were theatre, music-hall, assembly-rooms,
concert hall, market, brewery, library, and an afternoon tea shop
exactly like Regent Street (not that Mrs. Challice cared for their
alleged China tea); also churches and chapels; and Barnes Common if you
walked one way, and Wimbledon Common if you walked another. Mrs.
Challice lived in Werter Road, Werter Road starting conveniently at the
corner of the High Street where the fish-shop was--an establishment
where authentic sole was always obtainable, though it was advisable not
to buy it on Monday mornings, of course. Putney was a place where you
lived unvexed, untroubled. You had your little house, and your
furniture, and your ability to look after yourself at all ends, and your
knowledge of the prices of everything, and your deep knowledge of human
nature, and your experienced forgivingness towards human frailties. You
did not keep a servant, because servants were so complicated, and
because they could do nothing whatever as well as you could do it
yourself. You had a charwoman when you felt idle or when you chose to
put the house into the back-yard for an airing. With the charwoman, a
pair of gloves for coarser work, and gas stoves, you 'made naught' of
domestic labour. You were never worried by ambitions, or by envy, or by
the desire to know precisely what the wealthy did and to do likewise.
You read when you were not more amusingly occupied, preferring
illustrated papers and magazines. You did not traffic with art to any
appreciable extent, and you never dreamed of letting it keep you awake
at night. You were rich, for the reason that you spent less than you
received. You never speculated about the ultimate causes of things, or
puzzled yourself concerning the possible developments of society in the
next hundred years. When you saw a poor old creature in the street you
bought a box of matches off the poor old creature. The social phenomenon
which chiefly roused you to just anger was the spectacle of wealthy
people making money and so taking the bread out of the mouths of people
who needed It. The only apparent blots on existence at Putney were the
noise and danger of the High Street, the dearth of reliable laundries,
the manners of a middle-aged lady engaged at the post office (Mrs.
Challice liked the other ladies in the post office), and the absence of
a suitable man in the house.
Existence at Putney seemed to Priam Farll to approach the Utopian. It
seemed to breathe of romance--the romance of common sense and kindliness
and simplicity. It made his own existence to that day appear a futile
and unhappy striving after the impossible. Art? What was it? What did it
lead to? He was sick of art, and sick of all the forms of activity to
which he had hitherto been accustomed and which he had mistaken for life
One little home, fixed and stable, rendered foolish the whole concourse
of European hotels.
"I suppose you won't be staying here long," demanded Mrs. Challice.
"Oh no!" he said. "I shall decide something."
"Shall you take another place?" she inquired.
"Yes." Her smile was excessively persuasive and inviting.
"I don't know," he said diffidently.
"You must have put a good bit by," she said, still with the same smile.
"Or perhaps you haven't. Saving's a matter of chance. That's what I
always do say. It just depends how you begin. It's a habit. I'd never
really blame anybody for not saving. And men----!" She seemed to wish to
indicate that men were specially to be excused if they did not save.
She had a large mind: that was sure. She understood--things, and human
nature in particular. She was not one of those creatures that a man
meets with sometimes--creatures who are for ever on the watch to pounce,
and who are incapable of making allowances for any male frailty--smooth,
smiling creatures, with thin lips, hair a little scanty at the front,
and a quietly omniscient 'don't-tell-_me_' tone. Mrs. Alice Challice had
a mouth as wide as her ideas, and a full underlip. She was a woman who,
as it were, ran out to meet you when you started to cross the dangerous
roadway which separates the two sexes. She comprehended because she
wanted to comprehend. And when she could not comprehend she would
deceive herself that she did: which amounts to the equivalent.
She was a living proof that in her sex social distinctions do not
effectively count. Nothing counted where she was concerned, except a
distinction far more profound than any social distinction--the historic
distinction between Adam and Eve. She was balm to Priam Farll. She might
have been equally balm to King David, Uriah the Hittite, Socrates,
Rousseau, Lord Byron, Heine, or Charlie Peace. She would have understood
them all. They would all have been ready to cushion themselves on her
comfortableness. Was she a lady? Pish! She was a woman.
Her temperament drew Priam Farll like an electrified magnet. To wander
about freely in that roomy sympathy of hers seemed to him to be the
supreme reward of experience. It seemed like the good inn after the
bleak high-road, the oasis after the sandstorm, shade after glare, the
dressing after the wound, sleep after insomnia, surcease from
unspeakable torture. He wanted, in a word, to tell her everything,
because she would not demand any difficult explanations. She had given
him an opening, in her mention of savings. In reply to her suggestion,
"You must have put a good bit by," he could casually answer:
"Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds."
And that would lead by natural stages to a complete revealing of the fix
in which he was. In five minutes he would have confided to her the
principal details, and she would have understood, and then he could
describe his agonizing and humiliating half-hour in the Abbey, and she
would pour her magic oil on that dreadful abrasion of his sensitiveness.
And he would be healed of his hurts, and they would settle between them
what he ought to do.
He regarded her as his refuge, as fate's generous compensation to him
for the loss of Henry Leek (whose remains now rested in the National
Only, it would be necessary to begin the explanation, so that one thing
might by natural stages lead to another. On reflection, it appeared
rather abrupt to say:
"Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds."
The sum was too absurdly high (though correct). The mischief was that,
unless the sum did strike her as absurdly high, it could not possibly
lead by a natural stage to the remainder of the explanation.
He must contrive another path. For instance--
"There's been a mistake about the so-called death of Priam Farll."
"A mistake!" she would exclaim, all ears and eyes.
Then he would say--
"Yes. Priam Farll isn't really dead. It's his valet that's dead."
Whereupon she would burst out--
"But _you_ were his valet!"
Whereupon he would simply shake his head, and she would steam forwards--
"Then who are you?"
Whereupon he would say, as calmly as he could--
"I'm Priam Farll. I'll tell you precisely how it all happened."
Thus the talk might happen. Thus it would happen, immediately he began.
But, as at the Dean's door in Dean's Yard, so now, he could not begin.
He could not utter the necessary words aloud. Spoken aloud, they would
sound ridiculous, incredible, insane--and not even Mrs. Challice could
reasonably be expected to grasp their import, much less believe them.
"_There's been a mistake about the so-called death of Priam Farll._"
"_Yes, a hundred and forty thousand pounds._"
No, he could enunciate neither the one sentence nor the other. There are
some truths so bizarre that they make you feel self-conscious and guilty
before you have begun to state them; you state them apologetically; you
blush; you stammer; you have all the air of one who does not expect
belief; you look a fool; you feel a fool; and you bring disaster on
He perceived with the most painful clearness that he could never, never
impart to her the terrific secret, the awful truth. Great as she was,
the truth was greater, and she would never be able to swallow it.
"What time is it?" she asked suddenly.
"Oh, you mustn't think about time," he said, with hasty concern.
_Results of Rain_
When the lunch was completely finished and the grill-room had so far
emptied that it was inhabited by no one except themselves and several
waiters who were trying to force them to depart by means of thought
transference and uneasy, hovering round their table, Priam Farll began
to worry his brains in order to find some sane way of spending the
afternoon in her society. He wanted to keep her, but he did not know how
to keep her. He was quite at a loss. Strange that a man great enough and
brilliant enough to get buried in Westminster Abbey had not sufficient
of the small change of cleverness to retain the company of a Mrs. Alice
Challice! Yet so it was. Happily he was buoyed up by the thought that
"I must be moving off home," she said, putting her gloves on slowly; and
"Let me see," he stammered. "I think you said Werter Road, Putney?"
"Yes. No. 29."
"Perhaps you'll let me call on you," he ventured.
"Oh, do!" she encouraged him.
Nothing could have been more correct, and nothing more banal, than this
part of their conversation. He certainly would call. He would travel
down to the idyllic Putney to-morrow. He could not lose such a friend,
such a balm, such a soft cushion, such a comprehending intelligence. He
would bit by bit become intimate with her, and perhaps ultimately he
might arrive at the stage of being able to tell her who he was with some
chance of being believed. Anyhow, when he did call--and he insisted to
himself that it should be extremely soon--he would try another plan with
her; he would carefully decide beforehand just what to say and how to
say it. This decision reconciled him somewhat to a temporary parting
So he paid the bill, under her sagacious, protesting eyes, and he
managed to conceal from those eyes the precise amount of the tip; and
then, at the cloak-room, he furtively gave sixpence to a fat and wealthy
man who had been watching over his hat and stick. (Highly curious, how
those common-sense orbs of hers made all such operations seem
excessively silly!) And at last they wandered, in silence, through the
corridors and antechambers that led to the courtyard entrance. And
through the glass portals Priam Farll had a momentary glimpse of the
reflection of light on a cabman's wet macintosh. It was raining. It was
raining very heavily indeed. All was dry under the glass-roofed
colonnades of the courtyard, but the rain rattled like kettledrums on
that glass, and the centre of the courtyard was a pond in which a few
hansoms were splashing about. Everything--the horses' coats, the
cabmen's hats and capes, and the cabmen's red faces, shone and streamed
in the torrential summer rain. It is said that geography makes history.
In England, and especially in London, weather makes a good deal of
history. Impossible to brave that rain, except under the severest
pressure of necessity! They were in shelter, and in shelter they must
He was glad, absurdly and splendidly glad.
"It can't last long," she said, looking up at the black sky, which
showed an edge towards the east.
"Suppose we go in again and have some tea?" he said.
Now they had barely concluded coffee. But she did not seem to mind.
"Well," she said, "it's always tea-time for _me_."
He saw a clock. "It's nearly four," he said.
Thus justified of the clock, in they went, and sat down in the same
seats which they had occupied at the commencement of the adventure in
the main lounge. Priam discovered a bell-push, and commanded China tea
and muffins. He felt that he now, as it were, had an opportunity of
making a fresh start in life. He grew almost gay. He could be gay
without sinning against decorum, for Mrs. Challice's singular tact had
avoided all reference to deaths and funerals.
And in the pause, while he was preparing to be gay, attractive, and in
fact his true self, she, calmly stirring China tea, shot a bolt which
made him see stars.
"It seems to me," she observed, "that we might go farther and fare
worse--both of us."
He genuinely did not catch the significance of it in the first instant,
and she saw that he did not.
"Oh," she proceeded, benevolently and reassuringly, "I mean it. I'm not
gallivanting about. I mean that if you want my opinion I fancy we could
make a match of it."
It was at this point that he saw stars. He also saw a faint and
delicious blush on her face, whose complexion was extraordinarily fresh
She sipped China tea, holding each finger wide apart from the others.
He had forgotten the origin of their acquaintance, forgotten that each
of them was supposed to have a definite aim in view, forgotten that it
was with a purpose that they had exchanged photographs. It had not
occurred to him that marriage hung over him like a sword. He perceived
the sword now, heavy and sharp, and suspended by a thread of appalling
fragility. He dodged. He did not want to lose her, never to see her
again; but he dodged.
"I couldn't think----" he began, and stopped.
"Of course it's a very awkward situation for a man," she went on, toying
with muffin. "I can quite understand how you feel. And with most folks
you'd be right. There's very few women that can judge character, and if
you started to try and settle something at once they'd just set you down
as a wrong 'un. But I'm not like that. I don't expect any fiddle-faddle.
What I like is plain sense and plain dealing. We both want to get
married, so it would be silly to pretend we didn't, wouldn't it? And it
would be ridiculous of me to look for courting and a proposal, and all
that sort of thing, just as if I'd never seen a man in his
shirt-sleeves. The only question is: shall we suit each other? I've told
you what I think. What do you think?"
She smiled honestly, kindly, but piercingly.
What could he say? What would you have said, you being a man? It is
easy, sitting there in your chair, with no Mrs. Alice Challice in front
of you, to invent diplomatic replies; but conceive yourself in Priam's
place! Besides, he did think she would suit him. And most positively he
could not bear the prospect of seeing her pass out of his life. He had
been through that experience once, when his hat blew off in the Tube;
and he did not wish to repeat it.
"Of course you've got no _home_!" she said reflectively, with such
compassion. "Suppose you come down and just have a little peep at mine?"
So that evening, a suitably paired couple chanced into the fishmonger's
at the corner of Werter Road, and bought a bit of sole. At the newspaper
shop next door but one, placards said: "Impressive Scenes at Westminster
Abbey," "Farll funeral, stately pageant," "Great painter laid to rest,"
* * * * *
_A Putney Morning_
Except that there was marrying and giving in marriage, it was just as
though he had died and gone to heaven. Heaven is the absence of worry
and of ambition. Heaven is where you want nothing you haven't got.
Heaven is finality. And this was finality. On the September morning,
after the honeymoon and the settling down, he arose leisurely, long
after his wife, and, putting on the puce dressing-gown (which Alice much
admired), he opened the window wider and surveyed that part of the
universe which was comprised in Werter Road and the sky above. A sturdy
old woman was coming down the street with a great basket of assorted
flowers; he took an immense pleasure in the sight of the old woman; the
sight of the old woman thrilled him. Why? Well, there was no reason,
except that she was vigorously alive, a part of the magnificent earth.
All life gave him joy; all life was beautiful to him. He had his warm
bath; the bath-room was not of the latest convenience, but Alice could
have made a four-wheeler convenient. As he passed to and fro on the
first-floor he heard the calm, efficient activities below stairs. She
was busy in the mornings; her eyes would seem to say to him, "Now,
between my uprising and lunch-time please don't depend on me for
intellectual or moral support. I am on the spot, but I am also at the
wheel and must not be disturbed."
Then he descended, fresh as a boy, although the promontory which
prevented a direct vision of his toes showed accretions. The front-room
was a shrine for his breakfast. She served it herself, in her-white
apron, promptly on his arrival! Eggs! Toast! Coffee! It was nothing,
that breakfast; and yet it was everything. No breakfast could have been
better. He had probably eaten about fifteen thousand hotel breakfasts
before Alice taught him what a real breakfast was. After serving it she
lingered for a moment, and then handed him the _Daily Telegraph_, which
had been lying on a chair.
"Here's your _Telegraph_," she said cheerfully, tacitly disowning any
property or interest in the _Telegraph_. For her, newspapers were men's
toys. She never opened a paper, never wanted to know what was going on
in the world. She was always intent upon her own affairs. Politics--and
all that business of the mere machinery of living: she perfectly ignored
it! She lived. She did nothing but live. She lived every hour. Priam
felt truly that he had at last got down to the bed-rock of life.
There were twenty pages of the _Telegraph_, far more matter than a man
could read in a day even if he read and read and neither ate nor slept.
And all of it so soothing in its rich variety! It gently lulled you; it
was the ideal companion for a poached egg; upstanding against the
coffee-pot, it stood for the solidity of England in the seas. Priam
folded it large; he read all the articles down to the fold; then turned
the thing over, and finished all of them. After communing with the
_Telegraph_, he communed with his own secret nature, and wandered about,
rolling a cigarette. Ah! The first cigarette! His wanderings led him to
the kitchen, or at least as far as the threshold thereof. His wife was
at work there. Upon every handle or article that might soil she put soft
brown paper, and in addition she often wore house-gloves; so that her
hands remained immaculate; thus during the earlier hours of the day the
house, especially in the region of fireplaces, had the air of being in
"I'm going out now, Alice," he said, after he had drawn on his finely
"Very well, love," she replied, preoccupied with her work. "Lunch as
usual." She never demanded luxuriousness from him. She had got him. She
was sure of him. That satisfied her. Sometimes, like a simple woman who
has come into a set of pearls, she would, as it were, take him out of
his drawer and look at him, and put him back.
At the gate he hesitated whether to turn to the left, towards High
Street, or to the right, towards Oxford Road. He chose the right, but he
would have enjoyed himself equally had he chosen the left. The streets
through which he passed were populated by domestic servants and
tradesmen's boys. He saw white-capped girls cleaning door-knobs or
windows, or running along the streets, like escaped nuns, or staring in
soft meditation from bedroom windows. And the tradesmen's boys were
continually leaping in and out of carts, or off and on tricycles, busily
distributing food and drink, as though Putney had been a beleaguered
city. It was extremely interesting and mysterious--and what made it the
most mysterious was that the oligarchy of superior persons for whom
these boys and girls so assiduously worked, remained invisible. He
passed a newspaper shop and found his customary delight in the placards.
This morning the _Daily Illustrated_ announced nothing but: "Portrait of
a boy aged 12 who weighs 20 stone." And the _Record_ whispered in
scarlet: "What the German said to the King. Special." The _Journal_
cried: "Surrey's glorious finish." And the _Courier_ shouted: "The
Unwritten Law in the United States. Another Scandal."
Not for gold would he have gone behind these placards to the organs
themselves; he preferred to gather from the placards alone what wonders
of yesterday the excellent staid _Telegraph_ had unaccountably missed.
But in the _Financial Times_ he saw: "Cohoon's Annual Meeting. Stormy
Scenes." And he bought the _Financial Times_ and put it into his pocket
for his wife, because she had an interest in Cohoon's Brewery, and he
conceived the possibility of her caring to glance at the report.
_The Simple Joy of Life_
After crossing the South-Western Railway he got into the Upper Richmond
Road, a thoroughfare which always diverted and amused him. It was such a
street of contrasts. Any one could see that, not many years before, it
had been a sacred street, trod only by feet genteel, and made up of
houses each christened with its own name and each standing in its own
garden. And now energetic persons had put churches into it, vast red
things with gigantic bells, and large drapery shops, with blouses at
six-and-eleven, and court photographers, and banks, and cigar-stores,
and auctioneers' offices. And all kinds of omnibuses ran along it. And
yet somehow it remained meditative and superior. In every available
space gigantic posters were exhibited. They all had to do with food or
pleasure. There were York hams eight feet high, that a regiment could
not have eaten in a month; shaggy and ferocious oxen peeping out of
monstrous teacups in their anxiety to be consumed; spouting bottles of
ale whose froth alone would have floated the mail steamers pictured on
an adjoining sheet; and forty different decoctions for imparting
strength. Then after a few score yards of invitation to debauch there
came, with characteristic admirable English common sense, a cure for
indigestion, so large that it would have given ease to a mastodon who
had by inadvertence swallowed an elephant. And then there were the calls
to pleasure. Astonishing, the quantity of palaces that offered you
exactly the same entertainment twice over on the same night!
Astonishing, the reliance on number in this matter of amusement!
Authenticated statements that a certain performer had done a certain
thing in a certain way a thousand and one times without interruption
were stuck all over the Upper Richmond Road, apparently in the sure hope
that you would rush to see the thousand and second performance. These
performances were invariably styled original and novel. All the
remainder of free wall space was occupied by philanthropists who were
ready to give away cigarettes at the nominal price of a penny a packet.
Priam Farll never tired of the phantasmagoria of Upper Richmond Road.
The interminable, intermittent vision of food dead and alive, and of
performers performing the same performance from everlasting to
everlasting, and of millions and millions of cigarettes ascending from
the mouths of handsome young men in incense to heaven--this rare vision,
of which in all his wanderings he had never seen the like, had the
singular effect of lulling his soul into a profound content. Not once
did he arrive at the end of the vision. No! when he reached Barnes
Station he could see the vision still stretching on and on; but, filled
to the brim, he would get into an omnibus and return. The omnibus awoke
him to other issues: the omnibus was an antidote. In the omnibus
cleanliness was nigh to godliness. On one pane a soap was extolled, and
on another the exordium, "For this is a true saying and worthy of all
acceptation," was followed by the statement of a religious dogma; while
on another pane was an urgent appeal not to do in the omnibus what you
would not do in a drawing-room. Yes, Priam Farll had seen the world, but
he had never seen a city so incredibly strange, so packed with curious
and rare psychological interest as London. And he regretted that he had
not discovered London earlier in his life-long search after romance.
At the corner of the High Street he left the omnibus and stopped a
moment to chat with his tobacconist. His tobacconist was a stout man in
a white apron, who stood for ever behind a counter and sold tobacco to
the most respected residents of Putney. All his ideas were connected
either with tobacco or with Putney. A murder in the Strand to that
tobacconist was less than the breakdown of a motor bus opposite Putney
Station; and a change of government less than a change of programme at
the Putney Empire. A rather pessimistic tobacconist, not inclined to
believe in a First Cause, until one day a drunken man smashed Salmon and
Gluckstein's window down the High Street, whereupon his opinion of
Providence went up for several days! Priam enjoyed talking to him,
though the tobacconist was utterly impervious to ideas and never gave
out ideas. This morning the tobacconist was at his door. At the other
corner was the sturdy old woman whom Priam had observed from his window.
She sold flowers.
"Fine old woman, that!" said Priam heartily, after he and the
tobacconist had agreed upon the fact that it was a glorious morning.
"She used to be at the opposite corner by the station until last May but
one, when the police shifted her," said the tobacconist.
"Why did the police shift her?" asked Priam.
"I don't know as I can tell you," said the tobacconist. "But I remember
her this twelve year."
"I only noticed her this morning," said Priam. "I saw her from my
bedroom window, coming down the Werter Road. I said to myself, 'She's
the finest old woman I ever saw in my life!'"
"Did you now!" murmured the tobacconist. "She's rare and dirty."
"I like her to be dirty," said Priam stoutly. "She ought to be dirty.
She wouldn't be the same if she were clean."
"I don't hold with dirt," said the tobacconist calmly. "She'd be better
if she had a bath of a Saturday night like other folks."
"Well," said Priam, "I want an ounce of the usual."
"Thank _you_, sir," said the tobacconist, putting down three-halfpence
change out of sixpence as Priam thanked him for the packet.
Nothing whatever in such a dialogue! Yet Priam left the shop with a
distinct feeling that life was good. And he plunged into High Street,
lost himself in crowds of perambulators and nice womanly women who were
bustling honestly about in search of food or raiment. Many of them
carried little red books full of long lists of things which they and
their admirers and the offspring of mutual affection had eaten or would
shortly eat. In the High Street all was luxury: not a necessary in the
street. Even the bakers' shops were a mass of sultana and Berlin
pancakes. Illuminated calendars, gramophones, corsets, picture
postcards, Manilla cigars, bridge-scorers, chocolate, exotic fruit, and
commodious mansions--these seemed to be the principal objects offered
for sale in High Street. Priam bought a sixpenny edition of Herbert
Spencer's _Essays_ for four-pence-halfpenny, and passed on to Putney
Bridge, whose noble arches divided a first storey of vans and omnibuses
from a ground-floor of barges and racing eights. And he gazed at the
broad river and its hanging gardens, and dreamed; and was wakened by the
roar of an electric train shooting across the stream on a red causeway a
few yards below him. And, miles off, he could descry the twin towers of
the Crystal Palace, more marvellous than mosques!
"Astounding!" he murmured joyously. He had not a care in the world; and
Putney was all that Alice had painted it. In due time, when bells had
pealed to right and to left of him, he went home to her.
_Collapse of the Putney System_
Now, just at the end of lunch, over the last stage of which they usually
sat a long time, Alice got up quickly, in the midst of her Stilton, and,
going to the mantelpiece, took a letter therefrom.
"I wish you'd look at that, Henry," she said, handing him the letter.
"It came this morning, but of course I can't be bothered with that sort
of thing in the morning. So I put it aside."
He accepted the letter, and unfolded it with the professional
all-knowing air which even the biggest male fool will quite successfully
put on in the presence of a woman if consulted about business. When he
had unfolded the thing--it was typed on stiff, expensive, quarto
paper--he read it. In the lives of beings like Priam Farll and Alice a
letter such as that letter is a terrible event, unique, earth-arresting;
simple recipients are apt, on receiving it, to imagine that the
Christian era has come to an end. But tens of thousands of similar
letters are sent out from the City every day, and the City thinks
nothing of them.
The letter was about Cohoon's Brewery Company, Limited, and it was
signed by a firm of solicitors. It referred to the verbatim report,
which it said would be found in the financial papers, of the annual
meeting of the company held at the Cannon Street Hotel on the previous
day, and to the exceedingly unsatisfactory nature of the Chairman's
statement. It regretted the absence of Mrs. Alice Challice (her change
of condition had not yet reached the heart of Cohoon's) from the
meeting, and asked her whether she would be prepared to support the
action of a committee which had been formed to eject the existing board
and which had already a following of 385,000 votes. It finished by
asserting that unless the committee was immediately lifted to absolute
power the company would be quite ruined.
Priam re-read the letter aloud.
"What does it all mean?" asked Alice quietly.
"Well," said he, "that's what it means."
"Does it mean--?" she began.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I forgot. I saw something on a placard this
morning about Cohoon's, and I thought it might interest you, so I bought
it." So saying, he drew from his pocket the _Financial Times_, which he
had entirely forgotten. There it was: a column and a quarter of the
Chairman's speech, and nearly two columns of stormy scenes. The Chairman
was the Marquis of Drumgaldy, but his rank had apparently not shielded
him from the violence of expletives such as "Liar!" "Humbug!" and even
"Rogue!" The Marquis had merely stated, with every formula of apology,
that, owing to the extraordinary depreciation in licensed property, the
directors had not felt justified in declaring any dividend at all on the
Ordinary Shares of the company. He had made this quite simple assertion,
and instantly a body of shareholders, less reasonable and more
avaricious even than shareholders usually are, had begun to turn the
historic hall of the Cannon Street Hotel into a bear garden. One might
have imagined that the sole aim of brewery companies was to make money,
and that the patriotism of old-world brewers, that patriotism which
impelled them to supply an honest English beer to the honest English
working-man at a purely nominal price, was scorned and forgotten. One
was, indeed, forced to imagine this. In vain the Marquis pointed out
that the shareholders had received a fifteen per cent, dividend for
years and years past, and that really, for once in a way, they ought to
be prepared to sacrifice a temporary advantage for the sake of future
prosperity. The thought of those regular high dividends gave rise to no
gratitude in shareholding hearts; it seemed merely to render them the
more furious. The baser passions had been let loose in the Cannon Street
Hotel. The directors had possibly been expecting the baser passions, for
a posse of policemen was handy at the door, and one shareholder, to save
him from having the blood of Marquises on his soul, was ejected.
Ultimately, according to the picturesque phrases of the _Financial
Times_ report, the meeting broke up in confusion.
"How much have you got in Cohoon's?" Priam asked Alice, after they had
looked through the report together.
"All I have is in Cohoon's," said she, "except this house. Father left
it like that. He always said there was nothing like a brewery. I've
heard him say many and many a time a brewery was better than consols. I
think there's 200 L5 shares. Yes, that's it. But of course they're worth
much more than that. They're worth about L12 each. All I know is they
bring me in L150 a year as regular as the clock. What's that there,
after 'broke up in confusion'?"
She pointed with her finger to a paragraph, and he read in a low voice
the fluctuations of Cohoon's Ordinary Shares during the afternoon. They
had finished at L6 5s. Mrs. Henry Leek had lost over L1,000 in about
"They've always brought me in L150 a year," she insisted, as though she
had been saying: "It's always been Christmas Day on the 25th of
December, and of course it will be the same this year."
"It doesn't look as if they'd bring you in anything this time," said he.
"Oh, but Henry!" she protested.
Beer had failed! That was the truth of it. Beer had failed. Who would
have guessed that beer could fail in England? The wisest, the most
prudent men in Lombard Street had put their trust in beer, as the last
grand bulwark of the nation; and even beer had failed. The foundations
of England's greatness were, if not gone, going. Insufficient to argue
bad management, indiscreet purchases of licences at inflated prices! In
the excellent old days a brewery would stand an indefinite amount of bad
management! Times were changed. The British workman, caught in a wave of
temperance, could no longer be relied upon to drink! It was the crown of
his sins against society. Trade unions were nothing to this latest
caprice of his, which spread desolation in a thousand genteel homes.
Alice wondered what her father would have said, had he lived. On the
whole, she was glad that he did not happen to be alive. The shock to him
would have been too rude. The floor seemed to be giving way under Alice,
melting into a sort of bog that would swallow up her and her husband.
For years, without any precise information, but merely by instinct, she
had felt that England, beneath the surface, was not quite the island it
had been--and here was the awful proof.
She gazed at her husband, as a wife ought to gaze at her husband in a
crisis. His thoughts were much vaguer than hers, his thoughts about
money being always extremely vague.
"Suppose you went up to the City and saw Mr. What's-his-name?" she
suggested, meaning the signatory of the letter.
It was a cry of the soul aghast, a cry drawn out of him sharply, by a
most genuine cruel alarm. Him to go up to the City to interview a
solicitor! Why, the poor dear woman must be demented! He could not have
done it for a million pounds. The thought of it made him sick, raising
the whole of his lunch to his throat, as by some sinister magic.
She saw and translated the look on his face. It was a look of horror.
And at once she made excuses for him to herself. At once she said to
herself that it was no use pretending that her Henry was like other men.
He was not. He was a dreamer. He was, at times, amazingly peculiar. But
he was her Henry. In any other man than her Henry a hesitation to take
charge of his wife's financial affairs would have been ridiculous; it
would have been effeminate. But Henry was Henry. She was gradually
learning that truth. He was adorable; but he was Henry. With magnificent
strength of mind she collected herself.
"No," she said cheerfully. "As they're my shares, perhaps I'd better go.
Unless we _both_ go!" She encountered his eye again, and added quietly:
"No, I'll go alone."
He sighed his relief. He could not help sighing his relief.
And, after meticulously washing-up and straightening, she departed, and
Priam remained solitary with his ideas about married life and the fiscal
Alice was assuredly the very mirror of discretion. Never, since that
unanswered query as to savings at the Grand Babylon, had she subjected
him to any inquisition concerning money. Never had she talked of her own
means, save in casual phrase now and then to assure him that there was
enough. She had indeed refused banknotes diffidently offered to her by
him, telling him to keep them by him till need of them arose. Never had
she discoursed of her own past life, nor led him on to discourse of his.
She was one of those women for whom neither the past nor the future
seems to exist--they are always so occupied with the important present.
He and she had both of them relied on their judgment of character as
regarded each other's worthiness and trustworthiness. And he was the
last man in the world to be a chancellor of the exchequer. To him, money
was a quite uninteresting token that had to pass through your hands. He
had always had enough of it. He had always had too much of it. Even at
Putney he had had too much of it. The better part of Henry Leek's two
hundred pounds remained in his pockets, and under his own will he had
his pound a week, of which he never spent more than a few shillings. His
distractions were tobacco (which cost him about twopence a day), walking
about and enjoying colour effects and the oddities of the streets (which
cost him nearly nought), and reading: there were three shops of Putney
where all that is greatest in literature could be bought for
fourpence-halfpenny a volume. Do what he could, he could not read away
more than ninepence a week. He was positively accumulating money. You
may say that he ought to have compelled Alice to accept money. The idea
never occurred to him. In his scheme of things money had not been a
matter of sufficient urgency to necessitate an argument with one's wife.
She was always welcome to all that he had.
And now suddenly, money acquired urgency in his eyes. It was most
disturbing. He was not frightened: he was merely disturbed. If he had
ever known the sensation of wanting money and not being able to obtain
it, he would probably have been frightened. But this sensation was
unfamiliar to him. Not once in his whole career had he hesitated to
change gold from fear that the end of gold was at hand.
All kinds of problems crowded round him.
He went out for a stroll to escape the problems. But they accompanied
him. He walked through exactly the same streets as had delighted him in
the morning. And they had ceased to delight him. This surely could not
be ideal Putney that he was in! It must be some other place of the same
name. The mismanagement of a brewery a hundred and fifty miles from
London; the failure of the British working-man to drink his customary
pints in several scattered scores of public-houses, had most
unaccountably knocked the bottom out of the Putney system of practical
philosophy. Putney posters were now merely disgusting, Putney trade
gross and futile, the tobacconist a narrow-minded and stupid bourgeois;
and so on.
Alice and he met on their doorstep, each in the act of pulling out a
"Oh!" she said, when they were inside, "it's done for! There's no
mistake--it's done for! We shan't get a penny this year, not one penny!
And he doesn't think there'll be anything next year either! And the
shares'll go down yet, he says. I never heard of such a thing in all my
life! Did you?"
He admitted sympathetically that he had not.
After she had been upstairs and come down again her mood suddenly
changed. "Well," she smiled, "whether we get anything or not, it's
tea-time. So we'll have tea. I've no patience with worrying. I said I
should make pastry after tea, and I will too. See if I don't!"
The tea was perhaps slightly more elaborate than usual.
After tea he heard her singing in the kitchen. And he was moved to go
and look at her. There she was, with her sleeves turned back, and a
large pinafore apron over her rich bosom, kneading flour. He would have
liked to approach her and kiss her. But he never could accomplish feats
of that kind at unusual moments.
"Oh!" she laughed. "You can look! _I'm_ not worrying. I've no patience
Later in the afternoon he went out; rather like a person who has reasons
for leaving inconspicuously. He had made a great, a critical resolve. He
passed furtively down Werter Road into the High Street, and then stood a
moment outside Stawley's stationery shop, which is also a library, an
emporium of leather-bags, and an artists'-colourman's. He entered
Stawley's blushing, trembling--he a man of fifty who could not see his
own toes--and asked for certain tubes of colour. An energetic young lady
who seemed to know all about the graphic arts endeavoured to sell to him
a magnificent and complicated box of paints, which opened out into an
easel and a stool, and contained a palette of a shape preferred by the
late Edwin Long, R.A., a selection of colours which had been approved by
the late Lord Leighton, P.R.A., and a patent drying-oil which (she said)
had been used by Whistler. Priam Farll got away from the shop without
this apparatus for the confection of masterpieces, but he did not get
away without a sketching-box which he had had no intention of buying.
The young lady was too energetic for him. He was afraid of being too
curt with her lest she should turn on him and tell him that pretence was
useless--she knew he was Priam Farll. He felt guilty, and he felt that
he looked guilty. As he hurried along the High Street towards the river
with the paint-box it appeared to him that policemen observed him
inimically and cocked their helmets at him, as who should say: "See
here; this won't do. You're supposed to be in Westminster Abbey. You'll
be locked up if you're too brazen."
The tide was out. He sneaked down to the gravelly shore a little above
the steamer pier, and hid himself between the piles, glancing around him
in a scared fashion. He might have been about to commit a crime. Then he
opened the sketch-box, and oiled the palette, and tried the elasticity
of the brushes on his hand. And he made a sketch of the scene before
him. He did it very quickly--in less than half-an-hour. He had made
thousands of such colour 'notes' in his life, and he would never part
with any of them. He had always hated to part with his notes. Doubtless
his cousin Duncan had them now, if Duncan had discovered his address in
Paris, as Duncan probably had.
When it was finished, he inspected the sketch, half shutting his eyes
and holding it about three feet off. It was good. Except for a few
pencil scrawls done in sheer absent-mindedness and hastily destroyed,
this was the first sketch he had made since the death of Henry Leek. But
it was very good. "No mistake who's done that!" he murmured; and added:
"That's the devil of it. Any expert would twig it in a minute. There's
only one man that could have done it. I shall have to do something worse
than that!" He shut up the box and with a bang as an amative couple came
into sight. He need not have done so, for the couple vanished instantly
in deep disgust at being robbed of their retreat between the piles.
Alice was nearing the completion of pastry when he returned in the dusk;
he smelt the delicious proof. Creeping quietly upstairs, he deposited
his brushes in an empty attic at the top of the house. Then he washed
his hands with especial care to remove all odour of paint. And at dinner
he endeavoured to put on the mien of innocence.
She was cheerful, but it was the cheerfulness of determined effort. They
naturally talked of the situation. It appeared that she had a reserve of
money in the bank--as much as would suffice her for quite six months. He
told her with false buoyancy that there need never be the slightest
difficulty as to money; he had money, and he could always earn more.
"If you think I'm going to let you go into another situation," she said,
"you're mistaken. That's all." And her lips were firm.
This staggered him. He never could remember for more than half-an-hour
at a time that he was a retired valet. And it was decidedly not her
practice to remind him of the fact. The notion of himself in a situation
as valet was half ridiculous and half tragical. He could no more be a
valet than he could be a stockbroker or a wire-walker.
"I wasn't thinking of that," he stammered.
"Then what were you thinking of?" she asked.
"Oh! I don't know!" he said vaguely.
"Because those things they advertise--homework, envelope addressing, or
selling gramophones on commission--they're no good, you know!"
The next morning he bought a 36 x 24 canvas, and more brushes and tubes,
and surreptitiously introduced them into the attic. Happily it was the
charwoman's day and Alice was busy enough to ignore him. With an old
table and the tray out of a travelling-trunk, he arranged a substitute
for an easel, and began to try to paint a bad picture from his sketch.
But in a quarter of an hour he discovered that he was exactly as fitted
to paint a bad picture as to be a valet. He could not sentimentalize the
tones, nor falsify the values. He simply could not; the attempt to do so
annoyed him. All men are capable of stooping beneath their highest
selves, and in several directions Priam Farll could have stooped. But
not on canvas! He could only produce his best. He could only render
nature as he saw nature. And it was instinct, rather than conscience,
that prevented him from stooping.
In three days, during which he kept Alice out of the attic partly by
lies and partly by locking the door, the picture was finished; and he
had forgotten all about everything except his profession. He had become
a different man, a very excited man.
"By Jove," he exclaimed, surveying the picture, "I can paint!"
Artists do occasionally soliloquize in this way.
The picture was dazzling! What atmosphere! What poetry! And what
profound fidelity to nature's facts! It was precisely such a picture as
he was in the habit of selling for L800 or a L1,000, before his burial
in Westminster Abbey! Indeed, the trouble was that it had 'Priam Farll'
written all over it, just as the sketch had!
* * * * *
That evening he was very excited, and he seemed to take no thought to
disguise his excitement. The fact was, he could not have disguised it,
even if he had tried. The fever of artistic creation was upon him--all
the old desires and the old exhausting joys. His genius had been lying
idle, like a lion in a thicket, and now it had sprung forth ravening.
For months he had not handled a brush; for months his mind had
deliberately avoided the question of painting, being content with the
observation only of beauty. A week ago, if he had deliberately asked
himself whether he would ever paint again, he might have answered,
"Perhaps not." Such is man's ignorance of his own nature! And now the
lion of his genius was standing over him, its paw on his breast, and
making a great noise.
He saw that the last few months had been merely an interlude, that he
would be forced to paint--or go mad; and that nothing else mattered. He
saw also that he could only paint in one way--Priam Farll's way. If it
was discovered that Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey; if
there was a scandal, and legal unpleasantness--well, so much the worse!
But he must paint.
Not for money, mind you! Incidentally, of course, he would earn money.
But he had already quite forgotten that life has its financial aspect.
So in the sitting-room in Werter Road, he walked uneasily to and fro,
squeezing between the table and the sideboard, and then skirting the
fireplace where Alice sat with a darning apparatus upon her knees, and
her spectacles on--she wore spectacles when she had to look fixedly at
very dark objects. The room was ugly in a pleasant Putneyish way, with a
couple of engravings after B.W. Leader, R.A., a too realistic
wall-paper, hot brown furniture with ribbed legs, a carpet with the
characteristics of a retired governess who has taken to drink, and a
black cloud on the ceiling over the incandescent burners. Happily these
surroundings did not annoy him. They did not annoy him because he never
saw them. When his eyes were not resting on beautiful things, they were
not in this world of reality at all. His sole idea about
house-furnishing was an easy-chair.
"Harry," said his wife, "don't you think you'd better sit down?"
The calm voice of common sense stopped him in his circular tour. He
glanced at Alice, and she, removing her spectacles, glanced at him. The
seal on his watch-chain dangled free. He had to talk to some one, and
his wife was there--not only the most convenient but the most proper
person to talk to. A tremendous impulse seized him to tell her
everything; she would understand; she always did understand; and she
never allowed herself to be startled. The most singular occurrences,
immediately they touched her, were somehow transformed into credible
daily, customary events. Thus the disaster of the brewery! She had
accepted it as though the ruins of breweries were a spectacle to be
witnessed at every street-corner.
Yes, he should tell her. Three minutes ago he had no intention of
telling her, or any one, anything. He decided in an instant. To tell her
his secret would lead up naturally to the picture which he had just
"I say, Alice," he said, "I want to talk to you."
"Well," she said, "I wish you'd talk to me sitting down. I don't know
what's come over you this last day or two."
He sat down. He did not feel really intimate with her at that moment.
And their marriage seemed to him, in a way, artificial, scarcely a fact.
He did not know that it takes years to accomplish full intimacy between
husband and wife.
"You know," he said, "Henry Leek isn't my real name."
"Oh, isn't it?" she said. "What does that matter?"
She was not in the least surprised to hear that Henry Leek was not his
real name. She was a wise woman, and knew the strangeness of the world.
And she had married him simply because he was himself, because he
existed in a particular manner (whose charm for her she could not have
described) from hour to hour.
"So long as you haven't committed a murder or anything," she added, with
her tranquil smile.
"My real name is Priam Farll," he said gruffly. The gruffness was caused
"I thought Priam Farll was your gentleman's name."
"To tell you the truth," he said nervously, "there was a mistake. That
photograph that was sent to you was my photograph."
"Yes," she said. "I know it was. And what of it?"
"I mean," he blundered on, "it was my valet that died--not me. You see,
the doctor, when he came, thought that Leek was me, and I didn't tell
him differently, because I was afraid of all the bother. I just let it
slide--and there were other reasons. You know how I am...."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"Can't you understand? It's simple enough. I'm Priam Farll, and I had a
valet named Henry Leek, and he died, and they thought it was me. Only it
He saw her face change and then compose itself.
"Then it's this Henry Leek that is buried in Westminster Abbey, instead
of you?" Her voice was very soft and soothing. And the astonishing woman
resumed her spectacles and her long needle.
"Yes, of course."
Here he burst into the whole story, into the middle of it, continuing to
the end, and then going back to the commencement. He left out nothing,
and nobody, except Lady Sophia Entwistle.
"I see," she observed. "And you've never said a word?"
"Not a word."
"If I were you I should still keep perfectly silent about it," she
almost whispered persuasively. "It'll be just as well. If I were you, I
shouldn't worry myself. I can quite understand how it happened, and I'm
glad you've told me. But don't worry. You've been exciting yourself
these last two or three days. I thought it was about my money business,
but I see it wasn't. At least that may have brought it on, like. Now the
best thing you can do is to forget it."
She did not believe him! She simply discredited the whole story; and,
told in Werter Road, like that, the story did sound fantastic; it did
come very near to passing belief. She had always noticed a certain
queerness in her husband. His sudden gaieties about a tint in the sky or
the gesture of a horse in the street, for example, were most uncanny.
And he had peculiar absences of mind that she could never account for.
She was sure that he must have been a very bad valet. However, she did
not marry him for a valet, but for a husband; and she was satisfied with
her bargain. What if he did suffer under a delusion? The exposure of
that delusion merely crystallized into a definite shape her vague
suspicions concerning his mentality. Besides, it was a harmless
delusion. And it explained things. It explained, among other things, why
he had gone to stay at the Grand Babylon Hotel. That must have been the
inception of the delusion. She was glad to know the worst.
She adored him more than ever.
There was a silence.
"No," she repeated, in the most matter-of-fact tone, "I should say
nothing, in your place. I should forget it."
"You would?" He drummed on the table.
"I should! And whatever you do, don't worry." Her accents were the
coaxing accents of a nurse with a child--or with a lunatic.
He perceived now with the utmost clearness that she did not believe a
word of what he had said, and that in her magnificent and calm sagacity
she was only trying to humour him. He had expected to disturb her soul
to its profoundest depths; he had expected that they would sit up half
the night discussing the situation. And lo!--"I should forget it,"
indulgently! And a mild continuance of darning!
He had to think, and think hard.
"Henry," she called out the next morning, as he disappeared up the
stairs. "What _are_ you doing up there?"
She had behaved exactly as if nothing had happened; and she was one of
those women whose prudent policy it is to let their men alone even to
the furthest limit of patience; but she had nerves, too, and they were
being affected. For three days Henry had really been too mysterious!
He stopped, and put his head over the banisters, and in a queer, moved
"Come and see."
Sooner or later she must see. Sooner or later the already distended
situation must get more and more distended until it burst with a loud
report. Let the moment be sooner, he swiftly decided.
So she went and saw.
Half-way up the attic stairs she began to sniff, and as he turned the
knob of the attic door for her she said, "What a smell of paint! I
If she had been clever enough she would have said, "What a smell of
masterpieces!" But her cleverness lay in other fields.
"You surely haven't been aspinalling that bath-room chair?... Oh!"
This loud exclamation escaped from her as she entered the attic and saw
the back of the picture which Priam had lodged on the said bath-room
chair--filched by him from the bath-room on the previous day. She
stepped to the vicinity of the window and obtained a good view of the
picture. It was brilliantly shining in the light of morn. It looked
glorious; it was a fit companion of many pictures from the same hand
distributed among European galleries. It had that priceless quality, at
once noble and radiant, which distinguished all Priam's work. It
transformed the attic; and thousands of amateurs and students, from St.
Petersburg to San Francisco, would have gone into that attic with their
hats off and a thrill in the spine, had they known what was there and
had they been invited to enter and worship. Priam himself was pleased;
he was delighted; he was enthusiastic. And he stood near the picture,
glancing at it and then glancing at Alice, nervously, like a mother
whose sister-in-law has come to look at the baby. As for Alice, she said
nothing. She had first of all to take in the fact that her husband had
been ungenerous enough to keep her quite in the dark as to the nature of
his secret activities; then she had to take in the fact of the picture.
"Did you do that?" she said limply.
"Yes," said he, with all the casualness that he could assume. "How does
it strike you?" And to himself: "This'll make her see I'm not a mere
lunatic. This'll give her a shaking up."
"I'm sure it's beautiful," she said kindly, but without the slightest
conviction. "What is it?" Is that Putney Bridge?"
"Yes," he said.
"I thought it was. I thought it must be. Well, I never knew you could
paint. It's beautiful--for an amateur." She said this firmly and yet
endearingly, and met his eyes with her eyes. It was her tactful method
of politely causing him to see that she had not accepted last night's
yarn very seriously. His eyes fell, not hers.
"No, no, no!" he expostulated with quick vivacity, as she stepped
towards the canvas. "Don't come any nearer. You're at just the right
"Oh! If you don't _want_ me to see it close," she humoured him. "What a
pity you haven't put an omnibus on the bridge!"
"There is one," said he. "_That's_ one." He pointed.
"Oh yes! Yes, I see. But, you know, I think it looks rather more like a
Carter Paterson van than an omnibus. If you could paint some letters on
it--'Union Jack' or 'Vanguard,' then people would be sure. But it's
beautiful. I suppose you learnt to to paint from your--" She checked
herself. "What's that red streak behind?"
"That's the railway bridge," he muttered.
"Oh, of course it is! How silly of me! Now if you were to put a train on
that. The worst of trains in pictures is that they never seem to be
going along. I've noticed that on the sides of furniture vans, haven't
you? But if you put a signal, against it, then people would understand
that the train had stopped. I'm not sure whether there _is_ a signal on
the bridge, though."
He made no remark.
"And I see that's the Elk public-house there on the right. You've just
managed to get it in. I can recognize that quite easily. Any one would."
He still made no remark.
"What are you going to do with it?" she asked gently.
"Going to sell it, my dear," he replied grimly. "It may surprise you to
know that that canvas is worth at the very least L800. There would be a
devil of a row and rumpus in Bond Street and elsewhere if they knew I
was painting here instead of rotting in Westminster Abbey. I don't
propose to sign it--I seldom did sign my pictures--and we shall see what
we shall see.... I've got fifteen hundred for little things not so good
as that. I'll let it go for what it'll fetch. We shall soon be wanting
The tears rose to Alice's eyes. She saw that he was more infinitely more
mad than she imagined--with his L800 and his L1,500 for daubs of
pictures that conveyed no meaning whatever to the eye! Why, you could
purchase real, professional pictures, of lakes, and mountains,
exquisitely finished, at the frame-makers in High Street for three
pounds apiece! And here he was rambling in hundreds and thousands! She
saw that that extraordinary notion about being able to paint was a
natural consequence of the pathetic delusion to which he had given
utterance yesterday. And she wondered what would follow next. Who could
have guessed that the seeds of lunacy were in such a man? Yes, harmless
lunacy, but lunacy nevertheless! She distinctly remembered the little
shock with which she had learned that he was staying at the Grand
Babylon on his own account, as a wealthy visitor. She thought it
bizarre, but she certainly had not taken it for a sign of lunacy. And
yet it had been a sign of madness. And the worst of harmless lunacy was
that it might develop at any moment into harmful lunacy.
There was one thing to do, and only one: keep him quiet, shield him from
all troubles and alarms. It was disturbance of spirit which induced
these mental derangements. His master's death had upset him. And now he
had been upset by her disgraceful brewery company.
She made a step towards him, and then hesitated. She had to form a plan
of campaign all in a moment! She had to keep her wits and to use them!
How could she give him confidence about his absurd picture? She noticed
that naive look that sometimes came into his eyes, a boyish expression
that gave the He to his greying beard and his generous proportions.
He laughed, until, as she came closer, he saw the tears on her eyelids.
Then he ceased laughing. She fingered the edge of his coat, cajolingly.
"It's a beautiful picture!" she repeated again and again. "And if you
like I will see if I can sell it for you. But, Henry----"
"Please, please don't bother about money. We shall have _heaps_. There's
no occasion for you to bother, and I won't _have_ you bothering."
"What are you crying for?" he asked in a murmur.
"It's only--only because I think it's so nice of you trying to earn
money like that," she lied. "I'm not really crying."
And she ran away, downstairs, really crying. It was excessively comic,
but he had better not follow her, lest he might cry too....
_A Patron of the Arts_
A lull followed this crisis in the affairs of No. 29 Werter Road. Priam
went on painting, and there was now no need for secrecy about it. But
his painting was not made a subject of conversation. Both of them
hesitated to touch it, she from tact, and he because her views on the
art seemed to him to be lacking in subtlety. In every marriage there is
a topic--there are usually several--which the husband will never broach
to the wife, out of respect for his respect for her. Priam scarcely
guessed that Alice imagined him to be on the way to lunacy. He thought
she merely thought him queer, as artists _are_ queer to non-artists. And
he was accustomed to that; Henry Leek had always thought him queer. As
for Alice's incredulous attitude towards the revelation of his identity,
he did not mentally accuse her of treating him as either a liar or a
madman. On reflection he persuaded himself that she regarded the story
as a bad joke, as one of his impulsive, capricious essays in the absurd.
Thus the march of evolution was apparently arrested in Werter Road
during three whole days. And then a singular event happened, and
progress was resumed. Priam had been out since early morning on the
riverside, sketching, and had reached Barnes, from which town he
returned over Barnes Common, and so by the Upper Richmond Road to High
Street. He was on the south side of Upper Richmond Road, whereas his
tobacconist's shop was on the north side, near the corner. An unfamiliar
peculiarity of the shop caused him to cross the street, for he was not
in want of tobacco. It was the look of the window that drew him. He
stopped on the refuge in the centre of the street. There was no
necessity to go further. His picture of Putney Bridge was in the middle
of the window. He stared at it fixedly. He believed his eyes, for his
eyes were the finest part of him and never deceived him; but perhaps if
he had been a person with ordinary eyes he would scarce have been able
to believe them. The canvas was indubitably there present in the window.
It had been put in a cheap frame such as is used for chromographic
advertisements of ships, soups, and tobacco. He was almost sure that he
had seen that same frame, within the shop, round a pictorial
announcement of Taddy's Snuff. The tobacconist had probably removed the
eighteenth-century aristocrat with his fingers to his nose, from the
frame, and replaced him with Putney Bridge. In any event the frame was
about half-an-inch too long for the canvas, but the gap was scarcely
observable. On the frame was a large notice, 'For sale.' And around it
were the cigars of two hemispheres, from Syak Whiffs at a penny each to
precious Murias; and cigarettes of every allurement; and the
multitudinous fragments of all advertised tobaccos; and meerschaums and
briars, and patent pipes and diagrams of their secret machinery; and
cigarette-and cigar-holders laid on plush; and pocket receptacles in
aluminium and other precious metals.
Shining there, the picture had a most incongruous appearance. He blushed
as he stood on the refuge. It seemed to him that the mere incongruity of
the spectacle must inevitably attract crowds, gradually blocking the
street, and that when some individual not absolutely a fool in art, had
perceived the quality of the picture--well, then the trouble of public
curiosity and of journalistic inquisitiveness would begin. He wondered
that he could ever have dreamed of concealing his identity on a canvas.
The thing simply shouted 'Priam Farll,' every inch of it. In any
exhibition of pictures in London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Munich, New York
or Boston, it would have been the cynosure, the target of ecstatic
admirations. It was just such another work as his celebrated 'Pont
d'Austerlitz,' which hung in the Luxembourg. And neither a frame of
'chemical gold,' nor the extremely variegated coloration of the other
merchandise on sale could kill it.
However, there were no signs of a crowd. People passed to and fro, just
as though there had not been a masterpiece within ten thousand miles of
them. Once a servant girl, a loaf of bread in her red arms, stopped to
glance at the window, but in an instant she was gone, running.
Priam's first instinctive movement had been to plunge into the shop, and
demand from his tobacconist an explanation of the phenomenon. But of
course he checked himself. Of course he knew that the presence of his
picture in the window could only be due to the enterprise of Alice.
He went slowly home.
The sound of his latchkey in the keyhole brought her into the hall ere
he had opened the door.
"Oh, Henry," she said--she was quite excited--"I must tell you. I was
passing Mr. Aylmer's this morning just as he was dressing his window,
and the thought struck me that he might put your picture in. So I ran in
and asked him. He said he would if he could have it at once. So I came
and got it. He found a frame, and wrote out a ticket, and asked after
you. No one could have been kinder. You must go and have a look at it. I
shouldn't be at all surprised if it gets sold like that."
Priam answered nothing for a moment. He could not.
"What did Aylmer say about it?" he asked.
"Oh!" said his wife quickly, "you can't expect Mr. Aylmer to understand
these things. It's not in his line. But he was glad to oblige us. I saw
he arranged it nicely."
"Well," said Priam discreetly, "that's all right. Suppose we have
Curious--her relations with Mr. Aylmer! It was she who had recommended