Part 2 out of 6
She stood, staring in his face, while he still held her arms,
gripping into her soft flesh through the velvety sleeves.
"Do you understand?"
"Yes-but if he has already!"
Keith felt the shiver which ran through her. And the thought rushed
into his mind: 'My God! Suppose the police come round while I'm
here!' If Larry had indeed gone to them! If that Policeman who had
seen him here the night after the murder should find him here again
just after the verdict! He said almost fiercely:
"Can I trust you not to let Larry out of your sight? Quick!
Clasping her hands to her breast, she answered humbly:
"I will try."
"If he hasn't already done this, watch him like a lynx! Don't let
him go out without you. I'll come to-morrow morning early. You're a
Catholic, aren't you? Swear to me that you won't let him do anything
till he's seen me again."
She did not answer, looking past him at the door; and Keith heard a
key in the latch. There was Laurence himself, holding in his hand a
great bunch of pink lilies and white narcissi. His face was pale and
haggard. He said quietly:
The girl's eyes were fastened on Larry's face; and Keith, looking
from one to the other, knew that he had never had more need for
"Have you seen?" he said.
Laurence nodded. His expression, as a rule so tell-tale of his
emotions, baffled Keith utterly.
"I've been expecting it."
"The thing can't stand--that's certain. But I must have time to look
into the report. I must have time to see what I can do. D'you
understand me, Larry--I must have time." He knew he was talking at
random. The only thing was to get them away at once out of reach of
confession; but he dared not say so.
"Promise me that you'll do nothing, that you won't go out even till
I've seen you to-morrow morning."
Again Laurence nodded. And Keith looked at the girl. Would she see
that he did not break that promise? Her eyes were still fixed
immovably on Larry's face. And with the feeling that he could get no
further, Keith turned to go.
"Promise me," he said.
Laurence answered: "I promise."
He was smiling. Keith could make nothing of that smile, nor of the
expression in the girl's eyes. And saying: "I have your promise, I
rely on it!" he went.
To keep from any woman who loves, knowledge of her lover's mood, is
as hard as to keep music from moving the heart. But when that woman
has lived in suffering, and for the first time knows the comfort of
love, then let the lover try as he may to disguise his heart--no use!
Yet by virtue of subtler abnegation she will often succeed in keeping
it from him that she knows.
When Keith was gone the girl made no outcry, asked no questions,
managed that Larry should not suspect her intuition; all that evening
she acted as if she knew of nothing preparing within him, and through
him, within herself.
His words, caresses, the very zest with which he helped her to
prepare the feast, the flowers he had brought, the wine he made her
drink, the avoidance of any word which could spoil their happiness,
all--all told her. He was too inexorably gay and loving. Not for
her--to whom every word and every kiss had uncannily the desperate
value of a last word and kiss--not for her to deprive herself of
these by any sign or gesture which might betray her prescience. Poor
soul--she took all, and would have taken more, a hundredfold. She
did not want to drink the wine he kept tilting into her glass, but,
with the acceptance learned by women who have lived her life, she did
not refuse. She had never refused him anything. So much had been
required of her by the detestable, that anything required by a loved
one was but an honour.
Laurence drank deeply; but he had never felt clearer, never seen
things more clearly. The wine gave him what he wanted, an edge to
these few hours of pleasure, an exaltation of energy. It dulled his
sense of pity, too. It was pity he was afraid of--for himself, and
for this girl. To make even this tawdry room look beautiful, with
firelight and candlelight, dark amber wine in the glasses, tall pink
lilies spilling their saffron, exuding their hot perfume he and even
himself must look their best. And with a weight as of lead on her
heart, she managed that for him, letting him strew her with flowers
and crush them together with herself. Not even music was lacking to
their feast. Someone was playing a pianola across the street, and
the sound, very faint, came stealing when they were silent--swelling,
sinking, festive, mournful; having a far-off life of its own, like
the flickering fire-flames before which they lay embraced, or the
lilies delicate between the candles. Listening to that music,
tracing with his finger the tiny veins on her breast, he lay like one
recovering from a swoon. No parting. None! But sleep, as the
firelight sleeps when flames die; as music sleeps on its deserted
And the girl watched him.
It was nearly ten when he bade her go to bed. And after she had gone
obedient into the bedroom, he brought ink and paper down by the fire.
The drifter, the unstable, the good-for-nothing--did not falter. He
had thought, when it came to the point, he would fail himself; but a
sort of rage bore him forward. If he lived on, and confessed, they
would shut him up, take from him the one thing he loved, cut him off
from her; sand up his only well in the desert. Curse them! And he
wrote by firelight which mellowed the white sheets of paper; while,
against the dark curtain, the girl, in her nightgown, unconscious of
the cold, stood watching.
Men, when they drown, remember their pasts. Like the lost poet he
had "gone with the wind." Now it was for him to be true in his
fashion. A man may falter for weeks and weeks, consciously,
subconsciously, even in his dreams, till there comes that moment when
the only thing impossible is to go on faltering. The black cap, the
little driven grey man looking up at it with a sort of wonder--
faltering had ceased!
He had finished now, and was but staring into the fire.
"No more, no more, the moon is dead,
And all the people in it;
The poppy maidens strew the bed,
We'll come in half a minute."
Why did doggerel start up in the mind like that? Wanda! The weed-
flower become so rare he would not be parted from her! The fire, the
candles, and the fire--no more the flame and flicker!
And, by the dark curtain, the girl watched.
Keith went, not home, but to his club; and in the room devoted to the
reception of guests, empty at this hour, he sat down and read the
report of the trial. The fools had made out a case that looked black
enough. And for a long time, on the thick soft carpet which let out
no sound of footfall, he paced up and down, thinking. He might see
the defending counsel, might surely do that as an expert who thought
there had been miscarriage of justice. They must appeal; a petition
too might be started in the last event. The thing could--must be put
right yet, if only Larry and that girl did nothing!
He had no appetite, but the custom of dining is too strong. And
while he ate, he glanced with irritation at his fellow-members. They
looked so at their ease. Unjust--that this black cloud should hang
over one blameless as any of them! Friends, connoisseurs of such
things--a judge among them--came specially to his table to express
their admiration of his conduct of that will case. Tonight he had
real excuse for pride, but he felt none. Yet, in this well-warmed
quietly glowing room, filled with decorously eating, decorously
talking men, he gained insensibly some comfort. This surely was
reality; that shadowy business out there only the drear sound of a
wind one must and did keep out--like the poverty and grime which had
no real existence for the secure and prosperous. He drank champagne.
It helped to fortify reality, to make shadows seem more shadowy. And
down in the smoking-room he sat before the fire, in one of those
chairs which embalm after-dinner dreams. He grew sleepy there, and
at eleven o'clock rose to go home. But when he had once passed down
the shallow marble steps, out through the revolving door which let in
no draughts, he was visited by fear, as if he had drawn it in with
the breath of the January wind. Larry's face; and the girl watching
it! Why had she watched like that? Larry's smile; and the flowers
in his hand? Buying flowers at such a moment! The girl was his
slave-whatever he told her, she would do. But she would never be
able to stop him. At this very moment he might be rushing to give
His hand, thrust deep into the pocket of his fur coat, came in
contact suddenly with something cold. The keys Larry had given him
all that time ago. There they had lain forgotten ever since. The
chance touch decided him. He turned off towards Borrow Street,
walking at full speed. He could but go again and see. He would
sleep better if he knew that he had left no stone unturned. At the
corner of that dismal street he had to wait for solitude before he
made for the house which he now loathed with a deadly loathing. He
opened the outer door and shut it to behind him. He knocked, but no
one came. Perhaps they had gone to bed. Again and again he knocked,
then opened the door, stepped in, and closed it carefully. Candles
lighted, the fire burning; cushions thrown on the floor in front of
it and strewn with flowers! The table, too, covered with flowers and
with the remnants of a meal. Through the half-drawn curtain he could
see that the inner room was also lighted. Had they gone out, leaving
everything like this? Gone out! His heart beat. Bottles! Larry had
Had it really come? Must he go back home with this murk on him;
knowing that his brother was a confessed and branded murderer? He
went quickly, to the half-drawn curtains and looked in. Against the
wall he saw a bed, and those two in it. He recoiled in sheer
amazement and relief. Asleep with curtains undrawn, lights left on?
Asleep through all his knocking! They must both be drunk. The blood
rushed up in his neck. Asleep! And rushing forward again, he called
out: "Larry!" Then, with a gasp he went towards the bed. "Larry!"
No answer! No movement! Seizing his brother's shoulder, he shook it
violently. It felt cold. They were lying in each other's arms,
breast to breast, lips to lips, their faces white in the light
shining above the dressing-table. And such a shudder shook Keith
that he had to grasp the brass rail above their heads. Then he bent
down, and wetting his finger, placed it close to their joined lips.
No two could ever swoon so utterly as that; not even a drunken sleep
could be so fast. His wet finger felt not the faintest stir of air,
nor was there any movement in the pulses of their hands. No breath!
No life! The eyes of the girl were closed. How strangely innocent
she looked! Larry's open eyes seemed to be gazing at her shut eyes;
but Keith saw that they were sightless. With a sort of sob he drew
down the lids. Then, by an impulse that he could never have
explained, he laid a hand on his brother's head, and a hand on the
girl's fair hair. The clothes had fallen down a little from her bare
shoulder; he pulled them up, as if to keep her warm, and caught the
glint of metal; a tiny gilt crucifix no longer than a thumbnail, on a
thread of steel chain, had slipped down from her breast into the
hollow of the arm which lay round Larry's neck. Keith buried it
beneath the clothes and noticed an envelope pinned to the coverlet;
bending down, he read: "Please give this at once to the police.--
LAURENCE DARRANT." He thrust it into his pocket. Like elastic
stretched beyond its uttermost, his reason, will, faculties of
calculation and resolve snapped to within him. He thought with
incredible swiftness: 'I must know nothing of this. I must go!'
And, almost before he knew that he had moved, he was out again in the
He could never have told of what he thought while he was walking
home. He did not really come to himself till he was in his study.
There, with a trembling hand, he poured himself out whisky and drank
it off. If he had not chanced to go there, the charwoman would have
found them when she came in the morning, and given that envelope to
the police! He took it out. He had a right--a right to know what
was in it! He broke it open.
"I, Laurence Darrant, about to die by my own hand, declare that this
is a solemn and true confession. I committed what is known as the
Glove Lane Murder on the night of November the 27th last in the
following way"--on and on to the last words--"We didn't want to die;
but we could not bear separation, and I couldn't face letting an
innocent man be hung for me. I do not see any other way. I beg that
there may be no postmortem on our bodies. The stuff we have taken is
some of that which will be found on the dressing-table. Please bury
"January the 28th, about ten o'clock p.m."
Full five minutes Keith stood with those sheets of paper in his hand,
while the clock ticked, the wind moaned a little in the trees
outside, the flames licked the logs with the quiet click and ruffle
of their intense far-away life down there on the hearth. Then he
roused himself, and sat down to read the whole again.
There it was, just as Larry had told it to him-nothing left out, very
clear; even to the addresses of people who could identify the girl as
having once been Walenn's wife or mistress. It would convince. Yes!
It would convince.
The sheets dropped from his hand. Very slowly he was grasping the
appalling fact that on the floor beside his chair lay the life or
death of yet another man; that by taking this confession he had taken
into his own hands the fate of the vagabond lying under sentence of
death; that he could not give him back his life without incurring the
smirch of this disgrace, without even endangering himself. If he let
this confession reach the authorities, he could never escape the
gravest suspicion that he had known of the whole affair during these
two months. He would have to attend the inquest, be recognised by
that policeman as having come to the archway to see where the body
had lain, as having visited the girl the very evening after the
murder. Who would believe in the mere coincidence of such visits on
the part of the murderer's brother. But apart from that suspicion,
the fearful scandal which so sensational an affair must make would
mar his career, his life, his young daughter's life! Larry's suicide
with this girl would make sensation enough as it was; but nothing to
that other. Such a death had its romance; involved him in no way
save as a mourner, could perhaps even be hushed up! The other--
nothing could hush that up, nothing prevent its ringing to the house-
tops. He got up from his chair, and for many minutes roamed the room
unable to get his mind to bear on the issue. Images kept starting up
before him. The face of the man who handed him wig and gown each
morning, puffy and curious, with a leer on it he had never noticed
before; his young daughter's lifted eyebrows, mouth drooping, eyes
troubled; the tiny gilt crucifix glinting in the hollow of the dead
girl's arm; the sightless look in Larry's unclosed eyes; even his own
thumb and finger pulling the lids down. And then he saw a street and
endless people passing, turning to stare at him. And, stopping in
his tramp, he said aloud: "Let them go to hell! Seven days' wonder!"
Was he not trustee to that confession! Trustee! After all he had
done nothing to be ashamed of, even if he had kept knowledge dark. A
brother! Who could blame him? And he picked up those sheets of
paper. But, like a great murky hand, the scandal spread itself about
him; its coarse malignant voice seemed shouting: "Paiper!...
Paiper!... Glove Lane Murder!... Suicide and confession of brother of
well-known K.C.... Well-known K.C.'s brother.... Murder and
suicide.... Paiper!" Was he to let loose that flood of foulness?
Was he, who had done nothing, to smirch his own little daughter's
life; to smirch his dead brother, their dead mother--himself, his own
valuable, important future? And all for a sewer rat! Let him hang,
let the fellow hang if he must! And that was not certain. Appeal!
Petition! He might--he should be saved! To have got thus far, and
then, by his own action, topple himself down!
With a sudden darting movement he thrust the confession in among the
burning coals. And a smile licked at the folds in his dark face,
like those flames licking the sheets of paper, till they writhed and
blackened. With the toe of his boot he dispersed their scorched and
crumbling wafer. Stamp them in! Stamp in that man's life! Burnt!
No more doubts, no more of this gnawing fear! Burnt? A man--an
innocent-sewer rat! Recoiling from the fire he grasped his forehead.
It was burning hot and seemed to be going round.
Well, it was done! Only fools without will or purpose regretted.
And suddenly he laughed. So Larry had died for nothing! He had no
will, no purpose, and was dead! He and that girl might now have been
living, loving each other in the warm night, away at the other end of
the world, instead of lying dead in the cold night here! Fools and
weaklings regretted, suffered from conscience and remorse. A man
trod firmly, held to his purpose, no matter what!
He went to the window and drew back the curtain. What was that? A
gibbet in the air, a body hanging? Ah! Only the trees--the dark
trees--the winter skeleton trees! Recoiling, he returned to his
armchair and sat down before the fire. It had been shining like
that, the lamp turned low, his chair drawn up, when Larry came in
that afternoon two months ago. Bah! He had never come at all! It
was a nightmare. He had been asleep. How his head burned! And
leaping up, he looked at the calendar on his bureau. "January the
28th!" No dream! His face hardened and darkened. On! Not like
"Aequam memento rebus in arduis
In the City of Liverpool, on a January day of 1905, the Board-room of
"The Island Navigation Company" rested, as it were, after the labours
of the afternoon. The long table was still littered with the ink,
pens, blotting-paper, and abandoned documents of six persons--a
deserted battlefield of the brain. And, lonely, in his chairman's
seat at the top end old Sylvanus Heythorp sat, with closed eyes,
still and heavy as an image. One puffy, feeble hand, whose fingers
quivered, rested on the arm of his chair; the thick white hair on his
massive head glistened in the light from a green-shaded lamp. He was
not asleep, for every now and then his sanguine cheeks filled, and a
sound, half sigh, half grunt, escaped his thick lips between a white
moustache and the tiny tuft of white hairs above his cleft chin.
Sunk in the chair, that square thick trunk of a body in short black-
braided coat seemed divested of all neck.
Young Gilbert Farney, secretary of "The Island Navigation Company,"
entering his hushed Board-room, stepped briskly to the table,
gathered some papers, and stood looking at his chairman. Not more
than thirty-five, with the bright hues of the optimist in his hair,
beard, cheeks, and eyes, he had a nose and lips which curled
ironically. For, in his view, he was the Company; and its Board did
but exist to chequer his importance. Five days in the week for seven
hours a day he wrote, and thought, and wove the threads of its
business, and this lot came down once a week for two or three hours,
and taught their grandmother to suck eggs. But watching that red-
cheeked, white-haired, somnolent figure, his smile was not so
contemptuous as might have been expected. For after all, the
chairman was a wonderful old boy. A man of go and insight could not
but respect him. Eighty! Half paralysed, over head and ears in
debt, having gone the pace all his life--or so they said!--till at
last that mine in Ecuador had done for him--before the secretary's
day, of course, but he had heard of it. The old chap had bought it
up on spec'--"de l'audace, toujours de l'audace," as he was so fond
of saying--paid for it half in cash and half in promises, and then--
the thing had turned out empty, and left him with L20,000 worth of
the old shares unredeemed. The old boy had weathered it out without
a bankruptcy so far. Indomitable old buffer; and never fussy like
the rest of them! Young Farney, though a secretary, was capable of
attachment; and his eyes expressed a pitying affection. The Board
meeting had been long and "snadgy"--a final settling of that Pillin
business. Rum go the chairman forcing it on them like this! And
with quiet satisfaction the secretary thought 'And he never would
have got it through if I hadn't made up my mind that it really is
good business!' For to expand the company was to expand himself.
Still, to buy four ships with the freight market so depressed was a
bit startling, and there would be opposition at the general meeting.
Never mind! He and the chairman could put it through--put it
through. And suddenly he saw the old man looking at him.
Only from those eyes could one appreciate the strength of life yet
flowing underground in that well-nigh helpless carcase--deep-coloured
little blue wells, tiny, jovial, round windows.
A sigh travelled up through layers of flesh, and he said almost
"Have they come, Mr. Farney?"
"Yes, sir. I've put them in the transfer office; said you'd be with
them in a minute; but I wasn't going to wake you."
"Haven't been asleep. Help me up."
Grasping the edge of the table with his trembling hands, the old man
pulled, and, with Farney heaving him behind, attained his feet. He
stood about five feet ten, and weighed fully fourteen stone; not
corpulent, but very thick all through; his round and massive head
alone would have outweighed a baby. With eyes shut, he seemed to be
trying to get the better of his own weight, then he moved with the
slowness of a barnacle towards the door. The secretary, watching
him, thought: 'Marvellous old chap! How he gets about by himself is
a miracle! And he can't retire, they say-lives on his fees!'
But the chairman was through the green baize door. At his tortoise
gait he traversed the inner office, where the youthful clerks
suspended their figuring--to grin behind his back--and entered the
transfer office, where eight gentlemen were sitting. Seven rose, and
one did not. Old Heythorp raised a saluting hand to the level of his
chest and moving to an arm-chair, lowered himself into it.
One of the eight gentlemen got up again.
"Mr. Heythorp, we've appointed Mr. Brownbee to voice our views. Mr.
Brownbee!" And down he sat.
Mr. Brownbee rose a stoutish man some seventy years of age, with
little grey side whiskers, and one of those utterly steady faces only
to be seen in England, faces which convey the sense of business from
father to son for generations; faces which make wars, and passion,
and free thought seem equally incredible; faces which inspire
confidence, and awaken in one a desire to get up and leave the room.
Mr. Brownbee rose, and said in a suave voice:
"Mr. Heythorp, we here represent about L14,000. When we had the
pleasure of meeting you last July, you will recollect that you held
out a prospect of some more satisfactory arrangement by Christmas.
We are now in January, and I am bound to say we none of us get
>From the depths of old Heythorp a preliminary rumble came travelling,
reached the surface, and materialised
"Don't know about you--feel a boy, myself."
The eight gentlemen looked at him. Was he going to try and put them
off again? Mr. Brownbee said with unruffled calm:
"I'm sure we're very glad to hear it. But to come to the point. We
have felt, Mr. Heythorp, and I'm sure you won't think it
unreasonable, that--er--bankruptcy would be the most satisfactory
solution. We have waited a long time, and we want to know definitely
where we stand; for, to be quite frank, we don't see any prospect of
improvement; indeed, we fear the opposite."
"You think I'm going to join the majority."
This plumping out of what was at the back of their minds produced in
Mr. Brownbee and his colleagues a sort of chemical disturbance. They
coughed, moved their feet, and turned away their eyes, till the one
who had not risen, a solicitor named Ventnor, said bluffly:
"Well, put it that way if you like."
Old Heythorp's little deep eyes twinkled.
"My grandfather lived to be a hundred; my father ninety-six--both of
them rips. I'm only eighty, gentlemen; blameless life compared with
"Indeed," Mr. Brownbee said, "we hope you have many years of this
life before you."
"More of this than of another." And a silence fell, till old
Heythorp added: "You're getting a thousand a year out of my fees.
Mistake to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. I'll make it
twelve hundred. If you force me to resign my directorships by
bankruptcy, you won't get a rap, you know."
Mr. Brownbee cleared his throat:
"We think, Mr. Heythorp, you should make it at least fifteen hundred.
In that case we might perhaps consider--"
Old Heythorp shook his head.
"We can hardly accept your assertion that we should get nothing in
the event of bankruptcy. We fancy you greatly underrate the
possibilities. Fifteen hundred a year is the least you can do for
"See you d---d first."
Another silence followed, then Ventnor, the solicitor, said
"We know where we are, then."
Brownbee added almost nervously:
"Are we to understand that twelve hundred a year is your--your last
Old Heythorp nodded. "Come again this day month, and I'll see what I
can do for you;" and he shut his eyes.
Round Mr. Brownbee six of the gentlemen gathered, speaking in low
voices; Mr. Ventnor nursed a leg and glowered at old Heythorp, who
sat with his eyes closed. Mr. Brownbee went over and conferred with
Mr. Ventnor, then clearing his throat, he said:
"Well, sir, we have considered your proposal; we agree to accept it
for the moment. We will come again, as you suggest, in a month's
"We hope that you will by then have seen your way to something more
substantial, with a view to avoiding what we should all regret, but
which I fear will otherwise become inevitable."
Old Heythorp nodded. The eight gentlemen took their hats, and went
out one by one, Mr. Brownbee courteously bringing up the rear.
The old man, who could not get up without assistance, stayed musing
in his chair. He had diddled 'em for the moment into giving him
another month, and when that month was up-he would diddle 'em again!
A month ought to make the Pillin business safe, with all that hung on
it. That poor funkey chap Joe Pillin! A gurgling chuckle escaped
his red lips. What a shadow the fellow had looked, trotting in that
evening just a month ago, behind his valet's announcement: "Mr.
What a parchmenty, precise, thread-paper of a chap, with his bird's
claw of a hand, and his muffled-up throat, and his quavery:
"How do you do, Sylvanus? I'm afraid you're not--"
"First rate. Sit down. Have some port."
"Port! I never drink it. Poison to me! Poison!"
"Do you good!"
"Oh! I know, that's what you always say."
You've a monstrous constitution, Sylvanus. If I drank port and
smoked cigars and sat up till one o'clock, I should be in my grave
to-morrow. I'm not the man I was. The fact is, I've come to see if
you can help me. I'm getting old; I'm growing nervous...."
"You always were as chickeny as an old hen, Joe."
"Well, my nature's not like yours. To come to the point, I want to
sell my ships and retire. I need rest. Freights are very depressed.
I've got my family to think of."
"Crack on, and go broke; buck you up like anything!"
"I'm quite serious, Sylvanus."
"Never knew you anything else, Joe."
A quavering cough, and out it had come:
"Now--in a word--won't your 'Island Navigation Company' buy my
A pause, a twinkle, a puff of smoke. "Make it worth my while!" He
had said it in jest; and then, in a flash, the idea had come to him.
Rosamund and her youngsters! What a chance to put something between
them and destitution when he had joined the majority! And so he
said:" We don't want your silly ships."
That claw of a hand waved in deprecation. "They're very good ships--
doing quite well. It's only my wretched health. If I were a strong
man I shouldn't dream...."
"What d'you want for'em?" Good Lord! how he jumped if you asked him
a plain question. The chap was as nervous as a guinea-fowl!
"Here are the figures--for the last four years. I think you'll agree
that I couldn't ask less than seventy thousand."
Through the smoke of his cigar old Heythorp had digested those
figures slowly, Joe Pillin feeling his teeth and sucking lozenges the
while; then he said:
"Sixty thousand! And out of that you pay me ten per cent., if I get
it through for you. Take it or leave it."
"My dear Sylvanus, that's almost-cynical."
"Too good a price--you'll never get it without me."
"But a--but a commission! You could never disclose it!"
"Arrange that all right. Think it over. Freights'll go lower yet.
Have some port."
"No, no! Thank you. No! So you think freights will go lower?"
"Sure of it."
"Well, I'll be going. I'm sure I don't know. It's--it's--I must
"Think your hardest."
"Yes, yes. Good-bye. I can't imagine how you still go on smoking
those things and drinking port.
"See you in your grave yet, Joe." What a feeble smile the poor
fellow had! Laugh-he couldn't! And, alone again, he had browsed,
developing the idea which had come to him.
Though, to dwell in the heart of shipping, Sylvanus Heythorp had
lived at Liverpool twenty years, he was from the Eastern Counties, of
a family so old that it professed to despise the Conquest. Each of
its generations occupied nearly twice as long as those of less
tenacious men. Traditionally of Danish origin, its men folk had as a
rule bright reddish-brown hair, red cheeks, large round heads,
excellent teeth and poor morals. They had done their best for the
population of any county in which they had settled; their offshoots
swarmed. Born in the early twenties of the nineteenth century,
Sylvanus Heythorp, after an education broken by escapades both at
school and college, had fetched up in that simple London of the late
forties, where claret, opera, and eight per cent. for your money
ruled a cheery roost. Made partner in his shipping firm well before
he was thirty, he had sailed with a wet sheet and a flowing tide;
dancers, claret, Cliquot, and piquet; a cab with a tiger; some
travel--all that delicious early-Victorian consciousness of nothing
save a golden time. It was all so full and mellow that he was forty
before he had his only love affair of any depth--with the daughter of
one of his own clerks, a liaison so awkward as to necessitate a
sedulous concealment. The death of that girl, after three years,
leaving him a, natural son, had been the chief, perhaps the only
real, sorrow of his life. Five years later he married. What for?
God only knew! as he was in the habit of remarking. His wife had
been a hard, worldly, well-connected woman, who presented him with
two unnatural children, a girl and a boy, and grew harder, more
worldly, less handsome, in the process. The migration to Liverpool,
which took place when he was sixty and she forty-two, broke what she
still had of heart, but she lingered on twelve years, finding solace
in bridge, and being haughty towards Liverpool. Old Heythorp saw her
to her rest without regret. He had felt no love for her whatever,
and practically none for her two children--they were in his view
colourless, pragmatical, very unexpected characters. His son Ernest-
-in the Admiralty--he thought a poor, careful stick. His daughter
Adela, an excellent manager, delighting in spiritual conversation and
the society of tame men, rarely failed to show him that she
considered him a hopeless heathen. They saw as little as need be of
each other. She was provided for under that settlement he had made
on her mother fifteen years ago, well before the not altogether
unexpected crisis in his affairs. Very different was the feeling he
had bestowed on that son of his "under the rose." The boy, who had
always gone by his mother's name of Larne, had on her death been sent
to some relations of hers in Ireland, and there brought up. He had
been called to the Dublin bar, and married, young, a girl half
Cornish and half Irish; presently, having cost old Heythorp in all a
pretty penny, he had died impecunious, leaving his fair Rosamund at
thirty with a girl of eight and a boy of five. She had not spent six
months of widowhood before coming over from Dublin to claim the old
man's guardianship. A remarkably pretty woman, like a full-blown
rose, with greenish hazel eyes, she had turned up one morning at the
offices of "The Island Navigation Company," accompanied by her two
children--for he had never divulged to them his private address. And
since then they had always been more or less on his hands, occupying
a small house in a suburb of Liverpool. He visited them there, but
never asked them to the house in Sefton Park, which was in fact his
daughter's; so that his proper family and friends were unaware of
Rosamund Larne was one of those precarious ladies who make uncertain
incomes by writing full-bodied storyettes. In the most dismal
circumstances she enjoyed a buoyancy bordering on the indecent; which
always amused old Heythorp's cynicism. But of his grandchildren
Phyllis and Jock (wild as colts) he had become fond. And this chance
of getting six thousand pounds settled on them at a stroke had seemed
to him nothing but heaven-sent. As things were, if he "went off"--
and, of course, he might at any moment, there wouldn't be a penny for
them; for he would "cut up" a good fifteen thousand to the bad. He
was now giving them some three hundred a year out of his fees; and
dead directors unfortunately earned no fees! Six thousand pounds at
four and a half per cent., settled so that their mother couldn't
"blue it," would give them a certain two hundred and fifty pounds a
year-better than beggary. And the more he thought the better he
liked it, if only that shaky chap, Joe Pillin, didn't shy off when
he'd bitten his nails short over it!
Four evenings later, the "shaky chap" had again appeared at his house
in Sefton Park.
"I've thought it over, Sylvanus. I don't like it.
"No; but you'll do it."
"It's a sacrifice. Fifty-four thousand for four ships--it means a
considerable reduction in my income."
"It means security, my boy."
"Well, there is that; but you know, I really can't be party to a
secret commission. If it came out, think of my name and goodness
"It won't come out."
"Yes, yes, so you say, but--"
"All you've got to do's to execute a settlement on some third parties
that I'll name. I'm not going to take a penny of it myself. Get
your own lawyer to draw it up and make him trustee. You can sign it
when the purchase has gone through. I'll trust you, Joe. What stock
have you got that gives four and a half per cent.?"
"That'll do. You needn't sell."
"Yes, but who are these people?"
"Woman and her children I want to do a good turn to." What a face
the fellow had made! "Afraid of being connected with a woman, Joe?"
"Yes, you may laugh--I am afraid of being connected with someone
else's woman. I don't like it--I don't like it at all. I've not led
your life, Sylvanus."
"Lucky for you; you'd have been dead long ago. Tell your lawyer it's
an old flame of yours--you old dog!"
"Yes, there it is at once, you see. I might be subject to
"Tell him to keep it dark, and just pay over the income, quarterly."
"I don't like it, Sylvanus--I don't like it."
"Then leave it, and be hanged to you. Have a cigar?"
"You know I never smoke. Is there no other way?"
"Yes. Sell stock in London, bank the proceeds there, and bring me
six thousand pounds in notes. I'll hold 'em till after the general
meeting. If the thing doesn't go through, I'll hand 'em back to
"No; I like that even less."
"Rather I trusted you, eh!"
"No, not at all, Sylvanus, not at all. But it's all playing round
"There's no law to prevent you doing what you like with your money.
What I do's nothing to you. And mind you, I'm taking nothing from
it--not a mag. You assist the widowed and the fatherless--just your
"What a fellow you are, Sylvanus; you don't seem capable of taking
"Care killed the cat!"
Left alone after this second interview he had thought: 'The beggar'll
And the beggar had. That settlement was drawn and only awaited
signature. The Board to-day had decided on the purchase; and all
that remained was to get it ratified at the general meeting. Let him
but get that over, and this provision for his grandchildren made, and
he would snap his fingers at Brownbee and his crew-the canting
humbugs! "Hope you have many years of this life before you!" As if
they cared for anything but his money--their money rather! And
becoming conscious of the length of his reverie, he grasped the arms
of his chair, heaved at his own bulk, in an effort to rise, growing
redder and redder in face and neck. It was one of the hundred things
his doctor had told him not to do for fear of apoplexy, the humbug!
Why didn't Farney or one of those young fellows come and help him up?
To call out was undignified. But was he to sit there all night?
Three times he failed, and after each failure sat motionless again,
crimson and exhausted; the fourth time he succeeded, and slowly made
for the office. Passing through, he stopped and said in his extinct
"You young gentlemen had forgotten me."
"Mr. Farney said you didn't wish to be disturbed, sir."
"Very good of him. Give me my hat and coat."
"Thank you. What time is it?"
"Six o'clock, sir."
"Tell Mr. Farney to come and see me tomorrow at noon, about my speech
for the general meeting."
"Good-night to you."
At his tortoise gait he passed between the office stools to the door,
opened it feebly, and slowly vanished.
Shutting the door behind him, a clerk said:
"Poor old chairman! He's on his last!"
"Gosh! He's a tough old hulk. He'll go down fightin'."
Issuing from the offices of "The Island Navigation Company," Sylvanus
Heythorp moved towards the corner whence he always took tram to
Sefton Park. The crowded street had all that prosperous air of
catching or missing something which characterises the town where
London and New York and Dublin meet. Old Heythorp had to cross to
the far side, and he sallied forth without regard to traffic. That
snail-like passage had in it a touch of the sublime; the old man
seemed saying: "Knock me down and be d---d to you--I'm not going to
hurry." His life was saved perhaps ten times a day by the British
character at large, compounded of phlegm and a liking to take
something under its protection. The tram conductors on that line
were especially used to him, never failing to catch him under the
arms and heave him like a sack of coals, while with trembling hands
he pulled hard at the rail and strap.
"All right, sir?"
He moved into the body of the tram, where somebody would always get
up from kindness and the fear that he might sit down on them; and
there he stayed motionless, his little eyes tight closed. With his
red face, tuft of white hairs above his square cleft block of shaven
chin, and his big high-crowned bowler hat, which yet seemed too petty
for his head with its thick hair--he looked like some kind of an idol
dug up and decked out in gear a size too small.
One of those voices of young men from public schools and exchanges
where things are bought and sold, said:
"How de do, Mr. Heythorp?"
Old Heythorp opened his eyes. That sleek cub, Joe Pillin's son!
What a young pup-with his round eyes, and his round cheeks, and his
little moustache, his fur coat, his spats, his diamond pin!
"How's your father?" he said.
"Thanks, rather below par, worryin' about his ships. Suppose you
haven't any news for him, sir?"
Old Heythorp nodded. The young man was one of his pet abominations,
embodying all the complacent, little-headed mediocrity of this new
generation; natty fellows all turned out of the same mould, sippers
and tasters, chaps without drive or capacity, without even vices; and
he did not intend to gratify the cub's curiosity.
"Come to my house," he said; "I'll give you a note for him."
"Tha-anks; I'd like to cheer the old man up."
The old man! Cheeky brat! And closing his eyes he relapsed into
immobility. The tram wound and ground its upward way, and he mused.
When he was that cub's age--twenty-eight or whatever it might be--he
had done most things; been up Vesuvius, driven four-in-hand, lost his
last penny on the Derby and won it back on the Oaks, known all the
dancers and operatic stars of the day, fought a duel with a Yankee at
Dieppe and winged him for saying through his confounded nose that Old
England was played out; been a controlling voice already in his
shipping firm; drunk five other of the best men in London under the
table; broken his neck steeple-chasing; shot a burglar in the legs;
been nearly drowned, for a bet; killed snipe in Chelsea; been to
Court for his sins; stared a ghost out of countenance; and travelled
with a lady of Spain. If this young pup had done the last, it would
be all he had; and yet, no doubt, he would call himself a "spark."
The conductor touched his arm.
"'Ere you are, sir."
He lowered himself to the ground, and moved in the bluish darkness
towards the gate of his daughter's house. Bob Pillin walked beside
him, thinking: 'Poor old josser, he is gettin' a back number!' And
he said: "I should have thought you ought to drive, sir. My old
guv'nor would knock up at once if he went about at night like this."
The answer rumbled out into the misty air:
"Your father's got no chest; never had."
Bob Pillin gave vent to one of those fat cackles which come so
readily from a certain type of man; and old Heythorp thought:
'Laughing at his father! Parrot!'
They had reached the porch.
A woman with dark hair and a thin, straight face and figure was
arranging some flowers in the hall. She turned and said:
"You really ought not to be so late, Father! It's wicked at this
time of year. Who is it--oh! Mr. Pillin, how do you do? Have you
had tea? Won't you come to the drawing-room; or do you want to see
"Tha-anks! I believe your father--" And he thought: 'By Jove! the
old chap is a caution!' For old Heythorp was crossing the hall
without having paid the faintest attention to his daughter.
"Tha-anks awfully; he wants to give me something," he followed. Miss
Heythorp was not his style at all; he had a kind of dread of that
thin woman who looked as if she could never be unbuttoned. They said
she was a great churchgoer and all that sort of thing.
In his sanctum old Heythorp had moved to his writing-table, and was
evidently anxious to sit down.
"Shall I give you a hand, sir?"
Receiving a shake of the head, Bob Pillin stood by the fire and
watched. The old "sport" liked to paddle his own canoe. Fancy
having to lower yourself into a chair like that! When an old Johnny
got to such a state it was really a mercy when he snuffed out, and
made way for younger men. How his Companies could go on putting up
with such a fossil for chairman was a marvel! The fossil rumbled and
said in that almost inaudible voice:
"I suppose you're beginning to look forward to your father's shoes?"
Bob Pillin's mouth opened. The voice went on:
"Dibs and no responsibility. Tell him from me to drink port--add
five years to his life."
To this unwarranted attack Bob Pillin made no answer save a laugh; he
perceived that a manservant had entered the room.
"A Mrs. Larne, sir. Will you see her?"
At this announcement the old man seemed to try and start; then he
nodded, and held out the note he had written. Bob Pillin received it
together with the impression of a murmur which sounded like: "Scratch
a poll, Poll!" and passing the fine figure of a woman in a fur coat,
who seemed to warm the air as she went by, he was in the hall again
before he perceived that he had left his hat.
A young and pretty girl was standing on the bearskin before the fire,
looking at him with round-eyed innocence. He thought: 'This is
better; I mustn't disturb them for my hat'; and approaching the fire,
"Jolly cold, isn't it?"
The girl smiled: "Yes-jolly."
He noticed that she had a large bunch of violets at her breast, a lot
of fair hair, a short straight nose, and round blue-grey eyes very
frank and open. "Er" he said, "I've left my hat in there."
"What larks!" And at her little clear laugh something moved within
"You know this house well?"
She shook her head. "But it's rather scrummy, isn't it?"
Bob Pillin, who had never yet thought so answered:
The girl threw up her head to laugh again. "O.K.? What's that?"
Bob Pillin saw her white round throat, and thought: 'She is a
ripper!' And he said with a certain desperation:
"My name's Pillin. Yours is Larne, isn't it? Are you a relation
"He's our Guardy. Isn't he a chook?"
That rumbling whisper like "Scratch a Poll, Poll!" recurring to Bob
Pillin, he said with reservation:
"You know him better than I do." "Oh! Aren't you his grandson, or
Bob Pillin did not cross himself.
"Lord! No! My dad's an old friend of his; that's all."
"Is your dad like him?"
"What a pity! It would have been lovely if they'd been Tweedles."
Bob Pillin thought: 'This bit is something new. I wonder what her
Christian name is.' And he said:
"What did your godfather and godmothers in your baptism---?"
The girl laughed; she seemed to laugh at everything.
Could he say: "Is my only joy"? Better keep it! But-for what? He
wouldn't see her again if he didn't look out! And he said:
"I live at the last house in the park-the red one. D'you know it?
Where do you?"
"Oh! a long way--23, Millicent Villas. It's a poky little house. I
hate it. We have awful larks, though."
"Who are we?"
"Mother, and myself, and Jock--he's an awful boy. You can't conceive
what an awful boy he is. He's got nearly red hair; I think he'll be
just like Guardy when he gets old. He's awful!"
Bob Pillin murmured:
"I should like to see him."
"Would you? I'll ask mother if you can. You won't want to again; he
goes off all the time like a squib." She threw back her head, and
again Bob Pillin felt a little giddy. He collected himself, and
"Are you going in to see your Guardy?"
"No. Mother's got something special to say. We've never been here
before, you see. Isn't he fun, though?"
"I think he's the greatest lark; but he's awfully nice to me. Jock
calls him the last of the Stoic'uns."
A voice called from old Heythorp's den:
"Phyllis!" It had a particular ring, that voice, as if coming from
beautifully formed red lips, of which the lower one must curve the
least bit over; it had, too, a caressing vitality, and a kind of warm
The girl threw a laughing look back over her shoulder, and vanished
through the door into the room.
Bob Pillin remained with his back to the fire and his puppy round
eyes fixed on the air that her figure had last occupied. He was
experiencing a sensation never felt before. Those travels with a
lady of Spain, charitably conceded him by old Heythorp, had so far
satisfied the emotional side of this young man; they had stopped
short at Brighton and Scarborough, and been preserved from even the
slightest intrusion of love. A calculated and hygienic career had
caused no anxiety either to himself or his father; and this sudden
swoop of something more than admiration gave him an uncomfortable
choky feeling just above his high round collar, and in the temples a
sort of buzzing--those first symptoms of chivalry. A man of the
world does not, however, succumb without a struggle; and if his hat
had not been out of reach, who knows whether he would not have left
the house hurriedly, saying to himself: "No, no, my boy; Millicent
Villas is hardly your form, when your intentions are honourable"?
For somehow that round and laughing face, bob of glistening hair,
those wide-opened grey eyes refused to awaken the beginnings of other
intentions--such is the effect of youth and innocence on even the
steadiest young men. With a kind of moral stammer, he was thinking:
'Can I--dare I offer to see them to their tram? Couldn't I even nip
out and get the car round and send them home in it? No, I might miss
them--better stick it out here! What a jolly laugh! What a tipping
face--strawberries and cream, hay, and all that! Millicent Villas!'
And he wrote it on his cuff.
The door was opening; he heard that warm vibrating voice: "Come
along, Phyllis!"--the girl's laugh so high and fresh: "Right-o!
Coming!" And with, perhaps, the first real tremor he had ever known,
he crossed to the front door. All the more chivalrous to escort them
to the tram without a hat! And suddenly he heard: "I've got your
hat, young man!" And her mother's voice, warm, and simulating shock:
"Phyllis, you awful gairl! Did you ever see such an awful gairl;
And then--he did not quite know how--insulated from the January air
by laughter and the scent of fur and violets, he was between them
walking to their tram. It was like an experience out of the "Arabian
Nights," or something of that sort, an intoxication which made one
say one was going their way, though one would have to come all the
way back in the same beastly tram. Nothing so warming had ever
happened to him as sitting between them on that drive, so that he
forgot the note in his pocket, and his desire to relieve the anxiety
of the "old man," his father. At the tram's terminus they all got
out. There issued a purr of invitation to come and see them some
time; a clear: "Jock'll love to see you!" A low laugh: "You awful
gairl!" And a flash of cunning zigzagged across his brain. Taking
off his hat, he said:
"Thanks awfully; rather!" and put his foot back on the step of the
tram. Thus did he delicately expose the depths of his chivalry!
"Oh! you said you were going our way! What one-ers you do tell!
Oh!" The words were as music; the sight of those eyes growing
rounder, the most perfect he had ever seen; and Mrs. Larne's low
laugh, so warm yet so preoccupied, and the tips of the girl's fingers
waving back above her head. He heaved a sigh, and knew no more till
he was seated at his club before a bottle of champagne. Home! Not
he! He wished to drink and dream. "The old man" would get his news
all right to-morrow!
The words: "A Mrs. Larne to see you, sir," had been of a nature to
astonish weaker nerves. What had brought her here? She knew she
mustn't come! Old Heythorp had watched her entrance with cynical
amusement. The way she whiffed herself at that young pup in passing,
the way her eyes slid round! He had a very just appreciation of his
son's widow; and a smile settled deep between his chin tuft and his
moustache. She lifted his hand, kissed it, pressed it to her
splendid bust, and said:
"So here I am at last, you see. Aren't you surprised?"
Old Heythorp, shook his head.
"I really had to come and see you, Guardy; we haven't had a sight of
you for such an age. And in this awful weather! How are you, dear
"Never better." And, watching her green-grey eyes, he added:
"Haven't a penny for you!"
Her face did not fall; she gave her feather-laugh.
"How dreadful of you to think I came for that! But I am in an awful
"Never knew you not to be."
"Just let me tell you, dear; it'll be some relief. I'm having the
most terrible time."
She sank into a low chair, disengaging an overpowering scent of
violets, while melancholy struggled to subdue her face and body.
"The most awful fix. I expect to be sold up any moment. We may be
on the streets to-morrow. I daren't tell the children; they're so
happy, poor darlings. I shall be obliged to take Jock away from
school. And Phyllis will have to stop her piano and dancing; it's an
absolute crisis. And all due to those Midland Syndicate people.
I've been counting on at least two hundred for my new story, and the
wretches have refused it."
With a tiny handkerchief she removed one tear from the corner of one
eye. "It is hard, Guardy; I worked my brain silly over that story."
>From old Heythorp came a mutter which sounded suspiciously like:
Heaving a sigh, which conveyed nothing but the generosity of her
breathing apparatus, Mrs. Larne went on:
"You couldn't, I suppose, let me have just one hundred?"
"Not a bob."
She sighed again, her eyes slid round the room; then in her warm
voice she murmured:
"Guardy, you were my dear Philip's father, weren't you? I've never
said anything; but of course you were. He was so like you, and so is
Nothing moved in old Heythorp's face. No pagan image consulted with
flowers and song and sacrifice could have returned less answer. Her
dear Philip! She had led him the devil of a life, or he was a
Dutchman! And what the deuce made her suddenly trot out the skeleton
like this? But Mrs. Larne's eyes were still wandering.
"What a lovely house! You know, I think you ought to help me,
Guardy. Just imagine if your grandchildren were thrown out into the
The old man grinned. He was not going to deny his relationship--it
was her look-out, not his. But neither was he going to let her rush
"And they will be; you couldn't look on and see it. Do come to my
rescue this once. You really might do something for them."
With a rumbling sigh he answered:
"Wait. Can't give you a penny now. Poor as a church mouse."
Mrs. Larne heaved one of her most buoyant sighs. She certainly did
not believe him.
"Well!" she said; "you'll be sorry when we come round one night and
sing for pennies under your window. Wouldn't you like to see
Phyllis? I left her in the hall. She's growing such a sweet gairl.
Guardy just fifty!"
"Not a rap."
Mrs. Larne threw up her hands. "Well! You'll repent it. I'm at my
last gasp." She sighed profoundly, and the perfume of violets
escaped in a cloud; Then, getting up, she went to the door and
When the girl entered old Heythorp felt the nearest approach to a
flutter of the heart for many years. She had put her hair up! She
was like a spring day in January; such a relief from that scented
humbug, her mother. Pleasant the touch of her lips on his forehead,
the sound of her clear voice, the sight of her slim movements, the
feeling that she did him credit--clean-run stock, she and that young
scamp Jock--better than the holy woman, his daughter Adela, would
produce if anyone were ever fool enough to marry her, or that
pragmatical fellow, his son Ernest.
And when they were gone he reflected with added zest on the six
thousand pounds he was getting for them out of Joe Pillin and his
ships. He would have to pitch it strong in his speech at the general
meeting. With freights so low, there was bound to be opposition. No
dash nowadays; nothing but gabby caution! They were a scrim-shanking
lot on the Board--he had had to pull them round one by one--the deuce
of a tug getting this thing through! And yet, the business was sound
enough. Those ships would earn money, properly handled-good money
His valet, coming in to prepare him for dinner, found him asleep. He
had for the old man as much admiration as may be felt for one who
cannot put his own trousers on. He would say to the housemaid Molly:
"He's a game old blighter--must have been a rare one in his day.
Cocks his hat at you, even now, I see!" To which the girl, Irish and
pretty, would reply: "Well, an' sure I don't mind, if it gives um a
pleasure. 'Tis better anyway than the sad eye I get from herself."
At dinner, old Heythorp always sat at one end of the rosewood table
and his daughter at the other. It was the eminent moment of the day.
With napkin tucked high into his waistcoat, he gave himself to the
meal with passion. His palate was undimmed, his digestion
unimpaired. He could still eat as much as two men, and drink more
than one. And while he savoured each mouthful he never spoke if he
could help it. The holy woman had nothing to say that he cared to
hear, and he nothing to say that she cared to listen to. She had a
horror, too, of what she called "the pleasures of the table"--those
lusts of the flesh! She was always longing to dock his grub, he
knew. Would see her further first! What other pleasures were there
at his age? Let her wait till she was eighty. But she never would
be; too thin and holy!
This evening, however, with the advent of the partridge she did
"Who were your visitors, Father?"
Trust her for nosing anything out! Fixing his little blue eyes on
her, he mumbled with a very full mouth: "Ladies."
"So I saw; what ladies?"
He had a longing to say: 'Part of one of my families under the rose.'
As a fact it was the best part of the only one, but the temptation to
multiply exceedingly was almost overpowering. He checked himself,
however, and went on eating partridge, his secret irritation
crimsoning his cheeks; and he watched her eyes, those cold precise
and round grey eyes, noting it, and knew she was thinking: 'He eats
She said: "Sorry I'm not considered fit to be told. You ought not to
be drinking hock."
Old Heythorp took up the long green glass, drained it, and repressing
fumes and emotion went on with his partridge. His daughter pursed
her lips, took a sip of water, and said:
"I know their name is Larne, but it conveyed nothing to me; perhaps
it's just as well."
The old man, mastering a spasm, said with a grin:
"My daughter-in-law and my granddaughter."
"What! Ernest married--Oh! nonsense!"
He chuckled, and shook his head.
"Then do you mean to say, Father, that you were married before you
married my mother?"
The expression on her face was as good as a play!
She said with a sort of disgust: "Not married! I see. I suppose
those people are hanging round your neck, then; no wonder you're
always in difficulties. Are there any more of them?"
Again the old man suppressed that spasm, and the veins in his neck
and forehead swelled alarmingly. If he had spoken he would
infallibly have choked. He ceased eating, and putting his hands on
the table tried to raise himself. He could not and subsiding in his
chair sat glaring at the stiff, quiet figure of his daughter.
"Don't be silly, Father, and make a scene before Meller. Finish your
He did not answer. He was not going to sit there to be dragooned and
insulted! His helplessness had never so weighed on him before. It
was like a revelation. A log--that had to put up with anything! A
log! And, waiting for his valet to return, he cunningly took up his
In that saintly voice of hers she said:
"I suppose you don't realise that it's a shock to me. I don't know
what Ernest will think--"
"Ernest be d---d."
"I do wish, Father, you wouldn't swear."
Old Heythorp's rage found vent in a sort of rumble. How the devil
had he gone on all these years in the same house with that woman,
dining with her day after day! But the servant had come back now,
and putting down his fork he said:
"Help me up!"
The man paused, thunderstruck, with the souffle balanced. To leave
dinner unfinished--it was a portent!
"Help me up!"
"Mr. Heythorp's not very well, Meller; take his other arm."
The old man shook off her hand.
"I'm very well. Help me up. Dine in my own room in future."
Raised to his feet, he walked slowly out; but in his sanctum he did
not sit down, obsessed by this first overwhelming realisation of his
helplessness. He stood swaying a little, holding on to the table,
till the servant, having finished serving dinner, brought in his
"Are you waiting to sit down, sir?"
He shook his head. Hang it, he could do that for himself, anyway.
He must think of something to fortify his position against that
woman. And he said:
"Send me Molly!"
"Yes, sir." The man put down the port and went.
Old Heythorp filled his glass, drank, and filled again. He took a
cigar from the box and lighted it. The girl came in, a grey-eyed,
dark-haired damsel, and stood with her hands folded, her head a
little to one side, her lips a little parted. The old man said:
"You're a human being."
"I would hope so, sirr."
"I'm going to ask you something as a human being--not a servant--
"No, sirr; but I will be glad to do anything you like."
"Then put your nose in here every now and then, to see if I want
anything. Meller goes out sometimes. Don't say anything; Just put
your nose in."
"Oh! an' I will; 'tis a pleasure 'twill be to do ut."
He nodded, and when she had gone lowered himself into his chair with
a sense of appeasement. Pretty girl! Comfort to see a pretty face-
not a pale, peeky thing like Adela's. His anger burned up anew. So
she counted on his helplessness, had begun to count on that, had she?
She should see that there was life in the old dog yet! And his
sacrifice of the uneaten souffle, the still less eaten mushrooms, the
peppermint sweet with which he usually concluded dinner, seemed to
consecrate that purpose. They all thought he was a hulk, without a
shot left in the locker! He had seen a couple of them at the Board
that afternoon shrugging at each other, as though saying: 'Look at
him!' And young Farney pitying him. Pity, forsooth! And that
coarse-grained solicitor chap at the creditors' meeting curling his
lip as much as to say: 'One foot in the grave!' He had seen the
clerks dowsing the glim of their grins; and that young pup Bob Pillin
screwing up his supercilious mug over his dog-collar. He knew that
scented humbug Rosamund was getting scared that he'd drop off before
she'd squeezed him dry. And his valet was always looking him up and
down queerly. As to that holy woman--! Not quite so fast! Not
quite so fast! And filling his glass for the fourth time, he slowly
sucked down the dark red fluid, with the "old boots" flavour which
his soul loved, and, drawing deep at his cigar, closed his eyes.
The room in the hotel where the general meetings of "The Island
Navigation Company" were held was nearly full when the secretary came
through the door which as yet divided the shareholders from their
directors. Having surveyed their empty chairs, their ink and papers,
and nodded to a shareholder or two, he stood, watch in hand,
contemplating the congregation. A thicker attendance than he had
ever seen! Due, no doubt, to the lower dividend, and this Pillin
business. And his tongue curled. For if he had a natural contempt
for his Board, with the exception of the chairman, he had a still
more natural contempt for his shareholders. Amusing spectacle when
you came to think of it, a general meeting! Unique! Eighty or a
hundred men, and five women, assembled through sheer devotion to
their money. Was any other function in the world so single-hearted.
Church was nothing to it--so many motives were mingled there with
devotion to one's soul. A well-educated young man--reader of Anatole
France, and other writers--he enjoyed ironic speculation. What
earthly good did they think they got by coming here? Half-past two!
He put his watch back into his pocket, and passed into the Board-
There, the fumes of lunch and of a short preliminary meeting made
cosy the February atmosphere. By the fire four directors were
conversing rather restlessly; the fifth was combing his beard; the
chairman sat with eyes closed and red lips moving rhythmically in the
sucking of a lozenge, the slips of his speech ready in his hand. The
secretary said in his cheerful voice: "Time, sir."
Old Heythorp swallowed, lifted his arms, rose with help, and walked
through to his place at the centre of the table. The five directors
followed. And, standing at the chairman's right, the secretary read
the minutes, forming the words precisely with his curling tongue.
Then, assisting the chairman to his feet, he watched those rows of
faces, and thought: 'Mistake to let them see he can't get up without
help. He ought to have let me read his speech--I wrote it.'
The chairman began to speak:
"It is my duty and my pleasure,' ladies and gentlemen, for the
nineteenth consecutive year to present to you the directors' report
and the accounts for the past twelve months. You will all have had
special notice of a measure of policy on which your Board has
decided, and to which you will be asked to-day to give your
adherence--to that I shall come at the end of my remarks...."
"Excuse me, sir; we can't hear a word down here."
'Ah!' thought the secretary, 'I was expecting that.'
The chairman went on, undisturbed. But several shareholders now
rose, and the same speaker said testily: "We might as well go home.
If the chairman's got no voice, can't somebody read for him?"
The chairman took a sip of water, and resumed. Almost all in the
last six rows were now on their feet, and amid a hubbub of murmurs
the chairman held out to the secretary the slips of his speech, and
fell heavily back into his chair.
The secretary re-read from the beginning; and as each sentence fell
from his tongue, he thought: 'How good that is!' 'That's very
clear!' 'A neat touch!' 'This is getting them.' It seemed to him a
pity they could not know it was all his composition. When at last he
came to the Pillin sale he paused for a second.
"I come now to the measure of policy to which I made allusion at the
beginning of my speech. Your Board has decided to expand your
enterprise by purchasing the entire fleet of Pillin & Co., Ltd. By
this transaction we become the owners of the four steamships Smyrna,
Damascus, Tyre, and Sidon, vessels in prime condition with a total
freight-carrying capacity of fifteen thousand tons, at the low
inclusive price of sixty thousand pounds. Gentlemen, de l'audace,
toujours de l'audace!"--it was the chairman's phrase, his bit of the
speech, and the secretary did it more than justice. "Times are bad,
but your Board is emphatically of the opinion that they are touching
bottom; and this, in their view, is the psychological moment for a
forward stroke. They confidently recommend your adoption of their
policy and the ratification of this purchase, which they believe
will, in the not far distant future, substantially increase the
profits of the Company." The secretary sat down with reluctance.
The speech should have continued with a number of appealing sentences
which he had carefully prepared, but the chairman had cut them out
with the simple comment: "They ought to be glad of the chance." It
was, in his view, an error.
The director who had combed his beard now rose--a man of presence,
who might be trusted to say nothing long and suavely. While he was
speaking the secretary was busy noting whence opposition was likely
to come. The majority were sitting owl-like-a good sign; but some
dozen were studying their copies of the report, and three at least
were making notes--Westgate, for, instance, who wanted to get on the
Board, and was sure to make himself unpleasant--the time-honoured
method of vinegar; and Batterson, who also desired to come on, and
might be trusted to support the Board--the time-honoured method of
oil; while, if one knew anything of human nature, the fellow who had
complained that he might as well go home would have something
uncomfortable to say. The director finished his remarks, combed his
beard with his fingers, and sat down.
A momentary pause ensued. Then Messieurs Westgate and Batterson rose
together. Seeing the chairman nod towards the latter, the secretary
thought: 'Mistake! He should have humoured Westgate by giving him
precedence.' But that was the worst of the old man, he had no notion
of the suaviter in modo! Mr. Batterson thus unchained--would like,
if he might be so allowed, to congratulate the Board on having
piloted their ship so smoothly through the troublous waters of the
past year. With their worthy chairman still at the helm, he had no
doubt that in spite of the still low--he would not say falling-
barometer, and the-er-unseasonable climacteric, they might rely on
weathering the--er--he would not say storm. He would confess that
the present dividend of four per cent. was not one which satisfied
every aspiration (Hear, hear!), but speaking for himself, and he
hoped for others--and here Mr. Batterson looked round--he recognised
that in all the circumstances it was as much as they had the right--
er--to expect. But following the bold but to his mind prudent
development which the Board proposed to make, he thought that they
might reasonably, if not sanguinely, anticipate a more golden future.
("No, no!") A shareholder said, 'No, no!' That might seem to
indicate a certain lack of confidence in the special proposal before
the meeting. ("Yes!") From that lack of confidence he would like at
once to dissociate himself. Their chairman, a man of foresight and
acumen, and valour proved on many a field and--er--sea, would not
have committed himself to this policy without good reason. In his
opinion they were in safe hands, and he was glad to register his
support of the measure proposed. The chairman had well said in his
speech: 'de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!' Shareholders would
agree with him that there could be no better motto for Englishmen.
Mr. Batterson sat down. And Mr. Westgate rose: He wanted--he said--
to know more, much more, about this proposition, which to his mind
was of a very dubious wisdom.... 'Ah!' thought the secretary, 'I
told the old boy he must tell them more'.... To whom, for instance,
had the proposal first been made? To him!--the chairman said. Good!
But why were Pillins selling, if freights were to go up, as they were
"Matter of opinion."
"Quite so; and in my opinion they are going lower, and Pillins were
right to sell. It follows that we are wrong to buy." ("Hear, hear!"
"No, no!") "Pillins are shrewd people. What does the chairman say?
Nerves! Does he mean to tell us that this sale was the result of
The chairman nodded.
"That appears to me a somewhat fantastic theory; but I will leave
that and confine myself to asking the grounds on which the chairman
bases his confidence; in fact, what it is which is actuating the
Board in pressing on us at such a time what I have no hesitation in
stigmatising as a rash proposal. In a word, I want light as well as
leading in this matter."
Mr. Westgate sat down.
What would the chairman do now? The situation was distinctly
awkward--seeing his helplessness and the lukewarmness of the Board
behind him. And the secretary felt more strongly than ever the
absurdity of his being an underling, he who in a few well-chosen
words could so easily have twisted the meeting round his thumb.
Suddenly he heard the long, rumbling sigh which preluded the
"Has any other gentleman anything to say before I move the adoption
of the report?"
Phew! That would put their backs up. Yes, sure enough it had
brought that fellow, who had said he might as well go home, to his
feet! Now for something nasty!
"Mr. Westgate requires answering. I don't like this business. I
don't impute anything to anybody; but it looks to me as if there were
something behind it which the shareholders ought to be told. Not
only that; but, to speak frankly, I'm not satisfied to be ridden over
roughshod in this fashion by one who, whatever he may have been in
the past, is obviously not now in the prime of his faculties."
With a gasp the secretary thought: 'I knew that was a plain-spoken
He heard again the rumbling beside him. The chairman had gone
crimson, his mouth was pursed, his little eyes were very blue.
"Help me up," he said.
The secretary helped him, and waited, rather breathless.
The chairman took a sip of water, and his voice, unexpectedly loud,
broke an ominous hush:
"Never been so insulted in my life. My best services have been at
your disposal for nineteen years; you know what measure of success
this Company has attained. I am the oldest man here, and my
experience of shipping is, I hope, a little greater than that of the
two gentlemen who spoke last. I have done my best for you, ladies
and gentlemen, and we shall see whether you are going to endorse an
indictment of my judgment and of my honour, if I am to take the last
speaker seriously. This purchase is for your good. 'There is a tide
in the affairs of men'--and I for one am not content, never have
been, to stagnate. If that is what you want, however, by all means
give your support to these gentlemen and have done with it. I tell
you freights will go up before the end of the year; the purchase is a
sound one, more than a sound one--I, at any rate, stand or fall by
it. Refuse to ratify it, if you like; if you do, I shall resign."
He sank back into his seat. The secretary, stealing a glance,
thought with a sort of enthusiasm: 'Bravo! Who'd have thought he
could rally his voice like that? A good touch, too, that about his
honour! I believe he's knocked them.
It's still dicky, though, if that fellow at the back gets up again;
the old chap can't work that stop a second time. 'Ah! here was 'old
Apple-pie' on his hind legs. That was all right!
"I do not hesitate to say that I am an old friend of the chairman; we
are, many of us, old friends of the chairman, and it has been painful
to me, and I doubt not to others, to hear an attack made on him. If
he is old in body, he is young in mental vigour and courage. I wish
we were all as young. We ought to stand by him; I say, we ought to
stand by him." ("Hear, hear! Hear, hear!") And the secretary
thought: 'That's done it!' And he felt a sudden odd emotion, watching
the chairman bobbing his body, like a wooden toy, at old Appleby; and
old Appleby bobbing back. Then, seeing a shareholder close to the
door get up, thought: 'Who's that? I know his face--Ah! yes;
Ventnor, the solicitor--he's one of the chairman's creditors that are
coming again this afternoon. What now?'
"I can't agree that we ought to let sentiment interfere with our
judgment in this matter. The question is simply: How are our pockets
going to be affected? I came here with some misgivings, but the
attitude of the chairman has been such as to remove them; and I shall
support the proposition." The secretary thought: 'That's all right--
only, he said it rather queerly--rather queerly.'
Then, after a long silence, the chairman, without rising, said:
"I move the adoption of the report and accounts."
"I second that."
"Those in favour signify the same in the usual way. Contrary?
Carried." The secretary noted the dissentients, six in number, and
that Mr. Westgate did not vote.
A quarter of an hour later he stood in the body of the emptying room
supplying names to one of the gentlemen of the Press. The
passionless fellow said: "Haythorp, with an 'a'; oh! an 'e'; he
seems an old man. Thank you. I may have the slips? Would you like
to see a proof? With an 'a' you said--oh! an 'e.' Good afternoon!"
And the secretary thought: 'Those fellows, what does go on inside
them? Fancy not knowing the old chairman by now!'...
Back in the proper office of "The Island Navigation Company" old
Heythorp sat smoking a cigar and smiling like a purring cat. He was
dreaming a little of his triumph, sifting with his old brain, still
subtle, the wheat from the chaff of the demurrers: Westgate--nothing
in that--professional discontent till they silenced him with a place
on the board--but not while be held the reins! That chap at the
back--an ill-conditioned fellow! "Something behind!" Suspicious
brute! There was something--but--hang it! they might think
themselves lucky to get four ships at that price, and all due to him!
It was on the last speaker that his mind dwelt with a doubt. That
fellow Ventnor, to whom he owed money--there had been something just
a little queer about his tone--as much as to say, "I smell a rat."
Well! one would see that at the creditors' meeting in half an hour.
"Mr. Pillin, sir."
"Show him in!"
In a fur coat which seemed to extinguish his thin form, Joe Pillin
entered. It was snowing, and the cold had nipped and yellowed his
meagre face between its slight grey whiskering. He said thinly:
"How are you, Sylvanus? Aren't you perished in this cold?"
"Warm as a toast. Sit down. Take off your coat."
"Oh! I should be lost without it. You must have a fire inside you.
So-so it's gone through?"
Old Heythorp nodded; and Joe Pillin, wandering like a spirit,
scrutinised the shut door. He came back to the table, and said in a
"It's a great sacrifice."
Old Heythorp smiled.
"Have you signed the deed poll?"
Producing a parchment from his pocket Joe Pillin unfolded it with
caution to disclose his signature, and said:
"I don't like it--it's irrevocable."
A chuckle escaped old Heythorp.
Joe Pillin's voice passed up into the treble clef.
"I can't bear irrevocable things. I consider you stampeded me,
playing on my nerves."
Examining the signatures old Heythorp murmured:
"Tell your lawyer to lock it up. He must think you a sad dog, Joe."
"Ah! Suppose on my death it comes to the knowledge of my wife!"
"She won't be able to make it hotter for you than you'll be already."
Joe Pillin replaced the deed within his coat, emitting a queer thin
noise. He simply could not bear joking on such subjects.
"Well," he said, "you've got your way; you always do. Who is this
Mrs. Larne? You oughtn't to keep me in the dark. It seems my boy
met her at your house. You told me she didn't come there."
Old Heythorp said with relish:
"Her husband was my son by a woman I was fond of before I married;
her children are my grandchildren. You've provided for them. Best
thing you ever did."
"I don't know--I don't know. I'm sorry you told me. It makes it all
the more doubtful. As soon as the transfer's complete, I shall get
away abroad. This cold's killing me. I wish you'd give me your
recipe for keeping warm."
"Get a new inside."
Joe Pillin regarded his old friend with a sort of yearning. "And
yet," he said, "I suppose, with your full-blooded habit, your life
hangs by a thread, doesn't it?"
"A stout one, my boy"
"Well, good-bye, Sylvanus. You're a Job's comforter; I must be
getting home." He put on his hat, and, lost in his fur coat, passed
out into the corridor. On the stairs he met a man who said:
"How do you do, Mr. Pillin? I know your son. Been' seeing the
chairman? I see your sale's gone through all right. I hope that'll
do us some good, but I suppose you think the other way?"
Peering at him from under his hat, Joe Pillin said:
"Mr. Ventnor, I think? Thank you! It's very cold, isn't it?" And,
with that cautious remark, he passed on down.
Alone again, old Heythorp thought: 'By George! What a wavering,
quavering, thread paper of a fellow! What misery life must be to a
chap like that! He walks in fear--he wallows in it. Poor devil!'
And a curious feeling swelled his heart, of elation, of lightness
such as he had not known for years. Those two young things were safe
now from penury-safe! After dealing with those infernal creditors of
his he would go round and have a look at the children. With a
hundred and twenty a year the boy could go into the Army--best place
for a young scamp like that. The girl would go off like hot cakes, of
course, but she needn't take the first calf that came along. As for
their mother, she must look after herself; nothing under two thousand
a year would keep her out of debt. But trust her for wheedling and
bluffing her way out of any scrape! Watching his cigar-smoke curl
and disperse he was conscious of the strain he had been under these
last six weeks, aware suddenly of how greatly he had baulked at
thought of to-day's general meeting. Yes! It might have turned out
nasty. He knew well enough the forces on the Board, and off, who
would be only too glad to shelve him. If he were shelved here his
other two Companies would be sure to follow suit, and bang would go
every penny of his income--he would be a pauper dependant on that
holy woman. Well! Safe now for another year if he could stave off
these sharks once more. It might be a harder job this time, but he
was in luck--in luck, and it must hold. And taking a luxurious pull
at his cigar, he rang the handbell.
"Bring 'em in here, Mr. Farney. And let me have a cup of China tea
as strong as you can make it."
"Yes, sir. Will you see the proof of the press report, or will you
leave it to me?"
"Yes, sir. It was a good meeting, wasn't it?"
Old Heythorp nodded.
"Wonderful how your voice came back just at the right moment. I was
afraid things were going to be difficult. The insult did it, I
think. It was a monstrous thing to say. I could have punched his
Again old Heythorp nodded; and, looking into the secretary's fine
blue eyes, he repeated: "Bring 'em in."
The lonely minute before the entrance of his creditors passed in the
thought: 'So that's how it struck him! Short shrift I should get if
it came out.'
The gentlemen, who numbered ten this time, bowed to their debtor,
evidently wondering why the deuce they troubled to be polite to an
old man who kept them out of their money. Then, the secretary
reappearing with a cup of China tea, they watched while their debtor
drank it. The feat was tremulous. Would he get through without
spilling it all down his front, or choking? To those unaccustomed to
his private life it was slightly miraculous. He put the cup down
empty, tremblingly removed some yellow drops from the little white
tuft below his lip, refit his cigar, and said:
"No use beating about the bush, gentlemen; I can offer you fourteen
hundred a year so long as I live and hold my directorships, and not a
penny more. If you can't accept that, you must make me bankrupt and
get about sixpence in the pound. My qualifying shares will fetch a
couple of thousand at market price. I own nothing else. The house I
live in, and everything in it, barring my clothes, my wine, and my
cigars, belong to my daughter under a settlement fifteen years old.
My solicitors and bankers will give you every information. That's
the position in a nutshell."
In spite of business habits the surprise of the ten gentlemen was
only partially concealed. A man who owed them so much would
naturally say he owned nothing, but would he refer them to his
solicitors and bankers unless he were telling the truth? Then Mr.
"Will you submit your pass books?"
"No, but I'll authorise my bankers to give you a full statement of my
receipts for the last five years--longer, if you like."
The strategic stroke of placing the ten gentlemen round the Board
table had made it impossible for them to consult freely without being
overheard, but the low-voiced transference of thought travelling
round was summed up at last by Mr. Brownbee.
"We think, Mr. Heythorp, that your fees and dividends should enable
you to set aside for us a larger sum. Sixteen hundred, in fact, is
what we think you should give us yearly. Representing, as we do,
sixteen thousand pounds, the prospect is not cheering, but we hope
you have some good years before you yet. We understand your income
to be two thousand pounds."
Old Heythorp shook his head. "Nineteen hundred and thirty pounds in
a good year. Must eat and drink; must have a man to look after me
not as active as I was. Can't do on less than five hundred pounds.
Fourteen hundred's all I can give you, gentlemen; it's an advance of
two hundred pounds. That's my last word."
The silence was broken by Mr. Ventnor.
"And it's my last word that I'm not satisfied. If these other
gentlemen accept your proposition I shall be forced to consider what
I can do on my own account."
The old man stared at him, and answered:
"Oh! you will, sir; we shall see."
The others had risen and were gathered in a knot at the end of the
table; old Heythorp and Mr. Ventnor alone remained seated. The old
man's lower lip projected till the white hairs below stood out like
bristles. 'You ugly dog,' he was thinking, 'you think you've got
something up your sleeve. Well, do your worst!' The "ugly dog" rose
abruptly and joined the others. And old Heythorp closed his eyes,
sitting perfectly still, with his cigar, which had gone out, sticking
up between his teeth. Mr. Brownbee turning to voice the decision
come to, cleared his throat.
"Mr. Heythorp," he said, "if your bankers and solicitors bear out
your statements, we shall accept your offer faute de mieux, in
consideration of your--" but meeting the old man's eyes, which said
so very plainly: "Blow your consideration!" he ended with a stammer:
"Perhaps you will kindly furnish us with the authorisation you spoke
Old Heythorp nodded, and Mr. Brownbee, with a little bow, clasped his
hat to his breast and moved towards the door. The nine gentlemen
followed. Mr. Ventnor, bringing up the rear, turned and looked back.
But the old man's eyes were already closed again.
The moment his creditors were gone, old Heythorp sounded the hand-
"Help me up, Mr. Farney. That Ventnor--what's his holding?"
"Quite small. Only ten shares, I think."
"Ah! What time is it?"
"Quarter to four, sir."
"Get me a taxi."
After visiting his bank and his solicitors he struggled once more
into his cab and caused it to be driven towards Millicent Villas. A
kind of sleepy triumph permeated his whole being, bumped and shaken
by the cab's rapid progress. So! He was free of those sharks now so
long as he could hold on to his Companies; and he would still have a
hundred a year or more to spare for Rosamund and her youngsters. He
could live on four hundred, or even three-fifty, without losing his
independence, for there would be no standing life in that holy
woman's house unless he could pay his own scot! A good day's work!
The best for many a long month!
The cab stopped before the villa.
There are rooms which refuse to give away their owners, and rooms
which seem to say: 'They really are like this.' Of such was Rosamund
Larne's--a sort of permanent confession, seeming to remark to anyone
who entered: 'Her taste? Well, you can see--cheerful and exuberant;
her habits--yes, she sits here all the morning in a dressing-gown,
smoking cigarettes and dropping ink; kindly observe my carpet.
Notice the piano--it has a look of coming and going, according to the
exchequer. This very deep-cushioned sofa is permanent, however; the
water-colours on the walls are safe, too--they're by herself. Mark
the scent of mimosa--she likes flowers, and likes them strong. No
clock, of course. Examine the bureau--she is obviously always
ringing for "the drumstick," and saying: "Where's this, Ellen, and
where's that? You naughty gairl, you've been tidying." Cast an eye
on that pile of manuscript--she has evidently a genius for
composition; it flows off her pen--like Shakespeare, she never blots
a line. See how she's had the electric light put in, instead of that
horrid gas; but try and turn either of them on--you can't; last
quarter isn't paid, of course; and she uses an oil lamp, you can tell
that by the ceiling: The dog over there, who will not answer to the
name of 'Carmen,' a Pekinese spaniel like a little Djin, all
prominent eyes rolling their blacks, and no nose between--yes, Carmen
looks as if she didn't know what was coming next; she's right--it's a
pet-and-slap-again life! Consider, too, the fittings of the tea-
tray, rather soiled, though not quite tin, but I say unto you that no
millionaire's in all its glory ever had a liqueur bottle on it.'