Part 4 out of 10
BROCKETTS: ITS CHARACTER, AND ESPECIALLY MRS. BROCKETT
On the next afternoon about six o'clock, Mr. Zanti, accompanied by the
languid and shabby gentleman whom Peter had noticed before, appeared in the
"Signor Rastelli," said Mr. Zanti, and the languid gentleman shook hands
with Peter as though he were conferring a great benefit upon him and he
hoped Peter wouldn't forget it.
"Zis," said Mr. Zanti, "is my young friend, Peter Westcott, whom I love as
if 'e were my own son--Signor Rastelli," he continued, turning to Peter,
"I've known him for very many years and I can only say zat ze longer I 'ave
known him ze more admirable I 'ave thought 'im."
The gentleman took off his tall hat, stroked it, put it on again and
looked, with his languid eyes, at Peter.
"And," continued Mr. Zanti, cheerfully, conscious perhaps that he was
carrying all the conversation on his own shoulders, "'e will take you to a
'ouse where 'e has been for--'ow many years, Signor?"
"Ten," said that gentleman.
"For ten years--every comfort. Zere's a little room 'e tells me where you
will be 'appy--and all your food and friendship for one pound a week.
There!" he ended triumphantly.
"Thank you very much," said Peter, but he did not altogether like the look
of the seedily dressed gentleman, and would much rather have stayed with
He had packed his black bag in readiness, and now he fetched it and, after
promising to be in the shop at half-past eight the next morning, started
off with his melancholy guide.
The lamps were coming out, and a silence that often falls upon London just
before sunset had come down upon the traffic and the people. Windows caught
the departing flame, held it for an instant, and sank into grey twilight.
"I know what you're thinking about me," Peter's companion suddenly said (he
was walking very fast as though trying to catch something), "I know you
don't like me. I could see it at once--I never make a mistake about those
things. You were saying to yourself: 'What does that horrible, over-dressed
stranger want to come interfering with me for?'"
"Indeed, I wasn't," said Peter, breathlessly, because the bag was so heavy
and they were walking so fast.
"Oh, yes, you were. Never mind. I'm not a popular man, and when you know me
better you'll like me still less. That's always the way I affect people.
And always with the best intentions. And you were thinking, too, that you
never saw anything less Italian than I am, and you're sure my name's Brown
or Smith, and indeed it's true that I was born in Clapham, but my parents
were Italians--refugees, you know, although I'm sure I don't know what
from--and every one calls me the Signor, and so there you are--and I don't
see how I'm to help it. But that's just me all over--always fighting
against the tide but I don't complain, I'm sure." All this said very
rapidly and in a melancholy way as though tears were not very far off. Then
he suddenly added:
"Let me carry your bag for you."
"No, thank you," said Peter, laughing, "I can manage it."
"Ah, well, you look strong," said the Signor appreciatively. "I envy you,
I'm sure--never had a day's health myself--but I don't complain."
By this time they had passed the British Museum and were entering into
the shadows of Bloomsbury. At this hour, when the lamps and the stars are
coming out, and the sun is going in, Bloomsbury has an air of melancholy
that is peculiarly its own. The dark grey houses stand as a perpetual
witness of those people that have found life too hard for them and have
been compelled to give in. The streets of those melancholy squares seen
beneath flickering lamp light and a wan moon protest against all gaiety of
spirit and urge resignation and a mournful acquiescence. Bloomsbury is Life
on Thirty Shillings a week without the drama of starvation or the tragedy
of the Embankment, but with all the ignominy of making ends meet under the
stern and relentless eye of a boarding-house keeper.
But of all the sad and unhappy squares in Bloomsbury the saddest is Bennett
Square. It is shut in by all the other Bloomsbury Squares and is further
than any of them from the lights and traffic of popular streets. There are
only four lamp posts there--one at each corner--and between these patches
of light everything is darkness and desolation.
Every house in Bennett Square is a boarding-house, and No. 72 is
"Mrs. Brockett is a very terrifying but lovable woman," said the Signor
darkly, and Peter, whose spirits had sunk lower and ever lower as he
stumbled through the dark streets, felt, at the sound of this threatening
prophecy, entirely miserable.
No. 72 is certainly the grimiest of the houses in Bennett Square. It is
tall and built of that grey stone that takes the mind of the observer back
to those school precincts of his youth. It is a thin house, not broad and
fat and comfortably bulging, but rather flinging a spiteful glance at the
house that squeezed it in on either side. It is like a soured, elderly
caustic old maid, unhappy in its own experiences and determined to make
every one else unhappy in theirs. Peter, of course, did not see these
things, because it was very dark, but he wished he had not come.
The Signor had a key of his own and Peter was soon inside a hall that smelt
of oilcloth and the cooking of beef; the gas was burning, but the only
things that really benefited from its light were a long row of mournful
black coats that hung against the wall.
Peter sneezed, and was suddenly conscious of an enormous woman whom he knew
by instinct to be Mrs. Brockett. She was truly enormous--she stood facing
him like some avenging Fate. She had the body of a man--flat, straight,
broad. Her black hair, carefully parted down the middle, was brushed back
and bound into hard black coils low down over the neck. She stood there,
looking down on them, her arms akimbo, her legs apart. Her eyes were black
and deep set, her cheek bones very prominent, her nose thin and sharp; her
black dress caught in a little at the waist, fell otherwise in straight
folds to her feet. There was a faint moustache on her upper lip, her hands,
with long white slender fingers, were beautiful, lying straight by her
side, against the stuff of her dress.
"Well?" she said--and her voice was deep like a man's. "Good evening,
"Good evening, Madame." He took off his hat and gave her a deep bow. "This
is the young gentleman, Mr. Westcott, of whom I spoke to you this morning."
"Well--how are you, Mr. Westcott?" Her words were sharply clipped and had
the resonance of coins as they rang in the air.
"Quite well, thank you," said Peter, and he noticed, in spite of his dismay
at her appearance, that the clasp of her hand was strong and friendly.
"Florence will show you your room, Mr. Westcott. It is a pound a
week including your meals and attendance and the use of the general
sitting-room. If you do not like it you must tell me and we will wish one
another good evening. If you do like it I shall do my best to make you
Peter found afterwards that this was her invariable manner of addressing
a new-comer. It could scarcely be called a warm welcome. She turned and
called, "Florence!" and a maid-servant, diminutive in size but spotless in
appearance, suddenly appeared from nowhere at all, as it seemed to Peter.
He followed this girl up many flights of stairs. On every side of him were
doors and, once and again, gas flared above him. It was all very cold, and
gusts of wind passed up and down, whisking in and out of the oilcloth, and
Peter thought that he had never seen so many closed doors in his life.
At last they came to an end of the stairs and there with a skylight
covering the passage outside was his room. It was certainly small and the
window looked out on a dismal little piece of garden far below and a great
number of roofs and chimneys and at last a high dome rising like a black
cloud in the farther distance. It was spotlessly clean.
"I think it will do very well, thank you," said Peter and he put down his
"Do you?" said the maid. "There's a bell," she said, pointing, "and the
meal's at seving sharp." She disappeared.
He spent the time, very cheerfully, taking the things out of the black bag
and arranging them. He had suddenly, as was natural in him, forgotten the
dismal approach to the house, the overwhelming appearance of Mrs. Brockett,
his recent loneliness. Here, at last, was a little spot that he could,
for a time, at any rate, call his own. He could come, at any time of the
evening and shut his door, and be alone here, master of everything that he
surveyed. Perhaps--and the thought sent the blood to his cheeks--it was
here that he would write! He looked about the room lovingly. It was quite
bare except for the bed, the washing stand and a chair, and there was no
fire-place. But he arranged the books, David Copperfield, Don Quixote,
Henry Lessingham, The Roads, The Downs, on the window sill, and the little
faded photograph of his mother on the ledge above the washing basin. He had
scarcely finished doing these things when there was a tap on his door. He
opened it, and found the Signor, no longer in a tail-coat, but in a short,
faded blue jacket that made him look shabbier than ever.
"Excuse--not intruding, I hope?" He looked gloomily round the room.
"Everything all right?"
"Very nice," said Peter.
"Ah, you'll like it at first--but never mind. Wonderful woman, Mrs.
Brockett. I expect you were alarmed just now."
"I was, a little," admitted Peter.
"Ah, well, we all are at first. But you'll get over that, you'll love
her--every one loves her. By the way," he pushed his hand through his hair,
"what I came about was to tell you that we all foregather--as you might
say--in the sitting-room before dinner--yes--and I'd like to introduce you
to my wife, the Signora--not Italian, you know--but you'll like her better
than me--every one's agreed that hers is a nicer character."
Peter, trembling a little at the thought of more strangers, followed the
Signer downstairs and found, in the middle of one of the dark landings,
looking as though she had been left there by some one and completely
forgotten, a little wisp of a woman with bright yellow hair and a straw
coloured dress, and this was the Signora. This lady shook hands with him in
a frightened tearful way and made choking noises all the way downstairs,
and this distressed Peter very much until he discovered that she had a
passion for cough drops, which she kept in her pocket in a little tin box
and sucked perpetually. The Signor drove his wife and Peter before him into
the sitting-room. This was a very brightly-coloured room with any number
of brilliant purple vases on the mantelpiece, a pink wall-paper, a great
number of shining pictures in the most splendid gilt frames, and in the
middle of the room a bright green settee with red cushions on it. On this
settee, which was round, with a space in the middle of it, like a circus,
several persons were seated, but there was apparently no conversation. They
all looked up at the opening of the door, and Peter was so dazzled by the
bright colour of the room that it was some time before he could collect his
But the Signor beckoned to him, and he followed.
"Allow me, Mrs. Monogue," said the Signor, "to introduce to you Mr. Peter
Westcott." The lady in question was stout, red-faced, and muffled in
shawls. She extended him a haughty finger.
There followed then Miss Norah Monogue, a girl with a pleasant smile and
untidy hair, Miss Dall, a lady with a very stiff back, a face like an
interrogation mark, because her eyebrows went up in a point and a very
tight black dress, Mr. Herbert Crumley, and Mr. Peter Crumley, two short,
thin gentlemen with wizened and anxious faces (they were obviously
brothers, because they were exactly alike), and Mrs. and Mr. Tressiter, two
pleasant-faced, cheerful people, who sat very close together as though they
All these people shook hands agreeably with Peter, but made no remarks, and
he stood awkwardly looking at the purple vases and wishing that something
Something _did_ happen. The door was very softly and slowly opened,
and a little woman came hurrying in. She had white hair, and glasses were
dangling on the end of her nose, and she wore a very old and shabby black
silk dress. She looked round with an agitated air.
"I don't know why it is," she said, with a little chirrup, like a bird's,
"but I'm _always_ late--always!"
Then she did an amazing thing. She walked to the green settee and sat down
between Miss Dall, the lady with the tight dress, and Mrs. Monogue. She
then took out of one pocket an orange and out of another a piece of
"I must have my orange, you know," she said, looking gaily round on every
She spread the newspaper on her knee, and then peeled the orange very
slowly and with great care. The silence was maintained--no one spoke. Then
suddenly the Signor darted forward: "Oh, Mrs. Lazarus I must introduce you
to Madame's new guest, Mr. Westcott."
"How do you do?" the old lady chirruped. "Oh! but my fingers are all over
orange--never mind, we'll smile at one another. I hope you'll like the
place, I'm sure. I always have an orange before dinner. They've got used to
me, you know. We've all got our little habits."
Peter did not know what to say, and was wondering whether he ought to
relieve the old lady of her orange peel (at which she was gazing rather
helplessly), when a bell rang and Florence appeared at the door.
"Dinner!" she said, laconically.
A procession was formed, Mrs. Monogue, with her shawls sweeping behind her,
sailed in front, and Peter brought up the rear. Mrs. Lazarus put the orange
peel into the newspaper and placed it all carefully in her pocket.
Mrs. Brockett was sitting, more like a soldier than ever, at the head of
the table. Mutton was in front of her, and there seemed to be nothing on
the table cloth but cruets and three dusty and melancholic palms. Peter
found that he was sitting between Mrs. Lazarus and Miss Dall, and that he
was not expected to talk. It was apparent indeed that the regularity with
which every one met every one at this hour of the day, during months and
months of the year negatived any polite necessity of cordiality or genial
spirits. When any one spoke it was crossly and in considerable irritation,
and although the food was consumed with great eagerness on everybody's
part, the faces of the company were obviously anxious to express the fact
that the food was worse than ever, and they wouldn't stand it another
minute. They all did stand it, however, and Peter thought that they were
all, secretly, rather happy and contented. During most of the meal no one
spoke to him, and as he was very hungry this did not matter. Opposite him,
all down the side of the room, were dusty grey pillars, and between these
pillars heavy dark green curtains were hanging. This had the effect of
muffling and crushing the conversation and quite forbidding anybody to
be cheerful in any circumstances. Mrs. Lazarus indeed chirruped along
comfortably and happily for the most part to herself--as, for instance, "I
am orangy, but then I was late and couldn't finish it. Dear me, it's mutton
again. I really must tell Madame about it and there's nothing so nice as
beef and Yorkshire pudding, is there? Dear me, would you mind, young man,
just asking Dear Miss Dall to pass the salt spoon. She's left that behind.
I _have_ the salt-cellar, thank you."
She also hummed to herself at times and made her bread into little hard
pellets, which she flicked across the table with her thumb at no one in
particular and in sheer absence of mind. The two Mr. Crumleys were sitting
opposite to her, and they accepted the little charge of shot with all the
placid equanimity bred of ancient custom.
Peter noticed other things. He noticed that Mrs. Monogue was an
exceedingly ill-tempered and selfish woman, and that she bullied the
pleasant girl with the untidy hair throughout the meal, and that the girl
took it all in the easiest possible way. He noticed that Mrs. Brockett
dealt with each of her company in turn--one remark apiece, and always in
that stern, deep voice with the strangely beautiful musical note in it.
To himself she said: "Well, Mr. Westcott, I'm pleased, I'm sure, that
everything is to your satisfaction," and listened gravely to his assurance.
To Miss Dall: "Well, Miss Ball, I looked at the book you lent me and
couldn't find any sense in it, I'm afraid." To Mrs. Tressiter: "I had
little Minnie with me for half an hour this evening, and I'm sure a better
behaved child never breathed" ... and so on.
Once Miss Dall turned upon him sharply with: "I suppose you never go and
hear the Rev. Mr. M. J. Valdwell?" and Peter had to confess ignorance.
"Really! Well, it 'ud do you young men a world of good."
He assured her that he would go.
"I will lend you a volume of his sermons if you would care to read them."
Peter said that he would be delighted. The meal was soon over, and every
one returned to the sitting-room. They sat about in a desolate way, and
Peter discovered afterwards that Mrs. Brockett liked every one to be there
together for half an hour to encourage friendly relations. That object
could scarcely be said to be achieved, because there was very little
conversation and many anxious glances were flung at the clocks. Mrs.
Brockett, however, sat sternly in a chair and sewed, and no one ventured to
leave the room.
One pleasant thing happened. Peter was standing by the window turning over
some fashion papers of an ancient date, when he saw that Miss Monogue was
at his elbow. Now that she was close to him he observed that she looked
thin and delicate; her dress was worn and old-fashioned, she looked as
though she ought to be wrapped up warmly and taken care of--but her eyes
were large and soft and grey, and although her wrists looked strangely
white and sharp through her black dress her hands were beautiful. Her voice
was soft with an Irish brogue lingering pleasantly amongst her words:
"I hope that you will like being here."
"I'm sure I shall," he said, smiling. He felt grateful to her for talking
"You're very fortunate to have come to Mrs. Brockett's straight away. You
mayn't think so now, because Mrs. Brockett is alarming at first, and we
none of us--" she looked round her with a little laugh--"can strike the
on-looker as very cheerful company. But really Madame has a heart of
gold--you'll find that out in time. She's had a terribly hard time of it
herself, and I believe it's a great struggle to keep things going now. But
she's helped all kinds of people in her time."
Peter looked, with new eyes, at the lady so sternly sewing.
"You don't know," Miss Monogue went on in her soft, pleasant voice, "how
horrible these boarding-houses can be. Mother and I have tried a good many.
But here people stay for ever--a pretty good testimony to it, I think ...
and then, you know, she never lets any one stay here if she doesn't like
them--so that prevents scoundrels. There've been one or two, but she's
always found them out ... and I believe she keeps old Mrs. Lazarus quite
free of charge."
She paused, and then she added:
"And there's no one here who hasn't found life pretty hard. That gives us
a kind of freemasonry, you know. The Tressiters, for instance, they have
three children, and he has been out of work for months--sometimes there's
such a frightened look in her eyes ... but you mustn't think that we're
melancholy here," she went on more happily. "We get a lot of happiness out
of it all."
He looked at her, and remembering Mrs. Monogue at dinner and seeing now how
delicate the girl looked, thought that she must have a very considerable
amount of pluck on her own account.
"And you?" she said. "Have you only just come up to London?"
"Yes," he answered, "I'm in a bookseller's shop--a second-hand
bookseller's. I've only been in London a few days--it's all very exciting
for me--and a little confusing at present."
"I'm sure you'll get on," she said. "You look so strong and confident and
happy. I envy you your strength--one can do so much if one's got that."
He felt almost ashamed of his rough suit, his ragged build. "Well, I've
always been in the country," he said, a little apologetically. "I expect
London will change that."
Then there came across the room Mrs. Monogue's sharp voice. "Norah! Norah!
I want you."
She left him.
That night in his little room, he looked from his window at the sea of
black roofs that stretched into the sky and found in their ultimate
distance the wonderful sweep of stars that domed them; a great moon,
full-rounded, dull gold, staring like a huge eye, above them. His heart was
full. A God there must be somewhere to have given him all this splendour--a
splendour surely for him to work upon. He felt as a craftsman feels, when
some new and wonderful tools have been given to him; as a woman feels the
child in her womb, stirring mysteriously, moving her to deep and glad
thankfulness, so now, with the night wind blowing about him, and all London
lying, dark and motionless, below him, he felt the first stirring of his
power. This was his to work with, this was his to praise and glorify and
make beautiful--now crude and formless--a seed dark and without form or
colour--one day to make one more flower in that garden that God has given
his servants to work in.
He did not, at this instant, doubt that some God was there, crying to him,
and that he must answer. Of that moon, of those stars, of that mighty city,
he would make one little stone that might be added to that Eternal Temple
He turned from his window and thought of other things. He thought of his
father and Scaw House, of the windy day when his mother was buried, of Mr.
Zanti and Stephen's letter, of Herr Gottfried and his blue slippers, of
this house and its people, of the friendly girl and her grey eyes ...
finally, for a little, of himself--of his temper and his ambitions and his
selfishness. Here, indeed, suddenly jumping out at him, was the truth.
He felt, as he got into bed, that he would have to change a great deal if
he were to write that great book that he thought of: "Little Peter
Westcott," London seemed to say, "there's lots to be done to you first
before you're worth anything ... I'll batter at you."
Well, let it, he thought, sleepily. There was nothing that he would like
better. He tumbled into sleep, with London after him, and Fame in front of
him, and a soft and resonant murmur, as of a slumbering giant, rising to
his open window.
There is a story in an early volume of Henry Galleon's about a man who
caught--as he may have caught other sicknesses in his time--the disease of
the Terror of London. Eating his breakfast cheerfully in his luxurious
chambers in Mayfair, in the act of pouring his coffee out of his handsome
silver coffee-pot, he paused. It was the very slightest thing that held his
attention--the noise of the rumbling of the traffic down Piccadilly--but he
was startled and, on that morning, he left his breakfast unfinished. He
had, of course, heard that rumbling traffic on many other occasions--it may
be said to have been the musical accompaniment to his breakfast for many
years past. But on this morning it was different; as one has a headache
before scarlet fever so did this young man hear the rumble of the traffic
down Piccadilly. He listened to it very attentively, and it was, he told
himself, very like the noise of some huge animal breathing in its sleep.
There was a regularity, a monotony about it ... and also perhaps a sense
of great force, quiescent now and held in restraint. He was a very normal,
well-balanced young man and thoughts of this kind were unlike him.
Then he heard other things--the trees rustling in the park, bells ringing
on every side of him, builders knocking and hammering, windows rattling,
doors opening and shutting. In the Club one evening he confided in a
friend. "I say, it's damned funny--but what would you say to this old place
being alive, taking on a regular existence of its own, don't you know? You
might draw it--a great beast like some old alligator, all curled up, with
its teeth and things--making a noise a bit as it moves about ... and then,
one day when it's got us nicely all on top of it, down it will bring us
all, houses and the rest. Damned funny idea, what? Do for a cartoon-fellow
or some one--"
The disease developed; he had it very badly, but at first his friends did
not know. He lay awake at night hearing things--one heard much more at
night--sometimes he fancied that the ground shook under his feet--but most
terrible of all was it when there was perfect silence. The traffic ceased,
the trees and windows and doors were still ... the Creature was listening.
Sometimes he read in papers that buildings had suddenly collapsed. He
smiled to himself. "When we are all nicely gathered together," he said,
"when there are enough people ... then--"
His friends said that he had a nervous breakdown; they sent him to a
rest-cure. He came back. The Creature was fascinating--he was terrified,
but he could not leave it.
He knew more and more about it; he knew now what it was like, and he saw
its eyes and he sometimes could picture its grey scaly back with churches
and theatres and government buildings and the little houses of Mr. Smith
and Mr. Jones perched upon it--and the noises that it made now were so
many and so threatening that he never slept at all. Then he began to run,
shouting, down Piccadilly, so they put him--very reluctantly--into a nice
Private Asylum, and there he died, screaming. This story is a prologue to
Peter's life in London.... The story struck his fancy; he thought of it
On a late stormy afternoon in November, 1895, Peter finished his book,
"Reuben Hallard." It had been raining all day, and now the windows were
blurred and the sea of shining roofs that stretched into the mist
emphasised the dark and gloom of the heavy overhanging sky.
Peter's little room was very cold, but his body was burning--he was
in a state of overpowering excitement; his hands trembled so that he
could scarcely hold his pen ... "So died Reuben Hallard, a fool and a
gentleman"--and then "Finis" with a hard straight line underneath it.... He
had been working at it for three years, and he had been in London seven.
He walked up and down his little room, he was so hot that he flung up his
window and leaned out and let the rain, that was coming down fiercely now,
lash his face. Mud! London was full of mud. He could see it, he fancied,
gathering in thick brown layers upon the pavement, shining and glistening
as it mounted, slipping in streams into the gutter, sweeping about the
foundations of the houses, climbing perhaps, one day, to the very windows.
That was London. And yet he loved it, London and its dirt and darkness.
Had he not written "Reuben Hallard" here! Had the place not taken him into
its arms, given him books and leisure out of its hospitality, treated him
kindly during these years so that they had fled like an instant of time,
and here he was, Peter Westcott, aged twenty-five, with a book written,
four friends made, and the best health possible to man. The book was
"Reuben Hallard," the friends were Mrs. Brockett, Mr. Zanti, Herr
Gottfried, and Norah Monogue, and for his health one had only to look at
"So died Reuben Hallard, a fool and a gentleman!" His excitement was
tremendous; his cheeks were flaming, his eyes glittering, his heart
beating. Here was a book written!--so many pages covered with so much
writing, his claim to be somebody, to have done something, justified
and, most wonderful of all, live, exciting people created by him, Peter
Westcott. He did not think now of publication, of money, of fame--only,
after sharing for three years in the trials and adventures of dear, beloved
souls, now, suddenly, he emerged cold, breathless ... alone ... into the
Exciting! Why, furiously, of course. He could have sung and shouted and
walked, right over the tops of the roofs, with the rain beating and cooling
his body, out into the mist of the horizon. _His_ book, "Reuben Hallard!"
London was swimming in thick brown mud, and the four lamps coming out in
Bennett Square in a dim, sickly fashion and he, Peter Westcott, had written
The Signor--the same Signor, some seven years older, a little shabbier, but
nevertheless the same Signor--came to summon him to supper.
"I have finished it!"
"What! The book?"
Their voices were awed whispers. The whole house had during the last three
years shared in the fortunes of the book. Peter had come to dinner with a
cloud upon his brow--the book therefore has gone badly--even Mrs. Brockett
is disturbed and Mrs. Lazarus is less chirpy than usual. Peter comes
to dinner with a smile--the book therefore has gone well and even Mrs.
Monogue is a little less selfish than ordinary. The Signor now gazed round
the little room as though he might find there the secret of so great an
achievement. On Peter's dressing-table the manuscript was piled--"You'll
miss it," the Signor said, gloomily. "You'll miss it very much--you're
bound to. You'll have to get it typewritten, and that'll cost money."
"Never mind, it's done," said Peter, shaking his head as a dog shakes
himself when he leaves the water. "There they are, those people--and now
I'm going to wash."
He stripped to the waist, and the Signor watched his broad back and strong
arms with a sigh for his own feeble proportions. He wondered how it was
that being in a stuffy bookshop for seven years had done Peter no harm, he
wondered how he could keep the back of his neck so brown as that in London
and his cheeks as healthy a colour and his eyes as clear.
"I'm amazingly unpleasant to look at," the Signor said at last. "I often
wonder why my wife married me. I'm not surprised that every one finds me
uninteresting. I am uninteresting."
"Well, you are not uninteresting to me, I can tell you," said Peter. He had
put on a soft white shirt, a black tie, and a black coat and trousers, the
last of these a little shiny perhaps in places, but neat and well brushed,
and you would really not guess when you saw him, that he only possessed two
suits in the wide world.
"_I_ think you're absorbing," Peter said, a little patronisingly perhaps.
"Ah, that proves nothing," the Signer retorted. "You only care for fools
and children--Mrs. Brockett always says so."
They went downstairs--Peter was, of course, not hungry at all, but the
conventions had to be observed. In the sitting-room, round about the green
settee, the company was waiting as it had waited seven years ago; there
were one or two unimportant additions and Mrs. Monogue had died the year
before and Mrs. Lazarus was now very old and trembling, but in effect there
was very little change.
"He has finished it," the Signor announced in a wondering whisper. A little
buzz rose, filled the air for a moment and then sank into silence again.
Mrs. Lazarus was without her orange because she had to wear mittens now,
and that made peeling the thing difficult. "I'm sure," she said, in a voice
like that of a very excited cricket, "that Mr. Westcott will feel better
after he's had something to eat. _I_ always do."
This remark left conversation at a standstill. The rain drove against
the panes, the mud rose ever higher against the walls, and dinner was
announced. Mrs. Brockett made her remarks to each member of the company
in turn as usual. To Peter she said:
"I hear that you have finished your book, Mr. Westcott. We shall all watch
eagerly for its appearance, I'm sure."
He felt his excitement slipping away from him as the moments passed.
Suddenly he was tired. Instead of elation there was wonder, doubt. What if,
after all, the book should be very bad? During all these years in London he
had thought of it, during all these years he had known that it was going to
succeed. What, if now he should discover suddenly that it was bad?... Could
he endure it? The people of his book seemed now to stand very far away from
him--they were unreal--he could remember scenes, things that they had said
and done, absurd, ignorant things.
He began to feel panic. Why should he imagine that he was able to write?
Of course it was all crude, worthless stuff. He looked at the dingy white
pillars and heavy green curtains with a kind of despair ... of course it
was all bad. He had been hypnotised by the thing for the time being. Then
he caught Norah Monogue's eyes and smiled. He would show it to her, and she
would tell him what it was worth.
Poor Mrs. Tressiter's baby had died last week and now, suddenly, she
burst out crying and had to leave the room. There was a little twitter of
sympathy. How good they all were to one another, these people, stupid and
odd perhaps in some ways, but so brave for themselves and so generous to
one another. It was no mean gathering of souls that Mrs. Brockett's dingy
Every now and again the heavy curtains blew forward in the wind and the gas
flared. There was no conversation, and the wind could be heard driving the
rain past the windows.
Peter, that evening, took the manuscript of "Reuben Hallard" into Miss
Monogue's room. Since her mother died Norah Monogue had had a bed
sitting-room to herself. The bed was hidden by a high screen, the wall
paper was a dark green, and low bookshelves, painted white, ran round the
room. There were no pictures (she always said that until she could have
good ones she wouldn't have any at all). There were some brown pots and
vases on the shelves and a writing-table with a typewriter by the window.
When Peter came in, Norah Monogue was sitting in a low chair over a rather
miserable fire; a little pool of light above her head came from two candles
on the mantelpiece--otherwise the room was in darkness.
"Shall I turn on the gas?" she said, when she saw who it was.
"No, leave it as it is, I like it." He sat down in a chair near her and put
a pile of manuscript on the floor beside him. "I've brought it for you to
read," he said, "I'm frightened about it. I suddenly think it is the most
rotten thing that ever was written." He had become very intimate with her
during these seven years. At first he had admired her because she behaved
so splendidly to her abominable mother--then she had obviously been
interested in him, had talked about the things that he was reading and his
life at the bookshop. They had speedily become the very best of friends,
and she understood friendship he thought in the right way--as though she
had herself been a man. And yet she was with that completely feminine, a
woman who had known struggle from the beginning and would know it to the
end; but her personality--humorous, pathetic, understanding--was felt in
her presence so strongly that no one ever forgot her after meeting her.
Some one once said of her, "She's the nicest ugly woman to look at I've
She cared immensely about her appearance. She saved, through blood and
tears, to buy clothes and then always bought the wrong ones. She had
perfect taste about everything except herself, and as soon as it touched
her it was villainous. She was untidy; her hair--streaked already with
grey--was never in its place; her dress was generally undone at the back,
her gloves had holes.
Her mother's death had left her some fifty pounds a year and she earned
another fifty pounds by typewriting. Untidy in everything else, in her work
she was scrupulously neat. She had had a story taken by _The Green Volume_.
Her friends belonged (as indeed just at this time so many people belonged)
to the Cult of the Lily, repeated the witticisms of Oscar Wilde and
treasured the art of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley. Miss Monogue believed in the
movement and rejected the affectations. In 1895, when the reaction began,
she defended her old giants, but looked forward eagerly to new ones. She
worked too hard to have very many friends, and Peter saved her from hours
of loneliness. To him she was the last word in Criticism, in Literature. He
would have liked to have fashioned "Reuben Hallard" after the manner of
_The Green Volume_, but now thought sadly that it was as unlike that manner
as possible; that is why he was afraid to bring it to her.
"You won't like it," he said. "I thought for a moment I had done something
fine when I finished it this afternoon, but now I know that it's bad. It's
all rough and crude. It's terribly disappointing."
"That's all right," she answered quietly. "We won't say any more about it
until I have read it--then we'll talk."
They were silent for a little. He was feeling unhappy and, curiously
enough, frightened. He would have liked to jump up suddenly and shout,
"Well, what's going to happen now?"--not only to Norah Monogue, but to
London, to all the world. The work at the book had, during these years,
upheld him with a sense of purpose and aim. Now, feeling that that work was
bad, his aim seemed wasted, his purpose gone. Here were seven years gone
and he had done nothing--seen nothing, become nothing. What was his future
to be? Where was he to go? What to do? He had reasoned blindly to himself
during these years, that "Reuben Hallard" would make his fortune--now that
seemed the very last thing it would do.
"I knew what you're feeling," she said, "now that the book's done, you're
wondering what's coming next."
"It's more than that. I've been in London seven years. Instead of writing a
novel that no one will want to read I might have been getting my foot in. I
might at any rate have been learning London, finding my way about. Why," he
went on, excitedly, "do you know that, except for a walk or two and going
into the gallery at Covent Garden once or twice and the Proms sometimes and
meeting some people at Herr Gottfried's once or twice I've spent the whole
of my seven years between here and the bookshop--"
"You mustn't worry about that. It was quite the right thing to do. You must
remember that there are two ways of learning things. First through all that
every one has written, then through all that every one is doing. Up to now
you've been studying the first of those two. Now you're ready to take part
in all the hurly-burly, and you will. London will fling you into it as soon
as you're ready, you can be sure."
"I've been awfully happy all this time," he went on, reflectively. "Too
happy I expect. I never thought about anything except reading and writing
the book, and talking to you and Gottfried. Now things will begin I
"What kind of things?"
"Oh, well, it isn't likely that I'm going to be let alone for ever. I've
never told you, have I, about my life before I came up to London?"
She hesitated a little before she answered. "No, you've never told me
anything. I could see, of course, that it hadn't been easy."
"How could you see that?"
"Well, it hadn't been easy for either of us. That made us friends. And then
you don't look like a person who would take things easily--ever. Tell me
about your early life before you came here," Norah Monogue said.
She watched his face as he told her. She had found him exceedingly good
company during the seven years that she had known him. They had slipped
into their friendship so easily and so naturally that she had never taken
herself to task about it in any way; it existed as a very delightful
accompaniment to the day's worries and disappointments. She suddenly
realised now with a little surprised shock how bitterly she would miss it
all were it to cease. In the darkened room, with the storm blowing outside,
she felt her loneliness with an acute wave of emotion and self-pity that
was very unlike her. If Peter were to go, she felt, she could scarcely
endure to live on in the dreary building.
Part of his charm from the beginning had been that he was so astoundingly
young, part of his interest that he could be, at times, so amazingly old.
She felt that she herself could be equal neither to his youth nor his
age. She was herself so ordinary a person, but watching him made the most
fascinating occupation, and speculating over his future made the most
wonderful dreams. That he was a personality, that he might do anything, she
had always believed, but there had, until now, been no proof of it in any
work that he had done ... he had had nothing to show ... now at last there
lay there, with her in the room, the evidence of her belief--his book.
But the book seemed now, at this moment, of small account and, as she
watched him, with the candle-light and the last flicker of the fire-light
upon his face, she saw that he had forgotten her and was back again, soul
and spirit, amongst the things of which he was speaking.
His voice was low and monotonous, his eyes staring straight in front of
him, his hands, spread on his knees, gripped the cloth of his trousers.
She would not admit to herself that she was frightened, but her heart was
beating very fast and it was as though some stranger were with her in the
room. It may have been the effect of the candlelight, blowing now in the
wind that came through the cracks in the window panes, but it seemed to her
that Peter's face was changed. His face had lines that had not been there
before, his mouth was thinner and harder and his eyes were old and tired
... she had never seen the man before, that was her impression.
But she had never known anything so vivid. Quietly, as though he were
reciting the story to himself and were not sure whether he were telling it
aloud or no, he began. As he continued she could see the place as though it
was there with her in the room, the little Inn that ran out into the water,
the high-cobbled street, the sea road, the grim stone house standing back
amongst its belt of trees, the Grey Hill, the coast, the fields ... and
then the story--the night of the fight, the beating, the school-days, that
day with his mother (here he gave her actual dialogue as though there
was no word of it that he had forgotten), the funeral--and then at last,
gradually, climbing to its climax breathlessly, the relation of father and
son, its hatred, then its degradation, and last of all that ludicrous scene
in the early morning ... he told her everything.
When he had finished, there was a long silence between them: the fire was
out and the room very cold. The storm had fallen now in a fury about the
house, and the rain lashed the windows and then fell in gurgling stuttering
torrents through the pipes and along the leads. Miss Monogue could not
move; the scene, the place, the incidents were slowly fading away, and the
room slowly coming back again. The face opposite her, also, gradually
seemed to drop, as though it had been a mask, the expression that it had
worn. Peter Westcott, the Peter that she knew, sat before her again; she
could have believed as she looked at him, that the impressions of the last
half-hour had been entirely false. And yet the things that he had told her
were not altogether a surprise; she had not known him for seven years
without seeing signs of some other temper and spirit--controlled indeed,
but nevertheless there, and very different from the pleasant, happy Peter
who played with the Tressiter children and dared to chaff Mrs. Brockett.
"You've paid me a great compliment, telling me this," she said at last.
"Remember we're friends; you've proved that we are by coming like this
to-night. I shan't forget it. At any rate," she added, softly, "it's all
right now, Peter--it's all over now."
"Over! No, indeed," he answered her. "Do you suppose that one can grow up
like that and then shake it off? Sometimes I think ... I'm afraid ..." he
stopped, abruptly biting his lips. "Oh, well," he went on suddenly in a
brighter tone, "there's no need to bother you with all that. It's nothing.
I'm a bit done up over this book, I expect. But that's really why I told
you that little piece of autobiography--because it will help you to
understand the book. The book's come out of all that, and you mightn't have
believed that it was me at all--unless I'd told you these things."
He stood facing her and a sudden awkwardness came over both of them. The
fire was dead (save for one red coal), and the windows rattled like
pistol-shots. He was feeling perhaps that he had told her too much, and the
reserve of his age, the fear of being indiscreet, had come upon him. And
with her there was the difficulty of not knowing exactly what comfort it
was that he wanted, or whether, indeed, any kind of comfort would not be an
insult to him. And, with all that awkwardness, there was also a knowledge
that they had never been so near together before, an intimacy had been
established that night that would never again be broken.
Into their silence there came a knock on the door. When Miss Monogue opened
it the stern figure of Mrs. Brockett confronted her.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Monogue, but is Mr. Westcott here?"
Peter stepped forward.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm sorry to have to disturb you, Mr. Westcott, but there's a
man outside on the steps who insists on seeing you."
"Yes--he won't come in or go away. He won't move until he's seen you. Very
obstinate I'm sure--and such a night! Rather late, too--"
Mrs. Brockett was obviously displeased. Her tall black figure was drawn up
outside the door, as a sentry might guard Buckingham Palace. There was a
confusion of regality, displeasure, and grim humour in her attitude. But
Peter was a favourite of hers. With a hurried goodnight to Miss Monogue he
left the two women standing on the stairs and went to the hall-door.
When he opened it the wind was blowing up the steps so furiously that it
flung him back into the hall again. Outside in the square the world was a
wild tempestuous black, only, a little to the right, the feeble glow of the
lamp blew hither and thither in the wind. The rain had stopped but all the
pipes and funnels of the city were roaring with water. The noise was that
of a thousand chattering voices, and very faintly through the tumult the
bells of St. Matthews in Euston Square tinkled the hour.
On the steps a figure was standing bending beneath the wind. The light from
the hall shone out on to the black slabs of stone, bright with the shining
rain, but his cape covered the man's head. Nevertheless Peter knew at once
who it was.
"Stephen," he said, quietly.
The hall door was flung to with a crash; the wind hurled Peter against
"At last! Oh, Stephen! Why didn't you come before?"
"I couldn't, Master Peter. I oughtn't to of come now, but I 'ad to see yer
face a minute. Not more than a minute though--"
"But you must come in now, and get dry things on at once. I'll see Mrs.
Brockett, she'll get you a room. I'm not going to let you go now that--"
"No, Master Peter, I can't stop. I mustn't. I 'aven't been so far away all
this time as you might have thought. But I mustn't see yer unless I can be
of use to yer. And that's what I've come about."
He pressed close up to Peter, held both his hands in his and said: "Look
'ere, Peter boy, yer may be wanting me soon--no, I can't say more than
that. But I want yer--to be on the look-out. Down there at the bookshop
be ready, and then if any sort o' thing should 'appen down along--why I'm
there, d'ye see? I'll be with yer when you want me--"
"Well, but Stephen, what do you mean? What _could_ happen? Anyhow you
mustn't go now, like this. I won't let you go--"
"Ah, but I must now--I must. Maybe we shall be meeting soon enough. Only
I'm there, boy, if yer wants me. And--keep yer eye open--"
In an instant that warm pressure of the hand was gone; the darker black of
Stephen's body no longer silhouetted against the lighter black of the night
Still in Peter's nose there was that scent of wet clothes and the deep,
husky voice was in his ears. But, save for the faint yellow flickering
lamp, struggling against the tempest, he was alone in the square.
The rain had begun to fall again.
THE MAN ON THE LION
After the storm, the Fog.
It came, a yellow, shrouded witch down upon the town, clinging, choking,
writhing, and bringing in its train a thousand mysteries, a thousand
visions. It was many years since so dense and cruel a fog had startled
London--in his seven years' experience of the place Peter had known
nothing like it, and his mind flew back to that afternoon of his arrival,
seven years before, and it seemed to him that he was now moving straight on
from that point and that there had been no intervening period at all. The
Signer saw in a fog as a cat sees in the dark, and he led Peter to the
bookshop without hesitation. He saw a good many other things beside his
immediate direction and became comparatively cheerful and happy.
"It is such a good thing that people can't see me," he said. "It relieves
one of a lot of responsibility if one's plain to look at--one can act more
freely." Certainly the Signor acted with very considerable freedom, darting
off suddenly into the fog, apparently with the intention of speaking to
some one, and leaving Peter perfectly helpless and then suddenly darting
back again, catching Peter in tow and tugging him forward once more.
To the bookshop itself the fog made very little difference. There were
always the gas-jets burning over the two dark corners and the top shelves
even in the brightest of weather, were mistily shrouded by dust and
distance. The fog indeed seemed to bring the books out and, whilst the
world outside was so dark, the little shop flickered away under the
gas-jets with little spasmodic leaps into light and colour when the door
opened and blew the quivering flame.
It was not of the books that Peter was thinking this morning. He sat
at a little desk in one dark corner under one of the gas-jets, and Herr
Gottfried, huddled up as usual, with his hair sticking out above the desk
like a mop, sat under the other; an old brass clock, perched on a heap of
books, ticked away the minutes. Otherwise there was silence save when a
customer entered, bringing with him a trail of fog, or some one who was not
a customer passed solemnly, seriously through to the rooms beyond. The shop
was, of course, full of fog, and the books seemed to form into lines and
rows and curves in and out amongst the shelves of their own accord.
Peter meanwhile was most intently thinking. He knew as though he had seen
it written down in large black letters in front of him, that a period was
shortly to be put to his present occupation, but he could not have said how
it was that he knew. The finishing of his book left the way clear for a
number of things to attack his mind. Here in this misty shop he was beset
with questions. Why was he here at all? Had he during these seven years
been of such value, that the shop could not get on without him?... To that
second question he must certainly answer, no. Why then had Mr. Zanti kept
him all this time? Surely because Mr. Zanti was fond of him. Yes, that
undoubtedly was a part of the reason. The relationship, all this time, had
grown very strong and it was only now, when he set himself seriously to
think about it, that he realised how glad he always was when Mr. Zanti
returned from his travels and how happy he had been when it had been
possible for them to spend an afternoon together. Yes, Mr. Zanti was
attached to him; he had often said that he looked upon him as a son, and
sometimes it seemed to Peter that the strange man was about to make some
declaration, something that would clear the air, and explain the world--but
he never did.
Peter had discovered strangely little about him. He knew now that Mr.
Zanti's connection with the bookshop was of the very slenderest, that that
was indeed entirely Herr Gottfried's affair, and that it was used by the
large and smiling gentleman as a cloak and a covering. As a cloak and a
covering to what? Well, at any rate, to some large and complicated game
that a great number of gentlemen were engaged in playing. Peter knew a good
many of them now by sight--untidy, dirty, many, foreigners most, all it
seemed to Peter, with an air of attempting something that they could never
hope to accomplish. Anything that they might do he was quite sure that they
would bungle and, with the hearts of children, the dirty tatters of foreign
countries, and the imaginations of exuberant story-tellers, he could see
them go, ignorantly, to dreadful catastrophes.
Peter was even conscious that the shop was tolerantly watched by
inspectors, detectives, and policemen, and that it was all too
childish--whatever it was--for any one to take it in the least seriously.
But nevertheless there were elements of very real danger in all those
blundering mysteries that had been going on now for so many years, and it
was at any rate of the greatest importance to Peter, because he earned his
living by it, because of his love for Stephen and his affection for Mr.
Zanti, and because if once anything were to happen his one resting-place in
this wild sea of London would be swept away and he would be utterly
resourceless and destitute.
This last fact bit him, as he sat there in the shop, with sudden and acute
sharpness. What a fool he had been, all this time, to let things slide! He
should have been making connections, having irons in the fire, bustling
about--how could he have sat down thus happily and easily for seven years,
as though such a condition of things could continue for ever? He had had
wild ideas of "Reuben Hallard" making his fortune!... that showed his
ignorance of the world. Let him begin to bustle. He would not lose another
moment. There were two things for him now to do, to beard editors (those
mythical creatures!) in their caves and to find out where Stephen lived ...
both these things as soon as possible.
In the afternoon the fog became of an impenetrable thickness, and beyond
the shop it seemed that there was pandemonium. Some fire, blazing at some
street corner, flared as though it were the beating heart of all that
darkness, and the cries of men and the slow, clumsy passing of the
traffic filled the bookshop with sound.
No customers came; Herr Gottfried worked away at his desk, the brass clock
ticked, Peter sat listening, waiting.
Herr Gottfried broke the silence once with: "Peter, my friend, at ten
o'clock to-night there will be a little music in my room. Herr Dettzolter
and his 'cello--a little Brahms--if the fog is not too much for you."
Peter accepted. He loved the low-roofed attic, the clouds of tobacco, the
dark corner where he sat and listened to Herr Gottfried's friends (German
exiles like Herr Gottfried playing their beloved music). It was his only
Once two men whom Peter knew very well by sight came into the shop. They
were, he believed, Russians--one of them was called Oblotzky--a tall,
bearded fierce-looking creature who could speak no English.
Then suddenly, just as Peter was thinking of finding his way home to the
boarding-house, Mr. Zanti appeared. He had been away for the last two
months, but there he was, his huge body filling the shop, the fog circling
his beard like a halo, beaming, calm, and unflustered as though he had just
come from the next street.
"Damned fog," he said, and then he went and put his hand on Peter's
shoulder and looked down at him smiling.
"Well, 'ow goes the shop?" he said.
"Oh, well enough," said Peter.
"What 'ave you been doing, boy? Finished the book?"
"Ah, good. You'll be ze great man, Peter." He looked down at him proudly as
a father might look upon his son.
"Ze damnedest fog--" he began, then suddenly he stopped and Peter felt his
hand on his shoulder tighten. "Ze damnedest--" Mr. Zanti said slowly.
Peter looked up into his face. He was listening. Herr Gottfried, standing
in the middle of the shop, was also listening.
For a moment there was an intense breathless silence. The noise from the
street seemed also, for the instant, to be hushed.
Very slowly, very quietly, Mr. Zanti went to the street door and opened it.
A cloud of yellow fog blew into the shop.
"Ze damnedest fog ..." repeated Mr. Zanti, still very slowly, as though he
"Any one been?" he said at last to Herr Gottfried.
Mr. Zanti, after flinging a strange, half-affectionate, half-inquisitive
look at Peter, went through into the room beyond.
"What ..." said Peter.
"Often enough," interrupted Herr Gottfried, shuffling back to his seat,
"young boys want to know--too much ... often enough."
The Tressiter children, of whom there were eight, loved Peter with a
devotion that was in fact idolatry. They loved him because he understood
them so completely and from Anne Susan, aged one and a half, to Rupert
Bernard, aged nine, there was no member of the family who did not repose
complete trust and confidence in Peter's opinions, and rejoice in his
wonderful grasp of the things in the world that really mattered. Other
persons might be seen shifting, slowly and laboriously, their estimates
and standards in order to bring them into line with the youthful Tressiter
estimates and standards.... Peter had his ready without any shifting.
First of all the family did Robin Tressiter, aged four, adore Peter. He
was a fat, round child with brown eyes and brown hair, and an immense and
overwhelming interest in the world and everything contained therein. He
was a silent child, with a delightful fat chuckle when really amused and
pleased, and he never cried. His interest in the world led him into strange
and terrible catastrophes, and Mrs. Tressiter was always far too busy and
too helpless to be of any real assistance. On this foggy afternoon, Peter,
arriving at Brockett's after much difficulty and hesitation, found Robin
Tressiter, on Miss Monogue's landing, with his head fastened between the
railings that overlooked the hall below. He was stuck very fast indeed, but
appeared to be perfectly unperturbed--only every now and again he kicked a
little with his legs.
"I've sticked my neck in these silly things," he said, when he saw Peter.
"You must pull at me."
Peter tried to wriggle the child through, but he found that he must have
some one to help him. Urging Robin not to move he knocked at Miss Monogue's
door. She opened it, and he stepped back with an apology when he saw that
some one else was there.
"It's a friend of mine," Norah Monogue said, "Come in and be introduced,
"It's only," Peter explained, "that young Robin has got his head stuck in
the banisters and I want some one to help me--"
Between them they pulled the boy through to safety. He chuckled.
"I'll do it again," he said.
"I'd rather you didn't," said Peter.
"Then I won't," said Robin. "I did it 'cause Rupert said I
couldn't--Rupert's silly ass."
"You mustn't call your brother names or I won't come and see you in bed."
"You will come?" said Robin, very earnestly.
"I will," said Peter, "to-night, if you don't call your brother names."
"I think," said Robin, reflectively, "that now I will hunt for the lion and
the tigers on the stairs--"
"Bring him into my room until his bedtime," said Miss Monogue, laughing.
"It's safer. Mrs. Tressiter is busy and has quite enough children in with
So Peter brought Robin into Miss Norah Monogue's room and was introduced,
at once, to Clare Elizabeth Rossiter--so easily and simply do the furious
events of life occur.
She was standing with her back to the window, and the light from Miss
Monogue's candles fell on her black dress and her red-gold hair. As he came
towards her he knew at once that she was the little girl who had talked to
him on a hill-top one Good Friday afternoon. He could almost hear her now
as she spoke to Crumpet--the candle-light glow was dim and sacred in the
foggy room; the colour of her hair was filled more wonderfully with light
and fire. Her hands were so delicate and fine as they moved against her
black dress that they seemed to have some harmony of their own like a piece
of music or a running stream. She wore blue feathers in her black hat. She
did not know him at all when he came forward, but she smiled down at Robin,
who was clinging on to Peter's trousers.
"This is a friend of mine, Mr. Westcott," Miss Monogue said.
She turned gravely and met him. They shook hands and then she sat down;
suddenly she bent down and took Robin into her lap. He sat there sucking
his thumb, and taking every now and again a sudden look at her hair and the
light that the candles made on it, but he was very silent and quiet which
was unlike him because he generally hated strangers.
Peter sat down and was filled with embarrassment; his heart also was
beating very quickly.
"I have met you before," he said suddenly. "You don't remember."
"You had once, a great many years ago, a dog called Crumpet. Once in
Cornwall ... one Good Friday, he tumbled into a lime-pit. A boy--"
"Why, of course," she broke in, "I remember you perfectly. Why of all the
things! Norah, do you realise? Your friend and I have known each other for
eight years. Isn't the world a small place! Why I remember perfectly now!"
She turned and talked to Norah Monogue, and whilst she talked he took her
in. Although now she was grown up she was still strangely like that little
girl in Cornwall. He realised that now, as he looked at her, he had still
something of the same feeling about her as he had had then--that she was
some one to be cared for, protected, something fragile that the world might
break if she were not guarded.
She was porcelain but without anything of Meredith's "rogue." Because Peter
was strong and burly the contrast of her appealing fragility attracted him
all the more. Had she not been so perfectly proportioned her size would
have been a defect; but now it was simple that her delicacy of colour and
feature demanded that slightness and slenderness of build. Her hair was of
so burning a red-gold that its colour gave her precisely the setting that
she required. She seemed, as she sat there, a little helpless, and Peter
fancied that she was wishing him to understand that she wanted friends who
should assist her in rather a rough-and-tumble world. Just as she had once
appealed to him to save Crumpet, so now she seemed to appeal for some far
greater assistance. Ah! how he could protect her! Peter thought.
Something in Peter's steady gaze seemed suddenly to surprise her. She
stopped--the colour mounted into her cheeks--she bent down over the boy.
They were both of them supremely conscious of one another. There was a
moment.... Then, as men feel, when some music that has held them ceases,
they came, with a sense of breathlessness, back to Norah Monogue and her
Peter was conscious that Robin had watched them both. He almost, Peter
thought, chuckled to himself, in his fat solemn way.
"Miss Rossiter," Norah Monogue said--and her voice seemed a long way
away--"has just come back from Germany and has brought some wonderful
photographs with her. She was going to show them to me when you came in--"
"Let me see them too, please," said Peter.
Robin was put on to the floor and he went slowly and with ceremony to an
old brown china Toby that had his place on a little shelf by the door. This
Toby--his name was Nathaniel--was an old friend of Robin's. Robin sat on
the floor in a corner and told Nathaniel the things about the world that he
had noticed. Every now and again he paused for Nathaniel's reply; he was
always waiting for him to speak, and the continued silence of a now ancient
acquaintance had not shaken Robin's faith.... Robin forgot the rest of the
"Photographs?" said Peter.
"Yes. Germany. I have just been there." She looked up at him eagerly and
then opened a portfolio that she had behind her chair and began to show
He bent gravely forward feeling that all of this was pretence of the most
absurd kind and that she also knew that it was.
But they were very beautiful photographs--the most beautiful that he had
ever seen, and as each, in its turn, was shown for a moment his eyes met
hers and his mouth almost against his will, smiled. His hand too was very
near the silk of her dress. If he moved it a very little more then they
would touch. He felt that if that happened the room would immediately burst
into flame, the air was so charged with the breathless tension; but he
watched the little space of air between his fingers and the black silk and
his hand did not move.
They were all very silent as she turned the photographs over and there were
no sounds but the sharp crackling of the fire as it burst into little
spurts of flame, the noise that her hand made on the silk of her dress as
she turned each picture and the little mutterings of Robin in his corner as
he talked to his Toby.
Peter had never seen anything like this photography. The man had used
his medium as delicately as though he had drawn every line. Things stood
out--castles, a hill, trees, running water, a shining road--and behind them
there was darkness and mystery.
Suddenly Peter cried out:
"Oh! that!" he said. It was the photograph of a great statue standing
on a hill that overlooked a river. That was all that could be seen--the
background was dark and vague, it was the statue of a man who rode a lion.
The lion was of enormous size and struggling to be free, but the man,
naked, with his utmost energy, his back set, his arms stiff, had it in
control, but only just in control ... his face was terrible in the agony of
his struggle and that struggle had lasted for a great period of time ...
but at length, when all but defeated, he had mastered his beast.
"Ah that!" Miss Rossiter held it up that Norah Monogue might see it better.
"That is on a hill outside a little town in Bavaria. They put it up to a
Herr Drexter who had done something, saved their town from riot I think.
It's a fine thing, isn't it, and I think it so clever of them to have made
him middle-aged with all the marks of the struggle about him--those scars,
his face--so that you can see that it's all been tremendous--"
Peter spoke very slowly--"I'd give anything to see that!" he said.
"Well, it's in Bavaria; I wonder that it isn't better known. But funnily
enough the people that were with me at the time didn't like it; it was only
afterwards, when I showed them the photograph that they saw that there
might have been ... aren't people funny?" she ended abruptly, appealing to
him with a kind of freemasonry against the world.
But, still bending his brows upon it he said insistently--
"Tell me more about it--the place--everything--"
"There isn't really anything to tell; it's only a very ordinary, very
beautiful, little German town. There are many orchards and this forest at
the back of it and the river running through it--little cobbled streets and
bridges over the river. And then, outside, this great statue on the hill--"
"Ah, but it's wonderful, that man's face--I'd like to go to that town--" He
felt perhaps that he was taking it all too seriously for he turned round
and said laughing: "The boy's daft on lions--Robin, come and look at this
lion--here's an animal for you."
The boy put down the Toby and walked slowly and solemnly toward them. He
climbed on to Peter's knee and looked at the photograph: "Oh! it _is_ a
lion!" he said at last, rubbing his fat finger on the surface of it to see
of what material it was made. "Oh! for me!" he said at last in a shrill,
excited voice and clutching on to it with one hand. "For me--to hang over
"No, old man," Peter answered, "it belongs to the lady here. She must take
it away with her."
"Oh! but _I_ want it!" his eyes began to fill with tears.
Miss Rossiter bent down and kissed him. He looked at her distrustfully. "I
know now I'm not to have it," he said at last, eyeing her, "or you wouldn't
have kissed me."
"Come on," said Peter, afraid of a scene, "the lady will show you the lion
another day--meantime I think bed is the thing."
He mounted the boy on to his shoulder and turned round to Miss Rossiter to
say "Good-bye." The photograph lay on the table between them--"I shan't
forget that," he said.
"Oh! but you must come and see us one day. My mother will be delighted.
There are a lot more photographs at home. You must bring him out one day,
Norah," she said turning to Miss Monogue.
If he had been a primitive member of society in the Stone Age he would at
this point, have placed Robin carefully on the floor and have picked Miss
Rossiter up and she should never again have left his care.
As it was he said, "I shall be delighted to come one day."
"We will talk about Cornwall--"
His hand was burning hot when he gave it her--he knew that she was looking
at his eyes.
He was abruptly conscious of Miss Monogue's voice behind him.
"I've read a quarter of the book, Peter."
He wondered as he turned to her how it could be possible to regard two
women so differently. To be so sternly critical of one--her hair that was
nearly down, a little ink on her thumb, her blouse that was unbuttoned--and
of the other to see her all in a glory so that her whole body, for colour
and light and beautiful silence, had no equal amongst the possessions of
the earth or the wonders of heaven. Here there was a button undone, there
there was a flaming fire.
"I won't say anything," Miss Monogue said, "until I've read more, but it's
going to be extraordinarily good I think." What did he care about "Reuben
Hallard?" What did that matter when he had Claire Elizabeth Rossiter in
front of him.
And then he pulled himself up. It must matter. How delighted an hour ago
those words would have made him.
"Oh! you think there's something in it?" he said.
"We'll wait," she answered, but her smile and the sparkle in her eyes
showed what she thought. What a brick she was!
He turned round back to Miss Rossiter.
"My first book," he said laughing. "Of course we're excited--"
And then he was out of the room in a moment with Robin clutching his hair.
He did not want to look at her again ... he had so wonderful a picture!
And as he left Robin in the heart of his family he heard him say--
"_Such_ a lion, Mother, a lady's got--with a man on it--a 'normous lion,
and the man hasn't any clothes on, and his legs are all scratched...."
ROYAL PERSONAGES ARE COMING
Peter, sitting obscurely in a corner of Herr Gottfried's attic on the
evening of this eventful day and listening to that string sextette that was
written by Brahms when he was nineteen years of age (and it came straight
from the heights of Olympus if any piece of music ever did), was conscious
of the eyes of Herr Lutz.
Herr Lutz was Herr Gottfried's greatest friend and was notable for three
things, his enormous size, his surpassing skill on the violoncello and his
devoted attachment to the veriest shrew of a little sharp-boned wife that
ever crossed from Germany into England. For all these things Peter loved
him, but Herr Lutz was never very actively conscious of Peter because from
the moment that he entered Herr Gottfried's attic to the moment he left it
his soul was wrapped in the music and in nothing else whatever. To-night
as usual he was absorbed and after the second movement of the sextette
had come to a most rapturous conclusion he was violently dissatisfied and
pulled them back over it again, because they had been ragged and their
enthusiasm had got the better of their time and they were altogether
disgraceful villains, but through all of this his grey eyes were upon
Peter, watching from his dark corner even felt that the 'cello was being
played especially for his benefit and that Herr Lutz was talking all the
time to him through the medium of his instrument. It may have been that he
himself was in a state of most exalted emotion, and never until the end
of all things mortal and possibly all things eternal will he forget that
sextette by Brahms; he may perhaps have put more into Herr Lutz than was
really there, but it is certain that he was conscious of the German's
As is common to all persons of his age and condition he was amazed at the
glorified vision of everyday things. In Herr Gottfried's flat there was a
model of Beethoven in plaster of Paris, a bed, and a tin wash-hand stand,
a tiny bookshelf containing some tattered volumes of Reclame's Universal
Bibliothek, a piano and six cane-bottomed chairs covered at the moment by
the stout bodies of the six musicians--nothing here to light the world with
wonder!--and yet to-night, Peter, sitting on a cushion in a dark corner
watched the glories of Olympus; the music of heaven was in his ear and
before him, laughing at him, smiling, vanishing only to reappear more
rapturous and beautiful than ever was the lady, the wonderful and only
His cheeks were hot and his heart was beating so loudly that it was surely
no wonder that Herr Lutz had discovered his malady. The sextette came to an
end and the six musicians sat, for a moment, silent on their chairs whilst
they dragged themselves into the world that they had for a moment forsaken.
That was a great instant of silence when every one in the room was
concerned entirely with their souls and had forgotten that they so much as
had bodies at all. Then Herr Lutz gathered his huge frame together, stuck
his hand into his beard and cried aloud for drink.
Beer was provided--conversation was, for the next two hours, volcanic. When
twelve o'clock struck in the church round the corner the meeting was broken
Herr Lutz said to Peter, "There is still the 'verdammte' fog. Together we
will go part of the way."
So they went together. But on the top of the dark and crooked staircase
Herr Gottfried stopped Peter.
"Boy," he said and he rubbed his nose with his finger as he always did when
he was nervous and embarrassed, "I shouldn't go to the shop for a week or
two if I were you."
"Not go?" said Peter astonished.
"No--for reason why--well--who knows? The days come and they go, and again
it will be all right for you. I should rub up the Editors, I should--"
"Rub up the Editors?" repeated Peter still confused.
"Yes--have other irons, you know--often enough other irons are handy--"
"Did Zanti tell you to say this to me?"
"No, he says nothing. It is only I--as a friend, you understand--"
"Well, thank you very much," said Peter at last. Herr Gottfried, he
reflected, must think that he, Peter, had mints of money if he could so
lightly and on so slender a warning propose his abandoning his precious two
pounds a week. Moreover there was loyalty to Mr. Zanti to be considered....
Anyway, what did it all mean?
"I can't go," he said at last, "unless Zanti says something to me. But what
are they all up to?"
"Seven years," said Herr Gottfried darkly, "has the Boy been in the
shop--of so little enquiring a mind is he."
And he would say nothing further. Peter followed Herr Lutz' huge body into
the street. They took arms when they encountered the fog and went stumbling
"You are in lof," said Herr Lutz, breathlessly avoiding a lamp post.
"Yes," said Peter, "I am."
"Ah," said Herr Lutz giving Peter's arm a squeeze. "It is the only
thing--The--Only--Thing.... However it may be for you--bad or ill--whether
she scold or smile, it is a most blessed state."
He spoke when under stress of emotion, in capitals with a pause before the
"It won't come to anything," said Peter. "It can't possibly. I haven't got
anything to offer anybody--an uncertain two pounds a week."
"You have a--Career," said Herr Lutz solemnly, "I know--I have often
watched you. You have written a--Book. Karl Gottfried has told me. But all
that does not matter," he went on impetuously. "It does not matter what you
The enormous German stopped on an island in the middle of the road and
waved his arms. On every side of him through the darkness the traffic
rolled and thundered. He waved his arms and exulted because he had been
married to a shrew of a wife for thirty years. During that time she had
never given him a kind word, not a loving look, but Peter knew that out of
all the fog and obscurity that life might bring to him that Word, sprung
though it might be out of Teutonic sentiment and Heller's beer, that word,
at any rate, was true.
London, in the morning, recovered from the fog and prepared to receive
Foreign Personages. They were not to arrive for another week, but it was
some while since anything of the kind had occurred and London meant to
carry it out well. The newspapers were crowded with details; personal
anecdotes about the Personages abounded--a Procession was to take place,
stands began to climb into the air and the Queen and her visitors were to
have addresses presented to them at intervals during the Progress.
To Peter this all seemed supremely unimportant. At the same moment, to
confuse little things with big ones, Mrs. Lazarus suddenly decided to die.
She had been unwell for many months and her brain had been very clouded
and temper uncertain--but now suddenly she felt perfectly well, her
intelligence was as sharp and bright as it had ever been and the doctor
gave her a week at the utmost. She would like, she said, to have seen the
dear Queen ride through the streets amidst the plaudits of the populace,
but she supposed it was not to be. So with a lace cap on her head and her
nose sharp and shiny she sat up in bed, flicked imaginary bread pellets
along the counterpane, talked happily to the boarding-house and made ready
The boarding-house was immensely moved, and Peter, during these days came
back early from the bookshop in order to sit with her. He was surprised
that he cared as he did. The old lady had been for so long a part of his
daily background that he could no more believe in her departure than he
could in the sudden disappearance of the dark green curtains and the marble
pillars in the dining-room. She had had, from the first, a great liking
for Peter. He had never known how much of that affection was an incoherent
madness and he had never in any way analysed his own feeling for her, but
now he was surprised at the acute sharpness of his regret.
On a bright evening of sunshine, about six o'clock, she died--Mrs.
Brockett, the Tressiters, Norah Monogue also were with her at the time.
Peter had been with her alone during the earlier afternoon and although she
had been very weak she had talked to him in her trembling voice (it was
like the noise that two needles knocking against one another would make),
and she had told him how she believed in him.
She made him ashamed with the things that she said about him. He had paid
her little enough attention, he thought, during these seven years. There
were so many things that he might have done. As the afternoon sun streamed
into the room and the old lady, her hands like ivory upon the counterpane,
fell into a quiet sleep he wondered--Was he bad or good? Was he strong or
weak? These things that people said, the affection that people gave him ...
he deserved none of it. Surely never were two so opposite presences bound
together in one body--he was profoundly selfish, profoundly unselfish,
loving, hard, kind, cruel, proud, humble, generous, mean, completely
possessed, entirely uncontrolled, old beyond his years, young beyond
As he sat there beside the sleeping old lady he felt a contempt of himself
that was beyond all expression, and also he felt a pride at the things that
he knew that he might do, a pride that brought the blood to his cheeks.
The Man on the Lion? The Man under the Lion's Paw?... The years would show.
A quiet happy serenity passed over Mrs. Lazarus' face and he called the
others into the room.
Stern Mrs. Brockett was crying. Mrs. Lazarus woke for a moment and smiled
upon them all. She took Peter's hand.
"Be good to old people," she breathed very faintly--then she closed her
eyes and so died.
Below in the street a boy was calling the evening papers. "Arrival of the
Prince and Princess of Schloss.... Arrival of the Prince and--"
They closed the windows and pulled down the blinds.
Thursday was to be the day of Royal Processions, and on Friday old Mrs.
Lazarus was to be buried.
To Peter, Wednesday was a day of extravagant confusion--extravagant because
it was a day on which nothing was done. Customers were not served in the
shop. Editors were not attacked in their lairs. Nothing was done, every one
Peter could not name any one as directly responsible for this state of
things, nor could he define his own condition of mind; only he knew that he
could not leave the shop. About its doors and passages there fell all day
an air of suspense. Mr. Zanti was himself a little responsible for this; it
was so unusual for that large and smiling gentleman to waste the day idly;
and yet there he was, starting every now and again for the door, looking
into the empty yard from the windows at the back of the house, disappearing
sometimes into the rooms above, reappearing suddenly with an air of
unconcern a little too elaborately contrived.
Peter felt that Mr. Zanti had a great deal that he would like to say to
him, and once or twice he came to him and began "Oh, I say, boy," and then
stopped with an air of confusion as though he had recollected something,
There was a Russian girl, too, who was about the shop, uneasily on this
day. She was thin, slight, very dark; fierce eyes and hands that seemed
to be always curving. Her name was Maria Notroska and she was engaged to
the big Russian, Oblotzky, whom Peter had seen, on other days up and down
through the shop. She spoke to no one. She knew but little English--but she
would stand for hours at the door looking out into the street. It was a
long uneasy day and Peter was glad when the evening, in slow straight lines
of golden light, came in through the black door. The evening too seemed to
bring forward a renewed hope of seeing Stephen again--enquiries could bring
nothing from either Zanti or Herr Gottfried; they had never heard of the
man, oh no!... Stephen Brant? Stephen ...? No! Never--
That sudden springing out of the darkness had meant something however.
Peter could still feel his wet clothes and see his shining beard. Yes, if
there were any trouble Stephen would be there. What were they all about?
Peter closed the shutters of the shop that night without having any
explanation to offer. Mr. Zanti was indeed a strange man; when Peter turned
to go he stopped him with his hand on his shoulder: "Peter, boy," he said,
whispering, "come upstairs--I have something to tell you."
Peter was about to follow him back into the shop when suddenly the man
shook his head. "No, not to-night," he said and almost pushed him into the
Peter, looking back, saw that he was talking to the Russian girl.
But the day was not over with that. Wondering about Mr. Zanti, thinking
that the boarding-house would be gloomy now after Mrs. Lazarus' death,
recalling, above all, to himself every slightest incident of his meeting
with Miss Rossiter, Peter, crossing Oxford Street, flung his broad body
against a fat and soft one. There was nearly a collapse.
The other man and Peter grasped arms to steady themselves, and then behold!
the fat body was Bobby Galleon's. Bobby Galleon, after all these years! But
there could be no possible doubt about it. There he stood, standing back a
little from the shock, his bowler hat knocked to one side of his head, a
deprecating, apologetic smile on his dear fat face! A man of course now,
but very little altered in spite of all the years; a little fatter perhaps,
his body seemed rather shapeless--but those same kind eyes, that large
mouth and the clear straight look in all his face that spoke him to all
the world for what he was. Peter felt exactly as though, after a long and
tiring journey, he had tumbled at last into a large arm-chair. He was
excited, he waved his arms:
"Bobby, Bobby," he cried, so loudly that two old women in bonnets, crossing
the road like a couple of hens turned to look at him.
"I'm sorry--" Bobby said vaguely, and then slowly recognition came into his
"Peter!" he said in a voice lost in amazement, the colour flooding his
It was all absurdly moving; they were quite ridiculously stirred, both of
them. The lamps were coming out down Oxford Street, a pale saffron sky
outlined the dark bulk of the Church that is opposite Mudie's shop and
stands back from the street, a little as though it wondered at all the
noise and clamour, a limpid and watery blue still lingered, wavering, in
the evening sky.
They turned into an A.B.C. shop and ordered glasses of milk and they sat
and looked at one another. They had altered remarkably little and to both
of them, although the roar of the Oxford Street traffic was outside the
window, it might have been, easily enough, that a clanging bell would soon
summon them back to ink-stained desks and Latin exercises.
"Why, in heaven's name, did you ever get out of my sight so completely?
I wrote to Treliss again and again but I don't suppose anything was
"They don't know where I am."
"But why did you never write to me?"
"Why should I? I wanted to do something first--to show you-"
"What rot! Is that friendship? I call that the most selfish thing I've ever
known." No, obviously enough, Bobby could never understand that kind of
thing. With him, once a friend always a friend, that is what life is for.
With Peter, once an adventure always an adventure--_that_ is what life
is for--but as soon as a friend ceases to be an adventure, why then--
But Bobby had not ceased to be an adventure. He was, as he sat there, more
of one than he had ever been before.
"What have you been doing all these years?"
"Been in a bookshop."
"In a bookshop?"
"Yes, selling second-hand books."
"Oh reading a lot... seeing one or two people... and some music." Peter was
vague; what after all had he been doing?
Bobby looked at him tenderly and affectionately. "You want seeing
after--you look fierce, as you used to when you'd been having a bad time
at school. The day they all hissed you."
"But I haven't been having a bad time. I've had a jolly good one. By the
way," Peter leant forward, "have you seen or heard anything of Cards?"
Bobby coloured a little. "No, not for a long time. His mother died. He's a
great swell now with heaps of money, I believe. I'm not his sort a bit."
They drank milk and beamed upon one another. Peter wanted to tell Bobby
everything. That was one of his invaluable qualities, that one did like
telling him everything. Talking to him eagerly now, Peter wondered how it
could be that he'd ever managed to get through these many years without
him. Bobby simply existed to help his friends and that was the kind of
person that Peter had so often wanted.
But in it all--in their talking, their laughing together, their remembering
certain catchwords that they had used together, there was nothing more
remarkable than their finding each other exactly as they had been during
those years before at Dawson's. Not even Bobby's tremendous statement could
"I'm married," he said.
Bobby blushed. "Yes--two years now--got a baby. She's quite splendid!"
"Oh!" Peter was a little blank. Somehow this did remove Bobby a little--it
also made him, suddenly, strangely old.
"But it doesn't make any difference," Bobby said, leaning forward eagerly
and putting his hand on Peter's arm--"not the least difference. You two
will simply get on famously. I've so often told her about you and we've
always been hoping that you'd turn up again--and now she'll be simply
But it made a difference to Peter, nevertheless. He went back a little into
his shell; Bobby with a home and a wife and a baby couldn't spare time, of
course, for ordinary friends. But even here his conscience pricked him. Did
he not know Bobby well enough to be assured that he was as firm and solid
as a rock, that nothing at all could move or change him? And after all, was
not he, Peter, wishing to be engaged and married and the father of a family
and the owner of a respectable mansion?
Clare Elizabeth Rossiter! How glorious for an instant were the thin,
sharp-faced waitresses, the little marble-topped tables, the glass windows
filled with sponge-cakes and hard-boiled eggs!
Peter came out of his shell again. "I shall just love to come and see her,"
"Well, just as soon as you can. By Jove, old man, I'll never let you go
again. Now tell me, everything--all that you have done since I saw you."
Peter told him a great deal--not quite everything. He told him nothing, for
instance, about meeting a certain young lady on a Good Friday afternoon and
he passed over some of the Scaw House incidents as speedily as possible.
"And since I came up to London," he went on, "the whole of my time has been
spent either in the bookshop or the boarding-house. They're awfully good
sorts at both, but it's all very uncertain of course and instead of writing
a novel that no one will want to read I ought to have been getting on to
editors. I've a kind of feeling that the bookshop's going to end very
"Let me see the book," said Bobby.
"Yes, certainly," said Peter.
"Anyhow, we go on together from this time forth--72 Cheyne Walk is my
little house. When will you come--to-morrow?"
"Oh! To-morrow! I don't think I can. There are these Processions and
things--I think I ought to be in the shop. But I'll come very soon. This is
the name of my boarding-house--"
Bobby, as he saw his friend, broad-shouldered, swinging along, pass down
the street with the orange lamps throwing chains of light about him, was
confronted again by that old elusive spirit that he had known so well at
school. Peter liked him, Peter was glad to see him again, but there were so
many other Peters, so many doors closed against intruders.... Bobby would
always, to the end, be for Peter, outside these doors. He knew it quite
certainly, a little sadly, as he climbed on to his bus. What was there
about Peter? Something hard, fierce, wildly hostile ... a devil, a God.
Something that Bobby going quietly home to his comfortable dinner, might
watch and guard and even love but something that he could never share.
Now, in the cool and quiet of the Chelsea Embankment as he walked to his
door, Bobby sighed a little because life was so comfortable.
A LITTLE DUST
That night Peter had one of his old dreams. In all the seven years that he
had been in London the visions that had so often made his nights at Scaw
House terrible had never come to him. Now, after so long an interval they
He thought that he was once more back on the sea-road above Treliss, that
the wind was blowing in a tempest and that the sea below him was foaming on
to the rocks. He could see those rocks like sharp black teeth, stretching
up to him--a grey sky was above his head and to his right stretched the
grey and undulating moor.
Round the bend of the road, beyond the point that he could see, he thought
that Clare Rossiter was waiting for him. He must get there before it struck
eleven or something terrible would happen to him. Only a few minutes
remained to him, and only a little stretch of the thin white road, but two
things prevented his progress; first, the wind blew so fiercely in his face
that it drove him back and for every step that he took forward, although
his head was bent and his teeth set, he seemed to lose two. Also, across
the moor voices cried to him and they seemed to him like the voices of
Stephen and Bobby Galleon, and they were pleading to him to stop; he paused
to listen but the cries mingled softly with the wind and he could hear
bells from the town below the road begin to strike eleven. The sweat was
pouring from him--she was waiting for him, and if he did not reach her
all would be lost. He would never see her again; he began to cry, to beat
against the wind with his hands. The voices grew louder, the wind more
vehement, the jagged edges of the rocks sharper in their outline; the bells
were still striking, but as, at last, breathless, a sharp terror at his
heart, he turned the corner there fell suddenly a silence. At last he was
there--only a few trees blowing a little, a little white dust curling over
the road, as though there had been no rain, and then suddenly the laughing
face of Cards, no longer now a boy, but a man, more handsome than ever,
laughing at him as he battled round the corner.
Cards shouted something to him, suddenly the road was gone and Peter was in
the water, fighting for his life. He felt all the breathless terror of
approaching death--he was sinking--black, silent water rose above and
around him. For an instant he caught once more the sight of sky and land.
Cards was still on the road and beside him was a woman whose face Peter
could not see. Cards was still laughing. Then in the darkening light the
Grey Hill was visible against the horizon and instead of the Giant's Finger
there was that figure of the rider on the lion.... The waters closed....
Peter woke to a grey, stormy morning. The sweat was pouring down his face,
his body was burning hot and his hands were trembling.
When he came down to breakfast his head was aching and heavy and Mrs.
Brockett's boiled egg and hard crackling toast were impossible. Miss
Monogue had things to tell him about the book--it was wonderful, tremendous
... beyond everything that she had believed possible. But strangely enough,
he was scarcely interested. He was pleased of course, but he was weighted
with the sense of overhanging catastrophe. The green bulging curtains,
the row of black beads about Mrs. Brockett's thin neck, the untidy
egg-shells--everything depressed him.
"I have had a rotten night," he said, "nightmares. I suppose I ate
something--anyhow it's a gloomy day."
"Yes," said Miss Monogue, pinning some of her hair in at the wrong place
and unpinning other parts of it that happened by accident to be right. "I'm
afraid it's a poor sort of day for the Procession. But Miss Black and I are
going to do our best to see it. It may clear up later." He had forgotten
about the Procession and he wished that she would keep her hair tidier.
He wanted to ask her whether she had seen Miss Rossiter but had not the
courage. A little misty rain made feathery noises against the window-pane.
"Well, I must go down to the shop," he said, finding his umbrella in the
"I think it's superb," she said, referring back to the book. "You won't be
having to go down to the shop much longer."
It was really surprising that he cared so little. He banged the door behind
him and did not see her eyes as she watched him go.
Processions be damned! He wished that the wet, shining street were not so
strangely like the sea-road at Treliss, and that the omnibuses at a
distance did not murmur like the sea. People, black and funereal, were
filling stands down Oxford Street; soldiers were already lining the way,
the music of bands could be heard some streets away.
He was in a thoroughly bad temper and scowled at the people who passed him.
He hated Royal Processions, he hated the bookshop, he hated all his friends
and he wished that he were dead. Here he had been seven years, he
reflected, and nothing had been done. Where was his city paved with gold?
Where his Fame, where his Glory?
He even found himself envying those old Treliss days. There at any rate
things had happened. There had been an air, a spirit. Fighting his
father--or at any rate, escaping from his father--had been something vital.
And here he was now, an ill-tempered, useless youth, earning two pounds a
week, in love with some one who was scarcely conscious of his existence. He
cursed the futility of it all.
And so fuming, he crossed the threshold of the bookshop, and, unwitting,
heedless, left for ever behind him the first period of his history.
"Programme of the Royal Procession," a man was shouting--"Coloured
'Andkerchief with Programme of Royal Procession--"
Peter, stepping into the dark shop, was conscious of Mr. Zanti's white face
and that behind him was standing Stephen.
At the sight of their faces, of their motionless bodies and at the solemn
odd expression of their eyes as they looked past him into the dark expanse
of the door through which he had entered, he knew that something was very
He had known it, plainly enough, by the fact of Stephen's presence there,
but it seemed to him that he had known it from his first awakening that
morning and that he was only waiting to change into hard outline the misty
shapelessness of his earlier fears. But, there and then, he was to know
Stephen greeted him with a great hand-shake as though he had met him
only the day before, and Mr. Zanti with a smile gave him his accustomed
greeting. In the doorway at the other end of the shop the Russian girl was
standing, one arm on the door-post, staring, with her dark eyes, straight
through into the gloomy street.
"What are you all waiting for?" Peter said to the motionless figures. With
his words they seemed at once to spring to life. Mr. Zanti rolled his big
body casually to the door and looked down the street, Stephen, smiling at
"I was just passing, so I thought to myself I'd just look in," his voice
came from his beard like the roll of the sea from a cave. "Just for an
hour, maybe. It's a long day since we've 'ad a bit of a chat, Mr. Peter."
Peter could not take it on that casual scale. Here was Stephen vanished
during all those years, returned now suddenly and with as little fuss as
possible, as though indeed he had only been hiding no farther than behind
the door of the shop and waiting merely to walk out when the right moment
should have arrived. If he had been no farther than that then it was unkind
of him--he might have known how badly Peter had wanted him; if, on the
other hand, he had been farther afield, then he should show more excitement
at his return.
But, Peter thought, it was impossible to recognise in the grave reserved
figure at his side that Stephen who had once given him the most glorious
evening of his life. The connection was there somewhere but many things
must have happened between those years.
"Shall we go and have luncheon together?" Peter asked.
Stephen appeared to fling a troubled look in the direction of Mr. Zanti's
broad back. He hesitated. "Well," he said awkwardly, "I don't rightly know.
I've got to be going out for an hour or two--I can't rightly say as I'll be
back. This afternoon, maybe--"
Peter did not press it any farther. They must settle these things for
themselves, but what was the matter with them all this morning was more
than he could pretend to discover.
Stephen, still troubled, went out.
Fortunately there was this morning a good deal of work for Peter to do.
A large number of second-hand books had arrived during the day before
and they must be catalogued and arranged. Moreover there were several
customers. A young lady wanted "something about Wagner, just a description
of the plays, you know."
"Of the Operas," Peter corrected.
"Oh, well, the stories--that's what I want--something about two shillings,
have you? I don't think it's really worth more--but so that one will know
where one is, you know."
She was bright and confidential. She had thought that everything would be
closed because of the Procession... _so_ lucky--
A short red-faced woman, dressed in bright colours, and carrying
innumerable little parcels wanted "Under Two Flags," by Mrs. Henry Wood.
"It's by Ouida, Madam," Peter told her.
"Nonsense, don't tell me. As if I didn't know."
Peter produced the volume and showed it to her. She dropped some of her
parcels--they both went to pick them up.
Red in the face, she glared at him. "Really it's too provoking, I know it
was Mrs. Henry Wood I wanted."
"Perhaps 'East Lynne,' or 'The Channings'--"
"Nonsense--don't tell me--it was 'Under Two Flags.'"
Finally the woman put both "Under Two Flags" and "East Lynne" into her bag
and departed. A silence fell upon the shop. Herr Gottfried was at his desk,
Mr. Zanti at the street door, the girl at the door of the inner room, they