Part 5 out of 10
were all motionless. Beyond the shop the murmur of the gathering crowd was
like the confused, blundering hum of bees; a band was playing stridently in
Once Peter said: "It passes about three-thirty, doesn't it? I think I'll
just go out and have a look later. It'll be fine if only the sun comes."
Mr. Zanti turned slowly round.
"I'm afraid, boy," he said, "you'll be wanted in ze shop. At two Herr
Gottfried must be going out for some business--zere will be no one--I am
They wanted to keep him there, that was evident. Or, at any rate, they
didn't want him to see the Procession.
"Very well," he said cheerfully, "I'll stay. There'll be plenty more
Processions before I die." But why, why, why? What was there that they
wanted him to avoid?
He went on arranging the piles of dusty books, the sense of weighty
expectation growing on him with every instant. The clock struck one, but he
did not go out to luncheon; the others were still motionless in their
Once Herr Gottfried spoke: "The people will have been waiting a
much-more-than-necessary long time," he said. "The police doubtless have
frightened them, but there is still room to walk in the streets and there
have been some unfortunates, since early in the morning--"
The street beyond the shop was now deserted because soldiers guarded its
approach into Oxford Street; the shop seemed to be left high and dry,
beyond the noise and confusion of the street.
Then there came into the silence a sharp sound that made Peter amongst his
books, jump to his feet: the Russian girl was crying.
She stood there, leaning her thin dark body against the side of the door,
surely the most desolate figure in the world. Her hands were about her
face, her body heaved with her sobbing and the little sad noise came into
the dusty tangled room and hung amongst the old broken books as though they
only could sympathise and give it shelter. The band in Oxford Street was
blazing with sound but it did not hide her crying.
Mr. Zanti crossed to her and spoke to her but she suddenly let her hands
fall from her face and turned upon him, furiously, wildly--"You ..." she
said, "You ..." and then as though the words choked her she turned back
into the inner room. Peter saw Mr. Zanti's face and it was puckered with
distress like a child's. It was almost laughable in its helpless dismay.
Two o'clock struck. "They'll be starting in half an hour," Herr Gottfried
"Women," Mr. Zanti said, still looking distressfully about him, "they are,
in truth, very difficult."
And now there was no pretence, any longer, of disguising the nervous
tension that was with them in the room. They were all waiting for
something--what it might be Peter did not know, but, with every tick of
the old brass clock, some event crept more nearly towards them.
Then Stephen came back.
He came in very quietly as though he were trying to keep the note of
agitation that he must have felt on every side of him as near the normal
His face above his beard was grey and streaky and his breath came rapidly
as though he had been running. When he saw Mr. Zanti his hand went up
suddenly in front of his face as though he would protect himself from the
"I've 'eard nothing--" he said almost sullenly and then he turned and
looked at Peter.
"Why must 'e be 'ere?" he said sharply to Zanti.
"Why not? Where else?" the other answered and the two men watched each
other with hostility across the floor.
"I wish we'd all bloomin' wull kept out of it," Stephen murmured to himself
Peter's eyes were upon Mr. Zanti. That gentleman looked more like a naughty
child than ever. In his eyes there was the piteous appeal of a small boy
about to be punished for some grievous fault. In some strange way Peter
was, it appeared, his court of appeal because he glanced towards him again
and again and then looked away.
Peter could stand it no longer. He got up from the place where he was and
faced them all.
"What is it? What have you all done? What is the matter with you all?"
The Russian girl had come back. Her face was white and her hair fell
untidily about her eyes. She came forward fiercely as though she would have
answered Peter, but Mr. Zanti motioned her back with his hand.
"No, no," he said almost imploringly, "let the boy be--what has he to do
with all this? Leave him. He has nothing to do with it. He knows nothing."
"But I ought to know," Peter burst in. "Why have I been kept in the dark
all this time? What right have you--"
He broke off suddenly. Absolute silence fell amongst them all and they
stood looking at the door, motionless, in their places. There was a new
note in the murmuring of the crowd, and the swift steady passing of it came
up the street to the shop and in at the door. Voices could be heard rising
above others, and then the eager passing of some piece of news from one to
No one in the shop spoke. Outside in the deserted street there was silence
and then the bands, as though driven by some common wave of feeling, seemed
at the same moment to burst into a blare of music. Some voice, from the
crowd, started "God save the Queen" and immediately it was taken up and
flung into the air by a thousand voices. They must give vent to their
feelings, some news had passed down the crowds like a flame setting fire to
a chain of beacons.
"What is it?" Peter pressed forwards to the door. And at once he was
answered. Men were running past the shop, crying out; one stopped for an
instant and, wild with excitement, his hands gesticulating, stammering, the
words tumbling from his lips, he shouted at them--"They've bin flinging
bombs ... dirty foreigners ... up there by the Marble Arch--flinging them
at the Old Lady. But it's all right, by Gawd--only blew 'imself up, dirty
foreigner--little bits of 'im and no one else 'urt and now the Old Lady's
comin' down the street--she'll be 'ere in quarter of an 'our and won't we
show 'er ... by Gawd ... flingin' their dirty bombs up there by the Marble
Arch and killin' nobody but 'imself--Gawd save the Old Lady--" he rushed
So that was it. Peter, standing in the middle of the room, looked at them
all and understood at last amongst whom he had been working these seven
years. They were murderers, the lot of them--all of them--Gottfried, Zanti
... Stephen--Oh God! Stephen! He understood now for what they had been
He turned sick at the sudden realisation of it. It did not, at first, seem
to touch himself in any way. At the first immediate knowledge of it he had
been faced by its amazing incongruity. There by the Marble Arch, with bands
flying, flags waving, in all the tumult of a Royal Progress some one had
been blown into little pieces. Elsewhere there were people waiting, eating
buns out of paper bags, and here in the shop the sun lighted the backs of
rows of second-hand novels and down in Treliss the water was, very gently,
lapping the little wooden jetty. Oh! the silly jumbling of things in this
silly jumbling world!
And then he began to look more closely into it as it concerned himself. He
saw with amazing clearness. He knew that it was Oblotzky the tall Russian
who had been killed. He knew because Oblotzky was the lover of this Russian
girl and he turned round to watch her, curiously, as one who was outside it
all. She was standing with her back against the wall, her hands spread out
flat, looking through the door into the bright street, seeing none of them.
Then she turned and said something in Russian between her clenched teeth to
Mr. Zanti. He would have answered her but very quietly and speaking now in
English she flung at him, as though it had been a stone:
"God curse you! You drove him to it!" Then she turned round and left the
room. But the tall man was blubbering like a child. He had turned round to
them all, with his hands outstretched, appealing:
"But it's not true!" he cried between his sobs, "it's not true! I did
all I could to stop them--I did not know that they would do things--not
really--until now, this morning, when it was too late. It is the others,
Sergius, Paslov, Odinsky--zey were always wild, desperate. But we, the rest
of us, with us it was only tall words."
Little Herr Gottfried, who had been silent behind them, came forward now
"It is too late," he said, "for this crying like a baby. We have no
time--we must consider what must be done. If it is true, what that man says
that Oblotzky has blown himself up and no other is touched then no harm
is done. Why regret the Russian? He wanted a violent end and he has got
it--and he has given it to no other. Often enough we are not so fortunate.
He will have spoken to no one. We are safe." Then he turned to Peter:
"Poor boy," he said.
But Peter was not there to be pitied. He had only one thought, "Stephen,
tell me--tell me. You did not know? You had nothing to do with this?"
Stephen turned and faced him. "No, Peter boy, nothing. I did not know what
they were at. They--Zanti there--'ad 'elped me when I was in trouble years
ago. They've given me jobs before now, but they've always been bunglers
and now, thank the Lord, they've bungled again. You come with me, Mr.
Peter--come along from it all. We'll manage something. I've only been
waiting until you wanted me."
Zanti turned furiously upon him but the words that he would have spoken
were for the moment held. The Procession was passing. The roar of cheering
came up against the walls of the shop like waves against the rocks; the
windows shook. There she was, the little Old Lady in her black bonnet,
sitting smiling and bowing, and somewhere behind her a little dust had been
blown into the air, had hung for a moment about her and then had once more
settled down into the other dust from which it had come.
That was all. In front of her were the Royal Personages, on every side of
her her faithful subjects ... only a cloud of dust had given occasion for a
surer sign of her people's devotion. That, at any rate, Oblotzky had done.
The carriage passed.
Mr. Zanti now faced Peter.
"Peter--Boy--you must believe me. I did not know, believe me, I did not.
They had talked and I had listened but there is so much talk and never
anything is done. Peter, you must not go, you must not leave me. You would
break my 'eart--"
"All these years," Peter said, "you have let me be here while you have
deceived me and blinded me. I am going now and I pray to God that I may
never see you again."
"No, Boy, listen. You must not go like this. 'Ave I not been good to you?
'Ave I ever made you do anything wrong? 'Ave I not always kept you out of
these things? You are the only person zat I 'ave ever loved. You 'ave
become my son to me. I am not wicked. I was not one of these men--these
anarchists--but it is only that all my life I 'ave wanted adventure, what
you call Ro-mance. And I 'ave found it 'ere, there--one place, anuzzer
place. But it 'as never been wicked--I 'ave never 'armed a soul. What zat
girl says it is not true--I would 'ave done all to stop it if I could. But
you--if you leave me now, I am all alone. There is no one in the world for
me--a poor old man--but if you will be with me I will show you wonderful
"See," he went on eagerly, almost breathlessly, "we 'ave been socialists
'ere, what you will. We 'ave talked and talked. It amuses me--to intrigue,
to pretend, to 'ave games--one day it is Treason, another Brigands, another
Travel--what you will. But never, never, never danger to a soul. Now only
this morning did I 'ear that they were going to do this. Always it had been
words before--but this morning I got a rumour. But it was only rumour.
I 'ad not enough to be sure of my news. Stephen here and I--we could do
nozzing--we 'ad no time--I did not know where Oblotzky was--this girl 'ere
did not know--I could do nozzing--Peter, believe me, believe me--"
The man was no scoundrel. It was plain enough as he stood there, his eyes
simple as a child's, pleading still like a small boy.
A minute ago Peter had hated him, now he crossed over and put his hand on
"You have been wonderfully good to me," he said. "I owe you everything. But
I must go--all this has only made sure what I have been knowing this long
time that I ought to do. I can't--I mustn't--depend on your charity any
longer--it has been too long as it is. I must be on my own and then one
day, when I have proved myself, I will come back to you."
"No--Peter, Boy--come with me now. I will show you wonderful things all
over Europe; we will have adventures. There is gold in Cornwall in a place
I know. There is a place in Germany where there is treasure--ze world is
full of ze most wonderful things that I know and you and I--we two--Oh! ze
times we all 'ave--"
"No," ... Peter drew back. "That is not my way. I am going to make my
living here, in London--or die for it."
"No--you must not. You will succeed--you will grow fat and sleepy and ze
good things of the world and ze many friends will kill your soul. I know it
... but come with me, first and we will 'ave adventures ... and _zen_ you
But Peter's face was set. The time for the new life had come. Up to this
moment he had been passive, he had used his life as an instrument on which
others might play. From henceforward his should be the active part.
The crowds were pouring up the street on their homeward way. Bands were
playing the soldiers back to the barracks. Soon the streets would have only
the paper bags left to them for company. The little bookshop hung, with its
misty shelves about the three men.... Somewhere in another room, a girl was
staring with white set face and burning eyes in front of her, for her lover
was dead and the world had died with him.
After a little time amongst the second-hand novels Mr. Zanti sat, his great
head buried in his hands, the tears trickling down through his fingers, and
Herr Gottfried, motionless from behind his counter watched him in silent
Peter and Stephen had gone together.
A NARROW STREET
The bomb was, that evening, the dominant note of the occasion. Through the
illuminated streets, the slowly surging crowds--inhuman in their abandon to
the monotonous ebb and flow as of a sweeping river--the cries and laughter
and shouting of songs, that note was above all. An eye-witness--a Mr. Frank
Harris, butcher of 82 Cheapside--had his veracious account journalistically
* * * * *
"I was standing quite close to the man, a foreigner of course, with a dirty
hanging black moustache--tall, big fellow, with coat up over his ears--I
must say that I wasn't looking at him. I had Mrs. Harris with me and was
trying to get her a place where she could see better, you understand. Then
suddenly--before one was expecting it--the Procession began and I forgot
the man, the foreigner, although he was quite up close against me. One
was excited of course--a most moving sight--and then suddenly, when by
the distant shouting we understood that the Queen was approaching, I saw
the man break through. I was conscious of the man's vigour as he rushed
past--he must have been immensely strong--because there he was, through the
soldiers and everybody--out in the middle of the street. It all happened so
quickly of course. I heard vaguely that some one was shouting and I think a
policeman started forward, but anyhow the man raised his arm and in an
instant there was the explosion. It went off before he was ready I suppose,
but the ground rocked under one's feet. Two soldiers fell, unhurt, I have
learnt since. There was a hideous dust, horses plunging and men shouting
and then suddenly silence. The dust cleared and there was a hole in the
ground, stones rooted up ... no sign of the man but some pieces of cloth
and men had rushed forward and covered something up--a limb I suppose.... I
was only anxious of course that my wife should see nothing ... she was
So Mr. Harris of Cheapside, with the assistance of an eager and talented
young journalist. But the fact remained in the heart of the crowd--blasted
foreigner had had a shot at the Old Lady and missed her, therefore whatever
gaiety may have been originally intended let it now be redoubled, shouted
into frenzy--and frenzy it was.
"There was no clue," an evening paper added to the criminal's identity....
The police were blamed, of course.... Such a thing must never be allowed to
occur again. It was reported that the Queen had in no way suffered from the
shock--was in capital health.
Outside the bookshop Stephen and Peter had parted.
"I'll meet you about half-past ten, Trafalgar Square by the lion that faces
Whitehall; I must go back to Brockett's, have supper and get my things, and
say good-bye. Then I'll join you ... half-past ten."
"Peter boy, we'll have to rough it--"
"Oh! at last! Life's beginning. We'll soon get work, both of us--where do
you mean to go?"
"There's a place I been before--down East End--not much of a place for your
sort, but just for a bit...."
For a moment Peter's thoughts swept back to the shop.
"Poor Zanti!" He half turned. "After so many years ... the good old chap."
Then he pulled himself up and set his shoulders. "Well, half-past ten--"
The streets were, at the instant, almost deserted. It was about five
o'clock now and at seven o'clock they would be closed to all traffic. Then
the surging crowds would come sweeping down.
Peter, furiously excited, hurried through the grimy deserts of Bloomsbury,
to Brockett's. To his singing, beating heart the thin ribbon of the grey
street with the faint dim blue of the evening sky was out of place,
ill-judged as a setting to his exultations. He had swept in the tempestuous
way that was natural to him, the shop and all that it had been to him,
behind him. Even Brockett's must go with the rest. Of course he could not
stay there now that the weekly two pounds had stopped. He quite savagely
desired to be free from all business. These seven years had been well
enough as a preparation; now at last he was to be flung, head foremost,
He could have sung, he could have shouted. He burst through the heavy doors
of Brockett's. But there, inside the quiet and solemn building, another
mood seized him. He crept quietly, on tiptoe, up to his room because he did
not want to see any of them before supper. After all, he was leaving the
best friends that he had ever had, the only home that he had ever really
known. Mrs. Brockett, Norah Monogue, Robin, the Signor.... Seven years is a
long time and one gets fond of a place. He closed his bedroom door softly
behind him. The little room had been very much to him during all these
years, and that view over the London roofs would never be forgotten by
him. But he wondered, as he looked at it, how he had ever been able to sit
there so quietly and write "Reuben Hallard." Now, between his writing and
himself, a thousand things were sweeping. Far away he saw it like the
height of some inaccessible hill--his emotions, his adventures, the
excitement of life made his thoughts, his ideas, thinner than smoke. He
even, standing there in his little room and looking over the London roofs,
despised the writer's inaction.... Often again he was to know that rivalry.
A quarter of an hour before supper he went down to say good-bye to Miss
Monogue. She was sitting quietly reading and he thought suddenly, as he
came upon her, there under the light of her candles in the grey room, that
she did not look well. He had never during their seven years' friendship,
noticed anything before, and now he could not have said what it was that he
saw except perhaps that her cheeks were flushed and that there were heavy
dark lines beneath her eyes. But she seemed to him, as he took her, thus
unprepared, with her untidy hair and her white cheap evening dress that
showed her thin fragile arms, to be something that he was leaving to face
the world alone, something very delicate that he ought not to leave.
Then she looked up and saw him and put her book down and smiled at him and
was the old cheerful Norah Monogue whom he had always known.
He stood with his legs apart facing her and told her:
"I've come to say good-bye."
"Yes--I'm going to-night. What I've been expecting for so long has happened
at last. There's been a blow up at the bookshop and I've got to go."
For an instant the colour left her face; her book fell to the ground and
she put her hand back on the arm of the chair to steady herself.
"Oh! how silly of me ... never mind picking it up.... Oh thank you, Peter.
You gave me quite a shock, telling me like that. We shall all miss you
His affection for her was strong enough to break in upon the great
overwhelming excited exultation that had held him all the evening. He was
dreadfully sorry to leave her!... dear Norah Monogue, what a pal she'd
"I shall miss you horribly," he said with that note in his voice that
showed that, above all things, he wished to avoid a scene. "We've been such
tremendous pals all this time--you've been such a brick--I don't know what
I should have done...." He pulled himself up. "But it's got to be. I've
felt it coming you know and it's time I really lashed out for myself."
"Where are you going?"
"Ah! I must keep that dark for a bit. There's been trouble at the bookshop.
It'll be all right I expect but I don't want Mother Brockett to stand any
chance of being mixed up in it. I shall just disappear for a week or two
and then I'll be back again."
She smiled at him bravely: "Well, I won't ask what's happened, if you don't
want to tell me, but of course--I shall miss you. After seven years it
seems so abrupt. And, Peter, do take care of yourself."
"Oh, I shall be all right." He was very gruff. He felt now a furious angry
reluctance at leaving her behind. He stormed at himself as a fool; one of
the things that the strong man must learn of life is to be ruthless in
these partings and breaking of relations. He stood further away from her
and spoke as though he hated being there.
She understood him with wonderful tenderness.
"Well," she said cheerfully, "I daresay it will be better for you to try
for a little and see what you can make of it all. And then if you want
anything you'll come back to us, won't you?... You promise that?"
"And then there's the book. I know that man in Heriot and Lord's that I
told you about. I'll send it to them right away, if you like."
"Aren't they rather tremendous people for me to begin with? Oughtn't I to
begin with some one smaller?"
"Oh! there's no harm in starting at the top. They can't do more than refuse
it. But I don't think they will. I believe in it. But how shall I let you
know what they say?"
"Oh, I'll come in a week or two and see what's happening--I'll be on a
paper by then probably. I say, I don't want the others to know. I'll have
supper with them as usual and just tell Mother Brockett afterwards. I don't
want to have to say good-bye lots of times. Well"--he moved off awkwardly
towards the door--"You've been most tremendously good to me."
"Rot, Peter: Don't forget me!"
"Forget you! The best pal I've ever had." They clasped hands for a moment.
There was a pause and then Peter said: "I say--there _is_ a thing you can
do if you like--"
"Well--about Miss Rossiter--you'll be seeing her I suppose?"
"Oh yes, often--"
"Well, you might just keep her in mind of me. I know it sounds silly
but--just a word or two, sometimes."
He felt that he was blushing--their hands separated. She moved back from
him and pushed at her hair in the nervous way that she had.
"Why, of course--she was awfully interested. She won't forget you. Well,
we'll meet at supper." She moved back with a last little nod at him and he
went awkwardly out of the room with a curious little sense of sudden
dismissal. Would she rather he didn't know Miss Rossiter, he vaguely
wondered. Women were such queer creatures.
As he went downstairs he wondered with a sudden almost shameful confusion
whether he was responsible in some way for the awkwardness that the scene
had had. He had noticed lately that she had not been quite herself when he
had been with her--that she would stop in the middle of a sentence, that
she would be, for instance, vexed at something he said, that she would look
at him sometimes as though ...
He pulled himself up. He was angry with himself for imagining such a
thing--as though ... Well, women _were_ strange creatures....
And then supper was more difficult than he had expected. They would show
him, the silly things, that they were fond of him just when he would much
rather have persuaded himself that they hated him. It was almost, as he
told himself furiously, as though they knew that he was going; Norah
Monogue was the only person who chattered and laughed in a natural way; he
was rather relieved that after all she seemed to care so little.
He found that he couldn't eat. There was a silly lump in his throat and he
looked at the marble pillars and the heavy curtains through a kind of
mist.... Especially was there Robin....
Mrs. Tressiter told him that Robin had something very important to say to
him and that he was going to stay awake until he, Peter, came up to him.
"I told him," she said, "that he must lie down and go to sleep like a good
boy and that his father would punish him if he didn't. But there! What's
the use of it? He isn't afraid of his father the slightest. He would go
on--something about a lion...."
At any rate this gave Peter an excuse to escape from the table and it was,
indeed, time, for they had all settled, like a clatter of hens, on to the
subject of the bomb, and they all had a great deal to say about it and a
great many questions to ask Peter.
"It's these Foreigners... of course our Police are entirely inadequate."
"Yes--that's what I say--the Police are really absurdly inadequate--"
"If they will allow these foreigners--"
"Yes, what can you expect--and the Police really can't--"
Peter escaped to Robin. He glowered down at the child who was sitting up in
his cot counting the flowers on the old wall-paper to keep himself awake.
"I always am so muddled after fourteen," he said. "Never mind, I'm _not_
Peter frowned at him. "You ought to have been asleep long ago," he said. He
wished the boy hadn't got his hair tousled in that absurdly fascinating way
and that his cheeks weren't flushed so beautiful a red--also his nightgown
had lost a button at the top and showed a very white little neck. Peter
blinked his eyes--"Look here, kid, you must go to sleep right away at once.
What do you want?"
"It's that lion--the one the lady had--I want it."
"You can't have it--the lady's got it."
"Well--take me to see them--the real ones--there are lots somewhere Mother
says." Robin inserted his very small hand into Peter's large one.
"All right, one day--we'll go to the 'Zoo."
Robin sighed with satisfaction--he lay down and murmured sleepily to
himself, "I love Mister Peter and lions and Mother and God," and was
Peter bent down over the cot and kissed him. He felt miserably wretched.
He had known nothing like it since that day when he had said good-bye to
his mother. He wondered that he could ever have felt any exultation; he
wondered that writing and glory and ambition could ever have seemed worth
anything to him at all. Could he have had his prayer granted he would have
prayed that he might always stay in Brockett's, always have these same
friends, watch over Robin as he grew up, talk to Norah Monogue--and then
all the others ... and Mr. Zanti. He felt fourteen years old ... more
miserable than he had ever been.
He kissed Robin again--then he went down to find Mrs. Brockett. Here, too,
he was faced with an unexpected difficulty. The good lady, listening to him
sternly in her grim little sitting-room, refused to hear of his departure.
She sat upright in her stiff chair, her thin black dress in folds about
her, the gas-light shining on her neatly parted hair.
"You see, Mrs. Brockett," he explained to her, "I'm no longer in the same
position. I can't be sure of my two pounds a week any more and so it
wouldn't be right for me to live in a place like this."
"If it's expense that you're thinking about," she answered him grimly,
"you're perfectly welcome to stay on here and pay me when you can. I'm sure
that one day with so clever a young man--"
"That's awfully good of you, Mrs. Brockett, but of course I couldn't hear
of anything like that." For the third time that evening he had to fight
against a disposition to blow his nose and be absurd. They were, both of
them, increasingly grim with every word that they spoke and any outside
observer would have supposed that they were the deadliest of enemies.
"Of course," she began again, "there's a room that I could let you have at
the back of the house that's only four shillings a week and really you'd be
doing me a kindness in taking it off my hands. I'm sure--"
"No, there's more in it than that," he answered. "I've got to go
away--right away. It's time I had a change of scene. It's good for me to
get along a bit by myself. You've all been too kind to me, spoilt me--"
She stood up and faced him sternly. "In all my years," she said, "I've
never spoilt anybody yet and I'm not likely to be going to begin now.
Spoilt you! Bah!" She almost snorted at him--but there were tears in her
"I'm not a philanthropist," she went on more dryly than ever, "but I like
to have you about the house--you keep the lodgers contented and the babies
quiet. I'm sure," and the little break in her voice was the first sign of
submission, "that we've been very good friends these seven years and it
isn't everywhere that one can pick up friends for the asking--"
"You've been splendid to me," he answered. "But it isn't as though I were
going away altogether--you'll see me back in a week or two. And--and--I say
I shall make a fool of myself if I go on talking like this--"
He suddenly gripped her hand and wrung it again and again--then he burst
away from her, leaving her standing there in the middle of the room.
The old black bag was very soon packed, his possessions had not greatly
increased during these seven years, and soon he was creeping down the
stairs softly so that no one should hear.
The hall was empty. He gave it one last friendly look, the door had closed
behind him and he was in the street.
In its exuberance and high spirits and general lack of self-control London
was similar to a small child taken to the Drury Lane Pantomime for the
first time. Of the numbers of young men who, with hats on the back of their
heads, passed arm-in-arm down the main thoroughfares announcing it as their
definite opinion that "Britons never shall be slaves," of the numbers of
young women who, armed with feathers and the sharpest of tongues, showed
conclusively the superiority of their sex and personal attractions, of the
numbers of old men and old women who had no right whatever to be out on
a night like this but couldn't help themselves, and enjoyed it just as
much as their sons and daughters did, there is here no room to tell. The
houses were ablaze with light, the very lamp-posts seemed to rock up and
down with delight at the spirit of the whole affair and the Feast of the
Glorification of the Bomb that Didn't Come Off was being celebrated with
all the honours.
Peter was very soon in the thick of it. The grey silences of Bennett Square
and Bloomsbury were left behind and with them the emotions of those tender
partings. After all, it would only be a very few weeks before he would be
back again among them all, telling them of his success on some paper and
going back perhaps to live with them all when his income was assured.
And, anyhow, here he was, out to seek his fortune and with Stephen to help
him! He battled with the crowd dragging the black bag with him and shouting
sometimes in sheer excitement and good spirits. Young women tickled him
with feathers, once some one linked arms with him and dragged him along,
always he was surrounded with this sea of shouting, exultant humanity--this
By the lion Stephen was waiting for him, standing huge and solemn as the
crowd surged past. He pressed Peter's arm to show that he was pleased to
see him and then, without speaking, they pushed through, past Charing Cross
station, and down the hill to the Underground.
Here, once again, there was startling silence. No one seemed to be using
the trains at all.
"I'm afraid it ain't much of a place that I'm taking yer to," Stephen said.
"We can't pick and choose yer know and I was there before and she's a good
A chill seemed to come with them into the carriage. Suddenly to Peter the
comforts of Brockett's stretched out alluring arms, then he pulled himself
"I'm sure it will be splendid," he said, "and it will be just lovely being
with you after all this time."
They got out and plunged into a city of black night. Around them, on every
side there was silence--even the broad central thoroughfare seemed to be
deserted and on either side of it, to right and left, black grim roads like
open mouths, lay waiting for the unwary traveller.
Down one of these they plunged; Peter was conscious of faces watching them.
"Bucket Lane" was the street's title to fame. Windows showed dim candles,
in the distance a sharp cry broke the silence and then fell away again. The
street was very narrow and from the running gutters there stole into the
air the odour of stale cabbage.
"This is the 'ouse." Stephen stopped. Somewhere, above their heads, a child
THE WORLD AND BUCKET LANE
A light flashed in the upper windows, stayed for a moment, and disappeared.
There was a pause and then the door slowly opened and a woman's head
She stared at them without speaking.
"Mr. Brant," Stephen said. "I'm come back, Mrs. Williams 'oping you might
'ave that same room me and my friend might use if it's agreeable."
She stepped forward then and looked at them more carefully. She was a stout
red-faced woman, her hair hanging about her face, her dirty bodice drawn
tightly over her enormous bosom and her skirt pulled up in front and
hanging, draggled behind her. Her long, dirty fingers went up to her face
continually; she had a way of pushing at her teeth with them.
She seemed, however, pleased to see Stephen.
"Well, Mr. Brant," she said, "come in. It's a surprise I must say but Lord!
as I'm always telling Mrs. Griggs oo's on the bottom floor when she can
afford 'er rent which 'asn't been often lately, poor thing, owing to 'aving
'er tenth only three weeks back, quite unexpected, and 'er man being turned
off 'is 'ouse-painting business what 'e's been at this ten year and
more--well come along in, I'm sure--"
They _were_ in by this time having been urged by their hostess into
the very narrowest, darkest and smelliest passage that Peter had ever
encountered. Somewhere behind the walls, the world was moving. On every
side of him above and below, children were crying, voices swearing,
murmuring, complaining, arguing; Peter could feel Mrs. Williams' breath hot
against his cheek. Up the wheezy stairs she panted, they following her.
Peter had never heard such loquacity. It poured from her as though she
meant nothing whatever by it and was scarcely aware indeed of the things
that she was saying. "And it's a long time, Mr. Brant, since we 'ad
the pleasure of seeing you. My last 'usband's left me since yer was
'ere--indeed 'e 'av--all along of a fight 'e 'ad with old Colly Moles
down Three Barrer walk--penal servitude, poor feller and all along of 'is
nasty temper as I was always tellin' 'im. Why the very morning before it
'appened I remember sayin' to 'im when 'e up and threw a knife at me for
contradictin' 'is words I remember sayin' to 'im that 'is temper would be
the settlin' of me but 'e wouldn't listen, not 'e. Obstinate! Lord! that
simply isn't the word for it ... but 'ere's the room and nobody been in it
since Sairy Grace and she was always bringin' men along with 'er, dirty
slut and that's a month since she's been and gone and I always like 'aving
yer, Mr. Brant, for you're quiet enough and no trouble at all--and your
friend looks pleasant I must say."
The room was, indeed, remarkably respectable--not blessed with much
furniture in addition to two beds and two chairs but roomy and with a large
and moderately clean window.
"Now what about terms for me and my friend?" said Stephen.
Now followed friendly argument in which the lady and Stephen seemed
perfectly to understand one another. After asserting that under no
circumstances whatever could she possibly take less than at least double
the price that Stephen offered her she suddenly, at the sound of a child's
shrill crying from below, shrugged her shoulders with: "There's young
'Lisbeth Anne again ... well, Mr. Brant, 'ave it your own way--I'm
contented enough I'm sure," and vanished.
But the little discussion had brought Peter to a sharp realisation of the
immediate business of ways and means. Sitting on one of the beds afterwards
with Stephen beside him he inquired--
"How much have we got, Stephen? I've got thirty bob."
"Never you mind, Peter. We'll soon be gettin' work."
"Why, of course. I'll force 'em to take me. That's all you want in
these things--to look fierce and say you won't go until they give you
something--a trial anyhow."
And sitting there on the bed with Stephen beside him he felt immensely
confident. There was nothing that he could not do. With one swift movement
he seemed to have flung from him all the things that were beginning to
crowd in between him and his work. He must never, never allow that to
happen again--how could one ever be expected to work if one were always
thinking of other people, interested in them and their doings, involved
with anarchists and bombs and romantic adventures. Why here he was with
nothing in the world to hold him or to interfere and no one except dear
old Stephen with whom he must talk. Ambition crept very close to him
that night--ambition with its glittering, shining rewards, its music and
colours--close to him as he sat in that bare, naked room.
"I'd rather be with you than any one in the world--we'll have such times,
you and I."
Perhaps Stephen knew more about the world; perhaps during the years that he
had been tumbled and knocked about he had realised that the world was no
easy nut to crack and that loaves and fishes don't come to the hungry for
the asking. But Peter that night was to be appalled by nothing.
They sat up into the early morning, talking. The noises in the house and in
the streets about them rose and fell. Some distant cry would climb into the
silence and draw from it other cries set like notes of music to tumble back
into a common scheme together.
"Steve, tell me about Zanti. Is he really a scoundrel?"
"A scoundrel? No, poor feller. Why, Mr. Peter, you ought to know better
than that. 'E ain't got a spark of malice in him but 'e's always after
adventure. 'E knows all the queer people in Europe--and more'n Europe
too. There's nothin' 'e don't put 'is nose into in a clumsy, childish way
but always, you understand, Mr. Peter, because 'e's after 'is romantic
fancies. It was when 'e was after gold down in Cornwall--some old
treasure story--that I came across 'im and 'e was kind to me.... 'E was a
kind-'earted man, Mr. Zanti, and never meant 'arm to a soul. And 'e's very
fond of you, Mr. Peter."
"Yes, I know." Peter was vaguely troubled. "I hope I haven't been unkind
about him. I suppose it was the shock of the whole thing. But it was time I
went anyway. But tell me, Stephen, what you've been doing all these years.
And why you let me be all that time without seeing you--"
"Well, Mr. Peter, I didn't think it would be good for you--I was knowing
lots o' strange people time and again and then you might have been mixed up
with me. I'm safe enough now, I'm thinking, and I'd have been safe enough
all the time the way Cornwall was then and every one sympathising with
"But what have you been doing all the time?"
"I was in America a bit and there are few things I haven't worked at in my
time--always waiting for 'er to come--and she will come some time--it's
only patience that's wanted."
"Have you ever heard from her?"
"There was a line once--just a line--_she's_ all right." His great body
seemed to glow with confidence.
Peter would like then to have spoken about Clare Rossiter. But no--some
shyness held him--one day he would tell Stephen.
He unpacked his few possessions carefully and then, on a very hard bed,
dreaming of bombs, of Mrs. Brockett dressed as a ballet dancer, of Mr.
Zanti digging for treasure beneath the grey flags of Bennett Square, of
Clare Elizabeth Rossiter riding down Oxford Street amidst the shouts of the
populace, of the world as a coloured globe on which he, Peter Westcott,
the author of that masterpiece, "Reuben Hallard," had set his foot ... so,
triumphant, he slept.
On the next morning the Attack on London began. The house in Bucket Lane
was dark and grim when he left it--the street was hidden from the light
and hung like a strip of black ribbon between the sunshine of the broader
highways that lay at each end of it. It was a Jewish quarter-notices in
Yiddish were in all the little grimy shop windows, in the bakers and the
sweetshops and the laundries. But it was not, this Bucket Lane, a street
without its dignity and its own personal little cleanliness. It had its
attempts at such things. His own room and Mrs. Williams' tea and bread and
butter had been clean.
But as he came down out of these strange murmuring places with their sense
of hiding from the world at large the things that they were occupied in
doing, Bucket Lane stuck in his head as a dark little quarry into which
he must at the day's end, whatever gorgeous places he had meanwhile
encountered, creep. "Creeping" was the only way to get into such a place.
Meanwhile he had put on his best, had blackened his shoes until they shone
like little mirrors, had brushed his bowler hat again and again and looked
finally like a sailor on shore for a holiday. Seven years in Charing Cross
Road had not taken the brown from his cheeks, nor bent his broad shoulders.
At the Mansion House he climbed on to the top of a lumbering omnibus and
sailed down through the City. It was now that he discovered how seldom
during his seven years he had ventured beyond his little square of country.
Below him, on either side of him, black swarms stirred and moved, now
forming ahead of him patterns, squares, circles, then suddenly rising
it appeared like insects and in a cloud surging against the high stone
buildings. All men--men moving with eyes straight ahead of them, bent
furiously upon some business, but assembling, retreating, advancing, it
seemed, by the order of some giant hand that in the air above them played a
game. Imagine that, in some moment of boredom, the Hand were to brush the
little pieces aside, were to close the board and put it away, then, with
what ignominy and feeble helplessness would these little black figures
topple clumsily into heaps.
Down through the midst of them the omnibus, like a man with an impediment
in his speech, surrounded by the chatter of cabs and carts and bicycles,
stammered its way. The streets opened and shut, shouts came up to them and
fell away. Peter's heart danced--London was here at last and the silence of
Bennett Square, the dark omens of Bucket Lane and the clamour of the city
had together been the key for the unlocking of its gates.
Ludgate Hill caught them into its heart, held them for an instant, and then
flung them down in the confusion of Fleet Street.
Here it was at last then with its typewriters and its telephones and its
printing machines hurling with a whir and clatter the news of the world
into the air, and above it brooding, like an immense brain--the God of its
restless activity--the Dome of St. Paul's.
Peter climbed down from his omnibus because he saw on his right a Public
Reading Room. Here in tattered and anxious company, he studied the papers
and took down addresses in a note book. He was frightened for an instant by
the feet that shuffled up and down the floor from paper to paper. There was
something most hopeless in the sound of that shuffle.
"'Ave yer a cigarette on yer, Mister, that yer wouldn't mind--"
He turned round and at once, like blows, two fierce gaunt eyes struck him
in the face. Two eyes staring from some dirty brown pieces of cloth on end,
it seemed, by reason of their own pathetic striving for notice, rather than
because of any life inside them.
Peter murmured something and hurried away. Supposing that editors ... but
no, this was not the proper beginning of a successful day. But the place,
down steps under the earth, with its miserable shadows was not pleasant to
His first visit was to the office of _The Morning World_. He remembered his
remark to Stephen about self-assertion, but his heart sank as he entered
the large high room with its railed counter running round the centre of
it--a barrier cold, impassable. Already several people were sitting on
chairs that were ranged along the wall.
Peter went up boldly to the counter and a very thin young man with a stone
hatchet instead of a face and his hair very wonderfully parted in the
middle--so accurately parted that Peter could think of nothing
else--watched him coldly over the barrier.
"What can I do for you?" he said.
"I want to see the Editor."
"Have you an appointment?"
"Oh, I'm afraid that it would be impossible without an appointment."
"Is there any one whom I could see?"
"If you could tell me your business, perhaps--"
Peter began to be infuriated with this young man with the hatchet face.
"I want to know if there's any place for me on this paper. If I can--"
"Oh!" The voice was very cold indeed and the iron barrier seemed to
multiply itself over and over again all round the room.
"I'm afraid in that case you had better write to the Editor and make an
appointment. No, I'm afraid there is no one..."
Peter melted away. The faces on the chairs were all very glad. The stone
building echoed with some voice that called some one a long way away. Peter
was in the street. He stood outside the great offices of _The Morning
World_ and looked across the valley at the great dome that squatted above
the moving threads of living figures. He was absurdly upset by this
unfortunate interview. What could he have expected? Of what use was it that
he should fling his insignificance against that kind of wall? Moreover he
must try many times before his chance would be given him. It was absurd
that he should mind that rebuff. But the hatchet-faced young man pursued
him. He seemed to see now as he looked up and down the street, a hostility
in the faces of those that passed him. Moreover he saw, here and there
figures, wretched figures, moving in and out of the crowd, bending into the
gutter for something that had been dropped--lean, haggard faces, burning
eyes ... he began to see them as a chain that wound, up and down, amongst
the people and the carriages along the street.
He pulled himself together--If he was feeling these things at the very
beginning of his battle why then defeat was certain. He was ashamed and,
looking at his paper, chose the offices of _The Mascot_, a very popular
society journal that brightened the world with its cheerful good-tempered
smile, every Friday morning. Here the room in which he found himself was
small and cosy, it had a bright pink wall-paper, and behind a little
shining table a shining young woman beamed upon him. The shining young
woman was, however, very busy at her typewriter and Peter was examined by a
tiny office boy who seemed to be made entirely of shining brass buttons and
shining little boots and shining hair.
"And what can I do for you, sir?" he said.
"I should like to see the Editor," Peter explained.
"Your name?" said the Shining One.
Peter had no cards. He blamed himself for the omission and stammered in his
The Boy gave the lady at the typewriter a very knowing look and
disappeared. He swiftly returned and said that Mr. Boset could see Mr.
Westcott for a few minutes, but for a few minutes only.
Mr. Boset sat resplendent in a room that was coloured a bright green. He
was himself stout and red-faced and of a surpassing smartness, his light
blue suit was very tight at the waist and very broad over the hips, his
white spats gleamed, his pearl pin stared like an eye across the room, his
neck bulged in red folds over his collar. Mr. Boset was eating chocolates
out of a little cardboard box and his attention was continually held by the
telephone that summoned him to its side at frequent intervals. He was
however exceedingly pleasant. He begged Peter to take a chair.
"Just a minute, Mr. Westcott, will you? Yes--hullo--yes--This is 6140
Strand. Hullo! Hullo! Oh--is that you, Mrs. Wyman? Good morning--yes,
splendid, thank you--never fitter--Very busy yes, of course--what--Lunch
Thursday?... Oh, but delighted. Just let me look at my book a moment?
Yes--quite free--Who? The Frasers and Pigots? Oh! delightful! 1.30,
Mr. Boset, settled once more in his chair, was as charming as possible. You
would suppose that the whole day was at Peter's service. He wanted to know
a great many things. Peter's hopes ran high.
"Well--what have you got to show? What have you written?"
Peter had written a novel.
"Well ... got anything else?"
"No--not just at present."
"Oh well--must have something to show you know--"
"Yes." Peter's hopes were in his boots.
"Yes--must have something to show--" Mr. Boset's eyes were peering into the
cardboard box on a voyage of selection.
"Yes--well--when you've written something send it along--"
"I suppose there isn't anything I can do--"
"Well, our staff, you know, is filled up to the eyes as it is--fellows
waiting--lots of 'em--yes, you show us what you can do. Write an article or
two. Buy _The Mascot_ and see the kind of thing we like. Yes--Excuse me,
the telephone--Yes--Yes 6140 Strand...."
Peter found himself once more in the outer room and then ushered forth by
the Shining Boy he was in the street.
He was hungry now and sought an A.B.C. shop and there over the cold
marble-topped tables consulted his list. The next attempt should be _The
Saturday Illustrated_, one of the leading illustrated weeklies, and perhaps
there he would be more successful. As he sat in the A.B.C. shop and watched
the squares of street opposite the window he felt suddenly that no effort
of his would enable him to struggle successfully against those indifferent
Above the houses in the patch of blue sky that filled the window-pane soft
bundles of cloud streamed like flags before the wind. Into these soft grey
meshes the sun was swept and with a cold shudder Fleet Street fell into
shadow; beyond it and above it the great dome burned; a company of sandwich
men, advertising on their stooping bodies the latest musical comedy, crept
along the gutter.
At the offices of _The Saturday Illustrated_ they told him that if he
returned at four o'clock he would be able to see the Editor. He walked
about and at last sat down on the Embankment and watched the barges slide
down the river. The water was feathery and sometimes streamed into lines
like spun silk reflecting many colours, and above the water the clouds
turned and wheeled and changed against the limpid blue. The little slap
that the motion of the river gave to the stone embankment reminded him of
the wooden jetty at Treliss--the place was strangely sweet--the roar of the
Strand was far away and muffled.
As he sat there listening there seemed to come up to him, straight out of
the river, strange impersonal noises that had to do with no definite
sounds. He was reminded of a story that he had once read, a story
concerning a nice young man who caught the disease known as the Horror of
London. Peter thought that in the air, coming from nowhere, intangible,
floating between the river and the sky something stirred....
Big Ben struck quarter to four and he turned once more into the Strand.
The editor of _The Saturday Illustrated_ was a very different person from
Mr. Boset. At a desk piled with papers, stern, gaunt and sharp-chinned, his
words rattled out of his mouth like peas onto a plate. But Peter saw that
he had humorous twinkling eyes.
"Well, what can you do?"
"I've never tried anything--but I feel that I should learn--"
"Learn! Do you suppose this office is a nursery shop for teaching sucklings
how to draw their milk? Are you ready for anything?"
"Yes--they all say that. Journalism isn't any fun, you know."
"I'm not looking for fun."
"Well, it's the damnedest trade out. Anything's better. But you want to
"Yes--exactly. Well, I like the look of you. More blood and bones than most
of the rotten puppies that come into this office. I've no job for you at
the moment though. Go back to your digs and write something--anything you
like--and send it along--leave me your address. Oh, ho! Bucket Lane--hard
"I'm all right, thank you."
"All right, I wasn't offering you charity--no need to put your pride up. I
shan't forget you ... but send me something."
The clouds had now enveloped the sun. As Peter, a little encouraged by this
last experience but tired with a dull, listless fatigue, crept into the
dark channels of Bucket Lane, the rain began to fall with heavy solemn
There could be nothing odder than the picture that Brockett's and Bennett
Square presented from the vantage ground of Bucket Lane. How peaceful and
happy those evenings (once considered a little dreary perhaps and
monotonous) now seemed! Those mornings in the dusty bookshop, Mr. Zanti,
Herr Gottfried, Mrs. Brockett, then Brockett's with its strange
kind-hearted company--the dining-room, the marble pillars, the green
Not only did it seem another lifetime when he had been there but also
inevitably, one was threatened with never getting back. Bucket Lane was
another world--from its grimy windows one looked upon every tragedy that
life had to offer. Into its back courts were born muddled indecent little
lives, there blindly to wallow until the earth called them back to itself
But it was in the attitude of Bucket Lane to the Great Inevitable that the
essential difference was to be observed. In Bennett Square things had been
expected and, for the most part, obtained. Catastrophes came lumbering into
their midst at times but rising in the morning one might decently expect to
go to rest at night in safety. In Bucket Lane there was no safety but
defiance--fierce, bitterly humorous, truculent defiance. Bucket Lane was a
beleaguered army that stood behind the grime and dirty walls on guard. From
the earliest moment there the faces of all the babies born into Bucket Lane
caught the strain of cautious resistance that was always to remain with
them. Life in Bucket Lane, for every one from the youngest infant to the
oldest idiot, was War. War against Order and Civilised Force. War also
against that great unseen Hand that might at any moment swoop down upon any
one of them and bestow fire, death and imprisonment upon its victims. To
the ladies and gentlemen from the Mission the citizens of Bucket Lane
presented an amused and cynical tolerance. If those poor, meek, frightened
creatures chose some faint-hearted attempts at flattery and submission
before this abominable Deity--well, they did no harm.
Mrs. Williams said to Miss Connacher, a bright-faced young woman from St.
Matthew's Mission--"And I'm sure we're always delighted to see you, Miss.
But you can't 'ave us goin' and being grateful on our bended knees to the
sort of person as according to your account of it gave me my first 'usband
'oo was a blackguard if ever there was one, and my last child wot 'ad
rickets and so 'andsomely arranged me to go breakin' my leg one night
coming back from a party and sliding on the stairs, and in losin' my little
bit o' charin' and as near the workus as ever yer see--no--it ain't common
To which Miss Connacher vaguely looking around for a list of Mrs. Williams'
blessings and finding none to speak of, had no reply.
But the astonishing thing was that Peter seemed at once to be seized with
the Bucket Lane position. He was now, he understood, in a world of
earthquake--wise citizens lived from minute to minute and counted on no
longer safety. He began also to eliminate everything that was not
absolutely essential. At Brockett's he had never consciously done without
anything that he wanted--in Bucket Lane he discarded to the last possible
shred of possession.
He had returned from his first day's hunting with the resolve that before
he ventured out again he would have something to show. With a precious
sixpence he bought a copy of _The Mascot_ and studied it--there was a short
story entitled "Mrs. Adair's Co."--and an article on "What Society
Drinks"--the remaining pages of the number were filled with pictures and
"Chatter from Day to Day." This gaily-coloured production lying on one of
the beds in the dark room in Bucket Lane seemed singularly out of place.
Its pages fluttered in the breeze that came through the window
cracks--"Maison Tep" it cried feebly to the screaming children in the court
below, "is a very favourite place for supper just now, with Maitre Savori
as its popular chef and its admirably stocked cellars...."
Peter gave himself a fortnight in which to produce something that he could
"show." Stephen meanwhile had found work as a waiter in one of the small
Soho restaurants; it was only a temporary engagement but he hoped to get
something better within a week or two.
For the moment all was well. At the end of his fortnight, with four things
written Peter meant to advance once more to the attack. Meanwhile he sat
with a pen, a penny bottle of ink and an exercise book and did what he
could. At the end of the fortnight he had written "The Sea Road," an essay
for which Robert Louis Stevenson was largely responsible, "The Redgate
Mill," a story of the fantastic, terrible kind, "Stones for Bread,"
moralising on Bucket Lane, and the "Red-Haired Boy," a somewhat bitter
reminiscence of Dawson's. Of this the best was undoubtedly "The Sea Road,"
but in his heart of hearts Peter knew that there was something the matter
with all of them. "Reuben Hallard" he had written because he had to write
it, these four things he had written because he ought to write them ...
difference sufficient. Nevertheless, he put them into halfpenny wrappes and
sent them away.
In the struggle to produce these things he had not found that fortnight
wearisome. Before him, every day, there was the evening when Stephen would
return, to which he might look forward. Stephen was always very late--often
it was two o'clock before he came in, but they had a talk before going to
sleep. And here in these evenings Stephen developed in the most wonderful
way, developed because Peter had really never known him before.
Stephen had never appeared to Peter as a character at all. In the early
days Peter had been too young. Stephen had, at that time, been simply
something to be worshipped, without any question or statement. Now that
worshipping had gone and the space that it left had to be filled by some
new relationship, something that could only come slowly, out of the close
juxtaposition that living together in Bucket Lane had provided.
And it was Stephen who found, unconsciously and quite simply, the shape and
colour of Peter's idea of him. Peter had in reality, nothing at all to do
with it, and had Stephen been a whit more self-conscious the effect would
have been spoiled.
In the first place Peter came quite freshly to the way that Stephen looked.
Stephen expressed nothing, consciously, with his body; it was wonderful
indeed considering its size and strength, the little that he managed to do
with it. His eyes were mild and amiable, his face largely covered with a
deep brown beard, once wildly flowing, now sharply pointed. He was at least
six foot four in height, the breadth of shoulder was tremendous, but
although he knew admirably what to do with it as a means of conveyance, of
sheer physical habit, he had no conception of the possibilities that it
held as the expression of his soul. That soul was to be found, by those who
cared to look for it, glancing from his eyes, struggling sometimes through
the swift friendliness of his smile--but he gave it no invitation. It all
came, perhaps, from the fact that he treated himself--if anything so
unconscious may be called treatment--as the very simplest creature alive.
The word introspection meant nothing to him whatever, there were in life
certain direct sharp motives and on these he acted. He never thought of
himself or of any one else in terms of complexity; the body acted simply
through certain clear and direct physical laws ... so the spirit. He loved
the woman who had dominated his whole life and one day he would find her
and marry her. He loved Peter as he would love a son of his own if he
possessed one, and he would be at Peter's side so long as Peter needed him,
and would rather be there than anywhere else. For the rest life was a
matter of birth and death, of loving one man and hating another, of food
and drink, and--but this last uncertainly--of some strange thrill that was
stirred in him, at times, by certain sights and sounds.
He was glad to have been born ... he would be quite ready to die. He did
not question the reason of the one state or the other. For the very fact
that life was so simple and unentangled he clung, with the tenacity and
dumb force of an animal to the things that he had. Peter felt, vaguely,
from time to time, the strength with which Stephen held to him. It was
never expressed in word nor in action but it came leaping sometimes, like
fire, into the midst of their conversation--it was never tangible--always
To Peter's progress this simplicity of Stephen was of vast importance. The
boy had now reached an age and a period where emotions, judgments,
partialities, conclusions and surmises were fighting furiously for
dominion. His seven years at Brockett's had been, introspectively, of
little moment. He had been too busy discovering the things that other
people had discovered and written down to think very much about himself.
Now released from the domination of books, he plunged into a whirlpool of
surmise about himself. During the fortnight that he sat writing his
articles in Bucket Lane he flew, he sank, according to his moods. It seemed
to him that as soon as he had decided on one path and set out eagerly to
follow it others crossed it and bewildered him.
He was now on that unwholesome, absorbing, thrilling, dangerous path of
self-discovery. Opposed to this was the inarticulate, friendly soul of
Stephen. Stephen understood nothing and at the same time understood
everything. Against the testing of his few simple laws Peter's complexities
often vanished ... but vanished only to recur again, unsatisfied, demanding
a subtler answer. It was during those days, through all the trouble and
even horror that so shortly came upon them both, that Stephen realised with
a dull, unreasoned pain, like lead at the heart, that Peter was passing
inevitably from him into a country whither Stephen could not follow--to
deal with issues that Stephen could not, in any kind of way, understand.
Stephen realised this many days before Peter even dimly perceived it, and
the older man by the love that he had for the boy whom he had known from
the very first period of his growth was enabled, although dimly, to see
beyond, above all these complexities, to a day when Peter would once more,
having learnt and suffered much in the meanwhile, come back to that first
But that day was far distant.
On the evening of the day on which Peter finished the last of his five
attempts to take the London journals by storm Stephen returned from his
restaurant earlier than usual--so early indeed, that Peter, had he not been
so bent on his own immediate affairs, must have noticed and questioned it.
He might, too, have observed that Stephen, now and again, shot an anxious,
troubled glance at him as though he were uneasy about something.
But Peter, since six o'clock that evening, at which moment he had written
the concluding sentence of "The Sea Road," had been in deep and troubled
thought concerning himself, and broke from that introspection, on Stephen's
arrival, in a state of unhappy morbidity and entire self-absorption.
Their supper was beer, sardines and cheese.
"It's been pretty awful here this evening," Peter said. "Old Trubbit on the
floor below's been beating his wife and she's been screaming like anything.
I couldn't stand it, after a bit, and went down to see what I could do. The
family was mopping her head with water and he was sitting on a chair,
crying. Drunk again, of course, but he was turned off his job apparently
this afternoon. They're closing down."
"'Ard luck," said Stephen, looking at the floor.
"Yes--it hasn't been altogether cheerful--and his getting the chuck like
that set me thinking. It's awfully lucky you've got your job all right and
of course now I've written these things and have got 'something to show,'
I'll be all right." Peter paused for a moment a little uncertainly. "But it
does, you know, make one a bit frightened, this place, seeing the way
people get suddenly bowled over. There were the Gambits--a fortnight ago he
was in work and they were as fit as anything ... they haven't had any food
now for three days."
"There ain't anything to be frightened about," Stephen said slowly.
"No, I know. But Stephen, suppose I _don't_ get work, after all. I've been
so confident all this time, but I mightn't be able to do the job a bit....
I suppose this place is getting on my nerves but--I could get awfully
frightened if I let myself."
"Oh, you'll be all right. Of course you'll be getting something--"
"Yes, but I hate spending your money like this. Do you know, Stephen, I'd
almost rather you were out of work too. That sounds a rotten thing to say
but I hate being given it all like this, especially when you haven't got
much of your own either--"
"Between friends," said Stephen slowly, swinging his leg backwards and
forwards and making the bed creak under his weight, "there aren't any
giving or taking--it's just common."
"Oh, yes, I know," said Peter hurriedly, frightened lest he should have
hurt his feelings, "of course it's all right between you and me. But all
the same I'm rather eager to be earning part of it."
They were silent for a time. Bucket Lane too seemed silent and through
their little window, between the black roofs and chimneys, a cluster of
stars twinkled as though they had found their way, by accident, into a very
dirty neighbourhood and were trying to get out of it again.
Peter was busy fishing for his thoughts; at last he caught one and held it
out to Stephen's innocent gaze.
"It isn't," he said, "like anything so much as catching a disease from an
infectious neighbourhood. I think if I lived here with five thousand a year
I should still be frightened. It's in the air."
"Being frightened," said Stephen rather hurriedly and speaking with a kind
of shame, as though he had done something to which he would rather not own
up, "is a kind of 'abit. Very soon, Peter, you'll know what it's like and
take it as it comes."
"Oh," said Peter, "if it's that kind of being frightened--seeing I mean
quite clearly the things you're frightened of--why, that's pretty easy. One
of the first books I ever read--'Henry Lessingham,' by Galleon, you know,
I've talked about him to you--had a long bit about it--courage I mean. He
made it a kind of parable, countries you'd got to go through before you'd
learnt to be really brave; and the first, and by far the easiest courage is
the sort that you want when you haven't got things--the sort the Gambits
want--when you're starving or out of a job. Well, that's I suppose the
easiest kind and yet I'm funking it. So what on earth am I going to do when
the harder business comes along? ... Stephen, I'm beginning to have a
secret and uncomfortable suspicion that your friend, Peter Westcott, is a
"Thank the Lord," said Stephen furiously and kicking out with his leg as
though he had got some especial enemy's back directly in front of him,
"that you've finished them damned articles. You've been sittin' here
thinkin' and writin' till you've given yerself blue devils--down-along,
too, with all them poor creatures hittin' each other and drinkin'--I
oughtn't to have left yer up here so much alone--"
"No--you couldn't help it, Stephen--it's nothing to do with you. It's all
more than you can manage and nobody in the world can help me. It's seven
years and a bit now since I left Cornwall, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Stephen, looking across at him.
"All that time I've never had a word nor a sign from any one there. Well,
you might have thought that that would be long enough to break right away
from it.... Well, it isn't--"
"Don't you go thinking about all that time. You've cleared it right away--"
"No, I haven't cleared it--that's just the point. I don't suppose one ever
clears anything. All the time I was with Zanti I was reading so hard and
living so safely that it was only at moments, when I was alone, that I
thought about Treliss at all. But these last weeks it's been coming on me
"What's been coming on you?"
"Well, Scaw House, I suppose ... and my father and grandfather. My
grandfather told me once that I couldn't escape from the family and I
can't--it's the most extraordinary thing--"
Stephen saw that Peter was growing agitated; his hands were clenched and
his face was white.
"Mind you, I've seen my grandfather and father both go under it. My father
went down all in a moment. It isn't any one thing--you can call it drink if
you like--but it's simply three parts of us aching to go to the bad ...
aching, that's the word. Anything rotten--women or drink or anything you
like--as long as we lose control and let the devil get the upper hand. Let
him get it once--_really_ get it--and we're really done--"
Peter paused for a moment and then went on hurriedly as though he were
telling a story and had only a little time in which to tell it.
"But that isn't all--it's worse than that. I've been feeling these last
weeks as though my father were sitting there in that beastly house with
that filthy woman--and willing me--absolutely with all his might--to go
"But what is it," said Stephen, going, as always, to the simplest aspect of
the case, "that you exactly want to do?"
"Oh, I don't know ... just to let loose the whole thing--I did break out
once at Brockett's--I've never told anybody, but I got badly drunk one
night and then went back with some woman.... Oh! it was all filthy--but I
was mad, wild, for hours ... insane--and that night, in the middle of it
all, sitting there as plainly as you please, there in Scaw House, I saw my
father--as plainly as I see you--"
"All young men," said Stephen, "'ave got to go through a bit of filth. You
aren't the sort of fellow, Peter, that stays there. Your wanting not to
shows that you'll come out of it all right."
Here was a case where Stephen's simplicities were obviously of little
"Ah, but don't you see," said Peter impatiently, "it's not the thing itself
that I feel matters so much, although that's rotten enough, but it's the
beastly devil--real, personal--I tell you I saw him catch my grandfather as
tight as though he'd been there in the room ... and my father, too. I tell
you, this last week or two I've been almost mad ... wanting to chuck it
all, this fighting and the rest and just go down and grovel..."
"I expect it's regular work you're wanting," said Stephen, "keeping your
mind busy. It's bad to 'ave your sort of brain wandering round with nothing
to feed on. It'll be all right, boy, in a day or two when you've got some
Peter's head dropped forward on to his hands. "I don't know--it's like
going round in a circle. You see, Stephen, what makes it all so difficult
is--well, I don't know ... why I haven't told you before ... but the fact
is--I'm in love--"
"I knew it a while back," said Stephen quietly, "watching your face when
you didn't know I was lookin'--"
"Well, it's all hopeless, of course. I don't suppose I shall ever see her
again ... but that's what's made this looking for work so difficult--I've
been wanting to get on--and every day seems to place her further away. And
then when I get hopeless these other devils come round and say 'Oh well,
you can't get her, you know. That's as impossible as anything--so you'd
better have your fling while you can....' My God! I'm a beast!"
The cry broke from him with a bitterness that filled the bare little room.
Stephen, after a little, got up and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Nobody ain't going to touch you while I'm here," he said simply as though
he were challenging devils and men alike.
Peter looked up and smiled. "What an old brick you are," he said. "Do you
remember that fight Christmas time, years ago? ... You're always like
that.... I've been an ass to bother you with it all and while we've got
each other things can't be so bad." He got up and stretched his arms.
"Well, it's bedtime, especially as you've got to be off early to that old
Stephen stepped back from him.
"I've been meaning to tell you," he said, "that's off. The place ain't
paying and the boss shut four of us down to-night ... I'm not to go back
... Peter, boy," he finished, almost triumphantly. "We're up against it ...
I've got a quid in my pocket and that's all there is to it."
They faced one another whilst the candle behind them guttered and blew in
the window cracks, and the cluster of stars, still caught in the dirty
roofs and chimneys of Bucket Lane, twinkled, desperately--in vain.
No knight--the hero of any chronicle--ever went forward to his battle with
a braver heart than did Peter now in his desperate adventure against the
world. His morbidity, his introspection, his irritation with Stephen's
simplicities fled from him... he was gay, filled with the glamour of
showing what one could do... he did not doubt but that a fortnight would
see him in a magnificent position. And then--the fortnight passed and he
and Stephen had still their positions to discover--the money moreover was
almost at an end... another fortnight would behold them penniless.
It was absurd--it was monstrous, incredible. Life was not like that--Peter
bit his lip and set out again. Editors had not, on most occasions,
vouchsafed him even an interview. Then had come no answer to the four
halfpenny wrappers. The world, like a wall of shining steel, closed him in
with impenetrable silence.
It was absurd--it was monstrous. Peter fought desperately, as a bird beats
with its wings on the bars of its cage. They were having the worst of luck.
On several occasions he had been just too late and some one had got the
position before him. Stephen too found that the places where he had worked
before had now no job for him. "It was the worst time in the world... a
month ago now or possibly in a month's time...."
Stephen did not tell the boy that away from London there were many things
that he could do--the boy was not up to tramping. Indeed, nothing was more
remarkable than the way in which Peter's strength seemed to strain, like a
flood, away. It was, perhaps, a matter of nerves as much as physical
strength--the boy was burning with the anxiety of it, whereas to Stephen
this was no new experience. Peter saw it in the light of some horrible
disaster that belonged, in all the world's history, to him alone. He came
back at the end of one of his days, white, his eyes almost closed, his
fingers twitching, his head hanging a little ... very silent.
He seemed to feel bitterly the ignominy of it as though he were realising,
for the first time, that nobody wanted him. He had come now to be ready to
do anything, anything in the world, and he had the look of one who was
ready to do anything. His blue coat was shiny, his boots had been patched
by Stephen--there were deep black hollows under his eyes and his mouth had
become thin and hard.
Stephen--having himself his own distresses to support--watched the boy with
acute anxiety. He felt with increasing unhappiness, that here was an
organism, a temperament, that was new to him, that was beyond his grasp.
Peter saw things in it all--this position of a desperate cry for work--that
he, Stephen, had never seen at all. Peter would sit in the evening, in his
chair, staring in front of him, silent, and hearing nothing that Stephen
said to him. With Stephen life was a case of having money or not having
it--if one had not money one went without everything possible and waited
until the money came again ... the tide was sure to turn. But, with Peter,
this was all a fight against his father who sat, apparently, in the dark
rooms at Scaw House, willing disaster. Now, as Stephen and all the sensible
world knew, this was nonsense--
It was also, in some still stranger way, a fight against London itself--not
London, a place of streets and houses, of Oxford Street and Piccadilly
Circus but London, an animal--a kind of dragon as far as Stephen could make
it out with scales and a tail--
Now what was one to make of this except that the boy's head was being
turned and that he ought to see a doctor.
There was also the further question of an appeal to Brockett's or Mr.
Zanti. Stephen knew that Herr Gottfried or Mr. Zanti would lend help
eagerly did they but know, and he supposed, from the things that Peter had
told him, that there were also warm friends at Brockett's; but the boy had
made him swear, with the last order of solemnity, that he would send no
word to either place. Peter had said that he would never speak to him
again should he do such a thing. He had said that should he once obtain an
independent position then he would go back ... but not before.
Stephen did not know what to do nor where to go. In another month's time
the rent could not be paid and then they must go into the street and Peter
was in no condition for that--he should rather be in bed. Mrs. Williams,
it is true, would not be hard upon them, for she was a kind woman and had
formed a great liking for Peter, but she had only enough herself to keep
her family alive and she must, for her children's sake, let the room.
To Stephen, puzzling in vain and going round and round in a hopeless
circle, it seemed as though Peter's brains were locked in an iron box and
they could not find a key. For himself, well, it was natural enough! But
Peter, with that genius, that no one should want him!
And yet through it all, at the back of the misery and distress of it, there
was a wild pride, a fierce joy that he had the key with him, that he was
all in the world to whom the boy might look, that to him and to him alone,
in this wild, cold world Peter now belonged.
It was his moment....
At the end of a terrible day of disastrous rejections Peter, stumbling down
the Strand, was conscious of a little public-house, with a neat bow-window,
that stood back from the street. At the bottom of his trouser pocket a tiny
threepenny piece that Stephen had, that morning, thrust upon him, turned
round and round in his fingers. He had not spent it--he had intended to
restore it to Stephen in the evening. He had meant, too, to walk back all
the way to Bucket Lane but now he felt that he could not do that unless he
were first to take something. This little inn with its bow-windows.... Down
the Strand in the light of the setting sun, he saw again that which he had
often seen during these last weeks--that chain of gaunt figures that moved
with bending backs and twisted fingers, on and out of the crowds and the
carriages--The beggars!... He felt, already, that they knew that he was
soon to be one of their number, that every day, every hour brought him
nearer to their ranks. An old man, dirty, in rags, stepped with an eager
eye past him and stooped for a moment into the gutter. He rose again,
slipping something into his pocket of his tattered coat. He gave Peter a
glance--to the boy it seemed a glance of triumphant recognition and then he
had slipped away.
Peter had had very little to eat during these last days and to-night, for
the first time, things began to take an uncertain shape. As he stood on
the kerb and looked, it seemed to him that the Strand was the sea-road at
Treliss, that the roar of the traffic was the noise that the sea made, far
below them. If one could see round the corner, there where the sun flung
a patch of red light, one would come upon Scaw House in its dark clump of
trees--and through the window of that front room, Peter could see his
father and that old woman, one on each side of the fire-place, drinking.
But the sea-road was stormy to-night, its noise was loud in Peter's ears.
And then the way that people brushed against him as they passed recalled
him to himself and he slipped back almost into the bow-window of the little
inn. He was feeling very unwell and there was a burning pain in his chest
that hurt him when he drew a deep breath ... and then too he was very cold
and his teeth chattered in fits as though he had suddenly lost control of
them and they had become some other person's teeth.
Well, why not go into the little inn and have a drink? Then he would go
back to Bucket Lane and lie down and never wake again. For he was so tired
that he had never known before what it was to be tired at all--only Stephen
would not let him sleep.... Stephen was cruel and would not let him alone.
No one would let him alone--the world had treated him very evilly--what did
he owe the world?
He would go now and surrender to these things, these things that were
stronger than he ... he would drink and he would sleep and that should be
the end of everything ... the blessed end.
He swayed a little on his feet and he put his hand to his forehead in order
that he might think more clearly.
Some one had said once to him a great many years ago--"It is not life that
matters but the Courage that you bring to it." Well, that was untrue. He
would like to tell the man who had said that that he was a liar. No Courage
could be enough if life chose to be hard. No Courage--
Nevertheless, the thought of somewhere a long time ago when some one had
said that to him, slowly filled his tired brain with a distaste for the
little inn with the bow-windows. He would not go there yet, just a little
while and then he would go.
Almost dreaming--certainly seeing nothing about him that he recognised--he
stumbled confusedly down to the Embankment. Here there was at any rate
air, he drew his shabby blue coat more closely about him and sat down on a
wooden bench, in company with a lady who wore a large damaged feather in
her hat and a red stained blouse with torn lace upon it and a skirt of a
bright and tarnished blue.
The lady gave him a nod.
"Cheer, chucky," she said.
Peter made no reply.
"Down on your uppers? My word, you look bad-- Poor Kid! Well, never say
die--strike me blimy but there's a good day coming--"
"I sat here once before," said Peter, leaning forward and addressing her
very earnestly, "and it was the first time that I ever heard the noise that
London makes. If you listen you can hear it now--London's a beast you
But the lady had paid very little attention. "Men are beasts, beasts," she
said, scowling at a gap in the side of her boots, "beasts, that's what they
are. 'Aven't 'ad any luck the last few nights. Suppose I'm losin' my looks
sittin' out 'ere in the mud and rain. There was a time, young feller, my
lad, when I 'ad my carriage, not 'arf!" She spat in front of her--"'E
was a good sort, 'e was--give me no end of a time ... but the lot of men
I've been meetin' lately ain't fit to be called men--they ain't--mean
devils--leavin' me like this, curse 'em!" She coughed. The sun had set now
and the lights were coming out, like glass beads on a string on the other
side of the river. "Stoppin' out all night, ducky? Stayin' 'ere? 'Cause I
got a bit of a cough!--disturbs fellers a bit ... last feller said as 'ow
'e couldn't get a bit o' sleep because of it--damned rot I call it. 'Owever
it isn't out of doors you ought to be sittin', chucky. Feelin' bad?"
Peter looked at her out of his half-closed eyes.
"I can't bother any more," he said to her sleepily. "They're so cruel--they
won't let me go to sleep. I've got a pain here--in my chest you know. Have
you got a pain in your chest?"
"My leg's sore," she answered, "where a chap kicked me last week--just
because--oh well," she paused modestly and spat again--"It's comin' on
A cold little wind was coining up the river, ruffling the tips of the trees
and turning the leaves of the plane-trees back as though it wanted to clean
the other sides of them.
Peter got up unsteadily. "I'm going home to sleep," he said, "I'm
dreadfully tired. Good-night."
"So long, chucky," the lady with the damaged feather said to him. He left
her eyeing discontentedly the hole in her boot and trying to fasten, with
confused fingers, the buttons of the red blouse.
Peter mechanically, as one walking in a dream, crept into an omnibus.
Mechanically he left it and mechanically climbed the stairs of the house
in Bucket Lane. There were two fixed thoughts in his brain--one was that
no one in the world had ever before been as thirsty as he was, and that he
would willingly commit murder or any violence if thereby he might obtain
drink, and the other thought was that Stephen was his enemy, that he hated
Stephen because Stephen never left him alone and would not let him
sleep--also in the back of his mind distantly, as though it concerned some
one else, that he was very unhappy....
Stephen was sitting on one of the beds, looking in front of him. Peter
moved forward heavily and sat on the other bed. They looked at one another.
"No luck," said Stephen, "Armstrong's hadn't room for a man. Ricroft
wouldn't see me. Peter, I'm thinking we'll have to take to the roads--"
Peter made no answer.
"Yer not lookin' a bit well, lad. I doubt if yer can stand much more of
Peter looked across at him sullenly.
"Why can't you leave me alone?" he said. "You're always worrying--"
A slow flush mounted into Stephen's cheeks but he said nothing.
"Well, why don't you say something? Nothing to say--it isn't bad enough
that you've brought me into this--"
"Come, Mr. Peter," Stephen answered slowly. "That ain't fair. I never
brought you into this. I've done my best."
"Oh, blame me, of course. That's natural enough. If it hadn't been for
Stephen came into the middle of the floor.
"Come, Peter boy, yer tired. Yer don't know what yer saying. Best go to
bed. Don't be saying anything that yer'd be regretting afterwards--"
Peter's eyes that had been closed, suddenly opened, blazing. "Oh, damn you
and your talk--I hate you. I wish I'd never seen you--a rotten kind of
friendship--" his voice died off into muttering.
Stephen went back to his bed. "This ain't fair, Mr. Peter," he said in a
low voice. "You'll be sorry afterwards. I ain't 'ad any very 'appy time
myself these last weeks and now--"
Their nerves were like hot, jangling wires. Suddenly into the midst of that
bare room there had sprung between them hatred. They faced each other ...
they could have leapt at one another's throats and fought....
Suddenly Peter gave a little cry that seemed to fill the room. His head
"Oh, Stephen, Stephen, I'm so damned ill, I'm so damnably ill."
He caught for a moment at his chest as though he would tear his shirt open.
Then he stumbled from the bed and lay in a heap on the floor with his hands
Stephen picked him up in his arms and carried him on to his bed.
The little doctor who attended to the wants of Bucket Lane was discovered
at his supper. He was a dirty little man, with large dusty spectacles, a
red nose and a bald head. He wore an old, faded velveteen jacket out of the
pockets of which stuck innumerable papers. He was very often drunk and had
a shrew of a wife who made the sober parts of his life a misery, but he was
kind-hearted and generous and had a very real knowledge of his business.
Mrs. Williams volubly could not conceal her concern at Peter's
condition--"and 'im such a nice-spoken young genelman as I was saying only
yesterday tea-time, there's nothin' I said, as I wouldn't be willin' to do
for that there poor Mr. Westcott and that there poor Mr. Brant 'oo are as
like two 'elpless children in their fightin' the world as ever I see and
'ow ever can I help 'em I said--"
"Well, my good woman," the little doctor finally interrupted, "you can help
here and now by getting some hot water and the other things I've put down
When she was gone he turned slowly to Stephen who stood, the picture of
despair, looking down upon Peter.
"'E's goin' to die?" he asked.
"That depends," the little doctor answered. "The boy's been starved--ought
never to have been allowed to get into this condition. Both of you hard up,
"As 'ard up as we very well could be--" Stephen answered grimly.
"Well--has he no friends?"
There--the question at last. Stephen took it as he would have taken a blow
between the eyes. He saw very clearly that the end of his reign had come.
He had done what he could and he had failed. But in him was the fierce
furious desire to fight for the boy. Why should he give him up, now, when
they had spent all these weeks together, when they had struggled for their
very existence side by side. What right had any of these others to Peter
compared with his right? He knew very well that if he gave him up now the
boy would never be his again. He might see him--yes--but that passing of
Peter that he had already begun to realise would be accomplished. He might
look at him but only as a wanderer may look from the valley up to the hill.
The doctor broke in upon him as he stood hesitating there--
"Come," he said roughly, "we have not much time. The boy may die. Has he no
Stephen turned his back to Peter. "Yes," he said, "I know where they are. I
will fetch them myself."
The doctor had not lived in Bucket Lane all these years for nothing. He put
his hand on Stephen's arm and said: "You're a good fellow, by God. It'll be
On his way to Bennett Square a thousand thoughts filled his mind. He knew,
as though he had been told it by some higher power, that Peter was leaving
him now never to return. He had done what he could for Peter--now the boy
must pass on to others who might be able, more fittingly, to help him. He
cursed the Gods that they had not allowed him to obtain work during these
weeks, for then Peter and he might have gone on, working, prospering and
the parting might have been far distant.
But he felt also that Peter's destiny was something higher and larger than
anything that he could ever compass--it must be Peter's life that he should
always be leaving people behind him--stages on his road--until he had
attained his place. But for Stephen, a loneliness swept down upon him
that seemed to turn the world to stone. Never, in all the years of his
wandering, had he known anything like this. It is very hard that a man
should care for only two creatures in the world and that he should be held,
by God's hand, from reaching either of them.
The door of Brockett's was opened to him by a servant and he asked for Mrs.
Brockett. In the cold and dark hall the lady sternly awaited him, but the
sternness fell from her like a cloak when he told her the reason of his
"Dear me, and the poor boy so ill," she said. "We have all been very
anxious indeed about poor Mr. Peter. We had tried every clue but could hear
nothing of him. We were especially eager to find him because Miss Monogue
had some good news for him about his book. There is a gentleman--a friend
of Mr. Peter's--who has been doing everything to find him--who is with Miss
Monogue now. He will be delighted. Perhaps you will go up."
Stephen can have looked no agreeable object at this time, worn out by the
struggle of the last weeks, haggard and gaunt, his beard unkempt--but Norah
Monogue came forward to him with both her hands outstretched.
"Oh, you know something of Peter--tell us, please," she said.
A stout, pleasant-faced gentleman behind her was introduced as Mr. Galleon.
Stephen explained. "But why, why," said the gentleman, "didn't you let us
know before, my good fellow?"
Stephen's brow darkened. "Peter didn't wish it," he said.
But Norah Monogue came forward and put her hand on his arm. "You must
be the Mr. Brant about whom he has so often talked," she said. "I am so
glad to meet you at last. Peter owes so much to you. We have been trying
everywhere to get word of him because some publishers have taken his novel
and think very well of it indeed. But come--do let us go at once. There is
no time to lose--"
So they had taken his novel, had they? All these days--all these terrible
hours--that starving, that ghastly anxiety, the boy's terror--all these
things had been unnecessary. Had they only known, this separation now might
have been avoided.
He could not trust himself to speak to Bobby Galleon and Norah Monogue.
These were the people who were going to take Peter away.
He turned and went, in silence, down the stairs.
At Bucket Lane Bobby Galleon took affairs into his own hands. At once Peter
should be removed to his house in Chelsea--it would not apparently harm him
to be moved that night.
Peter was still unconscious. Stephen stood in the back of the room and
watched them make their preparations. They had all forgotten him. For a
moment as they passed down the stairs Stephen had his last glimpse of
Peter. He saw the high white forehead, the long black eyelashes, the white
drawn cheeks.... At this parting Peter had no eye for him.
Bobby Galleon and Miss Monogue both spoke to Stephen pleasantly before they
went away. Stephen did not hear what they said. Bobby took Stephen's name
down on a piece of paper.... Then they were gone. They were all gone.
Mrs. Williams looked through the door at him for a moment but something in
the man's face drove her away. Very slowly he put his few clothes together.
He must tramp the roads again--the hard roads, the glaring sun, cold
moon--always going on, always alone--
He shouldered his bag and went out....
NO. 72, CHEYNE WALK
Burnished clouds--swollen with golden light and soft and changing in their
outline--were sailing, against a pale green autumn evening sky, over
It was nearly six o'clock and at the Knightsbridge end of Sloane Street a
cloud of black towers quivered against the pale green.
The yellow light that the golden clouds shed upon the earth bathed the neat
and demure houses of Sloane Street in a brief bewildered unreality. Sloane
Street, not accustomed to unreality, regretted amiably and with its gentle
smile that Nature should insist, once every day, for some half-hour or
so, on these mists and enchantments. The neat little houses called their
masters and mistresses within doors and advised them to rest before
dressing for dinner and so insured these many comfortable souls that they
should not be disturbed by any unwelcome violence on their emotions.
Soon, before looking-glasses and tables shining with silver hair-brushes
bodies would be tied and twisted and faces would be powdered and
painted--meanwhile, for that dying moment, Sloane Street was lifted into
the hearts of those burnished clouds and held for an instant in glory.
Then to the relief of the neat and shining houses the electric lights came
out, one by one, and the world was itself again....
Beyond Sloane Square, however, the King's Road chattered and rattled and
minded not at all whether the sky were yellow or blue. This was the hour
when shopping must be done and barrows shone beneath their flaring gas, and
many ladies, with the appearance of having left their homes for the merest
minute, hurried from stall to stall. The King's Road stands like a noisy
Cheap Jack outside the sanctities of Chelsea. Behind its chatter are the
quietest streets in the world, streets that are silent because they prefer
rest to noise and not at all because they have nothing to say. The King's
Road has been hired by Chelsea to keep foreigners away, and the faint smile
that the streets wear is a smile of relief because that noisy road so
admirably achieves its purpose. In this mellow evening light the little
houses glow, through the river mists, across the cobbles. The stranger, on
leaving the King's Road behind him, is swept into a quiet intimacy that
has nothing of any town about it; he is refreshed as he might be were he
to leave the noisy train behind him and plunge into the dark, scented
hedge-rows and see before him the twinkling lights of some friendly inn.
As the burnished clouds fade from the sky on the dark surface of the river
the black barges hang their lights and in Cheyne Row and Glebe Place, down
Oakley Street, and along the wide spaces of Cheyne Walk, lamps burn mildly
in a hundred windows. Guarded on one side by the sweeping murmur of the
river, on the other by the loud grimaces of the King's Road Chelsea sinks,
with a sound like a whisper of its own name, into evening....
As the last trailing fingers of the golden clouds die before the
approaching army of the stars, as the yellow above the horizon gives way to
a cold and iron blue, lights come out in that house with the green door and
the white stone steps--No. 72, Cheyne Walk--that is now Peter Westcott's
Peter had, on the very afternoon of that beautiful evening, returned
from the sea; there, during the last three weeks, he had passed his
convalescence and now, once again, he faced the world. Mrs. Galleon and
the Galleon baby had been with him and Bobby had come down to them for the
week-ends. In this manner Peter had had an opportunity of getting to know
Mrs. Galleon with a certainty and speed that nothing else could have given
him. During the first weeks after his removal from Bucket Lane, he had been
too ill to take any account of his neighbours or surroundings. He had been
sent down to the sea as soon as it was possible and it was here, watching
her quietly or listening to her as she read to him, walking a little with
her, playing with her baby, that he grew to know her and to love her. She
had been a Miss Alice du Cane, at first an intelligent, cynical and rather
trivial person. Then suddenly, for no very sure reason that any one could
discover, her character changed. She had known Bobby during many years and
had always laughed at him for a solemn, rather-priggish young man--then she