Part 6 out of 10
fell in love with him and, to his own wild and delirious surprise, married
him. The companions of her earlier girlhood missed her cynicism and
complained that brilliance had given way to commonplace but you could not
find, in the whole of London, a happier marriage.
To Peter she was something entirely new. Norah Monogue was the only woman
with whom, as yet, he had come into any close contact, and she, by her very
humility, had allowed him to assume to her a superior, rather patronising
attitude. The brief vision of Clare Rossiter had been altogether of the
opposite kind, partaking too furiously of heaven to have any earthly
quality. But here in Alice Galleon he discovered a woman who gave him
something--companionship, a lively and critical intelligence, some
indefinable quality of charm--that was entirely new to him.
She chaffed him, criticised him, admired him, absorbed him and nattered him
in a breath. She told him that he had a "degree" of talent, that he was the
youngest and most ignorant person for his age that she had ever met, that
he was conceited, that he was rough and he had no manners, that he was too
humble, that he was a "flopper" because he was so anxious to please, that
he was a boy and an old man at the same time and finally that the Galleon
baby--a solemn child--had taken to him as it had never taken to any one
during the eventful three years of its life.
Behind these contradictory criticisms Peter knew that there was a friend,
and he was sensible enough also to realise that many of the things that
she said to him were perfectly true and that he would do well to take them
to heart. At first she had made him angry and that had delighted her,
so he had been angry no longer; it seemed to him, during these days of
convalescence, that the solemn melodramatic young man of Bucket Lane was
And yet, although he felt that that episode had been definitely
closed--shut off as it were by wide doors that held back at a distance,
every sound, the noise, the confusion, the terror, was nevertheless there,
but for the moment, the doors were closed. Only in his dreams they rolled
back arid, night after night he awoke, screaming, bathed in sweat,
trembling from head to foot. Sometimes he thought that he saw an army of
rats advancing across the floor of their Bucket Lane room and Stephen and
he beat them off, but ever they returned....
Once he thought that their room was invaded by a number of old toothless
hags who came in at the door and the window, and these creatures, with
taloned fingers fought, screeching and rolling their eyes....
Twice he dreamt that he saw on a hill, high uplifted against a stormy
sky, the statue of the Man on the Lion, gigantic. He struggled to see the
Rider's face and it seemed to him that multitudes of other persons--men
and women--were pleading, with hands uplifted, that they too might see
the face. But always it was denied them, and Peter woke with a strange
oppression of crushing disappointment. Sometimes he dreamt of Scaw House
and it was always the same dream. He saw the old room with the marble clock
and the cactus plant, but about it all now there was dust and neglect. In
the arm-chair, by the fire, facing the window, his father, old now and
bent, was sitting, listening and waiting. The wind howled about the place,
old boards creaked, casements rattled and his father never moved but
leaning forward in his chair, watched, waited, eagerly, passionately, for
They were having dinner now--Bobby, Mrs. Galleon and Peter--in the studio
of the Cheyne Walk House. Outside, a sheet of stars, a dark river and the
pale lamps of the street. The curtains of the studio were still undrawn and
the glow from the night beyond fell softly along the gleaming black boards
of the floor that stretched into shadow by the farther wall, over the round
mahogany table--without a cloth and shining with its own colour--deep and
liquid brown,--and out to the pictures that hung in their dull gold frames
along the wall.
About Peter was a sense of ease and rest, of space that was as new to him
as America was to Columbus. He was not even now completely recovered from
his Bucket Lane experiences and there was still about him that uncertainty
of life--when one sees it as though through gauze curtains--that gives
reality to the quality of dreams. Life was behind him, Life was ahead of
him, but meantime let him rest in this uncertain and beautiful country
until it was time for him to go forward again. This intangibility--walking
as it were in a fog round and round the Nelson monument, knowing it was
there but never seeing it--remained with him even when practical matters
were discussed. For instance, "Reuben Hallard" was to be published in a
week's time and Peter was to receive fifty pounds in advance on the day of
publication (unusually good terms for a first novel Bobby assured him);
also Bobby, through his father, thought that he could secure Peter regular
reviewing. The intention then was that Peter should remain with the
Galleons as a kind of paying guest, and so his pride would not be hurt and
they could have an eye upon him during this launching of him into London.
It was fortunate, perhaps, that Alice Galleon had liked him down there at
the sea, because she was a lady who had her own way at No. 72, and she by
no means liked every one. But perhaps the Galleon baby had had more to do
with everything than any one knew, and Mrs. Galleon assured her friends
that the baby's heart would most certainly be broken if "the wild young
guest" as she called Peter, were carried off.
And wild he was--of that seeing him now at dinner there in the studio there
could be no doubt. He was wearing Bobby's clothes and there was still a
look of suffering in his eyes and around his mouth, but the difference--his
difference from the things about him--went deeper than that. The large high
windows of the studio with the expanse of wild and burning stars between
their black frames answered Peter's eyes as he faced them. Mrs. Galleon, as
she watched him, was reminded of other things, of other persons, of other
events, that had marked his earlier life. She glanced from Peter's eyes
to Bobby's. She smiled, for on an earlier day, she had seen that same
antithesis--the gulf that is fixed between Imagination and Reality--and had
known its meaning.
But for Peter, all he asked now was that he might be allowed to rest in the
midst of this glorious comfort. His evil dreams were very far away from him
to-night. The food, the colour--the fruit piled high in the silver dishes,
the glittering of the great silver candelabra that stood on the middle of
the table, the deep red of the roses in the bowl at his side, the deeper
red of the Port that shone in front of Bobby and then, beneath all this, as
though the table were a coloured ship sailing on a solemn sea, the dark,
deep shining floor that faded into shadow--all this excited him so that his
He spoke to Mrs. Galleon:
"I wonder if you will do me a favour," he said very earnestly.
"Anything in reason," she answered, laughing back at his gravity.
"Well, don't call me Mr. Westcott any more. Because I'm going to live here
and because I'm too old a friend of Bobby's and because, finally, I hate
being called Mr. Westcott by anybody, might it be Peter?"
"Joseph calls him Peter as it is," said Bobby quite earnestly looking at
They were both so grave about it that Alice Galleon couldn't be anything
but grave too. She knew that it was really a definite appeal on behalf
of both of them that she should here and now, solemnly put her sign of
approval on Peter. It was almost in the way that they waited for her to
answer, a ceremony. She was even, as she looked at them, surprised into a
sudden burst of tenderness towards them both. Bobby so solemn, such a dear,
really quite an age and yet as young as any infant in arms. Peter with
forces and impulses that might lead to anything or wreck him altogether,
and yet, through it all younger even than Bobby. Oh! what an age she, Alice
Galleon, seemed to muster at the sight of their innocent trust! Did every
woman feel as old, as protecting, as tenderly indulgent, towards every
"Why, of course," she answered quietly, "Peter it shall be--"
Bobby raised his port. "Here's to Peter--to Peter and 'Reuben
Hallard'--overwhelming success to both of them."
Emotion, for an instant, held them. Then quietly, they stepped back
again. It was almost too good to be true that, after all the turnings and
twistings, life should have brought Peter to this. He did not look very far
ahead, he did not ask himself whether the book were likely to be a success,
whether his career would justify this beginning. If only they would let him
alone.... He did not, even to himself, name those powers. He was wrapped
about with comfort, he had friends, above all (and this he had discovered
at the sea) the Galleons knew Miss Rossiter ... this last thought seemed,
by the glorious clamour of it, to draw that sheet of stars down through the
window into the room, the air crackled with their splendour.
He was drawn back, down into the world again, by hearing Bobby's voice:
"The evening post and a letter for you. Peter."
He looked down and, with a sudden pang of accusing shame because he had
forgotten so easily, with also a sure knowledge that that easy escape from
his other life was already forbidden him, saw that the letter was from
Stephen. He felt that their eyes were upon him as he took the letter up
and he also felt that in Alice Galleon's gaze there was a wise and tender
understanding of the things that he must be feeling. The roughness of the
envelope, the rudeness of the hand-writing, a stain in one corner that
might be beer, the stamp set crookedly--these things seemed to him like so
many voices that called him back. Five minutes ago those days in Bucket
Lane had belonged to another life, now he was still there and to-morrow he
must tramp out again, to-morrow....
The letter said:
_Writing here dear Peter at twelve o'clock noon, the Red Crown Inn,
Druttledge, on the road to Exeter, a little house where thiccy
bandy-legged man you've heard me tell about is Keeper and a good
fellow and there's queer enough company in kitchen now to please you.
A rough lot of fellows: and a storm coming up black over high woods
that'll make walkin' no easy matter on a slimy road, and, dear boy,
I've been thinkin' strange about you and 'ow you'll pull along with
your kind friends. That nice gentleman sent a telegram as he promised
to and says you pull finely along. Hopin' you really are better. But
dear boy, if you find you can give me just a word on paper sayin' that
hear there is no course for worryin' about your health, then I'm happy
because, dear boy, you'm always in my thoughts and I love you fine and
wish to God I could have made everything easier up along in thiccy
Bucket Lane. I go from hear by road to Cornwall and Treliss. I'm
expecting to find work there. Dear boy, don't forget me and see me
again one day and write a letter. They are getting too much into their
bellies and making the devil's own noise. There is Thunder coming the
air is that still over the roof of the barn and the road's dead white.
Dear Boy, I am your friend,_
The candles blew a little in the breeze from the open window and the
lighted shadows ran flickering in silver lines, along the dark floor. Peter
stood holding the letter in his hand, looking out on to the black square of
sky; the lights of the barges swung down the river and he could hear, very
faintly, the straining of ropes and the turning of some mysterious wheel.
He saw Stephen--the great head, the flowing beard, the huge body--and
then the inn with the thunder coming over the hill, and then, beyond that
Treliss gleaming with its tiers of lights, above the breast of the sea. And
from here, from this wide Embankment, down to that sea, there stretched,
riding over hills, bending into valleys, always white and hard and stony,
For an instant he felt as though the studio, the lights, the comforts were
holding him like a prison--
"It's a letter from Stephen Brant," he said, turning back from the window.
"He seems well and happy--"
"Where is he?"
"Eating bread and cheese at an inn somewhere--on the road down to
On the following Tuesday "Reuben Hallard" was published and on the Thursday
afternoon Henry Galleon and Clare Rossiter were to come to tea. "Reuben
Hallard" arrived in a dark red cover with a white paper label. The six
copies lay on the table and looked at Peter as though he had had nothing
whatever to do with their existence. He looked down upon them, opened one
of them very tenderly, read half a page and felt that it was the best stuff
he'd ever seen. He read the rest of the page and thought that the author,
whoever the creature might be, deserved, imprisonment for writing such
The feeling of strangeness towards it all was increased by the fact that
Bobby had, with the exception of the final proofs--these Peter had read
down by the sea--done most of the proof-correcting. It was a task for which
his practical common sense and lack of all imagination admirably fitted
him. There, at any rate, "Reuben Hallard" was, ready to face all the world,
to go, perhaps, to the farthest Hebrides, to be lost in all probability,
utterly lost, in the turgid flood of contemporary fiction.
There was a dedication "To Stephen"... How surprised Stephen would be! He
looked at the chapter headings--An Old Man with a Lantern--the Road at
Night.... Sun on the Western Moor--Stevenson--Tushery all of it! How they'd
tear it to bits, those papers!
He laughed to himself to think that there had once been a day when he had
thought that the thing would make his fortune! And yet--he turned the pages
over tenderly--there might be something to be said for it, Miss Monogue had
thought well of it. These publishers, blase, cynical fellows, surely
believed in it.
It was fat and red and comfortable. It had a worldly, prosperous look.
"Reuben Hallard and His Adventures" ... Good Lord! What cheek.
There were five copies to give away. One between Bobby and Mrs. Galleon,
one for Stephen, one for Miss Monogue, one for Mrs. Brockett and one for
Mr. Zanti. "Reuben Hallard and His Adventures," by Peter Westcott. They
would be getting it now at the newspaper offices. _The Mascot_ would have a
copy and the fat little chocolate consumer. It would stand with a heap of
others, and be ticked off with a heap of others, for some youth to exercise
his wit upon. As to any one buying the book? Who ever saw any one buying a
six-shilling novel? It was only within the last year or so that the old
three volumes with their thirty-one-and-six had departed this life. The
publishers had assured Peter that this new six-shilling form was the thing.
"Please have you got 'Reuben Hallard' by Peter Westcott?... Thank you, I'll
take it with me."
No, it was inconceivable.
There poor Reuben would lie--deserted, still-born, ever dustier and dustier
whilst other stories came pouring, pouring from endless presses, covering,
crowding it down, stamping upon it, burying it.... "Here lies 'Reuben
On Thursday, however, there was the tea-party--a Thursday never to be
forgotten whilst Peter was alive. Bobby had told him the day before
that his father might be coming. "The rest of the family will turn up
for certain. They want to see you. They're always all agog for any new
thing--one of them's always playing Cabot to somebody else's Columbus.
But father's uncertain. He gets something into his head and then nothing
whatever will draw him out--but I expect he'll turn up."
The other visitor was announced to Peter on the very day.
"By the way, Peter, somebody's coming to tea this afternoon who's met you
before--met you at that odd boarding-house of yours--a Miss Rossiter.
Clare's an old friend of ours. I told you down at the sea about her and you
said you remembered meeting her."
"Remembered meeting her!" Did Dante remember meeting Beatrice--did Petrarch
remember Laura? Did Keats forget his Fanny Brawne? Did Richard Feverel
forget his Lucy?
On a level with these high-thinking gentlemen was Peter, disguising his
emotions from Alice's sharp eyes but silent, breathless, wanting some other
place than that high studio in which to breathe. "Yes--she came to tea once
with a Miss Monogue there--I liked her...."
He was not there, but rather on some height alone with her and their hands
touched over a photograph. "The Man on the Lion." There was something
worthy of his feeling for her!
Meanwhile, for the first part of the afternoon one must put up with the
Galleon family. Had Peter been sufficiently calm and sensible these
appendages to a great author would have been worth his attention. Behold
them in relation to "Henry Lessingham," soaked in the works, bearing on
their backs the whole Edition de Luxe, decking themselves with the little
odds and ends of literary finery that they had picked up, bursting with the
good-nature of assured self-consequence--harmless, foolish, comfortable.
Mrs. Galleon was massive with a large flat face that jumped suddenly into
expression when one least expected it. There was a great deal of silk about
her, much leisurely movement and her tactics were silence and a slow,
significant smile--these she always contributed to any conversation that
was really beyond her. Had she not, during many years of her life, been
married to a genius she would have been an intensely slow-moving but
adequate housekeeper--as it was, her size and her silence enabled her to
keep her place at many literary dinners. Peter, watching her, was consumed
with wonder that Henry Galleon could ever have married her and understood
that Bobby was the child of both his parents. Bobby had a brother and
sister--Percival and Millicent. Percival was twenty-five and had written
two novels that were considered promising by those who did not know that he
was the son of his father. He was slim and dark with a black thread of a
moustache and rather fine white fingers. His clothes were very well cut but
his appearance was a little too elaborately simple. His sister, a girl of
about eighteen, was slim and dark also; she had the eager appearance of one
who has heard just enough to make her very anxious to hear a great deal
One felt that she did not want to miss anything, but probably her
determination to be her father's daughter would prevent her from becoming
very valuable or intelligent.
Finally it was strange that Bobby had so completely escaped the shadow of
his father's mantle. These people were intended, of course, to be the
background of Peter's afternoon and it was therefore more than annoying
that that was the very last thing that they were. Millicent and Percival
made a ball and then flung it backwards and forwards throughout the affair.
Their mother watched them with appreciation and Alice Galleon, who knew
them, gave them tea and cake and let them have their way. Into the midst of
this Henry Galleon came--a little, round, fat man with a face like a map,
the body of Napoleon and a trot round the room like a very amiable pony,
eyes that saw everything, understood everything, and forgave everything, a
brown buff waistcoat with gilt buttons, white spats and a voice that rolled
and roared ... he was the tenderest, most alarming person in any kind of
a world. He was so gentle that any sparrow would trust him implicitly and
so terrific that an army would most certainly fly from before him. He ate
tea-cake, smiled and shook hands with Peter, listened for half an hour
to the spirited conversation of his two children and trotted away again,
leaving behind him an atmosphere of gentle politeness and an amazing
_savoir-faire_ that one saw his children struggling to catch. They finally
gave it up about half-past five and retreated, pressing Peter to pay them a
call at the earliest opportunity.
This was positively all that Peter saw, on this occasion, of Henry Galleon.
It was quite enough to give him a great deal to think about, but it could
scarcely be called a meeting.
At quarter to six when Peter was in despair and Alice Galleon had ordered
the tea-things to be taken away Clare Rossiter rushed in. She stood a
whirlwind of flying colours in the middle of the Studio now sinking into
twilight. "Alice dear, I am most terribly sorry but mother _would_ stay. I
couldn't get her to leave and it was all so awkward. How do you do, Mr.
Westcott? Do you remember--we met at Treliss--and now I must rush back this
very minute. We are dining at seven before the Opera, and father wants that
music you promised him--the Brahms thing. Oh! is it upstairs? Well, if you
Alice Galleon left them together. Peter could say nothing at all. He stood
there, shifting from foot to foot, white, absolutely tongue-tied.
She felt his embarrassment and struggled.
"I hear that you've been very ill, Mr. Westcott. I'm so dreadfully sorry
and I do hope that you're better?"
He muttered something.
"Your book is out, isn't it? 'Reuben Hallard' is the name. I must get
father to put it down on his list. One's first books must be so dreadfully
exciting--and so alarming ... the reviews and everything--what is it
He murmured "Cornwall."
"Cornwall? How delightful! I was only there once. Mullion. Do you know
Mullion?" She struggled along. The pain that had begun in his heart was now
at his throat--his throat was full of spiders' webs. He could scarcely see
her in the dark but her pale blue dress and her dark eyes and her beautiful
white hands--her little figure danced against the dark, shining floor like
He heard her sigh of relief at Alice Galleon's return.
"Oh! thank you, dear, so much. Good-bye, Mr. Westcott--I shall read the
She was gone.
"Lights! Lights!" cried Alice Galleon. "How provoking of her not to come to
tea properly. Well, Peter? How was it all?"
He was guilty of abominable rudeness.
He burst from the room without a word and banged, desperately, the door
A CHAPTER ABOUT SUCCESS I HOW TO WIN IT, HOW TO KEEP IT--WITH A NOTE AT THE
END FROM HENRY GALLEON
The shout of applause with which "Reuben Hallard" was greeted still remains
one of the interesting cases in modern literary history. At this time of
day it all seems ancient and distant enough; the book has been praised,
blamed, lifted up, hurled down a thousand times, and has finally been
discovered to be a book of promise, of natural talent, with a great deal of
crudity and melodrama and a little beauty. It does not stand of course in
comparison with Peter Westcott's later period and yet it has a note that
his hand never captured afterwards. How incredibly bad it is in places,
the Datchett incidents, with their flames and screams and murder in the
dark, sufficiently betray: how fine it can be such a delight as The Cherry
Orchard chapter shows, and perhaps the very badness of the crudities helped
in its popularity, for there was nothing more remarkable about it than the
fashion in which it captured every class of reader. But its success, in
reality, was a result of the exact moment of its appearance. Had Peter
waited a thousand years he could not possibly have chosen a time more
favourable. It was that moment in literary history, when the world had had
enough of lilies and was turning, with relief, to artichokes. There was a
periodical of this time entitled _The Green Volume_. This appeared
somewhere about 1890 and it brought with it a band of young men and women
who were exceedingly clever, saw the quaintness of life before its reality
and stood on tiptoe in order to observe things that were really growing
quite close to the ground. This quarterly produced some very admirable
work; its contributors were all, for a year or two, as clever as they
were--young and as cynical as either. The world was dressed in a powder
puff and danced beneath Chinese lanterns and was as wicked as it could be
in artificial rose-gardens. It was all great fun for a year or two....
Then _The Green Volume_ died, people began to whisper about slums and
drainage, and Swedish drill for ten minutes every morning was considered an
admirable thing. On the edge of this new wave came "Reuben Hallard,"
combining as it did a certain amount of affectation with a good deal of
naked truth, and having the rocks of Cornwall as well as its primroses for
its background. It also told a story with a beginning to it and an end to
it, and it contained the beautiful character of Mrs. Poveret, a character
that was undoubtedly inspired by that afternoon that Peter had with his
In addition to all this it must be remembered that the world was entirely
unprepared for the book's arrival. It had been in no fashion heralded and
until a long review appeared in _The Daily Globe_ no one noticed it in any
way. Then the thing really began. The reviewers were glad to find something
in a dead season, about which a column or two might possibly be written;
the general public was delighted to discover a novel that was considered by
good judges to be literature and that, nevertheless, had as good a story as
though it weren't--its faults were many and some of its virtues accidental,
but it certainly deserved success as thoroughly as did most of its
contemporaries. Edition followed edition and "Reuben Hallard" was the novel
of the spring of 1896.
The effect of all this upon Peter may easily be imagined. It came to
him first, with those early reviews and an encouraging letter from the
publishers, as something that did not belong to him at all, then after a
month or so it belonged to him so completely that he felt as though he had
been used to it all his life. Then slowly, as the weeks passed and the
success continued, he knew that the publication of this book had changed
the course of his life. Letters from agents and publishers asking for his
next novel, letters from America, letters from unknown readers, all these
things showed him that he could look now towards countries that had not,
hitherto, been enclosed by his horizon. He breathed another air.
And yet he was astonishingly simple about it all--very young and very
naive. The two things that he felt about it were, first, that it would
please very much his friends--Bobby and his wife, Mrs. Brockett, Norah
Monogue, Mr. Zanti, Herr Gottfried and, above all, Stephen; and secondly,
that all those early years in Cornwall--the beatings, his mother, Scaw
House, even Dawson's--had been of use to him. One remembers those
extraordinary chapters concerning Reuben and his father--here Peter had,
for the first time, allowed some expression of his attitude to it all to
He felt indeed as though the success of the book placed for a moment all
that other life in the background--really away from him. For the first time
since he left Brockett's he was free from a strange feeling of
apprehension.... Scaw House was hidden.
He gave himself up to glorious life. He plunged into it....
He stepped, at first timidly, into literary London. It was, at first sight,
alarming enough because it seemed to consist, so largely and so stridently,
of the opposite sex. Bobby would have had Peter avoid it altogether.
"There are some young idiots," he said, "who go about to these literary
tea-parties. They've just written a line or two somewhere or other, and
they go curving and bending all over the place. Young Tony Gale and young
Robin Trojan and my young ass of a brother ... don't want you to join that
lot, Peter, my boy. The women like to have 'em of course, they're useful
for handing the cake about but that's all there is to it ... keep out of
But Peter had not had so many friends during the early part of his life
that he could afford to do without possible ones now. He wanted indeed
just as many as he could grasp. The comfort and happiness of his life with
Bobby, the success of the book, the opening of a career in front of him,
these things had made of him another creature. He had grown ten years
younger; his cheeks were bright, his eye clear, his step buoyant. He moved
now as though he loved his fellow creatures. One felt, on his entrance into
a room, that the air was clearer, and that one was in the company of a
human being who found the world, quite honestly and naturally, a delightful
place. This was the first effect that success had upon Peter.
And indeed they met him--all of them--with open arms. They saw in him that
burning flame that those who have been for the first time admitted into the
freemasonry of their Art must ever show. Afterwards he would be accustomed
to that country, would know its roads and hills and cities and would be
perhaps disappointed that they were neither as holy nor as eternal as he
had once imagined them to be--now he stood on the hill's edge and looked
down into a golden landscape whose bounds he could not discern. But
they met him too on the personal side. The fact that he had been found
starving in a London garret was of itself a wonderful thing--then he had
in his manner a rough, awkward charm that flattered them with his youth
and inexperience. He was impetuous and confidential and then suddenly
reserved and constrained. But, above it all, it was evident that he wanted
friendliness and good fellowship. He took every one at the value that they
offered to him. He first encouraged them to be at their most human and then
convinced them that that was their natural character. He lighted every
one's lamp at the flame of his own implicit faith.
These ladies and gentlemen put very plainly before him the business side of
his profession. Their conversation was all of agents, publishers, the sums
that one of their number obtained and how lucky to get so much so soon,
and the sums that another of their number did not obtain and what a shame
it was that such good work was rewarded by so little. It was all--this
conversation--in the most generous strain. Jealousy never raised its head.
They read--these precious people--the works of one another with an eager
praise and a tender condemnation delightful to see. It was a warm bustling
society that received Peter.
These tea-parties and fireside discussions had not, perhaps, been always
so friendly and large-hearted but in the time when Peter first encountered
them they were influenced and moulded by a very remarkable woman--a
woman who succeeded in combining humour, common sense and imagination in
admirably adjusted qualities. Her humour made her tolerant, her common
sense made her wise, and her imagination made her tender--her name was Mrs.
She was short and broad, with large blue eyes that always, if one watched
them, showed her thoughts and dispositions. Some people make of their faces
a disguise, others use them as a revelation--the result to the observer
is very much the same in either case. But with Mrs. Launce there was no
definite attempt at either one thing or the other--she was so busily
engaged in the matter in hand, so absorbed and interested, that the things
that her face might be doing never occurred to her. Her hair was drawn back
and parted down the middle. She liked to wear little straw coal-scuttle
bonnets; she was very fond of blue silk, and her frocks had an inclination
to trail. On her mother's side she was French and on her father's English;
from her mother she got the technique of her stories, the light-hearted
boldness of her conversation and her extraordinary devotion to her family.
She was always something of a puzzle to English women because she was a
great deal more domestic than most of them and yet bristled with theories
about morals and life in general that had nothing whatever in common with
domesticity. Some one once said of her that "she was a hot water bottle
playing at being a bomb...."
She belonged to all the London worlds, although she found perhaps especial
pleasure in the society of her fellow writers. This was largely because
she loved, beyond everything else, the business side of her profession.
There was nothing at all that she did not know about the publishing and
distribution of a novel. Her capacity for remembering other people's prices
was prodigious and she managed her agent and her publisher with a deftness
that left them gasping. There were very few persons in her world who had
not, at one time or another, poured their troubles into her ear. She
had that gift, valuable in life beyond all others, of giving herself up
entirely to the person with whom she was talking. When the time came to
give advice the combination of her common sense and her tenderness made
her invaluable. There was no crime black enough, no desertion, no cruelty
horrible enough to outspeed her pity. She hated and understood the sin
and loved and comforted the sinner. With a wide and accurate knowledge of
humanity she combined a deep spiritual belief in the goodness of God.
Everything, however horrible, interested her ... she adored life.
This little person in the straw bonnet and the blue dress gave Peter
something that he had never known before--she mothered him. He sat next to
her at some dinner-party and she asked him to come and have tea with her.
She lived in a little street in Westminster in a tiny house that had her
children on the top floor, a beautiful copy of the Mona Lisa and a very
untidy writing-table on the second, and a little round hall and a tiny
dining-room on the ground floor. Her husband and her family--including an
adorable child of two--were all as amiable as possible.
Peter told her most things on the first day that he had tea with her and
everything on the second. He told her about his boyhood--Treliss, Scaw
House, his father, Stephen. He told her about Brockett's and Bucket Lane.
He told her, finally, about Clare Rossiter.
He always remembered one thing that she said at this time. They were
sitting at her open window looking down into the blue evening that is in
Westminster quieter even than it is at Chelsea. Behind the faint green
cloud of trees the Abbey's huge black pile soared into space.
"You think you've made a tremendous break?" she said.
"Yes--this is an entirely new life--new in every way. I seem too to be set
amongst an entirely new crowd of people. The division seems to me sharper
every day. I believe I've left it all behind."
She looked at him sharply. "You're afraid of all that earlier time," she
"Yes, I am."
"It made you write 'Reuben Hallard.' Perhaps this life here in London..."
"It's safer," he caught her up.
"Don't," she answered him very gravely, "play for safety. It's the most
dangerous thing in the world." She paused for a moment and then added: "But
probably they won't let you alone."
"I hope to God they will," he cried.
He saw Clare Rossiter twice during this time and, on each occasion, it
seemed to him that she was trying to make up to him for his awkwardness at
their first meeting. On the first of these two occasions she had only a few
words with him, but there was a note in her voice that he fancied, wildly,
unreasonably, was different from the tone that she used to other people.
She looked so beautiful with her golden hair coiled above her head. It
was the most wonderful gold that he had ever seen. He could only, in his
excitement, think of marmalade and that was a sticky comparison. "The Lady
with the Marmalade Hair"--how monstrous! but that did convey the colour.
Her eyes seemed darker now than they had been before and her cheeks whiter.
The curve of her neck was so wonderful that it hurt him physically. He
wanted so terribly to kiss her just beneath her ear. He saw how he would do
it, and that he would have to move away some of the shiny hair that strayed
like sunlight across the white skin.
She did not seem to him quite so tiny when she smiled; it was exactly as
water ripples when the sun suddenly bursts dark clouds. He had a thousand
comparisons for her, and then sometimes she would be, as it were, caught up
into a cloud and he would only see a general radiance and be blinded by the
He wished very much that he could think of something else--something other
than marmalade--that had that quality of gold. He often imagined what it
would be like when she let it all down--like a forest of autumn trees--no,
that spoke of decay--like the sunlight on sand towards evening--like the
fires of Walhalla in the last act of Gotterdaemmerung--like the lights of
some harbour seen from the farther shore--like clouds that are ready to
burst with evening sunlight. Perhaps, after all, amber was the nearest....
"Peter, ask Miss Rossiter if she will have some more tea...." Oh! What a
fool he is! What an absolute ass!
On the second of these two meetings she had read "Reuben Hallard." She
loved it! She thought it astounding! The most wonderful first novel she had
ever read. How had he been able to make one feel Cornwall so? She had been
once to Cornwall, to Mullion and it had been just like that! Those rocks!
it was like a poem! And then so exciting!
She had not been able to put it down for a single minute. "Mother was
furious with me because there I sat until I don't know how early in the
morning reading it! Oh! Mr. Westcott, how wonderful to write like that !"
Her praise inflamed him like wine. He looked at her with exultation.
"Oh! you feel like that!" he said, drawing a great breath, "I did want you
to like it so!" He was enraptured--the world was heaven! He did not realise
that some young woman at a tea-party the day before had said precisely
these same things and he had said: "Of all the affected idiots!"...
This might all be termed a period of preparation--that period was fixed for
Peter with its sign and seal on a certain evening of spring when an
enormous orange moon was in the sky, scents were in all the Chelsea
gardens, and the Chelsea streets were like glass in the silver luminous
Peter was walking home after a party at the Rossiters'. It was the first
time that he had been invited to their house and it had been a great
success. Dr. Rossiter was a little round fat man with snow-white hair,
red cheeks and twinkling eyes. He cured his patients and irritated his
relations by his good temper. Mrs. Rossiter, Peter thought, had a great
resemblance to Bobby's mother, Mrs. Galleon, senior. They were, both of
them, massive and phlegmatic. They had both acquired that solemn dignity
that comes of living up to one's husband's reputation. They both looked
on their families--Mrs. Rossiter on Clare and Mrs. Galleon on Millicent,
Percival and Bobby--with curiosity, tolerance and a mild soft of wonder.
They were both massively happy and completely unimaginative. They were,
indeed, old friends, having been at school together, they were Emma and
Jane to one another and Mrs. Rossiter could never forget that Mrs. Galleon
came to school two years after herself and was therefore junior still;
whilst Mrs. Galleon had stayed two years longer than Mrs. Rossiter, and was
a power there when Mrs. Rossiter was completely forgotten; they were fond
of each other as long as they were allowed to patronise one another.
Peter had spent a delicious evening. He had had half an hour in the garden
with Clare. They had spoken in an undertone. He had told her his ambitions,
she had told him her aspirations. Some one had sung in the garden and there
had been one wonderful moment when Peter had touched her hand and she had
not taken it away. At last they were both silent and the garden flowed
about them, on every side of them, with the notes and threads that can only
be heard at night.
Mrs. Rossiter, heavily and solemnly, brought her daughter a shawl. There
was some one to whom she would like to introduce Mr. Westcott. Would he
mind? Eden was robbed of its glories....
But he had had enough. He thought at one moment that already she was
beginning to care for him, and at another, that a lover's fancy made signs
out of the wind and portents out of the running water.
But he was happy with a mighty exultation, and then, as he turned down on
to the Embankment and felt the breeze from the river as it came towards
him, he met Henry Galleon.
The old man, in an enormous hat that was like a top hat only round at the
brim and brown in colour, was trotting home. He saw Peter and stopped. He
spoke to him in his slow tremendous voice and the words seemed to go on
after they had left him, rolling along the Embankment.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Westcott. I have thought that I would like to
have a chat with you. I have just finished your book."
This was indeed tremendous--that Henry Galleon should have read "Reuben
Hallard." Peter trembled all over.
"I wonder whether you would care to come and have a chat with me. I have
some things you might care to see. What time like the present? It is early
hours yet and you will be doing an old man who sleeps only poorly a
What a night of nights! Peter, trembling with excitement, felt Henry
Galleon put his arm in his, felt the weight of the great man's body. They
walked slowly along and the moon and the stars and the lights on the river
and the early little leaves in the trees and the stones of the houses
and the little "tish-tish" of the water against the Embankment seemed to
say--"Oh! Peter Westcott's going to have a chat with Henry Galleon! Did you
ever hear such a thing!"
Peter was sorry that his Embankment was deserted and that there was no one
to see them go into the house together. He drew a great breath as the door
closed behind them. The house was large and dark and mysterious. The rest
of the family were still out at some party. Henry Galleon drew Peter into
his own especial quarters and soon they were sitting in a lofty library,
its walls covered with books that stretched to the ceiling. Peter meanwhile
buried in a huge arm-chair and feeling that Henry Galleon's eyes were
piercing him through and through.
The old man talked for some time about other things--talked wonderfully
about the great ones of the earth whom he had known, the great things that
he had seen. It was amazing to Peter to hear the gods of his world alluded
to as "poor old S---- poor fellow!... Yes, indeed. I remember his coming
into breakfast one day..." or "You were asking about T---- Old Wallie, as
we used to call him--poor fellow, poor fellow--we lived together in rooms
for some time. That was before I married--and perilously, dangerously--I
might almost say magnificently near starvation we were too...."
Peter already inflamed with that earlier half-hour in the garden now
breathed a portentous air. He was with the Gods ... there on the Olympian
heights he drank with them, he sang songs with them, with mighty voices
they applauded "Reuben Hallard." He drank in his excitement many whiskies
and sodas and soon the white room with its books was like the inside of a
golden shell. The old man opposite him grew in size--his face was ever
larger and larger, his shirt front bulged and bulged--his hand raised to
emphasise some point was tremendous as the hand of a God. Peter felt that
he himself was growing smaller and smaller, would soon, in the depths of
that mighty arm-chair disappear altogether but that opposite him two mighty
burning eyes held him. And always like thunder the voice rolled on....
"My son tells me that this book of yours is a success ... that they are
emptying their purses to fill yours. That may be a dangerous thing for you.
I have read your book, it has many faults; it is not written at all--it
is loose and lacking in all construction. You know nothing, as yet, about
life--you do not know what to use or what to reject. But the Spirit is
there, the right Spirit. It is a little flame--it will be very easily
quenched and nothing can kill it so easily as success--guard it, my son,
Peter felt as Siegfried must have felt when confronted by Wotan.
His poor little book was dwindling now before his eyes. He was conscious of
a great despair. How useless of him to attempt so impossible a task....
The voice rolled on:
"I am an old man now and only twice before in my time nave I seen that
spirit in a young man's eyes. You may remember now an old man's words--for
I would urge you, I would implore you to keep nothing before you but the
one thing that can bring Life into Art. I will not speak to you of the
sacredness of your calling. Many will laugh at you and tell you that it is
pretentious to name it so. Others will come to you and will advise how this
is to be done and that is to be done. Others will talk to you of schools,
they will tell you that once it was in that manner and that now it is in
this manner. Some will tell you that you have no style--others will tell
you that you have too much. Some again will tempt you with money and money
is not to be despised. Again you will be tested with photographs and
paragraphs, with lectures and public dinners.... Worst of all there will
come to you terrible hours when you yourself know of a sure certainty that
your work is worthless. In your middle age a great barrenness will come
upon you. You have been a little teller of little tales, and on every side
of you there will be others who have striven for other prizes and have won
them. Sitting alone in your room with your poor strands of coloured silk
that had once been intended to make so beautiful a pattern, poor boy, you
will know that you have failed. That will be a very dreadful hour--the only
power that can meet it is a blind and deaf courage. Courage is the only
thing that we are here to show ... the hour will pass."
The old man paused. There was a silence. Then he said very slowly as though
he were drawing in front of him the earliest histories of his own past
"Against all these temptations, against these voices of the World and the
Flesh, against the glory of power and the swinging hammer of success, you,
sitting quietly in your room, must remember that a great charge has been
given you, that you are here for one thing and one thing only ... to
listen. The whole duty of Art is listening for the voice of God.
"I am not speaking in phrases. I am not pressing upon you any sensational
discoveries, but here at the end of my long life, I, with all the things
that I meant to do and have failed to do heavy upon me, can give you only
this one word. I have hurried, I have scrambled, I have fought and cursed
and striven, but as an Artist only those hours that I have spent listening,
waiting, have been my real life.
"So it must be with you. You are here to listen. Never mind if they tell
you that story-telling is a cheap thing, a popular thing, a mean thing. It
is the instrument that is given to you and if, when you come to die you
know that, for brief moments, you have heard, and that what you have heard
you have written, Life has been justified.
"Nothing else can console you, nothing else can comfort you. There must be
restraint, austerity, discipline--words must come to you easily but only
because life has come to you with so great a pain ... the Artist's life is
the harshest that God can give to a man. Make no mistake about that.
Fortitude is the artist's only weapon of defence...."
Henry Galleon came over to Peter's chair and put his hand upon the boy's
"I am at the end of my work. I have done what I can. You are at the
beginning of yours. You will do what you can. I wish you good fortune."
A vision came to Peter. Through the open window, against the sheet of
stars, gigantic, was the Rider on the Lion.
He could not see the Rider's face.
A great exultation inflamed him.
At that instant he was stripped bare. His history, the people whom he knew,
the things that he had done, they were all as though they had never been.
His soul was, for that great moment, naked and alone before God.
"The whole duty of Art is listening for the voice of God...."
A sound, as though it came to him from another world, broke into the room.
There were voices and steps on the stairs.
"Ah, they are back from their party," Henry Galleon said, trotting happily
to the door. "Come up and have a chat with my wife, Westcott, before going
Peter was now the young man of the moment. He took this elevation with
frank delight, was encouraged by it, gave it all rather more, perhaps, than
its actual value, began a new novel, "The Stone House," started weekly
reviewing on _The Interpreter_ and yielded himself up entirely to Clare
He had been in love with her ever since that first day at Norah Monogue's,
but the way that she gradually now absorbed him was like nothing so much as
the slow covering of the rocks and the sand by the incoming tide. At first,
in those days at Brockett's, she had seemed to him something mysterious,
intangible, holy. But after that meeting in Cheyne Walk he knew her for
a prize that some fortunate man might, one day, win. He did not, for an
instant, suppose that he could ever be that one, but the mere imagined
picture of what some other would one day have, sent the blood rushing
through him. Her holiness for him was still intact but for another there
would be human, earthly wonders.
Then, curiously, as he met her more often and knew her better there
came a certain easy, almost casual, intercourse. One Clare Rossiter
still reigned amongst the clouds, but there was now too another easy,
fascinating, humorous creature who treated him almost like Alice Galleon
herself--laughed at him, teased him, provoked him ... suddenly, like a
shadow across a screen, would slip away; and he be on his knees again
before something that was only to be worshipped.
These two shapes of her crossed and were confused and again were parted.
His thoughts were first worshipping in heaven, then dwelling with delight
on witty, charming things that she had said.
For that man, when he came, there would be a most wonderful treasure.
Peter now lost his appetite. He could not sleep at night. He would slip out
of his room, cross the silent Chelsea streets and watch her dark window.
He cultivated Mrs. Rossiter and that massive and complacent lady took it
entirely to herself. Indeed, nothing, at this time was more remarkable than
the little stir that Peter's devotion caused. It was perhaps that Clare had
always had a cloud of young men about her, perhaps that Peter was thought
to be having too wonderful a time, just now, to be falling in love as
well--that would be piling Life on to Life! ... no one could live under it.
Besides Mrs. Rossiter liked him ... he was amazing, you see ... people
And the next stage arrived.
One May evening, at the Galleons' house, when some one was playing the
piano and all the world seemed to be sitting in corners Clare's hand lay
suddenly against his. The smooth outer curve of his hand lay against her
palm. Their little fingers touched. Sheets of fire rose, inflamed him and
fell ... rose again and fell. His hand began to shake, her hand began to
shake. He heard, a thousand miles away, some one singing about "the morn."
Their hands parted. She rose and slowly, her white dress and red-gold hair
flung against a background that seemed to him black and infinite, crossed
That trembling of her hand had maddened him. It suddenly showed him that
he--as well as another--might run the race for her. Everything that he had
ever done or been--his sentiments, his grossnesses, his restraints and his
rebellions--were now concerned in this pursuit. No other human
being--Stephen, Norah Monogue, Bobby, Alice--now had any interest for him.
His reviews were written he knew not how, the editions of "Reuben Hallard"
might run into the gross for all he cared, "The Stone House" lay neglected.
And he avoided seeing her. He was afraid to spoil that moment when her hand
had shaken at the touch of his, and yet he was tormented by the longing for
a new meeting that might provide some new amazement. Perhaps he would hold
her hand and feel the shadow of her body bending towards his own! And his
heart stopped beating; and he was suddenly cold with a splendid terror.
Then he did meet her again and had nothing to say. It seemed to him that
she was frightened. He came home that day in a cold fog of miserable
despair. A letter from his publishers informing him of a tenth edition was
of ironical unimportance. He lay awake all night restlessly unhappy.
For the first time for many months the old shadows stole out into the
room--the black bulk of Scaw House--the trees, the windows, his father....
And to him, tossing on his bed there came thoughts of a certain house in
the town. He could get up and dress now--a cab would soon take him there
... in the early morning he could slink back.
Clare did not want him! A fool to fancy that she had ever cared.
He, Peter Westcott, nobody! Why then should he not have his adventures, he
still so young and vigorous? He would go to that house....
And then, almost reluctantly, as he sat up in bed and watched the grey,
shadowy walls, Stephen seemed to be visible to him--Stephen, walking the
road, starting early in the fresh air when the light was breaking and the
scent of the grass was cool and filled with dew.
He would write to Stephen in the morning--he lay down and went to sleep.
By this time, meanwhile, Alice and Bobby had noticed. Alice, indeed, had
a number of young men over whose emotions she kept guard and Peter had
become, during these weeks, very valuable to her....
She did not want him to marry anybody--especially she did not want him to
marry Clare. At breakfast, past Peter's ears, as though he were not
concerned at all, she talked to Bobby--
"Really, Dr. Rossiter spoils Clare beyond all bounds--"
"He's taking her with him up to Glasgow to that Congress thing. He knows
perfectly well that she ought to stay with Mrs. Rossiter--and so does she."
"Well, it's no business of ours--" Bobby's usual tolerant complacency.
"It is. Clare might be a fine creature if she didn't let herself be spoiled
in this way. She's perpetually selfish and she ought to be told so."
"We're all perpetually selfish," said Bobby who began to be sorry for
"Oh! no, we're not. I'm very fond of Clare but I don't envy the man who
marries her. There's no one in the world more delightful when she has her
own way and things go smoothly, but they've wrapped her up in cotton wool
to such an extent that she simply doesn't know how to live out of it. She's
positively terrified of _Life_."
This, as Alice had intended, was too much for Peter. He burst out--
"I think Miss Rossiter's the pluckiest girl I've ever met. She's afraid of
"Except of being uncomfortable," Alice retorted. "That frightens her into
fits. Make her uncomfortable, Peter, and you'll see--"
And, red in the face, Peter answered--"I don't think you ought to talk of
any one who's so fond of you behind her back in that way--"
"Oh! I say just the same to her face. I'm always telling her these things
and she always agrees and then's just as selfish as ever. That absurd
little father of hers has spoilt her!"
Spoilt! Clare spoilt! Peter smiled darkly. Alice Galleon--delightful woman
though she was, of course couldn't endure that another woman should receive
such praise--Jealousy! Ah!...
And the aged and weighty author of "Reuben Hallard," to whom the world
was naturally an open book, and life known to its foundations, nodded
to himself. How people, intelligent enough in other ways, could be so
Afterwards, when they were alone, Bobby took him in hand--
"You're in love with Clare Rossiter, Peter," he said.
"Yes, I am," Peter answered defiantly.
"But you've known her so short a time!"
"What's that to do with it?"
"Oh, nothing, of course. But do you think you're the sort of people likely
to get on?"
"Really, Bobby, I don't--"
"I know--none of my business--quite true. But you see I've known Clare
pretty well all my life and you're the best friend I've got, so you might
allow me to take an interest."
"Well, say what you like."
"Nothing to say except that Clare isn't altogether an easy problem. You're
like all the other fellows I know--think because Clare's got red hair and
laughs easily she's a goddess--she isn't, not a bit! She's got magnificent
qualities and one day perhaps, when she's had a thoroughly bad time, she'll
show one the kind of things she's made of. But she's an only child, she's
been spoilt all her life and the moment she begins to be unhappy she's
"She shan't ever be unhappy if I can help it!" muttered Peter fiercely.
Bobby laughed. "You'll do your best of course, but are you the sort of man
for her? She wants some one who'll give her every kind of comfort, moral,
physical and intellectual. She wants somebody who'll accept her enthusiasms
as genuine intelligence. You'll find her out intellectually in a week. Then
she wants some one who'll give her his whole attention. You think now that
you will but you won't--you can't--you're not made that way. By temperament
and trade you're an artist. She thinks, at the moment, that an artist would
suit her very well; but, in reality, my boy, he's the very last sort of
person she ought to marry."
Peter caught at Bobby's words. "Do you really think she cares about me?"
"She's interested. Clare spends her days in successive enthusiasms. She's
always being enthusiastic--dreadful disillusions in between the heights.
Mind you, there's another side of Clare--a splendid side, but it wants very
careful management and I don't know, Peter, that you're exactly the sort of
"Thanks very much," said Peter grimly.
"No, but you're not--you don't, in the least, see her as she is, and she
doesn't see you as you are--hence these misguided attempts on my part to
show you one another."
But Peter had not been listening.
"Do you really think," he muttered, "that she cares about me?"
Bobby looked at him, laughed and shrugged his shoulders in despair.
"Ah! I see--it's no use," he said, "poor dear Peter--well, I wish you
And that was the end as far as Alice and Bobby were concerned. They never
alluded to it again and indeed now seemed to favour meetings between Clare
And now, through these wonderful Spring weeks, these two were continually
together. The Galleons had, at first, been inclined to consider Clare's
obvious preference for Peter as the simplest desire to be part of a general
rather heady enthusiasm. "Clare loves little movements...." And Peter,
throughout this Spring was a little movement. The weeks went on, and Clare
was not herself--silent, absorbed, almost morose. One day she asked Alice
Galleon a number of questions about Peter, and, after that, resolutely
avoided speaking of him. "Of course," Alice said to Bobby--"Dr. Rossiter
will let her marry any one she likes. She'll have plenty of money and
Peter's going to have a great career. After all it may be the best thing."
Bobby shook his head. "They're both egoists," he said. "Peter because he's
never had anything he wanted and Clare because she's always had everything
... it won't do."
But, after all, when May gave place to burning June, Bobby and Alice were
inevitably drawn into that romance. They yielded to an atmosphere that
both, by temperament, were too sentimental to resist.
Nearer and nearer was coming that intoxicating moment of Peter's final
plunge, and Clare--beautiful, these weeks, with all the excitement of the
wonderful episode--saw him as a young god who had leapt upon a submissive
London and conquered it.
Mrs. Rossiter and Mrs. Galleon played waiting chorus. Mrs. Launce from her
little house in Westminster, was, as usual, glowing with a piece of other
people's happiness. Bobby and Alice had surrendered to the atmosphere. All
were, of course, silent--until the word is spoken no movement must be
made--the little god is so easily alarmed.
At last towards the close of this hot June, Mrs. Launce proposed to Clare
a week-end at her Sussex cottage by the sea. She also told Peter that she
could put him up if he chose to come down at the same time. What could be
more delightful in this weather?
"Dear Clare, only the tiniest cottage as you know--no one else unless Peter
Westcott happens to come down--I suggested it, and you can see the sea from
your window and there's a common and a donkey, and you can roll in the
sand--" Mrs. Launce, when she was very happy betrayed her French descent by
the delightful way that she rolled her r's.
"Not a soul anywhere near--we can bathe all day."
Clare would love to come so strangely enough would Peter--"The 5.30 train
then--Saturday...." Dear Mrs. Launce in her bonnet and blue silk! Clare had
never thought her so entirely delightful!
Peter, of course, plainly understood the things that dear Mrs. Launce
intended. His confidence in her had been, in no way, misplaced--she loved a
wedding and was the only person in the world who could bring to its making
so fine a compound of sentiment and common sense. She frankly loved it
all and though, at the moment, occupied with the work of at least a dozen
women, and with a family that needed her most earnest care, she hastened to
assist the Idyll.
Peter's own feelings were curiously confused. He was going to propose to
Clare; and now he seemed to face, suddenly, the change that this must mean
to him. Those earlier months, when it had been pursuit with no certainty of
capture had only shown him one thing desirable--Clare. But now that he was
face to face with it he was frightened--what did he know of women?...
On the morning they were to go down, he sat in his room, this terrible
question confronting him. No, he knew nothing about women! He had left his
heroine very much alone in "Reuben Hallard" and those occasions when he had
been obliged to bring her on the stage had not been too successful. He knew
nothing about women!
There would be things--a great many--as a married man, he would have to
change. Sometimes he was moody for days together and wanted to see no one.
Sometimes he was so completely absorbed by his work that the real people
around him were shadows and wraiths. These moods must vanish. Clare must
always find him ready and cheerful and happy.
A dreadful sense of inadequacy weighed upon Peter. And then at the concrete
fact of her actual presence, at the thought of her standing there, waiting
for him, wanting him, his doubts left him and he was wildly, madly happy.
And yet, before he left the room, his glance fell on his writing-table.
White against its shining surface lay a paper and on the top sheet,
written: "The Stone House"; a Novel; Chapter II. Months ago--he had not
touched it all these last weeks, and, at this moment he felt he would
never write anything again. He turned away with a little movement of
That morning he went formally to Dr. Rossiter. The little man received him,
"I want to marry your daughter, sir," said Peter.
"You're very young," said the Doctor.
"Twenty-six," said Peter.
"Well, if she'll have you I won't stand in your way--"
Peter took the 5.30 train....
Mrs. Launce, on Sunday afternoon, from the door of her cottage, watched
them both strike across the common towards the sea--Peter, "stocky,"
walking as though no force on earth could upset his self-possession and
sturdy balance, Clare with her little body and easy movement meant for
this air and sea and springing turf. Mrs. Launce having three magnificent
children of her own believed in the science of Eugenics heart and soul.
Here, before her eyes, was the right and proper Union--talk about souls and
spirit and temperament--important enough for the immediate Two--but give
Nature flesh and bones, with cleanliness and a good straight stock to work
on, and see what She will do!
Mrs. Launce went into the cottage again and prepared herself for an
announcement at tea-time. She wiped her eyes before she settled down to her
work. Loving both of them the thought of their happiness hung about her
all the afternoon and made her very tender and forgiving when the little
parlourmaid arrived with a piece of the blue and white china smashed to
atoms. "I can't think 'ow it 'appened, Mum. I was just standing...."
Peter and Clare, crossing the common, beheld the sea at their feet. It was
a hot misty afternoon and only the thin white line of tiny curling waves
crept out of the haze on to the gleaming yellow sand. Behind them, on every
side was common and the only habitation, a small cottage nearly hidden by a
black belt of trees, on their right. These black, painted trees lay like a
blot of ink against the blue sky.
Sitting down on the edge of the common they looked on to the yellow sand.
The air was remorselessly still as though the world were cased in iron;
somewhere deep within its silence, its heart might yet be beating, but the
depths hid its reverberation.
Peter lay flat on his back and instantly his world was full of clamour. All
about him insects were stirring, the thin stiff blades of grass were very
faintly rustling, a tiny blue butterfly flew up from the soil into the
bright air--some creature sang a little song that sounded like the faint
melody of a spinet.
"All praising the Lord, I suppose--" Peter listened. "Hymn and glory songs
and all the rest--" Then, clashing, out of the heart of the sky, the
thought followed. "There _must_ be a God"--the tinkling insect told him so.
He gazed into the great sheet of blue above him, so remote, so cruel ...
and yet the tiny blue butterfly flew, without fear, into its very heart.
Peter's soul was drawn up. He swung, he flew, he fled.... Down below, there
on the hard, brown soil his body lay--dust to the dust--there, dead amongst
the singing insects.... He looked down, from his great heights and saw his
body, with its red face and its suit of blue and its up-turned boots, and
here, in freedom his Soul exulted!
"Of course there is a God!"
They are praising him down there--the ground is covered with creatures
that are praising Him. Peter buried his eyes and instantly his soul came
swinging down to him, found his body again, filled once more his veins with
life and sound. After a vast silence he could hear, once more, the life
amongst the grass, the faint rustle of the thin line of foam beneath him,
and could smell the earth and the scent of the seaweed borne up to them
from the sand.
"It's so still," he said suddenly, "that it's almost like thunder. There'll
be a storm later. On a day like this in Cornwall you would hear the sound
of the Mining Stamps for miles--"
"Well," she answered, "I am glad we're not in Cornwall--I hate it."
"Yes. That sounds horrible to you, I suppose, and I'm quite ready to admit
that it's my cowardice. Cornwall frightens me. When I was there as a tiny
girl it was just the same. I always hated it."
"I don't believe you're ever frightened at anything."
"I am. I'm under such a disadvantage, you see. If I'd been white-faced and
haggard every one would have thought it quite natural that I should scream
if I were left in the dark or hate being left alone with those horrible
black rocks that Cornwall's so full of, but just because I'm healthy and
was taught to hold my back up at school I have to pretend to a bravery that
simply doesn't exist--" He rejected, for the moment the last part of her
sentence. "Oh, but I understand perfectly what you mean by your fear of
Cornwall. Of course I understand it although I love the place with all my
soul and body. But it is terrifying--almost the only terrifying place that
civilisation has left to us--Central Africa is nothing to it--"
"Are you afraid of it?" she said, looking at him intently.
"Tremendously--because I suppose it won't let me alone. It's difficult to
put into words, but I think what I mean is that I want to go on now in
London, writing and seeing people and being happy and it's pulling at me
all the time."
"What way pulling at you?"
"I can't get out of my head all the things I did when I was a boy there. I
wasn't very happy, you know. I've told you something about it.... I want
to go back.... I want to go back. I mustn't, but I want to go back--and it
He seemed to have forgotten her--he stared out to sea, his hands holding
the grass on either side of him.
She moved and the sound suddenly brought him back. He turned to her
"Sorry. I was thinking about things. That cottage over there with the black
trees reminded me of Scaw House a little.... But it's all right really. I
suppose every fellow has the wild side and the sober side, and I've had
such a rum life and been civilised so short a time...."
She said slowly: "I think I know what you mean, though. I know enough of it
to be frightened of it--I don't want life to be like that. I don't suppose
I've got imagination. I want it to be orderly and easy and no one to be
hurt or damaged. Oh!"--her voice was suddenly like a cry--"Why can't we
just go through life without any one being frightened or made miserable? I
_believe_ in cities and walls and fires and regulated emotions--all those
other things can only hurt."
"They teach courage," Peter answered gravely. "And that's about the only
thing we're here to learn, I expect. My mother died because she wasn't
brave enough and I want ... I want...."
He broke off--"There's only one thing I want and that's you, Clare. You
must have known all these weeks that I love you. I've loved you ever since
I met you that Good Friday afternoon years ago. Let me take care of you,
see that no one hurts you--love you ... love you--"
"Do you really want me, Peter?"
He didn't speak but his whole body turned towards her, answered her
"Because I am yours entirely. I became yours that day when your hand
touched mine. I wasn't sure before--I knew then--"
He looked at her. He saw her, he thought for the first time. She sat with
her hands pressing on the grass, her body bent back a little.
The curve from her neck to her feet was like the shadow of some colour
against the brown earth because he saw her only dimly. Her hair burnt
against the blue sky but her eyes--her eyes! His gaze caught hers and he
surrendered himself to that tenderness, that mystery, that passion that she
flung about him. In her eyes he saw what only a lover can see--the terror
and the splendour of a soul surprised for the first time into love. She was
caught, she was trapped, she was gorgeously delivered. In her eyes he saw
that he had her in the hollow of his hand and that she was glad to be
But even now they had not touched--they had not moved from their places.
They were urged towards one another by some fierce power but also some
great suspense still restrained them.
Then Clare spoke, hurriedly, almost pleadingly.
"But Peter, listen--before I say any more--you must know me better. I think
that it is just because I love you so much that I see myself clearly to-day
as I have never seen myself before--although I have, I suppose really known
... things ... but I have denied them to myself. But now I know that all
that I say is true--"
"I am ready," he said, smiling. But she did not smile back at him, she was
intensely serious, she spoke without moving her eyes from his face.
"It is not altogether my fault. I have been an only child and everything
that I have wanted I have always had. I have despised my mother and even my
father because they have given in to me--that is not a pleasant thing to
know. And now comfort, happiness, an absence of all misery, these things
"I will look after you," said Peter. It was almost with irritation that she
brushed aside his assurance.
"Yes, yes, I know, but you must understand that it's more than that. If I
am unhappy I am another creature you haven't seen ... you don't know.... If
I am frightened--"
"But Clare, dear, we're all like that--"
"No, it's sheer wickedness with me. Oh! Peter I love you so much that you
_must_ listen. You mustn't think afterwards, ah, if I'd only known--"
"Aren't you making too much of it all? We've all got these things and it's
just because we can help each other that we marry. We give each the
"I've always been frightened," she said slowly, "always when anything big
comes along--always. And this is the biggest thing I've ever met. If only
it had been some ordinary man ... but you, Peter, that I should hurt
"You won't hurt me," he answered her, "and I'd rather be hurt by you than
helped by some one else--let's leave all this. If you love me, there's
nothing else to say.... Do you love me, Clare?"
Then suddenly before he could move towards her a storm that had been
creeping upon them, burst over their heads. Five minutes ago there had been
no sign of anything but the finest weather, but, in a moment the black
clouds had rolled up and the thunder broke, clashing upon the world. The
sea had vanished.
"We must run for it," cried Peter, raising his voice against the storm.
"That cottage over there--it's the only place."
They ran. The common was black now--the rain drove hissing, against the
soil, the air was hot with the faint sulphur smell.
Peter flung himself upon the cottage door and Clare followed him in. For a
moment they stood, breathless. Then Peter, conscious only that Clare was
beside him, wild with the excitement of the storm, caught her, held her for
a moment away from him, breathed the thunder that was about them all, and
then kissed her mouth, wet with the rain.
She clung to him, white, breathless, her head on his shoulder.
"Why, you're not frightened?" The sense of her helplessness filled him with
a delicious vigour. The way that her hand pressed in upon his shoulder
exalted him. Her wet golden hair brushed his cheek. Then he remembered that
they had invaded the cottage. For the first time it occurred to him that
their first embrace might have been observed; he turned around.
The room was filthy, a huge black fire-place occupied most of it, the floor
was littered with pieces of paper, of vegetables and a disagreeable smell
protested against the closed and dirty windows. At first it seemed that
this place was empty and then, with a start, he was aware that two eyes
were watching them. The thunder pealed above them, the rain lashed the roof
and ran streaming from the eaves; the cottage was dark; but he saw in a
chair, a bundle of rags from which those eyes were staring.
Clare gave a little cry; an old woman with a fallen chin and a face like
yellow parchment sat huddled in the chair.
Peter spoke to her. "I hope you don't mind our taking shelter here, whilst
the storm passes." She had seen them embrace; it made him uncomfortable,
but the storm was passing away, already the thunder was more distant.
The old woman made no reply, only her eyes glared at them. Peter put his
hand in Clare's--"It's all right; I think the old thing's deaf and dumb and
blind--look, the storm's passing--there's a bit of blue sky. Isn't it odd
an old thing like that..."
Clare, shuddered a little. "I don't like it--she's horrid--this place is so
dirty. I believe the rain's stopped."
They opened the door and the earth met them, good and sweet, after the
shower. The sky was breaking, the mists were leaving the sea and as the
storm vanished, the sun, dipping towards the horizon flung upon the blue a
fleet of tiny golden clouds.
Peter bent down to the old woman.
"Thank you," he said, "for giving us shelter." He placed a shilling on her
"She's quite deaf and blind," he said. "Poor old thing!"
They closed the door behind them and passed down a little path to the
seashore. Here wonders met them. The sand, wet with the recent storm
catching all the colours of the sky shone with mother of pearl--here a pool
of blue, there the fleet of golden clouds.
It stretched on every side of them, blazing with colour. Behind them the
common, sinking now into the dull light of evening.
They stood, little pigmies, on that vast painted floor. Before them the
breeze, blowing back the waves into the sun again turned the spray to gold.
Tiny figures, in all this glory, they embraced. In all the world they
seemed the only living thing....
They had their witness. The old woman who lived in the heart of those black
trees, was deaf and dumb indeed, but her eyes were alive in her fading and
When the door had closed she rose slowly from her chair, and her face was
wrinkled with the passion of the hatred that her old soul was feeling.
What did they mean, those two, coming there and haunting her with their
youth and strength and love. Kissing there before her as though she were
already dead--she to whom kisses were only bitter memories.
Her face worked with fury--she hobbled, painfully, to the door and opened
Below her, on a floor of gold, two black figures stood together.
Gazing at them she raised her thin and trembling hand; she flung with a
passionate, furious gesture, something from her.
A small silver coin glittered in the air, whistled for a moment and fell.
Mrs. Rossiter and Mrs. Galleon sat solemnly, with the majesty of spreading
skirts and Sunday Best hats, in the little drawing-room of The Roundabout,
awaiting the return from the honeymoon.
The Roundabout is the name that Peter has given to the little house in
Dorset Street, Chelsea, that he has chosen to live in with his bride. High
spirits lead to nicknames and Peter was in the very highest of spirits when
he took the house. The name alluded both to the shape--round bow-windowed
like--fat bulging little walls, lemon-coloured, and to the kind of life
that Peter intended to lead. All was to be Happiness. Life is challenged
with all the high spirits of a truly happy ceremony.
It is indeed a tiny house--tiny hall, tiny stairs, tiny rooms but quaint
with a little tumble-down orchard behind it and that strange painted house
that old mad Miss Anderson lives in on the other side of the orchard. Such
a quiet little street too ... a line of the gravest trees, cobbles with
only the most occasional cart and a little church with a sleepy bell at the
farthest end ... all was to be Happiness.
Wedding presents--there had been six hundred or so--filled the rooms.
People had, on the whole, been sensible, had given the right thing. The
little drawing-room with its grey wall-paper, roses in blue jars, its two
pictures--Velasquez' Maria Theresa in an old silver frame and Rembrandt's
Night Watch--was pleasant, but overwhelmed now by the presence of these two
enormous ladies. The evening sun, flooding it all with yellow light, was
impertinent enough to blind the eyes of Mrs. Rossiter. She rose and moved
slowly to draw down the blinds. A little silver clock struck half-past
"They must soon be here," said Mrs. Galleon gloomily. Her gloom was happy
and comfortable. She was making the very most of a pleasant business with
the greatest satisfaction in the world. She had done exactly the same at
Bobby's wedding, and, in her heavy, determined way she would do the same
again before she died. Alice Galleon would be there in a moment, meantime
the two ladies, without moving in their chairs, flung sentences across at
one another and smoothed their silk skirts with their white plump hands.
"It's not really a healthy house--"
"No--with the orchard--and it's much too small--"
"Poor dears, hope they'll be happy. But one can't help feeling, Jane dear,
that it was a little rash of you ... your only girl ... and one knows so
little about Mr. Westcott, really--"
"Well, your own Bobby vouched for him. He'd known him at school after all,
and we all know how cautious Bobby is about people--besides, Emma, no one
could have received him more warmly--"
"Yes--Oh! of course ... but still, having no family--coming out of nowhere,
so to speak--"
"Well, it's to be hoped they'll get on. I must say that Clare will miss her
home terribly. It takes a lot to make up for that--And her father so
"Yes, we must make the best of it."
The sun's light faded from the room--the clock and the pictures stood out
sharply against the gathering dusk. Two ladies filled the room with their
shadows and the little fire clicked and rattled behind the murmuring
Alice Galleon burst in upon them. "What! Not arrived yet! the train must be
dreadfully late. Lights! Lights! No, don't you move, mother!"
She returned with lamps and flooded the room with light. The ladies
displayed a feeble protest against her exultant happiness.
"I'm sure, my dear, I hope that nothing has happened."
"My dear mother, what _could_ happen?"
"Well, you never know with these trains--and a honeymoon, too, is always
rather a dangerous time. I remember--"
"I hear them!" Alice cried and there indeed they were to be heard bumping
and banging in the little hall. The door opened and Peter and Clare,
radiant with happiness, appeared.
They stood in the doorway, side by side, Clare in a little white hat and
grey travelling dress and Peter browner and stronger and squarer than ever.
All these people filled the little room. There was a crackling fire of
"Oh! but we've had a splendid time--"
"No, I don't think Clare's in the least tired--"
"Yes, isn't the house a duck?"
"Don't we just love being back!"
"... hoping you hadn't caught colds--"
"... besides we had the easiest crossing--"
"... How's Bobby?"
"... were so afraid that something must have happened--"
Mrs. Rossiter took Clare upstairs to help her to take her hat off.
Mother and daughter faced one another--Clare flung herself into her
"Oh! Mother dear, he's wonderful, wonderful!"
Downstairs Alice watched Peter critically. She had not realised until this
marriage, how fond she had grown of Peter. She had, for him, very much the
feeling that Bobby had--a sense of tolerance and even indulgence for all
tempers and morosities and morbidities. She had seen him, on a day, like a
boy of eighteen, loving the world and everything in it, having, too, a
curious inexperience of the things that life might mean to people, unable,
apparently, to see the sterner side of life at all--and then suddenly that
had gone and given place to a mood in which no one could help him, nothing
could cheer him... like Saul, he was possessed with Spirits.
Now, as he stood there, he looked not a day more than eighteen. Happiness
filled him with colour--his eyes were shining--his mouth smiling.
"Alice, old girl--she's splendid. I couldn't have believed that life could
be so good--"
A curious weight was lifted from her at his words. She did not know what
it was that she had dreaded. Perhaps it had been merely a sense that Clare
was too young and inexperienced to manage so difficult a temperament as
Peter's--and now, after all, it seemed that she had managed it. But in
realising the relief that she felt she realised too the love that she had
for Peter. When he was young and happy the risks that he ran seemed just as
heavy as when he was old and miserable.
"Oh, Peter! I'm so glad--I know she's splendid--Oh! I believe you are going
to be happy--"
"Yes!" he answered her confidently, "I believe we are--"
The ladies--Mrs. Galleon, Mrs. Rossiter and Alice--retired. Later on Clare
and Peter were coming into Bobby's for a short time.
Left alone in their little house, he drew her to the window that overlooked
the orchard and silently they gazed out at the old, friendly, gnarled and
knotted tree, and the old thick garden-wall that stretched sharply against
Behind them the fire crackled and the lamps shed their pleasant glow and
that dear child with the great stiff dress that Velasquez painted smiled at
them from the wall.
Peter gave a deep sigh of happiness.
"Our House..." he said and drew her very close to him. The two of them, as
they stood there outlined against the window were so young and so pleasant
that surely the Gods would have pity!
In the days that followed he watched it all with incredulity. So swiftly
had he been tossed, it seemed, from fate to fate, and so easily, also, did
he leave behind him the things that had weighed him down. No sign now of
that Peter--evident enough in the Brockett days--morose, silent, sometimes
oppressed by a sense of unreasoned catastrophe, stepping into his bookshop
and out again as though all the world were his enemy.
Peter knew now that he was loved. He had felt that precious quality on the
day that his mother died, he had felt it sometimes when he had been in
Stephen's company, but against these isolated emotions what a world of hate
Now he felt Clare's affection on every side of him. They had already in so
short a time a store of precious memories, intimacies, that they shared.
They had been through wild, passionate wonders together and standing now,
two human beings with casual words and laughing eyes, yet they knew that
perfect holy secrets bound them together.
He stood sometimes in the little house and wondered for an instant whether
it was all true. Where were all those half cloudy dreams, those impulses,
those dread inheritances that once he had known so well? Where that other
Peter Westcott? Not here in this dear delicious little house, with Love and
Home and great raging happiness in his heart.
He wrote to Stephen, to Mr. Zanti, to Norah Monogue and told them. He
received no answers--no word from the outer world had come to him. That
other life seemed cut off, separated--closed. Perhaps it had left him for
ever! Perhaps, as Clare said, walls and fires were better than wind and
loneliness--comfort more than danger.... Meanwhile, in his study at the top
of the house, "The Stone House" was still lying, waiting, at Chapter II--
But it was Clare who was the eternal wonder. He could not think of her,
create her, pile up the offerings before her altar, sufficiently. That he
should have had the good fortune... It never ceased to amaze him.
As the weeks and months passed his life centred more and more round Clare
and the house that they shared together. He knew now many people in London;
they were invited continually to dinners, parties, theatres, dances.
Clare's set in London had been very different from Peter's literary world,
and they were therefore acclaimed citizens of two very different circles.
Peter, too, had his reviewing articles in many papers--the whole whirligig
of Fleet Street. (How little a time, by the way, since that dreadful day
when he had sat on that seat on the Embankment and talked to the lady with
His days during this first year of married life were full, varied, exciting
as they could be--and yet, through it all, his eye was always upon that
little house, upon the moment when the door might be closed, the fire
blazing and they two were alone, alone--
He was, indeed, during this year, a charming Peter. He loved her with the
hero worship of a boy, but also with a humour, a consciousness of success,
a happy freedom that denied all mawkish sham sentiment. He studied only to
please her. He found that, after all, she did not care very greatly for
literature or music or pictures. Her enthusiasm for these things was the
enthusiasm of a child who is bathed in an atmosphere of appreciation and
would return it on to any object that she could find.
He discovered that she loved compliments, that she cared about dress, that
she loved to have crowds of friends about her, and that parties excited her
as though these were the first that she had ever known. But he found, too,
that in those half-hours when she was alone with him she showed her love
for him with a passion and emphasis that was almost terrifying. Sometimes
when she clung to him it was as though she was afraid that it was not going
to last. He discovered in the very beginning that below all her happy easy
life, an undercurrent of apprehension, sometimes only vaguely felt,
sometimes springing into sight like the eyes of some beast in the dark,
kept company with her.
It was always the future--a perfectly vague, indefinite future that
terrified her. Every moment of her life had been sheltered and happy and,
by reason of that very shelter, her fears had grown upon her. He remembered
one evening when they had been present at some party and she had been
radiant, beautiful, in his eyes divine. Her little body had been strung to
its utmost energy, she had whirled through the evening and at last as they
returned in the cab, she had laid her head on his shoulder and suddenly
flung her arms about him and kissed him--his eyes, his cheeks, his
mouth--again and again. "Oh! I'm so safe with you, Peter dear," she had
cried to him.
He loved those evenings when they were alone and she would sit on the floor
with her head on his knee and her hand against his. Then suddenly she would
lean back and pull his head down and kiss his eyes, and then very slowly
let him go. And the fierceness, the passion of her love for him roused
in him a strength of devotion that all the years of unhappiness had been
storing. He was still only a boy--the first married year brought his
twenty-seventh birthday--but his love for Clare had the depth and reserve
that belongs to a man.
Mrs. Launce, watching them both, was sometimes frightened. "God help them
both if anything interferes," she said once to her husband. "I've seen that
boy look at Clare with a devotion that hurts. Peter's no ordinary mortal--I
wonder, now and again, whether Clare's worth it all."
But this year seemed to silence all her fears. The happiness of that
little house shone through Chelsea. "Oh, we're dining with the Westcotts
to-night--they'll cheer us up--they're always so happy"--"Oh! did you see
Clare Westcott? I never saw any one so radiant."
And once Bobby said to Alice: "We made a mistake, old girl, about that
marriage. It's made another man of Peter. He's joy personified."
"If only," Alice had answered, "destiny or whatever it is will let them
alone. I feel as though they were two precious pieces of china that a
housemaid might sweep off the chimney piece at any moment. If only nobody
will touch them--"
Meanwhile Peter had forgotten, utterly forgotten, the rest of the world.
Walls and fires--for a year they had held him. The Roundabout versus the
World.... What of old Frosted Moses, of the Sea Road, of Stephen, of Mr.
Zanti? What of those desperate days in Bucket Lane? All gone for nothing?
Clare, perhaps, with this year behind her, hardly realised the forces
against which she was arrayed. Beware of the Gods after silence....
And, after all, it was Clare herself who flung down the glove.
On a winter's evening she was engaged to some woman's party. Peter had
planned an evening, snug and industrious, alone with a book. "The Stone
House" awaited his attention--he had not worked at it for months. Also he
knew that he owed Henry Galleon a visit. Why he had not been to see the old
man lately he scarcely knew.
Clare, standing in the little hall, waiting for a cab, suggested an
"Peter dear, why don't you go round to Brockett's if you've nothing to do?"
"Yes. You've never been since we married, and I had a letter from Norah
this morning--not at all cheerful--I'm afraid she's been ill for months.
They'd love to see you."
"Brockett's!" He stood astounded. Well, why not? A strange
emotion--uncomfortable, alien, stirred him. He kissed her and saw her go
with a half-distracted gaze. What a world away Brockett's seemed! Old Mrs.
Lazarus, Norah (poor Norah!) Mrs. Brockett, young Robin Tressiter. They
would be glad to see him--it was a natural thing enough that he should
go--what was it that held him back? For the first time since his marriage,
as he slowly and thoughtfully put on his greatcoat, he was distressed. He
reproached himself--Norah, Stephen, Mr. Zanti!... he had not given them a
He felt, as he went out, as though he were going, with key and candle, to
unlock some old rusty door that led into secret rooms. It was a wet, windy
night. The branches of the little orchard rattled and groaned, and doors
and windows were creaking.
As he passed into the shadows and silence of Bloomsbury the impression
weighed with increasing heaviness upon him that the old Peter had come back
and that his married life with Clare had been a dream. He was still at
Brockett's, still silent, shy, awkward, still poring over pages of "Reuben
Hallard" and wondering whether any one would ever publish it--still
spending so many hours in the old musty bookshop with Herr Gottfried's wild
mop of hair coming so madly above the little counter.
The wind tugged at his umbrella, the rain lashed his face and at last,
breathless, with the sharp corner of his upturned collar digging into his
chin, he pulled the bell of the old grey remorseless door that he knew so
well. There was no one in Bennett Square, only the two lamps dimly marked
The door was opened by Mrs. Brockett herself and she stood there, stern and
black peering into his face.
"What is it? What do you want?" she asked grimly.
He brushed past her laughing and stood back under the gas in the hall
looking at her.
She gave a little cry. "No! It can't be! Why, Mr. Westcott!"
He had never, in all the seven years that he had been with her, seen her so
"But Mr. Westcott! To think of it! And the times we've talked of you! And
you never coming near us all this while. You might have been dead for all
we knew, and indeed if it hadn't been for Miss Monogue the other day we'd
have heard no news since the day that wild man with the beard came walking
in," she broke off suddenly--"and there you are, holding your umbrella with
the point down and making a great pool on the carpet as though--" She took
the umbrella from him but her hand rested for an instant on his arm and she
"But all the same, Mr. Peter, I'm more glad to see you than I can say--"
She took him into her little room and looked at him. "But you've not
changed in the least," she said, "not in the very least. And where, pray,
Mr. Peter, have you been all this time and come nowhere near us?"
He tried to explain; he was confused, he said something about marriage
and stopped. The room was filled with that subtle odour that brought his
other life back to him in a torrent. He was bathed in it, overwhelmed by
it--roast-beef, mutton, blacking, oil-cloth, decayed flowers, geraniums,
damp stone, bread being toasted--all these things were in it.
He filled his nostrils with the delicious pathos and intimacy of it.
She regarded him sternly. "Now, Mr. Peter, it's of no use. Oh, yes, we've
heard about your wedding. You wrote to Miss Monogue. But there were days
before that, many of them, and never so much as a postcard. With some of,
my boarders it would be natural enough, because what could you expect? _We_
didn't want _them_, _they_ didn't want _us_--only habit as you might say.
But you, Mr. Peter--why just think of the way we were fond of you--Mrs.
Lazarus and little Robin and Miss Monogue--as well as myself."
She stopped and pulled out her handkerchief and blew her nose.
"I dare say you're a famous man," she went on, "with your books and your
marriage and the rest of it, but that doesn't alter your old friends being
your old friends and it never will. There, I'm getting cross when all I
mean to say is that I'm more delighted to see you than words."
He was humble before her. He felt, indeed, that he had been the most
unutterable brute. How could he have stayed away all this time with these
dear people waiting for him? He simply hadn't realised--
"And Miss Monogue?" he asked at last, "I'm afraid she's not been very
"She's been very ill indeed--for months. At one time we were afraid that
she would go. It's her heart. Poor dear, and she's been worrying so about
her work--but she's better now and she'll be truly glad to see you, Mr.
Peter--but you mustn't stay more than a few minutes. She's up on the sofa
but it's the excitement that's bad for her."
But first Peter went to pay a visit to the Tressiter establishment. He
knew, from old custom, that this would be the hour when the family would be
getting itself, by slow and noisy degrees, to bed. So tremendous, indeed,
was the tumult that he was able to open the door and stand, within the
room, watching and un-noticed. Mrs. Tressiter was attempting to bathe a fat
and very strident baby. Two small boys were standing on a bed and hitting
one another with pillows; a little girl lay on her face on the floor and
howled for no apparent reason; Robin, but little older than Peter's last
impression of him had painted, was standing, naked save for his shirt and
looking down, gravely, at his screaming sister.
Every now and again, Mrs. Tressiter, without ceasing from her work on the
baby who slipped about in her hands like a stout eel, cried in a shrill
voice: "Children, if you don't be quiet," or "Nicholas, in a moment I'll
give you such a beating,"--or "Agatha, for goodness' sake!"...
Then suddenly Robin, looking up, caught sight of Peter, he gave a shout and
was across the room in an instant. There was never a moment's doubt in his
eyes. He flung himself upon Peter's body, he wound his arms round Peter's
leg, he beat upon his chest with his bullet head, he cried: "Oh! Mr. Peter
has come! Mr. Peter has come!"
Mrs. Tressiter let the baby fall into the bath with a splash and there it
lay howling. The other members of the family gathered round.
But Peter thought that he had known no joy so acute for years as the
welcome that the small boy gave him. He hoisted Robin on to his shoulder,
and there Robin sat with his naked little legs dangling over, his hands in
the big man's neck.
"Oh! Mr. Westcott, I'm sure..." said Mrs. Tressiter, smiling from ear to
ear and wiping her wet hands on her apron--Robin bent his head and bit
"Get on, horse," he cried and for a quarter of an hour there was wild
riot in the Tressiter family. Then they were all put to bed, as good as
gold,--"you might have heard a pin drop," said Mrs. Tressiter, "when Agatha
said her prayers"--and at last the lights were put out.
Peter bent down over Robin's bed and the boy flung his arms round his neck.
"I dreamed of you--I knew you'd come," he whispered.
"What shall I send you as a present to-morrow?" asked Peter.
"Soldiers--soldiers on horses. Those with cannons and shiny things on their
backs...." Robin was very explicit--"You'll be here to-morrow?" he asked.
"No--not to-morrow," Peter answered.
"I love you, more than Agatha, more than Dick, more than any one 'cept
Daddy and Mummy."
"You'll be a good boy until I come back?"
"Promise ... but come back soon."
Peter gave him a long kiss and left him. Supposing, one day, he had a boy
like that? A little boy in a shirt like that? Wouldn't it be simply too
wonderful? A boy to give soldiers to....
He went across to Miss Monogue's door. A faint voice answered his knock
and, entering the room, the scent of medicine and flowers that he always
connected with his mother, met him. Norah Monogue, very white, with dark
shadows beneath her eyes, was lying on the sofa by the fire.
Mrs. Brockett had prepared her for Peter's coming and she smiled up at him
with her old smile and gave him her hand. How thin and white it was with
its long slender fingers! He sat down by her sofa and he knew by the way
that she looked at him that she was reproaching him--
"Naughty Peter," she said, "all these months and you have been nowhere near
"I, too, have a bone--you never sent me a word about my wedding."
She turned her head away. "I was frightfully ill just then. They didn't
think I'd pull through. I did write afterwards to Clare, I told her how ill
"She never told me."
Peter bent over the sofa. "But I am ashamed, Norah, more ashamed than I can
say. After I got well and went to live with the Galleons a new life seemed
to begin for me and I was so eager and excited about it all. And then--" he
hesitated for a moment--"there was Clare."
"Yes, I know there was Clare and I am so delighted about it--I know that
you will both be so happy.... But, when one is lying here week after week
and is worried and tired things take such a different outline. I thought
that you and Clare--that you ... had given me up altogether and--"
Suddenly hiding her face in her hands she began to cry. It was
inexpressibly desolate there in the dim bare little room, and the sharp
sense of his neglect and the remembrance of the good friend that she had
been to him for so many years overwhelmed Peter.