Part 7 out of 10
He knelt down and put his arms round her. "Norah--don't, please, I can't
bear it. It's all right. I've been a beast, a selfish cad. But it shan't
happen again. I'll come often--I'm ashamed."
She cried for a little and then she smiled at him. "I'm a fool to cry like
that but you see I'm weak and ill--and seeing you again after all this time
and your being so successful and happy upset me I suppose. Forgive it,
Peter, and come again one day when I'm better and stronger--and bring Clare
She held tightly to his hand and her grasp was hot and feverish. He
reassured her, told her that he would come soon again, that he would bring
Clare and so left her.
He took a cab and drove back to Chelsea in a storm of agitation. Suddenly,
out of nothing as it were, all these people, this old life had been thrust
up in front of him--had demanded, made claims. About him once again was
the old atmosphere: figures were filling his brain, the world was a wild
tossing place ... one of those Roundabouts with the hissing lights, the
screaming music, the horses going up and down. Plain enough now that the
old life was not done with. Every moment of his past life seemed to spring
before him claiming recognition. He was drunk with the desire for work. He
flung the cabman something, dashed into the little house, was in his room.
The lamp was lighted, the door was shut, there was silence, and in his
brain figures, scenes, sentences were racing--"The Stone House," neglected
for so long, had begun once more, to climb.
The hours passed, the white sheets were covered and flung aside. Dimly
through a haze, he saw Clare standing in the doorway.
"Bad old boy!"
He scarcely glanced up. "I'm not coming yet--caught by work."
"Don't be at it too late."
He made no reply.
She closed the door softly behind her.
Then, out of the wind and rain, came Mr. Zanti.
Three days after Peter's visit to Brockett's he was finishing a letter
before dressing for dinner. He and Clare were going on to a party later
in the evening but were dining quietly alone together first. The storms
that had fallen upon London three days before were still pommelling and
buffeting the city, the trees outside the window groaned and creaked with
a mysterious importance as though they were trying to tell one another
secrets, and little branches tapped at the dripping panes. He was writing
in the little drawing-room--warm and comfortable--and the Maria Theresa, so
small a person in so much glory, looked down on him from her silver frame
and gave him company.
Then Sarah--a minute servant, who always entered a room as though swept
into it by a cyclone--breathlessly announced that there was a gentleman to
see Mr. Westcott.
"'E's drippin' in the 'all," she gasped and handed Peter a very dirty bit
Peter read:--"Dear Boy, Being about to leave this country on an expedition
of the utmost importance I feel that I must shake you by the hand before I
go. Emilio Zanti."
Mr. Zanti, enormous, smiling from ear to ear, engulfed in a great coat
from which his huge head, buffeted by wind and rain--his red cheeks, his
rosy nose, his sparkling eyes--stood out like some strange and cheerful
flower--filled the doorway.
He enfolded Peter in his arms, pressed him against very wet garments,
kissed him on both cheeks and burst into a torrent of explanation. He was
only in London for a very few days--he must see his dearest Peter--so
often before he had wanted to see his Peter but he had thought that it
would be better to leave him--and then he had heard that his Peter was
married--well, he must see his lady--it was entirely necessary that he
should kiss her hand and wish her well and congratulate her on having
secured his "own, own Peter," for a life partner. Yes, he had found his
address from that Pension where Peter used to live; they had told him and
he had come at once because at once, this very night, he was away to Spain
where there was a secret expedition--ah, very secret--and soon--in a month,
two months--he would return, a rich, rich man. This was the adventure of
Mr. Zanti's life and when he was in England again he, Mr. Zanti, would see
much of Peter and of his beautiful wife--of course she was beautiful--and
of the dear children that were to come--
Here Peter interrupted him. He had listened to the torrent of words in an
odd confusion. The last time that he had seen Mr. Zanti he had left him,
sitting with his head in his hands sobbing in the little bookshop. Since
then everything had happened. He, Peter, had had success, love, position,
comfort--the Gods had poured everything into his hands--and now, to his
amazement as he sat there, in the little room opposite his huge fantastic
friend he was almost regretting all those glorious things that had come to
him and was wishing himself back in the dark little bookshop--dark, but
lighted with the fire of Mr. Zanti's amazing adventures.
But there was more than this in his thoughts. As he looked at Mr. Zanti,
at his wild black locks, his flaming cheeks, his rolling eyes, his large
red hands, he was aware suddenly that Clare would not appreciate him. It
was the first time since his marriage that there had been any question of
Clare's criticism, but now he knew, with absolute certainty, that Mr. Zanti
was entirely outside Clare's range of possible persons. For the first time,
almost with a secret start of apprehension, he knew that there were things
that she did not understand.
"I'm afraid," he said, "that my wife is dressing. But when you come back
you shall meet of course--that will be delightful." And then he went
on--"But I simply can't tell you how splendid it is to look at you again.
Lots of things have happened to me since I saw you, of course, but I'm just
Whilst he was speaking his voice had become eager, his eyes bright--he
began to pace the room excitedly--
"Oh, Zanti! ... the days we used to have. I suppose the times I've been
having lately had put it all out of my head, but now, with you here, it's
all as though it happened yesterday. The day we left Cornwall, you and
I--the fog when we got to London ... everything." He drew a great breath
and stood in the middle of the room listening to the rain racing down the
pipes beyond the dark windows.
Mr. Zanti, getting up ponderously, placed his hands on Peter's shoulders.
"Still the same Peter," he said. "Now I know zat I go 'appy. Zat is all I
came for--I said I must zee my Peter because Stephen--"
"Stephen--" broke in Peter sharply.
"Yes, our Stephen. He goes with me now to Spain. He is now, until to-night,
in London but he will not come to you because 'e's afraid--"
"Yes 'e says you are married now and 'ave a lovely 'ouse and 'e says you
'ave not written for a ver' long time, and 'e just asked me to give you 'is
love and say that when 'e comes back from Spain, per'aps--"
"Stephen!" Peter's voice was sharp with distress. "Zanti, where is he now?
I must go and see him at once."
"No, 'e 'as gone already to the boat. I follow 'im." Then Mr. Zanti added
in a softer voice--"So when he tell me that you 'ave not written I say 'Ah!
Mr. Peter forgets his old friends,' and I was zorry but I say that I will
go and make sure. And now I am glad, ver' glad, and Stephen will be glad
too. All is well--"
"Oh! I am ashamed. I don't know what has come over me all this time. But
wait--I will write a note that you shall take to him and then--when he
comes back from Spain--"
He went to his table and began to write eagerly. Mr. Zanti, meanwhile, went
round the room on tip-toe, examining everything, sometimes shaking his huge
head in disapproval, sometimes nodding his appreciation.
_Dear, Dear Stephen,--I am furious, I hate myself. What can I have been
doing all this time? I have thought of you often, but my marriage and all
the new life have made me selfish, and always I put off writing to you
because I thought the quiet hour would come to me--and it has never come.
But I have no excuse--except that in the real part of myself I love
you, just the same as ever--and it will be always the same. I have been
bewildered, I think, by all the things that have happened to me during this
last year--but I will never be bewildered again. Write to me from Spain and
then as soon as you come back I will make amends for my wickedness. I am
now and always, Your loving Peter._
Mr. Zanti took the letter.
"How is he?" asked Peter.
"I found 'im--down in Treliss. He wasn't 'appy. 'E was thinking of that
woman. And then 'e was all alone. 'E got some work at a farm out at
Pendragon and 'e was just goin' there when I came along and made 'im come
to Spain. 'E was thinkin' of you a lot, Peter."
Mr. Zanti cast one more look round the room. "Pretty," he said. "Pretty.
But not my sort of place. Too many walls--all too close in."
In the hall he said once more--a little plaintively:--
"I _should_ like to see your lady, Peter," and then he went on hurriedly,
"But don't you go and disturb her--not for anything--_I_ understand...."
And, with his finger on his lip, wrapt in the deepest mystery, he departed
into the rain.
As the door closed behind him, Peter felt a wave of chill, unhappy
loneliness. He turned back into the cheerful little hall and heard Clare
singing upstairs. He knew that they were going to have a delightful little
dinner, that, afterwards, they would be at a party where every one would be
pleased to see them--he knew that the evening in front of him should be
wholly charming ... and yet he was uneasy. He felt now as though he ought
to resign his evening, climb to his little room and work at "The Stone
House." And yet what connection could that possibly have with Mr. Zanti?
His uneasiness had begun, he thought, after his visit to Brockett's. It
seemed to him as he went upstairs to dress that the world was too full of
too many things and that his outlook on it all was confused.
Throughout dinner this uneasiness remained with him. Had he been less
occupied with his own thoughts he would have noticed that Clare was
not herself; at first she talked excitedly without waiting for his
answers--there were her usual enthusiasms and excitements. Everything in
the day's history had been "enchanting" or "horrible," as a rule she waited
for him to act up to her ecstasies and abhorrencies; to-night she talked
as though she had no audience but were determined to fill up time. Then
suddenly she was silent; her eyes looked tired and into them there crept
a strange secret little shudder as though she were afraid of some thought
or mysterious knowledge. She looked now like a little girl who knew, that
to-morrow--the inevitable to-morrow--she must go to the dentist's to be
The last part of the meal was passed in silence. Afterwards she came into
his study and sat curled upon the floor at his feet watching him smoke.
She thought as she looked up at him, that something had happened to make
him younger. She had never seen him as young as he was to-night--and then
because his thoughts were far away and because her own troubled her she
made a diversion. She said:--
"Who _was_ that extraordinary man you were talking to this evening?"
He came back, with a jerk, from Stephen.
"Why the man with all the black hair and a funny squash hat. I saw Sarah
let him in."
"Ah, that," said Peter, looking down at her tenderly, "that was a great
friend of mine."
She moved her head away.
"Don't touch my hair, Peter--it's all been arranged for the party. A friend
of yours? What! That horrible looking man? Oh! I suppose he was one of
those dreadful people you knew in the slums or in Cornwall."
Peter saw Mr. Zanti's dear friendly face, like a moon, staring at him, and
heard his warm husky voice: "Peter, my boy...."
He moved a little impatiently.
"Look here, old girl, you mustn't call him that. He's one of the very best
friends I've ever had--and I've been rather pulled up lately--ever since
that night you sent me to Brockett's. I've felt ashamed of myself. All my
happiness and--you--and everything have made me forget my old friends and
that won't do."
She laughed. "And now I suppose you're going to neglect me for them--for
horrid people like that man who came to-night."
Her voice was shaking a little--he saw that her hands were clenched on her
lap. He looked down at her in astonishment.
"My dear Clare, what do you mean? How could you say a thing like that even
in jest? You know--"
She broke in upon him almost fiercely--"It wasn't jest. I meant what I
said. I hate all these earlier people you used to know--and now, after our
being so happy all this time, you're going to take them up again and make
the place impossible--"
"Look here, Clare, you mustn't speak of them like that--they're my friends
and they've got to be treated as such." His voice was suddenly stern. "And
by the way as we are talking about it I don't think it was very kind of you
to tell me nothing at all about poor Norah's being so ill. She asked you to
tell me and you never said a word. That wasn't very kind of you."
"I did speak to you about it but you forgot--"
"I don't think you did--I am quite sure that I should not have forgotten--"
"Oh, of course you contradict me. Anyhow there's no reason to drag Norah
Monogue into this. The matter is perfectly clear. I will not have dirty old
men like that coming into the house."
"Clare, you shall not speak of my friends--"
"Oh, shan't I? When I married you I didn't marry all your old horrid
"Drop it, Clare--or I shall be angry--"
She sprang to her feet, faced him. He had never in his life seen such fury.
She stood with her little body drawn to its full height, her hands
clenched, her breast heaving under her white evening dress, her eyes
"You shan't! You shan't! I won't have any of them here. I hate Cornwall and
all its nasty people and I hate Brockett's and all those people you knew
there. When you married me you gave them all up--all of them. And if you
have them here I won't stay in the house--I'll leave you. All that part of
your life is nothing to do with me. _Nothing_--and I simply won't have it.
You can do what you like but you choose between them and me--you can go
back to your old life if you like but you go without me!"
She burst from the room, banging the door behind her. She had behaved
exactly like a small child in the nursery. As he looked at the door he was
bewildered--whence suddenly had this figure sprung? It was some one whom he
did not know. He could not reconcile it with the dignified Clare, proud as
a queen, crossing a ball-room or the dear beloved Clare nestling into a
corner of his arm-chair, her face against his, or the gentle friendly Clare
listening to some story of distress.
The fury, the tempest of it! It was as though everything in the room had
been broken. And he, with his glorious, tragical youth felt that the end
of the world had come. This was the conclusion of life--no more cause for
living, no more friendship or comfort or help anywhere. Clare had said
those things to him. He stood, for ten minutes there, in the middle of the
room, without moving--his face white, his eyes full of pain.
Sarah came to tell him that the hansom was there. He moved into the hall
with the intention of sending it away; no party for him to-night--when, to
his amazement he saw Clare coming slowly down the stairs, her cloak on,
buttoning her gloves.
She passed him without a word and got into the hansom. He took his hat and
coat, gave the driver the address, and climbed in beside her.
Once as they drove he put out his hand, touched her dress and said--"Clare
She made no reply, but sat looking, with her eyes large and black in her
little white face, steadfastly in front of her.
Lady Luncon was a rich, good-natured woman who had recently published a
novel and was anxious to hear it praised, therefore she gave a party.
Originally a manufacturer's daughter, she had conquered a penniless
baronet--spent twenty years in the besieging of certain drawing-rooms and
now, tired of more mundane worlds, fixed her attention upon the Arts. She
was a completely stupid woman, her novel had been exceedingly vulgar, but
her good heart and a habit of speaking vaguely in capital letters secured
When Clare and Peter arrived people were filling her drawing-rooms,
overflowing on to the stairs and pouring into the supper room. Some one,
very far away, was singing "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," a babel of voices
rose about Clare and Peter on every side, every one was flung against every
one; heat and scent, the crackle and rustle of clothes, the soft voices of
the men and sharp strident voices of the women gave one the sensation of
imminent suffocation; people with hot red faces, unable to move at all,
flung agonised glances at the door as though the entrance of one more
person must mean death and disaster.
There were, Peter soon discovered, three topics of conversation: one was
their hostess' novel and this was only discussed when Lady Luncon was
herself somewhere at hand--the second topic concerned the books of somebody
who had, most unjustly it appeared, been banned by the libraries for
impropriety, and here opinions were divided as to whether the author would
gain by the advertisement or lose by loss of library circulation. Thirdly,
there was a new young man who had written a novel about the love affairs of
a crocus and a violet--it was amazingly improper, full of poetry--"right
back," as somebody said "to Nature." Moreover there was much talk about
Form. "Here is the new thing in fiction that we are looking for ..." also
"Quite a young man--oh yes, only about eighteen and so modest. You would
His name was Rondel and Peter saw him, for a moment, as the crowds parted,
standing, with a tall, grim, elderly woman, apparently his mother, beside
him. He was looking frightened and embarrassed and stood up straight
against the wall as though afraid lest some one should come and snatch him
But Peter saw the world in a dream. He walked about, with Clare beside him,
and talked to many people; then she was stopped by some one whom she knew
and he went on alone. Now there had come back to him the old terror. If he
went back, after this was over, and Clare was still angry with him, he did
not know what he would do. He was afraid....
He smiled, talked, laughed and, in his chest, there was a sharp acute pain
like a knife. He had still with him that feeling that nothing in life now
was worth while and there followed on that a wild impulse to let go, to
fling off the restraints that he had retained now for so long and with such
He wanted to cast aside this absurd party, to hurry home alone with Clare,
to sit alone with her in the little house and to reach the divine moment
when reconciliation came and they were closer to one another than ever
before--and then there was the horrible suggestion that there would be no
reconciliation, that Clare would make of this absurd quarrel an eternal
breach, that things would never be right again.
He looked back and saw Clare smiling gaily, happily, at some friend. He saw
her as she had faced him, furiously, an hour earlier ... oh God! If she
should never care for him again!
He recognised many friends. There were the two young Galleons, Millicent
and Percival, looking as important and mysterious as possible, taxing their
brains for something clever to say....
"Ah, that's Life!" Peter heard Percival say to some one. Young fools, he
thought to himself, let them have my trouble and then they may talk. But
they were nice to him when he came up to them. The author of "Reuben
Hallard," even though he did look like a sailor on leave, was worth
respecting--moreover, father liked him and believed in him--nevertheless he
was just a tiny bit "last year's sensation." "Have you read," said Percival
eagerly, "'The Violet's Redemption'? It really is the most tremendous
thing--all about a violet. There's the fellow who wrote it over
there--young chap standing with his back to the wall...."
There was also with them young Tony Gale who was a friend of Alice Galleon.
He was nice-looking, eager and enthusiastic. Rather too enthusiastic,
Peter, who did not like him, considered. Full of the joy of life;
everything was "topping" and "ripping." "I can't understand," he would say,
"why people find life dull. I never find it dull. It's the most wonderful
"Ah, but then you're so young," he always expected his companions to
say; and the thing that pleased him most of all was to hear some one
declare--"Tony Gale's such a puzzle--sometimes he seems only eighteen and
then suddenly he's fifty."
It was rumoured that he had once been in love with Alice Galleon when she
had been Alice du Cane--and that they had nearly made a match of it; but he
was certainly now married to a charming girl whom he had seen in Cornwall
and the two young things were considered delightful by the whole of
Tony Gale had with him a man called James Maradick whom Peter had met
before and liked. Maradick was forty-two or three, large, rather heavy in
build and expression and very taciturn. He was in business in the city, but
had been drawn, Peter knew not how, into the literary world of London. He
was often to be found at dinner parties and evening "squashes" silent,
observant and generally alone. Many people thought him dull, but Peter
liked him partly because of his reserve and partly because of his
enthusiasm for Cornwall. Cornwall seemed to be the only subject that could
stir Maradick into excitement, and when Cornwall was under discussion the
whole man woke into sudden stir and emotion.
To-night, with his almost cynical observance of the emotions and excitement
that surged about him, he seemed to Peter the one man possible in the whole
"Look here, Maradick, let's get somewhere out of this crush and have a
People were all pouring into supper now and Peter saw his wife in the
distance, on Bobby Galleon's arm. They found a little conservatory deserted
now and strangely quiet after the din of the other rooms: here they sat
Maradick was capable of sitting, quite happily for hours, without saying
anything at all. For some time they were both silent.
At last Peter said: "By jove, Maradick, yours is a fortunate sort of
life--just going into the city every day, coming back to your wife in the
evening--no stupid troubles that come from imagining things that aren't
"How do you know I don't?" answered Maradick quietly. "Imagination hasn't
anything to do with one's profession. I expect there's as much imagination
amongst the Stock Exchange men as there is with you literary people--only
it's expressed differently."
"What do you do," said Peter, "if it ever gets too much for you?"
"Do? How do you mean?"
"Well suppose you're feeling all the time that one little thing more, one
little word or some one coming in or a window breaking--anything will upset
the equilibrium of everything? Supposing you're out with all your might to
keep things sane and to prevent your life from swinging back into all the
storm and uncertainty that it was in once before, and supposing you feel
that there are a whole lot of things trying to get you to swing back,
what's the best thing to do?"
"Why, hold on, hold on--"
"How do you mean?"
"Fortitude--Courage. Clinging on with your nails, setting your teeth."
Peter was surprised at the man's earnestness. The two of them sitting there
in that lonely deserted little conservatory were instantly aware of some
Maradick put his hand on Peter's knee.
"Westcott, you're young, but I know the kind of thing you mean. Believe
me that it's no silly nonsense to talk of the Devil--the Devil is as real
and personal as you and I, and he's got his agents in every sort and kind
of place. If he once gets his net out for you then you'll want all your
courage. I know," he went on sinking his voice, "there was a time I had
once in Cornwall when I was brought pretty close to things of that sort--it
doesn't leave you the same afterwards. There's a place down in Cornwall
"Treliss!" Peter almost shouted. "Why that's where I come from. I was born
there--that's my town--"
Before Maradick could reply Bobby Galleon burst into the conservatory. "Oh,
there you are--I've been looking for you everywhere. How are you, Maradick?
Look here, Peter, you've got to come down to supper with us. We've got a
table--Alice, Clare, Millicent, Percival, Tony Gale and his wife and you
and I--and--one other--an old friend of yours, Peter."
"An old friend?" said Peter, getting up from his chair and trying to look
as though he were not furious with Bobby for the interruption.
"Yes--you'll never guess, if I give you a hundred guesses--it's most
Peter was led away. As he moved through the dazzling, noisy rooms he was
conscious that there, in the quiet, dark little conservatory, Maradick was
sitting, motionless, seeing Treliss.
On his way down to the supper room he was filled with annoyance at the
thought of his interrupted conversation. He might never have his
opportunity again. Maradick was so reserved a fellow and took so few into
his confidence--also he would, in all probability, be ashamed to-morrow of
having spoken at all.
But to Peter at that moment the world about him was fantastic and unreal.
It seemed to him that at certain periods in his life he was suddenly
confronted with a fellow creature who perceived life as he perceived it.
There were certain persons who could not leave life alone--they must
always be seeing it as a key to something wider, bigger altogether. This
was nothing to do with Christianity or any creed whatever, because Creeds
implied Certainty and Definition of Knowledge, whereas Peter and the others
like him did not know for what they were searching. Again, they were not
Mystics because Mysticism needed a definite removal from this world before
any other world were possible. No, they were simply Explorers and one
traced a member of the order on the instant. There had been already in
Peter's life, Frosted Moses, Stephen, Mr. Zanti, Noah Monogue, and now
suddenly there was Maradick. These were people who would not laugh at his
terror of Scaw House, at his odd belief that his father was always trying
to draw him back to Treliss....
As he entered the supper-room and saw Clare sitting at a distant table, he
knew that his wife would never be an Explorer. For her Fires and Walls, for
her no questions, no untidiness moral or physical--the Explorer travelled
ever with his life in his hands--Clare believed in the Stay-at-homes.
The great dining-room was filled with Stay-at-homes. One saw it in their
eyes, in the flutter of useless and tired words that rose and fell; all the
souls in that room were cushioned and were happy that it was so. The Rider
on the Lion was beyond the Electric Lights--on the dark hill, over the
darker river, under the stars. Somebody pulled a cracker and put on a paper
cap. He was a stout man with a bald head and the back of his neck rippled
with fat. He had tiny eyes.
"Look at Mr. Horset," cried the woman next to him--"Isn't he absurd?"
Peter found at the table in the corner Alice, Clare, Millicent and Percival
Galleon, Tony Gale and his wife, waiting. There was also a man standing by
Alice's chair and he watched Peter with amused eyes.
He held out his hand and smiled. "How do you do, Westcott?" he said. Then,
with the sound of his voice, the soft almost caressing tilt of it, Peter
knew who it was. His mind flew back to a day, years ago, when he had flung
himself on the ground and cried his soul out because some one had gone
"Cards!" he cried. "Of all wonderful things!"
Cards of Dawson's--Cards, the magnetic, the brilliant, Cards with his World
and his Society and now slim and dark and romantic as ever, making every
one else in the room shabby beside him, so that Bobby's white waistcoat was
instantly seen to be hanging loosely above his shirt and Peter's trousers
were short, and even the elegant Percival had scarcely covered with perfect
equality the ends of his white tie.
Instantly as though the intervening years had never been, Bobby took his
second place beside Cards' glory--even Percival's intention of securing the
wonderful Mr. Rondel, author of "The Violet's Redemption," for their table,
failed of its effect.
They were enough. They didn't want anybody else--Room for Mr. Cardillac!
And he seized it. Just as he would have seized it years ago at school so
he seized it now. Their table was caught into the most dazzling series of
adventures. Cards had been everywhere, seen everybody and everything--seen
it all, moreover, with the right kind of gaiety, with an appreciation that
was intelligent and also humorous. There was humour one moment and pathos
the next--deep feeling and the wittiest cynicism.
They were all swung about Europe and with Cards at their head pranced
through the cities of the world. Meanwhile Peter fancied that once or twice
Clare flung him a little glance of appeal to ask for forgiveness--and once
they looked up and smiled at one another. A tiny smile but it meant
"Oh! won't we have a reconciliation afterwards? How could I have said those
things? Don't we just love one another?"
When they went upstairs again Peter and Cards exchanged a word:
"You'll come and see us?"
"My dear old man, I should just think so. This is the first time I've been
properly in London for years and now I'm going to stay. Fancy you married
and successful and here am I still the rolling-stone!"
"You! Why you can do anything!"
"Can't write 'Reuben Hallard,' old boy...." and so, with a laugh, they
In the cab, afterwards, Clare's head was buried in Peter's coat, and she
sobbed her heart out. "How I _could_ have been such a beast, Peter, Peter!"
"Darling, it was nothing."
"Oh, but it was! It shall never, never happen again...but I was
"Yes, I always think some one's going to take you away. I don't understand
all those other people. They frighten me--I want you to myself, just you
"But nobody can take me away--nobody--"
The cab jolted along--her hand was on his knee--and every now and again a
lamp lighted her face for him and then dropped it back into darkness.
By the sharp pressure of her hand he knew that she was moved by an
intensity of feeling, swayed now by one of those moods that came to her so
strangely that it seemed that they belonged to another personality.
"Look... Peter. I'm seeing clearly as I think I never have before. I'm
afraid--not because of you--but because of myself. If you knew--" here his
hand came down and found hers--"if you knew how I despise myself, my real
self. I've been spoilt always, always, always. I've always known it. My
real self is ashamed of it. But there's another side of me that comes down
suddenly and hides all that--and then--when that happens--I just want to
get what I want and not to be hurt and ..." she pressed closer against him
and went on in a whisper.
"Peter, I shall always care for you more than any one--always whatever
happens. But think, a time will come--I know it--when you'll have to watch
me, to keep me by you, and even let your work go--everything, just for a
time until I'm safe. I suppose that moment comes to most women in their
married lives. But to me, when it happens, it will be worse than for most
women because I've always had my way. You _mustn't_ let me have my way
then--simply clutch me, be cruel, brutal, anything only don't let me go.
Then, if you keep me through that, you'll always keep me."
To Peter it was almost as though she were talking in her sleep, something,
there in the old, lumbering cab that was given to her by some one else to
say something to which she herself would not give credit.
"That's all right, you darling, you darling, you darling." He covered her
face, her eyes with kisses. "I'll never let you go--never." He felt her
quiver a little under his arms.
"Don't mind, Peter, my horrible, beastly character. Just keep me for a
little, train me--and then later I'll be such a wife to you, _such_ a
Then she drew his head down. His lips touched her body just above her
dress, where her cloak parted.
"There's something else."
She raised her face from his coat and looked up at him. Her cheeks were
stained with crying and her eyes, large and dark, held him furiously as
though he were the one place of safety.
He caught her very close.
"What is it?..."
* * * * *
That night, long after he, triumphant with the glory of her secret, had
fallen asleep, she lay, staring into the dark, with frightened eyes.
BIRTH OF THE HEIR
Peter's child was born on a night of frost when the stars were hard and
fierce and a full moon, dull gold, flung high shadows upon the town.
During the afternoon the fear that had been in Clare's eyes for many weeks
suddenly flamed into terror--the doctor was sent for and Peter was banished
from the room.
Peter looked ludicrously, pitifully young as he sat, through the evening,
in his room at the top of the house, staring in front of him, his face grey
with anxiety, his broad shoulders set back as though ready for a blow; his
strong fingers clutched the things on his writing-table, held them, dropped
them, just like the hands of a blind man about the shining surface, tapping
He saw her always as he had seen her last night when she had caught his arm
crying--"If I die, Peter.... Oh, Peter, if I die!"... and he had comforted
and stroked her hair, warming her cold fingers.
How young she was, how tiny for this suffering--and it was he, he who had
brought it upon her! Now, she was lying in her bed, as he had once seen his
mother lie, with her hair spread about the pillow, her hands gripping the
sheets, her eyes wide and black--the vast, hard bed-room closing her in,
shutting her down--
She who loved comfort, who feared any pain, who would have Life safe and
easy, that she should be forced--
The house was very still about him--no sound came up to him; it seemed to
him that the hush was deliberate. The top branches of the trees in the
little orchard touched his window and tapped ever and again; a fire burnt
brightly, he had drawn his curtains and beyond the windows the great sheet
of stars, the black houses, the white light of the moon.
And there, before him--what mockery! the neat pages of "The Stone House"
now almost completed.
He stared into the wall and saw her face, her red-gold hair upon the
pillow, her dark staring eyes--
Once the nurse came to him--Yes, she was suffering, but all went well ...
it would be about midnight, perhaps. There was no cause for alarm ....
He thought that the nurse looked at him with compassion. He turned fiercely
upon Life that it should have brought this to them when they were both so
At last, about ten o'clock, able no longer to endure the silence of the
house--so ominous--and the gentle tap-tap of the branches upon the pane and
the whispering crackle of the fire, he went out....
A cold hard unreal world received him. Down Sloane Street the lines of
yellow lamps, bending at last until they met in sharp blue distance, were
soft and misty against the outline of the street, the houses were unreal in
the moonlight, a few people passed quickly, their footsteps sharp in the
frosty air--all the little painted doors of Sloane Street were blind and
He passed through Knightsbridge, into the Park. As the black trees closed
him in the fear of London came, tumbling upon him. He remembered that day
when he had sat, shivering, on a seat on the Embankment, and had heard that
note, sinister, threatening, through the noise and clattering traffic. He
heard it again now. It came from the heart of the black trees that lined
the moonlit road, a whisper, a thread of sound that accompanied him,
pervaded him, threatened him. The scaly beast knew that another victim was
about to be born--another woman was to undergo torture, so that when the
day came and the scaly beast rose from its sleep then there would be one
more to be devoured.
He, Peter, was to have a child. He had longed for a child ever since he
could remember. He had always loved children--other people's children--but
to have one of his own!... To have something that was his and Clare's and
theirs alone, to have its love, to feel that it depended Upon them both, to
watch it, to tend it--Life could have no gift like that.
But now the child was hidden from him. He thought of nothing but Clare,
of her suffering and terror, of her waiting there so helplessly for the
dreadful moment of supreme pain. The love that he had now for Clare was
something more tender, more devoted, than he had ever felt for any human
being. His mind flew back fiercely to that night of his first quarrel when
she had told him. Now he was to be punished for his heartlessness and
cruelty ... by her loss.
His agony and terror grew as he paced beneath the dark and bending trees.
He sat down on a seat, at the other end of which was a little man with
a bowler hat, spectacles and his coat collar turned up. He was a shabby
little man and his thin bony hands beat restlessly upon his knees.
The little man said, "Good evening, sir."
"Good evening," said Peter, staring desperately in front of him.
"It's all this blasted government--"
"I beg your pardon--"
"This blasted government--This income tax and all--"
"It's more than that," said Peter, wishing that the man would cease beating
his knees with his hands--
"It's them blasted stars--it's Gawd. That's what it is. Curse Gawd--that's
what I say--Curse Gawd!"
"What's He done?" said Peter.
"I've just broken in my wife's 'ead with a poker. Killed 'er I expect--I
dunno--going back to see in a minute--"
"Why did you do it?"
"'Ad to--always nagging--that's what she was--always nagging. Wanted
things--all sorts o' things--and there were always children coming--So we
'ad a blasted argyment this evening and I broke 'er 'ead open--Gawd did
it--that's what I say--"
Peter said nothing.
"You can call a bloomin' copper if you want to," the little man said.
"It's no business of mine," said Peter and he got up and left him. All
shadows--only the sinister noise that London makes is real, that and
He left the Park turned into Knightsbridge and came upon a toyshop. The
shutters had not been put up and the lights of a lamp shone full upon its
windows. Against the iron railings opposite and the high white road these
toys stood with sharp, distinct outline behind the slanting light of the
glass. There were dolls--a fine wedding doll, orange blossom, lace and
white silk, and from behind it all, the sharp pinched features and black
beady eyes stared out.... There was a Swiss doll with bright red cheeks,
red and green clothing and shoes with shining buckles. Then there were the
more ordinary dolls--and gradually down the length of the window, their
clothing was taken from them until at last some wooden creatures with
flaring cheeks and brazen eyes kicked their limbs and defied the
He would be a Boy ... he would not care about dolls....
There were soldiers--rows and rows of gleaming soldiers. They came from a
misty distance at the top of the shop window, came marching from the gates
of some dark, mediaeval castle. Their swords caught the lamplight, shining
in a line of silver and the precision with which they marched, the
certainty with which they trod the little bridge ... ah, these were the
fellows! He would be a Boy ... soldiers would enchant him! He should have
boxes, boxes, boxes!
There were many other things in the window; teddy bears and animals with
soft woolly stomachs and fat comfortable legs--and there were ugly, modern
Horrors with fat bulging faces and black hair erect like wire; there
were little devils with red tails, there were rabbits that rode bicycles
and monkeys that climbed trees. There were drums--big drums and little
drums--trumpets with crimson tassels, and in one corner a pyramid of balls,
balls of every colour, and at the top of the pyramid a tiny ball of peacock
blue, hanging, balancing, daintily, supremely right in pose and gesture.
It had gesture. It caught Peter's eye--Peter stood with his nose against
the pane, his heart hammering--"Oh! she is suffering--My God, how she is
suffering!"--and there the little blue ball caught him, held him,
"I will belong to your boy one day" it seemed to say.
"It shall be the first thing I will buy for him--" thought Peter.
He turned now amongst the light and crowds of Piccadilly. He walked on
without seeing and hearing--always with that thought in his heart--"She is
in terrible pain. How can God be so cruel? And she was so happy--before I
came she was so happy--now--what have I done to her?"
Never, before to-night, had he felt so sharply, so irretrievably his
sense of responsibility. Here now, before him, at this birth of his
child, everything that he had done, thought, said--everything that he had
been--confronted him. He was only twenty-seven but his shoulders were heavy
with the confusion of his past. Looking back upon it, he saw a helpless
medley of indecisions, of sudden impulses, sudden refusals; into the skeins
of it, too, there seemed to be dragged the people that had made up his
life--they faced him, surrounded him, bewildered him!
What right had he, thus encompassed, to hand these things on to another?
His father, his grandfather ... he saw always that dark strain of hatred,
of madness, of evil working in their blood. Suppose that as his boy grew he
should see this in the young eyes? Suppose, most horrible of all, that he
should feel this hatred for his son that his grandfather had felt for his
father, that his father had felt for him.
What had he done?... He stopped, staring confusedly about him. The people
jostled him on every side. The old devils were at him--"Eat and drink for
to-morrow we die.... Give it up ... We're too strong for you and we'll be
too strong for your son. Who are you to defy us? Come down--give it up--"
His white face caught attention. "Move along, guv'nor," some one shouted. A
man took him by the arm and led up a dark side street. He turned his eyes
and saw that the man was Maradick.
The elder man felt that the boy was trembling from head to foot.
"What's the matter, Westcott? Anything I can do for you?"
Peter seemed to take him in slowly, and then, with a great effort, to pull
"What, you--Maradick? Where was I? I'm afraid I've been making a fool of
myself...." A church clock struck somewhere in the distance. "Hullo, I say,
what's that? That's eleven. I must get back, I ought to be at home--"
"I'll come with you--"
Maradick hailed a hansom and helped Peter into it.
For a moment there was silence--then Maradick said--
"I hope everything's all right, Westcott? Your wife?"
Peter spoke as though he were in a dream. "I've been waiting there all the
afternoon--she's been suffering--My God!... It got on my nerves.... She's
so young--they oughtn't to hurt her like that." He covered his face with
"I know. I felt like that when my first child came. It's terrible, awful.
And then it's over--all the pain--and it's magnificent, glorious--and
then--later--it's so commonplace that you cannot believe that it was ever
either awful or magnificent. Fix your mind on the glorious part of it,
Westcott. Think of this time to-morrow when your wife will be so proud, so
happy--you'll both be so proud, so happy, that you'll never know anything
in life like it."
"Yes, yes, I know--of course it's sure to be all right--but I suppose this
waiting's got on my nerves. There was a fellow in the Park just broken his
wife's head in--and then everything was so quiet. I could almost hear her
crying, right away in her room."
He stopped a moment and then went on. "It's what I've always wanted--always
to have a boy. And, by Jove, he'll be wonderful! I tell you he shall
be--We'll be such pals!" He broke off suddenly--"You haven't a boy?"
"No, mine are both girls. Getting on now--they'll soon be coming out. I
should like to have had a boy--" Maradick sighed.
"Are they an awful lot to you?"
"No--I don't suppose they are. I should have understood a boy better,--but
they're good girls. I'm proud of them in a way--but I'm out so much, you
Peter faced the contrast. Here this middle-aged man, with his two
girls--and here too he, Peter, with his agonising, flaming trial--to slip,
so soon, into dull commonplace?
"But didn't you--if you can look so far--didn't you, when the first child
came, funk it? Your responsibility I mean. All the things one's--one's
ancestors--it's frightening enough for oneself but to hand it on--"
"It's nothing to do with oneself--one's used, that's all. The child will be
on its own legs, thrusting you away before you know where you are. It
_will_ want to claim its responsibilities--ancestors and all--"
Peter said nothing--Maradick went on:
"You know we were talking one night and were interrupted--you're in danger
of letting the things you imagine beat the things you know. Stick to the
thing you can grasp, touch--I know the dangers of the others--I told you
that once in Cornwall, I--the most unlikely person in the world--was caught
up by it. I've never laughed at morbidity, or nerves, or insanity since.
There's such a jolly thin wall between the sanest, most level-headed
beef-eating Squire in the country and the maddest poet in Bedlam. _I_
know--I've been both in the same day. It's better to be both, I believe, if
you can keep one under the other, but you _must_ keep it under--"
Maradick talked on. He saw that the boy's nerves were jumping, that he was
holding himself in with the greatest difficulty.
Peter said: "You don't know, Maradick. I've had to fight all my life--my
father, grandfather, all of them have given in at last--and now this child
... perhaps I shall see it growing, see him gradually learning to hate me,
see myself hating him ... at last, my God, see him go under--drink,
deviltry--I've fought it--I'm always fighting it--but to-night--"
"Good heavens, man--you're not going to tell me that your father, your
grandfather--the rest of them--are stronger than you. What about your soul,
your own blessed soul that can't be touched by any living thing or dead
thing either if you stick to it? Why, every man's got power enough in
himself to ride heaven and earth and all eternity if he only believed he'd
got it! Ride your scruples, man--ride 'em, drive 'em--send 'em scuttling.
Believe in yourself and stick to it--Courage!..."
Maradick pulled himself in. They were driving now, down the King's Road.
The people were pouring in a thick, buzzing crowd, out of the Chelsea
Palace. Middle-aged stockbrokers in hansom cabs--talking like the third act
of a problem play!--but Maradick had done his work. As they drove round the
corner, past the mad lady's painted house, he saw that Peter was calmer. He
had regained his self-control. The little house where Peter lived was very
still--the trees in the orchard were stiff and dark beneath the stars.
Peter spoke in a whisper--"Good-night, Maradick, you've done me a lot of
good--I shan't forget it."
"Good luck to you," Maradick whispered back. Peter stole into the house.
The little drawing-room looked very cosy; the fire was burning, the lamp
lighted, the thick curtains drawn. Maria Theresa smiled, with all her
finery, from the wall.
Peter sat down in front of the fire. Maradick was right. One must have
one's hand on the bridle--the Rider on the Lion again. It's better that
the beast under you should be a Lion rather than a Donkey, but let it
once fling you off its back and you're done for. And Maradick had said
these things! Maradick whom once Peter had considered the dullest of his
acquaintances. Well, one never knew about people--most of the Stay-at-homes
were Explorers and vice versa, if one only understood them.
How still the house was! What was happening upstairs? He could not go and
see--he could not move. He was held by the stillness. The doctor would come
and tell him....
He thought of the toyshop--that blue ball--it would be the first thing that
he would buy for the boy--and then soldiers--soldiers that wouldn't hurt
him, that he couldn't lick the paint from--
Now the little silver clock ticked! He was so terribly tired--he had never
been tired like this before....
The stillness pressed upon the house. Every sound--the distant rattling of
some cab, the faint murmur of trams--was stifled, extinguished. The orchard
seemed to press in upon the house, darker and darker grew the forest about
it--The stars were shut out, the moon... the world was dead.
Then into this sealed and hidden silence, a voice crying from an upper
room, suddenly fell--a woman in the abandonment of utter pain, pain beyond
all control, was screaming. Somewhere, above that dark forest that pressed
in upon the house, a bird of prey hovered. It hung for a moment; it
descended--its talons were fixed upon her flesh... then again it ascended.
Shriek after shriek, bursting the silence, chasing the shadows, flooding
the secrecy with horrible light, beat like blows upon the walls of the
house--rose, fell, rose again. Peter was standing, his back against the
wall, his hands spread out, his face grey.
"My God, my God... Oh! my God!"
The sweat poured from his forehead. Once more there was silence but now it
was ominous, awful....
The little silver clock ticked--Peter's body stood stretched against the
wall--he faced the door.
Hours, hours passed. He did not move. The screaming had, many years ago,
ceased. The doctor--a cheerful man with blue eyes and a little bristling
"A fine boy, Mr. Westcott--I congratulate you. You might see your wife for
a moment if you cared--stood it remarkably well--"
Slowly the forest, dark and terrible, moved away from the house. Very
faintly again could be heard the distant rattling of some cab, the murmur
DECLARATION OF HAPPINESS
Extracts from letters that Bobby Galleon wrote to Alice Galleon about this
"... But, of course, I am sorrier than I can say that it's so dull. That's
due to charity, my dear, and if you will go and fling yourself into the
depths of Yorkshire because a girl like Ola Hunting chooses to think she's
unhappy and lonely you've only yourself to thank. Moreover there's your
husband to be considered. I don't suppose, for a single instant, that he
really prefers to be left alone, with his infant son, mind you, howling
at the present moment because his nurse won't let him swallow the glass
marbles, and you can picture to yourself--if you want to make yourself
thoroughly unhappy--your Robert sitting, melancholy throughout the long
evening, alone, desolate, creeping to bed somewhere about ten o'clock.
"So there we are--you're bored to death and I've no one to growl at when I
come back from the City--all Ola Hunting's fault--wring the girl's neck.
Meanwhile here I sit and every evening I'll write whatever comes into my
head and never look back on it again but stick it into an envelope and send
it to you. You know me too well by now to be disappointed at anything.
"I'm quite sure that, if you were here with me now, sitting in that chair
opposite me and sewing for all you were worth, that the thing that we'd be
talking about would be Peter. If, therefore, these scrawls are full of
Peter you won't mind, I know. He's immensely occupying my attention just
now and you love him as truly and deeply as I do, so that if I go on at
length about him you'll excuse it on that score. You who know me better
than any one else in the world know that, in my most secret heart, I
flatter myself on my ability as a psychologist. I remember when I told
you first how you laughed but I think since then you've come round not a
little, and although we both keep it to ourselves, it's a little secret
that you're a tiny bit proud of. I can see how brother Percival, or young
Tony Gale, or even dear Peter himself would mock, if I told them of this
ambition of mine. 'Good, dear, stupid, old Bobby' is the way they think of
me, and I know it's mother's perpetual wonder (and also, I think, a little
her comfort) that I should be so lacking in brilliance when Percival and
Millie are so full of it.
"You know Peter's attitude to me in these things--you've seen it often
enough. He's patronising--he can't help it. That isn't, he considers, my
line in the least, and, let me once begin to talk to him of stocks and
shares and he'll open all his ears. Well, I can't blame him--but I do think
these writers and people are inclined to draw their line a little too
sharply with their Philistines--great big gulf, please--and Artists. At any
rate, here goes for my psychology and good luck to it. Peter, in fact, is
so interesting a subject if one sees anything of him at all that I believe
he'd draw speculation out of any one. There was old Maradick talking about
him the other night--fascinated by him and understanding him most amazingly
well--another instance of your Philistine and Artist mixed.
"But I knew him--and knew him jolly well too--when he was about twelve, so
that I really get a pull over the rest of you there, for it adds of course
immensely to the interest and if ever child was Father of the Man, Peter
was. You know how we both funked that marriage of his for him--you because
you knew Clare so well, I because I knew Peter. And then for a time it
really seemed that we were both entirely wrong. Clare's is a far simpler
personality than Peter's, and if you work along one or two recognised
lines--let her have her way, don't frighten her, above all keep her
conventional--it's all right. Clare was, and is, awfully in love with him,
and he madly with her of course--and that helped everything along. You know
how relieved we both were and indeed it seemed, for a time, that it was
going to be the making of both of them--going to make Clare braver and
Peter less morbid.
"Well, it's since you've been away that everything's happened. Although the
baby was born some weeks before you went, it's only lately that Clare has
been up and about. She's perfectly well and the baby's splendid--promises
to be a tremendous fellow and as healthy as possible. You can imagine, a
little, the effect of it all on Clare. I don't suppose there's any girl in
London been so wrapped in cotton wool all her life, and that old ass of
a father and still more irritating ass of a mother would go on wrapping
her still if they had their way. The fuss they've both made about this
whole business is simply incredible--especially when the man's a doctor
and brings Lord knows how many children into the world every week of
his life. But it's all been awfully bad for Clare. Of course, she was
frightened--frightened out of her wits. It's the very first time life
ever had its wrappings off for her, and that in itself of course is a
tremendously good thing. But you can't, unfortunately, wrap any one up for
all those years and then take the wrappings off and not deliver a shock to
the system. Of course there's a shock, and it's just this shock that I'm
so afraid of. I'm afraid of it for one thing because Peter's so entirely
oblivious of it. He was in an agony of terror on the day that the baby was
born, but once it was there--well and healthy and promising--fear vanished.
He could only see room for glory--and glory he does. I cannot tell you what
that boy is like about the baby; at present he thinks, day and night, of
nothing else. It is the most terrific thing to watch his feeling about
it--and meanwhile he takes it for granted that Clare feels the same....
Well, she doesn't. I have been in a good deal during these last few days
and she's stranger than words can say--doesn't see the child if she can
help it--loves it, worships it, when it is there, and--is terrified of it.
I saw a look in her eyes when she was nursing it yesterday that was sheer
undiluted terror. She's been frightened out of her life, and if I know
her the least little bit she's absolutely made up her mind never to be
frightened like that again. She is going to hurl herself into a perfect
whirlpool of excitement and entertainment and drag Peter with her if she
can. Meanwhile, behind that hard little head of hers, she's making plans
just as fast as she can make them. I believe she looks on life now as
though it had broken the compact that she made with it--a compact that
things should always be easy, comfortable, above all, never threatening.
The present must be calm but the Future's absolutely got to be--and I
believe, although she loves him devotedly in the depths of her strange
little soul, that she half blames Peter for all of this disturbance, and
that there are a great many things about him--his earlier life, his earlier
friends, even his work--that she would strip from him if she could.
"Well, enough for the present. I don't know _what_ nonsense there isn't
here. Into the envelope it all goes. I've been talking to you for an hour
and a half and that's something...."
"... I've just come in from dinner with Peter and Clare and feel inclined
to talk to you for hours ahead. However, that I can't do, so I shall write
to you instead and you're to regard it all as a continuation of the things
that I said in last night's letter. I am as interested as ever and indeed,
after this evening's dinner more interested. The odd thing about it all is
that Peter is so completely oblivious to any change that may be going on
in Clare. His whole mind is centred now on the baby, he cannot have enough
of it and it was he, and not Clare, who took me up after dinner to see it
"You remember that they had some kind of a dispute about the name of the
boy at the time of the christening. Peter insisted that it should be
Stephen, after, I suppose, that odd Cornish friend of his, and Clare, weak
and ill though she was, objected with all her might. I don't know why she
took this so much to heart but it was all, I suppose, part of that odd
hatred that she has of Peter's earlier life and earlier friends. She has
never met the man Brant, but I think that she fancies that he is going
to swoop down one of these days and carry Peter off on a broomstick or
something. She gave in about the name--indeed I have never seen Peter
more determined--but I think, nevertheless, that she broods over it and
remembers it. My dear, I am as sorry for her as I can be. There she stands,
loving Peter with all her heart and soul, terrified out of her wits at the
possibilities that life is presenting to her, hating Peter's friends at
one moment, his work the next, the baby the next--exactly like some one,
walking on a window-ledge in his sleep and suddenly waking and
"Peter's a more difficult question. He's too riotously happy just at
the moment to listen to a word from any one. His relation to the child
is really the most touching thing you ever saw, and really the child,
considering that it has scarcely begun to exist, has a feeling for him in
the most wonderful way. It is as good as gold when he is there and follows
him with its eyes--it doesn't pay much attention to Clare. I think it knows
that she's frightened of it. Yes, Peter is quite riotously happy. You know
that 'The Stone House' is coming out next week. There is to be a supper
party at the Galleons'--myself, Mrs. Launce. Maradick, the Gales, some
woman he knew at that boarding-house, Cardillac and Dr. and Mrs. Rossiter.
"By the way, Cardillac is there a great deal and I am both glad and sorry.
He is very good for Clare and not at all good for Peter. He seems to
understand Clare in the most wonderful way--far better than Peter does. He
brings her out, helps her to be broader and really I think explains Peter
to her and helps things along. His influence on Peter is all the other way.
Peter, of course, worships him, just as he used to do in the old days at
school, and Cards always liked being worshipped. He has an elegance, a
savoir-faire that dear, square-shouldered rough-and-tumble Peter finds
entrancing, but, of course, Peter's worth the dozen of him any day of
the week. He drags out all Peter's worst side. I wonder whether you'll
understand what I mean when I say that Peter isn't _meant_ to be happy--at
any rate not yet. He's got something too big, too tremendous in him to be
carved easily into any one of our humdrum, conventional shapes. He takes
things so hard that he isn't intended to take more than one thing at a
time, and here he is with Clare and Cards both, as it seems to me, in a
conspiracy to pull him into a thousand little bits and to fling each little
bit to a different tea-party.
"He ought to be getting at his work and he isn't getting at it at all. 'The
Stone House' is coming out next week and it may be all right, but I don't
mind betting that the next one suffers. If he weren't in a kind of dream
he'd see it all himself, and indeed I think that he'll wake one day soon
and see that a thousand ridiculous things are getting in between him and
his proper life.
"He was leading his proper life in those days at Dawson's when they were
beating him at home and hating him at school, and it was that old bookshop
and the queer people he met in it that produced 'Reuben Hallard.'
"He's so amazingly young in the ways of the world, so eager to make friends
with everybody, so delighted with an entirely superficial butterfly like
Cards, so devotedly attached to his wife, that I must confess that the
outlook seems to me bad. There's going to be a tremendous tug-of-war in a
minute and it's not going to be easy for the boy--nor, indeed for Clare.
"I hope that you don't feel so far removed from this in your Yorkshire
desert that it has no interest for you, but I know how devoted you are to
Peter and one doesn't want to see the boy turned into the society novelist
creature--the kind of creature, God forgive me, that brother Percival is
certain to become. You'll probably say when you read this that I am trying
to drag out all the morbid side of Peter and make him the melancholy,
introspective creature that he used to be, in fits and starts, when you
first knew him. Of course that's the last thing I want to do, but work to a
man of Peter's temperament is the one rock that can save him. He has, I do
believe, a touch of genius in him somewhere, and I believe that if he's
allowed to follow, devoutly and with pain and anguish, maybe, his Art,
he'll be a great creature--a great man and a great writer. But he's in
the making--too eager to please, too eager to care for every one, too
desperately down if he thinks things are going badly with him. I notice
that he hasn't been to see my father lately--I think too that all this
reviewing is bad for him--other people's novels pouring upon him in an
avalanche must take something from the freshness of his own.
"Anyhow I, Robert Galleon, your clever and penetrating husband, scent much
danger and trouble ahead. Clare, simply out of love for him and anxiety for
herself, will I know, do all she can to drag him from the thing that he
should follow--and Cards will help her--out of sheer mischief, I verily
"On their own heads be it. As to the carpets you asked me to go and look
"... And now for the supper party. Although there's a whole day behind me
I'm still quivering under the excitement of it. As I tell you about it it
will in all probability, declare itself as a perfectly ordinary affair,
and, indeed, I think that you should have been there yourself to have
realised the emotion of it. But I'll try and give it you word for word. I
was kept in the city and arrived late and they were all there. Mrs. Launce,
twinkling all over with kindness, Maradick in his best Stock Exchange
manner, the Gales (Janet Gale perfectly lovely), the old Rossiters, Cards,
shining with a mixture of enterprise and knowledge of the world and last of
all a very pale, rather nervous, untidy Irish woman, a Miss Monogue. Clare
was so radiantly happy that I knew that she wasn't happy at all, had
obviously taken a great deal of trouble about her hair and had it all piled
up on the top of her head and looked wonderful. I can't describe these
things, but you know that when she's bent on giving an impression she seems
to stand on her toes all the time--well, she was standing on every kind
of toe, moral, physical, emotional last night. Finally there was Peter,
looking as though his evening dress had been made for something quite
different from social dinner parties. It fitted all right, but it was too
comfortable to be smart--he looked, beside Cards, like a good serviceable
cob up against the smartest of hunters. Peter's rough, bullet head, the way
that he stands with his legs wide apart and his thick body holding itself
deliberately still with an effort as though he were on board ship--and then
that smile that won all our hearts ages ago right out of the centre of
his brown eyes first and then curving his mouth, at last seizing all
his body--but always, in spite of it, a little appealing, a little sad
somewhere--can't you see him? And Cards, slim, straight, dark, beautifully
clothed, beautifully witty and I am convinced, beautifully insincere. Can't
you see Cards say 'good evening' to me--with that same charm, that same
ease, that same contempt that he had when we were at school together? Bobby
Galleon--an honest good fellow--but dull--mon Dieu--dull (he rather likes
French phrases)--can't you hear him saying it? Well from the very first,
there was something in the air. We were all excited, even old Mrs. Rossiter
and the pale Irish creature whom I remembered afterwards I had met that
day when I went to that boarding--house after Peter. Clare was quite
extraordinary--I have never seen her anything like it--she talked the whole
time, laughed, almost shouted. The only person she treated stiffly was
Cards--I don't think she likes him.
"He was at his most brilliant--really wonderful--and I liked him better
than I've ever liked him before. He seemed to have a genuine pleasure in
Peter's happiness, and I believe he's as fond of the boy as he's able to be
of any one. A copy of 'The Stone House' was given to each of us (I haven't
had time to look at mine yet) and I suppose the combination of the baby and
the book moved us all. Besides, Clare and Peter both looked so absurdly
young. Such children to have had so many adventures already. You can
imagine how riotous we got when I tell you that dessert found Mrs. Rossiter
with a paper cap on her head and Janet Gale was singing some Cornish
song or other to the delight of the company. Miss Monogue and I were the
quietest. I should think that she's one of the best, and I saw her look at
Peter once or twice in a way that showed how strongly she felt about him.
"Well, old girl, I'm bothered if I can explain the kind of anxiety that
came over me after a time. You'll think me a regular professional croaker
but really I suppose, at bottom, it was some sort of feeling that the whole
thing, this shouting and cheering and thumping the table--was premature.
And then I suppose it was partly my knowledge of Peter. It wasn't like him
to behave in this sort of way. He wasn't himself--excited, agitated by
something altogether foreign to him. I could have thought that he was
drunk, if I hadn't known that he hadn't touched any liquor whatever. But a
man of Peter's temperament pays for this sort of thing--it isn't the sort
of way he's meant to take life.
"Whatever the reason may have been I know that I felt suddenly outside
the whole business and most awfully depressed. I think Miss Monogue felt
exactly the same. By the time the wine was on the table all I wanted was to
get right away. It was almost as though I had been looking on at something
that I was ashamed to see. There was a kind of deliberate determination
about their happiness and Clare's little body with her hair on the verge,
as it seemed, of a positive downfall, had something quite pitiful in its
deliberate rejoicing; such a child, my dear--I never realised how young
until last night. Such a child and needing some one so much older and wiser
than Peter to manage it all.
"Well, there I was hating it when the final moment came. Cards got up
and in one of the wittiest little speeches you ever heard in your life,
proposed Peter's health, alluded to 'Reuben Hallard,' then Clare, then the
Son and Heir, a kind of back fling at old Dawson's, and then last of all,
an apostrophe to 'The Stone House' all glory and honour, &c.:--well, it was
most neatly done and we all sat back, silent, for Peter's reply.
"The dear boy stood there, all flushed and excited, with his hair pushed
back off his forehead and began the most extraordinary speech I've ever
heard. I can't possibly give you the effect of it at secondhand, in the
mere repetition of it there was little more than that he was wildly, madly
happy, that there was no one in the world as happy as he, that now at last
the gods had given him all that he had ever wanted, let them now do their
worst--and so crying, flung his glass over his shoulder, and smashed it on
to the wall behind him.
"I cannot possibly tell you how sinister, how ominous the whole thing
suddenly was. It swooped down upon all of us like a black cloud. Credit
me, if you will, with a highly--strung bundle of nerves (not so solid
matter-of-fact as I seem, _you_ know well enough) but it seemed to me, at
that moment, that Peter was defying, consciously, with his heart in his
mouth, a world of devils and that he was cognisant of all of them. The
thing was conscious--that was the awful thing about it, I could swear that
he was seeing far beyond all of us, that he was hurling his happiness at
something that he had there before him as clearly as I have you before me
now. It was defiance and I believe the minute after uttering it he would
have liked to have rushed upstairs to see that his baby was safe....
"Be that as it may, we all felt it--every one of us. The party was clouded.
Cards and Clare did their best to brighten things up again, and Peter and
Tony and Janet Gale played silly games and made a great deal of noise--but
the spirit was gone.
"I left very early. Miss Monogue came away at the same time. She spoke
to me before she said good-night: 'I know that you are an old friend of
Peter's. I am so fond of him--we all are at Brockett's, it isn't often that
we see him--I know that you will be his true friend in every sense of the
word--and help him--as he ought to be helped. It is so little that I can
"Her voice was sad. I am afraid she suffers a great deal. She is evidently
greatly attached to Peter--I liked her.
"Well, you in your sober way will say that this is all a great deal of
nonsense. Why shouldn't Peter, if he wishes, say that he is happy? All I
can say is that if you yourself had been there...."
It was not until Stephen Westcott had rejoiced in the glories (so novel
and so thrilling) of his first birthday and "The Stone House" had been six
months before the public eye that the effect of this second book could be
properly estimated. Second books are the most surely foredoomed creatures
in all creation and there are many excellent reasons for this. They will
assuredly disappoint the expectations of those who enjoyed the first work,
and the author will, in all probability, have been tempted by his earlier
success to try his wings further than they are, as yet, able to carry him.
Peter's failure was only partial. There was no question that "The Stone
House" was a remarkable book. Had it been Peter's first novel it must have
made an immense stir; it showed that he was, in no kind of way, a man of
one book, and it gave, in its London scenes, proof that its author was not
limited to one kind of life and one kind of background. There were chapters
that were fuller, wiser, in every way more mature than anything in "Reuben
But it was amazingly unequal. There were places in it that had no kind of
life at all; at times Peter appeared to have beheld his scenes and
characters through a mist, to have been dragged right away from any kind of
vision of the book, to have written wildly, blindly.
The opinion of Mrs. Launce was perhaps the soundest that it was possible to
have because that good lady, in spite of her affection for Peter, had a
critical judgment that was partly literary, partly commercial, and partly
human. She always judged a book first with her brain, then with her heart
and lastly with her knowledge of her fellow creatures. "It may pay better
than 'Reuben Hallard,'" she said, "there's more love interest and it ends
happily. Some of it is beautifully written, some of it quite unspeakably.
But really, Peter, it's the most uneven thing I've ever read. Again
and again one is caught, held, stirred--then, suddenly, you slip away
altogether--you aren't there at all, nothing's there, I could put my ringer
on the places. Especially the first chapters and the last chapters--the
middle's splendid--what happened to you?... But it will sell, I expect.
Tell your banker to read it, go into lots of banks and tell them. Bank
clerks have subscriptions at circulating libraries always given them ...
but the wild bits are best, the wild bits are splendid--that bit about the
rocks at night ... you don't know much about women yet--your girls are
awfully bad. By the way, do you know that Mary Hollins is only getting L100
advance next time? All she can get, that last thing was so shocking. I hear
that that book about an immoral violet, by that new young man--Rondel,
isn't it?--is still having a most enormous success--I know that Barratt's
got in a whole batch of new copies last night--I hear...."
Mrs. Launce was disappointed--Peter could tell well enough. He received
some laudatory reviews, some letters from strangers, some adulation from
people who knew nothing whatever. He did not know what it was exactly that
he had expected--but whatever it was that he wanted, he did not get it--he
He began to blame his publishers--they had not advertised him enough; he
even, secretly, cherished that most hopeless of all convictions--that his
book was above the heads of the public. He noticed, also, that wherever he
might be, this name of Rondel appeared before him, Mr. Rondel with his
foolish face and thin mother in black, was obviously the young man of the
moment--in the literary advertisements of any of the weekly papers you
might see The Violet novel in its tenth edition and "The Stone House" by
Peter Westcott, second edition selling rapidly.
He was again bewildered, as he had been after the publication of "Reuben
Hallard" by the extraordinary variance of opinions amongst reviewers and
amongst his own personal friends. One man told him that he had no style,
that he must learn the meaning and feeling of words, another told him that
his characters were weak but that his style was "splendid--a real knowledge
of the value and meaning of words." Some one told him that he knew nothing
at all about women and some one else that his women were by far the best
part of his work. The variety was endless--amongst those who had appeared
to him giants there was the same uncertainty. He seemed too to detect with
the older men a desire to praise those parts of his work that resembled
their own productions and to blame anything that gave promise of
For himself it seemed to him that Mrs. Launce's opinion was nearest the
truth. There were parts of it that were good, chapters that were better
than anything in "Reuben Hallard" and then again there were many chapters
where he saw it all in a fog, groped dimly for his characters, pushed, as
it seemed to him, away from their lives and interests, by the actual lives
and interests of the real people about him. This led him to think of Clare
and here he was suddenly arrested by a perception, now only dimly grasped,
of a change in her attitude to his writings. He dated it, thinking of it
now for the first time, from the birth of young Stephen--or was it not
earlier than that, on that evening when they had met Cards at that supper
party, on that evening of their first quarrel?
In the early days how well he remembered Clare's enthusiasm--a little
extravagant, it seemed now. Then during the first year of their married
life she had wanted to know everything about the making of "The Stone
House." It was almost as though it had been a cake or a pie, and he knew
that he had found her questions difficult to answer and that he had had it
driven in upon him that it was not really because she was interested in the
subtleties of his art that she enquired but because of her own personal
affection for him; if he had been making boots or a suit of clothes it
would have been just the same. Then when "The Stone House" appeared her
eagerness for its success had been tremendous--there was nothing she would
not do to help it along--but that, he somewhat ironically discovered, was
because she liked success and the things that success brought.
Then when the book had not succeeded--or only so very little--her interest
had, of a sudden, subsided. "Oh! I suppose you've got to go and do your
silly old writing ... I think you might come out with me just this
afternoon. It isn't often that I ask anything of you...." He did not
believe that she had ever really finished "The Stone House." She pretended
that she had--"the end was simply perfect," but she was vague, nebulous. He
found the marker in her copy, some fifty pages before the end.
She was so easily impressed by every one whom she met that perhaps the
laughing attitude of Cards to Peter's books had something to do with it
all. Cards affected to despise anything to do with work, here to-day,
gone to-morrow--let us eat and drink ... dear old Peter, grubbing away
upstairs--"I say, Mrs. Westcott, let's go and rag him...." And then they
had come and invaded his room at the top of the house, and sometimes he had
been glad and had flung his work down as though it were of no account ...
and then afterwards, in the middle of some tea-party he had been suddenly
ashamed, deeply, bitterly ashamed, as though he had actually wounded those
white pages lying up there in his quiet room.
He was at this time, like a man jostled and pushed and turned about at
some riotous fair; looking, now this way, now that, absorbed by a thousand
sights, a thousand sounds--and always through it all feeling, bitterly in
his heart, that something dear to him, somewhere in some place of silence,
Well, hang it all, at any rate there was the Child!
At any rate there was the Child!
And what a child! Did any one ever have a baby like it, so fat and round
and white, with its head already covered with faint golden silk, its
eyes grey and wondering--with its sudden gravities, its amazing joys and
terrific humour, the beauty of its stepping away, as it did, suddenly
without any warning, behind a myriad mists and curtains, into some other
land that it knew of. How amazing to watch it as it slowly forgot all the
things that it had come into the world remembering, as it slowly realised
all the laws that this new order of things demanded of its obedience. Could
any one who had been present ever forget its crow of ecstasy at the first
shaft of sunlight that it ever beheld, at its first realisation of the
blue, shining ball that Peter bought, at its first vision, through the
window, of falling snow!
Peter was drunk with this amazing wonder. All the facts of life--even Clare
and his work--faded before this new presence for whose existence he had
been responsible. It had been one of the astonishing things about Clare
that she had taken the child so quietly. He had seen her thrilled by
musical comedy, by a dance at the Palace Music Hall, by the trumpery pathos
of a tenth-rate novel--before this marvel she stood, it seemed to him,
without any emotion.
Sometimes he thought that if it had not been for his reminder she would not
have gone to kiss the child goodnight. There were many occasions when he
knew--with wonder and almost dismay--that she was afraid of it; and once,
when they had been in the nursery together and young Stephen had cried and
kicked his heels in a tempest of rage, she had seemed almost to cling to
Peter for protection.
There were occasions when Peter fancied that the baby seemed the elder of
the two, it was at any rate certain that Stephen Westcott was not so afraid
of his mother as his mother was of him. And yet, Peter fancied, that could
Clare only get past this strange nervous fear she would love the baby
passionately--would love him with that same fierceness of passion that she
flung, curiously, now and again upon Peter himself. "Let me be promised,"
she seemed to say, "that I will never have any trouble or sorrow with my
son and I will love him devotedly." Meanwhile she went into every
excitement that life could provide for her....
It was on a March afternoon of early Spring after a lonely tea (Clare was
out at one of her parties) that Peter went up to the nursery. He had just
finished reading the second novel by that Mr. Rondel whose Violet sensation
had occurred some two years before. This second book was good--there was no
doubt about it--and Peter was ashamed of a kind of dim reluctance in his
acknowledgment of its quality. The fellow had had such reviews; the book,
although less sensational than its predecessor had hit the public straight
in the middle of its susceptible heart. Had young Rondel done it all with
bad work-well, that was common enough--but the book was good, uncommonly
He sent the nurse downstairs and began to build an elaborate fortress on
the nursery floor. The baby lay on his back on a rug by the fire and
contemplated his woollen shoe which he slowly dragged off and disdainfully
flung away. Then, crowing to himself, he watched his father and the world
He was amazingly like Peter--the grey eyes, the mouth a little stern, a
little sulky, the snub nose, the arms a little short and thick, and that
confident, happy smile.
He watched his father.
To him, lying on the rug, many, many miles away there was a coloured glory
that ran round the upper part of the wall--as yet, he only knew that they
gave him, those colours, something of the same pleasure that his milk gave
him, that the warm, glowing, noisy shapes beyond the carpet gave him, that
the happy, comfortable smell of the Thing playing near him on the floor
gave him. About the Thing he was eternally perplexed. It was Something that
made sounds that he liked, that pressed his body in a way that he loved,
that took his fingers and his toes and made them warm and comfortable.
It was Something moreover from which delicious things hung--things that he
could clutch and hold and pull. He was perplexed but he knew that when this
Thing was near him he was warm and happy and contented and generally went
to sleep. His eyes slowly travelled round the room and rested finally upon
a round blue ball that hung turning a little from side to side, on a nail
above, his bed. This was, to him, the final triumph of existence--to have
it in his hand, to roll it round and round, to bang it down upon the floor
and watch it jump, this was the reason why one was here, this the solution
of all perplexities. He would have liked to have it in his hands now, so
crowing, he smiled pleasantly at the Thing on the floor beside him and then
looked at the ball.
Peter got up from his knees, fetched the ball down and rolled it along the
floor. As it came dancing, curving, laughing along young Stephen shrieked
with delight. Would he have it in his hands or would it escape him and
disappear altogether? Would it come to him?... It came and was clutched and
held and triumphed over.
Peter sat down by his son and began to tell him about Cornwall. He often
did this, partly because the mere mentioning of names and places satisfied
some longing in his heart, partly because he wanted Cornwall to be the
first thing that young Stephen would realise as soon as he realised
anything. "And you never can tell, you know, how soon a child can
Stephen, turning the blue ball round and round in his fingers, gravely
listened. He was perfectly contented. He liked the sounds that circled
about him--his father's voice, the rustle of the fire, the murmur of
something beyond the walls that he could not understand.
"And then, you see, Stephen, if you go up the hill and round to the right
you come to the market-place, all covered with shiny cobbles and once a
week filled with stalls where people sell things. At the other end of it,
facing you, there's an old Tower that's been there for ages and ages. It's
got a fruit stall underneath it now, but once, years ago there was fighting
there and men were killed. Then, if you go past it, and out to the right,
you get into the road that leads out of the town. It goes right above the
sea and on a fine-day--"
The voice broke like a stone shattering a sheet of glass. The ball dropped
from young Stephen's hands. He felt suddenly cold and hungry and wanted his
woollen shoe. He was not sure whether he would not cry. He would wait a
moment and see how matters developed.
Peter jumped to his feet and faced Clare: Clare in a fur cap from beneath
which her golden hair seemed to burn in anger, from beneath which her eyes,
furiously attacked his. Of course she had heard him talking to the baby
about Cornwall. They had quarrelled about it before ... he had thought
that she was at her silly tea-party. His face that had been, a few moments
before, gentle, humorous, happy, now suddenly wore the sullen defiance of a
Her breast was heaving, her little hands beat against her frock.
"He shan't," she broke out at last, "hear about it."
"Of all the nonsense," Peter answered her slowly. "Really, Clare, sometimes
I think you're about two years old--"
"He shan't hear about it," she repeated again. "You don't care--you don't
care what I think or what I say--I'm his mother--I have the right--"
The baby looked at them both with wondering eyes and to any outside
observer would surely have seemed the eldest of the three. Clare's breath
came in little pants of rage--"You know--that I hate--all mention of that
place--those people. It doesn't matter to you--you never think of me--"
"At any rate," he retorted, "if you were up here in the nursery more often
you would be able to take care that Stephen's innocent ears weren't
insulted with my vulgar conversation--"
It was then that he saw, behind Clare, in the doorway, the dark smiling
face of Cards.
Cards came forward. "Really, you two," he said, laughing. "Peter, old man,
don't be absurd--you too, Clare" (he called her Clare now).
The anger died out of Clare's eyes: "Well, he knows I hate him talking
about that nasty old town to the baby--" Then, in a moment, she was smiling
again--"I'm sorry, Peter. Cards is quite right, and anyhow the baby doesn't
She stood smiling in front of him but the frown did not leave his face.
"Oh! it's all right," he said sullenly, and he brushed past them up the
stairs, to his own room.
From the silence of his room he thought that he could hear them laughing
about it downstairs. "Silly old Peter--always getting into tempers--" Well,
was he? And after all hadn't it been, this time, her affair? Stephen and he
had been happy enough before the others had come in. What was this
senseless dislike of Clare's to Cornwall? What could it matter to her? It
was always cropping up now. He could think of a thousand occasions, lately,
when she had been roused by it.
But, as he paced, with frowning face, back and forwards across the room,
there was something more puzzling still that had to be thought about. Why
did they quarrel about such tiny things? In novels, in good, reliable
novels, it was always the big things about which people fought. Whoever
heard of two people quarrelling because one of them wanted to talk about
Cornwall? and yet it was precisely concerning things just as trivial that
they were always now disputing. Why need they quarrel at all? In the first
year there had always been peace. Why shouldn't there be peace now? Where
exactly lay Clare's altered attitude to himself, to his opinions, to the
world in general. If he yielded to her demands--and he had yielded on many
more occasions than was good either for her or himself--she had, he
fancied, laughed at him for being so easily defeated. If he had not yielded
then she had been, immediately, impossible....
And yet, after their quarrels, there had been the most wonderful, precious
reconciliations, reconciliations that, even now at his thought of them,
made his heart beat faster. Now, soon, when he went downstairs to dress
for dinner, she would come to him, he knew, and beg most beautifully,
his pardon. But to-night it seemed suddenly that this kind of thing had
happened too often lately. He felt, poor Peter, bewildered. There seemed to
be, on every side of him, so many things that he was called upon to manage
and he was so unable to manage any of them. He stopped in his treading to
and fro and stared at the long deal writing-table at which he always
There, waiting for him, were the first chapters of his new novel, "Mortimer
Stant." In the same way, two years ago, he had stared at the early chapters
of "The Stone House," on that morning before he had gone to propose to
Clare. Now there flashed through his mind the wonderful things that he
intended "Mortimer Stant" to be. It was to concern a man of forty (in his
confident selection of that age he displayed, most stridently, his own
youth) and Mortimer was to be a stolid, reserved Philistine, who was,
against his will, by outside forces, dragged into an emotional crisis.
At the back of his mind he had, perhaps, Maradick for his figure, but that
was almost unconscious. "Mortimer Stant" was to represent a wonderful duel
between the two camps--the Artists and the Philistines--with ultimate
victory, of course, for the Artists. It was to be.... Well what was it to
be? At present the stolid Mortimer was hidden behind a phalanx of
people--Clare, young Stephen, Cards, Bobby, Mrs. Rossiter (tiresome woman),
Alice Galleon--_That_ was it. It was hidden, hidden just as parts of "The
Stone House" had been hidden, but hidden more deeply--a regular jungle of
interests and occupations was creeping, stealthily, stealthily upon him.
And then his eye fell upon an open letter that lay on his table, and, at
the sight of it, he was seized with a burning sense of shame. How could he
The letter ran--
_My dear Mr. Westcott,
You have not been to see me for many months. Further opportunities may, by
the hand of God, be denied you.
Come if you can spare the time.
The words were written, feebly almost illegibly, in pencil. Peter knew
that Bobby had been, for many weeks, very anxious concerning his father's
health, and during the last few days he had abandoned the City and spent
all his time at home. That letter had come this very morning and Peter
had intended to go at once and inquire. The fact that he had left all
these months without going to see the old man rose before him now like an
accusing hand. He deserved, indeed, whatever the Gods might choose to send
him, if he could so wilfully neglect his duty. But he knew that there had
been, in the back of his mind, shame. His work had not, so he might have
put it to himself, been good enough to justify his presence. There would
have been questions asked, questions that he might have found it difficult,
indeed, to answer.
But now the sight of that letter immediately encouraged him. Henry Galleon,
even though he was too ill to talk, would put him right with all his
perplexities, would give him courage to cut through all these complications
that had been gathering, lately, so thickly about him. "This," the room
seemed to whisper to him, "is your chance. After all, you are given this
opportunity. See him once before he dies and your fate will be shown you,
He stepped out of the house unperceived and was immediately conscious of
the Spring night. Spring--with a precipitancy and extravagance that seems
to be--to own peculiar quality in London--had leapt upon the streets.
The Embankment was bathed in the evening glow. Clouds, like bales of golden
wool, sailed down a sky so faintly blue that the white light of a departed
sun seemed to glow behind it. The lamps were crocus-coloured against black
barges that might have been loaded with yellow primroses so did they hint,
through their darkness, at the yellow haze around them.
The silence was melodious; the long line of dark houses watched like
prisoners from behind their iron bars. They might expect, it seemed, the
Spring to burst through the flagstones at their feet.
Peter's heart was lightened of all its burden. He shared the glory, the
intoxication of the promise that was on every side of him. On such a night
great ambitions, great ideals, great lovers were created.
He saw Henry Galleon, from behind his window, watching the pageant. He saw
him gaining new life, getting up from his bed of sickness, writing anew
his great masterpieces. And he saw himself, Peter Westcott, learning at
last from the Master the rule and discipline of life. All the muddle, the
confusion of this lazy year should be healed. He and Clare should see
with the same eyes. She should understand his need for work, he should
understand her need for help. All should be happiness and victory in this
glorious world and he, by the Master's side, should...
He stopped suddenly. The house that had been Henry Galleon's was blank and
At every window the blinds were down....
To Peter's immediate world it was a matter of surprise that he should take
Henry Galleon's death so hardly. It is a penalty of greatness that you
should, to the majority of your fellow men, be an Idea rather than a human
being. To his own family Henry Galleon had, of course, been real enough
but to the outside world he was the author of "Henry Lessingham" and "The
Roads," whose face one saw in the papers as one saw the face of Royalty.
Peter Westcott, moreover, had not appeared, at any time, to take more than
a general interest in the great man, and it was even understood that old
Mrs. Galleon and Millicent and Percival considered themselves somewhat
affronted because the Master had "been exceedingly kind to the young man.
Taken trouble about him, tried to know him, but young Westcott had allowed
the thing to drop--had not been near him during the last year."
Even Bobby and Alice Galleon were astonished at Peter's grief. To Bobby his
father's death came as a fine ending to a fine career. He had died, full of
honour and of years. Even Bobby, who thought that he knew his Peter pretty
well by now, was puzzled.
"He takes it," Bobby explained to Alice, "as though it were a kind of
omen, sees ever so much more in it than any of us do. It seems that he was
coming round the very evening that father died to talk to him, and that he
suddenly saw the blinds down; it was a shock to him, of course. I think
it's all been a kind of remorse working out, remorse not only for having
neglected my father but for having left other things--his work, I suppose,
rather to look after themselves. But he won't tell me," Bobby almost
desperately concluded, "he won't tell me anything--he really is the most
And Peter found it difficult enough to tell himself, did not indeed try. He
only knew that he felt an acute, passionate remorse and that it seemed to
him that the denial of that last visit was an omen of the anger of all the
Gods, and even--although to this last he gave no kind of expression--the
malicious contrivance of an old man who waited for him down there in that
house by the sea. It was as though gates had been clanged in his face, and
that as he heard them close he heard also the jeering laughter behind
them.... He had missed his chance.
He saw, instantly, that Clare understood none of this, and that, indeed,
she took it all as rather an affectation on his part, something in him that
belonged to that side of him that she tried to forget. She hated, quite
frankly, that he should go about the house with a glum face because an old
man, whom he had never taken the trouble to go and see when he was alive,
was now dead. She showed him that she hated it.
He turned desperately to his work. There had been a hint, only the other
day, from the newspaper for which he wrote, that his reviews had not,
lately, been up to his usual standard. He knew that they seemed to him
twice as difficult to do as they had seemed a year ago and that therefore
he did them twice as badly.
He flung himself upon his book and swore that he would dissipate the
shadows that hid it from him. One of the shadows he saw quite clearly
was Cards' attitude to his work. It was strange, he thought almost
pathetically, how closely his feeling for Cards now resembled the feeling
that he had had, those years ago, at Dawson's. He still worshipped
him--worship was the only possible word--worshipped him for all the things
that he, Peter, was not. One could not be with him, Peter thought, one
could not watch his movements, hear his voice without paying it all the
most absolute reverence. The glamour about Cards was, to Peter, something
almost from another world. Peter felt so clumsy, so rough and ugly and
noisy and out-of-place when Cards was present that the fact that Cards was
almost always present now made life a very difficult thing. How could Peter
prevent himself from reverencing every word that Cards uttered when one
reflected upon the number of things that Cards had done, the things that he
had seen, the places to which he had been. And Cards' attitude to Peter's
work was, if not actually contemptuous, at least something very like it.
He did not, he professed, read novels. The novelists' trade at the best,
he seemed to imply, was only a poor one, and that Peter's work was not
altogether of the best he almost openly asserted. "What can old Peter know
about life?" one could hear him saying--"Where's he been? Who's he known?
Whatever in the world has he done?"
Against this, in spite of the glitter that shone about Cards' head, Peter
might, perhaps, have stood. He reminded himself, a hundred times a day,
that one must not care about the things that other people said, one must
have one's eyes fixed upon the goal--one must be sure of oneself--what had
But there was also the effect of it all upon Clare to be considered. Clare
listened to Cards. She was, Peter gloomily considered, very largely of
Cards' opinion. The two people for whom he cared most in the world after
young Stephen who, as a critic, had not yet begun to count, thought that he
was wasting his time.
Sometimes, as he sat at his deal table, fighting with a growing sense of
disillusionment that was like nothing so much as a child's first discovery
that its beautiful doll is stuffed with straw, he would wish passionately,
vehemently for the return of those days when he had sat in his little
bedroom writing "Reuben Hallard" with Norah Monogue, and dear Mr. Zanti and
even taciturn little Gottfried, there to encourage him.
_That_ had been Adventure--but this ...? And then he would remember young
Stephen and Clare--moments even lately that she had shared with him--and he
would be ashamed.
It was on an afternoon of furious wind and rain in early April that the
inevitable occurred. All the afternoon the trees in the little orchard had
been knocking their branches together as though they were in a furious
temper with Somebody and were indignant at not being allowed to get at Him;
they gave you the impression that it would be quite as much as your life
would be worth to venture into their midst.
Peter had, during a number of hours, endeavoured to pierce the soul of
Mortimer Stant--meanwhile as the wind howled, the rain lashed the windows
of his room, and the personality of Mr. Stant faded farther and farther
away into ultimate distance, Peter was increasingly conscious that he was
listening for something.
He had felt himself surrounded by this strange sense of anticipation
before. Sometimes it had stayed with him for a short period only, sometimes
it had extended over days--always it brought with it an emotion of
excitement and even, if he had analysed it sufficiently, fear.
He was suddenly conscious, in the naked spaces of his barely-furnished
room, of the personality of his father. So conscious was he that he got
up from his table and stood at the rain-swept window, looking out into
the orchard, as though he expected to see a sinister figure creeping,
stealthily, from behind the trees. In his thoughts of his father there was
no compunction, no accusing scruples of neglect, only a perfectly concrete,
active sense, in some vague way, of force pitted against force.
It might be summed up in the conviction that "the old man was not done with
him yet"--and as Peter turned back from the window, almost relieved that he
had, indeed, seen no creeping figure amongst the dark trees, he was aware
that never since the days of his starvation in Bucket Lane, had he been so
conscious of those threatening memories of Scaw House and its inhabitants.
At that, almost as he reached his table, there was a knock on his door.
"Come in," he cried and, scorning himself for his fears, faced the maid
with staring eyes.
"Two gentlemen to see you, sir," she said. "I have shown them into the
"Is Mrs. Westcott in?"
"No, sir. She told me that she would not be back until six o'clock, sir."
"I will come down."
In the hall, hanging amongst the other things as a Pirate might hang beside
a company of Evangelist ministers, was Stephen Brant's hat....
As Peter's hand turned on the handle of the study door he knew that his
heart was beating with so furious a clamour that he could not hear the lock
He entered the room and found Stephen Brant and Mr. Zanti facing him. The
little window between the dim rows of books showed him the pale light that
was soon to succeed the storm. The two men seemed to fill the little room;
their bodies were shadowy and mysterious against the pale colour, and Peter
had the impression that the things in the room--the chairs, the books, the
table--huddled against the wall, so crowded did the place seem.
For himself, at his first sight of them, he was compelled, instantly, to
check a feeling of joy so overwhelming that he was himself astonished at
the force of it. To them, as they stood there, smiling, feeling that same