Part 8 out of 10
emotion to which he, also, was now succumbing! He checked himself. It was
as though he were forced suddenly, by a supreme effort of will, to drive
from the room a tumultuous crowd of pictures, enthusiasms and memories,
that, for the sake of the present and of the future, must be forbidden to
stay with him. It was absurd--he was a husband, a father, a responsible
householder, almost a personage... and yet, as he looked at Stephen's eyes
and Mr. Zanti's smile, he was the little boy back again in Tan's shop with
the old suit of armour, the beads and silver and Eastern cloths, and out
beyond the window, the sea was breaking upon the wooden jetty....
He put the picture away from him and rushed to greet the two of them.
"Zanti!... Stephen!... Oh! how splendid! How perfectly, perfectly
Mr. Zanti's enormous body was enclosed in a suit of bright blue, his broad
nose stood out like a bridge, his wide mouth gaped. He wore white spats,
three massive rings of twisted gold and in his blue tie a glittering
emerald. He was a magnificent, a costly figure and in nothing was the
geniality of his nature more plainly seen than in his obvious readiness
to abandon, at any moment, these splendid riches for the sake of a valued
attachment. "I love wearing these things," you might hear him say, "but
I love still better to do anything in the world that I can for you, my
Stephen presented a more moderate appearance, but he was brown with health
and shining with strength. He was like the old Stephen of years and years
ago, so different from the--man who had shared with Peter that room in
He carried himself with that air of strong, cautious reserve that
Cornishmen have when they are in some other country than their own; his
eyes, mild, gentle, but on the alert, ready at an instant to be hostile.
Then, when Peter came in, the reserve instantly fled. They had, all three
of them, perhaps, expected embarrassment, but at that cry of Peter's they
were suddenly together, Mr. Zanti, waving his hands, almost shouting,
Stephen, his eyes resting with delight on Peter, Peter himself another
creature from the man who had pursued Mortimer Stant in the room upstairs,
half an hour before.
"We thought that ze time 'ad come, dear boy... we know zat you are busy."
Mr. Zanti looked about him a little anxiously, as though he expected to
find Mrs. Peter hiding under a chair or a sofa.
"Oh! Stephen, after all this long long while! Why didn't you come before
when Mr. Zanti came?"
"Too many of us coming, Mr. Peter, and you so busy."
"Nonsense. I'm not in the least busy. I'm sorry to say my wife's out but
the baby's in, upstairs, and there's the most terrific woman up there too,
the nurse--I'm frightened out of my life of her--but we'll get rid of her
and have the place to ourselves... you know the kid's called after you,
"No, is he really?" Stephen's face shone with pleasure. "I'm keen to see
"Oh, he's a trump! There never really was such a baby."
"And your books, Mr. Peter?"
"Oh! the books!" Peter's voice dropped, "never mind them now. But what have
you been doing, you two? Made heaps of money? Discovered treasure?..." He
pulled himself up shortly. He remembered the bookshop, the girl leaning
against the door looking into the street, then the boys crying the news....
If Mr. Zanti had been mixing himself up with that sort of thing again! And
then the bright blue suit, the white spats, were reassuring. As if one
could ever take such a child seriously about anything!
Mr. Zanti shook his head, ruefully. "No, not ezackly a fortune! There was
a place I 'eard of, right up in the Basque country--'twas an old deserted
garden, where zey 'ad buried treasure, centuries ago--I 'ad it quite
certainly from a friend. We came up there for a time but we found nothing."
He sighed and then was instantly cheered again. "But it's all right. I've
got a plan now--a wonderful plan." He became very mysterious. "It's a
certain thing--we're off to Cornwall, Mr. Brant and myself--"
"Come too, Peter."
"Ah! don't I wish that I could!" He suddenly saw his life, his
books--everything in London holding him, tying him--"But I can't go now, my
father being there makes it impossible. But in any case, I'm a family man
As he said the words he was conscious that, in Stephen's eyes at any rate,
the family man was about the last thing that he looked. He was wondering,
with intense curiosity, what were the things that Stephen was finding in
him, for the things that Stephen found were most assuredly the things that
he was. No one knew him as Stephen knew him. Against his will the thought
of Clare came driving upon him. How little she knew him! or was it only
that she knew another side of him?
But he pulled himself away from that. "Now for the nursery--Stephen
Secundus. But you'll have to support me whilst I get rid of Mrs.
Kant--perhaps three of us together--"
As he led the way upstairs he knew that Stephen was not entirely reassured
Mrs. Kant was a large, busy woman, like a horse--a horse who dislikes other
horses and sniffs an enemy in every wind. She very decidedly sniffed an
enemy now, and Mr. Zanti's blue suit paled before her fierce eyes. He
stepped back into the doorway again, treading upon Stephen. Peter, who was
always conscious that Mrs. Kant looked upon himself and Clare as two
entirely ridiculous and slightly impertinent children, stammered a little.
"You might go down and have your tea now, Mrs. Kant. I'll keep an eye upon
"I've had my tea, thank you, sir."
"Well, I'll relieve you of the baby for a little." She was sewing. She
snapped off a piece of thread with a sharp click of her teeth, sat silently
for a moment staring in front of her, then quietly got up. "Thank you,
sir," she said and left the room.
All three men breathed again as the door closed--then they were all
conscious of young Stephen.
The thing was, of course, absurd, but to all three of them there came the
conviction that the baby had been laughing at them for their terror of Mrs.
Kant. He was curled up on a chair by the fire, looking at them with his
wide eyes over his shoulder, and he seemed to say, "I don't care a snap
for the woman--why should you?" The blue ball was on the floor at the foot
of the chair, and the firelight leapt upon the frieze that Peter had so
carefully chosen--giants and castles, dwarfs and princesses running round
the room in red, and blue and gold.
Young Stephen looked at them, puzzled for an instant, then with a shout
he would have acclaimed his father, but his gaze was suddenly arrested by
the intense blueness of Mr. Zanti's clothes. He stared at it, fascinated.
Into his life there had suddenly broken the revelation that you might
have something far larger than the blue ball that moved and shone in so
fascinating a manner. His eyes immediately glittered with the thought that
he would presently have the joy of rolling something so big and shining
along the floor. He could not bear to wait. His fat fingers curved in the
air with the eager anticipation of it--words, actual words had not as yet
come to him, but, crowing and gurgling, he informed the world that he
wanted, he demanded, instantly, that he should roll Mr. Zanti.
"Well, old man, how are you?" said Peter. But he would not look at his
father. His arms stretched toward Mr. Zanti.
"You've made a conquest right away, Zanti," Peter said laughing.
It was indeed instantly to be perceived that Mr. Zanti was in his right
element. Any pretence of any kind of age fell away from him, his arms
curved towards young Stephen as young Stephen's curved towards him. He was
making noises in his throat that exactly resembled the noises that the baby
He looked down gravely upon the chair--"'Ow do you do?" he said and he took
young Stephen's fat fingers in his hand.
"'E says," he remarked, looking at Peter and Stephen, "that 'e would like
to roll me upon the floor--like that ball there--"
"Well, let him," said Peter laughing.
The baby then dug his fingers into Mr. Zanti's hair and pulled down his
head towards the chair, intense satisfaction flooding his face as he did
The baby seemed, for a moment, to whisper into Mr. Zanti's ear, then,
chuckling it climbed down from the chair, and, on all fours, crawled, its
eyes and mouth suddenly serious as though it were conscious that it was
engaged upon a very desperate adventure. The three men watched it. Across
the absolute silence of the room there came the sound of the rain driving
upon the pane, of the tumbling chatter of the fire, of the baby's hands
falling upon the carpet.
Mr. Zanti was suddenly upon his knees. "Here," he cried, seizing the blue
ball. He rolled it to young Stephen. It was caught, dropped and then the
fat fingers had flung themselves upon Mr. Zanti's coat. He let himself go
and was pulled back sprawling upon the floor, his huge body stretching from
end to end of the rug.
Then, almost before they had realised it, the other two men were down upon
their knees. The ball was picked up and tossed from hand to hand, the baby,
sitting upon Mr. Zanti's stomach, watched with delight these extraordinary
Then they played Hunt the Slipper, sitting round in a ring upon the carpet,
young Stephen trying to catch his own slipper, falling over upon his back,
kicking his legs in the air, dashing now at Stephen the Elder's beard, now
at his father's coat, now at Mr. Zanti's legs.
The noise of the laughter drowned the rain and the fire. Mr. Zanti had the
slipper--he was sitting upon it. Peter made a dash for it, Mr. Zanti rolled
over, they were all in a heap upon the floor.
"I've got it." Mr. Zanti was off on all fours round the room, the baby on
his back clutching on to his hair. A chair was over, then a box of bricks,
the table rocked and then was suddenly down with a crash!
What had come to them all? Stephen, so grave, so solemn, had caught the
baby into the air, had flung him up and caught him again. Peter and Mr.
Zanti looking up from the floor saw him standing, his legs wide, his beard
flowing, his arms stretched with young Stephen shouting between them.
Behind him, around him was a wrecked nursery....
The baby, surveying the world from this sudden height, wondered at this
amazing glory. He had never before beheld from such a position the things
that bounded his life. How strange the window seemed! Through it now he
could see the tops of the trees, the grey sky, the driving lines of rain!
Only a little way above him now were pictures that had always glowed before
from so great a distance. Around him, above him, below him space--a thing
to be frightened of were one not held so tightly, so safely.
He approved, most assuredly, of the banishment of Mrs. Kant, and the
invasion of these splendid Things! He would have life always like this,
with that great blue ball to roll upon the floor, with that brown
beard, near now to his hand, to clutch, with none of that hideous
soap-in-the-eyes-early-to-bed Philosophy that he was becoming now conscious
enough to rebel against.
He dug his hands into the beard that was close to him and, like the sons of
the morning, shouted with joy.
Peter, looking up at the two Stephens, felt his burdens roll off his back.
If only things could be like this always! And already he saw himself,
through these two, making everything right once more with Clare. They
should prove to her that, after all, his past life had not been so
terrible, that Cornwall could produce heroes if it liked. Through these two
he would get fresh inspiration for his work. He felt already, through them,
a wind blowing that cleared all the dust from his brain.
And how splendid for the boy! To have two such men for his friends! Already
he was planning to persuade them to stay in London. He had thought of the
very place for them in Chelsea, near the Roundabout, the very house....
"Of course you'll stay for dinner, you two--"
"But--" said Mr. Zanti, mopping his brow from which perspiration was
"No, nonsense. Of course you'll stop. We've got such heaps to talk about--"
Stephen had got the baby now on his shoulder. "Off to Cornwall," he shouted
and charged down the room.
It was at that instant that Peter was conscious that Clare had been
standing, for some moments, in the room. She stood, quite silently, without
moving, by the door, her eyes blazing at him....
His first thought was of that other time when she had found him in the
nursery, of the quarrel that they had had. Then he noticed the state of the
room, the overturned chairs and table. Then he saw Mr. Zanti still wiping
his forehead, but confusedly, and staring at Clare in a shocked hushed way,
as though he were a small boy who had been detected with his fingers in a
Stephen saw her at last. He put the baby down and came slowly across the
floor. Peter spoke: "Why, Clare! You're back early. We've been having such
a splendid time with Stephen--let me introduce my friends to you--Mr. Zanti
and Mr. Brant... you've heard me speak of them--"
They came towards her. She shook hands with them, regarding them gravely.
"How do you do?"
There was silence. Then Mr. Zanti said--"We must be goin'--longer than we
ought to stop--we 'ave business--"
Peter felt rising in him a cold and surging anger at her treatment of them.
These two, the best friends that he had in the world--that she should dare!
"Oh! you'll stay to dinner, you two! You must--"
"I'm afraid, ver' afraid," Mr. Zanti said bowing very low and still looking
at Clare with apologetic, troubled eyes, "we 'ave no time. Immediate
Still Clare said nothing.
There was another moment's silence, and then Peter said:
"I'll come down and see you off." Still without moving from her place she
shook hands with them.
They all three went out.
Peter could say nothing. The words seemed to be choked in his throat by
this tide of anger that was like nothing he had ever felt before.
He held their hands for a moment as they stood outside in the dusk.
"Where are you staying? I must see you again--"
"We go down to Cornwall to-morrow."
Stephen caught Peter's shoulder:
"Come down to us, Peter, if you get a chance." They all stared at one
another; they were all, absolutely, entirely without words. Afterwards they
would regret that they had said nothing, but now--!
They vanished into the dusk and Peter, stepping into the house again,
closed very softly the hall door behind him.
ROCKING THE ROUNDABOUT
As he climbed, once more, the stairs to the nursery, he was conscious of
the necessity for a great restraint. Did he but relax for an instant his
control he was aware that forces--often dimly perceived and shuddered
at--would now, as never in his life before, burst into freedom.
It was as though a whole life of joy and happiness had been suddenly
snatched from him and it was Clare who had robbed him--Clare who had never
cared what the things might be that she demanded from him--Clare who gave
But his rage now, he also felt, was beyond all reason, something that
belonged to that other part of him, the part that Scaw House and its dark
room understood and so terribly fostered.
He was afraid of what he might do.
On opening the nursery door he saw the straight, thin, shining back of Mrs.
Kant as she bent to put things straight. Young Stephen was quietly asleep.
He closed the door, and, turning in the narrow passage, found Clare coming
out of her room. In the dim light they faced one another, hostility flaming
between them. She looked at him for a moment, her breast heaving, her mouth
so tight and sharp, her eyes so fierce that her little stature seemed to be
raised by her anger to a great height.
At that moment Peter felt that he hated her as he had never hated any one
in his life before.
She went back, without a word, into her room.
She did not come down again that night and he had his evening meal,
He slept in his dressing-room. Long before morning his rage had gone. He
looked at her locked door and wished, miserably, that he might die for
Later, as he sat, hopelessly, over the dim and sterile pages of "Mortimer
Slant," Mrs. Rossiter came, heavily, in to talk with him. Mrs. Rossiter
always entered the room with an expression of stupid benignity that hid a
good deal of rather sharp perception. The fact that she was not nearly so
stupid as she looked enabled her to look all the stupider and she covered
a multitude of brains with a quantity of hard black silk that she spread
out around her with the air of one who is filling as much of the room as
she can conveniently seize upon. Her plump arms, her broad and placid
bosom, her flat smooth face, her hair, entirely negative in colour and
arrangement, offered no clue whatever to her unsuspected sharpnesses.
Smooth, broad, flat and motionless she carried, like the Wooden Horse of
Troy, a thousand dangers in the depths of her placidity.
She had come now to assist her daughter, the only person for whom she may
be said to have had the slightest genuine affection, for Dr. Rossiter she
had long-despised and Mrs. Galleon was an ally and companion but never a
friend. She had allowed Clare to marry Peter, chiefly because Clare would
have married him in any case, but also, a little, because she thought that
Peter had a great career in front of him. Now that Peter's career seemed
already to be, for the most part, behind him, she disliked him and because
he appeared to have made Clare unhappy suddenly hated him... but placidity
was the shield that covered her attack and, for a symbol, one might
take the large flat golden brooch that she wore on her bosom--flat,
expressionless and shining, with the sharpest pin behind it that ever
Peter, whose miseries had accumulated as the minutes passed, was ready to
seize upon anything that promised a reconciliation. He did not like Mrs.
Rossiter--he had never been able to get to close quarters with her, and he
was conscious that his roughness and occasional outbursts displeased her.
He felt, too, that the qualities that he had resented in Clare owed their
origin to her mother. That brooch of hers was responsible for a great deal.
Fixing his eyes upon it he said, "You've come about Clare?"
"Yes, Peter." Mrs. Rossiter settled herself more comfortably, spread her
skirts, folded her hands. "She's very unhappy."
The mild eyes baffled him.
"I'm terribly sorry. I will do anything I can, but I think--that I had
a right"--he faltered a little; it was so like talking to an empty
Dairy--"had a right to mind. Two old friends of mine--two of the best
friends that I have in the world were here yesterday and Clare--"
"I don't think," the soft voice broke in upon him whilst the eyes searched
his body up and down, "that, even now, Peter, you quite understand Clare--"
"No," he said eagerly, "I know. I'm blundering, stupid. Lots of times I've
irritated her, and now again." He paused, but then added, with a touch of
his old stubbornness--"But they were friends of mine--she should have
treated them so."
Mrs. Rossiter felt that she did indeed hate the young man.
"Clare is very unhappy," she repeated. "She tells me that she has been
crying all night. You must remember, Peter, that her life has been very
different to yours--"
He wished that she would not repeat herself; he wished that she would not
always use the same level voice; he wanted insanely to tell her that she
ought to say "different from"--he could not take his eyes from the brooch.
But the thought of Clare came to him and he bowed himself once more humbly.
"I will see that things are better," he said earnestly. "I don't know what
has been the matter lately--my work and everything has been wrong, and
I expect my temper has been horrible. You know," he said with a little
crooked smile, "that I've got to work to keep it all going, and when I'm
writing badly then my temper goes to pieces."
Mrs. Rossiter, with no appearance of having heard anything that he had
"You know, Peter, that your temperament is very different to Clare's. You
are, and I know you will forgive my putting it so plainly, a little wild
still--doubtless owing to your earlier years. Clare is gentle, bright,
happy. She has never given my husband or myself a moment's trouble, but
that is because we understood her nature. We knew that she loved people
about her to be happy--she flourished in the sun, she drooped under the
clouds... under the clouds" Mrs. Rossiter repeated again softly, as she
searched, with care, for her next words.
Irritation was rising within Peter. Why should it be concluded so
inevitably that the fault was all on Peter's side and not at all on
Clare's--after all, there were reasons... but he pulled himself up. He
had behaved like a beast.
"I've tried very hard--" he began.
"Clouds--" said Mrs. Rossiter. "And you, Peter, are at times--I have
seen it myself and I know that it is apparent to others--inclined to be
morose--gloomy, a little gloomy--" Her fingers tapped the silk of her
dress. "Dear Clare, considering what her own life has been, shrinks, I must
confess it seems to me quite naturally, from any reminder of what your
own earlier circumstances have been. Look at it, Peter, for an instant
from the outside and you will see, at once, I am sure, what it must have
been to her, yesterday, to come into her nursery, to find tables, chairs
overturned, strange men shouting and flinging poor little Stephen towards
the ceiling--some talk about Cornwall--really, Peter, I think you can
He abandoned all his defences. "I know--I ought to have realised... it was
In the back of his head he heard her words "You're morose--you're wild.
Other people find you so--you're making a mess of everything and every one
He was humbled to the dust. If only he might make it all right with Clare,
then he would see to it--Oh! yes he would see to it--that nothing of this
kind ever happened again. From Mrs. Rossiter's standpoint he looked back
upon his life and found it all one ignoble, selfish muddle. Dear Clare!--so
eager to be happy and he had made her miserable.
"Will she forgive me?"
"Dear Clare," said Mrs. Rossiter, rising brightly and with a general air of
benevolence towards all the sinners in existence, "is the most forgiving
creature in the world."
He went down to her bedroom and found her lying on a sofa and reading a
He fell on his knees at her side--"Clare--darling--I'm a beast, a brute--"
She suddenly turned her face into the cushions and burst into passionate
crying. "Oh! it's horrible--horrible--horrible--"
He kissed her hand and then getting on to his feet again, stood looking at
her awkwardly, struggling for words with which to comfort her.
And then at luncheon, there was a little, pencilled feeble note for Peter
from Norah Monogue. "Please, if you can spare half an hour come to me. In a
day or two I am off to the country."
Things had just been restored to peace and happiness--Clare had just
proposed that they should go, that afternoon, to a Private View
together--they might go and have tea with--
For an instant he was tempted to abandon Norah. Then his courage came:--
"Here's a note from Miss Monogue," he said. "She's awfully ill I think, I
Clare's face hardened again. She got up from the table--
"Just as you please--" she said.
He climbed on to the omnibus that was to stumble with him down Piccadilly
with a. hideous, numbing sense of being under the hand of Fate. Why, at
this moment, in all time, should this letter of Norah Monogue's have made
its unhappy appearance? With what difficulty and sorrow had he and Clare
reached once more a reconciliation only, so wantonly, to be plucked away
from it again! From the top of his omnibus he looked down upon a sinister
London. It was a heavy, lowering day; thick clouds like damp cloths came
down upon the towers and chimneys. The trees in the Green Park were black
and chill and in and out of the Clubs figures slipped cautiously and it
seemed furtively. Just beyond the Green Park they were building a vast
hotel, climbing figures and twisting lines of scaffolding pierced the air,
and behind the rolling and rattling of the traffic the sound of many
hammers beat rhythmically, monotonously....
To Peter upon his omnibus, suddenly that sound that he had heard
before--that sound of London stirring--came back to him, and now more
clearly than he had ever known it. Tap-tap-tap-tap...
Clamp-clamp-tap-tap-tap-tap--whir! whir!... Clamp-clamp....
It seemed to him that all the cabs and the buses and the little black
figures were being hurried by some power straight, fast, along Piccadilly
to be pitched, at the end of it, pell-mell, helter-skelter into some dark
abysmal pit, there to perish miserably.
Yes, the beast was stirring! Ever so little the pavements, the houses were
heaving. Perhaps if one could see already the soil was cracking beneath
one's feet. "Look out! London will have you in a minute."
Anyhow it was a heavy, clammy day. The houses were ghosts and the people
were ghosts, and grey shadows, soon perhaps to be a yellow fog, floated
about the windows and the doors and muffled all human sounds.
He passed the great pile of scaffolding, saw iron girders shining, saw huge
cranes swinging in mid-air, saw tiny, tiny black atoms perched above the
noise and swallowed by the smoke... tap-tap-clamp-clamp....
Yes, the beast was moving... and, out and in, lost and then found again,
crept that twisting chain of beggars to whose pallid army Peter himself had
once so nearly belonged.
"I suppose I've got a headache after all that row with Clare," Peter
thought as he climbed off the omnibus.
He realised, as he came into the Bloomsbury square, and saw Mrs. Brockett
gloomily waiting for him, that the adventures of his life were most
strangely bound together. Not for an instant did he seem to be able to
escape from any one of them. Now it would be Cornwall, now the Bookshop,
now Stephen, now Mr. Zanti, now Bucket Lane, now Treliss--all of them
interweaving, arresting his action at every moment. Because he had done
that once now this must not be permitted him; he felt, as he rang the old
heavy bell of Brockett's that his head would never think clearly again. As
the door opened and he stepped into the hall he heard, faintly, across the
flat spaces of the Square "Tap-tap-tap-tap-clamp-clamp...."
Even Mrs. Brockett, who might be considered if any one in the world, immune
from morbid imaginations, felt the heaviness of the day, suggested a
prevalence of thunder, and shook her head when Peter asked about Miss
"She's bad, Mr. Peter, very bad, poor dear. There's no doubt about that.
It's hard to see what can be done for her--but plucky! That's a small word
"I'm sure she is," said Peter, feeling ashamed of having made so much of
his own little troubles.
"She must get out of London if she's to improve at all. In a week or two I
hope she'll be able to move."
"How's every one else?"
"Oh, well enough." Mrs. Brockett straightened her dress with her beautiful
hands in the old familiar way-- "But you're not looking very hearty
yourself, Mr. Peter."
"Oh! I'm all right," he answered smiling; but she shook her head after him
as she watched him go up the stairs.
And then he was surprised. He came into Norah Monogue's room and found her
sitting up by her window, looking better than he had ever seen her. Her
face was full of colour and her eyes bright and smiling. Only on her hands
the blue veins stood out, and their touch, when she shook hands with him,
was hot and burning.
But he was reassured; Mrs. Brockett had exaggerated and made the worst of
"You're looking splendid--I'm so glad. I was afraid from your letter-"
"Oh! I really am getting on," she broke in gaily, "and it's the nicest boy
in the world that you are to come in and see me so quickly. Only on a day
like this London does just lie heavily upon one doesn't it? and one just
longs for the country--"
A little breath of a sigh escaped from her and she looked through her
window at the dim chimneys, the clouds hanging like consolidated smoke, the
fine, thin dust that filtered the air.
"You're looking tired yourself, Peter. Working too hard?"
"No," he shook his head. "The work hasn't been coming easily at all. I
suppose I've been too conscious, lately, of the criticisms every one made
about 'The Stone House.' I don't believe one ought really to listen to
anybody and yet it's so hard not to, and so difficult to know whose opinion
one ought to take if one's going to take anybody's. I wish," he suddenly
brought out, "Henry Galleon were still alive. I could have followed him."
"But why follow anybody?"
"Ah! that's just it. I'm beginning to doubt myself and that's why it's
getting so difficult."
Her eyes searched his face and she saw, at once, that he was in very real
trouble. He looked younger, just then, she thought, than she had ever seen
him, and she felt herself so immensely old that she could have taken him
into her arms and mothered him as though he'd been her own son.
"There are a lot of things the matter," she said. "Tell me what they all
"Well," he said slowly, "I suppose it's all been mostly my own fault--but
the real difficulty is that I don't seem to be able to run the business of
being married and the business of writing together. I don't think Clare in
the least cares now about my writing--she almost resents it; she cared at
first when she thought that I was going to make a huge success of it, but
"But, of course," said Miss Monogue, "that success comes slowly--it must if
it's going to be any use at all--"
"Well, she doesn't see that. And she wants me to go out to parties and play
about all the time--and then she doesn't want me to be any of the things
that I was before I met her. All my earlier life frightens her--I suppose,"
he suddenly ended, "I want her to be different and she wants me to be
different and we can't make a compromise."
Then Miss Monogue said: "Have any outside people interfered at all?"
Peter coloured. "Well, of course, Mrs. Rossiter stands up for Clare. She
came and talked to me this morning and I think the things that she said
were quite true. I suppose I am morose and morbid sometimes--more than I
realise--and then," he added slowly, "there's Cards--"
"Cardillac--a man I was at school with. I'm very fond of him. He's the best
friend I've got, and he's been all over the place and done everything and,
of course, knows ever so much more about the world than I do. The fact
is he thinks really that my novels are dreadful nonsense, only he's much
too kind to say so--and, of course, Clare looks up to him a lot. Although
he's only my own age he seems so much older than both Clare and myself. I
don't believe she'd have lost interest in my work so quickly if he hadn't
influenced her--and he's influenced me too--" Peter added sighing.
"Well--and is there anything else?"
"Yes. There's Stephen. I can't begin to tell you how I love that kid.
There haven't been many people in my life that I've cared about and I've
never realised anything so intensely before. Besides," he went on laughing
proudly, "he's such a splendid kid! I wish you could see him, Norah. He'll
do something one day--"
"Well, what's the trouble about Stephen?"
"Clare's so odd about him. There are times when I don't believe she cares
for him the least little bit. Then there are other times when she resents
fiercely my interfering about him. Sometimes she seems to love him more
than anything in the world, but it's always in an odd defiant way--just as
though she were afraid that something would hurt her if she showed that she
cared too much."
There was silence between them for a minute and then Peter summed it all up
with:--"The fact is, Norah, that every sort of thing's getting in between
me and my work and worries me. It's as though I were tossing more balls in
the air than I could possibly manage. At one moment I think it's Clare that
I've got especially to hang on to--another time it's the book--and then
it's Stephen. The moment I've settled down something turns up to remind me
of Cornwall or the Bookshop. Fact is I'm getting battered at by something
or other and I never can get my breath. I oughtn't ever to have
married--I'm not up to it."
Norah Monogue took his hand.
"You are up to it, Peter, but I expect you've got a lot to go through
before you're clear of things. Now I'm going to be brutal. The fact is that
you're too self-centred. People never do anything in the world so long as
they are wondering whether the world's going to hurt them or no. Those
early years of yours made you morbid. You've got a temper and one or two
other things that want a lot of holding down and that takes up your
attention--And then Clare isn't the woman to help you--"
Peter was about to break in but she went on:--'"Oh! I know my Clare through
and through. She's just as anxious as you are not to be hurt by anything
and so she's being hurt all the time. She's out for happiness at any cost
and you're out for freedom--freedom from every kind of thing--and because
both of you are denied it you are restive. But you and Clare are both
people whose only salvation is in being hurt and knocked about and bruised
to such an extent that they simply don't know where they are. Oh! I
know--I'm exactly the same sort of person myself. We can thank the Gods if
we are knocked about--"
Suddenly she paused and, falling back in her chair, put her hand to her
breast, coughing. Something seized her, held her in its grip, tossed her
from side to side, at last left her white, speechless, utterly exhausted.
It had come so suddenly that it had taken Peter entirely by surprise. She
lay back now, her eyes closed, her face a grey white.
He ran to the door and called Mrs. Brockett. She came and with an
exclamation hurried away for remedies.
Peter suddenly felt his hand seized--a hoarse whisper was in his
ear--"Peter--dear--go--at--once--I can't bear--you--to see me--like this.
Come back--another day."
He knelt, moved by an affection and tenderness that seemed stronger than
any emotion he had ever known, and kissed her. She whispered:
On his way back to Chelsea, the orange lamps, the white streets powdered
with the evening glow, the rustling plane trees whispered to him, "You've
got to be knocked about--you've got to be knocked about--you've got to be
knocked about--" but the murmur was no longer sinister.
Still thinking of Norah, he went up to the nursery to see the boy in bed.
He remembered that Clare was going out alone to a party and that he would
have the evening to himself.
On entering the room, dark except for a nightlight by the boy's bed, some
unknown fear assailed him. He was instantly, at the threshold, conscious of
it. He stood for a moment in silence. Then realised what it was. The boy
was moaning in his sleep.
He went quickly over to the cot and bent down. Stephen's cheeks were
flaming, his hands very hot.
Peter rang the bell. Mrs. Kant appeared.
"Is there anything the matter with Stephen?"
Mrs. Kant looked at him, surprised, a little offended. "He's had a little
cold all day, sir. I've kept him indoors."
"Have you taken his temperature?"
"Yes, sir, nothing at all unusual. He often goes up and down."
"Have you spoken to your mistress?"
"Yes, sir. She agrees with me that there is nothing unusual--"
He brushed past the woman and went to his wife's bedroom.
She was dressed and was putting on a string of pearls, a wedding present
from her father. She smiled up at him--
"Clare, do you know Stephen's ill?"
"No, it's only a cold. I've been up to see him--"
He took her hand--she smiled up at him--"Did you enjoy your visit?" She
fastened the necklace.
"Clare, stay in to-night. It may be nothing but if the boy got worse--"
"Do you want me to stay?"
"I wanted you to go with me this afternoon--"
"That was different. The boy may be really ill--"
"You didn't do what I wanted this afternoon. Why should I do what you want
"Clare, stay. Please, please--"
She took her hand gently out of his, and, as she went out of the door
switched off the electric light.
He heard the opening of the hall door and, standing where she had left him
in the dark bedroom, saw, shining, laughing at him, her eyes.
There are occasions in our life when the great Wave so abruptly overwhelms
us that before we have recovered our dazed senses it has passed and the
water on every side of us is calm again.
There are other occasions when we stand, it may seem through a lifetime of
anticipation bracing our backs for the inevitable moment. Every hour before
it comes is darkened, every light is dimmed by its implacable shadow. Then
when at last it is upon us we meet it with an indifference, almost with a
relief, because it has come at last.
So was it now with Peter. During many weeks he had been miserable,
apprehensive, seeing an enemy in every wind. Now, behold, his adversary in
"This," he might cry to that old man, down in Scaw House, "this is what you
have been preparing for me, is it? At last you've shown me--well, I'll
Young Stephen was very ill. Peter was strangely assured that it was to be a
bad business. Well, it rested with him, Peter, to pull the boy through. If
he chose to put his back into it and give the kid some of his own vigour
and strength then it was bound to be all right.
Standing there in the dark, he stripped his mind naked; he flung from it
every other thought, every other interest--his work, Clare, everything
must go. Only Stephen mattered and Stephen should be pulled through.
For an instant, a little cold trembling fear struck his heart.
Supposing ...? Then fiercely, flinging the thought from him he trampled
He went to the telephone and called up a doctor who lived in Cheyne Walk.
The man could be with him in a quarter of an hour.
Then he went back into the nursery. Mrs. Kant was there.
"I've sent for Dr. Mitchell."
"Very well, sir."
"He'll be here in quarter of an hour."
"Very well, sir."
He hated the woman. He would like to take her thin, bony neck and wring it.
He went over to the cot and looked down. The little body outlined under
the clothes was so helpless, the little hands, clenched now, were so tiny;
he was breathing very fast and little sounds came from between his teeth,
little struggling cries.
Peter saw that moment when Stephen the Elder had held Stephen the younger
aloft in his arms. The Gods appear to us only when we claim to challenge
their exultation. They had been challenged at that moment.... Young Stephen
against the Gods! Surely an unequal contest!
Dr. Mitchell came and instantly the struggle was at its height.
Appendicitis. As they stood over the cot the boy awoke and began to cry a
little, turned his head from side to side as though to avoid the light,
beating with his hands on the counterpane.
"I must send for a nurse at once," Dr. Mitchell said.
"Everything is in your hands," Peter answered.
"You'd better go down and have something to eat."
The little cry came trembling and pitiful, driving straight into Peter's
"Temperature 105--pretty bad." Mitchell, who was a stout, short man with
red cheeks, grey eyes and the air of an amiable Robin, was transformed now
into something sharp, alert, official.
Peter caught his arm--
"It's all right?... you don't think--?"
The man turned and looked at him with eyes so kind that Peter trembled.
"Look here, we've got to fight it, Westcott. I ought to have been called
hours ago. But keep your head and we'll pull the child through.... Better
go down and have something to eat. You'll need it."
Outside the door Peter faced a trembling Mrs. Kant.
"Look here, you lied just now. You never took the boy's temperature."
"Did you or not?"
"Well, sir, Mrs. Westcott said there was no need. I'm sure I thought--"
"You leave the house now--at once. Go up and pack your things and clear
out. If I see you here in an hour's time the police shall turn you out."
The woman began to cry. Peter went downstairs. To his own surprise he found
that he could eat and drink. Of so fundamental an importance was young
Stephen in his life that the idea that he could ever lose him was of an
absurd and monstrous incredibility. No, of that there was no question--but
he was conscious nevertheless of the supreme urgency of the occasion.
That young Stephen had ever been delicate or in any way a weakling was
a monstrous suggestion. Always when one thought of him it was a baby
laughing, tumbling--or thoughtfully, with his hand rolled tightly inside
his father's, taking in the world.
Just think of all the tottering creatures who go on and on and snap their
fingers at death. The grotesque old men and women! Or think of the feeble
miserables who never know what a day's health means--crowding into Davos or
shuddering on the Riviera!
And young Stephen, the strongest, most vital thing in the world!
Nevertheless, suddenly, Peter found that he could eat and drink no more. He
put the food aside and went upstairs again.
In the darkened nursery he sat in a chair by the fire and waited for the
hours to pass. The new nurse had arrived and moved quietly about the room.
There was no sound at all save the monotonous whispering beseeching little
cries that came from the bed. One had heard that concentration of will
might do so much in the directing of such a battle, and surely great
love must help. Peter, as he sat in the half-darkness thought that he
had never before realised his love for the boy--how immense it was--how
all-pervading, so that if it were taken from him life would be instantly
broken, without colour, without any rhythm or force.
As he sat there he thought confusedly of a great number of things of his
own childhood--of his mother--of a boy at Dawson's who had asked him once
as they gazed up at a great mass of apple blossoms in bloom, "Do you think
there is anything in all that stuff about God anyway, Westcott?"--of a
night when he had gone with some loose woman of the town and of the wet
miry street that they had left behind them as she had closed the door--of
that night at the party when he had seen Cardillac again--of the things
that Maradick had said to him that night when young Stephen was born--and
so from that to his own life, his own birth, his father, Scaw House, the
struggle that it had all been.
He remembered a sentence out of a strange novel of Dostoieffsky's that
he had once read, "The Brothers Karamazoff": "It's a feature of the
Karamazoffs ... that thirst for life regardless of everything--" and the
Karamazoffs were of a sensual, debased stock--rotten at the base of them
with an old drunken buffoon of a father--yes, that was like the Westcotts.
All his life, struggle ... and young Stephen--all _his_ life, struggle...
and yet, even in the depths of degradation, if the fight were to go that
way there would still be that lust for life.
So many times he had been almost under. First Stephen Brant had saved him,
then at Brockett's Norah Monogue, then in Bucket Lane his illness, then in
Chelsea his marriage, lately young Stephen... always, always something had
been there to keep him on his feet. But if everything were taken from him,
if he were absolutely, nakedly alone--what then? Ah, what then!
He buried his head in his hands. "God, you don't know what young Stephen is
to me--or, yes, of course you do know, God--and because you do know, you
will not take him from me."
The little tearing pain at his heart held him--every now and again it
turned like some grinding key.
Mitchell entered with another doctor. Peter went over to the window, and
whilst they made their examination, stared through the glass at the
fretwork of trees, the golden haze of London beyond, two stars that now,
when the storm had spent itself, showed in a dark dim sky. Very faintly the
clanging note of trams, the clatter of a hansom cab, the imperative call of
some bell came to him.
The world could thus go on! Mitchell crossed to him and put his hand on his
"He's pretty bad, Westcott. An operation's out of the question I'm afraid.
But if you'd like another opinion--"
"No thanks. I trust you and Hunt." The doctor could feel the boy's body
trembling beneath his touch.
"It's all right, Westcott. Don't be frightened. We'll do all mortals can.
We'll know in the early morning how things are going to be. The child's got
a splendid constitution."
He was interrupted by the opening of the nursery door and, turning, the men
saw Clare with the light of the passage at her back, standing in the
doorway. Her cloak was trailing on the floor--around her her pink filmy
dress hung like shadows from the light behind her. Her face was white, her
"What--?" she whispered in the voice of a frightened child.
Peter crossed the room, and took her with him into the passage, closing the
door behind him.
She clung to him, looking up into his face.
"Stephen's very bad, dear. No, it's something internal--"
"And I went out to a party?" her voice was trembling, she was very near to
tears. "But I was miserable, wretched all the time. I wanted to come back,
I knew I oughtn't to have gone.... Oh Peter, will he die? Oh! poor little
thing! Poor little thing!"
Even at that moment, Peter noticed, she spoke as though it were somebody
"No, no, dear. It'll be all right. Of course it will. Mitchell's here,
he'll pull him through. But you'd better go and lie down, dear. I promise
to come and tell you if anything's the matter. You can't do any
good--there's an excellent nurse!"
"Where's Mrs. Kant?"
"I dismissed her this evening for lying to me. Go to bed. Clare--really
it's the best thing."
She began to cry with her hands up to her face, but she went, slowly, with
her cloak still trailing after her, to her room.
She had not, he noticed, entered the nursery.
He went back and sat down again in the arm-chair by the fire. Poor Clare!
he felt only a great protecting pity for her--a strange feeling, compounded
of emotions that were unexpectedly confused. A feeling that was akin to
what he would have felt had she been his sister and been insulted by some
drunken blackguard in the street. Poor Clare! She was so young--simply not
up to these big grown-up troubles.
Those little cries had ceased--only every now and again an echo of a
moan--so slight was the sound that broke the silence. The hours advanced
and there settled about the house that chilly ominous sense of anticipation
that the early morning brings in its grey melancholy hands. It was a little
house but it was full, now, of expectancy. Up the stairs, through the
passages, pressing against the windows there were many presences waiting
for the moment when the issue of this struggle would be decided. The air
was filled with their chill breath. The struggle round the bed was at its
height. On one side doctors, nurses, the father, the mother--on the other
that still, ironic Figure, in His very aloofness so strong, in His
indifference so terrible.
With Peter, as the grey dawn grew nearer, confidence fled. He was suddenly
conscious of the strength and invisibility of the thing that he was
fighting. He must do something. If he were compelled to sit, silently,
quietly, with his hands folded, much longer, he would go mad. But it was
absurd--Stephen, about whom he had made so many plans, Stephen, concerning
whom there had been that struggle to bring about his very existence ...
surely all that was not now to go for nothing at all.
If he could do something--if he could do something!
There were drops of sweat on his forehead--inside his clothes his body was
hot and dry and had shrunk, it seemed, into some tiny shape, like a nut, so
that his things hung loosely all about him.
He could not bear that dark cavernous nursery, with the faint lights and
the stairs and passages beyond it so crowded with urgent silence!
He caught Mitchell on the shoulder.
"How is it?"
"Oh! we're fighting it. It's the most rapid thing I've ever known. If we
only could have operated! Look here, go and lie down for a bit--I'll let
you know if there's any change!"
He went to his dressing-room, all ghostly now with the first struggling
light of dawn. He closed the door behind him and then fell down on his
knees by the bed, pressing his face into his hands.
He prayed: "Oh! God, God, God. I have never wanted anything like this
before but Stephen is more to me, much, much more to me than anything that
I have ever had--more, far more than my own life. I haven't much to offer
but if you will let me keep Stephen you can have all the rest. You can send
me back to Bucket Lane, take my work, anything ... I want Stephen ... I
want Stephen. God, he is such a good boy. He has always been good and he
will make such a fine man. There won't be many men so fine as he. He's good
as gold. God I will die myself if he may live, I'm no use. I've made a mess
of things--but let him live and take me. Oh! God I want him, I want him!"
He broke into sobs and was bowed down there on the floor, his body
quivering, his face pressed against the bed.
He was conscious that Clare had joined him. She must have heard him from
her room. He tried as he felt her body pressed against his, to pull himself
together, but the crying now had mastered him and he could only feel her
pushing with her hand to find his--and at last he let her take his hand and
He heard her whisper in his ear.
"Peter dear, don't--don't cry like that. I can't bear to hear you like
that. I'm so miserable, Peter. I've been so wicked--so cross and selfish.
I've hurt you so often--I'm going to be better, Peter. I am really."
At that moment they might have come together with a reality, an honesty
that no after-events could have shaken. But to Peter Clare was very far
away. He was not so conscious of her as he was of those presences that
thronged the house. What could she do for him now? Afterwards perhaps. But
now it was Stephen--Stephen--Stephen--
But he let her hold his hand and he felt her hair against his cheek, and at
last he put his arm around her and held her close to him, and she, with her
face against his, went fast asleep. He looked down at her. She looked so
young and helpless that the sight of her leaning, tired and beaten, against
him, touched him and he picked her up, carried her into her room and laid
her on her bed.
How light and tiny she was!
He was conscious of his own immense fatigue. Mitchell had told him that he
would wake him; good fellow, Mitchell! He lay down on the bed in his
dressing-room and was instantly asleep.
He was outside Scaw House. He was mother-naked and the howling wind and
rain buffeted his body and the stones cut his feet. The windows of the
house were dark and barred. He could just reach the lower windows with his
hands if he stood on tiptoe.
He tapped again and again.
He was tired, exhausted. He had come a long, long way and the rain hurt his
bare flesh. At last a candle shone dimly behind the dark window. Some one
was there, and instantly at the moment of his realising that aid had come
he was conscious also that he must, on all accounts, refuse it. He knew
that if he entered the house Stephen would die. It depended on him to save
Stephen. He turned to flee but his father had unbarred the door and was
drawing him in. He struggled, he cried out, he fought, but his father was
stronger than he. He was on the threshold--he could see through the dark
ill-smelling hall to the door beyond. His father's hand fastened on his arm
like a vice. His body was bathed in sweat, he screamed ... and woke to find
the room dim in the morning light and Mitchell shaking him by the arm.
He was still dreaming. Now he was in the nursery. Clare was kneeling by
Stephen's bed. One doctor was bending down--the nurse was crying very
He looked down on his son. As he looked the little face was, for an
instant, puckered with pain. The mouth, the eyes, the throat struggled.
The tiny hands lifted for a moment, hung, and then like fluttering leaves,
fell down on to the counterpane. Then the body was suddenly quiet, the face
was peaceful and the head had fallen gently, sideways against the pillow.
At that moment of time, throughout the house, the Presences departed. The
passages, the rooms were freed, the air was no longer cold.
At that moment also Peter awoke. Mitchell said: "The boy's gone, Westcott."
Peter, turning his back upon them all, drove from him, so softly that they
could scarcely hear, but in a voice of agony that Mitchell never afterwards
"I wanted him so--I wanted him so."
A WOMAN CALLED ROSE BENNETT
The days that followed were dead--dead in more than any ordinary sense of
the word. But perhaps it was Peter who was dead. He moved, ate, drank, even
wrote his reviews, slept--he thanked gravely all those who offered him
condolences--wrote letters in answer to kind friends.... "Dear S---- It was
just like you to write so kindly and sympathetically...." And all this time
he was without any kind of emotion. He was aware that there was something
in the back of his brain that, were it once called upon to awake, might
stir him into life again. What it would tell him he did not know, something
about love, something intensely sorrowful, something that had occurred very
probably to himself. He did not want to live--to think, to feel. Thinking
meant pain, meant a sudden penetrating into that room shrouded now by
heavy, black curtains but containing, were those curtains drawn, some
great, phantasmal horror.
He was dimly aware that the people about him were frightened. Clare, Bobby
Galleon, Cardillac. He knew that they would be glad for him to draw those
curtains aside and penetrate into that farther room. That was unkind of
them. He had no other emotion but that it was unkind of them. Beyond that
unkindness, they did not exist.
He was thinner. His shoulders seemed to pierce sharply his clothes; his
cheeks were white and hollow, there were dark lines beneath his eyes, dark,
grey patches. His legs were not so straight, nor so strong. Moreover his
eyes were as though they were covered with a film. Seeing everything they
yet saw nothing at all. They passed through the world and were confronted
by the heavy, veiling curtains....
This condition lasted for many days. Of all about him none understood him
so well as Bobby Galleon. Bobby had always understood him, and now he felt
for him with a tenderness that had both the past and the future to heighten
its poignancy. It seemed to Bobby that nothing more tragic than the death
of this child could possibly have occurred. It filled him with anxiety for
the future, it intensified to a depth that only so simple and affectionate
a character as his could feel, the love that he had always had for Peter.
He was with him during these days continually, waiting for the relief to
"It's got to come soon," he said, "or the boy'll go mad."
At last it came.
One day about tea-time they were sitting in Peter's upstairs study. It had
been a day of showers and now the curtains were not drawn and a green-grey
dusk glimmered beyond the windows.
Peter was writing letters, and as Bobby watched him he seemed to him like
some automaton, something wound into life by some clever inventor. The hand
moved across the paper--the dead eyes encountered nothing in their gaze,
the shoulders were the loosely drooping shoulders of an old man.
"Can you see, Peter?"
"Yes, thanks. Switch on the light if you like."
Bobby got up and moved to the door. The dusk behind Peter's face flung it
into sharp white outline.
Another shower! The rain at first in single drops, then more swiftly, fell
with gentle, pattering fingers up and down the window. It was the only
sound, except the scraping of Peter's pen. The pen stopped. Peter raised
his head, listening.
Bobby switched on the light and as he did so Peter in a strangled
breathless mutter whispered--
"The rain! The rain! It was like that that night. Stephen! Stephen!"
His head fell on to his hands and he burst into a storm of tears.
And now Peter was out to be hurt, hurt more horribly than he could have
ever believed possible. It was like walking--as they did in the days of the
Ordeal--on red-hot iron, every step an agony. Always there was something to
remind him! He could go nowhere, see nobody, summon no kind of recollection
out of the past without this coming to him. There were a thousand things
that Stephen had done, that he, Peter, had never noticed at the time. He
was haunted now with regrets, he had not made enough of him whilst he was
there! Ah! had he only known that the time was to be so short! How he would
have spent those precious, precious moments! It was as though he had flung
away, wilfully, possessions of the utmost price--cast them off as though it
had been his very intention to feel, afterwards, this burning regret. The
things in the nursery were packed away, but there remained the room, the
frieze with the dragons and princesses, the fire-place, the high broad
window. Again and again he saw babies in the streets, in the parks and
fancied that Stephen had come back again.
The thing had happened to him so swiftly that, behind reason, there lurked
the thought that perhaps, with equal suddenness, Stephen would be restored.
To come back one afternoon and to find him there! To find him lying there
on his back in his cot looking up at the ceiling, to find him labouring
unsteadily on his feet, clinging to the sides of his bed and shouting--to
find him laughing at the jumping waves in the fire--to find him!... No,
never to be found again--gone, hopelessly, cruelly, for no reason, for no
one's good or benefit--simply for some one's sport.
But, strangely, more than the actual Stephen did he miss the imaginary
future Stephen at school, hero of a thousand games, winner of a thousand
prizes, the Stephen grown up, famous already at so young an age, loved by
men and women, handsome, good.... Oh! the folly of it! No human being could
carry all the glories that Peter had designed for his son--no human being,
then how much less a Westcott. It might be best after all, young Stephen
had been spared. Until every stone of Scaw House was level with the ground
no Westcott could be termed safe--perhaps not then.
Now he realised how huge a place in his heart the boy had filled dimly,
because as yet he refused to bring it to the open light he was conscious
that, during these past two years he had been save for Stephen, a very
lonely man. It was odd that Stephen the elder and Stephen the younger
should have been the only two persons in his life to find the real inside
of him--they, too, and perhaps Norah Monogue. But, otherwise, not Bobby,
nor Cards, nor Alice Galleon, nor Mr. Zanti--nor Clare.
Not Clare. He faced the fact with a sudden shudder. Now that Stephen was
gone he and Clare were face to face--face to face as they had never been
since that first happy year of their marriage. That first year of their
With an instant clenching of his teeth he pulled down the blinds upon that
With teeth still clenched he set himself to build up his house again. Clare
was very quiet and submissive during those first weeks. Her little figure
looked helpless and appealing in its deep black; she was prettier than she
had ever been in her life before. People said, "Poor Mrs. Westcott, she
feels the loss of her baby so dreadfully"--and they didn't think about
Peter. Indeed some people thought him callous. "Mr. Westcott seemed to be
so fond of the child. Now I really believe he's forgotten all about him."
Bobby was the only person in the world who knew how Peter suffered.
Clare was, indeed, after a time, reassured. Peter, after all, seemed not to
mind. Did he mind anything? He was so often glum and silent that really you
couldn't tell. Clare herself had been frightened on that night when the
baby had died. She had probably never in all her life felt a more genuine
emotion than she had known when she knelt by Peter's side and went to sleep
in his arms. She was quite ready to feel that emotion again would Peter but
allow her. But no. He showed no emotion himself and expected no one else to
show any, for he was ready to share it but in her heart of hearts she
longed to fling away from her this emotional atmosphere. She had loved the
baby--of course she had loved it. But she had always known that something
would happen to it--always. If Peter would insist on having those horrid
Cornishmen.... At heart she connected that dreadful day when those horrible
men had played about in the nursery with baby's death. Of course it was
enough to kill any baby.
So, ultimately, it all came back to Peter's fault. Clare found real
satisfaction in the thought. Meanwhile she emphatically stated her desire
to be happy again.
She stated it always in Peter's absence, feeling that he would, in no way,
understand her. "It can't help poor dear little Stephen that we should go
on being melancholy and doing nothing. That's only morbid, isn't it,
Mrs. Rossiter entirely agreed, as indeed she always agreed with anything
that Clare suggested.
"The dear thing does look lovely in black, though," she confided to Mrs.
Galleon. "Mr. Cardillac couldn't take his eyes off her yesterday at
Mrs. Rossiter and Jerry Cardillac had, during the last year, become the
very best of friends. Peter was glad to see that it was so. Peter couldn't
pretend to care very deeply about his mother-in-law, but he felt that it
would do her all the good in the world to see something of old Cards. It
would broaden her understanding, give her perhaps some of that charity
towards the whole world that was one of Cards' most charming features.
Cards, in fact, had been so much in the house lately that he might be
considered one of the family. No one could have been more tender, more
sympathetic, more exactly right about young Stephen's death. He had become,
during those weeks almost a necessity. He seemed to have no particular
interest of his own in life. He dressed very perfectly, he went to a number
of parties, he had delightful little gatherings in his own flat, but, with
it all, he was something more--a great deal more--than the mere society
idler. There was a hint at possible wildness, an almost sinister suggestion
of possible lawlessness that made him infinitely attractive. He was such
good company and yet one felt that one didn't know nearly the whole of him.
To Peter he was the most wonderful thing in the world, to Clare he was
rapidly becoming so--no wonder then that the Roundabout saw him so often.
It would need a very acute perception indeed to pursue precisely the train
of cause and effect in Mrs. Rossiter's mind after young Stephen's death.
Her black garments added, in the most astonishing fashion, to her placid
flatness. If she had gloried before in an armour that was so negative that
it became instantly exceedingly dangerous, her appearance now was
terrifying beyond all words. Her black silk had apparently no creases, no
folds--it almost eliminated terms and boundaries. Mrs. Rossiter could not
now be said to come into a room--she was simply there. One was sitting,
gazing it might be at the fire, a looking-glass, a picture or two, when
suddenly there came a black shadow, something that changed the colour of
things a little, something that obscured certain objects, but scarcely
anything more definite. The yellow brooch was definite, cold, stony eyes
hung a little above it, over those a high white forehead--otherwise merely
a black shadow putting out the fire.
She was in the Roundabout now all the time. How poor Dr. Rossiter fared it
was difficult to imagine, but he cared for Clare as deeply as his wife did
and was quite ready for everything to be sacrificed to her at this crisis
of her history.
Mrs. Rossiter, meanwhile, was entirely convinced that Peter was responsible
for his son's death. Had you suddenly challenged her and demanded her
reasoned argument with regard to this matter she would probably have failed
you--she did not like reasoned arguments--but she would also have been most
sincerely indignant had you called her a liar and would have sworn to her
convictions before a court of law.
"Those Cornishmen" had frightened the poor little thing into fits and it
was only to be expected. Moreover it followed from this that a man who
murdered his only child would most assuredly take to beating his wife
before very long. After that, anything might happen. Peter was on a swift
road to being a "Perfect Devil."
Indeed, allow Mrs. Rossiter two consecutive hours of peace and quiet, she,
sitting like the personification of the English climate, alone before her
fire, and she could make any one into anything--once made so they remained.
It mattered nothing to her that poor Peter was, during these weeks, the
most subdued and gently courteous of husbands--that was as it might be (a
favourite phrase of hers). She knew him ... and, so knowing, waited for the
But the more certain she was of his villainous possibilities the more
placid she became. She spread her placidity over everything. It lay, like
an invisible glue, upon everything in the Roundabout--you could feel it on
the door-handles, as you feel the jammy reminiscences of incautious
servant-maids. Peter felt it but did not know what it was that he had to
He had determined, when the sharpest shock of Stephen's death had passed,
and he was able to think of other things, that the supremely important
thing for him now to do was to get back to his old relations with Clare.
There was, he grimly reflected, "Mortimer Stant" to be finished within a
month or two and he knew, perfectly well, with the assurance of past
experience that whilst Clare held the stage, Mortimer had the poorest of
chances--nevertheless Clare was, at this moment, the thing to struggle
He _must_ get her back--he _must_ get her back.
Behind his brain, all this time, was the horror of being left alone in the
world and of what he might do--then.
To get Clare back he must have the assistance of two people--Mrs. Rossiter
It was at this point that he perceived Mrs. Rossiter's placidity.
He could not get at her at all--he could not get near her. He tried in
every way, during these weeks, to please her. She apparently noticed
nothing. He could force no direct opinion about anything from her and yet
he was conscious of opposition. He was conscious of opposition,
increasingly, every day.
"I believe she _wants_ Clare to hate me," he suddenly revealed to himself,
and, with that, all hope of her as an ally vanished.
Then he hated her--he hated her more bitterly every day.
He wanted to tell her not to call him "Peter dear"--she loved to put him in
positions that showed him in the worst light to Clare.
At luncheon for instance: "Peter dear, it would be a nice thing for you and
Clare to go to that Private View at the Carfax this afternoon. You've
nothing to do, Clare, have you?"
Peter knew that Mrs. Rossiter had already ascertained that he was engaged.
He knew also that Clare had had no thought of Peter's company before but
that now she would very speedily feel herself injured.
"I'm afraid--" Peter would begin.
"Peter's too engaged to take you, Clare dear."
"I dare say Jerry will come--" this from Clare.
"Ah! yes, Mr. Cardillac is always ready to take any trouble, Peter."
"If you'd let me know earlier, Clare, that you wanted me."
Mrs. Rossiter. "Oh! don't put yourself out, Peter. It would never do to
break an engagement. Only it seems such a long time since you and Clare--"
Peter. "We'll go to-morrow afternoon, Clare."
Clare. "You're so gloomy when you do come, Peter. It's like going out with
Mrs. Rossiter. "Ah! Peter has his work, dear--so much hangs on the next
book, doesn't it, Peter? Naturally the last one didn't quite--"
Peter. "Look here, Clare, I'll chuck this engagement."
Clare. "No, thank you, Peter--Jerry and I will be all right. You can join
us if you like--"
The fact was that Peter wasn't tactful. He showed Mrs. Rossiter much too
plainly that he disliked her intensely. He had no idea that he showed it
her. He thought, indeed, that he was very skilful in his disguise of his
feelings but Mrs. Rossiter knew and soon Clare knew also.
Peter had no conception of subtlety in the matter. It was clear to him that
he had once been devoted to Clare and she to him, it was clear also that
that relationship had recently been dimmed. Now that Stephen was gone that
early intimacy must be restored and the fact that he was willing on his
side to do anything to bring it back seemed to him reason enough for its
restoration. That the whole matter was composed of the most delicate and
intricate threads never occurred to him for an instant. Clare had loved him
once. Clare would love him again--and the sooner it happened the better for
Meanwhile Mrs. Rossiter being enemy rather than ally there remained Cards.
But Cards was strange. Peter could never claim to have been intimate with
him--their relationship had been founded on an inequality, on a recognition
from Peter of Cards' superiority. Cards had always laughed at Peter, always
patronised him. But now, although Cards had been in the place so much of
late, the distance seemed farther than ever before.
Cards was as kind as he could be--always in good spirits, always ready to
do anything, but Peter noticed that it was only when Clare was present that
Cards changed from jest to earnest. "He thinks Clare worth talking to
seriously.... I suppose it's because he was at Dawson's ... but after all
I'm not an imbecile."
This attitude of Cards was in fact as vague and nebulous as all the other
things that seemed now to stand between Peter and Clare.
Peter tried to talk to Cards--he was always prevented--held off with a
"What's the matter with me?" thought Peter. "What have I done? It's like
being out in a fog."
At last one evening, after dinner, when Clare and Mrs. Rossiter had gone
upstairs he demanded an answer.
"Look here, Cards, what have I done? You profess to be a friend of mine.
Tell me what crime I've committed?"
Cards' eyes had been laughing. Suddenly he was serious. His dark, clean-cut
face was stern, almost accusing.
"Profess, Peter? I hope you don't doubt it?"
"No, of course not. You know you're the best friend I've got. Tell me--what
have I done?"
"Yes--you and Clare and her mother--all of you keep me at arms'
"Do you really want a straight talking?"
"Well, I can only speak for myself--but--to tell the truth, old boy--I
think you've been rather hard on poor little Clare."
For the first time since his marriage Peter resented Cards' words. "Poor
little Clare"--wasn't that a little too intimate?
"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice a little harder.
"Well--I don't think you understand her, Peter."
"She's a happy, merry person if ever there was one in this world. She wants
all the happiness you can give her--"
"Well, you don't seem to see that. Of course young Stephen's death--"
"Let's leave that--" Peter's voice was harder again.
"Oh, all right--just as you please. But most men would have seen what a
shock it must be to a girl, so young, who knew so little about the cruelty
of life. You didn't--you don't mind, Peter, do you?--you didn't seem to
think of that. Never tried to cheer her up, take her about, take her out of
herself. You just wrapped yourself up--"
"You don't understand," muttered Peter, his eyes lowered. "If I'd thought
that she'd really minded Stephen's death--"
"Oh! come Peter--that's grossly unfair. Why, she felt it all most horribly.
That shows how little you've understood her, how little you've appreciated
her. You've always been a gloomy, morbid devil and--"
"All right, Cards--that'll do."
Cards stood back from the table, his mouth smiling, his eyes hard and cold.
"Oh! no, it won't. You asked for it and now you're going to get it. You've
not only been gloomy and morbid all your life, you've been selfish as
well--always thinking of yourself and the books you were going to write,
and then when they did come they weren't such great shakes. You oughtn't to
have married at all--you've never considered Clare at all--your treatment
Peter stood up, his face white, so that his eyes and the lines of his mouth
showed black in the shadow.
"Clear out--I've heard enough."
"Oh! that's just like you--ask me for my opinion and then lose your temper
over it. Really, Peter, you're like a boy of ten--you don't deserve to be
treated as a grown-up person."
Peter's voice shook. "Clear out--clear out or I'll do for you--get out of
Cards opened the door and was gone. Peter heard him hesitate for a moment
in the hall, get his hat and coat and then close the hall-door after him.
The house was suddenly silent. Peter stood, his hands clenched. Then he
went out into the hall.
He heard Mrs. Rossiter's voice from above--"Aren't you two men ever coming
"Yes--we've had a row."
Mrs. Rossiter made no reply. He heard the drawing-room door close. Then he,
too, took his coat and hat and went out.
The night was cool and sweet with a great silver haze of stars above the
sharply outlined roofs and chimneys. The golden mist from the streets met
the night air and mingled with it.
Peter walked furiously, without thinking of direction. Some clock struck
half-past nine. His temper faded swiftly, leaving him cold, miserable,
regretful. There went his damnable temper again, surging up suddenly so hot
and fierce that it had control of him almost before he knew that it was
there. How like him, too! Now when things were bad enough, when he must
bend all his energies to bringing peace back into the house again, he must
needs go and quarrel with the best friend he had in the world. He had never
quarrelled with Cards before, never had there been the slightest word
between them, and now he had insulted him so that, probably, he would never
come into their house again.
And behind his immediate repentance at the quarrel there also bit into his
heart the knowledge that there was truth in the accusation that Cardillac
had flung at him. He _had_ been morbid, he _had_ been selfish. Absorbed by
his own grief at Stephen's loss he had given no thought to any one else. He
had expected Clare to be like himself, had made no allowance for
differences of temperament, had.... Poor Peter had never before known an
hour of such miserable self-condemnation. Had he known where to find him he
would have gone that very instant to beg Cards' pardon.
Now, in comparison with his own black deeds, Mrs. Rossiter seemed an angel.
He should show her in the future that he could mend his ways. Clare should
make no further complaint of him. He found himself in Leicester Square and
still wrapt in his own miserable thoughts went into the Empire. He walked
up and down the Promenade wondering that so many people could take the
world so lightly. Very far away a gentleman in evening dress was singing
a song--his mouth could be seen to open and shut, sometimes his arms
moved--no sound could be heard.
The Promenade was packed. Up and down ladies in enormous hats walked
languidly. They all wore clothes that were gorgeous and a little soiled.
They walked for the most part in couples and appeared to be absorbed in
conversation, but every now and again they smiled mechanically, recognised
a friend or saw somebody who was likely very shortly to become one.
There was a great deal of noise. There were numbers of men--old gentlemen
who were there because they had always been there, young gentlemen who were
there because they had never been there before and a few gentlemen who had
come to see the Ballet.
The lights blazed, the heat and noise steadily accumulated, corks were
popped in the bar behind, promises were broken in the Promenade in front,
and soon after eleven, when everything had become so uncomfortable that the
very lights in the building protested, the doors were opened and the whole
Bubble and Squeak was flung out into the cool and starlit improprieties of
Peter could not have told you if he had been asked, that he had been there,
felt a devouring thirst and entered a building close at hand where there
were rows of little round tables and numbers of little round waiters.
Peter sat down at the first table that occurred to him and it was not until
he looked round about him that he discovered that a lady in a huge black
hat was sitting smiling opposite him. Her cheeks were rouged, her gloves
were soiled and her hair looked as though it might fall into a thousand
pieces at the slightest provocation, but her eyes were pathetic and tired.
They didn't belong to her face.
"Hullo, dear, let's have a drink. Haven't had a drink to-night."
He asked her what she would like and she told him. She studied him
carefully for quite a long time.
"Down on your luck, old chum?" she said at last."
"Yes, I am," Peter said, "a bit depressed."
"I know. I'm often that way myself. We all catch it. Come home and have a
bit of supper. That'll cheer you up."
"No, thanks," said Peter politely. "I must get back to my own place in a
"Well," said the lady. "Please yourself, and I'll have another drink if you
don't very much mind."
It was whilst he was ordering another drink that he came out of his own
thoughts and considered her.
"That's right," she said smiling, "have a good look. My name's Rose
Bennett. Here's my card. Perhaps you'd like to come and have tea with me
She gave him a very dirty card on which was written "Miss Rose Bennett, 4
Annton Street, Portland Place."
"You're Cornish," he suddenly said, looking at her.
She moved her soiled gloves up and down the little table--"Well, what if I
am?" she said defiantly, not looking at him.
"I knew it," said Peter triumphantly, "the way you rolled your r's--"
"Well, chuck it, dear," said Miss Bennett, "and let's talk sense. What's
Cornwall got to do with us anyhow?"
"I'm Cornish too," said Peter, "it's got a good deal to do with us. You
needn't tell me of course--but what part do you come from?"
Still sullenly she said: "Almost forgotten the name of it, so long ago. You
wouldn't know it anyway, it's such a little place. They called it
"I know," cried Peter, "near the Land's End. Of course I know it. There are
holes in the rocks that they lift the boats through. There's a post-box on
the wall. I've walked there many a time--"
"Well, stow it, old man," Miss Bennett answered decisively. "I'm not
thinking of that place any more and I don't suppose they've thought of me
since. Why, it's years--"
She broke off and began hurriedly to drink. Peter's eyes sought her
eyes--his eyes were miserable and so were hers--but her mouth was hard and
"It's funny talking of Cornwall," she said at last. "No one's spoken of the
place since I came up here. But it's all right, I tell you--quite all
right. You take it from me, chucky. I enjoy my life--have a jolly time.
There's disadvantages in every profession, and when you've got a bit of a
cold as I have now why--"
She stopped. Her eyes sought Peter's. He saw that she was nearly crying.
"Talking of Cornwall and all that," she muttered, "silly rot! I'm
tired--I'm going home."
He paid for the drinks and got a hansom.
At that moment as he stood looking over the horse into the dimly-lit
obscurities of the Square he thought with a sudden beating of the heart
that he recognised Cardillac looking at him from the doorway of a
neighbouring restaurant. Then the figure was gone. He had got Cardillac on
the brain! Nevertheless the suggestion made him suddenly conscious of poor
Miss Bennett's enormous hat, her rouge, her soiled finery that allowed no
question as to her position in the world.
Rather hurriedly he asked her to get into the cab.
"Come that far--" she said.
He got in with her and she took off one glove and he held her hand and they
didn't speak all the way.
When the hansom stopped at last he got down, helped her out and for a
moment longer held her hand.
"We're both pretty unhappy," he said. "Things have been going wrong with me
too. But think of Cornwall sometimes and remember there's some one else
thinking of it."
"You're a funny kid," she said, looking at him, "sentimental, I _don't_
But it was her eyes--tired and regretful that said goodbye.
She let herself in and the door closed behind her.
He turned and walked the streets; it was three o'clock before he reached
Next morning Peter went round to Cardillac's flat and made his apologies.
Cardillac accepted them at once with the frankest expressions of
"My dear old Peter, of course," he said, taking both Peter's hands in his,
"I was horribly blunt and unpleasant about the whole thing. I didn't mean
half what I said, but the fact is that you got angry and then I suppose I
got angry--and then we both said more than we meant."
"No," said Peter slowly, "for you were quite right. I have been selfish and
morbid. I see it all quite clearly. I'm going to be very different now,
Cards, old man."
Cards' flat was splendid--everything in it from its grey Ascot trouserings
kind of wall paper to its beautiful old chairs and its beautiful old china
was of the very best--and Cards himself, in a dark blue suit with a black
tie and a while pearl and white spats on his shining gleaming shoes, just
ready to go out and startle Piccadilly was of the very best. He had never,
Peter thought, looked so handsome.
At the door Cards put a hand on Peter's shoulder.
"Get in late this morning, Peter?"
"Why?" said Peter, turning round.
"Oh, nothing," Cards regarded him, smiling. "I'll see you to-night at the
Lesters. Until then, old man--"
Neither Mrs. Rossiter nor Clare made any allusion to the quarrel but it had
nevertheless, Peter felt, made reconciliation all the more difficult. Mrs.
Rossiter now seemed to imply in her additional kindnesses to Cardillac that
she felt for him deeply and was sorry that he, too, should have been made
to suffer under Peter's bear-like nature.
There was even an implied atmosphere of alliance in the attitude of the
three to Peter, an alliance fostered and cemented by Mrs. Rossiter and
spread by her, up and down, in and out about the house.
It was obvious indeed now that Mrs. Rossiter was, never again, under any
terms, to be won over. She had decided in her own slow mind that Peter was
an objectionable person, that he neglected his wife, quarrelled with his
best friends and refused to fulfil the career that he had promised to
fulfil. She saw herself now in the role of protectress of her daughter, and
that role she would play to the very end. Clare must, at all costs, be
happy and, in spite of her odious husband, happy she should be.
Peter discerned Mrs. Rossiter's state of mind on the whole clearly enough,
but with regard to Clare he was entirely in the dark. He devoted his days
now to her service. He studied her every want, was ready to abandon his
work at any moment to be with her, and was careful also to avoid too great
a pestering of her with attentions.
"I know women hate that," he said to himself, "if you go down on your knees
to them and hang around them they simply can't stand it. I won't show her
that I care."
And he cared, poor fellow, as he had never cared for her before during
their married life. The love that he had had for Stephen he would now give
to Stephen's mother would she but let him.
But it was a difficult business. When Mrs. Rossiter was present he could do
nothing right. If he were silent she would talk to Clare about people being
morose; and what a pity it was that some people didn't think of other
people a little instead of being miserable about things for which they had
nobody to thank but themselves, and if he tried to be light-hearted and
amusing Mrs. Rossiter bore with his humour in so patient and self-denying a
spirit that his efforts failed lamentably and only made the situation worse
than it had been before.
Clare seemed to be now entirely in her mother's hands; she put her mother's
large flat body between herself and Peter and, through that, they were
compelled to talk.
Peter also knew now that Clare was exceedingly uncomfortable in his
presence--it was almost as though she had something to conceal. On several
occasions he had noticed that his sudden entrance into a room had confused
her; once he had caught her hurriedly pushing a letter out of sight. She
was now strangely timid when he was there; sometimes with a sudden furious
beating of the heart he fancied that she was coming back to him again
because she would make little half movements towards him and then draw
back. Once he found her crying.
The impulse to beg her to confide in him was almost stronger than he could
resist, and yet he was terrified lest by some sudden move he should
frighten her and drive her back and so lose the little ground that he had
gained. The strangest thing of all was that Mrs. Rossiter herself did not
know what Clare's trouble was. She, of course, put it all down to Peter,
but she could accuse him of nothing specific. Clare had not confided in
Did Cards know? Peter suddenly asked himself with a strange pang of
jealousy. That he should be jealous of Cards, the most splendid, most
honourable fellow in the world! That, of course, was absurd. And yet they
were together so often, and it was with Jerry Cardillac alone that Clare
seemed now at ease.
But Peter put all such thoughts at once away from him. Had it been any
other man but Cards he might have wondered... but he would trust Cards
alone with his wife in the wilderness and know that no ill could come of
it. With--other women Cards might have few scruples--Peter had heard such
stories--but with Peter's wife, no.
Peter wondered whether perhaps Clare did not miss young Stephen more than
they knew! Oh, if that were the reason how he could take her into his arms
and comfort her and love her! Poor little Clare... the time would come when
she would show him that she wanted him.
Meanwhile the months passed, the proofs of "Mortimer Stant" had been
corrected and the book was about to appear. To Peter now everything seemed
to hang upon this event. It became with him, during the weeks before its
appearance, a monomania. If this book were a success why then dare and Mrs.
Rossiter and all of them would come round to him. It was the third book
which was always so decisive, and there was ground to recover after the
comparative failure of the second novel. As he corrected the proofs he
persuaded himself that "Mortimer Stant" wasn't, after all, so bad. It had
been ambitious of him, of course, to write about the emotions and
experiences of a man of forty and there was perhaps rather an overloaded
and crude attempt at atmosphere, but there was life in the book. It had, he
thought, more swing in the telling of it than the other two.
It is possible, when one is correcting proofs to persuade oneself of
anything. The book appeared and was, from the first moment, loaded with
mishap. On the day of publication there was that terrible fire at the
Casino theatre--people talked of nothing else for a fortnight. Moreover by
an unlucky chance young Rondel's novel, "The Precipice," was published on
the very same day, and as the precipice was a novel one and there were no
less than three young ladies prepared to fall over it at the same moment,
it of course commanded instant attention. It was incidentally written with
an admirable sense of style and a keen sense of character.
But Peter was now in a fever that saw an enemy round every corner. The
English News Supplement only gave him a line:--"'Mortimer Stant.' A new
novel by the author of 'Reuben Hallard,' depicting agreeably enough the
amorous adventures of a stockbroker of middle-age." To this had all his
fine dreams, his moments of exultation, his fevered inspiration come! He
searched the London booksellers but could find no traces of "Mortimer
Stant" at any of them. His publishers told him that it was only the
libraries that bought any fiction, with the exception of volumes by certain
popular authors--and yet he saw at these booksellers novels by numbers of
people who could not lay claim to the success that "Reuben Hallard" had
secured for its writer.
The reviews came in slowly, and, excepting for the smaller provincial
papers, treated him with an indifference that was worse than neglect. "This
interesting novel by Mr. Westcott"--"A pleasant tale of country life by the
author of 'Reuben Hallard.' Will please those who like a quiet agreeable
book without too much incident."
One London weekly review--a paper of considerable importance--took him
severely to task, pointed out a number of incoherences of fact, commented
on carelessness of style and finally advised Mr. Westcott, "if he is ever
to write a book of real importance to work with greater care and to be less
easily contented with a superficial facility."
But worse than these were the opinions of his friends. Henry Galleon was
indeed gone, but there were a few--Mrs. Launce, Alfred Lester, William
Trent, Alfred Hext--who had taken a real and encouraging interest in him
from the beginning. They took him seriously enough to tell him the truth,
and tell him the truth they did. Dear Mrs. Launce, who couldn't bear to
hurt anybody and saw perhaps that he was taking the book a great deal more
hardly than he had taken the others, veiled it as well as she could:--"I do
think it's got splendid things in it, Peter dear--splendid things. That bit
about the swimming and the character of Mrs. Mumps. But it doesn't hang
together. There's a great deal of repetition. It's as though you'd written
it with your mind on something else all the time."
And so he had--oh! so he had! What cruel irony that because his mind was
set to winning Clare back to him the chief means for gaining her should be
ruined by his very care for her.
What to do when all the things of life--the bustle and hurry, the marriages
and births and deaths--came in between him and his work so that he could
scarcely see it, so many things obscured the way. Poor Mortimer! Lost
indeed behind a shifting, whirring cloud of real life--never to emerge,
poor man, into anything better than a middle-aged clothes' prop.
For six weeks the book lingered in the advertisements. A second edition,
composed for the most part of an edition for America, was announced, there
were a belated review or two ... and then the end. The end of two years'
hopes, ambitions, struggles, sweat and tears--and the end, too, of how much
From the beginning, so far back as he could remember, he had believed that
he would one day write great books; had believed it from no conceit in him
but simply because he clung so tenaciously to ambition that it had become,
again and again, almost realised in the intensity of his dreams of it. He
had known that this achievement of his would take a long time, that he must
meet with many rebuffs, that he must starve and despair and be born again,
but, never at any moment, until now, had he, in his heart of hearts,
doubted that that great book was in front of him.
He had seen his work, in his dreams, derided, flouted, misunderstood. That
was the way with most good work, but what he had never seen was its
acceptance amongst the ranks of the "Pretty Good," its place given it
beside that rising and falling tide of fiction that covered every year the
greedy rocks of the circulating libraries and ebbed out again leaving no
trace behind it.
Now, after the failure of "Mortimer Stant" for the first time, this awful
question--"What if, after all, you should be an Ordinary Creature? What if
you are no better than that army who fights happily, contentedly, with
mediocrity for its daily bread and butter? That army, upon whose serried
ranks you have perhaps, unconsciously, but nevertheless with pity, looked