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Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde

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with handsome Jack Castleton, declaring that nothing in the world
would induce her to marry into a family that allowed such a horrible
phantom to walk up and down the terrace at twilight. Poor Jack was
afterwards shot in a duel by Lord Canterville on Wandsworth Common,
and Lady Barbara died of a broken heart at Tunbridge Wells before
the year was out, so, in every way, it had been a great success. It
was, however, an extremely difficult 'make-up,' if I may use such a
theatrical expression in connection with one of the greatest
mysteries of the supernatural, or, to employ a more scientific term,
the higher-natural world, and it took him fully three hours to make
his preparations. At last everything was ready, and he was very
pleased with his appearance. The big leather riding-boots that went
with the dress were just a little too large for him, and he could
only find one of the two horse-pistols, but, on the whole, he was
quite satisfied, and at a quarter past one he glided out of the
wainscoting and crept down the corridor. On reaching the room
occupied by the twins, which I should mention was called the Blue
Bed Chamber, on account of the colour of its hangings, he found the
door just ajar. Wishing to make an effective entrance, he flung it
wide open, when a heavy jug of water fell right down on him, wetting
him to the skin, and just missing his left shoulder by a couple of
inches. At the same moment he heard stifled shrieks of laughter
proceeding from the four-post bed. The shock to his nervous system
was so great that he fled back to his room as hard as he could go,
and the next day he was laid up with a severe cold. The only thing
that at all consoled him in the whole affair was the fact that he
had not brought his head with him, for, had he done so, the
consequences might have been very serious.

He now gave up all hope of ever frightening this rude American
family, and contented himself, as a rule, with creeping about the
passages in list slippers, with a thick red muffler round his throat
for fear of draughts, and a small arquebuse, in case he should be
attacked by the twins. The final blow he received occurred on the
19th of September. He had gone downstairs to the great entrance-
hall, feeling sure that there, at any rate, he would be quite
unmolested, and was amusing himself by making satirical remarks on
the large Saroni photographs of the United States Minister and his
wife, which had now taken the place of the Canterville family
pictures. He was simply but neatly clad in a long shroud, spotted
with churchyard mould, had tied up his jaw with a strip of yellow
linen, and carried a small lantern and a sexton's spade. In fact,
he was dressed for the character of 'Jonas the Graveless, or the
Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,' one of his most remarkable
impersonations, and one which the Cantervilles had every reason to
remember, as it was the real origin of their quarrel with their
neighbour, Lord Rufford. It was about a quarter past two o'clock in
the morning, and, as far as he could ascertain, no one was stirring.
As he was strolling towards the library, however, to see if there
were any traces left of the blood-stain, suddenly there leaped out
on him from a dark corner two figures, who waved their arms wildly
above their heads, and shrieked out 'BOO!' in his ear.

Seized with a panic, which, under the circumstances, was only
natural, he rushed for the staircase, but found Washington Otis
waiting for him there with the big garden-syringe; and being thus
hemmed in by his enemies on every side, and driven almost to bay, he
vanished into the great iron stove, which, fortunately for him, was
not lit, and had to make his way home through the flues and
chimneys, arriving at his own room in a terrible state of dirt,
disorder, and despair.

After this he was not seen again on any nocturnal expedition. The
twins lay in wait for him on several occasions, and strewed the
passages with nutshells every night to the great annoyance of their
parents and the servants, but it was of no avail. It was quite
evident that his feelings were so wounded that he would not appear.
Mr. Otis consequently resumed his great work on the history of the
Democratic Party, on which he had been engaged for some years; Mrs.
Otis organised a wonderful clam-bake, which amazed the whole county;
the boys took to lacrosse, euchre, poker, and other American
national games; and Virginia rode about the lanes on her pony,
accompanied by the young Duke of Cheshire, who had come to spend the
last week of his holidays at Canterville Chase. It was generally
assumed that the ghost had gone away, and, in fact, Mr. Otis wrote a
letter to that effect to Lord Canterville, who, in reply, expressed
his great pleasure at the news, and sent his best congratulations to
the Minister's worthy wife.

The Otises, however, were deceived, for the ghost was still in the
house, and though now almost an invalid, was by no means ready to
let matters rest, particularly as he heard that among the guests was
the young Duke of Cheshire, whose grand-uncle, Lord Francis Stilton,
had once bet a hundred guineas with Colonel Carbury that he would
play dice with the Canterville ghost, and was found the next morning
lying on the floor of the card-room in such a helpless paralytic
state, that though he lived on to a great age, he was never able to
say anything again but 'Double Sixes.' The story was well known at
the time, though, of course, out of respect to the feelings of the
two noble families, every attempt was made to hush it up; and a full
account of all the circumstances connected with it will be found in
the third volume of Lord Tattle's Recollections of the Prince Regent
and his Friends. The ghost, then, was naturally very anxious to
show that he had not lost his influence over the Stiltons, with
whom, indeed, he was distantly connected, his own first cousin
having been married en secondes noces to the Sieur de Bulkeley, from
whom, as every one knows, the Dukes of Cheshire are lineally
descended. Accordingly, he made arrangements for appearing to
Virginia's little lover in his celebrated impersonation of 'The
Vampire Monk, or, the Bloodless Benedictine,' a performance so
horrible that when old Lady Startup saw it, which she did on one
fatal New Year's Eve, in the year 1764, she went off into the most
piercing shrieks, which culminated in violent apoplexy, and died in
three days, after disinheriting the Cantervilles, who were her
nearest relations, and leaving all her money to her London
apothecary. At the last moment, however, his terror of the twins
prevented his leaving his room, and the little Duke slept in peace
under the great feathered canopy in the Royal Bedchamber, and
dreamed of Virginia.


A few days after this, Virginia and her curly-haired cavalier went
out riding on Brockley meadows, where she tore her habit so badly in
getting through a hedge, that, on her return home, she made up her
mind to go up by the back staircase so as not to be seen. As she
was running past the Tapestry Chamber, the door of which happened to
be open, she fancied she saw some one inside, and thinking it was
her mother's maid, who sometimes used to bring her work there,
looked in to ask her to mend her habit. To her immense surprise,
however, it was the Canterville Ghost himself! He was sitting by
the window, watching the ruined gold of the yellowing trees fly
through the air, and the red leaves dancing madly down the long
avenue. His head was leaning on his hand, and his whole attitude
was one of extreme depression. Indeed, so forlorn, and so much out
of repair did he look, that little Virginia, whose first idea had
been to run away and lock herself in her room, was filled with pity,
and determined to try and comfort him. So light was her footfall,
and so deep his melancholy, that he was not aware of her presence
till she spoke to him.

'I am so sorry for you,' she said, 'but my brothers are going back
to Eton to-morrow, and then, if you behave yourself, no one will
annoy you.'

'It is absurd asking me to behave myself,' he answered, looking
round in astonishment at the pretty little girl who had ventured to
address him, 'quite absurd. I must rattle my chains, and groan
through keyholes, and walk about at night, if that is what you mean.
It is my only reason for existing.'

'It is no reason at all for existing, and you know you have been
very wicked. Mrs. Umney told us, the first day we arrived here,
that you had killed your wife.'

'Well, I quite admit it,' said the Ghost petulantly, 'but it was a
purely family matter, and concerned no one else.'

'It is very wrong to kill any one,' said Virginia, who at times had
a sweet Puritan gravity, caught from some old New England ancestor.

'Oh, I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics! My wife was very
plain, never had my ruffs properly starched, and knew nothing about
cookery. Why, there was a buck I had shot in Hogley Woods, a
magnificent pricket, and do you know how she had it sent up to
table? However, it is no matter now, for it is all over, and I
don't think it was very nice of her brothers to starve me to death,
though I did kill her.'

'Starve you to death? Oh, Mr. Ghost, I mean Sir Simon, are you
hungry? I have a sandwich in my case. Would you like it?'

'No, thank you, I never eat anything now; but it is very kind of
you, all the same, and you are much nicer than the rest of your
horrid, rude, vulgar, dishonest family.'

'Stop!' cried Virginia, stamping her foot, 'it is you who are rude,
and horrid, and vulgar, and as for dishonesty, you know you stole
the paints out of my box to try and furbish up that ridiculous
blood-stain in the library. First you took all my reds, including
the vermilion, and I couldn't do any more sunsets, then you took the
emerald-green and the chrome-yellow, and finally I had nothing left
but indigo and Chinese white, and could only do moonlight scenes,
which are always depressing to look at, and not at all easy to
paint. I never told on you, though I was very much annoyed, and it
was most ridiculous, the whole thing; for who ever heard of emerald-
green blood?'

'Well, really,' said the Ghost, rather meekly, 'what was I to do?
It is a very difficult thing to get real blood nowadays, and, as
your brother began it all with his Paragon Detergent, I certainly
saw no reason why I should not have your paints. As for colour,
that is always a matter of taste: the Cantervilles have blue blood,
for instance, the very bluest in England; but I know you Americans
don't care for things of this kind.'

'You know nothing about it, and the best thing you can do is to
emigrate and improve your mind. My father will be only too happy to
give you a free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirits
of every kind, there will be no difficulty about the Custom House,
as the officers are all Democrats. Once in New York, you are sure
to be a great success. I know lots of people there who would give a
hundred thousand dollars to have a grandfather, and much more than
that to have a family Ghost.'

'I don't think I should like America.'

'I suppose because we have no ruins and no curiosities,' said
Virginia satirically.

'No ruins! no curiosities!' answered the Ghost; 'you have your navy
and your manners.'

'Good evening; I will go and ask papa to get the twins an extra
week's holiday.'

'Please don't go, Miss Virginia,' he cried; 'I am so lonely and so
unhappy, and I really don't know what to do. I want to go to sleep
and I cannot.'

'That's quite absurd! You have merely to go to bed and blow out the
candle. It is very difficult sometimes to keep awake, especially at
church, but there is no difficulty at all about sleeping. Why, even
babies know how to do that, and they are not very clever.'

'I have not slept for three hundred years,' he said sadly, and
Virginia's beautiful blue eyes opened in wonder; 'for three hundred
years I have not slept, and I am so tired.'

Virginia grew quite grave, and her little lips trembled like rose-
leaves. She came towards him, and kneeling down at his side, looked
up into his old withered face.

'Poor, poor Ghost,' she murmured; 'have you no place where you can

'Far away beyond the pine-woods,' he answered, in a low dreamy
voice, 'there is a little garden. There the grass grows long and
deep, there are the great white stars of the hemlock flower, there
the nightingale sings all night long. All night long he sings, and
the cold, crystal moon looks down, and the yew-tree spreads out its
giant arms over the sleepers.'

Virginia's eyes grew dim with tears, and she hid her face in her

'You mean the Garden of Death,' she whispered.

'Yes, Death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown
earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to
silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time,
to forgive life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for
me the portals of Death's house, for Love is always with you, and
Love is stronger than Death is.'

Virginia trembled, a cold shudder ran through her, and for a few
moments there was silence. She felt as if she was in a terrible

Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing
of the wind.

'Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?'

'Oh, often,' cried the little girl, looking up; 'I know it quite
well. It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult
to read. There are only six lines:

When a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears,
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.

But I don't know what they mean.'

'They mean,' he said sadly, 'that you must weep for me for my sins,
because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I
have no faith, and then, if you have always been sweet, and good,
and gentle, the Angel of Death will have mercy on me. You will see
fearful shapes in darkness, and wicked voices will whisper in your
ear, but they will not harm you, for against the purity of a little
child the powers of Hell cannot prevail.'

Virginia made no answer, and the Ghost wrung his hands in wild
despair as he looked down at her bowed golden head. Suddenly she
stood up, very pale, and with a strange light in her eyes. 'I am
not afraid,' she said firmly, 'and I will ask the Angel to have
mercy on you.'

He rose from his seat with a faint cry of joy, and taking her hand
bent over it with old-fashioned grace and kissed it. His fingers
were as cold as ice, and his lips burned like fire, but Virginia did
not falter, as he led her across the dusky room. On the faded green
tapestry were broidered little huntsmen. They blew their tasselled
horns and with their tiny hands waved to her to go back. 'Go back!
little Virginia,' they cried, 'go back!' but the Ghost clutched her
hand more tightly, and she shut her eyes against them. Horrible
animals with lizard tails, and goggle eyes, blinked at her from the
carven chimney-piece, and murmured 'Beware! little Virginia, beware!
we may never see you again,' but the Ghost glided on more swiftly,
and Virginia did not listen. When they reached the end of the room
he stopped, and muttered some words she could not understand. She
opened her eyes, and saw the wall slowly fading away like a mist,
and a great black cavern in front of her. A bitter cold wind swept
round them, and she felt something pulling at her dress. 'Quick,
quick,' cried the Ghost, 'or it will be too late,' and, in a moment,
the wainscoting had closed behind them, and the Tapestry Chamber was


About ten minutes later, the bell rang for tea, and, as Virginia did
not come down, Mrs. Otis sent up one of the footmen to tell her.
After a little time he returned and said that he could not find Miss
Virginia anywhere. As she was in the habit of going out to the
garden every evening to get flowers for the dinner-table, Mrs. Otis
was not at all alarmed at first, but when six o'clock struck, and
Virginia did not appear, she became really agitated, and sent the
boys out to look for her, while she herself and Mr. Otis searched
every room in the house. At half-past six the boys came back and
said that they could find no trace of their sister anywhere. They
were all now in the greatest state of excitement, and did not know
what to do, when Mr. Otis suddenly remembered that, some few days
before, he had given a band of gypsies permission to camp in the
park. He accordingly at once set off for Blackfell Hollow, where he
knew they were, accompanied by his eldest son and two of the farm-
servants. The little Duke of Cheshire, who was perfectly frantic
with anxiety, begged hard to be allowed to go too, but Mr. Otis
would not allow him, as he was afraid there might be a scuffle. On
arriving at the spot, however, he found that the gypsies had gone,
and it was evident that their departure had been rather sudden, as
the fire was still burning, and some plates were lying on the grass.
Having sent off Washington and the two men to scour the district, he
ran home, and despatched telegrams to all the police inspectors in
the county, telling them to look out for a little girl who had been
kidnapped by tramps or gypsies. He then ordered his horse to be
brought round, and, after insisting on his wife and the three boys
sitting down to dinner, rode off down the Ascot Road with a groom.
He had hardly, however, gone a couple of miles when he heard
somebody galloping after him, and, looking round, saw the little
Duke coming up on his pony, with his face very flushed and no hat.
'I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Otis,' gasped out the boy, 'but I can't eat
any dinner as long as Virginia is lost. Please, don't be angry with
me; if you had let us be engaged last year, there would never have
been all this trouble. You won't send me back, will you? I can't
go! I won't go!'

The Minister could not help smiling at the handsome young
scapegrace, and was a good deal touched at his devotion to Virginia,
so leaning down from his horse, he patted him kindly on the
shoulders, and said, 'Well, Cecil, if you won't go back I suppose
you must come with me, but I must get you a hat at Ascot.'

'Oh, bother my hat! I want Virginia!' cried the little Duke,
laughing, and they galloped on to the railway station. There Mr.
Otis inquired of the station-master if any one answering the
description of Virginia had been seen on the platform, but could get
no news of her. The station-master, however, wired up and down the
line, and assured him that a strict watch would be kept for her,
and, after having bought a hat for the little Duke from a linen-
draper, who was just putting up his shutters, Mr. Otis rode off to
Bexley, a village about four miles away, which he was told was a
well-known haunt of the gypsies, as there was a large common next to
it. Here they roused up the rural policeman, but could get no
information from him, and, after riding all over the common, they
turned their horses' heads homewards, and reached the Chase about
eleven o'clock, dead-tired and almost heart-broken. They found
Washington and the twins waiting for them at the gate-house with
lanterns, as the avenue was very dark. Not the slightest trace of
Virginia had been discovered. The gypsies had been caught on
Brockley meadows, but she was not with them, and they had explained
their sudden departure by saying that they had mistaken the date of
Chorton Fair, and had gone off in a hurry for fear they might be
late. Indeed, they had been quite distressed at hearing of
Virginia's disappearance, as they were very grateful to Mr. Otis for
having allowed them to camp in his park, and four of their number
had stayed behind to help in the search. The carp-pond had been
dragged, and the whole Chase thoroughly gone over, but without any
result. It was evident that, for that night at any rate, Virginia
was lost to them; and it was in a state of the deepest depression
that Mr Otis and the boys walked up to the house, the groom
following behind with the two horses and the pony. In the hall they
found a group of frightened servants, and lying on a sofa in the
library was poor Mrs. Otis, almost out of her mind with terror and
anxiety, and having her forehead bathed with eau-de-cologne by the
old housekeeper. Mr. Otis at once insisted on her having something
to eat, and ordered up supper for the whole party. It was a
melancholy meal, as hardly any one spoke, and even the twins were
awestruck and subdued, as they were very fond of their sister. When
they had finished, Mr. Otis, in spite of the entreaties of the
little Duke, ordered them all to bed, saying that nothing more could
be done that night, and that he would telegraph in the morning to
Scotland Yard for some detectives to be sent down immediately. Just
as they were passing out of the dining-room, midnight began to boom
from the clock tower, and when the last stroke sounded they heard a
crash and a sudden shrill cry; a dreadful peal of thunder shook the
house, a strain of unearthly music floated through the air, a panel
at the top of the staircase flew back with a loud noise, and out on
the landing, looking very pale and white, with a little casket in
her hand, stepped Virginia. In a moment they had all rushed up to
her. Mrs. Otis clasped her passionately in her arms, the Duke
smothered her with violent kisses, and the twins executed a wild
war-dance round the group.

'Good heavens! child, where have you been?' said Mr. Otis, rather
angrily, thinking that she had been playing some foolish trick on
them. 'Cecil and I have been riding all over the country looking
for you, and your mother has been frightened to death. You must
never play these practical jokes any more.'

'Except on the Ghost! except on the Ghost!' shrieked the twins, as
they capered about.

'My own darling, thank God you are found; you must never leave my
side again,' murmured Mrs. Otis, as she kissed the trembling child,
and smoothed the tangled gold of her hair.

'Papa,' said Virginia quietly, 'I have been with the Ghost. He is
dead, and you must come and see him. He had been very wicked, but
he was really sorry for all that he had done, and he gave me this
box of beautiful jewels before he died.'

The whole family gazed at her in mute amazement, but she was quite
grave and serious; and, turning round, she led them through the
opening in the wainscoting down a narrow secret corridor, Washington
following with a lighted candle, which he had caught up from the
table. Finally, they came to a great oak door, studded with rusty
nails. When Virginia touched it, it swung back on its heavy hinges,
and they found themselves in a little low room, with a vaulted
ceiling, and one tiny grated window. Imbedded in the wall was a
huge iron ring, and chained to it was a gaunt skeleton, that was
stretched out at full length on the stone floor, and seemed to be
trying to grasp with its long fleshless fingers an old-fashioned
trencher and ewer, that were placed just out of its reach. The jug
had evidently been once filled with water, as it was covered inside
with green mould. There was nothing on the trencher but a pile of
dust. Virginia knelt down beside the skeleton, and, folding her
little hands together, began to pray silently, while the rest of the
party looked on in wonder at the terrible tragedy whose secret was
now disclosed to them.

'Hallo!' suddenly exclaimed one of the twins, who had been looking
out of the window to try and discover in what wing of the house the
room was situated. 'Hallo! the old withered almond-tree has
blossomed. I can see the flowers quite plainly in the moonlight.'

'God has forgiven him,' said Virginia gravely, as she rose to her
feet, and a beautiful light seemed to illumine her face.

'What an angel you are!' cried the young Duke, and he put his arm
round her neck and kissed her.


Four days after these curious incidents a funeral started from
Canterville Chase at about eleven o'clock at night. The hearse was
drawn by eight black horses, each of which carried on its head a
great tuft of nodding ostrich-plumes, and the leaden coffin was
covered by a rich purple pall, on which was embroidered in gold the
Canterville coat-of-arms. By the side of the hearse and the coaches
walked the servants with lighted torches, and the whole procession
was wonderfully impressive. Lord Canterville was the chief mourner,
having come up specially from Wales to attend the funeral, and sat
in the first carriage along with little Virginia. Then came the
United States Minister and his wife, then Washington and the three
boys, and in the last carriage was Mrs. Umney. It was generally
felt that, as she had been frightened by the ghost for more than
fifty years of her life, she had a right to see the last of him. A
deep grave had been dug in the corner of the churchyard, just under
the old yew-tree, and the service was read in the most impressive
manner by the Rev. Augustus Dampier. When the ceremony was over,
the servants, according to an old custom observed in the Canterville
family, extinguished their torches, and, as the coffin was being
lowered into the grave, Virginia stepped forward and laid on it a
large cross made of white and pink almond-blossoms. As she did so,
the moon came out from behind a cloud, and flooded with its silent
silver the little churchyard, and from a distant copse a nightingale
began to sing. She thought of the ghost's description of the Garden
of Death, her eyes became dim with tears, and she hardly spoke a
word during the drive home.

The next morning, before Lord Canterville went up to town, Mr. Otis
had an interview with him on the subject of the jewels the ghost had
given to Virginia. They were perfectly magnificent, especially a
certain ruby necklace with old Venetian setting, which was really a
superb specimen of sixteenth-century work, and their value was so
great that Mr. Otis felt considerable scruples about allowing his
daughter to accept them.

'My lord,' he said, 'I know that in this country mortmain is held to
apply to trinkets as well as to land, and it is quite clear to me
that these jewels are, or should be, heirlooms in your family. I
must beg you, accordingly, to take them to London with you, and to
regard them simply as a portion of your property which has been
restored to you under certain strange conditions. As for my
daughter, she is merely a child, and has as yet, I am glad to say,
but little interest in such appurtenances of idle luxury. I am also
informed by Mrs. Otis, who, I may say, is no mean authority upon
Art--having had the privilege of spending several winters in Boston
when she was a girl--that these gems are of great monetary worth,
and if offered for sale would fetch a tall price. Under these
circumstances, Lord Canterville, I feel sure that you will recognise
how impossible it would be for me to allow them to remain in the
possession of any member of my family; and, indeed, all such vain
gauds and toys, however suitable or necessary to the dignity of the
British aristocracy, would be completely out of place among those
who have been brought up on the severe, and I believe immortal,
principles of republican simplicity. Perhaps I should mention that
Virginia is very anxious that you should allow her to retain the box
as a memento of your unfortunate but misguided ancestor. As it is
extremely old, and consequently a good deal out of repair, you may
perhaps think fit to comply with her request. For my own part, I
confess I am a good deal surprised to find a child of mine
expressing sympathy with mediaevalism in any form, and can only
account for it by the fact that Virginia was born in one of your
London suburbs shortly after Mrs. Otis had returned from a trip to

Lord Canterville listened very gravely to the worthy Minister's
speech, pulling his grey moustache now and then to hide an
involuntary smile, and when Mr. Otis had ended, he shook him
cordially by the hand, and said, 'My dear sir, your charming little
daughter rendered my unlucky ancestor, Sir Simon, a very important
service, and I and my family are much indebted to her for her
marvellous courage and pluck. The jewels are clearly hers, and,
egad, I believe that if I were heartless enough to take them from
her, the wicked old fellow would be out of his grave in a fortnight,
leading me the devil of a life. As for their being heirlooms,
nothing is an heirloom that is not so mentioned in a will or legal
document, and the existence of these jewels has been quite unknown.
I assure you I have no more claim on them than your butler, and when
Miss Virginia grows up I daresay she will be pleased to have pretty
things to wear. Besides, you forget, Mr. Otis, that you took the
furniture and the ghost at a valuation, and anything that belonged
to the ghost passed at once into your possession, as, whatever
activity Sir Simon may have shown in the corridor at night, in point
of law he was really dead, and you acquired his property by

Mr. Otis was a good deal distressed at Lord Canterville's refusal,
and begged him to reconsider his decision, but the good-natured peer
was quite firm, and finally induced the Minister to allow his
daughter to retain the present the ghost had given her, and when, in
the spring of 1890, the young Duchess of Cheshire was presented at
the Queen's first drawing-room on the occasion of her marriage, her
jewels were the universal theme of admiration. For Virginia
received the coronet, which is the reward of all good little
American girls, and was married to her boy-lover as soon as he came
of age. They were both so charming, and they loved each other so
much, that every one was delighted at the match, except the old
Marchioness of Dumbleton, who had tried to catch the Duke for one of
her seven unmarried daughters, and had given no less than three
expensive dinner-parties for that purpose, and, strange to say, Mr.
Otis himself. Mr. Otis was extremely fond of the young Duke
personally, but, theoretically, he objected to titles, and, to use
his own words, 'was not without apprehension lest, amid the
enervating influences of a pleasure-loving aristocracy, the true
principles of republican simplicity should be forgotten.' His
objections, however, were completely overruled, and I believe that
when he walked up the aisle of St. George's, Hanover Square, with
his daughter leaning on his arm, there was not a prouder man in the
whole length and breadth of England.

The Duke and Duchess, after the honeymoon was over, went down to
Canterville Chase, and on the day after their arrival they walked
over in the afternoon to the lonely churchyard by the pine-woods.
There had been a great deal of difficulty at first about the
inscription on Sir Simon's tombstone, but finally it had been
decided to engrave on it simply the initials of the old gentleman's
name, and the verse from the library window. The Duchess had
brought with her some lovely roses, which she strewed upon the
grave, and after they had stood by it for some time they strolled
into the ruined chancel of the old abbey. There the Duchess sat
down on a fallen pillar, while her husband lay at her feet smoking a
cigarette and looking up at her beautiful eyes. Suddenly he threw
his cigarette away, took hold of her hand, and said to her,
'Virginia, a wife should have no secrets from her husband.'

'Dear Cecil! I have no secrets from you.'

'Yes, you have,' he answered, smiling, 'you have never told me what
happened to you when you were locked up with the ghost.'

'I have never told any one, Cecil,' said Virginia gravely.

'I know that, but you might tell me.'

'Please don't ask me, Cecil, I cannot tell you. Poor Sir Simon! I
owe him a great deal. Yes, don't laugh, Cecil, I really do. He
made me see what Life is, and what Death signifies, and why Love is
stronger than both.'

The Duke rose and kissed his wife lovingly.

'You can have your secret as long as I have your heart,' he

'You have always had that, Cecil.'

'And you will tell our children some day, won't you?'

Virginia blushed.


One afternoon I was sitting outside the Cafe de la Paix, watching
the splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my
vermouth at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was
passing before me, when I heard some one call my name. I turned
round, and saw Lord Murchison. We had not met since we had been at
college together, nearly ten years before, so I was delighted to
come across him again, and we shook hands warmly. At Oxford we had
been great friends. I had liked him immensely, he was so handsome,
so high-spirited, and so honourable. We used to say of him that he
would be the best of fellows, if he did not always speak the truth,
but I think we really admired him all the more for his frankness. I
found him a good deal changed. He looked anxious and puzzled, and
seemed to be in doubt about something. I felt it could not be
modern scepticism, for Murchison was the stoutest of Tories, and
believed in the Pentateuch as firmly as he believed in the House of
Peers; so I concluded that it was a woman, and asked him if he was
married yet.

'I don't understand women well enough,' he answered.

'My dear Gerald,' I said, 'women are meant to be loved, not to be

'I cannot love where I cannot trust,' he replied.

'I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,' I exclaimed;
'tell me about it.'

'Let us go for a drive,' he answered, 'it is too crowded here. No,
not a yellow carriage, any other colour--there, that dark green one
will do'; and in a few moments we were trotting down the boulevard
in the direction of the Madeleine.

'Where shall we go to?' I said.

'Oh, anywhere you like!' he answered--'to the restaurant in the
Bois; we will dine there, and you shall tell me all about yourself.'

'I want to hear about you first,' I said. 'Tell me your mystery.'

He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and
handed it to me. I opened it. Inside there was the photograph of a
woman. She was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with her
large vague eyes and loosened hair. She looked like a clairvoyante,
and was wrapped in rich furs.

'What do you think of that face?' he said; 'is it truthful?'

I examined it carefully. It seemed to me the face of some one who
had a secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not
say. Its beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries--the
beauty, in fact, which is psychological, not plastic--and the faint
smile that just played across the lips was far too subtle to be
really sweet.

'Well,' he cried impatiently, 'what do you say?'

'She is the Gioconda in sables,' I answered. 'Let me know all about

'Not now,' he said; 'after dinner,' and began to talk of other

When the waiter brought us our coffee and cigarettes I reminded
Gerald of his promise. He rose from his seat, walked two or three
times up and down the room, and, sinking into an armchair, told me
the following story:-

'One evening,' he said, 'I was walking down Bond Street about five
o'clock. There was a terrific crush of carriages, and the traffic
was almost stopped. Close to the pavement was standing a little
yellow brougham, which, for some reason or other, attracted my
attention. As I passed by there looked out from it the face I
showed you this afternoon. It fascinated me immediately. All that
night I kept thinking of it, and all the next day. I wandered up
and down that wretched Row, peering into every carriage, and waiting
for the yellow brougham; but I could not find ma belle inconnue, and
at last I began to think she was merely a dream. About a week
afterwards I was dining with Madame de Rastail. Dinner was for
eight o'clock; but at half-past eight we were still waiting in the
drawing-room. Finally the servant threw open the door, and
announced Lady Alroy. It was the woman I had been looking for. She
came in very slowly, looking like a moonbeam in grey lace, and, to
my intense delight, I was asked to take her in to dinner. After we
had sat down, I remarked quite innocently, "I think I caught sight
of you in Bond Street some time ago, Lady Alroy." She grew very
pale, and said to me in a low voice, "Pray do not talk so loud; you
may be overheard." I felt miserable at having made such a bad
beginning, and plunged recklessly into the subject of the French
plays. She spoke very little, always in the same low musical voice,
and seemed as if she was afraid of some one listening. I fell
passionately, stupidly in love, and the indefinable atmosphere of
mystery that surrounded her excited my most ardent curiosity. When
she was going away, which she did very soon after dinner, I asked
her if I might call and see her. She hesitated for a moment,
glanced round to see if any one was near us, and then said, "Yes;
to-morrow at a quarter to five." I begged Madame de Rastail to tell
me about her; but all that I could learn was that she was a widow
with a beautiful house in Park Lane, and as some scientific bore
began a dissertation on widows, as exemplifying the survival of the
matrimonially fittest, I left and went home.

'The next day I arrived at Park Lane punctual to the moment, but was
told by the butler that Lady Alroy had just gone out. I went down
to the club quite unhappy and very much puzzled, and after long
consideration wrote her a letter, asking if I might be allowed to
try my chance some other afternoon. I had no answer for several
days, but at last I got a little note saying she would be at home on
Sunday at four and with this extraordinary postscript: "Please do
not write to me here again; I will explain when I see you." On
Sunday she received me, and was perfectly charming; but when I was
going away she begged of me, if I ever had occasion to write to her
again, to address my letter to "Mrs. Knox, care of Whittaker's
Library, Green Street." "There are reasons," she said, "why I
cannot receive letters in my own house."

'All through the season I saw a great deal of her, and the
atmosphere of mystery never left her. Sometimes I thought that she
was in the power of some man, but she looked so unapproachable, that
I could not believe it. It was really very difficult for me to come
to any conclusion, for she was like one of those strange crystals
that one sees in museums, which are at one moment clear, and at
another clouded. At last I determined to ask her to be my wife: I
was sick and tired of the incessant secrecy that she imposed on all
my visits, and on the few letters I sent her. I wrote to her at the
library to ask her if she could see me the following Monday at six.
She answered yes, and I was in the seventh heaven of delight. I was
infatuated with her: in spite of the mystery, I thought then--in
consequence of it, I see now. No; it was the woman herself I loved.
The mystery troubled me, maddened me. Why did chance put me in its

'You discovered it, then?' I cried.

'I fear so,' he answered. 'You can judge for yourself.'

'When Monday came round I went to lunch with my uncle, and about
four o'clock found myself in the Marylebone Road. My uncle, you
know, lives in Regent's Park. I wanted to get to Piccadilly, and
took a short cut through a lot of shabby little streets. Suddenly I
saw in front of me Lady Alroy, deeply veiled and walking very fast.
On coming to the last house in the street, she went up the steps,
took out a latch-key, and let herself in. "Here is the mystery," I
said to myself; and I hurried on and examined the house. It seemed
a sort of place for letting lodgings. On the doorstep lay her
handkerchief, which she had dropped. I picked it up and put it in
my pocket. Then I began to consider what I should do. I came to
the conclusion that I had no right to spy on her, and I drove down
to the club. At six I called to see her. She was lying on a sofa,
in a tea-gown of silver tissue looped up by some strange moonstones
that she always wore. She was looking quite lovely. "I am so glad
to see you," she said; "I have not been out all day." I stared at
her in amazement, and pulling the handkerchief out of my pocket,
handed it to her. "You dropped this in Cumnor Street this
afternoon, Lady Alroy," I said very calmly. She looked at me in
terror but made no attempt to take the handkerchief. "What were you
doing there?" I asked. "What right have you to question me?" she
answered. "The right of a man who loves you," I replied; "I came
here to ask you to be my wife." She hid her face in her hands, and
burst into floods of tears. "You must tell me," I continued. She
stood up, and, looking me straight in the face, said, "Lord
Murchison, there is nothing to tell you."--"You went to meet some
one," I cried; "this is your mystery." She grew dreadfully white,
and said, "I went to meet no one."--"Can't you tell the truth?" I
exclaimed. "I have told it," she replied. I was mad, frantic; I
don't know what I said, but I said terrible things to her. Finally
I rushed out of the house. She wrote me a letter the next day; I
sent it back unopened, and started for Norway with Alan Colville.
After a month I came back, and the first thing I saw in the Morning
Post was the death of Lady Alroy. She had caught a chill at the
Opera, and had died in five days of congestion of the lungs. I shut
myself up and saw no one. I had loved her so much, I had loved her
so madly. Good God! how I had loved that woman!'

'You went to the street, to the house in it?' I said.

'Yes,' he answered.

'One day I went to Cumnor Street. I could not help it; I was
tortured with doubt. I knocked at the door, and a respectable-
looking woman opened it to me. I asked her if she had any rooms to
let. "Well, sir," she replied, "the drawing-rooms are supposed to
be let; but I have not seen the lady for three months, and as rent
is owing on them, you can have them."--"Is this the lady?" I said,
showing the photograph. "That's her, sure enough," she exclaimed;
"and when is she coming back, sir?"--"The lady is dead," I replied.
"Oh sir, I hope not!" said the woman; "she was my best lodger. She
paid me three guineas a week merely to sit in my drawing-rooms now
and then." "She met some one here?" I said; but the woman assured
me that it was not so, that she always came alone, and saw no one.
"What on earth did she do here?" I cried. "She simply sat in the
drawing-room, sir, reading books, and sometimes had tea," the woman
answered. I did not know what to say, so I gave her a sovereign and
went away. Now, what do you think it all meant? You don't believe
the woman was telling the truth?'

'I do.'

'Then why did Lady Alroy go there?'

'My dear Gerald,' I answered, 'Lady Alroy was simply a woman with a
mania for mystery. She took these rooms for the pleasure of going
there with her veil down, and imagining she was a heroine. She had
a passion for secrecy, but she herself was merely a Sphinx without a

'Do you really think so?'

'I am sure of it,' I replied.

He took out the morocco case, opened it, and looked at the
photograph. 'I wonder?' he said at last.


Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.
Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the
unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better
to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the
great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised.
Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much
importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing
in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his
crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was
as popular with men as he was with women and he had every
accomplishment except that of making money. His father had
bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a History of the Peninsular War
in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass,
put the second on a shelf between Ruff's Guide and Bailey's
Magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed
him. He had tried everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange
for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and
bears? He had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon
tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry.
That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he
became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect
profile and no profession.

To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura
Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper
and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them
again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoe-strings.
They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece
between them. The Colonel was very fond of Hughie, but would not
hear of any engagement.

'Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your
own, and we will see about it,' he used to say; and Hughie looked
very glum in those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.

One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons
lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor.
Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But
he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare. Personally he
was a strange rough fellow, with a freckled face and a red ragged
beard. However, when he took up the brush he was a real master, and
his pictures were eagerly sought after. He had been very much
attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on
account of his personal charm. 'The only people a painter should
know,' he used to say, 'are people who are bete and beautiful,
people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual
repose to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings
rule the world, at least they should do so.' However, after he got
to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright,
buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and had given him
the permanent entree to his studio.

When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to
a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself
was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was
a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most
piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown
cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and
cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the
other he held out his battered hat for alms.

'What an amazing model!' whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with
his friend.

'An amazing model?' shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; 'I
should think so! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every
day. A trouvaille, mon cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an
etching Rembrandt would have made of him!'

'Poor old chap!' said Hughie, 'how miserable he looks! But I
suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune?'

'Certainly,' replied Trevor, 'you don't want a beggar to look happy,
do you?'

'How much does a model get for sitting?' asked Hughie, as he found
himself a comfortable seat on a divan.

'A shilling an hour.'

'And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?'

'Oh, for this I get two thousand!'


'Guineas. Painters, poets, and physicians always get guineas.'

'Well, I think the model should have a percentage,' cried Hughie,
laughing; 'they work quite as hard as you do.'

'Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the
paint alone, and standing all day long at one's easel! It's all
very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are
moments when Art almost attains to the dignity of manual labour.
But you mustn't chatter; I'm very busy. Smoke a cigarette, and keep

After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the
framemaker wanted to speak to him.

'Don't run away, Hughie,' he said, as he went out, 'I will be back
in a moment.'

The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor's absence to rest for a
moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn
and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and felt in his
pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign
and some coppers. 'Poor old fellow,' he thought to himself, 'he
wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight';
and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the
beggar's hand.

The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered
lips. 'Thank you, sir,' he said, 'thank you.'

Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at
what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming
scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.

That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o'clock,
and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking
hock and seltzer.

'Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?' he said,
as he lit his cigarette.

'Finished and framed, my boy!' answered Trevor; 'and, by the bye,
you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted
to you. I had to tell him all about you--who you are, where you
live, what your income is, what prospects you have--'

'My dear Alan,' cried Hughie, 'I shall probably find him waiting for
me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old
wretch! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is
dreadful that any one should be so miserable. I have got heaps of
old clothes at home--do you think he would care for any of them?
Why, his rags were falling to bits.'

'But he looks splendid in them,' said Trevor. 'I wouldn't paint him
in a frock coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance.
What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I'll
tell him of your offer.'

'Alan,' said Hughie seriously, 'you painters are a heartless lot.'

'An artist's heart is his head,' replied Trevor; 'and besides, our
business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as
we know it. A chacun son metier. And now tell me how Laura is.
The old model was quite interested in her.'

'You don't mean to say you talked to him about her?' said Hughie.

'Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the
lovely Laura, and the 10,000 pounds.'

'You told that old beggar all my private affairs?' cried Hughie,
looking very red and angry.

'My dear boy,' said Trevor, smiling, 'that old beggar, as you call
him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London
to-morrow without overdrawing his account. He has a house in every
capital, dines off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war
when he chooses.'

'What on earth do you mean?' exclaimed Hughie.

'What I say,' said Trevor. 'The old man you saw to-day in the
studio was Baron Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all
my pictures and that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month
ago to paint him as a beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d'un
millionnaire! And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his
rags, or perhaps I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got
in Spain.'

'Baron Hausberg!' cried Hughie. 'Good heavens! I gave him a
sovereign!' and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.

'Gave him a sovereign!' shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of
laughter. 'My dear boy, you'll never see it again. Son affaire
c'est l'argent des autres.'

'I think you might have told me, Alan,' said Hughie sulkily, 'and
not have let me make such a fool of myself.'

'Well, to begin with, Hughie,' said Trevor, 'it never entered my
mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I
can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a
sovereign to an ugly one--by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I
really was not at home to-day to any one; and when you came in I
didn't know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You
know he wasn't in full dress.'

'What a duffer he must think me!' said Hughie.

'Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept
chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I
couldn't make out why he was so interested to know all about you;
but I see it all now. He'll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie,
pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to
tell after dinner.'

'I am an unlucky devil,' growled Hughie. 'The best thing I can do
is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn't tell any one. I
shouldn't dare show my face in the Row.'

'Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic
spirit, Hughie. And don't run away. Have another cigarette, and
you can talk about Laura as much as you like.'

However, Hughie wouldn't stop, but walked home, feeling very
unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up
a card on which was written, 'Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de
M. le Baron Hausberg.' 'I suppose he has come for an apology,' said
Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the
room, and said, in a slight French accent, 'Have I the honour of
addressing Monsieur Erskine?'

Hughie bowed.

'I have come from Baron Hausberg,' he continued. 'The Baron--'

'I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincerest apologies,'
stammered Hughie.

'The Baron,' said the old gentleman with a smile, 'has commissioned
me to bring you this letter'; and he extended a sealed envelope.

On the outside was written, 'A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and
Laura Merton, from an old beggar,' and inside was a cheque for
10,000 pounds.

When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron
made a speech at the wedding breakfast.

'Millionaire models,' remarked Alan, 'are rare enough; but, by Jove,
model millionaires are rarer still!'



I had been dining with Erskine in his pretty little house in
Birdcage Walk, and we were sitting in the library over our coffee
and cigarettes, when the question of literary forgeries happened to
turn up in conversation. I cannot at present remember how it was
that we struck upon this somewhat curious topic, as it was at that
time, but I know that we had a long discussion about Macpherson,
Ireland, and Chatterton, and that with regard to the last I insisted
that his so-called forgeries were merely the result of an artistic
desire for perfect representation; that we had no right to quarrel
with an artist for the conditions under which he chooses to present
his work; and that all Art being to a certain degree a mode of
acting, an attempt to realise one's own personality on some
imaginative plane out of reach of the trammelling accidents and
limitations of real life, to censure an artist for a forgery was to
confuse an ethical with an aesthetical problem.

Erskine, who was a good deal older than I was, and had been
listening to me with the amused deference of a man of forty,
suddenly put his hand upon my shoulder and said to me, 'What would
you say about a young man who had a strange theory about a certain
work of art, believed in his theory, and committed a forgery in
order to prove it?'

'Ah! that is quite a different matter,' I answered.

Erskine remained silent for a few moments, looking at the thin grey
threads of smoke that were rising from his cigarette. 'Yes,' he
said, after a pause, 'quite different.'

There was something in the tone of his voice, a slight touch of
bitterness perhaps, that excited my curiosity. 'Did you ever know
anybody who did that?' I cried.

'Yes,' he answered, throwing his cigarette into the fire,--'a great
friend of mine, Cyril Graham. He was very fascinating, and very
foolish, and very heartless. However, he left me the only legacy I
ever received in my life.'

'What was that?' I exclaimed. Erskine rose from his seat, and going
over to a tall inlaid cabinet that stood between the two windows,
unlocked it, and came back to where I was sitting, holding in his
hand a small panel picture set in an old and somewhat tarnished
Elizabethan frame.

It was a full-length portrait of a young man in late sixteenth-
century costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on
an open book. He seemed about seventeen years of age, and was of
quite extraordinary personal beauty, though evidently somewhat
effeminate. Indeed, had it not been for the dress and the closely
cropped hair, one would have said that the face with its dreamy
wistful eyes, and its delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl.
In manner, and especially in the treatment of the hands, the picture
reminded one of Francois Clouet's later work. The black velvet
doublet with its fantastically gilded points, and the peacock-blue
background against which it showed up so pleasantly, and from which
it gained such luminous value of colour, were quite in Clouet's
style; and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy that hung somewhat
formally from the marble pedestal had that hard severity of touch--
so different from the facile grace of the Italians--which even at
the Court of France the great Flemish master never completely lost,
and which in itself has always been a characteristic of the northern

'It is a charming thing,' I cried, 'but who is this wonderful young
man, whose beauty Art has so happily preserved for us?'

'This is the portrait of Mr. W. H.,' said Erskine, with a sad smile.
It might have been a chance effect of light, but it seemed to me
that his eyes were quite bright with tears.

'Mr. W. H.!' I exclaimed; 'who was Mr. W. H.?'

'Don't you remember?' he answered; 'look at the book on which his
hand is resting.'

'I see there is some writing there, but I cannot make it out,' I

'Take this magnifying-glass and try,' said Erskine, with the same
sad smile still playing about his mouth.

I took the glass, and moving the lamp a little nearer, I began to
spell out the crabbed sixteenth-century handwriting. 'To the onlie
begetter of these insuing sonnets.' . . . 'Good heavens!' I cried,
'is this Shakespeare's Mr. W. H.?'

'Cyril Graham used to say so,' muttered Erskine.

'But it is not a bit like Lord Pembroke,' I answered. 'I know the
Penshurst portraits very well. I was staying near there a few weeks

'Do you really believe then that the sonnets are addressed to Lord
Pembroke?' he asked.

'I am sure of it,' I answered. 'Pembroke, Shakespeare, and Mrs.
Mary Fitton are the three personages of the Sonnets; there is no
doubt at all about it.'

'Well, I agree with you,' said Erskine, 'but I did not always think
so. I used to believe--well, I suppose I used to believe in Cyril
Graham and his theory.'

'And what was that?' I asked, looking at the wonderful portrait,
which had already begun to have a strange fascination for me.

'It is a long story,' said Erskine, taking the picture away from me-
-rather abruptly I thought at the time--'a very long story; but if
you care to hear it, I will tell it to you.'

'I love theories about the Sonnets,' I cried; 'but I don't think I
am likely to be converted to any new idea. The matter has ceased to
be a mystery to any one. Indeed, I wonder that it ever was a

'As I don't believe in the theory, I am not likely to convert you to
it,' said Erskine, laughing; 'but it may interest you.'

'Tell it to me, of course,' I answered. 'If it is half as
delightful as the picture, I shall be more than satisfied.'

'Well,' said Erskine, lighting a cigarette, 'I must begin by telling
you about Cyril Graham himself. He and I were at the same house at
Eton. I was a year or two older than he was, but we were immense
friends, and did all our work and all our play together. There was,
of course, a good deal more play than work, but I cannot say that I
am sorry for that. It is always an advantage not to have received a
sound commercial education, and what I learned in the playing fields
at Eton has been quite as useful to me as anything I was taught at
Cambridge. I should tell you that Cyril's father and mother were
both dead. They had been drowned in a horrible yachting accident
off the Isle of Wight. His father had been in the diplomatic
service, and had married a daughter, the only daughter, in fact, of
old Lord Crediton, who became Cyril's guardian after the death of
his parents. I don't think that Lord Crediton cared very much for
Cyril. He had never really forgiven his daughter for marrying a man
who had not a title. He was an extraordinary old aristocrat, who
swore like a costermonger, and had the manners of a farmer. I
remember seeing him once on Speech-day. He growled at me, gave me a
sovereign, and told me not to grow up "a damned Radical" like my
father. Cyril had very little affection for him, and was only too
glad to spend most of his holidays with us in Scotland. They never
really got on together at all. Cyril thought him a bear, and he
thought Cyril effeminate. He was effeminate, I suppose, in some
things, though he was a very good rider and a capital fencer. In
fact he got the foils before he left Eton. But he was very languid
in his manner, and not a little vain of his good looks, and had a
strong objection to football. The two things that really gave him
pleasure were poetry and acting. At Eton he was always dressing up
and reciting Shakespeare, and when we went up to Trinity he became a
member of the A.D.C. his first term. I remember I was always very
jealous of his acting. I was absurdly devoted to him; I suppose
because we were so different in some things. I was a rather
awkward, weakly lad, with huge feet, and horribly freckled.
Freckles run in Scotch families just as gout does in English
families. Cyril used to say that of the two he preferred the gout;
but he always set an absurdly high value on personal appearance, and
once read a paper before our debating society to prove that it was
better to be good-looking than to be good. He certainly was
wonderfully handsome. People who did not like him, Philistines and
college tutors, and young men reading for the Church, used to say
that he was merely pretty; but there was a great deal more in his
face than mere prettiness. I think he was the most splendid
creature I ever saw, and nothing could exceed the grace of his
movements, the charm of his manner. He fascinated everybody who was
worth fascinating, and a great many people who were not. He was
often wilful and petulant, and I used to think him dreadfully
insincere. It was due, I think, chiefly to his inordinate desire to
please. Poor Cyril! I told him once that he was contented with
very cheap triumphs, but he only laughed. He was horribly spoiled.
All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of
their attraction.

'However, I must tell you about Cyril's acting. You know that no
actresses are allowed to play at the A.D.C. At least they were not
in my time. I don't know how it is now. Well, of course, Cyril was
always cast for the girls' parts, and when As You Like It was
produced he played Rosalind. It was a marvellous performance. In
fact, Cyril Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen.
It would be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy,
the refinement of the whole thing. It made an immense sensation,
and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every
night. Even when I read the play now I can't help thinking of
Cyril. It might have been written for him. The next term he took
his degree, and came to London to read for the diplomatic. But he
never did any work. He spent his days in reading Shakespeare's
Sonnets, and his evenings at the theatre. He was, of course, wild
to go on the stage. It was all that I and Lord Crediton could do to
prevent him. Perhaps if he had gone on the stage he would be alive
now. It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good
advice is absolutely fatal. I hope you will never fall into that
error. If you do, you will be sorry for it.

'Well, to come to the real point of the story, one day I got a
letter from Cyril asking me to come round to his rooms that evening.
He had charming chambers in Piccadilly overlooking the Green Park,
and as I used to go to see him every day, I was rather surprised at
his taking the trouble to write. Of course I went, and when I
arrived I found him in a state of great excitement. He told me that
he had at last discovered the true secret of Shakespeare's Sonnets;
that all the scholars and critics had been entirely on the wrong
tack; and that he was the first who, working purely by internal
evidence, had found out who Mr. W. H. really was. He was perfectly
wild with delight, and for a long time would not tell me his theory.
Finally, he produced a bundle of notes, took his copy of the Sonnets
off the mantelpiece, and sat down and gave me a long lecture on the
whole subject.

'He began by pointing out that the young man to whom Shakespeare
addressed these strangely passionate poems must have been somebody
who was a really vital factor in the development of his dramatic
art, and that this could not be said either of Lord Pembroke or Lord
Southampton. Indeed, whoever he was, he could not have been anybody
of high birth, as was shown very clearly by the 25th Sonnet, in
which Shakespeare contrasting himself with those who are "great
princes' favourites," says quite frankly -

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.

And ends the sonnet by congratulating himself on the mean state of
him he so adored.

Then happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.

This sonnet Cyril declared would be quite unintelligible if we
fancied that it was addressed to either the Earl of Pembroke or the
Earl of Southampton, both of whom were men of the highest position
in England and fully entitled to be called "great princes"; and he
in corroboration of his view read me Sonnets CXXIV. and CXXV., in
which Shakespeare tells us that his love is not "the child of
state," that it "suffers not in smiling pomp," but is "builded far
from accident." I listened with a good deal of interest, for I
don't think the point had ever been made before; but what followed
was still more curious, and seemed to me at the time to dispose
entirely of Pembroke's claim. We know from Meres that the Sonnets
had been written before 1598, and Sonnet CIV. informs us that
Shakespeare's friendship for Mr. W. H. had been already in existence
for three years. Now Lord Pembroke, who was born in 1580, did not
come to London till he was eighteen years of age, that is to say
till 1598, and Shakespeare's acquaintance with Mr. W. H. must have
begun in 1594, or at the latest in 1595. Shakespeare, accordingly,
could not have known Lord Pembroke till after the Sonnets had been

'Cyril pointed out also that Pembroke's father did not die till
1601; whereas it was evident from the line,

You had a father; let your son say so,

that the father of Mr. W. H. was dead in 1598. Besides, it was
absurd to imagine that any publisher of the time, and the preface is
from the publisher's hand, would have ventured to address William
Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, as Mr. W. H.; the case of Lord Buckhurst
being spoken of as Mr. Sackville being not really a parallel
instance, as Lord Buckhurst was not a peer, but merely the younger
son of a peer, with a courtesy title, and the passage in England's
Parnassus, where he is so spoken of, is not a formal and stately
dedication, but simply a casual allusion. So far for Lord Pembroke,
whose supposed claims Cyril easily demolished while I sat by in
wonder. With Lord Southampton Cyril had even less difficulty.
Southampton became at a very early age the lover of Elizabeth
Vernon, so he needed no entreaties to marry; he was not beautiful;
he did not resemble his mother, as Mr. W. H. did -

Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

and, above all, his Christian name was Henry, whereas the punning
sonnets (CXXXV. and CXLIII.) show that the Christian name of
Shakespeare's friend was the same as his own--Will.

'As for the other suggestions of unfortunate commentators, that Mr.
W. H. is a misprint for Mr. W. S., meaning Mr. William Shakespeare;
that "Mr. W. H. all" should be read "Mr. W. Hall"; that Mr. W. H. is
Mr. William Hathaway; and that a full stop should be placed after
"wisheth," making Mr. W. H. the writer and not the subject of the
dedication,--Cyril got rid of them in a very short time; and it is
not worth while to mention his reasons, though I remember he sent me
off into a fit of laughter by reading to me, I am glad to say not in
the original, some extracts from a German commentator called
Barnstorff, who insisted that Mr. W. H. was no less a person than
"Mr. William Himself." Nor would he allow for a moment that the
Sonnets are mere satires on the work of Drayton and John Davies of
Hereford. To him, as indeed to me, they were poems of serious and
tragic import, wrung out of the bitterness of Shakespeare's heart,
and made sweet by the honey of his lips. Still less would he admit
that they were merely a philosophical allegory, and that in them
Shakespeare is addressing his Ideal Self, or Ideal Manhood, or the
Spirit of Beauty, or the Reason, or the Divine Logos, or the
Catholic Church. He felt, as indeed I think we all must feel, that
the Sonnets are addressed to an individual,--to a particular young
man whose personality for some reason seems to have filled the soul
of Shakespeare with terrible joy and no less terrible despair.

'Having in this manner cleared the way as it were, Cyril asked me to
dismiss from my mind any preconceived ideas I might have formed on
the subject, and to give a fair and unbiassed hearing to his own
theory. The problem he pointed out was this: Who was that young
man of Shakespeare's day who, without being of noble birth or even
of noble nature, was addressed by him in terms of such passionate
adoration that we can but wonder at the strange worship, and are
almost afraid to turn the key that unlocks the mystery of the poet's
heart? Who was he whose physical beauty was such that it became the
very corner-stone of Shakespeare's art; the very source of
Shakespeare's inspiration; the very incarnation of Shakespeare's
dreams? To look upon him as simply the object of certain love-poems
is to miss the whole meaning of the poems: for the art of which
Shakespeare talks in the Sonnets is not the art of the Sonnets
themselves, which indeed were to him but slight and secret things--
it is the art of the dramatist to which he is always alluding; and
he to whom Shakespeare said -

Thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance,

he to whom he promised immortality,

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men, -

was surely none other than the boy-actor for whom he created Viola
and Imogen, Juliet and Rosalind, Portia and Desdemona, and Cleopatra
herself. This was Cyril Graham's theory, evolved as you see purely
from the Sonnets themselves, and depending for its acceptance not so
much on demonstrable proof or formal evidence, but on a kind of
spiritual and artistic sense, by which alone he claimed could the
true meaning of the poems be discerned. I remember his reading to
me that fine sonnet -

How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date -

and pointing out how completely it corroborated his theory; and
indeed he went through all the Sonnets carefully, and showed, or
fancied that he showed, that, according to his new explanation of
their meaning, things that had seemed obscure, or evil, or
exaggerated, became clear and rational, and of high artistic import,
illustrating Shakespeare's conception of the true relations between
the art of the actor and the art of the dramatist.

'It is of course evident that there must have been in Shakespeare's
company some wonderful boy-actor of great beauty, to whom he
intrusted the presentation of his noble heroines; for Shakespeare
was a practical theatrical manager as well as an imaginative poet,
and Cyril Graham had actually discovered the boy-actor's name. He
was Will, or, as he preferred to call him, Willie Hughes. The
Christian name he found of course in the punning sonnets, CXXXV. and
CXLIII.; the surname was, according to him, hidden in the seventh
line of the 20th Sonnet, where Mr. W. H. is described as -

A man in hew, all HEWS in his controwling.

'In the original edition of the Sonnets "Hews" is printed with a
capital letter and in italics, and this, he claimed, showed clearly
that a play on words was intended, his view receiving a good deal of
corroboration from those sonnets in which curious puns are made on
the words "use" and "usury." Of course I was converted at once, and
Willie Hughes became to me as real a person as Shakespeare. The
only objection I made to the theory was that the name of Willie
Hughes does not occur in the list of the actors of Shakespeare's
company as it is printed in the first folio. Cyril, however,
pointed out that the absence of Willie Hughes's name from this list
really corroborated the theory, as it was evident from Sonnet
LXXXVI. that Willie Hughes had abandoned Shakespeare's company to
play at a rival theatre, probably in some of Chapman's plays. It is
in reference to this that in the great sonnet on Chapman,
Shakespeare said to Willie Hughes -

But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
Then lack'd I matter; that enfeebled mine -

the expression "when your countenance filled up his line" referring
obviously to the beauty of the young actor giving life and reality
and added charm to Chapman's verse, the same idea being also put
forward in the 79th Sonnet -

Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
But now my gracious numbers are decay'd,
And my sick Muse doth give another place;

and in the immediately preceding sonnet, where Shakespeare says -

Every alien pen has got my USE
And under thee their poesy disperse,

the play upon words (use=Hughes) being of course obvious, and the
phrase "under thee their poesy disperse," meaning "by your
assistance as an actor bring their plays before the people."

'It was a wonderful evening, and we sat up almost till dawn reading
and re-reading the Sonnets. After some time, however, I began to
see that before the theory could be placed before the world in a
really perfected form, it was necessary to get some independent
evidence about the existence of this young actor, Willie Hughes. If
this could be once established, there could be no possible doubt
about his identity with Mr. W. H.; but otherwise the theory would
fall to the ground. I put this forward very strongly to Cyril, who
was a good deal annoyed at what he called my Philistine tone of
mind, and indeed was rather bitter upon the subject. However, I
made him promise that in his own interest he would not publish his
discovery till he had put the whole matter beyond the reach of
doubt; and for weeks and weeks we searched the registers of City
churches, the Alleyn MSS. at Dulwich, the Record Office, the papers
of the Lord Chamberlain--everything, in fact, that we thought might
contain some allusion to Willie Hughes. We discovered nothing, of
course, and every day the existence of Willie Hughes seemed to me to
become more problematical. Cyril was in a dreadful state, and used
to go over the whole question day after day, entreating me to
believe; but I saw the one flaw in the theory, and I refused to be
convinced till the actual existence of Willie Hughes, a boy-actor of
Elizabethan days, had been placed beyond the reach of doubt or

'One day Cyril left town to stay with his grandfather, I thought at
the time, but I afterwards heard from Lord Crediton that this was
not the case; and about a fortnight afterwards I received a telegram
from him, handed in at Warwick, asking me to be sure to come and
dine with him that evening at eight o'clock. When I arrived, he
said to me, "The only apostle who did not deserve proof was St.
Thomas, and St. Thomas was the only apostle who got it." I asked
him what he meant. He answered that he had not merely been able to
establish the existence in the sixteenth century of a boy-actor of
the name of Willie Hughes, but to prove by the most conclusive
evidence that he was the Mr. W. H. of the Sonnets. He would not
tell me anything more at the time; but after dinner he solemnly
produced the picture I showed you, and told me that he had
discovered it by the merest chance nailed to the side of an old
chest that he had bought at a farmhouse in Warwickshire. The chest
itself, which was a very fine example of Elizabethan work, he had,
of course, brought with him, and in the centre of the front panel
the initials W. H. were undoubtedly carved. It was this monogram
that had attracted his attention, and he told me that it was not
till he had had the chest in his possession for several days that he
had thought of making any careful examination of the inside. One
morning, however, he saw that one of the sides of the chest was much
thicker than the other, and looking more closely, he discovered that
a framed panel picture was clamped against it. On taking it out, he
found it was the picture that is now lying on the sofa. It was very
dirty, and covered with mould; but he managed to clean it, and, to
his great joy, saw that he had fallen by mere chance on the one
thing for which he had been looking. Here was an authentic portrait
of Mr. W. H., with his hand resting on the dedicatory page of the
Sonnets, and on the frame itself could be faintly seen the name of
the young man written in black uncial letters on a faded gold
ground, "Master Will. Hews."

'Well, what was I to say? It never occurred to me for a moment that
Cyril Graham was playing a trick on me, or that he was trying to
prove his theory by means of a forgery.'

'But is it a forgery?' I asked.

'Of course it is,' said Erskine. 'It is a very good forgery; but it
is a forgery none the less. I thought at the time that Cyril was
rather calm about the whole matter; but I remember he more than once
told me that he himself required no proof of the kind, and that he
thought the theory complete without it. I laughed at him, and told
him that without it the theory would fall to the ground, and I
warmly congratulated him on the marvellous discovery. We then
arranged that the picture should be etched or facsimiled, and placed
as the frontispiece to Cyril's edition of the Sonnets; and for three
months we did nothing but go over each poem line by line, till we
had settled every difficulty of text or meaning. One unlucky day I
was in a print-shop in Holborn, when I saw upon the counter some
extremely beautiful drawings in silver-point. I was so attracted by
them that I bought them; and the proprietor of the place, a man
called Rawlings, told me that they were done by a young painter of
the name of Edward Merton, who was very clever, but as poor as a
church mouse. I went to see Merton some days afterwards, having got
his address from the printseller, and found a pale, interesting
young man, with a rather common-looking wife--his model, as I
subsequently learned. I told him how much I admired his drawings,
at which he seemed very pleased, and I asked him if he would show me
some of his other work. As we were looking over a portfolio, full
of really very lovely things,--for Merton had a most delicate and
delightful touch,--I suddenly caught sight of a drawing of the
picture of Mr. W. H. There was no doubt whatever about it. It was
almost a facsimile--the only difference being that the two masks of
Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table as they
are in the picture, but were lying on the floor at the young man's
feet. "Where on earth did you get that?" I said. He grew rather
confused, and said--"Oh, that is nothing. I did not know it was in
this portfolio. It is not a thing of any value." "It is what you
did for Mr. Cyril Graham," exclaimed his wife; "and if this
gentleman wishes to buy it, let him have it." "For Mr. Cyril
Graham?" I repeated. "Did you paint the picture of Mr. W. H.?" "I
don't understand what you mean," he answered, growing very red.
Well, the whole thing was quite dreadful. The wife let it all out.
I gave her five pounds when I was going away. I can't bear to think
of it now; but of course I was furious. I went off at once to
Cyril's chambers, waited there for three hours before he came in,
with that horrid lie staring me in the face, and told him I had
discovered his forgery. He grew very pale and said--"I did it
purely for your sake. You would not be convinced in any other way.
It does not affect the truth of the theory." "The truth of the
theory!" I exclaimed; "the less we talk about that the better. You
never even believed in it yourself. If you had, you would not have
committed a forgery to prove it." High words passed between us; we
had a fearful quarrel. I dare say I was unjust. The next morning
he was dead.'

'Dead!' I cried,

'Yes; he shot himself with a revolver. Some of the blood splashed
upon the frame of the picture, just where the name had been painted.
By the time I arrived--his servant had sent for me at once--the
police were already there. He had left a letter for me, evidently
written in the greatest agitation and distress of mind.'

'What was in it?' I asked.

'Oh, that he believed absolutely in Willie Hughes; that the forgery
of the picture had been done simply as a concession to me, and did
not in the slightest degree invalidate the truth of the theory; and,
that in order to show me how firm and flawless his faith in the
whole thing was, he was going to offer his life as a sacrifice to
the secret of the Sonnets. It was a foolish, mad letter. I
remember he ended by saying that he intrusted to me the Willie
Hughes theory, and that it was for me to present it to the world,
and to unlock the secret of Shakespeare's heart.'

'It is a most tragic story,' I cried; 'but why have you not carried
out his wishes?'

Erskine shrugged his shoulders. 'Because it is a perfectly unsound
theory from beginning to end,' he answered.

'My dear Erskine,' I said, getting up from my seat, 'you are
entirely wrong about the whole matter. It is the only perfect key
to Shakespeare's Sonnets that has ever been made. It is complete in
every detail. I believe in Willie Hughes.'

'Don't say that,' said Erskine gravely; 'I believe there is
something fatal about the idea, and intellectually there is nothing
to be said for it. I have gone into the whole matter, and I assure
you the theory is entirely fallacious. It is plausible up to a
certain point. Then it stops. For heaven's sake, my dear boy,
don't take up the subject of Willie Hughes. You will break your
heart over it.'

'Erskine,' I answered, 'it is your duty to give this theory to the
world. If you will not do it, I will. By keeping it back you wrong
the memory of Cyril Graham, the youngest and the most splendid of
all the martyrs of literature. I entreat you to do him justice. He
died for this thing,--don't let his death be in vain.'

Erskine looked at me in amazement. 'You are carried away by the
sentiment of the whole story,' he said. 'You forget that a thing is
not necessarily true because a man dies for it. I was devoted to
Cyril Graham. His death was a horrible blow to me. I did not
recover it for years. I don't think I have ever recovered it. But
Willie Hughes? There is nothing in the idea of Willie Hughes. No
such person ever existed. As for bringing the whole thing before
the world--the world thinks that Cyril Graham shot himself by
accident. The only proof of his suicide was contained in the letter
to me, and of this letter the public never heard anything. To the
present day Lord Crediton thinks that the whole thing was

'Cyril Graham sacrificed his life to a great Idea,' I answered; 'and
if you will not tell of his martyrdom, tell at least of his faith.'

'His faith,' said Erskine, 'was fixed in a thing that was false, in
a thing that was unsound, in a thing that no Shakespearean scholar
would accept for a moment. The theory would be laughed at. Don't
make a fool of yourself, and don't follow a trail that leads
nowhere. You start by assuming the existence of the very person
whose existence is the thing to be proved. Besides, everybody knows
that the Sonnets were addressed to Lord Pembroke. The matter is
settled once for all.'

'The matter is not settled!' I exclaimed. 'I will take up the
theory where Cyril Graham left it, and I will prove to the world
that he was right.'

'Silly boy!' said Erskine. 'Go home: it is after two, and don't
think about Willie Hughes any more. I am sorry I told you anything
about it, and very sorry indeed that I should have converted you to
a thing in which I don't believe.'

'You have given me the key to the greatest mystery of modern
literature,' I answered; 'and I shall not rest till I have made you
recognise, till I have made everybody recognise, that Cyril Graham
was the most subtle Shakespearean critic of our day.'

As I walked home through St. James's Park the dawn was just breaking
over London. The white swans were lying asleep on the polished
lake, and the gaunt Palace looked purple against the pale-green sky.
I thought of Cyril Graham, and my eyes filled with tears.


It was past twelve o'clock when I awoke, and the sun was streaming
in through the curtains of my room in long slanting beams of dusty
gold. I told my servant that I would be at home to no one; and
after I had had a cup of chocolate and a petit-pain, I took down
from the book-shelf my copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets, and began to
go carefully through them. Every poem seemed to me to corroborate
Cyril Graham's theory. I felt as if I had my hand upon
Shakespeare's heart, and was counting each separate throb and pulse
of passion. I thought of the wonderful boy-actor, and saw his face
in every line.

Two sonnets, I remember, struck me particularly: they were the 53rd
and the 67th. In the first of these, Shakespeare, complimenting
Willie Hughes on the versatility of his acting, on his wide range of
parts, a range extending from Rosalind to Juliet, and from Beatrice
to Ophelia, says to him -

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend -

lines that would be unintelligible if they were not addressed to an
actor, for the word 'shadow' had in Shakespeare's day a technical
meaning connected with the stage. 'The best in this kind are but
shadows,' says Theseus of the actors in the Midsummer Night's Dream,
and there are many similar allusions in the literature of the day.
These sonnets evidently belonged to the series in which Shakespeare
discusses the nature of the actor's art, and of the strange and rare
temperament that is essential to the perfect stage-player. 'How is
it,' says Shakespeare to Willie Hughes, 'that you have so many
personalities?' and then he goes on to point out that his beauty is
such that it seems to realise every form and phase of fancy, to
embody each dream of the creative imagination--an idea that is still
further expanded in the sonnet that immediately follows, where,
beginning with the fine thought,

O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which TRUTH doth give!

Shakespeare invites us to notice how the truth of acting, the truth
of visible presentation on the stage, adds to the wonder of poetry,
giving life to its loveliness, and actual reality to its ideal form.
And yet, in the 67th Sonnet, Shakespeare calls upon Willie Hughes to
abandon the stage with its artificiality, its false mimic life of
painted face and unreal costume, its immoral influences and
suggestions, its remoteness from the true world of noble action and
sincere utterance.

Ah, wherefore with infection should he live
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?

It may seem strange that so great a dramatist as Shakespeare, who
realised his own perfection as an artist and his humanity as a man
on the ideal plane of stage-writing and stage-playing, should have
written in these terms about the theatre; but we must remember that
in Sonnets CX. and CXI. Shakespeare shows us that he too was wearied
of the world of puppets, and full of shame at having made himself 'a
motley to the view.' The 111th Sonnet is especially bitter:-

O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd -

and there are many signs elsewhere of the same feeling, signs
familiar to all real students of Shakespeare.

One point puzzled me immensely as I read the Sonnets, and it was
days before I struck on the true interpretation, which indeed Cyril
Graham himself seems to have missed. I could not understand how it
was that Shakespeare set so high a value on his young friend
marrying. He himself had married young, and the result had been
unhappiness, and it was not likely that he would have asked Willie
Hughes to commit the same error. The boy-player of Rosalind had
nothing to gain from marriage, or from the passions of real life.
The early sonnets, with their strange entreaties to have children,
seemed to me a jarring note. The explanation of the mystery came on
me quite suddenly, and I found it in the curious dedication. It
will be remembered that the dedication runs as follows:-













T. T.

Some scholars have supposed that the word 'begetter' in this
dedication means simply the procurer of the Sonnets for Thomas
Thorpe the publisher; but this view is now generally abandoned, and
the highest authorities are quite agreed that it is to be taken in
the sense of inspirer, the metaphor being drawn from the analogy of
physical life. Now I saw that the same metaphor was used by
Shakespeare himself all through the poems, and this set me on the
right track. Finally I made my great discovery. The marriage that
Shakespeare proposes for Willie Hughes is the marriage with his
Muse, an expression which is definitely put forward in the 82nd
Sonnet, where, in the bitterness of his heart at the defection of
the boy-actor for whom he had written his greatest parts, and whose
beauty had indeed suggested them, he opens his complaint by saying -

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse.

The children he begs him to beget are no children of flesh and
blood, but more immortal children of undying fame. The whole cycle
of the early sonnets is simply Shakespeare's invitation to Willie
Hughes to go upon the stage and become a player. How barren and
profitless a thing, he says, is this beauty of yours if it be not

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

You must create something in art: my verse 'is thine, and BORN of
thee'; only listen to me, and I will 'BRING FORTH eternal numbers to
outlive long date,' and you shall people with forms of your own
image the imaginary world of the stage. These children that you
beget, he continues, will not wither away, as mortal children do,
but you shall live in them and in my plays: do but -

Make thee another self, for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

I collected all the passages that seemed to me to corroborate this
view, and they produced a strong impression on me, and showed me how
complete Cyril Graham's theory really was. I also saw that it was
quite easy to separate those lines in which he speaks of the Sonnets
themselves from those in which he speaks of his great dramatic work.
This was a point that had been entirely overlooked by all critics up
to Cyril Graham's day. And yet it was one of the most important
points in the whole series of poems. To the Sonnets Shakespeare was
more or less indifferent. He did not wish to rest his fame on them.
They were to him his 'slight Muse,' as he calls them, and intended,
as Meres tells us, for private circulation only among a few, a very
few, friends. Upon the other hand he was extremely conscious of the
high artistic value of his plays, and shows a noble self-reliance
upon his dramatic genius. When he says to Willie Hughes:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in ETERNAL LINES to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee; -

the expression 'eternal lines' clearly alludes to one of his plays
that he was sending him at the time, just as the concluding couplet
points to his confidence in the probability of his plays being
always acted. In his address to the Dramatic Muse (Sonnets C. and
CI.), we find the same feeling.

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?

he cries, and he then proceeds to reproach the Mistress of Tragedy
and Comedy for her 'neglect of Truth in Beauty dyed,' and says -

Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuse not silence so, for 't lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
And to be praised of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.

It is, however, perhaps in the 55th Sonnet that Shakespeare gives to
this idea its fullest expression. To imagine that the 'powerful
rhyme' of the second line refers to the sonnet itself, is to mistake
Shakespeare's meaning entirely. It seemed to me that it was
extremely likely, from the general character of the sonnet, that a
particular play was meant, and that the play was none other but
Romeo and Juliet.

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful wars shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

It was also extremely suggestive to note how here as elsewhere
Shakespeare promised Willie Hughes immortality in a form that
appealed to men's eyes--that is to say, in a spectacular form, in a
play that is to be looked at.

For two weeks I worked hard at the Sonnets, hardly ever going out,
and refusing all invitations. Every day I seemed to be discovering
something new, and Willie Hughes became to me a kind of spiritual
presence, an ever-dominant personality. I could almost fancy that I
saw him standing in the shadow of my room, so well had Shakespeare
drawn him, with his golden hair, his tender flower-like grace, his
dreamy deep-sunken eyes, his delicate mobile limbs, and his white
lily hands. His very name fascinated me. Willie Hughes! Willie
Hughes! How musically it sounded! Yes; who else but he could have
been the master-mistress of Shakespeare's passion, {1} the lord of
his love to whom he was bound in vassalage, {2} the delicate minion
of pleasure, {3} the rose of the whole world, {4} the herald of the
spring {5} decked in the proud livery of youth, {6} the lovely boy
whom it was sweet music to hear, {7} and whose beauty was the very
raiment of Shakespeare's heart, {8} as it was the keystone of his
dramatic power? How bitter now seemed the whole tragedy of his
desertion and his shame!--shame that he made sweet and lovely {9} by
the mere magic of his personality, but that was none the less shame.
Yet as Shakespeare forgave him, should not we forgive him also? I
did not care to pry into the mystery of his sin.

His abandonment of Shakespeare's theatre was a different matter, and

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