Part 4 out of 8
point that Mr. Prohack began to grow light-hearted, and chaffed Charlie
in his turn. He found material for chaff in the large number of newly
bought books that were lying about the room. There was even the
_Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics_ in eleven volumes. Queer
possessions for a youth who at home had never read aught but the
periodical literature of automobilism! Could this be the influence of
Lady Massulam? Then the telephone bell rang, and it was like a signal of
salvation. Charlie sprang at the instrument.
"For you," he said, indicating Lady Massulam, who rose.
"Oh!" said she. "It's Ozzie."
"Who's Ozzie?" Charlie demanded, without thought.
"No doubt Oswald Morfey," said Mr. Prohack, scoring over his son.
"He wants to see me. May I ask him to come up for coffee?"
"Oh! Do!" said Sissie, also without thought. She then blushed.
Mr. Prohack thought suspiciously and apprehensively:
"I bet anything he's found out that my daughter is here."
Ozzie transformed the final act of the luncheon. An adept
conversationalist, he created conversationalists on every side. Mrs.
Prohack liked him at once. Sissie could not keep her eyes off him.
Charlie was impressed by him. Lady Massulam treated him with the
familiarity of an intimate. Mr. Prohack alone was sinister in attitude.
Ozzie brought the great world into the room with him. In his simpering
voice he was ready to discuss all the phenomena of the universe; but
after ten minutes Mr. Prohack noticed that the fellow had one sole
subject on his mind. Namely, a theatrical first-night, fixed for that
very evening; a first-night of the highest eminence; one of Mr. Asprey
Chown's first-nights, boomed by the marvellous showmanship of Mr. Asprey
Chown into a mighty event. The competition for seats was prodigious, but
of course Lady Massulam had obtained her usual stall.
"What a pity we can't go!" said Sissie simply.
"Will you all come in my box?" astonishingly replied Mr. Oswald Morfey,
embracing in his weak glance the entire Prohack family.
"The fellow came here on purpose to fix this," said Mr. Prohack to
himself as the matter was being effusively clinched.
"I must go," said he aloud, looking at his watch. "I have a very
"But I wanted to have a word with you, dad," said Charlie, in quite a
new tone across the table.
"Possibly," answered the superior ironic father in Mr. Prohack, who
besides being sick of the luncheon party was determined that nothing
should interfere with his Median and Persian programme. "Possibly. But
that will be for another time."
"Well, to-night then," said Charlie, dashed somewhat.
"Perhaps," said Mr. Prohack. Yet he was burning to hear his son's word.
However, Mr. Prohack did not succeed in loosing himself from the
embraces of the Grand Babylon Hotel for another thirty minutes. He
offered to abandon the car, to abandon everything to his wife and
daughter, and to reach his next important appointment by the common
methods of conveyance employed by common people; but the ladies would
permit no such thing; they announced their firm intention of personally
escorting him to his destination. The party seemed to be unable to break
up. There was a considerable confabulation between Eve and Lady Massulam
at the entrance to the lift.
Mr. Prohack noticed anew that Eve's attitude to Lady Massulam was still
a flattering one. Indeed Eve showed that in her opinion the meeting with
so great a personage as Lady Massulam was not quite an ordinary episode
in her simple existence. And Lady Massulam was now talking with a free
flow to Eve. As soon as the colloquy had closed and Eve had at length
joined her simmering husband in the lift, Charlie must have a private
chat with Lady Massulam, apart, mysterious, concerning their affairs,
whatever their affairs might be! In spite of himself, Mr. Prohack was
impressed by the demeanour of the young man and the mature blossom of
womanhood to each other. They exhibited a mutual trust; they understood
each other; they liked each other. She was more than old enough to be
his mamma, and yet as she talked to him she somehow became a dignified
girl. Mr. Prohack was disturbed in a manner which he would never have
admitted,--how absurd to fancy that Lady Massulam had in her impressive
head a notion of marrying the boy! Still, such unions had occurred!--but
he was pleasantly touched, too.
Then Oswald Morfey and Sissie made another couple, very different, more
animated, and equally touching. Ozzie seemed to grow more likeable, and
less despicable, under the honest and frankly ardent gaze of Miss
Prohack; and Mr. Prohack was again visited by a doubt whether the fellow
was after all the perfectly silly ass which he was reputed to be.
In the lift, Lady Massulam having offered her final adieux, Ozzie opened
up to Mrs. Prohack the subject of an organisation called the United
League of all the Arts. Mr. Prohack would not listen to this. He hated
leagues, and especially leagues of arts. He knew in the marrow of his
spine that they were preposterous; but Mrs. Prohack and Sissie listened
with unfeigned eagerness to the wonderful tale of the future of the
United League of all the Arts. And when, emerging from the lift, Mr.
Prohack strolled impatiently on ahead, the three stood calmly moveless
to converse, until Mr. Prohack had to stroll impatiently back again. As
for Charlie, he stood by himself; there was leisure for the desired word
with his father, but Mr. Prohack had bluntly postponed that, and thus
the leisure was wasted.
Without consulting Mr. Prohack's wishes, Ozzie drew the ladies towards
the great lounge, and Mr. Prohack at a distance unwillingly after them.
In the lounge so abundantly enlarged and enriched since the days of the
celebrated Felix Babylon, the founder of the hotel, post-lunch coffee
was merging into afternoon tea. The number of idle persons in the world,
and the number of busy persons who ministered to them, and the number of
artistic persons who played voluptuous music to their idleness, struck
Mr. Prohack as merely prodigious. He had not dreamed that idleness on so
grandiose a scale flourished in the city which to him had always been a
city of hard work and limited meal-hours. He saw that he had a great
deal to learn before he could hope to be as skilled in idleness as the
lowest of these experts in the lounge. He tapped his foot warningly. No
effect on his women. He tapped more loudly, as the hatred of being in a
hurry took possession of him. Eve looked round with a delightful
placatory smile which conjured an answering smile into the face of her
He tried to be irritated after smiling, and advancing said in a would-be
"If this lunch lasts much longer I shall barely have time to dress for
But the effort was a failure--so complete that Sissie laughed at him.
He had expected that in the car his women would relate to him the
sayings and doings of Ozzie Morfey in relation to the United League of
all the Arts. But they said not a syllable on the matter. He knew they
were hiding something formidable from him. He might have put a question,
but he was too proud to do so. Further, he despised them because they
essayed to discuss Lady Massulam impartially, as though she was just a
plain body, or nobody at all. A nauseating pretence on their part.
Crossing a street, the car was held up by a procession of unemployed,
with guardian policemen, a band consisting chiefly of drums, and a
number of collarless powerful young men who shook white boxes of coppers
menacingly in the faces of passers-by.
"Instead of encouraging them, the police ought to forbid these
processions of unemployed," said Eve gravely. "They're becoming a
"Why!" said Mr. Prohack, "this car of yours is a procession of
This sardonic pleasantry pleased Mr. Prohack as much as it displeased
Mrs. Prohack. It seemed to alleviate his various worries, and the
process of alleviation went further when he remembered that, though he
would be late for his important appointment, he had really lost no time
because Dr. Veiga had forbidden him to keep this particular appointment
earlier than two full hours after a meal.
"Don't take cold, darling," Eve urged with loving solicitude as he left
the car to enter the place of rendezvous. Sissie grinned at him
mockingly. They both knew that he had never kept such an appointment
Solemnity, and hush, and antique menials stiff with tradition,
surrounded him. As soon as he had paid the entrance fee and deposited
all his valuables in a drawer of which the key was formally delivered to
him, he was motioned through a turnstile and requested to permit his
boots to be removed. He consented. White linens were then handed to him.
"See here," he said with singular courage to the attendant. "I've never
been into one of these resorts before. Where do I go?"
The attendant, who was a bare-footed mild child dressed in the Moorish
mode, reassuringly charged himself with Mr. Prohack's well-being, and
led the aspirant into a vast mosque with a roof of domes and little
glowing windows of coloured glass. In the midst of the mosque was a pale
green pool. White figures reclined in alcoves, round the walls. A
fountain played--the only orchestra. There was an eastern sound of hands
clapped, and another attendant glided across the carpeted warm floor.
Mr. Prohack understood that, in this immense seclusion, when you desired
no matter what you clapped your hands and were served. A beautiful peace
descended upon him and enveloped him; and he thought: "This is the most
wonderful place in the world. I have been waiting for this place for
He yielded without reserve to its unique invitation. But some time
elapsed before he could recover from the unquestionable fact that he was
still within a quarter of a mile of Piccadilly Circus.
From the explanations of the attendant and from the precise orders which
he had received from Dr. Veiga regarding the right method of conduct in
a Turkish bath, Mr. Prohack, being a man of quick mind, soon devised the
order of the ceremonial suited to his case, and began to put it into
execution. At first he found the ceremonial exacting. To part from all
his clothes and to parade through the mosque in attire of which the
principal items were a towel and the key of his valuables (adorning his
wrist) was ever so slightly an ordeal to one of his temperament and
upbringing. To sit unsheltered in blinding steam was not amusing, though
it was exciting. But the steam-chapel (as it might be called) of the
mosque was a delight compared to the second next chapel further on,
where the woodwork of the chairs was too hot to touch and where a
gigantic thermometer informed Mr. Prohack that with only another fifty
degrees of heat he would have achieved boiling point.
He remembered that it was in this chamber he must drink iced tonic water
in quantity. He clapped his streaming hands clammily, and a tall, thin,
old man whose whole life must have been lived near boiling point,
immediately brought the draught. Short of the melting of the key of his
valuables everything possible happened in this extraordinary chamber.
But Mr. Prohack was determined to shrink from naught in the pursuit of
And at length, after he had sat in a less ardent chapel, and in still
another chapel been laid out on a marble slab as for an autopsy and,
defenceless, attacked for a quarter of an hour by a prize-fighter, and
had jumped desperately into the ice-cold lake and been dragged out and
smothered in thick folds of linen, and finally reposed horizontal in his
original alcove,--then he was conscious of an inward and profound
conviction that true, perfect, complete and supreme idleness had been
attained. He had no care in the world; he was cut off from the world; he
had no family; he existed beatifically and individually in a sublime and
But, such is the insecurity of human organisms and institutions, in less
than two minutes he grew aware of a strange sensation within him, which
sensation he ultimately diagnosed as hunger. To clap his hands was the
work of an instant. The oncoming attendant recited a catalogue of the
foods at his disposal; and the phrase "welsh rarebit" caught his
attention. He must have a welsh rarebit; he had not had a welsh rarebit
since he was at school. It magically arrived, on an oriental tray, set
on a low Moorish table.
Eating the most wonderful food of his life and drinking tea, he looked
about and saw that two of the unoccupied sofas in his alcove were strewn
with garments; the owners of the garments had doubtlessly arrived during
his absence in the chapels and were now in the chapels themselves. He
lay back; earthly phenomena lost their hard reality....
When he woke up the mosque was a pit of darkness glimmering with sharp
points of electric light. He heard voices, the voices of two men who
occupied the neighbouring sofas. They were discoursing to each other
upon the difficulties of getting good whiskey in Afghanistan and in Rio
de Janeiro respectively. From whiskey they passed to even more
interesting matters, and Mr. Prohack, for the first time, began to learn
how the other half lives, to such an extent that he thought he had
better turn on the lamp over his head. Whereupon the conversation on the
neighbouring sofas curved off to the English weather in late autumn.
Then Mr. Prohack noticed a deep snore. He perceived that the snore
originated in a considerable figure that, wrapped in white and showing
to the mosque only a venerable head, was seated in one of the huge
armchairs which were placed near the entrance to every alcove. It seemed
to him that he recognised the snore, and he was not mistaken, for he had
twice before heard it on Sunday afternoons at his chief club. The head
was the head of Sir Paul Spinner. Mr. Prohack recalled that old Paul was
a devotee of the Turkish bath.
Now Mr. Prohack was exceedingly anxious to have speech with old Paul,
for he had heard very interesting rumours of Paul's activities. He
arose softly and approached the easy-chair and surveyed Sir Paul, who in
his then state looked less like a high financier and more like something
chipped off the roof of a cathedral than anything that Mr. Prohack had
But Paul did not waken. A bather plunged into the pool with a tremendous
splash, but Paul did not waken. And Mr. Prohack felt that it would be
contrary to the spirit of the ritual of the mosque to waken him. But he
decided that if he waited all night he would wait until old Paul
At that moment an attendant asked Mr. Prohack if he desired the
attentions of the barber, the chiropodist, or the manicurist. New vistas
opened out before Mr. Prohack. He said yes. After the barber, he padded
down the stairs from the barber's chapel (which was in the upper story
of the mosque), to observe if there was any change in old Paul's
condition. Paul still slept. Mr. Prohack did similarly after the
chiropodist. Paul still slept. Then again after the manicurist. Paul
still slept. Then a boyish attendant hurried forward and in a very
daring manner shook the monumental Paul by the shoulder.
"You told me to wake you at six, Sir Paul." And Paul woke.
"How simple," reflected Mr. Prohack, "are the problems of existence when
they are tackled with decision! Here have I been ineffectively trying to
waken the fellow for the past hour. But I forgot that he who wishes the
end must wish the means, and my regard for the ritual of the mosque was
He retired into the alcove to dress, keeping a watchful eye upon old
Paul. He felt himself to be in the highest state of physical efficiency.
From head to foot he was beyond criticism. When Mr. Prohack had got as
far as his waistcoat Sir Paul uprose ponderously from the easy-chair.
The encounter between the two friends was one of those affectionate and
ecstatic affairs that can only happen in a Turkish Bath.
"I've been trying to get you on the 'phone half the day," grunted Paul
Spinner, subsiding on to Mr. Prohack's sofa.
"I've been out all day. Horribly busy," said Mr. Prohack. "What's wrong?
"Oh, no! Only I thought you'd like to know I've finished that deal."
"I did hear some tall stories, but not a word from you, old thing." Mr.
Prohack tried to assume a tranquillity which he certainly did not feel.
"Well, I never sing until I'm out of the wood. But this time I'm out
sooner than I expected."
"Yes. But I dictated a letter to you before I came here."
"I suppose you can't remember what there was in it."
"I shall get the securities next week."
"Well, you'll receive"--here Paul dropped his voice--"three thousand
short of a quarter of a million in return for what you put in, my boy."
"Then I'm worth over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds!" murmured
Mr. Prohack feebly. And he added, still more feebly: "Something will
have to be done about this soon." His heart was beating against his
waistcoat like an engine.
END OF AN IDLE DAY
It is remarkable that even in the most fashionable shopping
thoroughfares certain shops remain brilliantly open, exposing
plush-cushioned wares under a glare of electricity in the otherwise
darkened street, for an hour or so after all neighbouring establishments
have drawn down their blinds and put up their shutters. An interesting
point of psychology is involved in this phenomenon.
On his way home from the paradise of the mosque, Mr. Prohack, afoot and
high-spirited, and energised by a long-forgotten sensation of physical
well-being, called in at such a shop, and, with the minimum of parley,
bought an article enclosed in a rich case. A swift and happy impulse on
his part! The object was destined for his wife, and his intention in
giving it was to help him to introduce more easily to her notice the
fact that he was now, or would shortly be, worth over quarter of a
million of money. For he was a strange, silly fellow, and just as he had
been conscious of a certain false shame at inheriting a hundred thousand
pounds, so now he was conscious of a certain false shame at having
increased his possessions to two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
The Eagle was waiting in front of Mr. Prohack's door; he wondered what
might be the latest evening project of his women, for he had not ordered
the car so early; perhaps the first night had been postponed; however,
he was too discreet, or too dignified, to make any enquiry from the
chauffeur; too indifferent to the projects of his beloved women. He
would be quite content to sit at home by himself, reflecting upon the
marvels of existence and searching among them for his soul.
Within the house, servants were rushing about in an atmosphere of
excitement and bell-ringing. He divined that his wife and daughter were
dressing simultaneously for an important occasion--either the first
night or something else. In that feverish environment he forgot the
form of words which he had carefully prepared for the breaking to his
wife of the great financial news. Fortunately she gave him no chance to
"Oh, Arthur, Arthur!" she cried, sweetly reproachful, as with an assumed
jauntiness he entered the bedroom. "How late you are! I expected you
back an hour ago at least. Your things are laid out in the boudoir. You
haven't got a moment to spare. We're late as it is." She was by no means
dressed, and the bedroom looked as if it had been put to the sack;
nearly every drawer was ajar, and the two beds resembled a second-hand
Mr. Prohack's self-protective instinct at once converted him into a
porcupine. An attempt was being made to force him into a hurry, and he
"I'm not late," said he, "because I didn't say when I should return. It
won't take me more than a quarter of an hour to eat, and we've got heaps
of time for the theatre."
"I'm giving a little dinner in the Grand Babylon restaurant," said Eve,
"and of course we must be there first. Sissie's arranged it for me on
the 'phone. It'll be much more amusing than dining here, and it saves
the servants." Yet the woman had recently begun to assert that the
servants hadn't enough to do!
"Ah!" said Mr. Prohack, startled. "And who are the guests?"
"Oh! Nobody! Only us and Charlie, of course, and Oswald Morfey, and
perhaps Lady Massulam. I've told Charlie to do the ordering."
"I should have thought one meal per diem at the Grand Babylon would have
"But this is in the _restaurant_, don't I tell you? Oh, dear! That's
three times I've tried to do my hair. It's always the same when I want
it nice. Now do get along, Arthur!"
"Strange!" said he with a sardonic blitheness. "Strange how it's always
my fault when your hair goes wrong!" And to himself he said: "All right!
All right! I just shan't inform you about that quarter of a million.
You've no leisure for details to-night, my girl."
And he went into the boudoir.
His blissful serenity was too well established to be overthrown by
anything short of a catastrophe. Nevertheless it did quiver slightly
under the shock of Eve's new tactics in life. This was the woman who, on
only the previous night, had been inveighing against the ostentation of
her son's career at the Grand Babylon. Now she seemed determined to
rival him in showiness, to be the partner of his alleged vulgarity. That
the immature Sissie should suddenly drop the ideals of the new poor for
the ideals of the new rich was excusable. But Eve! But that modest
embodiment of shy and quiet commonsense! She, who once had scorned the
world of _The Daily Picture_, was more and more disclosing a desire for
that world. And where now were her doubts about the righteousness of
Charlie's glittering deeds? And where was the ancient sagacity which
surely should have prevented her from being deceived by the
superficialities of an Oswald Morfey? Was she blindly helping to prepare
a disaster for her blind daughter? Was the explanation that she had
tasted of the fruit? The horrid thought crossed Mr. Prohack's mind: _All
women are alike._ He flung it out of his loyal mind, trying to
substitute: All women except Eve are alike. But it came back in its
original form.... Not that he cared, really. If Eve had transformed
herself into a Cleopatra his ridiculous passion for her would have
suffered no modification.
Lying around the boudoir were various rectangular parcels, addressed in
flowing calligraphy to himself: the first harvest-loads of his busy
morning. The sight of them struck his conscience. Was not he, too,
following his wife on the path of the new rich? No! As ever he was
blameless. He was merely executing the prescription of his doctor, who
had expounded the necessity of scientific idleness and the curative
effect of fine clothes on health. True, he knew himself to be cured, but
if nature had chosen to cure him too quickly, that was not his fault....
He heard his wife talking to Machin in the bedroom, and Machin talking
to his wife; and the servant's voice was as joyous and as worried as if
she herself, and not Eve, were about to give a little dinner at the
Grand Babylon. Queer! Queer! The phrase 'a quarter of a million' glinted
and flashed in the circumambient air. But it was almost a meaningless
phrase. He was like a sort of super-savage and could not count beyond a
hundred thousand. And, quite unphilosophical, he forgot that the ecstasy
produced by a hundred thousand had passed in a few days, and took for
granted that the ecstasy produced by two hundred and fifty thousand
would endure for ever.
"Take that thing off, please," he commanded his wife when he returned to
the bedroom in full array. She was by no means complete, but she had
achieved some progress, and was trying the effect of her garnet
"But it's the best I've got," said she.
"No, it isn't," he flatly contradicted her, and opened the case so newly
"Arthur!" she gasped, spellbound, entranced, enchanted.
"That's my name."
"Pearls! But--but--this must have cost thousands!"
"And what if it did?" he enquired placidly, clasping the thing with much
delicacy round her neck. His own pleasure was intense, and yet he
severely blamed himself. Indeed he called himself a criminal. Scarcely
could he meet her gaze when she put her hands on his shoulders, after a
long gazing into the mirror. And when she kissed him and said with
frenzy that he was a dear and a madman, he privately agreed with her.
She ran to the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I must show Sissie."
"Wait a moment, child. Do you know why I've bought that necklace?
Because the affair with Spinner has come off." He then gave her the
She observed, not unduly moved:
"But I knew _that_ would be all right."
"How did you know?"
"Because you're so clever. You always get the best of everybody."
He realised afresh that she was a highly disturbing woman. She uttered
highly disturbing verdicts without thought and without warning. You
never knew what she would say.
"I think," he remarked, calmly pretending that she had said something
quite obvious, "that it would be as well for us not to breathe one word
to anybody at all about this new windfall."
She eagerly agreed.
"But we must really begin to spend--I mean spend regularly."
"Yes, of course," he admitted.
"Otherwise it would be absurd, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, of course."
"How much will it be--in income?"
"Well, I'm not going in for any more flutters. No! I've done absolutely
with all speculating idiocies. Providence has watched over us. I take
the hint. Therefore my investments will all have to be entirely safe and
sound. No fancy rates of interest. I should say that by the time old
Paul's fixed up my investments we shall have a bit over four hundred
pounds a week coming in--if that's any guide to you."
"Arthur, isn't it _wicked_!"
She examined afresh the necklace.
By the time they were all three in the car, Mr. Prohack had become
aware of the fact that in Sissie's view he ought to have bought two
necklaces while he was about it.
Sissie's trunks were on the roof of the car. She had decided to take up
residence at the Grand Babylon that very night. The rapidity and the
uncontrollability of events made Mr. Prohack feel dizzy.
"I hope you've brought some money, darling," said his wife.
"Lend me some money, will you?" murmured Mr. Prohack lightly to his
splendid son, after he had glanced at the bill for Eve's theatre dinner
at the Grand Babylon. Mr. Prohack had indeed brought some money with
him, but not enough. "Haven't got any," said Charlie, with equal
lightness. "Better give me the bill. I'll see to it." Whereupon Charlie
signed the bill, and handed the bowing waiter five ten shilling notes.
"That's not enough," said Mr. Prohack.
"Not enough for the tip. Well, it'll have to be. I never give more than
ten per cent."
Mr. Prohack strove to conceal his own painful lack of worldliness. He
had imagined that he had in his pockets heaps of money to pay for a meal
for a handful of people. He was mistaken; that was all, and the incident
had no importance, for a few pounds more or less could not matter in the
least to a gentleman of his income. Yet he felt guilty of being a
waster. He could not accustom himself to the scale of expenditure.
Barely in the old days could he have earned in a week the price of the
repast consumed now in an hour. The vast apartment was packed with
people living at just that rate of expenditure and seeming to think
naught of it. "But do two wrongs make a right?" he privately demanded of
his soul. Then his soul came to the rescue with its robust commonsense
"Perhaps two wrongs don't make a right, but five hundred wrongs
positively must make a right." And he felt better.
And suddenly he understood the true function of the magnificent
orchestra that dominated the scene. It was the function of a brass band
at a quack-dentist's booth in a fair,--to drown the cries of the victims
of the art of extraction.
"Yes," he reflected, full of health and carelessness. "This is a truly
The party went off in two automobiles, his own and Lady Massulam's.
Cars were fighting for room in front of the blazing facade of the
Metropolitan Theatre, across which rose in fire the title of the
entertainment, _Smack Your Face_, together with the names of Asprey
Chown and Eliza Fiddle. Car after car poured out a contingent of
glorious girls and men and was hustled off with ferocity by a row of
gigantic and implacable commissionaires. Mr. Oswald Morfey walked
straight into the building at the head of his guests. Highly expensive
persons were humbling themselves at the little window of the box office,
but Ozzie held his course, and officials performed obeisances which
stopped short only at falling flat on their faces at the sight of him.
Tickets were not for him.
"This is a beautiful box," said Eve to him, amazed at the grandeur of
the receptacle into which they had been ushered.
"It's Mr. Chown's own box."
"Then isn't Mr. Chown to be here to-night?"
"No! He went to Paris this morning for a rest. The acting manager will
telephone to him after each act. That's how he always does, you know."
"When the cat's away the mice will play," thought Mr. Prohack
uncomfortably, with the naughty sensations of a mouse. The huge
auditorium was a marvellous scene of excited brilliance. As the stalls
filled up a burst of clapping came at intervals from the unseen pit.
"What are they clapping for?" said the simple Eve, who, like Mr.
Prohack, had never been to a first-night before, to say nothing of such
a super-first-night as this.
"Oh!" replied Ozzie negligently. "Some one they know by sight just come
into the stalls. The _chic_ thing in the pit is to recognise, and to
show by applause that you have recognised. The one that applauds the
oftenest wins the game in the pit."
At those words and their tone Mr. Prohack looked at Ozzie with a new
eye, as who should be thinking: "Is Sissie right about this fellow after
Sissie sat down modestly and calmly next to her mother. Nobody could
guess from her apparently ingenuous countenance that she knew that she,
and not the Terror of the departments and his wife, was the originating
cause of Mr. Morfey's grandiose hospitality.
"I suppose the stalls are full of celebrities?" said Eve.
"They're full of people who've paid twice the ordinary price for their
seats," answered Ozzie.
"Who's that extraordinary old red-haired woman in the box opposite?"
"Yes. You know the Enid stove, don't you? All ladies know the Enid
stove. It's been a household word for forty years. That's the original
Enid. Her father invented the stove, and named it after her when she was
a girl. She never misses a first-night."
"How extraordinary! Is she what you call a celebrity?"
"Now," said Mr. Prohack. "Now, at last I understand the real meaning of
"But that's Charlie down there!" exclaimed Eve, suddenly, pointing to
the stalls and then looking behind her to see if there was not another
Charlie in the box.
"Yes," Ozzie agreed. "Lady Massulam had an extra stall, and as five's a
bit of a crowd in this box.... I thought he'd told you."
"He had not," said Eve.
The curtain went up, and this simple gesture on the part of the curtain
evoked enormous applause. The audience could not control the expression
of its delight. A young lady under a sunshade appeared; the mere fact of
her existence threw the audience into a new ecstasy. An old man with a
red nose appeared: similar demonstrations from the audience. When these
two had talked to each other and sung to each other, the applause was
tripled, and when the scene changed from Piccadilly Circus at 4 a.m. to
the interior of a Spanish palace inhabited by illustrious French actors
and actresses who proceeded to play an act of a tragedy by Corneille,
the applause was quintupled. At the end of the tragedy the applause was
decupled. Then the Spanish palace dissolved into an Abyssinian harem,
and Eliza Fiddle in Abyssinian costume was discovered lying upon two
thousand cushions of two thousand colours, and the audience rose at
Eliza and Eliza rose at the audience, and the resulting frenzy was the
sublimest frenzy that ever shook a theatre. The piece was stopped dead
for three minutes while the audience and Eliza protested a mutual and
unique passion. From this point onwards Mr. Prohack lost his head. He
ran to and fro in the bewildering glittering maze of the piece, seeking
for an explanation, for a sign-post, for a clue, for the slightest hint,
and found nothing. He had no alternative but to cling to Eliza Fiddle,
and he clung to her desperately. She was willing to be clung to. She
gave herself, not only to Mr. Prohack, but to every member of the
audience separately; she gave herself in the completeness of all her
manifestations. The audience was rich in the possession of the whole of
her individuality, which was a great deal. She sang, danced, chattered,
froze, melted, laughed, cried, flirted, kissed, kicked, cursed, and
turned somersaults with the fury of a dervish, the languor of an
odalisque, and the inexhaustibility of a hot-spring geyser.... And at
length Mr. Prohack grew aware of a feeling within himself that was at
war with the fresh, fine feeling of physical well-being. "I have never
seen a revue before," he said in secret. "Is it possible that I am
"Would you care to go behind and be introduced to Miss Fiddle?" Ozzie
suggested at the interval after the curtain had been raised seventeen
times in response to frantic shoutings, cheerings, thumpings and
clappings, and the mighty tumult of exhilaration had subsided into a
happy buzz that arose from all the seats in the entire orange-tinted
brilliant auditorium. The ladies would not go; the ladies feared, they
said, to impose their company upon Miss Fiddle in the tremendous strain
of her activities. They spoke primly and decisively. It was true that
they feared; but their fear was based on consideration for themselves
rather than on consideration for Miss Fiddle. Ozzie was plainly snubbed.
He had offered a wonderful privilege, and it had been disdained.
Mr. Prohack could not bear the spectacle of Ozzie's discomfiture. His
sad weakness for pleasing people overcame him, and, putting his hand
benevolently on the young man's shoulder, he said:
"My dear fellow, personally I'm dying to go."
They went by strangely narrow corridors and through iron doors across
the stage, whose shirt-sleeved, ragged population seemed to be behaving
as though the last trump had sounded, and so upstairs and along a broad
passage full of doors ajar from which issued whispers and exclamations
and transient visions of young women. From the star's dressing-room, at
the end, a crowd of all sorts and conditions of persons was being
pushed. Mr. Prohack trembled with an awful apprehension, and asked
himself vainly what in the name of commonsense he was doing there, and
prayed that Ozzie might be refused admission. The next moment he was
being introduced to a middle-aged woman in a middle-aged dressing-gown.
Her face was thickly caked with paint and powder, her eyes surrounded
with rings of deepest black, her finger-nails red. Mr. Prohack, not
without difficulty, recognised Eliza. A dresser stood on either side of
her. Blinding showers of electric light poured down upon her defenceless
but hardy form. She shook hands, but Mr. Prohack deemed that she ought
to bear a notice: "Danger. Visitors are requested not to touch."
"So good of you to come round," she said, in her rich and powerful
voice, smiling with all her superb teeth. Mr. Prohack, entranced, gazed,
not as at a woman, but as at a public monument. Nevertheless he thought
that she was not a bad kind, and well suited for the rough work of the
"I hope you're all coming to my ball to-night," said she. Mr. Prohack
had never heard of any ball. In an instant she told him that she had
remarked two most charming ladies with him in the box--(inordinate
faculty of observation, mused Mr. Prohack)--and in another instant she
was selling him three two guinea tickets for a grand ball and rout in
aid of the West End Chorus Girls' Aid Association. Could he refuse,
perceiving so clearly as he did that within the public monument was
hiding a wistful creature, human like himself, human like his wife and
daughter? He could not.
"Now you'll _come_?" said she.
Mr. Prohack swore that he would come, his heart sinking as he realised
the consequence of his own foolish weakness. There was a knock at the
"Did you want me, Liza?" said a voice, and a fat gentleman, clothed with
resplendent correctness, stepped into the room. It was the
stage-manager, a god in his way.
Eliza Fiddle became a cyclone.
"I should think I did want you," she said passionately. "That's why I
sent for you, and next time I'll ask you to come quicker. I'm not going
to have that squint-eyed girl on the stage any more to-night. You know,
the one at the end of the row. Twice she spoiled my exit by getting in
the way. And you've got to throw her out, and take it from me. She does
it on purpose."
"I can't throw her out without Mr. Chown's orders, and Mr. Chown's in
"Then you refuse?"
"Then I'm not going on again to-night, not if I know it. I'm not going
to be insulted in my own theatre."
"It's not the girl's fault. You know they haven't got room to move."
"I don't know anything about that and I don't care. All I know is that
I've finished with that squint-eyed woman, and you can choose right now
between her and me. And so that's that."
Miss Fiddle's fragile complexion had approached to within six inches of
the stage-manager's broad and shiny features, and it had little
resemblance to any of the various faces which audiences associated with
the figure of Eliza Fiddle; it was a face voluptuously distorted by the
violence of emotion. As Miss Fiddle appeared to be under the impression
that she was alone with the stage-manager, Mr. Prohack rendered justice
to that impression by softly departing. Ozzie followed. The
stage-manager also followed. "Where are you going?" they heard Eliza's
voice behind them addressing the stage-manager.
"I'm going to tell your under-study to get ready quick."
An enormous altercation uprose, and faces peeped from every door in the
corridor; but Mr. Prohack stayed not. Ozzie led him to Mr. Asprey
Chown's private room. The Terror of the departments was shaken. Ozzie
laughed gently as he shut the door.
"What will happen?" asked Mr. Prohack, affecting a gaiety he did not
"What do you think will happen?" simpered Ozzie blandly, "having due
regard to the fact that Miss Fiddle has to choose between three hundred
and fifty pounds a week and a law-suit with Chown involving heavy
damages? I must say there's nobody like Blaggs for keeping these three
hundred and fifty pound a week individuals in order. Chown would sooner
lose forty of them than lose Blaggs. And Eliza knows it. By the way,
what do you think of the show?"
"Will it succeed?"
"You should see the advance booking. There's a thousand pounds in the
house to-night. Chown will be clearing fifteen hundred a week when he's
paid off his production."
"Well, it's marvellous."
"You don't mean the show?"
"No. The profit."
"I agree," simpered Ozzie.
"I'm beginning to like this sizzling idiot," thought Mr. Prohack, as it
were regretfully. They left the imperial richness of Mr. Chown's private
room like brothers.
When Mr. Prohack touched the handle of the door of the box, he felt as
though he were returning to civilisation; he felt less desolated by the
immediate past and by the prospect of the immediate future; he was
yearning for the society of mere women after his commerce with a star at
three hundred and fifty pounds a week. True, he badly wanted to examine
his soul and enquire into his philosophy of life, but he was prepared to
postpone that inquest until the society of mere women had had a
beneficial effect on him.
Charlie, who had been paying a state visit to his mother and sister was
just leaving the box and the curtain was just going up.
"Hullo, dad!" said the youth, "you're the very man I was looking for,"
and he drew his father out into the corridor. "You've got two of the
finest ballroom dancers I ever saw," he added to Ozzie.
"Haven't we!" Ozzie concurred, with faint enthusiasm.
"But the rest of the show ..." Charlie went on, ruthless. "Well, if
Chown's shows were only equal to his showmanship...! Only they aren't!"
Ozzie raised his eyebrows--a skilful gesture that at once defended his
employer and agreed with Charles.
"By the way, dad, I've got a house for you. I've told the mater about it
and she's going to see it to-morrow morning."
"A house!" Mr. Prohack exclaimed weakly, foreseeing new vistas of worry.
"I've got one. I can't live in two."
"But this one's a _house_. You know about it, don't you, Morfey?"
Ozzie gave a nod and a vague smile.
"See here, dad! Come out here a minute."
Ozzie discreetly entered the box and closed the door.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Prohack.
"It's this," Charlie replied, handing his parent a cheque. "I've
deducted what I paid for you to-night from what you lent me not long
since. I've calculated interest on the loan at ten per cent. You can get
ten practically anywhere in these days, worse luck."
"But I don't want this, my boy," Mr. Prohack protested, holding the
cheque as he might have held a lady's handkerchief retrieved from the
"Well, I'm quite sure I don't," said Charlie, a little stiffly.
There was a pause.
"As you please," said Mr. Prohack, putting the cheque--interest and
all--into his pocket.
"Thanks," said Charlie. "Much obliged. You're a noble father, and I
shouldn't be a bit surprised if you've laid the foundation of my
fortunes. But of course you never know--in my business."
"What _is_ your business?" Mr. Prohack asked timidly, almost
apologetically. He had made up his mind on the previous evening that he
would talk to Charlie as a father ought to talk to a son, that is to
say, like a cross-examining barrister and a moralist combined. He had
decided that it was more than his right--it was his duty to do so. But
now the right, if not the duty, seemed less plain, and he remembered
what he had said to Eve concerning the right attitude of parents to
children. And chiefly he remembered that Charlie was not in his debt.
"I'm a buyer and seller. I buy for less than I sell for. That's how I
"It appears to be profitable."
"Yes. I made over ten thousand in Glasgow, buying an option on an
engineering business--with your money--from people who wanted to get rid
of it, and then selling what I hadn't paid for to people in London who
wanted to get hold of an engineering business up there. Seems simple
enough, and the only reason everybody isn't doing it is that it isn't as
simple as it seems. At least, it's simple, but there's a knack in it. I
found out I'd got the knack through my little deals in motor-bikes and
things. As a matter of fact I didn't find out,--some one told me, and I
began to think.... But don't be alarmed if I go bust. I'm on to a much
bigger option now, in the City. Oh! Very much bigger. If it comes off
... you'll see. Lady Massulam is keen on it, and she's something of a
judge.... Any remarks?"
Mr. Prohack looked cautiously at the young man, his own creation, to
whom, only the other day as it seemed, he had been in the habit of
giving one pound per school-term for pocket-money. And he was
affrighted--not by what he had created, but by the astounding
possibilities of fatherhood, which suddenly presented itself to him as a
most dangerous pursuit.
"No remarks," said he, briefly. What remarks indeed could he offer?
Wildly guessing at the truth about his son, in that conversation with
Eve on the previous evening, he had happened to guess right. And his
sermon to Eve prevented now the issue of remarks.
"Oh! Of course!" Charlie burst out. "You can't tell me anything I don't
know already. I'm a pirate. I'm not producing. All the money I make has
to be earned by somebody else before I get hold of it. I'm not doing
any good to my beautiful country. But I did try to find a useful job,
didn't I? My beautiful country wouldn't have me. It only wanted me in
the trenches. Well, it's got to have me. I'll jolly well make it pay
now. I'll squeeze every penny out of it. I'll teach it a lesson. And why
not? I shall only be shoving its own ideas down its throat. Supposing I
hadn't got this knack and I hadn't had _you_. I might have been wearing
all my ribbons and playing a barrel organ in Oxford Street to-day
instead of living at the Grand Babylon."
"You're becoming quite eloquent in your old age," said Mr. Prohack,
tremulously jocular while looking with alarm into his paternal heart.
Was not he himself a pirate? Had not the hundred and fifty thousand that
was coming to him had to be earned by somebody else? Money did not make
"Well," retorted Charlie, with a grim smile. "There's one thing to be
said for me. When I _do_ talk, I talk."
"And so at last you've begun to read?"
"I'm not going to be the ordinary millionaire. No fear! Make your mind
easy on that point. Besides, reading isn't so bad after all."
"And what about that house you were speaking of? You aren't going to
plant any of your options on me."
"We'll discuss that to-morrow. I must get back to my seat," said Charlie
firmly, moving away. "So long."
"I say," Mr. Prohack summoned him to return. "I'm rather curious about
the methods of you millionaires. Just when did you sign that cheque for
me? You only lent me the money as we were leaving the hotel."
"I made it out while I was talking to the mater and Sis in your box, of
"How simple are the acts of genius--after they're accomplished!"
observed Mr. Prohack. "Naturally you signed it in the box."
As he rejoined his family he yawned, surprising himself. He began to
feel a mysterious fatigue. The effect of the Turkish bath, without
doubt! The remainder of the evening stretched out in front of him,
interminably tedious. The title of the play was misleading. He could not
smack his face. He wished to heaven he could.... And then, after the
play, the ball! Eliza might tell him to dance with her. She would be
quite capable of such a deed. And by universal convention her
suggestions were the equivalent of demands. Nobody ever could or would
refuse to dance with Eliza.... There she was, all her four limbs
superbly displayed, sweetly smiling with her enormous mouth, just as if
the relations between Blaggs and herself were those of Paul and
Virginia. The excited audience, in the professional phrase, was "eating"
Mr. Prohack was really a most absurd person. _Smack Your Face_, when it
came to an end, towards midnight, had established itself as an authentic
enormous success; and because Mr. Prohack did not care for it, because
it bored him, because he found it vulgar and tedious and expensive,
because it tasted in his mouth like a dust-and-ashes sandwich, the
fellow actually felt sad; he felt even bitter. He hated to see the
fashionable and splendid audience unwilling to leave the theatre,
cheering one super-favourite, five arch-favourites and fifteen
favourites, and cheering them again and again, and sending the curtain
up and down and up and down time after time. He could not bear that what
he detested should be deliriously admired. He went so far as to form
views about the decadence of the theatre as an institution. Most of all
he was disgusted because his beloved Eve was not disgusted. Eve said
placidly that she did not think much of the affair, but that she had
thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn't mind coming on the next night to see
it afresh. He said gloomily:
"And I've been bringing you up for nearly twenty-five years."
As for Sissie, she was quietly and sternly enthusiastic about a lot of
the dancing. She announced her judgment as an expert, and Charlie agreed
with her, and there was no appeal, and Mr. Prohack had the air of an
ignorant outsider whose opinions were negligible. Further, he was absurd
in that, though he assuredly had no desire whatever to go to the dance,
he fretted at the delay in getting there. Even when they had all got out
to the porch of the theatre he exhibited a controlled but intense
impatience because Charlie did not produce the car instantly from amidst
the confused hordes of cars that waited in the surrounding streets.
Moreover, as regards the ball, he had foolishly put himself in a false
position; for he was compelled to pretend that he had purchased the
tickets because he personally wanted to go to the ball. Had he not been
learning to dance? Now the fact was that he looked forward to the ball
with terror. He had never performed publicly. He proceeded from one
pretence to another. When Charlie stated curtly that he, Charlie, was
going to no ball, he feigned disappointment, saying that Charlie ought
to go for his sister's sake. Yet he was greatly relieved at Charlie's
departure (even in Lady Massulam's car); he could not stomach the
notion of Charlie cynically watching his infant steps on the polished,
treacherous floor. In the matter of Charlie, Oswald Morfey also feigned
disappointment, but for a different reason. Ozzie wanted to have Sissie
as much as possible to himself.
Mr. Prohack yawned in the car.
"You're over-tired, Arthur. It's the Turkish bath," said Eve with
commiseration. This was a bad enough mistake on her part, but she
worsened it by adding: "Perhaps the wisest thing would be for us all to
Mr. Prohack was extremely exhausted, and would have given his head to go
home; but so odd, so contrary, so deceitful and so silly was his nature
that he replied:
"Darling! Where on earth do you get these ideas from? There's nothing
like a Turkish bath for stimulating you, and I'm not at all tired. I
never felt better in my life. But the atmosphere of that theatre would
make anybody yawn."
The ball was held in a picture-gallery where an exhibition of the
International Portrait Society was in progress. The crush of cars at the
portals was as keen as that at the portals of the Metropolitan. And all
the persons who got out of the cars seemed as fresh as if they had just
got out of bed. Mr. Prohack was astonished at the vast number of people
who didn't care what time they went to bed because they didn't care what
time they arose; he was in danger of being morbidly obsessed by the
extraordinary prevalence of idleness. The rooms were full of brilliant
idlers in all colours. Everybody except chorus girls had thought fit to
appear at this ball in aid of the admirably charitable Chorus Girls' Aid
Association. And as everybody was also on the walls, the dancers had to
compete with their portraits--a competition in which many of them were
After they had visited the supper-room, where both Sissie and her mother
did wonderful feats of degustation and Mr. Prohack drank all that was
good for him, Sissie ordered her father to dance with her. He refused.
She went off with Ozzie, while her parents sat side by side on gold
chairs like ancestors. Sissie repeated her command, and Mr. Prohack was
about to disobey when Eliza Fiddle dawned upon the assemblage.
The supernatural creature had been rehearsing until 3 a.m., she had been
trying on clothes from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. She had borne the chief
weight of _Smack Your Face_, on her unique shoulders for nearly three
hours and a half. She had changed into an unforgettable black
ball-dress, cut to demonstrate in the clearest fashion that her
shoulders had suffered no harm; and here she was as fresh as Aphrodite
from the foam. She immediately set herself to bear the chief weight of
the ball on those same defenceless shoulders; for she was, in theory at
any rate, the leading organiser of the affair, and according to the
entire press it was "her" ball. As soon as he saw her Mr. Prohack had a
most ridiculous fear lest she should pick him out for a dance, and to
protect himself he said "All right" to his daughter.
A fox-trot announced itself. In his own drawing-room, with the door
locked, Mr. Prohack could and did treat a fox-trot as child's play. But
now he realised that he had utterly forgotten every movement of the
infernal thing. Agony as he stood up and took his daughter's hand! An
awful conviction that everybody (who was anybody) was staring to witness
the Terror of the departments trying to jazz in public for the first
time. A sick, sinking fear lest some of his old colleagues from the
Treasury might be lurking in corners to guy him! Agony as he collected
himself and swayed his body slightly to catch the rhythm of the tune!
Where in heaven's name was the first beat in the bar?
"Walk first," said Sissie professionally.... He was in motion.
"Now!" said Sissie. "_One_, two. _One_, two." Miraculously he was
dancing! It was as though the whole room was shouting: "They're off!"
Sissie steered him.
"Don't look at your feet!" said she sharply, and like a schoolboy he
chucked his chin obediently up.... Then he was steering her. Although
her feet were the reverse of enormous he somehow could not keep off
them; but that girl was made of hardy stuff and never winced. He was
doing better. Pride was puffing him. Yet he desired the music to stop.
The music did stop.
"Thanks," he breathed.
"Oh, no!" said she. "That's not all." The dancers clapped and the
orchestra resumed. He started again. Couples surged around him, and
sometimes he avoided them and sometimes he did not. Then he saw a head
bobbing not far away, as if it were one cork and he another on a choppy
sea. It resembled Eve's head. It was Eve's head. She was dancing with
Oswald Morfey. He had never supposed that Eve could dance these new
"Let's stop," said he.
"Certainly not," Sissie forbade. "We must finish it." He finished it,
rather breathless and dizzy. He had lived through it.
"You're perfectly wonderful, Arthur," said Eve when they met.
"Oh no! I'm no good."
"I was frightfully nervous about you at first," said Sissie.
He said briefly:
"You needn't have been. I wasn't."
A little later Eve said to him:
"Aren't you going to ask _me_ to dance, Arthur?"
Dancing with Eve was not quite like dancing with Sissie, but they safely
survived deadly perils. And Mr. Prohack perspired in a very healthy
"You dance really beautifully, dear," said Eve, benevolently smiling.
After that he cut himself free and roamed about. He wanted to ask Eliza
Fiddle to dance, and also he didn't want to ask her to dance. However,
he had apparently ceased to exist for her. Ozzie had introduced him to
several radiant young creatures. He wanted to ask them to dance; but he
dared not. And he was furious with himself. To dance with one's daughter
and wife was well enough in its way, but it was not the real thing. It
was without salt. One or two of the radiances glanced at him with
inviting eyes, but no, he dared not face it. He grew gloomy, gloomier.
He thought angrily: "All this is not for me. I'm a middle-aged fool, and
I've known it all along." Life lost its savour and became repugnant.
Fatigue punished him, and simultaneously reduced two hundred and fifty
thousand pounds to the value of about fourpence. It was Eve who got him
"Home," he called to Carthew, after Eve and Sissie had said good-bye to
Ozzie and stowed themselves into the car.
"Excuse me," said Sissie. "You have to deliver me at the Grand Babylon
He had forgotten! This detour was the acutest torture of the night. He
could no longer bear not to be in bed. And when, after endless nocturnal
miles, he did finally get home and into bed, he sighed as one taken off
the rack. Ah! The delicious contact with the pillow!
But there are certain persons who, although their minds are logical
enough, have illogical bodies. Mr. Prohack was one of these. His
ridiculous physical organism (as he had once informed Dr. Veiga) was
least capable of going to sleep when it was most fatigued. If Mr.
Prohack's body had retired to bed four hours earlier than in fact it
did, Mr. Prohack would have slept instantly and with ease. Now, despite
delicious contact with the pillow, he could not 'get off.' And his mind,
influenced by his body, grew restless, then excited, then distressingly
realistic. His mind began to ask fundamental questions, questions not a
bit original but none the less very awkward.
"You've had your first idle day, Mr. Prohack," said his mind
challengingly instead of composing itself to slumber. "It was organised
on scientific lines. It was carried out with conscientiousness. And look
at you! And look at me! You've had a few good moments, as for example at
the Turkish bath, but do you want a succession of such days? Could you
survive a succession of such days? Would you even care to acquire a
hundred and fifty thousand pounds every day? You have eaten too much and
drunk too much, and run too hard after pleasure, and been too much
bored, and met too many antipathetic people, and squandered too much
money, and set a thoroughly bad example to your family. You have been
happy only in spasms. Your health is good; you are cured of your malady.
Does that render you any more contented? It does not. You have
complicated your existence in the hope of improving it. But have you
improved it? No. You ought to simplify your existence. But will you? You
will not. All your strength of purpose will be needed to prevent still
further complications being woven into your existence. To inherit a
hundred thousand pounds was your misfortune. But deliberately to
increase the sum to a quarter of a million was your fault. You were
happier at the Treasury. You left the Treasury on account of illness.
You are not ill any more. Will you go back to the Treasury? No. You will
never go back, because your powerful commonsense tells you that to
return to the Treasury with an income of twenty thousand a year would be
grotesque. And rather than be grotesque you would suffer. Again,
rightly. Nothing is worse than to be grotesque."
"Further," said his mind, "you have started your son on a sinister
career of adventure that may end in calamity. You have ministered to
your daughter's latent frivolity. You have put temptations in the way of
your wife which she cannot withstand. You have developed yourself into a
waster. What is the remedy? Obviously to dispose of your money. But your
ladies would not permit you to do so and they are entitled to be heard
on the point. Moreover, how could you dispose of it? Not in charity,
because you are convinced of the grave social mischievousness of
charity. And not in helping any great social movement, because you are
not silly enough not to know that the lavishing of wealth never really
aids, but most viciously hinders, the proper evolution of a society. And
you cannot save your income and let it accumulate, because if you did
you would once again be tumbling into the grotesque; and you would,
further, be leaving to your successors a legacy of evil which no man is
justified in leaving to his successors. No! Your case is in practice
irremediable. Like the murderer on the scaffold, you are the victim of
circumstances. And not one human being in a million will pity you. You
are a living tragedy which only death can end."
During this disconcerting session Eve had been mysteriously engaged in
the boudoir. She now came into the dark bedroom.
"What?" she softly murmured, hearing Mr. Prohack's restlessness. "Not
asleep, darling?" She bent over him and kissed him and her kiss was even
softer, more soporific, than her voice. "Now do go to sleep."
And Mr. Prohack went to sleep, and his last waking thought was, with the
feel of the kiss on his nose (the poor woman had aimed badly in the
dark): "Anyway this tragedy has one compensation, of which a hundred
quarter of a millions can't deprive me."
THE HEAVY FATHER
Within a few moments of his final waking up the next morning, Mr.
Prohack beheld Eve bending over him, the image of solicitude. She was
dressed for outdoor business.
"How do you feel?" she asked, in a tender tone that demanded to know the
worst at once.
"Why?" asked Mr. Prohack, thus with one word, and a smile to match,
criticising her tone.
"You looked so dreadfully tired last night. I did feel sorry for you,
darling. Don't you think you'd better stay in bed to-day?"
"Can you seriously suggest such a thing?" he cried. "What about my daily
programme if I stay in bed? I have undertaken to be idle, and nobody can
be scientifically idle in bed. I'm late already. Where's my breakfast?
Where are my newspapers? I must begin the day without the loss of
another moment. Please give me my dressing-gown."
"I very much wonder how your blood-pressure is," Eve complained.
"And you, I suppose, are perfectly well?"
"Oh, yes, I am. I'm absolutely cured. Dr. Veiga is really very
marvellous. But I always told you he was."
"Well," said Mr. Prohack. "What's sauce for the goose has to be sauce
for the gander. If you're perfectly well, so am I. You can't have the
monopoly of good health in this marriage. What's that pamphlet you've
got in your hand, my dove?"
"Oh! It's nothing. It's only about the League of all the Arts. Mr.
Morfey gave it to me."
"I suppose it was that pamphlet you were reading last night in the
boudoir instead of coming to bed. Eve, you're hiding something from me.
Where are you going to in such a hurry?"
"I'm not hiding anything, you silly boy.... I thought I'd just run along
and have a look at that house. You see, if it isn't at all the kind of
thing to suit us, me going first will save you the trouble of going."
"_What house?_" exclaimed Mr. Prohack with terrible emphasis.
"But Charlie told me he'd told you all about it," Eve protested
"Charlie told you no such thing," Mr. Prohack contradicted her. "If he
told you anything at all, he merely told you that he'd mentioned a house
to me in the most casual manner."
Eve proceeded blandly:
"It's in Manchester Square, very handy for the Wallace Gallery, and you
know how fond you are of pictures. It's on sale, furniture and all; but
it can be rented for a year to see how it suits us. Of course it may not
suit us a bit. I understand it has some lovely rooms. Charlie says it
would be exactly the thing for big receptions."
"_Big receptions_! I shall have nothing to do with it. Now we've lost
our children even this house is too big for us. And I know what the
houses in Manchester Square are. You've said all your life you hate
"So I do. They're so much trouble. But one never knows what may
happen...! And with plenty of servants...!"
"You understand me. I shall have nothing to do with it. Nothing!"
"Darling, please, please don't excite yourself. The decision will rest
entirely with you. You know I shouldn't dream of influencing you. As if
I could! However, I've promised to meet Charlie there this morning. So I
suppose I'd better go. Carthew is late with the car." She tapped her
foot. "And yet I specially told him to be here prompt."
"Well, considering the hour he brought us home, he's scarcely had time
to get into bed yet. He ought to have had the morning off."
"Why? A chauffeur's a chauffeur after all. They know what they have to
do. Besides, Carthew would do anything for me."
"Yes, that's you all over. You deliberately bewitch him, and then you
shamelessly exploit him. I shall compare notes with Carthew. I can give
him a useful tip or two about you."
"Oh! Here he is!" said Eve, who had been watching out of the window. "Au
revoir, my pet. Here's Machin with your breakfast and newspapers. I
daresay I shall be back before you're up. But don't count on me."
As he raised himself against pillows for the meal, after both she and
Machin had gone, Mr. Prohack remembered what his mind had said to him a
few hours earlier about fighting against further complications of his
existence, and he set his teeth and determined to fight hard.
Scarcely had he begun his breakfast when Eve returned, in a state of
"There's a young woman downstairs waiting for you in the dining-room.
She wouldn't give her name to Machin, it seems, but she says she's your
new secretary. Apparently she recognised my car on the way from the
garage and stopped it and got into it; and then she found out she'd
forgotten something and the car had to go back with her to where she
lives, wherever that is, and that's why Carthew was late for _me_." Eve
delivered these sentences with a tremendous air of ordinariness, as
though they related quite usual events and disturbances, and as though
no wife could possibly see in them any matter for astonishment or
reproach. Such was one of her methods of making an effect.
Mr. Prohack collected himself. On several occasions during the previous
afternoon and evening he had meditated somewhat uneasily upon the
domestic difficulties which might inhere in this impulsive engagement of
Miss Winstock as a private secretary, but since waking up the affair had
not presented itself to his mind. He had indeed completely forgotten it.
"Who told you all this?" he asked warily.
"Well, she told Machin and Machin told me."
"Let me see now," said Mr. Prohack. "Yes. It's quite true. After
ordering a pair of braces yesterday morning, I did order a secretary.
She was recommended to me."
"You didn't say anything about it yesterday."
"My dove, had I a chance to do so? Had we a single moment together? And
you know how I was when we reached home, don't you?... You see, I always
had a secretary at the Treasury, and I feel sort of lost without one. So
"But, darling, _of course_! I always believe in letting you do exactly
as you like. It's the only way.... Au revoir, my pet. Charlie will be
frightfully angry with me." And then, at the door: "If she hasn't got
anything to do she can always see to the flowers for me. Perhaps when I
come back you'll introduce us."
As soon as he had heard the bang of the front-door Mr. Prohack rang his
"Machin, I understand that my secretary is waiting in the dining-room."
"Ask her to take her things off and then bring her up here."
"Up here, sir?"
In seven movements of unimaginable stealthy swiftness Machin tidied the
worst disorders of the room and departed. Mr. Prohack continued his
Miss Winstock appeared with a small portable typewriter in her arms and
a notebook lodged on the typewriter. She was wearing a smart black skirt
and a smart white blouse with a high collar. In her unsullied freshness
of attire she somewhat resembled a stage secretary on a first night; she
might have been mistaken for a brilliant imitation of a real secretary.
"Good morning. So you're come," Mr. Prohack greeted her firmly.
"Good morning. Yes, Mr. Prohack."
"Well, put that thing down on a chair somewhere."
Machin also had entered the room. She handed a paper to Mr. Prohack.
"Mistress asked me to give you that, sir."
It was a lengthy description, typewritten, of a house in Manchester
"Pass me those matches, please," said Mr. Prohack to Mimi when they were
alone. "By the way, why wouldn't you give your name when you arrived?"
"Because I didn't know what it was."
"Didn't know what it was?"
"When I told you my Christian name yesterday you said it wouldn't do at
all, and I was never to mention it again. In the absence of definite
instructions about my surname I thought I had better pursue a cautious
policy of waiting. I've told the chauffeur that he will know my name in
due course and that until I tell him what it is he mustn't know it. I
was not sure whether you would wish the members of your household to
know that I'm the person who had a collision with your car. Mrs. Prohack
and I were both in a state of collapse after the accident, and I was
removed before she could see me. Therefore she did not recognise me this
morning. But on the other hand she has no doubt heard my name often
enough since the accident and would recognise _that_."
Mr. Prohack lit the first cigarette of the day.
"Why did you bring that typewriter?" he asked gravely.
"It's mine. I thought that if you didn't happen to have one here it
might be useful. It was the typewriter that the car had to go back for.
I'd forgotten it. I can take it away again. But if you like you can
either buy it or hire it from, me."
The girl could not have guessed it from his countenance, but Mr. Prohack
was thunderstruck. She was bringing forward considerations which
positively had not presented themselves to him. That she had much
initiative was clear from her conduct of the previous day. She now
disclosed a startling capacity for intrigue. Mr. Prohack, however, was
not intimidated. The experience of an official life had taught him the
value of taciturnity, and moreover a comfortable feeling of satisfaction
stole over him as he realised that once again he had a secretary under
his thumb. He seemed to be delightfully resuming the habits which
ill-health had so ruthlessly broken.
"Mary Warburton," said he at length.
"Certainly," said she. "I'll tell your chauffeur."
"The initials will correspond--in case--"
"Yes," said she. "I'd noticed that."
"We will see what your typewriting machine is capable of, and then I'll
decide about it."
"Please take down some letters."
"Mr. Carrel Quire always told me what he wanted said, and I wrote the
"That is very interesting," said Mr. Prohack. "Perhaps you can manage to
sit at the dressing-table. Mind that necklace there. It's supposed to be
rather valuable. Put it in the case, and put the case in the middle
"Don't you keep it in a safe?" said Miss Warburton, obeying.
"All questions about necklaces should be addressed direct to Mrs.
"I prefer to take down on my knee," said Miss Warburton, opening her
notebook, "if I am to take down."
"You are. Now. 'Dear Madam. I am requested by my Lords of the Treasury
to forward to you the enclosed cheque for one hundred pounds for your
Privy Purse.' New line. 'I am also to state that no account of
expenditure will be required.' New line. 'Be good enough to acknowledge
receipt. Your obedient servant. To Miss Prohack, Grand Babylon Hotel.'
Got it? 'Dear Sir. With reference to the action instituted by your
company against Miss Mimi Winstock, and to my claim against your company
under my accident policy. I have seen the defendant. She had evidently
behaved in an extremely foolish not to say criminal way; but as the
result of a personal appeal from her I have decided to settle the matter
privately. Please therefore accept this letter as a release from all
your liabilities to me, and also as my personal undertaking to pay all
the costs of the action on both sides. Yours faithfully. Secretary,
World's Car Insurance Corporation.' Wipe your eyes, wipe your eyes, Miss
Warburton. You're wetting the notebook."
"I was only crying because you're so kind. I know I _did_ behave in a
"Just so, Miss Warburton. But it will be more convenient for me and for
you too if you can arrange to cry in your own time and not in mine." And
he continued to address her, in his own mind: "Don't think I haven't
noticed your aspiring nose and your ruthless little lips and your gift
for conspiracy and your wonderful weakness for tears! And don't confuse
me with Mr. Carrel Quire, because we're two quite different people!
You've got to be useful to me." And in a more remote part of his mind,
he continued still further: "You're quite a decent sort of child, only
you've been spoilt. I'll unspoil you. You've taken your first medicine
rather well. I like you, or I shall like you before I've done with you."
Miss Warburton wiped her eyes.
"You understand," Mr. Prohack proceeded aloud, "that you're engaged as
my confidential secretary. And when I say 'confidential' I mean
'confidential' in the fullest sense."
"Oh, quite," Miss Warburton concurred almost passionately.
"And you aren't anybody else's secretary but mine. You may pretend to be
everybody else's secretary, you may pretend as much as you please--it
may even be advisable to do so--but the fact must always remain that you
are mine alone. You have to protect my interests, and let me warn you
that my interests are sometimes very strange, not to say peculiar. Get
well into your head that there are not ten commandments in my service.
There is only one: to watch over my interests, to protect them against
everybody else in the whole world. In return for a living wage, you give
me the most absolute loyalty, a loyalty which sticks at nothing,
"Oh, Mr. Prohack!" replied Mary Warburton, smiling simply. "You needn't
tell me all that. I entirely understand. It's the usual thing for
confidential secretaries, isn't it?"
"And now," Mr. Prohack went on, ignoring her. "This being made perfectly
clear, go into the boudoir--that's the room through there--and bring me
here all the parcels lying about. Our next task is to check the
accuracy of several of the leading tradesmen in the West End."
"I think there are one or two more parcels that have been delivered this
morning, in the hall," said Miss Warburton. "Perhaps I had better fetch
"Perhaps you had."
In a few minutes, Miss Warburton, by dint of opening parcels, had
transformed the bedroom into a composite of the principal men's shops in
Piccadilly and Bond Street. Mr. Prohack recoiled before the chromatic
show and also before the prospect of Eve's views on the show.
"Take everything into the boudoir," said he, "and arrange them under the
sofa. It's important that we should not lose our heads in this crisis.
When you go out to lunch you will buy some foolscap paper and this
afternoon you will make a schedule of the goods, divided according to
the portions of the human frame which they are intended to conceal or
adorn. What are you laughing at, Miss Warburton?"
"You are so amusing, Mr. Prohack."
"I may be amusing, but I am not susceptible to the flattery of giggling.
Endeavour not to treat serious subjects lightly."
"I don't see any boots."
"Neither do I. You will telephone to the bootmaker's, and to my
tailor's; also to Sir Paul Spinner and Messrs. Smathe and Smathe. But
before that I will just dictate a few more letters."
When he had finished dictating, Mr. Prohack said:
"I shall now get up. Go downstairs and ask Machin--that's the
parlourmaid--to show you the breakfast-room. The breakfast-room is
behind the dining-room, and is so called because it is never employed
for breakfast. It exists in all truly London houses, and is perfectly
useless in all of them except those occupied by dentists, who use it for
their beneficent labours in taking things from, or adding things to, the
bodies of their patients. The breakfast-room in this house will be the
secretary's room--your room if you continue to give me satisfaction.
Remove that typewriting machine from here, and arrange your room
according to your desire.... And I say, Miss Warburton."
"Yes, Mr. Prohack," eagerly responded the secretary, pausing at the
"Yesterday I gave you a brief outline of your duties. But I omitted one
exceedingly important item--almost as important as not falling in love
with my son. You will have to keep on good terms with Machin. Machin is
indispensable and irreplaceable. I could get forty absolutely loyal
secretaries while my wife was unsuccessfully searching for another
"I have an infallible way with parlourmaids," said Miss Warburton.
"What is that?"
"I listen to their grievances and to their love-affairs."
Mr. Prohack, though fatigued, felt himself to be inordinately well, and
he divined that this felicity was due to the exercise of dancing on the
previous night, following upon the Turkish bath. He had not felt so well
for many years. He laughed to himself at intervals as he performed his
toilette, and knew not quite why. His secretary was just like a new toy
to him, offering many of the advantages of official life and routine
without any of the drawbacks. At half past eleven he descended, wearing
one or two of the more discreet of his new possessions, and with the
sensation of having already transacted a good day's work, into the
breakfast-room and found Miss Warburton and Machin in converse. Machin
feverishly poked the freshly-lit fire and then, pretending to have
urgent business elsewhere, left the room.
"Here are some particulars of a house in Manchester Square," said Mr.
Prohack. "Please read them."
Miss Warburton complied.
"It seems really very nice," said she. "Very nice indeed."
"Does it? Now listen to me. That house is apparently the most practical
and the most beautiful house in London. Judging from the description, it
deserves to be put under a glass-case in a museum and labelled 'the
ideal house.' There is no fault to be found with that house, and I
should probably take it at once but for one point. I don't want it. I do
not want it. Do I make myself clear? I have no use for it whatever."
"Then you've inspected it."
"I have not. But I don't want it. Now a determined effort will shortly
be made to induce me to take that house. I will not go into details or
personalities. I say merely that a determined effort will shortly be
made to force me to act against my will and my wishes. This effort must
be circumvented. In a word, the present is a moment when I may need the
unscrupulous services of an utterly devoted confidential secretary."
"What am I to do?"
"I haven't the slightest idea. All I know is that my existence must not
on any account be complicated, and that the possession of that house
would seriously complicate it."
"Will you leave the matter to me, Mr. Prohack?"
"What shall you do?"
"Wouldn't it be better for you not to know what I should do?" Miss
Warburton glanced at him oddly. Her glance was agreeable, and yet
disconcerting. The attractiveness of the young woman seemed to be
accentuated. The institution of the confidential secretary was
magnified, in the eyes of Mr. Prohack, into one of the greatest
achievements of human society.
"Not at all," said he, in reply. "You are under-rating my capabilities,
for I can know and not know simultaneously."
"Well," said Miss Warburton. "You can't take an old house without having
the drains examined, obviously. Supposing the report on the drains was
"Do you propose to tamper with the drains?"
"Certainly not. I shouldn't dream of doing anything so disgraceful. But
I might tamper with the surveyor who made the report on the drains."
"Say no more," Mr. Prohack adjured her. "I'm going out."
And he went out, though he had by no means finished instructing Miss
Warburton in the art of being his secretary. She did not even know where
to find the essential tools of her calling, nor yet the names of
tradesmen to whom she had to telephone. He ought to have stayed in if
only to present his secretary to his wife. But he went out--to reflect
in private upon her initiative, her ready resourcefulness, her great
gift for conspiracy. He had to get away from her. The thought of her
induced in him qualms of trepidation. Could he after all manage her?
What a loss would she be to Mr. Carrel Quire! Nevertheless she was
capable of being foolish. It was her foolishness that had transferred
her from Mr. Carrel Quire to himself.
Mr. Prohack went out because he was drawn out, by the force of an
attraction which he would scarcely avow even to himself,--a mysterious
and horrible attraction which, if he had been a logical human being like
the rest of us, ought to have been a repulsion for him.
And as he was walking abroad in the pleasant foggy sunshine of the West
End streets, a plutocratic idler with nothing to do but yield to strange
impulses, he saw on a motor-bus the placard of a financial daily paper
bearing the line: "The Latest Oil Coup." He immediately wanted to buy
that paper. As a London citizen he held the opinion that whenever he
wanted a thing he ought to be able to buy it at the next corner. Yet now
he looked in every direction but could see no symptom of a newspaper
shop anywhere. The time was morning--for the West End it was early
morning--and there were newsboys on the pavements, but by a curious
anomaly they were selling evening and not morning newspapers. Daringly
he asked one of these infants for the financial daily; the infant
sniggered and did no more. Another directed him to a shop up an alley
off the Edgware Road. The shopman doubted the existence of any such
financial daily as Mr. Prohack indicated, apparently attaching no
importance to the fact that it was advertised on every motor-bus
travelling along the Edgware Road, but he suggested that if it did
exist, it might just conceivably be purchased at the main bookstall at
Paddington Station. Determined to obtain the paper at all costs, Mr.
Prohack stopped a taxi-cab and drove to Paddington, squandering
eighteenpence on the journey, and reflecting as he rolled forward upon
the primitiveness of a so-called civilisation in which you could not buy
a morning paper in the morning without spending the whole morning over
the transaction--and reflecting also upon the disturbing fact that after
one full day of its practice, his scheme of scientific idleness had gone
all to bits. He got the paper, and read therein a very exciting account
of Sir Paul Spinner's deal in oil-lands. The amount of Paul's profit was
not specified, but readers were given to understand that it was enormous
and that Paul had successfully bled the greatest Oil Combine in the
world. The article, though discreet and vague in phraseology, was well
worth a line on any placard. It had cost Mr. Prohack the price of a
complete Shakespere, but he did not call it dear. He threw the paper
away with a free optimistic gesture of delight. Yes, he had wisely put
his trust in old Paul and he was veritably a rich man--one who could
look down on mediocre fortunes of a hundred thousand pounds or so.
Civilisation was not so bad after all.
Then the original attraction which had drawn him out of the house
resumed its pull.... Why did his subconscious feet take him in the
direction of Manchester Square? True, the Wallace Collection of pictures
is to be found at Hertford House, Manchester Square, and Mr. Prohack had
always been interested in pictures! Well, if he did happen to find
himself in Manchester Square he might perhaps glance at the exterior of
the dwelling which his son desired to plant upon him and his wife
desired him to be planted with.... It was there right enough. It had not
been spirited away in the night hours. He recognised the number. An
enormous house; the largest in the Square after Hertford House. Over
its monumental portico was an enormous sign, truthfully describing it as
"this noble mansion." As no automobile stood at the front-door Mr.
Prohack concluded that his wife's visit of inspection was over.
Doubtless she was seeking him at home at that moment to the end of
persuading him by her soft, unscrupulous arts to take the noble mansion.
The front-door was ajar. Astounding carelessness on the part of the
caretaker! Mr. Prohack's subconscious legs carried him into the house.
The interior was amazing. Mr. Prohack had always been interested, not
only in pictures, but in furniture. Pictures and furniture might have
been called the weakness to which his circumstances had hitherto
compelled him to be too strong to yield. He knew a good picture, and he
knew a good piece of furniture, when he saw them. The noble mansion was
full of good pictures and good furniture. Evidently it had been the home
of somebody who had both fine tastes and the means to gratify them. And
the place was complete. Nothing had been removed, and nothing had been
protected against the grimy dust of London. The occupiers might have
walked out of it a few hours earlier. The effect of dark richness in the
half-shuttered rooms almost overwhelmed Mr. Prohack. Nobody preventing,
he climbed the beautiful Georgian staircase, which was carpeted with a
series of wondrous Persian carpets laid end to end. A woman in a black
apron appeared in the hall from the basement, gazed at Mr. Prohack's
mounting legs, and said naught. On the first-floor was the drawing-room,
a magnificent apartment exquisitely furnished in Louis Quinze. Mr.
Prohack blenched. He had expected nothing half so marvellous. Was it
possible that he could afford to take this noble mansion and live in it?
It was more than possible; it was sure.
Mr. Prohack had a foreboding of a wild, transient impulse to take it.
The impulse died ere it was born. No further complications of his
existence were to be permitted; he would fight against them to the last
drop of his blood. And the complications incident to residence in such
an abode would be enormous. Still, he thought that he might as well see
the whole house, and he proceeded upstairs, wondering how many people
there were in London who possessed the taste to make, and the money to
maintain, such a home. Even the stairs from the first to the second
floor, were beautiful, having a lovely carpet, lovely engravings on the
walls, and a delightful balustrade. On the second-floor landing were two
tables covered with objects of art, any of which Mr. Prohack might have
pocketed and nobody the wiser; the carelessness that left the place
unguarded was merely prodigious.
Mr. Prohack heard a sound; it might have been the creak of a floor-board
or the displacement of a piece of furniture. Startled, he looked through
a half-open door into a small room. He could see an old gilt mirror over
a fire-place; and in the mirror the images of the upper portions of a
young man and a young woman. The young woman was beyond question Sissie
Prohack. The young man, he decided after a moment of hesitation--for he
could distinguish only a male overcoated back in the glass--was Oswald
Morfey. The images were very close together. They did not move. Then Mr.
Prohack overheard a whisper, but did not catch its purport. Then the
image of the girl's face began to blush; it went redder and redder, and
the crimson seemed to flow downwards until the exposed neck blushed
also. A marvellous and a disconcerting spectacle. Mr. Prohack felt that
he himself was blushing. Then the two images blended, and the girl's
head and hat seemed to be agitated as by a high wind. And then both
images moved out of the field of the mirror.
The final expression on the girl's face as it vanished was one of the
most exquisite things that Mr. Prohack had ever witnessed. It brought
the tears to his eyes. Nevertheless he was shocked.
His mind ran:
"That fellow has kissed my daughter, and he has kissed her for the first
time. It is monstrous that any girl, and especially my daughter, should
be kissed for the first time. I have not been consulted, and I had not
the slightest idea that matters had gone so far. Her mother has probably
been here, with Charlie, and gone off leaving these doves together.
Culpable carelessness on her part. Talk about mothers! No father would
have been guilty of such negligence. The affair must be stopped. It
amounts to an outrage."
A peculiar person, Mr. Prohack! No normal father could have had such
thoughts. Mr. Prohack could of course have burst in upon the pair and
smashed an idyll to fragments. But instead of doing so he turned away
from the idyll and descended the stairs as stealthily as he could.
Nobody challenged his exit. In the street he breathed with relief as if
he had escaped from a house of great peril; but he did not feel safe
until he had lost himself in the populousness of Oxford Street.
"For social and family purposes," he reflected, "I have not seen that
kiss. I cannot possibly tell them, or tell anybody, that I spied upon
their embrace. To put myself right I ought to have called out a greeting
the very instant I spotted them. But I did not call out a greeting. By
failing to do so I put myself in a false position.... How shall I get
official news of that kiss? Shall I ever get news of it?"
He had important business to transact with tradesmen. He could not do
it. On leaving home he had not decided whether he would lunch
domestically or at the Grand Babylon. He now perceived that he could do
neither. He would lunch at one of his clubs. No! He could not bring
himself to lunch at either club. He could face nobody. He resembled a
man who was secretly carrying a considerable parcel of high explosive.
He wandered until he could wander no more, and then he entered a
tea-shop that was nearly full of young girls. It was a new world to him.
He saw "Mutton pie 8d" on the menu and ordered it haphazard. He
discovered to his astonishment that he was hungry. Having eaten the
mutton pie, he ordered a second one, and ate it. The second mutton pie
seemed to endow the eater with the faculty of vision--a result which
perhaps no other mutton pie had ever before in the whole annals of
eating achieved. He felt much better. He was illuminated by a large,
refreshing wisdom, which thus expressed itself in his excited brain:
"After all, I suppose it's not the first or the only instance of a girl
being kissed by a man. Similar incidents must occur quite often in the
history of the human race."
When he returned home his house seemed to be pitiably small, cramped,
and lacking in rich ornament; it seemed to be no sort of a house for a
man with twenty thousand a year. But he was determined to love his house
at all costs, and never to leave it. The philosopher within himself told
him that happiness does not spring from large houses built with hands.
And his own house was bright that afternoon; he felt as soon as he
entered it that it was more bright than usual. The reason was
immediately disclosed. Sissie was inside it. She had come for some
belongings and to pay a visit to her mother.
"My word!" she greeted her father in the drawing-room, where she was
strumming while Eve leaned lovingly on the piano. "My word! We are fine
with our new private secretary!"
Not a sign on that girl's face, nor in her demeanour, that she had an
amorous secret, that something absolutely unprecedented had happened to
her only a few hours earlier! The duplicity of women astonished even the
philosopher in Mr. Prohack.
"Will she mention it or won't she?" Mr. Prohack asked himself; and then
began to equal Sissie in duplicity by demanding of his women in a tone
of raillery what they thought of the new private secretary. He reflected
that he might as well know the worst at once.
"She'll do," said Sissie gaily, and Eve said: "She seems very willing to
"Ah!" Mr. Prohack grew alert. "She's been obliging you already, has
"Well," said Eve. "It was about the new house--"
"What new house?"
"But you know, darling. Charlie mentioned it to you last night, and I
told you that I was going to look at it this morning."
"Oh! _That_!" Mr. Prohack ejaculated disdainfully.
"I've seen it. I've been all over it, and it's simply lovely. I never
saw anything equal to it."
"And so cheap!"
"But it's ripping, dad, seriously."
"Seriously ripping, it is? Well, so far as I am concerned I shall let it
"I rushed back here as soon as I'd seen it," Eve proceeded, quietly
ignoring the last remark. "But you'd gone out without saying where.
Nobody knew where you'd gone. It was very awkward, because if we want
this house we've got to decide at once--at latest in three days, Charlie
says. Miss Warburton--that's her name, isn't it?--Miss Warburton had a
very bright idea. She seems to know quite a lot about property. She
thought of the drains. She said the first thing would be to have the
drains inspected, and that if there was any hurry the surveyors ought to
be instructed instantly. She knew some surveyor people, and so she's
gone out to see the agents and get permission from them for the
surveyors to inspect, and she'll see the surveyors at the same time. She
says we ought to have the report by to-morrow afternoon. She's very
The enterprisingness of Miss Warburton frightened Mr. Prohack. She had
acted exactly as he would have wished--only better; evidently she was
working out his plot against the house in the most efficient manner.
Yet he was frightened. So much so that he could find nothing to say
"You never told me she used to be with Mr. Carrel Quire and is related
to the Paulle family," observed Eve, mingling a mild reproach with
joyous vivacity, as if saying: "Why did you keep this titbit from me?"
"I must now have a little repose," said Mr. Prohack.
"We'll leave you," Eve said, eager to be agreeable. "You must be tired,
you poor dear. I'm just going out to shop with Sissie. I'm not sure if I
shall be in for tea, but I will be if you think you'll be lonely."
"Did you do much entertaining at lunch, young woman?" Mr. Prohack asked.
"Charlie had several people--men--but I really don't know who they were.
And Ozzie Morfey came. And permit me to inform you that Charlie was
simply knocked flat by my qualities as a hostess. Do you know what he
said to me afterwards? He said: 'That lunch was a bit of all right,
kid.' Enormous from Charlie, wasn't it?"
Mother and daughter went out arm in arm like two young girls. Beyond
question they were highly pleased with themselves and the world. Eve
returned after a moment.
"Are you comfortable, dear? I've told Machin you mustn't on any account
be disturbed. Charlie's borrowed the car. We shall get a taxi in the
Bayswater Road." She bent down and seemed to bury her soft lips in his
cheek. She was beginning to have other interests than himself. And since
she had nothing now to worry about, in a maternal sense, she had become
a child. She was fat--at any rate nobody could describe her as less than
plump--and over forty, but a child, an exquisite child. He magnificently
let her kiss him. However, he knew that she knew that she was his sole
passion. She whispered most intimately and persuasively into his ear:
"Shall we have a look at that house to-morrow morning, just you and I?
You'll love the furniture."
"Perhaps," he replied. What else could he reply? He very much desired to
have a talk with her about Sissie and the fellow Morfey; but he could
not broach the subject because he could not tell her in cold blood that
he had seen Sissie in Morfey's arms. To do so would have an effect like
setting fire to the home. Unless, of course, Sissie had already confided
in her mother? Was it conceivable that Eve had a secret from him? It was
certainly conceivable that he had a secret from Eve. Not only was he
hiding from her his knowledge of the startling development in the
relations between Sissie and Morfey,--he had not even told her that he